For Jessé,

From here until the end of everything

The Silence

by Cynus

There were people talking all around him, their chattering amongst each other seeming to do nothing but stimulate his agitation. None of them were speaking to him directly, but it seemed almost as if they were intentionally driving the point home that his own life was silent. Always silent. He glared at the others, though they certainly didn’t see him. They were too wrapped up in their own lives, their own stories, to notice the brief scowls of a man in his late twenties who had nothing better to do than to watch them engage in their prattling.

It was either that, or he could focus on the waiting, but that wasn’t an option he’d like to choose. Focusing on the waiting would have driven him mad, and that wouldn’t have been good for anyone. There was a distinct difference between scowling and shouting like a crazy man. He didn’t really think that he’d go that far, but he had already snapped at the flight attendant and the woman behind the ticket counter. He was on edge.

Maybe it was the fact that the plane had already been delayed due to bad weather. They were supposed to leave two hours ago, and he had already been forced to change his arrangements on the other end. His day had started off with similar delays, and he had originally thought that he would miss his flight entirely when the taxi driver showed up forty-five minutes late. And then security had decided that he needed to take off nearly every layer of his winter clothing before he could proceed…

But that wasn’t really why he was on edge. He knew what it was. It was that damn silence that always persisted, that always made him feel so alone no matter where he was in the world. It was that feeling that no matter what he did there wouldn’t be a change in that anytime soon. He couldn’t fix it. He didn’t know how, and there had only ever been one person who had been able to change it.

The pilot’s voice came over the intercom, and announced that they would be taking off. Finally, he thought as he sighed in relief. The flight would be a long one, and he wouldn’t arrive until morning. Now that he knew that he would finally get where he needed to be, at least he could relax. He settled into his seat by the window, and stared out at the airfield as the plane left the runway. As his distance from the world grew, he couldn’t help but feel like his distance from his problems was increasing as well. He had always loved flying, but this time was different. For the first time in years he felt like he was actually going somewhere that mattered.

There was an empty seat next to him, and an older woman in the aisle seat. She had already dozed off, and had probably even missed the takeoff altogether. They had been sitting for such a long time it wasn’t hard to believe that everyone on the plane was exhausted enough to sleep through it all. He sighed again and decided to follow suit. It was going to be at least a ten hour flight, after all, and he hadn’t slept in over twenty hours. He closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall of the plane, right beside the window, and then he willed himself to relax.

The silence found him almost instantly. It was pervasive, filling every corner of his mind; that tremendous force of solitude seeping into his every thought. His eyes opened as he stared out the window again, unwilling to bear the silence. The distraction of the fading landscape and the few wispy clouds they were beginning to rise above was enough for him to shut it out just a bit. Despite cursing their existence earlier, he focused on the sounds of the people talking on the plane, letting their noise consume him.

It hadn’t always been this bad. There had been a time when he had been free of the silence. No… That wasn’t the truth of it at all. There had been a time when he was consumed by the silence, accepted it as normal, but that had all changed over a year ago, when the first piercing drop of life echoed through the eternal rift of his mind; that first time that he had read the words that caused his heartbeat to echo in his mind, that caused his blood to pump so vigorously he could feel it thrumming in his veins.

He had forgotten what it felt like to be alive. All those years he had spent hiding himself from the world, behind the painted facades that he hang upon his face to show them all, not what he was inside but what they wanted them to be. He had worn those fragile masks for so long, keeping them delicately intact to preserve the silence they protected. He had been the guardian to their perfection, not wanting anyone to see the demonic creature that truly lay beneath; the abomination, the heretic, the individual.

For years he had been content to live their story rather than his own, to succumb to their desires of what his life should be, rather than to acquiesce to his own thoughts of what he could become. He had lain in the silence, surrounded by the thoughts of being normal, of fitting in. Becoming one with the river of man, rather than fight the current, for he knew that those who fought against the current were merely destroyed along the way, as they became battered and beaten but still moved along just the same. One could not fight the current, he had learned. One couldn’t change the direction from within the river.

What a fool he had been in those days! He smirked as he looked out at the other passengers on the plane. Perhaps some of them had come to similar realizations in their life, or at the same time perhaps they were all content to let the river guide them and take them where it wished. He knew the truth now; there was one way to stop the river from taking you where it wanted, and that was to swim to the bank and climb out.

