Samantha glanced at the receptionist and then at her phone. She read the ad again.
Seeking a full–time, hard–working, dedicated musicalmogist. Fit is more important than experience.
Love for all types of music.
Capacity to seek out and listen to music for entire shift (8–10 hours).
Ability to emotionally connect with and feel music.
Stamina to feel strong emotions for an extended period of time.
Sensitivity to laugh and cry at the beautiful.
Flexible hours—on–call hours can happen anytime.
Nice to haves:
Strong written and spoken communication skills.
Ability to start immediately.
Not uncomfortable around pre–interment deceased bodies.
You've experienced the passing of someone close to you.
Salary: Negotiable but starts at $75/hr
If you meet the above requirements and are interested, call Fran at 214–659–7787.
Her friends told her it was a scam.
Hannah, her roommate, said, "Nobody pays you $150,000 a year to listen to music. And what is a musicalmogist anyway? Google it. It doesn't exist."
And she had googled every way she could think, which seemed to confirm Hannah's words. It didn't exist. But she'd only had two interviews since graduation. Another month and her student loans would kick in and they wouldn't be cheap. She had to find something.
She pulled up her list of things to do before the interview. Research the industry. She couldn't research the industry, because she wasn't sure what the industry was. Research the company. They only had a landing page for a website and no description. Research the interviewer. She couldn't find anyone on LinkedIn or even Facebook. Practice specific interview questions for the position. She couldn't find a definition for a musicalmologist anywhere.
It screamed scam, but the fact she was here showed her level of desperation. Besides, they had an office, and "Fran" worked here as a receptionist. They were paying someone.
Fran seemed pleasant enough. She was very businesslike in having Samantha fill out some pre–application documents. Fran didn't seem like part of a scam. But who could tell?
Fran looked up directly at her, catching her staring. "Samantha, the doctor will see you now."
Breaking through the freeze she felt, she stood up and managed a polite "thank you." As she stood, she noticed a long, obvious thread hanging from a button on her dress jacket. Pushing back screaming thoughts of whether she should try breaking it off casually, she smiled as she walked through the door Fran had opened.
Was it an office? She saw a desk, two chairs, and a second closed door. Other than that, just chaos.
"Please have a seat. Dr. Bertels will be in shortly."
She thanked Fran, made a mental note of the doctor's name, and looked around. The sprawling disarray was really nothing less than impressive. From the floor to the ceiling, each wall contained nothing but the little cube–shaped shelves like she'd seen at IKEA. Each cube bulged with... CDs? They were all CD–style plastic holders and she could see picture art on some of the covers that faced her way. Someone needed to be introduced to digital music.
Bach and Beethoven she recognized. Boston. Maybe her dad listened to them. Leaping Lulu, Barry Manilow, Ozzy Ozborne, Mindy Abair, B.B. King...
Her head shot around like a sprinkler at the end of its path. A man stood two feet from her, his hand extended. Thick white hair combed straight back in irregular patterns presided over a handsome face. Well–trimmed, white eyebrows hunched over deep green eyes, and a perfectly manicured handlebar mustache stood out as the focal point of his face.
She stood and grasped his hand. "Yes. You are Dr. Bortels?"
From his wrinkle–free face, posture, and build, she would have guessed he was her age. But his hair said otherwise.
"Bertels," he corrected with a smile. "It's a German name. Could I ask you a few questions?"
Research the industry? Would Don't forget the interviewer's name! be first on the list of don't–do's for an interview? How could she have gotten his name wrong?
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Dr. Bertels!"
He sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. "No problem at all. Have you ever lost someone close to you?"
Even though the job description mentioned something about this, as a first question, it felt weird. She rolled with it.
"My brother. He died two years ago."
"How did you feel?"
What was she supposed to say? What was he looking for? "I felt very sad."
He turned and looked out the window and said nothing for probably a minute but it felt like thirty.
"Samantha, this isn't a normal position. I need to find the right person. Can you tell me how you felt—really felt?"
Anger hit her like a wave. What right did he have to ask this question in a job interview? Practice specific interview questions for the position? Whatever.
