If you were awake one night on Providence’s north side, you might have heard the scream.
“It was long. It was a long scream. I popped right up in bed. I popped up and my wife– My wife never wakes up. Not for nothing. I look and her eyes are open, and she asks me what that was. I told her I heard a scream and we never hear a scream like that. It’s a quiet neighborhood and it sounded like it was coming from outside the bedroom window.”
He and his wife debated for a bit what to do. Just go back to sleep?
Then it happened again.
Two long, sustained screams.
“Was it somebody playing a joke? That’s what you think. This is three, four in the morning. I tell my wife to call the police and I get some clothes on so I can go outside and see if I can find where it’s coming from, because those screams? They didn’t sound like a joke to me. I drove ambulances for most of my life and I know the scream of somebody in pain. Somebody was in a lot of pain.”
When he walked outside, there were two lights on, indicating he hadn’t been the only one woken up by what he’d heard.
In fact, not two, but three different neighbors came outside after hearing the scream. A few minutes later, a police cruiser pulled up and spoke with everyone. The officer told them that there was another officer checking corresponding blocks. Several calls had come in about the screams. It seemed as though there was something about them that had shaken everyone up.
“And as he’s standing there, the cop, looking like he thinks we all might be dreaming this up, there’s the biggest one yet.”
“We all look at each other, and the cop gets in his car, and he takes off towards the sound of it. Where it sounded like it was coming from. But we’re all still there — me and my neighbors — and another neighbor comes out — and we’re trying to tell where it was coming from, and you forget. If you’ve ever tried to find out where a sound is coming from– It’s not easy. We all thought we heard it coming from a different direction.”
One of his neighbors refused to go back to her house alone. She was convinced the screams had come from her backyard. A few others went back with her and checked out the yard, but found nothing. One quietly confessed to another that the screams didn’t sound like they were coming from her house at all, but from the side of his house. Another neighbor thought the screams were coming from his basement, and said he went downstairs with a baseball bat he found in his son’s closet.
There are no more screams, but by now, nobody is going back to sleep.
Houses have been searched, yards have been surveyed, and neighbors who have never done more than nod to each other when getting their mail, are now discussing the intricacies of sound and how far a blood-curdling scream can really travel.
But despite how rattled they all are, they eventually make their way back to bed or get ready for work or make themselves breakfast and try to put the excitement behind them. A follow-up call to the police reveals that the source of the screaming was never discovered, and once again, it was suggested that perhaps the whole thing was a prank.
But what kind of prank?
“Scream your guts out and scare a bunch of people? That’s funny? I didn’t believe it. Like I said, that screaming was real. Somebody was out of their mind either because they were hurt or they were scared to get hurt. They needed help. I couldn’t sleep for days after that.”
A few weeks later, his wife was at her sister’s house early one evening. He was eating a pizza he had ordered for dinner and watching a movie when he heard it.
It wasn’t loud, but it was a deep, guttural cry. More of a sob. Like someone so grief-stricken, they can’t catch their breath.
“It was the same voice. I knew it was.”
This time, he didn’t jump up and run outside. He didn’t know why, but he got up quietly, put on his coat, and went to see if he could find the person who was crying.
Unlike last time, it was still early enough where the sun was just about to drop out of the sky. That meant people were awake, having dinner like he was, watching television like he was, and busy enough with their own lives that the sound of crying might not have gone up anyone’s spine the way a scream will, but he was even more unsettled than he had been when he heard that first scream.
“Something about someone crying and knowing it was the same person. Every hair on the back of my neck stood right up.”
He started walking around the neighborhood. The crying would stop and then start up again. He would try and follow it, but the wind would kick up, and play games with him. Just when he thought he was getting close to it, it would drop off and appear again, sounding so faint, he wondered if the person crying was also running in the opposite direction.
Before he knew it, he was far from his house, and it was dark. He was on a street he wasn’t familiar with, and the lights in all the houses on the street were out.
“I told myself I needed to get back. My wife would get nervous if she came home and found the house like that. I hadn’t turned off the t.v. and I had a plate of pizza right next to the couch. It would have looked like I was kidnapped or something, and I forgot to take my phone with me. I had to get back.”
But which way was home?
He started walking toward what he thought was North Main Street, but he seemed to just keep turning onto suburban streets that he’d never seen, looking at dead plants on front porches, and no longer hearing the crying. Only the light break of wind chimes hanging over a darkened doorway.
“I got home about two hours or something later. Two hours from when I left, and I don’t even think I went that far.”
His wife was still at her sister’s, but the t.v. was off and so were all the lights in his house. The front door was wide open.
“Never would I have left the door open like that. I might have turned off the t.v. and forgot it and I might have turned off the lights, but I wouldn’t have left the door open like that. No way.”
He went through his house, but nothing else was touched. When his wife got home a little while later, he had every light on and was rooting around in their closet to make sure it was really empty.
“She thought I had lost my mind.”
After telling her about the crying, she wanted to call the police again, but he knew there wasn’t any point.
What would he tell them?
First there was screaming, then there was crying?
They went to bed.
That night, he jolted up in bed again.
There wasn’t a sound this time — just a feeling.
“I had sweat running down my back. My eyes were wide open, and I was– I was gripping the blanket so tight. I looked over and my wife was still asleep, but I sat there like that. Sitting up in bed, my teeth banging against each other, and my heart feels like it’s going to go out of its chest. I’m waiting. I’m waiting to hear something, because I know it’s coming. I sat there like that until the sun came up. God as my witness, I sat there listening.”
The first sound he heard was the barking of a neighbor’s dog, and then some birds, and then a car driving slowly down his street.
No screaming, no crying.
But he still couldn’t go back to sleep.
He still kept his eyes open, as if whatever he was about to hear could somehow transcend its nature and become visual. Tangible. Something that could be seen and touched, and therefore located and remedied.
Nothing but the refusal of a sound.