If you’re like me, even the incoming vibration (cause let’s face it, who still uses ringtones) of a call can set your teeth on edge. It’s an anxiety thing, and I know it’s irrational, but that doesn’t stop me from playing chicken with my cell every single time.
Sitting at my bedroom desk, desperately trying to get words to flow out of my gummed-up brain and onto the screen through the cursor angrily blinking in my face, the dull bzzzzzzzzzt lashing out against my elbow made me jump. I looked down at the screen; Alex, my brother.
Sighing, I picked up and put him on speakerphone. “Hey, what’s up.” Silence and a few muffled breaths. I waited for a moment, listening. “Alex? Are you there?”
“Hey,” his voice was low and cracked, “it’s Steffy. She’s… gone.”
My blood ran cold; even without context, those simple words shot a bead of sweat over my forehead and a dagger of ice through my chest. Steffy was my niece, Alex’s eight year old daughter.
“What do you mean gone?”
More silence. Not knowing made the seconds drag by like exhausted hours. “Alex, you can’t just call up and–”
“I went into her room just now to wake her up for dinner. She was taking a nap,” the words spilled out of the phone, bouncing throughout the room like a frantic bird – he took a big, panicky breath, “I’d just put down to take a nap and went to the cornerstore to get something and came back and she was gone.”
I closed my eyes, trying to blink the words away, hoping they would make more sense when I reopened them. They didn’t.
“Did you check the house completely?” I said, trying to offer up some semblance of comfort. “She’s an adventurous kid. If she was napping, she could’ve gotten up, gone into another room, crawled into a nook or something; remember that one time she got stuck in the basement closet and you couldn’t find her for like two hours?”
“This isn’t like that, Nick. I checked literally everywhere, even the basement closet. She’s not in the house. She’s not anywhere.”
I tried to think of something to calm him down, but came up with air. “Look, just relax, take a breath. I’ll come over, and we can look for her tog–”
The twin noises sounded softly in my ear, signifying the end of the call. I took my face out of my hands where I’d been rubbing my temples and glanced down at the phone. The little line of dots representing my service had dropped down to one, and then a moment later they were gone entirely. I usually had great service, especially in the house. I toggled the WiFi switch. Nothing.
Getting up, I crossed the room to the closet, opened it, and knelt down to check the router. The lights sat black, empty, motionless. My internet and phone are from the same company, and this has happened before, so it didn’t strike me as too odd – maybe a trunk line was down somewhere. Alex’s house was only about a 20 minute drive from mine, so I grabbed my jacket, hopped in the car, and headed over.
The ride was oddly silent, even with music playing in the background. The second Alex had dropped those first few words on me, a chill had crept up my spine and I just couldn’t shake it no matter how hard I tried. Something is wrong. The words sat hot and heavy in the back of my head and pawed away greedily at the walls of my stomach. Something is very wrong.
Fiddling with the knob on the stereo, I turned it over to a classic rock station, 106.3 WAMX; my favorite. However, where there should’ve been the dulcet wail of Stevie Nicks or the fiery licks of Joe Perry ripping through a heated solo, I found nothing but static. I tried rolling through a few more stations, and came up with the same results; crackling silence. An intangible feeling had started to blanket my mind, lending gentle whispers into an ear already poised towards the unknown. I went to turn the radio off completely and sit the rest of the ride in silence, but a voice stopped my hand dead in the air. Well, not so much a voice but rather a clash of sounds trying to sound human.
“… mothersound… taking its place… ”
Have you ever imagined what the churning of the ocean might sound like if we gave it a voice? An amalgamation of foreign sounds fighting each other, clamoring to the top, choking on each other’s blood and begging for the privilege of breath.
“…destroy sickness… mothersound… leaving blood… alone… it won’t hurt…”
I was entranced, hanging on every word. So much so that I didn’t see the little red two-door cross over into my lane, directly in front of me.
