The Telephone

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Chapter 31

Sarah groggily awoke to the feel of a hand lightly shaking her side. She sensed that her head was hanging over the edge of the window, slightly and quickly pulled it back. She could tell that the car wasn’t moving and they had stopped in a street somewhere. She yawned, cracked her knuckles and looked around to her right and saw William gently rousing her back to consciences. He smiled when he saw that she was awake then turned his attention back to the building they were parked by.

Sarah hunched herself up and looked over at the building they were parked beside. It was a small café, the glass-made sign on the wall was heavily encrusted with dirt and dust, the red and white chequered curtains were scrunched up, small holes poking through them everywhere.
Sarah turned back to William, attempting to give him a questionable look with her tired and half closed eyes.
“I used to come here all the time, before the war.” He told her, in a voice that seemed like he was uncertain to her expression.
“I knew this place like the back of my hand, I even helped out here on weekends in the kitchen, I think it’s a good place to do what we’re doing. I anybody comes by, we can just hide in the back, plus, hopefully, there’ll be a lot of canned goods in the back.”
He looked at his watch and up at the sky, slightly surprised to see the time, despite driving for hours. “Besides,” he said. “I think we should find somewhere before the morning comes and we’re sitting ducks.”
Sarah looked at his face through tired eyes, her sight was blurry as they became accustomed to being awake, but the features on William’s face were unambiguous.
William’s face was once that of a young man, somewhere around his early or late twenties. An adolescent crop of stubble had long ago gathered around his chin, his eyes still once bore the features of innocence and ignorance, despite everything they had undoubtedly seen over the last ten years, or so. His skin was once so smooth like a babies.
Looking at his face now, however, his youthful looking appearance was all but gone, battered and pulverised into the typical features of an old-man. His smooth skin was now starting to bear the tiniest wrinkles, sagging skin hung from his face, awash with tiny hairs sprouting all around his mouth. His bright eyes now looked tired, full of the appearance of wisdom and great knowledge.
The last few days had changed him a lot, pushing him to the limits of survival, and trying to understand the strange EVP messages he had heard. Sarah felt a little guilty seeing him like this. She’d been the one who barged into his life and his work and put this great unearthly burden on his shoulders, making him drag it around for her.
She knew, though, not to blame herself entirely for him being here with her. She’d told him often enough that he was scared or didn’t want to carry on, he could leave, she could survive on her own, just like she had done all these years and he could enjoy his life in the country with the few survivors that were already there. But, as always, he had been determined, and slightly idiotic to stay with her and face these things with her. Though, he never said anything, it was obvious he had a thing for her and that was the main thing that was making him stay with her. That really was something she could blame him for.
“Well, we’re here, aren’t you gonna make yourself useful?” William told her as she slowly pulled herself up and looked around. She immediately wrapped herself tightly with her arms as she felt the bitter cold around her bite at her skin.
They were parked on the side of what once was a major road route through the city. Sarah looked at the dusty old sign close by, it read: Lynch Street. The road was wide, allowing for four separate lanes. Tall and decaying traffic lights remained fixed in the cold air, the once bright flickering colours of red, yellow and green were now covered with encrusted dust, their electrical power long extinguished. Large and expensive looking skyscrapers were on either side of the road, stretching high into the air. A strong gust of wind and the silent fog carried along the rotting trash and the ownerless and abandoned clothes across the street, the faint specks of ashes of what was left of the people were carried along with them.
Sarah looked up at the sky and saw that the endless inky blackness was slowly starting to ebb away, replacing itself with the perfect, featureless whiteness of the morning. She quickly rubbed her eyes and looked at her watch, the time read: 5:30 am.
God, I must have slept through the whole night.
William opened the door beside and almost jumped out of the car, seemingly excited about going into the café, somehow. Sarah slowly followed him, her muscles gradually becoming accustomed to moving again. The way her body was right now, it seemed like she hadn’t slept in weeks, but before her full nights sleep, it certainly felt that way.
William walked up to the front door of the café, stopped and looked inside through the glass inside the door. The glass was frosted and he couldn’t see anything, aside from the faint shapes and colours of the objects inside. He gave a little knock on the glass with his knuckles. Just like the house, if their was anybody living inside, the slightest noise indicating that someone was trespassing would get them out of their hiding place, running toward them and screaming for them to leave.
William waited a second after knocking, his face and open left hand pressed against the glass as he sought out any kind of movement. Nothing, not even the dust shook out of place when he knocked.
