The dead of night still choked the deserted and scarred city beneath it, tightening its ungodly grip with a fierce cold carried along by the swirling mist. The lights in Sarah’s apartment building blinked off individually until they joined the other endless silent and darkened buildings around the city. After a few moments of silence, a tiny portion of darkness was pierced by the ghostly headlights of a car as it droned mysteriously into life.
Sarah felt the cold even from inside the car, touching her skin with an unpleasant dampness to it. She tightened the jumper around her with her right arm pressed against it, keeping her left hand on the wheel.
Sarah did as she was instructed by William and drove the battered old car round the back of the building, then drove slowly into one of the many unused lock-up garages and stopped. All the while, she kept a small amount of pressure on the gas pedal, the result being a small sound of acceleration from the engine so as not to cause too much noise.
She thought that William was being a little paranoid when he told her that they had to keep quiet just in case the scientists heard them, but she could see his point a little. She supposed that William had been made this way, to always be looking over his shoulder and to always be a little anxious. From the way Oswald Richardson was with him and the others, it would cause anyone to become permanently paranoid and a nervous wreck. But, despite all that, he was right, they did indeed need to keep quiet. In a world as silent and deserted as this, the slightest sound can arouse suspicion, though very few have the guts to go and look for that cause. For a moment, she wished the scientists were as cowardly as that.
Sarah waited in the car for William to bring the tape machines, her eyes watching the gas-like mist slowly and silently caress the car and the inside of the garage, swirling and tumbling in the air, the fading edges of the mist becoming like clawed talons, caressing the car in a darker more savage undertone.
There was not a sound anywhere in the air or the immediate area, except for the anxious breathing of Sarah and the rustling of her clothes against the soft leather of the driving seat. She tucked her cold hands deep into her trouser pockets, doing her best to cut off any hint of cold air to them. She looked around the small square portion of darkness behind her as she sought out the image of William coming toward her and saw nothing.
Come on, William, where the hell are you? You don’t have to carry everything I have, just get the most important things then we‘ll get out of here.
She turned the key in the ignition until the engine roared momentarily then dropped down to a slight rumbling, deciding to keep the engine running and keep it warm, just in case it happened to go too cold and they had to take time to warm it again. She chose to switch it back on for that reason, rather than do it for the real reason, which was that she didn’t like to sit here in the cold all alone in the dead silence.
Her ears jerked round like radar as she caught the distant sound of hurried footsteps behind her, rapidly coming closer, as well as the sound of bulky objects being carried uneasily. Sarah sighed and relaxed her body, somehow now feeling not as cold as she was.
“What the hell too you so long?” She said into the clammy air. “You were the one who told me to hurry and you’re taking your time.”
She turned round and lay her arms across the top of her seat until her fingers met, her eyes caught sight of the vivid figure of William running towards her through the thick fog and the inky blackness, expelling air noisily and tiredly as he struggled to keep up the massive weight he held, bags carrying the tape machines hanging from his tired hands, swinging dangerously in the air as he ran toward her.
He came to a slow stop once he reach the car, finishing with a few footsteps before his body forced him to stop. He lay the bags on the floor beside him and put his hands on his hips, lowering his body to the floor as if he was about to throw up. He expelled and inhaled air as if they were his first taste of oxygen, noisily gulping in air and breathing it out through his enormous mouth as he frantically caught his breath. Sarah watched him for a few moments, amused at his inability to run a few yards before being exhausted. She smiled and almost broke into laughter, making no attempt to hide it from him. He turned his head and looked at her, his eyes altering to a confused and almost hurt expression.
After a few minutes, he collected his breath and returned to normal breathing. He continued looking at Sarah with an almost comical expression of being embarrassed. Sarah continued to snigger.
“What?” He said. “You think I can’t run so far before I give up and have to sit down?”
Sarah sniggered again. “Yeah, course I do, just put the bags in the trunk when your ready.”
William did as she said and started to pick up the bags. He stopped in mid-motion when he saw Sarah extend her open hand to him, a serious look on her face. “Hey,” she told him. “Don’t strain yourself, ya’ hear?”
William grinned the usual way someone would to sarcasm and picked up the bags, heaving them up in the air and lowering them into the open trunk. After only a couple of minutes, he had finished placing the bags carefully and closed the trunk. He got into the car and closed the door. Sarah lightly pressed her foot on the gas pedal as little as she could and moved the gear-stick into reverse. She twisted her upper body a little and watched as she reversed the car out of the garage until they faced the open street. She moved the gear-stick into first and moved forward onto the road and followed it into the city.
