Music and Madness

by TheBandBrony

First published

The conductor takes his bows, smiling with pointed teeth as he drives me to insanity.

The conductor takes his bows, smiling with pointed teeth as he drives me to insanity.




--
To Mr. Ignorable. Art used lovingly without permission by Soulspade.

Exposition

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-- Exposition



To some, a blank sheet of paper is an invitation -- a call to action to sully the blank slate and create something of their own devise, to stain the void with the essence of one’s self. It is only natural to want to leave one’s mark -- to let the world know that one was there, if only for the briefest of moments -- be it art or poetry or in my case, music. To most people, empty parchment is a provocation to make something out of nothing.

In my case, though, all the white void on my desk does is taunt me. It laughs at me, jeers at my unwillingness to put pen to paper. If only it would understand that my inability to compose is solely the fault of my stupid head not cooperating with my stupid hooves, not any fault of my own. I even tried telling it so a few times. But it still refuses to listen, insisting on belittling my attempts at musical composition.

It’s not like I want to be stuck in a rut -- more like a valley -- of writer’s block. After that disastrous appearance at the Grand Galloping Gala last year, I’ve been unable to piece together anything more than a four-chord children’s nursery rhyme, much less the epic sonatas that my constituents expect from such a well-known musical mare as I. My success as a composer (as well as the amount of fame that my name will command once I am gone) hinges on the blotches of ink that I put onto this parchment.

I mean sure, I’ve made music before. Most of it has been very well received by the community at large, too. In fact, I’ve achieved a level of notoriety that most other ponies would kill for. But it’s not nearly enough. I need to make something so blinding, so scathing, so absolutely timeless that the name “Octavia” will forever be etched into the walls of musical history. I will make them remember my name.

I look over at the candle stationed on the edge of my desk, the lone defender against the inky darkness of the night that threatens to cut off my work early. The flame, flickering on a stub of string and wax, reminds me of my own career -- Fledgling, frail. Once my masterpiece is complete, the waning light will become an immortal flame, forever blazing atop a golden torch. I can hear it now -- the crowds, speechless with awe, crying with passion, applauding uproariously, chanting my name. Their cries echo in my head as they beg for more. “Octavia! Octavia!”

The flame flickers, and I am brought back to the world. I turn back to my masterpiece, remembering that it is still just a blank sheet of parchment, still just a tiny flame in a sea of darkness. Sighing, I stare menacingly at the paper, hoping against hope that the notes have been there all along, etched into the folds and creases, waiting for me to highlight them.

They aren’t.

Disappointment washes over me in a wave, nearly drowning the flickering candlelight. In the half-darkness I am left with bleary eyes and a masterpiece that refuses to be written. I can’t even get out the Exposition to the blasted thing, how am I supposed to write an entire sonata like this? The hopelessness of my quest drags a frustrated huff from my lips.

I turn my eyes to the candle, still burning dimly on the corner of the desk. Will my life be destined to be nothing but a flash in the pan? Will the ponies of the future never know the genius of my musical talents? Why must I be the one to burn so brightly then fade to black like I’m nothing more than a passing phase? I am not like the ponies of the hip-hop industry. I am timeless!

Wait.

Flash in the pan

fade to nothing

That’s it! The floodgates explode in a shower of imaginary mortar and stone, finally loosing my pent-up creativity into my waiting mind. I only have time to smile deliriously before I snatch up a pen in trembling hooves and settle into my craft, blotting the nothingness with note upon note upon note of what is sure to be regarded for future generations to come as the prime, unsullied example of musical genius. I can hear it now -- a massive, blaring crescendo rises to shake the ground. As trumpets blare out a wall of sound the earth rattles with the roar of timpani and drums. Trombones that raise their bells to pierce the sky with sound proclaim to the heavens that the music of Octavia has finally begun.

Then, the sound fades just as quickly as it began, leaving a stunned, stupefied silence. Before I can draw in a gasp that has been unknowingly forced out of my lungs, flutes flutter in, tickling the still shaking walls of my mind with flittering bursts of sound. The notes float like butterflies around me, captivating my flabbergasted eyes.

The pen runs out of ink, and I rush for more. I can hear the music, reverberating in my head like my skull has become a bell -- oh, a bell’s chime would work nicely there -- in a church tower. My hooves vibrate in time with the tolling, frantically jotting down the notes as they bob to the surface of my mind. I must hurry to capture them, put them onto paper before they are weighted down and sink again, lost to my own incompetence.

The parchment that once mocked me now sits silent and splattered in hastily scribbled dots. With my hooves a blur and my mind filled with the cacophonous racket of a forty-piece orchestra fighting hoof and nail to get out, a smile finally breaks through my taught features. Even as my clumsy hooves try desperately to keep up with the sounds in my head, a happy thought somehow manages to break through all the chaos.

