by Serena W. Sorrell
Life began with a snip, a clip, and a scream. Those three sounds repeated in the Listener’s mind. Snip, clip, scream. Snip, clip, scream. An erratic waltz, but not terrible for a soul’s first attempt at life. Those three beats mingled with the newborn’s emotions and brought sound to the Listener’s world. The Listener was born of the human’s soul, alongside it perhaps, or maybe inside it. The Listener did not know the details, and did not care. The Listener existed for only one purpose: to listen to this human’s soul. The Listener heard every heartbeat––a steady rhythm. The Listener heard every emotion––strings, woodwinds, and brass. Through these the human’s soul made the music of life. And the Listener listened through a long wire from the child’s back planted in either side of the Listener’s head.
Where ears might be the Listener’s head was smooth, save for the two cables that ran deep and fed the human’s soul music into the Listener. The two were bound, the human led a life while leading an invisible voyeur who listened to their life, through every high, through every low, and through every sound in between, but all that would come later the Listener knew. At first humans were quite still and did not do too terribly much. Their emotions too were limited, but their thoughts, the mind of a baby held life most magnificent for the Listener. How the Listener loved their human’s songs.
For quite a while the Listener simply stood, or sat, beside their human. After birth the Listener’s human’s music making was clumsy at best. Their life blasted like a trumpet, or banged and wailed, very little form. It was all guided by the small thing’s desires and needs. Though, for the lack of form there were times a song’s beauty brought the Listener to tears. So free the music flowed, twisting and twirling lighter than air, then it’d fearlessly dive, and pull up just in time. These were the child’s imaginations and dreams from the world it absorbed. The Listener called this their human’s Experimental Period. Years passed in this style of extremities and glee. The Listener followed their human, ever-connected, a prisoner to the whims of wherever they were guided by the cord. The Listener remembered the screeching woodwind, reed cracked, that accompanied their human’s failed attempt to ride a bicycle. It ended in bloody palms which turned into a long-lasting fear for the two-wheeled monster. Whenever a bicycle sped past, or came too close that shattering wail repeated from the human’s memory into the Listener.
After several years the small human started a routine where before there had been none. It created new music for the Listener. Anticipatory and excited, nervous, but keen to explore, these were the tunes that played in the morning after the ambling notes and free-playing of dreams finished. Their human’s song skipped and laughed like a minuet as they dressed and raced to a new building. They visited almost daily after that first day of nervous, suspenseful trilling. It was good. The human’s song reacted to every human they met, and though the Listener could not see Listeners attached to the other humans they remained content to hear only the songs of their human’s soul. Surely, no other music could compare to the Listener’s human. The Listener called this their human’s Bonding Period.
The joyous melodies continued for several years. Games the human played created bubbling songs of fun and laughter. Playing an instrument with other children created an intensification of that instrument for the Listener, like a concentration of soul music. It was almost overpowering. Trilling flutes played upon seeing humans their human had come to love the best. At the end of each day the human’s soul played a song of longing to return to the fun and games and friends, but still there was contentment in their song to see its parents. This music lasted almost a decade before the notes began to go flat. Songs of jubilation became a walking dirge, dark and monotonous. The same dull lines and drab notes repeated ceaselessly. The Listener did not understand what had changed their human’s style so much, so quickly. They were not bad songs, they were new, true. However, the Listener did come to tire of it day after day after day. The Listener called this their human’s A Lot of Clock Watching Period. Not their best work.
The Listener missed the days of whimsy, playful, and mischievous diddies from before. They oozed inspiration and soared with creativity. They lifted the Listener just as the human’s soul also felt light. The Listener couldn’t change the music though. The Listener only listened. The dull music continued becoming something almost distant and numbing. It listened to the thunder rumblings and sharp crashes of percussion the human’s soul played upon returning home. The Listener’s human shrunk smaller, the music too dwindled to a whisper, frightened and shaking. The human hid away in their room avoiding its parents. Though the Listener could not hear the sounds their souls made from their expressions it seemed to be a bad sort of music, full of anger. The Listener felt glad to have their human and clung to every soft note their soul created. Until, in the dark of night, one of the larger humans left. It was now the Listener’s human wailed a melancholy, stringed song of heartbreak. It continued and continued, the Listener longed to remind their human of how happy their music had been. When their human spoke to the one who’d stayed behind, their face streaked in tears, whatever was said to the Listener’s human created dark sounds inside their soul. A thousands yowls of discord played over one another, struggled for superiority and volume in a violent storm of emotions the Listener had never heard. The Listener wanted to rip the cords away, wanted the noise to cease. It was not music. It was barely even sound. It was pain. It was cacophony. After a few days the cacophony softened, but it never vanished. The cacophony became a hushed noise under all the songs the soul made. The discord hid behind every note. The Listener called this their human’s Struggling Period. It was worse than the last, much worse.
