The House of the Seventh Minuet VIII

“Magic?” I asked him. “That’s just the stuff of fairy tales and fantasy novels.”

He looked disappointed by my reply. “You could not possibly be here, young lady, if you did not believe somewhere in your heart that magic was as real and alive on this earth as it is in books and stories.”

He was right. I could hardly admit it, but I had never let go of that belief. Besides, it’s easier to write fantasy when you have fewer doubts about magic. I just didn’t talk about that fact much with other people.

I shook a lock of hair out of my face and said, “You seem to know a lot about me already, but I have no idea who you you are. Nobody told me that I was inheriting a tenant with the house.”

“Ah, of course, introductions are in order!” he said, giving a low and sweeping bow. I was still trying to figure out whether his mannerisms were authentic or just for dramatic flair. “My name is Jean-Marc Durand. I play the viola for His Lordship… on the days when he does not need my services elsewhere, at least.”

“You work for a nobleman?”

“A tiring way to live, at times,” he replied, as though admitting some sort of secret, “but it gives me a chance to play my music more often than anything else. And what shall I call you, dear lady?”

I stared at him in disbelief before I could answer him. I was too stuck on the idea that the peerage was outdated– along with the rest of him. But he seemed eager to know, so I finally told him, “I’m Leila.”


So he wanted to know my last name as well. I could hardly be mysterious, though, when he had already told me so much. “Moss,” I added.

“Leila Moss,” he said, repeating my name like a breath of wind, turning it over in his mind. “It is a true pleasure to meet you, Miss Moss.”

I almost chuckled at hearing my name said like that. Thankfully, I managed to not be so rude. “So tell me: do you play solo every night?”

“Not at all, milady,” Jean-Marc replied. “There should be seven of us, but I doubt that you will ever hear all of us playing together.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“That, milady, is because our cellist, the most esteemed Brielle DeChanson, has gone missing.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet VII

I walked the length of the rug, taking my time so that I could look over the art that adorned the walls.  Some of them were portraits, some were scenes of ancient battles.  A few were distant and whimsical landscapes.  No matter what, all of them were terribly old, probably older than the house itself.  I did not spend too much time on any one piece, but at least acknowledged each one.  I had to get to those doors, after all.

The handle, a silver lever just like the other one, was cold.  Not just hasn’t-been-used-in-a-while cold, but ice cold.  That didn’t stop me from opening it. though.  The hinges were quiet, thankfully, so that I could enter unnoticed.  The door was heavy.  It opened slowly.

Once I had it opened enough that I could pass through, I slid inside.  The room was long and wide, like a ballroom, with wooden floors and marble columns.  It was almost completely empty.  The room’s sole occupant was a person, alone up until the the moment that I arrived.

He was tall.  I am not especially tall myself, so most people are taller than me, but this man… He was easily over six feet tall.  Not only that, but he looked like he’d just come out of a different era in time.  The white hose and heeled shows gave it away, but then there were his navy blue trousers (to match his shoes, I noticed), and the crimson vest that he had over the pale silk shirt with the ruffly cravat.  Its buttonholes were lined in gold brocade, as were the edges of his greatcoat.  The coat itself was the color of the sky when the last of the daylight had gone, and night was upon us.

Eventually, I realized that he was staring at me just as I was staring at him.

“So you are a night owl as well,” he said.  His were were careful, pronounced just so.

It took me a while to say anything back to him.  I had been caught off guard by the vividness of his eyes, green like a field of grass on a midsummer’s day, such a stark contrast to the colors that he wore.

“You… You’re the one who’s been playing the violin?”

“Oh, no!  Certainly not,” he replied, even though I could see him setting down the auburn-colored stringed instrument.  I think that was when he realized what I had meant.  “This, milady, is a viola.  It creates a far more… resounding sound.”

He spoke as though he was from some sort of important class.  I wondered how offended he would be if he knew that I was not terribly impressed by class.

“Do you play it every night?”  Don’t ask me why I started with that instead of, ‘what are you doing in my house?’  I don’t have to be logical if I’m not in danger.

