Awful Shadow, ch. 5: Grace Hamad

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Monitoring: Grace Hamad
Mwanza, Mwanza Region, Tanzania

8:25 p.m. Eastern Africa Time
Tuesday, May 20th, 2014
17:25 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Fast forward—

From sixty five million years ago, what Grace Hamad hears is a deep and abiding silence. It is like a black pit, and she is floating in it. She is laying on a water bed, her eyes closed and further shielded by a strip of cloth wrapped around her head. The temperature is just high enough for her to notice it, but it is a little thing.

Anechoic chambers have recently become an interest of hers. Through various miracles of engineering, an anechoic chamber is more than just silent. It practically eats noise. The walls permit no sound to enter, and they dampen any noise produced inside—hence the name, anechoic, or without echoes. The most famous of them, the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories, triggers hallucinations in people who stay too long. The room eats noise, producing silence, and the silence eats you in turn.

You might think that you can keep the quiet at bay by talking, but you never notice how your voice always has at least a tiny echo, until you’re in a place where it doesn’t. After millions of years of inhabiting a world where there is always some amount of sound, no matter how small, and where there are always echoes of some intensity, the human brain is ill-equipped to deal with a world where the basic facts of existence are no longer true.

There is no light in Orfield’s anechoic chamber. Even light produces a minute amount of sound, and the silence at Orfield Laboratories is therefore strengthened by the darkness.

Through her power, Grace Hamad has found the greatest, deepest well of silence that could ever be conceived: she has sent her sense of hearing back into the deep past, where it can hear nothing at all, the same as if she were in the vacuum of outer space. It has been asked if a falling tree makes a sound if there is no one around to hear it fall, and the answer, she has discovered, is a resounding yes—but only for a few days.

What Grace can do is hear the past, but she can’t do it perfectly. These sounds-that-were degrade over time. She did the calculations a couple of months ago, once she figured out the rate of decay, and found that the most powerful sounds ever recorded would last around a month before they became too quiet for her to hear. Even so, she can still send hearing further than that. It is just that she will hear nothing when she does so.

Because her sense of hearing in the present is overridden by her power, she is carrying the strongest anechoic chamber in the world in her head. It is, she is learning, a powerful drug, even if she can also set her watch by how long she can last before she must throw herself back into the present, on the edge of a full-blown panic attack. In an anechoic chamber you eventually hear your heart pump and your lungs expand, but Grace’s silent well is deeper still than that, and so is the toll.

Nevertheless, like the feeling of a knife as it traces lines down an arm and parts flesh from flesh, it carries a kind of temptation that is hard to resist. There is no pain in the silent world that she thrusts herself into. There is agony, but it creeps on her and nestles in her mind, leaving the body alone. At first the silence is soothing, and then it seems to unfold into a kind of dread that gnaws at her, a sense of wrongness that grows and grows in her gut without ever revealing its name. She knows, because she has done her research, that the name of the demon is Absolute Silence, but her reptile brain has no means of comprehending it.

What lures her to the silent world each time? In this, she has the opportunity to overcome her weaker nature. There is a part of herself that cringes before fire and talons and lunges for sweets and sex, fleeing pain and seeking pleasure with a mindlessness that could be called abandon, except that it came into being before there was anything else to be abandoned. Only later did there arise a thing that could reflect and conceive of other drives, and creatures of Grace’s sort did not come about until even later on—and yet it is through this confrontation with quietude that Grace stands above these older drives like a high priest over a sacrificial bull.

It is the same temptation that draws some to the knife, to Russian roulette, or to suspension by flesh hooks. The difference is that she is perfectly safe. The conquest is the same, the subjugation of her animal impulses is just as complete, but there is no risk of physical harm, let alone death. The difference, really, is that other people who develop this itch either resolve or at least find a way to manage it, or they kill themselves, whereas Grace can push as far as she can go, falter, and return to the world of present sound without a scratch. She enters this state at least once a day, sometimes twice, occasionally more often than that.

Today, she is subjecting herself to the world of silence in a way that she has never done before. The entire day is free, and so she is likewise free—unrestricted, able to perform this act, this ritual, as often and as rapidly as she can stand it.

It is a silent world that she is forcing herself to inhabit, but she still hears things. Deprived of auditory stimulation, her mind is forced to manufacture it. She hallucinates—murmurs, clicks, buzzing, snippets of old conversation, coming together to form a gestalt that her mind recognizes, in this state, as having a sort of musical quality to it. Occasionally she will see lights, and as Grace pushes further it will seem as though there is something rising up all around her, pressing in on her and lurking beside her, driving her into claustrophobic paranoia.

Finally, Grace won’t be able to stand it for another instant. She will pull back, so quickly and reflexively that she won’t realize that she’s done it until after real sound has returned. Then, she will give herself a few minutes to rest, a few minutes in which to cling to the noise and remind herself that this is what is real, a life preserver for her to cling to before she dives again into those deep waters that are calling to her.

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