April 19, 2021

Episode 9: THREE OMENS/MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW

Episode 9: THREE OMENS/MAN OF CONSTANT SORROW

A freighter on Lake Erie experiences heavy storms. A salvage goes wrong. Conway reminisces about his past, and has a revelation about his present.

(CWs: death, dead animal, brief gore, blood, body horror, insects, alcohol, derealization, deep water)


A freighter on Lake Erie experiences heavy storms. A salvage goes wrong. Conway reminisces about his past, and has a revelation about his present.

(CWs: death, dead animal, brief gore, blood, body horror, insects, alcohol, derealization, deep water)

Lyrics to "Farewell Song" originally published by Dick Burnett

TRANSCRIPT: 

CONWAY ON THE PHONE: Omens always come in threes. The dead rat on the porch should have been number one with a bullet. I put some water on the range for a pot of coffee yesterday morning. I was looking out the back window at the leftover frost glittering in the pink ribbons of early sunlight. I saw it lying there on the cement and couldn’t let it just decay. I went out the back door and looked over the scene. Pretty big thing. Probably lived a nice long life eating from my garbage, all things said and done. It had a serious bite on its leg and its stomach was uh...well you know how sometimes your imagination is worse than anything you actually see? This wasn’t one of those times. The kettle bubbled in the kitchen, letting off a trail of steam, and a fly buzzed around overhead.

I fixed to move the poor deceased critter. Scooping it up with a shovel seemed awful undignified, though. I rummaged through the kitchen drawers and cabinets. I waffled between a paper bag and a shoe box. The kettle screeched and plumed on the stove behind me. I couldn’t just dump the little guy in the trash, so I grabbed my garden trowel and made a small hole in the backyard. I laid the box in the grave, then covered its fur in soft earth. In time, it’ll be earth itself once more, and plants will grow from its back that new rats eat. Needless to say, I’m out a pair of tongs and a shoebox now.

Yeah, omens always come in threes, but not because of any natural or supernatural law. Humans are real good at pattern seeking, sometimes to our own detriment. It’s just that it takes three strokes of bad luck for us to really pay attention; one bad thing--well, it is what it is. Two bad things? That’s a coincidence. But three, and now you’ve a pattern. A chain of events. A story. 

By then, Kenji’d been missing two weeks, and the angel was still in storage. It'd been a hell of a month. A missing person, an small town, mysterious letters and unexplained occurrences. It all felt a little...familiar. Almost cliche. But I’d been doing this gig for 6 years now and I wasn’t about to give up my healthcare over that. Besides they pay me to read, not to think. And so I did read, one last time, for the Dead Letter Office of Somewhere, Ohio.

*New introduction music*

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. 

Dead Letter 315, a weathered diary sent to the wife of a ship’s engineer. It details the fate of a lost cargo ship called the Oneiros, slated to make a quick trip across Lake Erie in 1913. The entries that contain no pertinent information will be excised from the record. The remaining relevant passages read as follows.

NARRATOR: Morning November 6, 1913. Embarking on a short voyage across the Erie, carrying a heavy load of cargo. Some twenty of us boarded the steamer Oneiros, a handsome ship, one of the finest freighters I’ve seen on the Great Lakes. Most aboard are able-bodied seamen, seasoned hands for the weather ‘sides one of the young cargo loaders, a Patrick, or Phillipe I think. USDA weather bureau noted a brisk easterly front, spots of rain for the upper lakes, calmer waters south. Crew seems in fine spirits despite the chill, the 3000 some gross tonnes of cargo, presumably coal and timber, secured below deck. I’m to look after the engine and its various components.

Captain Ludic’s a little daffy, assertively old-fashioned. Barking orders like he’s a pirate king and we’re his swabbies. Could have stepped right from the pages of Treasure Island, beard and all but for his soot black buttoned coat and hat. Seems no quack, though, and certainly knows his way round the ship. He’s very particular about his cargo, and ordered that none of us enter the cargo hold unless he gives us his explicit permission. Should be no longer than a day’s trip, then two days more before I see you again. It’s lonely out here, I can only imagine how dire it is stuck at home alone. I pray that upon my safe return, this log of my activities and thoughts of you more than makes for the time apart. And perhaps then we shall marry. I will be thinking of you fervently.