This is going to make me immortal.

The ponies of the imaginary orchestra all nod their heads in agreement, never ceasing their playing as they do. Their agreement gives me a new vigor that my hoof immediately picks up on, sending it into a flurry of precisely-placed spasms. My smile becomes scrunched in concentration, and my eyes try (and fail) to keep up with the slate-grey blur that my right foreleg has become.

The music begins to pick up once more, the baritone blare of french horns forcing their way through the chirps of the flutes, pushing back the high-pitched buzzes in favor of a richer, deeper sound that fills the hall with warmth and intimate ambience. I wipe a bead of sweat from my brow with my unused hoof, them stare at the matted stain dumbly. I can’t ever recall composition being a physically demanding experience.

But of course, this is my masterpiece. It’s bound to be different. I can stand getting a little sweaty if it means an eternity of fame.

The horns start to diminish, leaving a void that the tubas fill with tooth-rattling zeal. Their shattering, mournful wails warn of some great impending danger. They are war-horns, calling an army to battle. My hoof cramps, but I soldier on through the uncomfortable tugging in my tendons. I can already feel the ecstatic buzz that comes along with inspiration start to fade, leaving me a shell, spent of my energy and my music. The tubas fade, leaving a steady marching tempo taken by the clarinets. They lead the army to the field, where they are relieved by fifes and drums.

Two armies converge with a great fanfare of fire. Shadowy figures, brave soldiers of some unknown republic, fall dead, slain to the tune of cannons and cold steel. The fifes continue to keep time above the tremendous pounding, pushing new figures forth as they march to slaughter. My hoof tingles, and pins prick my skin as it loses feeling. But it refuses to stop, moving of its own accord, spasmodically clutching the pen as it rushes the notes to paper. The relentless barrage of cannons fades to the dull roar of timpani, hammering out a mournful march as the dead are tallied. A lone trumpet cries out in sorrow, heralding the thin, dragging sound of chains. The dead are still marching -- marching to the afterlife. A misty, shrouded oblivion that swallows up the shadows. A piercing, demonic laugh slices through the night and stabs at my eardrums--

My hoof suddenly stops, heralding a dull, throbbing ache that will surely hurt a lot worse tomorrow. But my focus is not on my ailing appendage, rather the terrifying scream that makes every last hair on my body stand at rigid attention. The chaotic chuckle seemed apart from the tremendous torrent of music in my mind’s eye. It seemed real. It wasn’t just the imaginary flow of flutes and the ring of marimbas. This had substance, displacing the warm, humid air with ice that slithered down my back.

Music forgotten entirely, I drop the pen and skitter over to the open window adjacent to the desk. Positioning myself on the sill, I peer out nervously into the night. The only light comes from the moon, full of vitality and a silver glow that bathes the street below in haunting silver light. In my paranoia the shadows turn into spirits, weaving their way towards me, reaching out with black, bony appendages, squeezing my throat until I cannot breathe--

I release the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. The shadows are just shadows, they are not out to get me. No matter how much they resembled some long-forgotten spectre, filled with death and cannonfire, choking the mare responsible for bringing its suffering into creation, they will not distract me from my masterpiece.

The warm midnight breeze fills my mane like a sail. I turn to look at it, only then realizing how much my fervor has taken its tole on my appearance. Stray strands of already dark hair leap up and out of normal order, stained and sticky, marred with ink. Stray splotches dot my legs, clotting the grey fur together in odd clumps.

The sadistic laugh is still in my ears, a hollow ring that blots out the whine of the waking world. A lone violin pierces the night, its strings possessed by a demon long gone from this world. The angry, sarcastic whine of the bow against strings drags me from my search. I must finish my masterpiece.

I shuffle back to the desk and look at the papers. They hold no interest any longer. My only wish is to sleep, sleep forever and forget that horrid laugh that made my blood turn to dry ice and stick in my veins. I try jotting down the stray, random chords that the sadistic string plays, but I am utterly spent. The pen falls from my hoof and my thoughts are consumed by the thought of warm covers, a nice hot shower, and a warm cup of tea.

Scratch the tea. And the shower. I’m too tired to do anything but sleep. My eyes fall on the royal purple bed sheets as I levitate toward them, caught in a trance. The music that haunts my head is gone, replaced by a cold silence that stifles any thoughts but that of rest. Laying my head down onto the pillow, I fall almost instantly into a shallow state, not yet alseep, but too alert to be awake. The sound of shuffling feet and a muffled shout echo between my ears. The band wavers, sets their instruments aside to reach for their music.

