fbpx
You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access

One Shot | Living Art

PROMPT

“Shoulder or pocket, your choice.”

Living Art

Instruments lined the walls, strings and percussion alike. The metronome next to the window stood silent watch next to the sleek black grand piano. There were a couple of chairs nearby but, otherwise, the only other piece of furniture in the room was a mahogany desk.

The desk was usually covered with dozens of blank sheet music scores, scraps of paper, and fountain pens accompanied by their bottles of ink. That’s not what was on the desk now.

Instead, there was a lone figure.

Neomaya paced back and forth across the surface of the desk. She wrung her hands on way, and then the other way. She didn’t remember the last time she was this nervous.

Well…

That wasn’t true…

She did remember one specific time – the day she was taken to her new home.

She stood on the same desk where she first met… him – Nathaniel Eragon.

Nathaniel Eragon was a tall, lanky man with thick, dark and curly auburn hair that was about shoulder length. His features were almost over exaggeratedly thin. He had narrow lips that formed a thin line on his face when he was wrestling with something but didn’t want to say.

The musician carried a whimsical, quick-witted energy that lurked beneath his reserved exterior. He often wore button down shirts with rolled up sleeves, revealing a few subtle tattoos he often kept private.

His most notable feature, however, was his honey-colored eye.

This is what threw Neomaya off the most when she first met him.

The one eye.

Evidently, when he was young, he had an accident which took his right eye. Now, he wore an eyepatch to cover up what would undoubtedly make other uncomfortable.

Neomaya hated that people would see him and be uncomfortable with him, especially after she got to know him. He was very sweet and generous, soft spoken and very encouraging when given the correct circumstances.

She didn’t know that when she was presented to him.

