I always come here to relax, too. The music is so peaceful, but there’s also this sense of loneliness that’s hard to put into words. Surrounded by people but still alone, beloved by all but still abandoned…
Do you know the story? Of the Chime Tree? I’ve seen you come here with your family to hang an offering from the branches, but it seems like no one remembers why we do it any more. We just do it because we’ve done it. And because the music sounds nice.
So: A long time ago, before this was a city, when it was just a port and a village, there was a monster. There used to be a lot more monsters back then. It walked on two legs and was as tall as three men and it was covered in long matted tufts of black hair. Some said it was a man that was left to die in the woods but instead grew there like mold, got bigger and more rotten, more in pain and more in anger. Wherever it came from, every week or two it would wander into town, moving with complete silence, and kill someone and drag them away into the forest. Maybe it ate them, but no bones were ever found. If anyone tried to stop it, with spears or fire, it would kill them too. Hunting parties went out to kill it and came back empty-handed and with fewer hunters with fewer limbs.
It’s remarkable what you can live with. Some towns have rivers where children drown and some have dangerous cliffs and some just have bad luck: We had a monster. Eventually, you just come to accept that you might get snatched by a hellish beast the same way you accept you might get stabbed in a bar fight. No one ever saw it coming, it just appeared from the darkness and grabbed you and took you away. Maybe it was a peaceful way to go. I hope so.
One day, though, one of the village lads got a clever idea into his head, and was stupid enough to be unable to forget this clever idea. He made a little bell, and he set out into the forest. It took him a few days, but eventually he found the monster standing in a clearing, staring off into the distance. It didn’t react, but stood there, making a quiet sound in between a moan and a howl. He was terrified, but as stealthily as he could he came up behind it and tied the bell into its hair. It stayed motionless, and didn’t move an inch even as he ran away as fast as his legs could take him.
Now, at least, there was some warning before the monster could claim someone. It didn’t really matter much, because it could still outrun anyone in the village, but it at least meant the fleet of foot had a chance to divert its attention to easier prey. And, after the young man returned, it became a sort of dare or rite of passage for other youths to tie a bell or chime to the monster. It turned out he needn’t have been stealthy at all: Clumsy youths fell and dropped handfuls of chimes around the monster, people yelled around it, all sorts of youthful chaos and enthusiasm happened around it, and it never reacted, except to keep making its quiet howling moan. A couple of idiots, forgetting what had happened to the hunters, tried to attack it, and they were killed, but the rest knew to let well enough alone – and tied more bells and chimes to it.
Overnight, it seemed, the monster had become a monument. The wind blew the chimes in its hair and made the forest around it seem so peaceful. We laughed and played and made love around it, and over time the attacks slowed down, to every month, to every two months, to once or twice a year… and then they stopped. It stood in the forest, listening to its chimes, and didn’t move an inch. Eventually it took root, and grew into a tree: This tree, the Chime Tree.
Over time, though, people forget. This tree became just another tree in a forest. Few people remembered it was ever there, or that it once stood and walked. There was a sense, particularly in the man who had tied the first bell, who was no longer young, who was older than I am now, of something forgotten, something important, but none could say what. Until, one day, the storm came, suddenly, moaning and howling, the wind ripping people up and away and off the streets. It lasted three days, dozens perished. After the first day, we were certain it would never end, that it was the end of the world. But it did. The old man, who man who tied the first chime, asked us to follow him, and we did, out to the forest, where most of the trees were flattened or stripped of branches except one, a weird twisted black tree, covered in the rusted remnants of bells and chimes, strings and clappers waving in the breeze. He hung his bell once more, and it rang in the wind.
We hang the chimes once a year. Maybe we’re scared of the monster still, somehow, but I think it’s more of a penance. How could we care for something and then abandon it? How could we adopt a monster, dress it in music, and then leave it to be alone again?
Even though the music is beautiful, the wind still moans and howls through the branches. This place is still a little bit sad and a little bit scary. But, like most things, if we care for it properly it will not hurt us.