The Haunted Harpsichord

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“I’m going to do it.”  Kayla Tuggins pursed her lips as she reached across the desk and handed the card to Paul.  “A haunted house, of all things.”

Paul Allbottom, her husband-to-be, knew she’d been debating about accepting the offer, but he had not yet read the actual note that had come in the mail a week prior.

She waited while he read the lengthy note, his brow slightly furrowed, his hazel eyes sweeping to and fro.  Watching him made her all the more certain that—hoax or not—this particular job was worth the risk.  That was how she had chosen to look at it.  A job, like any other that might find its way into her office.

Paul finished reading and looked up at her.  “Here,” he said.  “She gives you a way out.  ‘The house is dangerous.  You need not accept.’”

“But look at the sum that awaits me if I do accept the offer.”  She pointed to the bottom of the note.  “The amount for each night I stay in the house is more than a week’s salary for both of us combined, and if I stay the whole fourteen nights…”  She whistled and shook her head.

“It’s just money, Kay.”

Her eyes widened and she gaped at him.  “Lots and lots of money, Mister Allbottom.”

Paul sighed.  She had just reminded him that it was his turn to propose a potential married surname for them.  He had not been amused when she suggested Mister and Missus Tugbottom.  And she was also reminding him that starting a family came with considerable cost.

“You’re a simple investigator,” he said.  “This sounds like a job for an occultist or supernaturalist.”

Kay shrugged.  “I know a fellow—a cousin of one of my clients—who might fit the bill.  But…if I hire someone else, I’ll have to share the loot.  Besides, do you really want me to spend the night in a strange house with another man?”

“Kay…”

“You said it yourself. I’ll keep it simple.”  Kay rose from her chair.  “I will investigate thoroughly, find nothing paranormal, report my findings, and then…”  She clapped her hands.  “…I will collect that hefty inheritance, and perhaps even share a bit of it with my husband-to-be.”  She tapped a finger on the tip of his nose.

Paul raised his brows.  “I’ve heard of inheritances that come with conditions, but this…”  He handed the note back to her and crossed his arms, pulling his wool blazer taut over his shoulders.  “What is she hoping you’ll find?  She didn’t say.  Who hire’s an investigator and doesn’t say what they want investigated?  This could be some kind of hoax.  Was this woman truly your great-aunt?  Or did she just find your listing in the paper and choose you for this task?”

“The task of being a patsy, you mean?  If that were so, why not come out and say that she’s hiring me posthumously?”

“Perhaps she wanted to protect you from being harassed by her other heirs.  If they knew the extravagant sum she had promised you on the completion of your investigation…”

“To us common folk, darling, this is extravagant,” Kay said, holding up the card.  “But we don’t know that it’s extravagant to my dearly departed great-aunt.”

“And this man who visited you a few days ago, the lawyer-executor…”

Kay gave single nod.  “I looked into him.  He’s on the up and up.  This case is on the up and up.  The only thing I have to fear is that I might be taking advantage of this poor old woman.  And if she were alive, I might reconsider taking her money under precarious pretenses.  But she’s gone, so what does she care?”

Paul uncrossed his arms and rose from his chair.  Kay expected him to pat his belly, offer the crook of his arm, and suggest they walk over to the corner diner.  She’d had a light lunch and was hankering for some meatloaf and mac n’ cheese.  Instead his gaze dropped to the note in her hands before it rose to meet her own.

“I don’t like the idea of you going alone on this one,” he said.

Kay raised her brow.  “What’s this then?”

Paul glanced down and shook his head.  “You’ve been so busy with your other cases and all, I knew you hadn’t started your research.”  He glanced up at her.  “So I thought I’d take the liberty of reading up a bit about this house.  About what happened there.”

Kay’s brows relaxed and furrowed.  “What did you find?”

“It’s bad, Kay.”

Kay waited, but he said no more.  “I’m fairly certain you came across more details than that.”

