Sounds I Hear
by Shane Keleher
Up until seven months ago, if anyone asked me if I believed in past lives, I would've said, "yes I do". I used to have visions that I would be walking up a flight of stairs and someone would come up behind me and plunge a butcher knife through my shoulder blade. They were frequent visions occurring, most intensely, anytime I'd find myself walking up a flight up stairs; I rarely approached a staircase without worrying that this would be the time my attacker, my murderer, would lurch into the light and plant a foot-long butcher knife into my back. For much of my adolescence, I tried to discredit these images, these visions. I just assumed that that's how I died in a past life and my death was a memory that I was privy to, even now. Little did I realize that they were not actually fortunate glances into a past death, they were premonitions.
Seven months ago someone plunged a butcher knife into the back of my boyfriend, Bradley. It was on campus; he was working late at the library. Presumably, he had taken a break had gone to get a bite to eat and was returning. All of this occurred on the side steps of the University library at a quarter after ten on a Monday night. No one saw a thing. He was dead before anyone found him, his crimson blood trickling down the steps as if trying to escape from him. And I could never explain to myself how it was that I knew that they were going to attack him. The night he died, I knew that they were going to slaughter him. But I also knew I couldn't stop them in time.
I still live in the apartment that we had shared for a little over a year. I can't leave it. It's a two-bedroom apartment and the rent is a little more than I can afford. But yet, still I remain. His room is cleared now. His family had taken all of his possessions back a while ago. All that remains in his room is a dresser that belongs to me and a mirror that rests on the floor, propped up against the wall. We chose a two-bedroom place because we both had a lot of stuff. We always slept in what was referred to as 'my' bedroom.
I don't know why I still live here. I am perpetually reminded of him and of us. I've tried to alter the look of the place in the time since he was murdered. The living room is mostly vacant – only a few tables and two lamps remain. I'm sure it looks as if I'm moving soon, but I'm not. The kitchen no longer has the kitchen table; I gave it away a few months ago. Only one chair remains, sitting idly in a corner.
The fridge has maybe a dozen items in it. My bedroom has seen repeated alterations in its layout and I've sold and bought furniture just to communicate the fantasy that this is not the same place that it was seven months ago. But, despite its emptiness, I still see the place in the living room where I was when I received a phone call telling me my boyfriend was dead. Leno was just winding up and I was debating going to bed. But I didn't like going to bed before Bradley was home. The odd thing is that this wasn't because I worried for his safety. I just didn't like falling asleep without saying good night to him.
Despite my efforts to purge the room of this memory, by purging it of its contents, I still see the place where I found out my boyfriend was murdered. And even though police believe that it was a random incident, a mugging, I still believe that I'm next. No one can convince me that it wasn't intentional, deliberate, and that the culprits, whomever they are, are laying in wait, preparing to take me next. I guess that's why the noises frighten me so.
I hear noises. I hear them often. It always sounds as if someone is trying to jimmy the lock of my apartment, but when I muster the courage to investigate, I discover that it's the wind or the hydro or the fridge. Sometimes, when I'm in the shower or just lying in bed, I hear walking in the other room. Investigating the noises, though, never gets me anywhere. There's never anyone there. I only live on the third floor, so it wouldn't be ludicrous to expect an intruder to come in through the balcony. And often, when I pass by a window, I feel as if someone outside is watching at me.
At night, I keep all of the blinds and curtains shut. I don't mind having them open during the day, but at night, I am completely exposed to the observances of the people who are waiting to kill me next. Sometimes I would make the sounds myself; I would lean back in my recliner and, not associating the sound that I made to myself, I would assume it was the creaking of a floor in another room betraying the presence of my attacker. I had to work to convince myself that I made the sound. Whenever I read or am engaged in a quiet activity, I would turn on the TV or play music really loud just so that I wouldn't hear the sounds. These were times in which I was able to believe that the sounds were creations of my mind. Occasionally, I believed that they did not truly exist and that it would be better to drown them out so as to actually operate as a regular human being. But these times were rare, for I was growing increasingly convinced that these sounds represented something sinister. I know the sounds are not ghosts: I don't believe in ghosts. And if there were ghosts, they would be harmless and I wouldn't worry so. No. Someone is waiting, patiently. I'm next.
