[11] Coding Humans: Dr. Quasar’s Nightmare; Faraday Cage

[11] Coding Humans: Dr. Quasar’s Nightmare; Faraday Cage

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James finally breaks free from months of repetitive nightmares only to find himself living in a reality he doesn’t recall. It is unclear to him if he is still dreaming. For a moment, he thinks he may be, but his senses kick in, and he sees he is in his condo staring at the lone rocking chair. “What did I do all summer? I really need to get back to work. Enough drinking; the spring semester is afoot.

There is much work to do to prepare for the semester, and James is still a bit shaky from the alcohol leaving his system. He picks his notebook up off the rocking chair to start prepping for his fall course. He flips open to the most recent page and reads some gibberish scribbled into it. The writing makes no sense, and there is text that doesn’t look like his handwriting. Being ambidextrous, he assumes he must have been writing left-handed, and as he became more intoxicated, it got sloppier. He moves past it to a blank page and begins his work, but, again, the instant the tip of his ballpoint pen presses into the thick notebook paper, a succession of thumping shakes his ceiling.





James’s face turns red, and his skin gets hot. He slams the notebook on the arm of the chair, watching the pen fly off onto the floor in front of him while screaming at the top of his lungs, “God! Fuck! DAMN IT!” 

(Someone living above me must be jumping up and down on the floor or something. Do they have a fucking camera in here? I haven’t heard anything in weeks, but the second I try to work, it begins.)

The noise stops after he has his temper tantrum. He collects himself by taking deep breaths and starts to read through his notes again.




The thumping noise spreads through his ceiling into the walls as if there is a tiny army of gnomes marching through them. 

(How could I hear this noise? The building is constructed with 12-inches of solid concrete between each floor. How can this noise be traveling through it? There must be some pipes or beams transferring soundwaves the same way kids play with two tin cans and a string.)

After enduring hours of exasperating clamor, James loses interest in focusing on his class preparation. He sets the notepad down on the windowsill and looks at himself in the mirror hung on the wall across from the rocking chair. He frowns, raising one eyebrow, and says to his reflection, “I guess it was meant to be.” “Where did you come from anyway? I don’t remember putting a mirror up in here.” “You must have grabbed one from the halls. Better be careful out there.”  

James finds himself walking the halls of his condo building. He is pondering various equations amongst other topics when he sees a professor from the university. She walks with a limp. He examines her leg and sees she has a brace on it. When he looks at her, she has her hands to the wall for support, pulling herself along like a spider crawling across the corner of a subtended floor.

He politely says with a smile, “Professor Florentine, I presume?” “Do I know you?” “Not intimately, but you are the professor researching and teaching string-theory, correct?” “Ah, yes, you must be the great Dr. James Francis Quasar. Groundbreaking research on timewave displacement and discoverer of the tranoquarticle. I heard you are also stuck in this god-awful building. I am in a hurry, but I would love to have a meeting of the minds someday!” “Sounds great! I look forward to it!”

As she walks away, he notices her reflection. She is no longer limping; she is rapidly walking down the hall and walking at such a fast pace, it could be mistaken for a light jog. (She must limp and pretend to be in pain when people are watching and then goes back to normal when they are not. Weird.)

After walking the halls and pondering various topics for a few hours, he heads back to his unit. When he gets back, it is quiet and peaceful, so he decides to pick back up on his research. He opens his notebook to an empty page, and like clockwork, the pounding resumes.






This time the light’s in the ceiling flicker as the pounding persists. Again, frustrated, James puts his notebook on the windowsill next to the rocking chair and endures the ceaseless battering.

The next morning

“Good morning, Lena.”

A few seconds go by before she snaps out of the Zen-like state she is in. She then turns and smiles, and like a programmed robot, says, “Hello. How can I help you?” 

Another moment goes by before she looks at him, and then she says, “Sorry, I am still waking up.” while giggling. 

