I WAS BORN DEAF but had my hearing restored. I'm now hearing things I'm not supposed to.

I never minded being deaf, and in fact, I preferred it as I got older. I know that I was expected to feel lonely, even isolated, but I loved the silence, it allowed me to move through life without distraction. I only had to turn on Fox News to be glad, and reminded, that my genetic predisposition was saving me from a massive headache of all the unnecessary noise in the world.

My parents, on the other hand, saw my disability as some sort of personal slight to them. As if God was sticking out a thick middle finger when I was born. Barbara and Lewis Cascade with their perfect upper-middle-class existence were not supposed to have a deaf daughter. I was exactly how they wanted me to look, with cornsilk blonde hair, porcelain skin, and bright blue eyes, but to them, I was like a beautiful piece of pottery with a large, unsightly crack down the middle. Useless. They tried everything, surgeries, naturopathic doctors, acupuncture, anything that might fix me. When nothing did, they conceded.

There was always that lingering feeling of disappointing them, even though I excelled at school, had a great job, and married a dream of a husband, named Teddy. I think that is why I agreed to the surgery. I wanted to finally make them happy, give them the daughter they always wanted. A perfect daughter, that could hear.

It was a restorative experimental procedure, that was to be performed by a renowned Otolaryngologist named Doctor Wilson Hubbard. Who was based near my hometown, on the outskirts of Seattle. The Doctor was very clear, there was a high probability of failure, and that he was still working on the nuances of the operation. At my parent’s insistence, and pocketbook, he agreed to take me on as a patient, clearing his schedule. It all happened so fast, that Teddy was unable to get off of work, so I was forced to fly out of Boston by myself, greeting my hopeful but anxious parents in Seattle. We went to the hospital where Dr. Hubbard dumbed down the surgery to the most pedestrian of terms. I nodded along, not really taking in anything he was saying.

The night before the operation, I lay on my old bed, face-timing Teddy. I had become acutely skilled at reading lips over the years. “I love you too,” I said signing with my hands, before turning off the lights and drifting to sleep.

I was given anesthesia and when I awoke from the surgery a nurse was there to help me, calling my parents and the Doctor to let me know I was conscious.

“How are you feeling Callie?” Said Dr. Hubbard, stroking his white beard, he reminded me of a slimmed-down version of the KFC Colonel Sanders.

“I’m okay, there’s some pain in my…” I stopped, and Dr. Hubbard gave me an amused smile. “I…I can hear my voice.” I stammered. “Oh my god.”

My Mom began crying, as she and my Dad wrapped their arms around me brimming with joy. “Thank you, Dr. Hubbard! Thank you!” Mom said in tears, she sounded like I expected her to, high-pitched and jarring. My Dad’s voice on the other hand was low and smooth, pleasant.

We went back to my parent’s house, and I called Teddy, to let him know that the surgery was, as far as I could tell, a success. “That’s amazing!” He said, and I was so glad to find his voice melodic. “I’m swamped at work, but I’ll try to get out there as soon as I can. Promise.”

When my parents and I sat down for dinner, I could still feel a bit of pressure in my ears, but overall felt normal. I was talking excitedly about some of my new favorite sounds when I heard something, it was like my Mother’s voice, except in the faintest of whispers. “It’s a shame she still has the same voice.”

“What?” I said, and both my parents looked at me. “Did you just say something about my voice?”

My Mom’s face turned ashen, “No dear, nobody said anything about your voice.” She gripped her glass of Chardonnay, taking a long sip.

I turned my attention towards her and could hear something else, it was a sound that I would later identify as a squeaky wheel, a low ambient noise, almost undetectable. There was something else too, a hushed but warm hum, “Bum, bum, bum, a bum, bum, bum. Mashed potatoes.” I looked over to my Dad who was heaping another spoonful of potatoes on his plate. I caught his glance, and he gave me a small wave.

Over the next few days, I came to discover, it wasn’t just my parents that I could hear, but everyone. That each person carried with them their own individual and unique sound, most of the time just a background noise that was so faint, I could barely hear it. I would occasionally come across a thought in words, but for the most part, it was just an audible sensation.

I spent my days on YouTube listening to as many sounds as I could, so that I could identify the noises that I heard from the people around me. Mrs. Tucker, a pleasant woman across the street who was a wonderful cook, had a noise that I could best describe like teeth being sunk into fried chicken. The mailman’s sound reminded me of rain falling on stones. Roger, my parent’s gardeners, sounded like a deck of cards being shuffled.

