As It Took Only Seconds by Squidmanescape
Ascendant couldn’t remember what he had been thinking. Everything was silent in his mind, and he didn’t–
Ascendant lost his train of thought again. “Perhaps,” he wondered, “I should focus on the real world.” His friend Knock was sitting by his side. At times, Knock would attempt to hold his arm or his hand, but this would elicit no reaction from him, as he could not remember–
It seemed like Knock wanted him to speak. However, every time he had the right words, the silence would–
He excused himself, pretending to need to go to the bathroom. Once there, he decided to go out and run away from Knock. This would ensure that he would still be able to think, and he really needed to ponder to figure out how to get his friend to stop.
Ascendant didn’t know how or why Knock could knock his thoughts out of his head. He was pretty sure that it was Knock’s doing, because it never happened with that kind of ferocity when he wasn’t there. Ascendant knew, of course, that thoughts would sometimes pop out of his head because he would be interrupted while thinking about something, but he also knew exactly how that felt like, and it didn’t feel like someone had slammed his thoughts out of his head like a hockey puck.
“Perhaps Knock’s name,” he imagined, “is legitimately an extension of his being, unlike my name, ‘Ascendant’, which my mother thought sounded cool. What foresight his mother must have had to have christened him ‘Knock’. Then again, his mother herself is named ‘Foresight’. Then again, that’s just empty speculation.”
Knock was a riddle to Ascendant. The two had only become friends a week prior, because Ascendant had managed to overcome his natural inclination to ignore others for a critical moment, thus finding solidarity in Knock even though they really shared few interests.
Knock never brought up his family and never invited Ascendant to his home. Knock would also try constantly to goad Ascendant into speaking, which was probably why Knock had started taking the thoughts out of his mind. You may realize that this constitutes a perfectly natural answer to the question of “Why?”, but Ascendant was far too ignorant to connect these dots.
Ascendant had walked around for five minutes, pondering Knock’s mystery and imagining him to be a fairy of some sort, before Knock found him and asked him what he was doing. Ascendant wanted to flee, but he did not, because that was not his way.
He tried to answer what he had been doing, but he could not remember. Had he been thinking of Knock, or had he been thinking of the fay folk? There was no real answer, so Ascendant decided to say, “I don’t remember.”
Knock glared at him. “Maybe you should talk about it more,” he said icily. Ascendant attempted to figure out what Knock meant. He knew that Knock was probably responsible for the thoughts being knocked out of his head, but–
Now the thoughts had been knocked out of his head again. What sorcery was this? He began to think–
He immediately stopped thinking. “This is idiotic,” he thought, trying to anticipate the next wave. Maybe that would work. He focused on the formless god, but he couldn’t quite–
His mind was quiet. He decided to keep focusing on keeping his mind clear. Now that he was focusing on the Formless God, Knock knocking knickknacks out of his head was actually really helpful. He didn’t tell Knock what he was doing, though, because that would have required thought, and Knock would have just knocked the words out of his grasp.
Knock eventually gave up. Ascendant could feel him get up, and he finally relaxed, letting his mind wander to–
Knock was standing at time with a malicious grin, pointing at Ascendant with his hand making a gun shape.
Ascendant didn’t know how to react to this. His thoughts had been silenced once more. Should he feel rage, or mere annoyance? He wondered absentmindedly–
He wondered absentmindedly if maybe Knock was only his friend to silence him. He decided to–
He decided to say what he was thinking.
“Do you only stand near me in order to silence my mind?”
Knock stopped looking at him, walking away into the great crowd of people Ascendant didn’t know. Ascendant should have felt happy, but he didn’t, and as he sat alone, something silently crawled towards him on the arms of a crab and a gorilla.
Knock could hear the buzzing noise of people’s thoughts even within the janitorial closet. He had always taken a completely genuine pleasure in watching people stumble as he made them lose their train of thought without knowing a single thing about them, even as his mother told him that he should do the latter in lieu of the former.
