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art by Tim Stewart

The Mysterious Barricades

Catalog librarian by day, Lyn C. A. Gardner coedits the journal Virginia Libraries. Her first book of poetry, Dreaming of Days in Astophel, will arrive from Sam's Dot Publishing in February 2011. She's had over two hundred poems, stories, and articles published in Strange Horizons, the Green Knight Press anthologies Legends of the Pendragon and The Doom of Camelot, Challenging Destiny, MindFlights, Talebones, The Leading Edge, and more. Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling); six poems were nominated for the Rhysling Award (SFPA). She is a 2004 graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop.

Lucy bent over the shoebox, sifting through curling paper and cracked photographs. So many secrets. She'd been too young when her mother died. All she had now were these scraps of life: birth certificates, faded letters, notes from her grandmother in French. Receipts for harpsichord supplies, though the harpsichord was long dead.
Lucy's fingers stopped at the place she hated: her mother's death certificate.
At the sound of the knocker, Lucy opened the door warily.
"Lucy?" a woman asked. "I'm Jennifer Collins. I've got something for you."
Lucy followed. Propped in the back of a van was the body of a harpsichord.
Jennifer said, "We'd better get it inside before the heat warps the soundboard."
They pulled the instrument from its bed. Lucy shielded the keys while Jennifer carried the narrow tail. They struggled to turn the fragile body through the door. The strain made Lucy's arms shake.
Pieces came next, wooden slats at crooked angles. "Legs. Manual. Tools. Everything's here." Jennifer upended the laundry basket. The pieces clattered, high and thin.
Lucy said, "I've loved the harpsichord since I was a child. How did you find me?"
Jennifer smiled crookedly. "My step-father was building it. He worked on that harpsichord day and night. I guess the heat was finally too much." Jennifer's mouth twisted. "I found him on the floor. He hit his head when he fell. He died with his tools in his hands."
Lucy watched her in anguish.
Jennifer asked, "How long have you been playing?"
"My mother taught me. We had a harpsichord when I was small--before my mother died."
Jennifer nodded. "I knew he couldn't be building it for me. I was never musical."
Lucy took her hand in sympathy. "I'll take good care of it."
"I'm sure you will. Dad would be glad to know you have it--that is, to know his work is in good hands."
Walking toward the door, Jennifer ran her hand along the side of the harpsichord.
"What was your father's name?" Lucy asked.
Jennifer turned with such a strange look. "He wanted me to give it to you." She ran out the door and drove away.
Outside, leaves shook in prelude to a storm. Lucy gazed at the harpsichord. The small cabinet sat in the center of the living room, soundboard glued in, keys uneven.
While she waited for Adrienne, Lucy spread the blueprints and laid out the pieces. There was something so familiar in the lines. Something more individual than most precut kits, with their rigid assembly and limited options. She could almost swear she recognized the tipped-in photographs in the typescript instruction manual.
Rain spattered the windows. Adrienne stepped in, stamping wet. She hung her hat and unwrapped the pale blue scarf. She looked even more slender without it.
Crouched among the pieces, Lucy said, "Beautiful, isn't it?"
Adrienne traced dust along the soundboard. "I wonder how long it's been in that garage. It smells musty."
"So you knew it was coming. Did you arrange it?"
Adrienne wrapped her arms around Lucy, resting her chin on Lucy's shoulder. Breath tickled Lucy's cheek. "Are you sure you want to know?" Adrienne murmured, in her husky contralto.
A boom of thunder--Lucy shivered in Adrienne's arms. "Just tell me, Adrienne."
Adrienne nibbled her neck, as if to distract her. "Frank Laskin."
Lucy flushed, thinking of a metal box full of photographs and letters. Wondering how long Adrienne had been reading them.
Adrienne continued, "He left you that harpsichord in his will. I happened to be home the night his daughter called."
"Step-daughter," Lucy said bitterly. Her family had so many secrets; what was one more?
Adrienne released her. "Are you sure you know the whole story? You were only five, right? I have a hard time keeping track. You're so damned closed-mouthed about the past."
"There are some things I'd rather not talk about."
"You and your secrets. You think I'd stop loving you no matter what you told me?"
"How did he find me, Adrienne? Grandmother changed my name. I've been so careful--"
"I know how lonely you are. I got tired of seeing you pine away for a family and decided to do something about it! He was your only living relative--"
"He murdered my mother!" Lucy's voice shook.
