Storytelling Competition - (click for the map) | (printer friendly version)
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||You are on Week 515
Every week we will be starting a new Story Telling competition - with great prizes! The current prize is 2000 NP, plus a rare item!!! This is how it works...
We start a story and you have to write the next few paragraphs. We will select the best submissions every day and put it on the site, and then you have to write the next one, all the way until the story finishes. Got it? Well, submit your paragraphs below!
Story Five Hundred Fifteen Ends Friday, July 15th
Jenna perched herself upon the dusty old piano bench placed in front of her father's covered piano. Pulling the dust cover off of the keys, the Ixi sighed softly. It had been ten long years since she had last seen her father. To this very day, in fact; her presence was a yearly ritual of remembrance she had kept as a tradition.
That fateful morning had been like any other. Jenna had awoken and headed down to the breakfast table to grab some Neocrunch Cereal. Her father hadn't been there waiting for her with his patented smile and fresh squeezed Orange Juice like he always was, so she'd gone on to investigate. The door to his private study had been left ajar, an odd thing, for he'd normally kept that door tightly locked.
Since her first examination of the room had turned up nothing ten years ago, it was nothing that had turned up ever since. It was as if he'd just... vanished into thin air. Jenna's eyes roamed around his unused study. Her father's old tomes lined the wall, books of adventures and fairy tales. Encyclopedias of maths and sciences. Her father loved knowledge; he wanted to know everything he could know. His next greatest joy -- after Jenna herself, of course -- was the grand piano encroaching the far corner of his personal study.
The Ixi could remember every lesson her father had taught her, every hour they'd spent clustered next to each other on the small piano bench. His hooves moved with a grace far beyond any Ixi, and he'd bequeathed his talent to his loving daughter. He had always hoped that she would aspire to be the pianist that he was; though it was just a hobby, Jenna's father could catch a room breathless with his music.
Smiling sadly, Jenna ran her delicate hooves over the old keys. The piano was beautiful; it always had been. Despite years of nearly complete disuse, the keys gleamed softly... her father had taken impeccable care of it, and even now, it showed.
"I'm sorry," she murmured aloud. "He loved you. I should be here more often... I kept hoping he'd come back first."
Though she knew in her mind the piano wouldn't answer, speaking aloud to the beloved instrument felt only natural and in her heart it felt like the right thing to do.
With a soft, sad exhalation, the Ixi began idly tapping on the keys, picking out random bits of song her father had taught her so long ago. It had been many years since she'd played more than annually, but her muscles remembered the tunes. For a moment, a small sad tune he had taught her the day her Gathow had run away when she was very small; for another moment, a ballad of remembrance written after the first Meridellian War.
"I miss you, Father..." she whispered, ignoring the tears that pricked her eyes and slipped down her cheeks.
Jenna played a few minutes for, but in the end, it was a day like every other she had come here. Her father was still gone. Patting the piano, she gave one last sigh, and re-covered it.
With mental promises to come back sooner than a year -- the same promises she made every year on this anniversary and never kept -- she stood, and began to walk slowly out of the study. As she prepared to step over the threshold, she froze, chills sweeping up and down her body.
Within the study, the piano had begun to play beneath its cover...
Author: Filter & Agedbeauty|
Date: Jul 11th
Jenna stood there for a moment as the familiar tune drifted across the room to surround her ears and pull at her heart. She recognised the song immediately as one her father played often and with an eloquent ease. Her father had never told her the name of the piece, so she had simply taken to calling it "Daddy's Song" when she had been very small. Whenever he had been upset, he would play that song, and soon the house they shared would be filled with love and happiness. It was a memory that had long lingered upon the farthest horizon of her mind, but hadn't been brought to the surface until just now in this room where her father's presence lingered like the fragrance of a wildflower upon the breeze.
Breaking from her thoughts, the Ixi hurried across the room and whipped off the piano's cover, fully expecting to see the keys moving on their own accord, but all was still and quiet. The song had stopped, although she could still the last key reverberating in the musty air. Slowly releasing a breath she hadn't realised she had been holding, she sat down heavily upon the bench once more.
Fresh tears filled her eyes, causing her vision to swim in and out of focus. She knew that her father's disappearance had torn her heart nearly in two, but now it seemed to have taken a great toll upon her sanity. "What am I going to do?" she whispered aloud, allowing her hooves to fall again upon the keys.
