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M  B Swancett

"Dueling Pete´s Piano Bar" by M B Swancett

SciFi/Fantasy text 3 out of 4 by M B Swancett.      ←Previous - Next→
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Elfwood contest entry for November- Decemeber 2009.

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←- Deiraheit | The Spoken Word -→

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Where do I even begin such a story? Perhaps I could start with my own, a twist of fate. One that began in what I believe to be a touch by an angel. Would I have believed in such things back then? No. I am a writer. My name is Jason Honner and I write articles for a magazine based in Las Vegas that publishes stories about Vegas nightlife hotspots.


  Five years ago in San Diego where I worked as a writer for a small publisher of a cooking magazine, the type that gave the simple do-it-yourself recipes for the cooking impaired. The sort of magazine that targeted the aspirant house wives who throw jewelry parties, aiming to impress the guests with fancy finger foods and clever dishes without the aid of a caterer.

  There was not much adventure in writing these lackluster articles. In fact boredom was borderline suicide at the time. I craved my adventure away from the office, away from the monotonous visions of seasonal sugar cookie drabble and Baja Orderves.  

  I was an avid surfer between deadlines in search of exhilarating waves. The bigger the waves the better, but I was not one to share my surfing zones. Usually in the morning when the sun was just waking, I’d find a nice private piece of beach. Searching the shores the night before where the prime parties took place was the best time for the owners would be too hung over to be up at dawn to see me stealing their so called waters.

  So I borrowed their waves when the weather was just right. The freedom of the ocean was electrifying. It was a feeling like no other in comparison, the surge of the salty water beneath my feet with only my board to separate me from the watery fists of Poseidon.

  Early one morning when the waves were the best I had seen in years, I took to a small cove where the owners had generously left for me so they could vacation in Europe, most likely at the time the wife of the banker executive was on a plane reading a magazine tucked in the folds of the airliner seats on how to serve scrumptious crab cakes for a Super Bowl feeding frenzy, by Jason Honner.

  Here is the part where I should be no longer writing, I should no longer be living all together. The last words that should have ever been associated with my name should have been, ‘Rest in Peace”. I don’t remember much of what happened that morning, only the faint foggy images of a superior wave and the sound of rushing water in my head. There was a drowned ‘thud!’ mixed in before the blackness consumed me. The next thing I remembered was light and the sound of the seagulls cawing away relentlessly from above. I coughed water from my lungs in a quick burst of deprived oxygen. The small fountain of water landed onto my sandy chest as the world swam back into view. My head was spinning, but that was not my only problem for I thought I had made an even bigger mistake.

  A beautiful lady with hair of gold stood above me, smiling through lips of ruby red. At first I panicked for I figured my goose had been cooked and the wife had never actually left on vacation with her husband. I sat up as quickly as I could to try and explain myself. My head objected as an unseen balance of water seemed to shift its weight in my skull, sending my eyes searching for anything to focus on to steady myself. But all the stationary objects would race by like cars on a highway and then reset themselves in the exact same spot as if they were on repeat.

  I fell back into the cool sand as I met her eyes for a short moment. Before I could speak she pressed a finger to her lips urging me not to. And then I noticed her image began to waver, like I was staring into still water illuminated by the brilliance of a high sun, but it was her I was seeing in the water instead.

  I could not quiet get a grasp on what I was seeing and when I tried to speak to her, she bent down and kissed me on the forehead. I closed my eyes at the sudden rush of bliss, as the pain melted away and my thoughts began to clear. When I opened them she was gone.

  From that day on I considered myself fortunate to be alive. Now I was never one to ever believe in all the garbage about angels and demons, and ghosts, but when she kissed me on my forehead that morning… well let’s just say as writer I have always been able to describe almost anything I’ve come across. But this, I was a total loss for any comprehendible description I could conjure in all my professional days.

