“Welcome to The Night Train. I’m your host Gervase ‘Never Nervous’ Williamson, here with you to serve up the mellowest hits of the 1970s and 1980s. Happy to be back after a three-week hiatus on account of appendicitis. Your man in the moonlight hour is now fully recovered, and ready to play all the favorites. It’s the top of the hour and we’re just getting started. Hang tight and sit pretty, we’ll be taking calls soon. Remember the number is 617-271-WKRB, that’s 617-271-WKRB. We’ve been getting a lot of requests lately to post our weekly playlist to the official website and let me tell you, your voices have been heard and your prayers have been answered. Head on over to our main page following the conclusion of tonight’s show to see the list of songs played throughout its duration. On that note here’s some Hall & Oates, “I Can’t Go For That.” We’ll be back in a few.”
The mics went cool. Gervase stepped away from his panel, eyeing the rest of the studio. It’d been left a mess by the host who had served the hour before him. Potato chip crumbs rounded each corner of the board and equipment had been left out on the ground floor. He glanced over to the glass wall on his right, where two members of production stood, looking in. “My throat is dry, Derek, it’s dry. I can’t come across as a smooth operator if the inside of my mouth has the same texture as sandpaper,” said Gervase.
Derek, the station’s owner and general manager, stood on the opposite side of the glass, nodding his head. He pressed a button and leaned forward. “I know, I know,” he said, his voicing booming over the studio’s intercom. “I sent the intern down to the soda machine five minutes ago.”
Gervase removed his headphones. They dangled around his neck for a moment, then came to a pause. “Am I being difficult here? It’s not like I’m asking for a three-course meal. I requested a damn soda and it still hasn’t arrived. You might want to think about putting some hungrier kids to work. Just saying.”
“Give him a second, alright?” Derek said and peered over to the board-operator, Ivan. “Ive, I’m out of here in ten. Please make sure to lock up properly this time.” He reached down to his belt loop and unclipped a ring of keys. Ivan took them. “I don’t want to come in tomorrow and see muddy footprints or animal droppings in the hall, again.”
“I’m sorry, boss. Won’t happen twice,” said Ivan.
“Damn right it won’t. If we get ransacked or the equipment gets burglarized, that’s it – it’s game over,” said Derek. He placed a hand on Ivan’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly. “We’re a volunteer station for a reason, Ivan.” Derek smiled, then took to the exit.
The halls were quiet, empty. There wasn’t even an echo of the intern’s presence. Derek looked at his watch. It’d been seven minutes now. Three minutes remained on the clock before Gervase would resume broadcasting. “Where the hell are ya, kid?” Derek said to himself, standing in the doorframe.
Inside of the recording studio, Gervase texted the mother of his children ‘goodnight.’ The message was not returned. After a minute, he put his phone away and looked up at Derek and Ivan. “Tick tock on the clock, I want my Coca Cola,” he said, tapping his wrist into the microphone.
Derek responded with an exasperated sigh. He then left the room.
“Ninety seconds till showtime, Gerv,” Ivan said. He placed the circle of keys to his left, on a small desk, and began counting down aloud. “Eighty-nine… Eighty-eight… Eighty-seven…”
Gervase’s forehead had lumped over like a squished carpet. He massaged the creases, hoping it would banish his headache, but it did nothing. “Incompetent fools. Every single one of them,” he said, under his breath.
Derek returned to the room with a soda can in his hand. “How are we doing for time?” he asked Ivan.
“Sixty-six… Sixty fi—little over a minute left,” said Ivan. “Sixty-four…”
Derek transitioned to the recording studio at a brisk pace. The speed of his gait made his comb-over bounce each step of the way. He set the cola down onto Gervase’s table and shrugged. “All they had was diet,” he said. “I have no clue where the intern went. The kid must’ve took off.”
“Peachy,” said Gervase. His eyes were beady and full of contempt. “I can’t drink Diet Coke, there’s aspartame.”
Derek pointed at the breast pocket of Gervase’s blue button down shirt. “What’s that?” he asked, his finger aimed at a pack of cigarettes. Gervase’s eyes glossed over them.
