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The Luthier's Apprentice
cover art 2014 Renu Sharma.

 

 

When a psychopathic violinist starts kidnapping other violinists around the world,
16-year old Emma must hunt her down before her own beloved violin teacher is killed.

 

 

Chapter Excerpt

 

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The Luthier's Apprentice

dark fantasy

 

Mayra Calvani

 

 

 

 

Chapter One

Brussels, Belgium

Present day

Sixteen-year old Emma Braun got off the school bus and strode down Stockel Square toward her home. She glanced up at the October sky and wrapped her wool scarf tighter around her neck. Heavy dark clouds threatened a downpour.

As she passed a newspaper stand, the headlines on The Brussels Gazette caught her attention:

ANOTHER VIOLINIST VANISHES!

Emma stopped. For a moment she could only stare. She dug into her jacket pocket for coins and bought a copy.

The newspaper article left her stunned. Not only because three well-known violinists had gone missing in the last several months, but because the latest one was her teacher, Monsieur Dupriez.

The news story seemed so hard to believe, she stopped at the next street corner to read it one more time.

It was the last week of October, and the shops and homes were lightly adorned with Halloween decorations. Pumpkins and Jack-o-lanterns sat on doorsteps. Witches, broomsticks, and black cats hunkered down in windows and shops. Just last evening, Emma had sauntered along this street with her best friend Annika, unconcerned and looking forward to Halloween. Now, everything had turned dark and ominous.

The strange incidents she had experienced for the past two weeks added to her stress.

At first she had thought they were a string of coincidences, but not anymore. While scowling at obnoxious Billie Lynam during school recess, for instance, she wished he would fall flat on his faceÖ and half a minute later, her wish was granted. On various occasions she guessed peopleís thoughts before they spoke. And yesterday, on her way home from school, she accurately guessed the meal her mom had left on the table for her.

Was she some kind of a psychic? If so, why now? People didnít develop powers like these overnight. Did they?

She hadnít told her mom about her new abilities yet; only Annika knew. Maybe she would tell her mom today, after she shared the news about Monsieur Dupriez.

As Emma approached her home, she quickened her step. By the time she reached the door she was almost running. She raced into the hallway and dropped her book bag on the floor.

"Mom!" she called, looking in the kitchen, then in the living room. The house was silent. "Mom!" she called again, racing up the stairs to the bedrooms. Entering her motherís room, Emma found her sitting very still on the bed with a crumpled letter in her hand.

When her mom saw her, she hastily put the crumpled piece of paper into her pocket and rose from the bed. Her arched brows were furrowed with anxiety.

Emma momentarily forgot the newspaper article. "Are you okay, Mom?"

"Iíve just received some unsettling news," her mom said. "I must make a trip to see your Aunt Lili. Sheís ill. SheÖI donít know how long Iíll be gone."

Aunt Lili? Emma frowned. More surprises. Emma had never met her momís eccentric only sister, who lived alone in the Hungarian mountains secluded in an old chateau surrounded by dark woodsóor so her mom said. Though again, her mom hardly ever mentioned her.

"Whatís wrong with Aunt Lili?" Emma asked. "Canít I come with you?" She had always been intrigued by her mysterious aunt.

"No. Youíll stay with Grandpa. You enjoy working with him, donít you?" Her brown eyes met Emmaís before turning away, and though her voice sounded matter-of-fact, Emma detected a trace of ambivalence.

Emma sighed. She loved violin making with a passion, but Grandpa was a bitter taskmaster. No matter how much she tried to please him, she never could. Maybe thatís why her mom often seemed so reluctant about her apprenticeship.

"Iíd rather go with you," Emma said. "Plus, next week is holiday." All Saints holiday weekóor Toussaint, as they called it hereóalmost always coincided with Halloween.

"Thatís out of the question. I donít know how long Iíll be gone. Besides, you canít miss your violin lessons, not with the Christmas competition at the academy coming up soon."

"Iím not so sure about that," Emma said gravely, extending the newspaper.

Her mom took it. "Whatís this?"

"This is why I came running up the stairs."

Her mom read the headlines. She gasped and looked at Emma. When she finished reading, she sat on the edge of the mattress and stared into space. "Oh, my God..." she whispered.

Emma sat next to her mom. "It says Monsieur Dupriez disappeared in his study. The doors and windows were locked from the inside. The police donít have any explanation. How can this happen? Itís not logical. Itís not humanly possible."

