Thursday, July 29, 2021

Y Signal [Finale ~ Last Train]

*The future and the past tear at 11-year-old Ray's very being. A signal that assaults the soul and leads you by the nose into a tomorrow of its own choosing has slipped into his reality. Is a desolate future what lies ahead for the boy, or is there more to this madness beyond what the man on the radio says? Someone has an answer. All Ray can do is head into the darkness of the Y Signal and find the truth for himself . . . *

"Y Signal"
by JD Cowan
Part 4: Last Train

It wasn’t the same as the last time Ray listened to the radio. Whereas the previous trip into the ephemeral space forcefully warped the world and his mind into a fever dream of impossibilities, this time it was more akin to the floor coming out from under him and falling into a moving crevice. He dropped through the earth, kissing air in a flailing somersault before landing directly on his face. The jarring sensation was over in an instant. Spikes of pain jabbed along his muscles with every attempt he made to lift himself back up.

Whispers in his ears faded to a harsh humidity that clung to his pores like bad summer weather. He wiped at his eyes, ignoring the sudden silence.

The shrill screech of a high whistle brought streaks of terror down Ray’s sore neck. Sound quickly returned to his world again. The clicking of large wheels rolling reverberated louder and louder in his numb mind. When he finally managed to rise, Ray quickly realized that clatter was coming in from the outside. A wall of glass windows on his left and right sheltered him from the source. A row of vacant blue seats lined up on either side of the thin aisle the boy had woken up in. Ray had been dropped into a train.

Who is this?” Yarbrough said. His voice played overhead like a PA system. “Children are not supposed to be here.

He’s my cousin,” Lenny replied. Ray’s cousin’s voice also echoed in the train. “I have no idea why he’s here. Billy brought him, for some reason.

Yarbrough growled. “Throw him out before I do.

Calm down. You’ve been so on edge recently. Remember the plan. It’s almost over, so why are you getting so upset?

I will not be thrown off schedule. Not now. Deal with this, or I will!

The voices clicked off in Ray’s voice like a light switch, leaving him alone in the rolling train again. He stared ahead into the empty car to find not a single soul waiting for him. That voice was Lenny's—but where was he? That conversation told him they were on this train.

Ray was so close. They had to be nearby.

Ray stood up, his weight leaning on the ugly blue seat next to him. It took a moment to realize this was a real train and his hand really was touching the interior of it. The seats were lined up two by two on either side with an empty overhead luggage rack above. Large grey doors blocked the way into the next car before and behind him. Aside from the fact that nothing but a pitch red sky waited outside the windows, it looked just like any normal train would. This car wasn’t too dissimilar to the ones he had taken on a vacation with his family across the country back in the second grade. Ray massaged his sore arms as he scanned the car ahead. Where should he go?

“Lenny is going to be at the front,” Billy said. The bald punk had sat alone in one of the seats behind Ray, staring blankly ahead. “You better find him before we arrive at the station. Yarbrough didn’t sound too happy to find you here.”

“How is there a train here? There’s never been a station in Burroughsvale.”

“The Y Signal gave form to the gate we all must cross. In order to traverse time and space our minds need to be able to comprehend the journey or else we cannot accept it. Lenny helped set this one up, I'm sure. He's always been too accommodating to others. Once we reach the station we will pick up the barely living and then we will leave for the real world.”

A sudden sickness washed over Ray. The barely living? That sounded wrong. It made him think of the weirdo who chased Ray and Andrew back at the balcony. Were they all like that? What is it that made so many of these people so dead-like? What was he missing here?

“There’s something seriously off with you all," Ray said. "Why do you trust this Yarbrough guy so much? Is it because he wrote a bunch of weird and catchy songs a few years ago? I’ve heard some of things he’s been saying, you know. He’s crazy--he should be locked up. He thinks he's some kind of psychic and can see the future. Did any of you think he might be lying about all this or might be confused? No one can tell the future, Spikes. How can you not understand that the guy is off his rocker?”

A flicker of anger passed over Billy’s face. He glanced out the window into the world of red and the rage vanished into a relaxed grin. “It’s you who doesn’t understand anything. Kids are so dumb. I’d know, since I was one back when I had to grow up in hell. This is the end of the line. There’s no future for you.”

“Because a crazy musician told you.”

“He can tell the future. He’s told us what is coming. You’ve heard the Y Signal he’s sent out, and so has Lenny. I’m sure your cousin has told you predictions that turned out to be true. Did you ever wonder where he got that information from?”

