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The Audiophile

by October 29, 2006

There you are - sitting in your home theater/listening room, sipping an adult beverage, feeling the music wash over and move you. The kind of transcendent experience that only spending thousands of dollars on equipment and much, much more in time on placement and tweaking. This is the moment you've been longing for - the perfect marriage of great equipment, fantastic material, and intoxication that could make you post something asinine on the nearest audio forum.

There is only one itty, bitty problem...

She's there.

Sure, you love her and sure she's tolerated your hours and hours of adjusting, re-adjusting, and re-re-adjusting your speakers. She's sworn she could hear a difference when she really couldn't. She's held her tongue when you've come home with the latest, greatest, most powerful receiver for the third time in a year. And has come to accept, "Because Gene recommends it" as a valid argument for almost everything. In the world of the audiophile, she's a saint.

But not tonight.

You thought you were both sharing in the moment. You thought you were on the same wavelength. You looked over at her with this stupid smile on your face thinking she was feeling the same nirvana and recognized her expression. You've seen it so many times before. It's the sort of placating, pained, "not this again" look that always precedes a specific rhetorical question:

"So, isn't this nice? The two of us, sitting here?"

You try to shut the interruption out. You try not to lose this moment... this perfect moment that you've worked so hard to achieve. You nod your concurrence and hope it will mollify her.

Of course it doesn't - but you already knew that didn't you?

"You know this reminds me of what Debbie said to me today in the break room..."

Annnnnndddd it's gone. The mood. The feeling. The perfect marriage of whatever it was that made that song sound so wonderful. Gone. You may not get another chance like that for a week, or a month, or a year. But it is gone. All because she wasn't feeling attended to. You grit your teeth and chug the rest of your drink. You stand and half-heartedly ask her if she'd like another, then walk out without hearing the reply. It doesn't matter.

You reach for the familiar bottle then switch to something with a little more kick. You are going to need something a bit stronger if you are going to have to sit through one more, "And then she said that her husband might be spending money behind her back! Can you believe it?!" Not only can you believe it, you don't even care that you believe it. You believe you were enjoying yourself. You believe you finally found 5 minutes of peace after a long week's work to really enjoy the system that you spent so much time and energy on. You believe that if there were truly audio gods, there would be a 1Hz sound wave pointed at her right now . Shake that tongue right out of her mouth!

Take a deep breath now; you're getting a little worked up. You love her and you're just in a mood. It was just bad timing, that's all.

As you watch the amber liquid pour into the highball glass, you notice that you've just missed your favorite part of your favorite song on the album. You inhale audibly, exhale, take a quick swig, top off the drink and head back. You're not sure what stories of broken trusts, stabbed backs, or imagined slights you'll be subjected too, but you're sure you'll need a refill before too long.

But she's gone.

In the center of your theater seating, specifically designed without an arm in the middle so she can snuggle up to you (and fall asleep more often than not), the only thing left of her is a dainty butt impression slowly fading from the leather. Hmm, you think, must be a bathroom break.

A slow smile creeps over your face as you reach for the universal remote. Unbeknownst to your 'better half,' you've programmed some crazy macros that will cue up some of your favorite songs, movies, TV stations, and much, much more. With a touch of a button, you're right back into the music, finger tapping on the side of your glass, head nodding, eyes closed. You bump up the volume knowing that you won't be able to hear her complain about it from the bathroom. You bump it again when it gets to your favorite part.

And then you hear it... something wrong.

You grimace. What is that sound? What could that possibly be? You turn the system down and instead of getting better, the sound gets worse. What does it sound like? Grinding? Humming? No, something different. It is muffled, rhythmic… yet inconsistent. A kind of dull thump that just sounds… wrong. You call out, "Honey?! What did you do to my system?" not waiting for a response. You're in troubleshooting mode and all other distractions are put aside.

You've done this before, more times than you can count. You discover that something isn't working quite right and the next thing you know the little lady is standing in the doorway at 3am demanding that you go to bed. She doesn't understand. How can you sleep knowing that something might be wrong with your system? How can you close your eyes knowing that your speakers, transports, display, and software aren't all working together in perfect harmony? How!?

You can't. And every male knows it. Well, every Audioholic knows it. So, you start systematically. You disconnect the cable TV (the usual culprit); no change. Unplug every transport individually then in every conceivable combination; nothing. You disconnect your speakers, then your sub, then your speakers and your sub; you can still hear it. In a fit of frustration, you unplug everything, turn off all the lights, and run out to the garage and switch off the main breaker. Standing once again in the darkness of your home theater, you can inexplicably still hear the noise.

But what is more shocking is what you can't hear. You can't hear the complaining of your better half who should be shrouded in darkness and none too happy about it. Checking the time on your cell, you realize you don't really know what time you started but it was at least an hour ago. Wherever she was, she should have been back by now. Unless...

Slowly, you creep down the hall bathed in pale light from your cell toward the bedroom hoping that she fell asleep waiting for you and didn't notice the sudden lack of light. You push the bedroom door open which creaks slightly. You scold yourself for the hundredth time for forgetting to WD-40 it. You make a mental note to pick up the can when you go back into the garage to turn the lights back on knowing that there is almost no chance that you'll remember to do so. You shine the light of your cell into the bedroom expecting to find her fast asleep but...

