Keisha and Alice get to work, and encounter some new strangeness. Keisha sees a few familiar faces.
We start the episode off with Keisha narrating, describing an old, abandoned fast food restaurant across the street from a motel in St Louis. It appears to have been in this state for a while, as the windows have been papered over with some kind of stained-glass like wrap: “So, you have this little church of an old fast food joint. It’s beautiful and odd.”
She and Alice decide, just for laughs, to jump over the fence surrounding the property and walk past the drive-thru. Alice picks up the thread, saying that while the menu and a bunch of other parts are missing, the speaker system is still intact. While looking at the leaning, dilapidated drive-thru. the two of them share a moment:
We stand there a moment, and I dare to kiss her, and she dares to let me. It’s been better between us. We went through the trauma of defeat, and now we have the drive of a mission, and both have started to patch over the wounds of our past.
The moment, however, is interrupted as the speaker system suddenly starts up with a loud burst of static, followed by somewhat indistinct voices, “like a message from the dead, or from another world.”
Alice asks Keisha is the place is empty, and Keisha responds, “I’m starting to think no place is actually empty.
After the credits, Keisha takes over the narration, talking about how overwhelming a task trying to organize entire country is, but also noting that “it start with the people around you.” They start out by reaching out to those they knew, as well as some groups that Sylvia had put them in touch with before she disappeared:
We let it be known that if anyone had experiences which left them with the feeling that there was something wrong with this place, had encountered monsters or strange phenomena on the highways or on the quiet streets of their towns, they were to meet us. We set a date, a month from then, in a par in upstate New York near where I had last seen Sylvia.
Keisha adds that she hoped that she would have seen Sylvia there, but that she’s trying to keep her expectations low on that front. However, she does see at least one familiar face.
About 30 people show up to the meeting, mostly from the surrounding area, but Keisha does see at least one person she recognizes: the clerk from the sheriff’s office in Poughkeepsie who gave her and Sylvia the security footage from the night Sylvia’s mother died. The two of them smile at each other, but don’t have any further interaction.
Keisha notes that the general mood of the meeting seemed largely to be embarrassment, “that nothing we were doing here could lead to any higher process. This wasn’t an army gathering, but children dressing in their parent’s clothes.”
They then meet a familiar voice, if not face: Tanya, the man who passed on a message from Sylvia earlier. He shakes their hands, and tells them that “it’s about fucking time someone did this.”
At this point, Keisha says that she finally started to allow herself to be excited about all this, but is disappointed that Sylvia didn’t come.
Alice takes over the narration, and talks about another gathering in Baton Rouge, at a fried fish restaurant. Here, they run into a fairly colorful traveling theater troupe:
They told us that they like to tour in the South, because in the little towns, the people that need their performances really need them. They told us that it’s good, as an artist, to be useful to people in some practical, concrete way. Otherwise, what’s the point of art?
We switch back to Keisha, who brings up the experience from earlier with the abandoned drive-thru speaker. One of the troupe, names Leon, says, “So, you cam across one of the speakers.” Keisha asks him for clarification, and he says that they’ve come across some old drive-thru speakers that seem to be somehow connected to other worlds.
Alice replies “Aliens,” in a fairly scoffing manner which Keisha thinks is weirdly skeptical of her considering what they’ve experienced over the past few years. Leon responds that he’s not necessarily talking about other planets:
“More like Stephen King. You know, The Dark Tower? ‘There are other worlds than these.’ Those speakers transmit from other versions of our world.’
“Or that’s what they say,” said one of the others, trying to laugh through the long hair over her face, but not making it convincing.
“We heard it once,” said Leon. We were parked by an abandoned Burger King, eating some sandwiches, and the speakers switched on. I got close. I listened.”
Keisha asks them what they heard, but Leon doesn’t seem to be particularly keen on answering. A little bit later, they take their leave.
Alice remarks, “Well,” to which Keisha responds that this isn’t even closest to the weirdest thing they’ve experienced.
Alice’s POV kicks in, and she asks a question sometime later, as they’re driving down the road: what are the oracles, and are they even on the same side as they are? Keisha answers that she doesn’t know.
We couldn’t know. We could only believe. And belief is an uncomfortable function, no matter how natural it may be to the human mind. And yet, I believe. I believe in the oracles. I believe that they are good. I could be wrong.
A bit later, at at abandoned Taco Bell, Alice and Keisha hear the voices from the speaker again. This time, they decide to stay for a while, and wait to see what would happen, and so sit down on the curb near the drive-thru.
Alice takes over, and says that they eventually hear static as it comes to life. They decide to get closer to the speaker, and, as if in response to this, the voices start to become more distinct. It is here that Alice realizes exactly what it was that they’ve been hearing: their own voices, having a conversation about making pizza that evening.
Keisha takes over the narration at this point, and elaborates:
It was a conversation. A domestic conversation, like we had had so many times. But there were certain references. Mentions of what was happening on the news. It was all more or less what was currently happening right then.
And I realized we were hearing an us in which Alice never left, in which I never had to go looking for her, in which Thistle had never entered our lives. We were hearing an us who had never gone through any of what we had gone through, and we could listen from this grass-studded curb off a north Texas highway
Alice takes over as the narrative jumps ahead a bit, to their third meeting, in a mostly closed down mall in the Midwest. She notes that the crowd at this meeting had more than doubled from the last, with more people coming from further away. And this was all through word of mouth; they never actually put up any kind of advertising.
