An essay by Dr. Marie Randall, as provided by Willow Croft
Art by Scarlett O’Hairyde
The quiet is the worst. The silence that is not silence, broken up by jangling keys, someone screaming, the endless stomping of feet up and down the hall. There is no music here. I don’t care what certain avant-garde composers say. Noise cannot be turned into music. Silence is not a composition. It’s merely a dripping faucet that chips away at one’s sanity. Such is my life here at the Twin Oaks Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center. Even the sound of my own voice is like shattered glass dropping on pavement. If I wasn’t mad before I came here, I will be when I leave. But maybe that’s what they call sane.
I wouldn’t even be writing down these thoughts in this static medium, except the doctor made me. It was that, or ECT, and just think of the noise that would be filling up my head then. All this just because I asked if there was a piano. I don’t comprehend how anyone could live without music. But then, that’s how I got in trouble. Simply by bringing more music into the world. Into people. And for that part of the story, I’ll have to start at the beginning. In 1985.
“Hey, Dr. Randall, how’s it going?”
Jimmy, my lab assistant, had asked me the same question every morning for the past six months.
“Headphones off, please.”
I mimicked taking off the headphones. I sometimes wished he would be hit by a bus he couldn’t hear because his Walkman was up so loud. But lab assistants, even annoying ones, were at a premium around here, so I reminded myself that we scientists worked to enhance life, not destroy it.
“Oh, sorry, Doc.”
I set him to work readying the lab station for the day’s genetic experiments. I could hear the abstract thumping of his music as I tried to focus on my report. Nothing is more irritating than music you have to listen to secondhand. But that’s when inspiration struck.
“Jimmy,” I yelled.
He went on grooving on.
“Jimmy, take a break from that, please, and come here.”
“I need to ask you some questions.”
I assumed that meant yes. “How would you like it to be free of headphones? To have music be a part of you, like breathing, or–well, you get the idea.”
“That would be awesome. You can do that?”
“Well, not yet. Just something I’ve been working on, in the evenings,” I lied. Not that Jimmy had the scientific potential to make it happen. Nor I, or any other scientist, for that matter.
“Well, cool. You let me know if you need help with that.”
“Can you bring me some tapes?”
“You got it, Doc. I can even make you some killer mix tapes.”
“That would be fine.”
I worked long after Jimmy left, running equations, and analyzing my stock genetic samples to see if it was even possible to program, or script, something as complex as DNA. The answer? With my current lab equipment, no. I’d have to find a way to convince the university board to invest in state-of-the-art equipment. And it was outrageously expensive. Cancer research was always a good sell. Leukemia in children.
Two months, a sixty-page proposal full of scientific gobblygook, and three stacks of Jimmy’s mix tapes later, I had my equipment and had begun my first round of experiments. Even with my new lab technology, I still couldn’t get the DNA programming right. I created head-banging fish that wouldn’t stop until they bashed their brains out against the sides of their tanks. Chart-topping pop music caused lizards to bounce around until their legs just stopped working. Easy-listening rats just lay on the bottom of their cage around the clock. I even pulled out some of my old classical records, broke that down into code, and spliced it onto the DNA of a rabbit, and then waited for it to mutate and spread. At first the rabbit seemed to like the music flow, gently swaying while eating. But then it started scratching at its ears. Scratching and scratching until I came in one morning, and it had ripped its own ear off and was eating it.
Maybe animals were just too sensitive. Their hearing was more acute than humans, so they probably weren’t the best test subjects. I was running out of time. And I was tired of disposing of animals before Jimmy arrived. The deadline for my results was looming, and already the university was demanding access to my preliminary findings.
“Have you made any progress in identifying the gene that causes leukemia?” The head of the science department would ask me in the teacher’s lounge.
“Getting close,” I would answer. “Some real breakthroughs.” I could read what he was thinking, though. That’s what happens when you allow women to become scientists, his expression said. Finally I just started eating lunch in the lab, against regulation.
“Hey, Dr. Randall, how’s it going?” Jimmy said.
“Jimmy, where’s your headphones?”
“I dropped my Walkman in a puddle. Ruined my favorite tape, too.”
“Oh, Jimmy, sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, it sucks.”
