Posted by: zhak39 | May 11, 2006

The Harp

The following is another of Helen’s writing assignments. The class was shown one of those very sentimental pictures of a boy and a dog running along a stream toward a harp. The caption was ‘It’s true, it’s really true.”

This time I did do some tweaking with her, just a couple of suggestions to help her get from where she was in the rough draft to what she had accomplished in her mind. For the conception, the inception, the production, all Helen.

The Harp

Elliot no longer flinched when he heard the slamming of the broken shutters as the warm summer breeze rocked them back and forth. He was visiting his grandfather and was currently sitting in an old house on the plantation allowing the old mans words to pass by him.

“That melody,” his grandfather gasped. “Every eleven years I hear it, again, and again. And every eleven years a young child disappears from the village! There has to be a connection!”

Elliot frowned. This was why he was here. Someone needed to take care of grandfather and somehow he had gotten “volunteered.”

“Grandfather is just getting old,” he had told his mother at the beginning of summer.

“Even better a reason for you to go and take care of him,” his mother stated simply.

Now Elliot was stuck in an old house with an old man away from his home, his friends, and his plans for the summer. Instead of swimming, lazing in the hammock, or watching the clouds, he was listening to his grandfather’s crazy mumblings, warnings, and random stories. Elliot was jarred from these musings by a shout.

“The stream! A harp!” Grandfather screamed. “I remember! I–” He stopped and closed his eyes. Soon he opened them again and walked into his study.

“Tch,” Elliot sighed. “The old fool is trying to scare me.”

He left his grandfather to his crazy studies. He had chores to do and it was getting dark. He walked outside. He paused to look at the landscape. The country seemed to stretch for miles. To the south was the village where his grandfather used to sell his crops when he was younger. Southwest was the forest where the “evil stream” supposedly ran. As the sun kissed the horizon sending out the last of its dying rays, the forest seemed to glow. Elliot inwardly shuddered. His grandfather’s stories were getting to him. A dog ran out from under the porch as Elliot walked down the rickety steps.

“Hey Scotty,” Elliot said to the raggedy terrier. He smiled. The dog was his only friend in this deserted part of the country. He accompanied Elliot everywhere. Elliot walked out and began his chores. He had to feed all the animals and clean the horses’ stalls.

“Wonderful,” he said sarcastically. He quickly finished his chores and walked into the house just as the stars peeked out from their dark blanket.

“Finished your chores?” Grandfather asked from behind the newspaper.

“Yeah,” Elliot replied. Tired, he sat upon the sagging couch. A soft but sweet note broke the silence. Elliot stared and Grandfather went livid.

“I-I’m going to bed now,” Grandfather choked out. “See you in the morning.”

Elliot nodded.

“What could that have been?” he wondered aloud.

* * * *

Elliot woke with a start; sweat trickled from his brow. Light from the moon made pools on his floor. He had heard something; he still heard it. A soft, wonderful yet haunting melody sent shivers up and down his spine.

“Damn it!” he swore. This time his grandfather had gone to far. Obviously the old man had sprung a screw and was playing music to convince him that his stories were true. Elliot planned to confront the old geezer first thing in the morning.

“This has to stop! I’ll never fall for this foolishness!”

* * * *

Morning arrived slowly. The soft music hadn’t stopped until dawn and Elliot had not gotten much sleep. The music was embedded in his mind, driving him insane. He trudged into the kitchen. His grandfather was innocently sipping coffee and reading the paper. Something snapped in Elliot’s mind. He stopped and glared. This did not go unnoticed.

“Elliot, are you all right?” Grandfather asked.

“Funny that you’d be concerned,” Elliot snapped. “After you played that stupid music all night.”

Grandfather paled.

“I didn’t play any music. I-”

“Of course you did,” Elliot interrupted. “You’re trying to scare me! Don’t you know that it won’t work!? Your lies are as foolish as your crackpot stories!”

The two stared at each other from across the table, Elliot defiant, Grandfather at first shaken then his eyes narrowed.

“The survivor owns the truth only so long as he has the wit to tell the tale,” he hissed. Abruptly he rose and left the room.

Elliot stared at his grandfather’s retreating back, dumbfounded.

The rest of the day went fairly quickly with grandfather locked in his study and Elliot pondering his grandfather’s enigmatic words. Evening rolled by and Elliot and his grandfather still hadn’t spoken. Elliot walked out to do his chores. That’s when it happened. The music started again. Elliot looked up from frothing bucket of milk he had been clumsily filling. He looked to the darkened house. The study light was off; Grandfather had fallen asleep an hour earlier. There was no way the music could have been his doing. It wasn’t even coming from the house. It was coming from another direction.

“I think it’s coming from the forest,” he said aloud. Although his mind willed him to go back inside, curiosity got the best of him. He had to go look.

“It’s no big deal. Scotty is with me. Nothing bad will happen,” he tried to convince himself.

As Elliot walked through the forest, the tune got louder. The sun was setting quickly; it would be dark before Elliot got back. He pushed through the heavy brush until he found the remnants of a deer trail. Scotty trailed slowly behind him; ears perked for anything that would hurt his beloved master. The path Elliot followed began to slope downwards. The trees were bigger, knots of old vines slowed Elliot’s progress in the growing dim. At last, Elliot got to the stream. Something splashed up ahead making ripples in the water. Elliot’s head snapped in the direction of the new sound. His jaw dropped. There, bathed in the moon’s silver light breaking through the dense canopy was a harp.

