A Fiverr commission posted with permission from the client as per our agreement. Written by me, as requested.
"Why don't you try it out?" she says, hands hidden behind her back, "I'm sure you'll be convinced then."
Lucas scratches his chin, his fingernails scrapping against the stubble that he forgot to shave yesterday, and gazes at the piano in the middle of the store. It's a baby grand, its wood irregularly reddish in color, brown under certain angles, that would go nicely in the living room of the apartment he's renting now. There's certainly enough space for it, but his budget is another issue altogether. The tempting old spinet on the corner sells for a much lower price, considering the substantial drop in sound quality.
His other hand clenches. He's been practicing on a keyboard that a friend lent him for the past few weeks in order to save enough money to move from the flat he shared with five more guys. He's on his own now, got a raise at his day job recently even, so getting a real instrument for practice is a 'now or never' kind of deal.
Not that a keyboard isn't a real instrument, Lucas corrects himself internally. He's heard enough about that from his friend and he was kind enough to do him such a big favor anyway so Lucas has learned to keep his opinions to himself. He shakes his head. "I fear that if I give it a try, I won't want to stop."
She smiles, a gesture that doesn't quite reach her eyes. Lucas finds nothing weird in it, he used to work in sales before, he know how soul draining it is. He tries corresponding with a friendly shrug and sits in front of it, on the soft leathery bench that creaks under his weight, and takes a moment to admire his reflection on the polished wood.
"C'mon, it's not going to bite you." She takes a couple of steps and comes to stand right behind Lucas. Her perfume reaches him, it's cheap and makes him want to cough because of how much she might have put on.
"It's just… Been a while since I had a grand right in front of me. Wanted to go back to recitals, y'know? I used to love playing for an audience." The heat of the stage lights, the amplitude and never ending darkness at the other side of them. He knows there's people there, countless of eyes and ears giving Lucas their full attention, but he can't look back at them, and the feeling of being the one thing that hungry darkness craves for can't be compared to anything else.
"Sir? Are you listening to me?" She asks.
Lucas is brought back to reality after drifting into places he hasn't visited in years. "Sorry, miss. So! The piano, yes. Let's see." His hands firmly raise the fallboard to reveal rows of white under interrupted rows of black. The ivory keys welcome him and Lucas can't contain himself. A finger presses one of them and the note that comes out echoes all around the music store's walls. "Oh, wow, either the acoustics are incredible here or this is a damn fine piano. Oh! Sorry." He cringes at the curse that escapes from his lips, which makes her giggle.
The sound, like chimes in the wind, sends a shiver down Lucas' spine. He pushes the feeling away and, to try and lighten the mood, plays Mary had a little lamb, focusing on the image of the piano strings being hammered one by one as he does.
"It likes you?"
"Huh?" Lucas turns around.
"The piano, it likes you." With a quick and elegant gesture, she tucks a strand of hair behind an ear. "It wouldn't sound this good it if didn't. You have to take it with you."
Lucas knows he's visibly cringing at her words, as much as he loves music he'd never think about speaking about a tool in that way. The kind of people that do are better kept at arms' distance, in his opinion, as they tend to be incredibly intense in his experience. He agrees with her in any case, the piano sound just right and before he realizes it, his credit card is on the counter and a payment plan is being set.
Back at home, Lucas begins moving furniture around in order to make space for his latest acquisition. Will it like to be by the window? Or would it prefer to be closer to the door, where it stays warm during the Winter? As he pulls a stack of empty cardboard boxes, Lucas can't help it but laugh at himself for doing exactly what he had criticized before. He chooses to make the piano the focus point of his living room, angling the second hand couch and plastic chairs in the direction of the currently empty space.
The only thing left is to put the keyboard away. Lucas fully plans on giving it back, but he stores it in his closet for the time being until his friend finally picks up the phone. "So weird," Lucas muses out loud in bed, "he never separates from the damned thing but hasn't read not even one of my texts." The only reply he gets is silence, as expected, and Lucas sets a mental reminder to thank his friend for telling him about the music store whenever one of his calls gets picked up.
The following day comes with little to no ceremony. Lucas goes to work, types mindlessly on his office's computer, prints papers, does some tech support for non tech savvy people and dies a little bit inside with every minute that passes. He swears that he's going to implode if he has to ask if the client has tried to turn on and off their device. It's so monotonous that Lucas only thinks about the piano during his lunch hour and wonders why hasn't the store called to set a delivery time.
He takes out his phone and dials their number. An automated voice blasts against his ear. "We're sorry," the message says, "the number you're trying ti reach has been disconnected or is no longer in service."
"Weird." Lucas takes a bite of the cold chicken sandwich he brought with him. It tastes as good as the day is going for him.
He chooses to deal with it when he gets home, and when he finally does after dragging his feet up the stairs because the elevator isn't working, he's welcomed by a tall and wide box in front of his door. The sticker on it has the music store's logo, the contact number that he tries calling and a Lucas' address. He has no recollection of ever sharing that information, now that he thinks about it, but the excitement stops any sort of logical thinking and Lucas brings the heavy box into his apartment.
The box gets opened with the same energy a child would use to unwrap a Christmas gift, and Lucas' hands are trembling by the time he's pulling away the last piece of plastic covering between the instrument and himself. Before he places it in the space he made for it, Lucas presses some of the keys, letting out a content sigh once the pleasurable sound reaches his ears. The piano, which appeared at his place out of pretty much nowhere, is tuned.