He put his hand over his mouth and swept his fingers across his chin.  “A whole family was murdered, by one of their own, and no one ever figured out exactly who or why.  They weren’t recluses, but no one checked on them it seemed.  By the time they were found, there was nothing left of the corpses but bones and rags.  We’ll have to go to the town archives and take a look at primary sources.  I found so many rumors and contradictions, it was difficult to sort out the facts.  But the one thing I found over and over were warnings against entering the house, and especially against staying in the house.  People—investigators like you, or fools daring each other—have gone in, only to never come out again.  There’s something wrong, Kay, very wrong with that house.”

Kay pursed her lips and crossed her own arms.  “Why, my darling Mister Ginbottom, it almost sounds as if you believe there is something in that house that goes bump in the night.”

“Be serious.”

“I am.  How many people get a chance like this?  The worse that happens is that the money isn’t real and I’ve wasted my time.  Big deal.  I won’t take a vacation this year.  But if it is real, darling, I’ll be able to stay home when we have our kids.  Can you imagine?  And maybe work on that crime novel I want to write.  You know, I actually had an idea—”

“I’m scared for you.” He gulped.

Kay paused.  She gazed into her fiancé’s glossy eyes.  She reached out and took his hand.  It was clammy.  “Come with me.”

Paul looked taken aback.  “What?”  His hazel eyes flinched and flashed in the dim light of her desk lamp.

“You’re always saying you want to see some of the places I’ve visited for my investigations.”

***

Paul frowned.  “I’ve decided you have no say in where we go for our honeymoon.”

The grin on Kay’s face faded.  She blinked as he handed her back the photograph she’d shown him of the house they were to visit later that day.

The couple was sitting in a diner in the small town of Lemonwood.  It had taken them three days to travel there from home.  Paul had arranged to have a month off, provided he caught up with his work when he returned.  Both he and Kay had brought other work with them, in case the investigation into the house proved fruitless.

“I think it looks rather nice.”

Paul swallowed a chunk of bread. “Of course, that kindly maw of the darkened front door.  That friendly demon sitting on the highest eave.  And not to mention the darling overgrowth covering the grounds, and hiding no horrific creatures at all, I’m certain.”

Kay chuckled.  “You can still change your mind.  And stay in the room we’ve hired across the street.”

“Not on your life, Missus Tuggoms.”

Kay winced and shook her head.

She had tried to brief Paul on the further research she had gathered on the house.  But she’d found it difficult to find the time and place during their travels.  After a good night’s sleep in the inn, and a good meal, she judged they were both sufficiently focused for that brief on the house they were to visit.  The house beyond the hill.

“The ‘house beyond the hill’ is haunted they say,” Kay started, glancing down at her case notebook. “It’s been abandoned for three generations.  Or rather, it’s been periodically occupied. No longer than a fortnight, by families who would move in and begin experiencing hauntings from their very first night.”

“What kind of hauntings?” Paul asked.

Kay pointed a finger up and flipped to another page of her notebook.  “The typical kind.  Sounds and visions.  Whispering echoes, feelings of dread, even wounds—like bruises and scratches upon one’s skin.”

“And…these happen at night?”

“I’m not quite sure.  I think so, but there were some reports of people who…lost track of time.”  She glanced up at him.  “Blacked out, perhaps?”

“That seems most likely, if the person is drunk.  But how often does that happen to the sober among us?”

“I don’t know.”  Kay looked down at her notes again.  “There have been attempts to have it torn down, but they always get foiled somehow.  The title gets transferred, but the paperwork is lost, that sort of thing.  It’s an old house.  A family named Clavieri built it.  They fancied gothic architecture and had a single gargoyle built on the highest eave.  That gargoyle was meant to protect the family, guard it from external forces.”  She glanced up at him again.  “And so it did.  But it could not guard the family from harmful forces brewing within, the internal evils that festered and grew.  The story that has passed down is not a unique one.  A family member went insane and slaughtered everyone under the roof, then that person perished either by accident or by their own hand.

“You were right about all the confounding rumors and creative exaggerations floating about.  But there is one detail that never changes in all the various rumors and accounts that I could find.  The one who did the heinous act—whether it was the domineering patriarch, the almost-perfect firstborn son, the too-charming matriarch, the mischievous twin daughters, or the long-suffering butler—whoever it was told the secret, the entire story of why and how to one and only one confidante.”