“…HURT… seeking HURT…” the whisper had become a shrill, breathy screech. “…finding love in the ABOVE… finding release for MOTHERSOUND… finding the–”
Lights flashing, rubber burning, a blaring honk – the precipice of metal begging to flex and break, birthing twisted towers through flesh. I snapped out of it, seeing the terrified face of the driver in the rearview of the Mazda ahead of me, and slammed on my breaks, sending everything in the cab of the truck flying forward in a cacophonous wave. My heart screamed heavy and thick in my ears, pushing out the memory of the phantom voice, and I bit clear through my bottom lip. The pain blossomed quick and sharp, and a spatter of blood flew to kiss the steering wheel like a long lost friend. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and threw the myself into park. With shaking hands, I shook a cigarette out of the pack hugging the back of my sunvisor and lit up. I’ve been in a couple of accidents in my life, and even the most distant of close calls was enough to send me into a panic. With a few drags in my system and the smoke curling around my fingers, I stared at the radio; it was once again silent and unassuming, spitting hushed, garbled static back at me. I rolled the dial all of the way back, killing the sound completely.
My phone rang.
The sound almost gave me a heart attack, especially considering I always keep it on vibrate. Grabbing for it with sweaty fingers, I looked at the caller ID. Alex. Thank god, he’d probably found Steffy.
I answered, bringing the phone up to my ear this time.
“Hey man,” my voice was audibly shaking. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and continued, leveling my tone as much as I could. “Is everything okay? I lost the call while I was in the house and haven’t had service since. I’m almost there, but if you found her, I can head back.” In protest, my stomach growled. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and my brother was a great cook. “Unless, of course, you guys don’t mind company for dinner,” I laughed.
Silence. No breathing, no static, nothing; not even a whisper of the normal feedback you might expect from shitty cell service. Maybe my network was still having issues. I sighed. I’d been planning on switching providers for a while, but this was coming at the worst possible time. Definitely the last straw. I was about to hang up when I heard a whistle. It wasn’t like a person whistling, more like the wind whipping through a chainlink fence. More like a soft howl. I stared at the phone, gripping it hard in my hand as the sound grew in volume and strength. I don’t know when it went from the realm of the call to the air around me, but within seconds it was like the night itself was moaning. Wide-eyed, I sat there, enraptured by impossibility and absurdity. Then, through the sheet of noise, the voice returned. Loud and angry, a torrent of agony, it screamed:
“…MOTHERSOUND… SCREAMS FOR ECHOES… MOTHERSOUND… SEEKS THE BLOOD… COME TO THE MOTHER… BRING HER SOUND…”
I tore my eyes away from my phone and looked through the windshield; what had been a cloudless night steadily growing dark only minutes prior was now a mess of hazy fog, surrounding and tying the last strands of light into a ball and leaving them to choke in one singular point in the sky. It was as though a hand had actually formed in the dense cloud coverage and was holding the remnants of dusk captive.
Then, I saw the hand actually take physical form.
Slender, feminine fingers pushed their way out of the wispy cluster as though through smoke, grasping at nothing. Unable to comprehend the actual surface of the seething mass in the fragments of light, my eyes instead presented a twisted vascularity of shadows and clouded mist. Where there should have been nails, a swirling vortex of braided muscles churned, pumping viscous black blood back and forth over its wasted surface.
The leviathan hand waved to the earth below it, outstretched digits mimicking a massive dying spider, and grasped the fading sun, miniature and pathetic against its godlike spread. As the dark rods crinkled in massive joints and enveloped the pale citrine orb, I heard a pop ring out. Not from any specific point of origin, but rather from the earth, from the air, and from within my own body. I screamed, feeling every ounce of my blood pressurize and flex against my veins, but the sound was lost amongst the swell of the sky mourning the sun.
Night fell, hard, and so did my eyes.
When I came to, I felt like a bullet shot through a plate of glass. Drenched in sweat, my entire body throbbing and heaving in waves of pain, I snapped my head from side to side, looking for any sign of abnormality. It was dark – darker than I’d seen in a while. I flipped the internal cab lights on. The blood from my lip that had landed on the steering wheel looked like it had travelled upwards, leaving a dripping trail in the wrong direction.
Then, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and almost threw up.
