Droning Silence

The noise is unrelenting; a constant, dull, low, unidentifiable hum, almost imperceptible. Almost. The noise drones on all hours of the day. Everyday. For how long now? Jack can’t remember when it started. Weeks ago? Months maybe? He knows it’s not a new noise, he’s sure it hasn’t always been there. Or has it? He is starting to doubt his own memory.

“Do you hear that?” Jack asks, finally unable to take it anymore. He can’t decide if he has a headache or if the noise is wearing on him.

“Hear what?” his wife, Jenny, asks.

“That low humming. Like a small engine running constantly.”

“They’re probably working down at the village.”

“No. It’s not that kinda noise. It’s been running to long.” Jack replies. He looks out the window towards the village.

“Maybe the Murphy’s got some new equipment.”

“Nah, it’s not that either. I just spoke to him last week. He’s had a good year, it’s true, but he didn’t mention any new machinery.”

Jack puts his cup down and pushes away from the table, “Think I’ll go into town today and see what I can find out.”

In the village, things are happening as usual; no road crews, no new construction, no unusual machinery running, nothing out of the ordinary. But the sound is still there. It’s still the same pitch, volume, and tempo everywhere in town. It’s relentless. It’s vibrating through Jack’s skull, driving him mad.

Jack wanders into the market on high street. If anyone knows anything about unusual happenings in the village, it will be Mary.

“Morning Mary,” Jack nods to the slim older woman behind the centuries old counter.

She puts down the newspaper she’s reading, “Morning Jack. Not your usual day is it? What’s bothering you?” She asks as she folds her paper neatly.

“That droning? The low machine noise, you hear it?”

“Aye.” Mary nods.

“Well, what is it then? It’s driving me mad.”

“I don’t know. Wish I did. But I don’t have an answer for you. Been going on about four weeks now, as far as I can tell. I first noticed it on Johnny’s birthday. Thought it was a coincidence, that’s why I remember. Could be longer?” She shrugs, “I don’t know. That’s just when I first noticed.”

Nodding towards the road sign pointing to the next village, she continues, “They must be working on the roads over there, or between here and there. Or maybe in one of the other villages nearby. But no one I ask knows anything about anything that would make such a noise.”

She shrugs again, stands, and directs Jack towards the back of the shop, “I have noise cancelling headphones in the back, by the phone accessories, if you need a pair. They’ve been pretty popular lately. Hard to keep them in stock.”

“No. Thanks, though. You’ve been quite helpful. Jenny doesn’t seem to hear it.”

“Aye.” Mary nods, “I noticed that. Not everyone hears it. Can’t pick a pattern though. I’d say it’s even. Between men and women hearing it, that is. All ages too. Haven’t yet figured the connection.”

“Hmm.” Jack scrunches his eyebrows in thought. He fumbles in his pocket for some change and pays Mary for a newspaper. “This will be all today. Might take a drive and do some of my own investigating.”

Mary collects the change. The old metal cash register opens with a familiar ca-ching.  “You be careful. I’ve got a funny feeling, can’t explain it. Don’t think the noise is any good, like it’s a warning of some kind. I don’t think it’s natural either. Has a weird sense to it.”

She leans forward, conspiratorially, and points to a village on the map under the glass on the countertop. “Think you should start there, feel like it’s coming from that direction, somehow. Maybe not the village itself, but somewhere that way.”

She leans back again, “There are good people there. My ma’s side still has a farm, got some cousins over there. Don’t think this noise is natural, I feel like something bad’s gonna happen. Haven’t heard of any new factory or giant machinery over there. When you’re there, you visit Joan on Bollyanor Way. She’s got a tearoom, nice little shop. She’s my cousin. She’ll know if anything’s up. Love her to pieces. We were besties as girls, but my she can be a gossip.”

Jack smiles, “Will do. Thanks for the tip,” Jack tips his cap as he leaves the shop.

Jack expects the noise to change as he travels from one village to the next. He’s not sure how, but he feels like it should get louder, or sound muffled, or change pitch. Something. Anything. But it doesn’t. Not in volume, pitch, or speed.

The droning is so constant that it begins to mess with Jack’s thinking. He feels as if he’s in a slow-motion movie. The road and the scenery pass by at a steady, slow, metered clip. He finds himself driving at the speed of the rumble in his head and repeatedly looking at the speedometer only to notice how terribly slow he is driving.

He reaches his destination in almost twice the time it should have normally taken him. When the village square comes into view, Jack breathes a sigh of relief, although he’s unsure why he should feel relieved, and he didn’t notice he was tensing up until he released the tension with a long sigh. He find’s Mary’s cousin’s shop. He pauses before opening the car door, listening.

He’s so accustomed to the droning that it takes him a minute to hear it. Jack realizes he must listen around the low buzzing, listen to all the other sounds, in order to hear the droning. It’s as if the noise is slowly becoming a part of the ambient noises in his life – like tinnitus or the church tower bells. He realizes that this is likely why others don’t hear it. Could it be that their brains have already accepted this droning as part of their surroundings? He shakes his head, as if shaking his thoughts loose, straightens his cap and jacket, and heads into the quaint tea shop.

