A Ping in Time

Submitted into Contest #55 in response to: Write a story about a meeting of a secret society.... view prompt

43 comments

Drama

On April 27, 2017, an emergency meeting of the Secret Society of Auditory Control came to order.

It was a secret meeting that took place in the society’s secret boardroom at the tip top of one of New York City’s 274 skyscrapers. Eleven men and one woman gathered behind a heavy door made of African Blackwood. Only the simple outline of a small gold-plated bell positioned where a door knocker would be gave any indication of the work at hand.

All was quiet on one side of that door, but not on the other. The Secret Society of Auditory Control (which will, from this point, be referred to as the SSAC) was facing a crisis, perhaps the greatest of its five millenia history.

The twelve board members gathered around a polished mahogany table and sat in seats covered with the finest burgundy leather. Each had a nameplate positioned in front of their seat, their identity limited to only a Mr. or Mrs. and the first initial of their last name. 

Around the room, paintings and photographs of moments in the society’s storied history decorated the walls. Framed shards of Asian pottery were all that remained of the earliest bell tied to the ancient origins of SSAC three thousand years Before Christ. Portraits of the society’s most renowned members – including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Sigmund Freud – reminded the current membership of the prowess they had to match. In the center of the wall nearest the head of the table, behind the seat of the Chairman, was a bronze plaque bearing the society’s mission statement that had endured through the ages:

Creating order from chaos through sound.

The Chairman surveyed the room as he waited for Mr. J to return from his pre-meeting bathroom visit. Bathroom breaks were becoming more frequent as they aged. And how we have aged, the Chairman reflected, noting all the white hair, bald heads and thick glasses around the table. We were once a good-looking group, he thought and turned to a black and white photo on the wall from 1968. Twelve men and one woman in their late 20s and early 30s grinned back at him, brash and bold. They were the youngest Board appointed in the history of the SSAC. 

His eyes roved over the other documents and photos on the wall as he contemplated the society’s history.  He settled on one of his favorites, a small sketch of an antique gong said to have been done by da Vinci himself. We invented the gong back in the 500sThe 500s! he thought, awe quickening his pulse as it did when he reflected on the society’s history. And not just the invention, but the function – what is the point of invention without function? WE conditioned the Chinese peasants to come running when the gong sounded. And WE introduced it into Japanese sumo to start the match. WE brought it to Buddhism, to yoga.

He turned to a photo of Alexander Graham Bell with his first telephone. Ah yes. Bell – one of our most legendary members. Everyone in the SSAC had heard the stories of Bell’s experiments with the phonautograph and metal reeds in the 1870s. Though the tireless work of the committee to condition society’s response to the ring was less feted.

A great legacy to live up to, the Chairman had told the young board in 1968. And live up to it they did. The pings of the microwave oven, the bleeps of the digital alarm clock, the blip of the computer, countless beeps, dings and honks in cars. More recently, the tones aligned with Walk/Don’t Walk signs at intersections. And to correlate it all to society’s behavior. We truly have created order from chaos amid such a technology boom, the Chairman thought. 

But now….but now…

His gaze shifted to a red silk cloth in the center of the table covering a small object and he sighed. But now we have a problem.

The door opened and Mr. J entered, bathroom visit complete. The Chairman took his place at the head of the table and banged the gavel (the gavel had been invented in the 1600s by the SSAC and conditioned by SSAC member Brigadier General Henry Martyn Robert, the author of Robert’s Rules of Order ).

After dispensing with all the procedural preliminaries, the Chairman stood. He had not stood in a meeting since he turned 70 and that’s when the Board realized this extraordinary session was, indeed, an emergency. They set down their coffee cups and faced him.

He drew himself up as far as his creaking back would let him and began.

“We have been together for many years now – 49 to be exact. And look at all we have achieved.” He pointed his cane to each photo and painting on the wall as he extolled their accomplishments. The Board members smiled secret smiles and exchanged knowing glances as they recalled the challenges, all-nighters, fights and triumphs that accompanied each success.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our work – of us,” the Chairman said, gazing fondly at faces he knew better than those of his own family. “We are the Golden Age of sound and order. Take a moment to reflect upon what our work has done for society – the organization, the efficiency, the progress.”

After a satisfied moment of silence, he continued.

“But as the moon waxes and wanes, so too, do we. We are in a waning phase, my friends. We are aging, we can’t deny that,” he said, gesturing to his cane as the others murmured a low chuckle. “And with age, comes some inevitable mistakes, slowing down. The unfortunate incident with the credit card reader, for example.”

