Feb. 1, 2021

Episode 4: HEARTS AGLOW/SAVIOR

Episode 4: HEARTS AGLOW/SAVIOR

Valentine's Day comes early as a city in California replaces its old sodium-vapor streetlights with LEDs, and Conway receives a sign from above.

"My Prayer" originally composed by Georges Boulanger, Carlos Gomez Barrera, and Jimmy Kennedy, covered by the Platters, covered by me.

(CWs: some strong language, brief phallic language, food/brief crunching, death)


Valentine's Day comes early as a city in California replaces its old sodium-vapor streetlights with LEDs, and Conway receives a sign from above. 

"My Prayer" originally composed by Georges Boulanger, Carlos Gomez Barrera, and Jimmy Kennedy, covered by the Platters, covered by me.

(CWs: some strong language, brief phallic language, food/brief crunching, death)

TRANSCRIPT:

CONWAY: This is Conway, receiving clerk for the Dead Letter Office of ***** Ohio, processing the national dead mail backlog. The following audio recording will serve as an internal memo strictly for archival purposes and should be considered confidential. Need I remind anyone: public release of this or any confidential material from the DLO is a felony. Some names and places have been censored for the protection of the public. 

This case begins with a letter, Dead Letter 135707, and a recorded radio broadcast of unknown origin. Our research indicates that after a series of complaints regarding faulty streetlights in July 2016, a city in California formed a commission to replace their aging sodium-vapor lamps. City council partnered with a local tech company to quickly remove the old lights and install bright new LEDs. They sent out a notice of the planned change to all residents within city limits. This prompted the aforementioned letter in response. The letter and the radio broadcast were sent on different days, the broadcast recorded before the plan was even public, but arrived at the commission at exactly the same time. It...spiraled out from there. 

A carrier noticed the mail buildup at the listed address of this supposed commission--a burned out church--and sent it our way to sort through. These are the collected letters, voicemails, emails, and other communications surrounding the days following in summer 2016. 

MARY: Dear City Council,

I’m a zoologist with the University of ******. I just heard about your proposal for our streetlight issue, and I have a few concerns. First, it should be noted that the views presented here are strictly my own, and do not reflect the opinions of the university or its administration.

From what I’ve read about the commission’s plans, it seems that the city will be removing the low-pressure sodium bulbs we use now and replacing them with high-efficiency LED lights, funded partially by Thanatech. While I do think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars to upgrade our city’s infrastructure, and efficiency is definitely desirable, my concern lies in the LEDs themselves. Our old sodium-vapor lamps may not be the brightest or most aesthetically pleasing, but these supposed deficiencies may be important. Inside low-pressure sodium bulbs, metal is heated, causing it to emit a yellowish light. This warm, relatively dim light sits around or below about 2200 kelvin, significantly warmer than natural sunlight. The LEDs you’re planning to use sit somewhere between 4000 and 6000k, the approximate color temperature of actual daylight. 

So why does any of this matter, you may be thinking? Well, although these lamps aren’t great for helping us see at night, they may be better for our furry friends. It’s theorized that brighter, bluer light, like that provided by LEDs, can trick segments of the brain into thinking that it’s actually daytime. I worry that replacing our whole grid with these bulbs could have a negative effect on our local wildlife. If a bunch of birds, bats, raccoons, and skunks think it’s daytime when it’s really midnight, we could have more problems on our hands than flickering street lights. The wavelengths of light emitted by these LEDs could disrupt their behavior, and may throw off their circadian rhythms. Disrupted sleep can cause serious problems, from common irritability and sluggishness, which we often see in ourselves, to memory issues, paranoia, aggressive or impulsive behavior, lack of appetite, even hallucinations, and so on. While I think fixing our streets is a good idea, I don’t think it’s worth potentially upending our entire local ecosystems in the process. Surely we can come to some kind of middle-ground and just get new sodium lamps, right? That is, unless you’ve already paid for Thanatech’s LEDs with our tax dollars. 

Either way, thank you for taking the time to consider my concerns.

Best wishes,

Dr. Mary ****, class of 2005

CONWAY: Postmarked July 11th, 2016, arrived July 12th 2016. The following radio broadcast was sent July 5th, 2016 and arrived July 12th, 2016.

