She sat on the edge of the bed, cradling the flute she was unable to play, longing to hear the sweet sounds of its music once again. But she couldn’t…
Music is forbidden.
She could barely remember how long she had been in this place. Each day blending together as they went about their assigned chores, did their studies, and then had their quiet time before supper. Every day she spent her quiet time sitting on her bed cradling her flute, wishing that she could remember her life before the day of the bombs.
She remembered the day of the bombs.
She had been outside when the explosions rumbled through. She remembered seeing the wind, blowing across the fields like a wall, as she dived into the ditch to avoid it. She felt the heat, but the water in the ditch cooled her and kept her skin from searing off in the fiery blast.
She remembered climbing slowly out of the ditch and seeing everything flattened. The trees were all toppled, as if they had just decided to take a nap in the middle of the day. THE HOUSE! She saw the house – or what was left of it – and immediately realized that her parents had been inside the house. She ran the quarter mile across the field, crying, clutching her flute with white-knuckled fear as she ran.
She remembered looking for her parents in the crumpled remains of their farmhouse. She remembered finding them, clutching one another as they were crushed under the debris from the shattered building. She remembered trying to pull them free of the remains of their home. The weight was too much for her small 12-year-old body. Her tiny hands could not grip the large pieces to make them move. They wouldn’t answer her, though she cried their names and pleaded with them to awaken.
She was alone. She remembers, as nightfall came, realizing that her parents were dead and she was alone.
That first night was the worst. She managed to find some blankets and pull them free of the ruined house. She curled up on the ground near what had been the back porch and cried herself to sleep hugging her flute. An exhausted sleep that thankfully kept her from dreaming – or having nightmares of the day she wished was not real.
The flute was the only thing from her life that remained whole. The shattered remnants of everything she held near and dear lay strewn about her in a flattened pile. More tears came to her eyes as she tried to figure out what to do. She was alone. She had nothing but her flute.
She had to move. She knew that. She gathered her blankets, dragging them along behind her as she started off down the road toward the nearest neighbor. It was a long walk. She finally arrived, only to find the house in the same flattened condition as her own home. There were no living people around.
She continued walking down the road, knowing that eventually she would come to the town where they used to shop and where she was in the fourth grade at school. She walked and walked. She lost track of the time. Her flute kept her company and she talked to it as if it were alive, pretending that it answered her. The entire landscape was flat. The trees were flat. The fences were flat. The houses and barns were flat. The crops were flat. Everything. Was. Just. Flat.
She walked for days, sleeping each night curled in her blankets and hugging her flute.
She remembers him waking her gently as she curled into her blankets hiding her flute. He spoke gently, asking her if she was alone. He asked if she was hungry and offered her something brown and wrinkly. He called it jerky, but she had never seen such a thing. He showed her how to take a bite of the hard substance and chew it. She slowly reached out and took a small piece. It was salty, but tasted good and she had been really hungry.
His name was Paul and he was all alone too. He offered to help her. She wasn’t sure, but she knew it was probably better than being alone. He helped her fold her blankets into little packs they could carry on their backs. And so together they walked. She doesn’t remember exactly when, but at some point her little hand found its way into his big, strong hand and they walked.
At night they slept, curled up together under her blankets and she felt safe for the first time since the day of the bombs.
They walked. They talked. They were always moving. Always seeking but never finding other people.
They scavenged through rubble, eventually finding a back pack, some socks, and other clothing that Paul said would come in handy. They found dry food mixes and canned stuff Paul said was food.
The days blended together as they walked. Paul always managed to find food for them somehow. He kept his word and took care of her. They had each other and both knew they would be okay as long as they stayed together.
Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. They stopped counting the days. They laughed together and cried together. They walked. Each time they came to a town or city they searched in vain for other people, but found none. They scavenged and stocked up on what they could carry. The world seemed deserted. The smell of rotting bodies had long since disappeared and they only found skeletons on their forays.
Paul thought they had travelled for about two years when they finally found live people. It was a settlement, surrounded by a huge fence, with a locked gate. They banged on the gate, not really expecting an answer.
