Tinnitus, by Lorna Wood
Tredz knew it was tinnitus, caused by years of listening to loud music and performing with his band, the Pod Rats—but that didn’t make the sounds any less maddening. As he got up and groped around his shipping container apartment for clothes, the sounds grew shriller. Every now and then they exploded in a sound like glass shivering to pieces in slow motion.
He did exercises on the bar bolted to his wall and rolled his neck around. By the time he was vaping with his coffee he had reduced the sound to a vague chirping. When he put earpieces in both ears and listened to last night’s set, it disappeared.
But when he got to the revolutionary “From Below,” his ears suddenly produced a high-pitched, dissonant tone of their own above the long synth bass note. Gradually the random bursts settled into a pattern of two beats, rest, five beats, rest, forming an eerie counter-rhythm to the ominous drumbeats at the heart of the number.
Tredz messaged in sick to work. Today was not for serving coffee and overpriced baked goods. Today was for composing music to raise the undesirables up from their shantytowns and roil his fellow pod rats out of their container tenements. Today, even more than other days, was for revolution.
As fast as he thought of a song, new sonorities filled his ears and flowed out via synth software. For “I’m Not Your Coffee Boy,” coffee-pouring sped up to form a crazy ostinato. For “Hopeless,” a dirge-like love song, a sound between chains and bells distorted the bass. For “You’ll Always Be (nothing but a pod rat),” an oppressive stomping gave way to the roar of a rocket engine. He worked without breaks, only pausing to listen to their suggestions or play them his idea—until he stopped, alarmed that he was thinking of his tinnitus as “they.”
He pulled up his screen. All over the world academics and cocktail pianists and Javanese gamelan groups were producing innovative music. Audiences were fired up. Those interviewed said they felt enthusiastic, motivated to engage with the world’s problems, after hearing the inspiring tunes. A White House concert by a well-known pop diva even inspired legislation funding housing for undesirables—though this had been shouted down. And a few artists claimed they received guidance from internal voices.
Tredz barely ate lunch. He wanted to write more songs, but the noises were getting louder and stronger, less like suggestions and more like a constant barrage. Sometimes it sounded like “Out, out, out.”
He pulled up his screen again. The news cycle had turned. Even over the jackhammers assaulting his skull, the pattern of madness and unexplained deaths was clear. A researcher showed how viral fragments, escaped from a government lab, fed on electrical impulses in the brain, multiplying until--
He shut it off, but it just morphed into his dad’s yelling face. “Think you’re special, son? Speaking truth to power? Bread and circuses. That’s all it’s ever about.”
Lorna Wood's horror flash has appeared on The NoSleep Podcast and in Canyons of the Damned and Schlock!, Every Writer, and Every Day Fiction, among others. Her flash, “The Splitting,” was a finalist in the Sharkpack Poetry Review’s Valus’ Sigil contest.
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