Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Chapter 8

Us-marshal-badge.jpg


Brook: Skin Deep


GM: Nelson raises his hammer above his head and shouts like an atavistic neanderthal. The air cracks and echoes with the gun fire and the bullet’s devastating collision into the old rotted farmhouse. Birds burst from the chimney and feces-streaked gables, tearing through the sky in instinctual panic. If there are other sounds inside the old farmhouse, it is hard to tell—but Brook swears he sees movement in an upper level window. It could have been nothing more than the reflection of a fleeing bird. It could be his imagination. It could be more.

However, Mr. Epstein then breaks onto the scene, a semi-automatic Makarov pistol in his hand. His back is to the outhouse as he kneels in a shooter’s position. The man’s forehead gleams with sweat as he demands, “Explain.”

“The one-armed psycho’s in the house!” Nelson shouts.

Brook: Brook’s eyes immediately snap to that upper window as he spots the movement, gun following his vision. There’s a quick squint before he snaps to the new movement. Epstein’s presence is a weight off his shoulders in one way, a new small panic in another. Putting a hand on Nelson’s back, Brook whispers to follow him closely and stick with the group as he crouch-runs the football boy to the outhouse and their teacher.

One perk of a smaller handgun is how easy he could use it in one hand, the other on Nelson until they get to the biffy, and then pulling the cloth and buckle from his pocket to show. “There’s a drawing in the outhouse, in shit. Fresh shit, sir. Satanic bullshit. Found this cloth and buckle, state psych. Movement in the upper windows. I borrowed your 1911. We need to get out of here.”

GM: True to his word, Nelson backs Brook’s play. Mr. Epstein considers the pair and the situation intensely, but quickly. After another glance up at the upper windows, the math teacher passes Brook his jeep keys. “We’re leaving now to go find the proper authorities. Brook, you drive. Nelson, I will cover your six as we head to the vehicle on my count. I will ride shot-gun, and if there is to be any more discharge of firearms, it will be my hand. Understood?”

Nelson looks to Brook.

Brook: Brook isn’t an idiot. Three vs. one are good odds, but not to take on someplace that might have traps, and is guaranteed to have someone get the drop on them. This is a wolf’s den. Best case scenario is that the lunatic isn’t here and doesn’t see them. Police can ambush him later, that way. Worst case, there is a gun sight on them this very second.

Stuffing the buckle and fabric back into his pocket, the young man grabs the keys in his now-free hand and scans around before speaking again. “I want to send Nelson into town in the jeep and keep whoever might be in this farm house here, but I agree sir. Last movement I saw was in the upper windows. On your count.”

GM: The next moments are an adrenaline blur as the trio rush to the jeep. There’s the tense, breathless moment when the ignition won’t turn on the first try, when an eagle splits the air with its shriek, when a sudden gust catches the edge of the left-behind tarp. Muscles and jaws tense with the anticipation of something. Anything.

But no gunshots fire from the windows. No ax-weilding madman bursts from the porch. No Satanic screams punctuate the sound of rolling tires. Instead, there’s just the vague and sickening adrenaline crash that leaves the three men almost wishing something does or did happen—and wondering if baseless fears are what drove them from the farmhouse.

As if giving voice to that doubt, Nelson asks, “Do you think he was there?”

“That’s not our job to find out,” Mr. Epstein says. “Our job, like the public announcement said, is to alert the proper authorities.” Turning to Brook, he says, “First occupied house we see, you pull in, and I’ll call 911.”

Brook: Should what he’s seen in the window be that escapee, his first thought’s that the wolf is going to spend this time to flee his den and find another. But he’s glad that this happened so soon after they arrived, they’ll make their statements and the day still won’t be over. The adrenaline crash, however, is probably something that all three of them are used too. Hunter, athlete, soldier. Speaking of soldier, Brook quickly pulls the slide back and the safety on, dropping an unused cartridge onto his lap and offering the now-inert firearm across the bench to its owner.

“If he wasn’t there, he WAS there. It was too recent a scat track to risk it. If I saw bear shit that fresh I’d leave, too. Remember to tell them I have evidence on me.” As the teacher says however, Brook pulls into the first house he sees with lights on. Quickly parking there and hopping out to dig into his bag. He needs to sketch the symbol before it leaves his head.

GM: Mr. Epstein nods, takes back his firearm, and then hustles out of the jeep. He knocks and waits momentarily at the front door of the isolated, but thankfully not abandoned, farmhouse before its owner opens the door and invites him inside.

As Brook attempts to recreate the sigil by hand, time ticks awkwardly for the unoccupied athlete. Nelson eventually peers over and asks. “So, have you ever shot someone before?”

Meanwhile, Brook’s artistry steals another ‘soul’. He eschews a pencil and uses the more raw medium of charcoal. The sooty-nub soon dirties his right hand as he begins recreating the sigil. Five points. Five lines. Five words.

But no, Brook realizes as he regards his own work, those numbers aren’t right. There was a sixth point, directly in the center of the pentagram. Unconnected from the others. Initially, he had dismissed it as a nail or errant mark. Similarly, his mind had had overlooked the sixth ‘line’. A circle, connecting all the five points of the pentagram. The sixth ‘word’ also perverts its definition. Below the occult seal, someone had painted: EPH2627. Now, looking at his own hypnagogic sketch, Brook sees the truth. Six points. Six lines. Six words. 6.6.6. The Number of the Beast.

Brook: Brook puts the finishing touches up on his work, slowly leaning up against the jeep like he’s going to melt. It’s been so long since he could lay his head down to rest. Swiner coffee isn’t his favorite, but it’s almost definitely his next stop after the police drill him on what happened. Everything is here. 666, the words, the madness, and the seeming desperation. But those words bother him. Three letters and 4 numbers. It reminds him of the times he’s had to see the principal or when crazies shout at a native to accept God. John 12-41, Revelations 4-9. Could this be a Bible verse? Having seen a pocket Bible in his teacher’s car, he quickly flips through the pages until he finds it.

Ephesians 26-27. In your anger, do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

Bristles run up the teen’s back, and his eyes stare death and fury back down the road. He adds it to his sketch, drawing a stark line from the verse to EPH2627. This escapee is going to deliberately go against this. He is going to hurt someone for his ‘god’ after the sun goes down.

Then Nelson’s question jerks him back to reality, blinking a moment at the question. “I’ve shot AT people. Poachers trying to run. Warning shots. Never killed anyone. Hey, watch the Jeep. I’ll be back in a second, going to check on the teacher.”

With his sketchbook under his arm, he steps back quickly to the house, letting himself in to look for his Mr. Epstein to show him the drawing.

GM: Brook almost collides with his math teacher as the man is just about to exit the house. He looks at Brook expectantly, but does not snap at him for leaving the jeep, particularly when he pops his head out and sees Nelson still waiting safely in the vehicle.

Brook: It makes him jump. There’s nothing worse than a surprise, even a good one. When his teacher looks at him expectantly, he takes a step back for comfort. “Are they coming? Do we have any instructions? They might want statements from each of us.”

GM: The tall veteran raises his hands as if to pacify the hypomanic teen. “Calm down. Deputy Lowder and a US Marshall are on their way. Our instructions are to remain where we are, and yes, I imagine they will want to talk with us.”

Brook: Brook’s face turns sour. US Marshall. Of course he’ll probably notice the young Madcatcher and be a prick about things. Mr. Epstein isn’t wrong about his hyper attitude, however. This is a hunt, the clock is ticking, and someone’s safety is on the line. It’s been Brook’s simple function as a human being to hunt since the moment he was pulled from that river. It’s simple, thus it’s almost a comforting practice. But as the teacher speaks, he still opens his sketch book to show off what he’d made. “I made a composite of the fresh symbol.”

GM: Mr. Epstein regards the drawing. “A pentagram. That will no doubt be helpful.” He pauses again. “You know, Brook, the pentagram is a rather unique geometric shape known as a star polygon. At its core, it’s a regular pentagon whose exterior angles are all 72°. By extending its lines, one forms the pentagram, and if one connects the points, one forms another regular pentagon exactly equal in ratio to the first, save that its orientation is reversed. This sequence can be continued in both directions, outwards and inwards, without end. Also, the pentagram has a special number hidden inside called the Golden Ratio, which equals approximately 1.618.” He points to several areas.

“The golden ratio, or golden section, or a hundred other “golden” names, is a geometric discovery attributed to the Pythagoreans. It exemplifies the beautiful patterning inherent in geometry, and by extension the universe—and how that patterning is irrational yet no less enchanting. In other words, the golden ratio defines a logarithmic spiral that personifies the universe, and its number is tucked away right there hiding in plain sight in the pentagram. The golden ratio reveals itself to be an irrational number when figured algebraically. In short, if the lowest possible expression of the golden ratio is a/b, then the golden spiral demonstrates that a/b equals b divided by a – b. But if a/b is the lowest value of the ratio than b/(a – b) is lower than the lowest. How can its smallest form reveal a smaller version of its form? It contradicts itself into infinity. Which is rather fascinating if you think about it."

Brook: Brook looks at the drawing he’s made and wonders why the teacher kind of just brushes over the fact there’s a Satanic threat on it. But as he listens to the teacher go on, he slowly starts connecting the dots to what he’s saying. It really is kind of beautiful. Patterns in patterns that continue without end, breezing past what they can count or make reasonable sense of. The pattern works visually in his head, slowly sprawling out like the teacher explains. But there’s another pattern that it reminds him of. Another more natural spiral.

“Like a spider’s web. No one teaches the spider, it’s an instinct to a perfect geometry,” he finally replies, but shoves it out of his head. There’s something concrete he needs to get across. “But look at the message here, Mr. Epstein! If he’s made all this in an inverted pentagram, he’ll do the opposite to spit in the Judeo-Christian god’s face. He’s going to hurt someone, after the sun goes down. I should be going back to that shack with the police, to smoke him out! I could track him! If that was him in the window then he saw us, we could be targets!”

Brook is concerned of course, this could be someone close to him hurt. But there’s something more in the back of his head. Scratching. Like when you try to quit smoking, a hand on your spine that in no uncertain terms is compelling you. It thrums through his body like low bass, screaming at him through a racing heart. There’s another predator in his town, and his territory.

