Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Magic Flute


The Magic Flute
Allison Symes
Lemon Tea

Rachel shut the oak front door and glanced around her grandmother’s lounge. Her grandmother fought cancer. The unmerciful sod of a disease won.
    Rachel went to the narrow black case left on the pine table as Rose’s will stated, opened the catch, took out a silver flute, and held it up to the light coming in through the double glazed diamond crossed windows at the back. A solitary window nearby was single glazed. Despite Rachel’s urging, Rose hadn’t replaced it. It was one of the few original parts of the cottage. Rachel blamed misplaced sentimentality for her grandmother keeping that window and for taking her flute with her on trips out.
    Sorry, Granny, Rachel thought, anyone could smash that window. I’m not carrying a flute everywhere either.
    Putting the instrument into its red lined case, Rachel struggled to read the manufacturer’s faded details. Yet the flute looked new…
  
Rachel put Rose’s kettle on the ancient cream coloured two-door Aga, which filled the kitchen. Tea made and drank, Rachel took the flute out again and played her grandmother’s favourite medley of nursery rhymes. They sounded lovely but Rachel didn’t inherit Rose’s delicate touch. Rachel felt there was magic in this instrument’s music. It offered some solace after the car accident five years ago, which killed Maurice and Mary, Rachel’s parents. For months Rose needed the flute to express herself. Only the reappearance of the following year’s daffodils changed Rose’s mournful tunes back to lighter tones.
    Rachel sank into “her” armchair near the front bay window, reached into her huge black handbag and took out a letter. Rachel smiled at the spidery writing. Her grandmother would never have won calligraphy prizes. Slitting open the envelope, Rachel took out the single sheet.

    Dear Rachel,
   Welcome to Evergreen Cottage. Your posh flat never suited you. It was for Graham. If there’s any justice, he’ll realise soon what a wonderful girl he dumped but you need your hideaway. You never rushed away from here or was it my flute playing and chocolate muffins that drew you? Care for the flute and it will care for you. It’s magical. Don’t scoff. You’ll soon discover I’m right. Enjoy your life, don’t be sad, I am fine where I am and play that flute daily. It likes appropriate tunes. Have fun discovering what they are! Your life will become interesting.
    Love, Granny.
  
    Rachel grimaced. How can a musical instrument care for anything? And I’ll play the flute when I want to. I’m never bored. Few midwives are.


***

Six weeks later, Rachel returned from a late shift, grimacing as the neighbour’s ginger cat hissed as she opened her gate. The cat had done this nightly for a month. Indoors, Rachel spotted the flute, in its case, lid open. It was as if it looked at her daring her to play it to compensate for the quick burst which was all the energy she had for music and which Rachel only did to appease her conscience. She should try. Somewhere Granny would know. Granny saw through Rachel. Rachel couldn’t see Granny leaving that skill behind just because she’d gone to the next life. Rachel put a cannelloni dinner in the microwave. Tonight she’d eat, watch mindless TV and bathe. Flute playing was a great way to unwind but not tonight… 
    I must discover what Granny meant by appropriate tunes, Rachel thought. I’m surprised there’s no music book. I only found that book of illustrated nursery rhymes
    Rachel had many happy memories of her grandmother enacting the rhymes with Rachel joining in, both laughing. Rachel wiped tears away. It wasn’t a bad way to recall Granny. Rachel reached for the flute. She should play something, Granny would want that. Rachel felt her spirits lift as she played ‘Ding Dong Bell’ and they were raised further as she recalled the chocolate muffins she’d picked up earlier. 