Keisha switches over, saying that while she still hasn’t seen Sylvia at any of the meetings, she is still seeing some familiar faces. One of those is the cashier at a convenience store in Swansea, North Carolina.
Keisha notes that the cashier had “clearly seen an aspect of Thistle” that had freaked him out somewhat. She goes to greet him, and he responds, “You asked me if I wanted to live in a world where what I saw was possible, and I thought a long time about it. And I don’t. I don’t”
Having said his piece, he nods and walks away.
Keisha then sees another familiar face:
Laurel, a Coast Guard officer from the mouth of the Coumbia River. A woman whose brother and nephew had both disappeared onto a black barge that swallowed the people who had gone to investigate it. Laurel drew me into a hug as soon as she saw me. “I’m really glad you came,” I said.
She glanced over at Alice. “Oh, well,” she said. “Maybe in a different life, maybe in a kinder world.” She squeezed my arm. I”m so glad you’re doing this.”
Alice sees this, and isn’t too impressed, asking, “OK, who was that?” And my first reaction to this is a very deeply felt uh-oh.
Keisha then starts talking about how, from then on out, they would stop and listen every time they came to an abandoned fast food restaurant. It was always her and Alice, having some kind of conversation in, as Laurel put it, “a kinder world.” This is something that makes her cry every time she hears it.
Alice, however, feels an entirely different emotion:
It scared me. It felt like a ghost story, but we-the ones on the road-were the ghosts. And there was this other us in the speakers. Those two in there were the ones who had lived, and we hadn’t somehow. We had left our lives behind, and now we haunted ourselves.
She adds that it makes her feel like her current life isn’t real, the one coming to them through the speakers is.
Keisha picks up again, saying that Alice has taken over driving. She brings the point about the oracles up again, asking what they are, and where they came from. Alice responds with “the only answer any of us have: ‘How the fuck should I know?””
Alice again, saying that they’ve mostly stopped moving around, other than to get to the meetings they’ve set. What they do at this point is they stay near an old drive-thru for a while and just listen. “We hardly talked. Those other versions of ourselves talked for us.”
Keisha takes over, as Alice has gone to sleep. She’s listening to a conversation of the two of them heading back to their car after a date night, flirting and just generally having a good time. She hears themselves close the door, and then drive off. But then, she notices something that hasn’t happened before: instead of following them on the drive home, it stays in the parking lot.
Keisha wakes Alice up because she feels that the speaker is trying to tell them something, and she gets the feeling that it’s something that she doesn’t particularly want to hear.
Alice then tells what that message is:
It sounded like nothing, like everyday life, but we sat in dead silence, listening. And then, we heard a man screaming. We heard him pleading.
“Look at all those people in there.” A different voice cut through the static, as though the owner of the voice was standing right next to us and we jumped. Because it was the voice of the Thistle Man, the first one Keisha had met.
“I want you to look at them in there, right through those windows in that lit building, and not one of them knows that you’re about to die.” A whimper.
“No one’s going to help you,” he said. And he was right. We listened to him being right for several horrible minutes, and then the signal cut out with a squeal.
Keisha again, this time saying that she either hadn’t thought about it, or didn’t want to, but clearly the world that they were listening in on wasn’t a kinder world. Thistle and Bay & Creek still existed there, but Alice and Keisha weren’t doing anything to combat them: “We were letting it happen so we could live out our quiet lives. In that world, we too were part of the monster.”
After this, they stop listening at drive-thru speakers. “This is the world we live in, so this is the world we’ll change.”
Alice picks up the thread again, this time describing their tenth meeting. At this meeting, the crowd had grown to the point where they need a sound system to address it, adding that they want “someone to tell them they weren’t alone in what they had seen, and they wanted some way forward on what to do about it.”
She says that she’s not sure that’s something that they have, but that they might be able to find it together.
Keisha again, with her closing statements:
As always, we started by calling on the crowd to share stories of what they had seen. Of strange men with sagging faces. of powerful beings disguised as humans wearing hoodies. Of things seen on the road that didn’t fit the narrative this country had made for itself. There is a power in telling your own stories. The ones we knew were true, the ones we hadn’t realized anyone would believe.
I didn’t know what we had here Not yet. But I knew it was real. I felt the crackle of it. I thought it could be what took us through to the end, whatever that end may be.
This was an interesting episode. It kind of follows from what the previous episode was saying: that we can’t make “a kinder world,” as Laurel puts it, unless we all work at it. In a way, the speakers were kind of working towards that end: showing what the world could be like.
At the same time, though, the fact that Alice and Keisha for a while spend so much time listening to that other world shows that the speakers can engender a type of complacency. They were so busy listening that they almost forgot what they needed to do, which the last drive-thru reminded them of.
Also, judging from the title of the next episode, as well as Alice’s “who was that,” I’m thinking that Alice and Keisha are going to end up going through another rough patch.
(And just as a reminder, if you enjoy what I’m doing here, you can always make a donation! Right now, I have three avenues: my Patreon, Ko-Fi, and PayPal. Your support would mean a lot to me, and would help me continue doing this. Thanks!)