Creeps, Anonymous Excerpt - "SWLing"
Below is an excerpt from Chapter 8 - (Sittin) At the Dock of the Bay. It was preformed live at the Edgewater Reading Series, this Sunday, June 3rd.
The silence was carried away by the briny gusts of air over the bay. The horn of a departing ferry, dopplered over the waves, sounded. Bits and pieces of the loudspeaker announcement could be caught from here, May I have your attention please...thank you...boarding...en...Island...Ferry.
They watched the ferry float away, until it resembled an orange smudge on an otherwise navy canvas. Not long after, a tug boat floated by, making way for a massive container ship, -- MSC. Vaishnavi R -- that heaved past them, blotting out the entire city skyline for a minute. The whole area looked like punctured night, where the stars and lights had bled out leaving nothing but darkness behind.
She looked over at him and then back down a her cocoa. “Why do you keep helping me out? You don’t even know me.”
Sebastian kept his eyes on the lumbering ship rolling by, “My gran always said that the best way to make good on the kindness paid to you is to pay it forward to someone who needs it. You seem like someone who needs it.”
“She sounds like a smart lady,” she said, watching the ship with him. The sheer enormity of the black silhouette made her shiver.
“She was. Passed away two years ago.”
Olivia glanced over at him, seeing a nostalgic smile play faintly along his mouth. It made her wonder about him, how deeply the vein of his philosophy ran after the death of a grandmother who seemed to
mean a lot to him. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay,” he said, his voice even-keeled, “We had a good run, her and me. She taught me a lot. And the truth is, people die. Good things don’t last forever. That’s part of what makes them good.”
Olivia thought back to her moment overlooking the waterline, to her stars, stretching on forever, across the sky. She opened her mouth to say something, but Sebby let out a gasp.
“Christ. I almost forgot. It’s almost time,” he said, glancing at an old, battered watch strapped to his wrist.
“Time for what?”
“Here, help me out for a second,” he said, his voice urget. He hopped off the hood of the truck and dove into his cab, rummaging around.
She stood next to him, confused. “What exactly is the rush?”
“Grab the end of this,” he said, pulling out a handheld radio. He handed her the thin, silver antenna and started to negotiate the rest of it out of the car. The antenna was absurdly long, clearly modified with older parts, foreign to the original model. The metal, in some places, was a completely different color.
“What in the world?” she said, sliding her hand over the freakishly long antenna.
“I tinkered with this,” he said, a proud tone creeping into his voice, “To boost the signal.”
“For what? You trying to get airwaves in Russia?” At total length, the thing almost stood as tall as she did.
“Not distance, but strength,” he said, pointing outward into the bay. “Somewhere out there, there’s a pirate radio station hiding between two frequencies. They broadcast to a small band so the FCC doesn’t catch ‘em. When that happens, their broadcasting equipment gets confiscated and then they’re back to square
“Haven’t these people ever heard of YouTube? Or podcasting?”
“Oh, where’s the fun in that?” He admonished, “Part of the excitement is the hunt.”
“So you do this? You hunt for pirate radio stations?” she asked, looking bemused, out into the waters. Suddenly they seemed a lot less empty.
“Me and a couple of other SWLers here on this end of the island. But I’ve never met them in person. Just chats on the forum we’re part of.”
“Wow. Forums. That’s old school.”
He gave her a sidelong glance. “You have to stop making me feel old.”
“Sorry,” after a moment, “What does ‘SWL’ stand for?”
“It means ‘Shortwave Listening.’ Used to be a huge hobby pre-internet days. I got hooked in the nineties.” He seemed to forgive her as soon as soon as she asked. He liked explaining things, and it looked like it was an activity he didn’t take part of regularly.
“Come on, help me set it up,” they lead the radio sideways to the front of the pickup, placing its little body on top of the cab and then snaking the antenna down over the windshield, pointing it towards the water. “I hope this works. This radio’s been out of commission for a while.” They sat on the hood and Sebby leaned over to snap the radio on. To his audible surprise, it sprung to life, the orange face lighting up. Static and hushed voices gurgled through the speakers. “Great,” he said, breathless with excitement, “Now we just have to find the station.”
“Ok, what do we do, dial it in?”
“That’s the hard part. I don’t exactly know to where. But I’m working off someone’s hunch on the Free Radio forum.” He took a crinkled piece of notepad paper from the pocket of his jeans and peered at it in the light of the radio, fiddling with the dial this way and that, carefully cranking it like a bank vault door. Static poured out, a little windstorm coming out of the speakers that went in and out with a whoosh whoosh. He cursed softly, finding nothing in the band he’d scribbled down on the paper. Sebby rubbed at his stubble, for a long time, looking at the radio. He said finally, “Maybe I missed the broadcast.”
She saw a disappointment settle into his shoulders, as he leaned back, and felt a slight shame. He had lit up like a kid on Christmas at the possibility of pirates lurking between the murky airwaves. It seemed unfair that his act of kindness had blown his chance to catch the broadcast.
“Well, why not try it one last time?’ she asked.
He shrugged, pocketing the bit of paper. “Couldn’t hurt.” Gingerly, he twisted the dial, and now both of them were holding their breath in anticipation. Storms of static blew across the airwaves, leaving the frequencies devoid of music or voices.
And just at that moment, they caught a glimmer of music, muddled and crackling through the static.
“You over-shot it, go back, go back!” she was hitting him on the knee, heart racing.
“Okay, I’m going back.” He twisted it towards her but overshot it again, sucking his teeth in frustration.
Trying to get a hold of the pirate broadcast was like holding onto a slippery fish. The second you caught grip of it was the second it slipped between your fingers. He leaned in, very close to the radio and twisted back, just half of a millimeter this time.
And then the station sprung into existence. The outro of a song was playing out, sounding like it was being played out of a cardboard box, but it didn’t matter. They’d found it.
This is Rick Vigorous the DJ announced in a sing-song way, and you’re listening to Killjoy Radio.
They stared at each other, totally silent, eyes wide. Then Sebby whooped, throwing his hand in the air in a victorious salute. Olivia cheered, feeling exultory. It felt like they’d won something, planting their flag proudly in the middle of this deserted parking lot, on the very edge of the confines of their island. Here, the world seemed to stretch on for forever before them, unfolding and flattening out to the beginning chords of a thrumming bass guitar.
They both slid down the hood of the pickup, their backs resting on cool metal, eyes up at the tiny pinpricks of stars overhead.
“What is this that they’re playing?” Olivia asked, closing her eyes to follow along to the breathy vocals and sleepy guitar being broadcast over Killjoy’s airwaves.
“It’s called shoegaze, and it’s wonderful,” he said next to her, voice rich with triumph.
“Can you make out the words at all?” she said, forehead crinkling.
“No,” he said, laughing softly, “You never quite can.”