Some people say the quiet ringing sound people hear in a very quiet area is a mild auditory hallucination, thanks to the human ear’s limited ability to perceive sounds below certain frequencies. Others say it’s a case of nascent tinnitus, or the sound of blood rushing through your veins–just like hearing the ocean in a conch shell.

They’re wrong.

Certain people, if they’re fast enough and keep at it–to say nothing of being a little lucky–can begin to make out what’s behind the sound. Voices, soft and quick and secret, speaking in every language you’d care to name and many that defy classification. They’ll take no notice of those rare few who listen, and with practice one can begin to catch and interpret words, phrases, conversations.

The understandable snatches dwell on people, places and possibilities. What has happened, what might happen, what should happen. The tones are, for the most part, oddly benevolent if completely detached from anything resembling the human condition. They discuss rescues, redemptions, about-faces, sacrifices, gifts. On those rare occasions when the comprehensible part of the whisper-speech turns to the negative, it is always in the context of how things might be salvaged.

As for those behind this low and benign humming? None can say. It espouses no creed, plays no favorites, advances no positions.

Those who have heard it first describe many sleepless nights, followed by a feeling of profound and sweeping relief.