Doubt washed over Ray not unlike that stupid radio had done to his soul the other night. He remembered some of the things that had appeared in his head when he least expected them to. How did Lenny know about the movie the other night? He was so sure that Judge Dredd would be bad, too. Had Yarbrough really discovered a way of seeing the future? He was a musician in a well-known band--he could have just had inside info, right?

But the uncertainty didn’t stop on that notion. How did Yarbrough know he was actually being told the future? How did he know he wasn’t being fooled or played with like that crazy guy who burst into his apartment looking for Lenny? This could all be guesswork, parlor tricks, or inside information from some other source. Regardless, this was all too convenient. Why did Lenny believe all of this craziness so easily? If Yarbrough really could see the future, then why were they running away instead of fixing things? There were too many questions Ray didn’t have the answers for, and no no matter how much he thought on them he could not find an answer.

“I’ll bring Lenny home on my own,” Ray said. “I’ll get him to tell me everything.”

“Do whatever you want. No one would ever want to go back after knowing the truth. Nice meeting you. I’ll see you at the end of the line.”

Ray charged towards the front of the car. The only reason he could tell he was moving forward was because of the direction the seats were facing. The outside showed him nothing but a crimson glow of light with no wind or hint as to what the train even looked like--if it actually existed at all. The brightness outside only increased the further the train barreled forward into the emptiness. Were they fast approaching the station? There was no way to know exactly how much time he really had left.

The boy dashed through car after car, seemingly in an endless loop of train. Each door effortlessly opened for him without much in the way of resistance. The only reason he knew that it wasn’t a loop was because he never saw Billy appear again in his travels. Instead, that same voice played over the invisible speakers just as it did back in the food court earlier in the day. Yarbrough didn’t sound happy at his presence here.

This is you responsibility," the crazed musician said. "Deal with him! I’ve had enough distractions for one lifetime.

The voice fuzzed and bent overhead. Ray had to have been getting closer as it only cleared more and more as he ran through the train. Soon enough, a car door kicked open ahead of him. A familiar face stepped through it to meet him in the center of the car. Lenny wore a black t-shirt and blue jeans with his hair neatly combed for the first time in ages. Much of the anxiousness in his face from Friday had dissipated. He looked oddly relaxed, despite where he currently was. Despite his cleaner look, the dark circles under his eyes remained as they did before.

“What are you doing, Ray?” Lenny asked. “You weren’t supposed to use the radio, just give it to Billy.”

“Then why did you tell me all that cryptic junk?”

“Because I needed you to make sure the radio didn’t fall into the wrong hands, and Billy was too paranoid to leave his apartment. Anyone could have used it after I left, but no one else would have taken what I said seriously other than you. The rest of the family never listens to what I have to say. I don't blame them, though. Look around you. This was the only way to keep things secret from the outside world.”

“Well, one of your friends was at your apartment today—the one we saw at the pizzeria. He got into a fight with some creep who kicked your door in.”

“Brad? First the pizzeria and now this. Oh boy. He’s been asking about the Y Signal for weeks, but I wouldn’t tell him more about it, and the night we met at the pizza place he was starting to lose it. He isn’t fit for this. Not everyone is.” His glare sharpened towards Ray. "Especially not kids."

“He’s not the only weirdo. That other guy who showed up at your place while we were there looking for you was worse than him. He probably followed that Brad guy to the building. Is this why there are so many crazies around town? You hang with quite a crowd, Lenny. Forget about all these freaks. We’re going home. You don't belong here.”

"I don't, huh?" Lenny laughed. “I’ll bet your dad didn’t even know I was missing, did he?”

Ray paused. It was true that his father just thought Lenny was being his usual aloof self, but he could hardly be blamed for that, especially considering where his cousin actually was at this very moment. Lenny had always been considered a black sheep among their very average family. No one made him do the weird things he did.

“He just thought you were being you. But this isn’t you.”

Lenny nodded mindlessly, his gaze darting across the car towards the endless haze of the outside world. He let out a hard breath before he scratched the back of his head. Ray's cousin appeared to be trying to say something stuck on the tip of his tongue.  

