Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Chapter 9

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Brook: Skin Deep


GM: A half hour later, Brook is dropped off by his truck in the student parking lot. As Mr. Epstein pulls away with a final “thanks for doing your part,” the sophomore notices his truck has been vandalized.

Sort of. A lined looseleaf has been tucked under a windshield wiper. Unfolded, its bubbly cursive-scrawled note reads:

We waited around for you, but I guess stuff happened. Hope you’re okay.
Yours,
J+D

Underneath the message is a hastily drawn sketch of an alien-piloted spaceship blowing up the world. Daniel’s rough block lettering create a postscript:

Now you owe us 2 trips, Indian-giver!!
PS: Swing by my place before the zombies attack.

Glancing up from the note, Brook sees that someone has used lipstick to draw a heart on the driver’s side window of his truck. Inside the heart, someone has left the imprint of a red lipstick kiss.

Brook: Brook’s half hour in the car is spent with his eyes closed, trying to catch some sleep. His mortal enemy. Not that it lasts too long, he waves his goodbyes to the teacher and drags himself back to his truck. Taking the note into the front seat, he reads it as he straps his sidearm back on, only noticing the lipstick once he closes his door. It gives him a moment of pause. He’s just come back from helping catch a murderer.

Maybe a normal high school life wouldn’t be that bad.

But it doesn’t last too long, he picks up his radio to contact the radio station as he starts the truck to head to Danny’s. “Mad Cub to Red Aspen. Come in, Red Aspen.”

GM: There’s the familiar crackle, then static-y voice of Chet:

“Red Aspen to Mad Cub, this is Skinny Chet. If it sounds like a 10-1, it’s just me eating some scrum–diddly–umptious ice cream from the Britter’s farm.” There’s a pause, followed by Chet’s voice again. “I’ll try to save you some for your midnight shift. 10-13’s calling for a bad T-storm tonight, so you should get a nice light show. Over.”

Brook: Brook sighs at the radio as he continues down the road, looking up at the sky. “10-4. See you soon, Chet.” There isn’t a need to immediately get a report to them, he checked in and got a 10-1. Instead, he continues on to Danny’s house. Just a quick visit before he drives home to sleep.

GM: The ranger’s reply is short and sweet—likely like the supply of Britter ice cream in the man’s bowl. “See you at midnight, Mad Cub. Skinny out.”

Back at Falls High, the thought of food causes Brook’s stomach to grumble in a petulant attempt to convince the growing teen that he’s starving. Fortunately, the drive from school to the reservation isn’t too long. Brook’s beat–up truck rumbles past the manicured pine–shrouded lawns and bucolic river–front businesses of the ‘White Plague’ before he crosses the Green Lady.

Like the colors of a roulette wheel, the reservation is bifurcated with the winners and losers clearly divided. Belonging to the larger Blackfoot Confederacy, the Kainai-dominated scrap of land is best known to outsiders for the thriving Beavertail Casino and those other businesses like the Ghost Elk Lodge that suck from the casino’s lucrative teat. Nestled in the shadow of the Cloven Hoof mountain, this outward-facing section of the Kainai Reserve is bright, busy, and booming. Few save its residents know or see the ‘other’ side.

Once home to roving buffalo herds, the pine and fire studded slopes is carved by scrub-brush streams that split and merge with the Green Lady before they spill over the eponymous Falls. But the idyllic scenery is marked by a profound sense of loss. The herds are gone, the echo of their hooves only captured by the clear sky’s thunder. The tribe is a small fraction of its once-feared strength, decimated by its lost way of life, settler diseases and drugs, and the malaise of federal and tribal handouts mixed with generational poverty.

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The Thursday afternoon streets are largely forlorn, broken by paint–chipped barber–shops, leather craft stores that have been usurped by the casinos’ gift shops, and dead autumn trees.

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Only the ‘Gus Stop’, the reservation’s sole gas station with its general store, seems active with its loitering pre-teens and casino travelers refilling their tanks.

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Driving to the Littlebeavers’ home, Brook leaves the reservation’s ‘downtown’ and passes by empty stretches of log cabins with old beaters set on cinder blocks, clothing lines, and rust-red tractors like anachronistic ghosts from the Great Depression. Daniel’s house is less depressing—but only slightly.

