Sarah awoke again into the darkness of her closed eyes, she could feel a sharp but quick pain on each of her cheeks.
“Hey, wake up. Are you okay?” A voice said, still unfamiliar to her, but obviously human.
Sarah opened her eyes and saw the man in front of her wearing a long white coat, his eyes were wide open as if in a state of panic. He looked young, no sign of facial hair, his hair was tidy. She noticed his left hand holding her head up, his other hand slapped her face. He stopped when he notice that she was awake. He breathed a sigh relief and placed his slapping hand on his leg.
“Thank god, we thought you were dead,” he said. His voice was husky, yet still retained a slight hint of a boys voice. He continued: “Do you feel any pain, can I get you anything?” An obvious sign of great concern was in his voice.
Sarah pushed herself up from the floor, her mind still felt a little dizzy. She looked up and noticed that the two of them were not alone.
A small group of people wearing the same coat as the man were assembled with the two of them inside a small room, they gave brief glances to Sarah, as though not giving much care to whether she was okay or not. They carefully looked over countless pieces of equipment with flashing lights and a buzzing sound of electricity and activity. They wrote down notes on clipboards and checked figures with what was registering on the equipment. A large door shaped object in the corner gave out unending sheets of paper with numbers and unfamiliar words from inside it, the white coated people carefully checked it over, scrutinising each individual number and letter.
“Where the hell am I?” Sarah asked turning to the man beside her.
The man tried to hide his enthusiasm when he saw that she was fine. It took him a moment or two to register her question.
“You’re in the Town Hall, don’t you remember coming here? You picked up the receiver from the Telephone device outside, we found you and you collapsed. We brought you in here, I spent the last few minutes slapping your face. You were mumbling something about ‘going up the stair, meeting a man who wasn’t there.’ “Do you know what that means?”
Sarah tried to process all that he had just said to her, she worked through her mind that was still reeling from her recent unusual experience. She opened her eyes as her memory began to fall back into place.
“Yeah, I remember. I came in here, I picked up that thing and someone came behind me, I fainted, then . . .I can’t remember any more.” The last statement was a lie, she hardly wanted herself to believe what had happened to her, the last thing she wanted was for someone else to hear and force her to dish out the whole thing.
“You should have got rid of her the same as the last one.” A cold, unfeeling voice said from someone in the room.
Sarah looked round to where the voice came from and saw a tall man with his back to her looking out of a large sheet of glass. His arms were crossed. She spotted the man beside her looking at the him with a strong hatred, his eyes were narrowed. She could see his strong white teeth appearing beneath his quivering lips. He took in a deep sigh as though swallowing his anger.
“Come on,” he said to Sarah helping her up.
Sarah stood and looked out through the sheet of glass in front of her. She immediately spotted the Telephone device outside on the wall. She instantly stepped back, a strong feeling of fear welled up inside her.
“You okay?” The man asked putting his hand on her shoulder.
Sarah turned to him and smiled, quickly taking his hand off her shoulder. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just sudden shock, I’ll be fine.”
She looked over the assembled pieces of machinery in front of her, her mind trying to decipher what they actually were.
“My names William Blake, by the way.” The man said, desperate to make acquaintances.
“Hi,” Sarah said. “What is all of this, what the hell are doing here?”
William smiled with delight. He like the idea of explaining the experiment to someone who didn’t know, especially to her.
“We’re scientists experimenting in the field of E.V.P., that’s Electronic Voice Phenomenon, by the way, in case you didn’t know.”
“I didn’t, what is this Electronic Voice Phenomenon?”
“Well, it’s the unusual phenomenon of hearing the voices of the dead on un-tuned recording equipment such as radios, televisions etc. People have been studying it for years, but this is the first time that we’ve gone into it with so much sophisticated equipment. The study of it was pioneered in the late sixties of the twentieth century by two Baltic researchers, Konstantin Raudive and Gerhard Stempnik. The person to discover it was a guy called Friedrich Jurgenson. They recorded quite a number of voices, we’ve worked on them as well as our own quite a lot.”
A dawning realisation suddenly took hold of Sarah. These people were obviously the scientists that announced the existence of the afterlife ten years ago and made all those people running terrified into the countryside.
“Do you have any of those recordings here, I’d like to listen to them.”
