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Tinnitus: a nightmare of a disease affecting millions of people, myself included. How could I best describe this condition? An incessant, nail on a chalkboard screeching that goes on for every minute of every day.
Just imagine never experiencing the true bliss of utter silence.
Maybe it’s not too uncommon to hear a vague ringing, especially for people like me, who had grown up to become an obnoxious teenager with no regard for volume control. Understandably, my parents were not happy about my blasting loud music at all hours, but what kind of teenage rebel would I have been if I listened to my parents?
Ultimately, my punishment would be given years later when I started hearing a faint ringing. At first it was a rare occurrence, but at present day I can’t even fall asleep without the aid of a loud white noise-producing machine. Even then, my quality of rest is debatable at best.
During the early days I was willing to try anything to stop the God-forsaken noise: rainstorms while sleeping, earwax removal, even a small dose of anti-depressants.
You’d be amazed how many help groups you can find online, forums for anything; Veterans with PTSD, how to cope with losing a pet, or in my case, how to deal with tinnitus.
I’d looked over the top suggestions on several occasions. Most I had already tried while visiting my doctor, while the rest were mostly scams, better suited for multi level marketing campaigns.
I used to call myself an optimist, so naturally I would return to the forum every other week in hopes of finding a miracle cure. On one particular day I decided to scroll a bit further down and see the less popular suggestions. Among the obvious troll posts and scam cures I found a more click-baitey post that read:
“A weird trick to cure tinnitus.” Nothing more, nothing less.
I sighed and started reading, preparing myself to be disappointed yet again. Still, the instructions were simple enough.
Place your palms over your ears and direct your fingers to the back of your head.
Put your index fingers on top of your middle fingers and try to snap them, like a drum.
Repeat 50 – 100 times.
There were no comments below, as the post was relatively new. Worst case, I would look stupid sitting there by myself and drumming the back of my head.
So I tried it out, snapping my fingers and causing a little drumming sensation.
45… 46… 47… 48… 49… 50… That ought to do it.
I removed my palms from my ears and listened intently.
For the first time in years there was just the pure bliss of silence.
For minutes I just sat back in awe, not believing what I was hearing, or more accurately, not hearing. Had the trick actually worked?
I decided that, rather than enjoying my newfound silence, I would give my brain a well-deserved silent rest. And that’s exactly what I did. I slept like a baby that night, until around two in the morning. I tend to wake up randomly during the night, so it caused little concern.
To my disappointment, but not surprise, the screeching had returned. At best, I had half-expected the solution to be a temporary one. I simply performed the witchcraft-like trick again, and once more the ringing was gone without a trace.
With a sigh of relief I settled back into bed. The sound that had haunted me for so long had been easily defeated by a helpful anonymous person online, and I was content.
Only then did I realize that I wasn’t enveloped in complete silence. Rather, there was something else cowering in the dark, only making its presence known by a soft thump. Could it be my own heartbeat? After all these years, would I now be haunted by a new sound?
I held three fingers on my neck and felt a pulse. It didn’t match the sound in the darkness.
Although I tried, placing the sound proved to be a challenge. With each passing thump I tried to pinpoint its origin a bit more precisely. I went so far as to open every cupboard in my apartment, checked in the hallways, and lastly, placed my ear against the wall.
No sooner did my ear touch the wall before the sound stopped. My heart raced alongside my logical mind. There had to be a simple explanation. Maybe it was been a busted pipe, or one of my neighbors being a prick late at night. No matter the cause, it was time for bed.
In the morning the ringing returned. I figured I could put the noise at bay by performing the trick every six hours. It quickly became a routine of mine to stupidly tap my head when no one was looking, and it worked.
Everything was great, apart from my nightly routine of waking up around two and hearing the same thumping, softly keeping me company in the darkness. Most nights I simply ignored it, but other nights curiosity got the better of me, and I pursued the sound.
Each night I once again failed to locate the sound. I simply couldn’t place it, and I couldn’t be bothered to stay up long enough to figure out when it started and when it ended. I tried to talk my neighbors into investigation, but they scoffed at the idea of waking at such late hours.
Rats were another possibility, but after a quick visit by pest control they assured me there were no rodents living within the walls. In fact, after looking at the building plans, they insisted that it would be impossible for rats to live inside these walls.
As a last resort I decided I would record myself sleeping. I’d heard there were a bunch of apps that only record you if there’s a noise, so I figured it would be ideal for the situation.
I downloaded a free app and went to bed. Just like every night before, I woke up around 2 AM, but decided I would ignore the sound and let my phone do it’s work. I had some ear plugs that came in handy, and without further troubles I fell asleep.
After waking up the following morning, I brewed myself a much-needed cup of coffee and sat down, figuring I could run the recording through audio-editing software to look at the amplitude of the sound waves rather than listening through it all.
The thumps started around midnight, and kept going for several hours. Aside from that, I mostly found sounds of myself shifting around in bed.
