MAG145
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#0090202

Infectious Doubts

[INT. MAGNUS INSTITUTE, ARCHIVES, 2009]
[TAPE CLICKS ON.]

GERTRUDE

You… don’t mind, do you?

[The man who speaks next’s voice is low, gravelly. Every word is laced with disdain for Gertrude Robinson, and he seems like he’s only just keeping himself from spitting on her. This is Arthur Nolan.]
[He sighs.]

ARTHUR

‘Course I do.

[Gertrude scoffs.]

GERTRUDE

That’s a shame.

ARTHUR

If I really wanted to kill you, nothing could stop me.

GERTRUDE

If that were a possibility, Arthur, I should hardly have agreed to meet you.

[It’s Arthur’s turn to scoff.]

ARTHUR

Yeah you would. You’d’ve set something up. Try to get me first.

GERTRUDE

If I wanted you dead, Arthur, there are much simpler ways to do it.

ARTHUR

Yeah. Think you know how?

GERTRUDE

I do, yes. And I’m very willing to, if necessary.

ARTHUR

(dry) Oh, I’m sure. I’m shaking in my boots.

[Gertrude sighs: Time to spell it out, then.]

GERTRUDE

Look, Arthur, I need you to understand that this isn’t simple posturing. I don’t see a way we can meaningfully progress this conversation while you’re under the impression that your threats mean anything to me.

ARTHUR

Big talk. But Agnes is dead. And I don’t know if you heard, but your little woodland circle’s been broken. So, I don’t really see anything getting in my way, if I wanted to burn the flesh off your snarky bones.

GERTRUDE

Ah. (small laugh) I assume you haven’t checked on, uh, Eugene, then?

[Pause.]

ARTHUR

What?

GERTRUDE

Eugene. Well, whatever his name was, Vanderbilt, or some such. You sent him to intimidate me a couple of years ago. You must remember; of course you know him. Used to live in Beckingham, but moved out to that flat in, uh, Ilford last year.

ARTHUR

Yeah.

GERTRUDE

Well, he hasn’t been at your little meetings the last two weeks, has he? I suppose no one’s looked into it yet; not surprising, he seemed a thoroughly unpleasant little man.

ARTHUR

Are you – Wh– Di–

GERTRUDE

Tell you what; why don’t you make a few calls,

[Something, likely a phone, is placed on the desk.]

GERTRUDE

check it out, and then we can continue our little discussion. Alright?

[TAPE CLICKS OFF.]

[TAPE CLICKS ON.]

GERTRUDE

Well?

[A low sigh, that same sound of the phone being placed on the desk.]

ARTHUR

How’d you do it?

[Gertrude laughs.]

GERTRUDE

You don’t need to know that. What you do need to know is I can do it again, if I need to. To you, or any of your lackeys, if I need to.

ARTHUR

(hm) Not mine anymore.

GERTRUDE

No, no; I forgot – Your authority isn’t what it used to be, these days.

ARTHUR

Yeah.

GERTRUDE

Well, if a warning from you isn’t going to convince them, let me know. I’d be happy to provide a further example.

ARTHUR

(through gritted teeth) You’ve made your point.

GERTRUDE

Good.

ARTHUR

Eugene. It – hurt him.

GERTRUDE

(laugh) Oh, yes. I’m sure your master was delighted with how – awful his death was.

ARTHUR

Don’t push it.

GERTRUDE

You know, thinking about it, the amount of pain and loss and legitimate devastation I’ve caused among your little cult over the last, what, forty years? I think the Desolation is probably very fond of me.

ARTHUR

That’s blasphemy, it is.

GERTRUDE

Is it? Or maybe you just picked a bad god.

ARTHUR

Shut it. I don’t have to listen to this.

GERTRUDE

Mm, uh, then… feel free to try and leave.

[For a moment, we hear nothing but Arthur’s incensed breaths.]
[Gertrude audibly smirks.]

