Short Story: Lest They Hear

It was almost midnight. I could hear the cold breeze outside. It was almost as if I could see the wind whirl the dust around, revolution after revolution, until it got tired and went on to find another handful of dust to swirl. Or windows to rattle. Whichever it preferred.

As ever, one by one, the members entered my apartment. First, it was Jack. I wasn’t surprised. He would always be earlier than others. He took off his hat and coat, said hi, and went on to the room at the end of the corridor. My dear unfriendly Jack.

The next creak of the door cued Marie’s entrance. She walked in with her perpetual smile, small-talked a little, and stepped away to greet Jack. My eyes were behind her, cherishing the sight of her graceful motion. She was beautiful. “I will ask you out one day,” I thought. “If only I get the courage.” She opened the room’s half-lit door, and before I heard it be shut, the apartment door slowly opened. Sophie.

She handed me her shawl, along with the the anxious look she had recently gained. She asked me if everyone had already come, and then walked up to the room. I followed. The room’s door was shut for a third time.

All four of us were there, around the designated table. It was older than all of us. An elegant piece of woodwork from Italy. Perhaps rightful too, as it bore much of the responsibility of the room’s decoration. We were ready. Jack, Marie, and Sophie sat down, and I joined them after drawing the curtains. Now the moon was cast off the room. We pulled out our notebooks and pens. Sophie was still in search of a new notebook after the late incident, so we each ripped a few pages and passed them to her. Then, silently, our hands started their dance.

The lamp attached to the ceiling was one of the few objects in the room. Its flickering light spread to the four chairs, the table, and most importantly, the words. Slowly, they were being made. The only lively indications of their creation were the stealthy scratches, and the solemn look on their lords’ faces. Minute after minute flew out through the sides of the two windows behind me, only to meet the same silence they had been fleeing from. It was as if the whole night was holding its breath, lest our minds become cluttered. For an hour, I heard nothing but the moving of four pens. Then, it became three, and Jack spoke. Then it was none.

“You know, they pulled two other groups down last night.”

“Oh.”

“And that’s just in this city. Soon, there’ll be no one left.”

No one spoke.

Jack continued. “What are we doing?”

Frowns.

Sophie said, “What do you mean?”

“It’s only a matter of time before they catch one of us with a piece of written paper. And then we’re all fucked.”

Seconds of silence.

“We don’t have any other choice.” That was me.

“Why?”

“Because this is the only way of not becoming their complete slaves.”

“Do you think their prisons are any better?”

“We can’t stop.”

“Here, as their ‘slaves,’ we can live, can’t we? At least we’re not being tortured now, are we?”

“I am. I’m agonizing.” That was Sophie.

“Oh, don’t be sentimental! If anything, you should be the one to back me. We’re not the ones who were almost caught. You are. Do you have any idea what would have happened if they’d caught you? Have you ever tasted their anger? Do you know how they treat traitors? Do you?”

“Yeah, I do. More than you, probably. But what do you suggest? We can’t let them destroy the little bit of us that is left. Did you know that they’re introducing a new program to ‘direct’ the children’s creativity into ‘practical’ problems? To produce more wealth? More welfare? To make people ‘happier’? As if one can be happy behind their mental bars. Do you know that we might be the last generation to write something other than those docile and rhetorical newspaper articles? Do you want to let that rot away because we might go to prison? Who cares about prison? There are bigger things at stake here than your petty freedom, you know.”

“Funny how someone claiming to be as cultured and cultivated as you do should call freedom ‘petty.’”

“You know quite well that this is not freedom. This is petty, unimportant, unreal freedom. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have to be stuck in this dungeon.” At this point, I winced a little, but decided against speaking. My apartment isn’t all that important now, is it? “This isn’t freedom. And you know that pretty well.”

“Maybe it isn’t. But what use would our writing have if it’s all going to be burned the moment we’re caught?”

Then, at last, Marie spoke. “You can leave any time you want. No one’s stopping you.”

“We both know it’d be useless. As long as you guys are still doing this, you might get arrested. If you do, then so will I. So, I ask openly: who wants to halt this club permanently?”

Frowns went deeper. I was startled at the conversation I had just witnessed. I looked around. Two faces of sheer obstinacy, and another, not of patronizing, but of plea. Why plea? It’s strange. Afraid of my possible realization, I uttered a word.

“Me.”

Marie’s surprised voice rose.

“David? What the hell is wrong with you? You were the one to propose this idea! You started this. You can’t be the one to end it!”

“Sorry Marie.” I stared at the table. “Forgive me.” I drew a deep, shameful breath. “I regret having started this group.” I’m sorry Marie. “Jack is right.” Please. “We should stop this illegal activity.” Don’t you get it? “I advise you vote on his side.” No, I beg.

Now I knew what this was. A second chance, as they called it. A wire was there. They were listening. Perhaps watching, too. Jack had broken down. I was sure of it. I’m a billion times sorry, Marie.

I heard Sophie mutter something to herself.

Marie was staring at me, her mouth open.

Jack said, “Anyone else?”

He met with Sophie’s explosive curses.

We all stared at her, as if those were the words we wanted say. Each for our own slightly distinctive reason.

After she cooled down, Jack calmly, but sadly, said, “Very well then.”

Then came the sirens.

I could hear a voice screaming within me. A voice of fear. Of shame. Of bestial struggle for survival.

The door broke. I closed my eyes.

I heard the footsteps. They filled the room like it was their beehive.

They took Sophie. They took Marie.

They left.

I never saw them again. Not Sophie. Not Marie.

Neither of them.

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