OVERKILL EP. 3 — 666 SPRAY-PAINTED DICKS
[audio begins mid-rant]
Helen: And you’d think, with Sophie at camp, my useless husband could take a second to talk to his son, but—
Helen: Oh yeah, it’s day 29 of our investigation into Harding Park. 4:17 p.m., a full hour after Eric was supposed to pick his child up, but—
[fizz, breaks into Aya]
Aya: Anyway, Vicky’s watching Madison now. She calls it supervising, I call it guilt-tripping. She always makes a point to let me know when she’s trailing the Girl Scouts, like Oh, sorry, Aya! I have to go make sure Madison’s feeling well in her bracelet-making class! And I’m like, WHATEVER! I can wait until the freaking preteens are asleep before we have an adventure. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of investigating to do, y’know? Do you think she knows?
Last night, after the Girl Scouts’ nocturnal hike, Vicky took me to the river, which winds its way through the far end of the park. She said she was taking me to see if I’d drowned, but, well — she doesn’t take this investigation very seriously.
The water was beautiful. In the dark, you couldn’t see how green it was or how much trash was caught in the current. You just saw the moon reflecting off the surface, and the mist, which curled away from the water like steam. I could’ve stared at it for like, at least another five minutes, but Vicky grabbed my hand and pulled me, hard, into the river.
I could see everything. A lone soda can, bobbing in the waves. A catfish’s whiskers sweeping through my ankle. And Vicky, her mouth open in a grin, her teeth shining white through the green water. I reached up and skimmed her face with my hand. It was colder than the river, temperature matching my icy palm. It felt right, floating there, our eyes locked, all the drama about preteens and possession forgotten, even just for a second. Just us, sitting still in the rocking current.
We drifted until we neared the edge of the park, and a tugging in our guts pulled us back, like a bungee jumper’s cord. We popped back to the surface and breathed in the thick mist. My smile stayed wide.
Vicky says Madison’s been getting sick all day. Headaches, mostly, but she also turns green at the sight of the camp food. Although that can hardly be blamed on me. Have you seen that food?
I don’t mean to sound cold. I get why Madison’s freaked, I really do. When I was a kid, all this cult stuff scared me shitless. I remember the one and only time my mom took me hiking at Harding. She wanted us to have a picnic in some clearing with a view of the river, but I felt super sick that day. Mom wouldn’t believe me because I’d been fine at breakfast. My mom was — is — like that. She never puts up with bullshit. She dragged me along, past the big stone altars put together by prankster teens, and forced me to walk even when my skin crawled and my feet ached and I begged her to take me home. She was wrong about me faking sick that time, though — I puked in the bushes before we even reached the picnic spot.
Denise: It’s Denise, from M.A.A.G., taking Helen’s shift. Day 31 of our investigation. You’d think someone with as many nannies as Helen would be able to check a tape recorder every once in a while, but I guess the whole having-it-all thing isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. Makes you think twice about calling my divorce the end of my son’s life, huh?
Vicky laughed when she suggested we search the Shifting Steps. It’s one of the park’s most popular and ridiculous legends, a favorite spot for teens who want to cling to each other in mock fear. The premise is simple: no matter how many times you count the steps, the number will be different.
Apparently it’s caused by a demon, some excessively boring force of evil that feeds off minor confusion. The graffiti covering the steps is supposed to be some sort of tribute to the thing, as if a bunch of metallic pentagrams and ‘666’s could reach the sub-divine. There’s also a lot of dicks drawn there, but honestly, it’s hard to find a place in Harding where people haven’t drawn dicks. Vicky wouldn’t even come near them. She just muttered about man’s insatiable need to declare dominance over nature and the inherent hypocrisy of claiming ownership over any living thing. I reminded her how much easier it is to be a vegan when you don’t need to, you know, eat, and she shook her head at me, that all-knowing look on her face. I grinned and turned back to the stairs.
I didn’t find much there. The steps were just so… boring. Ghostly things have a certain presence — they sit in the fog, not just behind it. This graffiti didn’t do that. It was just spray paint on a crumbling set of steps. If hauntings were based on aesthetic alone, I would’ve had some grand realization about the ivy creeping its way up the rusted railing. Instead, I tried to think of some way to convince Vicky this wasn’t a total waste of time.
