When They Whisper

Suddenly a hundred, a thousand voices were about me, whispering his name. They sounded urgent, rushed, longing. I was afraid, I’m not going to deny, as Matt and I were the only people on the entire street.

It was clear by this stage that I was hearing the voices. They were high, low, loud and quiet, but all saying Matt’s name and all with that hungry whisper. I started hitting the side of my head with my fist, breathing heavily. I didn’t know what else to do and my insides were clenching.

They didn’t go, and if anything, grew. Next thing I knew, I had my head in my hands and was yelling, doubled over.

Suddenly, one voice broke over the crazy noise: mine.

“Matt!” I yelled, my voice cracking, “Matt!”

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2. Oil Infusion

I remember old Matt’s car. He hadn’t been driving long and was awful at it, which is why Greg did most of the ferrying around. Matt had inherited the thing off his Granddad of all people. It was an old red Beatle with one door having been replaced a different colour and the engine rebuilt several times: mostly Harry’s doing. It had an unsettling rattle from the moment the ignition was started and let out an almighty crash every time anyone attempted to change gear. I don’t think it had ever passed an MOT. He mainly used it to take to school. Although it was only a ten minute walk, Matt would hop in every day after school and take whoever wanted to come down to the supermarket, where he had fallen into the habit of buying dinner for his family and his daily collection of chewing gum and sweets.

It was a couple of weeks after my Dad’s engagement that I had popped across to Tesco with him and grabbed a bucket of popcorn and a cheap movie, with which I intended to enjoy and evening with Maxwell to celebrate his Birthday. It was a bright day, although completely covered in a veil of cloud. I recall this so clearly because I left my wallet in Matt’s old Beatle when he dropped me home. I just missed him driving away, so decided to make the twenty minute walk back into town to his house to retrieve it, not being bothered to wait, seeing as Maxwell wasn’t home anyway.

It must have only been about five in the afternoon. The road was pretty deserted most of the way and the wind biting hard. I found it refreshing, somehow clearing my cynical thoughts away and the cluster from the frantic day of education. I was looking forwards to my evening. It was true that Max really was just a big kid and I could spend many endless hours laughing away with him like with any of my mates. He was also a great person to unload to. I think Maxwell was just about the only person I ever told my deep down feelings to: which girl I thought I had a crush on and why I was getting pissed off with certain people. Only that sort of trivial thing, but I otherwise kept it to myself. Another way I liked to lighten my load was simply with a brisk walk. I didn’t have to think and I certainly didn’t.

That’s why, when approaching Matt’s road and spotting his car balanced on the curb, it was the sole focus of my attention. Not a single other person was on the street, a quiet residential area in the outskirts of the town, and it was as though the silence through which I waded stretched away for an infinity. Silence and space. Sounded like the name of a bad movie.

Matt suddenly emerged from the other side of his car. He had apparently been bending over the bonnet and was now making his way over to the driver’s door. He obviously hadn’t got my text saying that I was on my way, as he threw open the door and began to slide in.

I could have called then. It didn’t occur to me to. I just kept on striding, convinced that I would catch him up in good time before he drove off. Or I at least expected him to see me and get out again first.

No, I just kept on striding, the only sound I was making being the thud of my feet. A car wailed by the end of the road. A dog barked. There was Matt, getting into his car as if in slow motion in the silence and space.

“Matthew.”

I stopped walking. Spinning round like an eagle to see who it was who had spoken his name I was greeted by the silence and space.

No, they hadn’t said his name. It had been more like a growl, a whisper.

“Matthew.”

Whoever it was said it right next to my ear. I jumped, flailing my arms about in the air, but all they met was the space.

There was a bang as Matt closed his car door. The echoing silence that followed rang incessantly about my head. It still rings now.

“Matthew. Matthew. Matt! Matt!”

Suddenly a hundred, a thousand voices were about me, whispering his name. They sounded urgent, rushed, longing. I was afraid, I’m not going to deny, as Matt and I were the only people on the entire street.

It was clear by this stage that I was hearing the voices. They were high, low, loud and quiet, but all saying Matt’s name and all with that hungry whisper. I started hitting the side of my head with my fist, breathing heavily. I didn’t know what else to do and my insides were clenching.

They didn’t go, and if anything, grew. Next thing I knew, I had my head in my hands and was yelling, doubled over.

Suddenly, one voice broke over the crazy noise: mine.

“Matt!” I yelled, my voice cracking, “Matt!”

I was running at the car like a madman. Nothing in the world seemed more important at that moment. Any second Matt would start the car and drive off.

“Matt!” I seemed to join the chorus in my head with one last almighty yell as the whispers grew to a climax.

In the space and silence of the outside world there was a gentle click of the car door being opened.

“For God’s sake, Ollie, what the heck is this about? You look like a loony, are you alright?”

And the voices died completely, utterly and so suddenly that I yelled again. My breath froze, my ears listening intently over the frantic beating of my heart.

“Matt,” I moaned, “Matt, for crying out loud, you have no idea.”

He had walked over to me and gave me a playful shove, trying to get me to stand up straight, which I couldn’t at that moment do.

“Hey, I got your wallet, OK. Christ alive you look awful. Call me next time: I could have driven it over.”

“Matt,” I repeated, tugging at my hair, desperately trying to return to normal. “I - ”

I was cut off by another louder, out of this world noise. I’d heard noises like it before in bad sci-fi movies when a space ship is blown up. But this time, it was nearer and a lot more real. Both Matt and I were thrown off our feet by the force and heat of his car.