CRACKLING VOICE ON THE RADIO: Good evening, ladies and gentleman. I'm here to tell you there’s electricity in the margins on the page, an atom bomb’s worth. In the space between the words, there’s energy. The things we can’t see are made of that energy. They travel through the wires and hide in stoplights. We can’t see them because we are not meant to see them. They come out at night and ride on the electrons in the air. Ladies and gentleman, we are made of electrons. When that twilight is gone, and no songbirds sing, God comes through the lines and sits in the streetlights. He waves, but you can’t see it. Should we all be so lucky as to be touched by the waving man in the light.

CONWAY: The following voicemail was sent to the commission on July 17th, 2016.

MITCH ON THE PHONE: Hey mayor dipshit, these new lights are so bright they’re going straight through my curtains. How the hell is any of this even allowed? Who’s paying for this? I didn’t elect some CEO dillweed to be in charge of our city, I elected you. And let me guess, they were paid for by our tax dollars? If I wanted this kinda open corruption with big business, I woulda stayed there in West by god Virginia. I haven’t slept in two days, and since the new lights went up in this neighborhood, they’re driving me up a wall. And since when did this renovation deal mean more plainclothes cops? Were those paid for by us too? I’ve seen the same jerk hanging out around my street every night, but no cop car. I can’t get a good look at him, but he’s dressed dark and keeps moving around between lampposts. Seems like he’s patrolling. Maybe like law enforcement, or even a g-man. Can you PLEASE have a meeting with the commission to see if you can do anything about this decision? Name’s Mitch by the way, disgruntled taxpayer number who the hell even knows now.

CONWAY: Email sent to To ******* on July 18th, 2016 at 9:15PM Pacific Standard.

LIZ: God, I miss you, Priya. I haven’t been sleeping well, or I mean I guess worse than usual. I haven’t been this exhausted since high school track. I hear people moving around at ungodly hours every night. Though, to be fair, I’m sure they hear me up too. The city put in these super bright new street lights everyone hates them. People have been talking about like going to city hall to protest they're that bad.

Everyone’s on edge. I came really close to losing it at this girl who cut in front of me at the self-checkout. She didn’t even see that I was there. I don’t know what came over me. While I was there, I heard someone tell the cashier a weird story about people loitering outside apartment buildings. I thought I saw something like that today, actually. Looked like a tall guy, but I mean I couldn’t make out any features or even like his clothes. He kinda shifted around and then went away. Just disappeared. I’m pretty sure it was just somebody’s shadow from the balcony, though. Like with the lights these bright, you can make some pretty sick shadows. You’d have freaked out. Hope Munich is treating you well now that you’re settled in. Call me in the morning. Morning my time or yours I guess, it's not like I’ll be asleep anyway. 

<3 <3 xo Liz

MITCH ON THE PHONE: Hey, Mary, it’s Mitch, I know you screen calls but you should recognize my number by n--Oh shit, I can hear the cops outside somewhere. Sirens going, maybe an ambulance. I guess it got ugly at city hall. Doesn’t surprise me given how everyone’s been acting. I’m gonna see if I can maybe like...I can kinda see somebody through the blinds. Not sure if it’s that cop, he’s just standing there. Can’t really make out...hold on...what the hell? It’s like I can’t really see him. Just all dark. Looks like a shadow or something. I keep thinking he’s moving closer, but Mary, he’s not moving. He’s just...rippling. No, no this can’t be real. Okay, I need to sleep but by God, it’s so bright. What’s he...okay he’s gone. Call me as soon as you get this. Stay safe down there, please don’t get arrested, and hurry on back now. 

MARY: Christ Mitch, just got your message. Can’t call, too loud down here. Have to text. Ducked out of the crowd for a minute before some people in black showed up. Sounds like they’re down here, too. Not sure what they’re doing, just head-to-toe black standing under the streetlights. National Guard? FBI? Too far away to tell. Was getting a major headache, stepped out for some water and air. May head home soon. Not sure. Doesn’t seem like anyone’s listening to us anyway. Some sirens nearby. Have to go.

CONWAY: To ******* sent on July 19th 2016.

