Darkness Take My Hand

By Ryan Bartlett



Have you ever had one of those days that just won’t seem to end? It all started the night before. I share a room with my brother, Ryan, and he wasn’t feeling good, so he was constantly getting up to run to the bathroom. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep. Then some time in the night the power went out, so when I finally did get to sleep, I overslept and had to wait for Jared to get out of the bathroom, only to find out he’d used all the hot water. Once I finally got to class, my geometry teacher sprung a pop quiz on us, the cafeteria served tuna sandwiches for lunch, and then coach locked his keys in the locker room, so I couldn’t change after soccer practice.

I was the last guy picked up that day, because I had to wait for my dad to get off work. Usually my cousin Olivia takes on the job of running us to practice, music lessons, scouts, what have you, but dad’s car was in the shop, so I had to wait for her to pick him up, then come back to get me. Just my luck, it started to rain, and by the time they pulled up in front of the school, I was soaked to the bone.

“Gavin, where’s your coat?” asked dad.

“Coach locked himself out of the locker room.”

“Again?” asked Dad, incredulously.

“I know, right?”

“Awwww, you poor thing, you must be freezing,” giggled Olivia. I can’t blame her for finding humor in my situation. I knew I must look pathetic.

“Can we just go home?” I pouted.

Dad unlocked the back door and I hopped in, I thought finally, this day is at an end, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Someone lost control of their car in the rain and hit a power pole, the downed pole stretched across Orchard Street, which forced us to take a major detour. The heater was on high, for my benefit, but I was only wearing a wet t-shirt and soccer shorts, I was shivering and just crossed my arms over my chest, closed my eyes and tried to relax.

“Hey Liv, pull over,” said dad.

“God, what now?” I complained, when I felt the car lurch to a stop.

I didn’t get an answer though; dad hopped out of the car and started walking towards the house we were parked in front of. I shouldn’t have been surprised; we’ve been looking for a new house for months now, and when dad saw the for-sale sign in front of the old Victorian mansion it was a given that he would stop. I opened my door and stepped out. I was about to complain when I saw the house for myself. It was a little run down and the yard was overgrown, but otherwise it was perfect. The lot was huge, it backed up to a creek that fed into the Housatonic River, there was plenty of space for Baxter and my brothers to run and play, not to mention the house itself was huge. When you have six kids in your family space is always at a premium, but this place had room for everyone.

My family is a little unusual. For starters, we don’t have a mom but rather two dads. Dr. Richard Price, MD and Dr. Ian Hill, PhD, met in high school, courted through college and got married after graduate school. In their late-twenties they decided to start a family and adopted me and Ryan, when we were 6. A few years later Jared came into the picture, then Jason, Evan and Oliver. Ryan and I are 15 now, Jared is 12, Jason 11, Evan 9 and Oli’s 8. As you can imagine, a house full of boys can be a lot of work, so my dads were only too happy to have Cousin Olivia move in with us last fall.

Olivia is brilliant. She got accepted to Yale University, where dad teaches history, and would be living with us while she went to school. She was pretty and girly but had no problem rolling up her sleeves and getting down and dirty with us boys. As much as we love Olivia, we didn’t love the crunch her arrival put on our space. With two parents and 6 kids, our four bedroom New Haven brownstone was overflowing. We were already sharing rooms, but once Olivia moved in we had to further compress and share our limited space with another brother.

It wasn’t an ideal situation and we’d been planning to move anyway, but with another person added to our household the house hunt went into high gear. The problem was my dads are picky and they don’t always have the same taste, but the house on Meridian Avenue was perfect! There was room for all of us, and there would be plenty of projects to keep daddy happy.

Oh yeah, as you can imagine, having two dads can be as confusing for us as having six kids can be for them. It was a complication we lived with until Jason joined the family when he was five. He immediately took to calling Richard dad and Ian daddy; before long we were all doing it, and it made things a little simpler.

“Hey, Gav, have you got your cell?” asked daddy.

“Uh, no, all my stuff is in the locker room at school, remember?”

“Right. Here, use mine,” said daddy, tossing me his Droid. “Call dad and tell him to meet us at this address. Tell him I think I found our new house.”

That was almost 6 months ago. The house on Meridian was a foreclosure, and it took a lot of back and forth before the bank agreed to the sale, then we had to wait for escrow to close. By the time we actually moved, in mid-July, everyone was excited, everyone but Ryan. I wasn’t sure what was bothering him—we didn’t have to change schools, we’d have our own room and plenty of open space to call our own—but when we pulled up to the house on moving day he looked as down in the dumps as I’d ever seen him.

Dad and daddy each grabbed a box from the car and headed inside, the boys chased after Baxter as he ran around the yard, and Olivia started moving things into the basement, which she’d claimed as her own the day we first saw the house. When Ryan and I were alone I put my arm around his shoulder and tried to cheer him up.

I should probably explain that Ryan is more than a brother to me. He’s my best friend and sometimes even my lover. Ryan was dropped off at the orphanage three days after he was born; he never knew who his parents were. My parents were in a car accident. My father died instantly, but my mother lived just long enough to give birth to me. Ryan and I were raised side by side. Our dads had originally only planned to adopt one child, but when they met us and saw how close we were they knew they couldn’t split us apart. When we were twelve we discovered jerking off. It was innocent at first, just a little, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” then we started touching each other and doing other things.

We’re both gay, and as close as we are it was only natural for us to think of ourselves as boyfriends, but that didn’t last long. We may not have the same blood, but we’re a family, and we decided that if we went forward with being a couple we risked doing damage to our brotherly bond. That was too important for either of us to risk, so we called it quits. That didn’t, however, stop us from having sex. In a way being able to have sex with each other protected us; we were both a little intimidated by the idea of coming out, but by being together we could experiment and enjoy without fear of rejection or hurt feelings.

“Don’t you like the new house?” I asked.

“I liked the old house,” said Ryan.

“Sure, me too, but it’ll be nice having our own room again,” I reminded him.

“You didn’t like sharing with Jared?”

“I didn’t like having three of us in one room, and Jared didn’t like it either. He missed Jason,” I explained.

Ryan knew that was true. Jared and Jason had always been roomies; they were probably as tight as me and Ryan, and it wasn’t really fair that they lost their room. Jared moved in with Ryan and me, while Jason had to bunk with Evan and Oli.

“And don’t forget how much you complained when Jared moved in with us. You weren’t thrilled about it either,” I reminded him.

“No, you’re right,” Ryan agreed.

“So what’s bugging you?”

“Promise not to laugh?” asked Ryan.

“No,” I giggled, “but I do promise to help if I can.”

“Ok. Well, don’t you think this place is creepy?” said Ryan.

“The Addams Family Mansion? Sure, it’s creepy now, but they’re going to start fixing it up right away. It’s going to be awesome,” I exclaimed.

“See, I knew you wouldn’t understand,” Ryan huffed.

“What am I missing?” I asked.

“I, I’m scared, Gavin.”

“Scared? Scared of what?”

“I don’t know. This place just gives me a bad vibe,” he explained.

“It just hasn’t grown on you yet. Give it a few weeks, and once you settle in I’m sure you’ll feel better,” I reasoned.

“I guess so. I don’t really have much choice, do I?” said Ryan.

“Nope. Dad and daddy are really happy. You know they want the best for all of us, and it would probably hurt their feelings if they knew you were unhappy,” I stated.

“It has nothing to do with them,” Ryan exclaimed.

“I know, but they bought this place for you and for me and the other boys. It would be like telling them you didn’t like a birthday present or something,” I reasoned.

“Well, I don’t want to hurt their feelings,” Ryan sighed.

“So just try and make yourself comfortable. You’ll feel better before you know it,” I stated.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

With that issue settled I noticed that it was suddenly much quieter than it had been a minute ago and realized that the boys weren’t running around the yard anymore. Jared, Jason, Evan and Oliver are all good kids, but they are usually pretty rambunctious and can be a little mischievous. When they got quiet, it was a good bet that something was up.

“Come on, let’s go see what the little ones are up to,” I stated, then put Ryan in a headlock and pulled him along with me.

We found the boys in the back yard. They were gathered around, looking at something as though it was the coolest thing in the world. We couldn’t see what held their attention, so we sauntered over and pushed our way into the crowd.

“Alright, alright, break it up. What’s going on here?” asked Ryan.

“Look,” Oli squeaked in his tiny voice, as he pointed at Baxter.

I followed his finger and found our chocolate lab chewing on a bone. It was kind of gnarly—it still had some kind of leather attached to it. I figured it was some sort of rawhide.

“Baxter’s got a bone. So?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we haven’t unpacked his stuff yet,” said Evan.

“So?” said Ryan.

“What if he dug up a dead guy?” said Oli.

“A dead guy. Where did you get that idea?” asked Ryan.

“Them!” Oli exclaimed as he and Evan both pointed at Jared and Jason.

Yeah, I can see those two are still partners in crime.

“Guys, don’t tell them stuff like that!” I exclaimed. “You’ll scare them.”

“Yeah, Jared, you’ll scare the wittle titty babies,” Jason giggled.

“I’m not a baby!” Evan retorted.

“Yeah, me either!” Oli agreed.

“Itty bitty titty babies,” Jason teased.

“Jerk!” Evan shouted, kicking Jason in the shin.

“Now you’re gonna get it!” Jared threatened, as he lunged for Evan.

Things returned to their usual chaos after that. Jason was hopping on one leg. Evan made a run for it with Jared chasing after him. Oliver was hot on their heels, struggling to keep up with them while keeping his pants up at the same time. He’d forgotten to put on a belt and was paying the price for it now. They were just kids being kids, but it made me smile. We’re all adopted, we’ve all got tragedy in our past, and it always makes me happy to see my little brothers having fun.

“Hey, Ryan, come here a minute,” daddy shouted. He was standing on the back porch.

Ryan turned toward the house, and feeling too mature to join the little ones in their play, I tagged along.

“What’s up, daddy?” asked Ryan, when we joined him.

“Got something that might cheer you up a bit.” Daddy smiled.

“Cheer me up? I’m fine,” Ryan lied.

“Dad and I know you’re not as thrilled as the others to be here. You’ll get used to it, and I think this will help,” said daddy, as he gave Ryan a hug.

