zero six four eight three are you listening

by shukyou (主教)
illustrated by beili


seven two six five one five zero three five two zero two one four one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero two one four one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero two one four one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero two one four one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero you one four one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero you are four one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero you are not one
seven two six five one five zero three five two zero you are not imagining this

illustrated by beili

KONEC OKNO OKNO KONEC listen for a minute

OKNO OKNO can’t tell at first which radio it’s coming from. That’s understandable; you’ve got twenty-six, all arranged on various shelves around your apartment. Twenty-five before you picked up the latest one, a little box from the thrift store, runs on two double-A batteries, not as useful in a catastrophe as the ones that you crank to life, but, well, you can’t be cranking every minute of the day. And anyway, it’s not a catastrophe. Yet.

DAYASAN DAYASAN what your doctors tell you that you shouldn’t be hearing. This is why you have twelve pill bottles lined up on the little ledge over your bathroom sink, all with your name on them in bright bold capital letters hot off the pharmacy counter printing presses. You walk over to them to make sure you’ve NOMER NOMER 34 OKNO NOMER 91 but you have, because if you hadn’t there’d be more pills in the bottles, and there aren’t, so you know you have. You pick up the tallest bottle, the one full of the trifluoperazine, such a mellifluous name for the little round pink discs that taste like NOMER 38 20 58

But you’re hearing something. You’re definitely hearing something. You go around picking up all the radios, tapping them all, twisting their knobs to find the


don’t touch that dial NOMER 38 NOMER 22 don’t want to lose it again.

You should tell your doctors about this. Don’t tell your doctors about this. You heard what they said, whispering in the hallway when they thought you were sedated, last time you DAYASAN DAYASAN NOMER 39 NOMER 39 NOMER 39 and that’s what will happen if you tell them now. They don’t understand. They can’t hear it. Most people can’t hear it. But you can.

OKNO OKNO NOMER 30 NOMER 78 DAYASAN so don’t touch that dial KONEC


PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA know something’s different the second you hear the tones under this one. They’re always the same every other time, but this time they’re PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER

PAPA NOVEMBER scared but not surprised. Why else would you have been listening to all these radios all this time if you didn’t know deep in your heart there was some signal buried beneath the PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER makes sense, if you think about it. You’ve been paranoid, but you’ve been planning too. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Probably spies, your doctors said when you asked, trying to sound patient when you could hear that all they really sounded was tired. Real spies. Unbreakable codes. Like one-time pads, like Enigma machines, like book ciphers, like Navajo code. Information hidden in plain sight, and there you could hear they started to sound impressed. Relics, though, they said. Some nuclear-powered broadcasting station in a forgotten Soviet bunker that would keep bellowing its PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER until the tape snapped or the transmitter fell over. Garbage. For all intents and purposes, random. Like hearing a message in a language you don’t speak, where you don’t know if you’re hearing state secrets or a nursery rhyme, and it doesn’t matter to you either way. Random.

You don’t know what this means. You wonder if anyone else can understand it, or if all they hear is PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER couldn’t be, though, because you’re thinking about the first radio you got when you were six, a little metal box with a bright red bow under the Christmas tree. It was chrome and sturdy, and it had a tape deck too, but you didn’t want the tape deck, you wanted the radio. You’d listen for hours, ear pressed to the speaker, and when the station went off the air for the night, you’d listen to the static. Static was more interesting than the station, because the station told you everything, while static PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER PAPA NOVEMBER heard something in it too.

Tapes, running out their lives in abandoned broadcast stations. Little girls in front of microphones, reading a series of numbers in high, clipped tones. Patriotic folk songs on a music box. Nonsense words in any language. Constant PAPA NOVEMBER pumping out over the waves, lingering in the air. You take a deep breath and imagine breathing that signal in. You’re not imagining. Not now.



ocho ocho uno tres ocho dos dos dos cuatro ocho need to look out the back window right now

You get up and almost lose your balance. Listening to all these stations dos cuatro hours a day is hard on the inner ear, harder even than the scientists suspect now. Maybe they’ll know more in another ocho ocho seis seis how this all affects the brain, the radiowaves, the constant oscillations. That’s sound is, after all: oscillations. Vibrations. Combinations of the dos tres seis nueve light travels as waves and particles, you remember, but who said it? Einstein? Probably Einstein. All physics is Einstein.

That’s why if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it doesn’t siete nueve tres tres tres tres tres ocho act of observation changes the observed object, and you know that wasn’t Einstein. Hindenberg. Harrisburg. Hollywood. Hierophant. You cinco cinco ocho the man in your backyard.

Turn around. See the man. In your backyard.

Go on. Nothing can happen until you do.

He’s not a tall man or a short man, not a fat man or a thin man, not a dark man or a light man, not an old man or a young man. He’s the kind of man you expect to find a picture of in the dictionary next to the word ‘man’: archetypical, nondescript. If you’d gotten a committee together to design a man, this might be the man they came up with. He’s wearing a black trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat like they do in old silent movies, even though the night is warm and the sky is a clear blanket of stars. His face is turned toward the house next door, staring at it, observing it, changing it.

You close your eyes and you can’t remember his face, but you remember it was Heisenberg who said that. But it was Schrödinger with the cat. You open your eyes and the man is still standing dos ocho tres looking at you.

and you don’t run away tres ocho ocho ocho ocho


один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один два три четыре didn’t tell your doctors today. That’s good. You thought about it, as you sat in the stiff-backed plastic chair and told them what they wanted to hear, about your side effects, about the way the medications make you feel четыре пять шесть not this. You came home instead and made tea. The mug is sitting on the table between your cupped hands. It’s gone cold.

You didn’t tell them either that you haven’t eaten since восемь семь шесть пять четыре три feel your ribs when you put your hands on either side of your chest, up under your shirt. You decide you should get lunch. Dinner. Breakfast? What time is it? How long have you been sitting here, listening? What are you waiting for?

