22: Wink Wink

22: Wink Wink WOE.BEGONE


Apologies for the audio quality. The bug in mike’s house is not intended to record in podcast quality. We would also like to apologize for Mike referring to himself in the third person in this episode. That was uncomfortable. Thank you in advance for your understanding.



[Hey guys, did you know that there is a new WOE.BEGONE spinoff podcast, The Diary of Aliza Schultz, available only on patreon? If you go to patreon.com/woe_begone and give me 1 dollar, you get 2 episodes every month. Please give me a dollar. I don’t want to get a real job. Speaking of, thanks to all of my $1/mo patrons: Aaron Richardson, Christopher Fox, Cooper Dukes, HarveyJane, Jason Li, Matthew Robertson, Plumule, S.R. Jenkins, and Tracy. Enjoy the show.]

[Intro theme plays.]

[There is a knock on the door and then the sound of it opening.] What…?

You… should not have come here. How did you even figure out where I live? You really drove all this way? Come in, come in. Let’s get you out of the doorway before anyone sees you and starts asking questions. I don’t know who would be asking questions. I’m just paranoid these days, okay? Come in. Sorry about the mess. You probably understand. The life of a bachelor. A traumatized bachelor who can barely walk. The cane is cool though, right? It’s got a golden dog’s head on the handle, see? It’s not like I go anywhere that I can show it off, but I like it. That’s good enough for me. I can only use it with one hand, though. I can’t put pressure on this one. Can’t pick things up very well yet either but it’s getting better every day. Well, most days. 

Can I get you anything? I have… let’s see… water, the cheapest coffee money can buy, and the second cheapest beer that money can buy. The first cheapest just straight-up is not consumable. Nothing? That’s fine. I’m gonna grab a beer. I know it’s only ten in the morning, but this is my second one so that “barrier of etiquette” is already broken. It’s hard to dispute that I have earned this indulgence, right? At least in my opinion. [Sound of can opening.]

You weren’t sent by O.V.E.R., were you? I told them that I needed to take a disability leave and they didn’t ask any questions.  Even if they don’t know about the… thing– do you know about the thing?– anyway, even if they don’t know, what they do know about my workplace injuries is enough for them to get the picture. My guess is that they don’t want me suing them for workman’s comp or coming out in the press and telling people what is going on out there. Ha! Like I know what’s going on out there. But better safe than sorry, if you’re doing a shadowy governmental operation. They haven’t sent anyone to kill me yet, yet.  

I think I’m going to wait until they tell me that I have to come back or I’m fired and then decide whether or not to go back. I was freaked out when I left in the middle of the night. I wasn’t thinking straight. I’ve had some time to actually reflect on it now and I’m more mixed on whether or not I want to go back. It was killing me. People say that about jobs all the time, but O.V.E.R. was actually and actively killing me. With the way things were going it felt like at some point, someone was going to show up and beat my head in with a hammer or something and that would be in the end of that. You haven’t even seen my hand. I won’t take the bandages off, but you can imagine. It ripped through, well, everything really. Once I got back home and took a breather for a second, I had to go to a real doctor. You just made that drive, presumably. Imagine doing it with a knife puncture wound that goes all the way through your hand. My steering wheel is so gross. I’ve never cleaned it. I’ve never even thought about how many times I’ve touched it with dirty hands until I sat a giant stab wound on top of it. And now it’s even more gross because of all of the blood. My entire car looks like a crime scene. 

I guess you came here because you wanted to know what happened. You’re a smart woman. You put it together quickly, I’m sure. You probably found the button on your route not long after I buried it and then Mike was nowhere to be found the next day at breakfast. I think there are plenty of coincidences in the world, but that would be a pretty striking one. Had you ever heard the button do that before? My current theory on the thing is that it helps to weed out low-level chumps like myself. But you know exactly what stunt I was pulling, right? Why the button was out there in the first place? The timing is just a little too perfect. We just talked about this, together, on your patrol route. 

