The doctor looked at me with an air of disdain about himself as he went to the fridge to grab a couple of beers from the fridge. One of them he tossed to me, which I barely was able to catch in my shaking hands. The other he opened for himself and then tossed me the bottle opener.
“You know,” he said, taking a swig, “You can’t really expect me to believe you.”
“I don’t,” I said, too dejected to even open my own beer, “but I can’t figure out who else to tell.”
“The police?” He was now playing with the bottle cap on the kitchen counter.
“For what, exactly?” I said, “It’s not like I have any physical proof that she’s doing anything, and to be honest, I think you’re the only one I have any shoot with getting taken seriously.”
Dr. Frederick groaned a bit and started rubbing his temples, clearly not in the mood to deal with the ramblings of a man he believed to be having a delusional psychotic breakdown. He put his beer down (though not before taking another drink) and said to me, “Okay, okay, let’s start this again, and explain to me as clearly as possible just what you think is going on.”
The way he ended his sentence so accusingly at me made me embarrassed, almost too much so to repeat my story, but I couldn’t exactly back out now so I just began with a deep breath.
“Over the past couple of months there’s been—a lot of dying going on around this place.”
“I can agree that we’ve lost quite a few people in this town, but keep in mind that most of those were heart attacks, in men well over fifty, no less. Not exactly a suspicious trend. Their time had just come.”
That last phrase made my stomach churn a little bit. I replied, “There were also accidents.”
He nodded, “Yes. Unfortunately we did lose a few students, very good students, in a car accident a while back, but I’m afraid that’s just chalked up as another DWI casualty, much as I hate to sound like I’m dismissing it as a statistic. And as for Jodie…”
“Dear God, Jodie,” I moaned and slumped over the counter.
“Jodie was tragic, horrible, but also a freak accident. That’s it, an accident. No one at fault, no one to blame, no one to get angry at.”
“But they all happened in the same two months. Ah, forget it. I’ll just get on with it.” Another deep breath and I continued, “Have I ever told you what I heard—when I found Jodie’s body?” He shook his head. “Well, I didn’t remember it, or maybe didn’t realize I’d heard it, until a few weeks later, when I overheard Mr. Sherman’s widow, not even a week after his heart attack, talking about finding him. And you know what she said? Can you even guess? She said that as soon as she walked in and found him in their bedroom, she heard singing. Very faint, but definitely a woman singing just outside the window, but when she ran to the window to try and get her to help, there wasn’t anyone there.”
“How could there?” Dr. Frederick asked, “Isn’t their room on the second story?”
“That’s exactly what was throwing her off too,” I continued, “She brushed it off as just being an old woman starting to hear things. I mean, Lord knows her hearing hasn’t been quite right for a while, but it still got me thinking, got an idea screwing itself in my head. Then, a couple of days later, I realized: I had also heard it. When I found Jodie, I had also heard a woman singing faintly. I just didn’t register it at the time over all—,” I had to swallow, “ over all the other noise, but it was there! It was there! And once more, I thought I’d ask around about the others, see if anyone else had heard it, and you know what? There was. If they found the bodies soon enough, it seems, they could also hear singing. A couple of the other widows did, and one of the first responders at the car accident that killed those kids says he recalls hearing it too!”
“Yes, they hear it because you put it in their heads that it was there, just like Mr. Sherman’s widow probably put it into yours with her story.”
“No!” I shouted. “How could I be led to believe that? What would that do to help me? To help anyone?”
“Exactly what it’s doing right now,” he said, “Giving you something to blame. It’s a common response, Brian, whenever someone loses someone close to them in an accident. They need someone to blame, they need a cause, they need some sort of reason for this to have happened to them.”
“Alright, then Greg, explain this. Everyone I talked to heard the same song. No one could figure out its name, but when I asked them to hum some of it, they all came up with this.” I hummed the few bars to demonstrate. “It’s the same melody I remember, and it was all the same across the board, without any leading on from me.”
He just shrugged and said, “Well, it sounds a little generic, it could be just a muddled memory of what they thought they heard, a song on the radio they’d pulled out of their heads, perhaps.”
“Generic? Generic how? It’s so slow and,” I searched for the right heard but could only find, “heavy.”
“Still not that extraordinary, at least not the way you sung it,” he gave a little smirk at me, apparently trying to lighten the grim mood. It wasn’t working.
“Well, I kept thinking about this song, kept playing it over and over in my head. It got to the point where I caught myself humming it alone sometimes.”
