Did you ever hear a sound that no one else could hear and then it turned out to be your imagination? Maybe you heard a car pull up outside or you thought you could hear a phone ringing? It happens to us all I guess. Trouble is it happens to me a lot – especially just lately.
It’s kind of hard to explain what the noises are exactly, I just know they are not normal. No longer do I ask other people if they can hear them because their puzzled expressions only serve to reinforce my paranoia. When they think I’m not looking I can see them watching me, questioning my sanity and pitying ‘that poor boy’ from the dysfunctional family. Isn’t it true his mother had a nervous breakdown? Perhaps he’s headed the same way? I can well imagine them saying these things to each other, and who can blame them really? With my family history a small part of me thinks they could well be right. For the most part Mum and Dad seem happy to console themselves with the idea that it’s just an attention seeking device, or a way to make them feel bad for separating. But I know better. The noises are real all right.
“Bye Dad. See you next week,” I mumble as he drops me off in front of the house. Slamming the door shut Iwave goodbye as he pulls away. He toots the horn and waves his arm through the open window, free of his responsibilities until next week and not a care in the world. I heave a sigh knowing what awaits me once I get through the front door.
“Hi Mom I’m home!”
I fling my overnight bag and baseball glove down at the foot of the stairs and make my way over to our noisy outmoded refrigerator hoping to find something ice-cold and sugary to drink. Playing baseball on a hot August afternoon is one way to work up an incredible thirst. Sad to say, the fridge is virtually empty barring a lonely brown egg teetering on the lower shelf and a carton of milk jammed tightly in the door. Upon further investigation I find a jar of pickles at the back and a couple of processed cheese slices partially unwrapped and welded to a plate. The only place left for anything else to hide is the vegetable compartment. I yank it open hoping that by some miracle there might be a tin of coke in there, although I know for sure that this is wishful thinking. A quick glance confirms my suspicions.
Mom often forgets to go shopping, especially when she hits a bad patch. At such times she drifts through the house in her pink quilted housecoat as insubstantial as a sparrow’s feather blowing in the wind. Her mousy brown hair lies unkempt for days as restless fingers twirl greasy strands that would otherwise lie limp against her albino white neck. She often occupies the rocking chair over by the window and from behind the glass she watches the world go by, heedless of the passing of time and the whispered words that fall from her quivering lips.
Losing my brother Ryan six years ago hit her hard and this was the legacy he’d left behind, a broken woman whose good days consist of remembering things like groceries, housekeeping, overdue bills and last of all me, his surviving twin. Her bad days consist of a whole lot less and the only way to survive them is to mimic certain aspects of her illness by being absent in mind if not in body. Fall back and withdraw, that’s the survival motto of our family.
Inside the vegetable compartment I find a third of a cucumber going into meltdown and the remains of a limp lettuce fast approaching its sell-by date. It’s just as I thought, Mom hasn’t shopped this week. I hope she’s still on her meds.
Today is especially warm and I’m hot and tired after racing around the pitch all afternoon chasing the fly balls that ricochet off Kurt Rodgers bat. I can’t help but hate that guy. He’s so smug, I to myself as I lean against the door. The open carton of milk beckons and even though I know I shouldn’t drink directly from the carton I’m unable to resist. I gulp it down till I’m slightly breathless from the cold milk hitting the back of my throat. Just then a familiar noise stops me in my tracks, almost making me choke.
“Shut up!” I growl, irritated that they have returned so soon. It’s less than a day since the last round of guttural sounds interrupted my sleep; probably another reason why I’m tired and a little cranky.
The sounds are different again today, a cross between something heavy being dragged across the floor and an animalistic moan. To be honest that description is not as spot on as I’d like it to be but it’s the only way I can think to describe it. Where the noises are coming from is anyone’s guess. But I’m unwilling to stand around analysing them any further for fear it may somehow prove I really am one fry short of a happy meal. It’s just a matter of waiting it out. They will stop eventually, they always do.
Wiping my chin with the back of my hand I take another swig from the carton of milk. Immediately the noises increase in magnitude until finally I slam the carton down on the work surface in frustration, covering my ears with both hands. This tactic hasn’t worked before and there’s no reason why it should succeed now but at this point I’m willing to try anything.
