by Thomas Zman
Avery sat before his Shortwave-Radio. He was communicating with a mysterious someone, a foreign contact he’d just discovered from half way around the globe. Pursuant to his latest interest — an obsession he’d quickly become smitten with — Avery was apt to talk to anyone who would listen.
The door suddenly opened.
“Thought I’d find you up here, again,” yelped Dot, his wife, as she entered the space that had become Avery’s study. It was the third story of their recently purchased ‘fixer-upper’; a bare raftered attic with plywood flooring and a single windowed gable, heated by the roof’s absorption of sunlight. “My God, we just finished dinner and you’re up here like a bolt of lightning. Anyway, I was just going over our credit card statement and I saw this charge for twenty-one hundred dollars. Avery, you didn’t tell me this thingamajig radio was going to cost all that.”
Avery had left the microphone switched on—he’d been talking with another of his interesting parties, clear across on the other side of the planet.
“I meant to tell you.” He hesitantly turned to her.
“Avery –” Dot’s face dropped. “You paid that much for a throwback hobby.”
For that kind of money we could’ve gotten a top-rated computer – and done some modern day surfing of the web. Who uses these things anymore? Get with the times, will you.”
Avery stared blankly at her, adjusting his glasses.
“You told me it would cost no more than two-hundred dollars.”
He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“This was supposed to be your early birthday present.”
His throat went dry.
“Two-thousand dollars is insane, Avery!” She came right up to his face. Cigarettes on her breath. “Do you hear me? Insane!”
“Avery, you lied! You lied to me!”
“In a couple months –” Avery choked, his eyes blinking rapidly — “I’ll be getting my bonus.”
“We can’t afford to carry a balance like that. Avery. The interest alone –”
“We’ll just use some of the money your brother loaned us to cover it. We can always hold back on finishing the downstairs.”
“What!” She screamed. “Avery, if your bonus is anything like last year’s we won’t be able to do half the things we planned for in this house.” Dot’s eyes bulged; that vein in her neck beginning to wiggle.
“I — “
“Just send it back! We can’t do this!” Her eyes left him to look over the radio. “I wanted the new I-phone, but let that go. I’ve let a lot of things go lately.” She backed away and crossed her arms.
Dot appeared very thin in her tight sweater. Avery had been attracted to her back when she was more curvaceous, and filled that sweater out. Now he was near repulsed by her and just hoped that she would go away.
Smoke another cigarette, he thought.
“Look, my brother was good enough to loan us money so we could work on this house. We have to stick to our agreement, and use the money on only this house!”
“Your brother,” he replied, thinking, Bill, Buck – the murder; that conniver, had us sign papers. “What’s he got to do with anything?”
“We have to show him we’re responsible,” Dot calmed herself. “Besides, he was good enough to let us stay in his house while saving for this one.”
All the while charging us rent, Avery thought.
Avery returned his attention to the radio, its digital panel beckoning him; the complicated luminescent dials and chrome switches enticing. “You don’t understand,” he mumbled, his foreign contact seeming to have signed off.
“And we’re getting phone calls from the neighbors about your broadcasting,” continued Dot behind him. “I just listened to three of their messages.”
“They’ll get used to it.”
“What? Am I getting through to you?” Her face reddening — again. She went to knock on his head, as if to see if anyone was home.
Avery swiped away her hand, his glasses near falling to the floor.
“We’re new on this block. We should respect . . . “
Avery paid her no mind as he recited his call letters into the microphone, which stood starkly outdated atop his desk. Avery tried to retrieve the mysterious someone he had been speaking with, who had never actually left the airwaves, but all the while had been listening to him and Dorothy fight.
Avery didn’t notice Dot’s exit– but did hear the door slam behind her. I’ll have to lock that thing, he thought.
Avery slowly turned the large tuner dial to try and find another contact. He stared, mesmerized, at the digital readout blurring through numbers, the radio’s undulating whines and whistles of passing frequencies having a somewhat seductive effect upon him. It was after several minutes of this electronically induced arousal, of scanning up and down the megahertz scale, that something extraordinary happened.
