Episode 03: "Thither to Burn" – The Sheridan Tapes
Tape 1-10-2-1-8: Suffering from an acute case of writers block, Anna Sheridan retreats to a small cabin on the Oregon coast to work on her latest novel – but despite her best efforts to avoid them, supernatural forces reappear at nightfall.
Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Trevor Van Winkle as Sam Bailey, Jesse Steele as Bill Tyler, and Virginia Spotts as Kate Sheridan, 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 thesheridantapes.com
CONTENT WARNINGS: Pyrophobia, paranoia, dread, familial conflict, coughing, discussions of death/mourning, mental health, and personal injury, mentions of drug use
[Rain, and the sounds of traffic on wet asphalt]
[Roll of thunder]
[Crackling of fire and hot metal ticking]
[A gun loading and cocking]
[Three muffled impacts]
[Glass shattering, and flames roaring louder]
[Impact as someone lands in loose gravel, then begins to walk away]
[A fire engine’s siren from far away approaches]
[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 Tenth, 2019 at 4:43 PM.
I’ve been listening to these tapes for the last two weeks now. Mostly right before I go home. The county’s really just trying to keep me busy until they decide what to do with me, so I have to try and work some actual cases the rest of the time. You know, cases that might have some answers I can find. I want to keep going with the tapes, but damn if Sheridan doesn’t make it difficult. I’ve sat through about ten recordings of random street noise, rambling versions of the first chapter of Below the Silent Deep, and one tape that was just ‘80’s pop songs played at half speed backwards. I have no idea what a writer’s “process” usually looks like, but I’m pretty sure it’s not this. The strangest thing is the blank tapes…
[Door opens suddenly]
Oh good, you’re still here!
What do you want, Bill?
Want? No no, I just wanted to tell you a couple of us are headed out to Marvin’s for drinks if you want to come.
No thank you.
It really is just a few of us. Maybe me and Robert and one or two other tagalongs…
I said no.
Could you shut the door on your way out, please?
Like I was saying, the strangest tapes are the blank ones. There have only been a few, but I had to listen all the way through both sides to make sure they were actually empty. For some reason, Sheridan left blank cassettes mixed in with her recordings. I mean, maybe there used to be something on them. They’re all labeled like the rest, so I’m guessing that whatever was recorded on them was somehow deleted. Still can’t shake the feeling that…
No, I need to get out of here — it’s been a long day. So: tape 1-10-2-1-8. What have you got for me today, Sheridan?
[Feeds the tape into the player]
[Hiss of static, then fades]
[Cell phone dial tone]
[Faint sounds of a small fire]
Hello, Kate Sheridan speaking?
Hey! Kate? It’s Anna!
Anna! Hi, how are you?
I’m… Good, I’m good, how are you?
Same, yeah — good! Great… Uh, wasn’t
expecting to hear from you so soon.
Yeah, well… Just wanted to make sure you’re okay, you know?
Yeah, I’m all good. Great… Hanging in there, you know? One day at a time.
Yeah? Yeah. Good. Great.
[A long pause]
How’s uh… how’s Oregon?
Cold, damp, and dark as night.
Glad to hear you’re enjoying yourself, then.
In my element, at least.
Where are you staying again? Langleeze, or something?
Langlois. Little town near Bandon. Very little. Nice little mini-market, and that’s about it.
Sounds… peaceful. Not many distractions, then?
Um… Yeah, not really.
Why do you always think there’s something wrong?
I don’t really, it’s just… the way you said it.
Sorry, I just… yeah. It’s quiet here. Really quiet.
So, uh… Have you…?
No. I haven’t done any writing.
Oh. You haven’t been… You know, uh…
Both. Either. I worry about you, Anna, you know that, and…
Well, you’ll be happy to hear I haven’t been having any fun. No weed, no ghosts, just… not writing.
I do want you to have fun Anna, I just don’t want you to get yourself killed doing it.
How’s mom holding up?
Jesus Christ, Anna!
Mom’s fine, I’m fine, we’re all fine.
So it’s just me who drives you up the wall then?
Anna, I really don’t want to have this conversation right now…
Oh sorry, am I bothering you now? What happened to “call anytime you want Anna” or, “you’re always welcome here, Anna?”
That’s just what people say Anna, it doesn’t mean you can call me out of the blue at 10pm on a Sunday night!
Well sorry if I wanted to have a nice talk with my sister for a change.
Are you sure you haven’t been smoking?
Are you calling me a liar?
It wouldn’t be the first time.
[Cell phone hang up beep]
See what I have to deal with? God… Sisters, am I right?
I don’t really care that I didn’t get any writing done today. I mean, obviously I do care, writing’s the whole reason I made this trip. To get away from the noise and focus. Anthony insisted I needed to stop running around, sit down, and write. God, you’d think he was my mother, not my agent.
