Thursday, October 14, 2010

The World in Miniature: The Forgotten Songs of Children

by Bryan Russell

The Forgotten Songs of Children

Mark stepped in through the door, feeling the silence of the house. Another beer? His foot hurt from the game, and it was another damn loss. He should’ve had a goal, too, if the damn ref had been paying attention.

He scrounged a beer from the fridge and walked into the living room. His wife was asleep on the couch. She had a vaguely unpleasant expression on her face.

Better that she was asleep, as he hadn’t told her he was going out after the game with the guys. He could do without her nagging, the damn look she’d give him because the kids were already in bed and he’d missed them again.

He grabbed the tv remote. Something would be on. But when he hit the button nothing happened. Mark mashed it down a few times. “Shit. A blind ref and now this.” He stood. He walked angrily to the tv and tried to turn it on by hand, but there was only a dull blackness on the screen.

Mark hit the button again and again. Fucking thing. He smacked the button, hoping the tv would turn on or break.

He blinked as the voices came through. He looked at the screen. Blank. No sign of life. But he’d heard voices.

And there again, distantly. Children. Children’s voices, speaking in a tone and rhythm that hinted of music.

The tv was blank. The kids, he thought. The kids are awake. What the hell were they doing up? If they were fooling around he’d give ‘em heck.

Mark listened, straining at the voices. He couldn’t make out words. Just the child-like trilling, the fluting sound of distant voices, their sound untouched by age, innocent and free…

Yet there was something mocking in the notes. Something almost callous, almost cruel. As if they were laughing at him.

Goddamn kids, trying to get away with it.

Mark took a step, banging his sore foot on the coffee table. He grabbed his foot for a second, hopping, and then limped to the hallway.

The voices came, closer and brighter and sharper, and yet still the sound they made was somehow wordless, or beyond words. Laughter set to music, sharp lines crossing and re-crossing. Voices twining and haunting each other, picking at the seams of the world. Many voices. The voices of many children: five or six or ten or twenty.

Mark stopped. He felt cold, his skin pebbling. A cold breath on his neck. The voices were high, floating, moving somehow, as if orbiting him, circling him and wrapping him in sharp wire.

A wind fell through his head and chest and out through his limbs, rushing out from toes and fingers. The sudden presence of fear, of panic.

Mark flung himself up the stairs, toward Kate and Edie’s room. He pushed in the door, the light from the hall slanting across the sleeping faces.

He breathed. They were okay. Peaceful. Mark blinked. No, not peaceful, exactly. They were asleep, their faces pale but not quite reposed. They moved a little, as if dreaming, as if speaking, their lips forming silent imitations of words.

It was nothing, though, the voices. Just the wind. The kids were fine.

The voices struck, the laughter high and drifting, and Mark knew his children were in danger. His lungs felt like balloons ready to burst. He stumbled from the room. Something was here.

The voices whirled, fluting through the air, the harsh laughter of children.

Outside, they were outside. He took the stairs two at a time, trying to find his breath, fighting the sudden pain in his foot, the dread made manifest.

He limped to the door, swung it open. Stepping out into the night the wind was cold on his skin and he shivered. Silence in the dark.

The red glow bloomed in the night, here in one spot and here in another, the light limning butterflies – huge, vast butterflies, starlight peering through their red wings. They glowed, fluttering in the blackness, moving and bobbing and spinning in the air. The wordless voices returned. Loud, now, and deafening, a wordless song filled with cold and tinkling laughter.

The red light spread. It was the red light of his own blood, he’d seen it as a child, in the dark, when he held a flashlight behind his hand and the beam poured through his skin and bled out red on the other side, the bloodlight thick and strange, both liquid and insubstantial.

Peals of laughter, the children laughing, the music of words he would never understand, in a language he had already failed to learn, the wind on his skin and in his hair and the song in his cold ears.

The red light blinked out and there was only blackness and he could see nothing, nothing, nothing.


Deb Salisbury said...

Oh, my! You gave me chills.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Dude! I have no idea what that was, but it was pretty.

This: "picking at the seams of the world." --lovely

And this: "the beam poured through his skin and bled out red on the other side, the bloodlight thick and strange"

I love that made up word, perfect and bold!

Anonymous said...

My favorite is laughter set to music. I can hear it!

great job. Like who's surprised?

Mira said...

Oh Wow.

Chilling and gorgeous. Wow.

Did I say Wow already? Wow.

M.A.Leslie said...

Great story,it was chilling if it was what I think it was.Just wondering. Is he a dead drunk driver?

Matthew Rush said...

This happens to me all the time. Just kidding.

Great story Bryan, your skill with words and images is incredible. I was going to mention my favorite line but Susan already did. I will just add that I even learned a new word: limning. Always great to learn something.

Thanks B.

Leila said...

Amazing! Chilling, and amazing!

Just out of curiosity, how long did this take you to write? Did you craft it inbetween other things in life, or did you have a flash of inspiration and follow it through quickly?

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

Thanks, all!

Leila, it didn't take long to write. 45 minutes? Some of the imagery came from a dream I had, and I couldn't get it out of my head, so I decided to work it into a story. But it took me about 45 minutes or so to write, and then I did a quick 10 minute edit. Flash is supposed to be fast, right? :)

So, I had the dream a couple days earlier, decided to turn it into a story and sort of thought it out one day, and then the next I wrote and edited it and set it to post the next morning.

Leila said...

Wow, that's amazing!

I think you said once, in the forums (when you were patiently responding to one of my many questions) that you write 'cleanly' and you don't have a long editing path to follow (did you say that or was I dreaming?) That's a wonderful skill to have.

In any case, yes flash is supposed to be fast (lol) and that was fast!

Thanks for sharing your story. I hope we'll get to read more of your creations!

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...


Well, my prose comes out pretty clean, though there are always a few writerly tics to watch out for, and a bit of judicious cutting is always beneficial.

The editing path can be pretty long, though, in terms of story and structure. For something short and self-contained, like a flash story, there's generally not too much. But for a long novel? The editing path can be long indeed. Not so much for the prose, but for the story structure, for pacing, for scenes, for redundancy, for clarity...

Let us say my novel has been through many, many, many revisions, even though the first draft was likely very readable in terms of prose.

So, editing time really varies depending on the project and its complexity.

Adele Richards said...

I love this! I really wish I could read on and find out more about what's happened! Love your detail about the wife sleeping with an unpleasant expression on her face! Doesn't that just say it all!?

Leila said...

Indeed the editing path is a long and winding (chocolate filled) road. And I understand the many, many, many, many drafts comment very well.Being able to write good prose, however, is still a great place to start! That's all I meant.

On a separate note, I'll look forward to reading your post over on Nathan's blog today.