A short story "The Listening Post", from "The Dark Side of Shadow" short story and poetry collection,  copyright 2012 by A. Dameron.

The Listening Post

2300: Communication Post #115 

The soft hiss of static echoed in the hollow space,  like snakes in their winter den. Crackles and pops  punctuated it at regular intervals. The line snapped and jolted Corporal Misner out of a doze. His hand flew to the holster at his side. The Magnum jumped into his fingers with a life of its own.

"Who's there?

The silence stretched like torn velvet. Misner's clear gray eyes darted to and fro, seeking an enemy lurking in the shadows. No one answered. There was only the comforting rumble of static from the speakers. Misner sighed and slid the weapon back into its place. He scrubbed his face with the back of his hand.  Bristle rasped across his skin, mixed with the sweat of fear. A mirror sat propped on his electronic equipment, but he averted his eyes. A stranger stared back at him; he did not know the haggard animal on the other side of the glass. He refused to acknowledge him.

Misner reached out and tapped the red numbers on the chronometer: 2204. In two hours, he would be free of this cramped hole, hidden in the dark like a wild beast. Relief overcame a sense of dry humor. The recruitment posters said nothing about spending your life like a blind mole.

"For honor, duty, country," went the official line. "You are saving your fellows. Remember that." Misner's  memory turned traitor on him: the cold and the whispers in the trenches, the rumble of artillery overhead. If he had not been here, then some other guy  would be.

He got up from his camp chair. His right foot brushed against the portable generator. It gave a mild shiver,  not unpleasant, almost sensual, in a way. Misner's mouth quirked upward in self-depreciation. The contact, fleeting as it was, reassured him and kept him sane. He resisted the urge to lean his foot against the generator again.

The communications post was six paces wide, thirteen long. Misner had counted every step. It was amusing to see, whether he could change the results with a longer or shorter stride. To his disappointment, it was the same each time. This time out, it was no exception.

His brief stroll had revived him and he sat down once more in front of his table. Misner slid the earphones over his head and manipulated the dials. The frequency whined in outrage and squealed like a harpy. He moved slower, taking it in tiny increments. The chirps remained the same, a monotonous tattoo of signals. 

Misner wondered if his counterpart, there over the trenches, heard the same dead air through his 'phones. What could you discern from a ragged breath that lasted only a few seconds?

Misner crouched in his seat and listened. And waited.

Time: 2335 Communication Post #115  

The chronometer blinked. 2335.

Misner finished the frequency scan. He logged the results in his clipboard. "All clear, no enemy signals detected at this time. J. Misner." Now, he began in reverse order, from high to low. The speakers trembled as the sound waves coursed through them.

He liked to pretend that the receiver was his special spy device. It picked up the conversations from HQ, the chattering of generals and field marshals. They bent over their plot boards, shifting counters and discs like some sort of bizarre game of the gods. In that perfect world, no one died. Victories piled up like so much coup. Defeats were unheard of and were unacceptable. In that perfect world, the enemy behaved as expected, making stupid blunders and stupid decisions.

But this was not a perfect world. They did not know the enemy. All their firepower was useless without information to direct it. The magic words floated in the ether of a golden river. Once captured, they  unlocked the secrets to that victory.

Misner heard the warbling of magpies, the laughter of children, the whispers of lovers in the dark. The sighs resonated up and down the scale, coming and going in staccato peaks. Bass rumbles trumpeted like whales in the deep ocean looking for home.

He was lost in the intricacies of silence, so lost that he nearly missed the sliver of vibration near the low end of the spectrum. His fingers twitched as they raced back to it. They caressed it, coaxed it into being, cradled it against the turbulence. It echoed like voices in the Otherworld, speaking a language unknown to Man. Misner crept up slowly, notch by notch, until, with crystal clarity, it pulsed in a short burst.

Patterns, syllables, rhythm. A message.

Misner flipped switches and narrowed the band. The data stream bounced off his receiver, headed for HQ with all the intensity of a runaway train. He laughed in pure delight at the music, like a virtuoso gone mad, hearing the angels of Heaven.

Then the symphony stopped.

Time: 2358 Communication Post #115 

Misner fell silent as the message ceased in midstream. The hairs at the back of his neck stood up on end. Had they detected him? Could they see his relay? Did he pass the warning in time?

He could not breathe; his thoughts had congealed into ice. A breeze wafted into the communication post. The light flickered and died in its wake. Suddenly, it was quiet, without even the comfort of static.

