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Doctor Maestro's Man-Made Band is a Gothic short story written and illustrated by William John Holly , originally posted to his blog.
Doctor Amedeo Maestro dragged his scalpel across the patient's chest to the blip of the electrocardiogram. With every electric beat he would tap his foot. The soft drumming of the heart was a rhythm that his mind's bands would march to, dictating each next cut. Every incision Maestro made was a bow across a cello's strings and every twist on the rib retractor's thumbscrews were the tuning of his bass. In the operating room dozens of bands and orchestras played that only Maestro could hear.
Not a single nurse would make a noise. They communicated through sign language to ensure Maestro's music would not be interrupted; should that happen the results would be disastrous. Every nurse knew this, as the last time a nurse bumped the instrument tray an orbital-craniofacial reconstruction became an ear amputation.
Maestro's inner music made him the great surgeon that he was. When he went to work putting a patient back together again the whole process was music- and only the exact, perfect song will work. If Maestro's song is interfered with then the result is chaos. Three times ever has his inner music been interrupted during his work. The included results are terrible scarring, unnecessary amputations of extremities, retained surgical instruments, and in one case a severed optical nerve.
Aside from these freak mishaps, however, Maestro was well-known for accomplishing miracles- particularly muscle reconstruction surgeries and transplant surgeries. Pulling patients through what appeared to be impossible odds had garnered him huge respect from his peers.
One of his nurses, Rumore White, had more than respect for the musical doctor. She obsessed over him; following him to his apartment after work, keeping records of all of his surgical successes, and watching intently the tapping of the doctor's foot as he operated. She loved his messy white hair, piercing eyes, lanky arms and thin fingers. Heaven forbid that she actually tell him how she felt. After all, she understood perfectly well that there was no room for a woman in his heart next to all of his music.
These thoughts were bouncing in Rumore's head when Maestro tapped her shoulder perfectly in rhythm with the cardiogram. He made the sign with his hands that meant, "Pass me the scalpel, please." Rumore held her breath to keep from gasping at the thought of her beloved's touch as she reached to grab the scalpel from the tray. She handed it to him and he signed, "Thank you." before starting to make incisions around the patient's heart valves to prepare the area for transplant.
Within Maestro's head a tune of smooth jazz played. He could hear piano, a light drum beat, a relaxing saxophone, and the rhythm of bass. As Rumore watched him tap his foot and work, she could hear the music playing in his head. She could visualize it all. Taken up in the beauty of it, she let her breath go and she took a step back and knocked over the instrument tray.
First there was noise. The clatter of metal objects on the linoleum floor mixed with the surprised gasps of Rumore and the rest of the nurses. Then there was but a second of realization that came after the initial shock of the sounds. The second that lasted hours in the heads of the nurses as they knew exactly what would happen. The second that stood between the sound and the doctor's interpretive dance. The second that ended right before the blood started.
Swirling incisions, cleaved skin, shredded heart valves, fountains of blood. The beat of the electrocardiogram that Doctor Maestro had been following had become a steady, uninterrupted note. The nurses scrambled to pull the butcher away from his victim. When he realized what had happened Maestro dropped the scalpel. Now all of the instruments had hit the floor and the show was over.
Nurse Rumore White listened through the office door as the hospital's CEO laid into Maestro. She could hear the deafening silence of her beloved as he slunk back into his chair as his career came to an end in the form of shouts and threats of legal action. Rumore knew this was her fault but her testimony would mean nothing. A nurse knocking a tray over does not excuse the butchering of a patient. At least, it doesn't to anybody but Rumore.
It wasn't long until ex-doctor Amedeo Maestro found himself tapping his fingers against the side of a bottle in the local pit for miserable drunks. He was the type of man who would actually take solace in the sound of a tapped bottle, even with his career ruined.
Rumore watched him from outside the window. Her head was full of conflicting thoughts of whether to enter and sit at the empty seat next to him or leave him alone now that she had ruined his life. Maybe he would understand that it was just an accident, or maybe he hates her. Frozen in indecision, the empty seat was suddenly taken up and Rumore's decision was made for her.
"Wallowing much?" said that man sitting next to Maestro. Maestro's fingers stopped dead on the bottle as he turned his head to see his childhood friend Vince smiling through his patchy beard. "How're you doing, Amedeo?"
"Vince, I have fallen from prestige and recognition. The use of my skills has been terminated- my career has ended," Maestro said with a sigh, looking back at his bottle.