The sound of paper, discarded and shifted, rings through the hall. The old sheets are incinerated the instant they are touched, leaving ample room for the next score. A director decked out in a stunning black tuxedo of ink-black and pearl-white turns to me. His eyes are the first thing to catch my attention. Sharp, blood-red, fierce, arrogant, they chide me without words or cause. My skin prickles again, despite being under the plush purple comforter.

Seeming to know that he has gotten my attention, he smiles. That’s when I see his teeth, yellow and sharp like a lion’s. These are the jaws of a predator, grinning with the satisfaction of an easy kill. His tongue flicks menacingly across the rows of incisors, eagerly awaiting the moment I fall into uneasy sleep.

He tries to form sentences with his flicking tongue and mangled mouth, but his words become the shocking squeal of a violin, strings scratching against the bow in a horrendous display of noise.

He laughs again, the same diabolic wail that boils white-hot panic in my belly. I try to scream, but I am already fast asleep.

Development

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--Development



A harsh, searing light violates my eyes as they drift open. Reflexively they snap shut, but I force my eyelids apart anyway. Squinting against the blinding beams, I roll my purple pupils around in their sockets. I can still hear the faintest tickle of violins and a laugh that makes my stomach flex and tighten. I lift myself up onto my right hoof and instantly regret it as an acute, shooting pain stabs my joints and buckles the leg, forcing myself onto my back.

Staring blankly at the hoof in pain, I find it red and throbbing -- not a good sign at all. I guess that all that frenzied writing really did a number on me. Crawling out of bed (and being careful not to put any pressure on my injured appendage), I am forced to use my mouth to make the bed -- an activity I haven’t performed orally in years. Doing it now, after all those years, I remember why I found the practice distasteful -- literally. The sheets taste like an unholy combination of lint and detergent that makes me spit out the covers in disgust.

As much as I hate leaving the bed unmade, I decide to just leave it be for now and go back to my masterpiece. Even as the chuckle of the conductor echoes through my head I plow on, eager to continue what will without a doubt be my definitive musical work. Weary as I may be, I must finish and leave my mark on the world. I will not become another anonymous thing, one grain of sand on the beach, baking under the hot sun into nothing.

Approaching my desk, the evidence of my fervor is scattered about the room. Ink dots the floor and the desk, the blackness marring the aged lacquer of the floor in a polka-dot pattern. I sigh frustratedly. That is not going to be easy to get out.

Repressing my frustrations, I approach my desk with no small amount of reverence. I look at the strewn-about pages, covered top to bottom in barely-intelligible scrawl, and resist the urge to smirk. I am quite the artist, but this chicken scratch is positively avant garde. I could probably sell it at one of those uppity hipster-pony galleries for far too many bits than it’s worth. I might just make enough to retire comfortably to someplace warm -- maybe with a nice, private beach.

But I will not allow my masterpiece, the one single, solitary thing that will forever immortalize my name, to rot on some undeserving pony’s wall for eternity. No, my genius deserves to be shared with the world. The very thought of ponies lining up for miles, cheering my name as I bask in the radiant glow of splendor makes a new vigor course through my veins.

A determined smile plays its way across my lips as I wobble up in front of the desk. I take a deep breathe. Remember, I think, this is for fame and fortune! An unquenchable fire blazes to life in my purple eyes. Brazen, bold, I pick up my pen with a flourish of delight. I can already hear the fanfare, the trumpets calling out to the world a message of joy and splendor! I raise my quill to the page and...

Nothing.

The hall is silent. The band refuses to play. Oh well, nothing more than a little bit of leftover writer’s block. Of course the music can’t be gone -- I just need to find it, force it out. Remember, I tell myself, this is only the most important thing you’ve ever done in your whole entire life. I try to recall the violin from last night. Maybe if I remember where I left off, I can just pick up from there. I breathe heavily and concentrate, willing the sound of the strings to invade my mind again. But I still hear silence.

I roll my eyes, realizing I could have simply looked at the written music the whole time. I guess the ring of the music that only last night burst from my head is keeping me from thinking clearly. Oh well. Chuckling breathily I recant last night’s compositions, sorting through the furious scrawlings of a madpony. The music is right here in front of me, yet the band still will not play. The strings do not lift their bows, the horns do not raise their brass tubes to their lips, and the conductor -- whose back is turned to me -- does not lift his baton.

Sighing in frustration, I pick up the quill. If I can’t let the music flow out of me, I’ll just have to force it out. I eke out a choppy string of notes, pressing the quill into the parchment far harder than necessary. The musicians stay hauntingly silent, their stoic faces taunting me, daring me to try and coerce them into playing.

The notes I jot down are unorganized, spastic, unfitting. Try as I might, no dots fit into the parameters of my playing. For what’ it’s worth, I might as well have dashed my head against the side of the table and smeared the blood onto the paper -- at least then there would be some telltale sign of emotion then.

