The Signal


This is the second of a multi-part series of horror stories. Enjoy!

A few years ago people driving through the woods around Ash Hollow at night started reporting strange things going on with their electronics. Car radios went on the fritz, phones lost their network signal, GPS devices went haywire and directed hapless travelers onto dirt tracks and into ponds. A woman told the local paper that she spent more than half an hour listening to a “low rumbling sound” coming from her car radio, beneath which she could hear voices speaking very faintly.

 At around the same time a technician or an engineer or whatever you call them at Ash Hollow’s dinky little radio station started picking up a faint signal that was interfering with the local broadcast, which was odd because as far as he knew there were no other major radio sources in the vicinity. This guy- let’s call him David- was a bit of a DIY radio expert and he had some equipment at home that he could use to find a radio broadcast source. I’m not really sure how any of that works, but he tracked the approximate location to somewhere out in the forest- way out, far from even logging roads. The signal stopped abruptly before David could pinpoint it any clearer than that, much to his annoyance.

 By coincidence a hiker named Joel was out in the back county on the very same night and had a strange experience. He had his tent set up and was reading in his sleeping bag, nice and cosy, when he started to hear on odd noise coming from the forest. The way he described it to me was like how a big open-air concert sounds when it’s far away- sort of booming, distorted echoes coming over the horizon. The noise changed constantly, from a low moaning to the flat eeeeee of a sine wave, and sometimes he even thought he could pick out voices wailing. There was no appreciable rhythm or purpose to it, just loud, random sounds. “A vast sound,” is how Joel, who was an articulate sort, described it.

 The sound went on for about three hours, stopping abruptly and then starting again several times. Joel lay awake listening to it, running through scenarios for what could be making such a noise so far out in the woods and coming up blank. Around half three in the morning the sound stopped for good. Joel listened for it on subsequent nights and didn’t hear anything.

 Joel reached Ash Hollow a few days later- he was trying to hike the trail from end to end- and by one of those serendipitous coincidences that happen occasionally he met a friend of a friend of David’s and heard about the mystery signal. Intrigued, Joel went to the radio station and told his story. After factoring in the direction and rough location of the noise Joel had heard they managed to pinpoint a more exact location for where the signal was coming from. It was deep in the woods, far away from any trail. Getting out there would be an epic and dangerous trek. What they needed was a combination of an experienced back-country hiker and an expert in all things radiological.

 Happily it turned out that Joel and David had a lot in common, principally a love of mysteries and a latent desire for foolhardy adventures. The next day, after borrowing or scrounging up some camping equipment for David, the two set off on a multi-day hike to get to the location of the signal.

 On the second night David was woken by Joel urgently shaking him. The noise was back, the same booming echoes that Joel had heard a few days earlier. David got out the portable radio he had brought with him and did some fiddling, and before long managed to pick up the signal, stronger than he had from back in town. They huddled in the tent and listened to a low rumbling, grinding sound coming over the radio, like something being dragged across a microphone. Abruptly a loud buzzing started, making both men jump out of their skin. Have you ever heard of those creepy Number stations? Apparently it was like that. The buzzing gave way to static, and both men swore they heard faint voices.

 Then the noise stopped and the signal vanished. The adventure no longer seemed like quite so much fun; there was something distinctly eerie about the broadcast, and they were struck by how foolish it was to be hiking through dense woods to God only knew what in the middle of nowhere. Both men contemplated suggesting they turn back, but machismo held their tongues. The next day they trudged along in silence, watching the sun proceed across the sky with a sense of dread. The signal returned that night, noticeably louder. Now they could make out something that definitely sounded like a human voice or voices, a high, wailing keen that made the hairs on the backs of their necks stand up. Once again the radio played a cacophony of buzzing, grinding and low, mumbling voices.

 On the third night the two men had agreed to stay up around their camp fire at midnight, which was around the time the signal had appeared the previous two nights. They were less than a day’s hike from the location of the signal now and feeling a mix of nerves and excitement as the sun went down. But this time nothing happened- no sounds coming over the forest, and David’s radio gave nothing but white noise. After about twenty minutes of waiting they had just about decided to give up for the night when the little clearing they had pitched their tents was filled with a blinding white light.

 The men looked up, startled, but the intensity of the light drowned out whatever was making it. It was as if a gigantic table lamp had suddenly been switched on in the sky. Before they had time to react further a deafening buzzing sound came from the sky, causing both men to stagger and clutch their ears. “I felt like an ant,” David told me. “Like an ant under a magnifying glass”. The two men piled into one of their tents and zipped up the entrance in a vain attempt to escape the onslaught. After about a minute the light and noise stopped abruptly, leaving both men pale and trembling, their ears ringing. They crawled hesitantly from the tent and looked to the sky, but there was nothing there.

