“Hey, Laura?” My mother glanced into the music room and wiped a smudge of flour from her cheek. “Would you mind moving upstairs? Kylie’s having a hard time hearing her teacher.”
I lifted my hands from the plastic keys. “Really, move the keyboard upstairs? What else is a music room for?”
She dusted her fingers on her apron, which still had creases from being folded in storage. “I know this is tough for all of us. It would be a big help.”
I forced a smile. “As long as Andrew helps me carry it. He’s the one who broke the headphone jack, so he owes me one.”
Mom hollered for my brother as I flicked the off switch and folded my sheet music. When Andrew slumped into the room, I braced myself at one end of the keyboard. “Careful with this,” I warned. “Remember that headphone jack.”
He grinned. “Sure, sis, sure.” Lifting his end with one hand, he backed out of the room and up the stairs. Luckily, we reached my room without mishap and maneuvered the keyboard into the walk-in closet. “Hey, perks of sharing with Kylie, you get a whole closet.”
I laughed. “Don’t pretend you care about clothes. You wear the same shirt for a week.”
Andrew lowered his end of the keyboard to the floor. “Don’t we all, though? I’ll grab the stand.”
He backed out of the closet, and I folded myself cross-legged on the floor. With a click of the switch, the keyboard crackled back to life. I thumbed through my music and played a few phrases, but one of the keys stuck oddly. “Andrew probably jarred it,” I muttered. After a second of panic, I eased it back into place. The note nudged a memory, and I started to play an old song from my grandfather’s time—the kind he said had been played by Scottish highlanders for ages on end. I slowed it down into a lullaby, and added some notes of my own.
I was so engrossed in the music, I didn’t notice when the birds started to sing. I thought I’d just hit the wrong switch on my keyboard and queued up one of the strange sound effects, but the sound kept going even after I stopped playing—and we didn’t have a bird. “All this indoor time must be getting to me,” I whispered. “Hallucinating birdsong.”
When a gust of wind tossed my hair, I turned off the keyboard. The wind stopped, as if someone had suddenly turned off a fan. It was definitely coming from the back of the closet—or at least it had been. I crawled to the back of the closet and peered between the clothes on the lowest rack. Nothing out of the ordinary, but when I concentrated, I thought I could smell flowers.
“Hey, here’s the stand.” Andrew’s voice came from behind me, completely normal, but I jumped. “Do you want me to help you, or not?” Awkwardly, I crawled backwards, bumping into my brother and the plastic contraption he was balancing on his shoulder.
“Sure, sure,” I said, shakily. We lifted the keyboard onto the stand, but Andrew did most of the work. He opened his mouth to make a snarky comment, but I shook my head. “Just don’t, okay? I think I’ve been inside too long.”
“Does this mean you’ll actually play basketball with me?” he asked. “I calculated the probability, and it plateaued at 0.0032 percent.”
“Oy, now you’re being snarky,” I said, batting him with my music. “Let’s go, if we’re going.” And I closed the closet door so hard behind me that the frame rattled.
I wasn’t planning on going back, but Andrew beat me solidly enough in basketball that I felt like doing the one thing I’m actually better at. So I ran through the kitchen, where Kylie was finishing her online class, and upstairs to the closet.
Double-checking to make sure the volume was turned to the lowest still-audible setting, I hit the record button and started to play. Grandad’s Scottish melody sounded, so quietly that I could barely hear it, and my own melody chimed in. This time, I listened for the birds—and heard nothing. I’m not sure if my sigh was relieved or disappointed, but I stopped the recording.
“Hey, isn’t that Grandad’s song?” Kylie asked, from behind me.
I turned so quickly, I nearly knocked the keyboard from the stand. “First thing tomorrow, I’m moving this back downstairs,” I snapped. “First Andrew, now you.”
“I’m not sneaking,” she insisted. “I just asked if it was Grandad’s song.”
I nodded. “Sorry. And yeah, it is. I added some of my own, though.”
“Ooh, let me hear, please?” Before I could stop her, Kylie slid the volume up and pushed the playback button. My song blasted through the speakers, scratchy and distorted, but it was enough. Within moments, I heard the birds.
Kylie frowned. “Laura, do you hear that? And there’s a wind, too. I can feel it.”
I almost smiled. “Well, at least you’re not the only one.” I reached for the switch, but Kylie grabbed my wrist. “What, are you crazy?” I hissed. “We’re both hallucinating, and this is bad.”
“No, just wait! Just a minute, please, and then you can stop it.” Kylie turned to the back of the closet, still holding my wrist, and tore all the clothes from the lower rack.