The tall unfeeling man at the window suddenly turned sharply toward her, his face looked as if it would explode with anger He looked at William with the same expression. William retaliated with one of his own expressions, one that seemed to show him silently disobeying him.
“Come on,” he said. “I’ve got the recordings in a room outside. Maybe you could help us out with them in some way, it helps having a fresh mind.”
William took Sarah out of the small buzzing room and into the Main Hall. Sarah expected to again feel the strong feeling pushing her back here again, but instead felt nothing at all. This made her feel even more uncomfortable in a strange way. She followed William into the dark corridor, he opened one of the old rickety doors and the two of them stepped inside. Behind the door was a long black spiral staircase leading upwards. It creaked loudly as they began to ascend it. Sarah stopped in her tracks, a Déjà vu of her own staircase suddenly came to mind.
“Don’t worry about the creaking,” William said with a little laugh. “We’ve all been up and down here lots of times and that’s the worst its ever done.”
Sarah looked at the stairs and looked to how far they ascended to. It didn’t look far, only about six feet. She collected her breathe and carried on behind William.
The upper level held no real difference to the lower level. Its walls and floors too were well rotted, the dust was thick and made it the air stuffy. William took Sarah into one of the rooms and closed the door, instantly walking briskly over to one of the dusty cobweb covered windows and opened it. The air was cold and misty, as usual, but a welcome reprieve from the intense dust that settled on everything.
The room was obviously one that was being used occasionally by the scientists. Large and small recording equipment were stacked in various places on the floor, most of the others were stacked on top of a table, the legs looked as though they wouldn’t hold for long. Cassette tapes and old fashioned tapes that were a circular shape with wide tape lay in great numbers on the table.
Sarah looked at the cassettes and tape recorders with a slight grin. “You study these things and yet you leave them lying around and don’t store them?”
William looked at the tapes and smiled, laughing nervously. “Yeah, well, we go through them so many times it hardly seems worth putting them anywhere.”
Sarah sat down on one of the old rickety chairs beside the table. She rested her hands on her legs and looked at William. “Well, you wanted to show me these recordings.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said, quickly sitting down.
William took hold of one of the old fashioned tape machines, the tapes themselves were already attached and ready to be played. He cleared his throat before he spoke. “Okay, what I’ll do first is play you some of the recordings that were made by Raudive and Stempnik, then that’ll give you some kind of idea as to what they are, exactly.”
He pressed the small button on the side of the machine and the tapes began to spin. At first, there was only the unchanging sound of static, but after a few seconds, a voice came over the static. The voice was foreign, probably German. It didn’t sound particularly ghostly, but Sarah presumed it must be the voice of one of the guys William mentioned. The voice stopped and the static came back.
“Astrid, fract dar!” A strange voice said loudly.
Sarah jumped back in her chair, holding her chest in the defensive manner. William quickly switched off the machine and went over to her.
“You okay,” he said concerned. “I’m sorry if the volume caught you by surprise, I just turned it up loudly so you could hear it. Are you okay?”
Sarah collected herself and breathed deeply. “Yeah, I’m fine. Guess it was too loud. What the hell were the voices saying?”
“Well, the first voice you heard was one of the researchers. He was asking questions into the recording tape so that a voice would answer. We haven’t really been able to translate what he said, as most of the German phrase books are too rotted to read. But, the second voice, the spirit itself, and the only one we’re really only interested in, that said” ‘Astrid, ask there.’ “We managed to find most of the notes and records these men made in a basement of a recording library, and that’s how we got the translation.”
Sarah looked at him with a puzzled expression. “Astrid, ask there?” She said. “Why the hell would a dead person say that?”
William held his hands on the table and interlocked his fingers. “Well,” he said. “Who knows what the hell you’d say when you’re dead.”
Sarah nodded, yet still not quite sure what he meant.
“Okay,” William said collecting his breathe. “You feel like you’re ready to carry on listening to these?”
Sarah looked into his eyes, full of concern and fear for her. She could tell how he felt about her and didn’t mind that. But, she hoped he wouldn’t go further than he already had.
She waved her hand, gesturing for him to continue.
He decreased the volume and then switched the tape back on. The same voice as before came on first as the researcher spoke aloud into the tape. A few seconds of silent static, then:
‘We have Sousabusi.’ This voice seemed much lower and choked with static than the last, but was still easy to interpret.
