tagNon-EroticThe Wrong Note

The Wrong Note

byMagicaPractica©

Author's Note: This is an entry in the Literotica Halloween Contest. Please take a moment to vote at the end of the story and, if you enjoyed it, please leave me a comment! This story is a little bit mystery, a little horror, a little romance and quite a bit sad. Don't look for any happy endings here. It falls solidly in the non-erotic category.

*

"For next time, I want you to listen to these two pieces of music and, after each one, write down the words that come to mind, okay?" Rita handed Brent the CD case as they stood at the front door of her home, where she had a room set aside as an office.

He smiled, but it didn't reach his light blue eyes and Rita's heart went out to him. Three of his friends on campus had been found dead, murdered, in the last year. She had been working with the campus psychologist to help some of the students deal with the tragedy, which was all the more difficult as they didn't really know what had happened to the students, two girls and a boy. Was there one person behind it or were they copycat cases? Rita's friend, Matteo, who was a police officer, said the investigators were at an impasse. Brent had been sent to Rita's music therapy practice for help because he was having trouble sleeping and would wake from terrible dreams where his friends shrieked in agony, imagining the worst possible scenarios. It had been hard just hearing the little bit Brent had told her about his dreams. He was a sweet boy, kind and charmingly sincere. She worried about him.

Brent turned the CD case over in his hands. "Thanks, Rita."

Rita opened the door for Brent, hooked her long, wispy dark hair behind her ear and smiled.

Brent stepped across the threshold and stopped. "Hey, looks like someone left you a present."

Rita followed his gaze and saw the silver-wrapped box with a red bow on the porch swing.

Brent moved aside to let Rita out onto the porch. "They must have left it while we were in our session. From your boyfriend maybe?"

Rita just smiled without bothering to reply that there was no boyfriend. She walked over and picked up the small parcel, about the size of a child's shoe box.

"Well, I'd better get going. My friends want to meet for lunch." Brent's footsteps crunched down the gravel drive. "See you next week," he called from the end of the driveway.

Rita lifted a hand in farewell then looked back down at the parcel in her other hand. How odd. Who could have left it? A whisper of voices murmured just beyond her hearing and the feeling of foreboding she'd been experiencing lately intensified. It was as if she felt greasy dust on the package even though it looked silvery clean. She paused, considered opening it right on the porch, but then she sighed, told herself she was being silly and took it in. It was probably some grateful client, perhaps parents of a child who she had helped. Some of them wanted to express their gratitude through gifts, but Rita felt compelled to discourage that. It just seemed wrong when they were already paying her. Maybe there's a card inside it.

She carried the package into the house and closed the door. In the kitchen, she set the package on the counter then went to put the kettle on for tea before she opened it.

With a hot cup of tea steeping, Rita pried up the taped points of paper on the sides of the package with her unpainted nails then slid the box out. It was a children's shoe box, as she'd thought, she noted with amusement, for sandals, though that didn't help her identify who it was from. She lifted off the pale pink lid and set it aside then peeled back the tissue paper and stared in puzzlement. It seemed to be a stuffed dove nestled into the tissue paper. Who would give her a stuffed bird? She tilted her head and looked more closely then her stomach turned. The head was flopped to the side and she pushed it tentatively with one nail. It flopped heavily in the other direction. It was a real morning dove, but dead. Voices whispered just out of hearing. Rita closed her eyes. "What?" She caught one sentence before the voices faded away. Rita opened her eyes and focused on the bird again. She swallowed hard, picked up the lid and put it back on then went to wash her hands and got her cell phone out of her purse. She pulled up the contact for Teo.

"Cayuga County Sheriff's office."

"Teo?"

"Hey, Rita. What's up?"

"Can you come over?"

"Well, I'm on duty right now . . . "

"Yes, I know, I just . . . someone left me a gift but when I opened it . . . " She swallowed, feeling queasy. "It's a dead bird."

There was silence on the line for a moment. "I'll be right there."

"Thanks."

#


There was a knock at the door and Rita put down mug of tea down on the old maple kitchen table and went to answer it. Her mind went back to the first time she had opened the door to Teo. "No, no necesito un terapeuta . . . of any kind, Tia Selena."

