Written by: Nels Challinor
Illustrated by: Jesse Rosenthal
That terrible squealing. I awoke in a panic, sheets damp with sweat.
I checked my watch and leaned back against the wall, comfortable in the relative silence between squeals. But they always returned, more forceful with each passing minute. And as they grew in intensity, nausea bubbled in my stomach and I felt faint. That terrible squealing was pain incarnate and I hadn’t the will to stop its advance.
Insomnia had set in and I committed myself to its charms. I drifted to the kitchen to fix a cup of coffee. As water approached a boil on the stove the squeals stopped suddenly. A strange silence overtook the house and I could feel this silence hanging around me, convincing me to obey by its laws. I carefully turned the stove to Off and fixed my cup. The coffee burned my mouth and sent a shock through my body but it was warm and dependable on this dark night of pain and unknowns.
I crept to the porch. Taking a seat on the couch, I lit a cigarette. The blue smoke curled and bent beneath my fingers. As the cigarette burnt down, I comforted myself. The night sat calm and ready for my eventual return to unconsciousness. I felt the safety of being anonymous, a true nobody. I existed without the knowledge of my immediate acquaintances for they had long since gone to sleep. Even those passing on the street would not be able to glimpse my face. To them, I was the puff of smoke that implied the presence of a person.
But then the squealing. Louder, and faster. The sound exploded from the house across the street as if something were trapped. I ran inside and bolted the door but the squealing penetrated these flimsy defenses. It lodged itself in my mind and bounced off the walls of my skull. I gripped my head and fell to my knees beneath the cacophonic horror. I was helpless against it.
I crawled to the sanctity of my room but The sound followed me, trailing after every step, imploring me to find my morals amongst my coffee cups and cigarette butts. The squealing that I heard that night had followed me through life, masked by interference from human noises. One can never hear while distracted. But I had no distractions that night and the pain had finally caught at my ankles. I was only the mere implication of a person and I still felt the pain of this creature, squealing wildly in this dark night. I could no longer stand that awful squealing. This noise warranted attention. It warranted correction. So I grabbed my coat and ran across the street, letting the screen door bang! shut behind me.
As I reached the door, the squealing grew to a fever pitch. It transformed into a uncompromising scream. I could hear the desperation and the futility. I stood for what felt like hours staring into the oak of the door and cursing myself for my commitment. And after brief this reflection I turned to go. This was not my battle.
As I did so, the screaming stopped. Curious, I turned to face the mighty door, behind which lay untold horror, manifesting itself as the source of that terrible screaming. I turned the handle and walked inside.
The room was dimly lit by an ancient television sitting in one corner. A blue haze hung around my head as the television bombarded me with the sounds of a cartoon I used to know well. Light from this cartoon curled and bent in the air and as my eyes fell upon the floor I saw the bongs and baggies of a wasted youth. My gaze wrapped around the room and I saw the faces of its inhabitants. Five young men lounged in recliners and sofas, unmoving, unblinking, unchanging. They recognized my presence, but were too stunned or too stoned to acknowledge it.
Eventually my eyes descended to the stained carpet and I beheld the horror escalating there. One young man sat shirtless, pants unbuttoned, shoes off, like some frontiersmen boxer lost in the fray of a good fight. He cursed rapidly, his eyes mere slits in his skull. In his arms he held a small piglet. And in his arms he held that terrible squealing that had awoken me in the night. His veiny hands formed a tight seal around the pig’s throat and his grip tightened and slackened haphazardly as the pig shook like a rattle. The animal continued to scream in horror but its cries were muted now; it realized its powerlessness in the embrace of this civilized barbarian. The animal made little hacking gurgling sounds from deep in its throat. I could not see if the appendages were moving.
The boy’s light skin, stained with pig shit and ash, revealed the source of his anger. It’s cause. But the anger was anger, through and through. And when this boy laid his hands upon this animal, that was his, that belonged to him, he became a demon with fire for eyes and incoherence for breath. I gazed down at him from above without disdain, without hatred, without even the desire to help the screaming animal. For it was no longer that terrible screaming that frightened me. It was now the demon of anger that stole the eyes of light-skinned young boys and replaced them with fire. I stood and stared into this holocaust until I could bear no more and then I spun and walked out the door.
Words by Nels Challinor
Art by Jesse Rosenthal