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"A Porcelain Symphony" By Stacia Kokoletsos

Her eyes were shiny and still, like glass. Her skin, now the texture of porcelain, and devoid of any life; pale as the face of a ghost. The frequency of a thousand shattering dolls rang through the space between her ears as she mindlessly played the cello. She could not feel the bow in her right hand or the instrument pressing her thighs. She could not feel anything. The fair lady stared into the dull abyss of the crowd with a tragic blindness. 


1968 

Tabitha Rogers was a stupid girl. Always years behind the other kids in arithmetic and reading comprehension – behind in knowing the right answer. She always studied and worked to reach the level of everyone else, frantically flipping through textbooks and encyclopedias, but it was no use. These sessions would always end in her banging her head into her desk and cursing at herself for being such an idiot. Still, she tried and tried, abhorring all of the “smart kids,” who could take one look at a formula and just… get it. Why did she have to work harder than everyone just to understand something and fail her exams anyways? 

She lived by the truth that life isn’t fair, and eventually found something she could understand. Music theory. For whatever reason, the system of sound solidified in her mind instantly, although it proved just as difficult to read. Tabitha just had a “musical brain,” as people would remark, as far as pure sound went at least. So, the textbooks and encyclopedias reunited with the bookshelf and she devoted her hours to the cello. But why did music motivate her enough to practice while numbers and letters did not? She loved the arts and philosophy and listening to stories. She just could not read them. 

One fateful day when she was about twelve or thirteen, she stumbled upon some fiction her friends were fond of and became determined to try again with reading. As she flipped

through the pages at home, odd words continued to appear – words that did not make sense. An S, a T, then followed by a G… All of these struggles eventually amounted to a diagnosis. She was in fact not stupid – just dyslexic. 

Then there was Eden Spielmann. Sharp as a dagger and relentless in her endeavors. A lady condemned to spinsterhood, for she was too clever for any man to willingly wed her. However, the fact did not bother Eden – she was convinced that she would always love physics more than any suitor she could ever meet anyway. “Science is such an odd passion for a woman,” people often told her. And she agreed with them. How absolutely uncanny that a woman could ever take interest in something scientific that does not require empathy or emotional labor. Still, she never developed any sort of complex that she was “different,” because really, she only felt contradictory. 

Tabitha always found Eden’s last name funny, for the German surname “Spielmann,” directly translates to “musician.” Eden had no interest in cello besides spending time with Tabitha, but her mother forced her to participate in their town’s youth orchestra. Meanwhile, Tabitha planned on dedicating her life to the art. She always thought she should be called Spielmann instead. Tabitha earned the position of first chair in their orchestra every passing year, triumphing after each recital despite her unfortunate condition. She managed to stay the best with constant practice and a precise grip on her instrument. Eden aspired to become the next Albert Einstein and never let a man’s doubt inhibit her dedication. They admired each other for their ambitions, making them the closest of companions… 

Eden disappeared three and a half weeks ago. The first day she missed orchestra practice felt odd, but not concerning to Tabitha. She assumed she did not feel well or simply was not in the mood to endure the conductor’s rambling. But one missed practice turned into four, and

Tabitha’s living room became vacant without Eden’s presence; they typically spent each day of summer outside, retreating back to Tabitha’s house to sneak sodas and braid each other’s hair when her parents were at evening mass. 

When Tabitha returned home after Eden’s fifth missed orchestra practice, her parents sat somberly on the worn sofa in the center of the living room – the sofa Tabitha and Eden spent dry evenings laughing on. They didn't even bother to confront their daughter’s worried gaze once she shut the door behind her, anchoring a pit of dread deep in her stomach. 

“W-what’s going on?” Tabitha stood in a stiff posture, desperate but terrified to hear the news. Her parents never sat like that in less she, or someone was in trouble. “Tabby, honey, I’m so sorry to tell you this, but…” 

“BUT WHAT?” she shouted, tears leaking from her eyes unexpectedly. She knew it was about Eden, but nothing can prepare such a fragile heart for that kind of devastation.

“Eden… she’s… she’s met God.” Her mother choked out, clutching the gold cross on her neck as if speaking such a terrible truth would bring unholy misfortune. 

The rest of the night was heavy with Tabitha’s violent, unstoppable wailing. Eden didn’t just die, she killed herself, and something was wrong. If there was anything in the whole world Tabitha could ever stay completely certain of, she knew Eden would never do such a thing. She doubted that they even found any remains, for Eden always morbidly told Tabitha about her 

desire for an open casket funeral; her parents either disrespected her wish, or Tabitha was onto something. Her best friend had a brilliant passion for knowledge and a zest for life – there was a zero percent chance she would even think of doing that. After the funeral and gossiped tragedy blew over, Eden’s spoken name only hovered over the plain, Appalachian town of Briar Hill like a dissipating ghost. Tabitha made no effort to contain her resentment for everyone’s will to move on; everyone’s will to go back to exhibiting perfection and pretending nothing happened, while Eden’s family wept in the aftermath. None of this made sense, and Tabitha refused to will herself into believing in the bullshit guarantee that people can create their own closure without concrete answers. 