Time was suspended for the space of a heartbeat.  Misner's head swung around at a brief, crackling  noise, like an approaching fire–

Time: 2400 Message to all units from HQ:

Transmission received from CP 115--enemy attack on our forces. 

You are authorized to return fire. 

Do not cease until further notice. 

Happy hunting. 


From "A Patchwork of Life", a collection of short stories, copyright 2012 by A. Dameron

The Making of Beds

Esmeralda Gonzales made beds for a living. That was what made her happy. She loved  the cool sheets in their ivory packages. Opening them reminded her of the shiny presents under the Christmas tree. So luxurious, yet so simple. Her friends mocked her; they said she wasted the intelligence God had given her. Esme listened to the critics, nodded her head, and politely thanked them for their advice. They simply did not understand. 

Rain or shine, she walked into the halls of the Tremont Hotel at exactly 6 A.M. Bobby the doorman held the main door open for her. "Good morning, Esme," he greeted. "How are you?" 

"Good, thanks," she replied. His uniform buttons gleamed in the rosy light. "Did you sleep well last night?" 

He blushed and cleared his throat. "Um...yes, I did. It was very restful. Hope you have a good day." 

"The same to you, Bobby." He saluted her, and the dawn shone on his new wedding band on his left index finger. Esme chuckled to herself at the energy of youth. 

The revolving doors transported her into the hotel. Lights danced off the gold-leaf mirrors and the hardwood floors. Soft classical music floated from overhead speakers. Clients wanted to check in; clients wanted to check out. They all stood in a tight knot in front of the reception desk, and demanded the staff's attention right now, at this very moment. Esme felt pity for those unfortunate souls. They made lives too complicated. 

The desk clerks spotted Esme and flashed strained smiles. Their crisp rose-colored silk shirts wilted under the lights and the growing frustration. Esme crossed herself and whispered an honest prayer to Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. 

She slipped into the employee lounge. Within moments, she was in her own uniform: dove gray, edged with black. She should have been a nun, but piousness was never her forte. 

The freshly washed sheets lay folded on the cart, right beside the starched pillowcases and the fluffy towels. She touched the pile of linen with a reverent hand. Nice and pure, innocent and clean. Cleanliness was indeed next to Godliness, and this was close to perfection. 

She went into the rooms and changed the sheets. It was amazing what one could tell from soiled sheets. Esme amused herself by imagining the people, who had used these sheets. She removed a bed sheet and held it to the light. Her sharp, whiskey-colored eyes noted the stains and creases. The guests materialized before her, phantoms of the immediate past. 

A family of five: mother, father, two children, one infant-on vacation. One child overly fond of sweets and overly curious, judging from sticky fingerprints on the bed. Talcum powder from the baby, and the clean smell of tear-free shampoo. Esme held the sheet as carefully as the babe itself. 

A smoker, trembling with fear, left a stink that laid testament to his habit. Esme wrinkled her nose and coughed as the scent clogged her lungs. She tossed the blankets into the hamper without delay. 

The clues gave away the identities of each guest as clearly as a lighthouse beacon. Esme's imagination built new stories around the scant details. She amused herself by seeing them in her mind's eye and tracing their movements. Perhaps she would find a crucial item that solved a mystery, like a heroic detective. 

Spilled wine and food crumbs from a couple celebrating an anniversary. Esme saw them on the bed, toasting their long years together. Her eyes misted as they embraced and pledged their love. 

Juices of love from a forbidden affair, perhaps like Romeo and Juliet, two lovers doomed from the start. Esme felt their desperation and their terrified exhilaration. 

A businessman, clean and crisp, wore forest-scent aftershave. She turned her head and he was there, reclining against the headboard. His papers were scattered all over the mattress. The buzz of the conference calls echoed off the walls as deals were made and broken. 

Quickly, efficiently, she erased all those signs and brought them to oblivion. The ghosts faded into the ether as she skimmed the grimy fat off the beds and replaced it with creamy cotton. She was a thief who destroyed evidence of events in the night. Yet her mission was perfectly legal. Soon the new sheets captured other memories and held  them till morning. Then Esme looked forward to capturing them, visiting them, and setting them free. 

As Esme closed the last hotel door, she headed for the laundry in the basement. Her self-imposed mission was over for today. She made beds for a living, destroyed them, and made them anew. It was her calling, and she could not imagine doing anything else. 


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