“I worry for you, Knock,” she had told him from when he was young. “Maybe you have mystical powers – the ability to manipulate people’s thoughts with a simple whim – but even that will not save you from the real world and your need to get a job.”
His mother was right, but Knock couldn’t admit it. He had trudged through school, and no one had talked to him from a combination of their habits and his habits. Then, one day, he had heard what sounded like a dozen people standing right behind him.
Knock had looked behind him and seen a boy barely looking at him, visibly shaking. Knock’s glance had prompted the boy to dam his thoughts. “Would you be my friend?” he had asked, before the raucous sound of his thoughts blared full force from his mind once more.
Knock had wanted to say, “How can you hear me over all that racket?” He had decided to say, “Yes, I will be your friend.” The boy, Ascendant, represented something problematic to him, something he could fix and feel good about fixing. He had needed that, and he had let it cloud his judgement.
Knock had cleansed Ascendant of his thoughts, silencing them over and over again in the hope that he would talk instead. But time and time again, Ascendant had simply created new tangles of thoughts, like the vines of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, trapping him in the ivory tower of his mind. Knock found this rather ungrateful of him but pretended that nothing was wrong, as he was sure that Ascendant would eventually be thankful for his interference. He ignored the anger and confusion this caused in Ascendant, ignored the fact that they weren’t friends so much as poisonous, if not volatile, acquaintances. You see, Knock believed that he knew the right thing to do, even though in reality, he had never had such a power.
He had believed it up until Ascendant had asked him that question. When Ascendant had asked Knock if he only stood near Ascendant to cleanse his mind, Knock had finally seen the sheer rage that Ascendant had only been withholding out of kindness. Realizing this, he decided to walk away and hide somewhere until he stopped feeling bad.
He was bored, so he went to sleep in the dirty closet, probably missing a few classes. He already had a bad attendance record; what were two more red marks against him in the world?
When he woke up, he was met with the silence of an empty hallway. He started walking down the hallway and looking into all the empty classes.
Maybe there was a holiday or something, he thought with some satisfaction, and everybody got to go home.
Everything seemed far more cheerful than normal, because no one was there to disturb the peace and quiet he felt. It was at times like these that the idea of making everyone’s minds blank at once crossed his mind.
Once he got out of the school, however, he realized that there wasn’t any noise at all. This unnerved him; he had never heard the world absolutely silent before.
He tried to shout but recoiled when nothing came out of his mouth. He tried to scream until he was panting silently with the agony, but he couldn’t make a sound.
It was at this time when he realized that he was being followed by a gargoyle. Its head was that of a wolf, but without the fur. Its torso was that of a man, and its back was covered in feathers. Its front legs were like fleshy crab claws, its back legs were essentially giant backwards-facing arms, and it used them both to walk as it followed him.
Knock rushed away with the speed a boy his age could muster, and at first it seemed like he was faster than the gargoyle. This confused him, but then something grasped his shoulders and jerked him upwards. It was the gargoyle, holding him with its back legs as it flew into the sky. The feathers on its back had actually been folded wings the size of a giant hang glider, and Knock screamed silently as it carried him back to the school.
After a long and frightening ride, the gargoyle threw him down near a door and landed. Knock, extremely afraid of the gargoyle, ran through the door only to run into a desk and cry out in pain, both of which made no sound. Everything looked washed-out in the classroom, even though that wasn’t a normal effect of stress at all.
The confusion made Knock tense, and he decided to hide in case something was trying to attack him. There was a closet near the front of the room. He decided to hide there, because he was sure there was nothing inside it. However, when he got to the closet, he realized belatedly that it was full of junk, all of which crashed down onto the floor around the closet. A dead giveaway.
Cowed by this revelation, Knock lay on the floor and pretended to be dead. However, something stung him, knocking him unconscious barely after he registered it.