However, at 3:30 AM there was a short pause consisting of complete silence, as if every sound had been erased from existence. It was not more than a minute before the sound returned, but it was no longer a soft thumping. It sounded more like whispering, just incomprehensible voices talking to no one in particular, raspy and tired.
I couldn’t make out what was said on the recording; my phone wasn’t exactly a technological wonder. In fact, I had no interest in finding out. If anything, I would have preferred to leave the apartment and forget about the whole thing, but being a poor student without any nearby family I had no other option than to stay put. Besides, I still thought there might be a logical explanation.
After some hesitation I came to the ridiculous conclusion that if I could hear the actual whispering, I could probably locate the culprits. So when night came, I went to bed, fully expecting to be awoken at the usual time, and from then I would search for the source of the noise.
2 AM rolled around and I was awoken by the familiar, eerie thumping. Where it had once been a welcome, intriguing part of my nightly routine, it had now become a dreaded enemy. It was relentless, not stopping for a single second, and as before, I had trouble identifying the exact location it was emanating from. Like an auditory illusion, it seemed to echo throughout the room, coming from everywhere and nowhere all at once.
At precisely 3:31, the sound abruptly came to a halt. I held my breath in anticipation, waiting for the mysterious voice to start talking.
As expected, the whispers began. Unlike the thumps, however, I could immediately discern their origin. They came from the wall directly behind my bed. I knew there couldn’t possibly exist anything behind the wall. No apartment nor crawlspace, just a concrete barrier separating my room from the outdoors. I crawled onto my bed with caution, as if approaching a wild animal, and carefully pressed my ear to the wall.
The whispers started to become more focused, morphing into a single understandable phrase.
“We know you can finally hear us.” It sounded like several broken voices merged into a singular entity.
I jolted back on my bed, where I remained frozen in fear.
“Thank you for letting us in,” the voices continued before falling silent.
I began to feel faint, and it took me a while to realize I hadn’t been breathing for quite some time. I forced a gasp, bringing air into my lungs, and tried desperately to calm down.
While trying to come up with a plan the thumping returned, only this time I heard exactly where it came from. The soft steps turned into loud tearing along the inside of the wall.
It moved with each step, working its way towards the hallway outside my bedroom. I could vaguely make out a shadow beneath the door as it moved past it.
I always keep my bedroom door locked, a habit formed during my time spent living with intruding family members, but I knew that wouldn’t stop whatever abomination I had let lose simply by acknowledging its presence.
The creature started knocking on the door, a playful thump with each knock, one I had become accustomed to over the past few weeks. It spoke to me with its now familiar, broken voice.
“It’s too late to lock us out now,” they said.
“W-what do you want?” I stuttered back. “W-w-what are you?”
“We are the Acolytes. We just wanted to be heard. We’ve waited so long.”
It struck the door, and small cracks appeared around the hinges.
“We have always been here,” the voices cried in unison. “Why are you afraid?”
Another violent punch, and the upper hinge broke off the doorframe.
I would have called the police, or anyone for that matter, but had inconveniently left my phone in my jacket pocket. So I threw on whatever clothes I had lying on the floor and clambered out the window, and down the fire escape. I wasn’t taking any chances with whatever was on the opposite side of my door.
As I made my descent, I heard my bedroom door splinter.
“Where are you?” the things yelled. “We have come for you!”
I never looked back.
After my escape, I made my way to a nearby gas station and used their phone to dial the police. I told them, without going into specifics, that there had been an intruder in my apartment, and explained how I had fled down the fire escape. When they checked the apartment, however, there was no one to be found. The door to my bedroom was shattered, but there were no other signs of forced entry, and no indication that anything else had been damaged or stolen. To make matters worse, my apartment’s overall state of disrepair made it difficult for the police to accept my story at face-value.
They had to break down the front door to get in, and I knew my landlord would be pissed, but I didn’t care about that. After a very brief investigation, which involved checking the security camera footage to confirm that no one could possibly have entered my apartment, I was let off with a warning not to prank call the police again. Another cop offered me the number for a local psychiatric facility.
While the police were there I grabbed a bag and filled it with the bare essentials. I left that night to return home to my parents, intending to spend the rest of the night at the train station.
I’m never returning to that place. I’ve called my landlord and explained that they can keep my deposit, along with whatever stuff I left behind.
A few days passed after I left the apartment behind. Before long, my tinnitus returned, louder than ever… and at first, I couldn’t have been happier about it. By allowing myself to hear the entities, I had inadvertently let them in. I accepted my condition as a bittersweet blessing, as it hid the things that go thump in the night. And if I couldn’t hear them, they couldn’t find me either.
Unfortunately, my relief proved to be short-lived.
As it turned out, the ringing was no longer enough to silence the voices.
Last night, I woke up to a strange sound at 3:31 AM.
“We found you.”