A whisper of breath on the neck created by a draft . . . someone’s fingernails skimming across shirt fabric making a tingle to run up the spine . . . and a dark room in a dark house where the creaks of the boards sound with no one inside.
As a child, I laid in my bed listening to the musical notes rising in the room. My sister slept peacefully, but I could not. The notes. They filled my scared mind. They sounded in a quiet tone, one long droning B sharp followed by an E flat. It was no familiar song I had played on my toy instrument, which was a little like a keyboard but crafted in a large baton shape to make it easy to carry. I had learned all those kids’ songs: Pop Goes the Weasel, Home on the Range, Auld Lang Syne, She’ll be coming ‘round the mountain, and lots of others. Yet this music mimicked no song I knew and even if it did, who played it? Who would make such songs at two in the morning?
For two weeks, I hardly slept. The notes droned through the night. Then they would stop. I laid in my bed, holding onto my cat-radio (a stuff animal that had a radio inside and two knobs poking out the front), as I vowed to find out on my own where the noise came from so I could get some sleep.
When the sun came up, I ransacked the toy chest and the closet. Any toy that could make a noise I took out and pulled the batteries from, stockpiling all the double A’s into my dresser.
That night, the music played.
So the following day, I ransacked my brother’s bedroom. I took out all the batteries from his toys, causing him to become quite upset with me since he did not have any musical playthings. I returned the batteries, realizing the noise could not have come from his bedroom anyway because I would never hear it past his loud snoring. Instead, I sat on my bedroom floor, debating, when I suddenly lifted my eyes to the drop ceiling.
I remembered something. I remembered seeing something in the room upstairs. Perhaps the noise came from there.
My hands grabbed my cat radio along with my gray snuggle blanket from the bed. I took a deep gulp from the sudden saliva building in my mouth and headed down the hallway. I lived in a ranch style house. Each room connected to the others through a single hallway. This hallway led from the kitchen into the livingroom, past the bedroom and bathrooms, and ended in the room at the back of the house. In this room was a door. Through this door was the furnace room. Through the furnace room was a door leading upstairs.
I did not like this last door. It stood facing the wall and the water pump, which would make a horrid REUUUUREEE noise whenever anybody turned on the faucet or washed clothes. Or sometimes it would turn on during heavy rains, as the rushing water would enter the well outside and force the pump on.
For some reason, the pump would always come on whenever I walked by it. It always startled the pants off me.
I took a long breath and swiveled the nail that kept the door shut. I took a single step, and of course the pump turned on. My feet ran up the stairs into the small room used mainly for storage of winter blankets and Christmas decorations. I stared across the room.
Along the wall was a large square hole, large enough for a person to crawl through. On the other side was part of the attic running lengthwise above the kitchen and livingroom.
A dark place. There were no lights in this part of the attic. There were no lights in the room I was in except from what sunlight beamed past the window. Dark. I had forgotten to grab a flashlight.
Still, I puffed out my small chest. Heck, I was seven-years-old. I could be brave. I could handle anything in the dark . . . so dark . . . so very dark part of the attic. Besides, I did not have to go too far in there.
I wrapped my gray snuggle blanket around my neck like a cape, firmly wedged my cat under my arm, and stepped through the hole. My eyes adjusted to the dimness as I made out the large square object covered in grime from sitting up in the attic before my parents bought the house. I crept over and lifted the long wood cover in the front. A long row of ivory keys stretched forever for the entire length. I pushed on one.
No sound came from the old piano. I pushed on a foot lever and struck another key, my fingernails tap-dancing from the white ones to the black ones and back again. Still nothing.
I made my return trip through the hole. My hands wiped the grime onto my clothes. Then I frowned. My knees bent as I placed my ear to the floor.
The music played . . . downstairs . . . in my bedroom.
I ran down the steps while holding my breath when rushing past the pump as I hoped it would not turn on. My body jogged through the hallway and entered my room. I tiptoed to the closet. My hands pushed toys around until I found the music.
The keyboard baton played the notes, as I pressed my ear against the speaker. Then I flipped it over to the empty battery compartment. Confused, I pushed on the flat keys to play, “My Country Tis of Thee.” Only the long droning B flats and E sharps moaned into the room.
I carried the toy into the kitchen where my mother washed the dishes. I told her about the music at night. I told her about the empty battery compartment and asked her why it still played. She shrugged her shoulders and said that sometimes a machine could still have some power inside although it did not have any batteries. Then she said she would fix the toy for me, which meant she would hide it for a month or two until I forgot about the toy and then she would toss it in the trash.
That night, I curled up in bed, ready to have a good night’s sleep. I closed my eyes and heard the notes playing. My whole body gave a tired sigh and looked up at the ceiling.
My mother had stowed the toy away in the attic.
It is interesting how memories can play around with the mind. Recently I remembered this story when laying in my bed and hearing music play inside my room. Wondering where it came from, I crept out of bed to my dresser. The notes played through the headphones attached to the radio. I turned the switch off and stood in the dark room, listening to the howling wind blowing outside. I felt the draft pushing through the cracks from the old window. I heard the floor boards creak as the heat of the house dissipated within the coolness of night.
It is amazing what things can still send shivers through a person, no matter how old they may be.