Birthday – Part 3

From the Memoirs of Irwin Morrow

Shrill and sharp as a scalpel, an inhuman scream sliced through the corridor from a torn steel door at the far end.  The door shook in the flickering shadows as though something heavy had been thrown against it from the other side.  There was another shriek in reply and again the door trembled so violently that I feared it might be knocked free from its hinges.

Keeping low, I skirted the edge of the hall and stepped into the first available doorway.  Pressing my ear against the cool metal, I listened for movement inside before punching my code and then, slipped into the darkened room beyond.  A dozen luminous meters, dials, and small monitors adorned shelves and stands above a desk at the far end.  Their wan turquoise light flowed out over the flat of the desk and picked out the cabinet edges and equipment corners that filled the closet-like closeness.

A simple glance spoke to the safety of this room as the quarters would have been made horribly cramped by more than four or five people.  Another muffled monstrous cry cut in from the hall as if to underscore the relative security and to remind me that I would not be leaving this room until the commotion outside died down. 

With some time to spend, I drifted toward the desk and the gentle glow of the lighted panels.  Small rectangular screens rested above knobbed dials on the face of boxy metal machines arranged around a darkened monitor and keyboard.  My eyes drifted over the amalgamation trying to make sense of the whole from the parts.  They worked their way down from the top, eventually coming to rest on the cleared desktop itself. 

It had been topped with a transparent layer of hard plastic beneath which was spread a broad sheet covered in whirls and loops of blue ink.  I cocked my head trying to make sense of the pattern before the image resolved itself into the topography of a map.  I glanced back at the door, looking for gaps in the frame, before reaching out and clicking on the desk lamp.  A harsh, sour cream light lanced out upon the desk forcing me to cringe and squint while my pupils adjusted to the glare.

When the light was no longer painful, I leaned in to pour over the details of the map.  Several points spread across the breadth of the described area had been annotated with block print letters.  In the center, near the top of a mountain ridge was the letter “A” while the letters “B” through “H” spiraled outward spreading across hundreds of miles.  I traced my fingers along the smooth plexiglass protector until they came to rest on the A marker.  Is this where I am?  Does this mean there are others?

A jumble of colliding questions rattling in my head as I turned my attention to the desk drawers.  Though fitted with locks, they pulled open easily.  The side drawers were mostly bare and contained only a few small boxes of office supplies.  From these I added two gridded notebooks and a handful of pens and pencils to my pack.

The center hutch, however, contained something of greater importance.  I squeaked it open last and withdrew the sole item contained within: a hardbound memo book embossed “Ark Alpha”.  I spread the book open under the desk light, thumbing through the pages.

The first page was filled by an intricate circular seal of an eagle soaring above the bow of a great wooden ship.  I stared at the image, straining with mental constipation.  This seal had meaning to me.  Of that much, I was certain.  However, that meaning refused to bubble up from the deep black waters of my memory.

In the end, I gave up and flipped to the next page.  The date had been left blank, but the page was titled “Call Signs and Acknowledgements”.  Below were printed entries for Arks Alpha through Hotel.  Each matched an ark’s name with a call sign and coded radio acknowledgement.

Ark Alpha

Call Sign: Rooster

Acknowledge: Hammer

Ark Bravo

Call Sign: Howl

Acknowledge: Bonnet

Ark Charlie

Call Sign: Wendigo

Acknowledge: Trident

“I’m not alone,” I said to myself barely believing the words even as they formed on my tongue.  A warm spread of hope seeped from my chest into my limbs filling them with new energy and strength.  “I’m not alone,” I repeated with hushed exaltation. 

The following pages held a second list titled “Channels and Frequencies” and I stopped midway through the first page, filled with epiphany.  My gaze drifted up and away from the memo book to once again behold the stacks of gauge faced metal boxes and their softly glowing turquoise light.  It’s a radio!  The realization hit with a slap and filled me with a kind of mania.  At the end of a frantic search, I found the power switch to one of the boxes which I believed to be a transceiver and toggled it on.

The needle bounced as the machine hissed to life before settling on a high frequency channel.  Static crackled from the speakers.  In the stillness, the white noise sounded as a torrential rain.  I froze, even holding my breath, as I listened beyond the static to the hall waiting to hear the approach of whatever fiendish thing laired here.  No clue or sound came from the corridor and, after a long pause, my muscles uncoiled. 

I turned a trembling hand to the transceiver and tuned the dial to the frequency marked for Ark Bravo.  The static dimmed to near silence.  I picked up the microphone and swallowed hard before depressing the bar with my thumb.  “Rooster to Howl.  Rooster to Howl.  Please respond,” I said heart thumping in my chest.

Silence.

I tried again but received nothing more than empty air in response.  Holding the memo book open on the desktop with one hand, I twisted the dial to the next frequency.  This was the one for Ark Charlie and I gripped the microphone ready to call out the indicated hail as soon as the needle finished its journey across the airwaves.  Again, static fell to near silence but as I opened my mouth to speak another voice flowed from the transceiver. 

“Papa.  Tango.  Hotel,” read a monotone male voice.  “Charlie.  Whiskey.  Foxtrot.” A static hiss cut into the message and then it repeated from the start.  The looped recording filled the room as I turned it over in my mind.  What does it mean?  I flipped through the memo book and grasped at straws.  Papa.  Tango.  Hotel.  P-T-H.  Charlie.  Whiskey.  Foxtrot.  C-W-F.  When no significance to these letters surfaced, I scribbled them next to the entry for Ark Charlie in the memo book.

Time was running short and the scratching in the back of my throat reminded me of my priorities.  With reluctance, I closed the memo book and tucked it carefully into my pack.  I toggled off the transceiver and the voice went silent leaving only the leaden weight of loss in my chest.  “I am not alone,” I reminded myself as I pulled the map from beneath the clear plastic.  My eyes made a final scan of the room and came to rest upon a line of handheld radios on a shelf.  I pulled one free, checked the solar cell for function, and then added it to my growing kit.  There was a strange solace in that, like packing a letter from home.

My legs moved with the weight of mountains as I turned away from this safe, comforting lifeline out of my solitude and toward the abhorrent certainty that each step would inevitably lead closer to The Above.  My head spun with the vertigo of the infinite void that was my knowledge of that vacuous place and it was with no small amount of resolve that I pulled myself from the mental mire to continue the journey towards the rest of my life.

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