The eternal blackness of the night raced by without form or features. The guiding light of the stars and the moon that once hung like caring entities in the sky were now non-existent, purged long ago by the evil machinations of the human race. The ever present and ever silent fog retained its icy grip of the city, its almost god-like presence was shattered only by the constant racing of Sarah and William’s car.
Streets and shops moved swiftly along like blurred images in a mirror, phantom-like buildings whizzing by without names as the two of them raced down, not stopping for a moment to check where they were. The recording equipment in the trunk bounced around only mildly, softly banging against the sides of their tight space. William leaned back in his seat, lazily watching the darkened windows of the buildings race by. Sarah kept a tight hold of the steering wheel, as though feeling slightly untrustworthy toward the car, keeping a well-trained eye on the hazy and almost obscure road ahead.
It felt strange to be driving another car besides her Cadillac, that had always been with her, right at the start of the end of the world, it had been with her like a constant companion. She knew every inch of that car, every little scrape where the pink paint had been scraped off, its own individual little quirks. The car almost had personality. Though it sounded strange and a little bizarre to admit it to herself, it was still true. It almost seemed like a friend to her, the only thing in this world that she had trusted when she was all alone in a world populated only by a few insane stragglers on the streets.
It made her cold to think of her pride and joy in the hands of a bunch of lunatics, hell-bent on finding them. It almost felt like the car was a hostage to the scientists, forced into helping them find her and William against its will.
What the hell are you thinking off? She thought to herself. This kind of thinking is way out there. I know you’ve lost your car to a bunch of psycho’s, but there’s no need to worry about it. You’ll get it back from them, and then you’ll make them pay for all that they’ve done to you.
“So,” William said suddenly, sitting up in his seat. “Where do we start with this EVP studying? You’ve got a whole city to use, hundreds upon hundreds of shops and houses.”
Sarah shrugged her shoulders and shook her head a little. “You got me, I don’t have a damn idea where to start from. All’s I know is, we’ve got to study those voices, quickly and find out what the hell they mean, and what they’ve got to do with us. We don’t really have to start off with making our own recording samples, we can use some of those we’ve already got. The tapes you and the others made, the few that I made.”
William nodded. “I guess so, but that still leaves where we set up the equipment. I ’d say we could set it up in the car so that we’re always with it, just in case we have to move quickly. But, we’ll never get all of that stuff inside this thing.”
Sarah kept her eyes on the road, as well as on the blurry buildings racing by, her ear trained on what William was telling her. She released the pressure on the gas pedal a little and the car slowed to a steady twenty-five miles an hour. The constant blurriness of the buildings was now clear images of deserted properties, obscured only partly by the fog, the strong headlights of the car reflecting against the liquid blackness of the windows.
Sarah carefully looked at the buildings on either side of the road as they crept along, studying every detail, and every possible advantage it had for them.
We need somewhere that’s pretty big, but not huge, two stories I guess. It has to have somewhere inside that’ll let us light a torch, or something and we won’t be seen.
Dozens of potential hiding places passed by with no sudden decision to use them: The butchers, the hairdressers, the candy shop, the tanning place, the computer store. All were pretty suitable places, but none seemed to be the perfect place.
“Are you gonna’ decide, already?” William asked impatiently. “We can’t be out in the open for too long, we have to find somewhere pretty quick.”
“Yeah, I know,” Sarah snapped. “Just give me a break okay, I’m trying to think.”
After a few gruelling minutes of studying each property, they came out empty handed at the other end of the street, sticking out in the open like a sore thumb.
Sarah stopped the car and left the engine running. She put her hands above the wheel and rested her head against it. She breathed in a deep sigh, hoping it would re-energise her muscles and encourage her to keep going. She casually glanced up at the direction she was facing, her eyes instantly widening in relief. Just above the row of stores straight in front of her were a row of small houses, each one separated from its neighbour.
Its perfect. She thought, her hand hurrying to move the gear stick into first.
“What is it,” William asked as he watched her. “Have you seen something?”
Sarah nodded as she got the car moving again, driving across both lanes of the road ahead and turning left into Munson Street, the endless row of creepy, deserted houses lay right in front of them.
“We’ll use one of these houses.” She said. “They’ll be the best to use. It’ll have everything we need there, there’s plenty of space inside, and with the planks of wood across the windows, I don’t think much light we’d use would pierce through and give us away.”
“I guess.” William responded, looking at the houses. Hopefully, if the scientists come through here and spot any kind of light, they might put it down to one of the street stragglers still inside their own house.”
Sarah nodded and proceeded down the street slowly, careful not to make much noise.
