The Invention of Sound


By Chuck Palahniuk

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A father searching for his missing daughter is suddenly given hope when a major clue is discovered, but learning the truth could shatter the seemingly perfect image Hollywood is desperate to uphold.

Gates Foster lost his daughter, Lucy, seventeen years ago. He’s never stopped searching. Suddenly, a shocking new development provides Foster with his first major lead in over a decade, and he may finally be on the verge of discovering the awful truth.

Meanwhile, Mitzi Ives has carved out a space among the Foley artists creating the immersive sounds giving Hollywood films their authenticity. Using the same secret techniques as her father before her, she’s become an industry-leading expert in the sound of violence and horror, creating screams so bone-chilling, they may as well be real.

Soon Foster and Ives find themselves on a collision course that threatens to expose the violence hidden beneath Hollywood’s glamorous façade. A grim and disturbing reflection on the commodification of suffering and the dangerous power of art, The Invention of Sound is Chuck Palahniuk at the peak of his literary powers — his most suspenseful, most daring, and most genre-defying work yet.


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Part One:
Forget Us Our Trespasses


An ambulance wailed through the streets, and every dog howled. Pekingese and border collies alike. German shepherds and Boston terriers and whippets. Mongrels and purebreds. Dalmatians, Doberman pinschers, poodles, basset hounds, and bulldogs. Herding dogs and lapdogs. House pets and strays. Mixed-breed and pedigreed, they howled together as the siren went past.

And for that long going-by they were all members of the same pack. And the howls of all dogs, they were one howl. And that howl was so loud it drowned out the siren. Until the sound that had united them all had vanished, and yet their howling sustained itself.

For no dog could bear to abandon, first, that rare moment of their communion.


In bed, Jimmy propped himself on one elbow and listened. He asked, "Why?"

Beside him Mitzi stirred. She reached a glass of wine off the floor and asked, "Why what?"

In the office building across the street, a single window glowed. Framed behind it, a man stared at a computer screen, his face washed by the shifting light of moving images. This light danced on his eyeglasses and shimmered on the tears running down his cheek.

Not just outside but in the condos that surrounded them, the baying continued. Among the hairs on Jimmy's damp, drooping penis, a blister festered. It looked ready to burst, a lump swollen with pink-white pus. He asked, "Why do dogs howl like that?"

When she reached over to pick at the lump, it wasn't a disease. Stuck to his skin it was: A pill. Medicine. A loose sleeping pill. An Ambien, she plucked it, put it in her mouth and slugged it down with wine. She answered, "Limbic resonance."

"What's that?" he asked as he slipped out of the bed. A gentleman Jimmy wasn't. A caveman, yes. Barefoot on the polished wood floor, he grabbed an edge of the mattress and yanked it, Mitzi included, off the box spring. Not by her hair, not this time at least, but he dragged her and the mattress across the bedroom to where tall windows looked over the city. "What's limp dick…?"

"Limbic," she said. "Limbic resonance. It's my job." She set her empty wineglass on the windowsill. The grid of streetlights blazed under the chaos of random stars. The howls were dying away. "My job," Mitzi said, "is to make everyone in the whole world scream at the exact same time."


Instead of a lawyer, Foster called his group leader, Robb. The police weren't even real police. They only worked at the airport. As for Foster, he'd only touched the little girl, a crime it was a stretch to call. He was in custody but only in a lunchroom behind the airline ticket counter. Seated on a folding metal chair. Vending machines filled a whole wall. His hand was bleeding from a small crescent-shaped bite mark.

Only one flight, the girl's, had been delayed, to allow time for her to make a statement.

He asked the fake police to return his phone, and he showed them a screen capture. They had to admit there was a resemblance between the man from the web and today's pervert. The pervert who'd been with the little girl. One fake officer, the guy, asked where Foster had gotten the image, but it wasn't as if Foster could really say.

