The story ‘Sonny’s Voice’ is my first submission for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2011. The challenge gave me forty-eight hours to write a story under a thousand words. The story had to be sci-fi, set in a fitness center, and feature a knife sharpener at some point. ’Sonny’s Voice’ is appropriate for Hobbinol’s Blog because the story not only mentions Shakespeare, but it is influenced by his play As You Like It (1599) written in the Elizabethan period. The play opposes court and country in a similar fashion to the farm and city in ‘Sonny’s Voice’. Duke Frederick’s court is superficial and authoritarian, while the Forest of Arden is ‘natural and happy and wholesome and all good men flourish there’ (Latham lxx). Likewise, in my story, the city controls its citizens’ behaviour, and no one appears to have a say on how it is governed. Furthermore, the farm mirrors the Forest of Arden in that it is also natural, and emphasises a wholesome life through growing crops and rearing chickens. Sonny’s dad is comparable to the the banished Duke Senior as they are both outlaws. While Duke Senior was exiled from his own court by his brother Duke Frederick, there are suggestions in my story that Sonny’s dad has close links with the city. Maybe he held an important position there once? What do you think?
Summary of Sonny’s Voice
In a city that prides itself on a quiet and relaxed existence, Sonny enjoys causing mayhem with the law enforcers. Escaping into the fitness center, he unwittingly pays the ultimate price for his tomfoolery.
I glance back, almost losing my balance on the moving walkway. Vehicles and people silently attend to their business ignorant of my exploits. I was running and laughing, pursued by the Adonis cops who can only stride in slow motion and shake their batons in frustration. Their little boxed cars fair no better, moving as though through thick mud. My heart is still beating with all the excitement. Then I heard the sound, probably the blood rushing through my ears. It couldn’t be anything else. Yet I find my flattened hand is covering my throat. I know what happens in the city and the importance of going only where it’s safe.
Doors swing inwards upon my approach, and that feeling of power the simple gesture brings lifts my mood. The walkway stops so I’m positioned in front of a desk. I make up a greeting for the seated Aphrodite receptionist. Without asking for my tag, she gives me a wide smile as her hands flutter over each other like caged birds, “Enjoy your workout.”
“Hear anything?” I reply, via a series of clenching fingers and her mouth lets out an inaudible laugh.
There are only two safe places in the city. One is the fitness center because it is tranquil without having to force the mood upon its visitors. There’s no repressed urge to shout or hurry, because I’ve seen those expressions of passive criminality in citizens riding mutely on the walkways. The archive center has the same peaceful ambience. It’s where I’ve seen footage of fitness centres built over a hundred years ago. People of all shapes and sizes strap themselves into machines, which continually stretch and bend their limbs to make them grimace. I can only imagine their pain. Believe me, those fitness centers are more like torture chambers than places that keep members trim.
I’ve also read Shakespeare’s plays that simply have characters talking to each other. Good things as well as bad things happen in those dialogues. I believe that speech, meaning the intelligible sounds that emanate from our throats, is what makes us human. So that recording those communications and what happens because of them is a natural phenomenon, rather than an aberration. That’s why no one makes films or writes books anymore. The city absorbs its citizens’ insecurities until there’s nothing worth reporting. Somehow the need for peace and quiet has developed into a monstrous ideal. I’m writing this document because I believe it’s the most effective voice I have. Especially because I live on the farm, which consists of the verdant pastures surrounding the city. There are about a hundred of us. We make homes from animal skins and trees, raise chickens and grow crops. It’s not easy. There are bouts of extreme heat and cold. Also, each time the lookout spots the slow approach of the Adonis cops, we have to pack up and move the whole community. We circle the city in hope of change.
I hear that sound again, but this time it belongs to a memory of dad sitting on an old log. He is fastidiously brushing the knife sharpener, a round flat stone, with the back of his hand before grinding his special blade along its rough surface. My body shivers with every stroke. Dad then stands and grabs a protesting chicken from the coop.
“Is that what you want to be, Sonny,” he shouts, swiping the blade through the bird’s neck, “a headless chicken?”
Dad disapproves of my city visits, yet it was he who gave me the fitness and archive center tags. I watch how he stares at the city shrouded in its protective fog. It’s like a large pink fluffy cloud. Maybe having a voice does not necessarily mean you’re heard.
The walkway brings me to an available cubicle. I step off and accidentally squash a departing Aphrodite’s bare toes with my leathery sole. She hops about on one foot cursing soundlessly. I try to apologise but she’s not interested. Her watery blue eyes glare at me like a snarling wolf’s, as she stretches her tanned muscular body to full height. Everyone looks the same in the city. Yet I’m as tall as she is with a similar physique largely maintained by farm work.
I lie naked on a hard plastic surface. A white robed Adonis technician carefully attaches probes to specified places on my body. Wires lead into a computer that sends electrical signals to stimulate every muscle the probes are attached to. A pleasant sensation soon fills me and I dream of somewhere that is part city, part farm. I have a family. We’re permanently settled. My children are running around and laughing uninhibited. Then I’m aware of a burning sensation spreading rapidly throughout my body. The rubbery suction cups of each individual probe incubate my bubbling skin. I glance helplessly at the Adonis technician who is waggling his fingers in an inarticulate blur. I catch the odd word, “…heart…fast…overpowering.” He’s turned off the computer but that only seems to exacerbate the pain. I scream as I rip off the probes that spray dark fluid and cooked flesh. The Adonis technician is crouched on the floor quivering. His hands are pressed tightly against his ears, blood trickles down his arms.
I stagger from the cubicle with mounting panic; every aching muscle feels like lead. The walkway remains stubbornly motionless as hot tears stream down my cheeks. I drag myself along the clanking metallic tongue to enter the fitness center’s main hub. Like shiny spokes on a wheel, walkways lead to cubicles now devoid of technicians. The walkway that serves the entrance/exit is blocked by tall bronzed bodies. They form a semi-circle around a contraption that resembles a machine I’d seen in the archival footage of old fitness centers. Attached to it is a surface containing sharp instruments.
“The operation will be slow and noiseless,” their long fingers promise, before placing large furry pads over their ears and mine.
Latham, Agnes. ‘Introduction.’ As You Like It, by William Shakespeare. 1599. Ed. Agnes Latham. Arden Shakespeare: London, 1975, ix-xcv.
Queen Elizabeth I in Court,