Adrienne gripped her arms. "That's what your grandmother told you. You know perfectly well he was committed for a while--but never indicted. There was never any real evidence. All the charges against him were dropped."
"You know how I feel!"
Adrienne said, "That's the point. I don't know. You won't tell me! Sometimes you act as though we're strangers--as if you still can't trust me, after all this time!"
Lucy stared at the harpsichord. She didn't dare answer.
"I'll tell you something else. I was going to ask if you wanted me to wait, but maybe it's better this way. Radio France offered me the internship."
"But we don't have enough money--I can't afford a ticket," Lucy pleaded.
"I can't wait, Lucy. It's too good to miss."
"If I don't go with you, you won't come back," Lucy said sadly. She couldn't take her eyes off the harpsichord--mute reminder of another loved one lost. Two years of dreams and plans, travel guides and language lessons: all ghosts now.
"I don't see how that matters. You're never with me now anyway," Adrienne muttered as she strode to the kitchen, blond braid thumping her back.
Lucy lay in agony, Adrienne's arm heavy on her breast. What good was any of it--even the harpsichord? Adrienne was leaving her. In the night, she could not escape the agony of that knowledge. That mysterious harpsichord was a farewell gift, just as painful as the rest.
When she was certain Adrienne slept, Lucy slid from her arms, stopping at every catch in her lover's breath. Adrienne would not stop smoking. The smell, once so repugnant, now reminded her of kisses. It made Adrienne's voice raspy and deep, lending her distinction on the air.
Lucy slipped out to the hall. Along the stairs, streetlights cast broken blocks of milk and shadow. Was that a musical tinkle, above the muted city?
As she neared the bottom, golden light showed family portraits along the wall. She knew these stairs. The broad knob of the banister felt as smooth as her grandmother's.
In the parlor below, a little girl hunched over a harpsichord.
Lucy caught her breath. Her head throbbed. She sat on the stairs, clutching the wooden posts like bars. That girl looked just like she had, once.
Below, the parlor opened on rooms she hadn't seen in years. Her grandmother's glassed-in shelves held china figurines. The harpsichord stood near a floor lamp, warm with the patina of age. Gentle cracks ran fine as cobweb through the paint.
The girl stretched out a finger. The dark key seemed to sink forever. Then, at the bottom, it plucked the string with a loud thump. Lucy jumped. Fascinated, she reached forward again to feel that odd weightlessness followed by the catch of the string.
Lucy froze as her grandmother sailed in. Tight-lipped, the old woman plucked the girl under the armpits and set Lucy on the floor. "Never touch that," she said severely, voice cracking like the paint. "It's antique."
Lucy's mother watched the girl from lowered eyes. She wore a familiar black recital dress, cuffs and collar tightly laced. She folded thin arms over thin breasts as though she were cold.
Lucy said, "But I love it. It sounds shivery!"
"Kings have listened to this instrument," her grandmother said. "If you pay attention, you can still hear the echoes."
Lucy's mother stepped up. "Never mind, Lucy. I know you won't hurt it. The harpsichords of the Couperins were made to be played. Not to sit around gathering dust!" She slid onto the bench, lifted Lucy to her lap, and placed Lucy's hands on the keys between hers.
The thin black keys welcomed her fingers. The old harpsichord liked children--Lucy could tell. It had played to her some nights, music drifting delicately down the hall when she couldn't sleep, melancholy and soothing while her parents fought.
Her mother's fingers sparkled, blurring over the keys. Lucy tried to imitate them.
Grandmother said, "You can't stay here, Brigitte. It'll be the death of you. Cancel the tour and go to France! Our cousins will take you in."
"Do you think I'd leave you here, with that madman?"
Grandmother said, "It's the harpsichord you don't want to leave."
"You should never have taught me, if you couldn't face it."
As the women argued, the little girl stroked the ebony keys.
Grandmother said, "And you shouldn't be teaching the girl to play. She's too young. You'll be responsible!"
Three notes sounded in succession, vibrating in the air. The grown women shivered.
Relentlessly, Grandmother said, "You care more for that harpsichord than your own child. I'm beginning to think Frank is right!"
"It needs me." Brigitte plucked the strings meditatively.
"It will suck you dry."
"Don't say that, Mother! Not here!"
"Where, then?" Grandmother said harshly.
Whimpering: from the girl upon the stairs; from the girl at the harpsichord. Lucy pressed her face to the bars, tears running in parallel lines.
At a touch on her shoulder, Lucy screamed.
"Lucy! It's me, Adrienne!"
