Catalysis, Part II



Scene Title Catalysis, Part II
Synopsis It starts with a tapping sound.
Date January 15, 2021

Tap tap tap. The sound of fingers depressing keys on the keyboard somehow sounded louder today than usual. Maybe the house was just quieter. Jac Childs couldn't put her finger on it right away, but the keyboard of the laptop that she had received to do school work really did sound louder than usual today, as she worked on a paper for her Senior English class.

The whole house felt— louder really. Like the radiators were rattling as heat came off them, the heat that Smudge certainly seemed to enjoy where the year old cat laid, sprawled out with gray tabby legs twisted in a manner that did not look the least bit comfortable.

Jac could swear she could even hear the cat breathing, but maybe that was just her imagination.

Or was it?

The Childs Brownstone

January 15th
4:04 pm

Jac lifts a hand from the keyboard to press her fingers to the outside of one ear, massaging the tragus and intertragic notch. Maybe she's just tired. She'd been up pretty late most nights recently, trying to finish this dumb English paper and wrap her head around mathematics. That could be why everything is so loud. The hand at her ear drifts backward to rest against the base of her skull. Her eyes slant over to Smudge.

The cat seems to have the right idea of things — no cares about anything, just sleep. The teen sighs and returns her attention to the screen.

Fingers hover over the keyboard, unmoving at first. But again her eyes slide to the cat, who's unmoved and unfazed by the vague irritation in her look, and she sighs, “Quit snoring.”

The tabby’s ear twitches, tail swishes, and eye peeks open to look up at the sudden sound. Smudge moves to get up, claws ticking on the hardwood floor in a way that suddenly sounds like nails on a chalkboard. It had never sounded like that before. The sound sends a sharp pain, like a knife into Jac’s temple on the same side that she had massaged her ear. It’s not a pain she was used to. It sent sparks into her vision, blurring the text on the computer screen.

Smudge stretches and yawns, and it sounds like she’s right next to Squeaks ears, rather than across the room. It’s so loud. Everything is so loud. There’s a rhythmic thump, like a pounding of someone’s car bass turned up too high while they drove down the road.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

It seemed to be getting faster and faster. Louder and louder. Closer and closer.

Vague irritation sharpens into annoyance, one eye squinting to almost shut. And then both are closed, squeezed tight against the sudden stabbing pain in the side of her head and bright flashes in her vision. Jac’s hands abandon the laptop to press against her temple and shade her eyes as she opens them again. Her shoulders hunch, and she curls in on herself to stave off the hurting.

Seconds pass before she begins to straighten again. Fear fills her chest as she experiences a pain she's never felt before and finds her vision still blurred, but instinct whispers she should move, hide until it passes. Her hands press hard to her ears to muffle the sounds, to stop the pain.

Turning in her seat, Jac abandons her work to confront… she's not sure. A breath comes sharply, then leaves in a shudder. She stands and stares, unable to discern shapes, but she knows the space as well as her own hands. On her feet, she turns with familiarity to her bed first. Being overtired still floats as a possibility. Or is it a hope that she clings to. And it's that way she decides to direct her steps.

As she moves, Jac can feel something else in the room. It’s tugs on her memory, the way that her ability had worked, the way that she felt things with her eyes closed. She feels something in the room around her, things moving around, things getting closer and closer, like there’s floating objects in the room moving around her, spinning closer.

Her vision clears enough that she sees nothing, but she can feel it. With each thrum of that noise they seem to grow and pulse, like balloons expanding and then contracting, expanding the contracting. One rushes toward her, it will hit her in a moment if she doesn’t drop down immediately.

Nearly the instant after that awareness hits her, Jac stops dead in her tracks. It’s been almost an entire year since she felt anything like it. An elated sort of panic bubbles beneath the dread that’s been slowly building, like tiny pockets of carbonation bursting in and around a thick layer of heavy syrup. Could her ability finally be returning? Was it just a matter of waiting forever and a day? Her head turns slowly, fearing the movement will awaken further pain and she’ll lose that tenuous connection, but daring to catch a glimpse of…

Nothing. The teen moves a hand from one ear to rub at her eyes, one then the other. It’s a mystery she doesn’t bother to wonder over, if the act of rubbing really eased the blurriness or if it’s begun fading on its own. But there’s definitely nothing to see in her room.

Cautiously, the other hand lowers and her eyes settle at a point that’s not specifically looking for anything. Or at anything. She relies on listening to the too-loud thrumming and pulsating, accepting it for now in trade for the feeling that so much like the echolocation she’d been without for an eternity. In her own way she wonders about the pulsing and thrumming, the expanding and contracting of things she can feel being there but can’t see. Her hands begin to reach out, but the sudden shift of one thing coming at her draws her focus to it.

Jac faces it, whatever it is. This is her space, she won’t be chased from it by sound spooks. She’s faced far worse than ghosts. Her hands come up once again to protect her ears from the onslaught of noise, shoulders curled forward in a brace for impact.

With another pulse, the bubble reaches her, bursts into her— and while Jac can feel it— it passes through her, filling her entire body with a sense of levity— weightlessness… and then weakness. Numbness. The sounds stop. There’s just a constant note, like ringing that follows. Ringing and that thump.

The thump that sounds faster and faster and faster.

And staggers, then starts up again.

Jac is somehow aware of, but does not hear, Smudge suddenly go stock still, bolt upright, and run out of the room as if startled.

Her body goes weak, suddenly, all her muscles betraying her. The things that were not there can no longer be felt— and that’s when she realizes what she had been hearing the whole time…

Was her heartbeat.

"No," Jac's voice warbles with loss as the pulse bursts and blows away the whispers of hope that had begun to rekindle. "Oh no." She turns, groping half blind, lost in her own bedroom. She becomes aware of the numbness as she does the ringing. Her arms and legs feel wooden as she starts to move them, picking a direction she hopes will lead to the hallway. One hand finds its way to her chest as she makes a single step toward the door.

Her head turns toward the cat. Normally she would follow and she'd wonder what wild hair had found Smudge this time. But this time is different. This time the cat escapes, unheard and unseen.

A second step never lands on its mark. As she lurches forward, her muscles simply quit. Jac collapses, with head and shoulders thudding against the door and slowing the full-bodied crash into the floor. Panic grips as gravity drags her down, flagging like the thumping sound — her own heartbeat. It's not her ability returning at all. It's the sound of her dying.

The last thing that Jac sees as she lays on the floor is Smudge standing in the doorframe, looking back— and Gillian stepping into the doorframe behind her.

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