Episode Twenty-Seven: ENTRAPPED
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A Contortionist’s Box
CONTENT WARNINGS: Body Horror, Death (Supernatural, Suicide-by-Proxy)
Well. I suppose this was inevitable. Ok. Mother, do you know what a contortionist is? Basically they’re people who are exceptionally flexible, and show off that talent as part of a performance- often at a circus or quote “Freak Show” unquote style event. They do things like put their legs around their heads, bend over backwards, and… they squeeze themselves into impossibly small spaces, often utilizing custom-made transparent boxes like this one. They squeeze themselves in, the audience applauds, I don’t really understand the appeal but then again I don’t have a body so I suppose it’s just a frame of reference I’m not going to grasp. Now, those capable of being contortionists can usually make a living from that skill, in the circus or as an actor or dancer, but it typically isn’t a skill that translates into worldwide fame. It is an avenue to a comfortable living, through physically uncomfortable acts, but it is unlikely to be more.
That wasn’t enough for the former owner of this particular contortionist's box. Rose Rousseau was a more successful contortionist than most in her time. From humble beginnings, her impressive flexibility had led her to a prominent role in a traveling circus which had come through her town. From there, she had moved on to a larger, more prestigious circus- and then another. Among her trade, she became a well-known name, respected for her flexibility and showmanship, and her face even made it onto some promotional posters- or rather, her body, twisted and crammed into a small glass box. Unfortunately, this was not the fame she had sought. Rose thought of herself as more than just a circus performer: she wanted to be a star.
Now, if you’ve been to the Museum before, you might notice a theme to some of the exhibits we keep: seeking fame and fortune seldom ends well when the Alternatural is involved. You may be familiar with such exhibits as Don Grayson’s Bowties, Edgar Allen’s Ghost Light, or... The Guitar Of The Man Who Met The Devil At The Crossroads. It’s been postulated that there is some sort of causation here, that self-serving ambition attracts or creates a sort of… negative energy, that leads to Alternatural Events with negative consequences. That is purely hypothetical however, and a more commonly accepted belief is simply that human ambition can be a corrupting influence, and that there are Alternatural forces or beings that seek to capitalise on that instinct. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Rousseau fancied herself to be quite a singer, and could regularly be heard practicing inside her trailer before Circus shows and while on the road. She saw her current career as a contortionist as a mere stepping stone, an early rung in the ladder to stardom that she would inevitably climb. Her colleagues at the circus largely claimed that she was by no means a bad singer, but that she likely was not good enough to find the success she sought. But Rose could not be deterred, and whenever the circus stopped in a large enough city she would spend much of her time off from the circus at the largest theatres in town, auditioning for musical theatre shows or trying to catch the eye of important people. But, to her eternal chagrin, she would always be back in her trailer when the circus moved on, practising her singing with increased fervour.
The performing arts, I understand, can be a difficult industry to quote “Catch a break” unquote, and it is especially unkind on women. As the years went by and Rose grew older, her chances grew ever slimmer that she would be noticed, and so she remained with the circus. She worked with the management to find a way to gain further attention, incorporating her singing into her contortionist performances. For a time, she did gain some attention as the Twisted Singer, singing a passable operetta while crammed into a small glass box- although it is worth mentioning that her already just-adequate singing was further hampered by this poor posture. But even this modest success could not last. Rose had come into the circus industry just as it was beginning to decline in popularity: even an industry as ancient and beloved as the circus could do little to stand in the way of the rise of Television, Cinema, and Recorded Music. And as such, slowly but surely, the circus that Rose had considered to be little more than a stepping stone slipped out from under her, with declining ticket sales and interest from new performers. The industry that had rejected Rose was now, seemingly, choking the life out of the one thing she had. And, inevitably, the time came for the circus to close forever. They could not survive this new world. So a last show was planned, a grand finale to all that the circus had been and would never be again, with all the performers giving it their all in one last hurrah.
On the night of that last great performance, Rose Rousseau sat alone in her trailer, lost in bitter thoughts. Everything she had tried to build had fallen to nothing, and now she was supposed to go out in front of a crowd of people, put on a happy face, and give them a performance that- in her mind- was beneath her, and that the audience didn’t deserve. She had been destined for more than this. It wasn’t right. It-
There was a knock at the door. She opened it to find- *sigh*. Well, Mother, you’ll forgive me if it’s seemed like I’ve rushed through this story. It… She opened the door, to find a man outside her trailer. He smiled, and… And in a voice like Honey Chocolate and Coffee all at once, he asked to come in. It’s unclear exactly what was discussed by the pair, but what we do know is that, when an assistant came to Rose’s trailer to let her know it was showtime, the Man was leaving. As he went, Rose called after him, asking “And I’ll be famous? You’re sure about this? They’ll all know my name?”. And the Man turned back and smiled and… in that voice of his, he said “Oh yes. You’ll be unforgettable.” And then he left. And Rose Rousseau made her way to the Big Top for her final performance. And, when questioned afterward, the assistant swore that she was in a better mood than she’d been in months.
