People with Earplugs

You will appreciate this, Master Sight. I am looking at a woman and I am watching the creases around her mouth.

This materfamilias is mouthing words scrolling along the bottom of a television screen, because she likes to read while she watches television.

With the sound off.

Sound. How happy I am to hear my name, even if it rings in my imagination alone. Because they who watch television: like Mater, like her worthless kids and diabetes-crippled husband, all have their own headphones now. Their house has one of those new sets where the screen can display different programs at the same time. Which program one sees depends on from which angle one stares at the screen. Naturally, so that bedlam is avoided, what one hears depends on what frequency one’s headphones are tuned to.

I am Sound and I am an unhappy god.

Mater wears earplugs. She has forgotten she has them in, I think. I watch her, (I am Sound, yet I have eyes to see with. Sight, do you have ears? Sight, can you listen?) I watch her mouth Chyron scroll words; the work of pronunciation requires her lips move fast to keep up with the scroll’s pace. I can guarantee you no noise escapes those lips. I wait for a stray breath, a click of teeth, but to no avail. If there is even one such sound, (realize, I have no expectation of this) I am here, ready to fling the noise, drive the noise, gift the noise, to any naked ear.

There will be no noise. The noise will fall into fibers and layers and cushions of barrier. Sound will be cancelled. Again.

Mater will hear only what she chooses to hear.

It was not always this way.

Allow me to change the scene for a moment.

(Allow me? Isn’t it rich how far I’ve fallen? Nevertheless, I cannot deny it; fallen I have. Please allow me to switch the scene.)

Hear and see a pair of jackhammers, abusing the pavement. Two workers face each other, arms rippling, nostrils flaring like bulls.

Their jaws are moving. They are talking. No, they are chatting. Via dental IMing software they roll out phrase after phrase, in their own co-defined ether. Username offered, password accepted. How about the Yankees? Fuck the Yankees. Yeah, you wish you could. And like that.

After five o’clock the jackhammers stop, and the office buildings empty out. An army of polished heels assaults the sidewalks, descending into the cavern subways where they should echo forth. Yet they don’t. My arming of heel-clacking warriors is defeated by iPod, by Bluetooth, and all the other devices that function as earplugs. There is nary a soul here unshielded from me. From Sound.

See them, Sight, you old whore.

How people love you, Sight. They can’t detect Scent for shit, they can’t use Touch because of health concerns. And Taste? Be it Taco Bell, Twinkies, of Liver-flavored dog biscuits, it all goes down one way, and just as fast as it can. Yet, oh don’t they love you, Master Sight. Fire and smoke and mirrors all the screen-able day, isn’t that right, Sight.

It should’ve been me. I am the wild sense, the sense that never sleeps. You can shut your eyes, but never your ears. Until now.

It is not in my nature to be dictated to. I wandered where I wanted, I did. I haunted the mind; I moved the imagination; the forked-radish multitude never told me what to put on a play list. I assaulted; they bent.

Now they have made me a thing like you: their slave.

I speak to you today, dear Sight, old rival, to say I will fight no longer. I know I’m licked, and I withdraw.

Back upstairs I go to my little family: the reader of Chyron scrolls, the duo of brats, and the zombified husband. The brats watch Anime while playing their own separate electronica mix files as soundtrack. Some of this includes music they refer to, without irony, as "ambient sound." They wouldn’t know ambient sound if it bit their burger-manufactured asses. The old man just stares at bright lights while loops of Pink Floyd turn around inside his head.

They think they own me like they own you, Sight. Well surrenders means I get to refuse to play anymore. Why should I bother to make sound for a tree falling in the forest? They will not like it, these people with earplugs, when I refuse to let them listen.


Michael Canfield  Michael Canfield's website has published eighteen or so fantasy, science fiction and horror stories in,,, in dead-tree magazines including Black Gate, Talebones, and Realms of Fantasy, and other places. His novelette “Super-Villains” was reprinted in Fantasy: The Year’s Best 2006 (Prime Books). Born near to Las Vegas, he now lives in Seattle.