Katie Hears Stuff: Alice Isn’t Dead, “Sylvia”

alice isn't dead

Not too much strange happens in this episode of Alice Isn’t Dead, but we do get to learn more about the girl the narrator encountered in the last episode.

The episode starts with the narrator saying the girl, named Sylvia, is asleep in her passenger seat. She also mentions that she should probably get some sleep herself, but she has a destination in mind:

Somewhere needs going, you know? I don’t know what I’ll find there. But it’s a step, at least…having a direction, even if I don’t know where that direction will take me. I’m on my way Alice. And it was all thanks to her.

She talks about how she couldn’t just leave her by the side of the road, and what had happened at their meeting. Before Sylvia had even taken her seat, she asks the narrator what she knows. The narrator responds:

“What do I know?” I said. “Uh, lots of things. I know you’re a kid, and you shouldn’t be on the side of the road like that. So I guess, if we’re making a list, we could start there.”

Sylvia clarifies that she’s actually talking about the billboards. She’d seen the narrator crying over the last one, and has come to the conclusion that she must know something about them. She asks the narrator if she knows who put them up, but the narrator doesn’t respond; she just keeps driving.

The narrator notes that Sylvia has an odd smell to her, describing it as “

a walk through a park, but condensed into a single overpowering scent. Floral, but also herb-y. It was intense.” Sylvia then notes that maybe the narrator doesn’t know anything about the billboards, saying that’s fine, since she doesn’t know anything about them either. The narrator has a lot of questions about this girl at this point, “but I just let us both stew in it for a bit.”

A little later, the narrator asks for the girl’s name. She introduces herself as Sylvia Parker, a name that she feels is familiar, but can’t quite place. At this point, though, Sylvia refuses to tell the narrator anything about herself, saying she’s not sure if she can trust the narrator:

“No offense, I just have to know if I can trust you,” she said.

“Well, I have no idea if you can,” I said. “I don’t know what I’m being trusted with.”

“You’ve seen it too,” she said. “Strange visions out on the highway? The road takes weird turns for you, same as it does for me.”

“What have you seen?” I said.

“What have you seen?” she said, and smiled. “My mom and I, we used to travel a lot. Part of her job. And on breaks from school, I would come with her. Lots of time in cars. We started to see what other people were missin’, between the rest stops and Taco Bells. There’s somethin’ dangerous out there. There’s a crack somewhere, and somethin’ terrible is seepin’ through.”

 

The narrator asks Sylvia if she knows what that “something terrible” is, but Sylvia evades the question by asking her if there’s anything she wishes that she could forget. The narrator says yes, and Sylvia says, “Yeah. God, me too.”

The narrator then makes a delivery to a supermarket. During the delivery, Sylvia hides by crouching down into the cab, which the narrator finds strange as this is a run-of-the-mill delivery. While she’s hiding, Sylvia comes across a copy of The Girl From HOPPER by Jaime Hernandez. She asks the narrator if it’s any good. She responds with a resounding “hell yeah.” Sylvia considers the book for a moment, but then puts it back on the book pile. She then asks the narrator for a favor:

My first impulse was sarcasm or similar, but instead I just sighed.

“Honestly, probably,” I said.

“Okay. I need to get to Swansea, South Carolina. Can you take me there?”

“What? South Carolina is the complete opposite direction from where I’m going. I have to get to the distribution center in–”

She cut me off.

“I wish I could tell you everything, but I can’t. I’m askin’, though. You’re the first person I’ve talked to – like really talked to in…I don’t know, weeks? Months? I need you to take me to Swansea. It has to do with…you know…”

She gestured, her hands circling out to indicate all the things neither of us were willing to specify.

I snorted and shook my head.

“Sylvia, I am an adult, okay? I am an adult woman with a job, and that job says that I have to go to the distribution center, not drive a teenager hundreds of miles to a town I’ve never heard of, for reasons that that kid won’t even tell me. I am a responsible goddamn adult!”

Side note: I really need to add “I’m a responsible goddamn adult” to my daily vocabulary.

Adult status or no, the next scene naturally finds the narrator in Swansea with Sylvia. They stop at a convenience store, and the narrator asks her what they should do next. Sylvia says, “We wait,” then begins to read the book she was asking about earlier. The narrator says she’s going to head into the store and get some jerky. She asks Sylvia if she wants anything, but she doesn’t respond. The narrator says, “Suit yourself,” and goes into the store.

Inside the store, she notes that the cashier doesn’t seem particularly talkative, and chalks it up to him being laid back. Back in the truck, Sylvia is starting to get anxious, noting that “he was supposed to be here.” The narrator asks who “he” is, but she brushes her off by suggesting that they go inside to ask. They do, but the cashier isn’t particularly cooperative:

We went inside and Sylvia asked the guy at the counter if he had seen a cop car in this parking lot recently, specifically a cop car from Georgia. The guy’s eyes widened, and he shook his head. I revised my impression of him. He wasn’t laid back, he was terrified. He had seen something, and he wanted desperately to forget.

I leaned in, tried to make voice quiet and gentle.

“Man, hey, now look at me. I’m gonna need you to look at me in the eyes, okay? I know what you’ve seen tonight. Now I have seen terrible things too, and so has this girl, and as long as we’re all quiet, nothing is going to change. Those terrible things are going to keep on happening. Do you want to live in a world where what you saw is possible? Or do you want us to try to change that?”

I held his gaze.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

So I said, “Okay, okay. How about this? Whatever scared you, my man, know that I can be so much scarier than that.”

His mouth twitched downward and his fingers fidgeted.

