Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Chapter 10

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Brook: Skin Deep


GM: Four hours before the Devil’s Hour, clouds cover the night sky like a black body bag. Brook turns onto Shades of Death Trail.

For all the macabre oddity of the road’s name, the route is a familiar one to the junior ranger. Beyond its primary function of connecting the Kainai reservation to the Kaniksu Forest–and Akipunni Station therein–Brook is aware of the dark history that inspired the road’s name. Unlike the highwayman banditry and lynching that inspired the similarly named roads in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the Idahoan Shades of Death Trail was originally made by the Kaniksu’s black-robed Jesuit monks seeking congress with if not conversion of the Blood Tribe of Witiko Falls. For deeds which remain disputed amongst local historians, the Kainai’s iikunuhkahtsi flayed the monks and hung their robes and skins from trail’s surrounding pine trees as a warning.

Despite such a morbid inception, the White Plague of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the trail expanded to its current state as an asphalt paved highway that carves through Kaniksu’s heart. Tonight, no human hides hang from the surrounding pines, cedar, and ponderosas to darken the route, but the drive is still nearly pitch black, save for Brook’s yellow headlights. It’s quiet too, as the thunderclouds loom menacingly but silently–for now. The forest’s fauna also seem subdued, perhaps sensing the coming storm.

Despite such atavistic omens, Brook nearly misses the danger riding right behind him. It’s as if the storm decides to break right to his rear, with a thunderclap formed by a deafening roar of a motorcycle and its lightning-hot headlight. Its rider is dressed in black gloves, dark jeans, and a denim jacket whose patches the cadet cannot make out. The dark-haired man sports a thick beard and slicked back hair that seems to blend into the night. But it’s his eyes that Brook notices above all. Perhaps it is merely the reflection of Brook’s taillights upon the man’s glasses, but the biker’s eyes seem to glow like blinding furnaces. The flame-eyed man seems to come out of nowhere, and by the time Brook spots him, he’s racing down on Brook with frightening speed, as if he plans to drive straight through Brook and his larger vehicle.

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Brook’s ranger–honed instincts take over in the half–second before they would crash, though, and he hits wheel, swerving his old truck just in time. Ardenaline spikes Brook’s chest as the biker disappears into the night. Disappears in a mere blink, just like he appeared.

Brook: Brook feels the same way on the trail as he does on half the roads in Witiko Falls—on edge. Driving with narcolepsy, even when he knows he can’t sleep, is a part of his life when all his focus is on the road. It pays off today. It’s not too good of a night for a drive, but a thunderstorm on Red Aspen is always amazing, glass on every side, Brook sees every crack of beautiful lightning. If he makes it home. Hope for beauty is replaced with hope for survival with the crack of what at first registers as lightning behind him. It’s all the teen can do to move, the only thoughts going through his head mimicked in his throat as he lets out a primal scream of effort, feeling like he was going to rip the wheel off his truck as he narrow avoids disaster, turning back into his lane and breaking to a stop.

GM: As Brook blinks, he can still see the afterimages of biker’s eyes burning in his vision. Despite this disturbing distraction, Brook nonetheless spots a horde of Harleys and other chopped–up hogs burning down the road. What these riders lack in speed and stealth, they make up in their swarm like numbers.

The Moonbrood are coming.

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Brook: Shaken and panting, his heart in his throat, Brook slams is fist into the seat beside him and lets out another hopped up yell, not a sign of the rider anywhere. He spots them all immediately after. Mooners. Hazards on, high beams off, Brook slides his gun under the seat and stands out in front of his truck, waving his hands above his head to flag one of them down. They have to have seen something! Maybe it’s even one of them! Whatever gives him solace away from the thought that ‘the line’ came at him. Those eyes burn in his brain.

GM: It does not take long until the Moonbrood descend.

The truck’s flickering hazard lights create a red strobe that paints the wild bikers like splashes of neon blood. The roar of their collective engines shakes the ground, broken bits of gravel and pebbles bouncing and scattering across the weathered road. At least three dozen strong, the Mooners are a chaotic mob whose individual features blur in the rushing blackness. Black leather, denim, boots. Spiraling tattoos against rippling muscles and wild hirsute faces. Patches featuring shape-changing moons.

The first riders don’t even slow down for the ranger cadet. The next portion of the pack seems to only slow down enough to holler and howl at the night. Brook sees a woman, naked save for blacklight body-paint, riding a grizzled biker that races past him. The coital couple passes so closely he swears he can hear their grunts and libidinous thrusts. He smells the thick exhaust of the hogs, the odor of weed, and harder drugs polluting the forest air. Many have terrifying helmets, complete with spikes or bestial horns. Brook thinks he spots one wearing the giant skull of a pig. Men who have become monsters in the night. Disgusting… and yet alluring.

Brook’s attention reflexively shifts though when a beer bottle hurtles from the horde and crashes into the back of his truck, shattering messily. By the time he turns back around, he notices that the stragglers of the pack are slowing down.

As the Moonchildren approach atop their rumbling chrome and leather hogs, Brook is forced to reconsider the wisdom of hailing down a gang of outlaw bikers.

A half dozen Mooners circle around him in slow spirals. The ring of headlights imbues them with flickering false halos and coronas of halogen and smoke. Brook takes in each of their faces, a carousel tableau of drugs, machismo, violence, and sins best left unsaid.

The ‘first’ is thin–faced, with unkempt white–grey hair that resembles the mangled woolly remains of a wolf–ravaged sheep scattered across his face. Dressed in black leather from cap to boots, his head almost appears disembodied, bobbing and twitching in the darkness a few feet above his harley. His gray-green eyes stare at Brook with a deadness that most roadkill lack.

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The second’s gaze is perhaps even less welcoming. Black shades are slung high across the man’s razored pate, but his large grizzled mutton-chops hang from his chin and face, their two ends pinched by rows of miniature skull beads that match the iron nose-ring and earrings. Despite the autumnal chill, he wears a sleeveless leather biker’s jacket and chaps that cause his crotch and buttocks to bulge nakedly. Tattoos are scrawled across both and snake up his chest and around the scars where his nipples should be. While his left hand rests lazily upon a thrumming handlebar, the right clutches a chain that is clipped to the belt of the third rider.

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Also razor–shorn, the middle-aged man has only a small scruff of reddish facial hair around his lip and chin. Warts mark both of his checks. Similarly adorned in a sleeveless black leather jacket with various patches, the man wears tight-fitting jeans and large hobnailed boots. His bare arms and chest are littered with sloppy tattoos, including designs reminiscent of Celtic or Viking runes, a giant ‘1%’, and a praying nun receiving cunnilingus from a devil. Of all the bikers, his gaze seems the least sure, as his green-marbled eyes flicker back and forth to his peers.

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Chief amongst those peers is a grizzled giant. Tall and thick-bodied, the man’s skull looks like it could crack a bowling ball. His long gray beard is unadorned save for ashes from his smoldering joint. A red bandana covers his wrinkled scalp, but his stout, muscled torso is adorned by a denim jacket, covered with patches and pins, including sword–swallowing skulls, American flags, a spread–legged cat encircled by the words HAPPINESS IS A WARM PUSSY, and a giant blue moon. Ink peaks from his fingerless biker gloves, long-johns, tooled moose–skin chaps, and heavy boots. He regards Brook with brow–roofed eyes that even in the dark reveal him as a native son of Witiko Falls, as his dilated left pupil all but swallows his iris. Both eyes appraise Brook, as if searching his face for past recollections or future possibilities.

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Clutching the waist of the long–bearded man is what Brook can only assume is his ‘old lady’. She wears a cheap and flagrantly fake fur coat with a snow leopard print and leather pants so tight they remind the ranger cadet of the Swiner’s sausage casings. Her hard–worn skin and sagging breasts are marked with past abscesses, spray tan, and tract marks. A sole tattoo marks her sunken stomach: Property of the Mooncildren. A rolled red bandanna pulls back her bleach–blonde, shoulder–length hair. Her heavily painted brows, lashes, and lips regard the young teenager with a lazy, lascivious look, even if her glazed over eyes seem to swim on surreal tides.

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The last of the slowly circling bikers is shorter and scrawnier than his peers, but no less disturbing. He rides and steers just with his straddling, denim–clad legs. So freed, his crossed arms rest uneasily over his chest. His black T-shirt and sleeveless leather jacket expose his forearms and the gnarly thick hair that resembles burnt shag carpet. He too wears fingerless leather gloves, those his are studded by spikes. His horseshoe mustache is primarily white, as is the curly hair that bursts from his shirt. He wears an unsnapped bucket helmet and sunglasses that obscure his eyes and scalp. His lips and neck twitch constantly, as if he is shooing phantasmagoric blood-flies.

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As Brook regards the slow spiral of outlaw bikers, old instincts buried in bones take over. He knows nothing of the Mooner’s patches and particular identities, but he does know predators. He knows packs. The blue–moon giant is their alpha–and at present the least aggressive of the pack.

For now.

Brook: It’s a bad idea on every front, but after such an encounter he needs to know what, if anything, they’ve seen riding ahead of them. Too much weighs on his mind for him not to want to wave these people down. Besides, if he’s honest with himself, he’s often watched them all and felt envious, both of the machines they ride and the air of anarchy and rage they can openly display. Despite being on what the gang may see as opposite sides of the law, Brook has never looked on them with any kind of scorn. Drug dealing aside.

The bottle against his truck is mighty fucking unwelcome though, a grit of his teeth to restrain himself from any quick movements as he keeps waving SOMEONE down, and gets his wish. Pack is the best word for what descends on him, and like every pack before this this one, he reacts as is according. Deflecting his threat, he keeps his hands up properly, looking up and making eye contact with who can only be the alpha: long in the tooth, accompanied by a mate, and possessing the calm gravitas of a leader. His giant frame does nothing to dissuade this thought process. Brook follows this man’s eyes, slowly turning and waiting for them to stop as he tries only once to yell over the din of their hell-bikes.