She stopped pacing and closed her eyes to remember that day.

~~~^*^*^~~~

The box she was in rattled and shook around her. They came directly from the Facility and were going to her supposed forever home. Neomaya was a pet, a biologically engineered entity derived directly from the human race. Fully sentient with no autonomy, but that’s how things were.

She was small of stature, barely above four and a half inches, and had mousey brown hair the frizzed out at the ends. Slate black eyes and pale, cream-colored skin, Neomaya’s appearance wasn’t the only thing that set her apart from other pets.

She also received special conditioning, which was why she came directly from the Facility. Neomaya was registered as a therapy pet, meaning she was especially obedient, highly empathetic, and intuitive.

Neomaya wasn’t sure why she was purchased, but she did know that the family seemed especially concerned about who she was being given to. She was tossed from side to side in the box, quietly listening to the chatter on the outside.

“Mom, I know this is a good idea. Trust me! He’s been so down and out lately. Having a pet will give him something to do,” said the woman who purchased Neomaya.

“I understand what you’re trying to do for your brother. It’s just…” said an older woman.

“It’s just nothing. He’s going to accept his new pet, love it, and thank me later for it.”

More jostling and the sounds of footsteps. The quick, jolting upward told the pet they were going up stairs. There was furious knocking on the door. From where she was, Neomaya could already feel the chill of the late autumn air seeping in through the cracks in the box and through the air holes at the top of the box.

The door opened and a soft, deep voice with a hint of masculine gravel greeted the two humans at the door. Neomaya was shaking and too focused on maintaining her neutral disposition to hear what it was they were talking about.

All she knew was that the top of the box was suddenly thrown open and a female hand engulfed her entire frame with little to no effort. She was lifted out of the box and suddenly placed on a mahogany surface. She stumbled a few steps before looking up into the singular honey-colored eye of a very thin man in his late twenties.

Instantly, she used her training and stood at her trained “attention” stance, shoulders relaxed, head down with gaze averted, straight back, and no fidgeting. Long fingers suddenly came into her field of vision. Instinctively, she tensed, but the fingers only rested near her.

“Katherine, what did you do?” he asked, voice sounding tired and annoyed.

“I got you a pet. Now you have something other than your booze to entertain,” snarked Katherine, the woman who purchased Neomaya.

“You make it sound like I’m an alcoholic,” he muttered as he walked way, which released the tension in Neomaya’s shoulders immensely. She dared to glance up and watch what was about to happen. “And I don’t need a pet. I told you. I’m grieving. That’s all.”

“Great! And a pet will help you get back to normal,” replied Katherine. When the man gave no response, she huffed a sigh and approached. “Nathaniel, listen. We’re worried about you. Right mom? We are all worried about you. You’re obviously exhausted. You obviously aren’t eating, at least not well. You aren’t even writing music for Heaven’s sake! Music is your life, and you’re not even doing that. I know Liberty was a little more than a friend, but…”

At the mention of this name, Nathaniel whipped around, a fierce and deep seeded anger in his face. “Don’t…”

Katherine rolled her eyes and walked toward the door.

“Mom is in the car. We were going to invite you to lunch, but you should get yourself together. Seriously, Nathaniel. I know it’s only been six months, but this isn’t healthy.” With that, Katherine left the two of them alone.

Nathaniel’s posture shifted from hostile to slumped, despondent. He walked over and hopped up on top of the piano, which Neomaya only now noticed, and he laid back to stare at the ceiling.

He said nothing.

He barely acknowledged her existence.

An hour passed while Neomaya waited patiently for some sort of order. Her training taught her that. It didn’t stop her from looking around the room cautiously. It was beautiful and spacious, instruments clinging to stands and hooks on the walls. There were frames of what looked like awards, but the pet would need to get closer to read what they actually were.

Another hour had almost completed when Nathaniel pushed himself up, walked over to the desk, and plopped down in the chair across from Neomaya. She held deathly still as she stood there, waiting for him to issue some kind of command or to start messing with her. It was what they said would happen during her conditioning after all.

She heard him click his tongue just before speaking.

“I have no idea why she brought you here to me. Kat always thinks she knows best,” he sighed. His finger suddenly came into view and rested on the top of her shoes before retracting and pointing at her attire. “Kat probably dressed you like that. Skin-tight uniform. At least the colors suit you. White and sky blue. You look like a nurse.”

Neomaya felt tears prick the corners of her eyes. This wasn’t even the worst thing that had ever been said to her, but it was just his presence that made her sad. He was obviously skilled, otherwise he wouldn’t have so many instruments and pieces of paper with signatures and awards. Still, he seemed angry and sad, which made him critical.

“Are you scared of me?” he asked briskly. Neomaya took the chance to look up into his face and mechanically shake her head even though every instinct in her squirmed under his scrutiny.

“No sir,” she said clearly, which made Nathaniel snort.

“Not a very good liar. I can see it in your eyes that you’re either afraid or uncomfortable. Is it the patch?” he asked stiffly. Neomaya’s heartrate quickened as she remembered her training. Reassure. Regulate. Be ready.

“Just getting to know you, sir,” said Neomaya.

Nathaniel sighed and folded his arms across his chest, leaving a solid five minutes of air in the conversation before speaking again.

“It’s freaky, you know,” continued Nathaniel, eye glazing over and looking not at her, but at something distant that Neomaya couldn’t see. “You look so human except for your height. Eyes, nose, fingers, toes, heart, brain. Basically dressed up to play a nurse, here to tend to a soul not worth the oxygen and carbon constructing it. How human are you anyway?”

He sounded so hopeless. It was heart crushing.

Maybe it was because, mere hours ago, she was plucked from training to be taken to an unknown fate. Maybe it was just being in his presence and feeling the heartbreak in the air around him. Whatever it was, she didn’t know.

All Neomaya knew was that her eyes were glistening with tears and her shoulders shook slightly under Nathaniel’s gaze.

She heard him sigh and he leaned back while she attempted to steady her breathing. Heart racing, chest tight, Neomaya knew immediately her training was failing.

Or was it…

A few seconds later, Nathaniel sighed again, leaned forward, and reached out to press his palm against her back, thumb barely brushing the side of her head. It wasn’t a display of power, nor was it meant as threatening. It was meant as a comfort, which Neomaya noted as a good sign.

His fingers closed around her delicately, closing around her lower half, before he tilted his hand for her to sit in. He used his fingers like a human would use a seat belt as he lifted her to his chest above his heart and tilted his hand, letting her lean forward until his palm was against her back.

He was cradling her in his palm, pressing her ever so slightly into his shoulder. Neomaya wasn’t sure, but it felt like he was trying to offer some kind of hug. She leaned into the touch, both out of training habits and because, honestly, it felt nice. She gripped onto his shirt and pressed her face into the nice smelling fabric.

“Sorry,” he said quietly, which still reverberated in his chest like distant, rolling thunder to her. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I’m just… tired. Sad and tired.”

Nathaniel leaned back into his chair, taking Neomaya with him, as he sat there and breathed. Neomaya listened to his heart deep in his chest. It was rhythmic and soothing, lulling her into a dazed, dreamlike state. She could fall asleep to this sound. After some time, he tensed his fingers around her, which instantly gained the pet’s attention.

“I guess I need to find something to feed the both of us. Pocket or shoulder, your choice,” he muttered. There was hardly any debate in her mind. Neomaya saw that the pocket he was referring to was mere inches from her body and so close to the hypnotic thrum of his heart, so the choice was clear.

“Pocket please, sir,” she replied.

“Ugh, enough with the sir nonsense. It’s Nathaniel. Just Nathaniel.”

“Yes si—er… Nathaniel.” With that, he tilted his hand and she slipped easily between the folds of the fabric and watched as Nathaniel made his way through his home to the kitchen, noticing the entire way how he shuffled past all of his awards as though they didn’t exist.

What happened to him?

