Matthew woke up feeling as if he were falling—a sudden, violent jerk, as if the entire world had pulled itself out from under him. The feeling quickly passed, but Matthew lay wide awake in the Gardener’s guest room, staring at the shadow-covered ceiling.
Something was wrong.
He lay in the dead silence of the room, listening intently for anything that might be out of place, but there was nothing to hear. That was the problem: there was nothing to hear, not even the small sounds houses normally made. There was no sound of circulation from the vents as the air conditioning blew, no hum from electrical appliances. Matthew looked at the silhouette of an old wind-up alarm clock Ellie had placed on his bedside table. It did not tick.
Until that moment, Matthew had never considered that the phrase “deafening silence” could be anything more than simply a figure of speech… but it was far more than that. It was unnatural. It screamed at him.
He sat up in his bed, casting his covers aside. They slid off the mattress soundlessly, forming an indistinct pile on the floor. Matthew got out of bed, trying to ignore the fact that the bed did not creak, and found to his surprise that the wood floor felt cold. Quickly, he went to the window and peeked through the blinds. The window was fogged, and he could feel cold radiating through the glass.
Matthew dressed quickly, grabbed his jacket and stepped into the hall. The guest room was on the second floor, at the end of the hall, but he wasn’t worried about waking anyone up. Not now.
He stepped into the hall, walking quickly down the hardwood floor. He stopped for a moment in front of Catie’s room. The door was open, and he saw the painting hanging by her window. He smiled, remembering her reaction when she first saw it: eyes large with wonder, mouth agape, as she saw herself spinning in the forest, trees protectively surrounding her.
She’d cried “it’s just like that!” then danced around shouting “I love it!” over and over again, much to the amusement of her parents. She insisted on hanging it in her room, despite Matthew’s warning that the paint was still wet. Her persistence won out over his reluctance, and he and Buck hung it carefully on the wall as Matthew described how to treat it once it had finally dried. Then, when it was time for her to go to bed, she ran up to Matthew, hugged him tightly around the neck, and whispered “I won’t dream about the baby any more” before running to her room.
He smiled again and went downstairs. He unlocked the door quickly, unencumbered with the need for stealth, and stepped outside into the night.
The air was cold and sharp. It felt like late autumn. Looking up through the trees he saw bright stars shining down from a clear sky. He exhaled, watching his breath stream out in front of him. He still heard nothing.
He walked around to the back of the house, out to the Gardener’s dock, where he stood gazing across the water to the shore on the other side. Not too long ago, if he’d woken up to this oppressive silence he would have assumed he was the problem—that he’d gone deaf for some reason, and that the answer involved seeing a doctor. But it was August and it felt like November, and the sky was blue and purple and filled with a billion shining stars, and he was not sick, and he was not crazy. The reason for this silence wasn't within him, it was out there, across the water.
The reason for the silence, for the singing, for dreams about infants who didn’t cry… the reason for the shining chapel and the stone tower… it was all over there, back at the manor house.
He had to get back to the manor house. The right one—not the decaying, rotted place he’d seen during the day, filled with horrible gray things—but the elegant one, the one with the dancing, and music, and indescribably beautiful people laughing. The one with Alice.
For a moment he was overcome by the memory of dark, curled hair and green eyes he could never paint. Then the memory fled as Matthew fell over—something in the world had shifted, and the sheer force of it had knocked him down.
Matthew uttered a soundless curse and gingerly picked himself up off the dock. It hadn’t been an earthquake—nothing around him had moved. Even the lawn chairs were upright. Whatever had happened wasn’t physical.
Something tickled at the base of Matthew’s skull. He frowned, shook his head, then immediately clapped his hands over his ears as they began to itch furiously. The itch grew stronger, more intense, almost unbearable, and behind the itch Matthew heard the faintest hint of a sound: a low, oscillating groan that rose in pitch with every new cycle.
Initially he thought it sounded like a recording of a whale song—it would slide up and down octaves at a time, like a keening sigh, starting with a growl, peaking, then receding back into a low rumble. As the sound grew louder, however, and the itching in his ears subsided, he began to get the sense that what he was hearing wasn’t the sound itself, but an echo of it, or a precursor to it. It was as if the sound were trying to break through the silence, and hadn’t fully pierced the veil.
Matthew strained to listen, trying to make sense of it. It was changing: the sounds grew more distinct and began to resemble the echoes of words. The echoes coalesced, combined, sharpened, and all at once he heard the clear, pure sound of a single man’s voice singing out into the night. At that moment, all sound returned to the world. Matthew heard the wind rustle through the trees, the sound of water lapping against the shore, the sound of crickets chirping, even the sound of his own ragged breath. The weight of silence had been lifted.