So, she ran off instead of attending morning mass to worship the God she no longer believed in… 


— 


Tabitha walked the path her and Eden roamed daily after church choir and orchestra practice. Maybe it was just the absence of her beloved companion, but an ominous energy followed her with every step. Life was already slow in Briar Hill, but Eden’s disappearance made every second all the more excruciating. She never realized how dreary and unsettling the path was until now – the trail was littered with large, withered trees and disgusting larvae of invasive moths chewed through every live leaf in sight. Without company, observations of reality settle in one’s gut much faster. 

At the end of the trail, nearing the cliff they would always stare over by the end of their walks, the faintest whispers beckoned Tabitha east of her current position – toward the forbidden terrain of the woods. Beyond the red ribbon tied to the closest tree, the withered trunks turned into diseased, decaying entities, and supposedly, the most condemned practices thrived. Throughout Tabitha’s early childhood, her grandmother always told her how no one had set foot on those eastern woods in forty years – that those who did never came back. In Briar Hill, everyone keeps their blinds shut at night. If a child whistles in the woods, they’re hit across the

face as punishment. There were all of these absurd rules in Appalachian folklore, rules that kept everyone faithful and obedient. Staying away from those woods was just one of many. Still, the children of Briar Hill never understood why their parents remained so hellbent on the idea that Satan’s deception occupied the area. However, as Tabitha neared the dangers, she became aware of the sinister force that hypnotized people who got too close. Curiosity and fear dueled within her mind, but her body chose the former. The faint whispers that coerced her into stepping forward were audible now, and imitated a voice she had not heard in weeks. “Tabitha? It’s me!” 

“Eden!” She exclaimed, but her mouth did not move. 

The whispers dulled within seconds, leaving Tabitha to frantically stumble through the woods. Another rule of the mountains – if one hears voices far away, the woodland evil is close. If one hears voices close by, the evil lurks far away. But Tabitha had never been afraid of dying, even when she was little. Her and Eden discussed it frequently, and her longing for her best friend’s presence did not help guide her to rational thoughts. It could be the voice of a devil for all she cared, as long as it claimed to be Eden. As Tabitha ran, she saw flashes of Eden’s face – her stringy blonde hair, those big brown eyes, and her freakishly lithe figure. 

Her lungs now burned and the lactic acid in her muscles became unbearable. She fell to her knees in the tall, yellow grasses surrounding her and stared up into the darkness. How is that possible? It’s only been a few minutes… 

Hours ago the sun had sunk below the horizon of the mountains. Her unbridled grief destroyed her perception of time, or maybe something even less innocuous. Something buried in the woods.

Before her stood an old, dilapidated church; a peculiar sanctuary of God somewhere unholy. Just like the entrance to the woods, energies drew Tabitha towards the wide doors. They collapsed forward when she pushed them open, but the destruction left her unfazed. She wandered forward over the mess of decayed wood and saw big, ugly letters carved in the wall behind the altar. As always, the script was only made of consonants and the Ks appeared upside down. Tabitha learned long ago that tracing the letters didn’t do any good either, but if this was a clue to Eden’s whereabouts, she had to try. She ran past the altar and brushed her fingertips over the carvings. A, S, maybe a P? Useless. Perhaps the altar itself contained clues. 

All Tabitha could find was a dirty, cracked mirror. When she peered over the glass, she did not see her own warped reflection. There was something sickly and impure looking back at her. With trembling hands she dropped the mirror to the ground in horror, the dissonant shatter polluting her head. Everything she had ever felt guilty for accumulated in her mind like a landfill, through that horrid creature she saw in place of her reflection. Within seconds it cleared aside to leave her greatest sin standing before her. 

“Jed?”

Her eyes grew wide with shock and her mousy features contorted into a horrified gaze. Her urge to venture forth, the faint whistling from far away, the indecipherable script carved into the wall… She had almost forgotten what brought her here, captivated in her sudden fear. 

Jedidiah Smith escaped Briar Hill long ago, taking Tabitha’s promise to chastity with him. The two of them had a disgraceful past together that Tabitha refrained from admitting to anyone; not even Eden knew of her sin. Here he was, now standing before her, and the same sensation of dirtiness she felt evenings ago with him washed over her once again. It was a kind of guilt and impurity that could only be soothed after showering in scalding water. Tears bubbled in her eyes, and she found herself on her knees, frantically apologizing to whatever higher power existed within her mind and begging for redemption. In her mania, it finally occurred to her that whatever force lurked in these woods could not be human, but she did not feel afraid of it anymore. Maybe it was guiding her to Eden through her shame. She followed the ghost of her past down many paths and stairs until she could spot her best friend’s face. 

Eden’s freckled skin was purple and cold to the touch. Her body was stacked atop several other decaying maidens in pleated skirts and stockings, her stringy blonde hair cascading over the corpses – the “best friends” of the ladies in the porcelain symphony to her right. Looking into Eden’s gouged eyes, each of Tabitha’s senses hit her rapidly, like an avalanche. Every sleepless night they had spent together and all of their laughter served a greater purpose. 

Before Tabitha, every female imperfection to ever step in Briar Hill performed a separate song. Jed was a red herring, and so was Eden. Tabitha’s dyslexia, her premarital sex, her odd features, and her disgracefully eccentric personality… It all made sense now. 


Present Day 

Tabitha lacked the soul to question if Eden was ever real, and she had never felt more perfect. The crowd before her never filled, but this was the most rewarding and content performance she would ever give. No flaws tainted her anymore, and she was hidden from anyone and everyone who had ever loved her, restoring Briar Hill to its immaculate, boring existence.

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