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The Silence The Silence
by Adam Graupe
2008-09-11 08:49:21
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Billy drove his BMW M5 with his knees down rain-slicked Interstate 94.  He held his cell phone with his right hand and a Starbucks Venti Latte with his let hand.  “I need your thumbs up on firing Sly,” he said into the phone.  “He’s been flaking out on me for months, and this morning I walked into the break room and you know what he was doing?  Just staring at the water cooler.  I said to him, ‘Sly, we’ve been waiting for you for 15 minutes in the conference room,’ and he looked up at me and said he liked looking at the bubbles in the water cooler because they soothed him.”  Billy sighed and looked at his cell phone.  “Hang on a sec.  My wife is calling on the other line.  I’ll be right back.”

Billy swerved past a semi in the passing lane, flashed his high beams at a Honda driving the speed limit in front of him in the right lane, and swerved back into the passing lane.  “Hello.  Oh, I’m on a call with human resources.  I’ll be home after seven.  Ashley’s costume?  Damn it!  I forgot.  Oh, don’t make it sound like I’m a bad Dad.  Can’t you stop at Target and pick up something?  It’s just Halloween.  This is the last time I’ll forget.  Great.  Love you.”

Billy clicked to the other line and said “hello?  Hello?  Are you there?”  He slapped the phone down, took a long swig of his latte and turned to his right when he heard a beep from the IBM laptop computer on the passenger seat. With his left hand holding the drink and his right hand reaching for the computer keys, he opened the email.  It was a recap of the Southwest Division’s sales.  He leaned over and read it, “how the hell do they keep making comps?”

Suddenly, Billy realized there was silence so he snapped the radio on and turned his attention back to the interstate.  Silence terrified Billy.  After he was born, his mother took him home from the hospital and placed him in his crib that sat next to a blaring television.  From then on there were always televisions, radios, videogames, telephones, friends, girlfriends, and eventually a wife to make noise and soothe him.  He never had more than few minutes of silence in his life, and his wife even left a television on at night for him when he slept.

Billy relaxed to the sound of the radio, and he noticed that his exit approached within 50 feet and, at 75 mph, swerved in front of a Toyota and made the exit with masterful skill without the use of turn signals or hands.  The stoplight on the top of the ramp turned yellow and he slammed his right foot on the gas pedal and made a left hand turn through the light two seconds after it turned red.  He finished his latte, set it down into the cup holder, grabbed a cigarette from the other cup holder, and fingered his front pocket for his Zippo.  The BMW approached the next stoplight at 44 mph in the 30 zone, and while Billy bent to light the cigarette, he never saw the yellow Mercedes approaching the intersection from his right.  As he looked up from his lit cigarette at the light turning red, he accelerated again and gasped when he saw the Mercedes cutting into his path.

Billy steered the car off the road and down a grassy embankment.  The cigarette flew out of his hands and he made a feeble attempt to grab it as the BMW continued down into a grove of pine.  The front end of the car smashed into a pine tree and the last thing he noticed was how green the pine needles were.

Billy awoke.  He sat in his car and instinctively reached for his cell phone and dialed his wife but the screen of the cell read something ominous:  “searching for service.”  He stared in disbelief as this was downtown St. Paul, Minnesota and there was coverage throughout this area.  From his vantage point, he saw the front of the car crumpled against the tree.  He looked behind him and there were more trees.  It made no sense.  He drove down an open embankment and now, everywhere he looked, were trees.  Not thin and weak looking trees as he was used to seeing but thick and old trees.

“I must have had a concussion.  I’ll call 911.  Even if there is no coverage the 911 towers always connect.”  Billy tried and failed to get even a 911 connection.  He looked at his Palm Pilot and read today’s date:  October 31, 1608.  “Must be going haywire,” he said.  The Palm Pilot’s screen flickered and went blank.  He pecked the keys of his laptop to turn the screen on but it remained blank.  He turned the key on the BMW’s steering column but only clicking sounds emitted.  He reached his left hand over, unlatched his seatbelt, and exited the car. “My God, is it humid.”

