All the sound was gone from the world, and it had been like that for a while. At least as long as Darius had been alive and many years before that. The Great Event happened more than a century ago, the story repeated so many times that it had become a legend. It was a pandemic, an infectious disease that altered the course of human history and turned everyone deaf.
The sound never returned, but humans are resilient creatures and found a way to persist and keep society moving. Sign language became familiar and more complex, and there was still the written word. But to live with no sound? Many grieved the loss deeply, and things such as music ceased to exist.
Since Darius never knew sounds, he couldn’t imagine it at all. And as he walked on the wooded trail, he exchanged pleasantries with passersby via sign language. The sun hid behind the clouds above, and the trees swayed in the wind. All his other senses were heightened without sound. The smell of the grass, trees, and flowers hit his nostrils with the utmost potency.
Darius was also a researcher and a scientist. He studied hearing loss and the disease that brought it about, searching for ways to reverse the damage. To no avail, so far. He thought about all this as he walked the trail that Saturday morning. His co-workers at the Institute were excited about a new study on teenagers that showed promise. Some of the subjects could perceive low-frequency humming; it was a breakthrough.
But Darius felt skeptical. There had been many breakthroughs over the decades, only to be found needing improvement. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was that whatever science we could muster to solve this puzzle proved inadequate against the whims of Mother Nature. So, as he walked the trail, he was puzzled when he thought he felt pressure in his ear drums. He didn’t know what to make of it.
There was a tingling sensation, too, and what appeared to be … a noise? Distant, like what the ancients called singing and music. Possibly what could be described as choral singing if he was correct. He followed the noise like a bloodhound, stumbling over himself to get closer. He fell, scraped through the bushes off the trail, and headed for the clearing in the woods.
There, with a glorious light shining down, were twelve angelic-like figures gathered in a circle around a fire. The sound burst through and almost knocked him down. He steadied himself on his knees and cried out, and to his amazement, he could hear his cries.
“Who are you? What is this happening?” he yelled frantically.
The figures continued to sing like angels sent from God. They were clothed in white robes and glowed in the light shining down upon them. Darius couldn’t be sure if he wasn’t hallucinating. He approached the circle and the angelic figures.
“Is this music? Where do you come from?” he asked.
They ignored him and continued singing. The light got more intense, glaring down from above. Then, the angels hovered momentarily before being pulled into the sky. A loud voice rumbled, piercing Darius’ ears. His ears were sore and began to bleed.
“YOU ARE A DOOMED SPECIES,” the voice called out. “LEAVE THIS PLACE AND NEVER RETURN. YOU DO NOT DESERVE THE GIFTS OF SOUND OR ANY OF THE GIFTS WE HAVE TRIED TO BESTOW UPON YOU. YOU ARE SCUM, IMBECILES. FORGET THIS INCIDENT.”
A sudden storm blew through the woods. Tree limbs came crashing down, lighting crackled in the sky, and Darius ran for cover. The storm’s sounds were loud and urgent in his hurting ears, and his confusion had him twisted up. When he returned to the trail, the sky was blackened, and hail poured down. After several minutes, Darius made it back to his car, fumbled for his keys, and bolted into the driver’s seat, remaining there until the storm passed.
When the skies finally cleared, the sounds went away. All was back to normal, and Darius looked around, and it seemed as though no one had noticed what had happened. Families were eating at picnics in the park, and a couple of friends were playing with a frisbee. No rhyme or reason for this sudden and inexplicable incident, and he questioned his sanity.
Darius never told anyone about what happened until he confessed it to his wife many years later. They were lying in bed, and he explained the incident in all its strange detail.
His wife stopped him midway through with a concerned look, and as they communicated through sign language, she told him, “It has happened to many of us, but only the chosen ones. We glimpsed the true reality and the tyrant who rules us and did this to us. You are lucky, though.” He asked why. “You are lucky he didn’t mark you.”
Then his wife pulled back her hair and showed him a spot on her scalp he had never seen before – the branded mark of the beast, 666. “The Devil rules this world now,” she said through sign language. “And only some of us know it.”