A radio grapples with its essentially passive existence as the world crumbles around it
Radios have become old-fashioned. I know that through the snippets of conversation I hear as I sit on my table. Despite that, they’ve never done more than talk about replacing me.
There’s a man who uses me the most often. He has an impressive mustache and is often referred to as “the Communicator” by the people who talk through me.
I connect people who are far away. It may not be the most exciting job—I care very little about human politics—but it’s fulfilling to know what I’m doing is helping people.
And when people aren’t using me, I can look out at the island of Floracion. My room is near the top of a skyscraper that towers over the rest of the city. There are impressively tall buildings and people constantly going about their business, but that’s not the best part. The best part is the flowers.
Floracion is overrun with moonflowers, aptly called “gigantics,” white flowers that only bloom at night and sometimes grow over a dozen feet wide. People make room for them everywhere. On the sides of buildings, in storefronts, on roofs.
Most people are awake during the night to see the flowers, and I can’t blame them. It’s spectacular.
And the Communicator comes into my room every day. He, like me, has an important job. He has to stay awake during the day to communicate with nearby cities and countries. Like me, he’s made a sacrifice—for me, my mobility, for him, his sleep schedule— but we’re both improving Floracion. Together.
He uses me to talk to other people while I listen, learning what I can and speculating about the outside world. Those conversations make my life, stagnant as it is, worth it.
I’m proud of what I do. It’s an important job, and Floracion is—in my highly biased opinion—one of the best cities in the world. How could any sterile buildings match the flowers’ beauty? The way the city makes every hour of the night busy?
At some time in the evening, the Communicator leaves. His assistants sometimes stay longer, even sleeping here in some extreme cases, but they eventually go too. And I’m alone.
But one day, he doesn’t come.
It’s not his absence that worries me, but the fact that he said nothing. His assistants are also gone. They always discuss their plans where I can hear them.
Where are you? I think. Static bursts from my speakers for a moment, but it’s gone as soon as it starts, and I get no answer.
I look down on the island. It’s night, yet no one is out. That’s beyond unusual. Not a single car is driving on the streets, and if there are any people, it’s too dark to see. Most of the lights on the buildings are out.
I check the radio stations, but there’s nothing but music and static.
Even the flowers seem different. With no sounds from vehicles or the usual racket from people, the white petals that almost shine in the moonlight seem eerie. They’re more like the pressed flowers that used to be kept in the room. Beautiful, but dead.
There’s no wind. Not a single leaf on any of the flowers moves, but one moonflower—a gigantic that must be twenty feet across—moves.
It rotates its head, the movement slow and deliberate. This is not the wind. It’s a predator looking for prey.
It’s not doing that on its own, I think, but the irony is not lost on me. A sentient radio thinking that the flower cannot do anything on its own.
Perhaps the world is stranger than I know.
And like a flipped switch, there are suddenly more. The gigantics closer to the ground are moving to face the street.
I remember one of the Communicator’s assistants mentioning a plant called the Venus flytrap. They have thin hairs that, if brushed against by an insect, will cause them to snap shut.
The moonflowers are hunting.
I watch in horror as the city comes alive, but not in the usual way. The flowers look everywhere, sometimes leaning down or looking up.
One of them looks at the mountain. It has no eyes, but the way it keeps staring makes me feel like a hapless fly, my doom about to be sealed. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the moonflower grew legs and started walking toward me.
But it didn’t, and I’m grateful for that.
In the unknown time I have been around, I have perfected the art of zoning out. Of letting time pass by me as I blank, making unbearably long nights no more than a dull minute. I employ this tactic now, tuning in to one of the music stations for good measure.
I think they call this genre “jazz.” It washes over me, helping me relax despite the strangeness of my situation. I don’t get much about humans, but I understand why they love music so much. It’s almost magical.
Then the elevator bings.
I’m reconsidering my moonflowers-growing-feet theory when someone decidedly human steps into the room.
I watch in horror as the city comes alive, but not in the usual way.
It’s a boy. He’s much younger than even the youngest of the Communicator’s assistants, a small girl with gravity-defying curls who had seemed to prefer looking at dog pictures than helping.
When he looks at me, I remember why I do this. He looks at me like I’m his last hope.
But more than that, he’s scared. Terrified. Tears hover in front of his eyes, balancing carefully on his lower eyelids without falling out.
Does he know what’s going on out there? I wonder. He must, given how upset he seems. It was creepy enough for me to see the flowers moving. For someone who might be just feet away from them—that would be beyond frightening.
The boy rushes toward me and begins to fiddle with me.
