Parte 8

I have so much news to tell, and yet, I don’t really know where to start. But first, let me clarify: this is Evelyn. I returned to the radio station at about 5:45 in the morning. Was it one day ago? Two days ago? I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m not even sure how long I’m here or what day of the week it is anymore. I screamed at Dan for a while and locked him in the bathroom for about fifteen minutes before I realized that he was sincerely just trying to be helpful and make sense of things. I still wish he had stayed off my social media though. Now I’m adding “putting a 30-year old man in time out” onto my list of activities I never thought I’d be doing at the work place.

But while I was gone, I saw, heard, and experienced so much that I have to just sit down and tell you everything from start to finish.

The storm is on its way and the lights have flickered a few times already due to the winds. I’m typing this as quickly as I can because … well, I’ll be honest. I don’t know what will happen after I submit this.

When the police picked me up from the radio station, they didn’t really give the impression that they were questioning me as a suspect of Jennifer’s murder. I was never put in handcuffs, I was never put in a cell, but they didn’t want me out of their sights until we had a good, long conversation. However, as soon as we arrived, I was inspected a bit too carefully. As a woman in gloves waved a little flashlight in front of my eyes and told me to strip down to my tank-top so that they could inspect my arms, I immediately had my suspicions. Did they think I was shooting up at the radio station? High out of my mind? It lasted far too long and I had to go through a seemingly unnecessary amount of searches and swabs before I was finally allowed to sit down, all of my items confiscated except for my clothes.

When one of the investigators came by to question me in a private room there at the police station, I voiced my concerns.

“Listen, I’m not a junkie.” I told him, perhaps a bit too aggressively. “I thought we were here to talk about my friend.”

“We are.” He sat down at the other end of the table. In contrast to my bitterness, he seemed far more concerned than he was watchful or judgmental of me. “But … due to your exposure, we’re going to have to get your permission for a full medical exam before we do any of that.”

“What exposure?” He seemed hesitant to explain, but I had a feeling that he couldn’t just keep it from me. “At the radio station? If there’s something dangerous in the air out there, I deserve to know what I’m getting around.”

The detective shook his head. “Nothing like that. I’m not talking about radiation or a gas leak.” He folded his hands on the table as he continued. “We see … a lot of people coming down with illnesses or sustaining injuries outside of the town. And while we can’t explain it, we’ve learned to be very thorough when it comes to making sure anyone who spends a considerable amount of time in the woods is safe.”

I had only just gotten there, and already I felt confused. I felt as if so much was hidden from me, so much that I wanted to know but wasn’t being allowed to understand. The detective didn’t say any more, but instead he slid a piece of paper across the table.

“We need your permission for a full medical examination and an overnight stay. After we’re sure you’re in decent shape, tomorrow we’ll talk about your friend.”

What was I supposed to do? Refuse? I found it all very strange, but I admit that I was curious how all of this fit together with the goings on at the radio station. It was all seeming like some kind of inside job, or perhaps some knowledge that I hadn’t been awarded that everyone else knew about. I allowed them to do the medical exam, taking samples of my blood and basically everything else they could get their hands on. I was questioned a lot about the bruising on my chest, but when they had been assured it was from an honest injury and not some disorder in the blood, I was permitted to get a night’s rest before being picked up first thing in the morning.

I saw the same investigator, a middle-aged man with dark skin. He had a low voice that sounded nice, but I still couldn’t shake this feeling that he wasn’t any kind of friend to me. I picked at the glue exposed on the frayed edge of my paper hospital bracelet in an attempt to get it off cleanly, but the residue just collected under my fingernails.

“Evelyn Faye McKinnon.” He wasn’t asking, but clarifying. He rifled through a stack of papers, and I found myself growing impatient. “You were arrested twice in the last 12 months. DUI’s both times. You and your roommate —“

“Former roommate.” I corrected.

“…You and your former roommate, Jennifer Cook, were fined one time for a domestic disturba—”

“We had a purely verbal argument. I had just gotten out of the hospital and she started lecturing me about—”

“My point is…” The detective spoke with such a piercing tone that I shut my mouth immediately, letting him talk. “…We had your fingerprints. And we matched them to a set of prints on Jennifer Cook’s cell phone, which we found a half-mile from your workplace next to a tree … filled with blood.”

I squinted my eyes. Filled was a word I hadn’t thought to hear, not unless tree sap was the subject of conversation. At that point, I think he could sense the question I was about to ask.

“What do you mean, filled with blood?”

