UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Niente was a simple man. He lived alone in the middle of a place that had no name and
which you would not be able to find on a map. For Niente, the question as to where he
was was as irrelevant as to that which might have asked as to who he was. Questions
like this, or of any other kind, never crossed his mind.
He lived in a small, single floored, wooden house. He slept on a mattress on the floor, in
a corner that was directly opposite the bare window from which the sun came each day.
Outside and adjacent to the house was a garden in which he grew various fruits and
vegetables. It never rained in this place, but Niente was able to tend to his garden by
drawing water from a well on the opposite side of the house.
In and around this place there was not any other person, or thing. The landscape was of
an abject bleakness in all directions. The sky was a cloudless, pure, and relentless blue
by day and by night there existed only a dead black, with neither moon nor stars, that
enveloped all of the vast emptiness that could be seen by day into one whole, still, blind
union by night.
He took all of the things that he had for granted and never thought to ask himself how it
was they were there, or how he had come to be using them. They were there and he used
them in order to survive. That these things could one day disappear never entered his
mind. Notions of any kind of lack were as alien to those of any sense of abundance. He
was there as were his things, and this was how it would always be. Niente's world was
fixed and in it there existed no possibilities of change, or surprises of any kind.
Niente moved only between the house, the garden and the well. He never once thought
to try and stretch the boundaries of his world and walk beyond the nothingness that
surrounded him. He was, without any actual formal appreciation of the feeling, content
with what he had.
Whilst it was true that he never asked for or questioned anything, he was on occasions
aware of a previous life that he had led before getting to this place.
From time to time, vague images and recollections of somewhere and some things,
which were different to this place, would come to him as he carried out his daily tasks,
haunting him like unobtrusive ghosts floating without direction through his windless
Once as he was leaving his house, the light from the sun - reflected of the glass window -
had conjured up a dizzying vividness for him that was alien to the stoic life he lived on
his small desolated spot of land. The outlines of new shapes formed, and bewitched him
momentarily in a rainbow of colours that he sensed he knew, but whose names he had
learned to forget.
On another occasion he slipped and fell to the floor, while walking to his well, and
became lost as he saw - in his wake - the dusty sand of the earth dance majestically from
the floor, towards the empty sky, then fall back softly to the ground from which it came.
This simple movement had pushed him back to a time where he had not been alone, and
of another person who was not the one he knew himself to be.
These reveries, or sporadic flights from reality, came and went without any regular
frequency and possessed all of the significance that Niente attached to them, which was
none. They were there whenever he wanted to notice them and would be lost, as quickly
as they had come, as he looked around and was reminded of what he was supposed to
be doing at the time.
One day, while retrieving water from the well, he was distracted by one of these
recollections of another history and walked absent-mindedly, in the opposite direction
of the house and out into the vast expanse of the flat, arid land around it. A stray drop of
water fell from his pail, onto the bare skin of his foot, and awoke him from his day-
dream. He looked around into the emptiness that surrounded him. Quickly realising his
innocent mistake, he turned without a second thought towards the house and to his daily
The next day, Niente awoke, lit up mechanically, as the sun's incessant rays rained
down upon his face, bringing with them the first manifestation of life. He left the house
to collect the water from the well, as he always did at this time, only to see that there
was a man crouched beside the well. The stranger was replacing the earth over a point
in the ground where it appeared he had just planted or buried something. Niente felt
neither curiosity nor fear upon finding another man in what had always been, until this
moment, this most solitary of places. He made his way towards the man only in order to
carry out the task that he always did at this time. That the man was next to the well, and
the well was the place from which he drew water, was the sole reason for Niente's
movement towards him.
Without any form of greeting or communication between the two, Niente proceeded to
fill his pale. While doing so he noticed that this man's appearance was similar to the
physical idea that he had of himself. However, as with the flashbacks of the forgotten
past, this idea was soon displaced as he retrieved the now full pail from down the well.
With his task complete, Niente turned his back to the stranger and walked to the garden
in order to cultivate the crops. Later when he turned away from the sun, and as he knelt
to take a tomato from the vine, he saw that the man was walking away, out into the
barren desert. Upon returning to the well for more water, Niente failed to notice that the
man had gone completely.
The day continued as all of the others before it had done and with the swift
disappearance of the sun, and the black enshrouding of the night, Niente slept. In his
sleep he dreamt, if at all, of nothing more than the place in which he lived and the
ascetic life he lived there. In his dreams he would see his hands pulling vegetables from
the ground, or hear only the sound a rush of water would make as it fell from the pail
onto the incredibly fecund earth of his garden. However, on the night that followed the
day where the stranger had appeared, Niente was taken away by a dream that was not of
the simple life that he lived alone on his empty plot of earth.
He saw a new world grow up from the spot where he had seen the stranger covering the
earth. A vast new world opened up to him, within his sleep, of vibrant colours, and it
was filled with a cacophony of noise, and overwrought with the intoxicating smells of a
pure nature. His stagnant land of sand and emptiness transformed before his eyes into a
living place with fields full of the thickest deep green grass, which were surrounded by
mountains and hills whose peaks and brows he felt compelled to climb and conquer,
sure in the promise that on the other side he would find more of this new wonder. From
above and behind came the onrushing of a roaring thunder, and under a thin veil of rain,
he watched ferocious waves, from a great blue sea, crashing violently in white blasts of
salty cloud onto the sandy shore. Wild animals ran freely through the forests and fields,
and the laughter of little children could be heard as they played hide and seek behind the
protection of the trees.
Niente was lost in the feast of this new kingdom. Gasping for air, he awoke quickly
before the morning light had the chance to come and force him to wake. He leapt from
his bed into the void of darkness and ran to the door in furious anticipation of his dream
having become a reality. Outside it would all be true, the stranger had sowed the seed,
and the world he had dreamt would blossom into the most beautiful flower before his
wild, ravenous eyes. He pulled open the door and tore towards the well and the spot
where the stranger had been the day before.
He had run for only a few metres when he stopped dead, under the blinding light of the
instantly risen sun, in the realisation that all was the same and nothing was any different
than it had ever been before. The only change being in himself and that his teary eyes
were now unable to focus clearly upon the well and the spot where the stranger had
stood, and nothing had grown.
Niente fell to his knees and cupped his face in the hands he had only moments ago held
outstretched to a future that he had already lost. The coarse sand offered little cushion to
his knees and was now nothing more than ugly, yellow dust devoid forever more of any
hidden significance or meaning. Now, he noticed for the first time that the hands that
touched his face were wrinkled and old, and that the skin they touched was of the same
weathered leathery texture.
He stayed locked like this, frozen on his knees, and began to sob. The warm tears of
sorrow flowed, searing into and tearing at his battered skin, as he slowly lifted his head
up towards the reality of the irrevocable dead blue sky and screamed out into the callous
void in which he was now forced to face his own solitary and simple desperation.
Simon Friel is a Mancunian, who lives and works in el raval, barcelona.
His poetry can be found in various international journals and magazines,
including Cherry Bleeds and Sage of Consciousness.
© 2007 Underground Voices