***

Rachel took the flute into the overgrown garden and sat on the old bench near the French windows, which was one of her grandmother’s favourite places. There was plenty for Rachel to prune with secateurs but for now she wanted to inhale the lilac scent that wafted towards her from the back border. She played ‘Three Blind Mice’ and stopped, amazed, as three mice emerged from an old flower pot to her left, came to her and stared up, as if listening to “their” song.  Pussycat, Pussycat saw the mice flee so quickly Rachel wondered if there was a rodent world record getaway speed and, if so, had these three broken it? And the neighbour’s ginger cat wandered through to purr. Rachel hadn’t seen it since she’d chucked a shoe two days ago at it to stop it hissing. ‘Two Little Blackbirds’ silenced the garden. Rachel saw in the oaks surrounding the cottage two blackbirds, male and female, a robin, six wrens and a pigeon watching her, as if entranced.
                Rachel smiled. Must be a coincidence, she thought. I’ll watch what I play
    Rachel meandered to the cottage. I’ve been careless leaving this lying around. I’ll hide it when I’m out. If this thing does influence animal behaviour, it’s best only the wildlife and I know!
 Putting the flute away, Rachel stared as the letters H and A appeared in fine gold script on the instrument’s side. She rubbed at the letters but they were engraved.

***

The smash of a downstairs window three nights later woke Rachel who looked at her clock. It was 2.45 a.m. She heard footsteps. Donning her purple dressing gown, Rachel sought something heavy but only had the flute. As a breeze came through the window on the latch, a page of the nursery rhyme book turned over to reveal ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son’. 
    I’ll play the tune, Rachel thought. If I can attract mice, can I repel the burglar? I’ll frighten the git. He won’t be expecting a recital!
    Rachel crept downstairs and on the third step from the bottom where she saw the lounge, she peered around to see a dark, bulky figure going through her grandmother’s mahogany writing desk. 
    Looking for cash, Rachel thought, scowling. How dare he!
    As ‘Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son’ rang out, Rachel saw horror in the eyes of her balaclava-wearing visitor, which intensified as a huge pink pig materialized. Rachel saw the thief sway and thought he’d faint but he fled with the squealing pig chasing him to the front door before it turned, bowed and vanished. Rachel stopped playing, bolted her front door but not before seeing her unwelcome visitor rounding the corner out of her avenue. She turned to see the single glazed window was smashed. 
    I’ll call the glaziers later, Rachel thought. I should’ve replaced that window. Why did I forget? I can’t go to the police. I’d have to explain why the burglar fled. Still if he complains, he’ll look stupid. Who heard of a pig materializing or someone playing a magical flute? Where did this flute originate? Who made it? How did Granny get it? What damage could I do with this thing?
     Slumping into her armchair, she examined the flute. The letters M, E, L, I and N appeared. Putting the flute into its case she found a folded paper, which wasn’t there before. It felt warm. She read the paper.

   My dear Rachel,
   That burglar won’t return or complain. The police would breathalyse or section him! Keep playing the flute! It likes nursery rhymes. It’s very possessive of its owner. As long as you treat the flute well, you’ll find problems disappear like magic! Its brother instrument did wonders removing a German town’s rats. There are things you never mess with – that includes this flute! The flute likes you. It must be the way you buff it up!
    All my love, as ever, Granny Rose.
   
  Rachel stared at the paper. How could her late grandmother know about the burglar? It was news the “other side” allowed correspondence! 
    I’m being watched, Rachel thought. Granny, you never said much about your past. Why? What have you let me in for? 