He struggled through the trees as he climbed the embankment.  “Where is the sound of the highway?”  He said.  He reached the top of the embankment and felt stunned to find more trees.  Nothing but trees everywhere and silence.  “This is lunacy.”  He felt the urge for a cigarette, and remembering that he left his pack in the BMW decided to climb back down.  He heard voices coming from where his car stood.  It sounded like a chant: “toe-gah, toe-gah!”  He footed the embankment and approached the car.  He cleared the pine and saw two brown-skinned men.  They wore feathers supported by headbands and held tomahawks with their mouths agape while staring at the BMW.

They turned in unison and spotted Billy.  Both howled as if they had never seen anything unusual as a 270-pound white man wearing glasses, pants, a dress shirt, and tie.  They looked at each other, turned, and ran in the opposite direction of Billy into a forest.  Billy stood in disbelief.  “What the hell was that?  It is Halloween, but the Palm Pilot read 10-31-1608.  No.  It couldn’t be 1608.  I’ve gone crazy.  But still I don’t remember all of these trees.  Where is everyone, and where are the houses?”   

Billy listened to branches breaking in the distance and wondered if the two men were returning.  Scared, he turned and hustled back up the embankment and continued down where the highway once stood.  He hustled, stopping often for breath, and eventually made his way to the Mississippi River where he spotted two more Indians paddling a canoe downstream.

Billy decided to head south toward where his 7,000 square foot house stood atop a cliff overlooking the river.  It took him three hours to make the journey that once occupied ten minutes behind the wheel of the BMW.  These hours of silence on the journey gave him, for the first time in his life, time for self-introspection.  Some (what were to Billy) unspeakable thoughts crept in:  “What if your house is gone?  What is going to happen to your soul when you die?  You can’t take all of those possessions you filled your house with you when you die, and yet you spent more time shopping for stuff than you ever did with your family.  Did you ever stop and think about what was really important in life?”  These thoughts horrified him.  He shouted aloud to push the thoughts away, “shut up, shut up, shut up!”  Then he sang a McDonald’s commercial jingle as he hastened his pace.   

“Impossible.”  Billy moaned when he found the spot where his house once stood.  “Where the hell is everyone?”  His cell phone rang and he jumped a half of a foot into the air.  He looked at his phone and read his wife’s cell phone number on the incoming call screen.  He tried to answer the phone but the answer button broke off.  

Billy felt himself waking to the sound of a cell phone ringing.   He could not see but he felt his back resting on a bed, and he felt the tubes inserted into the tip of his nostrils and an IV attached to his right forearm.  The bed was too small to be his, and the tips of his elbows felt metal:  a hospital bed.  He tried to open his eyes but that was exhausting and he listened to his wife answering her cell phone.

“Yeah, Jack, it’s me.  I’m at the hospital checking on Billy.  What really ticks me off is Billy was a skinflint about his life insurance.  Only $200,000 and I won’t last a year on that.  The doctor doesn’t think he’ll come out of the coma, and it’s hardly worth $200,000 to pull the plug on him.  Oh, you better get back to work then.  Call me back when you’re done.  I love you too, honey, bye bye.”

Billy thought, “I love you too?”  He wanted to rise up and strangle his wife but he couldn’t even open his eyelids.  He heard her phone snapping shut and listened to her breathing.  There were no other sounds in the ward.  He wondered about the Indians and the Palm Pilot reading 1608.  He thought, “was that all just a dream?  It seemed real but I don’t know.”  He tried again to open his eyelids but felt fatigued by the effort.  He listened to his wife saying “and to top it off, I’ll have to sell the house.”  He heard her chair push back and listened to her high heels clicking down the hallway.  The echoing sound of her heels soon ebbed and silence ensued.

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