Strange Music

Edited by Danny Lore

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

April 2021

662 words — Reading time: around 3 minutes

The worst part of the bombing was the music. Each explosion was timed to the drum beat, each burst of fanfare trumpeted in the streets as buildings shook and crumbled. It was loud enough to penetrate the rolls of cotton, foam plugs, and hasty fingers in the ears of all those in the city.

No. Of course, the worst part of the bombing was the death, the destruction of the humans and the pets, of tall cathedrals and homes, of hospitals and shopping centers, grandparents and mothers, all gone in one blaring leitmotif. It was enough to subdue the populace each time the song was played again, in Nina’s classroom or on the wireless speakers installed on every street. The blare made Nina pause even now, though she had been the eldest of four and had not been scared until she saw the terror in her parents’ faces.

Nina hated her teachers for playing the song as punishment, but she hated the teachers for plenty of other reasons too. School was mandatory reeducation, and she had to learn a whole new language — a language with lots of consonants and strange broad noises, not quick and witty like her native tongue.

Any act of rebellion inside or outside the classroom was crushed, absolutely, so Nina studied the new language. Her rebellion was to master it, to speak it better than its natives and use it against them. The plan worked for a while.

Nina couldn’t hide her subversiveness. Whenever she got a leg up, she would use her leverage to subtly insult the invaders, and she was reprimanded harshly. Twice, she was dropped a grade, forced to repeat the year again as punishment.

Her former classmates graduated. They became miners, farmers, or even managers. Sarah, the only person to have beaten Nina on language tests, had won a job waiting tables at a restaurant with two entrances. One for select members of the city who worked there, and one for the invaders who dined there.

So that’s what being the best got you. A job serving food to the invaders.

Nina dropped out.

She stopped speaking the invader’s language whenever the police were out of sight. Sometimes she’d see her old classmates on the street. Catching their eyes, she’d murmur something in their native tongue. All too often, they would turn away from her.

But Sarah whispered back, grabbed her hand, and took Nina to a crumbling building off of 8th street. Glass shards jutted from the remaining windows’ empty sockets. It was one of many high-rise buildings which had neither been repaired nor destroyed. Instead of going up into the skeleton, Sarah and Nina descended down, down, down, towards the foundation of the building, and opened a door with flashing lights and a strong bass beat.

It was the song, but it had been mashed up with Carmina Burana, spliced with ironic quotes from the king, then repeated and doubled up on itself until it became something else. It did not strike terror — it critiqued it, made fun of the song, and Nina realized, as she and Sarah danced all night to different iterations, that it let a part of her free. She and Sarah swooped and swirled, kissed each other in pure defiance.

They both knew the place wouldn’t survive long, and it didn’t. The next Friday, they returned to the skyscraper’s basement to dance. They left two hours before the raid. Within a week, there was a new place, this time in an abandoned barn on the edge of town.

Nina learned to spin. In her most popular remix, the song blasts for a moment, then in the silence, her favorite melody from childhood swells in. The song blasts again, but it is different, slightly more like her song. They play back and forth, over and over, until the song becomes her song, singing in her language, “But the song is never over, while there’s someone left to sing.”

© 2021 Nicole Bade

About the author

Nicole Bade

Nicole Bade is a nonbinary speculative fiction writer with an MFA in creative writing from Goddard College. In their spare time, they co-curate Two Hour Transport, a science fiction and fantasy reading series in Seattle. Read more about Two Hour Transport at twohourtransport.wordpress.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/twohourtransport/.