Leo Zifkak stood at his desk, staring down at the painted box that had changed his life. A shadowy face stared back at him from the shining black surface of the box's lid. It was Leo's reflection, but it seemed to float in darkness far below the mirror-smooth lacquer. It was as if it wasn't a reflection at all, but the face of a darker and more mysterious Leo enclosed within the box.
Thoughts like this made Leo extremely uncomfortable. Eager to break the illusion he grabbed the box and lifted it up. The oval silver ring set into the center of the lid flashed dazzlingly.
Leo jerked back, nearly dropping the box, and instantly felt ashamed. Idiot, he told himself, as his thudding heart slowed. It was just the sun shining through the window above the desk, hitting the silver ring. What’s the matter with you?
But he knew what the matter was. Just over a week ago, his pleasant, ordered, ordinary life had changed. Just over a week ago, the music box that had been a family treasure for hundreds of years had arrived in this house, and taken its place in Leo's room. Great-Aunt Bethany Langlander had left it to Leo in her will, because she thought that he was the most sensible, the most responsible, of all her great-nephews and great-nieces. She was sure that Leo would look after the music box, and that he would be as careful as she had been to keep the rules laid down by her own uncle Henry when he had left the box to her.
This time ignoring the flash of the silver ring, Leo lifted the box again and squinted at the yellowed strip of paper stuck to the bottom, just above the key you turned to make the music play. For about the hundredth time he read the faded words Henry Langlander had written so long ago.
Turn the key three times only.
Never turn the key while the music is playing.
Never pick up the box while the music is playing.
Never close the lid until the music has stopped.
If the rules had been kept, the first rule especially, Leo would never have learned the secret of the music box.
And left to myself, he thought, I'd probably have kept the rules till the day I died, and left the music box to whoever in the family I thought would keep them, too. If it hadn't been for Mimi...
If it hadn't been for his cousin Mimi — prickly, interesting, infuriating Mimi Langlander...
The sound of voices drifted through his open window. Down below, in the back garden, his parents and four of their oldest friends were sitting around the long table relaxing after their leisurely Sunday lunch. They were waiting for Leo — waiting for him to bring down the music box. And by this time they must have been wondering why he was taking so long.
Just get it over with, Leo told himself. It might not be as bad as you think. They might just look at it quickly. They might not ask you to make it play.