[SFX: Studio, flopping down into a chair]
JUDITH: Do you want to listen to some recordings?
JUDITH: Yep, me neither. [sigh] Does it make me a bad friend if I just want to stop?
OWEN: I don’t know, probably?
JUDITH: Cool. Great.
OWEN: What do you want to do?
JUDITH: I want to lie down on the floor and, if I’m lucky, have the floorboards open up and engulf me.
OWEN: Want me to do the recap?
JUDITH: [lying down on floor] Yep, go for it.
OWEN: Alright. That can’t be comfortable.
JUDITH: [from floor] I assume you, it is not.
OWEN: Well, let me know if you need help getting back up.
JUDITH: [from floor] I probably will.
OWEN: So we’ve listened to some of the recordings that we’d previously checked out and… some of them are more than a little messed up. Missing sections, random bits of dialogue we don’t remember originally hearing, or just… long stretches of silence.
JUDITH: [from floor] Can’t trust anything these days!
OWEN: Not wrong. I feel like I can’t trust my ears anymore. But, when we go back to document changes… they’ve changed again. Usually back to the original recording, but… either way, we’re going through every note we took to see what’s changed. No guarantee it won’t change again though, which sucks. I don’t know. I don’t know what to trust at this point.
JUDITH: [from floor] Do you trust me?
OWEN: [unnerved] What?
JUDITH: [getting up] I said, do you trust me?
OWEN: [pause] I’m going to go with ‘yes’.
JUDITH: Good enough.
OWEN: [deep breath] What did you load up today?
JUDITH: Well, one, listen to this:
ADAM: Hi Judith, it’s Adam… Adam Lawrence, I wanted to uh… give you a call about some stuff related to Claire? I wanted to speak to you because, uh, I had assumed that Claire had at some point reached out to you to give you an update on her… personal journey that she had embarked on over the last few weeks, but, well, uh, I think that might have been a bit of a fibbery on her part. I, um… I wanted to call you and tell you that yes, Claire is ok and she’s still at the retreat but, um… I… uh… I think she’s still a little… messed up? I mean, physically, she is perfectly acceptable and I don’t think she’s in any danger, but I’m a touch concerned with her behaviour. So uh… hopefully you can call me back, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about her and if she said anything to you about her… plans to fix things at the house. It’s… unsettling. She’s looking for… odd ingredients or something to create some sort of… magical mixture? It sounds bizarre. I’m not taking it too seriously but also… I’m worried. Maybe you can help me? Give me a ca-… oh, Claire’s on the other line. Call me when you get the chance. My number is-… [cut off]
JUDITH: I tried calling back several times, no answer.
OWEN: Well, uh… at least we know she’s with Adam? Or in contact with him. But still, that message is really odd. Ingredients?
JUDITH: Your guess is as good as mine.
OWEN: Still no word from her, though?
JUDITH: Nope. Nothing. I did some digging though, uh, and, uhh, well…
OWEN: What did you do?
JUDITH: Well, I may have accessed Claire’s cloud account because I know that’s where she was storing some of her original recordings. Ones she made without me. Boundaries, I know.
OWEN: What, you’ve become a hacker now?
JUDITH: Yes, I am Crash Override. No, wait, I’m the other one.
OWEN: Acid Burn.
JUDITH: Yes. And no, Claire just uses the same password for everything. I told her it was bad cybersecurity, but whatever. Anyway, there were some documents and audio files in there.
OWEN: Yeah, and… technically there are more notebooks at the house.
JUDITH: Yeah, and technically we could walk downtown late at night going, “Gee, I hope no one takes this envelope full of money I taped to my back.”
OWEN: Do you want to go back and check?
JUDITH: No. I don’t want to go there unless I absolutely have to.
OWEN: Ok, that’s actually great, because I think that house or whatever is inside it wants to murder us. It’s haunted. That’s it. It’s not Claire being stressed out, or mercury poisoning, or that weird real estate guy, it’s just garden-variety malicious spirits who are tormenting us.
JUDITH: But that’s just it! It’s not going after Claire, whatever it is, in the same way that it’s been focusing on us. The messed up audio files, the voices, none of this happened till we started digging! This…
JUDITH: Whatever it is, a… ghost, a demon, a Lady in Red… it’s targeting her but it’s not angry at her. It scares her, but it hates us.
