Songström was a book I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015 competition. Having never written a horror before, I thought it would make a nice(!) change.
Horror has always been one of my favourite genres, and with Songström I was able to create a strange, unreliable narrator, type of book, that will have you guessing what exactly is going on.
I hope you like reading it, and please, before you finish, take a moment to test your own reality... you may already be living... in Songström.
It started with a phone call I couldn’t remember.
Freya and I had spoken about Songström before. In the dark of the night I would whisper to her about it, describe how it looked, what lived inside. I’d tell her I hated it, that I never wanted to go back. I told her to keep away.
When the sun rose, however, when the morning came, she’d deny I’d ever said a thing. She’d look at me, unable to speak.
We lived an existence together, but sometimes we were so very much apart. Sometimes, I had to remind myself we were actually a couple at all.
Bobby didn’t want to talk about Freya. Bobby just wanted to talk about whatever it was he’d done that day and that was fine. Bobby was a good friend; my only friend, apart from Freya.
The day the end came for me, for Bobby, for Freya, had been like any other day. I went to work at the supermarket, on the day shift, which I liked because it meant I could meet Freya for coffee at lunchtime.
The morning had dragged. I couldn’t focus on just one job; I had to keep moving around the store to avoid the management. Lately, they’d been arguing with me a lot, and whilst I didn’t like it, I could put up with it. I was about to clock off for lunch, when Bobby called me over. He worked on the floor, talking to the customers.
“Look at this,” he said, and indicated a television. “Looks fucking good, doesn’t it?”
Bobby swears a lot. It’s a shame, but it’s also who he is. Bobby is not like me.
The television was indeed impressive in size. It was currently showing an underwater scene from a movie I didn’t recognise. I nodded to him.
“Looks okay,” I said.
“Doesn’t anything make you fucking happy?” Bobby asked.
“You do,” I told him.
“Yeah, yeah,” he said. Bobby wandered off, muttering, towards a woman looking at some new mobile phones.
I looked at the picture again. There was something worrying about the water.
When I got to the café, Freya seemed anxious. I noted she hadn’t ordered anything.
“Everything all right?” I asked her.
“Listen, Sammel,” she said, unusually aggressive. “Just listen. I need to tell you about this, and you need to take it in, got it?” She tapped me gently on the head. “It needs to get in there and stick. It’s really important. Got it?”
“Got it,” I nodded. The tapping didn’t hurt, but it was embarrassing. The café was opposite the supermarket, a place we regularly met. The staff knew me. Served me. Smiled at me. I didn’t want them thinking I was stupid, or forgetful, however stupid or forgetful I was.
“Look at this,” Freya was saying, as she fiddled with her handbag. Freya carried everything in her handbag. I didn’t know how she did it.
“Can’t we talk about this at home?” I asked, but she pretended not to hear.
“It’s in here somewhere,” she said. Her voice was starting to rise, which meant she wasn’t far off tipping the whole bag upside down onto the table.
“What is it? Perhaps I could look for it?” I asked. The waiter brought my coffee over and put it on the table. “Thank you,” I said.
“Here, here it is.”
She removed a spectacle case from her bag. It was battered, the black leather covering coming apart at the edges. She put it on the table.
“This is the box which sits on the shelf in our room. The one you told me never to open,” I said to her.
“That’s correct. Today you can open it.”
I didn’t move. “Why? What’s different about today?”
“Just open it.”
I looked at her face, trying to work out exactly what the contents might be.
“Open it,” she said, slowly and deliberately. Her gaze somehow intensified. I felt under pressure.
Then I smiled. I realised she was excited, and I couldn’t remember the last time she’d been excited. I reached forward and put my hands on the case.
“Is this going to be weird?” I asked.
I found the seam where the case opened and put my fingernails into it, twisting as I did so. It was unlikely to be anything nasty, but, at the same time, I wasn’t going to take any chances.
I lifted the top a little and peered into the darkness within. Something was shining in there. I pushed the topmost part of the case fully open, revealing a cube of dark stone, about an inch wide on each side. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought it might be Onyx.
I looked at Freya, confused. She looked at me, down to the cube, and then back up at me.
“What is it?” I asked, and even before I’d finished, her hands had darted out and plucked the cube from the case, removing it from the square recess it had been slotted into.
“This is Sikkilite,” she said. “Have you ever seen it before?”
I shook my head.
“It’s very pretty,” I said, but I was just being nice. In truth, it was no worse nor better than any other polished stone I’d ever seen.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s pretty or not,” she said, her eyes shining. “That’s not why we’ve got it.”
She was being secretive, but only because she wanted me to ask more questions. I was happy to play along. “Why have we got it?”
“Because,” she started, leaning in closer. “When we die, it keeps our souls intact.”
I waited to see if she’d say any more, to see if she’d elaborate on such a bold claim. She didn’t.
“Well,” I told her. “I really don’t know what to say.”
Freya laughed, a tinkling sound, too young for her years. “Isn’t it exciting?” she asked.
I nodded. “I suppose so. Why haven’t you showed me this before?”
A different smile then. A fleeting, sad smile, alien to a face like Freya’s. It was gone in a moment, and left her with a serious look.
“Do I need a reason?” she asked. “I thought you’d be happy I showed it to you.”
“I am,” I said, trying to soothe her. “I’m very pleased. I was just wondering if I’d done something right, that’s all.”
“No,” she said. “It was just the right time to show you.”
