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Fiction

Dead Air

Entry 1.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Laughter.]

Voice: Wait, are you actually—

Nita: Time is, uh, 9:42 in the morning, September 22nd, 2013. This is Nita Rosen interviewing subject by the name of . . .

Voice: Jesus, I really did not think you were serious.

[Rustling paper.]

Nita: So you thought I made you sign a release as, what, foreplay?

[Laughter.]

Voice: I was, like, four tequilas deep by the time you walked in and probably at five when you waved that paper in my face. I would’ve signed my soul away to . . . uh, I didn’t actually sign my soul over, did I?

[Laughter.]

[Rustling paper.]

Nita: Maybe you should read this again. It’s a standard release that says you’re willing to be interviewed and to have this interview used in a published—well, a hopefully published art project. Thing. I’m not sure what it’ll look like exactly.

Voice: Seriously? Okay. What’s this project about?

Nita: It’s an ethnography of the people I fuck.

[Moment of silence.]

Voice: Wow. That’s. Okay.

Nita: Scared off yet?

Voice: Are you gonna play this is front of like, some crusty old sociology professors?

Nita: It’s art, not sociology. Or it’s like, sociologically-influenced art. If you read the release there’s a description.

Voice: “Documenting the erotic discourse of . . .” [Laughs.] This is pretentious as shit.

Nita: Duh. How else am I gonna get funding?

[Laughter.]

Voice: So if I say no . . .

Nita: I turn the recorder off, make us some breakfast, and shred the release form. Bid you a nice goodbye and maybe ask for your number.

Voice: Maybe?

Nita: No promises either way.

Voice: So no pressure.

Nita: That would be unethical.

Voice: I think most ethics boards would object to an author having sex with her subjects, but what do I know.

Nita: That’s why it’s art and not science. So?

Voice: . . . All right. Hit me.

Nita: Okay, so time is now 9:44 in the morning, September 22nd, 2013. Do you want to be referred to anonymously, or . . . ?

Maddie: Maddie. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.

[Laughter.]

Nita: Oh, no, the pleasure was all mine. So, first question, what’s the first thing you noticed about me in the bar last night?

Maddie: Oh, wow, okay. Um. I think I saw you from the back first, so—

Nita: Was it my ass? I have a great ass.

[Laughter.]

Maddie: No!. I mean, yes, you have a great ass. No, that’s not what I noticed first. It was your shoulders and neck. The way your hair got stuck to the sweat on your neck when you were dancing.

Nita: Oo-kay, that sounds really unsexy but—

Maddie: I wanted to bite you. In a good way. Just put my teeth on this tendon right here and . . .

[ . . . ]

Nita: Mmm. That’s nice. That’s . . . yeah.

Maddie: Did you have another question?

Nita: [Clears throat.] Why did you come out last night? Were you hoping to get laid?

Maddie: I was hoping to dance, drink, have fun. Get out of my head for a while, I guess.

Nita: What was in your head that you were hoping get away from?

[ . . . ]

Maddie: Uh. Stuff?

Nita: You don’t have to answer questions you’re not comfortable with.

Maddie: Okay, I’m gonna not answer that one.

Nita: Totes fair, totes fair. Were you out alone last night?

Maddie: I was by the time you got there. A couple of people I knew from work had come with me, but they went home early.

Nita: And you stayed.

Maddie: Didn’t have any other plans for the night. And like I said, I wanted to, you know—

Nita: Get out of your head.

Maddie: Yeah. And get laid, I guess. I mean, I don’t know if I put it like that to myself, but if we’re gonna be blunt about it, yeah. I wanted to find somebody. Or at least dance with somebody.

Nita: Just like Whitney, huh.

Maddie: Who?

Nita: Seriously? You don’t—okay, we’re gonna deal with that later. But I will say that you are a serious outlier in my study, at least with your knowledge of ’80s music.

Maddie: Ooh, an outlier. I like the sound of that. Though I’m curious about how many other subjects you’ve, uh, interviewed.

Nita: We can talk about that later, too. All right, this isn’t a normal question for my interviews, but . . . Can I ask about, uh—

[Static.]

Nita: What the hell?

[are you sure you]

Maddie: Something wrong?

[want to]

Nita: Yeah, the recorder’s being weird. Piece of crap.

Maddie: What were you going to ask?

Nita: The scars on your back. What are they from?

[ . . . ]

Nita: You don’t have to answer that if you don’t—

Maddie: Yeah, I’ll pass. It’s, uh. Not really first date material.

Nita: Sorry. [Clears throat.] Though if you’re amenable to follow-up interviews, you could give me your number.

[Laughter.]

Maddie: Shit, that was smooth. Fine. Gimme your phone.

Nita: I’m gonna pause the recording, okay? We can finish the interview after breakfast. You don’t have anywhere to be, do you?

Maddie: Nowhere I’m not happy to—

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 2.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Voices, jazz music, rattling cutlery.]

Nita: Okay, so we are at Knockbox Cafe, Chicago, Illinois, and it is . . . 2:24 in the afternoon, September 29, 2013. And I’m here with the lovely Maddie for our, ahem, follow-up interview.