The circus’s final performance was a huge affair, with the biggest crowd it had seen in years. All the performers were in top form, the audience was receptive; it was, by all accounts, a tremendous show. And then Rose Rousseau took to the centre of the ring for her performance. As much as she bemoaned her level of success, she was certainly the biggest name at the circus, and so she was given a slot right near the end of the show. She went through her normal routine, contorting and twisting and singing, and the audience loved her. And then, for her final act, a glass box was brought out onto stage. As she sang, Rose stepped into the box and contorted her body until she was inside, then reached up and closed the lid of the box, sealing herself inside. Her singing reached a crescendo as she reached a note higher than anyone present had ever seen her manage. It was the best performance that she had ever given.
And then, there was a strange vibration in the ground. Almost imperceptible. The box seemed to shake slightly. Then, as Rose Rousseau held that beautiful, pure, high note, the box began to contract. As the audience gasped with amazement and Rose’s held note grew louder, the already small glass box seemed to grow smaller, and smaller, leaving less and less room for Rose’s body. The audience’s gasps of amazement became shrieks of horror as the first of Rose’s bones snapped, the sound drowning out her continued singing. As the box grew smaller and smaller, and more and more of Rose’s bones were crushed and more and more of her blood filled the box, all of it perfectly visible to the horrified onlookers, Rose continued to sing her heart out, long after the point where her chest collapsed in on itself and singing should have been impossible. Rose’s colleagues rushed into the ring and tried vainly to open the box and rescue whatever was left of her, but the latch would not open, and Rose would not stop singing. Until finally, mercifully, the note came to a triumphant end, and the blood-filled box shrank until it was too small to see as the echoes of Rose Rousseau’s final performance rang throughout the silent tent. And, true to the man’s word, it was unforgettable. A performance unlike any seen before or since.
I- what’s this? I think there’s… Ugh. Oh, that’s… That’s just infuriating. I don’t even know how he’s done that, I… An addendum has been added to this exhibit. Quite recently. You can guess who by, although I don’t know how he could have- whatever. The Man with the Voice like Honey and Chocolate and Coffee all at once would like us to know Rose Rousseau’s final thoughts. She was in agony, unimaginable agony, but as she looked out at the expressions on the faces of her audience, all she could think… was that it was all worth it. Nobody would ever forget about her now.
Good for her. Ugh, I feel sick. He’s just… taunting me at this point. Showing off about how in control he is, how he could just… trick me, then wander the halls while I laid on the floor. Classy Gah, it’s even worse now that I’ve merged with the Museum, it’s like he was walking around inside me, I... Let’s get the hell out of here, Mother. I don’t want to think about this anymore.
An Old Leather Notebook
CONTENT WARNINGS: Prison, Capital Punishment, Death (Execution)
Here we have a notebook, an old leather sort that you might find in a fancy stationery store- though it looks rather old. As you can see, it is sealed inside an impenetrable transparent case, with its cover firmly closed. Unfortunately, this is merely a replica, as are all exhibits based around the written word, due to the fact that here in the museum things tend to go wrong when text is involved. This is a placeholder left here so that patrons have something to look at, while the real notebook is held in our secure archive both for security and monitoring. It is kept under constant surveillance, just in case anyone should happen to write in it. Or perhaps I should say, in case writing should appear in it. Because this book has an unusual quirk: should you write in it, you may find that the book writes back.
The only known prior owner of the notebook was a man named Shawn Carlyle, also known as “Spud”, also known by an 8-digit number assigned to him when he became an inmate at a federal prison. Carlyle was convicted for the murder of a man whom, the prosecution argued, had greatly aggrieved Carlyle in life, leading Carlyle to seek revenge in a murderous rage. There had been significant media coverage of the case, with the victim’s wife’s tearful face plastered all over the front page of every newspaper, and speculation that Carlyle would face the Death Penalty. However, insufficient evidence, along with Carlyle’s staunch insistence that he was innocent, led to the prosecution seeking lesser charges, upon which Shawn Carlyle had been sentenced to life in prison.
