A life shattering ice storm rocked the city of Chicago. It was January 8, 2019. I remember that day better than any—the day my mom died, the day my life changed forever. 

I curl up on the leather cushions, adjusting my hot pink headphones. The sweet nostalgic beats carry me away to a safe place, a place where no problems exist. I rock back and forth, struggling to forget that day, trying not to relive the anguish. 

I ease my eyes shut, holding back the tears ready to drench my cheeks. Waves of color bounce up and down beneath my eyelids, following the slow rhythm of the familiar soprano voice. My mom’s voice. It doesn’t matter how loud I turn up my music and immerse myself in the rhythmic world, the grief will never leave. No matter how long I imagine it, she will never truly be here. 

Her voice is all I have left of her. Well, that and a music box. I lift the box from my pink sweatshirt’s baggy front pocket. I received the gift the day before the accident, thinking it was a mini chest before I noticed the crank. 

I run my fingers along the chipped intricate designs wrapping around its silver frame. Turning the crank, I raise the lid and watch the ballerina dance in a circle. Her arms curve toward the ceiling like she’s reaching for the moon. Her nondescript features are long rubbed off, the once colorful ceramic stripped of its paint.

A knock raps on the door three times, snapping my attention back to reality. My dad emerges from the kitchen, a phone balanced in one hand. Dark crescents curve below his sunken eyes. His long hours as an accountant usually leave him drained.

“Ember, please get the door.” He saunters back into the kitchen. I sigh, flinging off my headphones and tucking the music box back in its hiding place. I pull open the door. My eyes widen, and I freeze. What is she doing here? I stare at the familiar figure standing in the doorway who I haven’t seen in a year. Her frail frame leans against the doorpost, her white curls gathering at the base of her neck. Her exasperated expression tells me something is wrong. 


“Shh! They’ll hear you.” 

“What?” I shoot her a confused look.

“Don’t tell anyone I’m here.” 

I stare back quizzically, stepping onto the porch. Why is she here? Grandma never leaves her residence, not since mom died. She didn’t even attend mom’s funeral. 

“Don’t look so surprised to see me. Now, hold out your hand.” She reaches into her gray purse strapped over her shoulder and pulls out a small jewelry box. As the white box plops into my hand, she hurries to her car and drives away. Shock fissures through my body. I stand there, frozen, letting the spring breeze carry my blonde waves. I run my thumb across the box’s plain surface. Fear pounds through my body, snaking down my spine in chills.

I race back inside, grab my headphones, and dash to my room. Everything is wrong. My grandma’s urgency to give the gift matched my mom’s behaviour the day she gave me the music box. 

Pushing open the door, I hurry inside the pink frilly room. An elaborate canopy of blankets and old stuffed animals hang diagonally above my bed. I side glance at the hungry blue betta swimming in circles in his fish tank. I should feed him now, but I have bigger concerns. I throw back my covers and bury myself in the pink sheets. The worst day of my life whirs to my attention. My mom died in a snowstorm when her car careened over a bridge and submerged in a frozen lake. No one ever found her body. The police said it was an accident, but—

No, I can’t think that way. Grandma’s gift has nothing to do with my mom. I pull back my covers and open the jewelry box. I expect to find a necklace, but a golden odd-shaped key rests in its place. What could this key possibly open? I know I shouldn’t connect the gift with mom, but… what if they are connected? I fish out the music box and slide my fingers across the designs curving around its base. Some textured embellishments jut out, leaving sunken spaces. 

My eyes hover over the key. The end of it curls in the shape of a flower. I examine the music box, searching for the same flower shape. Many of the shapes are similar. I try inserting the key into each nook unsuccessfully. I sigh. This is a waste of time. Of course they aren’t connected. What was I thinking?

I try one last opening on the side near the crank. The key fits perfectly, clicking as I turn it. The lid pops open and the crank turns on its own. Excitement surges through me. I watch as the ballerina spins to life. The tune differs from before and a voice sings. My mom’s voice. The soothing melody sweeps through me, replenishing my mood.