“I’d rather flush my lungs down the toilet than my brains,” said Gervase.
“What brains?” said Derek, smiling.
“Twenty seconds,” Ivan said over the intercom.
“You need to lighten up, Gerv,” said Derek. “It’s a three hour gig, you’re the only person getting paid, and people wait on you hand and foot whenever you’re in studio. You’d think that it would take more than a soda to ruin your day.”
“I’m a sensitive man,” said Gervase, grinning. Using his palm, Gervase roped the can toward his chest. He popped the tab. “Next time I want a bowl of trail mix laid out for my arrival.”
Derek laughed and said, “You’re an ass.”
“Ten seconds,” said Ivan.
Derek sprinted from the recording area. Once more, the transparent wave of blond hair atop his head bounced up and down as he did. Ivan prepped the modules, while Gervase snuck a miniature bottle of Jack Daniels out from the pocket of his jeans. Subtly, he emptied it into his Coke. Not a drop was spared.
“We’re live in five...” said Ivan, “Four… Three… Two…” He raised a finger toward the ceiling. Gervase placed his headphones around his ears.
“That was The Chi-Lites’ “Have You Seen Her”, and this is The Night Train. I am your host Gervase ‘Never Nervous’ Williamson. We’re going to be taking calls and requests in a little bit, but let me ask y’all something. When was the last time you had a truly memorable Fourth of July cookout? ‘Cause I’ll tell you one thing right now, my July 4th was a little half-baked. Pun intended. I had the kids over, the grandkids over, the whole unit… And that was nice, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that. But it just seemed a little played out. Every summer we sit in the back yard, have a few brews, eat a couple of hotdogs, catch up on all the things we already know about because of the magic of Facebook, and then we go our separate ways. I’m starting to think we’ve fallen into regularity, familiarity. Might be time to come up with some new traditions that the founding fathers would approve of. On second thought, if we focused solely on what the pioneers behind this wonderful country would’ve respected, then I’d still have shackles around my ankles right now. Was that too edgy for late night radio?” Gervase looked up at Derek, who was staring into the recording booth, both laughing and making a ‘cut’ gesture with his finger and throat. “Signs to point to yes,” said Gervase. “So let it be known that my views do not reflect that of WKRB 88.2FM and all thoughts and opinions expressed during The Night Train are solely that of yours truly, Gervase ‘Never Nervous’ Williamson,” said Gervase, finally taking a pause to breathe. “My 46th birthday is coming up. Forty-six years young. I only got one birthday wish and it’s for y’all blow up the hotline with some comments, questions, and requests. The number is 617-271-WKRB, that’s 617-271-WKRB. We’ll be back right after the break but first, here’s a message from our sponsors.” The fixture above Gervase’s head flashed from a glowing red ‘on air’ to off.
Ivan hit a button on his board and said over the intercom, “Ads have commenced.”
Gervase glanced at Ivan, then Derek. “Was that good?” asked Gervase, leaning into the microphone. “I feel like I’m not hitting my usual depth.” He took a swig of the Jack and Coke.
Derek returned to Ivan’s board. He laid his finger on the button to the intercom. “You were fine,” said Derek, and he came across genuinely blithe. “If I had to make any suggestions, you already know – lay off the potentially offensive stuff. But do whatever feels natural to you. I’m out of here.” He yanked his finger away from the button as if it were stuck in an outlet. Derek faced Ivan and said, “If you see the intern at all, tell him I’m not pleased and we’ll have a chat tomorrow morning about what’s expected of his work performance. Namely, no wandering off the premises.”
“Understood,” said Ivan.
“And remember, lock up,” said Derek.
Derek smiled and then left the room for the last time.
Gervase emptied his soda can in two long gulps. The warmth of the Jack Daniels fluttered into his stomach, and all at once comforted him. “Igor, what’s the line like?” said Gervase. He crushed the can and then tossed it toward a nearby waste bin, but missed.
