's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"Cold in Here"

Submitted by John Petrie

It’s the middle of December, and its twenty-eight degrees in here. I’m okay with that. It’s cold in here and quiet and I’m okay with that. It’s nothing a little bit of tea and a blanket can’t fix. Summer will be back soon. The music…

Let me tell you about the time I had mice.

At least, I thought they were mice. Late at night, tossing and turning, I could swear I heard them scratching in the walls. Whistling. Squeaking. Making noise. I set traps for them, loaded with peanut butter and with cheese. Later inspection always revealed the bait untouched, if not a little melted - It was very hot in here that summer. I prefer it cold, now.

I called an exterminator. He set some baits and some poisons. None of it was ever touched. He told me to search the house, see where they might be hiding and he could do something about it then. That night, I stayed up late. Eyes closed, in my bed, I sat listening. I heard the scratches again. The whistles. A titter. I stood up to triangulate the source.

After a brief investigation, I found out where they were. They were living in my radiator. I listened carefully. The mice were running back and forth, up and down, skittering and tittering all around. I put my ear close to listen. They fell silent.

The next night, I stayed up again. And again, the noises started. Little squeaks and sounds and voices again bubbled up from the radiator. This time, I stayed put and listened. There were patterns in the squeaks. High pitched sounds resonated frequently with the same low pitched notes on multiple occasions, as in repeated words in a sentence. Notes in a song. Sometimes they’d tap lightly on the iron. Hits of one. Three. Five. Seven. Thirteeen. This pattern, too, would repeat sometimes.

I stood up and moved towards the radiator. It fell silent. I tapped the iron with my fingernail. One. Three. Five. Seven. Thirteen. Nothing. Dejected, I let out a sigh.

Every voice in the radiator sighed with me.

Startled, I let out a yawp. Momentarily, every voice in the iron was mimicking my vocalization in pitch and tone; tooting it over and over like a flock of sparrows. They started rhythmically tapping the walls of the iron – rhythm and percussion for the yawps. Cautiously, I approached. I placed my hand on the radiator. They stopped. I tapped again. Sighed again. Yawped. Nothing happened. They wouldn’t start again. Dejected, the mice yawps silent, and so I went back to bed.

A few nights later, I awoke to a familiar sound. A tiny, perfectly mimicked imitation of my voice peeped out from the radiator. At first it was quiet and slow, but then other yawps joined in, and they yawped more enthusiastically in chorus. By the time a minute or two had passed, the denizens of the pipes were singing in full force; a melodious chorus leaked from the radiator and into the room – filling it with tiny voices.

Astonished, I found myself wanting to hum along. And so I did, and after a moment they stopped. Not wanting to feel dissonant, I kept right on going for a few bars, humming an improvised tune into the dark. I realized they weren’t going to join in again and gave up and returned to sleep.

I’m not sure how much time passed, but they woke me a second time. This time, they sang a sort of round based on the improvised nothing I sicked out hours earlier. This was even more sublime than their last verse, and I could still hear that signature yawp incorporated from before.

It went on like this for several months. Every night they would demonstrate their work in progress, and I would offer them my contribution. Sometimes I would sing, sometimes I would drum on the iron, and sometimes I’d strum a note or two on a guitar or rubber band. Always they’d imitate it the next time and weave it into their symphony. By mid autumn, this was going on all night long. Their work was graciously syncopated, complex, and dare I say it likely the most beautiful thing I ever had the privilege of hearing in my life! There was this one set of bars towards the end of the piece where they would all sing this same harmonic note at once – vibrating and waffling their voices up and down - It was… angelic! Every time I heard it, I knew they were done for the night. It was their crescendo and it brought tears to my eyes every time, and every night it became more powerful. More perfect.

And every day my mood got better. Every morning I felt alive and refreshed, despite losing so much sleep. Every waking moment of my life was filled with the most glorious music humanity has ever beheld, and it was coming from my radiator!

But then one day, in late autumn, the song stopped prematurely. They were in the middle of the crescendo of that marvelous waking lullaby when they just… fell silent. After a moment I tuned in to the hum of the boiler powering up below. The hiss of steam. Clamoring and dissonance.

As the snarl of the steam got stronger, the panic within the iron trap got more desperate. The denizens started to squeak and squawk and yawp and they let out a collective scream. The loudest, most harmonized, and most fearful and sustained scream I have ever had the misfortune of hearing in my life!

I scrambled out of bed and reached for the shut off valve and tried to turn it, but the thing was rusted over and had been for several years now. I grabbed onto the radiator itself and tried to haul it away from the pipe, but it was too hot and my hands were scalded in the process. The cadence of the screams soon shifted from fear to pain and from pain to torment! I threw my mattress and box spring from the frame and proceeded to tear the frame into pieces – I grabbed a steel bar and foisted it against the radiator and forced it hard. After several tugs the bolts gave way and the radiator clanged over, taking a part of the floor with it, and the room was quiet except for the sound of rushing steam.

I peeked into the opening of the iron and saw nothing. Jutting from the pressure release valve on the other side, there was one tiny spidery leg covered in feathery hair, but it was limp and lifeless. I gently, and respectfully, eased it back inside.

I let out a yawp.