They weren’t all pleasant sounds though. I ran into an old English teacher of mine from school, Mr. McGrath, a surly man, who sounded like a choir of farts. A mixture of small toots, and wet thundering rips. I had to suppress myself from laughing, listening to the ricocheting flatulence, as we made small talk.

A few people had music as their sound, not the simple rhythm of my father, but complex wonderful arias that left me speechless. I was walking down the street and stopped in front of our neighbor Leah Silverstein’s house, an older woman, and a holocaust survivor. I could hear her sound even at a distance, devastating and hauntingly beautiful music that left me standing still, unable to move as tears fell down my face.

My favorite sound though belonged to children. I’m not sure why it was, but I found that all children had the same sound, unlike adults. It was a mixture of giggles and laughter, hearty and cheerful. If I went by a playground or a school, I could hear the collective noise of joy and happiness, a magnificent orchestra that made my heart swell every time.

I was shopping in the downtown area marveling at my new reality, a life full of sounds. All I had to do was shift my focus to a person and I could hear them. Tug boats, wolf howls, rustling leaves, the sound of milk being poured onto Rice Krispies. Snap, crackle, pop. Then I heard something, a vociferous boom that rang throughout my head paralyzing me, it was like nails against a chalkboard. I could hear a word, cutting through, clear and awful, repeating, “hurt, hurt, hurt.” I held my breath, my mind spinning, as I staggered in the direction the noise was coming from. The closer I became in proximity to it, the more pain I felt like spikes were being lodged into my temples. Sweat poured down my face, and I felt like I might collapse.

I looked up from the ground, to find myself standing in front of a dilapidated hotel, the kind that looks like it charges by the hour instead of the day. In front of me was a door, marked with the number 3. I called the police, giving them my location, lying, and telling them I could hear screaming from inside the room.

When they arrived, I stood back, watching as they knocked on the door. An unremarkable older man answered, as he opened the door, I could hear another noise, the soft sound of a piano being played, and an undeniable word, “Help.”

“There’s someone in there!” I screamed, unable to contain myself. The police officers pushed through, much to the man’s protest. From where I was, I could see her, a young girl, bound to the bed, in just her underwear, a plastic bag covering her head.

I saw the man arrested, and the girl, whomever she was rescued. To my relief, as the bag was removed, the music that was so faint, increased in volume. I left before the police could ask me any questions.

Although I didn’t tell anyone, not even Teddy about my newfound abilities, I made the decision to confide in Dr. Hubbard after the incident at the motel. I sat in his exceptionally clean white office during my check-in and told him everything. He sat back listening, his owl-like eyes, studying me intently.

“Just curious, what is my sound?” He said.

“It’s like the crunch of fresh snow underneath boots. It’s lovely.” I said with a smile, this made him chuckle.

“The ear is a fascinating thing, and I can only surmise at what you’re experiencing, or why for that matter. The procedure is reversible though, Callie. I would be happy to…” He trailed off.

I shook my head, “No. There are so many wonderful things about it. I couldn’t imagine shutting it off now.”

It was not long afterward though, that I thought differently about the sounds.

I was in my parent’s kitchen making lunch and chatting with their cleaner Anita, who sounded like coarse hands being rubbed together when it hit me. It was a sound that took my breath away, children screaming and crying in pain as if they were being tortured and maimed. I could hear them yelling in anguish, it was excruciating, the noise penetrating and inescapable. It enveloped me, and I could physically feel the sound, like knives tearing away at my flesh, I began to cry, a wave of nausea crippled me and I sunk to the floor.

In front of me, I see the front door begin to open, Teddy’s beaming smile came into view. “Surprise!” He called into the house. There was a look of concern as he saw me braced on the floor, he came over. “Callie? Are you okay? What’s wrong?”

I looked at him in horror, the children’s cries echoing in my head, even louder now. My beloved Teddy, my husband, and bearer of the worst sound in the world.

MerMAIDS

It was cold for a late summer evening, chilly enough that I slipped on a wool sweater. Considered starting a fire, instead, putting on the kettle. I sat back in my worn leather chair watching the ripples of endless waves through the picture window. I couldn’t afford a new TV when the old one broke, and while it’s not the same as watching my Mariners get the shit beat out of them every year, I make do.

There’s a knock at the door, sharp and loud, bam, bam bam. I open it to find Sheriff Wilson. “Hey, Joe. You got a minute?” Sure. Sure. Sure, I say, letting him inside. He’s dripping everywhere, but I don’t mention it, on account of not wanting to be rude. Take a seat, I tell him.

