Scare Yourself Silly: “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” and the Lost Works of Ed Kann -The Toast

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8225963545_e9ddb8b62b_zLucia Peters’ previous work for The Toast can be found here.

There’s a story out there with the deliciously bizarre title of “The Noise Coming from Inside Children.” Written by a little-known author by the name of Ed Kann, it’s widely considered by those who have read it to be one of the most disturbing pieces of fiction ever conceived. It didn’t drive anyone mad just because they read it or anything; it did, however, receive such backlash at its initial publication for its horrific content that it was never reprinted, and as a result, it’s gained quite a reputation — it’s thought to be one of the horror genre’s greatest and rarest works. I mean, consider that title alone: “The Noise Coming from Inside Children.” If that isn’t the perfect title for a spooky story, I don’t know what is. Creepy noises, coming from somewhere creepy and involving creepy children… it’s everything weird and unsettling, all rolled up in one simple turn of phrase. It’s a title that makes me desperately want to read the story it’s attached to… 

…except that I can’t. We don’t know where it is. Or — and here’s the next layer of the tale — whether it actually exists at all.

There are a few mentions of Kann and his story floating around the Internet; I first encountered them in a listicle posted on WhatCulture. According to WhatCulture, the story was published in a small town newspaper in the 1970s; a little further digging reveals that Kann was allegedly something of a cult legend, with one of his earlier works, “In Concrete Basements,” achieving fervent, if subdued, acclaim. His follow-up, the aforementioned “The Noise Coming from Inside Children,” was therefore greatly anticipated… but its release didn’t go quite as planned. People complained, but not because the story wasn’t effective; if anything, it was too effective. It was, in fact, so effective that the only surviving review of it, which described it as “desperately difficult to finish,” called for the relabeling of “horror” as a genre in its entirety:

I’ll be honest and admit that I did something no critic should ever do: I started the story with the intention of giving it a positive review. I desperately wanted to be the one voice of dissent, and also wanted to show people that there is value in that which so effectively disturbs and disgruntles us. I thought fans of horror should recognize that more than anyone else.

But I cannot give ‘The Noise Coming from inside Children’ a good review, because I hated it. I hated the entire experience of reading it, and only through some strange combination of obsession and masochism did I finish it. Because of this fact, I realize that I am a hypocrite, as is anyone who declares themselves to be a fan of ‘horror stories.’

It is a shame so few people will actually finish this story…. Because it would surely lead to us carefully changing the name of the genre we all love. I know now that ‘horror’ certainly isn’t the name for it. ‘Creepy fiction’ might be a better choice. If more people read ‘The Noise Coming from inside Children,’ then the genre of ‘horror’ would be reserved… for it alone. And no one would ever claim to be a fan of it.

If you read those few paragraphs and thought, “Gee, that’s not much of a review,” you’d be absolutely right. It’s more of a reaction or a response to the work, rather than an assessment it. But words have power, and those particular words have even more power than most. What on earth could be so bad about this story that it would inspire this sort of response? And where has its author been in the years since its publication? A quick Google search reveals that there are a lot of Ed Kanns out there, but unless the supposed author of “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” is really good at covering his tracks, it’s unlikely that any of them are the guy we’re looking for. How can that be the case?

You’ll find little drips and drabs about “The Noise Coming Inside Children” and its illusive creator scattered across the web, but most of what we know about them both points back to one source: A blog titled Who Is Ed Kann?

Begun (and seemingly either concluded or abandoned) in November of 2010, it chronicles the attempts of one anonymous fan as he or she sought to find any information that might shed some light on the whole thing. According to the blog’s writer, s/he first encountered the name “Ed Kann” as a child, stumbling upon a flier for an event in his or her hometown featuring various underground authors reading their work. The story Kann was scheduled to read was called “In Concrete Basements” — and although Who Is Ed Kann?’s writer was too young to attend at the time, both the title and the author’s name stuck with him or her. “What exactly did happen in concrete basements?” s/he wondered. Several years later, s/he found an interview with Kann in a local magazine — something resembling, although not identical to, Seattle Regional Horror Quarterly — about his recently published piece, “The Noise Coming from Inside Children.” And then… nothing. Nothing for years. 