Maddie: Follow up interview, my ass. [Into microphone] She asked me out on a date.

Nita: It’s an interview! I’m recording it!

Maddie: How is this going to fit into your sex-nography or whatever if we’re not actually . . .

Nita: In bed?

[Maddie clears her throat.]

Nita: Well, I’m not gonna make any presumptions, but like, I’m not here just for the sake of science.

Maddie: I thought it was art.

Nita: Sociologically-influenced art.

Maddie: Let your record show that I am rolling my eyes right now.

[Laughter.]

Nita: So, I missed some of the questions on my initial interview, because a certain someone distracted me. You ready for them?

Maddie: Let me get coffee first. I feel like I’m gonna need caffeine if you’re gonna ask me about my sex life in public.

Nita: Let me get your drink, okay? I promise, the imaginary ethics review board won’t object.

Maddie: Okay. Can you get me a dirty chai? With soy milk?

Nita: Sure.

[21 seconds of ambient noise.]

Maddie: This is so transparently a—maybe not a date, but it’s definitely a something. I have no idea why I am actually charmed by this. [Whispering into microphone.] It doesn’t hurt that’s you’re cute as hell.

[14 seconds of ambient noise.]

Maddie: It’s been a long time since I felt like this. I don’t know if I . . .

[39 seconds of ambient noise.]

Nita: Okay. So. Are you from Chicago?

Maddie: I’m from Washington. State, not DC. A tiny mountain town up in the Cascades.

Nita: What’s it called?

Maddie: You wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s a wide spot in the road called—

[Garbled.]

Nita: . . . Yeah, definitely haven’t heard of it.

Maddie: Told you. Most people in Washington don’t even know it’s there.

Nita: What’s it like?

Maddie: Used to be a logging town, now it’s a ghost town. Gray and rainy. Lots of forests, lots of overgrown clearcuts.

Nita: Is it pretty, at least? With the woods and the mountains?

Maddie: I guess. Pretty isn’t really the word I’d use.

Nita: What word would you use, then? To describe it?

Maddie: Hmmm. Fairytale-ish. But not the nice kind of fairytale. Not something Disney would make into a movie.

Nita: [Laughs.] I’m gonna nod like I totally understand what you’re talking about.

Maddie: You never read the old versions of fairytales? The kind where like, girls drown and turn into swans—

Nita: WHAT. Wait. You’re saying that [garbled] had like, kids drowning and—

Maddie: No! No. Just. Uh. My mom just had, uh, books when I was a kid and I— It’s just like the sort of place where you could imagine things happening. Like Twin Peaks? Have you seen that? Sorta like that. Very David Lynch. Yeah.

[ . . . ]

Nita: . . . Okay! Moving on. So when did you move to Chicago?

Maddie: Just this year.

Nita: From [garbled]?

Maddie: No, no, I left there after, uh. 2009. I’ve lived in a few places since then.

Nita: Just get restless?

Maddie: Something like that. I guess I, uh, haven’t really wanted to get tied down to a particular place.

Nita: Cool, I get that. Sorta. I grew up in the suburbs and, then like, moved here for college. Anyway. Next question: do you still talk to your parents and—

Male Voice: I got a latte and a dirty chai with soy!

Maddie: I’ll get them.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Thanks.

Maddie: Thank you. You’re the one who bought them. So . . . I don’t really want to talk about my parents, if that’s okay?

Nita: Of course! Yeah. Like I said, this is—

Maddie: Have you seriously asked everyone that you’ve . . . you know. Slept with. Have you asked them these questions?

Nita: Yeah. I mean, it’s a little less awkward when you’ve already, like, stuck your face in someone’s pussy.

Maddie: . . . True. I guess.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Did I make it weird? I think I made it weird.

Maddie: No, it’s fine.

Nita: I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. I’m just . . . curious. About you.

[The ambient noise briefly dips in volume. One of them breathes. The other fiddles nervously with a pen. The moment passes; conversations and the music resume.]

Maddie: It’s okay. I mean. Also I don’t know how to tell you this, but uh. You’re interviewing the randos you take home for sex, it was never not gonna be weird.

Nita: [Sighs.] Yeah, fair.

Maddie: It’s all right. I’m used to weird.

Nita: Sounds like it.

[ . . . ]

Maddie: What? Is there something on my face?

Nita: No, it’s not . . . Can I just . . .

Maddie: What?

Nita: Would you mind if I kissed you? I just . . . I’m curious.

Maddie: Yeah. Yeah, all right.

[ . . . ]

[Soft laughter.]

Nita: [Softly.] Yeah, that’s as good as I remember.

Maddie: Okay. Um. Did you have any other questions to ask, as we can keep pretending this is an interview?

Nita: I wasn’t pretending! This is an actual thing. You’re just.

Maddie: Just what?

Nita: An outlier.

Maddie: [Snorts.] Right. Thanks. Just what I always wanted to be.

Nita: I did have one other question. But I don’t know—

Maddie: You can ask.

Nita: Well. I . . . so. I’m still curious? About the scars on your back?

Maddie: Oh.

Nita: What are they from?

Maddie: A car accident.

