Fiction logo

The Talking Place

by Ashley McCauliff about a month ago in Horror · updated about a month ago
Report Story

The Cotuit was the last remaining cell tower along the ridge of Mount Palatine...

The Talking Place
Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

THE TALKING PLACE

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window.

Inside, two tower-climbers for American Cellular sat, huddled around the schematic diagram of tower #314, or the Cotuit, (pronounced ko-to-it) a Wampanoag word meaning the talking place, as it was informally known by the locals. The tower climbers were, at present, waiting out a particularly wicked Nor’easter before making the climb up tower 314 for an unscheduled inspection after the locals complained about an incessant, high pitched whirring coming from the mountain.

The Cotuit was the last remaining cell tower along the ridge of Mount Palatine, a ninety foot monopole painted, poorly, to resemble a spruce; the antennae jutted out like misshapen forks intending to look like the Spruce’s branches. The leaves were sporadically daubed on. A hodge-podge of synthetic green swatches sponged along the metal surface only further punctuated the feeble attempt to camouflage it. That and the monopole stood between a line of authentic spruces like a decoy in a shooting gallery. Noticeably imposturous, even from hundreds of miles away, rising unnaturally out of the tree line beside interstate 495: a bizarre monument to American Cellular’s 5G ultra-high-speed connection.

When the tower climbers got within a mile of the tower, the high pitched whirring was both noticeable and unbearable. It was like the Shepard’s tone, the same exact decibel struck in an endless circle, the octave rising slightly so as to create the illusion it was becoming louder. The whirring reverberated and hummed through to the teeth and like the gradual erosion of water across stone, bore again and again, into the skull with ruthless insistence.

The tower climbers parked the service vehicle two miles down the access path leading up to the cabin and with clenched jaws and fists, made the trek up Mount Palatine, despite the ragged, pulsing headaches, which increased as the tree cover thinned—the spruces and firs and birch, full and lush at the trailhead, dwindled to the husked out trunks which surrounded the cabin. Every so often, the rain and wind would rattle a husk free, and topple it over startling them.

In the swaying slat of firelight, the schematics diagram for tower 314 appeared ancient; the hard angles and dark lines braided together in the poorly lit cabin and almost writhed off the page, wires and circuits coiling and uncoiling like an exposed and still-worming segment of anaconda.

The schematics illustrated the cutaway of the tall cylindrical pole labeled figure 11b. The whole length of the page was marked up in numerical denotations: 630, 630a, 630 b, 630c, 655, etc…Each number paired to a component in the pole: large cables, a reinforcement bar, antennae, several small microwave dishes, a coaxal, circuitry, cable bridges and a transmission line.

“There,” Tower climber one said, pointing to 630c, “must be a few of these have gone bad.”

“What’s 630c?” Tower climber two turned the schematic a full 90 degrees and then dialed back a few degrees at a time until the page was nearly upside down,

“The microwave dishes? Unless a pterodactyl-sized bird struck the tower, or the dishes were faulty to begin with, I don’t think that’s the problem.”

“What about,” Tower climber one scanned the list of possible components before plucking, seemingly at random, “634a, the transmission line. Neighbors down the road said they’ve been hearing a broadcast, same time every night.”

“Broadcast? It’s a cell tower, not radio—”

THWAP, THWAP-THWAP.

“Did you hea—”

“Shhh,” Tower climber 2 said, pressing an ear against the cabin window. Another volley of hollow, THWAP, THWAP-THWAP-ing echoed across the pane of glass. The candle wobbled, spilling wax onto the sill. The sound stopped abruptly. The slanted patter of rain had not let up and a steady, drip had formed at the corner of the cabin, plink. Plink. Plink. Plink-Plink.

The two tower climbers exchanged a questioning look, And then tower climber two started to say, “What time did these broadcasts—”

just as a clambering, writhing mass of rats fell from the eaves.

***

There must have been fifty rats knotted together, tail in tail, whining and chittering on the cabin floor. No one rat discernable from another; they trampled over each other in a kind of cyclical dance. In the dimming glow of the candle was nothing but a black, squirming mass rising up from the floor, inching ever so slowly along the back of the cabin.

Without knowledge of having grabbed the broom, tower climber one swung the door open and lobbed the still chattering entanglement of rats out into the rain when the THWAP, THWAP—THWAP-ing returned. Louder now, followed by a THUD, THUD-THUD.