A faraway look stole over her; she was going off the boil now, her excitement spent in those too few minutes. If I wanted to get any more information from her, I’d have to try and make her focus.
“Where did you get it from?”
Freya put the Sikkilite back into the case and shut the lid.
“Oh, I found it,” she said. She stirred her coffee in silence.
“Where did you find it?”
“It doesn’t matter where I found it, or what it looks like, or that you never help me. All that matters is what it’s able to do, Sammel.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant about never helping her. I’m a very helpful person. Very tidy, as well, but she was upset, and I didn’t think asking for an explanation would help remedy the situation.
“May I take another look at it?” I asked. “At the Sikkilite?”
She looked at me then, and a smile turned up the very corners of her mouth. “You remembered its name,” she said, reaching over and touching my cheek.
“You asked me to remember. You said it was important.”
“Remembering is important, Sammel,” she said with a sigh, which sounded very close to a yawn. She pushed the case over to me, and withdrew her hands.
I opened it once more. “May I take it out?” I asked.
Freya nodded with little conviction. Her mood appeared to be changing from moment to moment. I didn’t like it when people did that. I liked knowing how people are going to act. I wanted to ask her to stop doing it. I wanted to tell her to grow up. I didn’t. I don’t say a lot of things I want to say.
I reached in and took the black stone out. There was a hole through the centre that I hadn’t noticed earlier. “What’s this for?” I asked.
Freya reached over to the case, lifted up the piece of crimson velvet lining the inside of the box, and removed a brown leather string. “It’s to put this through,” she said. “You have to wear it like a necklace.”
“I see. And how does it keep your soul intact?”
Freya shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said, another laugh in her voice. “It just does. I don’t question it. When you’ve been round as long as I have, Sammel, you accept that some things just are.”
Some things just are. I thought about that for a moment. In truth, I reasoned, everything just was. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be anything. It would be nothing. I looked around myself, and tried to picture being surrounded by nothing, by four white walls. I thought it might make me feel safe, but it didn’t. It just made me feel alone.
I came back to the café.
“I’m not sure any of this makes sense,” I told her.
If she heard me, she made no effort to reply. “I like this café,” she said. “It’s where we met. I like the windows, so big and they let so much light through. It reminds me of fire. Do you remember the fire, Sammel? I loved you from the moment I saw you, and I saw you before you saw me, so I’ve loved you the longest.”
“I don’t remember a fire,” I told her.
“But I saw you through it and you were so beautiful; alone, and so wise. There’s nothing about you that I couldn’t love. And I never believed it would be possible. But I saw you and I knew it, and I thought, now there’s a man that could save me. And that’s why I came to you and asked for your help. That’s why I showed you the Sikkilite.”
“I’m not sure what you’re saying.”
Freya took the Sikkilite from me and threaded the leather necklace through. She placed it around her neck. “Would you?” she asked, half turning so I could see the two ends in her hands. I stood and stepped next to her.
“There isn’t going to be a lot of room for the knot,” I told her.
“That’s okay,” she replied. “It needs to be nice and tight.”
“If that’s what you want,” I said. It took me three attempts to successfully tie the ends together.
“Thank you,” she whispered, as I sat back down.
“Can you breathe okay?” I asked her. The black cube was digging into her neck.
She nodded. “It’s… okay. It has to be okay.”
I looked at my shoes. They were brogues with longer laces. “Let me use one of these,” I said, but Freya was already shaking her head.
“You don’t understand,” she said. “You won’t understand. But you need to understand. And it needs to be you who understands.”
“But…” I started, then looked around the café, and decided not to pursue it. I’d try and convince her when we were at home.
“How long do you have to wear it?”
“For the rest of my life.”
I almost laughed, and would have, if the look on her face hadn’t been so serious. “The rest of your life?”
“It’s okay,” Freya replied. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
She looked at her watch. “Lunch is over. I have to go.” She picked up her bag.
I tried to grab her hand, but missed. “Where do you want to meet tonight?” I called after her.
“I’ll message you,” she said.
“I miss you,” I said. She stopped.
“I miss you, too,” she said, but it sounded different, like the Sikkilite was making it hard to say the words. Or like she was crying. She didn’t turn around, and she left.
I didn’t go back to the supermarket that afternoon. Instead I walked. I wanted to walk. Wanted to clear my head. The encounter with Freya in the café had been confusing. I had wanted it to be clear, I had wanted an easy exchange of communication, but I hadn’t got it. It had thrown me. I needed to walk.
I chose the hills. I could have chosen the roads, or the beach, but the hills seemed right. It was a good walk, too. I wasn’t worried about distance or time. I just wanted to plant my feet on the ground, wanted to feel that connection.
I knew Freya was odd, like I knew I was odd. Being odd was just being normal in your own way. Freya and I got on well. It was easy to be with her, and she told me she felt the same. I had been committed to her from our first meeting, though exactly when that first meeting had occurred, was lost to me.
When I’d walked enough, when I felt calm again, I found another café and sat with a cup of tea. At times, I was the only person there, which was fine by me. I’m used to that. At four o’clock, I looked at my phone and realised it was off. I hadn’t turned it on since lunch. I thought about turning it on, but it was another hour at least until Freya would leave work, so there wouldn’t be anyone to talk to.
I didn’t have anywhere to be, and I doubted the supermarket had even missed me. I left the phone off. Everyone could wait.