Tickle the Ivories

Written in response to: Start your story with an unusual sound being heard.... view prompt

4 comments

Sad Happy Horror

At first, Miles Floyd doesn’t hear the piano; he grips the wheel as the car’s headlights slice through the night.


The rain lashes against the window and windshield at a horizontal slant. The torrent thunders over the roof and drowns out the fuzzed-out radio. The wipers fight against the onslaught, back and forth, back and forth. The rubber squeaks with every pointless beat of their arms — the windscreen no more than a ripple. The droplets suspend an inverted world, and a too-short patch of the blurred road ahead looms.


He sniffs back the mucus in his nose and swallows — a wince as his sore throat throbs. It feels as though sandpaper lines his gullet, bloodied and skinned. The flu has stuffed his head full of cotton wool, and thinking straight has grown impossible. He blinks and squints away from the headache, which threatens to bloom. Something throbs an inch above his right eye in a tangle of knotted veins. But then Miles feels the change in the wheel as the tires begin to aquaplane.


Deja-vu twitches his brain as Miles jerks the wheel to correct their course. He knows he’s done the wrong thing before his nervous system has time to react. Too much, too hard — the rear end starts to fishtail. The tension under his hands loosens like weak knees. A streak of the washed-out path disappears under the tires, faster and faster. A white stripe flickers off to the side as the road waves goodbye: goodbye forever, so long and farewell.


The rail rises ahead, and Tess screams — a full-throated shred of the vocal cords. In the backseat, Theo echoes his mother and screeches. His voice wails, high-pitched — too young, much too young. Not right. How could this ever be right? The voices tear through his soul like bullets through flesh and pincushion his brain. His heart issues a dull, pained throb as realisation and recognition splash over him. Then, finally, Miles loses control and rips through the barrier. It holds up no more resistance than a sheaf of paper.


Miles slams the brake pedal, but — too late, too late. His foot all but goes through the chassis of the car. It does no use; he might as well tap his toes in time with the radio’s music. A squeal harmonises with mother and son as the two-tonnes of metal try to stay on the road. Soon, Miles’s voice joins them, even though he’s done this before. A hundred times — a thousand. He knows how it all plays out, and yet he screams as though he can change the outcome. He shrieks at the futility of it all and the fragility of existence. He yells at his tortured brain, at his slow reflexes.


Darkness rises out of the dark, the void from the void. It rushes up to greet the family, an old friend — an old hungry friend. It reaches for them with ink-black tendrils, clutches at them like a falling man hugs a cliff edge. All around explodes the end of things, and somewhere in the background, a piano melody reaches for him. For one faltered heartbeat, Miles glances up into the rearview mirror and sees his son. An ethereal row of keys sits in his lap, and his fingers dance across them. The child’s eyes lock with his father’s.


And Miles—


—Floyd woke up.


His sheets pooled around his waist like the skin of a snake. The sweat dripped from him in raindrops — hair plastered to his skull. The gloom of the room spun around him and wobbled as if on an axis. His home became a spinning top, and someone had let it rip this time. At last, the rotation slowed as Miles caught his breath. But his heart continued to beat its fists against his ribs. The final image remained seared into his mind: a chasm that yawned as his son tickled the ivories in the back seat.


As if on cue, his ears popped. Miles paused his respiration and tilted his head to one side, eyes glazed over. The sounds fluttered up the stairs and through the ajar bedroom door. The music danced on the stale air. The notes tiptoed between the NyQuil bottles, past the tissues that encircled the bin. His head swam on, attached to his shoulders via spring. His heavy eyes darted to the shadows, sure of some Eldritch horror — but found none.


Piano.


Someone played the piano.


Miles frowned. Only, that couldn’t be right, because nobody had played the piano in over half a year. It had been a long time, indeed, since he’d heard those plinks and plonks. No, neither he nor Tess could play the keys. They’d bought it as a present to congratulate him on completing his primary piano grades. An upgrade from the Casio keyboard upon which he’d learned and studied. An honest to goodness Steinway — purchased second hand, but still beautiful. In the biased opinion of a father, he had been rather good.


The single syllable escaped his chapped lips and drifted away in a cloud of vapour.


“Theo.”


Like a man in a dream — or one who has taken too much cold medicine — Miles floated up. His slippers slid across the carpet with a whispered rustle and slipped over his feet. He stood upright, and everything tilted — a boat on the ocean’s midnight tides. The room passed around him, and he floated down the hallway, over to the stairs. Miles sucked in a breath as he rounded the top, but the steps posed him no problem — he didn’t feel them. So down he sank, further into still waters. Down, down.


Miles followed the music, tugged by his heart — a fishhook embedded in the muscle. It pulled him, urged him along. The memory of the car, the rain, the screams, the screech of sheared metal — all fell from his mind. The grief pushed aside; only love remained. He rounded one last tenebrous corner and found the piano, the white sheet with which he’d covered it cast aside.


The lid stood, lifted by someone other than him. The fog in his head coiled around his mind, and the world swayed with drunken revelry. He watched the keys dance up and down, up and down. Not perfect, but beautiful all the same. Miles smiled at the imperfections. The music that had pulled him from his nightmare soothed his disquieted soul. His heartbeat slowed down, down, down.


“You’ve been practising, Son.”

November 12, 2021 10:51

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4 comments

Eve Retter
07:13 Nov 14, 2021

a really good story. i loved the play b/w the music elements and the car crash, very poetic.

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18:14 Nov 23, 2021

Thanks, Eve!

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Keya Jadav
16:44 Nov 16, 2021

Oh my god, Joshua, the way you express things and put 'em down on paper...it is so impressive. I liked the tension built in the start, eventually being dispersed as a dream. The descriptions are beautiful and there are so many amazing lines, it's hard to choose the favourite but here are a few I liked the most - # It reaches for them with ink-black tendrils, clutches at them like a falling man hugs a cliff edge # The single syllable escaped his chapped lips and drifted away in a cloud of vapour. -just-wow-

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18:15 Nov 23, 2021

Thank you, Keya! I really appreciate the support. It means so much to me!

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