08 Jan Listening
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Estimated reading time — 14 minutes
I didn’t know my uncle too well. Which I guess is why I couldn’t shed even a single tear at his funeral. I had only seen him for a few occasions in my life, and most of them was when I was six. He seemed like a nice guy, but even back then, I could see something… different in his eyes. I just didn’t know what it was.
When I was fifteen, I could clearly see that loneliness had consumed him. Which eventually lead him to taking his own life. Alive one day, gone the next. Nothing but a pale face and an empty bottle of pills lying on the floor of his living room was found.
My dad says it was because of the divorce, but my mother persisted that it was because neither she nor the rest of my uncle’s relatives ever cared to check on him for several years, even on the holidays. Almost like he didn’t exist.
I felt guilty myself, but I knew that there was nothing I could do.
Mom cried a lot that day. After the funeral, she would go and visit her brother’s grave every chance she got. Often bringing flowers and candles to pray for his peaceful passing to whatever was waiting for him.
I had to join her after school most of the time. I didn’t know if I liked going to the cemetery everyday, but I respected my mother for trying to make amends over past mistakes. At least, enough to ignore everyone that called me the “Cemetery Girl.”
After a week or so however, I did see someone who’d better fit the role of “Cemetery Girl.”
One sunny afternoon, I spotted someone who was doing… something by the gravestones. I didn’t know what she was doing at first, but already, she was giving me an odd first impression, mostly because of the long stuffed and striped rabbit ears she had on the hood of her jacket. I never did get how fashion worked, but I knew something like that wouldn’t slide easily.
I didn’t pay her much attention until the following week later. She was a lot closer to us now, and I could clearly see what she was doing. Beside the tombstone, she was placing her head down on the ground to one side, as if she was listening for something. She didn’t care if the graves had concrete slabs or simply bare dirt.
Every time I saw her, she would place her ear on a different grave, and each time, a lot closer to my uncle’s. I got a better look of her, clearly seeing the rabbit ears were just one part of her surreal wardrobe. Her jacket bore the same pink and white stripes, and I also noticed the over-sized green button in between the two ears, looking almost like an eye of a doll or something. I could clearly see a happy smile lining up on her face, like she was enjoying whatever it was she was doing.
I tried not to think too much of her, but as time went on and she got closer to us, I couldn’t help but notice her presence more and more.
One day, I decided to talk to her myself.
I constantly switched from looking at my mom and to the strange girl ahead; now only about six graves beside us. My mother was still busy with setting up the candles. The lighter she used wasn’t cooperating.
“Hey, mom, can I… go look around the place for a bit?” I asked, not really sure if I should mention the strange girl or not, even though I knew she had been seeing her as well.
She made a weird face, which was understandable. “Okay, just… don’t do anything stupid. And don’t go too far,” she told me.
I nodded, and headed off.
When I got up to the weird girl, she still had one ear on the ground. Once she took notice of me, she immediately stood up. “Hi, there!” she said gleefully, throwing her arm in the air.
“Yeah… hi,” I replied, giving her a wave with less than half of her enthusiasm.
There was a brief moment of silence between us, an uneasy feeling washing over me as the awkwardness settled in.
“So… what are you doing here, exactly?” I finally managed to ask.
“Oh, nothing special. Just listening in. It can be pretty boring sometimes, but it’s fun when you hear them!”
I was confused to what she had just said. “Hear who…?”
She didn’t say anything. She only knelt down on the ground again, and motioned for me to do the same. I hesitated…but eventually I did. I felt the wet soil soak through my jeans, making it all even more uncomfortable to move.
Her ear was pressed against the ground of a “Wilbur Whately, Sr.” tombstone. The look on her face kept changing constantly; changing from bored to looking like she was really close to bursting out laughing.
…and she eventually did, raising her head in the process.
“Ha, ha, ha! Sorry, sorry, I don’t think you’d wanna hear this, he-he…” she vaguely stated. I did not understand her at all, and I was beginning to think that it might’ve been a bad idea approaching her.
She stood up again, dusting off her skirt. “Come on! I know a better place for you to start!”
“I… I don’t know,” I said, standing up myself. “I’m not supposed to wander around too much.”
“It ain’t that far from here, I can promise ya that. Right about…” she spun around, putting her hand above her eyes, almost like a sailor scanning the sea for dry land. “There!” she pointed to another grave I couldn’t quite distinguish. True to her word, it didn’t seem too far from us. I didn’t think it would land me in trouble at least…
“Okay, if you say so.”
She led the way, passing by three different rows of concrete slabs with the names of the deceased etched on the headstones beside them, and moving on to the one at the far left corner of our block. From where we were, I could see my mom, kneeling down and still busy praying.
