Scream of a Time (short story)
17 minute read
By Larissa Thomas, © 2018, 2019
If you saw Freya in the workplace you’d think, “Wow she looks so relaxed, what’s her secret?” Then you’d think, “Probably weed.” But then you’d study her longer and think, “No, no, no, there’s no way she can be that put together and high all the time.”
If you saw how Freya keeps her cool in the face of visiting babies that screech more than they gurgle, Ken's constant tea-slurping, George’s ogling, and Julie's too-loud humming - you'd be wow'ed. And I really mean that. Or maybe those kinds of things don't bother you. Good for you. This isn't about you, though.
So you might think, “Freya's boyfriend must have a monster cock and he gives it to her real good,” but Freya hasn’t been with a man in over three years. And no, she’s not a lesbian - even after a few glasses of wine. “Lorazepam? A cottage by the lake? What is her goddamn secret?"
What you don’t see is that every day on her way home from work, Freya passes a forest. So, she pulls over by this forest, same place, same time. She turns off her favourite podcast on pug life (she's testing the waters of pedigree pet ownership), and she gets out of her leased car. She strips down to a tasteful sports bra, swaps her Dr. Scholl’s-lined stilettos for orthopedic footwear, trades her polyester flares for yoga leggings, and walks into the thicket a good twenty-six hundred steps deep and fifty percent of her daily walking goal.
Once on the path - a path no one really uses except maybe the odd teenager desperate to stumble upon someone's marijuana stash - she's pretty alone. The nearest house is miles and miles away. Kilometers, if you’re Canadian.
Then, Freya screams.
She screams like she’s being murdered. The kind of scream you only find in an 80’s De Palma film.
The first time she screamed in the forest, she ran back to her car, worried the police would charge her with disturbing the peace. She vowed never do it again. Who does that shit? What was she thinking?
But she went back. And it felt good. It felt fucking great. That whole week she felt alive - but in a good way. As work and life stress escalated, a once a week timid retreat became a Monday to Friday necessity. She’d go back to that same spot and let ‘er rip.
A fuck-up in accounting that meant her cheque was late and she'd have to eat credit card interest if she wanted to buy that leather couch in time for her birthday party? Two minutes of screaming.
Bossy client who made her do twelve arduous revisions only to circle back to Freya's original concept? Three minutes.
Jessie, the office hippie, took a big, sludgy, Komubcha-y shit in Freya's favourite bathroom stall AND left major debris in the bowl RUINING IT FOREVER BECAUSE NO BLEACH CAN ERASE THE MEMORY? Four minutes of screaming.
Louder and longer. In fact, her lungs and vocal chords adapted. Freya could hit those Whitney notes now. Freya was damn near giddy thinking about her annual mandatory office karaoke party - which she had bombed the year before, singing Heart's “Alone.”
Not this year, bitches.
She fuckin' lived to scream into the abyss, with no one listening or doing anything about it. She would leave the woods each night transformed. Hell, the fact that she was even thinking about getting a pet pug proved that through the healing power of screaming she was levelling up in the world. She was becoming Mother Nature.
But on this day- coincidentally, #TransformationTuesday - Freya got out of her car, went to her sweet spot and something... happened.
So, Freya is belting it the fuck out. She’s feeling good - like, if her coworkers could see her in the moments post-scream, they’d be out there every night too, ruining it for Freya. By the time she’s done she’s all dewy, rosy-cheeked, hard-nipped, contracted and expanded.
Now, here’s where you might think, “Ok, I see where this is headed. So we cut to like, someone in their house hearing Freya scream, thinks she’s being murdered, loads their gun, and then some cockamamie antics unravel and they both shoot each other and die, or whatever."
On this night, someone screams back.
Freya’s body seizes up in a frozen state of herniation and possible lactation. Everything feels like it’s leaking. Her adrenal glands thump with a rush of cortisol.
She barely breathes or moves for several minutes, waiting for something else to happen. But It doesn’t. She decides it must’ve been an echo. Must’ve been, right? She wishes she had eaten lunch, but that meant passing Rachel's desk and Rachel really wanted to hang out. So Freya’s thinking maybe she's just feeling faint. Just a little glycemic.
It might not have been a real scream, but it killed the vibe. So she heads back to her car and drives home with this pit in her stomach. Later, she'll have to re-listen to the pug podcast episode because she didn't retain anything about dietary restrictions, mucus, or alleviating breathing issues. She fills the pit in her stomach with some low-fat Michelina’s and two steins of rosé, and forgets it ever happened.
Then it’s Wednesday, and as her ritual dictates, Freya pulls over again. Today, she'll be screaming for the cheap office TP and the dude who microwaved fried cod. Who does that? Only this time, she has this feeling in her gut. That feeling you get when you want to go to a restaurant with all these on star Yelp reviews. Don't do it, Freya. Yelp reviews don't lie.
But it was probably nothing.