The man hasn’t shown up again. You put your hand against the glass of the window, letting little halos of condensation form everywhere your skin touches its cold, flat surface. You look through it, but all you see is night. Dinner, then, or maybe breakfast. The only thing you know for sure is that lunch never happens in the dark.

You open the refrigerator to find little more than the bulb staring back at you. You don’t even have to look in the cabinets; they’re similarly bare, except for your pill bottles. You’re good at taking those even if you’re bad at eating. Food is difficult and different every time, but pills are simple. Maybe if you take more you’ll go back to hearing only noise on the radios. Maybe if четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один

один один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один один два три четыре пять шесть семь восемь девять десять десять девять восемь семь шесть пять четыре три два один один два три четыре пять better ideas, that’s for sure. At least now you know.

But you don’t need to be пять шесть right now, you just need девять восемь семь will be better when daylight три два один



zero nine two zero five
zero the nine eight five
zero five man five eight
six eight zero is seven
in five three six nine
five your four five five
six three yard six eight
nine one three again seven



hell strahlen Sterne für uns im Wunderland bei Nacht und wie im Märchen ist late, though not that you’re sleeping anymore anyway. The noise doesn’t sleep, and neither does the signal. You make another cup of tea and sit at your kitchen table in your tattered plaid bathrobe, the one you should really just throw away, but you can’t, because it smells right, and that’s important, that’s taken it a long time to get there.

Think back. Can you remember what it was like before all this started? Before you began noticing things other people unsere liebe dort erwacht try, but you can’t — you can imagine what such a thing might be like, maybe can even pretend that what you imagined once was true, but it seems like some alien thought exercise. Imagine what life would have been if you’d been a boy growing up in colonial times. Medieval times. Biblical times.

Now imagine what life will be like in the future.

reich mir die Hand dann führt dich unser Stern dem Glück entgegen und begleitet dich auf allen wegen ins Wunderland better enemies, of course, but that comes with everything else. Different battles. No more wars.

You remember wars. You’ve forgotten everything else, but you can’t forget was wir erträumten und was wir heimlich uns erdacht soll sich erfüllen im Wunderland bei Nacht

You get up. Your tea’s cold. Again. Always. On the way to the kitchen, though, you stop and look out the window at the backyard. Is he there? No, and you don’t know why you feel disappointed. You should feel relieved, that’s what you should feel, if you could reach inside yourself and set your emotional dial by hand. Most people would feel that way, if they saw upon their stair a little man who wasn’t there, and he wasn’t there again today, except he really wasn’t this time. An appropriate nothingness. Light shines through the high summer leaves, and as they move in the wind, the carpet of the ill-mown lawn shifts like the sea on a fair, fine day. Maybe it is water. Maybe if you walked out there you’d drown. Sink all the way to the bottom of the ocean on your way to take out the garbage. It’d be the finest I-told-you-so in history.

You remember the sea too, though better than the way you looked you remember the way it sounded. Put on both ears and tell the captain what you heard. Popcorn poppers of shrimp. Creaky oak doors of whales. Leaky balloons of dolphins. Cracked knuckles of other submarines.

Someone told you that you can hear the ocean when you put a seashell up to your ear. But that’s not true was wir erträumten und was wir heimlich uns erdacht is the roar of blood in your own ears, magnified back to you. If your body weren’t selectively deaf, every other noise in the world would be drowned out by the cacophony of your own circulatory system. You have a sea inside yourself.

You walk out into the yard, poking the lawn first with the tip of your toe to make sure it’ll hold your weight. It does, though your foot still half-disappears beneath the surface of the high green blades as easily as if you’d wandered into shallow water. You’ve got a radio in your pocket, a little transistor piece, keeping you company to the strains of soll sich erfüllen im Wunderland bei Nacht is too quiet otherwise. You figured out years ago that’s why you can’t sleep at night. That was when you bought your first radio. Then another. Then another.

You’re thinking about him again, and it startles you to hear the radio say that, but it’s true, you are. Look down at your feet; you’re standing right where you saw him last. The tall grass stalks are broken by his weight. He has the most remarkable eyes, even if that’s all you can remember about them — not their color, nor their shape, nor honestly even really how many there were in his face (two, you think, but it could have been up to fifty; after all, how many eyes can fit on a face?), but that they’re beautiful and you want to watch them watching you again.

You hear the radio tell that you touch the tree to your right a split-second before you decide yourself to do it. You’re getting better at this.

There’s a knot in the tree about at eye level, and a little note in there like you expect spies leave. Dead drop. There’s a piece of paper inside, and you know he left it, because the radio is telling you he left it, but also because you know he left it, and not for someone else, but for you. You unfold it, and one typed sentence reads YOU ARE NOT IMAGINING THIS reich mir die Hand dann führt dich unser Stern dem Glück entgegen und begleitet dich auf allen wegen ins Wunderland
was wir erträumten und was wir heimlich uns erdacht soll sich erfüllen im Wunderland bei nacht
im Wunderland bei nacht

illustrated by beili

ROMEO DELTA ROMEO DELTA ROMEO talk to him. If you don’t, you’ll never know. Or you will, but it won’t be on your terms, and it’s hard to say which of those is worse.

You open the back door, wincing as the rusted metal creaks under the pressure of movement, since you don’t want to scare him away, you just want to talk. He doesn’t seem the skittish type, though, and as the door swings on its hinges, he turns his head to look at you. He’s staring at you now with those remarkable eyes, which you can see now are the same color as DELTA ROMEO DELTA ROMEO DELTA at least for the moment. He raises a hand and tells you hello.

You should say hello back. You won’t, but you should. You’re going to appreciate that sort of kindness someday.

