Parte 4

I honestly never thought I’d dread a Thursday the way I did. It’s a perfectly good day of the week, and rarely do you ever hear people complaining about how much they hate Thursdays. There's no "Is Thursday Over Yet?" mugs out there next to the Monday ones. However, as the week drifted slowly by, all I could think about was the constant warning of another foggy day quickly approaching. On top of all that, my morning started with a script for a missing person’s report. A woman named Jennifer Cook, age 25, had wandered into the woods in a supposed sleepwalking incident, and her status, for whatever reason, had been listed as ‘in extreme danger’. I recognize her name. We were friends in college…

One good thing did happen. Daniel decided resting was boring as hell and made the decision to return one day earlier than expected, still recovering but plenty well enough to pester me. I almost regretted to say it, but I missed the guy. I guess it’s true that you don’t always realize you’d miss something until it’s taken away from you, and even this insufferable pain in my ass was better than the absolute isolation. Beggars can’t be choosers. I watched as his eyes lit up, seeing the ‘get well’ cards that had been left on his side of the console. He snorted when he noticed the one I left for him.

“Happy Birthday, Grandma?” He laughed as he picked it up, opening the card to find no kind words or even a signature, but a doodle of him with two Beethoven-inspired ear trumpets duct taped to his head. What can I say? I was bored. “…Thanks, Evelyn. You’re a very thoughtful grandchild.”

After the morning weather broadcast, at which time he joined me to announce his return to the station, we turned off our microphones to catch up. I hardly believe it needs saying that ‘catching up’ for us didn’t only involve the mundane.

He told me about his procedure in vivid detail, almost excitedly. And to be honest, I was very interested. Delicately, he tilted his head to either side to show the scars behind his ears and the surgical dressing still kept on the inside. It was no wonder he still spent most of his time trying to read my lips; even if his ears had been successfully repaired, he couldn’t hear a damn thing with cotton stuffed in there. Eventually, we exhausted talk of scalpels and stitches, and he asked me what sort of bizarre happenings he had missed while on his ‘vacation’.

“Sink is still acting up. The pipes were a little rusty the other day though, I think that was making it a bit weepier than usual.”

“Did you get any calls?”

I hesitated, but tried not to look too unwilling to answer. Rather, I pretended I was in thought, looking back at dull and completely unimportant memories before shaking my head.

“Not really. Just a couple of music requests. Some guy in town has a serious crush on Diana Ross.”

Daniel’s eyes were fixed on my face, reading it far after my lips had stopped moving. I think the fact that I avoided his gaze completely was more of a telltale sign of secrecy than anything else. I didn’t want to tell him about the crying woman on the phone, the rock that had been in my stomach, or any conversation all of that may stir. The feeling of unease that subject caused was so fuzzy, so confusing to me that I had no desire to go tumbling down that rabbit hole by my own free will.

“That bird though!” I interrupted just as he took in a breath to speak, bringing my knees up in my chair and kicking off from the desk to roll away a few feet. I practically jumped out of the seat to stomp across the room, headset left abandoned and a finger pointing at the window. Sure enough, my nemesis was picking at the nest it had built on a tree branch right at the window’s edge.

“You don’t like the nest?” Daniel asked as if there was any possible doubt of how I felt.

“It’s gonna have all its creepy looking babies right in front of our broadcast room.” I put my hands to the glass with an exasperated groan. But even as I knocked my fist against the surface, that shitty little bird did not leave. It just stared at me, face turned so that one human eye followed my movements. If its beak had the ability to move in a grin, I’m almost sure it would have been smirking at me. “…I’m getting rid of it.”

“Hold up, I know it’s weird-looking, but you’re not just going to kill it—”

“I’m not killing it.” I corrected Daniel, returning to the desk to hang up my headphones properly. I leaned against the back of my abandoned chair, facing my coworker to explain my instructions. “I’m going out on the fire escape to grab the nest, and I’m taking it out into the woods. I won’t hurt it, I’ll just make it nest in a new spot. You need to take the controls while I’m gone though.”

He couldn’t wear his headset, but that didn’t matter. So long as he could keep the music running on his own and avoid any lapses of silence while I was gone, the plan would be simple and effective. I still try to wrap my head around this feeling or urgency. I needed to get rid of that nest, and it needed to happen immediately.

I had to leave the station in order to get to the fire escape. I know, that completely defeats the purpose of the fire escape, but it wasn’t worth triggering the alarm just to save a few steps and explaining my stupid obsession to my boss while disarming it. That involved descending endless clanking stairs, downwards and downwards until I had circled a fifty-foot spiral of rusted metal to the cold cement floor. The ‘exit’ sign no longer glowed, but the door’s window shone a tarnished yellow light from the overcast sky outside.