He leaned back from the door and gently pushed it, the door slowly creaked open, the strong light from outside gradually gathered inside the café, revealing every detail.
The room inside was quite small, room enough for only three separate tables and chairs on the right alongside the windows, each separated by a small green coloured piece of glass. On the left was the wooden counter, dusty and empty glasses and plates rested silently all along it. Hanging from the ceiling was an unmoving dust covered fan, the tiny cobwebs hanging from it blew briefly as the breeze from outside came in.
Resting on each of the rotted tables were a collection of long-dead corpses, slumped over the dusty and rotted tables. Their human like features were barely obvious from the amount that had rotted away, their eyeholes now large gaping holes, most of their teeth missing. The faded remnants of their clothes hung in tatters from their torsos. Large dusty cobwebs were stretched from point to another all across them.
William held back at the sight before him and bit his lip, feeling an uncomfortable sensation rush through him.
He’d known this place so well when he used to come here. The people that had worked here were some of the friendliest people he could ever hope to meet. Mr and Mrs Carbuncle, the middle aged owners of this place, they were always laughing at everything, no matter how bad a situation, they laughed it off and sorted it out. Though middle-aged with most of their looks gone, they still touched each other up and kissed each other continuously, unfazed whenever he walked into the kitchen and found them together.
The place had been a great place to work, the people had always been friendly, and now the scene was like everything else in the city, just one big colossal graveyard, the corpses of friends and family now nothing more than decaying matter in the wind.
“I think its safe.” He said turning to Sarah, standing behind him with her arms crossed, feeling intently cold after waking up in the open air.
“Hey, are we going in here, or aren’t we?” Sarah shouted suddenly, causing William to jump in surprise.
How the hell can I bring her into this place? He asked himself. I doubt she’s gonna’ wanna’ set up the equipment around these corpses, god knows, I don’t want to.
“Sarah,” he said without turning round. “You think we should find another place, besides this? I mean, there’s corpses in here, and the place has memories for me. I don’t know if . . . You could go in their with them lying across the tables.”
William closed his eyes, expecting to hear a sympathetic response from her. But, their was nothing but silence from her, it almost seemed like she wasn’t stood behind him anymore. A few awkward moments passed before Sarah finally answered.
“I know how you feel about this place, and I understand, but we can’t go looking for somewhere else to hold up. The lights coming quickly, and we have to get inside somewhere we can hide well. You said yourself, you know this place like the back of your hand, so you’ll know all the best possible hiding places. And, so what about the corpses? We’ve both lived among them for ten years, we both know they’re nothing to us, now, unless they’re the bodies of your old colleagues?”
“No, they’re not.” William said, trying to contain the sudden anger of her words inside.
“Well, that’s okay, then, they’re nobody. We can just dump them outside, put a sheet over them, or something.”
“Couldn’t we just find somewhere else to hold up that’s on this street, we only have to walk a little way and drive the car a few yards.”
“No, I told you,” Sarah shouted. “We don’t have the time. You know this place, that’s our advantage over the scientists.”
William couldn’t believe the words she was spouting out easily. She almost sounded like Oswald Richardson talking about the poor guy they buried in the back of the Town Hall, so damn unsympathetic and uncaring to him, even as he watched William and the others bury him in an unmarked grave. The son of a bitch wasn‘t human. But, he could still see her point, they were just the corpses of nobody, people who were long dead, it wouldn’t matter to them what they did with their bodies.
“You’re right,” he said finally. “We’ll just cover them up with something. There should be extra tablecloths in the back, somewhere, I’ll go get them and drape them over them.”
“No,” Sarah said flatly. “I’ll do it, I’ll be able to do it without thinking about it. You go get the stuff from the trunk of the car, I’ll find the tablecloths myself.”
William finally turned round, a look of shame on his face. He nodded a little to Sarah, silently thanking her for taking care of the bodies for him.
“Here,” William said taking off his coat. “Put this on, you look cold.”
It wasn’t Sarah’s nature for her to accept charity after living alone for so long, but she didn’t hesitate this time in taking his coat and draping it around her.
“Here, go inside and find those tablecloths for me. I’ll bring the equipment in, it’ll only take a few minutes.”
Sarah walked into the doorway of the café, William walked down to the car and lifted the trunk. He rested his head against it for a few moments and closed his eyes, trying with a little resistance to control his pace of breathing. Sarah looked at him, guilt overwhelming her.
