14: Hunter Hartley, Hunter Hartley

14: Hunter Hartley, Hunter Hartley WOE.BEGONE


This cabin with a red flag in front of it, I swear. Also, Mike makes a bunch of new friends.


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So, picking a lock isn’t that hard. A lock is just a cylinder with a bunch of pins in it. When you press the pins down a certain amount, it allows you to turn the bolt that connects the lock to the door and lets you in. You just need two pieces of metal. One to provide tension so that the pins don’t fall back down and to turn the lock once you’ve solved it, and one to push the pins up. In a pinch, you can use bobby pins or paperclips. Any thin piece of metal that you can bend into the shapes that you need to fit them inside the lock. 

I can do a lot of things. I can rattle off to you this whole thing about how easy it is to pick a lock, for instance. There are things that I can’t do, however. One of those things is pick a lock. More generally, I would say that I am good at thought but bad at deeds, but that is beside the point. I don’t know how to pick a lock. The muscles in my hand do not have a memory of picking locks. I can’t easily visualize the pins in the cylinder to keep track of the pins while picking a lock. I don’t have a lock that I can practice on. I don’t have anything with a keyhole on it. There is the key to my front door, but I don’t want to be seen picking that lock for reasons that I assume are obvious. “Oh hey there, Mike. Already lose your keys?” “No, I’m just practicing picking a lock for… reasons. Normal reasons. It’s for a game, actually.” 

Luckily for me, wafer locks are pretty generic. This has been exploited in the past for all kinds of nefarious purposes. There’s a key called the CH715– used to be the first result for “key” on Amazon– that’s on pretty much anything that needs a lock. If you keep all of your keys to the building in a storage box with a CH715 on the outside, that’s all you need to go wherever you want to go. There were service boxes in New York for professional governmental use only (I can’t remember what they were for, but I think the fire department were the ones using the boxes) that were so generic that pretty much any key would open the lock. When told about this, the city basically said that the lock worked because putting in the correct key opened the lock. That’s… incorrect for more reasons than I can bear to list here. 

That’s a lot of words to say that I went to the hardware store in the city outside of Oldbrush Valley and bought a lot of keys. I also bought a few locks that looked like the ones that were on the desk drawer because they came with keys that might be the one that I needed. I guess I could learn to pick those, but I still don’t have a lockpicking set and every second I’m in there fumbling with the lock is a second that someone might walk in and discover me. And presumably kill me for being inside of a red flag cabin after the guide made it abundantly clear that that was somewhere not to be. They’d kill me, right? Would you kill me? I’d kill me. 

Dun dun dun dun dun dun dun! Let’s do this. This is WOE.BEGONE.

[Intro theme plays.]

The story of WOE.BEGONE is told in order. If you haven’t heard the podcast, start back at episode 1. It will answer questions like “is this dude always this stupid?” I am, but you don’t have to just say it like that, dude. 

I decided to wait until the next day to go back to the cabin. I thought about doing it under cover of night. Dun-dun dun dun dun dun! But decided against it because it would look extra suspicious if I was walking around in front of a red flag cabin when I should be asleep. I don’t have a patrol at night, but there are patrols at night, obviously. Speaking of: I have a job now and have to do stuff to prepare for it. I can’t just spend all day learning to pick a lock or trespassing. I have important stuff to do. Murdergame can wait, at least for an evening. 

I set off bright and early for the cabin with a comical amount of keys. I felt like a movie depiction of a janitor, but without the key ring so they all just sat in my pocket and jangled in my pocket. It was like having a pocket full of change. Remember change? People used to pay for goods and services with coins. I decided to take the same shortcut again to save me 8 miles of walking. I had a better excuse this time: I could say that I was going to visit my friend Hunter in cabin Whatever Cabin Number His Was. 44A or something like that? Oh well. Plausible deniability at least. 

This part of the excursion ended up being quiet and pleasant, though. No one interrupted the quiet of the morning. I guess that’s a boring thing to relay in a podcast, though. Oh, so you’re saying that you don’t want to hear about how I knew it was going to be a little cold out so I thought about wearing gloves but ended up not wearing gloves because I hate wearing gloves and then it was cold outside and by the time I got to the cabin it’s not like I was freezing or anything but my hands felt uncomfortable and it was annoying to touch things because my hands were cold? Well, too bad ‘cause I just did. 

