26 Feb Empty
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Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
Silence is not quiet, its loud. It’s a deafening roar.
I’ve experienced quiet before; I always start work at 4am. Quiet is the gentle hum of the street lamps. Its the first songs of the birds, the last scream as the foxes return to their warrens, the warm caress of the wind, a million things you don’t notice. Silence is none of these things. Silence is the absence even of this. Silence demands to be noticed.
I was walking to the office when I felt it. It was a crisp morning and I hadn’t put on a jacket. The cold started in my arms but it was slowly seeping into my torso. I grabbed my arms, kept my head down and walked on. I wasn’t running late, I wasn’t far from home and I could easily have gone home and got a jacket, a coat or a jumper but I felt like I couldn’t. I didn’t know why at first, I just knew to keep my eyes directly in front and keep walking. One foot in front of the other.
It was dark. I could make out silhouettes, dark blue shapes in the grey, but it wasn’t right. No street lamps, nothing from the windows or the cars surrounding me. Nothing but the slow, creeping glow of the morning.
After 15 minutes, I found myself at the bottom of the street. I could see my office building, but the lobby was dark. I thought perhaps there was a power cut, and started making my way there ore quickly. As I was walking, my footsteps seemed to get louder and louder. They echoed more and more, ricocheting around me. I felt my heart getting faster and faster, the air colder and colder. Before I knew it, I was running.
I reached the wide, glass doors. I pushed, but they didn’t budge. My fingers felt their way along to the cracks in the glass, up to the lock. I fumbled in my pocket for my card. I felt it pressed against my leg, pulled it out. I swiped it in the mechanism. I heard a click, but nothing happened. I sliced it up and down, over and over. Of course it wasn’t going to work, but admitting that would mean staying out here, and I wasn’t ready to do that.
I pressed my face up to the glass, cupping my hands around my eyes. I darted my eyes left and right. Nobody in sight, not even the janitor or the guard. I stared until it started to hurt my eyes, but there was nothing. Not a sound.
I slumped to the floor. The sun crept higher and higher. The day brought a small relief. It was warmer, at least, and being able to see up and down the road felt a little better. But the stark shadows moved along the floor all too noticeably and the buildings seemed emptier than ever. The sky was clear blue- I must have sat there for an hour without seeing a single aircraft, a solitary cloud. The roads were clear of cars, the buildings were empty.
After a while I pulled myself to my feet and stumbled home. In the light of day, the city seemed even more desolate than ever. The buildings were all a uniform shade of dull. The black roads seemed to stretch forever. I’d never made this walk during the day. I always came in so early, and went home so late. The city seemed strange and alien. Everything was grey. I’d never noticed before, but the whole world is grey. The buildings, the roads. The silence was always right behind me.
The journey took longer than it normally did. Or perhaps the gaunt quiet and the chillin air made it seem longer. I shivered a little as I stumbled down the street to my apartment building. I opened the door and climbed the stairs, the same as I ever had. But even this felt different.
The gentle buzz of electricity, the muffled voices from the television sets, the distant screaming of arguing families whose names I’d never asked- I missed them.
I reached my front door. I leant on it as I put a hand into my pocket, but the door swung open as soon as I touched it.
My heart stopped.
I stepped slowly in. The room was freezing. I looked left and right. Nothing had moved. I ran into the living room. The TV, my PS3, my laptop- they were all still there. I breathed a sigh of relief, then turned to go into my bedroom. The door was slightly open, and in the thin crack of light I could see a dark outline.
It moved. Thin, white eyes caught the light, and I knew it was looking at me. It seemed startled. I ran towards it, blind anger replacing the fear. As I entered the room, I caught only a flash of red as it leapt through the window.
I looked down into the street, caught a glimpse of what seemed like a naked, sunburnt man disappearing down a side alley. I looked around my room. Again, nothing had been moved, and for a moment I thought I could stop worrying. Then I saw the footprints.
Blood. From my window, all around my room and then back to the window. Thick, dark, red footprints. I felt my stomach heave, my throat bulge. I turned and left the room.
I went back to the living room, shutting all the doors behind me. I didn’t go back in that room. I went to the closet, took out a baseball bat I hadn’t used since I was twelve and a Swiss Army Knife my dad had bought me.