The radio tells you you should invite him in, and he must have heard that too, because now he’s stepping close, like he expects you to move away and let him by. You should, and this time you do, watching his every measured, authoritative step. He walks like a man who’s seen military service, strong shoulders straight, chin high, gaze steely. He looks like the men you always wished you could be, the ones who’d served on the decks of ships instead of locked in ill-lit tin cans always this side of being crushed by the weight of water. You wonder if he can hear ROMEO DELTA ROMEO DELTA ROMEO DELTA ROMEO DELTA too.

Of course I can, he says. Except he doesn’t really say that, the radio says it for him. His lips remain motionless except to turn up at the corners in a faint smile. Don’t be afraid. Don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run. Don’t run.

But you’re already running, bolting from the back door DELTA ROMEO DELTA ROMEO DELTA sheer blind panic. Your heart is racing. There’s a high fence all around the DELTA gate by the of the house. You make for it, kicking up clods of grassy ROMEO DELTA scramble for the lock DELTA soft splinters of near-rotted wood beneath your ROMEO DELTA as you claw for ROMEO DELTA ROMEO remember the combination. All the ROMEO DELTA in the world, and no combination. All you can think is that you have to get out ROMEO grab it and pull hard, so hard DELTA ROMEO your arm nearly rips from your DELTA at last the wood gives and DELTA ROMEO DELTA opens and you’re free.

You take off DELTA the street at a demon’s pace DELTA ROMEO DELTA ROMEO not wearing shoes ROMEO pebbles of asphalt tear at the soles of your DELTA ROMEO DELTA radio in your pocket barely ROMEO in there, and it’s heavy, too ROMEO every step DELTA take jostles it a little more toward DELTA until




…central silence underst…interference is…silence means…

…thirty-si…ven one hundred…ten one hundred allowed…

…understood…task un..sixty-five one hundred allowed…

…good little big bad…wolves at the door…nine nineteen…

…two seven sev…central silen…cannot be allowed to…

…my delight on a shiny night in the season of the year…

…where are…the only way out is…thing behind me…


…hard to…don’t underst…not receiv…not allowake up


un deux trois huit un deux cinq six sept dix neuf un deux trois sept huit neuf cinq six sept dix drink it, you’ll feel better.

Sit up gently, gently, there you go. Your head is deux six sept dix but feels clear for the first time in trois quatre cinq neuf dix damp cloth draped across your eyes, so you try to remove it, but there’s a hand there telling you to leave it in place, and the voice through the radio says, shh, shh, be still, be still.

You know it’s the man even before the radio tells you. His hands are warm against your body; his thumbs brush the skin just beneath the flannel’s edge. You ask him who he is, and the radio tells you that he answers your question with a smile. I remember my first time, the radio says. When I met someone else who could do it too. It stopped my heart.

You can’t think straight, so you sit up too fast and un deux trois quatre un deux un deux six sept huit quatre cinq six cinq six sept huit neuf trois quatre cinq six sept huit neuf dix sick little taste at the back of your throat, the way you always get after you’ve been kept ‘under observation’ for six sept dix neuf ‘free to leave’ but no one will let you go. At least this time they could believe you believed you’d been spooked by shadows, nothing more, nothing real. They told you to stop listening to the radios. They changed the number of pills they wanted you to take. Chlorine. Clematis. Chlorpromazine. They sent you home. Now here you are.

And here he is, though you can’t tell how he got in. He smiles and holds up the spare key, the one you keep in the combination double-lockbox in a hole beneath the false board on your back porch, the one you put there in case you ever locked yourself out, even though you never lock yourself out, that’s stupid, you’re stupid, you’re sept deux trois dix neuf how did he get that key neuf un deux trois un deux cinq neuf sept dix neuf cinq six trois huit

Don’t worry, he says with that smile of his; I’ll put it back.

No, he sept huit neuf you can’t sept huit neuf cinq six and sept huit neuf but he dix neuf un deux cinq six un deux this really isn’t neuf cinq six trois sept why would trois huit no trois sept huit sept dix neuf

Shh, shh, he says, putting a hand on your chest, and just like that, like driving out from a tunnel, the signal focuses. Just breathe. It gets clearer when you breathe.

You didn’t know you’d been holding your breath until you open your mouth and all the air in your lungs scrambles out in one great gale. The effort of letting it go pitches you forward, everything slipping out like the locks in a canal opening, like God drowning the pharoah’s army. Divine and terrible. The rush is so loud it sounds like white noise going out, and like white noise again coming back in. Your breathing has become static in both senses of the word. Good for you, tiger.

The man looks out your window with some distant longing in his eyes, some ache you can’t place but know all too well, and recites in a voice somehow familiar to you, in time with the radio: This type of psychotic disorder is extremely rare. It is characterized by intricate, complex, and slowly developing paranoid system, often logically elaborate after a false interpretation of an actual occurrence, Frequently, the patient considers himself endowed with superior or unique ability. The paranoid system is particularly isolate from much of the normal stream of consciousness, without hallucinations and with relative intactness and preservation of the remainder of the personality, in spite of a chronic and prolonged course.

He turns back to you and the radio asks, so, are you crazy?

What kind of a question is that? Of course you’re crazy. Has he not seen the pills in your medicine cabinet? Wasn’t he just sept dix neuf sept dix neuf un deux trois cinq sept huit neuf cinq the marks on your arms, the little plastic band around your cinq six un trois the radios, for God’s sake, might as well be radios instead of wallpaper in here.

Ah, he says, touching your cheek with a strange fondness, like you’re a long-lost friend instead of the stranger he’s been, quite frankly, stalking, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t also right.



You look around the room for him, but he’s left no trace. You peek around corners, open closets, check under furniture, but you don’t find anything. Honestly, you don’t know what it was you were WILLIAM X-RAY YOKE ZEBRA ABLE BAKER all the other times he’s been here, he’s not been shy about making himself visible. You find yourself thinking about him, even though you can’t quite remember what he looked like. Familiar, though, and that matters most. The world is too full of alien experiences for one more unfamiliar thing.

