I entered this years short story competition for the Stratford Upon Avon Literary festival, to write a story about the idea of "SHARING STORIES." Unfortunately, i didn't win (BOO!) but it does mean i get to now share the story with you all, as it's been a pretty quiet ghost town around here for a while...
So, i hope you all enjoy.
It's called SHARING STORIES - and it is a kind of morality tale about how if we don't talk to one anotehr, and look up from the screen once in a while, we may lose the very ability to communicate.
This is several years after the collapse of language.
A Short Story by Andi James Chamberlain.
Though the teeth chattered inside their mouths, no words escaped their lips. Just a silence lingering upon the chilly air.
Their hands busily worked the bags open, zips whipped, canvas flapped wide and lean, frost bitten hands pulling leather-bound tomes from deep within.
They shared the books amongst the room; the words inside irrelevant.
The contents meaningless. Any power they had in poetry long since lost, any poignancy and purpose in the words lost generations before.
The books now were good for one purpose and one purpose only.
One man took a stick of charred wood from the bag, and scrawled upon the floor a crude pictogram of flame. Two more men nodded, sagely, and calloused rough hands began to rip the pages from the book and drop the littered shreds into a large tin can. A matchstick dropped, and the pages became nothing more than tinder to the flame. The light began to shimmer and shake in licks and lances of heat.
There was a silence.
Nothing but the feint crackle of fire and slow sucked whoosh of paper folding to ash. It was so loud, being so quiet.
Every creak, every breath, every slight movement groaned in agonizing, screaming levels of volume.
The room alive and shaking with the weakest, smallest movement.
Snapping and crackling, the fire burned to embers. Shadows cast weakly on the wallpaper, dancing figures flickered and fluttered as the flames fanned to short licks in the timber.
The darkness was setting in earlier and earlier, and the cold had come tandem alongside it. The wind tap, tap, tapped the weak windows, and the single pane glass groaned and shuddered as the outside came to call. The view was nothing more than an inky blue void of landscape. Nothing stood out. Nothing made itself known save the bleak empty vista of the field and the dilapidated corn fields beyond.
The boy sat in the corner tinkering with the remnants of the broken radio, his back not quite to the rest of the group, but isolated all the same, his small candle providing scant illumination to help in his efforts – he toiled on regardless. Nimble hands working the wires and the screws, the plastic and metal and the components in expert fashion.
Nothing came from the radio, its silence was all but deafening. But he carried on regardless trying to repair the wretched thing.
The first man rose from the bag of books, he reached inside and took a final one out. Chewing on a toothpick; light bites and nibbles, a sweet suckling noise with each rotation of the stick from left of his mouth to right.
He watched the boy in the corner, fidgeting with the relic of the machine they had found on the road, the boy drawing in the snow a box with circles on the left and right, a rectangle in the center, and a handle.
The parts and components picked up and put inside a plastic carrier bag they had found snagged on a tree.
Carried proudly from location to location and slowly but surely remade bit by bit at each stop.
The man idly flipped a coin in between his fingers – the silver disc dancing from knuckle to knuckle, a fluid, warm shimmer of metal that caught the light and shone an echo onto the wall above the boys head.
The boy stopped his tinkering and he looked up at the light fluttering around on the wall, his bright green eyes following the darting jagged shapeless light as it moved at random around the wall, then, spinning his head toward the man, he raised a single finger, bringing it high and placed it on his mouth.
He closed his eyes and shook his head, ever so gently, a subtle – almost invisible gesture.
No noise – but a clear order to hush.
The man stopped his idling. Stopped his tricksy coin play.
He held his hand up in a solemn apologetic “ok.” And put a finger to his lips himself, his young features went a blank passive shape as he closed his eyes and nodded to the boy.
The boy didn’t respond or reply, instead, his hands went to his radio and sleek, tiny fingers continued to toil around on the dial, his other hand continuing to fumble with wires and mechanisms in the back of the pulled apart device.
Attention quite somewhere else entirely.
The man watched the others in the room, gently rubbing their hands together and blowing quietly to warm cold skin, gloveless hands floating above the open flames, rubbing some warmth into the bones beneath, no-one talking, no one making any noise apart from restless shuffle of clothing as they adjusted themselves against walls and corners where they huddled and rested.
The house was quiet, astonishingly, agonizingly so.
The silence so loud it screamed.
A little girl looked up at him as he padded in gentle steps toward the kitchen and the backdoor. She took his gloveless hand in her mittened one, and she smiled up at him. He smiled back, passed her the book, and she eagerly ripped out pages and threw them into the fire can, he smiled and blew her a calm, loving kiss and waved it down to her – he took his charred stick and drew a hand with one thumb raised, and beside it, a crude drawing of puckered lips - the girl looked down at the charcoal scribbles, and held her hands close to her heart. She smiled wide and gummy at the man, nodding her understanding and appreciation.