She slid the photograph of the house back toward him, and pointed at the highest eave of the house.  “The gargoyle.”

Paul narrowed his eyes at her.  “I take it you plan on questioning him first?”

Kay pulled a magnifying glass from her handbag and set it on the table.  “You know me too well, darling.”

He furrowed his brow at the magnifying glass.  “What you are thinking?”

“That this ‘telling of secrets’ might refer to coded carvings on the stone, or perhaps a hidden journal at the base of the statue…something like that.”

“Hmm, yes, that would be clever, provided the carvings were deep enough to weather the last hundred years or so.”

“We shall see.”  Kay glanced down at her notes.  “This one fellow wrote a whole book on haunted houses of the Pacific Northwest.  He got rather philosophical about the Clavieri house.  Listen to this…”  Kay read the quoted text aloud.

‘If walls could speak,’ the saying goes.  But in this case, if only the gargoyle could speak.  The truth would be known.  What good would it do after all this time?  Would any ghosts be laid to rest?  Would the living be released from any lingering torments?  Would any secret inheritances or treasures come to light?  Or would it simply serve to sate the curiosity of those who still wonder what really happened?

Kay slapped a hand on her notebook.  “Indeed!”

“If this fellow was so curious, why didn’t he look into it?”

“Oh, he admits to never even visiting the house.  He just wrote the book based on information he gathered from other accounts and witnesses he spoke with.”

“Of course.  Why would he be foolish enough to actually walk into that house?”

Kay twisted her mouth into guilty smile.  “We will be all right.  Because we will be prepared.”

“All right, then.  Did that lawyer ever get back to you about your question?  How will you prove that you stayed the night?”

Kay nodded and turned to another page in her notebook.  She read again from her notes, a verse that someone had written about the house.

A gargoyle guards the house beyond the hill

The harpsichord plays and the children hear it still

“The harpsichord,” she said.  “That’s how.  The lawyer said that it’s still in the house, and it plays a particular tune, and it only plays at night.  If I can replicate that tune, hum it for him that is, then it will be sufficient proof.”

Paul frowned.  “And this is assuming a ghost is playing that harpsichord?”

“I was thinking it might be like a music box that plays a pre-set tune.  After the gargoyle, I aim to find that harpsichord, and wind it up.”

Paul quirked his brow.  “And what is that thing about children?  Will we be able to hear it if we’re not children?”

Kay took a deep breath and sighed.  “Some things we just will not know until we arrive there and begin looking around.”

Paul nodded.  “All right then.  We should get some more rest before we set out.  I don’t intend on actually sleeping in that place.”

***

When Kay and Paul told the innkeeper where they planned on spending that night, the woman’s eyes had widened, and she gave them each a saint’s medallion and some sage to burn.

“There is a restless spirit in that place,” she said.  But she did not try to stop them.  Paul wondered if it was because she hoped they were there to cast that restless spirit out.

From all they had read, and the few casual conversations they had had with local townsfolk, including a group of children whose dares included throwing acorns at the house’s windows, they expected to find a darkened husk of a house, cracked and cobwebbed, nestled amidst layers of overgrowth.

It was only half an hour’s walk from the inn.  It was early evening when they left, turned twilight as they walked, and was dark as they approached the hill.  They lit their lanterns and braced themselves, tramping as quietly as they could over the hill.

From the hilltop, they saw the house on the other side.  The windows were lit.  The grounds were clean and kept.

“Did we take a wrong turn?” Paul asked, as Kay reached into her coat pocket.  She pulled out the photograph of the house and held it up to the lantern.

The profile of the house at the bottom of the hill and the house in the photograph matched.

“I don’t think so.  I think that’s it.”  Kay started down the hill.  “Let’s go see who’s home.”

***

A man answered the door.  His hair was tousled and he was dressed in a short-sleeved tunic that looked much like a man’s undershirt, and dark trousers.  His feet were bare.  He leaned against the doorframe.