I looked at the tombstone that stood beside me. The name was slowly fading away, “Mitchell” being the only thing I could clearly make out of it.
“Mitch here can be a real wallflower, but when he starts talking, you won’t believe how kookie his stories can be!” she remarked before kneeling down.
I did the same right as she bent her head down on the concrete slab. She listened in for about half a minute, before sitting back up right with a giggle.
“Yup! That’s Mitch, all right! Okay, it’s a little tricky at first, but it’ll be worth it! Trust me.”
“Sure, okay… what should I do exactly?”
“Just get your good ear out and listen! Oh, and uh… just make sure there isn’t anything that can… you know, crawl into your ear and stuff. Believe me, you do not want that, heh…”
This was probably my last chance to get up, make up a lame excuse and run away, but I still decided to press on.
Staring down at the concrete, I asked myself a question, a boatload of questions, really. Was I really going to do this? Listen in on someone’s grave for some currently unknown reason? With my own curiosity being the only thing that drives me to do so?
And then there was that one question…
What was I going to hear if I did?
I placed my two hands on the cold slab and slowly lowered my head, putting my left ear down. Hearing the same bubble-like sounds you’d hear when you cover your ears.
I stayed like that for a few minutes, hearing nothing out of the ordinary.
“I can’t hear anything,” I said, taking my ear off the slab.
The girl in front of me looked a little confused. “Maybe… give it another try?” she suggested, tilting her head to one side.
I did just that, and still there was nothing. “It does sound hollow, though… but I guess it is a grave after all.”
She didn’t look upset. More like she was thinking of something that might help; arms crossed and her right index finger on the tip of her chin like something a cartoony detective would do.
“Maybe you’re not using your good ear?” she suggested, pointing to my right ear.
I shrugged. “I’ll give it a shot, I guess.”
Pressed down with my right ear this time, I listened in again. I took the time to focus my hearing on that side, blocking out anything the other side picked up.
“I’m… still not hearing anything,” I said, my head still on the slab. “Sorry.”
“Try giving it a little more time. Maybe that’ll help.”
I followed her request. I wasn’t really aiming to find out if there really was anything to hear anymore. It was strange, but I was somewhat enjoying my time with her. She was odd in many different ways, but she was undoubtedly friendly despite my being a complete stranger.
Another few minutes pass, and still, I heard nothing. I lifted my head up and shook my head. I could see she was back to her thinking stance. She had a puzzled look on her face, a slight hint of disappointment mixed in. A kind of face that I’ve seen a lot from my mother these days.
“Hey, what’s your name anyway?” I asked, snapping her out of the trance she was in.
“Oh, I never told you?”
I shook my head again, which in turn made her comically bonk the side of her head. “Ah, sorry! He-he, guess I got too caught up in the moment.”
She stood up on her two feet and extended her hand out to me.
“The name’s Amy! Amy Dall!” she exclaimed.
I got up myself and shook her hand with mine. “My name’s Charlotte, Charlotte Harris.”
As soon as I said my name, her face lit up with awe. “Ooh! Ya got a pretty name there, Charlotte!”
“Heh, t–thanks.” I wasn’t used to hearing compliments, at least not anymore. It felt a little embarrassing to hear one out of the blue.
“Hey, uh… do you wanna be friends?” I found myself asking out loud.
She looked a little confused at first, before a cheerful look returned to her. “Aren’t we already?”
“I mean… I suppose so,” I said sheepishly.
“Then I’m pleased to have met ya, Charlotte!”
She held her hand out towards me again, this time with only her thumb raised in the air. I couldn’t help but laugh a little at how silly she was, and yet, I did the same thing myself. “Nice to meet you too!”
“Welp, might have to call it a day, unfortunately,” she suddenly stated, turning around and starting to walk away. “I get a little busy at this time of the day. Thanks for talkin’ to me, Charlotte! I really appreciate your company. Be seein’ ya!”
“W–wait!” I said, stopping her in place.
“Hm? What is it?”
“I, uh…” I didn’t know why I even thought of it. But I did, and eventually I said, “Maybe… I could try listening in again?” I pointed my finger down on the grave we were messing with earlier.
A large grin spread across her lips. “Ha, ha! I knew you’d be up for it!”
She walked back towards me and knelt beside the tombstone once again. I did the same on the opposite side, and positioned myself.
I didn’t really expect to hear anything that time around either. But nevertheless, I still felt a familiar twinge of fear running through my system. Leaving me to ask myself again, was I really going to do this?
“Weeeeell? Come on and face the music, honey! We’ll never know if ya hear anything if we don’t try!” Amy announced, and she was sadly right.