Nita: Really? They look like scratches. Like—

[Chair scraping.]

Nita: Wait, Maddie—

[Thumping, footsteps. A door opening, and the sound of traffic.]

Nita: Maddie, please, I’m—

Maddie: Turn it off.

Nita: What?

Maddie: The recording. Turn it off!

Nita: Alright, see, I’m turning it—

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 3.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Nita: Okay, it’s . . . 1:13 in the morning, September 29th—no it’s the 30th, now. Maddie just left, she said she had work in the morning so she couldn’t stay. Um. I kinda wish she had, but I’m—it’s probably more than I deserve, that she stayed this long and this late. That she didn’t just tell me to fuck off when we were at the cafe.

We talked for a long time. She told me a little bit about the car accident, and . . . One of her friends was in the car with her and . . . Maddie didn’t just like, come out and say it, but reading between the lines, uh, this other girl didn’t make it out. I shouldn’t have been such a nosy shit, but I—

This project, like so much in my head, sounded like it would be really cool. My ethnography, L-O-L. You can’t see it, but I just did really big air quotes. Why not interview the people that I fuck and then edit it all together and find some deep and underlying truth about the nature of, whatever, queer millennial sexual practices. I figured I’d end up on This American Life and then get like, a genius grant or something eventually. The first few interviews were cool, because like, yay, getting laid in the name of art. But this thing with Maddie is . . .

We’ve got a date for Friday, and I’m like, scared shitless and also hella excited. I like Maddie a lot. A lot a lot. I’m leaving the recorder at home. Wish me luck that I don’t fuck things up more than I already have.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 4.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[7 seconds of breathing.]

Maddie: You’re asleep right now. Which is good, because like, I don’t know how to tell you that I don’t really want to be part of your project. The ethnography of the people you sleep with. I just . . . I’ve been having a good time with you, and I want to keep having a good time with you. Being an outlier was all right, but I think I wanna . . .

[Soft snore. Rustling cloth.]

Maddie: [Whispering.] Maybe it’s not something I should say out loud yet. It scares me how much I’ve already let you in. But I really like you. I wanted you to have a record of me saying that, just in case I . . .

[4 seconds of soft breath.]

Maddie: It’s probably too soon to be worried about that.

[Rustling cloth. Nita stirs. The sound of skin touching skin; comfort.]

Maddie: I don’t want to be just an outlier, okay? Let me be something more. For as long as I can.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 5.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Voice: November. Sixteenth. Two thousand thirteen. Voicemail from phone number seven seven three—

[Garbled.]

Maddie: Hey, it’s Maddie. I have a favor to ask you, and it’s a pain in the ass, and I wouldn’t be asking you if you weren’t my last hope, but . . . Anyway. I’m flying home for Thanksgiving and my ride just bailed on me. Do you think you could take me to O’Hare? Sorry, I know it’s a pain in the ass to go to O’Hare, and my flight is at the ass crack of dawn and traffic will probably be terrible. I will repay you with like, massive amounts of your booze of choice. You can ask me prying and personal questions and record them for the thing. Are you still doing the thing? You haven’t mentioned it in a while. Anyway. Let me know. About the ride, not the thing. Okay. Bye.

Voice: End of message.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 6.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Voice: November. Twenty-second. Two thousand thirteen. Voicemail from phone number seven seven three-

[Garbled.]

Maddie: Hey, it’s me. Sorry, I know it’s late, just wanted to let you know I got in okay—

Female Voice: Who are you calling? Is it that girl you were telling me about?

Maddie: [Muffled.] Mom, shut up. [Clear.] Anyway, it’s all good here. Thanks again for dropping me off at the airport.

Female Voice: Invite her too. Have her come with you when it’s time.

Maddie: Mom, stop.

Female Voice: [Close to microphone.] Come for Christmas!

Voice: End of message.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 7.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Nita: Dear ethnography diary, or whatever this is now. Am I a terrible person? All signs currently point to yes.

I have, at this point, moved beyond Facebook-stalking my outlier—listen, that was her joke at first, not mine, and I think there’s a three month minimum before you can actually call someone your girlfriend. Point is, I’ve moved past casually Facebook-stalking Maddie, and into deep Facebook stalking.

I wanted to look at pictures of Maddie as a kid. I just did, okay, I stand by that, I stand by my own weirdness, because yeah, when I say it like that, it makes me sound like a weirdo. But hopefully a romantic weirdo. Anyway. So I dug through Maddie’s Facebook looking for pictures, and couldn’t find any picture of her pre-2009. Nothing. And like, I don’t know, maybe she was an ugly teenager or something or wanted to do an online makeover. But there’s not even pictures that her friends had posted?

And like, because I was bored on the internet, and because I’m a jerk, I went and searched for [garbled], her hometown, and I couldn’t even find it. And that’s where it stops being sort of jerky and starts being kind of stalker-y, because then I actually went to the library and looked in an atlas, and still couldn’t find it. Nothing.

[13 seconds of ambient silence. A siren passes nearby. It fades into the soft noise of birdsong, barely audible.]