OWEN: Great! Super. Demons from hell want to eat my flesh.
JUDITH: That’s a bit much.
OWEN: Well that’s what it kind of feels like right now.
JUDITH: If anything tries to eat your flesh, it’ll have to go through me first. Possibly literally. So, anyways, files: There were a few of her testing things out, recordings of her reading diary entries, some of which were pretty mundane? But here, I downloaded and marked some of the more interesting ones that I found.
OWEN: Ok, great, I’m sure this one will tell me to go to hell or something. First one…
[SFX: beep. Claire’s living room]
CLAIRE: Ok… it’s on… maybe I’ll show this to Judith later. Whatever. So I’ve been trying to figure out the writing on the walls. I found writing in the closets now? It kind of makes me feel like I’m in The Yellow Wallpaper, because trying to decipher it gives me headaches. I mean, Jude, we’ve been trying to figure this stuff out but it’s all probably just stupid graffiti. But I get this feeling like if I could read it, then I could crack the code of these books and the house and all these questions I have. That… doesn’t really make any sense, I know, but like, what if there’s like, secrets hidden in there? Maybe Dana wrote it when she was young? Maybe they’re spells. Maybe she actually was like, a little baby witch. That would be cool. Then I’d be half-witch. Because that’s totally how that works, right? I did find this though, in an upstairs closet:
In the deepest night
There comes a light from the horizon
That pierces out
Sets forth a glow
That will spread and grow
Become one with those it touches
And wash over them
Like summer sun on bare skin
That’s some teenage quality prose.
Maybe we can work this into the podcast? Although honestly, neither of us are that interested in editing it and we’re both so busy at work, plus I feel like it would be rude to ask Owen to do it? I don’t know him that well, anyway. Well, I mean, we did once get trashed on jello shots at the staff summer party but that was less about bonding and more about getting kicked out of the fancy bar we were at. You know what? I’m just going to call you. This is silly.
[SFX: beep. Studio]
OWEN: You know, I vaguely remember the jello shots at that party, but what I really remember is throwing up in that planter on Bloor St.
JUDITH: I thought that was one of the IT staff that did that?
OWEN: Oh, yeah, it was… probably them. Let’s go with that. Is that the party where you got challenged by the interns to chug two pints in a row?
JUDITH: Yep. I have mostly just one regret and that’s that I chugged three in a row.
JUDITH: Yeah. … It’s so weird to hear her that normal. I know it hasn’t been that long but it feels like forever since we last had a regular conversation.
OWEN: Yeah, she sounds like… well, she sounds like Claire.
JUDITH: I’m trying to remember if we even properly talked about the things she mentions on there, god.
OWEN: Well, did you?
JUDITH: I think we did, a bit, but then we made plans to go out to a brewery, then we were in line for like, 45 minutes, so we ended up just spending the evening wandering around the area looking for a patio and talking about her confusion about Adam.
JUDITH: I… I listen to these and I can’t shake this… guilt. I missed… so much. But it felt like we were always just… missing each other. Caught up in everything else, kind of half in and half out. Like we never really got the chance to talk about what was going on because other stuff would happen or work would get in the way or… I didn’t want to push too hard because I was scared at how fragile she seemed sometimes and that if… if I asked the wrong thing she would shatter, and that’s ridiculous, but… but I didn’t want to ask about the house either because I didn’t want to believe it. I just kept trying to push it out of my brain, to rationalize and rationalize and rationalize. I was scared. I was scared then and I’m scared now, but for different reasons.
OWEN: Yeah… I mean, she’s an adult. You couldn’t force her to get help and, with what we’ve heard, there really isn’t… anything any of use could’ve done, other than burn the house down. This is… a lot bigger than any of us expected.
JUDITH: Yeah. Yep. Let’s just go to the next recording, I think this one’s kind of important.
[SFX: beep. Claire’s living room]
CLAIRE: -That stupid asshole Bird guy is here, flapping around. Goddamnit, now he’s got me making bird puns too. Ok, that’s it, [SFX: door slams open] WHAT DID I SAY? GET THE HELL OFF MY PROPERTY.
