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The winner of our 2022 Christmas ghost story contest.

It was the first time I heard The Warbler. Ed Pinson had invited me over to his house to plan some of the remaining details of the Huntsville Amateur Radio Club’s annual meeting, which was coming up in a couple of months. I was still relatively new to the club and had only been operating in the local frequencies on the cheap V.H.F./U.H.F. equipment I’d bought second-hand online. A few months scanning the local fire and rescue channels had whetted my appetite, and the guys had encouraged me to take a more active role in the club. Ed was just wrapping up the weekly emergency radio league call-in.

“This is W.K.R.Q. saying thank you for everyone’s participation in tonight’s emergency radio league call-in. Be sure to check in next Tuesday at 9:00 P.M. We had a total of seventeen check-ins tonight. This is W.K.R.Q. closing the broadcast and returning this frequency to normal use at 9:25 P.M.” Ed had a good ham radio voice. It was upbeat and resonant in a way that conveyed competent optimism even when garbled by interference. It was the sort of voice you’d want to hear if the south Huntsville transmission station ever really did go down under four feet of snow. Ed switched off his mic, leaned back in his swivel chair, took a mouthful of coffee from his insulated mug, and rested it on the substantial slope of his belly. “Seventeen. That’s pretty good. We’ve had a couple of younger guys like you callin’ in lately. Good for the hobby.” We were theoretically preparing for a cellular network collapse in the wake of some unspecified natural or human disaster, but the emergency league was just another excuse for those of us attached to the ham radio culture of the mid-twentieth century to socialize and maintain our unique interests. In our lonely basement workshops and garages, we liked to think we were preserving something both more civilized and more free than the cellular technology that had dethroned analog radio communication not so long ago.

Ed looked over at me and grinned. “Hey, we just have time to catch the Bolero transmission at 9:30.” He swung around to face his equipment. “You ever pick up any numbers stations?” he asked. He now had his back to me and was fiddling with the dial on his receiver. I told him I hadn’t.

“Well hang on just a sec.” He rotated his dial clockwise, zeroing in on 18740 kHz. At first, I heard nothing but static. Then right at 9:30 P.M., the faint sound of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero began to play—a few bars of the main theme played on a French horn. When the music stopped, we heard the compressed sound of a synthetic female voice come through the speaker in a blend of Spanish and English. Atención. Atención. Atención. 24. 12. 5. 19. 21. 8. 74. 14. 2. 75. 22. 8. 27. 11. 5. 62. 20. 7. Atención. Atención. Atención. The message repeated two more times, then the same bars of Bolero played again and the transmission ended. Ed swiveled back around, another grin stretched across his face under his fulsome mustache. “Pretty freaky, huh?”

He had my attention. “What in the world was that, Ed? Some sort of spy stuff?” I sat down straddling the office chair facing me, rested my crossed arms along the chair back, and leaned towards him.

“Spy stuff? Yeah, that’s the idea,” he said. “It’s a numbers station. A ghost station. Nobody claims it. It’s not registered in the U.S. or anywhere else as far as anyone can tell. There used to be a lot of them. Most of ’em shut down after the Cold War. Look here.” He stood and grabbed a clipboard off the weathered pegboard wall to his right and flipped through a stack of papers clipped to the front. “This is a list of the ghost stations I’ve picked up over the years. Some of them are still active.” He handed me the clipboard and sat back down. “Those numbers you heard probably reference a cypher book of some sort. Each set of three numbers could refer to a page, line, word. Something like that. Could be any book too. Moby-Dick, for example.”

The page he flipped to had a chart with station nicknames running down a column on the left side. Each row specified the frequency on which the station transmitted, notes about the nature of the transmission, dates of operation, and assumed transmission location. Apache. Bolero. The Buzzer. The Gong. The Pip. The Swedish Rhapsody. The Thumper. The Lincolnshire Poacher. The Warbler. All these names I would become very familiar with over the next few years. The Buzzer, thought to operate out of the former Soviet Union, transmitted nothing but a repeated metallic buzz day and night. It was still active and had been since the Seventies. The Pip had broadcasted a similar continuous beeping noise but was occasionally interrupted by cryptic Russian language messages such as continue to develop relationship with Stefan, as translated on one of the ham radio internet forums. It ceased operation in 1995. The Swedish Rhapsody, possibly based somewhere in Eastern Europe, opened its broadcasts with the sound of Hugo Alfvén’s “Swedish Rhapsody No. 1” played on a music box. The voice of a young girl would then deliver seemingly nonsensical messages in German. It ceased broadcasting in 1988. There are several such stations still operational in East Asia, thought to be broadcasting into or out of China.

