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Kassner’s ears were hyper-sensitive. He was sure that he could tell where the noises were coming from now and the sound of the slamming door was coming from the same direction as the knocking had earlier. Either the guards had gone into his friend’s cell or they had gone into another one that was near enough for him to have stopped knocking. Something was definitely going on in there; a smothered kind of sound, both too far-off and indistinct for him to make out what it was and which was rather like the muffled echoes distant sounds make when they travel through water; something set every one of his already strained senses tingling, fraught as he was in that pitch-dark gloom.

5-2-26; 9-10; 14-14; 26-9. 30 . An Age of Oppression He began knocking again, at longer intervals, until Kassner had rapped the same numbers in reply. The latter squeezed his eyelids tightly shut, trying hard to remember the numbers in their correct order, and felt his face scrunching up in a painful grimace, right up to his temples, as he did so. The key to the code was not in the names of the letters but almost certainly in their arithmetical symbols. He felt exactly like a miserly insect storing up its pile of goodies in its hole in a rock, with its legs tucked in — just like his own fingers were clawing at his chest right now — storing up these numbers which were at least symbols of friendship and which either his physical weakness or overworking his mind could wipe from his memory as surely as waking up would.

His courage began to mutate into a deadly implacability. Fascinated by that almost invisible bit of what was incredibly his very own skin, where the nail which would help him kill himself was going to grow slowly but surely, he glued his eyes to it, spellbound. He began to walk around again. His hand, that hand which was going to become his fatal weapon, dangled down at his side like a tool-bag. The coming hour would be exactly the same as this one; the thousands of muffled little noises filling the silence of the prison would carry on sounding like swarms of over-burdened bugs teeming endlessly around, living out their exhausting existence until the end of time, and a layer of equally anguished suffering would envelop that never-changing realm of nothingness, like a stifling blanket of dust.

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