Parte 5

“So, here’s the thing: it’s dark outside, the forest is apparently alive, and you want to go out there looking for a dead body?”

Daniel had been here only a few days and already he was mouthing off to me. He moved fast, I guess. I shot him a look, expression cold, as I sat on the floor and laced up the first of my boots.

“If those fingers were the only part of her disconnected from the rest, there may not be a dead body. She might still be alive.”

After the last time I sat down to write my thoughts and experiences, I ended up looking back at all of the calls that came through in the last few days. I wasn’t looking for the recordings, but rather, the numbers - something I rarely paid attention to. My heart sank when I saw that my suspicion had been unfortunately correct. The number on our work phone matched the cell phone number I had listed for ‘Jenny’, a college friend whom I had graduated with a year earlier. Although, there was a surprise I hadn’t quite expected.

Jennifer didn’t call the station only once. She called twice. The first time, to tell me about a bird with human eyes that had been keeping her awake for days. The second time, I heard a woman crying and pleading over the phone. That woman was her. Maybe it’s true when they say that no one ever sounds like themselves over the phone.

“I’m going along with you.” Dan was turning in his chair, ready to get up, when I shot him a look of disbelief.

“No, you’re not.” I thought I sounded demanding, but he didn’t listen for even a moment. He was already up on his feet, leaning over the console and fiddling with the music line-up. “We can’t leave the station completely empty. Who are we going to ask to take over for us? That weird-ass bird? The toilet ghost?”

“Excuse you, it’s the sink, not the toilet. …Besides, I have an idea.”

He wasn’t bluffing either. His idea sounded silly and impossible at first, but the more I mulled it over in those moments, the more I realized it would work. He told me that we should pre-record all of our content for the night. We’d record the evening weather, the ten-o-clock news, and even a ‘goodnight’ message, then put those recordings in the line-up with the rest of the music. No one would know, and if it took much longer than expected, we’d simply set up the broadcast schedule to continue into the six-hour ‘night owl’ block.

“I was supposed to leave at ten.” Daniel reminded me. He was only a part-timer, whereas ‘full time’ took on a whole new meaning for my eternal presence here. “It’s almost nine o’clock already. You don’t think I’ll get overtime if anyone finds out we were just dicking around in the woods, do you?”

“There’ll be no dicking. But I’ll pay the grocery guy extra to bring you doughnuts if you require compensation.”

I couldn’t believe I was actually going to do this. I couldn’t believe I was letting Dan do this. Honestly, I didn’t know what scared me more: the thought of walking into the woods at night and leaving the station abandoned, or the thought of going alone and leaving Dan with the responsibility of taking my place. Now, I’m not saying he’s incompetent, but I’m almost sure a wild badger could run across the radio console and operate it just as good as he does. …He has as lot to learn, is what I mean.

We put our plan into motion, recording all of our segments one after another and making a long automatic playlist including those files. With any luck, it would sound just as genuine as live conversation. By the time that was finished and the radio was set to play on its own until just before sunrise, Daniel and I raided the closet for flashlights, water bottles, and a first aid kit just in case. I hoped we wouldn’t be needing to re-attach any of our fingers, but yesterday’s grim findings had brought that possibility up from ‘not worth mentioning’ to ‘unlikely but could happen’.

My second trip out into the fresh air didn’t feel as daunting as the first. Maybe it was because the fog wasn’t set to roll in for a few days, or maybe having an important goal drowned out that feeling of insignificance. I fished my phone out of my pocket, looking at the miniscule number of bars in the corner. Out here, with a wall of trees all around us and a seemingly endless forest through the mountains, it was dangerous not to have some kind of connection with the outside world. I watched the bars disappear as we continued to walk, the wet leaves squeaking underneath our feet.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been out here. Not this late, at least.” Daniel was flashing his light on the ground, then up to the trees at eye-level. I hated when he did that. I had some hidden fear that he’d shine the light up suddenly and illuminate something terrifying. “You do know your way around, don’t you?”

I was grasping at memories. I had left town so young and stayed away for so long that any recollection of playing in the woods was lost to me at this point. However, I did remember returning. There were bits and pieces of a memory in my brain, but it seemed to melt, as if some of those thoughts ran like water straight out of my mind.

“I was here about a year ago, but I can’t memorize paths that well. But it’s not as if we can’t see the radio tower from miles away.”

Daniel shrugged, nodding his head and accepting that answer. He looked back at our metal and wooden sanctuary, which sat so tall on the hill with a huge tower looming above it that it would be near impossible not to see it from almost anywhere this side of the forest.

I stared forward in the dark, squinting as Daniel moved his light back to get a view of the station. I kept my own flashlight turned off in order to save its battery in case his ran out. But I had to admit, his constant tomfoolery with that damn flashlight was going to get on my nerves if he kept it up.

“Will you stop that?”


“Dicking around with the flashlight.”

“…What about the flashlight?”