"Matteo! Behave yourself and speak English in front of Rita!" The older woman had reached up and pinched his ear without further ado.

"Ouch!" Teo turned and offered Rita a wide and charming smile of apology.

Rita's lips had quirked up.

"Rita!" Tia Selena had said, taking charge of the situation. "This is my nephew Matteo. He just moved here from New York City. He has bad dreams. I know because he has been staying with me until he gets his own apartment. You fix him, no?" The little woman peered up at Rita imploringly.

Rita's eyes narrowed. Selena had been born in the Dominican Republic but had lived in the U.S. for fifteen years. She was pulling the innocent old woman routine, though Rita knew her to be a savvy professor who had taught mythology, religion and the occult at the university. What was she up to?

Rita wrapped her arms around her middle and glanced over at Matteo. "Selena, I'm a musical therapist, not a psychologist, you know that. I might be able to help, depending . . . but if Matteo doesn't want help I can't . . . "

Selena turned to Matteo and quickly slapped him on the arm. "You want help, no?"

Rita was mildly surprised that, instead of getting annoyed with the woman, Matteo started to laugh, which he smothered with a cough and nodded. "Oh, yes, yes, Tia Selena, of course." His dark eyes sparkled, throwing Rita off balance.

"Good! I will knit on the porch," she said, patting the large bag over her arm, "while you two talk inside."

Slightly nonplussed at the turn of events, Rita looked at Matteo. He lifted his eyebrows in response.

"Well, if you'd like to come in for a cup of tea, we can talk about what the issue is . . . " She stepped back and gestured inside.

Matteo smiled and walked past her. "So, your first name is really Margarita?"

"How did you . . .?" Rita's eyes narrowed as she heard a trill of giggling that echoed faintly. Cops, always digging up information they shouldn't. She shut the door behind him.

#


Teo stood looking down at the box. He leaned in and sniffed gently then straightened up, his normally cheerful countenance a mask of control. "It can't have been dead long, there's no smell of decay or any kind of preservation technique."

Rita nodded from the kitchen table but didn't get up, she had no interest in seeing the dead bird again. It wasn't that she minded dead animals, death was a natural part of life, but there seemed to be a feeling of . . . malevolence coming off this one, as if it were a curse.

Teo pulled out a large, clear evidence bag and put the lid on the box then the whole thing into the bag and sealed it. "I'll have them dust it for prints and we'll find out how the bird died for good measure."

"Thank you." Rita was concerned to find out how the bird died as well. It would be one thing if someone just picked up a dead bird but if they'd actually killed it to give to her . . . that was another matter entirely.

Teo took off his gloves and left them with the bag on the counter then walked over to Rita. Kneeling down next to her at the table, he looked up into her eyes.. "Are you okay?"

She smiled wanly. "No, but I will be." Once that thing is out of my house.

Teo tilted his head to the side. "Hey, what's wrong? Is there something you're not telling me?"

Rita sighed and unclasped her hands, reaching down to smooth her skirt under the table several times. Wasn't being gifted a dead bird reason enough to be upset? But he was right, as usual. "It's just . . . a feeling." She knew Teo wasn't comfortable with her more extra-sensory perceptions, mainly because his expression was always so carefully neutral when she said anything about it, so she usually avoided discussing it. That wasn't difficult. He generally didn't need to know when she heard something and he was simply respectful when it came to her traditions. She assumed that came from growing up in the barrio. They would have had their own traditions and ceremonies, alongside the Catholic traditions they had also both grown up with.

Now, he touched her knee. "Hey, cops believe in hunches, sometimes it's a matter of our minds putting things together before we consciously can. What is it? It's obviously bothering you."

Rita frowned and looked down into his eyes. She trusted him, she really did, but she wasn't ready to tell him what she had heard. "I have a feeling that whoever left this for me wasn't just pulling a Halloween prank. I think he, or she, is a very disturbed person."

Teo thought for a minute. "You may be right. Are you worried about staying here alone? I have that second bedroom at my place that I'm using as an office?"

She smiled. "No, but thank you. I'm not worried about that. I'm more worried about this person's . . . disordered thinking."