As an adult, s/he rediscovered the magazine while cleaning out the closet in his or her childhood bedroom; accordingly, s/he set out to hunt down whatever s/he could about Kann and his work. Weirdly, no one the writer of Who Is Ed Kann? had ever spoken to knew anything about the man; furthermore, when a few Googled him out of curiosity, no evidence of him or his stories was to be found online. “People eventually assumed I had made him up,” the blog’s author wrote. “They believed that for some reason, I had nonchalantly invented an entire person and book as some kind of strange lie. I was accused of attempting to perpetrate a hoax.” Beyond that, however, was this:

What interested me most, though, was not evidence for Ed Kann’s existence, but rather the lack of evidence. How can an entire person and their work fade so quickly? In this age can dozens of people searching the entire Internet really fail to find a single mention of a living, breathing person (assuming he is still living)?

At this point, it’s worth noting that Kann is also occasionally mentioned in conjunction with a 1995 roleplaying video game for the Super Nintendo called Secret of Evermore. According to this portion of the tale, Kann, then 22, was originally on the development team for Evermore; during Kann’s tenure on the team, the game looked as though it was going to go in a much darker direction, artistically speaking, than the finished version might suggest. Kann was allegedly fired from the team for taking this element of darkness too far, and “later gained temporary cult status for his disturbing short story ‘The Noise Coming from Inside Children.’”

But here, I think, is where the story begins to unravel. Although the Who Is Ed Kann? blog acknowledges that the scarcity of information about Kann is its raison d’etre, the fact that what little we know about him and “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” consistently leads back to this one source is troublesome. A lack of any way to corroborate the information contained on the site suggests that it may not be entirely trustworthy; additionally, a few of the details don’t quite add up. For one, there seems to be some debate about whether “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” is a short story, or whether it’s a full book; it’s referred to as both, so I’ve been unable to conclude which, if either, it might actually be. Additionally, the timeline of the whole thing — Ed Kann, his stories’ publication dates, the writer of Who Is Ed Kann?’s personal history, its relation to the Secret of Evermore’s development period — is… shall we say, a little suspect.

Let’s assume for the moment that the maintainer of Who Is Ed Kann? has an impeccable memory and has accurately identified the points in time at which s/he came into contact with “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” and its author. If this is the case, here’s how the timeline works out:

Who Is Ed Kann?’s writer references looking something up on Wikipedia (about the Clinton sex scandal) at the age of 21. The earliest year in which this could have occurred is 2001; Wikipedia first launched on January 15 of that year. This means that, at his or her absolute oldest, the author of Who Is Ed Kann? is currently 35 with a birth year of 1980. This puts the “In Concrete Basements” flier incident happening between the years of 1988 and 1990; in seventh grade, s/he would have been 12 or 13 years old, putting the magazine not called Seattle Regional Horror Quarterly’s year of publication around 1992/1993; and since magazine interview describes “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” as having been “recently released,” then the earliest the story could have been published is within the five-year-period between 1988 and 1993.

With me so far?

Secret of Evermore, meanwhile, began early development in 1994. If a 22-year-old Ed Kann had been part of the team at that point, he would have been born in 1972 — and here’s where it starts to fall apart even more: If Kann was born in 1972, and “In Concrete Basements” had already been published by 1988 or 1990, then he was A) between the ages of 16 and 18 when “In Concrete Basements” was published, and B) between the ages of 16 and 21 when “The Noise Coming from Inside Children.” That’s extremely young to have achieved fame as a horror writer, which certainly would have gone remarked upon in any press surrounding his work — and yet, in his/her discussion of the article, the writer of Who Is Ed Kann? makes no mention of anything of that sort. Odd, no?