GERTRUDE

Hm. Now, here’s the problem for you, Arthur. The way I see it, you came here believing that whatever defenses or assurances I might have had died with Agnes. Or broken, along with the circle. And whether or not you actually killed me, you were really hoping to use me to restore your standing with the Lightless Flame.

Murder, kidnap, torture, oh, something to impress the church group. Unluckily for you, I’ve had almost four decades to prepare for this, and now… well… you just don’t know if killing Eugene was the end of it. (unmitigated glee) What, maybe I have something special prepared for you as well.

ARTHUR

(get a load of yourself) You’re so goddamn smart.

GERTRUDE

(suddenly cutting) And you’re all lazy fools. So used to it being easy, to picking off the vulnerable and the unprepared, you can barely conceive of anyone actively working against you, of being ready.

You honestly thought when she died I’d just be struck dumb with terror, just waiting around for one of you to finally get around to revenge, paralyzed with fear, because that’s all you’ve ever know.

ARTHUR

You’ve made your point.

GERTRUDE

(hm) I’m pleased to hear it.

[The briefest pause, and then:]

ARTHUR

Do you?

GERTRUDE

Do I… what?

ARTHUR

Have something for me. So I end up like Eugene.

GERTRUDE

Why don’t you try to leave and find out?

[Pause as Arthur presumably tries to do this very thing.]

GERTRUDE

Good. Now, we can have a proper conversation.

ARTHUR

You mean – you ask me questions, and I – I spill my guts?

GERTRUDE

No need to be petulant, Arthur. If it would make you feel better, you could ask me a question first.

ARTHUR

Alright. Agnes. How’d you do it? Never did understand it, not really.

GERTRUDE

Ah. That’s a fair enough question. It was the Web. I didn’t know it at the time, of course, and I would call it an accident, but it never is, with them. It’s only after the fact that you can see all the subtle manipulations.

I was very new to it all, of course. I mean, I was, what, can’t have been older than twenty-five. Would you believe that you were the first proper ritual attempt I’d encountered. (she laughs) I really thought you were unique, special, (puffed exhale, exaggerated) an infernal cult raising their demon messiah to bring about hell on earth. (heh) You can imagine all the heroic fantasies that that played into.

So, I began researching what I thought was a counter-ritual of sorts. Like I said, I was young, naive. I somehow found just the right books, made just the right connections, and even got what I thought was a piece of blind good luck when I found a tin box in the ashes of Hilltop Road, containing some perfectly preserved cuttings of her hair.

Of course, what I thought was a banishment ritual turned out not to be. The circle I constructed was more of a – (exhale) – an invitation.

It let the Mother of Puppets bind me to Agnes, interweave our existences at some… metaphysical level, as it had with Fielding and the house.

It was the most painful experience of my life. I mean, I’m sure it’s nothing to you, but I’ve never had my lungs try to burn me alive from the inside out before.

I survived, though. And you know the rest. I’m not sure exactly how it manifested on your end. You certainly seemed to get the message.

I kept the circle, over the years, laced it through with signs and symbology of the Desolation to ward off the worst of the side effects, and keep its attentions elsewhere.

[Arthur laughs. It sounds more like a wheeze.]

ARTHUR

Don’t envy whoever broke it.

GERTRUDE

Yes. It went very badly for them, indeed.

ARTHUR

So where was it, in the end? I spent years looking for it.

GERTRUDE

(heh) Nowhere special. The middle of a forest in the Scottish highlands. Furthest place I could find from anything and anyone.

[Arthur laughs.]

ARTHUR

Yeah. Fair play. Not like we were ever gonna find that.

GERTRUDE

So. Your turn.

[Arthur shuffles around, sighs.]

ARTHUR

Go on.

GERTRUDE

What was Agnes like?

ARTHUR

What?

GERTRUDE

Well, for all the Web bound us together, I never actually met her. What was she like?