BIRD: Oh, Miss Claire! You’re at home! How lovely to s-
CLAIRE: The only lovely thing I want to see tonight is my foot up your ass. Why are you here?
BIRD: I just thought I’d poke around and preview what the space might look like in the late evening. You know, is there enough light, might there be unsavoury characters in the area…
CLAIRE: Yes, it is you! I swear to god, you are the biggest, grossest, stupidest person around here, and you need to leave. Don’t come around here again, ever! You got that?
BIRD: Fine. If you’d like to be huffy about it-
CLAIRE: And I’m recording this! If you come around here I will report you for harassment!
BIRD: I would like to see how you could afford a lawyer better than mine. Well, without selling this property first-
CLAIRE: Get out of here now. Leave, and never come back.
BIRD: My lord, you are red. Are you ok? Are you running a fever?
CLAIRE: You goddamn piece of trash, your blood will boil and your skin will peel and the earth shall swallow you whol-[static starts, audio is cut off]
[SFX: beep. Studio]
OWEN: Holy cow.
JUDITH: Yeah, right? Here’s the thing, that was from the recorder, after that all the recordings are on her phone.
OWEN: I guess… the recorder broke? Is this a phone file?
JUDITH: Yeah, this is one of the more recent files, from right before she took off. I… I haven’t even finished listening to it. I don’t like it.
OWEN: Alright, here it is.
[SFX: beep. Living room, and then studio]
CLAIRE: Hello? Check, check. Ok, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know who I can tell this to. I mean, I can call my mom or Judith or Adam or whoever, but… I don’t know. I’m not sure if I can handle having them around when I feel like this. Makes me sound like a fool, huh? This was easier when I got sick when I was a child or whatever and I could just sleep on the couch and watch game shows for hours. I think I’m losing it. I’m waking up tired and I know that I’m still sleepwalking, but I can’t stop, and every time I think, “yes, maybe I’ll go see a doctor or something!” it’s like my whole body just gives up on me and I end up just lying around until I fall asleep again and the whole cycle starts anew. I’m falling apart. I feel stupid sometimes because I… don’t know what to do. I’ve stopped drinking because it makes me feel ill, but… christ, I keep getting headaches. It’s just been slowly getting worse over the last couple of months. I don’t know anymore. I feel like I’m constantly in a fog, like my whole body is sluggish and sticky and weird. So I just sit around and read and sleep and don’t feel like I want to leave the house, like, ever. I want to tell Judith, but there’s something in me that just thinks that if I tell her this, she’ll think I’m like, having a mental break. Or lying. But she wouldn’t. I know she wouldn’t. But… I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just delete this. I haven’t felt ok in a few weeks. I think I’m going to go lie down. I… I want to feel better, but I feel like shit… hello?- [file starts to distort]
[SFX: beep. Studio]
CLAIRE: [on recording] Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.
JUDITH: [frustrated] Goddamnit.
OWEN: Want me to stop it?
JUDITH: No. Just let it play out. What does it want to say this time?
CLAIRE: [on recording] Hello.
CLAIRE: [on recording] Hello. Hello.
JUDITH: Can you say anything else?
CLAIRE: [on recording] I’m falling apart. I’m falling apart.
JUDITH: [suddenly very not ok] Just stop.
CLAIRE: [on recording] Judith. She thinks I’m lying-lying-lying-lying.
JUDITH: Please, please don’t do this.
CLAIRE: [on recording] I want to leave. I want to leave I’m falling apart I’m losing it losing it losing it losing it
OWEN: I… I think it’s taunting us. Jude, it’s just trying to mess with your head.
JUDITH: [agitated] Is it?!
CLAIRE: [on recording] I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. I think I’m losing itlosing itlosing itlosing it. Judith thinks I’m lyinglying.lying lying
JUDITH: Shut up.
OWEN: I’m going to turn this off.
CLAIRE: [on recording] Stupid. Stupid stupid stupid.
CLAIRE: [on recording] stupidstupid Stupid
JUDITH: Do you have anything of USE to say?
CLAIRE: [on recording] Yes
JUDITH: Can I ask you something?
