Tape 1-6-87-8-4: Six months after her disappearance, disgraced detective Sam Bailey is assigned the case of Anna Sheridan, famed horror writer and paranormal investigator. As he listens to the first of many tapes left by the author, he relives her encounter with an otherworldly entity in the ruins of the Santa Lucia mine.
Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Trevor Van Winkle as Sam Bailey, and Jesse Steele as Bill Tyler, with original music by Jesse Haugen. Written and produced by Trevor Van Winkle, and made possible by our supporters at patreon.com/homesteadcorner
For more information and additional content, visit homesteadonthecorner.com
CONTENT WARNINGS: Astraphobia, astrophobia, claustrophobia, nyctophobia, existential dread, discussion of death
[Thunder and rain]
[A car drives up and turns off its engine]
[Zipper on a backpack]
[A gun loading and cocking]
[Car door opens]
[Car door closes]
[Footsteps moving away]
[Cassette player motor whirs, stops]
[A/C fan noise]
[Hum of conversation through door]
[Keyboard keys clicking]
Detective Samuel Bailey, Oslow County Police Department — Homicide Division. Recording on April First, 2019 at… 1:05 pm.
Before I get started, there’s just one thing I need to say. I have absolutely no patience for the unexplained, or the things people call “unexplainable,” “supernatural,” or “paranormal.” That’s all just a lazy way of saying that the real explanation is too difficult — or too horrible — for them to accept. I don’t have that luxury. My job is to look the facts dead in the face and find an explanation — one that will hold up in a court of law. And the simplest explanation is almost always the right one. There is no place for ghost stories and “close encounters” in this investigation or any other.
Hopefully that explains my… outburst, when I was assigned the Sheridan case. I’m sure that’s on my personnel file by now, as if it could get any more problematic.
Anna Sheridan. New York Times best selling author of — you guessed it —supernatural horror. Missing for nearly six months now. About the coldest case I’ve ever seen. People call her “the female Stephen King.” I haven’t read any of his books either, so that’s probably true.
It’s not like I hate her or anything — I’m not one of those people who thinks she’s the spawn of Satan or something ridiculous like that. I’m just not interested in her work. At all. Which is entirely irrelevant to my ability to solve this case. It’s actually better that way. Given the…circumstances of her disappearance and the… Subject matter of her work, someone with a more vivid imagination might decide she’d, well… “Pierced the veil,” so to speak. Found a way to the other side and crossed over.
Anna Sheridan is dead. That’s all there is to it. There hasn’t been a new lead on her case in more than half a year. And the sign on my door says Homicide, not “mysterious and unexplained disappearances,” so… Anna Sheridan is dead. No matter what her fans think. The only questions that matter are who killed her, how, and why. And without a body, physical evidence, or any record of her movements prior to October 20th, I don’t think any of those answers will come easily — or quickly.
What I do have — the only thing I have — are the tapes.
[Heavy leather case is lifted and dropped onto a desk]
Apparently Miss Sheridan started using a cassette recorder to make a kind of… Personal diary and travelogue. She’d been using a digital recorder, but as far as I can tell, those recordings went missing around 2009. And if she used it as much as used the tapes, well…
[clattering of cassettes, his hand running over them]
…Her publisher’s probably out a few dozen novels worth of raw material.
They’ve actually been hounding me for the tapes, saying they want to make an audiobook or some kind of podcast out of the recordings before they put out her last novel. Apparently you have to publish In Memoriam very carefully. Too soon and it seems like grave-robbing, too late, and everyone’s already moved on. I had to tell them more than once that as long as this investigation is ongoing, any “literary ambitions” will have to wait.
[Cassette clattering as it’s picked up]
God, these things smell of weed. So far as I can tell, they aren’t in any kind of order. The tapes are all labeled, but I can’t seem to make any sense of Sheridan’s filing system — if she even had one. They all have a label with five numbers on them — maybe a date-time stamp, or based on location or… Really, I can’t tell if there’s any logic to it at all. This one is the first tape in the first column on the left, but it’s labeled 1-6-87-8-4.
Only one way to tell, I guess.
