Episode 13: “These Imperfect Images”

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CONTENT WARNING: Body horror and some disturbing imagery, discussions of disappearances, some paranoia

Tape 1-4-15-3-21: Following up on a lead from the previous tape, detective Sam Bailey interviews Maria Sol about her relationship with the infamous Anna Sheridan and the strange events that followed.

Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Amitola Lomas as Maria Sol, and Trevor Van Winkle as Sam Bailey, 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

Script

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Outtake

Transcript

CONTENT WARNINGS: Body horror and some disturbing imagery, discussions of disappearances, some paranoia

Cold Open

[Sounds of the night]

[Footsteps]

[Switch flipped, neon light flickers on]

[Muffled sound of a shower running.]

[Cassette is loaded into recorder.]

Anna Sheridan

Out of the night that covers me black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears, looms but the horror of the shade, and yet the menace of the years finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

[Cassette player motor whirs, stops]

[Click]

[Main Theme]

[Click]

Tape 1-4-15-3-21

[Hiss of static, then fades]

Maria Sol

…it was honestly really nice working with Anna, but…

Sam Bailey

Sorry Miss Sol, I’m, uh… I just realized I wasn’t recording.

Maria Sol

You’re recording this?

Sam Bailey

Well, no, I wasn’t — I just realized my computer froze up… I don’t know how long ago. I had to find a tape to use instead.

Maria Sol

So… are you recording now?

Sam Bailey

Um… Yes, now I am. Is that a problem?

Maria Sol

Well — No, I guess not. I mean, I’d prefer you didn’t, but…

Sam Bailey

This is a homicide investigation, Miss Sol. And possibly more than that. In any case, every interview I conduct is evidence, and if I wasn’t record this, I’d be transcribing instead.

Maria Sol

I know, I know, just — look, this isn’t going to come back and bite me? I mean, I’m not going to wake up tomorrow with the FBI on my doorstep or anything, right?

Sam Bailey

[Handling paper]

You still live in California, right?

Maria Sol

How did you know that?

Sam Bailey

Please try to relax, Miss Sol. Sheridan mentioned your blog in her last tape. Wasn’t difficult to find out most of what I needed from your About page.

Maria Sol

Oh. Right. I just — I didn’t think anyone actually read that. Yeah, um — I’m still in Bakersfield.

Sam Bailey

Well then, you can rest assured — that’s well out of the jurisdiction of Oslow County PD. Unless you’re the one who killed her, you should

be fine.

Maria Sol

You know, that’s not as reassuring as you think.

Sam Bailey

No, I guess it isn’t. Look, I just want to know what your connection was to Miss Sheridan. How you met, the nature of your relationship — anything you can tell me that might clear up what happened to her.

Maria Sol

Miss Sheridan? You mean Anna?

Sam Bailey

Um, yes — Anna Sheridan.

Maria Sol

Sorry, I’ve just — I’ve never heard anyone call her that before.

Sam Bailey

Well — Be that as it may… How did you meet her?

Maria Sol

Well… Just bear with me, ‘cause it’s kind of a long story.

I went to school for film production — mostly editing and post-production, but I kind of ended up as a jill-of-all-trades, working on all my friend’s projects. Unfortunately no one really hires those anymore — at least, not anyone working professionally. So I took an internship during my last semester at a small TV-production company just outside LA, working as an assistant editor just to get some kind of usable resume before I graduated. It was mostly grunt work: sorting through footage, getting rid of flubbed takes, that kind of thing… The editors got to do all the stuff I really wanted to be doing, so I was kind of miserable the whole time.

[Scoffs]

It didn’t help that most of the other editors were guys, and raging misogynists for the most part, though none of them would ever admit it. They were all raised on the dark side of mid-90’s internet culture, and it really showed.

Still, I was literally on the lowest rung of the ladder, so I couldn’t really do much besides grin and bear it without getting kicked off. I did my work, ignored the rest of the crew as much as I could, and just hoped to get through the semester unscathed.

I was there for about three months before the Sheridan project came in. My assignments up to then had all kind of blurred together at that point: over-lit, generic white people overacting in dirty singles and badly framed wide shots that…

Sam Bailey

Sorry — Dirty single?

Maria Sol

Oh… um, just — An over the shoulder shot. They’re really overused in a lot of TV.

Sam Bailey

Huh. I never noticed that.

Maria Sol

Well… Sorry.

Sam Bailey

For what?

Maria Sol

Now you’ll never be able to unsee them. Normally you have to go to film school to have those kinds of things ruined for you.

