Episode 35: "Your Shadow at Morning" – The Sheridan Tapes
CONTENT WARNING: Depictions of grief, loss, and trauma, paranoia, anger, strong language throughout, arguments, and low rumbling SFX and screams
10292019: Seeking answers for another mystery Anna left behind, Maria recruits the help of her former roommate Alice Kearns to explore the mountains of Big Sur, California in search of the elusive Dark Watchers. But as they climb, tensions run high, and they both begin to suspect the other is hiding something from them…
Starring Airen Neeley Chaconas as Anna Sheridan, Amitola Lomas as Maria Sol, Liz Hull as Alice Kearns, Mike Kennedy as Chief Morrison, and Ezra J. Wayne as Ned Leroux, with original music by Jesse Haugen. Written by Trevor Van Winkle and produced by Virginia Spotts and Trevor Van Winkle, and made possible by our supporters at Patreon.com/homesteadcorner and ko-fi.com/homesteadcorner
For more information, additional content, and episode transcript, visit thesheridantapes.com
CONTENT WARNING: Depictions of grief, loss, and trauma, paranoia, anger, strong language throughout, arguments, and low rumbling SFX and screams
[Low hum of tires over wet asphalt, other cars splashing by]
[Rain on a windshield]
[The radio in her car suddenly switches on with static]
What the hell?
[Maria turns the radio back off]
Stupid thing must be busted…
[Someone honks as they pass by]
[The radio switches on again, and a voice is almost heard behind the static]
Greyhound to Foxtrot, Greyhound to Foxtrot, come in, over.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, this hunk of junk…
[Maria leans over and switches it off again. It comes back]
The target is in sight, moving to intercept.
10-4 Greyhound, on my way.
Ugh… Shut up, shut up, shut up —
[She turns the radio off again]
[Outside, the world rumbles]
Huh? Where did all the other cars go?
Where the hell am I? This isn’t I- 5. I’m… What is that —
[A rumble of thunder and flash of lightning that illuminates the world]
Holy shit, I’m back in Oslow.
[The radio turns back on again, the static fading away… And the voice on the other end sounds like it’s in the car with her]
Good evening, Miss Sol. Seems we’ve finally caught up with you.
[And she wakes up, panting]
[She tries to breathe]
[Her phone vibrates]
Who the hell is… Oh.
Good morning, Miss Sol. This is your 6am wake up call — you ready to go?
Hello? Hiking trip to Cone Peak? You said you wanted to get an early start, remember?
I said that?
Well… Strictly speaking, I said we should get an early start and you said that sounded like a good idea, but —
Right, right, I did. I’ll meet you at the trailhead after I, uh… Get some coffee or something.
Great! Can’t wait!
[Beep beep. Phone call ends]
[Maria groans, into a yawn. She laughs]
What was that poem you used to quote at me before we went hiking, Anna?
“For I have promises to keep – – And miles to go before I sleep.”
[Static fades away]
[Footsteps on a dry, rocky trail, with the sounds of breaking waves, highway traffic, and seagulls in the distance]
[Panting as she climbs]
This is Maria Sol, recording on October — October 29th, 2019 at approximately 10:30 — Fuck, hold on.
[Maria stops hiking and sets her pack down]
Okay… That’s better. This is day one of the, uh… Big Sur expedition. We’re making our way up from Limekiln Campground towards the Cone Peak Loop now. It’s a long way up from the trailhead — at least, it sure as hell feels like it. If it was any other time of the year, then it would be way too hot to be doing this. It would also be impossible for me to follow the trail, if not for —
Speak of the fucking devil… (she calls back) Yeah?
[Footsteps as Alice returns to her]
You okay back there? You were lagging behind.
Where did you get that hat?
What? Oh, it was in my bag. Sun’s starting to burn off the fog, so I thought I’d better put it on. Do you have one?
Well, just make sure you keep reapplying sunscreen every couple of hours. Make sure you get your scalp too.
I know how to put sunscreen on.
Oh… Yeah, of course you do.
[Maria conceals the recorder slightly]
Nothing, just a… It’s an old tape recorder I use. I’m — making an audio log.
Why are you dragging that antique around if you have your phone? That thing’s gotta add at least half a kilo to your bag.
It’s a… It’s kind of just a habit… I picked up. From Anna.
Oh geez, I’m sorry Maria — didn’t realize it was —
It’s fine, let’s just go. I don’t care.
Are you sure? You sound a little —
Look, I said I was fine, so I’m fine, alright?
Okay… Well, we should probably pick up the pace anyway — we’re gonna lose daylight faster than we think this late in the year.
Pick up the pace?
Come on, it’ll be good for you!
