Bender || Gregory T. Janetka

At 3:30 p.m. (CST) on September 24, the 7,941 satellites orbiting Earth began to fall like dominoes. Within minutes, every television set in every house, bar, waiting room, break room, SUV, and plane went dark. A woosh was heard around the globe: the sound of 7.8 billion people sighing in relief at once. It was followed by a loud clink that distinctly sounded like 7.8 billion empty shot glasses being turned over and slammed down, yet no one had taken a drink. When the echo died out, every phone, tablet, and smartwatch went dark. This was followed by another woosh, this time much louder, and another clink. 7.8 billion necks and 15.6 billion shoulders all released at once. Blood that had kept these muscles tense retreated to the heart, warming the insides of every human being on the planet. Giggles and smiles flooded through the boardrooms, giving away the greatest poker players in the world, none of whom gave a damn about being exposed. 

Rifles, revolvers, and other machines of death failed to work. Or, rather, no one found any reason to pull any trigger or push any button. For the first time since the discovery of black powder, the world was absent of its destructive sounds.  

In New York City, a young couple from the Midwest ran through the streets. They flagged down a taxi with the greatest of ease and, after a slight explanation, were off. Holding onto each other and the sides of the roof, they rode the gallant mechanical steed. Passing The Biltmore, they witnessed two well-dressed men on the sidewalk with signs around their necks—one read “Mr. In” and the other “Mr. Out.” They were shaking hands and congratulating each other.  

Vehicles came to rest. People emerged from wherever they happened to be and noticed that there were other people in the world. Apologies (genuine ones) spread like wildfire (actual wildfires petered out) and sincere forgiveness was given. The trivialities of race, religion, creed, and gender fell away. Psychics and holy men stopped pretending. For the first time in the history of the earth, 7.8 billion people were in the same place at the same time—now. Regrets and angers of the past were put down, worries and blind ambitions for the future faded away. Everyone saw everyone else for what they were: human, flawed, imperfect, mortal, capable of feeling the same joys and pains as themselves. Within each brain, the hippocampus began to grow while the amygdala shrank. Fear took a backseat to compassion, understanding, and love.

Betty Lou returned from the chapel to find Mary Ellen, her roommate, face down on the carpeting, howling with laughter. Life at the convent was serious and, among other things, dry. Even the sacrificial wine was nonalcoholic. The only intoxicant they knew was the heaviness of the Spirit.

It was then that Betty Lou remembered why she sought out her fellow Sister. 

“Mary Ellen, look!”  

Betty Lou raised both her arms straight out in front of her, revealing empty bottles attached to each index finger. She then proceeded to bang them together in semi-rhythmical fashion to the tune of “My God Is an Awesome God,” a song never heard in these cloistered walls.

“I’m playing the bottles!” she proclaimed as their voices raised up the lyrics before collapsing into hysterical laughter.

Stereos everywhere sat silent, but music rang out in every corner of the globe. Countless numbers of men, women, and children came together to form impromptu bands, shaking years of accumulated dust off of millions of instruments that had been stashed in closets, attics, and basements. In Lodi, New Jersey, a group of adolescents in skeleton makeup sang and strolled arm in arm: “Brains for dinner, brains for lunch, brains for breakfast, brains for brunch. . .”

People wanted to be with other real live people—they danced and sang and laughed to the blessed cacophony. Many without instruments displayed what their stage show would look like if they had them. No one was suffering any ill effects, they were simply here and so was the moment.  

Despite the fact that many there could barely move, dancing broke out at the Shady Elms Retirement Home. They gave it their all and believed they mattered and were alive once more. Shouts of “BINGO!” resonated throughout the halls, and even though no one actually had it, no one got mad.  

The only ones who remained unchanged were the little ones, for they had not yet learned to fear the future nor had they formed any debilitating longings for the past. They simply were, and loved seeing adults finally rise to their level.

One of these was Pete. He, alongside his mother, clapped and hooted as his father took their six-foot-tall white floor lamp outside. Less than a year old, it had cost $200 and was the basis of several fights between him and his wife. She hated it from the beginning and he clung to it for the power it gave him over her. Now, with utmost seriousness of expression, he paused at the end of their property, waved to his family, took a deep breath, ran to the other corner of the yard, planted the lamp as if performing a pole vault, and toppled into the street. The attempt ended in complete and utter failure. The lamp was shattered and all three were delighted.

Writers were inspired to write, actors to act, and lovers to love. Hunters put down their rifles, seeing for the first time that animals had the ability to think, feel, and love. Politicians forgot the capital letter after their name and agreed to compromises, getting more done in an hour than they had in the last three decades. In noticing the richness of color among the changing leaves, billionaires saw the folly of the god they had chosen to worship and began tossing money out of windows and into fireplaces. The sun fell, but darkness did nothing to quell the spirited gatherings. Past conflicts faded from view, with future ones unforeseeable. 

The entire first floor of the corner house was covered with pink packing peanuts. Levi had had a wrestling match with a huge bag stuffed with twenty-five dollars worth of the little foam devices, and he won in glorious fashion. Despite the fact that they were nearly impossible to throw little more than a foot, the packing peanuts turned into harmless ammo for hours. The house had never been so warm, achieving peace for the first time while enthroned in make-believe war.

Everyone was exactly where they wanted to be.

Eventually, though, even the nightcrawlers wore themselves out.  

#

The day broke. Sun blanketed the land. People amid every corner of the globe woke slowly with their bodies’ internal clock, with the sky clear above and the earth grounding from below. There was a perplexed curiosity about just what had happened the previous day, but a comforting one mingled with the soft excitement and fascination of a new day. Then, it began.

BEEP.

Phones lit up, screens returned along with alarms, and calendars, and notifications, and reminders, spreadsheets, spam texts, and calls, and emails. Talking heads screamed on seventy-five-inch screens in homes, airports, schools, gyms. There was a nagging twinge which told every adult to unplug, put down, go outside, and look at the sky, trees, life. But the endless scroll was too long, the knowledge that someone somewhere might have done something funny, or stupid, or infuriating was too much to bear and we had to know about it, now.

Gunshots once more rang out. Divisions and differences, no matter how small, how trivial, or how invented, took in more and more oxygen from the atmosphere, increasing pollution, global warming, asthma, lung cancer, shortening lives, and telomeres. 

For one night, the world had been at peace. Humans looked at one another and, within different eyes and different skin tones, saw themselves reflected back. Living as they were in the moment and fully embracing emotions as they swept over them, no one took a picture, no one wanted to leave the bliss for even an instant. No one thought there would be any need to record what felt so natural, normal, and eternal. And yet, while there may have been no tangible proof that such a day had existed, right before sleep and right before fully waking, each person who experienced those eighteen hours preserved a small place in their head and a large place in their heart to return to, if only for the slightest instant, in order to keep going, in order to not give up, in order to be able to look at the seemingly endless bullshit and pain and suffering inflicted by their fellow humans upon each other and animals and the environment without immediately putting an end to it all.

BEEP.

END

Gregory T. Janetka is a writer from Chicago who drinks a great amount of green tea. His work has been featured in XRAY, Heartwood, The Phoenix, and other publications. More of his writings can be found at gregorytjanetka.com. He is currently seeking representation for his first novel.

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