Teo grinned and shook his head. "Somebody gifts you a dead bird but trust you to be more worried about them."

Rita smiled and looked down.

"Okay." Teo stood up and pulled out a notepad then sat down across the table from her. He leaned forward slightly, pen and notepad at the ready. His eyes held hers in unspoken encouragement as he asked the questions he needed to. "Is there anyone, anyone at all, who might have the slightest grudge against you, even something minor? Unreasonable minds can blow things out of proportion, you know that."

Rita sighed. "I know." Her hands wrapped around her green tea cup as if for warmth, though the tea inside had gone cold. There were a few but she couldn't tell him about her clients, privacy laws prohibited that. What could she tell him? "There are a few."

"A few?" Teo asked, his eyebrows rising. "I half expected you to deny there was anyone. Okay. I need names."

"Do you remember the teen boy, Neil Ferguson, who committed suicide last Spring?"

Teo nodded. "I remember. He was being bullied at school."

"I worked with him, in conjunction with his psychologist. His mother was very angry, thought we should have been able to prevent it."

Rita looked so forlorn that Matteo reached across and squeezed her hand. "I'm sure you did all you could."

Rita gave him a small smile but it was fleeting. She had done all she could think of but was there something they hadn't thought of that might have helped? That was the question that plagued her at night when she couldn't sleep.

She shook her head as if shaking off the thoughts. "There was also a girl that I worked with . . . " Again, the psychologist had sent her to Rita for music therapy to help with nightmares, but she had gotten even more upset when they worked with the music. "The father accosted me in the grocery store, yelling that I had suggested memories to the child that didn't really happen."

Matteo whistled. "About what?"

She shook her head quickly. "I can't explain. Patient confidentiality."

"Okay, I understand. Names?"

"Um, the father is Harold Steingold."

"Anyone else?"

Rita shook her head but it slowed to a stop and she frowned.

"What? Come on, tell me chiquita," he coaxed.

Rita smiled slightly. It was a running joke between them, because she was so tall.

"Rita?"

She shook herself. "There's a man down the street. He calls me a bruja whenever I walk by and makes the sign of the cross. Mr. Comacho." She shrugged. "He seems harmless enough."

Teo's head bobbed as he wrote. "Okay. I'll look into it, have a chat with him." He looked up and pinned her with his gaze. "Anyone else?"

Rita considered then shook her head once, sharply. "I don't know, not that I can think of but you never really know, do you?"

Teo put down his pen and met her eyes. "Come on, sure you do. Most people don't hide what they're thinking and feeling that much, or that well, and you read people better than others."

Rita sighed. He was right, she was just overwrought by the whole experience, knowing someone meant to scare her, and had gone out of their way to attempt to do it. It was getting to her. Which is probably what they intended more than anything.

Teo collected his notebook then went to get the evidence bag. "Okay. Make sure you lock this door when I leave." He had searched the house when he had arrived and heard what happened, from the crawl space attic to the root cellar.

"I will," Rita promised.

And she did, locking it behind him before he'd even driven away. She walked back into the kitchen, slightly unsure what to do with herself. It was only three o'clock but it felt like it should be so much later with all that had happened. There was something so very wrong with this whole situation. Her only purpose in life was to help people. The thought of someone so angry with her that they would send a symbol of that anger deeply saddened her. If only she could communicate with them, talk with them, surely they could resolve this. She had to figure out who it was so she could reach out to them . . . and she knew just who to start with.

She slapped her hands on the table and sat up straight. It was October. What better time to bake an apple pie?

Two hours later, the sky was turning purple and pink as Rita walked up the road with a still warm apple pie -- made with apples from the Northern Spy tree in her backyard. Mr. Comacho surely couldn't think her evil with a warm apple pie smelling of cinnamon and sugar in hand, right?

Rita let herself in the white picket gate and walked up the steps of a one story fieldstone house then rang the doorbell. The door opened and she smiled at the little man with his pencil mustache and curly gray hair. His eyes widened.

