The Black Tapes S02E10 - Welcome to the Machine

Nic Silver: Hi Alex! Great news! I've used my super sleuthing hacker skills to track down incredibly important information about Thomas Warren and the Exorcismatron 2000!

Alex: You mean you Googled his name and actually read what was on the second page of results?

Nic Silver: ...anyway, I found out that Thomas Warren sits on the Board of Directors of a company called Lucaternica, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of DevaCorp, and their most important product is ...

Alex: Oh! I know! I know! Giant demon trapping machines used by shifty men in shady black suits performing bizarre exorcisms while supervised by incompetent medical professional!

Nic Silver: Close! They make pachinko machines!

Alex: ...Are you sure MereKatnip doesn't want to help with our investigation?


Alex: I'm speaking with "Kelly" "Miller", a former employee of Lucaternica. He or she only agreed to speak to me if I promised not to use their real name on the air, so his or her voice has been disguised for the duration of our conversation. I know that's probably frustrating to you, so I've included his or her real name, address, phone number, and social security number on our web site.

Kelly Miller: Wait, what?

Alex: Great, so let's start with how you delivered a mysterious device to a cabal of techno-exorcists?

Kelly Miller: Say again?

Alex: Here, let me play you a video of an exorcism I just happen to have lying around.

Kelly Miller: Who are you people?

Alex: And isn't it true that the machine you delivered to Thomas Warren was then hooked up to a helpless young woman, and used to torture her and drive her into convulsions, causing her to shriek, making the unholy noise of the forgotten damned?

Kelly Miller: Dude, I'm a freaking courier. I deliver paperwork! And sometimes sandwiches!

Alex: I knew it!


Richard Strand: I looked over the so-called "research" Nic performed for you, and while I must acknowledge the creativity necessary to come up with the Google search "paranormal contraption to exorcise a demon or maybe unexorcise it or whatever you call it when you force a demon down someone's throat?", I believe that Ruby and I have come up with something a bit more ... cogent.

A simple search for "paranormal technology" led us to a series of articles on electromagnetic field enhancement, which obviously led to a discussion on Kirlian photography and bioelectromagnetics. Naturally, we followed this trail through a study of metaphysical electrical engineering, holotropic transcranial stimulation, and psychoplasmic interference phenomena. All of that led us to a blog dedicated to soldering.

Alex: Okay, out of everything you just said, I find the idea that there's a blog dedicated to using a tiny bit of melted metal to join two other bits of metal the least believable.

Richard Strand: Ahem. Regardless, this blog contained images of a large and complicated project the team had recently completed. And this project was ...

Alex: Let me guess: a giant machine of some unknown design and purpose, but with circuits woven to create a dark and eldritch symbol, the very same symbol found in cave paintings, scrawled on the walls of mental asylums, and inscribed on the ring of your presumed-dead wife, Coralee?

Richard Strand: Well, yes, actually.

Alex: Wait, what? I was just bullshitting you.


Richard Strand: Okay Alex, I have to go on a trip for very private and personal reasons, so I won't be in the rest of this episode.

Alex: Okay, but before you go, can you just let me in on every single detail of your private and personal life so that I can broadcast them to the entire world, including the dangerous cult of murdering nannies that's been stalking you your entire life?

Richard Strand: No, Alex, I cannot.

Alex: Fine, but if you aren't going to tell me all of your deepest secrets and most intimate fears, can I at least sneak around your house and go through all of your belongings while I'm gone?

Richard Strand: As a general rule I would be inclined to say "no," but since I long ago stopped keeping what you refer to as "personal possessions," I see no harm in granting you access to my deceased father's estate.

Alex: Great! Also I hope you don't mind but I brought a bunch of clothes and a toothbrush and my hair dryer and my stuffed Teddy Bear I call him Ira and I'm just going to make a drawer for myself in your bedroom I hope that's okay?

Richard Strand: Would it matter if I declined?

Alex: Not really!


Ruby: Okay, Alex, I've assembled a collection of Howard Strand's writings, journals, and books! I made a special effort to include things that might be relevant to your black tapes, such as his thoughts on behavioral mythology and anthropology, demonic numerology, and gnostic philosophy!

Alex: That's great, Ruby, but I'm much more interested in cutting the backs off of all the paintings in this house to see if Coralee left us any more book codes!

