08: Hesitations

Ever gotten a phone call from an unknown number that scares the hell out of you? Judith has, and she decides the best plan of action is to start crashing on Owen’s couch. They visit A. Bird to see if he’s maybe behind the issues at the house, but he’s got problems of his own. But it’s not just him who should be worried, it’s Judith and Owen, because the recordings aren’t just changing… they’re starting to talk back.
CONTENT WARNINGS: Hauntings/paranormal experiences, fire (mentioned), murder (mentioned), cults, alcohol

[SFX: beep. Phone buzzing]

JUDITH: Hello? Hello? … stupid robocalls.

[SFX: phone buzzing again]

JUDITH: Oh my God, ok, you know I’m not picking up.

[SFX: phone keeps ringing]

JUDITH: Whatever. [SFX: beep of phone being picked up] Hello?

[SFX: Over the computer speaker, there is a thin static sound. There is some sort of weird noise in the background, like a distorted growl]

JUDITH: [unnerved] Hello?

[SFX: The noise is getting louder. It’s drowned out by static. It stops. A woman’s voice goes, “hello?”]

JUDITH: … Claire?

[SFX: the static gets louder, a horrible cacophony is building, audio crescendos, then hangs up]

JUDITH: Shit. Ok, um… uh… … shit.

[SFX: typing, FaceTime call]

OWEN: Hey, how’s it going?

JUDITH: Hey, uh… I’m… uhh…

OWEN: Are you ok?

JUDITH: I’m fine? I just got a really odd phone call and I’m kind of freaking out.

OWEN: What was it?

JUDITH: It w-… can I come over? I recorded it. I’ll play it for you. I’m just a little panicky right now so I want to get out of here for a bit.

OWEN: Yeah, sure. I’ll text you my address.

JUDITH: Ok, cool, I’ll see you soon. Thanks.

OWEN: No prob.


OWEN: Later.

[SFX: beep. Owen’s living room]

JUDITH: Ok, that’s good. Thanks for letting me come over.

OWEN: Yeah, no worries.

JUDITH: So, let me play you the call I just got. It was… weird, to say the least.

OWEN: I don’t know if this whole thing can get any weirder, but ok.

[SFX: audio from the phone call plays in the background]

OWEN: Well, that’s freaky. Do you have the number?

JUDITH: Yeah, but it was just a random 905 one. I couldn’t find anything when I looked it up.

OWEN: Ok, well, that doesn’t help.

JUDITH: Do… you think it was Claire?

OWEN: I mean… I don’t know. It was a woman’s voice. So… possibly?

JUDITH: [sigh] Maybe she’s gone to a yoga camp that incorporates Lovecraft into their meditation routines.

OWEN: There must be a market for something that incorporates both pilates and Cthulhu. New start-up idea?

JUDITH: That actually sounds like a decent business model. Once this is done, I’ll try to get a financial backer. But it sounded like her, right? I think I’m just grasping at whatever I can find, but I don’t feel like I’m getting any closer, I’m just chucking any tiny piece of info I can gather in a big pile and hoping it will magically present the answer.

OWEN: I mean, we’ve gotten a little further. Look, we know she’s alive. We know Adam is… maybe with her. And we know that not all of this is in her head, something much bigger is at play here. And it’s possibly some sort of nightmarish demon that wants to devour our bones, so… I mean, I don’t know about you but I’m trying to not dwell on that too much. Makes me uneasy. Have you heard from her family at all?

JUDITH: Yeah, I messaged her mom again but she just said that Claire’s “having a great time relaxing” so she doesn’t seem at all worried. I don’t really know her wife so I feel uncomfortable reaching out to her. Plus, Claire’s posted like, two images on social media of like… trees. With emojis for captions, which in all honesty feels very out of character for her.

OWEN: Hmmm. I mean, you’d know this better than me, but is there anyone else we could talk to?

