09 Feb Piano Man
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"Piano Man"Written by
Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
It started sometime before the sun rose, during that time of the night that brings such a profound silence that you start hearing those eerie, high-pitched ringing noises that remain indiscernible while the light of day shines. They’re faint, like little rainbows made by a cloud of mist in the summer, when the sprinklers are turned on and chugging away like trains without wheels. And like those rainbows, they might shift if you move a little or disappear if your vantage point isn’t right. The ringing is like a phantom that you never discover. You just go on day to day disregarding it in indifference.
That’s what you’re supposed to do: disregard them.
I made the mistake of listening too closely.
It was a summer evening in late July, when the sun likes to linger around in the warm evenings. The clouds had been scarce and the blue sky aplenty. Children ran around outside during the day, bathing in freedom and sunlight. My sister, who was just 6 years old, ran among them. Her name was Abby and her little blond pigtails would whip back and forth like swings on the playground as she bounced over the chalk hopscotch in our next door neighbors’ driveway. She always wore little pink sunglasses that she refused to take off, even when she was inside. I was 16 at the time. I was tall for my age but still cruelly held half an inch under six feet. My hair hadn’t been cut for a while and it hung down over my eyes like an ugly brown curtain that housekeepers hate. I was a little bit socially awkward. I only had a few friends and I didn’t play any sports. I spent most of my time playing the piano and I couldn’t see far past that at all. Most of my summer was spent on my sitting at my sadly cheap electric piano, playing through new and old pieces and occasionally glancing out the window to make sure my sister was okay. She was a precious little thing, but my parents were somewhat indifferent to the two of us, spending most of their days at work and only occasionally greeting us when they came home, providing for us just the bare minimum for food and clothes, providing me with money for piano lessons but not a way to get there (I usually had to ride my bike even if it was raining.)
The biggest surprise of my summer (at that point) was when my father drove home on that summer evening with a piano cabled and tarped in the back of his 4 by 4. I furrowed my eyebrows as I looked out the window from my usual spot by the window, wondering what could possibly be hiding under that blue tarp.
When I came out to the drive way, my father was removing the cables, looking unusually proud.
“Today’s your lucky day, Samuel!” My father said as he pulled the tarp off.
It was a baby grand piano. It looked like it had been through two world wars and a zombie apocalypse. Huge chunks the wood it was made out of were missing and the E5 key was gone, leaving an empty socket. Dents and pockmarks covered it like acne and part of the left leg was absent, giving it a rickety look.
“What? How did you get this?” I said in disbelief.
“Some old lady had a garage sale. Said she just wanted to get rid of it, she even gave it to me for free. I didn’t ask any questions.” My father told me nonchalantly.
“That’s awesome, Dad! Thanks so much!”
Later that day, we moved it into my room, replacing my old electric piano, which I kept in the basement just for sentimental value. I tried playing a couple of pieces on it and I was pleased to find that the sound wasn’t actually that bad. The intonation quality decreased as the pitch got lower, but it was certainly an improvement. It felt nice to have a real keyboard with authentic sounds instead of a plastic one that might literally sound like a cat if I pressed the wrong button.
My sister was so enamoured by the new piano that she asked me to teach her to play when she first saw it. I tried teaching her hot cross buns, but she gave up after two minutes of frustration.
We both slept soundly that first night.
My parents left early the next morning. They had a business trip. They were running late because my father couldn’t find his shaving razor.
He ended up just leaving without it and saying he would buy one in New York when they arrived.
The fridge was stocked with just enough food for Abby and I to last a week. They didn’t worry about us at all, they knew I was mostly a social outcast and I didn’t have any friends. In fact, they didn’t even lay out any parameters for the two of us before they left.
I didn’t have any mischevious plans anyways. After they left, I slept for another couple of hours and then had a lazy breakfast of toaster waffles. Abby was watching spongebob on TV in the living room.
That night was the first night I heard the ringing.
Everyone hears it a little bit. I had heard it before but I never thought anything of it. It was a scientific thing, something to do with air pressure maybe. I wasn’t into science and I didn’t care.
But that night, I really noticed the ringing for the first time. I had drifted out of a dream where I was about to perform in a recital but my performance kept getting delayed. When I became conscious of my waking state and that I didn’t have to perform, I smiled and blinked my eyes open, but my smile faded when I realized that it was the middle of the night.