The sight of this residential area now become deserted and devoid of anything human being inside it for years somehow seemed a lot more chilling than many other areas. The silent and unmoving shadowy figures of the trees stretched all along both ends of the street, the rotted wood of the houses, the abandoned bikes and children’s toys, the individual front doors and abandoned cars ceaselessly parked in front of the houses.
This was very creepy to the both of them. These places had character, a soul of their own. Not like the other countless stores, shops and office buildings and skyscrapers. They were all part of the human desire for profit. Soul-less, featureless properties for nothing other than that. These places had been the homes of many people who had lived lives just like them at one time. They had played with their children in the front garden, pushing them on swings or giving them their first bike lessons. Fathers and mothers had said goodbye to their children as they left for work, they had kissed them goodbye and hugged them tightly when they had left to fight in the war, not certain whether they would come back or even see them again.
The car crept along the dead street, the tires crushing the thick field of dead leaves underneath. They came to the middle of the street and decided on the house on the immediate left. At the front of the house swung a large wooden chair hanging from old rusty chains the wood was heavily rotted and a lot of it already rotted away to nothing. The chair swung from side to side in the breeze. They stopped the car and opened the trunk. Both of them carried the large bags of equipment toward the front door and rested them just outside. They looked at the door, considering how to get inside.
“We could kick it down.” Sarah said matter of factly, as though she had done it before. William shook his head in response. “No, we can’t do that. If we do, we could break the lock and then we couldn’t close it at all. It wouldn’t be much good at hiding our presence if we had it open.”
Sarah raised her index finger to him and smiled. She fumbled around in her hair until she took out a hair-pin. She bent it and altered its shape until it had the crude appearance of a lock-pick. She placed it inside the faded keyhole and bent down on her knees, her eyes aligned up to the keyhole as she fumbled inside, sounds of tinkering and scraping metal were heard from inside for a few moments. William watched her fascinated.
“You done that many times?” He asked.
Sarah uttered a breath of laughter and smiled. “Yeah, usually when I’m shopping around for things and I find some great little place with plenty of food inside and the damn things locked. Sometimes, I break the door down, but, if I plan on using it more in the future and I have to leave some things behind, I use this then I can lock it again when I’m finished.”
William shook his head in mild surprise. “You think of everything, don’t you?”
“I try.” She said simply.
Finally, with a rather loud click, the door came unlocked and slowly creaked open, revealing the darkened features inside. William walked inside first, Sarah stood up and placed the hair-pin back where she got it, smiling as she became proud of herself.
William walked cautiously into the house, his eyes scanning every inch of the immediate area, his ears alert for any sound, his tentative footsteps creaked as he walked across the rotted wood beneath the carpet.
Despite their not being any obvious activity or signs of anyone living in the house for several years, their was still the possibility that someone was living here, squatting maybe in an upstairs bedroom. William didn’t know what he’d do if he did find anyone here, or find evidence of someone being here. Somehow, he felt that he didn’t have the right to kick them out of the house and take it over himself. Sure, they didn’t have any right to be here any more than he or Sarah did, but this was important, a hell of a lot more important than simply looking for somewhere to live.
Sarah remained outside the front door for a moment watching William, not sure whether or not it was safe.
To hell with this, if theirs someone here, I’ll beat the crap out of them until they leave. She stepped inside and took a quick look at the interiors.
The living room was to the left of the main corridor, the dining room was to the right and the main staircase to the upper level was at the other end of the corridor, the door to the kitchen lay just underneath the staircase. The staircase and everything within sight that was made of wood was close to being completely rotted, it all looked brittle, covered in dampness and moisture, the odd creak could be heard coming from it all as it came ever closer to complete collapse.
The furniture, though one time relatively new and expensive, was nothing more than breeding ground for dust and microscopic organisms to flourish. Photographs and painting in frames were coated in thick dust, the once proud and happy faces of the nameless people in them were now blurred by years of dust collection. Sarah coughed as she felt it find its way to her throat.
A pot of once fresh flowers in a dusty white vase was now completely withered and dead, the bright colours of green and yellow and red were now gone, leaving only black and shrivelled petals behind. Sarah took a tenuous hold of one of the petals, within seconds, the shrivelled dead object disintegrated in fingers, crumbling into countless tiny pieces. She looked at the pieces around her feet for a moment before she turned round to William behind her.
“So, any signs of life?” She asked him.
William shook his head. “I can’t see anything that looks like someone’s in here, it looks like no ones lived here since the original owners of the house.” He nodded towards the staircase. “Of course, because of the state of the staircase, it doesn’t look safe enough to climb up and check upstairs.”