GM: Mr. Epstein’s tall frame leans over his anxious student. The afternoon’s golden rays reflect off his receding hairline. “Brook, you’ve done your part. Precisely. Now let the proper authorities do theirs.” He then looks up and away at a distant trail of dust down the road. “Speak of the devil…” the geometry teacher ironically half-mumbles as he points a long-fingered hand at the approaching undersheriff’s patrol truck.

A few moments later, Undersheriff Bauman slides out of his county sheriff’s department vehicle. The starch–uniformed, barrel–chested, slim–waisted lawman nods to Mr. Epstein as he walks toward the teacher–student dyad. “Deputy Lowder radio-ed me. I happened to be out by Brody’s farm, so I decided to drop by. The Marshal should be here soon.”

“Sheriff,” Mr. Epstein nods in return, extending his hand.

“Thanks for calling, Stan,” the lawman says with a fierce but cordial handshake. He then nods to Brook. “Fancy seeing you again, cadet. I assume you were the one who spotted the buckle?” He waves to Nelson as the JV jock climbs out of the jeep.

Brook: Brook wilts a little hearing the reasonable course of action. Of course the teacher is right, but it isn’t stopping him from wanting to jump in the truck with the Sheriff’s Department and go in guns blazing. His age stings him again. But as Mr. Epstein points out the truck in the distance, he turns to the teacher’s car and yanks out his shirt again, clothing himself to be a bit more professional. Especially seeing how it’s the undersheriff. As the adults greet each other, he get his things ready to show off, the piece of cloth and buckle, and the drawing. Nodding back, he hands both off to the man, still rocking on the heels of his feet, nearly vibrating.

“Yes, Undersheriff Bauman. These were both in the outhouse.”

Brook outlines everything. The stenciling on the cloth, stating ‘State Psychia-’ before the rip. The symbols written in FRESH feces, the fresh part that one that prompted his retreat from the area. Even explaining as best he can that the symbols mean he’ll hurt someone after the sun goes down. ‘Ephesians 26-27; In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold’ coupled with ‘give the Devil his dues’.

“As well, I saw movement in the upper window of the farm house. I had a civilian with me, so I decided to retreat instead of go after it. The meaning though. If this was him, he could act tonight. And he’s most likely moved on from the farmhouse after seeing us three around his hiding place.”

GM: The undersheriff accepts the offered buckle and strap by hooking his pen under the former. He sticks the item inside a sterile evidence bag. He then uses the same pen to begin jotting down notes in a pocket-sized steno pad. His hat-shaded brow raises at Brook’s mention of a ‘civilian’ stopping the sophomore from ‘going after it’. He taps the pen on the pad, then smiles. “You did your mother proud, kid.”

He then looks up at the sound of his deputy driving down the road, a male passenger sitting beside her in the patrol car. Deputy Lowder pulls into the now-crowded driveway. She nods to both adult men. “Boss. Stan.”

Hudson: A man gets out of the car. His presence precedes him. He’s fat. Put a pillow where his head is, and his doughy belly could serve as a beanbag chair. Past where such a pillow could rest, chins flow out from the collar of his shirt like magma leaking from an upset volcano. Pale blue eyes peer out from underneath deep hoods over a squat, tomato-like nose. His black eyebrows are afterthoughts on his face, thin and wisp-like, and look as if a strong breath might simply blow them away. His hair is black but receding. It’s lost a decisive battle against baldness, and it’s only a matter of time until the war is over and his pate is fully hairless. A thick but neatly trimmed mustache stretches from below his nostrils to just over his lips. All told, the man’s countenance resembles a walrus deprived of its tusks and resignedly cognizant of that fact. He wears a dark gray trench coat over a mid-gray flannel suit, a faded maroon cashmere necktie, and dark brown derby shoes.

Hudson.png

The Marshal’s hooded gaze sweeps over the scene—and then fixes on the newly-sealed evidence bag. “Undersheriff. Situation?”

GM: The former Kelpie QB picks up the evidence bag and tosses it to the U.S. Marshal with a lazy arc that catches the sun. “I think your man might be escalating. Add littering to his jacket.”

He then turns to the locals, adding, “This here is Deputy Hudson M. Schofeld. From the U.S. Marshals office way down in Boise.” He then turns back to the portly federal lawman. “Deputy Schofeld, this here is Stan Epstein, a math teacher at Falls High, and two of his students.” He gestures to each. “Nelson Judd. Brook Barnes. Both sophomores. Brook here’s the one who found that buckle as well as…” He turns back to Brook. “Well, you show him.”

Hudson: The fat man catches the bag with surprising dexterity and turns it over in his hands, thoughtfully chewing the lip under his thick mustache like he might a candy bar. He gives a grunt of acknowledgement to the locals. “Let’s see it, Mr. Barnes.”

GM: Harvey and Stan nod at Brook to do so.

Brook: Brook curses himself for a moment seeing the officer pick it up with the pen, wondering if he looks like an amateur for handling it directly. Gloves. He needs to start carrying cloths with him wherever he goes. Like when he tipped over Hazel’s purse earlier that day. But he still can’t help but start to beam a little at the praise he gets. Somehow it even helps to calm the call to action in his spine. This is, until the two new faces arrive on the scene. Brook’s eyes rest on the deputy first, and a bit too long before he scans the man who’s stepped out. This is the sea cow giving his mother trouble, and it seems he isn’t here for the fires. Swallowing his instinctual hatred for now, he keeps his back straight and his mouth shut for a few more moments. That is, until he’s called again. Stage fright isn’t an issue for him thankfully.

Stepping forward, he keeps his sketchbook open and facing Deputy Schofeld, and goes over every bit of info he just told the undersheriff, showing him the composite of the symbols made at the scene and the stenciling on the fabric through the bag.

“I’m a Junior Park Ranger, sir. In my experience, the feces was fresh enough that the one who did it could be close. I saw movement in the farmhouse later, and then us three retreated. Like I said, if this was the escapee, he’ll make his move when the sun goes down. That’s it for the scene. Did you have any questions?”

GM: The local deputies cede the questioning to Hudson as Harvey takes Tina aside, just out of casual earshot, and begin to trade notes about another case.

Hudson: The fat deputy listens patiently to Brook’s testimony and then grunts again. “Soon.”

His gaze sweeps back to the two officers, his voice raising just enough to be heard. “Undersheriff. Deputy. I’ll give better odds to my losing fifty pounds than Moe still being in that farmhouse, but we’re giving it a sweep.”

His gaze moves to Mr. Epstein and the adjacent jeep. Registering the firearm in his hand and the military-grade binocs around his neck, silently adding up facts. “We could use a man with military training, Mr. Epstein. I’ll deputize you if you want to help, and won’t hold it against if you don’t.”

GM: Harvey nods, “All right.”

The geometry teacher opens his mouth as if to quickly accept, but he pauses momentarily as he regards his students. “Boys, can you call your parents and tell them to pick you up here, rather than at the school?”

Nelson half-shrugs, half-nods. “Yeah, I can call my dad. Or mom.”

Brook: Brook twitches lightly at the word ‘soon’ coming from the fat man’s mouth, and shoots a fidgeting look up the road at the farm they just left. All of this is getting out of his hands again, his teacher being the one recruited and offered a deputy position and not him. Even asking his students to be picked up here!? It chafes, even if Nelson agrees to it. Madcatcher, that name is his mother’s but it might make her proud to see him following it!

“Deputy Schofeld! Undersheriff Bauman! I’m a Parks Ranger, a good shot, and I’m the one who saw everything. My sidearm is in my truck at school, but I can join the hunt!”

Hudson: Hudson’s jowls crease in a frown. “How old are you, son?”

GM: “Ranger cadet,” Harvey corrects. “But the rest is true,” he adds a bit more kindly.

Brook: Brook straightens again at the fat man’s words, and his heart rises and sinks at Harvey’s own. “15, sir! But I’m Mary Madcatcher’s boy; she doesn’t afford me being anything less than rock solid!”

Hudson: Hudson gives a single shake of his egg-shaped head. “I’ve got a granddaughter around that age. You and Mr. Judd go call your parents. You hear any gunshots, take cover and don’t make a sound.”

He turns to regard Mr. Epstein, awaiting the geometry teacher’s verbal acceptance—or refusal.

Brook: Brook stares death at the ground for a moment, clenching his fists and making one last point, looking to Mr. Bauman and his own deputy for backup.

“Sir, please. If that maniac goes into the tree line, you could all lose him, and your way. These are my forests! Just… bring me along as auxiliary. I can stay in the car with a sidearm and a first aid kit in case he doubles back, I also have emergency first aid training.”

GM: The undersheriff gives an appreciative nod. The young Deputy Lowder, however, keeps her peace.

Hudson: Hudson’s plump features initially downturn into a fierce scowl at Brook’s objection, but the undersheriff’s nod seems to give him pause. “You stay in the car. He doubles back, you’ll exchange no shots. Understood?”

GM: Mr. Epstein places a hand on Brook’s shoulder. “Every angle of the pentagon has its part to play.” He then looks up at the Marshal with a military mien. “I am happy to serve, Deputy Schofeld.”

Nelson looks around, clearly unhappy to be the odd man out. But he holds his tongue.

Hudson: Hudson raises a sausage-like finger and makes a brief waving motion vaguely reminiscent of tracing a cross. “All right. You’re a deputy now.”

His wrinkled gaze sweeps back over the two teenagers. “Mr. Judd, the house. Mr. Barnes, the car.” So saying, he hoists himself into the passenger seat of Deputy Lowder’s vehicle. The car might tilt a bit as the overweight man gets in. Might.

GM: Deputy Lowder gives her boss a silent look of ‘help me’, as she climbs in to once again act as chauffeur. Harvey just tilts his hat to Tina as he climbs in his truck. Stan Epstein checks his two side-arms, makes sure Nelson walks up to the door and knocks, and climbs in his jeep.

Brook: Brook feels a shudder through him as he wins over the plump old man, thankful for Mr. Bauman’s backup as he lets out the chestful of air he’d pulled in to make himself seem larger. Mother is going to love this little story, having the man who gave her so much trouble give in to her son.

“Yes sir! I’ll only leave when I’m yelled for.”

