Thursday, July 15, 2021

Y Signal [Part II ~ Ghost Radio]

*In AD1995, eleven-year-old Ray, worried about his cousin, begins to dig into things he has no business searching into. After learning about a mysterious radio station, he tunes in after midnight and soon finds himself in over his head. There Ray discovers a mysterious broadcast!*

"Y Signal"
by JD Cowan

Part 2: Ghost Radio

Thunder roared inside Ray’s mind and trickled down through his skeletal structure into the ground under him. The very world shook apart, allowing him to glimpsed down into the splitting existence beneath his feet. Deep in the earth, the core of the planet itself crumbled and broke, refashioning itself into a sort of black hole. The impossible infinity pried itself open to reveal a crack of pale light within its interior. Ray peered into the evil miracle through his flaring migraine. A stabbing pressure pierced his brain, sending shockwaves of pain reverberating into his very soul. 

Only one impression remained: he never should have turned on that radio.

You aren’t awake,” Yarbrough said. "Not yet."

Even though the boy couldn't see anything, Ray's numbed mind prevented fear from leaking out. He had the vague impression of still sitting in front of the radio beside his television, listening to the same fuzzed out station he had been since around midnight. His off-kilter consciousness swirled, not quite connecting with his thoughts or attempts to move from his location. Every part of his being tilted slightly off-center. The world outside his rolled-back eyes remained as he remembered it, but an odd spiritual detachment kept him at arm's length from his surroundings.

We are usurpers of a future we never deserved. Your parents lied, but don’t blame them. They have never known Truth, and they never will. What you will hear from me is the real Truth. There is nothing else to tell.

The red sun peered through the large office windows, shining against Ray’s aching eyes. He rubbed at them as he attempted to focus. Just the fact that he could move, at least a little, allowed some relief to break through his sore muscles. Before him, a radio booth slid into focus, darkened without a single light inside the sealed small space. A man sat behind the glass at a desk, his lips whispering into the microphone before his shadowed face. Behind the figure, dusty and disheveled shelves lay coated in pale green brush and vines. Switchboards flashed in the dark under the plants. It was as if this place had been abandoned for decades and yet somehow remained operational.

The sandy-haired young man wore a plaid shirt and held a clean-cut look on his face. His eyes had black circles, the same ones in the album sleeve Lenny found after a show in Seattle. Ray's cousin let him listen to the strange record, and the boy would never forget the surreal experience. Yarbrough spoke into the microphone, apparently to no one, as he stared out of the scuffed window glass into the crimson sun.

Y Signal is what I call it,” the former rocker said. “Who I was no longer exists, just as the world you once knew is nothing but an illusion of things that could be. What is before you in that false world is nothing but a bad dice roll of uncaring chaos. It all ends in nothing. We can do better than that--I will do better than that. This is what I’m here for, ladies and gentlemen. I am the change you've been eagerly waiting for. Forget about a new tomorrow when we can have a better today.”

Ray wanted to look away from Yarbrough, to see just what this place he had landed in was, but he couldn’t budge. His legs remained frozen on the torn up red carpeting on the old wood floors. Warm air pushed against the back of the boy’s neck, like from some busted air conditioner, and yet he couldn’t look away from Yarbrough. It was as if his thoughts were being dragged into some sort of whirlpool beyond his comprehension.

The disheveled rocker stared beyond the boy as if speaking past him and into the blood-colored sun of this strange place. “I warned you about Oklahoma City, didn’t I? Yet April came and you did not heed my warning. Will you act on the bombings in Tel Aviv and Paris next month? How about Canada or Sri Lanka? I wonder. It is like you enjoy misery and death. I have offered to save you from the oncoming collapse, and yet all you do is sit there with static fuzzing in your wax-filled ears as the world detonates around you like a minefield. The Y Signal offers salvation. If you are ready to take that step, prepare yourself for the last train. It is arriving in mere hours! This is your final chance. Be certain to answer to the call, or else be trapped here forever.”

The boy opened his mouth to speak, but no voice projected from his throat. His brain flared in pain and the existence before him fuzzed in and out of focus. Was he even really awake? He tried to process the lunacy before him, but couldn’t even manage to find a starting point. Instead, hot air continued to press against the back of his head. As he tried to focus, the realization soon hit him that it wasn't air--it was hot breath. Someone was standing behind him.

Ray's muscles seized and he held his breath. What was there at his neck? Nonetheless, he couldn't turn away from the madman at the microphone.

