Gone in a Matter of Hours

“Gone in a Matter of Hours,” is a fanfiction written by Faith Smith, a student at Texas A&M University. It is based on Otavia Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” a short story published in 1983.


Critical Introduction

In “Gone in a Matter of Hours,” I am exploring the character, Rye, from “Speech Sounds.” I intend to expand on Butler’s character and develop an interpretation of her life and who she was preceding the horrible epidemic. Rye’s story is worth exploring because she is the main character in “Speech Sounds,” yet Butler’s readers are given very little information about her past. Readers understand that Rye is frustrated with her inability to read or write, which was her passion as a teacher and a writer before the epidemic hit. She was angered to the point of willingness to kill another human because they were capable of something she was not because. It is also clear that Rye is lonely and eager for personal connections, but it is uncertain why she was so willing to trust a man she never met and take in children who were orphans.

“Gone in a Matter of Hours” will capture the value Rye placed on her relationships held so dear to her before the epidemic, explaining why Rye was so desperate to spark a relationship and recreate what she had lost. My story will explore the relationship Rye had with her children and her husband, and will capture her role as a mother and spouse. This too will clear up Rye’s immediate attraction and willingness to couple with Obsidian, a man she just met, and how the children in “Speech Sounds” pulled on her heart strings as a mother, clarifying the guilt she felt about leaving the children behind. Readers of Butler’s “Speech Sounds” know the epidemic affected her ability to read, but the readers have no idea how this earth-shattering epidemic started, what it was like when the disease started to take over, and most importantly, how this changed Rye’s life and made her feel. A story that explains what it was like when her family came down with the illness would help Butler’s readers to better understand why Rye is so frustrated and acts the way she does in her story. In order to truly know a character, we must understand the motivations behind their actions.

This story’s intended audience is Butler readers who have read “Speech Sounds.” The audience will remain in line with Butler’s audience, both being geared more toward adult readers. I hope my audience finds the answers to the questions they have regarding Rye and her past when the epidemic first began. “Gone in a Matter of Hours” will explain how the disease took over her family, and how it changed her perception of the world around her. They will also find out how her family died, and how this took a toll on her mental health.


Gone in a Matter of Hours

She had always enjoyed the smell, ever since she was a little girl. Nothing compared to the smell of a freshly printed, yet to be opened novel. Rye’s house always smelled like this. Her children and husband hated it, but it was her favorite thing. It reminded her of every character she had ever dreamt up, every story she had ever written. It brought her happiness…peace.

Rye walked into her house, greeted by fits of laughter from her two children, Alison and Noah, as they raced to hug her legs. Alison was a beautiful little girl, only three years old. She had long blonde hair, bright blue eyes and her laugher brought joy to everyone who heard it. Noah was much smarter than your average five-year-old, and he too had beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes.

“Hi, mommy! I missed you,” Alison squealed as she squeezed Rye’s leg tightly.

 “No, mommy, I missed you more!” Noah screamed as he pushed Alison off Rye’s leg to make room for himself.

Rye rolled her eyes and bent down to squeeze them tightly. It had been a long day. “Where is your father?” she asked them.

“He’s in the kitchen, mommy,” Alison squeaked as she ran into the kitchen.

Rye stopped to take a second to breathe in the familiar scent of home. She had been in Chicago at a teaching conference for UCLA professors for a week. She had missed the smell and comfort of being home.

“Mommy? Something is wrong with daddy,” Noah cried.

Terror took over Rye’s entire body. She wanted to run to them, but she was frozen. Her few moments of peace immediately turned into panic. She was terrified of what she would find when she turned the corner. Rye quickly snapped out of her trance and raced into the kitchen. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw him.

At her feet, her husband, Luke, was staring up at her with pain in his eyes. He was shaking uncontrollably, looking at her desperate for help.

“Luke? What’s going on? What hurts? Tell me how to help!” Rye screamed. She eagerly awaited his reply, shaking his shoulders, but he just continued to claw at her legs, pleading for help. She bent down and tried to lift him, but his legs were limp. Luke grunted, obviously in pain. Rye was lost.

“Alison, Noah! Someone bring mommy the phone! Now!” she screamed.

Alison disappeared and came back with Rye’s purse. Rye dug around frantically looking for her phone. She picked it out of the bottom of her bag and called 911.

“Send help, please. Something is wrong with my husband and my kids are here. I think he might be having a stroke. He can’t speak to me and he doesn’t seem to be able to move his lower body.” She said to the operator. “Luke, look at me. Help is on the way you’re going to be okay.”

Fifteen minutes later, Luke was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance with Rye and the children following in her Suburban. They lived only twenty minutes from the nearest hospital, but rush hour traffic on a Saturday night in downtown LA was always at a standstill, and she had no idea how long he had been like this before Noah found him.

“Please! Go faster! My husband cannot die today!” she screamed at the other cars, but they obviously couldn’t hear her. Rye refused to lose her husband. They had gotten married just six short years ago, and had just started a wonderful life together. She so desperately wanted to watch her children grow old alongside Luke. To grow old together.

As she was inching through LA traffic she couldn’t hold back tears as she thought about Luke. She couldn’t stop thinking about how she cannot live without him. She cannot be alone. Alison and Noah cannot grow up without a dad. Rye was head over heels for Luke, and she knew she would never find another like him. This could not be the end for them.

