Banshee by ChrisCold.
Her scream came like a banshee through the thin veil of sleep that gripped me.
They had been fighting regularly, not often, but steadily. The others had pointed out the hole in the wall, the broken window, the smashed chair. In the time since I arrived, I had seen the puffy cheeks from crying, the plaster repairs, and long nights of venting over cigarettes as I passed. I had heard the shouts, the epithets, the slamming doors.
But her scream… I hadn’t heard that before.
And I lay there, absorbed by the echo, unable to move, fearful and wondering. It was a wail of mourning, like those as the first or last clumps of dirt hit the top of the coffin. It rose, shrill, agonized, protruding into the night. It had the power the raise the dead, and so it did.
I blinked in the darkness and listened to the aftershock from the warmth and safety of my bed. It came again and again, punctuated with garbled words of anger, regret, and an unearthly pain. And it was different because the din had one singular voice of despondence. It wasn’t a fight; it was an aftermath.
And then it receded into the night, footsteps fleeing down a flight of stairs, doors swinging and slamming, and nothing.
The sudden emptiness was stark in contrast. The lack of anything, a return to aural normalcy, almost polar in its appearance. And I was left wondering if my inaction, my stoic observance, was a mistake itself.
I lay there in the dark knowing the cry was different, but telling myself it was the same, that it was just another fight. I rolled over, tucking the covers around me a bit more tightly, hoping I could find my way back asleep. Five minutes passed, then ten, then fifteen, and the silence remained.
I slowly made my way across the room and flipped on the lights. I tossed on some clothes, slipped on my sandals and unlocked the door. The stairs creaked gently beneath my feet as I descended toward the kitchen, a glass of water my desired cure for parched lips, a dry throat, and a guilty conscience.
In the laundry room, I heard movement. After filling my cup and taking a sip, I slipped out to find one of the others staring out the window into the snowy wastes beyond.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“The cops are here. They’re chasing her.”
“Oh,” I said, confused. I stared a bit more deeply into the inky blackness of night, past the flashing blues and reds. I saw nothing: no movement, no chase, no wailing banshee.
“Yeah,” he said with eyebrows raised.
I spun, my curiosity sated, my uneasy sleepiness calling.
As I closed my door, I knew I couldn’t fall asleep yet. I sat at my desk, reading, music playing quietly in case the others had found sleep again. It had been an hour since the scream had woken me, just less since the silence had descended.
I heard footsteps return, softly with voices. I heard doors and tears. I heard normalcy.
I shut down my music, ready to crawl back in bed. I felt relieved that it was nothing, that it was a moment now gone. I relaxed. I rose from my chair and moved to the bed, reclining gently and turning my mind to other things.
The cry rose again, softer this time, a shorter staccato that seemed almost distant.
Once more, I hesitated, wondering my part. I had arrived here as an escape from drama. I had come here seeking refuge. And the house had provided that much. There was far more drama here, but it was not my drama. We were a collection of escapees all trying to deal with our own issues. Most of us seemed to keep our issues to ourselves. And when things did boil over, most of us seemed to recede until it was done.
I moved slowly as I rose, readying myself for what lay outside. Perhaps I’d be a turtle, sticking my head out and glancing around before pulling back into my shell. Maybe I’d be the fly, watching from the side, buzzing just close enough to be seen. Or maybe I’d be the good Samaritan, leaping in and helping in whatever way I could.
I heard voices beyond my door before I could open in, footsteps moving quickly back down the stairs.
“I need to call,” I heard one say.
“Ok,” said the other, fading beneath the crack and creak of my door.
I stepped into a darkened hallway, walking deliberately after the sound. The banshee’s door was open, darkness hiding the origin of her cries.
As I padded down the stairs, the eerie calm slowly faded.
“What can I do to help?” I said as I rounded the corner.
“She slit her wrists,” one of the others told me. A phone glowed in her hand, three digits punched in already. “I need to call, right?”
“Yeah,” I said, eyebrows rising. “Where is she?”
“She’s at our place,” she replied.
“You’ve got pressure applied?” I asked, my mind racing, my body still.
“Yeah,” she said as she hit send.
The house congregated by the window, the police and EMTs coming and going in a parade of dour circumstance. We watched. We chatted. We waited.
One of the others and I wandered to her room.
“I can’t figure out the light,” he said. The knob was broken, but a small twist and press later illuminated the scene.
A knife sat on the dresser, the room in moderate disarray. Between the bed and the futon lay two small pools of blood, already darkening. By rough estimate, she had cut the wrong way, a cry for help and not a serious effort.
“Whoa,” he said, backing up. “I can’t be here.” I took another look around before turning to follow. Not two feet from the pools, an unopened container of cookies with bright M&Ms glowed happily. I noted the small streaks on the wall where she had touched, minute traces of her passing on the way.
In the laundry room once more, we stood patiently. We listened as one officer downgraded her status over the radio. We saw a half-dozen uniformed men wandering back and forth from the outlying cottage in which she was.
I listened to the smattering of chatter: the “I told her”s, the “I’m not her keeper”s, the “it’s not my problem anyway”s. I felt complicit. We all had our rationales. We all had our excuses. We all had our own problems.
And apparently, so did she.
She walked out calmly, two officers on her tail. I held the door as they passed. We followed, dividing and returning to our spaces as we went, the moment past.
As I closed the door and slipped inside my room, it suddenly felt stuffy and confining. The quiet seemed oppressive. I considered putting on music again, but it wouldn’t have sounded right. I had effectively done nothing, not that there was anything to be done. I had stood idly with the others, another member of the gawking crowd. And I wondered if there were more I could have done.
It had been two hours since the wail had woken me. Inside my room, everything was as it was supposed to be.
Inside me, however, it was anything but.