The other fake cop, the lady cop, told him, "The world is full of missing kids. That doesn't give you the right to snatch someone else's."

For his part, Foster wanted to ask about his checked baggage. His flight for Denver had long since departed. Did they still pull bags if the passenger failed to board? Was his bag being sniffed by bomb-sniffing dogs? Anymore, no city in the world was anywhere you'd want a nice suitcase to go around and around the carousel, unclaimed. Someone without fail would snatch it, pretend to check the luggage tag, disappear out the door.

As for Foster, he'd be okay with a drink. A drink and maybe a couple stitches in his hand.

Before the skirmish, he'd only downed a couple martinis at the concourse bar. He hadn't finished his third when he'd first seen the little girl. What drew his stare was Lucinda's auburn hair, cut shorter than he remembered, so that it only grazed her little shoulders. A girl the same age as Lucinda when she'd disappeared seventeen years before.

At first, he wasn't thinking. That's not how the human heart works. He knew in his head how age progression worked. The pictures on milk cartons. How every year they computer age the kids until adulthood and then only every five years after that. Experts used photos of the mother, her aunts, any female relations, to approximate a new her every five years. There in any supermarket between the Reddi-wip and the half-and-half, Lucinda would be smiling from every carton in the dairy case.

He'd been totally convinced the girl in the airport was Lucinda—until she wasn't.

What raised a red flag was the pervert holding the girl's hand and leading her toward a gate where a flight was boarding. Not missing a beat, Foster had slapped cash on his table and sprinted after them. He'd taken his phone out and was scrolling through stored images. His rogues' gallery. The pixilated faces with unmistakable neck tattoos. Or the full-on face shots of sweating child molesters.

The lowlife, the one leading the little girl, looked to be some Scooby-Doo type. A hemp-headed, shaggy-haired burnout wearing flip-flops. Foster circled, weaving from side to side to get different angles as he snapped photos. Ahead of them the gate agent was checking in passengers at the entrance to a Jetway.

The burnout throwback had presented two tickets, and they were gone through the gate. The last passengers to board.

Out of breath from running, Foster had reached the agent and said, "Call the police."

The agent had stepped into his path, blocking the entrance to the Jetway. She'd signaled to an agent at the podium and held up a hand, saying, "Sir, I need you to stop."

"I'm an investigator." Foster had panted out the words. He'd held up his phone, showing her a grainy screen capture of a shaggy-haired man, his face gaunt, his eyes sunk deep into his skull. Dim and in the distance, he'd heard an announcement for his own flight to begin boarding.

Through the gate area windows, Foster could see the plane. The pilots were framed in the cockpit windows. The ramp crew had stowed the last of the checked luggage and were slamming shut the cargo hatches. They'd be pushing back in another minute.

Foster, he'd shoved past the agent. With more force than he'd intended, he'd strong-armed her so hard she'd tumbled to the floor. His footfalls thundering down the Jetway, he'd shouted, "You don't understand!" To no one in particular, he'd shouted, "He's going to fuck her, and he's going to kill her!"

A flight attendant had stood ready to close the cabin door, but Foster had elbowed his way past her. He'd stumbled through the first-class section shouting, "That man is a child pornographer!" Waving his phone, he'd shouted, "He destroys kids!"

From his research he knew that child traffickers walk amongst us. They stand beside us at the bank. They sit next to us in restaurants. Foster had scarcely had to scratch the surface of the web before such predators had glommed onto him, sending him their corruption and trying to rope him into their sickening world.

A few passengers had still been standing, waiting in the aisle to take their seats. Last in line had been the girl, still holding the man's hand. They'd looked back when Foster shouted. Everyone had looked, first at him, and then at the man with the girl. Whether it was Foster's blue business suit or his good-boy haircut and egghead glasses, something had thrown the crowd to his aid.

Pointing with his phone, Foster had shouted, "That man is a kidnapper! He runs an international ring for kiddy porn!"

