by Michael Tanner
It started with tingles. Little bolts of electricity streaking from his ears to his brain and sometimes spider webbing through his body. They were an odd, kind of momentary pleasure that he couldn’t predict. The sound of a snip from the barber. The girl at the sub shop who said “pickles” with a hard “k.” A sigh from someone pressed close on the crowded subway. Just moments. Just tingles.
Heenan was a lonely man resigned to his loneliness. He woke up, he went to work, he came home, he went to bed. He accepted this. Heenan knew he was inconsequential and he felt nothing for the world. Except for what could give him the tingles.
Online late one night, he stumbled upon a new category of videos. They were simple, just whispering words and tapping on objects, but the effect was extraordinary. The tingles could come easier now, but not every voice worked, not every object’s sound triggered the response.
Then he found her video.
Her screenname was StrangerWhispor. The video was dark, the camera just focused on her hands. He was only the fifth person to view it. He put on his headphones and pressed play. Within moments there was a powerful beating in his head. Each hard consonant, each tap and crinkle sent currents through his body.
He leaned back and let the tingles overtake him. Soon, he began to drift to sleep as StrangerWhispor repeated a soft refrain of “sleep, sleep, sleep.” The way she drew out the end of the word was unique—somehow like a kiss. As he was about to be lulled under the spell, he heard so faintly a question, “Would you kill for me?”
The next morning he awoke with a start. With a twinge of fear, he replayed the video. The tingles exploded like fireworks behind his eyes, but as it came to an end, he did not hear the faintly asked question. He scrolled down to the comments section and although the video was up to ten views, no one had mentioned hearing anything unusual. He dismissed the question as a dream and began his day.
The next night StrangerWhispor posted a new video. Heenan was sitting in front of his computer, constantly refreshing her page, so he saw it immediately. He pressed play and was again lost in the sensations. “Relax,” she repeated again and again. Then the question came, “Would you kill for me?”
Although halfway between asleep and awake, he knew what he had heard. He shook himself alert and paused the video. He ran it back a few seconds, closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then clicked play. “Would you kill for me?” was so faintly hidden at the back of an audio crackle that he had to repeat it again to be sure. He opened the comments section and typed.
He stared at the word on the screen. Why he wrote it, he did not know, but he knew he meant it. What did he expect to happen now? Then, as if by some dark magic, the message popped up on his screen.
StrangerWhispor: Hello. You’re new.
He panicked. He stood up quickly, as if doing so would disconnect him from the moment.
StrangerWhispor: You meant it.
He sank back into the chair and typed again. Yes.
StrangerWhispor: His name is Adam. 222 Rialto Lane. Listen to this when you do it.
She posted a private link to an mp3.
StrangerWhispor: Only listen to it when your hands are ready.
The sun began to rise as Heenan waited outside the address, not sure what his next step was. A man appeared on the porch of the house. Heenan assumed it was Adam. He had to. Heenan looked down at his hands and decided they were ready. He put on his headphones.
Her voice, with its hard peaks and soft valleys, mixed with the strained yelping and gurgling of Adam’s final moments, sent Heenan into a euphoria. As he drove home, he giggled and held onto the sensations echoing through his body for as long as he could.
When he returned to his computer, her messages were still there, but when he responded that it was done, there was no answer. Nothing for four days.
On the fifth day, with a new video, a new “yes,” and a new name, he felt the euphoria again. And on the eighth day. And on the twelfth. He found himself refreshingly free from any misgivings. The tingles were all that mattered.
On the thirtieth day, a peculiar thing happened as the final rattle emanated from Rhonda Arbor’s throat. Instead of the firework, he felt only a faint “pop” like a snapper thrown at the sidewalk. He drove home angry, went to bed depressed. Another day, another video, another name, and still no great euphoria. Four in a row produced nothing of value for Heenan.
Now a new video and Heenan was ready. “No,” he typed. Within a heartbeat StrangerWhispor’s message appeared on the screen asking why. He wrote furiously about his disappointment and his fear that the tingles were gone forever. Her words on a screen couldn’t soothe him. She offered to call, but he refused. She then offered to meet, and he agreed.
Just before dawn, he waited outside his apartment. When he saw a woman at the end of the block, he started toward her. After a few steps, he felt something very solid strike the side of his head. There were no tingles, just bursts of pain exploding behind his eyes.
Knocked to the ground, Heenan felt crushing hands seize around his throat. In between bouts of blackness, he could see his attacker—a young man with a frenzied, euphoric look on his face—a man wearing headphones. With his last breath, Heenan pulled one earbud out and it dangled close to his own ear.
He could faintly hear her voice. And in his final moment in the world, Heenan felt nothing.