Welcome to Magic Weirdos, an audio drama series about arcane goofballs and their many many problems. You’re listening to season 1: pockets.
Chapter 6: How do you spell espionage?
SFX: Sloppy acoustic guitar practice
Cooper waved his left arm, as if to try and shake out the fire burning in his tender fingertips. His dad stepped out of the bathroom in his grey jumpsuit and socked feet, holding his shoes in his hand.
“Any luck?” Dad asked.
“I can do D to C, but I can’t move fast enough for C to G. I got close a couple times but my fingers are still touching the other strings.”
“Let’s see it.”
SFX: Sloppy acoustic guitar practice
“Ugh. I can’t even remember what it’s supposed to sound like. Can you show me again?”
“You got it right! It’s just a matter of muscle memory. Let me see that.”
SFX: Handing guitar over
SFX: Smooth guitar riff
“Cobain. Prince. Hendrix. Van Halen. Every guitar player you ever heard of had trouble with the switch from C to G. If you keep at it, you’ll be shredding by Christmas.”
“Shoot yeah. It’s in your blood. The day after you was born I turned the radio on while you were asleep. They say it’s good for babies to hear music. Something about patterns and stuff. That song from Back to the Future had just come out, and it was playing. My hand to god, you smiled and started wiggling your foot. I knew right then and there that the world would get some good music cause of you. But first you gotta have trouble with the switch from C to G just like everybody else.”
SFX: Handing guitar back
“I gotta run. You got any homework?”
“I did it on the bus.”
“Good, good. Mamaw brought a casserole for us to eat on, so it’s in there when you’re ready to eat. In bed by 9, you hear?”
Cooper’s Dad grabbed his keys and pushed open the screen door to their trailer. He laughed to himself. “My ass. Still gonna be playing that thing at midnight when I get home.”
“Hey, how do you spell ‘espionage’?” Cooper asked as the group shimmied into black cloth body suits and rubber zombie masks they’d bought at a Spirit Halloween store. At least, most of them had bought rubber zombie masks. Hazel had opted for a more natural-looking disguise.
“I bet we look so badass,” she said, pinning the fake mustache to her lip.
“You two are way too much alike,” Eric said, taking off his watch and cramming it in the center console between stacks of outdated insurance cards.
He patted the dashboard of his car. The drive to Athens was only supposed to take an hour, but he’d had to stop once to let the engine cool and add a quart of oil. He’d almost mistakenly added the bottle of fake blood that Hazel had gotten from the Halloween store, but she’d noticed in time to honk the horn in his face before he poured it into the engine. Either way, the old girl had made it. He was proud of her.
Somehow, Cooper had known that one of GillCo’s original factories was in a town called Athens, just a short drive northeast of Chattanooga. They had decided it was at least a decent place to start looking for information. The building had allegedly been abandoned since the late-90s, but the property had never been sold. Eric imagined there had to be some amount of shady shit happening there. If not, maybe there might at least be a trail to some. It was the only lead they had, so he had to hope.
Hey, he prayed without speaking, twisting the diamond stud in his nose. I think I’m doing it. I think… I think this is the thing you always talked about. The thing that you said would find its way to me. I know you’re not gonna help me. Whether you won’t or you literally can’t, I dunno. I was never good at understanding how those rules actually worked, no matter how hard you tried. I know not to expect help. I can’t blame you, either. I made my choices.
Eric blinked. The others continued to talk amongst themselves, distorted and faded to him.
I hope this doesn’t hurt you, for me to still talk to you like this. I don’t want that. I also hope… I mean, of course I hope this is the thing that makes everything better. Of course I hope that. But if it isn’t — if that thing doesn’t exist — I don’t wanna know. Hope is all I have anymore.
So, just mute me or whatever if that’s something you can do. But I’ve gotta keep talking, even if you don’t talk back. Even if…
“Eric?” Hazel asked, snapping her fingers in front of him. “You spaced. You ready?”
“Sorry,” he said. His contacts were dry after staring for so long. His vision was blurry for several seconds. “Long day. Let’s go.”
He unplugged the vape from its charger, swung open the door with an obnoxious creak that was not ideal for a stealth mission, and stepped out of the car.
Eric had parked in the gravel drive of a neighboring private storage warehouse that didn’t seem to be part of the gillco complex. The only light was a flickering streetlamp on the far corner of the property, so he had been able to conceal the car in the shadows. The only other vehicle was a delivery van for a knockoff cookie company called “Smallish Deborah Happy Snax”.
A chain link fence with a barbed wire coil lined the entirety of the factory’s perimeter.
“You got this?” Eric asked Hazel. She was already drawing with her special notebook and crayons.
“Mmmhmm!” She answered, biting her tongue. A pair of wire cutters blinked into existence on the ground. “Snip snip, mofos!” she said, snagging them up and skipping like a schoolkid to the fence. As she knelt in the gravel and began cutting a fold in the fencing one wire at a time, she spoke to the fence as though she were a doctor giving it a vasectomy.