The tape went on as more voices flowed over the static in the background. ‘You have chocolate for the young girl you made climb the mountain.’ Sarah found herself questioning this voice, her face screwed into a clueless expression. Still, with what William said, she had to take what they said with a pinch of salt.
‘Good evening,’ the third voice said. ’I would like to drink your wine with you.’ The voices continued in unfamiliar languages. William switched off the tape machine.
“Those other voices you heard were the same as the last statement, but spoken in other languages, five to be exact. I could play you more, but those are in other languages too and we haven’t been able to translate them much. Well, I shown you a few of those, so I guess you have an idea as to what we do here. Should I play you some that we’ve made in the last few years?”
Sarah didn’t answer, her mind swam with strange thoughts concerning the tapes, as well an idea that slowly took shape. She thought of the weird dream she had while she was unconscious and about what the figure had said to her. ‘The scholar can be found amidst the chaos.’
She wasn’t much for riddles, and this one totally went by her. But, something had happened to her, something weird and obviously nothing that had happened to the scientists otherwise their heads would be permanently plugged into the machines they had downstairs. And if she told them about her dream, vision, whatever it was, she would face the same thing. No. she had to do this alone, without any interference. One way or another, she find out what the hell all of this meant.
William had again become uncomfortable as he watched her with her head in the clouds. “Are you feeling okay,” he said. “Was it the voices, I know they’ve had a weird effect on some of us before, but-”
“No,” she said, interrupting him. “I’m fine, I was just thinking.” She looked behind her through the open doorway into the dust choked corridor outside and glanced in all small corners of the room, wondering if their were bugs through which the scientists could hear them. She couldn’t see anything, but then again, she didn’t know exactly how she would have spotted them anyway.
She looked at William, at his concerned face and his moderate good looks. She guessed she could trust him, he probably wouldn’t rat her out to the others downstairs. With the way he felt about her, he would go through anything to give her what she wanted. She decided to take a chance.
“You know some of the recordings you have here,” she said, carefully making her voice carnal. “You think you could let me borrow some of them for a while?”
William slowly turned away from her shaking his head. “No, I’m sorry. I couldn’t let these be let off of the premises, as far as we know, their the only copies there are of these. Besides, Oswald, our boss would tear me apart. He already doesn’t want me talking to you. He thinks you’ll screw up the whole experiment.”
Sarah began to carefully control her mannerisms making them more erotic and hard to ignore. “Please,” she said slowly. “Don’t let him hurt me. I only want to help you and I’ll bring them all back again, I swear. I’ll even do something for you if you help me. Please.”
William began to fondle his collar, he started to sweat as the heat inside him rose, despite the chilly air coming from outside. He looked at Sarah, trembling, his breathing began to escalate. “Well . . .I guess you could borrow them for a while, as long as you bring them back when we ask. I’ll give you some of the notes we have so you can translate them. For the love of god, keep them out of sight when you leave. If Oswald sees you, he’ll crucify you.”
Sarah began to lightly stroke his arm, looking at him with half shut eyes and a slight smile. “You’ll help me won’t you, keep him busy while I slip away?”
“Yeah, sure.” He said nervously.
Sarah walked carefully back down the spiral staircase with William in front of her. Her footsteps were tentative and precise, as walking was difficult carrying everything he had given her. The dust that had collected on them over a long period of time seemed worse than the dust in the whole place. She hardly noticed the creaking of the stairs, her concentration was fixed on what she carried.
They emerged into the main corridor, the large main doors to the left and the Main Hall to the right. The buzzing of electricity and machinery could still be heard clearly from here, as well as the collected mumbling of the scientists busily working.
William carefully checked inside the Hall then came to Sarah. “Okay,” he said, his voice a fraction of a whisper, charged with apprehension and fear. “There’s no one around the Main Hall, so if you hurry, you’ll make it. I’ll tell them you got bored of what I showed you and wanted to leave. Hopefully, they won’t miss what I’ve given you, their attentions on the Telephone device now, so I think we’ve left all that stuff behind. Please, make sure you bring them back shortly and take them up as quietly as you can up to the room we was just in. I don’t even want to think about what Oswald will do to me if he finds out.”
