CICADA_3301 by Samuel Prendergast

CICADA_3301 by Samuel Prendergast

The engine of the old Ford pickup–brick red–roared and chugged like a diesel train as it burned through the dusty Nevada back-roads. It was dusk, the rich ochre sands turned obsidian black by the last flicker of the day’s dying light. The dust and the sand threw up in myriad clouds of deep orange as the rusted old four-by-four powered its way towards the horizon.

The boy behind the wheel looked no more than eighteen–skinny, tall and handsome. His sharp, angular face seemed to belong to a different time–a different place. It spoke of soft things–of velvet, silk, and damask–of nobility long since passed. It was a poet’s face.

But in the here and now, it sat behind the wheel of a beaten old pickup, burning through the sands of the Nevada desert, as the day’s dying breath finally lost itself to the inevitable horizon.

The Poet bore a frantic look in his eyes, as they darted from the road ahead, to a small computer nestled uneasily atop the dashboard. It showed a map, its L.E.D. screen blazing green and red, displaying a moving tracker converging, at speed, on a static point.

In his distraction, as he watched the icon progress towards its destination, he almost missed the small concrete structure rising out of the desert sands. He would have lost control of the car, then–but it wouldn’t do to fail now, not when he’d gotten so close.

Ever since it was released, he had been obsessed with the Cicada 3301 puzzle. Things as such had always fascinated him–cryptography was his passion, his calling. To him, there was nothing purer than mathematics, no poetry the world could offer, not the sonnets of Shakespeare nor the odes of Wordsworth, could speak to his soul in the way that numbers could. Order and chaos, as two lovers, inextricable, lived in his heart as one.

It was this thirst for truth, that lit and unquenchable fire that burned through him for the past two years. He had learned so much, and given up so much more. His passion had become his obsession, and it had stripped from him everything but the old truck, and the computer that rested at its heart.

No, it would not do to lose the game now. Not when he’d given up so much. Not when he was so near the finish line.

The dust clouds drifted idly back to the earth as the Poet wiped a thin sheen of sweat from his brow. His heart was racing, its fiery rhythm pounding a drum beat. A shaman’s call.

“Come See. Come See. Come See. Come See.” said his heart, frantically urging him onward, out of the truck, into the desert.

Into the concrete.

#

It was a bunker, or so thought the Poet. Some relic of a bygone time, when the state signed away its future to a man with a bomb. It rose out of the desert like a monolith in industrial grey. But time and nature had done what the atom bomb could not. It had cracked, and broken. It had crumbled and fallen in on itself. It stood though, still, as a monument. A line in the sand. A snapshot of Mother Nature’s creeping fury.

The Poet stepped out of the car, folding his laptop away and stowing it carefully beneath the passenger-side seat. His eyes betrayed a mixture of fear, confusion and mad, frantic hope. Hope that it had not all been for nothing. Hope that he was the first, the last, the only one to have solved it.

Inside, the bunker had fared no better. The walls were pitted with age, the floor bathed in a layer of dusky red sand–it had seen better days, for that we can be certain. As he stepped within, through a door that, too, had fallen to the ravages of time the air was lit with a sound most peculiar.

“Cchricchricchricchri,” it began, slowly at first, and soft.

The Poet was startled, for as he stood without the threshold of the bunker, all had been silent. He paused, for a moment, the fear shining like headlights from his pale eyes.

“Cchricchricchricchricchricchricchri,” the sound intensified, building ever louder and more constant, its pitch rising steadily until it found that one sweet spot. That piercing note just on the border between irritation and pain.

Touching Static by Flicker user Jason Rogers

Touching Static by Flicker user Jason Rogers

 

The Poet winced, powering through his discomfort and on into the heart of the bunker. The sound had grown so loud now, so insistent, that it began burrowing into the deep parts of the brain. Into the dark places where things should not go.

“Cchricchricchricchricchricchricchricchricchricchri,” It yelled at him, almost constant, almost one singular driving note. He clutched the sides of his head, falling to his knees amidst the dust, and the sand, and the rubble. He could taste the sound now, smell it, feel it. It had become something more than oscillating vibrations–more than just waves in an audible spectrum. He could see nothing but the sound now–a wall of grey static, the colour of dead television, filling up his vision, burning his eyes–like smoke.

His heart raced “YOU FOOL. YOU FOOL. YOU FOOL.” it spat, audible to the Poet even over the relentless dirge of the bunker. His eyes grew wide as his was overcome in shades of apocalypse grey, his mind melting, coagulating, reforming.

Modulated.

Demodulated.

So much dead signal.

The Poet fought, closing his hands over his ears, tearing at his eyes. But in the end, he could not win. He slipped, and fell, into the darkness.

#

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Sam is a sad, angry man-with-many-names from the miserable, rain-slick tarmac of Northern Ireland–who writes for the same reason people drink. He’s currently treading water on the Belfast poetry scene, hopelessly kicking out, just trying to stay afloat. Sam’s previous work can be found in such illustrious magazines as Beyond Imagination, The Linnets Wings and the Bunbury Journal. When not hoking through bins for bad poetry, or short stories, he can be found on Twitter at @TheMythBastard or Tumblr at @PretenderGast