This is part 2 of a short story inspired by the intriguing BBC article – The mystery of screaming schoolgirls in Malaysia. Well worth a read. It’s a fascinating phenomenon that appears to bridge the gap between folklore and the modern world. Fertile ground for a good tale if ever I’ve heard one. Part 1 – The School is available here.
I’d been sat, tied to a metal chair for an age now, My wrists ached from what felt like cable ties cutting off my circulation. I could see nothing through the thick black hood. How long had it been? With the crack to the head, I’d lost track. There might have been a car, maybe a helicopter, definitely an aircraft. Concussed, I’d slipped in and out of consciousness for large parts of the journey. My calls for help, for answers, had gone unanswered.
I heard the door open, it wasn’t the first time. Someone had given me water through a straw several times. With no warning, the hood was removed. The brightness of the fluorescent lightning was blinding and I had no choice but to close my eyes. I felt the cable ties slacken. The relief was exquisite as I felt the blood rushing back into my tingling fingers. It took another half a minute before I could focus on the figure across the table. A bespectacled grey-haired woman sat staring at the screen of an electronic tablet.
A moment later she placed the tablet down. “Dr Graf, how are you feeling?”
I tried to speak, my mouth was dry, I spluttered. “How the hell do you think I feel?”
“I imagine, disorientated and thirsty,” she said, nodding at a bottle of water,
“Where’s Siti?” I said, staring around the small room. Concrete walls, no windows, a metal door just the table and two chairs. Behind me, I could make out a toilet, sink and bed.
“She’s being detained elsewhere.”
“I want to see her now,” I said, rubbing my aching wrists.
“You are not in a position to make demands, Dr Graf.”
Her bluntness threw me. There was something familiar about that cold tone. “Dr Price?”
“What the hell is going on?” I bellowed.
“Calm down Doctor,” she said, holding her hands up. “All I can tell you at this point is it’s a matter of national security.”
“Like hell, it is,” I said angrily, “I want a lawyer! Who’s in charge here?”
Dr Price took a deep breath and removed her glasses and in that ice-cold tone. “Dr Graf, right now you are being detained under an executive order. Any rights you believe you are entitled to, have been rescinded. Your friend Siti is a known agent working for a foreign government and right now I have no reason to think you’re not working with her.”
Dr Price slid her glasses back on for effect, “So how about we start there.”
“Bullshit, I’ve known Siti for years and there is no way-“
She waved her hand and interrupted. “Ok, let’s cut to the chase.”
She slid the tablet across the table, “Have a read of that. Get your story straight and we’ll talk in the morning.”
With that, she turned and left the room. The door closed and locked behind her.
My anger had faded back to confusion as I looked around the cell. Two cameras in opposite corners. She’d be watching, no doubt, but who else? I got up, walked around to stretch my legs, freshened up, sat back down and picked up the tablet. Touching the screen, it blinked on revealing Siti’s details, a black and white portrait photo displayed in one corner. It must have been taken a few years ago before she’d cut her hair. I ran my finger over it before scanning through the rest of the tablet.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading, it wasn’t possible, but as I read on coincidences stacked up. Times, locations, her life in minute detail. The dots connected together to create a compelling case. It would be next to impossible to fake, christ I was in half the reports and photos. I was there. She had done it all, right under my nose. I’d always wondered how she’d opened so many doors, now I knew. How could I have been so blind? The answer was of course obvious. I loved her, did she love me? Suddenly I had my doubts. I didn’t sleep well that night, my mind was racing and on the odd occasion that I was lucky enough to sink into slumber, I would hear those screaming girls.
“Good morning,” said Dr Price. The lights flickered on in the cell. She had a tray of food, another bottle of water and a couple of electronic tablets, that she placed on the table. She sat. “Shall we pick up where we left off?”
I ached, my head still hurt and I hadn’t slept well. Not to mention I was starving. I greedily tucked into the scrambled eggs and bacon.
She watched me eat. “Dr Graf, as you can see there really isn’t much you’ll be able to add to what we already know about Siti and her activities.”
“What’s going to happen to her?” I enquired, mouth half-full.
“To be honest, I don’t know,” she said. It was the first time she hadn’t met my gaze. She clearly knew more than she was letting on.
“My problem is what to do with you, Doctor.”
She shot me a steely look, back on form, “It’s obvious by now that you’ve stumbled into something important. The problem is a little knowledge can be dangerous.“
I was torn between pleading ignorance of everything, just to get out of there and my insatiable curiosity to dig deeper.
“What’s it to be?”
Damn, she must be a mind reader. “Ok, I’ll bite.”
