Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Chapter 7

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Brook: Skin Deep


GM: Right after school ends, the faculty parking lot remains full of vehicles as most staff are still inside wrapping up their paperwork, grades, and curriculum plans. Mr. Epstein, however, stands near a military gray-green jeep. He is dressed in hunting camouflage. “Brook,” the tall man says, “So good of you to be punctual.”

Brook: Brook doesn’t mess around today. Essay is handed in pretty and perfect to the office like he was supposed to, and now it’s time to pay the piper in his detention. Coming up into the parking lot, it’s not entirely clear to him what he’s going to be doing, but if what his math teacher is wearing has any bearing on what it is, it might not be so bad.

“It’s detention, I’d just get more of it if I wasn’t on the dot, wouldn’t I?” Flashing the teacher a smile as he walks up, Brook stars to stretch out his legs, ready for whatever the teacher has in store for him.

GM: The widow-peaked Mr. Epstein doesn’t immediately answer, but checks his watch. After a moment, he adds, “We’ll give him five more minutes.”

Nelson, however, doesn’t keep them waiting that long.

Brook: Brook nods, wondering if it’s very prudent to wait on someone that he assumes isn’t going to come because of their little talk. But lo and behold, here he comes! Though the one there actually on time doesn’t react to with anything but finishing his stretch and looking up expectantly at Mr. Epstein. Military or not, he’s ready! This might even be refreshing.

GM: Brook’s peer shuffles into the parking lot, his letter-jacket thrown over his sports jersey, his hands in his jean pockets, hip jutting out like a pouty lip, a cowboy hat covering his face in shadow. He peaks up at Brook once, real quick like rabbit checking on a coyote.

“Nelson,” Mr. Epstein says, “Good of you to join us.”

Nelson mumbles something noncommittal and glances around the parking lot.

“All right, boys, climb into the jeep. We’re driving to the shooting range to prep things for the Triggernometry Club.” He climbs into the driver’s seat, turning on the jeep. “Sorry for the tight squeeze, but the backseat is full.”

As Brook and Nelson cram into the tight-fitting front seat, they can’t help but press up against each other—no matter how hard Nelson tries to squirm. The jock takes off his hat, propping it atop his squished knees and tries to mumble another apology.

The math teacher eyes the awkward exchange, but says nothing. “Seatbelts, boys,” Mr. Epstein reminds them, prompting another more awkward series of fumbling grabs, butt-shuffling, and torso twisting.

“Sorry,” Nelson mutters again, his face beet-red and burning.

Brook: Awkward is one word for it. Brook has another. Hilarious. Despite keeping a straight face, everything happening in the context of knowing Nelson’s secret makes it almost comical. Despite that, he doesn’t agitate the issue, scooting into the best position that he can so that they don’t have to be too close of butt buddies. White men turn red, but Brook is already such, hiding the slight flush on his face. “Stop apologizing, let’s just get it over with,” he mutters to Nelson, flashing him a quick thumbs up with his arm out the window.

“Mr. Epstein, are we setting up a project on bullet drop or something?”

GM: Nelson just stares forward, trapped between Mr. Epstein and Brook. Their teacher, however, perks up at the question. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, Brook, that you’re acquainted with firearms being you volunteer with the NPS. We do study bullet-drop of course, but today you two will be helping me dismantle an old shed. The club plans on using the old lumber to create targets, blinds, and obstacles.”

“Have you ever considered joining us, Brook?” the math teacher asks as he drives them out past fields of fat grain and pumpkins. “For the Triggernometry Club, that is.”

Brook: Poor Nelson. If he weren’t such an ass Brook might feel sorry for him. For now, it’s merely a question of how he’s going to stay awake in a car without his friends barking in his ear, digging fingernails into his palm again to stave off the beast known as sandman. That’s how he got in trouble in the first place.

“I’m sorry Mr. Epstein, but I can’t say if I can even join a club. Despite the junior status, the rangers are stretched thin. I man the radio tower from dusk till dawn. Handle emergencies. Besides, I’m more a hunter than a target shooter. Sorry.” Besides, the guns Brook fires aren’t practical to fire again and again. It hurts to let loose a round from the guns he takes on a serious hunt.

GM: Mr. Epstein takes the rejection in stride, nodding. “I appreciate your commitment and civic duty, Brook. If you reconsider, let me know.”

Nelson seems to swallow whatever snide remark he would usually make. After all, he’s outnumbered, trapped, and flanked. The rest of the trip passes in awkward silence.

Brook: Brook can almost feel that remark coming, but when it doesn’t come? What silence! It’s incredible to see Nelson of all people so put under the spell of fear around him. Awkward as it is, the silence is fucking golden.

GM: The silence, like the drive, ends when they reach an abandoned farmhouse whose fields lay fallow. The white-washed home is rotting and weathered. A single dead tree sits in front while a small outhouse stand not far away. The edges of the Kaniksu rise in the distance.

“Here we are, boys,” Mr. Epstein says as he steps out of the jeep.

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Nelson climbs out and cracks his back and shoulders with loud relief. He stares at the main structure. “You expect us to dismantle an entire house for detention?”

“No, Nelson,” the teacher says, “That would take far too much time and require a level of skill that requires proper training. No, for detention, you will dismantle this smaller structure.” He points to the outhouse.

“The shitter?” Nelson asks perhaps even more incredulously.

“Bridle your tongue, Nelson.”

“But you said we were busting down a shed?”

“Yes, an outhouse is also known as a water-closet or shed. Come on then,” the man adds, “The sooner you finish, the sooner you go home.” He then instructs both sophomores to haul out the various demolition equipment: saws, sledges, claw hammers, goggles, gloves, and tarps. Once again, Brook proves both a quick and skilled student, and it is not long before Mr. Epstein leaves Brook in charge as the latter goes bird-watching with military-grade binoculars, out by the pines.

Nelson grouses a bit, but once the math teacher is truly far, far out of each shot, the jock speaks up. “I apologized to Dan. Like you told me to.” Thankfully the outhouse has been abandoned for some time, but the stench is still revolting, particularly as the two boys start to sweating with heavy labor. “I… I said I was sorry,” Nelson repeats, unable to look at Brook as he pauses mid-saw.

Brook: Brook doesn’t whine; shit is the least he has to deal with in his line of work. When they have full stomachs, most things void their bowels when they die anyway. Unfortunately, he’s also wearing one of his more prized shirts, having wanted to look nice for school today. Pulling it off and tossing it into the back of the jeep, he gloves up and tosses on his goggles, getting to work. Though of course not without a roll of the eyes at Nelson’s gripping.

But finally the work begins, Brook takes to the claw hammer and starts ripping out old nails, knowing they need the boards for targets, leaving Nelson to do whatever he wants for now. That’s when the teacher walks away and things come to a head. Danny. Yeah, he’s going to have some fucking questions when they meet up today. Panting lightly from the work hauling and yanking away the boards, he starts to feel that glow in his gut again. Nelson really is hanging off of his approval now. It’s strange, but in a sick way? Incredible.

“Nelson, I’ve been holding onto those fucking pictures for months. I never planned on using them unless you gave me a reason. Fucking with June in front of Danny to goad a reaction?” Brook finishes his sentence with a sharp look, all while his strong arms rip a board off the frame of the biffy. “Why do you think I kept it a secret? Why I’m GOING to keep it a secret, if you don’t mess with my friends?”

GM: Nelson stands there, saw stuck halfway into a plank, his chest huffing, his sawdust-plastered face flush with exertion and emotion. The JV football player, who shed his yet to be lettered jacket but kept on his jersey, peers over his shoulder at his half-naked peer. In the shed’s dim lights, the young man’s anisocoria-touched pupils are large black pools.

“I… I don’t know. Because you’re…” he says, starting over, but then shakes his head, flicking sweat and sawdust out of his short-razored hair. “I don’t know.”

Yet, as Brook regards his conflicted peer, the sharp-eyed ranger cadet spots two rather disturbing shapes in the reportedly abandoned outhouse. The first sits trampled in some weeds: a loop buckle attached to a strip of torn fabric. Once white, the fabric strip is dirty, fouled with dark stains that almost obscure black stenciled letters painted on its underside. They read: STATE PSYCHIA, before ending abruptly with the tear. The other ‘shape’ is on the lower edge of the wall beside the buckle: an inverted pentagram hand-drawn relatively recently in excrement. Similarly finger-painted letters encircle the sigil: GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE.

Brook: “Because being First nation can suck, Nelson. Because of comments like the one that got you here. Soon as people find out you’re gay? You’ll have to deal with the same thing your entire life. I don’t–”

Brook opens his mouth to keep talking before he spots it all. Ripped state psych cloth, black magic symbols done with the right hand. Though the part that most disturbs him? It’s recent. The hunter doesn’t say a word, slowly leaning down and grabbing the buckle and fabric, shoving it into a back pocket despite what it might be stained with, and grabs Nelson’s wrist.

“Nelson. Someone is here with us. We’re going back to the jeep. Now. Grab all the tools you can carry,” he hisses, voice quiet and spooked. Grabbing up his hammer and a few other tools, he walks quickly to the jeep, arms and shoulders rigid and flexed. He’s on guard; they need the teacher here.

He gets to the jeep and curses at the empty ignition, shooting looks back at the shed and shifting through the jeep, looking if the old war dog brought some kind of firearm. Brook shakes his head. He should have stopped at his truck and got his weapon.

GM: Nelson doesn’t argue or drag his feet—at least not till they’re back in the jeep. “What the freak’s happening, Brook? Who’s here?” the jock asks, clearly convinced that something or someone is spooking the generally unflappable ranger cadet. His eyes scan the weed-overgrown field and farmhouse as he hefts a sledgehammer.

Brook’s suspicions, at least about the ‘old war dog’, prove correct, when the teen finds a Vietnam-issue M1911 secured by electric tape underneath the driver’s seat. The single-action, semi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated pistol is loaded with .45 ACP cartridges. “Shit!” Nelson exclaims as Brook hefts the side-arm.

Brook: Brook scans the structures most of all, peeking up in his search for a weapon until he finally finds one. Safety off, he pulls the slide and checks the chamber. Loaded. Their teacher is ready, and now so is Brook. Letting go of the slide, it snaps back in fluid military action of one of the most well-made and popular man-killers of the century. Bust a bear with a bull barrel, kill a commie with a colt, as they say. Brook slides to the side of the jeep he’s told Nelson to get to and puts a hand on his shoulder.

“In the outhouse. I found a belt buckle and cloth from a psych ward, and a pentagram drawn in shit. It was fresh. Home room announcements. I read them over the radio last night too. The mental case escapee,” he starts, turning the jock to look behind them. “Watch our backs, in case he’s not in the shed. I’m going to fire at it. Teacher comes running to get us out of here. Together. Agreed?”

GM: No longer in the outhouse, Brook’s mind still burns with the crude pentagram. Having scoured books on sacred geometry to interpret and inspire his phantasmagoric artwork, Brook immediately recognizes the invented pentagram as a sigil of black magic or bad medicine, particularly one tied to Satanism. Most occultists deem an upward pointing or regular pentagram as an essentially ‘good’ depiction of spirit presiding over the four elements of matter.

However, those same occultists, Brook knows, believe that a reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. He especially recalls one book calling it the “Flaming Star, which, when turned upside down, is the hieroglyphic sign of the goat of Black Magic, whose head may be drawn in the star, the two horns at the top, the ears to the right and left, the beard at the bottom. It is the sign of antagonism and fatality. It is the Goat of Lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates.”

Those disturbing thoughts are shaken as Nelson tightly grips his large sledgehammer and nods. “I’m with you, Brook. I play Guard, remember? I’ve got you covered.”

Brook: Crude, but if someone is crazy enough to write something in their own shit, they’re crazy enough to mean what they write. Brook nods over to Nelson and tells him to cover his ears for the shot before taking a deep deep breath to scream at the farmhouse,

“Federal Park Rangers Department, motherfucker!”

Aiming in one of the windows, the young man squeezes the trigger and feels the pin hit before the entire thing kicks, slinging ol’ American lead into the shelter. Pitiful compared to his baby back at school. There it is, though, the shot that starts everything. The wait, the teacher running back, the hunt. Wherever this psycho is, he’s here.