Nita: I don’t know why, but this feels like . . . a red flag? Yeah. And if it was anybody else, I’d probably ghost. Block her number, stop answering her texts. I should have renamed my project: autoethnography of a ghost. Wait, no. A ghoster? I dunno. But like, I’ve ghosted everyone that came before Maddie, and usually for similar stupid-ass reasons. Except for my high school girlfriend, because you can’t really ghost someone that you had four classes with, although trust me, I tried.

[12 seconds of ambient silence. Nita sighs. Her breath has weight.]

Nita: This is the most masturbatory thing I’ve ever done as an artist. Except for that time I pretended to masturbate on stage. Ugh. Nita out.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 8.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Garbled.]

Maddie: —boutique hotel, and I swear to God, they, like, origami the pillowcases and towels.

Nita: In Anacortes?

Maddie: Yeah. It’s weird going there in the off-season, but we had a good time.

Nita: You didn’t go to your mom’s place at all?

Maddie: . . . I don’t really like going to [garbled].

Nita: Still, it seems weird to go all the way out there for Thanksgiving and not even, like, go to your Mom’s house.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Sorry. That came out—

Maddie: No, I know it’s—

Nita: Really didn’t mean to sound that . . . that . . .

Maddie: Judgey. You sounded judgey.

Nita: Shit. I’m not judging you. I’m not, really. I’m just, like—you make me intensely curious, and I’m trying to like. Curb that. But it’s hard.

Maddie: Thanks. I think.

Nita: I just think you’re super interesting, and I know it’s super dorky, but I—I really like you. And I want to know you.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Look, is this still about the ethnography? Because I promise that I—

Maddie: I don’t need you to promise anything, okay? That’s not what I’m asking for.

[Ambient noise. Chairs shifting on the linoleum, someone’s fingers tap nervously on the tabletop. The kitchen table sounds like it has gotten larger, stretching to a gulf between them.]

Nita: You could. Ask me to. I’d promise . . . shit, Maddie, I’d promise you a lot.

[Chair scraping.]

Nita: [Closer to microphone.] Ask me to promise you something.

Maddie: [Hoarse, soft.] I don’t care if you . . . if you’re curious, okay? I don’t care if you dig up everything. But you can’t ask me about it, okay? It’s hard enough, keeping—

[them]

Maddie: —it all out of my head.

Nita: Okay. I won’t ask you.

[Sound of kissing.]

[ . . . ]

[Time is running out.]

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 9.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Traffic. Voices. The subtle rumble of an underground train. Sparrows and starlings squawking. Bicycle bells.]

Maddie: So I’ve discovered how to make voice recordings on my phone. I guess that makes this a self-ethnography. Or something. Maybe it’s just a confession? Whatever. This is weird. I don’t know how you do this, Nita. I don’t know if I’m going to send you this.

[23 seconds of ambient noise and birdsong.]

Maddie: I’m not supposed to—I told you that I can’t talk about this. I’m not supposed to say anything about [garbled] or what happened to . . .

[Don’t]

Maddie: They stick in my throat, even now, even here. I’m in Daley Plaza because it’s the farthest place I can think of from, from the woods, from . . .

[13 seconds of ambient noise. The sound of birds intensifies.]

[say their names.]

Maddie: Nita, you think I want you to give this up because it’s too personal. I don’t. I want you to keep going because it’s personal. It’s been five years since I left and it’s getting harder to stay away, and harder to . . .

[Maddie coughs harshly.]

Maddie: I . . .

[The sound of birds and coughing intensifies.]

[Time is . . .]

Male Voice: Miss? Miss? Are you okay?

Maddie: [Hoarse] I’m fine. Thanks, I’m fine.

Male Voice: Are you sure? You want me to—

Maddie: [Stronger.] Yeah, I’m okay. Thanks for—

[Come home.]

Male Voice: What was that?

Maddie: I said that I’m fine.

[Come home.]

[Footsteps.]

[Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.] [Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come home.][Come

[End of recording.]


Entry 10.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Maddie: —Can’t believe you never heard about this, you’re the one who’s always carrying this thing around.

Nita: Uh, maybe, but they didn’t cover ghost-hunting in Sound Engineering for Dummies.

Maddie: It’s not just for ghosts, it’s for . . . I dunno. Anything that might have something to say.

Nita: So people just leave the recorder running and . . . wait?

Maddie: Leave it in an empty room and see what might be willing to speak.

Nita: Spoopy shit.

Maddie: I’m a spoopy girl.

Nita: I know. I like it. Spoopy outlier girl.

[Maddie laughs; the sound of it is thin, brittle.]

Nita: Now what?

Maddie: Now we leave it. Come back later and see if anything decided to leave us a message.

[Footsteps.]

Nita: Like a voicemail for ghosts.

Maddie: Not just ghosts.

Nita: Like “4:33” for the spirit world.

Maddie: Like what?

[A door closes.]

Nita: [fainter] What? Have you never heard of— [inaudible]

[1:25:21 of ambient silence.]

[A bird calls, a harsh whistle. So loud that it might be inside the room.]

[43:57 of static.]

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 11.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Static.]

