Well, it’s not quite flash-fiction, but here it is! Warning: This one gets dark.
The Silence of Winged Laughter
By M.G. Knight
If anyone had entered the Lexus residency that night, they would have expected to find a corpse. Dishes were smashed across the floor, lights had been beaten into fine powder, and electronics of all colors and varieties lay shattered. Worse yet was the strange, pungent odor permeating the spacious home, a mixture of rot, blood, and neglect.
There was only one living being within the Lexus quarters.
“Quiet. Got to find them. Quiet,” Kate Lexus murmured now, beginning her assault on the fan.
The view from the windows was completely obscured by the blizzard raging across the barren, hidden landscape, and so it had long ago become a simple fallacy.
Perhaps it was best that no bystander wandered into such madness from the howling outside world or that no vehicles ever drove by the lonesome Lexus residence, so isolated from any nearby contacts. It began as a matter of privacy, of freedom, an escape from the city life and the constant door-banging, sirens, and shouting. But for Mrs. Lexus it had warped, twisting and twitching into the most unlikely of curses. Now the outside world no longer existed; it was the things inside she had to find.
“Maxie, welcome to your new home!”
Maxie didn’t seem at all inclined to like the inside of his new home; the dark grey fur on his back rose on end and his lips pulled up in a growl before he scooted back outside into the Montana nothingness, a flapping pile of grey and white fur against the landscape.
And it truly was nothingness. Glorious, sparse and free nothingness. The mountains sloped in the distance as the pines nearby tried to match them, stretching upward with all their might. The deserted stables sat in the distance, waiting to be filled with horses. She would have her own ranch! And the ground: yellow. Who knew it would be yellow?
“Maxie,” Kate whined, stomping down the porch.
“Let him go explore,” Alec’s deep voice drew her back just as much as the arms that suddenly wrapped around her. “Can you blame him? He’s been cooped up for hours.”
“Fine.” Kate sprang out of his grasp, twirling up the steps and into the very empty living room. “We’re hooome!”
She could shout and jump and spring and roll and there were no neighbors to stop her, no nosy passer-bys or confused tourists.
Alec sighed. “Yes, we’re home. Now why don’t we go check out the bedroom?”
“Men,” Kate teased, strutting into the bedroom like she was a fashion model. “Always only one thing on their minds.”
“Actually,” Alec said, his brown eyes laughing, “I wanted to see where we can put the bed. I’m tired.”
Alec had been gone every day since they had first arrived, constantly fluttering from one business meeting to the next like a butterfly amongst a hoard of wildflowers. She knew it was only temporary; the move, after all, had been all about their relationship, a way giving them time alone in a place where they could start a family. A baby! The idea thrilled her.
But between work and setting everything up, Kate had little time to pine. She washed the walls. She decorated. She made sure all the utilities were in order and changed the state on her driver’s license at a bureau that was forty minutes away. On her way home, she met the neighbors, a lovely old couple who lived about ten minutes from her and Alec’s remote cabin.
“Oh, Montana’s lovely, dear. You’ll enjoy living here. The weather can be a bit harsh, but once you get used to it there’s nothing else like it,” Mrs. Rings told her, her elderly face all kinds of wrinkled.
“Yes,” Kate replied, shooing Max back into the jeep. “I read the winter can get pretty ugly. Any advice?”
“Make sure you have a good car,” Mrs. Rings said.
“And make sure you’re always stocked up in case you get snowed in,” Mr. Rings added. “It happens a lot, and you don’t want to be stuck in a house with no food, heat, or water for a week. Didn’t you hear about young Rick Suffield?”
“Oh, shush,” Mrs. Rings chided, but Kate was curious.
“Not the brightest of folk. Bad blizzard hit us in ’69; we didn’t have power for weeks. We found him frozen like a popsicle after.”
Mr. Rings blinked as his wife swatted at him. “Well, we did.”
Kate smiled. “Avoid popsicling at all costs. Got it.”
“Oh, and be sure you keep yourself busy,” Mrs. Rings said as they walked Kate to the car. “Being all alone out here can do strange things to folks, but I’m sure with your husband you’ll be just fine.”
As Kate pulled out of the Rings’s driveway, waving goodbye the entire time, she made a mental note to get some firewood and canned food—just in case.
Another day alone.
Kate walked to the window and waved at Maxie, who was sprawled out against the grass. She thought he could see her, but it was hard to tell since his long white fur covered his eyes.
She opened the front door, bunching against herself as the cold wind blasted her like a freight train. It hadn’t been thrilling to get settled in late autumn, knowing that winter was right around the corner. Especially when they were used to the mild winters of the south.