"Welcome to the ranks of the unemployed then, friend!" Vince bellowed as he puffed out his chest with pride, "Another amazing talent added to the roster of the unwanted. Surely an artist like yourself will find work and leave us behind, though!"
"It's unlikely," Maestro replied as he watched three men enter the bar carrying instrument cases, "I butchered a patient. Sliced up everything that kept him whole. Damn idiot nurse knocked over a tray. Bitch distracted me. She didn't even have the courtesy to apologize to me after she lost me my job."
Vince's jovial attitude did not waver, "Accidents happen, Amedeo! Most people go through their lives not saving a single soul, and with hundreds of certainly dead men walking off of your operating table with decades left to live you will have to excuse yourself one cadaver. Certainly any future employers will too!"
The three men with the instrument cases had set up in the back of the bar. The largest of the three sat behind a modest drum set, the smallest drew a violin, and the man of average size was holding a French horn. The large man started a simple beat and the other two joined in.
"Ah, now there's some music that goes well with the stench of this establishment," Vince remarked as he held his nose shut, "This band reeks like sour skunk!"
"That band has talent, don't be mistaken," Maestro said, slightly slurring now that he had started his fourteenth beer, "it's just the songs that they are playing that are terrible. If they had some real music instead of this shit that they're playing now then maybe they'd be playing at the Ricchezza Theater instead of this rusted spittoon."
It was like somebody had hit Vince upside the head as he shot up from his bar stool. He grabbed Maestro by the shoulders and shook the drunk ex-surgeon as he shouted, "Then you will be the one to do it! Write the music that will make them recognized! Get your name out there rather than sitting around here and feeling sorry for yourself!"
Maestro sobered immediately at the thought of pursuing music. His whole life had been about making money as a medical doctor, but now that that option was gone he could dedicate his time to pursuing his dream of writing music. Finally, people would hear what constantly played in his head.
After the three men finished their "song" Maestro and Vince approached them with their proposal. Maestro would compose the music and play piano while Vince would play guitar. The large man at the drums was named Colpire and used to work as a construction worker. Ratto was the small man with the violin and he used to work at a textile factory. The man playing French Horn was named Polmoni and he used to work as a baker. All of them, now unemployed musicians, created their band that they named "The Man-Made Band."
While Vince, Ratto, Colpire, and Polmoni all practiced Maestro began compulsively writing music. He spent days at his desk hooked up to his personal electrocardiogram writing song after song. He would write what the beat played in his head. Songs of different styles and genres, he created and created.
When it was finally time for The Man-Made Band to play at the same run-down bar where they had formed, Vince had to splash water on Maestro to awaken him as he slept at the piano. Colpire wasted no time and started the beat and the band sprung to life. They played one of Maestro's uplifting ragtimes.
The low life scum of the bar started perking their heads up and tapping their feet. Some even started talking amongst each other. The whole establishment sprung to life with the music. Vince looked at the same vagabonds that would stare at empty glasses for hours in contemplation suddenly laugh and cheer with one another. The music filled the heads of the people in the bar just as it constantly filled Maestro's head.
Outside, Nurse Rumore White listened while watching through the window. She was lost in the music that her beloved had written. She couldn't gather the courage to walk inside, but the music penetrated the walls perfectly and surrounded her like the warm embrace of Amedeo Maestro himself.
From this event the band launched itself upward. Word spread and soon the Man-Made Band was playing at private clubs and public events. Maestro's music was a hit with every audience and every critic.
Every critic except for one. Mal Schiacciare, a former composer turned music critic made famous for his performances at the Ricchezza Theater had shown up to one of the band's performances at the private club Oro Segreto. Schiacciare was one of Maestro's favorite composers, but the feelings were not mutual. In his written review about The Man-Made Band's performance Schiacciare noted that he found the band lacking in passion except for Maestro himself. However, he wrote that Maestro lacked energy. At the very bottom line of his review, Mal Schiacciare wrote that The Man-Made Band was, "wasted potential."
"Shrug it off, one man out of thousands isn't impressed by your music," Vince assured Maestro over a beer in Ratto's garage that had been converted to a practice studio, "Schiacciare has no idea what he's talking about!"
"Schiacciare is one of the most brilliant musicians of his generation," Maestro snapped, "He knows perfectly well what he's talking about. And it isn't my music he isn't impressed by, it's our performance! We need more practice!"
"We already practice for hours every day," Polmoni interjected, "We have lives outside of the band, you know! I'm trying to use some of this money to start a new bakery!"
"Yeah, and I'm trying to become a tailor!" shouted Ratto.
