On the Side of the Angels
For the first time since writing these episode recollections, I don’t know where to begin.
I mean, where do you start with a group like Archangel? On the surface, they were extremely easy to understand. They were your generic g-men, your men in black, your typical shadow government. They came in after the scary thing happened, took away the evidence, threatened or killed the witnesses, and disappeared into the night. They rarely used their name because they rarely needed to; while you may not know what the scary men in suits wanted, everyone knows what they came here to do, and the fact that this archetype, the shadowy secret agent shrouded in mystery, is so ingrained into our cultural subconscious, only proves the length and depth of their reach.
But once you peel back that layer, you stumble into the true rabbit hole that is Archangel. They perpetrated that myth. They cultivated that image and purposefully spread it to force curiosity seekers to think twice before spreading their findings online, and they did this even as they deleted information about themselves and their true motives from public view. They liked to pretend that they knew everything, but there are gaps in their knowledge, creatures and anomalies that make even them shake their head and go “guess we’ll never know.” They liked to pretend that they controlled everything, yet in the face of entities such as Sam and Red Eyes, they became cowards, willing giving such creatures anything, up to and including human lives, just to make them go away. On some days, you came across the powerful, scary, invisible Archangel that could destroy your life with all the effort of a simple phone call. And on some days, you came across the scared old men throwing virgins into a volcano because, hey, the volcano hasn’t blown since we started doing this, so better play it safe, right?
If you want to know why you can’t understand Archangel, it’s because they don’t understand themselves.
It took me a long, long time to realize this, of course. It took me a while to realize that they weren’t even the people they claimed to be. And most of it had to do with how we found out about the group in the first place.
Say what you want about Archangel, but they sure know how to make an entrance.
Arkansas had been pretty boring. Not that either of us were complaining. Zoey’s insistence of publishing the episodes a few weeks after they were finished had given us a nice little cushion of time to rest on and, after Red Eyes, both of us felt we had earned a small break.
So for most of Arkansas, we put Creepy America on the back burner. No major feelers out for anything spooky. No research on urban legends or ghost stories. We still had “Faces of America” to work on, of course, but compared to our regular grind, this was practically a vacation for us.
It couldn’t last forever, though. By the time we got to Springdale, we only had one episode left for our cushion, which meant that it was time to get started again. And that meant reworking the itinerary.
“So I don’t think we have to modify it too much,” Zoey said. We were seated at a small booth at a truckstop diner (road trip tip: if you ever want to find the best diners, wait until you get to a place where two interstates intersect, like in Springdale; all the truckers end up there, so the restaurants end up having some fierce competition with each other). “I mean most of it’s intertwined with the ‘Faces’ itinerary, so no need to complicate things.”
“Mmm,” I said. I was scanning the restaurant, moving from face to face as my metal-splinted finger tap-tap-tapped away on the table.
Zoey opened her laptop and kept going. “We’ll get rid of all the ‘urban legend’ stops, obviously. But I think we should keep some of the bigger ones, like Amnityville. Might run into another ‘bunny man’ situation.”
My eyes rested on the cash register. A man in a navy blue business suit was there, talking to our waitress. He said something that made her laugh, then she pointed to our table.
“But we do have some new leads! Had to sort out some crazies, of course, but someone in Mississippi was talking about a mirror, and there’s a supposed faith healer in Springfield..”
The man in the suit began walking over to our table. I gripped my knife in my good hand hard enough for it to hurt.
“...and another guy talking about UFOs over in a little town called Clovercreek. Now, I know that might sound crazy, but…”
“Zoey,” I interrupted.
She looked up. There, only a few feet away, was the suited man, smiling.
She raised an eyebrow. “Can I help you?”
“Is that your RV outside?” he asked.
“Yes. Is it in the way? We can move it.”
“Oh no, that’s not it. I saw the sign and…” he extended a hand. “Phil Powers. I’m a big fan of your show.”
“Oh! That’s… awesome!” Zoey said, eyes lighting up and taking his hand. “I’m Zoey, and that’s Liam.”
“I know. Saw your latest episode. All alone in that mall… egh! Creepy stuff!”
I managed a weak smile. “Thanks.”
“And that Hotel California episode… man, I got chills down my spine with the carpet moment.” He leaned in and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Just between you and me, how do you do it?”
“Well…” Zoey leaned in as well. “Just between you and me, it’s all real.”