A vision in white, with soft blond hair. Adrienne folded her in terrycloth arms, smoothing her hair where Lucy sat at the harpsichord, hands dancing on mute keys that thumped dead in the frame.
"What in heaven's name are you doing? Come back to bed."
"My mother--"
"Only a dream."
But as Lucy followed, she knew her eyes were fogged with time, not dreams. She turned her head as she heard a whisper from below: her mother's voice?
As if she'd heard, Adrienne asked, "What's that, sweetie?"
"Don't go," Lucy pleaded.
Adrienne said nothing then.
The first night after Adrienne had gone, Lucy wandered down into the living room, blanket wrapped and trailing like a child's. She couldn't sleep in the double bed alone. She lay under the harpsichord, beneath its solid yet delicate presence. The harpsichord had been Adrienne's farewell present. Perhaps when she completed it, she could send a message winging through the dusk to Adrienne, buoyed by melody, traversing the wires.
Lucy wanted the harpsichord to feel at home, so she brought down her old record player and harpsichord albums: Wanda Landowska, queen of the harpsichord revival; renditions of François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau saved from her mother's collection. With the glowing circle of the lamp and the scratchy ambience of old records, time seemed to melt away.
Lucy spread out the builder's manual. The harpsichord sat silent on wobbly legs, its wood unvarnished. She pressed down on the uneven keys; some did not spring back.
Lucy bent closer, prying a key from the frame.
A wild cacophony bounced off the walls.
She whirled. The record scraped with a hiss and snarl. She hurried to advance the needle, fingers fumbling as the same short sequence raised the hairs on her neck.
At last the needle jumped clear. Lucy turned a guilty look at the harpsichord, which sat silently on its crooked legs, one tooth gaping black where she'd dropped the key. Her skin crawling, she returned to her examination. The lower guide for the jacks that would pluck the strings should have been nailed in before the soundboard. Instead, it lay on the floor, splinters flaking from drilled holes. Lucy slid it in above the keys, but the opening was so slim it couldn't be nailed without tearing the frame apart. The harpsichord trembled.
She couldn't do that. She couldn't hurt it.
She rummaged among the tools, hoping for something that might help. She found a small box wrapped in brown paper.
Frank Laskin, the label read. Mailed to Richmond.
She'd read newspapers at the library, though her grandmother wouldn't have any in the house during those days. Grandmother said that her father had murdered her mother and set fire to the house. But in the articles Lucy had secretly read, he'd protested it was the other way around: that Brigitte had taken the axe and tried to kill him, then set the house ablaze in the struggle--all because he'd chopped up her harpsichord. Grandmother said it had been a jealous rage. Before he broke down completely, her father said he'd done it to save her from herself.
Lucy remembered the man who yelled, red-faced; the cold, proud woman who'd come to life only when she touched the harpsichord. But behind these were softer memories--a father who'd held her in the rocking chair, singing lullabies; a mother who would come in after a late concert to watch Lucy silently for half an hour, then kiss her cheek and leave, never knowing her daughter lay secretly awake, waiting for this ritual.
Lucy sat in the corner, staring at the harpsichord, the little box cradled in her lap with its tiny tools and tuning wire. After a while, she turned out the light. The moon shone through the windows.
The harpsichord hulked in the darkness. In the winks of her dozing, it looked oddly complete. It stood with delicate turned legs, midnight blue edged with black, the inside of the lid painted with a night landscape, moon and clouds, a village with a castle. Lucy stood, caressing the sides--the texture of the paint felt real.
A cloud passed over the moon. She stood blinking and confused. The harpsichord was raw, unvarnished. But a man stood at the end, hands on the keys, mouthing to her urgently, as if he were yelling across a great divide.
Balding, portly, he had heavy lines scored across his brow--but she recognized him. She still held the little box of tools. His hands had opened this box long before hers.
"Father?" she whispered. The moon shot through his pale form. "What are you trying to tell me?"
He leaned over the harpsichord, reaching for her. He smiled beatifically--such peace, such innocence. Then he toppled forward into the soundboard. Lucy screamed as his figure melted with a terrible jangle, as if he'd broken all the strings.
Trembling, she dropped to her knees to look under the harpsichord. A puddle of shadow lay there, the negative outline of the harpsichord. Its outline looked a little like her father. She crawled back under the harpsichord and curled up to sleep.
Why didn't Adrienne call? Dry-eyed, Lucy worked on the harpsichord long into the night. As long as her hands kept moving, there was still hope, still time.