My bed is situated in a shallow alcove in the wall so that when I sleep, the wall is on three sides of my head. When I sit up a little, I can see out the right side of the window right across from me (it’s a pretty large window; my piano is lined up with half of the bottom part of the window and my piano is out of my view when I’m in my little alcove). When I looked up that night, the streetlight by the end of our neighbors’ driveway (which still had hopscotch drawn onto it) cast an calm yellow glow into my room, broken up by the branches of the tree right outside to my window that painted shadows on my wall. I could barely make out the hands of the clock next to my window: it was 1:06 AM. I sighed and laid back down, shutting my eyes and trying to sleep again, even though I didn’t feel sleepy at all.
That was when I heard it.
It was like the echo of a bell faded so far that it was barely detectable, yet it never faded any more, it just droned on as if it had been there forever and would remain for all eternity. As I heard it, it began to grow slightly louder
Stop thinking about it and it will quiet down, I told myself. I knew that the crescendo was just a psychological effect.
It didn’t take me very long to fall back to sleep on that first night, but right before I drifted off, I could have sworn I heard the ringing split into a two note harmony.
“Sammy?” Abby said the next morning, jumping on my bed and pulling me our of my slumber. It was a little past 8:30 AM.
“Ugh…” I said in reply.
“Sammy I can’t find the scissors. They’re not in the usual drawer.”
I sighed, sitting up. “What do you need scissors for?”
“Opening a package of oatmeal!” She said with enthusiasm.
“You don’t need a scissors to open oatmeal, silly! You just tear it off with your hands!” I said, teasing her.
I got up and helped her make some nice oatmeal for breakfast.
The day passed slowly. One of my friends came over in the afternoon and we played some Call of Duty. Abby did something with the next door neighbors, but I wasn’t paying attention. I made macaroni and cheese from a package for dinner, but it turned out all chunky. Abby rated it 3/10 and made fun of me for being a bad chef.
I woke up in the middle of night again. I didn’t take note of the time, but it was probably 1:06 AM. That’s when I woke up on the other nights.
I heard the ringing right away. I figured the same thing I had the night before and I just closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep.
But the ringing only grew louder. I sighed and sat up, purposely rustling my sheets more than necessary to cover up the ringing. It was all I could think about. It only pressed in on my eardrums more and more, as if I was going down an elevator and my ears were about to pop.
Eventually, I just shrugged to myself and thought:
I bet if I concentrate really hard on it, it will just go away. It’s completely psychological.
I leaned back against the wall of my alcove, my head pressed against a hard surface, and I listened. I cleared my mind of everything but the ringing. It was becoming a whistle now, and the pitch was fluxuating just slightly. As I listened closer, it had a consistent pulsation. After a while, I started to hear a second pitch, which was just a note lower than the original pitch.
My heart was starting to beat faster. I was definitely on edge.
I decided to go and get a glass of water. Maybe I was dehydrated or something.
The lower pitch rose to a note above the original pitch.
I scooched forwards in my bed and jolted in fright; there was a shadowy figure sitting in the chair facing my piano. I froze and a scream caught in my throat for half a second.
Then the shadow was gone, along with the ringing. It was deathly silent. The silence made me realize how loud the whistling had been.
I sat there on my bed, trying to convince myself that it had been just a nothing. A fleeting shadow, maybe. The ringing had been just a psychological effect, of course, as I had previously thought.
Eventually, I just laid back down in my bed and after a while, I fell into an uneasy sleep.
I woke up past 10 the next morning. To my surprise, Abby was still asleep. She generally woke up around 8. She looked abnormally pale, laying there in the early sunlight, just her head peeking out of her covers.
“Abby! Wake up! It’s already later than 10 o’ clock! Sleepyhead!” I said loudly, trying to wake her up.
Her eyes fluttered open like lazy butterflies. She groaned.
“Abby? Are you feeling okay?” I asked. I walked over and felt her forehead. It was feverishly hot.
“I feel really bad” she said weakly. She didn’t sound stuffed up, which worried me. I knew that a common cold was nothing to worry about, but if it wasn’t a cold it could be some kind of virus.
“Okay. I’ll bring you up some vitamin C and some lemon water.” I told her, trying to sound comforting.
I couldn’t find a kitchen knife to cut off a slice of lemon, so I ended just tearing off one end with a fork and smashing the juice out into a glass of water. I brought it to her along with a chewable vitamin C tablet. I also brought a wash cloth soaked in cold water.
When I came into her room, she was sitting up, fully dressed, complete with her shades on. “I feel a lot better now. I’m fine.” She said.
“Are you sure? You felt like you had a fever a few minutes ago…” I told her with concern.
