The Music Box

(I’m working on my new book, officially as of yesterday. Here’s one of the stories that’s admittedly still a work in progress… but it might make its way into the book)


Anthea had been warned, over and over, to never open the music box. Her mother locked it away in the family safe, in case anyone ever felt tempted. The problem Anthea had was that no one had ever told her why. She thought that if someone just explained what the problem was she’d leave it alone. Though, truthfully, it was unlikely that anything could kill her curiosity. Even if someone told her that opening the box would kill her instantly she’d probably do it, partly to spite them but mostly just to find out if it was really true.

Anthea seized her moment when her parents went back home to Greece for a fortnight. She declined the invitation, saying she had coursework to complete. She was only seventeen but had proven her maturity in the sensible life she lived and had earned their trust.

On the first morning she made herself breakfast, put on her favourite radio station and enjoyed the freedom. It wasn’t until lunchtime that she started thinking about the music box. What did they expect, anyway? It was like labeling a great red button ‘do not press’.

Her mother had the key to the safe, of course. Anthea was sure there must be a spare somewhere but had no idea where to start looking. So, she googled the safe’s model code and in a matter of minutes had purchased a new key (£4.99 including postage and packaging) and two days later the padded envelope slid through the letterbox and waited for her to come downstairs.

Now all she had to do was crack the code and she was in. Anthea spent half a day looking through her parents’ box files, finding birth certificates and old bills and refrigerator manuals. Finally, she found the documentation that came with the safe. The code was written in green ink on the back: 16-1-14-4-15-18-1. She was stunned: why on earth would you write that down? Then again, she had also came across a four digit code scrawled on an old bank statement that was almost certainly a PIN number.

Shaking with excitement, she turned the new key in the lock and carefully entered the code, pressing each metal button delicately. With a click, the door swung open. Inside was the family treasure: jewellery, photo albums, love letters and the green music box. She hadn’t seen it in such a long time – maybe ten years.

It felt like it always did: far heavier than it looked, yet comfortable in her hands. She remembered being about seven years old and so desperate to find out what was inside, to hear the music… she had almost opened it when her mother found her and locked it away for good.

Anthea placed the box on the coffee table and stared at it for a long time, savouring the tense drama of the moment. She knew it was going to be the biggest anti-climax of her life, because it was just a wooden box, of course. She couldn’t think of anything at all that could be inside which would really warrant such extreme warnings and live up to her dreams. She dreamed about the box a lot, so much that she felt she was going insane with ignorance. She felt the box calling out to her as she slept, whispering through her dreams and begging her to open it. Now here it was, like a living breathing thing before her. She could feel its heartbeat.

Finally, it was time. Anthea turned the tiny silver catch, for the second time in her life, but this time she opened the lid fully, feeling ridiculous for trembling so much.

Then, in the blink of an eye, the box slammed closed and her hands were clasped in her lap. She couldn’t recall moving them, or closing the box, or seeing what was inside – it was as if she’d blacked out.

Tentatively, she opened the box again. There was nothing inside. Had there ever been? Maybe it was all a cruel joke her parents had been playing her whole life… and yet… she felt an odd sense of hope as she stared at the blank bottom of the box. She couldn’t think where the feeling was coming from, or what it related to, but it was there. She knew with a sudden fierce certainty that no matter what went on in the world there was always hope hidden away somewhere.

If ever you see something frightening out of the corner of your eye, or you feel you are being watched when no one is around, or you find yourself waking from a nightmare and can’t recall what has your heart racing – you have encountered Shades, primal creatures of raw evil imprisoned in a silent music box and handed down and guarded from generation to generation. They were never supposed to be freed, but they always knew they would be. Shades are patient entities, and have always understood the truth about humans: the strange force of curiosity would always overpower humankind. Perhaps one day someone will find a way to shackle them again. But, for now, Anthea put the box back into the safe, locked it and threw away the key.