The bed is empty.

Your brow furrows in consternation. Where could she be? A chill runs down the small of your back and you resist the urge to call out her name. It's a small house. There aren't that many places to hide. But this is stupid. Walking around by the light of a cell phone when all you need do is flip the breaker in the garage. A little light will clear this whole thing up. She's got to be here somewhere.

You head back down the hall and notice that there is a bit of light coming from the room ahead. Your home theater? Impossible! Even if you hadn't disconnected everything, you switched off the power. At the end of the hall, you stop, unwilling to turn the corner and face whatever awaits you. You mind cycles through the possibilities. UPS? No. You've been wanting one, but the right one hasn't come up yet on eBay. Passing car, streetlight, helicopter? Nope, nope, and nope. That room is completely light controlled. There is no way light could come in from outside. No power source inside. So what?

UFO's? It's a sad day when UFO's are your best explanation... unless. Of course! She's really got you this time! She must have snuck past you and is waiting for you in the one room she knows you can't help but return to. That must be it. You almost laugh in relief and embarrassment for getting so weirded out. You turn the corner and face...

An empty room.

Blinking a few times in confusion, you scan the room for that familiar face you so expected to see. But you see nothing. More importantly, you realize, you see no light source. The room just seems to be glowing a bit. Not a strong glow, but a faint, sickly, yellow glow. You force yourself to take a few steps into the room just to make sure she isn't hiding on the seats. She isn't. The lump in your throat turns into a rock and a trickle of sweat runs down your temple. It's getting hot in here and it isn't just because the AC is off. You suddenly feel an undeniable need for light. And lots of it.

Of course, you'll have to go into the garage to turn the power back on.

You turn with purpose toward the door. You've got to get some light in here and find her. And now! But you don't make it a step before you hear it again. The thumping. The sound that started all this. And it is coming from behind you.

That's impossible!

You spin around quickly, the dim light of your cell phone woefully inadequate against the oppressive darkness. Somewhere, shrouded in the shadows ahead of you, you can hear it, thumping. So you do what any rational person would do, you turn around and head for the garage. And you do so trying not to imagine whatever is staring out of the blackness at your retreating back. You try not to imagine its icy hands reaching out for you. You try not to notice that even though you are moving away, the thumping isn't any quieter. It seems to be pounding in your ears. Following you down the hall.

Your breath comes in quick rasps as you fumble with the door to the garage. Damn knob always did stick! Another check in on your list of things you promise you'll do as soon as you can remember them. You get the door open and pull it closed behind you harder than you'd expected. You realize that you've been holding your breath and you exhale. The cement floor feels cool and reassuring under your bare feet. Flipping your phone open again to refresh the light, you spy the breaker box only a few scant feet away. Thank God for small favors, you think to yourself . The lights will be on soon and all this foolishness will be behind you. You're one switch away from regaining your sanity and hopefully your drink. Where did you put it down anyways?

You stroll over to the breaker box and rip it open, the adrenaline coursing through your veins. You reach up with a trembling hand and place your thumb on the main breaker. Even though you have no reason to think so, you're concerned. What if it doesn't work? What if you flick the switch and the power is not restored? Will you reenter the house? Will you look for her? Her… you'd almost forgotten in all the… whatever this is. She's in that house… or is she? Could she have left? You glance over your shoulder, shooting the light of your cell into the deep of the garage. Nope, both cars still here. No family emergency or late night alcohol run to draw her away. And at this time of night, she wasn't walking anywhere. No, she's still in the house. No doubt.

You turn back to the breaker and put a modicum of pressure on the switch. It engages easily and you are regaled with the reassuring humming of the AC unit. Power has been restored! you cheer internally. But you are still in darkness because in your haste you forgot to turn on the garage light. A few steps and you turn on the lights to the garage, nearly laughing at your, what can only be considered ridiculous, fears. Of course the lights would come back on. Now, all you have to do…

You open the door to the house and peer down the hall. What you see takes your breath away. The door to the home theater is closed. You are sure you didn't close it. Positive . And there is no way it closed on its own. Heck, you had to adjust that door three times to get the latch to engage properly. It kept wanting to swing open. And with all the SPL you push with those subs, your amateurish attempts at door-hanging left enough of a gap so that the subs would shake it open on occasion. No, that door didn't close on its own.

But that isn't what has your hands sweaty and mouth dry.

Something is coming out from under that door. Coming out is wrong. "Coming out" sounds like it is exiting quietly after a performance of the Phantom of the Opera or perhaps telling its parents an uncomfortable truth. Oozing is a better word. Seeping slowly. You try to swallow but your mouth is too dry. At least you have lights. That will make this a little easier. You wipe your hands on your pants and step forward. Your bare feet slap along the white tiled ground. White. Sure, the home theater has three coats of grey on the walls but the rest of the house is still stark white. You've been promising yourself you'd paint. Seems to be a common theme. Which reminds you that you once again forgot to get the WD-40 out of the garage. You briefly consider going back for it but you are not sure if you leave, you'll ever come back.