JUDITH: Ok, well, hear me out, I’ve got an idea. There’s someone I want to go speak with who might have some information about what’s been going on. Or at the very least, we can go rattle his cage a bit.

OWEN: Uh, ok.

JUDITH: Want to go meet A. Bird?

OWEN: Wait, you don’t mean an actual bird, do you?

[SFX: beep. Outside, walking on driveway]

OWEN: I wonder if he’s still wearing the ascot?

JUDITH: I like to imagine he’s switched it out for a cravat.

OWEN: I think he should just own it and get a full-on ruff. They’re due to come back into fashion anytime now.

[SFX: knock, door opens]

BIRD: I’m sorry, I don’t-… oh, hello.

JUDITH: Hi, I’m…

BIRD: I know who you are. You’re that friend of Claire Sterback’s.

JUDITH: Yeah, hi, Judith. Sorry, can we speak to you for a minute? It’s concerning Claire.

BIRD: If you would like to speak to me about her, you can go through my lawyer. Or you can tell her to leave me alone. Now good da-

JUDITH: Hang on, when did you see her?

BIRD: Again, I do not wish to speak about my encounters with Miss Sterback, so if you j-

JUDITH: No, I need you to tell me, when did you see her? Because she disappeared a few weeks ago and I am trying to track her down.

BIRD: [strained chuckle] Well, if you want to loiter around my koi pond tonight, you might spot her.

JUDITH: [surprised] She’s been here?

BIRD: I don’t have… exact confirmation, but I… over the last few weeks I have been seeing a young woman whose description fits with that of Claire. On several occasions, she or someone physically similar to her has been prowling around my property illegally and disrupting my use of the space. I do not take kindly to these actions.

JUDITH: What has she been doing?

BIRD: [pause] So far… she hasn’t done anything other than trespass. It is merely unnerving. But I am more than sure that it was her and I am completely sure that I would like for Miss Sterback to leave me be.

OWEN: When did you last see her?

BIRD: And who might you be? Are you this young lady’s… bodyguard?

OWEN: Uhhh, no? Just another friend.

BIRD: [snarkily] Ah. I see. Well, Judith, honestly, you could really stand to spruce up the company you keep. He’s looking a little rough around the edges. Quite literally, looking at that coat. Hmm. Would you like the name of my personal shopper? He might be able to point you in a more… appropriate direction. Unless you enjoy looking something like a dishevelled raccoon napping on the shoulders of a rugby player.

JUDITH: Ok, uncalled for.

OWEN: Yeah! Only my closest friends and family get to make fun of my coat.

JUDITH: Look, we’re not here to mess with you, we’re here to see if we can help Claire and currently you’re standing in the way of that. Besides, you were the one apparently trying to scare her out of her place!

BIRD: And what do you mean by that?

JUDITH: She said she heard someone tapping on her windows, trying to freak her out enough so that she’d want to leave.

BIRD: I may have tried coming by her place at… odd hours to chat… but I assure you that I meant no harm and only wanted to continue my inquiries into her possible sale of the property.

JUDITH: Oh my god, why are you so OBSESSED with that house?

BIRD: That is my business, young lady.

OWEN: Dude, you are not that much older than us- OK, you are clearly not going to help us without some sort of blood price, so I think we’re just going to go.

BIRD: Well, I would prefer to end this conversation as well, so if you see Miss Sterback skulking around, I would ask that you advise her to leave me alone. Due to the current situation, I have… decided to rescind any interest in her house for the time being and will not pursue any legal action if she leaves me be. Now, good day! [SFX: door closes quite emphatically]

OWEN: What the hell was that?

JUDITH: Maybe Claire isn’t as far away as we’ve been led to believe. I guess it’s good that he’s calling off his threats to sue.

OWEN: Yeah, something scared him bad. [pause] Do you think I should get a new coat?

JUDITH: Don’t let him get in your head. Can I run an idea by you?

OWEN: Is it at all nefarious?

