The Hum of Refuge
(c) 2013 Anna Ilona Mussmann
On her couch in an apartment at the top of a building that used to be a lingerie factory, Skye Hindley tried to capture the soul of nature. She wrote, sketched in charcoal and once (in a black fit) crafted faerie dolls. She had not found her niche. A loser boyfriend told her that she didn’t have the artistic vision of a walrus, but that was during their break-up, after she said his novel must have been written by a drunken redneck.
The ache to achieve was agonizing because her birthday was coming, and this time it was her twenty-third, and that had always been a deadline. She wasn’t going to remain a barista-by-day after she was twenty-three and her friends graduated from college.
A week before her birthday she was fired from the fair trade coffee shop.
She went online and discovered a coastal cabin she could afford for two days— a last shot at capturing nature’s voice. Half a week later, she took the bus and slept in a strange bed. She dreamed all night of unexplored caverns and hills in shadow. The sunrise woke her, and she was filled with the first surge of un-caffeinated energy she had felt in months.
Skye took a protein bar outside and surveyed the world. The soft air was like a summons on a deep-voiced instrument. She wished she’d learned to play the bass viol. The cabin crouched against a hill covered in billowing, gone-to-seed grasses and thickets of cow parsnip. Hundreds of other hills sloped up and down as far as she could see, almost a city of thatched earth-cottages with an occasional pine for a chimney. For a moment an odd sense of being resident in a crowded world enveloped her, but she brushed it aside. Nature was not crowded.
That afternoon, armed a notebook and a volume of folk tales, she found a comfortably sheltered cleft in the hills above the sea. Her pen hung poised over the paper, but eventually she picked up the fairy tales instead. Skye read with a wrinkled forehead. So many encounters with the fey folk ended in ugly, pointless tragedy—a man who joins the fairies’ dance for a year without noticing the passage of time, until at last he dies, a heap of skin and bones; a woman who must slave under the earth forever because she has tasted fairy food. Was this really how people used to feel about the beauty of the hills?
As the evening fog blew in, Skye became aware that her rear was damp. She gathered her belongings and stood up, scanning the coastline for a last view. To her right a mechanical mass blotted the landscape. Dozens of aerial propellers reached skyward, dancing in the wind and sending power down to the large black structures around their base. Razor wire, clearly intended to restrict access to this hideous monstrosity upon nature’s smooth green skin, surrounded the energy plant. The mess seemed symbolic of her last four years. Skye shivered and turned her back.
The trek home felt long. The wind numbed her skin, and there was nothing to see beyond ever-increasing grey mist. She must have been tired, because a ringing in her ears began to grow and pulse until it imitated music. It became a song stuck in her head that she could never quite name, a wild song like the last echoes of a dream. Her toes tingled. Suddenly she realized that her feet were carrying her in circles, that she was dancing, in fact, around and around the clover-filled base of a little valley. The fog whirled dizzyingly as her speed increased and her pounding heart filled the baseline of her music. Why couldn’t she stop? Why didn’t it help that she was pressing her fingers into her ears while cold tears poured down her cheeks? Her feet did not belong to her. They belonged to the music. This rhythm was pure beauty. But it frightened her, it was all around her, and it was crowded with something that she could not see. “Please,” she sobbed. Her fingers jammed harder into her ears, and for a single moment she gained the silence to think. She threw herself to the ground and her limbs, no longer able to dance, were stilled.
She panted into the soil. Her fingers twisted through grass, pulling it out but its roots and flinging it away, shredded, as if it was the hair of her enemy. She had not been so angry since tenth grade when a jerk teacher had made her look infantile in front of the class. Laboriously she rose.
Her first step was unmolested, as was the second. Then the sweet melody from infinitely far away again grasped her soul, and she was groaning and laughing in a strange rhythm that became part of the music. Her fingers were warm in the grasp of invisible hands, because everyone was dancing together, but her heart pulsed at panic-rate to warn her that she risked death from the things that she could not see. Again she threw her body to the earth.
Falling and rising to dance and fall again, Skye lost her way. The boyfriends, the faerie dolls, the e-mailed rejection slip, even the sound of her cat’s voice leaked away through holes made by the music. She crawled. The gravel underneath her bruised flesh was painful.
Something loomed in front of her. Chain-link with razor wire atop. She knew that the barbs would cut her flesh. She must not cross them. Yet the music was biting into her soul, devouring her, and she would die if she could not escape it. Skye pressed her face against the metal links, trying to listen to the hum of the generators, and for a moment it drowned out the music and she could hear. She must get inside. She would be safe inside. Razor wire would not keep her out.
Anna Mussmann writes from an imagination that was shaped in childhood by a mixture of Andrew Lang’s fairy tales, Bill Peet’s animals, Laura Ingalls’ sunbonnets, and wildly plotted rag doll games with her four younger sisters. She loves words and enjoys practicing the discipline of finding just the right ones for a flash fiction piece. Anna is often found at the keyboard with a cup of Irish breakfast tea. She blogs about stories and literature at http://annailonamussmann.blogspot.com.