Theme: “It was magical”
I could not take my eyes off of him, even in such a simple moment. He was at the kitchen table, morning sun cutting through the windows and setting him aglow. After all that had happened, seeing him there made my heart race. I took a deep breath; it was important to be centered.
He smiled at me, watching me watching him. It was a perfect moment, everything still. I breathed in deep, inhaling the scent of fresh coffee. I just needed to stay in this reality as long as possible.
“You know I love you, right?” I asked, laying my hand over his.
He took a sip of his coffee instead of answering, but I could see it in his eyes. I knew he appreciated all I had sacrificed to give us this.
It was almost perfect enough to forget it was magical. To forget that the glamour would fade and I’d be left alone with the dregs of reality once again. I willed with everything I had to keep the charade up longer this time. Eventually, it had to stick, and we’d get the happily ever after we deserved.
I was concentrating so hard I almost didn’t hear him.
“Please,” he whispered, his eyes pleading with me from behind the broken smile. “Please let me go.”
I felt a surge of panic, of rage. How dare he threaten what I had made? Boiling anger spilled into the world, distorting the image until it finally broke apart. I was left staring at a bloated corpse across the table.
I pushed from the table and assessed the wards. His spirit was not getting away, because I would make it right. I would make it work. He promised me forever. It was not my fault he tried to break his promise.
James settled into his accustomed spot on the couch. His eyes began their habitual trip out the window—nothing was there, as always—before he snapped them back to the doctor across the room. She smiled, clipboard balanced on her knee.
“So, today’s our last day?” she began.
He shifted in his seat, reaching for one of the decorative pillows and pulling it into his lap. “That’s what you keep telling me.” It was supposed to be good-natured, but even he heard the edge at the end.
“It’s normal to have some anxiety. This is a change.”
He nodded but did not immediately respond. She left that silence long enough before leaning forward. “We’ll wrap things up today, but first, how have the past few weeks been?”
This was familiar, a comforting routine. In the beginning, this discussion had been full of stress, anger, anxiety, and grief. Now it was…boring. They checked in on the usual things—all going fine. She was right, of course; it was time to end. And he had even suggested it. But facing the reality….
“So,” she said after a while, “if you could go back to the beginning, what would that James think?”
He laughed at the image. “He’d think I was trying to trick him into something.”
“Yeah, I mean, look at me.” And James finally paused to do just that. “I went to my daughter’s recital last week,” he said quietly. “And I finally called Ricky. He’s doing good.”
“He wasn’t upset?”
James shook his head. “Hell, I haven’t had a nightmare this week.” Once he started, it was hard not to see the fruits of his determination.
At the end of the hour, he stood outside the office door, business card in hand “just in case.” It was time for the next chapter.
Theme: The World Upside Down Image
“You know the only option is to accept it,” she said, her words gentle yet firm.
“I know. I just–” the words broke. It was hard to see anything through this wash of tears. He brushed a hand across his eyes and the world blurred further. “How do you know?” he asked after a long, shaking breath.
“You don’t,” was the simple reply.
He studied the room around him, its chaos and senselessness. Things that had been overlooked now stood in stark relief. There was the picture of his sister, the keychain his friend had picked up on vacation, a t-shirt from a forgotten concert. This detritus of his life, now a testament.
“But what happened?” he asked. Clawing through his mind, he could find plenty of memories. But the end was blank. The empty space of a recently pulled tooth.
She shrugged, eyes wandering the room with polite curiosity.
“Can I say goodbye? Call my dad?”
She smiled, an ancient smile worn many times, as she softly shook her head. “The time for goodbyes has almost passed. Only one is left.”
She reached out her hand. He stared at it, world reeling and snapping into focus in succession. One moment, there was peace and acceptance. The next a maelstrom of doubt and uncertainty.
“They’ll miss me, though,” he said. His eyes searched hers, seeking mercy. “I don’t want them to be sad.”
“It is a human’s lot to love and lose.” She made a small gesture with her hand, urging him forward. “But joy comes with reunion. You can wait for them, just beyond.”
He did not try to wipe away the tears now, letting them fall as he took her hand. He looked at the world behind him–his corner of the universe–as it began to grow dim.
Length: around 30 minutes each episode
I’ve listened to…all released episodes
Transcripts Available: Not that I found
The Premise: Samantha Williams is an investigative journalist uncovering the truth behind unusual events. When she starts to dig into what happened to four teens in a mental health hospital, the missing Filmore Four, the story takes her deep into dangerous territory.
My Review: The Gloom is a remarkable horror story told through the investigative journalism frame. It sets out to tell the story of the Filmore Four, teenagers who died or vanished in relationship to a mental health hospital, all with a shared elusion related to The Gloom. It hints at a whole lot going on beneath the surface, and the reveal of information and the power of The Gloom is handled very well throughout.
