In the heart of Puddleton town stood a dilapidated bandstand that housed a large music box. Upon the box stood a ballerina, caught in a pose of timeless grace. The weather-tainted paint failed to keep the ballerina’s true beauty at bay.

Puddleton town was a dreary old place, if it wasn’t for the ballerina it would be bereft of beauty. There was no art, no music or song, no joy or happiness to be found. It had even lost all of its colour. It was one of the most miserable places you could ever have the misfortune to visit.

People never visited Puddleton, they stumbled upon it. That fate fell to Joshua. He could feel his soul being dripped of life with every step he took. He didn’t plan to stay long. Earn a few coins here and there to afford him lodging, food and safe passage to the next town. He never stayed anywhere too long. He travelled in search of himself. It seemed to be a never-ending journey.

He found his way to the marketplace and wandered through the stalls in search of an appropriate place to perform. He spotted the dry, unused fountain; its surround would provide a perfect stage. As he started to unpack his lute he could sense an unrest in the marketplace. Ignoring his instincts he stood prepared to play for the gathering crowd. The first strum of his lute was greeted with horror and anger. This was shortly followed by flying fruit which narrowly missed his head. The crowd became a mob very quickly, advancing with menace towards him.

He had no choice but to flee. Grabbing his bag in one hand and with his lute grasped in the other he set off away from the marketplace. He didn’t know where he was going, he just ran and ran until his lungs could no longer sustain him. He reached the bandstand and climbed up beside the music box. The overgrown shrubbery now engulfing the bandstand helped hide his presence.

Most of the mob had given up the chase but the final few passed the bandstand without giving it a second glance. For now Joshua was safe. He relaxed a little and started to pay more attention to his surroundings. He traced his fingers over the intricate detail of the music box. He found soot just above where the key was mounted. He slowly became aware of the ballerina. When his eyes finally met hers it was too late. He was smitten.

“She’s pretty, ain’t she be?”

Joshua jumped at the voice from the dark. He brandished his lute as a weapon and backed away.

“Don’t be afraid. I don’t mean to cause no trouble.”

“Then make yourself known.” he said trying to hide the quavering in his voice.

From the darkness stepped a young boy wearing a dark suit, with his face and hands covered in soot. “I don’t mean to cause no trouble.” he repeated.

“What do you want?” said Joshua, as he kept the lute between himself and the boy.

“Nothing mister, I’m just waiting for me da’ to go to the pub so I can go home and miss the beatin’.”

Joshua looked the boy up and down and decided he was no threat. He lowered his lute and gestured to the boy he was welcome to stay.

“She’s very pretty, her,” said the boy.

“She is. Does she still dance when the music box plays?” said Joshua.

“No more. Her tune is broke. Each time they turn the key, there be no sound, just a wail. They say it’s her crying from a broken heart,” said the boy. “The lightnin’ got her, see. She was dancin’, everyone was happy but then the lightnin’ hit. She stopped, so did them all. They try to turn her but she don’t want to dance. They turn it no more though, haven’t done for years.”

Joshua walked up the to ballerina, staring at her face. “That’s so sad, I’d like to have seen her dance.”

“You know tunes,” said the boy pointing to the lute, “fix her tune.”

Joshua stood there, amused by the boy’s suggestion. “The townspeople wouldn’t hate me then?”

“No, they’d have back their life. That’d be what they want,” the boy said, trying eagerly to encourage.

“OK, I’ll try.” Joshua prised open a panel on the side of the music box. Inside he could see strings of various lengths and tautness. Hovering above each string rested a hammer, similar to a piano. Joshua tapped each string in turn and noted the key.

“It’s simply out of tune,” he said. He delved into his bag and pulled out a tuning fork. He held it up to show the boy. “Do you know what this is?”

The boy shook his head.

“This is my life saver. This simple little tool has saved my life on more than one occasion,” Joshua said smiling. He gently tapped it against the music box and began to tune each string.

“I’m done,” Joshua said proudly.

“Turn it, turn the key,” the boy said. He couldn’t contain his excitement. He was hopping up and down with glee.

Joshua turned the key. At first nothing happened, then gradually the floor beneath the ballerina started to rotate. The tune commenced and the ballerina embarked on her dance. The music was beautiful, each note seducing the senses. The paint cleared revealing the full colour of her skin, her dress, her shoes. The colour ran down over the music box, giving it back life. Every note that floated through the air bounced against the miserable surfaces of the town, injecting warmth and happiness. The town turned from gloom to delight. The music swept up the misery and returned the joy. Colour was restored.

“You’ve done it, you’ve done it,” laughed the boy. The voice turned from gaiety to something much more sinister.

Joshua’s smile fell from his face as he witnessed the boy change into a haggard old beast. It had grown to 8 foot tall and was covered with dark matted hair. It had a single stumpy horn growing from its forehead, sunken eyes and two teeth pointing upward from either side of its mouth.

The townsfolk came running towards the bandstand screaming “Turn it off, turn it off.”

Joshua didn’t know what to do, he was paralysed with indecision.

“Leave it boy,” said the beast. “Watch my love feed. It has been an eternity.”

With these words the ballerina leapt from the music box. She glided and floated her way in dance towards the crowds. Her moves were mesmerising. It was too late, the townsfolk were lost, captivated. One by one the ballerina summoned them to her and then thrust her hand into their chests ripping out their hearts. Turning to face her love, she consumed each heart. Through all the terror surrounding her, you could not mistake the love in her eyes that she had for the beast.

There was not a soul left alive in the town. The ballerina returned to the bandstand and stood by her lover. Both slowly walked toward Joshua. He backed away until he could retreat no further. He glanced at the strings through the opening on the music box.

It’s at this point you’d expect Joshua to save the day and cut the strings on the music box and stop its tune. Alas, poor Joshua no longer had the heart for it.

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