Louder still, THWAP, THWAP-THWAP. THUD, THUD-THUD.

Tower climber two shouldered up to tower climber one and said,

“Look,” and pointed at the barely visible silhouette of tower 314,

as a fleet of birds collided straight into the tower’s frame, before plummeting, bird after bird after bird to the base, where hundreds of other birds lay dead: owls, crows, robins, doves—their beaks cracked and crooked from impact. Their necks set at unnatural angles, loose, broken, like plates spun too long on a rod. A peregrine Falcon pin wheeled through the air as the incessant, high-pitched whirring hiccupped out of the tower, somehow louder than before and in a graceless manuever, the falcon struck the center pole and dropped, a heap of bloodied feathers at the feet of the tower climbers. Another wave, and another arrived followed by a frenzied swatting of wings and then:

THWAP, THWAP-THWAP. THUD, THUD-THUD.

***

The tower climbers scrambled down the access path and pealed off in the service vehicle down the mountainside. The odometer blinked, cut out and read ERROR before the tower climbers reached the main road.

That week American Cellular commissioned the game warden and a fleet of unmarked trucks to remove the birds and the rats, hauling off bedfuls of them and dumping them, unceremoniously in a ditch. There seemed to be no shortage of the carcasses and soon it became the usual work: hauling truckful after truckful of them down the mountain. And that’s when the burn piles began. Plumes of black smoke rose around the mountainside, and seemed to burn without end. Ash and soot floated down onto the highway, coating the cars below.

The high pitched whirring continued, ebbing and pulsing at even higher a frequency. The locals began to ask more questions. To circulate rumors about the tower, speculating about the whirring, about the dead rats and birds. About the plumes of smoke. About American Cellular.

Thru hikers and curious onlookers began frequenting the access path before it was fenced off. And while still coughing and choking on the smoke which drifted down the mountain and settled between the mountain and the highway, locals continued to ask, to speculate, to demand answers.

American Cellular constructed a billboard just before the access path along I495; most believe to conceal the view to the cabin and the tower and posted hundreds of signs on the access path and around the cabin and tower that read:

DO NOT ENTER

NO TRESPASSING

DANGER RADIATION: LEAVE THIS AREA

WARNING: HAZARDOUS VOLTAGE

POSTED PRIVATE PROPERTY

DO NOT CLIMB

AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY

DO NOT FEED THE RATS

The signs were ignored and the billboard vandalized, instead of American Cellular, it read American Hellular, in an arterial red paint. The locals threatened national news attention, rallying around the base of the mountain, demanding again, answers.

In reply, American Cellular mailed vouchers to the locals for discounted monthly cellular plans, hosted a 5k race and eventually, resigned to sending the two tower climbers back up the mountain to decommission the Cotuit, tower #314.

***

A crackling static and the garbled sounds of metal on metal emitted at so high a frequency from the tower, it brought the tower climbers to the ground, which was slick and muddy. The static cleared a moment, and then, faint and tinney a din of voices, all talking at once, rose out of the tower. Voices of children uttering nonsense, a woman’s voice hiccuping venomously, as she repeated the same unintelligible phrase, a choir of chanting. Chanting and noise.

“I don’t…What are they saying?” Tower climber one yelled, hands clamped over each ear to muffle the now deafening roar.

Tower climber two didn’t seem to hear and stood, without hesitation at the front of the path leading to the tower.

“Get the climbing harnesses from the cabin,” Tower climber two said, brushing the mud off a pair of gloves, “now is as good a time as any to go up.”

***

The two tower climbers, one stacked over the other on the service ladder, scrabbled up rung by rung, to the top. Stopping every now and again, tower climber one would tug the cords on the harness and satisfied it was secure, continued upward.

THWAP, THWAP-THWAP. THUD, THUD-THUD.

The birds continued to collide into the tower, and on a few occasions, nearly struck the tower climbers. Tower climber two made no pause, and seemingly unphased by the onslaught of erratic birds, noiseless, aside from the flapping of wings, continued to climb, humming along with the tower’s incessant whirring. While the static and garbled voices kept on talking, talking. Louder as the tower climbers neared the service platform. Louder. THWAP, THWAP-THWAP.

