This is the third part of a Gothic short story I’m working on. I recommend reading the previous posts if you wish to catch up.
The Music Box Pt 3
Copyright Jonathan Scott Griffin
Anna awoke in cold sweat to the sound of the music box chiming in her dresser. Not even the closed drawer could do much to muffle the sound. The setting sun caused the sky to burn orange and red, darkening her room in mild shade. Anna felt sick hearing the sad music play from the music box. She tossed aside her covers and opened her dresser to retrieve the accursed antique. She was about to toss it outside, but something in her mind prevented her from doing so. She got the impression that to do so would be to murder the dancer a second time. From what she saw in her dream, she was guessing that the ballerina had indeed been murdered. Still, she couldn’t just have the music box start playing by itself. There had to be some way to jam the mechanism.
Anna went to the old pantry, now being used by her mother as a tool shed, and got a screwdriver, a wrench, and other tools. She worked as carefully as she could, in the hopes that she wouldn’t damage the music box to an extent that it couldn’t be repaired. She managed to crack the box open and then proceeded to remove all the parts inside, thus putting a stop to the torturous music. Anna breathed heavily, sweat dripping down from her forehead, her sweat stained shirt clinging to her like a cold, clammy rag.
She took the broken apart music box back to her room, and shoved all the parts back in her dresser. It was just in time, too, as the front door slammed to indicate her mom had just come back home. “Anna, are you okay?” she called to her.
Anna scurried back under her covers, pulling them over her head. Her mom had knocked, but had still opened the door without giving her time to answer. Her mom walked over and sat down beside her. Anna felt her slowly draw back the covers. “Feeling any better, kiddo?” her mom asked before putting a hand on Anna’s forehead. “You’re burning up. You were right. It’s good that you stayed home from school today. Well, get some rest. If you need anything, like, I don’t know, maybe chicken soup, don’t be afraid to holler.”
“I can’t sleep,” Anna said weakly. “I’ve been sleeping all day. Can I stay up and read one of my favorite books or watch one of my favorite shows?”
“Sure, honey, that will be fine. Can I get you anything?”
“No. I’m not hungry.”
True to her word, Anna spent the rest of the evening reading from one of her favorite books and then watching some TV. She had zero desire to think about the events that had just transpired. She knew that she would have to eventually go back into the attic in order to help the dancer. But for the time being she didn’t want to think about it at all.
This desire to block out the frightening memory extended for the next five months, during which she came close to forgetting about it. Anna lived those months going to school, hanging out with her friends, reading, and watching TV. She had dinner with her mom in the evening, and her mom fixed her breakfast in the morning. Life for the most part was normal and uneventful again. And for the time being, Anna wondered if she had just imagined the frightening ordeal. Either way, she was enjoying the monotony.
It was too good to last.
One night, shortly after Anna had fallen asleep, she heard the ballerina whisper, “Help me.” This time the ballerina was even whiter than before, standing in a black abyss. She looked at Anna, tears of scarlet blood seeping down her eyes and blood trickling down her mouth. The ballerina opened her mouth wide into a blood curdling scream that shook the very frame of Anna.
Anna awoke in a state of near petrification to the chimes of the music box playing. But how could that be possible? She had taken apart that infernal piece of junk. She wanted to get out of her bed. But she was frightened. Too frightened.
Her mom opened the door, a look of anger on her face. “What are you doing playing music this time of night?”
Anna didn’t answer her, opting instead to stay under her covers and cry.
“Oh, honey, I’m sorry,” her mom softened her tone. “What’s wrong, sweetie?” She sat down by Anna, removed the covers, and held her in her arms.
Anna couldn’t speak, but she did manage to point, her hand shaking violently, to her dresser where the music was coming from. Her mom walked over to the dresser and slowly opened the drawer. To Anna’s shock, she took out the music box in perfect condition.
“Where did you get this?” her mom quizzed her. “Was it from the attic?”
Anna sobbed. Her mother rushed back to her to again hold her tight. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” she whispered in Anna’s ear. “I’m not angry. I promise.”
“I saw a ghost,” whimpered Anna, finally mustering up the courage to look up at her mom.
Her mom’s face turned briefly pale, though she tried to sound stoic. “Nonsense. It was just a bad dream.”
“It was in the attic,” Anna protested. “About five months ago, late at night.”
“Well, maybe you feel asleep in the attic if it was late. There has to be a rational explanation. But I don’t believe for one moment that this house is haunted.”
Anna wanted to tell her mother that what she just said wasn’t true, that the house was very much haunted. But her mom had spoken her view in such a firmness as to end any room for debate. Besides, how could she hope to tell her mom that the music box was now repaired after being taken apart?
“I’m going to take this,” her mom said – the music had now stopped playing – and I am going to put it back in the attic.”
“No, don’t!” cried Anna, throwing herself in the way of her mom. Her mom tried to assuage her fears by telling her that it was her wild imagination and that they’d both be fine.
Those five minutes that Anna waited for her mom to come back downstairs seemed like an agonizing hour. She was grateful when her mom finally returned, wished her good night, and retired to her room.
