The Song from the Depths

As the airplane began its descent, I felt a wave of anxiety, not the irrational kind, but rather, the kind that arises from the prospect of meeting someone after a long time. I knew Avelyn from college, and while we were never particularly good friends, we shared a few common interests. I hadn’t heard from her since graduation, and we had more or less drifted apart.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when she called me a few days earlier, inviting me to a festival. She was from a town descended from the early settlers, and my fascination with native culture was one of our shared interests. Naturally, I accepted.

The town itself was idyllic. We flew over it to reach the airport. It was ancient and quaint, surrounded on three sides by lush green hills. To the south, it opened up to the ocean. It was the kind of town someone could go an entire lifetime without ever knowing it existed. Indeed, it had no formal name.

Most of the structures were incredibly old, yet they seemed as though they had aged not a day so that it was impossible to tell the antique from their likeness. Indeed, the new structures stayed true to the classical motifs. Between the pastel shades and bright red-tiled rooftops, the town, in no small measure, was not unlike those depicted in fantastical romances.

Avelyn was waiting for me at the airport, which was surprising, as I had not expected to see her until the day after the next when the festival began. She was wearing festive clothes – bright tunic, a large hat, and several little decorative bells. She reminded me of the ‘Belle of Belfast City.’ She waved excitedly when she saw me.

After exchanging pleasantries, she ushered me towards her car. It was a pleasant ride, along a narrow, sheltered road. It was fun to recount all the funny stories from our college days. After an hour, we reached the outskirts of the town. As we passed numerous pastel houses with their bright red roofs, I felt not unlike a toy, cruising along in a toy car. We passed by a curious-looking belfry tower with a proud old bell, glinting untainted in the sunlight. It rang, not moments after we drove by, and it was a lovely, deep sound. It was one of many that littered the town.

The atmosphere was calm and lazy, and it soon lulled me into a state of half-consciousness. It took me every bit of my concentration not to lose track of our conversation and drift into a comfortable reverie. The wind and the ocean played a soft symphony, swiftly melting away all my apprehensions. There emanated from that town, a certain tranquility that I clearly remember to this day. Knowing what I do now, that should have alarmed me. I wish I had never learned all that I did. But there I was, and there I would come to learn of such things as would drive any man insane.

But those things came to pass later. Presently, I found myself in a small, cozy hotel room. It was one of the older buildings of the town, and between the warm incandescent lamps, the wooden furniture, and the exposed stone-walls, the place seemed wise. Wearied by my journey, I wasted not a moment in retiring for the night. The festival was not until the day after the next, giving me some time to explore, and I wanted to feel refreshed for it. Nestled comfortably in the arms of sleep, I soon found myself wandering a landscape hewn together from vaguely familiar scenery. Nothing was clearly defined, just vague images, shapes in the mist.

Sometime after midnight, I awoke with a start. In the brief moment of terror that followed, I questioned for the first time, the atmosphere of peace that surrounded the town, for, in it, I sensed mystery. My suspicions faded away the next moment, however, as the numerous bells rang in unison. I wondered how long it had taken the inhabitants to grow accustomed to the bells and sleep undisturbed by them. The bells tolled on for a few seconds, and when they stopped, a wave of deathly silence fell upon the town. But for the spry waves and the strong wind, there would be not a sound in the wake of the bells. As I drifted slowly back to sleep, I could hear music in the distance. Performers preparing for the festival?

In the morning, I set out to explore the town before the festivities transformed it completely. There was not much to betray the celebration to come. But for the practicing performers and volunteers hurrying along, and the countless little bells that adorned the clothes of the people, one could easily mistake it to be an unremarkable day. I cannot imagine the town devoid of the constant jingle of those myriad little bells. Perhaps it is just as well, for, in the silence, there lurked mystery that had preyed upon my thoughts the previous night.

As was customary, my first place of interest was the local bookstore. It was a neat little structure that had survived the ages, and for some generations, had served as the local source of written material. In recent years, the owners had taken to serving coffee as well, significantly increasing the popularity of the place. I found the section dedicated to local history. It was surprisingly voluminous. There were journals and history books about the founders of the town and the visions that had guided them. The belltowers had remained inactive for some years, it seemed. They rang for the first time in many moons a few months prior to the festival. The folklore was fascinating. After spending three solid hours there and having downed at least a liter of coffee, I decided that it was time to move on. I bought some copies of the lore books to read at my leisure and made my way to the market square.

I returned to my room late in the evening, having purchased several decorative bells of my own and having failed to visit the beach, which was closed due to the high tide. After an early dinner, I read by the warm light of the lamp. The story of the town went thus:

Their ancestors were people from a faraway settlement. Displeased with the leaders, they had sought to establish a new settlement. Led by an ambitious man, they had soon happened upon the sheltered coast where they proceeded to start building. It was a savage coast that they found, yet they were full of ambition and hope. They sought to tame those waters, and in time, the town grew to be the quaint, story-like place that I had found. But soon after, the displeasure of those primordial waters became apparent. Such storms appeared over their surface as would frighten even the most hardened sailor. Great waves crashed against the dykes, inching closer to the town, lapping hungrily at its edge.