"It was the worst year of my life. I didn't want to go on. I lost fifteen pounds that I didn't have to lose and wept three to four times every day... if that's really any of your business."
He nodded and continued looking out the window. "I appreciate you sharing that with me. It's a fair statement. It's probably not any of my business. But it's not a normal position. I need to know if you're the right person. What's the most emotion you've felt in the last year?"
Not a question she expected! Her mind raced. The most emotion she had felt in the last year? Her birthday in Hawaii? No.
"When I graduated five months ago."
"How did you feel?"
"Like a hero. Like walking on clouds as I walked across the stage. It took me a long time to get my degree."
"Congratulations. That is a great accomplishment. Have you ever been around dead people?"
"I have not."
"Do you think it would bother you? The kind of work we do is somewhat similar to embalming. We are around the dead."
Finally. A question she anticipated. "I don't have any experience with that, but I imagine I would get used to it."
He nodded. "Yes. You are right. It is like anything else. You do get used to it. Would you like to have a little test? This test will show us very clearly if this is the right position for you."
Why not? She'd come this far. "Sure."
He slid out the other door and returned quickly, unrolling a cable connected to a set of odd–looking headphones. With the door to the other room still ajar, she could see tables with body shapes covered by blankets. The cable he unrolled went directly to one of the bodies.
"Good thing I have long cables. We could go in the lab, but I would prefer you pass the test prior to viewing our entire setup."
The device fit like a headset but it had little bumps everywhere which she could feel on the top of her head through her hair. Two suction cups grabbed onto her forehead from which a strap extended around the back of her head. Headphone cones covered her ears.
She heard nothing and then it enveloped her. Pure joy, elation, beauty. Music! Her soul soared to the sky, back down, and then did flips. She realized she was weeping for joy.
"You heard it."
She nodded, wiping her eyes. "What was that?"
"I know it was music. But not normal music."
He nodded. "I'm not going to explain everything right now. You heard it. The job is simply listening to music like what you just heard. If you can start next week, you are hired. I'll pay you a salary of one hundred and fifty–five thousand with a ten thousand dollar bonus after your first year. Take some time. Think it over deeply. Please let Fran know either way."
She nodded, stood up, and started toward the door, not knowing what to say.
She turned back to him.
"Thank you for coming in. I hope you'll accept the position. I'm glad you could hear the music. What we do here is important... I need extra help and I think you'd be good at it."
She nodded again and left.
Fran sat busily typing away. Samantha watched her from the same chair she had sat in four days ago. She wondered if Fran noticed her tired appearance. She'd hardly slept the last four nights. Her parents, roommates, and everyone else pummeled her with questions about her interview.
What was she supposed to say? "Yeah... it went great. I've got the job if I want it. I'd start at one fifty–five... What? What would I be doing? Yeah... that. I'd be listening to music on a machine attached to dead people. You know. Standard position. Typical just–out–of–college job."
She had no clue what to say. So she avoided giving them any information, which fanned their flames of curiosity and fear that it was a scam, illegal, or immoral.
But she was here. She had called Fran and accepted with conditions. She wanted a few questions answered. But why not try? If it were a scam and she never got paid, she had only lost time. No one else was throwing a paycheck her way right now.
"Dr. Bertels will see you now."
She entered the same office, and Dr. Bertels sat in the same chair staring out the same window, his feet propped on his desk. He looked her way and quickly stood up.
"Samantha! How good to see you. Please sit."
He seemed genuinely glad to see her. She studied his face again. So young for his white hair. He was a handsome man, if you liked handlebar mustaches.
"Hi, Dr. Bertels. I think I got your name correct, this time."
He laughed. "Please call me Franc." He sat down again in his chair. "I heard you accepted the offer. I'm very excited to work with you."
"Yes, I accepted, but with conditions. There are a few questions I want answered."
"Certainly. I'll tell you everything I can. Some things are private to the families and patients we serve. And I have some trade secrets that I cannot reveal. But anything else I will be happy to answer."
This time she stared out the window for a while before her first question.
