“Have you guys heard the Yanny Laurel thing?” Johanna slurred. She was four beers in and desperate to add some levity to the dying party.
“No,” was the chorus of replies. None of them had. None of them cared much, either. Freida and Joe were independently thinking up excuses to make their escape, while Robert, who wanted the others to leave so he could try to fuck Johanna, just shrugged.
Johanna watched the others with disappointment. She didn’t want the group to disperse yet.
Freida noticed her friend’s mopey expression, so she obliged. “So what’s Yanny Laurel?”
“Oh my God, it’s so weird.” She fumbled her phone out of her jeans, then tapped its cracked screen a few times. “Check this out!”
An audio file began to play.
“Okay?” Joe replied. “So?”
“So what did you hear?” Johanna asked.
Freida and Joe, in unison, replied “Yanny.”
Robert didn’t say anything. He stared at the floor.
“Rob?” Johanna prodded. “Did you hear ‘Yanny’ too? Or ‘Laurel?’”
“Wait, you heard ‘Laurel?’” interjected Joe.
“Yeah, wait — what?” added Freida.
Johanna laughed. “See! I told you it would be cool.”
“Hang on, are you fucking with us?” Joe inquired, looking at Johanna with wary interest.
“Nope!” she crowed, and handed the phone over. Joe played the clip again.
“Yanny,” he repeated. Freida joined in. “Yanny. Yanny. Yanny.”
“Laurel, Laurel, Laurel!” Johanna giggled while opening her fifth beer.
“So wait, assuming you’re not fucking around, how does that work?” Frieda was equally wary but her curiosity had been piqued. She’d been into linguistics since undergrad, but had since migrated to the less interesting, albeit more profitable, programming field.
“I’m really not sure,” Johanna answered. “Someone put it on Reddit and now it’s all over YouTube and Twitter. People are fighting about what it says.”
“So it’s like that thing with the gold or blue dress from a couple years ago, only… audio?” Joe said.
“Yep. And people have done analysis and stuff and even though they have a decent idea how it happens, it’s just a guess. Apparently the high school kid who posted it first discovered it by accident. It’s all super mysterious.”
“Hell of an accident,” Joe replied. “I hope he was able to monetize it before it went all over the internet.”
“That’s the spirit, Joey,” cooed Freida. “Always thinking about the business end.”
“No, I think some YouTube chick stole it and posted it,” Johanna hiccuped.
“Of course,” Joe muttered, disgusted.
Johanna played the audio again. “I don’t know how you guys hear ‘Yanny.’ I’ve only heard ‘Laurel’ this whole time. There’s a version where someone shifts the treble and bass and other frequency stuff. Do you want to hear that?”
“Sure,” Freida said.
Johanna drunkenly prodded the screen for another few moments. Joe looked over at Robert, who hadn’t moved the whole time.
“You okay buddy?” Joe asked.
Robert raised his eyes to meet Joe’s, then blinked a few times.
“Too much to drink?” Joe added. Such a thing wouldn’t be unlike Rob – especially if he was attempting to screw up his courage to come on to Johanna, which Frieda had predicted to him privately before they reached the party.
A frequency-shifted version of the audio file began to play.
“Whoa!” cried Frieda. “I heard ‘Laurel’ that time! Only once, right in the beginning when the treble part was cut out.”
“You’re out of your mind,” Joe laughed. “It says ‘Yanny.’ It’s always said ‘Yanny.’”
Robert whispered something.
“Huh?” Frieda asked. She was next to him and the only one who heard him say anything.
He whispered again. That time, Joe picked up on it.
“Rob, man, are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look too great.”
“Uh oh, I think someone needs another drink!” Johanna announced, and got herself her sixth beer.
Joe remained focused on Robert. He was shaking. Beads of sweat stood out on a forehead that was suddenly pale.
“You’re not gonna puke or anything, right? Right?” Frieda pleaded, and nudged him.
Rob stood up, swaying gently.
“Play the clip again,” he murmured.
“Um, okay…” Johanna sighed, looking annoyed at the prospect of her buzz being killed by Rob getting sick or emotional or a combination of the two.
More drunken fumbling on her phone screen brought up the audio file, which played seconds later.
“Laurel, Laurel, Laurel,” Johanna mimicked.
