Parte 6

I’ll start this off in the most direct way possible: I’m not who you think I am. I work at the radio station perched in the air looking out over a forest-covered mountain range, and it’s an absolutely bizarre place. I’ve seen animals with human features, some eldritch abomination living in a fog bank, and even went partially deaf due to a phone call.

On top of all that, my coworker Evelyn McKinnon just became a murder suspect.

She didn’t do it. There’s no way she could have done it, and I think everyone in this tiny, superstitious town knows that. I may not have been here long, but I’ve been here long enough to know that when something strange happens, people know when to turn their heads and ignore it. The death of a well-respected couple and a promising college graduate gets people just a little bit riled up, however.

If you’ve read her posts, you probably already know who I am. My name’s Daniel Esperanza, I’m a part-timer at the radio station, and right now, I’m taking over Evelyn’s full-time position until she gets back from a ‘drive’ into town. She’s not arrested. At least … I don’t think she’s arrested. The police came by to ask a few things, which is understandable considering how our tower is less than a half-mile from the scene. Some things happened, and they took her into town. I haven’t heard from her since.

I’m sure you’re all wondering a couple of things. First, how did I log into her account? And also, why would I ever choose to work at this backwoods piece of garbage on stilts? The second is a story for another time, but the first one is simple. I called in an ‘anonymous tip’ to the police last night after I left. It was Evelyn’s idea, seeing as there’s no way they wouldn’t be able to trace the radio tower and I’d have an easier time finding a public phone than she would. But after the police promised to stop by the woods and confirm what we had found, I stopped in to see that Evelyn had packed up her laptop and was giving it to me .. for safe-keeping, she said.

She told me that this online document she’s been keeping wasn’t supposed to be found. It was a good idea to get it far away from her just in case they had any questions. So, I have her laptop. She was still logged in and, well, I guess I’ve got a story worth telling too.

It was early, about seven o’clock in the morning when I called in the anonymous tip and then rushed back up to the radio station to warn Evelyn that there might be visitors. The drive there is daunting. This town sits nestled so tightly between a range of mountains on all sides that you’d swear it was doughnut-shaped, with the townspeople all stuffed into the center. It’s a winding, swirling, hazardous path to get out of here, which is why people rarely come and no one ever seems to go. As I followed the path to the edge of the woods, the ground becoming steeper as I went, there’s a natural feeling of heaviness that just sits on top of you as you look up into the trees. The way the mountains raise, it looks like the trees grow miles high, but it’s just an illusion created by the thickness of the forest. It’s suffocating, and really no wonder why people seem to get lost so often. Like looking up at a giant, sitting at the bottom of the mountains can make even the strongest humans feel small, puny, and insignificant. Thankfully, I’m nowhere near ‘the strongest human’, so feeling insignificant is less of a steep drop for me.

I understand this isn’t the time for self-deprecating jokes, though.

Evelyn wasn’t on edge when I arrived at the station, though she was surprised to see me. I found her where she usually is, sitting in the chair behind the console, staring off into space. I don’t think she goes into the details too much, but anyone who believes she spends her days buzzing around and keeping busy is a bit mistaken. In the week that I’ve known her, Evelyn spends an almost worrying amount of time in silence, looking tired and even sick. Every day she looks more and more like the poster child for anemia. When she’s not screaming at a bird or answered creepy phone calls, she spends the rest of her day seeming miserable with a few short intervals of pretending to laugh at my jokes. I know she’s faking it as to not disappoint me. I want to tell her that she doesn’t have to try so hard.

I told her that I called in the tip, and she already seemed prepared. She gave me her laptop and charger, all packed up in a case, and told me to put it in my car. It was then I was noticing the ‘edge’ I hadn’t seen before. She was expressing her anxiety in silence, eyes avoiding mine and her arms staying close to her sides or crossed over her chest whenever possible. I studied theatre - trust me, I know the tell-tale signs of someone who isn’t feeling very confident.

“It’ll be fine.” I assured her, even though I had no idea what we were in for. “We didn’t do anything. Maybe they won’t even bother us.”

