Can you hear the music in the silence?
If you went far enough down, you could actually hear the silence. That was what they said. Werrinbae didn’t think it was true at all, and no-one went deeper than him. Sure, there was that brief moment of disorientation; the upper reaches suddenly swallowed by the darkness, their tumultuous cacophony folded up and tucked away nearly to wait for your return to the surface. If you chose to. That was unnerving the first time. Like suddenly feeling an anchoring rope tug and then go slack, icy water drawing you further out into a current, away from the unseen shore.
But Werrinbae knew that the Band of Silence was just that, a band, and beyond it lay the deep reaches of the world. Secret, hidden places safe from prying eyes and the abrasive noise of people and living creatures. Not even the trees reached this deep.
The light of his lantern flashed and glinted on the crystals, reflected back in a prismatic spray that mirrored a hundred thousand million eyes gleaming in the velvet dark. The gems drank up the light greedily, humming softly in his head. They didn’t see light often, only when he came or some other poor soul found their way into the Deeps. And only he ever found the way out. This far down, light was life and it imparted a warmth to the chill air as he passed, leaving a gentle song in his wake.
The tunnels were close here, rubbing against his shoulders. Reminding him. A mother’s touch on the first day of school, a partner’s caress after a long day at work. Ten thousand million tonnes of earth above his head, pressing down.
The pressure drove him deeper each time. The crystal caverns hummed contentedly as he wandered their halls, imparting warmth to their chilly facets, his aching bones replying in discordant, silent harmony. The gems grew larger, further down. Red and orange and purple dancing on the walls, sliding soundlessly over his face and hands as he walked, his torchlight flickering over and through the glossy stones. They drank in the light, gave it colour. Gradually the paler crystals vanished. Blues and greens swallowed up by crimson and orange, yellows bleeding dark at the edges.
Shadows flickered. The walls drew away, the comforting touch replaced by space. Nothingness echoed with the sound of his footfalls. Swallowed his light. But even in the void, there was sound. The earth itself, singing a lullaby few heard.
The deep grinding of shifting stone and the rattling crunch of dirt crushed beneath heavy soles echoed in the caverns, swallowed up by greedy shadows that plundered the eyes for memories of sunlight and left them barren. It grew harder to remember light each time, eyes gritty as the sands blown over pit mines, thrown high into the air by grasping machines that sought only the depths. Sometimes the sound of their choking roars was mirrored in the caverns’ stony melody, and Werrinbae remembered that the machines had once slumbered here, far beneath the fleeting, impermanent soil, silent and still. His fingers traced the hard edges of a vein, left a stinging trail of organic iron unseen in the dark.
Every time took him deeper, further into the noisome depths. It drew his voice from him, words and snippets of songs bounced back into his ears, left behind when he ascended once more. Every time, he left more of himself behind.
Around him, the stone sighed and drank up his paltry offerings. Haeme spilling into veins, calcium settling into sedimentary bones, carbon becoming diamond as the weight of the earth pressed ever downwards.
Some day, he would be just another cold source of minerals, crumpled between the rocks, but for now he turned back towards the surface. He wasn’t silent yet.