High on his cloud-shrouded tower upon a bleak mountaintop stood a royal-looking figure faintly lit by the crescent moon. But a king this was not. His black cape billowed, casting a menacing shadow. An occasional glimpse of a bony wing appeared amidst the folds of red satin lining. He peered out over the mountains and valleys, relishing the sight of darkness and the atmosphere of fear over the land. If he could banish the moon as well, he would.

A small musical sound behind him caught his attention, drawing him back inside his chambers. He stopped at an antique table holding a large carillons á musique, his treasured nineteenth-century music box. But this was no ordinary music box. His fingers caressed the ebony roses gilding the mechanical instrument. When he lifted the ornate cover, the box played an eerie metallic tune. A smoke-like mist rose from its mirrored interior and from the mist round shapes took form. He stared at the expanding sound bubbles that were forming images before him. A moving picture came into focus inside one of the bubbles:

He watched a blonde boy with blue eyes walk down a street lined with oak trees then bound up the steps into his New England Colonial home. The house was brimming with music and happiness as the boy's mother played the piano and his young sister listened joyfully. Their reserved father sat in his favorite chair lost in reading the newspaper.

The scene in the bubble grew clearer. "Isn't that a sweet scene?" mocked the dark one. "But why is this being shown to me?" Two others stood in the shadows behind him viewing the images, not daring to say a word. 
The orbs of sound wobbled. The picture changed as time moved forward. The colonial home had grown dark and the music had stopped. Upstairs in the master bedroom, the boy was sitting in a chair beside his mother’s bed, his head buried in the crook of his arm, and clasping her limp hand in his. In the doorway, the little sister clung to their father. "Ah, so sad, so sad," said the cloaked one in a whisper, studying the boy with interest. "But I don’t understand, why are these people being shown to me?"

The boy turned as if he could hear the question from far, far away. Without warning, a blazing light radiated from the music box, sending the dark one reeling. He clutched his chest and struggled to close the lid to shut away the light. His voice turned menacing, "Now I see...I see... You are the one I must prepare for."

Now that he was half past twelve years, Tyler Harrington knew it was time he stopped acting like a frightened child over every little sound in the night or from the blackness of his bedroom, or every time he saw a star disappear, or the millions of other scary notions that crept into his brain. He never used to be that way. And so on this dark evening as he walked home from his friend’s, he decided to confront one of his fears. This time he wasn't going to walk several blocks out of the way to avoid the mysterious old house--if you'd call something that huge a house. The rundown manor loomed high on Willow Street Hill, as though keeping a watchful eye on the residents of his quaint New England town. It always sent shivers down his spine and tonight it seemed even more creepy than usual.

Just a few more steps, Tyler thought to himself, I’m almost past it.  The growing shadows spooked him. He quickened his pace and remembered the time many years ago when the stars filled the sky. He asked his mother about the old mansion and his father had immediately changed the subject to what they'd be having for dinner. We don’t want to scare the boy,”he'd whispered. Tyler passed the damp, moss-covered trees that framed the arched windows facing the street. He imagined eyes peering at him from behind the fancy glass, even though as far as he knew, the house had been vacant for decades. He jumped and his heart pounded when a dog howled in the distance.

"One, two, three, four…I can do this!" he counted rhythmically with the next few steps. Tyler found that counting out loud made things easier when he was afraid. Whatever was scaring him might just go away by the time he got to ten. Or at least it helped him keep his mind off scary things until he mustered up enough nerve to open his eyes again.

Then quite suddenly all thoughts of counting flew out of Tyler's mind when he heard something. He stood still and listened, but decided his mind had to be playing tricks on him. But as soon as he took another step, he heard it again, this time more clearly. The sound was unmistakable. It was piano music. Surely it must be coming from another house, he thought. He moved closer to listen more carefully, but then stopped dead in his tracks. He knew the melody very well. It was the special Beethoven tune his mother had played for his mute little sister, Christina. It was Christina's favorite music. Their mother was a highly respected piano teacher throughout her lifetime. So many people, usually grown-ups, had exclaimed, “How fortunate you are to have such a wonderful music instructor in your very own house,” knowing full well he didn’t take piano lessons. He didn’t know why he'd resisted music lessons all these years, he just had. Music wasn't for him. He was thankful his mother hadn’t forced him, like so many parents did. His friend Kathy had to take lessons with his mom and she would drag herself over to his house every week. He could tell her heart wasn’t in it because it showed in her mechanical playing. She put on the image of “culture” the same way she put on her designer clothes. It was getting darker and Tyler really didn't want to get any closer to the mansion. But the tune was so peppy and full of energy, like a little dog chasing its tail, so familiar, that it seemed to be calling to him. Hearing it filled his mind with memories. He thought of how Christina danced to that music and how their mother promised she'd teach her how to play it some day when she was older. Unfortunately that day never came. Their mother was gone from this world and for the last two years Tyler and Christina lived with their no-nonsense father, the Honorable Judge Harrington, and the live-in nanny.