When they finally arrived at the hospital, Luke was rushed into a room, and Rye and the kids were told to stay in the waiting room. They didn’t need to see Luke in the condition he was in, as she knew his brain had been struggling to get oxygen for a very long time. As she sat in the waiting room with Alison and Noah asleep in her lap, she prepared herself for the worst. (expand on what it would be like without him)

Rye woke hours later to Luke’s doctor shaking her shoulders. “Ma’am, please come with me. We need to talk,” she said quietly.

Rye and the doctor stepped into the hall, away from the children, and by the look on the doctor’s face, Rye knew it was bad news. “Ma’am, I’m so sorry. We did the best we could, but we could not save your husband. He was suffering from the epidemic that just made its way into LA. Have you heard about it?” she asked Rye with sad eyes.

“Of course, I have heard about it, but I had no idea it had made its way into LA. When did this happen?”

“Only a few days ago. Your husband is one of two hundred cases that have been detected in the area so far. Almost all have been fatal. I am so sorry for your loss, but I have even more bad news.” The doctors face filled with remorse as she stepped back to lean against the wall, immediately filling Rye with terror. Rye crossed her arms and took a deep breath, bracing herself for the news that was coming next.

“This disease is extremely contagious. It will more than likely spread to anyone who has been in contact with your husband in the past two days. It will start with a headache, and within a few hours, the disease will start to affect its inhabitant’s communication skills. It affects every victim differently. It can impair one’s ability to speak, comprehension of speech, and literacy. It can also cause paralysis and can be fatal in most cases. I am so sorry, but I need you and your children to prepare for the worst.”

Rye’s head started to spin, and she fell to the floor. The doctor caught Rye as she began to sob. “I’ve been gone at a conference for a week! I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my husband, and now my children are going to be taken from me too?” she spat viciously at the doctor.

“Ma’am I know this a lot to handle. I cannot imagine what you are going through. I suggest you take your children home and make them comfortable. It is going to be a brutal last few hours for them.”

Rye collected herself off the floor and thanked the doctor. She slowly walked back to the waiting room, unsure of what she was going to tell her children. Her mind was filled with frustration and anger. How could the world be so cruel? Her husband was taken right from under her nose just as their life together was getting to the good parts, and now her whole world was going to be taken away in just a few short hours. It wasn’t fair, and she shook with rage.

When she returned to the waiting room, Alison and Noah were curled up in the chair together. “Come on, loves, it’s time to go home. Daddy will be spending a few nights here, but he will be home soon. We will come back to visit him tomorrow.” She picked them up off the chair and started to walk back to the car, a piece of her heart left behind in a body bag.

Rye carried Alison and Noah upstairs. As she placed them in bed, she knew they wouldn’t make it until the morning. Alison was already having trouble speaking to Rye, and Noah was complaining of a headache. She knew it was coming, but she was in no way ready to kiss her children goodnight as she knew this would be the last time. She sat at the foot of their bed and watched her children sleep for a while, the whole time silently hoping it would be easy and pain free for them.

She silently cried realizing all of the things she was going to miss about being a mother. She would never get to watch them play spots, graduate high school and college, get married and she would never meet her grandchildren. She would have no one to hug after a long day at work, or to take care of when they were sick or hurt. Rye knew her life as she knew it was ending, and she couldn’t bear it.

She became sick to her stomach the longer she sat, so she reluctantly kissed Alison and Noah goodnight for the last time, her lips lingering on their foreheads as long as she could bear. She felt nothing but guilt and anger as she turned off the light, and shut the door behind her. How can she just close the door on her dying children? How can she just stand by and do nothing knowing her children are suffering in the room above her? Why couldn’t she be the one getting sick? Alison and Noah had a whole life ahead of them.

Rye’s mind was racing, and the only thing she knew to do to clear her mind was to write. She walked slowly downstairs, and sulked to her desk in her study. She picked up her favorite pen and her empty notebook. As she went to write a story about the night’s events, she realized she felt as if she did not know how to write. She tried with all of her might to make sense of words on the page, but when she read over the few sentences she had written, she realized they were gibberish. She threw her pen and screamed at the top of her lungs in anger. She sat back in her chair, staring at her desk in disbelief. A few short hours ago, everything was perfect. She had the perfect job, husband and children, and now her world was crumbling in her hands. Everyone and everything that mattered to her was taken from her in a matter of hours by something beyond her control.

Rye knew what was coming. Sickness was coming for her. Her death was imminent. She walked to the living room, curled up on her couch with her notebook clutched to her chest, hoping she would wake in the morning to the sounds of her children’s giggles and the smell books.  


Works Cited

  1. Ameile, Castiel. “How to Write the Best Fanfic.”HobbyLark, HobbyLark, 12 June 2017, hobbylark.com/fandoms/How-To-Write-A-Good-Fanfic.
  2. MacGregor, Dax. “How To Format Dialogue.” First Manuscript, 25 July 2016, firstmanuscript.com/format-dialogue/.
  3. Totallyashipper. “The Re-Sorting Hat.” Worldless – My Meaning of Life – Emily David – Wattpad, Wattpad, 15 Feb. 2016, www.wattpad.com/story/56727875-the-re-sorting-hat.
  4. Trelogan, Stephanie. “How to Tell If Someone Is Having a Stroke.” Senior Care: Housing, Home Care, Community, Articles, Caring.com, 6 Feb. 2018, www.caring.com/articles/signs-that-someone-is-having-a-stroke.


Copyright 2018 Faith Smith

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