Song of the Night

Maxamillian John
Nov 27, 2016 · 9 min read

Written for Cryptid Week, curated by Fallon.

In the deep heat and the clammy air of the clearing, in the leaves in the middle of the darkness, oh so lonely, hear a bird, blushed, her song so small and without lift.

I listen to the bird in the middle of the darkness of the night as I shake the sediment from my limbs, and I wonder why she is alone. Are there other birds, singing in other trees far away? Is she singing of memories, lost loves or dreams? What lights guided her here, so deep into the forest?

Though I cannot be sure, I feel I had the dream again, the one in which I swam back to shore following the lights of the fires on the beach, listening to the sound of distant voices, the one in which I wanted to return home but didn’t know the way.

It is night. It is always night, here or elsewhere. Elsewhere, the village breaks onto the beach, and when I am there I am Lula and my father is among the fishermen, and my mother is among the weavers. When I am here in the moonlight, in the clearing, and when I am in the waves on the sea, I do not know who I am.

Sometimes I am not identical to myself. And when I am not, I hear the words I say and they are not my words, they are from somewhere else, from another world. They are not from me here, where I am in the moonlight or in the waves on the sea.

The fishermen will be back by now, and, somewhere, dinner is being prepared.

Before I even step inside I can hear the shuffling of my grandmother, and smell the chopped roots. Over a scarred and wobbling table, grandma dices herbs.

“And here you are at last! But all alone. You didn’t bring anyone with you?”

“No, grandma.”

“Ah. No one new to share my stories then!”

She frowns as she packs the chicken with herbs, she does not eat the fish. She thinks that no one notices the care she puts into preparing the food that is not fish, it suits her sense of insult. Grandma remains in good humour with me because I see her efforts each night, acknowledging them if not assisting.

“Will we eat on the beach again tonight?”

“Yes, the firepits are already being stoked.” She smiles conspiratorially. “Maybe the fireflies will follow us. I think the fireflies will come tonight.”

She says this every night. No one remembers the fireflies apart from her, but her hope never wanes.

“Do you remember the fireflies, Lula? They’re not of this world, you know. They flit in and out of our world as they fly — you can see their flickering lights. All things that make light can cross into our world. That is why fire flickers too, it dances over the void.”

I can hear voices outside, moving. The others are already carrying their food to the beach to cook.

“It is like the moon. The moon walks not just over the sky, but through the worlds. He grows and shrinks as he walks first towards us and then away. His story begins with the ending of it! That’s the way life is, you will see. You will find out.”

I nod, and in nodding I believe her.

Around the firepits, the fishermen loudly disagree with each other over who the laziest was today. My father sighs a little, as if it is lucky for everyone he is here to clarify matters.

“Without a doubt, Nalo did the least work today.”

My father takes pleasure in accusing Nalo, his friend, but his humour is beyond reproach and we know that Nalo does not mind.

“I catch the least because I select the best, Lupo. Your great haul displays your carelessness!”

I do not eat the fish, which is shared with everyone. My taste is for the chicken prepared by my grandmother. Nalo’s son, Tuvo, also prefers the chicken, although he too will become a fisherman next year. He joins us at our firepit, trading Nalo’s fish for grandmother’s poultry, and as we share food, the singing starts.

Nalo begins with the same song as always, the song telling of the first man to speak. He was a fisherman in love with the sea, as all fishermen are, but then the sea fell in love with him too. Knowing that they could not live together, she gave him the gift of speech, so that they could at least speak their love during the long days. But the man fell out of love with her and took a wife, and shared his gift with all the villagers. Since then, the speech of mankind has reminded the sea of his betrayal, and that is why the waves tell people, “hush”.

Happier songs follow, and the chorus is taken up. There will be any number of carefree songs now, until the fire dies. I wonder if that bird is still there, singing by herself. I look into the fire, dancing over the void as grandma says. The fishermen and their wives dance less impressively around it. If I went to another world, would I dance too? Would I dance like the fire or like the fishermen’s wives?

“I should learn to like eating fish, I suppose,” says Tuvo.

Grandmother shrugs. Tuvo looks to me, for a show of either support or humour. I do not have the words, so I look back at the fire. Speak me, I think, but somehow I hear the thought before I think it. Speak me from the inside.

“Would you like to dance?” he asks.

I do not know how. I cannot dance like the wives.

“Brightly, music in the sea. Foresting smokily. Passing through the trees in me.”

The words come out of me, and I hear them but I do not understand, they are not my words. I feel ashamed, I do not know the voice that speaks out of me, but Tuvo seems to understand even if I do not. He smiles and returns to his meal.

I need to get away. The moon dips towards the sea, and its motion sends me slanting through the sand.

I walk away from the fire and the singing, down the slope of the beach, towards the water. I just want to be. Please, I say to the voice that had spoken to me and out of me, tell me how to be.

By the light of the sinking moon, I sit on the edge of the water and watch the waves breaking before me. I am not saying anything, but the sea still hushes me. The gift of voice is confusing, still. Sometimes my silence is too much, and sometimes my words are not enough. Can the sea hear the words in my mind? Do I remind her of her lost love? I’m sorry, I think to the sea. I’m so sorry.