My eyes darted back and forth from my new companion to the slab in front of us. I highly doubted that anything different would happen, yet the sense of dread inside me was still there, further expanding as I hesitated.
I placed my two hands on the concrete again.
I took in a deep breath, and finally lowered my head down.
Five whole seconds passed… nothing.
Ten more seconds… nothing.
Five more seconds… still no–
My eyes opened in astonishment.
I… I heard something. At first, it just sounded like something was moving on the slab above with me, but after letting what I heard sink in, I had a weird feeling that told me it was coming from below me.
I heard it again, a sound along the lines of a faint muffled scratch below. How is this even possible? I thought to myself. I was hearing something from below a grave. A grave that probably had several layers of concrete or dirt below the slab, and I was hearing something? And it sounded like it was getting… faster?
I couldn’t tell what I was hearing. It sounded like random scratching, but even that I wasn’t sure of. It was too far away for me to tell.
Beads of sweat went down my forehead and onto the slab. I could feel every single hair on the back of my neck stand on end every time I heard the strange noise that seemed to have come from below me.
What was happening?
What was I hearing?
And how the hell does someone like Amy knew about this?
It took me a little while, but soon I realized that this sound was indeed getting closer. Getting louder.
No… it wasn’t so much like a scratching noise anymore.
Faintly, I could make out what sounded like… words? Words that formed a sentence I couldn’t quite decipher just yet. It was… a voice. A very hoarse one at that, like someone had been screaming for the past hour or so.
“Doonn…sssst…errr…eyy,” was all I could understand at first. But as it got closer, more of the words started to clear up.
My blood ran cold hearing the last two words.
Run away? Run away from what? From… from who?
It was getting closer.
It was getting louder, more frantic, more angry.
…run away…run away…run away!
The voice felt like it was only a few inches below me, as if a man pressed his face against the slab and whispered the words up above. Whispering the words into my ears, as I began to understand each word he was telling me:
Just as I was steeling myself for the worst, the voice abruptly stopped. I couldn’t hear anything anymore, not even a hint of the mysterious scratchy voice that was coming from below me.
I listened in for a good long while, but still, there was nothing. The voice was gone.
Frustration made me sit upright, seeing Amy again after what felt like an hour. I forgot that she was even there, and seeing a girl who apparently knew about what I was hearing, and one who had a huge excited grin on her face, only added to the mix of confusion and anger that was boiling up inside me.
“Sooooo?! Did ya hear it? Huh? Did ya? Did ya?!” she asked frantically before I could say anything, biting the tip of her thumbnail afterwards.
“What… what the hell was that?” I asked, in a tone that was far more hostile than intended.
Rather than being offended, she gasped in astonishment, clapping her hands together in joy. “You did! You heard him! That’s so awesome! That is soooo awesome!” She suddenly stood up and began trotting around in circles, constantly repeating what she just said a few seconds ago, doing all sorts of wavy dance-like motions with her arms and legs.
“I… I couldn’t understand it” I commented, still trying to make sense of it all.
She stopped midway of her dance, one leg and two arms in the air as if she had been frozen in place.
“Oh?” she said, turning back to me. She then returned to her thinking stance from earlier. “Hmm… try listening again,” she said nonchalantly.
I was taken aback at how calm she was. Was this what she was hearing on every grave? “I–I don’t know, I don’t know…” I hesitated, my anger soon melting back into a state of fear to the unknown.
“Aw, come on, Charlotte! If ya stop now, you’re gonna up feeling like ya wasted an opportunity of a lifetime!” she exclaimed. “You’re gonna be stuck with this mystery for the entirety of your life! And you’ll never be able to go back!” She started jumping around again, throwing her arms up in the air.
“Unless,” she stopped, holding up her right index finger up like a man who was striking a bargain with someone.
“Unless… what?” I asked, quivering under the weight of the whole scene.
“Unle-eeee-ss, ya put yer ear back down there, and listen again!” she said ominously, pointing to the grave and then tilting her head to one side, cupping her own ear with her hand.
Earlier, I would have laughed at how silly her statements and actions were. But during those moments it felt like she was leading me into doing something that was far more twisted and sinister.
Twisted or not, I couldn’t say that she was wrong.
I stared back at Amy one last time, a look of great anticipation written all over her face, and placed my head back down on the slab. Closing my eyes yet again, I listened in, my entire body shaking from both the ache from straining the neck for so long and the fear that was building up as the silence drove on.
I clenched my teeth, biting at nothing as I heard… nothing. There was nothing. No voices. No sounds. Nothing.
There was no sound for two whole minutes, until finally…
“Charlotte? What the heck are you doing?” I heard my mother ask from behind me.