“Who are you to argue?” Yarbrough continued. “You are just a possibility, a lucky flip of the coin. Your existence itself is as much mistake as it is fortunate--or unfortunate. You could just as easily be dead tomorrow with the rest of us when the world finally falls apart like a poorly stacked house of cards. What the Y Signal has taught me is the path to the True Earth, the one we long-ago rejected for this lie we accept today. The True Earth is where we can be perfected and grow, safe from the entropy of this hell we are trapped in. I will take you away from all of this, because it is what you deserve. Keep your dial tuned to this station, folks. Don’t believe, just trust yourself. Soon enough your knowledge will be rewarded. I'll make sure of it.”

Ray bit the inside of his cheek. He needed some pain, some shock to the system to get him to move: anything to get away from the psycho sitting before him--and whatever was waiting at his back. Prickles of pain filled the inside of his mouth as Ray struggled against his invisible bonds. The hairs on his neck stood up straight with every movement he made. The aches allowed him to flinch and twitch, at least slightly.

A bulky hand clasped Ray’s shoulder. The chill that bore into the boy's nerves finally allowed him the energy to budge. With sheer willpower, Ray forced his arm to lash at his attacker. He grabbed at the mysterious hand and felt . . . fur?

His stomach churned, but still he forced himself to act. Ray pried the thick fingers loose with his own trembling digits. The aggressor didn't fight him, even allowing the boy to spin around and face his aggressor. Ray regretted looking. It had to be some crazy in a Halloween costume, but he just knew that it wasn't. The instant he saw who it was that had approached from behind, his blood chilled. It was not a man in a mask.

What stared down at him was an eight foot monstrosity of an ape-man. Long hair adorned its crooked form, covering whatever pale face it might have in the dark black tangle. And yet inside that mess peeked the outline of something between the nostrils of a gorilla, the mouth of a thick-lipped human, and the dead eyes of a crazed mental patient. Humanity did not exist in this thing. And it was looking right at him.

The boy backed up, his throat clogged with terror. Ray's mind attempted to grip on to some semblance of sane thoughts to keep from losing it. The creature crouched towards him, but the boy even couldn’t so much as scream. He was going to die.

"This isn't real!" he squeaked out. Ray opened his mouth agape when the beast fell upon him.

The terrified child tripped backwards, his voice catching in his throat as his shaking legs gave out. The monster landed on top. The ape-man’s teeth bared in a lopsided howl. The monster bore down on him and Ray shut his eyes tight in response. Of all the ways to meet his end--how could it be like this? Monsters weren't supposed to exist. It was all kid stuff! His dad always told him that. Nothing awaited to drag you under the bed after dark, right? And yet here he was, being eaten by an ape-man. The teeth tearing into his neck caused him to scream a voiceless scream.

Just before his life ended he thought he saw the rouge sunlight flicker outside a window behind the hungry beast. Normally, it wouldn’t mean anything, but Ray could swear this beige sky stared back at him. A giant flapping giant beast shadowed by the lack of lights in the building swooped past the building, rattling the windows. As it flew by, its resulting screech signaled a being much larger than a mere bird. A dinosaur? Where had he landed? Monsters were everywhere in this impossible place! He whimpered and cried out in response.

But that didn’t stop the ape-man. The jagged teeth sunk into his neck over and over and Ray yelled bloody murder at his murderer. His very life drained from his broken body, and his corpse stilled on the dirty carpeting. Skin split and agony gripped his last bits of consciousness. Of all the places he would die, he never expected it to be in a hell like this.

His eyes watered as the pain and surrounding darkness enveloped him. The only question Ray could ponder as he slipped into death was why he ever turned that radio on in the first place. Lenny had been careful not to tell him about it, but the younger cousin just wouldn't listen. Now he would pay the price for being a dumb kid. Pain left the boy to fade into death.

Somewhere nearby, Yarbrough laughed as the static signal cut out, leaving Ray dead in the void. The echo cut out, leaving a low hum that gradually increased like feedback in an old amplifier. The seconds passed and it rose to a fever pitch, breaking the numb thoughts in his mind. Suddenly, the bonds on his mortality severed, allowing him a moment to react. So he screamed.

Ray bellowed from his prone position and found the feeling return to his flesh. He fell back, as if the non-existent floor gave out under him, and felt the warm air of this Y Signal break out around him. The dark slowly peeled away to reveal muted light shining through something like stain glass. When he touched down against new ground, sparks of pain jittered him awake again.


