The Song of Silence (Short Story)


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  1. #1

    The Song of Silence (Short Story)

    Hey guys, here is a short story that I wrote. It is surreal and steps loosely into fantasy. Thanks.



    The Song of Silence



    The desert road was a rod across the sand. Sparse emptiness either side. Just what Henry wanted. He also wanted the bump on Mary’s stomach to stop leaving an empty gap between them and fill it with a special and perfect child. But they had already visited three motels in three weeks and still no luck. So far, Henry’s plan had not broken the duck of Mary’s strange two year pregnancy.

    She was lying on the back seat of the convertible, her face frail and scattered with red splotches and her auburn hair like straw - burnt by the sun. She clasped her stomach but almost as a place to put her hands now, not that she was expecting to feel movement. She made a groaning noise as she winced to sit up. Henry flicked his head round with a concerned look plastered on his face, worried she might be in pain or worse, unwell. He said to her like an impatient school master to lie back down and rest, to keep the damp towel over her face and to hold the ice block on her bump. He had been in this state of frantic control of Mary from the day she announced she was pregnant. Mary always thought it was like he was expecting the Second Coming. She ignored Henry’s fretting and stayed sitting up and told him they should head back home to the city, to society, “surely we’ve established your plan isn’t right for the child,” she said. But Henry clenched his teeth, pretending the wind made those words fly off like shredded paper and drove on towards motel number four despite his own doubts beginning to manifest.

    As they continued to follow the rod in the sand through the sparse Mojave, a brown construction shimmered in the desert haze. It was an old Church just off the side of the road. Its gigantic bronze size was reminiscent of an old factory. But the stained glass windows gave it away as a House of the Holy. Henry thought it would be best to stop and say a prayer because ‘God will agree that a special child like ours should not be hidden from us’, he said to Mary. He was also getting desperate and impatient that his plan might not be working so a prayer was the best he could think of. It will give Mary a chance to rest anyway, he thought. She is already complaining that she wants to return to society but I have told her so many times why that is a very, very bad idea for our child.

    Henry gave her an umbrella and a dampened towel but she did not smile or thank him for his chivalry. She had her eyes closed and breathed in and out in a Zen-like state, focusing her breath on the fizzing and fuzzing of the desert flies. Mary always used that technique when confronted with problems. She used it to bring her back into the moment and become content with her surroundings, or as Henry liked to think: content with the same brain-dead television, and content with her mundane nine-to-five job in a bakery shop. But this ‘breathing religion’ never worked for Henry, he was never content.

    As he approached the aged rusted metal building he heard a distant, fragile and mournful voice of a woman singing from what appeared to be inside but could have been emanating from anywhere. And when he stood motionless in the entrance as if he was frozen in time just like the Church, Henry knew this house of peace had not held a service for the living for a very long time. The only service it held was for the ghosts that occupied it. The mournful song from inside was unrecognisable and deep below his feet. He imagined her to be an angel whose wings had been laced in soot and could no longer fly to help those in need. But as she sang, the winds in the Church were summoned, wobbling the thin rotted pews and swinging the skeletal timber beams that were broken off and dangling like stalactites. He also noticed the stained glass windows were smudged and blurred. It was like the unanswered prayers had rotted this place. And there was a faint smell of sea water tarnishing the air.

    At the back of the altar (which held no decor whatsoever) a small trap door swung open as Henry approached. He felt special in that moment, as if God was whispering him a secret, beckoning him to draw closer so he could hear.

    The song tapered off as he followed a long narrow, sky-blue hallway. He shuffled to the end where he stood on a balcony. It looked straight at a wall full of paintings of fishermen pelting giant metal spears into a sea creature with eighteen legs. Is this our creator being killed by its children, he gestated. I bet he dislikes society as much as I do. But Henry’s thoughts were abruptly interrupted by the taste of salt water splashing his lips. He leant over the balcony and saw a flailing tentacle splash the milky water it sat in. It stopped still once it smacked the milky liquid and its scaly back began to breathe in a controlled, peaceful manner.
    Is this our creator? Is this God? Nonetheless, he placed his hands together and closed his eyes: please let I and Mary have our child. Please may he be born as unique. Carry larger ambitions than the common man. I do not want it to be relegated to being one of ‘The Many’. The creature continued to sleep listening to Henry’s prayer like a lullaby. But before he could look away from this creature he noticed babies bobbling up next to the it like olives in a cocktail. Henry hoped his child was not one of them, for they all looked the same. They were all faceless.