She remembered the day they got there.
They were brought into the compound and were sent to talk with the Elders. This is where they learned what had happened on the day of the bombs. The Elders explained that music had caused a chain reaction that exploded the nuclear warheads of bombs stored underground throughout the country. The resultant explosions had flattened everything, turning the country into the barren wasteland that they had walked through. Most of the people had died during the explosions. Some had died of radiation sickness afterward. No one knew why some had survived with no signs of sickness. The one thing they did know was that music had caused the devastation.
Music is forbidden.
She was allowed to keep her flute, but she had to promise never to raise it to her lips. She promised to never play a note.
She kept her flute in her room and held it any time she was in the safety of her room. She kept her promise not to lift the instrument to her lips. She would try to remember her life before the day of the bombs. She would get small snippets of memories. The music – she always had her music. She could no longer remember what her parents had looked like alive. She only remembered their dead, lifeless bodies, trapped in the rubble of their house on the day of the bombs.
As the years passed, she tried to remember the music. She thought if she could only remember the music, she would remember her life before the day of the bombs. She sat quietly in her dorm before supper each day concentrating hard on the music, trying to remember. But she couldn’t play her flute.
Music is forbidden.
She concentrated each day, trying to remember her life before the day of the bombs. One day she hesitantly raised the flute to her lips for the first time in years. Feeling the cool metal against her chin brought her a flicker of a memory. She did not play the flute, but she held it there against her chin as memories slowly crept back into her head.
She saw a younger version of herself dancing through a field, playing the flute and happy. She saw trees, and birds, and flowers. Finally! After all these years, she had unlocked the memories she had sought. The memories flickered across the walls of her dorm like a movie. She smiled as the memories played around her room. Birds landed on her desk and a bee buzzed playfully around her head. She moved the flute away from her chin and the memories faded, replaced by the stark whiteness of her room.
Each day after that she held the flute against her chin and remembered. She saw her parents, alive in her mind, laughing and tapping their feet as she played the flute and danced for them. She saw them, sitting on the back porch of their house, rocking in their matching chairs. But she dared not play a note.
Music is forbidden.
She raised the flute to her chin. She imagined herself playing the flute. The walls of her dorm began melting away. This was a new sensation. The walls peeled away and were replaced by trees and flowers and the fields of her youth. She heard the beautiful music of her past. She began to dance around the room. The bed and desk melted away, replaced with her childhood home. She danced and played her flute as her parents once again watched from the back porch. They sat, alive in her mind, in their matching rocking chairs, tapping their feet and smiling at her silly dancing.
Music is forbidden.
Suddenly a door materialized in the landscape and several men rushed across the field of her dream, grabbing at her. They grabbed her flute as she stood, bewildered, trying to find her parents. But the house was gone. The fields and trees were gone. The walls of her dorm were back. And she was surrounded by angry men. They had something in their hands.
Was it some kind of coat? It was white. But the sleeves – the sleeves were too long. And there were belts on it. She was confused. What had happened? Why were they attacking her? Why had they taken her flute? It was hers. The beautiful music was hers. She needed her flute to get back to her past.
They wrestled her to the floor and they placed her in the jacket with the long sleeves. They wrapped the belts around her back and buckled them. She had no use of her hands. She needed her hands to play her flute. She needed her hands to play the music that took her to her past, to a happier time…
Music is forbidden.
Copyright 2016 by Marty Townsend. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.
5 thoughts on “‘Music Is Forbidden’ by Marty Townsend”
Interesting idea. Well written and evocative. Only problem I have is having music cause the bombs to go off. Doesn’t work that way. Briefly took me out of the story with that but a very enjoyable piece.
I assumed that that wasn’t actually true, in the same way some people say unmarried mothers cause earthquakes. I thought these elders were just revelling in the control silence would give them – even if music was the only sound actually banned, the whole environment seems rather bleak and joyless.
The point was that the music DIDN’T make the bombs go off – that was only the lie that was told to keep people from finding out the truth.
Beautiful. So sad and so bitter.