ARTHUR

I… I don’t know. Not really. You got as many answers to that as… folks who met her. Never really knew what she felt ‘bout any of it, not really. Not in her own words. Guess that’s the thing about being the… chosen one, or – I mean, Agnes was always quiet, but even if you spend all day, every day throwing out commandments and laying down parables… at the end of it, you’re always just the point of someone else’s story, everyone clamoring to say what you were, what you meant, and your thoughts on it all don’t mean nothing.

GERTRUDE

And were you this introspective when she was alive?

ARTHUR

Well that’s the thing about a fall from grace, innit? Makes you look at things from a… new angle. (pause) I miss her. (scoff) I’ll tell you that for nothing. Wish I – I don’t know. I’d actually known her, when she was alive. (long inhale) Maybe that coffeeshop twit did have a point after all. Couldn’t tell you what I saw, at least.

GERTRUDE

Which was?

ARTHUR

(steadying inhale) I saw the sun. So much – power and fire and rage inside of her, enough to burn the world and leave it nothing but desert. But to look at her, oh – It was too much for most. But it seemed so still, so stable. But it wasn’t calm. It was just – distant.

She never told us how she felt about being bound to you. Never even called you by name. Just called you her anchor. The thing weighing her down, tying her to this world and stopping her destiny.

GERTRUDE

Hm. I’m surprised you didn’t come for me immediately.

ARTHUR

(wheeze) Come for you? We ended up protecting you, more often than not. Diego was convinced if you died a violent death it would be catastrophic for Agnes. He even talked me around, and I spent decades convincing the others to wait it out. You couldn’t outrun age forever. And we had time. But it didn’t need to be forever, did it? Just long enough for a messiah to doubt. The sort of doubts that spread to her disciples.

You’ve never really had to bother with it, do you? You’ve got him upstairs to point the way as often as not, and the rest of the time you’re just figuring out people. Or things that used to be people.

You never try to talk with that Eye of yours. You’ve never had to second-guess a god. Because that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? We feel it’s joy and it’s anger. It warps us and changes us and feeds on us. Though not in the ways we expect.

The one thing it never does is just… tell us what to do. It seeds us with this… aching, impossible desire to change the world, to bring it to us. Then it leaves us to guess and bicker and fight over how the hell you can actually do it. If it’s possible.

Sometimes I think they understand us as – little as we understand them. We don’t think like they do.

GERTRUDE

(noise of discontent) I’m not actually convinced they think at all.

ARTHUR

You might be right. But Agnes did. That’s the thing about an – incarnation, isn’t it? She was a child and – person as much as she was a god. And we messed that right up.e messed that right up.e messed that right up.

I still remember when Diego brought us a book on childcare. (dry laugh) Roger’s body was still in her room, blackened and smoking from when he tried to feed her. I thought he’d brought me another one of his damn Leitners, but no, it was just a regular old book on looking after children.

I was an idiot. Saw it as… attacking my leadership. Burnt the thing. Diego wasn’t happy. (louder) Well, he’s in charge now. (lower) All of us that are left at least. (louder again) He can look for answers in whatever books he likes, no skin off my nose.

GERTRUDE

I didn’t actually ask.

ARTHUR

(sigh) Figure if you’re gonna pull this stuff out of me, might as well get some of it off my chest anyway. (wheezy laugh) Not like I can vent to the others about what a prat Diego is. Got a lot of funny ideas. Still calls the Lightless Flame Asag, like he was when he was first researching it. I just really wanna tell him to get over it; I mean Asag was traditionally a force of destruction, sure, but as a church we very much settled on burning in terms of the – face we worship, and some fish-boiling Sumerian demon doesn’t really match up, does it? Plus there’s a lot of disease imagery with Asag that I’ll reckon is way too close to Filth for my taste, but no, he read it in some ancient tome, so that’s that –

GERTRUDE

(overlapping) Well, I can’t say I –

ARTHUR

(continuing over her) – reckons he always knows best, ‘cause he’s read a few books, well Big. Deal.