  But I was left marked, for reasons I may never understand. First the kicker of all things, I can never surf again let alone go near the ocean. When I smell the salty cascade of the sea it immediately sends me into a frenzied state of sea sickness. I feel as though she protects me from making the same mistake twice. The irony is kind of humorous in a way. I could no longer live near the coast because of the smell of the sea, so I took this job in Las Vegas. But what that kiss left me on that beach that day, was the uncanny ability to see strange things, images that were not intended to be seen by us as an individual. Some people believe in ghosts, others in spirits, good, evil, and everything in between that science has never proven. All I can say is that there are forces that influence many people without them knowing, without them seeing them. But to me I have witnessed such influencing phantoms. And of all places to convey my new gift, I brought myself to the City of Sin.



  I can no longer ever say my job is boring, but neither could I write about it in the way I have experienced some of the places I have visited. My job is to review night clubs and write cheerful articles, mostly aimed at tourists looking for something fresh and out of the ordinary, and let me tell you when a new bar opened in the square called Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar, this was to be the most unique bar that has ever hit Las Vegas.

  The grand opening took place upon a Tuesday evening. I was dressed as a casual customer with only a recorder tucked safely away in my jacket pocket to recapture the spirit of the music if needed when I was to write my article. There were not many people the first night due to the time of the year, fall, and the day of the week along with little to no advertising other than an anonymous phone call to come check the place out.

  The bar was strange, cozy in places and what I can only describe as uncomfortable and depressing in others. There were numerous booths set in the back for those who wished to converse or stay out of the heavy traffic of the middle floor, which consisted of small wooden tables, some set with ivory ash trays and others with no ash trays at all; odd considering there were no designated areas for smoking and nonsmoking.

  To each side of the room a bar was placed with two waitresses and a barkeep. Seemed like an abnormal setup for such a small place, but in Vegas there were stranger things so who was I to question this design.

  In the front of the room was a small stage with two pianos, thus where the duel of harmony would take place. The one to the left was onyx black, many aggressive scratches and what looked to be out of tune just by a judgmental standpoint. The one to the right had more of a home feeling to it, the wood was faded and the finish gone, but looked like it had been around to see many good times, probably purchased at an estate deal for the passing of a grandmother with family members who had no place for such a large piece in their homes.

  The bar was only half full this evening, most of the customers up front close to the stage at the tables, conversing about their day. A waitress from the well lighted side of the bar approached me and asked if I would like a drink?

  “Sure,” I replied with a polite smile. “Just a Coke, please,” I said softly.

  She smiled genuinely saying, “I’ll be right back.”

  She seemed the sort that did not belong in a bar as a waitress, shy and gentle in spirit, motherly in a way but much too young.

  She approached me with my drink and I tipped her which she thanked me for, and left me to concentrate on the show. The lights lowered filling the room with a dulling silence. A woman in a white dress approached the quaint piano on the right, standing fixed before her seat awaiting the musician of the other piano to come forth. Her face was fixed like stone, built more for the Vegas poker tables than anything else, I thought.

  After many moments a man dressed in early nineteen hundreds business apparel emerged from the curtains where he removed his top hat and bowed to the crowd. He looked slick and charming, a delightful character and most likely the draw for the show. He gave a quick harmless glance to the woman in white at the other piano across from him before he sat. Finally the woman sat and they stared about the room sizing up the crowd.

  There were no music sheets in front of them. I figured they must be good; perhaps they had already done a hundred shows in previous places. And where was the introduction? No welcome, no summary of the evening, nothing at all.

  The man to the left at the black piano rolled up his sleeves and wiggled his fingers as the lady in white readied herself. They looked very competitive toward one another. The waitresses glared across the opposing bars at each other like hated rivals on two different football teams. I was beginning to enjoy this silent mysterious act a bit. I took a sip of my Coke and leaned back into my seat, quietly reaching into my jacket pocket to remove the recorder. I set the recorder down on the seat beside me, out of sight, and hit the button.

