A First Page (of what, I don’t yet know)

Fifty feet below the struts which hold together a surfeit of beds, peeling walls and leaden windows, the metro quaked its way through the loam, carving apart the tunnels which anatomically divide the city. Two hundred people shuddered as one within the tubes as a swaying time-lapse shifted gravity, each carriage swinging around soft curves half a second behind its predecessor, temporarily doubling the combined weight of all within. Above, as with all things, echoes of inertia were felt. The skin on Stefan’s arms crackled silently under the duress of infrasound; that ever-present yet unheard urban booming, which fills cities with almost-silent discomfort, using foyers and incomplete loft conversions as reverberation chambers. Unheard, yet not imperceptible – above the tubes below, pores tightened as commuters rumbled past, peripheral visions filled with nebulous shapes as eyeballs oscillated, nonexistent ghosts manufactured milliseconds of awe in the edges of the consciousness of those waiting in their way. It was morning, and each five minutes which passed in the north of the city brought a glut of noiseless sensory discomfort. Stefan knew of the effects of infrasound; he had read of the religious ecstasies experienced by mountain-dwelling hermits during quarry blasts half a country away, he had read of the experiments conducted in the catacombs beneath the city of Edinburgh, where people feel unseen hands on their backs and catch glimpses of formless apparitions in the corners of their eye. He understood why people were unwilling to accept the fact that their hours were filled with bombardment by goliath volumes of noise – life was rarely comfortable, rarely quiet. To embrace the fact that even in the silent oases of city life – the temple, the temple gardens, the terraced library – that one is wracked by greater volumes is to embrace a surrender of peace.

As another train sliced open the black rails with sodium-yellow headlights and heaved onto the platform below, Stefan felt the building around him contract and tighten, felt the noise wrack the hair on his arms upwards. He knew, again, without question that his death was lurching towards him at a terrible pace. It had skulked in the recess of his mind for some time, and was finally coming into the foreground – a minor character which ached for the spotlight of attention. Stefan didn’t know how, or when, but in the same dream-logic which confirms to your subconscious that the race you are swimming in will undoubtedly, seamlessly become a vision of an egg which will hatch the faces of the children you will never have, he knew he would soon die. Merely a process of events, a stream of actions to be played out with everyday ceremony, then the scenes will close. Certainty through infrasound, through half-waking confirmation.

Stefan got out of bed, dressed himself, and stepped outside. The dry and whining London air shook around his head for a second, and settled, before being pulled between buses and sucked into the lungs of a shouting woman who was trapped between tides of crawling traffic.

“This is not the life”, someone said to his left, to nobody in particular. They held an enormous stack of paper in their hands, awkwardly clamping their fingers around the leaves to stop the same shifting airs from stealing and scattering them.

“Yes, it is” he replied.

About Benjamin Norris

Published writer of short stories, long stories, poems. Well received art critic and cultural commentator for Berlin magazines. Collaborator with operatic societies. Co-writer of fictional historic psycholinguistic journals. Lecturer of architecture and art history at a Budapest University. View all posts by Benjamin Norris

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