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Matthew Schroeder, 18 Sep '12

The Women Did Not Speak.

It was a mortal sin in the valley. Something in their religious text warned of ‘the evils that are born on the lips of women’. Any woman who uttered more than a grunt in pain or a scream in shock would be drowned in the holy river that ran through their village. Laughter was never permitted. They developed a sign language to communicate basic things, but village authorities would punish those whom they suspected used it to communicate conversationally. In the past, parents would cut out the tongues of their daughters within the second day of their birth, but over time this practice became unnecessary; Their vocal cords became useless through some sort of willed evolution. When midwives began delivering healthy, silent baby girls they thanked the gods. Unfortunately, most parents still kept the old traditions.
        Not long after the first silent birth some women began to notice that their rudimentary sign language was being used less and less. They found themselves communicating with each other with no physical action at all. Small decisions like which of two women would fetch water while the other stoked a fire were understood by both parties without so much as a look. At first they tried dismissing this as intuition, but when Altet’s young son became ill and died in his sleep, her closest friend Nomi rushed to her home in panic, silently sobbing nearly as much as Altet herself. Nomi admitted to Altet that she did not know the boy had died, but felt the pain of her friend’s grief strike her as if she had lost her own child.
        Soon, other women were sharing strong emotional occurrences. When a husband struck his wife, when a woman went into labor, or when a woman was forced to euthanize a dying family pet, others that were close to her knew of these things without any other evidence but the anger or pain or heartache that came upon them so suddenly and without apparent cause.
        Over time and with concentration, some women became able to communicate with more subtlety. Happiness could be shared as well as boredom, curiosity, awe, indifference, depression, excitement and love. When Nomi communicated her love for Altet and the two made love on a crisp autumn afternoon near the banks of the river, they broke through a barrier that they were not aware existed. They were now able to communicate thoughts and words with distinct clarity instead of just feelings. Nomi’s voice spoke in Altet’s mind almost as if it were her own. Without even trying Altet was able to reply to Nomi in the same way.
        ‘We have time. Again?’ were Nomi’s first words.
        ‘I was thinking likewise,’ were Altet’s.
        Whatever connection Altet and Nomi made with each other, it spread to every woman in the village who had reached puberty. Soon the entire female population was able to speak with one another no matter the distance between them. They formed small groups with each other which grew and overlapped until it was as though all of the women in the village were in the same room all of the time. The swell of excited voices became a beautifully chaotic mess of relief and freedom. Finally, they were able to share their thoughts and feelings - their fears, their burdens, stories of their children, recipes, the secrets of their husbands, pleas for help and unconditional support for one another - without punishment.
        The men were not oblivious to the changes in their wives, daughters and mothers, but mostly they regarded the minimal use of their sign language as a natural progression. These women had lived their entire lives together doing more or less the same tasks every day. It made sense that they wouldn’t need to communicate so much as time passed. However, some of them noticed something more. Some men reported angry stares that never went unpunished. Others reported a newfound love for their wives and daughters. Their once solemn, soulless eyes now danced with interest and joy at the supper table. It made those men notice the beauty and life in the people they had previously regarded as almost beasts of burden. The men reporting the angry stares warned the men with new found love to be cautious, but they could not articulate a reason for it.
        Years later, the voices of the women became one. Scientists from long ago and scientists to follow referred to this as ‘hive mind’. Every individual could operate on their own, but they were all part of something larger. All of their thoughts existed together, and loneliness - aloneness - became a forgotten concept.
        One sweltering summer night, without any deliberate communication or command, every woman in the village awoke from their sleep and walked barefoot into the woods and met at the holy river. They removed their nightgowns and entered the water. They relished the coolness of the flowing river and then they relished each other. They slept in each others arms on the banks of the river that night.
        In the morning, the men gathered in the center of the village, all with the same question. They followed the muddy footprints of the herd of women to where they slept. Some became so furious and disgusted by the display of naked peace that they reached for sticks and rocks. When Nomi felt the impact of the stone against her brow she woke. She saw the approaching men. Her anger and fear woke the others who sat up and turned towards their attackers so quickly it was as if they had only been feigning sleep. The men involuntarily dropped their weapons. They dropped to their knees before the women. They bowed at the waist in unison driving their skulls into the earth, rocks, roots and sticks. They repeated this gesture helplessly into unconsciousness and finally death.
        The men who refrained from attack were surrounded by the women and pleaded for their lives until they were enveloped in comforting embraces as if Love incarnate was protecting them from everything else in the world. When we discovered the village, decades later, we found happy children, happy women, and very happy slaves.

Comments · 7

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  • Matthew Schroeder said...

    I was looking through short stories online for a single, out-of-context line that might inspire me to write something and found 'The women did not speak.' somewhere. For some reason I had to turn that into a mini sci-fi story.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Anthony Blackshaw said...

    Very original and thoroughly enjoyable :)

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Jessica Cambrook said...

    This was so interesting to read! I loved it, I don't know if you did but it seems like you must have planned this for ages from the way it flowed so well and all the little details made sense. I liked the supernatural theme, it turned what could have been an ordinary story into something really entertaining and captivating.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Jeffreigh Lush said...

    I love this. Great work! :)

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Matthew Schroeder said...

    Thanks for all the positive feedback, guys! I really appreciate the support.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Sue Oldham said...

    An original and intriguing piece, I got caught up in it very early on and had to read to the end. Well done.

    • Posted 7 years ago
  • Metta H said...

    This is how some cults live. Your writing keeps me riveted to the page.

    • Posted 7 years ago