You know what sucks to have to do with cold hands? Rummage around in your pockets for a bunch of keys. Yet, somehow, I persevered. Key 1: nope. Key 2: nope. Key 3: nope. Key 4: nope. Maybe this was a really bad strategy. Key 5: nope. Key 6: nope. But Key 7? …Nope. Key 8: Nope. That was when I reached in my pocket and pulled out key 9: nope. But key 10! Nope. Key 11–

The doorknob on the outside door to the cabin started to turn. Surprised, I jumped what felt like 10 feet into the air. I quickly swept together the keys I had tried. I had just been putting them down on the desk in front of me as I went. I managed to get them all in my pocket just as the door swung open. I thought about hiding under the desk and waiting for the person to leave but this was a bad idea for two reasons: the person had already seen me and would see me trying to hide under the desk, and the desk was in the only thing in the room so of course the person who entered the cabin would approach the desk upon entering. No choice but to play it cool, I guess. Good ol’ cool as a cucumber Mike Walters. That guy never freaks out. 

A man entered the cabin. White, in his late 40s, plaid flannel shirt with a badge on it. It was Hunter Jeremiah Hartley.

“Hunter!?” I exclaimed. 

He looked surprised to see me. “Who are you? I don’t see a badge. Do you have proof you are allowed to be in here?” He asked.

“Hunter, it’s me. It’s Mike Walters. We met yesterday,” I said. 

“Oh, the new guy. They told me there would be a new guy. We talked yesterday?”

“Yeah, you told me all about Oldbrush Valley and why you were here and then I told you why I was here. You don’t remember?” I asked. 

He paused for a moment, deep in thought. “Oh yeah. Sorry Mike, I had a real busy day yesterday. Talked to more people than I could count. Not very good with faces, either. How are ya?” he asked. 

“Oh, I’m fine,” I said. “Aren’t– aren’t you going to ask what I’m doing in here?”

“Well, it is a red flag cabin,” he said. “Did you get a chance to read the Field Guide yet? You did get a field guide, right? Some of the new guys get here and there isn’t one in their cabin.”

Wow, he really did have a busy day yesterday if he forgot that we talked about all of this. Oh well, time for a do-over. “Well, I started reading it but I didn’t get to the part about what the red flag means. I thought it was a public building or something,” I said. 

“Nope. Strictly off-limits is what it means. It’s where we keep the alien technology from the crash site,” he said and laughed. 

“My bad,” I said. I had a strange feeling about Hunter.

“I hate to be a stickler for the rules, but you really can’t be in here. Heck, I can’t even tell you what this cabin is really used for. Information in Oldbrush is distributed on a need-to-know basis and if I tell you something that you don’t need to know, then I could be in hot water if you ever blab about it to anyone,” Hunter said. 

“Understood,” I said. “Hey, do you think you can point me to the mess hall? It’s about breakfast time.”

“Sure thing, Mike,” he said, pausing right before my name as if to make sure he was getting it right. “I’m heading that way myself I just gotta grab one thing and then I’ll walk with you.” Then he walked up to the desk, took a key out of his pocket, opened the locked drawer, and retrieved a manilla envelope from the drawer. The envelope was the only thing in the drawer. Then he walked towards the cabin door and motioned for me to walk with him. 

Well, shit. 

That was all wrong. I felt, to use a term that might have lost some weight due to its overuse online, gaslighted. Hunter didn’t remember me and he completely contradicted himself. He told me the day before that he had never been inside one of the cabins. Well, he didn’t, but it was impossible to come away with any other understanding of the situation. He didn’t remember us talking about the field guide, either my reading of it or him saying that he was hiding the guide from new employees. He just walked in like he owned the place and took the one thing that I was in the room to get. This is apparently within his job description now? The day before, he told me that his job was basically the same as mine with a minor promotion for being there long enough. I could not rectify the two Hunter Hartleys that I had had conversations with with each other. But, like the field guide said, it’s all need-to-know and there was no way I was going to hear it from Hunter. He is a stickler for the rules. Wait, no he’s not! He told me in the other conversation that he literally hides the rule book from new people because he doesn’t believe in it! 

