Posted by: lordkyler | November 28, 2015

Serendipity – Short Story

I wrote a silly thing during my spare time during my “intermission” from NaNoWriMo. Enjoy.


 

Roger slammed on his brakes and slid to a halt, cursing. This was the third time this had happened today. He had already been late to work and wasted most of his lunch hour in traffic. Everybody understood that these delays were bound to happen, of course, but he had been forced to stay late to finish his reports, and all he wanted to do now was get home to his TV dinner and commercial-ridden reruns. But then it had happened again.

He ground his teeth as a long procession of supermarket cashiers spun and leapt in perfect formation across the road. He could just hear the melody they sang, though it was muted by the roar of his air conditioning. Irritated, he flicked on the radio for just a second, knowing what he would hear, but trying it anyway. Tubas oomped and flutes trilled a lighthearted melody, perfectly in time with the coordinated chaos outside; a comedic yet triumphant piece. Someone was probably quitting their job to pursue a dream.

Roger turned off the radio instantly. The Event would always override any music nearby, drawing anyone nearby into the number. It didn’t matter what station you were tuned to, or what CD or music player you used. Even audiobooks would drolly recite the lyrics along with the crowd. Roger couldn’t help but try every time, in the slim hope that – just this once – he could drown it out, but it never worked. In fact, it sometimes made things worse, attracting the crowd to the holdout.
Muttering to himself, he lit a cigarette and glowered at the swirling streams of singing shoppers. If not for his disability, he would be out there with the rest of those idiots, prancing around on top his car, most likely. He often wondered whether it would be worth it, just to feel normal. As it was, the closest he had ever come to really taking a part was a punchline statement at the end of a number, where it didn’t really matter what he said so long as he was crotchety about it.
They were forming a conga line of shopping carts now, a few youngsters leaping nimbly from one to the other as the carts wove through the dance in the street. They were probably only on the second verse. Roger sighed, embracing the inevitable, and popped open his briefcase, supposing he might as well take this time to get a head start on his presentation.
He hadn’t read more than a paragraph before he detected a shift in the song. It was growing louder. Coming closer. Building to something. Horrified, Roger shoved the paper back into his briefcase and cowered in his seat. He did not want to get in the middle of a production. Not today.
But his worst fears were realized when he saw a small troupe of dancers stalking down the middle of the road, parting the crowd before them as they stepped and swayed in perfect unison, led by a young man with long, shaggy hair, who waved an apron in his hands like a captured enemy flag. The Support and the Focus.
Roger tried not to resent them, but it was difficult. The Focus had caused this whole mess – unless, as some believed, the situation was inevitable, and had chosen him. The Support would likely be friends or choreo-holics, those who were as in sync with the rhythm of the world as he was oblivious to it. They couldn’t help their participation any more than he could help his abstinence, but while they were showered with praise and adoration for their natural skill, Roger had only ever been ostracized.
They were coming straight for him, undoubtedly seeking him out to make a point about the young Focus’s desire to avoid a life as dull as his. He was going to be dragged into it regardless of what he did. He could do nothing but pray to whatever God orchestrated these affairs that this wouldn’t turn into a rap segment.
Roger had always been good with words, a regular thesaurus, in fact, but no matter how clever he was, they wouldn’t be the right ones. In a gesture of empty defiance, he locked his car doors and pretended to be on his phone. A half-second later, he found the door opening anyway, and was dragged out by his tie with a yelp of indignant shock.
The dancers had come to a stop, the Support standing in dynamic poses behind the Focus. The regular crowd formed a circle around them, bouncing on their heels and snapping along with the beat. Roger couldn’t tell where the music was coming from; so far as he knew, it just happened, the way the wind blows or the sun rises. He could hear it, but he couldn’t feel it, the way everyone else seemed to be able to. He didn’t feel the compulsion to dance, the bliss of perfectly synchronizing with those around him, the rush of pure creativity as lyrics emerged from the subconscious like flowers bursting from the earth. Nothing. No matter how he tried.
Usually, whatever disability kept him from feeling the rhythm also kept him from getting too involved, which meant that while he might be knocked over by a random pirouette or be forced to mumble awkwardly through a chorus to keep from throwing everyone else off, he had never been part of a solo or a complicated bit of spontaneous choreography. Until now. There must have been a real shortage of stodgy businessmen around if they had chosen him.
Roger broke into a cold sweat despite the warmth of the evening. He was living his worst nightmare, quite literally. He pocketed his cellphone with trembling fingers and tried not to hyperventilate.
The Focus ripped open his work shirt, revealing a tie-dyed T-shirt underneath. “IIIIIII don’t wanna waste my life, lonely and depressed,” he sang, caught fully in the throes of the song. “IIIIIIII just wanna find my style, I wanna be the best!”
