It started with just four words.
In August of 2017, at a restaurant not far from my house, my close friend, Rob, confided in me that he'd discovered a strange thing on the internet.
It was an online classified ad that was only four words long. Rob is an avid podcast fan, and one of his favorites is a fictional narrative series called Tanis, that styles itself in the tradition of investigative journalism. This podcast's lead "reporter" investigates a series of strange events occurring in the area around Seattle, Washington. The investigation seems to point to the existence of a paranormal gateway to a place called Tanis. In the narrative, people who are aware of Tanis find each other through classified ads in print and on the web. The ads are always simple--always the same four words--the same words I was looking at now on Rob’s phone. On the Chattanooga, TN Craigslist someone had placed an ad which read simply: SEEKING TANIS. RUNNERS WANTED.
I didn't have to know the podcast as well as Rob to have the same questions he had. Who would place such an ad? Why in Chattanooga, so far from the podcast's origin? Was this a game? A hoax? A scam? And most importantly, should we respond?
After a discussion about the risks, we decided to answer the ad. According to Rob, the appropriate response was simply "RUNNER AVAILABLE". He typed the email on his phone and sent it off. I headed to the restaurant bathroom and by the time I'd returned Rob was reading an email from the person who posted the ad.
His name was George. And his email address was ProjectSSA@mail.com
Here's what he wrote:
Hello fans of Tanis and adventure seekers.
I’m sorry to inform you that I do not know the location of Tanis. I placed the ad to which you responded in hopes of finding people like me, who love a good mystery and who might be up for an adventure. You see, I believe there might be something “sinister and secretive” beneath the surface of my hometown, Chattanooga, TN.
I have been doing a fair amount of online research and since I no longer live in Chatt. It occurs to me I need some other people to help with the "leg work". So, making this into a sort of “investigative” game seemed like a fun way to track down some answers. Please understand that this is a voluntary experience. Any risk is assumed entirely by you. I will not ask for your personal details and it is totally free to participate. Think of it as a guided Geocache hunt. As you discover and deliver your findings to me, new assignments will be sent to you. Depending on when you are able to get around to them, and what you find, it could take you between 4-8 weeks to complete.
If you are interested in receiving your first assignment, please respond to this email by simply saying “I’m in!”
No need to include your name or contact info, other than the email address you'd prefer I use for correspondence. I recommend doing these assignments with a partner, to make you feel safer and because some assignments will be time sensitive. With two people, one of you will be more likely to be available if something must be done at a specific day and time. Please, sign all correspondence with some kind of alias or team name. That way I can keep track of who has accomplished each task.
Warning: some of the story elements and locations may be frightening to small children. Everyone exposes their children to different things at different times. But I'd call this a PG-13 experience.This would be the point where some might pause to decide if they go forward or not. We did not pause. Rob wrote back that night and signed the email: TEAM SPEAKEASY.
(The next chapter of our adventure will be posted soon.)