I ran my finger down the list to Bolero. “Bolero’s operating out of Cuba?”

“Yeah, that one was easy to locate. Strong signal. Couldn’t be coming from anywhere else.” Ed was entering all the callsigns that had participated that night on an Excel spreadsheet on a laptop open on the desk adjacent to his radio equipment. “How many agents you think they have still operating in the U.S.?” he asked.

“At least a few, right? Maybe in South Florida?” I poured a half cup of stale coffee into the cleanest mug I could find on the work bench along the far wall. I took another look at the chart. “Hey, some of these are in Europe and Asia. You can pick these up?”

“Sure,” he nodded. “Depending on transmission conditions, I can pick up shortwave broadcasts from South America, Europe, Asia. Some folks have bounced Morse code off the moon using shortwave. Never tried that myself.” He laughed. Ed turned from where he was working and pointed to a faded National Geographic world map on a wall pin board on the other side of the room covered in a variety of colored pins. “The ones in red up there are some of my DXs—the long-distance transmissions I’ve picked up.” There were little red pins scattered around Europe, South America, Asia, and a few remote islands. Ed crossed his arms in meditation, looking pleased with himself.

I followed the list to the next page. At the bottom, the last entry was a station called The Warbler. “Huntsville?” I exclaimed. One of these is local?” I stood up and brought the clipboard over to Ed, gesturing at him with it, almost tripping over a large, partially disassembled A.C./D.C. power converter in the middle of the floor.

Ed swiveled around away from his laptop. “Well, not Huntsville proper, mind you. I think it’s broadcasting from the hills east of town. It’s been there a long time. Mid-Fifties.” He rolled his chair over to his receiver and started fiddling with the knob, rotating its dial down to 4820 kHz. Before he even landed squarely on the frequency, I could hear a three-toned pattern cutting through the static. It was loud and clear—a short run of three escalating notes, the final note of the triad held for a little longer than the first two.

“Some of the older guys started calling it The Warbler ’cause it sounded a bit like a bird call—like a warbler staking out its territory in the spring or something.” He crossed his arms and leaned back away from the transmitter, facing me. “Best guess we have is that it’s military. Maybe a project out of Redstone Arsenal. Something one of the Germans who came over with von Braun cooked up. Redstone hasn’t claimed it though. Ted Long used to work on the arsenal but never could find out anything about it. No one knew anything. The property is likely Redstone but nobody seems to have jurisdiction over it, from what he could tell. Could be operated out of D.C.”

“So what do you think it’s for?” I asked.

Ed shrugged. “Don’t think they’re broadcasting any messages. Maybe they just want to maintain control of that frequency. You know, in case of an emergency. Nobody else can broadcast on it while it’s doing this,” he gestured towards the speaker.

“Has it ever been used for emergency broadcasts?”

“Nope. Although we think the mic is live. It’s a mechanically generated sound, not digital. Hang on.” Ed opened a file cabinet and flipped through some manila folders until he found a thin, green spiral notebook. He found the page he was looking for and handed it to me. There were notes with dates and times recording irregularities that had been picked up in some of the transmissions.

“I used to listen to it in the background for a few hours at a time, just listening for somethin’ different.”

“Says here the tone changed a couple of times?”

“Yeah, the pitch shifted a little bit. Twice, as far as we can tell. It used to be a little faster too. That’s pretty much what you’d expect from an old mechanical tone wheel or something like that.” Ed was now wrestling with a bag of Fritos. The bag was getting the better of him.

“So how hard would it be to actually find this thing—the source of this transmission?”

“Probably not hard at all, really. I imagine I could triangulate the location of the station pretty well with the directional receiver I got in the truck. You’d just have to drive around a bit. Maybe do a little trespassin’.”

“Well, we should go do that some weekend. It would be fun.” I tossed the notebook on the work bench next to me.

Ed laughed. “Sure, kid. It would be fun. Maybe next month.” He stood up and offered me the now opened bag. “You want any of these?”

