My name is Fredrick Hall, but you can call me Fred. I am fourteen years old, and am a freshman at Lincoln Way East High School. It was early evening, probably around 8 o’clock. The sun was already setting, sending shafts of bright red light streaming through my window. I sat in my bedroom, tapping away at my keyboard. I was messaging my good friend Logan over Facebook.
My mother entered the room, and tapped me on the shoulder. I jumped a little at this. I hadn’t heard her coming up the stairs, or opening the door. That was my biggest problem in life. Ever since I was young, I’ve been deaf. The doctors say that it’s because of a failure with the nerves in my ears, and that the sounds can’t reach my brain. It’s never really been a problem for me. My family and I have all learned sign language, and I do know how to speak. I don’t like talking though. Some people have said my voice sounds funny.
“You have a visitor.” My mom signed to me. I thought that was strange. None of the kids from school ever came over. I don’t think any of them even knew where I lived.
“Who is it?” I replied, sending a quick message to Logan that I would be right back.
“Come downstairs and find out.”
Reluctantly, I rose from my computer seat and headed downstairs. There, standing in the living room, was a rather elderly man, looking to be about 70 years of age. His ebony skin was wrinkled and worn, and he was clad in a tweed business suit, with a brown bowler hat perched upon his balding head. In his feeble hands he clutched a cane, which seemed to tremble and shake in perfect rhythm with his fingers. What I found most interesting about him however, was the fact that he was wearing sunglasses indoors. His eyes were concealed behind two black glass lenses, which reflected my image in them as I stared at this strange man.
My mother tapped him on the shoulder, and with a bit of difficulty, the old man raised his hand, using the cane to steady his body as he began to sign something to me. His mouth seemed to grimace as he signed, very slowly and deliberately. His words were difficult to make out, perhaps because of arthritis pain, but I was sure he had signed, “Hello. My name is Doctor Kyle Haslett. Are you Fredrick?”
Hesitantly, I signed back that I was. He didn’t respond. He simply continued to stare off into space, as if I wasn’t there at all. He signed again, very deliberate, yet still very sloppy.
“Fredrick, are you there?”
My mother pointed to her mouth. She wanted me to speak.
I wasn’t one to argue with my mother, so I replied to the old man with my voice. I was suddenly glad to be deaf, as I knew I would hate my voice. The man turned, and stared in my general direction now. He signed again.
“I’m sorry. I’m blind, and could not see your signs. I should have said something.”
I saw my mother speak something to Dr. Haslett, then sign to me, “Mr. Haslett has something to ask you.”
It was then that the doctor signed to me the six words that would change my life.
“Fredrick, would you like to hear?”
I froze. For almost a full minute, I simply stood there in shock. This was a dream come true. To be able to hear music, to listen to my teachers speak rather than read their notes, to hear my own voice for the first time, and maybe change it? This simply sounded too good to be true.
“I thought that nerve deafness couldn’t be cured?” I said, staring at my reflection in the doctor’s glasses.
Dr. Haslett then launched into an explanation of the process. Most of it was over my head, but the basic idea was that if the nerve was severed, as mine had been, then the electrical signal that the sound had been converted into was not reaching the brain. However, if this gap could be bridged with a material that could conduct electricity, and was tiny enough to be attached to the nerve, such as a carbon nanotube, then the electrical signals could flow freely, allowing the deaf to hear. To me it sounded like a miracle. I looked at my mother. She looked hopeful. I could tell she wanted me to go through with the operation.
I said that I would do it. Doctor Haslett then began to speak with my mother. Although I couldn’t hear, I could tell they were talking about finances. How to pay for the surgery and whatnot. I didn’t pay much attention to them. I was far too excited that I was going to be able to hear! I would finally be normal, just like all the other kids.