“Pardon us,” Kay said.  “I understand it’s late, and we don’t mean to bother you—“

“No bother,” the man said, smiling.  A surge of laughter sounded from behind him.  Either he had a large family, or he was entertaining.  “What can I do for you, neighbors?”

Kay smiled her polite smile.  “Oh, we’re not neighbors, actually.  We’re just passing through.  I think this is the house that my great-aunt used to live in.  But I had thought it was abandoned, after the…tragedy.”

“Oh it was.  And for good reason.  But we bought it and renovated as much as we could.”  He pulled the door open a bit more to reveal a fair-haired woman standing a few feet behind him, peering at Kay and Paul.  “We thought this place deserved a second chance at a happy life.  What was you great-aunt’s name, again?”

“Uh…Henrietta.”

“That’s all you’re asking them?” the fair-haired woman said.  “They could be killers.”

The man at the door waved his hand at the woman and then leaned toward Kay and Paul.  “You’re not killers, are you?”

“No,” Kay said, “You?”

“Not at all.”  He pulled the door open further and stepped aside.  “Please, come in, come in.  You’ll have to pardon us, we’re having a bit of a soiree.  But do feel free to look around for as long as you want.  I think we’ll be at it all night.  And join us for a drink before you leave.”

He shook Paul’s hand.  Kay shook the fair-haired woman’s hand.  The woman peered at them, and Kay noticed that she gave both her and Paul the once-over.  But then she moved away to see to her guests as the man remained to make introductions.  His name was Harry.  He introduced the several guests as he walked Kay and Paul toward the stairs, but Kay did not remember anyone else’s name.

Still thrown by finding the house inhabited, Kay and Paul walked up the stairs and made their way down the second floor hallway.

“I do believe the fellow’s wearing denim,” Paul said in a low voice.  “But he doesn’t seem a farmer to me.”

“The woman is dressed oddly too.  I wanted to ask him if they were having a costume ball, but I thought it would be rude.”

“His handshake was solid enough.  I don’t think they’re ghosts.”

Kay shook her head.  “Me neither.”

“So, Missus Allgin, is it a bust?”

Kay shook her head at the name and at the question.  “Maybe Great Aunt Henny will still give us the money, if I can find that harpsichord, and our hosts allow me to play it.”

“Should we just go back downstairs and ask Harry?”

Kay nodded.  “But first, let’s go up to the roof and examine that gargoyle.  I need to get my bearings.”

***

The single gargoyle that crouched atop the renovated Clavieri house looked much like others that Kay had seen.  Its face was demonic with bat-like ears, two spiral horns—one of them broken—a mouth full of sharp teeth, and on its back were half-folded bat-like wings.  The demon’s eyes were cast downward toward the grounds of the house, as if watching for any intruders who entered from the front.  In its left hand, it held what appeared to be the hilt of a sword, but there was no blade.  Either it had broken off, like the gargoyle’s horn, or it was some other object that Kay could not recognize.

She reached over to touch it, and found that it was made of metal.  She wondered how the artist had managed to get the stone gargoyle hand around the metal.  She felt the object shift a bit in her hand, and she gasped.  She shifted it again.  It turned freely.  She tugged, and the long cylindrical object began to slide out.  She had to turn the knuckle-guard so it didn’t get caught in the gargoyle’s knuckles, but she managed to pull the object, the sword hilt, or whatever it was, free.

“What are you doing?” Paul asked.  He was standing watch a few feet behind her.

“I just want to take a closer look.  I’ll put it back.”

She could not properly examine the gargoyle from the front, because of the way it was perched.  There were no symbols or script carved onto the gargoyle itself.  She found at the base, a rhyme that reminded her of the one she had recited to Paul earlier that day.

If the notes should strike the tune that she once knew

The clock would stop its ticking, and would turn its face to you.

The first line reminded her of the harpsichord that she sought to find next.  The second was a mystery to her.

What clock? she wondered.  And she wondered who “she” was.

Kay was writing the lines down in her notebook, when a terrible cry broke the calm upon the roof.  It was a man’s voice, crying out in pain.  She flinched and glanced around to find Paul.

