Aiden loved that song. Loved it.
He was sitting on the bus to school the first time he heard that song over his headphones. One fifth of the way through, he knew it was a great song. Even before the song finished, Aiden wanted to hear it again. That’s a good song, he thought.
Within weeks, everyone at school knew the song, because, like other great songs, the song had become popular. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem to Aiden, because many songs become popular. No big deal. Up until then, Aiden hadn’t thought about songs becoming popular at all. He listened to songs, and then listened to other songs. This time, however, was different. He was at school, and he felt worried, and that worry had to do with the song.
At first, he didn’t even know what was worrying him. The worry had begun as a slight agitation, like hearing a mosquito buzzing somewhere in the distance when you’re trying to sleep, except with the mosquito, you knew why you were agitated. You didn’t want to get bit, because you would itch, and that would be another agitation. Plus, the sound of the mosquito was annoying, completely different from Aiden’s song.
So Aiden’s agitation began like being agitated by a mosquito but if you didn’t realize you were hearing a mosquito at all.
At home, Aiden grabbed a yogurt snack and went to his room. He wasn’t supposed to eat in his room because his mom said it would attract ants, but he needed to think, so he’d be careful. He doubted ants liked yogurt anyway, but who knows?
Aiden sat on his bed and midway through his fourth spoonful, he knew what was bothering him. His song was popular, and that meant, like every popular song, it would become unpopular. That’s what happens to a popular song. One day, everyone is listening to the song, and then you hear it on a stupid commercial or playing in the opening on some talk show. Once that happens, your song becomes uncool, although your parents still think it’s cool and don’t realize kids aren’t listening to it anymore. The song fades away. You’ll hear it from time to time, but that song will never be like it was before. Your song becomes normal.
Aiden finished his spoonful of yogurt and carefully set the cup on his nightstand. He carefully placed it down because sometimes a short yogurt container and taller spoon leads to a tip-over, and this was no time for spilled yogurt. Aiden had a song to protect.
He was positive, completely, absolutely positive, that nobody liked the song more than he did, not even the band that had recorded the song. Aiden decided there was no way he was letting this song become normal.
Aiden paired his phone with his wireless speaker and waited. He didn’t search out the song but simply streamed his favorite station, knowing the song would come to him, and after 14 minutes, it did.
The song began playing, and yes, it was still the best song Aiden had ever heard. He had to keep his song from disappearing. Reaching out, Aiden grabbed the song, not in a mean way, but similar to a person grabbing a hamster in a loving, protective way. Aiden had the song in his hands, which continued to play, but now, only for him.
Aiden looked around his room for somewhere to put his song. He had never caught a song before, and didn’t know how it worked. As he looked around, Aiden noticed his special carved box, and knew that was perfect. The wooden box had been handmade by his uncle and given to Aiden as a gift. It had a sliding wood top and intricate carvings of designs and patterns that could actually be songs if you used your imagination. He took the song and brought both his hands to his chest. Then, sliding his right hand away he held the song against his chest with his left hand. He could feel the music.
With his right hand, he went to his dresser and slid the lid open on the box, tricky to do with one hand. Picking up the box he dumped out a pile of polished rocks onto his dresser. His aunt had brought him the rocks as souvenirs from her trip to Arizona. Gently, he pushed the song into the box and slid the lid closed. The song was safe for now, but what would he do with it? Aiden set the box down on his nightstand and picked up his yogurt. Blueberry was good, but he liked strawberry better.
He wanted to keep the song with him, but he knew how his backpack got roughed up and he didn’t feel the song would be safe stored there. He could hide the box under his bed, but what if his mom or dad came in and for some unknown reason looked under his bed, found the box and opened it? That wasn’t likely, but he didn’t want to take the risk.
Instead, he decided to hide the box in the basement. Years ago when he was looking for a crate of party supplies for his mother he had discovered an opening in the wall big enough for the box. The hole was near the ground, and he remembered that when he first discovered it he had been convinced there would be a rat inside, which, in thinking back, hadn’t made sense. Aiden had never even seen an actual rat except in pictures or movies, and then mainly animated rats. He had used a flashlight to look into the hole. No rats, only dust.
Aiden needed to sneak the box with the song downstairs without being seen, because explaining what he was doing obviously wouldn’t work. In his closet he had a storage box of reusable shopping bags, those lightweight, mesh kinds with handles, the ones given out at festivals or by car insurance companies. His mom had insisted he might use them one day and Aiden had annoyed her by asking numerous times how they would be useful and she kept saying, “for things.” Hmmm. Turned out she was right.
He grabbed a green one printed with the image of a white duck wearing a hat that had been given out by the park service for a Spring Fun Day. He put the box inside.
Aiden’s trip to the basement was uneventful. Before hiding the bag and box away, Aiden checked on his song. Still great. He put the song in the box in the bag in the wall.
The song disappeared from the world for everyone except Aiden. Nobody remembered hearing it, nobody hummed it or sang it or even heard it in their head. Aiden would check on his song every day, and each day he loved that song as much as the first time he heard it. In the beginning everything was fine, but gradually, something shifted. Aiden knew it.
After a week, even though Aiden couldn’t actually see the song with his eyes, he knew it had grown smaller. The song that had seemed so big was shrinking. Then one day the song nipped at him. Getting bit by a song didn’t hurt, but it startled him. After all, why would his song try to bite him?
He was over at his friend’s Jordan’s house when he realized what was wrong, and the realization nearly broke Aiden’s heart on the spot. Aiden had taken a bite out of a cheese stick while listening to his friend’s hilarious take on a new video game when it hit him. Everyone needed food. Everyone needed friends.
Everyone needed to be heard.
He finished his cheese stick, and making up an excuse that he suddenly realized he had forgotten to do something for his dad and needed to go, he rushed out the door. Riding his bike home, Aiden wondered if he had overplayed his fake shock at remembering his chore, but he was sure it would be fine. In minutes he was home, and down in the basement.
Sliding the box open, he took his song out. Well, he thought, not his song. Food for a song is being played. Aiden cradled the lonely in his hands.
“I’m sorry,” Aiden said. “I wasn’t trying to hurt you. You don’t belong to me. Come on. It’s time to go.”
Walking upstairs, Aiden carried the song and then let it go.
Aiden’s song would go on to age and do normal song things, but it would always come back to visit Aiden, even when Aiden grew to be an old, old man.
That’s a great song.