Descending Scales

By Bryan Jones

On clear days, the pine trees in front of the music teacher’s house cast reflections in the nearby lake. The teacher had been inside his house that afternoon when the little girl went swimming by herself. She had been his responsibility that summer. The local fishermen wondered how no one had heard her calling for help before she drowned. It didn’t make sense, they said. It was such a short distance from his house to the lake. In the months after they had pulled her body from the water, the teacher found himself taking long walks along the lakefront and reliving every minute of that day.

But one afternoon, as he walked along the sandy shore, he saw a disturbance in the water. The little girl emerged from the shallows and walked from the lake. He rushed over to where she stood dripping on the bank. He reached out for her, but the sight of the ears made him stop. She had broken out in them. Ears covered her face, neck, and arms. Two ears where her brown eyes should be. She wore the blue Sunday school dress he remembered from the times he had seen her in the church choir. Underneath the wet fabric, he could see the lumps of the ears covering her body. He was afraid to touch her.

Before he could say her name, she opened her mouth. Instead of a tongue, an ear. It fell out of her mouth and landed with a wet thump at her feet. She collapsed in front of him into a soaked heap of upturned ears and an empty dress. A noise roared at eardrum-shattering levels. The teacher pressed his palms to his own ears but couldn’t shut it out. The sound like anguished wails and emergency sirens.

He picked up a fallen ear and hurled it into the lake. It skipped like a stone three times before sinking. The din died down to soft drones and murmurs and he thought he was going deaf. He threw all the ears back into the water before snatching up the little dress, which became a whorled seashell. The shape of it confused him. He held the shell close to his ear, expecting to hear the sound of ocean waves. But all he heard was how he had taught the little girl to breathe from her diaphragm when she sang. He threw the shell out into the lake. The splash, before it vanished, reminded him of a wreath.

Only one haunted sound remained, that of small waves spreading their white foam fingers onto the sandy shore as if the water itself kept whispering the word, “Hush.”

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Bryan Jones likes to chew on language to the point of over-indulging in it sometimes. He tries to remember to edit ruthlessly and to aim for something interesting.
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