Tyler was finally learning to accept his family's new situation, but he could never forget the last night with his mother before she passed on. In her fitful sleep, she'd awakened from a dark vision of future destruction. The nightmare terrified her, but hope lingered in her eyes when she spoke. “Tyler, dear, someday you'll be doing something very important—something wonderful for Christina and yourself and for many others. I'll send you a clear sign when it's time. A great teacher will guide you.” Tyler had clung to that hope, looking high and low for the sign, but two years had passed and nothing remarkable had happened. He was beginning to lose faith. Until now.

Tyler’s curiosity overrode any fears or thoughts that he could get himself in a lot of trouble for trespassing onto the grounds of the manor. One, two, three…am I out of my mind for doing this? he thought, not sure if he may have actually said the words aloud. I'm even talking to myself like a crazy person! He reached the stained glass windows and peered through a gold pane. The unmistakable feeling of being watched turned his skin icy cold. He looked around but saw no one peering at him from the shadows. When he looked back through the gold glass, what he saw made his hair stand on end. A man sat at an enormous grand piano--but this was man was like none he’d ever seen. Tyler could see right through him. The man’s hazy fingers moved easily and rapidly over the keys, and beyond his wispy figure shone a mystifying light, with strangely dressed people disappearing in and out of it. The man turned his head toward Tyler. Tyler wanted to capture evidence to prove to himself he wasn't dreaming, so he pulled out his cell phone. But just as he started to video-record the scene the music stopped abruptly. The man disappeared into thin air and the oddly dressed people were swallowed into the wall. Everything went dark. Tyler knew beyond any doubt this had to be his mother's long-awaited sign and he ran home as fast as his feet could carry him, counting every step.

When he climbed into bed, Tyler dreamed about Christina's tune calling to him, but soon his dreams turned into the most bizarre nightmares he'd ever had; he was wandering through dark tunnels and running from creatures of all shapes and sizes. When daylight finally broke, Tyler welcomed being jolted back to reality. Only dreams he silently assured himself. He rubbed his eyes and looked around his room, comforted by the familiar poster of the solar system and pictures of remote castles he'd hung on the walls, pictures that had belonged to his grandfather. Tyler had never been interested in the things that interested other boys his age.

He headed straight downstairs and found Christina playing a game with Dolly. Since being parted from her mother, Christina and her doll were always together. In her favorite floral dresses, Christina almost looked like her old-fashioned doll. Her hair was blonde like her brother’s, and hung gracefully in long waves. Their father the judge had already set off to work for a day at court. Their nanny was humming to herself while tidying up the house.

