The first scream meant life - beautiful, all powerful, all encompassing life. It was a babies scream, the pain of a spank on his ass too much for him to contain. But that scream brought smiles to everyone in the room, his mothers eyes welling up with new tears that weren’t just from the terror and exhaustion of labor. There was a baby boy in the room, a wailing, wiggling, covered in blood and placenta, purple and red little baby boy, and his screams meant he was alive. His tough lungs belted, and they kept belting out until they finally placed him in his mothers arms, the screaming child silencing in the loving arms of a woman who wanted him more than anything. And what happily married couple wouldn’t want a baby? They held him as he fell asleep, and looking at each other, spoke his name aloud with proud smiles. 'Emile.'
There were screams after that. Screams of happiness over a birth day present, screams of terror over a scary movie or a nightmare that bore into his dreams at night. Screams when he was caught during hide and go seek. But nothing came of these screams, unless they were indoors, in which his mother would give him a look and tell Emile to use his inside voice. But those were screams during days where Emile’s biggest worry was if he was going to be picked to play kickball, during days where spelling tests were a worthy cause to fake a stomach ache over. Everything was fine, then, and Emile thought he had an uneventful life in front of him, a typical life. He’d go to high school, maybe be in a relationship, go to college, get a job, get married. The ideal path for any young, well off, relatively good looking boy.
But that was before the real screams. And it was before he started losing his words. It took Emile months to realize when he’d lost the first one, but suddenly as he sat there at breakfast and asked his father to pass the cereal, the word didn’t come out. It was stuck in his throat, and Emile’s eyes went wide. He moved his tongue, making sure to touch his teeth as the word finished, but the sound was lost in the air. He started listing off items at the table. ‘Salt’ came out fine, the crisp tick of the ‘t’ ringing in his ears. ‘Fork’ was just as easy, the warm, soft press to the roof of his mouth forming the ‘k’. Even ‘Bacon’, with the cold taste of iron in his mouth at the final ‘n’ touched that little spot right over his two front teeth, came out effortlessly. But ‘cereal’ was lost, and Emile sat there for a moment, until he got up and grabbed the box himself, his parents oblivious to what was happening as they cut their eggs.
He started a list, and for weeks only one word was on it. Emile stopped eating cereal after that, avoiding the subject whenever he went grocery shopping with his mother. It was just an anomaly, he thought. Emile was only thirteen, and somewhere in his brain he chalked it up to puberty; that made sense, didn’t it? His body was changing, and he bet one day the word would be back. But his body was changing, and once a word left him, it was gone forever.
Emile realized that when he lost ‘what’. There were four words on his list by then: cereal, warm, hungry and band. He’d worked his way around cereal, started calling everything hot instead of warm, exaggerated by saying he was starving instead of hungry, and found a way to always call a band ‘them’. But ‘what’ wasn’t something he could avoid. Emile started stopping mid-sentence, and his parents started asking questions. He did his best to keep hiding it, turning into a quiet boy where he had once been someone who readily expressed their opinions. Shyness wasn’t for him, but Emile had no other choice but to be shy. Every day, a new word slipped away, and Emile was left gripping for words in the dark, groping for thoughts. His list turned into a journal, and soon it was impossible to hide, to dance around it using synonyms. One day he lost the word ‘yes’, and that was the day he walked up to his parents, his head held down as he held his notebook full of lost words, and held back his trembling as he tried to explain with limited words.
It was doctor after doctor from then. They watched as more words left, and as CAT scans turned up inconclusive. Tests were done on his vocal chords, and they were fine. There was no physical explanation, and a young Emile watched as he heard his parents speaking to the doctor he tried to explain to them what was happening. What they thought was happening. The only conclusion was mental, and he listened as they explained that sometimes people simply stopped speaking without a logical explanation due to other factors in their lives. They told him one day he’d speak again, they knew it. And Emile wanted to believe them, and he clung onto his last words for as long as he could, a small, inconsequential ‘thank you’.
But the first scream came, in the middle of the night in his own home. He was fourteen as the scream ravaged his body, as it shook him and made him feel like his throat was bleeding. But it didn’t stop, and Emile screamed for hours, until his body gave out and he passed out, unconscious on his bed, leaving his parents beyond worried as they rushed back to the hospital. They were too busy to look in the newspaper that next morning, at the report of a body found dead this morning by the lake, the time of death the exact time Emile had started screaming. His first scream was the last time he spoke with any control over it, and it seemed like he traded one thing for another. The screams kept coming after that, and nothing stopped them until Emile was so exhausted from it he blacked out. The doctors couldn’t find a reason for it, and suggested putting him in a home to be monitored. But his parents said no, saying that Emile did everything else without any help and didn’t need monitoring aside from when the screaming came. They agreed to bring him in for checkups regularly, but Emile went home, and the screams became part of his life as he learned to sign.
They never noticed the bodies.
No, not until Emile was sixteen. Everyone at school accepted his lack of speech, but no one had adapted it as well as Emile’s best friend, Luke. No one had actually offered to learn ASL, but when Emile had shown up at fourteen without his words, Luke had been one of the first people to ask Emile to teach him. They’d been friends all their lives, from swimming lessons at the local club to kickball in elementary school. And nothing changed that, not even as Luke went on to becoming captain of the soccer team and a student government member. The boys were best friends, and everyone knew that.
