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„Hearing Damage“ by Thom Yorke

 

His sight is blurry and he hardly sees anything as he stumbles out of the cave into the dark night. The tears left hot, wet traces on his cheeks and his skin burns, he feels so tired and yet so awake. Everything inside him screams in desperation to kill something, he wants to let out the pain and frustration, wants to let go of himself and evaporate.

Wants to give himself to the madness.

Jason´s feet carry him automatically to Earnhardt’s small shack and he sinks down on a chair and rests his arms on his knees, his head falls into his hands. His fingers touch the wet skin on his cheeks and the old hate creeps back, Jason wipes away the tears with his T-shirt and pulls up the snot that almost runs out his nose.

He doesn´t want to cry because of a bagatelle like this and presses the palm of his hands into his eyes until he starts seeing colorful patterns lighting up. He did the right thing.

It´s hard to get his thoughts together and even harder to focus. Jason takes a deep breath and rubs his numb face; his heart is empty besides the glowing hate for whoever he decides to blame for this situation. He needs to find out what happened to Vaas. If even his pirates run around and spread the rumor that he killed him, it´s becoming more and more unlikely to be true.

Maybe Vaas faked his own death and all of this was just a show, just a theatre with him in the leading role as the dumbass. He shudders, this thought makes him tremble and panic lies heavy on his chest. Vaas´ corpse needs to either disappear or he needs to stab him and drape him so a warrior would find the body and confirm his death.

It´s obvious that he must find that son of a bitch as soon as possible, time doesn´t hold back. Preferably before Willis drops him on Hoyts island.

Jason is so caught up in his mind that he doesn´t notice the door opening silent and a single person slipping in. The figure comes closer, reaches out and touches his shoulder with cold and wrinkly fingers, Jason flinches and looks right in the doctor’s face.

The old man seems to be as tired as him and the grip on his shoulder gets tighter. It´s an unpleasant feeling, he still feels Daisy’s iron grip in it and the memory of her words feed the monster inside him with fresh meat.

But the doctor let´s go of him before Jason can shake off his hand. For a moment it seems as if Earnhardt is about to say something, but then he presses his lips together and breathes out, sighing. His gaze wanders through the room and stops at a molding, covered in moss chair.

His eyes twitch back to Jason, as if he wants to make sure he wouldn´t just disappear when he turns his back towards him. Then he slowly shambles to the chair and pulls the rotting thing over to his visitor. He sits down by his side and rests his arms on the small desk besides them.

Still silent Earnhardt starts pulling out a few small baggies of his jacket. Jason knows too well what they contain. Curious and reluctant at the same time he sits up a little and watches the doctor emptying the bags in small bowls, sorting every color different pill with surgical accuracy.

He´s too tired and worn out to bring up the strength to ask Earnhardt what he wants. In his dizzy mind state, he doesn´t even think about the fact, that it´s actually the doctors shack and that he´s the one who broke in.

But Earnhardt also seems too distracted, or maybe just too high, to ask him what he´s doing in his mini lab, so neither of them makes the effort to interrupt the silence with words. The hush isn´t unpleasant to Jason, in some way he even enjoys it and as the minutes turn to hours he leans back relaxing and watches the doc work.

The sky slowly shifts from pitch black to a dull grey and the old man finally also leans back and lights up a cigarette. Calm and with raised eyebrows he passes the cigarette after three longs hits to Jason and he accepts it, being well aware of the strong, unmistakable smell of marihuana and cheap tobacco.

Way too fast the weed develops its effect and he becomes dizzy and lightweight, everything starts to spin a little. But the monster that spooks around in his head slowly start to relax too and he decides to let the inebriation happen. It´s nice to not have to think, it feels good to turn off his head and he doesn’t even notice that addictions are born out of feelings like this.

Then the doctor finally breaks the silence.

It takes Jason a moment to read the noises, that break through the thick layer of cotton, as words. He bends forward, as if this could make him hear any better, and narrows his eyes.