Bleary-eyed and bushy-haired, the accused had uttered only, "Harsh, dude."

When the little girl had started to cry, that seemed to confirm the charge. Potential heroes had unclicked their seat belts and stood, launching themselves and tackling, then dog-piling the caveman lowlife whose muffled protests now nobody could hear. Everyone had been shouting at once, and those people not restraining the burnout had held their phones aloft to shoot video.

Foster had knelt in the airplane aisle and crawled toward the weeping girl, saying, "Take my hand!"

She'd lost hold of the burnout's grip and watched him disappear beneath layers of bodies. Wailing in tears, she'd cried, "Daddy!"

"He's not your daddy," Foster had crooned. "Don't you remember? He kidnapped you from Arlington, Texas." Foster had known the details of the case by heart. "He's not going to hurt you anymore." He'd reached until his large hand had closed over her tiny one.

The girl had shrieked a wordless scream of pain and terror. The press of struggling passengers had held the caveman helplessly buried.

Foster had pulled the little girl into a hug, shushing her and petting her hair as he'd kept repeating, "You're safe. You're safe, now."

At the blurred edge of his vision he'd been aware of passengers holding their phones to record him: this man, some distraught man wearing a navy-blue suit, an ordinary no one, he'd sunk to his knees in the center aisle of the plane grabbing after a little girl in a flowered dress.

An overhead announcement repeated, "This is the pilot speaking. TSA security is en route. Would all passengers please remain in their seats."

The girl had been crying, maybe because Foster was crying. She'd stretched her free hand toward a patch of scruffy pervert hair barely visible under the tumble of bodies.

Foster had taken her tear-stained face between his two hands and brought her innocent brown eyes to meet his. Saying, "You don't have to be his sex slave. Not anymore."

For an instant, everyone had basked in the warm glow of their mutual heroism. In real time, it was all over the internet. Then, on a couple hundred YouTube clips, an air marshal had grabbed Foster in a headlock.

Framed between his hands, the girl's eyes had glazed with a curious, steely resolve.

Choking, he'd assured her, "And you don't have to thank me, Sally."

"My name," the girl had said, "is Cashmere." And she'd turned her tiny head just enough to sink her teeth into the meat of his thumb.


The paramedics had a special name for it. The ones who came to collect the body. They called it "the Fontaine Method," after the high-rise that offered tenants nothing to tie a rope to. A tower of steel-reinforced concrete, with high ceilings broken only by recessed pot lights, what some people called "can" lights. A few units had track lighting.

Stylish, but nothing that would support a person's weight.

A trip to the recycling bins in the building's basement explained a lot. The bin for clear glass was piled full of Patrón bottles and Smirnoff bottles. Her neighbors weren't poor. No one living at the Fontaine ate cat food, except the cats, of course.

Visitors visited rarely. With the exception of the paramedics.

Even now, an ambulance idled at the curb. No lights. No siren. Mitzi watched from the seventeenth floor, from the mattress Jimmy had dragged to the windows. Two men in uniforms bumped a gurney down the building's broad steps and left it sitting on the sidewalk while they opened the rear doors of the ambulance and sat on the tailgate to smoke cigarettes.

The figure on the gurney, covered completely and strapped down, it looked small. A woman, Mitzi guessed. Not a child, because the condo bylaws didn't allow them. More likely an advanced decomp. A few weeks in the California heat could do that, even with the central air-conditioning on high. It could cook a person down like that. Like mummification. Desiccation. The other residents would know who. And whether it was a maid or a strong odor that had summoned the police.

It was the housekeeper, Mitzi knew, who'd found Sharon Tate butchered. It was the housekeeper who'd found Marilyn Monroe cold and naked. It occurred to Mitzi that stumbling across your pregnant boss stabbed to death must be among the worst ways to find yourself out of a job.

