Chapter 9

Fort Natalie


Welcome to Magic Weirdos. An audio fiction series about arcane goofballs and their many, many problems. You’re listening to season 1 - Pockets.

Chapter 9 - Fort Natalie

The train ride had been long, and Aiden had only slept in fits. When he did, he dreamed of the mother he’d never see again, even if he did manage to escape. He dreamed of one Christmas morning when he was small. For some reason, he remembered the little, generic toy robot he’d gotten that year. What was it called? Robo-Pal? Robo-something. It had a loose necktie and a backward baseball cap. Aiden figured he was probably unfairly young to long for the simplicity of youth, but he did so nonetheless.

He looked out the window as the train slowed. He’d never seen so much snow standing on the ground in his life. He’d never lived outside of Tennessee or Georgia, where even flurries were uncommon. As the train slowed and approached the platform, he watched in wonder from afar as a plow effortlessly cleared a single street of enough snow to kill electricity and travel for a week back home.

He turned to Natalie. “You’re gonna kill me and hide my body in the snow, aren’t you? Just like on all the podcasts.”

His captor stared back at him, confused.

“It’s like radio, but it’s only about murderers.”

Natalie scratched her chin as the train creaked and groaned to a stop. “Hm. Good idea. But no. Not unless you piss me off.” She reached into the pocket of her jacket. Aiden heard a click. She winked. “Jesus Christ, calm down. C’mon.”

A voice crackled through a busted intercom as they shuffled through the narrow aisles and toward the exit.

SFX: Intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor speaking. We’ve arrived at the Rouse’s Point platform. Last stop before customs and the U.S.-Canadian border.”

They were the only passengers disembarking. An older white man, who had a booming voice that Aiden had heard through the thin walls for the entirety of the journey, shouted at him through a crack in his cabin’s door.

“You’re gonna want some sleeves, there, young fella!”

Aiden felt the gun through Natalie’s jacket pocket, poking him in the small of his back. “Not a word,” she said.

Natalie shimmied through the train, guiding her young ward silently. She had no intention of shooting him — the gun wasn’t even loaded. This was, without question, the most reckless and short-sighted series of actions she’d ever taken in her life. In her youth, she’d been… certainly not cautious. But calculating. She’d never made a move without knowing what her next two moves would be. Backup plans for backup plans. She’d obviously have preferred some kind of contingency, but it was a luxury she couldn’t afford just yet. All things considered… what more did she have to lose? Sometimes you have to rely on chaos to either get the job done or kill you quick.

The train was mostly empty. As she walked to the end of her car, she made a point of looking into each private room. She wondered why anyone would ever need to take a train to Rouse’s Point. What were they running from?

There was a loud man in a collared shirt in a car with an uncomfortable-looking woman. He probably just didn’t like flying, she thought.

There was a mother and young daughter sleeping — their heads resting on each other. The girl looked sick… pale as a ghost and rail thin, even for a kid. Probably risking a hop over the border for cheap medicine to smuggle back in a Pez Dispenser.

Then, there was someone else. A woman in her thirties. She was alone and reading a Stephen King book.

“He’s still writing?” Natalie thought.

The woman had a haircut Natalie had never seen. It was dyed silver and long but shaved on the sides. She had a loop ring in her left nostril. She wore jeans and a red and white checkered flannel, and a puffy black coat was draped over her lap.

Natalie couldn’t tell if she wanted to kiss her or kill her. Jealousy was compounded by admiration and attraction. She never got to be that person. Ray saw to that.

The heat that prickled in her chest remained even as she stepped onto the platform and into freezing air. The station hadn’t changed much in thirty years. It was short and squat, made almost entirely of brick, and had half-moon bay windows along its front side. To one end of the building was a conical structure almost like a tower, with a sharp pointed roof. It looked like a haunted house – a remnant of the early industrial revolution, frozen in time. It might well be haunted, she thought. She remembered local yokels back in the day telling a story about how the station was built on the site of a burned-down hotel.

