by David Hann
Robert Leiber wasn't really sure how he'd gotten to this point. In truth, it seemed more than a little crazy to be in this old shop, with its aged, and somehow ageless, proprietor. It all just felt like a dream, but dammit, he had to do something.
“You were saying?” asked the old man to him.
“It's my wife,” Robert replied. “It's that damn piano. She practices all the time on that thing. Oh, she plays okay, but I never get a minute's peace. I want to watch TV, the piano is playing. I want to have a beer, the piano is playing. I want to play a game on my computer, the piano is playing. It's crazy.”
“She likes it then?”
“Yes, she does. Loves the bloody thing. She says she plays softly, so I can barely hear it. She does too, but then I find myself straining to hear the notes, only to be annoyed when I do.”
“And you have talked to her about this?”
“Yes, but then she goes off on this whole thing about me never letting her do what she wants. How, she says, we always have to do what I want.”
“Well, I'm the man. I make the most money. I have a right to make the decisions.”
“Hmm, I see,” said the proprietor, “and this piano takes her away from her housework then?”
“Yes, dammit. My mother never wasted her time on things like that. She would have the house clean and the food ready every day.”
“Ahh, and you have no time to help with such things?”
“Well, I'm busy. I have a job, an important job. It's not my place to cook and clean.”
The proprietor seemed to think about this for a minute, then he pulled his aged frame upright before saying, “Obviously there is a problem in your home. I think I have just the thing to help you.”
He pushed past Robert to a dusty cabinet in the back of the badly lit shop and rummaged through a drawer. Finally he pulled a small folio out and passed it to Robert.
Robert took it and examined it. Uncomprehendingly he looked at the proprietor.
“It's sheet music. How will that help?”
The proprietor shuffled back to his counter and leaned on it. “You know my reputation?” he asked.
“I was told you could provide something to solve any problem, yes,” replied Robert.
“Then trust me, and listen to me carefully.”
The proprietor stared hard into Robert's eyes. For the first time Robert noticed that the man had two different colored eyes. One gray and one green. He felt himself being drawn into those eyes as the proprietor's voice droned in his ear. It was as if the rest of the shop had disappeared and the only thing left was Robert and those eyes.
“The music,” began the voice, “is ancient. It was first played when mankind was young. It has been passed down from unknown eons to the Babylonians, then to the Persians, and via the Greeks, to the peoples of the Balkans. This is the only written transcription of the music. There is no other written copy. The fool who wrote this down went mad and was last seen running through the foothills of the Southern Carpathians naked and screaming.”
“Uh,” managed Robert.
“The music has power. It is a summoning. With this music you can summon a being from the great darkness. Something truly dark and evil. Something monstrous and demonic. If you can get your wife to play this, then it will come. I'm sure that the sight of such an evil creature, summoned by the music, will solve the problem.”
Robert stared into the eyes. Yes, this was the solution. If she played this, and something came, she would be so scared she'd never play again. Maybe the demon would do more to her. So much the better. She was not the wife he'd expected anyway. Too many silly ideas of her own. This…this piece of music, was the answer.
“I'll take it,” said Robert.
In an instant Robert felt the shop returning to normal. He paid for the music, and felt the price was quite reasonable, before walking out.
Ten minutes later Robert stopped. This was stupid. Demons? Summoned by music? What had gotten into him? The old man must have used hypnosis or something. Well, he was not going to be taken in.
Robert spun around and walked back toward the shop. At least he would have, but he found himself unable to retrace his steps. It was down in a block off the main road, but somehow he couldn't find the alley that led to the right side street. He walked around, and around, the block, becoming increasingly frustrated. Somehow, he just couldn't find the place. It had been easy before. He'd followed the instructions old Max had given him and, presto, there it was. Now, however, he couldn't seem to find it.
After trying yet another unsuccessful side street he looked around him, to find that the sun was setting. This was getting ridiculous. He was wasting his time. The folio looked old, all right. He'd take it to a dealer tomorrow. Maybe sell it for enough to get his money back. Right now he had to get home. He was hungry.
When he got home the first thing Robert noticed was the music. Dammit, she was on the piano again. What about his dinner?
His wife stopped and came running out of the spare room, where the piano was. She kissed him and then, to Robert's mind, began prattling on about her great piano practice, and how she'd lost track of the time. She dashed into the kitchen to “rustle up” something for dinner.
Robert was in a foul mood by the time he sat down for dinner twenty minutes later. While he had to admit she'd managed to cook up a rather nice meal in that time, it should have been on the table waiting for him when he got home. Whatever happened to wives looking after their men?
His wife, Monica, noticed the folio he'd dropped on the table.
“What's that, dear?” she asked.
Robert thought about it for a heartbeat. Surely it wouldn't work, but what was the harm in trying? If it worked she'd be taught a damn good lesson. If it didn't, which was highly likely, there'd still be no harm done. An evil demon to punish her for her selfish behavior, he thought, or nothing. He couldn't really lose on this one.