“All done, Mr. Fencington. You’ll want to wear loose pants for a few days.”
“Were you not worried that thing was electrified or something?” Eric asked.
“Nah!” she said. “This place is abandoned, right?” She pulled open an impromptu metal curtain for the entourage to pass through. “This way, if you please,” she said, putting an arm behind her back like a butler.
The parking lot on the other side was wet and slick. The blacktop was sun faded after years of neglect. Potholes large and small freckled the pavement, and any paint lines to indicate individual parking spots had long since washed away.
“Wait,” said Giselle. Without explanation, she morphed into a golden owl and flew toward a far corner of the building. Eric couldn’t see in the darkness, but after a few moments, he heard a series of pecking sounds followed by a crack.
When she returned, she had something clenched in her talons. She dropped it to the pavement with a clatter — a surveillance camera with a cracked lens and severed wires. Giselle returned to human form before she’d landed, grunting and lifting her bad leg up as she hit the ground.
The camera showed no sign of age and was more compact than any security camera would have been in the 90s when this place had shut down.
“More advanced than most would use for security on an abandoned building, don’t you think?”
“I’d call that a good sign,” Eric said. There was something here worth protecting, and he was willing to bet there would be more than a couple of cameras to protect it.
They snooped around the building with Eric in the lead and Hazel bringing up the rear, stopping twice for Giselle to destroy other cameras.
“Do you not think they’ll get suspicious when all their cameras are offline?” Cooper asked.
“There’s a certain trick to it,” she responded with pride. “You must give them a bit of a show first, so they think it’s truly a bird. Peck at the lens, flap your wings, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a whole song and dance.”
“You’ve done this before?” Eric asked.
Giselle laughed. “It’s a bit of a hobby of mine. I like to use my unique skillset to cause… eh… headaches… for certain corporations who fail to show nature the humility it deserves.”
“Oh my God, you’re a punk druid,” Hazel said.
“I’ve been called worse,” Giselle said.
Eventually, they found a rusted metal door. With little more than a grunt to betray that it was taxing on her small frame to do so, Hazel pulled a loose brick out of the crumbling wall and broke off the doorknob. The door swung open, rust flaking off of the hinges as it did. On the other side was a dark corridor with no windows or doors that Eric could make out.
Radio static echoed off of the walls from an adjacent corridor.
SFX: Radio “Did you hear something in the north wing?”
SFX: Radio “Sounded like the damn door fell off the hinges. I’m going to look now.”
SFX: Radio “Copy.”
Using his keen hearing, Cooper ushered the group away from the footsteps.
He froze in his tracks when he saw the blinking red light of a camera overhead. “Do we have a… quieter option to get rid of those things?” he asked.
“On it,” Hazel said. He could only see her outline, but he heard the gentle taps of the crayon on paper.
SFX: Slingshot noise
SFX: cracking glass
“Is that a damn slingshot?” Eric demanded. “He said quieter!”
The light blinked out as a dainty trill of powdered lens glass spilled onto the tile floor.
“Well it worked didn’t it?” she shrugged.
The hallways were long, and the doors were unmarked and plentiful. Eric knew the further they ventured down the corridors, the more thoroughly they were ensuring that their enemies could surround them. Tension lodged itself in a knot between his shoulder and rib cage. He turned to Giselle.
“Could you, I dunno. Turn into a spider or cockroach or something and scout ahead?”
“I try to avoid becoming creatures that are quite so… squishable,” she responded. “And I only have so much energy. An insect now means perhaps sacrificing something larger later.”
Cooper held up a hand to shush them, then extended his palms down the hallway. Through the walls, Eric heard uncontrollable sobbing. Yet, Cooper gestured for them to move forward. A few meters ahead, they passed a security office with several monitors and computers they could see through a reinforced window. The single largest man Eric had ever seen in his life was doubled over in a rolling chair, sobbing into his hands.
“What did you do?” he asked.
“You know how I can make people hear their favorite songs?” Cooper whispered.
“Sometimes I can find the one that bums you out the most. That guy is hearing the Sarah McLaughlin ASPCA jam.”
“Poor guy,” said Hazel. “Hey, how do you know so much about this place?”
“My dad worked here,” Cooper said under his breath.
As they talked, Eric gripped the vape in his hand with both astonishment and resentment. What the hell was he doing here with these people? He wasn’t one of them. Not really… not anymore. Anything special about him was something he’d created to fill the void she’d left. His verbanum was magical. He was not. He had no business here; he could only get in the way. He wondered if it was punishment. Some poetic twist of fate that she had some amount of control over, putting these people in his path with power like he used to have, knowing full well he wouldn’t dare say no to helping them.
