Episode 53: “Faint in the Grey”

Episode 53: "Faint in the Grey" The Sheridan Tapes

CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of death, mind control, body horror, and trauma11122019b: Pursued by Amanita and her undead acolytes, the Searchers take shelter in the woods and attempt to survive the night.Starring Karim Kronfli as David Nathan Robinson, Sam Taylor as Ren Park, Alejandra Cejudo as Amanita, Trevor Van Winkle as Sam Bailey, Jesse Steele as Bill Tyler, Virginia Spotts as Kate Sheridan, Amitola Lomas as Maria Sol, Julian Dailey as Teller, and Lexa Childress as Lawrence, with original music by Jesse Haugen. Written and produced by Virginia Spotts, with dialogue editing and sound design by Trevor Van Winkle. This episode was made possible by our supporters at Patreon.com/homesteadcorner, ko-fi.com/homesteadcorner, and our backers on Seed&Spark.For more information, additional content, and episode transcript, visit homesteadonthecorner.com/tst053Support this show http://supporter.acast.com/SheridanTapes. See acast.com/privacy for privacy and opt-out information. Become a member at https://plus.acast.com/s/SheridanTapes.

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CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of death, mind control, body horror, and trauma

11122019b: Pursued by Amanita and her undead acolytes, the Searchers take shelter in the woods and attempt to survive the night.

Starring Karim Kronfli as David Nathan Robinson, Sam Taylor as Ren Park, Alejandra Cejudo as Amanita, Trevor Van Winkle as Sam Bailey, Jesse Steele as Bill Tyler, Virginia Spotts as Kate Sheridan, Amitola Lomas as Maria Sol, Julian Dailey as Teller, and Lexa Childress as Lawrence, with original music by Jesse Haugen. Written and produced by Virginia Spotts, with dialogue editing and sound design by Trevor Van Winkle. This episode was made possible by our supporters at Patreon.com/homesteadcorner, ko-fi.com/homesteadcorner, and our backers on Seed&Spark.

For more information, additional content, and episode transcript, visit thesheridantapes.com

Script

Transcript

CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of death, mind control, body horror, and trauma.

[A cell phone rings; it goes to voicemail]

David Nathan Robinson

Leave a message.

[Beep]

Ren Park

Doctor Park here — this message is for David Nathan Robinson. It’s October the 16th, 2019… I’ve tried to reach you a few times, so I’m sure I don’t need to go through the whole spiel again.

Listen, David: this will be my last attempt to reach you. The next time you hear from me… it will be in person. With an additional… ISPHA detail. You know and I know that Templi Prophetam is handling an unstudied, unstabilized, toxic mycological sample that is… well, it’s ISPHA’s property, and we’d like it returned before it causes further harm. You’re a good scientist, David, and a good person — we’re willing to overlook this misstep. 

You have one week. Only a week. If we don’t hear back from you by October 23rd, know that we’ll be taking a more drastic course of action. You have my number.

[Cassette noises]

Please — don’t do anything rash.

[Voicemail beeps as it ends]

[Click]

[Main Theme]

Recording Begins

[Cassette noises]

[Static fades away]

[Sounds of the forest at night]

Ren Park

What happens now? What do you want from us?

Amanita

My invitation is and always will be for you to join us. We are the Children of the Earth, after all — the Children of Adam, and at the end of all things, we’ll be the only ones left standing. Barring that, well… we’re not known for speed, us mycological folk — but we always catch up. So I suggest you start running.

[Click]

[Silence]

[Click]

[The recorder jostles to life]

Sam Bailey

I’m telling you, the road isn’t here anymore — 

[Click]

[Silence]

[Click]

Ren Park

For Goddess’ sake.

Sam Bailey

We can rest for a minute, then we need to keep going.

Kate Sheridan

Sam, Bill isn’t doing well.

Bill Tyler (background)

Forever and ever — forever and ever — forever and ever… 

Maria Sol

Christ… 

Sam Bailey

Uh… Teller, Lawrence — can you still see them?

Teller

Negative — Amanita wasn’t lying, they’re not very fast.

Lawrence 

I haven’t seen them for at least a half-mile.

Ren Park

Well, that’s something at least. Bill, we need to keep going just a little longer. Can you do that?

Bill Tyler

Where is this karaoke bar, anyway?

Sam Bailey

What?

Kate Sheridan

He thinks we’re going to karaoke.

Maria Sol

Yeah, of course we’re going to karaoke, Bill! Only a little further — right Sam?

Sam Bailey 

Oh, uh… Yeah, only a little further.

[Bill whoops, mutely]

Ren Park 

Let’s get a move on then, people.

