3x04 - let's talk arcana!



My name? It's, uh. My name is Sam.
I'm eighteen years old.
The current president?
Oh, um. Yeah, yeah. I'm just--it's Bill Clinton, right?
Okay, cool, cool. And Gore is the Vice President? Cool. I think my brain's a little fuzzy.
I'm from--Violet Beach, Maryland. It's in--
Oh, I'm there? Neat. I think something's different. It's still October, right?
Cool. Nice.
Why aren't you talking to me? Why do you have cue cards?

(long beat)

It can't be that hard to explain. I'm not quarantined, or anything.


Or am I? Wait, are you--




Guess what I found?


That's right, it's old tapes. You know. Like--okay, so--I found this book, you guys know this, and it's got--it's got Corielli's writing on ~Magic~ in it, okay? So I've been practicing some of the stuff, and it's applicable--like, I can't do everything, but, uh, it's, like--we joke about living sci-fi lives, but I technically have superpowers now? Which is pretty dorky to say, I know, but.




Which is pretty dorky to say, I know, but.

(another beat)

Okay, cool, so. Anyway, I've decided--in this sort of manic, not-great state I've been in lately--Lane's back, but she's injured, and I am--so bad at handling people I love when they're sick. Because I worry. Because I'm me.
So, I've decided that I'm going to make a reference point for the seven of us and also whoever else is listening. Which, I'm assuming, at this point, includes Mae and Crantz and whoever that cheery person Teresa talked to is? So. Let's break this down in great detail. But, being me, we're gonna be prose-y about it. Sometimes, see, we need exposition.

(She takes a deep breath, and launches into storytelling mode.)

It's nineteen sixty-three; the stars are almost in humanity's reach. The president is almost dead, but not quite yet.

In Violet Beach, Maryland, that doesn’t matter very much to most people. What matters to most people is the protests on the campus of the University—blocking traffic. Or, perhaps, the temporary closing of Ethel Martin’s diner after a small fire.

Andrew Corielli was not most people.

(We know him as a pariah, a murderer, but back then, he was a town hero. He was providing a comprehensive education in the arts for—at the time—not too much of a price. He was a visionary, supporting the next generation, bettering the town with his wealth.)

And, he was not most people. He was fascinated by the fragility of the present, how anything could collapse at any time. He was fascinated by the stars, by humanity’s destiny, he thought, to control them.

So he did his research. He had the funds to do good research, see.


And one day, it hit him. Fell out of a library in the middle of Annapolis, and his him on the head. It had no markings, no annotations, no labels, but he thought it had to be something.

And it was, something.

Its content is hard to describe, even after having read it seven times myself. I’ll try.

Let’s talk arcana:

There’s a bunker under a beach house. Charlotte, you know the one you like to break into? It’s that beach house. It’s from the Cold War, back when Corelli lived there, there’s medicines, materials—boring fallout shelter stuff.

There’s tech, too, though. That’s what Corielli started with, based on the book. He got governmental resources—tests of chemicals and drugs, of combinations, and he—he manipulated them until they imitated magic. At least—that’s what I’ve figured from his notes in the book.
Anyway. He used it, is what matters, to get away with murder. That’s what power does; it corrupts.

In one world—in our world, he failed.

But the coinflip, success or failure, that split things up.

In the other place, he killed and made people forget. These new “powers,” showed him more than just power--they showed him so much sadness, so much fear.

So he isolated the town he couldn’t stand to see suffer. He was loved enough to pull it off.

So he made them forget about normality. About the good of the outside. He, his inner circle, and his seven children took control. They controlled who stayed and who left, who remembered and who forgot.

His youngest, Regina, took full control last year.

But that’s getting ahead. So. We have a cult. We have authoritarianism. We have a world almost-but-not-quite stuck in the sixties. And we have a people that are compliant.

Well, most people.


Okay, nineteen ninety-three. Sam Morrison, Corielli visual arts student is not most people. She knows that something is wrong, but isn’t sure how, so she investigates, and while her memory is a little bit messed up, she makes it to the other side. She touches a light, and finds herself somewhere familiar, but not too much.

And so, let’s repeat:



My name? It's, uh. My name is Sam.
I'm eighteen years old.
The current president?
Oh, um. Yeah, yeah. I'm just--it's Bill Clinton, right?
Okay, cool, cool. And Gore is the Vice President? Cool. I think my brain's a little fuzzy.
I'm from--Violet Beach, Maryland. It's in--
Oh, I'm there? Neat. I think something's different. It's still October, right?
Cool. Nice.
Why aren't you talking to me? Why do you have cue cards?

(long beat)

It can't be that hard to explain. I'm not quarantined, or anything.


Or am I? Wait, are you--


Let's unpack that.

There is no one in the town records in our version of home named Sam Morrison, Samantha Morrison, Samira Morrison—no derivatives—

Well, except for one. Died of injury at age two in 1977, which adds up. That’s our girl. But her double—I can’t locate her double either.

Quick Robin aside: I feel very fancy right now. Sarah Koenig who? Let me take over Serial. Please.

Other quick Robin aside: the cat is on top of me right now. What a fella. I had to burn incense for a magic experiment earlier, and I guess he likes the smell? He’s a good boy.


Anyway. Sam. On Twitter, there’s an artist named Sam Morrison, born in 1975, based in Austin, Texas. She posts a lot about cults. She also posts a lot about her brother-in-law’s podcast and her eight year-old son. She says she’s “Maryland-born, but not too crabby,” which is very fun of her, if I may editorialize. I might steal that.