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The Littlebeavers’ log cabin has a cluttered porch framed by three white-washed pillars, built over a white cement foundation. Three of Daniel’s four younger siblings meander outside in mix-matched shorts and skirts and autumnal jackets and sweaters.

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As Brook pulls up and stops his truck, the two girls, Koko and Kanti, halt mid-game and stare at the young man like he’s a monster who might eat them if they make any sudden movements. Harold Junior, more commonly known as Harry or Junior, keeps walking but gives his older brother’s best friend a suspicious, aloof glance. Despite knowing all three of the kids since birth, Brook has never been able to win their trust—much less approval.

Brook: Brook’s thoughts on the reservation are split down the middle. They’ve treated him like an outsider since he was found here, before he was ever a Ranger cadet. Though this could have something to do with his mother being one. It’s a sore subject. Whatever band and tribe the boy is, it’s lost to the Green Lady, and he never found it with the Blackfoot here. Until he started making friends. Grade school holds fond memories, of kids his age willing to look past that. Danny is at the forefront of this list. It humanizes the carnage of a people he sees as needing to pull themselves up. To readjust and not take their lot in complacency. But it’s not something he alone can tackle. Pulling up to the cabin, the kids as always frame the mindset towards him. He’s not given up trying to win them over, but today he’s running out of time, waving to them as he makes his way up to the front door, keys in in his pocket and revolver still on his chest, and knocks loud and clear.

GM: The unlatched door swings open, revealing a living room that is a little less messy than the porch, but even more cluttered with bric a brac. Nearly the entire wall-space is covered by mismatched picture frames of Daniel’s extended family members throughout the years. The floor is a maze of multi-generational and yard sale quality furniture, rugs, and curios including a porcelain figure of the Virgin Mary, a stuffed bison head, and a WWII plane bomb that allegedly is defused. As always, Daniel’s maternal grandfather, Aaron Black-Rib sits in the midst of the imbroglio, white–haired, big–gutted, and half–asleep as he watches the Price is Right on a static–y rabbit-eared TV. As always, the old man makes no sign of registering Brook’s arrival.

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Outside, Harry and one of the girls start fighting over a half-broken scooter whose handle shaft has been replaced with a pine-branch and duct-tape. Further inside, Wu Tang Clan blasts from Daniel’s room.

Brook: Brook peers into the house, always forgetting how easy the doors comes open. Aaron Black-Rib is—well, the young man has no idea. They don’t speak, not registering the band-less orphan just makes things easier, he guesses. Taking his shoes off respectfully, he carries them into the house and strides quick and quiet, following the sound towards Danny’s room, knocking on his door as well. Who knows what he’s doing with the music on so loud. Not everyone is lucky as he is, having a place to themselves for hours and hours. “Danny, it’s Brook!”

GM: A few second later, the door swings open, and his best friend ushers him inside the bedroom. Forced to share his room with Harry (whom Daniel ‘affectionately’ calls ‘Hairball’), Daniel shoves some dirty clothes off the lower bunk-bed for Brook to sit. The latter then resumes sitting in a re-appropriated kitchen chair beside an old computer monitor displaying Zork III. The mohawk kid takes a swig from a two-liter Pepsi bottle before offering it to Brook. “Great timing, the Flood just wiped out my chances of getting the key.”

Brook: Brook is swept up in the teen current for a moment, sitting on the bottom bunk with a two-liter in his hand without even having thought much about anything. Video games aren’t the young man’s forte, he’s a busy person in most seasons, and in others he doesn’t have a good enough laptop to mess around. Much as some new 3D things Danny has shown him look appealing. “Ah, Danny, I can’t stay long. Shit happened. Like… heavy shit. Like ‘I might have almost met a psycho killer’ heavy.”

GM: Daniel cocks his head and scratches his ear like a flea-bitten dog. “Heavy shit, dude. What happened?”

Brook: Brook goes ahead and tells him about the fabric and fresh shit symbols, even the tagging along bit. “I dunno what they found, but they said it might’v been a break in the case. They’ve told my mom. I can try to get it out of her. Try and keep this quiet, okay? Don’t tell June, it might spook her.”

GM: “Sure, of course… but wow Brooks, that’s wild. So the crazoid escaped from an asylum, is missing a hand, and is into devil worship? Sounds like something from your dreams, dude.” Daniel takes another gulp of cola and adds, “No offense.”

