When it was quiet, it was possible to hear the bells ringing in the church clear across town. Erika heard them often in the crisp evenings when everyone else was asleep. They kept her company, marked the approaching dawn, giving her increasingly insistent warnings that soon it would all begin again.
It occurred to her that there might be someone on the other side with the bells—a Quasimodo. She refused to believe that they were hooked up to a system of levers and pulleys that were programmed by a faceless computer. No, it was someone with strong arms and legs; a solid weight pulling down on a thick rope that burned their palms as they let it slide through before seizing it tightly to pull down again.
“I want to go to the church,” she told Kerry one evening.
Kerry frowned, brow furrowed. “Any church in particular?”
“The one with the bells.”
“I think they hold mass at nine o’clock,” Kerry nodded and shrugged. “But we can go.”
“No, not on Sunday. I want to go now,” Erika insisted rising.
But Erika had already left the room and left the house walking in the general direction from which she knew the music of the bells carried.
Kerry ran after her with a blanket to wrap around her shoulders despite the fact it wasn’t actually cold.
“Let me do this,” Erika told Kerry. “I’ll be fine.”
Kerry pressed her lips together but stepped aside. “If you head for Main Street—”
“I’ll find it,” Erika dismissed the offered directions.
“Just… be careful.”
Erika walked. She stopped at the ends of sidewalks and waited for cars to pass and the light to turn. She didn’t flinch when dogs barked at her from behind their fences and ignored a group of teens gathered outside a fast food place jeering at her and smacking one another on their arms and backs as though they’d accomplished something.
She checked her watch and waited closing her eyes.
There it was; ten, perfectly-spaced, deep tones that resonated with her bones. She turned and adjusted her path.
Her steps were small but determined. It wasn’t as silent as she’d always thought. The noise from televisions slipped through open windows, the light peeking through the cracks in shades and blinds. There were insects out and about as well as the bats, electric zappers, and other nocturnal beings that caught and devoured them. Cars idled at intersections and then sped off when the spectrum shifted.
Knowing all this made the bells that much more impressive. They cut through all the nonsense and made themselves heard, made their presence felt. And yet for so many they faded into the background too.
Erika stopped and waited again ignoring the woman who spotted her through her front window and came out to ask if she was lost. Erika held up a hand, confusing the woman until she started; eleven.
“No, I’m not lost,” Erika whispered as she started walking again; she was close.
Most everything was dark when she finally found the church. Only the streetlamps and the headlights from a solitary car competed with the moon and stars to light Erika’s way.
It was different this time. They started early—five minutes before the hour; they had a whole song to get through before the day officially ended.
Erika stared up at the bell tower and smiled. She wondered if they played the same song every time or if the unseen Quasimodo changed it from night to night.
Tears of triumph trickled down her face with the tolling of each of the twelve bells welcoming the new day.