I raised my voice for him, remembering the cotton in his ears. “You’re dicking around with i—”

Before I could finish that sentence, a sound erupted from in front of us, even loud enough for Daniel to hear through his bandages. It was the groan of an animal, either aggressive or in defense of itself. Dan whipped back around, his flashlight pointing straight towards the source of the sound while I stopped in my tracks and stood perfectly still.

It was an elk, enormous in size with eyes glowing white at us in the darkness. There was no way it could have gone unheard, leading me to believe that it had been standing there perfectly still all this time. Its antlers clacked against the surrounding trees as it shook its head, stomping its front hooves into the dirt and stone. Dan and I both backed up several feet. But the elk didn’t charge at us. Rather, once it was finished making noise and stomping about, it turned and stared at us for the longest moment. Its eyes were reflective orbs, but I watched it blink … its eyelids were to the right and left, meeting vertically like that of a reptile. Then, with a heavy grunt, it bounded heavily away further into the woods. I noticed, between instances of wondering how close I had been to shitting my pants just now, that it ran with a very odd gallop. It had three back legs…One on one side, two on the other.

It was a seriously fucked-up elk.

“Is there anything out here that doesn’t look like an absolute abomination?” Daniel asked in a hoarse whisper, his flashlight slowly scanning in a search for anything else that might be hiding in the trees and overgrown bushes. There was nothing, not even a sound. After a few hesitant moments, we were on the move again, though I decided shouting probably wasn’t the best decision to make.

I was looking down at my phone, watching the bars in the left corner. I wouldn’t have expected to have any signal out here, but strangely, a single bar kept flashing and then disappearing, as if it wanted to find a connection. I had no explanation for it, but I didn’t think on it too much - of all the weird crap I had seen out here, a cell-phone signal in the woods was the least of my curiosities. But if I could get just one more bar, maybe I could try making a call…

“How do you know her?” Daniel broke the silence after we were sure no more giant, mutated elks were stomping around. “This missing girl, I mean. You seem dead-set on finding her.”

“She was my best friend in college. We had a dorm together, we graduated together. We, uh, lived together for a bit. …She was generous when I needed a place to stay.”

“…And now you live in a radio station?”

I turned my eyes back to my phone, shrugging my shoulders. I acted nonchalant, like I didn’t give two shits. I actually gave quite a considerable amount of shits.

“She didn’t want me there anymore.”

I could feel the question in the air. I didn’t have to look at Daniel to know what he was thinking, how badly he wanted to ask why a generous best friend would kick someone out of their house. Luckily, before he had a chance to speak and before I needed to think of a new conversation, I saw it: two bars on my phone, springing to life and defying all odds against this wild, uninhabitable mountain. I raised my phone up in victory, stopping exactly where I stood for fear of losing the signal.

“Yes! We have it. We have a signal!” Daniel gave me a confused stare before I had a chance to explain. I was tapping away at my phone, finding Jennifer’s phone number among by miniscule list of contacts. “I’m calling her. If she’s nearby, she can help us find her, assuming she has a signal and battery.”

“Assuming she has her phone.” Daniel was obviously skeptical why a sleepwalking woman, presumably leaving her bed, would take her phone. But I had a theory that Jennifer hadn’t been sleepwalking at all. Something had been luring her here, I just had a feeling.

I didn’t answer him, whispering a hoarse ‘shh!’ as the phone began to ring in my ear. It rang once, then twice, then … in both of my ears. Her tone, a basic selection from the library of sounds, was distant but audible in my one exposed ear. I lowered my own device, listening to the sound echo from further in the trees, faint but there. Daniel turned to the direction of my gaze, flashlight scanning along the ground to find a path of broken twigs and flattened grass trailing off deep into the brush.

“What are you—?”

“Her phone.”

That was all I said before I chased the glow of his flashlight on the ground, deciding that one source wasn’t enough. I pulled the spare light from the satchel around my shoulders, tapping it against my hand as it flickered to life. The tone stopped ringing, and so I called it again, desperately hoping this wasn’t just a trick my ears were playing. I couldn’t help but feel some level of paranoia, knowing that this forest could be drawing us further in with illusions of sound and direction. Perhaps, that’s exactly what it did to Jennifer.

I felt a sense of familiarity with the forest then. I knew this path. I almost felt sick the moment some old, buried memories started to resurface, but not because those memories traumatized me. No, the nausea was part of the memory. I remembered the campfire, roaring high in the center of a clearing, one person’s distinct voice nagging that it would burn the trees down if it got any higher. I remembered tripping over beer bottles and the sound of shitty guitar music, some drunk idiot singing off-key. Shit … maybe I was the drunk idiot singing off-key. That was probably me now that I think about it. I could hear Jenny’s voice, mingling with the crackling fire and terrible music:* “Evelyn, lay off, you’ve had enough. Don’t you scream at me! You’re such an ass…*”

And to imagine, that graduation party was the last time I had ever seen this place until now.