Sarah turned and looked at the staircase, checking every inch of it. “Maybe I could get up.” She said, much to William’s surprise. “I had a staircase like that in my apartment building, I had to go up and down it every day, and nothing ever happened to me. I’ll go and check it myself.”
William stopped her by holding to her right shoulder. “I don’t that’s a good idea, you might know your own staircase more than the back of your hand, but this thing hasn’t been used for years. It could all fall apart from under you. I can’t let you take that risk.”
He let go of her shoulder. “
Besides, if their was anyone living here, they’ve have come out and shouted the odds at us, screaming for us to leave. So, I guess were on our own.”
Sarah sighed and nodded her head.
“Come on.” He said. “Lets get the bags and bring them in.”
They walked out of the front door and took the large heavy bags into the house
“We‘ll use that room, its big enough to store all this stuff.” He said, walking into the dining room. They took the bags into the room and lay them down on the floor. William started to take all of the stuff out while Sarah looked around the room.
A long thick wooden table covered the length of the whole room with equally thick chairs positioned underneath. A long white cotton tablecloth was stretched across the whole table, surprisingly without any wrinkles or creases anywhere. In the centre of the table were two white candles in gold coloured holders. The whole once proud image was now covered entirely with a great dusty cobweb stretching from the chairs to the candles, the eight-legged inhabitant long dead.
“Come on.” William said suddenly, snapping her out of her quiet contemplation. “Help me get this stuff off of here then we can set the equipment on top of it, then we‘ll board up those windows and turn on the lantern”
Without pausing, Sarah did as he asked and took the away the candles, instantly disturbing a thick amount of settled dust. She dropped the candles on the floor. The two of them grabbed opposite ends of the cobweb and tore it apart, tearing every individual tiny follicle that hung onto the table and the chairs. Sarah looked at the table and the mass of equipment they had in the bags. She looked William. “You think this table will stand up to the weight of all this stuff on top of it?”
William looked at her and at the table for a moment, silently considering her thoughts. “Well, I can’t think of anywhere else we could use. The kitchen doesn’t have any near the amount of space we need, and we can’t use the floor, I don’t wanna’ have to kneel down ever time we make a new tape recording. We don’t have to use the whole equipment we’ve got here, we can just use one or two tape machines, the wave machine won’t make much of a weight.”
Silently agreeing with each other, they began to take the relevant equipment out of the bags and place them on the dusty surface. In only a few minutes, they were done and ready to go. They left the tape machine for the moment and proceeded to board up the window in the room with the rotted wood lying on the floor. Sarah held the pieces in place as William nailed them to the wall with the hammer and nails from the bags. After they were done, William brought out the small lantern and lit it with a match then placed it on the table, a strange eerie glow threw itself across the surrounding walls.
William placed a fresh tape inside the tape machine and switched on the button for the radio, the surrounding silence was broken by the sudden crackle of static flowing through the air. The two of them sat down on two of the chairs from under the table. Sarah took hold of the microphone and took in a deep sigh.
“You sure you’re ready to do this?” William asked her, looking into her eyes.
Sarah looked back into his, a serious look on her face. “I’m ready.” She said without any obvious emotion. She flicked the switch on the microphone and spoke aloud.
“This is Sarah Gaelock, I’m here in this house with my friend William Blake, is there anyone on the air?”
Nothing but the same stone dead silence mixed in with faded static came through. Sarah sighed and allowed her head to drop down, tenuously holding the microphone in her hand.
William knew and wanted to tell her that you couldn’t always expect instant responses to these types of experiments, but he knew she wasn’t interested in hearing pointless and insignificant facts. “Come on,” he said putting his arms around her. “We can try later on, you don’t have to-”
“Listen, you sons of bitches!” She viciously shrieked suddenly into the microphone, her head jumping up like a sudden violent surge of power. William almost fell back to the floor as his chair tilted back, Sarah seemed to forget he was even there. “I want some goddamn answers from you dead freaks. And I don’t want any fucking vague answers from you, I want facts about what the hell is going on with me. Why the hell am I having these visions, what the hell do they mean, why the fuck am I having them!?”
William had seen the other scientists react in similar ways to the voice phenomenon in the past when they got lousy results, but he had never seen anyone be so powerful as this before. Sure, he could understand that she wouldn’t be patient with them after what she’d been through, but her frantic response to the instant silence somehow made her like an animal. It scared him a little.
“I saw daddy!” A voice said, instantly coming through, loud and high pitched, quite obviously a child’s voice.
William paused in his seat, his mouth partly open, his eyes staring at the tape machine that now carried on its relentless static filled silence. He looked at Sarah. She was sat rigid on her chair, her hair slightly out of place, her eyes wild with repressed rage, rapidly breathing quiet breaths, her fingers gripped the microphone.
