Boris was walking through deep woods with his troop when something strange caught his eye. He paused and aimed his rifle automatically. As his eyes adjusted to the distance, he thought it was a piece of furniture. He lowered the weapon and cast a look at the back of the soldier ahead of him. Private Coss was disappearing behind a tree, a stripe of cigarette smoke drifting behind him.
Lowering his gun even more, Boris slowly moved a few paces. He knew he should really be following Coss or else he should have pointed out the object. It was probably nothing, but back up was always useful. The enemy hadn’t seen or heard from in days. The rumour was that they had retreated back to the boarder. However, patrols like Boris’ still went out daily.
He carried on cautiously. His heavy and mud splattered boots crunching loudly on leaves and sticks. As he got closer, he saw it was a straight back piano. He stopped and shouldered the rifle. He turned and began stepping away. There was no threat from a musical instrument.
I wonder how it got there?
The thought caught him off guard and he twisted around. The piano stood silently with a small bird perched on top of it, which watched Boris curiously. Rearranging his gun, he marched up to the piano. The dark wood looked freshly varnished, but it was already showing signs of being exposed to the elements. As the bird took flight, Boris wandered around the piano and saw that there was no one hiding on the other side.
He strolled around again and slid the cover off the keys. They looked intact, just like the rest of the instrument. He doubt it would work or even been in tune. He chuckled and pulled up the rifle’s strap. He stretched out cold fingers and hovered them over some keys. It felt like a life time since he’d played.
He brought his fingers down and they struck the keys loudly. He jumped back, his heart racing at the sudden blast of sound in the quiet woods. Clutching his rifle, Boris looked around. A flock of birds had taken flight and were circling the sky. They called out to each other and then flapped out of sight. Running footsteps and hushed voices came from behind him and Boris readied the gun. From out of the tree line came Private Coss. His gun was in firing position. As they saw each other, they lowered their weapons.
‘What was that?’ Coss said in a low voice.
‘The piano,’ Boris replied, nodding towards it.
Another two men, who Boris recognised as Privates Ivchenko and Pokrovsky joined them. They scouted the area, moving in out of the trees like alert deer. The vibrations of the notes faded and Boris turned back to the piano. This time he touched the keys more slowly and gently. They played their softer notes and in perfect tune.
‘What’s it doing here?’ Coss asked coming to his side.
‘No idea. Must have been dumped,’ Boris answered.
He looked over the top, trying to see a house or smoke or car tracks in the mud. He saw nothing but trees and undisturbed ground. Somehow, he knew it hadn’t been there very long, but it was a mystery to how and why it had ended up here.
‘What’s that?’ a deep voice spoke from behind them.
‘A piano,’ Coss explained, with a glance over his shoulder at Ivchenko.
Boris’s fingers were still playing across the keys. Notes rippled out of the piano forming a familiar song. He didn’t realise he was doing so until Coss grabbed his hand. Boris shot him an anger look and then followed Coss line of sight. A stag had appeared at the edge of the clearing. Boris’s breath caught in his throat, he’d never seen the animal up close. Beside him, Coss was grabbing his gun and resting it against the piano.
‘Don’t,’ Boris whispered.
‘Why not?’ Ivchenko rumbled.
He forced his way between them and balanced his gun as well.
‘What’s going on?’ Pokrovsky called. ‘Is it the enemy?’
‘No. It’s a mighty stag. Biggest I’ve ever seen!’ Ivchenko hissed.
‘Let’s take it down together,’ Coss cut in.
‘I said no!’ Boris shouted and he pounded the piano.
A blast of notes shot up in the air, backed by gun fire. However, the stag had startled at Boris’ voice and had already jumped off. The bullets sunk harmlessly into the trunks of trees, but the piano’s notes carried on with their warning sound.
Ivchenko swung his gun and threw the butt into Boris’s face.
‘What the fuck did you do that for?’ he yelled.
Boris stumbled backwards, a hand rising to the side of his face. Ivchenko went to hit him again, but Coss grabbed the muzzle of the gun. Pokrovsky stepped between them, facing Ivchenko with his arms spread.
‘Stop, stop!’ he cried.
Pressing a hand to his face, Boris spat blood. He watched it fall on a crumbled leaf and then turned back to the other soldiers. The notes had faded away and the natural sounds of the woods had returned. Boris rubbed his jaw; it felt numb and swollen already. He tongued the cut inside his cheek and spat more blood.
‘Let’s get back,’ Coss said calmly.
He lowered Ivchenko’s gun, letting go. Mumbling and swearing under his breath, Ivchenko went to shoulder his rifle, but suddenly he took aim and fired. The shot deafened them and caused Coss and Pokrovsky to move backwards.
Boris held his ground and looked down. He expected blood to blossom across the khaki uniform and pain to rocket through him. When nothing happened he raised his head and observed the piano. A massive chunk had been ripped out of the side. Bits of wood and string lay across the ground and there was a dull groaning vibration coming from the instrument as if the piano was dying.
Boris glanced at Ivchenko, catching the look of satisfaction across the soldier’s face as he shouldered his rifle and turned away.