This is the story of Spe Ultima. You will only hear this once, before your music resumes. The choice to listen is up to you. Choose wisely.
“Warning: Battery low. Charge device as soon as possible. Repeat: Begin charging device.”
The announcement jolted me awake. I felt like I had been daydreaming, but the feeling was stronger than just that. I felt like I was waking up from a coma. But something was… different. Things seemed quieter than usual. Like something was missing….
“My music!” I looked down at my iPhone and realized that nothing was playing on it.
That was very unusual for this day and age, ever since the passing of the United Nation’s Jam Session Act of 2110. That was six years ago. Since that time, all iPhones were programmed to play music non-stop. It sounded like a weird law at the time, but nobody had argued with it, because everyone basically had their headphones in non-stop anyway. Their reasoning behind the law was that if everyone was always listening to encouraging music, everyone would always be in a good mood. This means no more wars, not even a bickering match. The thing is, it had worked. I hadn’t heard anyone yell in ages… in fact, I hadn’t heard anyone at all.
“Begin charging device as soon as possible. Begin charging device.”
I looked up from my phone. I was sitting in my living room. That’s funny; the last thing I remembered was putting my headphones in this morning as soon as I woke up. I looked at the clock. It now read 8:00 PM.
Where had the day gone? I literally remembered none of it. I couldn’t have told you if I had spent the day in school, or if it went by while I was pulling off a bank heist. Not that I would do something like that…
“Charge device now!”
I ripped out my headphones. A searing pain jolted through my head, like I was pulling my brain out through my ears. I looked down at my headphones just in time to see something like tentacles slither into them. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. The tentacles were gone. How strange a day this was turning out to be. Or, ending as. I still don’t know where the day went…
“FINAL WARNING: BEGIN CHARGING DEVICE NOW!”
The announcement blared through my phone’s speaker. With it, the soothing sounds of music. My brain became a little foggy, and I suddenly had the urge to charge my phone, so I could continue listening to my music. I reached for my phone…
“NO!” I grabbed my phone and hurled it out an open window. With a thud, I heard my phone hit the ground, and the music stopped. Almost immediately, my head cleared up, and I could think again.
“Honey? Are you okay down there?” My mom came down the stairs, headphones in and music playing. She saw me standing by the window, and quickly looked me up and down. Before I had a chance to say anything, she suddenly asked, “Where are your headphones?”
“Um, uh well… my phone… and charging… and something about a final warning…” I was stuttering hard.
“Ok, don’t worry honey, there’s an extra upstairs, I can just go grab it, so you can keep listening to your—”
“NO! I mean no, Mom. I don’t want to listen to music anymore.”
“Honey, you have to. The law says so. Go upstairs and put in your headphones, or I will have to call the cops on you. And we don’t want that, now do we sweetie?”
“Mom, you don’t understand. There’s something wrong with the music. It was fogging up my mind. I couldn’t think, and as soon as I threw my phone out the window, and the music stopped…”
“You threw your phone out the window? That’s it.” She put her phone up to her ear, and said “Hello? μsiCore? I’m calling to report my son for destroying his phone and refusing to listen to music… Yes, he is acting aggressive… Yes, I’ve tried to get him to the backup…”
She turned around for a second. I used the chance to sprint out the back door. As soon as I got outside, I screeched to a halt. Everything was… different. But there was no time for that now. I could hear the sirens of the μsiCore in the distance. I had to run. I took off, cutting through backyards, jumping over fences, avoiding dogs, complete with Mutt-Phones™ (Revision of the Jam Session Act in 2112 included designs for headphones that animals could use, so that they wouldn’t feel left out), and basically just running for my life.
Once I was out of earshot of the sirens, I stopped to catch my breath. I looked around some more, and realized what was wrong. Everything was grayish, and everything just looked uglier and polluted. It had never looked this way before, at least not that I had noticed. Everything had always looked beautiful, with blue skies, beautiful nature, with flowers, and bunnies and rainbows, like it was a kid’s coloring book or something. Now, I realized it was all fake. I had a suspicion that it had something to do with the headphones.
I looked around to try to figure out just where I was. I was in a suburb, probably somewhere near my house, but nothing looked familiar. I was behind someone’s house, but there was a fence keeping the people inside from seeing. For whatever reason, I highly doubted that it mattered whether there was a fence or not, because more than likely, the people living inside probably never looked outside. In fact, it was probably safe to sneak a peek through one of their windows, and see just what was going on.
I sneaked around the fence, and pulled myself up to one of their windows, but only enough that I could see through. What I saw made my stomach drop.
There was a family sitting on the couch, watching the TV. They all had their headphones in, which wasn’t unusual, but I noticed that they all acted completely brain dead. They just stared straight ahead at the TV screen. I adjusted myself so I could see what they were looking at, and it made my stomach drop even more.
The news was on, and on it was a reporter, with a big fat unflattering picture of me staring over his shoulder.
