This was the story I wrote in 24 hours for the finals in the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest 2011. It needs work, but enjoy!
After school sessions with a music prodigy have inharmonious consequences.
“Mrs. Barrows is late,” thought Lucy. She sighed, wondering how long she’d be waiting. Lucy had shown an amazing aptitude for music at a young age. She wondered what instrument she would be practicing with today. Mrs. Barrows liked to surprise her, and Lucy had so far been able to play anything she brought in, from a recorder to a cello. Her footsteps on the tile floor punctuated her loneliness. As far as she knew the school was empty, except for maybe the janitor. There was a single window in the room to look out and see if Mrs. Barrows car was in the parking lot. Lucy’s pale complexion, framed by thick black hair that she wore in a single braid down her back, accentuated her dark eyes. The only vehicle in the parking lot was a white delivery truck. It was getting dark outside, and Lucy mentally kicked herself for not charging her cell phone last night. Mrs. Barrows usually gave her a ride home after her lesson, so she knew her family wouldn’t be expecting her for a while. The “clunk” of the door to the room being opened startled her as two delivery men came through the door. They were pushing a large object, covered completely by a protective canvas tarp on a wooden dolly. As they rolled the dolly past the piano to an open spot on the floor, one of the men looked up and saw Lucy. He acknowledged her with a nod. “Let’s set it down right here,” the first man said, and together the two men picked the object up off the dolly and gently set it on the floor.
“You aren’t Mrs. Barrows, are you?” asked one of the men, as he flipped through some papers on a clipboard he’d taken out from under his arm. “No, she went to the bathroom” Lucy stammered, not wanting them to know she was alone. “Well, we need a signature on the delivery ticket, so I guess you’ll have to do it” the man said. “Are you sure that’s okay?” Lucy asked. “Yeah, it doesn’t matter who signs, we just need a signature to show it was delivered. “As long as you think it’s okay….” Lucy stammered. She climbed down from the chair, and walked down the stairs to the delivery man still standing by the object. He handed her a pen, and indicated where she was to sign. As soon as she finished the delivery man ripped off the top of the paper and gave her the bottom copy. “Good luck with it,” he said, as he walked toward the door that his co-worker held open for him. “Thank you,” she replied holding the delivery ticket in her hands. With that, they were gone and it was just Lucy in the room once again, now with the addition of the large object that she assumed was an instrument for her to play.
Lucy decided to take off the canvas and see just what this mystery instrument was. The canvas was held in place with bungie cords. She started releasing them one by one, until all them were off. Not knowing how her teacher would feel about it, Lucy took a deep breath, and gently tugged off the canvas. The rough material brushed against the strings of the instrument as it came off with a whispered sigh of air. The strings hummed, and Lucy felt something deep inside of her respond. At that moment Lucy heard the door, and in walked Mrs. Barrows. “I’m sorry I’m late Lucy,” she said, “It took quite a bit of research and persuading to get this here. Do you know what it is?” “I think so,” said Lucy, “although I’ve never seen one except in photos. I think it’s a harp, a very old one” she said. Her teacher nodded, “Yes, that’s right Lucy. It is a harp, and a very old one at that. The only reason the owner was willing to loan it to us was because I played recordings of you on a variety of instruments and he was so impressed with your talent that he agreed to let you play it as long as you perform once for him in his home. He is quite old, and isolated. He has no family left so he gets lonely, especially for young people like you are.” “Would you be there with me Mrs. Barrows?” Lucy asked. “Of course dear. You are a prodigy Lucy, have you heard that before?” “Yes, although I’m not sure I’m good enough to be called one. Learning to play instruments is very easy for me. It’s like my body has it’s own memory, and when I touch an instrument I don’t even have to think about what to do, I just start playing.” “It’s a gift Lucy,” Mrs. Barrows said, taking Lucy’s hands in her own, “and it’s very rare. You have had to learn to read music, but that has come easily for you, and you play well by ear too. You only have to listen to something once or twice and you can play it. The reason I’ve borrowed this harp for you is to help you get in touch with the feeling side of your gift.” “What is that supposed to mean?” Lucy asked. “You are just starting your journey in life Lucy, even though you are already 15 years old. As your body continues to change and you start experiencing more of the world, you’re going to need a positive way to challenge the depth and breadth of your feelings. Music can be another voice for you, a way to let your emotions flow through you, and get released in a creative way.” “Why is this harp so special?” “Because it is old, and has been touched by many hands, male and female, and has maintained it’s strength and resilience, two qualities that will be very important to you as you grow-up.” “Now,” she said, releasing Lucy’s hands, “let’s look it over. We don’t have a lot of time today because I was late, but we’ll make up for that in the coming weeks. Take some time to examine it in detail, try the strings and listen to what you hear. See if you can sense those aspects of it I mentioned, strength and resilience.”
