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The Modern Sentinel

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[ “It’s that time of the evening again folks, and what a fine evening it is! Well, you know, if you consider cold and rainy fine. Which I don’t. So it’s anyone’s guess as to why I live here instead of some tropical rainforest somewhere. Regardless! Welcome back to Cascade’s Curious! … Hang on, it won’t play the theme song.”]

 

The host’s voice paused and a slight, barely-audible tapping noise took its place. Within seconds, a short and familiar jingle played, generating a quiet “whoop” of accomplishment from him.

 

[“Hah! There we go. Crisis averted, everybody. It’s a good thing I got that working, otherwise nobody would know what masterpiece they’d tuned in to listen to. Doesn’t matter that I announced the name, like, five seconds ago. ANYWAYS, today’s topic is a request from a listener. They’d like to know about the Cedarhorn Society, which I’ll admit, personal favorite of mine. SO. Let’s roll back in time a bit! It’s the good old year of 1974, middle of January, two degrees below zero, ass-fucking knowehere Yosemite National Park, somewhere north of the Tuolumne River. It all started with this one guy, Ben Cervo. Real Davy Crockett wannabee type. Decides he wants to go hunt some shit, even though it’s January, and again, negative two degrees.”]

 

James “Jim” Ellison, detective for the Major Crimes unit of the Cascade Police Department, really had no concrete explanation for why he still listened to something he considered so juvenile. Cascade’s Curious, one of the most popular podcasts in the entire American Northwest (and probably the American Everything Else too), was all about unbelievable, supernatural, or just plain odd phenomena. Cryptids, conspiracies, cults, the whole weirdo nine yards. Puerile topics for a puerile podcast.

 

And Jim believed in absolutely none of it.

 

Of course there were the episodes that revolved around cults, real genuine cults that, unlike spooky specters, definitely existed and definitely executed freak-ass rituals. But, that’s as far as Jim’s imagination would let him go. He never believed in the more… supernatural aspects. Rituals? Sure, those could have happened. Humans are realistically capable of performing ceremonies. Curses resulting from said rituals? Yeah, never happened. Sacrificial murder? Sure, humans are realistically capable of performing murder. Victim comes back as a vengeful spirit and Poltergeists their way to revenge?

 

You guessed it, never happened.

 

So why, then, would the very reality-based, logic-seeing, purely objective detective still listen? That’s what he was actively pondering while on the slow and uneventful cruise home in his truck. It was dark, quiet, and peaceful. Everything he needed after a long day of work.

 

As Jim silently sorted through his thoughts, the podcast in the background continued to play, overlapping with his personal theories.

 

[“And he breaks literally the FIRST rule of self-preservation! This guy Cervo didn’t tell anyone where he was going or when he planned on coming back. Pro tip for you all out there? Don’t do that.”]

 

One of the major reasons he still faithfully listened to the show, Jim decided, was that the host had what he could only describe as the voice of a fucking angel. See, the detective would never admit it, but he had been struggling with some… odd problems lately, and nobody could tell him what was wrong. He was almost positive that he was simply going insane. Everywhere he went, lights were too bright and sounds were too loud. Smells were too pungent and tastes were too potent. Even the clothes he wore on his back antagonized him, making his skin feel like it was being lovingly massaged by literal goddamn sandpaper.

 

[“…obviously got turned around, with the sun going down, flashlight very coincidentally dead, and no compass on him either, it’s almost like he was TRYING to get lost, real embarrassing for this palooka.”]

 

Sometimes it would culminate together and force him into a dangerous, almost dormant state in which his conscious thought hopped on the proverbial train and left the fucking station.

 

[“…search party was eventually sent out three days later when he didn’t show up for work and failed to notify them. Of course by now, the authorities suspected that the dumbass had long since turned into a Cervo-sicle,”]

 

But… When he listened to Cascade’s Curious, everything was different.

 

[“…body was never actually found, but y’know, it was the 1970s, hippie central, everyone was probably zooted to the max. Not that I’d… know the hippie lifestyle from personal experience or anything, just hypothesizing here…”]

 

Jim had never gone catatonic while listening. The host’s voice was like sweet soothing buttermilk to his poor frazzled senses. Every word he spoke felt like a gentle tug that anchored him to reality.

 

He desperately wished there was a logical explanation for that. He REALLY desperately wished there was some explanation grounded in logic, but no matter what his brain came up with, nothing ever seemed genuinely reasonable.

 

[“So here’s where it gets kinda supernatural. Some theorists believe that Ben Cervo actually survived! Though, “survived” can mean a few different things depending on who you ask. Some say he just miraculously didn’t die, regular ordinary sack of flesh, 100% bonafide human. Others say that at least part of him died, and that he became some kind of fucked up half-demon creature. REGARDLESS, pretty much everyone agrees that he went on to establish a rather, how do you say, fucky-wucky wacko cult community.”]

 

It was probably the only time Jim felt completely confident while driving home. Every other time had him drowning in the fear that his brain might shut off on the highway and cause a fourteen-car pileup.