“Maxie, don’t you want to come inside? I’ll give you a tr-eee-eaat.” Maxie’s sheepdog ears might have perked—it was hard to tell—but besides that he showed no interest in her bargain. Sighing, Kate closed the door.
The silence was hard to get used to. She liked it, in a sense. But sometimes—mostly when Alec was away or when Maxie wasn’t in the house—it was eerie. There wasn’t a soul within earshot and cell phone reception was spotty at best. And the internet? It made dial-up seem like super-speed. It was also making her job as an online tutor that much more difficult.
But she would get used to it. With time. And perhaps—Kate dropped a hand to her stomach. Perhaps, with a baby.
She had spoken to only two people in the past six days: Maxie and Alec. And since Max was a dog, Kate wasn’t sure if he really counted.
She sighed. She had been so sure that moving here would be a big relief, and instead she felt lonely. Things would be better when Alec was home more.
She slipped her feet into her gigantic purple slippers and peeked out of the bedroom door. The living room met her gaze, full of the wooden, warm charm one would expect of a log cabin. But Alec was nowhere in sight.
“Hm.” Kate wandered to the front door and opened it up. “Maxie, come on in, boy.” Maxie, who was lying on the porch, fled down the stairs. “Deserter!” she called after him, but Max simply stopped, looked over his shoulder, and whined. Frowning, Kate closed the door. She knew it wouldn’t do any good to try to coax him in; Maxie just didn’t like the new house. He’d always been rather fickle, but it did make her wonder. She’d have to give the Rings a ring—Kate bit back a laugh and spent the next five minutes trying to work something into that phrase that had to do with a ring for a finger.
Ten minutes later she had forgotten she had heard anything at all.
“Alec, did you hear anything last night?” They were driving into Billings to pick up a few things for their home. Home. Such a great word.
“Nah. You know I sleep like a rock. Why? Were wolves howling or something?”
“No, I thought—”
Alec’s cell phone erupted, blaring against the walls of the truck. He glanced at the front. “Sorry, hon, work.” He looked at her, one eyebrow raised, and she smiled.
“You’re a big businessman now. My Alec. All grown up and a man!” Alec rolled his eyes before answering while Kate resumed looking out the window. She had heard it again. That voice. In fact, she’d heard it several times in the past few days.
The plains scooted behind them as they traveled, and then she saw something spectacular.
“Alec! Oh, my God! It’s a building. And not a hobo-building, it’s like a real skyscraper.” She cocked her head. “Almost. If you look at it this way.”
Alec grinned as he continued talking to his partner.
Kate had forgotten the sound of a city. It all came back to her as they cruised deeper into Billings, the familiar car-whooshes and siren wails sinking into the car. It seemed louder than it used to.
In fact, it almost made her uncomfortable.
They stopped at Mr. and Mrs. Rings’s household on the way back, mostly due to Kate’s insistence that Alec meet their neighbors. While Alec was introducing himself to Mr. Rings, Kate finally got the chance to ask about the house.
“Glenda,” she said as the men went over car tires and truck models. “Do you know who lived in the house before we did?”
Mrs. Rings smiled. “Well, let’s see. There were the Smiths last; a nice family, although the mother was a bit strange. Not that it stopped her from making the most delicious butterscotch cookies. And before that I believe was the Cooks, a younger couple. They didn’t stay long. And before that, of course, was Rick Suffield.”
Kate felt goosebumps cover her. “Rick Suffield?”
“Oh, yes, hon. He lived there for many years before—well.” Mrs. Rings puckered her mouth.
Well. Maybe Maxie was on to something. She was going to Google house cleansings as soon as she got home. No frozen popsicle ghost was going to stop her and Alec from starting a family—or keep her dog out in the cold all winter.
“Was he a nice man?” Kate asked, looking at Alec. He was smiling and laughing, but he did look a bit tired. Maybe the Google search could wait until he was at work.
“Oh, yes, dear. That’s why no one could quite believe . . .”
Mrs. Rings hesitated. “It’s unkind to speak ill of the dead. Let’s just say Rick Suffield was a good man when we knew him.”
Before Kate could bug her for more, Alec’s hand grabbed hers. “Let’s get going, beautiful. It’s getting late.”
Kate smiled weakly and gave Mr. and Mrs. Rings a quick hug; Mr. Rings looked rather surprised, but pleasantly so. He smelled like pine and tobacco, and he gave her an awkward pat on the shoulder.
Tomorrow, Kate promised herself as they walked toward the car. Tomorrow she would figure out everything. The cold penetrated her, infiltrating through every layer, pore, and bone to make her feel like—
Kate almost laughed into her scarf. She felt like a walking popsicle.