It's now been fourteen months since Bradley died. The one-year anniversary was horrible. I didn't think I would make it through. In the span of two weeks, I rearranged my furniture four times to shred any connection to the time at which I lost him. There is now only one lamp in the living room but that's because I knocked the other one over and it shattered. I was convinced, one night, that someone was lurking around my apartment at four in the morning. I laid in terror in my bed and then remembered the knives I kept for protection in my nightstand. After over an hour of hearing the noises in the other rooms, I decided I would go crazy if I didn't determine, once and for all, what they were. I grabbed two of the longest knives out of the nightstand and, quietly, ventured through my apartment, terrified of what I'd find. I searched Bradley's old room, the bathroom, the closets, the living room, the kitchen, the front hall and then did all the rooms again in case I had missed a spot. Nothing. I hated the noises. The sounds always reminded me that I was next.
Our one-year anniversary was especially difficult. None of his family called. They liked me too, so I never understood why I didn't hear from them. Maybe things were too hard on them. But they're hard on me too. I was starting to get over the pain. If I wasn't so sure that Bradley's killers were watching me, I'd feel that my life was getting back on track.
A month ago I met someone new. I had gone to the club alone, something that I never used to do. I had lost touch with many of my friends when I met Bradley and when he died. I was not able to build any new friendships. But I knew that it was time to stop sitting in my apartment, hiding. I tried desperately to convince myself that the sounds I heard were just creations of my imagination. I wanted to believe that there was no one out to get to me. That when I heard a car door shutting outside of my apartment that it had nothing to do with me, that when I heard voices outside of my bedroom window, it was just passers-by on the street below. Rarely did it work. The night terrified me. It felt as if the night was in collusion with those who slaughtered my late boyfriend. But, that night, a month ago, I had to get out – I needed to get laid.
I left my apartment early. If I delayed departure until too late, my fears would get the best of me and I'd be thoroughly incapable of leaving at all. So I left at nine and killed time in some of the music and bookstores that stayed open late downtown. I felt safe downtown even though there was a multitude of noises. I felt that there was safety in numbers, even if those numbers were total strangers. I had no explanation as to why I didn't suspect any of the anonymous strangers who passed me by to be Bradley's murderer – I really didn't know.
Around midnight I headed for the club. It was a club that I frequented quite often before Bradley, but it had undergone new ownership and was bound to be completely remodelled. I had picked up quite a lot at this place before Bradley and I had hoped that things hadn't changed that much. Since I stalled in the stores too long there was a line-up. I felt a little silly standing in line by myself, and, as I stood there, I started worrying that Bradley's murderer was nearby. There was nothing to suggest that, actually. I tried to convince myself that my new-found fear was all in my head. Nevertheless, I tried to keep my eyes on everyone around me.
I made it into the club after waiting in line for twenty minutes. Things had changed. Not only had the bar been completely revamped, but the patrons were far younger and far hotter than they had been previously. This didn't deter me though; it just made me hornier. Although I was over thirty, I knew I was attractive. I was tall, toned and smooth. And I was determined to pick someone up. It didn't take me long. The third guy that I cruised responded nicely. I passed by where he and his friends were standing twice and both times my smile was reciprocated. He was University student age, a bit shorter than me with blonde spiky hair and full lips. He also had an ass that belonged on an underwear mannequin. When he went to the bar to get a drink, he gave me a look and a smile that informed that he wasn't actually going to the bar to get a drink. I met him at the bar and bought him a drink. His name was Ben. We talked for twenty minutes and then left for my place. Three days later we were dating and two weeks later, we were a couple.
Having Ben around the apartment dulled my awareness of the sounds and noises. He slept over four or five nights a week and when he was at my apartment, I felt safe. I never heard any sound and never suspected that anyone was trying to enter the apartment. As his presence in my life grew, I was becoming more and more able to believe that all of this had been just an element of the trauma of losing Bradley in such a violent way. I tried to convince myself that maybe Bradley's spirit was just watching over me, and that, rather than be afraid, I should be comforted.