As if by fate, she found the first key in "Daddy's Song." She had never been taught to play it, but it was so familiar in her ears. Shaking slightly, she positioned herself more fully to face the keys and tried to play. There were some missed notes, but slowly the song began to come together.
The old song filled the home, and she could feel the air begin to change to something lighter and more vibrant. The tune still held its old charm as she brought it back to life in a way that would have made her father proud. Confidently, she continued until she struck the final keys.
Just under the tune, she heard a soft creaking noise behind her. Turning, she was surprised to see some of the paneling on the wall had swung outward. A studious frown came to her face as she walked over to study the wall, pulling the paneling open as if it were a door to reveal a secret passageway.
Icy fingers slipped up her spine as she peered into the darkness beyond. In all her years, she had never known there was a door or a passageway here -- nor could she have guessed that somehow her father's song was the key.
She steeled her nerves as best she could as she quickly grabbed a candle to light her way through the darkness...
Date: Jul 11th
...and it seemed that darkness was all there was to the passage, a long hall of never-ending nothingness Candle flickering against the black, Jenna put one hoof in front of the other. Right, left.
At first, everything in her conscious mind was screaming for her to turn back. Darkness equals danger, her instincts told her. However, the Ixi kept moving mechanically into the unknown territory. Right, left.
Eventually, the her mind eased, listening to her body's reactions. The passage brought with it a sense of comfort, peace even. Jenna had realised a while back that the light from the study had faded and disappeared. It was now only her, the candle, and the darkness, and strangely enough, that didn't bother her. In fact, she felt that this was somehow the proper course of things. Right, left.
The Ixi didn't know how long she had been walking, nor did she care, when suddenly she heard it again: "Daddy's Song." And it wasn't her clumsy interpretation of it either; it was the smooth, steady rhythm that only her father's graceful hooves could produce. Though she desired with her entire being to begin sprinting toward the music, for some reason her legs kept the even pace. Right, left.
When she reached the door and opened it with a shaking hoof, nothing could have prepared her for what she saw. Though the clues were all there, and it only made sense that one thing should follow after the other, no amount of anticipation can ready one for such a moment.
After her father's sudden disappearance, Jenna had moments, fleeting though they were, when she saw her father. A glimpse of the Ixi at the Marketplace would send her heart racing for a split second before reality hit her again, and she would realise, No, that is impossible. Sometimes even her brother, a Lupe whose only resemblance to their father was his deep brown fur, would catch the corner of her eye from the other room and send her soul soaring for an instant, only to have it crash down in the next, when sanity and logic returned. Such moments were always heartbreaking, but they seemed to happen less and less often as the years went by, and eventually, when everything in Jenna finally understood that she would be seeing her father no longer, they stopped all together.
There were dreams, too, when she would see him. He was always glowing, smiling, but never speaking. In the dreams, she at first could not remember why she was excited to see him, until suddenly she would. "Where have you been?" she would ask, but her father would only smile sadly, and then she would awaken. Just as the moments when Jenna mistook others for him, the dreams of her father happened less as time went by.
But this was not a dream, and she was certainly not mistaking. She stood frozen, watching her father's artistic movements, hooves pouring out the familiar song from the piano. For several seconds (or was it minutes?), Jenna could not move, breathe, or even think. She had longed for this day for so long, never believing it would actually come.
Suddenly, her reverie was broken when a small red Ixi burst into the room.
"Daddy, Daddy! Play it again! Oh, please, start from the beginning so that I can hear it all this time!" she cried, hopping onto the stool next to him and nestling up to his shoulder.
"Well, Miss Jenna, maybe after your breakfast," he replied laughing. "You can't start the day on an empty tummy."
Jenna, watching the scene from her childhood play out, mouthed those last words with him. She knew this day well; it was that last she spent with him. Her emotions hit all at once, and she started toward her Daddy, eyes filled with tears. Not looking where she was going, the Ixi accidentally bumped into an end table, knocking that vase that was sitting upon it to the floor and shattering it.
The young Jenna jumped with a tiny squeal.
"Daddy, is it ghosts?"
Her father turned, and it seemed to Jenna, looked directly at her.
"No, sweetie. Just the wind," he said soothingly, turning back to little Jenna. "Now I've just picked some fresh oranges. Shall we go make some juice?"