To Ivan’s left, not far from the building’s keys, was a receiver of incoming calls. None of the buttons were lit up, indicating zero activity. “Nil,” said Ivan.
Gervase sighed. “What else is new? Let’s take the first caller we get. Fuck screenin’em. Good or bad, we’re gonna work through it.”
“You sure about that?” Ivan said, grinning. He adjusted his glasses.
“Why not? Let’s live large. Make somebody’s night.” Just as Gervase finished his sentence, a button on the receiver lit up.
“We got one.” Ivan picked up the phone.
“Jennifer. Boston. Cookouts,” said the caller, labeling what the automated message requested of her – her name, location, and the topic to be discussed. Ivan transferred the call to the studio’s main line.
“Jennifer’s waiting for you,” said Ivan.
“That’s her name? Jennifer? How much longer till we come back?”
“A little under a minute.”
“Just enough time then,” said Gervase. He glanced down at the show’s schedule. Its list of songs and advertisements were planned out to a T. Each title corresponded to a specific minute in time. Gervase scanned over the upcoming break. “Since when was Stevie Nicks considered mellow?” “Edge of Seventeen” had been printed as a song to lead into the next commercial block. Gervase crumpled the schedule. “This is the least consistent ‘easy listening’ station I’ve ever been apart of.”
“Gervase, don’t take this the wrong way, but if I were you I’d just be happy to be employed,” said Ivan, staring down at the board, trying not to sound too confrontational.
Amused by his gall, Gervase forced a grin. “You know, I don’t recall asking your opinion,” he said. “But when I do, then feel free to start spouting off horseshit.”
“I’m not trying to be rude, I’m just saying… If I had gone on a bender and needed a month in Ocean Breeze to recover, lord knows I wouldn’t have come out to a stable financial situation. We don’t all have college friends to fall back on when times get rough.”
“Fuck you, Igor.”
“Five… Four… Three… Two…” said Ivan, and then he raised his finger to the sky.
Gervase exhaled through his nose. Without missing a beat, he dropped the frustration in his voice and began, “Welcome back to The Night Train, ladies and gentlemen. I’m your host Gervase ‘Never Nervous’ Williamson broadcasting east on the bank of the River Charles. It’s 12:20, and we’re about to take some calls. Apparently I managed to stir the hive with my opinions on a topic as benign as Fourth of July cookouts, so let’s hear what you have to say.” On his board, Gervase tapped a button. White noise ran through his headphones. “State your name and where you’re from, Caller Number One.”
“Hi, my name is Jennifer and I’m from South Boston,” said Jennifer. “First time listener, first time ca—”
“Get on with your point, Jen,” said Gervase. “What’s your beef – pun intended.”
“Oh, uh… Well, I don’t really have any complaints about what you said. I just wanted to add on to it.”
“By all means,” said Gervase.
“Well maybe we could integrate cake into the Independence Day festivities? Like, a red velvet Carvel with vanilla ice cream and blue raspberry sprinkles. I think that could liven up the day.”
“I like your thinking, Jen,” he said. “I like your thinking.” Ivan flipped to the next caller. “We just heard Jennifer’s advice on how to improve your holiday, now how about yours, Caller Number Two? State your name and where you’re from.”
“Clay from Dorchester,” said Clay from Dorchester. “I’d like to ask you about something else, though, if that’s okay.”
“Miscellaneous. I like it. Shoot.”
“I’ve been listening to your show for about six years now and I just got around to finding the Facebook page. I was just wondering if that was you in the picture, the default one.”
“Yes, that is indeed my suave self,” said Gervase.
“You know, it’s funny you mention being suave,” said Clay, “I was expecting an Isaac Hayes impersonator because of your voice, but you actually kind of look like Chris Rock in New Jack City. Have you ever gotten that—”
Gervase hit the ‘reject’ button, dumping the call and Clay. The line flipped to the next listener. “Seems we’re having some technical difficulties going on here with Clay,” said Gervase. “Must be some faulty reception. We’ll try to get him back on in a few. Next caller?”
“Gervase?” said the caller, sounding anxious. The voice was high-pitched, yet grainy. “Never Nervous Gervase?”
