Beethoven’s Bargain

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
May/June 2000

By Simon Reis, Illustrated by William Drewes

He was a strange boy. Some people would say that he was a loner. He usually went his own way and stayed away from others. Nobody knew why. A quiet, sad boy, he hardly ever said much and so he had trouble making friends. But he was smart, very smart. He knew more than he ever revealed. It seemed like he had some kind of deep, dark secret that he kept to himself. Nobody could really understand him, but they were interested in the mystery of him.

People came over to his house and rang the bell, but nobody ever answered it. The only time you could see the boy would be at midnight when he was sitting on the lawn looking up at the stars. He never spoke. He just stared at people in the oddest way. Some people believe that he took drugs and drank alcohol.

On some nights you could hear him scream. It wasn’t a scream of pain or terror, but more like a long wail, one note, deep and dark like that of a foghorn calling out across a vast sea. If anything, it was a chant echoing distant and lonely.

He lived a few houses down from mine and that night, that one night, I heard him. Was he calling out to someone? To me? I decided to find out and so I walked toward it. When I approached the house, I saw a single light on through a small window. As I got closer, I could see him clearly.

He was playing the piano. He was lively and quick on the keys, wild, his hair flying everywhere. The music shook the house.

Beethoven's Bargain throwing a book

. . . in one smooth gesture he threw the book in the air

Suddenly, I sneezed. The boy flipped around on the bench and yelled, “Hey you!”

I dashed away from the window and ran home. I didn’t see him again for some time but he haunted my mind like a ghost. I knew that I had to find out more about this mysterious neighbor, but I was afraid. He reminded me of a young, mad Beethoven alone in his room. I even expected to see his piano lying flat on the floor with its legs cut off and him with his ear close to the ground listening to the vibrations of the music. Who was this young boy? And why was he so strange? I had to know.

For a while I forgot about it, but one day when I least expected it, I saw him again. It was in the park close to my home. I was sitting on a bench reading and enjoying the warm weather. As I looked up, I saw him in the distance. My first instinct was to leave, but something kept me there. The boy got closer and closer and then he stopped and stared at me for a long time. I wanted to run but I could not turn away. He started to walk slowly toward me and stopped a few feet away. He was carrying a book and I was close enough to see the title. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The title of the book was “Simon.” I stared at him and back at the book. The boy slowly walked away, stopped, looked back at me, smiling, and in one smooth gesture threw the book in the air.

It flew! Up, up, up beyond the clouds. I watched it. It was amazing as it came down, slowly, inch by inch, and settled right into my lap. I looked at the boy. He had disappeared!

I didn’t know what to think or what I was feeling and so I sat there for what seemed an eternity. The book lay on my lap. There was no mistake about it. On the cover was written “Simon” in the handwriting of a young child. My hand trembled as I carefully opened it.

“My name is Simon. I am eleven years old and this is my story. I am a child of the late twentieth century, born in a time when the century and the world were about to change.

“I missed most of the last hundred years, a period in history of many wars, disasters, but also of triumphs. I have heard my parents talking about all the good and evil of this time, of peace and war. Millions of innocent people were killed all over the world. The planet became polluted. Natural disasters destroyed cities and countries. There were revolutions, assassinations, inventions that saved lives and others that threatened to destroy the earth. Man walked on the moon and we looked for strangers from other worlds but never found any. These and other countless victories and defeats were part of the century I missed. I am the child of parents who were a part of these events and I learned about them through their eyes.

“Together we now face the future and no one knows what the twenty-first century will bring. I will be twelve years old when it begins. I will grow up and die in the twenty-first century. During that time, I hope that the world will be a better place . . .”

I stopped reading. I felt as if I was in a time warp. I certainly never wrote that story, but it was about me. It gave me the shivers. My mind raced. I started to sweat and shake. Was I in a nightmare? I was about to throw the book away but thought better of it. I put it in my bag and walked away trying to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. I decided to write a note:

Who are you? Where did you come from? Why did you write to me. What do you want?


I took the note, snuck out of the house in the cover of darkness to his house. There was a light in the window coloring the room in a pale, yellow glow. There he was, hunched over his piano, his fingers racing over the keys. He was playing Beethoven’s “Für Elise.” I knew it well. I loved this piece of music. Quickly, I dropped the letter in the mailbox and hurried back home to the safety of my bed.

In the morning as I was leaving the house for school there was a note under the door.

Meet me tonight. Midnight. By the bench in the park. Come alone!


L.v.B.? I had no idea what it was. Was it a name?

The rest of the day went slowly. I couldn’t concentrate. I knew I had to meet him. It was my destiny. When I walked home from school, I was so deep in thought I could have fallen down a sewer pipe and I would not have noticed it. When I got home, the phone was ringing.

“OK, OK, I am coming,” I said. I picked up the phone. “Hello.”

“Be there, tonight,” said a voice. It was a low voice, almost a whisper. That’s all it said, “Be there tonight.”

