This story is not quite like my others. I have no way to explain what I mean until the end, so read on, faithful reader. Special thanks to Emma Foster for submitting the prompt that inspired today’s piece.
Melody’s eyes fluttered open. She scanned the shadowed bedroom. Nothing disturbed the stillness of night, save for the muffled crickets outside and the slow rhythm of a grandfather clock. There was nothing out of the ordinary, but something had awoken her, just as it had for the past three nights. Heralded by no bodily sense, Melody was awake and alert. Up she rose from her queen-sized bed, glancing at the tall clock with its rocking pendulum glinting in the moonlight. Four in the morning, the same as the past three nights.
Melody’s gaze glided to the windowed balcony doors. Moonlight was flooding in, and as her eyes adjusted, she forgot the lonely darkness she’d felt upon waking. She paced the length of the room. The woolen carpet welcomed her chilly feet, acting as an enormous slipper. Pushing open the doors, she stepped into a chilly autumn night, inviting the fresh air, and relinquishing the carpet’s warmth for the stony balcony. The balcony was hardly wider than the double doors behind it, meant for only one or two to lean upon its elaborate iron rail. Melody rested her arms upon the frigid iron and studied the lawn before her. The front of Melody’s mansion faced a paved circle driveway, with a small fountain gurgling at the heart of the grassy island. The driveway ran straight forward, connecting to Poppy Lane, a quiet, forested road. Only two houses were on this road: Melody’s and the Rembers’, who constantly forgot their neighbor lived alone in her mansion.
“Where is your husband today, Melody?” the Rembers would ask.
Every Thursday, she would pour the wonderful, old couple their tea and would give a similar answer. “He must be at work.” Sometimes, if she felt playful, she would add, “He promised we’d go to the restaurant in town tonight, but he’ll have to get off work at a decent time.”
There it was across the road, that old, white farmhouse, near the old, red barn, in front of the open pastures running for acres for cattle to roam. Mr. Rembers had been working that land since his childhood, or so he told Melody.
Melody’s gaze drifted skyward. She watched as the moon crept through the sky, shepherding its herd of stars. When she was young and ignorant, she had contemplated what Abraham felt at the promise of so many children. Now, she only laughed at the naivete. She was content to fill her quiet mansion with sunlight and music, rather than with the bustle of a family and all its busy servants.
Melody let her eyelids slip closed, and she breathed in the night air. Beyond her room, the only disturbances were the trickle from the fountain and the nippy autumn breeze. These nights were strange, but Melody welcomed them. After all, she had nowhere to be in the mornings, except perhaps preparing tea for visiting neighbors or brightening the house with a song on the harp.
She opened her eyes and stepped away from the balcony, but paused before going in. A yellow light drew her gaze back outside. Yes, there! The moon was on the horizon, just behind that old, red barn. But not the same moon, which still hung high and white above. A second, smaller moon, hanging tantalizingly close to the ground.
Melody’s heart leapt in her chest. She rushed across the room and donned her slippers, not stopping to close the door behind her. Perhaps it’s nothing, she thought. She hurried down the spiral staircase in her moccasins. What strange thing was this, hanging over her neighbors’ barn? After all, it’s after four in the morning; there’s no telling how truly tired or delusional I may be. She unbolted the front door, flinging it open and racing off the stoop. She had to see this wondrous sight. What’s so special about a moon anyhow? She dashed along the driveway, breathing deeply, and feeling an old love for the race awaken. She ran so often as a child; why did she ever stop? Night is no time for a run! The night felt fresh, invigorating. Oh, how she missed this freedom. Great. It will be impossible to go back to sleep now. Glorious scents from the wildflowers prepared an aisle for her way. Or perhaps they’re simply crossing my path. All the crickets sang for joy as Melody ran to the moon, lifting a well-known chorus for this long-awaited appointment. That’s ridiculous. Why would they sing for me? An audience of trees and fields righted themselves and watched attentively as she came and passed. Surely, they’re all asleep; why watch a madwoman run in her slippers? The world richly anticipated the fruits of this haste. Why such haste? She crossed Poppy Lane without glancing either way; no one ever took this road unless one was quite lost. I should be back in bed, dreaming of this, rather than chasing it in my slippers and nightgown. She pranced across the Rembers’ dirt driveway, galloping to the old red barn. This is ridiculous; what do I hope to find in the Rembers’ barn?