CLAIRE: [on recording] stupid child
JUDITH: Where is Claire?
CLAIRE: [on recording] Stupid child.
JUDITH: What did you do to Claire?
CLAIRE: [on recording] Stupid child.
OWEN: Stop! Enough of this. It’s messing with us, ok?
CLAIRE: [on recording] Give up.Give up.Give up.Give up.Give up.Give up.Give up.Give up.
Give up. The paaaaath is clclclearrclear. I know-whaT to do. My path is clear.
I know now.
Delete this. [SFX: static builds and the recording ends with a pop]
OWEN: Jude, I don’t think we can trust any of these recordings. Not anymore.
JUDITH: Well what the hell can we believe, then? What good is this? These files are a MESS, everything is constantly changing and I don’t know what this MEANS. But I HATE IT, I know that.
OWEN: Look, all we can do for now is keep digging. This is… it’s another one from her phone. This one is really recent.
JUDITH: Yeah, there’s a bunch of stuff that got automatically backed up to her cloud account. I don’t know what this is.
[SFX: beep. Hallway in a cabin, then outside in the woods]
ADAM: Ok, Claire, if you hear this, I’m recording this on your phone. Mine apparently wasn’t plugged into the charger properly. I would like for you to hear this when you wake up. You walked out of the room at… 2:59 AM tonight, and… did she go outside? Shoot, Claire! Claire! Claire, come back ins-… why are you out on the porch? It’s freezing out! Come back inside.
CLAIRE: Look at this moonlight, Adam.
ADAM: It’s very good. It’s a very crisp kind of light. Now can we please go inside?
CLAIRE: I just wanted to see it. Everyone’s so excited to see the sun rise that no one wants to experience the dark.
ADAM: That’s when people sleep.
CLAIRE: Hm. Do you love me, Adam?
ADAM: Yes. Look, I know things have been rough lately, but-
CLAIRE: Do you trust me?
CLAIRE: Do you trust me?
ADAM: Yes, why?
CLAIRE: I have a plan. I’ve been thinking and reading and talking to everyone at the lodge and I think I know what I need to do to get things to be ok again. I can see the path, even in the dark, I can see the path.
ADAM: Ok. What do you need to do?
CLAIRE: I’ll explain once I have it fully figured out. For now, I just need to know that you’ll stay by my side. Promise me, Adam.
ADAM: Ok, I… I promise.
CLAIRE: Thank you.
ADAM: [pause] Have you… spoken to Judith at all? CLAIRE: [pause] She knows what she needs to know. ADAM: Yeah. Ok… can we please go inside?
[SFX: beep. Studio]
OWEN: That was really recent, like, last week. I’d assume Adam was somewhere further north with her. It was too quiet to be Toronto.
JUDITH: She’s alive and she’s around and… she’s ok. But he sounds nervous. Claire was acting… not like Claire.
OWEN: Yeah, she sounds relaxed, but not like… good relaxed. Like, creepy relaxed. The kind of relaxed someone is when they’ve finally decided to just peel your skin off.
JUDITH: Jesus, Owen.
OWEN: Sorry, she just sounds… off.
JUDITH: Can you play it again?
CLAIRE: [on recording] Hi. Hi. Do you miss me?
JUDITH: Oh, great. This again. You know what, spooky voice? You can just screw right off, ok?
CLAIRE: [on recording, taunting] Hi Judith. Do you miss me? Do you miss me? Do you miss me? Do you miss me?
JUDITH: Turn it off.
CLAIRE: [on recording] Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye
JUDITH: [deep breath] I’m getting really sick of this. Hey, demon thing, can you stop? I hate this. I hate it!
OWEN: I think that’s the point.
JUDITH: I don’t care. I know it’s just trying to mess with my head and I guess it’s winning because it’s working.
CLAIRE: [on recording] Bye. Bye.Bye.BYE.BYE. [keeps repeating]
JUDITH: I thought you turned it off.
OWEN: I did.
JUDITH: Ok, you know what? THAT’S ENOUGH- [everything is cut off]
[SFX: beep. Studio]
OWEN: Ok. Let’s try this again.
JUDITH: I… lost my cool. I may have… pulled the plug for the entire board?
