The Music Box
by Alex Clark
forum: The Music Box
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Music Box


           In the corner of Ryan Astbury's bedroom stood a monument. But it wasn't one of your average, or run-of the mill monuments. It didn't commemorate dead soldiers of yesteryear, nor did it celebrate man's achievement at fulfilling a certain desire. And it wasn't made of stone either. Rather, this was a shrine to all of rock 'n' rolls' glorious dead.

          The week before, Ryan had happened upon a personal ad in the local newspaper which read, simply:

LEEDS- 330690'

          Out of sheer curiosity alone, Ryan had responded to the ad. He listened intently on the phone as a strange old man elusively described the nature of the object. Even over the phone, Ryan could tell that the chap was of local origin, though his accent might have suggested differently. Or, it would have done, had he been better at pulling off the strained and imperfect American- southern state drawl. Towards the end of the phone call, Ryan's lips tightened into a smile, as he cottoned onto what the man was saying. He felt as though he'd heard enough to make the journey across town, via the bank to visit the man's house.

          When he arrived at the old fellow's house, he was already waiting for Ryan, standing in the driveway, with this thing standing besides him. The man stood there with a knowing grin. He wore an old black suit, complemented by large black sunglasses. His hair, cemented in a teddy- boy coiffeur remained motionless as the summer breeze toyed with his black pencil- tie.

          The old man was reluctant to speak to Ryan for long and he was more eager to wrestle the thing into the back of Ryan's battered old Ford. As Ryan soon sped off in the direction of home, he peered in the rear- view and saw the old man with jet- black lacquered hair. He was standing just as motionless, with his hands in his pockets and standing at the same slant as he'd been doing when Ryan'd arrived. 'Funny old chap', Ryan mused. 

          Now with the object of desire back at Ryan's Thorntondale Avenue home, he heaved and rocked the thing into position in the corner of the loft- room, he then stepped back to admire his prized catch of the day.

          With a startling burst of inspiration, waking him from his awe induced- catatonia, Ryan fell to his knees and crawled round to the back of the object, he fumbled the plug into the socket and then tentatively, he flicked a switch on the bottom left panel of the thing. He managed himself back to his feet and stood back to watch his work come into fruition. 

          With a gentle, but progressive humming sound, the thing whirred and buzzed into life. Vibrant neon reds, blues and greens filled the front panel with retro and cherished charm; Ryan began to ponder the old man's haste in selling the object, but that was never going to distract him too much at a time like this.

          Ryan slowly walked backwards across his bedroom, his eyes still fixed on the monument before him. When his back eventually came into contact with the chest of drawers on the other side of the room, he turned and eagerly pulled a duster from the bottom draw. He rushed back over to the thing and with an elongated, arced sweeping motion, he fondly wiped away the excess dust from the protective yellow casing at the top of the viewing window. This done to a satisfactory standard, he shook away the dirt from the duster and in doing so, he produced a veil of filthy, grayish brown gossamer at the side of his head. Afterwards, having dispersed with the cloud of dust with gratuitous flapping motions of his right arm, he folded the yellow duster into a ball in his fist and knelt to his knees before the shrine. Slowly and methodically, he began to wipe away the smeared stains from the nameplate on the front panel that read: 'Wurlitzer'.

          Ryan's good friend and housemate, Mark Wainwright was arriving home from work just in time to hear the first notes of Buddy Holly's classic, 'Peggy Sue' cascade down the stairwell. Mike knew Ryan loved his old music, especially the stuff he owned on vinyl and he'd long since grown used to arriving home to the sound of one long- since deceased singer or another. But that day, it was different; there was something different about the sounds that were filling the house, something that felt warmer, cozier, more evocative even. Mark felt compelled to go investigate.

          "A duke box?" 


          Mark's eyes ran up and down the 'duke' with an air of unbelieving dismay.

          "…A duke box… where on earth did you get that from?"

