Bell Online

by Bells, for Bells, go Bells!

December, 2022

The Sound

Roy Chen ’25

“Sorry,” says the plumber, crawling out of the hole in the ground. 

Yesterday evening, I’d heard a rhythmic thumping sound coming from somewhere inside my house, like the beat of a small drum. At first I had ignored it, thinking it to be just a bird tapping on my wall, or the imaginary aftereffects of all the construction noises I’d been hearing all day. But in the morning, when the sound still hadn’t gone away, I started worrying that the sound might be coming from a leak and called a plumber. And so for the past hour and a half, she had been clanking all around the space underneath my house. 

“If there is a leak, it isn’t one I can find,” she says, flushed and exhausted. “Most likely, the water pressure’s a little uneven and it’s making the water slosh around. Hopefully it’ll just clear up on its own. Let me know if it doesn’t, okay?”

She talks rapidly, like she has a hundred clients to get to after me. Maybe she does. I nod, and say, “Okay,” even though it isn’t. I can already feel my mind running through the possibilities. 

She packs up her tools and drives off in her van, leaving me with just my thoughts. 

***

I sit on the couch in front of the TV with a book in my hands, trying to not think about the sound. 

It’s hard, with it thumping in the background. I try tuning it out, but the sound is just off enough that it is always noticeable. It cuts through the noise of the TV, despite the latter being ten times as loud. I try to reassure myself with the plumber’s words, repeating them like a mantra, but every time my mind quiets, the beat tears through my concentration and I have to start over again. 

Eventually, I give up and content myself with turning up the volume on the TV. It helps. A little. 

***

I lie in bed, unable to sleep, listening to the relentless drumming of the sound. 

In the complete silence of night, the noise is louder than ever. It forces its way into my brain, drowning everything else out, pounding it until it shatters. 

In my half-asleep state, it’s easy to imagine the sound as something far more sinister; the rapping of long, sharp claws, the footfalls of some monstrous beast. Some part of me is aware that these are just wild imaginings, but the sound covers up these protests, blocks over them until all I hear is the rapping and thumping of the monsters. 

The images follow me into my dreams. 

***

The next day, I take every step possible to avoid returning to my house. I take the long way through the park. I go to five different stores to get my groceries.  I do my laundry at the laundromat, then dry it at another across town. I even go to the gym for the first time in months. 

Yet even still, I can sometimes almost hear the sound in my ears. 

***

As I’m browsing the shelves at a sixth store, Sari calls me. 

Sari calls me a few days before every major holiday, always with the same question; “Are you going to come home this time?”. She never misses an opportunity to ask, either; last year, when her phone stopped working in the days leading up to Christmas, she called me asking if I would come home for Kwanzaa, even though we had never celebrated nor thought about celebrating it. The fact that I’ve told her no every single time doesn’t seem to deter her either. 

But this time, I don’t feel like arguing. The thought of going back to the beating of the sound right now is unbearable. 

To Sari’s surprise, I assent. 

***

Home, surprisingly, isn’t that bad. While everyone still seems distant as they greet me warmly, I find that I’ve grown to miss them. Sari’s look says, “I told you so” every time she glances at me, but I find that I don’t really care. After a good dinner, I have completely forgotten about the sound. 

***

There is a clock on the desk by Sari’s bed that makes a ticking sound every second. 

Even though it sounds nothing like the noise in my house, I can’t help but shiver a little as I lie on the guest mattress. I imagine the ticking as one of the infernal offspring of the thumping, sent by its parent to torment me when they themselves can’t reach me. It works; while the ticking isn’t as annoying as the thumping, it too works its way into my thoughts, preventing me from sleeping. 

After maybe an hour or so of this, I get up, pop the back cover of the clock, remove the batteries, replace the cover, and settle back down. 

With the ticking stopped, I drift into a dreamless, unperturbed sleep. 

***

When I wake up, the house is in chaos. 

