In this episode of Alice Isn’t Dead, the narrator makes it to Victorville and makes a fairly shocking discovery.
We begin with the narrator musing a bit about sitting, and a little bit about what had happened to her in Victorville:
My butt has gone completely numb, and my lower back is killing me. Scientists can’t seem to agree on how fatal sitting down for long periods is – except in the general sense that everything, eventually, is fatal.
But sitting sure is uncomfortable. Especially for me. I don’t like to sit down, even for a little while, if I can avoid it. Something to do with my knees, a doctor once told me. They’re set a little to the side. She took one look at my knees and said, “You don’t like to sit down, do you?” Like palm reading, but knee reading Me, I’ll just sit here, uncomfortable, and guilty about what happened in Victorville. About what I have to do next.
After Joseph Fink’s introduction, the narrator starts to go into a little bit more detail. She parks her truck somewhere, and buys a cheap used car that the owner says won’t last for a year. The narrator replies with “Who’s thinking that far ahead?” as she drives off.
She then describes Victorville in a little more detail:
I wasn’t sure where to start. Victorville is small, but not that small. A slice of suburb too far from the city to be a suburb. Strip malls, and industry, and agriculture, and the great desert close around it, making every apartment complex and shopping center seem no more permanent than the wisps of grass along the road.
The narrator starts going around to different businesses around town, not exactly asking questions but but trying to get a sense of what’s going on in the town. This doesn’t bear much fruit at first, until she comes across a fairly talkative Burger King employee who mentions something about “the other town:”
“What other town?” I asked.
“Huh?” he said. “No, no, n-no other town, or– or like, um, Apple Valley, I guess? It’s right there, you know, the other town, so…”
He wouldn’t let me steer the conversation away from the comics and soon said he had to get back to work. Wouldn’t talk to me again, only nodded vaguely when I said goodbye.
Now that she had a lead, she starts going around to the various places she has been before and starts dropping “the other town” into conversations to try and gauge people’s reactions. People don’t react well to her questioning, with the manicurist she visited before telling her that she shouldn’t talk about it, and that as long as no one talks about it, “they” leave them alone.
We then cut to one of the narrator’s interludes about Alice, this time about the time the two took a road trip together.
What’s weird, Alice, is that for all your traveling, you and I only ever took one road trip together. I liked being home. It was the only place I felt safe.
But that’s why we went. There was that summer where I got so anxious it was hard for me to function. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe the air everyone else was breathing, that oxygen had stopped working only for me.
You found me sitting on the shower floor, not having done anything but let the water wash over me for 20 minutes, and you said, “First off, there is a drought. And second, let’s go on a trip.”
I didn’t want to. You said “I always travel, but I never get to travel with you. Let’s just drive somewhere, no pressure. Throw some clothes in a bag. Throw the bag in the car. Then all you have to do is sit.”
And I nodded. “Okay. Okay, let’s go on a road trip. All I have to do is sit.”
Should be easy to remember what year this was, but it isn’t. The one with the drought. There are a lot of droughts, though. Not like this one, obviously. This one is set to empty us. This one’s the end.
Back in Victorville, the narrator has gone into a bike shop to ask about the other town. The lady at the shop really does not respond well. She gets very angry, and starts yelling at the narrator that she’ll “bring him in” and tells her to get out.
She does, however, have a little more luck at a party store. The clerk there tells her that she’ can’t just go around asking about the other town, and the narrator asks why. He responds, “Because when you talk about The Other Town, there’s a tendency for him to…oh, shit!”, and then tells her to hide. The reason for this soon becomes apparent, as a strangely familiar man comes up to the clerk:
Where I am in my life, if I’m told that I need to hide, I hide. I crouched behind a wire bin of cheap inflatable balls. The door chime rang.
“Hey, Mike,” said a voice that was not a voice I knew, but…had a familiar tone, like the accidental hollowing of the wind.
“Oh, hey, man! So…” Mike said.
“Son, no need to be worried like that. Just heard that someone might be asking around about The Other Town.”
“Oh?” said Mike.
“Yeah. Seen anyone like that?”
“Uh, not that I remember.”
“Don’t you think you’d remember if they mentioned The Other Town, son? Isn’t that the kind of thing that would stick out in your memory?”
I shifted slightly so I could see around the edge of the bin. The man was wearing a dirty polo shirt. His fingernails were yellow just below the surface, his skin stretched oddly over his face. I had never seen this man before. It wasn’t the Thistle man, but it was another man like him.
There was more than one!
“Uh, no,” Mike said, “you’re right. No. No, definitely no one asked about that.”
