Equally foul was the room itself. It was a mockery of a pleasant, late-eighteenth century apartment. Its grand windows covered by stained, decayed curtains, the splintered and dusty wood floors covered in tattered carpets of indeterminate age. Stains of blood, oil, feces or worse were splattered here and there, not in an afterthought, but left as reminders of past crimes.
This was the entrance, this foul foyer to the apartment, to a court, the Devil’s court, where favors were granted, bargains were struck. I was here out of a last resort.
I had spent the last twenty years of my life trying to master the violin. It was my passion. I first had heard the violin played by a master, Johannes DeGroot. The way he made me weep, and brought a tear to even my stoic father’s eye. That power and emotion inspired me. I knew that I would spend my life trying to have that talent.
Unfortunately, I just did not have the talent. I had been rejected by all of the orchestra’s in the greater metropolitan area. No one would hire me but small folk bands who needed a fiddler.
What a debasement. I had to stoop to this level, just to pay my bills. Even still I could barely afford the rent to my room in Mrs. Stopwistle’s boarding house. It was by no means a palace, but I didn’t want to even think about finding a more inexpensive place. Had I not seen the Court, I would still think that it Stopwistle’s was one step above the worst of places.
On a day I was feeling particularly desperate, I had noticed that one of my neighbors had left. Curious, I found Mrs. Stopwistle to ask her what had become of him.
“Mr. Conrad has found himself published.” He was a struggle writer of some talent. “He said he had been forwarded a hefty sum of money for his recent work. He’s gone to a let a whole flat of his own.”
I paid a visit to Conrad in order to congratulate him.
“You know, I just had a stroke of good luck.” He said, after I had heartily shaken his hand.
“I would like some of the luck to fall on my shoulders. I abhor working as a…fiddler. I would very much like to be a proper player.”
“There is more than a fair share of struggle artists staying in our house. Do you remember Phillips?”
“The painter, from upstairs?”
“The same.” He hesitated for a moment, obviously deciding on whether or not he should continue.
“Go on man, continue.”
“Phillips painted a brilliant piece completely unlike that any that he had done before – he was of a mediocre talent at best, you know. He was able to sell it and, as a result, afford his own studio, where he lives and works today.
“He told me of a…man, someone who could help a struggling individual for a price. Not a tangible price, mind you, but a price nonetheless. I went to see this man as well.”
Obviously it had worked. I looked around his new flat. A workman was painting the parlor room, and another pair was moving a large writing desk into an office. I admit that I was struck with envy.
“I must meet this man, this friend of yours. I am desperate, Joe. I need his help, if he can help me.”
“Painters and writers are one thing. Musicians are another. I think I heard him say that they are his specialty.”
He took a card, and wrote down an address.
“Here, take this. Visit on Sunday, that’s when he sees people.”
I put the card in my breast pocket and left feeling that my life was about to change for the better. This friend of Conrad was certain to help me. I was a musician after all.
As Sunday approached I was eager, excited, and filled with anticipation about what would follow. I skipped the performances with the folk troop. I would no longer need their paltry work. I would be a proper player for a proper orchestra. I had to ask for an extension on my rent, but I convinced Mrs. Stopwistle that I would pay her in full, with interest, come Monday.
Sunday came, and I went to the address on the card. It was a four-story brownstone on the south end of town. From the out side it appeared quiet, tranquil, still. Hardly a bird sang in the stunted trees outside its door.
The hall was brightly lit, and smelt faintly of tobacco smoke. I went up the stair and found the door of Conrad’s friend. I knocked.
The door opened to reveal a very large man who filled the doorway. Very large doesn’t do him justice, actually. He was enormous; built like an elephant, with the ashen grey skin to match. He filled the wrinkled and frayed suit of a butler. He merely looked at me with his tiny, elephant eyes, stepped aside and gestured for me to enter.
That was when I found myself in the room I had described previously. I immediately felt ill at ease in this place, as anyone would. My desire, though kept me there. The elephant-butler led the way though the foyer’s decrepitude. Insects of all varieties scuttled, ran, or flew out from our path.
I was led to a door with a cross crudely cut into its wood. Had a I been less blinded by my desires, I may have noticed it’s bloodied nature, but I was resolved. I knew that if Conrad and Phillips had gone through this trial, than so could I.
The butler opened the door and motioned for me to pass. I entered and he closed the door behind me.
I was in room that was simply furnished. Like the previous, it was dank and decayed. On the far wall, sat what could only be described as a throne. Or what I imagined a throne would look like, if a thousand innocents had been sacrificed at its feet, and their blood drained over its surface.
In, however, sat a man in a crisp, white suit. His short hair was neatly pomaded, and his chin clean shaven. By appearance, he looked young. His eyes said otherwise.
“Hello,” He smiled with a set of perfect white teeth. In this room of filth, those teeth were brilliant.
“I am a friend of Mr. Conrad. He gave me your address.”
“Ah, Mr. Conrad. A writer of excellent talent. I helped with his little problem of finding a publisher. I hear that he is doing quite well now. It is nice to see talent recognized. But what can I do for you, Mr. …”
I introduced myself and explained my wishes. He sat and smiled his shark-like smile, which grew slightly wider at each point in my story. When I had finished he got up with a youthful spring.
“I know exactly what it is that you want. You want to have beauty flow from your instrument. I’ve helped men like you before.”
I was stuttered my thanks, so excited by the fact that this would happen.
“I made Mozart, you know. It wasn’t the boy who asked me to help, but his father. Such a man, to want such a talented boy.”
This made me pause.
“Of course, he paid his price, just as Phillips and Conrad paid theirs and you will pay yours. But what a price to set on it.”
My desires left me suddenly like a shock. I was awake to where I was and to whom I was speaking. Sweat began to bead on my forward. I was very aware of the stink of the room. He had come closer to me as he spoke.
“Let me think. You want to make men weep with your violin. Mozart wanted his son to move men’s soul with his music. They seem to be about the same.” He was walking around me now, as he spoke.
“Your father still lives, does he not?” He breathed this into my ear. He breath smelled of corpse. “Bring me his heart. In return you will have your talent.”
I fled at this moment. Out rotting door, though the decaying foyer, and back into the hall. It’s sweet tobacco air filled my lungs. I turned back to look into through the door. He stood there, his handsome face twisted in rage.
“The bargain was struck when you crossed that threshold,” he shouted. “I will have It’
* * *
I found that I couldn’t stay in the city without the horror of that Sunday filling my mind. I took what work I could on a merchant marine, sailing from port to port, in order to forget.
Every now and then, I would take up my violin and play a sad tune for that day, for my father. It would make my fellow sailors weep.