[Footsteps crunching through leaves]

Sam Bailey

Hey… Ren? Any idea what that is up ahead?

Ren Park

What is that? I don’t have the best eyesight — 

[Ren wipes his glasses on his shirt]

Kate Sheridan

I see it too, Sam… what is—?

Ren Park 

How is that possible?

Sam Bailey 

How is what possible?

Ren Park

It looks like a… hold on.

[Ren breaks into a run]

Sam Bailey 

Ren, wait — stop!

[Sam & the others chase after Ren, then come to a stop]

Teller

Is that a— 

Ren Park

An old-growth Western Red Cedar… In Pennsylvania. We’re all seeing the same thing, right? Lawrence?

Lawrence 

No, that’s — that’s definitely what it is.

Teller

I don’t understand… I thought these only grew in the PNW?

Maria Sol

How did it get all the way out here?

Bill Tyler (delirious)

It walked.

Kate Sheridan

Okay, great stuff, but… shouldn’t we get moving again?

Ren Park 

You know, people knock the Pacific Northwest all the time for how much it rains. [Kate sighs] Sometimes the air is full of a drizzle so light you can practically breathe it in. It’s pervasive… all-encompassing. But it does make for some beautiful scenery. There’s a reason people want to live there.

Maria Sol

Uh… sure Ren.

Ren Park

But the same water that makes that lush green landscape possible presents some serious problems when it comes to building houses. Anyone know what that much rain does to untreated wood over time?

Sam Bailey

Ren, could you please get to the point before— 

Ren Park

Well folks, what we have here is nature’s magic bullet for combating the wet rot that comes with dreary weather: the cedar tree. They grow all over the place up north, and the softwood is particularly effective in resisting insects, mold, decay… 

Sam Bailey 

Fungi.

Ren Park 

Precisely. This tree — thousands of miles from its native habitat — is naturally resistant to the very thing trying to kill us. And call me crazy, but I think this is our best chance of surviving the night.

Kate Sheridan

You mean… climbing all the way up there?

Maria Sol 

Those upper branches are at least 15 feet off the ground… no way Amanita could get to us, not without us seeing her.

Sam Bailey

[dizzy laughter] You want to know what happened the last time I climbed a tree? What about… [he cuts off]

Kate — do you remember what Bill said?

Kate Sheridan

Something about… not being on the ground tonight?

Sam Bailey

That’s what I heard too. I don’t know how, but… Ren’s right. This tree is here for us.

[Bill groans]

Ren Park 

Can he climb?

Maria Sol

He’s going to need some help.

Ren Park 

Alright everyone — no time to lose. Those things are still on our tail.

[Click]

[Silence]

[Click]

[Wind and creaking as the tree sways]

Ren Park 

Is everyone up?

Kate Sheridan

I’ve got Bill propped up against the tree here — I think this is as high as we’re going to get.

Thanks guys.

Lawrence

No problem. 

Teller (simultaneous)

Of course.

Maria Sol

I’m just peachy.

Sam Bailey

I’ve got a pretty good view of the forest from up here, but I don’t have eyes on them. Anyone else?

Maria Sol

Not me.

Teller (simultaneous)

Negative.

Sam Bailey 

Alright… 

[big exhale]

Christ on a bike, that was close.

Ren Park

Is anyone hurt?

Kate Sheridan

Well Bill’s… uh, he’s fine physically, at least. Other than that… 

Lawrence

I should’ve grabbed a damn flashlight, can’t see anything through these branches.

Teller

All I’ve got is the one on my phone.

Ren Park

I’d suggest saving the battery in case you get a signal, Teller.

Maria Sol

[Cough] Anyone bring any water?

Ren Park

Here, [he opens a canteen] I just filled this from… 

[Groan]

Strike that — I didn’t have time to treat this before I left camp. I don’t think the river water’s potable.

Maria Sol

Probably not.

Ren Park

Those things waited until nightfall to come after us. I’m guessing… based on what we know about their origins and abilities, we just need to make it through the night.

Kate Sheridan 

[Shivering] It’s getting colder — Bill, lean up next to me, it’ll keep us both warmer.

Bill Tyler

Yes ma’am.

Kate Sheridan 

Maria, you okay up there?

Maria Sol

Oh, this little hovel? It’s nice, actually — just big enough for me and my body heat.

Sam Bailey

So… you think these things are nocturnal?

Ren Park

Well… Foribus Oraculi only blooms in dark spaces, and it’s fairly susceptible to UV light. So long as those things are still being — driven by the fungus, they should share those weaknesses.

Maria Sol

You know, if we’re going to keep talking about the things trying to kill us, we should probably give them a name.

