By Profe Steve
The box showed up in Sara’s Houston office without fanfare, arriving quite innocuously; just a small box wrapped in brown paper and taped with the kind of tape one can buy anywhere. She didn’t think much about it at the time because there were several other pieces of mail that demanded her immediate attention, so she tossed it to the side of her desk and got to work handling the correspondence of the symphony.
She sighed. It was boring work, and she deserved better. She was Sara Jones, Executive Vice President and the real power at the Houston Symphony. She should be the first violinist, and would be if not for those tone deaf idiots who had auditioned her. Oh well, at least she was still involved with music.
Sara continued to dig her way through the pile of mail for a few more minutes, ignoring the mysterious package. At last, she removed her black rimmed glasses and pinched her aquiline nose, then reached for her mug of coffee (black, one sugar) and her eye fell upon it again. Something tugged at her subconscious.
An enigmatic smile curved her full lips as she picked it up and examined it closely. Hefting it in her hand, she estimated that it didn’t weigh more than a couple of ounces. She looked for a postmark or an address, but there was none. Nothing. No return address, no name nor any other marking to indicate from whence it came, only her name written in ghostly green ink, block letters.
“Strange,” Sara thought, sipping from her mug with a grimace. Her coffee had grown cold. She set the package carefully on the desk in front of her and buzzed her secretary. In seconds, the door swung open to admit the tall, dark haired young man with the great smile. An involuntary sigh almost slipped out, but Sara fought it down.
Todd wasn’t very good at typing or filing, but he could make her coffee to perfection, and oh, that smile. Sara silently waggled her mug at him and turned the package over in her hands. Like a phantom, Todd disappeared, his aftershave lingering in the office. Sara smiled.
When Todd returned, Sara motioned for him to stay while she took the first sip, closing her eyes in bliss, then looked up, her light brown eyes intense, “Where did this come from?” she asked, tapping a long fingernail on the brown paper.
Todd shrugged, “I’m not sure ma’am. It wasn’t here when I arrived, but by the time I got back from setting up the coffee maker, it was there, wedged into the pile of mail.” Sara reluctantly dismissed him, (Light that man was cute…and such nice buns) she tapped a pencil against the box, thinking.
She squared her shoulders and exhaled deeply, then seized it and ripped open the paper, letting it fall to the desk in front of her. Inside was a plain wooden box with a simple hinged lid. Well, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” she thought, and lifted the lid, staring in wonder at what was nestled inside, surrounded by a cocoon of white cotton.
Almost like an eye, with light sparkling off the many facets as it glittered there before her was an emerald the size of the last joint of her thumb. What the…? Who? Why? Her mind was swimming with questions, but there were no answers…or were there? Quickly lifting the gem out of the box, she set it aside and dug out the cotton.
There! A scrap of paper, neatly folded and creased, tucked into the bottom of the container. Sara eyed it for minutes, her gaze alternating between the paper and the pulsing green jewel in front of her, then finally made up her mind with a sharp exhale and pulled it free, unfolding it.
“1515 Studemont St” Now was the time to be really puzzled. What did that mean? A few moments on Google told her, (well, actually told Todd and he brought her the information) that the address was for a house. A haunted house. She smiled a toothy smile, heart beating faster. Now this was something that would break up the monotony of her week.
She thought it over. Obviously she was supposed to take the emerald to the haunted house and use it for something, but what? Mind racing, she imagined all sorts of scenarios, finally concluding that there was no way to know short of actually going. As soon as she reached the conclusion, she also reached the decision that she would do it.
She would go. But when? She slapped her forehead. Midnight, duh! When else would one visit a haunted house on a mysterious errand? Mind made up, she found it impossible to concentrate on her work as the general manager of the symphony, and feigned a sudden illness, telling Todd that she had to leave.
All afternoon and evening, Sara tried to be patient, but ended up alternating between pacing and sitting and staring at the emerald in the box. The hour finally grew late enough, and she slipped a black cape over her navy blue slacks and white sweater.
A car pulled up out front as she carefully locked her door and dashed out to the curb. She greeted Todd with a quick, nervous kiss. She was, after all, off duty now, so she was entitled.
Todd drove unerringly to the address and she gaped out the window at the old mansion, surrounded by moss-filled oaks. A stone wall with spiked iron rails encircled the mansion, and she smiled when she noted the iron gates, mostly rusted, stood open a couple of feet.
No matter how hard Todd pulled on them, though, they refused to open enough to drive closer, so she took a deep breath and told him to wait in the car.
Sara’s heart was in her throat as she tiptoed up the gravel drive, mostly filled with weeds, staring up at the brooding face of the house. Three stories with gables and strangely intact windows. Most abandoned houses had no glass left, but this one did. It also had a glow that seemed to pulse from one of the upstairs windows.
Head high she grinned, that must be where she was going to end up. Todd told her on the drive over that she was crazy, and she agreed, then informed him to be ready for her when she got out. This kind of excitement, such excitement as she had not experienced in years, was sure to lead to, well, to something. She grinned at the thought as she climbed the creaky steps to the porch, her breathing shallow and fast, hair on her arms standing on end.
Sara gulped and tried the knob on the massive door, surprised when it turned. The door swung open with a protesting squeal and she looked around rapidly to see if anyone had heard. How silly. There was no one here except perhaps a ghost or two. A giggle escaped her throat, but she continued on across the huge entry room, pausing in the light of the moon that was pouring through a window.
Where to now? A wide staircase beckoned her and then she felt a pulsing, vibrating sort of sensation from the pocket of her jacket. The box! Quickly drawing it out, she opened the lid and almost dropped it when she was hit in the face by a green glow. A bright green glow. The stone had come to life, and was filling the room with its eerie emerald light.