For a moment, his eyes got wide. Then he broke into a smile. “Fair enough. Trade secrets, I suppose.”
“Phil!” an unseen voice called out from somewhere.
“Oops, gotta go.” He nodded to both of us and turned to leave. “Nice meeting you two!”
“And nice meeting you!” Zoey called after him. Once he had gone, she looked over to me. “At ease, killer. Nobody’s eyeballs need to be buttered today.”
I dropped the knife with a clatter and put my head in my hands. The noise was loud enough to cause a few people to look over.
Zoey’s face instantly changed from good-natured humor to concerned. “Holy crap, Liam. What’s wrong?”
Hands still shaking from adrenaline, I pulled out a piece of paper from my pocket and handed it to Zoey. She unfolded it and laid it on the table, displaying the large capital ‘A’ with wings Stevie Sims had handed to us at the Ritzman Hotel.
She sighed. “Liam…”
“This show is gaining popularity way faster than I though it would,” I stammered. “And… and the target on our backs is growing bigger every day and I still don’t know who these people are or how to stop them or when they’ll come after us.”
“That’s an awfully pessimistic view of Creepy America,” Zoey noted.
“But it’s the truth!” I insisted. “We’re being targeted, and I don’t…”
“Liam!” Zoey barked, grabbing my hand. “Calm down! Breathe.”
I forced myself to inhale, then exhale.
She smiled. “Good. Now, do you remember what Mr. Johnston said about assumptions? ‘When we assume…’”
“‘...it makes an ass out of you and me.’” I finished. “I know, I know. But I’m not assuming things!”
“Really?” She let go of my hand and sat back upright in her seat. “Then give me one concrete fact you found out during your two weeks of research looking up ‘these guys,’ as you called them.”
I started to say something, then scoffed.
“C’mon,” Zoey goaded me. “One thing. Their motivations, their resources. How about their name?”
“Alright, I get it.”
We sat in our booths for a bit, neither one of us speaking.
“What about these, then?” I asked, pulling out the business cards the policemen and firefighters handed out in Memphis, handwritten ‘A’ logo in the margins. “These are clear warnings!”
“Sure. Or they’re a secret symbol that lets people know that they’re dealing with something spooky, one they thought we understood. Or maybe they were trying to point to some kind of resource that could have handled Red Eyes for us.”
“Then why’d they leave?”
“Because it was fucking Red Eyes? Hell Liam, you were about ready to bail on it too.”
I tried to form a rebuttal, but nothing came.
“For the record, I agree with your theory that this is some sort of secret group trying to cover this stuff up,” Zoey admitted. “But the fact remains that we don’t know who they are, what they can do, or even what their true intentions are. What we do know is that we dealt with Red Eyes, and the Bunny Man, and a million other things. We can deal with these guys too.” She took the papers, folded them up, and handed them back to me. “In the meantime, stop making them out to be invincible supermen, okay? That’s probably what they want.”
I took the papers back and put them in my pocket. “Okay.”
“Cool.” Zoey stood up and threw some dollar bills on the table. “I’m going to go pay for this.”
“Alright, I’ll meet you at the RV.” I headed towards the front of the diner, then stopped at the glass door and looked around once more.
A diner full of hungry patrons filled my view, free of secret agents and sinister g-men.
I chuckled and walked outside.
Two days later, I was at Walmart yet again, and it was becoming very apparent to me how the megastore super chain had dominated the country. Where else can you fill out a shopping list of “frozen waffles, coffee, rechargeable AA batteries, USB C to USB cable, and toilet paper” all in one go?
I was also cursing Zoey under my breath, yet again. Her insistence of always taking a camcorder with us, always recording was beginning to annoy me as I juggled the wires and toilet paper in my hand into a configuration that would allow me to open the frozen food door.
Finally, I managed to twist my fingers into a claw, fling open the door, and half scoop, half knock over a box of eggos into my awaiting arms. “Gotcha!” I exclaimed out loud.
I saw movement in my peripheral vision and I turned to look. At the end of the aisle was a man in a red shirt, looking over at me, probably watching my strange display of acrobatics.
Or maybe he’s here to spy on you, a voice in my head said. After all, the men in black must be extremely invested in the brand of frozen waffle you eat, Liam.
The thought was so absurd it actually made me laugh out loud. I took another look at him and squinted, realizing that if I kept doing that, he almost looked like Thorn, the agent who came in after Stevie Sims disappeared, and the mental image of the serious-faced Thorn examining waffles made me laugh again.
