This is the internet, so I'm sure the majority of you are familiar with the concept of the numbers station. If not: Basically, a numbers station is a radio channel that broadcasts coded messages, usually a voice that speaks a series of numbers which have no immediately discernible rhyme or reason. There are all kinds of theories floating around about what the true purpose of these radio stations could be, from simple tests to make sure the radio frequency is operational to CIA psychological operations and beyond.
I bring this up because the other day I encountered someone I've decided to call the Numbers Man. What it is he's saying or doing, I'm not sure. But it's not normal, and I'm pretty sure it's not safe.
I live across the hall from Mr. Frisk, a middle aged man with slightly sandy hair and classically impressive cheekbones. He looks a little like Robert Redford, if Robert Redford's face was trapped in a perpetual scowl. As far as I know, no one in the building had ever spoken to him before; I got his name, Sid Frisk, from the landlady purely out of curiosity. I only know what he looks like because sometimes when I leave the building I see him peering down at the street, mouthing something I'd never been able to make out. Whenever I made eye contact with him he would shut the curtains in an angry haste.
A few weeks ago I was coming home from work and I noticed a thin trail of grey smoke emerging from under his door. Concerned, I rapped on his door. "Hello?" I said. "Mr. Frisk?" No answer. "Mr. Frisk, are you in there?"
A pause, and then the door swung open. I looked into his kitchen out of curiosity, grotesque with its mounds of unwashed dishes, sundered cardboard boxes strewn across the ground. He stared at me in a wrathful delirium as he held the door open, his jaw clenched, his eyes bloodshot.
"I just, uh," I stammered. I was so disoriented by his appearance that I had almost forgotten why I had knocked on his door in the first place. "The smoke. I saw smoke coming out of your...door. I thought there might have been an accident."
I looked over his shoulder. The smoke was evidently coming out of a clay pot sitting on his dining room table, enameled with crystalline beads that I couldn't readily identify. The smoke plumed upwards and then down in a U-shape, almost like the profile of a gorge. Was smoke supposed to move like that? It kept its shape to a meticulous degree. It almost seemed solid. It almost seemed living.
I took this in with only a glance, but it was enough to agitate Mr. Frisk even beyond where he was currently. He opened his mouth, and I was certain he was going to scream at me. But nothing came out.
Fifty six ninety one two hundred thirty seven eighteen five oh two.
The sound of those numbers entered my mind, but I hadn't noticed Mr. Frisk open his mouth. Had I missed it? But I was staring right at him. It was almost as though the idea of those numbers in sequence had been placed in my brain, like someone sliding a bookmark into a thick paperback.
Disoriented, almost off-balance, I backed away from his door. "Well, I guess...I see you're okay, so uh. No harm done." I fumbled for my keys, hands shaking as I stuck them in the lock and turned. I peaked over my shoulder to see if he was still looking at me. Sure enough, his expression hadn't changed. I waved and smiled weakly, as much as my cowed disposition would allow at that moment, and closed my door. I went to bed drunk.
A couple of days later I met my friend Laurent for a pint after work. We hadn't spoken in a while and he was connected to a group of friends I'd long since lost contact with. A few drinks in, he started rambling about Terri, a girl he used to date, and her current problems with dating.
"I don't mind talking about it with her, you know? We had something, we shouldn't just stop being friends just because things didn't work out between us. But it's so God damn aggravating hearing about all these lousy dudes she ends up going home with, you know?"
"I can only imagine," I replied.
"It's not even really jealousy; I do okay, sexually. But I know how smart Terri is, and when she fifty six ninety one two hundred thirty seven eighteen five oh two."
I stopped my drink mid gulp. There was an awkward silence between us. "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"
Laurent looked confused. "I just said I know how smart she is, and when she makes these choices it frustrates me as someone who cares about her."
I smiled, trying to play it off. "Of course. Yes, yes, I'm sure that must be difficult." I tried to forget about it, but it was difficult to enjoy the rest of our time together. I drank too much and ended up going home with vomit on my shirtsleeves.
The next few days passed without incident, save for a brutal hangover after that night out that seemed to last for two days as opposed to the customary one. On a Wednesday morning, however, I was sitting in my cubicle taking my lunch break when Louis, my supervisor, called me into his office. He seemed frustrated and confused as I sat down across from him.
"Sylvester. I asked you to email me the Curring report just a few minutes ago, didn't I?"
"Yes, I...believe I did?"
He grimaced, turning his desktop to me. "Well, would you call this the Curring report?"
I looked at the screen. On it was a Word document with no writing, save for a header that read 12003718502 in 12 point font.
"Sir, I...I can't begin to explain. I've been feeling so unwell lately, I've had these...attacks, those numbers are, I don't know what those numbers are but-"
He held up his hand, looking even more confused than he had a moment ago. "Jesus Christ, Sly, relax, it's not that big of a deal. Just double check which report you're sending out next time, okay? If I'd forwarded upper management our Berson info instead of Curring it would've made me look like a real asshole, you know?"
"Berson? What..." I looked at the screen again. On it was a Word document outlining all of our current data for Berson, a midrange client of ours. I darted my glance back and forth from the screen to Louis and back again. Finally, I composed myself. "Of course, Lou, I...I'll be more careful next time."
He didn't seem convinced. "You wanna take the rest of the day off?"
"No! No, I'll be fine, really. Thank you."
There has only been one more incident since regarding this sequence of numbers; but given the way these interactions have been trending I do not expect them to stop, or to get more explicable or less unnerving.
I was lying in my bed, attempting to go to sleep. I was in a hypnagogic state between sleep and wakefulness, where the mind is at its least predictable. A part of me was staring at the ceiling above me; another part, separate but occurring simultaneously, was with my sister, whom I had not seen in several years. As I stared upwards, drifting out of consciousness, I felt myself next to the edge of a rushing blue river. I have always been a vivid dreamer, and I could practically smell the moisture on the grass as we walked across it. I remember feeling alert, protective of her.
As I felt myself about to enter fully into the world of the dream, the ceiling seemed to crack suddenly. A thick black vein, blacker even than the dark of the room and so presenting itself as a twisting void, swam across my vision. It was not so much that I heard those numbers repeat so much as I felt them inside of me, as real and heavy as tumors. I felt deeply unsafe. I tried to move; I couldn't. My consciousness returned to the dream; my sister was younger, only up to my waste, holding my hand. The river was moving faster. Something was swimming in it.
"Start counting," she whispered.
I tried to move again; with concentrated, wrenching effort, I found that I could move my jaw ever so slightly. The black vein continued to slither across the ceiling, whipping down over me like a cut vine. "Fifffffffffffffftuhssssxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx," I slurred.
"That's not good enough," she said. Her face was green, her eyes without pupils. "Keep counting."
"Closer." She smiled, perhaps innocently, but as her eyes melted down her little face like egg yolks I could not feel anything but horror. "Keep going."
"Just a little more!" and this was when her eye-yolk spread over her hands and she dipped them in the river, now rushing with monsoon force. Some big, dark red creature like a demoniac anaconda bobbed up and down from the surface, hissing and panting. The sky above the river went from deep blue to black and back again but the vision stayed the same, I saw her and the beast and the river whether the sky was dark or colored. She turned to me. Her teeth were gone.
Five oh two.
The vein disappeared and the river slowed and the beast dove down too deep to see and my sister wore her face again, her bright beautiful face glowing like the sun through gossamer wings.
"You remembered your Lucky Number," she giggled. And then, in a voice not her own-a voice from a canyon at the bottom of the sea-she said, "Don't forget it."