“Did you see a biker going the opposite way of you? Slicked black hair and… and flaming eyes?” If they hear it, it sounds silly, but he needs to get straight to the point.

GM: Brook doesn’t know whether any of the bikers actually hear, much less understand his question. Even without the sluggish roar of the five hogs, his inquiry isn’t the most… rational. Then again, neither is his audience.

The bearded alpha makes a motion to his pack, and one by one, they kill their engines.

The furry–armed, shade–wearing one mutters something. Brook almost swears he hears the man say, “Dribbles,” like the fast–food fried chicken chunks from O’Tolley’s.

The bearded alpha regards his scrawny-armed companion as he if just uttered something profound. He turns back his gaze on Brook, and narrows his eyes as he takes a puff from his joint.

It’s his old lady, however, that speaks up first. “What’a we ‘ave ’ere? A lil’ lost pup?,” she says as she pluck’s the joint from her man’s lip with an eel–like motion, and takes a hit of her own, all but forgetting her question and its object.

“Pup? More like a little pussy,” sneers the waist–chained biker.

His ‘partner’ looks over Brook’s tall muscular body. His nostrils flare, as if smelling the adolescent’s musk. His fat, flaccid member begins to swell.

The alpha doesn’t so much interrupt the predatory words as he ignores them. “Maybe you saw the Devil, son. These here are his roads.”

His old lady leans on him, and waves the joint as if it is a Black Sabbat wand and she a witch.
“You’s wann’a ride, sweetie?”

“Sweet cheeks,” the chained biker says, flashing an eye to the expression and engorged member of his partner.

The helmet-wearing man continues to twitch and mumble.

The first man remains silent. His dead gaze never once leaving Brook’s face.

Brook: Brook holds to his mind-set that this is a pack of predators, and as such, he susses out the group. Three of them are concerning to him. First is the first thin faced man. Heading a pack instead of an alpha may mean he’s the beta, and a quiet predator is the kind the young ranger is the most wary of. Of course then there’s alpha. But the third one surprisingly isn’t the one lusting after his underage ass, it’s the female. One word in her alpha’s ear and moods can change real quick.

His gaze stays on the alpha, as an eye twitch could signal attack, but he actually perks a bit when the giant talks about this being the Devil’s road. Talking directly to the long bearded man, he asks, “Does the Devil have burning eyes and ride a bike loud as hell?”

GM: Some of the bikers laugh, but enough of them also look at their pack leader before responding.

“Why don’tcha cum n’ find out fer y’self, sweetie,” the tract–marked floozy says, offering the joint. “Or are’ya ‘fraid of a lil’ pow’r ’tween yer legs?” she adds with a husky lick of her lips.

“Sweet-cheeks…” the skull-beaded man repeats with his equally libido-thrumming gaze.

His partner laughs, cracking his neck in nervous excitement.

“Dribbles,” says the little man.

The silent one leans in, close enough to smell Brook’s licorice–black hair.

Brook: Ironic, now it’s on the Indian to ‘smoke the peace pipe’ or insult the entire gang. Just like he thought earlier, she’s a danger to him. Whoever this silent one is, and whatever he’s doing, Brook stands tall and doesn’t flinch away from him, letting him do what he wants. “Sorry. I’m not a good enough driver to get home after a smoke, but I’ll take you up on that next time. I owe you all a drink for stopping, anyway. Thank you, miss.”

He hopes that’s enough to placate her before he looks back to her alpha. “I thought it was one of the Moonbrood. He came up on me, fast, just a minute ago, like he wanted to cut right through me. I got out of the way, but he vanished. Did you pass him?”

GM: In the brooding silence that follows, Brook watches as ash falls from the still–extended joint like snow. The image prompts Brook to remember his last run-in with the Moonbrood…

GM: 1994. It’s been an ugly year for the twelve–year–old Brook. Being a half–native sixth grader at Lame Bull Middle School hasn’t been easy, as the biracial preteen has had numerous fights. Not only has he contended with the Kainai kids who treat him as white trash, but he’s also been forced to deal with the off-res graduates from Eugene Baker Elementary who magnanimously treat him as just another ‘timber nigger’.

Chief amongst the latter group has been Brook’s classmate, Nelson Judd. This past week alone has seen three playground scuffles between the pair. Today’s fight, however, happened in the hallway, after Nelson and some of his friends shut Danny Littlebeaver in a school locker. The subsequent fight earned Nelson a black eye and Brook his first out of school suspension.

It’s been an ugly year. And its winter hasn’t been any prettier.

A fortnight after the solstice, night falls quickly on Witiko Falls and the surrounding wilderness. With the sun already sunk beneath the western rim of the Bitterroot Mountains, twilight is a ghostly grey horizon that rises to purpling black. The moon shines bright, making the March snow glow. The forecast blizzard has not yet arrived, but the temperature is sinking faster than the sun. Brook can hear pine trees crack as the cold leaps fiercely upon the Kaniksu forest like one of its psychotic predators.

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Most folk would consider Mary Madcatcher’s parenting equally psychotic. Upon hearing of her son’s latest fight and suspension, Red Aspen’s matriarch had simply pointed outside and said, “Hemlock.” She didn’t need to say anything else.

Nearly an hour later, Brook is still searching for a suitable switch of the relatively rare wood. This isn’t the first time he’s been sent into the forest to search for a whipping branch, as Mary Madcatcher is not one to spare the rod nor spoil her child. In the coming years, Brook may appreciate the educative as well as punitive role of these tasks. Tonight, though, Brook is more keenly aware of three facts:

It’s freezing.

Hemlock is damned hard to find.

Nelson Judd deserves more than a black eye.

Brook: It’s freezing, but Brook is equipped, and unfortunately for the scavengers of the young cub’s birthright territory, he’s very much acclimated. It’s not immediately apparent it’s a twelve year old in the bundle of fur and wind breaking nylon. He trudges through the snow, steam and panting threats and insults leaking out a small opening in the hood. It’s a big pack he’s carrying, and a shotgun he wishes he didn’t have to lug around, but the fear keeps him moving and glad for the safety both weights bring him. Well, relative safety.

In the dark, it’s difficult to find anything, and though he has a flashlight it’s suicide to make his presence too well known. These woods won’t welcome even a child. They won’t even give him what he needs to leave. But Brook is anything but a quitter, pushing forward into the woods as he keeps his eyes and ears out, stopping at each tree. He has to come back with hemlock. Has to.

GM: As he presses forward, further into the woods, the young Brook comes across a set of moon-lit tracks. Paw prints, surrounded by snow fleas. Front paws larger than rear ones. Claws visible in the soft snow. Oval shaped rather than oblong or round.

Coyote.

Just last night, there had been reports of a rapid coyote pack running wild at the Blue Mooncalf Ranch, ravenously attacking the Britter’s lobotomized dairy cows.

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Brook: It’s a moment of pause for the young ranger, looking over the print and sneering. Snow fleas, his least favorite part about the spring. But it’s more than clear what he needs to do, looking to where they’ve gone and checking his weapon as he begins stalking the coyote. Mary will be more than pleased with him if he brings her both the switch and one less headache. It goes from trudging and complaining to a silent young man following the tracks of his next target.

GM: The full moon serves as Brook’s nocturnal flashlight as the sky sinks into night. Unlike the hemlock, the coyote proves easily found. Less than a half-mile later, Brook hears the thing growling and yelping. Its predatory sounds mingle with the crunch of snow, the creak of cold branches, and most incongruently or perhaps disturbingly, the dull groans of a man.

Brook’s eyes drink in the moonlight, his own predatory instincts allowing him to visually tear apart the scene down to its marrow. The man is a Mooner. He’s nearly frozen to death, supine in the snow, his skin an eerie blue and his eyes circling like buzzards in his skull. One of his legs has clearly been shattered and twisted at a sickening angle. Somehow the man is alive. And more bizarrely, he seems to be enjoying his death.

The coyote is gnawing on the man’s pinky. It growls bloodthirstily, shaking its head back and forth, shredding the man’s finger off his hand. It begins lapping up the blood which flows from torn appendage. The man moans–in pleasure.

Brook: Brook takes it all in, a mix of emotions going through his head before he puts it all down and narrows it down to one. Duty. Whether this man is enjoying himself or not, it’s the young man’s job to save him. Using the element of surprise, he slowly raises his weapon and doesn’t dare breathe as he squeezes the trigger. The shot runs out through the whole forest as one predator strikes out at another.

GM: The slug slams into the coyote’s skull. The predator instantly goes down like a puppet with cut strings. No yelp of pain. Just a hunger cut off mid-growl. Whether the preteen grunts or cries out from the kickback of the gun is another matter, and a secret that neither the insensate coyote or insane man will ever share. The gunshot does seem to snap the dying biker back to reality or at least near its zip code. He begins to scream.

Brook: Brook’s shoulder throbs at the kickback of the weapon. He grits his teeth in pain. It’s good the poor animal hasn’t a clue how it died, but he’s got more pressing matters. This biker is going to die without his help.

Dropping his backpack, he grabs out his kits, putting the safety on the gun as he sets it down, spent shell in the chamber still. With his supplies, he rushes to the biker’s aid. “It’s okay! It’s okay, I’m Brook, I’m here to help you get out of here! Give me your hand!” Brook already has the first aid kit in his hands, grabbing for the biker’s wrist.

GM: It’s hard to tell if the biker’s screams become slurred curses or remain thoughtless, pain–born noise. Despite his callow age, Brook has been raised for moments like these. Years of training–didactic, observational, and experiential–kick in for the ranger-raised preteen. The Mooner’s eyes continue to swirl, but his screams subside. By the time Brook finally staunches the bleeding wound, the biker’s blue lips mumble. The mumble turns into a strange song:

“An ye gae soon to Damburrow toon… Yer breech–cuff cinch up ladder or lasse… For theyre sure to comme ’roon… Up frae under the groom, ’Aslythin like snaykes thrw the grasse…”

That’s when the coyote stands up.