"No, not humanly possibleÖ"

"Just like the other threeóthat German violinist, the French one, the American. Nobody has explained their disappearances. Who would want to kidnap violinists?" When her mom didnít answer, she began to gnaw at her fingernail.

As if by reflex, her mom pulled Emmaís hand away from her mouth.

"Sorry," Emma mumbled. "Iím just worried about him."

"Poor Madame Dupriez. We must visit her. She must be in quite a state."

"Can you call her now?"

Her mom sighed. "I will. In a moment." She looked at Emma, her features softening. Gently, she smoothed Emmaís glossy chestnut locks and side fringe away from her face. "Donít worry, everything will be fine. You mustnít be afraid."

"Afraid? Why would I be afraid?"

"I mean, about Monsieur Dupriez." Her mom appeared flustered.

"Iím not afraid. Iím worried, and angry. I want to find out what happened to him. Without him, I donít even want to take part in the competition."

Monsieur Dupriez had been Emmaís teacher since she was four years old. But more than teacher, he was her mentor.

"You will do your best at the competitionówith or without Monsieur Dupriez. Do you hear me?" her mom said. Then her voice softened. "Listen, darling, I know how close you are to Monsieur Dupriez, but you cannot allow his disappearance to destroy your chances at the competition. Iím not asking you to win, only to do your best. You have great talent, a gift, and your duty is to use it to the best of your ability. Never forget this. Monsieur Dupriez would never want you to forget this."

"You still havenít told me whatís wrong with Aunt Lili," Emma said, changing the conversation. "Why must you go to her now, after all these years?"

Looking into Emmaís face, her mom hesitated, as if unable to decide whatóor how muchóto say. "You know sheís always been ill, a recluse. SheÖ" She rose from the bed and walked to the window, then opened the curtain. It had started raining, the drops pelted against the glass. "This time itís serious. She may die."

Emma couldnít help feeling a twinge of suspicion. She hated distrusting her mom, whom she loved more than anything in the world, but this time her mom was lying. Emma trusted that feeling, another of her freaky new abilities. She felt an overwhelming urge to chew her fingernails, but tried to control herself. For her mom, a violinistís hands were a work of art.

"But whatís wrong with her? What kind of disease does she have?" Emma insisted.

"Her heart is very weak." Her mom turned away from the window to face Emma. Her voice was laced with impatience.

And again Emma thought: Sheís lying.

"Please donít worry about it," her mom went on in a lighter tone. "Iíll try to come back soon."

"How soon?"

"As soon as I can manage."

"Grandpa is always in such a nasty mood," Emma complained.

"Well, that isnít news, is it?" Her mom stared down at the floor, as if absorbed by her own thoughts. After a pause, she added, "Heís old and his back always hurts. You know that."

"I love Grandpa, but heís so freakingÖ" She tried to come up with the right word. Bizarre. Instead she said, "Mysterious. You know, with his violins."

Her mom looked at Emma and frowned, as if waiting for her to say more.

"You know what I mean, Mom. With that room at the top of the stairs. The one thatís always locked."

Her momís features hardened. "He keeps his most valuable pieces in there. You must never disobey him. He would be very disappointed."

"Who said I would go in there?" Emma asked, trying to sound innocent. If there was something she intended to do, it was going inside that room. Once sheíd almost been successful. For some crazy reason, Grandpa had forgotten to lock it one day. But the instant she touched the doorknob, he had called her from the bottom of the stairs, his wrinkled features twisted into a mask that had left her frozen. He had appeared enraged and afraid at the same time.

"When are you leaving?" Emma asked, shaking off the past to focus on the present issue.

"As soon as possible. Tomorrow, probably. Iíll get the plane tickets today."

"Mom..."

"Emma, please. If youíre going to complain or say anything negative, I donít want to hear it."

Fine. Obviously, this wasnít the best time to bring up her new psychic powers. She headed to the door.

"Where are you going?" her mom asked.

"To my room."

"Iíll call Madame Dupriez to see if we may visit her after dinner. In the meantime, I want you to pack. Youíre moving to Grandpaís tomorrow."

In her room, Emma dragged her suitcase from the top shelf in the closet and set it on the floor.

"Hi, Sweetie," she said to Blackie, her rabbit. "Want to get some exercise?" She opened the cage door so Blackie could hop out and roam about her room. Blackie was housebroken, and smart as a catóor close to it.

She stared at the elegant taffeta gown hanging from her wardrobe door, a strapless design a la Anne Sophie Mutter sheíd already bought for the upcoming violin competition.

She sighed.

