The Horror Zine
White piano
Bruce Memblatt

The November Second Selected Story is by Bruce Memblatt

Please feel free to email Bruce at

Bruce Memblatt


by Bruce Memblatt

“He was the one I was supposed to spend my life with. We’d planned on getting married. There were so many plans.”

She raised her head. She glanced at the clock on the wall and sighed. “He had an apartment right on the corner of Fifty-Second and Lexington Avenue. There’s a new white piano sitting in the living room. A white piano, imagine?  But he played like a mad genius. I used to sit and intently listen. I dug him, his fingers, his hair, the view; there was a knockout view. Why am I talking about the God damn view? And the God damned piano.”

Her hands shook as she looked down towards the floor, afraid she would lose control and sob out the intense anguish she felt.

“You can stop there, Robin,” Clinger interrupted. “Are you sure this is what you want? At DMG, we can’t bring Shane back. All we can do is to create a close replica. You can call it an illusion, but it won’t be him, do you understand that? We can’t recreate his soul. Can you live with an illusion? That’s the question you have to ask yourself.”

Can you live with an illusion? The words opened like a row of umbrellas in her mind. Could she? Then again could she live without Shane for another year, another week, another second? No, the grief she was feeling was too unbearable; she couldn’t stand another moment of this pain.

She felt angry at the salesman. Here was Clinger sitting across from her; sitting smugly at his desk. What did he know about the pain of loss? Clinger probably had his wife to go home to at the end of his day; a wife who was alive and well.

But at least Clinger was telling her that she could have something like Shane; it would be something like the life they were going to have had they been able to get married and live in the apartment with the view and the piano. Wasn’t anything better than what she had now?

Now Clinger was telling her that there were dangers. He wanted her to sign a waiver. She could get lost in the illusion, adapt too completely and forget he wasn’t Shane, but a creation designed and manufactured specifically for her, to her specifications; an illusion just the same. Still, wasn’t life an illusion anyway? No, she thought, life isn’t an illusion, not to those who live it.

On the other hand, would recreating Shane be living her life, or would it be hiding in a memory instead? This was all too deep and she just wasn’t able to think straight since Shane died; she only knew that she wanted him back.

Suddenly An Idea: she wouldn’t call him Shane.She’d find another name, one that felt artificial. One that would be a constant reminder that the product was artificial; it wasn’t Shane. Yes, she’d call him Product.

And then she was sure she knew what she was doing. “I want this. I’m sure. Can it begin?”

“It’s already begun,” Clinger said as he folded his hands over his desktop. “In a sense, I mean, it began when you called us. You’ve already given us all the details of Shane’s life; and so we have put his total experience, as best as we could, into a file in our lab. There’s more to do, of course, and most are things you need not know, but there are other things you should know. For example we’ll be using a sample of his DNA in his model.”

“Model?” she questioned.

“Yes, we call them models. They’re not clones; they’re manufactured from a composite of organic and non-organic materials. One thing you should also know; he won’t age, but we can make him look older as time goes on if you like. Every few years, we can upgrade him for you. That is optional, there’s no need to think about that now, of course; you have plenty of time.”      

Wow. That was something she hadn’t thought about: time. And what would happen, say, five years from now, or twenty?  What if she had a change of heart at some point? If it turned out badly, could she just dispose of the Product?  Would she want to? Too many crazy possibilities for one afternoon and she hadn’t even considered about sex.

He seemed to read her thoughts. “If you want more time, there’s no need to rush into this,” Clinger said. “We know this is an investment in both your finances and your emotions, and we want our clients happy in both areas.”

She clenched her fists. She smiled forcefully. “I only know one thing for sure. I want Shane back.”

“Well, then, if you’re absolutely certain, let me tell you how it’s going to go. In about two weeks, maybe three, you’ll receive a phone call. The call will come the day before Shane arrives, to prepare you. You won’t pick up Shane. What will happen is he will come home to you just like it was an ordinary day, like nothing happened. He will know where he lives.”

“So, I am supposed to meet him at his apartment?”

