I have long been a fan of Ray Bradbury, and this story is meant to reflect his style. I don’t know how well I succeeded, but this story is in honor of him and his marvelous imagination.
I was standing on the balcony of my apartment when I heard the sound, like two trains colliding far away in the night. A faint thunderclap that booms as metal crashes into metal. The sound isn’t in the crash, but in the silence that comes after. It is the echo of death and suffering that you know must accompany terrible events. Suffering too far away to be heard, but heard nonetheless, and made all the more awful by a feeling of helplessness.
I wish I could describe it better, but words aren’t sufficient. It was’t loud, nor was it quiet, for it filled every building and home, every ear and heart in the small town. Trees in the park and along the avenues shuddered as it passed by them. Branches which had been living and green only moments before were stripped of their leaves, already withered and brown. And it grew, swelling in shape and power as it devoured every life in its path, yet never rising above a whisper. There should have been a hurricane force which blew with that sound, tearing at trees and buildings, as it tore the life from living bodies. But there was only the gentle summer breeze.
A giant fireball bloomed in the eastern sky, its baleful light giving the night a demonic aspect, as though the Lord of Hell had thrust an angry fist at the heavens. From where I perched on the balcony I could see smaller fires burning all across the town. A hundred red throats singing a chorus of death and destruction while the giant fire raged in the east, consuming what had to be the oil refinery. The sounds of car alarms and horns mixed in a cacophonous and eerie melody that drifted up to where I stood. Faint, tremulous, but piercing it tried to drown out that terrible whisper, but it failed, as I knew it must.
How many men and women died this time? I never know the number, or how long the sound will last. Hours or minutes, it is never the same. I closed my eyes as it washed over me, clung to the balcony rail until my hands cramped. I think I wept.
Eventually it faded from the night, as it always does, leaving silence behind. No grave is as quiet as the nights when I hear the sound. There are other noises, the wind in branches, the scrape of a paper cup dragged across the pavement by that same breeze, but the absence of life creates a silence that drowns out everything else. Every tree, every blade of grass, every human being who had lived here, loved and feared, and hoped and dreamed had died at the Sounding. And in the entire world only I knew the cause of their deaths.
For time out memory I have been haunted by that Sound. Another city full of corpses and I, the only survivor, would flee once more into the night.
I turned from the railing and walked back into my apartment. My bags already packed, I picked them up and walked out the door, not bothering to lock it behind me. What did it matter? I stood by my car and looked out at the destruction. My eyes stung from the smoke, and perhaps something more. Several years would pass before I had to hear that awful whisper once more, The Sounding which had followed me for centuries. But I knew it would come again, breaking the night and devouring all within the range of its terrible voice.
In nature there is one rule as constant as the rising and setting of the sun. Death circles life in an eternal dance of predator and prey. I would hear the Sounding again, when my hunger grew too great to ignore.