Hello everyone! Thanks for coming by to read more WEP entries for #YearoftheArt!
I'll start with the awesome news that we've added Jemi Fraser to the WEP team. Jemi has been such an enthusiastic member since she discovered us. Her magic pen has placed in many challenges. I'm sure her enthusiasm will translate to a positive working relationship with the WEP team and the many enthusiastic writers who turn up every two months and share golden gems.
The WEP August challenge, FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
Some people have let me know they are afraid of this subject. Maybe it is a little much following FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Nevertheless, I hope you will craft an entry which allows you to say what you want without being too worried about offending anyone.
My story is one I posted a year ago, but the second half I've re-written to reflect this challenge. I tried to come up with something different, but my mind kept flashing to this story which was inspired by the series, 'Chernobyl'. Of course there are many parallels with the pandemic. During every disaster, there is a tug-of-war between the powerful and the powerless. At the moment, the innocents in Afghanistan are front of mind.
Without further ado here is my offering for FREEDOM OF SPEECH.
The Silent Apocalypse
The silent apocalypse began on
June 17, 2050, at 3.24 in the morning. As the sun rose
on Ground Zero on Day One, the disaster revealed itself.
The town. A
tourist mecca. Obliterated. Reduced to a blackened postcard.
No sign of life
except for a red fox loping across the desolate landscape. Silence reigned
except for ghostly voices shouted from empty streets, auditory mirages heard
only by God Himself.
vehicles piled beside roads like discarded toys, in carparks, underneath
apartment buildings. The aircraft hangar was empty of helicopters and small
planes used in the hasty evacuation that began at midnight when the night
workers raised the alarm.
The story was
inside the apartment buildings. Clothes draped over heaters. Unmade beds. Abandoned
books on nightstands. Each room, an empty stage set at the end of a play.
Waiting for the next act. The raised curtain.
But the curtain
would never rise again.
It had changed
the color of the trees. Those who walked around the perimeter of the exclusion
zone on Day Two dubbed it the Crimson Forest because of the foliage and the
blood-red tape which looped from tree to tree, its nuclear symbol flapping in
the gentle breeze. ‘Keep out! Danger!’
Day Three. Dawn.
Site inspection. Scientists in hazmat suits. Geiger counters emitting
rhythmical electrical sounds like a coded message from another dimension.
out of the exclusion zone with every gust of wind, a silent killer.
The people did
not need to know.
Best to keep
their digital devices that it was business as usual, the people of Pérougé
continued their life outside the exclusion zone, oblivious to Death already
seeping through their bones, their cells, their blood. They enjoyed the
amenities their town offered – restaurants, cinemas, theatres, sports centres,
amusement parks. They were proud of their shiny new hospitals, little knowing
they’d soon be overflowing with those presenting with suppurating sores,
weakness, unexplained bleeding.
downplayed the accident. Of course. That was the way things were done in 2050.
Had always been done, really. In this world you were either the powerful or the
powerless. People must be kept in blissful ignorance. Imagine if they knew the
Geiger counter readings. The scientists were confused enough. Maybe that latest
batch of counters was faulty.
reactors were being built in every powerful nation. If word spread of this
disaster, a whole industry would be brought to its knees. The government would
not allow that to happen. Even now “volunteers” were searching inside the
reactor to ascertain the cause of the explosion. “Volunteers” were expendable.
It was the
people’s fault. They had demanded nuclear power when renewables failed them. No
one wanted to shiver through darkness when the sun refused to shine or the wind
refused to blow. Fossil fuels were yesterday's news.
orders from the government to silence the chattering masses, Mayor Blaise
called a Town Hall meeting. He needed to put out the fires begun by people
showing symptoms of nuclear radiation.
puffed out his chest and addressed the townspeople. ‘People of Pérougé, this is
not another Chernobyl. Our knowledge of nuclear plants has grown exponentially
since the 1980s.’
A woman hugging
a tiny baby to her chest stood, coughing, interrupting his prepared speech. Her
voice wavered when she asked, ‘My name is Madame Buci. How bad is it, Monsieur Mayor?’ Her baby began to cry. The mother began to cry. Coupled with her
coughing, it was a terrible sound.
reactor has been compromised, Madame Buci. Stay outside the exclusion zone and
no harm will come to you or your little one.’ The mayor wiped his forehead on a
large handkerchief kept expressly for the purpose of wiping away his sins.
man with a patchy red face pushed himself from his chair and stood unsteadily,
using two walking sticks for balance. ‘What about Chernobyl? I heard—’
Chernobyl!’ The crowd surged to their feet like an angry sea, fists pumped the
air, faces suffused with anger. ‘How long did the authorities hush that up?’ A
young man with a deathly white face screamed. ‘Don’t you think we study
history! Thousands were infected, died, sacrificed on the altar of political
The mayor held
his hands in the air until the crackle died down. ‘Don’t put credence in urban
myths – Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima... Nuclear disasters of a past
time. Pérougé is safe as is every town, city and country outside the exclusion
zone. Your new apartments are safe. Stay inside. Shut your windows until the
radioactivity at Ground Zero recedes. We assure you, the radioactivity is
man with fiery red hair called from the back of the hall, fighting off two
burly security guards who tried to drag him outside. Even from a distance,
anyone could see the red welts on his face and arms.
ripped his prepared speech in half. ‘Sir, sit down. Listen. Did you see a
nuclear cloud? No! Proof that modern technology is working to keep you safe.’
man refused to sit. He tugged and pulled and resisted all efforts to shut him down.
‘My name is Benoit Gabriel. I go on record as a proponent of free speech.' His gaze took in the crowd. 'This
town will have its say. Every citizen deserves to be heard.’
The crowd chanted:
‘Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!’
‘Do you hear
that, Mister Mayor?’ Benoit asked. ‘We demand our right to be heard.’
Mayor Blaise puffed out his chest. ‘There are
occasions when freedom of speech is dangerous. This is such a time. I am the
mayor. My committee is behind me! Sit, Sir. You have had your say!’
his fist into the air. ‘Hear me out. We, the people, do not trust you and your
fancy committee in your fancy suits feeding us a barrel load of lies. You’re in
and out, a whistle stop tour. What do
you care? I have my own Geiger counter. It’s old, but reliable. It's been in my
family since Chernobyl. The readings have surged to astronomical levels. We’re
guinea pigs. Safe, be damned.’
were never spoken.
besieged the gates of the town as the silent killer spread its poison.
landscape would be a grim black postcard.
Thank you for reading my entry. If you like the idea of writing to a picture prompt, please join us for our October challenge where some let horror rip, while others manage to write without delving into their dark side. So what is your take on Edvard Munch's The Scream? We love to meet new writers! Our challenges are open to all!