“It's music,” he said at last. “I spotted it in a little shop today and thought, perhaps, you'd like to try playing it.”
“Oh, that's great. I thought you didn't like me playing. I guess I was wrong.”
“I guess you were,” said Robert through gritted teeth.
After Monica had washed the dishes and Robert had drunk a beer they went to the spare room together. Robert noticed that Monica seemed particularly happy that he was joining her at the piano. She enjoys torturing me, he thought.
Monica put the music on the music rack and scanned it a few times.
“Hmm,” she said, “this looks a bit odd. Are you sure you want me to play this piece? I've been practicing some Gershwin. It would probably be much better.”
Robert mentally groaned. No, he didn't want to hear some Gershwin. He didn't want to hear any damn piano music. He just hoped this worked.
He said, “No thanks. I really want to hear this if you can play it.”
Monica smiled at him. “Of course. If this is what you want I'll do my best. It looks pretty simple, really.”
Monica smiled at him again and then turned to the piano and began to play.
The music was odd. Robert could hear that at least. The notes seemed both discordant and yet also somehow “right.” It seemed at times like jazz, and other times to be classical. There was an underlying beat, almost tribal, but then chaotic. He couldn't place the style at all. He soon forgot that, though, when he saw what the music was doing.
Monica's eyes were glazed. She seemed to be staring vacantly at the wall, her eyes not on the music, or on the keyboard. Her fingers, though, continued to dance over the keys. They moved with a speed and precision he had never seen in the few times he'd bothered to watch her play.
His attention didn't stay on his wife's playing for long though. He was, instead, distracted by what was happening in the room around them. He first noticed the light flickering, which, he thought, could have been caused by anything. It was much harder to rationalize away what came next. The light died, but a soft green glow came from the piano, spreading out, almost in waves, across the room. Monica was now bathed in green light, but if she noticed, she gave no indication.
The green light somehow seemed to solidify in the center of the room. It started to twist, to form a spiraling pillar that danced, he could find no other word for it, in the room. It grew as it danced, till it was brushing the ceiling. My God, thought Robert, it's actually working.
The beat of the music, still chaotic, started to race. It built rapidly as Monica's hands sped across the keys. She continued to stare straight ahead, heedless of her rushing fingers, or the green pillar that now dominated the room and moved rapidly to the beat of the music.
With one last, mighty, chord the music stopped. Monica slumped over the piano and the pillar suddenly stopped. For a heartbeat it seemed to shiver. Then it shattered, sending a million tiny green flames across the room. Robert was stunned by the sudden explosion, and the equally sudden silence.
He blinked his eyes several times to clear the green from his vision. When he could see correctly again he almost wished he couldn't. Where the pillar had once stood there was now a creature. A creature that made Robert believe that the old man in the shop really had told him the truth.
The creature was at least two meters tall. Its feet were three toed, ending in vicious claws. Its body was a green color. Its skin looked on the verge of putrefaction, but underneath there was clearly an impressive musculature. As it moved its huge arms and legs, Robert could see the ripples of the skin riding over rock hard muscles. This thing was strong.
Finally Robert's gaze reached the creature’s head. Its dog-like jaw looked big enough to swallow Robert's head whole. That is, if he could get past the razor sharp teeth that seemed to fill it. Saliva drooled slowly off the jaws. Above them, above a sharp nose, were two staring, glowing, red eyes set inside sunken sockets.
Then it spoke. Its voice was deep, deeper than anything Robert had heard before. It sounded as if the voice was coming from inside a deep, echoing cave. Added to the depth was a grating sound, as if thousands of rough pebbles were being rubbed against each other in the creature's voice box.
All it said was, “What is your bidding, Master?”
Perfect, thought Robert, absolutely perfect. Now he could finally get his revenge. Stop the damn piano once and for all.
“Stop her playing!” he shouted. “Stop the damn music! Break the piano! Do what you must!”
The creature’s arm seemed to move almost languidly. It raised a single giant hand and backhanded Robert so hard he smashed against the wall and slid down it to lie on the carpet. He could see stars, and he could taste blood. He stared at the creature, uncomprehending.
It looked down at him. The eyes glowed a brighter red and the lips of the mouth rose in a snarl.
“You are not Master!” it growled at him. “The summoner is Master.”
It turned to face Monica, who was looking on stunned, and lowered itself to one knee. Then it bowed its head.
“Master summoned me with her exquisite music. What does Master require of me?”
Slowly, as if coming out of a trance, Monica looked around her. She looked at the piano, then at the demon bowing before her. Finally her gaze shifted to her husband, lying bleeding on the floor.
“Well, there are one or two things that need to be changed around here.”
David Hann is originally from New Zealand, though he currently lives in south China, where he also works, with his wife and young son. He used to write a lot when he was a university student (and that was a wee time ago), but has recently started to write again. In the past couple of years he's averaged two published stories a year, mostly online. This year started with an American magazine accepting one of his stories, which makes him hope 2018 will be a good year.