OWEN: That was stupid.
JUDITH: Yep. But hey, on the upside, it stopped!
OWEN: Alright… Do you think we should show anyone else these files? Like, Claire’s family or something?
JUDITH: I’ve thought about it, but… what do we have to go on? Claire was stressed? We also know that there is something very weird happening with them, so there’s no guarantee that if we approach someone else with these that they’ll even work. They’ll probably just turn into elevator music or something. I don’t know. I tried calling Adam again, still just went to voicemail.
OWEN: Try texting him, see if he responds?
JUDITH: Yeah, I don’t know, hasn’t yet.
OWEN: Alright. [sigh] So… ok, going back a bit, you know there was that woman who died in the house in the early 1900s? Alma?
OWEN: So there’s this youtuber who makes Toronto history videos and I think I found one that gives some more insight into the house and some of the other things around it. Here…
NICHOLAS: … Toronto has a history of hauntings possibly caused by murders and mischief. The drowning of Alonso Perez in Grenadier Pond, the missing children of Roncesvalles. The death of Paul Bombardier on Dundas West. The murders and subsequent death by suicide of Alma Walthrop. These incidents have all resulted in possible hauntings in the west end.
[SFX: beep. Studio]
JUDITH: This doesn’t feel like just a haunting, though.
OWEN: Just hang on.
NICHOLAS: The Family of Fire were a syncretic fringe group that could once be found in the city. There were several areas known to be, if you pardon the pun, hotbeds of activity for them, in particular the part of the city that is now the west end. Info on them is pretty scarce, but the group was known to engage in some really unsavory activities, with the worst one being ritual sacrifice, of believers and non-believers alike. Murders committed in the name of their god were rumoured to happen around the city for years, although there was also the theory that members of either the police force or the political elite helped cover them up. Either way, wherever they were, death followed. The most lurid tale is that of the Roncesvalles 3, in which three teenagers went missing in 1912 near a home owned by one of the Family’s leaders, George Lavelle. They had previously been seen taunting George’s son and daughter, saying that they were engaging in incest and other illicit activities. Whether or not they were has been lost to history, but the deaths of the three teens who taunted them hasn’t. Ruth Baker, her brother George Baker, and Walter Brown left home on August 12th, 1912, and never came home. About a month later, a pile of burnt bones were found in what is now High Park. They were never fully identified since they were almost completely ash, but as far as anyone could guess, those were likely those of the missing teens. Since then, it’s been said that their spirits can be seen wandering around the neighbourhood, or that suddenly, out of nowhere, the smell of burnt wood will fill the air. They weren’t the only deaths rumoured to be tied to the Family of Fire, but they were the most notable. The main other ones were the deaths of Edward Balmoral, who was found drained of his blood with his hands burned off in 1910, and Frances Quill, who died of smoke inhalation in her house in 1912, which was – according to police reports from the time – arson, rather than an accident. In the east end-…
[SFX: beep. Studio]
JUDITH: I liked none of that.
OWEN: Yeah, me too. I also found a few more details about the people in the area related to this. So, Edward Balmoral: member of the community, owned a butcher shop.
JUDITH: Sound ominous.
OWEN: Seemed like a normal guy. But likely active with the Family, and the reason I’m guessing that is because when digging through records and articles, I found one implicating him in a fire that killed a couple, Renée and Lucien Marchand. He wasn’t charged, but animal bones were found around where they died, mostly pig and cow.
JUDITH: Yeah, that’s kind of a big yikes.
OWEN: So yeah, he had a popular butcher shop near Coolmine and Dundas. They were known for their quality smoked meats. Had a big smoker.
JUDITH: How big?
OWEN: It could smoke an entire cow, if you had the time and desire to.
JUDITH: There is no reason to have something that big unless…
OWEN: Unless you want to put some really big things in it that wouldn’t fit in a normal-sized one.
JUDITH: Ok, so they’re obviously ready to just… murder anyone who gets in their way.
OWEN: I looked a bit more at Alma’s death. I think the family was involved with the cult and she might have been too.
JUDITH: So was she killed because she was trying to leave? Or stop them? Or were they just bored?
OWEN: Good question. I mean, your guess is as good as mine.