JUDITH: I mean, what are you into?

[SFX: beep. Owen’s living room]

JUDITH: Hello! So it’s the next day and we’re back at Owen’s. I slept on the couch last night because I was too freaked out to go back to my place just yet.

OWEN: It doesn’t pull out but, I mean, I find it comfy. Plus, I made breakfast.

JUDITH: He made pancakes and they were excellent. So, here’s where we stand. Owen went by Austin Bird’s place last night.

OWEN: Yeah, I want to note here that it wasn’t hard for us to find his address in the first place. He is not subtle about his location. He’s been profiled over and over again in a bunch of local magazines.

JUDITH: He’s somehow even more insufferable in print.

OWEN: But yeah, I went back.

JUDITH: It’s exactly what you’d expect: nouveau riche in that like… purposefully minimalist-except-not-actually kind of way sort of look. Lots of white and marble and gold finishes everywhere.

OWEN: Nice curtains, though.

JUDITH: I don’t doubt that. Were they brocade?

OWEN: Oh yeah.

JUDITH: Anyway, Owen hung out on the edge of the property for longer than he should’ve.

OWEN: Yeah, turns out that it’s cold in January. Took two hours to get the feeling back in my feet.

JUDITH: Hey man, I only said you should stick around for like, an hour, tops.

OWEN: But what if I missed something interesting?

JUDITH: I still don’t think hypothermia is worth it. Anyway, no sign of anyone, or if it was even Claire that he was seeing.

OWEN: Yeah, just his neighbours looking at me like I was some sort of creep.

JUDITH: Says the man creeping around late at night.

OWEN: I like to think of myself more as a prowler than a creep.

JUDITH: I think that’s worse?

OWEN: Semantics. Cats prowl.

JUDITH: So you’re a furry?

OWEN: That’s not what I meant!

JUDITH: Aside from that, here’s our plan: it’s Sunday, so we’re going to head over to the Reference Library for a bit to see if we can find anything about some of the names we’ve pulled up.

OWEN: Yeah. We’ve got the uh… Family of Fire, Moloch, maybe we can find out some more about the house.

JUDITH: There might be more info at the house but…

OWEN: I’d prefer to be there as little as possible, thanks.

JUDITH: Yeah, for now, let’s only go back if we really need to.

OWEN: I just want to find out some more about this Moloch… thing. What’s their endgame?

JUDITH: I assume it’s bad. There’s no way it’s not bad. I can’t see this turning into a situation where it pops up and goes, “Actually, I just wanted to share these excellent baking tips with you! Come on in! Would you like some fresh brimstone?”

OWEN: Maybe it wants to be friends.

JUDITH: Whatever’s causing this, if this gives us a clue to what’s going on in Claire’s head then… I dunno, I’ve just got a bad feeling about everything lately.

[SFX: beep, Owen’s living room]

JUDITH: Hi, it’s Sunday night and we are back at Owen’s.

OWEN: Judith made dinner.

JUDITH: It’s chili. Nothing special, but very warming. Owen got beer. What is this?

OWEN: It’s a salted mango sour.

JUDITH: Huh. Craft beer is taking us to weird, experimental places. So we’re back here because we went by my place but, uh…

OWEN: As soon as we went in the phone started to ring again. It was another mystery number.

JUDITH: I picked it up but it was only weird static again, so I hung up, because I am a coward.

OWEN: I mean, it was probably a telemarketer?

JUDITH: Yeah, I wish. Still…

OWEN: Look, if this was happening to me at my place, I’d also bail, so I get it.

JUDITH: I’ll head home tomorrow after work, I can’t keep crashing on your couch.

OWEN: It’s cool, it’s cool.

JUDITH: In better news, I got some information that might be useful! I found out that there was a history Ph.D. candidate at U of T who did a dissertation on… uh… “Esoteric Religions and Niche Groups in Canada through the 1800 and 1900s.” They are probably either the best or the worst person to sit next to at dinner parties. He’s now working there as a history prof or whatever. I went and talked to him this morning.