„Jason, you know how this island works. Why do you want to stay here?“

Only two simple sentences, but for Jason they hang confusing and incomprehensible between them. It takes him a lot to concentrate and with the exhaustion all the poisoned thoughts rise again and detain in his head.

Maybe they were never really gone, instead just asleep.

He swallows and takes his time to lay the words in the right direction before they come over his lips. Way too often in the past few weeks he spoke without thinking and got caught up in things that are not only too big for his own horizon, but also seem dangerous enough to eat him alive.

„I... I don´t know. I still have things to do, I need to find answers. I´m not done yet, there are things I need to know, things I need to process. “

He stops, trembling. Unwillingly the next words flood over his lips and he decides it doesn´t matter.

“I need to find out the truth. About me and the Rakyat. About what happened here. It feels like I stirred in shit and I´m not able to get it off my hands until I pulled this thing through.”

He looks down, thinking. Across him Earnhardt nods lightly, even his interlocutor can´t see it. He inhales the numbing smoke deeply and seems to battle his own monsters.

The silence takes so long that Jason almost forgets that they talked to each other. But then, suddenly and with a calm, almost normal voice that banned the old pain and madness, the old man says “The island will change you, Jason. It will dig into your soul and mind and will never let go of you. It will eat you and throw you up, tear you apart and put you back together repeatedly until nothing´s left. You wouldn´t be the first and certainly not the last one.”

Fear squeezes abruptly between all the clouded thoughts and represses them from their places, fills out his head and takes control over him. Before he answers, Jason reaches one more time for the joint and takes a deep hit. Marihuana immediately climbs up into his head, calms his tingling limbs and tames the panic a little bit.

He answers Earnhardt with a slow and heavy voice, as if he has trouble letting the words in his head flow out of his mouth “What do you mean by that? Who did it happen to?”

He feels the fatigue rolling over him in waves, it threatens to pull him into its black deeps. Earnhardt’s following words come from far away and sound quiet, Jason´s mind shuts down and he barely notices his surroundings anymore.

“There once was a man among the Rakyat that could have been their leader. He was the strongest one and the most loyal. He could´ve had anything, but this island has nothing to give, it only takes. Itself and all creatures on it. Everyone only takes, takes and takes until nothing´s left. It took him too.”

The doctor stops once again, like he wants to let his own words wander through his mind, to make sure he indeed said them out loud and it wasn´t just a train of though.

Then he pulls Jason onto his feet and guides him to his house and while the young man sinks down half asleep on his couch, the old one mumbles “You better should have a really good reason to stay here. Your reason should be worth it and you should do it out of the right feelings. Open your eyes Jason, the jungle is already too close around you.”

He can´t lose the feeling that the doctor is hiding something.

It´s already the morning of the following day and Jason opens his burning, crusty eyes slowly. His vision is bleary and shame crawls over him as he notices where he slept the past day. The house is in its well known chaos and on a small desk to his right and few contagious looking substances bubble in test tubes.

The air smells of stale smoke, sulfur and sour sweat and it takes Jason a few moments to recognize it as his own body smell. He grimaces and turns his head disgusted as far away from his body as possible.

His feet sink down to the floor and he slowly sits up, both of his hands rest besides his body on the couch. He vaguely remembers the past evening and quickly pushes the memory away.

It´s over. Now it´s important for him to look forward and to continue, even if he more and more forgets for what exactly. In an alarmingly long moment the thought flushes through his head, that Grant´s memory starts to fade already and it hurts in his chest when he tries to remember his voice and face.

All he can conjure up is the picture of Grant in the dust, how he pressed his hands on his throat and wanted to stop the bleeding. Jason shakes his head vigorous, tries to evict this picture and comes on his feet, shaking. Hopefully taking revenge on Vaas will burn this picture out of his brain so he never has to remember this nightmare again.

The voice in his head laughs and whispers that nothing in this world can make this picture undone.

He wanders through the living room sleepy and rubs his eyes, they are crusty and sleep still clings to the corner of his eye. The last time he slept this long was back in America and it almost feels too good for him to be true. As if someone would break in the house every moment and starts shooting at him.