I slammed the phone down. I was scared. My mind was full of questions. How? Why? Should I go? Of course go, don’t be stupid, I thought.

My parents didn’t get home until five-thirty. So I had some time to prepare for the meeting. I found some dark clothes and a flashlight. I didn’t know if I was in danger or not but decided I was not going to panic. When my parents got home I pretended there was nothing wrong. I went to bed early and lay there with my eyes wide open staring at the clock. By eleven PM my parents went to sleep and soon it was time to get ready. I got dressed, took the flashlight and quietly let myself out of the house. It was eleven-forty-five.

It was a full moon that night. As I walked toward the park all kinds of shadows seemed to follow me. I held my breath. Ahead of me was the bench. I shone the flashlight toward it. It was empty. There was nobody there. I walked to it and sat down. It was almost midnight. No one. Nothing. Time passed. A single cloud drifted past the moon.

“Hello,” said the voice, in a murmur. I shone the flashlight in the direction of the voice.

There he was, the boy, standing by a nearby tree. I stood up and he approached until we were only a few feet apart. We stared at each other. Finally, he spoke. “Don’t be afraid.”

I stared at him. He moved closer. As he did, the moon cast light on the boy’s clothes. He was wearing a long black coat that just brushed the ground. He had a black hat, the brim almost covering his eyes, an ancient white shirt, and he looked like he was going to a costume party.

“Come, sit over here,” he said.

I hesitated, looked around, and when I sat down, I was shaking. I almost fell off the bench.

“Now, Simon,” he started, “you must swear that you will never tell anyone what you are about to hear.”

“I swear,” I said.

“Good. Now I must tell you who I am. My name is Ludwig van Beethoven.”

I sat there just staring at him. First, I felt like laughing but I didn’t. One of us is crazy, I thought. This is a joke, I thought, an absurd joke. Beethoven died two hundred years ago. This is a boy. I was confused, scared. I wanted to leave but I stayed. I wanted to say something but I didn’t. I wanted some answers but I didn’t ask. It was all so unreal.

Here I was, in the middle of the night, on a park bench, with a strange boy telling me that he was Ludwig van Beethoven. The whole world seemed upside down.

“I know what you are thinking,” he finally said. “I am not a ghost. I am not here to scare you or confuse you. This is real, I am real. You are not in a dream.”

I was finally able to speak, “What do you want? Why . . . why are you here?”

“I am your muse,” he said, “I am your inspiration and I have come back as a child so I can live again through you. I know that there are many mysteries in life that cannot be explained. There are some things we just have to accept on faith, and no matter how confusing and strange these things are, there are times when you just have to believe. This is one of those times.”

“I believe you,” I said, not knowing if I did, “but what do you want?”

“I want you to play me, I mean, I want you to play my music.”

“I do. But why?” I asked.

“I want to live again. No, I want to begin again, to start at the beginning through the soul of a young boy. I know you like my music. I have heard you play it, but more to the point I chose you because you are, like I was at your age, curious about what is inside your soul. There is music in your soul, music that wants to come out and speak to the world. I’m right, am I not?”

“I don’t know,” was the only answer I had.

Beethoven's Bargain infront of the piano

I stopped playing, turned around in fright and clearly heard my mother’s voice

“That’s the best answer you could give me,” he said. “Will you? Will you play and let me inspire you?”

Without thinking, knowing or understanding, I simply said, “Yes.”

He smiled oddly, turned and slipped away into the shadows of the night.

I sat on that bench for a long time. It was getting late. I had to think. I had to think of what to do. If this was real, if Ludwig van Beethoven had come back to life! As a boy?

I stood up and walked back to my house. I lay on my bed and slept. Sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke. I didn’t know the reason but I knew that something was wrong. I went downstairs to get a glass of milk. Suddenly, I stopped dead in my tracks. There, on the piano, was a sheet of music.

I picked it up. At first I couldn’t see the title, but as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I could just make it out. “Fü . . . Für . . . El . . . Eli . . . Elise . . . Für Elise!” I stared at the sheet of music. How is it possible? When I went to sleep it wasn’t there. How could it just magically appear? I looked at it again. It looked extremely complicated, much too hard for me. But then I sat down on the bench and began to play. After a few tries, I finally got the first bar. Then my hands started to play the rest. I tried to stop but I couldn’t. My fingers seemed to be stuck like glue to the piano. They danced up and down the keys and the music spilled out, rising and falling like a wave, loud, soft, subsiding on a sandy beach.

I had played this music before, but this time it was more than notes on a staff of sheet music. It was poetry, a rush of colors. I was no longer thinking. I closed my eyes and let the music carry me away.

That night, I played until dawn, until I could not stay up any longer. I went to bed and slept like an angel.

As the days and nights passed, sheets of music appeared on my piano and I became possessed. “Beethoven, what have you done to me?”

Slowly, my hair grew longer, my hands stronger. Music filled my waking hours. Soon, something even stranger began to happen. As I played, my head began to lean closer and closer to the piano keys. The music began to get dimmer and dimmer until the only sound I could hear was silence. I knew what was happening but I could not stop it.