The front two teeth in her mouth, at the top, missing, her smile a wide gappy grin that provoked a wider smile in return from the man.
He looked back at her as she hugged closer to her mother in the dining room, pulled under a blue shawl being used as a cover. Dropping more pages into the can. The flames growing, the light glowing, the warmth clear and welcome.
The man strode to the back door, still smiling at the girls smile. He pulled the door open and suddenly, the quiet, calm world was roaring with the wind and the growing blizzard outside.
Winds that howled and whistled in bare branched trees and dark, navy skies.
Winds that growled stories into the night air, for mountains and roads, forests and woodland to listen to.
One of the rough handed men came outside and joined him.
He clapped the younger man on the shoulder and he turned and gently smiled a welcome.
The rough handed man offered him a cigarillo – a hand-rolled, ugly cigarette.
Thin and colourless – The younger man appreciatively took it, dragged back and exhaled a tendril of smoke to the sky. Blue-grey, it spiraled and drew stories into the navy canvas above – pictures of Viking ships, mingling with the snow, it painted a fairy tale all of its own creation, before dispersing into nothingness, and leaving only the sky - dark blue and daunting.
The rough handed man took a nearby broken branch and drew in the snowy ground a picture of a boy, then a version of the radio, next to this he drew a face – eyes looking skyward, a hand below the mouth holding the chin quizzically.
The young man gazed back inside, and saw the smiling girl, and he elicited a small, gentle grin once again – beyond her, in the far corner he saw the boy busily pottering away. With his charred stick he knelt down and drew a hand, two fingers raised and crossed, next to this he drew a face with hands pressed together in front of it, eyes closed. Praying.
The older man drew below this a face with wide-open eyes, a line for a mouth – an exasperated, unimpressed expression. Next to this he drew a pair of crossed fingers as well.
The younger man nodded.
He clasped the rough handed man on the shoulder, they smiled at each other and stood in the snow storm, wind blowing their hair, cigarillos burning down to the tip, smoke coming from their mouths as they dragged back deep breaths. The silence between them only interrupted by the howl of the wind. The creak and crunch of the snow as it became heavier and thicker and – then – a burst of static from inside the house.
Both men spun on their heels, cigarillos dropping to the white ground, a fizzle of the burnt end snuffing out in the cold.
They looked at each other, then to the house, before the younger man burst back through the door and paced in wide hurried steps toward the room where the boy was sat.
The people in the house had huddled in terror to corners, grasping each other tight; children hidden behind a line of men, each ready to attack if needed.
The man saw the toothless girl, and she looked terrified, she raised a single finger accusatorily to the boy, who sat silent, his back to the rest of the room – no longer tinkering. No longer toiling on the machine. Now, sat with his head at an angle of satisfied candor regarding the device.
Cross-legged, his hands on his knees, and his head rest slightly upon them.
The young man, and the rugged handed man trudged into the room, and looked down at the boy; his face barely lit now in the waning candle-light.
The boy looked up at them, and smiled.
With his finger into the dusty floor, he drew the radio again. Then, a hand - making the “OK” sign, of a ring between thumb and forefinger and three raised fingers.
From the radio, static burst in shocking stabs of white noise.
The men put their hands over their ears and looked at each other, the people in the other room, and then the boy.
The child smiled up at the men, and then raised a finger to his lips and gestured for them to take their hands away.
They did, and what happened next chilled and excited them to their marrow.
The static gave way, no longer jagged and stabbing, sharp fractured sound.
Instead, a slight, muffled hiss of a steady channel, and, quietly at first – but getting louder, something else.
The boy turned toward the radio, and said in a whisper, his voice a muffled, muted moan, a clear sentence.
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”
The words repeated on the radio.
Once, then again, then over and over.
Not that these people knew what words were.
Like the books, the language was alien and dead, futile and lost.
Generations of people who had only pictures and pictograms to talk with, no need for sounds and language, but – here – the radio spoke.
The first words in their lifetime.
Sounds of the past communicating to them, and letting them know that it would be ok… That they were alright.
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”
Such delicious, scary, wonderful words…
The boy turned and looked at the men, and a wide smile on his lips, he said clearly – to them and the rest of the world –
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”
And outside, as within, a new dawn bravely broke in the not so distant horizon.
A new day, a new world to go with it, made from lost, yet familiar things – now, rediscovered and repeating over and over and over.
Stories, shared across the static.
Found, again, at last.