[Cassette fed into player]
Geez, my hands are shaking.
[Hiss of static, then fades]
The night sky really is beautiful out here. I suppose that’s a universal constant — maybe the only one. No matter how far away from home you are, no matter how different the constellations might look from where you’re standing, you can always look up on a clear, dark night and feel like you’re about to fall right into it — the terrifying, endless expanse of nothingness. Strange how something so dead can be so beautiful. Then again, I guess it’s not. Dead, that is. But one day it will be: one day all the stars will burn out, go dark and silent… at least that’s what all the math says. One day, everything will be so dark and so cold that no new stars can ever be born. The old ones will blink out one by one, like candles going out, and then … nothing. Silence. Darkness. Void.
I wonder if there will still be ghosts out there when that happens? What happens when the planet is gone? Or will the Earth linger too, when it finally dies? A shadow Earth under a black and starless sky. Maybe that’s what people mean when they talk about purgatory… or hell, maybe.
But that’s just — incidental. A passing observation. The night is beautiful everywhere, but especially here. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle mountains again after what happened in Wyoming, but it seems that wound healed faster than I expected it to. Still, I made sure I switched off my phone before I came up here, just in case. And I might have… forgotten to tell anyone where I was going. I know, I’m being bad, but they’d just insist on keeping tabs on me if I told them what I was doing.
Besides, I can take care of myself, and this isn’t a business trip, after all — I’m just coming up here to clear my head. To relax. Although… No, no, I’ll leave it alone. I need to… I mean, I really should just rest. My last book tour was a goddamn nightmare all to itself, not to mention what I had to go through to write it in the first place. Still… No. Sleep. Need to get some sleep.
[Light static resumes]
I can’t sleep. I just can’t. It’s past two in the morning now, and the moon…
…the moon has set. The night’s just about as dark as it’s going to get out there.
[Distant hoots from an owl]
Oh, screw it.
[Sleeping bag unzips]
[Ground crunches under feet]
[Light static resumes]
I’m walking towards the old mining camp now. Haven’t seen much yet, just a few rusted old cans near the trail. Historical Litter. If it weren’t for the Antiquities Act I’d pack them out and toss them at home, but they’re artifacts now. I wonder what will happen to our garbage, once we’re history? Plastic doesn’t break down like tin or iron. Will it just be left there forever? Our legacy? Look upon our works, ye mighty, and despair?
I wonder how many unread Anna Sheridan paperbacks they’ll find in the rubble?
[Footsteps slow but continue]
Here we are. Santa Lucia Consolidated Mine. 1869 to 1901. The town sprang up about half a mile east of here. It was pretty quiet — at least for a mining town back then, even if it did end up burning to the ground. A drunken blacksmith, apparently. Or was it the barkeeper? It might make an interesting short story, if I ever want to write a western… Yeee-haw!
No. That isn’t me.
There’s still a lot of old mining equipment around. A couple of tall wooden frames with metal spokes running from top to bottom — they almost look like giant guillotines in the dark. A few tumbledown huts… mostly just the foundations, though there are still a few walls left standing. A cement chimney — that must be all that’s left of the foreman’s cabin. And one big damn wheel, half buried and broken off its axel. Guess I got here just at the right time: everything’s rusted to hell and falling apart, but nothing’s quite gone yet. They sure built this place to last.
[Small device switches on, beeping slowly and steadily]
No magnetic or radio distortions on the scanner… and it’s chilly, but not any more than it was on the top of the hill. A little warmer now that I’m under the trees, actually.
Damn. I could’ve sworn I felt something strange about this place when I hiked through this morning… Or maybe it was a different part of the mine. This place is pretty spread out. Hard to tell this late at night, anyway.
[Bird noise in distance]
Just me and the dark. Perfect.
Guess I’d better get back.
[Footsteps start, then stop]
Wait. No, that’s not right. How did… How did that get behind me?
Okay, umm… Description: a wide, semi-circular cave entrance, opening in the side of a low hill that I’m sure wasn’t here before. It’s almost perfectly round, and the cave inside is just a straight shot back into the hill from where it opens up. I can see wooden braces every couple of yards, holding the ceiling up. This is definitely the mine… though I could have sworn it was on the far side of the camp, not the way in. Did I get turned around somehow?