Brook spots it, its head still smashed in by the well-aimed shotgun slug. One moment, the corpse is still and un-breathing: fur, bone, and blood splattered around its head as a crown on the moonlit snow. And then, inexplicably, terribly, it rises. Groggily as if waking from a deep sleep. The slug remains buried in its brain. Blood drips from the massive gunshot. Blood drips from its teeth.

The corpse-coyote does not breathe. But it sniffs the air–and smells prey. Its howl tears through the cold-dead night. Its feral pack answers in kind.

Brook: This is Brook’s purpose. Many people think it’s insane for Mary Madcatcher to send her boy out into these forests alone, like he’s doomed to die the moment his mother isn’t with him. But they don’t understand. Mary trusts him to become strong, to become an alpha. Moments like these are why. Listening to the biker start to deliriously go on as he works, it’s the sound of the coyote standing that drains the sound out of everything else in the forest.

He doesn’t look at first, reaching and grabbing his weapon as he hears the coyote howl with what should have been a head separated off its shoulders. But silence gives way to a cacophony of death. Coyotes are flippant when it comes to packs, either very small ones or ones that are easily broken up, until there’s larger prey to hunt.

That prey isn’t Brook. He refuses. These are his woods, he’s the one being groomed for alpha status. He will survive. He’s the son of Mary Madcatcher, the boy born of the Green Lady, he is a predator too! Turning with a snarl, he pumps the gun, sending the spent shell spinning into the snow, before he turns the sights on the coyote. That’s when the horror hits him.

There’s nothing left of one side of its head, caved in and thrown into the snow by a speeding slug, and here it stands. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t breathe but it howls, it has no mind but it smells, it’s dead but has rejected Old Lady’s decision and risen back again. It’s not possible. Fear swells in the boy’s chest as his heart races, but other emotions come with it, eyes flicking to the Mooner in concern, teeth gritting in anger, muscle tensing in preparation. Brook pulls the gun up, pointing at the coyote, and squeezes the trigger once more. It must stop moving, and then Brook must run.

GM: The thing lunges at Brook with wide-open jaws, its bloody fangs seeking to tear out his throat with a psychotic rage. As the scared but defiant preteen raises his shotgun, the corpse coyote nearly swallows the gun’s barrel just as Brook squeezes the trigger. The beast’s lunge and shotgun blast knock the boy to the ground. Snow flies up around him and the cold, hard ground crunches on his already sore shoulder.

The thing however is flung backwards, away from Brook and the gibbering, insensate biker. The boy hears bone and pulpy brain matter splatter the snow-carpeted leaves of a nearby pine. The violent impact and discharge cause the snow to crash like an arboreal avalanche, burying the corpse coyote in a ghost–white grave.

Brook: It’s a moment in slow motion. Brook can almost feel his pupils dilate, ready to show him a life flashing before his eyes, swears he could feel tooth on steel. Before the pain strikes, a shooting pain through his shoulder as time hits play again and sends him sprawling. Blood everywhere, what can only be brain, and these FUCKING snow fleas.

GM: In the distance–but shorter distance now–Brook hears the coyote pack. Moonlight cuts through the forest like cold knives. Brook’s breath steams. The biker groans. The mound lays still.

Brook: The preteen jerks up to see if he’s dead. Realizing he won’t be if he delays, he scrambles up with his shotgun and runs to the biker, hefting him onto his back to keep him warm and get him the fuck out of here.

It’s starting to hurt. Ache in his shoulder from his own weapon, a slight burn in his lungs from effort in the cold air, and the dull thrum of a day outside in his thighs and calves. He ignores it for now, knowing how much worse it will get as he hoists the biker over his back, grabbing both the stock and the barrel and using it as a bench for him to sit on, before he hears it.

They’re coming for him.

Brook sprints off down the path he’d taken, letting his world fade out as he focuses on survival and duty. His vision tunnels as his legs slam into the snow, his breath heavier and heavier steam. Red Aspen can’t be far. Brook doesn’t pray, but he quietly pants out his pleas to the wood and snow around him.

“Please. Please let me get him out. Please.”

GM: Ko’komiki’somm answers.

The full moon lights up the hard-packed trail he’s backtracking on, back to Red Aspen, back to his mother, back to home, and away, away. The bright moon paints the trees and rocks in stark relief, their black blurs rushing past him. He can feel the moon seep into his veins, feeding his young muscles and bones with strength enough to not only heft and carry the adult biker, but to RUN.

The biker smells of blood, frostbite, booze, and fouler things, but the sixth grader miraculously does not lose his grip. Nor does his footing fail. His heart feels like it’s about to burst. But he doesn’t stop. He doesn’t slow.

He runs.

The pack’s predatory calls become a distant keen on the wind.

He runs.

The howls die in the darkness.

He runs.

He smashes through branches, not stopping as they whip his face and threaten to trip his feet.

He runs.

He reaches Red Aspen.

Brook: He runs.

Brook feels his body start to scream. Heavy copper blood in his mouth from biting down mixing with the taste of the snot leaking down on his lips, tears stinging his eyes. Ko’komiki’somm feels… alive. As though the moon has summoned drums. As though the world is just this moonlit train in the forest, the slumbering pines around him each beating a drum, the moon leading the ritual. Putting a chant in their hearts that reaches Brook.

RUN!

Everything hurts. Everything feels as though he’s being ripped up from the inside out.

Brook runs.

Coming out of the tree line, his stone fortress calls him, and everything begins to shake. The 12–year–old’s arms fail, his legs give out. He plummets just feet from his front door, sobbing hysterically in pain with what little breath his burning lungs will let him without agony. His branch-cut face stains the pebble studded snow, the smell of gasoline and blood heavy as he writhes with the weight of the biker still warmed by his burning back. Keeping his heart beating, Brook hopes. What’s next takes everything left in the boy, the last of his fear summoned energy.

He howls.

His voice spits blood out on the snow as he screams as loud as his throat can handle, straight at that heavy wooden door.

GM: The primal howl echoes across the summit of Ksah-koom-aukie’s Breast. Atop that peak, Akipunni Station, stands vigil. In the moonlight, its stone flashes like silver save for the deep, dark gouges left by generations of mad, rabid, frenzying bears, elk, cougars, moose, and worse. Tonight, Brook can feel those gouges on his skin, his throat, his heart. But his heart keeps beating and his throat does not choke as he gives himself to his atavistic howl. Somewhere, from some unseen distant summit or hollow, other howls rip at the night’s silence. Brook has little time or energy left to listen to them, though, as the door to the firewatch station flies open.

Mary Madcatcher stands in the threshold, stout and strong as her firewatch station. She brandishes a pump shotgun and lit kerosene torch in each hand. The latter’s blue flame casts Mary’s androgynous, leathery face in a wild, menacing light. Gazing upon his mother now, Brook must reconsider the local icebox gossip: perhaps his adopted mother did rip off the balls of a live, raging grizzly bear with her bare hands. Her fearsome mien softens or at least pauses as she regards her son. Her dark eyes crease with concern… and maybe awe or love… or is it fear?

But her expression hardens like flint as she makes out the identity of the blue-skinned biker on her son’s back. Her brow creases so sharply, Brook thinks it could chop down a tree. She shuts off the kerosene torch and strides forcefully towards her spent boy. With one hand, she far from gently picks up the injured, dying biker, relinquishing her son of his burden, and drops the freezing man like unwanted dung. She spares a moment to sweep her taut gaze down the encroaching forest slopes before turning to her son. That same gaze similarly inspects him: for danger, injury, and trouble.

The biker groans as gravel shifts beneath his weight. He repeats the song, but this time his words are so very weak and broken: “…gae soon to Damburrow toon… up… lasse… sure to comme ’roon… aslythin like snakyes… thrw the grasse…”

Nearby, dark wings flit into an overhanging ponderosa. Its boughs hide the creature, but its nocturnal cry cuts all too clearly in the quiet wake of Brook’s howl: a whippoorwill.

Brook: Brook swears he can feel the howls answer him, even after the true alpha of the forest all but kicks open the door to paradise open, fire and death in each hand. Like she’s not heard a boy, but an animal howl at her door. Maybe she’s right. Shaking and desperate on the ground, her adoptive son twitches. He’s too tired to even sob as tears streak down his cheeks. But nothing can tear his eyes away from her face, indecipherable, even to him, until her eyes narrow down onto the life he’d so viciously protected.

As Mary pulls the biker off of her son, she triggers a deep panic in his chest, his glove coming off as it pulls out from under him, raking into the frozen gravel and clawing for the body he was trying to keep warm. The rest of his body stays silent, the muscles in his side spasming and contracting, cramping and screaming at the desperate boy to go limp and stay that way. But he can’t. They all need inside. They need inside now.

Barely able to get enough air in his lungs, the boy is further troubled by the whippoorwill’s song. Every syllable is nothing but pain to utter as his lungs burn and his ribcage begs him to stop. “Coyote… dead, I… still howled. The moon… it s–s–saved… th… they’re coming! H-help him!”

GM: Mary regards her son with an old pain in her eyes–or maybe one she’s long been dreading will come. She looks away at the moon, the mountain, and the man dying between them. She reignites the kerosene torch and stalks toward the biker.

For one terrible moment, Brook is sure Mary is going to use the blowtorch to burn him alive. But she instead sets down the torch a safe stride away from the insensate man. Blue flame-light and black shadows war over his skin and clothes.

Meanwhile, the whippoorwill whispers its name into the night, again and again like a spiral song. Mary spares it a glance, then returns to her son. She cups her strong calloused hands on his cheeks and wordlessly presses her forehead to his. She seems to breathe into Brook a measure of… not quite calm or peace, but at least shared strength. Togetherness.

She breaks the rare moment of tenderness and begins to brush and pluck off the many branches stuck in Brook’s coat and hair. As she picks up one tiny branch, both she and Brook recognize it as being a swig of hemlock. Mary holds it before her son’s gaze and adds, “Too small to teach.”

She smiles. She then collects the small branches and twigs and a nearby brittle pine-cone and returns to the torch. Her broad flat back is turned to Brook as she squats down on her haunches. Unable to directly see what his mother is doing, he nonetheless recognizes the crackle of wood and growing glow of orange flames.

