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Alice Kinerk

Alice Kinerk earned an MFA in English and then spent several years raising babies and not writing much. Now that she’s changed her last dirty diaper, she’s back to hitting that keyboard! Her short stories have been published or are forthcoming in Oyster River Pages, Johnny America, Rock Salt Journal, and elsewhere. 

Plastic Aztec Death Whistle

My husband is obsessed with the Aztec death whistle, having discovered it recently on YouTube. I was in bed beside him, nearly asleep. It was a documentary. Documentaries are great for falling asleep. But then, that whistle.


The Aztec death whistle defines terror. Its scream is human, but at the same time inhuman. It is the voice of formless evil you always knew existed even though no one admits it.  The shriek lurking in the dark. Catastrophes, atrocities, disease and death.


“For sacrifices.” Hubs smiles when I squint at the screen. “Tomorrow I’ll 3D print one.”


The next day he downloads instructions, threads the filament, and stands there watching the extruder head pace back and forth.  That afternoon when it finishes, he takes his plastic Aztec death whistle outside, scuffs burrs with a wire brush, puts it to his lips and blows. 


Meanwhile, I’m on the stepladder beside the plum tree, picking plums. The Aztec Death Whistle makes me lose my balance. The stepladder shakes, and the colander of plums topples. I land on my hip. I hurt. The dog picks a plum up in his mouth and then drops it.


I look forward to showing Hubs my bruise.


My husband helps me up. Does not apologize. Picks a plum off the grass and polishes it.


I hobble. “Never blow that again.” It's how we talk after seventeen years.


“Just once more,” he says, blowing it.


Then Hubs prints another three whistles, one for each neighbor kid. The neighbor kids have never been to school before. They have long hair, even the boys, and moon faces. They have been homespun, homeopathied, homeschooled. But oh, the economy! Life is about letting go. Next week the big yellow bus comes for them, too.


My husband gives one whistle to each child. On his phone he shows them a cutaway diagram of the inside. There is a hollow sphere, where the air swirls, and a chamber where the scream comes out. Not that anything can explain that sound.


The neighbor kids’ whistles scream until I scoot all three outside. They shove their feet into sneaks and run home. We can hear them, even though leaves usually muffle noises. We can hear the death whistles, I mean.


“You know they’ll take those things to school.”


“Their first day of school?” Hubs claps his heart. “I’d be honored.”


“They’ll blow them and get in trouble, decide they hate school, rebel, drop out, get hooked on drugs, overdose, and then wind up dead on the street.”


“That could happen,” Hubs nods.  “It’s a whistle for the end of the world.”


Then, like a bird caller in communication with the feathery, he puts his whistle up to his mouth and screams.


And the neighbor kids scream back.

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