Sunday, June 22, 2008

Aldred Makes a Noise

The silence spread subtly yet swiftly across the world on that day. The first things to disappear were machine noises: jackhammers faded out, cars began to glide noiselessly down the road, a million ambient whirs and clicks and electronic buzzings died away. It was an unsettling yet holy thing.

(Aldred notices what's going on immediately and heads for the warehouse he has been renting in case of just such an occurrence.)

The sound of the human voice goes next. Conversations weighty and banal drift away. Songs devolve into humming, getting lower and lower, eventually crossing the line into inaudibility and non-existentence. Cries, shouts, screams, sighs all warble away, suddenly useless and out of place. The verbal, the pre-verbal, the voluntary and involuntary: if it comes from the throat, it is no longer needed in this new and sacred place.

(Aldred muscles open the receiving doors, comforted that they still groan in protest, though not as loudly as he would hope. He runs quickly to the exact center of the warehouse and pounds a rail spike into the floor. He is disturbed that his hammering is already virtually silent.)

The natural world is the last thing to shut up. Clouds and tree branches still give visual evidence of a wind that should be roaring. Formerly babbling brooks roll by in eerie silence. The baseline of insect mating calls that has existed uninterrupted in some places for millennia is gone. The last thing anybody hears is the sound of the body, the high whine of the central nervous system, the low swish of circulation. Then these too are gone. Even the memory of sound fades from every brain. The silence is absolute.

(Aldred ties one end of an enormous spool of heavy green twine around the protruding head of the spike, using a special knot that he has practiced daily but had hoped to never have occasion to use.)

A deadly calm settles across the soundless world. People are beginning to stare up into the sky, jaws hanging loose, their heads so full of bliss there's no room for anything else. The globe seems to be rising and expanding, bringing the curve of the earth towards the dome of the sky. The goal —whose goal?— would seem to be compression, grinding everything on the surface against the seemingly solidified shell of the sky.

(Aldred hunts for the long crowbar, the special titanium one that the perfect masters blessed for him, and panics for a moment that perhaps it is in another safe house, too far from this one to reach in time. A moment later he lays hands on it, sighing noiselessly in relief. He inserts the crowbar through the center of the spool of twine.)

The firmament has begun to darken to a rich deep blue that has never been seen before. The bliss spreading like a noxious gas through the entire world population is doubling in strength ever second. All that crawls, flies, swims, photosynthesizes or otherwise lives will soon be ground into a fine paste sandwiched between the earth and this impossible but now undeniably solid sky.
(Aldred takes a deep breath, then runs across the warehouse floor, out through the receiving doors, leaving a line of twine behind him. For several minutes, the twine lies slack across the warehouse floor. Then suddenly it snaps taut. Aldred has reached the ash tree a mile away and firmly wedged the spool in its forked branches. The tree looks as if it were grown to receive the spool.)

The bliss swells rapidly inside every being, expanding beyond their bodies, merging into one global bubble of joy and shared experience. It is a holy thing, but the peril of the situation indicates that it has been executed ineptly, and that the bliss is destined to be hermetically sealed forever by the barrier of the sky, instead of flowing out into the universe.

(Aldred takes one last look at a sky so blue it's black, gets a firm grip on the crowbar with both hands, and pulls the hooked end across the twine as quickly as he can. He is pitched over backward by the effort and finds himself staring up into the sacred canopy, the awful heavens above. He hopes he wasn't too late.)


The note of the vibrating twine starts quietly, all but silently. It builds quickly in the absence of any other noise, rapidly filling the uncomfortably small area of open space left. The note gets stronger and stronger, using everything in the world as a resonator to perpetuate and enhance itself. Waves of sound begin to crash against the sky, battering it with exponentially increasing force. The sky holds, holds, holds... and then is suddenly pushed back, hurtling away and shifting back into gaseous form. The expanded earth sucks back into itself. The note of the twine disperses immediately, pulling every other sound back into existence as it goes.

(That was a near thing, thinks Aldred, respooling twine as he walks the mile back to the warehouse. The crowbar tucked under his arm is vibrating slightly, and will continue to do so for the next few days.)

(Note: Some of you may have read an earlier version of this piece, in case it seems vaguely familiar.)

1 comment:

Julie Powell said...

Julie makes an impatient noise, which she tries to cover up with a nonchalant whistle, and comes both reedy and screechy. Most irritating.