The buzzing was faint at first. Quiet, but annoying, like a fly just far enough away to know that it would soon dart by his ear. He never did like house flies. They made him wait, the suspense of it all grating on his nerves before he’d swat at thin air, realize he was alone, and start the whole process over again.
The buzzing started that way, making him reach for one of his favorite fly swatters, but an hour went by, then two, and as he made his third cup of morning coffee, the buzzing became as present as if his phone alarm were constantly ringing him out of bed. Angry, loud, and most unwelcome.
That was days ago. Now the house was in disarray. His clothes were strewn across the couch and tables. Plates were thrown to the floor and old kitchen cupboard doors hung off of their fragile hinges. The couch was gutted, with stuffing strewn as if his dog Milo hadn’t been left behind when he was forced to leave his old apartment. The throw pillows were stripped of their coverings and thrown toward the windowsill where plants sat unsteadily in the remains of shattered pots. The buzzing persisted.
His feet took the stairs two at a time up onto the second floor. The bed was broken. The mattress sliced in a line down the middle. The springs jutted out at the most infuriating angles as he passed, and the buzzing only got louder. The curtains were ripped off the walls with their rods still attached, and the carpet was splotched with red from when he’d cut himself on a broken mirror.
He paced the hallway back and forth, switching direction whenever the buzzing stopped and started. It would stop and start, stop and start, so that he could make three paces between each interval. It wasn’t quite comfortable to do so. His foot was always a couple inches from the ground on his fourth step when the buzzing cut him off. Buzz. Silence. Buzz. Silence. He would pace three times and try a fourth step, always hoping, always praying, that maybe this stretch of silence would last. No, it was designed to mess up his rhythm.
He paced, staring at the small hatch on the ceiling. The third and final floor of the house. It got louder the longer he stared. His steps faltered as he reached up his non-dominant hand towards the string that hung on the end of the trap door. Sometimes he had dreams that he was hung from that string, suspended in this hallway with no one to find him or care he was gone. At least they wouldn’t find him. Their job would be done. He could go to whatever’s after this life in peace. His fingers clutched the rope and pulled. The trap door fell open with a clang, an unraveling ladder, with a puff of air. It was cool, like a grave. He climbed the rungs with sweaty hands and pale cheeks, eventually coming to a musty attic graveyard. The ringing was loudest here.
The ceiling wasn’t tall enough to stand so he was forced to crawl like a dog. Like Milo. Across the dusty wood flooring of the attic. Toward a box. It was one of the many boxes that had been left when he moved in, the officers said that having a cluttered attic would make it more believable. He wasn’t sure they would care when they found him. On the contrary, maybe it would be convenient for them. Maybe they’d hide his body here.
Eventually he got to the stale old box with slightly open flaps and water stains on the side. As he opened it there were four old phones. Three landlines and a rotary. Ringing in tandem. All crying for him to listen.
His hand went for the single rotary with its sickly green tint, and the landlines shut off into an abyss of blessed quiet as its handle left the receiver. But he couldn’t revel for long before there was a voice. Deep and resonant, one he knew well. As the memory of the ringing faded, he found himself wishing for in place of those two words he’d learned to fear.
He didn’t have time to wonder how the phone was working after sitting in an old attic for who knew how long. The boxes at his sides were suddenly ankle weights chaining him down. The boxes on the far ends of the room, stacked precariously so he could just barely see the light from the windows, were bars. The boxes around the trap-door were walls keeping him captive as he knew they were too.
Still he ran, as he always did. Milo would have been excited. He would have wagged his tail, knowing that his fear meant another adventure. Another car ride, another house with new smells, another place to walk. Rick knew the truth, and the truth was that no one was safe, not he or Milo, not his family so many miles away. How he wished he could take back that trial, kept his mouth shut.
Now his life was nothing but noise. It was waiting for criminals to be caught, waiting for the news reports to die down, waiting for it all to end. But as he made his way toward the front door, duffle bag in hand, he looked back into his new, old, wrecked, and soon to be put back together, florida living room. Curtains thrown across the floor and old, cracked, plaster splintered from where they lay, a couch ripped apart with innards strewn across the floor. He was the same, and that was how he knew the next house would be the same too, and the next, and the next, blurring together in an endless memory of decadent color and sadness. But the buzzing would always remain, because as much as he tried to fight it, it was the buzzing that told him when to leave.