Let me tell you about the Silent Alley.

It’s right off of Cicero, between 11th and 12th, uptown. It neatly bisects a block that includes a deli, an adult bookstore, and a plumbing supply warehouse. Though most of those businesses have loading docks out back, they all only take deliveries from the front. That’s why traffic is always so backed up there, in case you were wondering.

No one uses the alley as a shortcut, either, though it’s well-lit and in a relatively safe part of town. You never see any cyclists cutting through to save a few minutes, and pedestrians never dart in, heads down, as if they belong there as is so common elsewhere. The only things to regularly use the alleyway are the birds and rats, who pass through in reasonable numbers.

The alleyway eats sounds.

Oh, you may think you know total silence. Maybe you’ve been in a recording booth next to one of those noise-canceling foam walls, putting your ear up to a dead space just to see what it feels like. Maybe you’ve even tried noise-canceling headphones, with their eerie sine-wave quietude. But anyone who has ever gone through Silent Alley will tell you that you know nothing.

There’s a stretch, maybe five or ten feet, where sounds are just muffled, like being underwater or falling headlong into a deep sleep. But once you’re in the alley proper, you hear nothing. Not your own heartbeat. Not the blood rushing in your ears. Not even the steady ring of tinnitus, if you have it. It is a silence so complete, so overwhelming, that only someone deaf from birth could truly understand it–and even they could never fully convey it to someone who has ever heard a sound.

You’d think this would make it an oasis, an urban paradise, a place where people can go to get away from it all.

No.

The intrepid urban explorers who try usually emerge shaken after only a few minutes. Diehards have been known to last up to an hour, but much longer than that and people begin to lose themselves. There’s been more than one suicide down that alleyway, but no murders or muggings. The silence eagerly eats the sound of a bullet as any other, but you’re too consumed by what you aren’t hearing to worry about much else.

There are theories aplenty about Silent Alley, everything from a quirk of acoustics to hauntings to alien visitations. Some people seize on the fact that there used to be a mortician onsite until they realize it only sold mourning wear and never had any actual bodies. Near as anybody can tell, the alleyway fell silent shortly after its construction in 1911. Nobody paid it much heed for years aside from the tenants, and why would they? The unnerving nature of the place kept rents low.

If you’re in town, and nearby, do yourself a favor. Don’t go. Many have tried, and all have regretted it.

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