So much for not letting the rents figure out his mood, but I should have known better—our dads can read us like a set of open books. Ryan and I followed daddy into the house, down the long back hall, through the kitchen and into the den. Dad was sitting in front of an ancient grand piano that looked like it hadn’t been touched since the McKinley Administration. I’d seen it before; I remembered looking through the window and seeing it the first time I saw this house. I thought it was garbage that would get hauled off before we moved in.

“Well, what do you think?” asked dad.

“It looks like a piece of shi…er, crap,” I replied.

“No, it’s not. It’s a Steinway,” said Ryan, in an awed voice.

When we were just tiny boys at the orphanage, one of the social workers used to play the piano for us at night. Ryan really liked the music, and before long the social worker started giving him lessons. I can still remember the first time we met dad and daddy. I was sitting next to Ryan on the piano bench, while he played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. I think the piano helped seal the deal for dad and daddy. They stood back and watched Ryan play. He was trying to teach me and I wasn’t having any of it, but he was patient and explained things like a little adult. When we were adopted our parents signed Ryan up for piano lessons, and I have to say, he’s pretty good. He still loves to play but has never had the piano he wanted. We didn’t have room for a piano at our house, and he was reduced to using an electric keyboard. Now he had this monstrosity.

“I thought they were going to haul that thing off before we moved in,” I stated.

“We thought Ryan might like it, so we asked if we could keep it,” daddy explained.

I was about to make a joke, but when I looked over at Ryan I could see the joy on his face and shut my mouth. I didn’t want to steal his happiness.

“It’s a little beat up, but I can fix it,” said Ryan, as he walked over to the piano and ran his hand gently over the wood. He’d taken off his glasses to get a better look at the grain of the wood.

The piano had definitely seen better days. The wood was all faded and scratched, and I had a feeling that when he opened the lid we might find something, maybe several somethings, living in it.

“Does it even play?” I asked.

Ryan’s fingers danced across the keys, briefly, and then he looked up with a grin, “Yup.”

“We figured you could make a project out of restoring it,” said dad.

“It’ll need to be tuned, and I’ll have to sand down the wood and re-stain it, but the sound quality is great,” said Ryan, as he tickled a few more keys.

“What about the keys? They look kinda grimy,” I added.

“Oh no, I can’t replace them. See how they’re yellowed? I think they might be real ivory. You can’t get real ivory keys anymore,” Ryan explained, as he examined his new project.

Ryan’s like that; if something doesn’t work or it piques his interest, Ryan will devote whatever resources he has to in order to complete the project. When we were younger he liked building models and the occasional ship in a bottle. I think those projects appealed to his meticulous nature, and I had no doubt that he already had a vision in his head as to what he could make of this run down instrument.

“Well, I’m glad you’re happy, Ry, but I feel like I need a tetanus shot just looking at it,” I grinned.

My hand was sitting on the piano and I ran my fingers over the rough wood. It was like the damn thing bit me. I got a splinter wedged deep in my index finger and I could feel blood trickling out before I even looked at it.

“Ow! Son of a bitch!” I swore, and sucked on my finger.

“Let me see that,” said dad, ever the doctor.

“It bit me,” I pouted, as dad examined my finger.

“Ah, don’t be such a baby. It’s only a splinter,” said dad. “Still, let’s go into the kitchen. I’ve got a first aid kit there. I need to clean this out.”

“Will it hurt?”

“Nah, you won’t even lose the finger,” dad teased.

We left Ryan to tinker with his new toy, and after dad patched up my booboo I started unpacking. Olivia may have claimed the basement, but Ryan and I had the attic to ourselves. Jared and Jason were rooming together again, as were Evan and Oli. Dad and daddy obviously had the master bedroom, and there was still space for a guest room on the second floor. I love our new room. It’s huge. There was enough space for me to sit on my bed and throw the Nerf football to Ryan on his bed. Neither of us played football, but we loved to play catch, and now we could do so indoors.

I didn’t see Ryan again until after dinner. I had all of my stuff unpacked and claimed the bed by the window, while I piled his boxes up between them. I never realized how much crap Ryan had until then. I had enough boxes that I was able to build a wall almost six feet high! It had been a long day and I was really tired, so at bed time I got under the covers and thought I’d have no trouble getting to sleep. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I could hear Ryan tossing and turning on his side of the room. Whatever he did, he couldn’t seem to get comfortable. He’s noisy when he can’t sleep. With all his huffing and puffing I knew I’d never get any sleep if I didn’t do something.

“Do you want to come over and sleep with me?” I asked.

“You don’t mind?” asked Ryan, from his side of the room.

“Never have, never will,” I quipped.

Ryan and I slept together all the time. When we were little it was because the boogeyman was in our closet or there was a monster under one of our beds. As we got older, it became more of a comfort and sometimes an after affect of our sex play. I heard Ryan climb out of bed, but I couldn’t see him until he got close and was illuminated by the moonlight streaming through the window. Ryan’s always been handsome. He’s tall and slender with chestnut colored hair and hazel eyes. He has a slender build with decent muscle tone and a cute bubble butt. I know Ryan’s body almost as intimately as I know my own.

When Ryan got to my bed, he reached to pull back the covers and I reached for the drawstring of his pajama bottoms. The loose flannel pants slid off his slender hips and down his legs, leaving him in a pair of blue briefs, at least I think they were blue; it was hard to tell in the moonlight.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Ryan giggled.

“You used to always sleep in your undies. I’m just trying to make you more comfortable,” I smiled in the dark.

Before Olivia moved in, we all lounged around in our undies. After all, it was just us guys. Once she became part of our household, pajama bottoms became sort of an unwritten rule. I mean, a girl might see Oliver and Evan, or even Jason, with a boner and think it was cute because they were little kids and didn’t have any control over it. When it came to us older boys, she’d know we were horny, and that would be embarrassing on a number of levels.

“Scoot over,” said Ryan, as he kicked off his pj’s.

I moved as requested and, free of his pj’s, Ryan climbed in next to me. He noticed I was in just my undies and chuckled at that, then lay on his side so I could spoon in behind him. I held him close against me and rested my chin on his shoulder.

“This is nice,” Ryan yawned. “I missed this.”

When Jared moved into our room we stopped sleeping together. Our brothers know that Ryan and I are gay and they could care less, but they don’t know that we had a relationship at one point and still had sex together even now. We thought it was best to keep that information from the younger boys. They didn’t need to know, and finding out might make them feel weird around us. Needless to say, having Jared in our room, through no fault of his own, was a major infringement on our nocturnal adventures.

“Me too,” I replied and kissed him on the cheek, then reached down to cup his balls.

“Gavin, I’m really tired,” Ryan yawned.

“I know. I’m just getting comfy,” I quipped.

Ryan rewarded my playful touching by rubbing his butt against my package, but that’s as far as things went that night. We were both exhausted, and now that Ryan was comfortable, sleep came easy.

Our parents let us rest up on Sunday, but moving into a fixer-upper meant there was plenty of work for each of us come Monday. Moving into this house and selling the old house was complicated; the scheduling didn’t work out perfectly, and there were some major projects that needed to be finished before we could unpack everything. Most of the hardwood floors needed to be sanded and stained, the whole house was being painted, inside and out, and the kitchen was being retiled before all new appliances could be installed. It made life rough for the first couple of weeks. They did the floors downstairs first, and once they were dry we camped out in the living room and den while the upstairs rooms were taken care of. Painting was easy enough; it coincided with the floors, and while the kitchen was torn up we ate a lot of takeout.

After two weeks there was still plenty of work to do—in fact, it would take the rest of the summer—but at least we were able to settle in. While the rest of us lounged around the house enjoying the last weeks of our vacation, Ryan was busy with his piano. The first thing he decided to do was have it tuned, and he wasn’t pleased with the tuner his piano teacher recommended.

“Well, the case is shot. You need more new wires than you have good ones. I don’t think this thing can be salvaged,” said the tuner.

Daddy being a college professor, he was home for the summer and kept an eye on things, but this was Ryan’s project, so he let him do the talking. I was sitting on the couch reading a book, and when the tuner criticized the old Steinway, I waited to see what Ryan would do. For the last couple of weeks we’d all been making jokes about “the beast,” and Ryan got pretty defensive of the old instrument.

“The bones are good, I mean, it’s a Steinway, the craftsmanship…” Ryan began.

“Yeah, it’s a Steinway and that’s great, but it’s a wreck,” said the tuner.

“It still plays, see?” said Ryan, as he struck a few keys.

“I’m not sure how it’s doing that; some of the mechanism is rotted.”

“So you can’t tune it?” asked Ryan.

“Kid, I’m not even sure where to begin. I’m not a miracle worker,” said the tuner. “This thing’s a piece of junk.”

While the tuner was examining the piano, the lid was open so that he could get to the wires. While he spoke to Ryan, the tuner placed his hand on the body, his fingers hanging over the rim. When he called the piano a piece of junk, the lid prop slipped out of position and the lid crashed down on his fingers.

“Ahhhhhhhhhh! God damn it!” the tuner swore, as he pulled his injured fingers away and sucked on the tip of his index finger.

“Oh my God, are you alright?” asked Daddy.

“Yeah, I don’t think anything’s broken, but damn that hurt,” said the tuner.

“I’m sorry about that. Follow me into the kitchen, and I’ll get you some ice,” said Daddy.

When the adults left, I set my book down and looked at Ryan. He had the lid back up and was tinkering with something I couldn’t see.

“So?” I asked.

“So, what?”

“You heard what the guy said. Are you going to get rid of that thing now?” I replied.

“No. Why on earth would I do that?” asked Ryan, a puzzled look on his face.

“He said it’s a piece of junk, can’t be fixed. It’s garbage,” I answered.

“It’s a lot of work. I think he was just being lazy,” said Ryan.

“Lazy? It’s his job. He gets paid by the hour; he could have made a fortune off that thing,” I reminded him.

“Well, I didn’t like the look of him anyway,” said Ryan.

“Ryan…” I began.

“I can see now that I’m just going to have to do all the work myself,” said Ryan, as he went back to his tinkering.

“You don’t know how,” I reminded him.

“You know, Gavin, in every town there are these places you can go to filled with the knowledge and wisdom of mankind. They call them libraries,” said Ryan sarcastically. He had his head deep inside the piano’s body now. “I’ll figure it out.”