"You want to go on an adventure, Christina?" She hopped up, eyes sparkling. "One last time before school starts next week!" He took her hand and they raced out the door while he shouted to their nanny, “We’ll be back soon!” He looked down at his sister, "But we've got to find Antonio first." They didn’t even notice that the sky had grown overcast as they turned down Elm Street. Tyler could see Antonio standing outside with a group of boys near an open garage down the street. They shared the same birthday and felt like non-identical twins, though Antonio looked much older. Compared to Tyler, Antonio was athletically built. Things turned lively whenever Antonio arrived on the scene with his striking good looks and ready-for-anything attitude. Lately, though, he was going through a rebellious, spiked hair stage and hanging out with guys very unlike Tyler, which was exactly what he was doing at the moment. As Tyler and Christina approached, Christina covered her ears at the sound of wild behavior and harsh music coming from an amateur band in the garage. Tyler grasped her hand and regretted bringing her here. "Hey, Antonio, what’s up?" Tyler asked. The music stopped. Several boys snickered at the sight of the wholesome-looking boy and his little sister holding his hand. Antonio smiled at Tyler and Christina. "Hey, Tyler!" he said. "I didn't expect to see you here!" "Tell them to get lost," a rough voice yelled."Knock it off," Antonio said. "They’re my friends." Tyler was proud to be Antonio’s friend, knowing sticking up for them wasn’t the easy thing to do. But what he didn’t understand was why Antonio wanted to hang out with these guys, especially since they seemed to be getting meaner lately and turning into bullies. A couple of them had even been suspended from school. "It's happened!" Tyler said. "What’s happened?" The biggest of the boys in the garage came out. He leered at Antonio and said in a fake sing-songy voice, "Why don't you just run along now and play with your little friends? Maybe you can play a game with the girlie who can't talk and her freaky little doll." The other boys laughed. Tyler glared at them, picking Christina up and wiping away her tears. "I told you to knock it off!" Antonio said, leaning into the bully’s face. "You'll never be good enough to stay in our band anyway," the bully snickered and walked back into the garage.
Antonio looked stricken. "He’s better than you’ll ever be!” Tyler yelled. “Come on, Christina, don’t pay any attention to these jerks.” Before turning away he said to Antonio, “I've got something very important to tell you, Tony.” "Can it wait until later?" Antonio replied. Tyler frowned. "How much later?" "How about tonight around seven?" "I guess that'll work," Tyler replied, lowering his voice. "What's this all about?" "You'll find out soon enough. Just meet us at seven o'clock sharp at the corner of Oak and Willow." "Okay, see you then.” Antonio wanted to hug Christina, but decided against it knowing his new friends were watching him. Tyler stalked off with his sister, his face turning red upon hearing more rude remarks. When they were out of sight, Christina reached for her brother's hand. They walked down the maple-lined streets of their quaint town, enjoying the last sights and smells of summer and feeling the first hints of fall. Christina skipped over to the park, dragging him to the swings. Tyler pushed her high up into the air, her flowery dress swirling behind her, his laughter blowing away the sadness with the breeze. The day dragged by but when seven o'clock finally came, they reached the corner of Oak and Willow, and found Antonio was already there. It was growing dark quickly. The life-long friends greeted each other with their usual secret handshake. “Sorry we showed up this morning without telling you. It won’t happen again,” Tyler said. Antonio shrugged. “Don’t worry about it, Ty. Hey, hope you don't mind, but I invited Kathy and Leonard."

"Why'd you do that?" Tyler said with a frown. Kathy and Leonard were two of their closest friends, but he'd really not wanted to include them this time. He knew they'd never believe him about what he'd seen and heard the night before. "I don't know," Antonio said. "You looked like there was something exciting going on and I thought they'd want in on whatever it is. We’ve always done everything together."

Kathy and Leonard walked up, greeting them. Both looked older than their thirteen years. Kathy Goldman was attractive with auburn hair, brown eyes framed with fashionable glasses, fine features and had style to burn, always sporting the latest trendy clothes. Her mother owned a designer ladies’ clothing store and her father was a leading surgeon.

Leonard Lang, son of a renowned award-winning biochemist from China, was super-intelligent and offbeat, yet shared his father’s genes that demanded scientific proof of all things. He liked being with Kathy and knew there was more to her than her obsession with fashion. He admired her technical ability on the piano. He had always thought he might like to give music a try. The mathematical precision of it stirred his curiosity; but he just hadn’t found the time with all his science fairs and clubs. "So what's the urgency?" Leonard asked, with a hint of irritation.

"Just come on," Tyler answered, leading them up the street.
Kathy followed, thinking how Tyler should rid himself of his dull, preppy image, maybe grow his hair a little longer. Tyler halted when they stood directly across from the mansion.

"Why are we stopping here?" Kathy asked, staring at the imposing structure set back from the street up on its hill. The mansion loomed above them with its dozens of arched stained glass windows, topped by a stately dome jutting eighty feet from the ground. A darkened sky stood behind it. "I thought you avoided this block like the plague!" Leonard said. "That was before last night. I've always had a strange feeling about this place, like it was haunted, but now I know. Come on," Tyler ordered. “The coast is clear! Follow me.” They followed him grudgingly up the long driveway toward the house passing gothic-looking statues along the way. Kathy brushed autumn leaves off her new fall outfit as she strutted along. “I heard something strange coming from this place last night at just about this time,” Tyler said. "Are you out of your mind?" Kathy snapped. "You know no one lives here. No one has in ages." Leonard nudged her and whispered, “Humor him, Kath. He needs us since...well, you know when.” When Leonard spoke in his firm voice, she always melted. “I guess you’re right. This is the first time he's been excited about anything in such a long time.” “That’s more like it.” Leonard grinned and squeezed her arm.  "I heard music coming from here,” Tyler said, pushing his way through the bushes toward the window. Kathy rolled her eyes. "What kind of music?" Antonio asked. Tyler smiled because he knew Antonio would give him the benefit of the doubt. He stopped and stooped down by his sister, holding her shoulders gently, staring into her eyes, "Christina, you remember that Beethoven tune Mom played for you so often?” She nodded, grabbed the pad and pencil always in her pocket, and printed, “Rage Over a Lost Penny.”

