Cold Open

by

Matt Blairstone

420 words

Childlike glee filled Ward’s face when he flipped the toggle switch on the radio and was greeted with a sharp squall of static. He had been expecting no reaction at all from the equipment; the communications room-- no more than a tiny chamber, really-- had sat seemingly undisturbed for at least fifty years. Twin gauges glowed, faint electric blue, staring innocuously.

Ward beamed at his good fortune; he had been about his normal maintenance duties at Randolph Carter State Park, had in fact strolled past this specific cluster of oak trees dozens of times during his employ this summer. Pure happenstance had guided his foot to the bunker’s steel door along the forest floor. A bed of leaves and brush had concealed the narrow entrance, three feet by two, beyond which a ladder descended into darkness.

Now within, Ward shone his flashlight about the chamber. A leathery tome lay open beside the radio, uncanny figures and symbols upon its dry pages, an alphabet that Ward could not decipher. 

A separate hand had scrawled various annotations in red pencil along the margins. A string of numbers on one page, 3-20-8-21-12-8-21. Ward flipped to a new page randomly; a crude drawing of a sun, a star, little red lines squiggling out like a child’s version of sunbeams.

He closed the book, returned his attention to the radio. Someone had etched tiny hash marks around the dial, aping the sunbeams from the book. A number was carved beside one of the beams; 121. Ward turned the dial to the number; the staticky squall morphed into something intelligible, the voice of a woman, reciting numbers, clinical, monotone.

“Three… twenty… eight… twenty-one…”

A numbers station! Ward grinned; he’d heard tell of these clandestine legends. His imagination raced with thoughts of espionage and intrigue, so much so that several moments passed before he realized the woman’s voice on the recording had been joined by a second, male voice, lower in the mix but harsher, as if shouting some distance from the microphone.

Void! Light! Earth! Air!” At first in tandem with the counting, then slowly usurping and overtaking the woman’s voice. Ward’s gaze drifted nervously, from the radio to the closed book.

The bunker floor shuddered then, bowed unnaturally, like a robust oak powerless against a hurricane. The stone floor was violently rent open, a fissure like some ancient, waking eye. Ward fell, and fell, and fell. Above, he heard the recorded voice still bellowing.

Void! Light! Earth! Air! Water! Fire! Open the gate! Open the gate…!”