 

So Friday nights were extra special to the detective. Cascade’s Curious was hosted every Monday and Friday evening (and Wednesday too on a bi-weekly basis), but Fridays were extra special. Fridays were when Jim had all the time in the world to take a nice, slow, calm drive home with the promise of sleeping in late for the weekend added as a little bonus.

 

[“…he ended up dubbing it the Cedarhorn Society, and it was ‘governed’ by some wack-ass monarchical system allegedly established by Cervo himself. See, the Cedarhorn Society has this real bizarre relationship with deer. Pretty much worship them. Except they don’t call them deer, they call them cedarhorns. That’s where the name came from. Maybe Cervo forgot what the fuck a deer was and just pulled some vaguely-related words out of his ass.”]

 

Jim wasn’t even pretending to still be paying attention to the content of that night’s episode. He was filtering it through his ears, allowing it to become a subliminal message of mental grounding.

 

The detective hummed quietly to himself as he pulled into the private parking lot reserved for the residents of 852 Prospect Avenue, a building with two floors of apartments built above a bakery/coffee shop establishment. Seemed like those things were everywhere nowadays.

 

After parking the truck, he took his phone and trudged up to the loft, exhausted after a long day of the incredibly invigorating activities of the detective lifestyle, including such strenuous events such as taking witness statements and filing an assload of paperwork. Truly, it was an exciting life.

 

While he had been listening to Cascade’s Curious through his truck’s speakers before, Jim had switched back to listening just through his phone as he clambered into the loft. Bluetooth technology, obviously. It was 2019, they had the technology.

 

Finally, after grabbing a beer from the fridge and maneuvering to his living room couch, Detective Ellison closed his eyes and allowed himself to once again be practically hypnotized by the podcast host’s enchanting voice.

 

[“Then there’s the whole aristocracy thing. The Cedarhorn Society basically recognizes two authority figures above all others, and that includes in the regular world too. To these cultists, their leaders are above people like the President, or the Queen of England. They’re the ‘real’ authority, typical cult shit, ring a bell? So these deer guys, they have what they call the Timberbeau and the Timberbelle. Think of it kind of like King and Queen. The cult is still reportedly active today, though legally they’re banned from Yosemite altogether. Not that that has ever actually stopped them. Some articles suggest that the Cedarhorn Society tried to sue the state of California for keeping them from their… ‘religious site,’ meaning, the place where the mythical Ben Cervo uh… ascended? Transformed? Shit if I know.”]

 

Jim let out a low chuckle at the tone of bewilderment in the host’s voice. He had missed a lot of the context of today’s story while lost in his sea of thoughts on the drive home, so he wasn’t too certain about what was being discussed. Regardless, he found it amusing.

 

The detective put considerable effort into trying to imagine what the host’s facial expression looked like while taking a sip of his beer. He was overwhelmingly curious about the face behind the voice. Who was he? Where was he? What was he like?

 

Jim had lived in Cascade his whole life. Sure, it was a pretty big city with sprawling suburbs. But as a detective with the PD, he got around! Had he ever unknowingly interacted with the host somewhere? Most likely not, he was sure he’d have remembered that beautiful voice. But maybe, just maybe, they had walked past each other, or even just seen one another?

 

He couldn’t help but wonder…

 

[“So yeah, that’s really about it. I don’t really have an ‘insider scoop’ on this cult, and knowing how cults are, I don’t think I WANT one either. As always, I’m going to leave everyone with my classic warning. The things I discuss on this show are dangerous! Dangerous and deadly! This is a learning experience, folks! Not an opportunity. Just like other cults, the Cedarhorn Society is full of fucked up people who do fucked up things. Not gonna sugarcoat it, they apparently use the bones of kidnapped hikers to make decorative, antler-like ornaments. Again, real fucked up shit! As always, stay safe, and stay curious!”]

 

That was how it always ended. A genuinely caring and gleeful exclamation of “Stay safe, and stay curious!”

 

It was kind of adorable, really. That’s what Jim thought, anyways.

 

As soon as the podcast ended, he finished the last of his beer and paused. The detective slowly leaned back into the couch and sat silently, eyes slightly drooping, the exhaustion from earlier starting to set in. The loft was so… quiet now, no longer crowded with the boisterous voice behind Cascade’s Curious. He could always replay older episodes to fill the air again, but…

 

No, he should probably head up to sleep now. Weekend or not, it was getting late.

 

And so he did, steadily hauling himself up from the couch and to the stairs, carefully making his way up. It was a long, hard day. Compared to other days, it was actually a pretty good one, too! A case was solved, closure was gained, and a criminal was put behind bars.

 

So… why did Jim suddenly feel so… hollow? Like something was missing?

 

The stoic detective would never admit it out loud, obviously, he was a reserved guy. But… Sure, he’d maybe occasionally entertain the idea of actually having that loud, warm, enthusiastic voice filling the loft. Not just through some cheap speaker, this time. The real deal! The authentic host himself! He went so far as to consider tracking him down just so he could meet and befriend the guy, but, no. He wouldn’t abuse his police department resources like that. (Plus the implications of doing that are like, mega creepy, dude). Whoever ran Cascade’s Curious had his reasons for never disclosing his identity and Jim just had to accept that.

 

…For now, anyway.