It was indeed a window, just as Alyson had said, and as I drew near I could see her hands and face pressed against the glass. The white light came from outside–or was it another room? I wasn’t sure yet. Whatever the case, it was incredibly bright and illuminated Alyson’s face like a spotlight.
“It looks wonderful!” she sighed when I stopped beside her. “Do you think we could go out there?”
I was quite content to stay where we were. At least the dark room was safe–as far as I could tell. Who knew what dangers lurked beyond? For a moment, I couldn’t bring myself to look out the window. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I was terrified of what I might see. At last I shook my head and decided if a little girl could look out the window without fear, so could I, the adult. Holding my breath, I forced myself to face the window.
The bright light was all I could see at first and I had to give my eyes a moment to adjust. Slowly, as the light receded, a most bizarre scene came into focus. That was the moment I suspected it must all be a dream. Such a place could not exist in reality.
The ground was pure white, like snow, except there wasn’t any snow. It was just white–everywhere. Even the sky was white (if it was a sky). In endless rows, straight black lines striped the ground. The lines were not flat, but rose a little out of the ground, and they all went in the same direction for as far as the eye could see. My first thought was that they might be railroad tracks, although I had never seen so many that close together.
Alyson stared up at me, and I realized she was still waiting for my answer to her question.
“I don’t think so,” I said hesitantly. “We don’t know what this place is or what else is out there.”
“What do you mean?” Alyson asked with her head cocked to one side. “It’s music, of course! See? There’s five lines grouped together, just like a music staff.”
I looked again, skeptical to say the least. But Alyson was right. All the lines I had taken to be railroad tracks were indeed spaced apart exactly like a staff.
“Well, so it is,” was all I could mutter, unable to accept any of it.
“Come on, let’s go!” Alyson laughed, then she opened a door to the left of the window which I had not noticed before. And just like that, she was gone.
“No, Alyson, wait!” I shouted, running after her in a panic.
I breathed a sigh of relief to see Alyson had not gone far. She was walking on top of the “staff” lines, if that was what they really were, with her arms held out at her sides for balance. I looked wildly around and checked my surroundings, but there was nothing there but the odd music-railroad. All I could do was stare open-mouthed at the strange place.
Alyson jumped off the line next to me. “See? It is music!” she exclaimed, laughing some more and dancing around as if this was a perfectly ordinary situation in which to find oneself. As she twirled around and around, she added breathlessly, “Where do you think the notes are?”
I shook my head, mute with fear, wonder and disbelief.
“Why, they are in school of course,” a voice behind me answered.
Startled, I spun around.
Yes, I told myself, there was no doubt. It had to be a dream. Yet no matter how many times I pinched myself, it wouldn’t go away.
A unicorn was standing only a few feet away from me—and not just any unicorn, but the very one, I was sure, from the music box. Only it was now life-size. Its jet-black hair gleamed and glittered whenever it moved, and its white horn twinkled like an icicle. Its hooves were also white, and on the front of its chest, more white hair grew in the shape of an inverted triangle. It reminded me curiously of the front of a tuxedo. There was even a small patch of black fur in the top of the triangle that was shaped just like a bow tie. I stared at the creature, not entirely persuaded that it was the owner of the voice. It gazed back at me silently with large, brown eyes.
Alyson flashed past me and shrieked with delight.
“Oh, you’re so beautiful!” she exclaimed to the unicorn, throwing her arms around its front leg.
The unicorn chuckled with a deep, pleasant voice. “Why thank you, dear one,” he replied, touching his nose to the top of her head.
Unable to restrain myself any longer, I burst out, “I beg your pardon, but who are you, and where are we?”
Alyson released the unicorn’s leg and they both looked over at me as if I was the crazy one.
“My name is Maestro,” said the unicorn with a slight bow. “And you are in Harmonia, naturally.”
I did not see anything natural about it.
“‘Harmonia’?” I repeated, my suspicion rising. “I’ve never heard of such a place.”
“Of course you have, child. You have only forgotten it.” The unicorn walked towards me. My first instinct was to back away as quickly as possible, but something else checked my feet and held me in place. Maestro turned his head and looked down at me with one of his round eyes. “You have the music in your voice, but have lost the sparkle in your eyes. Only when you believe again will it return.”
I was immediately reminded of the old man who had given me the music box. He had described me in the exact same way, and it unsettled me more than I cared to admit.
“And what exactly is Harmonia?” I asked, if only to distract myself.
“It is the Music World, where the notes go when they are not being played,” said Maestro.
“What are you talking about?” I demanded angrily. “Music doesn’t go anywhere.”
Maestro tossed his midnight black hair and laughed. “Even notes must rest sometimes.”
I did not begin to understand what this meant. Alyson, however, clapped her hands together with joy. “I knew it! I always knew they had to go somewhere!”
“This is the most preposterous dream I’ve ever had,” I muttered under my breath.
“Why is it preposterous?” Maestro replied. “Just because you haven’t seen a place–or think you haven’t–doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”
Of course I haven’t seen this place before, I thought, because none of this actually exists. But I saw no point in arguing with a figment of my own imagination.
“Maestro, did you say the notes are in school?” Alyson asked, stroking his soft fur.
“Yes. They have to learn how to arrange themselves and change their rhythms and fit into measures somewhere, don’t they?”
“That sounds like fun! I wish I could see the school.”
“Would you like to?” Maestro asked.
Alyson’s eyes lit up with excitement. “Oh, can we?”
“Certainly!” said Maestro. “I’m on my way there right now, as a matter of fact. The school is just down the Staff Road from here, on space F. You are welcome to join me. I know my students would be thrilled to meet you. It is not often we get visitors from the Other World.”
“Oh, yes, yes please!” Alyson jumped up and down. “Can we go with him, Ms. Stephanie, please? I want to see the notes!”
At this point, I had given up trying to understand what any of it meant, so I shrugged my shoulders and sighed. “I don’t see why not.”
“Hooray!” Alyson twirled in a circle and clapped some more.
Maestro knelt down onto his knees and Alyson, as if she had been around unicorns all her life, climbed onto his back without hesitation. They both looked expectantly at me.
“Will you come along?” asked Maestro. Alyson patted the space behind her, offering me a seat.
“Um, yes. I will come. But I’d rather walk, if it’s all the same.”
“As you wish.”
Maestro stood with Alyson on his back and walked between two lines of the Staff Road–the “F Space.” Shaking my head, but not about to leave Alyson alone with a strange and possibly dangerous unicorn, I followed close behind.
With one final glance over my shoulder, I saw the building Alyson and I had come out of. It struck me in that moment that it looked exactly like the music box, except a lot bigger. Upon the door Alyson had opened, there was painted from top to bottom a large black treble clef, facing the Staff Road. Its edges began to glow with a soft blue light. Then, as if in response, the two lines on either side of me glowed with the same light. I turned back around and saw the blue glow racing ahead of us into the distance, leading us on to–where, I really could not say. And I was afraid to find out.
To be continued…