“Whatever,” I snapped with a roll of the eyes and went back to my book, while Ryan happily hummed some tune I didn’t recognize.

I didn’t see Ryan much after that. True to his word, he checked out every book he could find related to piano repair and historic refurbishment. He spent days in the den, or rather the music room, sanding down the body of the piano, replacing miles of wire and rotten felt, but when he finally finished, I have to say it was worth the effort. I couldn’t believe it was the same piano. He’d stained it a deep, dark ebony, lacquered the finish and polished it to a mirror shine. The insides were taken apart, the rust was removed, and the broken bits mended. When all was said and done, the only part of the broken-down wreck that I recognized was the slightly yellowed keys. It was beautiful.

Ryan was very proud of himself and wore this stupid “I told you so” grin on his face when he unveiled his achievement to the family, but I figured he was entitled. After all, my brothers and I weren’t shy about teasing him. As it happened, Ryan wrapped up his project just before we returned to school. We were having an open house to celebrate the completion of the renovations, and Ryan decided that he would display his new piano for our friends and family and entertain us with his musical prowess. I’d never seen Ryan so happy. He was truly pleased with his accomplishment and looking forward to showing off his skills. Lucky for us, he’s an excellent musician.

The open house was scheduled for Sunday evening, the night before we returned to Hamden Hall Country Day School, the private school we attended because our parents were afraid of New Haven public schools. I knew Sunday would be a long day. We had to be in church by 10am, and by the time the service finished and we went out for lunch, we’d be home just in time to set up for the party. The party itself would probably go until 9:00 or so, and then we’d have to clean up. I tried to get a good night’s sleep Saturday, but just before midnight, something woke me up.

It sounded like a clock chiming at midnight, but the tone was wrong; it was musical. When I sat up in bed, I noticed that Ryan’s bed was empty and knew instantly what the source of the sound was. I padded down the stairs and crept into the music room, where I leaned against the door frame and watched him play for a minute. I like to watch Ryan play the piano. I like watching Ryan in general—he’s cute—but there’s something about the way he lights up when he’s playing music. He just glows. I didn’t recognize the piece he was playing, but I knew I couldn’t stand there watching him all night. I may be a light sleeper, but if I could hear the music from the attic, then surely the rest of the family would be woken at any moment.

“Ah hem,” I cleared my throat.

I startled Ryan and that screwed up his finger articulation, forcing a sour note.

“Jesus, Gavin, you scared the shit out of me,” Ryan giggled.

“Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt you, but it was getting kinda loud,” I explained.

“Oh, did I wake you?”

“Yeah. What are you doing? It’s almost midnight,” I asked.

“I just wanted a little more practice time before we have company tomorrow,” said Ryan.

“Uh huh, you just didn’t want to leave your piano. I swear you’d sleep with that thing if you could get it up the stairs,” I teased.

“I don’t know, maybe. Isn’t it beautiful?” said Ryan, as he ran his hand lovingly over the Steinway nameplate.

“It is, I gotta admit. I was wrong. You did a great job, but there are little ones trying to sleep upstairs. How about we go back to bed?”

“Yeah, ok,” Ryan sighed.

He reluctantly rose from the bench, but I had to grab his hand and pull him into the hall. I think he would have stared at that piano all night if I let him. Once we were on the stairs he was ok. He marched up to our room and climbed into bed with little more than another apology for waking me.

The next day was just as long as I expected—up for church and out the door by 9:30, then the service and brunch. We didn’t get home until almost 2:00pm, and our company would start arriving at 5:00. We did some last minute sweeping and dusting, so that the house was spotless, then we helped dad and daddy set up the food tables. We were expecting almost 100 people and we always go overboard for parties; no one ever leaves our house with an empty stomach.

When the guests arrived, mostly friends, family and my parents’ work colleagues, everyone was impressed with the amount of work that had been done. Olivia is an amateur photographer. She took a number of pictures of the old house before the renovations were made and displayed them in the foyer so that everyone would get an idea of how much work we’d done. There were also some cute pictures of me and my brothers; the little ones could be pretty adorable when they wanted to be. Ryan also got a lot of attention for the work he put into the old piano. He was only too happy to show it off to his friends and to provide the evening’s musical entertainment.

I had friends of my own to entertain. We’d all invited buddies to check out our new house, and I think we were all proud of how it turned out, because we’d had a hand in making it happen. We did a lot of the finishing work ourselves. Olivia polished all the floors once the stain dried, me and Ryan installed new faceplates over all the outlets and light switches, even Evan and Oli got in on the act, using their tiny fingers to dust and polish some of the more intricate woodwork. I’d just finished giving my friends a tour of the library when we were drawn back to the music room, where Ryan had begun to play.

His eyes caught mine, when I walked in, and he flashed me his beautiful smile while he pounded out Rhapsody in Blue. I missed Ryan the last several weeks. He spent so much time working on that piano that I hardly saw him. Now that the work was done I wanted some quality time, and the way he was looking at me I knew he did too. The last guest left at about 9:30, and after we cleaned up we all went straight to bed. After all, Monday was the first day of school.

When I got to my room Ryan was already there. He was hanging his blazer in the closet and taking off his tie. I took off my coat and tie and draped them over the back of a chair. I crossed over to Ryan, put my arms around his slender waist and kissed him on the lips. I parted my lips, ever so slightly and Ryan took up the invitation, gently slipping his tongue into my mouth, for the first French kiss we’d enjoyed in three weeks.

“That was nice,” said Ryan, when he pulled back for a breath.

“Yeah, I missed you,” I admitted.

“I know; I’ve been so busy trying to get my piano into shape that I’ve neglected you, huh?” said Ryan.

“Well, let’s just say I’m glad you’re finished,” I smiled, and started unbuttoning his shirt.

“You’re cute when you’re needy,” Ryan teased.

“I’m not needy, I just…” I began.

Ryan slipped his tongue back into my mouth and unbuttoned my shirt while we kissed. He pulled me against him and I slipped my hands down to his waist to take off his belt and khakis. Ryan ran his fingers through my short blond hair, then his hands joined mine and soon we were both standing there in our socks and undies. Ryan pulled away again, sat on the edge of his bed and spread his legs for me. I dropped to my knees and started kissing his package, all over his red briefs.

I love doing this, teasing Ryan’s cock through his underwear. He’s so big; he’s still only 15, but he’s packing eight inches, and it looks hot when he’s boned up in his briefs. A few months ago he accidently mixed up some of his clothes with Jared’s, and when he put on a pair of our little brother’s tighty whities, his cock looked so huge it was almost obscene!

When Ryan’s cock got so hard that it stuck up from the waistband of his undies I pulled them off, gave the head a few licks, and then took him into my mouth. I tried to take as much of the massive pole as I could, and Ryan stroked my blond locks, as if I were a faithful pet, while I pleasured him. Eventually though, he tilted my chin up and looked into my eyes while I sucked him. He loves my eyes. He once told me, “I love staring into your big blue eyes while you’re doing something naughty. They look so innocent; it really turns me on.”

“My poor Gavin. You’re hungry, huh?” Ryan teased.

I rolled my eye and let him drop from my mouth, and then we lay together on the bed.

We made love for the first time in weeks, and when it was over Ryan collapsed against me. Our bodies were slick with sweat and semen, our hair was plastered against our foreheads, but we didn’t dare move. This was the time we liked the best, when the sex was finished and we held each other, content as could be. The last thing I remember doing, before falling into a deep sleep, was reaching over to turn off the bedside lamp.

I woke the next morning to a stinging in my ass. Ryan had come back from the shower and snapped my naked butt with his towel.

“AH! Ryan, what the hell?” I demanded.

“Rise and shine, pretty boy. I let you sleep as late as I could, but it’s your turn in the shower,” Ryan giggled.

“That’s a hell of a way to wake up,” I yawned and stretched.

“Get a move on. You don’t want to be late on the first day,” said Ryan, giving my butt a playful slap.

He was right, of course; I didn’t want to be late. I shrugged into my bathrobe and padded down the steps to the second floor bathroom, I slipped in just in time; Jason was scurrying towards the door as I locked it.

“Weak,” Jason whined. “Don’t use all the hot water, Gavin.”

“We’ll see,” I teased, then turned on the shower.

After last night the shower felt really good as it rinsed the sweat and dried semen from my body. The hot water loosened my muscles, and all the tension I might have felt went down the drain with the rinse. When I was done I dried off, slipped back into my robe and returned to my room. Ryan was there combing his hair as I started pulling clothes from my closet. The one drawback to private school is the dress code. I put on a blue button-down shirt and pressed khakis, then picked a striped tie from the rack Ryan and I share. We’re close enough in size that we put all our clothes in the same closet, doubling our wardrobe.

I was feeling great when I finished dressing. I was scrubbed clean and looking rather cute in my shirt and tie as I headed for the door. I sensed today was going to be a great day, and I was eager to get it started. I love the first day of school. I’m pretty popular—I have a lot of friends and lots of girls think I’m cute—but more than anything, I think I have a little nerd living in me. I love to learn.

“Hurry up. Don’t want to be late on the first day,” I teased Ryan, as I started down the stairs.

“Goodbye, Gavin. I love you,” said Ryan.

That was kind of strange. His voice sounded hollow and flat. He’s always so chipper in the morning; it’s almost annoying. Not to mention he was going to see me downstairs for breakfast, and we’d have classes together all day. Weird. I shook off the odd comment and trotted down the stairs with a spring in my step, but I came up short when I entered the kitchen and found Ryan sitting there, tying little Oli’s tie.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Simple half-Windsor knot, like yours. Nothing special,” said Ryan.

“No, not that. How did you get down here?”

“I took the mystical path that descends from the attic,” Ryan snickered. “Duh, I took the stairs.”

“But, but I just saw you in our room.”

“I’ve been down here for twenty minutes,” said Ryan.

“No, you were upstairs. I told you to hurry up and you said ‘Goodbye, Gavin. I love you,’” I reminded him.

“Goodbye, Gavin. I love you, and I’ll miss you so much while you’re eating breakfast,” Ryan teased, mocking me in a falsetto voice. “I’ve been down here the whole time, weirdo.”

