I am a musician. Not a terribly great one, but still, I consider myself a musician. I can play with the best of them, and I know my way around an instrument or two. More importantly, I am a collector. A collector of various items ranging from the odd to the obscure. There is no rhyme or reason to my collection; it consists of anything uniquely interesting I can get my hands on. That is why, when I saw an ad on Craigslist for a vintage, rustic, red piano, I couldn’t help but reach out to the seller.
The ad’s title seemed normal enough – OLD PIANO; FREE TO A GOOD HOME. I had seen countless like it before. Nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly not something that would normally grab my attention. Still, I felt a strange need to click on it. Perhaps I was bored, or maybe I just wanted to see what it looked like. Either way, I gave in to my compulsion.
Upon clicking the ad, there was no picture. Just an anomalous, but intriguing story. It read something like this:
I am offering my piano to anyone who is willing to come and pick it up. It is very old, but still playable. I can prove this upon your arrival. It is red and bares no brand markings. This is because it was made by my great grandfather. It is one of a kind. He went out himself and chopped down a redwood tree to provide the material to build it. It took him many days to finally cut down the tree, and much, much longer to finish making the piano. Nearly his entire life was put into this thing. I, however, have no use for it. It has been passed down in my family many times over. I have no wish to continue the tradition, and the piano is currently taking up too much space in my home. I want it gone as quickly as possible. You can reach me by phone at the number listed below. Serious inquiries only! -Margaret
Reading the ad sparked my curiosity. One of a kind? Redwood tree? How strange and absurd! I had to see this thing. If it was half as remarkable as Margaret’s description made it out to be, then it was a must-have for my ever-growing collection. As such, I decided to give her a call.
Margaret answered the phone after the first ring and immediately asked, “Is this about the piano?” She was thrilled to hear I was interested. I too was thrilled, happy to know it was still available. We set up a time the next day for me to come over and take a look at it. I hung up the phone, excited as could be. I had a feeling this piano would become the new centerpiece of my collection.
My antiques and oddities spanned many eras of history, as well as numerous countries. They ranged anywhere from the mundane to the wildly bizarre, but all of them were nothing if not great conversation pieces. Some of my favorites included a genuine voodoo doll from Louisiana, a tooth from a saber-toothed cat, a book of spells written by an alleged witch, and a piece of an antler from the world’s largest moose. Being a musician, I also owned countless instruments; too many to list. Each time I acquired a new item, my heart would race with excitement; whatever it becoming the focus of my attention. The piano was no different. I couldn’t wait to see it in person.
I woke up the following day with no resistance to my alarm, swiftly starting my daily routine in an effort to minimize the time between me and Margaret. She said she was an early bird and that I could swing by early. With this in mind, I showered, brushed my teeth, and got dressed at a record pace; making it out the door roughly twenty-five minutes after getting out of bed. It might sound silly to be so worked up over a material object, but to that I’d say you must not be a collector. Seeing this piano in person was my mission, and it was one I intended to see through to the end.
I found myself at Margaret’s home within the hour. It was a quaint cottage at the end of a dead end road, surrounded by shrubbery and forest. There was an old tire swing in the backyard, indicating that it may have been where Margaret grew up. I wondered if her parents passed away and left her the house. Maybe the piano reminded her of them, and that was the real reason she was getting rid of it. My speculation was interrupted by a woman, racing out of the cottage to greet me. She signaled for me to come inside and went back in herself. This was no doubt Margaret. I hadn’t identified myself in any way, but it wasn’t likely that she received many visitors out where she was.
Eager to see the piano, I quickly jumped out of my car and made my way up the stone walkway to the front door. Entering the house, Margaret seemed overjoyed to see me. It was jarring, but certainly made things a little less awkward. We exchanged a few pleasantries before she rushed me over to the room that housed the piano. She was excited to show me it; just as excited as I was to see it. I matched her pace as we made our way there.
Upon entering, I stopped dead in my tracks. There, just a few yards away, was the piano in all of its glory. It was a beautiful concoction of wood and ivory, the likes of which I had never seen. It had such a striking, red color, giving it an illustrious and bold finish. And the design was magnificent. Simple, yet elegant. Highly original, and certainly one-of-a-kind like Margaret stated in her ad. I stood there for a moment, my mouth agape in awe.
Margaret mistook my reaction for disinterest, quickly going off on a sales pitch about its charm and history. She then sat down at its stool and placed her hands over the keys.
“I tuned it yesterday after your call. Let’s hear how it sounds.”