When he woke up, he saw black tendrils everywhere. They waved like strands of seaweed in water, constantly disappearing and reappearing like two videos shot in the same place. Knock could see strands entangling him, but he couldn’t feel them, and he couldn’t feel a shift in weight under him when they disappeared.
“That’s not possible,” he thought as the fear he had sequestered drained from him. “If that were to happen, it would cause a vacuum, and the air would rush to fill it, causing a loud noise. No, I must be dreaming.”
He went back to sleep, barely realizing that he was becoming colder. Ascendant stomped purposefully into the room and screamed.
Approximately ten seconds after Knock had went out of earshot, the gargoyle had tapped Ascendant on the shoulder.
“Do you know what I am?” it growled.
Ascendant thought about running, but knew it wouldn’t do anything. “I do not.”
“That foolish friend of yours purged so many thoughts that it created me, a gargoyle.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
The gargoyle cuffed him gently on the head. “Foolish boy. Sometimes the world works in strange ways. You should interact with it sometimes.”
“No, gargoyle. The world is too difficult for me. See here; you’re talking to me about something I don’t about, and you are a gargoyle, something which really shouldn’t exist. I can be frank with you because you’re so weird that it pulls me past my normal hang-ups, like whether or not I’ll stutter or if I might say the wrong thing.”
The gargoyle shook its head. “That boy is afraid of those things too. I know of your love for one another. Maybe you two are a bad match.”
“I feel glad to know,” said Ascendant calmly, “that he considers me a friend. Yet he took my thoughts and somehow created you as a side effect. Was this a deliberate attempt on his part to force me to speak?”
“Firstly,” corrected the gargoyle, “on at least one level, he considers you a suitable romantic partner, as do you him.”
Ascendant was confused. “I have no romantic feelings for him. I live in awe of him. Those are two very different things. It’s like saying, ‘I love God romantically.’”
“Fine. Secondly, this was indeed his attempt to do that. Now, you probably agree with his methods now, but make no mistake; his crude strategy would not have worked. You yourself need to expunge your deeply held fear of your fellow human being.”
Ascendant said nothing.
“If you have no words for me, I’m afraid I will have to kill him.”
“What?” Ascendant shouted.
The gargoyle chuckled. “Behold. You see, he did not create me deliberately; I came about as an accidental consequence, and I spent my time pondering my existence before I realized that his death would be the most likely to lead to my own. But I wanted to be conscientious about this. I watched him as he attempted to make you talk by continuously trying something which didn’t work instead of trying to reason with you. The closest he ever came to conversing with you about the issue was passive-aggressively mentioning it after he tried wiping your mind. I see his twisted views on humanity now, his belief that by banging someone on the head, as you put it, with a hockey stick, he could change them to suit his foolish views. I know now that he isn’t using his gift for good, and he never will. He need not enjoy this world any longer.”
“No!” Ascendant didn’t want Knock to die. “I believe everyone on this world deserves change!” He took a fighting stance.
“Yes, but what are you?” The gargoyle had trapped him. It let its answer hang in the air, and slowly, reluctantly, Ascendant sat back down. Satisfied, the gargoyle leapfrogged out of the building, flying away as Ascendant shivered on his own.
He went to class and thought long and hard about the problem, tried to dream himself out of the situation with the whirring half-worlds within his mind. A television show, a game, a movie, a mythos – they all drew his attention away from the situation at hand. Still, his subconscious mind was active, and it quickly alerted him to the fact that he was alone in the classroom.
He looked around. No one was there. He realized that the clock in the back of the room had started counting down backwards. He had 30 minutes to do something.
He ran out of the classroom, determined to stop something.
He ran back into the classroom to get his backpack.
He ran out before he realized he had no idea what to do.
He ran back in and started thinking, a dangerous thing for him.
He found a piece of yellow construction paper and decided that he was going to write something on it. However, before he could, the gargoyle came back. It stood next to him as if waiting for something. After a few minutes, Ascendant caved.
