• J. M. Aznárez

Dead Air

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

No matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to remember much about the next day - it lurks on the outskirts of my memory, hazy and elusive, like a bad dream that leaves a sour aftertaste despite you having no recollection of the details. You know it was unpleasant, but you wouldn't be able to explain exactly why. That was - and still is - how that day behaves in my mind when I think of it.

I can vividly recall the pain, however. And the blood. I cannot say which of the two took longer to erase.

I did not leave my flat that day, that I remember also. I realise this must sound strange given what I had just experienced, but you must understand; social interaction, to me, has ever constituted a nigh-insurmountable struggle - there is a reason I chose to spend my life surrounded by books. However hideous the prospect of remaining locked up with that ghastly artifact might have been, it was somehow less intimidating than the alternative; I was terrified of walking out and having to offer explanations to inquisitive - and potentially aggravated - neighbours. I was possessed of a gnawing, paralysing certainty that as soon as I stepped out of the door, there would come a procession of indignant individuals expecting to be told exactly what had occurred last night and perhaps even demanding compensation - I had, after all, no knowledge of the effects that the horrifying, otherworldly scream might have had on the other residents of my building. There was also the fear, which only grew as the hours passed, that, upon realising I would not be exiting my apartment at all that day, the most curious or “concerned” neighbours would start knocking on my door. This vexed me to such a degree that, if given the choice, I believe I would have preferred for the radio to turn on again rather than having to face anyone's questions or recriminations.

I need not have worried - nobody came. And now, weeks later, I cannot help but wonder if that wasn’t the most disturbing event of the whole ordeal.

I was forced out of my flat the next day. Not by any sort of obligation or duty (I had texted my assistant at the bookstore and told him I was sick), but because the radio turned on again by itself around mid-morning, just as I was finishing my coffee. I had managed to shower and get dressed, and the red bloodstains in and around my ears were almost gone - the pain too had subsided somewhat, and had now become a dull, throbbing ache that was almost bearable as long as I refrained from making any sudden moves with my head. I still couldn’t hear much at all - which, I assured myself, was probably for the best, since my damaged eardrums wouldn’t have been able to tolerate anything louder than a whisper - and yet, when the radio started broadcasting, I heard it like it was playing right next to me.

It was just static; a low, garbled murmur, almost like a purr, but it was enough to freeze my heart and make me drop my coffee mug in a fit of pure, utter terror. I ran as if Death herself were behind me.

For all I knew, she might very well have been.

It took me a long time to gather the courage and determination necessary to walk back up to my building, climb the stairs to the third floor and stand, hands shaking, scant centimetres away from my front door. I had fled all the way to a nearby park and collapsed on a bench for the best part of the afternoon, so by the time I returned the sun was already beginning to set. I was just about to walk back into my flat, as slowly and silently as I possibly could, when I heard it: a voice, soft and muffled, coming from inside. I froze, feeling the frigid fingers of fear curl themselves around my heart again, but then a realisation hit me that momentarily halted their insidious advance. Wishing with every fibre of my being that my suspicions were wrong, I walked inside and gingerly closed the door behind me. I could hear the voice much more clearly now.

My eyes welled up with tears born of the bitterest sorrow. The deepest, most wretched grief I have ever felt overcame me and I fell to the floor, sobbing miserably. I shook my head and covered my ears, but it was for naught; it felt as inescapable as if it were playing inside my head.

A children's lullaby I hadn't heard in over ten years, sung by the gentle and haunting voice of my dead mother.

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