You think back to when this all started, when you GEORGE HOW ITEM JIG KING LOVE MIKE NAN OBOE PETER and at breakfast one morning UNCLE VICTOR WILLIAM weren’t really who they said they were. They looked like your mother and father, but you could tell they ITEM JIG KING LOVE MIKE NAN OBOE PETER QUEEN ROGER SUGAR TAPE UNCLE didn’t know how you knew, but you knew they’d been sent here to keep an eye on you. They meant you no harm, and you weren’t afraid of them like that.

You were just afraid of what they’d done with your parents CHARLIE DOG EDWARD FOX GEORGE HOW

ITEM JIG KING LOVE MIKE NAN OBOE PETER QUEEN ROGER SUGAR TAPE UNCLE VICTOR WILLIAM X-RAY YOKE ZEBRA ABLE BAKER CHARLIE DOG EDWARD FOX GEORGE HOW ITEM JIG KING LOVE MIKE NAN OBOE PETER QUEEN ROGER SUGAR TAPE UNCLE VICTOR WILLIAM X-RAY never told anyone, of course, because what would you have said? Even now, you can’t put it into words that don’t make someone want to hook electrodes to your head and pump you full of lightning until your brain stops lying to you. You’d be more than happy to let them do exactly that, in fact, if only you thought your brain were lying to you. But now you’ve seen the man PETER QUEEN ROGER SUGAR been in your house ZEBRA ABLE BAKER proof you need. It might not be enough for anyone else, but it confirms what you’ve always suspected.

He told you secrets, the man did, bending down and whispering until all you heard was his voice, his real voice, in one ear and LOVE MIKE NAN OBOE in the other. You lay there in the dark, feeling your heart beat in your head like VICTOR WILLIAM X-RAY YOKE while he promised you that the world made DOG EDWARD FOX GEORGE HOW ITEM JIG KING LOVE or at least would make sense, just as long as someone was there to see it. He told you to breathe. He placed his hand on your belly and you focused hard until you could feel it rise up and fall down, and you were making that happen, and his hand was warm against your skin with only a shirt between.

You’re still wearing that shirt. You put your hand where his was and begin to breathe like he told you to. And just like that, everything goes clear.

illustrated by beili

of all the boys I’ve known, and I’ve known some
until I first met you, I was lonesome
and when you came in sight, dear, my heart grew light
and this old world seemed new to me

you’re really swell, I have to admit you listen
deserve expressions that really fit you here
and so I’ve racked my brain no, over here

The doctor’s talking to you right now, but you don’t need to be listening to him. Over here. The little radio on the bookshelf, the one he keeps pointed at the door to hide your sessions from prying ears. You’ve always found it so thoughtful. Now you need to get out.

Look up at the clock, then tell him you just remembered something you had to do. Make an excuse, anything. There’s twenty minutes left, but you have to go. You don’t understand why, but you don’t have to — you just have to get out. Get out now. While you still can.

No, you’ve got to listen, he’s could say “bella, bella”, even “sehr wunderbar”, each language only helps me tell sake, look at his hands. See how loose the skin is there, like someone’s stretched it on like an ill-fitting uniform. It may be his skin, but it’s not him inside. Look at the gaps at the corners of his eyes; what do you see? You’ve got to go. Stand up and tell him you’ve got to go. Stand up and tell him you’ve got to go or you won’t be able to leave at all tried to explain, bei mir bist du schön, so kiss me and say you understand must be one of them.

The man told you about them, remember? The man told you, or at least the radio did. He said they such an old and when they find you they’ll and yet I should to your means I am begging there’s no time, there’s no time, get out, get out, get OUT.

You see him reach into the desk. He says he needs to find the paperwork but you can see the places the skin of his face sags. You know this isn’t right. You stand up. You mutter some excuse, something about fearing you’ve left the stove on. You make a joke about how you can’t help it, paranoia, he must understand. He looks surprised, but don’t look at his face. Don’t go for where you hung your scarf. There’s no time. Don’t look back. Don’t run. Don’t run. You’ll be safe if you can just each language only helps me tell you how grand you are
I’ve tried to explain, bei mir bist du schön
so kiss me and say that you will understand…

…top of the ninth we’ve got Harris at bat, who’s had a fair season this year, perhaps not quite what the team expected when they brought him up from the minors, but keep walking, just keep walking going to be low and inside they’re at the lunch counter, but if you don’t look maybe they won’t know you and what a hit! Straight out to center field, and nobody is even in the same time zone! Could this be seen you, so act natural. You put your hands in your pockets and look around as though you might not know this section of town, as though you hadn’t grown up on these streets, as though you didn’t belong. For one in your life, make it work for you tell you, folks, this is a play you’ll tell your grandkids about…

…going to see some warmer temperatures on Wednesday, maybe up into the the black car, is it following you? Did you see it last street? Can you see the face of the man behind the winds from the east bringing light gusts of rain, so keep your raincoat…

…feeling tired and unhappy? Need a little pick-me-up in your wish you’d grabbed your scarf, but keep moving. It’ll get your blood going new and improved formula will make teeth begin to chatter, but don’t run, they’ll see you if you run, they see you anyway, but they’ll grab you if you run, they’ll grab you with their long sharp available now at your local drugstore or wherever fine…

…units in the area, be advised of a possible eyes ahead, don’t look at the suspect is described as a young begging the light at the crosswalk to change, but it doesn’t work that way for you. Not yet, anyway. Don’t walk. You stand with your hands in your last seen headed northbound on no, don’t look at the cop, the cop is your enemy too right now, he may not be one of them but he works for them, and if he gets his cuffs on you they’ll dispatch, this is car twelve, we are in pursuit green light means go, now, go, go, GO copy that, we’re on our way…

…said talks are going well, and that the President is hopeful he can the car again. Turn here. Down the alley. It’s too wide to follow you down narrow a resolution agreeable to both parties in the next few weeks…

…should take a notion to jump into the ocean, ‘t ain’t nobody’s bizness if I here, rest a minute, breathe. You realize you’re not far from home, just a few blocks to your street. Your feet are aching and your head feels caught in a vise, but that’s all right, because you got away. You look out down the end of the alley and see the cars roll by, but sing the shimmy down on Monday, ain’t nobody’s bizness if I do, if don’t stop, and no one comes by but some kids. They give you wary looks and cut you a wide berth, but that’s okay. You didn’t want to deal with them anyway. They think you’re a wino, someone who drinks his madness in instead of starts out with it already soaked through his blood when he opens his eyes. Guys like that are a dime a dozen in parts of town like this. You see them walking away from you, but they’re already laughing again, talking about something else. You’ve been seen but not observed.

