Metal screeched against steel as the train began to slow, pulling its weary cargo into the crowded public station to disembark. In the tightest corner of the third passenger car, Bethonie huddled with her duct tape-covered violin case in her lap. The case had taken her a full weekend of design and focus, taking special care to design the perfectly symmetrical black fleur-de-lis symbol in the center of the ivory lid. It was her favorite project to date—God forbid some bum on this filthy transport made a grab for it and ran. So, she made sure to keep at least four fingers wrapped around the handle with deadly force at all times.
This case held her life’s purpose, her music and her soul.
The violin within had cost her almost a year’s worth of minimum wages, not to mention the special care and devotion that it required to remain beautiful and new. Playing this instrument was the one talent that she possessed in this relentless world of numbers and rational thoughts. It was everything she existed for, and she could not stand to part with it for more than a few hours at a single time.
Meanwhile, the tattered blue backpack hanging on her shoulder bulged with the few material belongings that she possessed: two black skirts, one pair of Tripp chained pants, three black shirts with cracking gray skulls and fading fonts, various CDs, and miscellaneous bags full of silver jewelry, and metal-encrusted cuffs. All of these were things thrown together with the personal knowledge that Bethonie felt more like herself when her attire was wrinkled.
After a steady crawl into the tunnels of the station, the train finally screeched to a complete stop in the station of Redhille Valley, Oregon—the (hopefully) final destination of her journey. With both straps on her shoulders and her case in hand, the eighteen-year-old stepped off of the train and onto the concrete platform full of raucous throngs of human beings. Trench coats and umbrellas pushed forward and back, groaning into every technological device known to modern man in their mad dash to their individual workplaces. Sweat and rain dripped down their foreheads, and children clutched to their mothers as they were trampled by strangers and neighbors alike.
Bethonie tried to tune it all out as she passed, to focus on the cold bland stones beneath her shoes, but Noise was difficult to ignore in such an enclosed space. The droning of the many passersby began to trickle into her skull, sending painful pulses across her brain as she made her way across the platform. A small gust of wind made its way through the cracks between the plethoras of bodies crushed into the tiny station, blowing Bethonie’s cropped black hair into her face and blurring her vision.
With a heavy sigh, Bethonie pushed the oily tresses out of her eyes and continued along her way. There was always Noise, no matter how far she traveled and no matter which city she chose. At first, she had chosen smaller towns with the naïve mindset of fewer people and cleaner places to settle down—in the end, all she received were more stares and personal questions that bordered on the discriminate. It turned out that what small towns provided in silence, they lacked in solitude and privacy. After three attempts, Bethonie had given up and targeted larger populations.
She had pursued the upper East Coast in particular, drawn to its endless downpours and dismally gray summers. Less sun meant more darkness, and that was a very alluring image for a girl like her. The rain would keep the conversing socialites away for the most part, and foot traffic would keep stalling at a minimum due to the constant threat of storms and soaking.
Bethonie readjusted the strap on her left shoulder and moved into a more serene position beside a wall. Bleeding pastels on fading posters covered the gravel walls, and wrappers from various fast food chains lay in crumpled piles near the gutters beside each wall. She slowly moved from one end of the platform to the other, searching for a place to set up a resting place. After such a long journey of hearing nothing but Noise around her, she needed to fill her ears with the supernatural healing power of her violin.
Eventually, she settled on a small cubby of gray-tiled walls that formed a protective cage around her. She threw her backpack into the corner and unbolted her case with the gentle tips of her fingers. It seemed so long since she had seen her wooden companion, and she could not help but stroke the wooden curves that gave the instrument its independent beauty. She carefully removed it from the violet velvet lining, holding it firmly in one hand while the other plucked the bow from the case. Pleasure swelled in her heart as she placed the violin between her neck and chin, resting the hairs of the bow onto the strings and pulling gently.
A single note, a simple sound…and she was gone.
The music possessed her body and soul, and she consented gladly. Today’s arrangement: a gentle prayer of thanks to the rain pouring outside the station, and a wave of indignity toward the human filth now caught within its storm. Long, deep notes vibrated off of the cold dark box encasing her small frame. The blurring outlines of the typical foot traffic faded into shadows without color or purpose. Only her song of haunting praise remained in her world—a song dedicated to the darkness that she held so dear.
Even in her lost state, she could vaguely see a hand throwing a green slip of paper into her open case every now and then, but she chose to ignore it in favor of solitary solace. She did not care for gifts or money. All she really needed in life was the lovely wash of loneliness that swept over her heart as her song grew deeper and deeper with each long note.
Another green slip, then another, and then a shower of coins of all colors and sizes. She kept her eyes focused on the ground. Though, was it just her imagination, or did the hand constantly throwing money her way look the same every single time? Maybe it was just the consequence of her mind’s current detachment from reality. They all looked the same to her at one time or another. No need to dwell on who they were.
Who cared about them? Who cared about “normal” people besides the other “normal” people?
More notes. More melodies.
More darkness. More solitude.
