On today's episode, we delve into the history of New Meclizine, California, starting from its humble origins, and culminating in the illness and disappearances that rocked the town during the 1980s following the rise of an experimental strain of mustard in the region.
Disclaimer: We at SCWR Productions do not claim to know the circumstances behind these incidents. No evidence implicating the Saint Olympia corporation in these events exists, and we do not purport otherwise.
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CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Hey folks, Sam here with a bit of good news about the podcast. To celebrate the show’s opening, we’re going to be operating at a bit of an accelerated release schedule over the coming few weeks. So watch this space for not monthly, and not biweekly, but weekly updates for the next three releases.
Oh, also, this episode gets a little bit body-horror-intensive towards the end, so if that’s the kind of thing that squicks you out, um, maybe don’t listen.
Alright, that’s it! Bye.
Mustard. Sinapis alba. “The Stank.” There are many names for this unassuming foodstuff, but only one truth: it is evidence that, if there is a higher power, whatever it cannot be wholly malevolent.
A tablespoon of mustard, when spread onto a piece of bread, adds a much-needed kick to any sandwich. When slathered onto the backs of one’s ankles, it serves as a folk remedy for warding off randy terriers. When mixed into a gin and tonic, it completely and utterly ruins the drink.
But in the quiet town of New Meclizine, California, this simple condiment opens the wounds left by a decades-long history of pain, deceit, and fear. It evokes the tale...of the Mustard Conspiracy.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening to Liminal Criminals.
Today, the small, Northern California town of New Meclizine sports a facade of normalcy that betrays none of its sordid past. New Meclizine High, home of the Sailors, is middling in academics and athletics alike. The quality of the town’s infrastructure is slightly worse than the California state average. Its employment and poverty statistics are slightly better. The surrounding Klamath Mountains are quiet, save for the occasional birdsong or passing Humvee of militiamen.
Looks, however, can be deceiving.
The territory that would become New Meclizine was settled by American colonizers in 1849. Driven by the promise of gold in them thar hills, these people headed west in search of a fortune that few would ever attain. Fewer still settled in the region that was then called “Devil’s Mistake.” The soil was, largely infertile. The weather was more temperamental than most of Northern California. Sulfur deposits in the region caused frequent releases of a miasma which, to put it politely, smelled of chili night in Hell’s cafeteria. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, the region was sparsely populated, with its most notable settler being Elijah Stephens, known to his acquaintances as “Old Noseless.”
Devil’s Mistake saw a spike in population during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when it became a popular site for building cult compounds. The lack of surrounding settlements ensured that aspiring cult leaders would have an easy time isolating their followers from mainstream society. Its position in the mountains meant that any heavily-armed group of true believers would have a comparatively easy time defending themselves from invading government agencies. The smell of sulfur in the air was a constant reminder that the world was a terrible place and could end at any moment, but would only do so when the All-Seeing Guru predicted it would.
Cults, however, do not do well in proximity to one another. Much like the male betta fish, or the angry housecat, a cult, when placed near another member of its species, will become aggressive. Unlike a fight between fish or cats, however, the conflict between the cults of New Meclazine took years to conclude. It was, at times, a subtle war. Other times, blows or even bullets were exchanged between rival cultists. These small religious conflicts quickly attracted the attention of the authorities. The cult leaders of New Meclizine, distracted by their rival religious figureheads, made for shockingly easy targets, and, one by one, their flocks began to dissolve, ending with the collapse of the Cosmic Fish Fellowship, a religion devoted to hearing the words of its leader, Robert “Hootie” Strode, who claimed to receive the word of God by holding an empty tuna can to his ear like a telephone.
Following the Fellowship’s collapse in1974, Devil’s Mistake became home to a society of self-sufficient, but disillusioned, hippies. While most of the area’s residents chose to leave for greener pastures that smelled less like weaponized egg salad, the handful that were left were struck by a malaise. Their sense of purpose was gone. Their former brethren had abandoned them. They lived in a place that stank like the fury of a thousand asses. In short, they were desperate. And, in quintessential American fashion, corporations soon found a way to profit off of their poverty and sorrow.
During the 1970s, a deliberate loophole existed in the guidelines of the Food and Drug Administration that allowed for less stringent oversight of clinical trials. Known as the “Are You Gonna Eat That” rule, it dictated that if a company left out unattended piles of experimental drugs, and a passer-by just happened to take some of said drugs, the results could be recorded and used as data for clinical trials. And so, upon discovering the despondent masses of Devil’s Mistake, the Asclepius Pharmaceutical Corporation found their gold mine.
Representatives of Asclepius made contact with the townsfolk of Devil’s Mistake in December of 1974, offering the residents one thousand dollars per capita in exchange for letting the company leave out a shipping container of anti-seasickness medication in the center of town. The offer was met with almost-immediate acceptance, and with that, the experiments began.
Asclepius’ clinical trials were a bust, as it was rapidly discovered that use of the medication, dipheno-bromo-hydroxy-pyruvate or “Diehypy,” caused agitation, sweating, graphically sexual hallucinations involving historical figures, and a condition known as “angry lip.” However, despite the study’s failure, it opened the floodgates of other pharmaceutical companies looking for a cheap source of test subjects.