JUDITH: Wait. Wait, hang on, ok, so just going back a bit, I just had a little brain thing, Adam said that weird thing about “ingredients”, right? I found a bunch of scans in Claire’s files, and most of them looked like diary pages or just weird symbols and numbers, but there were ones that looked like spells. Like, lists of ingredients, incantations, except way more forbidding.
OWEN: Uh oh.
JUDITH: Yeah, uh oh is right. There’s one here for the Creation of the Door of Fire. The child shall be first to go, for only the blood of the truly innocent can create the gate from which the lord shall enter. Unto the mother shall the blade be given, and unto her shall the death begin the world anew. Blood is the key. The blood of the devoted shall open the final door.
OWEN: … child sacrifice?
JUDITH: I don’t know if they did, but this is some pretty dark stuff. Maybe they sacrificed each other.
OWEN: That’s only a little bit better.
JUDITH: I guess. Uh, can I ask you a small favour?
OWEN: … maybe?
OWEN: This pause is too long, which means that the favour is NOT a small one. What’s up?
JUDITH: Remember that recording of us in the basement?
OWEN: [flat] Yup.
JUDITH: I need you to play it again.
OWEN: … I guess. I just… I don’t know what’s going to happen. And it’s not like we haven’t had some issues with these before.
JUDITH: I know, but I need to check something. I think we were so caught up in how freaky it was during the first listen-through that I think we missed something. Let’s play it back.
OWEN: Yeah, ok. God, I was hoping I never had to hear it again. I like my technology to be predictable. I like absolutes. I don’t need this stuff suddenly becoming unpredictable and terrifying. How am I supposed to edit THAT?
OWEN: It’s inconsiderate, that’s all I’m saying.
JUDITH: I’ll bring it up with the spectral manager.
JUDITH: And at least we know what to expect this time. Let’s get the popcorn out and listen to some upsetting audio!
OWEN: Ok, uh… found it. Right. Huh.
OWEN: Something’s weird. Hang on… [SFX: clicking, keyboard] Ok, uh… that’s weird. So, it’s playing, but the audio is missing. Umm… playback should be working, but… yeah, I don’t know. Volume’s up, I dunno, maybe ProTools is being a piece of sh-
VOICE: [SFX: cuts off Owen with FORCE, if you could see the waveform it would just be one thick bar because everything is peaking and someone just normalized it really poorly. It is ANGRY. There is static and this recording HATES YOU and EVERYTHING ABOUT YOU]
YOU WILL BLEED AND PERISH AND
YOUR BLOOD WILL BRING ABOUT THE END
THE RETURN IS NIGH
YOU WILL BE DESTROYED
THIS WORLD WILL BE RAZED
THE FIRE WILL BURN
YOUR BONES WILL BECOME ASH
YOUR NAME FORGOTTEN
FOR THE ONLY NAME
YOU ARE NEXT
YOU ARE NEXT
YOU ARE NEXT
YOU ARE NEXT [repeated]
[The below is happening at the same time]
JUDITH: Oh my god, oh my god! What is this?
OWEN: I don’t know! It’s the same recording! I don’t know, oh jeez, oh god
JUDITH: Oh my god, oh my god… WAIT, HANG ON, I need to know what it’s saying!
OWEN: What? NO. We need this OFF.
OWEN: NO! NO WAITING!
[SFX: the audio builds like crazy and the speaker starts to detach and crash to the ground]
JUDITH: Owen, speaker! Speaker! Look out!
OWEN: HOLY FU-
[SFX: The speaker crashes to the ground, one channel cuts out. The room is now silent but it’s the horrible, ringing silence that comes after an explosion]
JUDITH: [shaken] You ok?
OWEN: [shaken, scared] Yeah, I’m fine. Oh my god.
JUDITH: That was the same voice, the same one as on the other recording in the basement-
OWEN: Yes! And it’s horrible! It’s destroying the studio, it nearly bashed my head in with a goddamn SPEAKER, and… WHAT WAS THAT? You know what? That’s it. We’re done here! I’m leaving, and if you know what’s good for you, you will too! AND DON’T TURN IT BACK ON.
JUDITH: Owen, I don’t know what to do-