The QuietLife Project
A collection of songs based on dreams recorded over several sleepless nights...
Nobody noticed at first. Limp, lifeless bodies dragged from their beds. Just one or two to begin with, and then a slow, steady, inexorable accumulation; it was always recorded the same way – death by natural causes – until it began to call on the rich and powerful, the famous and worthy. Then the head scratching really began. The scientific community were brought to full alert, and the cause actively sought, or, at least, that’s what we were led to believe.
What troubled everyone were the unnaturally sallow complexion, hollowed eyes, and visible, palpable, total exhaustion of the body, as if eaten from the inside. Every scrap of energy sucked up, spat out and now, wasted, discarded, spent.
Because it crept up on the world, it was hard to say just how long we had been at its mercy. Or what in fact it was: a disease perhaps, or a virus of some kind? Nobody really knew, many guessed, but as the death toll rose, clues began to emerge.
Now, all too aware of the impending danger, reports emerged of strange ‘Shadows’ flitting through the night skies, often in the darkest places and barely visible, detectable only by a sudden rush of wind and the sense of presence. From time to time soft bird-like chattering could be heard. At first, it was dismissed as such, but birdsong, at night?
Trust began to disintegrate. People moved quietly and secretly, many to the comparative safety of the countryside where the Shadows seemed not to exist. It was soon believed that humans were infected by other-worldly parasites; playing host during the daylight and becoming nourishment by night. It seemed that Shadows couldn’t face the pure ultra violet light of day so covered themselves in human forms permitting the host to appear to live normally, in effect they were hiding in plain sight. By nightfall it was necessary for them to breathe and, to this end; they escaped their sleeping disguise and congregated in dark corners and alleys. Such was the exhaustion of the host that sleep became a necessity, and, just before daybreak, the Shadow would re-enter the body and so pass through another day in safety.
In their nightly excursions, Shadows may alight upon a more suitable host. Then they would abandon their previous home and, if insufficiently nourished that ‘wasted’ host would die before waking. The daytime disguise was utterly convincing. Shadows retained enough of the original personality to allow even the most public figures to appear entirely themselves. Government continued to govern; teacher’s continued to teach; nurses to nurse; doctors to doctor; in fact all seemed normal. Their presence within humans was soon able to influence policy at the highest level. Shadows learnt quickly that to randomly select victims was unsustainable and discerning between those with influence and the ‘ordinary’ folk would be essential for their survival.
In the countryside my wife and I believed ourselves largely immune. However we still took minor precautions. Locking doors and windows at night; returning home before the light decayed; keeping water readily to hand at all times, even carrying flasks everywhere. But, as much as possible, we lived normally, and, on a particularly fine autumn evening, took a risk too far. With invited guests we enjoyed a late barbecue and watched the early evening sun set over the downs. We hardly noticed when their tired bodies slumped into chairs and dark, voluminous shapes appeared suddenly before us.
The horror of our circumstance became evident as the Shadows lunged toward us. Temporarily defending ourselves with the dregs of the evening’s cocktails it was clear they planned to attack my wife. Of course it is well known that hunters select the easier prey to improve likelihood of success, and she knew this before I did, taking off like the wind. I tried to lure them away but with little success and stared helplessly into the distance as she disappeared toward the coast, Shadows closing in on her.
So, by proxy, the inertia and acceptance that became an embedded strategy for defence against this unknown entity, was its greatest ally. Some even suggested that mankind should embrace this new form of being as part of the process of natural selection and that humankind was evolving into a higher form of pure existence which would ultimately bring us closer to God.
As the late summer days fed into autumn’s chilly mornings and the light receded quicker and sooner, so their grip became firmer, their control stronger. One report gave hope. A solitary newspaper delivery man, an early riser, his alarm permanently set for 5.00am, woke to find a shape in the room. It was real and though highly pliable, could be gripped. He grasped it in his hand and, unable to think of anything else, ran the hot tap, pouring boiling water over what looked like a head. The Shadow appeared to drown and then melted in his hand. A grey slime ran down the plug hole. He had killed it!
In a state of shock he reported the incident to the police. He was duly arrested, jailed and mysteriously died in custody, of natural causes. News of this spread rapidly but this hysterical and paranoid nonsense was soon dismissed by politicians from both sides of the house. However, the population at large, for security, and secretly, began to keep boiled water simmering on the hob twenty four hours a day. If this story was true, then Shadows feared sunlight, they feared large volumes of water, especially boiled, and they used humans to protect them from both. Now, at least, we knew this much.
I retreated into the gloom of the house. I had no ideas about what to do next. A television flickered and murmured in the background. Voices arguing about the crisis; about the causes; about what, if anything, could be done; meanwhile more bodies accumulate, more lives are taken over, and more people, including my wife, go missing.
