(Words:1,100; Read time: 5 min.)
The desert called to him. Spoke to him on every level. Its desolation. The ancient nature of it–the way the sands folded over like space and time, everything merging into one and expanding from it in a vastness of nothingness. And such was purpose. Yes, his recently arrived upon position was not one of chance or circumstance. It was meant to be. Had always been.
In the last twenty or so minutes of travel, the rolling mounds of ancient sediment and the flats between ever approaching, a new oddity had developed. Though he knew the locale of where such an ending would occur, he had not known the method till he saw the sands in the twilight of the day. And it was following that moment, the moment in which he’d decided how all things would end and thus begin, that a sound emerged from the silence and came to life.
His father had long ago gifted him the transistor radio which now acted as the passageway through which this sound travelled. There was sentiment in his possessing it now–it was the only thing he felt he needed as he stormed out from the love of his life. Something to remind him that someone had loved him once, even if the giver had long since turned to dust.
Amidst the heat of his thoughts—endings, beginnings, and his father–he devoted no more than a brief, fleeting moment as to what the sound could be. Even still, it hardly deserved the moment it had been granted. The sound was nothing more than a brief bout of static and white noise, with a loping hoarseness present in the background. It was scarcely different from the countless other signals the radio had gathered over the years, save for the feeling that accompanied it in his heart and soul. Indeed, something inexplicable made it resonate through his entire being in a way that no horror he’d ever known could equal.
Despite this disturbance he pressed on, eager to reach the sands of time and end his own. As the sands came nearer the sound altered into something which could linger in ignorance no more. Another layer had been added to it all: static and white noise; a loping hoarseness; and now a vague wail that was less human than human. The additional layer as horrifying as it was enchanting. Every thought of his focused directly on what the sound could be, as it transfixed his mind and commanded him wholly and instantaneously. Never before had the little radio transmitted something of this nature. Nothing which inspired the horror and dread now permeating bones and brain.
Though the sound was of a new order, there was no mistaking what it signaled. Someone was dying in the place from which the sound came, this antique radio the doorway which connected him to such a place and that place to him.
Without him realizing it, the sound had already led him into the heart of the desert, soul not long for this world now amidst its vast emptiness. And being there, in that nowhere, he knew it to be the right place. A place free from the world. Though he longed to marvel at the nothingness of it all, memory of the sound remained persistent. Digging into his brain. Burrowing like something which wanted escape. Its demand that all thought and contemplation be devoted to it and it alone.
He took a seat in the sun baked sand and placed the radio before him and studied it. Its circular bronze dial. The waffle patterned speakers. Listened for any nuance which may emerge. A frequency all to its own, never to be deciphered by any soul save for his.
The sound clamored on and on and then as instantly as it began it fell into silence. Still he watched. Waited. Some part of him hoping the sound would rise again so that he may find the place from which the sound came. But the sound remained silent. In the dark of night, in the center of nothing, his shallow breaths were the only sound present in this singular world.
The sound woke him from a terrible nightmare, a nightmare in which the sands of the desert had devoured him whole. Body buried further and further beneath the ruination. A giant face sunken in the infinite sprawl of sand. Upon waking he knew it not to be a nightmare but a desired dream.
The glory of that imagining soon diminished.
What came from the other end of the radio returned to him all the terror he’d felt in the dark hours of the night. The sound of death on the otherside, a person wailing in pain and horrified of whereto they went next.
He scrambled over to the radio and picked it up and began walking further into the desert, some intuition his commander. And as he ventured further into it, the death on the other end continued on and on. The pain escalating with each step travelled.
He walked the entirety of the day. Not once did his eyes stray from the radio, held in both hands before him like some great offering. By nighttime the sound was no longer something vague or distant. It was approaching, and he, it.
“Help,” it now called.
First it had been a scream, but in the hours of dusk it had since turned into something barely above a hushed whisper, almost as if the caller knew it would have no savior.
Despite its calmer tone, the sound and clarity of the plea reached a peak. Its asking for help clear and concise and implicit in this calm a desperation only the dying could know.
The radio fell into silence.
For the first time since he’d awoke he pulled his eyes from the radio and surveyed the area surrounding. Darkness had fallen, but the stars above provided ample light. In the sand not ten yards ahead there lay the shrunken form of something half buried in the sediment. Lips moving only just.
He carefully approached, fear consuming his broken heart.
“Help,” it continued to ask, dead eyes fixed on the sky above. If it knew of his approach, it made no gestures of acknowledgement. Motionless as a corpse.
As he came closer, the bodily degradation of the being became more apparent. Flesh stretched and cracked beyond its elastic limits. Baked in the unrelenting heat. Most its body buried beneath the sand, perhaps to keep from burning alive in the desert. All that remained visible, its face. Like some ancient Egyptian glyph carved in the sand.
And then the buried face turned, movements more hitched than fluid. Features incapable of emoting.
Not even a mirror could have reproduced an image his own likeness, even if this Doppler was shrunken and withered.
And forever dying.
“Don’t,” it said.