As it turns out, I was wrong about that. I left the radio tower, heading back to the tiny gravel parking lot that ended a long, twisting path through the woods. I took the laptop case to my car where I hid it on the floor of the back seat underneath a few bags of plastic bottles I kept forgetting to recycle. It was a good thing I did it then, because the glow of headlights at the end of the long, winding gravel road were coming closer. A police car and an ambulance drove right up near my car in the small, cramped space just big enough for employees.

“You work here?” One of the officers asked me. He was a tall, broad-shouldered guy who looked like he could probably pick me up and toss me into the woods like a tree branch.

“Uh, yes, sir.” I answered without hesitance. It didn’t matter that Evelyn and I were innocent. Acting suspicious in any way wasn’t a good idea, and it didn’t help that we were already hiding her written evidence. “I was just stopping by for a few minutes. Can we help you?”

“Who’s ‘we’?” Asked the second one, a female officer. What she lacked in size she made up for in the most stern, thin-lipped expression I had ever seen. Now, I’m almost thirty years old, and I still felt like I was about to get grounded just looking at her.

“Myself and my coworker. You know, Evelyn McKinnon?”

“Thought I recognized your voice.” The female officer was the first to step forward, while the other followed right behind her. My eyes trailed off to see two remaining police officers, as well as their leashed canine and two medical responders, passing us to go straight into the woods with all the tools to mark off a crime scene. “As part of an ongoing investigation, we’re going to have to ask a few questions to the both of you, as well as to ask that you don’t go wandering into the woods today. Is that alright?”

It’s fine, it’s going fine, I was thinking to myself. We had nothing to worry about. We weren’t criminals! Still, being face-to-face with authority, especially when they were just itching to put someone behind bars for a triple homicide, was not the most comforting place to be.

“Of course. Come right up.”

I led the police into the radio station, where Evelyn was sitting with her headphones over her ears and fingers adjusting the console controls after her first morning announcement of the day. She didn’t even hear the door open, and I hated to startle her. When saying her name didn’t catch her attention, I reluctantly reached out a hand to nudge her shoulder. That was certainly enough to get her eyes on me at last, though she jumped so suddenly that I thought she’d lose her headphones in the process.

“Don’t do tha—”

She stopped speaking, words halted in their tracks, as her eyes glanced from me to the two officers standing by the door. It wasn’t as if she didn’t expect their company, but she still looked uncomfortable when all four eyes locked on her.

Microphones were silenced, the radio was set to automatically run for the next half-hour, and the police got to questioning the both of us. It started pretty normal, pretty unassuming, and easy to answer.

“Did anyone stop by the station in the last two days?”

“Did you happen to see anyone suspicious outside?”

“Have either of you had any contact with the missing individuals?”

Luckily, the answer to all three of those was ‘no’. I admit, I was further out of the loop than Evelyn was. She spent all of her time here and had known Jennifer Cook for years, whereas I had never even visited this town before hearing about the job offering. They seemed to pay far more attention to her than they did to me.

There was a moment when one of the police pointed out a dark blue-ish mark peeking out from the edge of Evelyn’s neckline. She put a hand to her chest, as if she had forgotten about it until the pain came flooding back the moment her palm touched the spot. All it took was a pull of the fabric to reveal just a small portion of a huge, elongated bruise that stretched across her upper ribs and breastbone.

“Where’d you get that?” The male officer asked. I could tell Evelyn was taking a moment to think, realizing that the story of how she had gotten the bruises was very far-fetched. Things were weird around here, but maybe not weird enough to openly admit that sentient vines had tossed her and pinned her against the fire escape.

“I was out on the fire escape and fell.” She admitted, but refused to elaborate any of the stranger details. “When I rolled down the stairs, I hit myself hard on one of the hand rails.”

They didn’t press further, but it didn’t mean they weren’t still keeping those details in their minds. It was uncomfortable, watching how intently they glared, taking in every small detail. I knew it was just part of their job, but it felt almost unnecessarily intimidating.