A restless night led to a dull and gloomy morning. A pale almond light split the curtains and I awoke to realise nothing for me had changed. She was gone and I had to find her quickly. Daylight was my friend, the only one I could trust. The people I knew and loved seemed distant and detached. I couldn’t determine whether this really was the case or simply a paranoid perception driven by fear. Was my instinct correct, had they succumbed, or were they equally wary of me? Either way I couldn’t take the chance. I had to watch and observe; to understand how these creatures worked, how they thought, and what it was they wanted.
As I thought of her, she thought of me. How easy life had seemed, how complacent we had been, now it was as if time stood still.
It was spring, just past my birthday, would I witness another? The beautiful Chestnut blossom sprang forth and birds chattered feverishly in the hedgerows, their frantic energy bewildering and fascinating. The nights grew shorter and days longer, the sun a little warmer and April showers fell with increasing frequency. More Shadows were caught out. Their night time naturally limited, and people had learnt to set alarms for just before dawn. Never before had so many been so interested in the time of sunrise, it was the most frequently visited site on the web, and had been threatened with closure several times through March and April. As a consequence, the death rate finally stabilised and miraculously the tide began to turn.
Farmers’ institutes and the countryside folk, who had the good luck to have avoided the worst of the tragedy due largely to a fortune of their location, came to the fore. Their carefully timed pre-dawn raids on urban locations began to deliver results. Government ministers now backed up, realising they were impossibly trapped in the glaring headlights of truth, defended their positions with talk of a miracle cure, and the wonders of government sponsored scientific programs. They stressed the need to avoid vigilantism, to let the authorities handle events, but the public were unwavering in their conviction that the government was now at the very heart of the crisis.
May arrived, and its days stretched out beyond 15 hours, perfumed rapeseed filled the air, the trees hovered with the great weight of fresh foliage and with this new growth optimism returned. The Shadows, now on retreat, were moving south in a desperate quest for survival, but it was no good. The sheer energy required to hold their form required more daily calorific intake than a human and they needed to breathe outside their host for at least 6 hours. The science was against them, and, just as we had believed ourselves to be, now they were doomed.
A few specimens were captured and contained, but they disintegrated very quickly simply because they relied so heavily on energy and, in just a short time, half a day at best, they would literally starve and crumble to dust. Their atomic form collapsed. Also humans began to understand their structures and so, with this knowledge, came the power to control and ultimately to defeat. A handful of politicians still talked about morality and forgiveness; the sacredness of life and magnanimity in victory, but the truth was, we had been frightened, literally frightened to death, and forgiveness was not an option.
By the end of the month, I found myself wandering blindly cross country to where I had last seen my beloved, trying vainly to retrace her steps. As I arrived at the point where I had last seen her, I feared the worst. I saw the dramatic drop down toward the estuary that ran out to the North Sea. I remembered her disappearance as if it were yesterday. Faces came towards me, fearful but determined, their minds blurred and confused, I thought I recognised some, but they were immune to my questioning and didn’t pause to look at the photograph I carried with me. They simply stared straight ahead along the path they hoped would lead them back to their former lives.
As night fell, I gazed out across the sea, the silver moonlight skimming playfully on the water’s surface, a dishevelled shape moved toward me. Another lost soul drifting home I mused, but then, I glanced up, I stopped and looked harder. Eyes filled with tears looked back at me and now, at last, I recognised her face.
The trauma of the previous months had taken their toll. The early weeks were troublesome. How will she know me? I looked for signs, moments, fragments of the past that I could cling to. Sometimes I fooled myself that everything was normal, that recovery was inevitable, only for others to suggest it was too late, a lost cause. I had to hope. What else could I do?
In the end, as late-September arrived, a year since the first reports began and the whole debacle unravelled, I lay awake, restless and troubled I decided to get up from my bed and head downstairs. The dawn was barely breaking; a faint glimmer of sunlight cracked the curtains, the soft beam splitting the room. I sat on the piano bench and gazed at the thick shimmering dust gathered on the unpolished case. I lifted the lid and the keys stared back at me, black and white stretched across the board. It had been so long since I heard music, let alone made any, but here, in this quiet still morning, I felt moved to play, and slowly I placed my hands onto the keys.
The sound was soft and gentle to begin, as I fumbled for the notes, then it began to come back to me: a line; a verse; a chorus; my hands had a mind of their own and then, quite suddenly, I heard another voice. It approached from the bedroom, growing louder as she descended the stairs and as I felt her hand on my shoulder, we both sang purely and clearly the song of our youth.
All Songs: Andrew Higgins
Produced & Mixed: Andrew Higgins
Mastered: Abbey Road
Sleeve Design: EBY Design