The Sheriff’s Department needs to get here, and NOW.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


Hazel: The last item Hazel puts away is the photograph of her now-named adversary’s servant. She stares long into his face, memorizing the contours of his misshapen features. It’s funny, how her nemesis seemingly hates and envies her for her looks. She was ugly for most of her adolescence and remembers all-too well what it’s like. It’s not as if her acne clearing up, adopting basic hygiene practices, and shedding a few pounds magically made her life better. In some respects, it certainly has, but it’s still all-too often that she feels like a visitor from another planet. As her thoughts meander, so do her hands. Stroking the photograph. Circling it. Tracing a familiar pattern. She falls in.

GM: The spiral spins. Around and around. Like a cracked tea-cup. She is four years old, sitting by herself in the now-fallow, decrepit amusement park. Spinning. Around and around. She is laughing, bright-eyed with the simple joys and desires of childhood. Spinning. Around and around.

But the spinning quickens. Her flesh begins to press and slide back. Her organs slam against the back of her ribs and spine. She tries to stop, but the giant teacup only spins faster. Around and around. She screams, but the air rips it away till it comes around again, smashing into herself. She shuts her eyes, disoriented and terrified by the vertigo-mad world that runs in a blur. Spinning. Around and around. Her screams intensify, then die as the centrifugal force steals the breath from her lungs.

That’s when she hears the laughter, the touch of scaly, wooden, clawed hands touching hers. Opening her eyes, against the psychotic swirl of colors, she sees that the park and its teacup are not hers alone. A massive, bare-chested man with reptilian skin stares at her with his pitted eyes. He licks his lips. Beside him is a wooden marionette doll, its lacquered formal attire gnawed on by rats and streaked with semen. It opens its wooden mouth like an obscene nutcracker; its cloth rag tongue licks its hawthorn lips. Beside it is a massive bear, hoary and grizzled, its eyes rheumy, and head festooned with a skullcap made from the fleshy tatters of human skin. The bear licks its long tongue over its fanged lips.

Hazel tries to turn away, only to see that all the teacups are full, swarming with leering, lecherous carnie-folk and freak show acts adorned with masks. One by one they lick their lips. And the teacups keep spinning. Around and around. Hazel’s tiny body and mind can stand no more. She vomits. But this time, it is not cotton candy she spews. It is blood. It splatters her face and the tea cup. The Croc, doll, and bear lick their licks. Again and again. Around and around.

GM: Hazel awakens to a ringing telephone. She is on the ground, her chair still spinning. Around and around.

Hazel: She groans, scrambles to her feet, and picks the phone up.

GM: It’s her mother’s voice.

Hazel: “Hi, Mom, I presume you’re off work?”

GM: “I am, dear. I called the hospital, and they told me visiting hours end at 8 pm.”

Hazel: “The time would seem to be nigh, then.”

GM: “Have you eaten?”

Hazel: “I’m still at work, but just finished up. I last did at lunch.”

GM: “Did you want to grab something on the way there or back?”

Hazel: “I’m okay, but thanks for asking. I’ve still got a lot of your pizza from the night before last in the fridge.” Hazel normally wouldn’t turn down a meal with her mother, but time is of the essence tonight.

GM: “Very well, dear.”

Hazel: “See you in a few, Mom. Meet you by the flag pole?”

GM: “That will be fine, Hazel. I’ll be there within fifteen minutes.”

Hazel: Hazel wishes her mother a final goodbye and hangs up. Several outstanding matters remain as she calls her uncle’s office.

GM: The chair weakly finishes its last inertia-driven rotation. Her uncle’s office line rings repeatedly before being transferred to an answering machine.

Hazel: He’s likely left work, unsurprisingly. She tries his home line. If he’s away, she leaves Pi’s number as per their understanding. If he’s present to pick up, she informs him she will be leaving work for the hospital within fifteen minutes, and that she may be best reached by her cell phone.

That done, Hazel digs out her predecessor’s journal and the SVCD recording of ROSEWATER’s actions at the car crash. Who knows what could happen tonight. And she has… a hunch, that she shouldn’t keep either item on her person. There are too many potential scenarios where they could be separated from her, and she doesn’t want them falling into anyone else’s hands. So she ventures into the darkest and most forgotten recesses of the Chimera, removes a thick book’s jacket cover, presses the SVCD flat against its back, then slips the cover back on and hides the tome among its neighbors. The diary is sandwiched between two larger books on a far away but equally obscure shelf.

Really, Hazel thinks, there’s no better place to hide a book than a library.

That done, she packs her things, closes up the Chimera (she clocked out when school ended), and heads outside to wait by the flagpole.

GM: Although true sunset is still several few minutes away, the rearing Bitterroot obscures the sun’s sinking eye, casting the western sky in red flames that lick at the weeping blue. A cold wind snaps at the flag pole, rippling the shadowed fabric and causing the line to clang loudly against the metal.

Hazel: More time. More time. If she’d had more time, Hazel would take the battle to her foe, during the day. But with only an hour of daylight remaining and her mother on the way, she admits it’s too late to change plans.

Besides. This thing started in her bedroom at the Sweeney house. For good or ill, it will end there too.

GM: A vagrant disturbs her dark musings. Disheveled and drunk, he stumbles toward Hazel, and takes off his hat as if about to ask for some money. However, the dirty man takes one close look at Hazel and starts yelling, clawing at the air in front of his eyes as he runs away. “I don’t want to see that?! I don’t want to SEE THAT?! I DON’T WANT TO, I DON’T WANT TO SEE THAT!!!”

Hazel: Hazel immediately clenches the pepper spray on her key ring. She doesn’t like talking to strangers at the best of times. And raving lunatics—homeless lunatics—even less.

GM: The drunken man runs away—but not out of any rational fear of pepper spray. Something far more irrational gnaws at his mind. As his demented yelling echoes away into the irregular, metallic heart-beat of the flagpole’s clanging counts out the time slipping away as the sun sinks. Eventually though, Hazel’s mother arrives in her import SUV.

Hazel: She all-too gratefully makes her way up to the car and climbs in. “Hi, Mom. How was work today?” she asks as she buckles on her seatbelt. Realizing that she’s got her keyring still out, she slips it back in her purse.

GM: “Work went very well, dear. Thank you for asking. How about yours?”

Hazel: Well, I found out the identity of the vampire who wants to murder, curse, or both me, so I can’t say it was uneventful. “It was… busy. I had a class every period, and a student who’d received ISS.”

GM: “The does sound busy.” Her mother glances at her. “And how are you feeling?” Outside, houses rush by as the sky darkens.

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t hide her sigh. “Tired, Mom. It’s been a long day. It was… a lot of people to deal with.” It’s true, dealing with all those classes was tiring. But far graver—and even more tiring—concerns presently weigh upon her mind.

GM: Her mother squeezes Hazel’s hand lightly. “Hazel, I’m proud of you working so very hard, and I hope it won’t be too taxing to deal with a few more people tonight, your old mom included.”

Hazel: Hazel manages a smile back. “My mom is neither old nor taxing to deal with. I enjoy spending time with her.” Well, okay. Sometimes she’s taxing. But not most of the time, and not now.

GM: “Well, that’s not what my colleagues at Nostrum say,” she quips. “But that is very sweet and nice to hear you say, dear.”

Hazel: The smile is still tired, but turns a touch amused. “It is well for one’s work colleagues to consider one difficult to deal with. I believe at least several students would describe me the same way. One poor fool made the mistake of not addressing me by ‘Ms.’ on my first day.”

GM: “Oh? And did you put him in red-hot iron shoes?” she laughs.

Hazel: “Fear of force can be as effective a deterrent as force itself,” Hazel rejoinds. “He proved quite willing to rectify his error after I spotted the marijuana on his person and phoned the sheriff’s department.”

GM: “Ah, I see,” her mother says, not disagreeing with the strategy as much as the implicit interaction with Harvey. “Oh, check the glove compartment,” she then adds, clearly changing the subject.

Hazel: Hazel does so at her mother’s behest.

GM: Beyond the normal items one expects in a glove box, there is a half-opened envelope.

Hazel: Hazel opens it all the way, mildly surprised. Her heart skips a beat for a single, anxiety-ridden moment. Leo wouldn’t have—and couldn’t have, in any case—disclosed her letter. She berates herself for even thinking so. She can’t help it. She’s on edge.

GM: “I presume it’s yours,” Lydia explains. “I found it today in the back of the car when I went to put something in the trunk after lunch. It’s not mine, and it’s unmarked, so I assumed it was yours and probably fell when we were putting the bike in last night. I started to open it,” she says somewhat sheepishly, “but I stopped because you are an adult and deserve your privacy.”

Hazel: Hazel’s heart skips another beat. The tenor of the missives left for her these days… well, she doubts it’s anything good. Still, it’s like a shot. Best get it over with. And for all the bad news she suspects it to contain… she is curious.

“Thanks, Mom. You might have cracked the door to see who was knocking, but you didn’t let the devil in.”

It’d probably be prudent to wait until her mom’s not around. In case there’s anything which gives her an awful scare, or simply necessitates lying to her mother again. But she’s irritable, impatient, and wants to get it over with, now. No more unpleasant surprises lurking in the back of her head. Maybe she’ll luck out and it’s another obscene note from a student. Funny how she now thinks one of those would be ‘lucky’ when they made her so furious this afternoon.

GM: Inside the envelope is a single sheet of white copy paper. Upon it is the following computer-printed message. There is no name to which the letter is addressed. Instead, it starts abruptly:

You must be more discrete. Time is running out. If you wish to know more, go to the Shop-Plus, enter Aisle 6, and tape a newspaper clipped ‘E’ behind the price tag display for fluoride rinse. DO NOT USE COLOR.
Discretely,
A Concerned Citizen


Hazel: No kidding on her indiscretion. She caused a huge scene in the diner. She’s reading this letter in front of her mom. And she’s not even going to get started on the things she’s been doing in the library. Her exchanges with Brook most of all included.

GM: “So?” her mom asks.

Hazel: Hazel nearly replies, It’s from Michael, but the timing doesn’t add up. She’s not had her bike all day today, Michael couldn’t have left a note during their diner meeting. Wouldn’t that be a conveniently true answer, assuming he’s affiliated with these people after all. Either way, she’s due to make a trip out to Shop-Plus anyways. She’s got to steal—er, buy groceries at some point.

Hazel crumples the note up and sticks it in her purse—where the “Super Retard” drawing from earlier also rests. Yes. That’s perfect. In fact, she is starting to feel a little pissed off. That circumstances haven’t let her be discrete, because she’s being stalked by a fucking vampire. Because of her panic attacks. Because of Brook trying to talk to her about the paranormal, so many times. Because of what a waste of oxygen Fleischer is—and those students Hazel will exact retribution upon.

“An obscenity,” Haze growls. “One that I can and will handle.”

She withdraws the sketch of the crude stick figure with dark long hair, glasses, and cape with the caption: Super-Retard is so super she fucks herself!

“I have a handwriting sample,” Hazel angrily declares. “I have a pretty good guess what class and period this note is from. I’m going to make this student’s life hell.”

GM: Lydia peeks over—not long enough to read its entirety but long enough to glean its gist, particularly with Hazel’s context. Her face heats with anger.

Hazel: “Perhaps I should break into the school’s computer network and change a few grades to F’s. I could do it, untraced.”

GM: “Morons. They probably already have F’s. I’d shove their dicks in an electric socket, since it seems to be their primary mode of thinking.”

Hazel: “True. Perhaps I will simply plant illegal contraband in their lockers.”

GM: Her mother’s face contorts a bit. “They have no right. No right at all. But…” she says, sighing, “Breaking the law doesn’t seem appropriate either. Isn’t the principal strict?”

Hazel: Hazel feels bad in that moment. This wasn’t something she needed to drag her mother into. All it did was upset Lydia. She could have just waited to read the note at home, but her curiosity got the better of her. The consequences might be minor enough, but it’s a telling lesson on the consequences of impatience.

“Yes. That is true,” Hazel grants. “She still offers corporal punishment to students as an alternative to detention, which remains legal under Idaho state law.”

GM: Lydia snorts. “Well, I think seeing their asses kicked by a nun might settle the score.”

Hazel: “They can accept that, or detention at my hands during after-school hours. Specifically, the hours when their clubs and any other extracurricular activities are taking place. Unlike my older colleagues, I am not so foolish as to believe that in-school suspension is an effective deterrent against undesirable student behaviors.”

GM: “Well, I certainly hope you catch the gutless neanderthals. I don’t like people treating you badly.”

Hazel: “I’m a capable enough detective to investigate crime scenes right alongside the police. I can catch an adolescent neanderthal missing their vital organs. The fact they would even deliver this note to me anonymously speaks as to how greatly they fear the consequences for being apprehended.”