Chatter and organ music filled the formerly empty space. Ray opened his sore eyes and found the multicolored lights of the stain glass windows shining down upon him. He was awake. More importantly: he was alive.

The boy wiped the sweat from his eyes and his vision cleared up. Sun-heated linoleum cooled his back through his jacket coat, and the bright multicolored panes of stain glass pierced his rumbling headache. His parents, four-year-old brother, and other familiar adults, all sat in the pew beside his prone position. Only his parents looked at him as the rest were busy singing a hymn. Ray groaned and sat up off the floor, questioning just how he ended up in Church to begin with.

“Ray!” his father repeated. “What in the world is wrong? Stop playing around.”

Queasiness bit at the boy’s stomach, and his throat clenched. A hymn sang somewhere far in the back of his thoughts even though he could see the choir singing three rows over at the opposite end of the church from his position by the right wall. That faint buzz in the back of his head quieted as the chanting knocked him awake. Had he been sleeping this whole time?

“I’m alive?” Ray asked. He slid into the pew beside his parents. "How?"

His father sighed. “Why were you lying on the floor? Is this another silly game?”

“No, I . . .” Ray thought a moment. “Why am I in Church?”

The sea of men and women in suits and dresses had filled the Our Lady of Perpetual Help up tight as the choir sang their opening hymn. In the tangle, he found Andrew with his parents two rows ahead—but weren’t his friend's parents coming home in the morning? Wait, was it morning now? But he didn’t go to Church on Saturday. A few minutes ago it was Friday night. Wasn’t he just in his room a minute ago? Ray rubbed his temples. Whatever had happened to him, he couldn't quite puzzle it out.

“Enough playing around, Ray,” his mother whispered harshly in his ear. She nervously glanced around the pew as she spoke to her son. All of their neighbors were too busy singing to notice them. Nonetheless, she leaned in on her son. “Not in Church!”

He looked at her like she was growing a second head out of her neck. “But I was just sleeping a second ago. I think.”

“Quiet! Keep acting up and we’re not getting McDonalds afterwards. Sunday’s is the Lord’s Day. You can play around later when no one else is watching, especially not the neighbors or the PTA.” She rubbed his face with a tissue. "I thought you washed your face before we left?"

“It’s Sunday?!” he rasped. Wooziness threatened to overtake the boy as his mother pocketed her tissue. It had been over 24 hours since he listened to the radio station? That wasn’t possible. He couldn't have lost a whole day. “Don’t joke around.”

"Don't be fresh," she replied.

"I'm not." Even though his parents both wore their best Sunday clothes consisting of a cheap suit for his dad and a half-price floral sundress for his mom, Ray couldn't help but think someone must be playing a joke on him. It was a big elaborate gag to pretend it was now Sunday. What else could it be? "I was just in my room a few minutes ago.

His father towered over him with his near-six foot height. “Enough. You were fine all morning, and now you’re playing games in Church. Is this because of what happened before we left? Did you overhear the phone call from Mrs. Faust?”

For an instant, Ray saw the ape-man's ugly visage in his father's disapproving glare and felt the color drain out of his face. He wiped at his forehead, trying to ignore the sweat dripped down his back. Ray closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"The old bird is just paranoid, Ray. It's summer. You're going to see all sorts of weird characters around town. It doesn't make them all degenerates looking to cause trouble. The last thing we need is for them to see Burroughsvale as a bunch of crazies who can't keep their kids in line. Are you finished playing around now?"

Ray shook his head even as his stomach churned. "I'm fine."

“Good,” his mom said. She feigned a smile to Ruth Johnson a row away while still whispering to Ray. “We don’t need to talk about those rumors in the church. We’ll talk about this after. For now, you must behave. Everyone is looking at us.”

“I have to go to the bathroom. Excuse me.”

"Make it fast," his dad said. 

Ray pushed his way out of the pew and dashed towards the rear end of the Church. The choir kept singing regardless, and the rest of the congregation went on as if nothing had happened. His mom was wrong: no one had even noticed him this entire time. He couldn't help but be thankful for that. He slipped down the stairs and white painted halls into the empty bathroom on the basement floor. The door closed behind him as he flew to the toilet. Thankfully, his retching only lasted about a thirty seconds.

