There were more spiders than people at the auction.
The heavy red velvet of the opening curtain had faded with the dwindling crowds, the once-enraptured patrons now too afraid to enter the opera house for fear of the ghost of so many years ago. Once, there had been music, colour and laughter here — but none of that was in evidence anymore. The only hint of the previous splendor of these surroundings was the slight glint of gilding, just barely visible beneath the years of dust.
“Lot six-six-five, ladies and gentlemen,” the auctioneer called. “A papier-mache musical box in the shape of a barrel-organ. Attached, the figure of a nug in Antivan robes playing the cymbals. This item discovered in the vaults of the theatre, still in working order, ladies and gentleman. Showing here.”
The crowd around the auctioneer, seemingly uninterested in the lot, dispersed as the piece was displayed. Yet Cullen remained enthralled, and with a tap of his assistant’s hand on his shoulder he told him to place his bid.
“Sold for thirty gold pieces, to the Vicomte de Chagny!”
The bidding was over far quicker than he’d imagined it would be, and Cullen tapped his assistant’s hand a second time, indicating for him to wheel Cullen closer so he could inspect his new purchase.
It was exactly as she’d always described. Older, of course, the edges scuffed and paint peeling, but still in essence the same: a ceramic nug, cymbals in hand, sitting atop a music box. Whilst it was unwound, and likely had not sounded for years, he knew exactly the tune it would play. A tune he knew intimately; one which haunted his dreams since the fateful day he’d first heard it. When he’d almost lost her — the first time.
He reached out, hands far shakier than they had been in years gone by, and ran one finger across the burnished metal of the nearest cymbal. “Would you like me to play it for you, my Lord?”
Cullen nodded, and his assistant dutifully wound up the box. The first few — so distant, yet so familiar — notes were all he could stand; closing his eyes, he lifted his hand in signal, and his assistant immediately stopped the crank. Cullen sighed, unsure if the sudden silence that fell was a relief or a loss.
“Are you alright, my Lord?”
Cullen nodded, eyes still closed, hardly trusting himself to speak.
“Would you like to go home and rest, my Lord?”
He nodded again. His assistant placed the music box in his blanketed lap and turned to wheel him towards the door. His chair juddered over the long-neglected marble of the floor, and he wrapped one arm around the music box to still it, but he was too late. The final notes of the tune he’d decided never to play again chimed, unbidden and unwanted.
Would it still play, when the last of them was dead?
Behind them, the auctioneer announced the next piece: “lot six-six-six, then, ladies and gentlemen: a chandelier in pieces.”