I’m sorry. I know that it looks like I was using you in order to get information that could help me do whatever weird espionage thing that I was up to. And I was using you to get information that could help me do the weird espionage thing that I was up to. But I also enjoy your company, Marissa. I wasn’t expecting to, honestly. I tend to get overstimulated easily, so your whole thing is a bit much for me. No offense. I’m just a lowkey and quiet guy most of the time. But I don’t get tired and annoyed when I’m with you, like I expected to be. Behind all of that energy is something that is truly engaging. I think that’s probably charisma, but I wouldn’t know anything about what having that is like. 

You know something important is happening in Oldbrush Valley. Something important and weird and definitely dangerous. I mean, you thought that maybe those boulders were giant robots. That’s why you didn’t rat me out when you saw me go into a red flag cabin. You want to get to the bottom of everything, too. Everything out there is so strange; it’s in our nature to figure out the strange things right under our noses. I can’t help but think that O.V.E.R. is baiting us into snooping around at least some of the time. Maybe if we find one weird thing, we’ll feel satisfied and notice the other, weirder thing that they want to keep to themselves. 

Well, I’ve been investigating. And I’ll tell you what I can tell you, if you promise not to get mad. [Silence.] Well, you can get mad if you want to, I guess, but you can’t go and tell O.V.E.R. what I have been doing. I can’t tell you everything. It’s not that I can’t trust you, it’s just that– wait, no, it is that I can’t trust you but the threshold of who can be trusted is so absurdly high that that isn’t an insult. Think of your inclusion in my juicy operation as the reward for your silence and cooperation. I’m in no place to bargain, of course. If you ratted me out and they came and killed me over it I wouldn’t be surprised or angry at this point. I mostly only feel tired these days. Not throw a pity party over it. 

I guess that the best thing to do is to start at the beginning. I was poking around in the red flag cabin, trying to figure out what could be so important about a place that doesn’t even lock the doors and Hunter Jeremiah Hartley came in right behind me. Did you know that he has access to red flag cabins? As far as I know, nobody knows. Not even Chris and Ryan know and the four of us had breakfast together every morning. Here’s the kicker, though: not even Hunter Jeremiah Hartley knows that Hunter Jeremiah Hartley has access to the red flag cabins. You know how strange he is. It’s like there are two of him with different memories and different identities. I’ve never seen him go into a red flag cabin since then and I’ve never heard him bring it up, either. It’s like the Hunter that I know and the Hunter that met me in the cabin are two completely different people. I mean literally. It’s like they are literally not the same person. Marissa: it’s. Like. There’s. Two. Of. Him. Wink wink. You know what I’m talking about.  

That was such a rough span of days, right at the beginning. The next thing that happened was that… okay, wait. I want to prepare you for this. You are going to be angry and shocked and you are going to demand answers that I am about to give you, so just sit tight. [Pause for Mike wincing.] You shot me in the arm in the middle of the night while you were on patrol because you thought I was a bear. See? [Sound of shirt sleeve being brushed up.] Got me good. I didn’t tell you because I knew that it would break your heart, but if you came all the way out here for answers then I guess you deserve the truth. I was out, snooping around. You were right that something fishy was going on on your patrol route. I’m the bear, Marissa. 

You should know that I don’t hold it against you. I knew that there was a bear problem. You and Hunter and everyone that I talked to in the valley up to that point had told me about how awful the bear problem was. I had just knocked over a trashcan, which was a very bear thing to do. I do sorta look like a bear if you squint hard enough, maybe if it’s too dark out to see clearly, for instance. And you only got the skin. I’ve done worse to my arms on purpose. Don’t worry about what, that’s neither here nor there.  I just wanted to let you know that I understand and that I don’t blame you. You could not have shot a more understanding guy. 

So, here’s the kicker (why do I keep saying that? Where did I pick that up from?): I know that I’m not the only person trying to figure out what is going on out there and I think that some of them might have sent me to where I was when you shot me, in order to distract you while they did something sinister. I don’t know what. But I got a tip to be out there when I was and I think it was because they wanted you to find me instead of them. I wish I could say more, but I am telling you almost everything that I can. I don’t want to talk about who “they” are or how “they” tipped me off. That’s the tip of an iceberg and you will drown trying to get to the bottom of it. Bottom line: we both got used that night. But let’s put a pin in that. 