Paul was only a few feet away.  He beckoned to her, and she moved away from the gargoyle.

More cries sounded.  This time, it was yelling.

“Is that Harry?” Kay whispered.

Paul shook his head and shrugged.

They stayed close to each as they slowly made their way down from the roof.  The house shook slightly.  It seemed to tilt, and then right itself.

Kay could hear sounds now.  And she held her breath when she realized what they were.  Whispered echoes.  Thumping.

The house had three stories.  The top floor was where the family bedrooms were located.  And when Kay and Paul had walked the well-lit carpeted hallway on their way to the roof, Kay had felt only the slight unease that she always felt in such old houses.

But now, the hallway was paved with wooden planks, and gaslights lined the walls, but they were turned down low.

Kay’s heart began to beat faster when she spotted the figure in the middle of the hall.  A man, fallen to his knees.  He was sobbing.

A door to their left opened and Kay reached down to find Paul’s hand.  She gasped when someone came running out of the door.

It was a little girl wearing a long nightgown.  She did not seem to have noticed Kay and Paul, who were hidden in the shadows of the stairway’s landing.

The girl was turned toward the sobbing man.  She’d made enough noise to catch his attention.  He turned to her, his face wet with tears, his shoulders heaving.

He reached out his hand to her, and she took a step toward him.

“Out!” he screamed.  “Get out!”  He rose to his feet.  “Get out!”

The girl screamed.

Kay and Paul surged toward the girl, but she turned to her right and dashed toward one of the other rooms.

“No!” the sobbing man cried and he rushed to the girl.

He stopped when he spotted Kay and Paul.

“Get out!” he screamed at them.  He veered away from the girl, who had reached the door, flung it open, and slipped inside.

He ran toward Kay and Paul.

They had no weapons.

But Kay found something in the grip of her right hand.  The gargoyle’s hilt.  She held it out before her, more like a shield than a weapon, even as Paul moved in front of her.

Kay felt a surge of force vibrate through the object, through the bones of her hand and her wrist.  Something burst from the front of the hilt, thin arcs of metal, hinged like spiders’ legs, or…or like the frame of a parasol.

The man suddenly stopped.  He frowned and squinted.

Kay now moved in front of Paul.

The sobbing man closed his eyes and took a breath.  He turned slowly toward the door of the room into which the girl had fled.  As he did, so did Kay and Paul.

The door was still open.

Kay could see inside.  There was a four-poster bed, and lying on it, were three corpses.  They were nothing but husks.  Two were lying in bed as if asleep.  And a third, a smaller one, lay at the foot of the bed, one arm reaching up, one leg on the covers, and the other leg dangling, as if the person had been in the middle of climbing.

The sobbing man saw this, even as Kay saw it.  And he fell to his knees once more, and collapsed against the frame of the door.

As they watched, the man’s hair turned white, and it thinned and fell out, and as it did, his skin thinned too.  The fullness of his form seemed to deflate, until it seemed all muscle was gone, and only skin and bones remained, and then, even the skin flaked away until only bone remained.

Kay raised her right arm above her head so that the force from the parasol-like cage covered both herself and Paul.

“Kay, what do we do?”

Kay could see the grandfather clock at the end of the hall.  Its arms were turning clockwise, then counter, faster, then slower.

She locked arms with Paul and tugged, and they walked slowly down the hallway, and then down the steps.  At the second floor landing, Kay did not bother to glance around.  They kept moving until they reached the bottom floor.

Harry and his friends were nowhere to be seen.  Neither were the renovations.  The front room appeared completely different, but still familiar.  It was familiar to Kay from a hazy photograph she had seen of the Clavieri house when it was first built.

The house seemed to shudder.  Kay spotted what appeared to be apparitions, but they were not translucent or wispy as she might expect.  A smiling woman bearing a tea tray walked three steps and then vanished.  A small dog chased a cat, both suddenly stopping and dashing away in the opposite direction, as if they’d spotted danger.  The moldings at the edge of the floor rotted, then seemed to un-rot.  They tread on carpet, then wood, then carpet again.