He though for a minute, scoffing as as he pushed a lock of golden hair back behind his ear as though it was entirely offensive that it was out of place.  “I suppose I do,” he finally told me.

“I didn’t hear you last night.”  Again, don’t judge me for not asking something else.

“Were you awake when the midnight bells called?” he asked in reply, his tone full of curiosity.

“No,” I admitted.  “I was tired from moving.  But… I think I would’ve woken up if there had been music in the middle of the night.

“Ah,” he said, giving me a wry grin, “but that is not how the magic works.”

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The House of the Seventh Minuet VI

The doors opened to a small vestibule; it hardly held more than a line of hooks along one wall.  A single cloak hung on one of the hooks, dusty, as though it had hung there for a long time without being touched.  I dared not disturb the dust… probably because it was so incredible that this room was even here.

The strangest thing was that there was a staircase.  On the third floor.  It led upwards.  I couldn’t understand why there was a staircase going upwards on a three-story house; could it have led to an attic?  If so, why would there be such a fancy vestibule leading to an attic?  Moreover, the fact that the doors had not even been there before…

The violin– again, that was what I had assumed it was– was still playing.  It was a gentle song, thankfully; I had never cared much for the squealing sound that a violin could make when it was played too harshly.  That didn’t mean that is was a slow song though.  It was was a little upbeat, like something from a a few centuries ago that had to be reserved as well as playful.

It seemed to be coming from up those stairs.

Dare I go up there and find out what was going on?  I stood there for what felt like ages, wondering to myself what I should do.  Was this some sort of recording, or was somebody up there playing this instrument?  If I didn’t go find out what it was, what else was I going to do– go back to my computer and let these strange things carry on around me?  Could it be dangerous going up there?

“What else am I going to do with my life?” I eventually asked myself.  “If somebody is in my house, I should know about it.  Even if it’s just a recording, how is it playing now?”

Despite my reasoning, it took some effort to get my feet onto the first stair.  The wood creaked under my weight, and I nearly froze.  But I wasn’t trying to sneak up on anyone, so I pressed forward, climbing each step even though my heart was pounding in my chest.

The stairway curved as it went up.  It also darkened.  I could see light coming through the bottom of the door– there was only one this time– at the top of the stairs, so I could at least be relieved that I would not be passing into darkness.

The door’s handle felt ancient.  It was lever-style, heavy, and it felt ornately-carved in my hand.  I couldn’t see it well in the shadows.  Either way, it turned easily when I pressed on it, hardly making a click.  I was relieved that the door did not screech on its hinges as it opened.

There was a long and wide hallway, well-lit by old-fashioned lights.  This was definitely no attic.  The walls were lined with tapestries and paintings, and the floor had a long rug running the length of it.  I walked across that rug, trying not to thing too hard about what might lie beyond the doors at the other end of the hall.  They looked exactly like the glue doors that had suddenly appeared in the library, right down to the detailed carvings.

The music was definitely coming from the other side of those doors.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet V

“Gold,” I whispered, staring at the handrail.

How could it have been gold?  For the past few days, I had been using a wooden handrail, darkly-stained and well-polished.  What was going on?

The further down the stairs I looked, the more things seemed to be changing, like a new light washing away the old.  The frames on the walls transformed to gold-plated wood, ornately carved, the paintings brighter, the figures in them more regal and esteemed.  Looking down the hall that I had just come from, I saw much the same.  The hall seemed to light up, shining as though everything was edged in gold Even the floorboard glowed as though new and vibrant.

“What is going on?” I asked myself.

The music was growing louder, too, and now I could tell that it wasn’t from the clock downstairs.  The other end of the hall lit up as I glanced its way, the light and the gold spreading all the way to the library doors.  Even the doors themselves were changed.  What had once been time-worn woods was now a fresh and bright cerulean blue, the handles sparkling with gold.

There was the click of a latch coming from the library.  I realized then that my heart had not started pounding until that moment.  And now, with the prospect that I was no longer alone in the house, it was thundering.  I dashed into my office to grab my cellphone, slid it into my jacket pocket, and stepped back into the hallway.

