Have you ever been to Calgary? If you haven’t, you should go. But don’t limit yourself to the usual tourist attractions. By all means, take advantage of the wonderful arts and culture and that permeate the city – but know this, too: Beneath it all lies something else. Something different. Something just a tiny bit… off.
There is, for example, a wall in the basement of a restaurant called Teatro. The wall is a sickly shade of yellow; no attempts to paint it a different color have ever been successful. Bring with you a small jar of hazelnut oil, paint the outline of a door on the wall with it, and push. You will find yourself in a sparsely furnished room with walls the same shade of yellow as the wall you passed through to get to it. Examine the desk to find a collection of documents written on the stationary of a bank you won’t ever have heard of and dated 1912. These documents predict every stock market crash and financial disaster around the entire world from 1912 until, astonishingly, twenty years in the future – at which point the predictions abruptly stop mid-sentence.
Or, say you find yourself in the administration building of the University of Calgary. In the basement, you’ll find a disused office. You’ll have to do a little work to get into it; its door has been painted shut and a broken bookcase has been placed in front of it. Once you make your way inside, however, you’ll discover a room that has seemingly been untouched for roughly 30 years. The degrees hanging on the wall reveal that the office once belonged to a Dr. Earl Wiser, PhD; his specialty appears to have been history, but you’ll find no record of Dr. Wiser in the university’s records. The books in the bookcases lining the walls all cover the Second World War, as does the ream of paper stacked next to the typewriter on the desk. There’s just one problem: According to both the typewriter and the books, the Axis powers won.
Or try this: Get on the 305 bus (it doesn’t matter where you start) and ride it for exactly six stops (it doesn’t matter where you get off, either). From there, walk to the nearest medical clinic and ask to see the on-call doctor. If the receptionist tells you he’s not available, ask for the other on-call doctor. The receptionist will then direct you towards exam room three. Wait there until the doctor appears, although be warned – he could take anywhere from 60 seconds to six hours to show up. He won’t begin with small talk or ask you what’s wrong; instead, he’ll get right to the examination. If you’re healthy, you won’t be when you leave (after all, you did just waste his valuable time). If you’re ill, however, he’ll tell you it will clear up by the end of the week. When the week is up, not only will you be well, you’ll also be free of any other chronic conditions you may have had. However, you’ll find that in exchange for this small miracle, no other doctor in the city will be willing to see you – ever.
There are 200 of phenomena like these scattered throughout the city of Calgary; over the time, they have become known as Calgary’s Gideon Keys. The source of the term “Gideon Key” appears to be unconnected to the Calgary phenomena, although a little bit of digging traces the phrase to a story called “Street Theory”:
“There are seven words in every Gideon’s Bible – y’know, the one they stuff in every hotel room – that can’t be found in any other bible. If you repeat those seven words to yourself while grasping the doorknob to your room, the door will open to any hotel room in the world. Of course, if you want to control where you’re going, you’ll need to know the Gideon’s Key – one more inserted word, unique to each copy, that acts as an index for each room.”
You can see why people started using the term when they refer to the Calgary phenomena.
Should you make it your mission to find Calgary’s Gideon Keys, you will become what’s called an acolyte. It is unclear precisely what happens to those who find all the keys; we know that some of them bestow god-like powers upon their seekers, and that others appear to serve as warnings. Some, like the Clinic mentioned above, may even be both. However, this is not their true purpose. The real reason you go looking for the keys is this: Each one reveals a small part of a bigger picture known as “the secret history.” This history is not limited to Calgary, but encompasses the entire world. The Yellow Room tells you something about the secret history; so, too, does the Typewriter and the books contained within its office. But while you search, be on the lookout for Them. Capital T. You’ll know them by the lingering scent of allspice and the trail of blood They leave in Their wake.
If the rabbit hole hasn’t already gone deep enough for you, we’re about to tumble down a little further. The keys, you see, first surfaced on 4chan’s paranormal board, /x/. I’ve been unable to locate the original thread (4chan is a scarier place than anything else I’ve ever written about), but from what I’ve been able to gather, a fellow going by the name of CalgAnon posted in March of 2009, “I found a 200 page composition book in MacEwan hall at the University of Calgary. Each page of the notebook has a different, numbered entry. Despite being numbered, the entries are in no particular order.” He then proceeded to transcribe the entries, noting when occasional deviations from its standard form occurred: Pasted-in emails written in different voices, relevant news articles, single words scrawled in the margins, and so on. The transcription is incomplete; we can only assume that some entries were illegible and therefore impossible to retype. But reading it carefully, occasionally jumping forwards or backwards, connecting the dots and piecing together all the threads as you go, yields a different, related narrative – one of a number of acolytes, their search for the Keys, and how they fared when they encountered Them.