Around them, all changed, but they remained the same.  And Kay didn’t know why or how, but she was certain they were protected by the device in her hand.

There was one other thing that remained the same.

“Do you hear that?” Kay asked.

Paul only nodded.

Music was playing.  Harpsichord music.

They made their way to the front door, and out of the house.  They were halfway up the hill before Kay would turn and look at the house.  The house was dark now, and it seemed to sag as if with the weight of a hundred years, and it was nestled in layer upon layer of overgrowth.

Kay kept the parasol device raised above them even after they crested the hill.

***

They went straight to the authorities.  And they recounted what they had seen, leaving out only the strange apparitions.  They had seen two people die in front of them in some kind of accident.  A deputy promised to look into it in the morning.  But he assured them that they were not the first to speak of seeing that particular hallucination.

“What about the family that lives there?” Paul asked.

“They were murdered.”

“No, not the ones who built the house,” Kay said.  “We mean the ones who live there now.”

“No one lives there now, miss.  I thought you two said you’d gone by there.  You could see it’s been abandoned for a long time.  Must be over a hundred years by now.”

Paul and Kay tried to describe Harry and his guests to the sheriff, but neither he nor his deputies recognized the people the couple described.

They returned to the inn to recover themselves and try to rest.

***

“I can’t sleep tonight, Kay.  What do we do?”

“Time.”  Kay sat at the writing desk in their room at the inn.  The innkeeper had given them a knowing look when first they walked in, but after noting their expressions, she had looked away.

“Did you notice?”  Kay pointed to the clock on the wall.  “That grandfather clock was going haywire.  But I don’t think it was the clock.  I think it was time.  Time has gone haywire in that house.”

“How?”

“I don’t know, but those people we saw in the hallway…I think they were the Clavieris.”

“Did you recognize either of them?”

Kay shook her head.  “There was a father, mother, a son, and twin daughters.  That girl was not one of the daughters, and that man was not the father.”  She pulled her file toward herself and flipped it open.  But she did not reach for the packet of photographs within.  Her eyes were spent, but she remembered the faces.

“Then why do you think it was them?”

“Family resemblance.  She might be a niece or something.”

“I don’t recall any of the accounts mentioning other family members being present on the night of murders. That was the night of the murders?”

Kay peered at the clock on the wall.  “I’m not certain that they were murders.  Something is amiss.  And something has been missed, by all of these stories.  Something quite big.”  She pointed to the clock.  “Time.”

“You want to go back don’t you, Missus Ginsbott?”

Kay turned to him, and as spent and restless as she was in that moment, she calmed and smiled at his question and at the name.

“I do.  I have an idea.  And I want to try it at least once.  But if it doesn’t work, then we protect ourselves and leave together as we did tonight.  Agreed?”

“Not yet.  You haven’t told me what your plan is.”

***

The next night arrived, and found Kay and Paul once again arriving at a well-lit house, greeted by Harry, who wore the same tousled hair, tunic, and trousers, as he had the night before.  They had almost the same interchange.

And Kay understood that the merry-go-round had started up again.  She had hoped that time would give them another chance, if they waited.  But if there was some loop that was playing out again the same as it had the night before, that was even better.

This time, Kay and Paul stationed themselves on the third floor landing.  Whatever was happening in the house, it had killed the two people in the master bedroom, and likely others.   And that sobbing man in the hallway seemed to have known what was going on.  The parasol device could not fit more than a few people within its field.  Kay and Paul had tried to adjust it, but they had no idea how it worked in the first place.  They did not want to risk breaking it.

They had only one other choice if they aimed to save the Clavieris—and maybe others—from what appeared to be some kind of accident.  They had to figure out how to stop the phenomena from happening in the first place.  Kay believed the inscription written at the base of the gargoyle and her great-aunt’s mandate to listen for a particular tune on the harpsichord might have something to do with it.  The inscription had mentioned something about a clock.  The harpsichord and time were somehow related.  And at least one of the Clavieris seemed to know how.

Paul and Kay remained at the ready.

But still they were caught by surprise.