“Shh!” Rob hissed, directing a cold glare at Johanna. A hurt look crossed her face, but she obeyed.
The clip played for a minute or two without anyone making a sound. Rob swayed in tune with the looped clip, nodding and sweating. The group watched him with concern.
It was Joe who spoke first. “Rob, man, what’s going on?”
Johanna stopped the clip and Robert’s swaying and nodding slowed, then halted.
“I… I’m hearing something else,” Rob breathed.
“What do you mean?” Freida asked.
“Like…. Yannel? Or Laury?” Johanna tittered, obviously drunk.
Rob shook his head once, hard.
“Like…. ‘slit your throat.’ Like ‘pluck out your eyes.’ Like ‘kill them all. Kill them all. Kill them…’” he trailed off.
Everyone stared at Robert with various levels of discomfort.
Johanna’s discomfort was wholly selfish, as she was irritated that Rob had brought the party to a screeching halt. This was her apartment, God damn it. She was supposed to set the mood.
Joe was annoyed. He’d known Robert since they were kids. He’d always had a drama-queen streak to him, but he thought it was something that Rob had grown out of. Apparently not.
Freida was aghast. She was squeamish around violence. To hear “kill yourself” and “take them with you” brought up memories from her past that she’d tried to move beyond. Memories that had taken her years of therapy to cope with.
“I think I should go,” Rob mumbled, pulling his phone out of his pocket and putting on his headphones as he walked to the door.
“Good idea,” Freida whispered to herself.
“You gonna be okay?” Joe called after him.
Rob didn’t answer. He slammed the door behind him.
“Jesus, talk about a fuckin…” Johanna started to say, then stumbled off the couch, meandered her way to the bathroom, and began throwing up.
Freida and Joe looked at one another.
“I want to leave,” Freida demanded. “That was awful.”
“Yeah. Yeah that was not cool,” Joe agreed. “But what about…” he gestured toward the bathroom where the sound of Johanna’s vomiting had tapered off to dry heaves.
“I’ll check on her, but I really want to go.” Freida crossed the room and knocked on the bathroom door. “Hey Johanna, you okay?”
“I’m fine!” Johanna slurred. She paused, then added, “man, that Rob’s a real asshole huh? It’s too bad because I kinda wanted to hook up with…”
Freida walked back toward Joe and told him, “she’s fine, let’s go.”
They exited the apartment to the soundtrack of a fresh volley of vomit splashing into the toilet.
“I think she needs professional help,” Freida noted. Joe didn’t argue. They walked in silence toward the subway.
As they headed down the steps to the station, they noticed two crying people coming up the stairs.
“Weird,” Joe remarked.
Freida didn’t reply. She’d grown very cold. She didn’t like what she was hearing from below. Sounds of shock. Sounds of horror.
Muffled exclamations of dismay grew louder as they descended the long staircase. They swiped their MetroCards and entered the station. Joe was the first to see it.
“Oh my Christ,” he gasped, and ran toward the crowd of people gathered at the edge of the platform.
Freida caught on seconds later. Her stomach sank to her ankles.
Rob’s wet, lifeless eyes gazed at the shocked faces of the assembled commuters. He was trapped in the four-inch wide gap between the train and the platform, his torso twisted and pinched like the end of a candy wrapper.
“He just walked off! He just walked off the platform when the train was coming!” a middle-aged woman sobbed over and over to no one in particular. “He just walked off!”
Freida felt her head spinning and she sat down hard on the filthy concrete floor. There were dark red dots on the ground around her. Everything dimmed.
Joe, fighting back tears, approached his friend. The side of the train was smeared with blood from the front all the way to where Robert was pinned, about two hundred feet back. His cracked cell phone was lying close to the point of impact. His wireless headphones hung limply around his neck.
Over the din of the shocked commuters and the scream of approaching sirens, Joe heard something else. Something from Robert. He leaned in, his breath catching in his throat. It was coming from the headphones.
Joe brought his ear to one of the padded cups. His eyes grew wide and he backed away hard, almost as if Rob had pushed him. He sat, his knees huddled to his chest, and trembled. Even six feet away, he still heard it echo in his mind – the endless, mechanical loop of the headphones blaring, “Yanny. Yanny. Yanny.”
© Max Lobdell, 2018. May not be reproduced in any format without express written permission.