Isobel turned her head in the direction of the voice, which seemed to be coming from somewhere near the checkout counter.

“I shouldn’t play so late,” the voice said. “Did I wake you? Since you’re up, if you like, I could let you hear the rest. It’s our song, after all, and it is almost finished. Here, let me sing you the last verse.”

As the tinkle of piano notes trickled through the shop, Isobel’s initial fear began to subside, and she pressed on toward the counter. There, sitting amid the stacks of books, stationed atop an enormous pair of thick volumes, she saw what looked to be an old-fashioned gramophone.

The device had a hand crank, which turned itself around and around as familiar music poured forth from its enormous funnel-shaped horn. Then the voice began to sing.

“And side by side we’ll fight the tide

That sweeps in to take us down

And hand in hand we’ll both withstand

Even as we drown.”

Isobel sidled up to the counter, drawing closer only to discover that the gramophone held no record. Its needle hung suspended off to the side, too, away from the empty turntable, which spun at a lazy speed.

She listened, hypnotized, as the piano notes carried on anyway. Then the music faded off, ending in a sharp clang of keys as though something about the song’s execution had frustrated its composer.

“I don’t know.” The voice on the gramophone sighed. “Do you think that last part’s too sad? Well, don’t just stand at the door, silly,” she said through a laugh. “Come, sit with me on the bench awhile. Let me play you the whole thing from start to finish, and then you tell me what you think.”


The gramophone’s crank continued to rotate. It circled around and around as though propelled by the hand of a ghost, the hushed overlay of crackling continuing through the brief moment of silence. Then the melody picked up again, that same sad song Isobel had heard three times before now—the lullaby.

“Sleep now a little while

Till within our dreams we wake

Unfolding our Forever

If only for Never’s sake.”

A low creak from overhead drew Isobel’s gaze to the ceiling.

Beside her, the gramophone began to skip.

“Till within our dreams we wake—

Till within our dreams we wake—

Till within our dreams we wake—”

“I am awake,” Isobel whispered.

The moment she spoke out loud, the gramophone stopped playing, its crank halting mid-rotation.

As she continued to listen, she heard footsteps—booted footsteps, their gait even and slow—begin to make their way across the upper floor.

There was somebody upstairs, in the attic.

Isobel headed toward the rear of the shop, but a distant sound, hissing from behind, stopped her before she reached the open archway.

Glancing over her shoulder, back toward the gramophone, Isobel watched as the crank began to revolve again, this time in the opposite direction as before. The hissing transformed into whispers. Then the whispers became words, which began to drift from the horn’s black hole, growing louder and more discernible with each revolution of the crank.

“Believe me,” a girl’s voice cut through the static, “that would so never happen.”

Isobel’s mouth fell open as she recognized the voice as her own.

“In fact, we never saw each other outside of class except those times we had to meet for the project. To be honest,” the voice—her voice—continued, “we didn’t even get along. But I had to put up with it because I needed a passing grade.”

Isobel shook her head. “No,” she said.

“At this point, I’m just kind of ready to forget about it and move on, you know? But . . . as far as knowing anything about what happened that night? I’m honestly the last person who would—I’m honestly the last person who—I’m honestly the last person—the last person—honestly—hoooonnestly—hooooneeessstly.”

The crank ground to a halt, the repeated word dropping several octaves, slurring into one incomprehensible drone before dying out.

“I didn’t mean it,” Isobel murmured. After a moment, she shouted, “I didn’t mean any of that!”

Startled by the sound of a low click followed by a long creak, Isobel whirled to face the open archway leading to the rear of the shop. Through it, she could see that the door leading to the attic, the DO NOT ENTER door, the BEWARE OF BESS door, had opened itself.

Approaching the door, she could see the narrow set of stairs just within.

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