I Could Hear Them Breaking Free
A low hiss breaks the silence. The sound stretches out, broken by crackles that are gone almost as soon as they appear.
Another sound emanates, louder than the hiss, ragged where that is steady. Easier to place, organic rather than mechanical, this sound is gasping, uncontrolled exhalation of rattled breathing. Together, the sounds tug at the hearing even as they are joined by a high, thin screech of a third, one that goes on longer than it should and has the substance of nails scrapping across a blackboard. The breathing becomes more erratic still, hassled, panting, the edge of panic made real. Slowly, almost achingly, it calms when the screeching is not repeated, and after an eternity becomes a voice.
“Oh, Christ sweet Jesus Christ please…”
It is a sound that raises flaccid hairs on the backs of arms, demanding attention. At first, the voice is indiscernible as male or female, for the cadence of terror is something raw and universal. It peaks, then fades to a low sob, the sound of a wounded and frightened animal. It wants to become louder, to pour out the fear and distress, but it cannot. Something holds it back, something unseen.
“Jenny I’m sorry…”
The voice fades to silence again, the sobbing dying with it. An eternity passes to the soundtrack of the background hiss, steady and resolute.
“They’re coming, God help me they’re coming. God help us all.”
It stops again, ceasing abruptly, speech turned to the low tension of managed breathing while other senses search for threat. When it returns it is more coherent, distinguishable now as male.
“There isn’t much time. They’ll find me soon enough,” the voice says. Stronger now, more composed than before.
“They’re out. I could hear them coming out, scratching, clawing at the air. More than I could count. We set them free, Christ help us, we turned them loose.”
The voice takes panic and hones it, forging it into anger.
“It shouldn’t have been opened. I don’t know how why they did it. Thought they were so fucking clever. I told them not to, not to mess about with things they didn’t understand. They didn’t listen. But I knew. I knew something was wrong. And now they’re dead because they wouldn’t listen.” The voice pauses, lowers. “I’m dead too. So are you. We’re all done.”
To listen to the voice is to imagine it straddling a ridge, a precipice with sanity and the light of reality bathing one side. On the other is something dark and drunk with madness that skitters and capers about in fathomless depths, a whispering seductiveness. It would be easy to fall from that dividing line, to abandon everything and just let go. But not yet, not just yet.
“It was buried for a reason. All that time, all those thousands of years under the desert, buried on purpose, the press release said. On purpose, those are the important words here. How they could tell that I don’t know, but nobody thought to ask why. Or if they did, they didn’t bear it any mind. Bloody arrogant fools. Fucking…”
The voice checks itself just as it was about to rise beyond a whisper and become a shout. But that wouldn’t do, because loud would draw notice, attract curiosity. Loud might make things come, things which would make other sounds, rending and tearing sounds that would make anybody listening clap their hands over their ears and pray please God just make those noises stop.
“It’s quiet now,” the voice says, softly. “I don’t think there’s anyone else left alive. I ran faster than the others.” The voice rises near the end, teetering on the ridge, swaying but holding as if it were on a tightrope.
The voice has stopped to listen again, and there, so far in the distance that it is barely audible over the low hiss and jagged breathing, comes the shivering revulsion of the screech, vibrating through skin and bone. It is answered by the distinctive, rapid crack of gunfire, bursts appearing and disappearing in the background. For a few seconds the echo of it lingers and then is gone. The voice sobs again, slow and heaving, unable to give vent to its feelings for fear of hastening what it already knows is inevitable.
At first there was nothing,” A faint sniff as the man’s voice resumes. “They opened it and the cameras whirled and we stared and the scientists stared and everybody stared. The army was there because they’d dug it up. Biggest archaeological find since King Tut’s tomb the press said. It was. I wrote the headline.”
Shrieks come, drawn out aches of wretchedness pummelling the hearing.
“Do you hear them now? I could hear them as they came out. Even when I ran I could hear them. I could hear them breaking free.”
The voice pauses, becomes silent. Yet the silence speaks. The man behind the voice is concentrating on the piercing howl beyond, determining how close it is. Listening before beginning again, in a tone hushed and conspiratorial.
“They find you, you know. Even if you run, they find you. Because they don’t sleep. They never rest, and they can’t be stopped. But you’ll know soon enough. Yes, you will.”
It giggles quietly. The voice is a whisper now, an exhalation stirring the dust of a forgotten room. The darker side of the precipice has become too tempting to resist, and the voice is sliding, slipping down into the warm, soft arms of abandon.
Again the screech comes, painful and insistent, the hunter bearing down on the prey.
“Here they come, here they come…If you hear this, then you’re lucky. Or unlucky, depends on how you want to look at it. But if you do hear this, then you’ll know. You’ll know what we did. This is how it started.”
Another giggle. The next shriek is shockingly close, rising into a roar that is almost jubilant. Answering howls and wet, slithering sounds join it, a cacophony of chaos. Ratchet like clicking noises beneath those are a disjointed, irregular percussion.
The voice has fallen silent. It is listening as it falls from the ridge, down into the blessed, comforting darkness.
The slinking, scraping sounds are close enough now to touch, drawing themselves together. A loud thud comes, the sound of something heavy striking something sturdy. Another thud, and then another. Screeches fill the void, terrible reverberations that tear at the air itself.
“I’m sorry, Jenny I’m so sorry. I love you, I always have…”
The thuds continue their hammering, one after another with no time between them as they drown out the voice and all other noises. Creaking resonates, transforming into the crack of splintering as something reliable yields to the inevitable. Squeals sound in triumph, the whoop and holler of victory, then frantic tearing noises drowning out all the others. Finally, the sounds of something being punctured, being torn apart.
“I can see you now, I can see…!” The voice speaks for the final time, rising to pour out in a scream all its repressed fear and hidden anger. It is a scream that does not stop for the longest time.
Muted wails and scrapings, wet, shuffling sounds up close, intruding in on the ear with their unnatural noise. Sniffing, scratching, another screech that draws out into an uneasy juxtaposition of longing and satisfaction. The whoosh of air rushing as something draws back. Then a crunch.
Darren Davies grew up in North Wales but now makes his living as an engineer in Ireland. His spare time is spent writing horror and science fiction stories; his work has previously been published by Cold Open Stories.