Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: EERIE (07/28/16)
TITLE: Far Away and Very Near
By Jan Ackerson
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The sounds seemed both far away and very near, and Mona had a hard time determining what direction they were coming from. Finally, as the class period was coming to a close, she decided that the music department must be rehearsing nearby—even though the music building was across campus. She hadn’t been able to finish her test, though. As she left class, she murmured to a fellow student: how about that annoying music, huh? But the other girl just shrugged and hurried on.
A few days later, the music came back.
This time, Mona was in her dorm room, alone. She went to the window and leaned out, thinking that she might see a student with a boom box (do people even have boom boxes anymore?) or a parked car with its radio blaring. But campus was quiet today—one student walked by with earbuds in place. No one else.
The music grew louder. Mona strained to make out the words; there were voices, to be sure, but they seemed not to be singing in any recognizable language. And as before, the instruments were odd. She couldn’t pick out any familiar sounds: not a piano, not a guitar, not a violin. Just eerie swells and retreats, with an elusive but lovely melody.
When Mona’s roommate walked in, Mona held up a finger: shhhh. A few seconds passed, then she said, You can hear that, right? But it had already faded away, and her roommate suggested that Mona get some sleep.
She did sleep, and woke in the middle of the night to silence. She listened for a while, but the sounds were gone.
They came back during a Cultural Anthropology lecture, louder and stranger than ever. Mona watched the lecturer closely, to see if perhaps it was an accompaniment to his ridiculously boring power point, and she watched the other students. No one seemed to hear it but her. This time, the melody was the same, but the instruments were recognizable, if unusual: Mona thought she recognized a dulcimer, a sitar, a digeridoo.
Too loud, it was too loud. She stood up and sidled past a row of annoyed students, and left the lecture hall.
This irregular pattern of silence and music became Mona’s life for the next several weeks. Classes were difficult—either interrupted by the strange music or by her tense anticipation of its onset. Then one day, in Stats again, the professor stopped in mid-sentence. Miss Parker, are you alright? The other students had turned to look at her, and she realized that she was humming along to the mysterious melody.
She felt very odd.
The campus doctor took her blood pressure, weighed her, listened to her symptoms, and sent her by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
Tests, more tests. The doctors whispered in consultation. More tests. You have a tumor, they said, in your brain. Temporal lobe. Immediate surgery.
And later: It was benign. Encapsulated. We got it all. You’ll be fine. How do you feel?
Mona felt surrounded by a heavy silence. At first, she thought it was because of the bandages wrapping her shaven head. But the normal sounds of a hospital were all around her: clicks and beeps, the nurses talking at their station, carts rolling by. Over all those was an oppressive quiet.
That, too, faded, until Mona realized that the silence was the absence of her internal music.
She missed it. Missed the odd crescendos and decrescendos, missed the zither and the sackbut, missed the fact that her life seemed to have a sound track. Most of all, she missed the melody.
Not wanting to lose it altogether, Mona hummed the melody every day. She was careful, of course, not to hum it during class, or around people at all. But it stayed with her, and she added her own—non-tumor—notes and embellishments.
When Mona had children, the melody became their lullaby.
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