A sound of jagged snoring filled his headset. Avery had unwittingly scanned right back to the frequency he had tuned into earlier. Only this time the entity on the other end of his transmission had plotted a most devious escapade.
“This is KB-997,” called Avery into the microphone.
The snoring abruptly ceased with a choking cough.
“What’s the meaning of this intrusion!” demanded a deep, ominous voice. “Who dares awaken the Griffin!”
“This is KB —“
“What kind of name is that?” roared Griffin, static crackling over the frequency.
Avery fidgeted with a couple of smaller dials. “This is KB-997,” he repeated. “What are your call letters and where is your location?”
“’Call Letters’? ‘Location’? Absurdities! I am Griffin!” the entity declared. “My abode is the upper strata of your atmosphere. I seek out the distraught — and enlighten the dreary.”
That was all Griffin had time to say before static drowned the frequency. Avery, his eyes blinking wildly, tried several adjustments to retrieve him — but alas, all were in vain. He then spent half the night fidgeting with his radio, having brief conversations with other shortwave operators, but ever in search of the one who had, but briefly, intrigued him.
Avery wasn’t about to go and face Dot, hoping that she, by now, was sleeping off this latest tirade. Avery was quite comfortable in his attic space – study as he thought it — and began to grow tired, after realizing he could very well be waiting up the whole night for this Griffin to return. He noted a thick moving blanket heaped nearby, and used it to cover himself, for a chill had crept into the attic. He then turned off his desk lamp and allowed the glow of the instrumentation and open-frequency static to lull him asleep.
“Avery,” whispered Dot, gently shaking him, as he lay slumped over the console.
He sat up and blearily glanced out the window to just the slightest hint of dawn. It had grown cold in the attic.
“You have to get ready for work. I’m going in to the office, early.” She kissed him lightly on the cheek and placed her hands lovingly upon his shoulders. “And tonight, when you get home, maybe you can pack that thing up and ship it back for a refund?”
“I found someone very interesting last night,” Avery conceded, putting on his glasses. “His name is Grif- ”
“Avery,” She removed her hands; her eyes flittering upon the equipment splayed across his desktop. “You know how I feel about this whole thing. It’s a waste of money — and now your time. Our time. You spent the whole night up here. That’s not good for you. It’s not good for us. Avery, I’m worried.”
Avery leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath.
“This Griffin is something,” he exhaled, wiping his face with open hands. “He was talking really strange. I couldn’t understand — ”
“Avery!” Dot’s face reddened, vapor issued from her mouth.
“But after a little bit he went off the air. I thought he’d come back, so I – “
“Avery!” Dot leered at him. “Get up out of that chair and get ready for work. You can talk on your radio tonight — and that’s it. Then get rid of it!”
“Dot – – – “
“But – – – “
“Sell it!” She stormed out of the attic, slamming the door.
I see I’ll have to lock that door.
After Dot left, Avery powered up his radio He snuggled more under the thick blanket. He wanted to learn all there was about this mysterious contact. More of the world this strange creature possibly lived in – certainly he was beginning to have enough of the one he now lived.
“I am so tired of her, her brother, work, this house, everything! . . .“ He rambled on and on, speaking his mind to no one in particular, dialing in the frequency he had last heard from Griffin. He switched on the microphone and began to repeat his call numbers “This is KB-997 . . . “
After several minutes of such, a faint grunting began to arise amidst the static. Avery hoped — then was sure, it was Griffin.
“Griffin? This is KB-997. Why did you leave the air last night?” His eyes started blinking hard.
The slumbering grunts suddenly became discernable. “I communicate only briefly,” Griffin replied, “for the Passage between my world and yours is only open for short periods of time. The rising and setting sun complement each of our frequencies on opposite sides of the world.”
Passage, Avery thought. What is that supposed to mean? – But only said: “How long will you transmit this time?”
“However long the Ionospheric Propagation allows. And when I again leave, you will surely anticipate my return. For I Embody the Confidence you so desire!”
Avery’s cell phone buzzed on the table next to him. Dot’s name appeared on the screen. He ignored it.
“ . . . Absolute Zealous Superiority,” Griffin continued to elaborate.
“’Superiority’”, Avery parried, thinking Griffin a lunatic — though a very interesting one at that.
