If a star explodes in space and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. I wouldn't know. I haven't heard a scream in twenty-six years.
I was in first grade when the hearing problems began.
A two-week bout with the measles had me testing the limits of what my immune system could manage. My red-specked body moaned in pain as the fever raged, and left my parents begging to any god who would listen for mercy.
The coughs racking my body were the only sure sign of life as blood-shot eyes dipped in and out of consciousness. It was days before the fever finally broke, and my parents sobbed in relief as I finally managed to hold down some water.
‘Lucky to be alive’, the doctors called me.
Six-year-old me didn’t know much about that. I was just happy to be freed from isolation, and returning to my friends at school.
The annual talent competition was fast-approaching, and as the youngest in a family of musicians that was a Big Deal.
My father headed up our little band of melodic prodigies. A talented trumpet player following in the footsteps of the legendary Louis himself, he made his living traveling the country, playing backup to the greatest voices of our generation.
The shiny trophies and golden records adorning the otherwise drab walls of our modest suburban home bragged of his aptitude even as his humble tones denied it. To him jazz wasn’t a talent to possess, it was simply a Way of Life. A Calling from deep within pulling his soul, and he had no choice but to serve as its conduit.
“The Spirit of Jazz unites us all,” he liked to say, after he finished a particularly rhapsodic run on his cornet. “You can’t run from the melody within.”
My mother was a wedding harpist, beautiful refrains waxing poetic from her elegantly manicured fingers. With her flowing white lace dresses and near ethereal grace, one could easily mistake her for an actual angel descended to the churches she played within.
Between the two of them, my sisters and I were drilled into a love of music before we had even learned to toddle. Sinatra and Debussy crooned us to sleep each night, and Gillespie’s irresistibly upbeat wailings shook us awake every morning. The three of us were taught to tickle the ivories before we knew how to ride a bike, and my sisters had already made names for themselves as first chair violin and flautist in their respective schools.
This competition would finally be my chance to join their ranks, and come into my own as a part of the family legacy.
The blinding lights of the stage mirrored my pride as I entered to make my debut. Warnings of stage fright from less courageous souls simply fell away as I strode into my natural place of center stage, ready to claim my birth right.
Opening my mouth, I unleashed my dulcet tones upon the gathered crowd, eager for them to feel the heavens echoing within the chords, as I had so many times before. True musicians have the power to whisk you away, to a place where Emotion and Beauty rule, and the rest ceases to exist or matter.
When the melody finally faded, a pin could have been heard among the crowd. Stunned into silence by the awe of my abilities.
Slowly the crowd descended from their reverie, and a hesitant applause broke out.
“Tone deaf!” a jeering call came from the back of the crowd, and the confusion settled in.
Mother’s frantic calls that night awoke me from my sleep.
Bewilderment at how her baby’s cherubic voice had fallen out of key.
‘An uncommon side effect of the disease.’ She was told. ‘A degeneration of cochlear neurons following the ear infections that measles can cause. An unfortunate affliction that affects a mere one in twenty. Nothing to do but wait, and pray.’
Second opinions, then thirds, then fourths. Not a single doctor able to assuage her fears that the damage was here to stay.
With time, my hearing continued to fade, till even the best of hearing aids couldn’t help me to detect a locker slammed two feet from me.
Friendships with the kids at school began to dissolve as our interactions became more difficult. After all, who wants to play with a friend who can’t hear you shout ‘Catch!’ or hear the commands in Simon Says?
Sign language didn’t prove too difficult to learn, but when the only ones in the school who speak it are you and the interpreter the school hired to follow you around, it’s not exactly a stellar bridge for communication.
The loss of my school friends didn’t hurt nearly as much as the realization that my family was gradually pulling away.
Music was their primary language, and many half-spoken sentences died on their lips as they realized I could no longer share in their love of the newest popular song, or admire the beauty and satisfaction in a well-constructed chord with them.
As the awkward silence grew stronger, I began seeking refuge in walks through town, anything to escape the guilt-ridden glances and clumsy conversations borne of pity.
The local library became my haven, a safe space from the judgmental stares of my peers. It was there that I discovered my first telescope.
Simple searches for Orion’s belt and shooting stars soon turned into long hours pouring over astronomy books, learning to identify all the constellations visible in the night sky. Jupiter’s moons and the ice caps of Mars soon filled the void that the relationships in my life had left barren.
My first crush was borne to the simplistically regal elegance of twinkling Cassiopeia.
I first joined NASA's young explorer program at the age of 12.
The tension of uncomfortable new social situations could not discourage my need to know more, to learn everything I could about the mysterious wonders above.
