Darkness was familiar, at least. Warm and thick with the smell of rain that hadn't fallen yet. Moving gently with the breeze that pushed moist air through the window. Crocheted by her grandmother during some long forgotten winter, the yellowing lace curtains swayed, and a single flying bug bobbed into the room. A lightning bug. It flashed soft yellow light, blinking a message back to its fellows. She imagined it was confused by the enclosed space, and wasn't sure how to get back out. The room was so vast in comparison to the tiny bug. How could it possibly know what to look for? How could it know that the dark square in the wall was a way back out to its own world?
The silence, though... that was new. It was new and complete and terrifying. She turned her head to watch the bug flit up toward the ceiling, then land on the chest of drawers near the door. There was no rustle of fabric as she moved, no slithery hiss of long, heavy hair dragging across the covers as she turned over. There was nothing to tell her that the world around her was still making noise at all. What if it was the world that had gone silent, not just her ears?
She remembered too clearly the heat of the fever, the too-vivid dreams, the face of her mother fading in and out of the shadows over her bed. Her mother wasn't there now.
The lightning bug lifted off from the chest of drawers and bobbed up toward the ceiling again. Hunching her shoulders, she pulled her light cotton cover up to her chin and rolled onto her side, closing her eyes and trying to ignore the world. What if someone screamed?
What if something tried to climb through her window? What if the house caught fire? Her eyes popped open again. The lightning bug was on the cover near her hand. It crawled this way, then that, blinking its message into the emptiness, waiting for someone to blink back.
The shape of her mother's mouth as she said her name. Bronwyn. She had said it so often, the shape was one she would never forget.
She moved her hand and the startled bug lifted its wings in a blur of motion, floating away from the bed on silent air currents. She watched as it bumped into the wall, then the window, then bobbed out into the night, leaving her alone. The soft yellow light winked back at her, then blended with the others that danced on the breeze outside. Maybe there was a way for humans to talk without sounds. Maybe if the bug could escape... but the silence wasn't a box she could open and climb out of.
The girl closed her eyes again. Sleep was necessary. Sleep was good for her. But the silence was scary, and full of 'what-ifs' she couldn't forget.
At last, she got cautiously out of bed, trying to remember which floorboards were safe to step on, and which would wake her parents. The door resisted slightly when she went to pull it open, the hinges sending silent shudders through the wood. That meant it was squeaking. Clutching her blanket around her shoulders, she shoved the door open quickly and felt the shuddering stop. Then she held the door still, scanning the hallway in case her parents' door opened. It didn't.
After a handful of heartbeats, she snuck out into the hall and slid against the wall, feeling the blanket catch a little on the rough wood. Her sister's bedroom was right next door. One step. Two steps. Three steps. There. Her sister's door didn't shudder or squeak. She thought about the bug, floating through the window into the night, and tried to imitate it, gliding across the room on silent feet that could feel every squeak of the floorboards.
At last, she reached the sturdy wooden frame and curled up at the foot of her sister's bed. If anything happened, her sister would wake her. Her sister would keep her safe. She felt her sister's feet press against her back and lifted her head, looking up toward the pillow. If Fiona was awake, she couldn't tell.
Bronwyn began to relax. Sleep would come. And maybe in her dreams, she would hear her mother's favorite lullaby one more time.