Screaming into Bowls by Cecilia Kennedy

Just beyond the alabaster walls of the central gallery of the second floor of the art

museum, I hear screaming. I’m supposed to be viewing an exhibit on cabins, but the screams are

far more interesting. I turn the corner and find another exhibit called Screaming into Bowls.

Based on the scant information on the gallery walls, I discover that an artist has decided to

scream into various bowls and record the results, which run in a loop. The screams are not

entirely terrifying, like those of a haunted house. They’re more soul-wrenching and passionate.

There’s a lot of angst there—and frustration. Several bowls are on display as well, and I like

them because they flow like water and spill into various glassy shapes. However, there’s no

indication that the artist made these bowls. The artist may have screamed into them, but it would

have been really cool if he had also made the bowls too.


Still, when I get home, it’s not the cabins or the bowls I remember from the museum, but

rather the screams. I imagine the thrill of just picking up a bowl and yelling into it. Who would

have ever thought of that, but an artist? And now, I’m tempted. I really want to see what it’s

like to just scream into a bowl, so I open the kitchen cabinets and select a white porcelain bowl

from the shelf. Then, I stare at it because it frightens me. It takes a lot of nerve to just scream

into a bowl, knowing that the walls of my house are thin, and that the neighbors’ yards and

windows are so close. If I scream into a bowl, over and over again, someone might call the

police. And then what? I guess I’d just explain that I’m fine. I’m just screaming into bowls. A

shiver of excitement runs down my spine as I put the bowl close to my face. It feels like I’m

about to do something bad—something for which a bowl is not intended. The very thought 

makes me lose my nerve, again and again, and dissolve into laughter, because it’s also ridiculous

to just scream into a bowl. After several false starts, I finally muster the courage to just scream.


A rush of sound pours over the sides of the bowl—throwing the scream directly into my

ears. The echo bounces off the walls behind me. The bowl sends my voice right into my face

and beyond. The room reverberates with the sound, but in just a slightly higher pitch. I try

different registers of screams: high and low. I try short, staccato screams, as well as long, deep

bellows—and I’m hooked. Absolutely hooked. I must capture the sound now, so I record the

screams. But recording is not enough. It’s not enough for me to just hear the sounds. If a person

screams into a bowl, does anyone hear? No. Not until it’s recorded and shared on the Internet.

Before I know it, I’ve made over 500 recordings, which I post to social media sites. To my

surprise, I get several hits and comments.


“Super cool and spooky,” says BrendaMaui92.


“Keep it up,” mikewaves001 tells me.


“You should sell these—don’t give it away for free,” tikitundra4000 posts.


And when I look at my watch, I realize I’ve missed more than a week of work, which I didn’t

like anyway. I really hated that place. I called in sick to visit the museum and then I guess I just

forgot to show up again. I’d better find something to do with these recordings, to stay afloat for a

while.


I find one of those crafts websites where people sell their homemade soaps, candles,

jewelry, and artwork. Here, I post my various recordings and sell them for a dollar each. By

midnight, I’ve made over $500 and the orders keep coming in. Eventually, I’m up all night and

all day, screaming into bowls, recording the files, and uploading them to the crafts site. However,

the noise really does carry into the streets where the children play. Once, a neighbor summoned

all of the strength she had to knock on my door. The rapping on the wooden surface made a

sound, but it was timid. When I opened the door, my neighbor was trembling—working hard to

overcome her fear in order to find out what was going on.


“I’m so sorry to come over here unannounced,” she said.


“No problem. What’s going on?”


“I . . . just . . . I heard the screaming . . . it sounds so awful. . . are you okay? Sometimes

I’ve nearly called the police, but I thought I’d just come over and see for myself.”


She thrusts a hand into my face, and I take it. The palm is sweaty. She was probably expecting

to find blood and bruises. Out of a sense of duty, she came, but without a plan—except to maybe

bolt and run if she really did find blood and bruises.


“Ah, yes. It’s part of my work. I’m a bowl screamer,” I tell her. “I scream into bowls.