I consider the prospect for a moment, but perish the thought. I still have a masterpiece to write. How would my work be remembered for all time if I were too injured to write it? Laughing at my own foolishness, I try to recall once more the chilling violin that clung to my mind last night. At first, only a few scattered plucks can be heard grazing the shroud of silence.

Ah, there it is, I think. Slowly but surely the bowing pitches worm through the veil and float up from the depths of my head, fluttering this way and that as they break the surface and pop like bubbles as they alight themselves onto the paper through my hooves. A fresh current of ecstasy rushes through my veins, and I become lost as notes dart this way and that through my subconscious.

But wait. The notes are melting, retreating back to the deep as if somepony has tied bricks around them. They sink with ever-increasing speed. I try to pull at them, but they are grabbed by a bony hoof, pulled down into nothing where they are lost. I try calling for them, but I realize that I too am underwater, sucked into the greedy vortex along with my music.

From the deep arises the same demonic laughter from last night. Notes of a violin become a screeching wail that hurts my ears, even with the water to muffle it. I try to cover my ears only to find that I can’t move. As I am pulled downward into the watery nothingness, I see the same triangular eyes of the conductor. He speaks, but I only hear the shriek of strings, pulsing in my head and paralyzing my body as I fall down into emptiness. His possessed howl is all I hear around me as the pressure it creates crushes my skull--

I scream, falling to my side onto the floor as my legs flail out, kicking wildly. I lay there gasping for air, pawing desperately at the floor just to be sure that it is still there. My eyes, wider than dinner plates, dart about the room searching for any sign of that piercing roar that dragged me down into the depths of the oceanic oblivion. But of course, my room is the same, save a dropped quill and myself. I let out a pathetic whimper to reassure myself that I can still hear. The voice of the conductor that seems to be haunting me is just a mechanical whine in my ear now, ignorable as an insect.

But it seemed so real... I felt the waters as they closed around my limp form. I heard the laughter as it rattled my bones. I saw those blood red eyes, running my soul through without pause as they locked onto mine. Those crimson orbs, unwavering in the darkness, swallowing me alive as my screams were rushed away by the imaginary current--

The eyes blink. The conductor whirls about on his podium and thrusts his hands skyward. The band responds in time, tensing themselves and lifts their instruments at the ready. His hands drop and my head explodes with the rattle of harsh horns and strings. Still sitting dumbly on the floor, my ears twitch anxiously as the flitting hum of flutes dart in and out of the wall made by the strings, adding sparkling specks of softness.

The horns crescendo again, bringing my mind back from its reverie. It’s then that it dawns on me that my music, my masterpiece, is slipping away into nothingness because I’m simply sitting there and doing nothing. I rush to the table and ignore the ernest complaint from my hoof as I pick up a pen once more and strike the page, writing down the dots as fast as my mind can comprehend them. Violins, this time in tones unpossessed by some mad conductor, punch solid waves into the concert hall. A single cello keeps a rhythmic beat, allowing its brethren to wander about aimlessly, adding occasional bursts of sound, curtailing the melody smoothly.

My breath comes in short, ragged gasps. The previous night, the music’s thudding against my temples was brilliance in physical form. Now, though, all the pounding is pain, dull and aching. My head and hoof are smarting madly, but the music refuses to stop. The conductor’s baton waves about, heralding the rise and fall of the sound like an ocean’s tides.

He ignores my suffering and draws his conducting stick horizontally, cutting off the band and leaving a harsh silence in the air. Said silence, unable to support itself, falls onto my shoulders and crushes me, stomps the air out of my lungs and leaves me leaving over my work, choking and gasping in the oppressive lull.

By the time I am able to sputter out a curse at my state, the music has already begun again. Tubas drive the beat forward, sending staccato quarter notes slamming into my skull. The rest of the brass joins in for a massive rise, filling my head with so much sound it feels like I will explode.

The brass dies out, and the clarinets and flutes pick up into a... polka? I snap my head up in confusion, and my neck cries out in pain. Ignoring for now the pulsing throb in my spinal cord, I turn my focus inward. I am utterly shocked and confused as the brass picks up again, this time in a jovial march. Trombones pour out a steady melody while the rest of the band puts forth a hoof-tapping step. So thrown am I by the sudden shift in mood that I stop writing for a moment and simply listen to the music in awestruck silence. A tiny smile worms its way onto my lips as the baritones dance around gleefully. It’s almost like he band is a part of some ironic farce, pouring out a happy facade even as they prepare to unleash another roiling explosion of harsh, volatile music.

Hey, that’s a good idea.

The bandleader seems to think so as well. The polka descends into a restlessly increasing tempo smothered by a reeling trumpet, blasting a lone wail over the din. The chords take a turn for the foreboding as clarinets flash up and down the scale, a wild glissando fading into a shimmering crash of a cymbal. The last note leaves my head vibrating like a bell.