    When Henry was back behind the wheel he told Mary about the God-like creature ignoring his prayer and the identical, faceless babies that he saw as being doomed to being pawns of our ‘mundane, rigid society’. Mary shook her head and looked out towards the horizon squeezing the side of the door like if she squeezed hard enough it would screech the car to a stop. Henry could see by her red cheeks it was not the desert heat making her flushed, but her own anger.

    Mary always blamed Henry for her two year pregnancy. Blamed him for scaring the baby and her sub-conscience that this ‘stress ridden, materialistic and goal orientated society,’ was not safe to raise a baby.

    Henry refused to have a child that was simply one of ‘The Many’. One of ‘The Many’ who worked nine to five, got shouted at work for not reaching its sales targets that month, never offered incentives because it didn’t attend work social functions, only becoming close to its dream of a famous explorer through drinking until it hallucinated, and was restrained to living in one shoe box of an apartment in one city for the rest of its life because of a lack of money. No, Henry did not want this affliction staining his baby’s dreams, for this poisoned brush tainted him from an early age.

    Henry believed getting away from society and travelling from motel to motel taking them further away from the towns and cities would allow the baby to feel safe enough to come out. Then the plan was once the child was born, the three of them could live from out of their car and cheap motels (despite Mary’s doubts), travelling the empty baron lands of America where no one would crack the whip of society’s rules. They could give the child a unique upbringing - their child a myth like the boy raised by wolves. Henry would make his child learn survival techniques in the wild, and travel to deprived parts of America and help the poor and sick like Jesus.
    She said, while staring beams at Henry triggering him to become more flushed, “We will never have our baby if you - ”

    “Our special baby, Mary. It’s our special baby.”

    “This is your problem. No wonder our lovely normal baby is so scared. It’s scared it can’t live up to its father’s ideals. You will only accept our baby if it’s born in special conditions, brought up in a unique way, and you would only love it if it was different from everyone else . . . tell me, how do you expect God to create a child with so many ingredients, it would fail like a bad recipe.”

    Henry did not respond. He just drove on letting each broken yellow line in the road flow through his eyes.


    *


    Forty mountain rocks and two hundred dunes had past between motel three and four and the horizon looked to continue those high numbers. Mary lay asleep in the passenger seat, the colour washed from her cheeks. Her arms slumped by her side. It was as if her outburst at Henry had sapped the last of her fuel. Henry wasn’t going to waste anymore of the fuel he had left to argue with her. I don’t care what she thinks, he thought. Our child will become wiser and larger than the common man.

    But Henry’s energy was still low enough that he needed a rest. He was looking for an excuse to stop as his depth perception was wavering - it was like trying to catch a ball when you are tipsy - and his legs core motor functions were faltering through lack of food and water. Plus, he knew Mary needed a short break from him. But soon enough he found his excuse. Another tall construction shimmered into view in the pink evening glow. A soundstage dressed in black cloth. The sounds of industrial electronic rock shook the ground. Henry switched to a lower gear so he could get a longer and better look. He saw the lead singer - a face covered in a black cloth, no slits for the eyes – shouting his lyrics into a megaphone as crowds of people like ants feasting on rotten bread bounced in unison. He pulled into the car park and noticed almost all the cars were old and heavily dented. They were parked, criss-crossing and blocking each other without care. The wired fence had been cut open multiple times. And there was no security. Henry realised he could just walk straight and no one would notice. He had decided the concert was the best place to stop. It gives me a reason to wonder off for a short time. Me being around her at this moment will only make her more stressed, he realised. And it will affect the baby. Also, maybe, this concert might be some kind of vague, abstract sign from that God-like creature . . . Damn, desperation is becoming an illness of mine.

    He stroked Mary’s arm, whispering to her that he will give her time alone for a while, for her to rest and the baby to feel safe enough to come out. He got out and skulked towards the mass of jumping symmetry. As he approached with measured step he felt like the music was ushering and seducing him forwards like a siren of the Rhine.

    Scrambling under the broken fence, and shuffling round the sand stained and dank trailers, Henry stood on the periphery of the crowd and now up close he noticed the cloth making up most of the stage looked like black fish netting. And the stage floor was made of blended, squashed radios. The band, with all their faces covered in black cloth, did not play to the crowd but were looking up to the sky like conductors summoning some ancient force. The band looked shrunken compared to the juggernaut sized stage. They all hovered at different heights. Henry couldn’t see any panel they could be standing on. The black netting in the background gave the impression they were fish caught in its trap.

