The Herd

The Radio

Jacob Towne, Staff Writer

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Somewhere in an unremarkable part of Maine, near the coast, but not so close to the coast that’s it’s good real estate, is the town of Harold. Harold likes to stay out of the news. It’s a safe town of good people with little trouble. Their major exports are largemouth bass and potatoes. Outside of industry, the town is mostly empty. It lacks the scenic views and clean air that the state is known for, as well as the opportunity and potential of, say, Augusta. The residents of Harold are locals. There doesn’t need to be gatekeeping around the title because so few people know it’s there.

In October, my wife and I looked to the place for housing. There’s a quaint home tucked just off of the main strip, five minutes down a bumpy, forested road that runs alongside Shepards River. The house is a Cape Cod, pale yellow, built in the early 1900’s. Given its location, it was well within our budget. We moved in and settled down in the town very easily. My wife found a teaching job and I fix electronics at a Mom & Pop store on Main Street.

This brings me to the peculiarities of Harold. The town has its assortment of local stations, usually sports talk or politically-charged forty-somethings, but there’s a frequency that I can’t seem to pick up beyond the borders of the town. The sound is fuzzy and dull, but it’s there. Underneath thick blankets of static, there’s a frequent, consistent buzzing, similar to the sound of an emergency alert system you would hear in a thunderstorm. There’s no explanation. The other residents of the town dismiss it as “dead air,” and those that share my curiosity don’t know enough about the technology to excuse themselves of their conspiracy theories. They believe that the “shadow organizations” that creep and plot just beneath the town’s dreary gaze are sending signals to their members. It’s nuclear codes. It’s a frequency set to just the right volume to drive you mad when you get too close to learning their secrets. I disagree with them without offering solutions of my own.

On the weekends, I’ll often stroll along the outskirts of Harold with a portable radio, fiddling with it’s antenna and pausing when I can hear the sound more distinctly. It’s reminiscence to a warning system is striking, and it instills the same anxiety that I feel with the buzzers that play during the news. It’s a programmed fear, I’m certain, and the noise was picked exclusively to disturb and unsettle, to alert listeners to the dangers of whatever was coming. From this strange disdain for the noise, I was drawn to it. On my walks, I would press the speaker close against my ear and try to break through the overwhelming static. After about a month of this habit, I found these results.

  1. The signal goes dead and gets completely masked by static sometime between 2 and 5 p.m. most days. This usually last for about an hour, at which point the buzzing returns with no notable differences.
  2. At random, there are noises other than the buzzer. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard distinct knocking. Other times, the buzzer quiets down substantially, although it’s still audible, but this may be due to the poor signal.
  3. At 6 p.m. every day, there’s a voice. It’s completely foreign and almost inaudible under the static. My best guess, given the pauses between words, is that it’s a list of numbers. The words are short, and the static is loud between each one.
  4. The signal is best in the Northernmost part of town, where I can’t continue further given the legal boundaries of the college that sits there.

 

A few months after we moved in, about six months since I started studying the station, my wife got pregnant. I did what any Dad would do and looked for a proper tree to build a treehouse. Lumber is cheap in Harold. I cleared out some trees in the backyard because they would block out the view of the sturdy one that I’d chosen. There, tucked into a damp, soft hole of wet splinters that was carved into the tree, was a narrow silver chest that seemed suitable to hold twigs. The box was stained and scratched, and concealed partially under wet leaves.

I brushed it off and brought it inside the house, rotating it in my hand in investigation of a latch. I set the box onto the dining room table and tucked my fingernails between the slits. It was stubborn, rusted around the joints, and it was locked.

“Honey?” I called into the house. “Have you seen any spare keys lying around?”

“Like a house key?” She called back from upstairs.

“Maybe. Any left by the previous owner, I mean?” I asked. She didn’t respond. I heard the toilet flush and then she came downstairs.

“I don’t think so, why?”

“I found this little box in the tree outside. The treehouse tree, I mean.” I set the box into her extended hand.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.” I responded. She thumbed the box and rotated it in her hands.

“You should probably leave it.” She said dismissively, setting the box back in my hands. “If it’s locked then it’s locked for a reason. It’s probably something embarrassing.”

“What if I got a key made for it?” I asked, ignoring her suggestion. She rolled her eyes.

“That’s creepy. The locksmith will think you’re trying to break into someone else’s property.” She stated, firmly. I pursed my lips and stared at the box. “Don’t be weird, please.”

I smiled at her. “I won’t.”

 

The next day I went to the mall and had a key made. I brought the key home and opened the box. Inside the box was a scroll of printer paper. When I took it out of the box and set it on the table, flattening it out, the edges curled back and tried to keep its shape. There were multiple pages of what appeared to be letter. I pressed it against the table once again and started reading.

 

“On October 5, 2009, Oswald Fisher came into his first English 101 class of the semester, the same semester that had started almost a month earlier. Bright sunlight illuminated my dim hall, blinding me and emphasizing the dust that floated through it’s ray. His silhouette revealed his character to me immediately.

His stature was that of a dying tree. He was tall, and thin enough to knock down with a gentle gust. His shoes, dirty and broken, clung to the pavement and made an awful noise as he stepped into the class as though they were covered in gum. His pants, gray khakis, were ripped and fringed along the hem. He wore a blue and green plaid flannel shirt that was unbuttoned to reveal a stained black tee. His curly hair shone with grease in the light, as did his infestation of facial hair, and brushed his shoulders as he walked.

He shambled into my class, nervously glancing around the room and dodging eye contact with the other students as he bumped into their chairs. He mumbled apologies and took a seat in the far corner of the room. I collected the assignments from his classmates and placed the syllabus and a paperback copy of The Trial on his desk.

‘You need to have this read by next class.’ I told him, sternly. His eyes darted around the room and he shook his head.

‘I’m busy. Too busy.’ He grumbled. He scratched his head again and scraped the top of the desk with his long fingernails. He wouldn’t look at me.

‘For your good, you’ll read it. I’m not going to argue.’ I said sharply, turning away and ignoring his mumbling from behind me. I continued with my lecture.

‘The next story is Metamorphosis. I’m sure most of you could finish this before the end of class, but I’m giving you until tomorrow.’ I stated as I proceeded around the room, distributing the books on the corners of desks. When I approached Oswald, I saw that his desk was completely invisible under piles of printer paper and note cards. The Trial was on the floor, and Oswald was frantically scribbling in the margins of a notebook, already filled with chicken scratch.

His writing caught my attention more than I’d like to admit. It was illegible, upside down and sometimes sideways, written with ferocity and intensity that seemed as though it would tear the paper. Between thick paragraphs of notes, there were lines and lines of numbers, the same set written multiple times underneath each other. Some were underlined or scratched out, some were large and others were tucked into the corners of the paper.

When he saw me standing over him, waiting patiently with my book, he scrambled with the pages on his desk and crumpled them into a disorderly pile. Hastily, he stuffed them into his backpack. Slightly unsettled, I set the book upon his desk and held my tongue.  

 

At the end of class, after Oswald had left, Ms. Harper, a guidance counselor, came into my office to speak with me. Oswald was an orphan, she said, with a troubled past. I needed to be more caring and understanding towards him to not upset him, and his work would be done when he felt as though he was ready.

‘He’s not distracting anyone, you don’t need to badger him.’ She scolded, but I didn’t know what she was talking about.

‘Was I rude to him? I just gave him his work and told him to do it.’

‘That’s overwhelming, giving him all of his work at once and expecting it so early.’ She responded, sounding almost surprised at my response. I wanted to tell her that the book was very, very short, and that Oswald would be able to read it if he wasn’t preoccupied with his notes. I didn’t say anything, however, as any way that I responded would make me into a cold, unfeeling villain that wanted all of my students to fail. I let her tell me how to treat Oswald while I thought about the meaning of his notes, and why I cared so much.

 

That night in my home, a two-bedroom Cape Cod that I lived in alone, I settled onto my couch and pondered my curiosity. I decided that it was driven by delusions caused by my subject. As a scholar of literary works, I was no stranger to the mysterious and the morbid. I think that I projected some of my fears onto what I saw in the notes, and my imagination took the best of me. Probably, the numbers were no code, not to be used to wipe out humanity with nuclear weapons, not to be used to summon The Great Old Ones to raze the world and restore it to its natural glory.

This is how I live, with a steady paranoia that all of what I’ve read will someday be true, and that all of the unexplained occurrences in my life will have catastrophic consequences that directly involve me. For this reason, I am haunted by anxieties and and a grim depression, which give me horrible, waking nightmares. That night was no different, and my sleep was overcome with vivid terrors.

I dreamt that I was in Howard, the dreary and unsettling place that I had moved to for convenience’s sake. The people there were dull, weary of life and more than happy to embrace the mundane routines that they neatly fit into. The sky was gray and cloudy, but the grim and twisted branches of the trees that slithered and tied together over the roads cast harsh shadows. I moved along the sidewalk, the stern click of my shoes on the pavement echoing off of the thickly forested front yards and penetrating the awful silence.

I made my way to the power company at the end of the road, slipping past it and walking along a dark path into the woods. The trees grew denser and denser as I went. I could hear the whisperings of those insane citizens that had escaped into the wilderness from their depressing lives. Finally, there was a clearing, and the gray sky had returned, and there was a cliff that overlooked the river.

There, standing on the edge, was Oswald, emanating night time that swallowed the clouds and shrouded him in darkness. He held his notetaking instruments; tightly clutching stacks of paper and notebooks and pens, he took one last look and tossed everything into the abyss. He threw his trembling hand up and clutched the air. His fingers pulsated as though he held a beating heart. He screamed out words of a language that I didn’t understand, but I knew, it was the code deciphered. His hand burst open and splinters of bone pierced his flesh and the night sky. The earth rumbled, and I went to run, but I was stuck. My shoes were gone, my feet had melted, rooted into the ground. I felt a tremendous pain, like a stabbing from inside my heart, and I was paralyzed. Branches of flesh and bone burst out of my skin, growing and twisting and weighing me down. I collapsed onto the ground, and my face and my arms were swallowed into the earth. From my back, more branches were birthed, bearing large, pulsating fruits of blood.

Then, from the river below the cliff, the spawns of Hell climbed out of their home and scorched the grass beneath their feet. They screamed an awful cry, impossible to describe in how alien it was, and moved in strange contortions towards me. I saw only their feet, though I had no eyes. I felt them ripping out my organs, snapping the branches and consuming my new form, though I had no nerves. I screamed, a horrible, blood-curdling scream, wordlessly pleading with somebody to help, though I had no mouth. Somehow, I knew, this curse was cast upon the planet, and humanity was doomed.

Oswald, on the edge of the cliff, was a branching origin of chaos and blood and bone, whose roots dug deep into the earth and radiated cities. He had opened something far worse than Hell, and it had consumed our world and made it its own.

 

I awoke in a cold sweat. I jumped from my bed quickly and hopped around the room, trying to keep myself from being attached to the hardwood. It was a dream. I was alive, and the world had not ended. No, instead, Cronenberg and Cthulhu had visited me in my sleep and shaken me to alertness. Now, the insignificant numbers that Oswald had written down were burned into my mind, and my curiosity had morphed into an obsession.

That day, October 6, 2009, Oswald Fisher came into class late. The day went how it would normally go. I left Oswald alone without his work, and my class continued into a discussion about Kafka’s motives behind writing Metamorphosis. My mind wandered far beyond the topic and I was absorbed into the far corner of the room, where Oswald was writing and scratching his desk.

He glanced around the room and anxiously peered into his bag. He lifted it up and held it close to his ear, squinting and straining as though it would help him to hear. He listened, then took notes, then listened, then took notes, again and again, for the entire class. I disregarded how Ms. Harper would react and, when collecting work, asked Oscar to stay after class.

‘I noticed that you’re taking a lot of notes.’ I said, calmly. He was hunched in his chair, rocking gently and staring at the desk, occasionally looking towards his bag. ‘I don’t think it’s about Kafka, though, right?’

He hesitated, rocking slightly faster, and then mumbled ‘No.’

‘What’re you listening to in your bag, Oswald?’ I asked, softly, leaning forward slightly. He didn’t respond. ‘Oswald?’

With the second mention of his name, he jumped in his chair and gripped his bag.

‘Oswald?’

He was visibly shaking now. His eyes were wild, and wide with fear. He stared at the wall behind me, tightly clutching the handle of his backpack.

I stood up and demanded for him to give me the bag. He cowered in his seat and stared at me. I returned his glance and asserted that I knew exactly what he was hiding. He stood up from his chair and reached for the bag. I grabbed it before he could and pulled it towards me, causing him to stumble as he gripped the empty air. He left his bag as he pushed himself up and ran out of the classroom, throwing open the doors with his body and disappearing into the fog.

I seized the opportunity, taking the bag off of the floor and opening it to find all of his notebooks, crumpled papers, pens and pencils and notecards and a calculator, and below everything else, a portable radio.

It was a large gray brick, approximately 8 inches tall, with protrusions on the top and bottom that jutted out about a half-inch. On the high part of the radio, there was a speaker, on the low part there was a dial, and in the middle there was a blank, pale green screen display. A large, retractable antenna came out of the top, on the right of the speaker. On the back, there was an on-off switch and a battery compartment, tightly sealed.

I set the bag down, put the radio on my desk, and turned it on. I was greeted with a low, harsh static. I listened for a few moments, and then played with the dial. Although the signal changed, the screen remained blank. After a few moments of fidgeting, I found a broadcast. Below the harsh static, there was the sound of the buzzer. It wasn’t droning, it was periodic, in that there was a delay of silence, or, rather, more static, every few seconds.

I pressed the radio tight against my ear and struggled to hear anything distinguishable. When nothing appeared, I once again fidgeted with the dial, only to reach the extent of the signal that it could receive, with no new broadcast. Carefully, I flipped it back to the buzzer. I sat back in my chair and set the notebook from his bag in front of me. I thumbed through the pages to find, at the very least, tens of thousands of numbers scrawled to fill as much of the page as possible, seemingly organized at random. The numbers were separated by small spaces, sometimes commas or hyphens, and the values ranged from one to two digits. The notebook was half-full, and this was all it contained.

Everything else in his bag was equally as mysterious. The calculator wouldn’t turn on at all, and the small manual slip tucked in with the cover suggested that it had never been used. The crumpled papers were more of what was in the notebook, random numbers that were crossed out, underlined or emphasized with brackets. I wondered what made them worthy of being thrown out.

The radio still buzzed from the corner of my desk, the static providing a rather comfortable white noise as I read the notes, and after a few minutes of listening, my mind wandering, I flipped the switch on the back and tucked the radio into my bag, along with the notebook. I placed Oswald’s bag into a closet in the corner of my room, and then set for home.

 

Immediately when I arrived, I turned on the radio and set it on my coffee table. On full volume, the static was immensely loud, and the buzzing was audible in the dining room on the opposite side of the house. I spent the night relatively productively, trying to stay quiet to hear a change in the broadcast. I read a book, I graded some work, and I prepared myself dinner.

At approximately six o’clock the signal changed. The buzzer went silent for a short while, and then there was a voice. It was low and monotonous, and it was difficult to understand through the static. It began to list a series of numbers.

My heart froze when I heard the voice. The distortion caused by the static and the poor audio quality made it deeply unsettling, and I felt it difficult to take myself from listening. I took the notebook from my bag and tried, fruitlessly, for a few minutes to find where the numbers that were being spoken would be located in the dense pages. Afterwards, I settled down and tried to read, waiting for any significant changes in the signal to occur.

It’s an incredibly strange sensation to hear the numbers being read. The voice was so dreary, so bored, so muffled and distorted, and the numbers had no meaning, at least, none to me. Nevertheless, I was consumed by my listening. My mind clung to the radio and showed me visions of the numbers that blocked out whatever else I was trying to do. It was all I wanted to do. I didn’t want to stop listening because I knew that just around the corner, there would be a payoff. An incredibly lucky circumstance in which the same digits would be repeated over and over, or they would fall sequentially, or maybe I’d hear more sounds that would give me a clue about the origin of the signal. No such differences came.

For an hour, until seven o’clock, I listened to the voice. I resolved to go to bed early so that I could wake up at six the next morning. Maybe there would be something different at six in the morning, as opposed to six at night. I watched the news while the buzzer continued from the dining room table. At times, I forgot that it was there. At nine, I turned the radio off, and went to bed.

 

The sound had permeated my bones and now dictated the beating of my heart. I was in an orchard. The apples were old, mostly dead on the ground, and so the trees swayed freely in the wind. There, over the sloping meadows, was a bunker. The wet, gray brick almost camouflaged it into the foggy sky. The sun was hidden away behind those clouds. I saw it because I was lying down, and in front of me, I saw my shadow. Although the sun was gray, it was very bright. I sat down and picked at an apple. It disintegrated into mush and dust in my hands, and it was absorbed into the soil. I brushed my pants and turned away from the bunker so that I could admire the sun. The orchard stretched on for miles, with a path becoming clearer and clearer until it developed into a road that arched past the horizon. There was traffic and civilization, silhouetted by the bright light of the sun.

The apple trees behind me were gray and dead, and the area around the bunker was devoid of life entirely. I grabbed at another apple, this one still on the branch, but it resisted. It stuck and clung until I twisted it and pulled hard. I dug my fingers into the apple and it gave in. The skin recoiled, and peeled back out of the hole that I’d created. Smoke leaked from the core and hissed quietly, and worms and parasites crawled through the sludge and clung to my hand. I turned to the bunker and walked towards it.

Six steps, then eighteen, then seven, then seventy-four, then twenty-one, then nine. I walked and crushed all of the apples beneath my feet, digging my heel into the dirt to wipe off their guts. Eleven steps, then forty-four, then forty-six, then sixty-two, then twelve. The bunker was close. I could see a door with a cold metal handle. It was locked. Five steps, then eighty-five, then fifty-one, then seventeen, then twenty.

 

Where was I going? I don’t know. I woke up because it was five o’clock. The radio buzzed softly from downstairs. Myself and my bedsheets were both soaked in sweat. I resolved to change them, later. I showered and made toast, then turned on the radio. It was 5:55. The buzzer went on for a few minutes, and then went on for a few more. There was no voice and there were no numbers. I shut off the radio at 6:10. I left my toast on the table and went to work.

Oswald was absent. Nothing else of any importance happened. At the end of class, a few minutes after all of the students had gone home, I set the radio on my desk and listened, idly playing with the dial when I realized that it no longer made any difference in the signal.

Suddenly, over the buzzing and the static, there was a piercing frequency that echoed through the hall and cut into my ears. Immediately, I clutched my head to protect myself from the noise. It was too loud. I grabbed the radio off of the table and flipped the dial, trying desperately to shut it off. Nothing happened. Frantically, I threw the radio across the room and covered my ears again, wincing in pain at the noise. It was too loud! I leapt out of my chair and switched the radio off. The noise persisted. Finally, I flipped it over and hit the radio hard against the tile floor. The exterior cracked, and I dug my fingers into the opening, tearing off the battery panel. When I took them out, the noise quieted, slightly. It was still there. It was outside, then it wasn’t. The noise was gone. I ran towards the door, throwing it open and looking into the yard. There was a figure, a silhouette in the mist, walking briskly away with their hands stowed in their pockets. I watched as they dissolved into the air, and then I went back into my room.

I set the batteries into the radio, slowly, one at a time, ready to remove them if the sound was still there. Instead, I was greeted with the familiar static and the dull buzzing. Relieved, I shut the radio off and set it in my bag, heading home.

Promptly on time, the voice returned and began to read the numbers. I listened peacefully for an hour, watching the sun set behind my neighbors house and counting the stars as they appeared. It was almost a full moon that night. At seven, the voice stopped listing numbers. I waited for the buzzer to come back, but it didn’t. Slowly, like the night crept up and usurped the sun, a feeling of dread swelled from my chest and consumed me entirely. I shook in my chair, watching the radio and occasionally turning up the volume, only to be deafened by the static. The air in my home was thick, and I was restrained in my chair, unable to breathe. I lost feeling in my fingers, then my hands. I was cold. The world was spinning and going dark. I finally slumped out of my chair and held myself on the floor, shaking and holding my chest.

I jumped when the phone rang. I fought through my symptoms and stood up, staring the display on my landline. Unknown number. Despite myself and the danger that I knew was there, I picked up the phone.

There was silence. I bit my lip and waited. Nothing.

‘Hello?’ I asked the void.
‘Mr. Foster?’ It responded.

‘Yes, this is Mr. Foster.’ I said back, louder now, and I heard my own voice echo through the phone. The floor upstairs creaked and settled. They were in my house. I hung up the phone and sat on the floor. My face was burning and tears swelled in my eyes. I wanted to sleep. I needed to sleep. No, I needed to defend myself.

I stared at the staircase, the shadows that hugged the walls and darkened my living room. I wasn’t alone. I stood up, carefully, not taking my eyes off of the stairs, and I walked to the kitchen. I took a knife from my block and milk from my fridge. I poured the milk into a pot and turned on my stove. I stirred the milk until it was simmering, then I shut off the stove and poured my drink into a mug. Tightly clutching the knife in my right hand, and threatening to break the mug with the tense grip of my left hand, I walked past the staircase once more. I waited at the foot of it, staring into the darkness. The light switch was at the top. It would stay dark, then. I walked back into the living room and sat down in my chair. It was 7:30. I sipped from my mug and sat attentively in my chair, staring at the staircase.

I was alone, I told myself. My eyelids were heavy. The mug was heavy, too, and it shook in my hand. As I reached to set it down, the radio suddenly buzzed once more, and I jumped and spilled my drink onto my chair. My heart threatened to break through my ribs as I sat still, letting the milk spill onto the floor. Once again, tears of dread formed in my eyes and blinded me. I watched the staircase through the distortion, too afraid of the moments of darkness to wipe my eyes dry. After a while, when I was ready, I stood up and set the empty mug onto my drink coaster. The buzzing was comforting. I moved past the spilled milk and laid down on my couch, letting myself fall asleep to the white noise. I was alone.

 

When I woke up. It was bright. I looked at the puddle of milk on the floor, the stain on my chair. I looked at the staircase. I lacked the courage to go up. I ate the cold toast that sat on my dining room table, and I noticed that my door was unlocked. I held my head in my hands, trying again, again unsuccessfully, to calm myself down. I cleaned my mess and ignored the stain on the recliner. Out of sight, out of mind, I thought. I put the mug on the edge of my sink and set for school, dressed but not showered, hungry, exhausted, and scared.

When I got there, I realized that I had left the radio at home. I sat in my chair, hunched over and fiddling with my hands, and I watched my students filter in. They looked bored, half-dead. Every small shift they made in their chair made me jump and gasp, my eyes wide with fear. I was in no shape to teach, so I played a movie instead. I don’t remember what it was, but every transition, every sudden noise, all of the students reactions, made me cower in my chair and wish that I was home. Then I was.

I was home again, and the mug was on the counter, and my chair was past the staircase. I sat down, rubbing my forehead, and then I remembered the stain. I stood up, and I was greeted by a clean cushion. I pulled it from the chair and flipped it over. Also, clean. I swallowed my fear and ran upstairs. There was still some small sunlight that broke through my windows and told me I was safe. My sheets, my sweaty, smelly sheets, were clean and dry, and my bed was made. My door was unlocked. My furniture was replaced. My home was no longer safe, so I left.

I walked into the evening, disregarding the cold without my jacket, and I marched down the street to the pier. Once again, I had left the radio in my home. It was theirs now. I didn’t want it, I thought, as I turned onto main street. Now, in the dark, all of the storefronts that I had walked by so many times were hiding the origin of the signal. There, behind the locked doors and the shuttered windows, there was a dim and dusty room, the corners of which were decorated with stacks and stacks of indecipherable code, and in the center of which there was a table, illuminated by a gently swaying light that exposed the dust and illuminated the bored, tired man. He was a prisoner, and he sat day in and day out in the room, monitoring the listeners of the broadcast and watching them on his wall of cameras. Every night, unbeknownst to the passersby, he softly read a few more of the numbers into the microphone, and when he was done, he decided who died today. It was my time. I knew it.

I arrived at the pier, overlooking the pond that broke into Shepards River. The beach was tucked under the still water, which had grown substantially with recent rainfall. The full

moon was visible, but the light of day was still prevalent in the mist. All of the light shone on the water, and I saw my reflection with it. I was gray and tired, I was panicked and weak, I was unshaven, disheveled, broken and paranoid. I looked into the water, trying to escape my thoughts. I watched the fish go by. They made small lines as they swam, stopping occasionally to feed on whatever lay on the sand. Most of them swam to my left, towards the beach concealed by brush and river grass. They drew my attention to a wire, some fishing line tied around the corner of the dock that sloped into the water. Carefully, I stepped down from the pier, into the grass, following the fishing line. It stopped on a gray mass, with indistinguishable features under the cloudy water, that the fish seemed to cluster around. I pushed aside some of the grass and knelt down. As I pushed the murky water aside, the fish quickly escaped. In the moonlight, I saw the mass clearly. It was Oswald.

It was Oswald, with his wiry hair, with his blue and green flannel, his t-shirt, his khakis. He was dead and he was underwater, and he was decayed as the fish fed on his corpse. The fishing line was tied around his throat.

I stood upright and stumbled, falling backwards into the grass. I patted my pocket, making sure that I had my cell phone, and I called the police.

‘911, what’s your emergency?’

‘There’s a corpse in the water at Mary’s pond.’ I said. There was a pause.

‘Where in the water?’

‘Right besides the pier, coming off of main street. It’s one of my students. It’s Oswald Fisher.’ Another pause.

‘How long do you think it’s been there? Did you see it closely at all?’

‘Yes, the body seems gray, there’s fish feeding on it.’ I said.

‘Alright, sir. We’re sending a dispatch down right now, I just want you to stay where you are please, the officers will be there right away.’

‘It wasn’t me.’’

‘I don’t believe it was. I just want you to stay there so that the officers can make sure you’re alright.’ The voice said. I didn’t respond. ‘Sir?’ It asked again. I stared into the water, trembling in fear and cold. ‘Mr. Foster?’ The voice asked. I shut my phone and turned away from the water, setting down the road once more. It was dark now. I could hear police sirens coming down the street. The noise drowned out my thoughts. I put my head down as they drove by.

I’m no fool. They were with the voice on the radio. They had killed Oswald. This was a setup. I moved briskly down the road, peering down side streets and jumping at everybody that was there. Every person that I bumped into as I went was planting a tracking chip on me, or a bomb. I shoved past them and turned down onto my road.

There, at the end of my street, was a silhouette. He was coming towards me. I froze in the road and stared him down. He kept moving. I shouted. He stopped, then started again. He turned to the left, down another side road. I walked down my street carefully and looked in the direction that he went. He was standing there, glaring at me. Once again, he set towards me. I ran away, crying and disregarding the fear that I had of my own home. He was behind me. He was going to catch up, and he would strangle me, and he would dump me in the river, and the fish would feed on my corpse and anybody that noticed would be killed too. He was coming. He was there.

I dashed into my driveway and threw my door open. I shut it quickly, making sure that it was locked, and I ran into my living room, stumbling over my furniture in the pitch black. I dove at my couch and cowered, waiting in the dark and the silence. No, I couldn’t wait until they came for me, not in the dark, they were standing over me and I had no idea. I stood up and I moved into my kitchen, groping for my knife block again. Where was it? I walked over to the wall and flipped the light switch. There, in my newly illuminated yard, was the silhouette, holding a flashlight and staring at me in through the window. I turned to make sure my door was locked and saw another figure, only a few feet away, staring at me through the window in my door. The knob was shaking. His eyes were locked to mine. I pointed at him with a shaking finger and shouted. He didn’t react. I dove at the knife block and took the first one I caught. I hit the light switch and ran back to my living room where I locked myself into the closet, tightly clutching the knife to my chest. I waited with my heart in my throat, staring through the slats in the door into the pitch black.

For an eternity, I stared into the dark, waiting for the morning. I’d be safe then. I could hear the silhouettes in my home, stumbling and bumping over furniture, the floor creaking under their boots. I heard glass break. I heard doorknobs squeak and hinges creak as they checked each room in my house. I held my breath and waited. Then the silhouette appeared in the cracks in the door, blocking out the faint light of the moon. I clutched the handle from the inside with a trembling hand and stared at him. The knob tried to shift, but I didn’t let it. Again, again, again, for an hour, I clutched the door knob, which now burned my hand as though Hell waited on the other side of the door. I held it with all of my strength and didn’t let it move until the heat was gone and the light had returned. I waited, longer and longer, listening to them bump in the dark until the sun rose and illuminated my face through the door slats.

 

Today, October 9th, I’m writing this. I’m sorry to whoever has read this, as I’ve burdened you with the same knowledge that’s cursed me. I’m sure I’m long dead now, whenever you’re reading this. I can’t hide for long. I just hope that whoever you are, you’re going to dig into this more than I was willing to.

Again, I’m sorry. But don’t let me die in vain.

Sincerely,

Tobias Foster”

 

I set the letter down on the table and looked around my dining room. I bit my lip and rolled the paper, setting it back into the box. Then I opened it again. I stared at the scroll. It didn’t make sense.

It was nighttime now. My wife had wished me goodnight and gone up to bed while I read. I wanted to keep this from her. I wanted to keep this from everybody. The person that wrote this was playing a sick joke.

I know it. I can’t be convinced otherwise.

I’ll forget the radio signal. I’ll forget this letter. I’m going to be a family man. I’m not going to get involved in this.

I looked out the window at the streetlight. Then, I looked out the other window, at the tree that I had found the box in, illuminated by the porchlight. I looked at my table for a while, at the scroll. I fingered the key while I set the paper back into its box. I locked it tightly. Then I went to sleep.

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