By the end of 1975, no fewer than five corporations had deployed their own shipping containers of drugs to the region.
The influx of cash sparked a new era of relative prosperity for the folk of Devil’s Mistake, and in February of 1976, the region was officially incorporated as the town of New Meclizine. In a speech given to the townsfolk, newly-elected mayor Leaf Nirvana Smith told his constituents, “This is a great day for the people of New Meclizine. Where once there were only barren rocks beneath our feet, there is now the fertile soil of prosperity. Soil riddled with ants. Ants that are crawling up my legs, all over my face, and into my mouth. Help me. I can’t get them out. Please, President Coolidge, let go of that eggplant and help me get these ants out from under my skin.”
The relationship between New Meclizine and American pharmaceutical companies came to a sudden end in 1978, when president Jimmy Carter signed the widely supported “I Can’t Believe We Let This Happen” Act. Among its many reforms, the bill ended the loophole that supported the people of New Meclizine. For a time, fear gripped the political heart of the townsfolk. What would become of hometown without its primary source of income, namely, willing subjection to morally-irresponsible drug experiments?
These fears were short-lived. The Saint Olympia Agricultural Corporation soon discovered that while the new bill had closed the loophole for experimental drugs, it had not done so for experimental foods. Representatives of Saint Olympia offered Mayor Smith a deal: if they could use the region to grow a new, experimental strain of mustard, they would build a new facility within town limits. The town government, in need of a new revenue stream, accepted the offer.
It is hard to say which sprouted faster, the Saint Olympia facility or their novel strain of mustard, dubbed “A-81”. Despite the inhospitable soil, the first harvest of A-81 in 1980 yielded a bumper crop of hardy, pungent mustard, just in time to commemorate the opening of the new complex. By February third, 1981, the bulk of the townsfolk were working for Saint Olympia, and New Meclizine, once a barren patch of foul-smelling earth, had become a prosperous, bustling township. The people of New Meclizine agreed that the partnership was a fruitful one. Since moving into town, Saint Olympia had raised the average salary of a citizen by 25 percent. Unemployment was practically nonexistent, and sudden dissociative breakdowns among the townsfolk were few and far between.
In spite of the town’s contentment, an aura of disquietude still hung over the town. The people, while happy, seemed more lethargic than before. Their skin was yellowed, bordering on jaundiced. Visitors to New Meclizine noticed a tangy odor coming off of the town’s residents. No doctor in the region could determine the cause of these symptoms. Lacking any clear-cut diagnosis, the medical establishment of Northern California shrugged its shoulders, chalked the matter up to the townfolk’s collective
withdrawal from experimental medication, and offered nothing in the way of treatment. As time marched ever-onwards, the people of New Meclizine were willing to tolerate their new condition. As the mixture of their new scent and the town’s natural musk hung thick in the air, the townsfolk shuffled about their daily business, addled but content.
When the first person in New Meclizine went missing in April 1982, most people took it in stride. The victim, Thistle Lloyd, had recently been hired as a custodian at the new facility. The New Meclazine drug trials had not been kind to Lloyd, and prior to his hiring, he was known in the community for disappearing, often for days at a time, to wander nude throughout the mountains surrounding the town. This habit was so well known, in fact, that a missing persons report was only filed with the local authorities two weeks after Lloyd’s absence was noticed. If the county sheriff’s office did anything to locate Mr. Lloyd, they have produced no evidence to demonstrate it within the past four decades.
In August of the same year, Tilly and David Mitchell, college students on summer break, vanished, having last been seen walking towards the mustard fields on the outskirts of town. Officials responded to their disappearance with a similarly blasé attitude. The New Meclazine Argus referred to the incident as “a non-issue,” while Mayor Smith refused to comment on the matter.
As five people went missing in the months following the disappearance of the Mitchell twins, the townsfolk did their level best to ignore the matter, preferring instead to focus on their thriving municipal life and the relative lack of experimental chemicals coursing through their veins. However, when local doctor Maple Aspen went missing in April of 1983, the rumor mill began to churn.
The most popular theory regarding the disappearances was that Robert “Hootie” Strode, who had recently been released after serving time for his actions as leader of the Cosmic Fish Society, had returned to New Meclazine and was recruiting new members for his return to power. Other members of the community, having succumbed to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, blamed a shadowy cabal of occultists in the town, noting that the local bookstore had displayed copies of the popular roleplaying game Dungeons and Dragons in the weeks prior to Dr. Aspen’s vanishing. Others still claimed that organized crime was to blame, citing rumors of cannabis/mustard hybrids being grown in the mountains outside of town. These last rumors, in particular, were officially debunked, with inspectors from the Drug Enforcement Administrations denying the presence of any illegal grow operations following a cursory inspection.
As though in response to the growing discontent among the townsfolk, few disappearances were noted in 1983-84, with the only noted missing persons being Clara Davis, a Saint Olympia accountant who had just moved to town, and William “Soup-Soup” Hadley, a drifter who was last seen hitchhiking through the area. However, the rate of disappearances peaked once again in 1985, with citizens of New Meclazine disappearing at a staggering average rate of one-point-five people per month.
