Isobel reached out to straighten the picture, but her hand froze on the frame when she heard a sharp static sizzle followed by the sound of garbled singing—a woman’s airy voice accompanied by warbling piano notes.

“Sleep now a little while

Till within our dreams we wake

Unfolding our Forever

If only for Never’s sake.”

Isobel tensed.

She knew that song. She’d heard it only the night before. It was the same sad melody that had filtered from the radio when she’d found Varen’s jacket hanging on her closet door.

Isobel turned her head toward the music when the scratchy spurts of static broke through and began to drown out the woman’s singing.

“And . . . to your ever . . .

Let’s . . . our eyes

Together . . . through . . . oor


Where autumn . . . ver dies.”

Isobel let go of the picture frame. She tightened her grip on the trophy and, moving steadily, continued down the stairs, her steps keeping time with the ticking of the mantel clock. She made her way to stand in the archway of the darkened living room, the interior of which stood unoccupied aside from its menagerie of familiar furniture and silhouettes.

Through the dimness, the TV glared a flickering blue, throwing the details of the room in and out of view.

Her eyes trailed the row of built-in bookshelves behind the corner lamp stand and moved past the Christmas tree to the front windows, which showed nothing but the slush-covered street.

“Who’s there?” she asked the room in a quiet voice.

As though in answer, the TV popped and fizzled, causing Isobel to jump.

On the screen, the image of a young woman seated in profile at a grand piano, her hands trailing back and forth over the keys, began to bleed through the overlay of static corrosion.

The music picked up once more, as if the broken signal had become reestablished, the pattern of trickling notes matching the movements of the figure on the TV.

Oddly, everything within the television’s frame, except for the woman’s deep violet evening gown, appeared in muted tones of black and white. Her long fair hair, secured partially by a glittering comb, hung in loose strands around her downturned face, concealing her features from view as she played and sang.

The dress that she wore, beautiful and elegant, was floor-length. It hugged close to the curves of her body before opening out just below the knees like the trumpet of a bellflower.

The woman’s hands, nimble and long-fingered, seemed to float over the piano keys.

And yet the way she moved, jerky and quick between smooth slow-motion moments, reminded Isobel of clips she’d seen from old silent films.

Rocking forward and back ever so slightly as she played, the woman sang with a wispy and ethereal voice, one infused with a delicate strength that poured forth in careful pitch and control, less like an angel’s and more like that of a ghost, heartrending and full of mystery.

“And I’ll sift my sands to your side

Before we slip away

Before we’re little more than silt

Beneath the rocking waves.”

Isobel lowered the trophy as she entered the room, entranced by the strange scene playing itself out on her family’s television, confused and curious as to what it was doing there and where it could be coming from.

Sinking down to kneel in front of the screen, she squinted, trying to see through the crackle and static overlay, which had grown thicker as she’d drawn nearer.

She wished the woman would turn and look her way, if only for a second. There was something so familiar about her. Especially those floating hands.

Had she seen her before?

It made her wonder if she could have been in the dream with Varen.

No, Isobel thought, she didn’t think so. But the song had.

In an instant, she placed the melody as not only the same one she’d heard in her bedroom, but the same one that had struggled to work its way out of Varen’s car stereo. She remembered the way he’d wrenched the portable CD player loose from its cords, pitching the whole thing into the backseat.

What about the music had bothered him so much?

Isobel studied the woman, who continued to play as though locked in a trance, the melody now meandering on without vocal accompaniment, the piano taking over. An interlude of high notes trickled forth in a complicated pattern, accented by a few well-placed chords from the instrument’s lowest spectrum. This mixture of dark and light, high and low, hope and despair, worked its hypnotic effect on Isobel, as though she were a small child listening to an intricate story.

And that was when she began to search for more details, to notice the objects that surrounded the movie’s central figure. Old-fashioned floral-print wallpaper. Fancy antique furniture. A shelf-lined wall bearing indiscernible pictures in frames and nondescript knickknacks. A mirror, too.

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