I came to the morgue to get back my wife, because that’s where people go when they die. So logically it should be possible to reverse the process, to turn it around and by getting her out of that place to make her alive once more, or at least that’s how the theory goes.

When I arrived I was greeted by a doctor who appeared to have already been waiting for me.

“Good day to you, sir”, he extended his white-gloved hand sticking out of his white coat, shedding the faint smell of antiseptic like some sort of fancy perfume.

“My name is Dr Hayden, I am the supervisor of this establishment, welcome to our little world here.”

Shaking his hand and in the course of that picking up his smell I answered: “James Orfen. I’m here for my wife.”

“Oh, the lady who came in quite recently, I presume? Well, how may I help you?”

“I’m here to get her back.”

“Ah, you mean ‘to take back her body’.”

“No, not only her body, I mean to take her back or rather get her back as a whole.”

“I’m not sure I understand, Mr Orfen”, perking up his eyebrows.

“Oh, I’m sure you do, I want my wife back.”

The doctor frowned, flashed a short, misplaced smile but quickly composing himself answered with a serious face: “Your wife is dead, Mr Orfen. There is no way of ‘getting her back’ unless you believe in some sort of afterlife and even then I wouldn’t be sure.”

“If this is the place where people go when they die, the outside must be the place where they come alive again, as soon as they set foot there and leave your ‘little world’.”

Now Dr Hydden grinned openly when he replied: “I can assure you of the definite condition of your wife. If you will follow me, I’ll show you and you can see for yourself”, indicating one of the corridors with his hand.

I was led down several hallways deep into the bowels of the morgue, before we arrived at one of those chilling rooms you only know from films until you see them yourself, lined from top to bottom with narrow cabinets only displaying their sleek metal doors to the outside.

“You see? It’s deadly dumb in here. Perfectly quiet. The only thing the people could do in here is look at those funny little slips of paper tied to their cold toes.”

From the nearest cabinet I heard a tap and then another one, from a second one came a constant scratching noise and from one at the back a quiet moaning. Contrary to the doctor’s assertion the room was everything but quiet, the more you listened the more different sounds and voices could you discern, all joining in like some kind of orchestra with Heyden in the centre of it as its conductor.

“Can you hear this? It’s perfectly quiet in here, perfectly quiet, the people are as dead as doornails!” At this he turned around, spreading his arms.

“Give me back my wife.”

“I already said that this is impossible.”

“Give her back.”

“Out of the question.”

“Give. Her. Back. Please.”

“Ah, now this is finally getting civil.” He popped open a nearby cabinet and pulled out Erin. “This one? Or do you want another one? There’s a lot to choose from”, he smiled. “Why should I give her back? What could you possibly offer me in return? What is your occupation, Mr Orfan?

“I’m a writer.”

“A writer? Pray tell me, what do you write, Mr Writer?”

“Stories, I write and tell stories, Doctor.”

“Well then, dear Mr Storyteller, tell me a story, a good story and not simply one you already know, I get tired of these. I want you to make me a story, a new and fresh one just for me, and then, possibly then I will let her go.”

I paused to think for a few moments and this is the story I told to the doctor:

.

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After I had finished, Dr Hayden looked at me for a long time, not taking his eyes off his guest, his mouth twitching occasionally before he twisted it into a sour grimace.

“All right, Mr Orphan Storyteller, you told your story and I am bound by my word as much as I may dislike this circumstance, but rules are rules.” Upon this he snapped his fingers and Erin, abruptly opening her eyes, swung her legs over the edge of the cabinet and got out.

“But her release is bound to one condition”, he continued and set upon her head a twisted crown. “You may leave, both of you, but you won’t get any help from me finding your way back through the corridors and you will go first, James Orfen, without ever looking back at her. When you do, all will have been in vain and she will be back here, back with me for good. Is that understood?”

I replied with a nod.

“Very well, off you go.”

