Alice Isn’t Dead: Part 2, Chapter 3, “Abandoned Places”

AID

This time around, Keisha catches up to someone and someone catches up to her.

We open with Keisha talking about a trip that she and Alice had taken to Croatia and Bosnia years ago. She describes the owner of the rental car place taking them in his own personal car to a residential neighborhood, where their rather rickety car awaits. Alice tells him that the car will kill them if they take it into the mountains.

The man assured us that this was the only automatic transmission available in southern Croatia. Neither of us knew how to drive manual. Not yet. I looked to you to see your decision. You were always the driver then. I didn’t like driving. I do now. Or maybe I’ve just convinced myself I do.

After the credits sequence, Keisha mentions that she’s thought of stopping and hiding somewhere, but every time she thinks of it, “I see a black boat sinking in the mouth of a river.” So she keeps going, and eventually manages to catch up to the woman she’d mentioned in previous episodes, saying that she’s really the only lead she has regarding the Thistle Town. This, however, is not without its difficulties;

Following is difficult in a truck. While it is ubiquitous on our highways it’s also – well, pretty visible. So instead of following, I did my best to anticipate her. I cut across her likely route on a road that a truck should not drive on. Sprays of mud, clattering over gravel, and then out onto a narrow highway. There was a field of grass, and in the center of that field was a single tree, frothing over with white flowers. The sunlight hit the three just right, and it seemed to catch fire, every flower a frame. It was mesmerizing, a reminder that the miraculous can emerge suddenly from the happenstance, and in places you would never expect, like an overgrown field somewhere in Georgia.

She eventually pulls over behind a windbreak to wait for the Bay & Creek commander, but she doesn’t go by. She considers that she may have taken a different route. Keisha then curses at having lost her again. There’s a brief break, and then Keisha goes back to the trip that she’d taken with Alice:

So the two of us, Alice and I in our other better life, got in our beat-up sedan with bald tires, a car that later in Mostar would be described to us as the nicest car in Bosnia, and we drove toward the border. That stretch of coast is a thin skin of beach on the spine of mountains. Soon we entered Republica Srpska, the Serbian region of Bosnia. We drove across a gorgeous plane of canals and farms, bounded by the ever-present jag of the mountains, like the walls of a great room that’s ceiling was sky and that’s carpet was crops and Eastern Orthodox cemeteries. A room in a house where many murders had happened. A room haunted by its ghosts.

She describes a bunch of burning trash piles along the highway in this region, as well as a bunch of half-finished houses, “not rebuilding from the war, but slow construction as extra money comes up. A savings account made of bricks.” There are a number of stands along the road, selling honey. She says that there didn’t seem to be a single house without a stand in front of it, but they didn’t buy any honey.

Another break in the transmission, and Keisha says that she was looking for some kind of sign, but she doesn’t know what. She notes that trucks generally don’t leave tracks, unless they go off the road. And so, about two miles further one, she finds some deep gouges in the shoulder, as well as tire tracks through the grass leading to what appears to be an abandoned farmhouse in the distance.

She parks a ways down the road, then walks towards the ruts in the grass, noting that they stopped at the house and that there don’t appear to be any tracks going away from it. Looking at the house, she determines that no one’s been there in months, or even years before comparing it to some locations she saw in Bosnia:

All through Bosnia and Croatia, there had been abandoned farmhouses, but not like this. This is a house that naturally died. Those were victims of war. Families forced out by their neighbors because they were Croat, or because they were Bosniak or because they were Serbian. Imagine one day, all of your neighbors, maybe families that had been your family’s neighbors for hundreds of years, tell you that you are no longer their neighbor. Maybe they don’t tell you with words but with violence. And then, imagine being those neighbors or their children, now 20 years past the war, and still every day stepping out the door to go to work and passing the empty concrete eyes of a dead house, a reminder that you, or your parents, once performed a kind of horrible magic trick, disappearing members of your community. What do you feel, seeing the evidence of what you have done? Shame? Pride?

Keisha steps into the farmhouse, nothing the sagging, ruined walls and the dust that’s covering everything, as well as some cans in the kitchen and Yoohoo containers. She says that she’s afraid to go up the stairs, since she doesn’t think they’d support her weight. She then mentions something a bit odd: when she ran her finger over the dust in the kitchen, it came back clean. On closer inspection, it turns out that while the dust in the rest of the house is real, in the kitchen it’s painted on.

She examines the kitchen a little bit closer, eventually finding smudged fingerprints on a dial on the stove. This leads to the discovery that the kitchen is actually an elevator, coming to rest at the end of a long, steel corridor.

Keisha then goes back to describing their trip for a moment, talking about getting stuck in traffic, before finally reaching Mostar:

That evening we reached Mostar, where the bullet holes still riddle building, because the buildings no longer have owners.