OWEN: I’m sure this will be a riveting interview.

[SFX: beep. Office]

JUDITH: Hi, so, thanks for sitting down with me.

VICTOR: Oh, my pleasure. I’ll be honest, I don’t get to talk about this subject much outside of an academic setting.

JUDITH: And in an academic setting?

VICTOR: Depends.

JUDITH: On what?

VICTOR: On how many of my students are still awake once I start my lecture.

JUDITH: Alright then.

VICTOR: You said this was for a podcast?

JUDITH: Yeah, just something I’m working on. So, uhhh [SFX: papers], ok, we’re looking into a property in Parkdale that was associated with cult activity back in the early 1900s.

VICTOR: Ooh yes, there were some very interesting fringe groups in the area at the time. Did you know that there was a small collection of people called The Timemakers who believed that they could transcend time through a combination of occult practices and abstinence? Well, most kinds of abstinence. They did love their cocawine.

JUDITH: Is that what I think it is?


JUDITH: They sound kind of fun.

VICTOR: Hmm, maybe. They also were known to spend days locked in dark rooms to prevent temptation.

JUDITH: That sounds less fun.

VICTOR: But yes, you wanted to talk about the Family of Fire?


VICTOR: Well, they were definitely a bit more… ruthless than some of the other groups, especially to outsiders. The Family, as they were known, were focused around the belief that their shared goal was to bring about the one true lord of destruction, who would remove the wicked and weak from the earth.

JUDITH: Moloch.

VICTOR: Yes! Some passages describe him as a demon, some as a god. He was originally a Canaanite figure, but he shows up in several other texts; Christian, Jewish, and so on. It appears that a few small sects of people in parts of what would eventually become Canada begin worshipping him starting around 1700.

JUDITH: Which brings us back to the Family of Fire.

VICTOR: Yes! Are you sure you don’t want to join my class?

JUDITH: I’ll think about it.

VICTOR: Anyway, they were actually an offshoot of another faction, the Phlogistonites. The Family itself was formed by a couple named John and Emma Brenton, then kept running through their 12 children. Well, the ones who lived to adulthood. Many of them died in various accidents during their youth. They moved around through Lower Canada and eventually settled in what is now Toronto. Apparently they brought quite a few followers with them and started a little “church.”


VICTOR: I generally try to stay away from the C word if not needed. Anyway, yes, they did focus their beliefs around Moloch, who was quite an interesting figure. His depiction changes depending on where you’re looking, but either way, he’s associated with all sorts of frightful stuff – torture, ritual sacrifice of children. Sacrifice was a big part of it. If you look at the reference texts that many of these beliefs stemmed from, the idea that people were actually immolating their children in the name of this god is simple to dispute, but either way, the idea itself was perverted by their followers into one where the sacrifice was literal. The Family of Fire looked towards the hecatomb, a mass slaughter that would bring Moloch back to physical form. Here, this is a passage from a history book by Adriana Yoshida, The Arcane:

JUDITH: Upon the return, the blood shall be spilled
The believer, the devoted, the giver
Shall pass their spirit unto MOLOCH
And be burnt until ash
And the ground will turn black
And the skies shall turn white
The air dry and hot
As the last burns away
And the mothers will cry out as children
Are turned to dust on their fingertips
And the pure shall be joyful
For they shall be first
As the earth will split
And from the mouth
Will come the spirit
And the savior

Not a guy I’d want to run into in a dark alley. Or anywhere. But yeah… blood would be spilled.

VICTOR: That was the crux – you give up yourself, your children, your home. One is the literal and figurative lifeblood of the group.

JUDITH: The only way to save yourself is to destroy something important to you and the only way out is through loss.