The timeline shifts in a slightly more believable way if the mystery person who maintains Who Is Ed Kann? is assumed to be younger, but even then, it remains a tiny bit questionable. For example, a mere five-year shift puts the Wikipedia access at 2006, “In Concrete Basement’s” publication between 1993 and 1995, the magazine’s publication date around 1997/1998, and “The Noise Coming from Inside Children’s” publication date between 1993 and 1998. Or, assume that the writer of Who is Ed Kann? is 23. S/he mentions being out of college for a long enough period of time to suggest that s/he hadn’t just graduated in 2010; it’s probably therefore safe to estimate the shortest amount of time between the writing of the blog and the exit from school is about a year (making the graduation date at the age of 22 2009). This puts the Wikipedia search at age 21 in 2008 and the anonymous writer’s birth year around 1987; additionally, “In Concrete Basements” would have been discovered between 1995 and 1997, the magazine interview’s publication date would have happened around 1999/2000, and “The Noise Coming from Inside Children’s” would have been published between 1995 and 2000. Although all of this lines up a little more with the Evermore timeline, it still seems a little unusual. If Ed Kann had been writing during the late ‘90s and early 2000s, he likely would have left much more of a digital trail due to the Internet’s rising prominence during that time.

None of this, by the way, matches with the WhatCulture piece’s blurb — the place I originally heard about Ed Kann — claiming “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” originally appeared in the 1970s.

Ultimately, the conclusion I’ve arrived at is this: All of it is fiction. Ed Kann, “In Concrete Basements,” “The Noise Coming from Inside Children,” the possible connection to Secret of Evermore… the whole thing is a complete fabrication. When you get down to it, Who Is Ed Kann? resembles a creepypasta written in the form of a blog; but while this format can be harnessed effectively (see: The Princess), here, it seems simply not to have lived up to its potential. The fact that the blog consists of only a few entries, all posted within the space of a month, suggests not that its writer was unable to discover anything more about the story, but rather that the person who dreamed up Ed Kann and “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” simply lost interest in maintaining the illusion. I suspect the abandonment came down to planning, or a lack thereof: Unless you have a clear idea of where you’re going when you embark on a long-form, line-blurring project like this one, it can not only become difficult to continue after a while, but even worse, it can begin to feel like a chore. It’s a shame, really; the idea was a good one, with many avenues left unexplored. And as for the connection with Secret of Evermore? Although that element is possible the only truthful one in the whole tale — the game is, in fact, real — it appears to be unrelated to Who Is Ed Kann? Perhaps it was added on to the mythology by someone else in the manner of the hivemind, collective horror on which stories like “Boothworld Industries” thrive.

But if we’re willing to suspend our disbelief for a moment, “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” and all of the mysteries attached to it still continue to intrigue. I have always believed that what we don’t see is always far creepier than what we do see; it’s why I don’t find movies like Hostel very frightening (or even memorable), but why The Blair Witch Project kept me theorizing about the mythology and avoiding the woods at night for years. Not being able to read the “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” makes it all the more desirable: We’ll never know what about it made it so disturbing as to need to be buried and never seen again. And indeed, even though I’m pretty sure at this juncture that it never existed in the first place, the possibility, however slim, remains that it might exist — which adds even more to its draw. I so badly want to believe in a story with the power to horrify so many people in such a visceral way.

Maybe “The Noise Coming from Inside Children” is different things to different people. Maybe it’s what every reader wants it to be — or even what every reader requires it to be. And perhaps that is where its power ultimately lies: We see in it what we each of us need to see.

Just what does that noise coming from inside those children sound like, anyway? And what might be making it?

Recommended reading:
Who Is Ed Kann?
The Original Story Behind Secret of Evermore.
Encyclopaedia of the Impossible: The Noise Coming from Inside Children.
20 Terrifying Internet Urban Legends.

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Lucia Peters is endlessly fascinated by creepy things, both real and imagined; she writes about them regularly at The Ghost in My Machine. Her work has also appeared on TheGloss, Crushable, Bustle, and BettyConfidential

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