Maddie: Hi, this is Nita Rosen, coming to you live from the bedroom where I just fucked my girlfriend before trying to unconvincingly tell her that—

Nita: Oh my God, would you—

Maddie: That! I like, totally don’t want to go to her mom’s house for Christmas.

Nita: I do not sound like that.

Maddie: Despite the fact that it gives me the perfect opportunity to dig up all kinds of dirt about her, which is the only reason I’ve stayed with this freak show this long. Stay tuned. This is NPR.

Nita: Are you done?

Maddie: Oh, fuck no. Let me get my Terry Gross voice on. So why the sudden flip-flop, Nita? Were you getting too close to your subject? Sorry, your outlier? Sudden crisis of conscience, or did you just get bored and want—

Nita: Can you please turn it off?

Maddie: Oh, no. I want this on the record.

Nita: I found out who Emily is.

[9 seconds of silence. No ambient noise at all.]

[Don’t say her name.]

Maddie: [Whispering.] Don’t say her name.

[End of recording.]


Entry 12.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Nita: One teen missing, another in critical condition after car crash in [garbled]. Underage drinking suspected as factor. The totaled car was found off Old Coach Highway in—

[4 seconds of static.]

Nita: —damage to the front and side of the car. Magdalena Lanuza, eighteen, was found in the car, several hours after the crash. The car fell from Old Coach Highway into a gully, thirty feet below the road. Lanuza claims she was accompanied by eighteen-year-old Emily Longham, who is still missing. In a statement, Emily Longham’s mother, Abigail, said she believes her daughter is still out there. I’d know it if she were truly gone, she told reporters. The Sheriff’s office has organized a search party. Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to call the number listed below. When asked if they were looking for—

[2 seconds of static; harsh, unyielding, angry.]

Nita: —or a body, the Sheriff’s department gave no comment.

[11 seconds of ambient silence and static. She’s weighing the past four months with what she knows now. She’s thinking of long, ropey scars that rake across Maddie’s spine.]

Nita: And that’s it. No follow-up, as far as I can see. One girl nearly dies and another disappears, you’d assume that a small-town paper would be brooding on this shit for weeks, right? But there’s nothing else online at all. No Facebook pictures, no memorials of this girl. I can’t even find her parents. So here’s the thing: this is really obviously a trauma that’s in Maddie’s past, and it looks so much more interesting than it did when I first saw those scars. And I want to find out more and I fucking hate that I do. I hate myself for looking at Maddie and seeing a . . .

[An outlier.]

Nita: I don’t know what to do besides walk away from it. From all of it. She deserves someone who’s not a . . . flaky weirdo artist with a voice diary. I . . .

[Don’t.]

Nita: I don’t know.

[Don’t make her go alone.]

Nita: I don’t know what to do.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 13.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Voice: You have reached seven seven three [garbled]. Please leave your message after the tone.

[3 seconds of silence. Nita—]

[Static.]

Nita: Hey, it’s me. I’m— I don’t like how we ended things last night. I want to . . . I don’t know. I don’t know what I want. I’m sorry. Just give me a call.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 14.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Voice: You have reached seven seven three [garbled]. Please leave your message after the tone.

Nita: Yeah actually, I do know what I want. I want you. I don’t know what that means in the context of you and this thing about your home and—

[Don’t say her name.]

Nita: —and what happened to you. And I don’t know what you want, or why it’s suddenly really fucking important for you to go to the creepy town that you’ve been avoiding for five years, and for me to go with you, but like. Okay. I don’t know. I wish you would have picked up the phone so I could actually say this to you and not your—

Voice: If you would like to hear your message, please press—

Nita: God DAMN it.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 15.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Voice: December. Second. Two thousand thirteen. Voicemail from phone number seven seven three-

[Garbled.]

Maddie: Hey. It’s me. I . . .

[Static.]

[4 seconds of silence.]

Maddie: Sorry, there’s something weird going on with this connection. So, like, here’s the point. You’re still invited for Christmas. If you want to go. I want you with me. I don’t want to be alone when—

[Static. Angry, electric buzzing. A high, sweet whistle.]

Maddie: —pick up. If you call me I’ll pick up.

[ . . . ]

[End of recorded material.]

[Sorry.]


Entry 16.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Car engine.]

Nita: Wow, it really is . . .

Maddie: Creepy? Dark?

Nita: Isolated. I was gonna say isolated, but yeah, those other things too. You really did grow up in the sticks. Jesus, these roads are terrifying.

Maddie: It’s not the roads you have to worry about.

[ . . . ]

Nita: What the hell did you just say?

Maddie: I said you don’t have to worry about the roads.

Nita: That’s . . . That’s not—

Maddie: Listen to me, okay? You’ll be safe here. You’re a stranger here and that’s the best thing you can be.

Nita: What does that even mean? I thought this was just a family visit!

Maddie: You know it’s more than that. What you need to know now— [Coughs.]

[Coughing continues.]

Maddie: [Choking.] Just be prepared okay? I . . .

Nita: Maddie, what’s wrong? Jesus, Maddie—

[Gravel under the wheels, a clunk as the gear shifts into park. Maddie’s breath is labored, whistling high in her throat.]