Lucas can't wait, so he sits in the middle of his living room, takes a second to admire the feel and smell of the beautiful wooden casing, it exudes a strange, metallic aroma that he's never sensed in any other similar instrument, but Lucas concludes it must come from being transported in a truck and plays for the rest of the day. The last time he felt this level of happiness was when he was a child attending to music classes, when he practiced for recitals and maybe, just maybe, when he got his first kiss. Bach and Tchaikovsky flow from his fingers with easy, as some things can't be forgotten once learned. Lucas believes he hears one of his neighbors bang against their ceiling to make him stop, but he ignores that and keeps going, possibly playing louder.
The next day, he calls in sick to work, feigning a cough that would make any respectable actor or lazy student scoff at the sorry excuse for an interpretation. Lucas hasn't moved the piano, doesn't think he will, and busies himself with perusing his sheets to pick which piece he's going to try next.
"Debussy sounds like a great option, don't you think?" Lucas asks the piano. "It's my friend's favorite."
The piano doesn't reply, nor does it need to do so. Lucas shrugs and lets himself sink into the images of a scenario surrounded by hot, white lights, the picture of an ocean of darkness behind all of that. He's young again, dressed in his best clothes, and the reddish wood of the piano, which looks darker today than it did yesterday, morphs into a longer, more exposed form.
Minutes turn into hours, and hours turn into days. Eventually, his phone's battery dies and the calls from work stop coming. Someone knocks on his door, either today, maybe tomorrow, but for Lucas there's only the ache in his fingers, the tension and release of his muscles when he steps on the pedals or his hands travel from one extreme of the keyboard to the other. His soul slides over a road of ivory and ebony steps, descending further into the sensations that cloud a reality that will never fulfill him like this.
And then his stomach rumbles, his body has different needs and a will of its own. Lucas doubles down and is surprised by the intense ache in his middle. When was the last time he ate anything? He charges his phone, turns it on and curses when he sees the date. Two days have passed and Lucas' throat feels drier than ever. He drinks a glass of water as waves of notifications starts coming in, making his phone buzz repeatedly. Most of them are the missed calls from works, unwanted texts and boring news, so he swipes them away, orders a pizza and flexes his strained hands.
The tips of his fingers are crusty with something brown. Lucas brings then to his face and detects the characteristic smell of dried blood. His eyes dart to the piano, the keys are covered by dots of the same substance that look pretty similar to the wood in color. He washes his hands and the keys with a rag. As he does that, the delivery guy rings his door. Lucas pretty much throws a couple of bills at the guy, who is taken aback when he sees Lucas' face. "You, uh, have something here." He points under Lucas' nose and leaves after whispering "weirdo".
Lucas scratches his face and realizes that, at some point during the previous days, his nose had bled. "What a mess." He cleans himself up, eats a slice and puts away the rest for later if he manages to get over how disgusting the idea of eating has become. He doesn't want to consume when he's the one that wants to be consumed by the music.
He goes back to playing, each piece coming back to him as if he had never stopped taking classes, and refuses to be distracted by his body again. Time goes on, and Lucas feels something dripping from his nose, the metallic tang dispersing any doubts over what it might be. He keeps going until all sensation is replaced with melodies, until his vision blurs with the red tones of fluid flowing freely, until the skin from his fingers starts peeling back, until his eyes are dry and his lids won't move.
And even then, he goes on. There's no outside world, there's no outside, there's only the piano that feels familiar in the most terrible but comforting of ways. He's got to thank him, Lucas thinks, his friend, the piano. He's going to thank him, it, with a song.
His body begins giving away and Lucas has to fight against the weakening vessel to make each note follow the previous one. His arms grow heavy and for the first time in weeks, a word comes out from his lips. "Shit."
She giggles. She's always been here.
"Enjoying your purchase, aren't you?" Her hand invades Lucas' reduced field of vision and scopes up a handful of his blood. "Just in time for a new coat of paint". Her voice drifts as she smears the liquid over the wood unceremoniously, she then turns her head to look back at Lucas. She's smiling. "Look alive, sir, you're doing us a great favor."
Lucas whimpers, unable to muster the strength to say anything else.
One of his hands gets caught in hers, and she raises it for Lucas to stare at the horror of exposed bone and cartilage. "These will make great keys, I hope. Your friend's bones weren't up to par with our expectations, but he send you to us, so it all turned out great in the end." She lets Lucas go and pats her pencil skirt, shaking the dust off of it. "Why don't you go back to playing while I make a couple of calls? We'll have to drive you and the piano back to the store to finish the process but it seems that you could give it another go. It likes you more than we expected, that'll make the paint last even longer."
Everything is confusing, Lucas' thoughts run in circles clashing against one another trying to make sense of the situation. Each attempt is met with failure, so he complies, because the piano is welcoming, the music is right, a last song sound like the greatest idea he's ever heard. He doesn't know what will happen after, or if there's even an after.
Her words as she speaks on the phone are muffled by the melody of farewell. He's saying goodbye, but he doesn't know who is it directed at, because Lucas and the piano will be one sooner rather than later, and then the music will last through eternity.
When the darkness finally shadows his view, he keeps playing as his body dries.
"He's here." She says, holding the door open.
He's there, until he isn't.