“Go inside,” Mary says. “Get supplies for the night. I will tend the fire.”

Brook: Brook doesn’t know, hasn’t stopped to think that this biker, in another state of mind might throw a bottle at him screaming ‘snow nigger’ at the top of his lungs. It isn’t about that in the young boy’s heart, either because of his reflexive duty to save the man, or the adrenaline blinding him to the consequences. Maybe both. But watching his mother stalk towards the biker, torch in hand, a glimmer of strength throbs through his body, foot dragging up, gearing to leap before the cord tightening scream of his muscles shut him down.

It’s like another weight lifts off his shoulders when the moment passes, watching his mother’s compassion, putting the torch down before returning to him.

Affection, the feeling of thick cool skin against his cheeks, and the warm press of her forehead. It’s almost too much. Brook’s strength returns just enough for his body to reflexively shudder in an overwhelmed sob in his next breath, like the simple gesture was gifted by god. Mary’s yearly joke and that rare smile only make it worse, before he gets his order and raises slowly to his feet.

Blood runs to the boy’s head as his marrow sprints to pump the energy back into his muscle, whip-poor-will mocking his weakness.

Several minutes later, Brook returns from out of station a new man. Having shed his prior kit, he carries out arm fulls of supplies, putting his mother’s folding chair out for her by the fire, a blanket over the top half of the biker, and a pre-made splint for the man’s injured leg. Glancing at the tree line, he sets down his newly loaded shotgun beside him, then carefully kneels by biker and gets to work.

“I… I begged to get away from them. They weren’t really coyotes. Ko’komiki’somm. I think she answered me.”

His face is nervous as he looks up at his mother. He’s always resisted her stories, always pushed back against the beliefs of his people. Being a half-breed is hard, and he’s always been too spiteful to entertain his mother’s tales as anything other than campfire stories, or heavy handed anecdotes. This is different. He’s now a scared young boy fresh from hell, wondering if the moon truly cares about him. Enough to keep him awake at night.

GM: In Brook’s absence, Red Aspen’s head ranger has created a roaring fire that pushes back both cold and darkness. The crackle of logs and popping embers drown out the whippoorwill’s song–if indeed it remains. The biker shudders as sensation slowly returns to his frost-bitten skin, but he is still supine and silent save for his chattering teeth and groans. Besides the fire, Mary has clearly made no move to help the injured man.

In contrast, she readily welcomes Brook into her circle of fire and light. Her gaze softens with appreciation as her son brings out her folding chair. She holds her tongue as Brook resumes first aid on the biker. Her own shotgun in hand, she positions her chair so her back faces the firewatch station and provides an open view of the alpine mountain slope. Sitting, she remains vigilant, save for a reluctantly short glance up at the full moon.

“Ko’komiki’somm…” her flat lips whisper into the night, like a grown child speaking the name of a dead parent. She then breathes in and out, stoking a second fire inside her mind or heart.

“Two stories of Mother Moon I say now.”

Shotgun cradled and ready in her lap, she begins the first.

“It is cold now, son. One summer it was just as hot. There was a girl, about your age, named Feather–Woman. Her lodge was too hot to sleep, so she went out in grass to rest. She awoke just as Morning Star, son of Mother Moon, rose. She looked at his brightness. He was beautiful. She could not help but love him. She woke her sisters, and said, ‘Oh, sisters, look at the Morning Star! I will never marry anyone but that Star!’”

“Her sisters laughed at her. They ran to the tribe and told others what Feather–Woman had said. They all laughed and mocked her. But Feather–Woman, she did not care. Her heart knew what it knew. She was as she was. Each day, she woke at dawn to look at Morning Star.”

“One morning early, Feather–Woman went alone to the river, to fetch water for the lodge. There, she beheld a bright man standing in the river. ‘Feather–Woman,’ said he, smiling, ‘I am Morning Star. I have seen you looking, and am now come to carry you back with me to my home.’ At this, Feather–Woman shook. Then Morning Star took from his head a rich yellow plume. He placed it in her right hand, while in her other hand he put a branch of sweet wood. He said, ‘Close your eyes’. She did so.”

“When she opened her eyes, she was in Sky–Country. She stood in front of a shining lodge, and Morning Star was by her side. This was his home, and that of his father and mother, Sun and Moon. Sun was away, working. But Ko’komiki’somm, Mother Moon, was home. She welcomed Feather–Woman. She dressed the girl in a soft robe of buckskin trimmed with elk-teeth. When Sun came back that night, he called Feather Woman his daughter. She was married to Morning Star, and they lived happily in the shining lodge. They had a son. They named him, Poia, Star-Boy.”

“One day, Moon gave Feather–Woman a root–digging stick, and told her to go about the Sky–Country. ‘Dig up all roots–,’ she said, ‘–but one. Never touch the Great Root that grows near Spider’s lodge. Do so–,’ she warned, ‘–and unhappiness will come’.”

Mary stops momentarily as Brook resets the biker’s broken limb. Once the terrible night-rending screams end with the man passing out from pain, shock, and blood loss, Mary continues her tale:

“Day after day, Feather Woman went out and dug roots. She often saw the Great Root. She never touched it. But her heart yearned to see what lay beneath it. Curiosity grew. One day, it grew so big it ate her. She laid Star–Boy on the ground. She took her root-digger, then dug around the Great Root. But the digger stuck in the Root. Feather–Woman could not pull it free. She called two cranes flying overhead to help her. They sang a secret song, and the Great Root uprooted.”

“Then Feather–Woman looked down through the hole where the Root had been. Far below, she saw the camp of the tribe where she had lived. Smoke rose from the lodges. She heard laughing children and singing women. Now she was eaten by homesickness. She went back to the shining lodge, weeping.”

“As she entered, Morning Star saw her tears. ‘Feather–Woman,’ he said, ‘You uprooted the Great Root!’ Sun and Moon also were sad, for they knew she disobeyed. Sad was Morning Star when he took Feather Woman by the hand, placed little Star–Boy upon her shoulder, and led her to Spider who lived in Sky–Country. Then Spider wove a web through the hole made by the Great Root, and let Feather–Woman and her child down to earth. Her people saw her coming like a falling star.”

“Her family welcomed her and loved little Star-Boy. But Feather Woman was unhappy. She wanted to return to Sky–Country and see Morning Star. But she wanted in vain. Soon her unhappy life ended.”

The first story told, Mary Madcatcher grows quiet. The fire crackles. She finally looks over at the now unconscious but splinted Mooner. Her flame-lit face hardens like drying leather. “Now, son, listen again.” She looks up at the moon, naked and pregnant with light.

“Once there was only one Snake. So big you could spend all your days following his scales and never see head or tail. He was fair and painted with many colors. Big Snake was proud of his clothes and had a wicked heart. Most Snakes are wicked, son, because they are his relations. You know that Sun goes early to bed, and that Moon most always leaves before he gets to the lodge. Sometimes this is not so, but that is part of another story.”

“Now Big Snake used to crawl up a high hill and watch Mother Moon in Sky–Country. He was in love with her, and she knew it. She paid no mind. She liked his looks, for his clothes were fine, and he was always slick and smooth. This went on for a long time, but she never talked to him. Snake thought maybe the hill wasn’t high enough, so he found a higher one, and watched Moon pass. Every night he climbed a higher hill, then mountain, and motioned to her. She began to pay more attention to Big Snake, and one morning early, she loafed at her work a little, and spoke to him. He was flattered, and so was she, because he said many nice things to her, but she went on to the Sun’s lodge, and left the Snake.”

Mary pauses momentarily as if trying to recapture her thoughts, then begins again. “The next morning very early she saw Snake again. This time she stopped a long time–so long that Sun started out from the lodge before she reached home. He wondered what kept her so long. He suspected Snake. He thought long. He decided to watch and try to catch them together. So every morning, Sun left the lodge a little earlier than before. One morning, just as he climbed a mountain, he saw Big Snake talking to Moon. That made him angry. You can’t blame him. His wife loafed with Snake.”

She looks back up at the sky. “When Moon saw Sun, she ran away. She ran to Sun’s lodge and left Snake on the mountain. Sun wasted no time. He grabbed Snake. Sun was angry! Big Snake begged. He promised never to speak to Moon again. But Sun had him. Sun smashed Snake into thousands of little pieces, all of different colors from the different parts of his painted body. The little pieces each turned into a little snake. Now they were all too small for Moon to notice. That is how so many Snakes came into the world.”

Mary turns to regard her son across the fire. She stands and adds another log to the flames. “Snakes. They come in many colors. Many shapes.” She looks meaningfully at the biker. The grip on her shotgun tightens.

Brook: Brook listens intently to the woman’s stories. The boy sits cross legged after he’s placed a blanket over the life he’d ripped from the wood. Brook’s hand rests on the man’s chest to ensure he keeps breathing.

Both stories are heavy with meaning, making even her son stare at the moon unblinking, searching for understanding. If there’s any day he’ll listen to his people’s stories, it’s today, after Moon herself touched his heart.

But it’s a hard pill to swallow all the same, and he looks down with pity at the man he’s sure in any other situation would have been his enemy. Brook wonders on the nature of a snake, looking out into the woods. It’s never been an issue for them, with the insanity these woods brought down with them each day. Reaching, Brook grabs his own shotgun off the ground and pulls the pump back, picking up the spent case off the ground, just staring at it for a moment.

“I snuck up on it. It took his finger. It was going to take his life. I… the shot was perfect. It shouldn’t have suffered. It was laying in the snow peacefully. I tended to him, but… I-It stood up. It wasn’t breathing, but it howled for the rest of its kind! I couldn’t leave him there. Not to those things. I couldn’t. Even a snake doesn’t deserve to be taken by something so WRONG.”

Gripping his own shotgun, his eyes turn back to the tree line again, unblinking. “What if I’ve been wrong to ignore your stories? What if there are spirits? If the moon… if Moon really did summon the drums I felt, and lead me out of that forest. What if I… am I only alive because the Green Lady, or a Big Water Snake lurking inside her?”