He settles in on a maple wood dining chair, something I picked up ages ago at GoodWill. It creaks under his weight. He’s a large man, the kind that plays Santa Claus for the village kids every year, getting into that stinking red suit, letting those wet nosed kids, slobber and sneeze on him, while they tell him what they want, plastic shit from China, no doubt. Wilson’s good for that though, he’s got what I would consider a cheery disposition.

“Is this business or pleasure? I say, even though I already know. Wilson and I are friendly, but not chummy enough for him to come by unannounced.

“Business, I’m afraid. Say, you got some coffee?”

“It’s instant. Tastes like dirt, but gets the job done. You want up a cup? I don’t have cream.”

“Yeah, yeah. I don’t mind black.” Wilson says, and I go to the kitchen before handing him a mug, he takes a sip. “Not bad, not bad. Hits the spot.” His cheeks turn red, and he makes a loud, smack, and ahh sound. As if Is the best thing he’s ever tasted.

His eyes scan the cabin as if he’s looking for something. There's all sorts of shit on the walls, stuff Diane put up before she left. She liked crap. There’s a sign hung over the window that says “If you’re lucky to live on the ocean, you’re lucky enough!” That was one of the little treasures she found, I hate the fucking thing, but haven’t taken it down yet.

I see what his eyes fall on, “Go on. You can touch it if ya want. Her name is Skull Crusher, in case you forgot.”

He gets up, goes over, and picks it up the Wahaika, it looks like a club of sorts, with a sharp hook. It’s a weapon, used by the Maori, this one is made of whalebone and serves a very specific purpose. Wilson tenderly touches its sides, gliding his fingers across the surface. He places it down again.

He runs his hands across his bald head, there are two tufts of curly hair on either side that cover the lower portion, near the ears, streaked with flecks of silver and white. “Got a call yesterday towards South Bend Beach. Some tourists were picnicking with their two kids, both of them under five. Mom says she looked away for just a moment when something came right out of the water and swallowed them up.”

“You mind if I smoke?” Wilson shakes his head, and I pull out a cigarette from the container lighting it. I let out an exhale. “She see anything?”

“Yeah, but hell if she knows what.” He looks at me. “Give it here, will ya?” Wilson extends his hand, and I pass him the cig, waving it off when he tries to return it.

“They’re getting more aggressive, huh? This is the fifth attack in what? six months.” I cross my arms. “I remember when this sort of thing was unheard of. Must be getting desperate.”

Nodding his head, Wilson sighs, “Sure. I mean, their numbers are hurting, there’s no disputing that. Can’t blame em’ but can’t condone it either.” He knocks back his mug and holds it up tilting it slightly. “Mind if I have another cup?”

“Help yourself.”

Going to the kitchenette Wilson making another coffee. He looks tired, and I am sure all of this has taken a toll on him. Nothing worse than a mother who lost her offspring. His skin has an unhealthy pale green tint to it, like what you’d see on someone with mal de mar.

“Stop eyeing me, Joe. I know I look like shit.” Wilson says, cracking a grin. “Say, tell me about the time you, well, you know…” He trails off.

 

“Lost my hand?” He gives me a grateful nod that he doesn’t need to say it, it makes most people uncomfortable. “I was working on Seth Troybaker’s boat. We were crab fishing off Alaska. Well, Seth had this dog, named Tinsley, the sweetest bitch you ever met. We were docked, and Tinsley jumped into the water. It was just me on board at the time, but she started crying something awful. It was the type of screams.” I pause. “Well, you know.”

I light up another smoke. “Stupid me, I jump in after that dumb dog. I was lucky I had Skull Crusher on me at the time. After I beat it off Tinsley, I noticed four little teeth marks in my hand. First I thought maybe it was the dog, maybe I had it before. Trying to justify it and all, but I knew. Got back on the boat, made a tourniquet, and chopped my left hand clean off. Prayed straight through for the next twenty-four hours, I got lucky. Real fucking lucky.”

“What would you have done, you know, if you changed?” Wilson says, his eyes fixated on me.

“I told Seth to put a bullet in my head if that was the case.” It’s the truth. “Better to be dead than one of those soulless water bastards. Don’t you think?

The late afternoon sun bounces off of Wilson’s head, shimmering. “Yeah, better to be dead.” He says, taking a long sip from his mug. “Better to be dead.”

I get up moving to the window to open it, the room is starting to smell sharp, fishy, almost like ammonia. A cool breeze touches my face. “Why didn’t you call me Wilson?” I say finally.

