Episode 18: "The Vastness of the Sea" – The Sheridan Tapes
CONTENT WARNING: Thalassophobia, sea monsters, loud noises, descriptions of a corpse
Tape 1-6-10-3-10: On her way to Chile to investigate a potential sea monster, Anna finds herself stuck in Kingstown when hurricane Sandy makes landfall. As she muses about humanity’s long history with the creatures of the deep, a strange, unseen presence begins to make itself known…
Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Amitola Lomas as Maria Sol, Alex Brown as Laurel, 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
CONTENT WARNINGS: Thalassophobia, sea monsters, loud noises, descriptions of a corpse
[Echoing creature noises]
[A low rumbling]
[The noise of waves and a monster’s growl]
[Cassette player motor whirs, stops]
[Keyboard keys clacking]
Okay… we’re recording again. Maria showed me that I had an issue with my ASIO driver — whatever that means — so hopefully the recorder should crash a little less often than it did before. She didn’t know quite how the driver got that screwed up, but…
[The door opens behind him]
Here we go — one horrible sludgy black coffee for you, and one slightly more palatable cup of sludge with cream for me.
[She pulls her chair back and sits]
[He sips coffee]
Huh. Did you… Put something in this?
Huh? Oh yeah, you know — bit of LSD, dash of cyanide, a little wolfsbane…
Oh, fine. I put a bit of cinnamon in it… It was all I could find in the break room. Why, do you not like it?
It’s… fine. Just… I guess adding anything nice to station coffee just highlights how awful it really is.
Is the recorder running any better now?
What? Oh, yeah, I think so.
Test test. Test Test. Sixteen sour salamanders scampering slowly sunward. Tip top Tara tearing towards Titania.
Yeah, looks good. And it’s a pretty good acoustic space for recording, by the way.
What’s the next tape?
Um… 1-6-10-3-10. Do you have…
Yeah, I’ve got it… Let’s see: Volume 1… Chapter 6… uh, 8, 9,
10, 1, 2, 3, and 10. Keyword “Sea,” October 24th, 2012. Digitized
on April 29th, 2019 at 2231 Pacific Standard Time by Maria Sol and Sam Bailey. Marker.
Um… Right. Detective Samuel Bailey, Oslow County Police Department, Homicide Division. Tape… Begins?
[He slips the tape into the player]
[Hiss of static, then fades]
[When it fades away, heavy winds and rain are heard]
If you can hear that, you can probably tell that I shouldn’t be outside right now! Hurricane Sandy just made landfall here in Kingstown, and it’s starting to get pretty hairy out here! Thankfully…
[Anna closes a sliding door. The rain keeps pelting the glass]
Safety is only a sliding door away. Though I know a lot of people aren’t so lucky. Still, it’s only a category one, so for now I can just stay nice and dry in my hotel room until it blows over. Not much else I want to be doing outside anyway. My flight to Puerto Montt was canceled almost as soon as I touched down at KIN, and I don’t know when anyone will start flying again. Still… worse places to be stuck right now. Much worse. And the blob’s already been washed ashore for nine years at this point… A few more weeks won’t really make a difference.
Not that any of that makes it easier to wait. There isn’t much to do in here besides just sit out the storm.
Maria couldn’t come, of course… She had another job come up last minute, and apparently she had to take it to make rent this month. So it’s just me this time. Probably for the best… She hates flying, and any boat bigger than a kayak freaks her out a little, so… yeah. She probably would’ve skipped out on this trip even if she hadn’t been booked.
You’re afraid of water?
I’m afraid of the ocean. There’s a difference
Well… fun as it is to stare at the wall, I guess I might as well get started on my log for this trip. I meant to record it from the deck of the Hortensia, but… I think the middle of a hurricane is dramatic enough… Even for me.
[Anna shifts in her seat, then continues]
For as long as people have sailed the open ocean, there have been stories of sea monsters. Creatures of enormous strength and size summoned from the depths by humanity’s trespass upon their territory. Once the hairless apes discovered how to build boats, we turned the ocean into our own personal million lane highway without a second thought.