Kate stared at the screen on her laptop, panic welling inside her like a covered geyser. The article in front of her was from The Daily Plains, and it detailed all the facts of Rick Suffield’s death that Mrs. Rings hadn’t told her:
The police are uncertain why Suffield would have ventured out in a blizzard, but believe it may have been connected to the horses. “They were slaughtered,” Detective Willis told The Daily Plains. “It was like someone had a personal vendetta against each and every one of them.” The weapon used to slay the livestock was found in Suffield’s hand, ruling out foul play. Furthermore, there was no sign of a struggle at Suffield’s residence. “It looks like he just got up and walked out,” said Detective Willis.
Kate shivered, glancing outside to the weather-worn stables in the distance. Maybe she didn’t want a horse ranch after all.
She spent the rest of the day ghostbusting the cabin, but Maxie still refused to come inside even though it was getting frighteningly cold out. By the time Alec came home, she had decided her ghostbusting duty was officially done and she felt much better about their living quarters.
“How was work?” she asked as he shrugged out of his coat.
“Oh, the stupid corporation that wanted to merge with us is trying to back out now.” He looked even more tired than yesterday. “It looks like I’ll have to take a short ‘vacation’ to Wyoming tomorrow. I just want to take a shower and relax. How was your day?”
“Good.” Kate leaned into Alec’s chest, her hands wandering up and behind his neck. She hated that he had to leave; he was never home as it was, nonetheless a state away. “You can’t stay here and work it out?” she asked.
Alec sighed. “I wish I could.”
“Okay.” Kate fiddled with his shirt collar, trying to push away the loneliness that surged into her chest at the thought of being all alone. “How long?”
“Just a few days. Three tops.”
“Okay.” Kate stretched on her tip-toes to kiss him, noting the shadows under his eyes and the lines on his face. “Why don’t we take that shower together?” she murmured.
Alec gently removed her hands. “Not tonight.” He stopped at the hurt look on her face. “I’m sorry, hon. I promise I’ll make it up to you before I leave tomorrow; I’ll have a lot more energy, and I won’t have to go until the evening.” Kate forced a smile as he kissed her on the forehead, then wandered back to her laptop in the bedroom. A minute later, she heard the shower turn on.
Kate discovered that silence wasn’t silent. It rang. All through her ears and head and down into her toes. But she liked it. She liked it a lot.
Maxie barked outside, and Kate winced.
Alec should be home today. Any minute, in fact. Kate had squeezed into one of her shortest dresses—a cute, black thing, with far too little cloth around the chest and back area—and dabbed some perfume onto her chest. She even dissected two of the twelve roses Alec had surprised her with before he left and put the petals on the bed.
Then the phone rang. Kate looked at the cordless thing warily; since reception was so poor, they had inserted a landline. But only a couple of people had their number.
Frowning, she picked it up.
“Hi, hon.” Alec’s voice sent happy, warm tremors throughout her body.
“Hi. Are you almost home?” Kate went to the window, noticing for the first time the grey clouds in the sky. She could hardly wait to tell him the news.
“No. Stupid airlines are all land-locked. They say there’s a big storm coming in towards our area. You bought that food, right? And I have wood in the shed.”
Kate stopped looking out the window, the warmth she had felt a minute ago easing out of her body. “Yeah. Yeah, I have the wood. And the food. And water. I’ll be fine.”
There was silence on the other end for a moment. “Are you okay? I’m really sorry I’m stuck here, but there’s not much I can do about it. Trust me, I can’t wait to be home with you. And the first thing I’m going to do is carry you into the bedroom. Again.”
Kate pulled at the hem of her dress, glancing at the test in her hand with the two pink lines on it. “Okay.”
“I’ll check back in on you soon, okay?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
It was late November, and even with the heat blasting throughout the cabin, she could feel the cold pressing in on her from the outside. Cold and nothingness. Even Maxie had finally succumbed, bringing himself inside for a few hours before retreating outdoors again.
Kate jumped. That voice again. She was sure she had heard it.
Outside, Maxie barked.
Kate had found a number. A number written in Alec’s handwriting on hotel stationary of a woman named Brittany. He didn’t work with any Brittanys; she was certain of it. She had even gone through his business address book to make sure.
She tried to occupy her mind, but with the blizzard outside there wasn’t much to do. It was the worst seen in forty years according to the news. She had been watching a lot of news.
Max was sitting in a corner, the internet was out, and the wind outside was so loud it sounded like a howling banshee. But only one thing kept repeating in her brain, beating in time with her heart. Brittany, Brittany, Brittany.
When the phone rang, she leapt at it.
“Kate—still stuck—okay? Heard it’s bad.” Alec’s voice slithered across the phone, barely perceptible from the static.
“I’m fine,” she snapped. “Who’s Brittany?”
