A Headless Body Doesn’t Sing
By Karen Heslop
A mournful tune glided into the quiet house on the cool evening breeze. At first, Calvin wondered if old man Duncan was beating his dog again but the sound was…softer, more melodious. He was almost certain it was coming from the woods behind his house. His fingers paused above the unfinished artwork he had been sketching on his laptop. Calvin closed his eyes, allowing the tune to burrow into his brain, take root and entice him with its intricate musical arrangement. He skipped down the steps of the sparse country home, planning to pin down the sound’s source. As he flung the front door open, silence engulfed him and the absence of the tune made him dizzy. Confused for a moment, Calvin closed the door and tried without success to remember what he had been doing.
He shook his head to clear it before heading to the kitchen to make a sandwich for his dinner. He prepared a mouthwatering delicacy of fresh bread, spicy cold cuts and aromatic condiments which barely titillated his taste buds because he was still preoccupied with the sound he had heard. Moving as if in a waking dream, Calvin showered, dressed in a thin T-shirt and boxers and climbed under the thick blankets. The mattress hugged the familiarity of his body’s grooves and curves but still, Calvin tossed and turned until he fell into an uneasy sleep.
A melody worked its way into his dreams, curling around the images and distorting them with its patterns. Visions of foliage streaming through industrialized cities filled his head. Vines ripped through skyscrapers, rending concrete and steel, shattering glass in their wake. Trees burst from the ground and shot skyward, crowding out a still blue sky. Branches swayed and danced to the rhythm created by the chorus of a thousand complimentary voices. The chorale was filled with intertwined musical chords wrapped around each other like soul mates.
As the atmosphere filled with sound, spirits emerged from the newly formed flora. Old men and women, grey-haired and wrinkled slid from trees gnarled with age. Nubile young adults in a panorama of greens sauntered and sashayed from the younger trees. Finally, precocious young children chattering, laughing, swaying with the lithe limbs of saplings sprung from the vines that ran along the ground.
There were so many of them Calvin felt overwhelmed, unable to breathe. His claustrophobia was active even if he was not. In desperation, he clawed at the leaves that were closing in on him. As the pressure built in his head, people appeared in his dreams, bowing as if worshipping the forest sprits.
Calvin’s breathing became uneven. He battled the leaves in his dreams but in reality, his hands grasped air. His heart thudded in his chest threatening a debilitating panic attack.
With a start, Calvin shot up in his bed. He inhaled as deeply as his lungs would allow, willing the weight of his dream to leave. He shuffled over to the window, pushing it open and sitting on the sill. He allowed the chilly air to wash over him and dry the sweat that had settled on his skin. He waited anxiously for the re-emergence of the tune until the orange-yellow rays of the rising sun crept along the verdant hills that surrounded his home.
Exhausted, Calvin ambled downstairs with breakfast on his mind. He cracked a large egg and watched its contents slide into a porcelain bowl. As he reached for another egg, the song resumed. He quickly dropped the egg and sprinted through the kitchen’s back door. The song blossomed into an intense crescendo as Calvin burst into the woods behind his house. Silently he prayed that the melody wouldn’t end before he got to its source.
He skidded to a halt when he reached a recently made clearing. A lone gargantuan tree stood at the centre of at least a dozen stumps. Calvin was intimidated by its girth and height. Smooth wood spiraled from its massive roots up to the impressive spread of branches which seemed to brush the clouds moving lazily in the sky. Two workmen clambered up the scarred trunk using straps and studded boots. The song was softer now, a mere whisper tugging at Calvin’s ears. Each stab of the studs caused the tune to waver.
The workmen got to the top of the tree and lined up the crosscut saw. The tune became a screech as they moved the saw back and forth. Calvin ran down to the tree and shouted at the men to stop. Light brown bark dust rained down on him, coating his hair and filling his throat. Still, he yelled for the workmen to cease their sawing, hoping his pleas would pass through their thick ear guards.
The song became tuneless and harsh, spearing Calvin with its pain and anguish. Tears streamed down his face. Frantic, he tried to climb the tree and get to the men but without the proper gear he only picked off bits of bark with his fingernails. His bare feet merely slid away from the trunk. Above him, he could hear the men grunting with exertion. Light brown dust continued to cascade to the ground and Calvin now stood on a layer of its downy softness. Thick orange-red sap ran down the trunk, springing from the wound above. He touched the sticky fluid, smearing it all over his palm.
The song simmered to a whisper once again as the top of the tree cracked and snapped. Abruptly, the song ended mid-note and the tree’s glorious crown toppled with a crash. The morning sun now streamed unfiltered into the clearing, warming the top of Calvin’s head. He didn’t look up. He couldn’t. It would hurt to see a glorious tree so brutishly massacred. Whimpering, he wrapped his arms around the tree’s bark as far as he could reach and tried to hum the tune he had heard. It was a poor imitation of the beauty that had captivated him. True beauty is rarely man-made.