Anyways, it was all pretty bland, but then I got wind of a new project: a TV movie written by Anna Sheridan. This was 2006 or 7, so she’d only just published The Endless Sky and was still pretty niche, but I’d been following her pretty much since she started blogging. She was kind of my inspiration to start my own, even if it… Well, kind of flopped.

Still, I absolutely loved her writing, and despite my better judgement, I thought she might be able to finally get a good film out of Voxel Media.

I was an idiot. The first warning sign should have been when the daily’s started coming in about a week after the project started. The second was the fact that I didn’t even notice that I was working on it for about three more days. I only figured out when one of the other guys looked over my shoulder and made some irritating comment about why I only got to work on the Sheridan project ‘cause I was a girl, and how it was PC bullshit or something just as disgusting.

I was honestly just surprised he could recognize it. I scrubbed back a bit and did manage to catch a few bits of dialogue that sounded vaguely like her writing… If I didn’t listen too closely.

I quickly figured out that the director was re-writing her script on set, and that Anna wasn’t being allowed anywhere near production. It honestly wasn’t too hard for them to keep her off set: they were filming on company sound-stages and cheap locations in the thirty mile zone, and Anna was still recovering from her accident at a friend’s house in Lake Isabella. She didn’t even see any of the footage until the first cut was complete and the producers naively invited her to a screening. I worked late that night in hopes of meeting her, but she stormed out of the office after about ten minutes. I tried to say hello, but she must have thought I was trying to stop her because she gave me a look so cold that I almost fell over backwards getting out of her way.

I was so mad at myself I almost didn’t go into work the next day. I figured I’d wasted my one shot to make a good impression, and that was that.

Of course I did go back — I needed the internship to graduate, even if they weren’t paying me for ten hour plus days and more than a few weekends. Anna was there when I arrived, neck-deep in an argument with the lead editor and producer. They were in one of the more soundproofed offices so I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but I could hear the windows rattling every once in a while, so I knew it wasn’t good.

I got the play-by-play from one of the other, less irritating interns: a freshman named Matt who the rest of the crew actually listened to.

He said that Anna’s agent had been smart enough to negotiate final cut privileges for her, but the producers had capped the budget at 50k, most of which was spent on production. Having seen the footage, I thought that was kind of unlikely, but whatever cut they had when the money ran out was the one they would release, Anna’s vision be damned. I couldn’t help grinning when he said that. I knew I finally had a way to get Anna’s attention.

Voxel was kind of a nightmare to work for, but they did mostly ignore me, and they weren’t very strict when it came to digital asset management. Everything from scripts to footage to final cuts was stored unencrypted on the central server, and my fellow grunts had a tendency to leave a lot of hard drives lying around. I found one that was empty and looked like it hadn’t been used in years, copied the project files over, and took it home with me on Friday evening.

I just want to make that absolutely clear: I only worked on it evenings and weekends. Even if they weren’t paying me, I knew I’d get in trouble if I worked on an unapproved project on “company time.” Thankfully I was used to burning the candle at both ends at that point, so I managed to get a pretty solid cut together by the end of the week, even with all the garbage I had to cut through. I even asked a colorist I knew to do a quick grade on the footage — It was just absolutely unusable the way it was shot. By the end of the second weekend, I felt like I had something I was really proud of.

I’d edited a few long-form projects before, but this was the first feature I’d ever cut… And it would probably be my last, if not for Anna. When I came in on Monday, I slipped the hard drive into her bag and waited. That was when the reality of it all really started to sink in, and I began to panic a bit. By the end of the day I hadn’t heard anything, so I gave in and tried to find Anna’s bag and dispose of the evidence. I searched for about an hour without finding anything, then heard noises coming from the screening room. It was faint, but after spending hours making something workable out of the opening sequence, I recognized it in an instant. But instead of going in there and doing something stupid, I ran back to my car and drove back to my dorm, screaming pretty much the whole way home.

I’d like to say I didn’t sleep that night, and probably wouldn’t have if I wasn’t at the end of about five consecutive all-nighters. I was out like a light the moment I got into bed. I woke up late the next morning to about three dozen texts from Matt, demanding to know what I’d done. I drove the studio and parked as close to the doors as I could manage, just in case things went really wrong. As soon as I stepped inside I saw Matt talking to someone I couldn’t see. He turned and pointed straight at me, and I pretty much resigned myself to my fate. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here and all that, so it took me a moment to recognize who was walking towards me when Anna turned and came round the corner.

The moment I did, my mouth went dry and I suddenly didn’t know what to say.

But she just hugged me, right there in the middle of the edit bays, and whispered “thank you” in my ear.

When she stepped back she seemed to be close to tears.