“Billy was one of two people with his name when we ran in our group," Lenny said. "He had spiked hair which is why we called him Spikes instead. Do you know what happened to the other Billy? You remember the Strychnine Shooter guy in the news a few years back? No, you're too young. Some psycho went around pharmacies and drug stores injecting Strychnine into various medicines. Our friend unknowingly took some home with him inside his cold medicine. The Billy you met was the one who found our friend's lifeless body in the morning. He looked like he had crawled out of hell, and not a single soul was there to help.”

Ray's mouth dried instantly. How was he supposed to reply to that? He'd never even seen a dead body outside of a packed funeral home. However, despite the story, it still didn't explain anything at all about this mess, and he was running out time to learn it. They could be at this station at any moment. The boy decided a softer approach might be necessary.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” Ray said. It did explain Billy’s strange mood, but not why either of these guys would leave home to come to this place. “But you understand that it has nothing to do with the Y Signal.”

“No one showed up to the funeral. Not his mom, not his brothers, not any of the other guys. It was just me, Brad, and the ex-punk who followed you here through the radio. That was about five years ago, not long after they picked up John Gotti. Remember him? That one was all over the media. Billy wasn’t important enough for the news—he was insignificant to them. You’ve never been to the city, Ray. You don’t know what it’s like. They can clean and polish the stone and concrete all they want, and they can throw as many dirtbags in cells as they want, but it’s never going to be anything but a trash pile where people sink deep inside and are never seen again. My friend is dead, and no one even noticed, no one will ever notice, and soon enough all trace of him will be gone forever. I can’t just go on like everything’s normal with a happy grin like some kind of lobotomy patient. That’s not living a life; accepting this reality is giving up and embracing evil as if it’s just fine and dandy: as if it's all normal and supposed to be this way. I may be many things, but I will not accept a lie as truth.”

Ray took a moment to process what his cousin had just said. It was rambling and nearly incoherent, but there was a passion there he had a harder time understanding. His friend died and that meant the world is fake? No, it didn't connect at all. Ray might have just been a kid but he knew cowardice when he saw it.

“You’re running away!” the boy shouted. "Instead of talking with anyone or trying to work through this, you just decide to split and leave us all behind? What happened to you, Lenny?"

“I’m not running from anything." Ray's cousin jabbed a thumb backwards at the car doors behind him. "I don’t have anything to run away from. My parents split long ago, the bands I cared about are gone, and there is nothing left on the road ahead. Yarbrough might be rough around the edges, but you know he's right."

"He isn't. Nothing you've told me proves he isn't anything other than a . . . what's it called? A Charlatan! Come back to Burroughsvale and I'll show you how much better things can be. It's definitely better than this. Forget that dangerous creep and let's go home."

"We’re not hurting anyone with what we’re doing, Ray. Just go out the exit and you’ll return back home. It’s a long drop, and a bit scary the first time, but you’ll wake up fine. I promise. You have people to go back to. Enjoy the time you have left before you're me. You kids deserve it.”

"Don’t trust that guy!" Ray bared his teeth. "I remember that broadcast. Did you not notice the weird ape man waiting there or the gross plants all over? There was this giant bird outside the window that could have been a dinosaur. You just accept that? That is far less normal than anything that goes on back home. He’s hiding something from all of you and you don't want to face it. You guys aren’t being told the whole truth.”

Lenny grimaced and shook his head. “That’s the Lost Race. Yarbrough discovered them when he first explored the signal. They were banished there in the True World long ago. That's what our parents never told us. Or at least our parents' parents, however far that goes back. It's all lies regardless. Those weird apes helping him achieve his goal. We have a lot of lies to undo.”

“You don’t know that's true, Lenny! They could be using him to get you all lined up for a snack or maybe even as slaves in that dark world. It could be anything. Use your head! Why aren’t you thinking through this at all?”

“You misunderstand me, Ray. I don't care. None of us care. Whatever we meet over there will be better than here, even if it kills us.”

“Stop talking like that, you idiot. We’re family. Did you forget? Maybe I want you around. Some part of you refused to tell me about the Y Signal because you know it's not right. You might tell me differently, but I know you. You're the one lying. You're doing it to yourself.”

“Stop babbling," Lenny said. He glanced away from his cousin. "You’ll forget about me when I go, just like your dad already has. Maybe not soon, but someday. I'm pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Most of us are. It’s best you experience it now rather than later. Loss builds character.” Lenny chuckled to himself. "Now I sound like my dad."

“No. Enough.” Ray seized his cousin’s wrist. “I don't care what you want. Come on, we’re going home.”