She'd moved the computer downstairs. Near the monitor, she placed their best picture: smiling cheeks pressed together like little girls, Lucy with her dark brown bob and pouty lips, Adrienne with the thick blond braid draped over one shoulder, makeup dark as a mask around her eyes. Lucy plugged into Radio France online, having bookmarked the program listing. She could feel her stomach fluttering as the minutes clicked down for their one-sided rendezvous.
Radio Bleu. Adrienne's voice--warm and low, polished, here in the room with her. Lucy sat down hard on the floor. After a while she lay on her back, hair spreading about her on the worn rug, closing her eyes in an ecstasy that squeezed out tears. The voice was strong and warm, enveloping her as if she were still here.
When the program ended, American rock took its place. Lucy lay still, the music grating on her ears as she longed for one last word, one last note. She could not summon energy to get up.
The modem disconnected with a hum and the burr of numbers repeating without success.
She sighed and sat up.
The computer whined. She heard the sudden sharp pop of a cork. With a horrible stench, the image on the screen fizzled and died. She jumped up and yanked out the cord, then whirled at the resounding crash behind her.
All the unfinished pieces of the harpsichord, once scattered on the floor, stood straight up against the wall. The harpsichord loomed stiffly over them, crazily shadowed on spindle legs.
She crept closer, neck prickling.
The soundboard had not cracked. There was no flaw in the body. The keys were still in their places. She ran her hands over the harpsichord's sides. "You hate that music, don't you?" she murmured.
The record player spoke for it, the needle scratching back and forth without ejecting: goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.
Goodbye to Radio France. Now there was only the harpsichord itself to connect her to Adrienne.
Lucy removed the keys, sanding them and inserting new lead weights for balance. She fitted the lid in a haze of melancholy. At last she straightened, sweat dripping from her chin. She needed to string it: but that was best done with two to stretch the wires.
She stood thinking, Adrienne should have helped me with this. She could almost see it: two heads bent over the soundboard, dark and light; two pairs of wrists and elbows above the hitchpins. Laughter mingled with the twang of stretched wires. Chatter shuttled between the pegs that anchored the strings. Lucy's hair brushed the soundboard when she leaned to check a pin. They tied the wires and cut them free, head and tail, keys and spine; between them stretched a host of shining silver lines. Adrienne tossed the thick blond braid back over her shoulder, brushed sweat-stuck bangs out of her eyes. She reached across the wires to take Lucy's hand.
That sureness, that solid touch: the pixie mischief of Adrienne's grin. They kissed over the open harpsichord, hands on the lip of the cabinet. Such warmth. Such fire.
And then Lucy was kissing empty air.
But the wires--the wires they'd strung remained.
Someone was helping her; but it was not Adrienne.
Lucy tried not to look too closely at the shifting features of the ghosts, afraid they, too, might vanish. Her vision blurred over black hair wound tight, the familiar hem of the dark silk skirt her mother wore. On the other side, her father stood, suspenders crossed over a white shirt, accentuating a potbelly as round as the head that had not been balding when she knew him.
She tasted dust. Days blurred. She hardly took time to eat or sleep. She avoided mirrors: her hair had gone lifeless and ragged, her face worn to a taut mask. Slowly, surely, she could feel herself fading to nothing more than wire, memory, and will.
Sometimes her father helped her. Sometimes her mother. Sometimes it was older figures who neither smiled nor spoke. She worked quickly then, afraid they'd damage their velvets and lace. But they were kind to her, and sat down to teach her things, so long as she remembered not to stare.
And the secrets--the little hints these ghosts imparted, like motes in the sun. Her father, her mother, in harmony now as they helped her build. Her father showed her a palpable past--Brigitte creating harpsichord kits to sell, drawing blueprints, cutting pieces; Frank helping while she strove to perpetuate the harpsichord, finding ways to live for it alone. He did not regret it now. In remorse, he had even preserved fragments of the original, saving them from the fire when he could not save his wife.
At night, the moon cast a silvery sheen over a parlor that might have existed centuries ago. Sometimes Lucy played on the bench beside velvet-clad gentlemen with wigs and ruffs; sometimes, the figure was older still, simple and shadowy, nodding with gravity when she caught the right notes like unspoken words from the tip of his tongue: Couperin herself, ancestor to them all.
Even during the day, the parlor took on a finer quality, richer, the yellow walls lively and cheerful. The art prints had the tint of actual paintings. The harpsichord was seeking out the ambience of its own time. Everything grew so bewilderingly beautiful that soon, she knew, she would join the others in that nebulous place between past and present, memory and time.
