The Third Tale - Teeth
Simon P. Clark
The piano doesn't work anymore. Freddy smashed it up. First he started hitting the legs, hitting the side, bashing the wood. He did it with his cricket bat. The wood splintered. It made me wince. He swung the bat and grunted every time he brought it down.
'Please,' I said, 'No, Freddy. Don't. They're so nice. They're so nice.'
I liked the piano. I liked how the keys shone black and white. I liked how they sang when you touched them. I thought they were beautiful.
Freddy didn't even blink. He held the bat and looked at the keys.
'Please,' I said. I felt tears on my cheeks.
He paused and looked out the window. Something like a shadow moved outside the glass. Freddy raised the bat, his eyes flicking back to the keys.
'Freddy!' I said.
I was too young to do anything. Freddy was bigger. Freddy had the bat.
The sound was like a roar, and a scream, and a groan. He smashed and smashed and smashed. He moved up and down, his teeth set together, his face turning red. He smashed the keys and the sound filled the world. I sat on the floor and cried. I didn't want the piano to die, but he was killing it, and every blow became more of a thud, less like music. The sound filled the world. I covered my ears with my hands.
When he had finished he dropped the bat, and he fell backwards, and then Freddy cried, too.
I'd never seen him cry before. I didn't know what to do.
'Monster,' said Freddy, his eyes fixed on the floor.
The strings were still vibrating. The noise echoed around the house, like a whale song, sad and lonely, or the sound of a thousand bees.
Or, I thought, like an angry animal.
I didn't tell Freddy that, though. I watched his shoulders shaking.
I think Freddy loved the piano too.
It all started with the book in the wall. There was a vent in the wall beneath my bed. It was covered by a metal grate that was painted white, but it lifted up when I tried it. I reached my hand into the dark, hoping for pirate treasure, or a hiding place, or a map. My hand brushed against something soft and dry. I frowned and pulled my arm back. I was lying on my stomach. I tried to see in. I should have got a torch. I knew where Dad kept his, in the drawer next to the sink. I couldn't see anything. My feet stuck out from under my bed. If Freddy came in he’d probably make fun of me.
I reached back in and felt something. It was small and square. It came loose and I pulled it out, twisting my hand to get it through the hole. The grate fell down and covered the vent with a snap. I was worried someone might hear me. I held my breath, scooted out from under the bed, looked at what was in my hands. It was a book. Its cover was faded and torn. It didn't have a title. It was leather, soft and pale around the edges. I opened it up and the spine crackled like fire. There were pages covered in writing in a language I didn't know. There were drawings of strange things - of animals and faeries and angels and trees. Some pages were blank. Others had been torn out. Some had nothing but stains on them – tea, I thought, or coffee. Some of the pages were splashed with red – a deep crimson red that made me feel uncomfortable.
I stood up, my heart beating. I was excited. I was thrilled by my prize, by my new secret.
That’s when the sheets fell out.
That’s when it all went wrong, I guess.
They were pieces of paper, thin and yellow with age. They fell to the floor with the sound of a whisper and I jumped, dropping the book. There were three of them. Three sheets. Two had landed face down. The third was face up. I could see what was on it.
It was music.
I never really played the piano. I had lessons at school, but I didn't enjoy it. My hands wouldn't cooperate. Mr Harper, the music teacher, tried his best, but we both knew it was hopeless. I made the piano sound tired and clanky. Freddy made it sound alive. He was gifted, they said. His ear was perfect. I watched him play. He closed his eyes, the tip of his tongue sticking out between his teeth, and then his hands moved like water over rocks. He played and the piano sang for him. He’d have a scholarship, they said, and concerts, and a future. That’s why the piano was Freddy’s. It was downstairs, in the room with windows on three sides. Sometimes I tried it, tapping and bashing the keys. We all knew it was Freddy’s, though. He was the musical one. Still, I could recognize music written down, and that’s what this was. I bent and picked the pages up, turning the other two over. Three pages of sheet music, hidden in a book, hidden in a wall. I felt a tingle down my spine.
Why would someone hide a song?
I should have shown Freddy. I knew that. I did. He could read music. He’d know what it said. But this was mine. My secret. My treasure.
I took it to the piano and put it on the stand. I sat on the stool and bit my lip. The music was written in thin, black ink. It was full of curves and swishes. The title was at the top. It took me a while to work out what it said, but when I had, I smiled. The Devil’s Teeth. I liked it. It sounded powerful and special. I put my hands on the keyboard and tried to find the first note. That’s when I heard Freddy coming in. He’d been outside helping Dad with the car. He pulled his shoes off, whistling a tune. I panicked, grabbed the music, and ran back up to my room. I stuffed it under the bed again. I didn't want anyone else to know.
A few minutes later, Freddy came to the door.
‘Did you open up the piano, Smidge?’ he asked.
‘Don’t call me Smidge,’ I said.
‘Sorry, Smidge. Did you, though?’
‘I was just looking!’
He laughed. ‘That’s fine. If you want me to help you –’
‘I’m fine, Freddy. I’m fine.’
He shook his head and left me alone.
