A violent gust of wind blew through the open window, scattering the papers across the expanse of the wooden floor. The rows of news clippings pinned to the walls fluttered as the breeze caught beneath their edges.
Jack paused, closing his eyes and cupping his ears for a moment in fear of the outside noises and tried not to think it. The sudden breeze against his skin helped to slow his heartbeat and it began to pound at a steadier pace. The panic disappeared, as his breathing slowed and his composure was regained.
Jack hated noises. He wanted silence to envelop him, so he would never have to listen to the noises ever again.
Sighing heavily, he rocked back on his heels, surveying the work that lay ahead of him. Laid out across the floor were newspapers arranged in careful stacks composed of straight and orderly columns. A pair of scissors sat before each column; acting as a signpost, a beacon indicating the possible information waiting to be discovered.
He’d scour them all; he’d find what he was looking for; he was confident he would, this time.
Standing up, he rubbed his unfocused eyes, suddenly feeling exhausted. Stepping back, he sank into the huge, plush armchair and reached for his cup of tea, which was now stone-cold after sitting for hours, forgotten. Taking a sip, he grimaced and looked down into the cup.
“Damn,” he thought to himself.
But he didn’t dare leave the room to make another; not now, not after such a monumental breakthrough. He must continue working to uncover the secret.
From this new perspective, sitting in the faded armchair with the cold cup of tea on his lap, Jack smiled down at the newspaper arrangements. They looked smaller, less significant from this distance. Glancing up at the clock, he realised he’d been crouched down on the floor for over four hours. No wonder his back ached.
Looking at the papers again, a shiver of excitement danced across his neck. Those papers were day-old publications that people had ignorantly tossed into rubbish bins, dropped along the sides of highways, or simply left under piles of empty fast food trays—contained such crucial information. Life-changing, earth-altering data. Why could no one else see it?
Jack knew he was different. He knew he had been placed on this earth for reasons that no one else understood. The voices had found him when he was young, only eight or nine years old. He remembered hearing them, muffled at first, echoing in a far corner at the back of his mind.
For months, he’d been confused by them, unknowing of what they were and irritated when they disturbed his constant thoughts. Then one day, sitting alone in a dark room, surrounded by blank pieces of coloured paper he’d collected from school, he’d heard the voices crystal-clear for the first time in his life. They were soft, intuitive, encouraging; they gave him fragments of information that no one else in the world seemed to have ever shared with him. Information about the earth, the trees, the people. Information that no one else understood.
Over the years he began to gather newspapers and hide them under his bed. The voices were always the loudest at night, when the moonlight spilled into his bedroom and the rest of the world was fast asleep. The voices were often spun together to create long, beautiful, intricate webs of finely crafted words and phrases; sometimes they were just a mess of poetry and prose. But other times they sung like lilting melodies. He discovered that by arranging the newspapers into careful groups and categories by the light of a torch, he was able to untangle the sentences as they flooded into his mind and danced behind his eyes.
He remembered the first time he told mother about the voices when he was ten or eleven.
“Sometimes they’re really easy to understand, and other times they’re blurry and I’m not sure what they’re trying to tell me,” he had said, as they’d sat at the kitchen counter one afternoon eating avocado sandwiches. “Maybe I should break open my head and scoop out the voices to untangle them properly?” He chuckled, stopping abruptly when he saw the look of alarm on his mum’s face.
“What sort of voices do you hear?” his mother had asked sharply, concern edging her tightly clipped words.
“You know, normal voices,” Jack had explained. “Like, people telling me things.”
“You mean…people near you? You can hear people’s thoughts?”
Jack looked at his mum, puzzled.
“I mean, Jack, are you saying that you can read people’s minds?” his mum persisted, looking intently at her son, while something resembling panic began to unravel in the pit of her stomach. “Are you claiming that you can read my mind? Do you think you’re telepathic?”
“No,” Jack replied, placing his sandwich down in front of him. “I mean, I can hear other voices. Like, people who don’t exist. They’re not here, in this world. They’re kind of out there… in the universe.”
The creases in his mother’s forehead grew deeper and deeper with apprehension as Jack continued.
After that, Jack never mentioned the voices to anyone ever again. He was unique, which he now realised; he was a silhouette against a backdrop of monotony and plainness. The rest of the world carried on, day after day, year after year; each and every person, he was sure, was oblivious and unaware to the valley of voices existing within each and every one of them. These voices which flowed through each subconscious like an unstoppable river, teeming with facts and warnings about the future.
He was the only person who seemed to be in tune with his voices. And it was up to him; he had realised, to save the world.
As the earth spun closer and closer to its own inevitable oblivion, Jack searched for answers. He scoured hundreds and hundreds of newspapers he’d collected from every corner of his life, carefully extracting every tiny piece of information from each one as the voices guided him towards saving the world.
Excitement buzzed across his skin as he clutched the mug of cold tea; he was closer than he ever had been before at uncovering the final piece of the puzzle, the piece that would explain what he needed to do in order to save humanity.
Another gust of wind blew through the window, rustling the papers. Jack sat, staring intently at the intricate arrangements of clippings, entranced, a feeling of pride blossoming within his chest.
Outside, the trees swayed gently in the breeze; light fell from the window, stretching across a tangle of broken picture frames and mugs that lay strewn about the floor. Stacks of newspapers sat under the dim light of the moon, reaching up towards the distant stars; the only sign that an irrational and silent obsession existed within the walls of the small, dark house on the quiet street.