~~~^*^*^~~~

The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, and Neomaya had been tracking the idiosyncrasies of her human. First was when he woke up, which was late in the afternoon. Most nights, she accidentally fell asleep and woke up in her cubby he made for her in his bedside table.

He didn’t say much and, if he did, he was clear and concise. Mostly, if he talked, he would ask her if she needed anything or if she would rather be in his pocket or on his shoulder. Every time, she chose pocket. The shoulder felt so exposed and, if she was being honest, Neomaya was a quiet introvert at best. She also liked listening to the deep, rhythmic pulse of his heart.

Nathaniel had this way of shuffling his feet when he walked, but he had excellent posture when he sat down. He barely ate and sometimes muttered in his sleep. His touch was delicate, and he never pinched or grabbed her unnecessarily. In fact, other than the odd night when he would press his loosely closed fist against her back, Neomaya was left to her own devices.

Nathaniel installed ropes and lines for her to climb. One day when he felt energetic, he even installed a couple of ladder and bridge systems so she could get from place to place on her own.

Neomaya could wander and explore as she pleased through the house and found a lot of her time open and free. It was an odd sensation, not being watched or monitored every second of every day. What was even stranger was that she, not once, felt uneasy around Nathaniel. It wasn’t at all what she expected, being someone’s pet.

There were a few times where she found frames overturned or pictures that were clearly torn up and taped back together, but with pieces missing. It wasn’t her place to ask or pry, but she made note to remember it.

What made Neomaya very intrigued, however, were the instruments. She didn’t dare ask about them and, instead, made herself readily available and close by if he needed anything.

It was one fateful day, however, when he stepped out of the room and left her alone on his desk that she blundered into what became the most special interaction they ever had.

Nathaniel had gotten up from the desk because he was cleaning a couple of fountain pens and the ink cartridge broke. He had pulled out some pieces of paper from the desk drawer with these funny lines on it and began scribbling on it. The lines came in groups of five and were covered in little dots and lines.

He crumpled the first and second sheet before pulling out one that looked like it was almost filled in before the cartridge exploded. Neomaya wasn’t usually very nosy, but she realized only now that she knew very little about Nathaniel. It wasn’t her job to ask questions, but maybe she could get the answers on her own.

