“You’re going to have to do it off my property,” I say. “Which means you need to leave. Now.”
Brian makes one last adjustment to his bow tie before getting into his car and driving away. I follow behind him, walking the long, curving road down the hillside to the front gate. Once I’ve made sure he’s gone, I close the gate and lock it.
Then it’s back to the house, where I’m finally able to carry my groceries inside. Burdened with bags heavy in both arms, I get just past the vestibule before noticing something wrong.
It’s bright in here.
Way too bright.
I look to the ceiling and see the chandelier burning at full glow.
But here’s the weird thing: when I left the house, it was dark.
While I was gone, it had somehow been turned on.
Just like three nights before, the sound rattled the house and jerked me from sleep. Turning over, I looked at the digital clock on the nightstand, the numbers glowing green in the predawn darkness: 4:54 a.m.
The exact same time I’d previously heard the noise.
It was unnerving, yes, but also helpful, because it let me know that it hadn’t been a dream. This sound was real, and coming from the third floor.
Despite the ungodly early hour, I slipped out of bed and made my way to the study upstairs. Inside, nothing seemed amiss. The doors to both closets were closed, and the record player was silent.
As for the noise, I had no idea what it was. I suspected the house was responsible. Most likely something to do with the heating system resetting itself at a designated time. Granted, just before five in the morning was an odd time for that, but I saw no other possibilities for what the noise could be.
Rather than go back to bed, I went downstairs before dawn for the second time since we moved in. Once again, the chandelier was lit. I would have continued to think it was the wiring if I hadn’t heard the record player the night before. Clearly, both were the work of my unusually sleepless wife.
When Jess joined me in the kitchen after six, I greeted her by saying, “I never knew you were a Sound of Music fan.”
“I’m not,” she said, the second word stretching into a yawn.
“Well, you were last night. I don’t mind you going into the study. Just remember to turn off the record player when you leave.”
My wife gave me a sleepy-eyed look of confusion. “What record player?”
“The one on my desk,” I said. “It was playing last night. I figured you’d had trouble sleeping, went up there, and listened to music.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jess said as she made her way to the coffeepot. “I was asleep all night.”
It was my turn to look confused. “You weren’t in my office at all?”
“And you didn’t turn the record player on?”
Jess poured herself a cup of coffee. “If I had, I certainly wouldn’t have picked The Sound of Music. Did you ask Maggie? She likes that movie. Maybe she was exploring?”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Ewan,” Jess said as she sat down at the kitchen table. “Did you have it on at some point?”
“I did,” I said. “But that was two days ago. Right before Maggie hurt herself.”
“Did you turn it off?”
I didn’t know. All I could remember was hearing screams in the woods and bumping into the record player before running out of the study. Between taking Maggie to the emergency room and exploring the cemetery in the woods, I’d never had time to return there until the night before.
“Now that you mention it, I don’t think I did.”
“There you go.” Jess drank heartily from her mug, proud of herself. “You left the player on, and something bumped the needle back onto the record. Then the house was alive with the sound of music.”
“But what could have bumped it?”
“A mouse?” Jess suggested. “Maybe a bat? It’s an old house. I’m sure there’s something scurrying around inside these walls.”
I winced. “I don’t even want to think about it.”
But think about it I did. It was possible that an animal could be living in the study. After all, there had been a snake in the Indigo Room. Although I found it highly unlikely any animal could accidentally play a record.
After breakfast, I returned to the third floor and examined the record player. Everything looked normal. Turned off, record on the turntable, no sign a rodent had been anywhere near it. I bumped the arm, just to see if it could easily be moved by man or mouse.
So much for Jess’s theory. That meant the culprit had to be Maggie.
Before leaving, I unplugged the record player. Just in case. Then I made my way to Maggie’s wing, prepared to tell her she needed to ask permission before entering my study. It struck me as the only way to prevent it from happening again.
I found Maggie alone in the playroom next to her room. Only she didn’t act like she was alone. Sitting on the floor with an array of toys in front of her, she appeared to be talking to an imaginary person across from her.
“You can look, but you can’t touch,” she said, echoing something Jess told her nearly every time we went shopping. “If you want to play, you’ll need to find your own toys.”