Alex Reagan (on the phone): Hi Simon! I came to Turkey like you demanded! So when can we meet?
Simon Reese (on the phone): Meet? Who said anything about meeting? I'm in Russia, and while I could use my forbidden powers to slip between the worlds and reappear in your hotel room, which I am 100% going to do while you're sleeping tonight, I thought it would be more mysterious if we spoke over the phone.
Alex Reagan (on the phone): We could have spoken over the phone without me dropping ten grand in airfare, Simon.
Simon Reese (on the phone): Oh yes, you could have, but then your eyes would have been denied the true sight, the sight of the blind fool god, the sight that sees not what is but what was and may yet again be, the sight of the ancient and broken and powerful thing that hides beneath the torn tapestry, the lie that gives all truth its power!
Alex Reagan (on the phone): ...what?
Simon Reese (on the phone):
Alex Reagan: Hello? I'm looking for a henchman? Are there any henchmen here? I'm expecting to be kidnapped in about ten minutes.
Elijah: Hello, is being Elijah, and am to be your kidnapper today. Will to be taking you to terrible secret of world-shaking proportions, but first must blindfold you!
Alex Reagan: How dare you sir! Only Richard gets to blindfold me!
Alex Reagan: The worst part about the jet-set life of a journalist is finding yourself trapped in a small, cold room in Turkey, held hostage by large men who refuse to speak English, carry large, automatic weapons, and look at you with the cold, hungry eyes of a predator, while an admitted murderer speaks nonsense rhymes to you over a salvaged World War II radio.
But the second worst part is the airport food. Twenty dollars for a mediocre sandwich and a flat soda? No thank you sir! Here at The Black Tapes we snack the way god intended ... on Kind Bars. With delicious flavors like Dark Chocolate Nut & Sea Salt, roasted Jalapeño, and Pineapple Banana Kale Spinach, you'll have all the energy you need for those long flights and even longer periods of captivity.
And when you're done snacking, make sure you clean your teeth with Quip, a toothbrush so revolutionary that the Host of Heaven may well descend and blot out mankind from the earth as punishment for our hubris.
Kind Snacks and Quip: healthy food and minty fresh breath for the imminent apocalypse.
Alex Reagan: If you've been listening since the beginning, you might be saying to yourself "holy shit, I have no idea what is even happening anymore! How in the Devil's dangling sack are Richard Strand and Simon Reese and the Unsound and the Mysterium and Tall Paul connected?"
It's understandable that you're confused, so with Nic's help I put together a quick recap. Thousands of years ago, the famed mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras created a system of magic intended to ensure the smooth running of all creation. But, his jealous acolyte Cylon -- no relation -- rebelled against him and took control of that school, twisting it to his own dark intentions. They set up shop about five miles away from where Howard Strand found the monolith promising that his son would be the herald of the end of times, and eventually merged with a group of renegade Benedictine monks to form the Order of the Cenophus, who plan to use their copy of the Codex Gigas, Pythagorean mathemagic, the Unsound, and the Mysterium to unleash a race of shadow demons with upside down faces, led by Tall Paul, which will bring about the apocalypse.
Richard Strand: Yeah, religion is all kinds of bullshit, and that bullshit is being cross pollinated with other bullshit all the times, so it makes perfect sense that the Order of the Cenophus has been influenced by other streams of philosophy.
Alex Reagan: Okay, so we've determined how the various death cults are connected, but how is it connected to you? Why are they so interested in you?
Richard Strand: It isn't just about me, Alex. It's about you. It's about us. We're in the center of this together, and I need you to trust me. I need you to be with me, through the end of this.
Alex Reagan: Well, we've established that I am the world's worst journalist, and any semblance of objectivity and detachment flew out the window long before we spent the night together in your old honeymoon hotel, so why not?
Stragan Shipper: lose their goddamned minds
Alex Reagan: Ladies. It's finally happening. He's finally warming up to you. That man who's been by your side for so long, that man who has faced so many dark and lonely nights with you. Your colleague and, dare you say it, your friend.
And now, after years of waiting and hoping it looks like the Anointed One will finally show you the Horn of Tiamat, if you know what I mean.
But what's this! Oh no, your romantic interlude has been ruined because you're wearing a pair of granny panties and socks with holes in the toes!
That's why The Black Tapes is brought to you by Bombas socks and MeUnides. Soft, stylish, and affordable, when you wrap your body in Bombas Socks and Me Undies, you'll be crying out god's name ... and this time it won't be due to the unspeakable terrors that haunt your horrified, sleepless nights.
Alex Reagan: Hi Simon! So why are you talking to me through a speaker hidden in the wall like some kind of Bond villain?
Simon Reese: Oh you know, my visage has been scarred by the corrupting influence of the demonic powers upon which I lay hold, transforming me into an awful caricature of the mortal being I once was, nothing to worry about.
Alex Reagan: Okay, so how about the Axis Mundi and the Five Gates and the Field of Dreams and all of that stuff? Is it okay if I worry about that?
Simon Reese: Alex, Alex, be at peace, for the end is nigh. The Adversary watches and the Advocate waits, but the Apocalypse is not what we were led to believe. Far did my spirit venture, far and deep, and a mile beneath the Pope's unholy throne did I find the Horn of Tiamat, but it wasn't a horn at all, but a song, a song that shall end the world, or perhaps create it anew.
Alex Reagan: Well, at least I got a bunch of airline miles for this trip.