Margaret played a beautiful piece. In addition to playing, she sang. This is when I took my attention away from the piano and allowed myself to notice her. She was young, maybe in her late twenties. Beautiful, slender. She had silver highlights in her hair, giving it a strange albeit lovely luster. Her singing voice, accompanied by the wonderfully rich tone of the piano captivated me in a way that I can’t put into words. I allowed myself to be taken by the song until she finished.
Before I could compliment her, Margaret continued her well-rehearsed sales pitch. I don’t know if it was her playing or her voice, but I was sold the minute she touched the keys. Because of this, I interrupted her.
“I’ll take it.” She was astounded when I said this.
“Really? You will? Wonderful!”
We were both happy and everything seemed fine, but one fact kept creeping and crawling in the back of my mind. The history of each piece in my collection was very important to me, and the piano’s had gaps that needed to be filled.
“So, have you lived in this house your whole life?” I asked, secretly fishing for information.
“Yes, as did my parents. This house is very old. Older than the piano.”
“And your great grandfather, he lived here as well?” I asked.
“Yes, he did.”
“Well, redwoods only grow in California. And they’re truly massive. It seems unlikely that he would have made the trek out there or even have been able to chop one down, especially with the many trees here at his disposal.”
It was at this point that Margaret realized I had caught her in a lie. She apologized to me and came clean.
It would seem that the piano was made from a red tree, just not a redwood. Instead, it was a strange tree located deep in a nearby forest. Being an avid historian, Margaret’s great grandfather knew all about it. This particular tree was a local legend, and it had always been his dream to find it. It was known as the Blood Tree; a sacred place of Native American worship from a time long since passed. Anyone who touched it was said to live a long life filled with luck and prosperity. Those who wounded it, however, would forever know fear and misfortune. Her great grandfather, of course, fell into the latter category. Though she claimed to not believe in the legend, she was worried the curse would scare off anyone who wanted it. Dark past or not, I still wanted it. Even more than I had previously.
Despite Margaret’s deception, I attempted to offer her money. She wouldn’t have it, insisting I just take the thing off her hands. That would have been fine, but I couldn’t bring myself to offer nothing in return. Eventually, I broke her down, handing over an envelope with a few hundred bucks in it. She reluctantly accepted and helped me lift the thing into the bed of my truck. I waved and drove off, satisfied with my purchase. Later on, with the help of a friend, I positioned it in the perfect spot in my living room. I had a new piece for the collection and all was right in the world. Or so I thought.
For a few days, my life continued as it normally did. My routine remained unchanged. The only difference was the new piece of furniture that grabbed my attention whenever I entered the room. After a while, I barely noticed it was there. Despite its beauty, it soon blended in with the rest of my home, much like the other items in my collection. One night, however, changed this.
I had just laid down and begun drifting into a light sleep when a loud bang downstairs jolted me awake. I jumped out of bed and took a moment to gather my wits. The sound was unmistakably the piano’s fallboard slamming shut over the keys. That could easily happen on its own, had I left it open. This was not the case. I hadn’t played the piano once since I procured it. So what created the sound?
I raced downstairs in an effort to satisfy my curiosity and put my mind at ease. What I found did neither. The piano’s fallboard was up. Not only had it not shut over the keys, but it was inexplicably open, despite my never touching it. Confusion swam through my brain, but soon submitted to the clutches of late-night weariness. In an effort to make sense of things, I shut the fallboard and chalked up the noise to an animal outside before venturing back to bed. Nothing to worry about.
The next day was pretty normal, at first. I woke up early, took a shower, brushed my teeth, and started my commute. I worked and dealt with the stress that came along with it, just as I always did. The piano was the farthest thing from my mind. It wasn’t until I got home, that it crept its way back in.
Upon opening the door to my house, I was greeted by a cold gust that rushed out from within. I hadn’t left the AC on, so this was strange. I walked into the living room and set my jacket on the couch. I then looked up and noticed the piano. The fallboard… it was up. That couldn’t be. I shut it the night before. Had someone broken in?
I sped around my house, a kitchen knife in hand, ready to attack any would-be intruder. There was no one. After checking every inch of the house, I eventually found myself back in the living room, in front of the piano. The fallboard was now down. Was I going mad? No, of course not. This was just the by-product of an exhausted, overworked mind, nothing more. At least that’s what I told myself to keep from dwelling on it.
Still somewhat frazzled, I escaped to my bedroom and attempted to catch some shut-eye. After changing out of my work attire and into my nightwear, my body fell into bed; an ocean of warm blankets and pillows enveloping me. A good end to a bad day, I thought. As luck would have it, sleep would elude my grasp.
Quickly after closing my eyes, there was another sound downstairs. This time it wasn’t the fallboard. No… it was music. Not just any music either. It was the piano.