"Yeah!" she shouted, arms upraised enthusiastically, but something caught her eye. "Wait, Daddy, what's that paper?"
The small Ixi pointed to some scattered music sheets laying on the piano.
"Oh, nothing. Daddy was just trying to write something new, but it turned out crummy," he said crumpling up one sheet and tossing it over his shoulder. It landed right before Jenna's feet as the two walked out of the study.
Jenna almost followed them, but then she noticed something, a message, written in her father's neat penmanship on the crumpled music sheet...
Date: Jul 12th
I do not know if it is you, Jenna. If you are reading this, then I suspect you are, because that means I made the decision to let you find it. It also means you have found the Crossing that I kept hidden all those years.
I am sorry -- so very sorry, my child.
On this sheet there is a song, a song that you will recognise. It can bring me back to the other side, but only if you wish. I would like to tell you everything -- above all, how sorry I am -- in person, but I not will blame you, only myself, should you feel angry or betrayed that I left without a word.
Jenna stood stock-still. Then her eyes found the music that ran over the rest of the sheet, the notes and markings that purposefully dotted their places on the lines. "Houses," she had liked to call the boxes that held each fragment that together made the song.
She had not read music for years, playing only from memory on the rare occasions that she ventured to the study -- and even if she had, she would have found the patterns unfamiliar, for she had never seen this particular song on sheet before.
Jenna hummed. She hummed the eight notes of the scale, carefully counting the intervals between the opening notes of the melody line. As her father had guessed, it did not take long for her to recognise the tune of the one whose name she never learned. Only it was different.
This version did not flow or sing of the summer wind. Alone in a room as it had stood eight years ago, Jenna discerned the abrupt halts in the melody, the misplaced pauses. The song seemed almost... broken.
Was her father broken somehow, somewhere?
He had said the song could bring him back.
The Ixi turned around and found that hungry blackness of the tunnel was waiting. In a moment's decision she was journeying back, this time no longer hesitant for she knew exactly what she would find on the other side. There was something else in her, too: a tiny golden flare in the heart that some had named hope. She would play the song and bring him back, and he would tell her what had gone wrong that day, the thing that had kept her in anguished wonder as she lay wide awake at night... and everything would return to just the way it used to be.
The light of the candle aided in guiding her back, casting quivering illumination over the dark ink of the whispering music and the message that rested above. The bright square in the distance that was the panel in the present-day study elongated as she neared and neared.
Not once did it occur to her that the sheet she held may not represent her father's will, but someone else's.
There it was, the piano...
Date: Jul 12th
As the darkness released its hold and the music of the tunnel slowly faded into nothing more than the sound of wind against the study's windows, Jenna felt a stretch toward something happier. For the last ten years she had lived her life turning away from the turbulence her father's disappearance had caused. While her brother, a Neopet of action and few words, had accepted it and, in essence, moved on, Jenna it seemed had been trapped in the memory of happier times. But now it seemed there was some hope. Her father did not simply abandon them, as her brother seemed to think. No, he had been trapped, or lost, or broken. Something. And she was to bring him back.
She stepped fully into the study, and with her final steps onto what could be considered nothing more than a dusty and empty study, the tunnel closed behind her with a crack of panels slipping together. Turning back she looked at the empty, seemingly normal wall -- seamless and still with flecks of unwashed dirt and Spyder's webs clinging to them. For a second she considered attempting to pull the panels back before realising it hardly mattered. She had the key to her father's return! Finally, surely, she would see him again.
Clutching the sheet of music she turned again toward the piano. Such an integral part of her life, though she never appreciated its presence. Always a reminder of past things, it nevertheless was perhaps the only possession that seemed to more or less of a certain conscious of its own in the house. Even her brother, as the calm, sceptical violist he had become, could not deny that there was something commanding about the piano. Perhaps it was just lost memories, but as Jenna ran her fingers along the keys, she couldn't help but choke back a sob.
This was it. Gently she placed the crinkled music sheet before her and though, crumpled as it were, it held its position only precariously she let her hooves rest on the first keys. As if greeting an old friend, she gently pressed on the key, warmth welling in her as she began to play.