She hopped down from the little swing she made which Nathaniel had attached to his desk shelf and walked across the desk onto the paper to get a better view of the top of the page. The page itself was pristine, crisp around the edges. There was not a smudge in sight on the entire page. It was clear he took very good care of this document.

One of the benefits of her specialized function as a therapy pet was that she was taught to read. There were no words anywhere on the page between or next to the lines except for a few words at the very top of the page – Freedom for Liberty.

Neomaya had heard that before – Liberty. It was a concept, yes; however, the last time it was mentioned was when Nathaniel’s sister said it like a name. The way the sister used the name made it sound like this person wasn’t around anymore. Was this paper for someone? Was that why Nathaniel was despondent?

Neomaya heard the familiar shuffle of Nathaniel’s footsteps and turned around to walk back to her spot on the swing when her heart seized in her chest. Her eyes caught something, and she knew she was going to be punished.

When Neomaya walked onto the page, she walked through the spilled ink first – and there was a trail behind her of her little footprints across the page. She took a few involuntary steps backward, leaving several more prints.

No.

Please no.

Nathaniel’s shuffles were getting louder.

Neomaya thought fast and knelt, attempting to use her hands to wipe away the ink she left behind. It only smudged the page more. She started to hyperventilate, heart pounding so hard it threatened to break her ribs from the inside.

She started trembling, trying to think of what her training would say. Sadly, the only thought that was coming to her was that the punishment for destroying something precious to her owner would be more severe than anything else she had endured.

The footsteps stopped.

“What the… what did you…” Nathaniel asked, his voice having a noticeable tremor.

Neomaya choked back a sob and couldn’t bring herself to look up into Nathaniel’s honey colored eye. She took a few more instinctual steps back away from him, instinct ruling her movement.

“I… I’m s-s-so-rry. I-It w-was an accident.” Neomaya saw his hand in her peripheral vision reach out to the paper and touch along the shoe marks she made on the page. His fingertips were shaking. “P-p-please. I can make it right. L-let me…”

Neomaya was suddenly cut short when Nathaniel’s left hand came up and plucked her off of the desk, fingers pinching the back of her dress right at the base of her spine and lifted her a foot off of the page. A whimpering squeak escaped her as tears spilled from the corners of her eyes. Nathaniel held the foot smudged pages in his right hand for several seconds before setting them off to the side.

Neomaya was shaking violently, keeping her eyes pinched shut as she kept her arms wrapped firmly around her midsection as if, in some way, she could protect herself. She heard the drawer below open and close as well as the sound of paper being readjusted on the page. She also heard the sound of something pouring and, against her better judgment, opened her eyes.

The pet saw him pouring ink a small puddle of ink into a small tray next to the paper just in time as he lowered her back down onto the desk, setting her in the tray. He moved his hand a way, leaving her standing there, shoes soaking in the ink. She tried breathing slowly, but the compression in her chest from stress wasn’t letting her get a good breath.

“Walk across the page,” he directed, voice direct and unbelievably calm. Neomaya stifled another sob as she hesitantly stepped out of the tray and onto the page. Knees knocking the whole way, she made a direct line from one side of the page to the other, walking parallel to the lines on the page.

With incredible speed, Nathaniel reached out and plucked her off of the desk again, readjusting the page and setting her at the next set of lines down.

“Try again,” he said. Neomaya felt the intensity of his gaze watching her every movement. Was he going to make her do this to the whole page? Was this some kind of example he was going to use to punish her? She began walking again when he extended his right hand toward her. Instinctually, she flinched and stepped a few paces away, changing where she placed her feet. “Good.”

Neomaya’s heart still thundered in her chest, but there was something a little different in his tone. Fascination? Curiosity? He didn’t sound vindictive or angry. Could it be… he wasn’t going to punish her?

She took a few deep, calming breaths and looked up into his honey-colored eye, catching a gleam of something in his gaze. He wasn’t looking at her though – he was looking at the page. He could see something she couldn’t, which she took as a good sign.

Neomaya wasn’t sure what else to do but staying still didn’t seem to be the option. Instead, she decided to experiment slightly. The pet stared at the lines beneath her feet and chose a few different points to walk across that were on the top and bottom of the funny lines. She staggered her steps and leapt at one point until she reached the end of the line.

