Comrade Song: Three of Three
Three of Three
“Well done, Anita. You made the place beautiful.” As usual, Tovarisch didn’t sound as though he cared, but his eyes shone warm.
“Let there be light,” she said in return. Once she unbent her body, she held out her hand. “Supper now?”
He nodded over his shoulder, where the light on the lake grew by inches. “Your reward is the lit beacon. That’s where we’ll find your song.”
“That—that wasn’t it?”
Tovarisch looked at her long, and she dropped her eyes to her knees. For just a moment, she’d wondered and hoped. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in the dark place almost felt right.
“I only wish it was,” he finally said.
She buried her hand in her blonde hair. “Who would want someone else’s song?”
Images of wrecked ships and Odysseus splashed through Anita’s mind. “Those are faery-kind?”
He nodded. “They haven’t been able to lure flesh with songs since the ancient days, but everyone has their own song. They feed on that by targeting those who will do anything to find their own.” His eyes were almost dark green enough now to be reflective. “As I did.”
Anita stopped trying to make sense of it, stuck. “As… you did?”
“And you did.” Tovarisch hands stiffened. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean. That’s a bad path to take, wasn’t it?” He choked up on the oars, rowing nearer the light on an island. “You won’t end up like I have.” The words weren’t urgent, but Anita registered his hopelessness—about his condition, not hers.
“That’s not what I meant when I…” She shook her head, scooting forward on the bench. “I want to trust you now, but you’re saying you had a song. Have you lied to me, Tov?”
He looked into his shoulder, his scarf riding up. “I said I don’t sing, and I don’t. But I once did. Do you mind sad?”
“Just tell me, Tov. I promise I won’t say a word till you’re done.”
Even his face lost emotion. “A siren took my song, but I had no one to help me find it.”
I’m incredibly blessed, Anita thought, drawing her knees together.
“It lured me to Faerie, but only by inches. By the time I got here and found its captor, I was too late. The siren had finished off the song entirely.”
And that trapped him neatly. She shuddered, wishing she could soothe his haunted eyes. What would it take to make her friend laugh?
Her friend? Did she mean that already? A haughty spirit before a fall…
His profile softened. “I’d never left until your songs called me out a few, precious times.”
Heat flooded Anita’s face.
“I gasped the free air and listened to your music.”
Like Peter Pan at Wendy’s window, Anita thought. Suddenly she understood why her father thought the story sad, though until now she’d never seen past the Disney tunes.
“A song sung for others from the depths of yourself is a kind of gift-giving, strong enough to open doors. You give so many songs that I saw more of you than I ever hoped.”
Anita smiled wryly. Probably more than you ever wanted. Sick of me yet?
“I knew your visible passion would call sirens, too, and you would follow someone. So I decided to help you. You couldn’t be alone to pay the price forever.”
He looked uncertain and as if he’d say nothing more. “Thank you,” Anita murmured. “So much.”
“You’re not through yet.”
“It’s not about me right now.” She eyed his normal, modern clothes and hesitated. “How long have you been here, Tov?”
He started and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”
“It’s just… I’m counting down till I get home.” And I don’t understand why you haven’t gone back.
“I’m never getting home. Doesn’t matter.”
Anita felt a spark in her gut, almost like the brightening beacon. That made it matter more. “Don’t say that!”
“Anita? It has no bearing on your return.”
Now that was a bad path to take, full of missteps. Her spine went rigid. “Stop bringing this ‘round to me! I’m worried for you. Why can’t you go back?”
“I helped you out before—”
“Please.” His voice sounded apathetic, but his face was too guarded to be so.
“No! Tov, I… You’re sounding like, once I get out, you’ll stay behind for good. If that’s so, I—might never hear the answer except now. Don’t you have anything there to live for?”
“At the moment?” He shrugged. “You and your song are here.”
Anita snapped her mouth shut, making herself promise not to be angry with him. The light pulsed stronger and closer by the second, illuminating a shore that was visibly round. Even when the boat crunched against the sand, she could see at least half the border of the island.
Tovarisch stood and stretched while Anita gathered the coat in one arm and lifted herself over the side of the boat. Though she landed on ground, waves rose over her legs and filled her boots, taking her breath away.