Teller

“Mycological folk” is a little wordy.

Lawrence

…aaand a little too down-home for my liking.

Maria Sol

Mushroom zombies?

Kate Sheridan 

[Shuddering] No thank you.

Sam Bailey 

Too cartoony.

Ren Park

Biologically speaking, I would say they’re just foribus oraculi colonies in a parasitic relationship with a human host, but that doesn’t seem to fit what we’ve seen. They’re a bit past mycology by now — I don’t even know how they’d be classified. A hybrid organism created through fusion with the host? A new line of the eukaryotic branch…?

Bill Tyler

Oraculites.

Sam Bailey

What was that?

Bill Tyler

That’s what Amanita kept calling them. In her mind. Oraculites.

Ren Park

Interesting. Bill… you seemed to sense her presence before she appeared today. Is that true?

Bill Tyler

I… I’m not sure.

Ren Park

The psychic wheel… it linked all the participants on a metaphysical level. If that connection remained open— 

Sam Bailey 

You don’t sense her now, do you?

Bill Tyler

Distantly. She’s… we have time.

[Bill slumps back against the tree]

Kate Sheridan

Hey, I’ve got you.

[Bill groans gently]

Lawrence

Dr. Park?

Ren Park 

Yes Lawrence?

Lawrence

If you want me to, I could try carving some of the bark off the tree. It isn’t much, but we could use it to build some protection at ground level.

Ren Park

Do we have the tools for that?

Lawrence

Lucky for us, I didn’t get flashlights, but I did manage to grab an axe.

Teller 

Of all the things to think of… 

Ren Park

It might work… keep them from reaching the base of the tree and climbing up, at least. Teller, give her a hand with that.

Teller

Yessir.

[Movement and grunts from Teller & Lawrence as they climb down]

[Rustling brush]

[Faint chopping and cutting noises from down below, continuous]

Sam Bailey

Ren, listen: it sounds like you know more about what we’re dealing with than anyone else here — except maybe Bill, but he’s in no state to answer questions right now. And you’re not telling us the whole truth. Now would be a good time to start doing that.

Ren Park

[Sighing] God, ISPHA’s going to have a field day when they hear about this.

Maria Sol

They can get over it.

Ren Park 

Right. Well… 

As I stated earlier, I believe these Oraculites to be almost completely nocturnal. The members of Templi Prophetam were fully human before their final ritual, and even then they’d rarely leave their compound during daylight. As if it wasn’t hard enough to get a hold of them before— 

Sam Bailey

You had contact with the cult?

Kate Sheridan

I thought you said there was no way to safely confront them?

Ren Park 

Yeah, that… That was a bit of a lie. Sorry about that, I signed about 10 different NDA’s just to cover that operation.

I tried to open a line of communication with Mr. Robinson after he vanished, but he never returned my calls. Dr. Caldwell refused to sign off on any action to extract foribus oraculi samples from the compound, and I suspect my hollow threats were obvious to David, even over voicemail. He was always able to tell when people weren’t telling him the truth… 

I deeply regret that I wasn’t able to keep those people from being hurt. I tried to reach out to David a week before that horrific ritual killed him, and now… I’m here. Fifteen feet up in a cedar tree that shouldn’t be possible, hiding from monsters with no water, no backup, most of my team dead or transformed, and four untrained civilians who seem infinitely more prepared to deal with this than me.

Sam Bailey

We’ll get through the night, Ren. It’s going to be okay.

Ren Park

I wish I had your optimism.

Maria Sol

Come on Ren, give us some credit — this isn’t our first rodeo. And Anna got out of shit like this all the time.

Ren Park 

Not… all the time.

[Tense silence]

Kate Sheridan 

Just… tell us what you can, Ren.

Bill Tyler 

[Sitting up] I remember Amanita saying— 

Kate Sheridan

Whoa, careful Bill— 

Bill Tyler

—she said something about Adam. And the Earth. That the prophet was connected to both.

Sam Bailey

Humankind, linked to the power of nature? Some kind of… Earth energy?

Bill Tyler

She said their rituals were— [he coughs, recovers] —meant for the collective body. Whatever they were doing, they were training themselves — practicing psychic links. And once the final ritual took place — bam! Connected, forever. All of them.

Ren Park 

But it seems like Amanita can create new followers instantly now, without the rituals.

Bill Tyler

I’m just telling you what she told me. You’re asking the wrong guy.

Ren Park 

How much of a connection do you still feel with Amanita? Can you still sense the other Oraculites?