    Henry let the music thud underneath him refusing to bounce with the crowd. The last time he danced with a crowd was at a rock concert at the age of seventeen. He befriended two regular looking teenagers who shared a great sense of humour and were both from working class backgrounds, but as Henry soon found out, they were in fact depressed alcoholics. They only pretended to share Henry’s interest in travel and adventure to suck him into their depravity of having no job or money, just so they could ruin another person’s hopes and dreams like they had done to themselves. Henry’s misplaced trust in them derailed his early adulthood. All his hopes of becoming a famous explorer or mountain climber were wrecked by a weakened body zapped by alcohol. Henry had wanted to become a famous explorer and break out of society’s cage since a child, when his parents moved away and left him with his grandmother in Chicago. They had taken their first job offers as set designers from a film studio in Vancouver. They hoped to work their way up to the Golden Globes and Oscars and become household names. But after three years they had not made any advances in their field, working mainly for low budget horror flicks and in defeat to their low income they took regular desk jobs and bought a house in a suburb in Vancouver so they would not have to return home and admit their dreams had failed to Henry’s face. They kept their regular, modest income to themselves, all the while leaving Henry with his Grandmother in a tiny one bed apartment with no money, and no prospects. All Henry did as a child was dream every night from the sofa he slept on that he would not become trapped like his parents and he would escape the concrete labyrinth of a mundane city and become a famous explorer like Edmund Hilary, or Marco Polo.

    In fact, one of the few times he saw his parents (and the last) was the day they drove him to rehab at the age of twenty three so they wouldn’t have to hear about his drink struggles over the phone anymore. The therapists at the rehab clinic taught him to behave like the ‘regular, boring Average Joe’ like his parents, and reluctantly, Henry went with it. That was, until, Mary became pregnant. It felt then like a second chance for him.

    Henry snuck towards the crowd so he could reach out and touch it like a sleeping tiger. But as he drew close he noticed the crowd was not full of common men/women, but full of homeless men and women with holes in their clothes only hanging on by their bony frame, people dressed in muddied robes and rusted, dented crowns like the Three Kings, and druggies sweating and fretting over their next fix. These were people who either used to, or have high achieving dreams, thought Henry. But society would not hold them in its shallow pocket.
    Henry joined in with the crowd and bounced with child-like self-consciousness. But as he danced with the movement, the music grew louder, and the crowd began to light up as if their skin became a torch. Their auras shone like a blinding light. All around him people lost their identity and exploded into bodies of light like they had been struck by God’s match. Yet they continued to bounce. Henry stood stuck to the ground like he was frozen in this strange exhibition. They began to meld into each other and attach forming like a rain drop combining with other rain drops on a windowpane. They contorted into a giant, bright mound around Henry. It’s like they are trying to become more than the sum of their parts, he thought. Like they have combined all their dreams and all their faults together to become what they have always dreamt of becoming: bigger and better than the common man. The light rose up as high as the tallest desert rock, almost as tall as that God-like creature. The light pierced Henry’s retina. The pain forced him to clasp his eyes like they were on fire, but the light was still sharp through his fingers.

    He stood there for what felt like five minutes, until, like an air pocked being shut off, the bright light faded. The normal dull desert glow smoothed the cracks between his fingers. And he blinked until his eyes adjusted to the site of remains in front of him: A scrap heap of wonky radio antennas stuck in the ground. They protruded out of the ground like frazzled hairs on a scalp from the electric chair. No more sound stage remained. All Henry could hear was a sea of radio chatter coming from the antennas. He heard people complaining of back pain, financial trouble, marriage problems, melancholy songs, a drunken voice. And a baby crying. Henry had to move. Had to get out of there. He realised in that moment that the harder those lost souls in the crowd tried to become unique and special, the quicker their light faded, and they became lost voices in the middle of nowhere. He decided: When I get back to the car I am going to wake up Mary, tell her we will go back home, go back to society and just accept our baby for who he or she is. For being outside society is just as dangerous as being in it. Henry gave his best attempt at a jog, but his legs would only allow him to shuffle to the wire fence because of the exhaustion and lack of food.

    Henry got to the end of the fence and turned right to see down to where his car was now solo parked in the middle of the desert expanse. He could see Mary’s back, her arms outstretched across the seat and her red dress and shining auburn hair reflected the sun. The desert haze and its wavy, textured lines made the image of her look like an oil painting. However, the image became more and more photorealistic as he drew closer. Mary still had her arms spread out across the seat but her usual plump, welcoming cheeks had deflated into sharp cheek bones that made her look harsh. She then winced from some kind of inexplicable pain and he noticed she was also drenched in sweat. Henry clasped her face, “What’s wrong, Honey?”

    She breathed with a quick, sharp, chest reflex as she made the strenuous effort to move her eyes to look straight into his, she said, “You got what you wished for,” nodding towards the foot-well of the car. Her cream buckled dolly shoes were covered in shining dark red liquid, and between her shoes swam small clumps of dark red mush. “You got your special baby, Henry,” her upper lip curled up like she was snarling at him.