She smiled, it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Ok Doctor.”
She slid over one of the tablets. I finished my breakfast whilst reading its contents. Essentially it was a summary of the work we had been doing at the school, complete with video footage of the test from multiple angles. The rooms had been under surveillance!
“So what was the meme?” I said, pushing the tablet back across the table. “What’s the missing part of the jigsaw?”
“Are you sure you want to go down this rabbit hole, Doctor, this is your last chance,” she said, sliding over the second tablet.
I shook my head, the theatrics was starting to wear thin. Looking down at the tablet, I tapped the display and it played a video. It was a music video, some Korean k-pop girl group dancing around to some vaguely catchy tune. I watched it expecting something to happen, the video ended.
“That was the meme?” I scoffed, throwing the tablet back across the table, “You’re joking!”
Dr. Price, pushed the original tablet back towards me, “Watch the classroom footage again.”
I hit play. Was I supposed to see something now? What insight had the meme given me into the actions in that classroom? Then it happened, just as the alarm bell triggered on the video, the hairs on the back of my neck went up. A rising feeling of nausea overtook me. I looked up at Dr Price and everything faded to black. A high pitched piercing screech echoed through my mind. That horrific scream. I fell to the floor, convulsing and joined the pandemonium. I needed to escape, but it was all around me. I could feel its breath hot on the back of my neck, unfathomable, inescapable, terror. I couldn’t stop myself, it was so real, primal, unimaginable.
As quickly as it had started the vision stopped. Dr Price must have thankfully paused the video. I tried to look up but instead threw up my breakfast across the cell floor. Shaking and gasping for air, I’d realised I’d soiled myself.
“I’m sorry,” said Dr Price. She was crouched down next to me, handing me a napkin, “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”
She helped me back into the chair, much to my squelchy embarrassment.
“The truth is, we don’t have the luxury of time and I needed you to understand what we’re up against.”
She handed me a bottle of water, “I’ll give you a few minutes” she said, collecting the tablets and left. I couldn’t bring myself to even climb out of my own filth for ten minutes. What the hell just happened?
When Dr Price returned, it was with another tray of food, towels, more water and thankfully a change of clothes. She threw the towels over the vomit and slid the mess damply into one corner. I cleaned myself up, slipped into the new clothes, she turned her back, I didn’t care. When she turned back around I was sat at the table. She sat down opposite and slid over the food. I’d lost my appetite.
“I’ll answer your questions now,” she said.
“W … what the fuck was that,” I stammered.
“That was a weapon. A weapon of mass disruption. Information used as a weapon. Seemingly innocuous thought-forms combined to trigger an involuntary response.”
She slid a tablet, towards me again, I recoiled in horror.
“It’s ok the sounds off.”
The video was playing. It was the poor girls again in their classroom. It had chilled me before, now it turned my stomach.
“In this instance, the seed is buried in the k-pop video you watched. It created certain connections in your brain. In this case, they targeted the amygdala. The trigger as you know is the alarm bell, which is interesting. It’s the first time we’ve seen an audio cue employed.”
“The girls that were affected, they’d all seen the k-pop video?” I asked.
“Quite. It’s not an accident that only some of the girls had been exposed to the music video.”
“It was a test?” I exclaimed.
“It’s not clear. There are several possibilities, ranging from governments, shady corporates and even a couple of organised crime groups. The genie on this technology is out of the bottle, likely being sold to the highest bidder.”
“How was Siti involved?
“She worked for the Chinese MSS. We don’t think they were running this test. Rather, having detected it, they were likely trying to reverse engineer the technology or at least determine who was running the test.“
The use of the past tense when referring to Siti, did not escape me, “But why?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
My head was reeling again but even in my stupor the answer was obvious, “Control?”
She nodded. “This test is the tip of the iceberg. The technology is being developed and refined at a terrifying rate. With our hyper-connected information-saturated world the impact, if it gets into the wrong hands, would eclipse even our worst-case nuclear scenarios.”
My hands were shaking again as the enormity of what I was being told sunk in. The wrong hands? Could there ever be a safe pair of hands, who wouldn’t be tempted to misuse it to further their own ends?
“I can’t,” I started, but words failed me.
“It’s ok Doctor, it’s probably best we pick this up again tomorrow.”
She could see I was badly shaken. She collected the tablet back up. “Take some time. Eat. Get some sleep, it will help.”
When she had gone I sat and cried. Cried in fear, cried for Siti, cried for the girls used as guinea pigs, cried for a world that could wake into such an unimaginable nightmare.
Cover image courtesy of: Hal Gatewood