Wednesday, 18 August 2021

#WEPAUGUSTCHALLENGE - FREEDOM OF SPEECH - MY #FLASHFICTION, The Silent Apocalypse

 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.

A smoking sarcophagus 

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.

 Abandoned 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.

 Radioactivity.

 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.

 Radiation leaked out of the exclusion zone with every gust of wind, a silent killer.

 The people did not need to know.

 Best to keep the secret.

 Assured via 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.

 The authorities 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.

 Nuclear 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.

 Under strict 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.

 The mayor 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.

 ‘Only one 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.

 A grey-haired 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! 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 malfeasance.’

 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 contained.’

 ‘Bullshit!’ A 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.

 Mayor Blaise 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.’

 The red-headed 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!’

 Benoit pumped 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.’

 Truer words were never spoken.

 Wolves howled.

 Darkness besieged the gates of the town as the silent killer spread its poison.

Soon the landscape would be a grim black postcard.

                                                   

                                            ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

WORDS: 1045

FCA


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!





44 comments:

  1. Sigh.
    I hope this IS fiction, but wouldn't bet my life on it. Though sadly I/we may have to do just that.

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    Replies
    1. I'm pretty sure it's factual in some place in this world of ours, Sue.

      Delete
  2. Dear Denise
    A splendid piece. The visualization, the imagery is fantastic. And oh, we're guinea pigs!
    Sonia from https://soniadogra.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. Brilliant Denise - I do hope it remains fiction ... though I query it. We are most definitely living in an uncertain world - I hope the next generations can manage life as it develops - well done Denise - 'loved it' ... cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great entry. I could see it all happening. It's a scary future that I hope never happens.

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  5. "Safe, be damned" - too often true!
    Our species really has to learn!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jemi's response made me smile. Our species can't learn when money is the bottom line. Greed beats all...
    Really great entry!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Powerful. The parallels with the Chernobyl disaster are scary. My parents went on vacation to Ukraine a month after the Chernobyl. They didn't go to the town itself, but they were close by, maybe a 100 kilometers away, which is no distance to radiation. And nobody knew anything. Only years later, the truth started to seep out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a shocking real life story of Chernobyl Olga.

      Delete
  8. So many instances where people have been sacrificed for political reasons. Such things have happened before, and they will happen again. This is a chilling tale indeed.

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  9. Well done Denise. And it would seem, politicians are the same everywhere.
    Nancy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure they are Nancy. These days they're all morphing into one ugly mess.

      Delete
  10. Great scene setting, Denise! Gave me the chills.

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  11. All too real and scary. Politicians everywhere are out to suppress the very voters that elect them. Your descriptions as always are gripping. The para about the Crimson Forest is my favourite -so evocative and chilling at the same time.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi,
    And so it was. What I find interesting is that we forget the danger in nuclear reactors until the next one explodes or causes damage to peoples' lives in another part of the world.
    Shalom aleichem

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, apparently China is working on safe nuclear power.

      Delete
  13. Scary story, people are afraid but wish to believe in the politicians and the 'powers that be.' Sadly, they often do the wrong things.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Greed is frequently favored over the safety of the masses. A tragic theme when the cost of life brings profit to a select few. Unfortunately, that notion is not fictional. Well done, Denise.

    ReplyDelete
  15. O my! "We’re guinea pigs. Safe, be damned.’
    Truer words were never spoken."
    How sad, how true, but is it inevitable? Haunting indeed.
    Carole

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you think so Carole. I think we're haunted in so many ways.

      Delete
  16. Trying one last time. 3 times already it just disappeared into cyberspace.
    Your story is bleak but a need to be told-story. Too often greed for money and power decides more than we would like to know, but we need to be made aware. Your language is modern, maybe a bit too modern for my taste, but then I'm an oldtimer ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sorry you've been thrown around Charlotte. I didn't think my language was necessarily modern, but there you go.

      Delete
  17. Oh, very dark and Stephen King-esque

    ReplyDelete
  18. Unfortunately, powerful people will always do whatever they think they can get away with to remain powerful.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Chilling Denise….and unfortunately already here, there and round the corner. Beautifully portrayed. Thank you.

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  20. Hi Miss Denise

    Wow, what a powerful story. Frightening thoughts for our present and future survival. Great descriptions. You pulled me into the story and made me feel like I was at the meeting. I wanted to jump up, join Benoit, and shout, “Liberté!”

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Lenny! I'm glad you're on Benoit's side!

      Delete
  21. I can certainly imagine this happening. Someone get Michael Moore on the phone!
    Good job.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep, Michael Moore would stir things up a bit.

      Delete
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