The voice woke Isaac up immediately. He blinked back sleep and sat up slowly. The room was still dark and the only noise that he heard was the other boys’ soft breathing. He guessed it was midnight, which was the latest hour that he could think of in this groggy state. He rubbed his eyes.
“Hello?” he said, too sleepy to keep his voice down. He heard several boys groan, still in their sleep, and the squeak of several mattresses, but then it was quiet. The silence woke him up more. “Hello?” he asked, his voice only in a whisper.
He sat up for a minute, his ears keen, but he heard nothing else, except for the usual sounds — the other boys breathing, the drip-dripping of the leaky faucet in their communal bathroom, and Richard whimpering, like usual.
He must have been dreaming.
What had he been dreaming?
He wrapped his blankets around him tightly and settled back to bed. Just as he felt his cheek touch his now cool pillow, the voice came again, but more urgently:
He started up again, straining his ears to find out where the sound came from. Whoever belonged to the voice was someone with authority, he knew that.
His first thought was to go to Warden. Warden had authority. Maybe, Warden wanted to call him, without drawing attention to the other boys. A strange idea came to his head: maybe, he was to be an elder. Maybe Warden wanted to let him know now, instead of in front of everyone else later.
Or maybe it was one of the boys playing an awful trick on him.
“Who is it?” he hissed. Lionel, who was on the bed next to him, shifted and groaned, but otherwise there was no sound.
He sat up again, feeling cold all over. The room was silent. He strained his ears again and then decided: he would see Warden. And, if any of the boys were trying to prank him, Warden would get them in trouble.
Satisfied with this, he tiptoed to the small bedroom enjoining the common room and knocked on the door. “Warden?” he whispered. He knocked again. “Warden?”
Some of the boys nearest to Warden’s door woke up and groaned. “What are you doing?” Bill muttered. “It’s past bedtime.”
Just as Bill said this, Warden’s light turned on, and he came staggering out, half-blinded from the light. “What’s wrong?” he said, his voice gruff from sleep.
Isaac felt his stomach drop. Warden was clearly not the voice.
“Someone called my name,” he began, stammering. “I thought it was you. I wanted to know why you wanted to wake me up.” The words sounded stupid, even to him.
Warden rubbed his eyes and blinked again. “What’s that you said?”
“Someone called my name. I thought it was you.” He heard mattresses creak and breathing stop — most of the boys were awake by now. Every boy would hear this story later, if they weren’t awake already. He felt his cheeks flare up in shame.
“It must have been a dream,” Warden said. “Now go to bed!”
“But it wasn’t, sir,” he said, unable to stop himself, his cheeks flushing scarlet. “I thought it was at first, but it was the most real voice I had ever heard. It sounded like it was important.”
Warden looked at him, stifling a yawn. “Well, what did the voice say?”
“It said, go to bed, Isaac!” Lionel said, his voice cranky. The room erupted in giggles.
Warden glared over the room, and it instantly shut up. Then he looked at Isaac. “Did the voice say anything else?”
Warden looked over the room. “Was anybody playing Isaac after hours?” The whole room went silent. “Jeremy, were you?”
“No, sir,” Jeremy said, his voice sulky. “I was asleep, just as Isaac should have been. Why would I want to wake everyone up? We get up too early as it is.”
The giggles started again.
Warden looked annoyed. “Isaac, you were dreaming. Everyone, go to bed!”
By this time, of course, everyone was fully awake and didn’t want to go to bed. Isaac considered telling Warden again that he wasn’t lying, but one look at Warden’s face stopped him. “I’m sorry for the interruption, sir,” Isaac said. “I will not bother you again.”
Warden nodded, rubbing his eyes again. “Good, good.” He went into his room and closed the door a little too loudly.
The room burst into laughter.
“Isaac, Isaac!” Jeremy called out in a saccharine voice. “Oh, Isaac, I want to talk to you so much!”
Isaac wrapped himself up in blankets and pretended to sleep.