There is Not Even Silence

When they’ve found me, if they’ve found me, they’ll have me chained on the ground, kneeling like a supplicant, my arms and legs bound beneath me, a position where it’s hard to breathe but where I can do no further harm, so it’ll be worth it, in their minds, to lock me up that way, so you see why I can’t leave this little house where there is no one, where I have only a little round of sky in a window, and where I can lay down very quietly in the basement where there are no sounds, laying like a rock. It is silent here. Not even crickets at night or birds in the morning, nothing, I’ve made sure of it, that’s the purpose of this location, I’ve seen many other locations but none as quiet as this location, not the abandoned schoolhouse behind the mountain or even the mine within the mountain there is no place as quiet as this. Even my breathing is quiet in the basement. Here I can hear only the church bell each hour, not the sound but only the edge of the sound, the sound which suggests a sound and not the sound itself, which is good because if there is sound it will be the fast sound of running, or the slow sound of shuffling, sneaking. Both mean they’ve found me, that they’ve come for me with guns and whips and knives and greyhounds, and hatred in their eyes and fear that I’ve somehow locked myself in here with all manner of pistol and rifle and tridents from the 4th century and that I’ve lost my mind, which I haven’t, I haven’t lost my mind, I’m entirely sound and I detest violence, so even if they came for me I wouldn’t wound them, I’d only run, and if I were caught I wouldn’t resist, I don’t even have a knife here to cut bread with, I’d be very cooperative, and then they’ll kill me, kill me, kill me!

So now you must understand that I must stay here. In the morning, the window projects a tall round of light which moves slowly eastward until it disappears at noon, the stairs make no sound when you step on them, nor the doors, there is no wind here either. However, one day I heard, hiding here in the basement, a small tapping sound, like a woodpecker — but no — that’s wrong, not the sound but the edge of a sound, like the church bells. And I thought: a woodpecker must be pecking my house, very well, I’ll wait. And three days passed. The sound continued. Then I thought: I must kill this woodpecker. I didn’t want to do it, really, I detest violence even against animals, I hate the sight of blood. Before they wanted to find and kill me I was a vegetarian, I’ve read all of the Buddhist texts in the Abhidharma canon, in fact, I recited a passage from it silently as I stalked the woods around the house, treading the damp leaves into the ground, walking lightly like I always do, and I thought about how to kill the woodpecker as to inflict the least amount of suffering. I’d grown up in a farm and hated how violently the chickens died, the vibrant blood which spurted fountainous as they killed ten or twenty of them at once, which was then washed down a drain silently.

I found it when the sun began to go down. A little brown thing on a tree branch, peckpecking away, and I felt very, very sorry. I didn’t want to scare it, so I walked in a sort of slow-motion bounding motion, like how someone would walk on the moon, my legs making wide arcs in the air, so no sound would be made, though I always walk quietly anyways, it couldn’t have hurt. Then, just as silently as I walked to it, I climbed up the tree, climbing at the perfect angle for one to get up the tree without disturbing it, even a grown man like me, and I inched slowly up to the bird, I could see its legs clearly now, and the beak that was making that sound, that peckpeckpeck sound. With a swift motion, I grabbed it, my fingers went around its torso almost completely, it was trying to flap its wings, it was making a screaming sound, and I panicked, I grabbed its head and snapped its neck. The sound stopped, and now I felt very, very sorry. It was getting red all over my hands and my clothes, so I climbed down and put it on the ground, I wanted to throw up, I really did. And its eyes went red, and closed. I felt disquieted, but it was quiet again.

I thought that the sound would be done, and it was silent for some few days, but then I heard it again, the edge of the sound, the tapping, and I thought that perhaps it was another woodpecker, but it was a different quality, that outline of sound, and I thought that maybe it was the rain this time, though it wasn’t supposed to rain here so hardly, it was a dry, dry place, maybe when they find me they’ll drown me, I’ve heard of tortures done where they put your head in a box and fill the water drip by drip, it takes days because each drop is so little and so infrequent, it’s not the dying that’s so awful but the fear of dying. When they bring me out into the crowd they’ve fed with lies and denouncements, the crowd will jeer and throw things as I walk down the aisle to the box they’re going to put my head in and that’s going to be the last thing I see before I die, the proud hatred of the crowd. And while I slowly drown perhaps the crowd will gather around my body and cut it and bruise it knowing that I’m too kindly a person, but more importantly, now too tired a person and too hungry a person to kick and injure them, mothers might take their children to see me, they’ll hit me with their little fists, and the crowd will be loud. But that’s when they’ve found me, if they find me. Though they will find me if I can’t hear them and can’t respond to them and they can hear me with their thousand ears. A compounding of little taps into a great roar, and the sound filled everything. There must have been a freak storm, I thought. With no choice, I went aboveground, to watch from the round window.