The man at the end of the aisle shook his head and hurried to the end of the aisle.
“Evening sir!” I called as he moved past me.
“Evening,” he said without looking up.
“I need to tell Zoey that her pep talk was really effective,” I said to myself, grabbing a can of coffee and heading to the self-checkout. And it was. I was actually humming as I moved over to one of the machines and scanned each of the items, placed them into the little plastic bags, and moved to leave the building.
“Have a good night, Mr. Foster,” the self-checkout attendant, a large white lady, said.
I stopped and turned around.
“Something the matter, honey?” she asked.
“How do you know my name?”
“Oh right, I’m not supposed to know that, am I?” She smiled at me. “Oops. My bad.”
In an instant, my blood ran cold as two weeks of panic and paranoia settled in once again. I began to hyperventilate as I backed away from the woman.
She didn’t make any movements to stop me. Just watched me leave, still smiling all the while. When I finally backed out into the automatic doors, leaving the Walmart behind, I heard her cry “See you soon, Liam.”
And that was it. Any hope I had of peace in my life died right there.
“And that was all she said?” Zoey asked me. “‘See you soon?’”
I nodded, cradling the cup of coffee in my hands I had gotten from the chain restaurant we were eating at.
“Was there any chance it was just a fan trying to be creepy?” she continued. She didn’t sound too convinced herself.
I shook my head.
“Damn it,” Zoey silently swore.
“More coffee?” our waitress asked, appearing out of nowhere so fast it made both of us jump. “Sorry, didn't mean to startle you!”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, pushing the mug over to her and letting her walk away with it.
“Make sure it’s decaf!” Zoey shouted over to her.
I leaned over and lowered my voice to a harsh whisper. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe… maybe we don’t need to do anything. Maybe they were just trying to scare you.”
I laughed. “Well, it worked. I’ve never been so freaked out in my life.”
“Yeah, me too,” Zoey quietly agreed.
The waitress came back and slid my coffee over to me. “Anything else I can get you?”
“No no, we’re… we’re fine,” I assured her.
“Alright,” she replied, eyeing us over one more time before leaving.
“So what do we do?” Zoey asked me.
“Me?” I shot back. “Why me?”
“Because you’re always the one who figures it out.”
I put my hands out in a show of surrender. “I got nothing. This is… this is beyond me.”
“Well, we have to do something,” Zoey said. “We’re not just going to sit around and wait for these guys to come at us, right Liam? Liam, are you listening?”
I wasn’t. My attention was fully drawn towards the other side of the room, to a booth where a lonely man sat.
A man in a red shirt.
“It’s him,” I realized.
“What?” Zoey responded. “Who’s who?”
“That man,” I said, moving my head over to him. “That’s the guy I saw at the Walmart. The one staring at me.”
“Are you 100% sure?”
Without a word, the man reached over to the seat next to him, pulled out a box of frozen Eggos, and sat them where both of us could see it.
“Yeah, that’s him,” I confirmed.
“Fuck,” Zoey swore. “How far away is the RV?”
“Other side of the building,” I answered.
“Right.” She reached into her hoodie pocket, pulled out a wad of bills, and threw them on the table. “We’re leaving. Follow me. Keep to the street lights.”
I nodded and we both left, taking quick steps to leave the building and enter the dark parking lot. Once we were a few feet away from the building, the red shirted man exited as well.
Zoey quickened her pace to turn around a corner and I copied. Once we did, she grabbed my arm and dragged me over to a car, forcing me to crouch down with her, out of sight from the sidewalk. Both of us held our breath as we heard the footsteps of the man grow louder, then fainter.
I hazarded a peak and watched as he rounded the far corner of the building and disappeared.
“He’s gone,” I said.
“C’mon then.” Zoey urged, getting up and sprinted for the RV. I ran as well, only a few inches behind. Once I reached it, I flung open the door with a frantic pull, jammed the key in, started the engine, and flew out of the parking lot as fast as that whale of a vehicle would let me.
“Holy shit,” Zoey breathed. “Holy shit holy shit.”
“We gotta go,” I said, taking a turn way too sharp.
“Go?” she shouted in disbelief. “Go where? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but these guys seem to be everywhere.”
“We’ll just… keep moving. We won’t stay in a place for longer than a day. Make sure they can’t hone in on us.”