Over the centuries, we’ve shipped spices, troops, slaves, oil, and weapons across thousands of leagues with little thought of whose oceans we were sailing. Most of the time we got away with it — but occasionally, we didn’t. There has never been any “independent” confirmation of these creatures’ existence — not if you discount the hundreds of eyewitness accounts, like most do. True, no one’s ever found a living specimen of the fabled giant octopus. But there are stories — stories from all over the world — that speak of the same thing: a cephalopod the size of a school bus, with tentacles hundreds of feet long and powerful enough to drag ships down to the bottom of the ocean.
Even in the cryptid community, there’s still no consensus on whether such a creature exists… or if it ever existed. The giant squid was given much the same treatment for centuries, and we only observed one in its natural habitat in 2004. And despite all that we’ve learned since then, we still don’t know much about its normal lifecycle and behavior. They normally live between one and three thousand feet below sea level… just above the abyssal plain, the deepest part of the ocean. We only really see them when they’re disturbed and forced into shallower waters… Their territory is too deep and dark for us to observe directly. So what about the depths below that? After all, we know almost nothing about the abyssal plane, even though it covers nearly half of the planet’s surface. All of the dry land on Earth only takes up about 30%, and if my work proves anything, it’s that there are still plenty of unknowns in our own backyard.
Who’s to say that these creatures — the sea monsters of myth and legend — aren’t still down there in the dark, just waiting to be found?
[A small chuckle]
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your…”
[An electric pop as the breaker trips]
Oh great. Storm must have knocked out the power. Just what I needed.
[Anna stands, crosses the room]
[Unzips bag, pulls something out]
[Stikes match and lights candle]
That’s better. Not ideal, but… Enough light to see what I’m doing, at least.
[Anna re-crosses and sits]
Of course, if these monsters really exist, then we should have found some physical evidence after all this time. Ships these days are a bit harder to pull down to the depths, so if they’re still around, they haven’t attacked anyone in a long time… At least, not that I know of. Instead, we have globsters. Blobs. Masses of animal tissue washed ashore by the tide that can’t be readily identified, even by trained biologists. There have been several notable blobs in the Americas over the years…
Though probably the most famous is the Saint Augustine Monster. It turned up in 1896, appearing one night without explanation on the beach it was later named after. It was first spotted by two kids riding their bikes by the waterfront. They thought it was a beached whale, so they went to the town’s doctor, DeWitt Webb, with the news. He was also the founder of the local historical society and scientific institute… In other words, a proper scientist, not a sensationalist.
He rolled up to the beach the next day to examine the creature. It was half buried in the sand by then, but he noted that it weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of about 5 tons, was almost 20 feet long, and seemed to have the stumps of at least four arms, with a possible fifth detached and buried nearby.
He had a few photos taken, but they were over-exposed and thus, never published. Instead, when the local press got their hands on the story, they pretty much made up whatever they wanted, which resulted in descriptions and illustrations of a full-on sea monster, complete with tentacles-a-plenty and a sea-lion head, of all things. And it only got worse as the story spread out and got more and more exaggerated.
After the blob was washed out to sea in a storm and then back in again, it was finally hauled a few miles inland to South Beach on Anastasia Island, where it became something of a tourist attraction for several years, until it somehow disappeared without a trace. And that might have been the end of the whole story, if a few samples of the blob hadn’t been sent to the Smithsonian when it was found.
In 1971, these samples were examined by a biologist at the university of Florida, who concluded that the sample most likely came from an octopus.
Based on the size of the blob, he estimated that it must have been enormous — with tentacles up to a hundred feet long and weighing in at several dozen tons when it was alive. It wouldn’t be the biggest creature in the sea if that were true — that honor would still be held by the frankly ludicrous blue whale. But it would be close — horrifyingly so. I mean, just try to picture an octopus coming up out of the darkness with tentacles nine stories tall, and you start to get an idea why sailors were so terrified to go past that line on the map marked “Here be monsters.”