When my shoes sank into the long grass, kicking up tiny pebbles in the dry dirt, I felt a sense of … immense insignificance. The world felt big and I felt small, suffocating somewhere in the middle of all that vast and limitless space. It was the first time in over a week I had felt the wind on my skin so directly, and something about standing in the open air failed to feel comforting. I didn’t feel freedom. I felt violated, exposed. I felt like a newborn without guidance.

I decided to make the job as quick as possible. I secured my flannel around my waist, holding onto either side of the fire escape as I climbed my way upwards. I spared a look out into the mountains, those rolling high hills of rock and dirt covered in newly-budding trees and evergreens. Looking at the horizon brought me stress. That stress formed a gnarled ball sitting in my stomach … kind of like a stone, really. I didn’t need more of those in my guts.

“Okay, you feathered fuck.” Once I was at the top, panting breathlessly in the absolute throes of exhaustion, I waved my hand to shoo the bird away. For once, it actually left. But that didn’t bring me much comfort. It flew away from its nest without panic, as if it wasn’t leaving because it feared me. It was simply moving out of the way to perch elsewhere, casually, as if to say ‘I’m only moving because I want to’.

I reached out over the metal bars to grab the nest, plucking it off of the branch. Now, as much as I hate this bird and as vocal as I’ve been about that fact, I couldn’t bring myself to be rough with its nest. I held it with some level of tenderness, but still held my breath anxiously as I peered into the circular web of twigs and discarded animal furs.

There were no eggs, but the nest wasn’t empty. With a shudder of disgust and every single nerve in my body wanting to get that damn thing away from me as quickly as possible, I threw that nest as far as my arm would let me, wiping my hands on the waist of my shirt as I watched it fly into the trees. Inside that nest, nestled into the center like beloved, delicate eggs, were four human fingers chewed off from the knuckle. They were young and slim, the nails painted in partially-chipped red polish.

It was then that I heard a slither behind me, scraping wet against the metal of the stairs. It was a sickening sound that only added to the chill I felt traveling up my arms and neck. I turned, ready to lock eyes with whatever creature had crawled out of the woods … and found a thick, dirt-covered vine that had grown all the way up the rusted beams and across the first step.

I had seen a bird with human eyes, a sink with a human voice, but god forbid would this plant start personifying itself too. Eager to get off that fire escape and back into the station, I stepped over the muddy green appendage and prepared for my shoe to clank against the second stair. It never hit. Instead, another vine just as slick and swift as the other snaked its way underneath my foot, then another and another down at least three more steps. No matter where my foot fell, it would slide and I’d go crashing down each and every one of those stairs.

At last, that’s what I thought would happen. As soon as my balance was lost to me, I felt a slimy grip around my ankle, one of the vines grabbing my leg and using an incomprehensible amount of strength to fling my weight away from it. I felt like a fly being swatted with an aggressive hand, as if I was the pest in this situation. One moment, I was staring down at my feet, and the next, I was looking at the ground as I began to fall.

Fifty feet was a distance I may not have survived. I flailed in some attempt to grab the edge of the stairway, but happened to fall with my chest pinned over a bar on one of the spirals right below the top. The breath was knocked out of me, arms gripping the rail as pain erupted in my shoulders and my elbows from holding up my weight. I kicked my legs upwards, wrapping them around the closest bar I could find until I was clinging to the edge. The endless forest was in front of me, and all I saw at first was a sea of green.

That’s when I saw movement on the horizon. It was the undulating, swirling, thick clouds of fog slowly creeping towards the radio station and the town beyond us. And for the first time since I had started working here, I could hear a groan on the wind. It wasn’t quite a rumble, like one would expect from thunder, but a low, whale-like moan one might imagine would echo from the ocean floor. The fog was making that sound, like a living thing with a voice of its own.

I yelled out some stream of curses, mixed with unintelligible sounds of panic as I used all my strength to pull myself up onto the landing, choosing the stress of sore arms over a long drop. I pulled myself up, tumbling over the railing and falling to my stomach on the solid metal. As I stood, I lost my flannel shirt on a snag and didn’t bother to come back for it, even if it was my favorite.

I half-ran, half-stumbled down the remaining steps, skipping over whichever ones I could while the ground below wriggled and moved in my line of sight. The same mud-covered vines that had thrown me off the fire escape were crawling their way out of the ground, all of them twitching in agitation. I tripped my way through them, making a dash to the door. But when it was finally within my reach, there was no opening it.

The door had been covered from bottom to center in a thick layer of vegetation, overgrown as if the forest had swallowed it in a coat of thorns and branches. Young, miniature trees had sprouted from the ground in that short amount of time it took me to leave and come back, their trunks and branches intertwined to keep the door fastened shut. I tore my hands at the bark, the thorns biting into my skin. But with every tug and crack of solid wood, the trees would writhe and snap back into place in a stubborn game of tug-of-war.