“For how long? We still have lives, Liam!”
“Then what do you suggest?” I shot back, louder than I wanted to.
Zoey leaned back in her seat. “Maybe… maybe it’s nothing, right? Like they just want to scare us. If we just… carry on, maybe they’ll walk away.”
I didn’t respond. My eyes were glued to the side mirrors showing the back of our vehicle, displaying a large black sedan.
“Liam?” Zoey asked.
“We’ve got a car tailing us,” I responded.
“What?” she turned around, watching it through the back window.
“It’s followed us for three turns.”
Zoey opened her mouth to say something, then closed it and forced herself to calm down. “We could just be paranoid. Take a turn down a side street. See if it follows you there.”
I nodded, put on my blinker, and turned down a small neighborhood street lined with houses. It wasn’t long before I saw a flash of headlights in the mirror.
“Fuck, Zoey he…”
The sound of whizzz SMASH interrupted my thoughts as the mirror shattered into a cloud of tiny reflective slivers, exploding into the air and falling away. It was soon followed by a loud CRACK as something struck the small window far in the back of the RV, forming a gigantic spider web of fissures across it.
“He’s shooting at us!” Zoey screamed.
I stomped on the gas and peeled out of the neighborhood and back into the main road, fast enough to almost topple us into a barrel roll. I managed to straighten it out while dancing amidst the hocking, pissed off drivers, then looked out of the good mirror.
The car was still there, but now I could see the silhouette of the man inside. He shifted from leaning outside of his window to a nonchalant settling in his seat.
“He’s still there, but I think he’s done shooting” I reported.
“So now what?” Zoey asked.
“We lose him.” I tried cutting over to the right lane and taking a sudden turn down another street, then moving left and passing a group of slower moving cars. It appeared behind me once again as if nothing had happened. I suddenly slowed down and turned right out of nowhere. It had no trouble following me. For the next three streets, I did every maneuver I could think of to shake our stalker, but it was no use; the erratic movements did nothing to separate us the much smaller and nimbler car.
“Liam, ahead” Zoey whispered.
I looked to the road in front of us. A group of men in yellow and orange construction vests were in the road, setting up cones and barrels to block off the entire passage past the stop light intersection we were coming to. The right turn lane was also blocked off with similar barrels, forcing all the cars in all four lanes to go one way.
My eye caught one of the construction men pointing straight at us while talking to another man. The other man saw us and nodded.
“They’ve trapped us,” Zoey said.
I clenched the steering wheel. “No they haven’t. Hang on.” I sped up, forcing myself past another car trying to get into the left lane, and kept going, arriving at the intersection the second the light changed from yellow to red. Then I floored past the light and turned right. The entire vehicle screeched, fighting with inertia to follow my command, and we hung on for dear life as the tires squealed and lifted off the ground. As they did, blaring cars moved past me, people in the perpendicular lane trying to navigate around my crazy stunt. After an eternity of noise and motion, the RV finally straightened out and moved with the flow of traffic.
I looked back, watching the black car sit stuck behind the new flow of vehicles.
Zoey stared at me, hyperventilating with eyes wide.
“We get on the highway, we stop off the side of the road.”
She nodded, then wrapped her arms around herself, quietly shaking.
We parked on the side of East Highway 412, right after a bridge over the water. Not knowing what else to do after that, we sat darkness, not speaking
After an hour, Zoey broke the silence with a trembling voice. “What do we do now?”
“No, you can’t do that,” Zoey pleaded. “C’mon, there’s always something to do. We always figure something out.”
“There’s just too many of them,” I said. “This isn’t one thing to dissect, this is a whole organization of people. And we’re just us.”
“So what are you saying? That we just lie down? Give up? Live our lives in fear?”
I stayed quiet.
Zoey sniffled, then cleared her throat and stood up, moving over to the drawers and rifling through them.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Looking for those ‘A’ cards.” She drew out the two small pieces of paper and moved over to the table, turning on a lamp and examining them under the light.
“It’s no use,” I called over to her. “I’ve looked those things over a million times. There’s nothing there.”
She didn’t reply. Instead, she leaned in closer to the table. “There’s color smudges in the center of these ‘A’s…”
“I know. I saw them too. They’re just printing errors, Zoey.”
“ ‘officer’... ‘contractor’... ‘greater’... There’s been an ‘r’, a ‘g’, and a ‘b’ smudged out in every card.”