The voice was downriver, toward the bridge, and as he peered in that direction he saw a faint glimmer of flickering blue light in the distance. Matthew stood transfixed, listening to the voice as it sang, watching the light as it made its way across the other side of the river. He could never see who carried the light—it always seemed to be just behind trees, or bushes, or past a ridge of hills, but he could easily see the glow as it traveled across the horizon.
It came from the direction of the bridge, Matthew thought. And it’s moving in the direction of the tower.
Finally, Matthew recognized the song: it was the same song he’d heard when he had the vision of the tower and the child—Catie’s dream of the baby that stopped crying. The man and the woman had sung the same song, together, their voices merging into one. Now it was a single voice only, and while the words were foreign the melody was unmistakably the same.
Matthew stood on the dock, watching the glow of the light as it worked its way across the horizon, moving past the house, growing fainter as it moved further away. He ground his teeth in frustration. He glanced at Buck’s boat, briefly considering using it to get across the river so he could follow, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He hadn’t known Buck long, but he liked him, and stealing from him seemed a poor way to repay kindness.
He watched the light fade, feeling helpless. At that moment he could remember the vision of the tower with painful clarity. He remembered the journey through the forest, the clearing where he first saw the tower rising out of the ground, the trick of perspective that made the tower seem shorter than it was. He remembered the rock jutting out of the hill—his hiding place where he spied on the man and the woman, and the crying child…
…and then, to his great astonishment, he was there.
One moment he stood on Buck’s dock, watching the light disappear into the distance, remembering the tower as he’d seen it. He closed his eyes for a moment, completing the scene, and he felt a subtle shift—similar to the surge that had bowled him over earlier, but much smaller. Opening his eyes, he found himself standing on the rock jutting out from the hill, overlooking the entrance to the stone tower.
But the tower was different. It was the same size and shape, but the stone gleamed white like marble, even in the darkness, and strange symbols were etched onto each stone. The grounds had changed; Matthew remembered nothing more than rock and grass, before—now there was a path leading from the door to some place past the hill where he hid. The path was lined with torches, all lit, illuminating the valley with flickering light. The entrance was an ornate, heavy set of double doors—closed at the moment—framed by great beams of dark wood. Banners hung from each side of the entrance, banners made of red silk embroidered with a silvery pattern that was strangely familiar to him, though he didn’t know why. There were no windows in the tower, save for the very top, where the tower tapered off into a smaller room, with windows facing all sides. They were open, and light streamed out much like a lighthouse. It was too high for Matthew to see what was inside.
He heard singing in the distance—Matthew had arrived first. Quickly he crouched down against the top of rock, as he had before, peering over the edge to gaze below.
The voice grew louder, from somewhere behind him. Matthew panicked for a moment, wondering if the singer would have to pass by the rock and descend into the valley to get to the tower—if that was the case, he would be discovered. But soon he heard the voice veer off to his left, and it became clear that the singer was below him, traveling between the hills instead of over them. Eventually a blue light filled the valley, softening the orange-red of the torches, and Matthew saw the singer stride into view, walk up the torch-lit path, and come to a stop before the closed tower doors.
He was a man with long gray hair, wearing a robe of pure white. Matthew recognized him—the man from the chapel, who had led Alice and the others in their procession to the chapel, and then back across the bridge.
This was Simon, he thought. He almost said the name aloud, but stopped himself before he spoke. This was Simon Wendell, Old Man Simon, whom Alice loved and Daylight feared.
Simon stood before the door, surrounded by a glowing cloud of wispy blue light. The trails of light danced and surged around him as he sang, keeping rhythm with the cadence of his voice, twirling and merging into patterns that formed, were destroyed, and re-formed with each new verse of the old man’s song. Simon raised both hands toward the door, palms outstretched, and the wisps of light streamed toward the door at his direction. The light swirled and pulsed before the doors, and a moment later they opened, swiftly, smoothly, without protest. Light streamed out from within the tower, and while Matthew was too high to look inside he saw a hint of polished marble tile on the floor beyond.
Simon continued his song, lowered his hands, and confidently stepped inside. The blue light swirled around the open doorway for a moment, then followed, and just as quickly as they had opened, the doors closed fast. As the doors closed, the sound of Simon’s voice died away.
The world shifted.
“No!” It was the first time that night Matthew had spoken aloud. His voice sounded flat and dull. He shut his eyes as he shook with a spasm of pain; when he opened his eyes, he was kneeling at the edge of Buck’s dock, staring into the river water. The air was hot and humid, the sky was overcast, the stars were gone.
He sat up, coughed, and drew his jacket in tight. Despite the summer heat, he felt cold.