Evening the 6th of November, 1913. I’ve settled into my berth for the night after we’ve supped. How I wish you could join me. Captain Ludic took his meal on the deck, and I saw fit to join him. Conversation wasn’t exactly enlightening. We took our meat and bread quietly, until a cold drizzle started pattering his old cap. He looked out at the overcast horizon, then he fixed his glazed eyes on me. His hard roll fell from his lap and bobbled across the deck unevenly for a yard before toppling.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “The Witch of Autumn, she’s coming for us, lad.”

NARRATOR: He spoke softly, and his crooked mouth hung open long after his last syllable. A bit of chicken hung from his scruff.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “The boys in the papers said t'would be calmer southward, but these old bones feel it coming. When my knuckles swell, when my teeth ache, and the heavens themselves break open, the winds carrying droplets of death, the witch will crest the white waves. She’ll take us all if we’re not vigilant. You mark my words, boy: beware the Witch of the White Squall, and those who would invite her with their careless yearnings. I fear there’s one such man aboard now. You keep your heart hard and your eyes open, all 5 of 'em.”

NARRATOR: He was panting after this warning. His lone gold incisor glittering among the row of stained teeth as his shoulders rose and fell. Then he burst out in laughter, a wheezing squeal that cut through the wind. He slapped me hard on the back. I spit out my whiskey at the impact and forced a chuckle.

Needless to say I won’t be spending my dining hours with that walking stereotype again unless I’m yearning for a fairy tale. I figure myself lucky I’ll only be in his company for a short time. I can now hear the cold rain impacting the deck above my wool-wrapped womb. And something below in the cargo hold, though I can’t tell its origin or purpose. Creaking, maybe footsteps. Perhaps something’s come loose and Patrick or Phillipe is checking on it. I’ll try not to fret over it. Until I see you again in the flesh, Caroline, I will continue our rendezvous in my dreams.

Morning 7th of November 1913. I took breakfast below deck with Phillipe. The rain’s still coming down and the wind blows cold, but Phillipe thinks it should clear by afternoon, and by then we’ll have gone ashore. Like a bad fever, he says. Just have to wait for the break. The boy’s from Montreal, took the rail down, then rode the canal before hauling lumber across the lake. He seems affable and handy enough. He’s as wary of the captain as I, and he had some troubling news about our cargo. He’s been loading lumber for about 10 months now, certainly not a master of his trade, but he says something was off about our freight. The tonnage is accurate, but one crate in particular severely outweighed the rest. Given the volume of the thing, he’s convinced it can’t be lumber, or even coal.

He asked me if I knew any more about our voyage: who’s paying us, where the lumber’s going, but I had little to tell him. I’m not one for accounting. He seems concerned that we may be harboring something dangerous, and the captain won’t tell us. I’d be inclined to agree. Though I’m not entirely convinced Ludic even knows what's down there himself.

Whatever the cargo, we should be seeing the beacon from the lighthouse cutting through the fog any moment now, and I’ll just be glad to be off this ship and in your arms. I do grow so melancholy on these trips without you.

Evening the 7th of November 1913. We lost Terrence this afternoon. The storm has shown no signs of abating, despite the predictions of the men in the papers. Terry’d gone up top the pilothouse to help the captain navigate, as its windows were awash with rain. The lake was growing angry, waves breaking high as 10 feet. The boat was churning in the drip, swaying to and fro, threatening to take on water. Terrence was calling down directions to the captain when a wave suddenly rose double the height of the others. The ship lurched, and poor Terrence--with naught to hold onto--he was launched backward, slamming his head into the pole behind him. The crew rushed to the pilothouse but another swing of the freighter tossed him overboard. We scoured the waters for some time, until Captain Ludic ended the efforts and sent us to bed like a disappointed father. 

Still no sign of land. We should have come ashore in Ohio by now, even at our slowed pace. At night, I imagine the two of us together once more, holding hands by the lake. It's only a drean, but...until then.

Afternoon 8th of November 1913.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “I think we’ve got a rat problem aboard this vessel!”

NARRATOR: The captain shouted over Neptune’s angry bluster. He’d gathered the 19 of us that remained on the darkened deck in the freezing downpour.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “I know one of you’s been below deck. Couple of the crates been pried open.”