I went to sleep that night listening to the wind outside. It sounded like a storm was coming. It sounded like a monster. In my dreams the music was gentle, flowing back and forth, rising and crashing and starting again. I felt the keys move beneath my hands, and I knew what to do next, and how to move the pedals. I felt the music rushing through me. I laughed and listened and played the tune. It was magic. I wanted to do it forever.
Freddy’s voice cut through the noise. I felt my fingers knock against the piano. I frowned. I was getting things wrong. The music didn't sound right anymore. I tried going faster. I felt my heart racing.
‘Phil! What are you doing? Stop!’
I didn't know where the voice was coming from. My fingers felt thick and slow. The music was wrong now. It wasn't nice. It sounded different, and it was changing. It sounded like a scream. It sounded like laughter.
Freddy’s hands were on my shoulders and he yanked me off the piano stool. We fell to the floor. I shook my head, opened my eyes. I didn't know where I was. Freddy was lying next to me, one hand resting on my chest. I turned my head to the left, to the right, looking for where the music had come from. My eyes wouldn't focus. We were downstairs, next to the piano. My elbow hurt where I’d knocked it on the floor.
‘What the hell were you doing?’ said Freddy. ‘What were you playing? How did you do that?’
‘Playing?’ I mumbled. I looked up at the piano. The lid was open. I shook my head. ‘No,’ I said, ‘No, I –‘
‘You were playing. You were playing in your sleep!’
I didn't know what to say. I stared at him, looked at my fingers. Tears filled my eyes. I wiped them away.
‘I can’t,’ I said. ‘I can’t play. You know that.’
I could still hear the music ringing in my ears.
‘But you did,’ said Freddy. He stood up. His face was white. ‘It was really scary,’ he said.
‘Sleep walking,’ I said. ‘It’s nothing. It’s stupid. Sorry. Sorry, Freddy.’
He kept on looking at me as I ran up to my room. I felt like something – something else - was watching me from the shadows.
I tried to avoid him all the next day. I stayed in my room. I don’t know why. Everything felt weird. The wind made me jump. I picked up the book and stroked its spine. I looked at the pages, at the words, at the drawings. They were strange and beautiful and mad. I touched the dark red stains. The Devil’s Teeth stayed under my bed. I didn't want to look at that.
If that had been the end, the piano might still be alive. It wasn't, though. It wasn't the end. Freddy was waiting that night. He crept down after me, watching me walk, watching me sit at the piano, even though he was scared. He told me that after – how scared he’d been, how he didn't know what was happening. My eyes were closed, he said. I made it all the way downstairs, to the piano, and I started playing, and my eyes were closed the whole time. I started playing The Devil’s Teeth, and in my dreams I was flying, and I was powerful. The music flowed out of me. My hands buzzed and danced. It was better than anything he’d ever seen, Freddy said. It was more than music. It was magic.
But it hurt, too. He saw that. He saw my fingers, how they started to bleed, how I winced even while I was asleep. That’s when he pulled me off again, and I woke up, scared and in pain, lying on the floor, my brother staring down at me.
‘What have you done?’ he asked me. ‘What’s going on, Smidge?’
I opened my mouth, and thought about the book, and shook my head. ‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I don’t know, Freddy.’
He looked at me. He was breathing really hard ‘You scared me,’ he said. ‘I thought you’d gone mad.’
I laughed at that, though nothing was funny.
‘Don’t tell Dad,’ I said. ‘Please. Right, Freddy? It’s nothing, OK? Nothing.’
I could see his hesitation. It made my stomach hurt. I didn't like seeing Freddy look scared.
‘It’s just a dream,’ I said. ‘Right? It’s fine.’
He smashed the piano on the third night. He was waiting for me outside my room. He tried to wake me up, he said. He followed me down the stairs. He called out for Dad. He couldn't stop me. I was too strong. I pushed him out the way, he said, and sat at the piano. The sheets of music were ready, waiting. I never found out how they got there. The Devil’s Teeth. I started playing, Freddy said. I started playing and smiling and laughing, and the shadows pooled behind me, and it looked like I had wings. There was laughter in the air, and something scratched at the windows.
That’s when Freddy panicked, and got his bat, and hit the piano. He pushed me out of the way and I landed hard on the floor. The music stopped mid-note, but something still hung in the air – a shriek, like a wounded animal, or a bat, or a high, mad laugh. He smashed and smashed and smashed. The keys cracked. The strings snapped. The piano screamed and died.
‘Monster!’ said Freddy. The air was filled with dust. His eyes were wide. He swung the bat above his head, pointed it out into the pitch-black night.
‘Stay away!’ he said. ‘Leave him alone!’
And then he was on his knees, and he was crying, and it was over. Behind him, where he couldn't see, three sheets of paper floated to the floor. I reached out and grabbed them, folded them carefully and put them in my pocket.
‘Monster!’ shouted Freddy again. He didn't take his eyes off the floor. He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. He looked up. ‘Smidge …’
I looked at the piano. I looked at him. I felt the paper in my pocket, heard the music in my head. The Devil’s Teeth. I smiled.
Outside, against a bright white moon, something flew through the dark.
Teeth, Eren Tales © Simon P. Clark 2014. All rights reserved.
Photography © Brandon Rechten 2014. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission
from the author or publisher is prohibited.