Disclaimer: What you’re about to read isn’t a Creepypasta, short story, or setup for any sort of viral marketing campaign or ARG. It’s a true recollection of an event from the author’s life, written as a personal experience essay and told in the spirit of the season
There’s a story I’ve been meaning to tell for a while, but I’ve never been able to find the right place. It’s been over a decade now since it happened, and with every passing year, it seems the urgency to share it lessens just a little bit. It’s almost become something that I saw in a movie or read about in a book, or that was relayed to me by an acquaintance—something that happened to someone else. Once in a while, though, the memory of it will come back, not hitting me with a sudden wave of shock, but creeping in, slowly. The dread that builds isn’t palpable or debilitating; it’s more the feeling of being watched, but only for a moment, and then being left wondering who it was that was watching you and why. And then I’ll find myself looking back and thinking about that radio station.
This would’ve been sometime in the late Summer or early Fall of 2006. I was twenty and my brother was twenty-one, and we were living at home while we went to college and worked at our local movie theater. Most of our shifts were at night—we were the oldest and most experienced ushers and concession workers, so we were just about mandated to work every Friday and Saturday until close—which meant our sleep cycles were shot, though, being that age, I guess they would’ve been anyway regardless of what we did. If we weren’t working or going to school we were playing Hitman on the computer in my brother’s room. After all that visual input, when I was ready to go to bed, I’d turn off the TV and put on the radio to fall asleep. The only two stations I listened to at the time were country legends 97.1, and then 106.9, which at the time still mostly played 1980s synth music. I had an older style radio with an orange-lit dial and no seek button, so if I wanted to switch between stations, I had to do it manually; I’d gotten a pretty good feel for it so that I could turn the dial without opening my eyes and switch easily between channels.
I don’t remember anything else that’d happened that day. Was it a school day, a workday? Had we been off? I have no idea. I don’t recall being especially tired. Whatever was on the radio was annoying me though—a song I didn’t like? A commercial? Bad reception creating static—so I reached over and began turning the dial with my eyes shut. I was used to the noise that I’d encounter between channels, but, something caught my ear that night. I stopped turning the dial. Had I really heard that? I’d been dozing, so maybe it was one of those instances of dreams beginning to slip into reality. I turned the dial back, just to check. And then my eyes were wide open.
I’ve never been able to appropriately describe what it was I heard. Maybe that’s why it’s always been so difficult to tell this story. It wasn’t a noise. It was barely music. When I say that I heard something disturbing on the radio that night, the few people to whom I’ve told this story immediately jump to the conclusion that it was something overtly terrifying—something noisy and loud and messy, something metal-sounding. What was so unsettling though was that it wasn’t. It was quiet, subdued; almost peaceful, if not for the overwhelming sense that this was something I shouldn’t be hearing. Whatever was making the music weren’t any instruments I’ve ever heard. Not pianos, not guitars, not synthesizers, not even a theremin. The closest things it sounded to were strings and woodwinds, but, they weren’t. I can’t think of any modifications someone could make to violins or clarinets for them to sound this way. I sat there in the dark, frozen, listening to it for minutes. There were no words, no bridge, no logical progression to the “song.” It just went on, and on, and on, never rising or falling in volume, never picking up tempo, never-ending. No new “instruments” ever joined in—just the same reedy sounds of those not-clarinets and the whine of the not-violins. It was anxiety provoking though I couldn’t say why. Surely this was just some experimental music. Surely someone had simply invented his or her own type of instrument. So why the sense of dread hearing this?
Finally, I simply turned the dial, found music, and went back to sleep. After a few minutes, I didn’t even think about what I’d just heard; I didn’t have nightmares or restless sleep, and the next day that “music” was just a strange anecdote I told my brother. He’s always been the more musical one between us—he’d eventually move back to Tulsa and help form a band, Cecada—so I figured he’d have more interest in it than me. He thought it was pretty weird, and I agreed that it was pretty weird, and in agreement that it was pretty weird, we went about our day.
The next night, though, as I went to bed, I began thinking about it again. I could hear it in my mind as my brain kept turning it over and over, trying to figure out what it was. The dial on my radio had very few numbers printed on it, with big, empty gaps between the ones that were there, so I couldn’t get an exact read on what station I was listening to. I had looked at a listing in the Houston Chronicle, but every station between 97.1 and 106.9 that was accounted for wouldn’t have been playing anything like this. Thinking back to earlier in the day, I decided that if I could find the station again, I’d go wake up my brother and ask him to come listen to it. He’d be able to figure out what it was.
It took me a while but I finally located the station again… and it was playing the same “music.” The same “instruments.” The same eerie, calm flow. The same lack of progression. Not wanting to jump the gun—it’d be just my luck that I’d wake up my brother and bring him into the room just as some of station ID came on—I waited to see if the “music” would stop, or change, or if maybe a DJ would come on.
I waited for several minutes.
Then I went and got my brother.
Like me, my brother’s a night owl, and it takes him several minutes and a good cup of coffee to wake him up once he’s been asleep for a while. He shuffled into my room with his eyes half shut, groggy. As I watched his face in the dim orange light of the radio, though, I could see his eyes slowly begin to open with just as much alertness as Folgers gave him. After several seconds of listening, he was wide awake and staring at the radio.
What was it? Did he recognize it? He listens to all sorts of music, and even if he’s not a fan of a particular style or genre he stays pretty up to speed on new groups or movements. Was this something he’d come across before?
He just kept staring at the radio.
Finally, after several moments, he said that it sounded like experimental metal music. Something out of Norway, maybe.
He sounded like he was trying to convince himself just as much as he was trying to convince me.
He just kept staring at the radio.
The “music” continued.
“Turn it off,” he said. And then I did. And then he went back to his room.
Over the next few nights, I’d debate trying to find the station again and listen in. Once I finally made the decision, though, I discovered that just as suddenly as it’d appeared, it was gone. Over the rest of the Fall I’d periodically try and look for it, but I never picked it up again. It’d simply disappeared—presumably back into whatever Lovecraftian realm from which it had come. In the years since I’ve tried to figure out what it was with no success. I’ve toyed with the possibility that it was a numbers station, but, that would only answer half of my questions—and raise a few others, too. Even if it was a numbers station, what sort of instruments were being used? Why had it turned up so suddenly on Houston radio for a week and then disappeared again?
I suppose I’ll never know. I’m simply left to wonder now—usually on Autumn afternoons, when the weather begins to shift, when the sun begins to set—what it was I picked up all those years ago.
And wonder whether I’ll ever hear it again.