GM: Her mother nods, mollified if still a bit miffed. “Well, I do have great respect for your investigative abilities. Speaking of which, as soon as your license arrives, I have a large, lucrative case for you.”

Hazel: Hazel really does feel bad now. Her mom didn’t need to see that. She’s got enough stress in her life. Hazel is confident she can handle the student, and she’ll certainly tell her mom all about how she served them up their just desserts, but it would’ve been even better not to broach this topic around Lydia at all.

You’re getting emotional, Hazel. Careless. Remain objective.

“Excellent,” she smiles. “Is there anything you can tell me now, or are the particulars best left undiscussed until I have signed an NDA?”

GM: “The latter, I’m afraid, particularly because I went to bat for you. Keystone was pressuring me to hire a team of professional inquiry agents with national-level experience.”

Hazel: “That’s okay, Mom. It’ll keep. And I do appreciate the batting, given the fact that I technically lack any professional qualifications at present.”

GM: “Well… I may have nudged the truth a little when I said I was already negotiating with a local agent who has years of professional experience working in this town and collaborating with local law enforcement.”

Hazel: Hazel laughs a bit. “I suppose it’s a benevolent fib. Years of experience remain years of experience, whether I possessed a license at the time or not.”

GM: “Yes, my sentiments exactly,” she says, smiling.

Hazel: “Although speaking of experience with this town, the student I had suspended with me was the Native one I mentioned earlier. After spending the day together I believe we hit off fairly well. Which is relevant to you insofar as his mother is the chief park ranger. I’m not certain what her level of connections are to the reservation, but is that what you were looking for? He actually mentioned that she has been overworked and would benefit from enlisting my services on a recent case.”

GM: “Oh, yes, there is another case where that might be very, very helpful.”

Hazel: “Excellent. Being a librarian would seem to have its perks.”

GM: “So once you get your license, you can let me know which and how many cases you can take.”

Hazel: Hazel gives a little laugh. “Yes, my services would seem to be rather in demand before I even have my license.”

GM: “They are. We have to hire someone regardless, but I would rather that money and prestige go to you than to a stranger.”

Hazel: “Yes, I’m certain the experience will look good on a resume.” Hazel’s mainly saying that for her mom’s benefit right now. It’s something she’s probably glad to hear, that Hazel is moving forward. On the other hand, is it cruel to say on the night she could die?

GM: “As will the commission in your account,” her mother adds cheerily.

Hazel: Hazel isn’t sure, but it seems like it could make her mom happy now, and that has to count for something. “Abundantly. There is a reason private investigators have made so large a niche for themselves when we have police. And it isn’t merely getting to wear fedoras. Or at least, not solely.”

GM: “Fedoras? Oh, my, I hope you at least buy a chic trench coat.”

Hazel: Hazel laughs. “I’m kidding, I don’t resemble Humphrey Boggart closely enough to pull off that look. One should play to one’s strengths.”

GM: “And against the weaknesses’ of one’s opponents,” Lydia says with a light laugh of her own. “Speaking of opponents, though, I wager I can definitely hold off my rivals’ entreaties to hire an established, outside inquiry agency, at least till Monday. For the big case, that is.”

Hazel: Hazel nods. “I haven’t checked my mailbox today, and there’s also tomorrow morning. I’m sure it’ll have arrived by then. I already know it’s been approved.”

GM: “The weekend is on our side in that regard, I think. Although the town’s post office is atrociously incompetent.”

Hazel: “I suppose that’s fate’s way of making up for some of the excess employee competence at the high school.” Hazel subtly tries to remind her mom the town isn’t all bad, though it’s probably a lost cause. “Anyways, I’d gather up that NDA and any other relevant documentation pertaining to the case tomorrow. Maybe if all goes well we’ll be able to celebrate me getting my license that same evening.”

I’ll certainly be celebrating if I make it through tonight alive.

GM: “That sounds wonderful, dear!” Lydia says, clearly enjoying the prospect of Hazel snagging the contract and the opportunity to ‘celebrate’. As the conversation slips into discussing vague, non-committal plans for the coming weekend, the mother and daughter pull into the visitor parking lot of Mount Pelion General Hospital.

Hazel: Hazel suppresses a grimace. She’s still not completely comfortable doing this. But as she reasoned out, her temporary discomfort is a minor thing against Lance’s coma. And this could well be the last night she can visit him.

She unbuckles her seatbelt and slides out of the car. Also, that alleged gas leak? I don’t think I’d mind looking this place over.

GM: Mount Pelion General Hospital is a relatively large, new, and well-appointed hospital serving the township of Witiko Falls since the late ‘80s. Financed by wealthy corporate donors, MPGH has facilities for long-term inpatients, outpatients, surgery, and emergency care. Its ER in particular is large and well-equipped with a modern trauma center, but the ER never seem to have enough doctors, nurses, and other staff to keep it running smoothly. Instead, as its name and logo (a symbol of a golden apple inside a black mountain) suggest, it’s a site of tragedy and chaos. The rural township and outskirts generate waves of casualties every night—drunks bloody from bar brawls, vehicular crash victims, drug overdoses, victims of rabid animal attacks, hunting accidents, battered wives and children, and just about every other unfortunate story one can imagine. In the bruise-purpling sky, the light from the ER’s sign feels like a sword hanging over the heads of all who enter. EMERGENCY, it reads in bleeding red letters flanked by vain, apotropaic crosses.

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Hazel: Hazel looks up at the dully glowing letters. “It’s good of Nostrum to have helped fund this place. And people say the company gives nothing back to the local community.”

GM: Lydia nods, then whispers as she hooks Hazel’s arm in hers, “Although what people don’t know is that the majority of donations came from Keystone’s representatives.”

Hazel: There’s the slightest flinch as her mom unexpectedly links arms, but Hazel’s tension fades after a moment. The physical contact isn’t so bad when it’s from one of her parents. “Another front to the corporate war,” is her low reply as they approach the entrance.

GM: As the pair walk around to the side non-emergency entrance, they notice a white-haired man dressed in golfing shorts and a polo shirt shuffling in a daze underneath the ER entrance. A security guard tries to placate the obviously disoriented man. Lydia stops and raises a hand to reduce the red-glare from the gate’s sign. She then turns to Hazel and pats her arm. “You go on, dear. Check in at the outpatient desk, and I’ll meet you at or right outside Lance’s room.” She then hustles over to the elderly man, her heels clicking on the asphalt. “Nigel?” she calls out, prompting the older man to turn around.

“Mildred, darling?” he calls.

“No, Nigel, it’s Lydia,” her mother calls back. “What are you doing here—is everything okay?” she asks.

Hazel: Hazel pauses at her mother’s request, not liking the thought of asking strangers for directions. Still, she accedes with an, “All right, Mom,” until she hears the ensuing exchange with ‘Nigel.’ He’s well-dressed and seems pretty out of it. What’s the story here?

GM: The old man identified as Nigel stares weakly at Lydia before saying, “There was an accident at the plant. Segawa.”

Lydia looks around, then puts an arm around the shorter man. “Let’s get you inside, Nigel. Your skin’s nearly purple.” Before she leaves the entrance, she shoots Hazel a look to ‘go on’. Lydia then motions for the security guard to follow her and the old man inside. The guard tries to protest, but is brow-beaten by the corporate lawyer until he complies.

Hazel: Well, there’s no good reason she can’t just ask her mom what happened at the plant later. No getting out of it, she’ll have to talk to the person at the front desk. Hazel reluctantly heads in.

GM: Immediately inside the outpatient entrance is a large, if bizarre, statue of a centaur-like being. Masculine and clothed in a white doctor’s coat and stethoscope, its front legs are human despite the rest of its lower portions being equine. The unusual figure carries branch a across its clipboard, from which dangle three rabbit-feet amulets.

Hazel: Science meets superstition.

GM: Security guards mill about, looking edgy and nervous. They eye Hazel suspiciously.

Hazel: Hazel isn’t sure how to react to their gaze. She’s white, female, well-dressed, and physically unimposing. Not the sort of person who causes trouble. She makes her way up to the front desk and awkwardly states her business to the receptionist, never enjoying talking to strangers, then offers her thanks and makes her way to Lance’s room.

GM: The front desk-woman proves less hostile than the guards. When asked, she promptly provides Lance’s room numbers and directions to his ward. The route is ridden with several obnoxious detours as certain areas are cordoned off due to “Routine Cleaning Inspections.” Consequently, Hazel is redirected past several wards.

Hazel: Of course. The gas leak.

GM: The surgery ward is bright and clean, with haughty surgeons backed up by tight teams of anesthesiologists and nurses, but here the sick and wounded seem like products on an assembly line to be fixed and then shunted out of the door, and people start to resemble problems or puzzles to be solved rather than human beings.

The hospital’s staff areas are dingy and smoky in spite of the signs admonishing anyone from smoking there, and conversations away from patients’ ears are cynical rants about how it is stupidity that fills half the ER every night, or how one doctor is a bitch and another is a half-competent butcher who covers up his mistakes with an Ivy League education and a round of squash with the administrator.

Hazel: The stench of cigarette smoke immediately prompts Hazel to close her mouth and pinch her fingers over her nose. It’s a loathsome habit. And against the hospital’s alleged rules.

She’s still not sure what to make of the hospital staff’s complaints. Many of them, she’s certain, are justified, but something seems vaguely socially inappropriate about them. Or maybe just inappropriate, even if it is socially acceptable to say them here.

GM: In contrast, the dual ward for intensive care and non-critical outpatients is antiseptic, quiet, and a little too dimly lit despite the white severity of the austere walls, floors, and ceiling. The empty corridors look like prison blocks for the sick rather than a place of care and recuperation.

hospital_interior.jpg

Hazel: Hazel has to admit it, she was just saying Nostrum gave back to Witiko Falls to be nice to her mom. Yes, it’s better for the town to have a hospital than not, but altruism isn’t what motivates the corporate donors who greedily tore apart her mother in the vision she had last night. But a functioning hospital remains a functioning hospital. What else is there to be done?

GM: No hospital staff help or impede Hazel’s progress as she searches for Lance’s room. Eventually, she locates the nameless, numbered door.

Hazel: That, at least, is how she prefers things. On the way over, she tears up from the note from… well, she’s honestly not sure who, and drops the pieces in separate trash bins. There’s no reason to keep it around after she’s memorized its instructions. Once she finds Lance’s room, she glances through the window by ingrained habit to see if anyone else is present.

GM: Through the small vertical pane of glass, Hazel spots what she assumes are Lance’s long legs tucked into a hospital bed. The rest of his body is hidden by a blue, half-drawn curtain that bisects the room. The bed nearest to the room is empty, and no one else appears to be inside. Three doors down, a patient moans. “Drugs… the pain… please…”

Alerted by the pleas, a tired nurse strolls down the hall. She puts on a smile when she sees Hazel.

Hazel: It takes a second, but she manages one back. That’s the expected thing to do. She is better qualified to assist you than I am, Hazel silently thinks in response to the pained patient, then opens the door to her former boyfriend’s room.

GM: As Hazel enters, she can hear the nurse’s voice several rooms down. “Now, Donna, I can’t give you any more morphine. If it hurts so bad, maybe you should leave Harold so he doesn’t do this again.”

Inside Lance’s room, medical equipment fills the room with mechanical beeps and ticks. Apart from the standard array of ICU paraphernalia, the room is full of get-well cards and vases of flowers in various states of wilting. Most of the latter are from students, and at least one stuffed cow has been gifted to the young Agricultural Science teacher. Despite such decorations, the white-painted walls are peeling, and the smell of sweat, saline, and rubbing alcohol lingers in the air.

Lance is… it’s hard to describe what Lance looks like. Due to the pervasive injuries and bandages, it’s frankly hard to verify that it is Lance. As if to alleviate that issue, a set of pictures have been placed on his bed-tray.

The first is a picture of Lance himself. It’s from last year, with Lance and his 4-H high school club members standing in front of a planked barn, holding up their ribbons. In his early twenties, he is lanky and tall, towering over most of his students. His dirty-blond hair has receded a little, Hazel notes, and in the picture he wears a beard heavy around his jaw line, but with his neck smooth-shaved. He is dressed in business casual attire, save for his cowboy boots. He is smiling, but his eyes look puffy and wrinkled from stress and worry he did not possess as a teenager.

