Alice Isn’t Dead: A creepy road trip into darkness
Podcast: From the writer of ‘Welcome to Nightvale’ comes this thrilling, masterfully told horror story
As fiction podcasts go, Alice Isn’t Dead is extremely unusual. This uneasy, tense production from Night Vale Presents not only makes excellent use of the audio medium, but actively incorporates it into how the story at hand is being told. Jasika Nicole portrays Keisha, the narrator – a truck driver who is driving across America, delivery to delivery, looking for her missing wife, Alice. We listen to her speak into the truck radio, partially musing to herself, partially addressing Alice as though she is leaving her a voicemail describing her travels and the bleakness of the road ahead – and worse, the potential of what follows her. It is a horror, a psychological thriller and a mystery, told in short, sharp chapters.
This first episode is brief and tense: Keisha stops at a roadside diner and encounters an unsettling man eating an omelette. If you’re not predisposed towards egg-focused breakfasts, there are moments here which may be particularly unwholesome – but writer Joseph Fink, who writes Welcome To Night Vale with Jeffrey Cranor, is at his best when gently subverting things that should be ordinary and turning them sour and frightening. This omelette-encounter at a petrol station diner unfolds sharply into a pursuit – but not just a morbidly predictable creep-following-a-woman-alone pursuit, rather the man eating the omelette is described as though he’s representing something much bigger than first impressions may reveal. This kind of storytelling is masterful, and unsettling – where the listener gets a letterbox-sized insight into a bigger, darker world than can be contained in a 20-minute episode.
While extremely literary in writing and tone, the second-person format of the narration (Keisha is talking to Alice, but she is talking to you, the listener, too) makes this a very intimate and close experience. Sometimes the radio blips out mid-sentence, a stylistic choice that amps up the tension and whips information out from under us at the last second. The world we move through is one of desolate highways, as Keisha hauls a truck full of small deodorant bottles across the country – this is a blue-collar noir.
Her first interaction with the omelette man – or the Thistle Man as she comes to call him, is grotesque, but her second becomes and more tense and invasive until it culminates in a shocking scene that more than implies he is not quite human. The structure of the episode leads from altercation to Keisha’s oddly calm missives to Alice – internal to external worlds handled beautifully. She is a protagonist it is easy to want to follow into the dark, as she seeks the mysterious Alice.
It is no surprise that the novelisation of Alice Isn’t Dead is due to be released this October, and that it also is in development for television. A dark listen for the brighter evenings, this is a shocking piece of audio drama with a huge heart thundering under poetic and surprising writing.