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The Phantom Bells

Lore Trial #2

When Jorge, David, and I were little
kids, we used to play with a little
Spanish girl with nice but secretive
parents. I’ve forgotten her name, but
she was full of joy and mystery. For a
few years she was like one of the
Ravelos, as she herself had no
brothers or sisters.

From time to time, our friend would
show up near the water where we played
together, singing silly songs and
telling us about the bells she’d heard
the previous night. Well, she lived
right across the street from us and
we’d never heard any bells except on
Sunday morning, so I imagined that she
was simply recounting and embellishing
a fantastic dream.

One afternoon, on our way to the
beach, our friend went on and on more
than usual about the bells and how her
grandfather had heard the same bells
before he disappeared. She was just
like her grandfather and wasn’t that
wonderful!? She couldn’t understand
why her parents were so concerned that
she would be like her grandfather when
they always talked about what a good,
honorable man he’d been. The bells’
music had become so magical and
captivating that my friend – barely 5
years old – began talking about
leaving home to follow them.

Jealous of my friend’s songful dreams
and nervous about her independent
spirit, I pretended that my stomach
hurt and rushed home to tell my mama.
Mama’s eyes darkened, and she warned
me that I must not let my friend
follow the imaginary bells. Her
grandfather was indeed a good,
honorable man, but he’d never returned
after he set out to follow those
imaginary bells. Mama couldn’t believe
that hearing and being mesmerized by
imaginary phantom bells could be a
family trait. She definitely didn’t
want to see disappearance become their
family tradition.

Later that evening, Jorge and David
returned home from the beach,
laughing. They’d told some made up
story to our friend about a crooked
priest who’d buried his thefts deep in
the ground and who’d later protected
those with a dead body and his own
ghost. My brothers rolled over in
girlish giggles as they recounted the
perplexed and serious look on my
friend’s face when they told her that
the bells she was hearing could guide
her to the treasure.

My mother sent both Jorge and David to
their room without supper that night.
When my father got home, he had a long
conversation with the boys about how
they must not encourage superstition
and they must look out for the safety
of our little friend as they would
their little sisters’. What if our
little friend tried to chase down
those bells in pursuit of the money
and got lost, injured, kidnapped by
bandits, or killed?!

That night there was a full moon – I
remember because it was bright like
daylight in my room and I didn’t sleep
a wink. I listened intently for tolls
of bells. Nothing. I closed my eyes,
willing myself to have fantastic
dreams, but I couldn’t even fall
asleep let alone dream. Instead, I lay
there all night long, thinking about
my friend in her little house across
the street. Her grandfather was gone,
she had no brothers or sisters, and
I’d recently overheard whisperings
from my parents about my friend’s
mother’s illness and the expensive
medicine that the family needed. My
mama was trying to get the neighbors
to pool together the money for her. I
no longer felt jealous of my friend’s
dreams – she had such a hard time in
her waking life that she deserved to
hear those magical bells in her
sleeping life.

Two full days passed without a visit
from our little friend. On the third
day, Jorge and I walked across the
street and knocked on her door. Her
father peaked out from behind the door
and began sobbing when he saw us. I
felt a chill pass me as he opened the
door further. His daughter had
disappeared three nights ago just as
his father had years ago, during a
full moon and after an evening of
excited and cryptic talk about bells.
A shovel was missing – had his daughter
dug her own grave? His wife was so
wrought by their daughter’s
disappearance that she, already weak
with disease, died just last night.

My friend’s papa fell to the floor in
a pile and painfully held my hand. A
white light flooded the house and he
stopped crying. He stood up, dusted
his slacks, and asked Jorge if he knew
when would be the next full moon.

Years later, during high school, I was
asked to tell and retell this story
after my friend’s father killed
himself during a full moon. He’d left
a note to all neighbors, warning us
that his family and his house were
cursed. Though he himself had been
spared from the bells’ enchantment, he
had not escaped their reach. His
daughter would not be the last person
to follow their elusive sound to doom.
She and his father now drifted along
the border of life and death,
understanding the mysteries of both
but experiencing neither.

I wonder now if my story is verbose or
one-sided. Do I tell it only from the
perspective of the living? What might
it look like in between that and
death? Where can I poke holes?
Where do I need to cover things up?
Can I understand it in a different way
as an adult than I did as a child or a
teenager? I’d like to reshape my
words in new but familiar ways. My
friend’s death – and the ways I have
told about it – must symbolize
something else when I look at one on
top of the other.

Did that little girl actually hear
bells? Is it possible to be so
enchanted by an instrument? I wonder
if that little girl was maybe just a
nature lover. I like to imagine her
following the sounds of birds,
migrating a little further under the
light of the full moon. Maybe she
joined her grandfather in the arms of
Gaia.

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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