White and bald heads nodded. He was, of course, referring to the infernal angry blare that supermarket credit card readers had emitted to instruct customers to withdraw their card. Such a harsh sound for such an unalarming action did not correspond to the skillful work of the SSAC. It had occurred because Mr. M, who headed the project, had misplaced his hearing aid and declined to tell anyone. At the same time, a flu had struck the Testing Division and the device had not received the systematic reviews. The noise had rattled the nerves of supermarket checkers and customers and once the Board had discovered the problem, a team was quickly deployed to replace it with the gentle chime heard today. 

“Nor,” the Chairman continued. “Have we recruited any new talent for several years. Of course, we have discussed this before –“

“AnglerX is getting everyone,” Mrs. W interrupted, snapping her glasses off her face. “We were close with Musk, but he said AnglerX’s focus on sustainability was important to him. I told you before that we need to –“

The members dissolved into argument, arguments that were becoming more frequent in recent years with AnglerX’s prominence. AnglerX was a secret society of millennials and GenXers that didn’t want to be called a secret society. They referred to themselves as a clandestine smart technology consortium aimed at flooding the world with smart devices.

The Chairman banged the gavel several times.

“Enough! AnglerX is our reason for meeting today, but recruitment is not. THIS is our problem.” He leaned over the table and pulled away the red silk cloth to reveal a sleek silver and black device - about the size of Mrs. W’s petite cigarette case - with a blue circle in the middle.

The members drew closer to the piece, adjusting their glasses.

“What is it?” Mr. S finally asked.

“This is the Smart Doorbell,” the Chairman said, and a collective gasp came from the Board. He glanced at his notes. “It connects to the home wireless network once mounted and will send alerts to the resident’s smart device when motion is detected or when someone presses the button. It has two-way talk functionality, infrared night vision and can stream live footage that can be checked on the app.”

Silence.

Then finally, “But does it chime?” asked Mr. A.

“It does,” answered the Chairman. “If you buy the Smart Chime which,” he consulted his notes again. “Is a WiFi-connected chime.”

He stalked back and forth in front of the room.

“WHY DID WE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS?” he bellowed.

“Mr. Chairman, your heart,” Mrs. W reminded him.

“186 years,” the Chairman stared around the group. “For 186 years, a visitor presses a button. It chimes in the home. The resident answers it. Do you know how much work we put into that? Joseph Henry is rolling in his grave.” The Board nodded at the mention of the doorbell’s inventor. But the Chairman had already moved on. “Now this. THIS,” he shook the Smart Doorbell over his head.  “Conversations and video monitoring and a chime connected to – to – wifi.” The word dripped out his mouth with distaste. “Night vision. Security monitoring. On a doorbell? This is AnglerX. Those goddamn smartphones weren’t enough with their dings and their rings and chirps and songs binging and buzzing for every little thing. Do you see what’s happening? Where is the urgency? DON’T ANY OF YOU SEE?” He was practically pleading with them now. “Order from chaos through sound,” a crack echoed around the room as he hit the mission statement plaque with his cane. “It is disappearing everyday. AnglerX is filling the world with sounds – left and right, up and down. They’re not even real sounds! Have you watched the people? There is confusion in their eyes, tension in their movements. They are nervous and erratic, on edge, grabbing for their phones, looking wildly about with every sound, reactive, shouting, arguing. It’s chaos. The sounds are creating chaos. AND WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT IT? For five thousand years we have held society together with our carefully selected and coordinated sounds and conditioning programs. And now? NOW?  The war is upon us, my friends. And let it come. I repeat – LET IT COME!”

He leaned on the table shaking, head down, sweat beading on his forehead.

Silence.

And then – Ping!

A muffled but familiar electronic ding emerged from below the table. The members shifted their gazes nervously at each other.

The Chairman looked up slowly, ice in his eyes.

Ping!

This time the sound came from inside another briefcase on the other side of the table.

“Why didn’t you silence it?” Mr. J whispered to Mr. G. “I thought I did,” he whispered back.

Ping!

The Chairman was still leaning on the table, arms stiff.

“Get out,” he said, teeth clenched. “Every one of you carrying one of those –“ he couldn’t bring himself to say the word “smartphone.” 

“Just get out.”

One by one the Board members filed out of the room until the Chairman stood alone. After a moment, he took a deep and shaky breath. Hands trembling, he opened cabinet in the back, pulled out a stack of cloths and began draping them over the photos and paintings one by one. This room would stand empty for many years before it was discovered, and he didn’t want the history faded and covered in dust when it was. He unplugged all the lamps. Finally, he opened the case of the grandfather clock that had been chiming for the society for centuries. He stopped the pendulum. The hands froze at 9:54. The clock fell silent.

August 21, 2020 00:26

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43 comments

Doubra Akika
14:07 Aug 24, 2020

I loved this! The descriptions were perfect! There was a bit of history that I thought was fantastic! The characters kept hooked till the end which I think is just amazing! Please keep writing!! And stay safe!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:01 Aug 24, 2020

Thank you so much, Doubra....the encouragement makes me so happy! I am going to read your latest too at some point today - you are at the top of my list!