***

A week later, again at 2.45 a.m., Rachel sat up suddenly in response to a blue light appearing on her landing. Grabbing the flute, she crept out of her bedroom to find an unkempt figure surrounded by a blue glow. It reminded Rachel of the Readybrek advert with the kid with the all-in glow. The annoyed looking being was 3’ tall and wore a shabby red and yellow diamond checked suit.
    Rachel blinked. ‘Who are you? How did you get in?’
    ‘My name is not your business. I want my flute back, Madam. Your grandmother had no business stealing it from the magical realm. Hand it over.’
    Rachel looked at the flute. It had a blue glow around it. Much as she loved The Lord of the Rings, she could do without the flute’s glow meaning it too could detect orcs. That kind of thing just did not happen in Chipping Sodbury. Rachel swore. ‘Granny left the flute to me.’
    ‘She never said where she got it. Here’s the receipt. You’ll note its brother flute removed the rats at Hamelin.’
    Rachel took a crumpled paper from the being’s hand reluctantly. The creature didn’t look clean. Its language on seeing her was anything but clean. She looked at the paper and handed it back.
    ‘How did Granny get into your “magical” realm?’
    The being stared. ‘I was warned you were intelligent, unusual in humans.’
    Rachel returned the stare. She refused to be patronized by a being almost half her height, especially given she was just short of 5’ tall.
    The being shrugged. ‘Your granny was one of us but left. She fancied a memento but knew magical objects stay behind. The thought of these things falling into the wrong hands makes us all shudder.’
    ‘Are you saying Granny wasn’t human? Are you mad?’
    ‘No, Madam. We’ve had a fairy godmother defect before. It caused merry hell so when Rose, my boss, left, the Fairy Queen, laid down rules to be broken on pain of retribution.’
  ‘There’s no Fairy Queen on Earth except in Spenser’s…’
  ‘She’s from the Fairy Kingdom, as was your granny. There’s more than one dimension. The Queen was impressed with your granny’s discretion.’
  ‘Granny said the flute is possessive. It protected me so sees me as its owner.’
  ‘Yes, we saw the pig incident. You have a nice imaginative touch. If you didn’t have human blood, we’d welcome that imagination in our world. It’s wasted on Earth. Humans cause war and pollute the planet.’
  ‘I don’t cause war. I try not to pollute the planet. My carbon footprint is light.’
  The being grinned, revealing three rows of needle sharp fangs.
  Rachel forced herself not to wince. Nobody could help how they were made.
  ‘You don’t deny the other charge, finally an honest human! Well done, you!’
  ‘The flute is mine.’
  ‘On your head be it.’ The being vanished in a puff of smoke and fit of pique.
  Rachel blinked and with all light gone went carefully back to bed. 
  I imagined that, she thought. Why invent something this mad? Granny would’ve sounded mad claiming to be from some other world. They look at you funny if you say you’re from the Isle of Wight. If Granny was a defector, she’d forget her past. Had she taken the flute knowing it could protect her? Or take it knowing she’d have to return it but using it as a bargaining chip?

***

A week later, Rachel was woken again at 2.45 a.m. by a scream and sharp flute music. She switched on her bedside light and saw the unkempt figure clutching his hands while hopping around her white laundry basket in the left corner. The flute was between his feet. It was glowing red.
  ‘Why are you back? Did you play the flute?’ Rachel glared.
  ‘The bloody flute played itself and scalded my hands when I tried picking it up.’ The being held up blistered hands. 
    Rachel noted he had seven fingers on each of his three hands and wondered if getting properly fitting gloves was an issue on his world. She winced on seeing the big blisters. She blinked as the blistering vanished.
  ‘We heal quickly in our world, human.’
  ‘It serves you right for trying to steal my flute.’ Rachel watched the flute rise from the carpet and fly to its case on her bedside cabinet. ‘I said it was protecting me.’ A soft burst of music came from the flute. Rachel and the Readybrek Glow Being stared at the instrument.
   ‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was the musical equivalent of a purr but what do I know? I’m just an ignorant human, yes? Care to explain the “purr”? No instrument on Earth plays itself.’
   ‘This is no ordinary instrument. What did your grandmother say? Did she put a curse on the bloody thing?’
   ‘If she anticipated me being disturbed by odd beings in the middle of the night, she probably did. Who are you? Why do you want the flute?’
    ‘I said it’s part of the Kingdom’s magical objects collection.’
    ‘Why didn’t you get it back when Granny brought it here? She took it, not me,’
  Rachel paused as Mr Readybrek Glow shuffled and studied his hairy feet. ‘I see. You couldn’t argue with her so you decided to go for her grand-daughter.’  A less pleasant thought crossed Rachel’s mind. ‘You said Granny was one of you. What does that make me?’
    Mr Readybrek Glow gave Rachel a nasty look. ‘A dirty hybrid since you ask.’
    ‘So why is the flute not happily returning to you?’ Rachel laughed as the being vanished. ‘That’s one to me. He’ll be back though – at 2.45 a.m. given his timekeeping means keeping to one time!’