The boy took a few steps towards the side exit with his cousin in tow when a harsh burst of static nearly deafened him. The entire train rocked as if an earthquake had rattled the car. Ray and Lenny each tumbled over sideways into the seats. The train seemed to spin like it was attempting an aileron roll, as impossible as that was. Reality spun around. Ray rolled about until he hit the floor on all fours and felt his breakfast against his teeth.

When the train finally stopped shaking, he noticed a familiar lean man wearing a green sweater and slacks walking through the door. This angry young man stomped over to the splayed out cousins. Yarbrough’s face was so red it looked as if it might melt off at any second.

“Throw the stupid git out already!”

Lenny struggled to sit up from his prone position in the seat. He gagged on a breath. “I was about to before you stormed in here. What are you so worried about? I have no intention of letting him come with us. Kids can’t handle this place. Most normal people can't, either.”

“This arrogant little puke is pissing me off, Leonard. He thinks he has it all figured out, butting into our business with his stupid, uneducated views he cobbled together in the sandbox. I walked Fear City in the ‘80s, I saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I was in town when Kurt supposedly killed himself. What's he seen but bad Hollywood movies that numb the mind into accepting decay? I’ve seen the future, and it is real. There is nothing ahead but death. At least this runt will live in ignorance until the end comes.”

Ray forced himself to stand up. His gut continued its acrobat act as he steadied himself. “Just because you got some predictions right doesn’t mean you got them all. You said it yourself the first time I went under: there are many futures. They can’t all be as bad as you believe.”

“And yet this is the world we live in, brat. I know all my predictions will come true because I’ve seen them already happen on a smaller scale, over and over. It’s human nature to do the wrong thing and drag everyone else into it. This is the one eternal truth of this whole evil existence. We are simply leaving the rest of them to their own devices while the less brain dead go off and find a better future in the Real World. They’ll all die, and they’ll all deserve it.”

Lenny looked at Yarbrough sideways, but Ray didn’t back down. Instead he shoved the former rock star with all the anger he could muster. “Shut up! You don’t get to decide that. Just because you lucked out and found this Y Signal doesn’t make you God.”

Yarbrough pushed him back with an unexpected zeal, sending Ray to the floor again. “Piss off, you know-nothing runt. I summoned the Y Signal myself through blood and sacrifice. That red view you are seeing outside is a result of all my effort to save us. That’s the power I earned. Anyone else could have found it, any of our parents, our ancestors, our leaders, but none of them did. Not only did they fail to harness this force, they sealed the world off, cast away an entire race, and left us alone in the dark with nothing but noise and plastic. They deserve the genocide they will cause to themselves and my only regret is that I won’t be there to laugh at them in the face about it.”

“Yarbrough,” Lenny said. He lowered his voice. “You’re losing it. This kid isn’t that big of a deal. Let it go. We came here because we didn’t want a part in the old world anymore, not because we want to destroy it or see people die.”

“I’m not planning on destroying anything, Leonard. I’m letting it die. I can see possibilities, hundreds of thousands of routes we can take to reach the future--this is the gift of the Y Signal. Using logic, pattern recognition, deduction, and probability--things they don't teach kindergartners like this brat--I can easily surmise the fate of the brainless sleepwalkers that inhabit the 20th century. I see a pit ahead, followed by an implosion like you've never seen before. And that's the truth. What prediction would you like next? A terrorist shooting in Israel or a bombing in Sri Lanka? I don't even need the Y Signal for something like that.”

Lenny rubbed at his clearly tired eyes. “You told me that leaving would be like we never existed. We would step out of existence. I thought that maybe us leaving would help change things for the better. One of those other futures you mentioned as a possibility might occur instead. Us taking off would be better for everyone.”

“Who cares?” Yarbrough replied, saliva splashing from his lips. “I don’t know what will happen when we’re gone. It doesn't matter. All I know is that a lot of people are going to get what is coming to them in the not so distant future. That's all I care about. Now, enough of this. The platform is waiting for us, as are our new friends who have chosen Truth over that lie we used to live. Throw this little punk off the train and let’s go.”

The boy’s anger flared and his voice rose despite himself. Ray jumped back up again. “I’m not going anywhere!”

He charged into Yarbrough with a sudden burst of adrenaline and knocked the jerk over. The two rolled backwards as the train rattled with their tossed bodies. The entire structure flipped was as if the car itself had been tackled. The whole train flopped around in an impossible barrel roll with Yarbrough, Ray, and Lenny, striving to maintain their balance as they were thrown about, banging against the interior. Somewhere in the mess screeched the sound of twisting metal. 

