The soft sound of the piano filled the darkened home like the comforting aroma of freshly baked goods, drifting through the air as if on a gentle breeze.
Walking down the hall slowly, Holly wondered who was playing the piano. She knew it was something Momma had told her nobody should ever touch, and that it was something not to be played with.
So why, on late summer nights, did Holly awaken occasionally to the sounds of the piano playing? She’d asked her mother once one morning while they were making breakfast, and her mother had accidentally crushed an egg in her moment of surprise.
“You must be mistaken Holly-bear,” Mom had said, moving to the sink to wash her hands free of runny yolk and broken eggshell, “Nobody here knows how to play the piano.”
“Then why do we have it?” Holly had asked, curious.
Holly shook her head now as she remembered how her mother had changed the topic of conversation then, an easy feat to do for the older women when Holly was a little girl, but now she was a teenager. Now she could think for herself, could act on her own behalf, and knew better than to just ignore the haunting song that would play at night a couple times a year.
Padding quietly down the hall, stepping over and across the floorboards that would creak or groan, she stealthily approached the sitting room where the piano rested. It was an old piano, polished black wood and actual ivory keys, with an engraving in Latin over the bridge, so worn away by time that it was barely visible.
The song began to repeat itself, somewhat slower this time as Holly stopped beneath a painting of her grandmother, stern eyes looking down upon her in silent judgment for disobeying her mother’s orders. But it wasn’t like she would find out; her mother was out of town, called away for some family emergency that she had said didn’t concern Holly. Holly was fine with this, as she had school to attend and tests coming up that she could not afford to miss. Plus, it meant she had the house to herself, and that meant she could have her friends over all night if she wanted.
Too bad I don’t have a boyfriend… she thought miserably to herself.
As the song continued onward, slowly growing louder as it began to lead into a section she knew to be dramatic, she began her silent footfalls once more, edging closer and closer to the sliding wooden doors that led to the sitting room, next to the front door.
That was when she noticed the light streaming through the split between the doors, a dancing light that bobbed and weaved about, as if it were light cast by a fire. Sniffing the air, Holly couldn’t smell any smoke, nor did she hear the fire alarms going off. Padding a little faster to get closer to the front door, she squinted her eyes to look through the shadowy illumination.
Yes, the front door was locked, and the blinking red light coming from the small panel by the door meant the security alarm was active. Nobody had broken into her house, at least according to the alarm system. Creeping along the wall until her back was pressed against the sliding door, she slowly edged her fingers between the crack and slid the door open a few more inches.
The room was bathed in the warm glow of a roaring fire crackling away in the fireplace. The plastic covered sofa and armchair glinted in the low light, save for the spot over the armchair where a long sleeved coat was hung over the high wings of the furniture. Looking with one eye through the slit, Holly watched the back of a broad-shouldered man playing the piano, long fingers dancing over the keys as he pulled the music from the instrument note by note. His hair was speckled gray and black, and long; longer even than grandpas had been when he was alive, silky looking and dangling from the bench, carefully sweeping the throw rug the piano rested on.
Normally Holly would have crept away from the door as quietly as she could to reach her phone and call the police, but the haunting melody seemed to enthrall her, mesmerize her into opening the door even wider, allowing her to poke her head into the room. The man didn’t seem to notice as he continued on in his performance, large hands dancing over the ivory keys as he bobbed his head back and forth, a great bushy beard jutting from his face and merging with his hair.
Easing into the room, Holly padded softly over to the armchair where the strangers coat was, only to halt as the music itself stopped all of a sudden. Turning to look, Holly found that there was nobody sitting at the old piano, and that the room was bathed in darkness now as the fire was out as if it had never been lit. Turning, she ran her hands over the plastic wrap of the armchair, sighing as she failed to find a coat.
“What the hell…?” She cursed to herself in the darkness.
“What the hell indeed?” A low, gravelly voice replied from above, causing Holly to give out a slight shriek as she cast her eyes skyward. Bent at an impossible angle, the large man crouched in the corner of the ceiling, one glittering blue eye staring past his curtain of hair. His arms, bent back as if he were a spider, gripped onto the boards with widely splayed fingers, just as his boot clad feet stretched out to support himself.
Holly let out a small shriek as he began to slowly climb down the wall, his face shrouded by his hair as he moved in a disjointed fashion, his lone eye never leaving hers. A deep, dry chuckle came from his throat.
“Isn’t it a little late for little girls to be up and about?” The apparition asked once his feet were firmly planted on the floor, his coattails fluttering behind him as his arms slid back into socket. He stood several feet taller than Holly, his face thick and worn like leather exposed to the sun too long, but pale as milk. His teeth gleamed in the darkness, shining with a metallic sheen that seemed to glint every time his mouth opened.
“You sound like my mother…” Holly says without thinking, slowly backing away from the towering man. She turns to try and bolt from the room, only for the sliding doors to slam shut, plunging her into a world of darkness. Looking around wildly, all she could see were the man’s single blue eye and his gleaming teeth, smiling in the darkness.
“Your mother… does she speak of me? Tell you stories of me?”
“Who ARE you?” She demanded, fighting back her tears as she stumbled about looking for the sliding doors.
“Ahhh… now that hurts me, right here,” the voice replied, a long finger tapping me between my breasts, causing me to shriek and bat away at the darkness. The voice chuckles and the eye closes, only to reappear a few feet away from me, the dulcet tunes of the piano beginning to play as the eye seems to drink me in. “You don’t know that this is my piano, do you?”
“No… I don’t know anything about that piano!” Holly cries, balling her hands into fists as she readies herself to fight whatever the strange apparition might do next.
“That's a shame... I've played for you all these years...” The voice chuckles, before breaking down into mad laughter, the dulcet sounds being plucked from the piano coming out louder and faster as the darkness swirls around Holly. She covers her face, waving one hand before her to try and find a way out, only to slam her forearm into a door.
“Yes!” Holly cries, pushing open the door to reveal her bedroom, lit only by her desk lamp and the moonlight, the sound of the piano drifting up from the hallway as it had been earlier.
Looking behind her, Holly shuddered as she slammed her closet shut.
She no longer wanted to know about the piano, her whole body shivering as a long scale was played up into the highest of notes.