I never realized how close we were in age. I mean, she was still a few years older than me, but, back then she was only about 25. She’d only just published her second book, and this was her very first screenplay. She was terrified that it would turn out awful, and somehow, I’d been the one to show her it wasn’t.

Of course, the producers weren’t as appreciative. “This cut was made in violation of international copyright law, they were going to file injunctions,” yada yada yada. They were out of money at that point anyways, or so they claimed, and so the terrible, generic cut they’d produced was released to… well, they were definitely reviews, that’s for sure. Poultice Press was worried that Anna might get a reputation as a gimmicky hack because of it, but then someone leaked my cut of the film online, along with most of the background on why it wasn’t released. I’m pretty sure it was Matt, but I never found out — Voxel terminated my internship as soon as the semester was over, but thankfully they never pressed charges. I’m pretty sure the whole company was just an elaborate money laundering scheme anyways, so the last thing they wanted was to end up in front of a judge. Even so, I came out of the internship better than I expected. A few weeks after I graduated, I got a call from Poultice, saying they wanted to put me on retainer as a production manager and technical assistant for Anna. I’ve worked with her on audiobooks, podcasts, and book trailers, and still had time to pursue my career as a freelancer, such as it is.

I was really grateful to have a job like that straight out of college, but it was the connection to Anna that made me take the offer. It made a huge difference, having her as someone I could call when I needed help. Especially when the weirdness started happening.

Sam Bailey

What do you mean, “weirdness?”

Maria Sol

I’m not sure… No, you wouldn’t believe it.

Sam Bailey 

[Scoffs]

Try me. It’s been a weird day.

Maria Sol

The internship at Voxel was pretty much the last time I worked a “regular” job. I went purely freelance after that, aside from Poultice. You get some bizarre gigs doing that, especially when you start working remotely. It wasn’t easy to get my foot in the door like that, but once I had my portfolio up and people realized I was the editor behind the Sheridan cut, jobs began coming in from all around the world. It was a little all over the place, but within a year I had a pretty good pick of clients. Some were good, some were assholes, and others… well, they were just weird. Most of them preferred to meet over Skype or phone call, but some were totally anonymous, communicating exclusively through emails. I didn’t mind, so long as they paid my rate. It was good work, and their demands were usually clear cut enough that I could deliver exactly what they wanted ahead of schedule and under budget.

But then, in the summer of 2010, I got an email from a garbled address, supposedly written by someone calling themselves Manfredo Scarasi.

[Chuckles]

Look, I know how to spot someone using an alias online. I also don’t mind taking jobs from them — their money is just as green, provided it actually comes through. But this one was — well, weird. Not weird like, they wanted me to edit videos of cock fights or someone clipping their toenails or anything. The brief was fairly standard stuff: he was a vlogger, apparently, and he wanted me to edit a sizzle reel for his channel. I say apparently because I still haven’t been able to find any trace of him online, no matter how much I look. But that wasn’t relevant for me to do the job, so I sent him my standard work for hire contract and got it back in about a week, along with a hard drive full of footage. A lot of the clips were actually as boring as watching someone clip their toenails, but he only needed a three minute reel, and the hard drive had almost 100 hours of footage on it. If I couldn’t find three minutes worth of highlights in that, I didn’t deserve to call myself an editor.

Honestly, the part that took the longest was organizing it all. The footage had timestamps in the metadata, but they were all over the place: clips that were obviously from the same shoot were dated years apart, and a few of them were supposedly recorded in the late 90’s. I stopped sorting the files by date pretty quickly, and just assumed that Scarasi used different cameras and hadn’t synchronized their clocks.

That’s pretty much the first thing you learn to do on a multi-cam shoot, but it was already pretty obvious I wasn’t dealing with a professional… Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Even so, it only took about a week to get the clips in order, reject about 99% of them for bad focus and lighting, and whittle the rest down to about a hundred clips that were actually presentable…

Sam Bailey

A hundred?

Maria Sol

180 second sizzle real? Average 2 seconds between edits? I would’ve used more if I could find them.

Anyways, I found the clips, built a loose narrative, and hunted down a few options for music from the stock library I use. It was about 11:30 on a Sunday night when I finally finished putting together the assembly cut. I was about to export it when I noticed a new email from Scarasi. It was pretty short: just one sentence and a single attachment. “Please use this codec for all renders,” he said.

The attachment was… well, a pretty odd file. I couldn’t scan it for malware, for one thing. That wasn’t too odd by itself, though: a lot of antiviruses have trouble with unique attachments, and only recognizes widely used files. I also didn’t recognize the extension on it. It was called ORO.brs. I looked it up and figured out that

.brs was usually used for text files, but when I opened it, an install wizard that looked like it was about 20 years old popped up. I half-expected it to be some kind of joke: a fake window running off some old glitch in my operating system.