Zoey got up and grabbed her laptop, running back to the table. Then she took her phone out and took a picture of one of the cards.
I sighed and got up to stand behind her, watching her computer screen. “Zoey, you can’t just magically CSI some details together. You know that, right?”
“I don’t need details,” she replied, opening up photoshop, “I just need color.”
I looked at her, confused.
“You’ve assumed that these were warnings, right?” she continued. “Signs to stop digging too deep. But what if those guys were actually trying to help, pointing us to assistance secretly without letting them know about it?”
“What does this have to do with color?” I interrupted.
“Well, computers store color values as different quantities of red, green, and blue. An rgb value. So if you wanted to hide something in plane sight using numbers…” She opened the image on her computer and magnified the image until the two smudges had filled the screen: one half a deep maroonish-burgundy and the other a drab olive green. Then she took the little eyedropper tool, sampled the hues, and pulled up the color menu, reading off the values.
“‘100, 8, 55’, and ‘52, 91, 7’.” She put her hand on her chin in thought. “Well, it’s one too many for a phone number. It could be coordinates… ”
“It is a phone number,” I interrupted. “International callers have to put in a country code. ‘1’ is the code for the United States.”
Zoey breath quickened as she grabbed her phone, putting it on speaker before typing in ‘1-008-555-2917’ and letting it ring.
The phone gave a series of beeps instead. “The number you are trying to reach is not available,” it announced. “Please hang up and…”
She sighed and hit the red button.
“Well,” I said, “It was a good…”
Almost immediately, the phone began to ring, the caller displayed as ‘1-008-555-2917’.
Zoey glanced at me before putting it on speaker and answering.
“Well well well,” a voice with just the slightest hint of a Southern accent said, “you certainly took your time getting back to us, Miss Hammersham.”
“Who is this?” Zoey asked.
“My name is Anderson. I’m a member of Archangel.”
“The people behind the ‘A’s with wings?” I asked.
“Yes, Mr. Foster,” it said without pause. “I assume you’ve made your decision about our offer.”
We looked at each other. “W-what offer?” Zoey asked.
“The offer one of our agents spoke to you about earlier.”
“Nobody’s talked to us,” I said.
There was a pause from the other end of the phone.
“I see,” it finally replied. “We’ll have to correct that. Is there a place where we could meet?”
“Yeah, umm…” Zoey turned to me. I got out my phone and began to search the area.
“Lake Fayetteville Park,” I said out loud. “Tomorrow, noon.”
“Splendid. I’ll see you then.” There was a click, and the line went dead.
Thirteen hours later, we were waiting in Lake Fayetteville Park, seated at a picnic shelter shielding us from the bright rays of the sun. All around us, the sights and sounds of regular life orbited us: a man walking a large dog, a woman watching her kid run around, a young couple holding hands. My head was on a permanent swivel; I kept scanning the large lake, the trails, the grassy hills, the parking lot where the RV was parked, and back. I’m sure that I looked incredibly shifty.
It paid off when I found what I was looking for: a thin man in a black suit and tie, heading straight for us. His skin was pale and his hair was a fiery shade of red. Trailing him was another black-suited man, this one with darker, closer to olive, skin and messy black hair behind large, reflective aviator sunglasses. One part of me recognized him as Thorn, the agent who had burst into the Ritzman to announce Sims’ “suicide,” and another as the man in the red shirt who had been tailing me yesterday.
“Miss Hammersham, Mr. Foster,” the red-haired man said politely with the same voice that had came over the phone.
He waited for one of us to say something. When neither of us did, he shook his head and looked around the park. “You picked a good place for a meeting like this. Very public. High pedestrian traffic. Good line of sight in any direction. Even easy access to your vehicle. Very intelligent. Of course,” he sighed, turning to the other agent there, “it is always the smart ones that get in over their heads, isn’t it?”
Anderson spread his arms apart and clapped twice, loudly, making the sound ring out across the park.
Instantly, there was silence. Every single person there turned to look at him, rose, and just left. The couple went to their car. The man with the dog walked them both out of the area. Even the child quietly took his mother's hand and let her guide him out of the park.
In a few moments, the entire space was empty. Soon as it was, other black-suited individuals appeared, some from the trees, some from over the hills, some only a few feet away, having waited behind buildings. What had been a crowded and noisy public space was now a silent vacant one, filled only with Anderson, Thorn, the agents...
