Narrated Version [YouTube]
There is a strange monster in my town. I won’t tell you where, naturally, but if you live here you’ll know what I’m talking about. The creature is no secret, though if you’re lucky you’ll never see it. I … wasn’t so lucky. Although that’s partly because I was an idiot who didn’t listen.
I was a transplant from the city, looking for a fresh start. I didn’t have a dark past or anything, just some failed dream I needed to recover from—this place seemed as good as any, the townspeople were friendly and the scenery looked like it belonged in a painting. Music plays everywhere, and the townspeople often sing as they carry on about their day. When I stumbled across the town I thought ‘Wow, everyone here is so happy.’ Maybe I could be happy too.
But … to be honest, those weren’t the reasons I moved here. I moved here because the cost of living was dirt cheap, and I’d be able to live off of my savings for a few months even if I couldn’t find a job right away.
One strange thing I noticed was that the town was sectioned off, oddly enough, by taste in music. I guess this was so that the music wouldn’t all clash, since it was playing non-stop—even in the residential areas. Even at 2 in the morning. This was one detail that might have kept me from moving here…
I found it hard to sleep in my apartment for the first week. I’d moved into this cheap apartment in the ‘Country’ quarters, not realizing that I’d have to listen to country music 24/7. I asked my neighbors to turn it down, but they said that they couldn’t.
It was annoying, but no one would budge. Other than that, everyone was really pleasant to me. Though… perhaps a touch passive aggressive? Or so I thought at the time. My neighbor from across the hall, Ms. Walcott, brought me a house-warming gift: It was a battery-operated CD player, and a stack of George Strait CDs. She said it was ‘in case of a power outage’.
“A power outage would be just lovely.” I’d replied. “I don’t really mind country music, but it would be nice if it was quiet sometimes.”
Ms. Walcott shook her head at me. “You’d think so, but you’d best not risk it my dear.”
“What do you mean?”
Like I said, this creature is no secret—so Ms. Walcott told me outright:
“The monster likes music, if you have it playing it will leave you alone.” Of course, I didn’t believe her. Was this some prank? Some way to haze a newcomer? I decided to humor her though.
“Oh… I keep forgetting that not everyone knows!” she looked a little embarrassed, drawing her hand to her chin and looking thoughtful as she thought of how she should explain. “We call it The Songbird. I’ve never seen it, mind, but it eats people and makes a real mess of them. For some reason, if you play music it won’t attack. As long as you don’t try to attack first, anyway. A few young men found this out the hard way.”
“Right…” I sighed, rubbing my scalp in vexation. I’d play along. It’s best to get along with your neighbors if you can, and if letting them get a laugh at my expense breaks the ice… so be it. They’d see it was silly soon enough anyway. I’d already invested in a pair of ear plugs, which I’d started to get used to. I could still hear the music, but at least it was muted.
“You really should be playing music too.” Ms. Walcott looked undeniably worried, peering past me and into my apartment. The door was still wide open, and the last of my unpacked boxes were stacked by the door.
“It’s ok.” I answered, “Everyone is playing their music loud enough that I can hear it too, and I haven’t had any trouble so far.”
“Not just at home, dear. Everywhere. Or sing, even if you’re not very good at it. It’s better than nothing.”
“Sure, sure. Thanks.” I had no intention of doing any of that. Can you blame me? I didn’t know Quainttown, USA was the set to some sort of horror movie /musical. I excused myself after that, I did have that last bit of unpacking to do.
I shoved the CD player and George Strait CDs into the back of the closet somewhere, figuring it could die a slow and dusty death back there. I was… a little resentful of my neighbors at that moment. It was true I didn’t mind country music, but it definitely wasn’t my favorite and it was getting old.
Time passed… noisily… for several uneventful months. After a while, things didn’t really seem so bad. I’d started tuning out the music and it didn’t bother me as much as it has before. I didn’t carry music around or sing like Ms. Walcott had suggested, but it seemed like the townspeople all had it covered everywhere I went. Singing, and layers upon layers of music playing- this place really is so strange, but the people don’t seem to mind living this way. I was starting not to mind either, even if I wasn’t exactly joining in.