She guessed she had been a little hard on him, forcing him to use this place and not some other in the street, her fear of standing around in the open air made her shout orders at him. While she knew that this was a hard decision for him, she couldn’t tell him to choose somewhere else, there’s no way he would like that.
She could imagine what he was feeling right now about going in here, that it was like stepping inside an old family home where many bad things happened, and having someone forcing you inside, not listening to your excuses to leave. She knew that she had to go easy on him, now, at least until they left here, whenever that was.
She turned and walked inside, heading for the door behind the counter.
The back kitchen was in the same sorry state as the main café area. Large silver coloured ovens with knobs and dials were fixed in numerous places along the surrounding walls, great amounts of decay and rust had long ago began to devour it, like plaque in untreated teeth. Large and small silver coloured pots and pans were placed accurately on top of the now defunct gas burners, rotten, dusty and cobweb covered food was still inside some of them. Cupboards and shelves were stacked neatly with dusty white plates. The fridge and freezer doors hung open ajar, the intense cold and strong electric lights were now nothing more than a nostalgic memory.
A small collection of small tin food tubs were scattered across the floor, their contents long empty from pillaging. Sarah hoped that whoever had took the food hadn’t found the main larder, though she knew at the back of her mind that the two of them would be phenomenally lucky if they found it undamaged and unaided. She looked around but couldn’t see the larder from where she was. She crossed her fingers and hoped that wherever it was, it was still intact.
Sarah looked on at the skeleton like remnants of what was once a kitchen, not a single shred of emotion or apathy passed through her mind. But, that’s exactly what bothered her.
This place obviously meant so much to William, even now, despite it being just another shabby construction once used by the extinct species known as the human race. He looked at it not as a graveyard, but as a happy place, a monument to a greater and happier time when one was affected by only few troubles or worries. She wished she could feel what William was feeling, even just a little of it, just so he wouldn’t have to be alone with his feelings and she could somehow comfort him.
She felt strangely lucky to not have strong sentimental feelings of a certain place or building in the city, a place she might have spent her weekends, a former friends house, a place she worked, a place she ran to as a kid. To not have places like that that remain in your memory, Sarah felt liberated of anything remotely nostalgic, anything that might deter her from continuing to survive against the impossible set before her.
Yet, with all of this to remind her of her strength and power of adversity, she also felt strongly jealous of William and his memories, even the sad memories he had. It made her realise that he once had a life, a happy one filled with people, loved ones, and the image of a perfect imagined future for himself. He remembered the life he once had, something that made him feel truly alive.
Sarah on the other hand had nothing but faded childhood memories of her father and the numerous unnamed toys she once played with. She suddenly realised that her self-determination to succeed in a dead world, to live on completely alone without any pondering over the past, had all somehow wiped her entire memories from her mind, aside from the small few of her father she most cherished, and the hideous time she spent in the shelters with the sick and the dying.
Those few memories I have, they’re all I have to remind myself that I’m here on this planet. I ’m alive, not dead and buried like those speaking from the tape machines. If someone has absolutely no memory of their small life, if they can’t recall anything that ever happened to them, are they truly alive, or are they just the same as a corpse that imagines itself to be alive?
“You okay in there?” William shouted to her from the front of the café. “Have you found any blankets in there?” Sarah nearly jumped out of her skin from his sudden shout. She composed herself before answering.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she responded. That was partly a lie, the sudden shock of hearing him shout caught her off guard, she was shivering all over, faint feelings of mixed emotions lay just underneath her level-headed exterior.
What the hell does he need blankets for anyway? She thought to herself, shaking off the uncomfortable feeling inside her, clenching her fists and walking up and down the kitchen. They’re just damned corpses for gods sake, who cares if he probably knew them once. They’re dead, they’re nothing but dried up husks.
She sighed and closed her eyes, suddenly remembering her promise to herself that she wouldn’t be like this with him.
Okay, calm down. Unlike you, he actually had friends, he had people that he cared about. You can’t get angry and jealous at him just because of that, so come on, calm down and get the blankets, if they’re around here, that is.
She looked all around her for any indication of a blanket, sheet, anything that could be draped over a corpse. But, she saw nothing but the same drab and dusty kitchen utensils, long abandoned to the unforgiving wind.
I can’t see anything in here, perhaps-
She stopped when she caught sight of a thin width door to the right hand side of the kitchen. She almost missed it due to the amount of dust and lack of most of the paint that had over time peeled away from it, making it look like the rest of the room. She looked closer and saw that it was open a crack then walked toward it.
