CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
Silence and Song
Matthew wakes up feeling as if he’s falling: a sudden, violent jerk, as if the entire world has pulled out from under him. The feeling passes quickly, but Matthew is wide awake in the Gardener’s guest room, staring at the shadow-covered ceiling.
He lies in silence, listening intently. Nothing sounds out of place—there’s nothing to hear. It takes a moment for Matthew to focus on that, but he realizes that’s the problem: there is nothing to hear. There are none of the small sounds houses normally make, no sound of circulation from the vents, no sound of the air conditioner, no hum from electrical appliances. He glances at the silhouette of an old wind-up alarm clock Ellie put on his bedside table. It does not tick.
Matthew has never really considered that the phrase “deafening silence” can be anything more than a figure of speech, but tonight it’s far more than that. Tonight, it’s unnatural. Tonight the silence is screaming at him.
He sits up, casting his covers aside. They slide off the mattress soundlessly, forming an indistinct pile on the floor. He gets out of bed, trying to ignore that the springs do not creak, and discovers to his surprise that the floor feels cold. He goes to the window and peeks through the blinds. The window is fogged, and he feels cold radiating through the glass.
He dresses quickly, grabs his jacket, and steps into the hall. The guest room is on the second floor, at the end of the hall, but the absolute lack of sound persists and he isn’t worried about waking anyone up. He walks quickly down the hardwood floor, stopping for a moment in front of Catie’s room. The door is open, and he sees the painting hanging by her window. He smiles, remembering the reaction when she first saw it: eyes large, mouth agape, gaze fixed on the image of her spinning around in the forest, surrounded by the guardian trees.
She’d cried “it’s just like that!” and 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 overcame adult practicality, and he and Buck hung it carefully on the wall as Matthew explained how to treat it once it finished drying. 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 smiles again and makes his way downstairs. He unlocks the door quickly, unencumbered by the need for stealth, and steps outside into the night.
The air is cold and sharp, feeling like late autumn. Looking up through the trees, he sees bright stars shining down from a clear sky. He exhales, watching his breath stream out in front of him.
He still hears nothing. He walks around to the back, out to the Gardener’s dock, and stares 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’ve assumed he was the problem—that’d he’d gone deaf for some reason, and that the answer involved seeing a doctor and undergoing a few unpleasant tests. But tonight it’s August and feels like October, the sky is blue and purple and filled with a billion shining stars, and he is not sick. And he is not crazy. The reason for this silence isn’t a problem in him, it’s something out there, across the water.
The reason for this silence, for the singing, for dreams about infants who don’t cry… the reason for the shining chapel and the stone tower… it’s all over there, in the manor.
He had to get back to the manor. 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 the music, and indescribably beautiful people who were always laughing. The one with Alice.
He’s distracted by the memory of dark, curled hair, and eyes of an indescribable shade of green. Moments later the memory is gone, and Matthew is sprawled on the ground, trying to figure out why.
He curses soundlessly and gingerly picks himself off the dock. That hadn’t been an earthquake—nothing around him has moved. Even the lawn chairs are upright. Whatever happened wasn’t physical, yet Matthew feels as if, for just an instant, the entire universe shifted.
Something tickles at the back of his skull. He frowns, shakes his head, then claps his hands over his ears as they begin to itch. The itching grows stronger, more intense, almost unbearable, and behind the itching he hears the faintest hint of sound: a low, oscillating groan that rises in pitch with every new cycle.
Initially it reminds him of whale songs, sliding up and down octaves like a keening sigh, startling with a growl, peaking, and receding back into a low rumble. As it grows louder, and the itching in his ears subsides, he gets the sense that he’s not hearing the sound itself but an echo of a sound, as if the sound is trying to break through the silence but hasn’t fully pierced the veil.
He strains to listen, trying to make sense of it. It grows, and just as it crosses the threshold into actual sound it grows distinct and begins to resemble words. The sound coalesces, combines, sharpens, and finally, as the last of the silence shatters and falls away, he hears the clear, pure sound of a single man’s voice singing out into the night. With that sound comes everything else: the wind rustling through trees, water lapping against the shore, crickets chirping, even the sound of his own ragged breath. Silence screamed no more.
The voice is downriver, towards the bridge. A faint glimmer of light flickers blue. Matthew stands transfixed, listening to the voice as it sings, watching the flickering blue light as it makes its way along the other side of the river. He can’t see who carries the light—it always seems to be moving behind trees, or bushes, or past a ridge of hills—but he easily sees the glow as it travels on.