“There is some endless pounding in my unit as if someone is exercising or playing catch with their dog or something. It rattles in my unit every night like clockwork. I am trying to work, but it is driving me nuts.” She replies with a condescending look on her face: “No, you wouldn’t hear anything like that from other neighbors. Must be something else.” 

James is unsure how to respond to someone who completely disregards what he says and seemingly pins him as crazy or full of it. After contemplating for a moment, he replies, “Well, not sure what or who it is then, but it is ridiculous and goes on for hours every night—right when I start to work.” “You can’t run a business from home; it is in the ‘Condo Rule Book.’ No tenant shall run a business in their unit.”  “I think you misunderstand. It says: ‘run a business.’ Working from home on a hobby or take homework is hardly running a business.” “I don’t know. I’d have to check with my manager about that.”

James gets frustrated with her circumventing the situation and leaves without acknowledging his departure. (I am going to have to take matters into my own hands. I cannot live like this. I wonder if I could hire someone to take whoever’s making this noise out. Nah. Prison doesn’t suit me, and I’m not clever enough to get away with such a thing.)

Later in the evening, James strolls the halls to get away from the pounding.  When he goes past the exercise room door, he can see a girl is running on one of the treadmills. He can see her from behind. She is bone-thin, and her butt looks as if it is caved in, leaving her yoga pants sagging from the thighs. All that is visible is the back of her head, a blonde ponytail bouncing up and down. 

An hour or so later, after going up and down flights of stairs and other halls, he comes back around from the opposite end. He sees the girl is still on the treadmill. (I cannot believe this woman is still running on that thing. It has been over an hour. That is some OCD shit, man.)

He stops and looks through the door’s window, squinting to get a better look into a mirror. He can see her face in the reflection, and what he sees is scraps of skin stuck to a bloody skull and a wad of hair done up in a ponytail. He takes a closer look. When he looks in, she turns to see him and makes eye contact, and she looks normal, just a bit anorexic with sucked in cheekbones. 

He turns around and walks back down the hall, and thinks to himself. (She must be a compulsive exerciser—addicted to the high. Or she probably looks in the mirror and sees herself as fat. Poor thing.)

James continues to pace the hallways for another half hour or so. He is working his way back to his floor from the seventh floor. As he makes his way to the stairs leading to his floor, the woman on the treadmill comes out from the stairwell. The two of them move closer to each other with each step until they pass one another. 

Before he enters the stairwell, he stops and watches where the girl goes; he watches from the corner of his eye while slowly opening the door. He sees her walk into a unit almost directly above his. An immediate light goes off in his head that this must be the person making the noises all day and night. (It would make sense. She looks like she exercises obsessively. Probably does those workout videos in the evening or has some equipment in there.)

A few weeks later

James has been attending A.A. meetings since he came off the last binge. He has been sober for almost two weeks and goes to a meeting every morning at the senior center. Anything to get away from the pounding quickly became routine for him. His research has been abandoned since he cannot find any time to focus on it. It was uncanny to him. Every single time he tried to get any work done, he would be interrupted. If it wasn’t noises from the neighbors, it was sirens from the ambulances. If not sirens, it was the maintenance guy knocking on his door. It just kept happening over-and-over. It would be quiet for hours and even days sometimes, but the second he tries to do any critical thinking—it begins. 

A few mornings in a row

“Lena. This pounding won’t stop. It seems to be occurring every evening at about the same time as if it were some sort of exercise routine, a routine someone has when they get back from work.” “No, you wouldn’t hear someone exercising.” “Ok. Then what could I be hearing?” “Maybe it is something from one of the neighboring buildings?” “What? How would that make noise in my ceiling?” “I am not sure; noise can travel strangely in this building.” 

“Lena. Did you ever use a string and two cans to make a telephone when you were a kid?” “Sure. Who didn’t?” “Ok, great. So, you know how these high-rise buildings’ structures are made with very large I-beams surrounded by concrete? Well, suppose you have taken any college physics classes. In that case, you’ll know that when a large metal bar is not stabilized, it will vibrate. Sound will travel through it exiting the end dispersing into whatever median the end is attached to.” “Then how come only you can hear it? No one else has complained, so it must not be from this building.” 