If they’re not in here, then William will just have to find them, he knows the place, for gods sakes.
She slowly opened the old rickety door, it creaked noisily and uncomfortably, Sarah clenched her teeth and her fists as the unforgiving sound ran through her nervous system. She opened it wide enough to allow the small amount of light from outside pour into the small, cramped room.
The inside bore the typical characteristics of a utility room. Propped against the wall was an old dusty broom, the straw-like thistles poking out the top, a cobweb not unlike thick cotton was stretched from the wall and all across the broom head. Attached to the wall were two twin dusty wooden shelves with heavily rotted and dusty cleaning equipment, the contents long since extinguished. Sarah began to sigh when she realised that the room was a dead herring as well, she then turned her head to the right and saw a collection of tablecloths propped against the wall, rolled up neatly into a large tube shape.
Sarah smiled a little and carried them out into the café.
William had already set up most of the equipment on one of the tables opposite the ones with the decaying bodies. He worked busily and with great concentration on the wires of the machines, the tape machine hummed slightly as the small amount of electricity flowed to it. The thin green line on the wave machine stretched into a perfect line from one end of the small screen to the other, waiting patiently for any kind of sound or voice to come through. The look of determination and a thin bead of sweat on his forehead showed his determination not to turn around and see the bodies of those he might have know once upon a time.
William hardly noticed at first when Sarah came in, clutching the sheets in her arms. She walked past him and quickly tore a sheet from the rolled up mass and immediately covered the corpses with it, the tangled mass of cobwebs shuddered in the sudden draught caused by the whooshing of the sheet.
William turned and looked at Sarah stood behind him, standing rigid, her arms folded behind her back. His whole body moved rigidly as he turned, as if fighting some unseen power over him that forced him to keep staring and concentrating on the mechanics of the machines in front of him. Sarah said nothing as he looked at her, merely tightened her lips, her eyes focused on his. William simply smiled a little then turned and carried on with his work.
“You finally getting there?” Sarah asked him as she walked slowly to his right side.
“Yeah, I think I’m almost done, here.” He responded, the distinct sound of emotion in his voice that he tried like hell to force back. “I thought about using the cars engine to power all of this, seeing as how its only a few feet away from here, but then I realised, the noise and activity would attract too much unwanted attention, so I decided to use the mobile generator.”
“Well, wouldn’t that make noise just as much? Sarah asked, puzzled.
“Its okay, I’ll put in the back, in the kitchen, then I’ll cover it with the rest of those blankets you found and hopefully that’ll muffle the noise.”
“Hopefully?” Sarah said sarcastically, folding her arms.
William sighed. “I know it doesn’t leave much room for use to relax, but this is the best I can do. If you’ve any more suggestions, I’m quite happy to hear them.”
Sarah uncrossed her arms and looked downward to the floor. That last remark bothered her, but she could see his reasoning.
“I’m sorry,” he said, stopping his work and lowering his own head. “Its just being in this place again after all these years and finding it like this. Corpses everywhere, everybody dead, its getting on top of me.”
Sarah sighed then slowly and timidly placed her left hand on his shoulder. He paused for a few moments before taking her hand in his, he then turned round to face her and took her hand in both of his, gently massaging them with his fingers.
“Its funny,” he said, laughing a little. “Even after all that’s happened everywhere, to go around with the knowledge that everyone else but us is dead, to know that everybody I knew and felt something for in this place are all dead, it never hits home until you look at it in the face and realise. It all makes it seem like it was only yesterday.”
Sarah nodded, enjoying the slight tingling sensation running through her body as he caressed her hand.
She wanted to say something to him, something that would make him feel a little better, but absolutely nothing came to mind. She wasn’t the sort of person anyone would go to for advice or comfort for something that bothered them, nor was she even the type of person that would give a suffering soul a hug and give them kind words. Besides, to offer someone comfort over them realising that they had lost a vital moment of their life in the rotting and decaying presence of those they had lost wasn’t the best scenario to face.
“Come on,” William said, forcing back a few tears and putting Sarah’s hands together. “Lets forget the past and all those things and concentrate on this, I should have it ready in a minute or two. If you’re hungry or thirsty, there’s plenty of things in the trunk.”
“Yeah, I am a little thirsty, now that you mention it. I might have a little bite to eat, too. You want me to get something for you, too?”