With nothing but adrenaline to guide me, I ran downstairs to see what was going on. Upon reaching the bottom step, the music stopped and I watched as the fallboard slammed itself shut over the keys. My heart sank as I stood in place, shocked. When the moment passed, I ran back to my room and locked the door behind me. A vile mixture of fear and dismay crept under the covers with me; company often kept when hiding from creatures in the dark, by-products of overactive imaginations. This monster, however, was all too real.
The sound of my alarm woke me the next day. I was surprised I slept, wondering if the previous night was a bad dream. This wasn’t the case, but my mind gave in to the notion. Living in a state of denial was better than living in a world where pianos came to life. It was a splendid defense mechanism, and one that allowed me to go about my day without fear or unease. I left, went to work, came home, and went to bed. Everything was back to normal, just as I told myself it was.
But lies only stretch so far.
The familiar pang of ivory keys snuck into my room as panic set in again. That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t paranormal; it couldn’t be. It was a cheap parlor trick. Margaret must have outfitted the piano to play itself, much like the player pianos of old. This was just a prank; a laugh at my expense. That’s why the damned thing was free.
I ran downstairs to solve the mystery once and for all. Like clockwork, as soon as my foot touched the bottom step, the piano stopped playing. I walked over to it nonchalantly, confident in my new theory. Upon opening it up and exploring all of its crevices, I was surprised by what I saw. It was just a normal piano. Nothing extra was added in its creation to make it play on its own. Nothing at all.
My calm demeanor vanished. I stared at the red wood and ivory keys before me and almost felt compelled to ask, “What are you?” Instead, I remained silent. This silence, however, was quickly obliterated by the sound of music as the piano began playing itself once again. I wanted to run, but terror kept me still.
I watched the horror unfold. The keys were pressed down hard, controlled by an unseen force. A haunting piece filled the room as pictures fell from the walls. The house began to shake around me. My eyes darted back and forth in fear, but then noticed something outside. Standing at my window was a shadowy figure. It took off before the moonlight could reveal its identity. This was enough to break my trance.
I ran outside to escape the madness. All the while, the song raged on. The house continued to shake behind me. The dark figure was nowhere to be seen. Margaret had not rigged the piano to play on its own, but I was not losing my marbles either. This was something entirely different. Something not of this world.
All at once, the music stopped and the world around me with it. No wind, no cars, no animals, and no people. Nothing. It was the middle of the night at this point, but where were the crickets chirping, the frogs croaking, the trees swaying? Where was the life outside my home? A little exploration revealed that I was truly by myself. Every living creature in the vicinity had disappeared. What the hell was going on? Why was this happening?
I returned home, hoping for answers, but was instead greeted with an unsettling sight. It was so dark, I almost didn’t see it. Standing completely still next to the piano was that same silhouette from my window. My body instinctively jolted out of fear, but the figure did not react. It was frozen like the rest of the world. I took this opportune moment to investigate.
The entity was wearing a dark cloak, one that covered its entire body. At its face was nothing but pure darkness. I cautiously attempted to pull away the shroud from its head, but it would not budge. I studied the figure for a few more moments before a familiar sound filled the room.
The piano’s song recommenced, and in an instant, the world returned to life. A vortex of dark energy swirled around the shadowy figure as it reached out for me with skeletal hands. I fell back, but managed to escape unscathed, crawling out the front door in an awkward slur of motion. Rushing over to my car, I got in and took off with no specific location in mind, happy to be anywhere that wasn’t my own home.
During my drive, I weighed my options. Destroying the piano came to mind, but the risk outweighed the reward. It could just as easily backfire, angering whatever spirit was haunting its keys. Seeking help wasn’t really an option either. The only person who might believe me was Margaret.
That was it. Margaret. Maybe she would know what to do.
My tires left tread marks on the road as they peeled off in the direction of Margaret’s house. The whole drive was a blur, my mind in dire straits over the piano and its ghost, but luckily the trip was a short one.
It was late, but I didn’t care. With the car parked in the driveway, my still-shaking legs carried me up the walkway towards the front door. My march, however, was impeded.
The cloaked figure was there, standing at the door to Margaret’s house. Before I could so much as turn in the opposite direction, it grabbed me by the arm with its bony fingers. Its vicious strength kept me anchored in place. My body cowered as it leaned over me, almost as if to say, “Leave this place.” Its grip waivered for a moment, allowing me a small window of opportunity to escape. I high-tailed it out of there without looking back.
Defeated, I had no choice but to return home. I hesitantly stepped past the piano and walked up to my bedroom, where I locked the door and fell onto my bed, mentally exhausted. I would not have even a moment of solace, as the song started up again the second my head hit the pillow. The house quaked beneath me, but I remained still, sick of the repetition. The banging on my bedroom door that followed, however, succeeded in startling me.