Lance.jpg

The second photo is of Lance’s father, Broderick McDermott. The picture shows Broderick, or Brody as he is known by locals, holding a family-raised black steer with a backdrop of their family farm with the mountains on the distant horizon. The image captures one of Brody’s rare smiles, highlighting the resemblances between father and son.

Broderick.jpg

The third picture is of a young woman who Hazel recognizes as Lance’s mother, who died giving birth to her one and only son. That son, however, now lays in a hospital bed beside the three photos, fighting for his life. Comatose, Lance’s bandaged and cast–confined body lays still except for the slow rise and fall of his chest. His breath sounds shallow. His eyes are closed, their lids swollen and badly bruised. With the overhead lights dimmed, Lance’s features are lit by the pulsing glow of his heart monitor.

heart_monitor.jpg

Hazel: As she so often does, Hazel struggles for words. But the struggle is more frantic than usual right now. Her eyes dart between the get-well cards and trinity of photos, as if searching for some remedy, some magical cure to… everything, that the hospital has been unable to provide.

Her mouth opens and closes several times as she swallows the lump in her throat. It’s hard to see. It’s—it’s the, the things in the air, the things that hospitals, that… she raises a hand as if to dab at her eyes, but it only gets halfway up before she sets it back down.

“I-I’m sorry,” she finally chokes out. I’m sorry. It’s… it’s applicable enough. It covers a multitude of subjects between her and Lance.

GM: The monitor provides her only reply. Beep….. beep….. beep…

Hazel: “I’m…” Hazel rubs her hands over her wet cheeks, taking a deep breath. Her hands linger there for a moment as she concentrates on the damp sensation. “My aunt. My aunt, Winnie, says that. Coma patients can hear what’s occurring around them. On occasion.” There’s another long pause as she runs her hands over her face. She peers at the room through the gaps in her fingers, observing the interplay of the hospital’s harsh fluorescent lights against the black, seemingly orange-tinged pillars blocking her vision. Pillars. They’re like pillars. Against my face.

GM: In the slits between those pillars, Hazel’s wet eyes falls upon Lance’s hand. Multiple fingers are splinted and monitors are attached to his index finger, but for a moment, she swears she sees it.

Movement.

A tap. No three taps. Its significance pulls at her conflicted heart as memories flood back. Three taps. It was his secret code. Just to her. Only and always for her. Three taps. Against a homeroom desk. Against a kitchen table-top. Against the curve of her breast, right above her own warm-beating heart. Three taps. I. Love. You.

He always waited for the day she would tap back. He’s still waiting.

Hazel: No. That’s. That’s. That’s…

Hazel’s hands fall from her eyes.

He moved.

He’s aware. He loves her. It’s impossible. It’s like something out of Winnie’s soap operas. She’s not in any state to consider the evidence objectively. Not when…

She saw it with her own eyes! Her mouth works, even more dumbly. She becomes conscious of something wet pattering over her feet. She never replied to those taps. It was just… it was too big a commitment. Too big a jump to say she loved someone. She wasn’t even sure if she did love him or not. She’s always been bad with emotions. Yes, she loves her parents, but even she knows that’s a very different type of love. She didn’t want to figure out what it was with Lance. He was her boyfriend. She was girlfriend, and they were together. That was enough. Why did he need to bring love into it? Hazel can’t even admit to herself that she’s friends with Layne, despite the fact she so clearly is. Love was just… is just…

And right now? After they’ve broken up? That’s… that’s inopportune! Poorly-timed! illogical! Two people should not bring love into the equation until they have been together for at least several years, ascertained that their personalities and interests have a great deal in common, and have a clear vision of the future they desire with one another. Planned. Logical.

But the world doesn’t operate on logic. The world is as it simply is. Hazel’s parents have told her that before. She even knows they’re right on some level. You can’t plan and catalog and analyze and… a whole host of verbs, everything in life. There are moments you’ve got to leap before you look. Three taps. Four answering ones. Hazel’s face still feels damp. Her heart loudly thumps and her head feels funny. Is she having another panic attack…?

GM: Lance’s heart beats strong and hard. Three times. I. Love. You.

Hazel: Her mouth dumbly works again. The lump she swallows down her throat feels like a cannonball. She doesn’t even know the answer in her heart until it passes her tear-stained lips:

But I don’t.

She can hear her sobs now. “L-Lance, I’m-I’m sorry… I… I want you to get… I don’t want you in a coma… n-no one deserves tha… and you don’t… but I don’t.” She frantically runs a hand across her nose before managing, “Don’t… don’t ever lie to someone… about loving them… so I’m not going to.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, you’ve got… a great many… admirable qualities, but… we’re not… we weren’t… and this is just… so fast, it’s… this isn’t Hollywood, Lance! I’m not going to just… love someone, when…” Another wave of bitter tears causes her to clutch the hospital bed’s rail. “I’m… I’m sorry… I… value the time we had, together… I want you to… get better, and I… hope you find… some… one, but I just… I just don’t! I’m sorry!”

She could have tapped back, four times. She could have listened to the foul, black thought from the same Edenic serpent that whispered how she should sabotage her mother’s work. Writings by Crowley, Parsons, and Randolph all say that love between magicians is the key to unlocking true theurgy. Hazel could have fucked Lance in the hospital bed, right here, her limp vegetable, unaware of anything that was happening save his love for her. She could have stolen that love. Drawn forth its strength and bottled it up against her nemesis.

But she’d have been just as much a leech, just as much a bloodsucker, as he himself is. She doesn’t love Lance. But she won’t… she won’t exploit him, hurt him, not like that. She feels filthy having the thought at all. But she’s always seen things in black and white. There’s two courses—two real courses she could’ve taken here. She could’ve loved him back. Or she could’ve shown he meant nothing to her, taken that love, and twisted it towards her own ends. Instead she did things halfway.

Half. Half is nowhere.

Nowhere. Nothing. No one. She has no one. And maybe she never will. As the great void opens in her heart she turns and flees the room, sobbing, away from Lance and all the loves and might–have–beens it contains.

GM: She runs straight into her mother. Standing in the threshold of the door for how long Hazel knows not, Lydia puts her arms around her daughter, tears streaking her own face. “Hazel…”

Hazel: A new wave of tears flows as Hazel breaks down in her mother’s embrace. She’s past the point of being startled by the physical contact. “H-he… he said he loved me…! I’m… I’m sorry… but I don’t!

GM: Her mother’s tears fall hot on Hazel’s hair as she cries back. “I know… I-I know…”

Hazel: “Why… why are you… he’s n…” Further words are lost in the furious maelstrom of emotions.

GM: Still tightly embracing her daughter, Lydia sucks in fluttering breaths to try to calm her own tempest. “It’s going… to, you’re going to… be okay… move on… we’re going to be okay…” Another tear slips down her check and lands on Hazel’s. “I’m here… and I-I love you.”

Hazel: Another low sob sounds from Hazel. Another time, she might think how three hugs within a 48-hour span is a remarkable record for her, but even someone with a less linear mind than her own would likely fail to presently observe that fact. “I-I love you too, Mo… let’s just… let’s just go…”

GM: “Okay, dear,” her mom says, kissing her daughter’s head and shepherding her out of the room and down the hall. “We’re going.” She fishes out tissues from her purse, passing one to Hazel and keeping one for herself. Wiping her eyes so as not to terribly smear her makeup, Lydia adds, “I’m so proud of you, dear. You did the right thing. The hard thing, but the right thing.” She closes her eyes and forces back a sniffle.

Hazel: Hazel blows her nose. “I… I did half… half is… nowhere…” A familiar caution tugs at her mind as she sticks the soiled tissue inside one of her purse’s plastic bags. “I… if I really meant, that… that I didn’t… why am I…” The physical evidence speaks for itself as she honks into another tissue.

GM: Her mother sucks in another breath, slowly exhales, then answers as best she can. “Because you’re human. You feel. You have a heart.” Stepping into an otherwise empty elevator, Lydia tells her daughter, “You care—of course you still care for him. You were together for a long time, during special periods of your life. You might even still have feelings for him. Shared history and maybe more. But… you… you don’t love him. Not like… he wants….. not like… he needs….. n-not l–like… he d–deserves…” She breaks down into tears, turning away from Hazel as she sobs anew, her tissue rubbing furiously at her face.

Hazel: “M–mom, are…” And then she realizes. Not as early as others might have, but she still does. It’s not just Harvey who sees something of himself in Hazel and Lance.

There’s little to be said. Hazel hugs her mom again.

GM: Her mother accepts–no seizes–the hug. The two cry and embrace, and sense of time and space seem to disappear in that ephemeral, raw moment. Pain, love, doubt, loss, sorrow.

Hazel: Dimly, Hazel registers herself as saying maybe they should wait a bit before Lydia starts driving.

GM: Their exit from the hospital resembles something of the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, as both women try to put themselves and the other back together again. But the cracks show. Only time will tell if their catharsis is truly healing.

And time may be one thing that Hazel lacks.

Hazel: Hazel waves goodbye as the headlights from her mother’s SUV recede into the dark. They waited a while before Lydia started the car, and the ride home took a little while longer. Hazel is no longer a disheveled mess, but her heart is still raw and sore. She doesn’t want to face a vampire tonight. She could have still put it off. Asked if she could go back to the hotel with her mom, who would’ve been of less mind to say no. They could’ve had dinner again, maybe watched a movie, talked and comforted one another long into the night. She could’ve gone to sleep in a warm and soft bed, far away from the monster stalking her house. Hazel wanted that so badly. She could’ve gone after him tomorrow, during the day. She knows his place of refuge.

But no. That is no alternative. He has guardians to watch him during his sleep, and Hazel’s sure that finding his daytime sanctuary and overcoming its defenses will be a task of its own. She may well be able to meet such a task—but it’s a battle on his terms. The Sweeney house is familiar turf. She’s got him coming here, likely alone, deluded into believing she will be easy prey. The time is ripe for her to set a bear trap. She’s not going to throw away the assembly kit away at the last moment. It’s time to end this, for good or ill.

Hazel tries the front door she clearly remembers locking—and will not be in the least surprised to find her key unnecessary.

GM: With the passing of her mother’s vehicle, it is dark outside. Evening is dead. Twilight is passed. Night falls all around Hazel. Darkness reigns, and as her hand tries the door that then swings open unlocked, she sees that its princedom extends to her home.

Hazel: She flips on the lights in spite of her mounting anxiety. It’s still early in the evening. He’ll want to come later at night, when everyone in the neighborhood has gone to sleep—her included—and there are fewer potential witnesses. He will. When it’s more convenient, for so many reasons.

…won’t he?

GM: The light switch clicks. But darkness remains. It is then that she notices it, the entire street is black.

Hazel: No. No, it’s…

GM: No light shines.

Hazel: She tries the light attached to her keyring. It’s not connected to, to…

GM: The house creaks. The house smells. A droning fills the air. The pen-light clicks on, shedding its feeble blue radiance over the cluttered blackness. In the darkness, the furniture looms, alien and menacing. She bumps into the living room sofa. It has been moved. The buzzing continues.

Hazel: A new wave of anxiety rises in her chest. She swallows it like a tall glass of foul-smelling medicine as she cranes her neck to examine her surroundings.

No. I’ve… I’ve kept my wits. I’m not going to let him out-psyche me. This is just a game, a psychological trick, like I played on him. She steadies her breathing. Power over animals and vermin… what would I do if I wanted to scare someone in their own home?

She thinks for a moment. I’d kill an animal. Or a person. Leave its corpse to the flies. Leave it in a familiar place and setting to them, violate the sanctity of their… She takes a deep breath. It’s logical for him to wait. And to try to unnerve me. I’m not going to let him.

GM: A dark shadow circles through her light. Tiny and black. Buzzing.

Hazel: She swivels the light. Looking for the source of the flies. What’s attracted them here.

GM: She smells it. Something foul, something sweet. She knows it is in the kitchen, her legs bumping and brushing against things again and again as her nemesis has moved everything just a few inches off. The flies buzz and drone. There are not many of them, but enough to make the air itch. One scrapes her cheek. Another drones and drops on her head.

Hazel: Hazel swats at the passing insects. Her eyes briefly fall out of focus as she follows the dot-like shadow flitting across the light. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. But it’s no good. The keychain’s light is too dim to make anything out. The familiar layout of the house, too off-kilter. Resigned, she makes her way to the kitchen—and the source of whatever ‘present’ her nemesis has left.

If he isn’t there himself.

