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A Gift in the Form of Murder
It is a chilling moonless night and I am sitting by the crackling fire at Calloway Manor, reading a Jane Austen novel. I hear a rap at the front door and order Hester, my nurse, to see what it is.
“Mistress, come quickly!” she cries. I amble over. On the doorstep is an enormous wooden box. I clap my hands in delight. Attached to the box I find an elegantly scripted label reading:
To My Dear Cousin, Lydia Calloway.
May you always enjoy the song of the heavens.
Cousin Benedict? I vaguely consider a sallow man of twenty years…perhaps I had met him once at a family affair. No matter. “Have the strongest men in the house haul it in.” I command.
“As you wish, madam,” she replies carefully, “but do you think it wise? After all, it could be a plot against your wealthy father…a bomb perhaps…”
“A bomb? Good heavens, you’ve been reading too many penny novels,” I retort. “No, ask the men to bring it in the hall.”
“Certainly, miss,” she complies, hastening away.
“Please move the piano into the parlor,” I instruct. The man servants struggle to hold the mahogany piano upright. I inwardly sigh, fingering the gold piano key. I had hoped the box would contain something more interesting.
When the move is finished, I pull a footrest up to the keyboard. I open the key cover to display the creature’s set of black and white teeth. I depress a key and frown. There is no sound.
I open the lid and gasp, turning as pale as the fog that envelops the moors. Inside is the corpse of a man.
Hester tucks me into bed remarking, “Didn’t I tell you, missus, that that piano was a warning to your father? Pretty soon the soul of that dead man will come to take ‘is revenge.”
“Oh don’t be silly,” I chide.
“It’s true, miss. And the only way I know to get rid of ‘is soul is to pierce ‘is cold ‘eart with pure gold…” She whispers.
I remain silent, then answer, “Good night, Hester.”
The next morning, I slip the piano’s golden key into my pocket before leaving for Benedict’s funeral at his estate by the shores of Tripoli. During the service, I notice a man who constantly stands by the coffin, smiling slyly. After the tedious ceremony, he slips a card into my hand and I catch a glimpse of a jagged scar running down his neck. The card reads:
Meet me by the fjord at sunset.
I wish to speak to you in private.
Most intriguing. Meanwhile, I must find out what I can from Aunt Bea.
After some formal exchanges I venture to inquire about the piano. “I received a piano of his just yesterday. I presume it was in his will?”
“Oh yes, I think he was a bit fond of you. That piano was a favorite piece of his.” She looks around and whispers, “I think he got into a bit of financial trouble after buying it.”
“Ah,” I reply, raising my eyebrows. “Pray tell, did Benedict have any enemies?”
Aunt Bea’s eyes grow wide. “Darling…you needn’t worry…Benedict had only one enemy. A…Mr. Wyatt. My son killed him in a duel years ago.”
I shiver, pondering. “If Mr. Wyatt is dead, who is the man who handed me that card? And whose body is in the piano?”
The sun sets over the horizon, winking on the sea’s waves. I stand at the head of the cliff, casting my eyes on the scarred man.
“Who are you really? Mr. Wyatt was killed years ago by my cousin.”
“I’m Mr. Wyatt. Or at least…in spirit. I’ve come to settle the score with my former friend, Benedict Calloway. We dueled over that piano many years ago… I died over it.” He snarls and reveals the hideous scar on his neck. “When Benedict found the actual value of his acquisition, he stuck me in there to rot to quell his guilty conscience. I’ve already visited Benedict and killed him at his weakest... now for his beloved cousin.” He advances on me, his eyes bloodshot.
I grasp the key in hand. “The only way I know to get rid of ‘is soul is to pierce ‘is cold ‘eart with pure gold…”
With a final cry, I raise my hand and strike his heart with the key. He crumples to the ground in a pile of dust and the wind leaves no vestige of his existence.