With a final look at her I turned around and left. Maybe I had somehow anticipated that the way out would be unfair, that there would be some kinds of obstacles to hold as back and to make me glance over my shoulder, but there was absolutely nothing of that sort. It was only us, me and her, together, alone.

Being dead or alive usually is an either-or decision, a fifty-fifty chance, heads or tails, but in these moments with my wife it was both, not one of them but both, at the same time. Once tossed, the coin would have twisted into exceedingly absurd shapes.

The way back was by no means unfair, on the contrary, it was the fairest chance I ever got in my life and thus was absolutely impossible to begin with, because tell me: who in his right mind could have at some point of this way back refrained from looking at his dead wife, this walking impossibility? Who could have refrained from wanting to confirm that this was actually happening, that he had indeed parted with her, that this wasn’t some extremely weird fantasy of wish-fulfilment? I did the only thing that made sense, the only human thing. I looked back. And when I did, she was gone.

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Aside

When they put the patient on the table, the doctor knew he was the same. The same as the others who had been found all across the city during these last few days. He took a close look at the patient’s body, which appeared to be in sound condition overall, except for a few scars here and a few bumps there you can find on nearly every body.

This one was still breathing, though his breath came shallowly. The doctor pulled back his eyelids, shone his flashlight into his eyes. He nodded his head. He asked his assistant to confirm his thoughts on that one.

“He was found sitting on his knees staring at the sun. According to several bystanders, who passed him, he must have been sitting there for at least three days on end.”

“Blind from staring at the sun”, the doctor echoed and again gave an absent nod. “Yes, you can see it in his eyes, there”, again he pulled up one lid to show the assistant. “His pupils are still craving for the sun, like tiny black holes. When I feed them with light”, he pointed the flashlight at them, “they swallow it instantly”. As the assistant hadn’t been working with the doctor for long, it took him a few moments to see what was happening. First it was only a few flecks of light wandering into the patient’s eyes, but soon the entire beam was being absorbed by the holes nestled in the head of the man lying on the table. “His eyes remember what it was like looking into the light, the sun has burned its absence into his retina, they’re positively yearning for it, you see.”

They had been found in various states. There was another man, only looking a mere parody of a human being, his skin pulled across his bones reminiscent of old parchment, which rustled softly when he was wheeled through the bustling corridors of the hospital suddenly growing quiet, as if to listen to his skin whispering like paper continuously being written on, scraped clean and then written on again and again. That one had starved to death, the act of eating having lost all significance to him. He would not have been able to explain for the life of him how this had come to be, he could only observe the meaning of ‘eat’ and ‘food’ slowly trickle out of their respective words, the action of taking up an apple and bringing his hand close to his mouth becoming a hollow [blank], fading.

A middle-aged woman was only noticed by a young couple after a few days, having spent them sitting on a bench somewhere at the end of one of the overgrown paths of a long-forgotten park on the outskirts of the city. She had been waiting. What for she could not say, only that it seemed the most sensible thing to do at the moment, the most sensible thing in her entire life, for all she could tell. She had become ‘Waiting’ itself, cast off her shell of being a person, becoming the opposite of a memory.

There were cases of people wandering aimlessly through the city, shuffling determinedly along its winding alleys plastered with concrete trees. They were searching. Although their motion was aimless, arbitrary, their resolve was not, as they [we|re searching], searching, searching, searching, searching, searching, searching, fervently with a purpose in mind, searching for a purpose. They were turning up every stone, taking apart even the houses in their way, one brick at a time, holding it close to their eyes (their entire attention focused on its rough surface but at the same time looking through it as if it were made of a light morning mist obscuring a particular view they were seeking), examining it, rasping along its jagged edges with their tongues (colouring them red with brick dust), tasting it. As soon as they would get the impression that the brick would not help them along their search, they would reassemble the houses, going through each preceding motion [sdrawkcab] and be on their way.