"I'm working to get some math classes out of the way so I can become an architect," Colpire inserted with hesitation.
"Yeah, you've got to go easy on us Amedeo," Vince said as he put his hand on his friend's shoulder and looked him in the eyes, "We are your band members, not your instruments."
Maestro looked back at Vince and then moved his shoulder away from him, "We have a show coming up at the Ricchezza Theater next month. This will be the biggest show of our careers. We can not afford to mess this show up."
"You and your precious Schiacciare are the only ones who think that we've messed anything up yet," Ratto sneered as he walked out of the garage.
"Where does he think he's going?" Maestro demanded.
"We're done practicing for the day," Vince said, "We've been practicing for six hours. It's time to get some rest. You too, you don't want to be out of energy in case Schiacciare decides to show up at our show tomorrow."
Vince left the garage and Polmoni and Colpire followed soon after. Maestro felt alone in the studio but just outside there was one person on his side listening in on the whole thing who wished there was something she could do to help her beloved musical doctor. Alas, once again, she simply turned and walked away.
As the days ticked off before the Ricchezza show Vince, Polmoni, Ratto, and Colpire stopped showing up to practice as often. Maestro would demand that they tell him where they had been but they would simply assert that it is none of his concern. They had become annoyed with Maestro's perfectionism and had stopped enjoying performing with him. He started launching into fits of rage when they would not play his music to his liking, and his threshold for acceptance was fast becoming unachievable.
The weekend before their show at Ricchezza Maestro and The Man-Made Band were fed up with each other.
"This is the last show we play together, Amedeo," Polmoni said with finality. Ratto and Colpire nodded in agreement.
"You don't know what you're saying!" Maestro shouted, "This is our dream! We have gone from being unemployed bums to becoming wealthy and respected musicians!"
"That is not our dreams!" Colpire asserted, "That is your dream! I dream to become an architect, Ratto is very close to achieving his dream of becoming a well-known tailor and Polmoni's bakery will be opening in just a couple weeks! This was a side gig, and thanks to you, we are glad it will be over soon!"
"I made this band!" Maestro screamed, "I am the one who made the music that made any of your talents worth a damn! I am the one who showed the world that you can shine and now you are simply ungrateful! At least Vince knows how good of a deal he has in this band!"
"Actually..." Vince hesitated, seeing the raging fire in Maestro's eyes, "I'm really not sure how to say this, but I don't want to continue playing with you anymore. You take this all too seriously, and I'm not somebody to stress about music like you do. I just want to go back to being a wandering, homeless guitarist in the dirty bars and gutters. At least I had fun there."
Maestro was stunned. As they all left the studio again, Vince once again said, "We are your band members, not your instruments."
Once they were all gone, Maestro's head filled with a screeching of strings and clashing of cymbals. His mind was full of cacophony. He could no longer control it.
"You say that as if it is a virtue!" he finally shouted, "If you were my instruments that I played you would be worth twice as much as you are as my band members!"
But they had gone.
The night before the Ricchezza show the band got together for one last time for practice. Vince, Ratto, Polmoni, and Colpire all played the song Maestro had written for the occasion, but Maestro hadn't shown up yet. It wasn't like the perfectionist to be late, and Vince started to worry.
"Forget about him," Ratto insisted, "If he doesn't show up then we may actually enjoy playing this show."
So they continued their practice. Ratto played his violin, Vince played his guitar, Colpire played the drums, and Polmoni played his French horn. They played louder and louder. They laughed and played free style on their instruments. They hadn't had so much fun since before they started playing with Maestro. They made such a ruckus that they couldn't hear the doors lock and didn't notice the sleeping gas fill the room.
Once they were all unconscious, Maestro entered the garage with his surgical equipment and a gas mask. He shook from days without sleep. He hooked each of the band members up to I.V. drips and got to work on his plan. His perfect plan. A perfect plan for a perfect band.
For hours he labored, with scalpel and suture. He kept the band members completely unconscious. If they were to wake up the plan would be ruined. Soon they would be incapable of waking up.
As his work was wrapping up, he heard something. Something that had been missing. It was a voice. The sweetest voice he had ever heard. A one-woman choir. Maestro fell instantly in love. The music in his heart now had a voice and he needed to capture it.
Nurse Rumore White stood outside of the window of the garage screaming at what she was watching. She couldn't hold her voice in- the horrors of what she saw in the practice studio. She had only shown up to watch her beloved practice but what she saw was so much more terrible. She couldn't move, much less run, when her beloved emerged from the studio with a cloth doused in chloroform.
