Short Fiction

The Radio Man

Even at the funeral, he still smelled like our old college dorm: Redbull and instant ramen. His hand slapped against my shoulder and his fingers wriggled around my suit. 

“Sorry about the pops, Willie,” he remarked, looking from me down to the steel coffin that rested at the bottom of the hole in front of us. I exhaled, contemplating how he still refused to call me Will and pronounced Willie like “Will-lay.”

“Thanks for coming, Luke.” I moved my gaze away from the hole and observed his green eyes, set into a stout face atop an Armani suit. I turned to the shoulder where his hand rested, and saw a silvery watch squeezing his wrist. He lowered his hand, rubbing it across the scruff that cultivated on his chin as he peered down into the hole again.

“I would say it’s the least I could do, but then I would be lying.” Luke let that sink in for a moment before he glanced up to me with an impish grin I recalled from nights in college when he would suggest we spontaneously take a trip to see a famed archaeological site. Now, instead of inspiring thoughts of Stonehenge or the Giza Necropolis, his words and that smirk prompted my mind to dash to thoughts of a donation to cover the funeral costs. Or maybe an expensive dinner at that sushi place down the road. Or perhaps he had a few flowers in his Mercedes at the curb.

“Have you ever been to Coeus?” I’d never heard of the place, but a vacation? Yeah, I could use that, I considered. 

“No, I haven’t.” Maybe it was somewhere in the Caribbean. My mind drifted onto a beach with—

“I was there on business with some of my archeologist buddies a few days ago. It’s way off in the Arctic Ocean,” he clarified. Unless freezing his ass off is his idea of a vacation, then he’s onto something else, I thought. He explained that “We found someone who I think could help you out with all of this.”

“What do you mean?”

“I know you and your father were never really close, Will.” A knot formed in my stomach when I heard him say “Will” with conviction and felt the earnestness of his voice. “I also understand that you wanted to fix that once you found a job and got everything figured out. But now this… God, I’m sorry.” I tried to thank Luke and move away from the same damned subject everyone that day had been on, but choked when the image of my dad’s lifeless body lying in the coffin managed to break into my mind again, when every memory of a moment when I could have sat down and spoken with him gripped my throat like a thousand fierce hands.

“I’ll cut to the chase: come with me to Coeus tonight and you’ll be able to start getting rid of that regret.” My legs quivered as I commanded them to step away from the hole. I met those emerald spheres again when I glanced at Luke. “Please Will, let me help you.”

From the private jet, Coeus looked like a lonesome traveler freezing to death in the ocean: the few buildings it harbored glowed atop its surface, but the darkness of the night in conjunction with the inky waves bashing themselves against its sides completely isolated the tiny island. I squinted, attempting to comprehend what could possibly be here to help me. One building that smaller ones grew around looked like a hotel, with an exterior made of wooden logs and sizable windows spewing out illumination. My eyes moved away from the building, fixing themselves on what lay toward the edges of the isle. Nearby was a mouth screaming for help—a cave that ingested the light the buildings of Coeus generated.

We landed in a quaint airport that the island housed and then took a shuttle to the building I had seen, which I learned was indeed a hotel. Luke showed me around its expansive halls, luxury dining areas, and alluring bars. Every room was bustling, filled with people dressed in dazzling clothing. Most of them adored Luke, shaking his hand or giving him a hug or a kiss or all three in quick succession, usually including a question somewhere throughout: “Hey, when can I tune in next?” one lady had asked. One man had been especially eager, calling after Luke as we began to leave the bar, “Does tomorrow work for you? No? Damn. How about Friday? Yes? Yes! I’ll see you then!” 

Luke eventually brought me to my room, instructing me to meet him in the lobby at 4 the next morning and to stay faithful to his promises of relief and alleviation.

That morning, we hurried onto a snowmobile outside the hotel. The vehicle cut across the icy surface of the island as we left. Gradually, the building’s glow died out. I looked ahead, and the gaping mouth grew larger, swallowing that light.

