Lucas played the lines.
It was easy at first. So simple, bone simple, blood simple, like blinking or drinking or building a nest. He pressed the keys and the the light was there, the music to spare, he connected dots in the dark while the masked man gibbered softly in his ear.
The melody of connection -of this like that – of short, lean, and fat. He could see the Under of things, the Hidden Heart of springs, the Secret tick of the clock in his grandmother’s parlor. Fingertips on keys, black and white, a stone piano singing in the quiet.
And how fine the lines were.
At first he drew them carefully and all one color of light. Bright yellow, fat as a caterpillar daydream, he could still see them when he shut his eyes. The faces of his friends reflected their delight in his beams of wild gold. The dots, the nodes they glowed, like planets brought into alignment, the way that Star Prophet promised. It was so easy, like squalling off a log, easy as nigh, sundown and moon-mad.
Bold as brass, he changed the lines. Still true, and still bright. But blue and green and red and octavian orange. Big lines, small lines, razor-wire net of thought and light that spread around him like a symphony. He became a wizard, singing the lines, playing the times forever and ever dancing in the dark of things.
And still the man in the mask laughed, right behind his left ear. He could feel the man’s breath on his shoulder, the cold hands hovering when he slept.
Sometimes he would stop. Let the lines fade and let his eyes adjust to the dark. And then the man would hit him until the blood flowed.
“Play the lines, Lucas!” the masked man would howl. “Play them and play them right.”
And so he would play. He would play when his fingers hated the keys and his heart bled the piano. It was so easy, like dying, like staunching a wound.
It was so hard.
Lucas played the lines and the dark crept closer. No matter how bright, no matter how many new colors he found, it crept closer. The masked man pressed near as a lover and whispered in his ear. Lucas loved the masked man. Lucas hated the masked man. Lucas needed the masked man.
Lucas played the lines. Who was he if he did not? Lucas loved the lines. Lucas hated the lines. Lucas needed the lines.
The masked man giggled softly in the dark and his cold hands slid down his arms and tapped a quiet rhythm on Lucas’ knuckles.
“One day you won’t play the lines, Lucas,” the oil-slick tone came from the mask. “One day you won’t play them right. You won’t play them quick enough, you won’t be sure and you won’t be fast. You’ll stumble in the dark and then I’ll have you. I’ll have you my beautiful boy and drag you down into the river, oh the river, oh the river…”
Lucas played the lines and wept. He played the lines and slept. Amongst the dark he wove and shone, he kept playing riddle and bone. Song and sorrow, ring and stone, forgotten music he played alone.
And the masked man laughed.
And Lucas played the lines.
[Sort of a continuation of this.]