Amplitude & Frequency

Submitted into Contest #122 in response to: Start your story in the middle of a traffic jam.... view prompt


Contemporary Romance Science Fiction

They say that space is only noisy when there are explosions, but it feels so loud when everything is so damn quiet. I wonder where the noise is, and where it could have gone? I took Astronomy 101 at the local community college a few years ago, because I heard the class was an easy ‘A’. Spacecake was my favorite before class snack leaving my retention of knowledge on space as non-existent, and I liked to live my life quite ironically. My extent of knowledge on space is reserved to that in the brownie form. These are the sort of things I think about when I’m trapped on the inner galaxy byway, and how it’s been ages since I’ve had a damn space cake. 

My vehicle idles with my hand on the metal of the steering wheel. Locked in place for the better half of the entire morning, I’ve maybe inched forward a light-year or two, and I’ve got at least thirty to go. I’m never going to make it. 

My head drops to the steering wheel and I attempt a groan and deliver silence. This is freaking space, the adage that one could travel faster than the speed of light is a complete and utter joke. The vehicles to the front and back of me seem to be in the same state of emotion, miming their hands and faces in complete and utter exasperation. We’re on the same AM/FM radio. We can’t hear one another cursing under our breath but a look is worth a thousand words. 

I stopped trying to talk almost 5 years ago when the air was taken from us when myself and the rest of the world was forced into the outer atmosphere. In space, there is no air, or at least that’s what I’ve come to understand anyway, and without air, there is no sound. I resist the urge to laugh at the idea that our oxygen vanished into thin air, and think better on it. There’s nothing funny or ironic about not being able to hear myself laugh at my joke. It’s been so long since I was able to tell my mom out loud that I hate her tuna noodle casserole. I’d hate for her to have gotten a big head about its quality, so instead, when I see her I gesture with a finger slicing against my throat and a head flop to the side. 

The vehicle next to me looks like a pathetic space version of a Pontiac Fiero. That car wasn’t cool when I was a kid and even now it’s the lamest thing I’ve seen in years. The pointed nose and boxy spoiler attachment don’t make it travel any faster here in space than it did on earth I bet. I glance at the guy in the driver’s seat, his face pushed forward as his focus remains solely on the side mirror. I laugh out quiet and scrunch my face at him as he unabashedly attempts to pop a pimple on his chin. This guy has no shame.

He sees me, seeing him trying to manicure his face and our eyes lock. Well shit, this isn’t awkward at all. I’m out here in space traffic and naturally, I end up stuck next to the hottest guy I’ve seen in light-years. His car sucks, but his eyes aren’t half bad. The skater boy feathering of his hair hangs to one side of his head, it looks brown, maybe. It’s hard to tell in the middle of the galaxy when the background is eternal darkness with smatterings of pins of light.

The edges of his mouth pull to the side in a clever smile as he holds up a finger prompting me to wait. As if I have anything else to do? I watch as he leans across the crappy console that is the Fiero in search of something. He presents a long yellow gourd with a crooked end on it, waving it about his vehicle with so much pride I can’t contain my silent giggles. The tears from my eyes remind me that even though I’m stuck in this damn space jam there are still things in this current universe that surprise me. Like this playful hot guy who carries a space gourd around on the floorboard of his car.

The old me would roll down the window and yell something obtuse like, “Hey nice gourd wanna go out?” 

Now, there is no way to communicate my day-to-day existence. Speaking words to other people simply isn’t something I do anymore, as words have disappeared with the air itself. This is how the government wanted it to be, dividing its people in this atmosphere apart. 

“Lack of communication leads to isolation, and isolation eliminates the spread of disinformation.” 

Or so the news display in the sky said when it all happened. Slowing down the spread of toxic humanness was their goal. I can’t say they were completely off in their ideology, but isolation is louder than any explosion in space. It’s maddening and heartbreaking and it leaves me yearning to hear the sound of something like an addict looking to score. 

He tosses the gourd back across his car and fogs up his window, as he spells out a message with his finger. 

“EIWOB M’I, IH” A proud smile paints his face. 

I give a universal shoulder shrug to communicate that I have no idea what he is trying to tell me. The realization that he’d written the words forward instead of backward hit him quickly. The palm of his hand squeegees the moisture away and he tries again. 

“Hi, I’m Bowie.”

The old me would also take the opportunity to say something cheeky here like, “Hello Major Tom this is Ground Control.” 

That was too many letters to spell out on the small window of my car, so I went with, “Hey, I’m Ripley” instead. 