GM: “NO!”

Mary’s shout roars out so suddenly and loudly that Brook momentarily thinks his mother’s shotgun has fired. She turns away, her wide back and thick muscles still visible despite her Park Ranger coat. She shakes her head. Slowly. Her breath steams in the cold.

“No, son.” She turns back and kneels beside Brook. “Don’t ever say that.”

Brook: Initially frightened, Brook softens seeing Mary’s distress. Having her come sit by him calms him a little. He looks a little ashamed now, a little scared. “What am I supposed to think, then? What am I supposed to do with all of this? Is this why I can’t sleep at night? Does the moon pay attention to me?”

GM: Mary’s flat leathery face tightens. Her jaws flexes once, twice like she’s gnawing on a tough piece of rawhide that she eventually gives up on. “I don’t know, Brook.”

She places a calloused hand on his shoulder, their faces close. “But promise me–promise me that you’ll stay away from Snakes. All of them. Moonbrood. Coyotes. Remember the Moon. Remember Feather–Woman. Don’t go digging up the Great Root.” Her hand leaves his shoulder. “It… it will only bring unhappiness.”

Brook: Brook’s head swims. Witiko Falls has been his home for as long as he can remember, but more and more he realizes the horror it holds for someone like him. His own face turns to the moon once again, and then the wood, and then to his mother’s face as she puts her hand on his shoulder. It’s not the message he’s hoping for. There’s no answers from her, just a life of fighting snakes she’s trying to make him promise to never really look at. It’s disheartening. Anger builds up in his chest more and more, but he chokes it down, looking at the ground and clawing his fingers through the gravel. It feels like he’s suffocating.

He doesn’t know what to say, or how to say it. It’s a horrible thought, that his mother has just been fighting and fighting and fighting, and never asking questions as to how she can stop it. “Are you unhappy?”

GM: Mary’s face is backlit by the fire as she answers, “You are my happiness.”

Her rough hand then reaches back up and curls around her son’s neck in a firm mother-bear vise. Her eyes are dark as she adds, “Now promise me, Brook. Promise me you won’t go hunting for that coyote. That you’ll stay away from Snakes like this man and his brood. Promise me and Moon.”

Brook: Her answer hurts. But her question stands, and the feeling of that hand on the back of his neck drives it home that she needs him to to promise her this. “I won’t go hunting for that coyote, and I’ll try to stay away from the Moonbrood. I promise. But… but Mom, I… I still want to learn more. More about the Green Lady. More about Moon. If Moon can touch me, could we… talk?”

GM: At Brook’s promise, Mary sighs with the weight of maternal fatigue measured in years. Eight, to be exact. The creases around those eyes tighten in some private, silent war. Eventually, her dark eyes open and regard Brook. She tugs at his ear like a lupine nip, but there’s no smile on her face as she answers, “Curiosity ate Feather-Woman. But it is time. Or soon enough. Time to talk to great-grandmother.”

She stands and makes another long, slow scan of their surroundings. “When morning comes, I will call Nittawosew.” She looks up at the moon which still rises in the winter sky. “Tonight, there will be no rest.” She looks back to her green-eyed adopted son. “I will call an ambulance. You wait. Watch. Snakes left this one. Others tried to claim him.” She pauses, then passes him her shotgun. “More may yet.”

Brook: Brook meets his mother’s dark eyes, searching for a glimmer of understanding. Much as he knows Mary is iron-clad, she’s proven today to be more cautious than her boy can ever stand to be. The Great Root. It isn’t a perfect analogy. What if the root was on the ground here with them, what if the root peeks down into something rotten. But finally Brook’s mother says something that can calm his fear and curiosity. Great-Grandmother. Talking with elders puts him on edge, but Brook nods resolute. Taking his mother’s gun and smoothing his hand over it, a look not unlike his mother’s flint–hardened glare passes over the dark tree line.

“They’ll try.”

Pointedly, he holds up the blown out slug casing he’d used to put the coyote under the snow, a shiver going through his form before he shoves it into the breast pocket of his jacket, his hand returning to the biker’s forehead after getting out a canteen of water, hoping he’ll wake up soon. But a lump in his throat forms rather quickly, remembering again why he was in those woods to begin with. How small and petty that little fight seems now.

“Mom? I… I’m sorry if I worried you, I don’t—I mean with Nelson. I got so angry, and… it was stupid. I’m sorry.”

GM: Mary picks up the small switch of hemlock and tosses it into the still-roaring fire. As she walks into the station, Brook hears her words carried on the wind:

“Maybe not too small to teach.”

GM: As Brook turns his attention back to his now stabilized ‘patient’, the preteen has his first chance to inspect the man whom he saved from the coyote horror.

Fortunately for both the biker and Brook, he’s a small man. Thick elbows. Round shoulders. Stomach like a whole-boned ham. He’s middle-aged, but his facial features have some undefinable impish quality otherwise marred by unkempt ugliness. His gray–spit hair is wild, from his gnarled mutton–chops to his partial unibrow. His black leather jacket bears a full moon patch, and his neck is adorned with several chains, featuring bats, dragons, and ineffable shapes. His long-johns are torn and one sleeve bloodied from his torn off finger. His jeans have old bullet-holes in them that hint at dark tattoos.

Brook: Despite his mother’s distaste and outright hate for the man, Brook has a hard time straying from the snake in biker’s clothes, keeping him breathing steadily with a canteen nearby for when he wakes up. He’ll be sore as all hell, but damned if he isn’t going to live through it after today. Tattoos have always fascinated the young man, always having wanted to get one, despite the very real possibility his mother won’t let him see another day. But they’re only so interesting for awhile. Brook shakes the man.

“Wake up, big guy, we’ve gotta get water into you so you can warm yourself up.”

GM: The biker slowly rouses. His dilated pupils remain loose marbles in his eyes. He opens his mouth, and Brook sees his teeth–which resemble the shards of a busted piggy bank someone tried to glue back into place, and failed. Badly.

The man barks out, his arms flailing weakly. “Dinnae flap! I widnae buy frae that sleekit bastart!” Brook can almost see the line of pain jolt from the man’s gnawed off finger to his addled brain. “Dobbers!” He stops flailing. Mostly. His two eyes momentarily focus on Brook. He gives a snaggled, gap–toothed grin.

Laird_Duff.jpg

Brook: Brook pulls his hood down, showing off the short jet black hair on his head as well as a relieved smile, even as the man flails around in a silly-looking panic. Despite how ugly he is, he’s still alive. A life lived without dentists, bad genes, or too many blows to the face. But it’s the accent that’s the ugliest thing about him to Brook. He’s barely intelligible. Once he calms down and even grins up at his young savior, Brook offers him the canteen full of water. Even snakes gotta drink.

“Your leg is broken and your pinkie was gnawed off by a coyote. But you’re alive. The ambulance is coming to pick you up now.”

GM: The man’s breath reeks of hard booze, as he takes to the canteen like a teat. “Ah mad wae it, loon… but I cannae say nae to a bevy.” He sips, coughs, and sputters as the water hits him. He shivers viciously, as if finally realizing he’s thawing from near full-body frostbite. He closes his eyes. “It’s chankin!”

And then, as if Brook’s words slowly reach the man’s besotted brain, his eyes yell open as he holds up his hand and sees–or more accurately does not see–his missing finger. “Ma facking hawn!”

Brook: It’s starting to make more and more sense as Brook listens to the man, hoping it’ll keep on that way as he keeps watch over the man. Everything is going to hit him at once, the young mutt knows this, and as it happens he already knows what he should say to get him calm and collected. Brook shoves his hand in his pocket and pulls out the spent casing, showing it to the biker with a bit of a grin on his own face. If he keeps it around, he’ll just wonder harder, anyway.

“The ambulance is on it’s way, they’ll have something to take the pain away. As for the coyote, it was chewing on you pretty hard until I put a slug in its skull. Keep this, it saved your life.”

GM: The biker takes the spent casing and stares at it long and hard, as if he’s wondering whether he should eat it or worship it. He squints, his pupils playing pinball once more. “Hawd, the laddies and ah… horra sesh… rat-arsed… radge… cannae ’member…” He looks down as his splint leg. “O’ dunderhead, ah chatty’d ma breeks!” He struggles to look around. “Gaun yersel, Laird Duff, yer a bampot!”

Brook: Brook keeps his seat and watches him, peeking up to check the tree line and then the road, hoping for an ambulance. But it’s better to keep him talking, keep his mind off his injuries while making him aware of them so he doesn’t freak out. With the casing out of his hands now, he feels a little better, and even the biker is trying to put himself back together. Even dropping his name, or so the youngster thinks.

“Laird Duff? Is that your name? I’m Brook Barnes, a ranger.”

GM: The biker shivers, the shell held fast in his unmaimed hand. He gives another dentists’ nightmare–smile. “Brook Barnes… why yer jist a wee bairn! Foos yer doos?”

Brook: Brook loses the plot. Wee ‘bairn’ is clear enough, in the sense that bairn doesn’t have to mean anything for the mutt to know he’s being called a kid. But ‘Foos yer doos’? Celtic punk is the only reason he’s gotten this far, but what the everliving fuck? He ignores it, looking over at the tree line again. “You said you didn’t remember what happened? I had to carry you and run.”

GM: “Mah manky burd… she cowked af’er gobbin’ me…” He looks at Brook again as if registering the youth’s claim. “Where am ah?”

Brook: “Red Aspen. The ranger station. You’re safe, I promise.”

GM: He groans. “O’ ma heid. Ma hawn… Ah am maist oot yer nut…”

A log pops in the fire, sending a shower of embers into the air.

Brook: Gibberish again. At least the second part. Brook all but gives up. “Just rest, the ambulance will have morphine for your hand and leg.”

GM: He smiles again. “Meltit ’ere ah cumm…” He gives a chuckle that makes him subsequently wince and wheeze with pain. “Bout now, ah jist need a peedy tan…” He eyes the canteen.