Muffled singing filled his aching ears as he stumbled out of the stall. The boy splashed sink water on his face and he stared into the mirror. Try as he might he could not puzzle out just what had happened to him since he turned on the radio after midnight. What happened to Saturday? Blank pictures filled his hollowed out memory like a bad stock of film.

Ray didn’t look as disheveled as he felt in his Sunday clothes. His nicely creased navy blue pants, carefully slicked-back hair, and clean suit made him look like a lawyer on the prowl for his next ambulance. When his uncle saw him dressed like this he used to always ask the boy when the wedding was. But this was typical for a Sunday. It was the same as always. What it didn’t explain was why Ray didn’t remember changing clothes in the first place. In fact, it still didn't explain missing a whole day of his life.

The boy had forgotten everything. Now he just had an overexposed movie reel rolling in his memory between turning on the radio and waking up in Church. A day had disappeared. Now here he was, sick and alone in the bathroom. That broadcast was dangerous.

That is, assuming any of this was real to begin with. The boy didn't discount the possibility that he still remained asleep. Could he be dreaming? Was he imagining this moment right now? There was only one way to find out. 

He suddenly pinched his arm. Shockwaves of pain rippled through the skin on his wrist. He flinched. Ray didn’t rouse from any sleep. No, he was conscious in reality, awake.

“What in the world is going on?” he asked no one.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Andrew replied.

Ray’s heart nearly leaped through his chest at his friend’s words. Andrew had slipped into the bathroom behind him without the sick boy noticing. His combed back hair and tan Sunday clothes never looked right on the taller boy, always slightly too short, but Ray’s friend always did whatever his parents wanted--even if it was to wear terrible-fitting outfits. He might have been rowdy on the playground and on the streets, but when he was at home Andrew was always the model kid. A good actor. He was also creepily perceptive. Ray splashed some more water on his face while his friend leaned against the closed door.

Andrew tilted his head at his friend. “Your ‘rents are freaking out and telling my folks you just had a bad headache, but I don't buy it. You’ve been weird since I called you last night.”

“You called yesterday?” Ray watched his friend from the reflection in the mirror. “What did I sound like?”

“Normal, kinda. But it didn’t sound like you were paying attention. Other things on your mind? That’s what I thought. Something happen at your grandma’s place?”

“No, actually, I don’t remember yesterday at all.” Ray's tongue dried. He couldn't believe he had to admit that. The sick boy told his badly dressed friend about what he did after leaving the pizza parlor on Friday night. As he spoke, patches of memory from his Saturday returned as if they had always been there, like a heavy blanket slowly being peeled off of his warmed body. Whatever the broadcast had done to his mind appeared to be wearing off. “I’m not sure if I just woke up a few minutes ago or if my mind has been screwed up since I turned on that radio at midnight. For all I know I could still be dreaming. It's insane. I think I’m losing it.”

It took a near minute of silence before Andrew managed to finally reply. His words arrived slowly and carefully. “Well, you're clearly not dreaming. But I knew something was off! Your cousin was out of it, too. Do you remember? He looked like he had fallen out of bed like an hour before we saw him in the pizzeria. Then there was that weird punk hanging outside the place. How did he know about this Y Signal you ran into? This might have something to do with all the strange out of towners showing up around Burroughsvale. Have you heard from Lenny since Friday? I mean, if you can remember anything. No rush if you can't.”

Ray stared at his friend in disbelief. He had believed him so readily and completely that it was difficult to take in. Then again, Andrew was the one who swore by the existence of the sasquatch and fairies. Weird stuff was his specialty. He would have gotten made fun of for it by everyone if he wasn't Andrew. Regardless, the shorter boy felt a bit of weight lift from his shoulders and sighed.

“No," Ray replied. The memories of his uneventful Saturday were now coming into view. "Grandma asked some questions about him, but that’s all. Haven’t heard a word. No one has so much as seen Lenny since we last saw him.”

“We can fix that.”

“I need to get over to his apartment.” Ray’s memories told him nothing was out of the ordinary. All he found were typical run-throughs of every visit he had with his grandma over the years. Things were supposedly normal, according to his worked over mind. But it wasn't himself he was worried about. What if something had happened to Lenny over the weekend, worse than what Ray had experienced? No one else understood this Y Signal, and they definitely wouldn't believe an eleven year old kid about it. “There’s no way my ‘rents will believe any of this and let me go visit him right now, so it’ll have to wait until after Church. I'll go home and get my bike.”