“Kylie, Mom’ll be so mad when she finds out—” But my scolding caught in my throat. On our closet floor, pecking at something that looked like a lily, a bird had embedded its tiny claws into the carpet.
“Oh, Laura,” Kylie whispered. “Isn’t it beautiful? Blue like midnight.”
The bird cocked its head at us, and then, with the smallest flutter, darted up and perched on Kylie’s finger. She stared at it for a second, and then reached out to stroke it.
“Kylie,” I warned, “it’s probably not safe. And if Mom finds out there’s a bird in here—”
“Oh, it’s fine,” she retorted. “Just look!” As she stood there stroking the bird, I remembered the song. My fingers flipped the switch as if they belonged to someone else.
“It must be the song that does it,” I muttered. “It triggers some kind of psychotic episode.”
“I wouldn’t call that bird a psychotic episode,” said Andrew’s voice.
“Look, I think I’ve had enough of you two sneaking up behind me,” I said, whirling to glare at him. “We’ve got a bird in our closet, and neither of you are taking it seriously!”
Kylie stopped trying to imitate the bird’s song and looked at me. “Okay, you want my theory? This happened when you played the music, right? The music’s the only different thing in this closet, unless you installed a secret window.”
Andrew leaned in for a closer look at the bird. “So you’re saying the music triggered something? Not a bad assumption, Ky.”
“I’m pretty sure the only thing it triggered was a hallucination,” I said.
Andrew shook his head. “But all three of us are seeing it, and I wasn’t even in here when the music was playing. Your song must have done something to the time-space continuum.”
I frowned. “The time-space what? You watch too much Dr. Who.”
“I do not!” Andrew protested. “And it’s a fair point. The way the sound waves interact—never mind, I don’t think you’d get it. Point is, I think you opened a portal to a parallel universe.”
Kylie wrinkled her nose. “I was thinking more like the Chronicles of Narnia. You know, the wardrobe? But there’s nothing there now, anyway.”
Andrew reached for the switch. “There’s not now, but if we flip this—”
I pushed him away from the keyboard and covered the switch with my hand. “Andrew, we don’t want a whole flock of birds in here! What would Mom say?”
“Laura,” Kylie said, in her best grown-up voice, “you have no sense of adventure.”
“No, Laura’s right,” Andrew said, but he was grinning again. “We don’t want a flock, we want to open the portal all the way. What song was she playing, Ky?”
“Grandad’s song,” Kylie said quickly, “you know, the one he said the fiddlers would play.”
“I guess we need a fiddle, then.” Andrew held out his hand like a crossing guard. “Stay right there, I’m getting my violin.”
“And my flute!” Kylie added. “Laura, hold the bird.”
The two of them dashed out of the closet before I could protest, leaving me with the midnight-blue bird on my finger. “This is ridiculous,” I told it. “Do I really want to know where you come from?”
The bird looked at me as if it understood, but it didn’t say anything.
I sighed. “The scary thing is, I almost do. To go somewhere else—”
Andrew and Kylie rushed back into the closet, both trying to tune their instruments and run at the same time. I couldn’t help laughing a little, but they eventually began producing decent sounds. When Andrew started a lively jig, the bird twittered loudly.
In the middle of a high note, Kylie stopped. “No, I don’t think that’s it. Laura was playing it slower, like a lullaby. Come on, play the recording.”
My finger stopped over the delete button. “Really? You know what’ll happen if I do.”
Andrew shook his head. “No we don’t, and that’s the best part.”
“If anything crazy happens, we’ll stop playing,” Kylie said. “We both promise.”
Quickly, I pressed the delete button. They both started to protest, but I held up my hand. “If you’re both going to agree on something,” I said, “I should go along with this momentous occasion.” I think they were both too surprised to say anything after that, even when I pressed the record button again.
Slowly, I began to play. After a moment, Andrew and Kylie joined in. Then the birdsong, a whole chorus, and cool breeze after cool breeze, and flowers like lilies, but our song was all I really heard.
“Laura,” Andrew whispered, “I think it worked.”
I looked up into a forest, branches full of midnight-blue birds and the floor blossoming with those lilies. Beyond that, just a glimpse of snow-capped mountains and a clear sky. Then I glanced down at the keyboard and pressed playback.
“There, that should keep it open,” I said. “Keep it up, you two.”
“So we’re going in there?” Andrew asked, his bow pausing momentarily. Kylie stopped playing for a second and stared at me. The bird swooped past us into the forest, and I smiled.
“We did this together, didn’t we?” I said. “And anyway, where’s your sense of adventure? I think I just might have found mine.”