It’s on. He gives Mr. Epstein an excited grin as the Marshal deputizes his teacher and barks his orders, glad to have this small part in the hunt. They have an ace in the hole now.

Brook & Hudson: A Golden Star


Brook: Following Harvey into his truck, Brook pulls his hair tie out and redoes the ponytail twice as tight, ready not to fool around as he hops up and closes the door behind him. “Thank you for the backup, Mr. Bauman. I didn’t want to miss out on this. I’d feel useless just going home now.”

GM: The undersheriff raises another eyebrow as he turns the key and fires up his truck. “Mister? Brook, there’s running loose, and then there’s fumbling.”

Brook: Brook’s face slowly sinks at hearing that, knowing he’s right. “Sorry, Undersheriff, you’re right. Just a bit overexcited is all. It’s frustrating not getting to help like this very often.”

GM: As the caravan of vehicles head up the road, the local lawman replies, “Brook, ‘overexcited’ is what happens to most high school students after prom. I put my neck out there for you. Don’t make me, or your mom, regret it.” He radios in to the station, then signs off.

Brook: Brook feels the steel in the man’s words, nodding slowly. This is important. Much as he wants to be out there, this is where he needs to start. “Yes, sir. Stay in the car, don’t exchange fire, prepare to give medical aid. You won’t regret it. Will you be leaving me a weapon, or the truck keys?” He frames it as if he doesn’t expect either, looking around the truck for a first aid kit while they drive.

GM: The undersheriff gives the teen a glancing eye from beneath his brim.

Brook: Brook gets the message right away. It’s understandable. With Harvey there to temper him, it’s more clear to him that his is a ‘be there in case of the very worst’ role. His mother’s words about him being a boiling kettle letting its steam bottle up until the cap flies off come to mind. “I’ll honk if I see anyone leave the farmhouse.”

GM: Harvey smiles as he taps the truck’s police radio. “I think our night-time jockey can do a bit better than that.”

Brook: Brook smiles a little right back to him and nods. That’s true, he can keep track of everything. “Done and done, sir. I’ll wait with a first aid kit for your word.”

GM: The undersheriff nods, his grin slipping slightly. “From what I hear, few would shed tears if the fugitive gets… ‘unsuccessful’ first aid. Then again, we don’t know if he’s there.”

“Well, here,” he adds as the three-vehicle caravan rolls up to the farmhouse and shed.

Brook: “I’ll do what I can, Undersheriff. I doubt he’s there either. Probably ran into the tree line.” Once they pull up, he sits up and pulls his belt off, pointing to the window he’d caught the movement. “That was the window I saw the motion in. Do you have a first aid kit in the truck?”

GM: Harvey scans the surroundings—and the identified window in particular. He lets Brook know the location of the first aid kit, checks his loaded pump shotgun, and steps out of the truck. He does not leave the keys.

Brook: He already doesn’t expect the man to leave the keys. Once he has the kit, he grips it tight and undoes his belt. He’s going to keep his head on a swivel the entire time they’re here, eyes on everything. “Don’t hesitate to call me, Undersheriff. Good luck.”

GM: Undersheriff Bauman flicks the edge of his hat in salute, scattering the shadows beneath the western brim. He then goes to join the others.

Hudson: Hudson grunts as he gets the seatbelt on. They always feel a little tight around him. He pulls out a Hershey’s chocolate bar from his coat pocket and takes a crunchy-sounding bite. As the car takes off he conversationally asks his reluctant driver, “Got any kids, Deputy Lowder?”

GM: Hudson catches the young, black-haired woman glancing at Harvey before she answers, “Can’t say I do. I’m still waiting for Mr. Right.”

Hudson: Hudson grunts and takes another bite of his chocolate bar. “I’d say he’ll come along, but he might not.” Another crunchy bite. “Then again, seems you’re undecided whether he’s your boss.” It’s an uncomfortable statement, to say the least. That’s part of why Hudson says it. He wants to see how this woman he’s depending on reacts under pressure.

GM: Tina doesn’t turn her head from the road, but her peripheral vision all but glares at the candy-gorging man. “I think you’ve been pulling on the wrong ears at the local tavern.”

Hudson: Hudson takes another bite, smacking his lips. She’s defensive. Possibly in denial. But she doesn’t lose her head. He’s already starting to assemble a more complete picture of this woman. “Guessing he doesn’t suspect. The man usually doesn’t. Bosses even less.”

GM: The county deputy exhales with something between a grunt and a sigh. “What about you?” she adds in a clearly graceless effort to change the subject. “Do you have kids?”

Hudson: Hudson grunts again, but humors her. “Had a son. He’s dead. His kids live with me and my wife.”

GM: “Sorry to hear,” she says—although it’s not clear for which part she’s most sorry.

Hudson: “Granddaughter thinks I’m the lamest thing since unsliced bread,” he adds as if response to the ‘other’ thing to be sorry for. He then gives a portly shrug and tears a bit more wrapper off his candy bar. “Happens to everyone.” He’s clearly giving Lowder the benefit of the doubt referring to the socially expected thing to be sorry for. “Bit earlier than I was expecting for him though.”

Another crunch sounds as more chocolate disappears down the U.S. Marshal’s ever-hungry gullet. That’s an uncomfortable statement to respond to, and more to the point Lowder’s response isn’t likely to be very informative, so he steers the subject away. Not directly back to the subject of her crush, but within distance of it.

“So now that we’ve done you and me, how about Boss Right. He got a family of his own? Wife, kids?”

Hudson’s got no interest in involving himself in this small–time town’s small–time drama, but it pays to be aware of the interpersonal dynamics at work among one’s co–workers and subordinates. After all, if Lowder’s in love with Bauman, she could lose her head and do something stupid if Moe hacks him apart. Beyond that, it’s simply informative to know what kind of character she has. How and whether she’s conflicted about wanting a married man. The undersheriff has a wedding ring on his finger, but Hudson doesn’t acknowledge it at this point. He’s more interested in Lowder’s reaction than the facts of the ‘case.’

GM: No native-born daughter of Witiko Falls, Deputy Lowder is nonetheless a native of small-town Bonner’s Ferry and a multi–year resident of the present township. In other words, she regards Hudson as an outsider. As the old abandoned farmhouse and partially demolished outhouse appears, she switches subjects. “There’s the place. What’s your plan?”

Hudson: So, there’s that too. He’s an outsider to this place, even to the deputy who’s herself an outsider. Probably can’t expect much help from the locals. He’ll need cooperation from the sheriff’s department more than usual. All things told, it’s been an informative ‘interview.’

Hudson grunts again as the farmhouse approaches. “Same one I’ll tell the undersheriff and the new Deputy Epstein. I don’t like to repeat things besides habits that I’ll probably need a stomach bypass for someday.” So saying, he devours the rest of his chocolate in a single, ferocious chomp. He smacks his lips and runs his tongue over his teeth, not letting so much as a crumb escape its vigilant attentions.

“But I’ll say this, Deputy Lowder,” the fed finishes as he stuffs the black and silver Hershey’s wrapper into his jacket’s inside pocket. “You’re a pretty girl. And a cop. Beauty and balls. Shouldn’t be too hard for you to find a Mr. Right, boss or otherwise.”

GM: The sheriff’s niece glances at the Marshal, as if to see if he’s ribbing her. She must decide the older man is being surprisingly polite, if not nice, though as she replies, “That’s very… kind.” She parks the patrol car and steps out, almost forcing herself not to glance at her cowboy-hatted boss. The war vet similarly parks his jeep, secures his weapons, and steps out.

Hudson: Hudson gives a grunt of acknowledgement. Maybe a bit softer than usual. He glances up as Lowder stops the vehicle and unbuckles his seatbelt, the act of which causes him to grunt again in mild exertion, before he lumbers out of the car. He looks across the assembled officers, regular and otherwise. “All right, boys and girl. Like I’ve said, I’ll give better odds to my losing fifty pounds over Moe still being in that farmhouse, but you know what they say about assuming. It makes an ass out of you. So let’s not be asses.”

The Marshal unholsters his sidearm and clicks off the safety. “Plan’s pretty simple. We approach the place, nice and slow, do a clean sweep. Lowder, you’re in charge of opening doors. If we apprehend the fugitive, keep your guns trained while I restrain him. Don’t assume for a minute that he’s any less dangerous if he gives himself up.”

Hudson chews his lip. “I got my orders to bring him in alive, but it’d be a hell of a lot more convenient if he makes us put him down. For me and the poor bastard who’s warden of whatever slammer we send him to. Man’s a Houdini. I’ve brought handcuffs, legcuffs, belly chains, and plan to keep at least two pairs of eyes on him at all times, but I don’t know it’ll be enough.”

The fat fed grunts again. “Cross that bridge when we get to it. Questions?”

GM: Harvey looks at his deputy and civilian charge, then nods. “Affirmative,” Epstein replies.

Hudson: Hudson waits for Tina to confirm or question, but not for long before he makes a ‘forward’ motion to the other officers and slowly advances towards the farmhouse’s front door. His gun remains trained on its center even as his pudgy, beady eyes scan the area for signs of motion.

GM: The others follow, fanning out like a pack of well-trained, well-armed wolves.

GM: Time stretches out in a long spiral.

As Brook waits, he occasionally sees flashes of different law officers and geometry teacher pass by the windows, their drawn guns catching the setting sun in flashes of golden gun-metal. But no gunshots, shouts, or screams shatter the creeping minutes. As Brook waits and watches, he spots a torn spiderweb fluttering like a ripped flag from the truck’s antenna.

Brook: Brook isn’t a huge believer in signs, but after his conversation with his teacher it feels too much like providence. Having it on the truck? Last thing he wants is to be caught in any kind of web. Quickly turning, he locks the doors on both sides before he settles back on his post, doing a 360 peek through the windows. He feels naked without that sidearm.

GM: A wind rips the web from the antenna, sending it fluttering back down the road. But Brook’s thoughts are soon steered anew as the farmhouse door opens. Deputy Schofeld, the two county police, and Mr. Epstein exit the dilapidated structure, their prior tense vigilance replaced by a grim resolve.

As Deputy Schofeld and Lowder return to the latter’s vehicle and drive off, the undersheriff praises Brook for his patience. “Got a big break in the case, maybe, and it’s all thanks to you, kid. I’ll make sure Mary hears.”