“What now?” The boy asked.

“We walk,” Natalie said.

And they did. They walked through the lazy streets of the quaint little town. They walked along streets mostly cleared of snow for two miles. As passersby, they were privy to several conversations about the early snow, as well as idle gossip about Jean Freemont, an old hippie whose grandson had apparently started dealing fentanyl.

After half an hour of freezing feet and burning lungs, Natalie and Aiden reached the water’s edge and stared across the choppy surface of the Richelieu River. Jutting out of the river was a miniature marina. Several uncovered bays with walkways on each side held motorboats of varying ages and qualities, bobbing on the wake. No one was on the dock, but a few men stood beside pickup trucks in the parking lot, laughing and avoiding going home. With the confidence of someone who’d done it a thousand times, Natalie stepped onto the wooden dock, found a boat with a key in the ignition, and climbed inside. It was faded powder blue with a sparkling white stripe. Cheap, peeling mailbox letters reading the name “Rocky Balboata” adorned the side like a ransom note, and the floor and seats were covered with a thick layer of snow.

“You’re fucking crazy,” Aiden said. “This could be theirs. What if they come after us?”

“It’s not theirs. One of those men owns that boat…” she pointed over her shoulder to a vessel with a nylon cover and wet footprints on the wood leading away from it. “The others are probably just nice enough to him for him to let them get drunk on it and pretend to know how to fish. This boat was uncovered, and the key was left inside. By the looks of it, it hasn’t left the dock since early spring, which means whoever owns it either died or lost it in the divorce. Get in and help me scoop this snow out.”

The boy did as he was told.

SFX: Boat engine starting

Within ten minutes, Natalie was ripping the pull cord and holding her breath as months of stagnant gas coughed out of the exhaust.

When he was in second grade, Aiden’s class often watched video presentations from a company called Family Friends. Family Friends’ logo consisted of paper doll children holding hands. The subject matter of Family Friends’ videos did not, in Aiden’s opinion, match the tone of their cheerful logo. Topics ranged from a 6-year-old drug mule to a 12-year-old girl convicted of manslaughter when she blacked out from period cramps and dropped a candle on a stack of newspapers, burning her house down and killing her hoarder of a grandmother — only managing to escape herself with a nice collection of 3rd-degree burns. As a matter of fact, the school guidance counselor often held group sessions following Family Friends video days.

One such video Aiden could recall was about a kidnapping victim who had been tied up and set afloat when his ransom wasn’t paid. It had not gone well for him. Authorities had found his body still tied and gagged on the boat, starved and picked apart by birds.

Unfortunately, nothing from the video was of use to him now. Family Friends productions hadn’t really been about lessons, per se. They were more like your least favorite uncle — not the cool one who brought fireworks. Family Friends was the uncle you only saw at the most uncomfortable extended family Christmas, and whose entire self-worth was based on the most unsettling things he’d seen in his years. “Get ready to get steamrolled by this cruel world, ‘cause there’s fuck-all you can do about it.”

A gust of wind chilled Aiden to his bone marrow. He now sat in the back of the boat, feeling like an X-Men version of a Family Friends video. “Watch as this poor, magic weirdo is beaten, shoved onto a train, and frozen on a boat all because he found out he’d have to go back in foster care.”

SFX: Thought “Sure does feel hopeless, huh?”

Aiden shook. He’d had the thought, but it hadn’t felt like his own. He’d not heard it in his own voice. It was something else. But… something familiar…

A mammoth structure, which had seemed much smaller from the shore, loomed over him as the boat idled to a stop. It was like a cheap castle or a fort. Surrounded on all sides by water, save for a narrow roadway connecting it to the mainland.

“Why didn’t we drive?” Aiden shivered.

Natalie ignored him and blew warm air into her hands as the boat crunched into the rocky bank. She climbed out, not bothering to tie it to anything, and gestured for Aiden to follow her.