“Okay, well I still want you to have this vitamin c and this lemon water. Maybe you’re just dehydrated or something.” I said, handing her the water and the tablet. She consumed them quickly.
As she drank, I noticed a long cut starting on the side of her neck and stretching down to where her shirt covered up her shoulder. It was just starting to scab over.
“Where did you get that cut from?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Probably just got scratched by a bush or something.” She said.
I shrugged and thought nothing of the whole episode.
I didn’t think much about what I thought I saw the night before through the morning. Our daily routine went just the same as always. Abby played with the neighbors and watched Nickelodeon on tv. I played on the piano and made meals for the two of us.
As the night approached, a growing dread grew within me. I was scared of what would happen. Would I hear the whistling again? Would I see something again? But more importantly, would it go away tonight?
I had a difficult time falling asleep that night; I was so restless that when the 1 AM hour approached, I was still wide-eyed and aware, my heart thumping loudly like an anticipatory drum beat. I watched the minute had of the clock shift from 1:01 to 1:02. Silence. 1:02 to 1:03. Silence. 1:03 to 1:04. I suddenly became aware of how loud my breathing was. 1:04 to 1:05. The wind blew a random gust that sent the shadows of the tree outside my window shivering. A floorboard creaked and I jumped. Then there was a deep silence. Like sound had been sucked out of the universe and there was nothing left but an empty void. And then, as the minute hand shifted to 1:06, the ringing returned, and it was louder than ever, its pitch constantly twisting and dipping like some kind of melancholy, atonal song. I was gripped by fear. It was the kind of fear that renders you speechless and breathless, that makes your breath stop in your throat and makes your heart pound like an angry percussionist, that makes the world spin and twist before your eyes. I didn’t move a muscle for a long time. I just sat there, paralyzed.
It was 1:15 when the world stopped spinning and I calmed down enough to breathe normally. My heart continued to pound against my chest, but I had enough resolve to bite the bullet and poke my head out of the alcove to see whatever was sitting by the piano and hopefully make the ringing stop.
It was just an empty chair. I smiled nervously and let out a small laugh. I had truly been scaring myself past reason.
The ringing begged to differ. It continued to shift up and down in strange harmonies, except I could pick out the melody of a song now. It was the saddest song I’d ever heard. It was the forlorn howls of a dog watching it’s owner give his last breath. It was the cries of an angel falling from heaven. It was the voice of one who had never loved nor been loved weeping out in despair…
I shook my head angrily and stood up. I was going to do something about this damned ringing!
I went to my bathroom. I poured hydrogen peroxide in each of my ears and swabbed them out with Q-tips. I jammed earplugs in my ears right afterwards.
The ringing was gone!
After all that, I simply had too much wax clogging my ears up! I was grinning ear to ear. I shook my head at myself in the mirror.
You’re such an idiot! Gosh! I thought to myself.
I was completely calm and relaxed when I went back to my room.
But as soon as I opened the door, the ringing was back, except it wasn’t even ringing, it was the sound of the piano. To my horror, two consecutive keys of the piano were being pressed down by some invisible force. As I watched, two more keys were pressed down on the lower half of the piano, playing the beginning of that horribly depressing melody. I stood still, once again frozen with terror.
Suddenly, a kitchen knife zoomed at me. I jumped aside, smacking my head on the wall. The knife was impaled in a photo of Abby on the wall behind me. I screamed and ran to the door. I tried to open it, but it was locked. I fumbled to turn the lock and as I did so, a scissors smacked me in the side of my head, slicing my cheek.
I would have died if I hadn’t opened the door just in that moment. As I tore it open and ran outside, a volley of knives thudded against the wall where I had been standing.
As I rushed out the door, I smashed my head against a hanging flower pot. I had a brief moment of extreme pain and then everything faded.
When I regained consciousness, the sun had just risen, streaking the sky with red and orange. I could hear the piano being played from outside my house. The events of the night before all rushed back at once and my stomach lurched: Abby was still in the house with whatever evil force had tried to murder me!
I had to go in and rescue her! If I was lucky, the… entity wouldn’t have found her yet. All I had to do was be very quiet and somehow carry Abby outside. I would figure out what to do after that.
I quietly opened the front door and crept inside, not closing it behind me. The piano was quite loud. I recognized the same dissonant melody being banged out over and over again on the piano.
I slowly crept up the stairs. When I was almost at the top, one creaked loudly and I froze, expecting a knife to impale my face and my life to end in a millisecond. But the piano music kept playing. I took a silent breath, my heart pumping a million times per second.