What indeed? Melody paused at the massive, sliding door, staring upward. There was the moon, with all its craters and slopes and yellowish light, hovering low above the towering silo. From here, the moon’s girth seemed little wider than the silo itself, perhaps five grown men wide from its center. Surely if one stood upon the silo’s dome, even the shortest of children could reach up and take hold of the floating yellow rock.
Melody grinned and rushed to the silo, taking hold of its rusty ladder. The ladder trembled beneath her weight, threatening to throw itself loose from the concrete pillar. She scaled the ladder, reaching over gaps where rungs should be. Why such determination now, so much more than in my normal waking hours? The distance yielded before her. Perhaps this is all a dream. I will awake to prepare my breakfast and read on the back patio from that novella I started.
As she reached the domed roof, her balance fled. Her heart churned as she planted her hands upon the steep dome for support. Apprehension washed over her. How could she be so foolish, coming up here so late at night, chasing a dream and finding only a sixty-foot drop?
“Melody.” The voice was gentle, sonorous, like the wind dancing in the fields. The moon invited her, and her hesitation broke.
Reaching out to the moon meant she would fall, yet it did not stop her from brushing a hand against its dusty side.
Melody’s eyes fluttered open. She scanned the sunlit parlor. The great window to her right brought life to the scarlet, woolen rug. Besides the loveseat she occupied, two other cushioned chairs with intricate, floral designs were situated about the large room. Beside one was a harp; beside the other, a cello. In the far corner of the room stood an upright piano. Nothing disturbed the stillness of afternoon, save for the songs of finches and bobolinks, and for the strumming of harp. Melody frowned at the instrument, for no one sat to play it, and yet the tune of “Amazing Grace” leapt from the vibrating strings. She rose from the loveseat, inching toward the strange harp. Upon a desk beside the gilded, cherrywood harp sat a small portrait. Melody lifted it closer, eyeing the young girl, perhaps of nine years. She wore a blouse over a blue, floral dress, contrasted by the auburn hair rolling to her shoulders. The countless freckles bridging her nose highlighted her eager smile.
Melody grinned at the painting. She remembered having freckles like these when she herself was nine or ten. Though she did not know the girl, she wondered what wonderful conversations she might have with the child. As she pondered the portrait, a conversation she once had sprung to mind unbidden.
“Gentler on the strings, Maryssa.”
Melody looked back to the harp. There she saw herself, seated beside the little girl, who sat in the seat beneath the harp. Had Melody truly worn her hair in such a tight braid once?
The child huffed, letting her hands fall to her side. “But if I’m too gentle, it won’t make a sound!”
The seated Melody rested a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “It will. Trust it to make a sound, dear.” She rose with a mischievous smile. “Now, your mother tells me she’s made quite the lunch for us! Shall we go see what she has made?”
Maryssa giggled and set the harp upright, racing after Melody and clasping her hand.
The first Melody, in her nightgown and slippers and her ginger hair hanging to her elbows, watched them leave. She furrowed her brow. She did not remember this. Was she a tutor to this child? She examined the parlor. It was clearly hers, although she did not remember having so many paintings upon the walls. The faces were all so unfamiliar. Yet she felt that she ought to know them. Strangely, without knowing them, she missed them.
Playful cheers echoed from outside. Melody glanced out the window, but there was no one there. She turned and started through the house. As she went, she passed numerous servants, busying themselves with the house’s chores. She observed them, but they did not heed her any more than the other Melody and Maryssa had. Lively chatter and gossip floated around the house as Melody walked. The servants smiled and seemed all so inviting. Melody longed to stop and speak to them, but her feet dragged her to the back door.
She stepped onto the patio, feeling the warmth of a summer day beat down upon her. Out upon the lawn, two boys, perhaps ten and twelve years old, dueled with whittled sticks, hacking, and slashing with disciplined strokes. The younger had auburn hair like Maryssa; the older, dark brown. The older seemed to prefer to hold his ground, as the younger pranced about him, looking for an opening. Finally, the older struck the base of the younger’s stick, and sending the weapon to the ground. The disarmed boy scrambled away, and a chase ensued.
