NOTHING • by Matthias R. Gollackner

Trudging in through the doorway, he stood in his living room with mail in hand. He slumped into his easy chair, letting out a sigh of relief. This was the one truly blissful part of his day. He reached for the TV remote on the table beside his chair. Turning on the TV, he expected the news. What he got was static. He tried flipping through a few channels without luck. Each station was filled with the fuzzy gray screen and constant white noise. “Wonderful,” he thought sarcastically.

Accepting defeat from the TV, he turned his attention to the mail. A single letter and the newspaper. He decided to open the letter first. It was a plain white envelope, with his name and address written on the front. Opening the letter, he pulled out three sheets of paper. “It’s not the news, but it’ll do,” he thought as he unfolded the papers. The first page was blank. He turned the front page around, held it up to the light, but to no avail. He quickly realized the other two were the same. “What the hell?” he whispered. He picked up the envelope he had dropped on his lap, looking for a return address. There was none, however. More strangely, there was no writing on the front.

“I need to get more sleep,” he groaned, rubbing his eyes. He looked at the envelope again, but still there was nothing written on either side. He was sure the envelope hadn’t been blank before. He crumpled up the envelope and the contents it once held and tossed them aside. He picked up his newspaper.

It was while looking at this newspaper that the empty, sinking feeling made itself apparent in his stomach. The newspaper was blank.

Frantically he flipped through the pages. It didn’t make any sense; how could there be no writing in the newspaper? The letter was strange, but the newspaper? He was sure that there had been writing on it when he grabbed it. He looked back at the TV, noting that the gray static was still the only picture.

Slowly, he stood up from his chair. “What in the name of God…” he murmured. He walked slowly from his living room to the kitchen. He opened a cupboard and pulled out a box of cereal… what should have been a box of cereal. It was a plain cardboard box: no writing, no pictures, no colour. It was a dull gray, like he was looking at it in some sort of old black-and-white movie. Looking up from the box, he realized that everything in his kitchen had quickly gone the same way. Little things that used to contain print — like the on/off switch on his coffee maker — were now wordless, the colour from his dark green walls had become a dull shade of gray. He looked quickly to his hands, and saw that the colour had faded from them as well. He didn’t know what was happening. Had he lost his mind? Only one way to find out, he decided, and he moved towards the phone in the living room.

He picked up the phone and hurriedly dialed his neighbor’s number. There was no ringing. He pressed his ear hard against the receiver; still nothing. “What’s going on,” he asked; but no sound escaped his lips. He looked toward the TV. It was still showing a fuzzy screen, but the noise had stopped. Panic had finally set in, he realized as he screamed, trying so desperately to make a noise. He could feel himself straining; his throat becoming raw from the effort, but no sound was present. Had he gone deaf, he wondered. Colour blind, unable to pick out font?

He stood staring at the TV for a minute while his heart raced and his stomach sank. He was desperately trying to understand what was happening. He walked to the front door. If he couldn’t phone his neighbor, he could walk over.

Opening the door, he stepped out onto his doorstep and looked out over a void of nothing. Simply nothingness. There was his doorstep, and beyond it, a black void. His entire neighborhood seemed to have been engulfed. In a daze, he turned to walk back into his house but was terror-stricken to find it, too, was gone. The only thing he could see apart from himself and the doorstep was the TV, emitting its soft, gray glow. Like a moth to a light bulb, the man walked towards the dim light. He turned only once to see that the doorstep too, had vanished. It was only him and the television.

Kneeling down in front of the only other thing in this universe, he looked into the static. For a minute he thought he saw something. The more he stared, the more he could see. Unsure of how long he had spent, he slowly realized he was looking at himself. Only he was asleep in his easy chair, mail in one hand, TV remote in the other. “Of course!” he cried, hope swelling up inside of him. “I’m just asleep! I just need to wake up!”

He continued to stare at the image, trying to will himself to wake up. He saw himself stir in the chair. This is it, he thought. Then he saw himself sit up. He watched as his alternate self looked at the TV, and walked over to it. He watched this static-composed image of himself kneel and look into the TV, as though he was now looking into a distorted mirror. Then, he heard a sound, the first sound in a very long time. This sound made him nauseous; made his stomach sink. He could hear the image in the static laughing.

He then watched, heart frantically beating against his chest as the image lifted its hand to the off switch on the television and pushed, turning off the TV set, and leaving the man engulfed in blackness.

Matthias R. Gollackner is a student studying English at the University of Toronto. His fiction often takes on a life of its own, branching from the mundane to the fantastical. He writes whenever he can, providing of course that he can wrestle his computer chair away from his over-sized cats.

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