Sure enough, the process was repeated, pausing only to dip her shoes back into the ink, until the entire page was covered with her shoe prints. Nathaniel pulled a cloth from the drawer and set his pet on top of it before gathering up the paper in one hand and her in the other and walked over to the piano.

There was the slightest hesitation as he pulled the cover from the piano keys and set both Neomaya and the paper on top of the shiny surface of the piano. His eye was dancing with light as he remained standing and placed his right hand on the keys. With little effort, he pressed his fingers into the keys and began to play.

The reverberations under her made Neomaya jump slightly, but suddenly she was entranced by the sound. The rhythmic thrum beneath her reminded the pet of his heartbeat. A quick roll of his fingers suddenly caught her attention. She remembered dragging her foot across the page upward.

Was he able to do something with the little dots on the lined paper left behind by her shoes? Could he read the little dots?

He suddenly sat down, pulling the bench beneath him, as he placed his left hand on the keys and, both hands now dancing across the sleek black and white pieces of wood. He was making music – from the smudges of her shoes.

It didn’t last long and was incredibly repetitive and simple, but Nathaniel suddenly stopped playing.

“Not bad,” he muttered, eye suddenly flicking up to where Neomaya was sitting in the cloth which was now stained with the ink from her shoes. “Thoughts?” he asked

“I… um…” Neomaya was caught completely off guard by his question. “I… thought it was lovely.”

Silence. Did she say something wrong? Should she have been more specific? What did he want her to say? Should she…

Nathaniel interrupted her thoughts I the most unexpected way.

“I ought to apologize. I shouldn’t have grabbed you like that, and I should’ve explained my train of thought before acting. She…” Nathaniel stopped before looking back down at the keys, eyes locked on a memory in his mind. “Libs would’ve scolded me for behaving like that. So, Neomaya, I’m sorry I startled you.”

Neomaya, absolutely stunned, shook her head as she ran through her training’s mantra again. Reassure. Regulate. Be ready. Somehow, it didn’t seem to fit very well though. She glanced to her right and looked out the window, gazing at the drifting snowfall just outside.

Instead of relying on her training, she decided to rely on her instincts. She knew Nathaniel, and yet she didn’t at the same time. Maybe now was that time.

“Libs?” she asked, clearing her throat in hopes to relieve the tension in her chest. “Is… that for Liberty?”

Nathaniel nodded as he continued to stare at the keys. “She… was a friend of mine. I wanted us to be something more, but that never panned out; and it doesn’t matter now anyway. Libs… she had a taste for a thrill, and that’s what got her in trouble. I tried to get her off of them, but she wouldn’t listen to me. They’re addictive for a reason.”

It dawned on her all at once.

“Those words on the other page… was that for her?” asked Neomaya, daring to ask such a bold question considering she technically ruined it with her shoeprints. Nathaniel nodded, and Neomaya watched as he clenched his jaw and a gloss began to form over his eye.

That was what was going on. That was why he was quiet and not writing music. Everything suddenly made so much sense, and it made Neomaya’s heart clench in a terrible, untouchable ache. He was heartbroken, separated from the person he loved.

“Hey, you okay?” asked Nathaniel. Neomaya suddenly realized she was crying, tears uncontrollably sliding down her cheeks. She tried wiping them away with the ink-stained cloth she was on, but to no avail. “Oh gosh… I didn’t mean to scare you. I swear I just wasn’t thinking. I’m not some psychopath. I wouldn’t hurt…”

“It’s not that,” whimpered Neomaya. She felt Nathaniel’s hand come up behind her and press reassuringly against her back. She leaned back into the warmth as she tried desperately to gather herself. “I… I can feel your heartache. I can feel how much she meant to you. It’s not fair. You’ve been so kind to me, and you deserve to be happy. Libs had to know that too.”