The music was offbeat and notes scattered aimlessly, and while it held some recognition as having a melody, it fell short on the true piece it could have been. Though it didn't matter to the Ixi who simply played, determined to complete the song and bring her father back to her. Tears fell down her cheeks, unbidden but unstoppable, as hope moved her fingers until with a rising crescendo, she finished the broken song.
For a moment, all was still and her fingers clenched in growing desperation until, beneath her hooves, the piano began to play itself. The song it played, as Jenna reeled backward, was quick and sporadic -- almost chaotic in its careening melody. It reminded her of the song he father played, only once before, when her mother passed away. It was a song of regret and remorse. Anguished. It was as if the piano was trying to take back what had just happened, almost as if it were communicating to her.
She heard the door behind her open again, the passage, though this time when she turned to look, the passage was not filled with darkness but an almost milky white light. The music made no difference now as she looked at the passage and the figure who came from it. He was a tall Ixi with a slightly greying coat of fur but nonetheless almost regal in his appearance.
Jenna clasped her hooves over her mouth, breath held, the music playing unheard in the background. And then, squeezing shut yet again, the passage closed, leaving only her father.
"Daddy!" Jenna whispered hoarsely. She could no longer contain herself. Running forward, she clasped him in the hug she had been waiting ten years to give. But even as she did so something seemed... wrong. He did not return her hug, if anything he stiffened, and then he asked, all seriousness in his voice, steady and cold, "Who are you?"
Jenna released her grip and looked up into her father's eyes. The music continued to play making it hard to think, hard to understand. His eyes seemed colder than she remembered them being, darker.
"I'm... I'm your daughter! You've been gone for ten years!" She looked at him with growing anguish and confusion. Why didn't he recognise her? The Ixi frowned, glancing above her head to the piano, his gaze narrowing in what could have been confusion or irritation. She wasn't sure which.
"I don't know what you're talking about," the Ixi murmured. "I have no daughter..."
Date: Jul 13th
For long, anguished moments, it seemed as if she couldn't breathe, as if the floor had fallen out from beneath her. Words died stillborn in her throat, and nothing passed her lips except a single choking sob. Hadn't she dreamed of this moment? Over and over as she lay awake in bed, hadn't she imagined seeing her father again, embracing him, clinging to him as she had when she was tiny, when she was barely past his knees?
And yet -- this cold Ixi... this stranger who wore her father's face and voice... had not been in those moments. In her imagination he had embraced her warmly -- not stared at her as if she had lost her mind. Around her, the music jangled and swelled discordantly, a cacophonous symphony that beat against her eardrums with its intensity.
"Jenna, Daddy. Don't you recognise me?" she asked, her voice small. The piano thundered behind her, so loud that she wondered why the walls didn't vibrate.
"Be still at once!" the other Ixi barked out, glaring at the instrument behind her. At once, the music cut, and the silence roared deafeningly in her ears, the absence of sound intolerably loud.
After a moment, the piano gave a few soft, sad notes -- and then was still again.
In front of her, the older Ixi glanced at her again. "Jenna. Yes, right. Of course I recognise you..." he trailed off, glancing around the room.
His eyes finally came to rest on the piano. He looked... smug, she decided after a moment. It wasn't an emotion she had ever associated with her father, so it took her a moment to place it.
He's been gone for ten years, she reminded herself, And I don't even know where or how. It's going to take some time for him to acclimate... I'd be strange too if I were gone for ten years...
All at once, the words that had built up over a decade of absence and longing rushed forward, tumbling from Jenna's lips like raindrops from a storm cloud.
"I missed you Daddy! Where have you been? Did you miss me? Why did you leave?" she gasped, using up all her breath in one tumultuous exclamation. Unable to help herself, she rushed forward to hug him again. She had missed him SO much!
Her father glanced at her again, eyes narrowed slightly -- the same look he used to give puzzling math problems. Agilely dodging her embrace, he patted her shoulder awkwardly. "There, there, Gina. I'll answer your questions later, but I'm hungry..." he responded absently, stepping nimbly around her.
"Jenna," she corrected, biting her lip.
His eyes flicked to hers and away. "That's what I said," he told her dismissively.
Jenna blinked. Perhaps she was overwrought; her father knew her name. Finally, she nodded. "Come, Father, let's go get you some food. I've learned to cook since you last saw me," she told him with a smile.
