Ashes to Ashes

Jake let out a long sigh.

‘Kay, where’s the box…

It’d been almost an hour since he’d arrived at his grandparents’ countryside home. He was tired from the long conversation, and was finally free to look for the music box his mother asked for.

She could’ve just come to get it herself…

He arrived at his mother’s old room on the second floor, and began scanning his mother’s display cabinet, starting from the top.

 

…This it?

To the far right of the second shelf was a large rectangular wooden box; on the front was a golden latch and on the right side, the crank. He picked it up, quickly examined it, and then opened it.

Inside, there was a hard cover lined with felt, level with the box’s latch. He pulled it up; it was a mirror, covering a deep L-shaped silver plate surrounding the music box’s mechanism.

I was expecting a spinning ballerina or something but…

For the next few minutes he played around with the box, seeing if he had missed anything; he found nothing.

“Huh…”

…Design?

With nothing else left to do, he finally turned his attention to the crank.

 

Jake began winding the crank clockwise, keeping the speed with the clicks he felt on his fingertips as the cylinder plucked the comb’s teeth.

The cylinder was almost at one round when suddenly a high-pitched sound came from the box. He flinched, quickly brought his right hand to his ear, and at the same time held the box away, but it only lasted a second.

“The fuck?”

He looked back at the box, disoriented.

Is it broken or something?

He had a close look at the mechanics inside, but nothing seemed out of place.

He noticed movement at the corner of his eye, and looked towards the mirror.

Bringing his right hand up, he didn’t dare blink or even breathe as he touched a grey patch on his neck. He’d expected the feeling of flesh, but was met with was a soft sensation, almost like sand but lighter. His fingers sunk in almost a centimetre deep before he’d stopped.

Eyeing the mirror, he swallowed what little saliva he had in his mouth as he drew his hand away; there were four holes dug into his neck.

His heart jumped, and for a moment he froze, not knowing what to do next. Then, averting his gaze away from the mirror, he started scratching the area below his jaw.

“Fuck, fuck!”

No fucking way!

His breathing became abnormal; quick and deep, and he felt a cold wave running down his insides as he was met with the same soft, grainy sensation over and over again. Finally pulling his trembling hand away, his eyes shifted right.

There was even more of, whatever it was, on his fingers now…

 

…What was left of them.

Half of his middle and ring finger had disappeared, the tip of his pinkie was beginning to break away and the upper left side of his index finger was missing.

His chest tightened, and his entire body started trembling. He took two, three steps back, still focused on his hand which was beginning to lose its colour.

“What the fuck is going on!?” he said in a weak voice while slowly tearing up.

Noticing that he was still holding the music box he immediately dropped it, and once it hit the floor, the crank started turning, and it was playing by itself.

 

Startled, he stumbled and fell back, but when he hit the ground there was no thud. Looking around himself, he noticed the whitish-grey sand creeping across the floor; from his body, towards the box.

What the fuck is this!?

He tried to scream for help, but as he took in a deep breath, he choked on something. Unable to hold it in, he held his left hand to his mouth and violently coughed up the sand.

Bringing his hand away, the pile of sand ran through his fingers and onto the floor.

His eyes shifted right, and then left; his arms, even his clothes were almost completely grey, and they were slowly beginning to crumble.

Fuck…I don’t wanna die…

He began crying as he slowly backed away, but as soon as he leant on his left arm, it gave out.

He fell to his side, and caught a glimpse of half of his arm; almost statue-like, lying on the floor before everything went black.

 

***

 

It was pitch black; his eyes were closed, but he was awake.

He could feel the floor against his back, a weight pressing down on his stomach, and something pressing against the left side of his neck.

“I can tell that you are awake. Do not even think of pretending to be sleeping.”

The voice was a woman’s; it was smooth, but her accent was unnatural; it sounded as if she wasn’t used to speaking in English. He struggled to open his eyes, and was greeted by a dark room, a sweet smell, and a hooded figure; mounted on top of him.

Looking at the bottom half of the figure’s face; fair-skinned, with a slightly broad nose, and bright-red pout lips. It was definitely a woman, and she was pressing something against his throat.

“You will answer my questions, boy. If you do not answer, or if you move suddenly, you will die. Do you understand?”

His body tensed up as he resisted the urge to move.

“O, okay! I’ll answer whatever so just, please don’t kill me!”

“…Good boy. What is your name?”

“Jake! My name’s Jake!”

She sighed and pressed the knife harder.

“Your full name, stupid boy.”

“Jake Sm–, Walter Smith!”

Another pause, and then he could no longer feel the blade.

“What is the name of your mother?”

“Anne! Anne Smith!”

The woman sat up, and revealed what she had been pressing against his neck; a knife, which she inserted into a sheath hanging from her neck.

A smile spread across her face.

“Lucky boy.”

She stood up and moved off to a nearby fireplace on his left, taking a seat at the table there.

The fuck…?

For a while, Jake didn’t move from where he laid; he just stared up into blank space, not knowing where he was, or what was going on.

 

There were small chandeliers hanging from a flat, dark brown ceiling. To his right was a long corridor, which seemed to stretch on to no end. Bookshelves lined the walls, with several display cabinets sandwiched in between the ones nearby

 

“Come Jake, sit. You are a guest.”

The woman had taken off her hood, revealing an extremely young face and wavy light-brown hair; she was probably somewhere from around Europe, looking at him with a friendly smile.

Jake hesitated but got up, walking over as told to the opposite end of the table. He eyed her until the dagger came into view, but only had a glance at it; she was still looking at him.