LIZ: Yeah, some people marched downtown today. I was gonna go but I had to work. It’s getting wild down there now, kinda glad I stayed home, actually. So Yeah I’m safe, but I think I’m losing my mind without you here. The power in the neighborhood just went out. Of course it didn’t take the street lights out with it. OF COURSE IT DIDN’T. One of the Thanatech bulbs was smashed a few buildings down, but it’s not enough, I still can’t sleep. On top of that, I keep seeing people in front of our building, dark figures gathered under the streetlights. I thought about ordering banh mi, but nah. Mac and cheese and the Sims for me tonight. I wish I could have come with you to Germany. I bet the mountains are just gorgeous, and I bet they don’t have street lights so bad people protest over it there. It just feels like one long day here that never, ever ends. Well, I took some melatonin and put up the new blackout curtains. They’re hideous, you'll probably hate them. But they were the only ones in stock, so eh, not much choice. Wish me sweet dreams, I’ll call you whenever I wake up, assuming I can sleep at all.

Xs, et cetera, Liz

MITCH ON PHONE: I didn’t hear my phone buzz til now. The power is still out up here. I figured you’d be home by now, Mary. Are you okay? God why is it so dark in here? I just saw him outside again. He looked like he was flickering, like his body wasn’t totally solid. Oh god. Maybe it was real? That just can’t be, unless the government’s testing out some new stealth technology or whatnot. The streetlights are still on but God it’s pitch black in here. Wait shouldn’t the sun be up by now? Clock says it’s 9 in the morning and it’s still dark out. My phone must be broken, right? What does yours say? It can’t be this dark at 9. And you should be home by now. God damn I could hear him, crackling like a live wire. Man it’s so hot. My head feels fuzzy. I must be paranoid. I’m paranoid. I need to calm down. I called you for a reason. Why did I call you again.

Oh my god there’s more of them out there now. God, I can see them through the blinds. They’re just...moving around, jittery and shaking, following people down the sidewalk. I gotta get out--I’m getting the hell out of here while I still can. Don’t come back home yet, I don’t think it’s safe. Just get inside somewhere, anywhere, please.

Okay, I’m on the road. Traffic’s shit like always, but I’m heading for that church, not our usual one but you know the one we went to for pancakes that one time? They burnt yours something fierce but you ate 'em anyway. They’ve got a backup generator. They might still have regular lights on. People keep running in front of the cars. Are they running from those things? Christ, it looks like a zombie movie out here. Just saw a fistfight, a carjacking, and a guy biting somebody’s arm in the span of a block. Then a person fell out of a palm tree onto the median. There are people outside just...gone buck wild, Mary. I don’t know what’s going on, but there are these shadowy people keep coming out under the streetlights from the dark. I don’t know if they’re cops or FBI or or terrorists or what but they scare the hell out of me. Make my reflux act up something fierce. Looks like the traffic lights are out, I gotta stop and see

*buzzing sounds*

Oh no no no, there’s one close now and here I am stopped. He’s reaching out to somebody, his hand is it’s shaking and sparking. *GASP* He touched the guy and oh god oh god his body went dark and his heart was...I could see it, glowing like it was on fire from the inside...and now he’s gone. What the HELL is going on. I gotta get to the church, could be people there, safer in numbers, you know? Where the hell are you, Mary? Get inside and CALL M--

CONWAY: To: ****** sent July 19th 2016 at 12:06PM Pacific Standard Time.

LIZ: I woke up to the sound of electrical humming in our apartment, a bright light in the kitchen. I peered into the kitchen and saw one of those...things standing there and touching the outlet. This wasn’t a shadow. Not this time. Which means what I saw before...

Its shape was flickering and undefined. Like a shadow haloed in white light, like a swirling mass of black wiring on fire. My hair stood on end as a sick shock ran through my body. I felt dizzy, like I couldn’t look at it without getting vertigo. Every time I tried to look, my vision went blurry and I heard that terrible buzz. I don’t know how, but I knew in this moment, Priya, that this thing was going to kill me.

You know I’m not big on religion, but I prayed. To whom exactly? I can't say, I just sent out a plea into the ether to see you one last time before the end. This crackling hum started to get louder as this thing drew near. As voltage ran through my fingers and toes. I could feel my chest getting hot. All I could think of was you.

The entity warbled and shook like a vibrating waveform as it reached for me. Then there was a crash outside, loud rending metal on metal, that shook me out of it. I ran to the window and flung it open. I was fully gonna jump out, if necessary, height be damned. Someone’s car ran into the streetlight across from our building, the one right in front of the church. The lamp bent, the bulb exploded, and glass rained on the crumpled hood. The light went out, and the hum in our kitchen stopped. The thing vanished back into the outlet when the light went dark. Then the driver fell out of his crashed car with a shocked look and stumbled into the church, where lights were still on.

