Runner Up: ‘The Sound’ by Rachel Handley

We didn’t realise, at first, that the plants were singing. We mistook the sound for a scream. Each day the noise increased. A news channel quickly made a gimmick filled segment on local plant sounds – The Sounds of Towns – and people would send in recordings. It took longer for the city folk to hear the plants. At first, they thought it was a hoax. The recordings made by us rural folk intrigued the people of the city, they wanted to experience the sound for themselves. A video of a young boy shouting I can hear it mama I can hear it at the leaves had over a billion views.  We told them the sound would get to their doors like flood water soon enough, but they didn’t want to wait. They travelled with tents and small stoves and destroyed the land where they sat. They complained as if the plants were providing an entertainment service. We warned them that the sound was not a pretty little gift from nature.

Once the trees began their deep song it became too loud to think in the forest. Those who lived within it moved to the centre of the village.  City folk tried to listen to their houseplants, taking videos of themselves carefully placing cacti to their ears and laughing when no sound came out. They shook them like broken toys. Nothing came of their attempts because plants uprooted from the ground are like a prisoner in isolation. House plants don’t even whimper. Scientists initially studied the phenomenon due to curiosity, but curiosity quickly fell to panic as they realised the singing was getting louder. We told them about the increasing sound, that it was hurting some of us, but they only declared this a reality once it affected them. The sound started, they said, with the smallest plants first. Tiny vibrations shook through blades of grass creating a pitch like a wet finger on a wine glass. The grass sang to the flowers, and the flowers to the trees. Each piece of plant life was slowly woken by a melodic sigh.

As the sound increased so did our fear. People started to set forests alight because they were desperate for silence. Some of us protected the plants, forming a circle of joined hands around the baritone oaks. Laying our bodies over the grass to protect it. City folk poured cement onto anything green. Sometimes someone claimed the plants had gone silent only to find their ear drums had been burst overnight. The singing became a roar which some took for violence. News channels shifted from local sound segments with delighted children to scenes of tired adults armed with fire. Humans everywhere started to scream at the plants, trying to match their sound. When we could no longer hear our own screams, we prepared for death. On the news we saw recordings of soundless humans shouting at the ground.

A scientist, barely a few weeks into her job at one of the cities’ labs, started to collect the recordings of every news channel. Rather than follow the lab’s strategy to analyse the sound by picking the plants apart, she decided their behaviour needed a closer look. The thing she noticed saved us all. The recordings, especially the ones from before the fires, caught glimpses of children singing to the plants. The plants replied to the children in song. The world was now too loud to hear these exchanges, but the different volume outputs had been recorded. Evidence of the effect of singing to the plants was compiled quickly. In the face of a burning world, we started to sing instead of scream. At first, nothing happened. People laughed at themselves and then the anguish returned to their faces. We rural folk persisted for the longest, lying down on the grass and singing whatever tune came to us. Slowly, the sound reduced until it was a whisper. We made sure to always whisper back.

About the Author

Rachel Handley is a queer disabled fiction writer, fiction poet, and academic based in Dublin, Ireland. Their work has been published by The Liminal Review, Arlen House, Dreich, 365 Tomorrows, The Madrigal Press, Ellipsis Zine, and Bear Creek Gazette (forthcoming). Their debut collection of short stories, Possible Worlds and Other Stories, will be published by Ellipsis Imprints in September 2022.

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Published by sonderlit

New Irish literary magazine reflecting people, our differences and similarities.

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