IX: THE VOICE IN THE STATIC
“People just don’t vanish,” Jake said, mostly to himself but loud enough for Creek and Stumpy to hear. He didn’t realize it, but he had been saying it over and over again, slowly, trying to make sense of what Creek had said. Jake scurried to the other side of the basement and plopped down on an old couch that was pushed against the wall, finally in a position to rest after a long day. “I’m beyond exhausted, guys,” Jake said, his voice fading.
“I think he could do with some sleep, and you could, too,” Stumpy said with a vocal nod to Creek.
“I’m not sure I can,” said Creek, “Not after what your guy just told us.”
“Sure you can,”
Stumpy gestured over to Jake, who had, in mere moments, sprawled himself out on the couch and was fast asleep.
Creek chuckled to himself, “Well, if the world’s gotta end, might as well sleep through it, right?”
“Nah,” said Stumpy, “The world is always ending for someone, somewhere, and it’s most definitely always ending in the news cycles. You’ll wake up tomorrow and it’ll all still be ending, same as it ever has been.”
“Oddly enough, that makes sense and makes me feel better, so I must be exhausted,” Creek laughed, “I’m gonna head upstairs.”
“I’ll be up In a bit, just going to make sure Ernesto is okay.”
“You want me to take Jake up with me?”
“Nah,” Stumpy said, choking a small laugh, “I think he’s out for the night. Nothing’s getting him up.” Jake echoed Stumpy’s sentiments with a coincidental deep breath and hard exhale.
For a world that was ending the night before, the morning came much too quickly. It started quietly enough with just a slight rasp that came though the radio Stumpy had left on before he had turned in for the night. Jake was alone, still sleeping hard on the couch in the basement. Alone with the rasp. Slowly, it grew louder. The increasing crunch of the static made its way to Jake’s ears, startling him awake.
With a jolt and sloppy form, Jake scrambled from the couch to his feet. For a second, he had woken up in a strange place. Allowing the prior day’s events to flood back into his mind, he realized where he was. Even with the sobriety of yesterday’s memories coming back to him, he was still in a remarkably strange place, he felt. The crunch of the static floated through the air and its volume increased then faded, like waves crashing on a shoreline.
Jake looked at the radio and took a step closer to examine the knobs and lights. He could hear something behind the static. It was slight, but it was there. He leaned in closer, contemplating playing with the knobs to hone-in on the sound before he realized he had no idea what he was doing and only in the movies are people instant experts at something with which they previously had no experience. Jake was still shaking off the haze of deep sleep when the channel opened up on its own and an unfamiliar, robotic-like voice came pouring through the radio, “Alto! Breech! Xyster! Initiate!” There was a distinct beat of pause between each exclamatory word. Then, there was a distinct tri-tone of bell sounds, and the message continued with a series of numbers, “28, 67, 46, 0, 12,” followed by the same bell-sound tri-tone. The message then repeated on a loop, over and over again. Jake sat down, picked up a pen and some scratch paper that were on the desk and copied the message for himself. When he was done, he sat back in the chair and studied it intently, becoming more confused with each passing second.
The door to the basement opened and Stumpy started down the stairs with a plate of huevos rancheros and tortillas. When he got to the landing, he saw Jake sitting at the radio. “Mornin’, Sunshine,” said stumpy though lips that were clinched at the corner, holding a lit cigarette in place, “Breakfast is served, how did you…” Stumpy’s voice trailed off as he appeared over Jake’s shoulder, laying eyes on the message Jake had copied.
“What you got there?” Stumpy asked, the sing-song tone of his warm morning greeting being exchanged for concerned curiosity.
“It’s, uh, it came through the radio. The same message, just repeated on a loop for like five minutes, then the station went back to static again.”
“Mind if I take a look?”
“Be my guest.”
Stumpy hobbled over to the couch where Jake had crashed the night before and sat down with a hard creak of the wooden frame. There were a couple of minutes of silence as Stumpy studied Jake’s awful handwriting. He mumbled the words and number to himself, under his breath, but loud enough so Jake could hear.
“What do you think it means?” Jake said, breaking the silence.
“Anything, everything, or nothing at all,” Stumpy said half-joking.
“Where do you think it came from?”
Well, with the reach on my antenna, the rocky, mountainous terrain of the desert, it’s hard to say. Could be a few miles away or as many as fifty, give or take, I’d say.”
At this point Creek was halfway down the stairs with a plate in one hand and the other holding a tortilla filled with eggs over it. “Morning, fellas,” he managed to say with a mouth full of food. Jake and Stumpy both gave token responses, suggesting to Creek their minds were somewhere else.
“What’s going on?” asked Creek.
“Jake, here, found a messaged that came through the radio this morning. Said it was on a loop and repeating for a bit then cut out,” Said stumpy, handing the piece of paper to Creek. Sitting his plate down, Creek looked over the message, his demeanor changed as he began to share in the confusion in the room.
Stumpy started in, “When I was in the military, at the end of Cold War, transmissions kinda like this would happen,” he pointed to the slip of paper. “They called ‘em Numbers Stations. It would just be a voice, male or female, repeating a series of numbers and words. Sometimes they were the same, sometimes they were different or changed day to day, but they would come on around the same time every day. They had origins in lots of different countries. The Russians, Germans, French, heck even the U.S. had transmissions like that. Super secretive and weird. Talk was that it was code used for some sort of spy ring or espionage.”
There was another long pause as what Stumpy had said was digested.
“The words are in English, so this is a decades old transmission U.S., left on a loop to repeat every day since the Cold War?” Jake asked, rubbing his eyes, trying to shake off they last of his drowsiness.
“I don’t think so,” said Stumpy, I spend a lot of time on this radio and I’ve never heard anything like that. I’ll bet my last cigarette that’s a new transmission that has something to do with whatever is going on in Tijuana. And on top of that, they ain’t broadcasting from that far away.”