The need for knowledge consumed my every waking moment, as I drank in texts as if they were the precious offerings of an oasis in a desert. Photos of constellations and emerging galaxies absorbed my attentions until all else faded off as background noise, mere annoyances attempting to distract me from my One True Love.
I unknowingly climbed the corporate hierarchy, till I was regarded as an Expert in my field. Earthly titles rang hollow compared to the majesties of the stars, but the newfound recognition allowed me to attain the grudging respect of my peers, and a tolerance for my aloof and antisocial manner.
It was from this newly attained prestige that the opportunity arose: a search for a man fit to pilot the first voyage to Pluto. Meant to be a discovery mission, to find substantiation to back science’s findings against the growing anger of the public at their demotion of the beloved planet, NASA sought a brave explorer to travel alone through the stars, to the farthest any ship has ever been.
I applied on a whim, entranced with the concept of finally being among the enigmas that had captivated my life’s work. And among the hundreds of applicants clamoring for the chance to obtain the prestigious title of Astronaut, NASA selected me.
It turns out their concerns over the ability of other candidates’ sanity to withstand the solitude of a mission that would take a decade one-way made me the perfect candidate. A lifetime of reclusiveness had already prepared me for the emotional demands they feared would be too taxing for those of a more normal mental state.
I suppose I should have been offended at their insinuations that my disability eradicated my need for social interaction, but a lifetime of proving them right at every turn, coupled with my desire to see the galaxies up close, convinced me to look the other way.
For once, my impairment was working to my advantage.
The majesty of the inky expanse stretched before me in every direction. The stars, although still distant, glittered larger and brighter than before, sirens calling to my soul.
It felt nice to finally be in a space where my peers and I would be equals.
After decades of trying to play catchup in every way imaginable, I had finally found a place where all could come, to hear the silence just as I did.
I stared out at the endless beauty, and the quiet echoed deep in my soul.
No more trying to muddle out statements rushed through restless lips too fast to read, or puzzling over animated expressions and gestures whose meanings fell empty without context to support them.
No more gazing at teary expressions of souls enraptured by melodies long since lost to my mind.
Somewhere deep within, a small twinge pulled at my heart.
Shaking off the creeping tendrils of melancholy, I stretched and rose to grab a protein bar from the storage bins behind me.
An angrily blinking red light caught my eye.
Cursing, I scrambled back into my chair, diving for the controls to pull up the radar. Who thought it was a good idea to put the alerts for important things BEHIND the person who can't hear the alarms??
Mind racing, I darted frantically through the systems menus, trying to determine what had triggered the sensor, and for how long it had been going off.
‘Collision Imminent,’ the systems insisted, leaving me scratching my head in befuddlement. I wasn’t scheduled to pass by any celestial masses today, and approaching asteroids should have been detected a long way off.
A rumbling throughout the cabin interrupted my musings, building in an insistent crescendo of anticipation. My eyes darted frantically around the ship as my hands scrambled for any kind of purchase to help me withstand the sudden shaking.
The air in the middle of the cabin appeared to shimmer, causing me to stumble back against the control board. Flickering particles rapidly condensed into an amorphous grey blob, humanoid only in the sense that it looked as if a person had been dipped into a vat of sludge.
"Hello,” the pile of sludge oozed, its voice a guttural whine that could barely be recognized as English.
...... Did I just hear that?!
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Original narrative & well developed characters
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Cool, very cool! What happens next?
Great start. Loved the cliffhanger. You need to continue this.
I really enjoyed this. My step dad caught measles as a kid and this echoed his experiences too. He even turned to a love of sci fi as well.
What a clever and unique storyline, and that cliff hanger!! Nice work :) I really enjoyed your way with words. A very enjoyable read.
I love the idea of exploring how different it would be for a deaf person in space, and the cliffhanger you left us on was so tantalizing. Well done!
Great idea and an original take on the prompt. Deaf folks don’t necessarily feel music, but I do believe they still enjoy it because they can feel the vibrations. Which is why lyric interpreters help at metal concerts. Beethoven composed as a deaf man. You may want to consider this if you expand it out.
This is fantastic. Well done.
Neat concept, love the incision of a deaf character, although I would recommend reading more about what it’s actually like being deaf. If this becomes a book I hope you bank on antisocial behavior. It’s great to write because relatively outgoing antisocial people say whatever they want and that’s fun to write and read about. Good luck on the competition!
Excellent take on the challenge. I really enjoyed this.
Such an interesting take on the prompt! I really enjoyed reading it, especially the ending-- it would be cool to see where the story leads.
Excellent take on the challenge of this competition. Is this indeed the 1st chapter of a SF novel you are thinking of? So many ways to go, so many struggles to overcome to...to accomplish...what? What wonders lie out there for your protagonist? I'll stay tuned. Good luck!