          "Some ol' dog on the other side of town was unloading it dirt cheap"

          Even Ryan was a little taken aback by his own unusually blasé tones, but not for long. Mark's belched offering of appraisal disrupted his train of thought.

          "Well, you must be as crazy as whomever you bought it from. It takes up most of your room."

          "But it is a Wurlitzer…" Ryan offered weakly in idle defense of the Duke.

          He didn't even bother to notice that Mark had left the room without entertaining his last comment. Instead, he just shook the dirt from the duster and gave the yellow dust guard another cursory once over.


          Mark Wainwright had gone a week without seeing Ryan. Though he had heard plenty. Ryan occupied the loft room, so it wasn't as though Mark could just poke his head around the door so easily. He would have had to climb the auxiliary stairwell that led to his room, but since that was crowded gratuitously with old cardboard boxes containing LP sleeves, he didn't bother burdening himself with the hassle of clambering over another man's mess. 

          Indeed, Ryan had confined himself to a life of chosen solitude. He preferred now, to lock himself away in his room and listen, endlessly to the music of Roy Orbison, Glen Miller, Marvin Gaye, et al, pumping out of his beloved Altec Lansing speakers. He would sit for hours on end in a darkness that was broken only by the neon vibrancy of the Duke's front panel.

          For long periods of time, he would sit motionless on the floor, amidst a sea of vinyl, which he'd not been able to fit inside the towering duke box before him. He would only occasionally move to methodically key in more numbers.

          As he sat on the floor, he studied the surfaces of the vinyl that lay around him. Patiently, he would wait for the illuminated liquids in the coloured piping on the front panel to work and reflect off of the large black disks.

          Blissful, incandescent waves of blues, greens and reds, slowly passed through and across the grooves and the etchings on the vinyl. 

          As soon as a shimmering sheet of colour had journeyed across the surface of a disk, Ryan would lovingly and delicately retrace the course the light had taken with his fingers. He would carefully finger the indentations and markings, as if they were Braille, and imagine the sounds that would spring to life and fill him with joy, when the needle would eventually take the same route along them. 

          With resolute tranquility, Ryan would sit there, alone, and hold up individual vinyl disks and rotate them before his eyes. He would experiment by holding them at different angles, thus affording him with better and richer reflections of the colours. 

          Often, he would hold the disks perpendicular to his face and close his eyes. This way, he could achieve a short- sighted affect. He could throw his eyes out of focus and in the background, he would see only large, nebulous globules of light slowly dancing about the front of the duke box. In front of his face, he could see the large black vinyl in all its divine clarity and watch crisp lighting affects unfold in the reflection.


          On an increasingly rare and brief visit out of his bedroom to make a paltry lunch for himself, Ryan bumped into his housemate, Mark in the kitchen. Looking forever pasty from lack of sunlight and ever so slightly gaunt, Ryan appeared genuinely displeased to be face- to face with his friend.

          Mark, ever sympathetic and patient, tried to make pleasant conversation.

          "Been listening to anything good recently?" He piped optimistically.

          "Just the usual crap" Ryan cynically responded, without gracing Mark with eye contact.

          "I found a promising looking copy of 'Dark Side' in that charity shop, opposite that pub, the Splendor, yesterday. I thought I might pick it up, along with some beers and we could make a night of it…" Mark suggested hopefully.

          "I wouldn't bother. I've got too much work on at the minute."

          Mark knew all too- well; Ryan had no work to do, he'd finished University a good month before and he was comfortably getting by on the allowance that his parents were still giving him each week.

          Bothered by his friends' uncharacteristic ignorance, Mark felt compelled to challenge his friend.

          "Come on mate… you never used to be this secluded. What's happening to you for god's sake? I never used to be able to speak to you before, because you were out walking the banks of the river, or the canal towpath. What happened to that passion for writing you had? And remember when you used to live your 'carpe diem' motto…"

          For a moment, it looked as though Ryan was about to weaken to his friends' words. He dipped his head and looked solemnly at his plate of sandwiches (jam was oozing profusely out of the sides and through holes in the top of the bread).

