Whatever you do, do not go into the sea surrounding Buentoille today. Apart from the fact it’s probably very cold at this time of year, there is another, far more pressing reason. Three o’clock in the afternoon is the time to avoid most strongly, although staying on dry land for the entire day is advised, just in case. If you were in the sea at three today, when the Unearthly Horn sounds, then you would feel very, very uncomfortable, and for some people who are less confident swimmers, there is a risk of death as this discomfort could make them panic and begin to flail.
The Unearthly Horn is actually very much of the earth, despite its name, which was devised because the horn seems to affect the sea and not the earth or air most strongly. At least, this is the story; it’s likely that the name stuck because it sounds eerie and dramatic, and because ‘unearthly’ is a fairly accurate way of describing the deep sound that emanates into the ocean in boiling ripples. To most Buentoillitants it sounds fearful, raising the pulse and making hairs stand on end.
On land the horn call is very affecting to a person, making the knees tremble and the joints ache, especially in the elderly and arthritic. Some have described it as causing pain in their hearts too, possibly as the sound wave interferes with their heartbeat in some way. According to a recent study, those who are caused heart pain by the noise hear it as a deep, polyphonic noise, whereas those who are pained in the joints hear a deep note, but also a high one too, as if a saxophonist were struggling to keep their instrument in a lower octave and it were screeching intermittently in a higher one.
In the water these effects are increased in potency, and then there is the added danger of drowning. As the sound wave travels through the water it is, close to the surface, boiled briefly, which can cause burns to the skin, which is likely exposed in swimmers. The body is battered too, pulled around by the sound wave. If you had your head beneath the water, your ear drums would immediately burst. Feelings of sickness are commonly reported in those who either ignore, flaunt or do not see the advice to keep out of the water.
It’s often remarked that one of the strangest things about the Horn is that, despite these significant and powerful effects, it only takes eleven people to power. The Unearthly Horn is located at Corpse Point, a limestone island which once connected to Buentoille Bay through a sandbar. To put it more accurately, the island is the Horn; this ‘island’ is little more than a rock above water, upon which the eleven members of the Licensed People’s Unearthly Company (LPUC) will comfortably fit as they take their positions and wait for the clock to strike three. They will sit by of the openings in the little stone pyramid, and then on the hour they will blow into these openings in a synchronised, rhythmic manner, each stopping for breath in timed succession, so that the noise doesn’t stop for a full three minutes. They are crouched and stood around the rock in strange positions, so each small air tube can be reached.
Whilst it was long assumed that the tubes that percolate down from these openings, and which are shaped in such a way that they produce the unearthly noise, were naturally occurring, new theories suggest that they were created, rather than merely exploited by humans, potentially with the use of strong acids to direct the erosion of the rock. This ‘new’ theory was raised by Etock Lerm in 2007, and is far from being the scientific orthodoxy on the creation of the Unearthly Horn. This is partly because the theory lacks a serious explanation of how the enormous instrument would be planned, but also because there is very little research into the large sea rock, as access to it is restricted to all but the LPUC, and only then on this day; the LPUC keep a constant watch on the rock, arresting and prosecuting anyone who attempts to play the instrument.
Other than the obvious and immediate reasons for restricting use of the Horn, there is another which only becomes fully apparent about twenty minutes after its sounding; the Buentoilliçan mackerel cull. This is also the reason that the use of the Horn has persisted over the years, rather than dying out because of the discomfort and danger it causes. In earlier times, the horn would be sounded when the City’s food stores ran low, but since the Fisheries Act of 1726 its use has been restricted to the single day to protect fish stocks and prevent environmental devastation. It is sounded today as at this time of the year most of the Buentoilliçan mackerel are beyond its influence and therefore the impact is lessened, but also because those fish which float to the surface, ready to be plucked out with ease by anyone with a boat, can be smoked in time to be eaten over the long winter months.
Thankfully there are no other species of fish affected by the dreadful noise, or at least not effected enough to be killed like the mackerel, which seems to be stunned into a catatonic state. As mackerel are obligate ram breathers; i.e. they require constant movement to be able to breathe; this catatonic state eventually leads to their death, and they float to the surface. There will be folk out skimming the water with nets today, gathering as many fish as they can, which are then either smoked or baked into an ‘unearthly pie’, which has fish heads poking out above the crust, as if they are trying to breathe the air.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Unlikely Gestation
- The Dreamer’s Web Festival
- Cool Breeze Empty Mind Day