Not if it kills me first.
You still need a second?
If you don’t mind?
Meet you up top, then!
[Footsteps as Alice hurries off]
As I was saying — I wouldn’t be able to find the trail if Alice wasn’t here. Turns out, she’s already hiked this route more than once and knows the way. The trail can be a bit… vague at times. She made sure to warn me of that about ten times when I called her from Shasta. We haven’t really talked since we got rid of the apartment and I left Bakersfield, but…
She was surprisingly eager to take three days off to go hiking with me. I’m… I’m a little worried about that, honestly. I don’t know if she has some ulterior motive, but… In any case, I’m glad she’s here. If I’m going to get far enough out into the wilderness to find the Dark Watchers, then I definitely needed to bring her along. I just wish she would give me a little space to myself. I’ve tried to get away and record this at least three times today, and each time I did she just —
Maria? Come on, daylight’s wasting!
Ughh… I’m going to die out here.
[She starts walking again, then shuts off the recorder with a Click]
[Cassette noises, static fades away]
[Seagulls and the sounds of the waves]
[A different time, Anna sits in her van, recording, only a few miles from where Maria is now]
Los Vigilantes Oscuros. The Dark Watchers of California. If there was ever a creature tailor-made to draw me in… Well, it would probably be the Beechwood Monster, but the Dark Watchers are definitely a close second. Unseen, unknowable figures half-glimpsed in the times between shadow and sunlight. Beings of unknown origin, intention, and purpose, dwelling in the thin places where none but the desperate, devoted, or exhausted can find them. Shadows on the mountainside, given life by our fear.
That, and they just look really, really cool. Lone figures silhouetted by the sun, always in shadow and wearing long cloaks and wide brimmed hats? Yeah. Sign me up. They’re about the closest thing to the Odinic wanderer we have in American folklore. Couple that with an all-encompassing air of mystery and dread, and you have a nearly perfect bait for Anna Sheridan.
Too bad that the only thing that’s really known about the Watchers is the one reason I can’t go looking for them now. They’ve been seen in passing by weary hikers and travelers for centuries now — always in the distance, always disappearing before they can be seen clearly or a photo can be taken. But they’re only ever seen in one very specific mountain range. The Santa Lucia range, on the central coast of California. And no, it’s not connected to that Santa Lucia… They just share a common namesake. It’s a towering, imposing range of peaks that rises above the crashing waves of the Pacific in steep layers of greenery and sharp-edged rocky outcroppings. It’s a beautiful, barren, and harsh landscape, home to some of the highest coastal mountains in the continental U.S. That might not sound too impressive, but once you realize that one of them rises to over 5,000 feet above sea level just 3 miles from the ocean itself… Yeah. It grabs your attention.
But, because this is California and climate change ruins everything, the whole range is a tiny bit on fire right now. It’s not too bad here, and I might have even gone in there anyways, fires be damned. But I thought it would be best to hire a guide if I was going that far out into the wilderness. She called me pretty soon after the fire started and said we had to cancel.
After all, she still has a living to make, and she can’t keep guiding tours if she got caught violating a wilderness closure. Still… I hope to come back here someday. When it’s not on fire, of course. But for now, I’ll make this tape, tell you its story… And then move on.
[Tape begins playing again]
[A small campfire crackles in a wooded campsite]
October 29th… Still. 7:20pm. God, I never thought I’d be this tired before 8 o’clock. Alice is already asleep of course, but I’m way too tired to go to bed like this. And everything hurts way, way too much for me to fall asleep. Anna and I did a couple of long-haul hikes like this before, but I think she slowed down for my sake… Or because she kept wanting to go off trail to look for interesting places. And by interesting, I mean haunted, of course. They were always haunted, with Anna around.
We made it to the top of Cone Peak today — somehow. I swear, I think Alice is part mountain goat. She was raised out here in Big Sur, but I have no idea why she moved to the city if she loves this stuff so much… She clearly belongs in places like this. Unlike me, who definitely belongs on the road — the nice, flat, drivable road. From now on, I’m only investigating tapes that are van-accessible, and that’s a Maria Sol guarantee.
[An owl hoots]
I tried to keep my eyes out for them all day, but there was no sign of the Dark Watchers. I guess that’s not really surprising. It was clear all day except for a bit of fog this morning, but that burned off before we got on the trail. And by the time sunset rolled around and it started to get dark, I wanted to do nothing else but lie on the ground and melt into a puddle. There could have been a Watcher staring down at me from every single ridge, and I wouldn’t have noticed a thing. Even so… I did get a weird vibe a couple of times today, but every time I looked around, I didn’t see anything. I don’t know if it’s just nerves or what, but it definitely feels like there’s someone watching us, even if it isn’t the Dark Watchers.