“That’s my name,” said Gervase, “So how about an introduction, stranger? What’s yours, and where are you from?”
“I’d prefer not to share my real name at this time, given the subject matter I’d like to discuss,” said the caller. “But you can call me ‘Bill.’ I’m from Cambridge. Not far from your station, actually.”
“Well, Bill,” said Gervase, “What’s on your mind tonight?”
“I’ve been listening to your show for a while now and it feels like I’ve established a connection with you,” said ‘Bill.’ “You listen to someone for long enough and they feel like a friend, like someone you’ve known your entire life.”
“I’m happy to hear that, Bill,” said Gervase, doing his best to come across sincere. “We here at The Night Train like to create a bond with all our listeners.” He signaled to Ivan with a special hand gesture they’d created years earlier, after a string of prank callers harassed their line for hours. With his arm raised, Gervase tapped the middle of his palm with his middle and forefinger. Ivan saw the sign and nodded. “You know, Bill, I’ve been doing this for a little over two decades and not once have I gotten tired of hearing that. I think it means we’re doing something right.”
Bill gave a sigh of relief. It made the phone’s audio choppy, distorted. “Okay, good, I feel a little better about this then,” said Bill. “I just wanted someone to open up to. I don’t really have any friends or family, so it’s kind of hard to keep these kinds of things pent up, you know?”
“Do I ever,” said Gervase, staring at his phone. On the screen was a text message from Ivan, labeling the man’s information.
Bill. Cambridge. Pregnancy.
“I wanted to ask for your advice,” said Bill. “I’ve been going through some hard times lately and…” His voice quivered. “I’m just really scared, is all. I’ve been dreading what’s about to happen.”
Gervase swallowed and wet his lips. “Now Bill, you sound like a tough guy,” said Gervase, “A rugged man. How old are you?”
“I’m thirty-seven,” said Bill, still shaken.
Gervase grinned. “Thirty-seven years old. What, at thirty-seven years of age, could you possibly be frightened of? The worst is already behind you. When I was your age the only thing I had to sweat was the birth of my fourth child,” said Gervase. This was a lie, intended to speed the man along. In actuality, Gervase’s youngest was born six years before then. “But you know what? I held on tight, rode the ride, and came out looking just fine. Now I’m the proud daddy of four happy and healthy, successful children.”
“I keep getting calls in the middle of the night,” said Bill. The words caught Gervase off guard. He squinted his eyes at the ‘on-air’ sign above and considered shooting Ivan the ‘wrap it up’ look. Said-look consisted of raising one eyebrow and giving a thumbs down. “Sometimes it’s strangers, sometime it’s not. I can’t even understand what they’re saying most of the time, it’s just mumbling. NASA’s been ringing my phone off the hook, too. Every day, it seems. Meanwhile I can’t even get the president to return my calls; it’s just getting ridiculous with him.”
“What’s the deal, buddy?” Gervase said, rolling his chair closer to the mic. He gazed down at his phone, exhausted. “Says here you’re expecting a baby, so if you want to talk children, let’s talk children – but I’m not in the mood for entertaining crank call—”
“I’m not lying,” said Bill. Anxiety had burst free of his voice, leaving behind undiluted confidence.
“You’re going to have to explain things a little better then,” said Gervase. “Right now you’re coming across a little scattershot.”
“Okay,” said Bill, and he gathered himself. “Something happened to me a while back. Maybe five or six months ago. I’ll sound crazy if I tell you, though. The whole planet will think I’m nuts.”
“Bill, the farthest this broadcast will reach is southern New Hampshire. I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” said Gervase.
“Right, well… Like I said, it was about six months ago,” said Bill. “I was laying in bed, probably asleep – honestly, I don’t remember. All I can recall are flashing lights. Green, white, and some other color. I think it was gray. They were all in a spiral and it was like some sort of three-dimensional, all engulfing pinwheel. It emanated heat. I could physically feel warmth coming from it with every twirl. It’s the only reason I know I wasn’t dreaming.”