Then she called down to me from the top of the steps, and I followed.
She led me to the parking lot atop the hill, where a single parked car sat, the windows fogged over. Vicky pushed me forward, and I joined her in shoving my head through the car door.
The radio was playing R-Kelly, and that was somehow the least creepy thing about the whole situation. This boy had clearly taken his date up here with the intention of getting busy — his hand crawled up her thigh like a peach spider. Of course, she looked majorly grossed-out, like she’d rather be anywhere else. Her knuckles were white against the door handle, but she didn’t open it.
Next to me, Vicky narrowed her eyes. Her mouth opened, her head tilting towards the window. She winked at me and blew out onto the fogged glass.
Ice crackled across its surface as soon as Vicky’s freezing breath made contact. I grinned. The boy’s head snapped up, his hand returning to his side of the cupholders. The girl just looked confused. She wasn’t even shivering.
I followed Vicky’s lead and blew right into the boy’s face. His teeth chattered. His nose curled.
What’s that smell? He groaned. Vicky laughed, and I stuck my tongue out at her. I flipped upside down, my legs jutting out the car roof, and blew hard on his toes. He jumped.
We have to get out of here, he said.
Behind him, Vicky was icing over the back windows.
I’m not going anywhere with you, the girl said. She was looking at him like he was crazy. She didn’t have so much as a single goosebump. She shook her head. We should go find Vanessa and Dan.
He wasn’t listening. I raised a hand towards the windshield, nerves tingling up my arm. I concentrated hard on my fingers and dug a nail into the ice.
BOO! I wrote.
The guy screamed. Vicky stopped frosting the mirror. In the front seat, the girl ripped open her door. She turned back to yell at him.
You’re a freak, she said. She slammed the car door shut behind her.
Vicky and I decided to walk the girl back to her friends. They were having a much better time in their car than our girl had been in hers, and so we tried not to look into their tinted windows. Our girl tapped her foot, her back against the car’s hood.
It was a warm night, and quiet, just the couple’s quickened breath and the soft tap of sneakers on gravel. Vicky was still beaming at me. She said she’d never seen anyone actually touch the ice before, never heard of a ghost actually, y’know, interacting with the real world. Her face glowed with pride. She nudged me with her hip.
So— she said. She paused, her side still pressing into mine. My mouth felt like a glue trap, my throat lined with sticky paper. I waited.
Vicky shook her head. One hand rose to point forwards, her mouth falling open. I followed the line of her finger and scowled.
It was Madison, the great teenage cockblock, wandering along the edge of the parking lot with her crush Sophie in tow. They were headed towards the pay phone.
Madison’s head kept twitching back to look over her shoulder, like a stoner driving by a police station. Sophie looked almost as stressed out — I’m pretty sure this was the first time she’d broken a rule. Like, ever. She reminded me of the nerdy kids at the middle school— the newly-out queer kids with scene bangs and an unhealthy addiction to white British men. If only she’d been the medium. I’m sure her Supernatural obsession gave her all sorts of paranormal know-how.
Sophie kept watch as Madison crept up to the payphone. Vicky had already rushed over to them.
Behind me, the door of the make-out car clicked open, and the two teens spilled out. Their clothes were wrinkled in a deeply unsubtle way, and they were super annoyed to find their friend without her date. I moved past them and their way-too-loud drunken babbling, but I still couldn’t hear. Madison was whispering into the receiver.
She hung up before I got to her. Sophie gave Madison a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. Later, Vicky told me that Madison had been asking her mom to pick her up. Evidently her mom didn’t have much patience for it, and the phone call ended as soon as it began. Vicky left to walk Madison home.
She told me not to come. Said it might bother Madison, me being there. Like I’m poison or something, just some girl’s bad memory.
It didn’t bother me, what Vicky said. It didn’t.
It didn’t bother me, okay?
Helen: It’s Helen, from M.A.A.G., reminding Denise that I do listen to these tapes. I, unlike some of us, take this responsibility seriously, even though I, unlike some of us, have a job and children, and I can’t spend all of my time perfecting my casserole recipe!
Helen: Ugh! Whatever, Denise. It’s not like you’ll hear this anyway. We all know you don’t really believe in the mission. You just want Lara to put you in charge of the church bake sale.