“I know what I saw,” I insisted.

“Cough, cough, blond moment, cough, cough,” snickered Jared, earning giggles from the rest of the peanut gallery.

I’m the only blond in the family. The other boys like to seize on that fact when I have a moment of, well, a blond moment.

“Are you feeling ok?” asked dad. “You’re not faking it already, are you?”

“Uh, no,” I replied, rolling my eyes.

“You’re probably just excited for the first day of school. I bet your mind was playing tricks on you,” said daddy.

“Yeah, I guess so,” I sighed.

“You look very nice today, son,” said daddy, giving me a pat on the back. “You want some eggs?”

“Yeah, thanks,” I replied, as I took my seat.

Dad and daddy always make us a healthy breakfast before school; that morning was no exception. I had toast, eggs, some fruit and a glass of apple juice, my favorite. Time seemed to fly by, and before long dad and daddy were making their way around the table, giving each of us a kiss on the cheek or on the top of the head. Some guys might think they were too big for that and pull away, but I love my parents more than I can express in words, and I’m glad they still like to hug and kiss me.

“Have a good day at school, Gavin,” dad whispered, when he kissed me goodbye. “Daddy’s right, probably just a figment of your imagination.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

“Ok, have a good first day, my little princes,” said daddy. “We’ll see you tonight.”

“Goodbye, Daddy. I love you,” said Ryan, winking at me as he said it.

I just rolled my eyes while the others cracked up.

“Alright, guys, quit giving Gavin a hard time. Wash up and get in the car. We’ve gotta get going too,” said Olivia.

“Thanks,” I said, when she and I were alone.

“Little brothers are a pain.” She smiled, then slapped me on the ass. “Now get a move on, we gotta go!”

“What is it with everyone slapping my ass today?” I asked.

“My turn,” said Jared, as he picked up his backpack and landed a hard slap on my rump.

He ran off laughing with me swearing and chasing after him. I chased Jared around the Suburban and never got my hands on him. I almost had him but he saved himself by jumping in the far back seat, where I couldn’t reach him. On the bright side, I claimed the shotgun seat for my own, and once everyone was in the car and we were on the road, the conversation turned from my hallucination and slapping my ass, to the day ahead.

We were all looking forward to the new school year. Fall is a busy time for our family. I’m on the water polo team, Ryan runs cross country, Jared is excited to try out for the football team, and Jason, Evan and Oli have a Cub Scout camping trip coming up. Lucky for Olivia, Hamden Hall Country Day is a k-12 school, so she was able to drop us all off at one time rather than go from the high school to the middle school to the elementary school. By 8:30, we were in class and she was on her way downtown for classes of her own.

Ryan and I share a broad base of friends, but we also have our individual cliques. We were early to school, so Ryan headed off to join his cross country friends while I found my water polo buddies.

“See you in class,” I said.

“Have fun with Bram and the rest of the speedo boys.” Ryan grinned.

He’s called my water polo buddies “the speedo boys” ever since he came to our first game. We’ve had debates about which of them is cutest and which of them fills out his speedo the best, and we’re in agreement; Bram Howard wins in both categories. Bram’s my best friend, and I was really looking forward to seeing him. He went away to summer camp and then on a family vacation; we couldn’t connect all summer. I’m also madly, and secretly, in love with Bram. I don’t think he’d care that I’m gay, but he might get upset if he knew I had a crush on him, and he’s too good of a friend to risk losing. What am I going to do? Ryan’s the only person that knows about my feelings, and so far he hasn’t come up with any ideas either.

I found my friends and we talked about practice, which would be starting in a few days, and basically caught up with each other until the bell rang. With classes underway a normal day at Hamden Hall was off to a great and uneventful start. I didn’t have as many classes with Ryan as I thought I would. In fact, after 4th period, I didn’t see him again until Olivia picked us up. Ryan didn’t have any classes with me and Bram together, so as soon as I jumped in the back seat he had to ask about my secret crush.

“So, how was Bram?” Ryan smiled.

With Olivia and the rest of the boys piling into the car, I couldn’t say that he was even more beautiful than the last time I’d seen him. That he’d been at a summer camp for high school swimmers and he’d come home with his body even more toned. If you ask me, even his eyes were bluer and his hair was blonder. All I could do was bat my eyes and pat my heart, Ryan got the hint and laughed heartily.

“What’s so funny?” asked Oli.

“Nothing,” Ryan and I replied.

“Come on, I wanna know,” Oli insisted.

“You always wanna know,” said Ryan.

“That’s cause no one ever tells me anything,” said Oli.

“I’ll tell you when you’re older,” I replied.

“You always say that,” Oli pouted.

I reached over and ruffled his hair; that always makes him smile his cute little-boy smile. It also shut him up. The last thing I wanted was my little brothers giving me a hard time about liking a boy. When Olivia pulled out of the school’s driveway conversation in the car turned to what you would expect: everyone’s first day of school. For the most part it was a success; we were all back in one piece, no missing fingers or toes, and Evan only got lost once. He’s been going to the same school for three years but still gets lost from time to time. I love the little guy, but his sense of direction is so bad that I think he’d be better off closing his eyes and asking a blind guy to loan him his seeing-eye dog.

Our lives are pretty chaotic, with this practice or that practice, this activity or that activity, but on days like this, when we all come home together, we have a routine. As soon as we got into the house, we each changed out of our school clothes then met in the kitchen to do our homework. I was the first one back downstairs in a t-shirt and soccer shorts, so while I waited for the others, I got snacks ready for everyone. It’s kind of “Leave it to Beaver,” but I think it’s nice, doing my homework and helping my little brothers with theirs. I think it comes from being adopted. When you grow up without a family and finally get one, you want to hold on as hard as you can. We were all adopted pretty young, but I notice the same thing in all the kids; we actually like being together.

It was only the first day of school so the homework was pretty light. Ryan finished his work first then helped Jared with his. Jared’s not the best student among us, but Ryan is probably the most patient, and he keeps Jared focused. I was just finishing up my reading assignment for English when daddy walked in. His course load is usually light on Mondays so he got home early.

“Hey boys, how was the first day?” asked Daddy.



“Same old, same old.”

“Alright. Well, keep working on your homework. I’m going to change and I’ll be back down,” said Daddy.

Olivia came up from the basement. She wasn’t part of our homework ritual. She needed silence to study, so she usually hid out in her room. When she finished whatever it was she was doing, she came up to start dinner. She likes to cook and I like to help, so while she started making spaghetti, I started making a salad. Dinner was well underway when daddy came back into the kitchen, in casual clothes, and with a funny look on his face.

“Ok, who’s the wise guy?” asked Daddy.

We all looked at him with blank stares.

“No one knows what I’m talking about?”

Everyone shook their heads.

“Follow me,” he said, beckoning us forward with his finger.

We dutifully followed daddy into the library where he and dad each had a desk and worked on the paperwork they often brought home. One of the walls is covered with family pictures, dozens of them. One look and I instantly saw the problem.

“Ok, so who did it?” Daddy grinned—he was used to our pranks.

Someone had taken the time to turn every single picture upside down.

“Wasn’t me,” I stated.

“Me either,” added Ryan.

“I didn’t do it, daddy,” said Jared, giving daddy one of his “who me?” looks.

“Yeah, I was in the kitchen, doing my homework,” said Jason.

“I can’t reach,” said Evan.

“Me either, I really can’t reach,” said Oliver.

“Ok, I guess the ghost did it.” Daddy chuckled.

It was funny but after what happened to me that morning, maybe it wasn’t such a joke. I shook off that thought; Ryan was the one who had been creeped out by this house, not me. I wasn’t going to let my imagination start screwing with me. I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to the kitchen to finish dinner. I could hear daddy returning the photos to their proper position and the other kids arguing about which of them was the culprit.

“When did you find the time to do that?” asked Jason.

“I didn’t do it,” said Jared.

“Sure you didn’t,” Ryan smirked.

“I really didn’t,” said Jared.

“You always say that, but you’re always the one that did it,” Evan quipped.

“I was with you guys the whole time,” Jared protested.

“Musta been the ghost,” Oli giggled.

“Yeap, musta been.” Ryan chuckled and patted him on the back.


That wasn’t the end of the odd happenings on Meridian Avenue. Two nights later I woke again to that strange music coming from downstairs. This time I was annoyed. It was after midnight, I had school the next day, and Ryan should have been in bed, not pounding away on the piano. I padded downstairs and this time I didn’t lean against the wall to watch him play. I marched right up to him and slammed my fingers on the keys.

“Hey!” Ryan exclaimed.

“Don’t hey me. It’s after midnight. We’re trying to sleep, and your banging is going to wake up the whole house,” I snapped. I was tired, and I get cranky when I’m tired.

“I was just practicing,” Ryan protested.

“Well practice during the day, like a normal person,” I quipped, then closed the lid on the keys.

“Fine, fine, I’ll go back to bed,” Ryan pouted.

“Gee, thanks for being so understanding,” I replied sarcastically.

Ryan marched away from me, muttering something under his breath, but I didn’t care. He was being inconsiderate, not only of me, who he woke up, but also the little boys sleeping upstairs, who needed more rest than we did. This behavior was characteristically un-Ryan. He’s always cognizant of other people’s feelings, but this is twice now that he’s thrown that awareness to the wind. If he makes a habit of it we’re going to have a problem.

Everything that had happened so far had been pretty minor. I was willing to admit that whatever it was I spoke to on the morning of the first day of school was probably a figment of my imagination. I was also pretty sure that Jared was responsible for the upside down pictures in the library. No matter how much he proclaims his innocence, his track record speaks against him. He’s a born prankster and is always pulling something on one of us. The only strange thing is Jared’s usually quick to admit his guilt. His pranks aren’t mean, and he likes getting the credit for making us laugh. Lastly, it was strange that Ryan would be sitting at the piano in the middle of the night, but that could have been for any number of reasons. He likes to play when he gets stressed, and I knew he had a lot of advanced classes he was taking, along with his cross country commitment, but I couldn’t figure out why he wouldn’t just talk to me if stress was the problem.