I tried to put my boots on but my hands were shaking too much to tie the laces, so--sorry--I just crammed my feet into the slippers you left and ran out the door. The heavy door swung open and the cacophony of the street fully hit me. I could hear people in the building yelling, crying out their windows. Cars were honking, voices screaming and laughing. There was a fire somewhere, and smoke drifting gently over the hedges.

Some guy on the sidewalk heard the door creak open and turned my way. He pulled out a switchblade, the sleek metal gleaming in the hot still air. He started running, knife ahead of him. Then I saw another one of those things under a light. As the knife guy passed under the light, this shadow thing touched him. He screamed, and his voice echoed down the street into a bassy inhuman hum. Glowing white light shot from his mouth, and his heart lit up through his chest like a flashlight. His whole circulatory system sparked with this light, then he was dust.

I can't say I've seen anything like it, and I don’t think I will again. Two more hissing in the other direction brought me back to reality. I ran straight for the church. At least I knew there were people there. Like real people.

I shouldered the heavy church entrance and busted into the main hall. I saw the guy from the car with a gash on his forehead. He looked up with a start. Blood dripped onto the floor in a thin line from his forehead.

There are about a dozen people here in total, all terrified. The guy in the crash has seen those things too. I told him what I just saw. That they don’t just hang out in the lights, they’re somehow connected to the lights I think. Told him one disappeared when his car broke the streetlight outside. He’s been on his phone a lot since I’ve gotten here. I mean, everyone has. I guess everybody’s got somebody to check on, someone to worry about. A few of us are gathering what little supplies are here so we can ration them out. Some water bottles, a bag of chips, some communion wafers, a phone charger. The driver--his name's Mitch, by the way--asked us if we had any guns, preferably long guns. He wants to knock out the lights before it gets any worse. Jesus, Priya, you sure picked a hell of a time to leave. My phone says it’s noon, but it’s still dark. I guess I accidentally set it to Munich time. Oops, shows how much I want to be there. Please god, please, Priya, be safe. I don’t want to have to pray again, especially not in a church. 

MITCH ON THE PHONE: I made it to the church, car’s toast though. If we’ve still got jobs after this, we’ll worry about it then. If you’re still downtown, get out of the streets. It’s the god damned lights. Young girl, Liz--real nice--said these things come out of the lights or wires or something. Not sure I understand it let alone believe it, but after what I’ve seen today, I’ll believe just about anything. Some other people are here at the church. None of them got guns, though, so we’re gonna take these lights out the old fashioned way. I’ve seen what those things can do, and I don’t want to see it happen again. I mean, there’s kids here, Mary, no older than 10. 

*MITCH TO GROUP* All right, now I’m not trying to appoint myself disaster dictator or anything, but I was a union boss for 14 years, so I’m used to wrangling people and what the bosses call uhh “delegating tasks”. Anybody got a problem, just say so and I shut my trap. No objections? All right, so anyone play baseball? Throwing rocks ain’t too different, to be honest with you. Same fundamentals. You two, check the back rooms for any bottles, bricks, hell even shoes, anything hard we can throw. And you, go out back and see if you can hit the one along the east. Don’t go too far, and take someone with you to cover your six. These guys are quick, and they’re quiet, until they’re right on you. We’ve got a few supplies. Get these snacks to the kids, I’m sure they need em more than I do ha. Anybody still got people still out there? Yeah...yeah, me too. Look, I’m gonna say everything’s fine. But if what Liz said is true, all we gotta do is break some glass, and wait for help to arrive. I’m sure if we could figure it out, others have too. So let’s--

*buzzing, humming noises*

MITCH: Oh shit, there’s one here now. Everyone back away from the door and don't touch it! These things are deadly to the touch. Back into the corner, check if there’s a lock on that side door. Okay, maybe WHAT ARE YOU DO--

*loud buzzing*

MITCH: Oh god, oh godI’m gonna be sick...All right. No time, no time. Since that thing’s gone, grab some pews, let’s blockade the do--

*click*

CONWAY: Sent to ***** July 19th 2016 at 1:58PM Pacific Standard Time.