THUD, THUD-THUD.

Nearly 70 feet up, tower climber one looked down: the cabin looked like a poorly constructed dollhouse, and the highway, visible from above what was left of the tree line, was nothing more than a slick and winding ribbon that disappeared and reappeared some ways off. Tower climber one slipped a moment, in a dizzying circle, before grabbing at the ladder. The garbled voices abruptly stopped and the static cleared again, and then the tower blared out three distinct sirens.

Tower climber two, still humming, unhitched the harness and smiling a wide, toothy grin yelled, “Go to it!” before pushing off the center tower beam, arms outstretched, pinwheeling like the falcon the whole ninety feet to the ground.

THWAP, THWAP-THWAP. THUD, THUD-THUD.

***

“Tower climber two was trucked out, just like the birds and the rats were,” Rumer said, tenting a bundle of kindling, “and just as quickly, replaced and forgotten.”

And coaxing the small flame around the kindling, blowing soft, even breaths at the base, Rumer, a sturdy woman in her mid-forties, appeared in the ambience of the firelight, to be aging rapidly.

The hike out to the base of Mount Palatine was 2 miles from the access path which connected to the I495. Rumer, however, trekked 10 miles to bypass the fence and reach the cabin. She’d met the couple sitting across the fire on the Oris trail which ran parallel to the access path. They weren’t local to the area but were familiar with the story about the Cotuit. The couple were urban legend enthusiasts and hosted a pod cast, “Weird, USA” documenting, poorly, their experiences in eerie locations all across the states.

“Trail name’s Major Data and this is Mary Catherine,” The man thumbed over at the woman beside him without looking up from the array of devices he had in his lap: two cell phones and a digital compass. All of which displayed the same error message:

EAS WARNING—

Before cutting power, restarting and then intermittently beeping every 5 seconds or so.

Poking at the kindling, which crackled and let out a plume of white smoke, Rumer continued,

“American Cellular claimed a faulty harness was to blame. But if you’re ever driving along I495, windows unrolled, the high pitched whirring from tower #314, the Cotuit, can still be heard, along with an ever so faint chanting, Go to it, go to it…”

Shifting uncomfortably on a log beside the fire, Mary Catherine said, “This is the same tower?”

While Major Data paced around the perimeter of the fire juggling the three devices. He extended his arm, full salute, towards tower 314 and muttered,

“Trash cell service, tower’s not 400 feet from here.”

“Very same one,” Rumer said.

The three of them sat a moment, listening, to nothing but the whirring—which had for the better part of the last hour since they arrived, gotten louder or perhaps more unbearable. Mary Catherine and Major Data had pitched a tent, offering Rumer a claustrophobic piece of real estate at the back of it— which she politely declined.

“I’ll post up in the cabin,” Rumer said.

“The cabin? Wh-wh-what about the rats?” Mary Catherine shuddered.

“It’s just a cabin that had a rat problem.” Major Data said.

Mary Catherine nodded, “We should turn in, getting late.”

The couple climbed into their tent, leaving Rumer to tend to the fire.

Having nodded off a short time later, Rumer was awoken by a loud,

THWAP.

The fire burned low, the embers nearly soot, that it was impossible to see further than an arms length, and even that was mostly, a canvas of black with darker shades sketched inside it; silhouettes of trees and the faint, angular edge of the cabin. The only truly discernible shape was the tower, a symmetrical webbing of steel and mouse-eared plates, rising from the earth like a pillar.

Rumer cut a bright swath of light down the center of the camp, her flashlight aimed in the direction of where she’d heard the sound—the tower. Moving briskly past the tent, spot-lighting the brush below her, she came upon the bird.

It was a barred Owl. The white plumage corkscrewed down onto the path and onto Rumer’s boots— mostly soft, down feathers that looked like snow in the ghostly halo of the flashlight. The barred Owl was in a heap at the base of the tower, its body pooled in a slick of blood.

THWAP.

Another bird fell, nearly striking Rumer.

THWAP. THWAP. THWAP. THWAP.

Bird after bird after bird after bird.

Major Data and Mary Catherine scrambled out of the tent towards Rumer, who unaware herself, was shrieking as the birds plummeted around her. This was muffled however, by the tower’s air sirens, which brought the three of them to their knees. Just then, all three of Major Data’s devices, simultaneously, chimed the alert, this time without interruption,

EAS WARNING RADIOLOGICAL HAZARD.