The hallway did not shift gradually.  It flickered in two blinks, from the well-lit hallway of Harry’s renovated house to the gas-lit hallway of the original house.

Before Kay could take a breath, a man flickered into view in the middle of the hallway.  He cried out.

“Oh no,” Kay said.  “It’s already happened.  The others are dead.”

The bedroom door to their left opened.

“She’s not,” Paul said, as the little girl dashed out into the middle of the hallway.

The sobbing man saw her and cried out for her to get out.

As one, Kay and Paul swept toward the girl and brought her into the parasol field.  Kay got down on her knees and grasped the girl’s shoulders.  “It’s all right.  We’re friends.  Stay with us, love.”  She smiled.

The sobbing man got to his feet and ran down the hallway.

The girl screamed.  But he didn’t seem to hear her.

“Etta?” he said.

His eyes widened as he glanced about the hallway.  He nodded, then turned, and ran down the hallway in the opposite direction.

“That’s not what happened last time,” Paul said.

“Last time he was chasing her,” Kay said, still smiling at the girl, at Etta.  “He was…lamenting about her.”

They hadn’t saved the others, but they had managed to save the girl, at least for the time being, whatever that time might be.

“Did you see the look on his face?” Kay peered down the hallway.  “I rather suspect he knows that she’s safe.”

“Has uncle gone mad?” the girl asked.

Paul gazed down at her.  “That’s your uncle?”

“Your name is Etta?”

The girl nodded.

“I’m Kay, and this is Paul.  And we want to help you, but we don’t quite know what’s happening.”

“Father said that uncle was mad.”

“Oh?  Why is that?”

“Father’s always saying that.”

“Something is happening now, Etta.  Something strange.  Can you feel it?”

Etta nodded.

“Is that your uncle’s doing, do you think?”

Etta nodded.  “It must be the harpsichord.”

Kay heart skipped a beat.

“Father told Uncle to take it out of here.  Uncle said he would, in the morning.  Is it morning?”

“Do you know where the harpsichord is?” Paul asked.

Etta nodded.

Kay smiled at her.  “Will you take us there?  We’ll do as your father wanted.”

Etta pulled her shoulders up almost to her ears.  “Uncle’s down there.”

“We have to take you with us, I’m afraid,” Kay said.  She pointed to the spines of the parasol.  “This device is keeping us safe from the…harpsichord.”

“Uncle made it.”

“The harpsichord or the parasol?”

Etta nodded.

“Your uncle is quite the fellow, isn’t he?”

“Kay…”

Kay glanced around.  The walls seemed to be rippling, shifting through different patterns of wallpaper and colors of paint.

“Etta, we have to go now.”

“What about Mother and Father?”  Her eyes shifted to the door of the master bedroom.

Kay filed away the unexpected fact that Etta was a Clavieri daughter.  “If we find the harpsichord and deal with it, I’m hoping they’ll be okay.  Will you help us?”  She rose and released Etta’s shoulders, praying that the girl wouldn’t dash away.  They would only get Etta’s help if she was willing.  Kay offered her hand.

And Etta took it.

***

As the night before, they moved slowly but steadily through a shifting and shuddering house.  Etta was barefoot, and Kay carried her as Paul kept the parasol device above them.

They made their way past appearing and disappearing people and furniture, wobbling floors, and walls that changed position as time revealed all the different forms that the house had taken and would take.

The music started as they reached the first floor.  The harpsichord played.  Kay asked Etta if the girl recognized the music.  Etta said it sounded vaguely familiar, but she wasn’t sure.

At last, they reached the basement stairs.

Kay took a breath.  She put Etta down and told her to stay between her and Paul.

She pulled out the small switchblade that she always kept with her, but never used.  She took the stairs, one step at a time, stopping to check for traps or ambushes.

But they made it down without incident.  The basement too shifted.  From a dusty, cobwebbed storage room, to a lush den, to what appeared to be a laboratory of sorts.  Glass bottles and vials sat on shallow shelves that ran along one wall.  In the middle of the space was a modest-sized harpsichord.  Kay had never really seen one before.  It looked much like a piano, only with two sets of keys.