The next night was even worse for me, if you remember. That was the night that I was mauled by the bear. I wasn’t even up to something that night, I was just taking a walk. I really was, no funny business. And I really was mauled by a bear, if you were wondering. I have some suspicions about that night, but the part where a bear tore my back into ribbons definitely actually happened. Whatever caused it to stop and whatever happened to it after is a mystery to me. I didn’t see it run away. I didn’t see anyone scare it off. Hunter found me, but it was several minutes after the attack when he showed up, at least. He didn’t scare it off. I don’t think that it was as simple as an animal attack. I don’t think anything is simple out there. But out of all of the stuff that I have lied to you about, this is the thing that I lied the least about. If someone sicced that bear on me, I don’t have a clue why they would want to do that. And the bear didn’t just run away, it vanished. As if it had popped out of existence right before it could kill me. Marissa: it. Vanished. Wink wink. 

And, of course, after that, was going on your route with you and learning about what was on it and at what times you were likely to be near them. You showed me everything that I wanted to see. That’s not surprising, you showed me all of the interesting stuff on your patrol route and if it’s interesting to you, it’s probably interesting to other people too. The boulders were just the easiest place to get to. So, while you were somewhere else, I broke in by digging under the fence. Oh, how I hate to be telling this story again. 

I hid behind a building and waited until after I saw your headlights fade, so that I knew that if I was quiet I could get in and check the place out and then get out of there before you got back to the boulders on your route. Once I got under the fence, before I could even figure out what was going on, the button started going off. I immediately slithered back under the fence, like a lizard. I didn’t know what to do with the button so I panicked and buried it in the hole I dug to get under the fence. I could still hear it, but I thought that hopefully I could get far enough away before someone found it that no one would know that it is mine. I don’t think the button does anything when you push it. I think that pushing it or going to the wrong places activates it and marks you for punishment. 

And punishment I did receive. If the three muscly guys waiting in my cabin were sent by O.V.E.R., though, I don’t understand their angle. I’ve spoken to people at O.V.E.R. since I left and they didn’t act like they had punished me for anything. Why would they tell me that I can return to work when I am healthy again if they know I was sneaking around where I wasn’t supposed to? I think it’s more likely that I am not the only person in the valley that wants answers and whoever sent those guys to my cabin has more answers that I do currently. And a budget to hire three guys to come interrogate and beat the shit out of me. I don’t have anyone on the payroll. 

So I sang like a little songbird. I told them everything that they asked me about and got a concussion, a broken angle, and a knife through my hand for my troubles. Never talk to strangers, kids. I told them that I was investigating what went on in Oldbrush Valley and everything that I found.  I know more than I am letting on to you. I told them stuff that I am not telling you. That iceberg that I talked about. There is a massively powerful technology in the valley. I don’t think that it is surprising to learn that. What else would we be guarding out there? Maybe Oldbrush Valley is all of the friends we made along the way? Nope, it is a mankind-altering level of technology and a race between who-knows-how-many parties to get access to it for their own benefit. That’s what they were there for. That is what worth roughing me up for. I was scared that they were going to kill me and so I just started talking and didn’t stop talking until they went away. Marissa: they. Went. Away. Very much like the bear. Wink. 

[Pause.] But I didn’t tell them about you. I didn’t tell them about what I saw you do that night while I was hiding behind the building, waiting for you to leave. I would never. They didn’t seem to know about it or they didn’t ask any questions so I felt no need to blab about it. Need to know information and all of that. They were laser-focused on my boulder escapade. You got lucky, though. If I hadn’t been out there making a scene, who knows what kind of eyeballs would have been on you that night. It could have been you that got roughed up by three henchmen. You’re lucky that I was out there to be a distraction for you. I’ve gotten proficient at being a distraction since I started work at O.V.E.R.

Is that why you’re here now? You drove all of this way because you were up to something the night that I left and you wondered if I was involved in it somehow? Well, I am, but not in the way that you think. What I’m doing isn’t connected to what you are doing. You would be acting much different if that was the case. Sorry, I’m having to choose my words wisely. Without laying all of my cards on the table… we are working towards different goals and our paths might intersect, but we are not on the same paths. They seem to be running parallel to each other right now and some of the same obstacles might be in the way. But as far as I know, my conception of what I want is different than your perception of what you want. Was that mealy-mouthed enough for you? 

