rating: +3+x

Lost in the woods with only the sound of wind to keep you company, and an ever growing rise of radio static seemingly getting louder and closer.

You find the source, a single walkie-talkie. You can’t use it though, it seems someone is always on the other side, all you hear is static, garbled noise, harsh wind and the occasional abrupt feedback. You can’t turn it off either, you’ve removed the batteries but it still shouts.

You realize you can switch the channel of the radio, hoping it’ll finally quiet down. It works, but not as you expect. The harsh static has shifted as you switch channels to direct, eerily specific messages to you from multiple overlapping voices, some you can distinctly hear are inhuman. You decided to switch back to the static but you still hear the voices deep inside.

“Why are you even in this forest?” The static calls “Are you lost? Like some idiot who filled with hubris decided to venture out into the dark? Are you an unfortunate soul soon to fall victim to whatever calls the darkness home?”

You try to ignore the voices and continue forward into the woods. Wait, what direction are you going now? Are you going deeper into the trees or are you leaving? You thought you were leaving but the repeating foliage makes discernment difficult.

You’ve been walking and hearing the static for so long that you no longer hear it. It’s become part of the nighttime ambiance sound. You still have the radio with you, clinging tightly to it as it spits out insults and doubts, in the vain foolish hope that you reach an area where a new radio frequency takes over and you can ask for help. You begin to doubt help is coming however.

Has that crunch of leaves and branches always been your own steps? Has that howl always sounded so close? Why even bother asking these paranoid question? Because you wonder. Despite the fear, the worry, you still wonder about these things. The desperation to hold onto any fact that cannot be shaken beckons you to ask these questions, even though they only add to your terror.

Would having another physical body to walk with you ease your paranoia? Even if there is a chance their intentions are malice? Would it be better than the lone walk you are currently on? The only proof of humanity being the broken, static disrupted voices cursing you through the radio in your hands? Their vile insults almost tempting you to throw the radio deep into the darkness away from you, yet you strangely cannot stand to do so.

The monotony of sound in these dark woods breaks with a new tone in the distance. It’s far, and quiet but you recognize it instantly; music. A faint, calm electronic melody coming from somewhere before you. You are confused, this new sound should have filled you with hope, but this new change only comes with dread. And questions. Where is this music coming from? Is it actually another soul? Another lost wanderer in these seemingly endless woods? Why haven’t you encountered any animals yet?

No matter how strong a deterrent dread can be, curiosity is a stronger motivator. You press on towards the music, hoping and praying it’s a kind soul that will guide you home. You begin to realize the only natural sounds of the woods you’ve heard all night is rustling leaves and the occasional cricket, but no birds, no growls, no croaks from frogs, it’s as if nature itself has kept silent by the static of your radio. The radio that you’ve kept such a tight grip on that is beginning to feel like it’s impossible to release.

You’ve ventured further into the woods and found the source of the music, a bunker, underground and sealed with a heavy metal door. Faint lights of many colors are seen from between the cracks and the music is clearer now, but still muffled. It’s a tune you recognize, Caramelldansen. Somehow this makes you more afraid.

“Okay so maybe someone’s in there? They have music and lights so they can’t be bad right?” You begin to try and foolishly rationalize an irrational event. You take a deep breath and open the bunker doors and descend inside. For the first time since you picked up the little radio, you hear nothing. The static has stopped, the music has stopped, no more rustling leaves or crickets, nothing but the buzz of the white fluorescent lights that stretch on above you down the hall as far as your eyes can see. You take a moment to enjoy the silence before the static returns, but not from your radio, instead it’s from the overhead speakers. You know it’s the same static, you recognize it. The voices return, distorted and chaotic, confused and pained they screech from overhead, as if they too don’t know what this place is. Behind the discordant cacophony you hear beeps, like Morse code, too soft for you to decipher. The noise is too much so you turn back to go up the stairs and return to the forest, but all you see is the hallway, your stairs are gone.

As you walk through the cold bunker halls, the loneliness of it all begins to sink in, burying you under its weight. You begin to beg desperately to the universe for another soul to cross your path. Even if it was a malicious soul it would then justify your fear, give you a reason to run in terror. Instead you are trapped, who knows how far underground, walking through hallways with walls painted dark green and bright lights buzzing overhead. The voices in the intercom bring no solace, they are too inhuman to give the illusion of companionship.

The echo of your footsteps betray you, make you question if it truly is your footsteps. You stop walking, they stop. Does it mean they were your footsteps? Or did whatever follows stop as well? You continue on, and so do the steps. Through the static overhead blares, you still hear the footsteps above it. Mixed in with the steps is the occasional clink of keys. Did you bring your keys? You can’t remember, but something tells you it’s best not to check. Ignorance is bliss.

This place is clean. Perfectly clean. There are no cobwebs, no stains, no leaks. This place is clearly not abandoned, yet it feels so empty and lifeless. There is meant to be life here, but where is it? The click of footsteps continue to echo as you walk. A creak of a door startles you to stop. It’s a long, drawn out sound, from a door that hasn’t opened in a very, very long time.

You do not see the door. You cannot identify where the sound originated. It opened, and now it’s silent. The static overhead had stopped who knows how long ago, you’ve tuned it out already. Only the sound of your heart beating in your ear, and your heavy breath is heard. No footsteps, no more creaks. But something definitely opened, what opened it?

At long last you find a sign of life, a message written on the wall in marker by a shaky hand, as if they were rushed to write and run. Its message was simple “we aren’t here anymore”.

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