“What do you want, gargoyle? Keep in mind, though, I will not help you,” he tried to say before he realized he could not talk.
The gargoyle snarled at him, or maybe it was smiling. Ascendant decided to get crafty.
“You know Sign meaning?” he asked, and the gargoyle immediately stopped smiling. Evidently, it hated the fact that the forced silence could do nothing. However, it didn’t have any hands, so it couldn’t sign at him.
Ascendant realized that it was kind of mean to do that. “I’m sorry. I talk with you, you not talk with me. Maybe you do we are not not talk. You can do that?”
The gargoyle didn’t respond, simply staring at him. Ascendant decided to keep signing to him. He gave Knock a name sign, touching the sign for K to his head. He used words in new and interesting ways, to the point where he sometimes got out his phone and looked up how to say something in sign. He tried to use classifiers. Eventually, Ascendant wasn’t signing anymore so much as babbling with his hands like a baby.
“I did create the silence,” the gargoyle eventually whispered, its words only audible due to the lack of other sound. “You were not supposed to speak to me. You were supposed to seek out Knock yourself.”
With this, the gargoyle left. Ascendant, trying to rectify his mistake, ran after the gargoyle. He watched as it flew far faster than he could run and landed behind Knock. He ran after it, but as he ran to them, the gargoyle picked Knock up and flew back with him.
“Where did they go?” Ascendant wondered, panting. He looked up into the sky and saw the gargoyle flying back to where Ascendant had been.
Ascendant ran back there only to find the gargoyle guarding the entrance.
“You cannot pass,” he said.
Ascendant made a noise with his mouth, and this gave him some measure of confidence. “Why are you doing this?” he said to the gargoyle, trying to shout but failing due to lack of practice. “Nothing you’re doing makes obvious sense. Why make everything silent and then take it away? Why are you even here? Why do you look like this?”
The gargoyle looked at him bemusedly. Then it clasped his head in its hand, squeezing until Ascendant screamed.
“This should probably get you to stop talking. I’ll give you one hint: this is all a parallel, thematically, to something which happened before. You have ten seconds to answer.”
Ascendant stopped talking and tried to think, but he couldn’t think of anything. It was his curse –
The gargoyle clenched his claw and Ascendant’s head began to bleed. “You have five seconds now.”
He couldn’t think of anything.
“You have three seconds.”
Ascendant decided to throw in the towel. “I don’t know, and I’m sorry,” he whimpered in what he thought would be his final breath.
The pressure on his head abated, and he looked at the gargoyle in surprise.
“That’s not optimal, but that’s fine,” the gargoyle assured him. “Tell me what you think it means.”
Ascendant tried. “The silence would represent… the creation of… the… Oh! It’s because Knock and I didn’t talk to each other! No, wait… what if the point was actually to show that we were both so silent that neither of us was really bothered by it? Maybe… I’ll go with the second option. I will. The second option.”
The gargoyle stared at him. Ascendant, weakened by the pain he had felt from the gargoyle’s claws, caved in rather quickly. “That’s all I have! I swear! I don’t know anything else!”
The gargoyle began talking, so Ascendant stopped and listened. “Say this to him. He will not be angry at you. Coddle him with the fact that you don’t know anything.”
He let Ascendant in through the door. Ascendant entered purposefully into the room, and he saw Knock in the center, apparently asleep. Ascendant kicked him, then instantly regretted it.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to kick you.” His conviction was gone. However, Knock barely stirred. Ascendant, believing that Knock could not hear him, took on an exaggerated and literary persona. “Aha! It appears that he rests under some enchantment. Perhaps,” he said, incorporating Knock’s prostrate body into the act by pointing at him, “the prince of the head knock has been knocked unconscious by a spurned lover.”
He turned to a wall and pretended to look offended. “Well, it was not I!” He was dramatic because it would break the tension he felt surrounding him in the cold room.
