The Urge To Sing

May 4, 2017
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Rose breathed heavy into the darkness, the feeling of dread lingering from her nightmare. The blackness of night seemed to fill her every sense, but she made no move to light the lamp next to her bed. Rose felt the need to leave the empty little room, so she crawled out from under the warm covers and slipped out her bedroom door. Her feet carried her out the front door, stealth in her every step and nothing but the tightness in her lungs on her mind. It wasn’t until Rose was a safe distance from the house that she felt like she could breathe again. She inhaled deeply, letting the night fill her with calm. Her eyes fluttered closed, and she let them stay that way. It was here she felt free: eyes closed, head to the sky, and night air in her lungs. Rose was filled with the urge to sing, the night sky acting as inspiration for melody, but no song she knew seemed right, so she instead continued to breathe in the air. A calm washed over Rose, one that felt like it couldn’t end. Of course, all calm moments end; this end just happened to be a bit more life altering than most.
The sound of frantic yells startled Rose out of her peaceful trance. She was astounded to remember that there were more people than just her in the world, and even more shocked to see that one of those people was hurtling towards her. The collision happened quickly, but Rose had had just enough time to brace herself. The clearly disheveled girl was stopped by Rose’s arms rather than pushing Rose to the ground. For a moment their eyes met. The girl’s eyes were blue, a shade so dark it reminded Rose of the night sky. You must come from the sky, Rose thought as she took in the sight in front of her. Rose saw something else in the “sky girl’s” eyes as well. Panic. Pure panic so overwhelming that Rose could hear it calling out to her even before the girl made her plea audible.
“Help,” the sky girl’s voice was weak and strained with fear, and out of some protective instinct Rose didn’t know she had, Rose obliged. She ushered the sky girl away from the sound of the angry crowd that was still in the distance, and brought her to the barn behind her family’s house. The crowd passed, too caught up in the chase to wonder if the sky girl had changed course. Rose let a couple seconds pass to be sure the pair was safe before turning to the sky girl, questions from her mind overflowing into her speech.
“Why were they following you?” Rose’s voice came out harsh rather than inquisitive like she’d meant to sound, and the girl flinched. Rose softened, settling for a calmer question. “Are you okay?”
The sky girl lifted her eyes and spoke.  “I’m fine,” the sky girl’s words were clipped, and Rose wished the girl would be a little nicer. After all, Rose had just saved the girl’s life, but Rose didn’t want to push it. Instead she sat down, gesturing for the sky girl to sit next to her. The girl hesitantly followed, taking her spot next to Rose.
“Do you have a name?” Rose asked, and the sky girl breathed deeply before speaking, uncertainty laced in her tone.
“Joan,” the sky girl, Joan, spoke, moving her eyes up to meet Rose’s. “And I’m a witch.”
A witch. The words shocked Rose, and her mind screamed at her to move. To yell for help. For her to do something, anything, to keep herself safe. But she didn’t. Instead, she introduced herself. “Rose. My name’s Rose.” Rose softly told the girl in front of her instead of  “saving” herself because, for once in her boring life, she felt intrigued.
Rose’s next few weeks were consumed by Joan. During the day, Rose worked on the farm and did her chores with thoughts of Joan swirling in the back of her mind, while Joan hid in the wooded area behind Rose’s family’s house. During the night, Rose would sneak to the barn and talk to Joan. The pair told each other stories of their childhoods. They learned seemingly everything about one another. Joan was the only person who knew just how unhappy with a farm life Rose was, and Rose knew all about Joan’s family. All about her brother’s recent passing and her father’s angry grieving. She knew that Joan’s original claim of being a witch was an exaggeration; Joan had been merely accused of being a witch. She knew that it was Joan’s own father who had accused her of the heinous act, his rage blinding him to the fact that the signs of “witchcraft” he had found were a twisted version of the truth. She knew that Joan was kind and never wanted to hurt anyone.