Stabbing, Mitzi could write a book about. For example, why some killers kept stabbing for so long. Only the first thrust is intended to inflict pain. The subsequent twenty, thirty, forty stab wounds are to resolve the suffering. It takes as little as one jab or slash to trigger the screaming and bleeding. But so many more are required to make them stop.

Across the street, level with her, a single man sat in his office. A dad-shaped nobody he looked to be, peering into a computer screen she couldn't see. He wore eyeglasses at his desk, in the only office in the building with the lights on.

She'd tried it once, Mitzi had, the Fontaine Method. A simple trick taught by rumor to each new resident. A person simply opened a door. As a metaphor it was poetically sweet. Because there was nowhere else to tie a rope, a person tied it to a doorknob. The soft belt of a terry cloth bathrobe worked well. With one end tied to the knob a person tossed the rest of the belt over the top of the door and fashioned it into a noose. You stood on a chair, kicked the chair aside, and performed your gibbet dance against the door's smooth, painted surface.

In olden times, Mitzi knew, no one wanted to curse a tree. So when a hanging took place, people leaned a ladder against a wall and tied a rope to the highest rung. The condemned would stand atop a chair or sit astride a horse. As the chair toppled or the horse bolted, a noose hanging in the area below the ladder did the trick. That gave birth to the fear of walking beneath ladders. Because a person never knew. The spirit or spirits of highwaymen or cutthroats might still haunt the space where they'd been executed.

Spirits of the evil crowded the Earth to avoid their destiny in Hell. The dead suffered no hangovers, she hoped.

As she watched the paramedics, she took an Ativan and chased it with an Ambien. She had a headache. She often had a headache, but maybe she'd forget this was her head. Ambien could do that. Enough Ambien.

In light of the circumstances, someone ought to offer a prayer. "Our Father who art in heaven," she began, but the Ambien was already erasing her thoughts. She started and stopped, at a loss for the right words. "Forget us our trespasses," she said, "as we forget those who've trespassed against us…"

Seventeen floors below her window, the paramedics had loaded their passenger and were slamming the doors. In the building across the way the single light winked out.

In its place, replacing the dad-shaped man, Mitzi saw only her own reflected outline. She waved an arm and watched her mirrored self waving back.

Her phone chimed. The ambulance was gone.

Alone, alone and beyond her reach, her mirrored self lifted an arm and put her mirrored phone to her ear. With her free hand, the reflection in the window waved. As if she were waving good-bye to the paramedics or to the dead person or just waving farewell to her real self.


From Oscarpocalypse Now by Blush Gentry (p.1)

Don't call me a movie star. I'm not, not anymore. I'm a certified gemologist these days. If I'm offered roles, it's not for my acting acumen. The last parts I want to play are the sort of freak show cameos that Patty Hearst got duped into.

No, what really excites me is chromium diopside. My company has controlling interest over the largest deposit of chromium diopside in Siberia. More Emerald than Emeralds, that's our slogan. What we mean is chromium diopside is a deeper green than most emeralds. My entire line is showcased on the Blush Gentry Hollywood Crown Jewels Hour on GemStoneTV.

My son, his name is Lawton, he's eleven. My husband, he's still in the industry but not in front of the camera. He works in postproduction, post-postproduction, like deep postproduction. And he's a little bit of a workaholic. He tells me, "Blush, my work is my church."

And, no. We didn't know anything about any grisly killings, at least not at the time they were being committed.


Whatever magic Robb worked, it got Foster sprung. From the airport he drove Foster to a diner. They took a booth near a woman wearing oversized sunglasses who pushed a package across her table toward a man who pushed it back. Anonymous behind her dark lenses, the woman fiddled with her phone. She clicked a pen and jotted something into a notebook.

The waitress hadn't brought out their eggs before Robb covered his face with both hands and burst into tears. "It's Mai," he sobbed, his words muffled behind his fingers. "It's everything." Customers turned to stare.