I debated calling for help right then; I had already input several local numbers into my phone.  What could I tell them, though?  I heard a noise and I was scared?  My house was magically different?  If I could just get more information about the situation first…

My feet carried me down the hall towards the library.  The door handle moved under my lightest touch, hardly making a sound as it turned.  Even the door was quiet on its hinges, although the day before I had made a mental note to get some WD-40 for it.  How could it have changed?

The library sprang to life as I entered it.  The further I walked, the further the light and the gold spread.  Every book seemed new and fresh, every gold and silver letter sparking.  Light bounced off of the crystals in the lights above me, making the entire room twinkle as though with some sort of magic.  I gazed around it in awe, wondering how it could be possible.  At the very least, nothing about it seemed malicious.  There was just light and beauty all around.

Finally, I noticed the double doors at the other end of the room.  Those had definitely not been there before.  It had only been a solid wall, an especially large painting hanging on it.  These doors were also blue, but more ornately carved than the ones leading into the library.  Again I thought of calling someone, but stopped myself; nobody would believe me, anyway.

I could not help but wonder where those doors led, and I was fairly certain that they had something to hear with the music.  It was louder in the library, and still playing.  Against all of my better judgment, I crossed the library, heading straight for the blue-painted doors that had not been there before.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet IV

I ate at a diner that overlooked the river that ran along Highway 90, then found the Eagle Cliff Store.  They had enough provisions for me to get through a few more days in the house, but I knew that if I wanted all of my favorite things, I would have to head into town.  I was not yet ready for the hour-long drive, however; I was still tired from moving, so I decided to put it off for a couple more days.

Once I was back at the house and had all of my things put away, the sun was starting to set.  Dinner was scrimp and fettuccine noddles with alfredo sauce, plus salad and grilled squash.  I knew how to make the sauce on my own, and over the years I had figured out how to portion things down so that there only enough for me.  After all, I hardly ever had anyone over, even in my suburban apartment.

After dinner it was time to have a bath, then sit down and write.  I had another week to get a certain article done, so I decided to focus on some creative write for that evening.  My new office had me curled up in the biggest rolling chair that I could find a little at eight, a mug of jasmine tea close by.

About an hour into writing, I was really on a roll and had no interest in stopping.  I kept on writing, the night falling deeper and deeper round my forested house.  Like many other writers, I do a lot more writing at night, when things are quiet and I have no distractions.  It’s just me and the keyboard, no interferences.  My story at the time involved several elves and the dragons that they were trying to make peace with, so being in the forest gave me a lot of ideas.

I didn’t know what time it was when I started to feel weary.  I’m pretty much a night owl, and staying up late could all too easily take me all the way to dawn.  Sometimes it was a choice between staying up to get my ideas down so that they didn’t get lost, or getting some sleep so that I would be able to write the next day as well.  Not having anywhere in particular to be the next day really made it tempting to simply keep writing.

It was time for a bathroom break.  That, at least, was a surefire way to get me off of the computer.  I could hear the clock chiming out that it was midnight as I finished washing my hands and shut off the bathroom light.  Well, it wasn’t one or two yet; maybe I could write a little bit more…

I stopped in the hallway, standing completely still.  There was music playing.  To a lot of people, that wouldn’t be a problem at all, but I hadn’t played anything on the computer or anywhere else.  All of my writing had been done while listening to the gentle rustle of the wind in the trees.  Where in the world could the violin have been?  Well, I assumed it was a violin, anyhow.

My first idea was that perhaps the grandfather clock had a special twelve o’clock song that I hadn’t heard before.  Deciding to head downstairs and check it out more closely, I switched on the stairwell light.  I never made it down the stairs.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet III

A lot of movies and books have a certain pattern that they follow when there is a house in the woods.  It’s more of a trope, really.  Usually, someone’s first night in a house like this involves a thunderstorm and lots of howling wind.  I even remember little Heidi being afraid of the wind in the trees when she went to her grandfather’s house.