VICTOR: He was compared to Cronus quite often as well. [SFX: paper shuffling] “There was in their city a bronze image of Cronus extending its hands, palms up and sloping toward the ground, so that each of the children when placed thereon rolled down and fell into a sort of gaping pit filled with fire.”

JUDITH: Moloch, the heavy judger of men.

VICTOR: Oh, do you read Ginsberg? I also have a very interesting biography of hi-

[SFX: beep. Living room]

JUDITH: There’s like, 45 more minutes of random tangents in there.

OWEN: Well, while you were doing that, I went and did some research into the house itself and the surrounding area. First off, that property has always been worth a lot of money.

JUDITH: I mean, not surprising with the way that Bird-brain has been chasing after it.

OWEN: So, before the house was even there, the property contained a library. A small one, but a scholarly one, from the sound of it.


OWEN: Yeah, it was built in 1855 and, I mean, it says it was a library, but I don’t think it was in the way that we’d normally think of it. More of a literary repository, not one open to the public. It mostly contained reference texts, historical documents, but also some books on more… esoteric topics? Here, I wrote a few down. There was a copy of a list of what was in the library and I think most of these books are long out of print – hell, some of them might have been one of a kind – but titles included A Compendium of Esoteric Religions, The Controlled Burn, uh, Ignistatium, and Syncretic Scriptures: An Exploration of Minor Religions in Upper and Lower Canada.

JUDITH: Hang on, I think I saw a copy of that third one at the house. What was it called?

OWEN: Ignistatium.

JUDITH: There was definitely a copy. I remember it because it smelled like a charcoal BBQ. But… I think I chucked it to the side when we were in the basement.

OWEN: Right, I’m going to add that to the “bad omen” pile. I did find a scan of a few pages of Syncretic Scriptures, though. They’re covered in either ink or soot, but… here, I got a printout.

JUDITH: “The woman on the stairs claimed to have discovered a path that surpassed typical Christian beliefs, allowing her to create an intimate relationship with the one she called her God.” Uhhh… this part is all blackened. “One cannot take this for rote, as these beliefs are likely that of a madwoman, riddled with hysterical ideas, but the smell of burnt trees and birch filled the air, even though no forest stood nearby. The woman spoke of a Lord who would cause the earth to be born anew.”

OWEN: Sound familiar?

JUDITH: Yeah, unfortunately. Burnt trees and birch… I don’t like that. What happened to the library?

OWEN: It burned down.

JUDITH: That’s more ominous than I’d like.

OWEN: Yeah, the whole place went up in 1887, then the house was built. The librarian or caretaker or whatever died, according to one report. Couldn’t find a name, though. Microfiche was too damaged.

JUDITH: Yeah, I tried digging around to find out more about the Family of Fire or whatever. Turns out their focus was on spiritual cleanliness through sacrifice.

OWEN: Wait, what kind?

JUDITH: Well, at first it seems like a sort of monastic thing? Living sparely, keeping possessions to a minimum.

OWEN: Pun intended?

JUDITH: Only sort of. Anyway, they didn’t like dissenters. Or people who stepped out of line. Or… really anyone. Here [SFX: taps paper].

OWEN: “Those who fought against the group would be set alight in their homes.” Uh oh.

JUDITH: Reduce them to ash. Those who speak ill will become the ground on which we will rise.

OWEN: You sure they’re all gone, right? Being burned to death is really low on my priorities as of late.

JUDITH: As far as I know, they were reduced to a small fringe group by the early 1900s.

OWEN: Any number bigger than zero feels too big, right now. Oh, also, I found an article on Claire’s grandparents. Nothing special, I think one of them won a poetry competition?

JUDITH: Ooh, lemme see. Wow, I guess that’s Claire’s mom. God, she looks so much like her. I don’t like how long it’s been since I’ve talked to her. Every day feels a little worse. We’ve known each other for like, 15 years and suddenly I can’t even talk to her. At this point I’m scared for her, y’know? I’m really worried and I miss her so much.

