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The Halloween Project 2021 - Story 7: Hear Me Out

This story is based on a true, existing condition. Did you ever hear something in background noise? A voice? A melodic line? A..., well, ...anything? Don't listen too closely...





Sitting in the examining room, adorned with a johnnycoat, Malcolm Tunbridge, felt increasingly embarrassed and stupid. At 57, healthy as a horse, as he would always say, his wife insisted that he get a physical. All the blood tests were in, his doctor had listened and poked, stretched and palpated in every spot he could think of and some he’d rather not. But there was one thing. One thing that he resolved to ask. The door opened with a smooth swish.

“Well, Malcolm,” the doctor began, but was quickly interrupted.

“I’m as healthy as a horse,” Mal said flatly.

Dr. Jonas chuckled, “In fact, and that’s not a phrase I hear too much anymore, but yes, you are. Exactly that. Healthy as a horse. I already shared all the results so if you’re all set, you’re good to go.”

“There’s one thing I wanted to ask,” Malcolm offered, “It’s a little strange.”

Jonas pulled over a rolling stool and said, “Go for it.”

“How can I say this…it’s just a little embarrassing…”

“It’s O.K. E.D., right?” Jonas questioned.

“No, hell no, nothing like that,” Malcolm blurted, “I hear voices.”

Completely off guard, Jonas simply repeated, “Voices?”

“Yeah, but it gets a little crazier. I hear the voices in my chainsaw.”

Jonas echoing again, “In your chainsaw,”

“Only sometimes,” Malcolm replied.

“You’re still working, right? You own that…,”

“Malcolm’s Tree Service. ‘Trimming Done Right’. Yeah, that’s my company. My two sons work with me and a few other guys. It’s going well. Need any work done?”

Jonas laughed, “Actually, maybe. You have a card? But here’s the story. I’m an old stethoscope kind of a guy. It might be your hearing after all those years. I’m going to recommend an audiologist and you can go from there. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

The next day on the site of a 50 foot oak that needed to come down before it fell on a cute little cape home Malcolm heard it again. He didn’t do any climbing work anymore, his sons took care of that. Not even the bucket. But when pieces came to ground he took his mammoth Stihl 20 inch and carved that old growth into manageable pieces. And then the voices came. When the engine roared, despite his ear protection he heard words. Disturbing words.

“Watch out!”

“Mind the chain!”

“Careful now!”

“Pay attention!”

“WATCH OUT!”

He killed the saw, removed his protectors, faceguard and helmet. Wiping his brow with the handkerchief always close at hand, he looked at his Stihl, then turned, face up, to see his oldest son in the bucket, smartly trimming limb after limb. For weeks the phenomenon occurred over and over again.

The saw seemed to announce in strident tones.

“Be alert!”

“It’s coming!”

“Watch out!”

“Soon!”

Always the words of an excited, nearly hysterical voice. He started the chainsaw and asked both his sons to listen.

“Dad, you’re losing it,” they responded.

His wife, now part of the puzzle, pushed him. Audiologist turned to neurologist, then to psychiatrist. His sons said, “Bullshit, Dad. You’re just getting old.” Nothing definitive, hearing loss minor, brain waves intact, until Dr. Mallatin, the psychiatrist, sat him down.

“Mr. Tunbridge,” he began.

“Malcolm, please. Mr. Tunbridge was my dad.”

“It appears that you’re suffering from a condition known as audio pareidolia. Comes from a Greek word. Clearer if we just use the term audio hallucination. It’s not as rare as you might think.

“Para…,” Malcolm tried to repeat.

“…eidolia,” the doctor completed.

The doctor explained further. “The brain finds patterns in sounds and turns them in familiar, known qualities. A fan, the thrum of a motor or an engine, and in this case the loud noise of a chainsaw. Some people hear music. That rhythmic, clamorous noise becomes words in your case.

“But it only happens with the chainsaw, nothing else.”

“Well, it is a strange condition and we don’t know everything about it. But I guess that’s particular to your situation. Maybe because of all the years working the saw?” Mallatin surmised.

“They’re not just words, they’re warnings. Real warnings, like someone yelling ‘Look out’.” Malcolm explained.

The doctor hesitated a moment and then said, “Yes, that is very odd. There could be one other explanation but it doesn’t seem very likely to me.

“And that is?” Malcolm asked.

“That you’re suffering from psychosis. Or schizoaffective disorder.

That November, leafless trees stood starkly black, etched against a grey, clouded sky. Pines, maples and huge oaks, lined along a strand of a gated community. Malcolm’s company was hired to trim and, if needed, remove the offending trees.

Malcolm choked and started his Stihl. More vehement than ever, the chainsaw immediately barked:

“Watch out!”

“Stop!”

“STOP!!”

Something caused Malcolm to pause, the chainsaw slowing to a steady thrum. He looked up just in time to see a large gnarled limb, 40 feet from the ground, snap and swing violently to the opposite side of the expected drop. It careened into the Stihl of Malcolm’s son, which bucked and rocketed backward. The rapidly roaring blade caught his son mid-shoulder where the spine meets the blade. Never slowing. Carving through muscle and bone, tendons and organs.

His chainsaw barked into life. Malcolm looked down.

“Too late.” The chainsaw said.