The cell phone vibrated, issuing forth a lengthy text message.
“ . . . Education as to Worldly Matters awaits . . . “ Griffin was expounding all this in a gruff, singsong verbiage.
Avery’s cell phone began to vibrate, again.
Another text visible; it was Dot’s brother, Bill. Avery’s eyes began blinking wildly.
“Fuck You!” He snarled at it.
“. . . prepare,” Griffin was still transmitting. “You must overpower anxiety and embrace the Energy. This gateway of strength is opened only by the absorption of my principles — My Edict.” Griffin’s voice began to fade.
“I’m losing you,” said Avery, the radio’s signal meter indicating such. Griffin’s absurdity had most definitely intrigued him.
“Await my return at twilight – for then the atmosphere shall again be conducive of my Ionic Aberrations.”
Avery knew Griffin had to be psychotic – but somehow he felt compelled by him – drawn to Him. He couldn’t wait to hear from Griffin again — his next transmission of insanity. But until then, he had to get ready and go to work.
Avery arrived late. Again, he provoked his employer, Mr. Straubs’ reprimand. The second time that week. Avery hurriedly said his “good mornings” to the usual pool of workers and plunked himself down inside his cubicle. He began to examine his pile of work – Insurance Claims – neatly stacked by severity; and though he seemingly inspected each claim with exacting efficiency, Avery pondered the conversations he’d had with Griffin – and anticipated (with child–like glee) that evening’s ‘Ionic Aberration’.
The morning passed slowly and Avery’s thoughts continued to drift, making him err (as per late) in his once flawless performance. He thought of Dot. He knew he was wrong to treat her as he had been; however, Avery couldn’t contain the ardor that now seized him while communicating with Griffin – No matter how absurd it may have seemed. It was as if Griffin’s words were a magical elixir, intoxicative . . . producing an exhilaration in him the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years.
After work Avery went straight home and up to the attic. He had quickly passed Dot in the kitchen; stopping only to briefly share some niggling workday conversation, while flat out lying to her about packing up the radio. She was still silently infuriated, but the remote chance of his getting rid of that thing kept her from opening her mouth. (Save if it were only to sip from her Vodka Citron-aide)
It was hot up in the attic. The sun beating down on the roof all day long had raised the temperature to quite an uncomfortable degree. Avery opened the window for relief. He, ignored the buzzing phone in his pocket, deciding to sit down at his console and put on his headset. Secretly, Avery had feared Dot might have raced home to pack up his entire system and mail it off. Fortunately she hadn’t! All remained as it had, untouched from the morning.
His ears soon filled with comforting static, a sinuous echo of the ethereal: palliative upon his nerves. He was facing the single window that looked out across the neighborhood; a slight breeze was coming through, but upon his brow, Avery had already worked up quite a sweat. The sun lingered upon the horizon, silhouetting the houses, shadows stretching as twilight loomed.
From downstairs Avery heard the distant ring of the phone, it temporarily disrupting him from his operations. Dot answered the call: It was Mr. Straubs, concerned about Avery’s ‘discrepancies’. Dot stated that Avery wasn’t home at the moment, that he’d run out to buy some paint. She spoke calm and understandingly; fabricating excuses for her husband’s latest shortcomings. Regardless, Mr. Straubs’ demanded Avery return his call – since he wasn’t answering his cell phone either.
After the call, Dot worried about Avery’s job. She lit a cigarette and drew upon it. She was about to storm upstairs and verbally maul him, but thought otherwise. It seemed that she also had taken this matter to work with her; everything had been recounted all the day long, but discussed with no one. All her fellowship thought that she was so lucky — having a new house and a man to transform it into a loving home. But she didn’t. Dot again calmed herself (with a second drink) and continued to dutifully prepare the evening’s meal.
When Dot finished cooking, and again talking on the phone — this time with a disgruntled neighbor, Mr. Gideon –she set dinner on the table and called up stairs to Avery. It took several loud beckoning’s, but finally her voice travelled all the way up to the third story, where he was reached – and startled away from his listening to static. Avery thought about remaining upstairs to await Griffin’s return, but realized it was still too early — by a good half hour — and far too hot. Besides, he was rather hungry.