“M–mom?!” I blurted out, head still down on the slab. I opened my eyes and could faintly see her white pant leg at the edge of my vision.
“Get away from that grave! God knows what sort of people stepped on that,” she scolded me, but I still couldn’t move, a sudden wave of panic and confusion petrifying me on the spot.
“Don’t worry, miss! The graves here are a hundred percent clean!” I could hear Amy say to her.
“Still, get your head off of that. It’s a little disrespectful to the dead, don’t you think?”
Even if I wanted to listen in, I knew my mother wasn’t going to let me. I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to find out about what the voice was saying. Really, I was glad that she was there to stop me, to drag me back into the normal world.
But just as I was about to pull my head off of the concrete surface, I heard it again…
This time, I heard what he said very clearly.
I jumped back, falling down on the grass as I tried to stop a shout of terror from getting out. “Charlotte! What’s gotten into you?!” my mother exclaimed.
“I–I–I heard… I–I heard it!” I practically shouted out of fear.
My mother, of course, looked utterly confused. “Heard what?” she asked me, her confused stare slowly turning to a look of concern.
“It was… it was…” I was left speechless. There was no way in hell that she would’ve believed me if I told her. I was having a hard time believing it myself.
Giving Amy a hard glare, I expected her to at least help me in the situation. But she only gave me a shrug.
My mother helped me in getting back up. “Well? What is it?”
I could feel my lips still quivering. I didn’t know what to do.
“It’s… it’s nothing,” I said, defeated and disappointed at how things were turning out.
“Okay, well, I just wanted to let you know that we can go home, unless you wanted to do something else with your friend here.”
“No!” I found myself shouting out loud. Realizing what I had done, I felt my face heat up with embarrassment. “I–I mean… we can… we can go, it’s okay,” I muttered a little too fast.
“Uh… alright, so… who’s this new friend of yours again?” my mother asked me, obviously eyeing the strange get-up of the girl in front of us. I wanted to say then and there that she was most definitely not someone I would consider as a friend after what she put me through, but I stayed quiet.
There was a very unsettling and awkward silence for a while, before Amy took the chance to introduce herself. “Amy Dall, dear madame! Just a humble teen trotting along in this journey we call life!” She gave her a soldier’s salute, though she was using her left hand instead of her right.
My mother couldn’t help but laugh at her gleeful antics. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Amy.”
“Likewise, miss Charlotte’s mom!” she replied.
“It’s Charmaine, and I admire your enthusiasm, he-he.”
My mother’s eyes soon darted back to me. “Anyways, we should get going. You need a ride, Amy?”
I was immediately terrified of the thought of her riding along with us, but by some stroke of luck she declined my mother’s offer. “Oh no, no, no! I couldn’t, and besides, I’m more of a running-type’a gal, miss Charmaine! Don’t worry about me!”
“Good to see that you’re still fine with the idea of exercising everyday, unlike some people,” my mother shot me a look, clearly implying the statement was meant for me. But I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to get out of there.
“Still, be careful around these parts. Get home before dark,” my mother told her, which prompted Amy to give another wrong-sided salute.
“Will do, ma’am!”
It took a while, but we soon said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Inside the car, my mother kept asking me what I was doing with my “new friend” before she got there. I tried my best to avoid the question altogether, only telling her a half-baked lie that didn’t really make that much sense, one that I can’t even remember anymore.
That one sentence…
What that voice told me still kept swimming around in my thoughts, paranoia building up more and more whenever the memory resurfaced. It made me constantly shiver in my seat the whole ride, up until we got home. Even on the next day, it still had me jumping at shadows.
I tried convincing my mother that I should try to get home by myself. Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t, forcing me to return to that cemetery with her.
Amy was still there, almost like she never leaves. She would wave at me, the stuffed rabbit ears on each side of her hood bobbing up and down as she did. I tried to ignore her as best as I could, only to fail whenever my mother would see her and eventually wave back.
She never got close to us anymore though, giving me a good reason to never talk to her again. I didn’t know if I should be happy about that, but deep down in my mind I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky for too long.
Over the next few weeks of my life, I still felt an uneasy feeling of dread building up after each passing day. Everything was normal, and sometimes it felt normal, but my life was never the same again. All because of one moment in my life, one sentence that I could never forget.
Mere seconds before I had decided that I’d had enough and stood up, the voice shouted into my ear with utmost clarity:
Don’t trust her! Run away! RUN AWAY!
Hearing that below a grave was bad enough, but my own thoughts gave it a much more horrifying image, one that stuck with me up until I started writing this.
I never really found out who exactly he was referring to as “her” in that cemetery.