I can say with great certainty that my first night in my new home was nothing of the sort.  There was no rain, and the wind didn’t howl.  It hardly even whispered.  The trees rustled now and then in a gentle breeze, but other than that it was the sort of peace and quiet that I had longed for back in the city.  I could hear the pulse of nature outside, the owls, small mammals, things like that.  It was almost too bad, because I love the sound of rain.  At the very least, I was relieved that the evening was restful.

Once I had gotten all of my keys, I had gone back outside to empty out my car.  The third floor seemed like a great place to find a room, and I had chosen one with a window that looked out onto the front of the property.  There was indeed a four-poster bed inside, and I flopped down onto it in sheer joy.  Then I had brought my personal things up to the room and the bathroom nearest to it.

The trailer was a little more work.  I had a few boxes of books in there, some albums, and various framed pictures.  I set those down in the hallway; I could unpack them formally the next day.  As for my computer, I debated whether it should go into my new bedroom or another room nearby.  I would have to look for a study later, but for now I could keep the tower and monitor in my room.

There were a few other boxes outside of my essentials; various gaming consoles, some of my favorite DVDs, and whatnot.  I brought in everything just so that the car and trailer would be empty, and then drive around to the garage.  It took a little work to get the trailer unhitched, but I managed; my uncle would be by in a few days to get it back from me.  The garage had ample space, and it looked like it had been tidied up before I had gotten there.  I decided to grab all of the wrappers and snack containers out of my car so that it would be as nice as everything else before I headed back inside.

Dinner that night was lasagna.  Thankfully, Great Aunt Lydia had been thoughtful enough to keep it in the refrigerator; I did not have the patience for a frozen one to bake.  It tasted homemade, as a matter if fact, and I relished every bite of it.  I had brought a couple of cases of soda with me, and those went into the fridge.

By the time I was done eating– and yes, I had taken advantage of the long table in the dining room– I was exhausted.  What was it about sitting that makes us so suddenly tired?  I decided that I would take Lydia’s advice and get some good sleep.

After a warm bath, of course.  I couldn’t resist pouring my scented Epsom salts into the lion-footed tub and having a good soak.  It was so relaxing to be able to have a bath and read a book without having to listen to arguing neighbors or the people upstairs stomping around.  Once that was done, I was ready to close my eyes and get some rest so that I would be ready to face the next day.


If you’ve ever moved, you know the feeling of waking up in a new place.  It’s nor frightening, per se, but you know it’s different, that you have to get your bearings first.  That must be why it took me a few minutes to remember where the bathroom was.

I unpacked my bathroom-related boxes while I went about my usual morning routine.  Then I went back to my room and changed into some comfortable pants and my favorite Doctor Who T-shirt.  I didn’t need to look fancy that day, since it would be more settling in than anything.

Down in the kitchen, I got together some cereal and fruit and sat all of that down with my Citrus Drop.  I have always preferred store-label soda, and Big K made them really well, so I usually started off my mornings with my Citrus Drop.  Eating in the dining room at such a long table was an interesting experience, and I could really savor it now that I wasn’t quite so exhausted.  It wasn’t all that lonely, either, since I am more of a lone wolf anyway.

The day went in like that, pretty mundanely.  I made some phone calls, listened to the hallway clock chime away the hours, and took my time unpacking.  I had all the time in the world to do so, really.  There was a suitable office a couple doors down from my room, with an old mahogany desk where I could set up my computer.  Much of the room was lined with shelves of books, old hardbacks with gold or silver lettering along the spine.

Once I had my computer set up, I took a couple hours to get the network configured throughout the house.  It was a tricky task getting things to work, but I found the hardware to do it, so I put my networking skills to work.  Once it was working, I took a break on the computer, checking my e-mail, letting my online friends know that I was settling in, and even playing a couple of games.