The two of us entered the cave, each armed with a flashlight. Observing my surroundings, I directed the beam into the darkness. Just like with the light of the hotel, the cave devoured it. 

Luke guided me through a corridor that emerged from the shadows. As we walked, I became baffled by the passageway. It couldn’t have been less than 20 minutes we trudged through that bleak hall, with no noticeable change in elevation. All the while I thought of how shallow the cave had looked last night while I was viewing it from the jet.

When the path gave way to a cavern, there was apparently nothing but more darkness and bitter cold.

“Alright Luke, will you tell me what’s going on here already?” I snapped. 

“A little bit further in,” he ordered before walking into the abyss. I managed to catch up to him, but before I could chastise him, he aimed his flashlight downward, shedding light on… a corpse? A man dressed in a dirtied green suit lay unmoving, sprawled across the ground, his skin drained of life, but his mouth still open, facing the stalactites that hung overhead. I peered a bit closer, noting how the body’s eyes were also open, revealing the lifeless orbs underneath.

“This is the Radio Man,” he declared, “ and he can answer damn near any question you have. Watch.” 

Luke cleared his throat, “Why did my dad leave me when I was ten?” The body that lay on the ground twitched a moment, each limb being injected with life. Then, the torso flew upward, but its legs remained carelessly positioned across the ground, and its head craned backward. With the body sitting up, I began to hear a buzzing sound emitting from the mouth that still faced upward. It crackled and whined, like the sound of tuning to a radio station. It grew louder and louder until the head flicked down to face me and Luke. Its voice didn’t exactly fit its body when it spoke, as if it had tuned to a random frequency and chose to use whoever was also there for its voice.

“Your father was having an affair with a woman who lived in Nebraska.” The lips didn’t move when the answer came out, and once those words, laced with static, were in the air, the body collapsed back to its resting position. 

Luke smiled at me. “Ask him some questions about your dad, some things you never had the chance to!”

A thousand—no, a million—possible questions ricocheted throughout my mind. My eyes were fixed on the Radio Man as my thoughts returned to the funeral. My father had been at peace laying within his coffin, his body adorned in a sky blue suit and fitted with the few pieces of jewelry he had accumulated. That image now stood in stark contrast to the Radio Man.

 “It’s like he’s right in front of you, Will!” Luke beamed. I looked up from the body and at him. His eyes eagerly awaited my next move. My desire to return to the hotel grew until it was squashed by my considerations of why the people there had praised Luke, and why they all seemed to wear designer clothes. They were paying Luke for a shot at getting rid of their grief, even if deep down they knew the Radio Man never could bring back their loved ones, but only serve as a heartless speaker for knowledge resurrected by this bizarre machine. Looking back down to the Radio Man now, all I wanted to say was, “Dad, I’m sorry. I lost my only chance with you.”

Instead, I pushed past Luke. He cried out, “Willie! You can’t just leave! You need to pay! You bastard!” 

I paused, looking down the corridor ahead of me. The void stared back. I wouldn’t be able to escape Luke. He clearly understood more about this anomalous destination than myself. But there was someone who knew more than Luke. Who, apparently, knew everything.

I pivoted back to Luke. His face contorted so that his eyebrows flared up and that wicked grin returned. I looked back down to the Radio Man and cleared my throat. I could hear Luke’s hands rubbing together as I opened my mouth. “What’s the quickest way to get off of this island without dying?” 

Luke inhaled sharply and bent down to the Radio Man, his hands poised, acting as if there was some “off” switch he could access. Suddenly, when the Radio Man’s torso jolted upward, its chest bashed against Luke’s face, sending him backward, his nose oozing blood. I turned to help Luke, but his clenched fist demanded me to look back at the corpse.

The Radio Man recited in its voice laden with the uneasy textures of an old radio’s audio, “The corridor to my left leads to the airport you arrived at last night. A plane is leaving in 5 minutes. Board the plane,” before crumpling back down. 

I pointed my flashlight in the direction the Radio Man had referenced and sprinted toward it. Just as the oddity had explained, there was a passageway there. At the very end, I could see light beckoning me forth. I ran toward it.

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