A Song in the Shadows
A Tiny Tale by Kizzi
“She was Ren, a note dancing on the air.”
“Almost there. Try again.” Her grandmother was being exceptionally patient, but Ren knew she wasn’t almost there. Still, her grandmother looked so hopeful, she couldn’t help but try again.
She pursed her lips and placed her tongue just behind her teeth as her grandmother had taught her. Clearing her mind, she inhaled deeply only to exhale soft and slow letting the air pass through the small gap between teeth and tongue.
Her grandmother tilted her head, eyes sparkling as she strained to hear anything that would indicate Ren had learned to whistle. The faintest pitch would have been celebrated, but no, there was nothing.
Ren sighed and rubbed at her jaw. She was tired from so many hours spent with her lips taut and head lifted.
Her grandmother smiled gently and patted her hand. “Don’t worry dear, it will come in time.” Ren’s shoulders slumped as her grandmother pushed her toward the door. “Play for a while, I’ll call you when dinner is ready.”
She knew her grandmother would first pick up the phone to report on her progress. Despite her grandmother’s unwavering support and continued hope, Ren knew it was far past time that she should have been able to whistle.
She didn’t know about her father, but her mother had had the most beautiful whistle in all the land. Ren could remember few things of her mother, but her whistle would ring in her memories forever.
The high whistle of morning. The fast whistle of play. The soft whistle of night.
To whistle was to be part of everything. To communicate in a way beyond words, in a way that so far had eluded Ren.
The haunting whistles of her people filled the woods each dawn and dusk. It was tradition. It was necessary. It was protection.
Most children whistled as easily as they babbled as babies. Others when they formed their first words. Ren had to be taught such things. How to place her lips. How to hold her tongue. And still, she had never uttered anything near to a whistle.
Ren kicked at some rocks sending them scattering into the woods. Dusk was approaching. She would hear the night whistles any time now. Despite the ache in her jaw, she pursed her lips once more and attempted some slight sound.
Air passed soundlessly between her lips.
She watched the woods, so much darker here than nearer the town. Shadows danced along the ground beneath the trees where light played tricks on the eyes. She had always felt drawn to the woods, but without her whistle to protect her, she had always kept her distance.
Once, she had ventured in with her grandmother.
Their people avoided the woods at all cost, but once her grandmother had dared to walk the narrow path, Ren naught more than a toddler. Ren remembered clinging to her grandmother’s hand, stumbling along the dirt path, her face buried in her grandmother’s full skirts.
Ren also remembered a great sadness. The weight of the trees bore down on them. Their shadows leaping and twisting along the path. Her grandmother was frightened and such fear confused young Ren. She remembered even then, being fascinated with the gnarled branches, the mysteries of the dark woods. But their pace had been swift and Ren was a child, she was nothing more than a spectator in her grandmother’s frantic wake.
Her grandmother had whistled nearly the entire journey. Ren had thought her whistling beautiful, but so different from her own mother’s. Where her mother had rejoiced at whistling in the woods, her grandmother’s whistle faltered and trilled.
The woods were dangerous that is what their people said. Only a whistle, pure and clear and strong could keep the darkness away.
Or so their people said.
The sky was turning brilliant shades of orange and pink and purple as the sun dipped low beyond the woods. Ren listened for the first low note of the night whistle. Her grandmother would be calling her in soon, but she loved to watch the woods at dusk.
The gray light of coming night, softened the sharp edges of the trees. The shadows stretched and faded as if preparing for sleep. And then along the narrow path, that she had never dared to walk again, the Night Shade would open.
Delicate flowers in all shades of night dotted the edges of the winding trail. With leaves of deepest green, they only showed their true beauty at night.
Tonight as Ren waited for her grandmother’s call to dinner, she watched the Night Shade open and at last heard the first low note of the night whistle. The flowers seemed to sway with the notes, opening in time. Without realizing what she was doing, Ren had walked toward the edge of the woods. She only wanted to see the Night Shade up close. Curious if they smelled as wondrous as they looked.
Her foot touched the path and the woods seemed to hum around her.