It was a cold night in Barton Hollow when Emile found himself behind Club D. He hugged himself, still in his pajamas as he looked around and tried to gather how he’d gotten here when he’d been asleep in his room not an hour earlier. His eyes landed on a body on the ground, and he stumbled towards it before he realized who it was. It was Luke, his face pale and lifeless, and Emile’s body shook before he started screaming. They wrecked his body, and he cried as the screams filled his being, so loud it caused several of the more ‘sensitive’ club goers to step outside and see a boy screaming over the body of a dead best friend.
They questioned him, but never accused. He explained to them about the sleep walking, and they chalked it up to Barton Hollow. Strange things happened in town, and they pat his back as they assured him they’d find the murderer. Everyone gave him their condolences, and as hard as it was, life went on. He started going to Charles Alexander at school, writing out what was happening, at first very open to talking in his own way.
Until the next body. The scene was the same, only he didn’t know them. Emile screamed, and the scream lead people to him and the body. It was another coincidence, but at the third body, it didn’t seem like that was the case. They looked at him, a kid who had mysteriously stopped speaking, and someone in the department thought perhaps that was the perfect coverup for a young mass murderer. Emile became watched, and people whispered about town about him, accusing him of killing Luke and playing the victim. They thought because he couldn’t speak, he couldn’t hear, but Emile heard it all. And he started retreating in himself, his visits to Charles at school less frequent. The man urged him to talk to him, letting it known that he didn’t think Emile had done anything he’d been accused of, but Emile didn’t want to talk about it.
He couldn’t talk about it.
Emile graduated high school, and tried to go in for college. But by that time he’d gathered quite the reputation, the accused murderer running around free through town. Mothers whispered to their children to stay away, but young girls and boys found something sexy in his silence. Why didn’t he speak when he used to be able to? What was the real story behind the murders? There was something alluring to them in the mystery, and they all came to him, fingers trailing up his chest as they wanted to speak to the mystery and damage that came with him. But he pushed them all away, scaring them until they ran, even if he knew there was nothing truly terrifying about him.
They could never pin any of the murders on him, not when there was no evidence that lead to him. No, the evidence all lead somewhere else, but Emile was always the first person they brought in for questioning. He told them the same story he’d been telling since he was sixteen, and they kept prying for more that wasn’t there. But soon, juggling his constant visits to the sheriff’s station and his growing reputation, Emile found it easier to drop out of school and leave Barton Hollow for a few years, finding himself in Savannah, Georgia for a few years, in which he found a job as a graveyard watcher. It fit him, the quiet of the gravestones blending well with his own quiet.
But the screams and the bodies followed him to Georgia, and Emile found himself lost and frustrated and running for his life. This wasn’t Barton Hollow, where the unexplainable happened every day, and Emile’s arrest record made him a bigger suspect to the point where in Georgia, he was almost sent to prison, sentenced with a murder he had only screamed and reported in himself. He was a wanted man wherever he went, and at twenty five he returned back to his native Barton Hollow.
It’s hard to get a job when with an arrest record like Emile’s, but by now he is used to it. Emile worked odd jobs for years, working at the gas station for a while until the owner showed up dead months later and Emile was detained for four days until they found the security footage of what had actually happened. But that was how he found the graveyard job in Barton Hollow, happy to return back to the graves where he felt at home, happy to spend his days digging graves alongside Peter, who too didn’t speak much, only his quietness was by choice.
The rumors still fly all over Barton Hollow, and they still tell children to keep away. But more so, Emile has grown a reputation for being a symbol of bad luck. Putting him in your life is asking for death, and there’s not a night where one of the younger tenants in the building doesn’t come ringing up his door step just to catch a glimpse of him, making up some excuse about needing salt. He’s gotten used to it, but he never plays into it, not wanting to encourage the behavior that crawls under his skin until his blood boils.
But something new has started happening. While Emile had gotten accustomed to sleep walking, screaming, and being taken in for questioning while being unable to really communicate as the exasperated cops yelled at him, there was a reassuring monotony to it all. Until one day Emile spoke. It was strange for him at first, but it’s been like that for a good year now. Emile can speak for a few hours, all his lost words returning to him, but then the screams come. He doesn’t even stumble upon a body some days when the screaming hits, and where it used to happen late at night, Emile will find himself out in town when they attack him, when he falls to the floor and holds his ears as he screams out, cracking windows and ringing eardrums of the people all around him. He gets arrested for that too, and the police have started to really get confused when they bring him in and he opens his mouth and raspy, little used words come out.
Nothing is easy, and nothing will ever be easy. But it’s a life Emile has gotten used to. He’s gotten used to the dirt underneath his nails, nails that dig into the palm of his hand every time he wakes up somewhere new, waiting to find the body that’s waiting for him. But he’s not helpless anymore, and he’s done being passive about it. In between visits to the Sheriff’s station and work, Emile finds himself locked up in the libraries of Barton Hollow, searching for an answer, desperate enough to look for an explanation even in the most dangerous of places, his eyes turning to some of the more powerful people in town.