Mr. Epstein, meanwhile, walks up to the truck. “Sheriff Bauman, if you don’t mind, I can take Brook back to school and his vehicle. I already have to go back to pick up some paperwork.”

Harvey gives a sympathetic groan at the mention of paperwork. “I feel your pain, Stan. I really, really do.”

Brook: Brook feels a chill watching that bundle of natural string fly away, before he returns to his vigil. Soon though, everyone is out safe and sound. His role in the pentagram is finished, but he still has questions. Soon as the adults finish being sympathetic to adult… things, he breaks in, eyes darting from the undersheriff to the teacher. “Can you tell me what you found? Is anyone hurt?”

GM: The undersheriff turns his attention back to the eager youth and squints in the ruddy evening light. “All of us are fine. As for what we found, the Marshal wants to keep that under wraps. His manhunt, his prerogative.” He adds, “Your mother might choose to tell you more, but that’s her prerogative.”

Brook: Brook wilts a little again. There’s a chance his mother might tell him, but there’s a bigger chance she doesn’t want him mixed up with ‘Mo’. “Do you think he was actually here? If maybe he saw us? Someone like that, they might take an intruder over a random victim. Like when bears track people who cross their territory, even when they leave.”

GM: The lawman looks at Mr. Epstein momentarily before turning back to reply to Brook, “I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with here, or at least, that’s not what the Marshal thinks.”

“Let’s get you to your truck,” his math teacher adds. “I’ve already kept you well past the normal time limit for detention.”

Brook: Brook is confused. But it’s nothing he hasn’t experienced before, adults giving him the run around. “He’s right. Thanks for taking me along, Undersheriff. I’m glad I could have been here in case something went south.” Opening the door behind him, he turns back to offer a handshake before he leaves with his teacher.

GM: The former QB, now undersheriff replies with a hearty handshake. “Take care, Brook.” Rolling down his window, he calls out, “Maybe I’ll give you a call sometime and request a song or two.” He then calls out to the Kelpie teacher, “Take care, Stan, and don’t hesitate to use that radio.” The undersheriff of Witiko Falls then drives away, his patrol truck kicking up dust clouds that obscure the ruddy sky.

As the last police officer departs, Mr. Epstein looks up at that ephemerally veiled sky and its setting golden orb. Closing his eyes, he then recites:

Mad Mathesis alone was unconfined,
Too mad for mere material chains to bind,
Now to pure space lifts his ecstatic stare,
Now, running round the circle, finds it square.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


GM: Such wildering scenes, such flitting shapes
As feverish dreams display:
What if those fancies still increase
And reason quite decay?

GM: Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.


A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.

GM: Awareness is the enemy of sanity,
For once you hear the screaming, it never stops.

GM: The prison of her body cannot contain the madness of her mind. It blots out reality, casting her in the blackness of sanity eclipsed. Yet, in the darkness, there is sound. It fills the abyss: a terrible static. Endless, eternal, evermore.

But something else emerges from the static insanity: a signal. Its piercing tone makes her ravaged psyche bleed, but it is all she has—all she has save the dark static of her soul.

Following, clinging to the tone, her psyche hears the signal transform. As it does, the static recedes. Not away from her, but deeper inside her. But it is quieter. The other sound breaks free of its tonal chrysalis. It unfurls its audial wings and alights upon Hazel’s senses. The echo of its resonant wings becomes a mechanical voice:

“You have a collect call from–”

Another flutter of audial wings changes the tone to something more organic, yet still alien:

“–The colors of the future.”

Another echo, and the return of the mechanical voice:

“Will you accept the charges?”

Hazel: “Charges? Color? What charge—” It’s dark. Dark, like her hair is dark. Her hair is dark and black, and it’s good that it is, that she can’t see the hand that’s running over it, that’s running over her face, giggling, but there isn’t supposed to be a hand there, and she knows why, if she could just see if it wasn’t dark, she’d see—

“I accept! I accept! I accept!”

GM: There is a click as the noise-moth dies. It plummets through the abyss, descending in a resonant spiral. Around and around. But its death-throes create an audial pathway for Hazel’s psyche to follow in the maelstrom of black madness. It leads her to a keyhole.

Keyhole.png

Inside is another abyss, black and lightless. But its darkness is not inviolate. As her mind presses to view inside its recesses, she becomes aware of numbers falling.

Keyhole_numbers.png

Their light cracks the stygian insanity. Ones and zeros. 1s and 0s. Streaming like green rain. A dichotomy upon which the universe can be expressed and programmed. But then the numbers shatter. Euclidean time-space fractures as the illuminated numbers disintegrate and transmogrify. They bend and break, shift and shuffle, merge and meld. And as the semiotic alchemy proceeds, Hazel senses new patterns. Sacred geometry. It burns like the kiss of the seraphim. Circles. Spheres. Nine and one. Ten. One and zero. One.

AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.

Keyhole_symbols.png

The images flicker like the closing and opening of the inner eye.

Keyhole_numbers.png

Keyhole_symbols.png

Keyhole_numbers.png

Keyhole_symbols.png

Hazel: Numbers. There’s logic in numbers, the universal language everything is built off of, but it’s not the language she speaks. She’s never spoken the same language as the rest of the universe, never been tuned into the same frequency. The spheres, the letters. Symbols and visual aids she understands. They are her own her own order, her own 1s and 0s.

The flickering stream of numbers disappears. There is only the kaleidoscope-like spinning and rotating of the geometric patterns, whose depths she already seeks to plumb and configure.

Keyhole_symbols.png

GM: AWAKEN

And with that choice, her inner eye opens with white-fire burning away the blackness! Its gnostic flame illuminates the symbolism of the spheres: a sacred geometry. As the apocalyptic forms and geometric ratios unfold in her mind’s eye, her understanding of the secret universe unfolds, enlarges, alters, and awakens.

She beholds the Tree. The Tree, map of Transcendental Existence, unfolding from the Primordial Unity to the Infinite diversity of Manifested Reality, expressed according to a mathematical progression based upon the square root of three, the Metaphysical Trinity: Dynamism, Stasis, and Entropy. The Fruit of the Tree, its sephira or spheres are nine and one. The crown of Prime, the foot of Matter, and the other sacred seven between them: Life, Spirit, Mind, Force, Space, Time, Fate, and the tenth transcendental fruit that remains untasted, unknown, but not forbidden. This last fruit of Consciousness is the key to Superconsciousness to which all existence seeks to ascend.

But it awaits the one who walks within the Vesica Piscis—which signifies the mediation of two distinct entities; the complementariness of polar opposites, as when two extremes complete and depend upon one another to Exist: the Dialectic Monism. One circle may signify the Masculine, the other the Feminine. The Sleeper and the Awakened. The Sound and the Silence. The One and the Null, that in Grand Unity is the Womb of Quintessence and the Child of Ascension. In those gnostic-lit circles and its supernal mandorla, both Sleeper and Awakened perceive themselves for the first time.

Themselves.

They are the Key. Ascension awaits Them.

Atilla Awakens.

GM: As the door unlocks, the black abyss is replaced by a white one. Static returns, but it is silent. Outside it is snowing. Voices, male and female, break the white static’s silence.

“Slow down. You’re going too fast.”

“I’m ten under the speed limit.”

“I know. It’s just–”

Time and space fold into a singularity whose violent dissolution creates echoes that tear through their lives, taking, altering, transforming. Gravity lets go first. And they fly. The stoplight changes without warning, turning from its faint, safe green to a lurid black that devours the wintry light. Lydia slams on the brakes as another vehicle tears through the intersection. But the brakes have nothing to grip in the icy blizzard-rimmed roads of Witiko Falls. Their car slips and begins to spin. Around and around, like a reverse Flower of Life whose sudden, violent terminus is inevitably death.

The final impact causes the car to wrap around an old black-iron light-pole that bends, half-ripping from the ground. It crashes into a power-line. The cable snaps, showering the vehicle with its sparks that instantly evaporate the falling snow. One end writhes like a black dragon, spitting electric flame from its frayed mouth. Sound finally catches up like thunder after lightning. Glass breaks, tires screech. Metal groans as it painfully contorts in ways it never should. A family screams. And then there’s the deafening car horn that will not stop. That will not ever be consoled.

Hazel’s mother does not move. The airbag cradles her unconscious face, spatters of blood and glass shards riddling her clothes and long black hair.

Hazel: MOM!

Hazel knows how this plays out. Knows her mother survives. She’s heard the story, in some form or other, a million times. But hearing isn’t seeing. And her mom. Who’s unconscious. Hazel always thought…

Where’s her dad? Her other dad?

She knows there’s nothing she can do. But this is her first chance to see him for herself. Did he have any… last moment with her? How did he die? And who was in that other car?

GM: “Hazel…”

It’s his voice—a voice she’s since repressed. Its familiarity is reminiscent of a childhood blanket rediscovered in an old attic. But the pain in his voice is also all-too naked. He tries to swallow it. Without an airbag, her father’s face struck the glovebox in the impact, shattering his constantly worn sunglasses. As the shards fall away, they reveal a man with sallow–pale skin, short–cropped hair prematurely marked with white around his temples and forelock like stray microcosmic lightning through midnight. His features are a mix of oriental and occidental. But his facial appearance is most strongly defined by what it lacks: eyes. Born with the rare congenital defect known as anophtalmia, Hazel’s father turns to her with his eyeless face. A small rivulet of blood runs down his cheek like a tear he cannot cry. “It’s okay… to be afraid.”

Hazel: He was… blind? Mom never mentioned that. He’s almost surely accustomed to it and has far graver concerns right now, so it seems almost pointless, but… Hazel feels sorry for how he can’t see. No, it’s not pointless. It’s as Mom said. Being only human.

GM: He reaches a hand to his wife. Touching her in a way that is tender but otherworldly, as if his haptics transcend mere touch.

Hazel: It’s such a comparatively minor thing, though, against what is to come. Why is it what’s making her cry? Would be making her cry, if she had eyes to weep with? I’m sorry. I…

GM: The crushed passenger door is bent around and through her father. He coughs, and something red and bubbling flecks his lips. “Are you okay… Hazel?” He turns, painfully, and reaches for her.