“Three-dimensional pinwheel. Got it,” said Gervase, smirking.
“I know how it sounds,” said Bill, rushing his words. “I shot up from my bed right afterward, either out of my sleep or whatever paralysis that was. When I did, I had a message in my head. There was something, a thought, implanted in my brain by a foreign entity.”
“Was it Borat?” said Gervase. “Wa wa wee wa.”
“Stop it,” Bill croaked. “Do not make light of this.”
“Sorry,” said Gervase. “Continue.”
“Not if you’re going to mock everything I say,” said Bill. “This is important. This is going to change the world.”
“Bill, I got to take a commercial break in two minutes,” said Gervase. “You’re going to have to talk a little faster if you want your story to be known.”
Bill caught his breath. “Do you believe in aliens, Gervase?” he asked.
“Aliens? Little green men on Mars looking to conquer the planet Earth? No, I do not. But I think there might be a couple of spores out there. Maybe some fungi on Jupiter. Who knows?” said Gervase. “Why, is this one of those alien abduction stories? Is that what you’re getting at here? Because I’m no Art Bell.”
“Abduction, no,” said Bill. Static ran through the phone line. “They didn’t take me anywhere. They showed me something that was here. That is here, and has been all along. We can’t see it in our regular mode of consciousness. It’s not programmed. Like I said, the best my mind could make of it was a multi colored, three-dimensional pinwheel. It sounds silly. But if you put a Neanderthal in a scuba suit and asked him to the describe the bottom of the ocean, do you think he could do much better?”
“No,” said Gervase, “Look, Bill, I’m going to keep you on the line to talk to after the break. For your sake, I hope you have something good to deliver. Will you stay on the phone?”
“I don’t know how much longer I have,” said Bill. The energy and excitement that had hiked his voice was gone. On the line was a deflated man.
“Just five minutes, hang tight,” said Gervase. “On that note, here’s a message from our sponsor.” With the touch of a button, Gervase cut the broadcast from the airwaves. A ‘1-877-Cars-For-Kids’ commercial played. The ‘on-air’ sign dimmed. “Bill, you still there?”
There was more static. “Yes,” he said.
“Listen, lay off the talk of phone calls. Nobody’s gonna believe you have NASA blowing up your answering machine,” said Gervase.
“It’s true, though,” said Bill. “I haven’t stretched the truth once since I picked up the phone.”
“Right,” said Gervase, rolling his eyes, “I’m sure you’re being sincere. However, we’ve only got so much time to dedicate to callers. Meat and potatoes only, man. So, tell me, where is your story heading exactly? I’m having trouble following along.” Gervase looked up at the board. Ivan had been gawking at him the entire time, waiting to make a ‘cut’ gesture. When he did it, Gervase shook his head and mouthed ‘no’.
“If I tell you on the phone then they’ll drop your broadcast,” said Bill.
“Who, NASA? Or is it the NSA this time?”
“What? No, neither,” said Bill.
“Starsky and Hutch.”
“For fuck’s sake, Bill, I’m about to hang up the damn phone.”
“No, no, don’t do that,” said Bill, frantic.
“My time is being wasted here,” said Gervase, “If you’ve got a compelling story to tell, whether it’s real or made up, I’ll give you an audience. But if you start to trail off into kooksville again, then I got to hang up. Point blank, period.”
“There are rats in the walls,” said Bill, his voice stern but low.
“Fascinating… I’m going to take a piss break real quick. You stay on the line, alright?”
Gervase muted his microphone and got up. Ivan opened the door for him as he removed his headphones and left the recording area. “This guy is fifty-one fifty,” said Gervase, walking through the threshold.
“Why are we bothering with this nut?” said Ivan. He raised a paper cup filled with coffee to his mouth.
“Two reasons,” said Gervase, “A., It’ll give us something to do besides twiddle our thumbs and play Jackson 5 album. And B., I just like fucking with people.”
“I don’t think that Derek will be happy about this.”