She stumbled back under an arching roof of dry, solid white and stared. “The waves are moving backwards.”
They pushed out from the shore, shattering fragile ice, then surged back to the island only because they couldn’t get away.
Tovarisch pressed his ear to the cold wall. “The siren is playing.”
Anita knelt and scooped what looked like large salt crystals, all glowing white. The whole island was the beacon they’d followed.
She looked up and around. She’d taken the roof for an icy arch, but it was more like a cave. No, not a cave—she could see it spiraling inward, lighting its own way. The whole island was the maw of a tunnel with no shore to walk around its smooth cornucopia.
She didn’t have to ask if they were going in. Of course they were going in. She leaned on the wall and heard a thick tremor of sound, not like the runic horns but like thrumming and echoes and golden strings, mined from the depths.
She held out her hand. “Side by side?” Her voice wavered.
He took it. “Best to run?” His didn’t.
They plunged toward the music, which built as the O of the passage shrunk. First Tov, next Anita had to scramble forward hunched under the low ceiling. That cramped them, but worse were the sides narrowing. They had to drop each other’s hands. To Tovarisch’s chagrin, Anita pushed in front of him. He must have been talked out, because he said nothing; she only knew he didn’t like it because she knew him.
The tunnel never branched off, which was in some ways a mercy. Eventually it culled itself to one hole pointing down, barely enough room to slide through. The music boomed up into Anita’s face, making her close her eyes. She hadn’t known storms could sing.
“It doesn’t play as well as my dad.”
“No one plays as well as anyone’s dad,” Tovarisch agreed. “Mine was a violinist.”
She smiled, inching toward the edge of the hole. “Well—” She could barely grip the slope with the long sleeves pushing to get under her palms. “Geronimooooooooo!”
Whooshing down a slide hadn’t been this fun since she was short enough for the McDonald’s play place. Honestly, that scared her silly. “Whoo hoo hoo hoooooo!”
She’d wondered before if the the beacon-slash-island-slash-tunnel really was ice, but now her scrabbling heels scraped flakes that wet her palms as she zoomed past. She hoped her cries wouldn’t crack anything.
Just for the heck of it she sang out, “Doo bee doo bee doo bah, doo bee doo bee doo bah!”
She jolted over a bump and skidded to a stop on her rear as the ceiling opened up in above her. This place no longer glowed on its own, but something came in through translucent ice. The fragile skin of this hollow under the island made her afraid. Anita wobbled as she tried to float to her feet instead of stagger.
She craned her neck to see over the hill in the middle of the bean-shaped hollow. A pool receded away on the other sunken side, defying the physics of water pressure that should have filled or broken the hollow.
Anita’s thoughts went wild as she suddenly saw.
Red soaked the water. Can anything soak water? Oil stained the water, too—If anything can stain water, that’s oil—but it poured more like fingers pounding the lapping waves. Teeth sank into the fingers as they pulled up, drawing across, dripping the red in the water. There were creatures in the water that howled unlike the wind, and they could bite—
She had seen that the hill was a creature reclining. She knew about Phantoms, Opera ones at least; she had expected a terrible beauty whether or not it had to do with appearance. Yet how could she prepare for a thing so… gross? The awkward shape was only vaguely human, formed of murky shifting oil. Cycling wind loosely bound limbs on, like the threads in Tovarisch’s coat, sewn and sewn again for survival.
But it had to be the siren “playing” (more aptly, suffering). The brutal music had created the illusion of storm on the lake, but here it was less like a storm and more like drowning.
Anita heard Tov’s body sliding down after her without so much as a yell. She unfroze and took a step to the side of the outlet, the coat sweeping the floor. Her eyes jumped back up when she saw water swirling through the ice. How fragile is fragile?
The pounding became stroking and the music subsided, as if the siren had heard her footstep. “I did not expect you yet,” it said in a familiar voice.
“I—I—” What should she do? Tov! Of course Tov would have a plan. “I can’t take credit for it.” Anita wrenched her eyes up from the long teeth combing through the oily fingers. She shouted into the ice slide, “Tov, mind the bump at the end!”
He tumbled out at her feet, his hair wilder than ever. Pulling his face backward, the ends of his scarf caught somewhere in the tunnel. He gave them a hard yank that managed to look nothing but ridiculous.
