I have a secret. A gift. It sets me apart in ways that are both dangerous and rewarding; it’s like being a superhero. I can’t fly or walk through walls, but I do have a special sense: I’m hard of hearing. I think of it as the opposite of ESP. Anything others can hear, I can hear... Differently. If at all.
In the ordinary world, my hearing loss is disadvantageous. I rarely pass a day without blundering into social pitfalls as a result of missing or mis-hearing something subtle or important. And I can’t just listen-up for threats like most people. Cars, bicyclists, creepers on my tail? Even if someone helpful shouts a warning, I may not hear it. And if I do, I may not understand what I’ve heard in time for it to make a difference. After a lifetime of injuries and insults, I’ve developed survival habits: I glance over my shoulder a lot, always double-check before crossing the street, keep my back to the wall, stay as far to one side of paths and sidewalks as I can, and look up often from whatever I’m reading or fiddling with in my hands. Whenever I’m out with someone and they ask why I’m distracted, I tell them, “I’m just paying attention.” To everything, all the time. It’s exhausting.
Still, if science could ‘perfect’ my hearing and protect new ears from damage, I wouldn’t exactly jump for joy. I’m happy in my parallel universe. The audio here is muted and warped, but other sensations are louder and clearer.
I feel more sounds than I hear, and what I hear is... strange. Like being surrounded by ghosts. I listen with my skin and bones. For me, sounds themselves are merely suggestions. Accessories. Dim echoes of actual experience. Secondhand memories. When I hear a sound I don’t feel first, it seems unreal. A part of me doubts the veracity of anything that can reach me without first making contact.
The world is always abuzz, but pressure waves muddle each other, confusing each other’s signals and making my skin crawl. Crowds, traffic, ocean waves, choral music? I might as well be drowning, they put me under such pressure to interpret what I’m feeling too much of and only half-hearing. To me, vibration is a poor messenger compared to scent.
So I smell everything. I identify people by their odors as much as by their other features. Perfumes are bold lies and cigarette smoke is passive aggression. Underlying odors reveal more: That person is menstruating, this one is a dry alcoholic, that one lives with a dog. And it’s not just bodies. Every room, every hall, every street corner I’ve ever encountered is positively haunted.
Like everyone with a gift, I also have my bane. Wind plays havoc with all my special perceptions. Breezes batter my clothes and pluck at my hair, sending chills up my spine until I can’t feel the difference between shivering and the rumble of an approaching train. Scents thin and mingle indiscriminately until they make about as much sense as a poltergeist in television static. All that noise, and the wind howls in my baffled ears, as well.
Which leaves me with vision. A sense that’s essentially useless in the dark and easily confounded by tricks of light. But it’s not all bad. When the wind blows, I secret myself away to read in peace. And quiet. Once in awhile, I even get to read about characters with gifts like mine living in strange, beautiful worlds all their own...
Kay T. Holt is Co-founder and Editor for Crossed Genres Publications. In addition to Crossed Genres Magazine, she edited Salsa Nocturna by Daniel José Older, Broken Slate by Kelly Jennings, and A Festival of Skeletons by RJ Astruc.
She also co-edited the Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology with Bart R. Leib and The Other Half of the Sky anthology with Athena Andreadis.
Kay is a core contributor to Wired.com's GeekMom blog and Science in My Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in M-Brane SF, Rigor Amortis, Beauty Has Her Way, Full Throttle Space Tramps, and the Subversion anthology.
Find her online at twitter.com/sandykidd