EAS WARNING

EAS WARNING RADIOLOGICAL HAZARD.

And just as abruptly, stopped.

For a moment, the milling scrabble of rats scurried by them, chittering; the gnashing of teeth on teeth, the excruciating ache at the back of skull and the sudden, golden sheen before the dark nothingness slipped over each of them like a burial shroud.

Rumer heard, from a place in the deepest cavern of herself, the voices of gleeful children, laughing,

“Go to it, go to it,” their tiny hands brushing across her eyes, before she fell beneath the shroud of nothingness again.

***

Another rainy Tuesday here in New England, I’m Kimberly Stryker with In The Middle, your lunch time news, here on 107.6 WCKG.

Tragedy struck early this morning at Mount Palatine—a location frequented by thru-hikers, paranormal enthusiasts and curious travelers who hope to catch a glimpse of the infamous American Cellular tower known as the Cotuit. The tower has been gaining popularity on sites like Haunted America, claiming it is the site of the bizarre and unexplained.

Two of our own, David “Major Data” Ettler and his long time companion, Mary Catherine Salls were found dead at the scene. The two were wrapping up the 178th Episode of their podcast, Weird, USA which featured the cell tower.

Our sources say their deaths are still under investigation. We have recovered exclusive, pre-production audio of the episode, Lost in Transmission: The Cotuit which we will now air.

***

“Testing, one, two, three. Testing,” Mary Catherine said into a microphone, “The small pup gnawed a hole in the sock. Check, check.”

“Coming in clear,” Major Data said, swiveling across the studio. Adjusting several switches on a soundboard, he gave the thumbs up to Mary Catherine.

“Hello, hello. I’m Mary Catherine,”

“I’m Major Data.”

“And This is Weird, USA,” they said, simultaneously.

“Note, insert promotional ad and theme music here,” Major Data said, eyeing his watch and before giving Mary another thumbs up.

“We’re in New England this week, and, yes, yes and we’re finally going to make the trek up Mount Palatine to the notorious Cotuit cell tower. Legend has it, the site was originally, the mountain top village of Palt, settled in the late 1700’s. Sometime later it was dissolved, only the stone foundations and a singular cabin remain. There’s no record of why the town of Palt disbanded, or where they’d gone to” Mary Catherine said, “The Cell tower was built in 2011 despite protest from the locals and the Palt Historical Society.”

“First however we have Dr. Reign Edwards here with us, a former Radio Frequency specialist, what can you tell us about the Cotuit?” Major Data said, cueing up a mic beside the cellphone’s receiver. He put Dr. Edwards on speaker phone.

“Hello, yes I’m Dr. Reign Edwards, thank you for having me on today. The Cotuit is a fascinating tower in terms of its construction and the frequency which it has malfunctioned. What we know of RF waves, radio frequency, is that it's increasingly more obvious and disruptive to bird populations. RF can interfere with the bird’s navigational system and may be the root reason behind the continual tower impacts at the site.”

“What about the reports of the high buzzing sounds or broadcasts the locals complain about?” Mary Catherine said.

“I couldn’t say with certainty what’s behind that without looking at the tower, but my assumption would be a faulty transmission line. As for broadcasts, the tower is a pinging point for cell phones to bounce information off of. It doesn’t quite work the same as a radio tower.”

“Cut for commercial break here, introduce second guest, Tower Climber one: Rumer Attal.” Major Data said into the microphone, “Okay Dr. Edwards, do you think we could try that one more time?”

***

Major Data cued up an audio file labeled ACA, American Cellular ad.

With startling clarity, the file played a volley of piano notes followed by a pleasantly monotonous voice,

“American Cellular, we’ve got you covered. Go to it.”

This looped continuously, over and over, before distorting into a din of voices and then cut to a high pitched air siren before cutting out altogether, ending the final audio footage recovered from the pair.

Horror

About the author

Ashley McCauliff

A Massachusetts native, whose heart is in Vermont. Received a BFA in creative writing from Johnson State College, Roger Rath Mark Canavan Award for best BFA writer in the program and a two week fellowship to the Vermont Studio Center.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Add your insights

Comments

There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.