"Hi, Mr. Comacho, I'm Rita Howahkan from up the road. I thought, we've never really gotten to know each other so I brought . . . "

As Rita spoke, Mr. Comacho whitened visibly until he began to shake and abruptly slammed the door in her face.

Rita stood there in shock for a minute then turned and walked down the steps. "Well, that could have gone better," she muttered.

She let herself out of the picket fence gate and had just turned toward home when the cell phone in her skirt pocket began to ring. She shifted the pie back to one hand and fished the phone out with her right hand. It was Teo. She accepted the call, thinking he might have some news.

"Rita, where are you?" Teo asked sharply.

"Outside," she replied, his tone making her cautious.

"We just got a call from Mr. Comacho about a bruja trying to poison him with an apple pie. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

Rita turned and gaped at the old man's house. She saw the curtains move and scowled. "Not a thing."

"Good. No investigating without me!"

"Yes, Teo."

She ended the call and dropped the phone in her skirt pocket then raised one hand to the old man and flipped him off.

#


Rita climbed the stairs to her second floor bedroom. It had been a warm, Indian summer day and the room was stuffy so she cracked the two windows, though it was already the end of October. As the air began to exchange, she caught the smell of dry leaves and heard the rustle as a breeze shook the tree limbs outside. She loved that sound and would sometimes open the windows even in cold weather then pile the blankets on her bed.

Rita got ready for bed and settled in, under her comforter, and turned out her bedside lamp. She was tired tonight but her nerves still buzzed. She let her mind drift and it floated over what had brought her to this point in life.

Once upon a time . . . a young medicine woman named Margarita came to New York State to study music therapy. She fell in love with the Finger Lakes and decided to stay.

She had not had a happy childhood. Her parents had died in a car crash when she was only three. She died herself, but was brought back by the paramedics. There had been scars, both physical and mental, though both faded somewhat eventually. But from that time on, she would sometimes hear things other people could not - mostly voices, snippets of conversation, sometimes crying.

There had been one particular instance, when she was seven, where she heard someone crying but she couldn't find them in the mesa surrounding her home. She had kept looking because the crying had sounded so distraught. Her grandmother had to call the police for help in finding her.

After that she was put into a foster home and became a ward of the state. There were good homes, and not so good homes. She learned to act tough and to protect herself.

When she was fifteen, she was put in a foster home in a bad neighborhood. She soon found herself being coerced to take sides with a gang. The voices began to torment her in earnest, rarely giving her a night's peace. It could have ended badly, or permanently, but a medicine man from down the street named Joseph took an interest in her. When a particularly bad knife fight landed her before a judge, Joseph had shown up and offered to take responsibility for her. He had taught her the ways of their people and helped her stay out of trouble.

So, she learned from him and learned to listen to the spirits. And when the state moved her away a year later, she didn't give up. She took everything Joseph had taught her along with her. Joseph had also taught her to play the native flute and she continued that practice, taking the flute along with her too. She studied harder, to be in control of her life, prepared for college, and got a full scholarship to a college in New York. Her grandmother had passed away several years before, their visitations had already been minimal as the older woman aged, and with nothing to hold her back, Rita had moved to New York to start a new life.

She was quiet and studied hard, was friendly with many but close to few. When she finished her degree, she found work, lived simply and saved money to start her own practice in the countryside near Cayuga Lake. She loved the heavy lake effect snows in the winter and the strong sun in the summer, as well as the emerging green of spring and the blaze of colors during early autumn. Then she met Matteo and they became friends.

She turned over in bed and tried to listen to the leaves and finally she began to drift.

As sometimes happened, when she was in between waking and sleep, the voices began, they whispered, a word here and there discernible. She listened. In her head, she saw a group of people sitting around a fire, talking, but she was too far away to really understand them. One abruptly turned toward her and she gasped at the exaggerated features of the mask on his face.

"Stop that! You're scaring her," a gruff male voice said.

"She needs to be scared," a muffled voice replied.

Rita's eyes flicked open and she inhaled deeply. A faint smell of smoke came in through the window. Someone must be having a bonfire. She glanced over at the clock, 12:17. She had been asleep longer than she thought.

Rita frowned and turned over. The first voice had been Joseph but she hadn't recognized the second speaker.

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