Daryl stepped into the house after work, tired and exhausted. He saw the package on the side table, his McIntosh mini-headphones had arrived today. Daryl had trouble sleeping. It wasn’t exactly insomnia, as long as he had the sound of white noise he slept well. Ellen slept fine, albeit very lightly. They tried a sound effect machine, he slept wonderfully while it was on, although she tossed and turned. She needed quiet to sleep. She’d tried earplugs, but they were uncomfortable and annoying. Without the white noise his sleep was restless, tossing and turning all night. He’d tried sleeping pills; they left him feeling like a zombie in the mornings. It was a no win situation for both of them. When he saw the advertisement for the McIntosh headphones, on a late night infomercial no less, he ordered them right away.
He opened the box and tried them out. White noise, rainfall, babbling brook, and other soothing sounds were pre-programmed into them. With the push of a button on the left headphone the comforting sound of white noise filled his ears. He closed his eyes and let the sound wash over him it was gently relaxing. For the first time in months he couldn’t wait until bedtime.
As for wireless part of the headphones, they worked through a small base station. Noise cancelling with bass boost, they were advertised as state of the art in design and performance with multiple channels. All you had to do was plug your mp3 player, or iPod into the base. He was impressed, the sound was exceptional. He walked through the house, testing them out. The music suddenly stopped and he heard in a whisper what sounded like, ‘ You need to go’. The music immediately resumed without skipping a beat.
‘How do the new headphones work?’ Ellen asked from the kitchen.
‘The sound is great, but I picked up some interference for a few seconds.’
‘Well put them down for now, dinner's almost ready. I made your favorite.’
After dinner, while Ellen was washing the dishes, he played with the headphones some more. He switched channels to see if he could get the wireless tuned in and began walking through the house again. Once more they worked flawlessly, until he stepped into the kitchen. The music stopped momentarily and in a voice that was slightly louder than before, he heard, ‘Leave the house’. Just as before the music resumed almost immediately. Startled momentarily, he stopped in his tracks.
‘What’s wrong?’ Ellen asked when she noticed the strange look on his face.
‘Damn interference, it’s probably just a cell phone or someone’s cordless. I’ll play with the channels tomorrow until I find a clear one.’
‘For 19.99, what do you expect? As long as the white noise works that’s why we bought them, remember,’ she said with a hint of skepticism in her voice.
‘There won’t be any interference when the white noise is switched on; it’s pre-programmed into them, you don’t even turn the base on.’ He put them away for the evening, quite pleased with them.
He went to bed after the nightly news, as was his custom. Ellen always went to bed earlier in the hopes that she might fall deeply asleep and not be awakened by the sound machine. Being skeptical of the head phones effectiveness, she followed her usual routine. She was sure they wouldn’t work and prepared herself for a long night of Darryl’s tossing and turning.
When he went to bed he slipped the headphones on and switched to the white noise. The effect was immediate. The soothing sound gently relaxed him, pulling him into a deep slumber.
For the first time in months they both slept well into the early hours, until the white noise unexpectedly cut off and a voice screamed into his head ‘LEAVE THE HOUSE. GET UP NOW. HURRY BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE’. He sat up suddenly. He was groggy and unsteady, his eyes wouldn’t focus. His vision was hazy and dull. Then the coughing began, smoke. His eyes watered and his lungs burned as he woke Ellen and they crawled down the hall and out of the smoke filled house. An explosion erupted from the basement, buckling the floor. Flames engulfed the living room, just as they made their exit.
Wrapped in blankets they stared at what had once been their home. It was reduced to a pile of smoldering timbers and ash. The fire department had done all they could, but by the time they arrived it was well beyond their control. The fire marshal said it appeared to have started in the basement. It was probably electrical in nature, most likely the old deep freeze just under the steps had sparked something earlier in the evening, and it smoldered for hours before actually catching fire.
‘You were very lucky you got out when you did,’ he’d said, ‘something was watching over you tonight.’
All at once Darryl remembered the screaming in his head. It was the shrieking voice that had waked him and saved their lives. Had the voice really been in his head? No…it had come from the headphones. But that was impossible the headphones were switched to sleep, there could be no interference. But there was no other answer. Was it possible that the interference had come at the exact moment they needed it to? Was it just a coincidence? Or was it the headphones themselves? The headphones had slipped down around his neck in all the commotion. He hadn’t realized that he was still wearing them. The voice in the headphones had saved their lives. He knew it. He believed it.
‘Thank you,’ he said quietly to himself as he hesitantly slid the headphones up onto his head. The white noise was almost nonexistent. Then in a gentle whisper he heard, ‘ You’re welcome.’
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