His face is turned away from me, so I just see that big old head, the skin has turned a darker green, like emeralds. “Didn’t want to bother you I suppose. Thought I could handle it on my own. Went out to the cove, just like we did that one time, hoping maybe I would find those kids, instead I just found trouble.”

“Got you on the leg did it?” My hand moves to Skull Crusher, gripping the handle. Those little puffs of hair have fallen off. His skull is as smooth as an eight-ball now.

“How’d you know?” Wilson says, his voice sounds different like he’s talking underwater, I know it’s almost time.

“The blood. When you came in you got some on the floor. It’s black…just like theirs.”

“Do me a favor, will you Joe. When this is done, you go out there and settle the score for me. Save those kids if they’re not eaten or changed yet, and you get those bastards real good. Do it for me, Joe, okay?” Wilson’s body begins to convulse, shaking violently.

“Anything you say, buddy.” I take a step closer, the smell of the ocean fills my nostrils. “It’s gonna be okay Wilson, you hear me?” He says nothing back and I hold my breath.

What used to be Wilson turns around, bulbous yellow-tinged eyes, round and horrible stare back at me. The skin now, sleek, shiny with crescent moon shaped scales. He opens his mouth from slimy rubbery lips emerges the thing of nightmares, several rows of long jagged teeth, like knives. He lunges forward towards me.

Skull Crusher lives up to her name, and I bring it down hard on Wilson’s head. There is a sickening shriek as I do, and a crunch. Black blood splatters across the room, covering me, the window, and even that stupid sign Diane bought, all that’s ledgiable is “You’re Lucky.”

 

When it’s done I take a step back, breathing heavily.

 

I fucking hate mermaids.

SOUL SALESMAN

All it used to take was a stick of butter, a roll of fabric, even just a cup of sugar. I mean you look back at the old logs, everything prior to the 18th century, and our sellers were just cleaning up, snagging souls left and right, for next to nothing. Nowadays everybody likes to think that their soul is like the Ferrari of souls. I had this guy the other day, a rap sheet a mile long, child rapist, drug dealer, and you know what he says to me? “For my first wish, I would like three other wishes.” I mean give me a break, do I look like some fucking singing blueberry ass genie? No. I am a salesman. You get one wish, in exchange for your soul, that’s it.

The other thing annoys the shit out of me with people these days, is they think that they are guaranteed a spot in heaven. Like they can do all this bad shit, and then say “Hey God, please forgive me… blah, blah, blah.” And then they’re golden. I can tell you right now, that’s now how it works. It’s never how it worked. There’s no sugar coating it, heaven lets in around 3%, that’s less than the acceptance rate to Harvard.

It doesn’t matter what religion you are, where you’re from, what language you speak. The people that get into heaven are some pious fuckers. The kind that are self-sacrificing, good-deed pedaling, devotees. Oh, and poor, heaven loves poor people. You know what I say to that? Fuck it.

And it’s not just because I work for the other side. Never in the history of the world has there been so many delights and temptations, it’s a literal paradise. I tell people all the time, selling their soul to me is like booking a flight in advance. You know you’re going to the destination regardless, you might as well get a window seat.

I walk into an upscale bar in the city, it’s one of those trendy places called Catch 22 with war-themed memorabilia and drinks that go for $30 a pop. The bar is constructed of black marble, with a backlight highlighting the amber-colored liquor bottles. I see that fat fuck Jerimiah Colelow at the bar, and before I can do anything he waves me over. Jerimiah’s like me, a soul salesman that’s been in the business for most of his life. He’s surprised to see me. “Chris Wolcroft. What the hell are you doing here?” I see lines forming at the center of his forehead as if he’s already getting ready to accuse me of something

I come over, shaking his hand. Jerimiah’s got his hair buzzed on both sides, with the exception of a puff down the middle that’s gelled, and standing straight up, as if it’s at attention. He pushes his thick wire-rimmed glasses towards the bridge of his nose and sits back down at his barstool.

“Hey, Jerimiah.” I sit down next to him and order a whiskey neat with the bartender. “Been a while, huh?”

He turns, a solid gut protruding from his waistline. The shirt he’s wearing is working hard, I can see the buttons stretched across his sizable belly are almost on their last breath. “Not since the Christmas party in Orlando.”

Our annual Holiday party was held in Orlando, Florida this past December. You can’t get closer to hell on Earth than Disney World. It was there that Jeremiah won the prestigious 2018 Satan’s Award for Best Salesman.

