Screaming is rare. Outside the movies, war zones, or psychiatric institutions, it’s unusual to hear anything more than an exaggerated squeak. This wasn’t that.
Alison Luria was screaming. She stood in the middle of the cluttered office, rigidly upright, arms by her sides, head angled slightly back. Her mouth was locked open, eyes tightly shut. The sound she was emitting, in a continuous, only slightly uneven stream, overwhelmed apprehension. It was less a specifiable noise than an abstract inaudibility, the unheard manifested as a monstrous positive entity, insensibility made palpable.
It had begun at almost exactly the moment of entering the room. I had not quite finished closing the door behind me, still uncertain whom first to address, when – as if out of nowhere, without the slightest warning – a shard of sonic shrapnel sliced into my head, making any further thought impractical.
It was my second visit to the company, and the small team was already vaguely familiar.
Fred something, the tech guy, was (incredibly) ignoring the phenomenon, and seemed still to be working. Alison’s editorial assistant, Xu Ling, had retreated beneath her desk, where she now lay perfectly immobile, coiled into a tight fetal knot. Millie Zhang, the sales director, had missed it. Her tidy, south-facing work-space was unoccupied. It had been set up as an oasis of light and order, semi-withdrawn from the gloomy debris-field of the larger open-plan attic area. She was probably out on a sales call.
I had never fallen prey to mystical inclinations, and problems of an esoteric nature seldom detained me. If, on rare occasions, hints of hidden profundities over-spilled the dikes of dismissal, they elicited vague repulsion, rather than enthusiasm. I would, at that time, have reacted with instinctive aversion to any claim that the suspension of reason opens secret gates. (No one had ever bothered me with such suggestions.) Yet as the threads of intelligence were severed by the scream, it was as if access were being granted to the inner substance of the world, violently unwrapped from the distractions of visual identification. Something was poking through the wall of sonic oblivion – a clicking or crackling. This isn’t a message, said the click-code, it’s just the sound of your auditory nerves dying.
Would it ever stop? Had it, in reality, ever begun? Its duration had become a matter of no significance, because this breakage of the world was no longer Alison Luria screaming, but the scream as it existed in eternity, freed from the bonds of fact. It was the primordial scream, vast beyond cosmology, anonymous and inexpressive, the pure howl of being now perceived as it always had been …
… and then, as suddenly as it had begun, it ceased.