But the house stays silent and besides the chirping birds in the trees outside, everything is peaceful and quiet. He tries to calm his own breath and stalks to a small kitchen table. Earnhardt left a small note for him in his rickety, close together lying hand writing and Jason needs to hold it close to his face to be able to decipher it.

´I must prepare a large delivery for the pirates. There are fresh close and something to eat for you on the table, you can use the bathroom down the floor. Please leave until the evening, I will return and probably bring some of your ´friends´ with me. Earnhardt.´

His eyes wander over the messy desk and stop on a bundle of clothes and a small plate, covered by a pot. He notes in his mind that he wants to return the favor somehow and thankfully accepts the offer.

Afterwards he feels better, fresh and rested. The break was surely needed and while he scoffs down the tasteless, mushy stew something that feels like the will to live comes back to his body. His mind feels more awake and after his breakfast he gathers his weapons, throws away his old and dirty clothes and heads across the jungle.

Jason has no clue where to go, let alone where he should begin with his search for Vaas. He could be everywhere on this island; he even could be hiding on the south island in Hoyt´s fortress and that would be more than bad for him.

This could endanger the whole mission, the bastard knows what he looks like after all and probably would immediately traitor him to Hoyt, if he hasn´t given him a description of him already.

It´s very unlikely that Hoyts isn´t inaugurated in Vaas´ faked death. He probably was the one who planned it and Vaas was happy to play once again with Jason´s mind and all of this was a tactical maneuver to keep the Rakyat off his back.

The old anger starts to germinate in Jason, of Vaas and those fucking pirates, Hoyt and this damn island. It appears to him as if everything and everyone wants to fool him, as if he´s a chess piece that the big men indiscriminately push from side to side, until he becomes too troublesome and they kick him off the board.

Quietly the voice in his head groans that Citra also is a mastermind on this island, that she also pushes figures across the board and that he became her most important one. No one expects the rook that got almost eliminated and came back from the dead to checkmate the opposing king.

But maybe the rook also doesn´t expect the knight of the king, hiding in the shadow and waiting for the perfect moment to sweep him off the board, again and this time destroying him completely.

´You need to be faster. Quicker, more brutal and unscrupulous. You can only move forward if you are the worse enemy, the worse ulcer, the more painful tumor.´

Haphazardly he fights his way through the jungle, his feet walk on their own and carry him through the thicket and Jason doesn´t know where they would bring him. He just needs to move, needs to be busy and most important needs to empty his head and maybe do all of this for once without the help of drugs.

Citra herself likes to use blurring substances, but Jason barely believes that she imagines her perfect warrior as a junkie. Especially since she called her own brother pejorative in this way.

The machete cuts with a bashing sound through lush green and he suddenly stops bewildered when his arm hits emptiness and a glade opens in front of him.

At first, he doesn´t recognize the place, the sun stings bright down on him and he squints, protecting his eyes with one hand. Slowly he gets used to the sudden brightness and the sudden realization where he is, hits him hard.

Doubtful he takes a few steps towards the gaping hole in the ground, gras turns to moss, moss to stone. Then his toes hit the rim of the cenote and he carefully peeks over the edge into the abyss.

The sun reflects on the clear water surface and he notices the small dots on the ground of the waterhole, they seem to grin and call his name sneering, almost like wisps. Apparently, the actual nightmare of this hole, the wet mass grave, becomes visible only on nice days like this one.

Jason´s stomach twitches and he stalks back startled; panic tries to work its way from his heart to the outside and he has trouble fighting it down. He remains in shock, like a rabbit, but only for a heartbeat long moment. Then he steps towards the hole again. His eyes rest on the water, he stares on the massive amount of small dots and remembers his own experience in the cenote.

Odium sprouts in his guts like a plant that searches for light and urges its way through his body to the surface. He wants to scream, to cry, to kill something. All the torture that he survived on this island comes to his mind again and his heart flips.

His surrounding is still calm and silent, once again too calm and a hoarse roar escapes his lunges. The hate in his chest collapses as fast as it grew and he sinks down on his knees helpless.