If you wanted a face-to-face assurance that I’m not going to rat you out to O.V.E.R. then you can have one. I’m not going to rat you out to O.V.E.R. It would jeopardize my mission as well. I’m not in a position where going to O.V.E.R. with comments, complaints, or concerns is a good idea. I am much more interested in lurking in the shadows, biding my time to take what I can when I can. Like a cockroach. Plus, we’re friends, Marissa. I really meant that stuff about friendship. I wouldn’t lie and tell you that I liked you. That would be cruel… and not useful to me. It doesn’t help me achieve anything. It certainly doesn’t help me get what I want. 

I keep saying “what I want” in the present tense, like what I have been describing is what I want now. But, as you can tell, I drove off in the middle of the night, determined to never see Oldbrush Valley ever again as long as I may live. I was completely done with it that night. I even have reason to believe that I will come out victorious in the end and I still quit. You might be able to understand, I think. I’m sure that if you were telling your story that it would be equally complicated and painful. You can understand why I don’t necessarily want what I want anymore. 

I want to keep pushing forward, but on the other hand I know that if I do I will only end up more battered and beaten that I currently am. My body has a physical reaction to the idea of getting back into the thick of it. I’m scared because it feels like an inevitability at this point. I’m this far in, I’ve seen what I’ve seen, and now you’re turning up at my doorstep out of the blue. It feels like a sign. That’s stupid. I don’t believe in signs. I didn’t before and I sure as hell don’t now. Things aren’t happening for reasons that are greater than individual motivations. We are both acting in our own interests and being acted upon by people who are acting in their interests. It’s not any more complicated than that. 

God, it’s so juicy, though. Did you figure out what you set out to find? I can’t believe you did that. Go Marissa! He is so much bigger than you, but I guess you’re… is feisty a sexist way to describe it? No one would ever call Mike Walters feisty. Fighty. You’re much fightier than he is, that’s for sure. He’s kind of a doormat, even if he clearly is up to something that the two of us can’t easily piece together. I should have stuck around a couple more days to see the results of your experiment. Did he show up for breakfast the next morning or go on his patrol the next day? Where did you keep him while you found out? Did he talk? I bet he didn’t. It doesn’t matter. You didn’t need information from him, you just needed him to stay put for awhile so you could see if being tied up in your cabin or whatever kept him from being somewhere else. I would have kept him gagged so that he couldn’t call out for help and get you in trouble. I had a guy bound and gagged once and every time I took the gag out, he would scream bloody murder and wouldn’t stop until I gagged him again. It was so annoying. A story for a different time, I suppose. Ah, the good ol’ days. When life was simple and Mike was taking people hostage. 

I’m beating around the bush, I think. I’m sure of what you found. There are two of him. There are at least two of him, if you ask me. I think there might easily be at least three of him. I’m sure that  they are coordinated as best as they can be, but there is a clear lack of communication between them. I think that the main one– the one that we spend the most time in and the “original” origin point, in my estimation– I think that that Hunter might not even know that any of this is happening. Unless he’s the one that you kidnapped that night, in which case he probably suspects that something is happening. One of them knows exactly what I’m up to, or at least someone really wanted me to believe that at one point. There are so many possibilities. 

You’re asking the right questions and doing a more hands-on job of getting the answers, to boot. I just started assuming based on what I knew that there were multiple Hunter Hartleys in the valley. You actually did the legwork to confirm for yourself that it was true. Kidnapping him had never occured to me, not gonna lie. I think I was taken in by how sweet he was to me and that immediately killed any notion I might have of harming him to get what I want. That might be why he’s like that. Or maybe he’s a good person deep down in his squeedlyspooch and none of it is an act. Improbable. Nobody is that kind that consistently out of the goodness of their hearts. Nice people, friggin’ jerks, am I right? 

