Fly-boy picked the scab off his elbow and passed it to the kid next to him. It was an old ritual, testing how quick someone snapped at the smell of blood. How strong was their hunger. He moved his hand to the knife tucked in his belt and kept an eye on the tousle-haired tike. L’il Joker took the offering between his fingers and let it hover at his lips. No snap. Kid hardly noticed what he was doing. His eyes, like everyone else’s, were focused on colours down in the valley.
“It’s a sign,” one of the others said.
“We should tell Homecamp.”
Fly-boy was the oldest. He’d seen one before and remembered the dank smell and fear, before the Oldie gave it a name.
“Rainbow,” he said.
“Rainbow,” L’il Joker’s eyes relaxed.
Fly-boy had learned there was power in naming things. He watched L’il Joker slide the crust of blood to his lips, making the sign before slipping it in. Fly-boy eased his hand off his knife handle. He stepped back from the ridge, wandered into the forest, his eyes scanning the bodies for crawlers, something to ease the sting off his morning hunger.
A few stayed to watch, tensed, waiting for the colours to reveal their anger. For them, a name wasn’t enough. Their imaginations filled the quiet valley and coloured light with the promise of more violence. Eventually, the rainbow dispersed and they were left to wonder at their disappointment in the vanishing.
Notes on the Zombie Apocalypse After-Show, Part 3.
The one thing that’s often missed in stories of the future is the malleability of signs. Things like rainbows, baby’s smiles, sunsets and dark holes are vested with transcendent meaning. The people of the future are shown to understand the significance of these signs in the way we understand them; suddenly no time has passed across the linguistic landscape. This is a necessary fault, since these stories are written for us, to make them understandable to readers in the now. The signs of the future must overlap with the present when we write them otherwise the whole script would become completely illegible.
This doesn’t mean we can’t screw around with our signifiers, though. Some of the best spec fic work comes from messing with the language of the future: Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. For some reason, these types of novels stick in our minds moreso because they force the linguistic side of our brain into new patterns of recognition. They loosen up our hold on the production of meaning, which in turn loosens our allegiance to the present.
If we are interested in writing a new future that exists beyond the pale of modern ideology, we need to begin chipping away at the meaning of things, their fixity and stability, with the hopes that one day something will shift and the whole linguistic house of cards will come tumbling down around our ears.
Because what is it we lose when all our signifiers get scrambled? We lose orientation on that precious centre of the universe we take to be a given. Some would call it subjectivity or the self. I call it something else.
The Zombie of Modernity.
It inhabits us against our will, drives us in ways we can’t control, and sustains itself through the consumption of those around us. I am a self at the expense of someone else, and I build my linguistic temple to honour its significance. This kind of self is not a given, though. It’s simply the effect of a particular socio-economic order of things. It’s an effect of our narrow present.
The future doesn’t necessarily need to operate according to this whirlpool of vanity. We abandon it for other possibilities, other signs of our significance. We turn our eyes to the world and watch it all unravel, slowly, gradually, one sign at a time.
Until the last of us has given in to the language of the future, and we can finally forget ourselves.
Note: A version of this Flash Fiction story originally appeared on the Writer Unboxed website as an entry to their monthly flash fiction contest: http://writerunboxed.com/2015/07/04/flash-fiction-contest-round-7/
Sean Callaghan completed his doctoral degree in Japanese literature at the University of Toronto in 2012. He currently is working on several short and long pieces of fiction. He lives in Vancouver with his wife, daughter, and guinea pig.