Songström is a book I'm writing for the 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'm able to create a strange, unreliable narrator, type of book, that will have the reader 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.
There’s a place where you go when you die, a place that can be visited, a place where you can, if you know exactly what to do, rescue the soul of the loved one you’ve lost. It sounds like the stuff of fairy tales, and that’s okay. It is safer to believe it’s a fairy tale, for then you will not bother to go looking for it.
And that’s okay, too. Because once you are there, you will wish you never believed it was real. You will wish you never knew it existed. But most of all, you will wish to never see it, and all the many hidden things within it, again.
This place has many names to many people, but I call it, Songström.
Freya wanted me to understand that the journey to the dead place, to Songström, starts the moment someone dies. It was a strange conversation. At first I hadn’t wanted to speak of such things. I’ve always kept death at arm’s length, and thankfully it feels the same way about me. But Freya batted away my protestations without any possibility of response.
“Listen, Sammel,” she said. “Just bloody well 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 bloody important. Got it?”
“Got it,” I nodded. The tapping didn’t hurt, but it was embarrassing. We were at the café on the corner, a place we regularly meet. The place we first met. The staff knew us. Served us. Smiled at us. 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 was sure, so she really could have been searching for anything.
“Can’t we talk about this at home?” I asked her, but she was too busy to hear, or respond.
“It’s in here bloody somewhere,” she’d said. Her voice was starting to rise and she wasn’t far off tipping the whole thing on the table, or on the floor, in order to find the item.
“What is it? Do you want me to look for it?” She didn’t respond again.
The waiter, Pete, brought the coffees over and put them on the table. “Thank you,” I said to him.
He smiled and retreated without a word.
“Here, here it is.”
I watched Freya remove a small case, like a spectacles case, from her bag. It was battered, the black leather that covered it frayed at the edges. She put it on the table and waited for the question.
“What is it?” I asked her, dutifully.
“Open it up. Take a look.”
I looked at her face, tried to work out exactly what it might be. I thought it might be jewellery. A watch or a necklace.
“Open it,” she repeated.
I smiled at her. She was excited. When she got excited she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm. I reached forward and put my hands on the case.
“Is this going to be weird?” I asked.
“Open it up and find out.”
I found the seam where the case opened and put my fingernails into it, twisting as I did so. I was almost certain it wasn’t going to be anything that jumped out at me, but I was taking no chances.
I peered into the darkness. There was something shining in there. I brought one of my thumbs out and pushed the topmost part of the case up. The hinges were stiff, but nothing a little more force didn’t rectify. I pushed the case fully open. There in the middle of it, was a cube of dark stone, onyx, I guessed.
I looked at Freya, she looked at me, then down to the cube, and then back up at me.
“What is it?” I asked, and even before I’d finished asking, her hands had darted out and plucked the cube from the case. As she took it out, I saw that it sat in a square recess, specifically made for it to be held firm.
“This is Sikkilite,” she said. “Have you ever seen one before?” I shook my head. “It’s my family's. We’ve had it for generations.”
“It’s very pretty,” I said to her. In truth, it was no worse and no better than any other polished stone I’d ever seen.
“It might look pretty,” she said, her eyes shining. “But that’s not why we’ve got it.”
People are different. Everyone is different. Freya likes you to ask her questions. She sets it up, and then waits for your response, your enquiry. At first, I found it slightly strange, and wondered why she didn’t just come out and say whatever it was she had to say. Then over the following couple of years, I just accepted it because I accepted her. It was how she communicated, and that was fine, because when it came to being able to communicate, I was full of my own faults.
“So, why have you got the Skittlelite?” I asked.
“Sikkilite,” she said, tapping my head again. “You must remember, Sammel. Sikkilite.”
“Okay, why have you got the Sikkilite?”
“Because,” she started, leaning in closer. “It keeps our souls when we die.”
She believed it. One hundred per cent. The girl, my fiancé, completely and unequivocally believed what she had just said. That this block of Sikkilite, or Onyx, measuring no more than two centimetres square, kept her soul safe when she died.
“Well,” I said. “I really don’t know what to say to that.”
Freya laughed, a tinkling sound, too young for her twenty-five years. “Isn’t it exciting?” she asked.
I nodded. “Yes, it is. Why haven’t you showed me this before?”
A different smile then. A fleeting, sad smile, that was alien to a face like Freya’s. It was gone in a moment, and left her with a serious look.
“I received it this morning,” she said.
“I have an aunt, well, she’s more like a great, great aunt, but she doesn’t like to be called that. In fact, I think she is older than that even.”
A faraway look stole over Freya, and I recognised it as one of deviation. She was going off the boil now, all of her excitement spent in those few minutes. It was up to me to make her focus.
“Why did she send it to you?” I asked her.
Freya put the Sikkilite back into the case and shut the lid.
“Oh, just passing it on, you know.” She stirred her coffee in silence.
“May I take another look at it?” I asked. “At the Sikkilite.”
She looked at me then, and a smile turn up the very corners of her mouth. “You remembered,” she said, reaching over and touching my cheek.
“You asked me to remember. You said it was important.”
“It is important,” 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. “Yes, please do.”
I reached in and took the black stone out. It was pretty, whatever macabre use Freya thought it had. 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 velvet that lined 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 smiled. “That’s what I thought it was, when you showed me the case just now. I thought it was a piece of jewellery. A necklace, or a watch.”
Freya took my left hand and held it tightly in hers. “Then maybe you can pick some of its’ power up, too.”
“It was just luck. It’s not a watch, after all. Fifty-fifty guess.”
“But it is like a watch. It is affected by time.”
“When we die, it keeps our soul safe for six days. No more.”
“Why six days?”
“I don’t know. Why are some months six days? Things just are, Sammel.”
I thought for a moment. Freya sipped her cooling coffee. “So, what good is it if it only keeps you safe for six days?”
“It gives you time,” she said.
“It gives you time to come and find me.”
Freya was serious. She thought the stone kept her safe so I could come and find her when she was dead.
“I'm not sure any of this makes any sense, Freya.”
“It doesn't make sense. Like I said. It just is. This is how it’s always been.”
“Why has she passed it on to you? Doesn’t she want it herself?”
“She’ll get it back. That’s one of your jobs. You need to send it back to her afterwards.”
“I like this café. It’s where we met. I like the windows, so big and they let so much light through. I loved you from the moment I saw you Sammel, and I saw you before you saw me, so I’ve loved you longest.”
“That doesn’t mean you love me most,” I said.
“But I saw you and when I saw you I thought you were so beautiful, with your broken nose, and that way you scratch your face when you’re thinking. There’s nothing about you that I haven’t come to love. And I never believed that that would be possible. But I saw you and I knew it, and I thought, now there’s a man that could save me. There’s a man that could travel beyond the normal, and find me again and save me. And that’s why I offered you the seat in front of me. That’s why I let you sit down.”
“I thought you were just being kind.”
“Well, I was being kind, too.”
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.”
It took me three goes in the end to tie the ends together, and when I looked at Freya the black cube looked uncomfortably tight to the front of her neck, like it was actually digging in.
“Can you breathe okay?” I asked her.
She nodded. “It’s… okay. It has to be okay.”
I looked at my shoes. They were brown 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. “It has to be this close.”
I looked around the café, and decided not to pursue it. I would try and convince her when we were at home.
“How long do you have to wear it for?”
“For the rest of my 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.
“Where do you want to meet tonight?”
“I’ll message you,” she said. She kissed me and I kissed her, and then she had turned and was leaving.
“I love you,” I called after her. She stopped.
“I love you,” 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 round, and she left.