Signal To Noise

As a young child, growing up in far West Texas, where the distance between cities is measured in hours, I was “treated” to countless trips in a car with a radio as the sole source of distraction. Not that it helped so much, as the only stations that were available near my town were of the Country Western and “Conservative Talk” variety. Neither of those were for me or my father. Halfway through the journey to the city, I’d have already read whatever comics my father had gotten for me or had used up all of my drawing paper. A kid can only count so many mesquite trees before they become absolutely bored.

As I grew older, I would actually enjoy these “dead patches” between towns, as it allowed me to let my imagination wander or learn about art, science, history, or any other of the multitude of subjects that my father was well versed in. But, for preschool me, this trip was just plain boring. I could tell that we were nearing our destination as the signals from the local radio stations became stronger, until you could finally hear, in all their glory, the same 10 songs in heavy rotation on the Top 40-ish station.

So, you ask, ”What does any of this have to do with the film CYGNUS…or anything else at all for that matter?”  Well, on our trips home from the city, as we got further away, the Top 40 radio signal would die out. After a while, the last bits of music and DJ ramblings would give way to static. My father would turn off the radio and we would drive home in the same silence that we had started our journey that day. Sometimes, with a new comic book or toy to occupy myself.

One time, we ended up leaving the city rather late in the evening.  A few miles into our trip it was already pitch dark. I could see that my father was already a bit anxious as deer, javelinas, cows, and other animals were known to take nighttime strolls in the road. This can mess up your evening…and your vehicle pretty quickly if you’re not paying attention. His concentration fixed on the road, my father forgot to turn off the radio as music and rambling turned to static.

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The drone of the now lost radio broadcast went on for an eternity…ok, an eternity for a 4 year old. Which means more like 20 minutes or so. Knowing  that my father was already tense from having to drive in these conditions, I knew not to “scold” him for having forgotten to switch off the noise. After another “eternity” (4 year old time = 2 minutes) I finally gathered up the courage to voice my concern (whine). As I was about to open my mouth, something happened…

A strange noise broke through the static. It appeared neither human nor mechanical. It became stronger and more formed. It was a voice! I couldn’t make out what it said, but it appeared to have a Texas accent. I tried as hard as I could to decipher what was coming out of the “on their last legs” speakers, but to no avail. As soon as it had appeared, it was gone, back into the static from which it had come. My father had paid it no notice and for a moment I thought that I’d imagined it. But, I couldn’t have…

I was about to speak up, when I was again interrupted. This time, the voice was different. It seemed to be speaking in a strange tongue…it was Spanish!!! I was still learning the language, but knew a bit already…especially the words my mother used when she was mad at me. I thought I could make out some of what the person was saying, “Llegan este Sabado!!!””They’re coming this Saturday!!!” Wait!!! Who’s coming this Saturday? Why are they coming? Why are they speaking Spanish? And, just like that, the voice was gone.

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Now, I was in full panic mode. I had just heard, what appeared to be some sort of message. Someone…or things are coming THIS Saturday. Why are they coming? What do they want? Are they good or bad? Are they even people? The voice did sound almost unearthly. Why did it speak in Spanish? I’d heard a man talk on the news about aliens from Mexico. Is this them? Are they coming this Saturday?!?!

I was about to open my mouth, when a another voice broke in. It wasn’t speaking in Spanish. In fact, it kinda’ sounded like the old man who worked at the hardware store. They had the same West Texas accent, but this voice was different. It was angry and that anger seemed to pierce through the static curtain. If the “aliens” from a moment before gave me concern, this voice absolutely frightened me. “You’re going straight to Hell!!! All of you will suffer!!!”, came blaring out of the speakers. Was this an alien too? Why am I going to Hell? Does suffering hurt?”

I couldn’t keep silent any longer, “Dad…”, crept out of my mouth….

“Oh, sorry. I forgot to turn off the radio”, my father said. With the flick of his wrist, the angry man was gone. “That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about”, he added. 

I was still in shock but gathered up the courage to ask, ”Is he an alien like the Spanish one? Are they both coming on Saturday”. “What?”, my father responded. “They were talking through the radio. They would say something, and then they were gone. I think they were sending secret messages,” I said, showing off my 4 year old deduction.  This elicited one of the biggest laughs that I’d ever heard from my father.

He went on to explain, in terms a preschooler would understand, how radio signals from other areas, even Mexico, creep in at night. I had been hearing a commercial for a dance on Saturday in Juarez and the ramblings of a Christian radio evangelist. I asked him about the first of the three broadcasts that I’d heard. Could that one have been aliens? “Who knows. I guess it can be whatever someone wants it be”, he answered, in the way that he would.

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Cygnus tells the story of an astronomer investigating a mysterious signal from outer space.  He sees it differently than how his colleagues, who view him as a romantic, do. His discovery causes conflict not only within the team, but also within himself. Is it all just his imagination running wild? Is it the effect of the extremely high altitude of the working environment, that has already sent a coworker to the hospital? Or, could it actually be a message that the aliens are coming…and perhaps sooner than Saturday.

Catch it on Friday, December 7th at 4:30pm at #OtherWorlds2018!