“Yes, Brittany. I found her number, Alec. In the back of your drawer. On hotel stationary.”
“—it’s nothing—acting weird—Sure you’re okay?”
Kate suddenly felt hot. “We’ll talk about this when you come home..”
“Kate? I don’t know who—Brittany—saying two or three days.”
“Great. I’ll see you in two or three days, then. Bye.” She slammed the phone onto the receiver and put a shaking hand to her head. It was nothing. It was probably nothing. She was overreacting.
Maxie barked from the corner as the phone rang again.
“Shut up!” she snapped. He whimpered, and she didn’t pick up the phone.
Kate remembered to get firewood before the snow was too high to travel to the shed. Now the wood was crackling and popping and sizzling in the fireplace since the electricity had quit working. It was loud.
The landline was useless. Alec kept calling, but she couldn’t make out a word he said.
Kate sat in a chair in the dark, cold bedroom. Maxie was whining in the living room. Why was he always whining? Why was everything so loud?
So she put out a bowl of Maxie’s food next to the fireplace and confined herself to the bed, listening to the phone ringing, ringing, ringing, and the voices whispering beneath it.
The snow had stopped for a day then came back with a vengeance, the snowflakes raining from the sky like little white meteors.
Kate had long ago disconnected the phone, tired of the ringing. The constant ringing. She was still in her dress. Flower petals were still on the bed.
She had also discovered that silence didn’t ring. No, silence had a voice. A slippery, quiet voice that she was determined to find.
“Oh, I’ll find you alright.” Kate said, pushing aside the blankets in the closet to look inside.
She couldn’t find it. She couldn’t find it anywhere.
Kate. We’re here—us. Find us.
Them. It was a them. She couldn’t find them. Why couldn’t she find them?
It was too noisy. That was why. She needed quiet. She needed quiet to hear the Silence.
She could see nothing outside her windows because the snow had piled so high. It was a good thing the Silence was inside because she didn’t want to have to go outside searching. So instead she tore down anything that made a noise or could make a noise.
Like the faucet. The faucet going drip, drip, drip to stop the lines from freezing.
–us. We can—if— Drip, drip. –find us. Find us!
The ever-leaking faucet subdued the location of the tantalizing Silence, cloaking their owners’ whereabouts from Kate’s vigilant search.
Screeching with frustration, she turned the handles on the bathroom sink as hard as she could, pushing her nest of un-brushed hair away from her face.
“Righty tighty, lefty loosey,” she muttered, turning the knobs further. “Righty tighty . . . lefty loosey.” She twisted more. “Righty tighty. Lefty loosey.” The knobs’ surfaces cracked, causing the unyielding drip to become a stream. Screaming, Kate grabbed the faucet head with both hands, pulling until it gave way with a satisfying groan.
She smiled as the stream slowly died, transforming into a pool of steadily-increasing volume. But it was quiet, and that was all that mattered.
—Kate. Find us, Kate.
Kate cocked her head to one side, listening. But the soft hum of the still ceiling fan drowned them out, and she stumbled toward it with a feral growl.
The dog barked, and Kate slowly turned to scrutinize it. It whined, backing into a corner as she advanced.
Five minutes later, Kate was sure the thing would never bark again.
She had searched. Everywhere.
Haven’t found us. Can’t find us. We’re not inside.
Well. That would have been nice to know two days ago.
Kate turned from the disassembled living room and opened the door. Snow fell in onto the hardwood floor and the wind screeched louder.
Beneath it, though, she could hear the Silence. It waited for her amid the sounds of winged laughter on the wind.
Author’s Note: For those of you who hate animals dying in writing as much as I do, I’ve written this very short epilogue to make you (and myself) feel better about the very dark turn of this story:
Maxie could smell that something was off. Not no-Kibbles-in-the-bowl off or a storm-coming off, but off. He had never seen his big sister act this way before.
So he did the only thing he could: he made a plan.
When Kate began tearing through the hallway closets, muttering something that wasn’t “sit” or “treat” or “good boy,” Max padded to the second bedroom where Kate kept her sewing stuff. And he began to sew.
When he was finished, he put the exact replica of himself—complete with barking recorder and a wagging tail—by the fire. Then he got to work on the door. He used a big white cloth to cover it from top to bottom and stapled it to the doorway. No one was getting out of this house until Alec came home. Because the nice Alec, like always, would know what to do.
So when Kate tried to exit the cabin, she only ran into an impenetrable blanket. And when she finally succumbed to days without sleep, Max curled up beside her until he heard the honk of Alec’s horn in the drive.
Oh, yes. The life of a good dog could be hard sometimes. He would expect several treats just as soon as Big Sister was better.