Music soothes the savage beast

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story in which someone finds a secret passageway.... view prompt



It was dark down there.

She’d known she wouldn’t like what she found once she’d gotten the door unlocked. She’d known, also, that unlocking it would be easy; she’d always had the key, on a chain, looped around her neck. A sturdy chain, worried smooth over the years; it had been her companion since she’d been a small child.

She’d been locked within these dark walls for… far too long. No sunshine had touched her face, no human either.

It had been . . . far too long.

Yet, she preferred staying within the confines of her walls, than facing the unknown of that locked door.

Until she heard the music.

She had no idea how long it had been playing when she finally heard it. She lifted her forehead from her raised knees, cocked her head, unwrapped her arms from around her legs, and pushed herself off the cold ground. She approached the cement slab of a door opposite her, laid her hand flat against it. The cement seemed to vibrate beneath her touch, and when she pressed her ear to the tiny keyhole, the indistinct music grew louder.

She stepped away from the door, and the keyhole, but she couldn’t step away from the music. She didn’t quite recognise the tune but knew that with time, she would. The music swelled higher, and her body hummed. She turned on her heel, to the darkest recess of the room, and retrieved the key she’d flung there. It warmed in her hand. She inserted the key, temporarily muting the sound, and turned it in its lock.

It was dark down there.

She had no light; no candle, no sunlight, no flashlight, cellphone or even the luminosity of a wrist watch. The tunnel, though, was much warmer than her chamber, and the music glided over her, beckoning her forward.

She took a step into the pitch blackness, breathing deeply, trying to stave off the panic, afraid the door would close behind her, locking her in, trapping her. What if she couldn’t find another way out?

She rounded the door, tugged the key from the lock, slipped the chain around her neck, and headed back into the passageway; the music swelled in approval.

She moved slowly at first, hands in front of her, terrified she’d bump into something. She dropped to her knees, turned back towards the entrance to where the dark was lighter, and the music wrapped around her, lulling her, then retreated. She whimpered. “More, please.” She had to follow it.

She rose, hugging the left wall, hand trailing, grounding herself as she moved forward at a faster face. There was a vibration in the wall, like the sound of water rushing down a river, after a terrible rainfall. She wondered whether it would lead to a waterfall, and strangely enough, that thought had her walking faster.

After some time, she realised she’d gotten used to the darkness but not to the music. It seemed to tease her, playing at the edge of her memories, begging her to remember…

She frowned.

She didn’t want to remember. There was a reason certain things were buried; self-preservation.

She walked, never feeling the fatigue or exertion. She hadn’t been physically active in forever, yet her body didn’t seem to realise it. The longer she walked the passageway, the more energetic she became. Her brain fog lifted, which made her smile until the music’s violin screeched, sounding very much like a scream, and she froze. She knew that scream, could still feel the pain of it in her throat. Thunderclap sounded, and she pressed her hand to her cheek, still feeling the hand once imprinted there. Then, the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg; baking smells. She eased forward cautiously, realising that maybe after all, this passageway was known territory. THAT was worse than the alternative.

Images flickered before her eyes; she and her mother baking cookies in autumn, her mother’s usually drawn feature open and light. That wouldn’t last, she remembered. Her father had gotten home soon after, and the dusting of flour on her mother wouldn’t be enough to cover the fresh bruises. And as her mother hid to lick her wounds, her father would drag her to her bedroom to deliver other types of wounds . . . 

The music muted abruptly and she froze, disoriented. Why –

She rushed forward, hand still brushing the wall, rushing water still following her progress, dark still blinding her, but she wanted answers. What was this passageway? Why was the music getting more and more familiar? Where was she headed?

The music restarted. With it came the smell of freshly mown grass, and the memory of her mother and her lying on it when she’d been thirteen years old. Staring up at a sky the color of her mother’s eyes, before the bruises would be back to mar them. Before her father got home, angry that they’d mowed the lawn, angry that they’d shown him up, done his job. Her mother sported her bruises for weeks. Her own . . . lasted much longer.

The flashes of memories were coming faster and brighter, but instead of stopping her, she used the images to light the way. Her body seized a time or two with the memory of what her father had done to it. But worse . . . was remembering her mother never doing anything about it.

She was fifteen the last time she wore her father’s mark on her. He’d caught his wife sleeping on the couch, feverish from a cold that he’d given her. He’d thrown a pail of cold water at her, and she gasped, disoriented. He slung the pail, hit her on the head and her mother clocked out. He lifted the pail again, and she screamed. Screamed for her own pain. Screamed for her mother. Screamed for the man who had helped conceived her, and who had also conceived inside of her. Screamed until his hand collided with her cheek so hard she went flying. He started beating at her, calling her fat and stupid and she yelled in desperation, “I’m not fat! I’m pregnant with your child!”

She dropped to her knees at the memory, then curled on her side in foetal position. She hadn’t wanted to remember. Hadn’t wanted to face the memory.

The music caressed her softly, and she felt herself relax. And it came to her unbidden, the origin of it; the sequence of lullabies her mother would sing to her every night. She would curl up on her mother’s lap on the ancient rocking chair, while her mother sung these equally ancient songs, over and over. As she remembered, the tune changed from instrumental… to her mother’s soft voice. She let herself cry, let the tears fall from her cheeks to beneath her. And she let herself finish the memory.

Her mother rising behind her astonished father, whose face was turning the ugliest shade of red she’d ever seen. Her mother raising the pail, swinging it with the force of a mama defending her cub. And hitting her mark. Her father went down like a ton of bricks. They wasted no time rushing out of the house, and they ran and ran, even when cramps folded her in two, even when blood began dripping down her bare legs. They ran until they made it to the police station, to safety.

She remembered all this. Her father’s arrest. Her mother’s suicide. And her own depression. Her isolation in that dark chamber.

She was done.

She rose on firm legs and made her way further into the passageway where she discovered light. Muted at first, but as she ran towards it, blazing brighter than the sun.

The chamber was tinted red. It was warm, and her mother’s singing voice soothed her. She felt lulled and loved for the first time since she was a small child. In the middle of the room was a red shapeless form which beat to its own tune, pulsing regularly and as she tilted her head and listened, realised it was the source of the rushing water she heard. Not water, though; blood. The very life of her, in the middle of the room.

She walked forward slowly, approaching the beating heart. She noticed an indentation on the front of it, and felt her key warm. She pulled it from around her neck, inserted it, twisted it sideways. A door sprang open.

Inside, a small girl was crouched, arms wrapped around her legs, forehead pressed to her raised knees. The music swelled around them both, and the girl raised her head in surprise. Their eyes met, and the girl rose swiftly, walked out of the heart and into her waiting arms.

She was going to be okay.

February 29, 2020 02:45

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