It Is Not Clear What This Is About
A Short Story by Jeremy Benjamin
Written using the suggestion "War"
Originally featured on 11-30-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

After asking her neighbor Lionel if it was possible for water to act as a radio, Belinda looked up from her tuna sandwich and saw the underbelly of a spider crawling up the window. She did not rattle or drop silverware and her wrist did not flail against the table’s edge. If she did, Lionel would have laughed, and then she wouldn’t know whether he was laughing at her reaction to the spider or at the naïvete of her question.

Lionel said, “What do you mean?” Lionel taught physics to high school students, of course he would ask her what she meant. Belinda did not completely hear him. Her attention was divided between the spider and surveying her reaction to spiders. She wondered if not flinching was a justifiable cause for pride, and then she saw that there was no spider. The black shape was a helicopter ascending from beyond the hills and disappearing into a cloud.

“The simplest kind of radio is a crystal radio. Are you asking if one can build a radio using water as the receptive substrate?” Lionel saw that she was looking away, but did not follow her gaze, as most people would have. That was why Lionel taught physics; he did not look in the directions everyone else looked.

Yellow burgeoning flames engulfed the hills the helicopters had disappeared behind. Belinda ran to the living room, switched on the television and looked for a news program but could not find one. There was no breaking news. Another flash lit up the window.

“I don’t see how that’s possible.” Lionel followed her into the living room, holding the plate with her tuna sandwich out to her. “And why would you want to?”

Belinda turned to Lionel as if he was another television channel. “What?”

He put down the plate on the floor. “You were asking about water-”

“Oh, yeah, I was just curious because I- nothing.”

“You were just curious because you what?”

Belinda turned off the television. “Did you see those helicopters? What…”

“Why did you want to know about water and radios?”

“Who cares? Jesus, I was just- I thought I heard something when I was down at the river, it sounded like music and talking and static, but there was no one around, no tents or anything- I- it’s stupid, forget I mentioned it. Did you see that? It looked like…”

Lionel was looking at Belinda and at the tuna sandwich on the floor. “If there’s some rare phenomenon wherein water can pick up electromagnetic signals and convert them to sound, I’m not familiar with it. What about helicopters? It looked like what?”

Belinda walked outside with a sigh. More helicopters rushed over the hills.

It looked like a war zone.

Lionel jogged after her into the joint front yard her house shared with his. “Savages. Total anachronisms. Nobody understands where they came from.”

Belinda looked at Lionel hearing words come out of his mouth that made as much sense as the sounds she had heard in the water.

Lionel looked out over the terrace and spoke as if to a child. “I haven’t seen any of them up close, but I can only imagine what they look like. Neanderthals, primitives, or at least our Hollywood image of aggressive tribes. Hordes of half naked people throwing rocks and sharpened sticks and grunting. They came out of nowhere to declare battle.”

A sick feeling poked around Belinda’s stomach, pulling her ribs toward the ground. “What on Earth are you talking about?”

“There could be hundreds, thousands of them, raiding houses and stores, setting fires with torches, they don’t have a clue, it’s a federal emergency, they’ve called in the National Guard, that’s why you saw those helicopters. It’s not on the news yet. Seems inconceivable there wouldn’t be media coverage, but…it’s hard to explain. The best I can explain it is like this: if you take a word or a phrase, just one single word or phrase and you repeat it to yourself all day long while you’re alone, except you never say it out loud, you just think it over and over in your head, meditate on it, then when you go out in public, as soon as anybody opens their mouth you’ll hear them speaking that word or phrase, you’ll hear everyone say it, and it’s all you’ll hear. It’s a personal power anyone can…it’s just like tuning your brain. So if you’re asking someone an important question, or if you really want something to go a certain way, you can focus just right and it will be all you see and hear.”

Belinda found herself looking at the window from outside, checking for spiders. “What does that have to do with an army of cavemen throwing rocks, and what the hell does that have to do with an invisible radio on a river and helicopters and fire?”

Lionel shrugged. “I shouldn’t have attempted to explain. You’ll understand it better in the morning.”

Belinda walked back to her doorway and shook her head. “You think too much, you sick weirdo.”

The plate with the tuna sandwich was still in Lionel’s hand. “If you really think that you must know, you created them. I created them. Jim and Carol across the street created them. We all created them. The radio transmission you heard from the river were high voltage tests of the Integrated Consciousness Enabler system-”

“The what?”

“Everybody heard it. It wasn’t the river. It wasn’t you. It was triggered by satellites. The fourteen seconds of radio pickup was an accidental glitch. After that, you didn’t know that it was still sending signals to your brain, and that it still is now.”

Belinda picked up the tuna sandwich, turned it over in her hand, held it up to the sunlight and examined it as if it were an exotic and delicate insect. “So, what you’re saying is, you built a machine that brings our thoughts to life, and everybody happened to be thinking about naked cavemen throwing rocks at us, and then we sent helicopters to kill them, and this wasn’t on the news?” She took a bite of the sandwich.

Lionel stood on his property with his arms crossed. “I didn’t say any of that.”

“Well say something, because it is not clear to me what any of this is about.”

Lionel looked to his left and to his right. Right then Belinda thought the world might end if Lionel suspected her fear of spiders.

Read More By Jeremy Benjamin

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Portland Fiction Project

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