If you missed previous installments of this series, you can go to my Adventures in Harmonia page and scroll down for more posts.
I waved goodbye with a numb, vacant smile–the most I could manage at the time–as Alyson climbed into her mother’s car. It had without a doubt been the most stressful and traumatizing piano lesson of my life.
We spent hours trapped in an insane and, as it turned out, dangerous world where music notes were alive and a swarm of flying, bloodthirsty accents sent us running for our lives; all of which existed, annoyingly enough, inside the music box on my piano. The very music box some old man had pawned off on me, and I had been sucker enough to take out of “sympathy.” It was supposed to be nothing more than a pretty, but ordinary wooden box. Joke was on me, I guess.
The worst part of it all was the guilt I felt that my young piano student had been sucked into the world with me, her safety at risk because of me. The thought of her mother’s alarm when she arrived at my house to pick up Alyson and found no one home haunted my every waking moment. Instead, after our dramatic return to our world, I looked up at my favorite treble-clef clock and realized with a mixture of surprise and irritation that practically no time had passed since we left. No one would ever be the wiser that the two of us had disappeared from this world for a few hours.
Neither of us mentioned what had happened. I suppose we were both still recovering from the shock of it all, particularly the part at the end where we were chased by a bunch of musical symbols with a vendetta against humans. We sat on the couch and stared out the window until Alyson’s mom pulled up outside the house. Alyson grabbed her bag and coat and I followed her to the front door. I wondered if she doubted any of it had actually happened, as I did, or if she even remembered.
As she walked out the door, Alyson turned–her bright smile back in place. “Goodbye, Ms. Stephanie.” She lowered her voice and added conspiratorially, “And let me know if you hear from Maestro again.”
I nodded mutely, then watched her skip to her mom’s car. Part of me wanted to warn her to not tell anyone about Harmonia or what we had seen there, but I seemed to have temporarily lost the ability to speak. At any rate, who would believe such a wild story?
When they drove off, I shut the door and leaned against it with a heavy sigh. What a day. Thank heavens it was Friday. That meant I didn’t have to work or go anywhere tomorrow. I could sleep the nightmare off and spend the day recovering. I glared at the innocent-looking music box perched on top of my piano. All this trouble over a hunk of wood I picked up at an estate sale. That’s the last time I go bargain-hunting.
By Saturday morning, I started to explain things away as a detailed and vivid dream. Clearly I must have made it all up in my sleep, after Alyson’s real lesson. I ignored the glaring truth that I had no memory of an alternative lesson in which the two of us remained firmly planted in this world. Likewise, I ignored the music box altogether, never once stepping foot in the music room all day.
By Sunday, I had nearly convinced myself that none of it was real. I went into the music room once to grab a book, stopped and studied the music box, then laughed softly. It was only a wooden box. I went so far as to walk over and reach out a hand, with the intent to open the lid and prove to myself it was empty inside. But I hesitated, my hand suspended over the lid, and eventually decided against it. Of course it’s empty, I told myself. I don’t need to prove anything.
Overall, I felt that I had recovered quite well. The weekend came and went, and I had almost successfully convinced myself that none of it was real. When my first Monday student arrived, I admittedly spent most of the lesson glancing up at the music box out of the corner of my eye, sure that it would spring open and swallow us at any second. When this did not happen and the student left without incident, I breathed a long sigh of relief. Over the next few days, I gradually relaxed a little more at each lesson until at last, the box didn’t bother me at all.
Life returned to normal. Lovely, blissful, uneventful normal.
Thursday morning, as I sipped a steaming cup of coffee, I pulled out a bunch of music and started sorting through it all at the table in the music room. It was nearly time for my students to start recital pieces, so I needed to prepare.
With coffee in one hand and music in the other, I passed my time quite contentedly.
That’s when it happened.
A soft, tinkling note broke the silence with all the jarring quality of finger nails on a chalkboard.
A single note, that was it. But that was all it took to set my heart racing and my teeth on edge.
My eyes shot to the music box and I held my breath, as if I had been expecting this moment all along. The moment the nightmare proved real.
Several minutes passed, and there was no other sound. Finally, I shook my head and told myself I was just imagining things. I went back to the piles of music and the rest of the day passed without further interruption.
Friday morning came, and a part of me was dreading the prospect of Alyson’s piano lesson. What if she remembered Harmonia? After all the hard work I had put into making myself believe it wasn’t real, the last thing I needed was for her to show up eager to talk about it.
I was a nervous wreck all morning. I tried distracting myself with various methods: watching television, reading a book, cleaning house, running errands. But the nerves were still there, lurking under it all.
I returned from my errands in the afternoon, put up groceries and then decided to sweep the floor. The rhythmic motion of the broom lulled my mind and I felt my muscles relax a little for the first time all day. I stopped at the front door, staring at the music box across the room with my free hand on my hip.
This is ridiculous, I thought. There’s nothing to be afraid of, you’ll see. Stop being such a scaredy-cat.
I went back to my sweeping, already feeling more relaxed.
Then it happened again.
A single note tinkled from the direction of the music box. I froze in my motion, eyes glued to the floor.
No. No, no, no.
My hands shook on the broom handle.
You imagined it, Stephanie. That’s it. You’re letting your imagination get the better of you. Just ignore it.
Slowly, I lifted my eyes. The box sat on top of the piano, looking perfectly harmless and ordinary. See? It’s fine.
My feet carried me toward the piano on their own accord. I clutched the broom, its bristles raised over my head as if to swat the box if it made any sudden movements.
Bit by bit I tiptoed closer, approaching it like a deadly spider. I decided a couple of feet was close enough. Cautiously, I leaned forward and examined the box from the distance. It seemed harmless enough. I slid one foot closer, and raised my broom still higher.
No sound but the ticking of the clock. I slowly let my breath out and started to lower the broom.
The music rang out again, this time in full swing. Not just a single note, but an entire line of notes, jarringly loud.
I let out a shriek, threw my broom in the air and bolted out of the room at top speed.
Not my shining moment.
To be continued…