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Call of the Night Singers

Author(s): Ari McKay

 When Garland Heatherford is named heir to his uncle’s vast fortune, he isn’t pleased by the honor, and with good reason. The last five heirs all met with most untimely deaths – four of them from drowning. Although loath to accept his inheritance, Garland nevertheless travels to the “cursed” town of Bath, North Carolina, to meet his aged uncle, hoping to avoid the fate of his predecessors. But Garland has something in his favor the other heirs didn’t: his lover, Geoffrey Wainwright.

The sight of the decaying hulk of Heatherford House dismays both men, yet they have little choice but to enter a world where a miasma of horror lies beneath a veneer of breeding, and madness and death seem to lurk in every corner. Ruling over all is the presence of sinister Roderick Heatherford, who has managed to outlive five young, healthy heirs despite his allegedly poor health. When an unexpected illness strikes Garland and he begins to sleepwalk, lured from bed by singing only he can hear, Geoffrey resolves to protect Garland from every danger – even if it costs him his own life.

Excerpt


 As night drew in, the weather turned worse, with thunder and lightning combining with the rain and wind. Since there was no way of knowing if O’Brien had a key to the room, I wasn’t certain if locking the door was adequate to keep him out if he decided to seek entry. I am not certain why I felt O’Brien was a threat, but some instinct warned me that O’Brien didn’t have Garland’s best interests at heart—or mine either, for that matter. Therefore when we were ready to retire, I placed a chair before the door. It might not stop O’Brien if he was truly determined, but it would at least slow him down and alert us there was mischief afoot.

Sleep was elusive for me, although Garland seemed to sink into slumber with relative ease. I lay for quite some time with my arm around his waist, staring at the window and watching the flares of lightning as they highlighted the waving branches of trees against the glass. I dozed from time to time, but I kept jerking awake, pulled back by sounds that set my nerves on edge. 

I must have succumbed to fatigue at last, for I was startled to wakefulness by some instinct that had me sitting bolt upright in the bed, my heart pounding. I was immediately aware that Garland was not in the bed with me, and it took me a moment of frantic scanning before I saw him standing before the door and trying to open it, thwarted by the chair. I sprang from the bed.

“Do you need the bathroom?” I asked softly, reaching out to touch Garland’s shoulder.

But Garland showed no signs of responsiveness; he did not even glance in my direction but continued to stare vacantly at the door and rattle the knob uselessly. I wondered if this was somnambulism, which I had read about but never before seen. Garland had never done such a thing before to my knowledge, and I was uncertain what could have triggered this event. 

I wracked my brain, trying to recall what I had read, which had been little more than speculation and old wives tales. I remembered there was something about not waking a sleepwalker, lest something unfortunate happen, yet were it not for the chair in front of the door, Garland might have already left the room and met some horrible fate. 

What vision in his mind’s eye had compelled him to leave the room? I wished to know, but I was not going to move the chair and allow him to follow the fancies of his unconscious mind into mischief. I had to find some way to wake him gently or coax his thoughts in another direction.

“Garland, you shouldn’t be wasting your strength on this. It’s cold and you’ll take a chill if you go about in bare feet. Come back to bed, and I’ll warm you. You may sleep as late as you wish. I won’t wake you early, I promise.”

But my words fell upon deaf ears. Garland stared at the door for a moment longer, and then he began to hum a strange and haunting tune that chilled my soul. Grasping the knob with both hands, he began to shake and tug on it with all his strength, his determination to escape seeming to double. 

Alarmed, I stepped forward, intending to take him by the shoulders, but I hesitated at the last moment, the half-remembered cautionary tales about sleepwalkers staying my hand. Yet if I could not force him away from the door, I’d have to coax him, and so I set out to do so.

“Where did you hear that song?” I asked, raising my voice, hoping to get his attention. “I can’t say I care for it much. It is far too melancholy. Do you remember the Chopin piece the pianist was playing when we met? I recall it well, and it has become one of my favorites because it reminds me of you, love.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I verbalized whatever came into my head, hoping that something—anything—would pull Garland’s attention from the door. I told him how much I cared for him, how much I was looking forward to Greece, to returning home, to going anywhere that wasn’t Heatherford House. Garland had always claimed to love my voice, and so I began to quote poetry to him: the sonnets of Shakespeare, the works of Byron, of Shelley, of the Greek masters. I do not know how long I stood there, talking to him, my mouth going dry with urgency to distract Garland from his attempts to leave the room.

At last, Garland let his hand fall away from the knob, and his humming faded into silence. He turned slightly as if following the sound of my hoarse voice. 

There are no words to describe my relief when Garland finally gave up his attempt to leave.  Still speaking, I reached out and gently, so very gently, took him by the hand. “Let us go back to bed, love. You are still unwell. You need to sleep to get back your strength so we may leave this place.”

He was quiescent now, allowing me to lead him back to bed and bundle him beneath the covers. I did not sleep, even when I had Garland held tightly in my arms so he would not try to rise again. It was not until Garland’s body finally relaxed against me and his breathing came in the slow, steady rhythm of slumber that I finally allowed myself to draw in a breath and prepare to sleep once more.

Yet oblivion eluded me. My mind kept dwelling on Garland’s uncharacteristic nocturnal perambulation as I tried to fathom a cause for it, and the tune he had been humming lodged itself in my brain, playing again and again without ceasing. The notes followed no pattern or scale in my experience, but conveyed a sense of both melancholy and menace, and I found myself greatly disturbed by them, and even more by the mystery of where Garland could have possibly heard them in the first place.

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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-61040-667-3
Genre: GLBT
Date Published: 03/19/2014
Publisher: Torquere Press

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