Even worse than someone I had only met twice being a little weird, he had the thing that I was supposed to get for WOE.BEGONE. 

“So, what’s in the envelope?” I asked.

“No idea. Couldn’t tell you even if I had an idea. Just had to grab it from the cabin and deliver to an O.V.E.R. building elsewhere on the campus. It’s on the way to the cafeteria, luckily enough,” he said. 

I tried to keep my face from falling. “Sounds important,” I said. 

“That’s the thing about O.V.E.R. Everything is treated like the most important thing in the world. Even here, and this is the lowest level of security in the valley. There are rings of increasing security going in,” he said. 

“To the juicy center,” I added.

“Nuclear bombs,” Hunter said. 

“Excuse me?”

“That’s what I think is in there. Why else would they act like this?”

“You told me just yesterday that you don’t think that there’s anything in there and that this is all a fake operation to run diversion from a real operation,” I said. 

“Did I?” he asked and scratched the back of his head. “Man, that was a long day. I guess it could be nothing, but I was probably just pullin’ your leg. That would be a lot of money and work just for a diversion.”

“That’s what I thought, too,” I replied. 

“I guess there could be nothing inside this envelope, too,” he said. 

Unlikely considering how badly the gamerunners wanted me to get my hands on it. “Haha, could be!” I replied. 

I wish Hunter was collecting the envelope for himself. It would be a lot easier to break into his cabin and steal it or find if he had an office somewhere, since I already knew him. Whoever he was giving it to was an unknown unknown. 

“Oh, here’s my stop. Told you it was on the way,” he said.

“I mean, I don’t know where we’re going so I can’t tell if it’s on the way, but I believe you,” I replied. 

He smirked. “You’re funny Mike. They’ll like that,” he said. Then he walked up to a mailbox-like container attached to the building we were in front of and dropped the envelope in. 

In the field of profession WOE.BEGONEry, the industry term for this is an “uh-oh whoopsie.” 

“So, you don’t even know who you’re giving the envelope to?” I asked. I’m not panicking, you’re panicking. 

“Nope. Could go to someone in that building or they might pass it off to someone else. Not a clue. They do it so that it is harder to trace. If someone stalked me and saw me pass off the envelope, they would know who it went to.”

Yeah, that’s the point, Hunter. “Yeah, that would suck,” I said. “A lot of work if there’s nothing hiding in there.”

“You got that right,” Hunter said. “A lot of work, period. I swear, if it’s not one thing it’s another. I don’t know how they find the work for so much of us to do so much of. Do you know how many people are working security here? 112. And that’s just the people who are in-between the first and second gates. 112 individual cabins for 112 security officers. 112 Paul Blarts. Who knows how many people are working the security past the second gate. I’ve never been in there. Maybe that’s where the envelope is going.”

“That would be cool, to information get to the inside. I haven’t seen or even really heard of anyone from past the gate,” I said. I had to break into the box and get the envelope tonight. That was the only way I could ever possibly see it again and even then it might already be too late. 

“Yeah, they keep to themselves. Or they keep to not-us, at least. I haven’t ever seen any of them either,” Hunter said. 

The cafeteria was pretty big. I guess it had to be since there are apparently 112 of us. It was fairly bustling for an early morning. There wasn’t 112 of us, for sure, but I was planning on skipping breakfast until I needed it as a cover story for Hunter. We got our food: bacon, eggs, normal breakfast stuff, and went to sit down.

“Hey guys, can we sit with you?” Hunter asked two guys at a table nearby.

“Sure thing, man,” one of them replied. 

“Mike, this is Chris and Ryan. Chris, Ryan, this is Mike Walters. He’s the new guy,” Hunter said.

“Nice to meet you,” they said, almost in unison. 

And this is awkward. We already have a Chris and Ryan on WOE.BEGONE. These were not they. Clearly the writers of reality did not take into account the fact that putting more people in my life with these names would make it harder to tell my life story in the form of a podcast. They didn’t say their last names, either, and I didn’t ask because that would be a weird thing to do. So, I will call them… Blorpo and Donder. I really hope that  they don’t become important enough that I regret that decision.

“So what brings you to O.V.E.R.?” Blorpo asked. 

I gave a truncated version of the “start a new life” spiel.

