The room was filled with the soft light of the morning sun as the alarm clock's wrenching beeps pierced through the silence of Adam Nusbaum's room. It was a plain room meant for only the most basic of human activities. Reading, sleeping and the bathroom for cleaning. Everything from the alphabetized bookshelf to the color-coded clothes in the closet was organized for pragmatic purpose and ease of use. No extras. No frills. On the walls, a single painting hung above the reading chair with the inspirational phrase "Just do it!" in bold yellow letters on top of a runner with nice shoes sweating through a finish line.
Adam was normally ready to "Just do it" in the morning but this particular morning he woke up distracted from the aching pain in his teeth and jaw. This was a new sensation for him and it had disturbed his sleep but he was determined to have a good day regardless. By the time he got out of the shower and brushed his teeth the pain had been willed away by sheer enthusiasm. He literally whistled as he packed his satchel with books with titles such as "Earth: An Introduction to Physical Geology", "Rocks and Minerals", and a paperback of Stephen King's "The Shining". When he got in his car to drive the 15 miles to his job at Lincoln High School the song "I'm Happy" by Pharrell Williams was the first upbeat tune he would slap his hands on the steering wheel to as he belted out the lyrics with only half the words correct.
Adam was still humming the words to "Let it Go" from the soundtrack to the movie "Frozen" when his students filed into the room with the energy and enthusiasm of the last bit of molasses reluctantly dripping out of the end a cold bottle. Most of the students failed to notice the warm smile on their teacher's face as their heads hung down over their chests counteracting the force from their heavy backpacks. He was one of the very few men that could accomplish simultaneously portraying a sense of intense engagement and overwhelming calmness. He leaned against the desk, arms folded and waited patiently for each student to give him eye contact and within a few minutes the room was silent with all eyes on him.
"How are we doing this morning?" Adam asked in a tone that told the students this was not a rhetorical question.
A civilized cacophony of answers erupted from the students. "Pretty good!" "Just fine!" "I'm good." "What's up?" "How are you?"
"I'm doing very well everyone," Adam answered like the question sent his way was an incoming tennis ball requiring a speedy response. "I woke up with a nasty pain in my jaw this morning. I've never felt it before. It felt like every tooth was trying to get out of my skull."
"Maybe you are getting sick," said a helpful female student in the back.
"Maybe," Adam pondered and wondered if he felt any other signs of sickness. "I don't feel sick, Sam. But that might be it."
"Maybe you're grinding your teeth," said a helpful female student from the front row. "My dad grinds his teeth. He has to wear a mouth guard now."
"Hm, maybe I'm grinding my teeth because I'm getting sick? Good thinking Jen." Adam said and looked around the room scanning for a face. He locked onto one and asked, "How was your weekend Sean?"
"Um," Sean started to answer, not prepared for such an ominously simple question. "I, uh, went riding with my dad in the hills above Empire. That was fun."
"That sounds awesome," Adam said remembering when he used to ride motorcycles with his friends in the dunes on weekends. He scanned the room and locked onto another face. "How was your weekend Jax?"
Jax tried to hide his smile but it crept in at the edges of his mouth and betrayed the serious face he thought made him seem more grown up. He said cooly, "I killed my first deer this weekend. With my dad and brother. No big deal."
Some of the other boys were so impressed they let out a harmony with sounds like "ohh" and "aww". Silently Jen grimaced and mouthed the sound, "boo."
"That isn't easy Jax. How did you do it? Gun or bow?" Adam asked.
"Winchester 30 06," Jax said and crossed his arms with pride.
"Why did you shoot the deer?" Adam asked.
Jax unfolded his arms and stared blankly into Adam's eyes and finally offered, "The meat?"
"Alright! Good answer!" Adam said and scanned the room for reactions. Jen was staring at the ground and caught his attention. He asked, "Does anyone have anything else to say before we get started with today's lesson?" Adam hoped she would take his prompt if she had a differing opinion and he waited.
Jen's head was weighed down by the potential shame in dissenting from the majority but she had to say something. The fact that so many classmates were impressed with Jax and his family of killers was unbearable to her. That anyone could kill a defenseless and beautiful animal like a deer was inconceivable and she had to say something. Her eyes lifted and when they were brave enough she spoke, "I think it is morally wrong to kill another living creature. Especially when you don't have to. I mean, we don't have to go out killing creatures in the forest, just minding their own business, just for the fun of it. I don't understand..."