I made it up the stairs without making any more noise. When I turned to go to Abby’s room, I could see my piano…
… And I caught a glimpse of a blond pigtail dancing back and forth like a swing on the playground.
Horrified, I snuck up to my own room. Abby was seated at my piano, playing that horrid melody. As she kept playing, her head twisted all the way around to look at me, except her eyes were still covered by her pink sunglasses.
“Good morning Sammy.” She said in her sweet little voice. “Do you want to play a song with me?”
I watched in abhorrence as she started laughing madly. Her sunglasses fell off as she laughed. Her eyes were completely pitch black.
I only had one thing I really could do: call the police. I definitely wasn’t going to be able to face this thing on my own.
I dashed downstairs to where our landline was, next to the kitchen. I dialed 911. I screamed my address into the phone. “There’s something wrong with my sister please send he–” the scissors that had cut me the night before zoomed by and sliced the wire.
I whipped around, dropping the phone, to see a figure that could have been death itself. He was nearly 6 1/2 feet tall and he wore a black fedora with part of the brim torn off. He wore a torn and patched overcoat and dirty black boots. Parts of his face were missing, raw flesh and bone hanging out. His eyes were empty black sockets. He stared at me and grinned, a bloody knife in his hand.
“What do you want?!” I yelled.
He opened his mouth and let out a gutwrenching scream. Then he ran at me, knife in hand. I turned and ran to the half-open door, but suddenly, he was in front of me. I tried to break my momentum, but I slipped and slid right through his legs. I felt an agonizing pain in my leg and I looked down and saw that a knife was buried there. I was splayed out on my walkway. The clouds were still the color of my blood. I looked behind me and saw the man grinning, just watching me.
Minutes passed. The man– the Piano Man –just stood and watched me with a sickening smile on his face.
I heard the sound of police sirens approaching fast. The Piano Man did nothing. He just stood and stared at me with his black socket eyes. He began to laugh like a maniac. He stood there in the doorway, just staring at me and laughing, even as the police cars arrived. Police men rushed up behind me.
“What happened?” One of the police men asked.
“Can you see him?” I asked. “Can you see the piano man?”
And as I said it, the piano man threw something at me that knocked the side of my already bloodied head. Everything went black.
I woke up in a hospital bed. A tall man with dark hair was sitting in a chair in the corner of the room. He was wearing a police badge.
I felt a tightness in my throat and I had a coughing fit. When I was done coughing, I looked up at the man, who was standing up and looking at me with pity and concern.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You’ve been out for two days. You have multiple concussions and a a ton of scratches. It looks like you’ve really been through the ringer.”
“What about my sister?” I asked, bracing for the worst.
“She was found barely alive with a broken neck and a variety of deep wounds apparently made by razor blades. She’s alive but in critical condition.”
“And what about the Piano Man?” I asked.
The man sighed. “The police found no one else in that house.”
“But… They were literally two feet away from him when they found me! That’s impossible!” I protested.
The man gave me a very uneasy look and pulled something out of his back pocket in a plastic bag. “We would have declared you insane immediately, but this was inexplicably whipped out of the house and it struck you in the head.”
He handed me the bag. It was a singular piano key. I turned it over. Written on the inside was ‘E5.’
It’s been a year.
Once I was relatively recovered, the police gave me an extensive interrogation about what had happened. I told them everything, including the ringing.
In the end, the case was inconclusive.
Paranormal investigators practically hung on the doorbell for months afterwards, but I wasn’t up to talking about it for a very, very long time.
I told the police that it was important for them to move the piano out of my house and put it somewhere secure. It eventually ended up in a museum of paranormal objects whose location I will not disclose for fear that someone might do something irrational with it.
Abby ended up surviving, but she had a neck brace for the rest of the summer. We both still suffer from nightmares about the experience. Abby told me later that she saw the piano man on both of the last two nights we were alone in the house. On the second night, he stabbed her with broken razor blades and then she didn’t remember anything after that.
I never told her that she had been possessed.
Now, a year later, after I’ve had time to think it over, I’m finally releasing this story. The reason is that I think the Piano Man might be more powerful than just one piano. What if he can be anywhere? What if he is everywhere, and everyone who listens to the ringing might accidentally make him powerful enough to appear?
I leave you with one final warning: don’t listen to the ringing! Put in ear plugs if you have to, even play music and put headphones on, but no matter what, you must not listen to the ringing!
CREDIT : Jimmy Prancil