No, don’t even think it. Don’t say it. “Hey, Jimmy. You’ve been my assistant, for, what, almost two years now, and I think you’re ready. I need your help on an important project. You feel you’re up for it?”
Jimmy perked up. “You got it, Doc. I’m your man. Well, your scientist. Scientist man.”
I tried not to roll my eyes. “Take a seat, Jimmy. First, we’ll start with a sample. Then I’ll have you run the sample of your DNA.”
“Then I’ll walk you through my coding process, and we’ll take your reprogrammed DNA and pop it right back into you. Then we’ll see if it worked.”
Jimmy’s smile faded. “Are you sure that’s safe, Doc?”
“Well, that depends on you. What better way to make sure you get it right? Trial by fire, right?”
“Uh, I dunno, Doc.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve already put it through trials. It will wear off after a while.”
“The music, Jimmy.”
It wasn’t until the police showed up in my lab the next day that I realized something was wrong. They told me Jimmy had walked out in front of a city bus and was killed instantly. The detective asked if he was an intravenous drug user. I asked why.
“Doctor. Dr. Randall, not ma’am, please.”
“Because, Doctor, witnesses say he was dancing. Flailing around like the kids do these days and singing to music nobody could hear. Some top-forty hit.”
“Not to my knowledge. He was the best lab assistant I’d ever had. Smart, hard-working–he will be missed.” I sniffled, for effect.
Later, they came with a warrant to raid my lab. I should have destroyed everything as soon as I heard of Jimmy’s death. All my notes. All my research. Should have put it in the incinerator I used for the test animals. Left nothing behind but Jimmy’s mix tapes.
Poor Jimmy. He had bragged to his girlfriend about the ground-breaking experiment he was conducting. He just wanted to be somebody, but the newspapers barely mentioned him, even after his sensational death. They were too busy writing headlines about “Dr. St. Vitus” to call Jimmy anything but my unfortunate lab assistant. That’s when genetic experimentation on humans was banned. Because of me.
Which means I failed. Well, perhaps not entirely. Instead of coding people with music, music is now being coded with messages. I heard them all the time, on my radio. Messages from a new race coming to take over the planet. Messages saying to be patient. Telling me I was an important part of the plan. They would need cutting-edge scientists like me to help spread their message. But then the doctors took away my radio.
All that’s left is this noisy silence. People texting messages into their phones. Socially quiet media. And I am alone among them, in a world with no music. And no voices.
Transciber’s Postscript: Ten days later, Dr. Marie Randall disappeared from her room at the Twin Oaks. All that was left was her journal. This record was transcribed from those entries. The night nurse on duty only remembers seeing a bright light outside the window, which she guessed was a medical helicopter landing at the nearby hospital. An international manhunt ensued for Dr. Randall, but no trace of her was ever found. Sometimes, though, people who knew her claim they hear her, talking to them through their iPods. Or interrupting their favorite shows on NPR. Her disappearance only adds to the mystery surrounding this modern-day mad scientist. If you have any information regarding Dr. Marie Randall or her disappearance, please call the National Crime Hotline at 1-800-555-0111.
–Willow Croft, reporter for Quantum Times
Dr. Marie Randall was a biology teacher at the small, but distinguished, Twin Oaks University, located in Twin Oaks, Missouri. Born on a farm just on the outskirts of Twin Oaks, Dr. Randall breezed through high school, earning her diploma by the time she was thirteen. The brilliant Dr. Randall received numerous scholarships, through which she gained dual PhDs in genetics and cell biology, respectively, with specialty studies in both evolutionary biology and molecular biology. After conducting controversial genetic experiments, which led to her arrest, she was committed to the Twin Oaks Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center. Her mysterious disappearance from the facility remains unexplained to this day.
Willow Croft is a writer and poet currently living in high desert, though she has dreams of moving to green Scotland. She has a BA in writing and literature and a MA in history. She recently published a book of poetry, Quantum Singularity: A Poetic Voyage through Time and Space, and is editing a mystery manuscript for publication.
Scarlett O’Hairdye is a burlesque performer, producer and artist. To learn more, visit her site at www.scarlettohairdye.com.
“Fiction: Quietly Goes the Mix Tape” is Copyright 2019 Willow Croft
Art accompanying story is Copyright 2019 Scarlett O’Hairdye