A tale of horror
The first time I heard the recording was the morning after a visitation.
Awakening in the darkness to a voice speaking my name was something I couldn't become accustomed to. Dismissed by others as hallucinations, or an otherwise natural affliction, still the phenomenon troubled me.
It troubled me for so long, that one night I thought to record my time asleep on my phone.
Sometimes it's better not to satisfy curiosity. I didn't know that then.
Listening to the audio is - disturbing.
I never made a second recording.
I cannot bring myself to use that phone anymore. It lies untouched in a drawer on the second floor, at the farthest end of the house.
After throwing it into the drawer, and almost tumbling downstairs, I still could not rest. That night, I lay wakeful, imagining the recording bursting into life in the empty room.
In the darkness. In the silence. That voice.
So the next morning, when the sun was high and bright, I crept up the stairs and along the endless hallway to the spare bedroom. I wrapped the phone swiftly in a towel, allowing my fingers to make as little contact as possible.
And then, I taped the drawer shut.
But my mind, the relentless torturer, circles around to it one hundred times a day. I know, rationally, that the phone is just the bearer of the disease, its circuits and glass and apps are not responsible for my inability to rest, to heal, or to live without a growing, gnawing terror.
Still. I wish I could rid myself of it. But I cannot bear to touch it again. As though the poison infecting the audio might be awake and aware. As though it could reach beneath my skin - slick like venom, corrosive like acid - should my fingers ever again brush against its dead screen.
And I cannot ask for help, for surely whomever was willing to remove the phone on my behalf would be overcome with curiosity - and they might find the recording. They might listen.
I cannot do that to them. Or to me.
It was the morning after the fateful decision to record.
I was interested, eager, excited even to discover the truth. But as I listened, I could feel the shock slackening my face and dulling my eyes. I played the audio twice more, dread growing within me. Disbelief. And then, never again.
When I first pressed play that morning I asked myself why on earth hadn't I thought of this before?
It had actually been a friend who suggested using the voice app.
I no longer have friends. I cannot bring myself to allow them to visit me, knowing how close it is. To see my disintegration. Fragmentation.
I could not speak of everyday occurrences and pretend that life again could be normal; my reflection in the looking glass assures me that nothing now passes for normal.
I finally covered the mirrors yesterday, to avoid glimpses of my own eyes.
I spare my old friends by my absence.
Oh, but it is quiet here, where silence lies steadily against the plasterboard*, suffused with only the echoes and my own corrupting thoughts.
I realised later that my mind had not allowed itself to consider the option of recording for good reason. How I curse that conversation - in memory, so lighthearted.
Recollections of the normal, that which I did not realise was such a fragile reality. Before I heard that which should not have been heard.
The morning after the recording was cheerily sunlit. I had brought myself a coffee back into my solitary bed, ready to check a few emails, snuggled comfortably beneath my sheets, before clambering into the shower to begin my day properly. The blithe phone gazed blankly at me, and I recalled the recording.
I pressed play.
I'd opted just to use a simple audio app and let it run for the night, or for as long as it would.
And so for the longest time there was nothing but my breathing and static; I left it running on the bedspread beside me while I tip-tapped the last clean and entirely sane thoughts I'd ever have into my keyboard.
I might have missed it; the recording had been running with nothing but sighs and sleeping murmurs in the background for long minutes.
If I'd forgotten it was running, and just left the room. If I had gone for a shower. If I had refilled my coffee. I might have missed it.
But instead, I finished my emails and then heard my breathing on the audio grow louder.
So I increased the volume, and drew the phone closer to my ear.
And as in a scene from a poorly acted sitcom, dropped the phone in shock seconds later, when I heard my name spoken.
Yes, that was my name. Stretched in the jaws of something that could barely mimic language. My name, broken into three distinct syllables.
If a rabid dog learned to talk and barked a word, staring at you through blood-filmed, blinded, weeping orbs. If the darkness had grown a tumorous voice. It was the sound we heard rattling in the viscous, starless black when we huddled together in our caves, before electricity and houses banished the night from our view.
It was curdled insanity and vicious hatred, in three syllables. It wanted me dead, and worse than dead. I knew all that from one simple word.
Alison it rasped. Just that. Then my half-wakened murmur. My sigh as I rolled over into heedless sleep once again. Followed by a long, lethargic giggle. The snigger of bedlam. So knowing, that chuckle. So much filthy loathing in that sound.
In my bedroom. While I lay sleeping.
The monstrosity of it was almost overwhelming. The knowledge. The instant, overwhelming realisation.
Because despite the violent, animalistic cadence, despite the wrongness of the noise, a sound that should not have come from a human throat, I knew the voice that rasped my name, and that lunatic giggle I recognised.
There's no escaping. There is no comfort, or safety or freedom from the knowledge that each night the owner of the voice is free to visit me, as I lie fretful and vulnerable and alone. Forever now alone.
But never in darkness. I do not sleep in darkness anymore. When I sleep, which is little now, I sleep with all the lights on.
Soon enough, my jittering, fumbling heart will be able to bear its burden no longer. The sleeplessness, the weariness the fever and the fret*.
Because I recognised that voice. I knew it well.
Underneath that low, scratching, inhuman cadence, still I knew that inescapable voice.
How should I not?
After all, the voice was mine.
*With thanks to Shirley Jackson whose quote "silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House" inspired the line "silence lies steadily against the plasterboard" and to John Keats from whose achingly beautiful poem "Ode to a Nightingale" I borrowed "the weariness, the fever and the fret".
About the Creator
Alison Tennent - The Celtic Chameleon
Just open your veins and write.
Find me on Substack https://celticchameleon.substack.com/
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