A KTH Short Story: Music from Beyond

When you wander around the dark by yourself for hours at a time, sooner or later you start to wonder what might be out there in the dark with you.

During my senior year at Iowa State University, I worked as a campus security officer. While I was keeping an eye out for people doing things that they shouldn’t be, the biggest part of my job was to lock and unlock the doors of various campus buildings. This entailed walking around empty buildings at all hours of the night.

Buildings are different late at night. During the day, there’s a crush of students in a hurry to get from one class to the next. Even when they weren’t, there was always someone moving around going about the business of their day. They’re full of life, of energy.

But at night, everything just feels empty by comparison. And you hear things. You can hear heating systems start up, air fans turn on and off in their automated cycles, or the hum of the florescent lighting overhead. That quiet, lonely world can make you feel like you’re the last person on the face of the earth.

Back then, security had a lunch break at about 3 a.m. For about an hour, we would enjoy the company of other human beings, basking in the warmth of our bad jokes and gossip.

It was only a matter of time before someone told the first ghost story.

Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was about. Once that one story was told, though, the ice was broken. More than once, we would talk about which buildings were supposed to be haunted, and who had encounters of their own.

You had to take these stories with a grain of salt. It was easy to scare yourself in the middle of the night, especially if you were already tired. For me, that place was McKay Hall.

MacKay Hall is a massive, four-story building faced with gray stone. Originally built as the Home Economics building, its unfriendly, stoic façade stands in stark irony of a place dedicated to a field that makes people feel warm and comfortable.

On the middle of the south side of the building is a statue of small children playing around a pool. Carved by Christian Petersen, a former resident artist at Iowa State, the head of one of the children had been sawed off and stolen no less than three times between the time it was put into place and when I went to school there.

The university finally got tired of it and decided to have a replica of it built and put in place of the original work. The original was moved inside MacKay, put safely inside a large entry way between six sets of double doors, three outer, and three inner ones.

It was my job to lock and unlock the outer doors. This required me to take an Allen wrench and physically crank the locking mechanism on the crash bar of the door. There were many times when, as I stood there in the dark, I imagined the heads of those children looking away from their swimming pool to stare at me with emotionless, stone eyes.

I know that it was all in my imagination, but the idea used to scare the hell out of me. Even now, I can clearly see that image in my mind’s eye.

However, that’s not to say that the building didn’t have its ghosts.

Right through the set of inner doors was a large lecture hall, and right next to that room was a smaller room with a grand piano at the back. Inside, there was a door that led to the back of the lecture hall.

According to what I was told, a security officer was doing their rounds through MacKay one night when they heard something. McKay is a large building, with open stairways going up to the top floor and tall ceilings, and sound echoes well through those cavernous corridors.

It took the officer a moment to realize what they were hearing: someone was playing a piano.

At first, they thought that it might be a radio, or some kind of recording. But the sound was too loud, too clear, to be a recording. It was definitely someone playing a piano.

That was odd. No one was supposed to be in the building at that hour. The only piano that they knew of was by the big lecture hall, so they began to walk towards it.

The sound grew louder as they approached the door to piano room, their own footsteps disguised by the echoing music. With each step, the security officer wondered if it was just some professor, or maybe a graduate student. They would have had a key to the building and could have let themselves in.

They were almost to the door now. The piano music was only slightly muted by the door as the officer reached out and grabbed the knob. They turned it, and as they did, the music stopped. Opening the door, they stepped inside.

There was no one there. The room was empty except for the last, lingering echoes of the piano.

The officer froze, eyes darting around the room. They couldn’t see anyone, but there had to be someone. The doors to the back of the lecture hall were firmly closed, and there certainly hadn’t been anyone coming out this door.

Where the hell were they, dammit?

The room was empty. There was nowhere to hide, and there hadn’t been enough time to run away.

They had heard the piano. They knew they had. But there wasn’t anyone here, and that kind of piano didn’t play itself.

Silence had fallen on the room now, so quiet and thick that it made the officers ears ring. Staring at the piano, the officer could feel the tingle on their arms as the gooseflesh started to rise.

They took a step back, closing the door while never letting their gaze leave that empty room. As soon as they felt that door move into place, the officer left the building as quickly as they could through the nearest exit.

Hearing that story, and knowing the area so well, I couldn’t help but wonder if the statues of those children had watched the officer with cold, curious faces from the entryway.

When you wander around the dark by yourself for hours at a time, sooner or later you start to wonder what might be out there in the dark with you.

On that one lonely night, one campus security officer came closer to finding out than they had ever wanted to.


1 thought on “A KTH Short Story: Music from Beyond”

  1. Was this story maybe included in one of your books? Seems like I remember reading it before, but it’s fun to read ghost stories again.

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