His wife, Mai, had left him after their baby's awful death. Foster had heard the story often enough at the support group.

Robb opened his jacket to reveal a shoulder holster, a gun snugged flat against his ribs. He wiped his face with a paper napkin. His other hand fumbled a buckle and snaps until the holster came loose, and he placed it and the gun on the table between them. "I can't have it right now. I can't say what will happen if I walk out of here with this…" He pushed it toward Foster.

Foster slid the gun back. Heavy steel against laminated plastic, the sliding sounded big. Like static. Like something grinding in a room where everyone present had gone silent.

They were two men sitting in a diner. One man crying, a gun resting between them, people stared. The woman wearing sunglasses stared.

"Please," Robb begged. "Just for now, you take it."

After the airport, Foster owed the man a favor. So Foster took the gun.


Mitzi arrived at the diner. The booth near the back. The usual arrangement. A producer, Schlo, sat waiting. With two projects backlogged, it wasn't as if she needed the work. But Schlo was like family. Besides, this being Hollywood, who didn't want to play the hero? Mitzi slipped into the booth and asked, "You already tried Industrial Light and Magic?"

The guy didn't answer, not right away. That was Schlo all over. The speech pattern of someone who lived on his mobile phone. A man who left a wide margin around each statement to allow for the satellite delay. He said, "Industrial Light and Magic's not you."

Even in person, sitting across the table, Schlo was loud. Like he spent his life yelling at the hands-free phone in his car.

Big Schlo lifted a hand to stroke the stubble on his cheek, clearly watching his reflection in her sunglasses. They gave her away, sunglasses, indoors. "Hang one on, last night?" he asked. "Xanax bars." He leveled a thick finger at her. His wrist sparkled with a ruby cuff link. "I'm maybe going to send you over some."

That, that she wouldn't dignify with a response.

"If it's magnesium you're not getting, Brazil nuts are your answer." He cupped a hand next to his mouth and whispered, "You know, back in my day we used to call them 'African American Toes'?" He hissed wetly, snickering at his own joke.

Mitzi lifted her glasses to glower at him, but the fluorescent lights stabbed her eyes.

He reached a hairy, meaty hand across the table. "You take after your mother. Such a person of goodness she was." His fingertips stroked her cheek. "You're not your father, you aren't. A bigger prick I never met than your father."

She slapped the hand away. The headache drove down her neck, across her shoulders and onward down her spine.

She'd only suggested Industrial Light & Magic to make a point. She was baiting the guy. Only Mitzi was Mitzi. She dodged eye contact. Signaled a waitress. Said, "Call Jenkins, she's good."

After the pause, Schlo said, "Jenkins won't touch this one." Again, too loud.

Mitzi set her phone on the table. She uncoiled a pair of earbuds and plugged them into the phone, saying, "I want you should hear a new scream."

Big Schlo waved off the pitch. To him a scream was a scream.

People, Mitzi asked herself, what do they know? They think they know the sound of a bone breaking, when all they know is celery. Frozen celery wrapped in chamois and snapped in half. How they think a skull sounds when someone jumps off a skyscraper and slams headfirst on the sidewalk, that's just a double layer of soda crackers glued to a watermelon and smacked with a baseball bat.

Your average moviegoer thought all knives made the same noise going in. The poor innocents wouldn't know the true sound of arterial spray until it was their own head-on car accident.

Schlo lifted a thick express-mail packet from the seat next to him. Handed it across the table. A sticky shadow of glue showed where an address label had been peeled off.

Mitzi lifted the flap. Her thumb riffed the stack of bills on top. All hundreds. Stacks and stacks. The scene in question must really stink.

Something popped. Gum popped. A gum-chewing server had stepped to their table. An orange-stained Los Angelina she wasn't. Not yet another bimbo beat hard with the blonde stick.