Way I see it, if a writer can’t even save themselves, they probably don’t have a lot worth knowing. Find me one so-called “expert” on all of this who didn’t end up regretting it.

That’s the trouble with overthinking any of this: You ignore your gut. And to my mind, that’s the only part any of them beyond actually care about. They don’t give a toss about your rules, or systems. They only care about what feels right, what freezes your belly with terror.

GERTRUDE

(heh) I rather like to think I’ve managed.

[Arthur wheeze-laughs again.]

ARTHUR

Yeah. But you don’t actually care about them, do you? Not really. You forget, we’ve been watching you a long time, and I know you, Gertrude. You don’t actually care about the fears. You’re too practical. All your energy is focused down here, on monsters, and murderers, and all the things doing the dirty work for them beyond.

You know plenty, sure, but you don’t have that – obsession, that stupid urge to try and understand and classify things that use logic and reality like weapons.

GERTRUDE

Hm. Per-Perhaps.

ARTHUR

(small laugh) Always respected you for that. Takes a strong stomach to not give a shit.

GERTRUDE

(heh) You’ll forgive me if I’m not overjoyed at the compliment.

ARTHUR

Suit yourself.

GERTRUDE

So. Now Diego has taken over; where does that leave you?

ARTHUR

(heh) Slumlording over a nest.

GERTRUDE

Oh. A nest of what?

ARTHUR

Found a mass of the Crawling Rot growing a while back. Managed to get ahold of the property before it became too big. Gotta wait ‘til it blossoms before we can properly burn it.

So ‘til then… just playing landlord.

It’s alright, I suppose. You’d be surprised the misery and pain you can cause when you’ve control over someone’s home. If you’re careful, if you’re smart, you can burn their life to ashes as thoroughly as any fire – and worst comes to worst, you can still do it the old-fashioned way.

Had an elderly tenant last year, oh, she was in a terrible state. I had her trapped, too poor and immobile to do anything but – sit there. Then I broke her boiler, so the cold started to get her.

Not exactly my usual, but… agony is agony. But then her son and his wife moved in with her to help her out. Not much I could do against that. So I just waited until all three were home, and set the place ablaze.

They went up nicely, screaming all the way as the flames started to reach them. Doors were locked, and handles were hot, so they didn’t have a chance of escape –

GERTRUDE

Yes, that’s – quite enough, I think.

ARTHUR

Oh, I’m sorry. There I was, thinking you liked the gory details. My mistake.

GERTRUDE

I think we’re just about done here.

ARTHUR

All your burning questions answered?

GERTRUDE

I’m certainly convinced you don’t know anything else useful.

ARTHUR

So – I’m free to go? You’re not gonna… you know.

GERTRUDE

(laugh, a bit too gleeful) I suppose you’ll have to wait and see.

ARTHUR

…Suppose I will.

GERTRUDE

You tell the others. Make sure they know what happened to Eugene.

ARTHUR

Sure. Can’t make any promises, though. ‘Specially for Jude. She really hates you.

GERTRUDE

Tell her she’s welcome to try. Oh, and I’m extending my protection to young Mr. Barnabas. They hurt him any more, then what happened to Eugene will seem like a mercy.

ARTHUR

(low, dangerous) You’re really pushing it, you know that?

GERTRUDE

(audible self-satisfied smirk) Hm. Feel free to push back. (harder) But until then, get out of my Archives.

[Arthur inhales for a long time.]
[TAPE CLICKS OFF.]

[INT. MAGNUS INSTITUTE, ARCHIVES, JOHN’S OFFICE, PRESENT DAY]
[TAPE CLICKS ON.]

ARCHIVIST

(sigh) The more I listen, the more it seems to me we’re all just – groping about, trying desperately to find out what we’re actually meant to be doing.

These things that – loom so large over our lives trap us and push us and – sometimes kill us. But they never actually tell us what we’re supposed to be doing. So we scheme and we plot, lash out at each other without ever really knowing why.