The harpsichord was playing on its own.

“Time is melting.”

Kay turned and glanced down at the girl who had uttered those words.

They all walked toward the harpsichord.  Etta’s uncle was nowhere to be seen.

Kay glanced between the harpsichord and the little girl.

“Etta, do you know how to play?”

Kay certainly didn’t, and she knew Paul didn’t.

Etta nodded.

The tune that she once knew.

That inscription at the base of the gargoyle.  Kay wondered if it was referring to Etta.  But if so, what did it mean?

“Is there a tune you like to play?  A favorite perhaps?”

Etta nodded.

“Kay, what is that going to do?  If her uncle couldn’t stop the harpsichord, how can she?”

Kay shook her head.  “I don’t know.  We’re groping in the dark here.”

Etta took a step toward the harpsichord.

“This was an accident, wasn’t it?” Kay asked.

“Father told him to turn it off.  He showed us what it did.  Then Father called him ‘mad,’ and told him to turn it off.”

“But maybe it didn’t turn off.”  Kay turned to Paul.  “And maybe he can’t do it from when he is.”

“You lost me.”

“Yeah, I think I lost me too.”  She turned to the girl.  “Etta, can you play your favorite tune?”

Etta gazed at the harpsichord.  “But it’s already playing something.”

“That’s okay.  Try to ignore that and just play your favorite tune.  I think maybe your Uncle might have made some adjustments for you.”

“Wait, Kay, should we let her touch it?  What if it’s dangerous?”

Kay reached out and grasped Etta’s shoulder.  She stepped beside the girl.  “He’s right.  Why don’t you tell me which keys to play, and I’ll do it.”

Etta glanced up at Kay and frowned.  “I don’t think that will work.”  She stepped toward the harpsichord, and began playing.

The sound was discordant, as Kay expected.  Etta’s song did not play nice with the tune that was already playing.  But as Etta played, as the notes collided, Kay felt bursts from the harpsichord.  They weren’t bursts of force, but bursts of…solidity.  Like paint spattered on a wall, wherever the bursts struck, the rippling and shifting room stopped shifting.

Etta kept playing, and as she did, as more notes collided, her song began to overcome the old tune.  Her song was simpler, but still quite quick, a charming and cheerful song.  Kay began to hear something else too, a throbbing electric hum.  It was coming from the parasol device.

She turned to Paul.  He was struggling to keep hold of it.  She wrapped her hands around his, but the parasol spines began to glow and vibrate.  One of them snapped.  Then another.

Kay wrapped one arm around Paul and with the other, she reached toward Etta.

***

A final burst sent pressure through Kay’s entire body.  She shut her eyes and clapped her hands to her ears.  She fell to one knee, but managed not to fall over.  She heard a rumbling whooshing sound, and then it calmed, and then it was gone.

She opened her eyes.  Paul was kneeling beside her, holding his right hand in his left.  He had a burn along the palm of his hand, but as they watched, the burn turned red, then faded.  He rubbed the palm of his hand as they rose.

Kay looked around the basement.  It was full of junk.  A broken-looking washer and dryer.  Partially opened and stained cardboard boxes piled along the walls.  Tools scattered along a workbench.  There was no harpsichord.

“Where’s Etta?” Kay asked.

They called for her in the basement, but she didn’t answer.

They searched the basement, but she was nowhere to be seen.  They climbed carefully up the steps, and Paul peeked out only to see that it appeared to be morning, and there were people in the house, people he did not recognize.

“Is Harry one of them?” Kay asked.

Paul shook his head.  And the two of them decided it might be wiser to climb out of the basement window, and sneak away.

When they were back on top of the hill, they looked down at the house.  They heard a bark and a dog came racing out of the front door into the yard.

“Did we…did we change something?” Paul asked.

“I think so.”  Kay gazed down at the house.  It looked different.  Fixed up.  But that gargoyle was still perched on the highest eave gazing down, watchful, vigilant.

Kay was certain they had indeed changed something.

But only time would tell.

 

 

Copyright © 2018  Nila L. Patel

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