We probably look crazy to the other idling vehicles around us, blowing on our windows and writing as if we'd just discovered a new language. 

“Ripley, that’s badass.”

“Thanks, Bowie’s a solid name too.”

“Alien fan?”

“Nah, my dad’s favorite movie.”

I go for it, because what’s the worst that can happen out here in space? I won’t hear him turn me down if he thinks my jokes are lame. 

“So…Ground Control..”

“Hahaha. That’s the best you got, Major Tom?”

“I mean, I could have asked if there’s Life on Mars.”

My cheeks warm, and the muscles in my jaw flex in a permanent smirk. He does the same, like a mirror universe he feels close enough to reach and yet completely untouchable. The car in front of me lurches forward as do the cars in front of Bowie. Panic sets in as we move unsynchronized, his car before mine. 

What if that exchange Bowie and I just had was it? 

The vibration I felt when life stopped if only momentarily is still here coursing through my body crawling over the neurons in my brain. Sound is just vibrating air I tell myself, and it takes time to travel. Words like amplitude and frequency come back to me from Astronomy 101 as if they’ll make a difference in my understanding right now. Is sound moving through my body? Is that what this is?

My car barrels through the highway, past the nebulas, dwarf planets, and the constellations of heroes in the sky that tell us if we’re going to have a good day or a bad day. The speed at which my car moves through space should elicit some sort of rumble or squeal of tires, but there’s nothing. 

Just as quickly as Bowie and I separate, we reunite in yet another traffic standstill. His wild and beautiful eyes appear with a certain relief that I feel allineate in the center of my chest. It’s an alignment of sorts. There’s no stopping the sounds that come from synchronicity, and Bowie and I have a coevality that sounds like a space roar. 

I fog my window and speak through my fingers.

“I thought that was it.”

“Yea, so did I.”

I allow myself to disconnect my eyes from his for a second and look ahead at the distant glow of light. It’s faint, but that’s expected when a star is far away. When a star is far away, the light it beams out will lose energy the further we get from it. Ha! Take that Spacecake!

When I set out this morning I had one destination in mind, and it was to get close enough to the star galaxy rumored to explode. The longing to hear something, anything, moved my body to my vehicle before I had a chance to think. I had to hear something, I just had to. Even if it meant I might be stuck in traffic for light-years. If there is a slight chance I can catch the slightest reverberation of an explosion I’m taking it.

A flash of yellow catches the corner of my eye. Bowie waving the yellow crooked gourd brings me back to what used to feel like earth but now is just us floating around in space. 

“What’s wrong? You look sad.”

“Do you miss it?”

He nods, without asking me further what I mean. We’ve all suffered this acoustic trauma of sorts but in reverse. There’s not been a pitch or a scream that has given us damage to our hearing, instead, it’s the silence that’s left us traumatized. 

“Yea, Ripley. I do.”

“Do you ever wonder how we got here?”

He spreads his breath over the entirety of the window, and I think he’s preparing to write me a thesis on how the world came to be. Bowie sketches a word I don’t know.


“That sounds Greek.”

“That’s because it is.”

“What’s that got to do with how we got here?”

“It’s the placing of the stars.”

He erases and quickly writes, “It means we’re all where we’re supposed to be.”


I look back at the light that is brightening just slightly and my heart picks up in speed. 

“Where ya headed Ripley?”

“To the explosion.”

“Ah, so am I.”

I can’t hear his pulse or if he’s breathing heavily but I feel what he feels right in the here and now. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t need to be spoken. 

“Ripley look!”

Bowie points to the cars surrounding us. I see the cars in front of me writing messages back and forth on their steamy windows. Bowie cranes his neck to the side and back behind him past that god-awful spoiler on the trunk of his car. He sees what I see. People in cars communicating with one another. Rapid-fire squiggling of fingers on windows in cars filmed over with the breath of other isolated people. 

I remember my mom telling me that when babies are small their hearts will keep time with that of the parent’s chest they lay upon. And that when she’d hear the cadence of me and my friends playing soccer on the field chasing the ball she’d feel steady. 

She said, “Ripley, the shrieks of joy and the vigor from your tiny bodies would tangle in the air and I’d watch as the grass below your feet would move aside.” 

I see the movement of the other idling cars as they all write in sync with one another. It’s the sound of not being so alone. As my heart beats right now so does Bowie’s. 

Our eyes find one another again, and it’s wild that it never hit me before. All this time I thought I was silent and alone when I was waiting to find the right wavelength.