“We know you are on the lease because you were planning to move in. We know you have been making the payments on it since Shane, well, passed.”

“That’s right. I couldn’t let it was....Shane’s.” She thought Clinger would understand. She couldn’t part with anything of Shane’s.

Clinger continued, “It will be best if you don’t make too much of a fuss when he comes home. Try to be as natural and as calm as possible. It will take some time for you to adjust to each other and to your new life.”

Like an ordinary day? It would be the most unordinary ordinary day she could envision. Natural and calm weren’t her forte. With all the crazy new technologies out there, the world must be coming to an end anyway. Surprising, she thought, Clinger’s office at DMG doesn’t look like anything special, nothing futuristic; just an ordinary office. DMG looked quite traditional; no sliding steel doors and crystalline tubes like she’d imagined. So what happens now?

“So what happens now?”

“Now you wait, and if we need anything else, we’ll contact you.”

“I guess this is it, then,” she said, standing from the chair.

“If you’re certain. I’m sorry, but part of my job is to try to convince you not to do it. At DMG we want you to be absolutely certain, because once it is done, there is no going back. This is a radical decision.”

“I’m certain,” She said. She grabbed her coat and Clinger walked her to the door.


She cleaned the apartment from top to bottom. She filled her days with expectations, and her spirits were lifted with the idea that her grief would end soon. She paid special attention to the brand new piano she had just bought, and she imagined Shane’s long, tapered fingers touching the ivories.

In reflection, it was funny how her life had changed since she’d met Shane; a metamorphosis, like a whirlwind....fantastical. She hadn’t even known him that long, but she knew he was the one the moment she met him seven months ago down at a little club called Marie’s. She had stopped in for a quick drink, and there was Shane at the piano. Imagine, if she had worked overtime that day like she normally did, she wouldn’t have had time for a drink, and if not, would they have ever met?

The new piano was the one change she made in the apartment; she had bought a new piano, a white piano, right before she received the news of his death. Shane had never seen her present to him.

She remembered the day before he died when he got on that small plane, he had sold his piano. He needed the money. She had offered him money. He wouldn’t take it. He had told her he’d get a new piano when he could and not to sweat it. Come to think of it, funny, she didn’t really know him all that well. Well, not as well as she could have, like she wanted to if they only had more time. Now they’d have all that time. It was waiting just days away. The bell would ring and he’d walk through the door again. Well, he wasn’t going to step through the door, but he was, in a way. Don’t forget it’s not him, it’s something like him, don’t forget, a Product.

The bell rang. What? Who could it be? It couldn’t be Shane. Wasn’t Clinger supposed to call the day before if it was Shane? A small voice whispered in her mind, This is not going according to plan.

She quickly looked in the mirror in the foyer and told herself, “I am insane.” Her stomach pulled in as she took a deep breath and opened the door.

And there he was. He looked like he had always looked as he stepped through the door; like he did so many times before, but this time it was no ordinary walk through the door. What to say? There was nothing to say. She looked in his eyes and saw recognition. It swept her away. She almost cried. She almost smiled. It was almost Shane.

And then she realized that Clinger probably did call, that he must have called on her cell phone; she remembered it was the cell phone number she had given him. When was the last time she had charged her cell phone? Why, the batteries had probably been dead for days., not dead; cell phone batteries could be recharged.

“Shane,” she heard herself stutter, and all plans to call him Product went out the window. "I mean…”

“I know.”

“But…you’re so......”

“Like me?”

“It’s not you, is it, Shane....but it is.” She kissed him on the cheek and held his hand. His eyes were still blue; his hair was still black, his smile was still Shane’s smile. It was incredible. “Is it okay? I have to know is it okay that I did this, Shane? I had to have you back.”

“I can feel myself, yet I can’t. Can we sit down?”

They walked over to the small sofa in the living room. As they walked past the mirror in the foyer, she caught a glimpse of Shane and her together and she smiled. The rug under the sofa creased slightly as they sat down. She turned to him and said, “I didn’t expect you to be so aware, I mean, I didn’t know what to expect, exactly. In my mind I didn’t think that you’d know what happened, but you are really in there.”