“Well, you’ve probably been hearing rumors about how me and Susan have been…”
He smiled and said, “I think I might’ve started them.”
Susan was a student at the university, not of mine but of Dr. Frederick’s. She was pursuing her master’s in human physiology and was incredibly sharp. It could be said that she was almost too sharp since she was consistently getting into academic arguments with her professors, especially the one I was talking to right now. That was what kept attracted me to her. What first got to me, though, was her hair. I had met her the first week of the fall semester when I found myself walking behind her on the way to the main building. In an effort to walk around her, accidentally ended up getting to close when a breeze picking up and blew some of her long wavy brown hair in my face. For an instant I could smell lavender, presumably from her shampoo, and a slight undertone of human musk, presumably from her. The scent made me flush as blood began to flow away from my head, and I had to stop for a second and watch as she walked away from me, that hair swaying and dancing all the way. Later that day I went into Dr. Frederick’s classroom in order to do something that I can’t remember and saw her still sitting among the nearly empty rows of desks. Almost as if she sensed me she looked up directly at me. Mostly trying not to seem like a dirty old man (though she was only two years younger than me) I burst into a big, friendly smile. She smiled back at me. We ended up in my room a week later and had been casually dating ever since.
“She was with me one night,” I said, “and around three A. M. that night I woke up, shot up like I was having a nightmare. Greg, I heard it. I heard the singing. I followed the sound and found—found her standing at the guest room window. Susan was singing with the window open, and it was the exact same melody,” I began slamming the table in anger as I said this. What I was angry at though, I wasn’t so sure. “It was the exact same song that I heard with Jodie. And I didn’t tell her about anything, not the music, not even about Jodie’s death, not anything. She was singing a song she should’ve had no idea existed.”
“So that makes her a killer?”
“Martin Solano died that night of a heart attack, around that exact same time, if I’m remembering it right.”
There was something else I wasn’t telling him. It was about how I yelled to Susan, suddenly filled with a kind of fearful rage that melted away as soon as I actually saw her face. Her eyes were completely bloodshot, her face extremely pale and so soaked with tears it almost looked like profuse perspiration. There was such a look of anguish about her, such a look of immense depression. I found myself now concerned for her; I honestly thought she was going to throw herself out the window. She croaked out a quick apology, not making eye contact with me, and quickly grabbed her clothes and ran out of my apartment. All the while I was just standing there, still dumbly staring at the window.
“So again, does that make her a killer?” Dr. Frederick said.
“I don’t know. I don’t know!” I shook my head and put my face in my hands.
He put his hand on my back. “It’s alright. I admit that what you’ve said to me is very odd, and I’ll help you get to the bottom of what’s actually going on, but you can’t just go—“
I interrupted him, choking back a few tears. “She knows things about Jodie, things that weren’t published in the paper, things I never even told anyone, even you.”
“Like what?” he sounded genuinely concerned for the first time in this conversation.
“She came up to me shortly after it happened. We were together, kind of, not quite, what does it matter? She wanted me to talk it out. Said she was worried when she heard I wasn’t at the funeral. I didn’t want to bother but I didn’t want to fight either, so we talked. She knew about—about the saw, about how he slipped while he was working on wood for the table he was building, about how I was the one to find him. But then she mentioned something in passing about how my mom must feel awful that it happened for a present for her.”
“A present for her?”
“That’s just it!” I exclaimed, “The table was going to be a surprise Christmas present for my mom! Because the one she has now is all beat up and ugly. Me and Jodie kept it completely secret. Hell, I didn’t even tell the paper about it. I never blabbed to anyone, and Jodie is way better than me at keeping secrets, so I know no one else could’ve known about it.”
“Was there anything else?”
“She almost said something about a seizure, but stopped herself, saying she was thinking about someone else, a cousin, but I knew better. Jodie was taking medication for anxiety. Again, this was something no one knew about except us and you, right?” I eyeballed him.
“You know me better than that.”
I nodded and continued, “Seizures are a side effect, very rare. I’ve never seen it happen myself, but it’s definitely possible.”
“So how do you know she wasn’t talking about someone else?” he sounded a little less skeptical with this question.
“I have never seen it, but it has happened. Jodie told me about it. It happened one time when I wasn’t around. Greg, I really think she was about to say something about a seizure making him fall on the saw.”
As he mulled over what I just said, I debated whether or not to tell him one last thing, what she didn’t really say but hinted at. Both our thoughts were suddenly broken by a loud knock at the door.