The polka picks up once more, but there is a sinister undertone to the seemingly joyous racket. I can feel the conductor grimace with every shock of music that falls like a lightening bolt from a clear sky. The blows of the music send sharp splices of pain through my already swollen hoof as each blare of the trumpets makes the already swollen appendage bow under the strain to write down each and every note that sails through my head.

Sensing my pain, the conductor mercifully relents his barrage. The music dies to a soft, angelic chorus sung by piccolos. For what it’s worth, they sound like angels, descending on rays of light to heal my injuries. The brass dies in favor of the much more subdued tinkling of a piano at the forefront of the melody. My mind, which has spent the better part of Celestia knows how long being assaulted by an imaginary noise, takes the reprieve enthusiastically.

Slumping down against the ink-stained desk, I sigh as my hoof, still errantly dotting notes onto the page (though now at a much more reduced pace), relaxes a bit. For the first time since beginning my masterpiece I can finally sit back and listen to the music that is pouring out of my head like my cranium is a leaky faucet. Closing my eyes halfway, I tune out the scratching of quill against paper and really listen to the music.

I smile against the noise. It is my masterpiece, my greatest achievement -- and I have a private performance of it all to myself! Soon enough ponies will be clamouring for tickets to hear this grand spectacle of musical achievement, and here I sit, honored to be the sole audience of its first ever performance. I want to giggle with glee, but I repress it, lest it disrupt the symphony-in-progress.

Yet, even as I revel in my imminent glory, I can’t help but feel this nagging bite in the back of my head. Something with the instruments seems off -- every note they proclaim covers up a tiny whine, almost like a whisper in my ear that I can’t quite hear. My attempts to single out the hum as a single off key player resolves nothing. The annoying hiss continues, despite my attempts to eradicate it. It almost seems like something is murmuring, chanting just softly enough to not be heard.

This won’t do at all. This is my masterpiece, how dare some rogue instrumentalist try to ruin it? I close my eyes and concentrate. The music grows softer, while the chant slowly increases its volume. I am leaving up and off of my chair now, vainly hoping that straining my already-strained ears will help decipher the origin of the whisper. I’m so close to hearing the voice now -- I can almost hear it now, forming almost tangible words. So close--

I am so caught up in the hum that I hardly notice the conductor chuckle darkly as he raises his baton and drives it down.

My head splits open as the band erupts, sound exploding out of their instruments like magma from an erupting volcano. My pen is dropped, and I clutch my head in agony as timpani and cymbals and horns shatter the quiet and shake the walls of my skull. The music is no longer music -- just a screaming that batters my head like I am being punched from the inside-out.

I am torn down by an army of parasprites, shrieking their shrill calls in time with the rippling bursts of the drums. My room becomes a single grain of powder in a stick of dynamite. It detonates, flinging me off of my chair and into space. For a moment I am suspended in air, unable to even blink as the conductor drives him baton down once more.

His conducting stick comes down again and again and again. Each time I become a fly, splattered on a newspaper. Every hit turns me into a droplet of water as it is pounded against the shoreline, carried by a tsunami of screaming, wailing cries. I am flung again and again into a dark wall, every hit coming so close to killing me, yet backing off just as my vision begins to blur.

Writhing about on the floor I scream and moan in pain. I clutch my head, tear at my mane, rip at my fur. I must get into my head. I must crush the band that resides there. The conductor laughs, the same mirthless, spine-chilling chuckle that makes my hooves curl and my blood run cold. I try to scream, but it goes unheard in the cacophonous roar of a million howling souls. An army of brass and drums screeches into my ears--

Wait a minute.

That’s it. More brass and drums.

All at once the wails stop. The pain, so poignant in its delivery, so all-encompassing in its devastation, ceases at the flick of a switch. Silence, a steel veil of oppression, smacks into my head, shrouds my thoughts, blurs my vision. The harsh quiet is almost just as bad as the noise for a moment, but it soon fades to a manageable hum. It seems as though the conductor approves of my new direction.

Shakily, I approach the table. Pages of music, faded and smeared with ink, lay as the sole witness to the mind-made battery I have suffered. If it weren’t for my own struggle and the throbbing headache that pressed hot pokers into my temples, I would not have even thought it had happened at all. I find it funny -- the episode that nearly crushes me mentally leaves no evidence of its very existence physically.

Brass and drums, brass and drums, I think, picking up the quill once more and shakily putting it only the paper, silently praying that the music won’t pick up so badly. I hear a light bump as the baritone hum of a french horn jumps into the forefront, bopping up and down to an upbeat tempo. I sigh in relief -- perhaps this part will be an interlude, a break for my weary mind. As if to confirm my thoughts, a parade of piccolos pipes up from the background, putting my mind at ease as the lovely (but more importantly quiet) orchestra fills my head with a gentle lullaby.

