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The Screeching


It was the first and last time I went out with Tim Aubeck. I like to think that I was a good kid in high school, and he had a reputation for cruising the gravel roads half drunk, only stopping to grab another beer from the cooler. I went because Paul, my best friend at the time, told me I needed to get out more. We were supposed to just cruise the town. That’s what Aubeck said.

We ended up hanging out with Fortner, who lived in a trailer on a farm six miles from the nearest highway. Fortner was a year older than us, a college dropout turned tractor mechanic. He had wood panelled walls, a flat screen TV, and a hound dog. Oh yeah, and a lot of beer.

I had three beers, which was the most I’d ever had at one time. To be honest, I don’t like beer. I know I’m supposed to, being a guy–a guy with a beard, nonetheless–but I just don’t. Anyway, we were drinking and talking and a few hours into it Aubeck said he had to take a piss.

I went with him because I had to go, too, having just drank thirty-six ounces of the bitter stuff. I know Aubeck had way more, though. He was close to three-hundred pounds, and he almost fell down the two steps leading outside.

“Easy,” I said.

“Holy shit, Mike.” Aubeck steadied himself against a tree and went. I went by a different tree.

The night really is beautiful in the country. The sky all stars, nothing in the air but wind, and a moon as bright as a lamp. Sometimes you have to stop and take a piss to appreciate it. I lived in the city for ten years, and you couldn’t get that there. Never in a million years.

Then we heard the screeching. It was a sound like nothing I’d heard before, and I consider myself a very good listener. A screeching noise, there and then gone, far away but close enough to know it was real.

EEE-ERR.

Silence.

EEE-ERR.

It was the sound of a gate on rusted hinges, a loose old floorboard. I shivered and zipped up.

“Did you hear that?” Aubeck said.

“Yeah, it must be from that old barn out there.” There wasn’t any barn, but I really wanted to get the hell back inside. Suddenly the country wasn’t so pretty.

“Nah,” he said. “Wasn’t a barn. What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know man. I’m going inside.” My voice cracked, but I think Aubeck was too drunk to notice. I stepped toward the trailer, and he took two steps into the weeds.

EEE-ERR

“That!” Aubeck said. “You hear it?”

“Let’s–”

EEEEEE-ERR

My heart fell to the bottom of my stomach, then leapt into my throat. “I… come on, man. Let’s get another beer.”

Aubeck didn’t answer. He just kept walking towards that terrible sound. I don’t know why I followed him. I guess I felt responsible for his sorry ass. I still do sometimes. I wonder if things would be different if I’d stopped him.

Now the world truly was silent. People say silent but they don’t really know what it means. Really, really silent. No cars, no people. No wind in the trees. No groaning cattle.

I waited for that screeching to break the silence, but it was Aubeck’s footsteps I heard next. We were over the fence now, in a neighbor’s pasture. A cloud had slipped in front of the moon. I had only his drunken footfalls to go by.

And then they stopped. The moon shone on the pasture again. A cow mooed stupidly. Fortner’s dog barked. Aubeck was gone.

“Aubeck!” I called out. I stumbled around in circles, too terrified to move forward. There was nothing but weedy earth in front of me, but it felt like I was teetering at the edge of a cliff.

EEE-ERR

Softly this time, as if trying to pull me off that cliff.

EEEEEE-ERR

It seemed to float on the wind.

“Come on, Aubeck. This isn’t funny.”

Fortner, Paul and I, the state police, and the whole town of Oak Pass could not find Aubeck. Or a trace of him. I never told anyone about the screeching. “He just wandered off,” I said.

I listen for it every night now, going on three years. The fear is gone, replaced by a boundless emptiness far, far worse. I stare at the sky and listen, really listen, but it’s hard to find silence so complete.

Sometimes I try different places. A township cemetery between corn fields. The caves in Ahanu State Park. A supposedly haunted mansion on a bluff. But mostly I listen in the place where it happened.

When I fall asleep tonight, If I do, I’ll dream of that night. The grass bending under our feet, the moon in full glow, all the stars hanging in perfect brilliance. And then, setting up camp by the river. Pitching the tent with Kimmie.

And if nothing else I’ll dream of waking in the middle of the night, my little Kimmie on my chest. “Daddy,” she says. “Daddy, daddy.”

“What is it?”

“Me and Mommy heard a noise. Like a screech.”

At this point I’ll wake up, heart pounding and ears ringing. I’ll grope at my sides for my wife, and feel nothing. Then I’ll listen again and stare at the sky until my eyes won’t stay open, and then I’ll listen with my eyes closed, searching far and wide for that awful sound but only finding sleep.

“She went looking for it,” Kimmie tells me in my dreams. “She’s gone.”


Credits to: alanbsteeks

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