NARRATOR: He had us standing side by side, and walked the line up and down, hunched and frantic, his breath visible in large puffs.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “Who among ye disobeyed yer captain’s orders?” 

NARRATOR: He narrowed his bright eyes.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “Or so bereft were you of a woman’s touch that you consorted with the witch? Ye accepted the company of the devil herself onto this freighter? Have ye no sense, lad? Must ye look death in her viscous eye and spit in it? Aye the witch draws near, and she’ll scarce be satisfied with you, now she wants the whole crew, and all that we carry. Your base lust has pinned us all to Satan’s dartboard.”

NARRATOR: He had me and Phillipe take our boots off. He inspected the soles. We were the newest members of his crew, and apparently the least worthy of his trust. Rainwater poured down the front of his cap and trickled off his nose. The engine chugged and the steamer groaned against the bracing waves. He threw my boots back at me, squarely impacting my chest. I stumbled backward on the slippery wood. He stood upright in front of Phillipe and drew a long blade.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “Aye, that’s about the size of it. Yes we’ve got a rat problem aboard this vessel and I aim to remedy it. Do you know what’s down there, lad? Do you have any idea what that is we’re hauling?”

NARRATOR: Phillipe was shaking, shivering. His dark hair was matted, wet and stuck flat to his skull. 

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “I’ll not see it sink to the lake floor. Our cargo is more precious than any coin, or any of you scoundrels and lowlifes with your lascivious thoughts.” 

NARRATOR: I propped myself up on my elbow, none too eager to draw Ludic’s ire.

CAPTAIN LUDIC: “White witch, take the boy! Let the thousand tongues of the deep rise and writhe! Let Neptune’s breath whip the tide into knives, all cutting wind and choking froth. Come, come on your pelagic locusts, black as the moonless crusted tide. Take him to the sunless fathoms, entombed in barnacles. Stuff his mouth with algae and feed his eye jellies to the worms. Let your nautical insects drink his ichor and sup on his hair. Drag him down, drag him below the surf, where his soul will fester and rust among the reeds, forgotten in the scrap of a hundred ships, a thousand lives, hallowed out and timeless, unmoving as cold pitch. Take the boy who called to you and leave the Oneiros be.”

NARRATOR: Spittle dotted his beard. He panted for several tense moments as freezing rain pelted the ship. The engine burbled and the stack belched black fire into the twilight. Then the captain thrust the knife forward, straight into Phillipe’s core. I shot upright and charged the captain, but three other crewmen held me back: the captain had a pistol at his side, revealed as his thick coat swung open. Ludic slid the blade upward, gutting the poor lad from neck to navel. He burst like a beached whale onto the deck. The captain roared for someone to tie brick to the corpse and toss it overboard, where it sank unceremoniously out of view.

I dreamt of you last night. You came to visit me in the bunk. You leaned over me and gently pressed your sweet lips against mine. I felt a jolt through my system and woke up. I shall hardly sleep this evening, and I shall hardly feel a more forceful loneliness in all my days.

Afternoon November 9 1913. Mutiny. Of course mutiny was on the lips of half the crewman on this cursed freighter, myself included. The cold rain gave way to thick globs of snow overnight, now stinging in the hurricane winds. The ship is barely remaining upright among the massive waves. Everyone’s freezing, hungry, furious. I gathered a few similar-minded seamen and huddled below deck as we planned our next move. The captain has his pistol, but we have numbers on our side. And a few blunt instruments could certainly bash some sense into him if our pretty words can't. This is for Phillipe, for Terrence, and for our miserable woebegone souls.

Morning November 10th 1913. I could scarcely see my hands in front of me, nor the plank of lumber I was wielding. I and four others approached the pilothouse, now almost entirely coated in frost and long, sharp icicles. I pounded on the door and demanded to see Ludic. No response. I wrapped the door several more times. Nothing.

The men and I shouldered the door open, only to find the wheel jammed the pilothouse empty. We’d been left rudderless by a craven fool. Then the winds fell silent, the snow diminished. The waves began to sink back into the lake. Several of the men aboard took to the lifeboats. They liked their chances better in a vessel they could actually steer now that the storm was clearing.

