The little girl, or rather, what was once a little girl, timidly approached, a yellowed songbook in her outstretched hands. She looked up at Miss Eliza, who nodded in reassurance.

Jacob slowly reached out, his hand trembling, took the book and propped it on the decrepit piano. The little girl backed away, and he could almost detect a smile, though it was impossible to tell if a corpse was smiling.

Jacob turned to the piano, leafed to a bookmarked page and positioned his fingers over the dusty keys. He hesitated for a moment, still unsure. Miss Eliza rested a supportive hand on his shoulder, which was strangely comforting, despite the hand resembling that of a mummy.

Jacob took a deep breathe and gently laid his fingers on the keys. The townsfolk, who had gathered behind him, leaned forward in silent anticipation.

And he began to play…

I’m a member of the art portfolio site, Artstation, and a while back they shared a piece of art on Facebook that quite literally took my breath away. Titled “Those Who Play for Ghosts”, you can see it at the top of this article and in more detail here. The piece is absolutely haunting, and immediately conveys a story.

Rendered by the user “Forever J”, an artist from Beijing, China, it depicts a young boy seated at a piano surrounded by dusty corpses. A dead child is offering him a song book, while a motherly figure seems to be almost comforting him. In the background, other cadavers look on, seemingly in anticipation of what’s to come.

Now, others may have a different take, but I immediately saw this as a warm, comforting scene. The boy, though a bit nervous, seems to be ready to play for this gruesome audience. On the other hand, some may see the ghosts as evil creatures, who are tormenting this young man. Either way, it’s a powerful piece of art.

I noticed in the art’s description that it was based on a piece by Michael MacRae. It took a while to track down, but I finally found the original source art, an equally wonderful piece (below), on Deviant Art.

Those Who Play for Ghosts, Original Version
Original painting by Michael MacRae

It has a more painterly look, but still conveys the feeling and story. I love that Forever J was inspired enough by this piece to take the time to embellish on it by rendering 3D models, giving it a more realistic look. The detail is painstaking and obviously done with respect for the source material. I’d kill to see a full movie or animated short based on this style.

As an artist, I applaud both artists for truly melding art and storytelling. And as a writer, I kind of want to embellish this haunting image into an entire short story. What do you think?