Deadphones (.pdf, right click and ‘save as’ to download)
by Seth M. Baker
The following document was a leaked memo received by the writer:
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Importance: URGENT 32:115:07
To: Document Analysis Attn: J. Thomas, QT ERF
W. Blake, QT ERF
M. Sorvina, QT ERF
L. Johnson, QT ERF
From: Field Lab 35C
Approved By: J. Toole
Sgt. H. Thompson
Case ID #: 735-TY-135983523 (pending)
Synopsis: During a recent recovery sweep, a FEMA crew discovered a decomposed body, identified as Gregory Mansfield, in zone 3B of sector H, parallel 34. Along with the body was a document of interest, a pair of headphones, and a large amount of dried rodent feces.
Enclosure(s): Transcription of the document of interest.
Details: Given the large number of lives lost after the incident, what FEMA found would normally not be considered important. However, Mansfield’s identification card claimed he was born in 1981, which would make him 22 years old at the time of writing. Initial field forensics showed that, at the time of death (which closely coincided with the time of the incident), his physical condition was approximately that of a 100 year old person.
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Nov. 2. 6:08AM
Last night, well after midnight, I lay in bed, wrapped in flannel sheets. My feet were cold, the movie was over, and I was ready to sleep. I put my headphones on, turned on Verdi’s Requiem, and began to relax. Then I heard what I thought was a static spike. I took the headphones off, twisted the wire, and put them back on. For the next few minutes, I didn’t notice anything. Then the spike came louder. Shortly after that, two came within one second. This continued to occur at varying intervals and increasing volume. Soon I began to feel the spikes shake the bed. The shake was subtle, but present. I took the headphones off and listened… nothing. I put the headphones back on. The sound returned, only this time I heard a pencil move on the bedside table. I took the headphones off. The pencil rolled off the table and onto the hardwood floor. I cocked my head, but heard nothing outside the usual nighttime sounds of suburban life. As a matter of curiosity, I sat up, turned the music off, and put the headphones back on. No sooner did I put the headphones on than did a violent rumble make me fall from the bed. I left the headphones on. The sound occurred again. Again it was earthshaking. Soon, hairline cracks began to form in the drywall. Plaster dust fell like February snow. Each rumble became more powerful. I took the headphones off, set them on the bed, and looked out the window. The normally dark street became well lit as people, noticing the rumblings, turned their outside lights on. A young man wearing jeans and no shirt stood in front of his house with a flashlight. I grabbed the headphones from the bed, walked back to the window, and, bracing for the rumble, put them back on. I watched the young man nearly fall when the earth shook. Fearing more damage, I took the headphones off, set them on the stereo, and walked to the television set, a thirteen inch I kept in the living room. I turned it on and watched news unfold of earthquakes occurring simultaneously around the globe. While no one ran screaming in the streets, one concerned science consultant said this was definitely a cause for concern.
Thinking myself in a dream, I walked to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I looked in the mirror. Staring back at me was a healthy, young, wrinkle-free face with bright blue eyes and thick, brown eyebrows. I put my hands under the running faucet, collected a handful of water, and splashed my face, shaking my head as cool drops of water fell onto my chest. I didn’t wake up.
Confused, I walked back to the bedroom and looked at my headphones. They were nothing special, just two half-mango size earphones with foam padding, a plastic bar connecting them, and a single cord running from the right side. I had owned the headphones for several years and used them regularly. Nothing like this had ever occurred. I looked at the stereo, with its red, green, or yellow lights that reflected off the bedroom window during so many nights before. Nothing was changed. Nothing was different.
I walked back to the television set. Of seven news channels, four had experts, consultants, or science advisors. All of them spoke of the quakes, as they were now called. A middle aged man wearing a green tweed suit, a bowtie, and ashtray glasses said no seismograph readings or plate movements were recorded. This was unexplainable. This was uncanny. This was live.
I unplugged the television set and carried it to my bedroom. I set it on the table by my bed. I replaced the alarm clock plug with the television plug. The television sprang to life. I walked to my bed, sat down facing the television, and put the headphones on. I waited. Soon a rumble shook the earth. Through his ashtray glasses, I saw the eyes of the middle age man widen as he felt the earth rumble under his feet. I took the headphones off and threw them to the floor. For the next seven hours, I watched the new analysts, consultants, and science advisors discuss the situation before I fell into a restless sleep.
The next morning, I woke to the glare of the television and slits of morning light coming from between the blinds hung over the window. I walked to the bathroom, turned the faucet on, and looked in the mirror. I looked back at me, only I had permanent outlines of the wrinkles I used to get only when I raised my eyebrows. I decided it must’ve been the lack of sleep. I threw the cool water onto my face and felt refreshed. I went to the kitchen, made a sandwich, and brought it back to the bedroom. Eating, I watched the morning news shows as they talked about last night’s mystery quakes. Only when I was fully rested and saw this on the morning news did I realize that nothing from last night was a dream.
