Nearly every night, I fall asleep to the sounds of drone music, ambient noise, a podcast, or an audiobook. I use the built-in speakers on a touchscreen tablet.
Tonight, it was the ‘Hardcore History’ podcast; specifically, a three-part series about the Punic Wars.
Because of the length, it can play for several hours after I’ve fallen sleep. I enjoy it because it’s like being wrapped in a magic blanket made of stories.
I got up at 4am. As I woke and ventured to the bathroom, I passively made note of a familiar episode playing.
The tablet has moved around a little, with the speakers partly muffled under a blanket. this reduces the bass, but keeps the higher-frequencies.
I live in an old house with bizarre acoustics; sonic reflections can ping-pong in ways that make the reflection appear to emerge from places distant to the generating audio source.
The physical properties of the house are such that plosives and sibilants (“p” and “s” sounds, and other related phonemes) reflect with a chorus-like effect.
My business in the bathroom concluded, I descended to the first floor, graduating myself to the familiar role of Person Eating Snacks When They Shouldn’t.
By then, I’d either forgotten whether or not audio was playing upstairs, or that bit of information was never stored in the first place.
My snack business concluded, I made my way back to the bedroom.
That return journey was entirely uneventful, with one exception – a two-second period which I’m now able to decompress and share – with context.
A macabre scherzo of plotting sibilants scurries by me under the floorboards, taking final refuge in every dark ceiling corner, tickling my ears and inciting dread with thousands of rude, sawtooth-wave tendrils.
For a moment, I consider the impossible – a question I suspect most adults quietly find themselves asking throughout their lives, given a similar situation.
Am I experiencing a supernatural event?
Are demons about to congeal from my wall and steal me down into the fiery depths of hell for eternity?
What if the multiverse theory is real, and I’m hearing trans-dimensional signal overflow from another reality? Can they hear us?
Or perhaps I’m telepathic and hearing the thoughts of my neighbors as they dream?
A mercilessly rapid array of these considerations flies through my mind in milliseconds. I’m now paralyzed with terror and wonder, ready to embrace this new discovery about the universe.
In my heart I know it’s aliens. They’re finally here for me. Maybe I’m ready. Maybe not. They could’ve picked me for a reason. I don’t care. NO – I won’t cry. I need this. No one needs me here. I will go. Make the sacrifice for our species. I will find a way to come back, to tell them all that we are not alone, there’s hope, there is life beyond our star system, and they’re not going to let us obliterate ourselves. But even if I die immediately from cardiac arrest, at least I’ll know. I’ll know the truth. Take me.
“Ah, right. The podcast. I’m an idiot”.