So this is what Mother felt, she thought. No wonder she didn't want to leave the harpsichord. No wonder she insisted on taking it with her on tour even when she wouldn't take Father or me. Mute ghosts spoke through the music that poured from her hands.
It was a cold fall day when Lucy painted. The harpsichord did not want the windows open. She could feel it tense whenever she tried. The fumes made her feel sick, then lightheaded. By the time she finished, her head floated above her shoulders while her lungs labored, caught by the pinching smell. Lucy sank to her knees, then to her stomach, finally spreading her limbs wide.
Except for the nameboard, the harpsichord was finished.
She thought she could feel Adrienne's hands tucking her into bed.
The harpsichord had transformed the room in its own image. Merely opening the door brought a blast of cool air from distant times. Her clothes looked more elegant the instant she stepped over the threshold, as if the harpsichord were courting her with finery. It played beautifully when she walked in, the grand strains of Couperin, Bach, and Rameau, a musical feast for kings.
Walking at a stately pace, she smoothed her skirts as she sat on the velvet-padded bench and affixed the nameboard above the keys. She'd saved the oblong block from her mother's harpsichord, swaddled in a shred of her grandmother's quilt. The dark, varnished wood looked perfect there, amid the paint and trim.
Bowing to the harpsichord, she rose to tune the strings. The time had come. She would cross the oceans now, find Adrienne, bring her back. Lucy bent beneath the lid, now painted with the scene of the castle under the moon, which Lucy had traced painstakingly with oils when the ghosts were strongest. As she tuned the strings, the buzz of conflicting harmonics whispered like voices among the wires.
Smiling, she set her fingers to the keys. Out rose the arching, ornate music: her heart danced light as air. Past, present, future: all were in reach of her narrow fingers.
So were France and Adrienne. She knew now what François Couperin had meant when he'd whispered to her from his own L'Art de toucher le clavecin that whoever performed his pieces "should play them freely, without attaching too much importance to the exact time." And she knew which piece would do it: the one her mother had played so often, taking lessons from the ghostly masters who visited Lucy now.
Lucy sang Adrienne's name as she played Couperin's "Les Baricades Mistérieuses," while her mother's ghost nodded approval. Each note shivered, overtones vibrating like Adrienne's name. Her father sat beside her. "I saved the pieces of the old harpsichord for you," he said in a run of bass notes, so serious behind thick spectacles. As the bass line ended, he rippled and faded. "It caught me too, in the end. The only way to escape was to atone."
Her mother danced around the harpsichord, arms sweeping gracefully. Her fingers danced separately, twinkling, spreading wide with notes.
Time shortened, slanted: ahead, Lucy could see Adrienne in a bedroom, day creeping under the shades. Adrienne had cut her hair, leaving feathery blond stubble. She lay on a bed beside another woman. Springs creaked as Adrienne stood and stretched like a cat, revealing pointed, small breasts. The other rose to join her. They glided across the hardwood floor, kissing--that deep mouth, those lush lips that had covered Lucy's deep to the chin. Lucy felt herself sliding in a sickening plunge; but she squinted harder and found that the second face was her own. Now the two sat laughing in the heart-backed chairs of a café. Now they were old women, walking arm-in-arm in wool overcoats along the Seine, the breeze tossing white curls against contented cheeks.
Lucy poured her strength, her heart into that other life. The harpsichord would seal the bargain.
As she played, the ghosts clustered, their voices like tinkling ornaments piled high in rapturous variations. It was like riding the waves of the sea. She played Couperin with ever more vigor and inventiveness--"Vivement," as the master had instructed--till the ascending chords sparkled in the air. She saw him then, his round face beaming at her above ruffled lace: Couperin, grandfather beyond all greats. He set his hand on her shoulder, and the music shot through her like electricity as one by one, the barriers came shimmering down.
Vivid images flashed clear, past to present: the harpsichord being built in France, played by Couperin himself, then given to his daughter Marguerite-Antoinette when she began to perform professionally. It had been shipped to Virginia with those who fled the Revolution, treated with all the respect and elegance due an instrument that had performed its magic for lost kings. With changing times, an aging frame had needed ever more care to stay viable. That dark heavy wood still shone around painted panels, their images worn and cracked, polished to a fine gloss by Brigitte, who had grown ethereal as she gave her strength to this relic of past art, floating through life, oblivious to husband and daughter.
