The Branch

I pushed open the large glass doors separating the world from The Humble Ones.  I felt the pressure of the hydraulics in the door build, but I expected something more, only to be let down and confused.  What was it that was missing?

Shoving my confusion aside for the moment, I approached the sweeping front desk.  I cleared my throat gently to get the secretary's attention.

"Yes?  May I help you?"

I swallowed nervously.  "I had a question, you see, but I've heard that it's a rather sensitive issue, and I wasn't sure who to talk to about it..."

"A question, you say?"  As if out of nowhere a rather official-looking man had appeared behind the secretary.  His grey eyes studied my face; I tried not to shrink back.

"Y-yes sir," I replied, trying not to stutter.

He nodded.  "Perhaps I could be of some assistance.  My name is Benson, Arthur Benson."  He offered his hand, which I shook nervously.  How clammy my hands must've felt!

"And you are...?"

"Mercy," I replied, thinking it best not to give my surname.

"Mercy."  He considered for a moment, then gestured me to follow him.  "We can discuss your question in my office if you'd like."

"Now then," he began, taking a seat behind a sturdy mahogany desk.  "Your question?"

I was unsure whether or not to sit in the spindly chair before the desk, so I chose to remain standing.  I swallowed.  "Well, I was looking in a book I found in the library, and I opened up to a random page, and the top said something about music.  What is music?"

Whatever Mr. Benson had expected, it certainly wasn't that.  His eyes widened a bit, his face began to flush.  I winced.  With a deep breath he collected himself, smiled, even.

"You're but a child, Mercy, there's no harm in telling you," he muttered, more to himself than to me.  He rose from his chair.  "Music, my friend, was merely a series of noises that happened to sound pleasing to most human ears.  I admit, when I was young and crazy, before there were The Humble Ones, I used to listen to music.  And, oh, how beautiful it was!"

"If I may ask, sir, if it was so beautiful, why is it illegal?"

He shook his head.  "Sometimes," he explained, "this series of sounds, this 'music,' could make people feel emotions.  Sometimes they were happy, and sometimes they were downright sad.  The Humble Ones didn't want the world to suffer just because of a silly noise!"

"But, sir, I'm confused.  From what I read in that one book, and from what you seem to say, people used to love music."

"They did, Mercy.  I did.  But when I thought about it, I realized that I didn't want to enjoy something that I knew would make me unhappy.  Hm.  You still look confused.  Here, let me show you."  He disappeared under the desk, and when he reappeared he held a strange box-like contraption with what seemed to be netting over two holes in the side.

"I have this for times such as these," he explained, pressing a few buttons on the box.  He turned a small dial, and I heard noise coming from it.  But, I couldn't exactly call it "noise," it was far too beautiful.  After a few seconds, a vibratingly pure wooden sound reached my ears, and something grabbed my heart.  My ears were chained to the gorgeous sound, but my heart felt fit to burst.  I think I even felt a tear or two well up in my eye, or at least in my throat.  There was a group playing in the background, but the whole time there was this stunningly beautiful overlay of the first sound to grip my heart.

When the sound stopped I was speechless.  I glanced at the box, then to Mr. Benson.  He nodded in understanding.  "Heartbreaking, isn't it?" he asked.  I nodded, placing a hand on my chest.

Then a new sound began.  This one was also slow, but it was a new sound this time.  It began all by itself, suddenly and unexpectedly, only to fade off into clusters of pitches.  They reminded me of a time our family was in the countryside, and we went by a church whose bells were ringing.  Except this didn't sound like those bells.  But at the same time it did.  It wasn't brassy and proud, but softer and more wooden.  Instead of shattering my heart, this one left me in a sense of wonder and awe.

Mr. Benson put the box under his desk.  "I can see from your face that you're shocked," he said.  I nodded.  "Do you see how music deliberately manipulates people's feelings?  It neither said, nor did, anything to upset you, and here you are, near fit to burst into tears at any moment.  But it is better that you've been exposed to it in this way.  Does this answer your question?"

"Yes sir.  Thank you, Mr. Benson."

He led me back out to the main desk, and I slowly ambled down the street, still trying to absorb what I'd just heard.  Yes, it just about broke my heart; yes, it did confuse me.  But the way it broke my heart only left me wanting more.  I didn't want it to end.

Mr. Benson tried to scare my curiosity out of me, but he didn't.  He only augmented it.  I had to tell that lady that I heard music, and I was in love with it.

The End

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