Melody awoke with a start, her sheets soaked. The dream. It was getting worse. She couldn’t shake these nightmares. She thought she’d never break free.She slid from bed and wrapped her housecoat around her waist. After ensuring she hadn’t disturbed Paul, she stepped into her slippers and tiptoed downstairs. In the sitting room, the antique Steinway sat against the wall. Her spirits lifted. It was her most prized possession. Paul had won it in a local estate auction. It was a steal at just three hundred dollars. After acquiring it, Melody dug into its history.It had belonged to Gertrude Helmsley, who’d lived in the next town over. Her murder had made national news. Her husband of sixty-seven years just snapped one night. He’d turned his woodworking tools against the woman he’d professed to love. It was brutal, and it shocked the nation. The man was in a hospital for the insane now, unaware of his crime.
She pulled out the bench and flipped open the lid to rifle through the sheet music inside. When she’d first received the Steinway, she’d scoured every piece of music that had come with it. Some pieces she knew well; a few were less familiar. Tonight she needed something challenging. Something that would require all her skill and concentration to eradicate the horrid sense of lingering dread.
She scanned each sheet, playing it mentally before rejecting each, with growing frustration. She needed something soothing. A piece that would sweep over her like a refreshing shower, washing away the darkness. None of the pieces would work. She needed something else.
She slammed the lid down, cringing from the sudden noise. The last thing she needed was to wake Paul. He’d had a stressful week, his firm announcing bankruptcy. The poor man deserved rest. She glanced up, eyeing the stairs. When no sounds came, she looked down at the piano bench again.
A sliver of yellowing paper jutted out from the bench’s cushion. It had slipped out of a gash in the fabric when she’d slammed the lid. She picked it up and held it under the light. It was music. No title. Handwritten notes. From the thickening and thinning of lines, Melody knew the music had been written with a quill, meaning the piece might be very old.
She placed it on the stand and settled on the bench. Scanned the sheet. She played it in her head. She wasn’t sure she could tackle the complicated composition. In her mind, its beauty was staggering, and she balked at the idea of ruining it with incompetence. Still, the thought of playing such a lovely piece was irresistible. She had to try, for better or worse.
Taking a breath, Melody drew closer to the Steinway. Her nightmares forgotten, all that remained was the potential bliss of the music.
Her fingers lowered, finding their places across the ivories. At the first notes, her trepidation evaporated. Her hands moved with confidence, as if the music were playing itself.
And what music it was!
The haunting tune echoed from its wood-encased prison, reverberating around the room. Her pulse quickened as the song’s pitch rose and its rhythm increased to match the rising beat of her heart.
The music swirled around her, penetrating her soul. She lost track of time.
She became aware of a presence within the music, if that was possible. An inexplicable new sound, for which she was not responsible. At first, she believed her sleep deprivation was responsible, creating auditory hallucinations. But the more she played, the more persistent the foreign sound became. Even stranger, she deciphered the sound as the most amazing voice she’d ever heard—singing.
The musical exercise became compulsory. She couldn’t imagine stopping the song, so she was unconcerned with the disembodied voice’s strange tongue, just at the edge of human hearing. Every note, nuance, and change in timing enraptured. She was so captivated by the music she barely perceived the creaking from the floor in her bedroom.
The music woke Paul.
Oh, he’ll go back to sleep, she thought. Just using the bathroom.
The intoxicating sounds permeated her core. The voice melted in and out of audible range, accompanying the song with harmony—
A bolt of fire shot through Melody’s head, halting the song. An image flashed in her mind: an elderly woman, her face tranquil as her gnarled hands danced over the Steinway. Though there was no sound with this apparition, Melody knew with certainty that the woman—obviously Mrs. Helmsley—was playing the same arcane piece. The ecstatic look on her face made it obvious, without having to see the sheet music.
Melody’s vision shifted. She now saw from Helmsley’s eyes. Fingers pecked the ivory keys with precision. The blissful music returned. Melody didn’t care whose body she inhabited. All that mattered was the song. Together, she and Helmsley played, savoring the experience, as though both were aware of the other’s presence. The voice continued to sing.
Another creak, though Melody couldn’t detect its origin. Wasn’t sure it was her home or Helmsley’s. Something inside her screamed for her attention…but the music wrapped its embrace around her. Conscious thought evaporated.
The creaking persisted, stoking ire at the interruption. She glanced around the foreign den, forgetting she was seeing through Helmsley’s eyes.
The song ceased.
“Darrell?” Helmsley asked, though the voice was Melody’s. “Is that you?”
The woman waited a moment before returning her attention to the piano. The evocative tune began anew, more intoxicating than before.
A clanging from the next room caught Melody’s attention briefly, but within seconds, both she and Helmsley returned their focus to the only thing that mattered—the song. Though her subconscious nagged her, Melody didn’t care. The song had become so essential, the thought of life without it or the lilting voice accompanying it, was anathema.
A scream broke Melody’s concentration. Helmsley whirled around toward the sound, just as an aged, hump-shouldered man burst into the room. Melody felt Helmsley’s panic.
The man’s eyes were wide with anger. Though Melody had never met him, she knew they were not his eyes. There was something alien in them. Hate-filled. Demonic.
“Darrell, what’s wrong…?”
“What are you—?”
He lunged, the tools slamming down.
Melody was ripped from the woman’s consciousness, returning to her own body and home.
Her heart hammered inside her chest. Adrenaline pumped through her veins. Her subconscious screamed. Warning her.
“Paul?” she asked, shifting on the bench. “Is that you?”
She stood, just as Paul ambled in. Though the room was lit only by the single lamp atop the piano, she could tell something was wrong. The way he stood. Hunched.
He held something in his hand. Something long.
“Are you all right?” she asked. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
A low growl hissed from her husband’s face. Then he took a single, loping step into the halo of light.
His eyes. They weren’t Paul’s. They were the same eyes she’d seen on Darrell Helmsley. Dark, malevolent, alien.
Snarling, the man raised the Louisville Slugger over his head and leapt.
All Melody knew as she drifted into oblivion was the haunting music and that ethereal voice.