For a living. People pay me for the recordings I make.”


She nods her head and stares at me before turning on her heels and walking away.


#


I’m a bowl screamer. I can’t tell people what I really do for a living. The bowl

screaming is just a cover. The emails and phone calls came in shortly after I made my first $500.

There were complaints. Many customers—customers who felt unsettled and afraid in their own

homes—blamed the product I was selling. Karenbubble559 wrote this review: “Well, the audio

file was just as advertised. I had settled in for the night, hoping to savor these delicious screams,

which I did for a while, but then . . . I was just expecting screams . . . not actual words. There

were words! The screams became words and they haunted me—and I can’t get rid of them. Stay

away from this product!” Warrenpots852 wrote, “I’m not sure I want to be left alone in my

room at night with these screams. I. Cannot. Deal.”


So, I started to look into these complaints by calling people. How were the screams

turning into words?


“I can’t explain it,” one customer named Shannon said. “You’ll just have to come see for

yourself. The screams become actual words.”


#


Two-lane roads wind around the edges of wilderness studded with tall pines on the way

to Shannon’s cabin, which is at the foot of a state park. Moss grows on parts of the roof and

even the outside walls show evidence of water damage and dampness. The path to the front door

is littered with tree branches and stones. Large patches of mud make me second-guess every

step.


When I get to the front door, I can hear the mad barking of a large dog. Then, I hear

Shannon’s voice from behind the door. It says, “just hush now! Now!” I wonder if that works on

large dogs. I get my answer soon. This dog’s incessant barking, followed by a heart-stopping

guttural growl, tells me otherwise. I don’t even have to ring the bell, since the dog has already

announced my presence. When the door opens, Shannon is struggling with a Scottish Deerhound

that looks like a wild wolf. It’s chomping at the bit to get at me and tear me to shreds.


“So sorry. Hold on while I lock him in his room upstairs.”


Shannon shuts the door and I wait outside. Already, I can smell the mold and dampness indoors.

I’m hoping not to stay long.


In a few minutes, Shannon opens the door again and lets me in. The floor and ceiling are

made of wooden boards that are dark. There’s a plaid sofa in the living room and the window

behind the sofa looks directly out into the woods, thick with ferns and mossy trees.


“Thanks so much for coming over—can I get you anything?”


The last thing I want is to eat or drink anything in a moldy house. I decline.


“So, yeah. . . umm. . . It seems that my recordings—the screams—are doing something

weird?”


I know that I could just refund her money, especially if she’s not happy with the product, but I

must get to the bottom of this. I can’t refund everyone’s money. I’m a bowl screamer now. I’ve

committed and there’s no turning back. Shannon reaches for her laptop, which is sitting on the

coffee table in front of the plaid couch. She clicks on a sound file I sent to her and the recording

begins. I remember this one. I used a large, shallow blue bowl. The screams that rolled off the

rim nearly matched the shape of the bowl. The shrieks were smooth, but high in pitch, bending

and curving up and over—echoing and ringing in the air, except this time, I hear something new.

Shannon sees my eyes grow wide. She leans forward.


“You hear it?”


“I think I do. Play it again.”


Shannon starts the recording over from the beginning, and at nearly the end of the first scream, I

hear the sound move from a long, thin noise to something more significant, in the shape of

words: “I’m here,” they seem to say. But the scream carries on over the words, as if the words

were placed over the scream separately.


“You heard it, right? You heard it. You heard it say, ‘I’m here?’” Shannon asks.


“I heard it plain as day, but I can assure you that was never a part of the original

recording.”


“But there’s more,” she says. “It only says, ‘I’m here’ on the first two plays. There are

more messages. Listen.”


When Shannon plays the recording again, the voice that floats above the end of the scream says,

“Under the floor. Look under the floor.”


When the voice stops, Shannon pauses the recording. Her face is pale and she’s searching my

eyes to find out what I know—to find out what this thing is, but I think we both know what this

means.

“Have you looked under the floor?” I ask. “Have you pulled up the wooden boards of the

floor to take a look?”


