The Vigilant


Carmine

The ringing started when I fired three shots inside an enclosed space at a fire-breathing gargoyle. The first night, I figured it was temporary and would go away in a few hours.

The second night, I figured the ringing would go away in a few days but I would probably lose my mind in the meantime.

The fifth night, the ringing was still burrowing into my cochlea and I was praying for the sweet release of death.

By day number seven, I had accepted that the high-pitched shriek was my life-long companion now, and I was just going to have a hard time understanding people speak until the end of time.

But I had everything under control. Pretty much everyone in my family is Deaf or Hard of Hearing, so I already had a decent idea of what challenges to expect, and I was doing my best to tackle them, alone. Alone was important. If nobody knew I'd blown a gunshot-shaped hole in my hearing, nobody could ask how it happened. Nobody had to know that I was wearing masks and dishing out vigilante justice to alien invaders.

On the eighth day, I started getting subtle hints that my sisters had caught on.

First, my little sister Pixley snuck up behind me while I was working, and delicately maneuvered a paper towel roll next to my ear, and even if the whispered word "moist" didn't reach my ears, the breath did. I flinched so hard that I would've given myself a saltpeter facial if I wasn't wearing my respirator mask. She couldn't stop cackling as I chased her out of my room. I signed, "What is wrong with you?" and jabbed her shoulder on "you" to hurry her out.

This is what happens when you tinker with all the locks in the house. They break and then you have no privacy.

After I washed the powder out of my hair, I stepped out of the shower and scarred my other sister Dixon for life. Apparently she had announced her presence before grabbing her makeup from the bathroom, and was talking to me for two minutes. I didn't even hear her over the water.

When she figured that out, Dixon took out her hearing aid and pressed it into my hand. She was making a joke, but when she took it back, she was clearly giving some thought on whether to ask me a few serious questions. In the end, she didn't mention my hearing, or any of the scrapes and scratches I'd been hiding, or the bruise on my forehead I usually kept under a beanie, or any of it.

Pixley kept sneaking up on me with the paper towel roll. I got sick of it after a few repeat performances, and put a mirror on my desk so I could see the door open and shut as she came into my room. What I saw put me on edge, like really put me on edge. She was gradually stepping closer, testing to find out the distance at which I could hear a whisper. I told her to go away before she got close, and that must've satisfied her because Pixley quit ambushing me.

On day eleven, I was vacuuming the living room when I felt a stomp run through the floor. I glanced around, and caught sight of my dad. He was standing in the doorway behind me, holding a heaping basket of laundry that I forgot to pull out of the drier.

I fumbled to shut off the vacuum, and turned around. "Hey! Hi."

Dad looked exasperated. "I raised you better than that. Look at me when I'm talking to you, alright?" he said.

I cringed. Oh. He was probably talking for who knows how long and I was totally unaware. I said, "Sorry, I guess?"

He furrowed his brow.

"Uh." This time I couldn't actually come up with an excuse or even hold eye contact. Well, good game everybody, time to pack it in.

He dropped the clothes basket on the floor, smiled real big, and signed to me, "Cool, we're getting you a checkup because you blew off your last two already."

My heart attempted a daring escape through my rib-cage.

"Dad, that's-"

"Nope, this is not up for discussion." He turned and walked out.

"Dad!" I said, but you can't argue with a Deaf man when he's in another room. I groaned, tromping after him.

I'm not sure how much you've heard, but the Vigil has a pretty poor track record with medical professionals. If you have one good experience with a doctor and one bad, that's a 50% success rate. But if you have any number of good experiences and then three experiences where a doctor tries to murder you, that's more like a 300% failure rate.

He knocked on my older sister's door and immediately walked into her room. I followed, persistently tapping on his shoulder to try to get his attention.

Mom was already in there, going through the closet. My little sister Pixley was wearing five layers of Dixon's tee-shirts and a heap of necklaces. Pixley held her arms above her head, and Mom tugged a sixth shirt over her head.

Dixon looked up from her laptop, taking out an earbud. She said, "What ridiculous thing did Carm do this time?"

I had everybody's interest.

Dad grabbed me in a hug as I tried to slip out. "Dixon, could you call your brother's doctor and get him a physical?"

She looked spooked. "Yeah, sure."

"Wow!" I drew attention to the mound of clothes that was my little sister. "What a funny thing that's happening over there! We should talk about that!"

Mom came over to me, worried. "We're spring cleaning, sorting out which clothes we're keeping and which we're donating."

"Donating to meee," Pixley said, as she pulled a dozen tangled necklaces out of her collar.

Mom asked, "You didn't hear me tell you about it?" She started peering in my ear.

"I'm fine, really," I said, but you can't argue with a Deaf woman when she's focused on inspecting your earhole. "Really," I insisted, mostly to everybody else in the room now.

Mom and Dad both let me go, pulling back to a more serious distance. Mom shielded her mouth and said out loud: "Margare_da_odil_ are ugly." Then she asked, "Okay, repeat back what I just said."

I can't hear certain whispery noises like "t" and "f," but there were enough sounds left that I could fill in the rest from context. Mom was probably critiquing our neighbor's poor gardening skills again. I guessed, "Maggie's daffodils are ugly?"

She frowned. "Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Telling you," I said quickly.

She went back to looking me over, the other ear this time. I'd passed the test, but I wasn't off the hook just yet.

Dixon glanced at me and then Dad. "Am I calling the doctor… now?"

"Yes, please do," he said, and so Dixon did.

I tried to laugh like this was a really funny joke. "Is this really necessary?"

Dad said, "If something's out of the ordinary, you get checked out. That's how it works. You can't coast through your healthcare like you coast through your classes."

Oh man, we were really hitting the bingo card of uncomfortable topics hard today.

I said sloppily, "It's just a little ringing, it'll be gone before we can even get an appointment!"

Dixon shifted the phone. "Good news, there's an opening tomorrow afternoon."

I cursed into my hands.

"Great!" Dad said, relieved. "Dixon, can you get your brother to his appointment tomorrow?"

She nodded and scribbled down the time.

"Then it's settled."

"But…" My mind was racing. I slid a hand under my hat and touched the hidden bruise on my forehead, but I would need far, far more hands to cover up all the other nasty prizes I'd racked up from months of meleeing monsters. I couldn't let the doc see me, I couldn't go, I couldn't go.

Dixon was still looking at me as she closed her laptop and got off the bed. "Hey, don't look so glum," she said, and sang, "I hear they give you a lollipop if you're good!"

I sighed. "Thank you, Dixon, that's of great comfort to me."

It was about that time that I resolved to sabotage this doctor's appointment in every way I could.

Pixley went back to combing through the closet. She beamed as she took a crop top off the hanger.

Mom snatched it out of her hands.

Dixon bit back a laugh, putting an elbow on Pixley's head. She said to Mom, "It's fine, it'll be full-length on her."

Pixley pushed her off, and she stood on tip-toes, squaring off with Dixon. "Just wait until I get my growth spurt. Revenge will be swift. Swift and very tall."