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The Man who Said Good Morning

Louis McKalty had the drowning dream again that morning, the third time in a week.
Annette, who had grown more upset with each occurrence, looked at him solemnly across the table. You called out my name again, she thought to him, the coffee cup in her hand trembling perceptibly.
Who should I call for help if not my own wife? he thought back.
She stared down at the table. The sound of it... It was just awful.
Don't you think you're overreacting?
You didn't have to hear yourself.
Maybe I should, then. Louis opened his mouth, attempting to say her name.
What are you doing? Her eyes widened with horror.
A strange gurgling sound came from somewhere in his throat.
Stop it!
"Ah... ahn... an," he said.
She put her hands to her ears.
"An net!" he said triumphantly. "Annette!"
She rushed down the hallway, hands still clamped over her ears, a wayward elbow knocking a framed picture off the wall.
"Annette, Annette, Annette," Louis called as she reached the bathroom and slammed the door shut. He made his way after her.
Come on, honey, he thought, raising his thought-voice to be heard through the door. Then he decided he wanted to keep talking the old way. "It's only your name. Annette McKalty. I like the way it sounds, floating on the air like that."
Beyond the door, the shower came on full blast. Stop it! Now the sink faucet came on. Go to work! The toilet flushed. Before you're late!
He ambled back to the kitchen. "Louis McKalty," he said to himself. "Hello, my name is Louis. And how are you today?"
He straightened his tie, grabbed his briefcase and left for the office. It was going to be a very different day.
Music played softly in the empty elevator. Louis was fairly sure this song had once, over a century ago, contained lyrics. He had just started to hum along with the melody--a few "da da das" and "la la las"--when the door slid open and he faced Mrs. Greenberg, standing in the lobby. She might have heard the trailing echo of the last "la." Stepping inside, she looked around with a confused expression. The music continued to play from a speaker somewhere.
"Good morning, Mrs. Greenberg."
She backed up against the wall of the elevator.
"Catchy song, don't you think?" Louis stepped out into the empty lobby, then turned around. "I wish I knew the words to it."
Mrs. Greenberg jabbed her finger at the button, once, twice, then again and again, until the elevator finally closed.
Swinging his briefcase, he strode through the front entrance onto the sidewalk. Not paying as much attention as he should, he brushed shoulders with a man attempting to pass him.
Watch where you're--
"Pardon me," Louis offered quickly. The man cast a wary glance over his shoulder as he continued on his way. And then another glance to make sure he wasn't being followed.
Louis usually walked the five blocks to the office, but today, again, was an unusual day. A splendid day. A day of joyous awakening. Stepping to the curb, he said, "Taxi."
No, that wouldn't do. It had to be louder.
"Tax! Eee!"
Again, not quite.
Several pedestrians stopped to stare. Below the hum of traffic, he heard them exchanging thought-murmurs. "It's harder than it looks," he told them, grinning. Each of them retreated a step.
He focused for a moment, took a deep breath. "TAXI!"
His audience jumped as if electrocuted. They gave him increasingly more room as he continued to shout. Many simply fled.
A cab finally pulled to the curb. When Louis opened the back door, the driver glared at him. What are ya, some kinda nut or something?
"I don't think so." He paused with the door open. "Should I take another cab?"
Get in.
As soon as Louis put his briefcase in and closed the door, the car took off, leaving behind the gawkers.
"You want to get put away, is that it?" the cabbie said.
A day of wonderful surprises. Louis smiled. "You're talking. The old talk."
The cabbie snorted, sharing a joke with himself. "Everyone always thinks they're the only one. But there are a lot of us. A whole underground. We know enough to keep quiet, though. Not idiots like you, shouting at the side of the road for all to hear."
"I didn't think about it. Ever since I started having the dream, I've had the urge to talk." He described his dream of drowning to the cabbie.
"Always starts with a dream. The subconscious or whatever. In mine, I was lost in the woods, calling for help." The car in front of them braked to a stop, double parking. Swerving around it, the cab driver extended his middle finger and thought-shouted, Learn to drive, ya jackass! "Look, there's places we go to meet," he said, abruptly calm again. "At night. To use our voices, like the old times. If they find out about us, it's all over. Same with you. Keep your mouth shut from now on and give me your contact info. I'll be in touch, let you know when our next--"
A siren blared. In the rear view mirror, the driver's face went pale. "Sorry, friend. You really shouldn't have been so clueless." He pulled to the side of the road ahead of an unmarked sedan.
Seconds later, two special agents in plain clothes stood beside the cab. They pulled Louis out and cuffed him.
"Good morning, gentlemen," Louis said. "What's the trouble?"
The men shook their heads in disgust.
Thank God ya came when ya did, the cabbie thought. He wouldn't let me pull over. Said he had a gun and was gonna make me listen to him do the old talk. Like you heard for yourselves, it was awful. Just awful.
The men nodded tersely, forced Louis into the back of their cruiser and pulled into traffic.
One more off the streets, one agent remarked.
Louis, hearing him, leaned forward. "Louis," he said. "My name is Louis McKalty. And how are you today?"
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Author Comments

I wrote this story when it occurred to me that, in a society where people have been communicating telepathically for a long time, the sound of a human voice would be something shocking and unpleasant to hear. It might even be an unwelcome reminder of how "unevolved" the human race once was. Of course for people like the protagonist, one man's trash is another man's treasure, and the excitement of discovering a new skill outweighs the bad reactions he receives. That was the biggest challenge in writing the story--to make Louis enthusiastic about exploring his expanding new world while not making him appear stupid, just happily oblivious to the danger he's putting himself in.

- Ralph Gamelli
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