There’s a reason you were always warned not to let the bed bugs bite. As insidious as they are disgusting, the tiny creatures leave their mark — even in audio form. “The Mattress King,” one of two new episodes of Larry Fessenden and Glenn McQuaid’s “Tales From Beyond the Pale” premiering this week, serves as a potent reminder of that all-too-timely fact.
Written by Clay McLeod Chapman, the 30-minute narrative is joined by Douglas Buck’s “Hidden Records.” Kevin Cline, Tony Todd, Susan Corbett, Alexandre Lazarre, and Esinam Beckley lend their voices to the latter story, which tells of a wayward teenager whose record collection includes an LP that links the worlds of the living and the dead — namely the boy’s departed father.
Ana Asensio, Kate Flannery, and Martin Starr voice-act alongside Chapman, Fessenden, and McQuaid on “The Mattress King,” whose eponymous character takes a used-car-salesman approach to hawking his wares — many of which are pre-owned (not that his customers know that). This raises a concern: bed bugs. Or it would, if he were concerned with much of anything. As the only way to deal with them is kerosene, things eventually go up in flames.
“I’ve got a slush fund of ideas that tend to get slushier over the years,” says Chapman when asked about the story’s conception. “I’ll usually let the story dictate how it wants to be told and in what medium. When Larry and Glenn reached out and invited me to pitch them some ideas, I pulled out the Mattress King.”
The podcast format was especially apropos of the subject, according to Chapman. “There’s something so personal, so suffocating, about sound, having these effects triggered in your ear. For a story about bed bugs, I really wanted to instill that feeling of the listener’s skin crawling, and that’s a lot easier with a pair of ear-buds than something as distancing and far-removed as a film or TV screen,” he says. “The vibrations of sound, the actual physical experience of listening to something like this…it’s enough to make you never want to press play on your iPod ever again.”
Chapman also reveals that the title character is inspired by a real figure in his neighborhood of New York who he’ll occasionally see in a white van “trawling along the blocks for abandoned mattresses. He’ll drive by and pick up any mattress that’s been tossed to the curb, tying it onto the roof of his van and heading off to find the next one. Some days he’ll actually have four or five mattresses stacked on his roof. It’s insane.”
Buck was also inspired by someone he encountered in real life: the guitarist in an old-school blues band, emphasis on “old” — they were all in their late 60s or older — that he happened upon in a local bar. “It was while watching him, amazed by how much he still had to give of himself, that the story idea hit me of a rebellious high-school guitarist on a search to find his long missing blues playing father…and his haunted and deadly guitar.”
Another practice rapidly disappearing alongside physical media plays into “Hidden Records” as well. “I was comparing notes with a similarly aged peer on our parallel younger days in which we used to play vinyl albums backwards (namely, Prince’s and the Beatles’) eagerly listening for hidden messages from Satan…and a lightbulb came on and that quickly became the last key element in my narrative.”
Listen to “The Mattress King” and “Hidden Records” below.