JONATHAN: “It’s a sucker’s hole.”

NARRATOR: One man, Jonathan, confided in me.

JONATHAN: "Those buffoons are going to capsize and freeze out there as soon as the wind picks up again.”

NARRATOR: I looked around at the frozen steamer. Ice hung from every surface. A westerly wind blew over us. I went below deck to check on the engine.

While in the dark of the hold, I heard sleet impact the deck once more. The wind began howling, and the storm proceeded at such a force I could imagine the boat cleaving in twain. Unless we find a way to maneuver or god forbid find any sign of the captain, I’m doubtful we’ll make it to shore. I shall be thinking of you even as I draw my final breaths and pray you visit my nighttime musings again.

Evening November 11th 1913. I can hardly believe what I’m about to write myself, Caroline, but to the best of my storm-battered and hungry mind, it’s true: Captain Ludic was right! The witch came for the Oneiros.

I awoke to the sounds of heavy footfalls on deck. My head was hot and I felt a deep chill. Someone was shouting. I shook my hazy head and rose from my berth, coughing. A scream rang out. I crept along the hallway and neared the ladder. A wet, slurping slither, dragging along the ground. I hesitantly peered above. There was a sight I shan’t forget for the rest of my life, for as long as that may be. Some manner of creature was on deck, a massive wingless insect with long, segmented legs. It had a small, pointed head and enormous round body, like an monstrous tick.

One of the men on board, Jonathan I think, had found a harpoon and launched it at the beast, but it couldn’t penetrate the thing’s thick hide. It turned the man’s direction, and a long, thin tongue unspooled from its head. The pink tendril slithered and writhed on the deck with frightening speed, extending dozens of feet and ensnaring the man. This slimy appendage wrapped around the crewman, tearing his flesh and exposing deep red blood. The beast rushed him, seemingly drawn by the blood. He was screaming, but he couldn’t move. The tongue coiled around him, cutting him badly at every point of contact, opening his skin like a rotten orange peel. The giant thing squirmed and lapped at the blood spilling from the poor crewman, whose cries became weaker, quieter now, blending with the fury of the storm until they ceased completely. It pulled Jonathan’s head to its mouth and began feasting on the damp strands of his dark hair.

From the other end of the steamer, another insectoid rose, its legs clattering over the metal and wood as it climbed onto the deck. It joined its kin, its whip-like tongue probing the air for others to feed on. That’s when I saw the pile of bodies behind them, all shredded and drained of their essence, scalps bald and raw. The bloodbugs began patrolling the freighter for stragglers, and it seemed I was the only one left. 

I fled down the hallway, toward the cargo hold. Whatever the captain had said be damned. I hoped that the strong odor of the pine and coal would mask my own reek. I heard one of the things’ legs trying the stairs. I frantically panned the room for somewhere to hide. I spotted a huge crate with a few planks pried off. I wormed my way through the opening and held my breath in the box. I heard the tongues slithering down hall in my wake. I clasped my hands and silently prayed to god with the fervor of a hundred choirs that I’d see you again once more. But my prayer was interrupted by a sound behind me. In the crate I could see a looming shape. 

*Crackling and rumbling noises, same as in the Lighthouse*

A sort of metallic invention, like a massive steam engine. It was smooth, dark, containing strange protrusions and angles unlike anything I’d seen before. It was quietly humming, with an occasional clang or thump. There was something else, too.

A fleshy hand reached out into the light filtering in through the missing slats. A hand robed in a dark wool coat. A neck stretched out behind it, attached to a crooked bearded head. It smiled, and a gold incisor flashed in the dim light. I could see that it was Ludic, or part of him anyway. His hands and neck were elongated and stretched beyond man’s limitation. His flesh gray and malleable, like putty. My gaze followed his distended arm down to where his shoulder should be, but all I found was iron. He had somehow...melted into the engine, or soldered himself to it. Metal and flesh twisted and fused, stringy skin hanging between folds of steel. I think he tried to speak, but all that came forth was a buzz, an electrical chattering like a broken telegraph. I felt sick, and ran from the crate.

I sprinted past the sleeping quarters and up toward the deck. I was hit full force with the blistering might of the storm as I went topside. My eyelashes froze, my nervous sweat crystalized. I could barely see the bloodbugs at the other end of the deck through the blizzard. My vision went completely white as I dropped to my knees, violently ill and nearly frozen solid.

