The Witch's Melody
She had loved him from afar.
Outside her grandfather's music shop window, she'd see him walk by daily, his sunlit features handsome in a way that never failed to speed the beating of her heart.
But Amelia thought herself as plain: a husbandless, childless future spinster, hidden there among the sheets of music, the tarnished brass; the yellowed keys a reflection of her youth lost to circumstances unforeseen.
But every day, she had him. Even if it was just a fantasy.
She checked the clock. The fading daylight told her closing time had come.
She went about her nightly routine, a routine that brought her closer to tomorrow morning, when she'd see her heart's reflection once again. The thought of which put a brightness in her step and a smile on her lips.
But her reverie was broken by the jangle of the bell above the music shop door. In walked an old woman.
“We're almost closed,” Amelia said. She returned to her post behind the counter. “How can I help you?”
The old woman was clothed in rags, her face a haggard, wizened apple. She placed upon the countertop a fragile-looking instrument made of bone and twists of twine.
“And what is this?” Amelia asked.
The old woman's eyes pierced her coldly. “My heart is old and death is lurking. But you, my dear, I sense a yearning.” The old woman pointed a finger as bony as the flute she had placed upon the counter. “Yearning for that one true love that floats beyond the glass.” She then pointed to the shop window that looked out onto the city sidewalk.
Amelia couldn't speak. She simply stared at the old woman.
The old woman smiled and said, “This, my dear, is the only chance you'll ever have,” referencing the makeshift flute. “Play it with your heart's desire in mind and you will soon be wed.”
Before Amelia could form a sentence, the old woman turned and promptly left.
Amelia's feet at last unfroze and she hurried to the door.
Outside, the city sidewalks were empty. The other shops were locking their locks and unlighting their lights, their owners heading home for the night. Amelia wanted to ask the old woman what she wanted as payment. She looked very much in need of a meal and some clothes. But the old woman had gone just as quickly as she had come.
Amelia tried her best to return to her closing time routine, but her eyes kept lighting on the flute that the old woman had left behind. And as Amelia approached the makeshift instrument, time seemed to slow as the wall clock ticked.
A yearning for that one true love that floats beyond the glass.
The old woman's words struck a familiar chord.
Play it with your heart's desire in mind and you will soon be wed.
But how could this be true?
Amelia’s mind raced like it had once raced in her youth.
The man of her dreams could be hers just by playing some fanciful stick?
It was foolish, she knew. But, still, she lifted the flute up off the counter, and strange as it might seem, she felt a vibratory essence emanating from the bone. Or perhaps it was just her increased pulse throbbing in her fingertips? It was silly, this notion that life could change on the whim of a wish. But then, what was life if not a collection of glimpses of wishes and long-held desires all aspiring to be true?
Amelia envisioned her heart's desire walking briskly past the music shop window. She conjured the exact feeling as if the bustle of morning had already begun. She then put the mouthpiece to her lips and instantly began to play.
The notes the flute produced were like none she'd ever heard, in a musical key she could not guess. Her fingers, however, knew which notes to play – a give and take of air and breath, the perfect balance of light and dark, happy and sad, noise and silence. Much like love, in a sense. It was the most hauntingly beautiful melody she'd ever experienced. And when she was done and the last note played, her heart was beating like she once remembered in her youth, when life was still a mystery and anything was possible.
Outside the music shop, the night had grown black, and the hands on the clock showed she had been playing for hours. Amelia placed the flute in her bag. She went home exhausted and fell fast asleep, the music still swimming in her head.
The following morning, Amelia awoke renewed, invigorated. She hurried to the shop to get an early start. She had dressed her best and even took a second look in the mirror to make sure nothing was particularly horrid. And, once at the shop, she waited.
And like clockwork, the man of her dreams walked by. Amelia's heart caught in her chest. And just when Amelia thought he would continue by like every other morning, he paused. He turned to face the shop. He opened the door and entered confused, befuddled, as if not knowing why. When he saw Amelia at the counter, he was dumbstruck. He smiled and introduced himself. His name was Nathan. And just like that, anything that was possible came true.
The weeks that followed were a whirlwind of dinner dates and weekend picnics and eye gazing and passionate kisses left as promises until they could meet again. And soon, a wedding date was set.
Some of the local business owners heard the news and, knowing Amelia had no family, helped her organize the event. The ceremony would be held at the largest church in town. One and all would be invited. Food and music, followed by a sidewalk sale. A grand celebration.
On the eve of her wedding, Amelia was breathless. She had intended to close up shop early, head home and pack for the honeymoon trip she and Nathan had planned. But the door bell jangled at the very last moment, and in walked the old woman as before.
Before Amelia could tell her that everything she said had come true, the old woman asked with a voice like a stone crumbling beneath the weight of a life surely ending, “Do you have it?”
And Amelia knew just what it was she wanted. “Why, yes, I do.” Amelia had kept the flute in her bag ever since that night they first met.
“Renewed with life, so hopeful and fair. Give it to me and all will be square,” the old woman spoke with a gnarled hand upturned.
Amelia didn't see the harm. The flute had gotten her this far. Tomorrow was the happiest day of her life and all she could think was to thank the old woman for making her dreams come true.
But when the old woman once again possessed the bone and twine flute, she immediately pressed it to her lips and began to play.
The music the old woman produced was the most frightful melody Amelia had ever heard or would ever hear again. For quickly the world swirled and she felt herself falling, and everything went black before her body reached the music shop floor.
The next morning, Amelia awoke in a place that was both dim-lit and damp. Her head throbbed and her body ached. She had the vaguest impression that she was beneath the city, in a grotto where only outcasts and vagrants might camp. She knew this because she heard church bells ring. The church bells for her wedding with Nathan, her heart's desire. The ceremony was about to begin.
Amelia hurried as best she could, to find a way to the surface.
When, at last, she scaled the steps to the church and pushed her way through the overflowing crowd – whose looks were both aghast and repulsed and whose words were harsh and far from kind – she arrived just in time to see a woman, who looked very much like her twin, say, “I do.”
The woman then kissed the man of her dreams on the lips, and the church filled with cheers for the happy couple.
It was then Amelia saw a reflection of herself in a church window, and what she saw was an old woman dressed in rags, her face a haggard, wizened apple.
Amelia fell back into the crowd as the couple passed by. The woman who now possessed her body gave her a look of devilish delight, before stepping outside with the man of her dreams for the rest of her life, an image that haunts Amelia to this day.
Days that are spent beneath the bustling city, in the dim-lit damp of her newfound home. For several years now she has honed her craft, selecting the right bone, the right twist of twine. With incantations spoken in the breath of shadow and in the flicker of flame, she has finally created an instrument of her very own, one filled with the music of the ages, something new, something ancient, all wrapped up and waiting for a melody to be played and a soul to be set free.
Now, to find the right person to give it to.
About the Author
Kurt Newton's stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies over the years, including Weird Tales, Dark Discoveries, Weirdbook and Hinnom Magazine. He is the author of two novels, The Wishnik and Powerlines. He lives in Connecticut.
[Note from the Editor: Kurt also has one of his stories ("The Red Leaf") published in Issue 1 of our magazine]