Tuvo arrives and sits beside me with his unsure smile. The breaking waves get louder, or maybe I imagine it.

“Does watching the waves always make you cry?” he asks.

“Sometimes everything makes me cry,” I say, “lights passing through trees, the sound of the wind carrying song, the look of the sky.”

He does not know what to say. I want to laugh at his nervousness and my sadness to set him at ease, if that is how it happens to work. With the cool moonlight, to my inner eye, comes the white surf on the ancient waters of memory’s beginning, and there are no words. The waves get louder and I try to speak over them but my voice starts to slant through me.

“Doesn’t watching the waves make you cry too? You know how the song goes.”

“It is just a tale,” he says, but I cannot quite hear him above the waves. “The fishermen have many tales. If I cried at the sea I would never be able to join them!”

The crashing of the sea becomes deafening. I look up at the sky, and then I look down and see myself looking up, sitting on the beach, and I am not identical to myself. The girl I see is gentle on the face of the night. I lean in and listen.

“Starry starry,” this girl says. “Lost and light found so deep and sleeping birds.”

I do not understand these words that are not my words. Tuvo smiles more assuredly at her now.

“Yes. The light suits you better here by the sea. The moonlight is deeper, it does not dance.”

“Moonly, speak me. Only the darkness, only the clouds. Flowing and breaking, in the light of me, in the waves of me.”

“I like the songs. Some of them are sad, but there is beauty even in sadness.”

“Therein songs the memories. The memories are wider and louder and taller and faster and broken and shattered all the many colours of sadness, the many colours of singing and silence.”

He laughs in agreement, and she smiles back. I don’t understand, I don’t understand. I am smiling too.

“Are you part of my life now?” asks Tuvo. I lean in further.

“I always was.”

Why did she say that? The roaring of the sea is in my ears. My head is bursting. I feel it like bursting light or crashing waves inside my head, and then I become instant, I become myself again. I resume crying.

We walk up the slope to the firepits but no one is around. Smoke rises from the ashes, twirling, describing shapes in the air. The smell of charcoal softens my mind, and the sand beneath my feet hums and shakes a little. It is a familiar and a good smell. The charcoal and the salt of the sea mix in the smoke, and I wish I could take this smell with me everywhere in this world of nowheres.

“Shall we go back to the village?” Tuvo asks.

I am about to agree when I see it, distant in the smoke. Maybe it is just an ember, I think, but in my heart I know it is not. I know what it is, and I thrill to the unlikeliness and the inevitability of it.

“Lula? Shall we go back?”

The smoke twirls, ponderously, and the firefly twirls within it, faster. It beckons towards me, and I decide I shall follow it. I shall not go back.

“I will part with you here, Tuvo. Thank you.”

He is disappointed, but only for a second. There is always tomorrow.

The firefly is not alone now. As I follow it up the beach and towards the forest it is joined by a few others, blossoming. My eyes adjust in the shade of the canopy and I can see even more of them, or maybe there are more arriving. Flickering! Slowly, but as they gather their lights are stronger and they flicker faster. They descend from the leaves and rise from the soil, passing through the ground like they are not bound to this world. The forest is full of flickering light, and my heart fills slowly with it.

We walk through the careless growth, I dip beneath vines, the fireflies move faster with their numbers. The earth and the moss under my feet hums and shakes, and I can feel the water thickening in the air as we drift deeper into the forest. The memories thicken in the air too. I remember these fireflies, they come from another world but they know this place as well as I do, they have been here before. Are they showing me the way? Are they bringing me back to myself?

They are clouding together more now, the light and the waves. The air is hot but their cloud is cool, like moonlight, a deeper light but it dances. As more gather, I start running with them. The cloud becomes wider and louder and taller and faster, the flickering light shatters into deeper colours.

More and more of them. They fly and they flit in and out of the world, and pass through the trees as if they weren’t there. More and more, I follow them through the forest into the clearing, and more and more, until we pass back into the forest again.

They dance in the darkness and describe shapes in the air, flickering on and off, and out of the world and back into it, the fireflies. They crackle the shapes. Sometimes there is more blackness, sometimes more light. Patches flow, then disappear, then crash, then burst in light, in rapture. And I dance in the sea of them, in the light of them, in the waves of them. I twirl with them and it’s as if the trees are not there, I move through them like a firefly, and as we dance we pass through the trees, through the clearing, through the world, through through through. I see myself outside but inside and the roaring of the sea is in my ears and my voice is screaming too much and not enough silence and I dance like fire and like water and the beginning of my story is the ending of it and it is taking me back to myself, take me back, and my heart fills with light and the light expands and brightens into darkness.

And I wake up in the middle. In moonlight and silence in the clearing. A slow wind passes over me as I lay on the grass, and I allow it to gently rouse me. My limbs are still heavy with the sediment of distant dreams, but I cannot remember them. I try to recall, but the breeze carries more than wakefulness within it and I am distracted. I hear something.

In the deep heat and the clammy air of the clearing, in the leaves in the middle of the darkness, oh so lonely, hear a bird, blushed, her song so small and without lift.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store