          "… And ever since you bought that piece of shit, you've started to lose your way"

          Ryan took the last couple of words badly. He looked immediately stunned and pained by them.

          "Aw fuck off, man" He belched without conviction.

          Mark, unfazed by Ryan's outburst, dolefully resigned himself to the fact that he wasn't going to get anything better than that out of Ryan.

          "… And Ryan, you remember, old man Tony Harding, the handyman? Well, he's coming round tomorrow to fix that faulty window lock of yours. Don’t worry about having to be in, cos when I spoke to him on the phone, he told me that Mrs. Elliot would be giving him a copy of the house keys."

          To that, Mark received nothing but the thunderous sound of a door slamming, and the chunky, but muffled sound of George Harrison's Gretsch guitar.


          Tony Harding, an elderly and experienced labourer, treaded cautiously and apprehensively amongst the abundance of cardboard boxes, which, full of LP sleeves, cluttered the stairs leading to Ryan's room. Given the cumbersome toolbox which Harding carried, along with his youth but a fleeting memory, he found negotiating and dodging the boxes hard work. 

          Once at the top of the flight, Harding knocked on the door, but his knocks were barely audible over the loud music coming from within. 

          Given the overly polite and timid nature of Harding, he felt uneasy about knocking over and over, and just as he was about to give in, the bedroom door of Ryan Astbury burst open. 

          Blocking the gap between Harding and the tumultuous debris of black vinyl was Astbury's slender frame filling the equally slender door opening. 

          "Good afternoon, young man" Harding said nervously.

          "My name's Tony Harding, and I'm here to have a look at your faulty window." He said with a forced smile. He offered Ryan his hand to shake, but he didn't honor the old man. Instead, his hands remained deep- rooted in the pockets of his dirty combats. 

          Ryan leaned against his door- frame and allowed his head to fall back as far as it would go on his shoulders. With a rambunctious sigh aimed at the ceiling, Ryan turned to re- enter his room and with his trailing left foot, he abruptly kicked the door wide open. Harding nervously followed.   

          "Ah, Roy Orbison. I've still got most of my ol' LP's…" Harding said with an air of astonishment whilst staring goggle- eyed at all the vinyl strewn about on the floor.

          There were so many records on the floor that barely any of the red carpet was visible.

          Ryan stepped clumsily over heaps of disks. Miraculously he didn't stand on one as he found his way over to an office chair with its casters buried on all sides.

          "Jazz was always my thaang" Harding reminisced with forced confidence.

          "…Davies, Coltrane, Charlie Mingus; they were all my favourites." He added, hoping to get a response out of the young man who was less than half his age.

          Ryan didn't acknowledge anything Harding was saying. Instead, he sat in the chair with his feet high up on the duke's golden halo. His eyes were locked onto the changing colours of the machines' front panel.

          Harding looked nonplussed with Ryan's ignorance, but nonetheless, he dismissed it in favour of getting with his work.

          "This the offending window over here?" Harding pointed with a chewed biro to a small window above the head of the bed.

          Ryan strained and turned in his chair to give Harding a look that couldn't have been described as being any less than a glower.

          Given that the window was the only one in the room. Harding made his way over to it.

          In that part of the room, the vinyl was so deep that he bent over to move some of it aside.

          "Hands off" Ryan belched with stern clarity from the other side of the room. He turned down the volume on the duke and turned in his chair, setting his feet on the foot of the bed so he could give Harding his full attention.

          Uncomfortably, Harding was forced to climb onto the bed and crawl the last couple of feet to the window. He opened the window and strained his head to take a look at the mechanism.

          "Yep, the keeps gone; just as I thought. It'll take me no time to fix this."

          Harding reached into his toolbox and produced a screwdriver. He was so uncomfortable in the room with Ryan, that his hands were trembling enough to make him unable to fit the screwdriver in the screws. His concentration was shot and he dropped the tool a number of times.