Zoey nudged me. An unfamiliar silhouette was sitting in our RV. It waved at us.
“Finally, some privacy,” Anderson said with a smile. “Come, let’s walk.” He took a few steps, then stopped when he noticed neither of us had moved.
Anderson chuckled. “It’s alright. I’m not the one who bites.”
“You guys tried to kill us,” I protested.
“Yes, I do apologize about that. We had a mix-up with some communication.” He gave a look to Thorn that I couldn’t identify before turning back to us. “I assure you, we have no intentions to harm you, and...” he gestured to the agents around him, “as I’m sure you already figured out, if we really did wanted you dead, you’d be dead. So… walk?”
“Well, it doesn’t seem like we have a choice,” Zoey said.
Anderson smiled. “You always have a choice, my dear. The question is, are you going to make the right one?”
Zoey stared at the ground for a moment before standing up. I did so as well.
“Splendid.” Anderson turned and began ambling towards the lake. We followed him, and Thorn followed behind us. The other agents stayed in their spots, but their eyes tracked us as we moved.
“What are you going to do to us?” I asked.
“Answer one of your biggest questions for you,” Anderson replied. “After all, your searches for our icon indicate a pretty big curiosity about Archangel and what it stands for. Don’t worry; this is how most of our alliances start.”
“Alliances?” Zoey questioned.
Anderson nodded and stopped at the shore of the lake. “As the two of you have already discovered, there is much more to this universe than what meets the eye. In fact, our reality is very similar to this algae here,” he continued, picking up a long branch and lightly poking a patch of green pond scum. “It exists at the surface of this lake, not knowing all the creatures and predators and cold depths that exist underneath it. In fact, it has no idea that its health is linked to this invisible infrastructure. If the water is too low, or if there aren’t enough fish, or if some toxic chemical gets introduced, the algae will die without ever knowing why. And the same is true for us.”
He began to slap the surface of the lake with the stick, causing small waves that made the green mass bob up and down. “But most importantly, the algae needs the lake to be calm. Sure, it can handle little waves, but if enough disturbance is caused…” Anderson reeled back with his branch and smacked the algae with all his might, causing it to split apart in a massive splash and making some of the smaller pieces sink.
He threw the stick into the woods, wiped his hands, then turned back to face us. “This is who Archangel is. We are the caretakers of the lake, making sure that its healthy enough to support all us pieces of algae. And our biggest concern are rabble-rousers like you, the… ‘truth-seekers’ of the world.
“You see, we want people to believe that this algae, their daily lives of work and cars and whatnot, is all there is in the world. We call that ‘the veneer of civilization’, and protecting it is our top priority. Enough people diving into the waters will stir up the lake, disturbing the truly large fish in there. Those fish are powerful enough to permanently destroy the ecosystem of the lake. And the health of the lake is far more important than the health of the algae.”
“So this is the part where you tell us to stop or else,” I finished.
Anderson chuckled. “Not quite.” He started to walk back over to the picnic shelter, forcing us to follow. “In all honesty. the world is getting a little too big to handle. Every day, more people are making houses in previously wild places, more urban legends are being spread, and more dark web chat rooms are spitting out information. Our strategy of being the boogeyman in everyone’s closet won’t work for too much longer. There’s simply too much to cover with our finite resources.
“That’s why we want to bring you in. Absolute secrecy has become unsustainable. But plausible deniability… that is far more affordable.”
“I don’t understand,” Zoey interrupted. “What do you think we can do?”
“The same thing you’ve been doing,” Anderson replied. “Find the supernatural. Record it. Publish it. And should something you find ever make it to the light of day, we’ll point back to you. Publicity stunts from a webshow, a satisfactory enough answer to make most people stop searching.”
“But they’ll know,” I protested.
“Will they?” he retorted. “How many people actually believe that your show is real, and not a bunch of clever camera tricks? When you tell your fans ‘this really happened,’ how many of them believe you and how many think you’re just trying to sell a lie? I mean, when… avaunt-garde storytelling blends such obvious fiction blends with fact, who’s to say what’s real and what’s not?”
Anderson’s grin grew just a bit wider and he lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “You see, Liam, people desperately don’t want to believe. They’ll do anything not to, and all they need is an excuse. One like: ‘oh, I know where that rumor started from! It was that one webshow. What was it called? Scary America?’”
I sank back down to the picnic bench, unable to speak.