Something was spreading throughout the town like a disease. It was enough to pat one of the Waiting or the Searching on their shoulder in order to rouse them to contract the illness. But not only did you start acting in the same disconnected way, no, but the disease and its bearer would adapt. It was mutating, shifting, changing its shape slightly this way, slightly that way, displaying flexibility. The afflicted would develop numerous ways of behaviour, like counting every single raindrop in their rain barrels (picking them up with tiny pipettes which they would empty into another barrel and when they had finished start all over again) or compulsively brushing their hair until every single strand had been pulled out of their heads, all of them absorbed in that very moment, completely lost in their respective occupation.

Yet there was another phenomenon accompanying these curious cases of sickness. It had been reported that there had been observed (for it could not be heard) a silence, a thick material silence, pouring through the streets like a flood, lazily lapping at the kerbstones. A busy street could be turned perfectly quiet within a minute, when the wave of silence came rolling, knocking over dustbins, pulling down clothes hung to dry and scaring cats, whose hair then stood on end making them look twice their usual size before they hurried away. Car horns would stop functioning, sending the drivers into noiseless fits of rage and their cars into absolutely inaudible crashes rendered utterly unreal by the lack of the sound of twisting metal and splintering car paint. Police cars would come screaming voicelessly, boots trampling the tongue-tied ground and onlookers would stand amidst the commotion as ghosts that could be blown away by a gust of wind like fog and ashes, so much did their existence depend on noise.

The doctor pulled off his gloves, indicated the door with his head turning to his assistant and started kneading his face in frustration as if to mould it into a different face, one which did not have anything to do with this disease business. Just when he got the impression that he was about to succeed, footsteps made themselves be heard from behind the door. In came the Investigator.

“Same?”

“Same.”

“Where?”

“Southwest, on —- Street.”

“Any more recent ones?”

“Nope, that’s the last of them. For now”.

How they both could avoid catching the sickness no one could say. As a matter of fact, neither of them did really care, as long as they could keep on avoiding. The assistant, or rather the assistants were not as lucky. The current one was the sixth, or even the seventh one. The Investigator took his leave, strolling down the street his shoes clicked on the pavement. He made some calculations in his head, and without much ado he set out.

The closer he came to the centre of the city the more difficult it became to stay focused on account of the eerie absence of sound rendering the whole scene insubstantial All the while he came across the things and occupations left behind by the panicking inhabitants. Half-finished fences, cars and a half-built pavilion hanging ghostly in the air with several of its legs missing. He went past several statues lacking all sorts of limbs, half-boiled soups or even a half-broken window which had been about to fall prey to two robbers climbing into an electrical store full of half-switched-on light bulbs.

A man, he was looking for a man, of that he was sure, but what he found instead was a girl. Upon turning another deserted corner he saw her standing on a well-kept piece of lawn with her feet bare and her back turned to him. Curiously she was wearing some sort of night gown, which made her look as if she had simply slept through all the preceding commotion. Which was exactly what had happened. So as not to frighten her, he slowed down his pace, taking one measured step at a time, the clicking of his shoes muffled by the grass underneath. When he had already nearly arrived behind her back, she still gave no sign of acknowledging his presence. Still inclined not to startle her he made his way around her so his appearance would not come as a surprise, yet she gave a start und turned around in a flurry.

“Hello, my name is —-“, he began saying, putting his hands in the air to show her that he meant no harm and marvelling at how very strange his voice sounded in that inarticulate wasteland, but she shook her head. Again he made the attempt to speak.

“I’m looking for a —-“, but she shook her head and pointed to her ear. He frowned, but it was then that he understood. The girl was deaf, silence for her was nothing out of the ordinary but what the world sounded like every day. The girl had stayed at her parents’ house because nothing had changed for her when the silence came. Her parents ran off just like the other inhabitants of that particular district but she, for lack of another possibility, remained where she was after waking up in the morning to find everybody gone. Not being familiar with sign language, he employed his hands and feet as best as he could to express himself.

“ ‘I’m looking for a man, possibly roughly as tall as me’ ”, his hands said.