***

On leaving for work each morning, Rachel hid the flute. It was odd the flute wasn’t stolen while she was working. Rachel wondered why this being’s world hadn’t bypassed curses. Were their powers limited or did that flute have more history than Mr Readybrek Glow would admit?
    Rachel discovered in the nursery rhyme book a melody called ‘The Summoning’. On playing it, every bird and small mammal for miles around peered into Rachel’s single glazed window, which had been repaired pending imminent replacement with double glazing. Rachel stared at the creatures. She now knew how Snow White charmed the animals and why Mr Readybrek Glow wanted the flute. Was it possible to enchant anything with this instrument with the right tune? Rachel smiled as she returned to her Mini. If that theory was correct, the flute could open up interesting possibilities. Mr Readybrek Glow could be sent packing for a start. Waking up at 2.45 a.m. regularly had lost any novelty appeal.

***

Rachel barely batted an eyelid when Mr Readybrek Glow turned up again two days later at 2.45 a.m. Magical being he might be but with a consistent arrival time OCD was a possibility. ‘You again? Can’t I sleep? I’ve got work in the morning.’
    ‘Yes,’ Mr Readybrek Glow said, ‘I understand you are a midwife. It is nice to meet a useful human.’
    ‘You didn’t come here to trade insults. What’s your problem?’
    ‘You know I need the flute back. We could have some arrangement. You could borrow the instrument?’
    Rachel smiled. ‘The flute does belong to me then or you wouldn’t be bargaining. Your boss is giving you merry hell for your failure?’
    The being’s jaw dropped. ‘You’ve eavesdropped! Your granny once set magic traps in the Palace garden. Turned five goblins into stone in one night. Caused much upset that did. You’ve played The Summoning which is a tricky piece.’
    ‘Not as tricky as trying to count how much wildlife turned up at my back window. When I played the piece a second time, something odder happened.’
    ‘The creatures started talking to you and to each other?’
    Rachel nodded. That discovery was disconcerting, as were the wildlife, as having thanked her for the music they then lectured her about the irresponsibility of humans polluting the planet. Nobody likes being lectured by a tit. 
    ‘Look, human, the flute is a menace. I’ll take it off your hands.’
    ‘No. The creatures said they’ve dealt with the magical world before. That fairy you said defected years ago came here and caused trouble with the poor wildlife bearing the brunt. They don’t want that happening again. They don’t want the flute in magical hands either. They think it’ll be misused. I can keep everybody happy.’
    ‘Really?’
    Rachel scowled. Mr Readybrek Glow’s sarcasm was irritating. ‘I’ll be discreet like Granny. I didn’t know she was magical until after her death. Leave me, and the flute, alone and I’ll warn your world of anything I think may harm you.’
    ‘You think I’ll deal with your pathetic species?’
    Rachel shrugged. ‘Will the flute keep burning you if you keep trying to steal it or will the punishment worsen?’ Rachel grinned as Mr Readybrek Glow paled. ‘Ah, the punishments worsen then!’
    Mr Readybrek Glow nodded. ‘You misuse the flute and see what happens!’
    ‘I won’t bother, thanks. I know my limits. Deal?’
    Mr Readybrek Glow stared. ‘My commission was to get the flute back or ensure its “owner” didn’t misuse it. I accept your offer. You can’t make many odd things happen with the flute. Your fellow humans will ask awkward questions. For once that annoying trait might be useful.’ He offered his right hand to her. Rachel shook it. She’d scrub her hands later. Mr Readybrek Glow disappeared.
    The flute played a brief burst of another tune Rachel found in her granny’s book called ‘Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish.’ Rachel smiled. She and the flute would have fun. Granny was right. Life was beginning to look interesting…

About the author:
Allison Symes writes fairytales with bite as short stories and novels. She belongs to the P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK), Association of Christian Writers and is an Associate Member of the Society of Authors. She cannot imagine a world without books. She is on Facebook and Twitter. Her website is www.fairytaleswithbite.weebly.com



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