Still… I did crave some of that sweet, golden silence that I’d taken for granted before moving here. I decided that I’d go camping on Top Hat Hill on the edge of town. The hill was named, as you might have guessed, for its shape which looked a bit like a top hat from a distance. It was a steep hike, and surprisingly large– it served as more of a landmark than a destination for most people… so it seemed like the perfect place to go, without having to spend a ton on gas to get out of town.
I packed up a small one-person tent, a ton of snacks, some books and a couple other things before making the hike one afternoon. I regretted how heavy my bags were pretty early on, but it was worth it when I realized I couldn’t hear anything but my labored breathing. That fact alone gave me the motivation and spurt of energy needed to finish the climb, and I was rewarded with an amazing view of the town and surrounding forests.
“Heck yeah!” I shouted to no one in particular, and dumped all my stuff on the ground so I could flop back on the grass and just… enjoy the silence. Actual silence.
Of course, the peace and quiet was short lived.
About an hour had passed when I noticed a strange sound, like something wet was clicking and scraping. I listened for a moment, but I was so tired from the hike that I didn’t bother sitting up just yet. The clicking sort of reminded me of billiards, though there wasn’t a pool table to be seen on this hill. Someone else must have been coming up, perhaps looking to escape the music just as I had? I let out a short laugh, realizing that OF COURSE I couldn’t be the only one who had this brilliant idea.
“It sure is beautiful up here, isn’t it?” I called out, still not moving. Whoever it was didn’t answer, and I finally got curious enough to sit up and see who it was. I hoisted myself into a half-way sitting position and then stared in confusion at the thing which was still finishing the last stretch of the climb.
The first thing I noticed was the long tongue dragging on the ground—rubbed raw, and stained with clumps of gravel sticking to it. The tongue was attached to an angular, bony face with brown feathery patches and a beak-like protrusion that seemed to split two….
Though it just had the one tongue. I thought it didn’t have eyes, until it cocked its head and I saw that the eyes were spread far apart and located beneath what I assumed were ear holes.
This must have been ‘The Songbird’, as Ms. Walcott had told me. Aside from the fact that it had some sort of beak, it didn’t look like any sort of bird I’d ever heard of. I wasn’t exactly going to sit there and count, but it had AT LEAST six legs that were at least a foot shorter than that dragging, scraping tongue…
I let out a string of curses and didn’t even bother grabbing for my backpack—I just started running. I could hear it following me. I knew that I needed to start singing SOMETHING, but I was so terrified my throat felt like it has closed up and my brain was completely blanking on any sort of lyrics. What song was it that Ms. Walcott was always playing right when I was trying to sleep? What was it?
I could only remember the chorus, but… well, I started belting them out best I could while running clumsily down the hill:
“Baby, write this down, take a little note to remind you in case you didn’t know, tell yourself I love you and I don’t what you to go, write this down…”
That’s right– George. Effing. Strait. I was somewhere between screaming and singing the chorus, over and over again. But you know what? IT WORKED. I didn’t have to look back to know it did, that rasping tongue was suddenly silent as The Songbird paused and listened to my terrible rendition of “Write This Down” by George Strait. Going down the hill was easier than getting up, but I still tripped and tumbled down here and there—but I didn’t stop screeching those lyrics the whole time.
I made it into town scraped up and dirty… but alive. You can bet your ass I dug that CD player out of the closet and started looping the first CD I could find. Yeah, it was George Effing Strait. His music sounded much better in the light of not being dead, if you can believe it.
So if you ever find yourself in a quaint, musical town where everyone is singing and the music always plays… crank up your radio as loud as you can get it, and keep on driving. I’m not going to be staying here much longer, I just need to save up enough money for a deposit on another apartment somewhere far away.
Since I’ve seen the thing, I don’t think I can live with it… but at least I know what to do to protect myself. I don’t know why it likes music, but since everyone here is so good about keeping the music going I figure eventually it’ll get hungry enough that it will stop working. I don’t want to be around when that happens.