I heard the first scream in the morning. I'd opened the door to go out and warm up the car and I heard it, muffled by walls, but long and ragged and base. I thought catfight. It was dark, still foggy, I hadn't had any coffee. I took a few steps, sliding a little on the frosty walkway, and then I heard the other one. It came from the other direction, and the voice was deeper, though it's kind of hard to tell at that pitch, I've since noticed. I noticed the sirens in the background, when the fog should have muted everything into the petulant silence of winter mornings, mornings that don't want to even bother to start.
I stood there and I listened, the clouds in front of my face blooming thicker and more quickly as I made out the more distant screams, and then the moans. It sounded like war.
It was a fight to walk back inside. I took a few steps, slipped a little, stopped again to listen. It wasn't increasing, it wasn't decreasing. It was constant and mostly quiet. It could have been going on all night. Determination to find out precisely what the fuck won out over curiosity at first-hand confusion and I made it back into the house, where you couldn't hear it at all. I did lock the door.
The coffee was ready and I poured a cup into my travel mug as I switched on the little TV in the kitchen, the one I always cuddle up to when my husband's out of town and I don't want the distance between me and the big one in the living room. It was just the news. One of the school districts outside the suburbs and into farmland was running an hour late because of the roads. I felt the disappointment of children not so lucky, waking up to find their snow day already melting. No crisis, no day off, mind your own business and go about it.
I turned to the freezer to get some waffles for the road, but I left the TV on. Then she said it. The morning anchorwoman, the one who looked like an actual mom and had bad hair.
"We told you earlier that an elderly man had been attacked and brutally murdered in Eastside sometime overnight. It appears now that this crime was not an isolated crime, but part of some larger..." The camera pulled back from her face just in time to catch a hand retreating offscreen. She looked down at her desk. Her lips made small quick motions as she sounded things out too softly for the microphone to catch. "Um." She looked back at the camera, or beyond it. "It appears that this was not an isolated crime. We have reports now of similar incidents all over Eastside and in parts of Meridian and Sunset Valley. Police are investigating..." You could hear sirens, faintly, outside the newsroom, and she became distracted, looked off camera. She covered her microphone and mouthed, so precisely that any deaf person would probably not have known she'd stopped addressing us, "What the fuck is going on?"
I looked out the window as halves of bodies hurried in and out of the frame. Listening to the tapping of the anchorwoman's hand brushing the mic and trailing bits of alternately stern and hysterical conversation. It was getting light. Running late if I stayed, but not too late. There was a man wandering down the center of the street. I stepped slowly behind my cabinets, peeking at him. He didn't look well. Through the double-paned windows and well insulated walls I could make out his moan.
When he passed, I shut off the TV and closed the blinds. I closed the ones in the living room, too. I took my coffee upstairs into the bedroom and turned on the TV there, volume way down, kneeling in front of it.
The anchorwoman had recovered herself and was speaking fast, lapsing automatically into a sunny but sympathetic smile at the end of each paragraph, her eyes moving frantically as she read. Lock your doors. Remain inside.
I crept back downstairs. I peeked through the blinds in the kitchen. There was no one outside. No cars, no blazers and spill-resistant coffee mugs heading grudgingly to work. I turned off the kitchen light after dumping the little bit of coffee remaining into my mug, and taking a box of cereal from the cupboard. On my way back up, I turned off the light in the hallway.
She was repeating herself. Reports coming in from all over the metro area. But didn't say of what. Alluding with "tragedies," "terror," but gave no specifics as to exactly what in the hell was outside.
I sat down on the edge of the bed, leaning forward to hear, and clicked through the local channels. I ate the cereal with my fingers. The Spanish station announcer was most composed, but I don't speak Spanish. I went back to the white people, who were all repeating the same vague tallies, staying on-message, telling me nothing.
I stopped on Channel 6.
People were running. Not rushing with papers, but moving too fast for the camera to fully capture them, so they blurred and you couldn't tell whose legs went with whose torso. There was no announcer, no head floating in the center of it all calling the action. Then it stopped, the studio was empty. And there was a gurgling, "Help! Help..."
A man wandered behind the anchor's desk. He was bloody. He turned toward the camera. It was mostly on his face. Cannibals. Satanists. His eyes did not seem to see, he kept moving off screen. Moaning.
I left it there, but nothing else happened, so I clicked rapidly up the channels. One was off the air, playing the American flag which I haven't seen in years. One anchorman was in a fight with someone offscreen, wanting to go home and get his kids.
Outside were sirens. Right outside. I ran to the window, but they'd already passed. Someone was running slowly down the middle of the street in the same direction.
I thought about the car. Piece of shit, my husband had taken the SUV and left it at the airport. Would take at least ten minutes to warm up. Instead I went to the phone, to call my mom in Ohio and see if she could think of a way, or tell me what to do. Tell me this happened back in the fifties once and she and my dad just rode it out and stop being such a child. I dialed, but the mechanical operator said her circuits were busy.