“That’s so interesting. I think a lot of us are like that,” Hunter said, seemingly having forgotten that I had already told him that story. He then told his story of mental illness, giving no indication that he had told me that story the day before. 

“Personally, it was to get away from my old friends,” Donder said. 

“That means drugs,” Blorpo added. 

“Yeah, basically. Nothing too hard, but the whole situation was making me live wrong and it was starting to get unhealthy. I’m getting too old to live like I did when I was 25,” Donder said. 

Blorpo didn’t tell his story, which means that it was either too boring or too dark for the conversation.

“Do you like it here so far, Mike?” 

“Yeah. New job jitters, but everyone I’ve met have been really nice. I mean, I’ve only met the 3 of you, so…” I trailed off. 

“They keep us pretty spaced apart. Even with a hundred of us, this place is massive and we have to cover a lot of ground. I assume you’re on foot so far,” Donder said. 

“Do some people get vehicles?” I ask. 

“Yeah, but usually it’s people who have been here awhile that get golf carts. They want everyone to be able to keep a close eye on every little part of their area, which means walking. This asshole got a golf cart on his first day. I don’t know why,” Donder pointed his thumb at Blorpo. 

“Because I was a game warden for two years before I came out here,” Blorpo said. “Not all of us are here fresh off a G.E.D.”

“No, need to get all testy, Blorpo,” Donder said and took– okay, I already hate this. It was funny but I’m already tired of saying Blorpo. What if he’s Flinch and I have to keep saying Blorpo for like 10 more seasons? “I liked the show, but one of the characters is named Blorpo and I just can’t take it seriously anymore. 2 stars.” How about… Chance and Shadow? Chris is Chance is Blorpo and Ryan is Donder is Shadow. 

“It is a hard job?” I asked.

“Not really, if you don’t mind a lot of walking,” Hunter said. “My feet were sore for awhile when I first started, but I’m a lot better at it now. Faster, too.”

“They’ll team you up with someone for your first patrol. They’ll walk you around your area and tell you what they know, if they know anything at all. They’ll tell you the stuff that you might see and what to do about it,” Shadow said. 

“If you ever see anything at all,” Chance added. 

“Didn’t you tell me you’ve never seen anything, Hunter?” I asked. 

No look of recognition. “Hmm, I’ve never thought about it before but I guess that I haven’t ever seen anything. I saw a bear once if that counts.”

“I saw Bigfoot. That’s what they’re hiding in there,” Shadow said. 

“This is why you don’t get a golf cart,” Chance said.

“If Bigfoot is in there, I think we should bust him out. Bigfoot should be free. Wild, untamed, untouched!” Hunter said and the whole table laughed. 

There was a lull in the conversation.

“I think there’s a time machine in there,” I said. Nobody leapt up and shouted “THIS GUY IS IN LEAGUE WITH WOE.BEGONE!” so I don’t think I put myself in danger. 

“Why do you think that?” Hunter asked.

“Think about it. All 3 of you just told me that you haven’t seen anything here except local fauna. If there’s something here, a time machine could make it so that even if something did happen, whoever is in charge could go back and keep it from ever happening. It would look like nothing’s here. And it goes without saying why a government would want to have a time machine and want so badly to protect it that there are a hundred guys working security at the front gate.”

“That’s smart, Mike. They’ll like you,” Hunter said. I was beginning to wonder who “they” was. 

“But do we really have the technology to make a time machine?” Chance asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “All that matters is that the government has access to that technology some time in the future. If they do and the time machine can go back in time, then all they have to do is send it back in time to themselves.”

“Interesting,” Chance said. “But then why did WWII exist? Surely going back in time and winning wars before they could be fought would be a major interest to the United States.”

Because, Chance, that’s basically the plot of Ars Paradoxica and this is WOE.BEGONE–[theme starts but ends very quickly.]

“We can only see the timeline that we live in,” I said. “Maybe they did try to do that and this was the best result that they could create. The Axis lost, many countries had post-war economic miracles happen to them, the United States became the largest country in the world, and Europe essentially united, ensuring that a war across Europe wouldn’t be fought for the rest of the 20th century.”

“Wow, you just got here and you’ve thought it through this much?” Chance asked. 

“I think about stuff like this all the time,” I said, 14 episodes into a podcast where I talk about stuff like this all of the time. 

