Briefest Use – By Hayden Moore

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Pic by Jens Mahnke

 

This is an allegorical fiction following a girl named Echo as she tries to navigate a city where words only have meaning in the ubiquitous stream of broadcasts.

*

‘Only in the stream of thinking and life do words have their meaning’ (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

*

 

Wandering through the concrete byways of the city of Boetia, the girl tried to decipher the hidden surprises of the urban landscape. In the midst of the eternal broadcast over the ubiquitous speakers, it was almost impossible for her to find a steady thought and see beyond the blaring truth. Broadcast words were as necessary to the people of Boetia as air. The moment they stopped flowing, they gasped for more. People pretended to fall into conversation and were pleased to repeat the faultless and sure replies of the broadcast. If Tiresias News’ voices agreed, the day was bound to be fruitful. When voices of discord shook the air, cases of domestic violence rose behind locked doors and pets were abandoned. As she rounded an abandoned building along the river, Echo smiled as the broadcast seemed nothing more than a droning insect in the autumn breeze at sunset.

Drops of rancid water from the concrete ceiling sounded like a drowned cello playing a doleful lament. Echo walked along the crumpled tarps and pockmarked bed mattresses, the broken liquor bottles and amphetamine graffiti and heard nothing but the wordless chorus of decay. Invasive trees poked through the concrete while a speaker from years before dangled from the ceiling, cracked and cold. When a scurrying rat drew her attention towards another corner of the ruins, Echo saw what looked like a small fire obscured by a blanketed figure rocking back and forth.

As she approached, the fire became a small television, and Tiresias News was playing. A slight ringing was coming from the device but no other sound. Only the large subtitles below the news anchors appeared like billboards at the bottom of the screen. The blanketed figure quickly turned and Echo gasped. A toothless old man was smiling as he pointed to the little screen. Without looking, he mouthed the words to Echo just as they appeared on the screen. A shrill laugh coupled with a slithering tongue insinuating something lascivious to the girl sent her running through the detritus. Echo glanced at her own fleeing figure on the wall, a manic shadow puppet in the light of the old man’s broadcast.

(Broadcast Speaker)

‘It’s 1900 hours and this is Thrush Talk, THRUSH
…and I repeat that compassion is no substitute for truth.
No nation, especially Boetia, ever hugged itself into prosperity.
Oh! And as for those neo-whatever spinsters….
Feminism was established to allow unattractive nymphs easier access to power,
And as for the half-breed centaurs from beyond OUR borders, they can—‘

Several times a day, Echo vowed to go beyond the soothing feel of a Q-tip in her ear and poke herself into deafness. But she knew the pervasive nature of words. Tiresias himself was blind and a destitute deaf man had just shown her the truth. Blind and deaf, no matter, the words were as penetrating as the virus that almost ended Boetia a few years before. Fear had many tongues and they all spoke through the chaos, even to the dead. In the midst of her reverie, Echo failed to notice a woman turning the corner of the Seer District of Boetia. For once, the girl prayed to the gods that the broadcast would grow louder.

“Echo!” The older woman said, the peacock feathers in her hat glistening in the breeze.

“Oh!” Echo cried, jumping a step back.

“Always so jumpy. Just like a centaur, haha! So sorry about your parents. Horrible thing. Haven’t seen you since it happened. Two years? Where have you been? No, really, I would love to give you a hug.”

“A hug?”

“Yes! It’s been so long.”

“So long,” Echo muttered, turning to walk away.

“But hugs are for the weak,” she cried, grabbing Echo’s arm. “We can’t just hug ourselves into prosper…prospero…what is that word? I just heard it. Prosp—“

“Prosperity.”

“Yes! I took you for one of those Neo-something or others. But you’re so pretty. Not unattractive like those half-breed spin—“

“Spin!” Echo said through gritted teeth, pulling away from the woman’s grip.

“What?”

“SPIN!!!” Echo screamed, above the broadcast.

“What in Zeus’ name is wrong with—“

Echo pulled the peacock hat from the woman’s head and flung it into the street. Before the hatless woman could turn around, it was crushed by a sanitation truck. Echo took to her heels again, her boots barely keeping up with her feet.

(Broadcast)

‘It’s 1930 hours and this is Breaking News:
Reports of a border war have been confirmed,
The Others failed to find the peace accord of Boetia enough,
Witnesses confirm spinsters have joined Centaurs in arms,
But blame for the plague on the horse-people of the genus Equus are true,
Scientists note their habits and genetics are to blame’
In other news…’

Echo tried not to vomit when she passed a playbill touting another sold-out season of Orphan Annie. The eyeless two-dimensional redhead failed to sing a song of consolation and hope after Echo spit on her framed depiction. Echo untangled bits of her own red hair as she sauntered through the Multi-Media District where Broadcast Theaters doubled as places of worship. The bits of mica in the sidewalk glistened in the fluorescent lighting of yet another theatre entrance. Crowds of people sang the same old songs as they left the theatre, their ears adjusting to the Siren call of the broadcast.

