I have been to creepy towns in the American north east. Once, while lost in central Massachusetts, I stopped at a convenience store for directions. The woman within who gave me the directions I needed was eerily nice; the stock on the shelves of the convenience store held products with labels that looked older than I was. On a trip in upstate New York, I stopped at a post office; the misty morning combined with the general disrepair of the sidewalks and exterior of the building had my companions looking out the windows to be ready when the zombies arrived. Thankfully, neither of those creepy towns had anything on “Creepy Town,” the first episode in Season 2 of Bookburners.
Short recap: Bookburners is the first serial from Serial Box Publishing, a company dedicated to producing prose fiction that feels like the best modern serial storytelling—meaning, the stories feel like really excellent television shows. Each serial has a writing team that works together to create the season, and each episode is written by a member of that team and released on Wednesday mornings for your reading pleasure. I’ve read mine via phone, tablet, and listened to the audio versions (included in the per-episode or season-pass cost) while I’m out on a run. And “Creepy Town” makes truly excellent inspiration for running.
In season one, Bookburners introduced Sal Brooks, a NYPD officer whose brother, Perry, gets caught up in bad things of the demon kind. In order to get her brother back, Sal joins a covert and clandestine operation known as Team Three of the Vatican’s Societas Librium Occultorum: basically, the church’s secret organization that fights back against demons. It turns out that one safe (relatively) way to keep demons from impacting humanity is to trap them in books. But when those books get loose, it’s up to Team Three to recover and archive the materials. Led by Father Menchú, the team includes the tempted-by-magic archivist Asanti, devout and demon-broken hacker Liam, and cursed martial artist Grace, whose life-span is tied to the length of a candle. Though some of the ops that Sal joins them on are straightforward, others show the intrigue within the Society itself—Sal almost ends up getting killed by supposed allies, and all of Team Three is on the run before they are eventually restored and Perry is saved. But just as all seems normal, Season One ends on a cliffhanger: the reason Perry is saved has to do with supernatural forces, and Perry has a new agenda of his own. You can read the full recap over at the Serial Box blog.
“Creepy Town” may start after a three-month break from the last episode of Season 1, but the action hits almost immediately. Sal is running—from what, we don’t know—and no one seems around to save her. Cut back to what brought us here: Sal returns to the Vatican from three months of searching for her brother. The Archives, Team Three’s office, are largely repaired but “back to normal” would be a misstatement. Instead, things have changed, and archivist Asanti has a staff of assistants determined to keep the Archives a safer place. The Orb, effectively Team Three’s Bat Signal showing them the location of demonic activity that needs their intervention, isn’t working, and they have to rely on intelligence from Team Two, the diplomatic wing of the Society, to let them know they’re needed. And Team Two has just come up with a doozy: the entire population of a New England school has vanished, and it’s possible that whatever made them disappear will spread into the surrounding town.
As a counterpoint to the main activity, readers see a young boy, running from bullies in full costume: he flees into a library decked out with Halloween-style decor for an escape route, only to stumble upon a too-helpful demon that wants to keep him safe. Without giving any further episode spoilers, I’ll say I’m really pleased about how this one is resolved, relying not on brute strength or trickery (which have their place), but rather trust and kindness, traits that deserve any celebration they receive these days.
All of which means that Season 2 is off to a great start: the tension between Asanti, who wants to explore how magic can be used for good, and Liam, who distrusts anything supernatural, looks to be central to the season, as well as the relationship between the supposedly kinder, gentler Team Two and our heroes (who have reason to keep a suspicious eye on their allies). And at the heart, as usual, is Sal’s desire to keep her brother safe, a driving force for her character that has previously ended up having far wider implications.
I’m looking forward to seeing where this season is headed, and I’ll follow Team Three into any creepy town they want to visit with delight.