Story by Dawn Pisturino
Artwork by Job van Gelder
Ariel knelt before the marble niche holding the remains of her dead older brother and placed a bouquet of roses in the stone vase. Six months had passed since the horrible night a drunk driver had taken Jonathan’s life. She would never forget.
“Coach Willis still talks about you, Jonathan,” Ariel said, tracing the carved letters of his name with trembling fingers. “Nobody’s beaten your track record. You were the best. You always will be.”
She pulled some sheet music from her backpack. “The opera club is doing Purcell this year. I got the lead role. I’m so excited!” She began to sing:
“When I am laid, am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate . . .”*
The haunting elegy echoed through the halls of the Great Mausoleum, bringing tears to Ariel’s eyes. As the last melancholy note faded away, the mausoleum doors slammed shut. The lights flickered and dimmed.
Icy panic clawed at Ariel’s chest. She could hardly breathe. Then a long, agonizing scream tore from her throat.
She ran to the entrance and pushed against the heavy metal doors. Locked. She searched for an intercom or emergency button. Nothing.
“Let me out!” she cried, pounding on the door. “It’s not closing time!”
Voices whispered all around her.
“No!” she howled, throwing her weight against the unyielding door.
The whispers grew louder. “We’ll let you out when the concert is over.”
“W-what c-concert?” Ariel stammered, searching the empty air.
“The Concert for the Dead.”
And then she saw them, gliding down the dark corridors, the eerie inhabitants of this condominium for the dead.
They crowded into the main hall, hundreds of them, the ghastly and the beautiful.
Men dressed in military uniforms soaked with blood, arms ripped away, legs shredded at the knees, and heads split open, eyeballs dangling from their sockets.
Women gowned in rustling silk, faded and torn, ringlets framing faces eaten away by worms. Pale young mothers with tragic eyes, carrying shriveled up babies in their arms.
Dead children glared at Ariel with menacing faces, their transparent fingers clutching moth-eaten ragdolls and time-worn teddy bears.
An orchestra appeared. Skeletons with shreds of rotting flesh hanging from their bones. The conductor raised his baton, and the slow, plaintive strains of a violin filled the air. He
turned and looked at Ariel with one putrid eye, motioning her to begin.
I know this song. I can do it. Shaking with fear, she dug her fingernails into her palms and began to sing:
“None but the lonely heart can know my sadness
Alone and parted far from joy and gladness . . .”**
She sang until the sun disappeared and the stained glass windows lost their color. She sang until the moon ran its course and the stars began to fade. Finally, her throat too parched and raw to continue, she pleaded:
“The concert’s over. Please let me go.”
Hushed whispers rippled through the audience. Then a lone figure broke through the crowd.
“Jonathan!” Ariel cried, grateful to see a familiar face.
Smiling, he extended his arms to her. “We don’t want you to leave,” Jonathan said, drawing her close. “We want you to sing for us forever and ever and ever . . .”
Cold waxy fingers tightened around her throat. In the background, the orchestra played a quiet requiem.
* * *
When the groundskeeper found Ariel’s body the next morning, he noticed two peculiar things. Her throat was purple with finger marks, and her hair had turned completely white.
Copyright 2011-2014 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.
This story is dedicated to my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino
Published in the November 2011 issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. Read it here.
Published on Brooklyn Voice, February 2012. Read it here.
Artwork by Asheka Troberg
*“Dido’s Lament,” from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell
**“None but the Lonely Heart,” by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and J.W. Goethe