There is a hill overlooking town, where the Catholic snipers once spent months murdering their Muslim neighbors trapped against the river below. When the war was over, the Catholics built a several-story tall cross on that hill. A gesture that could only be taken as one last act of aggression. This is what we murdered you for, it said.

We observed this with our curious foreign gazes, and the next day we drove on to Split, back on the coast, and ate mediocre pizza looking at an extraordinary harbor sunset.

Back in the corridor, Keisha runs into a security door that’s open, revealing a large man-made cavern with a lot of equipment and people. The woman that Keisha has been tracking for the past few episodes is waiting for her at the end of the stairs, and is not particularly happy to see her. She points out that there are cameras all over the place, so there was no way that Keisha would be able to “stumble on all this” without them knowing.

Keisha asks what’s going to happen now.

I didn’t waste time asking questions she wasn’t going to answer.
“Keisha, why do you keep putting me in this position?” she said. She looked genuinely sad and frustrated. “I don’t want to do anything to you. I like you, Keisha. I like Alice too, and God knows that woman loves you.”
“Don’t you fucking dare talk about Alice to me,” I said.

The woman responds by nodding, and tapping her fingers on the railing. After a moment, she says that what she should do is kill Keisha, since they can’t risk their current location being leaked and knows that she’s going to broadcast this story over the radio. She then tells Keisha that what’s going to happen is that she’s going to let Keisha go

…and you are never going to come back here. You are going to respect that I am putting myself completely on the line by doing this. You’re gonna realize that I am not doing this to manipulate you, but because you seem like a good person, and there is just not enough of those.”

She walks Keisha back to the elevator, and tells her to live her life and keep driving her truck, saying that “there’s no freedom in uncovering these secrets, I promise.” Keisha finds herself back in the farmhouse. She concedes that the Bay & Creek commander may be right, but that she’s not looking for freedom. She notes that Bay & Creek appear to have almost limitless resources to fight the Thistle Men (and by extension, the US government), and wonders exactly where those resources are coming from. She also wonders if there are any other stations like this, located in similar abandoned locations:

All over this world, abandoned places. Houses wasting away into the tall grass. Office buildings with shattered windows. Churches with empty pews. And this is leaving aside the places that have been buried or drowned or otherwise destroyed. Once a hundred years ago in Poland, there was a wooden synagogue in the countryside and the inside was painted in a dizzying profusion of color. It was truly a monumental work of art. That synagogue was burned.

What hides in the abandoned places? Some holed pain and regret, crimes forgotten and not forgotten. Others hold human beings, living there because they can’t live anywhere else, because they need to hide or because they just need a roof over their heads, even if that roof has holes and a slant to it.

Concrete farmhouses in the Balkans hold a story no one wants to tell anymore. And now, warrens and mazes, secret elevators. In the hollow places, in the abandoned places, there is movement and whispers.

Keisha makes it back to her truck and gets ready to leave when a shadow falls across her. She thinks for a moment that the Bay & Creek commander has decided to kill her after all, but that there isn’t really anything that she can do about. A voice tells her that they’ve been waiting for her for a while, and it turns out that it’s Sylvia. Sylvia, if you recall, is the teenage girl that Keisha had helped break into a police station in Part 1.

Keisha says, “You startled the shit out of me,” and Sylvia apologizes. She leans her head on Keisha’s shoulder for a moment before telling her that she needs her help, and that she wouldn’t have sought out Keisha if it wasn’t important.

Sylvia falls asleep, and Keisha mentions that she hadn’t realized how much she’d missed having company until she had it again. She says that there was no way she could have refused Sylvia’s request, since “it’s not every day that you get to solve a murder mystery.” She then closes with

For now, from your loving wife, carrying a sleeping child safely through this unfriendly night,
Goodbye Alice. Stay safe

Man, this episode raises some interesting questions. Like Keisha, I’m wondering exactly what’s going on with Bay & Creek. The return of Sylvia is also a pretty good twist, and I’m wondering what exactly this murder mystery will entail.

There is another bit of the episode that I found amusing. See, at the end of each episode, Joseph Fink (the show’s creator and writer) comes on and tells a weird knock knock joke. I haven’t really been including them because they generally don’t’ have to do with the plot, but I liked this particular one:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting cow.

Interrupting cow who? Hello?

Pastures cut through by water and windbreaks, but otherwise it’s unbroken grass for a long time now. But who said different was important or good? Who said we needed things to be untedious? Who are we to expect better from a world that isn’t? Who are we? Does anyone know? Has anyone checked on that? OK.

…Are you still the-Moo.

Maybe I’m just weird, but this got a chuckle out of me.

 

 

 

 

 

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