“I mean, the tree was oozing several quarts of blood right from a hole in the center of the trunk. And Jennifer’s cell phone, the one with both her and your fingerprints, was found at the base of it.” He gave me an icy stare and I was waiting for a question. I was waiting to somehow be blamed.

“I didn’t have anything to do with —”

Again, he didn’t let me finish, but his words both comforted … and confused me.

“Nobody thinks you were the one to hurt her.” he said. “But we need to know what you saw in there. Anybody, anything you may have witnessed. We received an anonymous tip saying there were three bodies in the forest, and clearly, three bodies were not recovered. It’s very, very important that we find her body and that we find it soon.”

The urgency in his voice was somewhat shocking to me. I imagined Jennifer’s family would want her remains, but the way he looked at me was almost desperate, as if finding her body was more important than just for the sake of her loved ones.

“She was … in the tree.” I explained, though I knew how insane it would sound. “Stuffed in the center of it. I don’t even know how she fit, but her face and one arm were sticking out of it. She was dead, her mouth was stuffed with a bird’s nest, and that’s where she was when we turned around and left.”

He nodded slowly, and I knew that none of that would help them actually find her. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t checked that entire area probably ten times over by now.

“Anything else?” He asked with raised eyebrows. “Anyone, anything strange out there?”

I found myself hesitating. What kind of strange was he asking about? I had weird stories and sightings - oh, I had plenty - but at what point would it become too crazy to talk about?

“No one else. I saw some weird, mutated elk though. It had three back legs, really fucked up looking…Weird eyes too. The two other bodies were on the ground and up in the tree in pieces, but that was all.”

“Pieces?” The investigator asked. I gave him a quizzical look, wondering how he hadn’t known the other two people had been split in half. That was a detail that wasn’t overlooked so easily.

“…Yes. The man and the woman, they were both cut in half at the middle. The man’s legs and the woman’s top half were stuck in the tree as if they had been … tossed in there. It sounds stupid, but that’s exactly what it looked like.”

He was flipping through his papers again, pulling out photographs and files. I saw only a glimpse, but I recognized the forest floor, the grass covered in blood and the colors of the torn fabrics one of the bodies wore. With a sigh, he pulled out one photograph in particular and slid it in front of me on the table.

It was the scene, obviously, but the photo had been taken far enough away to show the entirety of the area’s surroundings. I grimaced as I saw the far-away shapes of two dead individuals and the bloodstained tree, now empty where Jennifer would have been. However, I was surprised to see that the limbs of the other tree were completely and utterly bare. There was no sign that the man’s legs, nor the woman’s head, had ever been there.

“They were there, I saw the woman’s body and her face and what she looked li—”

As I rattled on, the detective stood from his seat and fished a cell phone out from his pants pocket, dialing a number quickly and turning away from me. He spoke in a hushed voice, but I could still hear him. It sounded urgent.

“It wasn’t just her. There are three of them now.” He said, his free hand rubbing at his forehead with his eyes squinting shut in his stress. “They were obviously moved, but if we can’t find her, the others must have already left also. If that’s the case, it’s too late. They’re a part of it.”

He hung up the phone and I watched him return to his seat, so many questions tumbling over one another in my head.

“What’s going on?” I asked him, annoyed. “A part of what? Why are you asking me about fucking animals, I thought we were looking for Jennifer.”

“It’s all important, but you don’t need to worry.” He told me sternly.

“If it’s important, I should know! I work out there, I’m the one giving you all that I know, and what the hell was with that medical exam? What are we in danger of that no one is telling us about?”

I watched the investigator lean back in his chair, his expression as calm and cold as it was before. He waited for my outburst to end, but the look in his eyes had a sharpness to it that spoke of some reluctance, as if I were asking too much from him. But when I didn’t choose to leave, he had no choice but to learn forward and speak.

“People go missing. Several, sometimes dozens a year, on that mountain. Sometimes their bodies are found, sometimes they aren’t, but they never return as themselves. …And it’s not just the people. We hire rangers to collect any dead animals they find and get them out of those woods, but far too often, those rangers don’t come back either.”

I was silent for a long moment, processing his words. None of it was making sense yet. “…What happens to them then?” I asked an obvious question.

“We can’t explain it.” he continued in a hoarse whisper. “But sometimes, people have said strange things. They’ve gone for a walk in the woods and said they saw a rabbit with one human ear, or maybe a bush with fingers growing in place of a few branches. One time, an old woman nearly scared her son to death because she tried to coax a deer out of the forest, saying it had her husband’s eyes. Her husband had died collapsing on a woodland trail one month earlier, and she said he had fused with a deer.”