Aggravation and frustration to the degree of physical violence fill James’s head. He doesn’t say another word; he turns and walks away. (Why would this bitch be so condescending towards me as if to call me a crazy liar making shit up! I am a goddamn respected physicist. Who the fuck is she to understand the construction of a building better than me!)

Later on

James finds himself on a desperate timeline to get his research completed. Still, he is suffering from severe anxiety about doing his work because he fears, to his very core, that the moment he touches the notebook, the pounding will begin.

After having some peace and quiet time, he figures he is off balance with the scheduled noise, so he grabs his notebook. He begins to write some equations and gets into the research zone, forgetting that the unwanted sound was ever an issue. The moment he syncs into a meditative state, he is ripped from it like being awoken from the perfect dream. 


His temperature rises. He takes a deep breath and stops writing. He no longer can concentrate, so he decides to wander the halls again and ponder ways to kill the person making the noise. 

This time, he sees that the running skeleton girl is not in the gym. (Maybe she is back upstairs exercising, and that was what I was hearing. How can I make this stop.)

A week or so later

Over the past week, James heard nothing. He decides to talk to Lena. He wants to ask her if she knows of anyone that may have been gone for the past week.

“Lena. This pounding will not stop. Lately, I don’t hear anything during the day, simply in the evening like clockwork around someone’s work schedule. And the past week, I have heard nothing. Do you know if that skinny girl that is always on the treadmill has been gone this week?” “Lena, no, it wouldn’t be her. I know her and have been in her place.” “Alright, then.”

Return of the drink

James went upstairs that evening and began to try to do his research. He barely got his finger on the notebook when BANG (silence) BANG (silence). It is a discontinuous dropping sound with thirty-second breaks between each pound. It doesn’t take long for James to surrender his will to the drink. (Fuck it. I’m getting drunk. Do I still have that scotch tucked in the back of the cupboard?)

2:00 am

James is friendly and tipsy-drunk just because he loves it, and the pounding finally stopped a sip into the drink. 

He is now intoxicated to the point that he feels invincible. The obsession with the origin of the sound has consumed his high. He grabs a long-serrated knife designed for cutting loaves of bread and begins cutting holes in the drywall in search of a way to pinpoint the origins.

He walks up to the wall across from his rocking chair and plunges the knife into it. He then cuts an irregular rectangular shape, about a square foot in size. After the incision is made, he pushes the piece inward, sending it sliding down the still intact wall until it hits the floor. 

When he gets a look inside the wall, he expects to find wood studs filled with insulation, but instead, he finds thin metal bars lined with electrical wiring. He moves down the wall and cuts another square out and another and another until he reaches the end of the room. (Every sixteen inches is a metal bar. No insulation – no wood. No wonder the sound is amplified so much in here. Damn place is built like a drum.)

The alcohol fuels his curiosity. He continues cutting the sheetrock pulling large chunks off the wall making his way to the ceiling. As the interior becomes more exposed, it becomes clear that his condo’s shell’s inner workings are a large metal cage. (Odd. Reminds me of a Faraday Cage.)

The sight of the cage inspires James to pick his notebook up off the windowsill and jot down a series of equations about timewaves and their relation to electromagnetism. He can continuously work without interruption. Hours go by unnoticed, and the sun begins to come up. 

Page after page of equations filled the notebook through the night.

James wakes up in his rocking chair from the sound of his dry throat wheezing. It feels to him as if it were glued together while he slept. The dehydration from drinking large quantities of alcohol and no water has left his saliva absent. He gets himself another drink and sits back in the rocking chair. He notices his notebook is thicker than before; the untouched papers had been disturbed. Before he looks at it, he takes a large swig of the scotch. The strong drink amplifies the remaining alcohol still in his blood. 

The work he had done in the night was extraordinary; it excites him. He wishes to input the equations into his device, but he does not have a device, nor does he have an office. He suddenly realizes that he doesn’t even know what the equations mean and becomes curious about who may have written them.