Nita: What is this, what’s wrong? Are you having an asthma attack or something?

Maddie: [Hoarse.] It’s fine. I wish— [Coughs.]

[They are only half a mile from the road where Maddie’s car accident occurred.]

[They are a tiny beacon of light in dark, quiet hills.]

[They don’t feel the gaze of those who are watching.]

Nita: Should I drive? These roads are scary as fuck, but I can drive.

[A door opens. Birdsong and rain. Maddie’s breath smooths out.]

Nita: Here, do you want some water?

[ . . . ]

Nita: We don’t have to stay at your mom’s house. We can go back to Lyndon, or even Anacortes. Fuck it, we can go back to Seattle if you—

Maddie: [Hoarse.] No. I’m all right. We’re here now, we might as well . . . Might as well finish the trip.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 17.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Nita: So. Here I am. Maddie’s mom, Evie, is super nice. Her house is really pretty, up on the side of a mountain. There’s a creek nearby. Lots of woods and moss, as promised. It’s seriously in the middle of nowhere, though. I’m not sure what I was imagining, but . . . I’d originally thought that I could, like, do some detective work while I was here. This is so embarrassing, and it’s so obvious that I watched way too much TV. But I imagined myself, like, going into town and talking to the old dudes who’d be drinking coffee, and they’d be unfriendly and I’d charm them into telling me how—

[Sharp, squealing burst of static.]

Nita: What the fuck was that?

[ . . . ]

Nita: Weird.

[Time is running out.]

Nita: But Maddie was right, there’s not really a town, here. There is a gas station, which is also the post office and a hardware store. And I guess it’s a movie store, too, since they had this, like, bucket of DVDs you could rent for a few dollars each. Maddie said there’s a couple churches too, but they’re like, Children of the Corn meets Deliverance, you could not fucking pay me enough to step foot in one. I didn’t even realize that we’d passed through the town until we hit a dirt road and it got even more woodsy.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Maddie—

[Nita starts to cough.]

[The sound of the wind. The sound of birds in the trees.]

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 18.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

Nita: Okay, the timestamp is uh, 8:03. Morning of December 23rd. I’m uh, I’m interviewing Evie Lanuza, mother of Maddie. [Clears throat.] Though I’m . . . not sure why?

Evie: Well, My daughter told me about your project.

Nita: My project? Oh, sh— She did? Okay. Uh. What did she tell you exactly?

Evie: Just that you were interested in where she’d grown up, this little town, and you know. What happened to her.

Nita: [Laughs.] Yeah, that, uh. That’s basically it, yeah.

Evie: So what exactly do you want to know, Nita?

Nita: Well. Actually. Before we get started, I was wondering if you had any pictures of [Coughs.] Maddie when she was a kid. Which is probably weird, but I was just like, thinking that she must have been a really cute—

Evie: I don’t. I don’t keep pictures.

Nita: . . .Oh. Is there, um, a reason for that?

Evie. Yes.

[ . . . ]

Evie: Did you want more coffee? You look a little . . .

Nita: Sure. That’d be good.

[4 seconds of ambient noise, persistent birdsong and rain, and the sound of coffee being poured into an old, chipped mug.]

Nita: Thanks. So—

Evie: My husband grew up here, and even though he managed to get away to Port Townsend, he always knew he’d come back, but he put it off as long as he could. This place has a way of sinking its hooks into you.

Nita: Yeah?

Evie: He resisted coming back for so long. It almost broke us up, to tell the truth. But he came around eventually.

Nita: Yeah. Uh. Can I just ask—

Evie: Go ahead.

Nita: Where is, uh, Mr. Lanuza? Is he still, like, around?

Evie: He passed on. Not long after we moved back.

[ . . . ]

Nita: That’s . . . I’m sorry.

Evie: Oh, you don’t have to say that. But I think it’s what made Maddie [Coughs.] . . . I think that’s what really soured her on this town. And then the car accident with her friend. She left soon after, and I couldn’t blame her. But it’s like I said. This town gets its claws into you, and it doesn’t let go. I’m glad she’s back. I’m glad you’re here with her.

[ . . . ]

Nita: I’m going to see if—[Clears throat.]—if Maddie’s awake.

Evie: Take some coffee up to her. I always loved it when my special someone did that for me.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 19.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Footsteps. Birdsong. Rain on a dirt road.]

Nita: Okay, so I’m like . . . seventy-five percent sure that I’m not lost. I’m pretty sure I’m still on the road that Maddie— [Coughs.]

Nita: Fucking allergies. Anyway, the road where she had her car accident. And she was super understanding when I told her that I wanted to see it, and agreed that it was better if I satisfied my stupid-ass curiosity by myself. Well, she didn’t say it was stupid, but in retrospect, it definitely was. ’Cause like, I can find my way around pretty much anywhere in Chicago, even when I’m high as fuck or drunk off my ass. But apparently I can’t find my way around anywhere that’s not on a grid. And of course, because it’s goddamn December, the sun is buried behind the clouds. So I don’t know if I’m headed in the right direction. And there’s something that’s just like, hugely creepy about being surrounded by trees. I’m never leaving the city again. No wonder—[Clears throat.]—no wonder Maddie never comes back here. This is what I get for being such a—

[12 seconds of silence.]

