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Man discovers vial with wick that has the incredible property of absorbing all ambient sound when extended from vial. Man becomes addicted to silence & overuses wick with disastrous consequences.

The depiction of how the man began using the wick sparingly—but gradually became consumed by his need for silence—was exceedingly well-developed.

There’s a limit to how much I can add; I read the story just once, at least 30 years ago. I believe it was quite short, 10 pp or less. I think it was in an anthology, though it might have been a collection by one author.

SPOILER FOLLOWS:

The wick can be extended gradually, and the “quieting power” is directly proportional to wick exposure. The man who found the wick eventually abuses it by operating at maximum all the time, absorbing all sound in his vicinity. He overloads the device, which abruptly releases all the acoustic energy it has accumulated. I can’t recall the specific consequences, but they were unpleasant.

I hope to find & read again…

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    What were the "disastrous consequences"? Dec 13 '20 at 17:40
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    The Clarke story is an excellent suggestion...but this protagonist is definitely a finder, not an inventor. He has no idea how the device does what it does (which is one reason he doesn't understand it has limits).
    – worksong
    Dec 13 '20 at 21:57
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    Was the wick device called "silentzia" ? It sort of looked like a room deodorizer. I remember the story, but not the name nor author. Eventually the wick overloaded and exploded. The inventor catches up with the protagonist, and gives him a supply to buy his silence. Dec 14 '20 at 0:04
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    @WinchellChung You should post that as an answer. "Silenzia" is the name of the story, by Alan Nelson, you can read it here: archive.org/details/Fantasy_Science_Fiction_v005n03_1953-09/…
    – user14111
    Dec 14 '20 at 0:31
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    Nicely done @WinchellChung and @user14111! Dec 14 '20 at 1:35
40

Silenzia by Alan Nelson (1953)

Protagonist is in a pawnshop and discovers what looks like an old bottle of Air Wick room deodorizer. But the label says Silenzia. It has the power of neutralizing the noise pollution so irritatingly prevalent in the big city. The protagonist overuses it, and barely manages to throw the bottle away before it explodes

Disappointed protagonist is covertly contacted by the secret society that uses Silenzia, and is given a supply in exchange for keeping the secret.

Story can be read here

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    And there’s a fascinating topical tidbit at the end of the Internet Archive’s copy of this story: a polio PSA. “POLIO Research will mean Victory! // GAMMA GLOBULIN — obtained from human blood — protects for a few weeks. But it is in very short supply. // When POLIO is around, follow these PRECAUTIONS: 1 Keep clean. 2 Don’t get fatigued. 3 Avoid new groups. 4 Don’t get chilled. // A VACCINE is not ready for 1953. But there is hope for the future. // The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis”
    – PLL
    Dec 14 '20 at 12:14
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    I've wanted to re-read this story for longer than I care to admit, & am both impressed & grateful that it was so quickly found. Thanks to all who pitched in!
    – worksong
    Dec 14 '20 at 14:56
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    @PLL Nowadays we'd have ads telling people to go out and get polio deliberately, to stop the country turning into North Korea.
    – user253751
    Dec 14 '20 at 16:49
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    @MatthewWells "we'd have" = "we would have"
    – user253751
    Dec 15 '20 at 14:42
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    @MatthewWells No magazine ads, just Internet propaganda. (Not Internet ads, either. Or at least I haven't seen any. They want it to look like a grassroots movement, see)
    – user253751
    Dec 15 '20 at 18:50
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The episode with the sound-absorbing wick that I recall, comes from the movie, The 5000 Fingers of Doctor T, a Stanley Kramer opus with a Dr. Seuss script.

When curious about the potency of that little sound absorber, Bart asks "Is it atomic?"... the reply "Yes, very atomic!"

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    This was never a short story, but it was the first thing I thought of when I read the question, too -- and I'll never be able to think of that movie without recalling the "Siamese twins" -- roller skating old men, joined at the beard!?
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 14 '20 at 15:07

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