All of that was child’s play. It wasn’t until the following week that I actually got scared. It was the first full week of water polo practice, and since we had a game on Friday, coach really worked us hard. It was a Wednesday afternoon, I remember because I got a ride home with Bram and his older brother, Liam, who is on the football team. Liam drove us on Wednesdays and Fridays, and Olivia picked us up the rest of the week. Because it had been such a rough practice, Bram and I had both forgone the after practice shower; we threw on some track pants and shuffled out to Liam’s car like a couple of whipped puppies. I was so tired that when we got to the house, Bram had to wake me up; I’d fallen asleep while we were still in the school parking lot.

“Hi, Gav.” Oli waved when I came in the kitchen.

“Hey, buddy,” I replied.

The gang was all there—Jared, Jason, Evan and Oli, everyone but Ryan. I didn’t need to ask where Ryan was, I could tell by the music that he was with his piano. Since the last night he woke me up, he’s been playing that damn song over and over, every chance he gets.

“Dude, you stink,” said Jason, wrinkling his nose.

“I know. It’s chlorine,” I explained. “I’m going up to shower.”

“Thank God,” Jason quipped, earning himself a smack upside the head from me.

The main reason I didn’t shower at school is because a locker room shower is the most unsatisfying shower you can ever take. Never mind that teenage boys are notorious for being mean and unforgiving, just the process itself is without merit. You strip down, walk through a disgusting boys’ locker room, climb into an open shower that you hope was cleaned this week, rinse off and walk out, hoping you don’t pop a boner or get your ass snapped with a towel by some clown. After a practice like today’s, I wanted a real shower. I wanted to stay in there until the bathroom was full of steam and all the stress left my body. I wanted to enjoy it.

I went up to my room and stripped, put on my bathrobe, and then marched down to the second floor bathroom. I let the water get good and hot before stepping under the showerhead, and then I let the water work its magic. I don’t know what it is about a good hot shower, but sometimes it’s better than sex. After half an hour under the water, I stepped out of the shower feeling clean and stress free. Every muscle in my body felt refreshed. I dried my hair and wrapped a towel around my waist, then walked up to the vanity. You know how vain teenage boys can be; I was looking for any signs of acne. I’ve got nice skin, and I mean to keep it that way.

The hot shower had left a cloud of steam hanging in the bathroom; in fact my body itself was steaming. That’s what happens when you come out of a hot shower into a cold room. The mirror was all fogged up, and I had to use my hand to wipe away the condensation. What I saw almost made me jump out of my skin. Standing behind me was a figure, the shadow of a man in a hooded cloak. You couldn’t make out any features, just his ominous, terrifying shape. I spun around, my jaw hanging open, and when it whispered my name, “Gavin,” I ran for it, I didn’t even stop to grab my bathrobe.

I raced out onto the second floor landing and the bathroom door slammed behind me. I bent over the railing, trying to catch my breath and telling myself that I hadn’t just seen what I knew I saw.

“It’s just your imagination. It’s just your imagination,” I repeated, willing it to be true.

I didn’t have long to think. A few seconds after I made it to the landing the piano music stopped, there was a yelp from Baxter, and then the sounds of arguing boys. I welcomed the distraction. Fights among my brothers are as commonplace as tacos on Tuesday. You can’t have six boys living in the same house without regular testosterone-fed outbursts. A fight was real. I could deal with a fight. A fight didn’t haunt the bathroom. A fight didn’t scare me. My only regret was leaving my bathrobe behind, but I wasn’t about to go back and get it, not now. Instead, I went downstairs in nothing but a towel, hoping it didn’t fall off and hoping that if it did, Olivia was in the basement.

“What the hell is going on in here?” I demanded.

I’d walked in on quite a scene. Baxter was curled up in a corner, whimpering, Jared and Ryan were pushing each other back and forth, and Jared was accusing Ryan of kicking the dog.

“You did too. I know you did,” said Jared.

“No, I didn’t. I didn’t do anything to your stupid dog,” Ryan shot back.

“He’s not stupid. You’re stupid,” said Jared, shoving Ryan again.

I wasn’t surprised that Jared was upset. Baxter likes all of us, but he’s Jared’s buddy. The other kids were just watching the action, their little heads swiveling back and forth as our brothers argued.

“I said stop it,” I shouted, then pushed my way between them. “I go upstairs for a shower and all hell breaks loose?”

“He kicked Baxter,” said Jared, trying to make an end run around me so he could shove Ryan again, but I held him back.

“I said I didn’t!” Ryan exclaimed.

“Yeah, then why is he crying?” Jared demanded, his own voice on the verge of cracking.

“Ryan, what happened?” I asked.

“Nothing, I swear. I was just playing my music, and Baxter lifted his leg like he was going to pee on one of the piano legs, so I smacked him on the nose,” Ryan explained.

“See, he did hit him,” said Jared.

“I never said I didn’t,” Ryan shot back, “but I didn’t kick the stupid mutt.”

“He’s not stupid, you jerk,” said Jared. I had to hold him back again.

“Go back to the kitchen and finish your homework, all of you,” I instructed.

“But he…” Jared protested.

“I know. I know. I’ll handle it,” I replied.

“Yeah, right. You always take his side,” Jared pouted, then turned for the exit. I wanted to say more, but he was upset and I knew he wouldn’t hear anything I had to say right now.

“Come on, Baxter,” said Oli, “come in the kitchen and get a treat.”

The dog quickly got up and followed the little boy out of the room with his tail still between his legs. Oli is one of Baxter’s favorites, because he can always be counted on to sneak him treats or bits of food from his plate, no matter how often dad and daddy tell him people food is bad for dogs.

“Tell me you didn’t kick the dog,” I demanded, once Ryan and I were alone.

“Gavin, I didn’t kick the dog, I swear, just a swat on the nose,” said Ryan.

“I heard him yelp from upstairs, and he was acting like he was scared of you when Oli led him away,” I stated.

“He was going to pee on my piano and all over the floor. I did the right thing. I swatted him on the nose, but that’s all I did,” Ryan protested.

“Ok, if you say you didn’t kick him then I believe you, but maybe next time, try to be a little more gentle?”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt Baxter, just stop him,” said Ryan.

“Yeah, I understand, but you might also have been more sensitive to Jared. Maybe you shouldn’t have called Baxter a stupid mutt,” I reminded him.

“I know. I feel bad about that, but he wouldn’t leave it alone. He just kept pushing and pushing, and he pissed me off,” Ryan admitted.

“Oh, so were you going to hit him too?” I snapped.

“Gavin, that’s not fair,” Ryan sighed.

“No, I know. I’m sorry. It’s just, Ryan, he’s 12. You’ve got to be the adult with him and not lose your temper,” I reminded him.

“I know. I’m sorry. I’ll apologize,” said Ryan, as he took a step towards the kitchen.

“Not now. Let him cool off a little,” I advised.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Ryan agreed.

We stood there in an awkward silence for a moment. Ryan sat back at the piano and picked up right where he left off. All I could do was roll my eyes and go back upstairs to put clothes on. I didn’t join the others downstairs until dinner time, and even then I was quiet. What happened in the bathroom really unnerved me. I tried to blame it on a long day and a stressful practice—after all, I’m a rational person—but it just seemed so real. At bedtime my parents came up to our room to say goodnight. Ryan was in his bed reading, but I was propped against my headboard, staring off into space, deep in thought.

“Wanna talk about it?” asked daddy, when he and dad sat on either side of me.

“Huh?” I asked, snapping out of my trance.

“You were kind of quiet tonight. We thought something might be bothering you,” said dad.

“Oh, you noticed,” I sighed.

“Hard not to,” smiled daddy. “You’re normally a little blond chatter box.”

“Yeah, son. What’s on your mind?” asked dad.

“Promise you won’t laugh or just dismiss me?” I replied.

“Gavin, when have we ever dismissed you?” asked daddy.

“Never, it’s just, this is going to sound crazy,” I sighed.

“Just tell us what’s bothering you. I’m sure it’s not crazy,” said dad.

“Ok, well, you remember the first day of school, when I came downstairs and thought I’d been talking to Ryan before I came down?”

“Sure,” said dad.

“And daddy, when you got home that day, all the pictures were turned upside down?”

“Yes,” daddy nodded.

“What if maybe, just maybe, what if the house is, I don’t know, haunted?”

“Oh, Gavin,” daddy sighed.

“I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but weird things keep happening and…” I trailed off.

“And what?” dad prompted.

“And when I got out of the shower today, I saw something.”

“What did you see?” said daddy.

“It was just a shadow really, a hooded shadow and, well, it said my name,” I explained.

“Honey, you know there is no such thing as ghosts,” said dad, ever the logical doctor.

“I know that, I really do, but still, I know what I saw.”

Dad reached over and felt my cheeks and forehead, checking for a temperature.

“Dad, I’m not sick,” I rolled my eyes.

“Just checking.” He winked. “Look, son, I know you’ve been very busy lately with school and water polo. I think maybe you’ve just been working too hard.”

“Oh. I’m busy, so now I’m seeing ghosts?” I scoffed.

“No,” dad chuckled, “but stress is a very powerful force, and sometimes the mind responds by playing little tricks on itself, understand?”

“I guess so,” I sighed.

“I don’t doubt that you saw what you think you saw, but that doesn’t mean it was a ghost,” said dad.

“If you say so.”

“Tell you what. This weekend I want you to relax, get plenty of rest, and I’m sure you’ll feel better by the time you head back to school,” said dad.

“Yeah, ok. I mean, I guess the whole ghost thing does sound really stupid when you say it out loud,” I sighed.

“That’s our boy.” Daddy smiled, then they each kissed me goodnight.

When dad and daddy left, I got under the covers and turned out my bedside lamp. That’s when Ryan started laughing.

“Something funny?”

“Just you,” said Ryan.

“Um, I didn’t say anything.”

“I was just thinking, when we first moved in here I was the one that thought this place was creepy, and now it’s you, Mr. Logical, that’s seeing ghosts,” he giggled.

I was pissed that he was laughing at me. Hadn’t I been sensitive when he was afraid?

“Shut up, Ryan,” I replied, then rolled over in a huff.

Over the next couple of weeks weird things continued to happen. I saw the shadow figure a couple more times, but it never did more than call my name. It scared me. I ran from it every time it appeared, and I couldn’t figure out its attraction to me. No one else saw it, or if they did they didn’t talk about it. The other weird thing was Ryan and the piano. He kept playing that same song, Danse Macabre, over and over again. He was obsessed with it. We all thought it was strange, especially when Ryan quit the cross country team so he’d have more time to “focus on his music.”