She shakes it off and goes back to her mystical patch in the forest. And right as she’s about to give ‘er stink - she hears that scream again. Only this one doesn’t sound like an echo, this one is like, close. Too close. Freya looks around, freaked out, as you would be. She thinks, “Fuck this noise,” literally - and bolts.
She darts through the brambles, and triple-jumps the rotten logs. Except, she seems to have diverted from the path she knows like the back of her hand. And when she thinks about the back of her hand, she realizes she doesn't even know what the back of her hand looks like. She assumed she did, but which hand has the freckle that looks like a liver spot? She doesn't even know what color nail polish she's wearing until she looks in that moment of panic. It's dusty violet, btw. She doesn't know shit about this path even though she comes out here five nights a week. Doesn't know shit.
And now she hears footsteps.
Or maybe it's just the wind. A cute, hungry little deer?
Either way, Freya has no fucking idea where she is.
Freya's thinking she must've run in the wrong direction, so she tries to course correct and keeps going. Only now she’s even more lost, and it’s getting dark.
Then, the clouds part, and she thinks, "God?"
But almost immediately they roll back over and it's dark-ish again.
At this point you’re thinking, "What is this, like a Babadook kind of thing? Like she made a monster with all of her anguish?" You’d be wrong again - fuck man, you’re exhausting me.
Anyway, so she’s zipping through the trees and feeling grateful for doing all of those leg lifts under her desk at work for the past three months. No real end goal for doing them, us women - we always feel fat.
-- And she sees a shanty in the distance.
A shanty with a smokestack. Some real Deliverance shit. Or what someone imagines is real Deliverance shit. I don’t know, I don’t watch anything made before 1986. And, like an idiot, she runs to this shanty and starts banging away like a lunatic on the door.
“Help! Help!” she shouts, waving her arms around and stuff.
Unbeknownst to our heroine, this wild-eyed hick (see Deliverance reference) inches up behind her licking his frothy chops and fingering some oily glob that seems orificial in origins. When he’s four inches from the back of her butterfly clip he screams.
Same scream. As in the same scream as the one before, in case you didn't pick up on that.
For all of that youth and vitality Freya gained those evenings yodeling amongst the plants, within mere seconds she loses a good decade. The best decade. With pure instinct as her compass, Freya runs.
And damned if he doesn't start chasing her. Screaming and chasing and licking and fingering those chip-chops. Waving a stick around. Screaming his goddamn head off. And it's not like a guttural, sexual, B-movie scream like Freya's. It's some Xena battle-cry "I'm gonna wear your fuckin' face while pile-driving my dick into a moose I sewed to a mountain lion" kind of shit.
Freya wonders if this is it for her. The price of peace. Torn to shreds before she's in a financial position to get a mortgage, become proficient enough in the kitchen to be considered "wife material," go on vacations that don't include all-you-can-drink rum cocktails and a bottle of permethrin.
But on the horizon, she sees her puce-colored car parked on the shoulder of the road and scrambles to it, fumbling to unlock the door. She drops the keys, because of course she does.
And the hillbilly dude stops twelve feet short of her.
“Ya comin’ on to my property hootin' and hollerin' like some goddamn mad woman. I've had enough!”
“What?” Frey mouths.
“Ya upset my squirrels!” he screams at her. “Interrupting my reverie! Five times a goddamn week, I hear yer naggin' and screamin'. I left my wife'n moved to the middle of Buttfuck, Nowherezville for a goddamn reason! Get the fuck out of here and never come back! "
Freya pauses to reflect on how close to this man she feels in the moment. Kindred spirits? "I’m sorry, I thought this was public property. I didn't see--"
"Well open yer goddamn eyes! There're goddamn signs everywhere!"
Freya looks around and, yes, indeed there are goddamn signs everywhere. She can't quite figure out how she missed those. She picks up her keys and unlocks her car door, taking in one last woeful look over her vista of bliss.
"Scat!" the man screeches.
She hurries into her car and speeds off.
The man spits on the ground, and walks away with a skip in his step. "Women."
The next day, Freya returns to work like nothing happened, because what can she really do? Complain to Melissa Mothballs in HR that her benefits don’t cover scream therapy? Whine to George the Office Sexual Harasser through her cleavage while she brews a K-Cup?
Freya tries to remain optimistic But after one week, she’s stressed the fuck out again. Everyone smells like patchouli or sweaty genitals or sour milk. Everything's too loud. Ken and his day-long s-s-s-slurp-sipping. Julie and her happy-happy-humming. The sound of Peggy’s baby wailing to the rhythm of her breast pump. And by the way, the baby’s not cute. It looks exactly like what it is - a creature that clawed its way out of someone’s crotch.
Freya's barely keeping it together, and then the company hires a new chick. Katy Something. A twenty-year-old idiot with an obnoxious half-up topknot and a wardrobe way beyond her salary's means, who clearly only has the job because her parents want to "teach her some responsibility." And she has this HONK of a fucking laugh. It's jarring. Inescapable. Un-drown-out-able.