Once inside, Aiden was surrounded by crumbling rock and layers of graffiti, reclaimed by nature after years of abandonment. Moss and mold grew on the stonework. Huge chunks of rock and brick had fallen out of the ceiling, and cracks spiderwebbed across the floor, leading to a cave-in. Even inside, snow settled on the ground through holes in the roof. Rooms were connected by giant arches that he couldn’t see beyond due to seething darkness, even with natural light coming through windows. They tiptoed through the rubble without a word, stopping in what appeared to have once been a kitchen. A bone-dry water basin sat beside two large, decaying brick ovens. In one, a small pine sapling sprouted from underneath the snow.

Aiden didn’t have much time to admire nature’s tenacity. With a grunt, Natalie ripped the sapling from its roots and threw it across the room. She dragged her arm across the bottom of the oven, heaving a pile of snow and soil to the ground. She rapped her knuckles on the bricks for a few moments before looking puzzled.

“No, it was this one,” she said to herself. Aiden frowned, staring long enough at the uprooted sapling for his eyes to lose focus.

He snapped back to reality at the sound of fracturing bricks. Natalie slammed a rock over and over into a section of masonry that looked slightly fresher than the rest. After a few wheezing grunts, which terminated in swirling clouds of breath, Natalie lifted a filthy plastic supermarket pricing gun from a compartment buried within the stove.

Natalie pointed the pricing gun at the wall and clicked the trigger.

SFX: Click

SFX: Zhoosh

“After you,” she said.

Aiden did as he was told.

MUSIC: Mysterious transitional

Twelve hundred miles south of Rouse’s Point, on the bank of the Tennessee River in north Alabama, sat the unfinished Bellefonte Nuclear power plant. Only one shipment of nuclear fuel had ever been delivered to this power station, and it had been deferred on delivery. This was because this power station was only built as a red herring. When construction halted in 1988, the reason given to the public was simply that there wasn’t enough of a power load in the area to justify opening a nuclear facility. However, the site was kept in pristine working order to distract everyone from what was held in the depths below it.

General Lionell Perry sat at his desk, scribbling away at a handwritten birthday card to a local politician’s wife, whose name he couldn’t remember. All the local guys ate that shit up. A card here and a box of fresh tomatoes there did wonders toward keeping news crews, bored of their standard wares, from poking their noses in his business.

General Perry was a short man. He stood at only five foot four, but that didn’t stop him from being a mountain. Here is his noble solitude, he had little else to do besides make fervent use of the state-of-the-art exercise equipment he was provided. He had white hair that was high and tight, and a beard, just as white, which he kept meticulously trimmed to just more than stubble.

The phone rang. He was quick to answer.

SFX: Ring


SFX: Phone “Leo! It’s been a fucking minute, hasn’t it? How’s the underwater fortress?”

“With whom am I speaking and what do you want? And before you answer, know that three armed drones are within thirty seconds of your location in… “ He tapped on his laptop. However… nothing happened. A red error code flashed in his face. The call was not being traced. “Huh.”

SFX: Phone “Not so easy to find me, is it, big guy?”

“What do you want?”

On the other side of the line, Natalie drank a glass of accidentally-aged merlot with her leg, covered in shaving cream, propped on a bathroom counter. The room itself was decorated in 1987. Floral wallpaper adorned the walls. The sink, toilet, and tub were all piss-yellow, and the underside of the countertop had a label that proudly read: “Flame retardant. Made with asbestos.”

“I want safety and security for the fine people of this great nation,” Natalie said.

SFX: Phone “Go on.”

“I have on good authority that your containment facilities along highway eleven are no longer secure.”

SFX: Phone “Containment facilities?”

“No need to play dumb, Leo. Haven’t you figured out who you’re talking to, yet?”

SFX: Phone “My God. Natalie Gillum.”

“Took you long enough.”

Despite the awe in his voice, the General knew his priorities.

SFX: Phone “What do you mean ‘No longer secure’?”

“I meant exactly what I said, General. Plot one has already fallen. You might wanna send some guys to Chattanooga if you haven’t already.”

