Story originally published on This Side…Over Yonder; rated PG-13, by my ratings.
Tinnitusactic Nights, by Deanna Schrayer
When she lay down to go to sleep at night, Janie heard voices, whispering. It was as if, the second her head hit the pillow, someone in the next room had turned the radio on, just low enough to hear there were voices but not clear enough to make out a word they were saying. She would sit up and cock her head like a spaniel, certain she’d heard her master call from miles away. But then the voices disappeared. She’d shake off a chill and lie back down. And there they’d be again, taunting her.
She remembered seeing a story online about a woman who had tinnitus, a continuous ringing in her ears as if she were standing in a bell tower. But Janie knew this couldn’t be the case for her, for it wasn’t constant, it was only when she laid her head on the bed, nowhere else, just her bed. And it was voices she heard, not bells.
It happened every night for a full week before she found the courage to mention it to her husband. He’d have a logical explanation, he was a logical man, an engineer, with not one muscle of superstition in his body.
“Ray,” she said as she sat his plate of salsaed-to-death eggs and sourdough toast on the table before him.
“Hmmm…?” he murmured absentmindedly, pulling the classifieds section from the newspaper.
Janie sat down across from him and stared at Big Bill Bassett’s demand on the back of the paper:
No credit? No problem! Bring NO MONEY! Tell ‘em Big Bill sent you!
Finally Ray heard the silence and jerked the paper down from between their faces. “What is it?” he said. He glanced down. “Oh!” He’d just noticed his breakfast. “Thank you, dear.” He folded the newspaper in six even squares and placed it beside his plate, shoveling a large bite of eggs into his mouth while moving his finger along the numbers on the stocks page.
Janie wondered if he’d always looked like this when he read those numbers, like he was having a particularly difficult time trying to use the bathroom. This was the first time in sixteen years she’d noticed it though.
His mouth hung open but his eyes rolled up until they met hers. “What?” he said, as if he’d done something wrong.
“Do you ever hear a radio playing at night?” she said.
“A radio?” he raised his eyebrows, clearly not understanding.
“I mean, when you come to bed, do you hear something before you go to sleep, like a radio far away?”
“Uh-uh,” he shook his head once and went back to reading the paper.
Janie sat still, unsure whether to continue. After a couple minutes she got up and started cleaning the kitchen, softly singing to herself, “On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair….”
She screamed and dropped a glass in the sink where it bounced a few times but didn’t break. “Oh! God, Ray, you scared the shit out of me!” she scolded.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said, “Are you all right?”
She was certain he’d walked up behind her for she’d heard him say her name directly in her ear. But she turned around to see that he was still sitting at the table.
“Janie?” he said.
“I’m fine, it’s just…” There was a look on his face she’d not seen before – his eyes were squinted and his lips curled in a sneer. Disgust? Concern?” She couldn’t tell but something about the look made her hesitate. It had taken her a while to talk to him about the radio voices because she felt sure he’d laugh at her, roll his eyes and tell her she’d been reading too many horror stories again. She’d finally decided she could handle that, (she’d been handling it for sixteen years so what difference did it make)? But now she didn’t feel so passive about his reaction, now she felt….she wasn’t sure what – fear? But that made no sense, she’d never been afraid of her husband, that was a ridiculous thought. “It’s nothing,” she said, more to herself than to Ray. She turned the water on to rinse the dishes, “I’m just…I didn’t sleep well I guess, I’m tired.” She flashed an effortful smile.
“Well,” Ray said as he stood and slipped his jacket on. “I gotta run. You get some rest.” He pecked her on the cheek and she kissed the air.
“Love you,” she said.
“Love you,” he said and he walked out the door.
“It’s just another day, another day like any other,” Janie told herself.
And the lights flickered.
- “Wonderful story Deanna. Delishly creepy. Well done.”
- “Very creepy, though. And definitely more to tell. I particularly liked the comparison to the spaniel.”
- “Oh there’s a definite underlying note of creepiness to this story.”
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