SHORT STORIES: ‘Clarabelle’s Song’

The snow started to fall in June 1914. It fell and it fell until the landscape faded away. The house Clarabelle had shared with her father for her twelve childhood years had become an icy dungeon within weeks. Everywhere was padded with thick snow and ice so sound ceased to exist. Even when the snow wasn’t falling it didn’t melt or move, so the bird song never came back.

The servants that looked after Clarabelle told her that the house was depressed and until her father returned the snow would keep falling. So every morning when Clarabelle woke up she listened carefully, for the sound of the birds, for the rustling in the trees – for anything that might have been blocked out by the snow; because if the sound came back, then surely her father would too.

But the weeks rolled into months and her father never did come back. Poor Clarabelle was stuck in her frozen world doing the same thing every day. She slept, she ate and she read her favourite stories. She never read when she should be sleeping and never slept when she should be eating. At least once a day Clarabelle would ask if her father was coming home yet and everyday she got the same answer: “He’ll be back by Christmas, don’t you worry.’

One strange night, Clarabelle found that she was awake in a time she had never seen before. She stood up and walked around the room, watching her breath form almost solid in the air before her. She looked at the calendar besides her bed; she knew it was December, 1914 but she had scribbled out all of the dates: so she didn’t know what the day was, or how many had passed since her father left, or how many were left until Christmas. She looked to the window, hoping that it was the snow leaving that had woken her up. But it was still there. She walked out of her room and onto the staircase where she could sense there was something different. Suddenly Clarabelle realised what had woken her up. She could hear something. There was a brand new noise coming from below her and it was getting louder. She had never heard anything like it – it was joyful and danced playfully from room to room. She followed it around the house, running after it, trying to understand where it was coming from.

“Papa?” Clarabelle said, her voice nearly breaking with excitement, “Papa, is that you?”

Eventually she found herself in a corridor she had never been to. At the end was a heavy door that she had never opened. She stood looking at the door for some time before reaching out with her hand and carefully grasping the doorknob. She tried to turn it but it was slippery and stiff. A noise came from behind her and she swung round. A servant was stood there staring blankly at Clarabelle.

“What do you think you are doing? You shouldn’t leave your bed at this time of night, Clara,” Clarabelle blushed. There was a deep rumble in the distance and the servant glanced to a nearby window. The night sky suddenly lit up bright white reminding Clarabelle of the flash on the camera they would use for the family portraits. Except now, it would just be Clarabelle. Her mother had gone when she was only a baby and now her father had left her too. “See. It is dangerous at night. You should try and sleep through it,” the servant interrupted Clarabelle’s thoughts and she remembered why she was there.

“It’s Papa!” Clarabelle smiled, “He’s just in there.” She pointed at the door, “Can’t you hear him?”
The servant looked back at Clarabelle, “What are you talking about?” A few other servants came in; they stood in their white night gowns floating like ghosts in the dark.
“It is my papa! I know it,” she said.
“Someone take her back to bed,” said the voice of one of the servants.
“Can’t you hear him?” Clarabelle asked.
“Stop all this Clarabelle,” the voice was even harsher than before, “You’re freezing; you’ll make yourself sick doing things like this.”

Clarabelle shut her eyes and listened hard for the song she had heard before, but it was gone. The tinkling sound that made her believe that not all hope was lost had disappeared.




Clarabelle sat in her bed that night. She couldn’t sleep. She waited and waited for the song to come back, but nothing happened. She shut her eyes and imagined the distant flashes turning into one big flash, so hot that it could melt the snow in one go. She imagined her father walking up the long driveway to the house, looking just as handsome and proud as he had the day he left. She couldn’t have been asleep for long when the sound rung through her chamber and once again she was slipping back down the stairs. Her heart was beating heavily and she clutched at her chest trying to stop it from beating loud enough to wake the servants. Her hands trembled. The music carried on playing; that sound she didn’t know was calling her back. She went straight to the cold kitchen and pattered gently across the tiles and into the corridor. Her stomach ached and she felt like she couldn’t stand. She walked up to the huge door and with all the strength she had, grabbed the doorknob and pulled. The door flew open and the sound flooded out. She flinched as though the music could hurt her. It was a feeling she couldn’t grasp, it sounded like the bird song she had forgotten, like the colours of the rainbow she couldn’t remember.