Gesturing to the door, the pair of Ixi walked out the study. The moment was surreal -- ten years had passed and until this moment she hadn't realised she had never let hope die. Her father was back, and her footsteps felt unnaturally light, as if any moment she might step down too hard and simply bounce to the ceiling. Gravity?, she thought giddily, What gravity?!
Yet, as they left the room, she couldn't help but glance back at the piano that had been integral to her father's return. She was sure it was her imagination, but it seemed to have a quiet air of sadness around it...
Jenna bustled happily around the kitchen as her father sat at the table. Elation seemed to fill her every step, and a warm glow suffused her. Despite the strangeness of their first few minutes, the Ixi felt content for the first time since her father had disappeared.
So he wasn't the ebullient parent she had remembered. Ten years could change anyone, and her memories, she decided, were distorted through the lens of a child's eye. She wouldn't let any disappointment mar today's happiness; he was back, and that was all that mattered.
But wow -- he hadn't been kidding when he said he was hungry. He polished off the first meal she made with gusto, scraping the plate clean -- and shocking her by asking for more.
In the end, a dozen Neggs, a plate of Butternut Ravioli, a Draik Steak, a platter of Isca Dumplings, and a Pumpkin Eyrie Souffle disappeared, sacrificed to her father's ravenous appetite. And that didn't even count everything he drank! She was sure he would have eaten more, but as he was sipping a Strawberry Achyfi, an eerie sound began reverberating throughout the house...
Date: Jul 13th
It was the old piano, playing once more, all by itself.
There was no way that she should be able to hear it from here, Jenna thought. It was too far, to sound so clear and distinct.
Jenna recognised the basic melody of "Daddy's Song," but the tune the piano was now playing rang all the more strange in Jenna's ears for its few points of familiarity. The piece, as interpreted by her father's piano, was now fraught with dissonance where only consonance had been. The music kept slipping in and out of key, and the Ixi began to feel vaguely nauseated.
Her father, it appeared, did not much like the music either. His face grew tight, and his eyes narrowed.
Jenna could not remember ever seeing her father get angry. There was no doubt that he was angry now.
He put down the Achyfi and rose slowly from the table.
"Wait here, Jenny," he said firmly.
Jenna didn't bother to correct him. She simply watched as he strode out of the kitchen, toward his study.
A resonant series of clashing notes made Jenny wince.
Wait. I think... I think there's a message here.
Music that's like "Daddy's Song," but not at all the same.
And a Daddy that's not at all like I remember.
Jenna had lived for ten years with a gaping father-shaped hole in her heart, and she was so, so tempted to tell herself that she was imagining things, that of course everything was all right now, and that the father she'd longed for was back, here to make everything better, just like he had when Jenna was little.
Something was wrong. Jenna couldn't deny the fact any longer.
She ran after her father, her heart beating out a staccato rhythm in her chest.
The Ixi could not say what, exactly, she was afraid of, but nonetheless she was gripped by a cold, grey dread.
A crash rang out just as Jenna reached the door to her father's study.
As she flung the door open, she stood frozen for a moment, too shocked to move.
The piano had been overturned and was now silent. Her father stood, back to the door, breathing heavily.
No, Jenna realised finally. Not my father.
This Ixi was no more her father than the piano's just-halted music had been "Daddy's Song." It wasn't merely that her father would never, ever harm his beloved piano -- the piano was large enough that it would have taken more strength than a single Ixi possessed to have upturned it so.
The Ixi who was not Jenna's father turned around, his eyes wild.
"I told you to wait in the kitchen!" he snarled.
Jenna, trembling, swallowed once, and mustered up the strength to speak.
"Who... who are you?" she whispered.
The other Ixi furrowed his eyebrows. "I am your father, of course."
Jenna shook her head. "No. Not my father. My father wouldn't have... done that, to his piano."
The Ixi masquerading as Jenna's father tilted his head to one side. "Well, then."
He took a step toward her, making Jenna stumble back, afraid. He gave a strange half-smile.
"You could have been happy," he said. "I'd have played the role, if you would have let me. But no -- it seems you won't have it."
With effort, Jenna forced her back to straighten and her voice to become steady.
"I want my father back," she said, the corners of her eyes stinging with unshed tears. "My real father."