Hazel: Yes, yes, I’m fine, I know I survive, it’s YOU who’s dying! It’s you you should be worrying about! Damn it all, where’s the police, where’s—where’s Dad—my other da… where!?

GM: His fingers stretch as if to feel her face, her hands.

Hazel: Her mind blinks away imagined tears. Why couldn’t he have gotten here FASTER!?

GM: The horn keeps screaming. Sparks snake and sizzle the air, evaporating the blizzard in gouts of white vapor like the breath of a demon. Above, the baleful stoplight keeps ‘shining’ black, drinking in the pale wintry light. “Hazel… Daddy needs your help… can you… reach me?”

Hazel: I’m here, I’m here, I’m… A long pause. Is he addressing… her?

GM: His fingers plead and struggle to find her.

Hazel: No, it can’t be, he’s addressing the three-year-old who… where even is she?

GM: They realize that she is them, and they are she, at least in part. Hazel is witnessing these events from her three–year–old eyes, experiencing the tortured emotions of her old selves and new.

Hazel: Hazel’s only three, she was always clumsy, but… now is not the time to fall back on her disabilities. She’s comparatively uninjured by the crash, thanks to sitting in the back and in a booster seat. Her tiny, trembling fingers hit the release. She leans forward, her hands seeking out her father’s.

GM: As the click echoes like another key turning in her mind, there is another sound that both she and her father hear.

Hazel: Tears run down her youthful features as her mouth soundlessly moves. It’s still a little while before she utters her first words. No… this isn’t just her, this is me. SAY SOMETHING, you little shit! SAY SOMETHING! she screams.

GM: The black car that almost hit them, that made them mortally swerve and crash, catches on fire. Its front is smashed into a local downtown antique shop—its driver lays impaled on the broken shards of the shattered windshield. As the flames lick up from the hood, the figure starts to scream. Hazel notes that the figure does not bleed–It leaks. Something oily and black rather than red issues from its torn frame. Its black suit, white dress shirt, and tie are torn, revealing something wrong inside its chest cavity. Gears, pistons, cogs, and strange inhuman apparatus. A gust of white wind rips off its black hat, exposing similarly bizarre elements. The man-mockery screams again: but only deafening static comes out of its pipe-throat.

Her father looks up at the unsound. Fear might wash over his eyes if he had any, but his jaw clenches. “Hazel… close your eyes… don’t… watch…”

Hazel: Somehow, she always knew that it wasn’t natural. What happened that night. On another occasion, she might investigate the other driver more closely. No, she will still investigate him. It. But that doesn’t matter, not right now. She looks up at the brave, blind, and doomed man who was her first father through blurred eyes.

SAY SOMETHING! Just… just SAY SOMETHING!

She can feel the words, tries to make them well up in her younger self’s throat. She’s physically capable of speech! She’s…

This is just a mental block, like the anxiety attacks! Say something, you stupid little aspie! SAY SOMETHING!!!!

GM: The unman lifts its body from the burning car, its oil-blood leaking down its torn open chest. Its clothes catch fire, but it stalks uncaring to the Calloways’ car—and its occupants. To Hazel.

“Close your eyes!” her father shouts.

Hazel: Hazel pulls at her younger self’s jaw with a set of metaphysical pliers. She knows what happens to her father, even if she’s no longer sure how it happens. But there’s something she can give him before he dies. Maybe it’ll grant him some measure of happiness, however briefly, before he… NOW!!!!

Her eyes clamp shut. But her mouth forces open.

“Dad…”

GM: Although her physical eyes shut and block out the horror of the approaching thing, her immaterial, awakened eyes remain open. They watch as her father’s fingers click and shift in prolix patterns like a programmer performing a yantra-esque hack into something. His shape begins to transform. The light around him dims like a reserve halo. Then, he is illuminated by a field of tiny lights as if his features are cast in the glow of a giant monitor.

programming.jpg

As the transformation continues, a mask appears over his face, its ancient features resembling a Japanese Noh mask. Her awakened eyes can taste the digital magic, the fruit of the Tree, as her father reaches for those lights. He grunts from the strain, blood beginning to leak from the painted nostril of his Noh mask.

Noh_mask.jpg

The unman reaches the car. It rips off Hazel’s door like wet tissue paper.

Hazel: Damn it, I can help, I can help, I can see the Tree too…!

GM: Bound by father–daughter bonds she will later forget, the three–year–old keeps her eyes shut, blocking out the sight of the thing as it goes to reach for her.

That’s when the snapped power-line comes alive and whips around the unman’s ankles, dragging it back away from the car. Her father’s mask and lights flash brightly, his fingers flickering as he grunts and coughs. The frayed, sparking ends of the power-line rear up like a snake. It fangs the unman’s exposed clockwork heart, pouring a million volts of electric venom into Hazel’s would-be attacker. The massive discharge causes the downtown’s electric boxes and electric network to spark and black out. The unman writhes, its gaping mouth-pipe screaming static so loud that it breaks windows.

Hazel: He saved me. He died saving me. He…

GM: The stoplight fries. Its blacklight dies. The writhing stops. The static recedes. The car horn becomes silent. Unconsoled, but silent. In the stark quiet that follows, Hazel can hear the snowflakes fall from the heavens. With her window ripped off, she feels their icy touch and the biting cold wind.

“Hazel…” Her father coughs, badly, painfully, and there is the sound of movement. Maybe something tearing. His fingers brush her face. “My dream… Hazel… can you… do something… for Daddy?” His fingers gently touch her face, as if to read her gestures.

Hazel: Her tiny hands brush back. Yes, yes, anything, while there’s still time…

GM: “We’re going to… play a… game…” There’s a wet, ragged cough, followed by a wheezing sucking sound. “Hide… and… seek… just keep… your eyes… closed…”

Hazel: A game? This isn’t any time for games! He needs help, NOW, before…

GM: “I… have to… go… away…” Another shudder, cough, and visceral sucking sound. “But… you’ll… find me… you were… a…ways… be…t… at… se…k…ng.” His fingers touch her lips, pushing gently at a corner to ‘feel’ her smile. “Jus… list…n… lis…n… for… the col…rs…” Hazel’s awakened, wide-open inner eye watches as the reflective transphysical lights return. They flicker soft and dim like digital fireflies.

Hazel: This word doesn’t take any great effort to coax forth in her younger self. “No!” A new wave of tears runs past her still-closed eyes as she sniffles, “No… Da… no! Don’t go! No! Don’t go!” He can’t go. Please, no.

GM: “Th… c…l…rs… of… th… f…tur…” His hand falls away from her tear-wet face. The lights die. All save one. Its tiny, fragile light leaps like microcosmic lighting, disappearing into the wiring of the nearby payphone.

Her father breathes no more. Little Hazel sees none of it. There’s only the terrible absence. The silence of his voice. The abyss that will forever remain between her and his loving touch.

Hazel: No! It’s not… if he had the power to, WHY did he… could he let… they could’ve made this right! They could’ve fixed this! Somehow! Did he… did he even get to hear her? Or was it all something she imagined up, in hopes of granting some measure of last happiness to a tragically doomed man?

GM: Hazel’s only answer is the silent, white-snow static that falls from the sky.

Hazel: Find me.

Yes, yes, he’s right, she’s always been good at finding things, at picking up patterns, she can find this… these….. colors? She can find them, whatever they are. Wherever they are. She just… has… to… wake up! AGAIN!

GM: As the three-year old Hazel cries and shivers, the colors of the past and present bleed together in flashing reds and blue. But the white-cold static washes out all shades and sounds.

GM: The TV buzzes with flickering snow-like static. Secured to the upper corner of her private hospital room, the TV stares down at Hazel with its incoherent blur and mechanical hiss. Other medical apparatus beep and chirp like a broken electronic symphony. The walls and floor are an antiseptic white, broken only by the golden sunlight that filters through a curtained window.

Hazel: Attila awakens.

Patterns. Patterns everywhere. In the thread of the sheets, the wiring of the lights, even the static blaring down from the television set.

Patterns. Patterns everywhere.

The underlying laws and logic to the cosmos, laid bare at least. Hazel cannot articulate them—not so soon, not when she’s never been the best at putting thoughts into words—but she knows them. They wind through reality like the threads of a grand tapestry. Threads that she might gather up in her fingers, spin, snip, re-weave into new designs and patterns. Her tapestry. Her reality. Reality is soft clay, malleable in her hands, and she has just learned how to sculpt. She’s had the blindfold removed. For the first time in her life, the universe makes sense. Perfect and complete sense.

Attila has Awakened.

She feels the scream—of elation, triumph, anticipation, and a maelstrom of so many other emotions, welling in her chest like a hurricane about to make landfall. It’s all she can do to keep her mouth closed. She clenches her fists and smacks her bedding, rocking back and forth, giddy with… no. ‘Giddy’ is far too limiting a phrase. This is exaltation, soul-deep and unlimited, infinite, all-encompassing. She is Awake! It all makes sense!_

She calms after a moment, the grin disappearing from her features. A long-honed investigator’s eye apprises her surroundings. So. Her own private room. Mom likely paying for things, as expected. She’s not handcuffed to the bed. Nothing’s been proven. Nothing…

Oh god. Dread sinks her stomach like a cannonball chucked into a bathtub.I killed them. The Sweeneys. I’m a murderer. No. No. No. That’s impossible, they never did anything to me, they…

The severed limbs flash across her newly-aware mind. The limbs. In her house. Hazel clenches her blankets and begins rubbing her hands against them, back and forth, back and forth. Concentrating on the sensation. They’re relatively soft, for a hospital bed’s. Nice to know she’s… the thought disappears as her mind plumbs for answers. There might not be much time, and there’s so much at stake. She needs to act, and fast.

GM: Her manic, fractured psyche reaches out for the spiral staircase, but she finds the handrails are gone. Only static remains. The TV buzzes, then abruptly changes its own channel. An image appears on the screen which rests on the squat side-table shoved in the other corner. Was it ever hovering above her in the other corner? Is space an illusion? A mutable phenomenon full of caprice and bereft of moorings—like her mind?