He had the bright idea of using the thermostat. In his state of not caring, he couldn’t help but narrate his actions. “I shall use the thermostat! Behold my arcane and magic power! I, the wielder of the air-conditioning, carry–” He realized that the thermostat was set to slightly higher than room temperature.
“Well, it appears the room is filled with ghosts.” He ran to Knock and tried to drag him out of the room. “Wake up, old man! Your time is nigh! You’re at death’s door, and I’ll take you through it if I have to drag you! Come, come, and behold the wonders of heaven, where there isn’t voodoo magic making the room cold!”
Knock mumbled, “That seems like a really weird thing to do,” and for the second time, Ascendant lost his composure. He gaped for a few seconds before he started working again, this time in silence.
“”Hey,” Knock said, “there don’t happen to be black tendrils flickering throughout the room, do there?”
“Why would there be black tendrils? Did you see any?” Ascendant was worried.
“No,” Knock lied. He got up on his feet, unsteadily at first, and made his way out the door.
The gargoyle had gone away, and no one else had come back. Knock noticed, with increasing alarm, that the tentacles were still there. He decided not to talk about it.
“Hey,” said Ascendant shakily, “do you think often of death?”
Knock did a double-take. That was a very unusual thing to say, after all. “I don’t often think of death.”
“Well, I always think of the word ‘worms’. They sound like the harbingers of death, even though they aren’t really. They are the harbingers of new life.”
Knock thought, “He seems to be working hard at talking. Perhaps I should say something. But I don’t know anything about the topic.”
Ascendant, realizing that might be the case, decided to improvise. “If you don’t know anything about the topic, you can just change the topic to something you do know about.”
Knock tried to think of something he knew about. He couldn’t think of anything, and eventually Ascendant started talking again.
“Now we are different. I will keep interrupting you, and you will keep not talking unless you want to talk.”
Knock continued to sit in silence, unsure of where to take the conversation.
“I see why you knocked the thoughts out of my head now. This is really hard. I’m sorry for putting you through all of this.”
Knock wanted to say that he didn’t actually have that problem. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that he hadn’t been the most helpful person either. He hadn’t even talked once to Ascendant before aggressively trying to bleach his headspace. Was I just using him for my own validation? thought Knock. Why does he even want to talk with me?
Ascendant answered this question, sort of. “I want to talk with you. No one else has viciously attacked my mind in an attempt to bring out my thoughts. You are kind, and… no wait, you aren’t kind, it’s just that I want to talk with you. Oh look, I said a bad thing. I said it badly. I guess you just don’t want to talk with me.”
Ascendant stood there until Knock made a quick decision. “Could we have a meaningful conversation about the color black?” he asked.
Ascendant literally jumped. “Of course! Or, wait, no, I mean we could have a conversation about what counts as a meaningful conversation, using the dictionary definition of the words, and then talk at length about it. Thank you! I probably couldn’t have thought of that idea.”
The black tendrils around Knock faded away as he talked with Ascendant. It turned out that it was possible to have a meaningful conversation about the word black, the color black, the race “Black”, and the use of the word black in media. There were many different aspects to this shade, and as they went over these aspects, they became comfortable with the fact that they couldn’t speak well.
The next day, everyone spoke of the wolf which had somehow gotten into the building without anyone noticing. Knock and Ascendant decided to talk about whether or not pudding was viable. Viable for what, you may ask. That was the question. It wasn't a very good one by normal question standards, but it helped them understand themselves and each other.
They would become close friends over time, with more conversations about different topics. Eventually, they would know one another, and Knock would no longer see himself as defined by his magic, and Ascendant would no longer hide in his own mind when he felt lonely. Knock would explain why he had attempted to become close to Ascendant both literally and figuratively. They would marry, and even though they would certainly face hardships later in life, they would no longer be held captive by their lack of faith in themselves.