Yet, it was a small comfort only. Anna knew what she’d have to do. She’d have to return to the attic and save the ballerina if this nightmare were to end.
It was a cold fall day, the trees losing their leaves to bare their crooked limbs, when Anna returned to the attic. Though it was daylight this time around – her mother had left for an errand – the attic was still fairly dark, and cold. Only a few windows allowed for a little bit of light to pass through.
Anna wasn’t sure what she was supposed to be looking for exactly. Nor did she know how much she would have until her mom returned. She looked over at the door to the storage room. She still felt a sense of terror from it, but she didn’t feel like she was in any immediate danger.
The only thing she could do was to look through the different chests and boxes. What she found was 19th century and early 20th century novels, old china and silverware, and some more old clothing. It could have been exciting had it not been for the pressure Anna was under.
Finally, she came across a smaller box, a shoebox. Inside the shoebox was a pile of old letters incased in envelopes, brittle to the touch. Anna feared that if she touched them they would turn to dust. But she had no choice. She felt that whatever secrets this house held would be partly revealed in the letters. Her heart froze when she noticed the address on the envelopes were for outward mail, but had never been sent out.
Hands shaking, she opened one of the envelopes, scared that she might rip it. She didn’t, and she composed herself enough to gently unfold the old paper. The letter was written in cursive, but it was eligible. The letter was dated 1876. She read it.
Please help me. If I was ever in need of succor it is now. I am a prisoner in this house. I fear that old Karl is going mad, and is fit for nothing more than to be sent to a sanitarium. His behavior grows increasingly more erratic. One moment he is jovial with a cheerful and pleasant countenance, the next he is despondent, his demeanor absolutely melancholic. Sometimes he is even prone to bouts of extreme rage, to the point I think he is going to give me a whipping I can never recover from. But that is not the worst of the demons he manifests. He is at his worst when he is happy beyond comprehension. What I mean by that is he will be overcome with bursts of laughter for no reason. I know it is said that it is a good thing to laugh, but his laughter has a sinister ring to it, and he smiles as if to disguise a dark heart.
If only this were the least of my concerns, but suffice to say it is not so. I fear that I am not the first woman he has married and I fear that I won’t be the last. I found three old wedding rings in a drawer, as well as the shredded remains of an old wedding dress in the attic.
Mama, Papa, I am beside myself. Eating is a burden. Sleeping is a burden. I want to go out and get fresh air, but he will not let me leave the house. I am hoping to give this letter to a friend of his. His friend, I think, is sympathetic to my plight.
Your dutiful daughter Eileen.
Anna felt a sense of terror that she had never felt before. Anna didn’t want to read all the letters, seeing as this one was already taking an emotional toll on her. However, there was an old red notebook under all of the letters. It caught her eye like freshly spilled blood on freshly fallen snow. She opened it to learn that it was a journal of some sort. She had turned to the middle of the book and found herself reading a nightmare in words.
January, 6 1885.
They think I murdered those women. But I am not to blame. The parents cannot prove anything. I am an innocent victim. This house wants blood. It demands a sacrifice. So I oblige. But it never leaves me alone. I hear the voice at night. The voice that calls for blood. It calls me to the storage room in the attic. That storage room is hungry. It calls me to me.
It matters not. If I’m convicted I will get the chair. But I won’t let them. I will die here first. Besides, maybe then the voices will stop calling me.
Ann couldn’t read anymore. This wasn’t an attic. It was a portal to Hell. She wanted to leave and never come back. But she couldn’t just yet. It was irrelevant how afraid she was. Though she felt a sense of hopelessness that she hoped to never feel again, she had to know what was in the storage closet.
Hesitantly and in trepidation she walked over to the door and slowly opened it. It creaked loudly. It was almost pitch black inside, but Anna heard something clatter against the floor. Alarmed, she looked down to see a skull frozen in a deathly grin, its eyeless sockets staring up at her. A quick look into the closet also revealed, with the little light there was coming from the windows, mounds of human bones.
Anna screamed and ran down the attic stairs, slamming the door behind her. But she didn’t stop there. She didn’t stop screaming until she was out of the house and in the foggy woods that surrounded it.
Amongst a grove of trees, Anna fell on her knees, about ready to throw up. The thick fog laid heavily on her and upon the trees, silhouetting the trunks and the limbs into shadowy shapes gasping for air out from the choking grey blanket. The only thing that stood out from the gray of the fog, and the gray and black of the earth and trees, were the remaining leaves, burning orange and red like fire, on the branches.
Anna tried to compose herself. She wanted to get lost in the fog, to disappear in it and never return. As she was wishing for the fog to envelope her in its cold embrace, the sounds of the music box began to chime again. The ghost of the ballerina stepped up to her. Anna almost didn’t see her because of how well she blended into the fog. The ballerina looked at her with sad eyes.
“What do you want from me?” Anna asked her.
The ghost pointed back to the direction of the house, its spires and weathervane rising like tombs above the sea of fog.
“I’m not going back there,” screamed Anna.
“Help me, help us,” the ballerina pleaded in a voice that echoed from another dimension. “You’ll find your answers at the library.” Upon this advice, she faded away into the fog, the sounds of the music box fading with her.