The other Ixi snorted. "Your father's beyond your reach. He went walking in places he shouldn't have. He caught the attention of some of the folk from the other realm. It was all he could do to close the way behind him... and now you've opened it once more, with that pretty song of yours."
He smiled nastily. "But on second thought, perhaps I should take you to him. You've got talent on the piano, and the one I serve values talent greatly."
He held out a hoof to her. "Come, daughter dear. Shall we go on a little trip?"
Jenna clenched her teeth but took the offered hoof in her own.
"Very well," said the other Ixi. He touched the place on the wall where the secret passage was, and it slid open for him, with no need for a song.
Together, the two Ixi walked down the dark passage.
After a short while, Jenna realised that she could hear music in the distance -- a waltz, by the sound of it.
She broke away from the older Ixi and started to run.
Her hoof did not shake, now, as she flung open the door at the far end of the passageway.
This time, however, it was not one of her own memories that she found on the other side...
Date: Jul 14th
She wasn't sure if it even counted as a memory. It was the image of a ballroom, with the dancers twirling and whirling around in their fine clothing, but what really caught Jenna's eyes was the Ixi -- her father. He was dancing, looking much happier than she had ever seen him, with a Lupe -- one who looked just like...
"Mom?" Jenna couldn't believe her eyes.
"Don't you see?" said the other Ixi -- Jenna couldn't bear to call him Daddy anymore, or anything at all, for that matter --joining her. "You can't bring him back."
For a second, Jenna simply stared at the image of the ballroom, mulling the facts over in her head.
"Are you trying to tell me something?" she asked.
"You're a smart girl," the Ixi said. "You should be able to figure it out."
"My parents... they're together?"
"But... my mother's... gone," said Jenna, the realisation slowly sinking in. "Are you trying to tell me that my Daddy's gone as well?"
This time, she received no response, but she knew what he would say.
"That can't be," Jenna said. "I got a note from him! He wrote a message to me on sheet music! He's not dead. He can't be."
"No, he isn't," she said firmly. "I'll prove it to you!"
She turned to face the image and stepped through the door...
Date: Jul 14th
It was as if Jenna pierced the very air of the ballroom itself, stepping through the bubble-thin skin of the image she had just viewed. Many eyes turned to greet her with confusion, and the sudden awkwardness of the situation gave Jenna pause. When a soft gasp escaped the lips of one of the dancers, the Ixi turned and finally met the eyes of her parents.
Jenna watched as the older brown Ixi went through a torrent of emotions. His daughter had been as lost to him as he was to her. Elation at finally seeing her once more tore across his features. Shortly though, the realisation struck him just as it did Jenna, and his face contorted in fear. The Lupe standing stoically by his side could show nothing more than shock.
The red Ixi began her slow, careful steps toward the couple. Jenna watched as her mother gripped Jenna's father's forearm tightly, the Lupe's eyes not wandering an inch away from her daughter. Her father seemed unable to move and equally unable to speak, as if he had a lump caught in his throat, but his eyes quivered in sadness. As Jenna finally approached them, her father lunged out and hugged her tightly, a hug full of all the warmth and love she so tenderly remembered. Her mother stayed still at arm's length, but allowed a reassuring pat on Jenna's shoulder.
Her father spoke softly, tears welling up in his eyes, his voice riddled with sadness. "My dearest Jenna, I missed you so much. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about you and how abruptly I left you." Those held-back tears finally ran from his eyes, trickling down his cheek fur. Jenna hugged him so very tightly, afraid if she let go again, he would disappear.
"What is this place, Father? Have you been here the whole time?" Jenna questioned as she glanced around the ballroom. The other dancers had faded into the backdrop, leaving the small family alone in the middle of the decadent wood floor.
Her father smiled softly, running a hoof through Jenna's hair. "Within the soft sound of music, life stirs. Within the low tones of a note, the heart blurs. Within the belly of a song, the mind errs, within the last breath of a sung word, the world is ours."
Jenna's mother turned and smiled at him as he recited the small poem. He looked up to meet the Lupe's gaze with a returned smile. Jenna herself could feel a tug at her heart while hearing her father's words. She took a small step back, out of his hug as the realisation swept over her.
"You chose to leave me that day to come here, didn't you?" The Ixi spoke softly, brushing away an errant tear from her cheek. Jenna's father turned, his face sad once more.