It was a fireball. In half a second the entire thing was alight and the metal buckling, the initial explosion sending shards of glass across the street and narrowly avoiding both Matt and me. We had grabbed onto each other in instinct and were sprawled across the pavement. At first I was too dazzled and confused to know what the heck was happening next. The sound of flames and heat brought me back to reality.

“Holy mother of Jesus,” was all I could groan.

Matt was letting out an incoherent stream of swearwords, pulling himself up and frantically running backwards from the bonfire of a car.

There were other people there too. Quite a few neighbours had understandably come hurrying from their houses on hearing the explosion.

“The fire engine is on its way!” someone shouted.

I turned my back on the burning car and staggered towards Matt, my eyes widening.

“That was close, man,” I remarked, “you OK?”

Matt let his mouth momentarily drop.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” he paused. A moment later he had burst into laughter. “This is unbelievable.”

Suddenly I found it funny too. In some situations apparently the best reaction is to find amusement. Well it certainly was in that situation. Matt knew fully well, as did I, that he had been moments away from one hell of a messy demise.

“Thanks,” he uttered a minute later just as people began to rush over to us to check we were alright. “It’s good to be crazy sometimes.”

The rest is a blur. I guess I was completely dazed and in shock. The car burned itself out pretty well and no one was hurt. Another bloody miracle. I remember a worried Maxwell driving straight over as somehow the entire neighbourhood heard about the explosion within minutes. Matt was shaken but fine. The stupid car was rubbish anyway and it wasn’t exactly a tragedy that it had been taken from the world. Greg called round that evening to see how I was and throw a huge bar of chocolate at me like the great mate he was. I settled down with Max and we watched the crappy movie anyway and laughed the whole incident off, although I didn’t tell him about the voices. That was that. The next day in school, Matt and I were mini heroes and we were followed about by awed eyes and admiring smiles.

“How many more miracles can one person take?” remarked Greg, who was sulking about me getting all the attention. “I’ll try to kill you soon, and then that’ll be a miracle if you survive.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“I don’t think the car is.”

“The car is just smoking.”

“Bad pun. Don’t even try.”

“Sorry. Don’t worry, I’ll steer off that topic.”

“Ollie, you’re not funny.”

“And you’re the king of humour?”

I didn’t see Matt much that day. I stuck with Greg, mainly so he didn’t feel bad. I think he was pretty shaken up by the incident too. He had called me straight away sounding very panicky and at school he was trying to stay cool about the whole thing. The truth was we had all been upset by how close to disaster the accident really had been. That didn’t bear thinking about.

 

During that night after the accident, Maxwell didn’t talk about it. He made a quick comment about how some cylinder or other must have exploded or caught fire. He asked me how my day had been otherwise and we put on the movie. Overall, he wasn’t too worried. Maxwell was a pretty chilled out guy.

Therefore, when the following day he came running through the hallway the moment I closed the front door after school, his startling expression took me rather by surprise. He looked a little like a taunted puppy dog: eyes wide, jaw clenched and breathing deeply.

“Ollie, I need to talk to you,” he said before I had a moment to comment on his ridiculous appearance. Judging from his behaviour I figured then wasn’t the best time to be cracking jokes. “It’s about yesterday.”

I slung my bag off my shoulder, threw my keys in the direction of the sideboard and stepped through into the sitting room. Shrugging, I let my tired body fall into an armchair and gave Max a mock serious glare.

“Fire away,” I said in my comically deep voice. I wouldn’t go as far as a joke, but it turned out testing his patience wasn’t a good idea.

“Anna said she saw the whole thing from the end of the road and,”

“Wait, wait. Why the hell were you talking to Anna of all people? I don’t even know her that well!”

“Just listen, OK.”

That was weird. Max certainly never had anything to do with any of my schoolmates before, and I certainly hadn’t seen Anna at the end of the road.

“Anna saw it. Now you’ve got to tell me exactly what happened.”

“I already did.”

“Nothing else unusual happened? Nothing at all?”

Max leered at me breathing like a chain smoker. He was a hell of a lot more panicked than I’d ever seen him before and in the strangest, most out of place way.

“Calm the heck down, Max. I told you everything.”

Maxwell rocked momentarily back like a demented old man and scrunched his face up.

“Ok, this is going to sound really weird.”

“It already does!”

He once again completely missed the humour.

“But did you hear anything?”

“What?”

“Anna said you were clutching your head.”

“Because the bloody car was on fire!”

“Before it happened. Before the car caught fire, you doubled over, clutching your head.”

“Did I? News to me.”

“Ollie, I have to know. Were you hearing voices?”

The silence fell like a bomb. The absurdity of his question and the maddening convenience of it was staggering. How the hell would Maxwell know anything about what had happened or what I had experienced? How the hell was Anna there and how the hell had she been talking to him?

“Jesus, Max, you think I’m flipping schizophrenic?”

“Just answer me.”

“Yeah, sure, I’m a complete psycho!” I took in his face. “Of course I bloody didn’t. I’ll let you know when I’m finally losing it. Just chill.”

I stood up as noisily and with as much effect as I could. I felt shaky all over but allowed my confidence to take over. Ignoring Max’s face, I stepped over his legs and banged out of the room.

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