He pulled away from her and looked toward the window, like an answer that was falling through the air. “The last thing I remember is the flames. The plane must have burst into flames. I remember the heat. It was so intense. I remember the smoke, and I remember dying. I know I died and then suddenly I’m back here and alive, but not really. I’m sort of confused.”

“They must have told you something at DMG,” she said reaching for his hand.

“DMG? If you know what I’m trying to say; then you’d know I feel as if it all had happened to someone else,” he said and he turned toward her, searching her eyes intently for a moment before he drew his head down.

She felt an insane need to bear her soul. “Shane, look at me. I was going to call you Product, to remind myself you weren’t really Shane so I wouldn’t forget the real you and get lost in an illusion. But this isn’t an illusion; you’re alive. I am so happy we’re together again! Aren’t you happy, Shane?”

If she could take all the moments of her life and wrap them into a ball, this would be the most tenuous thread, the one that could make her life unravel. It seemed everything hung on the simplest of questions.

He slowly began to stand. He gazed across the room. “Maybe I’m not happy. I guess I’m not sure.”


“Robin,” he told her, “give me some time to get used to all of this; to try to connect myself, to try to feel like one being. It’s strange; I feel like I’m trying to eat my way out of a marshmallow.”

She didn’t believe him about his happiness. Of course he was happy. Right now he was unsure but she would fix that. “Do you see the piano? I got you a new piano!”

He stepped around the room silently. She watched him. Grudgingly, it seemed, he stood in front of the piano and plucked out a few notes. His hand fell uneasily over the keys. “Happiness isn’t even on the plate now. It’s just not that simple. Tell me…” he said as he turned away from the new white piano and walked backed to the sofa, “How did you find out I died? You must have been....”

He sat down.

“I was devastated,” Robin said, putting her arm around his shoulder. She looked toward the television on the far side of the room. “I came home and I turned on the news. I didn’t expect to hear from you until the morning. Anyhow, I was putting my coat away and I heard a story come over the air about a plane crash. You hear so much tragedy you don’t pay attention, you know, the words seem to fall over you like petals, but when the reporter mentioned Syracuse I suddenly turned and stared at the TV. Just at that very moment the phone rang, a call from the airline.”

There was something in the way he turned his head down after he heard the story that made her heart feel like it was breaking. Wait a minute, this was supposed to stop her heart from breaking. This was supposed to end her heartache.

Again she heard that small voice whispering in her mind, This is not going according to plan.

He put his hand out, just touching the top of her knee. “You must have been shaken. I’m sorry; I just wish I could feel you.” Suddenly his hand pulled away and he said, “The funeral?”

He stood back up, restless, and continued speaking as he walked purposefully back to the piano. “It just occurred to me: the funeral. I must have had a funeral?”

Her hands shook as she watched him sit down at the piano. “Yes, you had a funeral,” she told him almost matter-of-factly, and she reached for her purse. She pulled out a small newspaper clipping and placed it down on the coffee table. “Your obituary is here if you want to look at it.”

He ignored the clipping, and wouldn’t look at her as he plucked out a note on the keys. “So did I have a nice turn out?”

“Not bad, we didn’t tell your mother, she couldn’t handle it; she isn’t aware of anything anymore anyway. Your sister came...your brother. Ted came, you know, the usual suspects.” She sighed and she fell back into the sofa. At that moment Shane began to play a melody. His hands gradually appeared more confident as he fingered the keys.

“What is it that you’re playing?”

He turned from the piano, his hand still pressing the keys and he looked back at Robin with a curious smile like it was caught between a laugh and a cry. “It’s an old Duke Ellington tune called I Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Quite appropriate, don’t you think?”

She didn’t like how this was going, but again she was determined to fix it. She would pretend her mood was light. “At least you still have your sense of humor,” she grinned, while she pushed a strand of hair out of her eyes.