Brook: Brook shrugs, thumbing the handle of his gun. “Welcome to Witiko Falls. I also learned his name. Fucking ‘Moe’.” Though it brings up another point. Something else he has to ask Danny.

“So. Did Nelson really apologize to you?”

GM: “Moe?” Daniel starts to ask, but then follows the change in subject. He nods. “Yeah, he did. It was… awkward as jizz on a wedding dress.” He laughs weakly at his own joke, looks at his still bandaged hand, and then continues, “He came up to me right after first period. First, he was asking about you, but I didn’t tell him since that was none of his business. I thought he’d bark back, but he got all weird and red-faced. He was mumbling, so I couldn’t hear what he was saying at first. So I figured he was being a wise-ass under his breath, and so I told him to ‘go to hell and give Hitler a good blowjob when he gets there’.”

“That’s when Nelson really looked like someone tossed his salad hard, man. He got all weird-eyed like he was about to go crying off to the bathroom again. But… he, well, he like apologized. I mean, he did. It was weird. And for the rest of the day, he was all, like, moody and weird.” He then looks at Brook. “Man, I’m dying to know what you have on him. Seriously. I won’t tell anybody.”

Brook: Brook nods hearing about it, taking in the details and feeling both that rush of control again, and the guilt that comes with it. Nelson is completely flipped around towards him and his friends, and it’s because of information he has on the little shit. But so far as telling Danny, it’s too soon.

“Dan, you see his face when we bring this shit up? He went off crying, and nearly did with you, too! I told him to apologize for that shit with June, but I can’t tell you. Yet. I promised him. Plus, if his secret got out? Someone weak like Nelson would just off himself. Besides, maybe I can… change him, you know? Make him stop being such a cunt. When he inevitably drops out of whatever scholarship they give jocks, maybe we’ll have it easier when he comes to be a cop.”

Standing, he comes over to his friend and puts a hand on his shoulder, trying to assure him. “You’re the first one I’ll tell, okay? Till then, it’s between me and fuck-face. Sorry.”

GM: Daniel looks away when Brook mentions Nelson being ‘weak’ enough to ‘off’ himself. After all, only four years have passed since Dan’s mother committed suicide, and his father all-but abandoned ship one bottle at a time. Daniel nods slowly. “Okay, Brooks, I’ll lay off him.”

His eyes linger on the messy contents of his room rather than his friend’s face. But in doing so, he spots his backpack. “Oh yeah,” he says grabbing and unzipping the bag, “I tried taking notes and getting copies of the homework for most of your classes.” He passes Brook a stack of xeroxed and loose-leaf papers. “It might help with tomorrow. You know, the… meeting and all.” He points to a few scribbled notes. “I jotted down stuff from Epstein, and you know he gave homework like always, and then there’s stuff from LeBaron’s, mostly she lectured about how Rome began.” He points to a far more coherent set of notes with delicate cursive. “And I got this from Veronica for biology.”

“Coach Ross said you have to talk to him about making up the missed work. And, well, I wasn’t going to argue with the man since he looks like he could arm-wrestle a grizzly. And win.” Daniel smiles. His smile then widens and curls. “Sadly you missed a rather lengthy discussion in Health yesterday about how various fruits and vegetables resemble people’s junk. I think Mr. Atwood almost died when his mom told the entire class that her son’s ding-dong is like a crooked carrot. ‘A small one’, I think she added. I was dying inside, so don’t quote me on that one.”

Brook: Brook instantly feels bad for the comment on suicide. It’s not fair. Reservations however, they have this issue. Danny though, he isn’t going anywhere. He has his friend. Getting the handouts though, and the extra notes, it almost breaks the bigger boy’s heart. “Danny, that’s… thanks, man. You’re the best.”

Listening to the rest of everything, the hand on his shoulder turns into a full on hug. Honestly, it’s tough on the young man. Coming here to this place, being reminded he doesn’t have a place among them. How it feels sometimes the town just sees him as some Indian. Even how hard his mother is on him. Having friends like Danny makes it all worth working for. Worth the extra hate for the badge and gun. But after a few moments, he lets his friend go and stands back up, holding back feelings. “That new librarian helped me out on my paper for the principal. She’s fucking brilliant, I aced it like magic. She even filled me in on the rules. I don’t think I’m getting expelled.”

