Saturday, 23 January 2016

The Music Box of Manhattan

Just like last week, Chuck has us looking at another 10 titles. I chose the above one as it looked plain weird to me. 


Dad found it at a garage sale and thought I’d like it for my collection. It was very old, had lost its key to unlock it and badly needed a polish. I needed to take it into the city to get it open by my usual locksmith who helped me with these things.
“Thanks, Dad, I appreciate this. But it’s so old.” I took it from him carefully, “Did they say where they got it?”
“No.” he sighed, “Just that it came from Manhattan.”

A few days later, I was in the city at the locksmith who usually helped me with these things. He picked up the box carefully frowning, “Girl, this thing is older than any you’ve brought to me.”
“I know. Dad told me it was from Manhattan.”
His eyes lit up, “Where?” he put it on the counter and pulled out a book from a shelf behind him, flipped through the pages and then found a picture of it on one page, “Here you go.” He pointed at it, turning the book towards me, “The Music Box of Manhattan. It’ll start playing when you’re in Manhattan, opening up a tear in time.”
I read the blurb about this box and cast a wary look at it, wondering exactly what I had gotten myself into with it, “Okay, it’s locked for a good reason.”
He nodded, “Yeah. And you better take it back to the garage sale place your Dad bought it from.”
“Good idea. I don’t want my money back, I just don’t want this.” I looked at the ornately-carved box, now not wanting to touch it, but knowing I had to.
“Hey, so long you don’t open it, you’ll be fine.” He smiled, “Here, I’ll put it into a bag for you and you won’t have to handle it too much.” He pulled out one of his paper bags and slotted it in carefully and passed it across the counter to me on its bottom, “There you go.”
“Thanks, Chris.” I took up the handles after photographing the page with my phone.

The drive didn’t take long; as the house where Dad got the music box was on the way home. I pulled up outside the place, and looked at with a broken heart: it had been sold just the other day and the place looked vacant, “Dammit.” I got out of the car anyway and walked up to the place to see if anyone was there – the estate agent, new people looking at where they’d put their furniture… a homeless person hoping to spend the night. But there wasn’t anyone and the place was locked up tight, so I walked back to the car and leaned against the door not knowing what to do.
“Hey there.” A voice said to my left. I looked up to find a neighbour, “Yeah, they moved out pretty darned quick after the garage sale.” The man had hedge pruners in his hand, “But I found out where they went.” He dug out of his pocket a piece of paper and handed it to me, smiling, “I had to return something I bought too.”
I looked at the address: it was in Manhattan. I looked up at him, “But this is impossible, I have a music box from Manhattan, why would they get rid of it if they’re moving there?”
He shrugged, “You better get yourself there and find out.”
I got back into my car and started to drive. As I jumped onto the highway, the box began to play. It didn’t play ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ like some music boxes do, or a waltz, it played a 1920’s rag-time song. It was mesmerising; so much so that by the time I parked the car outside the antiquities store named ‘As Time Goes By’ the sun has well and truly set and the box was playing loudly in the seat next to me – hardly muffled by the bag it was in. I picked it up as I got out, paid the meter and then approached the store. As I walked to the front door, the damned box stopped playing in mid-string of something.
A man who looked older than time looked up from his just-as-old book, “Well, hello there, how can I help you?”
I put the bag on the counter, “My Dad bought this at a garage sale the other day and it’s locked. But on the way here it started playing.”
He smiled as he pulled it out of the bag. But what he pulled out wasn’t old and dusty and had a key in its lock. This music box was brand new! Stepping back, I pulled out my phone and read the page I had photographed; it didn’t say anything about what would happen if it turned out the box could renew itself.
“What’s that?” the man asked.
“A phone.” I stupidly answered, then realised as I looked over at his telephone that it was a rotary phone – one I had never seen in my parents’ house before – and I quickly pocketed my mobile, “What year is this?”
“Does it really matter?” he smiled touching the box, “You brought the music box of Manhattan home to its rightful owner.”
“How? I didn’t do anything but come here.” Wherever here is. “And how do I get home?”
“Home?” he smirked, “You must know Chris, the locksmith.”
“Yeah, how did you know that?”
“Well, he knows me very well. He drove to your town and never came back, and so this has me wondering exactly where is the tear…”
“In time… you drove through it; just like he did.”
“You never answered my question.”
“That’s because you don’t want to know. You are stuck here until another music box shows up, just like this one.”
“Well, who are you?”
“I’m Chris’ father, and this is 1956.”
“I’m from 2016.”
“Well, don’t we have a lot to talk about?” he patted the music box and it started to play again. Panic welled in my gut as I turned to the door, opened it to find it had begun to rain. I looked at my Ford to find I had parked a 1950’s Pontiac. Why hadn’t I noticed how old the car was? How could I not notice the people who had dodged around me were dressed so differently? A cop walked slowly up to me, perusing my jeans, sneakers and Nirvana t-shirt, stopped and asked me a question. Before I could answer, the door of the antiques store opened and the old man pulled me inside, “You really are from that time.”
“What happened to my car?”
“Well, it changes when it gets through the tear… but you don’t notice it until you get outside here.” He sighed, “I have to contact Chris and let him know. But you both can’t be here… you have to be there and he here.” He pulled out another music box – one that was far older than any other on the shelves, one he hid from customers – and opened it after turning the key on the bottom. It played a lovely little tune.