Minutes passed, then a half hour, then an hour, and the only time the police weren’t asking questions was when Evelyn or I tended to our work to keep the radio running. They were almost too attentive when it came to making sure everything was going smoothly with the broadcast, but then again, they lived in the town below. There was no way any of the bizarre stuff that happened all around this building didn’t get their attention. Maybe they knew even more than we did about this old radio tower.

I think I was the first to see movement in the woods. My breath hitched in a small gasp, and I think the police heard me, because moments later they were swiftly marching to the window to see their fellow officers emerging from the forest. The medical team carried back two cloth stretchers covered in white sheets.

Two. Only two.

We were told to stay in the broadcast room until the police returned and we watched nervously as they exchanged words below us, silenced through the glass. Evelyn said nothing, but she looked alarmed as the men and women below took turns making glances up at our location. Something was wrong here.

Evelyn paced back and forth until the police came back upstairs, one of them holding a familiar object. Jennifer’s cell phone. Well, shit. With a glove-clad hand, the female officer held up the device, which was sporting a dangerously low battery… and two missed calls from the night before. That phone should have been dead, I thought. Yet somehow, it was kept alive through the entire night just long enough to reveal its secrets. My coworker’s face was washed out, paler than ever when she realized that her name was flashing on the screen. However, what they said next was perhaps even more chilling than all of the facts laid out in front of us.

“Miss McKinnon, it appears you and Jennifer Cook were in contact…Any clues to her whereabouts you’re not telling us?”

My heart sank, and I knew hers did too. She looked at the two figures in front of us, then at me, her mouth slightly agape with the beginnings of a question that wouldn’t come out. Her whereabouts? Jennifer had been out there. She was cold and dead in the trunk of that tree, and if they found her phone and the other two people, how the hell did they not see her?

The only answer I could possibly think of was that she wasn’t there anymore. But if that was true, who or what pulled her out of that tree?

“…I know her.” Evelyn’s lip trembled. I had never seen her look this close to tears. In fact, I didn’t even know she ever cried. Ever since Jennifer was announced missing, Evelyn had made an effort not to talk about their former friendship. It was easy for me to forget that she probably was grieving behind that mask of indifference. “I was just thinking about her and thought I’d try, but she didn’t pick up when I tried to call. We haven’t talked in over a month, I promise, I don’t know anything.”

This time, she wasn’t lying at all. This new development put us as far into the dark as we could possibly get, making me question everything I had seen the night before. There was no way we both dreamed that up, was there? No, not when the rest of the scene fell into place. The other two bodies had been collected, but Jennifer had been taken while the others were left behind. I couldn’t even begin to think of a reason why. God, I can’t believe I even let it cross my mind, but for a split second I had the chilling thought that maybe Jennifer had gotten herself out of the tree. There was a lot of weird shit out there in the woods and I wasn’t ready to start worrying about the walking dead too.

Evelyn’s answer was honest but it wasn’t good enough for them. Deciding that this ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ situation wasn’t satisfactory, Evelyn was given a beckoning gesture of the hand from the female officer, whose other hand hovered close to her side. It wasn’t where her gun was placed, but rather, the handcuffs. She must have noticed that Evelyn looked down at them, because she moved her hand away almost on cue.

“We have more questions, but we'd like to wait until we get to the station to have a real talk. If you—”

“If I don’t argue, you won’t cuff me?” Evelyn finished her thought while peeking out from the hair hanging in her face. The policewoman gazed at her, then silently nodded her head.

My coworker never did have the most expressive face. She often looked weary or annoyed, sometimes a bit of both, but this time she looked towards me with a heavy frown and eyes that could only be described as ‘soulful’. I could tell she was scared, but not with the type of fear we faced before now, faced with impossible things. It was very realistic dread with no disbelief. It was the saddest thing I had ever seen.

“Follow the rules. Okay?”

That was the last thing I read from Evelyn’s lips before she was escorted for questioning. It’s been so long now that I can’t help but feel something went wrong, and that maybe she’s not coming before the day is done. I want to leave. I want to go find out what happened to Evelyn, but unfortunately, I can’t do that.

I have to make sure the broadcast never goes silent.

This is Daniel at 104.6 F.M., and I might be your host for just a little while longer.

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