But no: it ran through what seemed to be a normal install process, then quit and quietly deleted itself in the background. My monitors flickered about halfway through the install, but that’s not really that unusual either. When I opened the edit back up and went to render, there was a new codec available: .oro Lossy. That actually made me hesitate for a moment: I didn’t want to squeeze my hard work through a compressor that would ruin the quality, but…

Well, the customer’s always right, so I checked “render at maximum quality” to be safe and let it rip.

I quickly realized how stupid that was, but I had about an hour to stew in my embarrassment. The render took 50 minutes and almost all the power my system had. It looked almost like it was going to crash a few times, and my apartment started to get hot just from the heat the CPU was putting off. I kicked myself: Here I was, working on a stupid vanity project for someone I didn’t even know, running a program that was probably a virus on my one and only editing machine. I tried to stop the render once, but the mouse lagged so badly I couldn’t click the cancel button, and the cooling fans revved even faster, so I finally left it alone.

It was a little after midnight when the render finished. The progress bar was only about halfway across when it disappeared and the computer went quiet. For a minute, I worried that the render had failed and I’d have to do it all over again, but then I checked the exports folder and… there it was. Of course I was happy to see it, but — well, I didn’t really trust anything about this project at that point, so I opened the file to check. It was even worse than I thought.

That hour had apparently been spent mincing the video data into a fine paste and spilling half of it down the drain. The compression artifacts were so bad I could hardly tell what I was looking at, and I’d edited the thing myself…

Sam Bailey

Sorry… What do you mean by artifacts?

Maria Sol

It’s all the little glitches you see in digital video: usually blocks of colors or slightly pixelated details. Video has to be compressed way down to actually stream smoothly when you post it online, and that means losing lots of fine detail. That’s what codecs do: they’re encoders and decoders that strip out the information our eyes don’t usually notice and play the video back at a lower bitrate so it… well, plays. Otherwise, it would be like asking your internet connection to load up 24 uncompressed jpegs a second. So the codec… simplifies things. If an area of the video stays mostly the same for a while, it saves it once and then keeps it there as a big block. If two colors right next to each other are mostly the same: hey, most people are going to be watching this on their phone anyways so — make them the same! It usually works pretty well, though — the coding these days is really clever. But the more stuff is moving or changing at once, the worse the artifacting gets, especially with lossy codecs. There’s only so much data to go around per frame, and everything tends to blur and pixelate into everything else.

The video file that came out at the end of the render was only about 20 megabytes, and when I played it back, it definitely showed. I could hardly see my own cuts: each shot mixed into the next for nearly half a second before you could actually tell what was going on, and even then the footage was super blocky and stuttered like nothing I’d ever seen. I felt sick just looking at it: not because it was my work and it looked god-awful, but because it genuinely made me feel motion- sickness just to look at it.

The worst bits were the few vlog clips I’d included. They were straight-on single shots of “Manfredo” that he probably shot by himself. The compression should have left these mostly alone: there wasn’t much movement, and the background was just a blank wall.

But whenever his face moved, it seemed to smear and trail behind him in a kind of disturbing way. I’m pretty sure it was just the way the artifacts showed up, but several times I thought I saw the sharp edges of his skull, like the skin was sloughing off the bone as he moved. But every time I saw it the image changed itself just before I could tell if I was imagining things.

It was unusable: mangled, garbage trash data that almost melted my computer. Even so — the customer is always right, especially when you’re a freelancer and they’re basically your employer as well. I sent the .oro file back to Scarasi, asking if he really wanted to use this codec. I was about to call it a night and go to bed when his reply came through. He was apparently “ecstatic” about the edit, but wanted me to make a few more tweaks and send it back ASAP.

I groaned, but I knew I wasn’t going to be up before noon the next day no matter when I went to sleep, so I made another cup of coffee and got back to work.

The edits were simple, and I finished them in less time than it took my poor, tortured computer to render them. I tried to take a quick nap while it worked, but the fans were way too loud to let me sleep, and every time I started to doze off I felt pins and needles in my right arm, despite the fact I wasn’t sleeping on it. By the time the fans went quiet again, I’d given up on the nap and went to see what I had this time.

It was somehow even worse. The artifacts were bigger, the color aberrations more extreme, and the footage seemed to somehow be melting towards the bottom of the frame… Though I still can’t really describe how. It wasn’t like one of those cheesy paint effects, but there seemed to be a kind of… I don’t know, gravity, I guess?

Affecting all of the image at once. But the worst parts were still the vlog clips. Manfredo’s face seemed to droop and sag as though it was melting — except for his mouth.