The siren’s heaving mass rotated in a blink. Its head had no face, only a gaping mouth from which the recognizable voice said, “You are the one hoarding my singer, Tovarisch?”
Tovarisch had gotten as far as one knee, but he dropped on two, stricken.
“You know him?” Anita cried—to Tovarisch, but the siren answered.
The siren’s long arm outstretched, one bleeding finger tracing Tovarisch’s cheek. “I always recognize my work, as I’ll recognize you.”
“Anita.” Tov made a fist around the loose edge of the coat trailing the floor. “I’m sorry.”
Anita’s voice came out much colder than she expected. “Tell me why.”
His scarf silently sucked up against the hollow of his mouth, the other half of his face drawn. The streak of blood dissolved, leaving raw skin. “I didn’t know it was the same one.”
“The same siren who took your song?”
The siren withdrew, its arms waving as the wind-threads stretched to a breeze. Tovarisch stood and ripped off his scarf to show all the outrage searing his face. “This creature didn’t take my song. It took my sound.”
His mouth never opened.
He strode toward the unmoving siren, then spun back. “I fell for this once; I can’t believe I’ve brought you too. When I came here to Faerie, I thought I could sing my song from the siren, devoured or not, to get it back, but it consumed my voice as well.”
His voice showed neither vehemence nor grief.
“Tell her,” said the siren in the strikingly humorous voice, “how you became one of us to survive.”
“I didn’t. But I will show her.” Tovarisch’s uncovered face snarled. Anita recoiled as he stripped off his gloves and held up his hands, crisscrossed with scars. “I tried to play on the pool. I almost let it kill me, thinking that would be better than staying here and becoming like it—stealing songs because I don’t have my own voice.”
His mouth never moved. He looked up into the shell of the room, eyes anguished like torn moss. “I realized I had already become what I hated, and I ran. Then you sang. I can’t sing again, but worse is that I can’t even speak to you as I’d wish. You’re hearing me in your own thoughts. I can’t. I’ll never. That creature, all because of it.”
She’d never even heard him breathe.
“Those are the rules of Faerie,” the siren said, billowing up. Anita hit the wall of the hollow.
That’s my voice.
It sounded a little strange, like hearing a recording, but that only convinced her. The siren spoke through her song. “But you’re only using the song for yourself,” she whispered. “That’s not its full power. I’ve seen what it could do.”
“Soon the work will be complete.”
No! Stranded here forever.
“I’m so, so sorry, Anita.” Sagging with the weight of uselessness, Tovarisch stood between her and the siren.
As he had done for her all along. He strove to rescue her, risking everything through so many what-ifs. She could have rejected him long ago, but he had kept her in his trust.
Anita shut her eyes on the scene, almost cradling it behind her lids. He had given her the chance he’d never stood and resisted the urge to take her himself. She could end up just like him, but only facing that cost did she understand. Somehow, her song had saved him once.
When she lifted her eyelashes, teardrops clung to them. Tovarisch’s eyes widened, but he even gasped soundlessly when she took his face between her hands. It was warm where the scarf had caged him, trapping strands of hair that now tried to stick to her wet cheeks.
He didn’t know yet that she was crying for him. She would rather give up her song than live without music in either world because it was stolen. In that moment, she knew the notes, and the words came.
“I promise with my life
That I will bite my tongue,
And I won’t say a word
Till all the listening is done.”
She opened her mouth, but the siren began to play again, and the music stopped her voice. Water spilled down her chin, and Tovarisch had to grip her shoulders to keep her from convulsing.
She swallowed and raised her voice. “And hold onto these memories,
The ones that drive you away—”
“Don’t sing. Do you hear me?” Tovarisch rattled her enough to quiet her. “It wants you to do what I did to take mine back, but if you sing to it, you’ll be like me. Its voiceless ones.”
She shook her head, smiling through her tears. “I’m not singing to it, and I’m not taking the song back—I’m giving it away.”
She breathed it into his face. “Sing till your heart hurts,
Then sing some more.
Don’t stop singing
Till we see the shore.
Sing it loud and clear,
‘Cause I promise you
Someone will hear you sing.”
“Stop it.” But his voice had no force.
“Sing it without the fear,
‘Cause I promise you
The whole world will hear you sing.”