One of the things that makes this audiodrama standout is how well it plays with uncertainty. Throughout the story, it is hard to know who or what to trust. The characters may be legitimately experiencing delusions with no ties to the real world. Or perhaps they are all tied together by this supernatural presence. Or maybe it’s an extended metaphor. Or maybe it’s medical experimentation. Even as the story comes together in the end, there are threads of uncertainty that make it hard to distinguish what is really going on. I absolutely love that constant ambiguity. And yet the end leaves enough that a listener can certainly settle on a conclusion.
The story is primarily told through Samantha’s experience, in addition to tapes of the Filmore Four. The frame of a radio production has been used regularly in audiodramas, and it works well here. It provides Samantha an initial impetus for the story, before the events begin to draw her in. The other characters in the world are also well developed and provide skepticism and expertise throughout, giving it a very realistic feel. I appreciate that there is a constant push to find the underlying cause, because I don’t think most people are ready to throw rationality out too easily, even when confronted with incredible things. Yet there are pieces left that lack logical explanation, leaving room for that delightful uncertainty.
As a therapist, I was also overjoyed to hear someone finally mention HIPAA when the journalist comes knocking. In general, I felt the mental health aspects were treated fairly. Some of the specifics about symptoms and disorders was clouded by the supernatural elements, so I give a bit of leeway in the accuracy. It is not, after all, a case study in diagnosing and treating mental illness. However, it was refreshing to have the realities portrayed and have someone call out unethical behavior from mental health providers directly. Since shining a light on the mental health system is one of the initial aims, that and understanding what The Gloom might be, it handles those elements well.
It comes from Violet Hour Media (who also created In Another Room), so the production value is there. I found the sound quality and use of sound effects to be great. The writing is well paced and engaging from start to finish. Characters show real emotion, and the world comes alive.
Overall, I enjoyed The Gloom from start to finish. The story has some familiar notes, but yet comes alive with the strength of the characters. It introduces a compelling mystery that only gets deeper as the details come out. It could be easy for this to come apart, but the story stays together to the end. For a spooky, supernatural story that manages to stay firmly anchored in our world, definitely give this a listen.
Find them here: The Gloom
Theme: When you looked inside, you knew things would never be the same.
The water lapped against the boat, and I leaned back, letting the salt bake onto my body. It was time to head back to shore, but my boat was lighter than I had hoped. A little longer, a few more casts.
Then, there was a new sound. I shook off the afternoon doldrums and leaned my ears toward the sound, a steady tapping coming from the side of the boat.
It was some detritus caught in the tides. A mundane explanation, certainly. I started to settle back and lose myself in thought again. But the sound changed. A tap, then a splash, then more taps repeating a pattern. As if the ocean were playing a rhyming game from my youth.
I stood, shaking off fatigue and the inertia of a long day. As I leaned over the edge and gazed down into the water, I froze.
Events that change the way you view the world should come with some sort of fanfare. I got nothing besides a still day on the ocean and the traditional melancholy of my thoughts. Yet my world was reeling. For in that water was a face.
It was mostly human, I reasoned. A swimmer, here, far from shore, I irrationally reasoned. But that did not account for the graceful swoop of its lower body, the tail splashing water at my boat. The face smiled, golden eyes reflecting familiar friendliness. I had no way to understand what I was seeing, but I knew it was beautiful.
The creature tapped on the side of the boat with a playful twist of its head. Those were human hands, but for the webbing. One hand reached out to me, warm, inviting, and kind. I accepted.
If only I had known I could never go back.
Theme: “Something was wrong”
Cheryl sat stiffly in the metal chair, taking deep breaths as Dr. Brown taught her; she studied the woman across the table. That woman had familiar blue eyes, a kind smile, and hair tucked into a nostalgic messy braid. Cheryl forced a smile.
“Hi, mom,” the woman said, hope and pain in her eyes.
“Addie?” Cheryl started. Dr. Brown nodded optimistically from where he perched on his chair in the corner.
“Yeah, mom, it’s me. It’s Addie.”
There were tears brimming on either side of the table. Cheryl let the edge of a true smile form. She reached across the table and took the young woman’s hand.
But something wasn’t right. Cheryl recoiled, all the joy vanishing.
“No,” she barked, “you aren’t Addie. Addie died. I saw her. She died.” The words were spilling out now, each more agonized than the last.
Dr. Brown was beside her in a moment. “Cheryl,” he said gently, “remember, we talked about this. Addie was taken to the hospital. She li–“
“No, my baby died. You are trying to trick me. It’s all a trick.” Now the words were a full-on yell, and none of Dr. Brown’s soothing made it through. He shared a glance with Addie, then tapped twice on the door behind him.
The orderly helped Cheryl out of the room, a mix of firm and gentle born of compassion and years of experience.
Once the door closed, Dr. Brown turned back to Addie, the customer service smile fading.
“That was a pitiful performance,” he spat. “We’ve got that woman as drugged as we can while keeping her conscious, and she wasn’t fooled for a minute.” His gaze was cold and Addie met it in kind. “Do better,” he hissed as he exited, “or you’ll get us all killed.”