Her father had cursed the harpsichord that obsessed his wife. Lucy could see Frank's terrified eyes, his nose flaring as he swung the axe with all his force against the beautiful boards. The sharp bite of a single steel tooth had punctured it over and over. Then the stench of kerosene rose as her father set the fire. The harpsichord gave a high, inhuman scream--the sorrow of centuries of music gone, hands now lost upon its keys--
Flames blinded her. Lucy could feel the grief of smooth keys torn from her fingers, the splintering of wood under her nails. The soundboard shattered with a ragged, angry shriek. Strings snapped loose from their pins. Above the jangling keen of breaking wires came her father's anguished roar--and her mother's high, frenetic laugh as she threw herself into the flames.
The ghosts revolved around that terrible night with frantic, helpless fingers. Lucy wanted desperately to stop it, but she couldn't take her hands from the keys. She knew one thing: art must survive; art would perpetuate itself. The harpsichord's clones had been shipped all over the country, kits that maintained a delicate web, humming low with joined life as they were played. They had slumbered without the spark of the family's blood. But the man who had murdered the first harpsichord had spent the final pumping of his heart upon this clone. And now Brigitte's daughter sat at reconstructed keys.
Her mother's voice rang low in her ears: "Get out, Lucy. Get out now."
A heavy rapping punched through the clamor. The front door slammed against the wall.
From a distance as great as an ocean, Lucy heard Adrienne's voice.
"Lucy? Why haven't you been answering the phone? Didn't you get my letters? Old Mrs. Williams says you haven't been to school--you haven't even left the apartment in weeks--you wouldn't answer the door--God, I was so worried!"
Adrienne hovered in the portal, her form obscured by the mad rush of ghosts, her eyes darting bewildered about the room.
Lucy played triumphantly. All her weariness had gone. With Adrienne here, she felt as though her spirit hovered above the harpsichord on a silken thread.
As she floated higher, the world grew dark and far away. It was hard to see through the wilderness of agitated ghosts. She thought she saw Adrienne walking toward her, picking her way past cloudy pillars as through a field of mines.
"Lucy! Would you stop and listen to me? My God, you're nothing but skin and bones! Oh, Lucy, what have you been doing to yourself?"
Adrienne's exclamations blended with the whispered admonitions of her grandmother. "You've never been properly trained. I told you it was dangerous!" Lucy could feel the black keys licking her fingers like flame.
"There's still time," her father murmured, pointing along the wires toward Adrienne.
Lucy could scarcely see anything through the ghosts--so many lives, so many times. From a vast distance, Adrienne was weeping.
Lucy strained to hear. "Adrienne?" she cried.
She could feel that silken line, connecting them still: heart to heart, taut and shining, strong enough that it had pulled Adrienne back across the sea.
Lucy stopped playing and reached for that one chord. The harpsichord caught her, pulled her fingers back between the cracks while the keys still played, tearing her skin.
"Adrienne, help me," Lucy groaned. She could feel the line pulling all the secrets from her soul.
She wrenched her hands free. She opened her heart. She followed it with both hands, tracing the golden thread back toward Adrienne.
In a great twanging clatter of wood and wires, the harpsichord snapped on her like a jaw.
Lucy gazed up at Adrienne, blinking away clouds. Adrienne's fashionably shorn head accented her wide, deep eyes. "Adrienne, you were right. I love you. I don't want any more secrets--"
But even as she held Adrienne, the vision began to fade. Adrienne smiled tenderly. Then she was gone, vanishing with all the other ghosts in the smoky room.
Lucy stared at the charred ruins on the floor. The harpsichord was crushed and toppled, its timbers upended like hollowed, half-gorged bones.
But the door stood open, and Lucy was holding something--the flimsiness of an airmail letter. Inside was one Air France ticket, wrapped in a familiar scrawl.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, February 25th, 2011

Author Comments

As a harpsichord student in college, I was fortunate enough to receive a half-completed harpsichord kit from a member of the community. While I knew that my benefactor had obtained the instrument from an estate sale, I experienced an odd turn when I found a small case of parts with the first owner's handwritten name and a 1970s date. I've always been intrigued by the untold stories of such remnants of forgotten lives, and I wondered what had happened to leave the harpsichord incomplete. After a senior recital at which I played mostly Couperin, more knowledge of harpsichord history, and a lot more life-experience, the tale finally came together in a way that sparked that same frisson of wonder and ghostly dread. The hardest part of writing the story was finding the right distance from my subjects. The collateral damage has been a slight, irrational fear of my own harpsichord.

- Lyn C.A. Gardner
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