Another table sits beside the TV’s stand—although now Hazel cannot help but question what ‘beside’ means. Does it mean anything at all? Did it ever mean anything at all? Does anything anymore? But no, there is a glass table, a circle—in which she sees other circles, creating the vesicle piscis repeat again and again, around and around, to create the Flower of Life, just like how her family’s car swerved and spun, around and around, again and again. Now the circles are an illusion. Or are they? Is the table an illusion? She doesn’t know. Her eyes close, perhaps reflexively to shut out the madness.

But the madness is within. The static. She smells wine. Red. Red like the blood of Elouise Sweeney as it spurted on her husband’s face. It’s Barbaresco. She opens her eyes to see the lipstick imprint on the all but drained glass. The TV warbles into ‘focus’.

TV.png

A face emerges on it. It’s eyes vacant save for an insatiable thirst and frenzied terror. The feminine thing howls and shrieks with an inhuman intensity that causes the video feed to crackle and distort. Points. Lines. Angles. That’s all it is. That’s all everything is.

But Hazel’s psyche sees the lines, points, and angles of the creature’s mouth. Teeth. Fangs. The shot pans out, revealing the seemingly possessed monster in a kevlar and chain-reinforced straightjacket shackled to a barren room. White-walled room. The mad woman-thing thrashes, but in vain. Two Spooks emerge in the far corners of the shot. Their plastic features obscured by their identical black hats, black glasses, and suits.

By virtue of some off–screen cue, the pair retracts a room divider, revealing the other side of the room—and most prominently a sunrise–capturing window. As the solar illumination fills the room, the fettered woman begins to smolder. Her skin blackens like burnt paper in a bonfire. As the paranormal immolation hideously consumes the frenzying monster, the audio feed of her screams is muted and another feed comes on playing the national anthem. A male voice-over joins it:

REALITY DEVIANTS ARE EVERYWHERE! YOUR GOVERNMENT NEEDS YOU! JOIN THE CONSENSUS!”

Hazel: Hazel can’t say she’s sorry to see the vampire go up in flames. Far from the tragically misunderstood antiheroes of certain novels, all of her research—and the one she’s actually seen with her own eyes—indicate they are nothing but monstrous parasites upon humanity.

But she’s not sure she trusts the men—the Spooks—who delivered the thing to its destruction (‘death’ seems inaccurate) either. She’s seen their methods up close and personal too. She’ll hold off on any joining until she’s done a lot more research. Like what happened to her predecessor.

GM: The TV shot zooms in as the government agents walk in eerie symmetry towards the now-empty straightjacket and chains. As the anthem ends, the male voiceover continues:

“WE CAN SET YOU FREE! JOIN TODAY! THERE IS SAFETY IN CONSENSUS!”

Even deranged as Hazel is, she picks up the not so subtle undertones of what might happen to those who don’t ‘join the consensus’.

Hazel: A lot more research.

GM: The video is swallowed by static. One eye-blink later, the TV stares down at her again from the top of the other corner. There is no TV on a squat table. There never was. Distance is lie. So is sanity. A nurse walks into the illusion that her mind once recognized as a ‘room’.

Hazel: Hazel sits up and regards the woman. “Hello. How long a duration have I been insensate for?”

GM: The woman checks her ticking watch. Unlike her scrubs which bear Mount Pelion’s seal of Eris’ golden apple of Discord, her leather watch-band has the tooled shape of Proteus, the ever-changing one. “It’s Friday, October 10th, 1998… at 6:06 pm.” The nurse looks up and offers a smile that doesn’t yet reach her eyes.

The evening light casts sharp shadows across her face, but her features are still clear enough for Hazel to identify the nurse. It’s Mackenzie Snakewater, formerly Mackenzie Pinkston–her old queen-bee social tormentor in middle school. “Hello, Hazel,” her old school-mate says with a half-swallowed smirk. She looks over Hazel’s chart and then inspects the sling over Hazel’s arm and the splint on her thigh.

Mackenzie.png

Hazel: Well, look who now wipes people’s asses for a living. Attila is prepared to be civil. Unless her ire is tempted. “Hello, Mackenzie. Please see to it that my parents are informed I am conscious and in such a state as to receive visitors.”

GM: “That will be up to the doctors to decide,” the dark-haired nurse says.

Hazel: “Such is not within your power. I see. Please inform my assigned doctor that I am conscious and in such a state as to discuss whether I am able to receive visitors.”

GM: “Speaking of doctors’ orders,” Mackenzie adds, pulling out a pill bottle with Hazel’s name printed on it, “You’re to take these. For the pain.” She lays out the nine pills in a shape that eerily resembles the nine fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Nurse Pinkston then leaves.

Hazel: “Nurse Pinkston!” Hazel’s voice sharply rings through the hospital room.

GM: Already out the door, Mackenzie’s head pops back in. “Yes, Hazel?”

Hazel: “What are you going to do when you have left my room, Nurse Pink–Snakewater.” Hazel’s tone is not one of someone asking a question. It is a reminder, sharp and pointed as a hospital scalpel.

GM: “Follow my orders,” she says with a winsome smile. “As you should yours,” she says with a motioning gesture to the pills. “Best take a big drink first.”

Hazel: Attila smiles back. “Repeat them for me, Nurse Snakewater, so I am certain they will be followed.” Her orders.

GM: Likely to Hazel’s infuriation, Mackenzie laughs. Her voice is still pearly. “You know, Hazel, people change all the time. They really do. You should give it a try sometime. Maybe start by being less of a bitch. But if you want to cause a scene, I’ll just call some orderlies to sedate you.” She flashes Hazel another class-winning smile, then closes the door. It locks.

Hazel: Hazel’s clear voice smugly sounds through the door. “Sedatives can take mere hours to wear off, Mackenzie. Evidence of infidelity with men twice one’s age, however, can permanently destroy a marriage.”

GM: Her words refer Hazel’s pre-employment snooping on her old rivals. Mackenzie’s skeletons were perhaps the most surprising. Not only does Hazel know that Mackenzie married Hiram Snakewater, a half-blooded Kainai from the reservation–which was unexpected given Mackenzie’s racist predictions in grade school–but Hazel also followed Mackenzie on several late afternoon trysts to another man’s house. Each time, she arrived gussied up, and each time she left fatigued and disheveled, but clearly very, very satisfied. That the old queen bee would be so treacherous does not shock Hazel. Instead, it’s the identity of the ‘other man’ that still perplexes the bedridden librarian. Mackenzie Snakewater, her old classmate, is having an affair with her uncle, Leopold Schoening.

But despite that knowledge and her threat, the door remains locked. Perhaps Leo’s Lustprinzip is just that good.

Hazel: So be it. Attila does not threaten—only promise. Mr. Snakewater will be receiving some very interesting photos.

GM: Locked inside with prescribed pills she knows nothing about, the hospital room takes on the menacing overtures of an asylum. One where she as the patient has no power. Yet, as Leo often reminds her, scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power. And as she inspects the nine pills and their bottle, she gains power.

Hazel: Besides which, the door could well be within her power to deal with. It wouldn’t be the first lock she’s picked. Some store merchandise, after all, is locked inside those pesky cases.

GM: Beside the large glass of water, Hazel finds the pill bottle placed right where the tenth sephirot or fruit should be. The pill bottle’s overall appearance resembles that of all prescription bottles, save for the print that describes the medicine itself. Rather than a list of its name, dosage, and route, there is a passage from Milton’s Paradise Lost:

In vain, though by their powerful Art they bind
Volatile Hermes, and call up unbound
In various shapes old Proteus from the Sea,
Drain’d through a Limbec to his native form.


Hazel knows that Milton’s passage signifies the association of Proteus with the Hermetic art of alchemy, and of those alchemists who sought the philosopher’s stone. More specifically, she recalls writings of the German mystical alchemist Heinrich Khunrath, who said that the shape–changing sea–god was, because of his relationship to the sea, both a symbol of the unconscious as well as the perfection of the Art. Alluding to the scintilla, the spark from ‘the light of nature’ which may signify the awakening as well as the symbol of the anima mundi, which may signify the tenth fruit which unifies them all, Khunrath in Gnostic vein stated of the Protean element Mercury: our Catholick Mercury, by virtue of his universal fiery spark of the light of nature, is beyond doubt Proteus, the sea god of the ancient pagan sages, who hath the key to the sea and… power over all things.

In more modern times, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defined the mythological figure of Proteus as the personification of the sleeping unconsciousness, who is vast and pulled by tides both deep and strong, but is mutable nonetheless. Surrounding the pill bottle, which Hazel notes is now empty, are the nine pills. Each one has a single letter on it. For one who had not seen what her inner mind had seen, it would be almost impossible to know where to begin the ‘reading’. But the reference to the Hermitic arts of alchemy provide the clue: one must begin with the basest of matter. Matter. As Above, so Below. Her mind summons up the tree and the base fruit of Matter, then follows the connections, reading each engraved pill-letter. V.I.T.R.I.O.L.V.M.

Even now, the message would be undecipherable to most, but Hazel has the key of knowledge, its edges honed through years of occult study. And so, she recognizes the meaning of the nine letters: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam. And its translation into her tongue: Visit the interior of the Earth; by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone. Moreover, she recalls the acronym has another hidden meaning, its letters signifying a green lion. Just like the one in Mrs. Griswold’s diary. Just as the green lion of vitriol dissolves all metals save the noble gold, the expression amongst Freemasony, Rosicrucianism, and Heremetism is a motto commonly found in the physically symbolic “Chamber of Reflection,” wherein the awakening initiate contemplates and reflects on the nature of death or dissolution of impurities in order to achieve internal, spiritual purification.

Hazel: Interesting. Hazel sets the pills down—and as she does, she notices slashes on the bottle’s bottom. Two of them, in the form of the cross. Holding the orange plastic up to the light, the cross looks rose-colored.

So. Another present from Leo.

That alleviates some of her concern. There’s someone out there trying to help her. It even fits with how Mackenzie is her nurse: the former queen bee’s connection to Leo likely made it all the easier for him to discretely get the pills in.

But how does he know about the tree and its nine fruits? How does he know she can now taste them? Is he… like she now is? Awake?

Those aren’t questions she can answer now, but she’ll trust him—if you can’t trust family, who can you trust—and take the pills. The sole remaining question she can answer is whether she should do that now or later. It’s possible she’s been involuntarily committed, for Mackenzie to actually lock her in. If that’s the case, the 24 hours she can be detained without a preliminary court hearing aren’t up yet. But there is a sure way to find out whether she’s being detained. She sets down the pills and waits for a moment, looking about the room.