Lucy turned to look at the harp. The front of it was carved to form a male torso. His face was handsome, and Lucy could already feel the urge to reach out and touch his cheek. “Come here Lucy,” Mrs. Barrows said, “I’ve gotten you the stool you sit on to play.” Lucy had been so consumed in her examination of the harp, she’d forgotten about actually playing it. “There are 38 strings Lucy, and you use both hands to play. Why don’t you try?” Lucy sat down, and felt a chill run down her spine as she touched the strings. It was a feeling she’d never had before, making her glad she had on long sleeves to hide the goose bumps, and risen hair on her arms. She hid a shiver, she hoped, as she felt a connection to something dark, mysterious, and ancient – older than she could imagine. She gently strummed her fingers across the strings, even gingerly, unsure of herself in the watery depths she felt she was entering. She realized there was a humming in her ears that was distinctly masculine and as she emboldened her fingers to play with more strength, she heard a voice whisper, “There now lass, are you afraid of some old polished wood, and metal strings?” “Of course not!” she responded, then looked up to see if she’d said it out loud. Mrs. Barrows had her back to Lucy though, busy searching for some piece of music for her to practice. “Whew” she thought, “That was close.” “Don’t you worry lass, I’ll keep you safe, any words that pass between us are silent to anyone else.” There it was, that voice again that sounded deep, a man’s voice talking to Lucy as if she were a woman, not a child. She wasn’t sure she liked it, so she decided to focus on the feel of her fingers on the metal strings, the sound each one made as her finger stroked across it, then contrasting it with fullness of all the strings when they were strummed together. She was glad that the carving of the man’s chest and head faced away from her, so she could keep her eyes open and still enjoy the sight of the gleaming wood. Now looking at it more closely she could see that it was inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl, beautifully carved lines depicting vines that disappeared under the man’s cascading mane of hair. She wondered what it would feel like, running her fingers through that hair….”STOP” she yelled in her mind, “Stop leading my thoughts away like that, I don’t like it!!” “That’s where you’re wrong. These are just the kind of thoughts you DO like, why else would you be thinking them?” the deep voice said. Lucy dropped her hands from the strings of the harp, and the connection was lost. “Why did you stop playing Lucy? You sounded lovely! What a gift you have dear girl. It takes most people years to learn to play as well as you do.” “It’s getting kind of late, isn’t it Mrs. Barrows? I don’t have a way to call my Mom and I don’t want her to be worried about me.” “Oh, goodness Lucy, you’re right, it is getting late. I hadn’t realized, please help me cover the harp and I’ll take you home.” “No problem” Lucy thought, “better covered and quiet.” As she and Mrs. Barrows slid the canvas over the harp, Lucy glanced up and was sure she saw one of his eyes winking at her. A chill ran down her spine again, but at least she wasn’t hearing the voice in her head anymore. As she and Mrs. Barrows gathered up their things, Lucy asked, “Do you know anything about the carving Mrs. Bowers? Like if it was a specific person or deity or something like that?” “I’m sorry Lucy, I don’t know much about where the harp came from, the man who loaned it to me is an acquaintance, so we don’t talk very often. “Well, I’m not really sure if I want to learn how to play the harp Mrs. Barrows.” “Why Lucy,” she exclaimed, “that’s not like you! You usually love trying new instruments.” “Maybe it’s just the carving” Lucy offered, shrugging her shoulders, “there’s just something about it that gives me the creeps.” “It cost quite a bit to get the harp delivered Lucy, so why don’t we give it at least a few weeks and then if you still feel strongly about it, I’ll have it taken back to the man who owns it. Sound like a plan?” “Yeah, I guess” Lucy said hesitantly. “All right then, we’d better head for home.” Mrs. Barrows said, as she held the door open for Lucy. “The janitor will turn out the lights when he comes through in a few minutes, so we can leave them on.”
On the ride home in Mrs. Barrows car, Lucy started to feel silly about her earlier fears. “It was probably just a combination of having to wait so long in that room alone, and needing to get home.” Lucy thought to herself. They soon reached her house, and as Lucy got out she said, “Thanks for the ride Mrs. B, and I’m sorry about saying that stuff about not wanting to play. I know it was a big expense for you to get it moved to the school, and I really appreciate it. I’ll probably feel completely different by tomorrow. Goodnight, and thanks for the ride.” “You’re welcome Lucy, and don’t worry about a thing. You’ll be playing like a pro in a couple of weeks if you follow your usual pattern. Have a good night Lucy, I’ll see you tomorrow.” As Lucy shut the car door and started walking up to the front door of her house, her Mom came out. “Long day for you, wasn’t it? I’ve got a plate of food in the oven for you, and then you can go right to bed.” “Thanks Mom,” Lucy said, “that sounds really good right now.”
Lucy woke-up the next morning feeling like she’d barely slept all night. She left the house saying “I’ll see you after school Mom.” Lucy felt better as the day went on. Band was her last class of the day, and she played flute, the instrument she’d chosen for band. She was first chair, but she could play every instrument in the room at least as well as, if not better than whoever the first chair was for that instrument. She couldn’t help noticing the covered harp which they had pushed over to a spot against the wall. She would have sworn she saw the canvas move a couple of times, as if the man carved underneath was moving around. Once again she felt the chill go down her spine. She almost went home on the bus, but she hated letting Mrs. Barrow down, so she waited after band. As usual, Mrs. Barrow didn’t come right away, so Lucy started on her homework. “Lucy,” said a masculine voice, “uncover me, it’s hot under here.” She sat up, startled, how could she be hearing him when she wasn’t touching the harp? “Oh, you’ll see my dear” she heard in her ear, “each day we’ll be getting closer and closer.” “No, we won’t” Lucy yelled. She ran down to the harp and pulled the canvas off with a sense of foreboding. Before she could react to the sight of his arms free, his hands were on her throat, and despite her attempts to claw at him, and get herself loose, the mahogany and his arms were too strong. “Yes Lucy, we’re going to become very close.” He whispered, “you will be MY special prodigy now.” Lucy knew she was dying, she could hear the harp being played by unseen hands. The last thing she felt was his hot breath on her cheek as she lost consciousness.
Twenty minutes later as she walked in Mrs. Barrows heard the harp being played beautifully. “I’m sorry to be late again Lucy, I’m glad you started without me.” She set her things down, and turned to look at Lucy, but she wasn’t sitting on the stool. She was laying on the floor, blue. Mrs. Barrows cried “Lucy” and dialed 911. As she knelt by Lucy’s side, she felt a pair of hands on her throat, lifting her off the floor, and choking off her airway. When the EMT’s arrived 10 minutes later, they found two dead bodies laying on the floor beside a beautiful, mahogany harp.