"How old are you?"
He laughed. "I'm not very social and don't get out much, but I do get that question sometimes. I'm twenty–seven."
Twenty–seven? "Do you dye your hair? Why is it so white?"
"Hmmm... I could say strange genetics or my great–grandmother was an albino, but the truth is, I believe the type of work we do here ages hair quickly. I'm not really sure why."
"So my hair would turn white from working here?"
"I'm not certain. No one besides me has done this type of work for more than a few months. It has changed my hair color, but I've had no other side effects. I'm really quite healthy."
He looked healthy.
"Who was the person you hooked up on the machine during my interview?"
"That is one of our patients. I say patients, but obviously, they are dead. Their families have contracted with us to perform a musicalmology procedure on their dead loved ones."
Her adrenaline raced, but she kept her voice calm. "What does that mean? A musicalmology procedure."
"You saw the machine we used. That is my invention. In the simplest terms, each person has music in their soul. The machine listens to that music."
How could he be calm when he said that? This was crazy. Music of the soul. Was he mad?
She tried to speak as normally as possible. "Is there any scientific evidence of the existence of this type of music? Surely others would be performing the same type of procedures."
"Great questions. I'm sure you tried to do some research on your own and have found nothing about me or my company or the work we do. That is intentional. I'm a pioneer in a new field. Science has largely rejected my findings and yet what we do is real... What did you hear last week when you listened through my machine?"
"I heard some type of music."
"Just music like any other music you've heard? Maybe a new style, a new instrument? What did you hear?"
"I don't know. That is one of the reasons I accepted. I heard something I'd never heard before. But that could easily be something new your machine creates. Not music from someone's soul."
"These are perfect and natural questions, which is why I wanted you to experience it. I knew you would have questions. If you didn't, I would think you strange or naive. But those questions will be answered in time."
He stood, walked around the desk, and offered his hand. "Can we do some work? You'll get many of your questions answered from what we do."
She paused for an eternal moment while weighing the foolishness of all she knew about this job and process. She took his hand and pulled herself up. "Okay. Let's do some work."
They entered a room with twelve to fifteen tables. It was the antithesis of Franc's office, with cleanliness and order to a degree that would even make her mother envious. And it smelled clean—hospital clean. On each table, she saw a blanket with a body underneath.
"We refer to patients by numbers so we don't become too attached to them. I'd like you to work with two patients today. Our work is emotionally exhausting, so you probably couldn't handle much more than that on your first day."
Franc pulled back the sheet on the nearest table. It revealed a gray–haired, older man. Samantha guessed the man had lived to his early sixties. She forced a smile and steadied her breathing. The dead man looked peaceful. Way more peaceful than she felt.
Franc walked to the wall where the headset she had used before hung on a peg. He started untangling cords. "Setup is pretty simple. Untangle the cords and then spread the headpiece on each side of the temples. Suction cups go on the forehead and cones over the ears."
"After the headpiece is in place, turn the machine on. You might have to wait a minute or two while the musicalmeter adjusts to the correct frequency. Start with the volume completely turned off. Once you see the red lights starting to flash, you'll know it's picking up a signal. At that point, turn up the volume very slowly to a good level. Be careful, as the music can be very powerful. Pretty simple, right?"
She nodded noncommittally. "Seems so."
He placed the contraption on her head, turned the volume down, and then beckoned toward the On switch. She held her breath and clicked the switch. Nothing happened for more than a minute, and then she saw red lights start blinking. Franc pointed at the volume. She incrementally turned it up.
Eventually, the volume was up all the way. The music was beautiful, as beautiful as anything she had ever heard, but she could barely hear it. Then it stopped.
She took off the headphones. The timer said eight minutes.
"I could hardly hear anything, and then nothing."
"What did the music sound like? How did it feel?"
"Amazing. But I could barely hear it. I would have liked it to be louder."
"Yes, I'm sorry for that, but I'm happy for 45526."
"Why? Does this hurt them?"
"Hurt them? No. They're dead. They feel nothing."
