A scream escaped her lips the moment she parted them.
The man before her winced as he covered his ears with his hands. She immediately closed her mouth. The silence that ensued was more disturbing than the shriek had been.
“What ever happened to you?” he asked, removing his hands apologetically. “You used to have such a beautiful voice.”
She turned away, clutching fistfuls of her hair in grief. Don’t remind me. It was a curse.
Since she was born, she had been able to make whoever heard her sing fall asleep. It was not an ability she’d ever wanted, nor one she could choose not to use. All her life, she’d been careful not to sing before others, refusing to even speak when someone’s eyelids so much as fluttered in weariness.
There was one person, however, whom her voice did not affect: her younger brother; even as a baby, he had not fallen asleep to her lullabies. She’d once asked him, “Laron, do you feel sleepy when I sing to you?”
He’d answered, “No, sister. Your voice is lovely. I wish you would let other people listen to it as well.”
For neither he nor anyone else knew about her ability.
One day, when she was unable to keep her songs within her any longer, she climbed to the top of a mountain with Laron and gave wings to various melodies stuck in her head. She was sure there was no one but her brother who could hear her.
As she moved deeper into the mountain, she sang louder, allowing her voice to reverberate about the trees around them. At one point, they reached the edge of a cliff, and there they sat, their legs dangling in the open air.
There was a song in her mind that was itching to take flight, one she was forming extemporaneously. She hadn’t ever sang a song she did not know the whole tune of, but in the tranquil afternoon with her brother, her voice echoing off the wall on the other side, she was compelled to spin a melody of her own. She began singing the final song of her life, attaching notes to notes as they flowed, humming, adding words where she thought apposite.
It was coming to an end that she could imagine weaving out of her mouth into a breathtaking conclusion. In her joy at her first song, she turned to her brother, who never failed to shower her with compliments.
Instead of being wide with awe, his eyes were closing in drowsiness, his irises already twirling up as a welcome to sleep.
And, nearly dreaming like that, he fell forward off the cliff.
The next time she opened her mouth — and every single one after that — all that came out was a scream. She ran from her memory, over many mountains, but her tongue was a constant reminder of that first where she’d lost her brother.
“Oral,” the man before her now spoke, “don’t be afraid.”
If only she could tell him, that her scream was not one of fear. It was not her choice, just like her ability hadn’t been. She wanted to talk to him, but her scream came out louder than usual when she tried.
“Don’t be afraid,” the man repeated. “You didn’t kill me fifteen years ago.”
I should not have taken you there, but I wanted someone to hear my songs. The music in me was spurred by pride.
“Please, Oral. You won’t make that mistake again.”
Of course, for I can’t sing anymore.
“I want to hear you sing again.”
She turned away from his flattery. That was what had caused her to err in the first place.
“We’re on flat land, Oral. Even if I fall asleep, I won’t get hurt. Please, I need to hear you sing.”
As though to prove that was impossible, she opened her mouth, releasing a screech so high, it was almost like a note.
Her brother sat himself down and closed his eyes. “How about now?” he said.
But I can’t, she thought. I can’t open my mouth without screaming.
He began humming a song she vaguely remembered as the one she’d created when she was last with him. It frightened her to hear it, but at the same time incited a strong urge to form something new once more.
He paused in the middle, peeking up between half closed eyelids. “You can, too, sister. You don’t have to open your mouth. Just sing like I am singing.”
She blinked. It was not that she hadn’t thought of that in the fifteen years she’d been away, but only she was constantly afraid of what might happen if she so much as hummed.
But where is the harm? I haven’t met a single person in more than a decade.
Closing her eyes, she listened to Laron’s melody for a few moments, then added one of her own, made up on the spot. It harmonized with Laron’s as though they were one piece divided into two disparate parts.
They flowed together wordlessly and hesitantly, until she realized Laron’s voice was not stopping. She opened her eyes to find him staring back at her, his lips curled into a smile. He reached up, his hand touched hers.
Her mouth opened.
The music was no longer bare but filled with words that came out spontaneously:
Above your sleep
I sing my dreams
When time has passed
To hide the screams.