But his face turned sour. “You don’t understand, Robin!” he cried and his voice grew louder. “I can’t feel the notes. I can’t feel the music.”

He began to yell. “It’s like I’m a machine!” He smashed his hands down on the keys. A harsh chord followed. “I was an artist, a poet, a musician. And what am I now?”

She vaulted off the coach and stood next to him. Suddenly frightened, she reached for his hand and he abruptly pulled away. “Give it time!” she pleaded. Hadn’t the salesman at DMG told her that things would take time? Or had he said that they had time? Wasn’t Clinger telling her that they had years together, she and Shane? She and this Product?

Ready for anything and prepared for nothing, she looked at him. What had she done? It will get easier in time, she told herself. It must. The thing that matters is we’re back together so I’ll just keep repeating that thought in my head and that will make it right.

He turned sharply toward her and said, “My grave, I must be buried somewhere, right? A headstone? Do I have a headstone, a plot?”

All the things she didn’t think of when she had imagined their first moments back together. She shuddered. “My god, Shane, can’t we talk about today instead? Or about our future?”

“I think I have a right to know these things,” he said.

It felt bizarre mouthing the words but she told him, “You’re buried out on Long Island.”

“Long Island?”

“I had you buried in my family’s plot. We were going to get married. So I thought…I just wanted you near me always. Your sister told me it would be all right. She knew how much I loved…love you,” Robin said as she stepped towards the window and looked down at the traffic below. Here was the view she had always cherished. The cars looked like toys from the thirtieth floor.

It was then that he grasped her shoulder and she shuddered from the unexpectedness of it. “I want to see it,” Shane said. “I want to go there. Take me there.”

“What? Take you where?”


“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. I just want to see my grave. Take me to my grave.”

They stood in silence by the window for what seemed like hours while the sun set over the city.

And that night Robin still found herself alone, still without him, because Shane slept on the couch. But she made sure to recharge her cell phone. Dead things really could be brought back to life, and not just cell phone batteries.


In the morning they made their way down to the car. Robin glanced at the gas pedal before she threw the car in gear. A two-hour drive to Shane’s grave. She turned and watched him sitting next to her. He just stared out the window. She wondered if seeing his grave would fix him, fix them, and she stepped on the gas. The morning mist quickly dissipated from the window as the sun hit the car directly when they pulled into traffic.

She turned onto the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge. “Look, it’s going to be a beautiful day. Why don’t we do something else instead? It’s not too late.”

“Not too late? Robin, I’m thinking of it as some sort of closure.”

She thought what an odd word to use, closure. The word closure was an ending. Wasn’t this a beginning? This was supposed to be a beginning.

And they drove in silence.

When they pulled up to the cemetery, Shane was still silent. Silent as the grave, she thought, and then she felt superstitious at the idea. They parked on a small road across the street from the cemetery and they walked across it. She tried to hold his hand but he turned away.

As they traveled through the gate, the road turned to dirt. On either side, in front, behind them, everywhere they could see, lay rows and rows of headstones guarded by neatly trimmed hedges and perfectly pinched grass. The sun was brilliant, warming their faces with the promise of life.

She was about to tell him that she felt the promise of life when she realized they had traveled right in front of Shane’s grave. What came out of her mouth wasn’t anything like she was originally going to say. “Here you are, Shane, this is what you wanted to see.” She pointed toward his headstone.

He stood for a moment silently, apprehensively, and then he slowly began to read the writing on his stone aloud.

What was he doing? Why did he drag her here? Hadn’t she already been here, on that terrible day of his funeral, through the pain, grief, and disbelief that the funeral home was lowering the box that imprisoned him, lowering him into the dirt to be forgotten and discarded like he had never mattered to her?

“Here lies Shane Mathew, born July 17, 2011....died November 21, 2037. I am dead.”

No! She couldn’t listen to that! She turned to him and whispered, “But you’re not, Shane, you’re back.”

“No. I’m not back. Just a broken fragment of me is back, because you’re so selfish.”

She was stunned. “What?”

