In our small town with its lone radio station, Wilbur was something of a celebrity. He was the sound effects man for our radio dramas, but this doesn’t do him justice. He could reproduce any sound without relying on the use of hammer-on-coconut for horses’ hooves and similar mechanical tricks of the trade. Wilbur produced every sound required with his voice. Small wonder our town dubbed him ‘The King of a Thousand Voices.’
Wilbur lived alone. A recluse, though folks in our parts called him a hermit. The contacts of us radio people with him took place at the radio station only, and only in connection with work. Wilbur didn’t abide small talk. He kept necessary talk to a minimum. It was as if he were hoarding his voice for his sound effects.
Lately, he had taken to improvising, contributing minor changes and even additions to the script, which we discovered only during the course of the broadcast itself. These went beyond his area of expertise, sound effects, but since they invariably improved the script, we left them alone. Wilbur possessed the menacing genius of an Orson Welles, and, like Welles, probably considered himself insufficiently recognized.
Looking back, I should have known something was amiss, especially as he began to improvise more and more, and on a more questionable basis.
Easter morning, I got a call. It was George, our production manager at the station. Have you got the station on? he asked.
No, I answered, feeling as if I had sinned, somehow.
You’d better. And quick. We’re getting calls.
Something urgent in the voice of the usually jocular George caused me to hang up quickly and turn on the radio. We were broadcasting something about Jesus for Easter. But the Jesus I heard was another Jesus than the one we had programmed. This was no Easter Bunny Jesus, this was a suffering Jesus. A Jesus on the cross moaning, and groaning, and crying out – a Jesus whose suffering was interspersed with protests at the evil in the world, in the voice of Wilbur, which protests gave way gradually to the sounds of suffering alone.
My return call to George was picked up after the first ring. We’ve got to get him out of there! I shouted to George. I thought you’d say that, he said. Meet me at the station, I shot back. Ok, he said. And call an ambulance, I added.
Miraculously, we all arrived at the same time, and it took George and me and the ambulance crew to drag Wilbur out of the studio and bundle him into the ambulance. I ran back to substitute a ‘musical interlude’ and left the ambulance guys to wrestle him into a straight jacket.
Naturally, I had Wilbur on my mind for the rest of Easter and a long time afterward.
I thought long and hard on what happened with him, all the nickel and dime psychology and such, but as is usual in such cases, couldn’t put it all together.
Maybe Wilbur was another Jesus, a Jesus of Our Times who, instead on taking upon himself all men’s sins and dying, had taken upon himself all men’s sins and gone mad.
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