The song finishes, and the ballerina ends her dance. That’s it? I expected more. Why did Grandma rush over here to give me the key if that’s all it does? My mom’s professional years as a singer ensure I can listen to her music anytime. I sigh, shutting the lid rather harshly and setting it on my nightstand. I reach for my headphones.


I flip around, glancing at the music box. Tendrils of excitement glissade through my body. I hold my breath. A small compartment sticks out, ajar. I scoop up the box and pull the drawer out all the way. The simple slip of paper tucked inside disappoints me. I unfold it and read the note.

My dear Ember Cyrell, 

You must have many questions concerning recent events. I never wanted to involve you in any of this so early, but I’m afraid I have no choice. You are a clever girl and very musically inclined, more so than anyone I have ever met. Please follow these simple instructions in order. You may be in terrible danger.

I love you always,


I stare blankly at the note, my eyes blurring with a downpour of tears. Grandma is in danger, and my mom’s death was not an accident. A wave of questions spiral through my mind. The heavy deluge of thoughts are more than I can handle, ripping away my sanity. 

I read the note again to gain clarity. It ushers in more questions than answers. Who killed my mom? Why am I in danger? Where are the so called “instructions”? I turn the slip of paper over in my hands. There aren’t any instructions. I inspect the music box thoroughly, finding nothing. A thought tugs to the surface. The key. Sure enough, I discover three words scrolled across the golden handle. 

Tea, karaoke, chat.

I groan. How are those instructions “simple”? Am I supposed to drink tea, sing karaoke, and chat? If I do nothing, my grandma could end up— 

I push the thought away. I won’t let that happen. No matter what. I can’t lose anyone else. The scars ripping me apart from the accident… no... murder are still too fresh. I clench the note in my hands, shutting my eyes. I have to figure this out. Think girl… think. 

That’s it! The idea came so suddenly, my mind barely had time to comprehend the realization. Grandma wrote the instructions so only I can understand them. Every Friday before the murder we used to meet at Cumberland Tea Cafe for the best tea in Chicago. She would always call them our little “chats”. That covered two instructions, but left out “karaoke”.

I sneak out of the house and dash down the street to the cafe a block away. I inhale the warm creamy smell of the quaint cafe. No sign of Grandma anywhere, or any other customers. The man behind the counter, Jordan Felix—my cousin, smiles brightly. 

“Ah, Ember Cyrell, our resident pre-pop singer, here for a cup of Jasmine?”

“No thanks.” I plop down at an empty table set with two chairs. I sigh. I really hoped Grandma would just show up and tell me what to do from here.

“Has my grandma been here?” Silence follows. Jordan eyes me warily, running his fingers through his bushy red hair and avoiding eye contact.

“Don’t ignore me.”

He sighs. “Fine, I’ve seen her around. That’s as much as I’ll say.”

“Hmmm...” I scour the room for clues. My eyes linger on the karaoke machine displayed on the black platform. I replay the instructions in my head: cafe, karaoke, chat. I scroll through the songs. Does Grandma want me to sing karaoke? My finger stops on a title I’ve never seen before, “Our Little Chat”. I choose it. The machine spins to life, the words of the unfamiliar song flashing on the small screen. I hold the microphone to my lips and sing the crisp melodic words. 

Away from the world, away from the horror. Change the frequency, protect the secret. Whisk me away to the world of melody. 

The words repeat three more times. I shut my eyes and watch the colors ripple beneath my eyelids like they always do when I sing. Everything is much different this time. The words twirl through my mind in a dizzy vortex of vibrant colors. My entire body trembles with the dizziness, tearing away my balance. 

I fall. The floor has never felt so far away. My feet leave the ground, and I careen down. My eyes flash open, flooding with an odd light that wasn’t there before. The vibrant colors swarming my mind now flow around my body in arcs of blinding color. I’m not in the cafe. A horrifying worry blazes through my plummeting body. Where am I? Streams of green, blue, pink, orange, and yellow flash before my eyes. I flail midair, trying to make sense of the situation. I must have hit my head on the floor and passed out. 