SFX: Phone “You mean to tell me that the prisons YOU built, before disappearing off to God knows where are no longer secure? Nearly thirty-five years after cashing the check for them? How the hell could that happen?” The General demanded.

“First off,” Natalie snapped. “I didn’t cash the check for those prisons, General. My brother did. Right after he left me to die in one of them.”

The General said nothing.

“This happened,” Natalie continued, “Because they’re getting stronger.”

SFX: Phone “Am I to assume you have proof that Plot One has fallen?”
“You’re talking to me, aren’t you?”

SFX: Phone “You’ll have to do better than that.”

Natalie sighed. “When those prisons were built, there was one User in the world who could actually transport across the planes by ripping the fabric of space. He was a genius, and it took him years of independent research to figure out how to move more than a few inches.”

SFX: Phone “Research you bought from him if I recall?”

“Day before yesterday, some tent-pants, peach fuzz teenager did it on accident. In doing so, he singlehandedly caused the breach of Plot One.”

SFX: Phone “Horse shit.”

“I can show you.”

General Perry’s office had a window. He did not know what purpose a window served when all you could see was cloudy water on the other side of it. But he looked out of it nonetheless.

“I see. I assume you’ve relocated this tent-pants, peach fuzz teenager to your no boys allowed treehouse, is that correct?” he asked.

SFX: Phone “It is.”

“What’s your play, Gillum?”

SFX: Phone “My primary interest has always been the safety of my fellow Americans.”

“Go on.”

SFX: Phone “My secondary interest is a private villa in Jamaica where I can drink rum and fornicate until my liver pickles.”

The General crossed his armed and leaned back in his chair.

“And why wouldn’t I just trust your niece and nephew to rectify this delicate situation?”

SFX: Phone (laugh) So those two are in charge now? General, when I last saw them, those two were eight years old and couldn’t wipe their own asses. I’d be surprised if they can do much more than that now. The truth is, I no longer represent GillCo. My brother abused the trust of the U.S. Government and failed to solve the problem, whereas I already have.”

“(sigh) I’ll be there tomorrow.”

SFX: Phone “Can’t wait to see you, Leo.”

SFX: Click

SFX: Drumming fingers

The General thought for a moment about the consequences of what he had to do next. He picked the phone back up.

“This is Facility Two. All call for reports of phenomena from Texas to the Eastern Seaboard. Call up a hunter. This is a job for Marty.”

SFX: Click

MUSIC: Tense transitional

Natalie hung up the phone and wiped the shaving cream off her leg. She tossled her hair, winked at herself, and powered on an electric razor. As she buzzed the sides of her hair to her scalp, she sang choppy and mismatched verses of “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin to herself. The hum of the razor and the cracked shrill of her voice echoed out of her private bathroom, which connected with the atrium. The sound bounced off of the concrete walls and polycarbonate windows of hundreds of empty prison cells. Abandoned and unknown to almost anyone on this Earth, save for herself, the General, and construction workers who’d had to be killed thirty-five years ago.

In one of those cells, Aiden Hartford paced to and fro, holding his hands at arm’s length. He’d tried saying magic words. He’d tried making hand gestures. He’d even made his approximation of a summoning circle on the layer of dust that covered the tile floor. No matter what he did, he couldn’t do what he’d now done twice. No matter what he did or how he pleaded with whatever force had given it to him, he could conjure nothing.

“Boy, you’re in a real fuckin’ mess, aren’t you?”

Aiden spun on his heel. Waddling up to him was a small toy robot with a loose necktie and a backward baseball cap.

“Hi! It’s me! Your old pal, Robo-Quaintance! Don’tcha remember me?”

Aiden stared.

Aiden blinked.

And finally, Aiden screamed.

This concludes Chapter 9 of Pockets. Thank you for listening.

Magic weirdos is an independent production with limited resources, so word of mouth is essential to the show’s success. If you like what you hear, please consider sharing a link on social media, or with friends and family.

Thanks again, and stay weird. The world depends on it

Stay weird. The world depends on it.

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