  The man surveyed the crowd one last time, his eyes fixed upon me for a moment as he squinted. A strange half-smile spread across his face for a small moment as his eyes traveled onward. They fixed themselves upon a couple near the front. There was a woman there who had just lit a fresh cigarette and was already halfway through her first drink. The man smiled as the lady in white found his target.

  The man slammed his fingers into the piano, causing me to jump at the sound for a moment. The lady in white followed suit quickly and the pianos were locked in the same melody. The man kept his gaze on the woman up front and began to sing.


  “Oh Sarah, Sarah with the rich blonde hair

   Smoke those cigarettes we don’t care

   Drugs and drinking has been your answer

   Keep them lit because you have cancer!”


  His fingers hit the piano hard with an eerie out of tune, rhythm. Then they went back to the same two notes, the up and down notes one would find in most of the old western comedy songs.

  Immediately the woman began to cough into her fist, as her boyfriend began to pat her on the back with a concerning look. The smoke was filling the dim lights around her and at first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and I had to rub my eyes for a moment to make sure. But sure enough there was a dark figure behind her that no one else seemed to notice. I could see no face behind this cloaked figure, but it seemed as though he was apart of the smoke itself holding a hand up to her chest pressing on it violently.

  What the hell is going on? I thought, but before I could comprehend the situation the lady in white’s piano flared into a cinematically dramatic tune, which felt like thunder beneath the floor.


  “Sarah, Sarah, not so fast

  There’s still time to mend your past.

  Take that cigarette from your mouth

  Above the tray and point it south!”


  And the piano keys hit hard, sounding much more like an organ at the end then a piano.

  I watched as the cloaked figure reeled backwards with an eerie painful squall. The woman stopped coughing and looked at the cigarette for a moment then smashed it into the ashtray before her.

  Now standing beside her was a figure, very hard to see, more like light bending into an outline of a human form. The figure began to massage the woman’s shoulders and she smiled for a moment like she was on some sort of painkiller. She completely relaxed and gave herself to this entity.

  The other piano began to build speed. The man snarled his lip across to the white lady who held her gaze of stone as she played on.


  “Oh Sarah, Sarah life’s too short

  The way you’d think with the drugs you snort.

  Now listen close for here’s the plan

  Grab those cigarettes because you’re a fan.

  Don’t listen to her for she’s no fun

  Not like you use those lungs to run.”


  And the keys hit like a great wave of sound crashing into a beach of listeners, the vibration rattled my chest and shook my bones, yet no one seemed to be effected by this. The crowd just seemed to listen on in delight. Was I going insane?

  The light entity backed away as the lady reached for her pack of cigarettes on the table, she paused for a moment as she cleared her throat. She started tapping the table with the fingers of her free hand, as if in contemplation. Neither the light entity nor the cloaked figure moved.

  The lady in white hailed in quickly, her fingers moving fast upon the keys, as the man on the black piano slowed his pace back down to the same two repetitive notes.


  “Sarah, Sarah, here’s your chance

   Life regained in a glance.

  Strike those thoughts from your head

  Wings of white you could shed.

  Smoke no more clean and free

  You have the will, just let me see!”


  The hands hammered down hard, but with a soothing radiance of warmth that wrapped my body. The lady in white choked down her chord back to the same as the man was playing and they watched. The cloaked figure and the entity in light waited patiently as the lady at the table rolled the pack over and over in her hand. I was on the edge of my seat, gripping the Coke glass in my hand at the point where I thought I was going to break it.

  The lady took a deep breath then tapped the pack of cigarettes until a few white sticks poked outward. She grasped on in her pale fingers and lit it. She looked at the cigarette one last time before placing it to her over glossed lips.

  The man on the black piano’s eyes went wide with satisfaction as the lady in white struck a wrong key. A painful look was strewn across her face. The dark figured closed in and removed a silver wavy knife from his belt as the light entity sank back before totally disappearing.