GM: Dan shrugs off the hug with a “no homo” remark, but he a seems happy to hear his best friend’s chances of being expelled are low, or at least lower. “Well, that’s great, man. Especially since I ditched Health class today.” He rifles through his younger brother’s duffel bag searching for snacks, but only comes up with dirty underwear and a stuffed animal yanked from the Lodge’s gift-shop and later had its eyes cut out. “Ugh, gross and… wrong.”

He then turns back to his friend. “So, as I was saying, I ditched Health today and used my magic to join June’s class.” He blows on his bandaged hand in self-congratulation, then continues, “Mr. Henderson took his class to see Cindy in the hospital. With Grady and Griffin backing me up to their dad, I convinced Mr. Henderson that I was like Cindy’s cousin but that my dad had his license taken away for too many DUIs.”

He shrugs and takes another swig of the almost empty cola, burping. “The last part is true of course, and I’m sure I’m somehow related to the Crowshoes seeing how we’re both Blood Tribe. Anyways, so the sap buys it and lets me join the class.” But get this," Daniel continues, passing the cola bottle to his friend, and scooting his chair closer. “Mr. Henderson let me have some ‘family privacy’, so I got to speak to Cindy alone.”

His next words are almost a whisper nearly drowned out by the blaring hip-hop. “Brooks, she’s like… a prisoner or something.” He shakes his spiky hair. “I asked her about what happened with her mom and the… vacuum. And she got all spooked. Not like crazy sad, man, but just crazy, like she was afraid somebody was listening. She like grabbed me and whispered that she’d tell me everything, but if, and only if, I helped her escape. Escape, man, that’s what she said.”

He looks into Brook’s eyes, as if to say ’I’m not lying’ and adds, “And I swear, Brooks, not five seconds later, a doctor and a pair of burly nurses burst in, kick me out, and stick her with a needle. June swears she saw one of the Spooks in the hospital… and Grady and Griffin both agreed that a black helicopter followed the bus back to school. And you know how rarely those two agree on anything. But Brooks, man, tell me that’s not some messed up shit, man, right?”

He looks down. “After what happened, I didn’t want to tell June, you know, to protect her. She’d spaz.”

Brook: Brook stands and listens, taking in everything of what he’s saying. After her outburst the other day, Cindy is obviously not well! Obviously grieving. But for her to be forced to stay at the hospital for that reason? Everything sounds fishy, and there’s another hand on his spine pulling him to dig into it. Cindy is a friend, in passing, but a friend. The three of them went to grade school together. It’s wrong.

“Something is definitely up. I dunno, man, after the past few days? Witiko Falls has always been weird as hell, but for Spooks to be in the hospital? It makes sense, with the gas leak. But what gases are odorless and colorless? And the thing with the vacuum? On top of Moe, and that shit in Bad Medicine. Fuck. Maybe I should try and visit her tomorrow, too. It’s the weekend.”

Sitting back down, the young man rubs the bridge of his nose in thought. There’s no way to get her out if they have her officially committed. Not without police coming down both their driveways. First thing first, he has to go and see her. Tell the doctors outright he’s there to take her out with friends to help forget her sorrows. Something, at least. “I should get going. Thanks for telling me this, man. I’ll get ahold of you tomorrow, maybe we can go back together.”

GM: Daniel nods, clearly relieved to have shared his ‘secret’—and maybe at the prospect of procrastinating whatever rash plan he has in mind. “Okay, yeah, tomorrow.”

Their conversation is interrupted, though, when Dan’s aunt Nikki enters the house, calling all the kids to help set the dinner table.

“Coming,” Daniel shouts back as he rises. He swats Brook. “Come on, help me out and stay for dinner. Aunt Nikki always scores a bunch from the casino.” Having eaten with the Littlebeavers before, Brook well knows that Aunt Nikki’s food is good, even when it’s several–hours–old leftovers from the casino buffet.

