Eddie opened his eyes and saw a pair of greyish eyes staring back at him. Amidst his sleepy stupor, he failed to immediately recognize that they were the eyes of his boyfriend, Arno. His first thought, once he realized who was staring back at him, was about the reasons Arno could have to hover over him. His second thought was wondering why Arno’s mouth was duct-taped.
Arno gestured to Eddie, placing a single finger over his duct-taped mouth, and turned around to grab a piece of paper. He quickly whipped himself around again and held the paper up. In large letters, Eddie saw the words “Don’t Speak.” Eddie, thinking this was some sort of awkward or poorly executed prank, he yelled at Arno.
Jagged shapes materialized in front of Eddie’s mouth and flew at Arno, violently pushing him against the wall. Arno once again lifted the piece of paper and held it up. He pointed at it, reinforcing the message it contained.
Eddie ran over to Arno and hugged him. He could not help but let out a small whisper apologizing for his mistake. Eddie immediately suffered the consequences. He felt hundreds of little shapes in his mouth, escaping slowly and burning his lips and tongue. Eddie clenched his jaw and tried to stop himself from vocalizing anymore. Eddie ran his hands all around Arno, checking for injuries and breathed in relief after he found none.
He gestured for Arno to follow him and led him to the computer. It seemed that in his fear, Arno had not had the wherewithal to see if this strange phenomenon was happening anywhere else. He flipped the laptop open and backed away, afraid that the start-up sound may just slap him across the face. Much to his joy, it didn’t. He searched the first news site he could think of. Breaking news was highlighted and flashing in black and red at the top of the website’s homepage. It was an article. It stated that, in no uncertain terms, a global phenomenon was happening.
All around the world, apparently, reports were sent in, in the form of videos. One of the videos showed a spectator loudly marveling at the heads carved into Mt. Rushmore. Those shapes materialized, but from this person, who Eddie assumed was yelling, the shapes were huge. They knocked off the nose of George Washington; another showed the Coliseum being crumbled by a crowd of young men who had already decided to harness their voices to cause trouble.
Eddie couldn’t bear to continue watching the destruction and slammed the laptop closed. Arno gently rubbed Eddie’s back. Eddie could tell that Arno wanted to comfort him with his words, as he had frequently done in the past, and Eddie wanted that too. It pained him that he couldn’t hear Arno’s sweet, yet, lazy sounding voice dole out the wisdom that he needed.
Eddie decided that all they could do was to keep living as usual, even though that was difficult to do. Neither Eddie nor Arno could go to work. If the school in which Arno worked had still been in session, Arno might have killed all the children in an attempt to teach. Eddie was a public speaker by trade. His very livelihood depended on his voice, and, if he couldn’t use it, he’d be destitute. So, they confirmed by email that all upcoming schedules were canceled and hoped that this whole thing would subside.
But, despite their greatest hopes, the unexplainable weaponization of human sound continued. Day in and day out, Arno and Eddie kept passing notes, like schoolboys holding on to a secret that they daren’t share with anyone else, like Eddie did with his first crush. Back then, it was exhilarating. Now, it was exhausting.
For weeks they lived like this. They watched reruns of the shows they liked. They watched a bunch of old movies that they never had time to view. Then, the day came that they ran out of food. Their fridge was barren. All that remained was a semi-empty jug of milk and a bottle of ketchup. They decided to make the drive to the city. The closer they got to it, the more in disbelief they became. Entire buildings were toppled. Roads had been destroyed. But, like a canary in a coal mine, miraculously, the grocery store appeared pristine.
Walking in for them felt eerie. No one spoke. There were no pleasant ‘hellos’ or thank you’s,’ there was only the deafening silence that had plagued them for weeks. As they shopped, something stopped them in their tracks. The grocery store used to have music play as customers shopped. Now, the grocery store had replaced them with televisions, that would let its patrons know if anything urgent was being addressed. On those televisions, a vital address from the president began to roll across the screen. The president’s address outlined the mandatory changes that would sweep across the country.
- ASL was now the official spoken language of the United States.
- Speaking would now be considered a crime. Those who were arrested for the offense would be placed in a facility that would most likely withstand the power of their voice.
Eddie and Arno were dumbfounded. They wondered whether there was truly no solution to this situation. The next few years would prove that thought true. Movies and TV became a thing of the past. Those who tried to record them were jailed for public endangerment. The world, or the world that Eddie knew, became a slower and more friendly place. A place in which people’s feelings could no longer be voiced immediately. It became a world of text.
But, for any of the good that came about, there were plenty of negative aspects as well as well. Incarceration rates tripled. Protests for change could largely be ignored, and if they weren’t, more often than not, that meant that a building had been shouted down as a statement. The decrease in entertainment sales dealt a massive blow to the economy. Birth rates dropped, as no one could quite figure out how to get babies to be silent all the time. There were more newborn orphans than ever, as many children who were born had unknowingly killed their parents, or the parents simply realized there were not up to the task of risking their lives daily to raise a child.
For Eddie and Arno, things were mostly okay. Eddie had made and saved quite a bit of money from his career. It was enough to retire on, and that’s precisely what he did. But as comfortable as they were, alone in their middle of nowhere home, Eddie wished things had remained the same. He missed speaking in front of crowds, he missed the sounds of people. He missed the person who would whistle as they walked down the street. He missed the sound of ridiculous advertisements. He missed what he now felt was the most critical part of the human experience…having a voice.
Brian Byrdsong is a gay, black, bilingual writer living in Denver, CO. Originally from Georgia, he’s called Colorado home since 2010, when he moved there to attend the University of Northern Colorado. He has degrees in both Spanish and Communications. When he’s not writing, he enjoys playing video games with his partner and spending time with his cat, Mew. @arrythmicbyrd Instagram.com/arrythmicbyrd www.abyrdmind.com
2 thoughts on “Silence Becomes Them – Brian Byrdsong”
Well done. I really enjoyed your short story. Looking forward to reading more of your fascinating stories.
Brian, this was a very interesting read! The pandemic kept coming to mind as I read along. Keep writing. I look forward to more!