But that’s our girl. I know it.

I found the recording with, uh. Magic stuff. Mind manipulation. Which is terrible and unethical and gross, but also, it was toward a bad person, so I’m justifying it in my brain.

Anyway. Back to literary-self.

Sam Morrison was the first and last person to cross over until January, 2018. And—well—we know what comes after that.

Mae Babson was born to Corielli’s fifth son, Stephen, and his then-girlfriend Roxanne Babson.

They did not marry. AJ, I believe that you’ve called Mae a bastard as a joke—you weren’t wholly wrong.

But hey, I’m a bastard too. Born out of wedlock, baby. Solidarity, eh, Mae?

She didn’t like her father’s family—she didn’t like what they’d done at all. And her family knew that. They knew that she couldn’t be trusted.

So they took information from her. Took knowledge. They didn’t take enough to keep her not-dangerous, but they took enough of her to make her difficult to use against them.

That’s what other me said, at least.

Other me, she’s awful. I won’t get into it. I don’t want to get into it.

She treated Mae like—like a thing. And I don’t like that. I don’t want to think about it.

Mae, holes in her memory and terrified, found the same light that Sam did twenty-five years before, and she touched it. She touched it, and on New Year’s Day, she found herself somewhere new.

And, see, that light—that crossing between worlds—it hit the people her mind told her mattered.


So, uh, cool paradox.

That's a bad ending. I’m bad at endings. I can't write endings without worrying about it.

People followed her. They got subtler, but then, they exploded.

We know what happened.

I don’t know what to say about it. We know what happened, and we didn’t stop anything. We know what happened well enough, and we documented it to the best of—not best of. To the mediocre-est of our abilities.




I got a twitter DM from Sam Morrison.

She says: LOL you’re diligent aren’t you? Yes, am from VB, and did cross over. Horrified @ news—that’s the at symbol. You heard of Roxanne Babson? If she crossed over, send my best. Old friend of mine. Didn’t like her seeing a Corielli, but, well. Can’t stop her from doing anything. My email is—and it’s her email.

Okay, so let’s draft together, out loud.

Hi Sam!

No, that’s bad.

I guess you could call me diligent, yeah, I’m—

I don’t know how to talk to people over thirty, and, look, that’s valid. That’s valid! I also don’t know how to talk to people under twenty. I’m so, so good at communication.

Okay, so.


It’s Robin Harper, from Twitter. Nice to hear back, emdash, I was afraid you wouldn’t respond. Which is fair, no—

or that I was crazy or something. I needed to know what had happened in 1993, and then, what came after for you.


The tapes cut off after you realized you were being held without—

No, no. The tapes I found at the police station cut off midway through, which was worrying.

I don’t know Roxanne, though her daughter, Mae, was the first to cross over into our world. She’s a good kid. She has a girlfriend in this world, and seems happy. I worry about her a lot, but I try and take care of her. I haven’t told her about you yet.

Okay, does that sound good? For a the first two paragraphs?

(She sighs)

Look, I’m—I’m so tired. I don’t know what to do next. With this email or with—anything? Elaine’s headed out of town for a week or so, once she starts feeling better, and, uh—I don’t know how I’m gonna handle this without her?

It’s her high school reunion. They celebrate the sevens, because they’re obnoxious and like throwing me off. She wanted to go—she doesn’t normally like reunions, or thinking about the past, but she wants to go to this. I don’t want to go, but I’m considering. Just to get out.

But people will ask questions. That’s all people do, these days, ask me questions about the apocalypse. Got messages on Facebook from people I barely knew in college—not about the book deal, or about the wedding, or anything else—people never reached out about those—and they ask me if the highly-localized end of the world is as weird as it looks on TV.

It’s not, really. It’s just melancholic. Just—lonely?

Is that a shared feeling? I can’t tell what’s just me and what’s the apocalypse. I can’t tell what’s just me and what’s stuff I’ve been seeing while I read this fucking book, and—

You know?

I don’t want power. I don’t want the world, I don’t want to get away with murder. But he said in his notes, I can’t stand to see people I love suffer. And I—

He’s terrible. He’s cruel. But I understand, almost. Not quite. I just—I can’t stand to see the world suffer, and it’s suffering now. Everything is wilting, and it’s terrifying, and if I could figure out a way to end it—I would.


I obviously wouldn’t take his strategy, but—there has to be something. You know? He failed. I wouldn’t.

I think, what I want, is normalcy.

More than anything. That’s why I moved back here, why I didn’t make my dad and his husband sell the house like they should have.

I finished my book. Finished, uh. Strong, I think. I know you didn’t like the original ending, Teresa.

It ends with Scout and Priya, in front of a fire. They look at each other, and then look away, and a hand is grabbed, and fireworks go off.

And they’re happy.

It ends on New Year’s Day, and fireworks go off, and nothing wrong happens.

I think it’s ironic. It was unintentional, but it was—clearly intentional in some corner of my mind.

I sent it to the editor. She hasn’t gotten back to me.

I reread the book. Not my book, the other one. The one that I found, with the notes. I don’t like it.

I’m going to finish emailing Sam Morrison, and then, I’m going to fix this. I’m going to get us to a New Year with fireworks and normalcy, and it’s gonna be beautiful. I hope. Or, maybe, it’ll be just fine. Not apocalyptic, but just fine.

And that’ll be beautiful too, won’t it? It’ll feel good. It’ll feel—right. Correct. Like a re-do.

I hope that we get a re-do.

I love you.