The Music Box


                Applause thundered from the concert hall as Saotomé Golán finished the closing note on his fifth symphony. According to him, it would be his last. Just days before this final performance, he sent out a press release stating that he would no longer be composing music as he wanted to spend the last few decades of his life focusing on his husband and children.

                This came as a shock for the music community, and worldwide, as Saotomé was only 33 years old. In the eyes of the public, he had so many more decades of his life left. The mark that Saotomé made on the world was immense. His symphonies and singles rejuvenated the classical music scene, and the 300% increase in classical music students around the U.S. was widely attributed to his music.

                Despite the many calls for his return to music, Saotomé remained steadfast in his decision to retire from the scene to raise his kids and spend time with his husband, Shae. Then, in 2050, 20 years after his early retirement, at what some would consider the tender age of 53, Saotomé died of a heart attack in Times Square. It was a fitting end for such a figure. Despite his reputation as a classical music genius, Saotomé was also somewhat of an attention hoarder. He reveled in it when he was still making music. It was such an apropos death that it led many to speculate that he didn’t actually die at all and it was an elaborate hoax. Then came the will.

                He left all of his millions to his eldest child, Martin. To Shae and his youngest child, Mark, he left the rest of his property and a single music box.

                “Typical. Dramatic!” Shae said to the lawyer reading Saotomé’s will. “He really wanted to make a statement, didn’t he?  A music box and this house? I mean, he must’ve known Mark and I would move out immediately… or hoped we would. After all, this house is worth as much as he had in the bank…maybe even more so.”

                “Does it matter, Dad?” Mark said.

                “Yes, it absolutely does. Saotomé wouldn’t have left us with nothing unless he hated our guts. Do you think your father hated our guts?”

                “Well, of course not, but – “

                “No buts. He must have loved us enough to make sure we’d be taken care of. Look, Mark, you’re 25 now. Surely you understand the concept of these things now.”

                “I mean, of course I do, Dad, but we just lost Father. Don’t you think all this hemming and hawing about the estate is worthless?”

                “It is not worthless. In case you haven’t realized, we are still alive, and therefore, our wellbeing is important to see to.”

                Mark simply shook his head. He was annoyed that they had to be here. He was bothered that his Dad only wanted to talk about money. The lawyer executing the will, for his part, said little. He didn’t want to catch the ire of Shae Golán.

                “So, are we set? Is there anything else you need from me, Mr. Golán?” The lawyer said, seemingly eager to leave the tiny room.

                “No, Mr. Reed. There’s nothing else. We will head back to the house and gather up this…music box.”

                “Excellent. I’m sorry for your loss. Enjoy the house.”

                “Enjoy? Enjoy?! We will not enjoy the house. It has to go up for sale! Have you not been listening to a word I’ve said?”
                Mr. Reed said nothing and simply made his exit. Shae and Mark left the building and began to make their way home. Shae drove in silence, and fifteen minutes later, he and Mark arrived at their massive estate. Shae drove up the long, winding driveway and input the entry code into the keypad to open up the massive black gates that guarded their home. Mark sat uncomfortably in the passenger side of the vehicle as they rounded the driveway. They parked underneath the mansion’s overhang, which provided a sort of walkway to their front door.

                “I guess this is all our now!” Shae said.

                “Don’t forget the music box, Dad,” Mark said.

                “I won’t, I won’t. I think it’s in the attic, right? Your father had always had a strange obsession with that thing. He would never let me get rid of it, as odd as the thing was. He wanted to make sure it stayed in the family. Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be worth any reasonable sum of money, and the song it plays isn’t particularly recognizable.”

                “What song does it play?”

                “Oh, it plays one of your father’s less well-known symphonies in full. Expiravit mortem; he called it.”

                “What does that mean?” Mark asked.

                “Oh, I haven’t the foggiest. I just know he claimed it would revolutionize music or something. That, of course, never came to pass, obviously. You know what? We should give it a go. Play that old music box…one more time in his honor. You know, I think he thought Expiravit Mortem was the best thing he ever wrote. A shame he never got to perform it.”

                “That would be lovely, Dad. I think he would enjoy us playing his favorite symphony.”

                With that, they walked across the marble floor underneath the 16-foot ceilings. They made their way up the grand staircase and through a long hallway that contained the portraits of all the previous owners of the mansion, who, strangely enough, were all world-famous creators of their day. Shae and Mark both stopped in their tracks at once and looked up. They arrived at their attic hatch. Shae, being the tall 6’8” and lanky man he was, gently reached up and pulled on the cord that hung from the ceiling. That cord released the ladder that would let them make the 16-foot climb to the attic. So, they did.

                Shae arrived first, then Mark pulled himself in. They found the music box seemingly placed in a way that would capture their attention the moment they entered the attic.

                “Well, if that isn’t creepy,” Mark said, remarking upon what they both felt.

                “Yes, well, I suppose it is. Either way, how about we get on with this, pay our respects, and then I’ll call the realtor.” Shae responded.