“I– I just don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. And as he said it, he pointed past the back wall of the store to the thick trees behind it.

They move to where the cashier was pointing, where they find a police cruiser with the seats shredded, but no blood. Sylvia collapses against the hood of the cruiser in despair for a few minutes, then tells the narrator her story.

Next to a gas station a couple hours north of New York City, Sylvia and her mom saw the Thistle man – or, as she knows him – as I guess the world knows him, The Hungry Man. They saw him take a man from his car. They saw what he did to that man.

And her mother did what I could not: she tried to intervene. Tried to get the police involved, get other people involved.

After that, Sylvia didn’t have a mother. She went back to Georgia, was moved from home to home. No one would believe her story of what was out there, of what she had seen. Or, no one would admit that they believed her.

There was this one policeman, Officer Campbell, who took a special interest in her. Something close to kindness. He warned her that she needed to stop describing what she had seen, needed to stop trying to get people to believe her, that it would be easier if she just let that go.

But that wasn’t an option for her. She ran away, went looking for what scared her most.

“You went looking for The Hungry Man?” I said. “He’s dangerous!” I could still feel his arm against my throat, still smell the must of his breath.

“Oh, is he?” she said. “I must not know that. I must be stupid.”

“No. That’s not what I meant,” I said.

“Yes, it was. You just didn’t know it was what you meant.”

Arm against throat, over and over.

Anyway, a few months ago she checked her email on the computer at this friend of a friend that was letting her crash for a bit, and there was an email from Officer Campbell. He said that since she clearly was never going to let this go, he wanted to at least help her. But it had to be secret. No one could ever know. He told her to meet him at this date and time in the parking lot of the Easy Stop in Swansea, and he would give her the information he had been able to find, all of it.

“I think he hoped that somehow I could put a stop to it, or at least tell the world,” she said. “I don’t think he knew what he had signed up for when he signed up for it.”

And now, here was his car. Not a trace of Officer Campbell. I suspected that there would never again be a trace of Officer Campbell. Not in this world.

 

Realizing that Officer Campbell is not likely to appear, they decide to check the car again for more clues. Finding none, Sylvia asks the narrator for another favor: driving her to Savannah so they can break into the police station to try and find more information. The narrator refuses to help Sylvia break into the station, but eventually agrees to at least driver her to Savannah. Sylvia asks the narrator why she’s driving around, what she’s looking for. The narrator says she’ll tell her the story on the way.

On the way to Savannah, the narrator describes a house that she sees:

On the way through Georgia, a house by the highway with a pile of trash burning in its front lawn. Big orange flames, thick plume of smoke, a man standing there watching it burn. I only see it for a moment, and only in the corner of my eye. And that slice of time is stuck in my head forever that way.

The man never moving. The fire never consuming.

 

She then once again notes Sylvia’s scent, finally asking her what that smell was. Sylvia then says that she was wondering how long she’d be polite, explaining that it’s heather oil. The narrator asks why she’s covered in heather oil, and Sylva says that the Hungry Man seems to not like it, and that it wards him off. She then states that it’s “probably bullshit.” The narrator asks her where she heard that. Sylvia scoffs, and points out that the narrator’s not the only one who’s had encounters with the Hungry Man, and that most of the people she met who also encountered him “were too scared to be as helpful as you.”

The narrator points out that she’s plenty scared herself, pretty much all the time, and that she “used to go to therapy and shit.” Sylvia says, “Can’t control feelin’ fear. Can control what you do while you’re feelin’ it. I learned that too.” The narrator asks if this is a lesson that Sylvia’s learned during her time on the road; she laughs and says that she’s been in therapy too. They high five, and amusingly declare themselves “anxiety bros.” Sylvia then says that she hopes the narrator finds Alice, and that Alice wants to be found.

The two make it to Savanna, where the narrator describes some teenagers that she sees in a park:

Gutter punks, kids who have run away out of choice, not out of fear. They clustered around the south side of the park, two of them catcalling passersby the same line over and over. They’d removed themselves from the system enough to stop showering, but not enough to stop harassing women.

 

She parks the truck next to a Mason hall, describing a sign composed of crudely drawn Mason symbols, as well as a picture that she swears is Link from The Legend of Zelda. She wonders briefly if Link was a Mason.

She then walks Sylvia to a gas station, where she says that’s as far as she’ll go. Sylvia says she knows, and tells the narrator to give Alice her regards before turning to leave. The narrator starts to go back to her truck, but then turns back to Sylvia:

She walked away. I watched the kid walk towards the station, and I turned back to the truck, and I just…couldn’t. I couldn’t let it happen like that.

“Sylvia!” I shouted.

She stopped.

“Yeah?” she said.

“Let’s break into a police station,” I said.

She smiled.

“Thank God! I kept thinking, ‘she’s gonna offer to help me, right?’ And then you didn’t and I was like, ‘man, I thought she was a good person!’”

“So, I’m a good person now?”

“Good? Mm…remains to be seen. You’re cool, though. Let’s do this.”

And we did.

 

As I mentioned earlier, this episode isn’t as strange or creepy as the previous episodes were. The oddest things that happen are probably the interaction with the cashier, as well as the description of the house they passed. Also, the sign with Link on it, but that was more humorous than unsettling. Still, it was interesting to see the narrator interact with a different character, and one who isn’t trying to harm her, or who freaks her (and by extension, the audience) the fuck out. Sylvia is actually a fairly normal, if traumatized, teenager, and the narrator seems to become fairly protective of her.

The next episode airs on May 31. I’m thinking we’re going to hear more about their exploits in the police station then.

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