Ed never had the chance to find the station with me. He died two years later of pancreatic cancer, just a couple of weeks after the initial diagnosis. Ed was not married and had no children, leaving the management of his estate and funeral arrangements to his only living sister, Barbara. A few of us from the club joined her for the funeral and graveside service. It was a clear, cool morning in early November and I remember lingering over lunch with her in the room the club reserved at Nick’s by the River for our small reception following the service.

“Ed and I were never close,” she said, gazing into the half cup of coffee in front of her. “Y’all were really like his family. His brothers. I could never get into all his radio stuff.” I plucked another cornbread muffin from the basket in front of me and began to slowly, thoughtlessly, spread margarine across the halves of its crumbly interior. “It was so kind of y’all to help out this morning.”

“We were happy to do it. Ed was such a big part of our club. Won’t be the same without him.”

“He wanted to leave all his equipment to the club. But he asked me to give you the equipment in his truck. He thought you’d get some use out of it.”

Later that week, we helped Barbara clean out Ed’s house. His radio equipment, now silent, lay stretched along the desk in his workroom just as he had left it, illuminated only by the late fall light filtering through the raised horizontal window along the back wall. I carefully took down his world map and sat looking at it for a few moments in his swivel chair. Here were the final, tangible remains of the hours he spent working in this room. There would be no more pins added to the map, no new callsigns recorded in his transmission log. His sister let me keep it. We moved his radio equipment into the club’s storage facility at the EZ-Store on the parkway. I pulled Ed’s equipment out of his truck along with the mounted directional antenna he kept in the passenger’s seat.

The club was not the same without Ed. Ted and I took turns keeping the weekly emergency league call-in going every Tuesday night. But I spent more and more time in my home office exploring the vast, obscure world hidden in the long-distance shortwave frequencies.

It was in January of the following year that I finally decided to get out of the house and triangulate The Warbler’s transmissions. I started my journey from the parking lot at the top of Monte Sano State Park on the eastern edge of Huntsville. Through the bare trees I could see the valley unroll before me to the east and rise again in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the gray winter light further on. The air was crisp and cold on my fingers as I calibrated Ed’s directional antenna mounted to the roof of my hatchback. As Ed had anticipated, the signal was strong, broadcasting from somewhere due east from where I now stood.

I drove southeast towards Scottsboro until the signal shifted to the northwest. I then drove north and back around to the west, triangulating the transmission’s source as best I could from the county highways, winding through the foothills, as I closed in around it in concentric circles. I soon found myself following the contour of a prominent hill to my left as I followed the trail south again. While farm and grazing land stretched out to my right, the hill on the other side was heavily forested with mixed pine and deciduous trees rising towards its summit. As best I could tell, the source of The Warbler’s transmissions was somewhere up that hill shrouded among the trees. Across from a pasture, I found a steel gate crossing a dirt road, winding through the woods up the hill. There was enough of a shoulder for me to pull over and examine the gate more closely. It was marked

Redstone Arsenal Property

Authorized Personnel Only

No Trespassing

While the gate was enough to prevent vehicular ascent of the hill, the wire fence running through the woods parallel to the highway was rudimentary and poorly maintained in places. It was easy to find a gap along the bottom of the fence, perhaps dug by some enterprising animal, not far from the gate and wide enough for me to slip under. I left all of my gear in the car except for a pair of binoculars. I could always claim to be an overzealous birdwatcher if I had a run-in with any security.

I stayed close to the edge of the red clay road as I followed it up, stopping every few minutes to listen for the sound of an engine or raised voices echoing down the side of the hill. I heard nothing. As I neared the crest of the hill, my pulse quickened as I now could see the outline of a radio tower rising through the bare trees ahead of me. From the edge of a clearing near the top, I could clearly see the antenna and there, beside it, a weathered, flat-roofed cinder block building with a single door facing the road. A pair of partially shuttered windows faced my side of the hill. A single white truck was parked in the grass alongside the building.

I slowly began to circle the clearing counterclockwise just inside the tree line, always keeping an eye on the door. As I got closer to the house, I could see that the truck had Huntsville civilian plates but no other markings that might have identified its owner. As I came around towards the back side of the building, I saw two more windows on the opposite side and a large covered generator parallel to the house next to the power line that fed the building from a wide easement running up the opposite side of the hill. I crossed the easement out of sight of the building and continued around to where the large, branching shortwave antenna reached from the earth into the sky.