Bill Tyler

Not really. Just… her. When we were back in that bunker, stuck in those cages… oh, it was so strong. So clear. I think that’s why I had a hard time keeping up back there, you know? It’s like I was in the cage again. My legs kept curling beneath me. It’s like Amanita said when I first met her… the… the fascia — all that connective tissue. It remembers. The pain. It remembers.

[Silence again]

Kate Sheridan

Hey Bill… If you want to go to sleep, this might be a good time. We’ll keep an eye out.

Bill Tyler

Yeah… thanks Kate.

Kate Sheridan

Here, just… lean back on the trunk and… there. You’ve got it.

[Quiet moment]

[Zipper as Maria opens her pack]

Ren Park

I remember this experiment the University of Mexico did — a handful of researchers, trying to induce nonlocality through meditation.

[The sound of something being sharpened]

Kate Sheridan

And for those of us who don’t have PHDs?

Ren Park

Basically, they put their subjects in separate faraday cages to cut them off from any external influence.

Sam Bailey

Like Morrison’s bunker.

Ren Park

First, they had them all meditate in the same room together, then moved half of the subjects to a separate location. Then they flashed a red light in front of one group, and the other group had a measurable brain-wave response — an “evoked potential.” Despite the faraday cages, the distance, and the complete lack of communication between the two groups, it seems the subjects were still linked. Their brain waves remained coupled. This might be what happened to Bill and the other survivors of Morrison’s experiment— 

Sam Bailey

—only more severe.

Ren Park 

Based on what I’ve heard — well, I’m not entirely sure what they were trying to accomplish. Or what insight Ned was able to give Morrison about what they were interacting with. They were in uncharted waters, scientifically speaking. I have to wonder— 

Kate Sheridan

Do you really think science can explain what we’re dealing with now? What Bill’s dealing with?

Ren Park

Ten thousand years ago, most of humanity thought thunderstorms were caused by the gods, casting judgment down on humankind. Just because something is the realm of superstition now doesn’t mean it’s unexplainable. Everything in the universe plays by the same rulebook, even if we don’t have all the pages yet.

[Silence in the group]

Maria Sol

ISPHA had no business sending Bill out here with the rest of us.

Sam Bailey

Agreed.

Ren Park 

He needed more time to recover — I should’ve seen that. Given how poorly this mission has gone, though… I’m sure Caldwell will agree to let him recover at the facility for a while once we get back.

Maria Sol

If we get back.

Sam Bailey

What have you got down there?

[Sharpening noises stop]

Maria Sol 

Oh, it’s — uh… [Sigh] This.

[She holds up what she’s been whittling]

Sam Bailey

Is that, a… 

Kate Sheridan

A cedar shiv? That’s not a bad idea, actually.

Ren Park

Well, if worst comes to worst… 

Sam Bailey 

Any chance you make some for the rest of us? I don’t have a knife on me, otherwise I’d— 

Maria Sol

[Dry laughter] Of course I’m in the middle of a freezing forest making shivs. It’s what Anna would have wanted.

[Sharpening resumes]

Sam Bailey 

Uh… yeah. Thanks.

[Ren calls out]

Ren Park 

Lawrence? Teller? How’s it going down there?

Lawrence

Got about six feet of defensible space in front of the trunk covered.

Teller 

Mostly… there’s — ugh, there’s just so much ground to cover.

Lawrence

It’s going slower than we thought it would.

Ren Park

Do you need any help?

Teller

We’ll get it done, doctor. You guys rest — you’ll have to keep watch once we’re done and passed out for the night.

Ren Park

Deal.

[Moment of silence]

Maria Sol

Well Ren, it looks like we’re all stuck up here with nothing to do but listen to whatever scientific explanations you can think of. Bring it on.

Sam Bailey

She’s right. I’m not recording all of this for nothing.

Ren Park 

Yeah, I did notice that… 

Sam Bailey 

Don’t worry, I’ll tuck this tape away under my mattress when we get back. Nice and secure.

Ren Park

I can’t tell you to do that, officially… 

Sam Bailey

Then officially, I’m not asking you.

Ren Park

[Sigh] Maria’s wearing off on you, I think.

Maria Sol

Ha!

[Pause]

Ren Park 

Alright folks… I’ll tell you. At least, what I think I know.

Some of this is speculation, you have to understand. I hate spinning off too far in that direction, but honestly, it’s all I really have at the moment. I’m exhausted, I’m terrified, and… well, I’ll admit that ISPHA was not ready for this just yet. We were expecting a stream, and walked right into a flood. So the tools I’m working with are inference and speculation — whatever my brain jostles to the surface in the moment.

