Siren Song

The Aged General heard it first.  When he was a boy, there had been stories told of such a thing, the kind of stories one whispers in the dark. Never in his long and illustrious career had he ever experienced one, but he was smart and quick  to understand. From the first note, he knew what was happening, and he jumped up to shout a warning and cover his ears. But his hands moved slowly, as if they were under water, and his voice lodged in his throat and came out as more of a strangled cry.  “It’s a si-“  was all he was able to manage – before the sound overwhelmed him.  

Afterwards, no one was able to describe the exact melody.  A female voice, mournful, all could agree on that, a single voice sounding like multitudes of simultaneous voices.  The melody was unlike anything they had ever heard, with overlapping harmonic tones. The key was minor.  No, not minor, said the music theory experts, some sort of a variation on the Aeolian mode - no the Phrygian mode -  no, not that either. They debated it for decades after. Treatises were written with much controversy and disagreement, but this much was known: The waves of sound stretched and pushed, embedding themselves into the flesh, vibrating into the very muscles of the heart, the tissues of the gut, the soft mass of the brain.   

It was the most beautiful song anyone had ever heard.  It was an exquisite agony to hear. The vibrations relentlessly pushed, putting microscopic breaks in the tissue of their brains so that the Militants looked in the faces of the children they held captive, and suddenly they saw their own children, their own mothers, their brothers and sons. And in those faces, they saw, love and trust and confusion and hurt.  And suddenly the horror of what they had done shook them to their core. They wept. With the song quaking their bones, they put down their weapons and gathered the captives into their arms and cried so deeply their bodies trembled.  

At the same time, the Soldiers looked at their bombs and felt suddenly that they were pointed at their own families.  With a shudder, they took their hands off the triggers.  They powered down the weapons.  And the sky was suddenly quiet for the first time in weeks.  And with that quiet, the melody grew and swelled.

Where did it come from?  What was causing this madness?  The General wept, looking around for the source of the sound. Not far away, the Leader of the Militants kneeled to the ground in the tunnel and wept also. What have we done?  Send them home, he said.  And in a line, the captors took the hands of  their hostages, and together, they picked their way carefully through the tunnels to the stillness outside and across the border to where their desperate families waited for them.  And the families reached out their arms, until they touched their lost loved ones, finally at long last, bringing them into their arms, staring into their eyes, afraid to even blink should they lose sight of them again. 

The sound reached the Cabinet Ministers too.  And the melody pulsed and shook their hearts, their guts, their mind.  Some felt the sounds shake them so hard they worried they would have a heart attack, others felt an urge to rush to the bathroom. When they looked at their maps, their eyes blurred so that the people they were blockading were their own sisters, their grandmothers, their children. What have we done? Send in more water, turn on the electricity. Bring the injured to our hospitals, quickly, we must save them before it’s too late.

The song pulsed into the delicate nerve endings and proteins of the brain, vibrating painfully so that each side looked at the faces of their enemies and saw only their own. The Soldiers dropped their weapons and struggled to rescue those trapped under buildings. The Militants dropped their own weapons also and rushed to their side, each sweating equally at the task. We will help you rebuild, each said to the other. 

There. A Soldier and a Militant saw it at the same moment.  The source of the sound.  A figure floating in the ocean.  Long flowing hair that twisted black as night, skin a mix of green and white. Her mouth was open, but no sound came directly from it. Instead the sky above her vibrated the tones.  What interest did such a creature have in the world of man?  Her song shook the buildings, it colored the air. The deaf could feel it with their gut;  covering ones ears was useless.  The two men on the shore lifted their rifles. Guns which once felt so light, felt as heavy as a truck.  But they knew, they must succeed. They must achieve victory. And somehow they sensed, they could only achieve this act together. Each raised the sight to their eyes and aimed.  They fired. They were crack shots, each of them. Neither one missed. The creature didn’t stand a chance, she didn’t even try to flee.  In one shot each, both men shot the creature dead. 

And just as quickly as it began, the Siren Song was silent. No one looked back to see what became of her, if her blood was red or black.  Did she sink back into the sea or float into the sky?  Did any living thing in the sea mourn her or collect her remains? That was of no consequence. All rushed back to their war.  

The silence was a relief. The vibrations released their hold on their bodies and the pressure on their thoughts. And with the silence, their vision cleared.  The Leader of the Militants shook his head. Kill them all, he said.  Launch the missiles now. The Prime Minister blinked and rubbed his chest where his heart still ached. Why did you stop? Send another round of bombs. The Soldiers and Militants looked at each other, working side by side, saw the opportunity, and reached for their guns.  

And that was the end of it.  A legend that Soldiers and Militants each would tell their surviving children.  

Until. From behind the rubble, came a new sound, hopeful, small.  A young girl, her face covered in brick dust.  She opened her parched mouth and started to sing.  She sang the melody as best as she remembered it.  Her voice was tinny, barely audible.  One of the Militants laughed. What a feeble try.  But then he turned, because the melody was somewhere else, joined by a young woman in the corner.  Her version was a little different.  No one quite remembered the tune.  But she sang it all the same.  One more voice joined in, from a young boy who was tone deaf and clearly didn’t remember the song.  But somehow that didn’t matter. The tones grew more confident as more people joined and sang even louder.  It wasn’t long before the space reverberated with the song.  

The Militants shook their head, confused.  The song was not so strong.  It left them able to see, but conflicted. Wait, what do I do?  What is right?  The Soldiers rubbed their eyes. They looked at the people they were just helping. Are they family or foe?  Are we the same, or different? 

The people saw what was happening and lifted their voices stronger. You’ve got to hear this, someone said, and recorded the tune, and passed it around. Others learned the melody and sang along where they stood, dropping their work. Even those alone at their desks, those reading the news and weeping helplessly, joined in and sang to their walls, their hearts pouring out.  And the sound swelled and grew and spread, past the desert.  It went north and east to the wider continent. It went south to the continents beyond.  Growing and spreading, pulsing through hearts and bones and finally into the tissue of the brain and the subtle muscles of the gut, so that each saw in his enemy, someone no different from himself.   

What is the plan? asked the pundits and diplomats. Where are the borders? asked the lawmakers and foreign brokers.  Either side looked at the other.  They had no idea.  But when they sat at the table to figure it out, each saw in the eyes of the other, something they would never in a million years admit.  But the people in the room, they recognized it for what it was, and they sang long and loud until their voices were hoarse.


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