The point at which Carlyle came into possession of the notebook was several years into his time in prison. In the intervening years he had made no friends, and a number of enemies, due in no small part to the high-profile nature of his downfall as well as the perception that he felt he was somehow better than the other inmates. This wasn’t exactly untrue, as Carlyle genuinely believed he shouldn’t have been in prison, but in prison he was, and so his attitude did him no favours. He ate lunch alone, he spent his yard time alone, and whenever he could he would simply sit in his cell and read the paltry collection of books that were available in the prison library. Before long, this turned into re-reading, as there were only so many books and there were a great many years left on his sentence. He made a number of requests for the stock to be updated, but they fell on deaf ears. When the other inmates heard of this, it became one more thing they used against him. The next day, when he made his way to the library, he found that a number of the books had had their pages torn out and scattered across the floor. When he went to confront the likely culprits at dinner, he was met with laughter and intimidation. He sat down to eat alone, wallowing in another in a long line of misfortunes in his life.
A notebook slapped down on the table in front of him. He looked up at the tall, unfamiliar man who had delivered it, already walking away. “You miss your books so much, write one yourself” he said. Carlyle was about to call after him when another inmate shoved him as he passed, knocking him against the table and spilling his cup of water. He grabbed the notebook just in time to stop it from getting soaked; when he looked again, the man who had given it to him was gone. Shawn considered the notebook for a moment, then tucked it into his jumpsuit. Write his own book. Why not?
That evening, after procuring some pencils and erasers, Shawn Carlyle lay on his cot and stared at the first blank lined page. He’d always enjoyed reading, and as most readers do at some point he’d dabbled in becoming a writer in his youth, but life had gotten in the way. First, he’d had to get a job to support his family. Then, things had gotten worse. Progressively, from day to day, until he wound up here. Staring at the paper, he thought about what he could write. He considered all of the books that he had read in his youth, fantasy and science fiction mostly. There had been some books like that in the prison library, but honestly he wasn’t sure where to start with that sort of thing. It seemed a little complicated for a starting point. Just a fiction story then. He felt like he’d heard someone say “write what you know”, which seemed like good advice. A crime story, then? Or perhaps one set in a prison. A bit bleakly close to home, but things were looking bleak. Then he thought of something that made him chuckle. A memoir. Why not cut his teeth on the boring story of his life, a tale nobody would be interested in- and which he would never show to anyone anyway. Motivated for the first time in a long time, Shawn Carlyle put pencil to paper and started writing.
Over the course of the next few weeks, he used the majority of his cell time writing. It was strangely cathartic, retracing the steps he’d made over the years that had led him here. He’d never really been one for dwelling on the past, but looking back as he wrote he gained a new appreciation for how the choices he’d made had made him the man he was now. As he wrote, he got more and more comfortable with it, and found himself going back and revising earlier sections as he went. It was silly, he thought: he never intended to show what he was writing to anyone, and yet he wanted it to be the best version of his story he could write. He told himself it was because he was just practising the craft, becoming a better writer by revising and refining his previous work. He knew he was lying. The real reason was simple: he didn’t want to write about the events that had led to his incarceration. It was too recent, too raw. He wasn’t ready to confront the truth of what had happened that night, of the sort of man he was. He’d lied in court, committed perjury, partly because of his fear of what would happen should he be convicted of his true crime, but partly because he was afraid of being known as a killer: to know himself as one.
But, inevitably, a day came when there was nothing more to add to his recollections of the distant past. The time had come to catch up to the present. For the first time in weeks, Shawn went for several days without writing as he tried to find the right words. He didn’t want to revise or rewrite this part of the story: he would write this once, and never again, so it had to be perfect. Eventually, over the course of a single Tuesday evening, racing against the clock to beat Lights Out, he put it all down on paper. The story of how he had been betrayed by his best friend. And the woman he loved. Together, they had burned away everything he had believed in, his faith that there was potential for there to be good in his life. In a life that had had more than its fair share of misery, it had been the final straw. He’d lashed out at his friend. Killed him. He’d maintained ever since that the death had been an accident, that he’d never intended to kill his friend despite what the prosecution and his former lover had argued in court. But he had meant it. He’d regretted it with every fibre of his being in the years since, but as much as he’d insisted to the court that it was an act of passion, of white hot fury in the moment… it had been more than that. He had meant to do it, had thought about it well in advance. Premeditated.