I stand like this for several minutes until it dawns on me that the only thing I’ve succeeded in doing is blocking out the sound of my mother entering the room. Not a wise move considering that like most teenage boys my age I prefer to have some warning before my mother starts interrogating me.
“Dean? What is it? What’s wrong?” She cries, grabbing me by the shoulder. Her eyes are full of concern. Up until now I’ve managed to hide the true extent of the distress that my on- going ‘problem’ causes. I know I shouldn’t be worrying her; she’s too fragile to withstand much. Almost on reflex I remain tight lipped on the off chance that she will just back off.
“It’s those noises again isn’t it?” she persists. “Oh Dean! You’re not doing drugs are you?”
“No.” I answer, trying to reassure her. “Of course not! I just have a really sore head, that’s all. I got hit by the ball just before the seventh inning stretch.”
“What?” she exclaims, looking more concerned than ever. “Let me take a look.”
“No!” I protest pulling away. “It’s ok mom really.” The last thing I want is a fuss.
“I probably just needed to hydrate,” I offer nodding towards the almost empty carton sitting in a pool of spilt milk.
The noises are especially intense now and it’s taking all of my strength not to show it. As soon as possible I make up some lousy excuse about having homework to do and bolt for the stairs so that I can hide away in my room. It’s not much of a sanctuary but it’s all I’ve got.
Downstairs I can hear her calling Dad on the phone and voicing her concerns.
“The break up’s really hard on him Matt…I just wish you’d try and make more effort to connect with him,” I can hear her saying.
Tears are never far away with mum and I can hear them in her voice even now. I close my eyes and wish that things could be different. It’s at times like this I find myself envying deaf people; what I wouldn’t give to be able to shut out sound, even if it was only for a little while. Our walls are so thin that I can just about make out dad’s reply as he makes an indignant effort to defend himself. Some things will never change.
I lie back on my dishevelled bed and smile to myself as a well-placed pillow blocks it all out. If only it were as simple as that with the noises. They are changing again now. Although the volume is just the same, the frequency is a little different and the tone now begins to fluctuate rapidly. It sounds a little bit like some garbled radio transmission and for a moment or two I wonder whether that’s what it might actually be.
Pulling up my wobbly black swivel chair, I sit down at my desk and log onto the internet. I need answers, and fast. During the last eight months I’ve tried to find them many times but this time I enter different keywords in the hope that I might find something new. Just a few keystrokes is all it takes to produce reams and reams of information, offering exorcism for demon possession, Haldol for schizophrenia, spirit mediums offering to help to get in touch with the other side and then there’s that other equally disturbing alternative…aliens. All I want is a simple solution or an easy answer, but for the time being it looks as though I’m out of luck.
Disappointed that there’s nothing new, I trawl through the information that the search engine has turned up. There’s all manner of information related to aliens, unusual noises and other phenomena. Some of it is interesting and some of it is downright crazy but none of it strikes me as being related to my problem. There never have been any bright lights or strange glowing figures manifested in the dark. My problem in a nutshell is; I hear odd noises that no one else can hear.
For tonight at least the noises finally stop and tiredness ultimately takes over. Collapsing onto my unmade bed again I sleep on until well after nine the next morning.
My alarm clock beeps loudly and I automatically reach out from beneath the duvet to silence it. However I’m not yet fully awake and my uncoordinated limbs send it crashing to the floor where it lies in an inconsequential mound of cracked plastic, circuit boards and batteries. Poking my head out over the edge of the bed like a Mediterranean turtle peeping from its shell I stare blankly at its internal components before getting ready for school at a leisurely pace.
It doesn’t worry me that I’m late. I’m identified as being a ‘troubled’ kid,so no one makes too much fuss when I arrive late for school – again. I have maths and geography first thing so the day drags by with excruciating slowness, although for once I’m glad of an ordinary day free from any of the disturbing sounds that have plagued me almost daily for the last eight months.
After a whole day with no problem at all I half expect to be woken in the dead of night again by some aberrant sound or other. But the night passes by without incident. The next day is also uneventful and I can scarcely believe it. Perhaps I am cured.
A week later I begin to allow myself to bask in the sense of relief that I’ve been suppressing, finally convinced that the whole thing was just a passing phase, possibly related to stress. That’s as close as I’ll come to admitting that at one point even I thought I was losing it.
