Thursday, February 28, 2008

One story by CL Bledsoe

The Noise
by CL Bledsoe

The man was on his way to work when the noise stopped. Like the man, the other people on the train had lived their entire lives immersed in the noise and had never known anything different. Even in the womb, there was noise. They had grown dependant on it even while sleeping, so that they plugged noise producing machines into their ears and slept the whole night through like babies. During the days, they used machines to fill their rooms with noise, as though it was the sound of visitors and they weren't simply alone. Or they bought little animals that were specially bred to make noise all day, even when no one else was around, because it comforted them to know their homes weren't empty; they were full of the noise.

When the noise stopped, the other people with the man on the train were curious because this was a new thing. They made exclamations and tried to speak about it, but no discernable sound emerged from their lips and none entered their ears. They pressed their lips to each other's ears and screamed and shrieked and tried to make as much noise as possible but could discern no results. The doors of the train opened, and though these had usually been very loud, they were silent as spite. The train, likewise, shifted forward, throwing several of them to the floor in surprise, because any movement of the train was usually preceded by a deafening cacophony, but the people could hear nothing.

They began to fear that they had all been struck deaf, and the joy they'd felt earlier quickly soured as they lamented the prospect of their lives separated from the noise, alone in the silence. How would they know where to go without the blare of advertisements over the intercoms littered throughout the city, directing them? Without the noise, how would they know their friends? Themselves?

The man on the train was the first to realize that the noise wasn't entirely gone. Unlike many of his fellow travelers, who had been rendered nearly completely deaf at a young age in their exaltation of the noise, the man, through a quirk of fate, retained a sensitivity of hearing that had haunted him and baffled the many doctors he'd been forced to visit throughout his life. Whereas most people plugged earpieces in to pump noise directly to their brains, the man was forced to wear earpieces that dampened the sound. These had been developed by an experimental scientist and probably would not have existed if the man hadn't needed them so desperately to relieve him of the tremendous headaches caused by his sensitivity. It was a matter of much shame for him, but with the earpieces, he was able to interact with people much more normally. Say, for example, a coworker chose to greet the man by clapping loud hands on his back and yelling a benign greeting directly into the man's ear. Whereas once, this would've evoked great discomfort, thanks to the earpieces, the man could stand such simple displays of friendliness.

Upon first discovering his own deafness, the man exalted, thinking he was cured of his affliction. He imagined a life no longer separated from his fellow beings because of his sensitivity. Soon, though, he saw that others were afflicted similarly, and his hopes dropped. As those around him grew increasingly alarmed, the man removed his earpieces and soon discovered that the noise remained, it was only much dampened. The passenger beside him cried out in despair, and the man showed that he understood and replied in kind, though the passenger couldn't hear it. Others soon realized that the man could somehow still hear the noise, and crowded around him in hopes of somehow absorbing this secret. The man was afraid, and as he heard the train slow for the next stop, surprised the other passengers by darting through the doors.

Outside, the man discovered that the weakening of the noise plagued the entire city, though none had an answer as to why. Instead of going to work, the man sought out the experimental scientist who'd engineered his earpieces, and together, they began work on a device to amplify the hearing of those struck deaf, so that the noise, which continued in its weakened state, could be detected.

There was much turmoil, with many refusing to adapt. Wars broke out with many sides proclaiming themselves to be spokesmen for the noise, but only the man could still truly hear it, and he refused to become involved in the politics of the moment, and so the armies eventually crumbled and returned to their homes as frightened and bewildered as before.

The leaders of the world sought out the man and begged his advice, but he distrusted all politicians and chose, instead, to continue his work with the experimental scientist. The leaders asked the man to simply tell them what to do and they would follow his wisdom. The man relented. He proclaimed that the noise must be preserved by careful use and conservation.

"We cannot squander the noise on filling our empty homes," he wrote. "We must learn independence, we must find ways to live without the noise, and someday it may return."

Again, there was war and more killing. Many of the leaders accused the man of lying, and the nations of the world splintered and fell into pieces. Eventually, new nations were formed and these saw the wisdom within the man's words. They resigned themselves to lives without the noise. They learned to guide themselves using their other senses and to relax their dependence on the noise and those who manipulate it.

In this way, the peoples of the world were saved.

Author bio:

CL Bledsoe has work most recently in Hobart, Monkey Bicycle, Pendeldeyboz, and previously in Clockwise Cat.

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