If you missed previous installments, you can visit my Adventures in Harmonia page and scroll down for more posts.
“Hi, Ms. Stephanie!” Alyson greeted me when I opened the door later that afternoon.
“Hi there. How are you?”
“Great!” She stepped over the threshold and took off her coat. Her mother, Tiffany, followed.
“Hello. I’m going to stay today, if that’s OK,” Tiffany said.
I scarcely concealed my relief. “Of course! Come on in!”
Ha! I wouldn’t have to talk about the music box or Harmonia now. Not with the mom there.
The lesson proceeded without a hitch. I felt quite content with the way things had worked out. As Alyson played through one of her pieces, Tiffany got up quietly and went to the restroom. My stomach squirmed a little at being left alone, but Alyson stayed focused on the music.
As soon as she finished, I praised her for her noticeable improvement. Alyson smiled brightly. “Thanks! Did I remember all the rests this time?”
“You sure did! Well done!”
“Oh, I’m glad. Because ever since I met the rests at that school, I decided I should pay more attention to them. Have you heard from Maestro yet?” The eagerness in Alyson’s voice proved she had been dying to ask me that all week.
I sighed and hung my head. “Alyson, you know it…it wasn’t real,” I replied weakly.
She frowned. “What do you mean? Of course it’s real! We were there, both of us! Don’t you remember?”
“I…I don’t…That’s not…”
Alyson’s eyes grew wider. “Don’t you remember meeting the notes? And Ms. Metronome? Do you remember riding Maestro?” She gave a little shudder. “What about the flying accents that tried to sting us?”
I was spared from answering by the return of her mother. Alyson looked down at her lap, clearly disappointed. I cleared my throat and asked her to get out her next piece, deliberately averting my eyes from the music box.
When they left shortly after, I felt a combination of relief, anxiety and shame. Relief that I had barely escaped the inevitable discussion of Harmonia with Alyson. Anxiety that she had, despite my best efforts, still managed to remind me about it. And shame that I would rather smother Alyson’s belief than accept the glaring truth myself.
The music box tinkled a few notes again, as if a ghost played it in response to my thoughts. I jumped at the sound, but held my ground this time.
That’s it, I told myself. No more of this.
My resolve strengthened, I stomped over to the piano and grabbed the music box. I stared down at it in my trembling hands. So innocent looking, and yet…
I turned on the spot, marched to the garage and out the door, opened the garbage bin’s lid and dropped the box inside without hesitation.
“Try haunting me now!” I hissed at the garbage bin, my arms crossed. Glancing across the alleyway, I saw one of the neighbor kids on her tricycle staring at me with wide eyes. I quickly flashed a smile. “Hello.”
She pedaled as fast as her feet would go without a word. I watched her turn up her family’s driveway and run inside the house, throwing me one last terrified look over her shoulder.
Great. Now I’m the crazy neighbor lady all the kids are scared of.
The deed was done though. The box would soon be out of my life–and, hopefully, everyone else’s life–forever. It could do no more harm.
I went to bed that night feeling more relaxed than I had all week. At last, I was at peace.
My eyes shot open at precisely 3:12 a.m. I had had the most vivid and disturbing dream. Voices cried out all around me, but it was so dark I couldn’t see them. They wailed and cried out for help. I ran around blindly, unable to find anyone.
Something touched my shoulder and I leaped in panic. A soft light from somewhere above slowly brightened, revealing a unicorn with shining black fur, white hooves and horn, and a patch of white fur on his chest that resembled the front of tuxedo.
“Maestro!” I breathed. “What’s going on? Where am I? Why are you here?”
Maestro just looked back at me, his eyes full of sadness. A single tear escaped and trickled down his muzzle. “Why have you abandoned us, my friend?”
That’s when I woke up.
Great. Of course I’d feel guilty now, now that I was nearly rid of the nuisance. Figures.
I turned on my side and tried desperately to push the dream out of my thoughts and go back to sleep. After tossing and turning all night long, I woke late on Saturday. All morning I tried to distract myself so I’d stop thinking about the music box in the garbage outside. All morning I failed.
