People came from far and wide to have a look through old man McGuffin's possessions. When the eccentric old coot died his family chose to hold a massive estate sale to sell off most of the obscure items and various junk that he'd collected over the years. Jack had always been a fan of unusual things, so of course he was first in line when the house was opened for business. Most of the old man's collection hadn't interested him - what use did he have for a box of flatware from 1973 or a rusty pogo stick? - but there was one particular item that jumped out at him. A music book, to be precise. The book of piano scores looked older than dirt itself with its withered yellow pages that crinkled when Jack turned them. There was no composer or book title listed and the song titles were all bizarre one-word affairs such as Success and Wealth. Two dollars seemed more than fair for a book of new piano tunes to noodle around with, so Jack gladly made the purchase.

Book in hand, Jack returned home. Well, if one could call it home. It was really little more than a simple dwelling with rusted pipes, peeling linoleum, and all sorts of skittering noises echoing in the walls. The only thing of value in the whole place was a little Casio keyboard that he'd bought at a rummage sale in his youth. After dropping out of high school ten years ago life went straight downhill for Jack. He'd never been able to hold a decent job, women shunned him for someone with a future, and he'd maxed out the few credit cards that companies were willing to risk on him. With Jack's life in a downward spiral, his puny piano was the only thing that gave him pleasure anymore.

The first song in the book was titled Calm. Jack placed his fingers on the dinky keyboard and began to play, his hands seemingly moving on their own across the keys as he played the melody. The serene music seemed to take him away from his troubles and all thoughts of overdue bills, his crippling lonliness, and inability to hold down a steady job were forgotten. By the time he'd finished the song, he felt at peace with his troubles.

Anxious for more music, Jack turned the page. The next song was one he'd seen at the yard sale, the one titled Success. Jack began the piece and as he played something wonderous happened. The high school GED hanging on the wall faded and rippled, becoming a Master's degree in business management. The stack of job applications for work at fast food restaurants and temp jobs shimmered and became a stack of contracts that needed his stamp of approval. A warm fuzziness invaded Jack's brain as he finished the song and by the time he'd lifted his hands from the keys, he had a complete knowledge of how to manage a Fortune 500 company.

Oblivious to the changes in his life, Jack turned to the next song, this one entitled Wealth. Just as before, while he played his surroundings changed. The overdue credit card bills became notices of credit limit increases, the losing lottery tickets gathering dust on the table transformed into million dollar winners, and his dilapidated hovel morphed into a luxurious condo full of trendy electronics and comfortable furnature. Even the little Casio keyboard became a full size digital piano, and all without Jack realizing anything had changed. As far as he knew, things had always been this way.

The songs went on and on, and with each one the circumstances of Jack's life changed and reality shifted. Health cleared away the cholesterol buildup that was silently killing him. Skill added a private basketball court to the backyard and threw in the ability to make the most of it to Jack's body as a bonus. Love caused a gold wedding ring to appear on Jack's finger, the condo to expand to provide comfortable living for two, and the lone photo of Jack at the piano hanging on the wall changed to show Jack and a lovely woman at the piano playing a duet.

The book nearly complete, Jack turned to the last song: Fear. His hands hovered above the keys for a moment as the door opened and the women from the picture came in.

"Almost done?" she asked.

"Yeah, but I guess I can quit early. How was your day?"

"Just another typical day in court. The judge dismissed the case."

"Another win for the lovely lawyer Laura," Jack said, rising from the piano bench and kissing her. "How much time before your sister's party?"

"Another few hours. Why?"

"There's just enough time to shoot some hoops. I'll be out back."

"I wish you wouldn't play on that court. The backboard's loose and I'm afraid you're going to break your neck hanging from it like you always do."

"I'm so close to perfecting my slam dunk though," Jack said on his way to the court, "Trust me, honey. I'll be fine."

Laura was on her way out of the room when the music book caught her eye. "Hmm, this is new," she said to herself and sitting on the bench. She placed her fingers over the keys and began to play.

Outside, Jack was enjoying the peace of the court and practicing his shots and dunks. In a moment of enthusiasm he leapt up, slammed the ball through the hoop, and grabbed on, counting his seconds of hang time. The added weight was too much for the aging backboard and the whole assemblage came loose from the pole, falling to the ground and taking Jack with it. He landed on his back and didn't even have a chance to scream as the backboard slammed straight into his neck, crushing his windpipe. As the world faded to white around him Jack could only hear the minor chords coming from the piano, the sounds of Fear.

Written for The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest.

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