“Yeah, if you could, thanks.” William answered as he tinkered with the thick concentration of wires at the back of the large tape machine.
Around fifteen minutes later, they were ready. The two of them sat around a small table beside the counter, the tangled mess of machinery and flashing and beeping equipment lay in-between them in the centre of the table. Sarah was near finishing off a large tin of baked beans and a can of diet cola, William made his voracious animal like way through a tin of small steak pieces, a quarter full bottle of water sat beside him.
“You ready, now?” William asked as he came to the end of his empty tin, watching Sarah wolf the beans down her throat. She responded by holding her opened palmed hand to him, silently telling him to wait a minute. William took the empty cassette tape in his hand and impatiently tapped his leg with the edge of the tape. Finally, Sarah placed the empty can on the table beside her, her cheeks were blown out of proportion like a hamsters as she forced back the thick concentration of beans into her throat. Eventually, she succeeded, a strong belch proceeded. “Okay, I’m ready now.” She said as she wiped her hands on a white tissue.
William flashed her a slightly amused glance and settled into his seat. He placed the empty cassette tape in the machine then switched on the play and record buttons, the same unfaltering dense ocean of static immediately followed. He checked that the microphone was plugged in and working properly, tapping the sphere shape at the top with his fingertips.
“Okay,” he said, softly placing the microphone in front of Sarah. “I all looks set and ready to. Go ahead.”
Sarah leaned in closer to the microphone and swallowed deeply, not for the reason of swallowing a remainder of food, but out of fear of what might come next.
“Um, hi, its me again.” She said speaking aloud. “I Doubt you have any new information or anything to give me, but I could sure do with something from you. I need to know if my fathers there, or not. If all of you are just stringing me along by the nose, the stop it. I need to know what’s happening to me. Why am I seeing these insane things, why can you hear me so easily. Please, father, please come through, I need you with me, please.”
The high sound of activity in the static withdrew back to the same annoying silence as Sarah’s voice ceased, returning to its familiar state when it didn’t recognise any sound around it. The two of them sat in silence as they waited for a breakthrough, staring deeply at the machine, past the flat silver metallic covering, through the jungle like concentration of wires and circuits, straight to the source of the voices, silently demanding them to come through and speak.
Suddenly, without warning, a strange foreign sounding management of speech broke through the crackling silence. Its sudden appearance on the tape and the level of noise drowned out any kind of lower sounds. William jumped back in surprise, his left arm knocking over the bottle of water to the floor. “Shit!” He said, reaching down for it and putting it back on the table.
“What the hell was that!?” Sarah asked, breathing rapidly. “Did you tape it?”
“Oh, yeah, I got it on tape.”
He switched off the play and record buttons and ejected the tape. He turned it around, placed it back in the machine and played it again. As usual, the pained voice of Sarah’s statement came through first, then the static silence, then the strange bizarre speech came through. William put his ear close to the speakers and listened hard, continually stopping it rewinding it and playing it back, but no matter how much he tried to understand it, the speech was too obviously foreign and unrecognisable. After numerous attempts at trying to understand it, even just a little tiny part of it, he was clueless. He stopped his attempts to rewind the tape and play it back and simply sat and stared at the machine with an annoyed expression, tapping his fingers on the table in an annoying rhythm.
“There’s only a couple of things I can get from this recording.” He told her. “One: In the background I can clearly hear someone moaning or groaning, almost like they’re in pain. Two: The voice that can be clearly heard, it sounds as though they’re talking to someone who isn’t either the two of us, its someone who’s there with them.”
Sarah looked at the machine with an almost hateful expression. This unusual speech content of someone from another continent speaking to them that quite obviously wasn’t answering her questions, it all made her feel robbed of a good enough response, robbed out of understanding why this happening to her and why it wouldn’t go away.
“Give the damn thing to me.” She said taking the microphone back, almost tearing it out of its connection with the tape machine. William wasted no time in pressing the play and record buttons on the tape.
“Listen to me, you assholes,” she shouted into the microphone. “I’m through playing games, here! I want a goddamn answer from you people, I want to talk to my father, and I want to know precisely what’s going on with me!”
‘Dead machines.’
