January 1: "Things that enter by way of silence"

- Mental Noise -

In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.

Jason didn't intend to consciously think about his breathing. It was just the only sound around him. The only thing he could hear.

His watch was in the living room, and he didn't have an analog clock in his bedroom since the ticking normally would just drive him mad. If he rolled over he could look at the green glow of his alarm clock to figure out how long he was encased in silence. He wasn't sure he wanted to move.

His ears re-calibrated. There must be more to the world than my breathing, he thought. He concentrated, but the world wouldn't cooperate. The air was still, dry, and cold. Birds were already asleep. Crickets were hibernating, or whatever it was they did in the winter. There weren't enough small rodents about to satisfy any owls. Someone had completely put Nature on mute.

Humanity was just as stubbornly silent. His neighbors were long asleep. The college was out, so no rambunctious young adults, drunk on both booze and freedom, were wandering the streets. Jason was nestled too far in the cul-de-sac for cars to pass. In truth, as he lay in bed, he had no proof beyond common faith that others still existed outside his room. Much like his faith that the sun would rise in a few hours.

In. Out. In. Out.

Was he breathing louder; harder? Was it on purpose? Was it a way to push back the silence, or a way to prove to himself that at least he still lived? Was it his proof that he didn't abruptly become deaf?

Instinctively, he nonchalantly cleared his throat. It was almost unbearably loud to his freshly attuned ears. He was all but convinced that his neighbors would soon be pounding on his door; demanding he keep it down so late at night.

He even waited. He halted his breath in hopes a new sound would fill the void. Nothing. He waited longer. Still nothing. Few more seconds.

His lungs gave up in an exploding exhale. How long was that? he wondered. How long can I hold my breath? Thirty seconds? Fifty? Over a minute? Closer to five? Was it enough time for something else to fill the vacuum? Nature abhors vacuums, after all.

He then wondered if that fact took on a literal form. Is that why animals despise vacuum cleaners? He mentally chuckled at himself. Then realized it felt like a sound.

It wasn't. He was still completely alone in the land of the hearing. Only he made noise, and even that was simply his breath.

His thoughts seemed loud, though. It was an illusion of sound. He could drown everything else out as cars exploded in his head, and a band played to a stadium of cheering fans.

He noticed that his own mental voice could whisper to his brain, or shout to the point of nearly startling him out of bed.

He stopped trying to meditate by focusing on his breath. It was too maddening. It would never lull him to sleep. Instead, he flooded his world with mental tambourines crashing, and sports fans cheering, and cars zipping by. He even narrated over everything.

"Is that my voice?" he spoke, as if testing his theory. All the other mental noise vanished. It was just his mind echoing his words: Is that my voice?

His already closed eyes squinted. Something was off. The mental voice was his. It was the same voice he always heard in his head: when he thought to himself; when he read a book; when he played back memories. The voice was familiar. It was him.

But it wasn't. This voice was deeper, and somehow more masculine. It was more articulate, almost over enunciating words, as if trying to sound them out. Did he always think so slowly?

The mental voice sounded more like his father than his own voice. Or, rather, like he was perpetually imitating his father's voice. Either that, or his father trying to convince him this was Jason's true voice.

Yet it didn't sound the same as when he vocalized, even when the thoughts were a direct echo. Nor did it sound like recordings of him; knowing full well the science behind one's voice sounding different to the self compared to what the rest of the world heard.

Was it possible that even after hearing himself speak regularly, his brain still couldn't memorize the sound? Was it true for all people? Was there a science behind it? Has anyone attempted to study the phenomenon?

Jason wasn't sure where in the conversation with himself he finally drifted off to sleep, but he was thankful it eventually happened. When he woke, he vaguely recalled filling the room with mental noise to keep his sanity, but the clash of the tambourines were his last recollections. For the remainder of his life, the only times he again contemplated the implications of hearing a familiar yet foreign voice in one's head occurred shortly before sleep took him. It was as if the mystery Jason stumbled upon was somehow actively hiding itself from study. Always lingering on just the edge of consciousness.

**A/N: Sort of a stream-of-conscious story. I honestly had no clue where I was going with this story. I just did as Judy Reeves suggested: trust the pen. I purposely sat in silence to see what truly did enter that way.

Also, clocking in at 865 words, this is my first vignette of the new year for my friend Ronoxym's writing challenge for me.**