I went to answer it, wondering why there was suddenly a lump in my throat as I walked to the door. I opened the door and found her standing there.
“Hello,” Susan said. That was the last thing I really heard. She kept talking, something about having to see Dr. Frederick and her phone dying, but I didn’t really register it. I just looked back at him, undoubtedly shaking like a child caught stealing from his mother’s purse. I saw him making a come in gesture and took that as an opportunity to scuttle out of the door and to my car. I kept telling myself that I should go back, confront Susan, get Dr. Frederick out of there, anything except run away, but that’s exactly what I did as I got into my car and peeled out and sped all the way back home. I still feel immensely guilty about it.
Dr. Frederick was hit by a drunk driver two days later. I knew what I had to do.
Susan and I had a copy of each other’s keys for if we ever need a place to crash, among other things. I opened the door as quietly as possible and walked in, making my footfalls as soft as I could. It wasn’t too difficult on the carpeted floor. My heart was thrashing in my chest, and my hands were absolutely sticky with sweat.
“You’re here to kill me,” she said to me with no emotion in her voice. She was in the living room staring out the window as she had been doing that night.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, positioning my hand close to the pocket knife in my back pocket.
“You think I killed them,” she said, keeping her back to me, “Frederick, Jodie, how ever many others.”
My hand was in my back pocket now, my fingers curling around the cool metal. It remained there as she continued speaking.
“I mourn them, Brian. Everyone I see, I mourn them, cry as I see them. I’m sure you’re aware of that. I can feel them too. I can feel all the emotions running wild. The fear, the anger, the sadness, the acceptance of the end. I feel everything.” She paused for a second then said, “Have I ever told you how I’m Irish on my mother’s side?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” I could barely keep from screaming at her. I tried to swallow my anger as best as I could, but I was sure she could sense the malice in my voice.
“Never mind,” she said, “It’s not important.”
Another stretch of silence. I wanted to lunge at her and end this, but the tension I felt about what she would say next kept me from moving.
“I saw Jodie, what happened to him. So much blood… I could feel him, too, feel with him… I know he loved you very much.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I began drawing the knife out of my pocket, but my rage was beginning to ebb.
“He loved you so much. I’m sure you loved him as well. He wouldn’t want you holding on to him like this, with all this rage and sadness about you. He’d want you to be happy.”
“Stop talking. Please, just stop talking.” The knife was at my side now, my arm just hanging there.
“I can’t say I didn’t kill him,” her voice cracked, “I can’t say I didn’t kill any of them. I don’t know what exactly any of this is either. I just know I can’t control it… I wish I could give you more than this. I wish I could know more than this, but…” She shook her head furiously and said, “Their time had just come. That’s what I keep telling myself to get through it all. Their time had come.”
That phrase, those words everyone kept saying to me after I found Jodie, that I kept overhearing people say to the widows of those men who’d suffer heart attacks, the parents of those kids mangled in the car wreck, Dr. Frederick’s students and family…that did it. That finally caused something to snap inside me. I howled in pain, in all the pain I had suffer since I lost Jodie, since I saw Susan at my window that night. All the pain I had been keeping inside erupted out of my throat as a volcano of primal rage. It kept billowing out as I raised the knife above my head, threw it on the floor, and bolted out of there. By the time I’d reached the door, the screaming had already given way to tears.
I’m so relieved to have finally said all of this. Does it change anything? No, except that I feel better. One less thing I have to worry about keeping secret, I suppose. I never did like keeping secrets.
I never saw Susan again. I don’t know if she had skipped town or simply taken extra measures to avoid me. Either way, I wouldn’t blame her, and I never looked for her either way. I was a little afraid for a while that she had committed suicide, but now I know that that isn’t true.
You see, a couple of weeks ago I went in for a biopsy and came out with a diagnosis. Pancreatic cancer. I can’t remember exactly how long I was given to live by the doctor. A year? Less? It doesn’t matter. I actually die tonight. I’ve made up my mind about it. I already have everything settled, and there’s no point in spending more money just to keep me standing for a bit longer.
For anyone that finds these papers, please give them to Susan. I know she’s still alive. I know that much, even if I don’t know where she really is.
Susan, there is no forgiveness in my heart. I don’t really think there is anything you need to be forgiven for, though. Just try not to cry for me, please. I just hate seeing people cry. I could say more, but I’m sure you already know everything that could be said. So I’ll end it at thank you. Thank you, Susan, for you’re wonderful voice. It’s a little faint, but I can hear you singing for me already, and it’s so very soothing.
Written by Santo Tigris