The harsh, female sounding robotic voice came through almost immediately. It was nowhere near the type of response Sarah wanted from her irritated question, more rather an insignificant phrase to avoid answering her. She allowed the microphone to fall to the table with a loud thud, supporting her head with her right arm, her elbow supporting the weight. She didn’t have the patience anymore to constantly search and dig for an answer through all the unusual, disjointed, garbled and hazy responses to her questions and her statements. All of this was getting her nowhere near her Father, not even the slightest indication that he was even over there. She didn’t know her Father all that well, but she knew for certain that if she wanted to ask him something, something important that couldn’t wait, he’d put everything on hold and listened to what she had to say. No way would he keep her waiting like these voices did, leaving her to keep asking constantly without any decent sign of a reply.
She remained now in her unflinching and unresponsive posture, staring off into space, her eyes onto the silent mist and fog that constantly drifted outside, occasionally dragging along the odd discarded piece of clothing and the few particles of ash and dust that were once living people. Not a single thought passed through her head as she watched this slightly macabre scene, everything around her seemed to fall away as she sank even further into her own empty. The presence of William beside her fell away and disappeared, her elbow barely felt the table, the corpses covered with the sheet were non-existent to her anymore.
William too was lost in his own private blind and deaf world as he stared relentlessly opened mouthed at the tape machine as it continued into crackling silence, Sarah and everything around had been drowned out by his own screaming thoughts. The strange feminine sounding words, ‘Dead Machines,’ sounded off like sirens in his head, blasting the words in his ears. He knew these words, he knew he’d heard them before, somewhere, sometime.
What the hell was it, where have I heard those words. Wait, someone I knew once had said it, said it a few times about something
Then the words seemed to rattle the memory part of his mind, awaking dormant memories long since forgotten. His eyes widened as the memory flooded into his mind like a raging ocean, looking upwards as though the formless memories were drowning him from above.
Sally Fields, its her, oh, Jesus Christ, its her. Oh, my god.
He was in instant shock as he remembered that the voice belonged to the middle aged woman who he used to work in this very café years ago, before she’d had her heart attack and died. Whenever she would complain that the stoves and ovens weren’t working, she would say they were ‘dead machines.’ Whenever she spoke, her voice was always dry and extremely deep, due to the amount of cigarettes she would smoke in a day. His whole body went cold and numb as he realised the full implication of who was speaking to him. Even after all these years of speaking to the dead, asking them questions and getting answers from them of who they were. The shock of the whole thing had never hit because he had never know the people he was speaking to, but this was someone he knew himself, someone he had spoke to and knew well, someone he had visited in hospital shortly before they died.
The whole mammoth knowledge and shock he now felt seemed to mix in with the memories of speaking to the dead over all those years in the past.
‘They’re dead machines, all of them dead machines. Problem . . .’
William flinched suddenly as more voice samples from Sally came through, his nails briefly digging into the rotted wood of the table as he jerked his hand away in surprise.
William was too engrossed into what he was doing to even realise that Sarah was sat with him. She herself was too lost in her silent gazing to register even the loudest sound or the strongest presence.
“Yes, Sally, keep going I can hear you. What are you trying to say?” William leaned closer into the tape machine, his right ear touching the cold metal of the speaker.
‘Probleem . . .probleem, distant . . .’
“Please, keep going, please, what is the problem you have?” He leaned in even closer and closed his eyes, so close that he almost forgot that the sound was coming from the machine and seemed to come from inside his own head.
‘Problem . .prob . . .’
The voice began to dissipate as it lowered in volume, coming to an almost whispered tone. William rose rather urgently from the machine and began to play around with the dials and buttons, desperate to raise the volume.
“Come on, please, no, don’t do this to me. Please come in, I’m calking you, are you there?”
‘Problems, distant cut up.’
He ceased his efforts to retain the voice in the machine for a moment when his mind registered the last statement the voice made. He thought he was being a little crazy, but he could have sworn that the voice didn’t come from the machine, but from somewhere in the room.
Oh, come on, how the hell can that be? The only way to hear these voices is through a tape machine.
‘Problems, distant cut up.’ The voice said again, this time too sounding as though it came from somewhere other than the tape.
What the hell is this, what’s going on here?
Another sound entered his hearing, one that he realised had been running for a few minutes and he hadn’t noticed it before, until now. The tape on the circular wheels were running silently, the end of the black tape flapping in the air as the wheels spun round and round with no indication of sound on them. The tape in the other machine had come to the end, a dull electronic tone signalled this. Now he knew for certain, he wasn’t cracking up at all. The voices he was hearing weren’t coming from the tape, they were coming from the closed room behind the counter.