I jumped out of bed and pushed my dresser to the door. Hiding beneath my sheets, I attempted to tune out the ruckus around me. The banging persisted, but I chose to instead focus on the song, allowing myself to properly listen to it for the first time. Surprisingly enough, it was beautiful. Dark and sullen, but beautiful. Its melody soothed me; relaxing me to the point that my eyes grew tired. Despite the pandemonium, I fell asleep and dreamt.
The dream world I found myself in was different from that of my usual dreamscapes. It was overwhelmingly vivid and ambient. Words like ‘surreal’ and ‘otherworldly’ just don’t cut it. The awareness I had is also difficult to explain. Lucidity is too small a concept. I was completely aware of my surroundings in the sense that I could feel everything about them. Their history, their purpose, and their place in relation to the rest of the world. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but it’s the only description I have to offer.
The dream’s visual make-up was that of a forest. It was dense, but my astral form floated to a clearing past the roots and branches. It was a large meadow, and at its center, a large, red tree. Every fiber of my being knew where I was. This was the Blood Tree; the pre-cursor to my piano. The building blocks of a haunting in the form of a sacred plant.
As I marveled at the beauty of the Blood Tree, a person stepped out from behind it; a Native American. He didn’t speak. He simply pointed at the tree. This is when the piano leaked into my dream. The song played as glowing lines ran up and down the tree’s bark. The Native American put his hand to the wood, motioning for me to do the same. Bewildered and awestruck, I obliged.
The glowing lines raced past my skin. It was an incredible sensation. As these lines travelled, my eyes were filled with visions; a glimpse into the Blood Tree’s past.
Its bark wasn’t always red. Willing Native Americans came up to the tree every year, sliced their hands open, and placed them around its trunk. Their blood then dripped to its base, representing the lifelines of their people. It also signified becoming one with nature, feeding the tree life from within. It was the anchor that kept their community together. This is where they gathered and enjoyed life; a place free from worry or judgement. A place of peace.
More moments came to me as the glowing lines circled our hands. This was also where the Natives buried their dead. After placing one of their own in the earth, one of the elders would play a song on what appeared to be an ocarina. The same song my piano played every night. It was their song of death. When it was all over, a final offering of blood was taken from the fallen and painted onto the Blood Tree, granting their spirit safe passage to the afterlife.
When the visions ceased, my new friend released his hand from the bark, reached into his satchel, and pulled out an ocarina. He began playing the song of death, but then stopped. He handed it over and motioned for me to play instead. I wasn’t sure what he was up to, but felt no need to defy his wishes. With a little practice, I was able to get the hang of the instrument and play the song he sought to hear.
As I played, the Blood Tree began wilting, its bark changing from red to black. My friend was ecstatic. For one reason or another, this is what he wanted. It wasn’t until I woke moments later in bed that the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place.
Margaret’s ancestor had taken away the Natives’ headstone. More than that, he violated their connection to nature, as well as with one another. The tree and its spirits had to be put to rest once and for all, and there was only one way to do this. I can’t explain how, but I knew I needed to play the song of death on the piano, the whole way through, without interruption. It was the only thing that would break the curse.
I ran downstairs and put my plan into action. When my hands touched the keys, the house violently shook, knocking frames and furniture all over the place. I kept my composure. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the dark figure, standing at my window again. Still, I continued. I had an obligation to persevere, if not for the tree or its ghosts, then for myself. The nightmare had to end.
The cloaked entity materialized at different spots in the room, sometimes next to me, other times breathing down my neck. I paid it no attention, despite my fear. I had come too far to let my balance waiver now.
Just as the shadowy figure sat next to me at the piano, I struck the final note of the song. The madness around me stopped. A weight was lifted from my shoulders and those of many others. I turned to the figure beside me and noticed the pelt of dark energy surrounding it was no longer there. It reached up and pulled the shroud from its face, revealing its identity. It was the Native American from my dream. He threw me a thankful smile before vanishing, happy to be released from his purgatory. I too was elated. The ordeal was over, and countless spirits could rest easy, free to cross over to the other side. My work was done.
Months have passed and the piano remains in my living room, quieter than it’s ever been before. I even play it from time to time. If there’s one thing you can take away from my experience, it’s to be mindful of the things that go bump in the night. Some of them might just be wayward souls trying to communicate, begging for a chance to be heard by the living. Try your best not to be frightened. You might be surprised by what you can do to help.
And please, let this tale be a warning to you. Don’t ever buy strange things from Craigslist. You’ll thank me later.
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WRITTEN BY: Christopher Maxim (Contact • Other Stories • Subreddit)
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