I tried, when I was back home for the funeral. Absolutely nothing. Mom let me stay at her place, but that lasted about as long as you’d expect. So I told Anthony that I needed to get out, to get inspired. But, Poultice Press is breathing down his neck for a Q4 release, and they’re pretty much over funding my little expeditions. So I asked him to lie. I’m not proud of it, but given how good an agent he is, I know it’s not the first time he’s done it. I told him to tell the publishers I was almost done, but just needed a change of scenery to get through the last few chapters. They agreed, and I found a nice little cabin here on the Oregon coast. I even checked to make sure there were no reported hauntings nearby. I was being very good, for once. I just knew I wouldn’t get any writing done if there was even the slightest chance of being distracted.
I almost feel guilty saying that. Yeah, I’m a writer… and a damned good one too, despite what certain critics say. But I’m a good horror writer, and that’s only because of what I do when I’m not writing. The work. The books pay for it, sure, but still… It feels like a betrayal, putting the writing first. Especially when I felt like I was getting so close to…
So here I am, wrapped up in a blanket, staring at my little fireplace, so bored I actually decided to call my sister for once. I did try to write. I got up before the sunrise, made coffee, took out my pen and… Nothing. Not a single idea worth writing down, no itch I needed to scratch or question I needed to answer.
I tried everything: prompts off the internet that all sounded stupid, free association, meditation, a few too many cups of coffee… Anything just to try and shock myself back into writing. By the time it started getting dark again I realized I hadn’t eaten, moved, or written anything all day. I looked through what I tossed in the bin, but most of it was completely unintelligible, even to me. The best I got out of it was some extra kindling for the fire.
This isn’t writer’s block. I know what that feels like. There’s always a pressure in my head, like there’s some kind of story I’m trying to get out, but just can’t get it on the page. It’s frustrating as all hell, but this? It feels like there’s nothing. Whatever I try to put on the page doesn’t have any real substance, any life. I thought it would pass quickly.. a bump in the road after dad…
I used to spend months on the road, writing in the mornings and finishing a manuscript by the time I got home. Now? Now, I sit inside and stare at a blank page for twelve hours and get nothing out of it.
This is starting to get ridiculous. It’s not even that I’m having bad ideas — I’m not having any at all. And it isn’t like I’ve written about everything I’ve experienced either, it’s just — The fire’s gone out.
There’s someone in the cabin with me. I fell asleep on the couch, and just woke up to footsteps in the kitchen. I don’t know who, or what, but there’s someone in here with me!
[Wooden creak of floorboards across the room]
The fire’s out, but there’s light coming in from outside the kitchen window. I’m… I’m going to leave this running and try to find the scanner. If anyone finds this, this is Anna Sheridan, I’m in a cabin off Highway 101 in Langlois, Oregon. Please call my agent, Anthony Perdue, and tell him… tell him he shouldn’t have been such a good liar. And tell my sister I’m sorry.
[Faint footsteps across carpet]
[Quietly unzipping bag]
[Metal device handling, button press]
[Quiet, steady beeping from the scanner]
[Static rises slightly]
[Button press, beeping stops]
Whatever it is, it’s not giving off any of the usual readings. My eyes are adjusting, and I can see clearly now, but… the kitchen is empty.
[Floorboards creak across the room, louder]
Okay… I’m moving to the floor lamp now. There’s a switch at the base, so I can turn it on without them seeing me. Here goes.
[Faint footsteps across carpet]
[Switch clicks, lightbulb sputters on]
There’s… There’s no on in here
[Louder footsteps over carpet]
The room is just… Empty. Not even a shadow or a distortion in the air, just…
[Floorboards creak, louder and closer]
Okay, if someone is messing with me, they’re going to be very sorry, very quickly.
[Footsteps start,then stop]
I mean it! Trust me, I’ve had a hell of a day, and you do not want to mess with a pissed off…
[Flames ignite loudly across the room]
What the hell?
[Footsteps across carpet]
So, um… The fire that I said went out? Yeah, it just started burning again. Maybe the coals just caught an unburned bit of wood, or maybe there was a draft in the chimney that reignited…
[Fire blows out as quickly as it started]
Okay. Fire’s out again. I… I don’t know what is going on. The scanner’s still not reading any EM disturbance. It’s cold, but that’s just because it’s cold outside. I think. I hope…
[Floorboards creak repeatedly, growing louder]
You know that’s only scary the first few times you do it?
Much better. Now…
[Lightbulb begins to buzz and sputter]
Oh no. The um… the lamp’s going out now.
[Pop as the bulb goes out]
[Creaking resumes, louder and faster]
[Static rises again]
Who the hell are you?