“I…may be attractive, but you should not look at my breasts, Jake.”

He was flustered and almost shouted his thoughts out; Who the fuck could give a shit about that!?

She held her breath before hiding the bottom half of her face with her left hand and giggling.

“You react the same as Anne.”

He looked at her in disbelief. His mind was in too much of a mess to think straight, and all she was doing was laughing at him.

She’s screwing with me…

 

Something welled up inside of him. He gritted his teeth and slammed his fists down onto the table, and the woman’s laughing died in an instant. Looking straight at her, he took in a quick and deep breath.

“What the fuck do you want!? I wake up in some fucking random place with you on top of me threatening me with a fucking knife, and the next minute you’re laughing like it was all some sick fucking joke! You think this is fucking funny or something!?”

He was out of breath, panting and all he could hear was the beating of his pulse.

The woman showed no signs of regret nor pity. Instead, she was glaring at him.

“Do not raise your voice and do not act violent. It will not make me want to help you. Calm down, Jake, ask your question, and I will answer.”

 

Other than the crackling of the fireplace, it was quiet. His entire body was beginning to tremble and his breathing was gradually calming.

He sat back down and thought long and hard about where to start thinking from, and what to ask questions about, almost forgetting about the woman in front of him.

“My name, is Edelina”

He looked up; she didn’t seem angry, but she wasn’t smiling either.

“I am Anne’s friend.”

Jake kept quiet; he didn’t know how to respond.

“I am a witch.”

The hell is she saying?

“You, are in Germany.”

“Wait, what?”

“You used the music box.”

He shot up from his seat and quickly began examining his body. There were no holes in his neck, no missing limbs, and his skin and clothes were back to normal; everything was how it was supposed to be.

I’m alive…

He teared up and began laughing. Slowly, his legs gave out and he fell back onto his seat; his body slumped back onto the chair.

He heard the woman move off to his right, but he continued to stare at the ceiling.

There was a wooden clap, his eyes shifted right and he froze.

The woman had picked up something up off of the ground where he was laying a few minutes ago, and walked back towards him. In her hands was his mother’s music box.

Jake couldn’t move freely; he couldn’t turn and run. It felt like something hard was strapping him to the chair, and his feet felt as heavy as stone. He continued to struggle, but all he could do was watch as the woman returned to her seat and placed the box on the table in front of him.

“Do not be afraid. I used magic, that is why you cannot move.”

He began to lose the will to struggle as his attention was directed at the box, and again his mind was in chaos.

“Jake.”

His attention immediately shifted back to the woman.

“I am a witch. This is the box that let you come here. I will explain everything, listen closely to me.”

 

At first, he couldn’t make sense of what she was saying, and continued to be distracted by the box. But slowly, he calmed down and took in her words, and she would repeat herself until he’d understood.

The music box he’d used was a tool used to travel between locations; to wherever the other music box was, by leaving one’s body behind as ash, and borrowing the ashes of someone else, which had been stored in the other box.

“Do you understand?”

“Y, Yeah, I understand…so, my body right now, is made from someone’s ashes?”

“Yes.”

He hesitated, and took in a deep breath.

“…Who’s ashes?”

The woman smiled.

“Do you want to know?”

Jake took his time thinking, and almost a minute had passed before he finally let out a long breath.

“I think, I’ll pass.”

“…Pass?”

“No thanks, it means no thanks…”

“Oh, that’s too bad.”

She opened up the box, and he held his breath.

“You played with the box, yes?”

“…”

“You are the same as Anne.”

She flipped up the mirror in the box, and it reflected his image.

“The box will not work if you do not turn the mirror first, and you must make sure your face is here.”

She tapped on the mirror.

“Handsome boy.”

Jake stared into the mirror, unable to concentrate on what she’d just said.

“And then, you must play the music one time.”

He watched as her hand moved over to the crank, and he let out all the air in his lungs in one go.

“Wait!”

He tried to reach out to stop her, but his body still wouldn’t listen to him.

“I-I don’t, I can’t –”

“What is it?”

“I just can’t, okay!? It’s fucking scary!”

“Why?”

“…What?”

“Why are you scared? You are alive still, yes?”

“Yeah, I-I’m alive but –!”

She looked at him questioningly, and he averted his eyes.

“No reason?”

“I just don’t want to, okay!?”

She closed the box, and held it by its sides.

“Do you have money?”

“What? Money? What for?”

“You are in Germany. You need to go home by the plane, yes?”

“I’m in Ger–…”

“Before, I told you.”

“I just remembered, okay?”

Jake let out an irritated sigh.

“Is this the only way to –”

“No.”

“So there’s another way!?”

“Yes.”

“Then!”

“You need to go back quickly, yes? Anne will become worried.”

He couldn’t argue against that. Jake took in a deep breath, and let it all out. He looked around, trying to find an answer but turned up blank.

While letting out a long sigh, he tried to bring his hand up to his face, but his body still couldn’t move freely.

 

“Okay, I-I’ll do it.”

“You are very slow, Jake.”

The woman leaned forward, and her right hand extended towards him.

Jake braced himself, turning his head away slightly and shutting his eyes.

 

Something brushed past his left cheek and his body tensed up, his fists closed; he could move again. Still sitting in his chair, he examined his arms and legs.

“Is there anything wrong?”

“No, no…I’m fine.”

“That is good.”

The woman sat back down and moved the box to the side.

“Before you go home, let us chat, Jake.”

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