I looked at the headphones; they seemed to be calling me. I looked at the screen, at the coffee buzzed anchors, and back at the headphones. I decided to give them new material, so I put the headphones on. Nothing happened. I waited for five minutes, staring at the screen. I turned the same music back on. Nothing happened. Only the Sanctus. I closed the blinds and went to work.
All day I thought about the previous night. I wondered if it all wasn’t just a coincidence. I had trouble completing basic tasks because I couldn’t help imagining myself as the great equalizer, the One who could destroy the world. That day, I left work feeling the same as when I arrived: confused.
That night, I walked in the park as I did so many times before. The wind made the dew-silvered grass shimmer in the moonlight. I smelled autumn and felt like winter. As I walked across the wooden bridge of Carry Creek, I noticed three red squirrels were standing at the end of the bridge, as if watching me. I continued walking, thinking to myself that I had never seen more than two squirrels together at a time. I came in my door, took off my boots, and prepared for bed.
The television was still in my bedroom, but I left it off. I sat on the edge of the bed, and, with some apprehension, turned on the music, and put my headphones on. Nothing happened, so I lay back in the bed, pulled the flannel sheets up to my chin, and closed my eyes. Soon I heard the first static spike. It occurred not in the Sanctus section but the Agnus Dei section of the Requiem. I took the headphones off, rose from the bed, and turned the television on. I put the headphones back on, lay back down, and waited. Another spike, this one louder than the last, then two, then the spikes began to become weak shudders. I watched an anchorwoman with red hair and a black cardigan give her co-anchor a look that was definitely not scripted. I unplugged the headphones from the stereo but continued to wear them.
The shudders became shakes. The anchorwoman said they were going to cut to a live feed from the main news bureau in New York. The middle-aged man in the green tweed jacket appeared in mid sentence. He said the same things as last night, only faster. I took the headphones off. The rumblings stopped. I stared at the cracked ceiling until I fell asleep.
First thing the next morning, I turned on the television. I checked the news channels, and all the morning shows analyzed the same thing: two nights of mystery quakes. I walked to the bathroom. When I looked in the mirror I realized that, in addition to my eyebrow wrinkles, I had crow’s feet around my eyes. I also looked more pale than usual. I splashed my face, showered, and went to work.
I found myself in worse shape than the day before. My mind kept wondering back to the subject of my headphones. I felt as if all my coworkers somehow knew; they watched me out of the corner of suspicious eyes. The small groups gathered around the coffee pot would quietly disperse if they saw me walking towards them. No one spoke to me, and I spoke to no one.
When I got home and walked in my front door, I noticed that a football size piece of plaster had fallen off the ceiling during the day. I kicked it aside, walked to the kitchen, and made dinner. I carried my dinner, pork loins with mango chutney and boiled new potatoes, to my bedroom. I ate in front of the television. News bureaus from around the world still talked about the same thing. My dinner seemed to taste better than it ever had, even though I ate the same thing almost every day.
I went for my nightly walk around the park. The summer dusk sky was streaked with orange, red, and purple. The clouds looked like I felt: spread thin. I listened to gravel crunch under my feet. The sound seemed to spread out and up in a semicircle. I walked across the wooden bride, over the creek, and again I saw the same squirrels watching me. As I neared the end of the bridge I looked again, and they were halfway across the bridge. I shook my head in disbelief and continued walking for another thirty or forty feet. I turned again and saw my followers stop abruptly. I began walking towards them. They watched me with dumb opal eyes before they scattered. I left the park feeling a little uneasy.
I walked in the door, took off my boots, and prepared for bed. In the bathroom, I could not believe what stared back at me from the mirror. My eyes were a dull blue. I looked twenty years older. Grey streaks had formed at my temples, the sides of my mouth drooped, and wrinkles framed nearly all of my expression lines. I touched my face in disbelief. I traced the new wrinkles, pulled at the grey hair, and made a fist. I pounded it onto the sink in frustration.
I knew then that the headphones were causing this. I went to the bedroom, picked them up, and threw them in the garbage can. This made me feel strangely liberated, and that night, I slept well.
The next morning, I felt like hell. I went to the bathroom and nearly fell forward when I looked in the mirror. The reflection I saw was a haggard man with dark grey hair, sagging ears, stooped shoulders, and bushy, brown eyebrows. My hand instinctively went to my face and felt for the changes. I knew then that this was no trick of the eye; the changes were real.
