Source: Efes from Pixabay 

In about half an hour, he was at the place, a house built in ruins, or what was left of it. Located in the heart of the city, this place seemed far more familiar than anything else. Carved and designed by the best artisans and artists, the country had known. With all the beauty and glamour that the fort once held, it was no more appealing now. Vyom couldn’t just help himself trace every lining of wall, every curve of staircase as he walked by. It had four smaller fortress towers, supporting its architecture. He had been away for so many years, and this place still seemed to grow into his mind, lure him in. It seemed odd to him that a place could exercise such power over him, or was he just too ignorant to see past the beauty and remember the amount of blood that had been shed once to regain control of the tower? The fort was no less a curse, than it was a prison. It was not prison in the usual sense, but it hoarded secrets. Secrets that could consume you if you were not careful enough.

Vyom hated this, all of this. He had never really intended to come here again. He had once been here, just once and he had not known what would this place do to him.

“Papa”, he had said, “Take me there”, swallowing his faint hiccups, as he sat crying on the couch. “I want to there, it’s beautiful, clearly separating bea- u- ti – ful, like any kid would. He tugged at his father’s belt, since that was the maximum he could reach, he had been only 6 years of age then. “Take me, take me, please” he said, not bothering if he made any sense. His excitement had overridden every bit of his good sense. He wouldn’t say, why, but he had to go there. And when his father had turned down his request for the fifth time, he knew just what to do. Stubborn as he was, he snuck away his father’s lighter and placed himself right behind him, where he sat eating, after a long, exhausting day of work.

He was a confident child, but was he smart? He did not care about that, and it certainly didn’t matter. Vyom struggled a bit against the lid, but finally managed to push it open, the flame almost caught at his thumb, but he was saved. He could always recall what happened afterwards, not that it mattered to anyone, anymore. Places forgotten and words unspoken, are to be visited again and again, only to remind you, just how much you don’t yet understand. His father had agreed, apparently and he took him to what felt like a trip to outer world, free of chaos and traffic, which was weird, since it was practically within the bounds of the city. The ground, overgrown with grass and twigs, unattended to. Tall grown trees, surrounding all of the back field and the front ground, had plants that crept on ground, strange plants with spikes all over. You could prick yourself, trying to pluck a fruit. This was the most beautiful mansion he had ever been to, although it was ruined. It was hauntingly beautiful. For some reason, even as a child, he was able to trace, how the mansion once looked like, lush and heavily built, decorated in the most silken curtains, and lights dancing all over the floor. Even as a child, Vyom had a vivid imagination. The mansion was ruined now, its walls dark and damp, and prey to lichen, ceiling lamps that did not lighten up anymore, but the structure was beautiful, nonetheless.

“You weren’t asleep, were you?” asked Zoya, her voice , a bit rasp.

The vivid memory faded into nothingness, the walls of the same place, intact in front of him, dark and damp, just like it had been before. To him, it had earlier been beautiful, and it was still. He was not so sure that he preferred beauty now, though, he had always known how lethal it could be.

“Of course, not”, said Vyom, trying to compose himself, and look unsurprised, “Thinking.”

“I’d prefer, to not waste any more of your time then”, said Zoya, placing a caressing palm on his shoulder, as she stood up. They were both seated in the corner of the railing of the front yard, not that anyone would mind. Two teenagers could hardly cause any trouble when there is no owner in the first place, to look after the abandoned mansion.

“Here, I brought this for you”, said Zoya as she drew from her handbag, what looked like a miniature piano model, fitting right into the size of her palm. It was a mechanical musical instrument. The tuned metal prongs, or teeth, were mounted in a line on a flat comb. It could be made to vibrate by contact with a revolving cylinder or disc attached to it. When Vyom had taken a close look at it, he identified it to be a music box.

He turned his gaze towards her face. He was not exactly pleased, that Zoya could tell. He was too numb to say anything, but reluctantly took the music box and set it aside. Once? Twice? A hundred times? Vyom could not recall just how many times he had tried to get rid of it. “Where did you get it, from?” He asked, his face dissatisfied if not displeased.

“A gift shop, obviously” said Zoya sharply, “That’s where you buy gifts from, I guess?” With this slight tilt of her head, she looked a bit more intimidating, because she was always smart and always right, if not questioning.

“Beautiful”, this was all he could say at the moment, “The box is very beautiful, I mean.” He stammered a bit. His dark eyes were struck. His long pale fingers traced the edges of the box. No matter how many times he’d lost it, the box finds its way back to him some way or the other. He remembered running around as a child and winding it up again and again. Since the day, he’d found it, it was an inseparable part of him. It was as if he’d found a sibling and his first love in a wooden piece that produced music. An abandoned music box in an abandoned mansion. Of what interest could such a thing be of to anyone at all? Vyom was not adult, in fact, he had only been six when he’d first found it. He’d kept it safe, hidden, until the day he had first misplaced it. He thought it was forever lost when he accidentally dropped it in a ditch. It ran alongside the street that ended near his house. There was no absurd thing in losing a toy that wasn’t even your own. He had felt sad nonetheless, the pain was almost as if he had been hurt physically. It burned a hole inside his palm, with no visible mark.