The boy and his enemy grabbed at each other. It didn’t matter that Yarbrough clearly had the strength and size advantage when he had been thrown so off balance. The train spun, sending the parties all over the inside of the car. Windows crunched as bodies landed slammed into them. The grappling pair landed against the door at the end of the car and Lenny dropped into the seats again. The train regained its proper balance at the same moment Yarbrough did.

“Get off my train!” the ex-rocker shouted. He seized Ray’s collar and punched him square in the stomach. Ray gagged as Yarbrough kicked his doubled-over body. He sneered at the boy hitting the ground again. “You have no place in my world.”

The boy gasped for air as Yarbrough threw open the side door to the outside. There was no wind, but dead silence flooded in from the outside. Ray gripped the nearby seat as his breath struggled in his chest. Humidity smacked his face from the rouge void outside where no ground existed--just endless red skies. He tried not to look at the unsettling sight. Only harsh scarlet light existed inside this foreign space--and whatever lay below.

Spittle splashed through Yarbrough’s pointed teeth as he dragged his victim. “Go home and fix your own damned world!”

“It’s your world, too,” Ray said. His breaths pumped jaggedly from his sore chest. “You can’t just walk away from everyone. What about your family, your band, and your fans? You're just gonna leave them all?”

“Sorry, but it’s already too late for them. They have chosen their fate, just as you have. You are all getting what you have coming to you.”

“Forget it, Yarbrough,” Lenny said. He put a hand on the ex-rock star’s shoulder. “You’ve done enough here today. It’s time to go home.”

Lenny shoved Yarbrough out the door to the train. The madman’s clasping fingers lost its grip on Ray’s shirt as he plummeted down into the crimson horizon. Ray fell against the side of the door, holding tightly as he watched his enemy drop. The former rock star fell out of sight and soon even his shouts disappeared into the bottomless infinity underneath them. All trace of Yarbrough in this world was lost in an instant.

Lenny pulled the flailing Ray back into the train. He steadied the boy, but still kept an eye on the endless pit of a world underneath the vehicle. “You have to go home, too.”

“Why did you push him out? Won’t he just come back?”

“It’s already past midnight back home. Time converges here at the time the Y Signal was sent out, and Yarbrough’s radio is the source of it. You and Billy sent it out when you came here. No one else can come through now until it is turned on again. Yarbrough won’t be able to come back because it is already after the broadcast time back on Earth. He'll try, but it's too late. The train has left the station, and there's not turning back. It’s time for you to leave, too. You don’t belong here, Ray. That’s the only thing I‘m certain of anymore.”

“He was manipulating you the entire time, Lenny. You know that now, right? He just wanted to set up shop in some new world as a king or whatever. He was crazy and full of himself. He didn’t want to help anybody.”

Lenny smiled weakly. “I knew he was on edge, but I thought he was getting over it. His obsession never quite died out, but it apparently just got worse the longer he was in the Y Signal. Maybe nobody really has resistance to it like I thought they might. He became better at hiding his slipping grip, until you showed up. That’s also why I didn’t just tell anyone about the Y Signal, by the way. At first I thought I’d just take a bunch of people like me to this new place like it was an adventure. You know, give them a second chance at life in a better place where they could find themselves. Sorta like moving to a new country or town, I guess. But after Yarbrough snapping like he did, I’m not so sure of that anymore. People like him need to find a place among the living. They can’t just separate themselves from life or else they slide deeper into their own ego.”

“Then come back with me. You don’t belong here, either, Lenny.”

“I can’t just abandon all those people on the platform, Ray. The whole reason they’re here is because they think the world has already left them behind. They’ve given up, just like I had. I need to take the train to the station, and tell them what happened with Yarbrough. I brought them to this place, so I have to talk them about it. That’s going to take some time. We aren't that far from the station, either. I should get ready.”

“I’ll go with you.”

Lenny shook his head. “I don’t know if I can even stop this train without Yarbrough. At least you can go home. Live your life. Enjoy your summer as best you can. You won’t get a lot of them in your life, regardless of whatever happens next. Don’t worry about me anymore, either. I took part in this mess and I have to take responsibility to make up for what I did. I'm not running away again.”

“What did I come here for, then?" Ray felt the anger boil in his sore gut. "Do you have any idea what I’ve been through since Friday? Now you’re just telling me to walk away?”

