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Song for the Unravelling of the World

Drago thought what he was hearing was his daughter singing through the thin wall. He lay in the narrow bed listening to the sound of her voice, trying to make out the song’s words, but he could barely make out the melody, such as it was: off key, meandering. He could make little sense of it. Soon, he was not so much listening as letting the sound lull him to sleep.

But when he awoke the next morning and went to wake her, his daughter was gone. There was no sign she had slept in the room: The bed was neatly made. The blanket she had kept with her ever since her arrival was folded in the center of the bed in a neat square. The bed had been pulled out from the wall, and the objects in the room — clothing, toys, souvenirs, oddments — had been meticulously arranged to form a circle around it. It was nearly a perfect circle: how had a five-year-old child managed that?

“Dani?” he called out, but there was no answer.

• • •

The door into her bedroom had been locked from the outside, just as he had left it the night before. He thought she must be hiding somewhere in the room, and so pretended they were playing hide and seek.

Where’s Dani? he said in too deep of a voice. Here I come to get Dani!

He waited for her giggling to give her away, but there was no giggling. She wasn’t under the bed and she wasn’t in the closet. Apart from those two places, there was no place in the room for her to hide.

He couldn’t find her in the rest of the house either. Not in the kitchen, not in the laundry room, not in the living room. The bathrooms, too, were empty. He looked in the basement, though he knew there was no way she would go down there willingly on her own. The front and back doors were still bolted shut and the windows all nailed shut as usual. Which meant she had to be in the house.

Only, she wasn’t in the house.

• • •

He went through the house again, meticulously this time, looking even in places that were too small for her. He opened the refrigerator, but she wasn’t inside. Had she wedged herself behind the refrigerator somehow? No. Had she somehow worked her way into the ventilation system? The vents’ cover plates were all screwed firmly in place. Was she crammed into a drawer? But even on the third pass — when, heart beating hard in his throat, he was looking less for her than for bits and pieces of her, some remnant of her, something to prove she had existed (peering in jars, looking in the dank space behind the water heater, shining a flashlight down the garbage disposal) — she still wasn’t there.

• • •

He sat down on the couch, stared at the dead screen of the television. He wasn’t sure what to do. She wasn’t there, but there was no way she could not be there. He kept expecting her to pop out at any moment, kept expecting himself to think of one more place he hadn’t thought to look — a neglected closet, some sort of semi-secret room, and to find her there, curled in a tight ball, waiting for him.

Dully, he reached out and switched the television on. The channel was staticky. He reached to adjust the coat hanger antenna on top of the console and then stopped. Maybe she was there, in the static, he thought absurdly. That was somewhere he hadn’t checked. Maybe if he stared long enough, he would glimpse her.

• • •

His eyes hurt. He was not sure how much time had passed. An hour, maybe two. It took an effort for him to reach out again and switch the set off. Even after it was off, he stared for a long time at the small dot of light in the center of the curved gray-green screen, and then at the dead screen itself.

He had looked all through the house: she wasn’t there. He could look again. Or accept that somehow, unlikely as it seemed, she had managed to make her way out.

As soon as this thought crossed his mind, he couldn’t understand what had been wrong with him. He shouldn’t still be sitting here. He should already have been out looking for her hours ago.

• • •

Next to his home was a single-story house of gray brick, rusted white metal awnings over the windows. The door he knocked on was peeling and left flakes of faded yellow paint on his knuckles. He rubbed the back of his hand against his shirt, waited.

Brian Evenson is the author of a dozen books of fiction, most recently the story collection A Collapse of Horses (Coffee House Press 2016) and the novella The Warren (Tor.com 2016). He has also recently published Windeye (Coffee House Press 2012) and Immobility (Tor 2012), both of which were finalists for a Shirley Jackson Award. His novel Last Days won the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel of 2009. His novel The Open Curtain (Coffee House Press) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an International Horror Guild Award. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship. His work has been translated into French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Japanese, Persian, and Slovenian. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the Critical Studies Program at CalArts.