Slumped on the bed, Emma wondered for the umpteenth time about Monsieur Dupriezís strange disappearance.

Where could he be?

 

Chapter Two

Marcel Dupriez stirred on the cot at the sound of approaching footsteps.

Shuddering, he sat up. In spite of the heavy wool blanket the stunning woman had tossed at him last night, his limbs were numb from the cold.

He was trapped in a small square chamber. Unlike a regular dungeon cubicle, this one was constructed from wood instead of stone. One side consisted of vertical metal bars, revealing a long passageway beyond that was dimly illuminated by flickering torches set high on the walls. His only amenities were the cot, a tiny sink, and a chamber pot.

He didnít have any idea where he was or how he had got here. His memories were distorted and his head throbbed with pain as if he had drunk heavy quantities of liquor the night before. The last thing he remembered was working in his study by the warmth of the roaring fire, thenÖ nothing. WaitÖ There had been a brilliant white lightóor was it an explosion? He didnít know. Trying to remember made his temples pound even harder.

Then the woman emerged from the shadows of the passage.

"So, how is our special guest this morning?" Her voice, which had a strong East European accent, was cold and measured.

Dupriez stared at his captor through the bars.

The womanís ash blonde hair rose high above her head, entwined with tiny sparkling amethysts. Black liner and shadow deepened her sultry, heavy-lidded gaze, turning her violet eyes into murky swamps. Her beautifully drawn lips glistened with purple lipstick. Her tall, statuesque figure was wrapped in a purple velvet cloak lined with fur. Like on her hair, amethysts glittered on her neck, ears, wrists and fingers.

"Like what you see, Monsieur?" the woman drawled.

Dupriezís quiet and scientific nature, even in this situation, prevented him from succumbing to anger. He remained logical. "What is the meaning of this? Who are you?" Even as he pronounced the words, a wave of recognition flooded over him. He studied his captorís features. Mon Dieu...cíest pas possible!

The golden retriever at the womanís side snarled.

"Fair questions, Monsieur, but completely predictable. And all along I thought I was in the presence of a great mind. Bah. You are just a self-centered, pathetic creature like the rest. But first things first. Maybe your stupidity has to do with lack of food." She snapped her pale jewelled fingers. "Niccolò! The tray!"

The dog growled once more, revealing a set of shiny fangs.

"Calm yourself, Stradivarius. I am afraid this one is not for eating. I have big plans for him." Her foreign accent was heightened by the fact that she didnít use contractions in her speech. Her chuckle made Dupriezís legs almost collapse under him. "Niccolò!" she called again, glaring with impatience. "Where is that idiot?"

A tall lanky man carrying a tray emerged from the darkness of the long corridor.

"What took you so long? Give Monsieur Dupriez his breakfast. We would not want him to fall ill now, would we?"

The servant crouched, unlocked a small opening low in the cell door with a huge iron key, and slid the food-laden tray toward Dupriez.

Something about the servantóthe corpse-like pallor, bony features, long thin fingers, black clothingóstruck Dupriez. In fact, he looked incredibly familiar, but Dupriez couldnít place where he had seen him before.

Ignoring the tray, he whispered to the servant, "Who are you?"

Offering a cold stare, the servant ignored him, locked the small door, and retreated into the shadows as quietly as a cat.

"Well, as they say in your mother land, bon appetit!" the woman said.

"Wait!" Dupriez called, his hands grasping the cold metal bars. "Why have you brought me to this place? Where are the others?"

The woman quirked a brow. "The others?"

"The other violinists. The ones youíve kidnapped."

The woman smiled at the dog. "Look, Stradivarius, Monsieur Dupriez is not as stupid as I thought." She chuckled softly. "Do not worry. You will learn everything in good time. In just a few days, on All Hallows Eve, there will be a grand party, and youóand the othersówill learn your fate."

"You canít keep me here!"

"How foolish of me. I should have thought of some entertainment in the meantime. I will tell Niccolò to bring you some rats to distract yourself with. They are the most intelligent creatures. Perhaps I should also bring you some tiny violins so you could teach them to play!"

She turned on her heels and her fur-lined cloak swirled behind her. Her chilling laugh echoed throughout the wooden dungeon.

 

Chapter Three

Lying on the bed with her rabbit, Blackie, on her stomach, Emma fished inside her jeans pocket for her cell phone and speed-dialled Annika Goldsmith. She and Annika were in the same sophomore class in the English section of the European School in Woluwe St. Lambert, a suburb district of Brussels. Ever since first grade, the two had been inseparable.

