Fandom: The Black Tapes Podcast
Pairing: Alex Reagan/Richard Strand
Summary: “We could have died,” she repeats slowly. “I could have died.” Suddenly it’s the funniest- most ridiculous- thing she’s ever heard.
Dr. Strand drives them back to the motel. Alex protests- it’s her car and her name on the reservation- but after three fumbling, abortive attempts to put the key in the ignition, he silently takes the key ring from her, and she doesn’t argue anymore. She slides into the passenger’s seat instead, pulling her knees up against her chest and staring out the window as they drive. The night air smells faintly like smoke.
When they get back, he follows her into the room without saying anything. It’s a single room with two beds- the motel isn’t fancy enough for anything else- and a small attached kitchenette with a coffeepot and hot plate. Dr. Strand slips behind the partition, and after a few minutes, Alex hears the sound of the coffee starting to drip. She wraps her arms around herself, shivering. Autumn is cold in the Adirondacks, and she’s only wearing a light jacket. The motel either hasn’t turned the heat on yet, or they just have a really shitty heater, because it’s no warmer in their room than it is outside.
Or. Maybe it’s something else. That’s always possible.
There’s a howling sound outside, and she turns towards the window, hunched shoulders tensing. They’ve seen nothing tonight that would make a noise like that, supernatural or otherwise- no black dogs, no werewolves, no chupacabras- but she can’t help but feel that there’s something weird and otherworldly to it, something she should be running from. Reasonably- logically, as Dr. Strand would say- they’re safe behind the walls and locked door of the motel. But a good chunk of Dr. Strand’s logical conclusions have already been smashed to pieces by the things they’ve seen tonight: a monster that can walk through walls doesn’t seem so far-fetched.
She turns. Dr. Strand is standing in the kitchen doorway with a mug in each hand. He holds one out. “Coffee? There’s milk and sugar, if you want it.”
“Thanks.” She takes it from him, wrapping both hands around the mug. It’s so hot, it almost scalds her palms, but she holds on tight anyway. It’s kind of comforting. Like having a fireplace burning, only instead of light, it’s murky brown liquid. She thinks about dumping a sugar packet in to make it less bitter. She thinks about adding milk to make it lighter. She thinks about whether or not throwing it in a monster’s face would buy her any time if one came through the door.
The howling sound returns, and she hunches her shoulders further, taking an involuntary step towards the window. “Did you hear that?”
“Yes. Dr. Strand reaches past her to pull the curtain shut. “It’s just the wind.”
“Right.” She nods. “Wind.” There are plenty of branches for it to blow through, after all; of course the wind would sound different out here in the wilderness than it does in downtown Seattle. She’s just not used to the outdoors, is all. “I thought- it might have been-“
“I know.” Dr. Strand’s face is always hard to read, but she thinks she sees a softening around his eyes, mouth turned downwards in something like concern. “It’s nothing. We’re perfectly safe in here.”
She brings the coffee to her mouth. It’s black and bitter and burns her tongue, but she sips it anyway. “Okay.”
“When we get back to the city,” he says, “we need to tell Nic we won’t be going out on any more of these excursions.”
This startles her. “We won’t?”
Now the turn of his mouth looks more like anger. “No. We won’t.”
“But I’m a reporter,” she says blankly, still clutching the mug. Her fingers are red from the heat. “Investigating stories is what I do. I’m a journalist.” A journalist whose job has somehow expanded to covering Satanic monks, astral projecting murderers, and evil Ouija boards- but still, a journalist. It’s her job. Her job. Somehow those two words have become the most important thing to her: if she just keeps saying them, then the events of the past several hours will somehow become normal. The gaping pit under her feet, the otherworldly screams, the twisted, monstrous faces- that’s normal for a reporter isn’t it? It’s just her job. Job. Jobjobjobjobjobjob-
“Alex.” She doesn’t realized how far out she’s drifted until Dr. Strand takes her by the shoulders and gives her a small shake, bringing her back to reality. The coffee sloshes in her mug, threatening to spill over the edges. “We could have died tonight. You could have died. Nic can’t ask that of you.”