[The wind whistles long and low]
I’m just going to go back the other way.
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Okay: the cave is still in front of me. I turned around 180 degrees, walked off into the dark, and… and it’s still in front of me.
And looking back, it’s not where it was five seconds ago.
[Small device turns on, beeping slowly and steadily]
Still no change. But there’s definitely something going on here. I never let myself get this turned around. Especially not at night.
[Device turns off]
So let’s try walking backwards. Just keep an eye on it.
Oh, I see you. You think I’m still scared of caves, huh? Think you can freak me out?
I’m Anna Goddamn Sheridan you old tin-pit, and I’m not going to be…
[Her words are echoing now]
Ow. What the hell was… Oh, great. I’m in the mine now. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
Looking back the way I came and… yeah. No sign of the cave entrance I was just looking at. But I’m sure if I walked that way long enough, I’d find it again.
Well, I guess the only way out is through. One more cave, Sheridan. It won’t kill you. Probably.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen… God, is this thing ever going to turn? Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nine…
What the hell — HELLO!
[Her voice eventually echoes back to her]
I… think I’m going to turn around now.
Hold on. Where are the walls? Did the cave widen out somewhere?
Calm down, Sheridan. Think. You’re just going to confuse yourself. The map says the main tunnel ran straight west into the mountain. You have a compass, so just… go straight east.
Okay. Now we’re in business.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Sixteen. Seventeen.
[Distortion on tape begins to increase]
Eighteen? Nineteen? Twenty? No, no, stop. That’s not possible. Is the compass broken, or did I turn into a side passage…
[Distortion and static]
[Quiet crickets in the background]
Whoever — whatever— was in that cave, it definitely has a twisted sense of humor. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good practical joke as much as the next person, but if it was just trying to mess with my head, I don’t see why it…
I listened back to the recording from the cave. For some reason it cuts out just before — well, just before things get really weird. I kept walking in the direction the compass said was east. I remembered the main shaft of the mine ran straight west. I must have read it on plaque or at the visitor’s center. But thinking back to the map, I’m sure the tunnel didn’t go nearly that far into the hill. A few yards, maybe, and then it turned off… But not as far as I went. And definitely not as far as I walked when I turned around and tried going back.
No matter how far I walked, I couldn’t find the way I came in. I turned left, trying to find the wall of the tunnel. I thought that I could just keep my hand on it and follow it out. I walked for nearly a full five minutes before I gave up on that idea.
I know I saw the way out of the mine when I first came in. There wasn’t much difference between the darkness outside the cave and the darkness inside, but there was a difference. When you spend this much time working at night, you learn to recognize those differences. But now, everything around me was absolute, lightless black. I’ve only ever seen at the bottom of other caves on the few occasions I’ve felt brave enough to turn out my light.
No. That’s not entirely true. I have seen it once before. In my mind. When I imagined what the night sky would look like without stars.
My flashlight was still working. I could see the smooth, level stone of the cave floor under my boots. It didn’t make any difference which way I looked. It was kind of a cheap flashlight, to be honest: the beam widened and dimmed quickly as it moved away, then disappeared into the dark about thirty feet from where I stood. There was a small rock at my feet, so I picked it up and chucked it as hard as I could down the tunnel. It bounced and clattered against the stone for a long, long time — then I felt something hit the back of my leg. I nearly jumped out of my skin, spinning around to see a small stone bounce one more time on the cave floor, then come to a stop. No mistaking — it was the rock I’d just thrown.
I didn’t scream then. I was scared, sure. Terrified, actually. Darkness and complete disorientation does a number on the human brain. I would know. But this time, it was a slower, quiet dread — the kind that fills your chest inch by inch until you feel like you can barely breathe through it. I was trapped under the earth in some kind of infinite, repeating loop with no point of reference to ground myself. My flashlight was still on, but sooner or later it would burn out and leave me stranded in that tunnel, in the dark, forever. Or at least however long it took me to die of thirst once I’d finished what little water I had.