          After struggling with the screws and wrestling with the fittings, he managed to pull out the locking block from the window.

          "There, that's your faulty piece, I just need to go back out to the car and fetch the new set." his voice, far more tremulous than before.
          Harding clambered down from the bed and wiped his sweating hands across the magnolian- paint stains on the front of his weathered lumberjack shirt. His face was contorted in an appearance, tantamount to panic. Sweat ran freely from his forehead and stung his eyes, as he tried to stare into the resolute and fierce eyes of Ryan Astbury. 

          Harding, an amiable and innocent fellow felt grotesquely afraid to be in Ryan's presence a moment longer. He wanted to leave, but the job needed finishing. Saucer- eyed and with his hands protectively held flat to his chest. His mouth fell open and quivered. He was visibly terrified, whilst Ryan Astbury mocked him with a cruel and resolute glower.

          "I'll just be two seconds" Harding said without conviction and took a step forward.

          "Watch the records you fucked up old dick" Ryan barked as he sprang from his seat.

          Harding, screwing up his face in terror and cowering behind his arms, winced and leaped backwards. If it hadn't been for the sound of him smashing his bare and unprotected skull against a low extremity of the loft ceiling, they would have both heard the sickening crunch of vinyl beneath his heavy work boots.

          Ryan's face contorted into a wicked smile as he rubbed his hands and licked his lips at the sight of Tony Harding crumpling and falling onto the bed with his head tightly held between in his hands. A trickle of crimson ran slowly, but pleasingly through his bony fingers. 

          Ryan stepped forward to admire Harding's pain a little more closely, but as he moved forward, he noticed the shards of vinyl where Harding's foot had been. Ryan fell to his knees and picked up the pieces. He desperately searched for splinters of vinyl that had a fragment of label to find out which record had just been destroyed. He desperately fixed pieces together in order to read the torn label. MCA RecordsElectric Ladyland… All the emotion drained from his face as he looked to the ceiling and held the solid ebony tears to his cheeks. He rubbed the pieces of vinyl hard and in a circular motion against his skin in order to feel the indentations against his face. He took a dagger shaped piece of the record and held it to his eyes, trying to catch a reflection of light, but he couldn’t focus as real tears welled in his eyes.

          At that very moment, the cries of pain from Harding re- entered his conscious. He soon forgot about the broken vinyl and walked over to where Harding lay half on, and half off of the bed. 

          Ryan jumped up onto the bed and sat cross- legged, aside the injured old man. Though Harding still lay with his head cradled in his hands, he parted his fingers as to be able to see Ryan. His eyes were weak and sad, the incidents prior to now had been too much for him to handle and he was suffering a most adolescent grief.

          Ryan sat beside Harding and formed a sympathetic smile. He ran his fingers through the old man's wispy white hair and across his bald scalp, towards the gash. He quickly removed his hand to look at his crimson adorned finger- tips.

          Strengthening his smile, he wiped the gore onto the pillow- case and began to soothe the man's injured head once more. Harding naïve and trusting; released the grip of his head.

          "You old bastard" Ryan said calmly.

          "You stupid old bastard, you." Ryan said reassuringly with a gentle laugh. Harding looked puzzled and began to tremble.

          "And to think that I invited you into my room, and you've done that to one of my precious albums." Ryan said, as his smile gave way to chagrin.

          "You know you're gonna pay for that" He told Harding, although he had difficulty hearing himself as Roy Orbison's voice began to soar in the background.

          Looking ever frightened, Harding began to whimper. His eyes, full of the blood that'd just run freely from a hole in his head, desperately searched for a savior as Ryan leaned over the top of his stricken body and grabbed the screwdriver.

          Ryan took the tool in his right hand and inspected the whole length of the four- inch barrel, rotating and manipulating it before his eyes, as he'd done with the vinyl.

