The cellar was cold, musty and seemed more cramped with every visit. Not thirty seconds had passed since Carl had descended the creaking staircase, but it already seemed like an hour. A single fluorescent tube flickered above, throwing shadows across the room. The gentle plinking of Alisa’s piano drifted into Carl’s ears and he shivered; the melody was mournful, the minor chords chosen with care to amplify his pain. He tried to ignore it as he unscrewed the heavy cap and checked the oil level. It was low, so he lifted the jerry can and carefully poured in the pungent liquid; he had loved that smell, once upon a time.
“You’re back early,” Alisa stated, not turning her head. “Two weeks to the day I last saw you, minus three hours, seven minutes and twenty-eight seconds.” She was seated in front of Carl, facing the old, dusty piano.
“Yeah,” Carl said and as he put aside the empty can. He replaced the cap and rested his hand on the cool metal surrounding it as if to transfer some warmth into it.
“You always do that,” Alisa said, her voice lifeless. The vibrations tickled his fingers through the metal.
“Can’t help it, I guess,” Carl said. He stepped back to get a better look at her, adjusting his thick glasses on his beak of a nose. With sad eyes, he examined the metal plate which covered the back of Alisa’s head and went on to form her entire left arm. He still marvelled at the workmanship; it looked so real, with only a light rusting at the elbow giving its material away. He couldn’t even see the myriad of wires and tubes which lay beneath. It was exceptional, and unnerving.
“Do you like this song?” Alisa asked, still looking at the piano. Carl moved beside her as her fingers deftly swept across the yellowed keys. The song was heart-wrenching and tightened Carl’s chest.
“It’s beautiful, Allie,” he whispered. “But it’s so sad. I don’t think I can bear it for long.”
“Interesting,” Alisa said, slowing her playing but not stopping. “I feel nothing. I remember being moved by music before my heart was cold.”
“You were, Allie,” Carl said, a grimace twisting the corners of his mouth. He hated it when she said that. “You used to love how music made you feel, even when you couldn’t play very well.”
“I play better now,” Alisa stated.
“Yeah,” Carl admitted. “You’re a hell of a lot better…but there’s no joy in it anymore.”
“Joy.” Alisa stopped playing and turned around. Carl winced as her face came in to view, more than half of it covered by a plate of metal. Her eyes were still the same pale blue, but her freckles only covered her right cheek and the laughter had vanished from her once jovial face. Her button nose was gone, replaced by a shaped metal ridge; a dreadful substitute in Carl’s opinion. Her lips no longer smiled, but instead hung like a grey horizon above her chin. In the absence of the piano Carl could make out faint whirring and ticking sounds echoing from within Alisa’s body.
“Joy.” Alisa repeated, her grey tongue clicking against her teeth. “Curious. My name is derived from the Hebrew word for joy. I think my parent chose it on purpose.”
“I wouldn’t know, Allie,” Carl shrugged, feeling deeply uncomfortable.
“Joy…there was no joy after you changed me.” Alisa said, looking straight at Carl. She shifted her heavy feet, making a dull thud on the cellar floor. The chains which snaked around her ankles gave a dull rasp at the movement.
“You all regret it now.” Her voice was cold, just like the rest of her.
“Allie, stop it,” Carl pleaded, reaching for her shoulder. He shivered as his hand touched steel and a chill ran up his arm.
“My injuries were fatal, but you decided that I shouldn’t be allowed to die,” Alisa pressed on in her sterile tone. “It’s a strange to think of it, especially when most people wouldn’t force a cherished pet to stay alive when they are suffering. It was selfish.”
“Allie, don’t talk like that!” Carl snapped. He faced her with as much courage as he could, forcing himself to look into her dull eyes. “You were everything to us! To me! We couldn’t let you slip away like that! We…needed you here…I needed you.”
“Not like this,” Alisa replied, her eyes boring back into Carl’s. “Nobody wanted this, and that’s why I’m here, out of sight and out of mind. You’re the only one who still comes back.” Carl was silent and his jaw worked as he tried to think of something to say. Before he could, the thing that was once Alisa spoke again.
“You’re lonely, aren’t you, Carl?” Carl was startled and took another few moments to answer.
“Yeah…I am,” he confessed at last. “I hoped…I thought things would get better…but I ought to look after you. It’s the right thing to do!” He spoke with more confidence than he felt.
“Five years is a long time when something is hopeless,” Alisa said, turning back to the piano. The mournful music resumed once again. “Visiting me is illogical and it causes you pain. It won’t be long before even you stop coming down here to change my oil. When that day comes I will be allowed to die.”
“Allie, I’ll not abandon you!” Carl insisted, despite the horror he felt growing inside him. Alisa’s words frightened Carl because he had been considering doing just that for months. It was not a thought he entertained with his full attention, but circled the edge of his consciousness like a hawk waiting for the right moment to strike. Nothing escaped Alisa anymore, and the hawk had been circling lower.
“Perhaps,” Alisa said, her fingers moving over the aged keys. “It won’t matter to me either way.” Carl’s shoulders slumped and his heart grew heavy in his chest. He still loved Alisa, or the memory of her, at least. He could remember the warmth of her face when it was pressed against his, how her lips and her tongue had tasted, and how musical her voice used to be. He remembered how he used to stand and watch her play the piano, positioned in much the same way as he was at that very moment, studying her fingers as they danced and smiling at her eagerness. He had almost been driven mad with the thought of losing her, and had jumped at the chance to save her life. If only he had known…
Carl wandered back to the stairs leading up to the main building, gazing up at the open door and the bright sunlight which beckoned beyond. He watched Alisa play for a few minutes and then began to ascend. He paused at the threshold of the door, holding the handle in a shaking hand.
“Bye, Allie,” he said, his feeble voice cracking. “I…I love you,”
“Goodbye, Carl,” Alisa said. Cold. Precise. Inhuman. Carl closed the door with tears streaming down his cheeks. His heart thundered within his chest, even as it broke with shame. Sobs racked his body as he turned a key in the lock, and the piano stopped playing.
Follow me on Twitter @ADixonFiction.
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com