For a minute, I wondered if that would really be so bad. It was a fitting way to go, given my…well, everything. Personal and career choices, I guess you’d call them. At least it would be quiet. I didn’t mind that I’d be alone — I always expected that to be how I went. So eventually I just kind of accepted it. I switched off my flashlight, just to see what it would be like. A preview of my last moments, in a way. Knowing doesn’t make things any easier, but it does make them a little less frightening.
It honestly wasn’t so bad. I blinked a couple of times, and once my vision cleared…I don’t know why, but I almost felt like crying. It was the purest darkness I’d ever seen. I knew I was still trapped underground — of course I did. The air was thin and had a dusty, chalky taste. Even so I felt…free. Almost like I was floating, even though I could still feel the solid rock beneath my feet. Then I started walking. Obviously I didn’t know what direction I was going, I couldn’t see my compass in the dark. But it just felt…right. Honestly it felt like I was going on instinct. It was about the only thing I could register at that point.
I don’t know how long I was walking — I couldn’t see my watch, and honestly, I didn’t want to. At first I didn’t want to disturb that total darkness, but then I began to feel like if I checked it, or stopped, or gave into panic, I would never make it out of that endless, looping tunnel alive. In the back of my mind, I heard something. No…it was more like I felt it, like the shape of the words were being pressed into my skin.
Not by sight. Not by sight.
However long it actually took, it felt like I was hiking for hours. But as I walked, putting one foot in front of the other and just trying to stay on this one, thin path to freedom, I started to notice lights. I never saw them appear — I’d just look up every once in a while, and there would be another tiny point of light shining from where the cave ceiling should have been. They were all pale and cold, though a few of them had a faint color to them: blue or red, or even orange. Most of them were white, though, and seemed to be a long way away.
It took me longer than it should have to realize they were stars — probably because there were so few of them at first. But by the time I realized what they were, they filled the entire sweep of my vision, and when the Milky Way faded into view above me — I almost cried again.
Then I stepped into something soft and warm that crunched a little under my boot. I jumped back and switched on my flashlight, horrified that I’d just stepped through some half-rotted thing — it wouldn’t be the first time. I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized it was just the remnants of my campfire, still smoldering. My tent was a few feet away, right where I left it. And that’s where I’m recording this now.
[Vinyl sleeping bag rustling]
I doubt I’ll sleep much tonight. That’s okay. I just feel like looking at the stars for a while.
[Clack and clatter as tape ejects]
Hmm. Not what I was expecting. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew Sheridan was a bit more…imaginative than most, but still, I hope the rest of these tapes aren’t just her philosophizing while stoned.
I’ve been to Santa Lucia a few times. It’s a pretty big park for this part of the state. Lots of tall tales. And more than a few ghost stories about the mines. One of the rangers told me that the air currents in the tunnels generate a lot of infrasound, which probably accounts for most of them. And given Sheridan was almost certainly high when she recorded this…yeah, I wouldn’t put too much faith in her story.
Not that it matters anyway. Not to this case. I just wish she’d mentioned the date: I have no idea if she recorded this right before she disappeared, or years ago. It is interesting to hear her talking about space, though. I thought she only began dealing with ISPHA people earlier this year. I think it was Doctor Ren..
…yeah, Doctor Ren Park. As far as I can tell, he was one of the last people to see her alive, but there wasn’t enough of a connection to establish any kind of motive. Maybe I should take a second look.
This tape shows what I already knew, though. Sheridan lived a…somewhat nomadic lifestyle. Moved around a lot. Lived out of a van for most of her life, for some reason. I don’t know how much of it is on these tapes, and I don’t know how much I’ll be able to actually get out of them. But ours is not to question why, ours is but to digitize and stay the hell out of trouble.
I think that’s why they really put me on this case, just something to keep me busy until…
They’re ready for you.
Great. Thanks Bill.
Hey, no problem! What’s it all about, anyway?
Commission Board. Some… questions about my last post.
Oh? Where was that?
Oh hey Sam? I think you’re still recording.
Let’s get this over with…