Freya tries to get back to her zen. She starts using an app that replicates nature sounds. She fucks the marginally hot janitor on the second floor. She gets some plants. A stress ball shaped like Peggy's baby's head. A pillow she says is for her back, but she actually uses to muffle her anguished sobbing.
But fucking Katy Something and her fucking donkey honk.
If you saw Freya in the workplace now, you’d think, "Wow, that bitch needs to get laid." Or, "Boy, someone could use an all-inclusive vacation to one of those rum cocktail destinations." Or you might crack a "More like Freya-d nerves, am I right?"
Now, every day Freya mentally bores a hole through her office wall at her co-workers on the other side. She attempts to manifest a giant lead safe that falls through the ceiling and crushes Katy and the retro Furby on her desk. She fantasizes about Katy's guts splashing into Ken's tea as he sips it unawares - only to choke in horror once he realizes. A shard of Katy’s projectile rib spears Peggy, her husband, and her baby in one powerful motion. Katy's rectum prolapses with the excessive force of the safe, slapping Julie right in her humming mouth. George walks in, snaps a photo of the carnage with his cell phone, but his exhausted-from-sending- excessive-unwanted-sexts phone battery explodes in his hand, setting him on fire.
That's what Freya thinks about as she suffers through weeks of stress-indigestion and stress-diarrhea, and leaves work early from stress-headaches, and secretly drinks vodka at ten a.m. because this Katy Something bitch and her fuckin laugh is messing' with Freya’s hanging-by-a-thread sanity.
And today happens to not only be #WellnessWednesday, but it’s also the one-month anniversary of Freya's only source of joy coming to an end. Freya would be in the mood to celebrate but she just ended an argumentative client call, and her computer crashed, and right as Freya takes a deep breath Katy starts honk-laughin' at videos of cats dressed like people and recapping The Big Bang theory and
Freya gets up and throws her Scholl's-lined stilettos across the impressionist ikea painting on the wall. So what if she steps on a thumb tack? Maybe she’d like it.
Freya kicks her office door open and catwalks into the shared workspace. She begins her journey with an escalating peacockery of honk-laughing directed at Katy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - not. Freya chases her across the office.
"People are trying to work. People have giant amounts of money at stake. Do you even have a job? Or are you just here to laugh at literally everything?” Freya shrieks through gritted teeth.
No one does anything. They're just like, taking it in. Looking up from their phones and realizing there's life happening that doesn't specifically revolve around them.
Freya strips off her blazer, all the while frothing at the chip-chops and circling the teary-eyed Katy. Freya peels off another layer. Then another. Soon she’s just wearing pantyhose and a bra. Focused and panting.
Then, in the eye of the storm, Ken audibly sips on his fuckin' tea-- and Freya goes right off on everyone, but really mostly Katy--
“Sharing an office with you is giving me an ulcer and the dental plan at this shithole doesn't cover acid reflux damage!"
"I'm sorry," Katy Something whispers. "I didn't know I was bothering anyone."
"How could you not be bothering anyone? Everyone is bothered!" Freya stomps, and looks around. She'll be getting no show of solidarity from these traitors.
Freya follows George's eyeline, fixed on Katy's big, glittery tits, and suddenly Freya's outraged about the sexism in the workplace, she's outraged by the lack of healthy options in the vending machine, and she's fucking outraged that this goddamn bitch can get her version of her scream- rocks off right in Freya's space when she has nowhere to get her own rocks off and no one is going to have fun if she's not and Freya belts out the loudest scream you’ve ever heard--
Louder than her forest-screams. This is like, in labor-for-fourteen-hours-and-just-felt-the-last-remaining-membrane-in-her-lower-body-rip kind of scream.
Katy attempts to flee the scene in terror, tripping on Freya’s discarded garments, and wow - that's what it's all about. As Katy squirms on the outdated carpet, clasping her ankle, hope returns to Freya’s face. She feels so much better. She inhales the shocked faces - Ken spills his tea all over the floor - and she wonders why she didn't bring the ruckus to the office before. This is true catharsis. No hour-long hike necessary. Freya can feel her glow returning. Her vagina twinges in a post-orgasmic, gaspy “thank you.”
Freya takes a deep breath, smiles, and announces that she's taking an extended fifteen.
She goes back to her office, reboots her computer, nibbles on a box of thin mints, and looks up jiu-jitsu classes in the area. Doesn’t bother getting dressed. She’s in the zone. She’s so in the zone that she doesn’t even notice the ten minutes of nonstop calls on line one from Martha Mothballs in HR. She summons a petrified intern to see if he can procure her some weed, maybe book a cottage by the lake for the weekend. And is he legal yet? Mommy could use a massage. She puts on her headphones and kicks back her stockinged feet on a stack of client papers and places bids on one player board games and mocasins on Ebay with the company card.
Freya is finally doing great.
Forty minutes later, she’s being walked out of the building by two security guards, but she’s over it. She’s sure she can get one of her old ex-boyfriends to move back into her condo and unemployment will cover the rest.
Katy's still crying as George tends to her injury. Cops a feel as he comforts her, wonders if today will be his lucky day.