“Stop it. I don’t deserve—” He cut himself off, in shock that his whisper had cracked.
She flung her head back, building up: “Sing—sing—”
The siren roared without humanity, without Anita’s voice. The ice cavern collapsed started at the edge with the pool, the creatures tearing through the shell. Anita didn’t know if they wanted the siren or Tovarisch or her.
Wrapping his arms around her strong shoulders, Tovarisch said one word with his mouth into her ear. Though her song carried over it, it was the most beautiful cry she’d remember from Faerie.
O come and ransom us, Emmanuel!
A song, sung for others from the depths of yourself, is a kind of gift-giving that opens doors. And what’s more about light piercing darkness than Christmas?
Anita’s body reacted with Tovarisch’s delighted shudder, and he started laughing as the world spun.
Anita wrapped her arms around herself, pinning a sheaf of papers to her chest. Upright, her back pressed the door. His most beautiful word rang in her head—“Free”—and her eyes flew open.
She let the papers scatter like a whirlwind, not bothering to seize the music, not caring to read her song. I shouldn’t have it; I gave it to him; why doesn’t he have it? She just flung open the door and let the snow whip her.
Dim daylight shone through the white fall. The house lights had blinked out, showing off icicles instead. Snow piled on whatever cars weren’t driving by.
Anita clutched the doorframe, suspending herself. “Tovarisch! You’re invited in.”
The snow stung her body, uncloaked by the coat that become familiar.
“You can come in.” Her voice broke. “Tov, please.”
What happened? A big, fat lotta nothin’. Her empty stomach twisted. She knew she couldn’t stand the cold another minute to wait.
Someone said, “Have you lifted thanks to God yet?” The merry voice had the quality of a singer, disused but always ready. Tovarisch strolled around the corner of the house and onto her doorstep, his hands in the pockets of his coat. He wore all his old clothes but the cutoff gloves.
She ran into the soft snow to loop the rust-colored scarf over his head, like stripping bandages off a healthy man. She mussed his hair, but he shone like the winter sun from the inside out. Her day-clear study revealed him to be still rather ugly but so, so right as he grinned ear to ear, fair to split his face.
“It’s amazing…” (She couldn’t get enough of his new voice, rich and emotional and smooth and loud.) “…how little has changed.”
“Just everything has changed since twelve, Christmas day.” She launched herself at him, arms open. “Now it’s Christmas morning!”
Whilst Anita hung around his neck, he laughed and pressed one scarred hand over her long blonde hair.
“I was afraid I dreamed you.” She fiercely held tighter. If she couldn’t control herself, she’d punch him soon. “What kind of name is Tovarisch, anyway?”
“Just as I hope you might be—mine. I waited and waited until I could tell you in my own voice how much I—”
Anita covered his mouth with her hand. “I know, I know.” She felt his lips turn up under her palm.
He slid her hand with his down to his chest and sang out strong. “And your voice,
It's sweet as angels sighing.
And your voice,
It's warm as summer sky.
And that sound,
It haunts my dreams
And spins me 'round
Until it seems I'm flying.
She clutched the edge of his coat and pulsed with cold and warm. She couldn’t tell him how beautiful it was, not yet.
“Come in with me.” She waved to the open door with her free hand. “My parents and I always open with a carol. What’s your favorite? We’ll get hold of your parents, too, give them the heart attack—I mean, the best Christmas present of their lives.”
He nodded, and they went inside together. Anita didn’t deny Tovarisch more chance to sing, half because that wasn’t in her nature, and half because she was kind of sure she loved it.
Kind of. You know.
“And your voice,
It's there as dusk is falling.
And your voice,
It's there as dawn steals by.
Pure and bright, it's always near,
All day, all night.
And still I hear it calling.
I hereby disclaim all the songs I played with. Lyrics come from…
“Till We See the Shore” (Seabird)—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_qd2OfFcQ0
Minor alterations on “Her Voice” (The Little Mermaid Broadway)— http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lKUK9gwwNc
Just for fun, briefly referenced, “Perry the Platypus Theme Song” (Phineas and Ferb)—http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONgjXrOShlc
And I drew Tov, surprisingly true to my imagination--barefootarrowsong.blogspot.com/2012/01/double-posting-ftw.html