Mary was right, it’s a darling little shop. Even Jack, who would prefer a pub to a tearoom, can see the appeal of this place. Mary was right about her cousin being a gossip, as well. A woman who could pass for Mary’s sister is preparing a pot of tea for a glassy eyed young woman. Noticing the young woman’s thoughts are worlds away, Jack overhears Joan scold, “I’m telling you, he’s up to no good. Stay away from that one.”

“Yes Ma’am,” the young woman nods noncommittally as she takes the tray of tea and scones that’s being pushed across the counter towards her.

“Welcome! What can I get you?” Joan asks Jack.

Jack smiles, “Just a cup please, Mary sent me. Well, she didn’t send me, I sent me. I mean, I’m curious about the droning noise, and thought I’d visit some of the other villages to see where it’s coming from. Mary said you might know something about it. You’re Joan, her cousin, right?”

“I see.” Joan gathers the necessary tea making items, “Well, I don’t know that I can help you. I know about as much about it as she does, the old bat. We talk daily, you know.” She swirls some hot water in a cup. Jack tries not to smirk; there’s no question Joan and Mary are related.

“So, nothing, then?” he asks.

Joan raises and eyebrow, “Didn’t say that. I know enough to narrow things a bit. It doesn’t get louder, or quieter, no matter where you are. I’m sure it goes away at some point, but it seems to cover quite a distance around here. And it’s odd that it doesn’t change. Can’t seem to pinpoint an origin.”

Jack scowls. This information isn’t helpful.

“It’s not airborne, like a horn or from an aircraft. Or doesn’t seem to be. I think it’s in the ground, but that doesn’t seem right either somehow. I even called the earthquake people.”

“Earthquake people?”

It’s Joan’s turn to scowl, “Yes, the department of Seismology. With the Giant’s Causeway nearby, I thought it worth a phone call.”

Jack nods in agreement, “Understood. Did they have any answers?”

Joan nods, “Aye. They did. Didn’t like it. Made no sense. They said they were monitoring the situation and that there was no reason for alarm.” Joan pours Jack a cup of tea.

“So, they know about it?”

“Appears so. But concerned me more that they didn’t tell me it wasn’t volcanic, that they evaded my question.”

Jack crosses his arms, leans back in his chair, and nods, “I see what you mean.” He adds sugar and cream to his cup.

“So,” he asks, “what do you think is causing the noise?”

Joan looks around the shop. Whispering, she replies, “People think I’m crazy. I think it’s coming from the Causeway. But I don’t know why. Or how, for that matter. I feel like the ground should be vibrating, or something, if it were coming from the Causeway. But I’ve got this feeling. I’ve got a bad feeling.”

“You really are Mary’s cousin, aren’t you?” Jack smiles.

“You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t believe her, though, would you? So, what does it matter what I think? What do you think?”

“I think I might need to take a drive. Haven’t been to the Causeway myself since I was a boy anyway.”

Joan nods, “Lots of tourists these days.”

Joan moves on to help other customers. Jack watches as other customers come and go. He finishes his tea. When he pays, Joan gives him a map of the village, with several locations highlighted. As he unfolds the map to view more of it, the highlighted locations form a shape. It’s almost circular, but not quite. There are just enough corners and edges to make it a hexagon.

“What’s this?” Jack asks as he outlines the hexagon on the map with his hand.

“Those are the villagers, or locations, that have been bothered most by the buzzing.”

“Buzzing? Hm. I guess it is a kind of buzzing. I hear it more as a low rumble.”

Both pause and listen for a moment.

“Interesting shape.” Jack says, as he points to the map again.

“I think you need to get to the Causeway.” Joan says.

“I’m curious,” Jack asks as he dons his coat and cap, “has no one gone out there to investigate this noise? You?”

“No, not me. But there have been a few. They didn’t find anything. Most of them now deny they ever heard anything. One woman even went a bit mad. Sad really.” Joan shakes her head, “And odd. All those tourists? People crawling all over the Causeway all the time, and no one hears it when they leave? What did that poor woman hear that made her mad?”

“When you say mad? What exactly do you mean? What am I walking into?”

“Her family said she was always talking about invaders destroying the planet. Said that after she visited the Causeway it got worse. She started giving everything away and ranting about the end of the world. She wasn’t sleeping. Sad really. Her son had her committed.” Joan shakes her head.

“Tell you what,” Jack says, as he pulls out his cell phone, “Since I’ll have to drive past here when I go home, I’m setting a reminder to stop here before I go home. I’ll set an alarm, a task to pick something up for Mary. That way, if I forget what I went there for, you’ll know. Don’t know what good it’ll do me. But it’ll give you a bit more to go on. How does that sound?”

“Sounds good, but you won’t remember.” Joan shrugs.

Jack leaves the shop. He returns to his car and turns it towards the Giants Causeway. He tries to remember what he knows about the place, both the myths and the facts – tales of Finn MacCool and his wife tricking the giant across the sea, and the Causeway being made of ancient volcanic structures. Jack thinks back to the last time he visited the Causeway when he was a small child. What about this place would cause such a noise? A snoring giant would make sense but isn’t logical; giants aren’t real. Finn couldn’t possibly be slumbering, could he? Volcanic rumblings make sense as well, but why hadn’t he heard anything about it?