“You can tell them we’re going to spend some time at the arcade. Heck, if nothing's wrong with him, we'll make that the truth. Maybe this is all just a big old nothing, right? Shame the guys are busy today, but it is what it is. It'll just have to be the two of us.”

The pair slid back into the Church as if nothing had happened. Ray’s parents were none too happy he had skipped out on a hymn, never mind that he returned with Andrew. They soon went back to paying attention to the reading before them, but not before questioning their son if he had finally recovered from whatever madness had momentarily afflicted him. The boy could only nod, his attention elsewhere. He still couldn't quite process any of this.

As he sat and listened about Elijah being taken up to Heaven in a whirlwind, he could only think about those strangely mundane memories returning to him. Ray spent his Saturday baking with his grandmother, playing cards, and even learned a few canvas painting tips from her. It was not unlike any visit he had had with her before. She was so happy to see him and spend time together and he was more than glad to be there with her. Nothing bad had happened. Why had that broadcast prevented him from remembering such a normal day? He always enjoyed his time with her, and it was like it had been stolen.

A sinister notion caused his nerves to tighten: what if these memories were reruns. What if they were taken and rearranged from previous visits. What if they didn’t actually happen yesterday but were just shoddy patchworks? Maybe his mind had made it all up for his own benefit. Would he even know the difference? He did lose an entire day, after all.

No, that wasn’t it. The longer he sat there the more his memory smoothed out. He might have missed a whole day, but that was because of what that broadcast had done to his mind, causing some kind of fog to blank out and paper over his thoughts. Nothing that happened was from previous visits. 

However, he had only experienced this broadcast the one time. He couldn’t imagine what it might have done to someone like Lenny. Something that powerful could ruin anyone, especially if it was seen more than once. That realization only strengthened Ray's resolve to talk to him.

But how did that Yarbrough loon do that to the radio station? Why didn’t Ray’s own cousin tell him about this Y Signal? Perhaps even he didn’t know what was really happening with it. That just meant Ray needed to get over there as fast as possible. If more people stumbled into that midnight broadcast then all kinds of chaos could be unleashed. Judging by the weird people popping up around town, maybe it already had.

When Church let out, Ray made sure to not waste any time. He rushed home, changed into a quick pair of jean shorts and clean ocean blue t-shirt, grabbed his Bart Simpson backpack, and planned the trek ahead of him. there would be no time to waste. After thinking it through, Ray removed his bike from the backyard shed, locked the fence behind him, and took off down the street. The freshly pumped tires allowed a nice smooth ride across the warm pavement, sending him forward smoothly. It was nice to have something go right today.

Thankfully his parents didn’t say anything else about his odd behavior or ask him to explain himself. They had to take his little brother to a playdate or something about an advanced preschool and were running late. These days it felt like they were giving the little guy more and more attention than him, bringing him to these weird parenting classes and programs, but it wasn’t so bad. This left Ray free to roam town on his own. It was almost like being an adult.

Inside his father’s sock drawer he had found Lenny’s spare apartment key. Ray made sure to pocket it. As long as he brought it back before the ‘rents figured it out, everything would be copacetic. His dad probably forgot he even had it anyway. Not like he talked about Lenny much these days.

It was a humid Sunday, but not so bad on his bike and under the heavy maple branches shading the sunlight from the open neighborhood streets. A patchwork of lined shadows passed over him, shielding Ray from the thick summer weather. He wished he could enjoy it more as he pedaled through the sweltering day, but his mine was simply elsewhere. There remained more important matters.

Andrew soon joined his friend on his own bike, and the soon took up the talking instead. “Like I thought, the other guys are a no-go. Danny is off camping already, and George’s playing mini-putt with his family today. Not that they would have believed our story. I’m not sure how they could have made a difference if they came, anyway.”

Ray sighed. “You can’t do anything last minute during the summer, Andrew. You know that. Everyone has their own plans. Either way, we can’t wait for them to free up their schedules. If Lenny is in trouble, I have to act now.”

“Don’t worry, man. I get it, I get it. I’m just sayin’ it would have been nice to have some back up. Especially if we’re dealing with a dead rock star.”

“He’s no star,” Ray muttered.

The apartment wasn’t too far off St. Joseph Street where they last met on Friday. Lenny had told Ray’s parents that he was planning on settling down in Burroughsvale after his rambunctious youth and family problems. He would go on about how rock music was dying and would be completely corporate in a few years, and how the world would fall apart to match it. Ray’s parents thought he was just being his usually wacky self, running to the next adventure after the next, but Ray had seen it differently. His cousin had changed.