The truck bothered me, but I had come a long way to learn something about this place and I wasn’t quite ready to work my way down the hill and back under the fence again. I slowly approached the antenna, crossing the clearing out of sight of the building’s windows. I just wanted to get a glimpse inside if I could. As I came within arm’s length of the antenna, sharp barks erupted from inside the building. Before I could move more than a step or two, I heard the door, now on the opposite side of the building, give way and the all-too-familiar sound of a dog padding across the frosty grass heading in my direction. I turned and made toward the woodline as fast as I could, but not before the border collie caught up with me and continued to bark, wagging his tail, as he followed me towards the trees.

“He won’t bite you.” I heard a flat, gruff voice address me from behind. “But I suggest you come on back and tell me what you’re doing up here before I call the police. They’ll get here and find your car before you can get back down the hill.”

He asked me to call him Mike. I was now sitting across from him just inside the front door of the station in a room arranged as a work space or office of some kind. Old steel-framed bookshelves lined the walls, filled with books, technical manuals, and labeled boxes. A desk lamp and an inexpensive coffee maker sat on a mid-century work table along one wall. Mike was pouring me some coffee into a Styrofoam cup as the dog curled up on a bed underneath the table. Mike was still wearing a brown Carhartt coat with the hood pulled back from his close-cropped gray hair.

“George and I don’t usually get visitors.” He handed me the cup and sat down across from me. He studied me through his oversized bifocals. “So, do you think you found what you were looking for?” He took a sip of coffee.

I hesitated for a moment, trying to decide just how much truth I should share with him. But I figured being at least somewhat forthcoming might inspire similar candor in Mike. I told him the little I knew—or had heard—about the station.

“I’m surprised more folks like you haven’t shown up over the years. But you’re the first I know of who’s actually found the place.”

Mike was at first somewhat reticent but he confirmed some of my suspicions. The station was the source of The Warbler’s transmissions. It had been operating since the early 1950s. The property was owned by Redstone Arsenal but operation of the station had at least temporarily been handed over to civilian control. He also asked me a good bit about my own education, work experience, and family background. We soon developed a friendly rapport and, perhaps because of my age and background, he didn’t seem to think of me as any kind of threat.

“Here,” he said, “let me show you something.” A door on the opposite side of the room we were in led to a short hallway, at the end of which another door led into a large, windowless room lined with shelves full of radio equipment. Another long desk stretched across the far wall, covered in books, tools, and more radio components. Some of it was very old, but interspersed among the vintage equipment were newer model components that appeared to be wired in parallel sequence to provide continuing operations in case of malfunction. Mike sat down at the desk and flipped a switch controlling a single speaker to his right on a shelf above the desk. Immediately I heard The Warbler’s familiar three-step pattern. “This housing here,” he said, pointing across to a green metal frame wired into the transmitter on the other side of the desk, “is the mechanism that produces the tone you’re hearing. It’s actually two separate tone boxes, one of which acts as a backup in case the other malfunctions or requires maintenance.” That might explain the shift in tone Ed had heard, I thought to myself. Mike flicked off the switch on the speaker.

“So what is it for,” I ventured to ask.

Mike hesitated for a moment. “I don’t know,” he answered. “I have ideas about what it’s for but I’m not going to share those with you right now. I’ve already told you quite a lot. And all of it is confidential, you understand.” Mike looked at his watch. “But it’s getting late. Let me drive you back down to your car.” After a moment’s hesitation he added, “Why don’t you come back up here next week and maybe you can help me a bit. I could use a hand from someone who knows his way around a radio.”

I returned Monday afternoon and just about every day I could get time away from work. Over the next few months, I spent a lot of time with Mike and George monitoring the station and becoming familiar with the layout and operation of its equipment. Over time, Mike began to share more of what he knew bit by bit. The station’s proper name was not The Warbler but UVB-52. It had been in operation as a closely guarded project originally under the joint command of the Army and the Air Force. Mike was not the first civilian who had taken on the task of keeping the station operational. He had been recruited by a man Mike called Gabe whom Mike had met while he was still teaching electrical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Gabe had been the first civilian charged with continuing the operation of the station. From a file, Mike produced a cryptic unmarked letter dated March 26, 1989, the day Gabe took charge of the station.