  The dark entity pushed her hair from one side of her neck and then began to slash in all kinds of awkward directions. My stomach sickened, my eyes held fast upon the car wreck I was witnessing. But the lady only sat and smoked her cigarette. She could not feel a thing. I wanted to shout out, Stop! But my voice was gone, my throat dry and helpless. I could only watch, be an observer. When the dark figure backed away there was a symbol of an eye engraved on the back of her neck. No blood. No wound.

  My attention came back into focus as the man on the black piano ran his fingers quickly across all the keys, jolting my mind back into my body. A small shiver raced up my spine, setting a chilled tingle to the back of my shoulders and setting me rigid with fear. The crowd cheered and clapped for the man, as he settled back down into his two note rhythm once more.

  The waitresses from the bar to the left were hunched atop the bar with sinister sneers plastered across there face, their smiles much too wide to be taken as human. They mocked the waitresses at the bar to the right who tightened their lips in frustration.

  Why were the people cheering, and why was nobody seeing these crazy waitresses hunkered on top of the bar like stone gargoyles. I was truly going insane, I thought to myself. But the lights lowered a little deeper again as the man at the black piano searched the room. He found a man sitting alone, having a drink, sipping it slowly. He was enjoying the show and having a good time by himself. He looked the part of an honest businessman, humble and polite.

  The piano’s dueled once again, first the man in the black piano.


  “Even Steven, by the books

   Concern yourself with your looks.

  Left your wife and your son

  For girls in the city and some fun.

  Stale and bored now, you grow old

  Make that money, don’t be sold.

  Plenty of women who like men like that

  Keep on cheating because you’re one cool cat.”


  The man fiddled with his glass as he suddenly looked filled with himself and arrogant. Another dark figure appeared behind the man, creeping around his chair as if he were looking for something. The lady in white rang in immediately.


  “Steven, Steven, life’s unfair

  Not to sit in despair.

  Mistakes were made from your youth

  Now make it right and tell the truth!”


  The light entity returned and began to massage his shoulders as the cloaked figure circled it like a ravenous wolf. The man’s head seemed to lift upward as he stared at his empty glass. He reached into his pocket and removed his cell phone. Flipping it open he gazed into the warm glow of the screen.

  The man’s piano soared to new heights.


  “Even Steven, don’t make that call

  Back to square one you will fall.

  Two numbers down is a fine lady

  What’s her name, I think it’s Katie?

  Your old wife will want much more

  She’ll take your life and your store!”


  The man began to fumble at the phone’s cursor. He was obviously in the address book battling his mind for which path he would chose. The light entity backed away as the cloaked figure took hold. The lady in white fought back.


  “Steven, Steven there is still hope

  Katie will only make you mope.

  Find a love that was once gone but not lost

  For your wife and son there is no cost.

  Make that call and all will be right

  Make that call and do it tonight!”


  And the cloaked figure shot backwards as if being struck by a bolt of flame. The light entity did not move as they awaited the man’s choice. He sat staring blankly at the phone and then he hit a number. A few words were said and he broke down in sobs. The light entity rushed inward and placed its hand to the back of his neck where a strange light began to slip through its fingers. The man quickly got up and took his jacket from the chair. He was still talking on the phone, with tears running down his face. He left the bar as a small laugh escaped his sorrow-filled voice.

  The crowd cheered as the man on the black piano’s chord slipped off key. The lady in white on the other piano lifted her head high to him. The waitresses to the left bar jumped down from their hunched positions and hissed at the opposing bar, where the waitresses smiled in bitter satisfaction.

  What was I witnessing here? And it continued throughout the night. It was like the best movie I had ever watched in my life. Nothing would ever compare to it. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire night, cheering for the victims of these two crazy piano players.

  Don’t do this! Yes do that!  Watching these puppets get played by these two musicians in their subconscious state of thought. I knew the right answers to all their deeds, but I could never answer or tell them what to do. I could only look upon them with great drama, an emotional roller coaster like I had ever experienced before.