“ ‘Somehow I’m sure he’s walking around here somewhere’ ”, his feet added.

“ ‘He is a|lone|ly’ ”, his eyes indicated, looking at himself at her and then at his muddy shoes in turn.

“ ‘I have seen him’ ”, she answered with an energetic nod.

“ ‘He’s off somewhere in that direction’ ”, her index finger pointed out to him.

“ ‘ He likes going for a walk ”, her toes whispered.

“ ‘I miss my parents, anybody’ ”, her hands told him after a while, clasped behind her back.

“ ‘Will you come for me, when you’ve found him?”, her trembling mouth asked.

“ ‘Please’ ”, her gaze begged.

“ ‘ I understand how you feel’ ”, his knees rasped upon gently touching the ground in front of her.

“ ‘Don’t worry’ ”, his dimples answered forming around his lips.

“ ‘ Thank you’ ”, her fingers hummed when they curled around his hand.

As soon as he was all alone again, the girl long left behind, the Investigator finally came upon the one he was seeking. Although the man was still a considerable distance away, he could hear him making his way through the deserted city. His footsteps echoed all the way back to the Investigator when his shoes repeatedly touched the ground with a dwelling *click* and he could clearly perceive the warbled sound of his hand *click* deliberately brushing some hedges reminding him of the raging sea. The wind *click* blowing through his hair resembled a storm singing among bent and broken trees atop steep cliffs. Among all that accumulated silence the echoes overlapped *click*, the sound got folded multiple times in the places where they intersected into *click* something thicker. These pockets of sound started resonating with the silence, making the street a place constantly oscillating between calmness and noise. The Investigator made a step forward *click* with his hands over his ears and then another one *click* while simultaneously screaming out his lungs. *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* *click* until he finally stood face to face with that man who resembled him down to the very last hair.

“What’s happening?”

“I don’t really know.”

“It’s just that –”

“– I feel . . . so –”

“– empty at times, as –”

“– if there’s nothing inside –”

“– of me left, as if –”

“– I’m not moved by –”

“– anything that’s happen –”

“–ing really. Things just –”

“– pass me by instead –”

“– of carrying me along and I –”

“– can only watch them –”

“– going where I can –”

“– ‘t follow. It even seems to –”

“– be contagious, although it’s –”

“– maybe more like all or –”

“– most people carry it around –”

“– with them and somehow –”

“–I just bring it out in them –”

“– that emptiness of which –”

“– I am possessed, yes –”

“– I am possessed by emptiness –”

“– just like some people are –”

“– possessed by the devil or –”

“–the holy spirit which is –”

“–basically the same –”

“–basically the same –”

“–basically the same –”

“– and every single step I –”

“– take is determined by –”

“– that merciless vacuum –”

“– trying to get out out out –”

“– out out out out out –”

“– like an osmotic whisper –”

“– in a quiet place –”

“– seeping out of numerous –”

“– wounds in your body –”

“– struck by them –”

“– into the world outside –”

“– theworldoutsideoutside –”

“–basically the samethesame –”

“–th esame thes amthe samet hesame –”

“– and if some body strikes –”

“– hard enough it would run –”

“– out into the realworld –”

“– which is obviouslya fake –”

“– afakefakefakefuckfakefake –”

“– and only the inside of –”

“– the inside of the inside –”

“– of the inside turned inside –”

“– out|side a twitching muscle –”

“– reacting to stimuli from –”

“– some other placetimeplacetime –”

“– going wild –”

“– and going againAndaGainandagainAgainandagaInandagainagainandagaiNandagai –”

He raised his hand and smacked it against a near brick wall with force. Upon hitting the wall his hand burst into rough shards leaving his stump a mess of sharp edges. Inside he was perfectly hollow like an empty vessel made of clay. Out of his body oozed the Silence he was filled with to the brim.

“Are |y|w|o|e|u| broken?”

“|I|W|E| guess |w|I|e| |a|r|m|e|.”

“What happens next?”

“|I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| I| –“

Aside