Melody laughed as the boys bounded across the yard and skirted the forest. They weaved between the maple trunks, startling squirrels from their scrounging. Then the younger tripped, tumbling across a tree root into the rough ground. An agonized cry went up. The older dropped his stick in shock, halting just before the root. Melody started, but from the corner of her eye darted the second Melody, racing to the weeping child.
“What hurts, love?” she said, pulling him upright and dusting him off.
“My head and my knee,” he whimpered.
The first Melody drew near, studying this other Melody as she studied the child. Now that she looked, she saw this Melody was older. Dark strands mixed with the ginger hair, and stress lines strained her expression. This Melody was more than a tutor to Maryssa. A nanny, perhaps? But if so, then why was this family and all its attendants in her mansion?
Older Melody rested a hand on the child’s cheek. “It’s not bad, Liam. Now, both of you go tell your father you fought a tree monster and won.” The boys exchanged gleeful glances and dashed back to the patio, their nanny following at a distance.
Melody chased the boys. She knew she had recognized them in the parlor paintings. Maryssa, Liam…
Carter. The firstborn’s name sprung to mind as though it had always been there. But how? What was all this?
A man stood on the patio, speaking to one of the servants. His green polo and khakis attested to a restful afternoon. His bright eyes and long, brown beard showed no formality today. The boys rushed up, and he smiled with a raised hand. “Ho, there, adventurers!” he barked with a thick Scottish accent. “What brings you off the fields of war?”
“Dad, we killed a tree monster!” Carter exclaimed.
“You have, have you?”
“It bit my knee, so we chopped it down!” Liam chimed. “It had, like, super big arms and a lot of teeth in its mouth!”
“And it shot fireballs!”
Their father laughed. “Aye, what a tale! But did he give you a name before you slew him?”
The boys puzzled at the question. “Uh, no…”
The father tsked gently. “It’s not polite to slay your foe without getting his name first! He wants to be remembered much as you do! Now, you go back and ask your tree foe for a name. Then I’ll know what to call this great tree monster, when I sing of your fine tale!”
Without further debate, the boys ran back to the troublesome tree to seek its treasured name. Older Melody sidestepped as they made their beeline, approaching the boys’ father.
“Your daughter is learning quickly on that harp of hers,” older Melody noted.
“She has the best tutor I could ask for.” The Scottish accent was gone, but not the playfulness. His face glowed with affection. Younger Melody froze. It couldn’t be. “I hear my wonderful wife has made a wonderful lunch for this wonderful day?”
“Your favorite,” older Melody agreed, resting her hands in his.
A tear traced down younger Melody’s eye. She remembered. Jared’s favorite lunch was the first one they had together at the restaurant in town.
“London broil,” the three said in unison, “with mashed potatoes and green beans.”
“Sweet tea, too?” he quipped.
Older Melody gave him a flat look. “What do you take me for?”
He just smiled and pulled her into his embrace. “For the love of my life.”
Younger Melody watched in disbelief. How could she have forgotten this? But her house was empty. No family, no servants. Only the Rembers visiting for tea, only her to play that harp. But as Carter and Liam ran back, telling the tale of their adventures, as Maryssa tramped out, huffing about how long she’d been waiting for lunch, as the family gathered back inside, tailed by the servants eager to serve the grateful company, it all felt right. If this was real, then what was that other shadowy world?
Jared paused in the doorway and looked back, meeting younger Melody’s eyes.
“Welcome back, Mel.”
In the past, my stories have rarely been this sweet. So often I catch myself writing dark, tragic narratives. (I assure you, I am not depressed, hence why it confounds me every time I write something macabre.) This time, it was different. I had to do a major revision to this story, because I elicited a more violent reaction from my writing partner than ever before. So, now the story is open-ended. What do you think was happening here? Was it all a dream? Did everything here really happen? What happened to the moon? Let me know what you think in the comments below. If you have enjoyed today’s story, please remember to like this post and follow the blog for future tales. If you have any questions, comments, or editorial remarks, please leave a comment below. If you have any suggestions or proposals for upcoming stories, please contact me. Thank you for joining me for my tale.