But he was here. And he couldn’t go home. There was nothing to do but plow forward. To keep ripping his way through the walls of the maze and helping the other people who’d gotten stuck.
To hope something he did was good enough to get her attention before he got himself killed.
“Here…” Cooper said, placing his ear against a door. It was the only marked entrance they’d seen, and the sign above it was faded cardstock with flayed corners and a thick layer of dust.
“Archives,” it read.
A door swung open and latched shut.
SFX: Door closing
There was a heavy footfall of boots.
A man cleared his throat of phlegm left by a cathartic cry.
Cooper twisted the knob, which, to all their surprise, was unlocked. They ducked inside as the gleam of a flashlight bounced off the wall across from them.
After the footsteps had passed, Eric closed his eyes and exhaled.
“Thank you,” he whispered, not knowing if he was thanking the right person.
The room was packed, floor to ceiling and wall to wall, with unmarked filing cabinets. Each of the four of them started in their own corners of the room and worked their way across, looking for everything and anything at all. Personnel records, patent filings, memos, finances, and other things that were much too boring for Cooper to be able to understand. They worked in silence for nearly an hour in a steady rhythm of ruffling paper and sliding drawers. All the while, Cooper couldn’t help but to keep his eye out for one name in particular.
They found no shortage of corruption. Sports, drugs, fringe politics, advertising, publishing, law enforcement… GillCo had money in anything there was to put money into. And the fun didn’t stop there. The archives didn’t seem to contain any documents made after 1999, yet there were folders upon folders of documented coverups of employee abuse, as well as lengthy blacklists of employees whose offenses ranged from unionization attempts to salary inquiries.
“Have we found anything else?” Eric asked.
In his own corner, Cooper’s eyes latched onto an employee file.
BRANDON A. BRAKE
LOCATION: ATHENS, TN
DATE OF TERMINATION: 4/5/1995
REASON FOR TERMINATION: DECEASED
FINAL COMPENSATION: $1,327.05
PAYOUT DATE: N/A; WITHHELD FOR DAMAGES OWED
NEXT OF KIN: COOPER B. BRAKE, SON
“Nothing we didn’t already know,” Cooper said, pocketing the paper. He sat cross-legged to reach a lower drawer, his knees and ankles cracking as he did.
SFX: Opening drawer
He was immediately curious to see none of the monotonous, neatly packed rows of manilla envelopes and unmarked yellow file folders he had grown used to. Instead, in the very bottom of the drawer was a small brown briefcase. A thin, blue label ribbon was stuck across the top left corner which read: “ASSET 14: UNCHARGED”
“What the heck is that?” Hazel asked, dropping to her knees beside him.
He fidgeted with the latches. “I dunno. It’s locked,” he said, already hearing the gentle tap of crayon on construction paper. “Are you drawing a lockpick?”
As he said this, a pogo stick materialized and clattered onto the floor in front them. “I was trying to,” she shrugged. “Doesn’t always work out. It’s more art than science.”
“What now?” Cooper asked.
In two fierce movements, Hazel slammed the pogo stick into an emergency station on the wall between two cabinets.
SFX: Shattering glass
Cooper hardly had time to slide away from the briefcase before a fireman’s axe slammed into the front of it, slicing clean through and sparking on the floor. Unsure of what happened, Eric and Giselle jumped as well, causing a hollow thud of metal as they flattened their bodies against the filing cabinets.
Hazel dropped the axe and ripped open what was left of the briefcase. She held up an old, yellow supermarket label gun.
“Well that’s just weird enough to need to keep,” she said.
She handed it to Cooper. It felt cheaply made. A screw was missing from the bottom of the handle and the two panels of plastic on either side of the trigger were pulling apart. The handle was browned from years of being used by smudgy hands. It was loaded with a roll of stickers that looked half-used, and a short tail of a few inches of paper sticker backing hung out of the rear.
“As is this…” said Giselle, holding up a thick folder. “Says ‘Property of Natalie do not fucking touch that means you Ray.’”
“Huh,” said Cooper. “Well what’s in it-?”
SFX: Gunshots, silenced
The door flew open so violently one of the hinges was knocked off. A bullet pierced through Cooper’s shoulder. He heard a gasp and a squish as another penetrated flesh. There were too many shots to count quickly. He slumped into the side of the cabinet and slid to the floor. His hearing sharpened as it did whenever his heart rate rose.
MUSIC: Cooper soundscape
A bubbling noise.
One of the guards had an arythmic heartbeat. The frenzied sound of something being tucked in a waistband, and something else into a bra. The smell of cotton candy and pinecones. The pain receded a bit, but the tears still stung his eyes. He heard punches. The grack of gun stocks on bones.
SFX: Pistol whip
The shots stopped as quickly as they started. Items and bodies clattering to the floor. Breaths, groans, curses. The squeak of friction as skin was dragged across flooring. His? His.