Then through the pale wall she stepped, the Autumn Witch, the Woman of the White Squall. She bade her pests retreat, and stood before me. Her skin was glistening, and she wore not a single scrap of clothing to defend against the chill. Her hair shimmered and waved as if she was underwater. Her feet never touch the ground. She brushed her hand against my cheek, and an icy jolt shivered down my back.

I looked into her eyes and saw wild, radiant love. A love conjured by a lonely sailor, now requited. A fevered love so bold it would kill. She leaned down close, and I could smell the salt breeze on her breath. She pressed her blue lips to my forehead, and I blacked out. 

I woke up 12 hours later in the dark, soaking on my back in the falling rain, adrift in the infinite waters of Hades.

Morning November 12, 1913. I awoke to a distant horn. I thought it at first a dream, a hopeful hallucination. Then the horn sounded again a second time. I sat upright, shivering and soaked through. I saw a beam of light cut through the rain: the lighthouse! I yelped, a sound as much of agony as celebration, and stood. I laughed, dry and bitter wheezing. The ship was drifting toward the shore after 6 long days in hell. I ran down to gather my things and wrap myself in something dry. Then I ducked into the pilothouse and stared out at the light. A smile dared cross my lips. I could make it after all. 

Then came a horrible rending, a piercing shriek of metal on rock. The ship lurched, and I tumbled forward in the cabin. I was so enthralled by the beacon of the lighthouse that I’d missed the sharp rocks in the shallows. Now she was sinking, taking on icy water. Metal groaned and beams bent and snapped. The stack chugged and spit wet smoke over the scene. The rear of the freighter began sinking. Among the rocks I saw a lifeboat, the very same from the Oneiros, filled with skeletons picked clean and bleached by the sun. I laughed again, a wailing peal like the whinny of Death’s very steed. 

There may yet be time for rescue, but the frigid waters or the phlegm in my lungs will likely take me before the sailors do. And so I bid you adieu, Caroline. Just one more sob story for another sailor’s widow. As trite as Ludic himself. If the intrepid rescuers do happen to find these scrawlings and wish to know my fate, I’ve gone to join the Captain.

CONWAY: Records at the time indicate that several other ships went down in this storm, including several hundred crew, but the Oneiros and its men were never found. Given its contents and its age, the DLO has deemed this diary, DL-315, undeliverable. It will be stored safely in our vault. 

CONWAY ON THE PHONE: I’ve been thinking a lot about the past lately. Old friends, old regrets. I suppose it’s my approaching middle age catching up onme. 

My time with the office has been uh...illuminating. All those wild things I saw as a kid? The things my parents sent me to see serious adults about? Well maybe some of them weren’t so wild. You know how I started working here? I used to be in public radio, the local affiliate down in Cincy. I studied art when I was in college, but well, that didn’t pan out like so many other things. I worked a bunch of odd jobs, making 6 dollars an hour slinging coffee or double that if I was willing to break my back. I eventually got lucky and I guess somebody liked my cadence. I’m sure it helped that the station was underfunded and I was willing to work late and cheap.

One day about 6 years ago, two suspicious gentlemen in suits dropped by my little studio on my lunch break. They asked if I wanted a job with the post office. They sure as hell didn’t look like mail carriers, looked like stone-cold feds to me. I politely declined, praying the cuffs didn’t come out. They just handed me a card. I told them if I was ever out of a job, I’d give them a call. After they left, I looked over the card. No names, no phone number, just three letters: DLO. 

Next morning, I get a call. Boss says the studio caught fire last night after everybody left. Electrical malfunction. Whole place up in smoke. Not enough money to rebuild or move studios. Just gonna shut down the affiliate station. What a coincidence. I looked at the card again and thought of Lucy. Then I got a call. One more chance to reconsider the offer.

Yeah, Lucy and I did almost everything together when we were kids. We were pretty much inseparable, at least until the cave incident. I haven’t heard from her in a long, long time. I don’t know why I haven’t reached out. I guess I was afraid too much time got between us. That I wouldn’t know what to say. We might even hate each other now. My memory from that time is a little fuzzy, too, just bits and pieces, blurry impressions. It’s funny, I sometimes wonder if I made her up, y’know, like an imaginary friend. Those early memories feel about as real a dream most days. Like something that happened to someone else. Like scenes from a worn out VHS tape. But look at me, I’m rambling again. Back to the story.