    “You can live happy now.”

    He could feel the disdain and endless loss vibrating in those words. He knew there was nothing he could reply with that would comfort her. The only thing that was of any comfort was that for once, he was one of ‘The Many’. One of ‘The Many’ who had experienced such loss. In the distance he could hear that song pierce the horizon - the one from the Church. The song no one would ever hear. The song of silence.

  2. #2
    Some of the sentences are too long, I don't know if they qualify as a run on. The description is too much in some cases, if you want the description don't have it as the beginning. Have the conflict as the beginning.

    Some reader questions:
    why a two year old pregnancy?
    Is the conflict about an unwanted baby?

    I liked that there are ghosts in the church. That would make the church even more important for this story.

    What I don't understand is, is this a real religion in this story?

    I recommend self-editing for writers, so you can look at the advice. I own the paperback but it is not with me. The kindle version is the best version.

    Self-editing:
    by Renni Browne (Author), Dave King (Author, Contributor)

    Narrative summary and large paragraphs are not good going by their advice.

    In fact, one of the few times he saw his parents (and the last) was the day they drove him to rehab at the age of twenty three so they wouldn’t have to hear about his drink struggles over the phone anymore. The therapists at the rehab clinic taught him to behave like the ‘regular, boring Average Joe’ like his parents, and reluctantly, Henry went with it. That was, until, Mary became pregnant. It felt then like a second chance for him.
    The religion if you will means she meets up with these people who are their society. So are the ghosts are part of this society of this new religion?

    This is definitely the conflict. But it is closer to the middle than beginning. It's clear there is a pregnancy, but it has no tension. Except for it lasting 2 years, but pregnancies normally last for nine months. Granted I haven't researched this. But the baby saved their relationship. But at the same time does this normally happen in real life, as in is it rare?

    It is definitely surreal in some ways. I think the previous story I reviewed I liked more. It had dialogue, and the paragraphs weren't as long. The conflict was obvious too and located at the beginning of the first few opening paragraphs.

    Not to discourage you, I hope you think this is constructive feedback. I am being honest when I liked the other story more. This one needs for you to consider feedback here. Not just my own. Also, many sentences if pointed out are long (not just a few). I consider the fact I read it on the fact I liked your other story. I also recommend reading out loud the longest sentences. I use a reading program that is run on the computer. So I did notice this.

    The desert road was a rod across the sand. (this is worded as a metaphor a bit awkwardly).

    Keep writing and trying your writing journey won't end here.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; February 20th, 2019 at 06:49 PM. Reason: edited.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  3. #3
    thank you for the feedback. The story is about a father who is trying too hard to have the ‘perfect’ child and in doing so makes the child too scared to come out. But he instead blames society for scaring his child. The two year pregnancy is a metaphor for perfectionism. The more you want something to happen the less chance it has to happen sometimes.

    I appreciate your your honesty and will correct the long sentences but I believe in the way I have told my story and will stick by it.

    thanks!

  4. #4
    I wouldn't try to explain things too much if I were you, the imagery is strong and people will work out their own reasoning, it may vary from yours, but still be valid for them.

    There are a lot of 'He's and 'Henry's, it is not that there is a particular part where every sentence starts the same, but it was noticeable.

    There were places where I felt it could do with some editing down, for example:-

    Henry snuck towards the crowd so he could reach out and touch it like a sleeping tiger. But as he drew close he noticed the crowd was not full of common men/women, but full of homeless men and women with holes in their clothes only hanging on by their bony frame, people dressed in muddied robes and rusted, dented crowns like the Three Kings, and druggies sweating and fretting over their next fix. These were people who either used to, or have high achieving dreams, thought Henry. But society would not hold them in its shallow pocket.

    Could become,
    Sneaking closer to the crowd, like approaching a sleeping tiger, he saw it was not full of common men/women, but full of homeless men and women with their clothes in holes, hanging on their bony frames. People dressed in muddied robes and rusted, dented crowns, like the Three Kings, and druggies sweating and fretting over their next fix. 'These were those who once had dreams', thought Henry, 'but society would not hold them in its shallow pocket.'

    Notice I have delineated his thoughts by putting 'commas around them'. My personal preference is "double commas" for actual speech, 'single for thoughts'. Others use things like italics, I don't feel it is wildly important how you differentiate, but that it is a good idea to do so somehow.

    Only one real snag I saw,
    Forty mountain rocks and two hundred dunes had past between motel three and four...
    That is 'passed' as in movement, not time, and they passed them, the rocks and dunes did not pass the people.
    Visit my website to read and connect to my 'soundcloud', where you can listen to stories songs and more
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