“We could have died,” she repeats slowly. “I could have died.” Suddenly it’s the funniest- most ridiculous- thing she’s ever heard. Her, dying? How nonsensical. Of course she’s not going to die. She’s going to keep working at Pacific Northwest, and eventually work her way up to the top, and then leave to start her own radio station and maybe somewhere along the way she’ll get married and have kids, but first she’s going to travel to Italy and Egypt and take pictures of herself at the Basilicaand the pyramids and make herself world-famous breaking some new story- maybe an archaeological discovery or some groundbreaking new piece of art or even a political scandal that will blow Congress apart. She’s going to die when she’s good and ready, tucked into bed surrounded by her family after she lives to a ripe old age. She’s definitely not going to be ripped to pieces by ageless demonic forces summoned by knife-wielding Satanists in the forests of New York State, or be stabbed to death by the Satanists themselves, or (no matter how much the thought may have kept her up at night) die of mysterious, unknown causes a year to the day after hearing the Unsound. Of course that’s not going to happen.
That would be ridiculous.
A giggle hiccups its way past her lips, followed by another. Then another. She can’t help it; she feels like her feet will leave the ground and she’ll float away any minute now, she’s come so untethered. Or maybe that lifting feeling in the pit of her stomach is a sign of impending vomit. Maybe Dr. Strand’s coffee is really that bad. The thought just makes her giggle more, and she opens her mouth to try and explain why she’s laughing to Dr. Strand- who’s looking at her like she’s lost her mind- but all that comes out is a wheezing sound. Maybe she is dying after all.
“Alex,” he says again, urgently. She wants to tell him it’s fine, but she can’t seem to summon up the words, or even unwrap her fingers from around the mug. He solves the second problem for her, tugging it from her grasp and setting it on the table, before he takes her firmly by the shoulders. “Alex, I need you to take a deep breath. Can you do that for me?”
Obediently, she tries, but finds that her lungs have apparently locked up and are refusing to let any more air in. She can’t talk around the giggles- which have blossomed into full-blown peals of laughter- but her surprise must show on her face, because he squeezes her shoulders. “Okay. Can you follow my voice? I’m going to count backwards from ten. Try and pay attention.”
The words coming out of his mouth are distorted, all draggy syllables and nonsense sounds- teh, nah, eiii, seffn, sih- but she tries to follow anyway, occasionally managing to squeak out something resembling the right number in time with him. When they’re done, he nods encouragingly. “Good. That’s good.”
“’m,” she says. The laughter is still coming, but at least it seems to be slowing down. “’m- cold.”
Dr. Strand hesitates, hands still on her shoulders, but she makes the decision for him and tilts forward. He catches her almost immediately, and she relaxes- as much as she can, anyway- into his grip, pressing her face so hard against his chest that she can feel the buttons on his shirt cutting into her face. With her eyes closed, she’s entirely surrounded by the faint smells of soap and cologne and laundry detergent and the sound of his heartbeat beneath her ear- no more wood-smoky smell or howling sounds. No more red knives behind her eyes. She takes several deep breaths as he pats her shoulder awkwardly, and slowly, her breathing begins to slow. As the feeling of hysteria recedes, embarrassment takes its place, and she takes a step backwards. “Uh. Sorry about that.”
“It’s no trouble.” His shirtfront is wrinkled, but he doesn’t take any steps to smooth it down. “It’s been an eventful evening.”
“Tell me about it.” For a second, she’s afraid she’s going to start laughing again, but the feeling passes, leaving her at a loss for words. “Um. When do you want to drive back?”
“Tomorrow morning, I should think.” He turns away from her, fiddling with the coffeepot. She’s grateful; it gives her some time to compose herself. “Neither of us are in a fit state to be driving on the highway right now. We should get some rest before we set out.”
Alex looks at the two twin beds. Sleeping on motel sheets has never seemed so appealing; she’s so tired all of a sudden, she doesn’t even want to pause and change into pajamas. Instead she toes out of her shoes, climbs underneath the quilt, and kicks her jeans off. She can sleep in her t-shirt.
Before she closes her eyes she lifts her head from the pillow, a sudden thought sending chills through her. “Is the door locked?”
Dr. Strand crosses from the kitchenette to the door giving the handle a firm pull. It rattles, but doesn’t budge. “It’s locked.”
“And the windows?”
“The windows are locked as well.” He pulls back a corner of the curtain to show her. “No one-“ He pauses, “-no thing can get in.”
She lowers her head again. “Thanks.”
“Would you prefer the lights turned off?”
She shakes her head against the pillow eyelids already drooping. “It’s fine.”
“Very well, then.” His footsteps retreat back towards the kitchenette. “Good night. Sleep well.”
She hides a small, shaky smile under the quilt. “Good night.”