The teeth should have been the second omen. An unmarked box showed up at the office the same morning as the sailor’s journal. I picked up the small parcel and shook it like a kid at Christmas, though my approach was rather more apprehensive. Lifting the folds revealed a jewelry box. I flipped the lid open with a creek of its rusty hinges. Underneath was a mirror long ago marred by the grit and grime of age. The plush interior of the box was covered in dark stains, and it smelled like a wet basement. Sitting in one of the compartments were about a dozen human teeth, dark and worn. One reflected light underneath the others: a crude golden incisor.

CONWAY: Dead Letter 18316, an application for worker’s comp from ******. The applicant’s name has been redacted. Looks like he suffered a leg injury during a salvage job. Included with the application is a photo of the injury and testimony from the worker. His testimony reads as follows:

WORKER: I hereby swear upon penalty of perjury that the following statement is true to the best of my knowledge. We were supposed to pull up some cargo from a ship that recently went down in the area. Apparently whatever was in there could leak, causing some serious trouble to the watershed. The algae’s bad enough, we don’t need some oil spill or toxic waste leak or you know anything like that. We were given permission by the state, and were funded by some tech startup to help clean up the lake. 

I boarded the boat around 6:50am. I got out to the marked location around 8. I put on my wetsuit, grabbed the hook, and hopped in. I swam down and found the boat we were looking for. I was about to check the cargo hold when something grabbed hold of me. Something bit my leg and pulled me really hard. Must have been some fish. Maybe even a shark. I’ve heard some bull sharks can live in fresh water for a while. I paddled and kicked, but my leg wouldn’t break free. It dragged me some distance, and then let me go. I saw a different ship ahead of me underwater. Much older, covered in rust.

I broke the surface and signaled for help. The boys pulled me aboard and the EMT got to work on my leg. Someone else went down to secure the cargo. I tried to tell them it was a different ship but I’m not sure I was making sense. I was in searing pain and losing a good deal of blood. I was looking up past the hanging cables and into the clear sky. Then the wires started moving, waving on their own and spiraling above me. I weakly lifted my hand to point, but the medic just placed it back down and told me to relax. The wires weaved and twisted into form: an angel. Not just like a lady with wings, it was all fingers and eyes and mouths. It told me I needed to find it. That it was in some museum somewhere south of here and needed to be freed. I know it sounds real loopy, but that’s what I saw. Someone shouted that they got the cargo up, but it wasn’t what we were looking for. I was close to passing out by then of course, so not sure what it was. Then I woke up in the emergency room with a bunch of stitches. 

CONWAY: Inspecting the photo here, it’s a serious injury of the left calf. It’s certainly no fish bite. I’m no biologist, but if I had to guess, I’d say the bite is primate in origin. Likely human. Multiple bites overall, very deep punctures and a few tears. I’m gonna send the photo and this box over to the boys in the lab. Maybe they can work out a match. In the meantime, I’ll have the higher ups approve his application and send him a nice check, on the condition that he doesn’t mention the incident again. We’ll be keeping the application letter and associated paraphernalia in our vault. 

CONWAY ON PHONE: The Midwest is so big, it’s sometimes hard to imagine there’s anything outside of it. Like I see pictures of the ocean, and that might as well be a continent away at this point. You drive for hours and somehow you’re still surrounded by cornfields and flat land. You take an old country route and pass the same intersecting road 3 times. It’s like a magic trick. Every time I try to leave, something keeps me here. It’s a curse, or maybe that’s how I justify it to myself. Believing some paranormal interference is the reason I’m stuck in a rut makes it a little easier to swallow than the reality: the reality that there’s a pit at the center of the state, a gravity well that pulls you in and keeps you here. The fire burning forever underground. You can fight it, but you’ll always be pulled like the snap of a rubber band back home. There’s like a vampiric presence here, a specter of collapsed industry and apathy, poverty and vast distance, that haunts the condemned buildings and provincial small towns of Ohio. There are good people here. Solid folk of all kinds. And there are stories to be told here. But who’s listening? And who’s allowed to talk?