Three weeks later, I lay in an operating room at Christ Advocate Medical Center. The room was a flurry of activity, as surgical instruments were being brought in, doctors and nurses were rushing in and out, and every surface was receiving a last minute decontamination. Dr. Haslett, now clad in drab, sea foam green medical attire, stood beside my bed, both hands still clutched tightly to his cane. He had explained to me beforehand that while he would not be performing my surgery personally, he would be observing and overseeing the process, with the head surgeon Nathan Ingham giving him a detailed play by play of the operation.
After exchanging a last minute “I love you” with my mom, who was watching the operation through a Plexiglas window, one of the nurses gently lowered an oxygen mask over my face. I began to breathe in a strange smelling gas, and before I knew anything, the world went black.
After several hours, I opened my eyes again. I only knew it had been hours because I had looked at the clock on the wall, and read that it was now 9:30 in the evening. I had been out for nearly four hours, yet it felt as though I had only blinked my eyes. The room was silent. For a moment, I thought the surgery had been a failure.
Then, I heard a noise.
I followed the sound with my eyes, and found it was coming from a heart rate monitor beside my bed.
“Beep.” The machine merrily chirped once more. I nearly leapt from the bed with joy. I could hear! One of the nurses asked me how I felt. She didn’t use sign language, but simply spoke it to me.
“I… I feel incredible!” I exclaimed, and the entire room seemed to erupt in a blast of claps, cheers, whistles, and shouts. My ears drank in this noise, savoring it as though it were a fine wine. For the first time, I could hear! I wanted to just sit there and listen forever.
As I laid back and simply enjoyed the miracle, I caught a glimpse of Doctor Haslett. He wasn’t cheering like the rest of the hospital staff. He sat stock still, his hands clasped and resting on his chin. He gave a nod, as if to acknowledge his experiments success, then rose to his feet. Calmly and deliberately, he walked out of the room, prodding the floor ahead of him with his cane. Strangely enough, I could hear the sound of his cane over the entire room full of excited surgeons.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The sound seemed to reverberate from every wall and echo in my brain. I shook my head, and the sounds returned to normal. Then I heard something else. I heard music. One of the doctors had brought in a radio for me to listen to. Like an excitable little child, I began to fiddle with the knobs, delighted with my new ears.
Three years went by after my surgery, and I had completely readjusted to my life. I was doing well in school, had developed a small circle of friends, and had found myself finding a spot as a trombone player in the school band. It turned out that I had a natural talent with the instrument, and Mrs. Frayers, the school band director, often referred to my surgery as the best thing that had happened to her class. Everything was going well for me, until the night of the school Christmas Concert.
I had become thoroughly engrossed in my trombone music as we ran through “Carol of the Bells” our last piece for the night. That was when I heard it.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
It sounded quiet, as if someone had turned on a metronome to keep our music in time. But this metronome was playing too slowly for Carol of the Bells. In fact, it wasn’t even a steady rhythm. It simply tapped at random, like an idle student rapping their nails against a desktop. The irregular beat of the tapping had begun to throw off my tempo as I played, causing me to hit a few sour notes. Realizing my mistake, as well as feeling the glares of my fellow students upon me, I stopped playing. The other brass players could cover for me.
Although I had stopped, the tapping persisted. I tried to hone in on it, and thus locate the source of the sound, but I found I could not. It seemed as though it was coming from everywhere, yet nowhere at the same time. It was the strangest thing I had ever experienced. I made an attempt to discreetly clean out my ears with my fingertips, and suddenly, the tapping ceased. I breathed a sigh of relief, and as I did so, the song came to an end.
I decided not to stick around and chat that night. As soon as the show ended, I exited the building, and began to head for home. I lived little over a mile from the school, so walking to and from it was no big deal. Within about fifteen minutes, I had already made it to my destination. I placed my hand on the brass doorknob…
Tap. Tap. Tap.
There it was again. I whirled around, and swore I had seen a black streak darting from the glow of the streetlight at the end of the sidewalk. The tip tapping noise continued, seeming to come from behind every house and every bush. Filled with a mixture of anger and curiosity, I began to briskly stride down my dimly lit street to that light. Upon reaching it however, I found nothing. I wasn’t sure what I expected to find anyways. My eyes were likely just playing tricks on me. After all, I had looked directly into the light, and was seeing spots when I thought I saw something move. I sighed, and shrugged it off as nothing.