His dark eyes were widened. As much as he had hoped it wasn’t the same toy, he was disappointed. Every year? How could you even explain such a thing to anyone without being laughed at and mocked by your friends? It was certainly not his concern since he’d known better than to tell about the music box to anyone. He’d once been so happy to get it back, and now it brought him only distress. He never wanted to get rid of something so bad. He remembered what his mother had once said, “If you are going to take from the dead, the least you can do, is to bury them.” He was not sure why would she say such things to him, but he liked it, even if he was too daft to understand any of the quotes she’d read aloud to him as a child. Reading too much into people, or places, diving so deep into stories was something he’d picked up from his mother. He was pretty sure, it was not sheer coincidence that the box traced its path back to him for hundred times if not more. He was definitely not reading too much into it. Never once had he felt so helpless and puzzled. He couldn’t just ignore it.

In the initial days of his visit to this place, everything had been wonderful. He’d found a toy, he’d play with for hours. It seemed as if the world around him faded, he could not track how time went by. He was so deeply immersed in its music that he had not known when to sleep and when to eat. It was a binding spell. Going to school was a compulsion. Soon after, he grew tired of it. His father had brought him dozens of other toys to play with and books to read. Who would be fascinated, if not a child? That is when the trouble began. The box would rest right where he had placed it, on the top right corner of his eating table, while Vyom would forget all about it.

That’s when the music box started behaving. Vyom would reluctantly pick it up and wind it backwards, releasing the music. It never got damaged, no matter how many times he thrashed it away, breaking mirrors in fit of rage. His mother saw visible signs of distress on his face, his face looked pale, and eyes tired. School occupied so much of his time and schedule, his parents thought it might tire him, so they paid no attention. Several days later, his face looked visibly more tired and he’d retire early to bed. No matter how tired he would be, Vyom would reluctantly pick it up and wind it back, releasing the musical stress that the mechanical machine held. Once he had been cut, the pain was too much to bear for him. When his mother examined his finger, it was no more than a paper cut, she would have dismissed it easily, if it had not been for the blue–black marks surrounding his fingertips, faint but visible.

“Where have you been playing, Vyom?” , his mother had asked, more out of concern, than suspicion. “What are those marks?”

“They are, they—” he broke off as he withdrew his fingers. “I don’t, I don’t know.” He had tried to get away, by simply pretend to not know an answer to a question that was eating him up. When he pulled of the bandage in an attempt to unfold it, his mother firmly held his hand. His hands were rough and untidy, certainly not that of a child who would simply go to school and come back. “Tell me”, she commanded, “God, Vyom, what have you been doing?” She was more anxious now.

“Tell me” she’d said, her voice sharper and louder than usual, enough to make Vyom stand straight.

He clumsily clutched at his mother’s wrist, tugging at her saree plates, barely reaching half of her shoulder, with all his might, he could only hold on tight to his mother’s arm. He led the way into his bedroom, full of toys and books, spread on the floor, with absolutely no regard for cleanliness. Could you expect better of a seven year old child?

She went inside and placed a few toys at their designated place. She took a good look around and found something unusual. The music box. Not a word had passed between his mother and Vyom, but he had known that she had taken it away. To where exactly? He didn’t know.

“Is something wrong?” asked Zoya, playfully clutching at his arm, as he slid the music box into his pocket. “Did you not like it?” she inquired. Vyom was pulled away from the clutches of his past memories. Memories that clouded his brain, but memories which had been important to him too. His mother had been source of all the music, all the happiness, of everything that guided him to light.

“I don’t play anymore”, he said, “ I can’t”, he said, choking back tears. The back of his eyes stung and he’d be too embarrassed to break down in front of her. He tried walking ahead, but Zoya would always catch up to him, won’t she?

“I’m sorry Vyom, for what happened” said Zoya, “Your mother was a beautiful woman and a gifted musician, and you are too” she sighed, “ You played keyboard so well , and now you wouldn’t even touch it. I’m sure that’s not what your mother would have expected of you.”

“As if you know ,what she expected of me” , said Vyom, hastily pulling back his arm and stalking away. He didn’t look back , he couldn’t. It was my fault, it was my fault, he kept repeating. He’d been rude, very rude. It was not his fault. The box had made him do things he wouldn’t do otherwise, it had made him say

things he wouldn’t otherwise say. All he could think of was, how to get rid of this wretched thing resting inside his pocket. He picked a hammer and broke it into pieces, violently. He let his anger flow, his pain, everything he had been hoarding inside, for all these years.

The night following the disposal of the music box, everything had seemed just fine. Only a few days later, she had developed a fever. The doctor’s had said it would only be a few days before she will be fit enough, but that never happened.

She grew weaker, paler and was fever stricken for the rest of her days. When she had been admitted to the ICU unit, he ran around, and thrashed his toys, not knowing how to control his emotions. How could he? He had only been a child of seven , when he had seen his mother pass away. He’d seen her lose all her charm and cry and clutch at the sheets, tearing away in pain and agony. He had only been a child , when he had noticed blue black marks on her fingertips, similar to his own. His marks had somehow healed, or maybe his mother magically took it away.

He was just a boy, not sure if there was magic and hope and happiness. What he had just seen was grief and suffering and pain. It had all been his fault, hadn’t it? How could he have been so foolish to not know it until it was too late.

There was no point running. The leaf falls to dirt and the dirt reverts back to earth. All of existence boils down to a singularity, doesn’t it? The box was certainly not a gift, he had never considered it to be , no matter how many times it had been reverted back to him.

He wished he could feel anything anymore, surprise if not anything else when he saw the music box , placed in his school basketball field, built back into its original shape and size, carved into the exact wooden material that he had thrashed into pieces a few days earlier. He could recognize it by it’s look alone. He took a look at it and went by, kicking a stone that lay on his path, as if he had not seen it. There was music calling to him and he was not sure if he was courageous enough to respond to it again. 

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