Ryan has been different too. It’s strange. At school he’s his normal, cheerful self, but as soon as he gets home he heads for that piano and starts brooding. He’s so grouchy lately, and it’s really getting on everyone’s nerves. I hate that piano. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure that stupid instrument has something to do with everything that’s been happening.

Things started to take a turn for the worse in early October. School was picking up, meaning we all had a lot more homework to do. I got home from water polo practice one day and found my little brothers still sitting around the table, cracking the books. Ryan wasn’t there, but I didn’t need to ask where he was; the music was ringing throughout the house.

“How long has he been at it?” I asked.

“Since we got home,” Jason groaned.

I rolled my eyes and then went upstairs to change before joining my brothers at the table. I was trying to study for an English test, and the music was really getting on my nerves as it repeated over and over again. I was just about to go tell Ryan to knock it off, when, as if he was reading my mind, he stopped playing.

“Finally,” said Evan, as we all let out a collective sigh of relief.

We relished the quiet, for a few minutes anyway, but the solitude was broken when Ryan angrily stormed into the kitchen. He put his hands on his hips and stood in front of Jason. He was uncomfortably close, and Jason had no choice but to look up at him.

“What’s your problem?” asked Jason.

“What did you do with them?” Ryan demanded.

“Do with what?” said Jason.

“You know damn well what. Where did you put my glasses?” said Ryan.

“Dude, I didn’t touch your glasses,” said Jason defensively.

“Well I put them down on the piano and when I came back from the bathroom, they were gone,” said Ryan, accusingly.

“Don’t blame me; I was here the whole time,” said Jason.

“Yeah, right. What did you do with them?” Ryan demanded.

“He’s not lying. He’s been here the whole time,” said Jared, coming to Jason’s defense.

“Did I ask you?” said Ryan.

“No, but I’m just saying…” Jared began.

“Then mind your own damned business,” said Ryan.

“Hey,” I objected. He didn’t need to be so rough.

“That goes for you too, Gavin. Butt out,” said Ryan.

Before I could tell him to stop being an asshole, Ryan grabbed Jason by the collar and hauled him to his feet, then he started shaking him like a ragdoll.


“I, I, I…” Jason spluttered.

That’s when I got to my feet. Yelling and shouting was one thing, and I could even understand blaming Jason—hiding Ryan’s glasses was just the kind of prank he’d pull. But I knew Jason was innocent, and Ryan was about to hurt him. I forced myself between my brothers, but Ryan wouldn’t let go.

“Get out of the way, Gavin,” spat Ryan.

“Let him go,” I ordered.

“I didn’t do anything,” Jason whined.

I didn’t know when Ryan got so strong, but I couldn’t break his grip. It used to be that when we wrestled or roughhoused, I had to take it easy on Ryan. I had ten pounds on him and it was all muscle, but his grip on Jason’s shirt was like iron. It took both Jason and I pulling but finally, Ryan relented and let go. I grabbed him by the arm and dragged him away, muttering curses at Jason, before Ryan could get ahold of him again. I marched Ryan to the music room and practically shoved him into it.

“What the fuck is your problem?” I demanded.

“He took my glasses. I know the little brat did it.”

“Jared told you. Jason was with us the whole time,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, sure, like he wouldn’t cover for him. He probably helped.”

“Damn it, Ryan, I was there. I was talking to both of them. No one left the kitchen.”

“Well, someone…” Ryan started, but I interrupted when I found the missing item.

“Aren’t those your glasses, right there, on the floor?” I pointed.

“Oh, huh, they must have fallen off the piano when I stood up,” said Ryan.

“Yeah, uh, you think you might owe, I don’t know, ALL of us an apology?” I asked.

“Maybe later,” Ryan huffed. “I have work to do.”

I was incredulous. He was being such an asshole, and the truth of the matter was he had been for weeks. He’d been short with all of us. He was always too busy with his stupid music for anything else, and now he’d practically assaulted Jason! I was pissed and I was going to give him a piece of my mind, but he sat at that stupid piano and started pounding on the keys, drowning out anything I might say. All I could do was roll my eyes in frustration and storm out of the room. When I got back to the kitchen no one said anything. No one knew what to say. We were all aware that Ryan wasn’t quite himself, but none of us had a clue about what to do either.

For my part, I started ignoring Ryan. Everything he did or said seemed to annoy me, and rather than fight with him I tried not to pay any attention. Three days after his run-in with Jason, I woke up in the night. Ryan was downstairs, being inconsiderate and playing that stupid piano while we were trying to sleep.

I hopped out of bed in a fury and stormed down the stairs, but as I reached the first floor landing the shadowy figure that’s been haunting me appeared right before my eyes. I recoiled and backed away, backed myself right into a corner. The figure floated forward and then said my name, “Gavin Hill,” in its hiss of a voice. Suddenly I wasn’t afraid. The figure stared at me and I stared into the void that was his face, then he reached out and beckoned me to follow him.

He turned towards the music room and I followed behind, curious as to where this would lead. When we reached the music room, everything was different. The room was the same, but someone else’s furniture was there. I rubbed my eyes, but that didn’t do any good. The room still looked different, and then I noticed the music and the person at the piano. It was a strange man dressed in Victorian style clothes, and he was sitting at Ryan’s piano. The only thing I recognized in the room was the music. He was playing the same song, Danse Macabre.

“What’s happening?” I asked the shadowy figure.

He looked down at me and held a finger to his empty face to silence me, then he pointed at the fireplace, as if instructing me to watch. The more the pianist played, the higher the flames grew. They weren’t normal flames of orange and yellow but rather green. The more he played the more the flames grew, until shapes started to emerge from the fire. They were hard to make out at first, but once my eyes adjusted to what they were seeing, I was able to pick out the spectral figures of men and women.

The pianist continued to play for his ghostly audience, who danced around the room in an unholy waltz. When the music died down, the figures returned to the fire from which they’d come, and as he played the last notes, some of the figures began to swirl around the pianist. He started moving, struggling against the whirling figures that surrounded him.

“No, please no,” he begged, as they dragged him towards the fire.

He kicked and screamed and begged, but they wouldn’t let him go. The ghosts dragged him into the fire, and as the flames consumed him, he continued to scream. When it was over, I looked up at the shadow figure, and he left me with cryptic words, “Beware, Gavin Hill. Beware.”

Just like that, my eyes snapped open. I was sweating and panting for breath, but I was safe and sound in my own bed. I didn’t hear any piano music, and when I looked over at Ryan’s bed, he was sleeping peacefully. I lay there the rest of the night, too afraid to go back to sleep. I knew it was a dream, just a dream, but it was so real, and the more I thought about it, the more I took it as a warning.

When I went down to breakfast the next morning, I noticed something weird, not from Ryan, thank God, but from Olivia. Normally she’s bright and chipper in the morning. It’s kind of annoying; I’m usually grumpy until at least nine, but she’s usually Mary Sunshine. That morning Olivia was quiet. She didn’t say much during breakfast or on the ride to school. When she pulled up to Hamden Hill, I lingered behind while my brothers ran off to class.

“You saw something, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Gavin, I…” Olivia began.

“Don’t lie. I know you saw something. I can see it in your face.”

“Ok, I admit it,” said Olivia.

We sat quietly for a minute, before Olivia opened up.

“It was terrible. This black, I don’t know, shadow, keeps appearing in my room,” said Olivia.

“That’s the same thing I’ve been seeing,” I explained.

“I thought it was just a figment of my imagination, like Uncle Rick said. I thought maybe I was studying too hard and my mind was playing tricks on me, but last night…” she trailed off.

“Oh my God, did you have a dream?”

“Yes, it was more like a nightmare, but how did you know?” asked Olivia.

“Was there a young man, he was playing the piano and ghosts dragged him into the fireplace?” I inquired.

“Gavin, how could you possibly know that?” Olivia demanded.

“I had the same dream. The shadow figure was there, and when it was over, he said…”

“Beware?” Olivia finished for me.

“Yeah,” I nodded.

“What do you think it means?” asked Olivia.

“It has something to do with that piano. I’m sure of it,” I sighed.

“You think it’s what, haunted?”

“It would explain a lot. I called it a piece of junk the day we moved in and I got a splinter, and when that tuner said it was scrap, the lid closed on his finger,” I explained.

“You think it’s hurt people on purpose?” asked Olivia.

“I don’t know. It sounds crazy, but look what happened,” I replied, “and, well, look what it’s doing to Ryan. He’s obsessed with it. He keeps playing that song, over and over again.”

“Was it the same song in your dream?” asked Olivia.

“Yeah, yours?”

“Yes,” she nodded.

“He’s been such a jerk lately. It has to be that stupid piano,” I sighed.

“He has been different. The little ones are scared of him. That incident with Jared…”

“Liv, what are we going to do?” I asked. “I tried talking to my dads, but they just gave me that ‘figment of your imagination’ speech.”

“I think we need to get some kind of proof or at least some kind of information, something more than just telling them what we saw,” said Olivia.

“How do you propose to do that?” I asked.

“Are you doing anything tomorrow?”

“I was supposed to go over to Bram’s, but forget it; this is important,” I replied.

“Ok then, tomorrow’s Saturday. Your dads won’t need us to watch the boys. You and I will hit the library,” said Olivia.

“What good is that going to do?” I asked.

“It’s an old house; maybe it has a history. I’ll see what I can find out about it while you do some research on that song,” said Olivia, “Ryan keeps playing it. We both heard it in our dreams. It has to mean something.”

“You’re right. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before,” I replied, just as the bell rang.

“You better get going,” said Olivia. “But Gavin, until we know more, let’s keep this to ourselves, ok?”

“Yeah, I understand. It sounds crazy,” I agreed.

Olivia reached across the console and gave me a hug, before sending me on my way. I think she needed it as much as I did. She’d been seeing the same things I had, and facing it alone was tough. Now that we had something of a plan in place I felt a little better. I trusted Olivia, and I knew that together we’d figure out a way to help our family.