[Last long creak fades out]
[Static fades away]
Oh god, it’s cold.
[Footsteps over carpet]
That’s much better. Now with all that — Ah!
[Static rises sharply]
[Recorder drops, bumping the mic]
[Flames roar and crackle]
[Flames roar and crackle]
[Flames roar louder]
[Quiet, faint crackling of fire in background]
No, no, I’m fine, I’m fine, just go bother someone else.
[Footsteps over gravel and leaves]
Well, I know I’ve had worst nights. I just can’t think of any right now. That’s the last time I take a trip anywhere just to write. Can’t get away from the work, no matter what I do. Makes you wonder… Do these things follow me because I chase them, or were they always following me? What makes me so lucky?
I guess the recorder cut out when I dropped it, so I’ll fill in the details. As soon as I put on the blanket, I felt warmer… A lot warmer. I didn’t notice at first, but after a second it felt like I was wrapped in burning metal: like I was touching a hot pan with every inch of my body. I dropped the blanket… I think I must have screamed. As soon as I did, it caught fire. I was about to get water to put it out, but it burned to ash before I could even move. If I’d had it on any longer than I did…
The fireplace caught again, flames roaring all the way up the chimney. The kitchen floor started creaking too, over and over again. That was when I realized what it was: the wood warping and creaking with the change in temperature. My scanner was going crazy. I tried to pick it up to check the readings, but dropped it right away. It was burning hot too.
Smoke started to pour out of the fireplace. I dropped low, grabbed the recorder, and crawled towards the door. I was nearly twenty feet from the fireplace and facing away from it, so I shouldn’t have felt the heat… But my face was still burning, my skin cracking and blistering until it felt like my blood was boiling. And in the roar of the fire, I swear I heard a voice. Not a human voice… not even one speaking words, I don’t think. Just emotions… strong, blinding emotions that overpowered everything.
Anger. Hatred. Rage… Just absolute rage. Whatever it was, it hated me: hated what I do, and more than that hated who I am. A hate that burned so hot that it… Well, it almost burned me alive.
I got lucky. Or maybe I was just fast enough to escape. I didn’t look back, but from the sound of the flames I knew they were already climbing up the wall behind me. The entire cabin was on fire. I’m not sure when the creaking in the kitchen stopped and the fire started, but when I looked back, the old wooden cabinets were lost behind the flames. I reached the front door and tried to grab the handle, but it scalded my hand, like the world outside was burning too.
I looked around, trying to find a way out… and then I saw the empty waste paper bin sitting next to the door. I hesitated before I grabbed it, but it wasn’t hot. In fact, it almost felt cool to the touch. It must have been far enough away from the fire to avoid the heat. I turned and threw it as hard as I could through the window. The glass exploded, and the night air rushed in. The flames leapt higher and higher, roaring louder than before. I saw them clawing across the floor towards me, like some kind of hungry animal.
I turned and jumped out the window, cutting my hands on the glass, but thankfully not bad enough to need stitches. By the time I got off the porch and away from the cabin, I could already hear the sirens. One of the neighbors must have called 911. I gasped for air and tried to think of a way to explain this to the fire department, when suddenly… I heard another sound.
No… not quite a sound. Another burst of emotion, radiating from the fire. I couldn’t name it if I tried, but somehow, I recognized it. It wasn’t an emotion I’d ever felt, but one that reached into me, towards something forgotten. Ancient. Primal. I’d escaped, but I knew that whatever was in that house had just marked me as prey.
[Clack and clatter as tape ejects]
Looking at her file now, I guess Sheridan was involved in a house fire that destroyed a small cabin in Langlois, Oregon around 2009. She was treated for smoke inhalation and minor lacerations on site. She might have walked away from it entirely, if the police hadn’t administered a Duquenois test and found elevated levels of THC. She was arrested and charged with suspected arson, but the evidence was circumstantial and the judge eventually dismissed the case. The family who owned the cabin sued her for violation of her rental agreement though, and ended up winning a pretty handy settlement. So… make of that what you will.
I know authors can do some crazy things to get out of writer’s block, but I’ve never heard of one resorting to arson. Seems a little extreme, even for Sheridan.
Apparently the press had a lot of questions too: there are plenty of articles from around that time about Sheridan’s drug habit and manic behavior being responsible for the fire. She was right about her agent, though: Anthony Perdue lied his ass off to save her’s. He had some great lines in hrtr about “atmospheric conditions being ideal for spontaneous combustion” and “electrical wiring shortcuts” in the cabin itself. Something tells me this tape wasn’t played in court.
If Sheridan was trying to shake her writer’s block, then I guess it worked. It took her less than two months to write and publish Inferno Within. One of her best sellers, too. Guess there really is no such thing as bad press.
God, it’s been a long day.