As the shutdown grinds on, I am finding more and more impetus for writing. Of course, it helps that the semester is over and I have time now. Week 21 of More Odds Than Ends promises to give us interesting stories. Mike Barker (again) got the prompt I sent in: You come home from a long day at work and plop down on the couch with a beer. The cat looks up and says, “Hey, can I have one too?” My prompt this week came from Cedar Sanderson: The vibrations of the plucked notes ring through flesh and bone. I had to let this percolate for a while before something came to me. And, what showed up was another vignette in what appears to be an ongoing story of the freelance curse-breaker Jack McKnight.
They stared at the object on the porch. Jack swore under his breath as he stared at the doll figurine that contained his brother-in-law, his wife, and their daughter. The dogs whined as Captain tried to comfort them.
Monica took a deep breath and looked up at Jack. “Honey? Jack? What are we going to do?” Her eyes were shiny with tears.
“I’m not sure yet. But I promise you. We’ll get them out safely. I promise.” He pulled her close and kissed the top of her head.
Monica nodded. She bent down, carefully picked up the figurine and walked into the house. The big Newfoundland and small Chihuahua gave identical brief wags of their tails while Captain gazed at Jack.
“I know boy. I know. We’ll figure it out. We will.” He knew he was trying to convince himself more than the big German Shepherd. He waved at all three dogs.
“Come on, guys. Let’s get you some food and water while we work on this puzzle.” Captain bumped noses with Bruno, the Newfie, and bent down to do the same to Ralphie, the brown Chihuahua. They all trailed behind Jack as he went back into the house and headed for the kitchen.
A couple of hours later, Jack looked up from his books and papers. He rubbed his hands across his face and sat back in the chair. That just might work…Monica will have to play the music, but it just might work.
He stood up and stretched. Captain got up from the dog bed in the corner of Jack’s office. Jack picked up the book he had been reading and opened the door that led into the main part of the house. Monica was sitting in the living room watching TV. Or at least, the TV was on and Monica was sitting on the sofa. Ralphie was curled up in her lap, and Bruno lay on the cushions next to her. The figurine stood on the coffee table in front of them. Monica looked up as Jack came in.
“I think I’ve got something, honey,” Jack sat down next to her and gave Ralphie a pat on the head. Captain sat at Jack’s feet.
“What? Can I help?” Monica asked.
“Yes. In fact, you’ll have to do most of the work since you’re the musician in this family,” he smiled, trying to soothe her fears.
“What? What do you mean?” She sat up and looked at him.
“I’ve been digging around. After what happened before…” He looked down at Captain and gave him a pat. “I wanted to see if there was another way to undo a curse like this. I found something. It’s music. That’s where you come in. I need you to play some very precise measures on your violin. And, not with the bow. They have to be plucked notes.”
“What? Sorry. This is a lot to take in. What do you mean precise measures?”
“Well, there are very specific instructions in one text. It doesn’t look complicated, but it’s precise. Here, I’ll show you,” he opened the book and passed it over to Monica.
She stared down at the page he indicated. “Yeah, you’re right. That’s not that complicated. I can do that.” She gazed up at him. “Do you really think it will work?”
“Yes, I do. I really do,” he answered softly.
“Okay. Let’s do this.” She gently picked up Ralphie and put him on the cushion next to Bruno and stood up.
She came back into the living room carrying her violin. “Give me the book. I need to see the music.”
Jack passed the book over and moved to set up the working circle. He carefully picked up the figurine and put it in the center of the circle.
Turning to the dogs, he said, “I need you guys to stay there on the couch. Captain, you, too. Get up there.” Captain cocked his head but turned and jumped up onto the sofa. “Good boys.”
He looked over at Monica. “Are you ready, babe?”
“Yeah. Let’s just start.”
“Okay. Start playing.”
Hesitantly at first, but with greater confidence, the notes flowed from Monica’s violin. Jack stepped in to the circle and walked counter-clockwise around the figurine, starting at North and pausing to mark each point of the compass. As he returned to North, the music reached a crescendo and the air grew hazy around the figurine.
Monica kept playing and Jack repeated his circuit. The second time he reached North the haze over the figurine was thicker and there seemed to be movement within the haze. Monica reached the final crescendo and brought the music to an abrupt stop. Jack held his breath.
The haze seemed to shiver and coalesce before suddenly breaking apart to reveal three people standing together in the pose created by the figurine. They stared around like people coming out of a dream.
Jack quickly scuffed a break in the circle as Monica dropped the violin onto a chair and started toward the little group.
“Uncle Jack? What happened?” Sophie gazed up at him. A loud woof sounded from the sofa as Bruno jumped off and dashed over to Sophie, slobbering all over her. She giggled and hugged the big dog around the neck. Ralphie was close on his heels and jumped into the arms of Julia, Monica’s sister-in-law, yapping and furiously licking her face.
“What the hell happened?” Rob, Monica’s brother, looked between Jack and Monica. “I could feel music, literally feel it, vibrating in my bones. What did you do?”
Monica gave him a hug. “Just freed you from a curse. No big deal,” she laughed in relief.
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