I think Gertrude knew this, knew to focus her attention on those parts that could be understood, and – well. And killed.

But I’m really starting to worry that there aren’t any answers. Not like I want there to be. There aren’t any answers in Ny-Ålesund; there aren’t any answers in the past – I’ve been inside the Buried, and there were no answers there.

Elias always seemed to know what was going on, to have a plan, but… I sometimes wonder how orchestrated some of it really was. (sigh) (faster) We’ve been back in London for just over a week now. I’m – more or less recovered physically; it’s just this nagging sense of unease that won’t leave me.

I was… so sure I’d find something up there. But instead it was just another broken person trying to come to terms with the wreckage of their life.

And here? I reached out, I took another tape, hoping for a bit of guidance, but – (short sigh) To be honest, this hasn’t helped.

I did some more digging into Eugene Vanderstock. I thought he was still alive, and – (inhale) – working at the steel plant, but it looks like he’s just listed on one of the old directory pages on their website.

I really miss having people who know their way around a computer better than I do.

[Long pause.]

ARCHIVIST

A bit more digging found a… rather bizarre case. Apparently he disappeared in late 2009, leaving behind only one thing: a life-sized statue of himself, crafted from candlewax and sawdust. Missing its head.

I wish I didn’t know how painful it must be to be alive while your entire being is infused with… agonizing grit. But, as I was investigating, it… came to me.

Eugene is still alive, frozen in place by the razor-sharp particles that are mixed up into what he chose instead of flesh.

I don’t know where Gertrude stored his head. But I do know it desperately wants to scream. (inhale) Perhaps I c–

[Knock-knock-knock on the door.]
[The door opens.]

GEORGIE

Knock-knock!

ARCHIVIST

Oh – G-Georgie! Wh-What a – You… –

GEORGIE

(overlapping) Oh! Uh, sorry; I thought, um – Is Melanie about?

ARCHIVIST

…Melanie? Uh – Yeah, I saw her a couple of hours ago – Uh, in the other office, I can, I can show you?

GEORGIE

Oh, I’m – sure I can find it. Don’t worry yourself.

ARCHIVIST

A-All right. (incomprehensible noise as he gets his bearings) W,Why are you, uh, well – here? I-If it’s not too personal a question.

[Short pause.]

GEORGIE

It is, a bit. It’s not really my place to discuss it.

ARCHIVIST

Ah, oh, therapy! You’re taking her to therapy.

GEORGIE

She – told you then?

ARCHIVIST

Uh, yes, yeah.

GEORGIE

Well, you don’t need to sound quite so psyched about it. (rustle of clothing) She gets – nervous traveling there alone.

ARCHIVIST

(inhale) Yes, o-o-of course. I-I forget you two know each other.

[Long silence, during which the Archivist lets a quiet um cross his lips.]

GEORGIE

So – (breaks off, pause) How are you doing?

ARCHIVIST

I’m… I’m alright. I’m trying to, uh, rest up a bit. Take it easy.

[He exhales.]

GEORGIE

Really? ‘Cause – I’m pretty sure I heard talking about a screaming headless corpse just now.

ARCHIVIST

Oh – Oh, were you… listening? –

GEORGIE

Oh, um. Didn’t mean to, you know. These doors are not that thick.

ARCHIVIST

Fine. I’m deep in it. Had some – close calls.

GEORGIE

(fast) I’m sorry to hear that. You should probably get some therapy too.

[The Archivist inhales quickly, as if surprised.]

ARCHIVIST

Would you go with me as well?

GEORGIE

…No.

ARCHIVIST

Yeah. I thought as much.

GEORGIE

It’s the other office, you say.

ARCHIVIST

Yeah.

GEORGIE

Yeah. Thanks. Take care of yourself.

ARCHIVIST

(long sigh) You, too.

[The door opens.]

ARCHIVIST

End recording.

[TAPE CLICKS OFF.]