He descended the stairs and humbly took his seat at the table; it still half crowded with unpacked shipping boxes and tools. Avery was quiet, apprehensive, as he filled his plate, and was about to take his first mouthful —
“I’m glad you’re getting rid of the radio,” his wife started.
Avery took his mouthful and chewed. His mouth drying rapidly, however, as his wife spoke.
“I’m glad to see you’re getting a more grown up perspective on things. Nobody said buying a fixer-upper was going to be easy.” Dot ignored the sweat on his face – just as she had that ludicrous habit of his eye blinking.
“I just finished unhooking everything,” Avery lied, near choking on his words. Though the antenna on the roof may take some undoing, he thought: Good thing Dot hadn’t seen that thirty-foot monster go up the other day.
“Fine. And once that’s all done with, perhaps you can return your attention to painting this kitchen.” Dot eyed the walls around her with displeasure. “My brother always says you start something, only to then let it sit. But I know that’s not the real you,” she lied, thinking: what a lazy waste her husband had turned out to be. “We’ll show Bill what we can do with this house, right?”
A little more than I needed to know, Avery thought, grimacing. “Bill has always been very opinionated,” said Avery, blinking hard. You should have stayed with your brother — he completed his thought; scantly remembering the encounter the two had had years back with the young farm girl.
“And Mr. Straubs called before,” Dot’s voice tightening. “He wants you to call him back – after dinner.” She paused to heap salad onto her dish. “Says you’ve been picked up on some ‘discrepancies’. But I know you’ll make it right. After all, I’m sure after five years they realize what a key employee you’ve become.” She smiled.
Dot got up to pour them both some wine. “Oh – and our neighbor, Mr. Gideon, called. He was going to leave another message, but I picked up mid way through. He’s complaining about the interference on his television. He’s got satellite, you know. Can’t watch his documentaries. Says it’s the last warning we’re getting. I had to hold my tongue at that.”
She looked to him for response; there was none. She left his glass of wine on the table before him.
“Avery, I am worried.” Dot sipped heavily from her glass.
Avery looked up at her and stared, through his thick glasses — blinking.
“Says he’s got the whole neighborhood behind him. I explained to him that you’re getting rid of the radio, tonight. That soon there’ll be nothing to worry about.”
Dot forced a smile.
It was dusk when Avery returned to the attic. A short while later Dot stood outside the door, listening.
“ . . . necessary sequence?” Griffin’s voice sounded through Avery’s headset.
“I copy you just fine,” Avery returned; Dot angering.
“The sun is just about to rise here,” relayed Griffin. Avery nervously adjusted his headset.
“Avery!” Dot tried opening the door, but it was locked. “What in God’s name are you doing now? I thought you were packing that thing away, Avery. Avery. Answer me!” She banged on the door, her husband’s attention elsewhere.
Dot cursed him and ran downstairs to call her brother.
At the time of Bill’s arrival the neighbor, Gideon, was stomping across Avery’s front lawn.
“Brett Gideon,” he identified himself to Dot and Bill as they stood on the porch. “ The whole neighborhood’s had enough of your husband’s radio –-it’s gotten way out of hand. Way out of hand. And I’m here to stop it!”
“I’ve heard. Give us some time,” said Bill. “We’re taking care of the matter.”
“Yeah!” replied Gideon. “Well, we’re going to take care of the matter Our Way!”
He directed their attention down the street to where several of the neighborhood men had gathered on their porches, some beneath the streetlight, and were now headed up towards them.
Bill gave a cold stare then led Dot inside, locking the door behind them.
“Things are getting ugly fast around here,” said Bill. He looked out the window to see several men crossing the lawn. He called the police.
Bill and Dot hurried upstairs and banged on the attic door.
“Open up, Avery!” threatened Bill.
“Meddlesome bastard,” remarked Avery over Griffin’s conversation.
“Avery!” Bill called again. A pounding now began from the front door. “The neighbors are furious. They’re outside and it’s looking bad. Shut down that radio. NOW!”
“ . . . Process is slow,” continued Griffin. “But as the synergies of the fluxing ionosphere intensify, your strengths too shall increase.” Several long-drawn bleeps sounded; Avery’s ears tingled.