Annika answered on the third ring. "Hey. Whatís up?"

"Something bad has happened," Emma said without bothering to say hello.

"What?"

Emma told Annika about Monsieur Dupriezís disappearance.

"Are you serious? Thatís incredibly weird," Annika said. "How can a person disappear from a locked study like that?"

"Exactly. I wonder what the police think about it."

"Forget the police. My father says they donít know their butts from a hole in the ground. Why donít weó"

"Investigate?"

"I know it sounds corny, butó"

"No, no. Actually, I was going to suggest the same," Emma said gravely. "Thereís something else." Emma told Annika about her motherís sudden travel plans.

"Iím sorry about your aunt. Why donít you stay with us?"

"Thanks, but I have to stay at Grandpaís."

"Are you serious? You mean, in his house?" Annika asked.

"What do you think? Itís not like I can sleep inside his workshop."

"That house freaks me out. I heard weird noises coming from the attic the last time I was there. Remember?"

"Probably rats," Emma said, though she didnít believe it herself.

"It didnít sound like rats."

"What did it sound like?"

"Iíve told you a million times: like footsteps, like low angry voices."

"Come on, Annika," Emma said sceptically.

"I swear!"

Emma sighed. "I know that attic room is kinda creepy, but the rest of the house isnít that bad. Besides, you know how I love making the violins, even though Grandpa is a pain most of the time. Anyway, I have to pack now. Iíll call you later. Then we can decide what to do about Monsieur Dupriez. Your parents get The Brussels Gazette, donít they? Read todayís copy so youíll know the details."

"Iíll just google it."

"Oh yeah, right. Do that. Sometimes I forget Iím the only weird kid in the Milky Way without the Internet," Emma grumbled. Her mom didnít allow the Internet at home, firmly believing it would be an obstruction to her school work and daily violin practice.

"Iím really sorry about Monsieur Dupriez."

Emma sighed. "Thanks."

"By the way, have you had any more psychic experiences?"

"Not in the last twenty-four hours," Emma retorted. "The problem is, it doesnít always work."

"Hmm. Maybe we donít know what triggers it. I think thatís so cool, though. Does your mom know?"

"Not yet. She looked so worried about Aunt LiliÖ Iíll tell her when she gets back."

"Youíre still coming to Mildaís Halloween party on Sunday night though, right?"

"Sure. I donít think Grandpa will mind. Mondayís a holiday, anyway."

They said goodbye and Emma tossed the phone on her bed.

She scratched Blackie behind the ears and kissed him between the eyes. Rising from the bed, she reached for her violin case on her desk, opened it, and took out her violin, a fine instrument with beautiful tiger stripes and a sweet, rich tone that Grandpa had made especially for her. Then, with her eyes closed, she began playing one of her teacherís favorite pieces, the first concerto he had ever taught her when she was six: Riedingís Concerto in B minor. He always referred to it as "a little jewel." As her bow caressed the strings, and her fingers worked to achieve a rich vibrato, tears welled up in her eyes. No matter. She played until the end, savoring each note, each crescendo.

When she finished, she held the violin close to her heart. Please, God, let Monsieur Dupriez be all right.

After placing the violin back in the caseís red velvet interior, Emma hauled her empty suitcase onto the bed and started packing. Blackie hopped onto the pillow and watched her, his nose and whiskers twitching.

Emma mentally prepared the questions she would ask Madame Dupriez. She didnít understand why her mom considered her a nice lady. Personally, Emma had always thought of her as an old Persian cat: soft and silky on the outside, yet inwardly devious, with sharp claws ready to strike at any moment.

 

 

The Luthier's Apprentice Copyright © 2014. Mayra Calvani. All rights reserved. Please do not copy without permission.

 

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Author Bio

Award-winning author Mayra Calvani has penned over ten books for children and adults in genres ranging from picture books to nonfiction to paranormal fantasy novels. Sheís had over 300 articles, short stories, interviews and reviews published in magazines such as The Writer, Writer's Journal and Bloomsbury Review, among others. A native of San Juan, Puerto Rico, she now resides in Brussels, Belgium.

Connect with the author on the Web:
http://www.MayraCalvani.com
Facebook Fan Page
Twitter
Goodreads

TTB titles: Embraced by the Shadows
How to Turn Your Book Club into a Spectacular Event
Sunstruck
The Luthier's Apprentice
The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing with Anne K. Edwards

Author web site.

 

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Format: ePub, PDF, HTML, Kindle/Mobi
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