Brook: Brook just smiles and offers it to him right away, knowing that the best thing for him right now was to get something in him. After such a rough night especially. The young boy doesn’t say a word, not knowing… exactly what he’s replying to if he does.

GM: He nods in gratitude after the drink, his eyes slowly settling. “Bawsack, it’s baltic ootside, laddie…” He crooks a finger for the boy to come closer.

Brook: Brook chuckles, finally something he understands, it’s cold as the Baltic. But the Mooner has a blanket, and the fire is still roaring. As the biker asks him to come closer, the boy unfolds his legs and carefully puts the gun back behind him, shuffling in closer and leaning over just a little, like they’re sharing a secret.

GM: The man’s drunken breath hits Brook’s ear as the biker whispers, “Maebee och awa an dinna talk pish… er no. Ah din tink no… Laird Duff thanks ye, laddie, uncoly… nou ah aint ‘ave ma spondoolies… but yer a cannie loon.. ah’ma gie’s ye a big yin…”

He unfolds his hand with the shotgun shell, then points to his necklaces as if indicating Brook should choose one. There are seven total, and he (presumably) counts each one. “Ane, twa, three, fower, five, sax, sieven.” All seven necklaces appear to be made of gold chains, though each has a distinct medallion hanging from its nadir.

The first is mushroom forged of some dark material.

The second looks like a misshapen cloud or half-kneaded pile of dough.

The third is a bird, a whippoorwill.

The fourth is a small plain locket.

The fifth is dragon made of some green gemstone.

The sixth is a bat.

The seventh is a heart.

Brook: Brook keeps up with the man for the most part in what he’s saying. That he thanks the young man, and that he didn’t have his… spondoodlies? Some kinda cookie? Like snickerdoodles? But he gets the message clear when the biker opens up and offers him things from the selection of medallions. It’s incredibly generous! And turning this down is rude. Snake may be beautiful, but many animals reward kindness towards them. Snakes keep away rats. Crows bring you baubles.

“This is very generous! I was just doing my job, I… thank you.”

Looking through them as he counts them off, he can’t help but feel guilty to be taking these. He can’t take the locket, much as he’s curious as to what’s inside, it may be personal. But the heart? That’s something he can relate to, the boy a sixth grade ball of hormones, and falling for every girl who so much as looks at him. Cautiously, Brook nods to the seventh.

“I’m a bit of a sap, Mr. Duff. I’ll wear it every day.”

GM: ‘Laird Duff’, if that indeed is his name, smiles widely with his crooked mishmashed teeth. “Tekul… hoora tekul.” With help, he slides off the necklace. It hangs from the well-worn white gold. Two hoops hang those chains. The first holds an anatomical heart made of iron or some alloy the preteen cannot place. There is some inscription on its loop that Brook cannot make out in the flickering firelight. The second, lesser medallion seems to be made of a lighter metal wound around a dark red gemstone that swallows the fire.

Heart_Necklace.jpg

“Haur ye gae!” the biker says with another puckish, horrid-toothed grin.

As Brook slips on the necklace, the man’s grin changes. Transforms. Something seems to slither up the man’s eyes and face, a wave of something ineffable and awful, something that smells of childhood nightmares, or night-terrors that made and still make him wet his pants.

The biker clutches at the boy with his hand, holding the already close youth even closer till he is nearly gnawing on Brook’s ear. Brook feels, smells, and tastes the mingling of fear-sweat and foul booze and fouler chemicals leaking from the biker. Leaking. Spreading. Infecting.

“Dinnae be feart ta confront yerself, laddie! Dinnae deny wha ye am! Yer yaks gobbed din truth tonite. Ye leuk’d inwith tonite, ye’ve seen yer inner be’en fer what tis. Tha openin’ of yer yak, laddie, tha firs’ leuk beyond, tha entrance to tha Een Circle –ye’ve fackin’ made it! Ye cannae turn ‘way from tha darkness–tis inwith ye! Suppressin’ tha dubh jist gaes it mair power tah slitter tha blind side o’ yer soul! Dis is tha pit at tha center o’ a’thing–ye gotta dive in and fackin’ stare it dunn, laddie, list ye fall to tha clutches o’ foebok and cumm a slave ta fear!!!!”

The voice of the man–if he is one–transforms into the sound of rushing waters. His fingers turn into a bed–sheet that swallows up Brook in its tangled, freezing wet cloth. The fire, light, and heat instantly vanish into abyssal darkness.

GM: Strong arms heft the four–year–old Brook from the frigid river. The murderous swaddling is pulled back. Writing is on the bed-sheet, written in blood so thick and foul that the river could not–can never–wash it away. The river’s currents shift, changing from alpine water to blood to water to millions of pills.

p u t i t b a c k

The transmogrifying current whispers.

p u t

i t

b a c k

The currents swirl around two strong legs, creating eddies of shifting spirals.

p u t

i t

b a c k

i t w i l l d e s t r o y y o u

y o u r t r i b e

y o u r t o w n

p u t i t b a c k

Pills. Water. Blood. The strong hands begin to rewrap the young child in the wet, suffocating cloth. Soaked with water. Pills. Blood. Brook feels the darkness re–swallowing him as his small body is being entombed alive in soaking, gore–stained swaddling.

Brook: Everything shifts. First comes the snake’s crooked smile, then the young man as he’s pulled, and then simply everything. Suddenly Brook finds himself where everything has began, his oldest and more terrifying memory, made even more WRONG. Soaked burlap rubs his hands and feet raw as he struggles, limbs flailing, reaching for what he hopes is the sky, despite passing rocks sometimes battering his hands and legs.

Water. Blood. Pills.

It’s little comfort as someone plucks him from the seizure-inducing shifting of the river from familiarity, to sanguine terror, to a confusing nightmare. Exhaustion is the smallest thing in his mind at the moment, the small bundle of terror grabbing tight to the strong hands as his follow the burlap bag’s writing, looking for a way out. Some kind of hint on how best to struggle. But he hears the whispers, the river promising who he can only assume is his mother that he is evil. That he’s a bringer of ends.

Brook struggles again, screaming and kicking his legs as he’s suddenly wrapped up again. This isn’t right, this isn’t how the story ends, this isn’t how he dies! Swirling thick fear breaks, and the child feels it turn from horror, to desperation, and finally to rage. Falling silent, the child takes as much of a lung full as he can, letting everything out in one last defiant howl. As if he intends to break the burlap, the river, and even the hands pushing him back under. It isn’t Mary. She doesn’t put him back.

GM: The strong hands wrap the bloody cloth around and around him, an ever tightening and suffocating cocoon. The burlap’s weft and weave silence his scream. Crying will not free him. Mary does not care. Nor does the river. They know. What he is. What he will become.

p u t i t b a c k

Water. Pills. Blood.

p u t i t b a c k

Water. Pills. Blood.

The river begins to seep into the cloth.

Seep into his lungs.

Water. Pills. Blood.

Brook: It rattles in the child’s head for a split second before his hands get to work. Screaming won’t save him, and if people won’t listen to his voice, he’ll- he’ll!

PUT ME DOWN!”

Brook lashes out, he bites and claws at the hands holding him, through the cloth, even his tiny feet digging toenail into the burlap hard enough he’s sure he’s ripping them off. It’s base, primal, and as his doom nears, the bag starts to fill, he cares less and less about the taste of blood in his mouth, or the incredible pain coming from his fingers and toes. He can almost feel his death, and he plans to face it fighting.

GM: He fights in vain. Will he die in vain? He’s too small, too weak. The cloth is too strong. Around and around. The strong hands tie the strands together into a constricting, tightening web. The river sucks the boy down its dark currents.

Blood. Pills. Water.

w h a t w i l l y o u d o

It’s whispering to him. It’s killing him.

w h a t

w i l l

y o u

d o

Brook: Vain or not, Brook keeps fighting. Whatever this is, whatever he’s been thrust into, he fights! This isn’t how the story ends, this isn’t how he dies, and the whispering can go FUCK itself. But these strong hands, these aren’t the hands that raised him, the ones that taught him how to fight. How to fight smart, to make it a hunt. The child lets his body go limp, relaxes with eyes closed, waiting for the hands to let go, thinking their job done. If he can’t force his way out, he’ll think his way out, preparing to spring the moment the hands release him, and answers the whispers only internally.

I will fight. With every last breath. Whatever I have to, for what I have to protect. Let me go.

GM: Every last breath. This one may be it. And he sucks it down, fighting against the panic as the cloth drops down hard into the river. It’s completely black. Cold. Suffocating. He can’t move. Can’t breathe.

w h a t e v e r y o u h a v e t o

The river continues to whisper. Continues to try to seep through the cloth-cocoon. Seep into his nose, his mouth, his ears.

y o u w a n t t o b e f r e e

Brook: Brook’s plan has worked, as the hands wrapped him, he paid attention to rather he’s cocooned left or right. With all his power, he keeps fighting, imitating the Nile’s apex predator and rolling, spinning, spiraling the burlap sack, in an attempt to unwind himself. It’s cold, it keeps him awake. It’s black, it just blocks another sense so he can concentrate. It’s suffocating, a deep frustration in his gut pushing him on. Brook snarls at nothing, prepared to fight until his every light goes off.

WHATEVER I HAVE TO! I want to be free. I will be free. I’ll hunt anything that hurts my forest, my town, my family! FUCK not being curious. FUCK not being angry about how things are. I WILL FIGHT!

GM: So enraged, the boy’s death–spirals tear apart his woven web. His bestial scream tears from his lips and the river rushes in. It is no longer water nor pills. Only blood. It does not matter whose. He swallows it. It swallows him.

GM: Brook ‘awakens’ upon Ksah-koom-aukie’s Breast. Blood fills his mouth and flows down his chin. The biker’s blanket has been torn to shreds, fibers and strands still drift weakly in the cold winter air. The fire is gone. The man is gone. Ko’komiki’somm sinks in the dark sky. She is still far from her lodge in Sky-Country, but she is tired. Weary.

