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Syren Chapter 1: Seeing With Your Ears

March 5, 2021

I’m working on a book called Syren. It’s a Science Fiction novel. Here’s a look at the first chapter. Feel free to let me know what you think. Either in the comments or an email.

Sirch stared up into the darkness that was his room. Somewhere above him the roughhewn timbers of the house lurked. Most nights the house was completely dark. Sometimes, one of Syren’s two moons would provide just enough light to make out the simple features of his room. But, not tonight. Tonight the darkness was complete. It was for the best. Tomorrow, after the surgery, he’d be able to lie here in complete oblivion. The thought made him shiver and snuggle down further into the warm wool blankets. Spring was coming, but the nights were still chill enough that he appreciated the heavy blankets, especially after the fire had died down. Even though he couldn’t see it, he knew his skin was still almost completely red. It had been that way all day, It didn’t even revert to its natural blue when he took the time to try to eat.

Somewhere a half league or so out on the prairie an etoyoc, one of a series of small carnivores yapped out a challenge. Perhaps he was calling to a mate, or directing his pack in the hunt. It was a sound easily dismissed. But, not tonight. Tonight Sirch, hung on every sound.

Sounds. He’d always taken them for granted. At 13 he was old to still be seeing with his ears. That’s what the kids called it. Babies and toddlers could close their eyes and still see those around them by using their ears. Neb, his best friend for as long as he could remember had been the first of them to lose his ability to see with his ears. They were eleven at the time.

“Sirch,” Neb signed to him one day during a break from classes. “Guess what?”

“You’re ugly?” Sirch made the sign by drawing his crooked finger across his upper lip. Neb ignored the jab and continued excitedly. “Watch this!” And with that Neb closed his eyes and leaned his head slightly back. “Go ahead. Move around and clap your hands.”

Sirch felt his stomach tighten up. It wasn’t fair. He was older than Neb. Sure, it was only by a month, but that still counted. Stepping behind Neb, and being careful not to touch him, Sirch loudly clapped his hands next to Neb’s left ear. Neb’s expression didn’t change. Sirch tried the right ear, harder this time. The crack of his hands caused some of the younger kids playing nearby in the dirt, to turn their heads. But, Neb continued his silent stance.

After a few moments that lasted an eternity for Sirch, Neb opened his eyes and quickly looked around for his friend. “Did you do it? Did you?” Neb’s questioning finger wagged like a dog. “See?” he signed. I didn’t see a thing. “Told you!”

“I didn’t do it,” Sirch weakly responded. “I just pretended to hit my hands.” It was clear that Neb didn’t believe him.

“Liar!” he signed laughing. Suddenly Sirch wanted to be anywhere but in the middle of the school yard. He could feel the tears welling up in his eyes. It was stupid for young men to cry. But, that’s right. He wasn’t really a man, young or otherwise. Not while he could still see with his ears. He was still one of the babies, unable to get a job, vote in village elections, or do any of the other things that men could do. The fact that at 11 Neb wouldn’t be allowed to do any of those things either didn’t seem to matter. Neb had changed.

His friend finally noticed that Sirch was not sharing the enthusiasm for his pending adulthood. “It’s okay Sirch. You’re older than me. I’m sure you’ll stop seeing with your ears any day now.” His friend was trying to help him save face. That made him feel even worse.

Before he could think of a response, the teacher waved the red flag on the porch signaling it was time to come back to class.

That was over two years ago. And during those two years, the rest of his friends and classmates each lost the ability to see with their ears. Everyone except Sirch. It was unheard of for anyone to finish their twelfth year and still be able to see with their ears. After the constant teasing, Neb learned to quit bringing it up. But, the shame was still almost more than Sirch could bear.

So, when his mother took him to the doctor today, he almost didn’t believe his eyes.

“Sirch, this is Dr Notrom. He’s going to prevent you from seeing with your ears.” Sirch turned in confusion from his mother to the doctor. It didn’t seem possible. Money was scarce and he could only remember going to see the doctor one other time. It was three years earlier, in the fall and he’d been very sick. The doctor had given him a red mixture that tasted like burnt berries when he swallowed it.

“I don’t understand. How can he do that? Will it be like the red mixture?” It was the doctor who responded, “No. We’ll need to operate.” Sirch didn’t understand the sign the doctor used. “We’ll need to make a small cut here.” The doctor indicated a point slightly behind his ear. “After that, your ears will be a good as anyone’s.”

He must have still looked uncertain. The doctor nodded at his mother who pulled back her long brown hair to reveal a small scar behind her right ear. “It’s the same way I became an adult when I was young.”

Sirch touched the tip of his finger and brought it around in a circle to ask, “When?”

“Tomorrow,” and with that the doctor stood indicating the appointment was over.

Sirch didn’t know what to think. He’d never heard of anyone who had. . .what was it the doctor had called it? An operation to make them normal. After years of ridicule, it hardly seemed possible that Sirch was finally going to be normal. No more jumping at loud noises. No more waking to sounds. And most importantly he’d finally be considered a man. Sure, a young man, but at least he’d be like everyone else. A wellspring of relief started at his toes and bubbled up through his body and finally erupting in his hands. He signed explosions, escaping birds, running, jumping, laughing. His skin, a normal pale blue was a swirling mix of reds, blues, purples and yellows.

Sirch’s mother didn’t say anything as they walked home. When, Sirch attempted to get her attention, she simply looked away so she couldn’t see what he was signing. He couldn’t be sure, but it almost seemed like she was sad. He couldn’t for the life of him imagine why.

He had been too excited to sleep. Even with all the lights out, he found he couldn’t close his eyes. Staring into the darkness he considered the many ways that tomorrow would change him. Nothing would ever be the same. A single steckirc chirped outside his window. Its lonely chirp every few seconds went unanswered. Sirch closed his eyes and watched the steckirc with his ears. How many things competed for his attention when he closed his eyes.

It was many hours into the night. Despite his excitement, Sirch must have slept. The darkness was still complete and total. His ears told him that his mother was stirring in the next room. To think that tomorrow he would no longer be able to see that. Tomorrow. . .no more likely today since he guessed it was well past midnight.

His door opened nearly silently on its leather hinges. His mother’s bare feet whispered across the floor toward his bed. He wondered why she didn’t put on a light so they could talk. He felt her hand in his. Every child learns the palm-spelling game. He loosely held his mother’s hand as she spelled out, “Y-O-U M-U-S-T G-O.” Then a pause. “N-O-W.”

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2021 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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  1. Patricia permalink

    I’m glad I caught this today. It feels real. Great job of course.

  2. Eric S Scott permalink

    I shared this with my son. Here is his reaction:

  3. Such a delightful premise and exploration of how the average “Normal” can prejudge and hold back those with extra abilities. Both my wife and I have had to deal with such things in our lives on smaller scale, so this story has our attention. We look forward to Sirch’s search for a new path and where you will take him in it.

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