Of course, as soon as someone in the scientific community admitted that there might be giant monsters in the ocean, someone had to come along and ruin it. Another analysis in 1986 agreed with the initial findings, but then two studies, one in 1995 and the other in 2004, used the latest and greatest in electron microscope technology to come to the utterly disappointing conclusion that the monster was actually… a lump of blubber, torn off the rotting corpse of a whale by the tide. The ‘04 study went even further and concluded that all of the globsters we have samples of were just big pieces of whale fat, and that we should all rest easy knowing that there are no Lovecraftian monsters waiting for us beneath the waves.
I’m not saying those studies were wrong. Hell, maybe all the blobs we’ve ever found really are just bits of dead whale. I’m a fiction writer: I’m not really qualified to say one way or another.
But it just doesn’t seem right that this conclusion was just accepted without question, even when it disregards centuries of eyewitness testimony and shuts down any further investigation by labeling it as pseudoscience. And like I said, we know almost nothing about the real depths of the ocean — but we’re all afraid of it, at least a little bit. And I don’t think it’s a fear based only on the unknown.
So here I am, on my way to Puerto Montt to get on a boat and sail along the Chilean coast to look for myself. Another globster washed ashore in 2003… the most recent one on record, and one of the largest: 14 tons and nearly 40 feet across. Once again, the scientific consensus is that it’s just whale blubber, but I intend to check for myself… and see if there might be anything else in the waters beyond, just waiting for…
[Distorted and faint]
…trust me Barrett — God had little to do with what’s happening here.
Hello? Is someone there?
Sorry, I… thought I heard someone out in the hall. Anyways, I managed to book passage on the Hortensia, a research vessel looking into the effects of climate change on deep sea mammals and other mega-fauna…
Mostly giant squids and whale sharks, though they have run into some even stranger creatures in recent years: one or two giant oarfish, and even an unusually large anglerfish that definitely shouldn’t have come that close to the surface. The captain, Marco Asturias, just happens to be one of the most dedicated cryptozoologists I’ve ever met, though he keeps that fact mostly to himself. It would be significantly harder for him to get funding if the wider scientific community knew he was also keeping an eye out for…
[distorted, slightly louder]
…You really think so small a thing as death could stop the pirate Anne Bonny?
Okay, who the hell is that?
[Door opens on hallway]
Hello? Is anyone there?
No one’s there Sheridan. Of course there’s no one.
I don’t know what’s going on with that. Maybe someone’s watching a movie downstairs… The sound does carry kind of weird in this building.
[Someone knocks on the door behind her]
What the hell?
[Anna turns and opens the door]
Sorry to bother you, but could you keep it down a bit? My wife, she’s got a bit of a headache, and she’s trying to sleep.
Sorry, I just… Did you hear anyone in the hall earlier?
Um… yes? You?
No, no, besides me. She sounded — I don’t know, English? Irish, maybe?
Um… No, I didn’t hear anyone. Sorry.
Are… are you feeling alright…?
I’m fine, thank you.
[Anna shuts the door, then sighs]
Hearing things in the dark again, Sheridan? Seriously, you have enough ghosts in your life without worrying about…
[CRASH! Something smashes through the sliding glass door]
[Curtains flap in the wind]
Oh… great. Just what I needed.
[Zips up bag]
And I was just getting settled in here too…
[clear, but still distorted]
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them.”
He—Hello? Who’s there?
Is it? …I was dying, that’s all I knew. I was good as dead, and there was no salvation waiting for me on the other side. It made sure I knew that. The voice I heard.
Who are you?
Not much. That verse. A few other words… and the question. That’s all that really matters, I suppose.
Please, if you can hear me…
What would you do, to save yourself, it asked…
…anything, said I…
Shit, I need to… I need to get out of…
[Waves crashing against the side of a ship]
[Ship’s bell strikes four]
Well, here we are at last: the deck of the Hortensia, five miles off the coast of Chile. We’re heading out towards deeper water to begin the research trip now, but… I can’t shake this feeling that it’s already a bust.
