This is a revision of a flash fiction piece first published in 2018.
After a year of talking, and another year of planning, the project was complete. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the local clergy, and the town council had finally done it: Right in the town square, they installed a giant loudspeaker. From thenceforth, every two minutes, a booming voice would spread all over town, announcing:
ARE YOU SURE?
Foolhardy decisions, they had decreed, would soon be a thing of the past.
The locals seemed to adapt pretty readily. Sales of noise-canceling headphones boomed for a bit, and people’s sleeping habits were surprisingly unaffected – who notices slightly inferior sleep? And drunk driving statistics were immediately better, which the local paper celebrated triumphantly.
The clergy were the first to notice the downsides. Weddings were being canceled during the vows a full 25% of the time – brides and grooms would take back their “I do"s in response to the booming speaker of skepticism. Adult baptisms were fully cut in half. Divorces, on the other hand, were also cut in half – though some of the rescued marriages maybe shouldn’t have been.
At a town council meeting, one of the proponents of the loudspeaker said, confidently, this is a good idea, only to cringe when the timing worked out that in the next second, the entire room boomed:
ARE YOU SURE?
No one was starting new relationships – and no one was exiting them either. New job postings languished unfilled, as both candidate and interviewer expressed their doubt. Slowly, but surely, the social and economic life of the town started to grind to a halt, as it became the norm to cancel even casual plans like going out for a drink (and certainly having another once there), or going to church on Sunday…or work or school on Monday.
Over the days and months and years, the town developed a culture of its own. Only necessities were bought, and only emergencies were handled. Trash piled up on the streets as no one collected it, and then stopped piling up as no one threw anything out. No one remembered what life was like before, and fewer and fewer visitors passed through to challenge it.
It wasn’t just the loudspeaker: people repeated its eternal mantra to each other, having had it etched into their dreams. “We should take down the loudspeaker,” said an occasional rebellious teen, only to hear all their friends in unison say back, “Are you sure?”, echoed, a moment later, by the loudspeaker itself:
ARE YOU SURE?
Eventually the loudspeaker broke. The mayor told his deputy to fix it, but all the deputy could do was respond, “Are you sure?” The rest of the town council waited for the booming voice to agree, but even without the voice, no one was bold enough to fix the loudspeaker. It wasn’t enough of an emergency, and besides, it felt like hubris or even blasphemy to presume to be able to fix what seemed like such a fundamental part of their world.
Without the loudspeaker, slowly but surely, the town returned to normal. A year later, people would only say “Are you sure” as a joke – one that many found vulgar and tasteless. And today, the teenagers wonder why, in the middle of the town square, there is a looming hulk of a loudspeaker system, never turned on or used, never cleaned up or put away. And of course, it is now only the old who endlessly repeat what was once a mantra, as their adult children shake their heads.
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