Octaves in Obscurity

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

A Hallowe'en Story by Catherine Little

It was the middle of a dark and moonless night and someone was downstairs playing the piano.

I was certain it was in fact somebody playing the piano and not a dreamy misinterpretation. The sound wasn’t a kerplunk from a falling object or the cat making a getaway but a baaa-booo, two full-sounding, softly articulated notes. The first was low and sustained, harmonizing with the second. The notes were slow and deliberate, no faster than a metronome swinging lazily at 45 bpm. They were two F’s, I believe, a perfect octave, the top note just high enough to hang from the bottom of the bass clef staff. 

The resonance crept upstairs and into my bedroom, where it reached into my gut, squeezed my insides and pulled me into a sitting position. I sat stock-still and ready, concentrating on maintaining stillness with the focus of a ninja. But the image of a shadowy figure leaning over the piano keys persisted and I wavered. The questions started coming and they wouldn’t stop. But was someone still there? This was the most frightening of all, and I knew that until I answered it, I would never sleep. 

Slipping out of bed, I carefully shifted my weight along the floorboards. Fingertips became my eyes as they grazed the wallpaper and furniture leading to the doorway. Over the threshold and into the hallway, I approached the window near the stairs. The street lights were heavily dimmed and obscured by an intense fog, the sight of which made me shiver against my will. By now I was on the landing, where I froze, not wanting to give myself away. I listened during the quick, quarter rests between heartbeats. Stillness. Nothing. As I glided down the stairs and into the foyer, my body disappeared from my awareness, and I was reduced to a single, pounding heart beat. It was so loud I felt like a pulsing light on the shoreline, signalling to anyone who might be out there in the dark. 

I was close to the living room now, only a couple of steps away. Like a forgotten memory, my right arm resurfaced. It floated toward the coat stand where it reached for a large, heavy handled umbrella. Good idea. Protection. But between the darkness and my disoriented state, I missed my mark, rustling a coat sleeve and bouncing a metal zipper on the stand’s iron frame. Clink. Just as my cover of silence vanished, my body showed up like a getaway car in a Hollywood robbery scene. It wasn’t a moment too soon. In a desperate attempt to maintain the element of surprise, I charged into the living room, fired by adrenaline and with enough energy to knock down the house.  

And knock it down, I did. Something or somebody tripped me, and I entered the room falling forward and downward. As the floor came careening toward me, I caught a sideways glance of a long fingered, sinewy figure slipping into the void beyond the doorway. I passed out.

When I woke, the piano loomed over me. The tired daylight revealed the various objects of a hungover room. They appeared cooly indifferent to the events of the night, all except for a heavy, overturned music stand that lay sulking at my feet. Looking up at the ceiling, I wondered, was it my imagination? I knew some people dreamed in colour, but did I dream in sound? Ironically, it was two horns cutting through the thick of the fog that made it clear. Of course, the nearby harbour, the boats, the fog horns. I smiled to myself, wondering at the power of my imagination. I peeled myself off the floor and stretched my achy body. But I was in a good mood, and had the impulse to play the piano. I wanted to make it real again, to reassert myself as the only impetus for its sound. As I staggered toward the keys I was surprised to see markings on the blank staff paper I had left on the music desk the day before. I looked closer. There were only three items, a bass clef, a half note four leger lines down, and one more hair-raising note, just a step below G. I wheeled around to and glance over my shoulder, but no one was there. 

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