Life is a journey. Make every step count, they said.

They were full of it, weren't they?






It was years before I could find my voice again. After what happened, I wasn't sure I wanted to. It was always my voice that caused so much troubl e. (My voice that caused the incident.)

I can't help being able to sing people. Some of us can sing trees, birds, or small, furry mammals. Can make them do things they wouldn't normally. Sway their desires the way of ours, play on their inner feelings. Not me. I was born different.

They realized, I think, when I was five years old and I attempted to sing my mother into giving me another biscuit. Or rather, they realized when I was holding the biscuit. That I was different. That biscuit was possibly a pivotal part of my life.

My parents tried to keep it a secret. We moved into a new tree, in a new village. I never attended school; they gave me lessons at home. My mother would do most of the teaching, and every single day my father would look me in the eyes and say to me, "Remember, my son. A man's free will is the only thing he has in this world. To take it away from anybody would be a sin."

They tried to teach me the truth; that my gift was a horrible curse, never to be used. They tried so hard to save me from my fate.

Happy times. But they couldn't last forever. I was young – thirteen – and had very little experience with my peers. Especially the female ones.

My raging hormones led me to believe things that I would previously have considered ridiculous. She was the most beautiful girl in the world. Her voice was like honey when she sang to the mice. She was waiting for me to sing with her. And I would get away with it behind my parents' backs.

Never had I lied so convincingly as I did to myself that day. I slipped into her window at night, none too gracefully, and was greeted by her wide eyes. She was shocked, as I began to sing to her, softly. Of friendship. Of love.

By the time we were interrupted by her hysterical parents, she was calmer than a drugged patient and we were inches apart, staring into each other's eyes. I was always fascinated by her eyes. The rest of her face was squarish and a little coarse, but her eyes were blue like the sky after rainfall. They told me half-lidded stories.

That was the first time I sung to somebody outside my family. Her parents wanted me killed. My parents were told that if they surrendered me to the village's custody, they would be allowed to leave alive. They were the lucky ones.

There were months of debate while I rotted in the village prison cells, bitter, with nobody to speak to but my deaf jailer. I could not escape from that cell, but many lengthy discussions were devoted to how I would stand for the trial. I could simply hum a tune in the judge's ear, and behold! I would be free again to terrorize the world.

This conundrum, however, was eventually solved by some genius, as conundrums often are. The answer was simple; I would be denied a trial. As the only known people-singer in the land, I would be held in jail whilst politicians squabbled over me and I grew pale and limpid for want of sunlight and fresh food.

But I shan't complain about it. It was for my own good, they said. Once the secret was out, I would be in mortal danger if I were to show my face in public. The trees, birds and small furry mammals didn't seem to mind, but the people did not want a singer. They liked knowing that their free will was theirs alone. The mob justice would get me, they said. I was fairly sure that something about that story didn't hold water.

Languishing in my cell, I grew lonely. Lonelier. Obsessed with the past. Despite how I had foolishly exposed myself for want of something I did not dare to call love, I could not let my parents' betrayal go. And the dark cell helped me to sink easily into a deep, all-consuming depression.

Life is a journey. (How could they leave me?)

It was three years before they pulled me out of my cell, the bolts clanging like the Liberty Bell. They'd had time to plan this moment. Two hearing guards, with the job of shepherding me through the corridors, were backed up by two comrades with earplugs in, artificially deaf men. So, if the hearing guards started acting strangely, that was the signal for the deaf ones to intervene.

It was a good plan. I cared nothing for it then. The fight was drained from me, as was the mere energy to walk up the stairs. My legs were weak from nothing but pacing, my limbs thin and awkward. My voice had barely seen use in three years, save to sing myself to sleep. Perhaps I spoke to myself, too; I don't remember. Those years were full of shadows, and a part of me still lives in the darkness.

I know I didn't talk to myself in that cell. (I was talking to the shadows.)

And then the sunshine hit me like a wall, banishing the darkness. Shocking my system. Searing into my retinas. Feeding my will to live. After three years of purgatory for the sin of existence, this was my heavenly reward.

I fainted in the arms of my escort.

The next part is common knowledge. I was washed, taken to the trial, stood in front of thousands of people representing other villages and even other nations, had some thoughts about tourism value, and then they wanted me to sing. To prove I could do it. They tried to make me, but after three years in solitary, I knew silence with an intimacy. I refused them.

Made a fool in front of the crowd, the leaders of the village sewed shut my mouth. That's what these scars are, along my lips. Do you know what it is to scream? It is a note that echoes from the very core of your soul. It is vocal pain and fear. And then they forced my mouth closed.

I awoke in the darkness again, confused and horrified. I could not speak. I could not sing. And it was seven heart-wrenching seconds before I realized I was not back in the cell, but under the sky. It was night, but not the black nothingness nights I had lived in prison. A night full of stars and strange noises.

I might have feared the beasts, if I were not prone to seeing men jump out at me at every turn. In comparison to my own kind, the forest seemed so welcoming.

I spent time in the forest. I cut loose my stitches. I hunted, although I had not done so before – in the village, those who could sing to animals beseeched them into our midst, and we shared the meat. I made myself a home and regained my strength. And most importantly, I soaked up the sunshine. I was almost happy again, despite the shame and confinement I had endured.

But it was not to last.