Around lunchtime, I couldn’t stand it any more. I ran outside and flung the garbage lid open. With relief, I saw the music box still inside. Of course it would be, trash day wasn’t until Monday. But still…I had this crazy thought that throwing it out had somehow banished the box to another dimension and it was forever beyond my reach.
I pulled it out of the garbage and carried it back inside.
What’s wrong with me?
I sat on the couch with my arms crossed, staring at the music box on the coffee table. Clearly, I wasn’t going to be able to ignore it forever, so some decisions needed to be made.
What should I do with the music box? Keep it, or get rid of it? What exactly would it do if I kept it? What would happen to all those creepy creatures inside it? Would I be sucked back in against my will? Would anything find its way out of the box and into my house?
I had way too many questions, and no way to get any answers. I refused to go back to Harmonia so soon, and the only other person in this world I knew who might be involved was a crazy old man who was long gone to some nursing home by now. Then again…
I sat up straighter and tried to recall every detail of my meeting with the old man when he gave me the music box. He had asked me some really strange questions, and been desperate to hide the box on me before his family saw it. Sure, his behavior had seemed odd at the time, but maybe he wasn’t so crazy after all. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.
Yes, he was the key. I needed answers, and he was going to give them to me. With my mind made up, I searched on my computer for local nursing homes. My heart plummeted to my feet. There were tons in the area, and I didn’t even know the man’s name! I’d have to go to each home and snoop around suspiciously to find him. And who knew how long that would take? Then another idea hit me. I found the ad for the estate sale, which I had saved to my computer last year so I wouldn’t lose the address or information. Just as I had hoped, there was a phone number at the bottom of the ad. It was probably his granddaughter’s number or another family member, but it was at least a better start than invading every nursing home in the county.
I dialed the number and waited impatiently for someone to answer. At last, the ringing stopped and a voice on the other end said, “Hello?”
“Uh…hello,” I replied awkwardly. For some reason, my brain tends to stop working on phone calls. I don’t know why, but I’ll suddenly forget what words are and how to arrange them into coherent sentences. That’s why I usually avoid calling people if I can help it. However, I had been in such a hurry to find the man that I dialed the number before planning what to say. I swallowed and tried to speak without any panic in my voice. “My name is…uh…Stephanie Florentino.”
Words, Stephanie, use words.
“How can I help you?” the woman’s voice answered.
“Ah, yes. Well. I’m calling in regards to the estate sale you held last year.”
My brain reeled, trying to figure out how to word the question. “I met a…delightful elderly gentleman when I was there, and we talked a little. I got the impression that he lived there.”
“Yeah. That would be my grandpa. He does’t live there anymore though. We had him moved to an assisted living home.”
“Right. Of course. I was just thinking that I would love the chance to talk to him again. We both shared a love of music, you see.”
“Anyway, I didn’t know where to find him. So…”
There was no reply. Just more awkward silence. This lady was really going to make me work for the information I wanted.
“So,” I repeated, “I was hoping you could give me the name of the home where he’s staying, so I could go visit him sometime?”
A long, uncomfortable pause followed.
“You want to visit my grandpa?” she finally asked.
“Um…yes.” I said, painfully aware of how odd my request sounded. “I bought several of his things at the sale,” I added quickly, hoping to come up with an explanation that made more sense, “and I would really like to hear more about their history. Where he got them, what they meant to him. That sort of thing.”
I waited for an answer on the edge of my seat. So close. I was so close to finding him. If only his granddaughter would cooperate…
“Yeah, I mean I guess that’s fine. He’d probably enjoy the company of another musician. He’s always going off on weird stories and talking about things none of us understand anyway, so by all means.”
I let out a sigh of relief.
“He’s at the Pleasant Oaks Retirement Center in Dallas. I can give you the address if you need it.”
Finally! I was making progress. My next stop that day: Pleasant Oaks.
Mr. Mysterious Music Box Guy and I were going to have a long chat.
To be continued…