The tune jumped about as the tempo slowed and then would quicken. The song had a mesmerizing effect on Teresa as she listened to her daughter Sarah struggling to complete the number.
Although the ten year old had only been playing the piano for a year, she was progressing nicely. She was even creating her own songs, and that was what she played now.
Teresa sat in the living room on her favorite chair, lounging dreamily with the tomcat Wooser resting on her lap, gray eyes closed as he took an evening catnap. Sarah was coming along well with her song, but suddenly stopped.
There was a melody near the end that she could not resolve. It was at the same spot every time she tried.
Her plain song blended nicely together until she reached the final refrain. It was as if her fingers failed to grasp the lingering notes that would complete the piece. It eluded her every time.
"Mommy, I can't remember it. I heard it in my head, but now I forgot it"
Teresa winced at her daughter's frustration, wishing that she herself could play the instrument and help Sarah out.
"It sounds fine, dear, you'll get it."
Teresa would listen to Sarah and inwardly struggle with the girl to find the right melody. She had the song in her head and it would play over and over again, always falling short and unresolved.
There was a loud sigh of annoyance in the other room as Sarah vented her frustration. They had traded in their other piano for this old walnut colored upright a week ago, and Sarah had been constantly playing it from the time it was delivered.
Sarah's song had become almost an obsession.
"Give it a rest, honey. Why don't you get ready for bed? It's getting late anyway."
"No! I have to finish it."
Teresa stood up, disturbing the cat which jumped to the floor.
"Come on, call it a night. You're trying too hard."
She walked into the room and Sarah was cupping her hands to her ears.
"Sarah?" Concerned appeared on her face and she absently ran a hand through her long red hair.
"Shh. It's in my head. I almost have it."
"If you don't stop worrying about this song I'm going to restrict your playing, young lady. Do you hear me?"
Sarah hesitated for a moment and then gave in.
"Maybe I'll hear it better tonight. I had a dream last night and the song ended. Why can't I remember it when I wake up?" Her blue eyes lifted, the perky nose raised in determination.
Teresa put an arm around the girl's slim shoulders and nudged her towards the stairs.
"Don't you know, that's what dreams do to you? They tease and trick you, keep you hoping for more. That's the fun of it."
Sarah frowned and shook her head.
"I'll get it. I know I will."
"I'm sure you will too, dear. But not tonight." She squeezed the girl's neck but Sarah was in no mood as she stalked up the steps.
An hour later Teresa had resumed sitting in the living room, as she would every night to read one of the various novels from her collection.
The room was dim except for the reading lamp on the table at her side. Reading was something she had done a lot of in the two years following her husband's death. It was the only hobby she permitted herself but came to enjoy the books on many lonely evenings.
She must have been more tired than she thought as her eyelids fluttered in between paragraphs. Teresa caught her head nodding several times and as is usual with oncoming sleep, never realized when she lost consciousness.
She was dancing in a ballroom with other people. She couldn't make out the faces of anyone, but merely their silent figures as they swirled around in a changing pattern that seemed to be incomplete in some way.
A song was playing, enchanting and mysterious, but familiar to her. Where had she heard the song?
It lingered on the fringe of her mind, tugging gently but staying just out of reach. The song, she thought. The song.
Sarah's song. It was her daughter's tune.
The melody went on until it reached the point Sarah could never quite finish. But now it continued. There was an ending and Teresa could hear it clearly.
I have to remember it, she thought. I have to wake up.
Teresa came out of the dream and opened her eyes. She still heard the music in her head yet. The elusive melody was revealed and Teresa listened in wonder. The song had followed her out of slumber and was coming from the other room.
Someone was playing it on the piano.
Her heartbeat was loud in her chest as the sudden realization struck her. Sarah was awake and playing the piano?
A low growling reached her ears and Wooser was crouched at Teresa's feet.
His fur was ruffled and the gray ears were flat as his striped tail lashed from side to side.
He stared into the next room and hissed loudly.
The mild cat had never acted this strange before.
Without a warning he sprang from the room and went down the hall in the opposite direction.
Teresa pushed herself out of the chair in alarm.
The music continued playing.
"Sarah?" Her voice wavered as shivers crept down her spine from the haunting melody.
"Do you hear me? Sarah?"
There was no answer except for the eerie melody.
Walking slowly towards the doorway, Teresa was amazed at the quality that reached her hearing.
There was not a single mistake.
The song was being played flawlessly, as if from a master pianist.
Dread filled her chest as every step brought her closer to the source of music.
The next room was masked in shadows and the only light was coming from the corner where the piano sat. Candles covered the top of the instrument but Teresa had not lighted them.
She called out again but there was no reply.
Teresa entered the room and saw that the piano was illuminated from candlelight as each one burned brightly.
There was no one seated at the piano.
And the song remained playing.
The frightened woman let out a gasp.
This wasn't possible. Am I still asleep, she thought? The tempo of the song increased as it drew near the ending. Teresa's hands were trembling and she felt weak.
Suddenly the song ended with a resounding chord making the candle flames dance wildly.
There was a large decorative mirror on the wall next to the instrument and Teresa noticed a reflection inside.
Invisible to her naked eye, the pianist was revealed in the mirror.
The figure turned on the bench and stared straight at her from the glass.
A skeletal body with a gleaming skull looked into her eyes.
It was ghastly.
All the blood drained from her face and Teresa stumbled backwards, falling against the door panel.
A scream lodged in her throat, unable to find release.
Her last memory was the sudden extinguishing of the candles as they blew out, then everything went dark.
Teresa woke with the morning sun spilling it's rays through cracks in the curtains.
She stood up feeling stiff and sore.
The events of the night came back to her but with the new day they seemed more like a bad dream.
Hesitating only a moment Teresa peered through the doorway.
There was silence and everything appeared normal.
Teresa walked towards the piano, half expecting to hear it come to life.
Was it a dream? And she had sleep walked? It was possible.
She reached the piano and looked it over. Sinister in her nightmare, the instrument was again friendly and familiar. Blame it on stress and Sarah's stubbornness, she thought.
Teresa was ready to leave and forget the whole thing when she noticed something below the keyboard.
There were sculpted designs engraved in the wood but it seemed one had been pulled out. She ran her hand over it and saw that it was more than just a molded piece.
An actual compartment was revealed behind the knob and she opened it.
A manuscript had been hidden inside, crumpled and old.
Teresa gazed at it curiously and saw that it was a sheet music selection with the words 'Jonathan Greene' on the front.
It was an original piece because the piano had come from the Greene Estate.
Teresa flipped through the pages until she reached the last one where it abruptly ended.
The song was unfinished.
Jonathan Greene had passed away before he could complete the music.
A feeling of horror passed through Teresa as the unbelievable truth gripped her mind.
He had come back from the grave to give his song the finality it deserved.