It comes from the direction of the bridge, Matthew thinks, and it’s moving in the direction of the tower.
Finally he recognizes the song: it’s the same one he heard from the vision of the tower—the song the man and the woman sang as they held the crying child. In that vision, the man and the woman were singing together. Now it’s a single voice only, and while the words are foreign, the melody is unmistakably the same.
Matthew stands on the dock, watching the glow of light as it works its way across the horizon. He grinds his teeth in frustration as it passes, then grows fainter as it moves ever further away. He glances at Buck’s boat, briefly considering using it to get across the river so he can follow, but he can’t bring himself to do it. He hasn’t known Buck long, but he likes him, and stealing from him seems a poor way to repay his hospitality.
He looks on helplessly as the light fades. He toys with the idea of swimming across. If it were the temperature it’s supposed to be, he’d be tempted to give it a shot, but it’s cold right now, and he doubts he’d make it. All he can do is imagine the journey through the forest. He pictures his own journey, remembering the clearing where he first saw the tower rise out of the ground, the trick of perspective that made the tower seem shorter than it was, and the rock jutting out of the hill: his hiding place where he spied on the man, the woman, and the crying child…
…and then, to his great astonishment, he’s there.
One moment he stands on Buck’s dock, watching the light disappear into the distance, picturing the tower in his mind. And then, just as he fills in the final detail, he feels a subtle shift—similar to the surge that knocked him over earlier, but smaller in scale—and he’s standing on the rock jutting out from the hill, overlooking the entrance to the stone tower.
At least, the entrance to a stone tower. This tower is different: it’s the same size and shape, but the stone gleams white like marble, even in the darkness. Strange symbols are etched onto each stone. The grounds are different as well: the grounds around the tower Matthew remembers were nothing more than rock and grass, but this tower has a path leading from the forest to the door. The path is lined with torches, all lit, illuminating the valley with flickering light. The tower entrance is an ornate, heavy set of double doors, currently closed, framed by great beams of dark wood. Banners hang from each side, red silk embroidered with a silvery pattern that he doesn’t recognize but feels strangely familiar. The tower has no windows until the very top, where it tapers off into a smaller room with windows on all sides. The windows are open, and light streams out like a lighthouse.
This is not the tower from Matthew’s vision, but at the same time he feels that it must be: he stands on the rock where he hid. That is the valley he saw, even if the tower currently standing in it is different.
Well, why not? He’s seen two versions of the manor house. Why not two versions of the tower?
He’s about to climb down when he hears singing in the distance. He crouches, like he had before, peering over the edge to gaze below.
The voice grows louder, though still distant. Eventually he sees a blue light fill the valley, softening the orange-red of the torches, and then the singer strides into view, walking up the torch-lit path. He wears a robe of pure white, his long, gray hair tied back into a loose ponytail. Even at this distance, Matthew recognizes him as the man from the chapel. This is Simon, he thinks. He almost says it aloud, stopping himself just as he feels the word form on his lips. This is Simon Wendell, Old Man Simon. The man Alice loves and Daylight fears.
Simon, surrounded by a cloud of wispy blue light, comes to a stop before the closed tower doors. The trails of light dance and surge around him as he sings, keeping rhythm with the cadence of his voice, twirling and merging into patterns that form, are destroyed, and re-form with each new verse of the old man’s song. Simon raises both hands toward the door, palms outstretched, and the wisps of light stream toward the door as his direction. The light swirls, and pulses, and then it seeps into the doors. The doors open, swiftly and smoothly, without protest. Warm yellow light pours out from the doors. Matthew is too high to look inside, but he sees a hint of polished marble tile just beyond the doors.
Continuing his song, Simon lowers his hands and confident steps inside. The blue light swirls around the open doorway for a moment, then follows him in, and just as quickly as the doors open they close just as fast. As the doors close, the sound of Simon’s voice dies away.
The world shifts.
“No!” It’s the first time that night Matthew has spoken aloud. His voice sounds flat and dull. He closes his eyes as pain spasms through him, then opens them to find himself kneeling at the edge of Buck’s dock, staring into the river water. The air is hot and humid. The sky is overcast. The stars are gone.
He sits up, coughs, and draws his jacket in tight. Despite the summer heat, he feels cold.