He almost tips over and quickly sits down, letting his legs hang over the edge. The enticement to simply jump flashes through his brain. But he knows all too well that this wouldn´t kill him. Which is good, right?

He grinds his teeth and feels it crack under his ear. His hands rest on the blank stone edge and he keeps his gaze rigid to the water, forgets his surroundings and loses himself between the scornful dots.

Time flies by, Jason doesn´t notice how much until something around him changes. Like a cautious animal he senses the presence of a predator before he sees it. He almost jumps up, his hand on his machete but the other one is faster.

A harsh kick in his back almost tears him off the cliff and he convulsive clings to the edge, his legs clinch to the wall and he pants as he tilts forward and barely holds himself up.

Behind him he hears a manic laughter, a way to familiar, terrifying laughter and bile comes up into his mouth. Within seconds he falls back into his hunting instinct, jumping up and pulling out his gun, aiming for the other guy before he even turned fully around.

Something inside him drops and he steps forward, unlocking his weapon without taking it off the other man’s head.

“Vaas.”

The name leaves his mouth more growling than talking and a deep rumble comes off his chest. The temptation to pull the trigger is high, but the voice inside him holds him back, demands him to wait.

Vaas laughs again and lifts his hands up in the air, like he wants to welcome Jason warmly and roars “Jason, hermano! I almost thought you were surprised to see me, by the dumb fucking look on your face. Well surprise motherfucker, you didn´t really think it would be that easy to kill me, right? You always have to make sure that you really killed the fucker you aimed for, hermano, you always have to be sure!”

Jason narrows his eyes and takes another step towards Vaas. Rage, hate and despair boil inside him and his finger twitches on the trigger.

Vaas notices it before he does himself and is with two quick steps by his side, pulls out his own gun and aims for Jason´s head. He grins perky and his eyes sparkle, they mince around each other slowly, both of them cling to their weapon with a harsh grip and Jason feels how the gun in his hand starts to tremble of strain.

“What do you want?” he finally presses through gritted teeth. “How did you find me here?”

Vaas clicks his tongue and waves with his gun from left to right, without taking it off Jason´s face.

“Jason, Jason, Jason. I believe that isn´t much of your fucking business, eh? I don´t ask you either what the fuck you are doing this whole fucking time on my damn island, no?”

They stop and Jason feels the sun burn in his back. He´s dizzy and has a headache, the stew the doctor made him rumbles in his stomach and it feels like this isn´t reality. He really should pull the trigger, in this condition Vaas wouldn´t even need a weapon to kill him.

And as if he read his thoughts, the other man snarls “Come on, asshole, what are you waiting for? Don´t you want to pull the trigger and finally finish you fucking job? Eh? Come on Jason, don´t be a pussy for once and pull the trigger god dammit!”

His finger bends, the trigger starts creaking and he remembers that the Rakyat believe that Vaas got stabbed and that a giant hole in his head wouldn´t be good for this theory. There isn´t any sane reason to shoot him in the head when he already killed him with the dagger, right?

He hesitates, wants this so bad. But he knows it, before he slowly takes his finger off the trigger, knows he won´t do it and Vaas´ grin becomes wider, he takes down his own gun and bursts into guffaw. Jason flinches by the bright sound of his voice and holds back a scream, he feels fooled and still aims on his opponent even they both know that he won´t pull the trigger.

Vaas rubs his eyes, laughing tears and say out of breath and from time to time interrupted by a chuckle “You´re so pathetic Jason, I mean look at you! You´re a fucking coward, a craven son of a bitch! You´re standing there, with a fucking gun, aiming for my god damn head and you can´t pull it off to finally shoot! And Citra wants to make a warrior out of you, that’s fucking pathetic!”

There it is again.

´She´s gonna make a warrior out of you.´

´Good luck on your fortune… I mean… your mission, yes!´

He takes a tiny step in Vaas´ direction and tenses the arm that holds the gun, the other man doesn´t step back, instead waits and stares at him with pervasive, mad eyes that eat his soul.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? And what the fucking hell do you want, Vaas? I don´t think you have the guts either, otherwise I wouldn´t be standing here, right?”