Scarlet rivulets of blood ran up to my hairline from the corners of my eyes, mouth, and nose; apparently so eager to get out that they’d left clear impressions in my skin, now quickly giving way to light-purplish bruises. I brought a hand up to touch my cheek and found myself look at a limb that seemed like it belonged to a highschool Science class. My skin shone with an unearthly, almost iridescent glow, appearing translucent in the artificial light. I could see the arteries, pumping doubletime in an attempt to please an unseen master, while my heart furiously sped to keep up. I grabbed the hem of my shirt and lifted it, revealing an ocean of rippling flesh frozen in time. My stomach and chest looked like a dessicated treetrunk, deprived of a single drop of moisture, vines begging to burst through the shallow depths of the bark.
Tears I didn’t even know I could shed at this point were dripping down my face, kissed with a hint of red from the blood. It seemed as though they didn’t desire the same elevated path as their crimson kin. A buzzing noise, thick with robotic artificiality, was humming through the air, deep and monotonous. I was starting to feel tight; extremely tight and claustrophobic.
My phone rang.
This time, I didn’t jump. It was almost as though I was expecting the call. The ringtone cut through the stilled air, calling to me like a digital siren. I answered.
“Hello.” The voice coming from my lips sounded nothing like my own. It was gravelly and far away.
Silence. Silence I was used to by now. Then, the chattering; almost a whisper. Something lost, looking for its Mother.
“… mothersound… begs for the higher world… to echo… needs the blood… to cleanse the clouds…”
Then, a faint noise in the background, A gentle sound. A child’s voice singing a sweet lullaby. It blended into the one in the foreground, still chanting its mantra for blood and echoes and the mothersound, and they became an imperfect duet. After a moment, I recognized the tune. It was the same one Steffy’s mother, Alicia, used to sing to her every night before bed; a beautiful song of her own origin, crafted with tender love and care. When Steffy would wake in the middle of the night with terrors dancing in her head, Alicia would rush in and change the pitch just the slightest, letting the wordless melody wash over her in a cocoon of comfort.
When Alicia lay dying, her body infested with tumors feeding cancer to every conceivable inch, she would sit with Steffy’s head lying against her gaunt, hollow chest, still singing her song.
Now, Steffy’s voice pouring those tones through my phone lulled me, called to me, comforting my writhing form. Without thinking about what I was doing, my hands turned the key in the ignition and gripped the steering wheel – 10 and 2. I gently depressed the gas pedal and continued down the road to Alex’s house, watching the space where the godhand had been out of the corner of my eye.
When I arrived, parking in the driveway next to my brother’s dark green minivan, I could feel autopilot driving me forward. I could feel the house and the sky above it singing to me, calling my name, using the sheath of my niece’s innocence to drive the want home. I could feel the air around me pulsating, pressing in on my skin with little pricking fingers, kneading out knots and soothing tired joints. I could feel the loose rocks in the driveway as I stepped out on unsteady legs, the lingering heat seeping from my exhaust pipe and the still-purring engine, and the empty house before me. I could feel everything. And I could still hear the song, reverberating all around me.
Making my way through the dark halls with a head that felt underwater, I found the source of the song in the heart of the house; in Steffy’s bedroom. At the foot of her bed, Alex was lying curled around a bedpost, the gnarled claws of his hands clutching loosely at one of the dozens of ragged holes perforating his stomach and chest. His organs, half lying outside of his wasted body, were little more than than a gelatinous soup sitting in a kiln of muscle and bones. The look on his face, however, betrayed the torments of his flesh. It was one of pure elation. His eyes, sitting slightly popped-out on the puffed edges of his cheeks, shone with the same simple ecstasy. The siren song, now tapering off, was coming from within his body,
I walked over to the bed, each step a renewed autonomous effort as the sound grew more and more muted. In a bundle of sheets soaked through with blood, there was a pile of clothing, a small pair of glasses, and a golden locket. I knew the photo that laid within it; I’d taken it of Steffy, Alicia, and Alex at a family picnic just five months before Alicia’s death.
I fell to my knees, landing against the edge of the bed and dragging the sheets with me, and gently touched the locket. As my skin came into contact with the cool metal, a shockwave rocked the entire house and the song picked up again, bouncing off of the walls and against the confines of my aching skull. I cried out, joining the swell, and watched as the blood coating the surfaces of the room leapt up from both cloth and skin alike, twirling through the air in a liquid arabesque, and passed through the ceiling into the waiting night sky.