Sari is in tears. She was supposed to get up early to pick up some packages, but her alarm clock never went off, and by the time she woke up, the packages were gone. The whole house is scrambling to try to either get the packages back, or to replace them. 

The alarm clock’s hands are stopped. The batteries are missing. The clock had been sitting on the desk by Sari’s bed. 

I say nothing, but slip out of the house and get on the next train back to my residence. The clacking of the train’s wheels reminds me of thumping. 

***

The thumping has stopped. 

Perhaps the plumber came back while I was gone and fixed the leak. Perhaps the thumping had fixed itself, like the plumber said it would. Perhaps the sound has always been in my head. 

Whatever the case, the sound has stopped. The monsters have retreated. The nightmare has ended. 

***

I heard the sound again. 

I heard it as I unloaded my laundry from the dryer at the laundromat, hidden among the thumping and bumping of various machines. I denied that I had heard it, telling myself that it was only the tumbling of clothes in a shaky washing machine, or a washer bouncing around. But I heard it as I walked out of the laundromat. I heard it as I got into my car. I heard it as I drove to the grocery store. I heard it as I walked through the store. 

And when I covered my ears, and the sounds of everyday life dampened, but the thumping went on ceaselessly, I could no longer deny it. 

***

The sound is everywhere. 

The thumping occurs at random intervals, without rhyme or reason, with maddening contrast to its own rhythmic nature. The beat sounds no matter where I am, whether it be in my house, where it first originated, or across town. I used to think that by distancing myself from the noise, I could avoid it – that it couldn’t reach me if I left its domain. 

Now I know. Everywhere is its domain. 

Not hearing the sound is almost as unbearable as hearing it. My heart is constantly in my mouth as I wait for the drumming to start again, like a person hanging off a precipice and not knowing when the rock beneath their hand might give way. Oftentimes, I’ll imagine hearing the sound long after it has stopped, or imagine it starting again only to realize my mind is just playing tricks on me. 

The sound never holds back for long, though. When it continues drumming, it invades my thoughts, worming its way through my brain, shutting everything else out. I can’t concentrate. I can’t do anything. Sometimes, I can almost hear ghostly flutes and chimes in the background. I can’t tell if they are real. I can’t tell if anything is real. 

The monsters come back too. I see their shadows everywhere. A knifelike talon darting back into an alleyway, a spike vanishing behind a corner. 

Even though people are already putting up holiday decorations, Sari doesn’t call. No one calls me or even talks to me anymore. Probably for the best. 

There’s nothing the plumber can do, even if I called her. You can’t fix a leak in the mind with a pump and welding tools. 

***

At a point in time when the sound is not drumming, I decide to descend into the hole in the ground myself to see what I can do. To see if I can fix the problem at its source. Some part of me knows that if I fail here, all hope is lost. Perhaps that is the reason I hadn’t tried this from the start. 

As I crawl underneath my house, wielding a wrench in one hand and a flashlight in the other, the thumping suddenly returns, louder than ever, threatening to muddy my crystal clear purpose. I drop the flashlight and uselessly try to cover my ears with the hand that was holding it while waving around my wrench with the other until the wrench makes contact with something. 

A pipe. Suddenly, I know what I have to do. Time is of the essence. I scrape the wrench around until I find the bolts connecting the pipe to its neighbors, and I unscrew them as quickly as I can. The pipe drops to the ground. Rather than water, however, it is gas that comes out of the pipe, pouring into the crawlspace. I move on to the next pipe, which is easier because one side is already disconnected. 

Suddenly, I begin to feel woozy. But the thumping seems farther away now, like it is having trouble reaching me. As the gas fills up the crawlspace, I collapse against a pipe, and the wrench slips out from between my fingers, clattering to the ground. The thumping dampens. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with the gas, and the thumping weakens further. And as the world goes black, I know that I am forever free from the sound that has plagued me. 

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