As I lie here in bed I make a decision not to think about it anymore. I’m eager to close the door on that particular chapter of my life and open up a new one. My thoughts turn to refreshingly normal things like the school trip that’s coming up soon and the new girl who just joined my class. I’m thinking about trying to talk to her tomorrow. Maybe I’ll make small talk about where she’s from and the upcoming camping trip to The Zion National Park. These are the ordinary things that I’d come to dread on account of the noises that could have assailed me at any given moment. But now there’s no need to fear them. Eventually I fall into a deep sleep only to be woken an hour or two later by someone somewhere calling my name.
I cannot place the person behind the voice yet somehow it seems strangely familiar. Instantly I’m wide awake, sitting bolt upright in the dark. My heart jumps like a cricket inside my chest and everything around me lies deathly still. Nothing moves. The only sound I can hear is my own ragged breathing and the wind rustling fitfully through the leaves on the trees outside. Weak silvery beams of moonlight fall through the gaps in the curtains. Their ghostly luminescence provides just enough light to see vague outlines of the cupboards and wardrobes filled with the hand-me-down clothes sent by my aunt who lives in a trailer park in Utah. A cursory glance around my monochrome bedroom tells me that there’s no one here. But I’m really spooked now and that’s not good enough for me. I strain my eyes in order to see into every crevice and corner, convinced that someone must be hiding, watching me from the shadows. But there’s no one here. A nasty creeping sensation blossoms in my chest as fear begins to take hold like a warlock’s poison.
For ten minutes more I sit in the dark trying to think my way through this, telling myself it was just a dream, nothing more. I manage to partly convince myself of this but getting back to sleep after such a vivid dream is not easy. I toss and turn for a couple of hours and then decide to go down stairs to the kitchen for a much needed drink of water.
The ancient stairs creak beneath my weight reigniting my anxiety. Cautiously I push the door open and wander into the kitchen where I find the tap dripping relentlessly into a half filled saucepan lying unwashed in the sink. I can’t help but sigh at this unfortunate omen. All the signs are there that Mom is sliding into one of her bad patches again. I hope I am wrong but experience tells me otherwise. For an entirely different reason this time another stab of anxiety hits me in the chest like a filed down arrow.
Suddenly in the darkness something shrieks like a demon from hell, hurling itself against the window outside. Absolutely terrified, I drop the empty glass I’m holding which explodes at my feet like a stun grenade, sending glittering shards all over the kitchen floor. One or two pierce my skin but I ignore them and stand looking fearfully through the window. A solitary bead of sweat rolls down my back and I find myself holding my breath.
Once I realize that the demon from hell is actually a neighbourhood feline out on the prowl I drop to my knees and pull out the glass. Blood begins to trickle from the nicks but is soon halted by the great wad of kitchen paper I’m pressing against my leg. If only all wounds were so easily treated.
Wearily I bend down to sweep up the glass hoping it hasn’t woken Mom. I tell myself it’s unlikely. The drugs she takes are strong and extreme tiredness is one of the side effects. Tipping the sweepings into the bin I glance around to see if I missed any pieces. It all looks ok to me so I reach up and take another glass from the cupboard and run myself a drink from the tap. Feeling a little calmer now I lean up against the counter, taking long sips of cold water. Outside the rain begins to splash loudly against the window accompanied by a sudden gust of wind that rattles around the yard stirring up dust, leaves and what looks like a paper bag. It’s hurricane season so erratic weather is not uncommon.
“Deeaann…” moans a hollow sounding disembodied voice. Part of my mind is able to stay a little more detached this time and I notice that the voice is stretching the syllables to a ridiculous length. The overall effect is very sinister. Straight away I feel as though someone has run an icicle down the length of my spine. The tell-tale prickle of goosebumps creeps across my skin as I look around, painfully aware that I’m all alone.
I must be still asleep. I must be. Yes, that’s it! I’m not really standing in the kitchen being called by some invisible entity.
“Deaan,” the voice groans again. This time the voice has character as well, as though desperately seeking a reply.
“Whhat is this?” I stammer.