“Relax!” Lenny lightly laughed and smacked Ray on the back. “I’m not staying here for the same reason anymore. There’s something more important that I have to do. There are people I have to see and things to think about. Go home and tell your dad that I’ll be over to shoot pool with him again very soon. I’m not leaving; I’m fixing a mistake.”

"Please, stop this."

Lenny grinned. "If it's any consolation, the next Superman movie should be out in the next two years. It'll be worth it. Trust me."

"What do you--"

Before Ray could finish, Lenny shoved the boy out of the open door. Ray’s cousin waved to the falling boy as the scarlet fog enveloped the passing train whole. He dropped like a concrete block into the bay of emptiness. Eventually Ray saw nothing in the emptiness aside from his own flailing body spinning into the depths of this impossible space. He thought he was shouting, but eventually lost his voice in the choking silence. The red vortex closed above Ray at the same moment that the world turned white. All his senses cut out and died.

And then it was all gone. The world had disappeared just as suddenly as it first arrived. 

Then it all popped back into existence again. Reality returned as the train became nothing but a memory. He coughed on the stale apartment air.

Ray hit the solid floor, face first. His legs were trembling like he'd been left out in a blizzard. He rubbed at his sore jaw, and slowly sat back up. Everything inside of him hurt. The cheap carpet felt oddly soothing under his torn up palms.

When the realization that he was alive hit him, Ray sprang to his feet. “Lenny?!”

But his cousin didn’t answer.

Instead, only see the dark of night replied. Moonlight slipped through the blinds of Billy’s apartment and bathed the place in a harsh blue glow. There was no clock to be seen on the wall, but he knew the time. Lenny had already told him, and he always told the truth. Midnight had long since departed this place. The broadcast was over.

“Anyone here?” he called out. “Am I awake?”

“Not for much longer.”

Behind the couch emerged the limping body of Yarbrough. He clutched his right eye as if it had been punched in and his breaths pumped hard. Before Ray could say anything, Yarbrough kicked the boy with his twitching left leg, knocking him down to the floor.

Ray scampered backwards across the carpet on his elbows. “What are you doing here?”

“This is my radio, you git. I entered through it, same as you did. Where else did you think I’d fall when your stupid cousin pushed me out of my Y Signal? Now I have to work from nothing because of you and your wretch kin. This is why I hate kids and weaklings. Oh well, at least I’ll get to break your spine.”

“Just calm down,” Ray said. Through the shadows of the apartment behind Yarbrough he thought he saw a moving shadow slipping in through the moonlight beams of the small place. Was it Lenny? The boy decided to keep talking. “You can use your ability to fix the future now. You can make it so that those things you saw never happened. This is your second chance!”

“I don’t know by heart which of those events will occur and which won’t. Whatever the Y Signal was, whatever source lent me the power to see into the future, much of it was like putting pieces together of events already happening that lead to obvious conclusions. But sometimes they don’t always happen quite that way. It was more like it was showing me very educated guesses that only the most aware of us could puzzle out. Sort of like obvious conclusions to the path the world has decided to take. There are many futures.”

“Wait! That’s it! You just said it yourself. You don’t actually know. Now that you’re here you can change what you do know. You don’t have to run away anymore.”

“There is nothing to run from, and nothing to save. Nothing has changed with your meddling. It’s all going to burn, starting with you.”

Yarbrough took a step towards the fallen Ray, his smile dancing with joy in the harsh moonlight. Nothing would ever stop this crazed loon’s mad quest to reshape reality. He had long since left this world behind, much like those others who had heard his program after midnight. Yarbrough took one look over towards the window and stopped.

“Wait,” the madman said. “Where is my radio?”

Out of the dark behind Yarbrough moved a smaller figure. Andrew had a black bulky object between has hands as he jumped off the couch towards the psycho standing in front of him. Ray’s friend brought the radio down on top of Yarbrough’s head with a hard swing. The old equipment broke, sprinkling pieces of metal, plastic, and wires, across the floor. Yarbrough grunted and leaned over, clutching the back of his bleeding skull.

But something else burst from the broken device, and it wasn't a radio signal. Streams of red liquid ejected out of the shattered parts and twisted wires, almost like veins full of blood. It doused Yarbrough from head to toe like buckets of water. He shouted as heavy steam burned against his skin and wrapped around his limbs, chest, and throat. The shattered radio appeared to be grabbing at him. Was this thing actually alive?