The next day Olivia and I left shortly after breakfast. It was harder to get away than we planned. It was one thing for her to need to study at the library, but it wasn’t something I ever did, so that drew questions. It didn’t help that Oli wanted to go and hear the story lady, but after a little white lie about her not being there on Saturdays, he ran off to play with Evan. Once we finally arrived at the New Haven County Library, Olivia took charge.

“I’m going to check with the librarian, see if I can use the microfilm reader to look at old copies of the New Haven Register. Why don’t you get online and see what you can find out about that song,” she instructed.

Stupid, Gavin. Stupid, stupid, stupid, I thought to myself. I could have looked it up last night at home.

“Right, I’m on it.” I nodded and headed for the computer.

A simple Google search revealed that Danse Macabre was composed by a Frenchman named Camille Saint-Saens. The piece was based on an old French superstition, and my skin started to crawl when I read the translation of the name, Dance of Death. According to legend, “Death” would appear at the stroke of midnight on Halloween. He would play for the dead and they would dance for him, until the rooster crowed at dawn and they were forced to return to their graves for another year.

I was afraid. It was just like in my dream. The young man at the piano had been playing the Dance of Death. They rose out of the fire and waltzed for him, and when they were done they dragged him back to oblivion. What if the same fate was in store for Ryan? When I asked him why he kept playing the same piece, over and over, he said that he had to get it right, it wasn’t perfect yet. What if my brother was planning a concert for the dead on Halloween, and what if they took him into the beyond when he was finished?

I grabbed my stuff and bolted from the computer center. I had to tell Olivia what I’d learned. Halloween was only a week away! As luck would have it, I didn’t have to search long for my cousin. She was looking for me too, and we literally ran into each other.

“You’re not going to believe what I found,” we said in unison.

“You go first,” said Olivia.

“Ok, well, that song, it’s called Danse Macabre,” I started.

“Yeah, we knew that,” Olivia nodded.

“No, you don’t get it. See, in English it means Dance of Death. It’s about “Death” playing music for the spirits of the dead on Halloween. They dance the night away and then have to go back to their graves at dawn,” I explained.

“That sounds just like the dream we had. Are you sure?” asked Olivia, dumbfounded.

“Liv, there was even a poem. ‘Death at midnight plays a tune, the winter wind blows in the dark, moans are heard in the trees while white skeletons dance in the gloom,’” I recited.

“It all fits,” Olivia mumbled.

“Fits how, though? I don’t understand.”

“I looked up some of the old county planning commission records,” said Olivia. “Our house was built on the site of a Puritan burial ground, and in 1741 the New Haven Town Elders sentenced three women to death for practicing witchcraft. Guess where they’re buried.”

“No shit?” I asked.

“The graveyard eventually fell into disrepair, and by the time our house was built in the 1800s, there was nothing there but a bunch of overgrown trees and shrubs. The whole area was rezoned for homes, to meet the expansion needs of the city,” Olivia explained.

“When a house is sold, the title is transferred, and the county holds copies of all the documentation. No one has ever lived in that house for more than a year,” said Olivia.

“Ok, so what?” I asked.

“Think about it, Gavin. Why wouldn’t anyone stay longer?” she asked.

“Oh my God, you think something drove them out?” I replied.

“It’s possible. Look at all the weird things that have been happening to us. What if it’s happened before, and the other families had to leave?”

“That makes sense,” I agreed.

“The house sat vacant for years until it was purchased by a young pianist in 1901,” said Olivia.

“You learned that from the county records?” I asked.

“No, that was from the New Haven Register,” said Olivia. “The pianist in question was named William Pettigrew. He was an up and coming musician, and when he moved into town they did a story on him. Evidently he knew that the house was built on a graveyard and hoped it would enhance his séances.”

“Séances? why would a pianist…” I started.

“You have to remember the time period. The Victorians were obsessed with the occult. It wasn’t uncommon for people to invite friends over and have a medium try to contact the dead for a night’s entertainment,” said Olivia.


“It gets worse,” said Olivia. “Six months after the story about Pettigrew’s move to New Haven made the paper, a second story ran, detailing his disappearance. According to the story, friends said that he’d become obsessed with a piece of music. He became withdrawn, and then one night he simply disappeared.”

“Holy shit,” I exclaimed.

“I think this Pettigrew character unleashed something with his séances, and that dream we had explains what happened the night he disappeared,” said Olivia.

“Ok, but what do you think that means for us?” I asked.

“Another pianist has moved into the house and fixed up the old piano. Now he’s playing a song about Death and has become irritable and withdrawn. What do you think it means?” asked Olivia.

“You think that whatever it is, whatever Pettigrew released, it wants Ryan?”

“I know it sounds crazy, but what about this doesn’t?” said Olivia.

“We have to tell dad and daddy,” I stated.

“Come on, let’s go home,” said Olivia.

We didn’t realize how long we’d been at the library until we stepped outside. The sun was already going down. We raced home and it was dark when we got there. We ran inside but there was no sign of dad and daddy anywhere, until I found a note sitting on the kitchen counter.

“We decided to take the boys out for pizza. We tried calling but neither of you answered your cells. If you want to join us, we’re at Yorkside Pizza. Love, Dad.”

“My cell phone never rang,” said Olivia. “Yours?”

“No, I don’t have any missed calls,” I replied, as I checked my iPhone.

We both thought that was strange. Neither of us was hungry; it was kind of hard to think about eating, given the information we’d just found out. We agreed to wait and talk to my parents when the little kids went to bed. Until then, it had been a long day, so I went upstairs to lie down for a while. I was surprised to find the lights on, and more surprised to see Ryan standing there in nothing but a t-shirt and his undies.

“What are you doing here? I thought everyone went out for pizza,” I stated.

“I didn’t want to go. I was hoping you’d come home,” said Ryan, as he crossed the room to where I was standing.

“You were? Did you need something?” I asked. As much as I’ve been avoiding Ryan lately, he’s also been avoiding me too.

“Oh yeah,” he groaned, lustily.

I was about to say something, but he stuck his tongue in my mouth. It was the first kiss we’d shared in weeks, and when he put his arms around me and held me tight, it was like the old Ryan was back. I didn’t realize how much I missed his touch until that moment. I forgot about all of the events of the day and kissed him back. Ryan pulled my pants down, then he backed into my bed and sat down. I had to lean down to keep kissing him, but that was ok. I groped his package, and then he started pushing on my shoulders. I knew what he wanted and to be honest, I wanted it too.

I dropped to my knees and wasted no time. I pulled Ryan’s briefs off and tossed them aside. I hungered for his cock. In that moment, I wanted it more than anything. I licked it, I kissed it and when I couldn’t take it anymore, I took it in my mouth and began to bob up and down on it. Ryan let out a contented sigh and started to massage the back of my neck. I kept sucking and he kept massaging, then he started to pull. He was pushing his cock deeper and deeper into my mouth, into my throat. He’s a big boy and it was getting hard to breath. I tried to pull back, and that’s when I realized I was trapped.

His hand was like a vice on my neck. I couldn’t pull away, and he kept pushing deeper. I started to panic. My gag reflex kicked in, and all I could think about was getting him out of my mouth so I could breathe. I tried to mumble, “Let me go,” but there was no way he could make out what I was saying, so I started to push back. That’s when I learned that he was doing this on purpose. The more I tried to pull away, the tighter he held me. I had tears running from my eyes. I couldn’t breathe. I started pounding on his thighs with my fists, but still he held tight. When he filled my throat with his cum, I thought I was going to drown, but he finally let me go.

I collapsed on my hands and knees, choking and panting for breath. When I was finally able to get control over myself, I sat up on my knees and looked at Ryan as he grinned wickedly.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? I couldn’t breathe!” I shouted.

“Here,” said Ryan as he tossed his underwear at me, “you got some on your chin.”

He was so cruel. I was furious; I couldn’t believe what he’d done to me. I stood up and slapped him hard across the face. He didn’t even flinch or wince; it was like he hadn’t felt it at all. Ryan simply put on his pants, flashed me another wicked grin, then disappeared down the stairs. I was stunned. I’ve always been strong, but in that moment I felt helpless and weak. Ryan would never hurt me; the thing that forced its cock down my throat, it just wasn’t him. It couldn’t be him.

I lay down on my bed and cried into my pillow, then I heard the music start downstairs. I wanted to scream but eventually I just fell asleep. An hour later I woke to a loud crash from downstairs. The music stopped, there was silence for a minute, then the sounds of a struggle. I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs. I met my dads and the boys in the foyer. They were just coming in from dinner and were just as unsure of what was happening as I was. There was another crash; it sounded like glass breaking.

We all ran into the music room and were stunned at the sight. The credenza against the wall was broken. Ryan had his hands around Olivia’s throat and they were struggling. I could see that she couldn’t breathe, and I knew from my own experience how strong he was. Just as me and my parents started to move towards Ryan, they rolled away from us. Olivia’s hands found a vase that had fallen with the credenza. It was still intact, at least it was until she smashed it against the side of Ryan’s face. He let go, stumbled backwards and then collapsed, his left side a bloody mess.

“Gavin, take the boys upstairs,” said daddy.

“But daddy,” I protested. I had to tell him what happened.

“Now!” Dad shouted.

I looked towards the entrance of the music room. My little brothers were cowering there. All of them had tears running down their cheeks, and Evan and Oliver were sobbing. I did as my parents said. I ushered the kids up to Jared and Jason’s room. I tried to calm them down, but they were too upset. I wanted to hug each of them and tell them that everything would be ok, that dad and daddy would make it better, but I wasn’t sure if they could. The only thing I knew for sure was that dad and daddy needed to know what Olivia and I had learned. They needed to know that the thing that raped my throat and that tried to strangle Olivia, it wasn’t Ryan. It just wasn’t.

I told Jared to lock his door behind me and not to open it until me or our dads came to get them, then I went back downstairs. Daddy was sitting on the couch. He had his arm around Olivia and was trying to comfort her. She was crying into his shoulder. Dad was bent over Ryan, trying to clean up his face with the first aid kit. Ryan was awake but dazed. His eyes were open, but he lay there, not moving.

“What happened?” asked daddy, once Olivia calmed down.

“I tried to tell him what Gavin and I learned at the library. I tried to tell him that piano had to go, and he just attacked me,” Olivia sniffled.

