There was a noise. He was alone and there shouldn’t have been a noise. He sat in his oversized leather chair, his feet crossed on the ottoman, and a green knit blanket pulled over his legs. There was no reason for the noise. He tried to convince himself not to worry about it. It was only a noise. His house always made noises and it had never bothered him before. He felt the need to stretch an imaginary smile across his face. He pulled up his cheeks and showed his teeth. It was dark outside and he could see his reflection in the mirror. He did not remember growing so old. His teeth still looked good, and if he looked away quick enough the smile almost looked real. But when he studied his reflection he could see that there were no smile lines around his eyes. His fake smile hadn’t reached that far across his face.
There it was again, the noise. This time it seemed louder, closer, more urgent. It was similar to the first noise. He couldn’t tell if it was coming from inside the house. His chair squeaked as he moved around. He knew he should stand and look through the window to find out where the noise was coming from. He knew his fear was irrational, but his fear had crept up when he had not been looking. If he had been able to confront the fear in small doses, a little noise here: the sound of the house settling, a little noise there: animals scratching through the woods, he could have prepared for it. Instead, he found himself frozen to the chair, his skin around his legs pulled taut from the stickiness of the leather. He was afraid his skin would pull off if he tried to stand and find where the noise originated from.
The phone rang. The noise was different, closer, more organized. He tried to listen to hear the other noise, but the phone ringing and the silence between rings was too loud. He slowed his breathing and tried to calm his heart. He then reached over and pulled the receiver off the hook, untangling the cord enough for it to reach his right ear. The voice on the other end broke the spell and he forgot about the noise. The noise wasn’t anything, he realized as he chatted with his aunt. It must have been the house settling or the wind knocking the trees about. It was very windy outside. He could hear the wind whistling through the trees and over the roofs.
His aunt was telling a story and he was only half listening. She wouldn’t have known the difference, he knew. He’d had whole conversations with his aunt where he didn’t say a word. He thought about putting the receiver down but he wanted to hear someone else’s voice. The human voice has a way of cutting through fear. Most fear relates to loneliness in one way or the other. When he’s not alone he finds it more difficult to be afraid. He’s not sure why. It’s probably because he feels he has to be strong for the other person, or because thinking about his fear as it relates to that other person makes it less real. His aunt’s voice chased away the fear and the noise. He could not hear the noise when she prattled on.
He did not notice when the end of the conversation came. She repeated her goodbye twice before he heard and responded. He wondered what she had been talking about. He didn’t let her hang up. He wanted to know if she heard the noise but he couldn’t think of how to ask. She told him he sounded strange. He did sound strange. In the end he had to let her go. She was done with her story and that was why she called, he knew. But when the dial tone sounded on the receiver, he worried that he had missed an opportunity to find out more about the noise. To work through his fear by letting her listen for the noise. He was not sure if it was the type of noise that could be heard over the phone. He did not linger long on that thought as the noise returned. Its pounding ripped through his guts like a fevered forehead through ice.
He stared at the green phone receiver and hung it back on its hook. The dial tone had not drowned out the noise as his aunt’s voice had. If anything, the dial tone made the sound more real, more complete, and closer. He pulled the green blanket higher and closer to his neck. The room was warm and yet he felt a chill. He could almost see the vibration of the noise in the air.
He realized how ridiculous he must look. His fake smile left his face. He hadn’t realized he had been pulling his lips apart in a smile all the while he had been listening to his aunt talk. The smile did not chase away the fear as he had hoped. He used the oversized arms of his oversized chair to stand up. His knees hurt and he was careful not to stand fully upright afraid of the shooting pain that sometimes accompanied the aches in his knees.
He walked over to the window and placed his hand on the glass and felt for the vibration. The sound was a deep rumble and the glass vibrated with the rumble. It was coming from outside he decided, relieved at his discovery. As long as it was outside it couldn’t hurt him, he reasoned. His house was his castle, its walls his defenses. He reached over and turned off the desk light. The window darkened and his eyes adjusted slowly. The sound continued, and with it window vibrated and the vibrations pounded his hand against the glass.
He could see nothing passed the first stand of trees. No moon lit the sky, and the stars were hidden behind high flying clouds. The distant light of the city lit the cloudbank in the distance, but it did not provide light. The noise grew louder and deeper. He swallowed and found a lump in the back of his throat and halfway down his esophagus. He swallowed harder to get passed. It was stuck like a cat’s hairball. He tried to clear his throat with a series of coughs but could not get past the clump. His coughing did not drown out the noise. If anything, it grew stronger and closer.