[Maria turns on the stump she’s sitting on, looking back at Alice’s tent]
I think Alice is asleep now… I haven’t heard anything from her tent in a while, and she looked as tired as I feel. I should be able to get away from the camp and look around without her noticing… I hope.
[Maria slips off the edge of the log and creeps towards the woods. A twig snaps underfoot]
[She freezes, drawing a sharp breath, and listens]
[Maria sighs with relief, then continues]
Alright… There isn’t much of a moon out tonight, but with the cloud layer diffusing it, there’s just enough light to see. Just. It honestly feels like Night of the Living Dead out here… It’s practically black and white with just the moonlight.
If I can get up higher and look out across the ridge, I might be able to spot one of the Watchers. If I’m lucky. They normally only show up at sunrise and sunset, but… Well, I need to give it a shot. Plus, if I see where they are, then I just need to convince Alice that we should go that way tomorrow. After that, it’s just a matter of getting away from her again and —
[Maria freezes mid-step]
That feeling of being watched is back. I don’t know if it’s the Dark Watchers or something else, but — God, it’s intense. And I don’t have any way of telling the temperature, but it definitely feels like it got a lot colder all of a sudden.
[She begins moving again]
It honestly might just be paranoia. I didn’t sleep well last night, and I had this really weird nightmare that —
[She stops again, static rising on the tape]
I… I think I just saw something through the trees, up on the ridge. It was only there for a second, but I think it was —
AH!! Oh for fuck’s sake Alice! What are you…
…Doing awake? Shouldn’t you be resting, or… Something?
Me? I’m fine. What are you doing out here in the dark? It’s dangerous out here. Did you even bring a flashlight?
Look, don’t treat me like a kid, okay? And of course I did — I have my phone if I need it.
And does it actually have any power left?
Of course it –!
[Maria pulls it from her pocket. She presses the power button several times]
— Doesn’t. Shit.
Come on, Sol — let’s get you back to camp. It’s way too dark for either of us to be wandering around out here alone. Besides, we both need to rest before tomorrow’s hike.
[The two start walking back]
I thought you said tomorrow would be easier?
Relatively easier, I said. And not if you don’t give yourself a chance to recover.
Oh. You go back to sleep then, I’m just going to sit by the fire for a little bit.
You sure you don’t want any company? I wasn’t really sleeping, anyways.
Of course you weren’t.
What was that?
Nothing. Never mind — I think I’ll just go get some sleep.
[She unzips her tent]
Or… Try to, anyway.
[Hurried footsteps along a rocky trail, Maria’s pack jangling]
[In the far off distance, waves crash against the shore, muffled by miles of air and a thick fog]
[Maria comes to a stop, panting slightly]
Alright — I think I lost her for good this time. It’s about — Noon on day two, and we’re almost to the southern tip of the loop trail, near the ocean. I wasn’t expecting nearly this much fog, but with how cold and overcast it was this morning, it’s not really surprising. Of course Alice wanted to go faster to get through it, which made it really easy to “accidentally” lag behind and lose her. Hopefully she’ll just keep going for a while before she notices. Which leaves me with a few hours before she expects me back at the camp.
[Maria turns and walks off the path, scanning the ridges around her]
I haven’t had that — “being watched” feeling since last night. I don’t know if that’s because I slept like a log and didn’t have any nightmares or what, but — Whatever it was, it’s gone now. Of course, I’m completely sore and pretty much exhausted, but besides that, I feel great.
That might actually help me find the Watchers, though. Anna said they only show themselves to weary travelers, and I definitely fit into that category right now… Though I’m not sure if that’s because the Watchers seek out people once they’re exhausted, or if people only see them because they’re tired and paranoid. There’s actually a pretty solid argument that it’s the latter, though Anna would never have accepted it.
[She continues walking]
There’s a similar legend in Scotland — the Grey Man of Ben MacDhui. Craig told us about it on Anna’s last trip to Aberdeen. It has a lot in common with the Watchers — huge, dark, featureless shadows that appear to people traveling alone on foggy evenings. Craig thought it was the fae folk — as he usually does — but he also admitted that it might just be an optical illusion called a Brocken Spectre. Basically, it’s something that happens when a person’s shadow is projected onto the clouds or fog in front of them by the sun. It creates a huge image of a dark, humanoid figure towering over you. Combine that with exhaustion, thin air, and a bit of infrasound and… Well, you get a Grey Man or a Dark Watcher, depending on where you’re standing. Totally explainable, completely normal, and absolutely not supernatural.