To his surprise his opponent raises an eyebrow and clicks his tongue, this time deprecating and growls “How ´bout you use your fucking brain, just for once cocksucker. You come here, in my fucking jungle, you slaughter my fucking men and you think you´re one of us. A warrior, you stupid fuck. But all you really are is a fucking dog and you think you´re going to lead the Rakyat? You do the same shit over and over again Jas, you dig over and over again in the same shit and you´re hoping that something changes. And you call me insane? You wretched white boy believe to know how the jungle works, how this island and this fucking life here works. You know shit!”

Vaas moves towards him and Jason withstands the impulse to back away. The others body language changed, he´s tense and Jason notices that he´s about to jump and clings to his weapon.

“You aren´t any better! You´re running after me, trying to kill me and talk the same shit again and again; you do the same shit again and again and then act surprised that everyone thinks you´re fucking crazy? Do you really think someone cares for the shit you´re talking? Do you think someone takes that bullshit serious?”

Vaas´ grin becomes even wider and it equals more a shark´s one, than looking human. He bears a row of evenly white teeth and chuckles dark with a mocking voice “Oh yeah, is that so? That´s why you sit here, swinging your measly white balls over this god damn hole, thinking about the shit I blow in your head!”

Once again, the words hurt because it´s true, he can´t forget all the things Vaas whispered right into his mind. They poison him, attack his thoughts like a virus and make him doubt, take away the ability to do and see what´s right.

Rage boils hot under his surface and he has trouble to keep his voice calm, feeling the screech that sits in his throat and it takes him effort to also talk in a mocking voice. He doesn´t want to respond to Vaas´ derision, doesn´t want to give him more room for a fight. This conversation is done.

“By the way, why are you always talking about ´your´ island? Why are you complaining I killed ´your´ men and terrorize ´your´ little holiday paradise? You crawl up Hoyts ass because he´s the one with the fucking balls, you´re just a well-trained lap dog and you act like you´re the one with the power. Use your own fucking brain, you´re getting exploited, you´re nothing more than a cheap bitch which Hoyt can control with a little bit of money and drugs. Tell me Vaas, how many privateers had your ass until you got promoted for the pirate king, hmm?”

Vaas´ eyes darken and he growls. Jason jumps towards him, the gun lifted upwards to hit his temple but Vaas is faster. He dodges and jumps to the right, grabs Jason around his hip and rams his knee into his crotch.

Jason pants and gasps for air, hanging over the other man’s shoulder and wants to writhe but forces himself to beat the others back with his fists, clinging to the pirates wifebeater.

It´s more of a wrestle than an actual exchange of blows and all the sudden Jason notices how Vaas starts pushing him backwards. Panic twitches through his head, he stands with his back turned to the cenote and tries to fight but is still not able to straighten up.

Vaas´ face is too close and he grins again, Jason feels his warm, fresh breath on his face and opens his eyes in panic. The mad one bares his teeth and snarls “Pickaboo motherfucker!”

A hard push against Jason´s chest throws him off his feet and he falls over the cliff. He screams and grabs hectic for anything to get a grip, but all his hand gets to grab is Vaas´ leather necklace.

With a snap the thin band breaks and he plunges down backwards.

The brunt hits him hard and presses all the air out of his lunges. He sinks down a few meters until he manages to swim back to the surface and takes a deep, hurtful breath, trying frantic to stay up. He lifts his head, looks through the hole into the blue sky and finds Vaas´ head on the edge of the cenote; he bends down to him.

Jason gasps for air and coughs, screaming “You fucking bastard, I will skin you alive and make you eat it, fucking son of a bitch!”

His voice turned into a gurgling screech and Vaas´ laughter resounds from the stone walls.

“We´ll see hermano, we´ll see.”

Then he´s gone and Jason stares upwards aghast before he turns to swim slowly to the exit of the cave, feeling the sharp pain in his testicles and lunges prominent. He rolls on the stone shore, breathing heavily and pressing Vaas´ necklace against his chest as if it could safe him from drowning.