To read previous installments of this series, visit the Adventures in Harmonia page.
I spent the rest of the weekend contemplating “King” Alexander’s odd request. He wanted me to get him back to Harmonia? REALLY? How on earth was I supposed to do that? Even if I discovered what was blocking him from using the portals in the first place and then miraculously figured out how to unblock him, there was still the matter of smuggling him out of a nursing home. Sure, I could take the music box there so he technically wouldn’t even have to leave his room, but still…the nurses were bound to notice his disappearance into thin air sooner or later.
Why did he have to give the music box to me in the first place? Harmonia was looking increasingly dangerous by the minute. As if it wasn’t enough that Alyson and I had to run for our lives from a swarm of flying accents (as in the musical symbol–SYMBOL, mind you), now I learned there was something even worse lurking around in Harmonia. This “Lord Tritone” guy was apparently after Alexander…and now me, by association. Gee, thanks. Just what I needed.
I tried to ignore the music box as much as possible in the following days, but it seemed to sense my presence and would start playing on its own whenever I walked by, just one or two notes. It was like the portal was trying to get my attention, to draw me back to Harmonia.
Well, I wasn’t going. I made up my mind to never open that thing again. Still, for whatever reason, I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Maybe it was like the Jumanji game–if you throw it out, it just finds another unsuspecting victim to trap into playing. I decided to keep an eye on it until I could return it to Alexander next Saturday. He could find someone else to send on his ridiculous quest.
Still, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the music box sitting on top of my piano in plain sight. What if one of my students opened it by mistake? To be safe, I stuck it inside the piano bench. Hopefully that would muffle any sounds it might make too.
When my piano students started to arrive that afternoon, I was grateful for the distraction. Lessons went quite smoothly, without any unwanted interruptions of the magical sort. Maybe the portal had finally given up on me. Good riddance.
“Ms. Stephanie!” A rambunctious young boy hopped inside when I opened the door Monday evening. He beamed up at me, all wavy blond hair and flushed cheeks. “Ms. Stephanie! Guess what?”
I grinned back at the little ball of six-year-old energy. “Hey, Shepard! How are you doing?”
“Uh–good. Guess what?” He bounced on his toes, unable to contain his enthusiasm.
“When we get back home after lessons, my neighbor Garrett is going to play Nerf guns with me!”
“Oh, wow!” I replied. “That sounds like a lot of fun!”
“Yeah!” Shep practically shouted in excitement. He ran into the living room to wait for his turn, as his older sister walked in behind him.
“Hello, Ava.” I smiled. “Come on in.”
“Hi, Ms. Stephanie.” She smiled back with her adorable dimples and tucked a strand of long brown hair behind her ear.
I waved at her mother in the car before closing the door. “How was your week?”
“It was great! How was yours?”
“It was…” I had a sudden terrifying flashback of the past week. “Pretty good.”
Ava went to the piano, and I checked on Shepard while she was getting set up. “You alright in here?”
“Yep!” he replied, focused intently on one of his piano books lying open on the coffee table. “I just remembered I forgot to finish part of my theory homework, so I’m doing it right now.”
“Ah, good thinking.”
I returned to the piano where Ava had her books open and was running through one of her songs. “You all set?”
“Yes, I’m ready.”
“Great! Why don’t we start with your scales?”
About halfway through the lesson, Shep walked past on his way back from the restroom as Ava finished one of her pieces.
“Well done!” I praised her. “You really nailed those skips.”
She beamed at me. “Thanks. I practiced it a lot…and a few extra songs, too. I really like practicing.”
“Wow.” I tried not to fall out of my chair. It wasn’t every day a student told me they actually enjoyed practicing. “That’s awesome! Well, since you passed off everything on your checklist for that song, we get to move on to a new one today. What’s next?”
She turned the page and read out the title of the new piece. “The Dinosaur Song.”
Shep stopped in his tracks and spun on the spot to face us. “Dinosaurs?” he gasped, running over to look for himself. “What kind of dinosaurs? Do they have the Sarcosuchus?”
Ava and I exchanged a grin. “I doubt it.” I answered.
“Too bad. The Sarcosuchus is really cool.” Shep sighed and returned to the living room.
“He loves dinosaurs.” Ava giggled.
“I’ve noticed. Well, let’s take a look at the song. What should we do first before you try to play it?”
“I have to figure out where to put my hands on the keys,” Ava replied automatically, confident in the usual routine.
“Excellent!” I handed her my mechanical pencil. “So, what is the right hand’s first note?”
“C!” she exclaimed without hesitation, writing in the letter above the note.
“Good. What about the left hand?”
Ava frowned in concentration. “Is it…” I could tell she was trying to count down the staff from middle C, so I waited to let her figure it out herself. “F?”
“You’re close.” I leaned forward and pointed at the middle C in the top staff. “You had the right idea, working from a note you know for sure. But since the left hand note is below middle C, does that mean it’s sound is higher or lower?”