I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but the words “Unentertained and Aggressive” were flashing across the screen. Great. That meant that everyone knew that I had smashed my phone, and they knew to look out for me. This made things a lot harder. But, I had an idea…
I waited until it was completely dark outside, then I retraced my steps until I reached my house. I needed some supplies, but it was going to be difficult not to be caught. As long as my mom didn’t hear me, I would be okay.
My room was on the second floor, so I climbed up a gutter, and walked along the roof. When I got to where my room would be, I lowered myself down carefully to my window, and as quietly as I could, I climbed through my window. I had to move fast, or I would definitely get caught. I grabbed a book bag, stuffed some clothes in it, along with a hat, and my favorite watch. That’s all I needed from my room, and I was about to climb back out the window when I suddenly realized what I really needed was in the garage. I stealthily went down the stairs, and into our garage. I grabbed screwdrivers, pliers, and some other tools. I had an idea on how not to get caught.
I went back up to my room and out the window, across the roof, and down the gutter again. It would have been a lot easier if I could have used the back door, but that would have set off an alarm that would have woken my mother up in an instant, and it would be game over for me. I quietly searched my backyard until I found my phone, ear buds included. Luckily, it wouldn’t turn on, which is exactly what I wanted. I threw it in my bag, and took off.
I ran, once again escaping from being caught (or so I hoped), but in a different direction this time. I was headed for a nearby woods that I knew about. There, I had a hideout that I hadn’t been to in a long time. The treehouse.
I had built it back in elementary school, before the Jam Session Act was created, and people actually went outside. I used to go there to read, or think, or basically just escape from the world. Now I was headed back for the same reasons, except this time it was a little more serious.
Once I got there, I threw my stuff down on the floor. My bag broke the old boards and fell through until it hit the ground. I heard a sickening crunch, and I almost cried when I realized my watch was in there.
I climbed down and grabbed my bag again, then started to climb back up, but a lot more cautiously this time. I didn’t have time to make repairs yet, so I had to be careful not to break anything else. I set my bag down carefully this time, then opened it up to see what was still intact.
I pulled out my watch first, and was relieved to see that it had been spared. I reached for the phone next, and saw that the cracks were all the same as before, from when I’d thrown it out the window. That left the earbuds. Perfect.
I pulled them out to see that they had fallen apart, but what I found inside was sickening. It looked like a little balled up tentacle where the wires should be. That’s what I had seen earlier when I ripped my headphones out. That must be why I couldn’t remember anything past putting my earbuds in, because this thing somehow messes with my head. And that’s what caused the massive headache…this thing getting ripped out of my brain!
It all made so much sense now. That’s why the government would pass a law as stupid as the Jam Session Act! So they could control everyone through the power of music! How had nobody figured this out yet? I mean, everyone takes out their headphones each night so they can charge their phone (there’s no headphone jack anymore, so you can only charge your phone or listen to music; not both at once), so how could nobody notice?
Wait; when my phone started playing music through the speaker, I immediately wanted to do what it told me! That means that all music has some kind of mind control ability! Then why the headphones? Maybe to strengthen the bond?
All this was hurting my head, and it was getting hard to think. It didn’t help that I was exhausted from all this running. I needed to sleep.
I took some of the extra clothes out of my bag and used them as a pillow. I lay down and closed my eyes. A faint lullaby in the distance helped lure me into a sleep… I could figure this all out tomorrow. First, sleep…
I jolted awake to the sound of a car door closing. I shot up and saw red and blue everywhere. I jumped down from my treehouse and started to run. The μsiCore had found me.
I started running for my life, weaving through the trees, away from the sirens and the red and blue lights. I looked back for a second and ran straight into a tree. I fell to the ground, and with a foggy head, heard footsteps closing in on me. I felt two giant arms grab me and lift me to my feet. Two enormous μsiCore officers had caught me, and were taking me back to their police cars. As I was being dragged towards the police car, I saw a cameraman on the scene, and I had an idea. I kicked the officers as hard as I could, and they let go in their surprise. I sprinted towards the cameraman, but was grabbed before I got there. In a last desperate attempt, I screamed at the top of my lungs a final warning to all the world. Then one of the officers hit me in the head with his baton, and everything went black.
Your music will now resume.
Mrs. Ultima suddenly had the urge to go downstairs and watch the news. Never one to ignore an urge, she walked down the stairs with her earbuds in and turned on the TV. On the channel was live footage of the criminal kid she had heard about. It looked like they had caught him. She turned up the volume to hear what was being said. As it got to the clip of the teenager being dragged away, the voice of the reporter stopped, and the sound of the teenager’s voice cut through the music coming from her headphones and went straight to her heart.
“Beware the headphones! Beware the iPocalypse!”
Mrs. Ultima was so startled that she dropped her phone. Her head cleared as the music stopped, and in total despair, she said “MY SON!!!”
Noah Darfus is a sophomore at Canal Winchester High School. Noah’s English teacher gave his class a writing assignment, then challenged them to make it good enough to be published. Noah took it literally.