          Once he'd finished inspecting the tool, Ryan calmly took Harding in a headlock and as Roy Orbison reached the height of his Only the Lonely vocal solo, he eased the length of the barrel into Harding's head, via his eyeball. Harding's body tensed, but he didn't make a sound until the very end. As his eye popped, a gentle hissing sound was audible as the air escaped. The smell of that alone was ripe enough to make Ryan cringe, but not that that would halt him in his lugubrious deed. Ryan eased the screwdriver slowly but fluidly into Harding's head. As it pierced the fabric of his brain, he let out a falsetto scream that outdid even old Roy, in the background. As the thick green, ribbed plastic of the handle plugged Harding's eye socket, he ceased the ungodly sound and was soon, quiet. 


          The arm inside of the duke box waved to Ryan through the viewing window in an elongated sweeping motion as it removed a Mama's and Papa's LP and replaced it with the Doors' penultimate studio album. 

          Eleven, twenty- two… thirty three RPM. Once the LP reached its full speed, Ryan, with his eyes maniacally wide open and his tongue protruding the full length, keyed in a number and watched with delight as the arm with the needle swung round and found its position on the vinyl.

          It was a week after the killing of Tony Harding and Mark Wainwright, oblivious to the brutality was growing concerned about a pungent and wholly unhealthy smell that was wafting down the stairwell from Ryan's room. 

          Mark knew all too well that Ryan was home because he could hear the relentless duke box. He disguised the fact that he intended to snoop on Ryan, by taking him a plate of sandwiches up to his room.

          Once on the stairwell leading to Ryan's room, Mark yanked his fading Dr. Pepper T- shirt up over his mouth and nose to try and hide from the foul smell, but it had gotten so strong by now that the shirt did little good.

          Once at the top, Mark rapped on the door, to no avail. He tried again, and again. There were no sounds coming for Ryan's room other than those coming from the Duke. With his foot, Mark eased the door open slowly. Immediately, he was knocked back by the warm stench from within. Sour milk and rotten cheese… Mark instantly thought, and with that, he retched and leapt backwards. It took him a moment to compose himself breathing deeply and rapidly into a tightly cupped hand. He set the sandwiches down and spat the copious build up of sickly spit out of the landing window.

          Turning, he saw the door ajar. For a second he peered through the opening and across the wash of black vinyl, he saw part of Ryan sitting in his chair.

          Clasping a hand fiercely tight in front of his mouth and nose, Mark kicked the door open and stepped inside. Covering his mouth and nose so tightly, Mark barely noticed the smell. Especially with the sight of his, once best friend, Ryan, sitting in the chair. He sat tightly grasping and caressing the rubber arms of the seat, leaving trails of sweat. His head was tilted back and rolling against the seat rest, and his bony shoulders protruded forwards.

          His mouth was agape, but he only took shallow breaths. A gurgle was bubbling away from deep with Ryan's throat.

          His eyes were open only a fraction and the pupils had long- since disappeared into his skull.

          Mark, shuddered and glanced to his right. The bed of Ryan had a large brown stain on the top left corner. It covered one of the pillows and had seeped down and covered a third of the mattress.

          Beyond the bed, on the floor, was a knee jutting upwards, and clad in navy- blue corduroy trousers. Mark leaned forwards and saw the greenish/ yellow and sunken face of Tony Harding with a green protrusion coming from his left eye.

          Repulsed, Mark looked back over to Ryan who was now, awoken from his come, giving Mark his unbridled attention.

          "Yes?" Ryan said calmly with a wicked smile.

          Mark looked on, words failed him, rather, he just stood there, eyes agog. 

          A song was just coming to an end on the Duke.

          "Ah… if you'll just excuse me for a moment Marky Mark."

          Ryan rose fluidly from his chair and stepped gracefully over piles of records. He tentatively and knowingly keyed in a number on the Duke's key- pad.

