On Tuesday morning, around 10AM, I heard the first glimpse of eternity. It was my second holiday day. I was standing between cereals and pickle jars and somewhere above me a voice tried to convince me to buy slabs of steak that I had seen and that looked unhealthily red. When I saw those steaks a sick cramp formed in my stomach. Humanity has degenerated to the point that meat must be pumped with salt and chemicals to look red as we have grown so accustomed to colored food that we don’t even know anymore that flesh, after being drained of blood, is gray.
I picked a pack of sugared cereal off the shelf and it began. There was no warning. Just one voice stinging through the normal bustle of the shop. It sounded like a young screaming child that quickly ran towards me. I looked around to see the child until I heard it right in front of me but still could see nothing. Then, one after the other, more voices joined in, a choir of pained screams that grew in number and loudness by the second.
My forehead was slammed repeatedly against cold linoleum until one of the clerks did the last nice thing anybody will ever do for me. She pushed a pack of marshmallows between my head and the floor. I slammed my head into the pack rather than the floor. My hands were still pressed on my ears and I kept screaming for the voices to stop.
Somehow I got on my feet. I stumbled against shelves and people and pushed helping hands away. The wall of heat hit me, then I saw the sun. It stopped. The world was quiet again.
I lowered my hands, breathed the silence into my body and laughed from the relief. The crowd that stood in the supermarket’s entrance was staring at me. With their eyes in my back I quickly made my way to my car.
I’ve done things that I shouldn’t have done. I’m not trying to find excuses or to play the part of a victim. I hurt people, knowingly and willingly. My parents are not to blame, they were what you would call ‘good people.’ My friends, when I had any, were not the kind to get me into trouble. I don’t even blame the internet or media, although the daily dose of violence certainly had its effect on my soul.
Maybe it’s a birth defect. God’s fault, if you will. I don’t feel what you feel. I read everything about empathy, I know what it should feel like and that I should feel it, but I don’t. And, admittedly, it is convenient not to care. I got many things that others need to wait or work for. With enough confidence the other will give in. But people are easy to hurt. I did it many times, sometimes accidentally and sometimes because I wanted to. Those women, I’m sure they still suffer. That kid I castrated for fun – who knows what became of him.
On the way home I began to understand the basic principle. As long as there was light the screams stayed away. Seconds after I entered a tunnel or garage the voices started again.
The big windows allowed the sun to come in. As long as I stayed in the living room I felt okay. I even managed to distract myself, the way I always do, from the thing I should be concerned about. I googled what screaming voices might mean, what brain problem I caught this time around. None of the results were even close to what I was experiencing. So I looked for joy instead. There are plenty of videos online, in the right places you can even pay to see it live. I don’t know why I enjoy to see others in pain.
When the sun began to set the voices came back. Electrical light kept them somewhat at bay, but candles drove them closer, louder. As if fire somehow connects me to their world.
I never noticed before that there are different types of pained screams. Maybe that is just my lack of empathy, but I never heard any theory of that sort either.
Pained screams, you can hear what type of pain the person feels. Physical pain creates spiked screams with high pitches but a certain regularity. Mental pain creates chaotic screams that vary between howling and shrieking, often one after the other. Physical pain in the groin must be somewhere in between, it results a dull, hollow, breathless scream.
All night those screams lasted. I heard the men and women – or whatever those things might be called now – and a few high-pitched voices that seemed to come from children. None of them sounded hoarse. It was as if they had infinite capacity for screaming. Infinite capacity for experiencing pain.
I fell asleep on the sofa with six or seven different lamps turned on. I heard the screams even in my dreams.
On Wednesday morning I felt a warmth in my feet and legs. They were ticklish at first, then itching, then my skin was on fire, as if it was being rubbed with hot ashes. I was surprised that my head felt fine, despite the screams that echoed in my ears from the moment I woke up.
By noon my hands and feet had grown red and my whole arms and legs had begun itching. The screams had stopped when I moved my daily activities to the garden, but every trip to the bathroom or kitchen became a new form of torture.
For a reason that I can’t quite explain my inner voice was more concerned with the question whether I deserved any of it, rather than the concern that it was happening at all.
By early afternoon my legs had turned into outright fire and my arms as well as my lower back were receiving the hot ash treatment.
I ate three packs of ice cream and drank iced water to make up for the pain of the heat that spread slowly throughout my body. When the pain started in my stomach I thought it was due to the temperature difference and careless eating.
It started as pressure and continued as pinching. Then it turned into pulling and twisting. By the time the sky turned orange and the screams thundered in my ears, slowly approaching their rest-of-the-night crescendo, my stomach was being cut and sewn by a dozen restless hands. I lay flat on my stomach, pressing pillows and ice packs against it and my oven-temperature hands were throwing one expired opiate and sleeping pill after the other in my throat and still failed to reach a thing.
I can’t explain how I fell asleep. I can’t remember when it was, but it was after the point where my voice was joining the others’ screams of pain.
Under normal circumstances a body can never get that hot. I suppose I have been warned. So many religions, so many believers, and most warn that justice will be served.
I woke up at 6:14am. There was smoke in my room. The bedsheets around my feet had turned black. I managed to suffocate the small flames that were on top of the blanket.
In their screams I felt a type of relief, as if my misfortune made their suffering easier.
For hours I sat in the garden, praying for it all to stop. The voices even came just when I was in the shadow. My feet left black marks on the grass wherever I walked.
It was today shortly past 11. I wish I knew the time.
I said it only to myself, but I have to admit that I meant it.
“If this won’t stop I will kill myself.”
Of course they heard. They quickly stepped away; the screams faded into the distance.
Only one voice stayed. A raspy one, one that had screamed with less conviction.
“Good,” said the voice. “You have twelve hours.”
“Oh,” I said.
“And if you don’t do it we will take you.”
“I don’t want to die,” I said.
The voice screamed so louldy that I felt something rip inside my ears.
The scream stopped.
“You don’t have a choice,” the voice said. “Most of you is already here.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
The voice laughed.
“Easy,” it said. “You brought yourself here, one decision at a time.”
It is my future. There is no way out. Either I go or they get me. All of my body will feel the pain. I’ll scream too.
I will burn the house and stay inside. At least nobody needs to see all the things I’ve done.
I know myself well. I will be one of them; one of those that come and scream in other’s ears. Share the misfortune. Share the knowledge of the future.
Maybe I’m lucky in the end. I heard about people that hear screams; that hear voices. Those people don’t know what the voices mean. They don’t understand that they are a call from the future. A call from infinity.
My legs and arms are already burning from the inside. In a few minutes I will light the petrol. It won’t make a difference, one fire more or less. I should get used to fire.