The waitress looked at Schlo too long. Then looked away too fast. She'd pegged him. Her spine straightened. She pushed out her chest and raised her chin. Turned her head in both directions for no reason except perhaps to display each profile. She asked, "What can I get you guys?" No longer a waitress, now she was an actor playing a waitress. With a tiny gulp she swallowed her chewing gum.

She started into reciting the specials. Delivered each word like here was an audition.

Mitzi cut her off. "Just coffee." She added, "Please."

When the server was gone, Schlo tried a new strategy. Said, "I love your work." He said, "That picture in release last month, the one where the kid gets tripped at the top of the stairs and busts his noggin open on the stone floor…that was yours, right?"

A kid, some actor played a teenager stalked by a haunted doll. The doll was a computer model. The actor was almost middle-aged. What tumbled down the flight of stairs was a lifelike dummy with an articulated skeleton inside. What made all this make-believe garbage real was the sound. The smack of somebody's skull splitting open on a stone floor and the perfect squash of the brains inside. That sound was the money shot that sold the scene.

Mitzi said, "A head of lettuce, frozen, and dropped to land next to the mic."

Schlo shook his oversized noggin. "This town knows a head of lettuce when they hear one." Insiders knew plywood strips soaked in water to dissolve the glue, then dried in the sun and snapped in half to dub a shattered femur.

Mitzi shrugged. On her phone she cued up the audio file she was shopping around. Her latest scream, it was the future of motion pictures. Acting beyond acting.

It was a shitty double standard. Visually, pictures were better every year. With computer graphics. With digitally animated everything. But sound-wise, it was still two coconut shells for every shot showing a horse. It was somebody mashing a bag of cornmeal for every step an actor took in the snow. The delivery was better, with Dolby and Surround and layered tracks, but the raw craft was still the fucking Middle Ages.

Thunder was a sheet of metal. Bat wings were an umbrella opened and closed at the appropriate speed.

"What's your scene?" Mitzi asked. She'd find out soon enough from the clip, but there were basic questions she needed answered up front.

Schlo looked away. Looked out the big windows at a Porsche parked in the lot. He said, "Nothing special. A young lady gets herself stabbed."

Mitzi plucked a little spiral notebook from her handbag. She clicked a ballpoint. "The make of the knife?"

Schlo frowned. "You need that?"



    "This dark, humorous tale sparkles with the inventive details -- including a scream powerful enough to crumble buildings -- and provocative insights on the 'commodification of pain' and what it means to turn 'people's basic humanity into something that could be bought and sold.' The result is a wry, devilish delight."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Palahniuk expertly balances skewering of cultural institutions with profound insights into the nature of authenticity and the myriad ways we become damaged. The sheer abundance of creative ideas buoyed aloft by the vibrancy of the prose signal a master storyteller energized by delight in his own ingenuity...After his foray into literary advice, Consider This (2020), Palahniuk's heralded return to fiction will galvanize his many avid readers."—Booklist

    "Chuck Palahniuk's stories don't unfold. They hurtle headlong, changing lanes in threes and banging off the guard rails of modern fiction... With his love of contemporary fairytales that are gritty and dirty rather than pretty, Palahniuk is the likeliest inheritor of Vonnegut's place in American writing."—San Francisco Chronicle
  • "One of the most feverish imaginations in American letters."—The Washington Post
  • "Like Edgar Allan Poe, Palahniuk is a bracingly toxic purveyor of dread and mounting horror. He makes nihilism fun."—Vanity Fair
  • "Dark riffing on modernity is the reason people read Palahniuk. His books are not so much novels as jagged fables, cautionary tales about the creeping peril represented by almost everything."—Time

On Sale
Sep 7, 2021
Page Count
240 pages

Black and white headshot of Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk

About the Author

Chuck Palahniuk has been a nationally bestselling author since his first novel, 1996’s Fight Club, was made into the acclaimed David Fincher film of the same name. Palahniuk’s work has sold millions of copies worldwide. He lives outside Portland, Oregon.

Learn more about this author