I hate to say that. Marco’s just as committed as ever to proving the existence of Octopus giganteus, but after what I heard in that hotel room…
I’ve listened back to that recording a dozen times now. It sounds very similar to a lot of the non-reactive ghosts I’ve encountered over the years. There’s a theory about some hauntings — a pretty old one, actually, dating back to spiritualism’s heyday in the late 1800’s. It’s most commonly known as the “stone tape” theory, though that’s a bit of a misnomer. Basically, it suggests that ghosts might not actually be the trapped spirits of the dead, but just a recording of their words and actions when they were alive, somehow captured and played back by the rocks, walls, trees, and — in this case — water that surrounded them. Just an inanimate image of the person, reliving the same moments over and over again; drifting through walls and doors and buildings that didn’t exist when they were alive. Never seeing or reacting to the world around them. Completely unaware of the passage of time. They’re just… memories. The way the world remembers them, long after anyone who knew them has disappeared for good.
I suppose I can’t be too cynical about that. After all: that’s basically what I’m doing, recording this now. Creating my own ghost for those who come after me.
[Clack and clatter as the tape ejects]
I don’t think there’s anything useful on there. Next tape…?
Hold on. Did she find anything?
Did she find what she was looking for? Once she got to Chile?
Oh. Well… No. At least, not that she told me.
What, did you want her to find out that sea monsters are real? I think more people would know about that if she did.
No, but… still. Kind of a waste. To do all that and just find a run of the mill ghost in a hotel room. I’m sure she wasn’t happy about that.
It… wasn’t exactly run of the mill.
Well — it called itself “Anne Bonny” at one point in the recording. That was the name of one of the most notorious pirates in the Caribbean during the golden age of piracy. The last time she shows up in history, she was being held in Kingstown, awaiting her own execution.
And… what happened to her?
“…what is become of her since, we cannot tell; only this we know… that she was not executed.” Charles Johnson, 1724. That’s where the histories end. But there are stories, of course… There are always stories with someone like that.
Hm. But you have a theory?
Anna, had one, actually. It took her awhile to share with me, but after she almost drowned in Emerald Bay, she told me that wasn’t the first time she’d heard “the question.” She thought that maybe there was something that lived in the water, or maybe was the water, and that it somehow… Preserved Anne Bonny. She believed that Bonny escaped and fled Kingstown, got caught in a storm or fell overboard, and encountered this entity just before she drowned. It offered her a chance to survive, and she took its offer. At first, Anna thought the voice might only exist in Jamaica, but after hearing it in Tahoe and finding evidence of the same question in Scotland, Guam, and Australia…
And Agate Shore.
She found it in Agate Shore as well, just before she disappeared. It was on one of her last tapes.
Sure. In Agate Shore too… or whatever’s left of it, anyways. Still, she… Whoa! What’s that look for?
[Chair slides back suddenly]
I… I need to get some fresh air. You’ll be fine without me for a second?
Uh… yeah, sure.
[Sam walks away and exits through the door]
Field Recording – Sam Bailey 043019
[Florescent lights buzz]
Okay Sam… Breathe. Breathe.
God, what were you thinking, telling her about Agate Shore? What did you think she wouldn’t mention that it’s… That it was…
[Sam takes a deep, shuddering breath]
Huh. It must really say something about me that the only place I can really calm down and think is the morgue, even if I don’t know what it says.
I mean, it is quieter than the station down here, and no one wants to strike up a conversation around a bunch of dead bodies, so… Guess it’s got that going for it.
[Sam walks closer to the wall]
Ah. So that’s where you ended up. “John Doe… Alias, De Witt.” Huh. Guess I found your namesake today, didn’t I?
[Sam grabs the handle and pulls the drawer open]
God, what a mess this is. You… you knew… I mean, you must have known about Sheridan. Maybe about… All the rest of it too. God, the things you could have told me if you’d just…
Huh… That’s odd. There seems to be… Finger-shaped indentations on the throat. Not bruises, there’s no discoloration but, it… almost like the skin’s been warped or pushed in by…
[Sam touches the skin, and it makes a disturbing squelching noise]
That’s… uh, the, uh, the skin has an — an unusual texture and consistency. Almost like… Well, almost like moulding clay, actually. It still has quite a bit of give, even with the freezing temperatures and the…
[De Witt gasps for air, turning and grabbing Sam]
You… you’re… how are you alive?
Get. Me. Out of here.
[Clack and clatter as tape ejects]