The Music Box

“It started a few days after this…” Inna tossed a small metal box onto the dining room table “…came into my possession.” The box rolled noisily end over end and came to stop against the braided wine decanter.

“Hey that’s my Suntagger gift!” Pola announced, palming the cube and giving it a thorough inspection. “You can’t just throw this around, do you know how far this travelled? I dug this up out of a pretty deep hole in the Stitches…”

“I’m sorry P, it’s just. Well, it’s brought me nothing but worry since you gave it to me.”

“Why not slow down and tell us what’s happened,” Shel pulled a chair away from the table and motioned for Inna to sit.

“Well, after the Suntagger festival I set out to go pearl diving, since this is the time of year least likely for the red sharks to be around. Anyway, we were anchored near Naf’s cove in the Galigph when Samar said he thought there was a boat following us. He said it had been just at the horizon since we cleared Bloodrock. Sure enough, I could see through the spyglass there was a ship far out and away, and it seemed to just float there, not bearing any real course. It was too far to see much, but it was a peculiar shape and I didn’t see any sails on it. So, we spend the day diving and Gits has a great haul and me, I was sort of average and we got out of the water and left the cove to spend the night away from the islands like always. We were celebrating Gits’ pearl find and forgot about the boat entirely. Later, after the crew’d gone to bed, Samar comes down and shakes me real hard. When I woke I could see he was scared and the moonlight coming in through the port-holes told me he’d put out all the lanterns. He told me to come up to the deck and to be quiet, so I did and we went up together. Now, we get up top and Samar points off the stern and I climb up the rail a bit to see better and there it is, the boat from earlier that afternoon, sitting still as a skeleton between my boat that islands. I just about fell off the rail I was so scared. Pirates- was my first thought, but they weren’t behaving like pirates. And the boat, well, I’ve never seen anything like it. No oars, no sails. Not a soul on deck and not a single light. There was just this hum, soft and changing in pitch everyone now and then. Samar and I stood watching that strange boat in the moonlight forever and finally it moved off towards the Galigph and disappeared, humming all the way. We set sail right then and there, even though most of the crew were asleep or drunk or both. They took one look at Samar and me and didn’t say a word. We sailed through the night and I have never been so happy to pass the Bloodrock and steer into port as I was that next afternoon.

That was three days ago. Since then I’m sure I’m being followed. I can feel someone watching me on the streets and at night, at home I draw all the blinds but the feeling’s still there. And what’s worse is this music box you gave me keeps chiming away on its own; never the same tune twice. I haven’t slept properly since I docked.”

“Have you seen anyone following you?” Shel took the music-box from Pola and held it between her thumb and finger, turning it with her other hand. “It’s very smooth…where’s the-“ Shel’s words were cut off as the strange little device activated suddenly, filling the dining room with a haunting tinny tune. The Gallam’s grew quiet as the box played and none spoke a word until it had finished. The shadows seemed to grow a little longer when it was done and a chill breeze ran through the room from the open window near the front door. Dak frowned. There was something familiar about the song.

“Again, a new song. I must have listened to a hundred of them, or more!” Inna put her head in her hands and Pola went to close the window. Shel set the box on the table and put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. Pola went to the kitchen and when she returned she brought a large serving bowl of fish stew, setting it on the table before returning to her chair. The Gallams began to eat their reunion meal in silence; Shel chewed her lower lip in between bites, a habit she had carried since she was a child. Pola sighed and ate a few bites before fussing anxiously with her spoon. Dak ate very little, and by the expression on his face he was working very hard at remembering something. It was Inna that finally broke the silence. “I’m sorry to make such a scene. It really is very nice to see you Dak. The beard suits you well.”

“Thanks Inna, it’s wonderful to see you all again, despite your disturbing story I am very happy to be back in Phane for spell.”

Slowly the cloud that had fallen lifted, and the old house took on its more natural and cheery tone once again. The siblings began to talk amongst themselves and Pola lit the majority of the lanterns in the house. Wine began to be poured and the stew began to disappear. The reunion of the four Gallams was underway, and despite its off-putting start, midnight passed and the family continued to rib each-other, catch up and occasionally reminisce about their dear and departed parents. They were in the middle of listening to Shel tell the story of how Dak had been afraid of the fish-holds as a child when the sound of glass breaking silenced them suddenly. Pola yipped a little in surprise at the interuption and panned her head from window to window. Shel stood, hand on her knife, but it was Inna that found the source of the noise and she rose to join her brother. Dak sat, his face pale and drawn, his hand still clutching at the wine glass he’d let slip from his grasp a moment ago.

“Dak,” Inna said.

“It’s not music. I mean it is music, but it’s not supposed to be music. It’s numbers.”

Just then, as if on cue, the music box which had been forgotten on the dining room table, came to life. A lilting wobbly tune emanated from its polished sides, filling the room with a palpable plunking sense of dread. “Listen,” Dak’s voice wavered. “The chorus- that repeated part just there. I recognize the pattern. It’s playing where it is. That’s why the tune always changes. Inna, it’s not playing a hundred different songs. The chorus is coordinates. It’s playing where it is.”

The Music Box

Tomes in Amber Meshon JonS