Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Fulfillment (04/06/06)
TITLE: Death of a song-worm
By Helen Paynter
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As each Mondrone mother gazed with loving pride at her newborn, she would savour its melodious chirping. But shrill from her own mouth would come a grating wail, as she grieved for what must be. For she knew that before the infant saw its first dawn, the song would be stolen. Defying her horrified impotence, a worm would creep from the ground. Advancing towards the defenceless infant, it would swarm over the tiny body, swaying its blind head in malicious search. When it lay directly over the child’s face it would slide into the nose and disappear. With a suffocated gasp, the child’s song would cease. Instead it would emit a jagged mewling. Its music was lost for ever.
And yet a distant echo of harmony remained within the soul of every Mondrone. The people had been birthed from the infinite variations sung by the First Singer into the silent emptiness. In those earliest intoxicating moments, the First Singer and his creatures had woven their voices together in an ambrosian cradle-song to Newness.
But, in time beyond memory, the Mondrones had unlocked a box which was never meant to be opened. Beautiful, it was; and they were sure it contained more beauty within. But as they began to lift the lid, they saw it was writhing with worms, pallid and sly. And they perceived that the music from the worms was foul. Hurriedly, they tried to replace the lid, to lock the box and bury it deep where it could be forgotten. But as they fumbled in their haste, one worm slid out. Three more followed, twenty, a hundred. Panicking, they tried to contain the worms, to put them back, to kill the squirming evil. But where one worm died, three more grew. When they opened the box to put one inside, five more emerged. Then the worms began to swarm up legs, wind themselves around fingers. And with appalled horror, one by one, the Mondrones discovered the curse of the worms.
The land also lost its music that day. Slowly shifting in the deep roots of the mountain, rock screeched jarringly against rock. Brooks chattered argumentatively. The sweet melodies of the birds became harsh and quarrelsome.
Yet the First Singer did not abandon them. Woven through the fabric of the generations were silver threads of promise. One day, Someone would be sent to sing again in the Mondrone tongue. One day the music would return. The blows of the stone-mason would once more resound like bells. The lullaby of the breeze and the symphony of the tempest would return to the land.
Yet toneless generation succeeded toneless generation. Cacophony built upon cacophony. And the rasping cry went up, “How long? How long until you keep your promise?”
Then the First Singer decreed that the time had come. The promise would be fulfilled. The Second Singer came to them, although they knew him by a different name.
Deep and low, he began to sing. The Mondrones listened in amazement. Here was one who did not share their curse. Softly and soothingly, the song continued, caressing ears which had never known melody. The ground resonated in the depths. Softly the trees began to harmonise.
The song became stronger, sharper, demanding. Staccato runs in basso profundo. A young woman was near the Second Singer, her mouth open in a half smile. The song grew in intensity, and behold! Out of her mouth a worm was being drawn. As the song continued, more and more of the slack body emerged, until, as the woman coughed, the last inches were expelled and it lay writhing on the ground.
Instantly, the music changed. Now the Second Singer began a playful ostinato, as the young woman threw back her head and added her own melodious descant. Her body swayed, her feet tapped, and when the Second Singer held out his hand, she picked up her skirts and they both began to dance. Round and round they spun, revelling in the song of deliverance.
But not every Mondrone was taking delight in her music. The elders had clattered up the moment the song began. Frowning, they hawked in their throats and buzzed in each others’ ears. Finally, the chief elder stepped forward. He stooped and picked up a large stone.
“We do not like this noise.”
With blunt thuds, the rocks began to strike.
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