Anyway that’s when the last postcard showed up. Just like the ones sent in by the Lost Fisherman from the nonexistent town. The name on the card read Lucy. What a coincidence. But the number beside the name’s what shook me, gave me that tingling feeling in my brain that sometimes comes as a corollary to dread. Like twisted deja vu. It was my home phone number from when I was a kid. They disconnected that line ages ago. I thought about calling it, but the DLO was sending me out for one more field trip. A package too unwieldy, too fragile to be shipped out of the tiny post office that was storing it. Of course it was my job once again to drive out to some location and stick my snoot into whatever nonsense they’d cooked up. Of course it was 2 hours away.

But I’m nothing if not dedicated to the job, so I tucked the postcard into my shirt pocket, took a swig of cold coffee, and got in the car.

CONWAY ON TAPE: --down to a small post office, to check out a very large crate. Apparently it was a little too fragile and a little too um...unwieldy to ship out of that small post office given its resources. Now any time they send me out somewhere like this I’m a little suspicious, so let’s find out what I’m about to get my nose in.

*click*

--the back room here, and it is a fairly large crate, I’ll give them that.

I’ve got a crowbar here, let’s see if I can get this thing open. *Wood snaps* All right. *Conway coughs* Dear god, it’s a body. Oh dear got that is a body. That...that’s Kenji’s body. That’s Kenji. Oh my god. Oh god. And if I...His leg, oh my god. Well, that’s those bite marks. Oof. Oh god Kenji, what did you get into. Okay. And he’s holding something, he--Kenji’s got a hold of a-an all white rotary phone. Old spin dial, you know you gotta twist the numbers around before you can input the number. Oh god Kenji. Based on the decomposition of the body, I would estimate he’s been dead for quite some time, though the preservation is uh impressive. Perhaps the sea air or perhaps a mummification process was used on him. But god, lord if it don’t stink.

Now...gonna pick up that phone and dial this number.

*click*

CONWAY ON PHONE: Well anyway, that’s when I called you.

LOST FISHERMAN: “Jeezthat’s all fascinating. You’ve had a quite a ride today. But do you mind if I ask you one thing? I want you to think real hard about this one, don’t just blurt out an answer. What’s your last name, Conway?”

CONWAY: I uhh I don’t see what uh...Now wait, now don’t you do this. I know who you are, don’t you do this.

LOST FISHERMAN “I know it’s rough, your mind wants to reject it, but I promise it’s all gonna make sense.

CONWAY: Oh, Ken and Lucy, very clever. You knew I’d tie it together eventually. Now don’t you do this. Let me stay here. Let me--

LOST FISHERMAN: “You’re not real, not yet anyway.”

CONWAY: Let me stay.

LOST FISHERMAN: Now I want you to look at your cellular telephone. What time is it?”

CONWAY: I can’t…I can’t make it--

*Dial tone*

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.

ANTONY: She said they’re not real, they’re just fictional characters.

CONWAY: It all felt a little...familiar. Almost cliche. What happens in that missing second every million years?

LOST FISHERMAN: We’ll be waiting for you at the top of the lighthouse.

*Overlapping voices say “this is Conway”*

*Scratchy, old folk song, singing the following:*

I am a man of constant sorrow,

I’ve seen trouble all of my days;

I’ll bid farewell to Cincinnati,

The place where I was born and raised.

 

For six long years, I’ve been in trouble

No pleasure here on this earth I’ve found,

For in this world I’m born to ramble,

I have no friends to help me now.

 

Oh, fare ye well my native country,

The place that I loved and loathed so well,

Fo--

*record scratching, forest ambience, crickets chirping*

Then I was somewhere else. A place I’d heard of but never been. Surrounded by fireflies underneath the canopy of red oak boughs. There was something in the trees ahead. Two glowing spots like headlights in foliage. They were moving, attached to something about a foot taller than me, coming my way through the dark. It strode on long, thin legs bending backwards, like a hulking stork. Powdery wings spread from its back and there was a...skunky smell on the air. And he had something to show me.

*lighter flicks several times, drums kick in, jam begins*

*forest ambience fading out*