When Emil Grafsberg died, the whole town of Salzburg wept. The great composer had been one of the town's most revered artists, and his generosity in the Church and in the community was unrivaled by any of his peers. At his funeral, some 800 people arrived to pay their last respects. The ceremony itself was extravagant beyond belief: hundreds of tulips (his favorite flower) adorned the sides of his memorial tombstone, a full orchestra played Mozart's Requiem (his favorite piece), and, in a somewhat macabre sense of immortality, he was placed in his tomb sitting up on a stool in front of a pipe organ (his favorite instrument). Everyone agreed it was a marvelous procession, and Grafsberg himself would have been most pleased, he being something of an attention hound and keen to flattery and all of its pretenses.
Later that night, as one of the gravekeepers, Herman Dobler, tidied up a few of the older graves in the southern wing of the cemetery, he heard what he thought was a spry and lively fantasy lingering from the pubs that lined the east end. He paused and smiled as the faintest plinkings on the organ crossed his ears, and then he resumed his work. For too long this graveyard had been silent, and it had bothered Herman. He had complained to his boss about having someone else work with him, but to no avail. Now he had a lovely tune to keep him occupied while he went about his nightly business. Finally at six in the morning as he stood up, he noticed that the song had stopped altogether.
The next night, Herman resolved to figure out what song he was hearing, so he could perhaps acquire the sheet music for his wife Liza, who could play a little. He had his good friend Johann join him in the cemetery. Unlike Herman, Johann did not enjoy the peace and quiet of the graves. He was visibly afraid as he tugged on Herman's jacket. "When will this song play exactly? I don't like it here."
"It should begin soon, I think." Herman and Johann were now firmly in the southeast corner. Around midnight, the first few notes of the fantasy came in - but something was wrong. Every once in awhile, the beautiful melody that Herman had become accustomed to was accosted by the shrill dissonance of an ill-played note. Every time it did so, Herman winced. Johann stood at attention, his ear cocked in the direction of the song. He slowly walked a little closer as the tune continued to play (with the occasional mistake).
"A-ha! It is a piece by Grafsberg. Fantasy in A Major. The great man is buried here, yes?"
Herman nodded appreciatively, and led Johann to the grave. As they neared it, though, they noticed that the music strangely got louder and louder. Johann became more afraid, begging Herman to turn around. As soon as they reached the grave, it was obvious: the music was coming from Grafsberg's tomb. Johann clutched at Herman's arm. "We must turn back now! The spirits are about!" Finally, the full-figured chord that ended the song played, distorted by a cacophony of ill-placed fingers. The blast of the sound was the last straw, as Johann bolted from the grave site while Herman stood, watching in awe and horror. He waited at the tomb for thirty more minutes. It was completely silent.
On the third night, Herman tried to beg off work, claiming he had a fever. His hard-working boss Gregor was gentle but firm: work, or be fired. Resignedly, Herman crept into the graveyard and began working on the tombs - this time far off in the northwest corner.
At the stroke of midnight, he heard the first notes of the fantasy begin to play, only this time, instead of notes being misplayed, some of them were simply ... missed. Where happy arpeggios once stood, extended bouts of silence emanated. The piece had devolved from the rolling melody it had began as into an erratic, dissonant, and haunting sonata. Herman tried vainly to ignore it, but the plaintive notes that did escape the tomb echoed in his ears more loudly than before, as if they were being hammered into oblivion. How could no one else hear this!? As he listened, the notes became fewer and fewer, and the silence between them grew and grew.
Soon it was down to a single note, a solemn dirge, spastically disrupting the night with its ethereal, reverberating cry. It played for what seemed like hours, until Herman could stand it no more. He ran across the graveyard, stumbling twice, until he reached the tomb. He took his pickax, raised it high, and swung it down on the lock that protected the door to the body. Again and again he smashed at the lock, and in between the clanking of the metal he would hear the solitary tone ring on the other side. With a final mighty blow, he cast the lock to the ground, and grabbed the doorknob. He swung the door open, sending a rush of wind into the tomb.
He looked inside with horror at the still-seated body of Emil Grafsberg. The three days had not treated it kind. Much of the hair had fallen out, the skin a sickly mix of green and yellow, his eyes oozing out of their sockets. He was slumped over a bit, and now the note was replaced by the sickening sound of a slight gnawing of flesh upon flesh. Herman cautiously approached the corpse, and as he looked over the shoulder at the instrument, he let out a startled gasp. There sat a rat, gnawing on the composer's left thumb. All of the other fingers were gone, chewed off at the knuckle and taken home for dinner by the vermin of the night. Herman gaped with horror as the rat tugged once, twice ... and then darted off into a darkened corner with the last of the fingers.
From then on, the graveyard was forever silent. Herman didn't seem to mind.
Submitted for The Blood is the life: A Frightful Halloween Quest.