I turned my back, and began the return trip to my house. The tapping noise instantly ceased.
Once I was home, I explained what had happened to my mother, and I could immediately tell she was worried. She grimaced, and mused that something must have gone awry with the surgery. She dialed the number that Doctor Haslett had left us with, but got no answer. She then called Christ Advocate Medical Center, and managed to get in touch with Nathan Ingham, who had been the head surgeon during my operation. The two of them talked for a moment, and scheduled an appointment for me first thing in the morning.
The next day, we drove to the hospital, where Dr. Ingham and a few others ran a battery of tests on me. They tested my hearing, and found nothing out of the ordinary. They asked me a bunch of questions about the noise I was hearing, and eventually came to the conclusion that I was suffering from tinnitus. Dr. Ingham prescribed me some vitamins, and warned me to avoid caffeine. That seemed reasonable, as I had been binging on coffee at the time and pulling several all-night study sessions to practice for my concert.
For a while, the treatment seemed to work. Then, about three weeks later, when I was playing some videogames with my friend Logan, I began to hear it again.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
It was louder this time, and I at first thought it might be the sound of a neighbor doing some carpentry work in their garage. Then, for a split second, I looked away from the TV screen, and saw something move outside the window. This time, I was sure I wasn’t seeing things. Something had been standing out there.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I excused myself for a moment, and briskly walked to the window and peered out. The yard was empty. Whatever had been out there was gone now. I was beginning to grow paranoid. I knew now that I was being watched. Something or someone had been outside that window, and they had likely been on the street with me as I walked home that night too.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I couldn’t just ignore this anymore. I left Logan’s house, and ran straight for home, the tapping ringing in my eardrums the whole way. It was less a tap now as it was a cacophonous banging, like a hand hammering against a wooden door. I covered my ears with my hands, desperate for some sort of escape from the pounding. Instantly, the sound stopped. I closed my eyes and savored the sweet relief of silence. The only sound I could hear now was the light whoosh of my breathing. When I removed my hands, there was still no tapping. I said a silent prayer of thanks and continued on my way home.
That night, I sat in my room, unable to sleep. My eyes were on the two windows at the opposite end of my room. I felt certain I was being watched. I kept expecting some face to appear in the window, but one never did. I needed to just take my mind off of the entire matter, so I rose from my bed, staggered over to my desk, and booted up my computer. Once my desktop appeared, I clicked on the little Google Chrome shortcut, and went online. I entertained myself checking up on some webcomics, chatting with some friends on Facebook, and watching a few videos on Youtube. Something however kept nagging at me.
I opened a new tab, and did a quick search for Dr. Kyle Haslett. Google asked if I meant to search for Dr. Kyle Haskett. I felt a pit growing in my stomach. There were a few results for Kyle Haslett though, so I clicked on the first. It was a link to a Wikipedia article about his work. The page loaded, and I saw it had been taken down. I went back to the results and clicked another, this time to the webpage of a medical journal hailing his research as “a miracle of modern medical science”. This one too had been deleted. Everywhere I checked, there was not a single scrap of evidence that this man existed. But if he wasn’t a doctor, then what was he?
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The noise was back, and bigger than ever. It was now so loud that I could feel sharp shocks of pain running through my body because of it. It felt as though a sledgehammer was being slammed repeatedly against my skull, with every blow echoing about in my head and rattling my brain. I covered my ears, gripping my hair as I pressed my palms harder and harder, trying to block out the sound. This time, there was no relief.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I felt like I was in a boxing match with an invisible opponent, one who continually assailed my head with blow after blow. I couldn’t take it anymore. I screamed. I cried. I wailed. Hot tears streamed down my face as the unrelenting torrent of tapping never ceased. My mother raced to my bedroom, and found me on the floor, hands on my ears, bawling like a baby. I could tell she had said something to me, but I couldn’t make it out over the tumultuous pounding in my ears.