 Neither of them had the slightest clue what kind of entity could have possibly caused what they had just witnessed, but they got the message it was trying to send loud and clear: go away. The adventure was over. David was all for just hiking through the night until they were as far from the location of the signal as possible, but Joel managed to convince him that hiking long distances at night through untracked wilderness wasn’t a good idea, particularly when there was something not natural out there. As a compromise they packed up the tents and moved their camp further from the direction they had been heading.

 Not far enough, as it turns out.

 At around half three in the morning Joel was woken from an uneasy, shallow sleep by a horrible metallic screeching sound right outside his tent. A second later David started to scream.

 Joel fumbled out of his sleeping bag and dashed outside to find David’s tent completely shredded. His sleeping bag had been reduced to scraps of fabric hanging from a broken frame. Heavy drag marks led away from the ruins of the tent, leading further from the source of the signal.  Whatever had destroyed the tent and taken David had done so with impossible swiftness- no more than ten seconds. Joel grabbed his knife and a flashlight and ran after the tracks.

 They were easy to follow- it seemed David had been dragged along the ground at speed, disturbing the carpet of dead pine needles that covered the forest floor. Small twigs had been sheared off and Joel could see deep scratch marks on tree trunks. Several times the darting beam of his flashlight picked out a glimpse of a “jumbled, chaotic shape” moving ahead of him with terrifying speed. Loud noises- buzzing, beeps, bursts of static- came from the forest all around him. He ran on, willing himself not to look back.

 After ten minutes or so Joel came over a low rise and found David slumped against a tree, unconscious. His attacker was nowhere to be found. He was breathing, just about, but unresponsive. Joel slung him over his shoulder and headed out of the area, moving further away from the direction of their camp. Far off in the distance he heard the signal come to life again.

 If you were hoping to find out what the deal is with all of this then I’m afraid I have to disappoint you now. When David woke up (groggy and confused, as though he had been drugged, and with no memory of the attack) he and Joel mutually decided that pressing on any further would be madness; in fact they didn’t even go back to the camp for their packs, deciding it would be safer to spend the trek back surviving on the meagre food items they had in their pockets and sleeping out in the open then risk going back to the camp and raising the ire of whatever had attacked them.

 A few weeks later the reports of electronic interference ended. I guess whatever was out there finished its business. As for our heroes, David lost his taste for adventure and never went near the woods again if he could avoid it. Joel, on the other hand, was a more curious sort and when he continued his travels he started digging around for experiences similar to his own. I don’t know if he found anything other than paranoid UFO nuts, but his inquiries led him down a somewhat unique path.

 The same path I had walked decades earlier, in fact. But that’s a story for another day.


8 thoughts on “The Signal

  1. Silver

    I hate to pop in a month late here. I love these, they are definitely some of the best short horror stories I’ve come across. I have an aversion to r/nosleep, because I’m easily spooked and very picky, so I hate wasting my creepy feelings on sub-par stories. Also, you know… Reddit.

    These, I love. They’re just the right amount of unsettling without being over the top. I do have one suggestion, if you don’t mind. I saw that you were willing to listen to criticism on the Well story.

    At the part where Joel comes into town, it feels a little like you’re trying to make an excuse by invoking serendipity in the process of introducing him to David. For me, at least, that kind of pulls me out of the flow. I’d be happier if you just reminded us that Ash Hollow is a small town, and it’s just reasonable to assume that someone talking about a weird, static-y noise in the forest would be directed to the guy who has been investigating the phenomenon. Ash Hollow seems like an “everybody knows everybody and their dad” kind of setting.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      Thanks for the compliments! I’ve actually written a few more, I just haven’t gotten around to posting them to the blog yet.

        1. ronanwills Post author

          If you go to my reddit profile from the link I gave in the latest story post (click the writing tag) you can see them right now

  2. Alice

    I had Darren McGavin’s voice in my head when I read this. It reminds me of his tv series Kolchak, where he plays a journalist that investigates strange things, and he narrates the episodes in a similar sort of tone to this. If you can ever watch a few episodes of it, you’ll see what I mean. Creepy story by the way.

    1. ronanwills Post author

      When editing these I tend to read them in the voice of the Scary Door guy from Futurama. Try it, it’s fun!


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