A Voice in the Night

Katherine Blake

(Dorothy J. Heydt)

And the howling was growing louder, nearer, and Mathali remembered that she had never fastened those shutters again, just as the heavy panels swung open below and crashed like heavy drumbeats against the wall. The voice of the stormwind resonated in the stairwell like an organ pipe, less like weather now, more like an anguished voice. Something was fumbling at the door.

The door, she had left that unlocked too. It rattled on its hinges, sprang open and slammed back against the alcove wall. A gale wind came pouring up the stairs, hot against the skin, cold in the bone. Sheets of paper flew through the room, books fluttered their pages, dust devils took shape in eddies behind tables, aumbries, the great floor-harp. Clutching her harp against her breast with one hand, Mathali beat flying fragments out of her face with the other. Step by uncertain step, cautious of loose things on the floor, she made her way across the chamber to the spiral stairs.

A step downward, another, while the wind whistled in her ears and that damned head-veil whipped about like a battleflag. At the foot of the stairs, backlit by the gallery lamps, something hung in the air.

Paint a woman's face and body on the wind, sculpt it in flowing sand: moments later, it would look like this. The wide mouth, the staring eyes, the rounded breasts were still recognizable, but the arms and legs were flowing away in wisps like the long fair hair. The eddies behind the eyes gathered the torchlight as dewdrops gather sunlight: they shone with a deadly fire. And all the time the wind howled and raged, pouring up the stairwell with blinding speed, but the shape within it drifted upwards slowly as the shadow of a cloud.

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