[Sigh] Adam — my partner — likes to say that my gut often gets ahead of my research. Earlier this year, I gave a talk at Stanford about the possibilities of mycology in the study of entropy — how mycelial consciousness could allow us to control or reverse the passage of time within a— 

Maria Sol

Dial it back, Ren.

Ren Park

What I mean is… fungal matter, as an agent of decay and transformation for dead organisms, is an extremely resilient form of life. Evidence for fungal life has been found in the most extreme environments on earth: deep sea vents, active calderas, even signs that some species can survive in the vacuum of space. Given enough time, they break down rock, crude oil, polyurethane plastics — they can even absorb radioactive materials and ionizing radiation with few ill effects. For something that resilient and persistent, what does the passage of time really mean?

In fact, if my suspicions are correct, the only existential weakness of the Oraculites is something that’s incredibly unlikely to occur: a disruption to the passage of time itself. But beyond that? Well, it’s not very obvious what their weaknesses may be.

Sam Bailey

You seemed pretty relieved to see the cedar tree.

Ren Park

I still am — it was a remarkably lucky find. But I’ll admit that… well, maybe I shouldn’t say anything.

Kate Sheridan

Ren… 

Ren Park 

It’s not like using garlic or a wooden stake on a vampire. It’s more like… soap in oil. I suspect the cedar wood will repel them, but it’s extremely unlikely that it will kill them. Not by itself, at least.

Maria Sol

And that’s where the shivs come in?

Ren Park 

Precisely. If it comes to it, I hope that… introducing cedar to the body of an Oraculite might cause the fungus to lose control. It won’t save the infected, but it will buy us some time.

Maria Sol

That’s a nice way to put it.

Sam Bailey

You mentioned something that Adam said… 

Ren Park

Ah, right. Sorry, hard to keep my thoughts in order right now. 

So… I gave this talk at Stanford, as a representative of ISPHA. I’d already been working on mycology research, ever since the Polish expedition. But do you know when I started theorizing about this stuff?

About six months before Babia Gora. ISPHA didn’t have any active experiments in mycology running — I was just fascinated by it. I couldn’t get enough of the research — the limited studies that had been done before, of course, but the theory… that was what grabbed my imagination.

I’m an engineer. Up until about a year ago, I designed rockets for a living. But this… all this… sent me down a strange and unexpected rabbit hole.

I used to spend months at a time haunted and fascinated by the vast reaches of space — the ultimate fate of the universe — the implications and mysteries of dark matter, dark energy. They kept me up at all hours, trying to understand… or failing that, to accept. But fungi?

Fungi is dark life. Almost all of mycology is just one big mystery. Its vast networks in every forest on the planet, and even in between — they’re the resource scouts, the messengers, the… well, the fascia of the Earth.

Sam Bailey

Bill used that word, too.

Ren Park 

It seems that fascia was one of the primary metaphors Templi Prophetam relied on to spread its gospel. David wanted his followers to emulate the adaptability, the flexibility, the interconnected intelligence of connective tissue as a body of believers. And it seems he was successful.

But that brings up another question: why didn’t the Oraculites scatter when David died? That, I believe, is our biggest clue about the true nature of Amanita and her disciples.

I believe the Oraculites represent an entirely new species — not a parasitic host, but a fusion of fungi and animalia into an entirely new classification. But it still has the characteristics of its constituent parts. Mycelia doesn’t have a central nervous system that tells it where to grow, where to look for food or resources — it doesn’t need one. There is no brain. There is no control system, beyond the basic instructions encoded in DNA. The smallest branch of mycelium can regenerate the entire network if need be, which means — if the Oraculites are truly impervious to entropy, to decay, to extreme temperatures, radiation, and distance… 

If my gut is correct, that means they can never truly die. Western science has largely ignored the potential of fungi for centuries, but there are those who caught a glimpse of it: from the Mexican shamanistic traditions that revered their mushroom as “the god fungus,” to the Oraculites’ framing of a psilocybin mushroom as the fruit in the garden of Eden, to Paul Stamets’ scientific gospel of mushroom consciousness… 

If they’re right — goddess, then I think they might have achieved immortality. Of a sort, at least.

[Slowly, static rises on the tape]

[Scrambling as Teller/Lawrence climb the tree again]

Lawrence

Dr. Park!

Teller 

Up ahead — look!

[An unhurried, muted crowd advances on them]

Sam Bailey

What do we do?

Ren Park

You tell me.

[One person steps forward]

Amanita

Well hi y’all. Told ya you should’ve run.

Bill Tyler (background)

Forever and ever. Forever and ever. Forever and ever.

Ren Park

Christ.

[Clack]

Recording Ends

End Theme & Credits


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