My muscles relax, and for the first time today I feel like I can finally collect myself. The music luls a yawn out of me. Good heavens, a yawn. I force myself to at least half-focus on the music. Don’t want to get too complacent, after all. I do my best to keep some of my attention back to the band. It’s only then that I notice the conductor, new vigor emanating from his body in waves, raise his baton once more, prepared to drive it down and unleash another deafening roar.

I sigh again, this time in defeated realization.

It’s going to be a long day.

Recapulation

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--Recapitulation



Stop.

It has to stop.

Trumpets take turns putting their bells against the inside of my head and blasting away, sending unceasing barrage of sound into my skull. Each push of air is a fist beating me down into the floor, flattening me like a pancake. While my right hoof jots down a shaky string of musical notes onto yet another sheet of parchment, my other leg clutches my head, desperate for a reprieve from the agonizingly loud concerto. My writing hoof has long since gone numb, only gripping the quill out of sheer muscle memory.

The work -- my masterpiece -- is almost complete. Looking back, it’s almost funny. It only took four days of uninterrupted work to do what normally would have taken weeks. Even better is the fact that my piece -- my masterpiece -- is shaping up to be my best work ever. My masterpiece.

My masterpiece.

I would say it out loud and relish in its sound, but my throat is too sore and swollen from lack of water. I can’t afford to get up and nourish myself, lest I lose some integral part of my composition to the unretrievable depths of my mind. A little dehydration is a small price to pay for a masterpiece as glorious as mine. It really doesn’t bother me that much, aside from when I pause to scream out in pain.

It hurts then, too -- when I scream.

My breathing quickens as another sharp blast of noise thuds against my forehead. For the life of me I could swear that I’m hallucinating the band in my head and that I’m really just receiving a lobotomy without any anesthetic. That would explain the gratuitous pain, at least. The flutes feel more like they’re stabbing me with their pipes rather than playing, the drums playing on my skull instead of their skins.

But it’s all okay. My masterpiece is almost done. Once it’s all over the band will stop, the conductor with his fanged smile and his oppressive eyes will disappear forever, and I’ll be left with nothing but the greatest piece of music ever written by ponykind. Seems like a fair trade -- my temporary comfort for eternal fame.

It’s like I’m being tested -- yes, that’s it. I’m just running a gauntlet of torturous pain and agony. I need to be deemed worthy before I can be properly recognized for my achievements. After all, not just everypony can go out and write great music. If every piece of music was the best, none of it would be--

The band comes to a screeching halt, their sudden quiet jolting my head forward and onto the desk. A thin trickle of blood mingles with the ink on the page. The conductor shakes his head mirthlessly, as if to say, “You’re wrong. Shut up and keep writing.” I wearily oblige, wincing as the fresh flow of music forces a thin droplet of red out of the cut on my head. Blood, sweat, and tears, they say, is what makes something great. Now I have contributed all three to the music before me.

That has to count for something, at least.

I want to rest. I want to lay my head down and never pick up a quill again. The band continues their painful playing over my lament, the bombastic tones nearly drowning out my own thoughts. I desire so fiercely to be done with this piece of music and close my eyes and never wake up. To sleep forever, undisturbed by sound, shrouded in silence.

The conductor hits a jarring high-note, forcing my tight chest to move up and down again, expelling the air in my lungs. Every breath hurts so much, like my lungs are wrapped in barbed wire. Every move sends another sharpened point driving into my flesh, another barb lodging itself in my soft insides. It is agony, set to the greatest music the world will ever hear. If this is the price I must pay to be able to listen to it, then the ticket prices are going to be extraordinary.

It’s almost done now. The band is upping the tempo, increasing their rhythmic strikes against my skull, heightening up the tension in preparation for one final crescendo. The xylophone becomes my spine, the hard mallets rattling each vertebrae. The bows of the violins and cellos and upright basses are my mane, and every draw against the strings yanks my head back with a violent tugging. My desk is a drum and my hooves, the sticks. My legs flail about spastically, striking the hard wood with vicious legato strokes.

The conductor vamps up the speed. His baton becomes a blur, and for a frightening minute all I can see is blurs of color that buffet me to and fro. With my body rocking left and right I feel like a metronome, stuck on the fastest speed possible. If this keeps up I think I’m going to be sick.

A final, maddening crescendo tears fresh cracks in my bones. I can’t hear now -- the world is drowned out by the demonic din of the orchestra. My vision blurs as I fight to take in breath. The pressure of the sound in my head fills my lungs and chokes me. Through the haze, I can see the conductor turn, his same fanged smile punching out any breath that I have left. His baton is raised, the mindless rise and fall of the music hinging on every flick of the baton.

