The Last Song – chapter five

The night was quiet, even quieter than usual. Katarina lay in bed, listening to the eerie silence that seemed full of something waiting to happen.. Sometimes her parents watched television in the evening but tonight it was either on softly or not on at all, for she could hear no sound. And it was the same outside too, not even a patrol nearby. That was odd. It was curfew time and some of the boys at school had said that there would be more patrols out tonight keeping an eye open for ‘undesirable elements’ as they called them.

Perhaps it had been this quiet last night which is why Seamus had heard the noise at Mrs Malcolm’s house but she doubted it. The raid had been swift and professional and even the thuds and bumps would scarcely have carried that far. She might not have taken much notice of the noise outside if Mrs Malcolm had not called out, a high keening sound, like the beginning of The Call to Grieve that was played on Days of National Mourning, but as if the note was being sounded through a broken horn. Perhaps that was what Seamus had heard. It had certainly brought her out of bed and over to the window where she had seen… she shuddered again. Mrs Malcolm had looked so frail between those huge men.

She slipped out of bed and padded across to the window where she opened the shutters just enough to see her old neighbour’s house. It sat hunched and lonely in the moonlight.

She eased the shutters further open and scoured the garden for Ditto, or maybe another figure, a patrol man watching the house like the boys had said. Nothing. Perhaps the cat was out hunting. She hoped so.

She shivered and climbed back into bed, rolling over to reach down between the bed and the wall. She scrabbled around with her hand and her fingers closed on the shell. It was cool at first but as she pulled it up towards her it began to warm her. She held it to her face, rubbing it against her cheek, smiling. She remembered the old idea that you could hear the sea in a shell and she put it against her ear.

She gasped. Somewhere far away she could hear music. It wasn’t the bold, marching music of the Bands of Celebration, nor the rousing tune of the Song of National Renewal. It was something far sweeter, something that swelled and lifted, played on instruments she did not recognise. And there was a voice. She could not make out all the words but she could hear the longing there and the hope.

“ Mothe…” she started to call, but then she thought better of it. She must be dreaming and her mother would take the shell and tell her not to be silly, and not to have something like that in her bed.

She lifted it to her ear again and listened. She was not dreaming. The music poured from the shell into her, so clear and alive that she thought that it must be filling the room and swirling out like fog into the night. She pulled it away from her ear and thrust it under her pillow to smother the sound, but there was no sound. Shaking, she picked it up again and, switching on her bedside lamp, examined it. It looked like nothing but an ordinary shell.

Again she thought of calling her mother but instinct told her she should say nothing. It was best to keep quiet about anything unusual. Unusual things were not welcome.

She flicked off her light switch and lay down again under the blankets, holding the shell close to her ear. The music wrapped her and held her close and she lay there, drifting into sleep. Just as she slipped under she jerked herself awake again. She must hide the shell. Reluctantly, she pushed it under her pillow and settled to sleep again. And when she did sleep, she dreamed of Mrs Malcolm leading the town’s Band of Celebration. But instead of the drums and big brass instruments that they should have been carrying, they played instruments she did not think she had ever seen before, with long handles and wires and sticks they rubbed against the wires.

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