“Did you hear that?” William asked her, knowing it was a stupid question.
Sarah’s rigid body twitched for a second as she released a deep breath of air, slowly closing her eyes, as though suddenly being released from a great burden. She still grippe the microphone in her hand. “Yeah, I heard it,” she said finally. “Not really the answer I was looking for, but its something anyway. What the hell do you think it means?”
“Well, it seems pretty obvious. This was once someone’s house where a family lived. This must be the voice of the girl who lived here, talking about her dad, maybe she sees him in the house.”
Sarah nodded slightly, not the least bit saddened to be picking up the spirit of a dead little girl. She had lived in a dead world for over ten years, and the knowledge of the death of all children was something she had gotten used to.
She sat comfortably again and spoke aloud into the microphone. “Can you tell me your name, little girl? Who’s your daddy?” Despite ready and waiting to tear the world apart for the answers she wanted, all of that seemed forgotten, or at least, put aside to the back of her mind. The high, yet innocent sound of the little girls voice mellowed her a little. And, at least this was a way in for information for her.
“Amy, my name. Hard to breath.” The voice again came in a matter of seconds. Then, the frequency on the radio suddenly fazed out, replaced by even louder static. William’s hands stretched out immediately, almost through instinct as he hurried to turn the dials to the correct station.
Sarah sat confused, looking out into nothing as she pondered the message. ‘Hard to breath,’ what would that mean. I’m guessing you don’t breath when your dead.
After a minute, or so, William had reset the frequency on the radio, once again returning to quiet static. “You’re ready to go again.” He said to her, and relaxed back in his chair.
“What do you mean by ‘hard to breath.’ “ She asked the bodiless voice.
Nothing but the same dead silence, devoid of any sound. She dropped the microphone and began blindly turning the dials hurriedly as she sought the reason for the lack of voices. “You sure you set this thing right?” She said to William, almost snapping at him.
“Of course I did,” he responded. “I know how these damn things work, it was on the correct station, you were all set. Maybe, she just doesn’t want to talk to you anymore.”
Sarah’s head instantly to face him, her face scowling, as though blind with rage directed against him. He had absolutely no idea. She felt connected to not just this voice, but all the others she had heard before. They all somehow felt like hearing from a long dead friend after a long time. He couldn’t understand what that meant.
“Do not fight, makes trouble. Daddy like the dummy more than me. The scary dummy, the one with the devil’s grin. The closet upstairs, daddy.” The voice of the child again cam through clearly on the microphone, instantly found by Sarah and William’s ears.
The two of them quickly dropped to their knees as they scrambled to find the hanging microphone and grasp it in their shaking fingers. Sarah found it and grabbed it as though it contained the answer to the universe. She brought it back to the level of the table. “Hello, hello,” she spoke into it again. “ Is there anyone there, please, Amy, are you there, what do you mean?”
The cruel sound of the static forced back her frantic cry for more like a smack in the face. The two of them looked at the tape machine as it switched itself off with a loud click of the power button. Sarah allowed the microphone to drop again to the floor as she lost all strength in her arms. “Why did she leave us,” she asked William, immediately turning to him, a look of despair and apprehension in her face. “Why didn’t she tell us more, it was something important.”
William leaned back slightly, her sudden response seemed like the Spanish inquisition. He looked quickly from left to right, as though looking desperately for an answer that would please her. “I don’t know,” he told her. “Like I said, maybe she said she had to say, maybe she didn’t like us. I can’t give you the answers, this is all Greek to me.”
Sarah’s eyes moved slightly to the left into a dark corner of the room, silently going over something in her mind. “Amy, she said something about a dummy with a devil’s grin in a closet, her daddy liking it more than her. Its gotta’ be a ventriloquist dummy, those things have ultra creepy grins. Maybe her dad had one and spent more time with it.” She went silent as she considered something for a moment. “I’m going upstairs to look in any closets if they’re here, I don’t care if the stairs have gone, you can help me if you want.”
She jumped from her seat and ran into the corridor toward the dilapidated and heavily rotted wooden staircase and stopped and looked at it, considering how she would climb it. William closely followed behind her. “What the hell do you think you’re talking about? You can’t go up there, its too dangerous, you’ll fall and break your goddamn neck. And why should we check something out told to us by someone who’s been dead for ten years.”
Without warning, Sarah suddenly clutched tightly to her forehead screaming, she dropped to the floor as William desperately tried in vain to help her. “Sarah, what is it, is it a vision, what’s wrong with you?”