Temporary civilian operation of PROJECT ANTHONY approved. Uninterrupted transmissions are to continue until further notice. PROJECT ANTHONY to remain HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL.

This was the only written record of the station’s origin as a federal operation prior to civilian handoff. Gabe had operated the station alone for almost fifteen years before he recruited Mike to provide him with support. There had been no express arrangement or approval of any subsequent hand-off to a successor, but without further instructions, and with no point of contact at Redstone, Gabe decided he had no choice but to make his own plans.

“So I came on board around 2002 and started helping Gabe take care of things,” Mike explained while we were cleaning and inspecting the exterior generator on the side of the building one day. “He passed away about five years ago and I’ve been on my own since then. Gabe didn’t tell me much about how he first got involved other than that only a handful of people in D.O.D. even knew the project existed. Gabe thought transfer of operation to him was intended to keep the project isolated from internal oversight. There was no point of contact locally at Redstone and he was quite firm in thinking he was not supposed to reach out to anyone on his own. Whatever contact he originally had disappeared but he believed he had an obligation to keep the station going.” I wasn’t surprised to hear that Mike now needed some help. He asked if I could take on some of the responsibility for maintaining the station and keep things going.

That’s also when Mike first told me about the account. On the first of every month, an automatic deposit was made to a bank account held for the use of the station’s operation and maintenance. The amount of the deposit was also automatically adjusted for inflation on the first of every fiscal year. “Gabe always assumed that if the money was continuing to be deposited every month in support of the station then somebody must have intended it to continue operation. Someone might be monitoring it too.”

Eventually the topic came back around to the purpose of the station. I told him Ed thought the transmission was intended to maintain control of the frequency in case of emergency.

“That’s a good guess,” he responded. “But I don’t think that would have satisfied Gabe. The project was too sensitive for that.” By now we were back at the antenna tower, checking its electrical connections to the station building. “Gabe thought it was some sort of dead hand. If the transmission ever stopped, he thought it would trigger some kind of automatic response.”

“What kind of response?” I asked.

“Who knows. Could trigger some automatic escalation of Department of Defense threat level or maybe put Redstone in lockdown. Could even trigger automatic retaliation. You have to think in terms of the era when this was built,” he explained. “Termination of the transmission signal could have indicated a Soviet attack on Huntsville. An automatic dead hand response system wouldn’t require a human operator to initiate. Anyway, that’s what Gabe thought.”

As we walked back towards the front of the building, he said to me over his shoulder, “The only thing that really puzzled Gabe were the transmissions they previously picked up on that frequency. During the war, mind you, we greatly expanded our capability to monitor radio transmissions globally and to pick up distant or weak signals, especially when there wasn’t a lot of solar interference.” He slung a bag of tools into the bed of his truck. “Gabe said in the late Forties maybe, after the Germans were set up over at Redstone, they mounted some pretty sensitive shortwave receivers to pick up any Soviet communications. And on this frequency, the same we’re broadcasting UVB-52 on now, they found a lot of low-level garbled chatter. Gabe said they heard voices, but in some sort of code or unknown language.” He thought for a moment, his elbow propped up on the tailgate of his truck. “The really weird thing he told me was that they never could determine its direction, and the strength of the signal never varied either. Multidirectional, always the same. It’s like it was just background noise—everywhere—but hard to detect without the sort of equipment they were using.”

Occasionally, we’d sleep at the station, during storms or when the temperature dropped well below freezing, just to make sure the station remained operational. Off the hallway that ran straight through the building was a makeshift bedroom—really more of a cell—with an adjacent utilitarian bathroom. One of us would get a little sleep in there while the other sat in the transmission room.

One night, after I had been working with Mike for a couple of years, I volunteered to stay up at the station alone. The chance of severe weather was low and I felt confident I could handle things on my own. By that time, Mike trusted me with the run of the place, and so he readily agreed. “I’ll bring you some breakfast early and you can get on in to work if you need to.”