  All night long this went on, to every person except my self for some reason. I’m guessing the musicians knew I was unique and knew the answers for what they were. And when the show ended everyone stood up and cheered. And every last one of them had been marked with the ghastly eye or the brilliant glowing light in the shape of a palm.


  I could not wrap myself around what I had witnessed and I went back to my apartment directly after to listen to my recorder. But my heart sank. Surely I thought I would have had it all, enough to at least keep my sanity, but none of it was there. It captured only what the people had really heard, two musicians playing piano’s in a comedy type theme singing old time lyrics. There were people laughing and people clapping, cheering them on for more. I was crushed, but I was enthralled as well; compelled to go back for more.

  I delayed my article for weeks on end, my editor growing impatient with me. I returned every night, finding more and more people filling the establishment. Dueling Pete’s reputation was spreading quickly, but I was always one of the first in line. But never was I chosen by the musicians as a target. They had often ignored me, but deep inside they knew I could see it all.

  After two weeks of shows had gone by I had passed beyond the state of being obsessed. I had cut off work in general to avoid the article. I didn’t know what to write nor did I care any longer. I didn’t want more people showing up for the pure selfish fact that I wanted to ensure myself that I wouldn’t have to fight more people to get in.

  After three straight weeks at Dueling Pete’s I had tried everything up my sleeve to find out more. I tried recording some of the shows on my cell phone, but they never came out like I had seen them. I tried to talk to some of the waitresses, but they would only smile and walk away.

  The fourth week finally came and I had been fired from my job. I still did not care. All I wanted to do was sleep until the next show started. After awhile I was getting frustrated, hoping for once just to be selected in their songs. I began to feel left out, tossed aside, tainted maybe from whatever had saved me that day on the beach.

  I began to drink heavily at the shows, cheering along with the crowd. Ignoring all the rest of the things the others could not see. I wanted to trick them, let them think I could not see the truth any longer. But they still passed me by. After countless weeks I began to curse the being who gave me this ability to see such things. There were people walking about the city streets with either the mark of the palm on their neck or the evil eye. What did these symbols mean anyways? It didn’t matter anymore. I wanted to be branded like the rest, to be a complete part of the show.

  Soon my money ran out, my rent was way over due. I was a disgusting mess of a human being. And finally one night I had had enough of being neglected at Dueling Pete’s.

  Come the end of the show and all the customers being marked but me, I had finally had enough and I called the musicians out. I had been sitting up front for weeks trying to improve my odds of being selected by them, but to no avail. Finally I wanted to tell them. And for the first time the music had stopped at Dueling Pete’s while it was on open hours.

  I had my gaze locked upon the lady in white, who had a sorrowed look spread across her face. The man on the black piano seemed to enjoy this fact that I was willingly volunteering. I could feel the people in the crowd burning a hole through the back of my head with their gazes. I heard faint whispers accommodated by muffled snickering.

  I didn’t care, I wanted my turn and I wanted it now. The man on the black piano began to play a slow dangerous tune until it built speed. The lady in white kept her tune cautiously back. The man in black started first as I eagerly awaited his song.


  “Oh Jason, Jason man of words

  Hit his head and woke to birds.

  Fortunate his life spared once

  Comes to us a drunken dunce.

  He demands our utter respect

  Now the chance for me to collect!”


  And the piano keys hit the hardest I had ever heard at the bar. There was a scraping clawing feeling around my collar and I knew what was behind me. It was cold and smelled of corrosion. The white lady tuned in with a sorrowful tone.


  “Jason, Jason so much shame

  Least of all I use his name.

  Marked by good was his fate

  Never to appreciate.

  Look upon what they can’t see

  Help them not, instead you flee.

  We overlook the one who knows

  Never to miss a single show.

  But to me it saddens and breaks my heart

  You gave this evil another start.

  To this day you were marked

  Protected from this man of dark.

  Never can I fight this song

  For your invite to him was too strong!”


  And those words ripped my heart apart. But the words that came after I could not cope with, for the man at the black piano had one final song.


  “Oh Jason, Jason I’ve waited long

  For you to demand my mighty song.