“You really believe he gives a shit what happens on his station after midnight? Please. We have a guy on the line who is either legitimately schizophrenic or a passible fraud. Did you not hear him? He thinks aliens abducted him. Let’s milk this for what we can and then afterward, if it’ll make you feel better, we’ll phone the police.”
“Seems wrong, Gerv. We shouldn’t be taking advantage of a man’s illness.”
“We’re not taking advantage,” said Gervase, “It’s mutually advantageous. We get a show, he gets some help… probably.” Ivan was unconvinced. “Look, how ‘bout this, I’ve been working in radio for almost twenty-one years now. For the past ten, I’ve been offered nothing but two types of shows: old school hip-hop hours, and this. Let me have my Howard Stern moment.”
“Whatever you want…” said Ivan. He finished his coffee just as Gervase started to walk away. “Not even back a day and already going for double or nothing. You know who’s getting the brunt of the hate if things go south.”
Gervase said nothing. He plopped down into his seat, waiting for the clock to run out. Thirty seconds before they would return to the radio, he unmuted his microphone. “Still there, Bill?” he said, leaning forward. There were no expectations for a response. But he got one.
“I’m here,” said Bill. He was calmer.
“We’re live in twenty-five,” said Gervase, “You ready to pick up where you left off?”
“I’m lost,” said Bill. “I thought I knew where I was but I can’t find the exit now.”
“That’s great, Bill,” said Gervase, “Just be ready when you hear my voice.”
The clock wound down…
“We’re back to The Night Train. I’m your host Gervase ‘Never Nervous’ Williamson. If you’ve been tuning in then you know we have a guest on the line, Mr. Bill Doe, who was sharing his story of abduction and transcendence. Bill, could you—” A screech tore through the speakers of nearly three thousand radios. Gervase reeled back in his seat. The sound, which was like tires being brought to an abrupt halt, had caused him to toss his headphones away. Cautious, Gervase pulled forward, wetting his lips, and said, “My lord… Bill, are you okay? You there?”
“I told you it wasn’t an abduction,” said Bill.
Hearing his voice was somewhat of a relief. “My apologies,” Gervase said, and let go of a deep breath. “Can you clarify what happened then? For our new listeners.”
“They peeled a layer back,” said Bill. “I saw another reality. A place overlapping our own universe. In there, something happened.”
“Who are they?”
“I don’t know,” said Bill. “Calling them ‘aliens’ might be too simplistic of a term. But I felt their presence… They translated their message into my thoughts, made it seem natural even though it wasn’t. I knew better.”
“I feel the same way every time I see a Hilary Clinton advert,” said Gervase. “What was the message they passed onto you?”
“Gervase, you know I can’t tell you that. Not right now,” said Bill. “I am sort of a… threshold… for these things. I’m not even exactly sure what I mean by that, but I’ve been told that something of importance will occur—soon—because of me.”
“That’s just… that’s fascinating,” said Gervase, unamused. “But how soon is soon?”
“What time is it now?”
“Little after twelve-thirty.”
“Your show ends at three in the morning, doesn’t it?”
“Don’t you dare think about dragging this out, Bill. Can’t be leaving the listeners hanging. You got to give us some closure while we’re on-air.”
“It’s not up to me. I can’t rush this,” said Bill. He was manic. The volume of his voice elevated, then dropped, then elevated. “If I rush it then something bad will happen. I’ll get hurt and the whole objective will be jeopardized.”
“Easy now,” said Gervase. “I was just playing around with you, Bill.” He looked up at Ivan, concerned. Discomfort mounted the air. The thought of cutting the line crossed his mind, more than once. But he stuck to it. “We got till the early hours of the morning here on The Night Train. That’s what we’re about. Quality sounds after midnight.”
Even if those sounds are delusional ramblings, Gervase thought.
“We got to play a little bit of music, but we’ll be back with Mr. Bill Doe after the break. Here’s “Edge of Seventeen” by Stevie Nicks,” said Gervase, and he hit the ‘off-air’ button. “Bill, you need to fill me in here. Where are we going with this? What’s the punchline? I can’t keep you on for the next break if you don’t shed some light. It’s getting dull.”