Ruby: Alex, that's not--

Alex: And look! I found a series of typed letters, apparently sent to a correspondent in Istanbul, all discussing Richard, and bearing this mysterious 14-digit number!

Ruby: ...I can't believe that worked.


Alex: It's almost impossible to overstate how important a good night's sleep is to me. When I lay my head down at night, I stare, restless and without peace, at the ceiling above, imagining the plaster cracking open, imagining skeletal fingers tearing through the barrier between this world and the next, imagine a horrible, devouring thing crashing into my bedroom to consume me, body and soul.

That's why I sleep on a Casper mattress. Casper mattresses are obsessively engineered with just the right sink and the perfect amount of bounce, but more importantly, each Casper mattress is inspected before leaving the factory, to make sure that a sinister cult of homicidal au pairs hasn't secretly woven an arcane sigil to summon Baphomet into the threads upon which you sleep.

Casper.com: Springy latex, comfortable foam, and absolutely no demon-summoning symbols smuggled into your apartment by innocent-looking delivery men. That's a claim the competitors just can't beat.


Alex: Here at The Black Tapes, we send a lot of packages using an outdated system called the US Post Office, and we buy all of our postage through Stamps.com, and we recommend you do, too.

Why? Because they have my family. They have my family, and they've told me that if we don't generate one hundred new subscribers for them, they're going to hurt my niece. They're going to start small, maybe a finger, or an ear, but they're going to mail me a piece of her every week until I meet their devilish quota. Please, for the love of God, go to Stamps.com and enter the promo code theblacktapes. My niece is so young, and so afraid.

Stamps.com: they know where we live.


Alex: Okay, I've finished reading all of the letters I discovered in Richard's home. It's honestly pretty mundane stuff: Richard was going off to boarding school, this guy wanted to know Richard's travel plans, he asked about payment for tuition, room, and board, he talks about preparing Richard to take up the Mantle of the Dragon, he's got a list of books Richard will need for his classes ...

Nic Silver: Wait a second ...

Alex: Also, this letter was mailed with a stamp, and the figure on that stamp is the Mesopotamian demon Tiamat!

Nic Silver: Alex, do you know what this means?

Alex: Yes! I can't believe that Howard Strand didn't use Stamps.com and the promo code theblacktapes! He could have gotten a postage scale for free!

Nic Silver: That's ... not the most worrying fact here, Alex.


Alex: Hi Unnamed Intern, Nic said you have information for me?

Unnamed Intern: I sure do! I was obsessively re-listening to the first season of The Black Tapes, which as you know I do twice a month, and I discovered something shocking! In the very first episode, you spoke to Richard Strand over the telephone, and you were so young and cute and innocent and it's so hard to believe that the person in that recording would become the frazzled and frayed near-maniac you are today!

But more importantly, you ask Richard Strand about the Sagamore, and if he had been able to debunk all of the cases stemming from that accursed hotel! And you'll never believe it, but before he says "yes" ... he pauses! He pauses as if he's considering bearing his soul to you, Alex Regan, to the one person in all the world who might finally understand him, to the woman created by the universe itself to stand at his side as he faces the unknowable terrors lurking in the darkness! But then, at the last moment, he decides that his charade must continue, and he simply tells you that yes, all of those supposed supernatural events have been proven to be lies and fabrications.

But I did some digging, and I uncovered some work done by paranormal investigator and total babe Ariana Asadi, who was at first throwing shade at our beloved Richard, but who also agreed to speak with you on the record! And I took the liberty of scheduling a phone call for right now!

Alex: Unnamed, that's great, but ...

The Phone: rings

Unnamed Intern: I think it's for you!


Ariana Asadi: Hello Alex! As you know, I am a famed paranormal investigator and very attractive woman, and so of course I thought it natural for Richard and I to collaborate on a project! But I was shocked when he rebuffed my advances, saying something about "not having room in the budget for another full time scientist" and "being a married man" and "getting a restraining order if I didn't stop showing up at his home!"

Alex: But you decided to investigate the Sagamore Hotel without him?

Ariana Asadi: Indeed I did! In November of 1985, a mysterious man checked into the Sagamore under the name "John Smith." This man had a grand piano hoisted into his room at great personal expense, and for an entire week, he played without ceasing, stopping neither to eat nor sleep!