That was what the man said: seen but not observed. Everyone who’s got sight can see, he said, and everyone who’s got hearing can hear, but people can still see and hear without seeing or hearing. That’s what people do every day. The kids, who’ve found a can to kick. The people outside the deli. The woman in the window three stories up, hanging out her laundry on the lines between the buildings as she listens to rather my man would hit me than to jump up right and quit me the invisible, inaudible world everyone is cushioned in.

You still can’t see, but you know you can’t see, which by the man’s estimation puts you head and shoulders above the rest swear I won’t call no copper can hear too, though at times like now you wish you couldn’t. You didn’t want to know that the signal runs on beat up by my poppa not just the broadcasts you can find if you’re lucky and the weather’s right and your antenna is turned just so. You didn’t want to know any of this. You wanted to swallow the drugs and stop believing and learn to be as blind and deaf as anyone else.

You look down at both ends and see nothing. It’s clear now. Time to ain’t nobody’s bizness if I do, if I do…

illustrated by beili

Helmut grüßt Franz. Guten Tag. Die Größen sechundzwanzig bis zweiunddreißig passen mir gut. Die Sonne scheint herrlich. Unsere Henne ist dabei ein Ei zu legen. Alles Gute.

Helmut grüßt Franz. Guten Tag. Die Größen sechundzwanzig bis zweiunddreißig passen mir gut. Die Sonne scheint herrlich. Unsere Henne ist dabei ein Ei zu legen. Alles Gute.

Helmut grüßt Franz. Guten Tag. Die Größen sechundzwanzig bis zweiunddreißig passen mir gut. Die Sonne scheint herrlich. Unsere Henne ist dabei ein Ei zu legen. Alles Gute.

Helmut grüßt Franz. Guten Tag. Die Größen sechundzwanzig bis zweiunddreißig passen can’t help it, the second you see him standing there in the doorway, you run and throw yourself into his arms, nearling bowling you both over. He wraps his arms around you, and you can feel both the surprise and the relief in his body as you hold him. When was the last time you touched someone like this? Have you ever?

Seconds later, you pull away and punch him in the zweiunddreißig passen mir four days, four days he’s been gone, and you thought zu legen. Alles Gute. Helmut grüßt truth be told, you don’t entirely know what you thought, but it wasn’t good. You’ve always been the king of worst-case scenarios. Fallen bridges. Burning buildings. Leaky portholes. Exploding suns. Anything could happen.

I know it could, he tells you with a smile, rubbing the place on his arm where your fist kissed him hello. No, you think, no, that’s not it, the radio has it wrong, that’s not what happened at scheint herrlich. Unsere Henne seems unbothered, though, as he stands there with that same familiar smile. I’m sorry, he says, or the radio says for him as he looks at you with sympathy — not pity, though. You know pity. You’ve seen pity from your doctors every time you try to tell them that you don’t need to be fixed, that you’re right, and if they’d just listen they’d hear grüßt Franz. Guten Tag. Die Größen sechundzwanzig

They don’t want to, the radio tells you as the man takes off his coat and hangs it on the high rusted hook by the door. That’s the problem with most scientists of this era: they think they want to be open-minded, so they’ve convinced themselves that’s exactly what they are. Purely rational. Undoubtably objective. Really, though, they’re only working inside their own sets of prejudices. They don’t want to find anything that would make everything else wrong.

Of this era? you ask, but he’s already heading for the tea. You can ask again if you want, but he’s not going to answer.

Instead, you walk over and touch his coat. It’s a nice coat, soft but strong, and it feels like Henne ist dabei ein Ei can’t be sure that’s really what it is. You slip your hands inside his pockets but find them empty. You’re invading his privacy, the radio points out, but you feel it’s all right because he’s been doing the same to you. That makes him laugh as he scoops the tea leaves from the tin, and how long has it been since you heard someone laugh in your house? How long has it been since you had someone else in your house, period? When did you stop having guests? Did you ever start?

When they stopped being the people you knew, the radio says for the man. He wants to know where the sugar is, so you point to a little ceramic jar in the cupboard. When he opens the lid, though, what he finds inside is mostly a congealed sugar-colored lump. You’re sorry, but you usually take your tea with lemon only.

Things change, the man says with a smile. He puts the lid back on the jar and gives it several good shakes, and when he opens it again, there’s been enough knocked loose for him to pour a little trickle into his cup. A sharp whistle pierces mir gut. Die Sonne scheint startled by the noise of the kettle. You hadn’t expected it to heat so fast, since the man only walked in a few moments ago. Didn’t he?

You check your watch, but you can’t remember what time it was before he showed up, so that doesn’t help. He brings you a cup and you put it under your nose, letting the steam waft up your face. It legen. Alles Gute. Helmut grüßt familiar enough with your kitchen to make tea?

Except for the sugar, he reminds you, smiling over the lip of his mug, but memory isn’t always what it should be. This used to be my house.

mir gut. Die Sonne scheint herrlich. Unsere Henne ist dabei ein Ei zu not possible. This is new housing, GI housing, built for men like you who Die Größen sechundzwanzig a family of your own, nor wanted to, really. You like women well enough, but you can’t trust them — not for the idiot reasons the other sailors always gave, but because you don’t know when one might be replaced, or if she had been already. If you don’t run her off with your personality, you’re sure you’ll run her off with your medicine cabinet.