GM: Fumbling in the dark, Hazel bangs into the fridge door, causing it to rock hard against its hinges. Sweat trickles down her spine as she realizes that her fridge has been left open, allowing the food therein to start to putrefy. Flies land on the delivery pizza box, scratching and scuttling to get inside.

But they have other feasts more available. Hazel’s lip curls in disgust as the sickly-sweet stench intensifies. One hand on her key light, the other traces the edge of the round kitchen table to prevent further bumps and bruises. That’s when her fingers brush against something on the table, scattering a cloud of angry flies.

Hazel: The key light’s blue glow shines towards it.

GM: For all her resolve, the feeble light shakes. Her heart hammers deafeningly as her body secretes fear hormones into her brain and muscles. Knowledge is power, but power has a price—and knowing she is being hunted by a centuries-old terror with mastery over vermin, inhuman strength, and worse starts to burrow cracks in her psyche. Darkness inspires a primal terror—and now, Hazel knows why. And it is dark. Very, very dark.

But she forces the light to move. She forces herself to see. Trembling, the blue glow crawls over a man’s glove situated in the midst’s of the table’s mail. But the glove is not empty. Flesh. Bone. Maggots. Terror. The pale, slimy necrophagic vermin spill out of the glove, and one by one, spell out a message:

RIGHT BEHIND YOU

Hazel: A hand. That’s. That’s someone’s hand.

Bile rises in her throat—but has no chance to come out before she blindly dashes from the kitchen, her heart hammering in uncanny synchrony with her feet against the floor.

GM: The back screen door shrieks, then slams shut after her. The air is cold and cannot be sucked down swiftly enough.

Hazel: Sweat trickles down Hazel’s back as she gulps down the night air. Her eyes desperately cut across the umbral gloom in search of light. Any light. Even awful old Mrs. Worwood’s. She could kiss that shriveled crone right now, just to see light.

GM: All of Red Louse Lane seems engulfed in darkness. But then she spots the tiny flicker of flame in the old hag’s house. Candles. Wavering pinpricks of hope and sanctuary.

Hazel: Hazel can taste the hot pinpricks of bile in her throat, but eventually, it subsides. So. Someone’s cut the power. It’s not just her. And she’s not alone. She’d been formulating a plan to get Mrs. Worwood out of her house—inconvenient to have a potential witness nearby—but right now, she’s glad just to know there’s someone else out there. And besides, it is pitch dark.

Well. She’s not headed back inside the house, not yet. Not with… that thing… but she’s not going to remain idle, either. The lack of lighting in the other houses is a boon. Mrs. Worwood won’t be able to see what she’s up to. She should have done this the moment the lights didn’t work, anyways.

Hazel walks off behind the house. She hears no sound except for her light shoes pressing against the freshly-mowed grass. She looks up at the old oak tree. It could be a coincidence, that it’s located here, right where she needs it outside the house. But Hazel’s encountered too many coincidences for them to be coincidences.

Her gaze lowers from the wide leafy boughs, sweeping across the dark silhouette of Marilyn Sweeney’s childhood swing. It wouldn’t be much to look at, even if it were light enough to clearly make out. It’s a simple wooden plank, with two lengths of rope on each end, hanging from a sturdy branch. But you can learn a few things about someone, living in their house for a while. The Sweeneys didn’t talk about their dead child, and Hazel wouldn’t have asked, but the evidence told its own story to the town undersheriff’s daughter. How the wood was worn smooth by long hours sitting there, swinging back and forth. How the name “Marilyn” was carved onto the underside of the swing with a pen-knife, over a crudely etched heart and arrow. How the other boy’s name was furiously defaced by that same knife and a cigarette lighter. The evidence tells quite a story, indeed.

All before Hazel’s neck-hairs stood on end the one time she sat on that swing. That was Marilyn’s swing. It still is. Now that Hazel knows the full story of the girl’s death, she realizes the swing wasn’t just important to the thirteen–year–old’s life. It was where she broke up with her first and only boyfriend. It is inextricably linked to the case of her death. And such items hold power over departed souls—or so it is said.

Hazel’s already willing to test a hypothesis about vampires. Might as well expand it to ghosts too.

She walks up to the swing, pulls it back and then pushes it forward, as if doing so for the enjoyment of a seated child. “Marilyn Sweeney, hear my voice.”

The empty swing drifts back. Hazel pushes it forward again. Just a little further, this time. “Marilyn Sweeney, hear my name.”

The swing flies off into the night. The wood lightly slaps back against Hazel’s palms. “I am Hazel Bauman, entrusted with the guardianship and care of your home by your parents.”

The swing sets off. The swing flies back. “That home is still yours, Marilyn.”

The swing flies forth, and then back. Faster. Further. A soft wind whispers at Hazel’s ears. “Marilyn Sweeney, spirit of the past, move among us. Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us.”

Hazel has to stand to her tiptoes this time, catching the swing by her fingertips as it flies back. Perhaps it’s the moonlight shining just right against her glasses, but she swears she can briefly make out the knife-etched heart with the name “Marilyn” interposed against a dark, smudged-out spot. “Marilyn Sweeney, I bring you gifts from life into death. Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us!”

Hazel has to jump this time to catch the swing as it roughly smacks against her hands. She gives a grunt of exertion, but her shoes have barely hit the grass before she pushes the swing off again, into the night. Is it her overactive imagination that she can hear the laughter of a child at play? “Marilyn Sweeney, spirit of the past, move among us! Be guided by the light of this world and visit upon us!”

GM: The clouds curl and wither like burning black leaves, revealing the winning gibbous moon. Its pale light shines down upon the Sweeney’s backyard, casting long moon-shadows. The air grows colder as frost creeps over the grass. As it glistens, the shadow of the swing lays vivid upon the lawn, as does the shadow of a young girl swinging upon it. The physical swing, at least to Hazel’s mortal eyes, remains eerily vacant.

Marilyn.jpg

Hazel: Hazel’s breath catches in her throat. That’s… that’s physically impossible. But her eyes don’t move. The evidence speaks for itself.

Or can… she?

“Marilyn Sweeney,” Hazel states slowly. It doesn’t seem quite appropriate to bow, but her tone and posture are deferential. “Your killer seeks to invade your home and to claim me as his next victim.”

GM: The shadow appears to reach into its dress pocket and pulls out a pocketknife. Blade in hand, her shadow-hand reaches out and begins cutting into the tree’s shadow. Bark starts to crack and sap bleeds as letters form on the old oak.

YOU SHOULD RUN

Hazel: Hazel’s already pale skin all-but blanches. Oh god. What have I done?

What was necessary, she resolves, her jaw steeling. Her voice remains level as she continues, “Marilyn, I wish to help you exact vengeance upon your killer. To bring him to justice. To make him pay for murdering you, and all his other victims.”

GM: The shadow-girl swings softly as in thought, then shakes her head vigorously. She reaches out with her shadow knife once more to start cutting into the trunk’s shadow. New slashes open up into the bark.

YOU WILL DIE

Hazel: Hazel bows her head. “This is your house, Marilyn, and if you wish me to leave, I will do as you request. I have but one question. I have spent two nights running from him already. If I do not face him, if I do not make my stand here, how am I—how are other girls like you—to be safe?”

GM: Marilyn’s shade makes a large series of slashes. A choppy heart emerges on the tree, its sap trickling down in rivulets. The shadow stands up on the shadow swing, then twirls, causing the physical plank to twirl and move so that its underside is lit by the moon. The shadow-spirit points down to her engraved initials, the heart, and the burn mark.

Hazel: “I cannot defeat him. I can only find someone to love, and so escape him,” Hazel states, half-questioning.

GM: Marilyn’s shade lingers, her hair umbral hail spooling down to the frosted ground as she hangs upside down. Where her shadow face seems to touch the grass, crystalline ice forms.

She at last pulls herself up. She places the pocketknife to her wrist and slits it. Red blood seems to materialize mid-air and drip to the ground, splashing on the frost. The shadow-girl steps off of the swing. The bloodied, frosted grass bends with two barefoot depressions. The swing and its shadow then lifts and tilts, once again exposing its engraved and defaced underside. The swing hangs mid-air askew as the shadowy preteen takes hold of the swing’s shadow and begins engraving carefully. Each cut causes more droplets of blood to patter to the ground. A spectral hiss cuts through the air. It sounds like someone gritting their teeth through great pain. Slitted words, however, begin to emerge upon the swing.

FIND HIM

More droplets and another hiss, slip, and a feminine cry that cuts to the bone. An engraved arrows appears. It points to the defaced initials and the arrow-pierced heart. The shadow hoists itself back up upon the swing.

Hazel: Hazel nods slowly in understanding. “I need to find your boyfriend. That is the key to bringing your killer to justice.”

GM: Marilyn’s shade nods. She places one umbral hand over her slit wrist. Slowly the bleeding stops.

Hazel: “Do you wish me to… bring him here, when I have found him?”

GM: Another nod.

Hazel: “Can you tell me his name? Where I should begin looking?”

GM: The black outline of the thirteen-year-old girl shakes her head and seems to bury her shadowy hands in her face. The sound of crying escapes from the slashed bark. Shadowy tears fall from her dress, leaving ghastly blue scorch marks upon the grass.

Hazel: It’s such a human motion. From something… no, some_one_, that causes her such instinctive fear. “I’m sorry, Marilyn. I’ll do everything that I can. You deserve peace.” Hazel pauses and adds, “Your parents love and remember you. They still have your photo.”

GM: The burning grass catches fire. Blue flames lick at the swing. Smoke rises in great plumes. The black vapors obscure the moon-shadows, and when they eventually rise up into the air, the swing’s shadow remains empty.

Hazel: Hazel reflexively backs away from the sight, about to stammer out some apology for her offense—but it’s simply the ghost leaving. She breathes out an all-too palpable sigh of relief.

Her relief grows all the more pronounced when she sees the familiar headlights of her dad’s patrol truck approaching. Hazel made a lot of plans for how she was going to face her nemesis. But she kept one in reserve in case she needed to abort at the last minute too. She’d called her dad during work and asked if he could drop off some items she’d left at his house—and now, with the power out, she has an all-too ready excuse to stay over again. This is… for the best. She still needs to hear from Leo’s contact, too.

GM: Harvey’s truck light and engine stay on as the undersheriff half-bolts from his truck. “Hazel?!” his voice rings out.

Hazel: “I’m right here, Daddy!” she calls, relieved, as she makes her way over.

GM: Uniform-clad, and hand to his holstered firearm, Harvey runs to Hazel and throws his protective arms around her.

Hazel: The hug initially takes Hazel aback, but she’s had a lot of them with her mom recently. And to say nothing of the present circumstances… if she’s stiff, it’s only a moment before she melts into her father’s embrace.

GM: “Oh, thank goodness you’re okay.”

Hazel: “I know the power’s out, but is there something else that’s wrong?”

GM: “I called your number. The line’s disconnected. Your cell too, but that’s nothing new. And then I saw the black van out front,” he says, pointing to the road.

Hazel: “It’s the power, Daddy. There’s no electricity, no running water, ‘no nothing’, as the saying goes.” Hazel freezes. “Like… one of theirs?” She doesn’t need to say who.

GM: Harvey’s big chin nods. “But it’s gone. They pulled off, no lights as soon as I pulled in.” He sighs. “I was worried they might have taken you.”

Hazel: “Did you get the license plate?” she instinctively asks.

GM: Harvey laughs. His face then grows a bit more serious as he whispers, “Theirs don’t have any.”

Hazel: “It sticks out like a sore thumb, though. The best recourse is to use different plates on each outing. Doesn’t stand out, and worthless to investigators when they’re replaced. If they don’t act fast.”

GM: “I don’t think that’s the point,” he says. “But it doesn’t matter, you’re okay, and I was just being jumpy.”

Hazel: “Ah. That’s right. It’s good that I’m safe,” Hazel confirms. “And I would much rather have a dad who’s jumpy at the prospect of trouble than one who is lethargic.”

GM: “Oh, and the reason I first tried calling: Lance is awake! I was planning on going to interview him.”

Hazel: Hazel is quiet for a moment upon hearing that news. “Aunt Winnie was right.”

GM: “How so?”

Hazel: “Mom took me to see him earlier today. She laid out a… compelling, logical case for why I should.” Hazel pauses, not sure how she’s supposed to act in this context. She did tell her dad she didn’t want to visit earlier. “I’m sorry, that feels almost like going behind your back.”