          The arm inside the machine slowly arced and it's large black, circular hand waved to Ryan. Shyly and effeminately, he waved back. 

          As Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blue's stabbing guitar chord opening came on, Ryan stepped back and took a massive breath of air. His shoulders raised, as did his arms.

          Veins bulged like large earth- worms in the backs of hands. He swung around on the balls of his feet and coyly grinned at Mark, before nodding down towards the corpse of Harding. 

          "Mark, did you know that he killed one of my albums? Electric Lady, I think it was." Ryan didn't even care to see if Mark was listening or not. Instead, he looked lustfully it the body lying beside the bed. 

          "He paid, of course… with his life!!!"  Ryan shrieked out the last part and walked over to the dead man.

          Mark watched on in absolute awe as Ryan tugged the screwdriver from the head of Harding and flicked the congealed gray matter off the silver barrel. 

          Mark, shocked beyond belief, allowed his hand to fall away from his mouth, though he didn't notice the smell anymore.

          Ryan took the screwdriver in hand and stepped towards Mark.

          "We were making sweet love when you interrupted, Mark" Ryan nodded back towards the Duke.

          "You're a intrusive little shit aren't you?" Ryan said with the same gentle laugh as before he killed Harding. He raised his arm with the tool and lunged for Mark.

          However, un- intoxicated by whatever evil possessed Ryan, he was for more alert and he was able to catch Ryan's attacking hand. Surprised at being halted, Ryan lost his surge of energy and was caught out by a deft right- hook to the chin.

          Ryan bolted upright. His eyes went straight to the back of his head and he began to loose his balance. His arms wind- milled and he stepped backwards. One foot followed the other. Vinyl shattered beneath his feet, like thin ice on shallow puddles. Ryan picked up speed and just before the towering Duke, he fell.

          His momentum took him straight through the front panel. A cascade of sparks spewed from the stricken machine's protective golden casing. A lick of flames spat from just above his head.

          'You can't use the caaarrr beeacauusze yooo deedaantt woooaaaooockaagghhrrlllaaayytt' 

          Ryan glanced up at the fatally wounded duke box and then at Mark. A look of sadness filled his eyes and just before he, along with the duke box combusted into a ball of orange flame, Mark saw the Ryan Astbury of old. For that split second, he saw his old friend; an innocent and caring boy. His body jolted as the flames took hold. Mark inched forwards, protecting face, he wrestled with the idea of trying to save his friend, but it appeared as though Ryan was disappearing further inside the Duke. Through the vibrant flames, Mark watched, in vain as Ryan's flesh bubbled, burst and peeled. Just as Mark was about to concede and admit defeat, the Duke belched and puked a torrent of black vomit, covering the burnt body of Ryan in molten vinyl. And then, Mark knew that there was nothing left for him to do. He retreated back down the stairwell and out of the house where he watched on as the flames raped and ravished the loft of the house.

          After work, the next day, Mark Wainwright walked out of the charity shop, opposite the Splendor with an LP copy of Dark Side of the Moon under his arm.

          He walked the short distance to the river and jogged along the embankment to a secluded area where no onlookers could see what he did next.

          He removed the vinyl from its cardboard sheathing and buried it, along with a note, deep in the earth beneath a towering willow.

'Sail away sweet child
You laughed and you beguiled,
You found and you lost your
Confounded dreams, but
Now you're free child'


copyright 2005 Alex Clark.

Alex Clark:
I was raised in the kind of small village where a dead dog could and often would attract an audience. It's the kind of place where you either end up working in the local supermarket; staggering round with a glazed look in your eyes, or you develop an eccentric imagination that blossoms into creativity. Fortunately for me, it was the latter.

Previous publishing credits: Though there is none of my work to currently get your teeth into, two of my stories have been accepted for publication in the first and second volumes of 'Macabre Masters'. A pulp anthology, being edited by award winning writer/actor/ filmmaker, David Hayes. Publication date, TBA.

You may contact Alex Clark at: