Parte 3

I never knew that ear surgery was so … simple. Not to say that it isn’t a delicate and skilled process, of course, but when I got the call from Dan’s mother (lovely woman, by the way), she told me that with an outpatient surgery, they’d be able to decently repair one of his ears and possibly give him some partial hearing in the other. At the very least, they’d fix it up enough to avoid infection. I suppose I always thought that the ear was such a small and intricate part of the body that fixing up those tiny, cramped caverns of bones and delicate vibrations would be a huge deal. A dangerous deal.

Turns out, Dan got the surgery the morning after the ‘incident’ with his headset and is recovering. They think he’ll be able to hear well enough to stick around here and do his job, though he may need some hearing assistance once he fully heals. He won’t be returning to work for a few days probably, and may not be wearing a headset for a long time, but while talking to his mother, I heard him in the background saying: “Is that Evelyn? Tell her I’m not done being her nuisance yet.”

So, I guess I’ve still got a part-timer. A nuisance part-timer. He’s just taking a very early, very medicated vacation.

While he’s out, I’ve been here by myself. And goddamnit, that bird will not leave!

I noticed something while looking out the window between giving the forecast and playing a block of commercial-free music. It’s building a nest. That little shitpiece with its damn eyes is building a nest right in front of where I sit all day. Now, I like birds. I generally don’t have trouble with any kind of wildlife, so long as it’s not trying to pick a body part to run off with. But somehow, for whatever reason, the last thing I want is to see this bird create multiple mini version of itself. I can just imagine tens of them lined up all around the window, staring at me from every direction, watching what I’m doing.

I almost decided to go out there and try moving the nest down into the woods. But I don’t want to leave the station unmanned for too long. Maybe I’ll wait until Dan gets back and let him take over for a while so I can take that thing far, far away from the tower.

…I hate this fucking bird.

Before I sat down in the morning, I cleaned myself up at the bathroom mirror. The sink was quiet. I know that should be a good thing, but I don’t mean clanking pipes or clogged plumbing causing any sound. On Dan’s first day, he said he heard the sobbing from down in the pipes, and it shook me a bit. I’ve heard it too, but I figured it was just me. I figured the isolation of being up here, fifty feet in the air and with no company except for the grocery delivery man, was starting to make me imagine human voices in places where they didn’t really exist. But he heard it too.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t continue the first time I noticed the eerie silence. I was going to try convincing Dan that we had a colony of mole people living in the plumbing as soon as he got back. That joke wouldn’t solve the mystery, but at this point, humor is just about the only thing keeping me sane around here. But if you ask, did I think it was a ghost down there? A person? No. I didn’t care, so long as it remained a sound and nothing else. It didn’t matter where it came from.

I forgot about it for a bit. I stopped thinking about whatever was (or wasn’t, rather) in the sink and went about my daily work. The skies were blue and clear, the air was chilly, but warm for being in the mountains. All in all, things were … boring. But I suppose I could use a boring day after watching my coworker’s eardrums simultaneously rupture the day before. I’ll take a boring day over a bloody one.

I sat down, putting my headset on and waiting for the automatic music block to come to an end. There were envelopes, opened and stacked about with ‘get well soon’ cards placed in a line above the consoles.

Word got out fast that Dan was undergoing a ‘standard minor surgery’, and I imagined that anyone listening the evening before who heard his pained screams was quick to hunt down the gossipers for information. At least ten people in town sent cards straight to the station with the early morning mail. I set them in front of his chair like a cute surprise for when he came back. Even I ordered one for him too, but unfortunately the grocery delivery guy had accidentally been given a ‘Happy Birthday Grandma’ card instead…I still signed it and put it up with the rest. It’s the thought that counts.

“Good morning, this is Evelyn McKinnon with 104.6 F.M. I hope everyone is enjoying the sunny skies today. Daniel Esperanza will not be joining me this morning, but he would like to thank everyone for the kind well-wishes and can’t wait to return at the end of the week…Stay tuned for the five-day forecast at eight-thirty this morning, but until then, enjoy thirty minutes of uninterrupted music here on 104.6 F.M.”

I wasted most of the morning away. The WiFi was close enough that I could sit near my desk and surf the web a little, looking for news to talk about. I was in a bored daze, looking at the clock, waiting for time to pass. The internet is too slow to play much video unless I’m in the mood for a good, long buffer, so most of that time was spent just staring at a dull screen.

At noon, my eyes snapped to the side as a noise came through my earphones. It was the phone. Even while the music played, someone was calling in. I thought maybe it was a request, or maybe Dan’s mother calling again. Apparently Daniel had said enough good things about me for her to invite me to her niece’s wedding in June. Sweet woman.

I made sure that the audio mixer wouldn’t pick up the call or my voice with the music broadcast, and with a touch of hesitance, I allowed the voice to come through.

“This is Evelyn at 104.6 F.M., what can I do for y—?”

There was a loud gasp on the other end. Then a shaking, shivering sob, and the sounds of a young woman breathing in through a stuffy nose. I recognized the sound. It was less muffled than it had ever been, more direct. More human. It was the same pattern of sobs I heard from inside the sink every day since I had started, and the same one Daniel had heard as well.

I felt a chilling sensation, like the sudden gust of wind you feel walking out into a blustery winter night from a warm building. It didn’t hit me all at once, but traveled from the top of my head down my back and all the way to the tips of my toes. Every hair on my body stood on end, every pore and freckle was like a stinging pin-prick.

And then, words began to come through.

“You have to stop.” She was still sobbing, still gasping and sniffling. She paused, and I assume it was to let me speak.

“Are you alr—”

“Oh my god, st-stop making excuses!” She interrupted me, and all at once I became confused. Was she … talking to me at all? “I’m so t-tired. This is m-my home, I wanted to help you, but you won’t let me!”

I didn’t respond. It was as if I were listening to only one half of a conversation, like a recording. Something about the voice sounded familiar to me, enough to make my stomach drop into a pit deep in my gut, but then again, I had heard it before. In the bathroom sink. Had I heard it anywhere else?

“Please. Let m-me help you. Please… You h-haven’t been sober a single day since gradua—”

All at once, I ripped the headset off of my ears, pushed my chair back, and left the device dangling on a cord like a pendulum off the side of the desk. It wasn’t for lack of reason. I felt the most intense nausea erupt suddenly, stomach churning and mouth watering, no time at all to wonder if I’d be able to let it calm or not. I rushed to the bathroom with the call still going, that voice speaking and sobbing into the open air.

Vertigo struck as soon as the door was within reach, and those three steps to the toilet felt as if I were walking in a bright, spinning carnival tunnel. My legs buckled at the knees and I went crashing down, white knuckles gripping the edge of the toilet seat as I tried to drag myself towards it. My arm lacked the strength, but it was then that the nausea turned to something else. I was choking. Shit, if there was ever a time I could have a coworker there with me, this would be that moment. I lost my breath and the vibrant colors that spun around me only grew more blinding, static in my vision as I prepared to lose consciousness.

And then, with a desperate cough, I felt a sharp pain as something dislodged itself from my throat.

My head hit the floor with a thud, but I found myself staring directly at the thing that had somehow gotten inside of my body. It was a stone. Just a stone. A brown, speckled one like the kind you’d find out in the woods, maybe on a hike, maybe from a river bed. As far as ‘things you could mysteriously choke on with no explanation’, a stone seemed like a rather boring item. But as I looked at it, perhaps with sheer frustration that it had almost killed me, I wanted nothing more than to be rid of it.

My arms shook as I pushed myself up, grabbing the stone in my fist. Without a second thought, I threw it into the toilet and flushed the handle, watching it disappear down the cyclone of water. It was then that I swore I heard a sniffle to my right, coming from deep down inside the pipes beneath the sink.

“…You can have it back.” I wiped my face with my sleeve, then washed my hands thoroughly before returning to my desk. My headphones were still dangling off the edge of the table, swinging back and forth slowly. I picked them up, put them over my head once more, and was greeted with silence from the other line. The woman had hung up the phone.

The sense of discomfort hasn’t left. That bird hasn’t left. What’s worse is I saw it clicking its beak on the window, looking straight at me. It wants to come in. I know how crazy it sounds, acting like I know what a bird wants and is thinking, but this sparrow is too human not to be aware of its expression … Pleading, demanding eyes are staring constantly as I sit at my desk, only gone when it leaves to fill its nest. I’m not letting it in.

There’s a fog advisory for Thursday. It’s only Tuesday as I write this, but I still find myself staring across the forest, expecting to see the hills of trees start to move. I expect to see it burst open. Where does the fog even come from?

I’m imagining it now, drifting up from beneath the ground, rising into the air and covering the town and the sun, all that my eyes can see.

And the sound it might make: a fearsome bellow that shakes the whole earth.

Shit … maybe I shouldn’t have blocked Rose’s phone number after all.

This is Evelyn from 104.6 F.M. And I just noticed a brown, speckled stone sitting on the edge of the window, “Class of 2017” written in white paint on its side. I don’t know how it got there, but more importantly, who on earth fished that thing out of the goddamn toilet?

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