The distant groan was closer now, wisps of fog surrounding my ankles as it slowly began to cover the ground and grow. But as panicked as I was, I only screamed when I looked back to the door, seeing a darkened face and the whites of eyes staring at me through the window. It was Daniel, knocking on the tarnished yellow glass as he attempted to force the door open on his side.

“Get up there!” I screamed through the door. “Make the emergency broadcast! GO. UP. STAIRS.”

He stared at me, shaking his head as he tried yet again to bust the door open to no avail. The stained window clouded my face, making my lips impossible to read. I turned around to see the same trees covering the door had now sprouted at the bottom of the fire escape. The fog was tumbling closer, completely engulfing the trees only a dozen feet away from me. With nowhere to go, I turned back to the door with one last desperate attempt to tear the plants away. I saw Daniel’s face, washed out and blank with fear with both of his hands on the glass. And then, as the fog wrapped itself around me and the radio station itself, I couldn’t even see an inch in front of my face. Dan disappeared from my view, as did every single thing except for the swirling gray clouds.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such silence. There was no wind, no birds, only the sound of my own labored breathing as the air grew thick with the taste of wet soil. Though I had been facing the door, the clouds in front of my eyes made it seem as if I were floating in some endless waste. It was a sea of cold, heavy air that tickled every hair on my arms and on my head.

There was that whale-like groan again. It was followed by the strangest series of clicks, like a tongue against teeth rapidly popping in no real pattern.

I wasn’t prepared when it touched me.

I pursed my lips tightly to keep from making a sound as something sharp and thin grazed the raised flesh on the back of my arm. It was followed by another, then another, like impossibly long fingers or the legs of a spider toying with my hair and poking at my arms. It felt threatening, but also curious, as though whatever it was patrolling in the fog was trying to figure out what I was or what it could do with me.

My eyes were clamped shut and my arms squeezed tightly around my body. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s like in your head when something massive, unseen, and unidentifiable pokes and prods as if you’re its human toy. I was waiting for fangs and claws. I thought for sure, in that very moment, I was about to be eaten alive by something I would never get the chance to see, and my last act on this earth would have been harrassing a goddamn bird.

My teeth rattled as I waited for a fate that was certainly grim, but it was surprising when I felt all presence around me suddenly back away. The ground shook once, twice, and then the world went still again. My eyes cracked open as I watched the swirling gray clouds in front of my vision slowly begin to clear. The doorway, as well as the gnarled trees surrounding it, came into view bit by bit. The curling ropes of bark and thorns began to unattach from one another and spiral back down into the ground as if they were beckoned beneath the dirt. The door was in my sights as the fog all but disappeared completely.

Well, as it turns out, I didn’t die. Shocking, I know.

I don’t think I’ve ever opened a door so quickly in my life. I rushed inside, slamming it behind me, and wasted no time at all sprinting up the stairwell towards the broadcasting room. Pure adrenaline got me to the top in what seemed like an instant, where I found Daniel sitting at the console with a microphone situated in front of his face and the radio line-up back on track. It was better late than never. I breathed a loud, heavy sigh and slumped against the wall, movement catching my gaze at the window. My flannel shirt was still caught on the edge of the fire escape, torn to absolute shreds and waving like a flag of surrender.

It was then that I made a solemn oath that should I ever see a bird’s nest near the fire escape, it can stay. Hell, I’d throw it a damn welcome party if that would keep this from ever happening again.

Since afternoon arrived, some things have come to light. I’ve gotten more than one angry call from the owner of the network, who claims it took us far too long to sound the announcement for the people downhill in the towns. A married couple last seen taking a walk near the trees hasn’t come home since the fog passed, and of course we made the missing persons report immediately. I’ve also got a huge pattern of bruises appearing on my chest from the fall, and I must say, it hurts like a bitch.

We did call the police about the fingers. They assured us there wasn’t a murderer loose in the area, though that sounds simpler to deal with. I was a bit surprised that the police asked for copies of our caller recordings from earlier in the week, and luckily, the rules of the station meant none of them had been deleted or taped over. The only recording missing was the one Daniel had taken the very moment he lost most of his hearing. Why would our boss delete that after collecting his copies?

I overheard whispers of who those fingers may have belonged to. They say the missing girl, Jennifer, was probably the victim of an animal mauling while wandering in her sleep due to a newly-prescribed pill she had only just started taking. A sleeping pill. I’ve decided that when I’m done here, I’m looking at our call records from the last few days. A certain call from a sleepless woman is coming back to me, and I may recognize that phone number if I see it again. I suspect it might match a number I still have in my own personal cell phone. I'll be honest - I hope I'm wrong. There's a lot I need to explain once I know for sure.

This is Evelyn from 104.6 F.M., and I might take a walk in the woods later.

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