He pulls off onto a side road to avoid the business and overcrowding of the tourists flocking near the Visitors’ Center and a few of the more recognized basalt structures. He hopes the dirt lane he’s using isn’t private property. Jack didn’t see any signs, but he’d hate to get in trouble for trespassing; how would he explain what he’s doing here, when he, himself, isn’t sure of the answer. Parking the car, he gets out and looks over the horizon.

The Giant’s Causeway is spectacular from this vantage point. The pillars and layers of hexagons look like a cityscape of towers and buildings artfully arranged to utilize every inch of space. He takes a few steps, watching the landscape change and morph from a cityscape of towers to some sort of steppingstone game, to a beehive structure.

He pauses. The realization takes his breath away. A beehive. That droning. His neighbor’s beehive hums with activity much like the constant buzzing he’s investigating. Could he be hearing a giant beehive. It’s not possible. He spins around, taking in the structure of the land around him. He feels dizzy. It’s a beehive. Why has no one figured this out?

Jack falls to his knees and presses his ear to the ground. The noise changes. It gets louder. Jack can feel it in his knees. His whole body is vibrating as the sound rumbles through the ground. The mysterious noise is coming from the Causeway. The realization startles him, he falls back onto his butt. His teeth rattle. The droning continues.

Shaking, from the rumbling of the earth or fear, Jack isn’t sure, he pulls a pair of binoculars from his coat pocket; an avid birder, he usually has a pair about his person. He uses them to scan the area, watching the tourists in the distance. They’re jumping, walking, posing for selfies, as if nothing unusual is happening. Jack wonders if any of them can hear the droning. He wonders if any of them can feel the tremors.

He stops scanning the crowd. There’s a small child with a look of terror on their face. The small tot bends over, and like Jack did just moments ago, they put an ear to the ground. Shocked by the noise, or the vibration, the young child screams. They jump up, and again, like Jack, fall over backwards onto their butt. The child begins sobbing and crying. Jack can’t stop watching. The adults nearby try to shush the child, they scold the youngster. But the child won’t stop crying.

Jack resumes scanning the crowd. More children are doing the same as Jack and the first child have done. One by one, they kneel, listen, cry out in terror, and fall back on their rumps. Even at this distance Jack can hear them screaming. Their wailing quickly falls into a rhythm. They match one another’s pitch. Jack cocks his head and listens. They’re matching the droning. Their screaming syncs with the droning.

Adults hastily pick up their screaming children. Everyone tries to scramble off the Causeway. Jack doesn’t need binoculars to see the chaos.  Jack’s head feels like it’s going to explode, the droning is getting louder. He can’t quite tell if noise is making him believe the ground is rumbling, or if the tremors are real. Jack watches as the spaces between the hexagonal pieces and pillars slowly expand.

He scoots back frantically, trying to move away before the gaps widen far enough for him to fall between the pillars. He stumbles upright. Jumping from pillar to pillar he makes his way to the edge of the Causeway, to solid ground. Jack leans against the car and tries to catch his breath. The noise is unbearable now, he squeezes his head between his hands. Jack closes his eyes and turns away. He wants to run but he can’t move. His feet feel heavy and unmovable.

Jack feels movement in the air. It’s rhythmic, like the droning and the childrens’ screaming. It’s almost as if he’s being fanned by someone who’s moving in time with the noise. Jack opens his eyes. Peering back at him are two of the largest compound eyes he could ever imagine. Each one is the size of Jack’s head. Between the two giant eyes are three smaller ones. All five eyes are scanning Jack. Jack gawks at the monstrous bee hovering before him.

They are everywhere. Bees the size of automobiles are swarming out of the cracks in the Giant’s Causeway. Hundreds, thousands even. All of them, except the one before Jack, are speeding up into the atmosphere.

“Are you leaving?” Jack asks slowly. His voice inaudible under the droning of the bees’ wings.

The bee before him nods.

“Are you leaving Earth?”

It nods again.

“You can fly in space?” Jack asks. Every science fiction scenario runs through his brain.

Another nod.

“So, this was your hive?”

Another nod.

“Will any of you stay?”

The bee shakes it head.

“I don’t blame you.” Jack watches as giant bees continue to swarm towards the sky from the center of the earth.

“Why are you leaving?”

The bee’s antenna flick and ripple. Jack senses an answer; the noise, the droning, for the briefest of moments changes.

“Because of us? Because of humans?” Jack asks.

The bee nods.

Before Jack can ask or say anything else, the bee whirls around and joins the mass swarm. Jack can’t tell it from any of the thousands streaming into the universe. As suddenly as they burst forth, they’re gone.

The silence is deafening. It hits Jack with a physical force. The silence hurts Jack’s head almost as much as the droning did.

Jack exhales. He closes his eyes and listens to the silence.

(Author’s disclaimer: I have not yet visited the Giant’s Causeway, or any part of Ireland. I claim no actual knowledge of the topography, local villages, or area. This is a fictional story, any resemblances to actual people and/or places is purely coincidental.)