Damn. Why did I ever come back?

“Oh, Christ!” I heard Daniel yell before I caught sight of what he had found. And god, I wish I hadn’t seen it. I turned my light to him, first catching a glimpse as he staggered back with his eyes glued to the ground in front of him, and then I foolishly illuminated the grass below. There was blood soaking every inch of grass and dirt that I could see, bits of cloth and who knows what else strewn around the forest floor.

And a man. The top half of him, at least. Nearby, the bottom half of another person, this one wearing a pair of khaki shorts and walking shoes. Both of them had been separated across the middle, only one half of their bodies thrown down where we could see them. The rest … where was the rest?

I shouldn’t have scanned the light upwards, but the sound of creaking tree branches tempted me. My light followed the trunk, stained all the way up, until it illuminated what happened to be the other halves of the two corpses. They were stuck in the branches by their clothes and their limbs, as if thrown into the air and getting caught wherever they fell. The second body was of a woman, but it wasn’t Jennifer.

I felt sick. All of the shadows and shapes were swirling around in my vision, pungent smells not only in my nose but on my tongue as the full wave of that terrible scent hit me. I gagged, but before I could turn my full body away from the scene, my light caught something else: the glow of eyes from the trunk of a nearby tree.

Let me just say, I’ve seen some uncomfortable things merely in the time I’ve been working out here in the woods. I don’t just mean gruesome, terrifying things, but …unsettling things. Unusual things. As of right now, this takes the cake.

We found Jennifer. She was in one piece, as far as I could tell, aside from a hand missing every finger except for (ironically) the middle one. I’d like to think that was some final joke from whatever murdered her, but that’s probably wishful thinking where humor is realistically non-existent. She was stuffed, her limbs twisted to roll her into a human ball inside the hollow trunk of the tree with her stark white face peering through a hole in the bark. Eyes were open wide and staring forward, making her look like some kind of pale, nightmarish owl. Her mouth was wide open, filled with dry grass and twigs, almost like a bird's nest.

One of her hands was sticking out of the tree, the arm likely broken in order to accomplish such a position. Her hand was tilted, palm pointed upwards and a cell phone was sitting in the center flashing its “10% battery” warning. Well, that, and two missed calls from me. My name was on the screen: “Evelyn” followed by an alien emoji. It was perfectly appropriate.

There’s not a single damn person on earth who could convince me she wasn’t positioned that way on purpose.

We weren’t even friends anymore. But shit, man. I really failed her one last time. At least I’m consistent, I suppose.

Daniel and I knew we couldn’t stay there. Not only was it a fucking nightmare to behold, but the smell from the blood and bodies on the ground was making both of our stomachs churn. That’s a smell you don’t really forget, I don’t think. It’s been a full day and I still recall it in vivid sensory detail. So we turned back to leave, completely silent. We had nothing to say to one another, nothing comforting and no energy even to talk about our fears. We were halfway back to the radio tower when Dan finally spoke up.

“You know,” he started. “I wanted this job because I thought it would be right up my alley. I thought I’d be good at it, maybe make people laugh and smile a bit. But so far, it's only been horrifying.”

Now, while I know that hiring Dan had been none of my responsibility, I still felt a twinge of guilt. He meant well and his heart had always been in the right place, but he was suffering for it. He had the chance to leave but chose to come back regardless. Sometimes I wondered if this bizarre, messed-up situation was the only exciting thing he had to look forward to, at least until actual death entered the picture. Now, he was in too deep. We both were.

“Hey, Dan?” I asked him, shining the light on my own face.


“…Your mom invited me to a wedding in June. Mind if I go with?”

He laughed. It was the first time I had heard him laugh like that … well, ever. That didn’t say much, considering we had known one another for less than a week, but time seems to drag out after you’ve seen some freaky shit with someone.

“Matching tuxedos?” He offered.

I nodded decisively. “With plaid bow ties.”

The rest of the walk was quiet. We got back to the radio tower after midnight, the late night music block beginning on its automatic run just as we had planned. I took the opportunity to take the evening slow, no need to rush back to the console or even to that old, lumpy mattress where I slept. Daniel was leaving, as I expected and wanted him to, but I made an extra effort to stand out in the gravel driveway and tell him goodbye. I could have been emotional about the whole thing, thanking him for saving my life in the fog or for insisting on going with me to find Jennifer. Instead, I just told him to drive safely and to show up in one piece on Monday. Two pieces at most so long as it’s a small loss. He just pointed to one of his ears and said, "I already made my blood sacrifice."

I spent a long, long time that night just sitting cross-legged in my chair and looking out the window. I had my headphones on, listening to the music. I almost wanted to turn on my microphone to ask who was out there listening with me, but I’d be too disappointed if nobody called in with an answer.

This is Evelyn at 104.6 F.M., and I have some advice: don’t treat your friends like shit.

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