Friday, July 17, 2009

Harmony, by Melanie Avila

Happy Friday! Today is all about Harmony ...

Harmony, by Melanie Avila

The humming grew stronger, clearer, as the rotating blades pounded the air.

I still wasn't used to this way of life. The constant accountability. They were always checking, always wanting to know.

It was above my building.

The sunlight strobed through the copter's propellers. I leaned out the window and shielded my eyes.


We heard stories that when they came it'd be chaos, that life as we knew it would be over, but it all went very smoothly. One person in my octad compared it to upgrading the software on their computer. Only we were the software.

They assigned us one of two values: None or One.

The code must serve some larger purpose, but I never figured out how they chose. I just accepted my assignment and went on with my life. Or tried to.

They sent messages. That's how they communicated.

The first one was clear:

Find a way to live in harmony or you will cease to exist.

Then nothing for weeks. Clearly it was it a warning, but no one knew what to make of it, and before long it slipped to the back of our minds.

Then more messages came, this time more rapidly:

Once assigned your value, it must be displayed at all times.

You must always find a way to show your mark.

Mark? We drew close, whispering tales of another time when people were oppressed and forced to brand themselves. The marks of those times had become trendy, their significance lost on my generation. Could it happen again?

No one stepped forward to claim responsibility. It was just these messages pulsing over the computer lines.

Always alternate your codes to maintain the harmony.

You must maintain the harmony.

The initial marks were flimsy scraps of paper that blew away when the copters circled too close, and before long people resorted to signing with their hands. It was easier that way. The real trick was maintaining the harmony. Making sure you were always one-none-one took planning. Coordination.

When the patrols went by we'd flash our marks. Most times they'd dip from side to side—a hold-out from the older pilots that all was okay—but every now and then one would swoop lower and lower and snatch the unharmonious one.

That's what I lived in fear of.

You must always stay positive. We don't want to see fear.

If you're afraid, you must find a way to hide it.

Find a way. Always "find a way."

When they passed overhead I thought back to the stories of my childhood, of my mother's childhood, when a hovering aircraft didn't instill fear in the souls of those it patrolled. Pretending to feel a joy I suspected I might never feel again, I smiled and waved, showing my mark with one hand while the terror slid around my spine. I couldn't look anywhere but up. Up. I had to trust that the others were paying attention, that they took a step forward or back, that they were keeping the harmony.

The copter came closer, its propellers steady.

It should have dipped by now. My breath wouldn't come. It's too hard to pretend when the copter is coming straight at me. Don't they understand that we're trying?


Dip! Dip!

The air churned around me, lifted my hair, my skirt. Someone's discarded mark clung to my leg.


My eardrums vibrated, the tiny bones bouncing off one another, rattling up into my skull, dancing over my senses, blurring my vision.

Two copters.

No… one. Always one.

Metal arms, cold and unyielding, stretching out, out…

A scream, then blackness.


Jude Hardin said...

Our grim future as binary slaves?

Nice take, Melanie. Chilling.

LurkerMonkey said...

Me first today ...

I thought this story was fantastic for a few reasons. I LOVED the use of the prompt -- the people weren't pointing, they were giving some kind of signal to their overlords/occupiers. Really original. Really good.

Also, in a very few words, there was both effective backstory and world-building. But perhaps what worked even better for me were the things left unsaid. By leaving all the major details unexplained -- who are these copters exactly -- I was free to fill it in myself.

So basically, Melanie, I thought this story totally rocked.

But (and, of course, there's always a but), I had one small quibble. You give the story of the signals, how they were first flimsy paper, then branded, then people using their fingers. Very cool. But near the end, while she's signaling, a discarded paper signal blew against her legs. I admit, I got confused by this and had to stop for a second to sort it out. Nobody was using paper signals, right? So why was a paper signal floating around?

This wouldn't have mattered at all, except for one thing: the central concept of your story is the signaling. So for a second, I doubted my understanding. Then I figured it out, and the sun shined, and all was right in my world again.

Anyway, seriously, I really, really liked this. As we say in crit group, the fix is one sentence. Great job!

Jude Hardin said...

Yeah, I think she really raised the bar with this one, Jon.

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks guys. I must admit, at first the paper was just a random piece of paper but I thought it'd be cool to tie it into the signals. My thinking was that not everyone lost theirs as quickly, so this was just one more person losing their grip on it.

But that's an easy fix.

stacey said...

Amazing short, Mel! I loved the tension and the way you weaved the backstory neatly into the present. Great imagery!

Erica Orloff said...

LOVED this. Loved it. Absolutely compelling--and brings you, as Jon said, into a world in an instant.


Natasha Fondren said...

You already know how I feel about it, Melanie, but I'll say it again: I just love this story! Totally rocks!

Melanie Avila said...

Thanks ladies. I really had fun with this one!

Robin said...

Very cool, Melanie! Compelling. It so quickly drew me into this world. You're like George Orwell only cuter.

Melanie Avila said...

LOL. Thanks Robin. :)

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