The Tingle Sweats
This song is for all the lost souls out there, especially the ones who want to stay lost.
Previously: Our heroes rush over to the lighthouse-slash-radio-station and interrupt Fabulous Don Swezey, the late-night DJ, in the middle of his show. He would like them to leave immediately, but Mina smooth-talks him into letting them ask his listeners about the weird symbol.
Not ringing any bells? Let me direct you to a new page called The Story So Far which summarizes the, you know, the story. So far.
The broadcast booth is tucked below the spinning gears that control the lighthouse’s lantern, and Batya’s like, oh that’s been the creaking noise in the background of Fabulous Don’s show all these years, of course. The walls are covered with soundproofing foam, giving the place a cavelike vibe, as do the couple dozen candles perched on the console.
Bat then notices a whole extra person there in the candlelight: a handsome woman lounging on an easy chair with a telephone in her lap, wearing a ball gown just as weathered as Don’s tux, smoking a joint, not looking particularly surprised to see them. Bat gives her a howdy ma’am sort of gesture, and she nods back.
Don shushes the room, picks up his knocked-over chair, sits, pulls the mic close, takes a breath, taps a button.
“That was ‘Long Gone Dawn,’ but you know that, that one we’re born with. We hear it in our bones, like it or not. They say it wasn’t composed or recorded, it simply emerged from the cracks of a shattered heart. And whenever it’s needed, well, it just drifts through the fog and into our bedroom windows. Tonight it was needed by our old friend Blue Eye, tending bar at the Embers. But she’s nowhere near a bedroom window, and she’s going through a rough patch. So we’re sending that song, and all our love, out to her. And to you. Right here, from 105 The Hive.”
Not gonna lie, Bat’s got the tingle sweats being in this room. Feels like time is stretching into pleasantly unusual shapes and she’s not sure when she is.
“Up next, we have something for the crew working the night shift out on the factory ship. A song that’s a bit racy if you listen to it right, which I think you will. But first. Fabulous Don has a request for you.”
He pauses and the foghorn moans. Then he raises his hand and Mina places the Hawthorne Grain document in it.
“As you know, I don’t claim to have all the answers. Or any answers. If you ask me, there are no answers. There is simply whatever the song is singing right now, and then it’s over. But I have someone here who’s also going through a rough patch. Someone who urgently needs an answer.”
Bat shoots Mina a guilty look, starting to regret this dumb subterfuge. Mina gives her a hearty thumbs-up.
“So if you’re out there, in the dark, listening, tell me if this means something to you. There is a symbol. It represents a place, somewhere here in the Hook. A black circle between two wavy lines, cutting an oval in two.”
“Can you tell ol’ Don what it means? You’d be doing a very harrowing girl a momentous favor. You know the number. CAmphouse-32348. Until then, here’s that raciness to get the blood pumping wherever it needs to go. This is a tune by hometown heroes The Lash. It’s called ‘Get Punchyyyy.’ And that’s with four Y’s.”
He drops the needle and the room explodes with the sound of a woolly mammoth belching an electrical storm. Bat adores this band, and this song in particular makes her want to smash the place up, but then Don slides down the volume and she gets a hold of herself, tries to look terminally ill.
The phone in the woman’s lap starts to ring.
“One oh five the Hive, home of the buzz,” she says. “Mmhm. Yes. Yes.”
Bat and Mina exchange hopeful glances.
“Very well. I will say four words. You choose which two best describe your current emotional state.”
“Just a request,” Don tells the sisters.
“Penthouse, pharaoh, planet, plastic. Yes. Hm. Really. Very interesting. I did not expect that. Yes. What sort of room are you in? All right, go to a different room and stay there. Yes, bring the radio with you and turn it up very loud or almost all the way down. Either way, press your ear to the speaker and stay tuned, OK, honey?”
She hangs up. “Song doesn’t matter, he just wants to feel like someone requested it for him.”
Don nods, rolls his chair over to the shelves of LPs, runs his fingers along their spines.
“Someone beloved,” she says.
“Yes, Linda, I figured,” he says, picking one with a bright green cover.
Phone rings again. “One oh five the Hive, home of the buzz. Mmhm. Yes. Yes.” Linda hits a switch and a guy’s voice comes through the speakers.
“…I should not be telling you this.”
Mina jumps for the handset and Linda instinctively pulls back, protecting it. They whisper-shout at each other:
“I’ll take it from here!”
“Hell you will!”
“Who even are you!”
“I’m your new friend!”
“You still there?” the guy says.
Mina grabs the phone and Linda looks as if her infant child had been torn from her bosom.
“Still here,” Mina says. “So, you know this symbol?”
“I think so, yeah,” the guy says. “It’s…I’m not on the air, am I?”
“Absolutely not.” Mina looks around the room for confirmation, Don shakes his head. “No way. What’s your name? Richie?”
“Wow, pretty close! It’s Rusty.”
Oh right, Bat forgot that one of her sister’s party tricks was being able to guess someone’s name with about fifteen percent accuracy.
“Rusty. Tell me everything, Rusty.”
“Ha, well, now I’m starting to get nervous—”
“Nervous is good,” Mina says. “I love being nervous. Nervous means something matters. Rusty, when you’re about to fall asleep, do you think back on what happened that day?”
“I try not to.”
“But tonight you’ll think about this phone call. It’ll be a sharp little memory, sticking out from all that smooth nothing. Right? Because today, Rusty? Today something mattered. Didn’t it.”
“I just don’t want to get in trouble at the hospital. Whole point of the symbol is to keep things on the QT.”
“Sure, but if I’ve…the hospital, you say?”
“Yeah, I’m a nurse at Capstan Mercy. I probably shouldn’t’ve said that, either.”
“Of course you should’ve said that. You’re a nurse. You help people. And I need your help. I’m asking for your help. You hear me, Rusty? My voice in your ear? I need your help. Please.”
He doesn’t say anything. Mina waits.
Bat knows her sister’s tactics better than anyone, having been on the receiving end of them her whole life. Mina’s made her case and will stay quiet while the mark stews on it. She won’t press him any further. She knows exactly how long to let the silence go, and exactly when to say his name again.
Don fades out the Lash song, fades in the record with the bright green cover. It sounds like latex’d thighs rubbing together. Linda lets surly pot smoke seep between her teeth.
“Rusty,” Mina says. “Please.”
He clears his throat. “There’s this…competition. Tonight. In the Terminal. You go in through the ice cream parlor.”
Mina nods and Bat can see she’s already calculating their route—number of steps back down the lighthouse, possible transports out of here because no way in hell are they going back through that forest, fastest way to the streetcar station—but still takes a moment for the caller. “You’re a good boy, Rusty. I’ll think of you right before I go to sleep.”
“Me too,” he whispers.
Mina tosses the phone back to Linda, points at her and mouths I like you, then points at Don. “Fabulous Don, you saved a life tonight, like you do every night.”
He doffs an imaginary hat. “Ride the buzz wheresoever it may take you.”
This has been Chapter 10 of Chokeville, a novel by Josh Fireland.
Next up: This Deafening Tsunami of Rage