He nodded softly to her. "I thought you would be ready to stand on your own then. I spent so many years teaching you, guiding you, giving the tools you would need in the world. The tools you would need to call me back if you ever truly needed me."
Jenna shook her head quickly. "No, Father! I had nothing but your memories all this time! I only got your note today, I've had no way to call you back."
Her father canted his head, slightly confused by her words. A whisper in his ear caused the older Ixi's face to relax in understanding. The smile crept back out along his lips.
"You have had the tools, Jenna, in your very hooves. You just have neglected and forgotten it for so very long out of sadness. I taught you so very well, and that final song we played together was a testament to that. You know how to return me; you've known all along. It's how you've managed to reach me now." He spoke softly as he watched his daughter's mind work.
Jenna bit at her lip as she realised the truth. "Your song," she said out loud. "I never played out of sadness, but I could have called you back all along."
Jenna's father grinned, patting her on the shoulder. "You've grown up well without further guidance from me, and you know you've always had my love. I waited so long for you to be ready to take on the world by yourself and so did your mother. She passed on when you were so very young; I know you barely remember her. I know you can't hear her now, because she's in my memory and not yours, but she wants you to know how much she loves you too. And we both hope you understand why I left you that day. I was always there watching over you, though, Jenna, never believe otherwise."
Tears streamed down Jenna's face as she hugged her father once more. After a few tender moments, the small Ixi pulled back to ask a question nagging at her mind.
"The note? It was a different song from 'Daddy's Song', and you appeared, or what I thought was you. Why a different song, and who is out there, pretending to be you... or an evil you at least?" Jenna questioned.
"He's not evil, my dear Jenna. He just doesn't understand the world out there. Being cooped up for as long as he has in the form he has, he never really got a chance to learn," Jenna's father reassured her, though his words created more questions that would need to be answered.
Jenna shook her head. "But who is he, Father?"
A soft smirk curled in the corner of her father's mouth, her mother placing her hand over Jenna's father's hoof.
"Well," he finally said, "this may be hard to understand but, he's..."
Date: Jul 15th
"...someone who resented that he had never had a place in the world on the other side. His name... is Elphius. You see, hearing only of our world from people passing through the Crossing, he wanted so badly to be a part of it. But he had no place in it.
"So he plotted."
Jenna listened. She listened so hard as to not miss a word that she did not notice the figure that had approached from behind as her father spoke. His smile, his broad, complacent smile that expressed so much was likewise silent.
"That's right," said the Ixi named Elphius, making Jenna start at the sound of his voice and spin around. Elphius gripped her firmly by the arm and began to propel her back toward the gaping black of the Crossing. Jenna resisted, a cry escaping her lips, but as she turned in desperation for her father, what she saw shocked her into allowing herself to be pulled out of the golden ballroom. Her father had extended a hoof as if to keep them there in the memory -- his expression, too, was pained, but he stayed by the Lupe's side and did nothing else to stop his indifferent clone from taking his daughter away. As Elphius and Jenna departed, the latter with one last anguished, grieving look back, the dancers emerged from the backdrop and music trilled again as if they had never been there.
In the fading light of the tunnel's threshold, Jenna rounded on the older Ixi. "My father may not value me as... as much as I always thought," she said, holding back tears as she uttered this, "but he made it clear that you are somehow responsible for his disappearing in the first place. What did you do?"
Elphius gave a low, humourless laugh. "What did I do, indeed... it is as he said. I wanted to be a part of your world and not mine. Nobody would want to live on this side of the Crossing, a realm made of nothing -- only memories and imagination. Those in it likewise -- including myself. It is existing, rather than living. Day after day, centuries passing...
"Can you not see, Jenna, that your father is happy where he is? And I am happy in his place on the other side. So please, forget about him, forget about the past. By trying to bring him back for yourself alone, you ruin the contentment of everyone else involved.
"Forget the past," said Elphius. "And go on living as you have the last ten years without him."
His words pierced her like a shard of winter's ice. She remembered the glimpses she had seen, what she had thought were ghost images at the Marketplace. Elphius living life as he wanted? Easy to imagine now. Forget him... That was what her brother had done. Had Jenna been the selfish one all along? You ruin the contentment of everyone else... Had her father considered those years with her as something he had to suffer through in order to finally go where he wanted one day? Had those days out in the sun, ice creams on the porch not come from the heart?