His smile turns into a smirk, and his eyes close. His conducting stick shoots up and pierces the sky, then drops, carrying lingering bolts of lightning that descend onto my form with merciless speed. All I can do is stare hopelessly upwards and watch.

The final note lifts me up and tears me to pieces, flinging me across the room as a chorus of rueful, demonic voices beat my remains. A terrifying combination of noise and silence becomes one fuzzy din, crumpling my skull and squeezing my brain to the bursting point. When the racket dies out to the fall of the conductor’s baton, I feel the horrible anvil of silence begin its descent, burying itself into my back and flinging me to the floor like a ragdoll.

In the moments after the music fades I can hear two things. My own heart -- pumping frantically at my chest, desperate for calm -- and silence. The blissful, serene sound of silence. I’ve done it. I’ve finally done it. Weakly I stare up at the table, locking eyes with my beautiful sonata, sitting jumbled on the table.

It’s over. It’s done.

I try to get up only to realize that my right hoof is still numb and swollen. Oh well. Wounds are temporary, but fame and fortune is eternal. As a shiver washes over me I struggle to stand, then limp my way over to the desk. Staring through a blurry haze at my masterpiece, I can already hear the crowds cheer, the critics rave, the conductor chuckle satanically as he points his baton and cues another round of sound--

The next blast of music blindsides me, throws me against the wall at terminal velocity. No, I think dumbly as wave after wave of noise tears away at my eardrums. It’s supposed to be over. The song is over! Why does the band still play? The conductor offeres no reply, still staring through me with the eyes that could bore holes into concrete.

I try to think, though managing anything more than a single thought is impossible, drowned out by the racket of senseless noise. With that accursed fuzz in my head it’s starting to get pretty hard to do anything. I must get to the bottom of this--

His smile makes me grimace and cuts off any possibility for thought. I can’t take this anymore -- the music that is not music, the laugh that makes me want to pound my head into something solid --

Hey, that’s a good idea. Without thinking I crawl to the table, wrapping myself around one of its solid oak legs before rearing my head back and slamming it into its pointed side. A blinding bolt of pain shoots through my forehead, but I do not waiver. I strike again, wincing hysterically as a tiny spatter of blood falls to the floor. As much as I aimlessly bash my head against wood, the music persists, its maddening squeals and scratches seeming to twist the music that I had so eagerly invited into my head, warping it until it is nothing more than nails on a chalkboard set to an uptempo beat.

The music...

No. It can’t be. The music and my masterpiece... they’re not related. It’s not possible. I beg for an answer, a lie, anything that might spare my now condemned composition. The conductor laughs again, piercing the already demonic din with a fresh burst of numbing noise. There are no words to his babble, but he might as well be reading a death sentence.

I turn a scornful eye at the innocent pages of parchment that sit on my bloodied, ink-smeared desk. The paper isn’t alive, yet in my mind I cast it down like a false idol, leading me astray before leaving me to rot. How dare it betray me like that, inviting this... this thing into my head and allow it to eat me alive? I created it -- how could it do that to me? Anger boils inside me, and my eyes become like the conductor’s; spiteful, red-tinted. In a haze of roiling rage I back away shakily from the traitorous paper, a flaming inferno igniting in my head.

Raging inferno -- that gives me an idea.

Shapes and physical objects become blurs in a blood-red haze as I forsake the desk and limp towards a nearby shelf. I almost stumble before reaching it, but manage to catch myself before I fall. Clawing through its contents one thought consumes my mind like a forest fire would a grove of trees.

Matches.

To my surprise I find that my hoof is shaking as I attempt to hold the matchbook up. No matter. They’ll serve their purpose even if my hands are shaking like the epicenters of earthquakes. My aching, quaking hoof, the churning rage in my gut, my crimson eyes -- they all fade away, leaving a clear path to my music, still plastered with fear to the desk across the room.

Getting back proves to be rather difficult -- I stumble about wildly as the dull thump-thump of a bass slaps at my ears, leaving them red and raw. I can hardly hear the din now over the satisfying crackle of burning paper that fills my head and leaves it charred and blackened. The music made me do this, it’s not really my fault. I’m just the victim of tragic circumstance. But now it’s time for the real villain -- twenty or so odd sheets of ink-blotted parchment -- to receive its comeuppance.

Finally, and with heroic effort, I reach the table. Every single fire safety lesson that I received as a filly roar to life, flashing warning lights in my mind. But I hardly comprehend them; the sirens are drowned out by a sea of brass, the lights, lost in a crimson fog. The combustible stick slides against the coarse strip and bursts into flame, but I only notice its flickering light once it burns down to a nub and scorches my hoof, leaving only a crispy reminder of my distractedness.