                “Fine.” Mark reached toward the music box and carefully opened it. A danseur emerged from the box, seemingly in the middle of a cabriole. The box was relatively small and dusty. It had no paint, and the wood that it was made of seemed old.

Mark wound it up and let go. A thundering orchestra of organs and trumpets began to play dissonant F notes. Violins slowly crept their way in with a series of Gs, overtaking the organ sound and led them into a lull of calm. When they felt they had a grasp of the song, flutes screamed their way in, shocking them out of their sense of security into an uneasy feeling. The crescendo was reached, and slowly, the piano began to play. The piano went on for a few minutes, finally ending with an uncomfortable A sharp note that left them without a sense of resolution.

                “Well,” Shae began to say, “That was something. I’ve got to say it…not your father’s best work.”

                “Agreed,” Mark said. “There was something strangely compelling about it, though, don’t you think?”

                “I agree, but I think it’s for the better that this symphony never really made it anywhere. It could have undone his career.”

                Mark nodded in agreement. With that, they left the box in the attic, intending to never open it again. Shae immediately hopped on a call, and Mark, now left alone to ponder the thoughts and the legacy of his deceased father, entered his room and began to cry. Mark hadn’t been the closest with his father. Saotomé seemed to much prefer Mark’s brother, Martin. To Martin, Saotomé taught music and business. He spent countless hours with him talking about music theory and how to become a success. He remembered one thing his father had always told Martin. “Everything sounds new until it doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to compose outside the norm.”

                Mark had desperately tried for years to gain the attention of Saotomé with little success. Eventually, he decided he would be better off with his Dad, Shae. And he was right. The years after he gave up trying to impress his world-famous father were some of the best of his life.

                As the tears rolled down his face, Mark thought he saw his brother Martin out of the corner of his eye. When he tried to focus on the figure, it disappeared. He dismissed this as his mind playing tricks on him. He wished his brother would be there to mourn with him and their Dad, but Martin had no time for such things. He was off following in their father’s footsteps, playing symphonies in Italy and France. And so, he and Shae would be doing all of this on their own.

                Suddenly, Mark heard his name screamed from downstairs. It was faint, but his Dad seemed in distress. He ran as fast as he could down the hallway. He heard his name screamed once again, this time from the attic. He wondered why his Dad would be up there again.

                Mark climbed the ladder, anxious and scared to figure out exactly what was going on with his Dad. A queasy feeling began to overtake him as he climbed closer towards the attic. He began to hear the sounds of flesh being torn from the bone, and fear immediately struck him. Yet, he could not stop himself from climbing. The 16 feet from floor to attic seemed to take hours, but he stopped cold once he got into the attic.

                Mark’s Dad, Shae, seemed to be in a loving embrace with Saotomé. But there was something wrong with Saotomé’s face. It was gaunt and carried a pale blue-grey color. Once Mark’s eyes adjusted to the darkness of the attic, he could see that they were not hugging. And they were not happy. Saotomé was pulling pieces of Shae’s flesh away from his body and throwing them to the side where they promptly floated away, turning into that same pale, blue-grey color as they did so.

                Mark climbed down from the ladder as fast as he could. When he finally reached the marble floor, Mark began to sprint. He ran past the portraits of the past owners, which, now he noticed, all seemed to be watching him. He ran down the grand staircase, noticing that there seemed to be extra footsteps following his. Mark turned a corner and saw Martin standing in front of the front door to the mansion.

                “Mark, what are you doing here?”

                “What does it look like, brother? I’ve come to properly mourn our father.”

                “Oh, really?” Mark replied. Unsure of how to respond to Martin. Martin had the most unsettling smile on his face. “Well, you missed his funeral.”

                “I’m aware,” Martin responded. Martin then lunged at him with a knife he’d seemingly pulled out of nowhere. “Still haven’t put it together, Mark, have you? You see, this is why father never chose you.”

                “Put what together?” Mark said as he continued to dodge Martin’s increasingly desperate lunges.  

                “You never were that close with Father, were you? If you were, you would have known. You would have known what he was working on, what we were working on. He succeeded. He finally did it. He found a way to live forever.”

                “What way would that be?” Mark said, increasingly afraid that Martin would actually be able to stab him.

                “Through his music, you idiot. Playing that music box brought him back…just not in a way he would have liked.”

                “…okay, well I’d like to leave,” Mark said, shoving Martin away.

                “Oh, there will be no leaving. I’m going to need that body of yours. I plan on following in Dad’s footsteps. Since my cancer diagnosis a couple of months ago, I’ve been trying to replicate his steps and correct his mistakes. And I think I finally have.

At that moment, Martin lunged forward, and he was able to position the knife so that it went directly through Mark’s heart.

                “Martin, call the ambulance. Don’t do this, please. I don’t want to die.”

                “Oh, don’t worry, Mark. You’re not going to die. You’ll live on in the hearts and minds of the millions of fans I’m going to get using your body with Father at my side as my manager. Martin plunged the knife even deeper. As the final breaths began to leave Mark’s body, he saw Shae making his way down the grand staircase, slowly applauding for Martin.

                “Well done, son. You fixed my mistakes.”

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