As time continued, things with Ben proceeded well. He was similar to Bradley in a number of ways and this was both good and bad. He has a bit queeney, which I loved, and was one hell of a bottom. He was insatiable in bed and, yet, was wonderfully intelligent and funny. I never communicated to him my belief that Bradley's murderers were stalking me – I knew that he would think I was nuts. Either that or he would wonder why I hadn't contacted the police. But he knew that I had lost my last boyfriend in a horrific manner and he tried his best to alleviate my occasionally obvious paranoia. Sadly he wasn't completely successful and, after Ben had left, I knew I wasn't alone. The few nights that I spent alone, I knew I was being watched and I knew that it was only a matter of time before my hunter would attack.
Ben was in his last year of a Political Science degree and was working on his honours thesis. I hated when he worked late at the library because I feared that whomever slaughtered Bradley would strike at me through Ben before striking at me directly. I tried to convince Ben to get a cell phone, but he never wanted one. If I knew he wasn't coming back to my place that night, the wait for his phone call would drive me mad. I couldn't call his place repeatedly like I wanted to – he lived with roommates who would think that I was nuts. And so, I had no choice but to wait for him to call to say that he made it home safely. Most nights, he was quite good at calling me. But some nights, he would either forget or would get home so late that he would think that I was asleep and didn't want to wake me. I never informed him of the gross unlikeliness that I would fall asleep without hearing from him. Those nights I would sit up until 1 or 2 o'clock before calling him only to discover that he was home and he was safe. After a few times of my calling him and waking him, he learned that it was best for all if he just made sure to call me before he went to sleep to ease my concerns.
Lately, I have been unable to do anything at night. When Ben's not here, I try to watch TV or listen to music or read, but I can't. The sounds are telling me that my killer is out there, close. A few nights ago, I was convinced that I heard the scuffing of feet on my balcony. Ben wasn't over and I sat in my recliner and just listened for the sounds. I had my two knives by my side for protection, but they didn't feel adequate at all. Why couldn't I believe that the sounds were unrelated to me? I wanted to believe that I was safe and that no one was stalking me, hunting me. But when I heard the sounds on my balcony, I knew otherwise.
I stood in my living room with my back to the wall and waited for some sign of my attacker. Boxes of old stuff were proper up against the screen door. Ben hated them and asked me to take them down so that we can enjoy the balcony. I don't think that he had any idea that they were there for protection. He also said that it looked terrible from outside. He said that one could only see fragments of light through the boxes and it didn't at all make the apartment look homey. That night, I just stood there waiting for the boxes to topple, hoping that they would act as enough of an impediment to my attacker so as to allow me to run to safety. But I stood there for a while and nothing happened. The boxes didn't move and no more sounds came from the balcony.
I returned to the recliner in my bedroom, cursing myself for being so paranoid. Later on, when I heard the lock to the balcony door being shaken, I tried to convince myself that it was just my imagination. When Ben called at twelve thirty, I jumped. I wanted to stay on the phone with him as a form of security, but it was obvious that he was tired. And so I tried, desperately, to fall asleep. At least when I was sleeping, I couldn't hear the noises.
Ben wasn't safe and I knew this. I didn't hear the sounds anymore and I knew that that wasn't a good sign. When we had made love that morning, I feared that I would never see him alive again. It was probably the best sex that we had ever had. As good of a bottom as he was when we met, he'd become even better in the time that we've been together. And all of that suggested to me that the hunters were poised to strike.
When he left for school, having missed his first class thanks to out morning activities, I was certain that this night was the night. He had to submit a report to his thesis advisor and had to do some more research. He told me that he would be at the library until very late and couldn't guarantee what time he would call me. I knew that they would strike tonight.
I left the apartment before sunset and headed for his campus. I knew where Ben would be studying, but I didn't know where the hunters would strike. I stuffed my butcher knives in my pockets, prepared to strike to save my new boyfriend.
The night progressed and I attempted to stay hidden from view. Students occasionally spotted me but kept to themselves. I knew that none of them were the murderers. I'd know them when I saw them. I passed the library periodically and found a window through which I could get a partial view of where Ben was studying. This allowed me to remain certain that he was still safe.