"Then why would you be happy for 455... whatever that number was?"
He smiled. "Let's try one more."
He carried the machine to the back of the room and pulled off another sheet. This was a woman, definitely older than the man she had just worked on. "Think you can do it yourself?
She nodded and placed the headpiece suction cups on the sides of her head, put the cones on, and reached for the On button. Franc's hand stopped hers and he pointed to the volume. She turned it down all the way and then clicked the On button. Within twenty seconds, red lights flashed, and she started slowly turning up the volume.
Almost instantly, the music exploded into her mind, into her heart. It was nothing like the last music. She rejoiced in the energy, laughter, and fulfillment. It seemed like a light show, a grand finale of emotional fireworks erupting in her soul. Again and again, she reached out and embraced it, soaking it in.
And then nothing. Silence. She was laughing and smiling. She felt the earphones come off her head. She realized she had slumped against the desk, and Franc said something.
"Can you hear me?"
"Yes," she managed.
"Just rest here for a while. You've done very well; that was quite a long one. An average patient is about two hours of music, but that one was almost three."
Three hours! She tried to sit up to check her phone.
"Wait! Relax. Your strength will come back in a little while."
Eventually, she could sit up, and he gave her some water and candy. After thirty minutes or so, she felt better.
"Why could I barely hear the music with the first patient and the second patient had such power? And why did one last for just a few minutes and this one for almost three hours?"
Franc looked somber. "Those are good questions. You'll need to figure those out for yourself. We always speak positively about our patients."
She sat silently, trying to figure out his response.
A door on the other side of the room opened and Fran appeared. "Dr. Bertels, you have a call from a potential client on line three."
Franc nodded. "Thanks, Fran," and turning to Samantha, "I'll be back in a few minutes. Just sit until you're sure you are strong enough to walk again."
As she sat, she looked over at the woman's body on the table next to her. On the side of the table, two pieces of scotch tape fastened a slip of paper with the patient number. She could see another sheet of paper underneath. Peeling the top number sheet up, she saw a name, address, and contact number.
1889 Thurgood Lane
She pulled out her phone and did a quick search for the latest obituaries. Scanning down she saw a name: Priscilla Wilson. Clicking the link, she came to a biography.
Fartown — Priscilla Wilson, a long–time resident of the Fartown area, died Thursday the 16th of June at the Fartown Medical Center.
Born in 1947 in Walsberg, WY, Priscilla graduated from Walsberg High School in 1965.
Relocating to the Fartown area in her late twenties, Priscilla worked as a hostess at the Eggcelent Cafe for 34 years.
Priscilla loved movies, music, and the theater, always dreaming of becoming an actress and playing the violin. Most wouldn't know it, but her close friends knew her as an excellent artist and an amazing singer.
She is survived by her brother, Robert Wilson, two nieces, and a nephew, all of whom live in Wyoming. She loved her family!
The Johansen Funeral Home in Fartown has been entrusted with arrangements.
Grasping both sides of her chair, Samantha stood up. Everything felt pretty steady. She moved over to patient 45526, her first patient. She lifted the number page.
97889 N. First Ave.
It took five minutes of searching to find an obituary for him.
Workerville — William Peter Rasmussen, 64, died Sunday, the 11th of May suddenly in his home.
He leaves his wife of 42 years, Wilma (Smith) Rasmussen; his son, Jacob Rasmussen; his daughter, Pamela (Rasmussen) Harvey; Susan Ferrell, his sister; seven grandchildren; and numerous close friends.
Born in Southern California, the son of Antonio and Pauline (Washington) Rasmussen, he was a lifelong resident of Workerville.
From a young age, Peter was a man of service. During his high school years, he was the president of the Key Club, organizing many community service projects.
Peter served 8 years in the Air Force, before attending Workerville State University, graduating with a degree in accounting. He served as director of accounting for Altuna Services for more than 30 years. He was also Chief Officer for the Workerville North Remote Volunteer Fire Department for over two decades.
Peter excelled at skiing, where he was president of the North Mountain ski patrol. A lifelong learner and accomplisher, his friends sometimes said, "If it can be done, Peter has probably done it!"