Of course, that sounded a little too much like a challenge to Anna, so she decided that she just had to come out here and prove they were real. She also wanted to solo-climb Ben MacDhui while we were there, but Craig managed to talk her out of it. Barely.
[She continues again]
To be honest, I don’t really get her obsession. Sure, I’ve run into enough monsters and ghosts to fill a stadium at this point, but that doesn’t mean that some of these stories aren’t just that… Stories. Misinterpretations of totally normal optical illusions and natural phenomena. I mean, I know just how easy it is to fool the human eye, especially when it comes to size and perspective. And the fog? That just makes it easier. Horror movies use it for that exact reason — to make people unsure what they’re actually seeing. Still… Well, I’m out here looking for it, so… I guess I sort of believe it’s real? A little bit?
I have to. Otherwise, I’m just out here because —
[Maria stops up short with a quiet gasp, static quietly rising]
Holy shit… Strike my previous comment. There’s a Watcher on the ridge up ahead. Less than 20 yards away. And it’s definitely not my shadow. Not unless my shadow is somehow wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a walking stick when I’m not.
[Maria quietly crouches and takes a few steps forward]
And it’s not moving with me, either. It’s… God, Anna was right. They’re real. If I can just get a little closer to it, then maybe I can…
[Buzz. Buzz. Maria’s phone begins to vibrate. She fumbles for it]
Shit, shit, shit… Shut up, shut up, shut up!
[Beep as Maria declines the call]
Note to self: don’t charge your phone before going ghost hunting — not even if you want to get some use out of that shiny new solar panel you —
[She looks around]
Shit. It’s gone. Seriously? I look away for two seconds, and it disappears on me? Come on!
[Maria marches up the ridge]
No way it’s going to lose me that easy… I found it once, I can find it again —
Ah… Good. There it is. It’s just on the next hill, and —
Fuck. I think it heard me, and it’s… It’s staring right at me. God, it’s the same feeling I was having before, but now it’s —
[Maria walks down the ridge to where Alice is standing]
Hi Alice. Nice walking stick.
Are you okay? I thought I lost you back there.
I should be so lucky.
Look, could you stop mumbling and actually talk to me? What is going on with you?
Talk about what, huh? Work? I don’t have any. The weather? Oh look, it’s still foggy. My life? None of your fucking business, thank you very much.
You! I’m worried about you! We’ve barely talked since Anna disappeared, and I haven’t heard a single thing from you since you moved out. Then you call me out of the blue and ask me to take you hiking for three days in the middle of the week! Do you have any idea how many favors I had to call in at work to make this happen?
Well, sorry I inconvenienced you so much. I’ll make sure not to do it in the future.
Could you just listen to me for two seconds instead of making some smart-ass comeback? I am worried about you! I think you might be —
What? Projecting? Internalizing? If I wanted therapy, I’d go to a fucking therapist. It’s my problem, and I’m dealing with it my way. I don’t need help, and I definitely didn’t ask for yours.
Yes you did, you called me and asked me to —
Just leave me alone, alright!?
We should get moving. We’ve got a long way to go still.
[Alice turns and begins walking away. After a moment’s hesitation, Maria sighs and follows]
[Maria’s footsteps on the trail, pack jangling. The sounds of the ocean and Highway 1 are closer now, less muffled by fog]
Big Sur expedition, Day 3. October 31st. Hm. Happy Halloween,
Alice and I are hiking back a little bit earlier than we planned. Things were, uh… A bit tense at camp last night, and I don’t think either of us wanted to spend any more time out here than we had to — or with each other. It was way easier to get away from Alice and record this than usual — she’s keeping her distance and hiking about as fast as she can go. I know she’s pissed off at me, but — honestly, I think that’s for the best. If she’s mad at me, then she won’t waste any more time being worried. Or trying to stop me.
Anyway… Alice aside, this whole trip has been another bust. The closest thing I saw to a Dark Watcher turned out to actually be Alice. She only looked like one because her windbreaker and backpack made her seem bigger than she is.
At least… I think that’s what it was. I just assumed the figure I saw before my phone rang was Alice, but… I don’t know. No way to really be sure, not with how thick the fog was. Hm.
Oh yeah, the phone call. I forgot to check it until later that night, but it turned out to be Kate. Again. Apparently she’s in Oslow and needs some more help. Sounds like Bill’s been ghosting her a bit. I’ve been trying to decide whether or not to call her back, but…
[She stops walking]
No. I don’t think I will. I still have too many tapes to investigate, and I definitely don’t need any more distractions than I already have. Besides…
I hardly think I’d be able to help her from here, and there’s no way I’m going back to Oslow. I already spend too much time there when I’m asleep.