She could try to escape. She could pick the lock, maybe exit through the window. If she’s not been taken into emergency custody, it’s her legal right to refuse medical treatment and leave the hospital at any time, even if it’s against her doctor’s advice. Hell, she doesn’t even need to sign the liability waiver they’d doubtlessly press her with.

She manages a grim smile at that thought. If Mackenzie didn’t have a peace officer’s legal authority backing her up, Hazel could pursue criminal charges for assault and false imprisonment. She could also pursue a separate civic lawsuit for emotional distress (against either Mackenzie or the hospital) and file a complaint with the Idaho Board of Nursing to get her former bully’s license revoked for patient abuse and neglect, leaving her out of a job. Hell, even if all three avenues of attack fail, she can make Mackenzie’s life miserable just dealing with them. She doubts the still-young nurse can afford the kind of protracted legal battle her wealthy lawyer mother can bring on. That could sure piss off Mackenzie’s bosses at her too. Hell, Hazel could just walk out of the hospital, injure herself, sue the hospital, and claim that Mackenzie’s awful treatment was what drove her to leave. That would sure piss off the nurse’s bosses. Maybe they could settle the matter out of court and drop charges in return for ‘appropriate disciplinary actions’ being taken against Mackenzie. Yes, there are many ways by which Hazel can make the ex-queen bee come to bitterly regret her actions, even beyond disclosing those photos.

But such thoughts of vengeance aside, Hazel frowns, even if she isn’t being legally detained at the hospital, it’ll look suspicious as hell if she tries to leave right now. The police—her dad among them—are most likely puzzling over the collection of dismembered body parts they found in her house.

The horrible thought sinks past everything else on her mind like a cannonball into water.

The body parts she was responsible for.

That she now remembers.

She’s a murderer.

She brushes away the dampness in her eyes. Why? Dear god, why?! What did the Sweeneys ever do to her? How could she—why did she—but she did. There is blood on her hands. She doesn’t even know how it got there. I… I didn’t want to. I didn’t mean to. Please, I….. I didn’t! she pleads, as if beset by the dead couple’s accusing faces. But she said it herself, to her dad in the car. Intentions count for little. Actions are what matter. She was always a determinist. A utilitarianist. She buries her face in her hands, stifling a sob. I… I have to make up for this! I have to atone! Right my wrong, balance the figurative scales of justice—

But they’re dead. She can’t bring them back. What can possibly atone for this, for the blood of two lives on her hands? Blood that she didn’t even remember shedding?

Marilyn. There’s Marilyn, their daughter. Their ghost. I… I must help her pass on. That’s what they would have wanted. I’m the only one who knows Marilyn’s story, I’m the only one who can do it! I can’t go to jail, I can’t—

Her face flushes with shame. She’s not facing reality. First, is that what Albert and Elouise would even want? Their killer to walk free, try to assist their daughter’s soul in finding rest? She doesn’t know. She’s never been much good at reading people. They’d probably want Marilyn to know peace, but at her hands? Their murderer’s? Hazel scrambles for answers. What if they left behind shades of their own? She could seek them out, submit herself to whatever grim justice the restless dead might have in mind…

It’s poetic, certainly. Grand and noble. Let her victims decide her fate. After helping their daughter pass on. But it ignores a very real and very pressing issue: she doesn’t know why she did it. She hardly remembers doing it. And until she does—if she ever does—she is a danger to others. What’s to stop her from cutting up some other poor innocent couple and squatting in their house? And sending postcards. Postcards. Good god, the lengths to which she went to deceive herself…

The hard and brutal truth is, she can’t be allowed to walk free. She can’t risk killing again. Not so she can ease her own poor conscience. Maybe institutionalization really is the best fate for her, if one is to consider the greatest good for the greatest possible number.

A mental institution. It’s what she’s always feared, since she first started researching what her ASD meant. Since she found out about all the people who had it so much worse than she did. She thought she’d escaped their fate. But maybe not.

It’s too much to bear.

She downs the pills, tosses back a tall drink of water, and blissfully falls into oblivion.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


GM: Kurt’s room doesn’t even have his name on the door; a simple blue curtain partitions the room, and labored breathing comes from the outline of a shape in the bed on the other side. Kurt awakens, his head slightly propped up against a pair of pillows with yellow stains. A pulley sling holds up his leg cast, and an intravenous tube snakes into his arm while a cranial catheter drips bloody cerebrospinal fluid. The bedside table holds a metal sample bowl full of thick sputum as well as a tray with an egg salad sandwich minus a single bite. The white-painted walls are peeling, and the smell of sweat and rubbing alcohol lingers in the air.

Inside his skull, though, Kurt feels like his brain has been flushed with drain-o.

Kurt: Kurt blinks, slowly. “I’ve been here before,” he says with a croak, eyes taking in the worn, yellow-tinged surroundings. His eyes finally settle on the sandwich with one bite taken out of it.

GM: The curtained off figure stirs but does not reply. However, Kurt’s croaking comment draws the attention of someone outside the hall. Shoes clack on the once-waxed linoleum. The doctor walks into the room. He’s dressed in antiseptic white and carries a menacingly large hypodermic needle. His poise is reminiscent of a wax figure. He looks down upon his patient with withering confidence and silent condescension. His eyes are the same brown as cigarette burns. His thin hair matches the stained hospital pillows. His lips are the pink one imagines raw flesh must be, like his mouth is just a gash cut in his face so he can talk through it. His manicured fingers remind Kurt that he makes surgeon money –and that he frequently holds both life and death in his hands. His demeanor is of one well-acquainted to playing god.

doctor.png

The doctor retrieves a thin flashlight from his surgeon’s apron and flashes it in Kurt’s eyes. He does not lower the hypodermic needle.

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes strain under the light; nonetheless, he goes through the same motions as last time. He then stares coldly at the almost-alien doctor, unperturbed.

GM: The doctor clicks off the flashlight and stows it, only to click on a voice recorder. “Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03. Pupillary response assessed. Miosis consistent with dose response curves. Mental status exam to commence.” The doctor, still recording and holding the needle, poses Kurt several questions. “Please identify yourself, including your given and surname.”

Kurt: “Kurt Joseph Crawford.” His answer is glib and to the point.

GM: “What to your best understanding is the current time and date?”

Kurt: “It’s the 8th of October.”

GM: “Of what year?” the doctor asks in a tone that is simply not exasperated because his expectations are so low.

Kurt: Kurt adds, “1998. I wouldn’t have a clue what the time is, but taking a wild guess, I would say it’s after lunch time—-from my half-eaten sandwich.” Kurt continues to stare coldly at the doctor, brain continuing to process this strange deja vu.

GM: The doctor seems unfazed by the cold stare of his “subject”; instead, he speaks into the audio recorder. “Deficits remain in subject’s temporal orientation. Ego orientation appears intact. Responses suggest attachment Class B. Final orientation to commence.”

The doctor returns his cigarette-burn eyes to Kurt. “Why are you here?” He pauses for a moment, as if once again trying to recalibrate his question for his patient’s ‘deficits’. “What events led to you being here?”

Kurt: “I got into a car accident this morning on my way to pick my mother up from work,” Kurt answers deadpan. “I have a broken foot and obviously am at Mount Pelion General Hospital.” He looks pointedly at the doctor as he continues, “I take it my mother has already been notified.”

GM: The doctor replies with all the cold clinical enthusiasm of turning patients over to prevent bedsores: “Mrs. Crawford has been notified of your present situation. You will be approved for visitors pending the successful completion of your exam. Now, please describe in detail everything you recall of the events leading up to, during, and after the car accident.”

Kurt: Kurt relays the same answer as the first time he was asked this question—but only to a degree—omitting both the screaming he heard and elk with a flayed body on its antlers. Kurt–recalling the results of hearing the screaming, or more properly reporting hearing the screaming–omits that detail this ‘time’.

GM: The waxy doctor regards Kurt for while, as if he’s measuring Kurt’s pupillary and respiration rate. Slowly, the doctor holds up his recorder and says, “Subject shows positive response to serum dosage regimen. Recommended treatment: Perform full follow-up assessment, including mental status exam and reality testing, at next appointment. Administer additional serum dosage if symptoms remit. If necessary, implement more invasive procedures if subject proves unresponsive to the aforementioned treatment plan.”

The doctor then turns off his recorder, placing it in his surgeon’s apron, and similarly stows away his large needle. “Your injuries are quite severe. However, your chart will be amended to permit visitation. You are in capable hands.”

Kurt: “I can see that.” A plastic smile appears on Kurt’s face.

GM: There is neither a smile nor any warmth that accompanies the doctor’s words, just an automaton processing of sounds through the mouth-like gash in his face. This time, the doctor leaves.

Kurt: Kurt waits a few seconds after the doctor has left, then he turns to the drawn curtain next door. “What do you reckon?” he asks. “I think that’s the worst doctor in Witiko Falls.” He stares at the drawn curtain with an anxious gaze; waiting raptly for the thing to appear once again.

GM: The shadowy outline of the reclining figure stirs, but only replies with a snore. However, another ‘presence’ does answer him. He hears the color of six hundred and six and the sound of saltiness: Do you like pranks?

Kurt: Kurt pauses, a shiver running up his spine as tries to calm himself. He keeps his composure. “I love pranks. What did you have in mind?” His voice is dry and emotionless.

GM: The answer sizzles in Kurt’s brain like the sound of puce and Sunday:

1N MiNd!

“HaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHa
hAAAhahaHAHAHhAAhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhaHaHaHAhAAAhaha
HAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHA
ahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAhAh
HAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAH
AHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhah
HAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhhahahahAaAHhahaHaa”

Kurt: Kurt cracks a smile, but his eyes continue to stare at the far wall tinged with splotches of yellow. He turns to his half-eaten lunch and then attempts to finish it. Not as good as Ridley’s steaks, he thinks to himself. Nonetheless, he eats for no other reason than he is hungry and knows even crappy hospital food is still better than the food he usually eats.

GM: Rule No. 1 This time the thought seems to come from his own mind. He thinks.