A funeral service was held May 16th at the Workerville Funeral Home.
Franc came back into the room. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you."
"It's very taxing on you emotionally, at first. If I would have known that one would be so long, I would have had you do something shorter. But give it a few days and you'll have your emotional stamina built up. That's all for today. Same time tomorrow."
Samantha washed the last of the silverware and utensils and put them in the drainer. Her apartment had a dishwasher, but her roommates mostly ate out, and she never cooked enough to fill the dishwasher. She started scrubbing a pan, thinking about her second full week of work. She dried her hands and glanced at her banking app again. $5,700! Maybe she would get the courage to talk to her family about the position. Maybe.
Was the music real? If it wasn't real, why would they be paying her almost six hundred dollars a day to do it? And if it was real, why was the music so different from one person to another? The first patient today had been a young girl. Samantha had expected her to have deep, powerful music, but she heard a few minutes of quiet notes and then nothing.
She had looked up the obituary for the girl. She was seven years old and had been hit by a drunk driver on the street in front of her house. It talked about her love for dance and playing soccer, where she was the star of the team.
Franc had said that typically children had very little music. What was the music's source and why the variation? Why did children typically have none, while adults usually had more? Yet the first man she'd worked on, a seventy–four–year–old, almost had none. She had asked Franc all these questions, but he always said something about staying positive about everyone.
She had watched Franc work a few times. He often cried for a while after longer ones. She had asked him if it hurt him. "No," he said, "not physically."
It hadn't been so taxing today, although she still felt a little drained after two patients. Franc always complimented her work and told her today he might give her three on one day next week. And nervously, she felt excited about that.
BZZZZ. BZZZZ. Her finger found the answer button through blurry eyes.
"Hi, Samantha. Sorry. We have three emergency patients tonight. We've never had two emergencies simultaneously. So, I could use some help, if you're up for it. Sorry again."
She responded quickly.
"No problem. I'll be right down."
Ten minutes later, she entered the laboratory. Franc was studying some papers. He looked up and beamed at her. "Thank you for coming! I can definitely use the help."
She beamed back. "Sure. Happy to do it. You're paying me so well. I'll be down anytime you need me. A quick question, though. What constitutes an emergency? Everyone is dead already. Why are some of these rushed and others not?"
"Ahhh. Great question. The music only stays in them briefly after death. Briefly is a relative term, of course, but the longer after death we perform musicalmogy, the less effective it is. An emergency usually means we're reaching the two–weeks–after–death mark. Our services aren't widely known, so sometimes a prospective customer finds out near our cutoff line, and we must move quickly to fulfill their request."
He pointed at two bodies. "You'll have two tonight. Both in their mid–50s at death. I think the first one should be very short. I don't have much information on the second, which makes me a little nervous about giving her to you. Without some information, it's hard to predict the intensity level."
"What kind of information? How can you predict?"
Franc always gave her the same face when she asked something like this and then no response. "Sadly, mine will be at least a five–hour patient. So, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Why do you say 'sadly?' Why is it sad to listen to someone's beautiful music for five hours? Is the music a bad thing?"
His voice was quiet but very firm. "No. Music is definitely not a bad thing. It is wonderful and beautiful. A gift from God."
"Then why is it a bad thing to listen to someone's five hours of music?"
"You had better get going on your two patients. I want you to get back to bed as soon as you can."
She shrugged and grabbed her headset. Almost a routine now, she quickly configured the device on her head. Pondering on Franc's words, she forgot to turn down the volume as she flipped the On switch. Instantly, she heard two loud, clear, stunning notes and then silence. She waited for a minute, but she knew there would be nothing more.
Two notes. Two incredibly magnificent notes and then nothing. Franc would be happy the music ended so quickly.
She removed the device, covered the body, and configured the device on the second patient. This time she remembered to turn down the volume before hitting the On switch. In a few seconds, she could hear it. This was more intense than she had ever heard. The force! The life! It swept her in, engulfed her mind and feelings, and seeped into her being. It felt persuasive—an energy so deep that almost nothing could stand in its way. It radiated happiness to be heard, seen, and felt.
