Signal

Part One

Cool evening air lifted moisture off the river, bringing familiar smells of damp forest to the lone fisherman sitting quietly in the shadows. Midges spiralled in the few remaining sunbeams filtering through the canopy. The fisherman stirred sleepily in his folding chair, his eyes keeping a drowsy check on the two rods on rests out in front of him. One of his tiny flies, a small yellow fluff floating on the glassy water, circulated gently in an eddy on the opposite side of the river. It had jinked a few times, indicating that the fish there had nosed it, but there had been nothing more in the last twenty minutes. He was hoping for a northern Pike, common in this river and weighing up to 10kg. The other was a small spinner running downstream from the rod, but that hadn’t been shown any interest at all. He fed out a little more line to let it trail into a quieter section a little further downstream of his position.

The sun had disappeared behind the dense canopy of trees and the gloaming was fast disappearing into darkness. Stars begun to show in the darkening sky and the river had changed from a deep clear green to a chuckling dance of black and white streaks and sparkles. Time to give up for the day and head back to the tent and a good book.

Upstream, Geoff noticed a blue-white glow casting over the water from an area through the trees on the far bank. His immediate thought was that it was the moon beginning to show. But then he remembered that tonight was supposed to be completely moonless.

The misty glow was percolating through the undergrowth on the other side, extending up to the canopy in a steady, unwavering radiance. Not bright, but obviously emanating from quite a strong source. It piqued Geoff’s curiosity as he had hiked for many miles to get to this remote spot in the Arctic Yukon. He found it hard to believe that it was just another traveller. There had to be a natural explanation — a planet or a comet showing unexpectedly bright to his dark-adjusted eyes.

After reeling in, brewing up a cup of tea and having a quick snack, he picked his way down to the waters edge once more to check to see the light. It was as it had been before, possibly showing brighter in the darkness of the northern night. A tinge of green also showed in the sky to the north, promising a dramatic show of dancing aurorae. Previous nights had been stunning and bright with greens, violet, reds and yellow colours, dancing in a frenzy that touched upon the disconcerting as it filled the entire night sky.

Geoff worked his way upstream to a point directly opposite the illuminated area, not quite seeing its source through the maze of trunks and branches. However, it was definitely emanating from a point not far from his location. Feeling slightly foolish, he pulled off boots and socks and waded across the bitingly cold water to the other side, where he sat and massaged some life back into his numbed feet before donning his thick wool-mix socks and worn old boots. An owl hooted distantly, enhancing the total silence of the forest only broken by the tinkle of the river and his clumsy movements through the undergrowth. He approached the brightness, trying to gain a glimpse of its source, expecting a clearing or an encampment. Forcing his way through the tangled undergrowth he was almost disappointed to discover that the light was emanating from a peculiarly straight tree trunk. The more closely he examined it, the stranger it seemed. The trunk curved gently out of the ground with a girth of maybe just a few feet. It then rose absolutely straight up, smooth and unblemished, but with a curiously patterned smooth metallic looking surface. The spire rose up out of sight to at least the height of the forest canopy and appeared to be steadily tapering. The patterns on its gleaming surface resembled an odd sort of winter camouflage, but roiling, separating and recombining. Without being consciously aware of it, his fingers reached out and suddenly he was thrown onto his back by a massive shock. Staring at it in total disbelief he now noticed that the trunk was not only shining brightly, but exuding an aura of static discharge, and the surrounding foliage was vibrating and buzzing slightly under its influence.

Geoff pulled out his mobile phone. No signal down at this location, but he could get a connection from a nearby rise. He switched on the camera and snapped some photos from various angles, plus a small section of video. Not wanting to risk another touch he ventured to throw a stick at the trunk — now appearing to him more as a dangerously live electric pylon, than a harmless tree. He threw the stick sideways and it flashed brightly where it contacted the pylon, cutting the stick instantly in two with a whiff of smoke, but barely affecting its trajectory. Thanking his lucky stars for escaping the shock without any adverse effects, he beat a hasty retreat to his camp not even noticing the bright green auroral curtains rippling in the sky above.

The following morning he was up early to check down by the riverside. The brightness had either gone, or he could not see it in the bright morning light. He made his way back over the river to check again, hardly noticing the cold of the water on his bare feet. He just had to make sure it was not some sort of weird dream. Not able to sleep soundly, he had pored over his photographs all night and could not believe or explain what he had seen in any way. The pylon was still there, standing resolutely in the trees glowing as before, although looking somewhat less threatening than it had before in the pitch darkness. The stick trick ended with the same results, so apart from taking a few more photographs he returned with nothing new to add except to confirm that it really existed. Up on a local ridge later that morning he called it through to an excited friend in Whitehorse. He said he would take the photos down to the rangers office right away to see what they thought.

Geoff decided to wait and found himself a comfortable vantage point where he could see across the Old Crow river. Over a brew and a slice of stale bread and cheese he estimated his camp site and where the pylon could be situated. He took a few more photos and scanned the area with his binoculars. By the time Brad called back, the light was fading as the sun gradually descended, running along the horizon to gradually graze the trees. Brad had no explanations except that the ranger thought there was absolutely no chance of there being anything out there. “Are you sure its not just a tree that’s been struck by lightning?” Geoff said he would go back down and check it once again, then he would break camp the following day for the four day hike back up to the town of Old Crow for his flight out.

Later that night Geoff returned to eat a boil-in-the-bag dinner at his camp, but he was eager to check back at the pylon once again, so wolfed it down and headed straight down to the river crossing. The night was overcast and absolutely pitch dark. Not only could he see the light through the trees once again, but the glow picked out the treetops against the lowering clouds. The pylon itself seemed not to have changed, but there was something about its activity levels that appeared to have increased since the previous night. The surrounding foliage now looked burnt and scorched and the pylon not so hemmed in by the vegetation. He couldn’t approach the pylon closely for the fearful static field that emanated from it. Crazy discharges spiralled round the trunk as the bright patterns swirled and rotated. A hum and whine seemed to shake every bone and sinew and the air was thick with electrostatic tension.

Oddly, as Geoff took pictures once more, he noticed a single signal bar showing on his mobile, so he sent out a couple of text messages and images to Brad. Just as some pinged through successfully, the sonic whine ramped up to a painful scream and discharges started striking out across the treetops. Geoff fled back to the river with his hands over his ears, tripping over the tangled undergrowth in a clumsy panic. He was almost back at the river as his world suddenly turned a dazzling actinic white.

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