I’d like to test out a new – hopefully weekly – feature for the blog: Fiction Friday. Every writer has work that has never been published (or even shared with many people) for one reason or another. With that in mind I’d like to share work that’s unpublished, unfinished, or unpolished. It might be stuff I’m not happy with anymore or I might revisit again some day. Heck, I might not even know what’s wrong with it.
The Unnerving Silence came from a writing prompt. I can’t recall the exact details of the prompt, but I recall it had something to do with silence in the library. Not to be confused with a Doctor Who episode of the same name (this story predates it by about 5 years, I think). Just on a whim, I started writing it, taking the idea of silence in a library as literal as possible.
Personally? I’m…not as crazy about it as I was when I first wrote it. I think it’s clear that horror isn’t my bag (and this is light horror, at best) It’s been rejected from a few magazines, which maybe have softened my feelings on it. I like the idea in theory, but the execution here just didn’t work to my liking. I might revisit it sometime, maybe a similar place that Dill visits in Nevermore Bay.
The Unnerving Silence
Dust swirls and lingers as I turn another ancient page. The unnerving silence breaks beads of sweat on my brow. I came here to study these manuscripts, unbothered by rowdy roommates in a tiny dorm room or other uncaring residence monkeys who don’t take into consideration other students.
This library feels ancient, with grey stone flooring covered by long strips of tattering carpet. Someone recommended this part of the library to me, to have true peace and quiet. I’m realizing now just how little idea I had.
The dry paper doesn’t make even a crinkling sound as I thumb it over. The dust particles don’t make a trickling sound. Did dust ever make a sound? I feel like it did, but now, I’m not so sure.
My black pencil marks run across my notebook as I make observations about the manuscript. Yet, there’s no scratching sound to be heard. How is that possible?
I look up from the book and observe my cubicle. Old, polished wood surrounds me on three sides, four if I count the surface my elbows are resting on. Directly in front of me is a rectangular sign with the inscription “Quiet” in Old English lettering. It feels so direct, to the point and even just a little impolite. Ordinarily, I’m used to a coloured computer printout, laminated, and posted with a “Quiet, please” message. This feels less like a suggestion and more like an instruction.
Leaning back in my chair to stretch my muscles, arms high over my head, I look down the long row of other dark brown, polished cubicles. Someone beside me retches forward, a clamped fist covering their mouth.
A cough; something so simple, something we hear often in the presence of strangers and yet…nothing. No harping cough sound, no wheeze or even a sniff or inhalation commonly heard, post-cough. The duteous student returns their schoolwork, unaware that I’ve been starring at them, wondering why I can’t hear a cough, a pencil scratch or even paper scraping against paper.
My heart beats faster as my anxiety rises. I need to get this assignment done. I just needed some peace and quiet, somewhere to study without interruption. Maybe I should have been more careful about what I wished for.
I roll my #2 pencil up and down the wooden desk, expecting to hear the light clunk as each flat slide taps the desk. No sound comes out, though I can _feel_ the clunk each time. Curiously, I let the pencil roll down and down toward me and it plunges to the floor.
Nothing; there’s not a single sound. When a pencil drops to the floor during exam time, it can sometimes be a relief, a reminder that there are others in the room with you, stressing over the same set of questions. I pick my pencil back up off the floor and leave it at the top of my notebook.
Fingers spread; I slam my hand flat against the top of the desk. I can feel the impact, that slight tinge of pain that runs from my palm and up each of my fingers in an instant…but no sound.
My breath starts to become laboured. This is certainly quiet, but not the peace I was looking for! I gulp down, hoping to hear my own body working, but nothing. I can feel my heart beating rapidly, my breath inhaling and exhaling faster. I can’t even hear myself breathe! Everything’s working fine, but I can’t hear a single thing! Have I gone deaf or is it the sign? Or this section of the library?! Why has no one else ever noticed this before?!
I scramble to my feet, stomping them hard on the floor. The hard, cold stone floor barely shudders, but no flat stomping sound is heard. Standing up, the plastic chair silently crashes to the floor
“I’m a student, damnit!” I shout at the top of my lungs, throwing my arms high into the air, fists pumping, defiantly. “Let me have my voice!”
I know I shout this. I can feel the back of my throat tingle and that little, red dangling thing wobble. I wanted peace and quiet, but I’m getting more anxious from the lack of the former because of the hollow lack of the latter.
“ARGH!!” I scream at the top of my lungs, but no sound comes out. I take out every bit of frustration, every bit of self-loathing or lack of self-confidence in myself and my work and take it all out in this long, passionate, rage-filled bellow. School has been harder this year than I ever thought; I feel like I’m falling behind in everything and the work just keeps piling on.
“I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!” I scream.
I slam my fists down hard on the wooden desk in front of me. The thickness of the wood absorbs the entire impact and of course, no sound emerges from the thump. I look down at the giant book filled with old manuscripts. Maybe throwing a book will help clear all of my frustration.
Furiously, I take the giant tome in both hands and raise it above my head, preparing to slam it down hard on the desk, hoping that its bindings will all come loose in the process. The pages flutter, sprinkling some dust into my face. Momentarily blinded, I feverishly shake my head, placing the giant tome back on the desk. My nose twitches, I throw my head back and then violently forward in a dust-filled sneeze. No sound comes out, but I feel my tongue press against the top of my mouth, my lips puffed and puckered and watch the saliva spew out.
Wiping my nose on my sleeve and trying to calm down, I look down at the tome of ancient manuscripts…and that’s when I see the exact work that I’d been looking for the entire time. Excited, I plant myself back into my chair and immediately start writing down as many notations as I can muster.
The notes completed, I feel like half of my work on this assignment is done, already! Joyously, I return the ancient tome to its shelf in this old section of the school’s library and hastily make my way for the exit, hoping to hear a sound, even the gentle shush of the librarian.
As soon as I step out of the older section, the rush of welcoming sounds comes pouring into my ears: the hum of the luminescent lights above; the crinkling of paper and the studious pencil scratching from students working hard on their own assignments. Relieved, I can hear every cough, every sniffle, and every chair squeak as they all adjust to make themselves comfortable in what now seems like a cacophony of sounds. It’s those sounds that I now welcome again into my life.
I make my way for the exit, excited to go home to my computer and begin writing this assignment; to finally have it done and out of the way. At the front desk is a fellow student, only a few years older than myself.
““Hey, that quiet section of the library…” I start to say in a hushed tone.
She smiles. “Great, isn’t it? I go there all the time to read during my breaks, especially after a problematic student. Your first time?”
““Yeah,” I respond. “It was…surprisingly cathartic.”
“I recommend reserving some time when exams come up,” she suggests. “The quiet section gets booked up really quick, then.”