I walked to the payphone down the street, called my employer, and told them I saw sick. By the time I got back to my house, I felt exhausted. I lay on my bed, stretched out, and took a nap. When I awoke, the sky was dark, but I felt better. I put my boots and went to the park. As I approached the wooden bridge, I saw seven squirrels staring at me. I stopped just before the bridge and stared back. Motionless, they stood on their haunches. We stared at each other for what could have been an hour. I finally took a quick step toward them and they scattered. Satisfied, I went over the bridge. When I reached the other side, I looked over my shoulder and realized that the number of squirrels had increased to about twenty. I kept walking, and they kept following. Soon I stopped, picked up a handful of rocks, and threw the rocks at them. Again, they scattered. I walked the rest of the way home alone. That night, I fell into a black sleep.
The next morning I woke with a start. The left side of my body, from my face to my feet, tingled. I stood from the bed and nearly fell. I stretched my arms and legs, then went to the bathroom. As I feared, the face in the mirror looked older than last night. I held my trembling hands under the faucet and splashed my old face. The water still felt cool. I left the bathroom, returned to the bedroom, and turned on the television. It seemed normalcy had returned to the news channels. The man in the green tweed jacket was nowhere to be seen. Watching the news, I fell asleep.
When I woke, daylight had become night and I felt drained. I stood from the bed. My left side still tingled, and my hands shook more than before, but I was able to walk. I started to walk to the bathroom but stopped. I knew what I would see, and I didn’t want to see it. Instead, I put on my boots and went to the park. Again, the squirrels waited for me. This time I only smiled at them. Though there were twenty of them, they seemed harmless. I walked across the bridge and turned to see a furry brown river following me. I thought of the pied piper. The squirrels stayed about fifteen feet back, but, as we walked, their numbers seemed to increase. They followed me back to my house. I stepped onto the front door stoop, turned, and saw that they had stopped in the middle of my lawn. They all stood on their haunches and stared at me as I went inside.
I sat on a chair in the living room and felt more exhausted than I had at any other time in my life. I brought my hand to my face and felt loose, sagging skin. I lowered my head, closed my eyes, and realized I was going to die.
I rose from the chair and walked to the bathroom. I stood in front of the mirror and looked at the broken old man that I had become. I thought about my dead parents, the wife and children I would never have, the places I never visited, the friends I had lost, and realized that, expect for the squirrels in my front yard, I was alone.
I went to the garbage can and retrieved the headphones. They looked the same as they always had, only they felt heavier in my shaking hands. I set them on the green leather chair in the living room. I walked to the bedroom, unplugged the television set, and set it beside the headphones. I retrieved an extension cord and a long coaxial cable from the kitchen, and a notebook and pencil from the bedroom. Using all the strength I had left, I dragged the chair through my treeless back yard, twenty feet away from the house. In three trips, I carried the pencil and notebook, television, extension cord, coaxial cable, and headphones to the back yard. I set the television in front of the chair. I connected the extension cord and coaxial cable to the television, turned it on, and sat in the chair. The squirrels to the back yard and gathered around my chair. They stood on their haunches as before, their front paws dangling. I looked at them, then began to write the account you have just read.
A full moon shines down upon me. I am still in my back yard, sitting in the middle of a small sea of squirrels, my attention divided between the television set and this notebook. I think of all the time I’ve spent watching the television and its images of a broken world, corrupt leaders, smiling actors, and false promises of a life I will never have. Sitting in my lap are my headphones. With trembling, palsied hands, I pick them up and put them on my head. The padding is cool against my head, and the sound of crickets becomes muffled. Soon, I hear a small static spike, then another one, then two. After five minutes, I feel the earth shudder under my chair. I look at the anchorman, and see that his eyes are nervous. He puts a hands to his ear, nods, and tells the camera that we’re going to go to the main news bureau in New York. Before the camera cuts, the earth shudders again and I see his eyes get wide.
The man who wore the green tweed jacket is on the television set again, only this time he is wearing a white oxford shirt and sweating profusely. Another anchorman asks him if anyone has any answers. He tells them no. The earth shudders, and the anchorman tells the camera to stay calm. I see the lights in the neighborhood start to come on, one by one. Soon the shudder becomes a rumble, and I see the anchorman, eyes looking at the desk, nodding his head. He says we’re going to cut to a live feed from the White House. Next I see a worried man in a suit standing at a podium, which bears an official looking seal. Behind him are curtains. He tells the camera to stay calm. The earth rumbles, and I see his hands tighten around the podium.
I feel my breaths becoming shallower by the minute. My trembling hands make it difficult to continue writing. My body is beginning to fail me. Soon I will close my heavy eyes. I will die, and the world will be redeemed.
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