“What is this?” Yarbrough shouted. “What did you do?”

The blood water clung to Yarbrough like a thousand tiny leaches growing into snakes. The mass stretched down to the carpet like living goo and attached against the carpet. It spread under his feet not unlike a living puddle. After spreading the circumference of Yarbrough’s twisting body, the gunk pulled him into the floor like quicksand. It was eating him.

You destroyed the future,” Yarbrough said, his voice croaking. He dropped down into the red tar, as if the ground gave out. “You deserve everything you’re going to get.”

With those last words, Yarbrough plummeted into the red haze. As soon as he vanished from sight, the blood liquid solidified and hardened on top of the carpet. Before Ray could even process what had happened, the crust of crimson evaporated into thin air, taking even the radio remains with it into mere particles of air. All that remained of Yarbrough’s Y Signal had completely disappeared like a bad dream in the morning light.

Ray and Andrew stared at the bare carpet for a long time before either of them spoke again. Whatever the Y Signal had been, it definitely was no friend. Whether Yarbrough understood that or not at the end was anyone's guess. All Ray could think was how thankful he was that he didn’t drop the radio when he was climbing down the balconies earlier in the day. Imagining himself in Yarbrough’s place sent a chill down his back into his trembling legs. He definitely didn't want to think about that now. Slowly he found the willpower to stand back up.

“My parents are going to ground me so bad,” Andrew said, blandly. He kept staring at the bare carpet. “I fell asleep in the backroom with my foot elevated on the bed. It feels a lot better now. I didn’t think you’d be gone that long. It’s past midnight, you know.”

Ray blinked. “Is that all you can think about right now?”

“I . . . no. I’d rather pretend nothing happened. Don’t even want to think about it.” 

There were many things Ray wanted to say, but they all felt rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things, especially considering what had just happened to the two. All traces or information about the Y Signal had just vanished before his eyes. The unreality had just been erased from his life in a single moment. It might as well have never happened.

“We should get out of here," Ray said. "Our parents really will kill us for staying out so late.”

The two boys made for the door, Andrew still unsteady on his feet. They closed the bare apartment behind them and took to their bikes outside. There wasn’t a single soul left on the playground, just as Ray figured there wouldn’t be so late at night. Even during summer vacation kids needed to sleep, and so did the town. Being able to go home after playing is what made playing worthwhile in the first place. He now believed that simple truth more than ever.

They rode their bikes back across the empty streets of Burroughsvale, seeing little in the way of passing cars. Perhaps Lenny was right and that their earlier pursuers had already departed through their own radios into the Y Signal to grab whatever future they thought awaited them. Unlike Yarbrough or Ray they didn’t appear to return at midnight, so did that mean they were trapped in that impossibly red light? Did Lenny fail at his task, or did something else happen to him inside the signal? That thought caused discomfort, but he couldn’t deny it as a possibility. Either way, there was little Ray could do about it now. He just had to trust in his cousin's words that he would handle it.

As Andrew and Ray rode their bikes down the barren streets of Burroughsvale, the quiet did little to ease the tension. Instead they talked in stilted tones about what they would be doing next week. There was plenty of summer left, after all. But still Ray couldn’t forget what had just happened, and he doubted he ever would.

Lenny had never given his cousin a reason to doubt him before. Even if he finally realized Yarbrough was full of it by the end, and told Ray to live regardless of whatever future awaited him, his older cousin shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. Ray would never understand that generation. Things were not that bad and they always had the chance of getting better. The Y Signal was now gone, and the future was open again. They could once more look forward to whatever lay ahead. People weren't perfect, but they always had the chance to set it right again. His cousin proved that to him at the end.

Until Lenny came back, Ray would just have to keep being a kid. He would have to enjoy as much of whatever life threw his way as he could. Then the boy would show his cousin how wrong he was to run away from this world. It would be different next time. There are no real last trains--there is always another one in the morning.

A thousand Julys from now, summer would still be around, long after they were all gone from this Earth. Why waste throwing it all away on what might happen in the meantime? For now, he had many bright days ahead to look forward to, and he would do so with open arms. Summer meant promise, and it was promise he would fulfil. He pedaled madly ahead, his friend calling after him.

"Slow down, Ray. You want to get killed?"

"No way, man. I've got places to be!"

And he would make sure that he always did. That is, after all, what summer is all about.

[The End]

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