There was no more twinkle in Lenny’s eye when he discussed far off places or his plans for the future. Instead, he only spoke in odd riddles and kept to himself these days. He was closing off, and no one noticed. Even his father told Ray to let him be, that Lenny was just being his usual odd duck self, and the boy listened. That was clearly a mistake. Now here he was hurrying to Lenny’s apartment to check if he hadn’t fallen into something nasty.

Andrew was already off his bike and running for the building foyer before Ray reached the sidewalk. St. Hubert Street was always oddly quiet in both the summer and on the weekends despite literally being located across from Mary Gardner Elementary where most local kid sports teams played and the Boy Scouts met. And yet most of the time there was nobody to be seen on the streets. Even the relatively small apartment building before them was completely quiet.

Ray always had the impression that he was being watched on this street, despite the silence. It was a small area, but it felt smaller than it looked. No one even sat on their balconies or loitered around their windows in any of these apartment buildings. It wasn’t unlike a ghost town despite the sunny weather and the distant rumble of engines only a single road away in every direction. That the center of town could be so quiet was a little unnerving.

But he didn't have time to speculate on some of the strangeness of Burroughsvale. Andrew waved him into the foyer, and Ray quickly joined his impatient friend.

“You’re too excited,” Ray said. “Lenny won’t open up if you sound too eager. Calm it down.”

“What a suspicious weirdo. No wonder he got in with the crowd that did that to you. He's obviously missing a few screws.”

“Ease up. Lenny’s a good guy. He’s always been a wanderer, at least that’s what my dad said. If we can help him get away from these creeps, then that’s good. But before any of that junk I need to know what this Y Signal thing actually is. If it messed with me that badly then I can’t even imagine what it did to him. He’s also had that nutbag Yarbrough's very own radio for years now. Who knows what else he might have of his.”

“Good point.” Andrew pointed to the button panel beside the sealed front door. “Which one am I buzzing?”

The numbers listed by the locked door into the building had a name by each button. Every listing was arranged by the floor and apartment number. However, Lenny’s name had yet to be added to the plate with the others. Ray had asked him why that was, but he never received an answer. Lenny didn't explain much of anything these days. After that broadcast Ray was beginning to understand why his cousin might not want people to know where he was.

The two boys buzzed apartment 310. Lenny always took his time answering, so Ray waited thirty seconds before pushing the button again, this time for a full ten seconds. He repeated the process three times before Andrew tapped his shoulder.

“I think he’s out, man.”

“One second, let me think.” Lenny wouldn’t be out this early in the day, never mind on a Sunday. There had to be another explanation. Unfortunately, the ones he thought up were not pleasant. “What if he’s unconscious or something? He could be hurt, or worse. I’m going to buzz someone else and see if they'll let me in to check.”

Ray pressed the button for apartment 107, and an answer came not even two seconds later in a burst of static. An old man on the other end asked for a name. The boy calmly reintroduced himself to the landlord.

“Yeah, I remember you," the gruff voice said. "He should be in. Go right on up.”

The lock let out an atonal howl that echoed off the badly plastered white walls of the foyer. Ray swung the door open and charged into the barren lobby and up the stairs. Andrew tore in after him. The annoying sound finally departed when the door clicked closed behind them.

Andrew groaned. “If he’s in then why didn’t he answer?”

“We’re about to find out.” Ray showed Andrew the apartment key before slipping it back into the pocket of his shorts. It felt nice being prepared for once. “Either way, we’re going to learn something today. Hopefully it's good.”

The pair pushed through the empty white halls towards the staircase at the end of the long, narrow pathway. The sterile faded grey carpeting looked thin with loose strands sticking up but it was otherwise the only thing aside from the pale yellow lighting to guide their way. Even as they walked the hallway there were no sounds from any of the neighboring apartments. Ray would have believed this building completely vacant had he not been in here before. That knowledge didn’t prevent a warning bell from jangling inside his numbed brain.

A clatter of echoing footfalls bounced off the vacant steel railing and the metal steps of the stairway. Someone else was in this cramped space with them. Ray couldn’t discern whether the party was above or below, but walked on regardless. There was no sense attracting unwanted attention, especially since they weren’t actually residents.