The room was silent for a moment as each student began an internal war of whether or not to think about what she said or to simply go with the group.
"We kill all sorts of animals to feed people," the calm but assertive voice of Callie, a confident 14-year-old student, interjected. "Unless you don't eat meat, I guess."
"Alright class," Adam took over the room with his "teacher" voice. "This is an interesting topic and if anyone would like to talk more about it, or even better if two people or two teams want to have a debate about hunting, farming or something like that, let me know after class and I will help set something up. For now, we need to get back to the task at hand." He turned quickly and pulled a stack of papers from off his desk and waved them in the air wildly. "I look forward to hearing about everyone's weekend during today's lab. We will be getting into to groups to like at some bad ass rocks!"
Adam drove away from the school feeling that the day had been a resounding success. He had started many lively conversations and all the labs went well. The students were engaged and he tried his best not to ignore anyone. His jaw still felt tense after he had bit into an apple during lunch but other than that he was happy. He did wonder what had caused the pain in his mouth. So much was he distracted by its mysterious cause that he didn't once drum his hands to the beat on the steering wheel or belt out any lyrics. The music was on but he wouldn't have been able to tell anyone what had he had heard. He only heard what he thought the sound of grinding teeth might sound like.
At home, he parked in his neat and organized garage where he knew he could find the digital recorder he had once used to do some light podcasting. He found it in a large cardboard box marked "Podcast Addicts" on the side and after some additional rummaging he found the power cable and rushed inside to test it out. He loved the idea of recording himself sleeping. What an unusual experiment it would be, he thought with glee as he tested the recorder by singing "Let it go! Let it go!"
That evening he chopped an onion into perfectly identical cubes making sure to prepare it beforehand as to minimize the vapors infecting his eyes. He minced garlic and mixed in the can of beans and thought about what he would do if it turned out that he was not grinding his teeth. As he poured the hot chili soup into his bowl he wondered what other noises he might hear in the middle of the night.
His house sat among a neat row of virtually identical houses in a shiny new development. He was bound to hear neighbors coming and going or dogs howling. He watched television for exactly one hour, which was what he allowed himself each night and read his current novel. "The Shining" was one he always wanted to read but had never gotten around to before now. Engrossed so fully in the Stephen King book Adam forgot himself and the time and before he knew it he was checking the doors, turning off lights and tucking himself in. He pressed the big red button on the voice recorder that sat on the side table and fell asleep.
The morning came early for Adam as his anticipation coaxed him awake with the prospect of solving one of life's little mysteries. He delayed the gratification of knowing until after his cup of coffee and he stood for quite a while staring out the window into the darkness of the dimly lit street until his mind could no longer hold off the desire to look at the waves of sound on his computer screen. It took a minute or so to load the entire 7 hours of recording time and when it did Adam stretched the timeline out and examined its patterns.
The previous evening's sound profile consisted of a series of sharp peaks like sharks teeth followed by long sections with barely a blip. It mostly consisted of light to medium snoring, the hum of the AC and a curiously short but rapid stint of himself talking. He zoomed into the area that contained him speaking, curious what he might have said while he slept. The peaks were consistently sharp and evenly spaced as if each word was given an equal emphasis like the beginning to a drum roll but it went on for only 30 seconds or so. He raised its volume by 5 decibels as to hear it better.
In his headset, he heard himself repeat with perfect enunciation and rhythm Revelation 12:9 which goes:
"The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him."
This was followed by a wispy rhythmic pulse of sound like wind escaping a crevice at even intervals that lasted only a few seconds followed by another recitation in his voice of the Bible. This time it was Revelation 3:20:
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me."
Adam nearly panicked at hearing himself so easily recite verses he never memorized. He remembered going to Sunday School and being made to memorize bible verses but he still knew all the verses he had memorized fairly well but he didn't recognize the verses. With a sideways glance, he noticed something about the audio signature the followed his rapid hellish sermons. He zoomed in and increased its volume but it was still a rhythmic series of wind. Determined to examine this odd background disturbance he stacked a few more copies of that section to amplify the waves and listened again. This time an amazingly fast and articulate voice that could only be described as sensuous recited another bible verse, this time into Adam's sleeping ears. It was Psalm 34:7:
“The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”
As he listened to this section over again a few more times his heartbeat sped up to match the rapidity and soothing cadence of the one reciting the bible verses to him. Who was it? What was it? Was it him? His mind raced until the cursor continued past that sections and he heard himself repeat what was just said. Loudly he heard himself say, "The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them." His jaw dropped as he stared into the screen not wanting to hear any more. After a stunned moment of shock, his headphone was sharply wrenched from its round port and thrown against the wall.
