Painted eyes flutter open. She’s standing upright, balancing on the tips of her toes, one arm raised over her head and the other extended. Her left arm is caked with something—dirt? Dust?
Where is she?
A box. Round and wooden, dim and empty, save for the dust and the two lonesome shafts of moonlight that pry through the gap under the wooden lid. She hears the murmuring of voices from somewhere above her.
That sound. She knows that sound. But what-
The scarce light skitters across the crack in her watch face.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
But no, the watch is broken; the hands have long ago ceased their spinning dance.
The silver light alights on the bridge of her nose. She tries to bring her arms down to her sides, but—she can’t. Why can’t she?
She can’t feel her limbs, she realizes. Something tells her that she should be horrified, but her mind feels clouded, wooden; all she can think to do is laugh.
I can’t do that, either. I can’t feel my face.
A final tick, then a resounding groan, and, slowly, the air around her swells with the steady breath of a simple tune, tinged with dust and infused with moonlight. It weaves in and out of her consciousness, ancient and strangely familiar, a long-lost remnant of a forgotten lifetime. Each lonesome note seems to tempt the darkness, lingering only to pass on the melody before fading into oblivion. Swirling dips, twisting breaths, all infused with a life of their own.
And somehow, all of this — the tune, the moonlight, the musty smell – seems achingly familiar. She struggles to place it, but she can’t; parts of her memory feel blurred, others entirely unreachable. Another groan, and she can feel the platform beneath her tremble, then begin to turn. Ever so gently, it spins her around and around in time to the swirling tune, her partner in eternal dance.
And then it begins to rise. Does the music have wings? Or do I? As it carries her higher and higher, she finds herself wondering. The voices whisper above her, growing louder as she ascends, but she can’t quite make out their words. And yet, she feels as if she’s heard them before…
The lid creaks as it slides to the side, into the wall of the box, and moonlight filters through, shimmering against her skin. The music seems to carry her up, higher and higher, enveloping her in its protective embrace, and through the opening, she can see two blurred, spinning faces peering down at her.
But it’s she that spins, not them, and as she rises through the top of the box, the moonlight traces the sloping curve of her body, casting a soft halo of light on the wood around her. She seems to glow, angelic, yet somehow reminiscent of a demon rising from hell.
The voices. She can hear them more clearly now, a woman and a man, but she can’t see their faces. She’s turned away from them, towards an open window, her small frame drowning in the moonlight.
“My god, is that made of wood, too?”
The lid clicks into place beneath her, and still, still she turns.
“Yes, can you believe the craftsmanship? The hands are so-”
She can almost see them now; still blurry, but she can make out wisps of silvery hair and the edge of a puzzled frown. This, too, feels vaguely familiar…
“That’s funny; I don’t remember there being a watch.”
A watch. Her watch, and the woman, and…the music box. The music box.
A buried memory swells to the front of her mind, a rolling wave of thought, and she has no choice but to let it swallow her.
Her eighth birthday, and a beam of sunlight slips through the window, landing on two unwrapped presents on the carpet, both from her grandmother. The first is a watch, ticking gently, the sunlight dancing with its golden hands and tracing shimmering patterns across its white letter band. The second, a music box.
She puts the watch on first, pausing for a moment to admire it before the box steals her attention. She picks it up. It’s cool and smooth against her palm, and the musty smell of old wood weaves through the air. Round and covered in a thin layer of dust, the wood underneath polished to perfection.
She turns the key in the bottom of the box.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
And then, suddenly, the music begins to play. She gasps and stares down at the box, transfixed, as something within it seems to shift, as the lid slides away. She catches a glimpse of the wooden interior, but a platform begins to rise up from the center, blocking her sight. She frowns; no spinning dancer stands on the platform.
And suddenly, it’s as if the music speaks to her soul, and she reaches out to touch the wood. She closes her eyes and has the distinct feeling that the room is growing larger, that she, herself, is spinning. Tries to open them, but she can’t, she can’t…it’s as if her body is made of wood—she moves nothing, feels nothing.
And she’s back to reality; the music has stopped now, and she finds herself descending back into the box.
“I hate to part with it; it used to belong to my granddaughter, you know. She went missing four years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am.”
And, slowly, as she spirals out of the reach of the moonlight, she feels her mind hardening, gently solidifying in wood.
Her painted eyes flutter closed.
Prisha Mehta is a student at Millburn High School in New Jersey, and she is very passionate about her writing. She aspires to be a successful author one day, and has won many writing awards, including a Scholastic National Gold Medal. Her work has been published in “Spaceports and Spidersilk” and is forthcoming in “Riggwelter” and “Body Without Organs”. When she isn’t writing, she can often be found scrolling through psychology articles, sketching in her notebook, or of course, reading. You can find out more about her at prishamehta.com