In the late afternoon, the sky had grown overcast. As I was returning from my car to the station, I looked across the clearing and saw a single coyote watching me from the edge of the power line easement. Its gaze was almost human as it watched me enter the building. I had almost forgotten about it when about an hour later I looked up from the desk in the front office and saw through the window that the coyote had now been joined by two more of its kind, the three standing together by the easement watching the building, silently.

The air cooled as a moonless night descended over the hill. I closed the shutters on the windows and turned on the space heater in the front room to counter the draft creeping in around the door frame. I wished then that Mike had left George at the station to keep me company. There’s an uncanny transformative quality that loneliness at night brings to the space around you. Innocuous sounds take on sinister significance in the still of your isolation. It’s perhaps for that reason that I’m still not sure how much I can trust my own memory of the first night I spent alone on the hill.

It must have been after midnight while I was sitting in the transmission room, enjoying the warm glow of the transmitter’s amber display lights, when I heard the sound of laughter, somewhere in the woods sloping down the hill from the station. As best I could tell, it was an older woman’s voice. It was not a mirthful laugh either but to my ears sounded more like malicious cackling. The sound stopped and then started again a few minutes later, this time joined by other voices of both men and women. First one would start and then the others would join together in a chorus of chortling before the sound died down again. And then after a bit it would start up again. It must have lasted for at least half an hour and—though I cannot say for certain—it seemed to me at the time that the sound moved from one side of the hill to the other.

Eventually, the laughter stopped and I reassured myself that it must have been a group of people from one of the farms nearby. The sound perhaps could have been carried by the wind echoing off the nearby foothills. I settled down as best I could in the little cell to sleep but never could reach deep, restful slumber. I was constantly wavering in and out of sleep and in that half-conscious state I had restless dreams or waking visions. I could hear the laughter in my mind again but now I imagined it was in the station with me and the owners of those cackling voices were reaching for me, their faces obscured in the dim half-light of the station. As I struggled against them, I would wake and find myself alone in the room.

I must have fallen asleep eventually. I awoke in the soft light of the early morning as I heard Mike open the door. I could hear his feet shuffling across the floor and the sound of him removing something from a plastic bag on the table in the front office. The sound of George’s paws and tinkling tags soon followed together with the reassuring burble of the coffee maker. I did not tell Mike about my disturbing evening right away, but grabbed a biscuit off the table and a cup of coffee, as I hurried out the door to freshen up at home before work. My immediate thought was to never return. Whatever forces had converged on me alone in the dark meant for me to stay away. I was warned. But I came back. Mike needed me.

It wasn’t for a few days that I broached the subject with Mike. He had brought a riding mower up to the station on a trailer along with some other landscaping equipment. We had to maintain the open space around the station ourselves. He didn’t look at all surprised. “I should have said something to you,” he said. “It hasn’t happened a lot but I’ve seen some strange stuff up here too.”

His own experiences had been similar to mine. Coyotes, feral dogs, wild pigs, vultures—he’d seen them on the property acting peculiar, coming close to where he had been working or sitting on the edge of the woods like they were watching him. “Once I came out here and found the tower itself just covered with crows. They were all over the ground too, squawking and carrying on like they were having a meeting. They didn’t hurt anything, fortunately, but they only moved when George chased them off.”

But the animals weren’t the most peculiar thing he’d seen. “It feels crazy just talking about it. So anyway, me and George were spending the night up here like you did and I had just taken some trash out to the truck. Must have been pretty late. After midnight sometime. When I turned to walk back toward the station, I see this dim violet light through the trees over there.” He was pointing towards the back side of the hill to the right of the power line easement. “And there was almost a humming sound in the air but one I felt more than heard, if you know what I mean. So after an hour or so, I’m back in the station and George starts barking. I take him outside and he just starts going crazy, barking at something over in that same direction. The air is still lit up with that dim purplish light but as I’m looking, I see the silhouette of these figures over there, just by the woods. Didn’t look like people exactly either. I had my gun on me and so George and I start walking that way and they just sort of slunk back into the woods or, unless I was just seeing things, up into the trees.” Mike looked visibly disturbed by what he was recounting as we stood there looking together towards the trees. “We came back into the house and maybe a half hour later I looked through the window in that direction and the light’s gone.”