At first, Bethonie was shocked. The woman’s piercing shriek of horror had come out of nowhere, scaring the young violinist out of her creative trance. After a moment of silent panic and a frantic heartbeat, her shock instantaneously festered into fury.
What the actual Hell? What could be so terrible that a woman screamed at the top of her lungs and broke her barrier of wonderful music?
She glared into the crowd that was doubling in size with every passing second, and realized with an annoyed growl that the level of noise had also increased. Almost every man and woman, all of them crowding around a small area of the platform, was gasping, fidgeting, and yelling incoherent statements to those scrambling to catch a glimpse of whatever major event had taken place. The young Goth could not see what was happening from where she stood, but in all honesty, she felt more aggravation than curiosity toward the matter.
Bethonie turned with a start. Without a word or sound, a tall woman who appeared to be in her thirties had placed herself directly beside the alarmed violinist. Sporting shortly cropped auburn hair and dressed in an ebony suit speckled with metallic gray threads, she stood with a black leather satchel slung over her shoulder and a pair of silver high-heeled pumps on her tiny feet. Her vibrant blue eyes were fixed on the tiny mob forming across the station, but she stood without any air of visible concern—this woman clearly did not care about what was going on.
Normally, the teenage musician would have ignored anyone who attempted to start a conversation with her. However, for some strange reason, this woman’s confidence felt more like that of a fellow outsider than another average human parasite. She did not exactly look the part of an outcast, but Bethonie could see a distinct lack of human empathy in her eyes as she stared across the platform floor to the gibbering mass now throbbing as a unit.
“That.” The suited stranger nodded toward the woman whose scream had awoken the curiosity of the surrounding masses, her expression cool and unchanging. “People these days. Nobody pays attention to anything around them until someone makes a big scene.”
“…I didn’t see what happened.” Bethonie said.
“A man jumped in front of a train and killed himself.” The woman shrugged. She turned her attention to Bethonie, still calm and collected, as though death was just another office assignment. “Surely you noticed? He gave you quite a lot of money before he passed on.”
Bethonie blinked in surprise and glanced down into her violin case. Sure enough, a thin stack of five and ten dollar bills littered the bottom of the violet velvet casing, partially hidden by several scattered coins. So it had come from one person after all. She hadn’t been imagining things.
“It was very generous of him. He must have really loved your song, and wanted to do one last good thing before he passed on.”
“…I guess so.”
“You play beautifully. Such solace in the minor keys.” The strange woman smiled at her, offering true praise—empty of false understanding or fear. She slipped her hands into the pockets of her black skirt and addressed Bethonie more directly. “How long have you been playing?”
“Like, ten years or something.” While oddly comfortable around this person, Bethonie was still wary of what could possibly be the reason behind this discussion. Was she trying to woo her into a murderous web? Was she trying to sell her something?
“You don’t see talent like yours too often nowadays. The newer generations seem far too concerned with who’s new in the music industry rather than making true music.” She cleared her throat and readjusted her shoulder strap. “My apologies. How rude of me. My name is Irene Tomas.”
Bethonie took a cautious step backwards, wondering the exact reason why this strange woman would tell a random teenage stranger her full name. Irene noticed this defensive movement and immediately held up both of her hands.
“No, no, I’m not trying to scout you or anything!” She said with a smile. “I just used to play an instrument myself, in my youth. So I thought I would give you your proper due.”
“Besides, a gift like yours is rare in these parts. I haven’t seen one of…your kind in quite a while now.”
The young musician gripped the neck of her violin and tensed her shoulders, preparing to run for her life if things took a turn for the terrible. Hell, if she needed to leave everything else behind, so be it. Irene never lost her smile or move from her comfortable position in the mouth of Bethonie’s concrete cage. Yet, there was an icy confidence in the manner she stared at the gruesome scene that now crawled with police officials. She knew something about this suicide that nobody else in the crowd did.
“You should be more careful about how freely you play in public. Things could get out of control fast, and then where would you be?”
“…I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She attempted to make it clear through her tone of voice that this woman was stepping into perilous territory. Whatever this woman meant—or more dangerously, what she knew—was not in Bethonie’s best interest.
What did she want? Who was she, really? Did she really know more than she was implying, or was it simply the result of Bethonie’s paranoia?
“Hmm. Well, I need to get to work. It was nice to meet you.” She smiled one last time, her vibrant teeth poking slightly through her crimson lips. “Good luck on your journey, young Witch.”
With that, the woman named Irene Tomas turned on her silver heel and walked away from the silent young musician standing in a dark corner of the train station. Bethonie stood frozen in silent fury before the sounds of the world once again filled her ears, placing her violin back into its bed soon after. The despair her song had orchestrated still carried on around her. Sirens, murmurs, footsteps—a constant rumble of Noise inside her head.
She had been recognized. This meant that there were other Witches in this city, Irene included. She would have to be completely aware of how much power she used, which meant less time playing her violin.
With dread spreading in her chest and a cold numbness in her bones, Bethonie gathered her things together and turned her back upon the corpse that had once been under her music’s spell.