Pressure I’ve been dimly aware of for days in my upper abdomen steadily increases until it reaches an agonizing crescendo. I feel as though I’m about ready to burst. The pain is excruciating in the extreme. In spite of myself a scream tears its way out of my throat as a burning sensation surges through my body like a red hot tidal wave. Engulfed by dizziness I fall to the floor where I writhe around in agony. What’s happening to me? I think I must be dying.
“Deean,” says the voice, louder than ever before.
“What do you want from me?” I scream, clawing my way across the floor. “Leave me alone!”
“Dyyingg,” says the voice. “Dying Dean.”
I let out a gut wrenching sob and tears stream down my face.
“I don’t want to die!” I shout, loud enough for the entire world to hear. But everything around me starts to flicker as I slowly slip into unconsciousness. I try to put up a fight, but I’ve nothing left to give and in the end I’ve no choice but to surrender. My head slowly comes to rest on the cold tile floor and the last thing I hear is the voice.
As they move me through the corridors to surgery I’m blinded by the neon lights overhead. The pain is all encompassing and frustratingly I’m unable to speak. Mom and Dad scurry alongside the gurney in a state of confusion. It’s no surprise to me that they’re still in shock. They ask a couple of questions which the doctors’ answer as best they can but it seems that time is short.
I stay awake long enough to hear the phrases ‘immediate surgery’ and ‘massive internal bleeding’ then I black out again. When I come to we’re just about to burst through a set of double doors and into a theatre where a blue smocked team of surgeons and nurses await my arrival.
In a flash they have me on the operating table and for the second time it crosses my mind that time really must be precious. There are no reassurances or comforting words, only wires connecting me up to various monitors and shining trays of instruments glinting with absolute sterility beneath the harshness of the lights.
To the left of me an alarm begins to beep insistently.
“BP is falling,” says one of the nurses as she inserts a needle into a vein.
The surgeon says something I can’t hear. His mouth is moving but nothing comes out. Everything is distorted now by the indescribable pain and all I want is for this to end.
One of them injects something into the thin tube attached to my arm and thankfully I’m out cold within seconds.
“He’s waking!” someone says.
I blink slowly and try to swallow but these movements alone are too much for me. I sink back into nothingness and for a little while longer the pain is unable to touch me.
“Dean? Can you hear me Dean?”
My eyes snap open, afraid that the voice has returned again. But it’s alright. It’s just Mom waiting for me to come round after the surgery. Tears fill her eyes and Dad leans forward and says hi. They both look relieved and we exchange smiles. There’s something else though, it seems to me. Something in their expressions besides relief. Pain takes over and that thought is suddenly lost.
Over the next few days all my energy is focused on recovery. I make good progress and the doctors seem satisfied with the way my wound is healing. I ask about the possibility of having a bath and the doctor smiles. The teenage boys he’s used to must not be so particular about personal hygiene.
“As long as you keep your stitches dry I don’t see why you shouldn’t have a bath tomorrow. The nurse will give you something to keep them covered.”
He signs my chart and gets up to leave.
“Wait!” I suddenly say.
He half turns as if hoping it’s just another easily answered triviality.
“Why has no one told me what happened yet?”
“You mean why you needed surgery?” he asks. I notice his eyebrows have suddenly climbed a little higher on his forehead.
“Yes,” I answer.
He sits down and picks up the chart again looking at it as though it’s a script he’s struggling to stick to.
Finally he looks at me and says,
“You were admitted to this hospital suffering from a very rare condition that caused an abnormal growth in your upper abdomen. Our main goal was to stop the internal bleeding and our secondary goal was to remove the mass. You’ll be glad to know that we succeeded in doing both and that your postoperative tests have all come back clear.”
I think about this and wonder if all doctors are this vague.
“You mean I had a tumour? How big was it?” I ask.
The doctor looks a little uncomfortable. I notice from his badge that his name is Doctor Vegoda
“Perhaps you would like your parents to be here?” he says, putting his head on one side.
“No, I’m fine. Why would I need my parents here?” I reply, feeling a little irritated. I’m fifteen, and that’s more than old enough to think for myself.
“No reason. I’m just a little concerned that what I’m about to tell you may be unsettling. But if you’re happy enough, that’s fine by me.”
“The condition you presented with is extremely rare, in fact to my knowledge it’s unique. Have you ever heard of a condition called fetu in fetu?”