Mike went on to share with me some of his deeper speculations about the nature of the station. After hearing his story, I was not surprised to find out that he had considered the possibility that the station was used to communicate some message to off-world beings who were themselves monitoring the station’s activities. Among his more fanciful conjectures, he even suggested that a dead hand purpose might still be a plausible explanation, but that it was meant to inform our visitors that humanity was still in functional control of the planet. “So what exactly do you think would happen if the signal went quiet?” I asked him.

He thought for a minute. “Maybe it would tell them something’s gone wrong. Instead of a dead-hand automated response, maybe it would tell them that humanity was no longer in charge—that we’d destroyed ourselves with war or disease.”

“And then what?”

“Don’t know. Maybe at that point they’d be free to take control themselves, maybe strip Earth down for parts.” He laughed.

That was one of the last times Mike was able to do any heavy work in the field around the station. His rheumatoid arthritis was getting worse and he was visibly showing signs of age. Walking the perimeter of the field often left him winded. I offered to take on more of his responsibilities. Taking on his shifts also meant taking a leave of absence from work. I didn’t have much to keep me in town and eventually I spent more and more time alone at the station with George, whom he left with me to keep me company.

At night, sometimes the voices return. I hear laughter just over the side of the hill echoing up towards the station from the woods below, whispers just outside my window, or muffled voices at the edge of the property over by the trees. Sometimes George springs from the floor and paces the station nervously or sniffs the air as a breeze passes. He may growl or bark briefly before returning to his bed by the chair at my feet. And then the dreams return at night and I waver in and out of consciousness while unseen hands grope towards me or I feel myself lifted off the mattress, hovering helplessly in the air over my bed, where ugly, distorted faces flicker before me in the shadows cast by the amber lights filtering in from the control room. From the window, I once thought I saw figures like Mike had described—bent black shapes no bigger than children that appeared to claw their way backwards up the trees over by the power line easement.

In the time I have spent at the station, I have developed my own thoughts about what its purpose is. My own endless search for answers led me down unexpected paths beyond the more familiar world of radio transmissions, Cold War spy stories, and space exploration. Not long ago, I happened across a scrap of folded, weathered paper when it dropped out of an old operational manual I took down off the shelf during one of the many quiet moments I had alone sitting in the front room while Mike was away. The note itself looked unremarkable—just a leaf of paper torn from a small spiral notebook perhaps once kept beside an old rotary phone. The pencil markings scratched across it at an angle had been written in a hurry and were already beginning to fade after sitting untouched, perhaps for a half century, forgotten on the shelf.

isolated voice record believed by Dr. H to be related to UGARITIC, NAHUATL, and COPTIC – still awaiting add. confirm. others remain undetermined

It is said that the desert fathers of early Christianity, like Saint Anthony, went out into the deserts and remote places of Egypt not so much to avoid living a life among people in the crowded streets of Alexandria but to confront what was thought to be lurking out there among the dry bones and the sand. The wilderness, the mountains, the deserts—these places far from the cities of men—were the dwelling places of evil spirits and dark forces, the primordial sources of sin and disease. I now thought of the station in these terms too.

Ed, Gabe, and Mike were perhaps each at least partially right about the station. But they were like the blind men describing different parts of the elephant. In exploring the airwaves, those who came before us may have found something they did not expect and could not fully explain. Something dark and menacing attempting to break into our world. Something that spoke in many tongues, including the lost, forgotten speech of dead ages, ancient priests, or magicians. The three-toned run of The Warbler began to sound to me not so much like a radio signal but as a kind of prayer. Ky-ri-e. Ky-ri-e. Ky-ri-e. Whether The Warbler was meant to block this malevolent chatter from our atmosphere or counter it in some fashion remains unclear to me. But I’m also convinced of the importance of the station continuing its work, even if many of my questions remain unanswered.

I sit here tonight at my desk with George resting by my feet, lost in these thoughts. I will continue to do what I can to keep UVB-52 operational, singing its warbler-like song endlessly into the ether. I don’t know how much longer that will be possible. The station is always in need of repair and it’s long past time to upgrade much of the transmission equipment. The grass is growing tall outside the window. But the deposits stopped showing up in the bank account at the end of the year. We have no clue whom to contact and I suspect all memory of this project has been lost in time and the inevitable turnover that comes with our cyclical political order. Our own resources are limited. I do not know what will happen if the transmission ever fails. I hope to never find out. Kyrie eleison.