You’re twelve and kissing a neighbor’s daughter. She tastes like chlorine and something sweet, cola maybe. She is cool under your nervous hands and you want nothing but to not mess up. Her hair is wet and heavy, your jaw is getting tired.
Her father opens the basement door and there is just enough time to separate before he comes down the old steps. He’s too interested in something to ask why you are both sitting in the basement on a summer day. The something distracting him was heard in the Pacific Ocean. The something is on the news right now.
The something is a pop, really, and you don’t get why the father is so excited. Between his yellow smile and the news anchor’s perfectly white one, you find out the noise was sped up sixteen times by scientists, to make it audible to humans. Those scientists can’t figure out what made the noise, the father says. Some people think it could be a living thing, the disinterested anchorwoman states. You listen to it again when they play it accelerated only half as much as the pop, and it sounds like a moaning animal. You feel scared walking back to your house.
That night you dream about the ocean, about hearing the noise. Through the saltwater, you try to see where it’s coming from. The noise is low and drawn out, something like a whale but not as peaceful as someone would think a whale song to be. The noise is coming from everywhere, the blackness of the water is the noise itself—slick and immeasurable the body of the noise glides past.
When the alarm goes off you’re crying and it frightens your mother. In trying to explain the dream, you realize she won’t understand. Instead, you make something up about being attacked by a monster. She knows you’re lying but doesn’t say it. Both of you are silent during breakfast.
Later that day you’re back in the basement and your neighbor’s daughter tastes like gum. She put on too much makeup and you feel it getting stuck on your cheeks and nose. Both of you are keeping an ear focused on the basement door, but you’re more distracted. She asks you if it feels good and the quick answer of yes is enough to keep her kissing.
Whenever she closes her eyes you look at a dark corner of the room. One of the four bulbs in the ceiling fan is blown and it makes a corner seem distant and cool. You can’t stop looking at it, wondering how cold it might be, trying to understand how anything could live in that darkness.
In bed, you try to find a repeat of the newscast to hear the noise again, but soon enough the sun is out and your mother is at your door, asking if you’re sick.
On Saturday you and a friend are at the town’s public pool. The water is light blue and clear, enough for both of you to look for lost quarters in the deep end and loose bikini tops after high school students jump from the diving boards. You wait for the friend to get bored and swim away before diving to the bottom of the 12-foot area. The water fills your ears.
Looking up you see the blurry bodies of swimmers hugging to the sides or pushing ferociously off of one side, then the other, sleek and powerful.
The scream comes as a deafening howl. For a moment you don’t think you’re the person who made it. You keep screaming, letting the noise shake through the water. You remember the fear of standing too close to a train or in the middle of a thunderstorm. Your lungs are running out of air, you’ll need to push off the bottom and suck in air awkwardly. You know all of this but don’t stop the scream. Looking up, you are surprised no one is reacting. Nobody hears you through all the water.
As loud as you can be, nobody notices.
Matthew Kabik received his MFA from Arcadia University. His work has been published in Five Quarterly, Apeiron Review, and Nib Magazine. He lives in Lancaster, PA.
Lead image: “Scream” (via Flickr user smellslikeupdog)