Which means it’s time for some fiction on Betty’s Battleground. A nice break from the important, but heavy, suicide issue posts that I have gone up the past week.
Last week participation was suuuuper low for the writing prompt feature “contest.”
I don’t know if that’s because y’all LIARS! Saying you love writing and just need some motivation…*incoherent grumbling*
OR maybe I didn’t give enough time to enter. 300 words is short, but it can be hard to produce even that in under two days when you’re already working on negative time. So I’m going to do an experiment. I am going to give the prompt, with the same incentive (front page feature here on Betty’s Battleground) but this time you shall have until 9am PST next Thursday the 30th! That’s almost a full week! And still just 300 words minimum, 1,000 words max. So scroll on to read my story and find out the prompt and full submission instructions!
An Unnatural Silence
I can taste the metallic tang of burnt noise in the back of my throat. Today’s haul is heavy; my back and joints ache under the weight of it, but I soon lose this complaint to the violent silence of the Pits. The smell hardens, becomes a cherry seed in my throat; becomes nostrils full of cherry seeds. If my vision were not blurred by hot tears, I would see the people around me hacking soundlessly, some of them vomiting, some of them vomiting blood. There have been deaths at the Pits. A handful only, not enough to shut it down like they’ve had to in the cities. They moved the Denver Pits out here because we’re built hardier than those pampered city people. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. Hardier, tougher, a better fit for a difficult job; more important than just more expendable.
Hardier, tougher, and me hardier and tougher than most. Even when we were teenagers sneaking down to the Pits, back when they were still new and intriguing, when the smell of burning in the air was still something to get used to, it was always me sloughing through the soupy air to get the closest look and take the story back to my friends. They had wanted me to bring more than a story, but even back then, when the idea of destroying sound frequencies was crazy weird and impossible, I understood that there would be no way to record it. I pressed the record button on Tenny Miller’s clunky old tape recorder just once. I thought it would break his machine, that the thing would explode or start sizzling chunks of electric shrapnel, I don’t know, it was a teenager’s weird imagining. Nothing happened. Well not nothing; the tape reel spun like the thing was recording, but when we played it back it was nothing but silence. Not that leaden, crazed silence of the Pits. Just silence. But Tenny carried that tape and player with him for the rest of the year, and every time he played it we imagined a shadow of that feeling you got down at the Pits.
Now we’re all grown up and my friends know better. The Pits make you sick. Sound shredding is a dangerous business; if it doesn’t kill you in the Pits, it’ll still kill you. Anxiety, hypertension, paranoia, early onset Alzheimer’s, brain tumors, sensory hallucinations (which may or may not be warning signs of early onset Alzheimer’s or a brain tumor), weight fluctuations, diabetes, blood clots: all possible side effects of exposure to the Pits. Even one exposure heightens your chances for Pit-related complications later in life, claim the government brochures they print and hand out at the schools these days. Tucked between the pages of the school newsletter, an insert, the kind of thing that floats to the ground and gets forgotten until someone thinks of it enough to sweep it into the trash. I saw it when Anka’s boy brought it home. Once the Pits had been around long enough for the science to come out, my friends all bailed. Got as far from the Pits as they could. Tenny threw out his tape recorder, the whole damn thing, with my recording stuck inside. I was the only one who stayed.
As I walk along the ridge between the Pits, my vision blurs with tears, my ears ring from the effort of trying to fill the silence, my head pounds a rhythm of pain matched by my palpitating heart, but I am still standing. I persevere.
My mask hangs from my chin, the same rubbery material as our carrier bags, only the bags are black, the masks orange. It hangs from the thick almost-rubber straps, loosely cupping my chin, a garish neon beard. I don’t talk to the other workers, and they don’t talk to me. We can’t talk, so close to the Pits. Already we have lost the sound of our breathing. But I see the way some of them look at me; mask dangling, protective liner in tatters, the sleeves rolled up. They think I’m suicidal. I’m not. Not any more than any of them anyway. I’m just smart enough to know, this place is gonna kill us one way or the other and all of these “precautions” are just an effect. A marketing scheme, like everything else in this world. I don’t need to be a part of their fashion show.
I reach my queue. I’m grateful to thump the bag to my feet. The bag slouches, making a fat belly for the choked neck to fold over. I feel more than hear the sound of my nephew laughing. That infectious giggle of his, the one he had when he was a baby yet, ripples across my mind. The craziness is always worst right at lip of a Pit.
I bend down. My joints ache. I can feel my age now, the toll of the years; the toll of the Pits. I begin to unscrew the cap which covers the opening to the Pit below. I’ll dump the doomed sound down the long tube, down to the Pits, down to extinction, down to the chemical blaze.
My fingers cramp. I pull them back with my other hand. Thick, knobbed joints, reddened and scaled with use. Hard yellow callouses bloom on the ends of my fingers. These are the hands of a killer.