Some experimentation showed her that taking a step or two in any direction affected its intensity, so she picked the way that caused it to shine more brightly and headed up the stairs, turning to the right after checking at the landing.
The glow brought her to a door that had once been white but now was more of a filthy gray with random markings on it; musical symbols, instruments that looked like they had been drawn by a five year old child, and many splotches of a brownish red substance.
She shuddered, not wanting in the slightest to know what it was. She took a deep breath and approached the door, but before she could push on it, the slab of white wood began to swing open of its own accord. Her eyes flew wide, but she grinned and muttered, “Well, I guess this is where I’m supposed to be.”
The room contained a single bed, sagging in the middle, and covered by a comforter that had likely been luxurious in its day. Now it was stained and ragged, and she was suddenly filled with sadness for what had been, for the people who used to live here.
Scanning the room in the green light of the stone, which was now pulsing more strongly than before, she spotted an old desk with papers strewn on it. A closer inspection revealed that they were sheets of music, faded and stained with age. She ran one hand over them, reverently touching this connection to the past, and noted that they were written for violin.
Another tremor shook her. Seeing the music suddenly made her remember how she had given up playing years before after being turned down by yet another symphony.
The Houston symphony had been the tenth one to tell her that there was no place for her, and this time the kindly old man who broke the news of rejection shook his head sadly and said that she was technically very good, but lacked ‘soul’, and he would be shocked if she ever found work as a serious musician.
Sara gritted her teeth at the remembrance. Well, he had been right, but she had the last laugh because she managed to land a job as a secretary and then worked her way up; now she ran the place. It still hurt to not be a musician. It hurt a lot.
A low buzzing, humming sound began to tickle the edge of her consciousness, growing gradually louder as it froze her into immobility. The stone in the box pulsed in time to the barely heard tune, and a mist began to coalesce in front of her. What in the world? The mist gradually took on a human shape, and then a face.
She almost dropped the box and dashed back out to the car and to Todd, but her feet refused to take even a single step. Eyes wide, she could not look away, could not fight down the pounding of her heart, yet as excited as she was, there seemed to be no fear. The phantom grew more distinct by the second until it seemed almost solid enough to touch. Her hand reached out.
“No! You must not. You must not touch me.” Sara tried to answer, but what was coming out of her mouth sounded like, “Wuh, wuh, wuh…” She shook her head, rubbed her eyes, and swallowed hard, then tried again, “Wh- who? Who are you and what do you want?”
The apparition smiled, a sight that chilled her blood, but its voice was soothing, “Who I am does not matter. I have been trapped in this room for years; I don’t know how many. I have no peace, no music.”
A thought popped into her head; the box. The box and the emerald. The address in the box with the emerald. “Did you send the box? Why? Why was I drawn to this old house? Do you want something of me?” The spirit raised a thin arm and pointed at the bed.
Sara’s eyes narrowed to slits, “Oh, no, never. Not on your life.” She was holding her hands in front of herself defensively as she shook her head and took a step back. Her unintended pun made her giggle. It shook its green head, tendrils of mist flying off into the room. “No. Under the bed. Look under the bed.”
Sara did so. She sank to her knees on the dusty floor, and gave a couple of quick sneezes as it swirled up to her nostrils. A questing hand touched something large and solid and she breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t something warm and squishy. That would have been too much to take. She found a large box and drew it out with a scraping sound.
A violin case! Well, that would fit with the musical symbols on the door and the sheet music on the desk. The creature of mist motioned for her to open the case, so she did, then gasped in shock at the beautiful instrument inside. Unable to stop herself, she drew it out with trembling hands and laid her cheek on the smooth, cool wood, letting it speak to her.
After several moments, she pulled it down and ran her fingertips lightly down the strings, finding them to be slack, but not rotted away. Instinct took over and she began to carefully tune the lovely instrument.
If she had glanced up, she would have seen the specter with its eyes closed and a smile. “The jewel,” it whispered hoarsely, “replace the jewel. Replace the jewel.” A quick examination showed her an indentation on the back of the neck of the violin, an indentation the exact size of the emerald.
Removing the gem from the box which she had set on the floor while drawing the case from under the bed, Sara popped it into the hole where it seemed to meld with the wood.
Grasping the bow in practiced fingers, Sara put the heel of the violin under her chin and gently drew the bow across the strings with a shaking hand. Green mist began to flow from it as she played, surrounding her and closing her in.
The more she played, the more the mist clung to her, seeping into the pores of her skin, filling her until it began to flow out of her nostrils. When it emerged, though, it was no longer green, but glowing red flames which settled on the strings of the violin.
Sara played on, the instrument taking on more and more red until it was too bright for her eyes, so she closed them, continuing to play. Her mind was no longer engaged in the process, but her ears certainly were, and what they heard was more haunting, more magical than she had ever heard herself play in her life.
This was how she always wanted to play. This was how the violin was supposed to sound. One eye peeked open to see the spirit had almost completely faded away, now a mere memory of a wisp, but the smile was wider than ever, and she swore later that just before it disappeared entirely, she heard it sigh, “Thank you. Now I have peace.”
The violin fell from her chin, clutched by the neck as it hung by her side, still flaming. This would change everything. With this instrument she would be the premier virtuoso in the world. None would top her, none would come close. Houston would be much too small to contain her.
Sara would finally have the fame she had long craved. She carefully stowed the violin back in its case along with the music from the desk and the box that had contained the emerald and left the room. Walking downstairs, she passed a mirror and suddenly thought of Todd. Faithful, beautiful Todd who waited so patiently in the car.
Sara Jones stopped to run a hand through her hair. She turned to the mirror and her screams pierced the night as she gazed at nothing but the reflection of the dark painting on the wall behind her.