He put the horrible results on his experiment out of his mind as best he could and continued his normal morning routine. The song "I'm Happy" blared throughout the house as he attempted to regain his positive disposition but even the relentless "I Gotta Feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas wasn't enough to rid his mind of the revelation the sound waves had uncovered. He drove to work in a haze and made it to class just as his first students walked in.
The students noticed he was not in his usual engaged stance but waited in silence none the less. He starred out the window for far too long and then finally asked the class without looking at them, "Where did we leave off?"
"Yesterday we had a lab identifying rocks," the helpful Jen answered with enthusiasm while her teacher looked out the window with a blank expression.
After a moment of silence, he said, "Alright. Let's do that again today." He decided to turn to the class and was glad he did after he saw the eager faces that looked back at him. His spirits were lifted ever so slightly and he added, "This time we will focus on the conglomerate rocks."
The day had passed without help from Adam's conscious perception. His memories were blotted out by the incessant meandering thought of the recitation of Bible verses from the night before. He tried to convince himself that both voices were his own. It was just an odd case of someone whispering and muttering in two voices, one of which was leagues quieter than the other and in a different voice, he thought but failed to fully convince himself. Bible verses from his childhood raced around his head as he searched for any sign that he knew those particular verses he had muttered but his mind held no such memories.
At home, he sat alone in silence, ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup he had made a few days earlier and afterward attempted to distract himself with television. He hoped that the soothing blandness of shows like "America's Got Talent" and "Survivor" would lull his brain into forgetting the fact that soon he would be tired and would have to sleep. As the television beamed its bright distracting rays for hours into his bloodshot eyes his eyelids began to betray him and sunk lower and lower. Before he passed out on the couch he stared at the big red record button on the recorder which grew large and seemed to stare back at him taunting him to dare press it. At four in the morning, he couldn't take it anymore so he shut the television off and with all the bravery he could muster he rolled over, and pressed the big red button and fell asleep.
The morning came but Adam didn't get the message as he snored through the loud beeps of his alarm clock. Sometime after they had stopped their incessant screeches he was awakened by the somewhat less obnoxious sound of his phone's ringer. He wiped a bit of dried drool away from the edges of his mouth and answered it.
On the other end of the phone was the voice of his soft-spoken assistant principle Judith Calahan who asked, "Is everything alright Adam? Your students missed you this morning. This isn't like you."
Adam was as surprised as anyone by this news and when he looked at the time it was already eleven am and the pain in his teeth and jaw became once again apparent. His head was in a haze of confusion as to how he arrived in this particular predicament until he remembered that he had stayed up until past four watching shit television. He was also surprised to find that he was in his bed and that the red light of the recorder was still on. He hit the red button and said, "I'm not feeling well Judith. I'm very sorry but I need to stay home. Might be food poisoning."
"Alright then, but next time, can you give us proper notice, please?" Judith said in an attempted to assert herself.
"Of course," Adam replied and pressed the little red button to hang up the phone. He laid in bed and stared at the recorder for what felt like hours as he contemplated its contents. Would there be another bible verse reading or something even worse on its digital brain? At 11:30 he forced himself out of bed and made a cup of coffee. As the hot brown liquid flowed through his veins he began to feel normal again. That is until he walked into his room and found that the recorder was still sitting on the side table testing his will. Why put off the inevitable? He was a scientific man and this was simply a scientific proposition and that is all there was to it.
The downloaded file looked the same as it had the day before. Mostly small blips and bleeps but to Adam's scientific horror there was a section in the middle of more pronounced sharp peaks and valleys that indicated he had spoken into the recorder once again. This time the peaks and valleys were not so rapid and not so regular but instead looked more like the profile he remembered from when he would edit his podcast episodes except that where the second person would normally have spoken there were smaller wave forms which indicated the second speaker was barely audible. He put the cursor to the first section and pressed the space bar down. He heard himself speak.
