At exactly one o’ clock, when the desperate flames of nearly empty oil lamps are threatened by icy draughts, sharp plucks of fiddle strings echo through the chapel’s wide mitre arches. It happens as sure as clockwork. On many a night, I had stopped my sweeping of the floors exactly halfway through my shift so I could carefully observe the hands of my pocket watch, keeping track of where they were when the thunk of a catgut string resounded. Sure enough, the hour hand would be on one and the minutes and seconds hands would be pointing directly upwards, stopping for a little longer than a second as if to mark the beginning of an event unlike anything else in the world. Then, it would start.
This night was no exception. As the bristles of my broom swept up the sinful particles of dust that had dared to touch the sacrosanct marble tiles between the pews, I began to notice the light of my oil lamp growing dim. As they had on every single night before, meandering gusts of wind crawled through the chapel windows like old friends, a large audience gathering for what was about to occur. They rushed against the raised bumps on the skin of my arms and brought with them leaves and other such debris, debris that ended up scattered over the recently swept floor. Like a spotlight, the moon had positioned itself just right so that its beams would pierce through the glass windows, landing directly onto the chapel altar. It bathed the tabernacle in its celestial luminescence, but left dark shadows on the small golden Virgin Mary statue that served as that tabernacle’s keeper. Her motherly visage was cast into the dark, corrupted into an evil appearance. As she watched me, the deafening silence grew thick. Moving through it felt like moving against the waves of an ocean. All the while, the anticipation of it made me feel vulnerable, unprotected in the centre aisle among the church pews. Any second now.
There, the plucking of a string! The sound, which was of the lowest pitch a violin is capable of, was without source. I was alone in the chapel. Not even a priest wandered the shadow-concealed edges by the walls. Still, the sound had reached up to the very apexes of the pointed towers without even the slightest variants in its volumes. Then another pluck sounded on a different string, then another. Twinkling, halting notes formed truncated melodies, a prelude to louder, harsher cries. They never failed to grip me with absolute terror, but it would never compare to when the phantom violinist’s bow hairs finally hit the strings.
The musician began with a single quivering note, quieting the draughts and perfectly mimicking the pained cries of wounded dogs. Slowly, the euphony slipped me into a trance. Fear still remained within me, but it was numbed by sadness-soaked notes. The trance had seemingly taken over the world around me as well, the winds completely silenced and the leaves they had brought in sitting absolutely still. Even the harsh, evil glare of the Virgin Mary was somewhat softened in pity for the violinist, whose despair rang clear in the gentle nocturne they performed. The depth to which this anguish extended was eternal and thus, the piece seemingly had no end, but of course it would eventually soften down to a barely audible conclusion. Again, the chapel was silent.
As if angry that their performance was met with no applause, the invisible violinist resumed, running their bow hairs over the strings with such ferocity that I feared their ghostly strings would snap. The music returned with a thundering forte and a rapidly ascending melodic contour that almost made me stagger backwards from the shock of it. A maelstrom of harsh chords, sharp trills, and guttural staccato bow strokes hit me from all sides. Contrary to the earlier piece, this one summoned tempests to launch themselves through the small chapel windows and carry out their chaos indoors. Gales slammed various doors open and shut, forcing the poor things to hang on by their weak rusting hinges. In all the ire and fiery rage, the spectre behind it all had neglected to keep itself concealed. Now, standing on the altar, was a young lady in a white burial gown, covered in crypt dust and cobwebs. Under her chin, she pressed her violin against her neck firmly, as if accidentally dropping it would mean losing what little of the world she had left. Her bow did not glide across the strings. It ravaged them. Her fingers on the instrument fluttered across the ebony neck, desperate to tell the story of a soul untimely forced from its home, the physical realm. They sang of a child, barely of marrying age, with passions and loves. They played a requiem to the future that had died with her. They screamed out of jealousy at those who had the pleasure of growing old and passing on when they were ready. It was no longer a song, but a last attempt at leaving something that showed she existed, and with her mark finally made for the night, she lifted her bow away and bowed.
Once again, the chapel stood quiet. I picked up my broom and began to sweep again.