The man who could hear again

For this week, I decided to try doing another writing prompt, titled:

20 years ago, a mysterious illness caused everyone to go deaf, and life has been altered to accommodate it since. You just found the cure, and decide to use it on yourself. As your hearing returns, you instantly regret making that decision.”

The man who could hear again

The silencing had already occurred 20 years ago. I was a teenager when it happened, and I can faintly remember the last sound I ever heard. I was at the park at night with an orchestra of cicadas providing a pleasant white noise against the backdrop of cars thundering by on the nearby highway. I was yelling for our dog to come back to me, when suddenly, I couldn’t hear me yelling for our dog anymore. It was a frightening change, and I quickly stopped yelling and simply tried snapping my fingers by my ear to try and produce some sort of auditory response, but nothing worked and the silence persisted.

I ran home to find my parents, hoping they would be able to help me or take me to a hospital. As I ran home though, I spotted a few other people who also seemed to be in a similar state of distress. One man was furiously smacking the side of his head. Another younger woman had pulled over her car and was opening her mouth and closing it again, presumably yelling, but I couldn’t be sure.

As I got home, I burst through the door, desperately wanting to find relief with my parents. My father was in the living room watching TV, doing what I had just been doing before and snapping his fingers by his ears. It was his face that was ingrained into my memory. A defeated face of terror stared at me as he realized not only did his hearing abilities disappear, but so did his son’s, and the rest of the world’s.

The television had text blurbs explaining that everyone on the world had simultaneously lost their hearing. That was 20 years ago, and still nobody is sure why it happened. Like so many others though, I studied in hopes of finding a cure. I started studying biology until switching to neurology, convinced that the issue lay in the brain.

After graduating from University, I joined a research team (which have been heavily subsidized and a major outlet of public spending ever since the silencing), and studied potential cures. It was frustratingly difficult to research and test because no other animal seemed to be affected, so animal testing didn’t really work since they didn’t have the issue, and if we could easily replicate the issue, then we would have known what caused it and therefore, the cure. Most research was therefore actually hypothetical models in computer programs. If someone was sure enough that they had finally discovered a solution, they would ideally find a willing subject to try the potential cure, or in some cases, they would test their potential cure on themselves.

I had been tirelessly working on a solution with my team, and I had seen something that had eluded us before. It seemed that there were a few neurons in the brain that signaled in normal ape brains when hearing sounds, and I had found a missing link in the human brain in my model. By carrying out the complex simulation, it seemed to show that the ability to hear could be processed again.

“Look at this” I frantically signed to my colleagues, since everyone now understood sign language.

It was getting late, and we were all tired, but the other 3 humored me and came over to look at my simulation running on my computer. I ran the simulation, showing how changing certain neurons would result in similar brain activity as other similar animals with auditory stimuli. They watched wordlessly, dumbfounded by the implications. Stefanie even gasped as the simulation ended, although nobody heard her of course.

“This is incredible” one of my colleagues, Jim, signed. He was one of the brightest in our research group. While he was obviously excited to have potentially found a cure, it was painfully obvious that he was envious that I discovered this before he did. “We need to run this simulation with a few other variables” he further signed after a brief pause.

“Of course” I signed back. I showed them what neurons I had isolated, and what they should pay attention to.

After several hours of further testing, we reconvened with our findings. We were exhausted after staying so many hours later than normal, but we were too excited to stop and sleep as this discovery could change everything.

“I had the same results” signed Stefanie. “It seems that this is the closest we have come to a solution. What do we do now?” She looked between me Jim, not sure who to defer to.

“We test it” Jim simply signed as he looked at me. “But who will test it?” Human testers had become expensive since the willing ones had been tested on already, sometimes with collateral damage or even death, meaning that the few who were still willing and capable were increasingly rare, and they now started commanding high prices for the risks they would be taking. Our research grant didn’t have the budget anymore for this year, but we needed to test it, and I was convinced that I had found the cure.

I pointed out my chest with my index finger and then moved my right open palm by my head, pointing forward with my fingertips. “I will.”

“Are you sure?” signed Stefanie, as she furrowed her brows in an overly-concerned expression.

Jim almost seemed smug, as if he hoped it wouldn’t work, but he kept himself professional enough. “Are you sure?” he simply question.

I nodded my head, and told them that we would meet in 2 days at the neuro-lab to see if I was correct.

Two days later, and I was laying in the hospital bed, slowly losing consciousness as I was put under before the operation. I wondered if I would be greeted by the same silence when I woke up, or if I would be able to hear after all. Or if I would still be mentally capable after waking up, or if I would even wake up at all.

I did wake up sometime later to a bright hospital room whose light pierced my cloudy eyes and whose thunderous sound pounded on my ears. Sound?! I could hear! I sat up rapidly, only to have the presiding doctor slowly push me back down by my chest so I remained lying down. My eyes were still cloudy, but it was luckily just an after-effect of being anesthetized. I rubbed my eyes, and my vision returned to me, and the gale of sound continued to assail my eyes.

“I can hear!” I excitedly signed to the few people surrounding my bed. They smiled and nodded congratulations to each other, but their proud and joyousness turned to confusion when I slowly clapped my hands over my ears, trying to dampen the noise. It was so loud, so much hammered into my ears, the sheer volume made my head split.

“What is it?” one of the doctors worryingly signed to me.

“It’s… just…” I started to sign, but quickly returned my hand to my ear to shield it from the omnipresent drone. “…too… loud…” I finished signing.

Ever since the silencing, production of all products, from consumer to industrial, didn’t pay heed to how loud the end products were. Audio pollution was no longer something that concerned humans, so they didn’t bother ensuring they made quiet cars or medical equipment or factories anymore, and it turned out that everything managed to get quite loud over the past 2 decades. So loud that it became deafening, which was ironically what we had been trying to fix. It was terrible, everywhere the loud drone of medical equipment, loud vehicles, grinding gears, and all sorts of other sounds made a wall of sound waves that was neither pleasant nor desirable to hear.

Tears ran down my face. Tears of joy at discovering a cure. Tears of the realization that we had worked so hard to hear the worst sound in the world since a Justin Bieber concert. It was no wonder that the numbers of most wild animals like birds and even rats had drastically decreased in areas near humans and their loud devices.

It proved to be hard to lobby for companies to make products quiet again when the general public couldn’t hear anyways, and neither could their development teams. Many would get cured, only to have similar issues with the noise that I experienced. Some people killed themselves over the unbearable noise. Others, including me, moved into more rural settings where there were fewer humans and less noise. It was quieter there, although modern houses still had a loud and persistent drone to them. I discovered music again though, and I would regularly walk through the forests and fields, listening to birds singing their songs for me as I strolled away from the literal drone of humanity.

The large majority of humanity decided to remain deaf and live in modern society, whereas all who did cure themselves had to move out of the overbearingly loud cities. Society itself changed as well. The two-decade old goal of restoring hearing was accomplished, and all the public funding that spent on that needed to be diverted elsewhere. An entire generations of scientists had to find other areas to work, and there was less solidarity in the world now that humanity itself didn’t have one common goal anymore.

I generally tried to just stay away from most of humanity though, living in peace away from the thunderous noise that humans had created and instead tried to gain comfort from the birds’ songs.

Posted on July 29, 2016, in Short stories. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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