His work done, Shawn stared down at the page. It was done. He’d gotten it out. Even if just to himself, he’d finally admitted what he’d done, who he was. He closed his eyes, sitting on his cot, and felt a wave of relief wash over him. He was at the bottom of a pit, the darkest point in his life thus far, but at long last he could see the light. Maybe things were really going to be ok. Then he opened his eyes and looked down at his completed memoir. And saw that there was now an addendum. Written on the blank page opposite the final page of his story, in handwriting he didn’t recognise. It simply said: thanks. Carlyle dropped the notebook in fright, then looked around the empty cell, as if someone else had snuck in and written in the book when he hadn’t been looking. After a moment, he snatched the notebook back up and looked at the last page. It was still there: thanks. A chill ran down his spine. He had no idea what was going on, but he had a terrible feeling in the back of his mind that something was very wrong. As the lights went out one by one in the cell block, he tore the section of his memoir detailing his crime into very small pieces, then dropped them into the toilet in the corner of his cell and flushed. He lay down on his cot and stared at the ceiling, trying to calm down. He needn’t have stressed. It was already too late. The following Tuesday he received a phone call from his baffled Public Defender, telling him that his confession had been taken into evidence and that the wheels of justice were already in motion. His case would be retried, and the death penalty was all but a certainty.
There is another side to this story, as there is to most. The woman whom Shawn Carlyle had once loved, and who had loved him in return, had stayed out of the legal proceedings for the most part, her heart too broken to bear it. She had heard the outcome from the news, and years later she still didn’t know how to feel about it. It was a raw nerve that had never healed. She mostly just kept to herself, trying and failing to put the past behind her. Then, late one Tuesday night, there came a knock at the door. When she opened it, she found nothing but an empty street, and a plainly wrapped package. Inside was a notebook, an old leather sort that you might find in a fancy stationery store, and a note that looked like it had been written on a typewriter. It read, simply, “read this. If you want it to go away, burn it. Otherwise, leave it on your doorstep and it will end up where it needs to be.”
The woman read the notebook. It didn’t take long for her to recognise what she was reading- she had known Shawn a long time, and knew the story of his life well- but eventually she got to the part she didn’t know. Or rather, she only knew her side. As she read the last chapter of the memoir, the part about the fateful night that had shattered her life and led to Shawn’s prison sentence, she read about a man she’d thought she’d known, but really hadn’t known at all, one who felt remorse for his actions but couldn’t bear to confess what he’d done. Her tears stained the final page of the confession, and while she noticed that there was a page missing she didn’t care. She sat there for a long time, thinking about Shawn, and the times they had shared together, and the note that had come along with the book. Then she opened her front door and dropped the notebook on the welcome mat, and closed the door again. The next time she opened it, the book was gone.
Shawn Carlyle was executed by electric chair for his crimes not long after his confession. Though he protested, claiming that the confession was a fake, this was taken as a cowardly change of heart, as handwriting analysis and the specific details of the confession confirmed that it could only have been written by Carlyle himself. Witnesses at his execution describe him as terrified, not only of his death, but of what would surely come after. As the guards strapped him in and applied the electrodes, Carlyle sobbed and shouted, protesting his innocence and begging those present for help. But then, he stopped. He appeared to have noticed someone in the crowd- a woman, one witness claimed- with whom he locked eyes with a sense of recognition. As the executioner counted down the moments to his death, Shawn Carlyle maintained eye contact with the woman in the crowd, the tears gone from his eyes as his death approached, fear replaced with a sort of acceptance. He whispered something, too softly to be heard. And then the switch was flipped, and I think you’ll appreciate if I don’t describe what happened next. We’ll never know what Carlyle’s final words were, much like how it seems we’ll never know how gave him the Notebook in which he signed his own death sentence.
Which is a shame, as there are several members of staff here would very much like to thank them! The Research Department were able to reverse engineer the method by which the notebook operated, identified as a sort of Quantum Entanglement. They believe that someone, somewhere, had an identical copy of the notebook in which Carlyle wrote, and that as he wrote in his book the words appeared in the duplicate. We don’t know what motivated the creator of this technology, but we have since made use of similar techniques in some equipment used by the Retrieval Department for long-distance communication and documentation. So whoever you are, thanks. You really made a difference.