“Please,” he says, the tears finally beginning to slip down his face. “You have to work. You have to. I can’t die here.”
I feel bad for him. My ability to manipulate the world around me, to do anything more than change the channel, is limited. But I can help him in small ways.
I adjust my inner workings, setting myself to a channel that the Communicator often used. He’d talk to a man he called “sir” and “mister.” There was always a level of deference to this man that the Communicator never gave to anyone else. The man had to help this boy.
“Hello?” the boy says. “Can anyone hear me?”
A female voice responds from the other end. “Yes. I’m Carmen. Who is this?”
The boy smiles, wiping away some tears with his sleeve. “My name is Daniel. I’m in Floracion. I need help.”
Carmen doesn’t respond for a moment. “I’m sorry, but this is meant as a private channel. You should call the police if you need help.”
“Wait!” Daniel yells, his voice echoing around the small room. I hear a slight gasp on the other end. “Please. The police aren’t answering. People are going insane, and they’re trying to get me to smell the moonflowers— they say it’ll make me feel better. I don’t know what’s going on.”
His voice begins to crack as he continues. I’m sure that this will be the end of his troubles. Carmen will send as much help as she can give and get him off the island.
But the moment I think I know what a human will do, they prove me wrong.
“This is not meant for pranks. I advise you to go back home.” Carmen’s tone has gone from cordial to steely. “Goodbye.”
“No!” But Daniel is too late. She’s gone.
I expect him to start sobbing again, but another look has appeared on Daniel’s face: horror.
He tries to talk again but seems to choke on his own words.
“You can’t,” he whispers. “I can’t die here.”
I feel bad for him, but I’m soon distracted by the familiar bing from the elevator.
But this time, instead of relief, I feel an inexplicable worry. Daniel’s eyes widen slightly. “Is someone there?” he calls.
Hide, I try to yell, but my speakers can only release static. You’re not safe here.
Footsteps come closer, but something is wrong. It doesn’t sound like a human. It doesn’t walk; it drags. And the noise I hear—that’s nothing that a human would make.
A whining. Like a hurt animal.
Once, the Communicator played a horror movie on his tablet. My view of it from over his shoulder wasn’t the best, but I was scared nonetheless. For several nights after it, I had trouble blanking out like I usually did. I kept imagining monsters in the dark and doors that shouldn’t be opened but always are.
Now I’m in the movie.
The door to the room opens, revealing a woman in a dirty summer dress with dark hair and soft features that remind me of Daniel’s, although I’ve never been one to distinguish humans well.
But that look in her eyes, the dead look like something inside her is rotten—that’s impossible to miss.
And Daniel sees it too.
I almost miss the pot in her hands. Two moonflowers are growing in it, both of a decent size, but nowhere near the size the flowers can sometimes reach.
“Don’t do this, Mom,” Daniel pleads. “This isn’t you. You don’t have to do this.”
I wish his words meant anything, but the woman doesn’t respond. She stumbles forward, making that same whining noise.
Daniel pushes her back, and she loses her grip on the pot. It falls to the ground and shatters.
His mother stares at the pot’s remains. Her whining gets louder as she lifts the flowers with all the solemnity of a pallbearer carrying a coffin.
Daniel tries to rush past her, but she slams into him as I watch helplessly. She shoves the moonflowers under his nose. He tries to resist, but after a moment he goes limp.
They stay like that, mother hunched over son, for a few minutes. A solitary tear runs down her cheek as she stares at him—some remnant of the human she once was.
After a little while, she drags him out. I think I see Daniel’s eyes flutter open, but then they turn into the hall and I’m left wondering what he’s about to do.
So I wait.
I hear the elevator ding for the final time that night. Everything is silent save for the jazz station I listen to again, trying to forget my fears in the tune.
And like the nights after I peered at that horror movie, I can’t blank out. All I can do is watch as a city falls below me.
But even as my world crumbles, as I feel devastation on a level I’ve never experienced before, as I try to scream with a mouth I don’t have, the jazz keeps playing. On and on.
I don’t know how to die. All I know how to do is play music that has become more grating than soothing. But I don’t have the energy to change the channel. I don’t have the energy to change my fate.
Through the days and nights I keep waiting for an end, but I don’t find it. I watch planes fly and flowers burn, but the finale I seek never comes.
The music has looped so many times, I know every note by heart. I resign myself to the fact that my death will only—if ever—come when Floracion is burned to the ground or reclaimed by the sea.
And no one noticed the lonely radio, watching the city from above. It wished for nothing but a way to finish its miserable story, yet it knew that long after the words stopped it would still be waiting for its life to end.