In addition to this, the bonus chapter for this month is free. This is in part to promote the content in patron-only bonus episodes. The other reason for this is that, despite its length, this particular bonus chapter felt necessary in order to build the ambience of the story.
Alex shifted uncomfortably in the poorly-cushioned hospital chair. How was anyone supposed to sit in these for an extended period of time? Was it a clever ruse to get people out of the building quicker?
Hoping for a distraction, they looked over at the boy sitting two seats away. Sebastian was fiddling with a tape recorder, bulky headphones draped over his ears. He appeared hyper-focused on whatever he was listening to, which only served to pique Alex’s curiosity more. What was on those tapes? Music? ASMR? They were curious, but they could understand why he listened in some small way. Alex enjoyed reading for the same reason Sebastian probably enjoyed his prerecorded sounds; it was an escape. And right now, he needed that more than anything.
J.J. Carlisle, Sydney Brooks, Anna Edwards, and… Sebastian Oliver. They had done their research on the four - scouring yearbooks and social media accounts under the guise of making sure they were safe to hang out with. While the four were searching for answers of their own, Alex was researching another mystery.
I couldn’t find anything on Sebastian though… I guess he hates social media just as much as I do. There wasn’t anything in the yearbook about him either. The only stuff I could find out was from my brother… He likes to stay under the radar. Must be my kind of guy. Alex looked around the waiting room. Sydney and J.J. were still nowhere in sight. The pair had gone off to see if Anna was awake yet. Sebastian, however, had opted to stay behind in case Alex needed a ride home. They suspected that was not the real reason. He cried the entire way here. I hope Anna’s okay, for his sake.
Alex smiled, a memory popping into their mind. Earlier, before this whole adventure started, J.J. had joked that Anna hated him. They wondered how she would feel if she knew he'd driven her car.
A person passed by the pair, walking to the check-in desk. In their wake they had stirred up the smell of disinfectant that had been lying dormant. Alex wrinkled their nose. The constant assault on their senses had not gone away, only come in and out of their consciousness. I hate the smell of hospitals. It’s so morbid.
Alex glanced around the waiting room again. Aside from the familial pair, there were only a couple of people sitting there; outpatients, they guessed. There was a television on overhead, its volume somehow muffled by the impenetrable silence of the lounge area. A table was set up near the check-in desk where an instant one-cup coffee maker sat nestled between a stack of styrofoam cups and a station for sugar and variously flavoured portions of cream. I’m so bored. What's taking so long?
They looked again at Sebastian. Clearly the boy preferred his privacy based on his lack of internet presence, but there was no one else to talk to without pulling their cellphone out… and Alex really didn’t want to cause someone’s life-saving machinery to malfunction.
Steeling their nerves, Alex slid into the adjacent seat - effectively closing the distance between themself and Sebastian. He hadn’t seemed to notice. They tapped him on the shoulder, offering a smile when he turned to look at them.
He hit the stop button on the recorder, blinking hard - a mannerism that Alex had found unique to him. “I’m sorry?” Sebastian asked, pulling the headphones off.
“What are you listening to?”
“Sound postcards. Um… I’m not sure if that’s what they’re r… really called. I think I read something about them though.” He shrugged his shoulders slightly and shifted to put a bit more distance between himself and Alex. “It’s where you record the noises around you, like right now if I r… recorded this room.”
Alex nodded. They didn’t really see the appeal, but Sebastian was an oddball. If that made him happy, then Alex was happy for him. “Mind if I listen?”
Sebastian looked at the armrests between them, his brow furrowed intensely. Alex frowned. They had only been trying to be polite, they didn’t mean to upset him or anything.
“Okay,” he said eventually. “But they’re kind of w… weird. And you have to promise not to tell the others about it. Okay?”
Alex sat up in their seat. Now they were intrigued. “Yeah, sure. I won’t tell anyone else. You have my word.”
He took the headphones away from his neck and handed them to Alex. To Alex, this was like a rite of passage - an initiation, a bond of trust that was required for them to join the group. Gingerly, they took the headphones, knowing that Sebastian must cherish something that offered him an escape from the real world.
Alex settled the plush cups over their own ears before sliding the cushioned band onto the top of their head. Then, they gave Sebastian a thumbs up.
He pressed play, filling Alex’s ears with a silence that seemed to hold volumes. Then, what must have been a new recording filled its place. There were people talking amongst themselves in the background, laughing and carrying on. Smooth jazz played quietly as well, lending the impression that this was some kind of café. “While we were still there, I saw something in that little wooded area.” It was Sydney’s voice. Alex could tell that she was much closer to the recording than the other sounds. Sebastian was recording this while the two of them were together. It wasn’t a conversation Alex had heard though, and for that they felt the slightest twinge of excitement. They were privy to something that felt so forbidden. Is this why he didn’t want the others to know about the tape? “I didn’t want to bring it up so you guys would be excited, but there was an abandoned house back there-”
“Well, don’t worry,” tape-Sebastian said, “I’m not excited. In fact, I never want to go back now.”
A new voice came in right after his, one Alex had never heard before. Something terrifying. Inhuman.
Shocked, they tore the headphones off, stopping themself just short of flinging it across the room. “What… What was that?”
Sebastian reached into a pocket hidden inside of his coat and pulled out a handful of miniature cassettes in their plastic cases. The slight smile on his face belied the strange amalgam of sadness and fear in his eyes. “It’s on every single one of these.”