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Doubra Akika
19:24 Aug 24, 2020

Thank you so much 😁! It means a lot! And it was my pleasure!

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Roshna Rusiniya
06:37 Aug 24, 2020

I loved this! Loved the details you have put there. Very well-researched too. Great job Kristen! I didn’t understand the 9.54 at the end though. Something of historical significance?

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Kristin Neubauer
12:16 Aug 24, 2020

Hi Roshna - thank you so much! I had a lot of fun with this story. I like history and playing around with it kept me giggling as I wrote. 9:54 doesn't actually mean anything. It was just the final moment of the SSAC. I don't plan on doing anything else with this story, but if I ever change my mind, I will reconsider that line. Other people have asked about it too. Maybe I either need to remove it or make the time a moment of significance in some way. The last thing I want to do is confuse the reader at the very end! I've been readin...

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Roshna Rusiniya
13:23 Aug 24, 2020

Oh it’s like a ‘ time stopped at the moment’ kind of reference right? I get it. I remember you mentioning the Ulysses S Grant memoir in the last week’s story too. I am intrigued now. Will try to read it. I don’t really read like I used to. It’s a shame.

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Kristin Neubauer
14:03 Aug 24, 2020

There are so many great and interesting writers on Reedsy, that it’s hard to read them all - plus read other stuff on your own. Plus hold down a job, family, school - life can get a little overwhelming these days. I spend a lot of time with Audible and that’s where I’ve been reading/listening to the Grant memoirs. May be one of the great unsung historical figures of the US - depending on perspective of course. In any case, thank you so much for this conversation, reading Ping, commenting and sharing your amazing writing each week! I am ...

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Roshna Rusiniya
14:31 Aug 24, 2020

I try to read as many writers as I can here. I don’t have the time to comment on all of them though. I agree with you. This group is a great learning platform. I only started writing stories in English just a year ago. A few months before I joined Reedsy actually. I can’t believe how much my writing has improved since then. Thanks to the great writers here and their kindness.

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Kristin Neubauer
14:58 Aug 24, 2020

Are you serious? You English is incredible. I just assumed English was your first language. I never even considered that it wasn’t. Wow!

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Rhondalise Mitza
03:45 Aug 23, 2020

Yesss, the inner dialogue (alll the dialogue, actually) was spot on! The pacing was suspenseful, details well said, and characters interesting enough to keep a reader hooked long after the story is done. :)

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Kristin Neubauer
18:23 Aug 23, 2020

Thanks so much, Rhondalise! That means so much, especially after seeing what an amazing writer YOU are!

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. .
01:29 Sep 01, 2020

Beautifully written!

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Kate Mac Donald
19:28 Aug 29, 2020

I can only echo what everyone else has said. This is a wonderful, well thought out, clever story with a light touch that stops it from being somber. I am now going to read the rest of your work.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:38 Aug 29, 2020

Thank you so much, Kate - that's so kind of you. I really appreciate the feedback. It was kind of a wacky, but fun, story to work on!

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Kate Mac Donald
20:25 Aug 29, 2020

It is all well deserved, the concept alone was so good and your writing flowed with ease, "a jolly good read" echoes of EB and the Famous Five. :)

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Kristin Neubauer
20:28 Aug 29, 2020

Haha! Thanks, Kate!

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This was an amazing story. History subjects have always been my favorite, and you excuted this very well. You are a great writer, I can't wait to read more from you, awesome job!

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Kristin Neubauer
11:02 Aug 27, 2020

Thank you so much! I had so much fun writing it 😁

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Shea K
22:10 Aug 25, 2020

Fun story! The historical facts provided good background, and I like the new idea for a secret society!

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Kristin Neubauer
22:36 Aug 25, 2020

Thank you! I had fun with it - giggling my way through the whole thing!

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Mary Rothery
15:39 Aug 25, 2020

Excellent researching and writing! Great job!

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Kristin Neubauer
20:30 Aug 25, 2020

Thank you! After reading your latest story about the heron, Ping feels a bit shallow. I would love to write description like you do, but it doesn't come very naturally to me. I'll keep reading your work and see if I can pick up anything :)

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Lynn Penny
15:40 Aug 24, 2020

I love how realistic this felt, as was said before, you clearly dedicated a lot into your research.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:13 Aug 24, 2020

Thank you, Lynn! It was fun - kept me giggling the whole way through :)

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M Daly
19:56 Aug 23, 2020

I loved this!! Great work. The imagery was really great, I really felt as though I was sat around the table. Really enjoyable read!!

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Kristin Neubauer
20:22 Aug 23, 2020

Thank you so much! I had fun writing it. Btw, I’ve been telling everyone about your story with the assassin who can’t come up with a catchphrase....my friends all loved it (and these are people who aren’t writers or even big readers) - that one sticks with people for sure.