I’m a writer by nature.  I took up networking and computer-building just so that I would have some marketable skills in between writing jobs, and it’s had the added bonus of saving me from having to pay someone to do those things for me.  I tended to have a few jobs going at once, with various deadlines, plus my own creative writing projects.  Now that I lived so far out, I would have plenty of peace and quiet for getting my work done.

Most of that rest of that day ended up being spent on the computer.  granted, I had meant to get up and do some more unpacking, but between the knowledge that I had plenty of time and the fatigue of moving, I simply decided to stay at my desk.

Turning in early that evening made for an early morning the next day.  I hadn’t been an early riser since my college days, when some of the classes that I needed for my degree were only offered first thing in the morning.  Who does that to writers, anyway?  Oh well, at least that was in the past, and now I had a chance to make myself an omelet.

After a little more unpacking, I decided to explore the house.  The first floor was mostly living rooms; parlors, tea rooms, even a sun room just off the backyard.  The second floor had five bedrooms, two of which had their own bathrooms.  There were also a couple of offices, with books and tables and even a fireplace.  My own office was directly above one of them, I was able to discern.

The thirst floor was the most interesting level.  There were two bedrooms beside my own, and one of them had its own bathroom.  I didn’t mind not having it en suite, because at least I had the four-poster bed.  There was a much larger library that took the place of the other office and bedrooms.  It could have doubled as a small ballroom  because it had a wide, open span of floor in the middle.  There were two long tables on the far end of the room, which would have been perfect for buffets or even large study groups.

It was interesting to know that I had so much room for guests.  I could host family gatherings, have friends stay over, or whatever else I imagined.  With so many books, I would hardly even need to visit the public library in order to find something to read when I needed a break from writing.  There was no bookshelf in my own room, but the shelves in this large room still had plenty of room, so I decided that i would some of the books around.  Then I would be able to have an entire shelf that was just my own personal books.

That was how I found the old tome.  It was bigger than any other the other books in the library, the cover thicker.  It looked like it was made of actual leather, and even had the little buckle that ancient books were known for.  There was a coat of arms on the cover, but no words at all.

I opened the buckles as I sat down at one of the tables, forgetting for a while about my project.  The pages were made of vellum, the ink on them old, hard to read in some places.  Instead of a title page, there was another copy of the coat of arms.  The first page of text was difficult to read, the ink partially blurred by time, the handwriting terribly stylized.

Flipping through the pages, I saw the the handwriting changed now and then.  So did the ink and its apparent age.  I had discerned five or six distinct styles by the time I got to the last page of text.  It was hardly more than halfway through the book, leaving room for a lot more writing to be added.  The handwriting on that last page was a lot more legible, even modern.  It reminded me of how the older generations write, taking care to make their cursive just write, so different from my own cursive, which only followed standard form when in made sense for me.

What I had never expected to see on that time-worn vellum, however, was my own name written.  I could feel my eyes growing wide as I went a few pages back, finding that my name had been mentioned several times, as as though someone was discussing me, writing about me.  I found the first mention of my name, about halfway through this section of handwriting, and read a few lines.

She is a small and sweet girl, so much like her own mother.  It was good to have her visit the house, to have its halls fill with her laughter…

I blinked, looking up from the book, trying to figure out what it meant.  Who had written all of these pages?  Why had my name made it into the book?  I was determined to find out, to read as much as I could in order to figure it out.  It would have to wait, though, because my stomach was growling, and I needed to head into town to stock up on groceries, and I did not want to drive through the forest after dark just yet.  I decided to take a break from the book, calm myself down before I came back to it, so I closed it and fastened the clasps before getting up and leaving the library.

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The House of the Seventh Minuet II

I was glad that the hallway light had been left on for me.  I had told my great aunt that I had no idea when I’d be arriving, so it would be nice if things were set up for the possibility that I would get there well after sunset.  As it was, it was late afternoon.  I pulled my keys out of the lock and slipped them back into my coat as I looked around.

The house had been very well cared for by my… what was he again?  The grandfather of my great uncle?  Or had it been the other way around?  He had been the oldest member of my extended family, but I had not seen him since I was very young.  My great aunt, whom he had selected to manage his estate, could not explain why he had selected me of all people to receive this house.

