Author : Rachelle Shepherd
He came into the house throwing looks back over his shoulder. He had the shuffle to his step that suggested less than legal activities.
“You have something?” I asked. He gave me a quick nod and shut the door. He slid the bolts, city lockdown style.
Barrel pulled something from his pocket. It was a tangle of wires around bottle green plastic.
“Are those headphones?” I asked. Maybe I whispered. Maybe I even choked.
Barrel brought me the bundle and laid it in my lap. We both looked at it, full of wonder and paranoid fear.
“Bring me the console.”
Barrel went into the closet and came back out with a box made up of processors, audio chips, memory chips, and software. He placed the black box at my feet. It was smooth except for one jack. It had no logo or label and it was fashioned with the old kind of power plug that went straight into the wall.
The one jack was a headphone jack, phased out of legal electronics before I had hit puberty. It produced sound. It ran voltage across its circuits to create the cold electronic beats of a constant current. Auditory hallucinations.
It was the kind of drug you bought from the back of pawnshops.
We tackled the process of untangling the wires, uncoiling the dusty knots of a decade, relaxing the tension behind stiff black rubber sheath.
Headphones are a method of injection. I could feel the straightened wires vibrating in my hands, heavy with a history of music. Emotion, straight to brain, quicker than the fastest intravenous hit. Humming with the potential for overdose.
“Do you think they work?” Barrel asked. Headphones are brittle things, prone to sound in one ear and static in the other. Familiar with abuse. Close relatives with silence.
I sent him stumbling around with the power cord looking for a plug in, that vacant expression made up of what goes into it. While empty it represents nothing but potential.
Barrel plugged in the console. With a spark, it lit up its circuits.
The console couldn’t be commanded. It couldn’t be controlled or directed. It could only be trusted. I put the headphones on, let them settle comfortably around my ears.
I plugged them in.
I let the console work, let it figure up the complex algorithm behind the method of creation. Barrel was in my line of sight, asking questions. I couldn’t hear him beyond the mute sensory deprivation but I saw his expression, his excitement and anxiety visible in the shifting focus of his eyes.
The console heated up long cold components and pumped lifeblood electricity through stiff circuits. Within the headphones I heard something building. Something creeping up the wires. I heard sound.
Not the sound of language but the sound of expression.
I handed the headphones to Barrel. He slipped them on, slid into pure ecstasy. Sunk to the floor and closed his eyes, opened his mind.
There was a heavy pounding on the door. They were here.
I stood up, shaky and nervous. Altered, like an executed program, unable to erase the data log of my experiences, unable to close those forever open logic gates.
I knew who they were. Towering figures of authority, coming to investigate the electricity spike. Coming to sniff out the outdated illegal electronics of an era of art. I kissed Barrel on the cheek. He never opened his eyes, again. Then I answered the door.