“Bowie, can you hear that?”

“It’s the sounds of the stars being placed.”

December 04, 2021 02:59

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Shea West
03:21 Dec 04, 2021

I'm gonna start off by quoting Ruth from "Ozark" "I dunno sh*t about f**k" about space... so don't give me too much of a hard time about it lol Also the small part in this story about the gourd is true. Was in traffic one day and my best friend and I watched as the guy next to us tried to slay this pimple on his chin. He caught us watching him and he just laughed and then quickly pulled a giant summer squash off the floorboard of his car.....weird pick up line, but ok! Thank you for reading my stuff. I'm weird and not well trained in the wri...


Deidra Lovegren
20:26 Dec 05, 2021

And a quote from infinitely quotable Ruth… O is there no end to your talents?


Shea West
21:04 Dec 05, 2021

She's just so badass, I love her.


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Deidra Lovegren
20:23 Dec 05, 2021

You have successfully incorporated Aliens, gourds, and the coolest car ever (yes, the hot Fiero). I can die a happy woman now. Loved this mash up.


Shea West
21:03 Dec 05, 2021

I never thought I'd hear the words Hot and Fiero in the same sentence, but I'll go with it hahahahah! Please don't die ;)


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Scott Skinner
14:40 Dec 05, 2021

I like how you handled the prompt and set the scene in space. I enjoyed the humor, especially in the beginning. The lines below got me smiling: "I gesture with a finger slicing against my throat and a head flop to the side. " *Everything you wrote about hating on the Pontiac Fiero* "...when the background is eternal darkness with smatterings of pins of light." The storyline centers around the fact that there's no sound in space and the characters are in a traffic jam, which sounds simple, but for some reason, I feel like this story was ...


Shea West
16:34 Dec 05, 2021

I learned how to drive a stick shift in a Fiero. My stepdad was obsessed with that car, and it was the LITERAL WORST. I could just see that trash car in the space setting. Something about this pandemic and the isolation of it all has left many of us talking online and feeling maybe a bit desperate to hear the sound of someone's voice. That had me thinking that when something is taken from us, we find ourselves stuck a bit and not thinking outside of the box. How simple it is to write messages on a fogged window. Your comments make my da...


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Daniel Hayes
21:24 Dec 04, 2021

Hi Shea!!! I love, love, loved this!! I know I write a lot of horror, but my favorite genre is Sci-Fi, and I think you did a really great job with this story. A space traffic jam... that's genius because I've never come across that in any books I've read. This story was very creative and the flow and descriptions were spot on. I love the notion that they just want to hear something, maybe to feel alive, but come to have a wavelength with each other. The only thing I noticed was: "I resist the urge to laugh at the idea that our air va...


Shea West
21:53 Dec 04, 2021

Daniel, That was a solid suggestion, as I can get repetitive with nouns. My brain gets tired and thinks, "Just use the same word twice, no one will know!" HAHHAHAAH I made that edit. It's funny to me because Sci-Fi scares the crud outta me, and I keep trying it because I'w really into self-deprecation and self-loathing. Then I entered a contest with Globe Soup this week and I was assigned Dystopian and I want to cry. Beth Connor keeps telling me that Sci-Fi is calling me and I must go...... I hoped that people would love that there wa...


Daniel Hayes
06:19 Dec 05, 2021

You're welcome!! I think your writing is fantastic. Every story I read from you gets better and better!! It helps me to think that no one is perfect, although we certainly try. It's so easy to overlook things, I do it all the time. Also, I think Beth is right, follow that calling. There is plenty of room in Sci-Fi for self-loathing... lol :) I find too many stories try to copy the Star Wars formula, and there is so much more to be explored in space stories. Good luck on the Globe Soup contest, I hope you win!!! :)


Shea West
16:48 Dec 05, 2021

Don't hate me. But Star Wars and Trek don't do it for me. I think my dad really ruined it all for me.....he'd watch Star Trek on VHS, recorded from the TV over and over and over again. It drove me nuts, thanks dad! Go figure my kids are all about the Star Wars and the sci-fi. So here I am LOL I am a fan of quirky stuff like Hitchhiker's Guide and some of Dr. Who.


Daniel Hayes
17:09 Dec 05, 2021

Hahaha, it's all good :) I don't like Star Trek either and Star Wars is overhyped... lol :) I love original Sci-Fi stories that try to be different. I just finished reading "To Sleep in a Sea of Stars" from Christopher Paolini. It's a long book, but a great read :) :)


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