The entry hall was wide and open.  It reminded me of some of the movies I had seen where at least one of the characters lives in a fancy house, but you know you could never afford it, no matter how dreamy it is.  Most of the furnishings were still there; only a few things had been removed to be given to specific inheritors.  There was a sturdy coat-rack  with a sort of umbrella basket at its base (which still had a couple of umbrellas in it), several tables, some with picture frames on them, and the paintings that hung in ornate frames on the walls.

I had been wondering about wealth lately.  I had so little of it, yet some people had so much.  It had occurred to me that some people are able to amass nice things over a lifetime, bit by bit.  When I looked at their wealth, I imagined how it would be buying it all at once.  There was such a difference in those ways of thinking…

I turned to the left and passed through a door– how often do I get to say this?– into the kitchen.  The granite counter tops were worn with age but still shone with care.  I looked around, found the light switch to turn up the lights, and then found the note on the island counter that my great aunt said I should look for.  It had her careful and elegant handwriting on it, and I took several moments to read it over.

She had left me her phone number, and a few others that I could call in case I needed help with the house.  There was some basic information about the house, and instructions on a few things.  At the end, she had written, “you’ve had a long drive, my dear.  I left you some dinner in the refrigerator; eat up, and be sure to get plenty of sleep tonight.”

I chuckled at her last words; how was I supposed to get to sleep when I had a three-story house to explore?  She had also asked me to call her when I got in, so I puled my cell phone out of my pocket and slid over to the phone call screen.

“No signal,” I sighed.  “I might have to change my plan.”

There was a land-line phone hung on the wall near one of the doors, so I picked it up and dial my great aunt’s number.

“It’s corded,” I said to myself as it rang, “but at least it’s not rotary.”

The line rang several times before she picked up.

“Lydia?” I asked when I heard her voice.  “Yeah, it’s me.  I’m at the house now…  Yeah, I just got in…  It’s beautiful!  I’m thrilled that he left it to me…  No, I haven’t eaten yet.  Well, I had some snacks in the car…  Yes, I have your note right here.  There was a map next to it; I can see the stores right on it.”

Great Aunt Lydia went on asking me questions for a few more minutes, making sure that I was okay, that I had everything I needed.  I had plenty of money from selling off the stuff I would no longer need from my apartment,  There was enough food in the fridge and pantry for a few days, and then I could shop for the things that I liked when I was more settled in.  I didn’t have anything too heavy to carry in from the car, and I was fine being on my own.  I have lived in my apartment on my own, after all.

Once she let me off the line, I went back to the island counter.  There was a box there; it was wooden, carved ages ago judging by the way it was so smooth and worn.  It was large enough to hold a large stack of papers, which was pretty much what I found when I opened the lid.  Floor plans, maintenance information, amenities.  It looked as though the house had been upgraded as technology developed, so that it had some of the better things available.

I also found information about the power company, the phone account and– thank goodness!  They had thought well enough to set up internet and a wi-fi router.  Judging by the paperwork, those were new, probably set up just for me.  That came as a huge relief.  Once I got my computer set up and configured the network, I should be able to at least make wi-fi calls from my cell phone.

The lid of the box also had several clips that held keys.  Some were extra house keys, and others were labeled for other things, including the shed and the garage.  There were at least two copies of each key, so I pulled out my key chain and began stringing keys onto it.  I was nearly done when my elbow bumped the box and I heard something rattling at the bottom of it.

“What’s this?” I asked as I lifted up the stack of papers.

Down at the bottom of the box was another key.  It was all on its own at the bottom.  I picked it up and looked it over closely.  A numeral 7 had been painted on it in black, and when I looked back to the keys on the lid, none of the others had the same label.  I even held it up to several of the keys, but none of them had the same cuts as this one.

“You’re a little different, aren’t you?” I said.  I took the 7 key and put it onto the ring attached to my angel feather key chain– I have several rings and items on my keys– and headed back out to my car to start bringing things inside.


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