Sarah patted him on the shoulder. “It’ll be okay, he won’t even realise I was ever here when I bring them back.”
William quickly looked behind him as though he had just hear something, Sarah could hear nothing beside what she heard a few minutes ago.
“Go on, quickly,” he said, pushing her in the back up to the Main doors. “Hurry up.”
He pushed Sarah outside and closed the enormous doors behind her as quietly as he could. Sarah was met with the same intense cold that hugged the building, she looked up and saw the dark clouds above, menacing in their appearance. The sky was returning to its early evening dark pink colour, swallowing the buildings in its wake. She didn’t realise she had been inside for so long, but she didn’t really know how long she had been dreaming.
She ran down the stone steps for her car, fearing she would at any minute drop what she was carrying and have William’s boss come outside and see her. She ignored those fears and carried on. She placed the stuff in the back seat and took a large plastic sheet out of the trunk. She tied it over the back seat securely and tightly; she didn’t want anything to fall out while she was driving. She jumped into the driving seat and sped off.
She laughed to herself at the victory over what she had just done. She didn’t realise it would be so easy to con the guy into giving her what she wanted, in a world where sex was almost extinct, people would do anything when offered it on a plate to them.
She had no intention of returning what she had took. They wouldn’t find her, not in a city this size. Yet, with all her pleasure at manipulating William, she felt a little guilty, and also, a little attracted to him. She shuddered, the feelings she now had seemed to creep up on her like an intruder in the night. She hoped they would subside soon enough.
Her car sped down the streets to her home, the darkness surrounding her closing in more and more.
The intense pink colour in the sky had begun to set in in now, the countless buildings and structures were blurred in a distinct pink haze like the haze of a warm day. The breeze had become cool and somewhat enjoyable. The few human survivors that walked the deserted streets had now run for the safety of their homes, fearing the coming blackness of the night like the plague.
The air was quiet, broken only by the eerie silence, the gentle whooshing of the breeze and the occasional sound of discarded newspaper blowing across the streets.
The sound of Sarah’s Cadillac engine tore through the still silence like a bullet, the car kept to a steady forty miles an hour as she made her way through the empty streets. The narrow streets she passed through were dark and menacing, due to their narrow width. Stores and office buildings stood silent, devoid of customers or business. Their windows were black, like looking into a bottomless black hole. Shop sign continued to deteriorate as time slowly withered them to nothing. Dust and decay continued its relentless quest of swallowing up whole rooms as it slowly gathered. Mannequins and store dummies stood unmoved in the same poses someone had put them years before, their garments once new and expensive were now nothing more but rotted and decayed rags that hung from their fibreglass bodies.
The Cadillac passed beneath a large metallic structure, high above in the air, support structures were on either side, clinging to the earth with great strength. The structure used to be a bridge, designed for carrying large trucks and vehicles that took their deliveries to factories and supermarkets. The bridge had once been brimming with life and activity and noise as the countless vehicles, often locked in traffic jams, constantly sounded their horns, shouting obscenities to each other.
Now, the bridge stood silent, barren, empty, silent and decayed like everything else. Sarah could still see through the gaps underneath the few cars and trucks that were still on the bridge. Their engines quiet and dead, their drivers more or less the same. Dust occasionally fell from the bridge to the ground as the tires on the vehicles sometimes lacked their grip on the concrete, forcing carefully settled dust to fall silently down.
Sarah reached behind her and moved her hand underneath the plastic cover until she could feel one of the cassette tapes in her hand. She brought it to the front and checked that it was at the beginning. It was, just about. She pushed it into her tape machine and pressed the play button. Countless and indecipherable ghostly voices echoed uncomfortably through the car and into the dead and deserted streets around. It seemed rather interesting to Sarah to sound these voices of the dead throughout the city they probably once lived. Perhaps it would awaken a few old ghosts somewhere, encourage them to again wander the streets they once walked when they were alive. She wondered if it would awaken her father from the ether, encourage him to walk the silent corridors of his library, carefully checking each book, ensuring its correct position and durability. She wondered, or more likely, hoped that it would encourage him to come to her home. To wait for her and take her in his arms so she could smell the strong smell of leather from his clothes.
She realised when she looked up that she was in Cameron street, just a few blocks from her fathers library. She took the turning that would take her their, noticing a strange kind of hope slowly rearing its head.