“The Silent Man” by Nicholas Pierce
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
When the sun sets, the dogs come out in Tikiwin.
You can’t hear them, not at first. They don’t bark until the clouds break and the moon comes out, high over head and just after midnight. Sometimes you can see them from your second story window, like djinn slipping through shadows and down packed-dirt alleys. One night a donkey got loose and the whole neighborhood could hear it wail as the pack chased it, taking big wet bites out of it’s haunches as it ran. No one opened a door. Lutfi, the grocery boy, cleaned it off the sidewalk the next morning with a plastic snow shovel.
Old Ahmed Harib is the only person not afraid of the dogs. The little kids call him alrrajul alssammit. The Silent Man. No one remembers when Old Ahmed quit talking, or if he ever spoke to begin with, but every night after the evening salat, Old Ahmed sits on his metal folding chair in the middle of the neighborhood olive grove, smoking his filterless cigarettes and chewing on sunflower seeds.
Sometimes the dogs sit with Old Ahmed, sometimes they bring him the things they’ve killed. The neighborhood kids toss single dirham coins into Ahmed’s lap on their way to school in the morning. Their parents say it’s because Ahmed is the neighborhood watchman, and he deserves to get paid. But the kids know it’s because there’s a touch of black magic around the Silent Man.
Though Old Ahmed is mute, he isn’t deaf—that is how he knew when his great-granddaughter came home whimpering one day. She had blood on her thighs, and her skirt was ripped. Her body was too young to bleed with the moon. Old Ahmed watched as she told her mother how Monsieur Hicham, the fat little constable that lived on the corner, had taken her into the back of his police van. Ahmed watched his grandson scream and cry and beat his fists against the wall. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do to a policeman.”
That evening, Monsieur Hicham drove his police van back into Marrakech. There are only so many police vans to go around, after all. He handed the keys to the night patrolman, and took a petit cab back to Tikiwin. Not everyone could afford to take a petit cab home every night, but a discounted cab ride was a policeman’s privilege.
In Monsieur Hicham’s opinion, it was the fringe benefits that made the job worthwhile.
It was well into the night when the cab let Monsieur Hicham out on the corner. This was the only part of the day that actually scared Hicham—the walk from the corner to his front door. Normally he would beat the dogs there, but sometimes he could see them rounding the corner as he slammed the door shut. He heard a howl, somewhere deep in the neighborhood.
Monsieur Hicham glanced at the sky and saw moonlight reflecting off gray clouds. He sighed, but walked quickly. Halfway to his front step, Hicham thought he could hear rustling in the olive grove. It sounded like feet running through freshly tilled soil, soft and muffled. Pitter, pitter. It sounded like the snap of low lying branches.
Hicham could see the circle of yellow light that marked his front door. Five steps, four steps. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keys. He could see shadows moving out of the corner of his eye. His hands shook and he fumbled, almost losing them. He laughed maniacally, and dashed into the light, shoving his key into the lock.
It stuck, only sliding a millimeter in.
Something was jammed into the lock. Hicham shoved the key in again, and again. It refused to turn. He heard a low snarl behind him, and as he pulled the key out something slick and gray came with it.
He looked at the obstruction under the light: it was a shell. A wet shell.
Hicham felt something close around his ankle, tight as a vice. It pulled him down. Then another mouth, hungry, wrapped around his thigh. As his head cracked against the ground he realized it was a sunflower seed, all chewed up but still in its shell.
The dogs began to eat.
Old Ahmed, the Silent Man, lit a cigarette.
NICHOLAS PIERCE is a law student and itinerant writer of prose living in Uptown, New Orleans. He has published numerous nonfiction pieces for The Daily Reveille, Morocco Tomorrow, and others. He is currently nominated for an Associated Press Award (college division).
Posted: Oct 20, 2015
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