“Cheer up,” Anderson said. “This’ll make you famous. Rich too, most likely.”
“And if we say no?” Zoey said.
“Well that’s the real beauty of this plan,” Anderson replied. “You can’t say no. Feel free to continue your show however you wish. Hell, throw in this entire conversation from the secret microphones I know you have on you. The only real way to protest is to stop your little experiment and, well… that’s hardly a loss for us.”
Zoey slumped into the seat next to me.
“Wonderful,” Anderson said. “I’ll let our people know that you’ve slipped over to this side of the veneer. It’ll give you some protection. Not much, mind you. Especially if you’re trying to interfere with something. But it’ll give you more than you had.”
Anderson clapped his hands twice again and the agents began to fade into the background, becoming replaced with the park goers that had been there before.
“Cheer up,” he said before leaving himself, “you’re on the side of the angels now. Things only go up from here.”
When we got back, the mirror and back window of our RV had been replaced with new, crack-free glass.
A sign of cooperation made in good faith, the note on the mirror said.
Zoey tore it up into little shreds.
We spent the next several hours doing… I don’t know what, exactly. Sitting around in shock, I guess. It felt like we had been dragged deeper than we wanted to and now we were stuck in a place we weren’t even sure we wanted to be, and the worst part about it was that nothing had happened except a simple conversation.
I couldn’t stop thinking about what Anderson had said, hearing his words on repeat: Enough people diving into the waters will stir up the lake, disturbing the truly large fish in there. In my mind, those words were accompanied by the void-faced form of Sam. Those fish are powerful enough to permanently destroy the ecosystem of the lake. And whEN THAT HAPPENS, THE DARK PENTECOST SHALL COME, MY DISCIPLE…
“Liam!” Zoey shouted at me, snapping me out of my trance.
“Hmwha?” I stammered.
“I said we can’t let them get away with this!” she exclaimed. I wasn’t sure when she had entered the room, but she was here now, stomping up and down the length of the RV. “What the hell gives this Archangel the right to do this kind of shit?”
“Maybe… maybe they have a point.”
Zoey glared daggers at me.
“I mean, we don’t exactly know what we’re doing here,” I continued. “What if they’re right about all this? What if the consequences...”
“What if?!” Zoey yelled. “Do you think that Ms. Jackson will take solace in her destroyed orphanage over a ‘what if?’ Or Greg Thornstine, still trapped in ‘Worlds of Wonder’? Or Sims?” She stopped pacing to make eye contact with me. “You said it yourself, these people are practically feeding the darkness by keeping these things secret, and we can not let them get away with that. I just…” she collapsed into a chair. “I just wish there was a way to fight back now.”
Unprompted, the voice of Anderson played in my head one more time. iYou always have a choice, my dear. The question is, are you going to make the right one?i
And something clicked.
“We can,” I said.
Zoey raised an eyebrow.
“They’re afraid of ‘Creepy America,’” I explained. “They’re afraid of this show.”
She laughed. “Liam, did you hear a word of what they said?”
“That’s what they said, but that’s not what they believe,” I continued. “If that was really the case, they wouldn’t have reached out like that. They’d just let us be and move things in the background. But they didn’t. They’re afraid. Of what this show could become. Of what it could start. And they can’t get rid of us, because it’s already started, so they’re trying to do the next best thing. They wanted to scare us now, when we’re nobody, so that when this becomes something greater, they could intimidate us into poisoning and twisting it.”
Zoey sat up in her chair. “So what do we do?”
“We play along,” I said. “We pretend like we agree. And while we do that, we make more episodes, publish more videos, back up our claims with as much evidence as we can muster. Maybe not everyone will believe, but some will. And when we get those people to dig deeper…”
“...we expose Archangel,” Zoey finished.
“Right then. Get this thing started,” Zoey commanded, throwing the keys at me. “We’ve got a lot of country to cover.”
That day ended up being a good travel day. One afternoon of driving can usually net us somewhere between 250 and 300 miles. We went over 500. But more importantly, it was the first time we had driven with a purpose. Before now, Zoey and I had seen Creepy America through very different lenses. To me, it was a chance to research the strangeness of the world. To Zoey, it was a route for fame and creative achievement. Empathy could draw us out of those selfish dimensions, but not for long.
Now was different. Now there was a reason to keep going, to bring Creepy America to the light of day. Creepy America was no longer a project, it was a mission.
And heaven help whoever got in our way.