“Listen, about what happened in New Haven…” Jerimiah, trails off, snorting his nose.

“No need to apologize.”

“I wasn’t going to,” Jerimiah says, flashing a shit-eating grin, his lips pull back exposing four gold fillings that sparkle dubiously in the fluorescent light. “Quota is quota.”

“Quota is quota.” I say lifting my glass, and he brings it against mine, clinking them together

The only reason Jeremiah was able to obtain the coveted Satan Award, was on account that he stole a sale right out from under me. I had been in talks with Yale’s chapter of Young Republicans for the better part of three months, a group of red-cheeked WASPs. They were ready to make a name for themselves through systematically stripping away women’s and minority rights, just like their daddy’s before them. I was ready with the contracts, but then Jerimiah swooped in, taking those 10 souls with him. You just wait, those bougie little fuckers will be running in their hometown’s next elections, and they’ll win too.

But as Jerimiah said, quota is quota, our most supreme law. You do whatever you can to make it, lie, steal, bargain. Even I’ve been known to frequent the children’s cancer ward at the hospital come the end of the quarter, looking for some poor desperate parent.

 

“You never answered my question,” Jerimiah says, leering at me. “What you doing here, Wolcroft?”

“I’m visiting a friend.” It’s not a lie. I’ve been seeing Natasha Stone for the last few months, she lives near New Brunswick working as a singer, a quintessential struggling artist, with a voice that makes me weak in the knees. She’s been asking me more and more about the business of selling souls, and I know it’s only a matter of time before she’ll ask like they always do. The lure of fame, money, and power, so close. Just like Eve and that damn apple. I’ll have to end it soon.

“A lady friend?” Jerimiah says, his voice sinister, and I give a nod, not wanting to reveal more. Jeremiah looks around like a naughty schoolboy. “I’ve been wanting to get my…uh...” He brings out his hand, wiggling a meaty pinky finger, with a chunky gold ring on it. “My finger, wet.” He dips his pinky into the whiskey bringing it up to his mouth smacking and sucking on it, for effect.

The thought of Jeremiah putting his little flaccid pinky in-between Natasha and bouncing up and down on her makes me nauseous. “How’s the wife doing?” I give an innocuous smile.

Jerimiah’s face changes, softens. “Heidi? She’s good. Her and the kids, all right, our oldest is off to Stanford in the fall. Fuck me, I’m getting old.” He lets out a laugh, “You met them in Orlando, right?”

I did. I remembered Heidi on account of the silver-plated cross she wore proudly around her neck, prim and proper, looking like she had a stick so far up her ass, you would be able to see it if she opened her mouth. That killed me, like doesn’t she know who her husband is? Or how she’s able to afford to live in a brownstone on the Upper West Side? The bloody hypocrisy of it all, it gets me every fucking time.

 

“How’s your year looking?” Jerimiah says, sipping his drink. Time to talk shop.

“Just made a close earlier today.” I chuckle, “Took a while, better part of six months. They’re going to meet me here soon, actually.” I check my watch to verify, “Figure I’d buy them a celebratory drink.”

“It’s all signed and sealed?” Jerimiah looks at me intently, and I wonder if this dickhead is once again thinking about stealing my sale. When I lifted my chin indicating it’s done, Jerimiah shrugs his shoulders. “Let me ask you something, Wolcroft. Have you ever felt bad about what we do? Like does it ever get to you?”

There was one time when my profession really got to me, like a bullet to the chest. I’m not about to tell Jerimiah about that though, it’s a precious thing, and I hold it close. “Sometimes it does. Like the deal today. Real sweet woman, one of those three percenters. What does she want to sell her soul for? She wants to help her piece of shit father, a real fucking slime ball. Says she wants to save his soul.” I drain my drink. “What about you? Ever feel bad?”

Jerimiah looks into his empty glass and shakes his head. “Nah, not me. I love it.”

I check my watch again, and as I look up I see her. I lift up my arm-waving my hand to get her attention. Her thin blonde hair is separated in the middle, and she’s wearing a silver cross, just like her Mother. I stand up putting down a twenty on the counter, as I do I look towards Jerimiah. “There she is now, the deal I closed today.”

I watch as Jerimiah registers that his angel, his future Stanford Grad, and now soulless daughter, is walking towards him. He’s crestfallen, and I whisper in his ear. “Quota is quota.” Walking away towards the door.

“Wolcroft.” He barks, and I turn around, his teeth are clenched together like a mad dog. “You go to hell.”

 

I can’t help but scoff, “Duh.”