[You’re looking for something.]

Nita: [Whispering] What the fuck—

[Maybe you found it.]

[Car engine. Tires on wet pavement.]

Male Voice: Hey, you want a ride?

Nita: Uh. I think I got turned around. Do you know how to get to—

[Static.]

Male Voice: I do. But are you sure that’s where you want to go? That’s a lonely little spot.

Nita: I think. Yeah. I mean, I just want to see it. A friend of mine, she was in an accident there—

Male Voice: I don’t need to know your business, miss. I’ll drop you off there, and let you find your own way back.

Nita: . . . Thanks.

[ . . . ]

[Radio turns on; country music. Signal fades in and out of static.]

Nita: Did you know either of the girls that were in the accident?

Male Voice: I didn’t, no.

Nita: What about, uh, a Mr. Lanuza? He died, like, eight or nine years ago. I don’t know his first name—

Male Voice: Listen, miss. You should keep their names out of your mouth, okay? You’re a stranger here. Keep it that way.

[ . . . ]

Nita: [Faintly.] All right. Never mind then.

Male Voice: That’s it, over there. Careful on the shoulder, though. It’s slippery from all the rain, and the guardrail’s on its last legs.

[Door opens.]

Nita: Thanks.

Male Voice: Take care. And don’t stay out here too long. It gets dark early.

Nita: Thanks, I got it.

[Door closes.]

[Static increases. Sounds like water, like wings, like song, like—]

Nita: —weird as it could have—

[Static.]

Nita: —so far to fall—

[Static.]

Nita: —waiting in the dark for—

[Static.]

[You should go.]

Nita: —should get going. It’s—

[It’s getting dark.]

Nita: Maddie’s— [Coughs.] And it’s getting dark.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 20.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[Voices, just on the edge of hearing. Creaking footsteps. The volume turns up, and the voices become audible.]

Evie: I like her.

Maddie: I like her too.

Evie: I’m glad you found someone who’s . . . someone good. Strange but good.

[ . . . ]

Evie: Aren’t you glad?

[ . . . ]

Evie: Do you regret bringing her here, sweetie?

Maddie: I wish we hadn’t come at all.

Evie: Don’t say that, Ma— [Coughs.]

Maddie: Mom, I’m—

Evie: I know you wish you could have stayed longer. I tried to—I tried to help. I thought you’d have longer. It’s almost over, though.

Maddie: She doesn’t know about— [Coughs.] About—

[Coughing intensifies.]

Evie: Sweetheart, shhh. You don’t—

[Coughing intensifies, and turns into sounds of choking.]

Nita: Oh my God—

[Footsteps.]

Nita: What’s wrong with her?

Evie: She’s fine, she’s fine, give her some room to breathe—

Nita: Baby, it’s—

Evie: I said to give her room. It’ll pass in a minute, as soon as she—

[Choking; retching.]

Evie: Sweetheart, listen to me. You need to calm down. Clear your mind. There’s mud in your mind, and you need to let the river wash it clean, okay? Let the water in and let it carry that mud away, out of your mind, out of your lungs. Stop fighting it. Let it in. The water goes in, and the mud goes out. In. Out. In. Ou—

[Vomiting.]

Evie: There you go.

[Maddie’s breathing has eased.]

[Nita is crying.]

Nita: What the fuck is . . .

Evie: Nita, will you get some paper towels to wipe this up?

[ . . . ]

Evie: Nita.

Nita: Huh?

Evie: Get some paper towels from the kitchen.

Nita: . . . Okay.

[Footsteps.]

Evie: There you go, honey. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. It’s almost over.

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 21.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[44 seconds of ambient silence.]

Maddie: Are you asleep?

Nita: No.

Maddie: I’m sorry about what happened.

Nita: You don’t have to be. I’m just . . . God, that scared the hell out of me.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Where did that . . . it looked like feathers. And dirt. How did it get in your . . .

Maddie: Don’t. Please, don’t . . .

Nita: Don’t what? What the fuck is happening? This went from fine to completely fucked up in like, a day, and Maddie— [Coughing, so sudden and painful that it turns into gagging.]

Maddie: Shh, baby. Stop.

Nita: I can taste it. Dirt in my mouth. You said I’d be safe.

Maddie: . . . You don’t have to be scared.

Nita: Like hell. You know what, fuck this. We should leave.

Maddie: You wanted this. You wanted to know. You kept asking

Nita: Yeah, because I’m a fucking asshole who thought solving this weird-ass mystery would make good art. I changed my mind. Let’s leave.

Maddie: But my mom—

Nita: Your mom is not the one gagging up mud and feathers, Madd— [Coughs.] I can’t even— [Coughs.]

Maddie: Shhh, baby, it’s fine. All right. We can go in the morning.

Nita: [Hoarse.] Now. Right now.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Please.

[ . . . ]

Maddie: Okay, okay. Get your stuff together. I’ll tell my mom we’re—

Nita: Please, don’t. Just . . . write her a note, okay. I don’t even care about my stuff, I am so fucking scared right now—

Maddie: All right, we can go. We’ll find somewhere to stay outside of town.