He had begun that journey the first time that he let his mask slip. There was a time when he had been certain that if he allowed his caretakers to see what he was underneath, that they were sure to stop caring for him. He had been certain that they would attempt to drown him in the river. Instead they had shown him kindness, compassion, on levels he had never anticipated. Though they disagreed with his choice to fight the current, they supported the fact that he had the right to choose whether to fight or not.

With that first experience came the strength to let the next mask drop, and again he found life, not death, in the removal of another layer. He had slowly learned to free himself from the things that held him bound, and his life began to take off in directions that he had never expected. He had not realized how much he had been held captive by his fears, or the depths to which he had gone to make sure that his true self would never again see the light of day. And then, when he had finally begun to climb out, and the first rays of light lit upon that pale face which had spent so long in darkness, it was as if he were being reborn. Suddenly, the world was filled with opportunity and wonder, and both were beyond comparison to anything he had experienced before.

The time came that he was down to just one mask. One mask that still kept hidden the thing he treasured most. He had left behind the darkness, the chains, and the fear, but the silence still followed him everywhere he went. It was his constant companion that reminded him that though he stood in the middle of a sea of voices, none of those voices belonged to him except his own. None of those who called his name ever meant it as more than a label with which to bring him about to awareness of their wants and needs. None of those voices ever addressed him as theirs, but more importantly, they made sure he understood that he did not belong to any of them.

And so the mask remained in place, and he had grown to accept its constant presence, knowing that the silence would always be with him. He had been content with that, and so he had gone from place to place, certain that he could integrate the silence into him. He made his goal to become one with it, to make the silence his as much as he belonged to it.

Once a fool, always a fool.

The plane began to shake and the pilot’s voice once again graced the ears of the passengers. The pilot said that the turbulence would pass in a few moments, and that everything would be all right soon. With a shake of his head, he turned to look out the window again and was surprised to see that they were well into the night. He hadn’t realized how long he had been lost in thought, and it seemed as if his journey were already halfway through. What a pleasant discovery that was, and despite the shaking of the plane, he was glad that the turbulence had brought him out of his inner musings and allowed him the time to realize how far he’d come.

What a splendid thought! he mused as he suppressed a chuckle. His own life had been filled with plenty of turbulence, and especially in the last few years he had always learned a great deal from it. He had thought that he would never amount to anything, yet in the midst of the greatest trials of his life he had been allowed a vision of what could be, and he learned to fight for it. There was light at the end of all the darkness, there was a key to unlock the chains, and hope to banish the fear.

And though shaky those times had been, he had managed to make it through and had even been better off once he had come through the other end. He had learned that turbulence was a part of any journey, and that it was also necessary to learn. Struggle is what breeds strength, and so he had learned to struggle against the odds. In all but one way; he was tired of struggling against the silence.

But then, in the midst of a moment of nothingness, when all else seemed to have faded from memory, he learned something he hadn’t accounted for. The silence was not content with him, and did not want him back. The silence slowly began to consume him and made him its own, and he had not even realized how much he was losing to it. Bit by bit he was losing the uniqueness he had so recently gained, the individuality which had fueled his ascent out of the deep abyss into which he had sunk. He was beginning to drift out into the ocean of emptiness, losing his soul to his work as his passion dwindled.

Then, in a corner of that ocean he saw a spark of life, a lighthouse on a small island in the middle of this sea of nothing. Though he hesitated to bring himself to the shore; the island was not on his route, and he had cargo to deliver, he became lulled by the beacon of light, drawn in by the flame and curious about its caretaker. He had decided to make a stop for only a moment, to see what was what, and he went to the island, climbed up the steps to the lighthouse, and knocked on the door.

The turbulence had stopped long ago, and he gazed out the window to see that the ocean was about to end and they would soon be flying over land again, and the first hints of the morning twilight were beginning to tease the distant horizon. He was more than three quarters of the way to his destination. His mood began to rise as he thought of the welcoming he would receive when he landed. Music began to play in his mind, a piano playing softly the first few notes caressed the once oppressive silence until it began to fade. He knew where the music was headed next.