Avery felt an electrical charge begin to flow through him: starting from his skull, down his spine, and through to his fingertips. The attic was still very warm and his face was beaded with sweat. His hair wet. He pressed tighter the headset to his skull, the sweat acting as a conductive. He stared – unblinking –at the radio’s meters dancing with each syllable of Griffin’s commands.
“Avery!” shouted Bill, banging hard against the door. “Dorothy’s worried sick about you. What’s going on in there? This radio thing’s gone way too far. Dot told me about the money. Well, guess what? I’m going to pull this whole goddamned house right out from under you. You hear me? In fact – “Bill looked at his sister’s face — emotionally wrought, she was about to cry. “No man in you, Avery. Never was.”
“Avery!” screamed Dot, choking. “Come out of there!”
Avery turned the volume higher and put Griffin’s voice on speaker as well. “ . . . Presence of Mind,” bellowed Griffin, the receiver’s Signal Strength Meter pushing into the red.
“Avery.” Dot’s voice weakening, drown by Griffin’s.
“Avery!” Bill banged on the door, putting his shoulder to the thick wood – all in vane. With a huff, he told Dot, “Keep calling to him. I’m going to the basement to cut the power.”
“Avery,” cried Dot, clawing at the door. “Come out of there. Please – “
Griffin’s voice was all she could hear.
Bill hustled downstairs, passed the mayhem at the front door. “Everybody go home! I’ve already called the Cops!” he yelled as he headed to the basement.
“We’re not leaving ‘til we shut him down for good!” hollered Gideon, backed by several men’s curses. “Follow me!” he said, “I’ve got a long rope,” leading them around the back of the house.
“ . . . Sequence Engaged,” notified Griffin; now with an omnipotent edge. “Your mind shall attune to mine. My encompassing prowess to replace your enervative anxieties.”
Sweating profusely, Avery had no idea what Griffin was saying, but he liked it. He felt his body charging — audibly entranced — as Griffin’s commands began to falter. The mob outback had lassoed the antenna and was now pulling on it, swaying it to and fro, attempting to rip it from the rooftop.
Avery stared mesmerized, his mind transfixed as a hypnotic pulse reverberated over the airwaves, swaying all the radio’s meters, into and out of the red. His mind was being washed of indecision; replaced with direction and confidence.
“ . . . Equanimity!” – echoed Griffin’s Final Directive — the last indelible word Avery received as there erupted an immense electrical surge throughout the attic, the house, and yard. Darkness fell upon the neighborhood.
Gideon’s gang had crashed over the towering antenna to explode spectacularly against the electric line servicing the house. In doing so, they knocked out power to the surrounding homes, electrocuting Bill downstairs at the breaker box.
When the police arrived, flashlights in hand, Dot was discovered, curled-up, and crying outside the attic door. The Officers, upon breaking-down the door, were met by the sight of Avery’s body slumped across his smoldering equipment. The wires to his headset had melted; the smell of burned hair and charred electronics – (perhaps flesh, as well) – lay heavy in the air.
The First Officer shook him.
Avery awakened immediately.
“What’s the meaning of this intrusion!” Avery’s voice pungent; his eyes narrowed in the flashlight’s beam.
“We need to get you to the hospital,” said the Officer.
“Nonsense!” bellowed Avery, swiping the light from his face; his disturbing eyes focused in the shadows. “Is this the body of a dead man?”
“You short-wave fanatics certainly take things to the extreme,” commented the Second Officer.
“That’s the only way to take things!” returned Avery, standing up. “Now go and check William in the basement,” he directed the First Officer.
“And you, round up the neighbors outside,” he commanded of the second. “Start with a Mr. Gideon from across the street. He’ll know all those who are involved in this. There will be trespassing and vandalism charges – perhaps manslaughter, as well.”
Avery looked into the darkened hallway. “Dorothy, my love.”
The officers’ lights fell upon her.
Avery went and knelt beside her. “Things will be right from here on out.” He held her in his arms. “I’ve neglected many things lately. But I’m a changed man now — And right now I’ve a little unfinished business to settle with a certain Mr. Straubs.”