As I surveyed the surrounding areas, I was worried by the fact that there were no sounds to alert me. Nothing communicated that I or Ben were in any danger. Yet, nothing shattered my resolve that tonight was the night. As the time grew later, the campus grew sparser. My fear grew. I sensed that they were near. But I didn't know where and no sounds betrayed their presence. The night was silent. I had just checked on Bradley through the window and he was still studying. My eyes scanned my surroundings. I was nestled amongst some bushes, resting against a wall. Certainly, I would see my attackers before they saw me. I grew cold, for the night was chilly. I clutched the butcher knives in my pockets, feeling comfort from their presence. They would protect me from my hunters.
Then, I saw him. My murderer…Bradley's murderer; the one who wanted to slaughter my new boyfriend. He passed right by me and didn't see me. The bushes around me prevented me from getting a detailed look at him, but I knew it was he. I waited until he was far enough ahead of me so that he wouldn't know that I was on to him. I didn't want him to know until it was too late that I was after him. Tonight, it all ended. Tonight, the sounds stop.
I followed him through the campus. I couldn't make my move until the moment was right. He weaved between building after building. For some reason he was heading away from the library, away from Ben. I suspected that he was meeting up with his fellow accomplices. Hunters like him preferred to work in numbers so as to ensure that they would overpower their prey. Well, I was prepared to take them all on. These hunters slaughtered my last boyfriend – they weren't about to claim another.
It then occurred to me that if he met up with the other murderers, the other hunters, would I be able to handle them? If Bradley couldn't, why did I think that I would be able to? I knew that I had to take them out one at a time. I followed the hunter in between two of the science buildings. Now he was cutting through one of the alleyways. This was my chance and I sped up my walking. He had no idea that I was onto him. Before he realized what was going on, I was upon him. I threw him against the garbage dumpster and smashed his face against the cold hard steel. He dropped, groggily. I gripped him by the neck and dragged him behind the dumpster. I must've hit him hard because he was barely conscious. I didn't want to waste my chance. I had to do this before anyone found me. No one would understand that what I was doing wasn't murder, it was self-defence. I grabbed him by the hair on the back of his head and smashed his face against the ground repeatedly. He barely put a fight.
Apparently, he wasn't used to prey who fought back. I sensed that he was barely conscious now. I extracted the butcher knife from my coat pocket and plunged it into his shoulder blades. I shoved it in hard so as to deal with the resistance that would come from his bones and organs. I pulled the knife from his body, blood dripping from the blade and I thrust it back in, over and over. Long after I knew he was dead, I kept stabbing him, this son of a bitch who killed my Bradley and who tried to kill Ben. This bastard who had been tormenting me for my entire life.
Finally, it was all over. I left his lifeless body behind the dumpster and threw the crimson-soaked knife into the dumpster. My black overcoat concealed much of the blood. I walked off, knowing that Ben and I were now safe.
I arrived home shortly after. I waited for Ben's phone call although I knew now that such concern was no longer necessary. Two o'clock passed and then three. The last time I remembered was four-thirty before I drifted off to sleep in my chair. I awoke before noon the next morning. No messages on my answering machine. That was odd. I called Ben's place. "Hi, is Ben there?"
His roommate was surprised to hear from me, "No, I assumed he was with you. He never came home last night."
Terror gripped me. I had only killed one of the hunters but one of the others might have gotten to him. Maybe we weren't safe after all. Why did I ever think that we were? I called Ben's place again later that afternoon but there was no answer. I tried not to be bothered by that – they were all students, it was to be expected that no one would be home. I called again an hour later. Again, no answer. Finally, long after sunset, I got an answer. Ben's roommate was shaken up when he picked up the home "Hello," he muttered, almost inaudibly.
"Hi, it's me again. Has Ben shown up yet?"
I could hear the trembling in his voice, "Ben's dead. The police called this afternoon." He took a trembled breath and continued. "They found his body behind a dumpster on campus. His face was all smashed up and he had been stabbed almost thirty times. No one saw anything."
I was frozen. I didn't know what to say. All I knew was that I hadn't been successful. The hunters had still gotten to Ben. The sons of bitches couldn't be stopped. I hung up and sat there in my darkened room. And then I heard the footsteps in the living room.
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