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I noticed it almost immediately.
The phenomenon began one day while I was still an undergrad in college. My alarm went off, and I grudgingly let it ring for few seconds before ending it, yanking the covers off my body, and pulling myself out of bed. I had only gotten a few hours of sleep. My muscles were stiff as I shivered in the morning cold, and my footfalls were heavy as I made my way to the bathroom. That’s when my brain registered something odd.
It was the sound. The sound of my lumbering footsteps across the carpet of my second story apartment—the annoying whines of the aging floor I was so used to hearing every morning—it was off, by just a beat. As if there was a lag in the deliverance of the noise, short enough for me to almost dismiss it, and long enough so that I didn’t.
When I made it to the bathroom, I did my business and flushed the toilet. Again, the sound of rushing water came maybe half a second after the water in the bowl had started swirling. The same occurred with the sink faucet.
“Am I that tired?” I mumbled to myself through a mouthful of frothy toothpaste.
I suddenly lurched back.
“What the hell?” I thought, staring at the frightened, wide-eyed version of myself in mirror.
It happened to my voice. There was a haunting delay in it too, like listening to the sound of your echo come back to you after shouting off the top of a mountain, or like an eerie vocalization mimicking your words in the same exact voice. My words were late, and they didn’t feel like my own.
Quickly I rinsed my mouth and struggled to wash the worry from my face. Surely, it was just a case of morning jitters. I was just tired from the lack of sleep, and was registering everything late. Yeah, that seemed like the most reasonable explanation. I got dressed and ready as fast I could, trying my damned hardest to ignore the plethora of jarring noises that were occurring at just the wrong moments. Closing the closet. Zipping my backpack. Locking the door. All of them off, by just a beat, and I couldn’t fucking ignore it.
When I was outside heading to my car, I decided to measure how long the delay was. In one hand, I had my phone with the stopwatch application on screen, and in the other, my car remote. I pressed the button to unlock my car the same time I started the timer. I stopped it once I heard the sound of the beep beep of my vehicle, and saw that the noise was off by 0.53 seconds. I did the same thing when I shut my car doors, inserted the keys into the ignition, and listened for the engine roar.
The times averaged to 0.5 seconds.
I rolled down the windows as I sat in my car. I wondered about the other noises I usually ignored on a daily basis that I was paying attention to now. Were the birds chirping overhead singing late too? What about the man using a leaf blower on the sidewalk, or the car that just drove by? Are all the noises being delayed, or is just me?
I wracked my brain for answers, and came to the conclusion that this physically cannot be possible.
Then I wondered what would happen if I was isolated in an area completely devoid of sound and I made a noise. What, then, would I hear in that half a second before my own voice reaches my eardrums? Nothing, right? I should hear nothing.
“This is some, ‘If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?’ type of shit,” I thought to myself, and decided to test out my earlier thought. At that rate, I was okay with being late to lecture.
So I rolled up my car windows, and sat in silence inside my car.
“Hello,” I mouthed at nothing.
I faintly heard my voice under the alarming screech of rubber tires suddenly grating against pavement. I looked to the intersection beside the parking lot just in time to see a minivan, coming at full speed, connect with the side of a sedan.
I covered my mouth with my hands before I could let out a small, “Holy shit.” The impact had thrown the driver of the minivan out of his seat and through the windshield, where his mangled body laid strewn across the asphalt along with car debris and glass shards.
Drivers from the surrounding vehicles alongside witnessing pedestrians rushed to the wounded two. Half attended to the body of the man that was still limp on ground, while the other half frantically pried at the crumpled car door of the sedan. The other person was crushed underneath, and I couldn’t tell if he or she was still alive.
I turned my head in the direction of the ambulances and police cars that were approaching in the near distance. Half a second later, I noticed faces in my peripheral vision do the same, when the sirens flooded the air around us.
Dread coagulated in the middle of my throat, and I struggled to swallow it down. After that moment, confirmed by many others that followed, I realized it wasn’t my brain that was processing noise slower than other people. No, that simply wasn’t the case. For some reason, on some supernatural happenstance, the speed of sound had just become slower for me—a lag in its velocity by just a beat—and in those 0.5 seconds of delay, there was a new voice in my head. After the first time it spoke, it never left. Whispering things that shouldn’t have been known, telling me everything that was going to be heard.
I never adjusted to it.
It was a perverted rape of my consciousness that haunted me like a curse in the following years. I knew my sister had miscarried before the doctor announced it. I knew my brother-in-law had killed himself before we heard the gunshot. I knew my fiancé was inside another woman before she even moaned.
So when I was finally driven mad, mad enough to the point where scissors were pressed against the entrance of my ear and I was ready to drive the blades straight into my brain, the voice whispered something different. It wasn’t an announcement, nor a narration. It was a command.
The next thing I remembered was waking up in the hospital with bandages covering the entirety of my head. I remember looking up and seeing a nurse that was tending to my IV. I asked her what had happened, but I never heard my voice come out. She mouthed something at me.
“I can’t hear anything,” I tried to say, and she looked at me with wide brown eyes filled with pity. She saw the pen and paper that was placed on the tray beside me, and she wrote something down. I looked at the message, and was overcome with complete and utter joy.
I had succeeded. The dreadful voice, the disgusting curse, the intruder in my consciousness was no more. “I’m finally free,” I thought to myself, feeling warm, wet tears stream down my face. “I’ll never hear it again!”
The nurse stared at me with a frightened, confused expression as my body convulsed from uncontrollable laughter.
“Scream,” the voice spoke through her lips, just a beat before I drove the pen into her throat.