As if on strings, a hundred heads turned to face Roger, an invisible spotlight shining on him. And then, perhaps because he was in the heart of it, so close to the Focus, Roger almost thought he could feel it, a vague feeling at the very periphery of his consciousness, an idea hovering just beyond reach, formless, yet compelling.
He had the feeling he was supposed to oppose the young aspiring… designer? Yes, the Focus was a designer. Roger was supposed to mirror his statements somehow, reflecting them back as “the man,” the establishment trying to keep him down. But he couldn’t tell if he was supposed to echo the boy’s tone of defiance, or imitate his words, or what. He was so close, but it felt like he was trying to catch smoke.
“You… will never make it, uh, Dylan. Darren. Your style is unstylish. You suck. You’ll never amount to anything. You only have… uh, bad luck?”
His clumsy, stuttering words seemed to hang in the air, ugly as a turd among lilies. It was close, Roger could tell, but that somehow only made it more perverse, like a creepy, dead-eyed doll masquerading as a living child.
Some of the magic in the air died. Roger had just broken the unspoken unison among them, torn an unsightly hole in the fabric of society. Everyone looked as though they had just experienced that jarring sensation when you encountered an unexpected step, throwing everything out of alignment.
The Focus stared, confused, his expression of defiance against the system looking suddenly forced as the system failed him. A few of the choreo-holics tried gamely to catch the melody again, but they could not keep it up without the support of the crowds. The crowd looked suddenly ashamed, like the Emperor’s New Clothes revealed to be nothing, stripped of the protections offered by the mass insanity of the Event. They broke apart listlessly, a tangle of disappointed souls, trying to make sense of the anticlimax. For a brief, terrible moment, everyone felt just as Roger did, outside the realm of dance and song.
This fact only served to make Roger even more miserable. He trudged back to his car, slamming the door behind him, but he did not buckle up or drive on, even though the street was now nearly empty. He could see the Focus sitting on a bench in front of the supermarket, head in his hands. Most of the Support had vanished, trying to fill the sudden void with another routine. The rest were in a huddle, arguing and occasionally glaring at Roger.
Why? Roger demanded silently. Everyone else in the world shared an innate empathic link, stimulated by important moments, resulting in elaborate, spontaneous musicals. Some thought that it was a natural phenomenon, others that it was the work of the divine. Roger preferred to believe in a deity. It gave him someone to blame. He was disabled, just as surely as if he were blind or deaf. Why should he, out of all the world, be stricken by such a cruel fate?
At last, when cars behind him began to honk, he cursed and pulled into the driveway of the supermarket. Disability or not, he owed the young man an apology. He killed the engine and began walking to the distraught Focus, quickly, before he lost his nerve.
The Support group stepped in front him, arms crossed and glaring. “Back off, man,” one of them said. “Haven’t you done enough to ruin his day?”
Roger steeled himself and looked the man in the eye. “I just wanted to apologize,” he said softly. “That’s all.”
“Let him in,” came a voice from the back. Darren, the focus. His head was still rested on one hand, but he used the other to beckon Roger over. The Support parted reluctantly, muttering under their breath.
Roger slumped into the seat next to the young man, staring at the cars going past. He tried to gather his thoughts, unsure of where to begin, but Darren spoke before he could start.
“I just… I just don’t understand why.  I don’t know you. You don’t know me. So why would you fight so hard just to ruin my song?”
Roger tried to answer, to explain, but Darren was growing more agitated, more upset. “This was my very first real song! I’ve tried so many times, and now that it finally works, you have to derail the whole thing just before the final chorus. What makes someone do that? Why would you do that?”
Roger interrupted before Darren grew completely hysterical. “I can’t help it! I don’t feel the music. I don’t get the words. I never have!”
The young man stared at him in utter shock, but now it was Roger that was ranting. “It’s not personal. I don’t want to be like this, but I can’t help it. Do you understand? I DO NOT BELONG IN A MUSICAL.”
Tears were streaming down Roger’s face. He hadn’t spoken of his frustrations for over twenty years, and all his anger and shame came spilling out in one moment, a rush of raw emotion. “I never…”
“You too?” Darren asked. Roger looked up to see that Darren was crying as well.
“Wait. You don’t… You’re not…”
“I always wanted to  I love music, but I can’t do it spontaneously. So I wrote my own songs, and memorized them. I was hoping that if I could just get it started, others would follow. This was the first time it worked.”
Very slowly, Roger asked, “Darren, what’s your last name?”
“Hammerstein,” the boy said.
“Like… Anne Hammerstein?”
“How did you… Dad?”
“I have a son,” Roger said, awestruck.  Perhaps the gods were not so cruel after all. “I have a son! I can’t believe it! I never thought I would find out, after the riots… And- and you found a solution to our problem! I can’t believe it.”
They stared at one another for a moment, both caught in the glow of serendipity. “Uh, hey. Let’s take a walk, Darren. We have a lot to talk about.”
He put his arm around the shoulders of his newfound son, and together, Roger and Hammerstein Jr. walked into a new, musical future.
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