It had been the same that day at the figurative lighthouse, when he had knocked and had soon been answered by that sweet melody, beautiful and haunting; the sound of music dying in a world that was deaf to such beauty. Though soft the notes had been, they resonated within his head, reverberating and staying with him endlessly. The silence, the sweet silence to which he had always been bound had suddenly begun to crack under the vibrations of that song.

With each passing moment, basking in the light and the sound on that rocky shoreline, the silence began to shatter more and more. He found himself enraptured in the chords that played through his thoughts and into his dreams. And then the music began to fade, piece by piece it dropped off and disappeared until there was nothing left but the silence again.

But there was a message, a message that drew him onto a new quest and filled him with trepidation; the kind of dread a man feels when faced with a challenge that he knows he must face or risk losing his chance at everything he has ever wanted. He knew that if he did not adhere to the words written, and did not pursue the music, then he was sure to be doomed to a life of solitude, and that the silence would overtake him. The message told him that the caretaker of the lighthouse, the musician who played the song that overcame his soul and made every drop of blood ache for it to continue, was in a distant land. He knew what he had to do, and though the journey would be fraught with challenges beyond his comprehension, he knew that he had to find the source of the light and the passion behind the melody, or he would surely lose his soul.

His journey changed as he became possessed by the goal, driven to find the music again. Crossing the sea of doubt, fighting the storms of illusion and impossibility that threatened to claim him, he fought every minute for the goal he now saw ahead of him. At times he caught the music again, each time more beautiful than the time before, each time motivating and driving him further. Then when the music faded it would be replaced by an even more penetrating silence than ever before, a necessary balance to drive him into madness that forced him to pursue the music once again. And pursue he did, though at times he was given into despair only to have the first few notes begin to play across his mind once again, the ghost of the concerto drawing him out like the sirens of legend to dash his despair against the rocks and pull him onward, onward to a place that few had ever reached.

The pilot announced that they would soon be landing, and the music faded once again, bringing back the silence, his closest friend and oldest enemy. A smile crept onto his lips as he realized that this would be the last time the silence was ever with him again. It was a sad smile, born of the death of something which had had such impact upon his life, but whom he was glad to see go, glad to see put to rest behind the maddeningly beautiful thing that would replace it.

As he fell into step behind the old woman as she stepped into the aisle, the piano began to play in his mind, lulling him on softly as the silence faded away. He savored the moment, patiently following after the crowds of people that left the plane ahead of him. They were anxious to be on to their destination, but for him it was different. He had been anxious before, when the journey had begun, but there was something else now. This was not a destination for him, but the beginning of a dance that he knew would keep him moving until his soul became but a distant memory in the great expanse of time. Every step he took brought another chord to mind, and another thought of the musician.

Step by step his journey continued, until he was the last one to step into the terminal, his carryon in hand as he walked down the hallway and into the next chapter of his life. He embraced the music as it began to fill into him, rising in tempo as his pace quickened. He did not run, but his stride was full of purpose, full of the knowledge that soon his eyes would rest upon the spark of life, the light which had led him through the darkness of his abyss. The music led him as the lighthouse had long before.

And then all at once the music held steady, nearing the point of silence but holding just at the brink. Their eyes met as the world held still for the briefest of moments, and like a fermata laying to rest a piece of music that another may begin, the resting notes began to rise as they moved together as one, their eyes locked into a dance of shifting notes and beautiful chaos. As he held the musician in his arms, the beautiful caretaker of the light and the music which had drawn him across the world, the music reached a crescendo that made his heart begin to dance and his blood begin to sing.

Their lips met as the music reached its peak, and then it began to settle into a warm and soft melody, falling slowly but steadily, until they melted into each other, the whole world forgotten save their two souls entwined. A single tear slid down his cheek as he allowed the silence to fade, never to return again. The silence had ended, and the dance had begun.

Author’s Note:

First things first, the music is “The Cloud Atlas Sextet”, from the film “Cloud Atlas”. The film's director, Tom Tykwer — an accomplished pianist — composed the entire score of the film with partners Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil. This short story was largely inspired by the emotions I experienced while watching this film, and so I found the music to be fitting to accompany the story.

Secondly, I understand that this story is not in a style that I normally write. I wanted to try something new, and I enjoyed writing it, even if I may not have done as well as I would have liked. I hope that you enjoyed it anyway.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly of all, thank you to my editors who were honest with me about the piece. I am eternally grateful for your continued support.