Helen: Oh, and it’s day 32 of our investigation. Anybody here?
Aya: I’m throwing a party! A super serious, information-gathering, investigative party. Like a murder mystery dinner, except there’s no food and it’s not boring. Also, everyone’s already dead.
I’m inviting all the old cult members. You know, the ones who are obviously involved in some sort of demon-led conspiracy. Vicky says that’s profiling, but it’s honestly just good sense. If you’re looking for the key to some big, paranormal mystery, maybe you should start with the people most obviously wrapped up in some big, paranormal mystery.
And the cult members are fun, I guess. I was a little worried when one of them told me we’re all doomed to eternal damnation, and then a whole debate started about whether we’re already damned and in hell. But Sucki told me those were just their pre-party jitters. I’ve been hanging out with him a lot lately. Mostly during the day, when Vicky is off galavanting with her kiddies. Sucki says the cult members don’t get together much lately — or ever. Apparently, the cult members never get together. They get… upset when they see each other. Like shape-shifting, five-legged trauma monster upset. Like, wine throwing on reality TV upset.
But I’m sure it’ll be fine! And if it’s not, well— that’ll probably give me some new information, at the very least.
[super-loud fizz, noise. It’s the party.]
Helen: Day 33. Lots of feedback lately. We suspect raccoons.
Aya: It was not fine.
I should’ve known things wouldn’t go well as soon as the first guests showed up two hours early. A part of me gets it — there’s not a lot to do here, especially after several decades of wandering the same grassy field. But Sucki hadn’t even gotten there to help me make small talk yet, and I am really not good at small talk. Sitting with two robed strangers in the shed where they died, trying to casually bring up my own death— it was more than I could handle on my own.
When he got there, things got easier, and other guests started to show up too. Not all the cult members still wear their sacrifice clothes — there are some who dress in normal outfits, albeit from different eras. There’s floofy 50’s skirts and 80’s hair and acid wash jeans. Some of them have forgone their human form altogether — one girl, Meena, she was a real show-off. She came into the party as a writhing octopus thing and kept adding and losing tentacles when she felt like it. It hurt my head just to look at her.
The party was a little boring after all. No one could drink, and the conversation was pretty stagnant. I had at least four discussions about the weather on a fateful June day in 1952. As it turns out, the cult members don’t actually like each other that much without the influence of a deeply charismatic leader. That’s the main reason they haven’t bothered to talk to each other since they died.
I tried to talk to the cult’s old deputy about my death, and the cult, and their death, but he didn’t even open his mouth. His head just rose off his shoulders and spun around and around, and it really just devolved from there. His neck looked like a blood geyser by the end of it.
By the time Vicky got back from her all-important babysitting gig, I was wrapped in a thick, inky tentacle and apologizing for using the d-word in yet another conversation. I tried to look cool and aloof. Vicky tried not to laugh.
Hi, she said. She waved at Meena, who loosened her tentacle from around my arm and shifted from octopus to a single, slimy snake. She slithered towards the fallen log we were all pretending was a snack bar.
Thank you, I said. I smiled. That was so awkward.
Oh yeah…. Vicky said. She trailed off. Meena, she’s, uh— she’s my ex.
I didn’t know what to do but blink. I mean, seriously? Her?
I spent the rest of the party watching Meena curl her way over the other guests, wondering if I would look better with a few more limbs. At one point, I remembered to ask someone else about me. They opened their mouths and an endless, long-suffering wail brought the room to a halt. Vicky scowled.
Show-off, she muttered.
Vicky and I walked Sucki back to his grove after. He waved goodnight and we kept walking. Vicky reached for my hand. I felt like some kind of egg had hatched in my chest, all fluffy and fluttering but also kind of terrifying and dangerous. It felt nice.
Denise: Day 34. Finally got around to listening to these tapes, Helen. Are you kidding me?
Aya: I just don’t know what to do anymore. The whole quest — it’s starting to feel hopeless. There’s ghosts everywhere in this park, and no one remembers anything unusual. They’re so unfocused on the world of the living, they barely even recognize faces anymore. I just—
Oh, uh— Vicky’s on the path outside the cabin and she’s — would flailing be a mean word? She’s flailing like, in my general direction. Trying to get my attention, I guess.
WHAT IS IT?
Oh, whatever. I’ll be right back.