The great silence didn’t happen all at once, so there is no definitive way to pinpoint when it occurred. It did, however, begin in my youth. It began when a linguist was interned in the prison of a hostile foreign power. Using only will, she discovered a way to communicate without words. To imprint an idea directly into another’s mind.

Upon her release, she taught another this method of communication and thus it spread. For many, once they were shown how, the silence came as easy as breathing. For many more it was all but impossible. Countless people strived and toiled to find the silence, but by some cruel joke of fate or genetics, no one knows which, they found themselves incapable. Some resisted the pressure to find the silence, but it was after all an act of conscious, and an act of conscious can so often melt into unconscious. They would discover their inherent ability unwittingly and just like everyone else, once they started communicating this way they couldn’t stop.

Eventually those who found the silence would only communicate through the mind and as such, they would only communicate with one another. Quite quickly it seemed, they forgot how to speak, then they lost their comprehension, then the ability to write, and then the ability to read.

What followed was lives running parallel. Two groups existing alongside each other, but intersecting minimally. The great silence split families. It made orphans and widowers in all but name. Yet those who found the silence were thankful for it. Everything was so much easier to them now. They either didn’t recognize what they lost or they didn’t care. There is no use dwelling on it as there is no way for us to ask and no way for them to tell.

I felt no such loss from the great silence but we all feel its impact in certain ways. When we’re struck down with sickness and visit the hospital, we cannot describe our ailment to the doctor. Not all doctors could find the silence, but most did. Those that didn’t, could no longer communicate with their colleagues and found their job untenable. Of course, when it came to their replacements, it was impossible for anyone who hadn’t found the silence to be hired by those who had, and thus our hospitals are now exclusively staffed by doctors who communicate through the mind. Most high paying jobs have experienced something similar. We are able to point to the places that hurt but can’t articulate our symptoms properly. They can still interpret numbers, create charts and graphs, they can still conduct their physical examinations and use machines to run tests and we often get better, but we seem to die in larger numbers each passing year. The doctors are searching blind without us properly prompting them and the nurses, who still communicate verbally and do most of the work, struggle to give the necessary care without proper guidance as to the nature of the illness. We don’t have any statistics to back this up, as they are collected, collated, and interpreted by those who have found the silence, and they could never provide us with the appropriate context to judge them properly. But our parents die younger than their parents and our funeral clothes are wearing down to greying colours and fraying threads.

Meteorologists found the silence.

A massive storm swept over our shore a few years ago. They tried to warn us about its imminence and potential for destruction. They provided weather maps to our news stations, but were not able to properly articulate the enormity of what would take place. We watched our televisions as a news anchor tried but failed to properly interpret the danger. We saw the ominous ember passing over the digitalised topography of our island, yellow at its margins, then orange, then red, then purple at its centre. The eye of the storm passing directly over our city. For some this was enough and they boarded up buildings and evacuated. The Silent evacuated entirely of course, and for others this was enough signal to follow suit. But many stayed. To them this was just another instance of being left behind, and they felt they’d grown accustomed to that by now.

The storm arrived and brought with it havoc and fury. Unrelenting beads of rain fell from the sky and got caught up in the wind, thrashing against the sides of buildings and coating the air in a thick layer of moisture. A lot reached the ground; too much to permeate the concrete. It overwhelmed the sewage system and began to pool on the surface, deeper and deeper, as skies grew ever darker and the rain more ferocious. Waves were whipped and fish were thrown from the river onto land fast resembling their home. Soon the river broke its banks and more fish passed through, propelled by a strong, unforgiving current that ran through the veins of the city. People drowned in their basements and those foolish enough to be outside had the clothes ripped off their back by the flood that engulfed them. When I returned to the city, fish flailed in the gutter, as the last remnants of water washed away into the sewer and starved them of oxygen. Bloated bodies lay near formless at the side of the road, curled around traffic signs and street lights, like resilient barnacles revealed by the retreating tide. Their skin discoloured to the true purple at the eye of the storm. 