There were several unsure seconds between them; however, thankfully, both refused to swerve in this game of emotional chicken. Nathaniel’s hand shifted around Neomaya but stopped before completely enclosing her.

“May I?” he asked. She sniffed and gave a slightly breathy laugh before nodding. He picked her up delicately and, as he had done so many times before, pressed her against his chest lightly. She gripped the fabric of his shirt for dear life, breathing in the smell of light starch and detergent mixed with his scent until it soothed her.

“Nathaniel?” she said after they stayed there for several silent minutes. He hummed in acknowledgement. “I’m… I’m glad you told me about her. Liberty I mean. I know it wasn’t easy and… and I hope I’m not speaking out of turn, but I don’t care what your sister says. It’s okay to be sad. It’s not okay to give up, but it’s okay to be sad.”

Nathaniel sighed and nodded before standing up and walking back to the desk. “Care to try again?” Neomaya looked up at him and smiled, wiping her red and slightly puffy eyes, before nodding. “We’ll need more ink and paper then.”

~~~^*^*^~~~

It had been a year since that fateful interaction, almost to the day. They had grown closer than ever and hadn’t stopped creating music with one another.

Nathaniel and Neomaya continued to write together, Neomaya dancing and twirling across the page and learning to place certain dots, or “notes,” together which she liked to hear. She listened to him bring her scribbles and dots to life.

It took some time, but she eventually developed a style of her own – but not through music alone. In an activity they tried together, Nathaniel discovered Neomaya had an extreme aptitude for clay sculpting. She made figurines of all shapes and sizes, some as tall as she was and some the size of her finger which Nathaniel had to see through a microscope to see in detail.

Sculpting was the pet’s forte, but, with some encouragement, Nathaniel watched her passion explode to sketching and watercolor, Neomaya sometimes using her whole body as her brush against the canvas.

They were exquisite, as was the music Nathaniel composed from their shared efforts. Then, after many long conversations, Nathaniel convinced her to give him permission to put her art on display as he recorded and performed their music.

When she was unsure, he always said the same thing which helped him be the musician he always wanted to be.

“It doesn’t matter if anyone else likes it. You like it. You have passion and a love for what you do. That is what matters. People will see your zeal, your spark, and be inspired by it. If they’re jealous and if they belittle you and criticize your work cruelly, it’s because they can’t do it themselves. They’re jealous because they see your talent and are disappointed in themselves. Feedback is one thing, criticism is another. Don’t confuse them. Finally, if you think you’re the only one who will enjoy it, this about this. What are the chances, in this vast world with the hundreds of millions of people, that you are the only person who enjoys art like yours? Don’t let their insecurities make you afraid to be the person you were meant to be.”

So…

That was where she was.

She was pacing back and forth on the desk in a sweet white dress with flowing sleeves that barely covered her shoulders that was smattered with all different kinds of paint starting at her belt and fading as it reached the ends of the white, flowing fabric.

Nathaniel stepped into the room, shuffling his feet as always, looking dapper in a white button down that was cuffed to his elbows to reveal part of his tattoo, dark blue vest and pants to match, and his unruly hair tied back in a low man-bun.

“Ready?” he asked. She nodded timidly, keeping her once low hanging head high.

“Yes, are you?” She replied.

“Always,” said Nathaniel, rolling his shoulders confidently. “Now, here’s the real question. Pocket or shoulder, your choice.”

Neomaya smiled and bit her lip, now filled with confidence.

“Shoulder,” she said, a sassy quirk to her lip. Nathaniel’s brows knit in confusion and playful curiosity.

“Really? Not feeling nervous? Why the change?” he asked.

“Because,” she said thoughtfully. “How can I be nervous with you by my side? I’m confident and proud to be yours.”

Nathaniel smiled as he extended his hand level with the desk for her to climb onto.

“We’re each other’s,” he replied. “Now, come along. We’re going to be late for our debut.” She climbed onto his hand and braced herself as he raised her to his shoulder. It took a moment to situate herself in her dress, but she found the right fit – just like how she found the right fit with Nathaniel. 

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories

Responses