She looked down into the room; all she could see was a staircase, leading into more darkness. She took one step in and she shut the door carefully behind her, hoping that none of the servants had already been woken by the explosive sounds. She took a seat on the top step and listened.

“Papa,” she said, “is that you?”

The music didn’t stop. After a while, Clarabelle decided to take tentative steps into the darkness. Step after step after step and still, the music did not stop. After a lifetime of steps Clarabelle’s eyes had adjusted and she looked around the darkness. There was a piano, something she had only ever read about. On top of the piano was a candle which seemed to plié up and down with the music. Clarabelle had never heard a piano before. At first she assumed it was playing itself, but as she got closer, she could make out a figure dressed all in black facing away from her. She ran up to the pianist, “Papa,” but stopped abruptly when she saw the spiny fingers on the black and white keys. They were whiter than the snow outside and harder than the icicles on her window ledge. They felt their way around the keys with the dexterity of a surgeon, moving so rhythmically it pulled Clarabelle into a trance.

She shut her eyes and listened to every note and when she opened them again, she was back in her bed and it was morning. Clarabelle returned to the kitchen, still in her nightgown. She found the door but this time it was locked. Disappointed that she would not see her pianist again she sat by the door and cried.

“Why are you crying?” A servant appeared from the kitchen and looked at Clarabelle.
“Because I want to go in there and it is locked.”
“It’s always locked and if we have to unlock it, then it is because out here has become too dangerous.”
“What do you mean? Are you talking about the lights outside?”
“Yes. If those lights come to our house then we have to hide down there. But until then, that door will stay locked and we will be safe.”
“Is Papa stopping them for getting to us?”
“Yes, he is just over the hillside and he is fighting with all the other men in England to make sure they never reach his darling Clarabelle.”

Clarabelle loved hearing stories about her father, so she sat in her room by the window all day, imagining him fighting for her. She pretended he had a sword and shield, like the knights in her stories.

Clarabelle was woken by music again that night and at first she tried to ignore it. But the thought of those fingers playing so gracefully on the keys was torturing her. She felt strange and frustrated. She clenched her fists and squeezed her thighs together, “Don’t go.”

Soon she was by the door and to her surprise it opened by itself this time. She walked in confidently and hurried down the staircase. The figure was still there, the candle still bobbed along happily and the music was even more beautiful than before. If she could just touch him she knew everything would be better again.

Meanwhile, fifteen miles away an aircraft was making its way towards the lights by Clarabelle’s home. The pilot had never gone through snow like this before and in no time he had lost all sense of direction. He could not tell which way was up and which way was down – everywhere was just white. Even though it was far away he too could hear the song of the piano. The pilot closed his eyes. It reminded him of home, of his girl that was waiting for him, of his sick mother, of the Christmas turkey that he should have been eating. He took his hands away from the controls and let the sound guide him to safety.

There was a rattle upstairs, like a dragon had landed on the roof. But that didn’t stop Clarabelle from walking steadily towards the pianist. His hood was still up and his hands didn’t stop moving. There was another noise from above her and some dust began falling from the ceiling – almost as though a pipe burst and water was trickling out, but it was dust and it was heavy. Clarabelle coughed as she stood next to him and looked up. She couldn’t see his face. She looked at those hands, hard like wood. She carefully pulled the hood down and saw the skull beneath it. She trembled, a little in fear but also in amazement.

She put her hand out and touched the bone of his face. He turned, his eye sockets were empty but she could tell he was kind; he didn’t need eyes to show love. She put her other hand on what would be his other cheek. The house was crumbling all around them. The stairs came cascading down one on top of the other. There were such loud sounds that would have made Clarabelle cry before. But Clarabelle was brave now and even though she could hardly breathe she kissed the skull. There was a flash of white, just like she had seen in the distance. She shut her eyes and felt heat again. The blood rushed back into her fingers and toes so quickly it felt like it would burst out of her. For the first time since her father left Clarabelle could hear more sounds and feel more of her own body than ever before. She looked to the skeleton that was now standing over her. Somehow Clarabelle was now on the floor. She hadn’t felt herself fall or even realised how awkwardly sprawled out on the brick floor she was. “Is it Christmas yet? Is it over now?”

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