“What’s this about the piano?” asked dad, still tending to Ryan’s injuries.

“There’s been a lot of weird stuff going on around here,” I started. “I know you guys don’t believe me, but Olivia’s seen it too.”

“Gavin, it’s not that we don’t believe you…” daddy began.

“We both had the same dream the other night. It scared us, and before we talked to you about it we wanted to get some more information. We spent the day at the library, and you won’t believe what we found out,” I continued.

I told them everything. I told them about the Dance of Death. I told them about the graveyard our house was built on. I told them about William Pettigrew. They sat quietly, listening to everything I had to say. Olivia filled in the parts I’d forgotten, then I told them what Ryan had done to me in our room. When we were finished, my parents traded a look that spoke volumes.

“We need to take Ryan to the emergency room. He needs stitches,” said dad.

Daddy got up from the couch and he and dad helped Ryan get to his feet.

“What about everything we told you?” I asked.

“We’ll talk about it when we get back,” daddy sighed.

“But daddy,” I protested.

“We need time, Gavin. This is a lot to digest, and your brother is bleeding,” said daddy.

“Right. No, I understand,” I sighed.

“Will you guys be ok to watch the little ones while we’re gone?” asked dad.

“Yeah, we’ll be fine.” I nodded.

They started toward the door, and then Ryan stopped. He turned to look at me and Olivia. For the first time in weeks I saw a genuine emotion on his face. He was scared.

“Now that I’m gone, he’ll come for the rest of you,” said Ryan.

“Come on, son,” dad urged, as he directed Ryan back towards the door.

I heard them walk outside and start the car. When they were gone I turned my attention to the piano. I was sure that it was the source of all the evil we were experiencing in our house. In that moment I didn’t care about Ryan’s feelings or what my dads would say. Nothing mattered; I wanted that piano gone.

“Where are you going?” asked Olivia, as I turned to leave the room.

“I’ll be right back. Stay here.”

I went out to the garage. I knew exactly what I was looking for and found it hanging on the wall with some of the other yard tools. I took the ax back to the music room and hefted it up to my shoulder.

“Gavin, what are you going to do?” asked Olivia.

I didn’t answer her; the time for talking was past. I raised the ax over my head and brought it down in the center of the keyboard, smashing the keys into bits of ivory. I struck again and again. I obliterated the keyboard, turned the body into kindling, and as I beat on the case without mercy, the piano let out a groan, as if it were in pain, and the legs collapsed under it. The piano lay in ruins, a heap of dust and broken bits, as the ax fell from my hands.

“Are you ok?” asked Olivia.

I wasn’t ready to talk yet, I just nodded my head.

“Come on. Let’s get out of here,” said Olivia.

“Not yet,” I replied.

I started grabbing pieces of the piano and piling them up in the fireplace. Olivia saw what I was doing and she started to help. We loaded as much of the wreckage as we could into the fireplace, then set it ablaze. The piano moaned and wailed as it burned. The flames danced to our tune, and we added every piece we could find to the fire until there was nothing left but metal and ashes. When it was over, a sense of calm washed over me, a calm I hadn’t felt since the first day of school, when I thought I’d been talking to Ryan in our room. Whatever dark force had settled over our home, it was gone. I could feel it. Olivia felt it too. The whole house seemed clean and refreshed.

We turned out the lights and left the music room. I went upstairs to collect my brothers, then Olivia and I made them cocoa while we waited for my parents to return.

It was after midnight when dad and daddy walked in the door, without Ryan. They weren’t surprised to find all of us sitting around the kitchen table. After what happened that night they knew the little ones would have trouble sleeping. When we finally got the boys settled in their rooms, we returned to the kitchen.

“Where’s Ryan?” I asked.

“He’s going to be staying at the hospital for a few days,” daddy sighed.

“I, I didn’t think I hurt him that bad. I thought it was just a few stitches,” said Olivia.

“He’s fine. The three days is for a psychological evaluation,” said dad.

“What?” I demanded.

“Gavin, when we got to the hospital he started talking crazy,” said daddy. “He said the piano compelled him to keep playing that music, that some force had control over him. He said he never meant to hurt you, either of you.”

“Daddy, he’s not crazy. It’s that damn piano. It’s behind everything that’s been going on in this house. It’s not his fault,” I protested.

“Be that as it may, we can’t risk him hurting you or the little kids, or anyone else for that matter. This is for the best,” said dad.

“But dad, the piano’s gone. He’ll be better now,” I stated.

“What did you do with the piano?” asked dad.

“It’s gone. I burned it,” I stated boldly.

“Gavin!” Daddy exclaimed.

“Daddy, it had to go. Can’t you feel it? The whole house feels better without that damn thing,” I argued.

Daddy let out a sigh, then he and dad traded another of their knowing looks. I think they did feel the difference in the house. They just didn’t want to admit it, because admitting it would mean that Olivia and I were right. They’re both logical people; if me and Olivia were right then that meant our house had been haunted, and that was just too much for them to accept at the moment.

They sent us off to bed, and in the next couple of days we talked a lot about everything that had taken place. Over time, I think dad and daddy resigned themselves to the truth, particularly when Ryan came home. He was himself again, the boy I’d grown up with, the boy I loved. The first thing he did when he walked in the door was to beg me and Olivia to forgive him, but he didn’t need to. We knew the truth. We knew it wasn’t his fault. Ryan wasn’t even upset about the piano. Like the rest of us, he was glad it was gone.

I was happy, happier than I’d been in weeks. Ryan was back. The house felt safe, like a home should. I kept a close eye on Ryan. We talked some about his encounter with the piano, but it was hard for him to explain. He didn’t understand how it had taken control over him or what forces had been working against our family. He was just glad it was over. I didn’t push him. That part of our experience was his alone. I was only sorry that I couldn’t help him sooner.

For his part, Ryan was reluctant to let me out of his sight in those first few days after he was released from the hospital. I was the one that destroyed the piano. I think he saw me as his rescuer, and he felt safe when he was with me. He slept with me every night at first, but I didn’t mind. I was glad to have him back in my bed.

OCTOBER 31, Midnight.

I woke with a start when I heard the music playing. My first instinct was to look for Ryan. I saw that his bed was empty, but then I remembered, he was sleeping with me. I sat up and turned on the bedside lamp, then shook him awake.

“What is it?” Ryan yawned.

“Listen, do you hear that?”

It took a second for it to register, then his face turned pale.

“Gavin, oh my God!” Ryan exclaimed.

“You hear it too?”

All he could do was nod his head.

“Come on,” I replied, as I grabbed his hand and pulled him along with me.

We crept down the stairs as the music grew louder. The dark figure I’d been seeing, the dark figure that had been in my dream, appeared in the foyer before us. It startled Ryan; he’d never seen it before. Me, I wasn’t afraid. I’d come to see this figure as a good omen, a benevolent spirit that showed me what I needed to see in order to save my brother.

“Where is that music coming from?” I asked the figure.

He held out his arm as if to block the path to the music room.

“Beware, Gavin Hill. Beware,” it hissed.

In that moment, it clicked. I knew who the shadow figure was. It had to be him. It seemed so obvious now.

“William Pettigrew?” I asked.

The shadow figure tilted its head from side to side.

“Gavin Hill,” the figure acknowledged.

I wanted to stand there and ask it more questions, but the music grew louder. I had to know the source. I held tight to Ryan’s hand and pulled him along with me. The ghost of William Pettigrew wouldn’t follow. He just called after us.

“Beware, Gavin Hill. Beware!”

When we walked into the music room, the piano was there as if it had never been touched. The keys were moving up and down as if playing on their own, then a figure materialized before us. He sat at the piano, playing that wicked waltz for the dead. He wore a black robe and his skeletal fingers danced across the keys. This figure was nothing like the ghost of William Pettigrew. He had scared me at first, but that was mostly the shock of seeing a ghost. This figure radiated fear; it oozed about him like bad BO.

The dark figure seemed to know we were watching him. He looked over at us, his hollow eyes boring into Ryan. The figure stretched out his hand to my brother and beckoned him forward. Ryan was paralyzed with fear, but the figure drew him forward. It was almost as if Ryan were caught in a tractor beam; he wasn’t walking, but the force of the dark figure pulled him along. The words of William Pettigrew reverberated through my mind, “Beware, Gavin Hill. Beware.”

I threw my arms around Ryan and held him back. It was like being in a tug-o-war with an elephant. I pulled with all my might. I felt my feet slipping as we were drawn forward. Green flames sprouted from the fireplace. They swirled around us as if pushing us towards their master. I felt tears running down my cheeks. I had to save Ryan, but I couldn’t; the dark figure was too strong. Just when I thought all hope was lost, I felt strong arms wrap around me. I looked over my shoulder and saw both of my dads. They were terrified by what they were seeing, but it didn’t matter; we were their babies and they would never let us go.

The dark figure grew angry as our dads pulled us to safety. It let out a horrible shriek, and then its fiery minions began to zip around the room. The curtains, the walls, the furniture, everything they touched burst into flame. Dad and daddy pulled us into the hall. The spell was broken and we ran for the door. Olivia was in the foyer holding on to my little brothers. They were struggling against her. They were desperate to help us, and when they saw us running down the hall, they felt a sense of relief, if only for a moment.

“What’s happening?” Olivia shouted over the music.

“Everyone outside! Run!” dad ordered.

The fire followed us down the hall, consuming everything in its path. As we broke into the foyer, the flames raced up the stairs, spreading the fire to the second floor. Daddy threw open the double doors and we all ran screaming from our home.

When the fire department arrived they found our family huddled on the lawn watching our house burn. They gave each of us a blanket as a shield against the cold, then set about dousing the flames. I don’t know how much water they poured on the old house, but it was all for naught; that fire was touched by evil. No mortal was going to put it out.

Death washed over our family that night. It had come for Ryan, and when it couldn’t have him, it decided to take us all. It was only thanks to the strength of my parents, the strength it took them to see behind logic, that we’d defeated Death’s design. Our house was gone and with it everything we owned, but that was ok. What good are things compared to the lives of those you love? Death washed over us that night, but we’d beaten it. We were still together, and as I stood there shivering in the cold night air I knew that everything was going to be ok.

The End – Happy Halloween!