Elijah: Hello, am to be showing you priceless artifact of immense demonic power now? Please no touching. Photography okay, but no flash please. Is delicate.
Dr. Jane Martindale, McGill University: Hi Alex! So the photo you sent me is of a priceless and heretofore undiscovered artifact that will totally upend our knowledge of the ancient world, and I am dying to know where you got it, but for now I'll just tell you how the scroll translates:
The night will be forever
When the last of the line,
The Dark One, surrounded by the many
Rises from sleep to devour the world
The rest is just a bunch of numbers which probably correspond to your IP Address, geographical coordinates, and the ratio between filled and gapped spaces in a regular Cartesian plane. You know, typical Ancient Sumerian stuff.
Alex Reagan: Okay Nic, this investigation has gotten too big and too complicated! We really need to make some progress here, so I'm suggesting we split the PNWS team into two groups, one to tackle the Order of the Cenophus and the Symphony of Sorrows and the Shadow Demons, and the other to track down all of the various threads connected to Howard and Richard Strand. Since I am desperate to get in Richard's pants, I'll take that one.
Nic: Look Alex, I think that's a great idea, but you do realize that "the PNWS team" is you, me, and our unpaid intern, and that I spend most of my free time sitting in a dark corner and crying to myself about the ineffable terrors lurking on the other side of the rift?
Alex Reagan: Great! So if you can just get back to me with whatever you find out, I'm gonna go get Richard really drunk!
Alex Reagan: Oh my god Richard! If you plot the place you were born, and the place your father was born, and the place your grandfather was born, and the place Simon was born, and the place Sebastian Torres was born, and you move your birthplace a hundred miles to the North and your father's twenty miles to the East and Simon's thirty miles to the West, it makes a perfect pentagram! And in the center of that pentagram is the place your father went to college!
Richard Strand: I see now why you brought a bottle of whiskey.
Alex Reagan: And there's something more! What if all of these Black Tapes are connected? Fathers and sons, sons being watched, sons being groomed, sons who see shadowy people! Do you know what all of these sons have in common?
Richard Strand: We're men.
Alex Reagan: But what if there's more? What if there's something in your blood, something in your DNA? What if that's why Thomas Warren stole your coffee cup the first time we met?
Richard Strand: That was strange, but much of Thomas Warren's behavior can be said to be uncivil.
Alex Reagan: Hi, Mr. Pot? I'd like you to meet Madame Kettle.
Alex Reagan: Since I am the world's worst journalist, I spend most of my time studiously avoiding anything that could be interpreted as news. Still, when life gets too hectic and an investigation becomes too unmanageable, I am prone to distraction seeking.
Since the only thing more terrifying than a Pythagorean death cult unleashing the Great Unmaking by the power of a blasphemous concerto is a full four-year term for Donald Trump, I have been spending my idle time researching the shortest terms for a US President. And since this story isn't complicated enough, I decided to incorporate my findings into The Black Tapes.
Marcia Hutchingson: Hi Alex! Thanks for reaching out to me! I'm convinced that the exposure I'll get from this interview would make me a bestseller, if only my book wasn't out of print!
Alex Reagan: And the internet has been conveniently scrubbed of any mention of it! Oh well! Why don't you give us the short version!
Marcia Hutchingson: I'd be happy to! So it turns out that I am the distant relative of Charles Julius Guiteau, the man who assassinated the second-shortest serving President, James A Garfield! The official story is that Guiteau was angry at being passed over for an ambassadorship!
Alex Reagan: And what's the unofficial story?
Marcia Hutchingson: That Guiteau murdered Garfield because Garfield belonged to an ancient Pythagorean cult, and Guiteau wanted to stop the President of the United States from bringing about the apocalypse!
Alex Reagan: And where would he have gotten such a crazy idea?
Marcia Hutchingson: Well, he was indoctrinated by the Oneida Community, a cult in Upstate New York which, if you plot it on a map and then crumple it up and throw it in the fire, is at the dead center of the Richard Strand Pentagram from Satanism and Sorcery!
Alex Reagan: Do you know anything about the Oneida Community?
Richard Strand: Of course. In fact, I once had a case there. See in this photo? Up in the window, you can see what was claimed to be the ghost of the Oneida Community founder, John Humphrey Noyes. But in fact it turned out to be an actor hired by a local hotel owner who wanted to drum up tourism.
Alex Reagan: And that's the only thing strange about that photo?
Richard Strand: Yes, absolutely.
Alex Reagan: What about that group of twenty children, standing in neat rows and staring into the camera with implacable, Children of the Corn style gazes, while the fires of hell dance in their eyes and their shadows twist on the ground, completely divorced from their physical movements?
Richard Strand: Well the hellfire in their eyes is a result of the light of Venus reflecting off of their corneas, which have a unique refractive property due to the selective breeding program of the Oneida Community, and the seemingly-living shadows are in fact the result of a chance interaction between air pressure, cloud cover, and a bonfire upon which the unbelievers were burned, lest their lies pollute the souls of the pure.
Alex Reagan: And what about the fact that all of these children look like ... Sebastian Torres?
PNWS Boom Boom Boom
Alex Reagan: The Black Tapes is a production of Pacific Northwest Stories and Minnow Beats Whale. Join us next time, when I reveal how the Teamsters Union and Bell Laboratories collaborated to unleash the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I'm Alex Reagan, and we'll be back in two weeks.