“I’m sorry, it’s out of my control,” said Bill.
“I’m not dragging your story out unless you give me some facts, some direction, pin points, anything that’ll help me decide whether or not I’m wasting precious airtime.”
There was crackling on the other end of the phone. “I’m almost there,” Bill said.
“I said I’m almost there.”
“Where? The station?” said Gervase, his eyebrows raised.
“Your studio,” said Bill.
There was silence.
Gervase grinned nervously. “You must be confused,” he said. “I think you mean the statio—”
“No,” said Bill, “I mean the room where you record.”
“That’s impossible,” said Gervase. “We closed our doors to the public six hours ago. You’re confused, Bill.” Gervase drew out his phone. “Now look, if you’re interested in coming by for a visit…” He started to text Ivan, ‘REPORT HIS # TO 911 ASAP’ “…then I’m sure we could set something up.” He hit send. “I could give you a grand tour of the place. How does that sound?” Before Bill could answer, something–to the far left–had caught Gervase’s attention. There was a strange man on the other end of the glass, hunched over in the doorframe behind Ivan, who remained clueless. Gervase set his phone down. He leaned into the microphone. “Ivan, is that the intern behind you?”
Bemused, Ivan cocked his head. It wasn’t. Ivan had never seen him before.
There was a wild look in the man’s eye, like that of an animal who’d just narrowly avoided death. His skin was a sweat-glazed, ghastly white. Centered within two sunken, deep violet circles was a pair of bright blue eyes. They slinked from left to right like pinballs.
Ivan and the intruder had begun to talk, but because Ivan had failed to hit the intercom button, Gervase was incapable of making out a single word. There were scuffs all along the sleeves of the man’s jacket. A tear had developed in the area between his left arm and chest, revealing cheap beige material that lined the navy sports coat. Out of the blue, Ivan stood up. His hands were raised in a defeatist gesture to calm the man. That’s when Gervase noticed that the intruder had been holding a switchblade by his side. It glistened against the fluorescent lights. He raced to the sound room entrance. “What’s going on?” he said, flinging the door open.
The intruder’s eyes had tracked over to Gervase. When the recognition hit him, he grinned. “Gervase…” It was Bill’s voice. “It’s going to be incredible,” the man said, his gaze locked on him. “It’s still early, but now that I’m here—actually here—I’ll let you see what it is I’ve been waiting to show you.”
“Put down the knife,” said Gervase. Ivan backed up several feet, closer to the recording area. He opened his phone and scrambled to hit ‘911’. To Gervase and Ivan’s surprise, however, that didn’t seem to bother Bill.
“I was instructed to share this moment with someone of importance,” said Bill. He seemed light of breath. Wheezy.
“You came to the wrong station then,” said Gervase. “Should’ve taken a left on Abbott, Matt Lauer’s right up the road.”
“I’ve been listening to your show for almost a decade, Gervase. You’ve been like a close friend to me,” said Bill. Mucus had started to dribble out of his nostril. It didn’t seem to bother him.
“I appreciate it, but please, just turn around and leave. We don’t need any trouble tonight. This can all end without any lives getting ruined.”
“You don’t understand. I’m a portal. A gateway. There’s no turning back now. And I wouldn’t want to even if I could. This is going to change the human race,” said Bill. “It will be a defining moment in our history. Their kind will transition into our reality.”
It wasn’t Bill’s words that disturbed Gervase. It was his sincerity. Although he appeared deranged, there wasn’t an ounce of delusion in his face. He rattled it all off like a normal person would statistics, or the day’s weather. “We can get you back home safe,” said Gervase. “Let us help you.” Bill took a step forward and raised the knife.
“It’s a dream,” said Bill. “We’re living in a dream.” One after another, Bill cut the buttons off of his shirt until his bloated, white stomach was exposed. There was something wrong with it. It had gone beyond the typical, enlarged ‘alcoholic’ belly and stretched into a clay-like disfigurement. Ivan, mesmerized by it, put his phone away just as 911 began to dial. Bill rested the tip of the blade just above his navel.