“Why on earth would I do that?” Shannon asks.


“I think you can take these things literally. I think you should look under the floor boards

to find out what’s saying, ‘I’m here.’”


“Maybe you should look under your own floor boards. You made this recording in your

own house, right?


I don’t even want to think about that. I just scream and record at the same time now. I can’t

even think about what’s in my own house.


“Never mind my house,” I say. “What if this voice is meant for you and only you?

There’s only one way to find out. I’ll bet if we look under the floor boards, the voice will stop,

and you’ll be left with just the screams you purchased. Nothing else.”


Shannon nods her head, which I take as a sign to start pulling up the floor boards. It’s a lot of

work, but we pass the time talking about how big and scary Shannon’s dog looks. She says that

in reality, her dog is a “sweetheart”—a sweetheart that likes to jump all over people and eat the

neighbors’ free-range chickens.


I’m expecting to find concrete under the floor boards, so I’m surprised to just find regular

dirt.


“Well, no wonder it’s so drafty and damp in here, especially in the winter,” Shannon

says. “Whoever built this cabin just stood the whole thing over dirt. I’m surprised the house

doesn’t shift and move as I walk across the floor.”


“I guess we can start digging now. Not sure where, but I think we can start in the

middle.”


“The middle’s just as good a spot as any,” Shannon says.


The dirt beneath the house is incredibly soft. We both know that we’re looking for a dead body,

but neither one of us has the nerve to say it out loud. Earthworms till the soil; they’re thick and

fat with blood, shiny with secretions. We dig deeper to get to the drier pieces of soil beneath,

thick with rocks and pebbles. As I push the top of the shovel down further into the soil, my arm

is jammed back into my shoulder. A tiny “pinging” noise tells me I’ve hit something hard.

Carefully, I bend down to brush some of the dirt away and I realize there are several long, flat

stones, edged into the ground to form a kind of box. Whatever we’re looking for must be in the

middle of that stone box, so I dig gently with my fingers and feel around for hard objects. My

fingers curl around a long, flat object that seems solid, but fragile. When I pull it up from the

dirt, I recognize it as a bone-shaped thing. It’s definitely not a rib, but I know what bones,

stripped of flesh look like—and this is a bone—and not an animal one like what our dog used to

bury in the backyard after we’d toss him a rib from the barbecue. This looks distinctly different.

Soon, Shannon is on her hands and knees, digging with her fingers and she pulls up a small,

round, yellowed shape, with spaces for eyes and a nose. The upper jaw still has all the teeth

intact.


Silently, we gather the bones and try to give them a respectful burial on Shannon’s

property. Then, we put the floor boards back. It takes all night, but when we play the recording

again, the voice is gone. Only the screams remain and now I know that I’m more than a bowl

screamer—and I can’t tell anyone. Bowl screaming is an interesting line of work. Digging up

dead bodies—well—that’s the fastest way to make a less than favorable impression.


#


The orders still come in and I’m still screaming like crazy, but I’m also making house

calls to fix the audio tracks that get messed up by other voices. In “thunderjohn50’s” house, the

screams end in a pair of voices that say, “the bodies are in the wall.” So, in John’s house, in the

suburbs of Seattle, I remove bricks from the fireplace in order to excavate the bodies of two

people, walled up together. It seems that there are lots of houses with secrets. Lots of houses that

change hands, but the original owners can’t leave. So, I scream into bowls and help set them

free, I guess. The pay is pretty good, for screaming and digging, but I don’t advertise the

digging. While I’m at John’s house then, he asks me if I ever investigate my own house.

Everyone I help asks. I don’t know if there are other voices and I don’t want to know. The

echoes carry on long enough for me to make a recording; I never play it back. Screaming into

bowls—in long, thin waves—soundproofs the house, so only my voice lives.




Cecilia Kennedy earned a doctorate in Spanish and taught 20 years in Ohio before moving to Washington state.  Fourteen of her short stories have appeared in nine different literary magazines since 2017.  Her blog, “Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks” (https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/), describes her humorous attempts at cooking and home repair.