Kurt: Fuck it, Kurt figures, whether it’s me or not me, what does it matter? It’s still fucking true. He laughs inside his own mind. This time. It’s him. He thinks.

GM: “Kurt… my baby… my son… you’re… awake!”Arlene Crawford rushes into the room. Her sleep-deprived and teary eyes are framed by her creased, worn–out, stress–ridden face. Her reddish-blonde hair has the look of someone who just woke up from sleeping, and not sleeping, on a hospital chair. She’s dressed in jeans, her beat-up tennis shoes, but she’s wearing a faded sweatshirt with Cinderella on it, an old souvenir purchased during one of the Crawford’s vacations to Disney World—back in the halcyon days long passed. She throws her arms around him. “Kurt… it’s me… I’m here…”

Kurt: Kurt sighs out of relief; he missed his mother far too much. He accepts the hug, but looks up at his mother’s worn, tired face with a put-on bewildered expression. “Who are you?” he asks his mother. He then cracks a smile after a few seconds, which quickly turns into a cheesy, big grin. I am the master of pranks.

GM: For the briefest of moments, all color and light drain from his mother’s face. But then, after he cracks his familial sardonic grin, she all but smacks him, then hugs him tightly. “Kurt! Don’t… you…”

Kurt: Kurt guffaws. “Sorry ma! I couldn’t help it! You’re just so serious!”

GM: But she can’t finish, she’s simply too happy to have him back—her son.

“About time you woke up, lazy bones,” comes a voice from the hall.

Kurt: Kurt hugs his mother back, because he felt the same way—-he had his mother back. The memory of his mother’s foaming, bleeding form causes Kurt to squeeze her tighter.

Kurt then turns toward the voice.

GM: Kurt’s sister Amy is standing in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a black hoodie with a logo that says Cthulhu Loves Pie. She glares at Kurt like only a red-headed sister can, then bursts into laughter and runs to him, hugging him almost as tightly as their mom.

Arlene strokes Kurt’s hair with her calloused fingers. “We were so worried. The doctors weren’t sure… if… when…” She chokes up.

Amy lays a comforting hand on her mother’s back.

Kurt: “I won’t lie. I feel like crap. But, honestly, it’s just a broken foot and a really sore head.” Kurt adds, “I was pretty lucky. How’s the car?”

GM: With Arlene still recollecting herself, it’s Amy that answers: “Remember what Demogorgon did to your wizard back in the Temple of Ook-Oz? It’s like that, but worse.” She leans in and whispers only half-sarcastically: “Were you drinking?”

“Amy!” Arlene says, snapping back at her eldest with a half-wounded, half-scolding tone.

Amy raises her hands, palms up, as if that’s the most reasonable explanation for all this mess.

Arlene touches her son’s cheek. “Don’t worry about the car, baby. You’re awake, and that’s all that matters.”

Kurt: Kurt chuckles and shakes his head at the half-accusation. “I never drink, Amy,” he replies with a cheeky smile creeping on his face. “I am the good child, remember?”

GM: “Lying bastard is more like it,” she says, sticking out her tongue.

Kurt: Kurt laughs some more.

GM: “That’s enough,” Arlene says, though not without a smile at seeing the good-natured banter between her children.

Kurt: Kurt looks to his mother and gasps in mock-shock. “Fiiiine.” Kurt looks for something to eat; his stomach growls a little. “Have they delivered more food for me?” he asks.

GM: “My growing boy,” Arlene says with simple maternal pride. “I’ll see if they can bring you an early lunch, or otherwise I’ll go to the vending machine.”

Kurt: “Thanks ma.”

GM: She hugs and kisses him as if her love alone will make sure he stays awake and recovers.

As she leaves, Amy, sitting on Kurt’s bed with her bony hip half-digging into his, leans in. “So were you? Drinking that is?”

Kurt: Kurt snorts. “What? No way! It was still dark when I got up to go pick up ma from work.” He scrunches his nose a little and admits with a touch of embarrassment, “Don’t tell ma this, but I fell asleep at the wheel.” He adds, “I don’t want her to worry about me working too much, y’know.”

GM: Amy regards him for a while. “You had us so freaked, Kurt.” She starts to tear up, then wipes her face. “Fuck that.”

Kurt: “You look so weird when you cry.” Kurt smiles innocently like only a pest of a little brother can do.

GM: “Yeah, well you look like shit.” She forces herself to laugh.

Kurt: Kurt laughs at that.

GM: “You really do,” she says.

Kurt: “Do you have a mirror?” he asks, afraid of seeing his own reflection. Afraid of not seeing his own reflection.

GM: “I’m afraid you’d break it. Seriously, you look like Frankenstein had sex with a poodle and the condom broke. An ugly poodle too.”

Kurt: “Jesus!” Kurt says. “Thanks for the sympathy, big sis!”

GM: “Oh, speaking of Jesus,” Amy says, blowing her red hair out of her face. “Mom was out of her mind. I mean, she’s been praying and going full on holy roller mode. It’s been… nuts.”

Kurt: Kurt cringes and groans. “The last thing we need is Jesus in our lives,” he replies to that revelation.

GM: “Yeah, I’m hoping she’ll forget about all those midnight chapel prayers.” She then taps Kurt.

Kurt: Kurt frowns at that, noticing the plural in ‘prayers’. “How long was I out?” he asks.

GM: “Scoot over, bum. You’ve been sleeping for two days now in a, well not comfy bed, but a bed. Those waiting room chairs are like the brain-child of a sadistic chiropractor from hell.”

Kurt: Kurt feels a little numb at that explanation, but nevertheless scoots over as directed by his sister. “That’s longer than I thought,” he replies to Amy. “I told the doctor I thought it was the 8th of October.”

GM: She lays down beside him and sighs, “It’s the 10th. Friday.”

Kurt: “Yay!” Kurt says mockingly. “The weekend! Woo?” He then adds under his breath, “You’re so freaking bony!”

GM: “Beats being ugly and short. And gimp.”

Kurt: “Ha! You’re short, too!”

“Fuck!” Kurt looks at his foot. “This is totally going to mess with basketball.”

GM: Amy closes her eyes. “Yeah, it’s going to fuck with everything. Mom’s in denial. I think she had to be. But this is bad, Kurt. I mean, without the car… and the doctor bills. I tried talking to mom. I think it might work if Rick and I move back in.”

Kurt: Kurt gets quiet as he listens to Amy.

GM: “Help with rent.”

Kurt: “Yeah.” Kurt pauses. He doesn’t like Rick, and the idea of that guy moving back in, that annoys him. But he feels absolutely powerless. “I can talk to my boss Mordecai. Maybe he’ll help out?” he asks. Speaking of, Kurt thinks to himself, probably should give him a call.

GM: “Maybe,” she says staring up at the ceiling, “But I thought you said the cinema’s almost belly-up, and has been for years.”

Kurt: “Yeah. It is.” Kurt adds, “But I know he’s got a car that he’s trying to sell.”

GM: She turns on her side, facing him. She rests her chin on his shoulder and puts her arm around him like they used to on the farm’s hammock.

Kurt: “I could organize a payment plan or something with him,” Kurt offers. “And maybe work it off at the cinema.” He hugs Amy back, thankful for the contact after a rough couple days.

GM: “Yeah, or you could start pimping Wilson out to the old lonely ladies of St. Enoch’s?”

Kurt: “They wouldn’t have him. We’ve already tried.” Kurt grins at that.

GM: She smiles, then sniffs him with mock exaggeration. “You smell like my cleaning bucket.”

Kurt: “Is that a good thing?”

GM: “For how you usually smell? Yeah, it’s an improvement.”

Kurt: Kurt guffaws. “Why do I even bother trying to trade barbs?” He then lifts his bum in Amy’s general direction, attempting to fart.

GM: But unfortunately for both of them, multiple days of a saline diet and left-out egg salad sandwich make for terribly wet, loose stool.

“Wha—fuck!?” Amy yells as Kurt soils him and her, given his lack of clothing beneath his back-slit hospital gown.

Kurt: Kurt’s face whitens. “Shit.”

GM: She leaps up and punches him. “You just shit on me!”

Kurt: “Sorry! I didn’t mean to! I thought it was a fart! I swear I didn’t mean that!”

GM: She looks down at her brown-smeared jeans.

Kurt: “Fuck!” Kurt swears. “I am so, so sorry, Amy.”

GM: “Jesus fucking Christ, Kurt!”

Kurt: “I know Amy! It’s fucking horrible!”

GM: “Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” comes their mother’s voice around the bend.

Kurt: Kurt’s face is in his hands and his cheeks are flushed in embarrassment. “God!” he says. “The last thing I need is religion! I need a nurse! And a change of sheets!”

GM: Amy stares down as her jeans, agog and gaging. Arlene enters in on the scene. It is an awkward time for all.

Kurt: But mostly for Kurt.

GM: Mostly.

GM: Several hours later, Kurt is alone (and clean) again. With visiting hours ending at 8 pm, Amy (who certainly has not forgiven her brother) succeeds in convincing their mother to go home and rest for the night. Arlene only relents when her kids remind her of their invalid patriarch. Kurt’s mom promises to return in the morning.

Kurt: Kurt bids his family goodbye, mixed with an endless amount of apologies for his sister. He is pretty embarrassed.

GM: “Don’t worry about your sister,” his mother tells him before she leaves. “She’s fine.” She kisses him ‘good-nite’ (while Amy gives him the finger), and they depart. Kurt can only assume they all use Rick’s vehicle. But in their wake, the hospital seems colder. The nurses dim the post-visitation lights, and a shawl of silence descends over Kurt’s room and the surrounding medical wing.

Kurt: Kurt lays on his side; he stares at the curtained section once again. “Sorry about earlier,” he says, remembering his ‘roommate’. He then closes his eyes and attempts to go to sleep.

GM: As the curtains of consciousness close, Kurt’s tempest-tossed psyche intuitively seeks safer, calmer waters. In his dreams, his mind casts back to how things were. Before.


The minutes, hours, and days peel back like an overripe fruit, exposing both sweetness and the seeds of the present tomorrows.

flashback.jpg

Previous: Chapter 7

Next: Chapter 9

Comments

Parasomniac Calder_R

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.