All intelligent thought suddenly left him as it was replaced by fear, the fear that something unknown and long since dead was calling for him from an empty room. The room around him was plunged instantly into unsettling silence, the fog outside continued its silent drifting past the front door, the sheet covering the corpses at the other side of the room shook slightly in the draft from outside. Sarah remained in her unregistered, seemingly dead shape, her blank unregistering eyes stared further and further into the dead and empty sight outside the front of the café.
William quickly turned to Sarah and began to shake her arm that held up her head, the intense fear and panic screaming for him to seek out another person to register this tense moment with him. After a few moments of agonised waiting from William for her to awaken from her waking coma, she finally came round, taking a moment to register and understand just where she was. She turned her head from side to side, acknowledging every inch of the room and the situation as she knew it. She turned to William to finally acknowledge him, taken aback a little when she saw him in a state of repressed fear and growing terror, his body shook as if he was intensely cold, his wild and petrified eyes constantly looking to the closed door behind the counter.
It took Sarah a moment or two for hearing to tune into the bizarre sounds behind her, and when it did, her face ran pale, her skin cold to the touch, the hairs at the back of her neck stood rigidly on end. Her eyes were the only part of her able to move as they darted across to William’s terrified eyes, her entire body was frozen into suspended animation.
“What in the holy hell is that?” Sarah asked through gritted teeth, her lips barely open wide enough for her words to come out.
“We have to get the hell out of here.” William responded, speaking also through gritted teeth and lips like those of a ventriloquist.
Sarah tried her hardest to release herself from her forced-upon paralysis, taking advantage of every last piece of free will inside her, just to move her fingers that gripped tightly to the table with the strength of a vice. The strange mechanical, bodiless voices continued emanating from the closed off room behind them both, constantly replaying themselves like a broken gramophone record.
Come on, you stupid bitch, let go, get the fuck out of here! The words screamed and echoed inside her head as she commanded herself to fight her own body, to rip it from the moorings that held it to this place.
William watched with frigid and petrified eyes, unable to tear his sight away from her as she struggled to break free of herself, her muscles and fingers twitching continuously in vain. The adrenaline rushing scene around him tore its way through his mind, through his conscious thoughts as it screamed and barked orders to him through a megaphone, beckoning him to break free himself and help Sarah to flee from here. But despite clearly recognising the rushing impulses pulsing through his veins and his pumping heart, as well as hearing the ghostly calls from his long dead superior, nothing would register in his mind of what was being ordered from him, like a sergeant major screaming commands down deaf ears.
Get her out of here, you idiot! William’s own voice screamed into his deepest thoughts, as though they were just waking up in the middle of a war zone and were ordering slow troops to advance.
His eyelids began to blink as he felt his own will rush to every part of his body, his fingers, hands and feet began to twitch and shake as he struggled to gain some footing and grip to release himself. Slowly, his body roused itself from its waking coma and he felt the tingling in all his muscles indicating that he had full control over his body again.
That’s it, you’ve done it, you’ve fucking done, you son of a bitch!
He jerked his head upwards and saw Sarah still struggling to free herself, tears of anguish and utter terror ran from her eyes. William wasted not a single fragment of a moment to jump up and pull Sarah away from her seat, knocking it to the floor.
“Come on, help me, we have to leave, now!” But, William’s frantic orders were lost to Sarah’s body, her feet were the only part of her that offered just a little free will as they struggled in vain to summon enough strength to rest her whole weight on the floor and run.
“Listen, you bitch,” William roared into Sarah’s face as he brought it within touching distance of his own, his sweating and shaking hands desperately trying to keep a good grip on the sides of her head. “You have to listen to me, you have to fight it, fight it so you can run, fight it, fucking fight it, now!”
Tragically, despite Williams best efforts to release her from her waking death-like state, the worst possible thing happened. Her arms tore through the air and towards her head, gripping them tightly as an sound piercing scream filled the air as it raced its way through from her lungs and up through her oesophagus, the tips of her fingernails digging into the soft tissue beneath her skin, her eyelids closed tightly shut with the strength of a tight seal. She sank to the floor as she fell unconscious, William’s trembling arms still holding tightly to her, the incessant callings from the closed off room continued in William’s ears like a siren.
“No, please,” William shouted as he watched her once again descend back into the unknown. “For fucks sake, not now, please!”