Year by year, the cacophony changed. Some days it was almost even vanished, but the very next morning it might be as loud as that first day. No matter how the soul sang at the time the Listener knew the cacophony was there, hiding deep in the soul, ever present. The Listener was pleased when their human met with humans they loved. A song of joy would play, memories of the bonds their human had created with these other humans. The Listener’s human would swell with songs in the presence of these people. Songs of safety, guarded, soft, protective and sometimes a little bold. The songs threaded, one for each person the Listener’s human loved. Every friend had their own song within the human’s soul. The songs layered, and the Listener was reminded of those joyous songs of long ago. This they called their human’s Heart Swell Period. However, under it the cacophony hummed and the Listener could heard their human’s fear. Fear that these humans might hear the cacophony, too.
A day came when the Listener’s human went out walking beneath autumn leaves with another. Another walk followed later, somewhere new. It was just the two of them, and the Listener. During these times the soul’s song was quiet, timorous. The woodwinds faltered. More than once the instruments went off key. The percussion beat in rapid, hiccuping sync with the human’s pittering heartbeat. The two spent day after day in one another’s company. The Listener’s soul music became less nervous, but more uncertain, inquisitive, but always stopped before the melody. When the other human pressed their lips to the Listener’s human’s the strings swelled. The song of a first kiss. The first of its kind the Listener had ever heard. The brass section joined as the uncertain tremor melted, and the orchestra came alive. The piano accompanied and a song unlike any other filled the Listened. It was a song of hope for the future. The Listener was enraptured, entranced by this song. The Listener decided to call this their human’s Jubilant Period.
The Listener’s human was happy. A happy soul made beautiful music, otherworldly and sublime. The human and their lover went everywhere together. They played arias in wooded parks, dreamy rhapsodies sang while they walked hand in hand, and free form notes plucked as they rowed a boat down a river. The songs grew in such ecstaticism the Listener often felt their human’s soul through the music in a way they never had before. The music wasn’t just heard, but really, truly, felt. The human’s soul coursed through the Listener. It could no longer be contained only in the wire from human soul to Listener’s head. The songs beat in the Listener’s chest. The songs surged in the Listener’s heart. The songs danced down the Listener’s legs.
But the notes fell away at the end of every day. The songs went awry. When the Listener’s human was left alone the residue of the cacophony returned and droned. It consumed the human. Without a distraction the human was left with the cacophony that has been brewing in their soul, poisoned their mind. Years of failures returned. Memories of darkness replayed. Fears and doubts flooded the soul’s songs. The Listener’s human would claw at their ears, cry, beat against the wall, begging for release. Every action staccatoed the cacophony, but never ended it. After a beat of silence, sometimes almost a week, the cacophony returned. Without mercy, when a happy tune started to play the cacophony shattered it, like a wave breaking over a child’s sandcastle. The cacophony grew louder with every triumph. It was an entity separate from the human’s soul and mind. The cacophony became bolder. Humming loud when the human tried to take solace in the company of their beloved friends and their lover. The Listener called this their human’s Lurking and Hiding Period.
Dozens of years crawled by the Lurking Period of the Listener’s human. Their soul’s music went from numb to the cacophony, from feeling to the cacophony. It became harsh beats and soft howls. The Listener grew increasingly alarmed. The music changed so often, but none of the Listener’s human’s friends heard the utter wrongness of the soul beside them. They saw a smile the human wore when they laughed. They spoke, they walked, they hugged like every day, like nothing was wrong. The human’s lover kissed them, held them, made love to them like nothing was wrong. None of them heard it, they could not see it, the growing cacophony. It outplayed the soul’s music more than ever. Notes of would-be songs became garbled and melodies strangled before they began. The human’s soul became a tempest of grating noise.
And then, at once, there only remained a patient single, long note. Like the orchestra’s leader tuning one note while the rest of the instruments awaited the maestro’s baton to flick. The Listener listened to that quiet, ceaseless note for days. For weeks. For months. Not another sound joined the first, but the cacophony too, had silenced. The Listener was filled with a weak glimmer of hope for their human. Perhaps the cacophony had at last ended, burned out. The Listener called this their human’s Retuning Period. For surely, their soul simply needed rest after competing with the cacophony for so long. The soul’s music would resume when they had repaired the long disused instruments. The soul only had to remember, the mind had to recall, and the Listener waited and listened.