OWEN: Have you heard anything from her at all?

JUDITH: Nothing. I’ve sent messages, I’ve called, I’ve emailed, but nothing. She’s off the grid.

OWEN: She’s still at the retreat though, I assume.

JUDITH: Yep, and it’s called Valerian.

OWEN: Should a retreat sound that foreboding?

JUDITH: I called them but since I’m not family they wouldn’t say if she was there and wouldn’t let me speak to her.

OWEN: Shit.

JUDITH: Yeah. [sigh] This is starting to make my head feel too full. I think we should just call it. Go watch a movie or something.

OWEN: Sounds good. … Not a horror movie, if you’re cool with that.

[SFX: beep. It is late at night, soft footsteps can be heard]

JUDITH: [whispering] Owen?

OWEN: [whispering] Hey, did you hear that?

JUDITH: Yeah, did you drop something?

OWEN: No, I thought you did.

JUDITH: Maybe it was a neighbour. I think we’re both just really jumpy right now.

OWEN: Yeah. What time is it?

JUDITH: Ugh… 4:02 AM. Ma- [SFX: talking in the background]… wait. Do you hear that?

OWEN: Hear-… yeah. What is it?

JUDITH: Your laptop is playing. [voice comes closer] It’s playing the phone call.

OWEN: Holy shit.

JUDITH: I don’t think I’m going back to sleep after this.

OWEN: Uh, Jude?


OWEN: Did you leave the recorder on?

JUDITH: No, why?

OWEN: Because it’s on.

JUDITH: … oh, that’s not good- [cut off]

[SFX: beep. Studio]

OWEN: Hey, how are you feeling?

JUDITH: Hey. Tired. You?

OWEN: Same. But hey, at least I also don’t want to go back to my place tonight because apparently my laptop is now haunted.

JUDITH: I’d say let’s leave and go hide in the woods somewhere, but we’d be dead within a week, probably.

OWEN: Oh, I don’t know, I’d give us at least… 3 weeks before one of us was eaten by a bear.

JUDITH: Who do you think would be picked off first?

OWEN: Definitely you.

JUDITH: Shut up.

OWEN: Are you listening to something from this weekend?

JUDITH: Yeah, just wanted to play back a few things I was having trouble remembering, probably because I’m so freakin’ tired. Thought I would listen to that recording from last night as well, see if we missed anything. Apparently the recorder only kicked on right before we both woke up, so…

OWEN: Hmm, yeah.

[SFX: static starts to kick in]

OWEN: [nervous] Uh, Jude, something’s up.

JUDITH: God, what now?


OWEN: Oh, no, no, I didn’t say that. Where did that come from?

OWEN ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?

JUDITH: Oh my god.

OWEN: Jude, how is it doing this?

JUDITH: I don’t know!

OWEN ON RECORDING: Do you trust me? I’m your friend. Who do you trust?

OWEN: That’s my voice. … I didn’t say that, how is it using my voice?

JUDITH ON RECORDING: [wicked and mean] What do you want? Foolish, foolish boy. Can you trust him? He wants to run. Do you trust me?

JUDITH: What do you want?

OWEN ON RECORDING: Do you trust me? Do you trust him? What do you believe?

JUDITH: Stop it.

OWEN ON RECORDING: [wicked and mean] I think you’re a stupid bitch, Judith. I think you’re a fool.

OWEN: Hey! Whoa.

JUDITH: That is uncalled for.

JUDITH ON RECORDING: [wicked and mean] Weak, scared boy. He will run and leave you behind. You will both burn.

OWEN ON RECORDING: You will fail. You have failed. You are alone. You will die in the dark like the rest.

JUDITH: [quietly, to herself] What do you want?

OWEN ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?

JUDITH: [softly] Yeah.

JUDITH ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?

OWEN: Judith?


OWEN ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?

JUDITH ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?

OWEN ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?

JUDITH ON RECORDING: Do you trust your friends?