Listen. The logs in the fireplace shift, releasing a collection of snaps and pops into the air. The wind howls, rising and falling as it makes its way through some unseen crack. The walls groan as they settle. The scene conducts itself in a natural rhythm, discomforting, but right. To be in tune with this rhythm is key if one is to notice the…aberrations.

The solid thump on an upstairs floorboard.

The cry, just a half-pitch sharp of the wind’s steady moan.

The silence.

Most chilling of all is the silence, so sudden and final, as if all the world has paused to take a breath; yet only for a moment, and then the sounds trickle slowly back to life.

For phenomena such as these I have come to this ruin of a house; to observe by firelight the claims, yet insubstantiated, that drive the locals away. This is something that can only be done alone. Manifestations of this sort are often demophobic; even the comforting presence of a single partner could send them into hiding. So I sit alone—

—Silence. An abrupt cessation of all noise, both natural and otherwise. It is comparable to the way a room grows quiet at the arrival of a man who is the subject of gossip, and everyone tries to stare at him without being noticed.

I sink into my great, dusty armchair as the soft roar of the fire resumes, losing myself in the rhythm of the scene. I am tired, but I will not allow myself a wink of sleep. I cannot miss one moment of this, for I know that the instant I lose consciousness, that is when they will take form, step out from the aural world and into the visual. The ears play tricks, but the eyes—

—As the wind again takes up its mournful howl, I shiver. It is not cold this close to the fire, which snaps and crackles as if nothing has happened. It feels as though an oppressive…something…has passed through, something that demands a respectful—or fearful?—silence. Even I, not bound by the laws of the invisible, feel the need to hold my breath. I would take a night full of tortured moans and rattling chains over the silence—but that would be too ghoulish for reality. No. A real haunting is more profoundly terrifying than the ghost stories we told ourselves as children, and I did not come here to document fairy tales.

Aberrations. Just now, an odd thumping came from the direction of the stairs, ongoing and uneven. It has stopped now. The tired leather of my chair creaks as I shift my weight to get a better view of the darkened staircase, well beyond the reach of the fire’s flickering glow. My skin prickles, and I have an irrepressibly dreadful feeling that something is about to—

—Silence hangs heavily over the room. I am afraid to look, to peer over my shoulder at the heart of the silence, and yet, perversely, my head turns…

With a sharp inhalation, my neck snaps back to face the cheerful fire. I will not look again—for all the riches in the world, I will not look again! I can feel it, its presence pushing against the back of my chair, enforcing the utter quietude. What would it do to me, I wonder, if I were to break the silence? A weight settles over my shoulders, an unspoken warning. Do not speak, do not move.

Thus I pass the seconds (minutes, hours?) paralyzed, keenly aware of it lurking somewhere in the shadows behind me, forcing its terrible will on the scene.

When at last the house sighs and shudders, signalling the end of this latest manifestation, I hastily scribble the last of my notes, doubting if I will even be able to read them in the morning. I snatch up my coat as I head for the door, and spare only a passing thought to the fire, still roaring away in the hearth. No matter. If it grows out of hand and consumes this ruin, so much the better.

The icy air is refreshingly biting as I stride briskly into the night. I do not risk a backwards glance, not until I have built up a sufficiently safe distance; only then do I look. Obscured by the veil of my crystalized breath, the dark windows of the house stare down at me. From one of them, I know, it watches, and at the thought I turn hastily away. I will not look again…

I have experienced enough aberrations for tonight. Now for home, and a warm bed.

James Colton

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