Eventually, the disappearances increased to such a point that venturing into the waters was forbidden. The signs were clear: the ocean was going to swallow them. Every attempt to fight it back failed, and it seemed like the only option left was to leave. Yet, they stayed. The elder dreamt of a maelstrom ebbing out as bells tolled over a gilded city. And thus was conceived the festival, bells to halt the ocean and song to lull it back to sleep. It was fascinating to read how the mythos had evolved around the savage coast.

With the fatigue of travel no longer weighing me down, I was painfully aware of the bells. There was music, undoubtedly from the musicians preparing for the festival. It was not a wholly unpleasant medley. After a while, it even played the part of a lullaby, slowly easing me into the arms of sleep. In that drowsed state, I heard a different tune. It was oddly familiar and comforting, like a familiar face in a crowd. It was quiet, somber, unlike the rest of the music. Perhaps it was a later part of the act? Why did it seem familiar? My thoughts were brought to an abrupt end by the bells tolling again. I vaguely remember some degree of exasperation, arguably, anger towards the bells. When I fell asleep again, there was naught but silence, wind, and spray.

Avelyn met me at the town square and showed me around. The festival depicted various parts of the town’s history, but more notably, its tone evolved as time progressed to build more tension signifying the threat posed by the malevolent waters. The theme of the music softened and took the form of a lullaby as the festival progressed. On the final day, when the waves had receded, there would be a feast to celebrate their victory. Avelyn took me to the more compelling acts. We weaved in and out of various staging areas, adding a few jingles of our own to the medley.

I had much to record in my journal that night. As I sat by the warm lamp, writing, I heard the tune again. It had not played during the day, so I concluded that, indeed, it was part of an act yet to come. Try as I might, I couldn’t remember why I found it familiar. After a while, I gave up trying to write and spent all my faculties on deciphering the odd song. I must have drifted off because I remember waking up to the bells and not much before it. As I struggled to regain my bearings, I thought I heard rushed footfalls and hushed words outside. But again, the music was gone. Had I known all that I know now, I would have been terrified at the time. But in the bliss that comes with ignorance, I soon returned to my slumber.

In the morning, it quickly became apparent that some tragedy had occurred during the night. The streets were desolate compared to the previous day, and none of the merry tunes were playing. A grim atmosphere had replaced the calm, carefree one, like a colorless fog that dimmed light. After some inquiry, I learned that, indeed, the waves had taken three drunk revelers. Given that they celebrated the festival to prevent that very thing, it was not surprising that a religious fear had gripped the town. Just a sliver of an epiphany manifested as I watched, mindlessly, the half-hearted performances. I took it upon myself to pay closer attention that night, to the bells and all that surrounded them.

That night, I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling with caffeine-saturated eyes, waiting for the bells to toll. I was painfully aware of every little sound and every little shifting and shuffling so that when the song started, I knew it was real. It was warm and fuzzy, ill-defined like a withered painting. Despite my best efforts, it drowsed me profusely. It was a song, but with such words as I could not pronounce. It had a tune that I could not mimic despite my vivid memory of it. It pushed me deeper into the arms of sleep, and in that drowsed, half-conscious state, I saw it.

In the brief moments of terror that followed, I found myself in the inky depths of the primordial waters. I fought against the darkness, the claustrophobia, and the suffocation that assaulted me all at once. When my vision cleared, I was staring into a bottomless abyss where light never reached. Thence emanated that unspeakable song that had thus captivated me. There shifted in the murk, incomprehensible shapes that defied logic. All of a sudden, the darkness was driven away by a terrible glow. A pair of monstrous eyes, whose proportions I cannot fathom, met my gaze. I felt the thing pull me towards those unhallowed depths whence there is no escape. As my panic died away, and I prepared to accept my fate, I was awakened by the very bells that had once exasperated me so.

In the wake of my fevered dream, I felt an unnatural fear grip me, for, I was no longer in my bed, I was at the door, grasping its handle. The song lingered for a long moment before being drowned by the tolling bells. I did not stay there much longer. Without offering much in the way of explanation, I left the next day on the first flight I could get. As we flew over the waters, an unnatural maelstrom formed, and for a scary moment, the plane dipped as though pulled by that maelstrom. I could only breathe easily once the airplane had righted itself and cleared the perilous waters.

I never heard from Avelyn again, nor did I ever try to investigate. I suspect the town has ceased to exist. Even the best efforts could not drown out that terrible song from the depths. I still hear it in my dreams. I still see those terrible eyes. I dare not visit another coast, for, if it calls again, I know that I will not have the will to resist it.

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