“It’s him! Oh my gods! It’s really him!”

“It is him!”

“Come this way!”

“Is he here?”

“Come over here!”

“Why run away?”

Echo had to turn around when she felt the commotion, in spite of the usual repetition she heard. In the midst of cameras flashing and people weeping, a hunchbacked old man walked onto the street. Through manic arms akimbo and kicking legs of worshippers, Echo noticed a cane made of intertwined serpents that hissed every time it struck the pavement. When she saw the profile of Tiresias, she started laughing. At first, only a few worshippers hushed her. But as Echo lost all regard for anything but her private joy, the crowd of worshippers turned savage in eye and tongue.

“It’s Orphan Annie!”

“No, it’s not. She has eyes!”

“Let’s pluck ‘em out and call her—“

 “Call her to Thrush! He’ll deal with her!”

 “But True Tiresias is here! His faultless and sure reply is known far and wide!”

 “Yeah! Even to the beasts with hooves!”

As the mob began to advance on Echo, she felt like her feet were paved into the sidewalk. But a hissing sound hushed the crowd and the old man parted them. As the beady red eyes of the serpentine cane glared at Echo, she took a deep breath and stopped biting her tongue. The only thing she sensed as Tiresias approached was the faint taste of iron.

“Cruel are the times when the young are forced into silence,” Tiresias said, advancing a little closer to Echo.

“Silence?” Echo laughed softly.

 “Ah, she speaks. Good,” Tiresias smiled, calming the crowd with his skeletal hand. “But can she say anything for herself?”

 “Anything, anything, anything, anything for myself, myself, MY SELF!” She yelled, leaning towards Tiresias.

“Well—“

“Well,” she mocked. “Tell me something, Truth. Tell me a secret. Anything. What did you dream about last night?” Echo said.      

“Dreams are what beasts revert to when they cannot think for themselves.”

“Prove to me you’re not just a voice in a body. Give me something saucy like blood. Something messy that hurts.”

“If striking my serpents gave me the power to be this, then it will give me the power to change you,” Tiresias said.

“Prove it,” Echo smiled.

“By the power of Thrush and his father Zeus, I transform you!” Tiresias screamed to the heavens, striking his cane on the pavement. Silence. “I say again, you gods of truth and justice!” He bellowed, as he struck the pavement with his cane again. Nothing.

“She’s bewitched Tiresias!” A man from the crowd cried.

“No!” Tiresias chuckled. “I prophesied this years ago. Watch,” he glared, pulling the serpent headed grip from his cane loose and revealing a gleaming blade.

“Holy shit!” Echo gasped, dodging a thrust by the old man.

“Stay still for the prophecy!” Tiresias grunted, taking another stab.

Echo watched as time slowed down for herself and for the geriatric man even more as his second thrust sent him tumbling headfirst onto the sparkling pavement. The head of the blade hissed when it struck the concrete. Only the broadcast from the speakers echoed down the street as the point of the blade pointed obliquely at the dark sky through the dead man’s back. His spare body quivered a bit beneath his black suit before a pool of blood smothered the mica-infested pavement.

(Siren before Broadcast)

‘It’s 2100 hours and this is Breaking News:
Rumors of the death of Tiresias are false,
A man resembling Tiresias was murdered in the Multi-Media District,
Be on the lookout for a girl resembling Orphan Annie but with eyes,
Words of consolation from Tiresias himself to follow this advertisement,
BOETIA’FIL’A IS THE BEST FRIED CHICKEN IN TOWN,
OPEN EVERYDAY BUT SUNDAY’

 By the time the corpse stopped twitching and the crowd managed to find the words, Echo was already heading back towards the river. Across the wide waters that led to the sea, she knew where the quick-eyed Centaurs and the free-willed women lived and breathed the air that held words of their own making. Echo searched for her own words she would use to relate the story of her success. But the briefest use of words would be enough when her eyes told the truth. For the first time in her life, she was proud of her red hair and endless tangles, a natural device to hide in plain sight. As the broadcast became a hum and that hum was displaced by crickets, Echo dove into the water and swam bootless back to her people.


 

About the Author

Hayden Moore was born and raised in Georgia and has lived in New York City for the past twelve years. In the past five months, he has been published thirty-one times for his short stories: twice in Corner Bar Magazine, Metonym Literary Journal, Drunk Monkey Literary Journal, Fictional Cafe, Modern Literature, Calliope, Wood Coin Magazine, Wink Magazine, Verdad Magazine, Wilderness House Literary, Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Deep Overstock Journal, Wild Roof Journal, Oddville Press, Dream Noir, The Scriblerus, Prachya Review JOHAHmagazine, La Piccioletta Barca, Quail Bell, The Green Light, Astral Waters, Literary Heist, Pif Magazine, The Closed Eye Open, Flatbush Review, Anaphora Literary Press and Wingless Dreamer. Currently, he lives with his wife and cat on the waters of Jamaica Bay in Queens.