The other Thistle man stared at Mike for a while. I wondered if I was watching the last few seconds of his life slip away from all of us, but instead the other Thistle man turned around without speaking, and he walked out of the store.
I waited a full minute, and then I came out.
There is another Thistle man. This, while certainly a disturbing discovery, is still not the most disturbing thing in the episode. That comes towards the end.
In the meantime, however, the narrator thanks the clerk for giving her the heads up. The clerk responds with “screw you,” and tells her to get out. At this point, the narrator sees the second Thistle man head towards a nearby Vons store, and decides to follow him.
The narrator starts describing the road trip she and Alice took again. She notes that she was “terrible at being on a road trip,” but Alice seemed to be enjoying herself. She also talks about how she felt bored, and how Alice actually seemed happy about this, because it’s “a big step up from being terrified.”
They stop at a hotel for the night, where they stay in a wildlife-themed room. The narrator is delighted to find that the room’s TV gets PBS and starts watching, when Alice gets a phone call. After the call is over, Alice says that she’s going to go find a supermarket and get something for them to eat. She asks the narrator if she wants to come with, but she declines, and Alice leaves. She’s gone for a way longer time than she should have been, and
[t]he fear returned. I stared at the curtained window of the motel room, waiting to go outside to get help to do anything, but I could only wait, and wait, and wait for you to come back.
At this point, the narrator says that she’s tired, but she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to sleep after what it was she’d seen. She pulls into a rest stop, noting that she doesn’t know if she’s legally allowed to sleep there, but she’s too tired to care.
Back to the main plot of the episode: the narrator goes into the store that the Thistle man had just entered, but doesn’t see any sign of him at first. Then she finds him in the frozen foods section…
…and he was just a few feet in front of me. Back turned. His shoulders bouncing like he was laughing, but the sound was more like a man drowning. Thick, desperate gasps. He shouted no words, just sound and then back to gasping.
He then turns and leaves, without noticing the narrator. She watches him get into a car, and she gets into her own car and continues to follow him.
The narrator follows him past a factory, and past the Route 66 Museum, “a museum to road tripping, to distance, to how big and spread out America is.” She muses for a moment that “[w]e are a country defined as much by distance as by culture.”
The Thistle man passes by another factory, and eventually she follows him to what appears to be a military airport:
A small plane came in for landing, and I watched the entire thing happen. Red lights blinking their way down, and then finally touching Earth. And I realized that I hadn’t been breathing, and then I hit the curb and I screamed.
We then go back to the narrator describing the road trip. She talks about how she became more and more anxious due to Alice’s absence, and how “[o]xygen stopped working for me again.” Eventually Alice does return, and says that she tried to go to several supermarkets, but they were all closed, so she had to get food from a gas station instead. They go out onto a balcony to eat their “gas station feast,” and the narrator says that this was her favorite memory of Alice. However, she also reiterates that Alice was gone for a long time, and the length of her absence doesn’t match what she had told the narrator.
We go back to the narrator following her quarry. She follows him through a hole in a fence that she notes looks accidental, but is suspiciously just big enough to allow a car through. After she drives through the fence, she loses track of him, but does note that there seem to be a lot of dead airplanes around. She worries for a moment that it would be easy for him to sneak up behind her.
Then she notices something else. There are way more than two Thistle men.
There is an entire fucking town of them.
And Alice, God…Alice, God! Every one of them was like the Thistle man. All of them. Loose skinned, odd movements…none of them spoke, although sometimes one would laugh, long and loud, and then return to monastic silence.
And I saw him. The original him. The Thistle man. The Hungry Man. He was leaning on one of the pumps at the gas station, reading a newspaper.
It was an entire city of them. These creatures, so dangerous, so evil that a single one of them almost destroyed me. Are they, each of them, serial killers? Uncaught? Living together buried in this airplane boneyard? On an airbase. Hidden on a U.S. military airbase.
The narrator then says that this is too much for her, and she’s going to take the advice Alice gave her on the billboard in one of the earlier episodes.
She’s giving up.
There were a couple of things that I found interesting about this episode. First is that we get to learn a little bit more about the narrator’s mental state. She mentioned a couple of times before that she went to support groups and has seen a therapist, but never really why. This episode implies that she suffers from an anxiety disorder.
And, holy fucking shit that ending. An entire town of Thistle men. I also wonder where the series is going from here. Is the narrator going to change her mind and continue on? Or perhaps we’ll get the rest of the story from another perspective. We’ll have to wait to find out, I suppose.
All in all, this is a fairly fitting ending to part 1.