It finally faded. She had learned not to try to get up immediately after a patient session. She sat for a few minutes until feeling completely steady, then glanced at her watch. Almost five hours!
Franc was nowhere to be seen. She stared at tonight's patients, thinking. In turn, she quickly googled both clients and found their obituaries. As she was reading, an idea hit her like the music from the machine. She lifted up the scotch tape on both patients, jotting down both purchasing survivor's addresses. One lived only fifteen minutes from the office. The other was a couple of hours down the coast. She knew what she would do.
She pulled up at the second house and fought through her nerves, like at the first one. But it had turned out fine. The surviving family members had been very kind and gushed about their daughter and the goodness of her life. The deceased woman had accomplished so much, even though her life had been cut short.
She knocked on the door. No answer. She almost started to leave when she heard movement inside. She waited a minute longer and the door slowly opened.
"Hi, my name is Samantha Stevens. I had some interaction with Beatrice, and I wasn't able to make the funeral. I wanted to stop by and give you my condolences on her passing."
"Thank you. That is very kind. I'm Wanda. Would you like to come in?"
Samantha nodded. "That would be very nice." She made her way to the sofa, while Wanda sat opposite in a matching recliner.
"How did you know Beatrice?"
Samantha's mind raced. "I interacted with her at the place I work," she said, smiling. "But I never got to know much about her life. I would be interested in learning more about her. She seemed to have such a strong energy about her."
Wanda nodded. "Beatrice was beautiful. She definitely did have intensity and passion, although few probably recognized that."
Samantha gave a slight agreeing nod. "I definitely felt her energy and passion. Why would you say that would be hard for someone to recognize?"
The woman sat quietly with an undecided look. "Can I tell you something I've never told anyone?"
"Sure, if you feel like that would be helpful. I know talking sometimes helps after someone you love passes."
"First, I want to say I loved Beatrice." Her tears started. "She was a great sister and a great friend. But she could have done so much more with her life. Beatrice was smarter, more talented, and abler than anyone I know. Saying that isn't just a sister gushing over her dead sibling. Beatrice graduated from high school at age thirteen and had her bachelor's degree when she was sixteen."
"Physically, she was exceptionally gifted. At fourteen, she was the fastest girl in a three–state area at the regional meet for the mile. The same year, she took second in the long jump to a girl who was three years older. She could dance like a ballerina or do double flips off the high dive, and she never had any training in those."
"Gardening, sewing, cooking, languages, almost anything you can think of, she excelled at. And when I say excelled, she would attain a very high level of proficiency quickly. But she never stayed with anything. And she didn't seem to have any drive to do much. She worked as a clerk at a local C–Store for 35 years. She would go to work, come home, and watch TV until bedtime. Work and TV took up most of her life."
The look on Wanda's face changed to cautious. "I'm not saying that working at a convenience store is anything to be ashamed of. It isn't any worse or better than other honest employment. But she had incredible gifts... that went largely untapped..." Wanda shook her head slowly. "It makes me sad. I know this sounds crazy, but I really believe she could have changed the world."
Wanda put her head in her hands and was quiet.
"Thank you for sharing memories of Beatrice with me. She sounds like an amazing person. I wish I could have known her better."
Wanda nodded with her head still in her hands. "She was so wonderful," she said softly.
They both stood. Samantha hugged her.
"I'm sorry for your loss. God bless you during this time. I'll never forget how I felt being around your sister."
Wanda gripped her tight and said nothing.
Driving home, Samantha mulled over her conversation with Wanda. Why did it feel so heavy? So sad?
Her phone buzzed.
"Hey, Franc, how are you?"
"Great! I want you to take tomorrow off. I appreciate you helping with the emergency patients, and I think we're caught up enough that we both can relax tomorrow."
"Thank you. That will be nice."
"Okay. Talk with you Friday."
"Hey, Franc... "
Her tears felt hot on her cheeks. "I... uh... understand. I understand why you cry for patients."