Evenings were slow after long hard days of ploughing the fields and picking fruit. We were simple people, I was a simple boy. Stories passed the time, the tellers used to scare us with great fantasies of a man said to feast on the flesh of the living, with a single scream he could make our heads explode. They said he could smell our fear, see through walls and hear us breathing from upon the moors.
It was said he led the greatest orchestra in the world and toured lands across large pools of water. But my world started on our farmland and ended where the horizon bowed in the distance. I had no need to venture across the moors when friends came and shared these tales. No orchestra came here with their queer sounds, and I would not go out there to meet them.
But trouble will find us all if we wait long enough. On the outer perimeter of our land as dusk was falling, they found a body and placed it before the whole village. Dried blood across his mutilated cheeks and mouth gaping.
Later that evening, we heard a long piercing frequency from afar. The melody was gentle afterwards, but its slow inevitable rise in volume was a sign for most people to run. I did not fear it though. Call it naivety, or arrogance, but I didn’t want to leave my home.
A meeting was held in the old square for the few of us that remained, we prayed to the gods of fire that they would extinguish our enemies and the sun would rise in the east tomorrow. But they were quicker and stronger than us. I’m not certain I ever knew what our plan was, but it hadn’t worked. Cacophonies of surround sound brought us to our knees, the music abrasive and brash. Victorious wolves howling in their new territory. I thought I was going to die, I took deep breaths and tried to prepare myself. But just as suddenly as they had appeared, they fell silent all around, and he came before me. He pulled my chin up with his right hand, my bottom lip quivering fighting the tears.
His eyes were dark brown, sad eyes. Greying, shoulder length hair and well defined forehead lines could not draw my attention away from his mouth. A saxophone hung from it, amplifying his breathing. It wasn’t just hanging there the way rope dangles from a branch, it was stuck there. I must have let out a small cry when I realised that because he punctured both my cheeks with two quick flicks of his wrist.
He pulled a Tuba from the case upon his back and pushed the reed into my mouth, I winced as he intricately fastens it through the small ruptures. His eyes brightened as mine avert his gaze. Each breath a deep rumble comes out, and he gestures for me to play.
My cheeks swell and he tends to them carefully, he feeds me freshly pressed fruit and crushed pastes through the gaps. I try to avoid eye contact but he is insistent, encouraging me to do the same to him.
Every conversation is a musical phrase, a language with a steep learning curve. But I can’t remember what it was like to think without it, sentences soon hum between synapses and neurones and contain the quirks of each of our personalities.
There’s the Laugher, most of his conversations start with exaggerated low rumbles and small silences. Like deep belly laughter from a big set of lungs. Cocky, sometimes overly so.
Or, the Talker. Quick to fill in gaps with elaborate verbosity, rarely leaving room for anyone else. Gets shouted down, often. Answers back to everything. A friend with an exaggerated anecdote, the sniggering accentuates the phrases, colouring in the texture.
The only one who can leave the Talker speechless is the Pondering Man. He follows everyone else’s lead for the majority of the time, keeping his head down and hiding in the backline before bursting out with a short and concise point, lasting usually no more than 4 bars. A silence forms around us, until the Laugher starts up and we go again.
There isn’t always time for talk though. There are marches, motifs, chases, and hunts to work on. Familiar tunes that came from the moors. I look forward to the hunt the most. We stalk and corner runners, a chorus crescendos from mono to surround sound. A terrified man or woman kneels to the ground, weeping or praying and covering their ears. But we drown them out, our song is a buoyant. Until he comes, then we fall silent.
I can’t tell what he thinks. I just see his sad eyes, like he’s continually disappointed by us but trying to make the best of it. The first time I saw him snap took me by surprise. He belted out an the greatest melody I have ever heard, shaking with rage or the sheer feat of musical ability, he stopped suddenly and swung his instrument into the temple of one of our quieter members. Pulling out a hammer from his tool belt and smashing the temple. He was probably dead after the third or fourth hit, but at least fifteen more followed, some from others who’d joined in.
Afterwards, he pulled me to one side and played a soft melody, he opened his hand signalling he wanted me to follow it. We played in unison for five minutes or so, before he stopped and stared at me with those sad brown eyes. He put his hands up to the top of my head, ruffling my short brown hair with his left hand. He was reassuring me that I was fine, and he wouldn’t hurt me. He handed me a trombone, warm and still full of spit and blood. I washed out the reed and the instrument till it gleamed, a masterpiece of craft filled with horror. Up close, I noticed the slight dents in the fading daylight. I wondered how many other men and women had worn it, how many of them had been buried in an unmarked grave for a cause they were forced into. I wondered how many had worn mine. I shuddered and began to play that familiar tune. If I hum it over and over it is less awful. Is it awful? My eyes and ears are in dispute, the sounds I hear make me feel alive but the world I see isn’t the world I thought I believed in. A cognitive dissonance pushing at moral boundaries I once thought I knew. If I believe in it does it make the trauma disappear? My exterior shell is filled with holes, and blowing through them doesn’t stop the chill getting in.
Outwardly, I remain calm. I know what happens if I do not. He does listen to suggestions, but his wisdom is usually final. Any dissent, inward or outward will be punished. But maybe he is right. These small hamlets strive and suffer in silence and our calls will ring from them till they see that the only way is the path we have chosen. They are scared of war, but only because change is terrifying. If we nurture them, they will grow into us. The joyous raucous of one sprawling metropolis. The fresh food, the sharing of wealth amongst all as equals.
It was hardly a war though, the hamlets hidden in the valleys could not see us before they heard us. The long calls like howls. My brothers and sisters and unknown brothers and sisters waiting to be liberated by the call of music. The rhythm and the melody, the harmony and the texture, the question and the answer. I ask how many hamlets must we pass to be victorious. He says the path is long and the enemies are willing us to die, but that we must fight and never fall silent. I play joyously for a second and he gestures that he is also pleased. He says he’s happy that I have become fluent, that he once had his doubts on me. Never doubt me, I said in a bassy tone.
I heard others ask if there could not be peace. If we could be left meats at the sight of the full moon, to indulge our desire to eat. But how could they ever understand our demands if they could not speak to us? How were we any better than them if we lived corrupt lives bought by greed? No, we ransack. We charge down and we convert others to our way of living. Jubilant in our new territory, checking every corner for any silent enemies. For silence is submission and we do not intend to fall silent.