Consciousness faded from him.
SFX: Acoustic guitar practice
Cooper found himself in a dream he had often. It was 1995. He remembered it well. The days that came after it… not so much. Grief had a funny way of clouding things. But this… this, he remembered. He was sitting on the floor of their trailer, playing guitar and practicing that damn switch from C to G. It was nearly 10 o’clock. Dad wasn’t supposed to be home for more than two hours, which was precisely why Cooper was alarmed to hear his truck coming up the driveway.
SFX: Truck approaching
He put the guitar in its case, ripped off his clothes, threw on the shirt he’d slept in the night before, and dove into bed without taking the time to turn off the lights in the living room.
“Cooper?” Dad called from the living room. “Coop, come on, I know you’re awake. Put your shoes on.” His voice was scared. And angry. But not at him. He never called him “Coop” when he was in trouble.
Cooper climbed out of bed and pulled his jeans on. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong. I just… I just need to show you something. Get in the truck. I’ll be out there in a minute.”
Cooper slipped his shoes on while Dad went into the bedroom. He heard the ruffle of clothes in the closet, and the clicking latch of the gunsafe.
MUSIC: Mysterious, intense
Dad drove under the speed limit, constantly looking in the rearview and tugging on his collar.
“Alright. When we get there… keep your hands in your pockets. Fingers ain’t bleeding from practice, are they?”
“Good. Still. Hands in pockets. Don’t say a word, don’t make a noise, and do exactly what I tell you to do exactly when I tell you to do it. Understood?”
“Where are we going?”
“Back to work.”
Dad parked by the loading dock, ushered Cooper into a side door, and along a maze of halls and unmarked doors. After a minute or two of walking, Dad grabbed a rolling mop bucket that had been left in the middle of the floor. He whistled.
A man carrying a toolbox rounded a corner. “Hey, Brando! Who’s this fella?”
“Hey Larry. This is my son, Coop. Tomorrow’s his birthday, all he wanted was to come to work with me tonight and skip school tomorrow.”
Cooper looked up at his father. His birthday wasn’t for another three months.
“Well happy birthday, big dog!” Larry said, walking away. “Hang in there, Brando. One more hour.”
“I hear ya,” Dad said, pushing his bucket once more.
Eventually, they came to a door with a shiny plate above it that read “Archives”. He looked over his shoulder and unlocked the door with a keychain the size of a softball.
Inside, file cabinets stretched from the floor to the ceiling with only narrow paths between them to walk along.
“Alright, Coop. Take a look.”
He did as he was told. It looked just like any boring office. “I… I don’t get it,” he said.
Dad dropped to his knees and fished a small stack of papers, stapled together, from underneath one of the cabinets.
Still on his knees, he looked up at his son. “I can’t give you a lot, Cooper. But I do my best with what I got. I don’t expect you to know that now. But one day I hope you do.”
“Dad, you’re freaking me out.”
“Everything’s fine. Everything’s fine. It’s okay.” Dad hugged him, and held up the papers. “I want you to think of everybody you know. Every name you can think of. That’s a lot of people, right?”
“Now. Imagine all the people you don’t know. Billions of ‘em. You can’t ever know ‘em all. But they all have… good days. And bad days. And hopes and dreams. And birthdays. And stories to tell. Problems they gotta figure out all on their own…”
“Like switching from C to G.”
“Yeah. Exactly. Like switching from C to G. This room… them cabinets. They’re filled with names. And stories. Thousands of them… People who never had a chance.
“Coop, if you never listen to anything else I say, listen to this and remember it. All in the world any of us have is each other. Your mama taught me that. And if somebody like you… or me… ever sees a way to give somebody else a fightin’ chance… we gotta do it. It’s all we got.”
And then, Cooper and Dad… left. They left the mop bucket in the middle of the hall. They left the keys in the door. But Dad folded the papers and put them in his jumpsuit. Cooper fell asleep on the way home as “Rooster” by Alice in Chains played on the radio.
When they got home, Cooper went to bed, and Dad called someone on the phone. Cooper dreamed about being on a stage. People cheered as he swapped from C to G and back again, over and over.
The next morning, of course, would be when Cooper found Dad with his throat slit open on the couch. That’s when the memory stopped being so clear. It fogged and fuzzed around the edges. The last thing Cooper could ever remember was kneeling in a puddle of Dad’s blood, and his fingers being too slippery to dial the phone.
That’s when he always woke up. And this time, he woke up with his hands tied next to his new friends, and in a blood puddle of his own.
This concludes chapter 6 of Pockets. Thank you for listening. New episodes are released every other Tuesday.
Magic Weirdos is an independent production with limited resources, and word of mouth is essential to the show’s success. If you enjoyed the show, please consider sharing it with your friends and family to help spread the word. Thanks again
Stay Weird. The World depends on it.