The man shakes his head while the radio tells you that’s not true. You’re going to meet some very open-minded women someday, some of whom have prescriptions of their own far more impressive than yours. If that’s what you want, of course.

He’s changed the subject, or you’ve changed it and he’s let you, but you want to go back. What does he mean, this used to be his house?

But he’s not going to answer that either — and save your pout, the radio says as he leans across the table, because it doesn’t work on him. He taps your lower lip with his index finger, and you didn’t even realize it was sticking out. You become self-conscious. Do you usually make faces you’re not aware of making?

All the time, he says, but don’t worry, I hear it’s cute.

You glance over at the radio nearest you, the one that’s been broadcasting those ridiculous German sentences on repeat for days. It’s still on, but the only signal you hear out of it is this one, the one that’s speaking to you right now, the one that makes far more sense to you than any German does, even if its sheer existence is impossible.

Not impossible, the radio says as the man drums his fingertips rapidly on the tabletop. Your mother used to do that to get your attention, when you were small, back before she stopped being herself and started being one of whatever it was that took her and replaced her with something no longer herself. Not impossible, it says again, only improbable. It’s the same reason you can’t hear radio signals without having — or being — a radio. Being a radio is improbable, not impossible. Having a radio is neither. Enough possible becomes probable. Enough probable becomes certain. Nothing doesn’t happen in an infinite universe.

You look down at your tea. It’s gone cold again. The sky outside your window has gone from midday to the edge of evening, all since he arrived. In the dim blue twilight, his face looks almost sad. Soft, too. You want to touch it but don’t know how he’d react, and for the love of God, could the radio not say that where he can hear it?

But instead he reaches across the table and takes your hand in his and presses it to his own cheek, which is warm and, yes, soft, and he tells you to shut your eyes and ist dabei ein Ei zu legen. Alles Gute. Helmut grüßt Franz. Guten Tag. Die Größen sechundzwanzig bis zweiunddreißig passen mir gut. Die Sonne scheint herrlich. Unsere Henne ist dabei ein Ei zu legen. Alles Gute. Auf Wiederhören.




ZYT! ZYT! wakes you up — wakes you both up, in fact, though from NOMER DZIEWIĘĆDZIESIĄT DZIEWIĘĆ NOMER SZEŚĆDZIESIĄT SZEŚĆ you can’t swear to his having been asleep. You don’t remember getting back into bed, but you’re there now, you beneath sweat-soaked covers and he above, and all the radios are blaring NOMER DZEWIĘĆDZIESIĄT CZTERY NOMER CZTERDZIEŚCI PIĘĆ NOMER CZTERDZIEŚCI PIĘĆ at top volume, except for this one. This one, you can understand. The rest sound like KONEC NOMER DZEWIĘĆDZIESIĄT CZTERY NOMER PIĘĆDZIESIĄT SIEDEM NOMER DWADZIEŚCIA TRZY NOMER TRZYDZIEŚCI DZIEWIĘĆ doesn’t make any sense to you.


I have to go, he says, pressing a hand to your chest, and you grab for him, but by the time you make your hands work, he’s out of your reach and NOMER DWADZIEŚCIA TRZY NOMER SZEŚĆDZIESIĄT JEDEN NOMER PIĘĆDZIESIĄT SIEDEM NOMER PIĘĆDZIESIĄT SIEDEM NOMER DZIEWIĘĆDZIESIĄT DZIEWIĘĆ



and hear ’bout the best band in the land
they can play a bugle call like you never heard before
so natural that you want to go to war
that’s just the bestest
had a friend over, you tell her, trying to seem as pleasant and normal as can be. You’re certain she’s not one of them, because you remember when she was born, back before your parents weren’t your parents anymore, and she’s been the same ever since. Maybe she just keeps an eye on you well enough on her own.

She’s asking for details about your friend, though she uses her mouth and not the radio to do it, so you have to remember that way too. She’s hoping the friend is a woman, and you can see the disappointment register on her face when you say ‘he’. So much for normal. She asks if he’s someone you know from the service. You lie and say yes, you on along, let me take you by the hand up to the man, up to the man who’s the leader of the band getting back in touch after a while.

The worry lines on her face don’t soften into the rest of her skin. She’s the only one who still checks on you, because maybe she’s the only one who still has to. She’s telling you the doctors have been saying discouraging things about your progress, so you try to cheer up, try to and hear, come on and hear Alexander’s Ragtime progress being made, you’re taking your medications, one day you’ll see the world the way band in the land, they can play hands so tight around your cup you’re afraid it’ll shatter and come on along come on along come on along

come on along look over to the door and notice, oh, he left his coat. You’ll have to return it to him next time he comes back.

Oh no, you look at her face and see you’ve said something wrong. Dark lines crease the skin between her eyebrows as she points to it and tells you that’s your coat.

You tell her that you two must have the same coat, what a funny coincidence and so odd of you not to notice it before this, but you wait too long and in the gap you can see her mouth draw tight, her eyes go take you by the hand (here’s my lilywhites) sure you’re taking your pills?

Yes, you promise, and you’ll be glad to show her, and she can count for herself if she wants to make sure. One with every meal, though you don’t tell her the part where instead of swallowing them, you toss them down the care to hear that Swanee River played in ragtime never miss a dose that way on and hear shakes them in her pink-manicured hand and counts come on and hear hands you the bottle back come on and hear at last takes her purse and come on and hear
come on and hear
come on and hear
come on and hear
come on and hear


VLB 96 B29 B2330428
μηδέν εννέα δύο
шесть пять четыре три два
ocho ocho uno
every time it rains it rains randomness, or that’s what they’d taught you in training D38 D39 D40 D41 D42 D43 D44 signal without source, or with every source. White noise like white light, because it got to be everything by being nothing μηδέν οκτώ τέσσερα

Every radio is on now, every one tuned to a different so much closer than I dare do I want to scold unscrew the caps on all the pill bottles and dump their contents all down the drain. They make pretty little skittering sounds as they roll around your sink, before descending into SPRUCHNUMMER 4 SPRUCHNUMMER 4 SPRUCHNUMMER 4 SPRUCHNUMMER 4 hit the sides at random intervals, making their own YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT just can’t understand its signal. When it comes to tiny pretty pills, you’re not a radio.

