Its scream bellowed throughout the city, bouncing off empty buildings to spray-painted street signs to deserted cars and back onto buildings. The unrelenting scream ricocheted through the wretched ghost town until it arrived at the Sound Sleep hotel.
Joel and David’s conversation was brought to a halt when they heard it. They pulled out their earplugs from their pockets and put them in their ears while walking over to the boarded windows, then looked through the cracks outside: nothing yet. Joel looked over at David, who returned a slight grimace. When the echo dissipated, they removed their earplugs. “They’ll be this way soon,” Joel said while putting his freshly bloodied earplugs on the desk.
“They haven’t been here yet, what makes you think they’ll be this way?” David asked while wiping his bloodied earplugs on his shirt. They left dim streaks of crimson down his front.
“It’s inevitable,” Joel replied sternly. He rummaged through the duffle bag on the bed searching for new earplugs. He found the small bag where he kept extras and counted the numbers of pairs he had left. He only had a few pairs of real earplugs remaining. He also had a pair of earmuffs if all else failed. Besides those, he had cotton balls that he would have to trap in his ears with duct tape. Not only was this not the most practical, but the cotton balls would let too much sound in. Joel didn’t like the thought of risking it with cotton balls; he would have to hunt for new plugs.
“I can’t stay cooped up in this place. What’s our goal? What’s the point?” David thought out loud as he flopped down on the bed next to Joel. He examined the callus on his hands before switching his gaze to the framed picture on the wall. Hotels always posted the most run-of-the-mill art on their walls, but this was one more peculiar. The picture was ripped on one side, but the remaining piece showed two monkeys: one with hands covering its ears and one with hands covering its mouth.
“To persevere. Because surviving shows that we’re the strongest. That we’re different. That we’re better. I just need you- us, to stay positive.” Joel grabbed a new pair of earplugs from his bag before zipping it back up. He walked back over to the desk and swiped his bloody plugs into the trashcan. They landed on a mound of blood-soaked earplugs which climbed above the top of the can and rolled down onto the floor. He only threw plugs away after making sure he had new ones on hand: he never wanted to be caught without them.
Another abrupt scream made them hastily thrust their plugs back into their ears. They were caught off guard and the prolonged exposure to the scream made their ears bleed more than usual.
Joel sighed angrily. “Just as I got new plugs….” They both pulled out their plugs just enough to talk, but kept their hands holding them right next to their ears in case another scream came.
“That one was closer. And it sounded different,” David said with a hint of panic in his voice. They were now both back standing at the window, peering through the boards. The sun was setting behind the city skyline causing the streets to be covered in shadow. It was difficult to tell if any were on the street below them. Joel and David put the plugs back in their ears as they surveyed the streets below. Another scream came, then another. Then hundreds of screams pierced the air. Joel and David smashed their palms over their ears as blood leaked down their arms. After turning away in revulsion, they looked back outside. Down on the street, they saw a figure running their direction.
‘Is that Matt?’ David thought out loud. David knew Joel couldn’t hear him, so he nudged him and nodded his head toward the door. They both ran out the door and to the elevator halfway down the hallway. They ran into it and Joel quickly pressed the Close Doors button several times before hitting 1. Ding!, the elevator sounded. The doors closed. The elevator blocked out the noise and both of them again slightly pulled their plugs out enough to talk.
“That’s Matt,” David said.
The elevator light went from 7 to 6.
“You think he brought them to us?” David asked.
Joel looked back at David but said nothing. Instead, he put the plugs back in his ears and watched the light of the elevator go from 6 to 5. David’s face turned even more concerned as he put the plugs back in and joined Joel in watching the light change.
Joel hovered his hand over the Open Doors button in anticipation. David prepared to run.
Joel smashed the button. The elevator doors opening changed the silence to deafening screams as Joel and David sprinted straight ahead of them to the front doors. Matt was already there, face pressed against the bulletproof glass, waiting for them.
Joel pulled out his key and opened the lock for Matt to come in. Opening the doors increased the volume of the screams even more, making Joel and David turn away as they let Matt in. They immediately closed the doors after him.
Joel beckoned them to follow him. They went into the bathroom, hoping to find refuge from the earsplitting uproar. The bathroom door closing sounded like a vacuum sucking up the shrieks. They all took their plugs out, causing blood to spill down the sides of their faces. All three men were breathing heavily. David sat on the sink top. Matt was bent over panting as Joel did his best to stay upright and composed.
“Are they coming?” Joel said, acting as if he weren’t out of breath.
“Yea,” Matt said, breathing heavily. David looked over at Joel, frightened, but Joel stayed focused on Matt. “We gotta get up to the 7th floor. We have to lockdown.”
Joel took a deep breath. “Alright. Let’s think about this. We’re going to be surrounded by them. We’re going to endure, so let’s grab all the food we can from the kitchen before heading back up. We won’t be back down here for a while.”
“I saw people joining them,” Matt said. Joel glanced back at Matt. David fidgeted uncomfortably on the sink top.
Joel walked over to the paper towel dispenser and passed out a few paper towels to Matt and David. They all did their best to wash the blood off their earplugs. They dried them off with their towels and put them back in. They weren’t as protective now, but they would have to do until they reached their room. After making sure everyone’s plugs were in, Matt opened the bathroom door. The sound of screaming returned louder than ever. After exiting the bathroom, they turned back toward the lobby as it was on the way to the kitchen. Outside the main doors was a merciless horde. The three men couldn’t help but stare at them for a moment. They all looked the same: skin bubbled and blistered, huge necks to fit their enormous bloated tongues that stick at least a foot out of their mouths, tongues that chaotically flapped around spilling violet-colored saliva everywhere. Their screams spewed venom into toxic clouds that engulfed the entire swarm. They’d become desensitized to their own screams. Joel and Matt averted their gaze and began heading for the kitchen until they realized David wasn’t following them. They turned to find him still standing in the lobby staring at the raucous mob. Joel rushed back to him and tried to pull him away. David refused to budge. Instead, he turned to Joel and slightly pulled out his plugs.
“Why hold out?” David screamed.
Joel could hardly hear him. “Don’t give up! We can do this!”
“You said it yourself, it’s inevitable,” David yelled back. The two looked at each other for a moment. “I won’t open the doors until you’re in the elevator!”
Joel stared at him, but he could tell there was no changing his mind. He ran off to the kitchen with Matt and they grabbed as much leftover food as they could. As they were heading back to the elevator, food in hand, David was still standing in the lobby. His hands were still up to his ears, but he was already slowly pulling his plugs out. Matt and Joel paused for a moment and considered dragging him away. It was no use; they couldn’t stop him. He had made his own decision. When they had almost reached the elevator, they heard the lobby doors open. The screams were overwhelming. They reached the elevator and turned around to face the lobby. They saw David’s hands now at his sides, plug in both hands. He was already acclimating to the screams, the poison. As Joel hit 7, they saw David start to change. He stumbled, then clenched his hands up in front of his chest. His stomach swelled. His head shot straight backward as his tongue inflated up through his throat. It looked like something large was trying to crawl out of his stomach and into his mouth. Joel and Matt watched as the elevator doors began to close. Davis’s tongue burst from his mouth, tearing the sides of it open. That bloated, poisoned tongue, spewing its evil….