Nita: Thank you, oh my God, babe, thank you so much. I’m so sorry I even—

Maddie: It’s okay, just . . . just pack what you can. I’ll go write my mom a note.

Nita: Okay. Okay. Yeah. I can do that.

[Footsteps.]

[A lamp clicks on.]

[ . . . ]

Evie: [whispering] Is it time?

Maddie: I . . .

Evie: It’s sooner than I thought it would be. But it’s not too late. That’s the important thing. We don’t want a repeat of what happened to Emily. It’s better this way.

Maddie: Is it?

Evie: Don’t fight it. She might still be able to get away.

[Footsteps. Rustling fabric. An embrace.]

Evie: I love you, sweetheart. Be brave. I’ll miss you, but I know you’ll always be close, now.

[Be brave.]

[The lamp clicks off. Footsteps.]

Nita: Did you write the note?

Maddie: [Clears throat.] Yeah.

Nita: Are you . . . are you okay? Sorry, I’m so fucking freaked out I didn’t even think—

Maddie: It’s all right. I’ll be fine in a minute. [Takes a breath. Sniffs.] Are you packed?

Nita: I can’t find my recorder. Have you seen it?

Maddie: Maybe it’s in the car.

Nita: Why would it . . . You know what, I don’t even care. Let’s just get the fuck out of here.

Maddie: All right. Before we go, can I just . . .

[It’s a goodbye kiss, but Nita doesn’t know that.]

Nita: Ready?

Maddie: Yeah.

[Footsteps. A door opens and closes. The sound of night: wind slapping against wet leaves, rain hitting gravel. The car doors open and shut, and the engine turns on. So does the radio: nothing but loud, angry static.]

Nita: Fuck!

[The radio shuts off. The car shifts into gear, and then gravel crunches under the tires as they start to drive.]

[4:21 minutes of ambient noise.]

Maddie: I’m actually grateful, you know. That I came back. That you got me to come back.

Nita: You were right. I shouldn’t have kept asking you. It was—

Maddie: I needed to do it. I’d put it off for so long.

Nita: Put what off?

Maddie: I’d almost forgotten. You woke something back up. Your questions.

Nita: Mad— [Coughs.] What are you talking about?

Maddie: It was almost too late.

[ . . . ]

Nita: Look, I’m already freaked the hell out, so if you could just do me a favor and not be all fucking cryptic—

Maddie: Remember what I said when we were on our way here? You’re safe. You’re safe because you’re a stranger. You’re right to want to get out of here as soon as you can. This place . . . It does something to you. Doesn’t matter how far you go, it’s always pulling you back. That’s what happened to my dad, and it was—Emily knew there was no point in trying to get away, but I insisted, and she—

Nita: Ma— [Chokes.]

Maddie: Don’t. It’s okay. Don’t try to fight it.

Nita: Fight what? Jesus, what . . .

[The engine has grown louder.]

Nita: Can you slow down?

Maddie: It won’t change what happens next.

Nita: Oh my God. Please, whatever you’re thinking of doing, please don’t.

Maddie: I am so lucky I met you. I’m just—I always thought I’d be alone, and that nobody would know my name. I’m so grateful that you’re here.

[You’re here.]

Maddie: Try not to think about me, okay? Just leave me behind. Don’t even say—

[The crash through the guardrails takes them both by surprise, and they scream the entire way down.]

[A scream with shattered glass and scraping metal; a scream that wrenches itself open from the inside.]

[A scream infused with something inhuman, old as mountains, wild as a bird suddenly breaking free from a cage, electric in the air, a scream with blood on its teeth and torn skin on the tips of its claws.]

[End of recorded material.]


Entry 22.

[Beginning of recorded material.]

[1:32 minutes of ambient noise: traffic, voices, dogs barking.]

Nita: Timestamp. It’s, uh, 3:28 in the afternoon. January 10th, 2014.

[ . . . ]

Nita: I’m moving out tomorrow. Um. I can’t really do stairs that well, at least until the leg brace comes off, so I’ll be staying at my mom’s. I’m just here to grab some clothes and things. And to leave this recorder on.

[ . . . ]

Nita: I guess what I’m saying is, if you have anything else you want to say, I’ll be listening. I’ll leave the recorder on in the empty room. Let it run until the battery dies, I guess.

[ . . . ]

[Footsteps, uneven and limping. A door creaks as it closes.]

[ . . . ]

[ . . . ]

[ . . . ]

[ . . . ]

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[Are you sure you want to hear what we have to say?]

Nino Cipri

Nino Cipri

Nino Cipri is a queer and nonbinary/trans writer, currently at work on an MFA at the University of Kansas. A multidisciplinary artist, Nino has also written plays, screenplays, and radio features; performed as a dancer, actor, and puppeteer; and worked as a stagehand, bookseller, bike mechanic, and labor organizer. Their writing has been published by Tor.com, Fireside Fiction, Interfictions, The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, and other fine venues. You can connect with Nino on Facebook and Twitter @ninocipri, or on their website, ninocipri.com.