LIZ: Hey, how is Munich this time of year? To be honest, I’ve never been out of the country. Really wish I could have visited while you were there. Listen Priya, I don’t don’t know if I’m going to make it much longer. One of those things is in the church, more gathering outside, and my battery’s low. I think this is really it. This is the end. Who knew we’d go out like this? I kind of figured you know global warming or some kind of nuclear fallout was gonna be the thing. But here are kids crying in the pews wrapped in their moms arms, voices in the distance howling. Pops of gunfire echoing down the streets. The sky is so dark, no moon, no stars. The tile floor is still streaked with blood and I can smell tires burning down the road. Just constant sirens, and the ominous thrum of a helicopter somewhere. Everything we built for so long fell apart so fast.

Listen, I love you, and I’m sorry I forgot to wash the dishes and always left my socks on the floor. I’m sorry I didn’t spring for the international data before you left.

I know it’s dumb, but I can’t stop thinking about the time I accidentally dropped your phone in the pool. You were so mad, but you probably don’t even remember now. I still feel bad about it. I was going to ask you to marry me before you left, but...I chickened out. I guess it’s too late now, but will you anyway? The only thing I want is to see you one more time, to spend one more day together before it’s all over.

I’m not going to die in this church, though. I'm gonna make a run for it. I used to be pretty fast, maybe I can get the cops, or whoever and we can help these people out of here and bring down the streetlights together. So consider this is one last prayer from the atheist. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

If I don’t make it, I’m sorry about that too.

CRACKLING VOICE ON THE RADIO: If you make the margins big enough, you can see him in the dots and waves. He comes through the wires, he’s a frequency, an atom bomb’s worth of electricity. Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the whole city has seen him tonight. He’s spoken through the lines. He says it’s the end of the world, and no one’s coming to save us. He says it’s too late for prayer. At the end of the day, turn up the volume on the airwaves and listen. You’ll hear the the end of the world in the crackle of vinyl. Listen closely, it sounds like this.

*music begins*

LYRICS:
When the twilight is gone and no songbirds are singing
When the twilight is gone, you come into my heart
And here in my heart you will stay
While I pray
 
My prayer is to linger with you
At the end of the day in a dream that's divine
My prayer is a rapture in blue
With the world far away and your lips close to mine
 
Tonight while our hearts are aglow
Oh tell me the words that I'm longing to know

My prayer and the answer you give
May they still be the same for as long as we live
That you'll always be there 

CRACKLING VOICE ON THE RADIO: Listen closely, and you’ll hear the end of the world.

CONWAY: Given that the sun did indeed come up for the rest of the state, official reports have determined this incident one of the rare recorded cases of actual mass psychogenic illness, sometimes less sensitively titled mass hysteria. This was seemingly brought on by severe sleep deprivation among the city’s residents, further spurred by the odd radio broadcasts. We at the DLO tried to contact those involved with the city’s commission, but most information regarding this streetlight project has been wiped clean besides a false address and the initial missive. Representatives for Thanatech have declined to comment.

Our research showed no signs of the several people who went missing that night, and no remains have been found. One odd report did contain a blurry image of a married couple somewhere in Leipzig that resembled the posters, but no further information was provided.

Per the DLO, all of the preceding communications have been deemed undeliverable, and all physical devices containing records of said communications have been collected for storage in our vault. 

CONWAY: Well this one ought to be quick. A small package, Dead Object 06908, addressed simply to “Ripley.” A carrier tried to deliver it to a nearby aquarium, but it was no longer in business, and was thus forwarded to us. A short note accompanies the box, which reads: “I believe this item will be of interest to you. I put a slice of bread in the toaster one morning--Just a regular old toaster!--and wouldn’t you know it: when it came out, the spitting image of our lord and savior was burned into the toast. I think this is important somehow.” 

All right now before I even open the package, this sort of thing is so commonplace it’s downright cliche. Elvis showing up in a piece of cheese, or a wine stain in the shape of Princess Di’s face. Whether it’s faked or some poor sap reading too much into random dark spots doesn’t really matter. The point is it’s hardly unusual. Hell I bet now they’ve even got toasters just for this purpose. Well, let’s just see what we’ve got anyway.

*box opens*

CONWAY: Good lord that is phallus...for lack of a more scientific term. Um, very lifelike, burned onto what appears to be a thin slice of white bread. No mold visible, *sniff* no sour smell. Now I must admit, this is highly unprofessional, but it’s almost lunchtime and my curiosity is mighty piqued.

*Toast crunches*

CONWAY: That’s white bread all right, branded with a big dick. Well this package certainly seems deliverable, I’ll make sure the rest of this little curio gets to Mr. Ripley’s estate. For the Dead the Letter Office of ******, Ohio, this is Conway, *crunch* signing off.