I delicately set up my noise monitoring equipment in the middle of a quiet forest yesterday and prepared it for a 15-minute study. The ultra sensitive microphone had been recently calibrated to pick up noises to the nearest 0.1 decibels, so I held my breath as I gingerly turned the device on.
The screen immediately lit up with a tiny dancing line that began drawing jagged peaks and valleys on the display. The mechanical ear was picking up sounds I was unaware even existed a moment ago. I moved my leg slightly and I saw the machine jerk the line upward. I froze. The line settled back down. A mile away a woman placed a kettle on the stove with a soft clink, and the machine suddenly drew a mountain peak. A moment later it closed its eyes. It listened. A bird fluttered past in the trees nearby and the machine sketched a perfect likeness of Denali in the digital window.
It was going to be a long 15-minutes, I thought to myself, breathing shallowly.
And that’s when it arrived. It boldly peeked out at me from behind a tree several feet away and then slowly meandered through the air on invisible currents to land unsteadily on my bare left arm.
Instinctively I raised my hand to slap it, but as I did so the digital needle on the sound monitor began shivering in anticipation. Slapping my arm so close to the microphone would no doubt make the machine itself explode. Investigators would find a smoldering crater in the forest and never know that it was because a foolish young engineer had slapped a mosquito.
At first, we just stared at each other, as if neither of us could believe what was going on. The creature looked both ways and then back up at me, and then looked at my sound monitor.
“..no…” I slowly whispered through motionless lips.
The mosquito blinked at me and then sniffed at my arm.
“…Please…” I whispered once more through grit teeth. This time it was loud enough that the noise monitor sleeping two feet away jerked to life for a moment.
The mosquito followed my eyes as I became more rigid and glanced at the machine. Then he looked back at me and smiled as if he suddenly understood my powerlessness. We made eye contact and he seemed to nod his head up and down in recognition.
And then, with a gentlemanly tip of his hat, he politely wipe his feet and flew away. As if all he had ever wanted in his relentless abuse of mankind was to find my weakness. And having found my weakness he had brought this savage god, with his angry slapping hands, down to his own level and he and I could now be treated as equals. We were not so different, the mosquito and I. One a bloodsucking, diseased tyrant, motherless and spawned from some pool of green water somewhere in the forest, and the other a mere human, powerless in the presence of technology, not even free to slap himself to destroy an insect dancing on his wrist.
I nodded after him with a renewed respect, as he hovered up from my arm and drifted back in the direction he had first come from. His long stringy legs dangling as he drunkenly wove his way around the tree and into the darkness of the forest.
For a moment I was alone again. Just me and the machine. I checked the time. Only ten more minutes left to go and I would be free. I could once again, speak and breathe guilt free, and slap myself whenever and wherever I chose just like every other human on the planet. I could do this. My data would be perfect, unblemished by any unwanted sound. I smiled.
Then the digital readout on my instrument started to slowly climb. I leaned in closer trying to figure out what was happening. The line on the monitor grew and grew, sloping up higher than I had yet to see it climb.
Some monstrous inaudible thing was approaching. Slowly I became aware of a low rumbling sound. A buzzing that traveled up my legs and into my spine and settled into my ears. The sound of a million- Trillion tiny paper wings. All shoving their way through the trees in their eagerness. Coming at me from all directions.
As they finally emerged from behind a row of trees in front of me I saw that my mosquito friend was at the head of the charge. He smiled dumbly and waved to his friends, showing them the delicious banquet of flesh and juicy blood that he had found standing powerless in the forest.
They descended upon me with knives. Carpeting my arms. Covering the back of my neck. Worming their way down my shirt and up both of my pant legs.
In my sudden agony, I gave up on my noise analysis. In desperation, I closed my eyes, turned my head back, and opened my mouth to scream, but it was already filled with mosquitos.
What my eyes never saw was the tiny blip on the monitor that was my fleeing and collapsing body. A tiny blip, lost in a jagged swarm of blips.