Strange occurrences surrounded his arrival. Odd noises could be heard throughout the hotel, and many guests fell ill. A maid became curious, and used a reverse viewer to peer through the peep hole to his room. She saw the man standing there, staring at her, as if he knew she was going to violate his privacy with an illegal spying device! And despite the fact that he stood in the doorway, the piano continued playing, all by itself!

And this man? His true name was Percival Black!

Alex: I don't suppose you have anything resembling "proof" for these claims, do you?

Ariana Asadi: Alex, your distrust wounds me! I am an intellectual and a scholar! Of course I have proof!

Alex: Great, so if you could just--

Ariana Asadi: And that proof is available in my self-published book, Richard Strand is a Big Fat Idiot: A Memoire, available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com, for the low low price of--

Alex: Okay, I'm gonna have to stop you there.

Ariana Asadi: Oh, and one more thing! I have obtained recordings of both Percival Black's piano playing, and the strange sounds heard throughout the hotel! I have emailed them to you! The files are called shitty_piano.wav and unsound_draft_1.mp3!


Alex: If there's anything that defines me as a person, its my insatiable appetite for pancakes. I cannot even begin to describe how much I love pancakes. Their soft, fluffy body, the faint kiss of butter upon their bready face, the drizzle of syrup across their golden-brown expanse ... pancakes make surviving another night of terror-filled sleeplessness worth it.

But if there's another thing that defines me, it's a love of learning. That's why I'm proud to be sponsored by The Great Courses Plus. The Great Courses Plus offer such stimulating content as "Sensible Investing for the Beginner," "Advanced Photography," and my personal favorite: "Structural Acoustics and the Tattered Remains of the Once Inviolable Veil Protecting Us From the Horrid Wretches Lurking in the Lifeless Void."

The Great Courses Plus: It's not pancakes, but it's close.


Alex: Nic, I would like to run a theory by you! I'm starting to think that Percival Black and the Order of the Cenophus and the Brothers of the Mount and the Chorus of Voices and the Mysterium and the Unsound are all connected, and that a global conspiracy of baby-murdering childcare workers, ouija-board using parasychologists, devil-worshipping musicians, antique-collecting fathers, and bee-studying wives are involved in a dastardly plot to perform an arcane ritual that will open up a portal to hell!

Nic Silver: And? We've been working under that theory since like the end of season One. Also, I figured out the code in those letters Howard Strand received. Turns out that they're a lat/lon pair that points to Mount Ararat, which is the legendary location upon which Noah's Arc landed, and is probably the Axis Mundi, or "center of the world," where the Mysterium must be played in order to work correctly.

Alex: So ... road trip?

Nic Silver: Alex, we're broke. How about we just check it out using Google Earth?


Richard Strand: Hi Alex! Just phoning in from my super secret trip to tell you that you have the journalistic skills of a salted slug, and that the sickly guests at the Sagamore were victims not of a piano concerto authored in the very fires of Hell itself, but of Legionnaires disease, because the Sagamore's water supply was absolutely filthy.

Also, if you communicate with Ariana again, please tell her that while speaking to you about me does not technically violate the restraining order I have taken out against her, I am in consultation with my lawyer about her tortious interference with my work.


Alex: Hi, is this Westley Coats, the person who found the body of Bobby Maims, the Boy in the River, in Red Bank Creek in 1976?

Westley Coats: Well, that's me, but I'm not the one who found the body. I was hanging out with my brother, and one of his friends made us ride our bikes into the woods, and he led us down this twisted, shadowy path, and he kept muttering to himself, "I think it's this way, I think it's this way," and every once in a while he'd stop to talk to his imaginary friend, Tall Paul I think he called him? And then he drew a strange, disturbing symbol in the dirt, cut open his hand, and fed it his blood, and when the inexplicable glowing stopped, he led us to the river, and that's where we found the body of Bobby Maims.

Alex: Wow, that's fascinating! Do you know your brother's friend's name?

Westley Coats: Yeah, it was Richie something ... Richie Strand?

[PNWS Boom Boom Boom]


Alex: Join us next week, when I reconsider everything I thought I knew, track down Richard Strand and throttle him until he makes sweet sweet love to me tells me the truth about his connection to the occult, and debut my new mixtape, titled Songs To Lose Your Soul To, featuring such haunting melodies as Cat Being Fed Through a Blender and Richard, You Lying Cheating Whore. I'm Alex Reagan, and we'll be back in two weeks.