prompt: quiet, title: in the forest of the night in misc. flash fiction

  • March 29, 2021, 10:38 p.m.
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  • Public

He didn’t understand the phrase “peace and quiet” as if the two were somehow a set, somehow entangled, maybe even one and the same. To him, there was nothing peaceful about quiet at all, in the same way that he found nothing at all comforting about the dark. The darkness unnerved him and the quiet terrified him. Both just boiled down to having one of your senses cut off, one of your defenses down. There were things to be seen but no light with which to see them, there were things to be heard but they were being too careful to do so. And to him, that was ominous, why would they be trying so hard to be quiet if their intentions were pure? No, this quiet was a warning the other shoe was about to drop. The silence only proof that he wasn’t prepared for it.

The war did that to him. That’s all that he called it “the war” and the shabby state he existed in, you could hardly tell which. The beard, the weight, the rumpled clothes, was he forty? Seventy? Maybe if you asked, he’d give you a straight answer. Maybe if you asked, he’d pull a gun out of his boot instead. You didn’t ask. Wasn’t worth the noise, ironically enough, you just passed him a bag of egg sandwiches through the little window into his beat-up over-stuffed hoarder’s truck and let him move on. His money was green, he was gone, no one got hurt. That was enough.

Was it? Was it really? He’d tell you all those things about quiet and darkness the rare times he went into that restaurant instead, if you were willing to play along, and he certainly blared his stereo before and after he pulled through. He certainly turned on the dome lights whenever he came through for an evening sack of burgers instead. It was obvious this man lived in his own noisy well-illuminated personal hell. This strange man knew no peace nor quiet.

But how could you be sure he was ever really in a war at all? All you had was his word and the fatigue-ish garb he usually wore, easily bought two towns over at the Army-Navy surplus store. No doubt, he believed that he had been. Did a war do this to him? Did the chemicals inside his brain instead rebel in his twenties, early-adult-onset schizophrenic delusions? Did he chase at shadows of things that weren’t there in the darkness? Did he merely imagine quiet when there were all the normal little sounds, the whir of refrigerators, the chirps of bugs, just so he could justify his paranoid readiness for anything and everything? Proof that there was nothing to be afraid of at all the only thing he truly feared?

Who knows. Damn good chance even he doesn’t. All you can do is finish up your shift and go home, hoping your own concerns at least concretely real. But again, who knows. Who knows.

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