In the City of Shrieking Ottomans

By Tara Campbell

Every travel guide you read before you came here warned you it that would be difficult to relax in the City of Shrieking Ottomans. Every time you sit down at the end of a long day of walking or shopping or sightseeing or whatever it is you do in all of these cities you’ve been visiting, in this city you can’t simply put your feet up and sink into a moment of calm. In the City of Shrieking Ottomans, the least bit of pressure of anyone’s foot on any kind of footrest engenders a piercing, horrific scream.  

It doesn’t matter what kind of footrest it is. From a true ottoman—a full-blown, round, upholstered, stuffed extravagance—down to a humble wooden footstool, any use of an inanimate object to rest one’s foot or feet will be rewarded by a bloodcurdling shriek. The scream doesn’t immediately disappear as soon as the weight is removed, either. That would be too forgiving. No, the offending footrest-er must endure not only the dreadful yowling, but also the scowls of everyone in the vicinity for the several minutes it takes for the shrieking to subside.  

After two or three shrieks, the average person begins to hesitate before even sitting down. But the sitting isn’t the problem. The propping of feet on any article of furniture is. 

Your research tells you that residents of the City of Shrieking Ottomans simply do not own any; neither ottomans nor footrests nor even coffee tables can be found in the homes of the city’s denizens. Over time, citizens have found various alternatives that don’t shriek: stacks of books, piles of laundry, empty boxes, even sturdy pets can serve the purpose. The trick is, they can’t be permanent. Books must be swapped out, laundry must be washed and folded, boxes replaced with more recently acquired receptacles, and even the most foot-friendly dogs need a rest. (There is a much sought-after breed of Setter that seems born to this task, sturdy and contact-hungry, and pups have been known to go for tens of thousands of Lira. You would like to see one, but you don’t know any residents, let alone any wealthy enough to afford such an animal.) 

The tourist areas, as one might expect, are completely different. There, you find all manner of ottomans: round, oval, square, and rectangular; velvet, leather, silken, and natty; brocaded, tufted, quilted, and studded; striped, spotted, and solid; ottomans with and without storage, with and without legs, lowered and raised—and each with a different tenor of shrieking. One emits a single, high-pitched peep of a shriek when you rest your feet; another cries out in a deeper, more masculine tone. The largest ottoman you sample features an entire chorus of agony.  

For children there are brightly-colored, polka-dotted models that emit shrieks of delight ending in giggles. See, you say to yourself, as though trying to convince—whom?—it’s not all bad. 

Admittedly, however, most of it is that bad. Most of the shrieking is horrendous. The locals who work in the touristy parts of town wear headphones with anything from calming music to heavy metal—you hear a wide variety of music blasting from their headphones when they remove them to help you. You know to wave them down for assistance, due to their printed smocks reading “Please raise your hand for service” in a dozen languages. Eucalyptus aromatherapy wafts into the air from misters placed at regular intervals throughout the old town.  

The problem is, a waiter tells you (beginning with “No offense, but…”), as the town has become more popular, businessowners have acquired more shrieking ottomans. Additional bars, restaurants, and attractions have sprung up, all featuring more opportunities for visitors to rest their feet. There is one silver lining, however, the waiter says: Homeowners have gradually moved farther away from tourist areas, opening up opportunities for young families looking for affordable starter homes. 

Most visitors can only bear to spend one night in the City of Shrieking Ottomans before moving on in their travels. There are some, however, who stay—mainly because they’re on a budget. For certain auditory reasons, this city turns out to be a reasonably-priced sojourn for those who are willing to stock up on earplugs and soldier on, spending most of their time away on day trips. (That was the plan you and your traveling partner had agreed upon.) 

Some visitors, however, prefer to remain right in the thick of it, embedding themselves in the symphony of screams for days—sometimes weeks—on end, whiling the days away in cafés, resting their feet on shrieking velvet ottomans, sipping their mochas while resting one leg atop the other, then switching again, tilting their heads as the pitch changes with every shift of weight. 

Visitors like you. 

You, who in the evening will dine with your feet resting on a wailing footstool under the table, keeping always at least one foot pressed to moaning wood from appetizer through dessert. After dinner you will retire to a cigar bar or jazz club, where you’ll barely be able to hear the music over the howling of the embroidered ottoman propping up your feet as you cradle a tumbler of scotch, sipping occasionally, but mostly resting the rim of the glass against your bottom lip as your feet rest on shrieking stools—the screaming, it seems, an accompaniment to the wail of a horn over thudding drums, the heel of your foot almost an extension of the band, pressing into the crescendo on stage, holding a tone a half-step lower, wringing the most out of the grating screech under your heel to prolong a dissonant chord. You will play this human voice like an instrument. You, an impresario of agony with sparkling eyes. 

Your innkeeper once told you—he used to share more in the early days, before he reluctantly extended your reservation, before your traveling partner moved on without you—that no matter how long he’d run his establishment, there were still some visitors that shocked him anew. Sometimes he thought about moving away from the kind of city that would draw such people to it, but then, he said, he realized that there were such people everywhere in the world. At least here you could tell which ones they were, and he advised you to be wary of them. He said you could see which ones to steer clear of by watching their eyes: scanning, hungry, eager, searching for the next thing that will scream in agony under their feet. 

The kind of thing, he sighed, you could only sense when you saw them in person. 

At least now he knows who you are. 

About the Author:

Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Wigleaf, Booth, Strange Horizons, CRAFT Literary, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She’s the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and four collections: Circe’s Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, Political AF: A Rage Collection, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Connect with her at or on Twitter: @TaraCampbellCom or IG: @thetreevolution 


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