No, thought Jenna, and realised she had said it aloud. She repeated, "No. He would never have left willingly. Whatever the end of the tunnel shows... it may be your imagination or someone else's, but it doesn't show the truth. Tell me what you did with my father!"
For a moment the older Ixi looked as though he was about to deny it. Then --
"You are clever," he said, then burst into a chuckle. "It matters not that the ruse was not convincing enough to fool you. Our places are truly swapped, and I will never go back to residing on this side. For here I am but a memory... no! Your place, however, should be worth something... I will lock you away as I tricked him into locking himself, so that you will never come to disrupt my scheme again."
But Jenna was already running.
She stumbled once in the utter darkness, heard the patter of pursuit -- but she must get to the other side, somehow seal the tunnel so he would never emerge to follow her again...
She saw the study, far away in the present day, the dying daylight silver upon the piano. Almost the same time she noticed it, it began to play -- had it noticed her too?
The dissonant chords crashed upon the walls of the Crossing like thrums of tribal thunder. It was amidst this auditory chaos that Jenna emerged, for the second time, back from the blackness into the study. She threw herself against the swung-open panel in the wall, hoping to force it shut, but it would not.
"You cannot run!" came Elphius's cry from within the passageway.
Hearing this cry, the piano stopped playing itself as if alarmed -- and then, from beneath its lid there was a whisper that carried clearly across the soundless room...
Play it backwards... the melody, play it backwards...
Jenna needed no telling twice. Hurrying for the piano, she fell heavily upon the bench and looked at the sheet music, still standing where she had left it. Backwards. The notes tumbled out as Jenna began to play...
With a hushed rasp, the panel began to slide against the carpet, closing as swiftly as it had opened -- closing against the approaching Elphius. And as the panel swung, it knocked over the candle Jenna had left just on the edge of the tunnel -- she saw the swish of the fire as the candle rolled down the slope of the passage, the groan of the wooden floor as it began to go aflame.
And then the portal was shut for the last time, closed against the licking flames that would in time destroy the spurious memories that lurked on the other side and reduce it to a blackened tunnel, leading to nothing but an ashen dead end.
Jenna could scarcely breathe. She stared, wide-eyed, at the panel that had closed.
Slowly, still seated on the bench, the Ixi turned to face the waiting piano.
"It's you, isn't it?"
A pause. Then --
Jenna. My flower...
"Daddy!" she sobbed, throwing her arms over the white keys as if to embrace the whole instrument. This time... this time it was really him. Nobody but one person had ever been allowed to call her that...
I'm sorry. I should have known -- that he would try his tricks on you too...
Jenna raised her head. "All this time -- why didn't you say anything? Give a sign that it was you --"
I couldn't. When Elphius locked me here to trade his place for mine, he made it so I would never communicate again. If you found out, the whole thing would be over, and he would not stay in our world for long. But just then, when he was about to imprison you too, he broke his side of the bargain -- that he would never lay a hand on my daughter -- and when he did, I was free to speak.
"Then -- but -- you're still stuck as a piano?" Jenna was almost afraid to hear the answer.
I'm afraid so.
"He said he tricked you into locking yourself in..."
The pedals moved once, and the shuffling beneath the lid echoed as a sigh. That he did. You see, I ventured to the other world once too many times... that place of memories was magical for me, so -- so inspirational. It gave me imagination to write song after song. But too many visits had its price, and he seized me like a golden chance. He took my place in the world, and I was reduced to this. Without warning, indications, or anything. I'm so sorry, Jenna...
"Hey --" his daughter spoke over his apology "-- I have you back, and that's all I could ever ask for. I'll find a way to break you out of there, somehow..."
Ah, Jenna. The white keys trilled as if laughing. It's not so bad, now that I can talk. This piano is, after all, the thing I loved second-best in the world. As if to emphasise the point, he played a brief, jubilant tune.
The Ixi joined him in his strange but equally warm new laugh, then told him she'd be right back. Jenna was off to fetch music -- all the sheet music in the world -- to spend the time with her father that had been taken and was now returned.
And the sun beyond the half-curtained window winked once and receded, signalling day's end -- but for the smiling, teary Ixi and the piano that sang its joy for all to hear... the day had just begun.
Date: Jul 15th
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