The commercials say, the Pits keep us safe. Each time a violent sound is captured, a crime loses its momentum. What the commercials don’t tell you, is that once the root of a sound is destroyed, all of the sounds which feed from the same source eventually wilt, disappear. We incinerated the desperate pant of rape. It has been almost a year since I have heard the sound of an orgasm.
There is no known way to revive a sound once it has been dropped into the Pits.
I finish unscrewing the cap. I lift its familiar weight. The whoosh of the vacuum sucks against my palm. I turn to my bag. What victim lies inside? What frequency has issued its last note?
There is a protocol. The top of the bag is fitted with a ring, which latches to the Pit-valve numbered in my queue. Once it’s secured I release the clamp. The vacuum sucks the noise into the Pit and within moments it is stripped into oblivion by the chemicals or mechanics or whatever it is down there; nothing left but the metal odor of smoke and singe, forever in the air.
I have never broken the protocol, and there is nothing remarkable about this day. Nothing striking that has happened, and changed me. Maybe it was my nephew’s laughter, the way it rippled in my mind like a psychosis. Maybe it’s the way shadows have begun to move around my bed as I fall asleep.
The bag must be properly fitted over the orifice before you can release the chokeclamp. My training instructor, unchanged through the decades, red stringy mustache dripping limply over his plump, babyish mouth. Small blue eyes, hard with ignorance. Here with me, at the Pits, looking as real as I am.
You’re not wearing your safety mask-I almost say, but stop myself. I pull the mask over my mouth. Maybe it does serve a purpose. I’m not going to pass my next ‘Faculties Exam.’
Maybe that’s why I do it. I know I won’t be coming to the Pits much longer.
I heave the bag until its mouth is level with my face. Fist wrapped around its neck, I squeeze the clamp open. It should be harder to do that, whispers my sanity, possibly its last vocalization.
With the weight of that bag and all of the protections, I expected a sound like a nightmare. Something chilling. Something devastating, even. The sound of a baby’s skull being crushed. Something like that.
I open the bag, and the sound is a melody. Soft, pure. A woman singing. No, a girl. It is simple. Not quite familiar, but nostalgic in a way which tickles my belly inside. There is too much silence in the world already. Too many gaps, too much unsounded. I don’t want this to disappear too.
But it’s too late. The valve is open.
One moment there is the simple beauty of this small melody; then the vacuum stream catches it.
The reaction is violent, instantaneous. The pressure rises in my ear drums, each beat an increase. There is a feeling like tearing within my skull. A feeling like the space between my ears, the space that holds my damn brain, is shrinking and expanding, shrinking and expanding…There is a sizzle, soundless, but I feel it like an itch that rolls over my skin. Sparks in the air, blue ones, a quick flurry of them; popping one by one like silent fireworks…and then calm like a sigh, washing through my body. My muscles, tensed against the pain, loosen. The pressure in my brain drops so quickly I get vertigo. I screw the valve closed. I lean back and look up at the sky, phlegmatic and yellow through the smog of the burning noise. I lower my mask slowly. It is filled with blood.
I cough weakly. Look around. There are others, walking the ridges of the Pits, clunky in their heavy suits. Uniform. Black rubbery coveralls. Transparent, full sleeved undershirts. Orange masks. Black sacks slung over the shoulder, secured with a thick strap crosswise over their chest. Carrying their haul of sound to be flushed down the valves, into the Pits, to be burned from the memory of the world. Each individual lost in the machinery of purpose.
No one looks my way. I cough, weakly, leaving a smattering of blood on my fingers. I try to remember the sound of coughing. I reach for it, but the memory, like the sound itself, is gone.
I feel myself slipping into a long darkness. A silence unlike the silence of this world. A natural silence. A place to rest. Somewhere, in the corner of my mind, I hear my nephew’s laughter again. Laughter that is so like a song it hurts, deep in my belly where regret lives.
And then the laughter stops.
And now (drum roll please), the prompt:
Pick a book, any book, any book you love!
I’m not saying that you have to settle on your favorite book of all time. Just pick a book that you admire.
Now, think of an unresolved issue you are dealing with in your life.
Tackle the issue using themes and/or styles from the book you chose.
My book was Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and my unresolved issue was my autistic son’s language loss.
Write 300 to 1000 words on the subject.
If you’re writing poetry it can be less than 300 words.
If you’re writing a script format, it can be a little over 1,000 (use your good judgment here; you’re entering it to be featured on a blog)
To enter, ‘like’ and follow the Betty’s Battleground Facebook Page. Submit your story as a comment under the Fiction Fridays #3 post. I will contact the winner(s) next Thursday via Messenger. Please be prepared to submit a short bio and a photo! Good luck!
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