When the human woke from dreams filled with only one long note the Listener was hopeful. Tension in the soul seemed ready. Today the soul would play. The Listener was almost certain of it. And then, the single note crescendoed and the woodwinds joined, slow and deliberate. It wasn’t a song, not yet, but oh–– they were notes, quiet and fragile, but they were notes. The soul’s first song after so long was winding. It enchanted the Listener. Oh, to listen again, at last. The Retuning Period had frightened the Listener, but these notes–– ah, a solo low brass joined. The disconnected notes were taking the shape of a song. This was truly the soul of the Listener’s human.
However, despite its beauty and the anticipation the Listener had in waiting for the music to resume, the Listener was restless. The Listener was nervous. The song was still distant and somewhat muffled. The refrain was fleeting. Lines fell shorter with each replay. Every so often a note would go sharp, but the song was so far away the distinction was almost lost. If the Listener had not been listening to this soul for its whole life the music would be beautiful. However, it haunted the Listener with dread and sent shivers along the trembling cord. The Listener had no name for this period of their human’s music. The Listener didn’t want to name it. The Listener wanted it to become songs as the human had enjoyed in their past.
Their human padded through home on quiet feet. Their lover still sleeping. The Listener followed, forced, close at heel by the length of wire which connected the two. The eerie song added bridges here and dropped notes there. When it came to the end, the song repeated. Still the same in form, but ever-changing in execution. Outside it was autumn. Every window they passed the human looked at the leaves and a small melody of that first walk, that first kiss under autumn leaves replayed, but the song took over again. It became a trance-like song. The Listener’s human stared into a mirror. Their reflection stared back, unblinking, and the music played on. Deep-lined eyes and faded youth and failures and disappointments scattered the notes. Every one whirled like the leaves on an autumn breeze. A flash of silver cut the reflection. A river of red, the color of autumn leaves poured like the notes of that scattering song. So, so, so much red. The notes in the song faded and swayed. The human fell. Wet, red hands splayed out like autumn leaves. The music became static.
Hours passed. The lover found the human. The static soft and barely there. The Listener followed, tethered to the human’s soul, as they were taken. The Listener understood. That had been the soul’s swan song. It’s greatest creation, an attempt to refind life and to explain its mistakes, though none had been made. The static was a whisper, and a single note flared. The Listener couldn’t place the instrument, only that it sounded like an apology, a wish for smiles, and a sigh of the end in that one single sound.
The wire snapped from the human’s soul. It hung limp down the Listener’s chest. The Listener was free. The Listener was deaf. The world was silence, deep and swallowing. The once-Listener stepped away from the body that had been their human. The soul had gone. There would be no more music. To the unattached cord their own steps were silent. Desperate for sound, noise of any kind, they wandered. There were no sounds in the park. No music in the rooms of children, soundlessly laughing with smiles wide. There was no noise on the bridges over rivers. The world made no sounds for the soul that had vanished. Where was the dirge for the human lost. All sounds died with their human and they were left deaf to the world.
They opened their eyes and saw. They watched the river where once their human had rowed with their lover, on the riverbank now danced a person while another played a silent song. More people gathered, a few danced with the person, a few watched, too.
They left the bridge over the river. They walked through the streets to all the places their human had often gone. They watched as their human’s friends gathered in small groups, crying, hugging, offering silent words. They watched the world their human had left behind. It was a vibrant world, full of color. They had never noticed the endless movements, tugging, jumping, twirling, pushing, smiling. They had never noticed colors, blues, greens, purples, pinks, oranges, yellows, and… reds. Red. The broken Listener fingered the cord dangling from their head. It connected to nothing.
With a quick jolt of pain the cord snapped from each side of their head. A short line of wire protruded where they had once listened to a soul, but that soul was gone. They had no interest in another soul. That had been their human. They would remember every song, every melody, the cacophony, the sounds, the noises, the good, the bad, the downs, and the ups. They would remember their human’s soul forever. The Listener had died when the soul they listened too had. The sun was setting, bruising the sky in lavender and streaking it with vermilion and edged it in indigo. They would watch everything this world their human had lived in. The Watcher would take in all of the sights their human could not. The Watcher took a step toward dusk, eyes wide open.