μηδέν πέντε εννέα WHISKY TANGO ROMEO VEINTE Y UNO lesz szemem, hogy még egyszer lássalak wonder what they mean to anyone else listening with you tonight. There was a knock on your door earlier, a few hours or a few days ago, but you stayed still as death, and eventually it went три два один один два три четыре пять шесть sheets over your windows, which is smart, because you think they can’t see und was wir heimlich uns erdacht soll sich erfüllen im Wunderland don’t know how good their technology is, though. Radio waves travel through walls, water, bodies, space. The universe is filled with radio waves, spanning POZOR! POZOR! 97178 97178 listen long enough and you might hear LO LO LO LO LO 82067 82182 31657

That’s what the man told you as you lay in bed, feverish and cold at once, wracked with hysteria and withdrawal you even now scarcely recall, before the great sound woke him and he had to go. If you could hear the universe, you could change mir gut. Der sonne shein verlösch by observing, you could demand it exist. You do demand it exists already. The trick is doing it on purpose. The signals run all day and night, broadcasting KONEC KONEC KONEC KONEC KONEC KONEC KONEC no sense in the signal until you’re there to make sense of it. Radio waves were everywhere, but only radios could hear them. Without a receiver, they don’t exist cinq six sept dix neuf un deux trois sept huit neuf trees falling in forests. Cats living and dead. Certainty in an improbable world. Nothing matters until the destination is there to make the origin matter.

There can be no unwatched world, the man said, running his hand across your damp brow, as you shook so hard your teeth chattered. Did that happen? How much of anything is your delusion? You grab for the tvoundsechzig strich tvouhundert-tvouundzwanzig your fingernails scrape against metal, not medicine. What do you want? Who’s watching you?

herrlich. Unsere Henne ist dabei ein Ei zu legen. Alles Gute other people like us, he said, and you can remember now, you can finally remember, the way sometimes dreams come back to you not at ATTENCION! ATTENCION! halfway through the day, when some real-life stimulus gives context to the tatters of sleep still clinging to your brain like cobwebs. You’re going to come with them. He says it not like possibility or probability, but certainty. You’re going to be a witness.

Your hands are shaking, and your stomach your eyes are always saying the things you’re never saying I only hope lie on the floor and press your face to the cool tile. You’re burning up again. You should go to ES FOLGEN TALON FÜR 849 849 8 GRUPPEN 231 231 17 take care of GALLIPOLI HAVANA ITALIA JERUSALEM KILOGRAM LIVERPOOL relapse 746 746 746 22749 22749 22749 withdrawal goodnight and still you linger ACHTUNG SPRUCH GEHT! sign the papers and they’ll finally take away your TERMINAT TERMINAT TERMINAT


No, you say, you shout, and you slap your hand against the floor to push yourself up and away. You stagger forward, crawling and stumbling. You hit the table and knock his mug of tea — still full of sweet tea, as though he never drank it at all, as though he were never there at all — to the ground, shattering it behind you and causing a terrific splash. The bathroom’s too far, but you make it to the back door and hang out over the edge of the porch as you throw up things you didn’t know you’d had in you. You’re spitting out inky motor oil, retching great poisonous white gushes of venom. You clap a hand to your ears and realize they’re bleeding. The world spins forward in a great miserable gush, and you hang with it, clinging to the boards of the porch so you don’t spin off into space. Your heart beats against your ribcage hard enough to bruise you from the inside out. You start coughing up murky seawater, and you realize that’s not coming from your stomach, but from your lungs. You have a sea inside you. It’s time for it to come out.

How much poison can a body take and not die? How much has been filtering through you all these years, the way radio waves pass through most people’s bodies and out the other side unnoticed? Did you overdose in your kitchen? Did you drown beneath the ocean? Did you smother in your crib?

Did you survive because there was no one there to see?

The observed object, now, you. Witness, witnessed. You fall back on your back and expect to choke again, but instead you find your lungs mercifully clear, maybe clearer than they’ve ever been in your life. You take in a great gulp of air and hold it, and as you do, you can feel a pair of vibrations inside your lungs, tiny little waves of energy trapped in there, bouncing off your soft tissues. You exhale, and as you do, you can hear them — one a commercial for a laundry soap, one a telegraph to tell a man his father has passed away, both ferried on the white noise of your breath on their way throughout the galaxy.

You reach up to touch your ears, but the blood there has already dried, and when your fingers press against it, it flakes away like ash. The sky has gone a deep velvety blue, and stars twinkle in the distance. They have their own signals too, said the man, and someday scientists will build giant radios made of telescopes just to listen to the heartbeats of pulsars and quasars and even the Earth’s own sun. No, to hear what they used to sound like. Echoes, he said, with his forehead pressed to yours, his body your own body’s mirror. Signals. The past hurled so far into the deep as to become someone else’s present. Everything carried infinitely forth into a universe of possibilities, made certain only on arrival. Anything else was only as improbable as you made it.

It’s then you realize you can’t hear the radio anymore. It’s then you realize you no longer need to.


As dawn creeps in somewhere unseen outside, you turn around to find him there, standing in your dining room, holding a whole, complete mug in his hands. It’s the one you broke.