As Brook stares down at the tatter–torn blanket, the moonlight reveals the cloth scraps are splattered with blood. The pre-teen feels his gorge rise, as if an entire river of blood wants to rush out of his mouth, but somehow the youth swallows it down. Again. A whippoorwill flits to a closer, shadowed bough, and sings.

Its nocturnal cry is interrupted as Mary Madcatcher once again bursts down the station’s front door. Her black eyes widen as she regards her adopted son. His green eyes. His bloody mouth. His fists clutching torn fabric.

Brook: Blood. Thick, warm, life-giving.

Brook startles ‘awake’, noticing the darkness of the camp site, the absence of the man, and…what’s in his hands. Blood, fiber gore, and a sense that something important has just transpired that he can’t put his finger on. It’s awful. It’s sickening. His body fights the urge to vomit, and he has to spit out a chunk of a meal he’d had the previous day, that somehow made it through the slop shoved in his gullet. Nothing registers in the pre-teen’s mind, until he feels the crusted plasma of dried blood on his chin. It’s a flash of a thought, but it’s there, the worst case.

When his mother kicks open the door, he barely hears it, he only hears the deafening warnings of a bird he feels ‘his people’ are right to be wary of. He just stares weakly back at her a moment, his body shivering, before he looks confused back down at the bed, at what’s in his hands, and the dark fire-spot. His tired body and fractured mind seem to just watershed what he knows he should be feeling, all he feels is this queasy confusion, a numbness he can’t place.

“I-I just… he was… the river. Pills. Water. Blood.” Brooks collapses over on his side, limp.

GM: Mary rushes to rescue the boy. Just as she did eight years ago. This time, it’s the whippoorwill rather than the river that sings the same words from that fateful day:

i t w i l l d e s t r o y y o u

This time, she wraps him in nothing but her own strong arms and races him inside their home. Her arms are strong. But the boy is growing. She holds him tight. But he will break free.

GM: 1998, Shades of Death Trail: Ash falls from the still–extended joint like snow, prompting Brook to remember his last run-in with the Moonbrood.

Brook: Brook’s face falls at the memories flooding back, the taste of blood in his mouth again. Whose blood, it doesn’t matter, but it brings back plenty of horror, plenty of memories, and even more frustrations. Just one name, though.

Still ignoring the silent one close to him, he doesn’t break eye contact with the alpha, reaching up to his neck and pulling on the chain, bringing out the heart. He’s kept it with him all these years, and he doesn’t leave it out too long for the bikers to see, lest they take it from him if Laird Duff never made it back. After all this, perhaps it’s a way out, or at least a way to have these bikers think they know him.

“Laird Duff. His patch looked almost like yours. I don’t know exactly what happened that night, but I know he was one of you, wasn’t he?”

GM: Necklace and name give the bikers pause.

With Brook’s gaze fixed on the hulking alpha, the teen cannot be sure, but he thinks even the silent roadkill–eyed man takes a step back.

The woman licks her lips. Nervously? Hungrily? Brook does not know.

The bucket–helmeted older man begins scratching his arms. “Dribbles, dribbles, dribbles..” he repeated with a rising tic in his face.

“Laird?” the chained one asks, looking around at the others, unsure. “You mean the leprechaun?” he asks again, but receives a tight chain-jerk from his partner, who in turn silently stares at Brook’s medallion like he could eat it with his eyes.

“Shut your man-hole, prospect,” the alpha says, reproaching the black–moon patch wearing biker. “Al would flay your lady finger for saying he’s Irish.”

The bearded giant takes the smoldering joint back from his rider’s hand. “You’re Mary’s whelp.” It’s not a question.

Behind him, the short old biker continues to scratch like he’s caught mange. “Driiiiiiibbbbles,” he mutters between tics.

Brook: Brook stands his ground, eyes flashing over the chain gimp for a moment, before locking right back on the alpha. Though he can see that back-o-the-bike bitch licking her lips out the corner of his eye. Everything seems to give him a little space at the revelation. He’s not just some timber nigger stuck out in the middle of the road.

“Name’s Brook. Your friend Laird was out in the woods with a real cleanly broken leg and a lotta bad shit in his system. I dragged him—most of him—off a dinner plate. Is he still alive? I got questions for ’em. He showed me something. Something important about myself.”

GM: The massive alpha male eyes the tall adolescent as he sucks down the last of his joint. He flicks the spent weed-wrappings into the road. Brook’s gaze watches as the lipstick–smeared, paper-wrapped weed spirals through the air, smashing into the black asphalt, its psychotropic contents bursting and breaking in the wind.

The bearded giant sets down his bike and swings a meaty leg off his hog. “Blueballs Boone,” the biker says, presumably in reciprocated introduction. A last tendril of smoke escapes from his mouth, only to be sucked up his nostril.

‘Boone’ reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a tiny plastic bag. Inside is what appears to be a dollar bill, though its denomination is unclear due to the folds. The denim-clad biker gives Brook the plastic-sealed bill with a palmed handshake. Returning to his bike, he adds, “If you’re looking for answers on Duff, call the number.”

The other bikers seem to swivel their heads between Brook and Boone. None gainsay their evident leader, though.

Brook: Brook straightens his back when the alpha steps off his bike, rather he’s trying to appear bigger than he is, or just fix his posture to be polite, he can’t tell. It’s like a reflex in the presence of someone this large. Though his mother elicits much the same reaction. But as he steps up to the teen, and hands him the number, the teen is just as confused as he was before he asked the question. But it’s a step closer. Snake den or not, that night is… horror, and horror needs answers. Maybe Feather-Woman would pull that root faster if the sky was drowning in the same filth Witiko Falls was.

“Thanks, Boone. You got no idea how much this means after three years. How ’bout the red-eyed rider? One of you, or… just another devil in the Falls?”

GM: Boone re-saddles his hog, causing the black and chrome machine to sink into its shocks. His old lady begins rubbing the man’s thick thighs. The alpha ignores her, but turns back to the ranger cadet and answers: “When I blow up your ass, you’ll know whether it’s smoke or something else. As I said, these here are the Devil’s roads, and we’re riding after him.”

Brook: Much as the young man doesn’t desire the chewed up and spit out looking woman, the moment she pays attention to her man Brook feels a jealous absence. But he doesn’t let it interrupt their talk, and he thinks on the man’s words. Smoke. It’s nothing that makes good sense, but he nods all the same. It’s something he’ll have to look into himself or otherwise just avoid. There’s so much on his plate already.

“He doesn’t seem to like me, so I’ll leave these roads to you until I get the call to clear a furry corpse off it.”

GM: “Haps you jus’ needs to get to know ’im, sweetie,” the old woman says, slowly opening the side of her faux-fur coat to flash a pendulous breast. “Know what they says ’bout the devil you knows…” She licks her lips again.

“Dribbles,” echoes the biker behind them, his scratching subsided but not wholly abated.

The other men simmer like the heat that radiates off their hogs’ chop-block engines. Brook can feel the rising excitement, the near rev of the motors, the tense readiness of a pack about to ride.

The alpha cranks his hog, hard, but Brook still hears him as he turns again and says, “You could join us, you know.”

Brook: Brook’s eyes snap to the womans chest, betraying his hormones before he wrenches it back to the alpha. Of all the times and places for a boy to see his first pair of tits, it just makes that absence grow bigger, making him think of June and Leanne, that lady cop, and even that redhead at the shop-plus. Though, above the din of motors, he hears the offer. It’s strange, but as much as he idolizes the freedom, he doesn’t jump at the chance. There’s things he has to do, promises to keep, responsibilities to fulfill.

“I don’t think I can, Boone. At least not yet. But hopefully I’ll see you again.”

GM: “Maybe sooner than you think,” Boone answers enigmatically before signaling to his pack to mount up. “The Devil’s not riding a tricycle–get riding!”

The other bikers comply all too willingly: shooting, hooting, and howling as they rev up and race away on the morbidly-named trail. Brook is left in the dark center of exhaust fumes and spiraling black tire-marks.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


GM: Back in the projectionist’s booth, now two years later as one of the most senior staff still working at the theater, Kurt looks up to see Mordecai, thankfully clothed and absent any bees, standing in the booth’s threshold. “What did you think of the film?” he asks, mirroring Kurt’s old memories of their first discussion.

Kurt: “I liked it whenever the eye broke the fourth wall,” Kurt answers his employer. “It felt like I was part of the movie, or the roles were switched, and I was being watched instead.” Kurt chuckles good-naturedly. “It was also pretty cool when he got split into two parts. What did you think?”

GM: Like Kurt did two years, Mordecai remains standing in the threshold as he answers. “I enjoyed how Dr. Suzuki was an inversion of the stereotypical introverted, socially awkward and reserved scientist. There was also the subtlety of him refusing to use the serum on his wife, despite her volunteering—and then how she injected herself against his will only to transform into a caged monster he was forced to dispose of. That his second test subject was his own brother who volunteered was another interesting twist. In short, his ethics were twisted and degrading, but not inhuman or entirely absent.”

“Apart from that there’s the often under-appreciated historical impact of the film. I believe it inspired Evil Dead‘s two-headed Ash and subsequent doppleganger scene. Otherwise, it has many great aspects to it, but there were a few things that keep me from considering it one of the truly great films. First, the dialog often fell short of the mark. In particularly, there were missed opportunities for Dr. Suzuki to monologue more deeply about man’s evolution and the motivations and fears driving his work in general.”

“Also, he had also apparently taken Tara from… somewhere very unpleasant that she doesn’t want to ever have to go back to, but they never say what it was. Was it a whorehouse? Was it an orphanage? Was she living on the streets? Who knows? They were deliberately vague on that point, and I don’t know why. It was another missed opportunity, a foreshadowing that fell flat—particularly because they mentioned it multiple times but never made it come to fruition.”