This resurgence of missing persons proved to be part of a cycle that gripped the town for the next few years. Citizens would begin to vanish, rumors about their disappearance would began to swirl among the populace, and life would return to relative normalcy. This cycle was disrupted, however, when one of the missing people came back.
At 5 AM on September 4th, 1989, David Mitchell was found staggering into town, his ragged breath and muffled screams awakening the slumbering populace of New Meclizine. The former college student was near unrecognizable. He was bedraggled and aged. He seemed incapable of comprehensible speech. His body was covered in what appeared to be dark, yellowing tumors.
Mitchell was rushed to Our Lady of Quiet Contempt Hospital in the nearby town of Mount Acedia. He was placed under the care of Doctor Travis Larson, a rare disease specialist from UCLA. At the time, Larson was under investigation by the California Medical Association for, quote, “just being really creepy in general.” Biopsies were performed on Mr. Mitchell, and the results were, at the time, shocking. David Mitchell’s growths were producing a substance indistinguishable from generic yellow mustard. Dr. Larson decided to demonstrate this at a press conference by emptying a vial of Mitchell’s exudate onto a hot dog on national television and eating it while giggling, thus perhaps, justifying the CMA’s investigation of his work.
David Mitchell provided no comment on what happened to him. Attempted interviews with him primarily consisted of him sputtering, groaning in pain, and attempting not to choke on a post-nasal drip of mustard flowing down the back of his throat. Local reporters from the New Meclizine Argus considered their attempts successful when they managed to prompt him to slur out the words “Kill me, for the love of god kill me.”
Despite the dramatic nature of Mitchell’s condition, the events in New Meclazine, known as the “Meclazine Mustard Man Incident,” made a small, if not nonexistent, splash in popular culture at the time. As a guest on The Tonight Show, now-disgraced stand-up comedian Danny Daniels joked that McDonald’s could hire Mitchell on and train him to leak ketchup as well. An article in the January 1991 issue of The Harvard Business Review suggested the same thing, but in earnest. Few comments were otherwise made about this strange, mustard-suffused man.
David Mitchell passed away on April 10th, 1991, of acidosis caused by one of his many tumors leaking mustard into his bloodstream. Dr. Larson was slated to make a statement on the topic the next day, but a representative of the CMA, having allegedly heard the good doctor mutter the word “scrumptious” while preparing his statement, immediately escorted him out of the building.
The incident spelled the death knell for Saint Olympia’s involvement in the town of New Meclazine, as the local populace began to suspect that the megacorporation that was using their town for tax breaks and experimental agriculture didn’t have their best interest at heart. The facility shuttered its doors in November of 1992. The story of New Meclazine, it seems, had come to an end.
What has happened since then?
None of the other missing persons in New Meclizine have been found. Reports of a strange, yellow swamp that appeared outside of town lead some to believe that the area is a mass grave for victims of the mustard tumors, but these rumors have never been corroborated; an excavation of the site was ordered in 1993, but no solid material was found in the pungent ooze.
Travis Larson lost his medical license in 1994. He currently runs an alternative medicine clinic in Orange County, where people pay him two hundred dollars per session to lick their hair.
Former Mayor Leaf Nirvana Smith retired soon after the Saint Olympia corporation left town, deciding to take up skiing. He died in 2006, when his body was found at the bottom of a slope in Aspen Colorado. His neck was broken. His legs were broken. His face was mangled beyond recognition, and his arms were removed with a chainsaw. Officials have ruled his death as a skiing accident.
The FDA, under the orders of then-president Bill Clinton, quietly conducted an investigation of the Saint Olympia corporation. No evidence of corporate wrongdoing was produced, although three Saint Olympia executives were tried for tax evasion following the inquiry. All three were exonerated.
And what of the town of New Meclizine? Following the shuttering of the Saint Olympia facility, the people of New Meclizine attempted to court other businesses to come to the area, using the slogans “New Meclizine: Guinea Pig Capital of the World,” “New Meclizine: No Payment Too Small, No Injury Too Grave,” and “New Meclizine: Hurt Us Daddy, We Can Take It.” This campaign had little success, perhaps due to the town’s sudden and uncomfortable visibility. The region, while no longer as wealthy as it once was, is now a popular tourist destination for hikers, history enthusiasts, and conspiracy theorists. Disappearances in the region are down, with only three people having gone missing within the past three decades. Moreover, as all of the three missing persons were podcasters, it was decided that nothing of value was lost.
New Meclizine, it seems, is content to bury its past.
But on winter nights, the cold winds carry away the stench of the town and it smells less like the wrath of a flatulent god. On these nights, they say that the breeze carries the memories of the past.
They say that you can hear the muffled screams of the missing.
They say that you can still smell the mustard on the air.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam.
I’ll see you next time, and remember: They can hear us.
Liminal Criminals is a work of fiction by SCWR Productions. It was written and edited by Sam Putnam, and co-written by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
Find us on Twitter at LiminalCast. All relevant links are in the show notes.