My goodness, would you look at the time. It’s time for my third beer of the morning. [Sound of can.] Please don’t actually look at the time while thinking about me drinking my third beer of the morning. It’s dire. I’m okay. I’m not actively dying right this instance, which is what “okay” has gradually come to mean for me. I’m surviving. I’m not going anywhere, be it a grave, Oldbrush Valley, or anywhere else that is outside my front door. I am literally not going anywhere. I am slowly scarring over and learning to live with my body while it heals. I am doing some introspection on what I want, how much I want it, and what it is worth sacrificing to get it. I will do this on my own time and I will take action when the time is right. Taking action when I have been goaded into doing so has completely destroyed my body. I’m far too stupid to learn my lesson, but I am also far too worn down to continue acting like that. My body is forcing me to learn this lesson. 

My advice to you is this: you are on the right path if you want to discover what is going on. You are probably heading toward the same conclusions as I am, but under no circumstances can you conduct your investigation in the same way that I have. My path has a lot of unnecessary cruelty and death that you can easily avoid by not framing your mission in the same way that I have framed mine. Ask yourself why there are two Hunters. Ask yourself why I was on your route that night that you shot me. Ask yourself why the bear disappeared. You’ll be just as close to the truth as I am, without any of the bloodshed. Nobody had to die for me to get to where I am and yet many people have. You can sidestep all of that by working on your own. The less you know about how I ended up here, the better. I know you. You’re too headstrong. I am one keyword away from sending you down a rabbithole, one that I am begging you not to go down. And once you are down that rabbithole, you’ll be out there blackening your soul for a morsel of info and you deserve better than that. You deserve better than your mind’s infinite appetite for progression no matter what the cost. 

And maybe one day I will be able to help you. Ha! As if. Maybe one day, you will be able to help me. That seems far more likely. But maybe one day, I will get back out there and start searching for answers again. Now is not that time. I’ve had some answers carved into me, into my back, my shoulder, my hands, my head. They broke my ankle, too, but I hardly even remember that most of the time because of the rest of the stuff. I have to rest. If I don’t rest, I will die or end up getting killed. If I can’t scatter when the light turns on, I’m not going to stay alive very long as a cockroach. 

You’re something stronger though. Like an owl or some shit. I don’t know. A smart animal that is strong and brave. You know there are things to be learned and work to be done and you’re smart and strong enough to get to the bottom of it. This is getting a little sappy. I think I might still be a little drunk from last night on top of the three beers that I’ve had for breakfast so I got a little mushy. Sorry. You can do it, Marissa. You don’t need me. That being said, I do feel a vitality that I haven’t felt in awhile, laying all of this out to you. It reminds me of when I first started at O.V.E.R. and was excited for what was in store for me, why I took the job in the first place. I’ll be back, but I need to be able to walk without a cane, first. Unless you want to give me that cart of yours, that is. 

So, that’s the story. Did I get back to everything that I said to put a pin in? The boulders are definitely not nothing. They are something worth torturing Mike Walters over, make of that what you will. I’d start there if you want to start poking around, but be extremely careful and do not bring the button with you under any circumstances. And don’t just walk into your dark cabin without looking around to make sure that there aren’t people in there waiting for you. Maybe by the time that I get back, you’ll be able to rant at me for 20 minutes straight like I have for you this morning. 

But that’s all I have. I guess we can… just hang out now or something? I can’t just show you the door, that would be unconscionable. If you drove straight to my apartment, you had to have started last night to get here when you did. Do you want to take a nap or something? Oh, right, night shift. Well, it’s up to you. I’m going to sit on the couch and watch western movies all day. It’s not fast-paced or exciting, but it’s the only speed that I can handle right now. I was planning on watching the Dollars trilogy, but we can skip to The Good The Bad and The Ugly if you want. I remember the first two being boring by comparison. I know that I am supposed to think they’re incredible films or whatever, but you can see each one of them building up a craft that doesn’t get executed perfectly until The Good The Bad and The Ugly. [Mike’s boring diatribe slowly fades out.] Did you know that Gian Maria Volonte, who acted in the first two Dollars movies, was a communist? Pretty awesome, considering it was an Eastwood project and everyone knows how he is. etc etc etc

[End theme plays.]

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