This is one I’m working on for a magazine’s submission call for music-themed speculative fiction. Deadline is tomorrow, so I’m furiously editing. This snippet has had a quick editing pass, but is not finalized yet. Garbage Music is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which the last bastion of civilization survives around Melbourne, Australia. Because why let the northern hemisphere have all the fun?
Neyerneyemeet was small and black, black as the richest soil by the riverside where The One People planted rice, black as the night without the moon, and the whites of her eyes glinted like stars from her face, which was downturned as she watched her own seamed dark hands plucking out the notes in the flickering light of a menagerie of oil lamps resting in notches along the walls of the broad chamber behind the blanket. The instrument she plucked was outlandish, strange, a thing of ancient technology from before the Last World War, a thing of factories and not of today’s careful handmaking. The One People still made things like this, but sparingly, computers and electronic tools and solar skins and even satellites and spaceships. But handcrafters made them one at a time and the things they made looked like handmade things. This thing was shiny plastic, smooth, machine-stamped when it didn’t need to be, reflecting the flickers of lamplight, garish apple red at its broad body that covered Neyerneyemeet’s lap, and angular, a jutting triangle with a long black neck against which metal strings lay glossy like brass. A black cord joined it to a box, and from the box wailed the strange music.
Neyerneyemeet looked up at her, white eyes blazing in the deep black face, with centers like holes in the night. Their eyes met. Neyerneyemeet kept playing, a finger adjusting a dial on the red face of the instrument: the music grew quieter and wailed still, but more softly. Jacinta opened her mouth to speak but found all of the questions she had, had fled. She closed her mouth and sat down on the cold stone of the floor, not noticing the chill, lost in listening.
The music paused for a short space, a handful of seconds, not more than a minute. And then it began again, quiet, high, irregular, softly crying. Jacinta closed her eyes and let the crying move through her. She could hear the baby in the music. The music grew, slow at first, then faster, faster, swelling, questing. It grew sure and bold and brash and Jacinta could hear something like herself in it, exploring and questioning behind its surety. It grew still more sure, regular, softening around the edges, less brash, more predictable. And then suddenly it swelled and burst into a wild fragmented breakbeat shriek, echoing off the walls and multiplying into uncountable threads and undertones, all clashing, wounded, screaming in agonized minor keys. The shrieking, the screaming, went on and on until Jacinta thought her ears would bleed and her head could take no more, overwhelmed. And then one of the fragments emerged from the chaos, limping, wounded, a stark single tune, simple, stripped, naked, wandering, lost.
Jacinta reeled, feeling her body shake as she sat on the stone floor…