“So it’s true, it’s really true.”

The strings shimmered. Elliot frowned. There were only eleven strings. If he remembered correctly, a harp is similar to a piano. It should have dozens of strings. He jumped from rock to rock until he was on the other side of the bank. He walked up and grabbed the harp. It was surprisingly light.

“Maybe if I take this back to Grandfather he’ll remember the rest of his story.”

Elliot carried the harp carefully to the other side of the stream where Scotty crouched shivering and whining.

“What’s wrong, boy,” Elliot asked, concerned.

Scotty replied by whimpering, putting his tail between his legs, and running off.

“Strange,” Elliot thought.

Despite his burden, it was easier to get back to the house than to the stream. The vines seemed to have receded or perhaps Elliot had hit upon the true path. As soon as he got to the house, he put the harp in the corner of his room and covered it with a sheet. Then he went up to his grandfather’s study. If he was awake, Elliot wanted to apologize for his behavior. Grandfather was nowhere to be found. The small black journal on the armchair caught Elliot’s eye. He picked it up and flipped it to a page, which seemed to be covered with scrawling random musings–

“He died for me. Grandfather died for me. The witch. She would have taken me. She was, He did this, I can’t believe it. He died for me.”

Elliot tried to make sense of this rambling when the dulcet sounds of a softly strummed harp filled the air.

“Grandfather must have found it. He’s playing the harp,” he assured himself. “I’d better go and apologize.”

What he saw when he walked into the room left him in shock and disbelief. The sheet was shredded and the harp had moved into the middle of the room by itself. There was an empty stool beside it. The harp strings glistened and shivered in the moonlight.

“Hello Elliot,” a voice hissed from the stool. A thin woman with long silver hair appeared on the stool strumming the harp. “I’ve come for you,” she said, laughter evident in her eyes.

“N-no,” Elliot stammered.

What happened next changed Elliot’s life forever. The witch lunged and tried to grab Elliot’s throat. He ducked and attempted to kick her but missed. The second time she was successful and she pinned him against the wall. As the lights dimmed in Elliot’s eyes, Grandfather appeared and knocked her away. Grandfather had a hatchet clutched in his gnarled hand, which he used to back the witch into a corner. Before he could strike, she disappeared. Elliot croaked a cheer from his bruised neck. It was all over.

Grandfather walked up to Elliot.

“Are you ok, son?” he asked.

Elliot wanted to thank, apologize, and hug him all at the same time, but he never got the chance. The witch reappeared behind Grandfather and stabbed her taloned hand through his back. Grandfather arced and screamed as the witch rooted around his spine with her poisoned fingers. Triumphant, she pulled back her hand and retreated to the corner.

“Oh Grandfather. I’m so sorry I didn’t believe you. I didn’t know,” Elliot whispered to his grandfather’s bent and crumpled form. His grandfather painfully turned his head to face his grandson. He smiled, closed his eyes, and passed into the unknown.

Elliot slowly raised his eyes toward the witch in the corner who stroked her harp lovingly. She tightened and tuned a brand new string.

“Perfect,” the witch said, engrossed in her task. Without looking at the astounded child she continued while running her finger up and down the new line, “I was supposed to harvest you years ago, 66 years ago. You would have been so high and sweet and yet now,” she plucked the bass note approvingly. “Now you are deep and resonant, a little sad. Sweet and sad.”

She tilted her head to listen some more and noticed the crying boy. Her lips curled into small malevolent smile.

“He died for you as his grandfather died for him. I was looking once again for a high note, and listen to what the fates gave me.” She plucked the string. A deep resonant note echoed through the room.

Elliot felt a snap in his traumatized mind. He felt something rising in him and come loose. The witch noted this approvingly, seeing the strands of sense leave him.

“The survivor owns the truth only so long as he has the wit to tell the tale,” she said then waving her hand in front of his face she said, “Forget.”

* * * *

Elliot never could remember what happened that night. A neighbor contacted his mother days later after he was found still hovering over his grandfather’s lifeless body. For a while he mumbled like his grandfather once had, but he got over it. One thing he could not understand was the haunting melody of the harp that he heard every so often and how it seemed to change every time he heard it.


  1. Helen…

    We don’t have a stream in the woods, but small holes keep appearing along the paths, and things have been disappearing from the outbuildings.

    Looking forward to your next visit.


  2. ^^; What’s been disappearng? Can’t be that dangerous I hope. Maybe it’s a mutant groundhog o_O.

    Can’t wait!

  3. My son’s pet groundhog used to steal shop towels and tools from his grandfather’s shop.

    Tell your daughter I loved her story.

  4. wow! What a cool story! how old was your daughter when she wrote it? Well, for any age that is way cool. I’m only in 9th grade, but I wish I could write like that! 😛

  5. This was a ninth grade assignment. I agree, she did very well. I will let her know that she had some positive feedback.

    Good luck with your own writing. Practice makes all the difference.

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