There’s someone known as Sandy, sometimes referred to as “Sand-Man.” The notebook appears to be his; in an entry called The Orange Room, we learn that he has begun work on a “guide book” of sorts, which may in fact be the notebook itself. There’s Nick Maharis, who goes off to explore the Children’s Hospital in one entry and ends up with his death recorded on a DVD in another. There are Jess and Matt, who may not be acolytes, but rather members of a different group dedicated to uncovering more phenomena (perhaps this is why Sandy, the chronicler of the phenomena, had gotten in touch with them). And there is Edward Ramsey de Cae, known as Eddie Decae, who runs the Book Store and keeps whatever dangerous device hidden in the Hope Chest safe. Eddie is an unknown quantity; he may be an acolyte, but it’s possible that he may be one of Them, as well.
As for who They are… well, perhaps the more accurate question would be concerning what They are. Theories suggest that They may be acolytes or seekers gone bad; reflections of ourselves; or, perhaps strangest of all, refugees from another history – possibly the secret history, which may or may not be the same world as the one depicted in the papers and books belonging to the Typewriter’s papers. In the Butcher’s Shop, we learn that They rode in on an ark, and we discover in the Other Mall that They hoard items that could have existed, but didn’t (or at least, not in our Calgary). The Spray Bottle may be used as a weapon against Them, although it’s not terribly effective. We know that They’re the enemies of acolytes and seekers – but sometimes, it’s troublingly unclear whether we’re the good guys or whether They are.
The 200 phenomena of Calgary may not be outright terrifying; they could also use a good copyedit, so grammar and spelling fanatics may find themselves taken out of the mystery a little bit by the errors scattered throughout them. Even so, I still always walk away with a distinctly unsettled feeling each time I read them. I am not at all certain, therefore, why I decided it would be a good idea to write this edition of “Scare Yourself Silly” during a week in which I’m totally alone in the house; given that all I have for protection should They appear are my two cats, one of whom is a literal scaredy-cat and the other of whom is nuts… well, let’s just say that it turned out to be a poor decision (and no, it wasn’t helped by the fact that I have boatloads of allspice in my kitchen cabinets).
Or maybe it was a great one. After all, they’re just stories… right?
Well, maybe. Logic dictates that they almost certainly aren’t real, as does a little bit of fancy Googling. At one point it appears that The Calganon Journal a site not run by the Keys’ creator, but still the oldest one connected with the phenomena out there, posted an entry claiming that the Keys were, in fact a work of fiction. The entry has since been deleted, but “Dr. Johnson” (likely not his real name) of the Gideon Keys Wikia noted on reddit several years ago that he contacted The Calganon Journal about it to see if he could get to the bottom of it. The site’s webmaster (is that a word we still use?) allegedly told him that CalgAnon had stated right before he stop frequenting /x/ that the Keys were nothing more than short stories for an art project. The good doctor was unable to confirm whether this was the case, though, as he didn’t have access to the /x/ thread in question; when he asked reddit whether any of them knew, though, someone offered that it was the creator of a derivative work called the Glasgow Keys, not CalgAnon, who had admitted to his stories being an art project. The jury might still be out on this one, but even without confirmation, the signs point pretty firmly towards “false.”
They’re still fascinating, though, and I think what makes them so intriguing is the fact that, yes, they’re fiction, but they’re tinged with just a hint of reality. My favorite stories are the ones that ask “What if?”: What if our thirst for knowledge and power becomes our undoing? What if everyone who has ever emigrated to the United States brought with them the gods of their home countries – literally? And in this case, what if there were a whole different Calgary lurking right below the surface of the “real” one? What if that Calgary is actually the real Calgary? What if everything we thought we knew turned out to be frighteningly, impossibly wrong? That’s some Matrix shit right there – but way weirder. At least we can chalk The Matrix up to technology. I have no idea what we’d use to explain away Calgary’s Gideon keys.
I’ve never been to Calgary, so unfortunately I can’t speak to the accuracy of the geography made use of by the keys. Any Canadian Toasties out there want to confirm or deny the existence of a restaurant called Teatro or a clinic located on the 305’s bus route? Or better yet: Is anyone feeling adventurous to give one of the phenomena a shot? Yes? Awesome. Don’t forget to report back.
We’ll be waiting to hear what you find.
[Image via raf_ycc/Flickr]
Lucia Peters is endlessly fascinated by creepy things, both real and imagined; she writes about them regularly at The Ghost in My Machine. Her work has also appeared on TheGloss, Crushable, Bustle, and BettyConfidential