Now I got scared. My fingers were trembling on the keys but they still kept playing. I was going deaf!

Deaf . . . The word stopped me. The truth . . . sliding into my being like a snake. I was becoming deaf. Not being able to hear . . . the laughter of a child . . . the song of a bird . . . the whistling wind . . . a piece of your heart ripped out of you . . . the genius of music in return for silence . . . I . . .

Suddenly, I felt a tapping on my shoulder. I stopped playing, turned around in fright and clearly heard my mother’s voice.

“It’s just me, silly.”

“Oh, hi, Mom,” I said. Should I tell her? No, he told me not to.

“What’s wrong dear? You look terrified.”

“Nothing is wrong.”

“What are you doing playing the piano at this time of night?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” I answered quickly.

“Come on, get back to bed,” she said.

I hurried up the stairs and crawled into bed. As I lay there, I thought about what had just happened. I did not know what to do.

I had heard that people have been possessed by the souls of others. I know that there are strange phenomena about the connection between people both dead and alive. I have heard about these things and believe they are possible, but why me and why him? He was a tortured genius. I am just an average kid. By the end of his life he was in a world of silence. If I inherit his music, must I also suffer his pain and isolation? If that was the bargain, then I would never touch the piano again. And I didn’t for a long time.

The music kept appearing on my piano. I longed to play it but I didn’t. Music is a part of me. It fills my heart with joy. But why play it if I can’t hear it? He was also insane, or so it was said. Must I be insane to play his music? Questions raged through my mind.

I was afraid. I wanted no part of this bargain and I had to tell him. That would mean meeting again. I sat down at my desk and started writing a short note.

Meet me on the bench at the same time tonight.


I went outside and slid the note into his mailbox. Then I scurried off back to my house. I started thinking of what to say. I couldn’t just say, “I don’t want to live your life, get out of my life.”

All I could see in my mind was a shadow coming out of the darkness walking toward me saying, “Simon, Simon, Simon. I need your life, I need your soul. I need to live through you.”

I was startled by my alarm clock ringing. I suddenly realized what time it was. Midnight. I grabbed my coat and flew out the door. As I crept down the street, shadows haunted me and from behind every tree there seemed to be a man staring at me. I got to the bench but I could not see him.

“What do you want?”

I was startled and it took me a few minutes to catch my breath. “I, I . . . I would like to . . . I can’t do it . . .”

There was a slight moment of silence.

“What do you mean?”

I hesitated, he sounded so threatening. I trembled and finally had the courage to answer, but in a timid and halting voice, “I . . . I cannot be you. I am me. You . . . you are a genius, I am not. I love your music. I love to listen to it, I love to play it, but I cannot suffer your pain. There is too much for me to hear in the world. I can’t do this. I can’t do what you ask. Please . . . understand.”

He looked at me long and hard. His eyes glinted in the dark. His face was like a stone mask.

I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that he had a bad temper and was probably a little insane. I was ready for anything.

The wind drifted through the trees. The clouds darkened the moon. And all was quiet.

Finally . . . he spoke. “Our lives are short. You don’t know that yet. You think you’ll live forever. But most of us are old before we know it and we die regretting what we did not accomplish. And then we are forgotten. My life was shorter than most. I became sick. I was deaf, but two hundred years later, the world listens to my music. I had no choice, I had to write music. I’m asking you to continue it. I’m asking for a life, to finish what I never had a chance to do. I chose you because you chose me. You took me into your heart. You are young, but I was never young. I was cursed by the gift of music and I gave my life to it. I want to be young again, just one more time. You see, there is more music . . . and I need more time

He looked at me, waiting.

Time stood still as I stared at him, his tortured face white in the harsh, cold light of the moon.

I had no answer, no words that could say what I felt.

“I am a part of you,” he said, “you will never leave me.”

“I have to be me,” I answered. “You are immortal. I will always listen to your music. I will play it but I cannot live your life. It’s not mine.”

Silence now filled the air.

“So be it,” he said in a sad but kind voice and he got up slowly, walked away, head bent down like the many pictures I had seen of him.

I sat there for a while. I heard the wind. I heard the lonely barking of a dog. I heard my heart. I listened and I heard. The faint strains of the Ode to Joy drifted and hung in the air.

I was not afraid. I was at peace. I walked home. But somehow, I knew that this was not the end of the story.

There on the piano was a sheet of music, the first four notes of the Fifth Symphony.

Beethoven's Bargain Simon Reis

Simon Reis, 11
Port Hope, Ontario, Canada

Beethoven's Bargain William Drewes

William Drewes, 13
Reno, Nevada

Related Posts

Photo by Alex Adkins via Creative Commons It rained. Or rather, it poured. Large grey clouds...

Stone Soup colleague Jane Levi timing Israeli archeologist David Eitam as he grinds grain in a...

Reviewed by Nandini Sai Krishnan Imagine having to leave the place you grew up, the only place...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: