10 December 2022
Kacey from the double-wide down the road hears it first. She comes to my porch one autumn morning, mismatched pajamas and muddy running shoes, dark circles and pale cheeks. She looks even more exhausted than a new mother should look. My mind jumps to the worst. “Is the baby all right?”
Kacey shakes off my question. The baby is fine, back at the trailer with Kacey’s mother. “This sounds silly, I know.” She twists her hands together. “But I was just wondering if you’ve heard those wind chimes.”
The morning is silent, the air still. “I can’t hear any wind chimes, hon. There isn’t any wind.”
Kacey frowns. “Well, not right now.” She wraps her arms around her middle. “I’ve been hearing them for a few days. They go away, then they come back. They go on for hours sometimes. I don’t know where they’re coming from.”
I like the sound of wind chimes. But I’m not a young mother with a newborn. “I’m sorry that it’s bothering you, hon. You could ask the Gibsons, might be them.” On this stretch of road, there’s no one else but the Gibsons, Kacey, and me. “But, Kacey, baby, it hasn’t been windy lately. I can’t imagine what you’re hearing.”
Kacey’s mouth trembles. I pull her up on the porch, set her in a chair, and fetch another cup of coffee. When I return, her head is tilted, her gaze far away. She’s listening hard. “I think I hear it again,” she says.
I pause and listen. I hear birds in the trees, an animal rustle in the underbrush, a truck downshifting over the hill. There is no breeze. There are no wind chimes.
I put the coffee in Kacey’s hands and settle a blanket over her knees. My daughter is grown and gone, but I had her when I wasn’t much older than Kacey is, and I was on my own, too. I remember what it’s like. The exhaustion can send you right out of your head.
I tell Kacey to relax for the morning, her mama can keep an eye on the little one. I hope she’ll nap, but she doesn’t. She clutches a full cup of coffee until it turns cold and stays quiet, staring at nothing. She doesn’t ask me again if I hear anything. I don’t have to tell her that I don’t.
Kacey’s mother comes next, two days later, banging on my screen door at twilight. Diane’s face is white and worried. “Is Kacey here?” she asks.
Kacey isn’t here. Did she leave the trailer?
“She left with the baby,” Diane says. “She said she was going for a walk. She used to walk in the woods a lot. I didn’t think she should take Melanie, but she’s been having such a hard time….” Diane raises her hands, helpless.
“When did she leave?”
“A couple of hours ago.”
I press my lips together and reach for my jacket and my work boots. Night is coming in quick, and I grab my flashlight. Diane and I walk back to their trailer and past it into the woods. I step into the lead, with Diane picking out her way behind me. I think about Kacey’s visit two days before and swing back around.
“Did Kacey say anything to you about wind chimes?”
In the flashlight beam, Diane’s eyes are wide and red. “She kept complaining about the noise. She said it was loud, like it was just outside the window, and the wind was blowing hard all the time.” She drags her sleeve under her nose. “How did you know about that?”
“When she came over the other morning, she asked me if I heard something.”
“No. Did you?”
We stand for a moment in the dark among the trees. A breeze sways the branches overhead. The trunks creak. I listen for a tinkle of sound, a chime of stone against metal pipe. I don’t hear it. Instead, I hear a baby’s cry.
Diane jumps. “Melanie!”
I hold up my hand to quiet her so I can figure out where the sound is coming from. I pick a direction and move, Diane crashing after me. The cries grow louder until we see Melanie, bundled in fleece and nestled at the base of a tree. Diane catches her up and soothes her cries. I slash my light around us, looking for Kacey and dreading what I might find. I see nothing. Kacey’s gone. It’s just Diane, the baby, and me in the woods as night falls and the wind tosses leaves, quietly restless and vaguely dissatisfied.
It’s now been three more days and still no Kacey. That night I sent Diane home with the baby and called the police. When morning came, the Gibsons showed up, and we raked over those woods. We didn’t find so much as a footprint. She left no signs, no notes. Just Melanie.
After Kacey disappeared, the wind kicked up. Big, dry gusts that tore the last leaves from the trees and bent the corn stalks to the ground. I couldn’t sleep. I laid in bed and listened to the wind sweep around the walls, slam against the windows, and pry off shingles.
In the morning, I venture onto my porch. The air is motionless, and the woods are silent, the world cowed by last night’s show of force.
But now I hear it. It’s faint, distant. A discordant jangle, stone against metal, tripping along a breeze that doesn’t exist. The longer I listen, the louder it gets, until it seems like it’s ringing out from my own porch. Then it stops suddenly, as if a wind has died abruptly. But even before it sounds again, I know that it will come back.
I sit down, cover my ears with my hands, and wait.