For such a turning point in my life, the night I acquired a certain item is cemented in my mind only because of how mundane it was. I didn’t chance upon a dusty tome buried amidst a pile of mouldering books in a university library, nor did I chance upon a madman with a basket of trinkets in a Bangladeshi backstreet. I was sat in my underwear, lit only by a dull blue glow from my computer monitor, browsing eBay for nothing in particular.
The music in my ears fluctuated again, the soulful notes of Toxic by Britney Spears being ebbed away, replaced by a strange, yet familiar concoction of static and oppressive silence. I rolled my eyes and removed my headphones, tapping them against my palm while muttering half-formed sentences expressing my disdain for ever purchasing them. After a few minutes of tapping refused to exorcise the demons in my earpieces, I began to browse for a replacement. I then, on that most unassuming of nights, stumbled upon a posting that would have irrevocable implications for me.
“Wireless Headphones. Unwanted present, only used once. Bought as a gift for my nephew. Only used once, given back to me “because of the talking in them.” Guaranteed good condition, no point letting them go to waste because of an overactive imagination”.
The auction seemed like an amazing deal, only an hour or so left, a fraction of the retail price, paid delivery. I placed a bid and took myself to bed, trusting the late hour to protect me from having my new trinket stolen from me. As it happened, I was right and they arrived a few days later.
That was when things began to happen. As I connected them to my pc, I could feel a strange heaviness to the air, like the charge in the air before a thunderstorm. I dismissed it easily enough; I thought it was simply a symptom of the muggy summer air.
An hour or so later, permitting the things to accrue a decent amount of charge, I placed them on my head, and flicked the power switch. I was surprised to find, however, that there was no background static. There was a deep silence. Childish as the notion seemed at the time, it felt just like the silence of a tomb. There was also the hint of another sound, the raspy hiss of a whisper on the edge of hearing. I cast it from my mind and tested the sound quality by playing a classical piece, the finale to Swan Lake. To my eternal shame, I felt a flutter of relief as the beautiful notes of Tchaikovsky’s ballet cut through the silence. After a few minutes, however, I was pulled away from the reports I was busying myself with as I heard a familiar buzz of static in my ear, only now with a disturbing new sound mixed in.
Voices. Maybe hundreds, all talking at once in a hoarse, drawn out whisper. Some were too fast to comprehend, others too slow. Some were in different languages, some in long-dead tongues of syllables unpronounceable. I broke out in a sweat, eyes wide. I was the subject of these voices, the understandable ones at least. They spoke of my choice of music, the cut of my new clothes, the reports strewn across my desk. One voice cut through the throng however, a dirty sounding diseased rasp. It said only one thing, but it was enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck rise and my heart pound. It said, merely:
“It’s noticed us.”
I threw the headphones from my head and tore from the room. As I did, I heard a burst of oppressive, heavy noise burst from the headphones, a terrifying mix of an air-raid siren and the static screech of an unturned radio.
It was at this point I decided I needed to be out of the house. I bolted down the stairs, leaping the last few. As I fought with the tangle of keys that resided on the small table by my living room door, I heard another sound, or more accurately, a lack of it. An oppressive, murky silence had overtaken the whole house. Behind me, I heard a rising hum as the TV turned itself on, bathing the room in shifting shadows. From the static on the screen, the head and shoulders of a man resolved. With a sickening sound of papers and flesh tearing, an arm burst forth, implanting a shifting grey and white hand upon the ground with a curiously wet smack. Then the other came through with an equally sickening herald. The figure then began to flail itself forward and back, battering its head against the inside of the screen until it burst through with a sound akin to a coconut being hit by a truck. Thus freed, its upper half flopped pathetically onto the floor, pulling the remainder of its body through with a series of motions and sounds that made me sick to my stomach.
I felt my legs fail beneath me, slumping to the ground, my car keys pointed forward in a parody of a defensive stance. It came towards me, walking on its hands and feet until I could feel it next to my face, a horrid smelling mist, the odour of old books and rotting flesh lurching into my nostrils in a ragged wheeze. I tensed up, waiting to feel jaws on my throat, hands around my neck, anything, but none came. Through trembling lips, I managed to force a single question to the strange creature.
“W… Why are you here?” I stammered. I could feel it smiling.
“You heard us,” it said, in a voice full of malice and pain, “You listened to us, you’re our toy now,” it laughed, a hollow, empty sound. “Lucky you,” and then, I was alone. I felt the presence go, the oppressive sounds of static and dull silence stripped away, leaving the usual night sounds in its wake.
I don’t know how long I lay there, staring at nothing, before sleep overtook me. When I next awoke, I took the headphones and gave them to a charity shop. A symbolic gesture, for now those terrible spectres visit me nightly, that horrible shifting man their herald, getting their fun from seeing my human fear.
But that brings us to the real reason I’m telling this story. Be careful when you stare into a screen of static, or hear what a rational man would assume to be interference of your headphones, or even when you’re in complete silence. Be careful not to listen too closely, for strange and terrible things lurk in that maelstrom of black and white.
And once they find you, you will never, ever be free.