One small detail about me is that I leave my fan on at night whether or not it is warm because the sound of it helps me sleep. Normally it produces a gentle humming only, but recently I started to hear more within. First there was faint laughter, then faint voices, their words inaudible through the buffer of the fan. This was followed by the sharper sound of pool balls clacking together, rolling down a table and falling into pockets. I owned no pool table, and it sounded too close to be coming through the walls, but in the morning I asked my neighbors just to be sure. Both shook their heads and said it’d been a while. I myself hadn’t played since high school, after finding a weedy old pool table in the meadow behind campus, two cues and an 8 ball lying beneath. I’d gone back to it a final time the day after graduation, knocking in the 8 ball as a symbolic murdering of my first eighteen years and leaving it inside. I wondered if the table was still there, if anyone else had drifted to it on days of hooky or nights of getting away.
At work my partner and I were assigned two new cases: a missing teenager and a day-spa with a hot tub full of toxic chemicals. We started with the missing teenager and spent the day interviewing her weepy parents and looking through her things. There weren’t any secret notes stuck behind her desk or hidden in the pocket of the sweater at the back of her closet. What was more telling was the blankness: the empty trash and barren diary, the overwhelming cleanliness. It was the room of a ghost seeking defibrillation, a girl gone away until she had things to stick behind her desk and hide in the sweater at the back of her closet. My partner said I seemed preoccupied and I denied it; her sister was in the hospital and she had more right to be preoccupied than me. My partner shrugged and said okay but one thing about her is that her ears quiver when she knows something of you that you won’t admit.
That night I got close to the fan and put my ear up next to it. Click. Clack. Dunk. I even thought I could hear the cues being chalked. There were no voices this time, no sounds of the participants at all. It made me want to scream.
In the morning I went to the store where I’d purchased the fan and reported my hearings to an employee with a nametag designating him Fanboy Seth. He nodded, unsurprised, and told me to follow him into the back. We stopped at a door with no knob that read usually no customers beyond this point. Fanboy Seth explained that his boss didn’t trust doorknobs ever since his office had been broken into last month, kneeling down and taking out an axe from underneath the rug. He told me to give him some space and I watched along with the other alarmed customers as he swung away at the door, splintered wood pooling on the carpet until he’d made a hole large enough for us to step through.
The room we entered was littered with whirring fans from all throughout history, an old woman sitting meditative before a bronze one in the corner. On the surface of each fan was a post-it note listing its date of origin and the sounds it contained. Fanboy Seth tapped one with blue plastic propellers that was labeled:
1982 — gun range
“This one’s mine,” he said.
The two of us stood and looked at it, listening to the muffled booming of guns firing off within. I shook my head.
“I don’t get it.”
Fanboy Seth flicked a wood chip off his shirt.
“Sometimes things get trapped,” he said. “Behind moving blades, for example.”
“What about when they stop?”
He tipped his head to the side and looked at me.
“Hard to move when you’re asleep.”
I nodded like I understood. At the doorway two employees were already on repair duty and Fanboy Seth shouted at them to wait.
“So there are people stuck playing pool inside my fan?” I asked.
“Ehhgh,” Fanboy Seth pinched his chin. “People is a strong word for them.”
At work I finally told my partner about my fan sounds and she insisted we approach the phenomenon directly; it was the logical next step and would give us a break from missing teenagers and spas with toxic chemicals. We went to my apartment and dismantled the fan, laying it out in pieces on the floor. We found no balls, no cues, no players. My partner stood and pocketed her microscope, wiping her hands together.
“Another people-inside-fan case debunked,” she said, grinning at me.
That night I lay awake in bed, unable to sleep without the fan’s humming. It wasn’t until well after midnight that I heard clacking sounds coming from the living room. I rose and pressed my ear against the door, hearing indistinct voices with an electronic edge, as if they were coming from a television with bad speakers. I pulled the door open slowly, three pairs of eyes locking onto me like magnets. The lamp in the corner glowed white and dim. I examined their faces, recognizing certain features on each of them, but not in any case the whole package. I could see what Fanboy Seth had meant; they all appeared nearly-human, like clay sculptures abandoned in the final stage of their creation. Their clothes mirrored this, all of their outfits not quite complete; a missing sleeve here, a sockless foot there. One wearing a baseball cap without the bill.
“Hi,” I said.
“Didn’t think you’d…” one of them started, then trailed off.
“Show,” another finished.
I approached the pool table and they told me I was stripes, which I had somehow anticipated, already setting up my shot accordingly. They took swigs of beer and clapped chalky hands.
“Do you remember…” said one of them.
“When we brought Leah…”
“To this table?”
I paused and examined the worn felt of the table, the moss growing up the legs and encompassing the pockets, the scuff marks and etchings running down the sides.
“This is it!” I said, feeling up the surface. “The table behind the school.”
“She didn’t get…” one of them continued.
“Why it was special,” another added, nodding its head.
“I know,” I said. “Like when I suggested we carve out initials into the leg, she said — ”
“But nobody will see it,” the half-sockless one finished.
“Yeah,” I muttered. “And — “
“Stop hiding yourself.”
I stared at them. The half-sleeved one pointed to the table.
“Your shot,” it said.
The game went on until the half-capped one knocked the 8 ball into the side pocket and all three of them collapsed, twitching on the floor for a moment before going completely still. I didn’t know the protocol for reporting the deaths of almost-humans and I had this strange feeling that if I touched one it would shock me, so I went into my room and crawled back into bed as if I’d just been dreaming the whole time.
In the morning, the pool table was gone from the living room, and there were three mounds of beige-colored substance on the rug. I got a spatula from the kitchen and prodded at one hesitantly, the texture thick and goopy.
At work there was a break in the case of the toxic hot tub; the janitor had confessed to doing it. The whole thing was worth it, he said, to see those pampered snobs turn blue. The rest was short work and when it was over my partner told me she was going to see her sister in the hospital. I said that I was coming with and I said don’t ask me why. My partner’s sister was a twin sister and when we got there I was startled by the image of my partner in a hospital bed and the pang in my chest that came along with it.
On the drive back to the station we got a call about a girl holed up in a treehouse who’d been spotted by the park groundskeeper. The description matched our missing teen and we went to inspect the place right away, finding the treehouse perched high in the branches of an old douglas fir. I said it was important that I go first and I said don’t ask me why. My partner said okay and then shoved me aside and made her way up. When I got to the top and entered the treehouse she was looking at me wearily, no missing girl within the small premises. No bags, no food, no signs of an inhabitant. The only thing there was an 8 ball, sitting black and shiny on the floor, its number upturned. I slipped my latex gloves on and kneeled before it, picking it up and holding it against the pale sunshine coming through the window. No prints were visible, no scuffs or dust or marks of earthly contact.
“She’s gone,” I said.
My partner nodded.
“Looks like it.”
I took a deep breath and pocketed the 8 ball as my partner joined me at the window. We stood in silence and looked out at the trees, the leaves rustling in the wind like a chorus of quivering green ears.
TIMOTHY DAY loves old jazz, bad puns, and blanket forts, preferably at the same time. His fiction has appeared in magazines such as Jersey Devil Press; Menacing Hedge; Cease, Cows; WhiskeyPaper and others. He lives in Wenatchee, WA.