What is that seeping out from under the door?

Whatever it is, it seems to have stopped. Moving that is. It has coagulated into a darkish semicircle centered around the bottom of the door. From this distance (could you take smaller steps?) you can't make out what it is. Smells foul though. Rotten. But at the same time, familiar. You know that smell. Silently, the ooze begins to flow again… except this time it is flowing back into the home theater.

You freeze in place and blink a few times. Surely it isn't moving back under the door! But it is. You could come up with a million explanations… perhaps implausible but explanations nonetheless… for the occurrences of this night. But this… this is truly impossible. Liquid doesn't change direction. Unless the house has been tilted and you think you'd notice if that happened.

Well, that's that then, you think, I'm outta here.

And you almost make it to the door before you hear it. Your favorite song, in the exact spot it was at as it was running through your head. You hadn't even realized that the song was in your head until the music wafted down the hall and matched perfectly. You look down at your hand on the doorknob to the garage and pause. Did you plug your equipment back in? Did you? You can't remember. If there wasn't music coming from the room, you'd have sworn that you hadn't. A part of you tells you to keep moving, to just forget about this night. Spend the night at a hotel. Heck, spend it in your car. Just come back when it is light. When the sun is up and the shadows are driven into their daily hibernation. But another part of you, the part that doesn't want to leave her behind, has to know that the house is empty.

You call out without turning around, "Listen, if this is a joke, it isn't funny." No answer. "Ok, I'm leaving. I'm walking out the door and driving away. I won't be back." Again no response. You want to turn around, but you just can't. That room is behind you. The room that you poured so much money, time, and most of all love into is behind you. And no force on earth could make you enter that room again. Not tonight. "OK, that's it. I'm leaving and calling the fire department. Do you understand? I'm sure it is against some law to falsely report a fire but I'm not staying around here any longer do you understand?" Pause. "I'm not kidding, I'm calling right now!" You put your cell on Speaker and dial 911. The operator's voice is clearly broadcast as you report a fictional fire. They ask if there is anyone else in the house. You say you can't find your wife. They tell you to leave the house. You hang up.

It all seems so surreal. Surely you didn't just call the fire department? Surely! You place your hand on the garage door knob and suddenly the music stops. Your breath catches in your throat as you become immediately and acutely aware of the oppressive silence throughout the house. You strain, involuntarily, to hear something, anything, hoping that you won't. You look down at the doorknob and slowly turn it. It creaks, it groans, it sounds like it screams to your hypersensitive ears. You wish it would just catch - that it would, just this once, open cleanly without you having to jiggle and finagle it open. Just this once…

The light above and behind you flickers audibly. It buzzes and hisses angrily as if its electricity is being stolen - being ripped away. Then slowly, you hear a single creak as the door to the home theater slowly opens. You know that creak. You've scowled at it too many times as she's entered in the middle of a pivotal scene. You've spent hours trying to fix it while ignoring the rest of your projects. It's the door to the home theater, and it is opening.

Abruptly you hear a wet slapping sound behind you - as if someone threw a sopping towel down on pavement. The sound is so heavy, so intense; you literally feel it in your gut. It is an impact you're used too. The kind of subsonic bass you paid thousands to acquire in your home theater. Now, it makes you want to vomit. Biting back the bile, you give up all pretenses at subtlety and frantically claw at the door trying to get it open. Whatever is behind you, and honestly you don't want to know, is getting closer. The initial slap is followed by a kind of dragging, dripping sound. But it is inconsistent. Not like a dripping faucet or rain… more like… melting. Some drops sound small and insignificant and others sound more… substantial. Intermittently, another sickly slap hits the tile, sending a shiver up your spine - as if something was falling and catching itself on a mangled limb. Whatever it is, it is getting closer and the damn door just won't open!

Finally, the latch gives and the door cracks open. All you need do is pull it toward you and slip out. There is only one problem. The sounds have stopped. And the smell… you had forgotten about that. You were so busy trying to get the door open that you hadn't noticed the growing stench. And it's still familiar… like rotten wood, perfume, and… and lacquer? Sickly sweet and acidic. It stings your eyes and makes you cough. You pull the door open but have to step back in order to open it enough to get through. As you do, you feel your back push against and into something wet… slimy. You seem to sink into it. You glance down and see a familiar pool of dark liquid creeping forward from behind you.

* * * * *

When the fire department arrived, they found an empty house. No fire, no damage, nothing. The police were called in when the owners couldn't be located but with no evidence of foul play, it was generally assumed that they had skipped town for some reason. The only evidence that someone had been there that night was a cocktail in a cup holder in a home theater chair. There was a lip mark on the rim and a few fingerprints smeared in a greasy liquid. The prints matched the owners of the home. The lab tech that lifted the prints wanted to do more analysis on the greasy substance but it was determined to be a waste of resources. Eventually, the bank foreclosed on the house and the contents were auctioned off. The house was also auctioned off to the highest bidder who just so happened to purchase the home theater equipment as well.


About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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