“I should go back,”she whispered, but her feet moved from memory and the heady smell of Night Shade calmed her thoughts. The smell she remembered from that first journey years ago, but something felt different this time. Not just that she was older and alone, without her grandmother’s whistle to protect her, no it was something else.
She moved along the path that seemed oddly familiar for one she had only traversed once before.
But no, she had not made this journey into the woods, it had been a journey out of the woods with her grandmother. She gasped at the memory.
She walked for a long while, the woods now dark and still. The Night Shade glowing faintly along the path, lighting her way. At last, just as the last of the night whistles faded, she heard something new. A soft humming wove through the trees, teasing the edges of her senses. Stronger the sound came, dark and low and smooth. The deep notes thrumming in her chest so as to make her heart flutter.
The sound pulsed through the woods, until every tree, flower and leaf seemed to throb with it. She swayed and stepped in time, drawn ever deeper along the path.
At last when the hum had reached a point when she could scarcely remember a time before it began, it stopped. She felt the loss in her whole being as her body buzzed with the last vibrations of the sound. She stood before a great wall of rock. The cliff face stretched high above her, the peak lost to the night.
Shadows moved along the rocks. As spiders on a wall. She might have been frightened but the buzzing sound had left her empty and the Night Shade’s scent had filled her. A shell of a girl, without thought of the dangers of the wood.
Whispers echoed along the rock face, buzzed in her ears. The humming almost began again, but more muted this time. A different song, played with the same notes.
A shadow moved away from the wall, gaining size and substance as it moved toward her.
“Why have you come?” The figure stood before her, tall and broad of chest. A man, not so different from the men of her village, though larger. He towered over her, his face hidden in shadow. His voice was low and thick, and hoarse as if from disuse.
Ren didn’t know why she had come. She felt as though she were only now awakening from a dream. Mentioning the pretty Night Shade seemed a childish venture now, and the memory of her toddler self seemed fleeting. In the moonlit shadow of this man, she could think of no reason to be here.
More shadows moved behind him. Fluid figures, that pulsed in and out of the darkness.
The man hummed deep in his chest at her continued silence.
Without thought, Ren found herself responding in kind.
A hum built deep in her belly and worked its way out, sounding clear and soft and pure. A high sweet note of longing. A longing for the woods, the Night Shade, for her whistle that could never be.
The man stood still in the night. The figures behind him frozen at the sound of her song.
When her note faded away, Ren could scarcely believe such a sound had come from her. She clutched at her throat, wanting to feel the vibrations again.
The man stepped toward her and grasped her chin firmly. His hands were coarse, callused, and his fingers spanned her entire jaw. She trembled under his sharp gaze as he leaned in to peer into her eyes.
“Who are you?” He whispered and she felt his breath upon her face. Behind him the other figures shifted nervously, excited whispers running through them.
She was many things. A girl of eight. A Myra that could not whistle. An orphan. A child too deep in the woods. A trespasser.
“Ren.” She whispered, and found that her voice hummed high and fast as a bird in flight. She was Ren, a note dancing on the air. The excitement of a fawn’s first leap, a squirrel at play, a humming song more joyful than her whistle could ever have been.
“Ren.” He said and she recognized the sound. The hum of a song long forgotten. Deep and low and strong as a buck leaping through the woods. Warm as a wolf with his pack. Loving as a father with his child.
He hummed again and it was a song of loss and love. Of one who had been taken and thought never to return. A song of a forbidden love and wife lost years ago. The low sweet hum of a child born and the high cry of a child gone.
Ren did not need to ask him anything, she closed her eyes and listened. The song wove around and through her, telling of her mother, a whistling sprite dancing at the woods’ edge. And of the young man, strong and stubborn and brave, that matched his song with hers. A man of the woods, deep and dark and forbidden. Her mother, of the light, young and sweet and fair. With a lilting whistle that was the promise of her people, and he with a song so very different.
Now only half the song remained.
The woods had called to her mother as they had called to Ren.
His song faded and Ren regarded the man before her. Her father.
In the distance she heard the faintest of whistles. A long, high whistle calling her name. She felt a pull toward her grandmother, soft and warm and familiar, but then her father hummed and his sound was all she’d ever known.
“Welcome home.” He said and she took his hand as he led her into the shadows.