The shrill scream made Aryan jump up on his bed. His heart pounding, he stared into the darkness, listening to the silence. It was quiet as if the scream had only been part of his dream.
But Aryan knew it wasn't. Grabbing his watch, he checked the time—3 in the morning, Saturday. Chuckling bitterly, he shook his head and flopped back on the bed, his head sinking in the pillow.
"Fifth time already," he muttered, his eyes pasted on the ceiling.
The scream had woken him up for the fifth time. It always occurred on Saturday night, 3 am, coming from a distance, so loud and shrill as if aiming to shatter all the windows.
Aryan turned to his side, closing his eyes, trying to go back to sleep. But the shuddersome voice lingered in his mind. He could never make out if it were a scream of a man, a woman, or a child. It didn't last long enough for him to listen to it and try to figure out who was screaming or why - was it a scream of horror or surprise, maybe a startle or even happiness. Aryan had no idea. The only thing he knew was that it broke his slumber, made goosebumps ripple up his skin, and questions fill his mind.
The sun finally rose, and Aryan stood up with dark bags under his eyes, sallow skin, and parched lips. How many nights would he have to spend wide awake because of the scream?
Annoyed, the boy washed up, changed his clothes, and left the room.
He mingled with students filling the hallways before he felt a touch on the shoulder, and his friend, Harsh, put his arm around him, twinkling at the boy.
"Sleepless again?" he chuckled whimsically.
"Yeah. The scream woke me up again," Aryan muttered.
"It's coming from the dining hall, you know, huh?" Harsh clicked his tongue. "We're going there the next Saturday. At 3 in the morning." "You?"
Aryan's eyes widened. "Why?"
"Me, Rohan, and you, if you want," Harsh replied. "And why? Because we wanna know who's screaming," Harsh's playful smile grew, sparkles of curiosity dancing in his eyes. He let go of Aryan, stepping away.
"Anyway, you can come if you want," he waved. "See you later."
The week stretched endlessly, and between the classes and co-curriculums, all Aryan could think about was Harsh's suggestion. What would they do if they found the origin of the scream? What would that solve? All the mysteries fueled the boy's mind. Yet, he couldn't let the opportunity slip away.
Saturday night came. The clock ticked, nearing 3 am. Aryan stood up from his bed, throwing the clothes on, and quietly opened the door. Then, peeking out, he stepped forward and closed the door.
Aryan tiptoed through the darkness and flinched on every sound, imagining a night monster digging its claws into his back. But the sounds were just someone snoring or going into a bathroom.
When he reached the dining hall, his heart was already beating through his whole body. He discerned the outlines of Harsh and Rohan, standing at the entrance. They turned as Aryan approached, and soon, flashlights broke the darkness. They held them, shining up to their faces. The artificial light made them look like frozen statues, and Aryan shivered, stepping back.
"You came!" Harsh exclaimed and handed him another flashlight. "Here, take it."
"Don't you think it will scare off the screamer?" Aryan asked, and the boys shared a doubtful look before turning off the lights.
"You're right," Rohan replied and put the flashlight in his pocket.
The moon rays creeping through the windows brightened their way, dyeing the dining hall in dim silver. The vacant tables and chairs looked like belongings of ghosts. As if they had stepped into a ghost town and they couldn't see the souls surrounding and gazing at them.
Fighting the rising fear, Aryan followed Harsh and Rohan as they looked around. "Have others explored this place?" Aryan whispered.
"Yeah," Harsh nodded. "But no one found anything. Maybe we can."
Rohan glimpsed at his watch.
"It will soon be 3 am," he murmured. "Look out for the scream."
Their eyes flitted around the empty cupboards, wooden cabinets, long tables, and chairs in rows. No one seemed to be there except the boys.
Aryan felt coldness crawling up from his ankles, up to his spine, finally sliding its nails into his hair. He shuddered and looked back, seeing nothing but the vacant room blending with the murk. The outlines looked like some strange creatures, frozen in time.
He glanced at his watch, only a few minutes before 3. Aryan's body tensed as if preparing for the scream. Harsh and Rohan slowly walked through the isles of the tables, looking under them and into the cabinets.
Suddenly, the scream lanced the hush, falling over their heads like the ceiling crumbling down. They all jumped, dread twisting in their gut. The scream, turning into a high-pitched shriek, made their feet glued to the ground. The raucous voice turned the boys pale, color draining from their faces.
Aryan felt like the screech came from every direction, and wherever he looked, the loud cry welcomed him. As if every corner and every spot of the dining hall screamed.
Only seconds lasted before it stopped. Aryan exhaled, realizing he had been holding his breath.
"Where did it come from?" Harsh hardly managed to say, dumbfounded by the fear.
"It felt like the whole room was screaming," Aryan replied and walked to the entrance. "I'm out."
"Shouldn't we search a little more?" Rohan asked. Aryan bent his lips and shook his head.
"Maybe the mystery should stay unsolved," he replied and turned around, heading back to his room.
Aryan knew they would never find the origins of the scream. And he was sure that if something doesn't work out after many tries, it's destined to stay how it is. The scream repeated next Saturday night, and the following week, and after that too. Aryan got used to it and learned to sleep through the ear-splitting cry.