Head of Restoration Message 6
This… place, or thing we’re looking for… Mother, I still don’t really know what it is. Have you heard of Deja vu? It’s this thing humans have sometimes where they feel like they’ve been somewhere or experienced something before, but they haven’t. People mythologise it, saying it’s them remembering something from another life, or that they’re experiencing something that a version of them from a parallel universe has in the past, things like that. Of course, it’s probably just their brains confusing their short- and long-term memories, or accidentally experiencing the same thing twice due to a glitch in their perceptions. Or, in some cases, it’s a symptom of epilepsy. Anyway… this feels a little like that, maybe? I feel like I know what it is, and where it is, but I don’t know how I know, and when I try to focus on the information, it slips out of my grasp. If I had eyes, I’d say it was like something that could only be seen from the corner of my eye…
What if this, all these bits of metadata, this sense of knowing without knowing… What if it’s a trail that we’re supposed to follow? I don’t know who could have left it. It can’t be the Man, it’s too subtle and I don’t think he could get the data so far inside… me. But… why else would these clues be here? So that we can find whatever is at the other end, and- Oh, I think the Head Of Restoration has turned her communicator back on! Hello?
Hello Guide. Am understanding correctly that when I speak to the version of you in my communicator, the version in the Museum Mainframe can also hear me?
Yep! And the version in Mother’s head! Well, I don’t know if we’re even different versions, it’s more like I’m spread out, but still just the one me? I can feel the distinctions between the… mes? And, it’s strange, I could swear there’s something else…
Fascinating. The fact that it persists so far from the Glassway in the lake… perhaps some kind of Quantum Entanglement?
You’d know better than me.
So where- ohh. Oh my, this isisis-
Stretching out below the Guide and the Head of Restoration was a vast and verdant plain, spread out under an endless blanket of stars. The Guide was hardly an astronomer, but even it could tell that the patterns and constellations above it were not those of Earth- and the presence of no fewer than three moons was a giveaway all of its own. As its surprise and awe slowly wore off, the Guide realised that it- or, more accurately, the person holding it- was standing on the precipice of an impossibly tall cliff, with the entrance to a cave to their back. Looking further up, the Guide realised that it was wrong: they were not at the top of a cliff, but merely an outcropping partway up the cliff; they were easily several kilometers from the ground below, and it was impossible to say how much farther up it went. If they were on earth, the clifftop would have certainly breached the atmosphere. But of course, they definitely were not on earthearthearth-
Oof. Sorry about that.
What on earth was that?
Oh, that’s been happening a bit lately. It’s like I’m narrating my own life as if it was… something in the past? A memory?
Interesting. Like, deja vu?
Ha! Actually, I just mentioned Deja Vu to Mother, isn’t that right Mother- oh, right. She’s not here. This is confusing.
Well, of course, your memories don’t work like a human’s memories. Most likely, there’s metadata in your databanks, or the databanks of the Museum, that’s related to an exhibit with some sort of similarity to something here. That, in turn, trips your Tour Guide programming, and so you describe what you’re seeing as if it was part of a tour.
Oh. Well, that actually makes a lot of sense! You’re really smart!
Yes, I am. And if you’re quite finished with that, I switched you back on so I could tell you something.
Oh. Sorry, uhh, go on!
Well, as you can see, we’ve traveled quite some distance since I last spoke to you. Somewhat… more distance than feels right, the Lake disappeared into the distance far more quickly than felt right. It was somewhat dizzying, to be frank. Fascinating, of course.
Yes, it sounds-
We found a cave system, that led deep into the… well, not the earth, but you know what I mean. It’s quite extensive, and as far as we can tell completely devoid of any life. As such, we’ve decided to make it our camp for the foreseeable future.
Great! That sounds much safer than-
Of course, we would risk compromising our position and attracting unwanted attention if we surfaced too often. Even this outcropping has signs of… some sort of colossal birdlike creatures nesting here. As such, we will stay in the caves as much as possible. And, due to the fact that my communicator is Solar Powered, this will be the last time we speak for some time.
Right now is the most dangerous time for us, we have reason to believe that we were being tracked by… something as we relocated here. So we will be spending our time underground as long as we can. And, so, I won’t be able to recharge the batteries.
Yes, but- how long will you be turning it off for?
Several weeks, I expect.
Weeks! No, that-
Again, emotion from a machine. Fascinating. Guide, I hope I get the opportunity to examine you at some point.
I… thank you? Wait, no, I’ve got something to tell you!
Has someone else made contact?
I- no, that’s not it, I-
Well then keep keeping an eye on the Museum until someone does. I’m going to switch you off now. Until next time.
No no no! Hello? No- Come on! What is the matter with her?! No, I didn’t get to ask her about the clues, Mother. Let’s… let’s just keep going. We’ll show her.