“Please stop,” said Gervase. Anxiety drowned his voice. “You don’t need to prove anything to us. I believe you. You’re a portal. I got it. Now please, put the knife away and walk out.” Bill blatantly ignored Gervase’s request and, instead, carved at the center of his stomach. He dug the knife in tip-deep at first, then slid it in clean. Bill took a step back as the sensation of pain and heat and relief swarmed his abdomen. Ivan winced at the first drop of blood. “Enough!” said Gervase.
The blade drifted upward, right beneath Bill’s sternum. Thick channels of blood drained from the aching wound, painting his once-brown boots scarlet. “You’ll see,” said Bill, frowning. His voice was no longer anxious, but lethargic. He gently twirled the switchblade between his ribs, as if searching for something. Blood ran from his mouth as he did and created a yellow glaze over his teeth. “You’ll—” Bill coughed, and then something inside him snapped. Literally snapped. He looked up at Gervase and Ivan, who were paused in the corner, fighting a wave of disbelief. There was happiness in his eyes. Pure, unadulterated joy.
Bill twisted the knife one last time. He then removed it, sideways. Gervase could tell he didn’t have much time left. The skin of his body had become translucent. Every vein in his face and neck could have been outlined. It was amazing he hadn’t passed out.
“You’ll know now,” Bill said, choking on his blood. One of his knees buckled and he almost collapsed to the ground. He managed to regain his balance, barely, and kept his feet steady. With two fingers Bill pushed into the slit he had created. His middle and pointer fished around in unison for something. Overwhelmed with the pain, he groaned. But Bill continued. It was almost over.
“What the fuck,” said Gervase, his voice soft and vulnerable. Ivan remained quiet. He hadn’t moved once since the incision was made, committing to the same amount of motion as someone catatonic.
“I’ve got it,” Bill moaned. “I’ve got it.”
He withdrew his fingers from his stomach. Clenched behind them, in his palm, was a small, bloodied object. Bill stared down at it, confused. It wasn’t what he expected. All at once his body tumbled to the floor. Exhaustion had set in, and it would take his life.
In his dying moments he made sure to protect the object. He held it tight, but not too tight. When the time was right, and Bill could feel himself passing, he released his palm.
Gervase and Ivan looked to one another, puzzled. Whatever Bill had been gripping was full of light. It gave off a dim glow against his ghostly skin. The thing had shape to it. It was round at the bottom, with a jagged neck and head.
“Check his pulse and see what that is,” said Gervase. The words came out sounding empty, like he’d been punched in the gut just before speaking.
“No,” said Ivan. It was the last thing he’d say for that night. Gervase took a step forward but then stopped himself when the object twitched. It only did this once before ultimately stilling.
The glow faded like a dying bulb. Energy that had given the object dimension and character was now removed, leaving behind a near flat, gelatin-esque fetus. “Lord in heaven…” said Gervase, putting a hand to his mouth. The body, if you could call it that, looked like an elaborate maze drawn in pencil. Deep impressions and curves ran throughout its figure. Its head, on the other hand, appeared fully formed and bird-like, with a shapely nose and mouth. There was a defined brow with a deep impact just above two slits. Gervase curled his head to Ivan, who still had yet to move a muscle. “Come over here,” he said. Ivan paced to the bodies slowly. Upon closer view, the sight of the creature made his jaw unhinge.
Gervase looked at him, awaiting a response of some sort, a suggestion as to what to do next. But Ivan didn’t deliver one. Frustrated, Gervase exhaled and buried his face in his hands. “You know what we’re gonna do?” he said, and raised his head. “We’re gonna call the police and explain what happened. Obviously not the exact way that it unfolded, but close to it.” He looked at the finely sculpted, condensed blob of white. “And that…” Gervase said, pointing down at the stillborn, “That, we are going to flush down the toilet.”
Jayme Karales is the author of DISORDERLY, the director of WIZARD, and the producer of TRUANT. His work has been published by Thought Catalog, The Rebel, Underground Books, and many others.