Mordecai’s pink eyes light up with an obsessive glint as he continues, “Now where this movie really shined was with the monster make-up, particular for its time. Dr. Suzuki’s brother Genji turned into a creature that was very similar to what developed in Larry and eventually separated from him. It had both ape and human-esque features, creating an atavistic element that drove straight down the uncanny valley. I also enjoyed Emiko’s look, with her features resembling melting wax plugged with bulging misshapen eyes and teeth. Her caged scenes helped drive home the point that evolution may not produce forms we currently consider beautiful. The future might be frighteningly ugly. And then there was the two-headed manster itself. Did you notice how the second head wasn’t just a still dummy, but had animatronics? And they were put to gruesome display as he went on his killing spree.”

“And did you know that Jayne Hylton, the main actor’s real life wife, played his wife Linda in the film? I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t having a bit more fun with the way he was verbally and eventually physically abusing her because of it. It’s probably a lot easier to do those sorts of things with someone you’re married to than with someone you just met when they started filming, but that’s just speculation on my part. Regardless, I have to give credit to Jayne for her scream when Linda first sees Larry’s second head. It was like she bottled the sound of terror.”

Mordecai idly pulls the lobe of his left ear before concluding his answer. “But one of my favorite parts is the ending. The original ending. Originally, the climax gives way to a much longer, more thoughtful denouement, but they cut that out in the stateside release.” The albino’s ‘Witiko eyes’ gleam as he regards his favorite employee and adds, “I, however, have a copy of it on VHS if you would like to watch it.”

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes light up. “Yes. That would be great, Mr. Clay.” He adds, “It’s been a hard weekend. I need something like that to cheer me up, definitely.”

GM: Mr. Clay leans up against the door-jamb. “Well, come by my office tomorrow at the beginning of your shift, and I’ll lend you my copy.” He pulls his ear again. “How’s your mom taking the breakup with Felicity?”

Kurt: Kurt’s face turns a little sour, but he keeps Mr. Clay’s gaze. “She’s not happy about it at all, honestly,” he admits to his boss. “I feel like she’s taking her side and I am getting lumped with all the blame. What am I supposed to do, really?”

GM: “Become a monster.” Mordecai’s initially severe expression seems to reluctantly break into a grin, like a film’s crudely edited epilogue. “Either that, or make your mother believe Felicity’s become one. Which in the end, my dear boy, is the same thing. The only other option is to endure your mother’s monstrous maternalism.”

The Scarecrow’s owner then steps forward and gives Kurt an awkward tap on the shoulder. “Become a monster or a victim of one, Kurt.” His pink eyes crease without another awkward smile. He then steps back and pats the threshold of the projectionist’s booth with unfeigned affection. “Before you head out, make sure someone cleans up the girls’ restroom. Morgan told me one of the toilets is clogged with a bloody tampon and jujubes.”

Kurt: Kurt pulls another face. “I see you’re already forcing me to take up your advice and be the monster who delegates someone else do it,” Kurt replies, smiling cheekily. “Thanks, Mr. Clay!”

GM: Mordecai smiles, his bone-pale face crinkling like tissue paper. “Smart lad, and that’s why you’re my favorite. And why I’m willing to lend that VHS tape.”

He starts to leave, but pauses briefly to add, “As for delegation, you might consider Fred Meyers. He called out sick last Sunday without notice, allegedly due to the flu, but Eliot said he was going to a party. But I’ll leave the final call to you, my budding Manster.” He departs with a final, “Sayonara, Kurt.”

Kurt: Kurt and Mr. Clay say their goodbyes and part ways. The young lad is more than happy to take Mr. Clay’s advice and tell Fred Meyers to clean the girl’s toilets, which Kurt surreptitiously takes a Manster-ous glee in so doing.

GM: Unsurprisingly, Fred takes the assignment hard. Especially given who’s giving it. After all, the nineteen-year-old Falls High graduate has been working at the Scarecrow for eight months longer than Kurt. And though he took over Bertha Phelps’ full time position, he’s never earned Mr. Clay’s favor or the authority the ‘adult’ craves–and which Kurt has seemingly swooped in and stolen.

It also doesn’t help that the soft in the middle, brown haired teenager is already in the middle of cleaning up a giant mess in the foyer–one allegedly started by Kurt’s best friend, Wilson, when the baseball star thought it’d be fun to start a popcorn war while exiting the cinema. He stares down at his younger coworker, broom and swivel-sweep in his hands. Buttery popcorn litters the floor around him.

Fred.jpg

After a long stare, Fred asks disgruntledly, “Why can’t Morgan do it? It’s the girls’ restroom.”

Outside the lobby, Wilson and some other upperclassmen tap on the glass window: “Kuuuuurt….”

“Come out annnnd plaaaayyyy!”

The adolescent antics do not improve Fred’s sour mood.

Kurt: Kurt, ignoring Fred for a moment, distracted by his friend’s antics, turns to wave at his classmates tapping on the glass with a dorky smile plastered on his face.

He then turns back around to face Fred. “What do you mean, Fred?” he asks, chiding the older ‘boy’ jokingly. “You’re not afraid of entering a girls’ bathroom, are you?”

GM: “Don’t be a dic–”, Fred starts to snap back, then stops as a few patrons file out and around the two cinema employees. Behind them, Wilson and his clique continuing their jeering.

“Kuuuuurt!”

“Come plaaaaay with the lost boys!”

“All work and no plaaay makes Kurt a dull boy…”

Several girls amongst the group laugh as Wilson sticks two twizzlers in his mouth as mock vampire teeth. “Kuuuurt….”

Fred gives the glass-pressed crowd a curdled lip, as if he’s trying to decide whether he’s more upset by their rambunctiousness or the fact he’ll probably be the one stuck windexing their faces off the display glass. He turns back to his ‘junior’ colleague. “Come on, Kurt, don’t be an…” He stops again and looks over at the closing down concession stand. “Make Eliot do it…”

Eliot seems to perk up at his name being mentioned. The skinny sophomore finishes swallowing some popcorn dredged from the machine before calling out, his voice cracking a bit, “My mom’s outside waiting for me.”

Around the same time, Morgan exits the employee break room–which is really just a glorified closet– and finishes slinging on a black leather jacket over a hoodie emblazoned with a faded, peeling print of the monster truck, Grave Digger.

GM: Spotting her, Fred calls out, “Morgan, they need someone to clean the ladies’ room.”

She spares a glance towards Kurt, then flicks her razor-blade necklace idly as she keeps walking. “Not my problem, Flintstone, I’m off the clock.” Her pace, however, slows when she spots Wilson and his gang.

Kurt: Kurt smiles at Fred. “I am off the clock, too,” he adds. “Plus, girl cooties scare me.”

GM: Behind the counter, Eliot giggles and half-snorts a popcorn out of his nose.

Fred shoots him a scathing look. When he turns back to Kurt, his expression is no less welcoming.

“Kuuuuuurt….” comes the repeated adolescent calls and laughter from outside.

Kurt: “Thanks, Fred!” Kurt gleefully says. He then turns tail and exits the cinema alongside Morgan before Fred can get a chance to reply.

GM: If Fred replies, Kurt can’t hear it–even if he can feel the older youth’s eye-daggers boring into his back. In contrast, the senior can clearly hear Eliot’s high-pitched chuckle, “Yeah, thanks, Fred!”

“Shut up, dipshit!” Fred all but hisses at the sophomore.

Morgan meanwhile hooks her arm around Kurt’s and leans in, the curves of her body and perfume almost deafening compared to her words: “Still afraid of girl cooties?”

Morgan doesn’t wait for his answer as she bites his ear and whispers, “Get me past the goon squad, and I’ll owe you one, scarecrow…”

Seeing–but not hearing–Morgan, Wilson’s gang goes bananas. “Kuuuuuurt!” Wilson drops his licorice fangs and leaps atop a trashcan, beating his chest like a manic chimpanzee–shorn of hair and covered in tats.

Kurt: Kurt quirks a brow at Morgan as she makes a show, unperturbed in the least, pulling Morgan a little closer with a casual smile. He leans into her ear and lets some tension build. “You’re trouble.”

He pulls away, still smiling. “I might be able to distract them if you do me a certain favor.” He’s clearly making a show of things, shamelessly flirting for his own amusement.

GM: Morgan half-stumbles when Kurt pulls away, forcing her to reflexively grab hold of her coworker to avoid falling. The teens outside laugh and jeer. After righting herself, Morgan flicks her hair, and shoots Kurt a look that simmers between hot and boiling. She eyes the manic crowd outside, then returns her gaze to the basketball captain. “You want me to paint your nails again?”

Kurt: “No. What I want is a kiss.”

GM: Morgan eyes Kurt. “That all?”

Kurt: “Why, are you expecting more?” Smirk.

GM: She leans in huskily and fingers the edge of Kurt’s shirt. “Close your eyes, big boy.”

Kurt: Kurt closes his eyes, playing along with the request. He puckers his lips a little too dramatically.

GM: With the roaring hooligans outside, Kurt doesn’t hear anything until he feels a slight touch on his butt–and the sudden tug of his pants pulled down to his knees.

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes snap open in surprise as his pants are pulled down, revealing to Morgan and his onlookers his Dracula-themed underwear.

Kurt_Undies.jpg

Kurt’s face goes scarlet. He quickly pulls his pant back up and looks embarrassed. “You win, Morgan,” he says with the tiniest smile remaining. “Hands down. You win. Or, maybe pants down.”

GM: Given the reaction by the crowd outside and the still kneeling Morgan, Kurt has little reason to be embarrassed. As she stands, Morgan slips her hand in Kurt’s back pocket. “Maybe we both win,” she says whispering in his ear.

“Count Kuuuuurt!” Wilson shouts with a wide laugh. His entourage follows the chant.

Kurt: Maybe.

“I’ll catch up with you later, Morgan,” Kurt finally says, giving her a pensive look for a couple moments. “I need to catch up with Wilson.”

GM: Behind them, the impressionable underclassman Eliot decides to jump up on the concession stand and pull down his pants, exposing his whitey-tighties and bony knees in all their lanky ‘glory’. “Yeaaahhh!” he yells and shakes his fist.

Just as Mordecai walks out into the lobby. “Mr. Glessman, please pull up your pants,” the albino cinema owner says in a thin voice, “And go home.”

Previous: Chapter 9

Next: Chapter 11

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