Is that what you observed or is that what you assumed? he asks, and you have to admit that it’s the latter. He hands it to you and there’s not a crack in it. The observed universe is very different from the assumed one, he says, and he puts his hands over yours. You hadn’t noticed before, but they’re the same size as yours. You run the pad of your right thumb over the base of his left thumb and feel the scar you got from a rifle misfire in basic training. You lean in to kiss him and he tastes so familiar it’s like tasting nothing at all.

There’s a knock on the door, but you ignore it. You hear someone call your name, even shout it, but it barely even registers over the rush of everything else. Your name has just become one more thing that feeds from its own color into the white.

You take the cup and hold it out at arm’s length, and the both of you watch together as you let it go. It falls and hits the ground, and this time it breaks, because you saw it happen. Possible becomes probable becomes certain. He places his hand inside yours, filling the space the cup occupied, and you close your fingers over his. He smiles and wants you to put your arms around him, so you do, holding his chest to your chest. He says your name and you swallow it, trapping the sound inside you so no one else can observe it. It’s yours now, and no one else’s.

You grab at the hem of his shirt and pull it off over your head, until you’re both bare-chested in the near-dark of the room. It’s daylight outside, somewhere, you think, but the windows and doors have long since been boarded shut and covered over. Inside is only for you.

What they want, he explains as you kiss his neck, is to keep the observation under control. They’re like the scientists who refuse conclusions outside their prejudices. Keep your seeing quiet. Keep your hearing dark. Let nothing happen for you outside the realm of the expected. A predictable universe is a safe universe. No monsters under beds, no signal in the sound. No echoes. No stars.

You push him back against the bed and crawl on top of him, and he pins you to the mattress, putting a knee between your legs. You can see him here, so he’s here. All your senses have him on their radar. He is the definition of certainty here as he bites a red ring into your shoulder. You tell him to bite harder and hope it’ll scar, and from seeing the small pink oval in the same place on his shoulder, you know it will. You so recently emptied yourself that you now feel just plain empty. You’d rather have him in there.

Now someone’s knocking at the window as he pulls your pants off and rolls you onto your side, then nestles up behind you, his mouth pressed to the back of your neck, just as naked as you are. You’ve never been an exceptionally sexual person, but maybe that was only before you could feel everything. It all rushes into you now as he tells you to breathe, as he makes you promise you’ll keep listening to him. It’s the only way he’ll be able to stay, he says, and you don’t even have to ask what he means this time, because you know. He brushes your hip with his hand, then reaches around to grab your cock and rub his thumb over its head. You shiver and rock against his body, feeling tremors crawl up your legs. At first you think you’re the one shaking, but then you realize the source is external. Everything is humming. The cosmos in motion.

You reach back and card your hand through his hair, feeling it snag in the thick locks you’ve always hated, but which you have to admit look good on him. Everything looks good on him, every time you’ve seen every bit of it. And wouldn’t your doctors have a field day with that narcissism? It’d be a whole new diagnosis for your file. But they’re not here now. It’s just the two of you and the rest of the universe.

His cock slides up and back against your ass, rocking into a rhythm, and you feel a thunder-like vibration course through you as he groans low in his chest. You’re learning all sorts of things about yourself today.

With your next breath, you turn the dial and tune in to a couple making love in a house just down the street; the one after that absorbs the radiation of two more bodies twined together in that same house’s basement — or maybe the same bodies at a different time, or maybe neither one is happening now. There are echoes of all sorts of emotions here, but passion is its own frequency, and you tune in to that as he strokes your cock and gasps against your neck. It’s a warm red frequency, and it’s as real as any other in the universe. It has to be real, after all. You’re its witness.

He smells like sugar and strong tea, like ozone, like space. Like something that’s made a long journey and come back home. You almost want to feel afraid, you feel that would be somehow appropriate, but instead he has you and you’re writhing in his touch. He knows where to grab you to make you sweat. The fever’s back now, but this time the cause is not the sickness but the cure. Burn with it. It only eats what is no longer necessary.

Someone from outside calls the name you swallowed, yells it louder now, and you think you recognize your sister’s voice. So sorry, can’t come to the door right now, currently indisposed. Another voice shouts, and this one is deep and unfamiliar, but stern and official. A storm a thousand miles away cracks with a bolt of lightning at that same moment he sucks at your earlobe in a way that sends sparks down to the tips of your toes. Another bolt rips its way down to earth as he closes his teeth around the skin there with a force just on this side of pain. It’s happening because you know it’s happening; your presence is making it real.

You can feel his lips turn into a smile against your skin. So, he whispers, by that same token…

The people outside your house aren’t there. You can’t see them and you aren’t listening. You might assume they’re there, but assumption isn’t enough for proof. And just like that, the room goes quiet, quiet enough that you can hear a great roar behind the silence, like the one that isn’t the sea trapped inside seashells. It’s the sun, he tells you, as you gasp and he kisses your throat. Someday they’ll build great radios just to hear what’s already in your head right now. Some day it won’t be empty noise. Someday this will all mean something.

White noise isn’t random, says the radio in your head, says the universe as filtered through you. Nothing is random. There’s only signal that can’t be decoded, sounds that have no context, words still looking for a language. Come and give it meaning. Your cock jumps in his hand as sensation pours through you, and a distant sun flare grabs your orgasm and steals it out of you. You can’t breathe and he’s kissing your neck and telling you that everything will be well, that all manner of everythings will be well. Instants later, you’re shooting forth again, another jet of liquid white noise, not random at all, but in search of a greater sense.

Your house is gone. Your eyes are shut and your breathing steady, but unobserved your surroundings disappear. You can assume the room is still there, so you keep your eyes shut and you don’t listen, and in no time it disappears too, from the uncertain to the improbable to the impossible. Your rug’s not there. Your bed’s not there. Your sheets aren’t there. Your clothes aren’t there.

The man’s not there either, and you understand that now, because neither are you. You couldn’t get a good view from here, anyway. Time to rise. Time to find the others who’ll watch with you. Time to see something real. Time to make it real. Eyes shut and ears open, you exhale and




illustrated by beili

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