Friday, 11 January 2013

The Hum - A Short Story

This story was written in about a day over Christmas after two things happened:

1) The internet was down for a month for no good reason
2) My DVD player started making weird noises

I since went back and tidied it up a bit. Enjoy!


The Hum


Good morning, Doctor.

Yes, I am feeling much better. How are you?

Good. What would you like to talk about today?


If you insist. 

The problem began, I suppose, when my motorbike hit the side of an articulated lorry. At least, that’s what they told me happened afterwards. I don’t remember, of course. I broke three ribs, both my legs, collapsed a lung and badly fractured my skull. They told me I was lucky. So did Mary. 

No, she doesn't visit any more.

I was in hospital for a few weeks before they discharged me, claiming me to be largely recovered. I was still in a wheelchair, of course, but they assured me the metal plate in my head had solved the most pressing threat to my continued wellbeing.  I was to have a nurse visit me twice a week to get me walking again, and a doctor’s visit every month to make sure I didn't present any, how shall I put it, neurological oddities.  

Of course, you already know all this. I am merely providing context. Narrative, if you will. It makes the whole thing seem tidier, don’t you think?

It didn't start until about a month later. On the day I came home, Mary had gone out and bought me several DVD box-sets of TV shows she knew I liked. It was while I was watching one of these - honestly I don’t remember what. To a man with my condition, television seems like such an abstract now. Anyway, I first noticed it beneath the dialogue. It seemed to be present in moments of quiet, in between what the actors on screen were saying. A low, vibrating hum. 


Naturally, I assumed there was something wrong with the cables at the back. When Mary got home, I asked her to check them for me. There didn't seem to be a problem at all, so when she went out next, she bought a replacement cable for the link between the DVD player and the television. 

It was still there the next day.

The television set and player were both fairly new – less than a year old. I thought it might just be me, so I did my best to ignore it from then on. It got worse, however, and by the end of the week, I could barely hear what was being said above the drone. Eventually Mary (to whom television is mostly a noisy distraction anway) sat down to watch something with me. After a few minutes, she declared she couldn’t hear anything at all. By this point the noise was starting to give me the headaches you have undoubtedly read about in my file.  I responded rather sharply that she must be deaf. 

The next day, both the TV and the DVD player were unplugged and put into the garage. It had become a point of contention for her and more than a niggling problem for me. It was probably the right thing to do, because unbeknownst to her, I had even begun to hear the hum when the television was switched off.

The neurologist didn’t help at all. He said that the plate in my head was settling in and that there was bound to be a few odd occurrences here and there. If I waited a couple of months, I would probably be able to watch it again. 

I asked him about people picking up radio signals on their fillings. He said that that was an urban myth.


A few days later, when I was more mobile, I wheeled myself into the kitchen to get a drink. There it was again. Below the slow natural hum of the refrigerator was a sharper buzzing. My hum.  I couldn't believe it. I wheeled back into the lounge.

I think that was the first time I really panicked. The first thought that crossed my mind was if I was unable to go into the kitchen, I was unable to feed myself during the day when Mary was at work.  The second, far more terrifying thought was that the Hum was spreading to other appliances.  What if it spread to every electrical device? What if it didn't stop? Many people talk of going back to nature or a simpler, more agrarian lifestyle. That was one thing. To be bodily forced into the 19th Century against my will was quite another.

Mary was very understanding when she came in. Her soothing tone and use of phrases like “crossing that bridge when we come to it” lulled me into a sense that perhaps everything would resolve itself. This sense was only surface deep, however, and beneath that black thoughts still danced.

The Hum got worse. Soon I was afflicted with it wherever I was in the house. By this time I had started walking again, thanks to my nurse, but the digital blood pressure machine she insisted on using sparked inside my head. 
Phones were now useless to me. All entertainment that was anything other than a book or a pen and paper was also now out. I couldn't even visit museums, once a simple pleasure, as a car ride was torture and the automated security systems clawed at my retinas. I was an outcast.


In the end, Mary and I had to make that literally true. Mary found a cottage out in the depths of Wales that was perfect for this. It wasn’t hooked up to the mains; it had a gas-burning stove and an open fire. At the other end of the garden was a small shed, which Mary hooked up to a phone line and generator. She’d organised it to work out of there from now on, so she could keep her job and I wouldn’t be disturbed.  For the first time in nearly a year, I could relax. 

There is little else to tell. One week, while Mary was at a set of important meetings in London, she hired a housekeeper to come in on the Wednesday to give the house a once over. 

I don’t remember her name.

I had been reading steadily through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when The Hum hit me full force as it had never done before. It burned, it rasped, it gripped my spinal column like a vice. I was tormented, almost writhing in agony. Ah! It was all I could do to stand and reach for the poker by the fire.

I still don’t understand the screams of the woman, or Mary’s when she came in. 

Don’t you see, doctor?

I had to stop that damned woman’s pacemaker somehow.


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