Silver Angels: MA Publishing Module
By Jefferson Koubis
In the depths of the attic, amongst decaying books and furniture, the pen anxiously clawed
against the wood, each mark a desperate scrape for permanence. The paper did its best to
stand against the frenzied onslaught, steadfast in holding its form. Whilst each stroke
threatened to tear, none of them did; despite the wild passion with which he wrote, Vasily
Lebakov cared too much for that to ever be a risk.
The ruckus at the desk caused encroaching paper-hungry silverfish to scatter across the
darkness of the attic, back to their quiet corners, back to their strongholds between furniture and floorboards. The man would not die that night. They had to be patient. But Vasily, pallid and haggard and so fixed in his stance he resembled more gargoyle than man, knew that time was against him and feared it. As his neck stretched and craned over the paper he could feel the presence of the blade hanging over it, ready to drop at any god-given second, be it in the form of aneurysm or heart attack or spontaneous combustion. Though his heart pounded in his ears, all he could hear was the steady tick, tick, tick of the countdown, the backbone of his own funeral march.
It had all started with the clocks. It had been gradual, beginning with a small discomfort at their incessant ticking. She’d been understanding then. His dear Petra had been patient, chalking it up to being one of his many eccentricities. It soon grew into a fixation on each movement of their hands; he’d watch for hours as they marched on in their movements, paralysed with fear at the knowledge that no matter what he did, they’d continue on their way, and he couldn’t outrun them. It was then that they’d all been moved to the attic. She did her best to understand. If she thought it was irrational she hadn’t said it. Things had been relatively peaceful for a while after that, the removal of the clocks upstairs seemingly remedying the issue. What she didn’t realise - until a rare trip further upstairs - was that the clocks hadn’t just been removed. In a pile in the attic lay splinters of wood atop springs and cogs, dented and deformed from taking a heavy series of hits. Her scream had sent the silverfish scattering from their feast upon the pile, slithering away to their crevices en masse. They’d had their first fight that day.
Vasily’’s eyes betrayed him and flickered to the rest of the room, landing on a silver fleck at his feet. The hazy lamplight illuminated its body almost ethereally, resembling more liquid than insect as it swirled around at his heel. In a sacrifice of precious seconds, he stamped his heel against the floorboards, attempting to meet the silverfish with a violent end. But with alien grace it slipped and slid out of the way. Vultures, he thought, as another came to join it from an invisible crack.
They were waiting for him to die, he was sure of it. They won’t want for his body, these silver
buzzards, no, they were waiting - aching - for the paper he wrote on. When he’s no longer
around to chase and stamp them away, they’ll make their move; his magnum opus reduced to nothing more than a meal. Never seen, never heard; his lasting impression on the world would be picked upon and chewed and his memory left a rotting corpse. As others wondered what happened to him, they’d dot tiny holes into his manuscripts, and each will grow into a gaping wound with every dismissive “You know what he’s like” that would delay his discovery. His life’s work, reduced to peep holes.
There hadn’t been silverfish before. That he was sure of. There’d been too much movement, too many footfalls on floorboards from too many guests and too many family members for anything to be hiding between the crevices. There’d been too much light - even until the early mornings, when they’d let time get away from them - for anything to dwell in the shadows. He’d held parties without worry for the books and papers in the attic being lost to hundreds of tiny maws.
The truth was they’d always been there, and for only three of their generations had the man
lived there, stuffing the attic with delicately-bound meals, ones that he’d never open to discover have lost their words to the hungry mouths of growing nymphs. Brown husks piled up by skirting boards and broken drawers as their kingdom remained untouched, untouched until the day the desk was brought up. That day the chatter from the lower levels stopped altogether.
Sweat rolled down the man’s brow, slipping down his nose and hanging off the edge,
threatening to drop and blur the ink at any second. Though he continued to write, his focus
broke. Wouldn’t it be tragic, he wondered, mind trailing as his hand continued to work, if I were to die just before its completion? He imagined a piece a half-note short, ink trailed off and dripping from his limp hand. There was value in an open mystery, nothing more famous than a work half-finished; Gogol, Dickens, and Mozart had all come before him, after all. But the prospect of posthumous prestige brought him no comfort; in his last nights on Earth, his only purpose was to finish this piece. Failure to do so would damn him as surely as any sin.
She had called it an obsession, he recalled, in their last conversation, so many years ago. A
damned twisted, sick, obsession. What kind of man obsesses over his own death? She’d asked before being reduced to sobs and pleading for him to get help - help she could not provide. He’d only wished she could’ve understood, seen the inevitable end he did, known how vital it was for him to leave his final mark.
He looked around, desperate, around the now-empty room around him. His eyes, weak and
tired, fell upon the silverfish. In one moment, he knew: no one will ever hear this work. They’d
be done with it long before his body was found. But still, he continued with compulsion, not
without one final plea to his arbiters, the tiny angels at his feet: “Please, not yet.”