I would have to wait until nightfall to try and retrieve the envelope from the mailbox, plus I also had my first day of work ahead of me. Fifteen minutes before my patrol was due to start, a woman in a golf cart sped up to my cabin, which I had returned to after breakfast. I walked out and she yelled “Get in dipshit! We’re doing patrol!” I do whatever a person calls me a dipshit tells me to do, so I grabbed my patrol gear and hopped in the passenger side of the golf cart.

“Mike Walters, nice to meet you,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. I’m Marissa Ng. That’s Marissa with an “r,” Not like A Kindred Spirit.” I had no idea what that meant so I just nodded. “They want me to show you around your patrol for your first day,” she said. 

“Someone told me that someone would show me around. I’m glad. I feel like nobody’s really told me what I’m supposed to be doing yet,” I said. 

“Oh yeah? Who have you met so far?” Marissa asked. 

“Hunter, Chris, and Ryan, but Hunter’s the only one I’ve met more than once,” I said. To be clear, that’s Chase and Shadow, aka Blorpo and Donder, aka the Blorpster and D-Man. 

“Hunter’s a weird guy. Nice as can be, give away the shirt on his back type of guy. But it sometimes feels like he only remembers half of what you say to him,” she said.

“I know exactly what you mean. I’ve introduced myself to him twice already,” I replied.

“The other two are sort of chuckleheads, but they’re fun to be around as long as you don’t need anything from them,” she said. 

“Good to know,” I said. I was glad to hear that my assessments of everyone so far had been fairly accurate.

She showed me my patrol route, and even outlined it on the map that I had been given. I was grateful because of how horrifically bad I am at maps.  I don’t know if this is because of my lack of spacial awareness or just because I never really needed to use a map that wasn’t electronic most of the time. Essentially, the job boils down to walking the route for an hour, taking a fifteen minute break, repeat 6 times with a lunch in the middle, fill out an observation form at the end of the day. Easy enough. She also warned me to not push the button– not if there’s an intruder, not if there’s an animal, not if you get crushed by a rock. She gave me a walkie-talkie and told me to use that instead, or my gun.

“I’ve never fired my weapon on patrol, but if I see that bear that people keep talking about, he’s all mine,” she said. I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. “Have you ever fired a gun before, Mike?”

“A couple times,” I said, embarrassed.

“That’s okay. Like I said, you won’t really need it. I think a lot of people lie about having firearms training on their applications to O.V.E.R. There’s a shooting range right outside of the valley if you ever want to take a field trip and get to know your weapon a little better.”

“Have you ever seen anything out here?” I asked.

“I’ve seen about 4 snakes, I think,” Marissa said.

“Not exactly what I meant,” I said.

“If you mean things that we are supposedly keeping out, then no. Maybe that just means we are all doing out jobs really well,” she said. A smile crept across her face.

“I did see a newbie walk into a red flag cabin this morning,” she said. 

My stomach sank and my heart stopped and my pancreas turned inside out. “I-I didn’t see that part of the guide until after. Hunter– Hunter came in and told me–”

“Save it, Mike. I don’t care if you were peeking or doing something nefarious or what. I’m sure if you’re a spy or something there are already eyeballs up the chain from me already on you. But I don’t think you’re a spy, just wanted to know what all the fuss was about. I just wanted to let you know that you’re not invisible.” She was still smiling. 

“Point taken,” I said and breathed a sigh of relief. 

The rest of the patrol was as uneventful as everyone told me that it would be. It would be considerably more effort on foot, but still not difficult by any stretch of the imagination. The only danger seemed to be the possibility of getting eaten by a bear. Marissa dropped me back off at my cabin, said “Seeya Mike. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” and sped off. I was exhausted from the extrovert energy. I wanted to crawl in bed and just sleep until the next day.

But I couldn’t crawl in bed. This is WOE.BEGONE[theme starts again]. I have to get ready for my heist. My new heist, much different from my old heist where I opened a door and walked inside a room where I didn’t get the thing that I went there for. The kind of heist where I snake my arm into a mailbox and hope that there is an envelope in there. 

You have been listening to WOE.BEGONE. I might have abused this request before, but start the heist music. Next time: I break into a mailbox and do some more patrolling. Thanks for playing.