Four hours before at an unknown location. A rather large dining table is set out within a pitch black room, a dirty and dusty white tablecloth completely covers the table. In the absolute centre of the table are seated two identical candles of the exact same length stuck inside dusty and chipped imitation gold holders, the light from both casts an eerie shadow over the table, revealing the bony and dark bronze coloured skin lying motionless behind each plate, the hints of the ends of each of their sleeves are thick with evidence of age. White porcelain plates lie empty and unused at various places around the length of the table, each beside individual sets cutlery and a tall dusty wine glass with dark smears of fading red wine on the insides, each bearing a tiny glint of light from the candles. An inch thick amount of dust settles at the bottoms of all plates and glasses. All other interiors and features of the surrounding room are absolutely invisible, as if a great black canopy covered the whole lonely scene.
The unnerving silence is shattered suddenly as a hand at one end of the table moves forward and picks up the wine glass in front of it, full to the top with sparkling red wine from a clean glass. The shadowed figure takes a sip of the wine and registers it with a satisfied exhale of breath, then places it back in its original place. Beside the glass is a clean porcelain plate bustling with fresh food. A sirloin steak, fresh peas, chopped carrots and gravy are sat appealingly on the plate, but the seated figure ignores them all and instead sits back in his chair, his hands joined on his lap.
“You enjoying that wine of yours?” A voice said sarcastically from the figure sitting to the right of the wine drinker.
The wine drinker laughed a little and gently caressed the outside of his glass with the end of his finger. “You said before that you didn’t want any wine, you said that ‘I hate the taste.’” Oswald Richardson’s voice was clear, dry and unsympathetic as it sounded from the intense darkness covering just the upper part of his body. The figure he answered showed no obvious physical sign of its distaste of his remark, making only an annoyed grunt.
“You want some of this wine,” Oswald said, holding the glass in the air, the way a bully would hold the schoolbag of a smaller boy in the air. “Huh, do ya, you want some?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have had this meal with you, here, or with any other of these damned people sitting around here. I don’t know what I’m even doing here now.“ Again the figure made no physical response in his fingers or the movement of his arms.
“Where are they, now?” Came the low, pitiless voice from the figure sat opposite to Oswald.
“I don’t know as of yet,” Oswald answered. “But, my instincts tell me that they’ll head somewhere that they think is quiet and out of the way, a perfect place to study the EVP tracks in great detail. I know William, I know where he’ll go. He’ll run somewhere that he knew in his life, use it as cover for safety. Like a pathetic little child, running scared from a monster into the comforting arms of his mummy and daddy.”
“They are the answers we’ve been looking for.” Another figure said sitting to the right of Oswald in a rather distressed cultured English voice. “We need them back safe and unharmed, their knowledge of the world beyond can help us to get closer to it, to understand it more, become more a part of it, and-”
“Oh, will you shut the fuck up!” Oswald shouted up, spitting the wine in their face. “You and all of us know better than that. This isn’t to get us nearer to that world in a bid to understand it better. If we handle this correctly, we could become like them, ascend higher from this pathetic world, this pathetic existence and become something better.”
Oswald sat in a comfortable position in his chair, his back straight and his hands lying open palmed on the top of the table. “You will all help me with this, you all possess a quality that we all need for this to happen. I had hoped that those stupid little scientists would help me with this, but I can see that won’t happen with their pointless little human thoughts. They’re all lost in insignificant ideas and desires that tie them to the earth. But, the earth is dead, gone, there’s nothing left for us here. I’ll use them for the time being to find and capture William and that girl, but after that, you can do with them what you wish. We are all separate, but at the same time, a whole, none of us can exist without the other. If any one of us decides not to go through with it, we will all have lost, and the one who decides to betray will lose something even more than that.”
The figure sitting beside him made no response to this foreboding statement, the fingers on its bronzed hands didn’t even move a fraction of an inch.
Oswald returned his concentration to the meal set in front of him and began to eat, horsing down the food in great mouthfuls, an obvious attempt to irritate the others. A figure to the left side of the table drew in breath before speaking: “But, we don’t have the time,” he said. “The window of opportunity is drawing near, and we have to have those two in our possession quickly, otherwise the window will be lost, our hopes will be lost, all of them.”
Oswald waited a few minutes before answering, slowly chewing his way through a large piece of meat. “We have the time, don’t worry, we have all the time we need. The voices do not have schedules or time-tables, they will give us all the time we require. They alone have set the wheels in motion when they first emerged, offering us the chance to be part of them. They will tell us what to do, at the right time.”

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