I slumped into a chair and shook. Sweat was rolling down my forehead, my hair was itching something terrible. I scratched and scratched. The itch always moved as soon as I scratched. I chased it around my body until every inch of my skin had been touched. My breathing and my heart had returned to normal, and I felt I’d calmed down a bit.
I was hungry. I went to my kitchen but, naturally, it was empty. I ate all my meals at work or at the mall around the corner.
I took a deep breath and made up my mind to leave. The stairwell was empty and silent, but this time I couldn’t help but notice the cold. My heart was a machine gun. I found myself running down each flight, stopping and peering at every corner.
Eventually I reached the street. I stopped to catch my breath and scratch my arms, which were itching again. I stepped out into the road and walked towards the small store that was just round the corner.
I forced myself to look down the alley the intruder had ran down. There was a small ammount of blood leading that way, but nothing like the footprints in my room.
I kept walking, but just as I looked up, I saw him. He was darting across the road a few hundred feet away from me. I ran after him, my fingers locking round the bat.
I caught a glimpse in the corner of my eye, the other way this time. There was more than one. I just ran, kept going down the road and tried to ignore them. They weren’t coming towards me.
I ran and ran until I came straight into the door of the store. It wouldn’t open, naturally, but I smashed the glass with my bat without thinking. I stepped through and made my way to the snacks. I was so hungry, I couldn’t wait for anything to cook. I opened up a packet of Doritos. Inside was a fine, white dust. I poured it out and opened another. The same. I ripped packets and packets of chips, cookies and candy bars from the shelves, but they were all the same. Nothing inside but dust.
My insides were twisting themselves into knots from the hunger. I found myself coughing, doubling over on the floor.
My head was spinning. What the fuck was going on? Where was everybody? I coughed and choked until I spat up blood. My skin was itching all over. I scratched and scratched until my nails felt thick with my own skin. I stopped, knelt on the floor and stared down. My breathing returned to normal, my heart slowed down until all I could hear was the silence. The silence, and a scratching noise.
I stopped, listening incredulously. It was the first sound I’d heard all day that I didn’t make myself.
I crawled toward the noise. It was coming from the other side of the store, but I tried to stay low and quiet. As I got closer, I could make out a throaty, wheezing breath as well. I came around the corner onto the aisle adjacent to the sound and saw footprints, blood like the ones in my bedroom.
Suddenly the scratching stopped. I looked up, towards the sound of breathing. I rose to my feet, clutching my bat tighter than ever.
Suddenly, I saw someone run towards the door. I chased after them, got a good look as they crashed out into the street.
They weren’t human. Not quite. The body was the same, but there was no skin. Just muscle, and blood. Blood everywhere, dripping from the fingertips, pooling on the floor. The figure stopped just outside and looked back at me. I could see the round, bulbous eyes in their red cavities. There were no eyelids. I took a step forward and it stepped back, shaking its head. I took another step and it turned and bolted away from me. I walked out into the street but I couldn’t see it anywhere. Just endless, silent emptiness.
I dropped to the floor.
The sun was high above me.
I don’t know how long I sat there. Nothing moved. The sun crept along the sky, the shadows swung along the floor.
I kept scratching at my arms. I didn’t even notice them bleeding. As the sky grew darker, it got colder and colder, but I didn’t feel like moving. At some point I must have fallen asleep because suddenly the sky was the dull orange of early morning. I shivered, sat up and looked out into the inky darkness. Over the street, I saw them. A line of humanoid figures, their round, unblinking eyes staring.
My heart jumped into my mouth. I sat and stared back, scratching an itch on my wrist. They weren’t moving. Nothing was moving. It was cold but I was sweating. My entire body was itching. I looked down at my body. My clothes were red from my own blood. I ripped them off.
When I looked up, they were still there, but one of them was walking towards me. As it got closer, I could see it more clearly. It was like the other one, all muscle and bone and blood, like a biology class illustration.
It stopped a few yards away and stood still, staring at me like before.
I was too scared to move. I was cold, and itching more than ever. I barely even noticed I was naked. I just kept scratching, all over my skin. When the itching stopped, I’d be able to stop moving. Then maybe they’d leave me alone. I was tearing into myself, ripping bits off. It was painful, but it was a good pain. It set me free.
Credit To – Luke Summerhayes