The music box on the top shelf began to play behind Chris. He turned from his late night work and looked up at it as it plinked and played in the semi-darkness of the room.


  1. The ending is a little hard to follow. I read it a few times and while I get the gist, it's not fully clicking for me.

    Then again, I'm old and some say not very bright.

    1. It's a time travel story through a method I've only seen on television; where the characters communicated through a letterbox in NYC - a very old letterbox - which was a time tear. One character was in our time, while the other was in the 1890's. It was a wonderful movie right up until the letterbox was demolished (as it was attached to a very old post office) to make way for a new building... and I burst into tears.

      If I had more word-count permitted, I think I would have been able to pull this one off better as I used a music box instead of a letter box; but I put my own spin on it.

    2. OK … I don't know how you feel about constructive criticism. Few people like anything that has the word "criticism" in it.

      If you are not mentally prepared for it, it can hurt and/or elicit anger.

      If not prepared for it, stop reading right here and delete the comment.

      Also, know I am not an expert nor do I have any serious writing credentials. What I can do, however, is tell you how I feel as a reader.

      Ready? Are you sure? OK . . .

      I did not get the idea there was any communication going on. If there was, it was not clear who was doing the communicating. I guess it's Chris's dad, but even that was not clear.

      Certainly Chris was not a part of it because he told her to get rid of the thing.

      That leads to the motivation of the character. She did not want the thing. Chris told her it was dangerous and to get rid of it. She said she did not want her money back (it wasn't her money, her dad bought it), and yet she tried to return it. Why?

      The original owner did not want it (he sold it). She did not want it. Why return it? The logical thing would be to find the nearest dumpster.

      I could see if she found something inside of monetary value (a wedding ring) or emotional value (a wedding ring and a love letter). She might then feel some obligation to reunite those items with the original owner (assuming they did not know of the existence of those things). As it is, it's a box no one we know wants. Dumpster.

      The coincidence with the neighbor was weird . . . he gave her the address of a shop. Was he in on it? That's a pretty big coincidence. What if he had been taking a dump while she came by and missed her? Also, in this day of Google Maps, why would she not check the address out and realize "Hey! It's a shop; what's up with that?"

      As far as the ending, it was not clear if she was going back to the present or if she was stuck there (and if so, why). The person in the shop said Chris should have come, but Chris gave no indication he knew anything about it even though the father said he was originally from his time, so Chris must have made the trip at least once.

      Also, I did not what was happening (or about to happen) when the music box in the shop started playing. If that was there all along, why her box?

      One last thing . . . you gave away the big reveal early on in the story (the tear in time). That means no building of suspense and no big reveal for the reader. You robbed them of the sense of discovery and wonder. It makes them less engaged in both the plot and the character (she was told time tear – why was she surprised?)

      OK . . . that was a lot of stuff. If you read it, you might be hurt (sorry; I'll never do it again). Or, you might be mad (sorry; I'll never do it again). Or, you might be glad for the honest feedback (glad to help).

      And one more thing . . . make no mistake; I was interested and engaged, so the writing was good. It's just that it did not deliver, at least for me.

      Suggestions: put yourself in the mind of a reader who has no idea what you have in mind. Are you clear? Did you tell them what you wanted them to know, or do they have to guess? If they guess, are they guessing correctly? As far as the characters, are they doing what you would do? Are they doing what the average person would do? Or are you having them do stuff for the convenience of the plot?

      That's it. If you now hate my guts, that's OK . . . you're not alone.

    3. Woah! That was a lot to take in - but it was all true.

      Thank you so much for your input. I don't worry about what people have to say about my work (so long you don't just tell me it's crap, then don't have something solid to back it up with. Yes, I've had somebody do that a number of times on here and have had to block them).

      However, I did read it a few times and thought it looked good. Maybe if we were allowed to have more than 1,000 words, I could have pulled it off - and I forgot about dropping the ball earlier. Thanks for letting me know (a big whoops from my side of the court there!).

      And no, I don't hate you... why would I?

    4. Well, I tell you why . . . people don't expect unsolicited feedback. When they do expect feedback, it's usually sugar-coated. When it's not what they want to hear, they tend to resent it.

      I went many years with friends and family saying how great a writer I am . . . never believed them. Mostly because as I improved, I knew where I made mistakes, where I could have been better, where - once removed from the piece for a while - I could see plot holes one could drive a truck through.

      But, while I am someone who wants brutal and critical feedback so I can improve, so I can stop making the same mistakes, so that I learn, I also know not everyone is like me.

      Truthfully, I rarely give feedback. Especially when I don't know a person. Don't know why I did here. Probably because I asked the initial question.

      I probably should have left it at "nice piece" and moved on. Anyway, thanks for the exchange.

    5. Hey I'd rather you have told me your honest opinion than sugar-coated it. Thank you for telling me where I went wrong. I'm hoping to put some of my writings into a Flash Fiction book/s over the next few years, so I need feedback like yours (and others) just to point out what I can't see.

      Sometimes us writers are a little too close to the forest to see the trees.