White Noise by Chris Riley


“It’s the Sound of the Future.”

Molly’s voice is deep as a canyon, wet as rain. Adam looks up from the vintage record cover in his lap and stares at his wife. He reaches for his beer on the end table, takes a swig, and then blinks several times.

Molly stares back, her eyes twitching like insect legs. “The Sound of the Future, I’m telling you.” She motions to the record with her head before lighting a cigarette. “That’s why you’re listening to that crap.”

Perhaps, Adam thinks. One year ago, he would not have given classical music five minutes of his time. Adam had been a metal-head through and through. He liked his music loud as hell and fast as whiskey. But now Adam knows by heart every Mozart composition he’s been able to get his hands on. In his head, he can recount works from Bach, Chopin, Brahms, and Tchaikovsky. And he whistles the 4th movement of Beethoven’s 9th every morning on his way to work. Oddly, he only needs to hear a composition once before he has it ingrained into his mind. It makes sense, he thinks again, rising from the depths of a La-Z-Boy chair. It was a year ago when the Earth started to make noises, wasn’t it?

The first earthly clamor occurred when Adam was in the garage changing the oil in his truck. The noise came as a sudden popping sound, sporadic, yet continuous—like popcorn in a microwave, only with steel kernels perhaps the size of cars, bursting on the distant horizon. And that horizon spanned the entire globe. For three hours, the whole world had heard it, and for three hours, the whole world went mental.

“You’re going to put that on, aren’t you?” Molly asks. She clenches her teeth, frowning. A stretch of silence passes as Molly gives Adam a sidelong glance before taking a long drag on her cigarette. “That stuff gives me a headache, you know that?”

“Don’t worry,” Adam replies, “I won’t play it too loud. Just enough to…well, you know.” You know, meaning just enough to cover up the “Sound of the Future,” as Molly calls it. The “Sound” has other names, most of which are a jumble of scientific words. Adam’s favorite is “SIP,” for Seismic Interference Phenomenon, only because of that last word. The SIPs have yet to receive any scientific explanation. They are a true phenomenon, just like Adam’s sudden perfect pitch and preference for classical music; or the world’s odd complacency to their global mystery; or even that peculiar activity his wife does each night before bed. I’d say she’s becoming a little melodramatic, Adam thinks, as he sets the record onto the turntable.

In a huff, Molly gets up from the couch and staggers toward the kitchen. She leaves ribbons of smoke in her wake, yellowish-grey like her hair. With a nail, she picks at a scab on her face, one of many riddling her body for nigh on a year now.

“Where are you going?” Adam asks, fumbling with the turntable’s tone-arm.

“Oh…you know.”

Adam does know, and he wonders just how far his wife will take it this evening. An odd feeling rushes through his gut, as he watches his wife enter the kitchen. A part of him wonders if he shouldn’t be more concerned about her. Perhaps he should engage her in a different activity, maybe take her shopping, or out to a restaurant. But the thought is fragile, like the shell of a hollowed-out egg, and it cracks as soon as he hears Wagner’s first notes from Ride of the Valkyries.

The second SIP occurred four days after the first. Adam and Molly were high as kites that night, laughing like children, grilling steaks in the backyard, when the sound came. It started out as a heavy clomping noise far in the distance—it’s always in the distance. The clomping was like a horse crossing a thin sheet of glass. A shattering prediction was immediate to Adam’s ear, but it never happened, and that had left him feeling incomplete, unresolved. Even as the sound grew heavier, as if the glass had thickened, turned to ice. Even as the clomping combined with what sounded like curtains of steel, twisting and shredding. And even as the SIP faded and eventually died out, Adam remembers that amidst their panic, while he and Molly held each other tightly, he couldn’t stop thinking about that missing shatter. Hours later, he broke a glass on the kitchen floor, but somehow the sound just wasn’t right.

“I don’t see why you can’t wear earphones,” Molly says. In the kitchen she turns, hands on her hips, cigarette resting loose under a frown.

Adam shrugs in reply. “I told you, I don’t like them things in my ears. Besides, it sounds better when the music overpowers everything else. Like it’s winning a battle, or something.”

Molly makes a face. “You’re fucking strange, you know that?” She sets her cigarette onto the kitchen counter and peels off her clothes, kicking the garments to the side. Red and black scabs cover her naked body, and there are bands of wet puss wiped across her legs, like fresh snail tracks. “Strange,” she repeats.

Adam shrugs in reply.

By the tenth SIP, nobody cared anymore. This particular SIP lasted for three days, and had a predominant sound that was reminiscent of heavy, steel gears grinding through sand and rubble. Serving as resonance was something like wind blowing through enormous glass tubes. The volume of the SIP fluctuated, as did the timbre, but the tempo remained a constant for three days. Soon it became white noise, as if the world had stopped waiting for the second shoe to drop, and simply tuned the SIP out. It was then, that Adam noticed Molly’s recent penchant for the burning of flesh.

The Valkyries now in full ride, Adam sits back in his chair and observes his wife, curious. The cigarette is in her mouth once again, her lips squeezing down on it like a vice. Her face is a mask of concentrated distress. She’s at the stove with a steak knife, holding it over blue flame, and slowly, the steel turns red. This is her nightly routine. But lately, she’s been getting a little rough with herself, as if she’s a drug addict, incomplete, unresolved, each fix needing to be stronger than the last.

“I still can’t believe you like that music,” she mumbles from the side of her mouth, eyes fixed on the knife. “What the hell happened to you?”

Adam doesn’t say anything. He nurses his beer and continues to watch. He has a good view from his chair, but most of his attention is now with Wagner. In the far distance, he catches another SIP, a klaxon of hollowed steel hammered with pipe, or so it sounds. He sees Molly raise the blade and press it against her left breast. She opens her mouth, the cigarette drops to the floor, and her body spasms against the stove. I really should take her shopping, or something, he thinks, then drains his beer and watches as the knife now cuts deep into flesh, past tissue and bone, carving through organs, making sounds of its own.

A crescendo of the cello takes over, and the SIP, along with Molly’s actions with the knife, the wet collapse of her body onto linoleum, the subdued gurgle from her throat, all turn into white noise. And with a pensive smile, Adam slowly closes his eyes.


Chris Riley lives near Sacramento, California, vowing one day to move back to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, he teaches special education, writes cool stories, and hides from the blasting heat for six months of the year. He has had over 100 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and across various genres. His debut novel, one of literary suspense, titled The Sinking of the Angie Piper, was published in 2017; and his debut short story collection is forthcoming, with Mount Abraxas Press. For more information, go to www.chrisrileyauthor.com.    

Published 10/28/21

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