Something hit the side of the house. I don't know what, there was no other sound. The window rattled a little with the impact, then nothing.
I stood still next to the bed, trying to breathe quiet, trying to hear. I picked up the remote and clicked the mute on the TV. The fog was burning off and I could hear more now. Maybe there was more to hear. More screaming. Fewer sirens.
I had to stand there a while, catching my breath, but then I tip-toed very slowly downstairs. Not slowly but very. Stopping if my breath got husky, if it might have covered the click of the front doorknob trying to turn or the breathing of someone else. I made the foot of the stairs.
The front door has no blinds. My heart was beating hard. The hallway to the kitchen passes in front of it, in plain view of anyone waiting to come in. I peeked and saw nothing, so I jumped like a kid playing Hot Lava across the entryway, into the darkness of the hallway's continuation. Careful, careful how much noise I made I opened the goddamned hermetically sealed refrigerator and took out 2 fresh liters of diet pop and the last of the orange juice. It closed too loud. I sweated and stood still, but nothing moved. I opened the cupboard and got one box of crackers and one bag of ruffly potato chips. With my arms full, I did not jump again at the front door, but scurried on my tiptoes like a thief in a cartoon.
Upstairs the TV was pointless. I turned it off and I went in the hallway and unfolded the entrance to the attic, shitty little attic, more of a crawlspace, no windows, just a vent at the far end. We'd never even been up here. The house has ample closet space. Paint flaked on the floor when I opened it.
I pushed my food and drink up into the hole and climbed back down to go to the bathroom.
I locked the door behind me, but I couldn't pee. The seat was cold and water was still dripping from the bathmat to the floor. It should have made me want to go, the splash sound as the drops hit. But I was listening. If I die jesus god let me not die on the toilet, vulnerable, control tops tight around my knees. I couldn't take my eyes off the doorknob. I forced some, but it was no good. I pulled my skirt back down and skipped washing my hands.
Once I pulled the ladder up behind me, there was almost no light in the attic. I pressed myself against the far wall to see some of the white sunlight, but couldn't make anything out, only that there was light. I felt around to check my supplies, still there, within reach. It wasn't cold, at least. A little cold air filtered in from the other side of the vent, but it was ok, better here than anywhere else, in pitch black.
I sat cross-legged by the vent and fed myself sips of pop and potato chips, chewing slowly, letting saliva soak it so I could hear over it. It sounded worse outside. I heard a child screaming, abruptly cut short. I thought about removing the vent to see, but instead I curled my knees up to my chest and regretted whatever was out there, my neighbors, my husband, his assistant. Would it make it better to be with them? Nope, nope.
I got brave, finally, and snuck down the ladder to pee. My heart was pounding. I tried to lose my own noise in the noise from outside. Quick in the chaos. But the stillness I could see felt like a trick, a precursor to the walls coming down and hordes tearing into me. When I finished I skipped rungs climbing back up and closed the hatch with hands that shook so bad I almost dropped the ladder.
The light got watery, but the noise didn't stop. The moaning was louder, and things were falling apart now, breaking noises and large objects hitting the earth.
It was almost dark when the noise made it here.
I jumped, I felt the crash through the wall and the house shook as they trampled in. For shelter, I hoped, but not with those moans. They came from all over the lower level as I listened to my own windows smash. Tried not to breathe, but I made a noise with every flich. I pressed myself against the corner.
I couldn't see anything in front of me. The pop bottle had ceased to give up sweat, but I gripped its neck for comfort and drank in the cold air from the vent and tried to think about commercials, MTV, summer, bikinis, my husband having sex in some Pennsylvania motel, anything. Maybe it wasn't real. The bones in my butt hurt from sitting on the hard floor, and my feet were tingling with trapped blood. I had to pee again. But the noise was unmistakable, it was from here, they were below me and no good reason for them to be except they were looking for me.
I heard one making its way up the stairs. Maybe it wasn't too late. I could sneak past them while they searched the bedroom, or slide the ladder down and let them start to climb up and then topple them all with one solid kick. Take the vent out of the wall and climb onto the roof.
It moaned right below me and I stopped being able to take in air. My throat just closed right up, went dry and I could feel that place right in the center of your neck, that hard ring in there, lock down. Was I slipping, was I moving? My heart was so loud I could not fucking tell. It moaned again. Another one joined it. I raised my fist, slowly, slowly, to my face, into my mouth, and bit down hard but I did not make a sound. The solidness of my own body was a comfort, still here in the dark. I could breathe around my fist.
They moved around on the top floor, five at least. More or less at times. It began to blend together. The moans stopped being individual, it was just moaning, unceasing. They ran out of things to shatter after a while, just moans and footfalls.
That was two days ago. I've pissed myself, I've shit myself. I'm thirsty. They haven't left once.
I can hear their fingernails scratching around the entrance, where the ladder comes out, so I probably don't have...