My ears have always been temperamental, and their fragile inner workings frighten me just a bit; I don't want to make myself deaf by messing with them too much. I hardly understand how they work. Something about sound waves bouncing off eardrums?
Anyway, I talk about ears because I hate airplanes. There are tiny holes in my eardrums and they don't always drain properly. As a result, my ears often hurt like hell when I descend the many thousands of feet to my destination. I never feel more relieved than when they finally pop and I can hear again. The sound of ears popping, to me, is like crinkling paper being dunked in a fish tank.
Right now I'm on my way to O'Hare, and the plane is slowly going down to the runway. I can tell because my sinuses are protesting and my ears hurt. I don't ever cry because I'm in pain but God damn this is the worst pain I can remember being in, except for the time I got hit by a bus when I was 12. Even then, adrenaline kept the pain in check for a time while the ambulance carried me away. I have no adrenaline right now. Just earaches.
The plane beeps as the buckle-your-seatbelt sign lights up. The noise hurts so badly. The flight attendant says we're about twenty minutes from landing, and it's the longest twenty minutes of my life. The insides of my ears, all those tiny little structures, are squeaking against each other like fresh Brussels sprouts.
Once I've disembarked I can't hear out of either ear.
"Thnkyu, wlcm t Chcago," the flight attendant says as I leave. She had a nice voice at the beginning of the flight but now it's just muffled.
Next to the baggage claim, my left ear pops. Glorious, I think to myself, rattling the side of my head with my palm to loosen the tiny structures in my other ear. I pinch my nose and swallow. My left ear pops again. Fantastic. The noise of the baggage claim is sharp, not in a knife way but in a cheddar cheese way. I shake my head again. Come on, right ear. You can make it.
Long after my fellow passengers have cleared away from the area, and my suitcase is the only one slowly revolving around the conveyor belt, my right ear doesn't so much pop as explode. I nearly topple off the bench in surprise.
All the sounds are ridiculously clear. I don't think I've ever heard this well in my life. I collect my suitcase and equalize my left ear again. Damn, this is amazing. I never noticed how dull my hearing was before.
I approach the duty-free shop to buy a bottle of juice. The man at the very front of the shop is browsing the wines.
"Long trip?" I say to him idly.
"Yeah, really," he replies. "Hopefully a bit of this and a bit of that'll help me unwind, ah?"
I start going off to the corner where the display fridge is, but stop when I hear the man whisper.
"Just take them."
"What?" I say, turning around.
"Hm?" the man says. He looks at me with a puzzled expression.
"I'm…sorry, did you say something?"
"No, I didn't."
I nod. Wonderful. I'm so sleep-deprived I'm starting to hear things.
"Chardonnay. That's good. Just take one of them. They're tiny, nobody will notice."
His mouth wasn't moving. It wasn't even open, and the voice was coming from behind his head.
"Stop that," I say to the mostly empty shop. "Knock that off."
The man looks at me and leaves. My heart is pounding so hard I think it might tire itself out and eventually stop working. My tombstone will say "went batshit, had heart attack. Will not be missed."
The woman behind the counter waves a hand at me. "Sir, are you feeling alright? Do you want me to call the medical station?"
There's a voice coming from behind her head too. It's telling me - no, telling her - to sneak some money from the register. What the fuck?
"Listen, something's going on here and I don't appreciate it. I'm not going to take this whole prank lying down."
She keeps one eye on me as she takes out her cell phone. I flee the shop. I can tell this won't end well, but all I can think about is leave, leave, leave, this place is fucking haunted.
There are people roaming the airport, and all of them have tiny whispers following them. "Fuck your boss, don't even bother showing up for the meeting." "Your secretary is pretty hot, isn't she?" "Your mother's suffering. Just end it now before she gets worse."
I cover my ears. Amazing hearing, and all I can hear now is one voice, and it's speaking to me.
"You're going mad."