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Claire, one of the night-shift nurses, and Jason, one of the night-shift orderlies, sat at the nurse’s station chatting and drinking coffee.

“So, is it true that Dr. Middleton confiscated Lucius’ guitar?” Jason asked.

“Yes.”

“Thank God we don’t have to listen to that infernal racket anymore, huh?”

“It’s hard to believe that he used to be an amazing guitarist.”

“What?” Jason said.

“Yeah, his nephew was telling me that he used to be this incredible classical guitarist who performed all over the place. You know, it doesn’t surprise me. There’s something about him that makes me think there’s something going on with him that we don’t get.”

Jason snickered at the absurdity of Claire’s statement. “Come on, now. Surely you’re joking. The guy‘s as whacked as they come. He plays in the toilet water and talks to the corner, for Chrissake.”

“I know he’s lost his mind. I’m not trying to say he’s lucid, but I do think that there‘s some kind of method to his madness that makes sense to him and no one else. For example, the talking to the corner. If you watch him, he only does it after dark when the hall lights come on. The light from the hallway casts a certain shadow in the corner that is kind of human shaped. It’s the shadow that he sits and talks to; no other time will you see him conversing with the corner.”

“That’s just creepy,” Jason said.

“Yeah. It’s so bizarre. And I’ve watched him while he plays guitar. He’s actually pretty good.”

At this Jason nearly spit his coffee out. “Now I know you’re messing with me, Claire. There is no way you can call that atrocious twanging, good.”

Claire giggled and continued. “I know it sounds horrible, but if you just watch his fingers, he plays the same patterns over and over quite deftly. The weirdest thing is that he’ll pause to tune the guitar and once he has it tuned, he’ll mess up the tuning in different ways before starting to play again. But then he’ll play the exact same patterns in that out-of-tune manner before doing it all over again.”

“Well, I think you give that kook too much credit. I think he’s just a nutty as the rest of these poor saps around here – maybe even worse.”

Claire smiled and said, “Maybe you’re right”.

“I know I’m right. Well, I gotta go walk my rounds. Thanks for the coffee, Claire.”

“You’re welcome.”

As Jason moseyed down the hallway, Claire muttered to herself, “I wonder what it would sound like if it were in tune?”

***

Baron Shadowmancer: After the modulation to C minor, the piece also transition to five-four time. Beginning on C on the fifth string, next go to E flat on the fourth string –

Lucius: Hold on. I can’t keep all this straight unless I have my guitar in hand. It’s too hard to remember all of it in my head.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s alright, Lucius, you’re doing splendidly. Tomorrow you work on what we’ve covered and we’ll pick up from the C minor modulation after that.

Lucius: How much longer must we endure these arrangements?

Baron Shadowmancer: Not much longer. After you’ve learned this piece, I believe it will be time for you to go.

Lucius: Go? Go where?

Baron Shadowmancer: Out of this place, Lucius. Down south, I should think. Not too far; maybe the Springs or so. The time for your unveiling is very close at hand. But I want you to be ready – I want the Suite to be ready.

Lucius: I don’t know if I can make it out there. After all these years in here, I’m afraid I’d be lost. I’m afraid I’d just be . . . well, afraid.

Baron Shadowmancer: Lucius, my subject, my prodigy, my child. Lucius, you’ll be under my protection and my guidance. You have nothing to fear so long as you are the vehicle of my grand work. The Ne Plus Ultra of my creative output. My Magnum Opus.

Lucius: How will I get out, though? Those beasts are too watchful. Their cunning is too thorough.

Baron Shadowmancer: The one called Claire will help you.

Lucius: Yes, she seems nice. Are you sure she’s one of them. I’ve been so afraid to withdraw the mask and see her true form – afraid I’ll really see her as she is and then I’ll be devastated.

Baron Shadowmancer: That’s probably for the best. You must trust me when I tell you that she is one, but do not look upon her without the mask, Lucius. Even though she is one, she still will serve her purpose – for me; for us.

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