“Lower,” Ava answered.
“So, since you’re going lower than middle C, will the letter names of the notes go forward or backwards?”
Ava’s face lit up. “Of course! I counted forward instead of backwards!”
“Bingo! Why don’t you give it another try?”
She touched the middle C with the pencil tip. “C…” Slowly moving the pencil down the staff, she continued, “B…A…G! It’s G!”
“Correct! I knew you’d get it!”
Once I had assigned Ava her new songs and theory homework, I let her pack her things away while I went to get Shepard. “You’re up!” I said, letting him run past me into the piano room.
“Do I get a dinosaur song too?” Shep asked, whisking his books out and flipping through the pages.
“Actually, your sister has different books than you, because she’s older. I don’t think there’s any songs about dinosaurs in your books.”
Shep’s face fell. “Why not?”
“Well…” I didn’t know quite what to say. “The people who wrote your books aren’t the same people who wrote Ava’s books. So they used different songs.”
“Yeah,” Shep crossed his arms. “But Ava’s ten, and a girl. She doesn’t care about dinosaurs.”
“I guess not,” I agreed, trying not to smile too much. “Tell you what. If you practice your songs really hard and keep working on learning your finger numbers, maybe one day you can learn the dinosaur song too.”
“Really?” He sat up straighter.
“Sure! But you’ve really got to know your finger numbers first, so you can play all the skips. Deal?”
“Deal!” Shep shouted. He opened his book and set his hands in place, eager to prove himself.
“Alright,” I laughed. “Let’s warm up first.”
His lesson went just as smoothly as Ava’s, and I had nearly forgotten about the music box entirely. That is, until a couple of muffled notes rang out beneath Shepard just as he finished his last song.
He looked down at the bench with a perplexed frown. “What was that?”
“Oh, nothing,” I said in a would-be casual voice. “Just an old broken music box.”
“That was weird.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, standing up. “Well, you’re all done for today! I’m going to get a glass of water. Are you thirsty?”
“Okay. I’ll be right back.” I went to the kitchen, anxious to get away from the portal and regain my composure. “Your brother’s done,” I added to Ava, who had taken his place in the living room. “If you want to wait for your mom in there you can.”
Ava packed her bag back up and went into the piano room with Shepard, where they compared their new songs. As I pulled a glass out of the cabinet, the doorbell rang.
“That was fast,” I mumbled to myself. However, when I opened the door, it wasn’t their mom Rebecca who greet me. Instead, my next student, Isabella, smiled up at me.
“Hi, Ms. Stephanie! I remembered my theory book today!” she said proudly.
“Oh good,” I grinned. “I wasn’t looking forward to telling your grandpa to make you practice an extra thirty minutes every day.”
“NO!” Bella cried dramatically, raising the back of her hand to her forehead. “You can’t do that to me!”
“Well, you remembered your theory book this time, so I guess we’ll never know now.” I stepped aside to let her enter.
Bella narrowed her eyes suspiciously and slipped past me.
“Ava, Shep, you remember Isabella?” I said. They all waved at each other shyly. “They’re waiting for their mom to get here. We can go ahead and start your lesson in a minute. I was just getting a drink first.” I returned to the kitchen as Bella was setting up at the piano.
Over the clatter of ice cubes falling into my glass, I could just make out the kids’ voices in the other room, although I couldn’t tell what they were saying. I filled the glass with water and took a good long drink. Closing my eyes, I breathed deep and attempted to calm myself.
It’s nothing. I assured myself. Stop letting that music box freak you out so much.
I took another gulp.
There was a slight creaking sound, then the unmistakable song of the music box suddenly played out in full swing.
My eyes snapped open. “No!” I abandoned my cup on the counter and ran into the piano room. “Don’t touch it!”
Horror-stricken, I watched as one by one my three students were sucked into the music box, Jumanji-style. Déjà Vu.
“No!” I shouted again.
Bella was the last to rise from the floor. Desperately, I lunged forward and wrapped my arms around her legs, pulling back as hard as I could. She stopped floating forward, but I couldn’t get her down either. “Bella!” I yelled. “Bella! Can you hear me!”
She floated in mid-air, her eyes shut as if she was in a deep sleep–or trance, more like it.
I grunted and pulled, stuck in some horrific game of tug-of-war. Even if I succeeded in keeping Bella out, the fact still remained that Ava and Shep were both already in Harmonia–alone and confused and scared, most likely. I had no choice now. I’d have to return to find them.
I pulled still harder, to no avail. “Come on!”
The portal’s strength suddenly increased. I could feel Bella slowly floating forward. I tightened my hold on her, but my feet started sliding across the carpet towards the piano bench. It was no good.
A roar of wind filled my ears as my feet left the floor, drowning out my scream.
Everything went black.
To be continued…