His eyes grew intense. “You couldn’t let me rest in peace, could you? You had to have me back to keep you happy, no matter what. It’s all about you, isn’t it, Robin?”

She fiercely tugged on his arm and said, “I love you, Shane! I couldn’t live a life without you!”

He shook her off. “This is no life, Robin! This is hell, Robin, hell. God might forgive you, but I don’t. You still don’t realize what you’ve done.”

“What do you mean, what I’ve done? We can be together now, forever! You and me.”

“Listen to me,” his voice cried so loudly it could have shook the trees. “I am not back! I can’t feel myself. I’m a mind encased in a plastic body. I can’t feel my hands, I can’t feel anything. I can’t taste, or feel or smell anything. I can’t feel you. Do you understand? You have sentenced me to future more painful than the fires of hell. Forever, I will sense things, but I won’t be able to touch them, or feel them. Like constant torture, the world will be always be just within my reach but I will never be able to fully grasp it. I am dead, Robin, I am dead and awake and aware of my death. I am buried alive. I hate you.”

“I can fix things!” she cried while tears began to run down her cheeks.

“Don’t you want to know why I got on that plane in the first place?” he screamed at her. “I was leaving you!”

Quickly, he reached for her and he pulled her down over his grave. She struggled but his weight was too heavy. He pinned her down and sat on her chest, and then he firmly wrapped his hands around her throat.
“I am going to squeeze the life out of you,” he told her as he held her down. “You’re going to die on my grave. The grave you stole from me.”

She struggled for air. How could this be happening?

Suddenly her cell phone rang from inside her purse. It broke the spell.

Shane released his grip on her neck and moved off of her. Just as suddenly she felt his weight leaving her body, she rolled, facing the ground, and reached inside her purse. Whoever was calling, she would ask for help.

Strangely enough she heard Clinger’s voice on the line, like a rescue.

“Robin,” he told her, “we’re sending Shane over tomorrow.”

“What? What are you talking about?” she gasped. “You already sent him…and he’s wrong! He tried to hurt me!”

She could hear that Clinger was still talking, but she realized that she was suddenly alone. She moved the cell phone away from her ear. Where was Shane? Where did he go?

Frantically, she looked around, and her head swerved in every conceivable direction. Headstone after headstone shone like white ruins, but she couldn’t see Shane anywhere. The phone dangled from her hand as she lay back down upon the earth. He’d vanished. Oh God, had it all been a dream? No! A nightmare.

She sat up and paused for a moment and tried to catch her breath. Slowly she drew the phone back towards her mouth and said, “Clinger, I’ve changed my mind.”

Bruce Memblatt is a native New Yorker and has studied Business Administration at Pace University. In addition to writing he runs a website devoted to theater composer Stephen Sondheim, which he’s lovingly maintained since 1996.

His stories have been featured in such magazines as Aphellion, Bewildering Stories, Bending Spoons, Strange Weird and Wonderful, Static Movement, Danse Macabre, The Piker Press, A Golden Place, Eastown Fiction, Short Story Me!, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Necrology Shorts, Suspense Magazine, Gypsy Shadow, Black Lantern, Death Head Grin, The Cynic Online, The Feathertale Review and Yellow Mama.

His works have been published or are scheduled to be published in these anthology books:

“The Police Station” in Twice The Terror: The Horror Zine from Bear Manor Media.
“Perseid” in Oh, the Horror from Static Movement.
“At Arm’s Reach” in Dusted from Static Movement.
“An Eye for an Eye” in Madness of the Mind from Static Movement.
“Lenore and the E-Fly” in The Cedar Chest from Static Movement.
“Return” in Something Dark in the Doorway from Static Movement.
“The Children’s Room” in Halloween Dances with the Dead from Whortleberry Press.
“Pandora’s Surprise” in Pandora’s Nightmare: The Horror Unleashed from Pill Hill Press.
“Eight Hundred Riverside Drive” in Trunk Stories from Static Movement.
In addition, Bruce writes a bi-monthly series for The Piker Press based on his short story “Dinner with Henry.” The first installment appeared in March of 2010