GM: “Actually, pumpkin,” he says, shepherding her to the still-running truck. “How about we resume this chat in the patrol vehicle. I left the motor running. It would be embarrassing if Eddie Munson jumped in and took it for a joyride.”

Hazel: “Good idea, Daddy. Give me a moment though? There’s a couple things I’d like to bring.” She smiles. “Stay guard and make sure Eddie doesn’t jump in.”

GM: “Okay,” he says, smiling.

Hazel: Hazel first reaches into his truck and pulls out one of the heavy-duty police flashlights. Those are much better than the dinky keychain light she carries around. In fact, she should keep one in her purse. She already has a basic forensic kit there.

She still takes a short breath before she flicks on the heavy light and re-enters the house.

GM: The miniature spotlight fires a bright beam across her rearranged furniture and knickknacks. Now, regarding the already lived in house, Hazel is struck just by how many hiding places there are.

Hazel: It’s okay. Dad’s here. I can scream, he can radio backup, and Marilyn acted like no one was here… She’s still only slightly less anxious as she pushes the door open.

GM: The flies continue to drone and flit.

Hazel: But if she’s afraid to even enter the house where he’s been, how will she possibly be brave enough to face him?

She won’t be. She’s got to do this.

Not just to out-psyche him. She might be able to glean further insight into his activities from the other ‘presents’ he’s left—he’s killed someone if that hand is any indication. Who was his victim? And in any case, she needs to pack a change of clothes for her overnight stay at Dad’s.

GM: The front door creaks.

Hazel: Let’s get this over with. She pushes it open.

GM: The flashlight slams light into the living room. The beam momentarily blinds a large, mange-ridden rat. It hisses and slinks off beneath one of her couches. The light also illuminates a pair of toys left out on the bottom stair.

Hazel: Hazel tenses, as if ready for them to suddenly animate and attack her instead of rats for some debauched aristocratic court’s amusement.

GM: Both are small finely carved dolls. One is dressed like a sheriff, the other a black-haired woman. Both dolls are streaked with Hazel’s red nail polish.

Hazel: She’s calmer now. She can recognize what a good way that is to unnerve someone. Go through their personal effects and show how no area of their life is safe.

But you’ve shown me you’re not omniscient either, VV. I rarely wear nail polish, and I don’t like red as a color. You don’t know what’s important to me. Who I am. Or how much I know about you.

GM: That’s when the dolls come ‘alive’. But they don’t attack Hazel. They attack one another. They savagely begin to bite and smash each other.

Hazel: Hazel whips out the camera from her purse and rapidly snaps pictures. She’d been tempted to scoop up the dolls and inspect them as ‘evidence’. But she needs to maintain the narrative of a frightened victim, and a victim wouldn’t think to do that. She’d just want to get the hell away. Pictures are the next-best thing.

GM: The sheriff-doll eventually rips the arm off the dark-haired female, only to have the latter rip off the former’s head. The dolls then clatter to the ground, in tatters and splinters.

Hazel: It’s unnerving on an instinctive level. It shouldn’t be happening. But Hazel has… seen a lot of impossible and horrifying things today. A ghost. A severed hand. That’s just within the past hour. These are mind games, tricks to scare her with. Hazel knows them for what they are.

And she’s goddamn tired of being scared.

GM: The red nail polish starts to glisten and run down the dolls’ splintered bodies.

Hazel: “Are you done yet?” Hazel mutters, snapping a few last photos.

GM: The only replies are the subtle creaks of the house and the drone of flies. That, and the trembling echo of her own voice. Outside, her dad calls for her, perhaps alerted to her voice as well as the relative lack of movement from the flashlight. “Sport?”

Hazel: “I’ll be out soon, Daddy! Just got kind of caught up with… you know about my sensory processing…”

GM: “Okay,” he says, looking over his shoulder, back down Red Louse Lane.

Hazel: Hazel steps over the ruined figurines and makes her way upstairs. No doubt her nemesis has left another surprise in the bedroom. Maybe even his grandest one? Not sure. If she got really freaked by the hand, by his little creations, she’d never go upstairs, and it’d be wasted. Or maybe it’s something to really scare her if she makes it through those. It’s no matter. If she can’t face it, she can’t face him—and she has to face him.

GM: With everything rearranged, it hardly even feels like her room anymore. There’s a pervasive feeling of violation. As her shaking hand sweeps the hallways and bedroom, the light falls upon a photograph left on her bed.

Hazel: The light shines over the photo.

GM: It is a birds-eye view of a hotel room, focused on a young woman drawing spirals on the sheets with her own menstrual blood. A hiking boot lays beside it. Flesh and bone rest within, gnawed on by a blanket of flies. A black cat leaps up onto her bed and joins the gristly feast. The flies scatter, their dark, droning wings fluttering around the air with palpable, crude hunger. The pox-ridden cat gives a low growl at Hazel’s presence.

Hazel: The sight, the photo, the knowledge her nemesis knew where she slept—it should make her scared. It should. But it makes her angry. Her nemesis wants to involve her parents, now does he? Showing up at her mom’s hotel? That makes her pissed. And that settles it. She really can’t keep running. And these stupid animals! No doubt they’ll be happy to report all they’ve seen to their master!

She could be more discrete. But she’s not going to tolerate this thing’s pets on her goddamn bed. Hazel whips out her stun gun and squeezes off a round. “Fuck you, tom.” In fact, better the mangy thing doesn’t report back.

The projectile, however, goes wide as the hissing cat darts under the bed. Hazel drops to the ground, shines her flashlight at the mangy feline, and fires another shot.

GM: As the electric arc fills the dark recesses beneath the bed with burning cat hair, Hazel remembers why children fear the underside of their beds. That’s where the bogeyman lives. He’s there. He’s always been there. Watching. Waiting. And now she’s come to him.

To him.

As his dark, evil eyes bore into hers, Hazel realizes the picture of Valentin Vladescu was not of the man—but the mannequin. Over the centuries, his form has shifted, such that now, a mere breath away, her Prince Uncharming is dressed in fine evening attire: a back satin shawl tuxedo and crimson bowtie. His face resembles a wooden ventriloquist doll, scratched and scuffed, with old cracks in the pale, pale varnish. His wooden eyes are rimmed in black and wide, so very wide and hungry.

VVbig.jpg

His hinged jaw opens, revealing perfectly flat, white teeth–until they pivot on cunning springs, revealing rows of razor-sharp porcelain fangs. The thing whispers into her ear, dead breath pressing into her skin. Her soul.

“You. Killed. Them.”

And with those three terrible words, as the black cat convulses in pseudo-death throes, Hazel’s mind unhinges as the curtains of repression are torn down and she remembers. She remembers. “What did you do to them?” the Lamia had shrieked. Hazel had forgotten. But now. Now she remembers.

She remembers butchering them. Albert and Elouise Sweeney. It was fun. She was never really good with people. So she decided to take them apart. Piece by piece. Now she understands. Now she remembers. The gloved hand of Albert’s sitting on the table. The booted foot of Elouise upon her bed. She had hid them oh so very well. Or so cleverly that no one would find them. No one would ever know–including herself. But now she remembers.

She. Killed. Them.

The mannequin-shaped Nosferatu seizes Hazel by the neck with wooden hands that are too strong, too inhumanly strong as its unblinking eyes burn her with the knowledge of what she’s done. What she is. The mannequin’s porcelain-fanged jaw clacks up and down three times.

“You. Were. Right.”

She doesn’t need to ask. She knows. She is insane. She’s incapable of caring for herself. She’s a danger. She’s mad. Fear stops her heart. She slumps over, flatlining as terror floods her body. All of her previous panic attacks were but paper tigers. This is true fear. True, mind-ripping horror with claws and fangs.

The mannequin hands then gently release her and withdraw back into the darkness. From that den of blackness, Vladescu watches her, his fanged teeth clacking.

Hazel: In that moment, Hazel is no longer a woman of nearly twenty-four years. She’s not even the four–year–old who ate her mother’s eggs bare-handed. Her mind is a blank slate. A tabula rasa. There is but one thing she can do.

She runs.

She doesn’t process the motions of her legs or how the gross physical matter that is the house’s walls slams her from every side. Her shins hurt. Her flanks hurt. Her chin hurts. Wait, why does her chin—? But then her shoulders hurt, her arms hurt, her back hurts, her stomach hurts, her chin hurts, that already hurt, and it’s happening again, again and again, around and around. The stairs are on the ceiling and the ceiling is on the stairs. Everything is spinning like a mad kaleidoscope, and she’s mad too, why didn’t she take the steps one at a ti—?

Her glasses jerk off her nose as she crashes to a broken heap at the foot of the stairs. Something stabs her stomach. Is it the nail polish from her parents’ splintered, murderous dolls that’s smeared over her clothes, or is it—

She can’t see. Darkness envelops her.

GM: But the spiral never stops.

It descends.

Evermore.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


GM: Back at the camp, Ridley finds Kurt a mirror. But as the young man inspects the pocket-sized glass, he cannot find himself.

Kurt: Kurt stares at his no-reflection. He frowns as he continues to search and search without any answers. This isn’t good. Something’s wrong with me. I’m fucked, Fucked, FUCKED. Kurt looks to Ridley. “I can’t see anything.”

GM: Ridley’s brow furrows. “What are you talking about?”

Kurt: “I can’t see myself in the mirror. It’s like I’m Dracula! I have no reflection! What’s happening?” Kurt mutters, “Maybe it’s from fighting with my reflection in the mirror. Maybe he ran away.”

GM: Ridley’s creased brow only worsens. “It’s right there, Kurt. You don’t see it?”

Kurt: “No. I don’t.”

GM: “You’re not shitting me.”

Kurt: Kurt looks Ridley in the eyes. “I promise I am not lying.”

GM: Ridley puts a comforting but firm hand on Kurt’s shoulder, then takes away the mirror. “Okay, I believe you. You have a tube coming out of your skull, and Chippy near choked the devil out of you last night.”

Kurt: “I’m not going crazy, am I?” the question is asked pointedly. “What exactly happened back at the hospital when I fought my reflection?”

GM: Ridley rubs his hand over his buzz-cut scalp and shakes his head. “I really don’t know. I’m not too bright when it comes that stuff. I know how to cheat a psych eval and skirt getting labeled with shell-shocked, but I’m no shrink. You know, why don’t you take a break. I’ve been pushing you hard. Plus, I gotta fix the door I broke last night,” he motions with his thumb.

Kurt: Kurt looks sorrowful. “Do you think the Wizard would know?”

GM: “I guess,” he starts to say, before putting on a much firmer face. “Of course, absolutely. The Wiz will know. I’ll talk to the Wizard as soon as they get back.”

Kurt: “Thanks Ridley.” It’s genuine gratitude. “I need to know what’s going on with my head,” he says, “Because things aren’t making sense.”

GM: The tall man squats down on his haunches. “Ok, time to learn Ridley’s Rule No. 6. At the end of the day, your job is to come home alive. Got it? You do that, and deal with everything else tomorrow.”

Kurt: Kurt nods his head. “I will come home alive. I promise.”

GM: “Regardless of your mission, whether that’s diving into a foxhole and gutting Charlies with a bayonet, infiltrating an Arab’s palace and assassinating a radical emir, or going deep-cover in a hippie sex cult, your main job is to come home alive.”

Kurt: “Did any of those really happen?” Kurt asks with interest. “Like, going deep-cover in a hippie sex cult?”

GM: Ridley gives Kurt a wink. “That’s classified, but let’s just say I look good in a wig.”

Kurt: Kurt guffaws, smiling brightly. He feels a lot better now. “Do you mind if I have a nap, Ridley? Until the others get back, I mean.”

GM: “You’ve earned it, ace. I’ll fix the door later.”

GM: A few moments later, Kurt’s back inside the RV atop the same small, but adequate, mattress. Ridley explains the accommodations, “Can’t have you napping outside and risk being spotted by a black chopper. I’m going to do a perimeter sweep. You do me a favor and dream of your new girlfriend.” He shoots Kurt a thumbs up.

Kurt: Kurt gives Ridley a thumbs up in reply. After Ridley has left, Kurt props a pillow up and folds a blanket out neatly, then begins to rummage in search of something to read to help him get to sleep.

GM: Returning to yesterday’s bibliophilic water-hole, Kurt finds today’s edition of the town’s newspaper.

Kurt: Kurt flips through the newspaper, reading quite happily.