  Dance with me for you are alone

  No white lady to defend your throne.

  Nothing left but vain in thee

  Grief will claim your life to me!”


  And when the final blow of the piano keys came crashing down, I felt my world crumble apart. I had never felt so much shame, so little and petty. My greed for the show was insatiable, falling into his trap after being protected for so long.

  The worst of all I had sacrificed my gift in ignorance. Dueling Pete’s was never the same afterwards, I could no longer see the show for what it was. My world was crushed. I tried to write again, but all I could ever think about was the greatest duel of music that ever was. There was nothing left in me but grief. I had been a fool.


  To this my story has been told, the last I shall ever write. I am to be evicted from my apartment. I cannot hold a job and I have no family. What is life worth to me anyhow? But my final story lies here before whoever reads this, my final and greatest review. It is a year late, but here it is for whoever finds it. And to this I say are my last words that are ever associated with the name Jason Honner, ‘Thank you Dueling Pete’s for the greatest show on earth!’


                                                    *   *   *


  “What do you have there, Officer Rone?” asked Detective Wilson of the Las Vegas Police Department.

  Detective Wilson walked by the hanging body of former writer Jason Honner.

  “A suicide note?” Wilson asked.

  “I’m not sure,” Rone replied. “It was sitting here on his desk with this recorder.”

  Wilson was handed a folder full of papers and the recorder from the desk. He opened the folder and flipped through the sheets of paper.

  “What does it say?” Officer Rone asked.

  “Well nothing until the last piece of paper. It says, ‘The last words to ever be associated with Jason Honner. ‘Rest in Peace.’ The rest of the pages are blank,” Wilson replied with little interest in his voice.

  He lowered his thumb down onto the recorder’s play button as they listened. A blissful ballad of dueling piano’s filled the room through the little speaker.

  “Hmm, that’s different," said Wilson. “That reminds me, my wife has been raving about this place she heard called Dueling Pete’s down at the square. We are supposed to go and check it out this weekend. You ever hear of it before?”

  Rone frowned saying, “As a matter of fact I’m taking my girlfriend there next week. I hear its one hell of a show.”


←- Deiraheit | The Spoken Word -→

28 Dec 2009:-) Stanko Jenes
wow.... that’s all i can say.... Good Luck at the contest (though you don’t need luck...)
30 Dec 2009:-) Martha Fae Bartell
very interesting concept. I really like how you made the bad side so appealing! But yet you still knew it was bad! Good luck!

:-) M B Swancett replies: "Thank you Stanko and Martha for your posts. Feedback is very important for me. Have a good New Year."
1 Jan 2010:-) Patricia M. D´Angelo
Quality story. The great description never takes away from the flow and momentum of your tale. It snagged my interest early on, and didn’t let go. Well crafted, and well done. This one is worth a fav.

:-) M B Swancett replies: "Thank you Patricia for the kind words. "
8 Jan 2010:-) Kerstyn Kaori Leigh
Can you please explain the cold shiver running p my spine right now? Because it absolutely refuses to go away 22 That... wow... I don’t know... that was beyone words, ironic isn’t it? ha... Wow... Incredible piece, amazing, you are very talented. You painted a picture in my head with those words, no matter how hard I tried I could no tear my eyes away from them. You really captured the mood, very well written... wow... just wow!!!!!!
31 Jan 2010:-) Monica Volcanokitten Figgé Jensen
Congratulations! Your story won the 3rd place in the ’Between the Lines’ contest. 13
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'Dueling Pete's Piano Bar':
 • Created by: :-) M B Swancett
 • Copyright: ©M B Swancett. All rights reserved!

 • Keywords: Angels, Demons, Duels, Ghosts, Spirits
 • Categories: Angels, Religious, Spiritual, Holy, Demons, Imps, Devils, Beholders..., Ghosts, Ghouls, Aparitions
 • Submitted: 2009-12-26 16:22:26
 • Views: 1033

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