First off, let me say that due to HIPAA confidentiality none of the names in this will be present. This is done as a consideration to the patients and their families, as well as a semblance of professionalism from a medical professional telling ghost stories. However, all of the other events here are factual.
I work in a Speech Clinic in a small North Eastern city. Most of our cliental are older people who travel into the city with assistance from a middle-aged son or daughter. However, there is a fair amount of children who come through for speech therapy appointments. Since it is a college town, we often have undergrad or graduate assistants helping out in the assessments and filing. It’s a nice, chilled out place to be, and the staff members are very kind and helpful.
It’s been the dream job. Until it started turning strange.
A few years ago I started working with an 87-year-old man, who finally decided he needed a hearing aid. Well, it was less of his decision, and a lot more of his wife tricking him into thinking they were going out for lunch. After a tremendous amount of pouting and a very unsatisfactory hearing test, he finally conceded that he was having some issues and could need a little assistance. He and his wife were, at their core, very normal people for their age. There was very little flash or surprise to them; just good ol’ fashioned country people living in the modern world.
So, as many people do, he returned about a year later with a broken hearing aid. Apparently he had dropped it into the sink, and didn’t realize it was out until the garbage disposal was turned on. After playfully remarking that he probably did it on purpose, I gave him a pair of loaners.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, these are just a test pair of hearing aids that we offer out to customers who have lost or broken them. That way, they can still have something to use while their new ones are ordered and shipped in. It’s pretty standard procedure.
A few days after I gave them to him I was reading through the newspaper and found his name pop up in the obituaries. He died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I immediately picked up the phone and sent a call over for my condolences. There was nothing on the other line and it seemed it had been disconnected. I never ended up getting a call back or invitation to the service. I didn’t have another thought about it. I really didn’t know him that well. It was sad, but there was nothing more that I could do. I canceled his order of hearing aids and went back to my business.
Then a few months ago I started treating this 5-year-old boy. He is incredibly hard of hearing, and needs a tremendous boost in order to hear higher frequency sounds. Since he is so young, his speech is very slushy, and often full of misplaced s’s and z’s. Still, he is nothing more than a normal child with a hearing loss. He likes to play with toy trucks and watch cartoons. He thinks its funny to throw the cat into the bathtub and toss rocks at birds. He really is a great kid.
He came in about a week ago to place an order for new hearing aids and take out our loaners. Apparently, he had seen his mother clean them with the special tools and thought it would be helpful to put them in the dishwasher to clean. It destroyed them. For some strange reason a lot of the newer model loaners had been taken out and we had to give him one of the older processors. It was a shame because the functionality was a little different and the sound had a greater tinny quality. However, there was nothing that happened in that visit that day that would or should have prompted the rest of this story.
I get a call a day later from his mother, who is on the verge of being frantic. She says that her son didn’t go to sleep the night before and stayed up in his room “talking to his imaginary friend.” I guess this is something that is completely new for him. At first she thought it was just one of those cute phases that kids go through and that it was just an overactive imagination. But that morning as she was making breakfast, he told her that he knew about Mr. Jackson. She confided that he was a man who she had been having an affair with for a brief stint. She also confirmed that no one had known or should have known.
When she asked him about it, the boy just said, “The man in his ear told him.” Her eyes went wide with creepy suspicion, and she called me on the off chance that I had any knowledge of ESP being an added cause of hearing aids. I couldn’t confirm her silly suspicions and tossed my hands up in bewilderment. It was certainly a strange call. However it would only get weirder.
His behavior continued to get stranger as he would continue to tell her secrets and odd facts he had no way of knowing. He told his father, ver batim, the last words that his grandfather had said before he passed, and terrified his sister by claiming that their new puppy was going to drown in the pool. The mom had to spend a full hour showing the young girl that the dog could do the doggy paddle just to get her to stop crying.
Still it got worse.
He began referencing the voice as Billy, and stated that he was a little boy just like him. When further questioned, he stated that he could never see Billy but just hear him. Fear itched it way across her body as she listened to him tell her things that Billy told her. How the earth would stop spinning one day and we would all fall into the sun. How serial killers lived in their neighborhood and would kill them in the night.
Finally, she got so tired of it, she pulled the hearing aids out of his ears and locked them away. She wanted to see if it was something that was going on in his head or if it was something that he was hearing. The only two viable options to her were that her son was losing his mind or that he was hearing some strange ghost that was in the home. But neither made sense to her. Up until that point he had been a normally developing child. And no one had ever died in that house, at least to her knowledge. It had been built in the early eighties and had only been occupied by one family before them. And they were both middle aged without any small boys. In fact they had three daughters. It was all very strange.
This information she relayed to me one quiet afternoon, when all of it had gotten to be too much for her. On a last ditch effort; she considered that it might have been the hearing aids, since they were the only changing factor. I seriously doubted that was the case, but went back through the records to see how the last people to sign them out had been. And sure enough, it was the old man who had killed himself with the shotgun.
I rang her up real fast and invited her to come to my office and pour over the records with me. I also called his widow, and to my surprise she answered the phone. After a brief conversation she noted that there was indeed a difference in his husbands temperament right before his suicide. In fact, she said, it all seemed to have begun when he put those hearing aids in.
An hour later, the three of us sat in my office, listening to each others stories and trying to figure out what the common tie was. The widow stated that her husband had started hearing voices.
“He would look around while in the house as though he could hear a distant person talking. Then after a while I would catch him responding. I would walk into a room and he’d be mid sentence with thin air. It was the spookiest thing I’d ever seen. I swear to god, that’s probably what did him in. I don’t know how or why.”
And in that particular moment an odd chill went through the mother’s body. There was no conceivable reason to worry. The boy was safe at home with a babysitter and his hearing aids were in a jar far too high for him to get to. But still, the thought lingered in her brain and she quickly exited the office, stricken with fear. And this phenomenon was nothing more than mother’s intuition.
When she returned home the front door was wide open. The babysitter lay unconscious with blood streaming lazily from a cut on her head. The clay pot the hearing aids were in lay smashed and scattered in her hair. She followed a trail of muddy footprints through the hallway and the kitchen out to the backyard. The new puppy drifted peacefully on the surface of pool, limply staying afloat. A light purple emanated from around it, tendrils slowly reaching out and infecting the pure chlorinated blue water.
And on the flagstones near the deep end, her son stood smiling. Coated in the fresh, dark blood, of his kill.
His hearing aids turned on.