It never ends

James picks the scotch right back up each morning he wakes. He endures waves of pounding—endless pounding. The sound drives him mad. He continues ripping down all of the drywall in his unit in search of a way to stop it. His self-emanating tornado of destruction leaves piles of jagged dusty chunks scattered across the floor. 

Each day he sits and stares at the cage surrounding him while taking swigs of scotch to loosen his throat back up. And every morning, the notebook has more equations in it. Sometimes he is aware of what he is doing, and other times he isn’t. During his daily drunken pondering, he concludes that the building must have been built specifically to conduct sound and or electricity. (Every room in this building must be constructed as a Faraday Cage. Why would someone do that? This explains why the noise is traveling through the building. This structure conducts vibrations just as well as electricity, and the sheetrock shell acts as the perfect structure to produce and amplify sound. It is like a giant speaker.)

A few days later

“Lena. I understand why I can so clearly hear the pounding noise in my unit.” She responds with a tireless look, “Why’s that?” “The sound is being conducted by the structure of each unit and travels along the metal frames.” “No, the walls are all concrete. You wouldn’t hear that. It must be coming from elsewhere.” 

James doesn’t want to tell her about removing all the drywall. So, he leaves her office thinking to himself while getting angrier. (Jesus F-ing Christ! Ok, I am going to have to move. I cannot get any work done here. This has gone too far!)

The next morning

J.F wakes up and sees the walls had never been torn down. He hadn’t even cut a hole in one of them. There are just five empty scotch bottles on the floor next to the mattress, along with his journal. He skims through it and sees it is filled with equations and drawings of Faraday cages. He has no recollection of what he may or may not have written, but he appreciates its elegance and beauty none the less.

He gets up off his bed and walks to the window, feeling a great sense of accomplishment. (We award this man the astonishing achievement in physics—Nobel prize.)

While he daydreams, he looks at the snow-filled streets. He sets his eyes on an odd-looking snow removal vehicle he hasn’t seen before. It is the size of a golf cart, and it is cleaning the sidewalk. It has a large cylindrical tube with bristles spinning at high speeds. The front of it resembles the revolving brush of a vacuum cleaner but without a cover. It rotates, kicking and sweeping snow off the sidewalk onto the grass area.

As he stands at the window watching, a young woman runs past the snow remover and slips on a patch of ice the machine had only revealed a moment ago. She lays flat on the ground, dazed by a crack to the skull. The man operating it doesn’t see her and the bristles begin scraping pieces of her face away. Chunks of flesh spew out onto the snow and melt into it. Then blood mists across it like red paint to a fresh canvas. Before the man notices the blood, the woman’s face was peeled clean to the bone leaving only snippets of skin stuck. 

(My God!) J.F. thought. He wants to help or do something, but by the time he gets downstairs and outside, other people will already be there helping. 

Within 15-minutes, there is an ambulance. J.F. squints to get a better look at the girl being hauled away. (She looks just like the running skeleton. Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard any pounding today. Has my wish come true?)

Later that day

“Lena, what happened this morning?” “What do you mean?” “The girl that had her face scraped off by the snowplow.” “Not sure what you are talking about.”

(How could she not know what happened? It happened two feet from her office window.)

James doesn’t discuss any further; he just walks away. As he makes his way through the lobby back to the elevator, he sees a newspaper on the console table and notices the date is December 23rd, 2020. Lena softly calls, “J.F. – J.F. Wait, are you referring to the murder that occurred in the year 2018?” “What murder?” “In 2018, someone lost their mind that lived here and was convinced that, well, not to imply anything, that their neighbor was pounding on their wall or ceiling every time he was trying to get his work done. In a fit of insanity, he had pushed his neighbor in front of a snowplow while she was jogging. Well, you know the rest. He claimed she slipped on the ice, but before she died, she could use what was left of her scraped to the bone lips and cut up tongue to say she was pushed. In fact, this man lived in the same unit you do. Oops. I don’t think I was supposed to tell you that.”


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