These bodies were then replaced on street corners by preachers. Men in black hats, waving bells and placards, hollered about the rapture. They claimed that those who found the silence were God’s chosen. That they shall inherit the earth and that we will toil and burn the way only sinners can, unless we can find a way to join them. Many were taken in by this sermon and soon there was an influx of men with shaved heads, wearing orange robes, followed by disciples who preached that they could help us find the silence—for a small fee of course. Motivated by desperation, people didn’t question why the devout followers hadn’t yet found the silence themselves, but most of these men were revealed to be frauds eventually. One such man was discovered when engaged in a circle of meditation. One of his clients knocked over a candle that set his robe aflame. His resulting shouts and curses, revealed him as an imposter, with a limited vocabulary at that. Eventually people melted back into a state of casual acceptance, as people so often do when confronted with the true nature of their powerlessness.

Life goes on. I spend my days cleaning the university in silence. The great minds that work here don’t communicate with words and feel uncomfortable hearing ours. I often find myself holding my breath when I pass by them. They stand so still, the affectations that come with speech, that move arms and crane necks, are all but gone. Occasionally they may nod their heads in acknowledgement of a point I cannot hear, but mostly they are as still as statues. When I happen upon a full lecture hall, they resemble a mass of rigid trees, in a scene ironically so unnatural. They don’t look at me, much like a tree wouldn’t, and in this sense at work I become a trapped ghost routinely ambling about a haunted forest.

This isn’t completely true. One man looks. He is the oldest of all the lecturers and seems to have a sentience the other trees lack. I like to think of him as the guardian of the forest—a Tolkien Ent. He often turns to see me as I walk by, and the action sends a shiver through my bones. It is disconcerting to be seen when you think yourself invisible. 

There is a grand old library at the heart of the university. Books are packed into shelves from floor to ceiling and now rest abandoned, portals to different worlds, attempting to pull passers-by into their orbit but only succeeding at attracting dust. A dust which coats them, resting between their pages and decorates the spiderwebs clinging to the corners of the shelves. I have never cared for reading but it saddens me to see them this way. Entire worlds never to be explored. A life’s work forgotten and discarded. I have taken it upon myself to clean this room shelf by shelf, ensuring each book is free from the grime and dirt that thrives in buried places. It is quite possible that by the time the room is complete, it will be time to begin again where I started. A certain hopelessness pervades this task, yet I feel compelled to complete it all the same.

The old lecturer recently stumbled upon me going about my work and he looked on for a few moments in what I believe to be disbelief. He then silently picked up a cloth and set to work on a shelf I hadn’t reached yet. He couldn’t ask what I was doing or why, but he mimicked my actions, parting the hardened back and cover, fanning the pages, and delicately shaking the book so dust wafted from the paper. He then took the cloth and wiped the spine, back, and cover, before delicately placing the books in a pile so he could clean the shelf. At first, he looked upon the pages as he dusted, but soon I noticed his effort to look anywhere else but there. We continued like this in silence, then parted in silence. He never came to help me again, but this was far from our last interaction.

I spend my evenings in the pub with fellow Speakers. The air is filled with our words and our breath meets the warmth to fog the windows. We tell each other stories and every other day a girl stands on a chair in the corner and sings ballads from a time before the silence. We only speak of current events within our sphere as Speakers, and never of advancements in medicine or technology, as how are we supposed to know of them. We see The Silent with new devices, but they could never explain how they are used. We are given new medicine when we visit the doctors but can only take it on faith. I suspect an inventor has found a way to transmit the silence for television frequencies, as they now have their own news channels, but there is no way of knowing for sure, and as such would only be a frustrating discussion.

A friend asked the other day, “Do you think The Silent have evolved beyond being human? We must be different enough to be separate species now. Most of the stuff we do the same, we share with say, dolphins. Some days I feel closer to a dolphin truth be told.”

I replied, “That’s some awfully clever sounding talk. You ought to be careful you don’t find the silence, or worse yet become a dolphin.”

Aye, stories, singing, and laughter is all we need. Plenty of laughter and plenty of drink. That’s what this place is and how it will remain, barring the old lecturer’s brief visit—the last time I saw ever him. I noticed him more and more after the library, then one day I found he was following me. He followed me from the university to the pub, then took his place alone at a table by the window. A girl stood on a stool in the corner and began to sing. She sang,

‘She was lovely and fair as the rose of the summer,   

Yet, ‘twas not her beauty alone that won me.’

The room chanted, “Oh no!”

‘Twas the truth in her eye ever beaming   

 That made me love Mary, the Rose of Tralee.’

I watched him for the songs duration and noticed as a tear ran down his cheek. What was hurting the man I’ll never know. I have no way of asking and he can neither show nor tell.