I grab another one in a wavering hoof and light it up, this time tossing it as soon as it flares up onto the pile of papers. They go up almost instantly--

And with the flame rises a delirious uproar in the music. It sounds as if the musicians themselves are burning up, letting out their death throes in violent squawks through their instruments. Like prisoners rattling at their cell bars they pound at the inside of me, desperate to get out, only to find no solace but that found in the fiery inferno. The pages burn with an orange glow as my masterpiece -- the single greatest achievement in all my life -- flares to life and dies before me.

As the glow dims, so does the music. They decrescendo in tandem until there is nothing but a harsh pop and occasional crackle. The destruction is complete, not a single page surviving the maelstrom. Likewise in my head, the music that tormented me seems to, at last, fall silent. I sigh, almost regretting my music’s destruction. It’s a shame that the gloriously terrifying orchestra of my own imagination went up in flames with it, but I think that I’ll survive without hearing that laugh of the conductor that makes my head hurt just thinking of it.

Ah, there it is again. The same demonic howl--

No. No, it can’t still be happening. I box my ears as hard as I can, yet the laughter persists, rising up from the ashes like a possessed phoenix and barreling into my chest, knocking any breath I had left out like it had no business in my lungs in the first place. My denial only seems to strengthen his chuckle as it festers and grows like an infected wound. I beg for it to stop, but he shows no such mercy.

At last I crumble and allow panic-filled hysteria wash over me as I sink to the floor in tears. My masterpiece is gone, charred by my own hoof. My mind in a blackened husk, razed by fire and pummeled by intangible laughter. I am bruised, beaten, bloodied, and broken; the poster-child of defeat. And to top it off, that laugh that refuses to leave me be, the very thing that has done nothing but harm me for these past days won’t leave, bolstered only by my suffering.

The red veil returns, heralding another harsh scraping sound that can only be the wailing of my nightmares broken out of their dreamscape to persecute me in the real world. My cries for help go unheeded, lost in the spiked shroud of sound that falls over my head. I can’t go on like this -- it must end.

No. I must end it.

Fighting the will of the conductor to hold me down with the weight of his shriek, I turn and stumble blindly out the door, using the weight in my chest to gain momentum and fling me into the outside world. A sickly, silver-tint shrouds everything out here -- it dawns on me that it must be night out. How long have I spent in my house, slaving away at my masterpiece only to burn it up--

Another wail threatens to topple me over. I continue at a galloping pace, not stopping even as I hear a cry somewhere behind me. Perhaps a pony, crying out to stop. I don’t heed their calls. His laugh carries me now, swerving over cobblestone and down alleyways, the streets all tinted the same sickening shade of red. I am unclear as to where I am being lead until an especially heavy feeling knocks me off balance, sending me sliding to a painful stop at the apex of the bridge overlooking Ponyville River.

My purpose here becomes clear to me as I pick myself up, numb to the cuts and bruises that now arch and curve through my skin in a delicately abstract pattern. The conductor leans in, eager to see my broken form give in before my task can be completed. But I won’t give him the satisfaction. I won’t let his smug, jagged smile curl into a smirk. I won’t let his horrifying eyes taunt me with their silent stare anymore.

I look around. Even through the haze I can see that there’s nopony in sight -- the night is deserted. A smile cracks my dry lips as I tense my quivering legs. I steel myself, fortifying my thoughts on the knowledge that his laugh will haunt me no more.

My hooves leave the bridge. There is a swift rushing of air, then water, then darkness.

Peace.

Peace at last.

In the darkness, I am finally at peace.

From the nothing around me, I hear another sound. Piercing, wailing, howling, it is death in all its glory. Its sickle slices through the air, whistling above the din, cutting the tranquil silence into jutting shapes of disarray and chaos. The blade bites into my skin, and there is pain like no other. The noise buffets me about in the void while the imaginary steel slices me.

From the nothing, a shape finally takes form, that of two triangular eyes, irises dilated in delusion, weighing me down until I am crushed under his stare. Blood-red and smirking, they herald a sickening howl that batters my ears like drums -- an all too familiar laugh that shatters my mind like thin glass dropped on cobblestone. The conductor smiles statically, baring his pointed teeth at my shaking form as he descends to me.

I try to scream, but I’m drowned out by the laugh. He dives closer and closer, encompassing my vision until all that remains are his crazed, crimson pupils. I wail again, but there is no sound. My chest implodes, and I sink limply to the bottom of the river, the mad cackle of the conductor echoing in my waterlogged ears. There is a thump, and a brown, silty haze claws at my eyes as my vision narrows to a pinprick of opaque, blue-tinted light.

Then my eyes close, and I am alone in silent oblivion.