As they rounded the bend to the second floor, a flood of steps from above revealed a tall young man coming down. He wore a pale yellow band t-shirt and had unkempt dreadlocks that fell down to his torn jean shorts. Ray recognized him as the mumbling punk from outside the pizzeria. He looked like one of the guys on the back of those skate-punk albums Lenny used to show him. Fashion was bizarre in Southern California, and this guy looked like he could barely dress himself. But this punk’s cracked teeth, half-open brown eyes, and unevenly tanned skin, made him look as if he were only half-awake. Mutters escaped from his jagged breath as he shuffled down the steps.

The punk stamped down the stairs, passing Ray and Andrew. He glanced at them once on the way to the lower floor but said nothing to the two strange kids. He must not have remembered them from the other night. Andrew elbowed his friend and the two kept climbing up. There was no sense lingering on this circus show.

On the third floor, the two boys reached apartment 310. Ray stuck the key in the lock and easily opened it. Finally, they could abandon those eerie hallways for a safer place. The pair pushed inside before Ray turned back and locked them inside.

“Why did you do that?” Andrew asked.

“In case that guy comes back.”

“You don’t know what he was doing in the building. Heck, he might have just left.”

“He knew about the Y Signal, and he said Lenny's name the other night. That’s enough for me.”

Lenny’s apartment had been left oddly untouched, as if he just walked out of it seconds ago. The couch and coffee table sat clean in their usual spot on top of the grey carpeting. His NES video game console and controllers lay neatly on top of his used television set. And yet, despite the cleanliness, an ineffable feeling scratched at Ray's spinning thoughts.

He rushed down the left hall towards the bedroom. “Lenny? Are you alright?”

At the back of the apartment he passed the bathroom and then the two bedrooms. Ray had already helped his cousin move in here so he knew what they looked like, but he still found their well-polished shelves and vacuumed floors off-putting. Even the record collection had been organized alphabetically with everything in its correct spot. For a disheveled looking mess, Lenny unquestionably kept a clean pad. That didn't make sense.

Lenny’s bedroom had been cleaned with even the bed made and the clothes closet organized right. The only thing that felt out of place was the old radio on the nightstand. A strange aura of malice wafted off of the dirty plastic and busted tape deck of the small object. That would make sense since it was Yarbrough’s radio that Lenny had told him about. But it otherwise looked like any cheap one you could find at the mall.

However, that wasn’t what bothered him the most about this place—Lenny was still nowhere to be seen. He really had disappeared.


“What in the world happened?” Ray asked no one. Apparently Andrew decided to inspect the kitchen at the other end of the apartment, leaving his friend alone to check the bedroom. “What is going on in this town?”

Ray inspected the drawers and found what appeared to be poetry or lyrics. Words and statements about uncertainty and dread for the future. No notes or any kind of journal existed, just his cousin's usual attempts at art. Nothing else of interest had been left inside.

Then there was that radio—the one Lenny had gotten from Yarbrough himself, or at least from his will after he disappeared in 1991. It wasn’t that new, but the radio tuner was set on a familiar station: 99.9. It was the same station that had poisoned Ray's entire existence mere days earlier. Perhaps Lenny had listened to the exact same broadcast he had that night. Perhaps he didn't escape it. The likelihood of that possibility caused Ray's breaths to sharpen.

Just the look of this cheap radio bothered the boy a good deal. It made him think of distant lands of evil ape-men and wild pseudo-dinosaurs or whatever other madness Yarbrough had shoved into Ray's brain. Whatever might have happened--this radio couldn't be left here alone. Not if it might contain some clue to where Lenny or that ex-rocker disappeared to. Ray unplugged it and carried the surprisingly light object under his arm. When he got back to the safety of his home he would inspect it there. Right now, the idea of staying in this place caused his knees to shake.

In the living room he met his friend who had just emerged from the kitchen. Despite the fact that they were alone, Ray kept getting the idea they were being watched. All the more reason to get out of that place as soon as possible.

Andrew scratched his freshly scuffed up hair and sighed. “Even the fridge was cleaned and emptied. Your cousin is definitely a weirdo. He planned this. What’s with the radio?”

“This is Yarbrough’s. He gave it to Lenny after he disappeared a few years ago, probably for being such a good roadie. I don’t know what it has to do with any of this, but it has to be some sort of key to why this is happening.” He glanced at the phone beside the couch. Suddenly, a memory of Lenny's words popped into his thoughts. Ray handed the radio to Andrew. “Hold this for a second. I'm going to be a bit nosy.”