I felt sick, thinking of those human eyes. I didn’t need to make it up from my imagination at all. That bird. That damn bird. I started to wonder whose eyes those were after all.

The detective continued. “ …We don’t know what’s in the air around here making people see this kind of shit, but all we know is that when the fog season comes around, more people go missing and more weird things start to appear. It’s all around that spot too. Your radio station. Maybe there’s some magnetic disturbance, maybe there’s something under the ground, we don’t know.”

He leaned closer across the table, and I didn’t even try to say a word. I just stared, exhaling through my lips, as he looked me straight in the eyes with a look that was dire.

“One thing we do know though? …In the last five years, we’ve hired twenty seven different people to speak over that radio. You and Mr. Esperanza? …You’re twenty eight and twenty nine.”

I know the cliche of a heart ‘dropping’ is overdone and insensible, but I felt it then. My heart wasn’t in my chest anymore. It had sunk so low that I felt every bit of confidence and safety in my body disappear all at once. One thing was bothering me though. One little thing that had been in my head for a while now that I was just now piecing together.

“…’We’ve’ hired?”

He didn’t avoid the question, but he took a good, long moment to answer. Finally, he shook his head, sinking back down in his chair across from me.

“The broadcast tower is a lot more than just a radio station. You know that by now. People around here feel safer when they just think about the music, and that’s what we’re trying to do: keep everyone calm until we know how to get rid of this problem forever.”

It was making more sense to me now, why the station was so high off the ground and why it had to be on air at all times. Whatever signal we sent out wasn’t there just for people to enjoy. The music was just a mask, covering something that served a more defensive purpose. It was a watchtower. The broadcast station was never for entertainment, but for protection.

“What would happen if the broadcast stopped for good?” I asked with a small hint of fear in my voice. I didn’t like to think about it, but I needed to know.

The man across from me shrugged his shoulders with a heavy sigh. “We don’t know, but we never want to find out. The fog has stretched all across the town before and we think that, potentially, it could keep going as far as we let it. And whatever is in that fog has been stealing people away. That married couple that went missing the last time it crept into town? Well … you saw firsthand what happened to them. And now, when the fog rolls around next time, we may be seeing them again.”

He stood up from his seat, walking around the table and giving me a heavy pat on the shoulder as I sat there, brain gone to mush.

“You’d better get back to your station … Number Twenty Eight.”

That morning, I took a cab back to the radio station before the sun came up. But before I did, I made one brief stop along the way. In the early hours of dawn, I walked to Jennifer’s house - the same one she had kicked me out of and the same one where her boyfriend Elijah now lived on his own. I didn’t knock or ring the doorbell, but I did slip a small piece of paper underneath the door. It was the only printed photo I had of Jennifer, carried around in my wallet next to a photo of my parents. And now, it was his.

Daniel filled me in when I arrived back to the tower, and after I had a bit of a fit (which may have been a lot of a fit), I tried to fill him in on what I had learned as well. It was a lot to relay and a lot for him to understand, but I felt better knowing that he wasn’t any more in the dark than I was.

“So, the people who hired us…”

“Not really a network.” I finished the idea for him. “It’s some … agency or town government, I don’t know. That’s why our signal only reaches so far. There’s no reason for it to expand.”

Daniel looked overwhelmed, and I didn’t blame him. Hell, I wasn’t feeling so great about all of this either. I went from being stressed about some weird shit to suddenly knowing that a lot of people could get hurt if we failed at our jobs. When I told Daniel about all of the former employees who had gone missing, he was visibly shaken.

“What happens to them?” His voice was weak. “Do they die? Do they … quit?”

“I … don’t think they quit, Dan.”

We shared a silent, solemn moment between us. We didn’t say it, but we were both thinking the same thing. How long would we last? And if we didn’t survive, which one would be the first to go?

A rumble of thunder interrupted any other conversation that may have happened next. Both of us snapped our attention to the window, where the heavy clouds were rolling in across the sky and the trees furthest in our view had started to sway back and forth from the winds. A flash of lightning cracked through the dim light and was followed by another deep bellow from the sky. That same low, roaring groan that sounded like an angry god.

“Evelyn? This place has a generator, doesn’t it?” He asked as the lights flickered for the first time. The radio skipped to static for a split second as another deep rumble resonated from the mountain.

“Yes.”

“…Where is it?”

I frowned, giving him an almost apologetic look.

“Outside.”

.

This is Number Twenty Eight from the 104.6 Emergency Outpost. A fog advisory is in effect. Stay calm, stay safe.

Stay indoors.

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