"Well, technically it's called Rondo e Capriccio,” Kathy corrected. They looked at her in amazement. “Well, I did learn something from your mother with all those lessons.” Leonard gave her a thumb’s up. She blushed. “Right!” Tyler said. “Well, that’s exactly what I heard coming from this room. This is the sign--you know--the sign! It's what we've been waiting for.” Christina knew exactly what he was talking about. And so did the others. They’d been hearing about it for two years. "Oh, get real, Tyler.” Kathy said, trying not to lose her patience. She had huge respect for Tyler's mother and had been one of her most faithful piano students. But Kathy was a no-nonsense person. "You must have imagined the whole thing." "Don't get her hopes up without proof first, Tyler," Leonard said. "Think, man.” "Yeah, Tyler, chill a little," Antonio said softly, glancing at Christina. “Look in this window,” Tyler said. “What do you see?”

Antonio was the first to peer into the window. "I don't see anything, Tyler. It's too dark in there." Tyler cupped his hands and looked through the glass. "It wasn't like this last night. There was a strange light and I could see right in." Leonard looked next. "Nope. Sorry Tyler, but it’s just what I expected. Nothing." Kathy refused to look in the window. “This is absurd," she said and gestured for everyone to follow her away from the house. “And get this,” Tyler paused for effect. ”Almost no one knew about the little ending Mom added just for Christina. Remember, Chrissy? I’m no singer, but it went like...” He hummed the ending of the tune, adding their mother’s extra chords. Christina nodded with excitement. She remembered it clearly.

“Well,” Tyler continued for the benefit of the others, “those extra chords were being played last night. It had to be the sign from mom.” Dead silence greeted his words. Christina jumped up and down with joy and hugged her brother. Leonard rubbed his chin in thought. Kathy looked at him wondering if he was convinced, but Antonio stood with his hands on his hips. “I think we should see if there's a way in," Antonio said, walking over to stand beside Tyler, who shuddered at the thought of entering the dark manor.
"Are you out of your mind? We can't go in there. That's criminal trespassing!"
 Kathy scolded. "Besides, I heard there was a murder in there a long time ago."

"That's just a rumor," Leonard replied. "Maybe there're a few ghosts having a party in there besides Mrs. Harrington," Antonio added, just to annoy Kathy. “No disrespect intended, Tyler.” “Well, as a matter of fact,” Tyler began, “now that you mention it...” “Oh great!” Kathy said. “Now you're going to tell us you've seen ghosts, too?” “I did," Tyler said, getting up enough nerve to tell the rest of his story. "I saw a man sitting at a grand piano playing mom's special piece. And I could see through him. But there were others, too, dressed from a long time ago, really old-fashioned.”

“I’m out of here!” Kathy shouted, making a beeline for the driveway.
Leonard went after her and ushered her back to the others.
“Stop worrying, Kathy," he said. "Besides there’s probably no way to get in. And even if there is, let’s check it out. I want to prove to everyone once and for all there’s no such thing as ghosts."

The dark, overcast sky hovered thicker and blacker above the deserted street. The friends followed Tyler and Antonio around the corner up onto the back porch. "No one will ever know we're doing this except us," Tyler said. He shivered, thinking of the hundreds of old stories about this mansion--the kind of scary stories grandmothers told from their front porches on dark summer nights when there was nothing else to do. But of course, he didn’t let on to the others that he was afraid.

Antonio tried to open the back door, but it was locked.
“Okay, see?” Kathy said. “It's getting late. Time to go home.”
A strong gust of wind blew through the keyhole and they all heard a tiny click. Antonio tried the ornate doorknob again and this time the door sprang open. “Hey, it opened—just for us. Let’s go in,” Tyler said excitedly. "You must be joking!" Kathy screeched. "Some hobo could be camping out in there waiting to kill us! Let's get out of here!"...

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