Everything seemed perfect; Rose finally had a true friend, and Joan could hide away from her problems, but the pair made a mistake that would cost them. One night the girls were lying in silence, enjoying each other’s company, when Joan suddenly sat up.
“Do you know the song ‘Barbara Allen’?” Joan asked Rose, the sound of her voice alone soothing Rose’s stress from the day.
“No,” Rose replied simply, looking up at the other girl with curious eyes.
“Well, my mom used to sing it to me. It’s a very beautiful song,” Joan spoke. She seemed deep in thought, lost in memories that the song evoked.
“Sing it to me?” Rose asked softly, and Joan looked back. Joan seemed startled and didn’t speak. Instead she moved to lie back down again. Rose had concluded Joan wasn’t going to sing, when she suddenly heard Joan’s voice next to her.
“Twas in the merry month of May when green buds all were swelling, sweet William on his deathbed lay for love of Barbara Allen.” Joan’s voice was beautiful, and the soothing sounds seemed to fill the entire room. Rose closed her eyes to listen.
“He sent his servant to the town to the place where she was dwelling, saying you must come, to my master dear if your name be Barbara Allen.” Joan’s melodious voice filled Rose’s head as she felt herself drift away to a sleep more peaceful than she’d ever experienced.
This can’t happen. This can’t happen. This can’t happen. Rose’s mind repeated as she walked. The ground was soft and muddy beneath her feet, and the gloomy afternoon sky hung above her head. This can’t happen. The mantra rang out in Rose’s mind as she thought of Joan’s fearful face on the morning Rose’s brother Myles had found them in the barn. They’d slept in too late, and Myles had told Rose’s parents about the strange girl in the barn with Rose. This can’t happen. The mantra overwhelmed Rose as she thought of Joan’s solemn face as she “confessed” to using witchcraft on Rose in an attempt to keep Rose out of trouble. This can’t happen. The mantra continued as Rose thought of Joan’s angry face when her own father had accused her of causing her brother’s death. THIS CAN’T HAPPEN. The mantra consumed every space in Rose’s mind as she thought of Joan’s kind face on all the nights the pair had spent together.
But it was happening. Reality slapped Rose hard when she saw her friend standing upon the gallows. She wanted to scream out and help her friend, but her parents had taken her there to celebrate the death of the “evil witch who had corrupted their little girl.” Rose knew what Joan had done to save her, and she refused to let that be in vain. Instead, she looked up at her friend with sad eyes, a smile on her face as a poor attempt to comfort Joan.
People around Rose were talking. She didn’t hear. All she was aware of was the sight of her friend with stony eyes and death wrapped around her neck. Despite the steely look, Rose saw emotion blooming under the surface of Joan’s eyes. In Joan’s eyes was the same fear that had made Rose want to help her in the first place. Rose watched helplessly as her friend stepped onto the platform, a feeling of dread filling her entire body. Rose suddenly heard a voice singing a familiar tune. It took a moment for Rose to realize that the melodic voice was her own.
“Twas in the merry month of May when green buds all were swelling, sweet William on his deathbed lay for love of Barbara Allen.” Rose’s voice rang out above the small crowd that had gathered at Joan’s hanging. She sang the lyrics out, making sure Joan could hear them. Joan smiled at Rose from where she stood upon the scaffold.
“He sent his servant to the town to the place where she was dwelling, saying you must come, to my master dear if your name be Barbara Allen.” Rose sang louder as she watched Joan mouth the lyrics back in her last moments. Rose was crying. She closed her eyes as she heard the snap of the trap door opening beneath Joan. Rose sang and sang until she heard herself finish the song, then she ran. She ran down the street and through her yard and into the barn the pair had shared. She buried her head in her knees and cried for what felt like hours. An all consuming sadness had filled Rose as she heard her family coming to find her. She wiped her tears and steeled her face, but silently promised herself to never forget the sky girl who she’d found when the poor soul had no one else. And no one could blame Rose if every once in awhile she snuck into the night, and serenaded the sky with the soft tune of Barbara Allen.

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