GM: Happily at least until he reads the headline: GAS LEAK AT MOUNT PELION! The article opaquely described a gas leak at Mount Pelion General Hospital that occurred yesterday at 11:37 am. Quoted representatives from the mayor’s office and the hospital’s steering committee indicated that the leak was restricted to only one (unnamed) floor of the hospital and swiftly contained. “Swift evacuation and prompt obedience by the hospital staff endured that no casualties occurred.” Residents of Witiko Falls were promised that the leak was contained and that its citizens were in no danger.

However, a community-wide alert was made, indicating that any resident who experienced symptoms consistent with auditory, visual, or somatic hallucinations should immediately contact the mayor’s office. The article adds that several unsubstantiated cases of symptomatic behaviors were reported and allegedly led to intervention by a joint task force appointed by the mayor and Mount Pelion General Hospital. Conspicuously absent from the article are any mention of the name of the colorless, odorless gas or the cause of its leak. In contrast, the number of the toll–free hotline specially created for residents to call and report signs of ‘gas leak symptomology’ in themselves or their family, colleagues, and neighbors is all–too prominent. After repeating that number for at least the third time, the article ends with a final injunction: “Citizens of Witiko Falls, remember your civic duty, and keep our community safe!”

The rest of the articles are comparatively quotidian: adverts and personals padding the Thursday edition, save for brief mention of a bonfire vigil held last night at 11 pm on the reservation for the late Nadie Crowshoe, an op-ed piece on licenses sold by the Fish & Wildlife Services for hunting on national parks, a high school teacher in a coma after a car crash near Mountain Shadow Cemetery, and wildfires in the nearby Kaniksu National Forest. Yet, somewhere between reading a personal ad about Mrs. Gunderson seeking “a mild, mannered, affectionate cat of gentle disposition,” and an advert on snow-tires from Templar Towing & Salvage, Kurt succumbs to sleep.

Kurt: Kurt’s sleep is restless; his mind wanders and ambles through its many dark corridors; its many dank, gloomy doors evenly laid out in a row. His body reaches out and his mind tries desperately to cling to answers. He needs answers. Mysteries, plaguing his head and buzzing for answers, like flies and mosquitoes searching desperately for a waterlogged corpse. Reaching. Buzzing. Searching. Wanting.

What’s happening? His world seems to dissolve into black liquid, and his body falls through the nether, falling into a sickly black, watery well.

GM: A voice echoes down and up the well, whose walls are made of cold glass that frosts with Kurt’s breath. “There is a storm coming: a black and terrible storm. I could enclose myself in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams. The darkness will rise and rise again.” And after the voice. Singing.

The eerie song creeps along the glass, bringing with it black and white visions of a Dorothy-like figure pressed against the glass. Her voice seems to plead: “Some place where there isn’t any trouble? Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto? There must be. It’s not a place you can get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…”

With urgency and desperate need, she presses herself against the glass, her features a dark shadow. She is reaching for Kurt. Yearning for him. The well’s dark looking glass divides them, but her hand reaches to press against where his does. And with that, he feels a terrible, intoxicating thirst. It shudders hungrily in his throat, his veins, his loins. Terrifying, seductive. The shadow presses its face against the glass, reaching for Kurt’s lips. Yearning. She finds his, and the glass becomes so thin she can see that Dorothy is he and Dorothy is the Wizard but he is not the Wizard, not yet, not yet, not yet, not yet.

Another back deluge pours down the well, and another followed by it, reaching nearly to Kurt’s neck. That’s when he feels the limbs brush against him in the dark water. Cold and bloodless, naked but swaddled in hospital towels. Bobbing in the black water. The corpse’s face surfaces, neck twisted at a sickly angle, revealing a familiar Amerindian female face. But there are other limbs, other bodies. Countless, sunk and bobbing, but clutching at him. Reaching. Yearning. Another torrent of black water pours down the well, rising above Kurt’s face till the pressure builds, pulses, and explodes out the glass well like a geyser.

GM: Kurt awakens, dark blood and cerebrospinal fluid squirting from his cranial catheter. His body is covered and sweat, his fingers tight and cold from pressing against the airstream’s aluminum walls in his sleep. Other fluids stain his loins and adjacent, twisted sheets.

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes focus on the RV’s surroundings in perfect clarity, having fallen asleep with his glasses on, and he spots the newspaper at his side. A dull pain pulses behind his eyes. Nonetheless, he feels oddly… satisfied. And that terrifies him. What the fuck?

He reaches a tentative hand beneath his sheets to check the contents of his sticky underwear. The memory of kissing the Wizard lashes his mind, causing another dull ache in head. The feeling of wanton lust hadn’t entirely abated. And it all feels strange and horribly confusing while awake. But, at the time, it feels so right.

“No!” he whispers in fear and self-loathing, “What the fuck is wrong with me? I’m not fucking gay!” Kurt quickly jolts up out of bed, ignoring his throbbing head, and searches for something to clean himself up and hide the evidence of his wet dream. His wet dream of the Wizard. And dead bodies. In a dank, dark well. What the fuck is wrong with me!?

GM: At the sound of Kurt talking to himself, Ridley pokes his head into the RV. “You awa–” he starts to say, when he catches the tell-tale odor of a spent wet dream. “Geez, kid, that’s my mattress and sheets…”

Kurt: Kurt goes instantly beet-red upon Ridley’s arrival, obvious realization, and apparent disappointment. “Sorry.” It’s all he can say.

GM: “Ah hell, ace,” the agent says, stepping back a little. “I did tell you to dream of a hot mama-san’s teenage daughter. Can’t blame you for trying to obey Rule No. 1 in your sleep.”

Kurt: “Yeah.”

GM: “Just… open that back window.”

Kurt: Kurt glances at his feet, struggling to keep eye contact. He does listen to Ridley and open the back window without a moment’s notice, though. “Don’t tell the others about this.” He is horribly embarrassed.

GM: Ridley laughs, but promises nothing as he skips away, whistling, “Over the Rainbow.”

Kurt: Kurt laughs aloud, which is all he really can do in this situation. He then continues to clean up the evidence and clean himself up. Before anybody else spots him.

GM: Once Kurt’s ‘incident’ is fully resolved, Ridley knocks on the RV.

Kurt: Kurt looks up at Ridley, less embarrassed than the few minutes ago when he was originally found by the older man. “Hi Ridley.” Kurt sounds a lot more cheerful, too. The young man quickly hobbles over to the newspaper from earlier; he planned to question Ridley or whoever about the ‘gas leak’. “Do you know what this is about?” he asks, flipping through the newspaper and trying to find the right story. “It says there’re no casualties.”

GM: Ridley sucks his gums. “Yeah, that’s called grade A white-wash bullshit. Now get out here, it’s time to train some hand-eye coordination.”

Kurt: “I thought as much,” Kurt mentions, nodding his head as he steps awkwardly out of the RV. His cast leg continues to clunk noisily against the floor of the RV and cause the vehicle to shake with each step.

GM: “But,” he says gesturing back to the newspaper, “Knowing where they’re shoveling and not shoveling the BS is important.”

Kurt: “It says the gas leak causes hallucinations,” Kurt says, “and that if we’re experiencing any or know anybody that is, there’s a number that you can contact for help.” Kurt asks, “Do you think that’s why I am seeing crazy things? Do you think it’s just the gas leak?”

GM: Ridley shakes his head vigorously. “No, all that is bullshit force-fed to the public to cover up your escape. And the hotline is just to have people call and tattle on anything that look suspicious—which likely means they don’t know how you escaped. Which is good. Very good.”

The black-ops agent then brings Kurt to a water spout that is dripping lightly but quickly. He sets down a milk crate and passes the teen a straight razor. “We’ll worry later about nicking off that dirt on your chin. For now, I want you to slice the razor across the spout without the blade getting wet. Understood?”

Kurt: Kurt nods his head, this time looking a lot less certain in his skill. He takes the razor without any more qualms, though.

GM: “Ridley’s Rule No. 13: Slow men die quick. Don’t be slow.”

Kurt: Kurt nods again, this time faster.

GM: Ridley smirks. “Now you work on that while I fix this door.”

Kurt: Kurt smiles back at Ridley, then turns to the water spout, readies the razor, and attempts to practice throwing a blade. It’s not pretty. Kurt may be deft with a pencil, but with a razor, he’s terrible. Nonetheless, he composes himself and keeps working at it. He runs back and forth, recollecting the thrown razor, then aims it once again to complete Ridley’s challenge.

GM: Ridley, meanwhile, strips off his jacket and tie, and rolls up his sleeve as he prepares to do some ‘home’ repair.

Kurt: Suddenly, a victorious cry echoes through the campsite. It’s Kurt. He is already jumping up and down in shock and awe as he has apparently succeeded in the challenge on his second throwing attempt. “Ridley!” he yells. “I did it! I did it on my second try!” Kurt is personally shocked. He looks absolutely enraptured. Nonetheless, he’s beaming with pride.

GM: Ridley almost bashes his thumb with surprise. “What?!” He walks over and inspects the blade. He then inspects his recruit. “Do you have any prior combat training? Like take any karat-e as a kid?”

Kurt: “I play varsity basketball,” Kurt admits, rubbing the back of his head in an ‘aw shucks’ manner. “I also used to help my dad around on the farm when I was little.”

GM: “Well, hell,” Ridley says, “How about… you keep practicing that. If you do it ten times before I finish this here door, I’ll grill you another steak.”

Kurt: “Deal!” Kurt grins. Kurt then goes ahead, tasked by Ridley to succeed at least ten times without any hitches, and does so with a determination and vigor quite surprising for someone his size. He doesn’t hit his mark every time; however, Kurt does make good time as he manages to pass Ridley’s test in the space of twenty-one shots. In the end, however, Kurt needs to take a seat and rest his aching foot, which he’s been hobbling around on more than he would prefer.

GM: “You did it, didn’t you?” Ridley mutters not quite surprised anymore, but still impressed.

Kurt: Kurt nods, looking at how far along Ridley was in fixing the RV door. “Yeah. All done.”

GM: “You little bastard,” the grizzled man says affectionately.

Kurt: Kurt laughs in reply, attempting to help Ridley out if need be.

GM: Ridley sighs as he regards the door, fully banged back into proper shape, but not yet put back on its still unprepared hinges. “Way to follow Rule No. 13, ace.”

Kurt: He gets up from his seat, walking with a limp, reaching his hand out to proffer some aid.

GM: “God, I hope my daughter digs you.”

Kurt: “Are you already planning how you’re going to introduce me?” he asks with a cheeky smile. He looks at the unhinged door. “I can help you with this part. It’s sort of a two-man job, anyway.” Kurt had fixed doors before with his dad when the old man was still walking around.

GM: Ridley considers the offer for a while, then gives up. “Why the hell not.”

Kurt: Kurt cheers in victory once again, glad to finally break Ridley’s resolve in babying the teenager. “You never know!” Kurt says, “I might be a master door-smith for all you know, Ridley!”

GM: Together, the pair finish up the door repair in short order. After that, the older man grills up another juicy steak that tastes as good as sex.

Kurt: “How long until the Wizard gets back?” Kurt asks, chewing his steak with a renewed vigor. Kurt has his broken foot propped up on the milk crate from earlier, finally taking it easy as he rested up. He frowns at mentioning the man, but nevertheless Kurt has questions.

GM: “Oh, he’ll be back in a bit, comes and goes,” Ridley says as he rips open an MRE. He looks at the military ration with bald hate and tries to hide his envious glances at Kurt’s steak. But it’s his words that seem to catch in Kurt’s mind. For a moment, he is sure Ridley said “she’ll” be back. Or maybe, that’s just what Kurt wants to hear.

Ridley doesn’t let Kurt ponder on it too long, though, as after their meal, he flips over a milk-crate between the pair, and takes out a deck of cards. “Well, ace, I had hoped to let you squeeze off some rounds, but we’re currently in a no-fire zone on a account of Rule No. 34. So instead, our next training exercise will be Texas hold ‘em. Ridley’s Rule No. 7, otherwise known as the Rogers’ Rule: You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold ‘em. Being an agent means sussing the odds and tipping them in your favor by calling and making bluffs. There’s times you play tight, then times you play aggressive.”

He doles out some pocket chips stamped with the Beavertail Casino logo, then begins shuffling the deck. After explaining the rules of hold ‘em, Ridley then adds, "Now, since we can’t cash out, here’s how we’ll raise the stakes: the game’s winner gets to ask the loser a question, who will have to give three answers—two of which are lies, but one true." He then winks, deals out the cards, and posts the small blind. As the game proceeds, Ridley starts singing with a warbling voice that couldn’t carry a tune in bucket.

