"What do we have here?" Scarlett wondered as she opened the package she'd found waiting on her front porch when she got home. She often received packages from the fans of her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, but she never knew quite what to expect. Sometimes they were interesting, sometimes creepy, occasionally disgusting – but they were never dull.
She cut the packing tape, folded back the top, and brushed away a handful of packing peanuts. Beneath lay a small clear, crystal sphere, about three inches in diameter.
"Huh." She pulled the sphere out of the box and held it up to the light. Inside the sphere was a series of dots that formed a pyramid shape – each side a triangle made from ten dots arranged in a row each of one, two, three, and four. She recognized it as a three dimensional version of the tetractys, a mystical symbol that she'd seen before – the symbol of a modern Pythagorean mystery cult that had tried to kill her.
"Oh, shit," she thought. "That's not good."
She quickly dropped the sphere back into the box, stepped back, and took a deep breath. "It'll be ok," she said to herself, "It'll be ok."
Suddenly, though, the crystal sphere levitated out of the cardboard box and floated up to head height. Scarlett stared as it rotated slowly in midair. It began to vibrate. "Oh, shit, that's definitely not good."
"I think you should run," suggested her brain.
"I…uh," Scarlett stammered back.
"Like, now," her brain said more insistently.
Before she could move, the sphere began to emit a sound – a pure, distortion-free, fifth-octave G. As the sound filled her ears, it became impossible to tell that it was coming from the sphere at all – it seemed like it was coming from everywhere at once.
It wasn't an unpleasant sound, but, as she stood watching the sphere, the volume slowly increased. After a half-minute, Scarlett put her hands over ears. "What the fuck is that thing?" she wondered, at once both frightened and curious.
Then, without warning, it began to emit a second pure tone, midway between a sixth-octave E and F. The combination of the two produced a dissonance that immediately sent chills up her spine. She shuddered. The awful, grating noise continued for another few seconds, and then abruptly doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled in volume.
Scarlett dropped to her knees as the sound blasted through her hands and drilled straight into her brain. She felt like someone was stabbing white-hot needles directly into her eardrums. Tears welled up in her eyes and she clenched her jaw involuntarily, trying to brace herself against the pain.
The sound assaulted every nerve in her body – it felt like ten thousand jolts of electricity tore through her muscles and crawled over her skin. It became so overwhelming that she could see the dissonance in her head, the competing sine waves oscillating in front of her eyes. A series of numbers swam through her vision: 780, 1351, 153, 265. The sphere seemed to pull apart into two as her eyes trembled from the intensity of the sound.
She looked down to see blood gushing from her nose and cascading down the front of her shirt. She tried to stand up, to run as far as she could from the sphere and the noise, but her legs refused to work, and she collapsed.
"Help!" she tried to scream, but her jaw was clenched so tightly that she could feel her teeth threatening to crack. Every muscle in her face seized up, each trying to pull away from each other, away from the sound. Even her fingers and toes twisted and clenched as her feet and her hands cramped and contorted.
"PHONE!" her brain screamed at her, and Scarlett jabbed a half-functioning hand into the pocket of her jeans. She managed to fish out her trusty iPhone, and then, with trembling hands, unlock it. She hit the messages button, and was elated to see that a half-composed message to her best friend, Jeff was still on screen.
"Please help me," she whimpered though clenched teeth as she added a 9 onto the end of the existing message. Darkness crept into the edge of her vision as she typed a 1. Her hand clamped tight and she struggled to reach out a finger to hit the 1 button again.
"Send," her brain told her.
"What?" She fought to hold onto consciousness.
Scarlett reached out toward the blue "send" button, and then the blackness overcame her.
She could hear her voice being called in the darkness, feel hands on her neck, on her wrist. She willed her eyes to open, and saw Jeff standing over her, holding her hand in his.
"Scarlett! What happened? Can you hear me?"
His voice was muted, muffled. She could still hear ringing in her ears. "I…the thing...oh, God…my ears."
"The thing? What thing?"
"The sphere. In the air."
Jeff looked around. "Scarlett, I don't know what you're talking about. What happened to you? Did someone attack you?"
"No. Yes. No," she stammered, "I don't know."
"Ok. Right now we need to get you to the hospital."
"Ok," she said as she squeezed his hand, "ok."
Scarlett closed her eyes and tried to breathe as Jeff called for an ambulance. She coughed, felt pain in nearly every part of her body, and then blacked out again.
"Can you remember what happened?" Jeff asked Scarlett as she lay in the intensive care ward of the Cleveland Clinic.
"No," she shook her head.
"Nothing? You were lying on the floor in a pool of your own blood. You look like you got beaten."
Scarlett struggled to remember. Everything seemed hazy. She vaguely remembered getting home, but that was about it. "I don't…I don't know."
Jeff frowned. "The doctor said you may have experienced some sort of head trauma. We won't push it for now. You rest."
"Ok," she closed her eyes again. "Thank you for saving me."
"That's what friends are for," he said softly. "I'm going to go check in with Mary. I'll be back."
Scarlett coughed and then grimaced again, "Ok." Images danced through her head – sine waves, a series of numbers, spheres, and pyramids – but she couldn't place them. She felt like her memories had been scrambled.
"Sleep," her brain told her. "We'll figure it out later."
"Ok, brain," she agreed with herself for once. "We'll figure it out later. At least we're alive. That's good enough for now."