The rain was coming down fat and heavy. The ground was turning into muck, and as I stood on my toes to watch it through the window, I began to see that there was a shape in the rain that wasn’t there before, kind of bulging, like a large sack of something twisting. It was too large to be one of the silent deer who made their home here. I stood there, with my fingers in my mouth, waiting for the shape to move or to do something, I was so scared, but I didn’t want to run out suddenly, it wasn’t moving, maybe it would go away, maybe it wouldn’t be prudent to run now. It was coming towards the house now, and I could see finally in the cloudy light that it was a young boy, maybe ten or twelve. He was slouching, and covering his face with both of his hands, there was blood seeping from the cracks in his hands, his nose must have been bleeding, the blood was thinned by rain. The rain was almost buckling his knees. And I began to feel very sorry for him. There was even a thought in me to let him into the house, out of the rain. He walked to the door, and I jolted my head back. I wanted to lock the door but he might be able to hear the sound, the key was rusted and it made a gritting sound when turned, the mechanisms inside would go thunk, though quiet it was still audible, I didn’t know if I had the door locked, I thought I did but I couldn’t know, and I heard his scudding footsteps in the drowned ground, and I felt so sorry, so very sorry for the poor child, maybe he was running from someone or someones who would do terrible things to him when they find him, if they find him; maybe he was in an accident and was trying to find help, maybe he had been turned onto the town streets by his parents, and I was going to let him in, I really was, when I suddenly began hearing his breath behind the door, loud piglike like squealing, pneumonic like a smoker’s breathing, and then he began crying. He was crying in big, snotty sobs. Then he began to pound on the door and yell, pound and pound and pound, then he stopped, I couldn’t see him and couldn’t risk seeing him, he began trying the doorknob and I saw it rattle from my side.

Thank God! It was locked. Thank God because I realized, then, I couldn’t let this boy in, he was too loud, he’d fill the house with sound, I wouldn’t be able to hear anything, and he’d want to play outside when he should be lying very quietly in the basement, like a rock, and in addition, what would they think when they find me here, they’d think I was threatening him or doing something to him, though I would never do such things, I abhor violence and cruelty in all forms, and then their tortures would multiply. I was thinking this with my breathing slow beneath the door, hearing the doorknob rattle, rattle, rattle. I thought he would leave then. But he returned. He was still crying and now carrying something with him, likely a stone, and began trying to break the window with his weak little tinktinktinks, ha, he hadn’t the strength to even chip the glass, and he tried harder and his sobbing grew louder, and I felt glad I hadn’t let him in, that loud, loud boy. And then he left with the rain and the sound of his crying.

Now I began to fear. The woodpecker could be written off, but with the boy, two incidents was cause for worry, sound in this soundless place, I began to fear that it had lost its properties, I had stayed here for years, mind you, but I was ready to cast it off to stop them from finding and killing me. I don’t know how long it took for me to decide; when there is no sound or light or wind, it’s like living under the sea, where time is thick in places and thin in others, and when I heard sound again, this time the sound itself and not its edge, I thought: very well, I must leave. But then I heard it again. And this time it was that slow sound I had been dreading, dreading for so long, someone was walking by the house, weighty footsteps, a grown man perhaps. He was rounding the house, running, bounding, I heard his scudscudscud all around, and I knew then that they had found me, and they were going to kill me. I wanted to cry out. But I got control of myself, I realized that I had to try to escape, I climbed out of the basement, the sound of the footsteps were still there, they were multiplying now, they had an army out there all there to kill me after they’ve found me, I had no weapons because I detest violence, I was thinking of when I was a child playing tag with my brother, and how pneumonia killed my brother some years ago, and now they wanted to kill me, their boots were going scudscudscud and they were going to stab me and out would come great spurts of blood fountainous onto the ground, getting red over the ground and liquefying it, they were going to snap my neck and leave head dangling and eyes going red and closed. The church bell was sounding and the edge of the sound rang four times. They were going scudscudscud. I was breathing and the sound of the breathing was withered and sort of thin, my breathing was filling the room, I crouched to the window, then I lifted my head out and looked out. There was no one around. Not even a bird or a cricket. But the footsteps were there, the sound of the footsteps were there, sounds are an object’s edge, but no feet, no boots on the ground or footprints. But the scudscudscud all the same. And more of the round window came into view as I slowly inched my head up, the sun wasn’t visible, the trees were tall and casting infinite shadows long towards the east, there was no one. And I was very still and silent, like a rock. When the church bell sounded five times, I moved again, and unlocked the door and the key gritted in the lock. Then I walked outside. There was still no one. And I thought: I must run from here, but I kept hearing it, the scudscudscud, and I thought: they’re everywhere or might be everywhere, I can’t run. So I was stuck there in front of the door. But if they’re everywhere or might be everywhere, I should go back inside, it’s safest there, it’s the most silent. So I did.

And so I’m here where there was no sound and was silence, lying down like a rock so they won’t find me, though I’m sure they’ll find me since I’m hearing their scudscudscud get closer, they’ve gotten into the door somehow, into the room with the round window, no further, but I didn’t hear the thunk of the lock, which I would have, or maybe I wouldn’t have since their sound is filling my basement where I’m lying down like a rock, they’re going to kill me and I’m going to do nothing about it, I detest violence and would never harm anyone or anything for that matter, I’m soundless silent like a rock in the bottom of a river, but I don’t know, they’re either here or they’re not, sound has to wrap and outline something, skin itself does not animate, water sticks to things as does sound, I wonder if the loud boy with the horrible breathing got home safely, or escaped from home safely, the sound would be the same either way, and I’m going to die perhaps alone here, in this place formerly soundless, now filled with a million footsteps dragging me to a penitent-pose, drowning me.

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