A small red book had been left under the phone. Most of the pages had large scribbling which crossed out names and numbers. Ray followed them towards the back of the cheap address book. This had been carefully gone through alphabetically, and probably recently. Who was Lenny calling up? It definitely wasn't family.

That thought caused him to pause. Who was it that Lenny asked him to contact when they spoke on Friday? He craned his neck in thought. Some guy named Billy? But what wasn't a last name. Ray flipped through the book, searching for this mystery man. Lenny wouldn't have told his cousin that name without a reason.

“I don’t want to alarm you, Ray,” Andrew whispered. He was staring out the window by the balcony door. “But I think that punk from before is looking at our bikes.”

Ray didn’t look up as he flipped through the tiny phone book. Billy's full name and number had to be here. The punk no longer concerned him. “Why would he do that?”

“Oh, man. He’s looking up here!”


Ray pocketed the address book and joined his friend at the window. The punk was standing exactly where Andrew had said he was, standing over their bikes. His oblong right hand shielded his eyes from the sun as he glanced up into the apartment. He was looking for something, or someone. As Ray looked the wiry man over, the punk pointed to Lenny's apartment and shouted something that couldn’t be heard from their location on the third floor. Whatever he said probably wasn't anything children needed to hear.

The door behind them banged and trembled as if an elephant had charged into it. Both Ray and Andrew choked on their voices before they spun around to meet it. On the other side of the locked door, someone swore.

“Who’s in there? Is that Lenny?” a meaty voice growled. “What do you know about the Y Signal?! Open the door before I open you up.”

This voice repeated the same queries and threats in a weird repetitive manner, like a chant. It definitely wasn’t the landlord.

Down on the first floor, the punk had already sprinted back towards the building. He was coming back in. And he was heading this way.

The apartment door bent and rattled against the weight of whoever was behind it. This psychopath would be inside within minutes. And there was no way out of here.

Andrew ran for the phone. He picked it up and swore. “It’s dead! Doesn’t your cousin pay bills?”

“There's got to be an exit,” Ray said.

There was no escape from the third floor, and none of the neighbors appeared to care about what was happening. That is, if there were any neighbors. Ray quickly shook that insane notion away. He thought for a second. There actually was one way out, but Andrew wouldn’t like it. To be honest, Ray himself didn't like it. The idea was just insane, but they had no other option.

Ray swallowed the trembling fear in his voice and forced a shaky smile at his friend. “The balcony.”

The door rattled again and a crack split across the center of the frame. This mental patient would not be deterred from his prize. Andrew squeaked under his breath. “The balcony? You want us to exit from the third floor balcony? Are you insane?”

“Only one way to find out,” Ray said. He opened the door to the small balcony and spied the barren street of St. Hubert three stories below. Aside from a few untrimmed trees in the gap between this building and the one to the left, he saw nothing that would remotely break a potential fall—and even those trees were about thirty feet out of reach. The two boys were alone up here. Perhaps this idea really was too crazy to work. “Oh boy.”

Ray gathered what little courage he had left and moved his shaking knees onto the balcony. He couldn't even imagine jumping off the high dive in the community pool, and yet here he was like some MacGyver wannabe. Nonetheless, there was little choice left. Scaling the balcony down three floors remained the only alternative to certain death. The boy placed the radio and small phone book in his Bart Simpson backpack. That could wait for later, if he was still alive. Andrew joined him outside and shut the balcony door behind them. The front door bent and cracked with the force of whoever was out there pounding on it.

“Okay,” Ray said to his friend. He swore and rubbed his temples. “Just don’t look down.”

“Looking isn’t going to stop me from hitting the ground and breaking my stupid neck, Ray. But I guess we have no choice but to do this, huh? I'm going to have nightmares for years if we get out of this craziness.”

The shouts and creaking wood only sang louder back inside the apartment. That nut would definitely break in at any second. The boys had no further option. Drop down or die.

Ray put his leg over the third floor balcony and took a hard breath. His limb trembled as he fought the urge to look down at his potential death. It was now or never. He nodded to his friend and laughed a nervous laugh. All of this was because of that stupid Y Signal.

“If I ever see Lenny again," Ray said, "I’m going to punch him right in the mouth.”


  1. You have a talent for suspense. This installment alone beats the pants off any "and then there was a deer/orb/skinwalker" Gen Zed creepypasta.