May Writing Challenge: Honorable Mentions — Jessica Li and Michaela Perkel

These entries from May's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed  this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "May Writing Challenge."
Jessica Li

The piano had been Ludwig’s world.

His parents had bought it decades ago for themselves then barely used it for the years that came because they had been too busy with their lives. But when Ludwig was born, they took one look at the thing and decided that it shouldn’t waste away in the attic for any longer. As for the boy, his parents wanted him to be a grandmaster pianist, to be a great composer, to be a reincarnation of Beethoven himself in the modern age.

And thus, Ludwig’s path had been set.

From the very moment that he was able to walk, he had been plopped in front of a piano and ordered to play. This was what made up most of his childhood. The idea that music would be his everything.

He had lost count how many times his parents told him: “Go practice the piano!” or “Again! That passage was pathetic!” and “You’re not getting out of that chair until that piece is perfect!”

To his parents’ delight, his music was perfected to all of their standards. Now they just needed to work on Ludwig himself.

“Smile, Ludwig! The audience needs to know that you love this! No, not like that, you can do better.”

And thus his audiences were awestruck by his beautiful symphonies and his admirable enthusiasm.

Ludwig would’ve truly been perfect had his happiness been more than a facade.

Ludwig first thought there was more to life than a piano, but any of his complaints were met with heavy criticism courtesy of his parents. With piano consuming his life, he had many fans but no one to stand behind him. He learnt that the best way to keep his parents content was to keep his mouth shut and follow what he was ordered to do. After all, who was he to go against them?

However, recently his parents had gotten him a tablet in order to bridge a connection to him and his fans. Little did they know, they opened a window to the outside world for Ludwig.

Ludwig, of course, did originally use the tablet to do just that. But the internet never would be exactly what anyone wants it to be. After all, it’s filled with so many people, with so few limitations compared to what anyone was used to in their daily life.

Funny how a pop up ad for a popular social media app could change so many things.

Ludwig downloaded it because it told him to, but didn’t use it much the first few days. When he did, it was in small, hesitant amounts. The hugeness of this world through such a small screen was just too overwhelming. And what made up the world were millions of people. And the colors! There were so many colors in the small silver-framed tablet that his black and white piano couldn’t even show.

There were so many people, and when he shyly reached out to him, they responded with something, something he never knew until now, that he didn’t have a name for, and it was so different than how his parents responded.

He felt his heart twinge as he got questions that he never got from his parents, because his parents never taught him how to respond to these queries and comments, but it took away a weight that would always be in his chest when he so much as heard his parents’ footsteps.

Because it felt like someone cared, for HIM. They asked about the piano, but they also asked about what HE was like.

And he told them everything. After all, his parents said to always tell the truth, right?

Then, for a second, the world went silent, and Ludwig was afraid. Afraid that they would be gone forever, and the black and white would be back, and his heart would be weighed down even more after being this light.

But like lightning, they started a fire. They didn’t want him to just play, they wanted him to be happy, they wanted his parents to be punished, they wanted, they wanted, they wanted.

The world wanted to CARE for him.

And who was he to go against them?




Michaela Perkel
South Africa

A Midsummer Nightmare

The drum beats were the cue. Not only for the symphony to begin in its soft, melodic opening or for the singer to enter stage, as it had for the thousands of practices leading up to this night. It was also the cue for the woman lying on her stomach high above the stage, watching through a camera lens.

If you had asked the musician sitting behind the piano that night, he would have told you that for a split second, he was convinced that through the bridge of the roof he’d seen a red light flicker once. But only once.

Cue the dancers. They entered in perfect symmetry, their twirls and light footsteps exactly on time. It would not have seemed to the awestruck audience that through their radiance, one was secretly counting down the seconds, one was barely holding in her tears, one gritted her teeth through the fury pulsating inside of her in a steady rhythm. All any of them could do was wait. And dance. So they did.

The woman lying with the camera had no way of knowing that across the auditorium lay a man, watching her. He had with him one thing. A remote with a single, red button.
And this man, ignorant in his arrogance, could not have known that right beside him, a two-way mirror gave another man a clear view of his every action. Seated mere meters away but masked from sight by nothing but a thin glass wall.

The director watched from behind the wings, able to do nothing from this point on but observe. He had some idea of the tension happening onstage, but his assumption was nowhere near the scale. He was not aware of the withering stares passed from Moira Grace, his prized harpist, to the dancers, and from the dancers to the pianist, and from the pianist to the singer.

But not a twinge of their hostility broke through the fourth wall. The blissfully unaware crowd cheered their support as the climb of the opera singer’s notes reached its climax.

The man seated behind the two way mirror had no idea of the pair that kept their eyes on him from above, hidden in the shadow of the ceiling frame.

The sweat on Moira Grace’s brow was mistaken for being from the effort of her performance. The glisten on the dancer’s cheek was not given a second thought. A trick of the light, people commented afterwards. That was what we assumed. Did she know she would be dancing her last dance?

The anticipation in the air was misjudged.

Nobody noticed how Moira Grace turned purple with rage whenever her eyes hovered over the three dancers. Nobody paid attention when one of the dancers had to turn her head in an unplanned extra move to hide the tears on her face. Nobody cared when the pianist lost a note to an attention lapse as the singer’s voice crescendoed in her perfect melody.

The pair who watched the man behind the mirror were unaware of the vengeful soul in the audience, gun slipped into the sleeve of his jacket, arm in the air with the rest of the crowd as if in support. They did not see the barrel aimed carefully at them from below.

Nobody saw it coming. In their ignorant delight at the dramatic performance, they had missed the obvious. The clues were right there, clear to anyone who simply looked, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter until the first gunshot ricocheted though the air, and bodies started falling.


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