"You again. I don't want to learn any more bible verses. I want what you promised."
Adam adjusted the nearly silent sections between his words and listened to the voice in the margins.
"You will get all that you wish for and more but you must be patient and you must do as you are told."
"I will. Just tell me what to do." Adam was disgusted to hear himself sound so feeble.
"You are not yet worthy of the mercy of the lord. You must purge the evil that surrounds you. You must vanquish the corruption that would infect and defile the innocent."
"Who is corrupt? Who must I destroy?" Adam listened to his enthusiastic other self in horror.
"You have been chosen to rid the world of a great evil. One that has already used their power to molest innocent children at your school. One that sits at the most powerful desk and has given you your position. One that plots even now, as you sleep, to take another by the end of the week."
"I know of whom you speak. Principal Mauser."
"Yes," the voice hissed in excitement. "Now, get up and go to your room. You will sleep well today for there is much to do soon. You will tell Judith Calahan that you have food poisoning. Then you will fulfill your duty and be blessed."
"Yes, master. Thank you, master." Adam said and then heard the rustle of himself getting up off the couch to trod into his bedroom.
He heard himself say the words but didn't believe it. Was he going insane? How could he test this theory? Show someone? Who could he show? They would think he was schizophrenic, delusional and other words Adam remembered from his psychology course in college. He couldn't tell anyone, he decided. He didn't even know what he would tell them. He moved around the house like a zombie unaware that he was talking to himself out loud and pacing in and out of rooms with no conscious effort.
The clock struck 1:30 PM and he was still enough for a silent lunch, followed by frantically going over the audio files for the next 6 hours. He dissected them with every audio editing trick he could think of. With the help of YouTube's finest giving him advice on how to use the AudioCity freeware program to edit audio files. He also used Youtube to search for evidence of paranormal activity. YouTube's algorithms acted as a divining rod which guided him into an endless spiral of ghostly videos. With titles like "10 Terrifying Recordings of Paranormal Activity" and "10 Possessed People on Tape" his mind slowly deteriorated into madness.
It was three in the morning when Adam drove to Principal Mauser's house. There would have been a darker veil covering the town that night but the clouds had opened up just for him to reveal a full and bright moon that lit his path. Like a beacon, it stayed in view guiding him toward the defiler's home. He made no attempt at a stealthy entrance, and even as he stumbled out of the vehicle, still wearing the same clothes he slept in the night before, the high beams of his car shown against the front windows of the pale gray house. Something glimmered in his hand as he stood and stared at the house until the door opened.
The principal burst out of the house with a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other. Henry Mouser was not the kind of man that would shrink from an altercation, but instead did as he always did in such situations, he met it head-on. "Who's there!" He shouted and pointed both hand held implements at the dark figure in his front yard. The flashlights 500 lumens should have blinded Adam as it slammed against his face but he didn't blink. When the principal recognized who stood in front of him he sighed in relief. It was only the happy, quiet and generally ignorable geology teacher. "Mr. Nusbaum? What in the hell are you doing here? It's three in the fucking morning man."
Adam said nothing but instead stared at the principal as he recounted the demon's words in his head:
"You have been chosen to rid the world of a great evil... One that plots now, as you sleep, to take another by the end of the week."
He had listened to it so many times that day that it echoed off the walls of his mind like an alarm. It rang in his head so loudly he barely heard the principal say, "What's that in your hand?"
Adam looked down and saw the 22 caliber revolver his dad had given him when he was a boy in his hand and smiled with gleeful surprise as if he hadn't been the one to place it there. He continued to smile as he raised the pistol upward and as he did so so did Principal Mauser raise his pistol upward.
"What are you doing? You crazy motherfucker!" Principal Mauser yelled with sheer anger and confusion.
The flash from Adam's pistol fought against the flashlight's beam and won the day as its projectile hit its glass bulb straight on which caused a temporary darkness to fill the yard. Time slowed for both men but only lasted until the next shots rang out. The next 15 seconds were punctuated by flashes and bursts from both pistols as both men pulled their respective triggers as fast as they could. While neither of them was trained in the ways of the duel they each met the challenge with equal effectiveness. When the flurry of noise and sparks ended both men fell to the ground. Both bled from multiple wounds. Mrs. Mauser called for paramedics as she held her husband's lifeless body.