“Man has gone out to explore other worlds and other civilizations without having explored his own labyrinth of dark passages and secret chambers, and without finding what lies behind doorways that he himself has sealed.”
― Stanisław Lem, Solaris
I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.
I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.
Here’s another one for today (#49). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.
Thanks for reading.
Winston Devine was always something of a hoarder… not too bad, but he liked his stuff. The quarantine lockdown kept him from going to his favorite thrift store and it was hard on him. When things began to free up and Thrift World opened for two hours a day (with social distancing and a mask requirement) Winston was excited.
There is a certain smell of a big thrift store – mostly a slight musty odor from those vast racks of used clothes – and Winston was happy that Thrift World still had it. It brought back such good memories of bargains found and purchased. He had a route through the store where he wound looking for what he was interested in. He always found things he liked – he was looking for different things than the usual poverty-stricken denizen was.
It the back corner was a giant plastic bin full of obsolete, useless electronics. Single and scuffed speakers, old phones, DVD players, audio cassette recorders, phone answering machines, overhead projectors, VCRs, broken printers, fax machines… all the detritus of fast-changing technology. A hand lettered sign was taped to the wall, “Old Electric.” The items were tagged with color-coded stickers indicating the price.
Winston couldn’t help a quick dig. At the least it sent a surge of nostalgia through him. From near the bottom he lifted out what looked like an old radio. It reminded of a portable tube set that his father had when he was a little kid.
Clad in reddish leather it was a rectangular box about the size of a loaf of bread. It even had a leather strap handle on the top like the one his father had owned. It sported a purple dot which Winston knew represented a buck. For a dollar he’d buy it – even if it didn’t work.
At home he sat down at his kitchen table with the bargain, excited to figure out if he could it to do something. His father’s old radio had opened up with two snaps on the back and contained a huge plastic tube that required nine “D” batteries – electronics from that age weren’t very efficient.
But on this unit the back was featureless leather. Turning it over, there was no opening on the sides or bottom, either. The top only contained the carrying strap.
“How the hell does this thing get power?” he muttered to himself.
On the front there were two large silver knobs on either side – one labeled “Vol” the other “Tun.” Between them was a linear tuning dial with three lines and a red slider that moved across it. Below the dial was a simple sliding switch.
“Well, that looks right,” he said to nobody.
But that was all there was. It was too simple, there should have been more stuff on it. He was confused because there was no logo or brand name… no “Zenith” or “GE” emblazoned proudly. Maybe it had fallen off.
Winston gave the volume knob a twist and after a click the tuning dial lit up with a strong blue glow. The thing worked! He was elated.
The slide switch had three positions. AM, FM, and the third had a symbol that looked like a stylized swirl. He set it to AM, turned the volume up and began to scan.
Each time he turned the tuning knob, even a fraction, sound began to come out of the radio. It was crisp and distinct. Winston smiled as he thought about how well stuff was made back then.
The odd thing was, the stations weren’t all in English. Few were, as a matter of fact. As he tuned he realized the radio was picking up stations from all over the world. Picking them up strong and clear like they were right next door. It was receiving hundreds of stations.
When he reached the end of the dial, he switched the radio to FM and moved back down. Again, every tiny movement tuned in another station from somewhere in the world, strong and distortion free. There was no static. There was music from all genres and talk in every imaginable language.
Winston was confused. He had no idea how this thing was working like that. Then he noticed something else. The radio had no speaker grill. He turned it around in his hands and could not figure out where the music was coming from. It seemed to be radiating out of the whole radio in all directions. And he noticed that the radio was pristine. The leather was completely unmarked… no scratches or stains. The dials were perfect. How was that possible on an old radio that ended up in a thrift store?
He was beginning to freak out. There was no way this was possible. On the other hand, it was an amazing bargain. He had only paid a buck for it. It had AM and FM bands – but what was that third switch position. Maybe it was short wave.
He looked more closely at the dial. On the FM and AM lines were numbers, frequencies, like he expected. On the third line, however there was a series of small circles. Each circle was labeled in tiny lettering that read:
These were names of stars, he recognized that. Looking at the sliding switch he realized that the symbol on the third position was a stylized galaxy. It was crazy.
Taking a deep breath, he tuned the radio to Arcturus and switched the band to the galaxy. Immediately an odd series of clicks and tones started pouring out of the radio. He had never heard anything remotely like those sounds. They were completely alien. Alien. The word stuck in his mind.
He began to turn the dial, working through the names. Each one had a completely different sound – Betelgeuse was an odd wailing, while Canopus sounded almost like whale song with an oboe playing in the background. Capella A and B sounded similar, though A was at a higher pitch. Nothing, though was familiar at all… it was all… alien.
Until he reached Sirius. When the red line crossed that little circle Winston was shocked to hear “I Get Around” by the Beach Boys in perfect clarity. When it ended, the old doo-wop classic “Earth Angel” played. The next song was an ancient instrumental by The Ventures, “Telstar.” Winston had always liked that song.
After the guitar faded away Winston was jolted when a voice came over the radio. It was an odd voice – he couldn’t decide if it was male of female, young or old. It had no discernible accent and Winston decided it was an absolute perfect generic voice.
“Welcome all you listeners from across the known galaxy to our afternoon show, Sounds of Earth. Our agents are working hard recording the music and culture of that little planet for the archives. Their time and their job is almost over. Once the invasion is accomplished, the population enslaved, and the planet stripped we want to preserve as much as we can in the unlikely case they produced anything of lasting value. In the meantime we select what we think you might enjoy and let you hear it before it’s gone.”
“Next up, Space Oddity by a human singer named David Bowie.”
Winston turned the radio off. He was shaking and sweat was pouring down his face. He walked into his living room and turned on the television. He was relieved when the normal pair of newscasters appeared on the screen sitting behind their usual desk. There was no panic and no mention of an alien invasion.
The male announcer said to his partner, “Well, Wendy, twenty twenty has been quite a year. The pandemic, political insanity, then the demonstrations and the riots. We can hope that soon, things will start to improve. Twenty one will have to be a better year.”
“That’s right Chad,” his partner replied. “What could possibly happen next? I can’t imagine things getting worse than this.”
Winston couldn’t help but let out a chuckle as he said to the screen, “Worse? Oh, I’m afraid you have no idea how much worse it is going to get.”