“On a warm summer’s eve,
On a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with the gambler.
We were both too tired to sleep,
So we took turns a-starin’,
Out the window at the darkness.
The boredom overtook us,
And he began to speak:”

“He said, ‘Son, I’ve made a life
Out of readin’ people’s faces,
Knowin’ what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes,
So if you don’t mind me sayin’
I can see you’re out of aces.
For a taste of your whiskey
I’ll give you some advice’.”

“So I handed him my bottle,
And he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette,
And asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet,
And his face lost all expression.
He said, ‘If you’re gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right’.”

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for counting
When the dealings done.”

“Every gambler knows
That the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away,
And knowin’ what to keep.
‘Cause every hand’s a winner,
And every hand’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep.”

“And when he finished speakin’,
He turned back toward the window,
Crushed out his cigarette,
And faded off to sleep.
And somewhere in the darkness,
The gambler he broke even.
But in his final words,
I found an ace that I could keep.”

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em,
Know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away,
And know when to run.
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealing’s done.”

Kurt: The song reminds Kurt of when his father used to take his sister and him to school, the picture of a red–painted pickup truck fresh in Kurt’s mind, as they listened to The Gambler on one of his father’s most played and over–worn cassette tapes.

Kurt smiles at Ridley’s warbling tune, sitting back comfortably as he waits for the man to deal.“I have to say, probably better off playing cards than shooting off gun rounds,” Kurt freely admits. “I can be pretty accident prone, and getting a paper cut from a card would be a lot better than shooting my other foot.” He grins.

GM: “Bluffing me already, eh?” Ridley says, sticking a toothpick in his mouth. “You’re forgetting that I just saw your fast barber hands at work.”

Kurt: “Me? Bluffing?” Kurt’s grin remains.

GM: The game continues, round after round. The pair’s luck, skill, and strategy lead both to win and lose some, but without any decisive swing in either direction. It all comes down to the final hand, right down to the showdown. But Ridley has to chuckle as he lays down his winning hand—which clinches him the pot and the whole game. “Ace-high flush.”

“Not bad, Kurt, not bad.” Shuffling away the deck, he then retrieves all the casino chips, save for a blue one worth $50. His crow’s feet crease as he looks around and then slips the poker chip into Kurt’s hand. “Our little secret.”

Kurt: Kurt laughs, accepting the ‘gift’. “What about Rule Seven, Ridley?” He speaks in a hushed, secretive tone.

GM: Ridley flicks the toothpick. “There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done. Now, as for your secret, let’s see here…” He scratches his chin in mock exaggeration. “Well, you’ve already told me about Felicity, and she’s old news anyways. Hmm. How about what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen here in Witiko Falls?”

Kurt: Kurt considers his three answers, drumming a finger over one of his knees as he thinks to himself. “First answer: recently when I crashed my car, I saw an elk with what I think was a flayed human body on its antlers before I fell unconscious. Second answer: at the hospital, I saw a little girl on a fat man’s gut whose eyes burst out flies. Third answer: during my nap I had a dream I was visited by someone, or something, and they wanted me more than anything in the world. It was very vivid and caused a wet dream.” Kurt smiles afterwards.

GM: The staring contest goes on for quite some time as Ridley chews on the riddle. The black ops agent quickly eliminates the third option, citing that “teens and wet dreams go together like wet dog and stink.” But he hems and haws a while between the first options. Reasoning out loud, and likely using it to fish for nonverbal tells, Ridley says that the first is most likely to be it because it is more likely to have happened. He goes on to suggest that what Kurt perceived as flayed human skin was probably fraying antler velvet.

But then he reasons that if both were experienced, then the second is ‘crazier’—although he chalks it up the incident to being nothing more than a medical-induced hallucination. Eventually, after batting the options back and forth a few times, Ridley picks the second option. His reason is simple. Rapping his skull with his hard knuckles, he says, “What goes on inside here can create mad horrors that make the worst of what’s on the outside look like kittens licking ice cream.”

He then looks at Kurt to verify his conclusions.

Kurt: “You got me figured out,” Kurt answers, impressed by Ridley’s deductive reasoning. Kurt attempted to keep his physical tells to a minimum, but apparently it was all for nothing as his mentor reads him as easily as a penny dreadful.

GM: The older man takes the praise in stride, but notes he had to wrestle “something fierce” with the riddle. “It wasn’t easy to pin, particularly when you pulled that fast one by telling a couple of tall but true tales.” He pops open a beer can. “Speaking of ‘truth’, what do you make of bug-eyed girl?”

Kurt: “Everything went weird after I saw her,” Kurt admits, “but then time didn’t matter, and I realized I wasn’t looking at her anymore—I was looking at my own self.” Kurt adds, “That’s when I had to fight my reflection. Now I don’t have a reflection.” He pauses. “It’s insane.” He shakes his head in disbelief. “What do you reckon?” he asks. “Do you think it means anything?”

GM: Ridley is quiet for a while as he takes a long swig of his beer. Eventually though he answers. “Yep. I reckon it means something. Like don’t take naps while driving.” Kurt never gets to see if Ridley is joking, though, as their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the Beehive Catering van.

Kurt: Kurt looks up as the catering van arrives on the scene.

GM: Mrs. Kimball is once again driving the dark blue food van. She parks it and waves cheerily at Kurt and Ridley.

‘Chippy’ emerges from the back. She does not wave, cheerily or otherwise, at either of the men. Instead, she walks up, and without looking at Kurt, says to Ridley, “The Wizard gave me orders to poly test the asset. Alone.”

Kurt: Kurt smiles cheerfully at Mrs. Kimball in return when he sees her, and although his expression fades a little upon spotting Chippy exiting the van, he tries his best to put in an effort to get along. “Thanks for making me breakfast earlier, Chippy,” he says in a happy-enough tone. He tries to ignore the (unhappy) prospect of being tested by Chippy on his lonesome.

GM: The female agent regards Kurt coolly—which given recent events is a significant improvement. She even nods.

Perhaps spotting this more temperate mien, Ridley nods and stands with a long stretch and yawn. “Okay. I’m tired as balls, anyways. Wake me up when you’re done kissing and telling.”

His partner’s face flashes momentarily with anger, but she swallows it swiftly. She turns to Kurt.

Kurt: Kurt guffaws a little at Ridley’s words; however, he quickly quietens down when Chippy flashes a look of anger. “So,” he drawls, “what kind of test did you have in mind, Chippy?”

GM: “Name recall,” she says, glaring at the teen for using the nickname that led to her smashing his balls only last night.

Kurt: “Oops! Sorry!” Kurt’s apology is genuine as he recalls her ‘prudent correction’ last night. “What kind of test are we doing, Agent Hickory?”

GM: She purses her lip, then motions for him to follow. Unlike Ridley, she does not help him hobble to the back of the van.

Kurt: Kurt frowns at Chip—er, Agent Hickory’s silence. Nonetheless, he follows…

GM: Inside, two kitchen hairs and a table have been set up. Atop the latter is large, metallic briefcase. As Kurt climbs in and takes the seat indicated by the female agent, he sees what he assumes must be a portable polygraph test, complete with dials and tracking paper.

Poly.jpg

The FBI agent then applies several devices to Kurt’s chest, arms, and hands to measure various physiological indices, such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration, and skin conductivity.

“Standard protocol,” the agent says, as Mrs. Kimball closes the van’s back and soon starts driving the vehicle. “We don’t want the unique electromagnetic signature to be detected.” She then sits down and begins the test. It starts with the standard questions. Name. Birth date. Age. Place of residence. Telephone number. It then dives into his personal history, including intimate details about his family, drug use, sexual history, psychiatric symptoms, and more. It is… invasive to say the least, and all the more awkward given the woman’s automaton-esque demeanor as she administers the all too personal questions.

Kurt: Kurt, honest for the most part, is reluctant to be as forthcoming when it comes to Felicity and his sexual history—namely his borderline infidelity in regard to flirting with Morgan, Felicity’s jealousy, and his poor handling of the situation.

GM: Kurt’s previous calm demeanor makes his duplicity all the more telling—and when the cracks start to show, the FBI agent all but pounces on him. She digs in deep, grilling him on excruciatingly embarrassing details. “Have you committed sodomy? Did you cry after your first orgasm? How many times have you committed consensual or nonconsensual incest with your sister? Why did you attempt to use a fake ID to enter the Burning Bush Gentleman’s Club? What is the nature of your relationship with Jack Sarfatti?”

Kurt: “What!?” Kurt yelps in surprise. “I haven’t done any of that stuff!”

GM: The Fed jumps up from the table and slams her hand hard on the briefcase. “You’re lying!!” she snarls.

Kurt: “I haven’t cried after orgasm, bum fucked anybody, used a fake ID, or fucked my sister!” Kurt growls back. He’s getting agitated and losing his cool completely. “I am definitely not lying about any of that, you bitch!” He adds, “I don’t even know Jack Sarfatti aside from knowing he runs a sleazy strip club and tried to hire my big sister one time!”

GM: Any shred of the agent’s self-composure is torn apart when Kurt calls her a ‘bitch’. Her eyes grow hot like green coals as she pulls out her .45ACP Springfield. “Lying piece of sniveling shit! Who do you work for!!!!”

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes pop out of his head when Agent Hickory pulls out her gun, and he puts his hands up defensively very, very quickly and scrunches his eyes in fear. He rambles off an answer to her question, “I work every day at the Scarecrow Cinema for a man named Mordecai Clay!” Kurt looks like he’s about to shit a brick.

GM: “Smart-mouth snot!” she yells, grabbing Kurt’s arm and pushing it behind his back. “Let’s see how smart that mouth is with some waterboarding!!”

Kurt: “Ouch!” Kurt squeaks as he’s pulled into a grapple, being physically overpowered by the agent. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

GM: A struggle ensues, and Kurt’s efforts to evade his tormentor force her to holster her gun as she handcuffs his arms together and to a D-ring on the van wall. Kurt’s apologies fall on deaf ears.

Kurt: Kurt whimpers as he’s handcuffed, looking up at Chippy with pleading eyes. He sighs sadly when he notices her uncaring, cold demeanor. “Why do you hate me!?” he yells at her, pitifully. “I don’t get it! You’ve never trusted me! I’ve been through so much shit, and you don’t care!”

GM: She grabs a white towel and massive jug. It’s like she’s prepared for it. Like she wants it.

Kurt: “What the fuck!?” Kurt yells, realizing her intentions. “You were serious about torturing me!?” Something in Kurt snaps. His eyes bulge. The buzzing starts again, getting noisier and noisier.

GM: She stalks toward, unaware of the bizarre neurochemical storm raging in Kurt’s mind. “You’re a lying bastard. If you’re not already working for someone else, then you’ll break! So I’m going to break you first!!!”

Kurt: Kurt’s brain begins to pulsate with an incoming headache. His eyes feel strained, unblinking—and the sensation of tendril-like spikes licking beyond his field of vision is simultaneously empowering and yet oh so alien to Kurt. Nonetheless, his mind’s eye lashes in a blind, clumsy flurry. It’s difficult to control and gauge. His eyes begin to roll in the back of his head, and the veins of his neck strain with sheer effort. “Stop!” he yells. “Stop! Stop! Stop!”

GM: The woman’s arm jerks back involuntarily. A spasm breaks out on her face, and she starts to scream as her own synapses begin firing against her will. But the seemingly heartless agent overpowers Kurt’s blind psychoagonstic attack and slams his skull into the van’s wall. “GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!!” The blow dashes Kurt’s brain. He hears a loud CRACK. The violence, the terror, the smell of his own blood… it brings back terrible memories.

Kurt: It’s too much. Kurt begins to black out and his mind whirls.

GM: But his mind is no longer even his. Like an iceberg breaking off a glacial shelf, his psyche dissociates from his own conscious will. Dimly he senses the terrible, titanic neural storm build up again and lash out savagely at his aggressor. Something clatters, and another involuntary muscle fires in the agent’s arm. But the power is too raw, too inchoate, too untamed to obey his will—which is not his will. She doesn’t scream this time. She just slams his head again. Harder. Kurt’s broken psyche crawls somewhere deep inside. Back where he can hear… the consciousness-drowning music.

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end


Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes… again


And all the children are insane
All the children are insane…

Previous: Chapter 6

Next: Chapter 8

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