Lifting me up into her arms, my mother carried me out of my room. As we exited, I saw a black figure standing behind my desk. I couldn’t make out what it was, but it did not look human. Its eyes were a bright white, like two silver moons looking back at me. It had a hunched form, and a rather oblong shaped head. Even in the dim light, I could tell it was staring at me. This time, it didn’t vanish from my sight. It only stared at me with those horrible luminous eyes. Suddenly, the tapping stopped. The creature backed away slowly, stepped out my window, and disappeared into the shadows.
I was rushed to the hospital, where a second array of tests awaited me. I complied with every test, but again the doctors could find nothing wrong. I told them everything I knew. I told them how the tapping was growing louder and louder. I told them about the creature that had been in my room just moments ago. Dr. Ingham decided I would need to spend the night, and that I would be seeing the hospital psychiatrist the next morning. My mother was sobbing. I knew they thought I was crazy, but I knew what I had seen. I couldn’t explain it, but I knew it was there.
That night, I lay in the hospital bed, again unable to sleep. I tossed and I turned, but nothing could bring me any rest. I had just turned on the TV to help calm my nerves, when I heard it again.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
The tapping was back, but it was at a quiet volume. I clutched the sheets of my bed, as the door to my room began to open with a creak. In the doorway was the same creature from my bedroom. The elongated head, the silvery eyes, the hunched back, it was all exactly as I had remembered it. The being strode into the room, and as my eyes adjusted, I could see its face for the first time.
There before me stood Dr. Kyle Haslett. The odd, oblong shape of his head was nothing more than his bowler hat. His back was hunched from age, and the luminous eyes were nothing more than the light reflecting from his sunglasses. He walked towards me, slowly, ploddingly. His pace seemed slow, yet deliberate. Every move was thought out. His cane poked the floor ahead of him as he strode.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Finally, he stood by the edge of my bed, and removed his glasses. For the first time, I saw his eyes. They were blue-grey, and appeared like cold steel. His entire eyeball seemed to be fogged up, like a mirror after a steamy shower. They didn’t look at me, but instead, stared blankly above me. Then I heard him speak.
“Do you want it to stop?” His voice sounded high pitched, and very nasal. It sounded the same way mine had when I was deaf. Still in shock, I replied with the only word I could.
Instantly, my head ached, as the tapping noise suddenly returned, now sounding incredibly fast. It was like having a jackhammer shoved into my ear. I could have sworn that I felt blood running from my ears. I began to cry again. Then, as suddenly as it started, it stopped again.
“That.” Dr. Haslett said, “Would you like the tapping to stop?”
“Can you do that?” I replied, my stomach churning in terror. I clenched the sheets of my bed so hard that my knuckles turned white.
“Would you like the tapping to stop?” The doctor repeated.
I nodded yes.
He patted the bed beside me, his hand moving closer and closer to my body with every tap. Finally his hand touched my forearm. Even through the hospital gown, I could feel that his flesh was ice cold. His hand worked its way up my body, all the way up to my shoulder. He slid his hand sideways, and touched my neck. With both hands, he reached down, and took hold of my throat. I tried to scream, I tried to yell, I tried to call out, but all that sounded from my mouth were some pitiful wheezes and coughs.
As Dr. Haslett strangled me, my vision began to go black. I struggled and kicked furiously, but it was a futile effort. His grip was like a vice, and my small fingers couldn’t pry his hands loose. Slowly my thrashing began to subside, my vision blacked out completely, and I lost consciousness.
After several hours, I opened my eyes again. The world was black. I blinked my eyes, but found that I could see nothing. I could feel something in my hands, something fleshy and limp. I released my grip on it immediately, and fumbled about until I felt the comforting woody texture of my cane. My hands trembled as I held it, and my back ached. I began to plod my way back the way I had come from, striking the floor with my cane as I walked.
Tap. Tap. Tap.