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Sisyphus at the Edge

By: Robert Pettus

By Robert PettusPublished 6 months ago Updated 6 months ago 6 min read
Sisyphus at the Edge
Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Nobody can hear you scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. They’re wrong, though. I’ve known it for years. Known it! Why else would I be out here, near the blackness of the gravitational trench, this deep into space? If there is gravity, sound can travel through it; and gravity is everywhere! So there must be a noise – at least a whimper – in a vacuum. Perhaps the sensory experience of that whimper is beyond human epistemic comprehension, but I wasn’t ready to admit that; not yet. Zero-gravity is a myth – gravity is existence.

I opened my visor and gazed into the blackness. It was perfect – I couldn’t see a thing! Turning around, I noticed there were unfortunately still scattered, twinkling frustrations in the direction I would anthropocentrically consider “behind me”, but they were far enough away. I was on the edge, as far as anyone had ever known. The ultimate event-horizon – the place where the billowing train of existence – that never-ending genesis – collided into nothingness.

If sound were possible here, in this ethereal, progressive loneliness, it was possible anywhere.

My ornithopter drew closer to the edge. It batted its wings chaotically, like a disoriented pigeon flying close to a window. There was no reason for it to do that – the wing-flapping – it was purely cosmetic. Ornithopter motorbikes, as they were called, were the fastest, sexiest way to bend some spacetime and jet across the universe. The travel was convenient; the flapping wings made me feel cool – I loved it.

I sensed the spacetime boundary. It was somehow, though completely foreign, simultaneously not far off from what I was expecting. I could feel it. It was vibrational, somehow – simmering. Perhaps it sensed me, too. It surged onward, nonetheless, into the literal nothingness, dragging me with it. Gravity, though pulling me toward the edge of the endlessly racing wall, could not push me past it, being that I was thankfully composed of spacetime. Spacetime cannot be thrust past the boundary of its own existence – abroad the surge of its own creation. I pressed the audio button and cackled manically into the microphone of my helmet:

“Ha! HA! We did it, old boy! We finally did it!”

I leaned back to the rear bicycle seat of my ornithopter and slapped the hairy back of Sisyphus, my bonobo companion.

Sisyphus – or Sissy, as I always called him – was one of the only known bonobos extant in the universe. His species had gone extinct in the wild centuries ago, back during the miserable twenty-first century. Sissy would sell for a fortune on the interstellar black market, but I would never do that. Sissy was my trusted companion, the only one I had – friend or family.

Sisyphus grinned wide, in that chaotic, gummy 'pan' way, and shrieked triumphantly, raising his arm to give me a high-five. I slapped hands with Sissy and reached below our seats, into the carriage of the ornithopter, and pulled out Sissy’s favorite treat: a fig. Sissy, shoving it safely into his visor, crunched into it, devouring the fruit and dislodging it as remnant juice flew in congealing, solidified cohesion out into the compression of the black void.

I stared ahead at the wall: “Well, I guess there’s no waiting around, huh? We may as well give it a go!”

I removed from underneath the carriage of my ornithopter motorbike the Three-Nozzled Screamer – my prized invention. This thing, if anything, would prove whether or not sound can travel through an alleged vacuum.

Raising a hand to my ear, I clicked through the settings on my helmet, making sure it was as strong as possible – ready for anything. I turned, clutching with both hands at Sissy’s head, and did the same for him:

“You ready for this, old boy?” I said, “We’re going to find out what’s what!” We’re going to make some noise!"

Sisyphus raised his arms and clapped in silent excitement repeatedly, as if he’d politely just won the PGA Championship.

I strapped on the Three-Nozzled Screamer and buckled up. The edge of existence pushed onward in apathy:

“Let’s do this!” I said, carefully inserting the brass mouthpiece into the safety of my visor. I unleashed all the airpower in my lungs. My cheeks widened like a pufferfish. Out from within the triple bells of the Three-Nozzled Screamer erupted an abysmal, jazzy chaos. The sound of it bounced off the surging wall of the universe, darting backward into space – a dark abyss allegedly incapable of music or rhythm. I kept blowing on my instrument. The frenzied, screaming music continued reverberating off the wall of spacetime, bouncing back into the blackness of the previously supposed void. This dark place now felt awake, as if its emptiness held within its ancient interior grumbling creatures of myth.

“GAWWWWWWWWHHHHHHH!” came an abrupt call from out of the blackness.

A figure swam into shape, growing exponentially in size out of the sea of blackness as if to consume the canvas of the universe. It came into view. I saw it; Sisyphus saw it, too. He pointed and squealed in terror, jumping forward from the back seat and wrapping himself around my neck and chest. He pointed again. He clapped his hands soundlessly as if to communicate to me his disapproval of the current situation.

“I know, I know,” I said. “It’s a deep space Whale-Squid! These things haven’t been seen in years; they’ve only been encountered on a couple of occasions, ever!” I looked back to Sisyphus, grinning: “This thing might be even rarer than you!”

The Whale-Squid again grumbled its song – long thought impossible this deep into the trench of space – and stretched out from its wobbling ballast non-Euclidean tentacles in our direction. Sissy shrieked, climbing atop my head.

“We have to document this!” I said, pulling out my camera, “We’ll be universally renowned! Nobody has ever, ever, recorded a Whale-Squid!”

The Whale-Squid’s innumerable, slithering tentacles swarmed us, and it again delivered its miracle song. Sisyphus slapped violently at the tentacles, but they didn’t seem intent on constriction. They wrapped around the two of us gently, lifted us from our ornithopter motorbike, and shoved us abruptly through the wall of spacetime – past the alleged, continuously surging end of existence.

It dragged us back inside, after a time. I would say it was only a few moments later, but it’s impossible to tell, being that we were thrown into a realm in which time doesn’t exist. I looked at Sisyphus. He appeared unaged. He opened his gaping bonobo mouth and spoke as if a sound had been stored from that place beyond existence and were spit out illogically into the blackness of the void:

“What the fuck was that place?” he said in a bizarre voice of shifting, inexperienced, multi-tonal accents.

I was shocked. Sound from within the depths of spacetime! A talking bonobo! What else was possible?

“I have no fucking clue!” I yelled in triumphant response. I began laughing hysterically. I gave Sisyphus a victorious hug.

We glared excitedly at one another; there were so many adventures ahead.

The Whale-Squid floated out of sight, back into the trench of deep space.

Our ornithopter motorbike floated aphetically amid the void. Twisting the key into the ignition, we darted away, toward some other, distant realm of existence.

Sound was possible! What else was possible?

Short Story

About the Creator

Robert Pettus

Robert Pettus is an English as a Second Language teacher at the University of Cincinnati. He also taught for four years in rural Thailand and Moscow, Russia. He has had numerous short stories published, in both popular and academic journals

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  • Jori T. Sheppard6 months ago

    Fantastic idea. Great premise. Very creative and enjoyable. Keep up the good work.

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