I swallow hard as I know exactly what he’s talking about.
“Yeah, I saw a documentary about it once. Scared the life out of me.”
“I’m not surprised,” he says. “It is a very unusual and poorly understood phenomenon. For a long time scientists have been unsure as to whether or not these growths are actual parasitic twin foetuses that become enveloped inside the host just after conception or whether they are a highly differentiated form of mature teratoma.”
“So it could still be a tumour then? A teratoma is a tumour, right?”
“I understand that this is difficult for you Dean. I really do think your parents should be present while we discuss this,” he says, standing up again. “I’ll go and see if the nurse can locate them.”
“No! I need to know now. I’ve waited long enough,” I demand, gripping the bed rail tightly.
“Ok, ok. Calm down,” he says, trying to smooth things over.
Again I ask, “So was it this teratoma tumour thingy or not? Just tell me straight.”
“No it wasn’t a tumour. And it wasn’t a parasitic twin either. Your mother tells me you had a twin brother already who died from leukaemia six years ago. So what we actually removed from your abdomen was a parasitic triplet, which makes this an extremely rare occurrence.”
Now I am confused.
“I thought you said this was unique? A rare occurrence is not unique,” I tell him trying to ignore my growing sense of revulsion.
“True. There has been one other documented case of a parasitic triplet being surgically removed. That was in Beijing in 2007. What makes your case so unique and altogether astounding is that the foetus was very highly developed, possessing a primitive brain, rudimentary limbs, eyes and hair. We even found that it was capable of movement.”
I feel dazed and sick to my stomach. Suddenly I retch and Doctor Vegoda passes me an empty kidney dish.
“No wonder I was so ill,” I mutter when I’m finished gagging. “I had a person inside me!”
“It seems as though the foetus was still developing but there wasn’t enough room where it was positioned in your abdomen. Cramped for space and struggling to get a decent blood supply it was in effect, dying.”
Noticing my shocked expression he hastens to add, “Of course it wasn’t sentient or anything, I just mean that it was dying in a biological sense. We suspect that during its death throes it managed to rupture your spleen causing the internal bleeding that you presented with when you first arrived here. But with the cause of the trouble now removed you should make a full recovery. In no time at all this will all be behind you and you’ll be up and about playing baseball just like you did before. Your mom tells me you can throw a mean changeup.”
I know my mom has told him nothing of the sort; she has no interest in baseball. Never has. All I can think of as he continues to talk is the foetus lodged between my vital organs and struggling for space. Then all of a sudden the answer that I’ve been seeking for eight months hits me like a bolt from the blue.
“It spoke to me!” I blurt out.
“What? What did?”
“No, no, no Dean,” he says, shaking his head despairingly.“Obviously you’ve misunderstood me. I said that the foetus was highly developed, but it wasn’t like you or me. It didn’t even have a mouth. There’s no way it could have spoken to you. It’s just not feasible. Just because something has a brain doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s sentient. Now that you have mentioned this though, I do think it would be a good idea for you to discuss these thoughts and any other concerns you may have about your experience. I can arrange for the paediatric counsellor to pay you a visit. She’s very good.”
I ignore his suggestion and continue in my efforts to convince him.
“It did! It told me it was dying.”
Doctor Vegoda sighs and puts his pen back in his pocket.
“I understand this is deeply unsettling for you and I’m aware that in the months preceding all this, you experienced certain ‘difficulties’ related to your parents separation. But I assure you, our counsellor is very, very good at her job. If anyone can help you come to terms with these issues, she can.”
I search his face and quickly reach my verdict. He thinks I’m damaged goods and that I’ve imagined the voice I’ve been hearing for the last eight months. Reluctantly I agree to see the counsellor and bring our conversation to a close.
I feel now that it’s pointless to tell people the truth about what has actually happened. If Doctor Vegoda has seen the proof and even he doesn’t believe, what hope is there that anyone else will listen to my story? While the foetus and I may not have been able to communicate properly even at the very end there is one thing that unites us even now. No one wanted to listen then and no one wants to listen now. But if this counsellor he suggested is as good as he says and she really wants to talk, then perhaps I shouldn’t give up. Maybe not just yet anyhow.