He had never heard her voice in the operating room. Oh, her voice is that of an angel's, Maestro thought to himself as he walked toward her. If I had only let her speak in the operating room I would have known how much of an angel she truly is. Maestro knew that he had found the woman who would fit right in with the music in his heart.
All she could do was look at his white hair matted with blood, piercing eyes full of hunger staring at her, lanky arms shaking as they reached toward her, and lanky fingers pressing the cloth against her mouth and nose.
That morning, the Maestro was alone as he set up for his show at the Ricchezza Theater. He moved in his piano draped with a large, red sheet to the center of the stage. Maestro refused the help of the stage hands. He had gotten no more sleep since the previous night but was no longer shaking. In fact, he looked exceptionally well rested.
As the audiene filed into the cushioned seats and waited for the show to start, Maestro poked his head through the curtains to survey the crowd. The ocean of chairs was filled with high profile musicians and music aficionados and critics as well as other celebrities and high status figures. Then he saw him- four rows back, 12 seats from the center to the left was the critic Mal Schiacciare, adjusting his glasses and opening a notebook and reading his fountain pen. He even holds his pen like a composer would, Maestro thought.
The show began. The curtains raised to reveal Amedeo Maestro standing before his draped piano wearing a surgeon's scrubs with a stained butcher's apron. The audience murmured at the sight, unsure as to what they were about to see. Some started commenting on an odd stench and others on the abundance of flies in the theater.
"I am Doctor Amedeo Maestro," Maestro announced to the audience, "and this is The Man-Made Band."
When he pulled the cover off of his piano there was but a second of realization that came after the initial shock of the reveal. The second that lasted hours in the heads of the audience as they we unsure of whether what they were witnessing was a sick joke. And then there were the screams.
When Maestro pressed the first keys down Ratto's hands started playing the violin. Then, with the same hand he started pressing the keys that made Polmoni's lungs play the French Horn. With the tapping of his foot Maestro pressed the pedals that made Colpire's arms beat the drums. With his other hand he pressed keys that made Vince's fingers play the guitar. And then finally Maestro played the keys with the same hand that made Rumore's head at the base of the sewn-together fleshy abomination protruding from the top of Maestro's piano sing the most beautiful and soft notes anybody in the audience had ever heard.
The audience was stunned by what they were seeing. With every press of the keys the visible tendons would pull the limbs around and make them perform. The arms and fingers and limbs would jerk around, occasionally dripping bits of warm blood and puss onto the stage.
Security rushed onto the stage but stopped dead in their tracks. Up close they saw that the monstrosity of flesh on Maestro's piano was not just a macabre contraption of flesh but was pulsating. Breathing. Hooked to bags of saline and chemical solutions that were keeping it alive. Rumore's eyes, filled with terror, glared down at them. Maestro's song remained uninterrupted by those too horrified to stop him.
When he finished. He stood from his stool and walked to the edge of the stage and took a bow. The audience screamed and rioted. Some stood frozen in horror while others scrambled to leave the theater. The police arrived and detained Maestro, taking three officers to drag him from the spot where he was bowing. One officer lost his wits and fired four shots into the flesh contraption, killing it.
Now the butcher Amedeo Maestro sits in a padded cell. He forever taps his foot but it makes no sound. The only decoration in his room was a piece of paper in a display case visible through a glass pane in one of the walls. The paper read as such:
"Life can always throw you a surprise. I was surprised greatly by my recent trip to the Ricchezza Theater. By now you will surely have heard of this on the news. The musician, Amedeo Maestro, a former surgeon, had butchered his band mates and used their body parts as instruments. It was the single most grotesque thing I have ever seen and have not slept since that night.
I am made upset to hear that on interrogation the murderer had found me to be an inspiration. At the same time, I find myself flattered. What the world has been robbed of by his great and terrible atrocities is not only the lives of the five people he had killed but also the chance to hear more of his brilliant music.
It may seem to be in poor taste to comment on how amazing the music sounded coming from the most unholy creation that has ever been introduced to this planet. However, I feel my integrity as a critic of all things music hinges on this statement and I cannot make it false: the song Maestro played for us on his abomination defies all Earthly description. It was the single most passionate, soulful piece of music I have ever heard and it haunts me every waking moment. I find myself idly tapping my foot to the beat of the song as it forever plays in my head. Such is my curse for having witnessed such horror.
If anybody is capable of finding any recordings of The Man-Made Band before this event I will be willing to pay any asking price to add these pieces of music to my collection.