Music floods my senses, the streams of color sharpening and dancing to the rhythm. They curve up and down to the beat, solidifying beneath my flailing body like solid ground. Their up and down rhythm carry me with it like an escalator. I gaze out at my surroundings. The geometrical plane encompassing me stretches beyond my vision. This is the coolest, most bizarre dream I have ever had. 

As the color whisks me away to a point beyond the horizon, the voice singing the melody intensifies. A blurry figure slowly sharpens into view. Grandma. Her song ceases, and the colorful floor beneath me, flattens. 

“What’s going on? I mean, I know this is a dream, but still.”

“You’re not dreaming, Ember. This is real. We call it the plane of frequency.”

I let out a loud forced laugh. “For real?” Thoughts twist through my mind. Is this really not a dream? How is all of this real? 

Grandma nods. “I know you have many questions, but we have a much more urgent matter to worry about. There are many with ill intentions who want to tap into the plane of frequency. Our family has kept this plane of existence secret for many generations.” She sighs. “Unfortunately, a secret society of hooligans discovered its existence.”

“Why keep it secret?”

“Others will be tempted to misuse it. The society is already searching for us. That’s why I brought you here. I fear you may be in danger.” She pauses. “When you return to everyday life, you will understand. Now, we must fortify the breach.”

I follow her to a massive hole in the ground, sinking into an expanse looming below. She hums an odd tune and waves her arms in the air as if mimicking the flow of waves. The streams of color move to the rhythm, filling the hole little by little. 

“How did you do that?”

“With practice, you will learn, but not today.” She motions for me to follow her. “I will take you to the most special place on this plane of existence. I have something special to show you.”

Grandma hums another tune, this one faster and more forceful than the last. The colorful ground lifts me high into the air and drops slightly with the change of pitch. It pushes me along like I’m surfing a wave. The velocity of the spectrum escalator is faster than before. Everything blurs by as a natural structure enters my view. The dark, distinguished cavern stands out from the rest of the vibrant landscape. 

Grandma’s tune ends and the ground flattens beneath my high-tops. I enter the cave, reminded of the last vacation I went on before my mom died—a cave in Kentucky. Crawling through a tight section of that cave, I learned about my claustrophobia. I hope this cavern is different. 

Blue and pink crystals dangle from the ceiling, lighting up the hollow space. I peer over at Grandma, my eyes widening.

“Y-your glowing!” I point at the bluish aura encompassing her body. It bounces off of her skin like rays of sunlight.  

“So are you, my dear.”

I hold my hands out in front of me, inspecting every inch of them. Rays of red and orange swarm my body like flames. 

“Is this normal?”

“Yes, the colors signify your power. They’re also how we choose names in our family.”


“You were named Ember because of your fiery glow. I was named Waverly because of my bluish glow. And Ivy—”

I recoil at the mention of my mom’s name. 

“Sorry.” She apologizes, patting me on the shoulder.

“You mentioned something about powers.”

“Everyone who enters this cave will attain powers. That’s why the society is so adamant about finding this place.”

“What’s your power?”

“I can soothe anyone with music and put them in a trance. That’s just the basics.”

“What was my mom’s power?” I notice Grandma glance at the floor uncomfortably.

“She can heal others with her music.”

“What’s my power?”

“You, my dear, are very special. You have the ability of persuasion. You can influence anyone with music. Now, enough questions for the moment. There’s someone I’d like you to speak with.”


Grandma points to a tunnel leading deeper into the cave. “She’s in there. Don’t make her wait any longer.”

“You aren’t coming?”

“No, this is something you should do alone.” 

I sigh, studying the tunnel. Fewer crystals dangle from the ceiling in that area, making it hard to see very far. I journey through the darkness, curiosity burning through me. Who else knows about the frequency plane? Grandma said only family has been here. Is the mysterious person an aunt or cousin? The deeper I go, the darker the tunnel becomes, until no more crystals hang from the ceiling. The only light is the reddish-orange glow emanating from my body. 

Chills slither through me. Maybe I should turn back. I can’t see where I’m going anymore. Up ahead in the distance, I spot a faint green glow. The blurry form sharpens into a familiar figure as I draw near. My eyes cloud over, and I run toward her. Standing amid the green glow is my mom.

May 29, 2020 20:58

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