Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Cora ran home from school that day with a knapsack full of half-nibbled biscuits and more questions than her mother had answers. It had started with a music lesson- she took piano from Mrs. Morris, twice weekly and once on Sundays after church. Old lady Morris was given to flights of fancy and known to tell tales, but this- oh, this! This topped them all.
The young girl straightened her uniform before sitting at the kitchen table and plopping down her school bag. “Mrs. Morris,” she said breathlessly as her mother approached with an unsure eye, “has told me something amazing!”
“Is that so,” was Mother’s disinterested reply. She opened up the strings of the knapsack and examined the barely-touched tin of biscuits with dismay. “Why haven’t you eaten? I thought these were your favourite.”
“Couldn’t,” Cora said, her blue eyes big and dramatic. “Just couldn’t concentrate on ANYTHING else today. Oh, do you have time? Let me tell you! Or maybe you’ve heard! PLEASE!”
Mother was bemused at the child’s impatience. “Calm yourself, Cora.” She took a seat across from her daughter. “What story did Mrs. Morris tell you?”
“It’s a fantastic mystery!” The girl could hardly contain herself, but her stomach growled as if to say with Mother’s voice in her head, ‘People are hungry all over, you know.’ And so she bit her lip and resigned herself to eat at least one biscuit before beginning. Once finished she started, “It’s about a Kingdom. A big, grand Kingdom- like the ones from the storybooks.”
Mother read one each night before returning it to the well-worn cupboard and sending her off to dreamland, not knowing how Cora’s brain raced a thousand kilometers an hour before she could even CONSIDER sleep. With this it would be the same- the woman smiled and playfully entertained her daughter’s enthusiastic re-telling.
“This Kingdom had everything, really, I mean, a prince and a princess and all of that. And there were many people in it.”
Mother smiled. “I’d imagine so.”
“But then one day, well…” Cora screwed her face up into a frown. “I’m not sure. I think it was a girl that did it, a young girl. Yes- that’s what Mrs. Morris said. A little girl like me!”
“And what did she do?” Even Mother was intrigued now.
“She didn’t mean to, but she- she made the entire Kingdom vanish, just like that!”
The girl waved her hands emphatically as though onstage making a rabbit disappear. “It was the CHORD. The lost chord. And if you find it- and, and you play it, you see, on the piano- then it would bring the Kingdom BACK.”
Mother leaned back onto her elbows, a bit impressed. The old bird still had some new ones in her yet- she’d never heard of that story. “I didn’t know,” she told Cora slowly. But this didn’t quiet the girl’s mind at all. No, it only served to feed it more ideas that bounced around like whirling dervishes in her mind.
“You… you haven’t heard of this Kingdom?”
“No, not at all, I’m afraid,” Mother replied with a smile. “And anyway, it sounds like a fairy-tale. Or maybe an instruction for you to practice your chords more.”
Yes- yes, that was it! If anyone could bring the kingdom back in all of England, Cora knew SHE could. And she WOULD find the chord, she’d just have to. And she wouldn’t rest until she did. And maybe the Kingdom would welcome her, sit her down on a gilded throne and celebrate her. Maybe it was like the Kingdom of Heaven where Father was, and all the people in it were happy, like the angels that flew on high in the hymns every Sunday.
So Cora considered all the possibilities- and then her work began. She needed more information from Mrs. Morris, but alas, there was little to be had. (It was much the same with Mother- she hadn’t even HEARD of the Kingdom!) Were they here before the war, Cora wanted to know? Mrs. Morris only shrugged her slight, bony shoulders in relative indifference and instructed her back to her melodies. But still the girl’s interrogations continued.
Not here before World War II, the one that claimed Father and most of Uncle Paul’s bad arm. No, then perhaps before the first war, then? The one Granddad fought. She played her heart out at school, she played even more frenetically the keys at home, but still she persisted in wondering the grand scale and time period of this assuredly glorious Kingdom. SURELY they were here in the time of the Renaissance, of knights of old and fair maidens.
But STILL no, Mrs. Morris insisted, and sit up straight, young lady. And not one other soul seemed to have heard of it- no Kingdom like that had ever disappeared, in fact, at least according to every last history book Cora could find in the children’s library, or even the adult’s library. No vanishing Kingdoms. Not in Cora’s 11 years, now nearly 12, nor her mother’s 34, not even her great-nan’s 92 or all of them COMBINED. Her mind raced with endless numbers, endless possibilities. A Kingdom before time was even recorded, she thought. And all that was needed- was this very special, very unknown ‘lost chord.’ To the little old piano in the parlor, then.
Days turned to weeks as Cora dutifully recorded every possible permutation of those yellowed little keys, and in turn crossed out each one with a big X of her felt pen and a disappointed sigh. Mrs. Morris kept on in her steadfast refusal to dole out more insight. Could it be a one-handed chord, or would she need to use both? And how many notes- three, four, five, six even? Cora was splendid in maths, and that meant that the possibilities could now be in the THOUSANDS. But schoolwork was slow, and she was quick to finish it.
Even Mother found herself surprised at the constant clinks and jangles of the piano echoing out of the small parlor room each day when she went to the kitchen to put on the soup or dust the fine china. Cora played until her fingers ached. Then she would take a break, only to scribble down more groupings of notes, more possible solutions. The sides of her hands blackened with ink, the pads of her fingers calloused over, and still she played.
Cora was tired, but her mind simply would not rest. She was onto lower notes now; any higher chords had been proven false, and she wanted to see the Kingdom. She NEEDED to. It was a Saturday, and afternoon light streamed between the heavy plush curtains, but it would not beckon her out to play. The royal family surely missed the sun, the world outside. She brought her buckled shoes down to the dusty bronze pedals- only now had she thought to start using THOSE. Perhaps that was the secret to the lost chord, after all.
The girl brushed her hair aside and began to play, chord after chord, depressing the pedal with a slow methodic THUNK every time she did so. The sun grew higher in the sky. Her fingers stretched to reach the keys- five in total. She pressed them down firmly, and the pedal as well. All at once there was a shaking of the floor beneath her feet- she had done it! At last!
Cora took her foot from the pedal and stood up from the little wood bench, but at the sound of further trembling, of the whole earth moving and shifting all around her, her triumph was short-lived. Suddenly the parlor, then the whole house, the whole neighbourhood in fact, was bathed in blinding light. Mother was folding laundry in the upstairs, and dropped to the carpet, fearing a bomb- yet it was something worse, something she could never in all her life have imagined. Cora was knocked to the floor by the shaking, but quickly scrambled to her feet. The foretold Kingdom had returned, and its awful sight gripped her child’s heart.
Something terrible had come to Marcy Street, and only now as her mouth fell open did Cora realize the one thing she had failed to consider all her weeks at the little piano. Once it had vanished, where had the Kingdom BEEN? For how long? And its citizens… gone was any pretense of a fairy-tale, of beautiful nobles cloaked in silk with beaming crowns to welcome her.
Cora stumbled back to the doorway of the parlor, then back further, right up against the wall, jostling her mother’s china cabinet and not even noticing. She could no longer tell if the shrill cries in the air were from her own throat or those of the- CREATURES that now came before her. They screamed without mouths, wept without eyes, and with a tangle of fused limbs and distorted claws shambled haltingly into the world.
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