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M Daly
20:39 Aug 23, 2020

Oh wow, thank you so much, that means a lot! I’m really glad people like it!!

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Jonathan Blaauw
15:45 Aug 23, 2020

I loved, loved this! You have the same tone and feel as I was going for in mine on this prompt, and while its hard to judge our own work, it's easier with others'. Yours is spot on! Your writing is as close to perfect as one gets on here (not an errant comma to be seen) and the idea is just brilliant! So clever how you bring in the idea of technological advances and the generational changing of the guard, so to speak. But you keep it amusing and moving along nicely, and the ending works really well! You deserve millions of reads and comme...

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Kristin Neubauer
17:28 Aug 23, 2020

Wow Jonathan - thank you so much for your kind words! I almost got up and did a little dance (except that I'm not really that kind of person). You made my day! I had a lot of fun with this story. Joseph Henry invented a precursor to the electric doorbell, a very rough prototype, you could say. I'm a journalist - I work for Reuters in DC - and it was important to me to have some degree of veracity with regard to the historical references. I didn't go too crazy though or else I never would have finished. Even the name "AnglerX" was based...

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Jonathan Blaauw
06:26 Aug 24, 2020

It’s always a pleasure to read such good stories. Building little factual bits into stories works so well – I’ve actually heard it given as advice and seen many a great pro do it again and again. It shows you’re a very clever writer. Even your title, which I forgot to mention, is genius. I was wondering about 9.54 at the end. Knowing now that you think your stories through so carefully, I’m wondering if it’s significant? Maybe something big, historically, happened at 9.54? Also, the numbers add up to 18 which is generally the age at which y...

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Kristin Neubauer
12:10 Aug 24, 2020

Thank you again! Especially for the bit about weaving factual bits into stories. Instinctively, I like doing that so I'm glad it's an approved technique. Actually, 9:54 didn't mean anything - I just put it in there at a time when I figured the meeting would have ended. I don't have plans to do anything else with this story, but if I ever do, maybe I will either find a time that has a particular significance....or remove that line entirely. I don't want to confuse anyone right at the end, and others have asked about it too. I've been re...

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Jonathan Blaauw
04:21 Aug 25, 2020

I'm laughing at myself for waaay overanalyzing now. But don't take it out, it in no way detracts from the story. At all. It's great others have asked about it, that shows people read your stories looking for significance. It's like art - you present the picture, it's up to others to interpret as they will. And your love of history is very cool. I can very much relate.

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Yolanda Wu
10:22 Aug 21, 2020

Wow, another amazing story from you, Kristin! Although, I cannot say I'm surprised, since the previous ones you've written have not failed to impress. You had me so intrigued to know all about this secret society and its history. Your incorporation of various well-known people throughout was a wonderful addition to the story. The Chairman was such an interesting character. The ending was also done really nicely!

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Kristin Neubauer
15:32 Aug 21, 2020

Oh my gosh, Yolanda - your compliments made me feel all glowy! Especially from you as your writing, your stories are so beautiful. I had a blast writing this story and thinking about the concept, the different characters. Thank you so much!!

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Yolanda Wu
22:30 Aug 21, 2020

Aww, you're very welcome!

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Rambling Beth
08:22 Aug 21, 2020

This was incredible! I loved the idea and the Chairman was a fascinating character to follow. You have a beautiful way of incorporating history too. I really enjoyed the ending, it was rather funny with them all having smartphones and I thought the grandfather clock stopping was a lovely way of showing this secret society is finished for now. Wonderful.

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Kristin Neubauer
15:29 Aug 21, 2020

Beth! Thank you so much! I think your writing is incredible, so it makes me feel so encouraged that you liked this story. I had a lot of fun with it. I really appreciate your kind words - it inspires me to keep writing!

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Daniel Hayes
05:10 Apr 06, 2021

This was an incredible story Kristin! You always write your stories with a high level of intelligence that really takes the reader on a journey. I thought the pacing of this story was excellent. My favorite line in this story is: "what is the point of invention without function." - This is so true ;) I only noticed a few typos but I know that you can't edit it. The Reedsy Gods won't let us change anything once the story is approved. Overall, this was a fantastic piece of work. Great job :)

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Charles Stucker
21:32 Aug 27, 2020

Nice quirky comedy. Is there a subtle significance to 9:54 as the time? That would make it perfect, even if I missed it.

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Kristin Neubauer
22:13 Aug 27, 2020

Thanks, Charles. No significance to 9:54 - I just figured that was about the right time for the meeting to end if it had started, say, around 9:30. But several people have asked that question which makes me think I should pick an hour with some significance if I ever do anything else with it. I appreciate your feedback!

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