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The Devil's Chord

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He wasn’t a stereotypical band geek; he made fair grades in school and had a circle of close friends. The only real problem Gerard had – and he knew it – was that he had nothing to be excited about. He was an average high school sophomore, with no real plans for a career or for college. On the other hand, some kids had planned out their lives for at least ten years after graduation; a few took summer courses just to boost their grades. It was a situation that was hard to swallow, and every now and then Gerard found himself thinking, “Am I going to be left behind?”

Mrs. Rand, an insightful and energetic peanut of a woman, saw how melancholy these thoughts made her only son, and decided to try and find something to occupy him. Nights of brainstorming (and a failed attempt by Gerard at trying out for the baseball team) led her to take learning an instrument as his best option, and an electric piano proved to be the easiest to acquire. It wasn’t easy to persuade him to try it, and she probably would not have been able to do had her own mother not played Moonlight Sonata for him during a visit to her house. Hearing the piano in person, he knew, with all its resonant glory, was what made him love it, and hearing that infamous piece was what made him want to learn.

Now it was almost six months after that day, and playing the piano had become Gerard’s favorite thing to do, with Moonlight Sonata his favorite song. This particular night was his 16th birthday, and his mother had given him an electric piano, a big step up from the keyboard he previously owned. It wasn’t quite what he had in mind – acoustic pianos, in Gerard’s opinion, just felt so much damn cooler – but its quality of sound made up for it, and he was too grateful to care anyway. He was very surprised at how new the keyboard sounded, since Gerard’s mother had bought it used at a garage sale and it seemed pretty old; a sticker on the back said it was made in 1990.

The piano had a headphone jack, so Gerard plugged in and managed to play for a good hour and a half without disturbing his mom (he had no brothers or sisters, and his parents were divorced). At around 11 o’clock, she came into his room to find out why he was being so quiet. By that time, he had become restless enough that he couldn’t focus on the music, so he assured her that he was going to hit the sack and proceeded to do so.

As he was falling off to sleep, Gerard mulled over how much he felt like things had changed for him. “This might help me get into a school; it probably won’t give me a job,” he thought, “but that’s not the point. The point is I have something to work towards now.”

Three hours later, Gerard woke up to the sound of the piano, playing itself. Specifically, it was repeatedly hitting middle C. Unnerved at first, he wrote it off as a glitch, a symptom of its comparatively old age, and dragged himself out of bed to unplug the thing. It was hard to ignore the nagging sensation at the back of his mind that his rationalization wasn’t good enough, that it didn’t explain why the piano had turned itself on, but he decided that there was always the morning to figure that out.

This particular incident where the piano had woken him up had not been repeated, but Gerard had occasionally come home from school to find it playing itself, even when he could have sworn he turned it off beforehand. Usually, when something of the sort happened, it would be repeating some variant of a tritone – aka, the Devil’s Chord, so named for the unnerving emotion it conveyed. It was almost as if the piano was trying to get his attention by annoying him, like a kid who won’t stop saying “Mommy.”

Unplugging the piano would solve the problem, but only temporarily. Eventually these “phantom notes” as Gerard jokingly began to call them, had become more and more frequent, and more discordant, to the point that he couldn’t plug the piano back in without them playing; it became impossible to play it anymore. It wasn’t even playing anything loud; an incessant tritone – two notes, two menacing notes– was all it would do. To make things even stranger, when he did attempt to play, it would hit its own notes at just the right timing to offset his song, making anything he played a perfect mess.

By this point, he had moved past being infuriated and started being a bit disturbed. Gerard was about ready to trash the piano, but he couldn’t think of throwing away a birthday present, especially one he enjoyed so much. So he decided to call a repairman. Doing so, he learned that he would have to wait a week for anyone to show up, and being “one impatient son of a bitch,” as his mom called him, he felt like he had no choice but to open it up himself. He didn’t have any experience in electronics, really, but he figured, “Screw it. I’ll be able to tell if the problem is really obvious, like if something blew up inside. Then I might be able to get one of my more technical friends to help me out.”

After grabbing some rubber gloves and a screwdriver from the basement, he returned to his room to find the piano still incessantly repeating that damned tritone, making him even more impatient then usual. But as Gerard approached it with a screwdriver in hand, the playing shifted to a slightly slower pace; and by the time he reached it the playing had grinded to a halt. Though he ignored it and continued with what he was doing, as he unplugged the piano, turned it around and put the screwdriver to its back he realized his hand was trembling, and his forehead was sweating a little. He managed to laugh a bit at his own reaction. “It’s just a piano, a glitchy piano,” he thought.

Gerard undid the six screws in the back and removed the back plate. His attention was caught by something on the inward-facing side of the plate, a piece of paper that was underneath a screw. Clearly someone, possibly the piano’s previous owner, wanted it to be there.

And if that’s who left it, Gerard thought to himself, then I’ve been playing an instrument that was owned, at one point, by a psychopath.

The paper was, judging from its size and its single messy edge, torn from a small notebook, and its yellow hue said that it had been there a long time. But the thing that made Gerard question the previous owner’s mental state was the image that was drawn on the paper. The focal point of the image was a symbol that looked like a stylized combination of a capital A and E with various lines attached throughout. This symbol was inside a circle that was surrounded by smaller symbols, which were arranged like they could’ve been some kind of alphabet, but one that Gerard had never seen. He could not read the “writing” or understand anything about the anonymous parchment, but the daemonic feel of the whole design made his hair stand on end. Everything was written in a vibrant, blood-red ink that contrasted grossly with the yellow of the page, and looked almost as if it had been written yesterday, despite the obvious age of the sheet.

Gerard stared at the paper for a minute, then got back to what he had come to do. There was a big metal plate attached to the edge of what appeared to be the main circuit board. “First,” he thought, “I’m going to move that out of the way.” So he promptly unscrewed the screws and reached out to remove the plate– and there was a buzzing sensation, a jolt of pain that made his muscles writhe–

…and then the lights went out.


Five days later, Mrs. Rand walked into her house after what felt like an endless day at the CPA firm where she worked. She felt like she had gotten nothing done; the death of her son had left her too depressed to focus on anything. At the kitchen table she sat for an hour, wishing that she didn’t have to keep imagining the way his body laid on the ground, twitching like Galvani’s frog, the smell of burnt rubber in the air from the hole that electricity had apparently blown through his glove...

A sound interrupted her mourning from upstairs. With an angry sigh, she got up from her chair and started up the stairs to Gerard’s room. She stormed the door to find the God-forsaken piano, with its keys running like a bat out of hell. Mrs. Rand punched the power button, kicked the instrument’s body with rage, and went back downstairs, sobbing. She had been too upset to be too confused by its autonomous playing. In truth, after five nights of this, she didn’t even care to know the reason.

The bedroom was still and silent now. The piano sat motionless in the dark for hours. Then its power button slowly depressed itself and, tentatively, a very low C-sharp chord played, as if to admit defeat. With a moment’s pause, the thing turned its volume knob down low, and began to play a rendition of Moonlight Sonata.

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