That seemed like it was being pulled up from the corners into a painful looking smile. And when he moved his hand, I was sure I could see the bones in his fingers, while the flesh trailed behind them in a pixelated blur.

Look, talking about it now, it seems obvious something weird was going on. But this was just what I was seeing when I looked at the mess of junk pixels and blurry images after staring at a monitor for about 10 hours straight. That’s just how my brain interpreted it.

God knows if I’d see the same thing if I could look at it now.

I didn’t want to, but I sent the file straight back to Scarasi. He replied just as quickly as before, but he did note my slightly passive-aggressive comment about the codec. He said that the website he was using had “special coding needs” and could only stream data using Ouroboros. I didn’t want to say it, but at that bitrate, he probably could have streamed the video between two tin cans and a piece of string. Oh, and that was the first time he said the actual name of the codec. Ouroboros.

I didn’t want to stay up any later working on that project, but I also didn’t want to work on it the next day, so I sighed, cracked my fingers, and reached for the mouse. I couldn’t find it for a moment, so I glanced down to see where it was. That’s when I noticed my hand. It was kind of in the shadows then, but it seemed… paler, somehow.

Almost… translucent. And the edges of it seemed kind of… rougher. Angular. Pixelated, in a way. I moved it into the light to get a better look — and screamed bloody murder. I definitely woke the next door neighbors, but I wasn’t thinking about them. When I moved my hand, the skin on it seemed to stay where it was for an instant, revealing the bones and tendons underneath before the skin snapped back into place unnaturally. The lines on my hand popped and fizzled, and I felt the same sensation of pins and needles as before. As I held it in front of my lamp, the details on it — creases, wrinkles, even the texture of my skin — all slowly vanished into big blocks of colors just off from what they should have been.

Exactly like Scarasi’s hand in the video, when I ran it through

Ouroboros.

Sam Bailey

What — what did you do then?

Maria Sol

I turned off the computer.

Sam Bailey

Oh.

Maria Sol

Yeah. By the time it shut down and I dared to check my hand again, it was back to normal. I rebooted my computer from the last backup, which was from about three days before. Most of the edit was gone, but at that point, I didn’t care: Scarasi wasn’t paying me enough to deal with paranormal activities in the edit bay, and it was obvious from the start that this wasn’t the kind of job that would lead to bigger and better things. After sleeping for about twelve hours straight, I sent him an email saying that I was no longer able to work on this project. I didn’t hear from him for nearly a week after that, and I assumed I’d been ghosted by the time he replied, saying he understood and asking if I knew any other editors looking for work. I lied and said that I couldn’t think of anyone, and that was the last I ever heard from him. I went to delete the footage from my computer after that, but when I checked the project folder, it was empty. I checked the recycling bin to make sure I hadn’t deleted it already and just forgotten about it, but there was no sign of the files. I even ran a data recovery program out of curiosity, but as far as it could tell, that folder was and always had been empty.

Sam Bailey

What about the hard drive he sent you?

Maria Sol

Oh. I’m not sure. I still have it somewhere around here, probably. I didn’t check if there was anything on there… I kind of wanted to just forget the whole thing after that. Especially when I heard that another editor I knew — Matt, the intern from Voxel — disappeared from his apartment a few months after that. The police still haven’t been able to find him. He did post some blurry screenshots on twitter just before he went missing. I can’t really tell what they are, but they’re all captioned “Ouroboros.”

Sam Bailey

Did you talk to Anna about this? Before she went missing?

Maria Sol

Why would you ask that?

Sam Bailey

Well, it seems like this would be right up her alley, and you two do seem rather close on the tapes…

Maria Sol

What tapes?

Sam Bailey

The ones she was always using to record her… encounters. We found them with her van outside Oslow, soon after…

Maria Sol

Anna didn’t travel with her tapes.

Sam Bailey

She… I’m sorry, what?

Maria Sol

She didn’t travel with her old tapes. She kept them at home and only took a few blanks with her. Especially on this last trip, she wouldn’t have wanted them to…

Sam Bailey

Wait, I’m sorry… what do you mean, especially on this last trip?

Maria Sol

I… Um…

Sam Bailey

Miss Sol? What are you not telling me?

Maria Sol

It’s, um… It’s nothing, I just…

Sam Bailey

Maria? What was Sheridan doing here in Oslow that she didn’t want to bring her tapes?

Maria Sol

I have to go. Sorry Detective Bailey, I just have some…

Sam Bailey

Wait, don’t hang up, please, I…

[Dial tone. Maria is gone]

Goddammit.

[Clack and clatter as tape ejects]

Tape Ends


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