The unnatural quiet was my first clue that something was wrong.

I’d been standing outside in the middle of a hot and humid afternoon, gazing at the sky while cars raced up and down Knott Ave. like bullet trains. I’d had a rough day at work, and my silent contemplation of the clouds was a way for me to escape the endless demands of a high-stress job.

One cloud formation in particular had just captured my attention—an obelisk that seemed to rise from a city of smoke and ash—when an audible silence descended over the world. I looked down, and that’s when I saw that the street was empty, that the sidewalk was abandoned.

For a moment I felt disconnected, as if whatever cord that tethered me to the fabric of reality had been severed. I blinked, looked around, looked around again.

“That’s not right,” I said, not entirely sure who I was talking to.

It occurred to me that the entire day might have been a dream. A cliche, I know, but there are rare moments when the conscious and the subconscious meet in a celestial conjunction of the mind, usually seconds before waking, and during such extraordinary events, one’s first thought is always inevitably, “This must be a dream.”

That’s how I felt in that instant, like I might wake at any moment to ponder the tail end of an already forgotten dream before drifting off once more. But this new and silent world refused to yield and instead remained fixed before my eyes.

“This isn’t right.”

I shambled forward like a sleepwalker, too dazed and incredulous to feel anxious or afraid. I walked. On and on, I walked. And as the seconds merged into minutes and the minutes into hours, I only grew more steadfast in my belief that this all must be a dream, for with each step, the world changed.

The road narrowed, the asphalt giving way to gravel and dirt, and the buildings thinned as if I were emerging from a forest of concrete and iron instead of trees. The only constants were the brightness of the sky and the heat of the sun against my skin, seemingly untouched by the hours.

At one point, I pulled my cell phone from my pocket to check the time. That’s when the first real tendrils of fear began to squirm through my midsection. The device had powered itself off, though it’d been fully charged that morning and should have lasted the rest of the day, and when I pressed the power button to turn it back on, it was unresponsive.

I pressed the button once, twice, three times. I opened the back to confirm the battery was properly seated, then checked the position of the SIM card in its slot.

That’s when I heard the voices.

At first they were quiet, just thin, vaporous whispers riding the coattails of a breeze. But in the otherworldly silence that birthed them, my ears picked them out at once. I had no idea what they were saying, but I didn’t have to. Those malicious tones touched a primal region of my brain that had no use for language, and all at once, the nascent fear inside of me burst into bright orange flames.

I ran, following the increasingly narrow road as the world around me blurred. All the while, those voices called out, growing fiercer, louder, closer.

Soon, the world dissolved and the ground fell away beneath my feet, leaving only the silent endless dark of empty space. But I never stopped running. Those terrifying voices were coming,  and if I stopped to rest even for a moment, I was certain they’d catch up and fall upon me as one.

One voice, in particular, stood out from all the rest. This one was calm, collected, even sympathetic, and the more I listened, the more I understood its meaning.

You aren’t supposed to be here. Why have you come?

“I don’t know.”

Go back before my brethren consume you whole.

“I don’t know how.”

Follow my voice. I’ll lead you to safety.

And because there was nothing else I could do, I did.

The others jeered, uttering incomprehensible commands as they closed in for the kill. But that singular voice continued to speak over them like a high school coach intent on winning the homecoming game.

This way, it said, and I turned to follow it’s call through one invisible path after another.

Gradually, the world came back into focus. The sun and the sky were the first to emerge, followed by a dirt road that eventually became a street.

Hurry. I can’t hold them back much longer.

My lungs screamed for air, but I didn’t dare slow down. I could feel those malevolent beings gaining on me. I was almost home, I could feel it. I only had to go a little further.

Just before I crossed over, the air turned cold like a bitter Alaskan wind. I felt those hateful beings scratch at my back with appendages that might have been claws while the one who’d helped me shouted, GO!

Then a terrible pressure mounted in my ears. A high pitched whine nearly knocked me to my knees, and all the while I could feel those awful voices drilling into my head, trying to pull me back.

Finally I pushed through. There was an audible pop, and then the silence that had settled over the world burst like a pricked bubble. The street once more teemed with cars and the sidewalk with pedestrians. The sounds of a world in motion seemed deafening in the wake of so much quiet, and I whirled, disoriented, still expecting those evil creatures to break through and pull me be back.

That was eleven years ago, and I still can’t stand the sound of silence. I never leave the house without a pair of headphones in my ears, even though they’ve gotten me in trouble, both at work and at home. Nobody understands, and I don’t blame them. How could they? They haven’t heard the horrors that await them in that silent world.

Metallica and Iron Maiden are my go-to artists, and their strident cries follow me wherever I go, even into the nebulous depths of sleep. Only I know it’s not enough, that all I’m doing is delaying the inevitable. Sooner or later, we all descend into the silent dark, and when that day comes, all I can do is pray to God those voices won’t be waiting to finish what they started.

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3 thoughts on “Quiet”

  1. Loved this ! As a Metallica fan though you forgot your a on the band’s name. Love the fright I can feel as I read, very descriptive and a real feel!

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