Brook: Brook isn’t thinking of breaking Cindy out. Not yet. When you hunt something for relocation, first you have to get a sense of where their head is at. Cindy needs help, but it’s going to be delicate. His train of thought is interrupted though by the little Rebby calling her brother for dinner. It’s a sweet offer for him to stay, but a quick look out the window and he knows he can’t. “Nah, I don’t—I shouldn’t intrude. Your family doesn’t like me much. Besides, I have to get back home and sleep. Running out of time before I can’t anymore, you know?”

GM: “What are you talking about, Aunt Nikki loves you!?” Daniel says. “She’s already seen your truck. If you dip out, she’ll be offended. You know how much she loves feeding family. And dude, if you’re Res, you’re family—even if you weren’t my best friend.” He sticks his head out the door. “Hey, Aunt Nikki, can Brooks eat with us?”

“Of course he can!” she automatically shouts back amid the clatter of forks and plates in the combined kitchen-dining area.

Dan sticks his mohawk-head back in the room and grins. “See?” He then swats Brook again. “After dinner, you can crash in my bed or Hairball’s. Save time by not driving to your house.”

Brook: Fuck, Dan is right. She’ll be offended if Brook just ducks out back into his truck. Maybe crashing here isn’t a bad idea, either. There are condoms in his truck to fix his little sleep problem, at least. “Okay, okay. You win. Just let me fish my radio out of my truck, okay? The tower needs to know what I’m up to. Have to be home by midnight. Now let’s go help.” Brook opens the door the rest of the way, motioning for his friend to go first. Hopefully making things less awkward.

GM: Following his friend, Brook sees Daniel’s aunt in the kitchen, overseeing Kanti, Harry, and Koko setting down plates, cups, and utensils while Dan’s grandfather remains in his stripe-upholstered chair.

Aunt Nikki is an obese woman with grey temple–streaks in her long, straight–black hair. Today, she wears a faded blue T-shirt that reads ENDANGERED SPECIES. She hobbles a bit on her left foot due to the other foot’s amputated toes lost to diabetes.

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“Brook,” she says with another hobble and smile. “How’s your mother?” She gives a shooing motion to her eldest present nephew, tossing him some pot holders with a warning that the meatballs are hot.

Brook: Brook is rarely shy until he comes to a friend’s house to meet their family. Despite growing up with Dan and knowing Aunt Nikki for quite awhile, he still keeps his posture sloped and humble. With his mother being the woman she is, he doesn’t know how to really act in this kind of setting. “She’s good. Busy with the fires, mostly. How can I help?”

GM: Aunt Nikki nods. “She’s a hell of a woman.” Her lips and eyes crinkle as she adds, “Best go help Mr. Mohawk carry in the food. Although if you want to go above and beyond, you could try convincing him to get a haircut.”

She then turns back to the three young children who have stopped working since Brook’s entrance. Aunt Nikki swats Kanti with a spoon on her idle hand. “He’s not going to bite,” she says scolding all three of them. As Kanti half-stifles a cry and Harry resumes setting plates, Brook hears Koko mutter, “That’s not what grampa says.” Nikki shushes the young girl and points to the utensils before turning back to their non-familial guest. “Best get going before Rebby tries to pick up something too heavy.”

Brook: Brook can only nod at her words on his mother, before looking to his friend at the comment. It’s something sacred that the two of them will not broach. How the other wears their hair. “I’ll try, ma’am.” But before he starts out, the scene with the children unfolds, and the reason they dislike him comes into greater focus.

The young man doesn’t do too well hiding a face of disappointment, but he swallows it after just a moment. It’s nothing he doesn’t already know. He steps out of the house and to his truck first. Pulling out his radio and clipping it on his belt before he jogs back and helps everyone else out with the food.

GM: He passes Daniel hefting an aluminum tray full of meatballs with marinara sauce. Back at Nikki’s station wagon, Rebecca Littlebeaver stands with a denim skirt, dirty knees, and pastel hoodie. She looks up at Brook through her black bangs. She doesn’t say anything. She just stares.

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Fortunately for Brook, the aluminums tray of seven-layer dip, shepherd’s pie, bannock, and green bean casserole seem less skittish.

Brook: Brook looks back at her for a moment and opens his mouth to say something, but nothing comes to mind. Whatever he says, it can’t change her mind right away. Instead, he just settles on a smile as he picks up as many food trays as he can carry, bringing them back into the house. He’s a tall boy with big arms and a gun, one an important figure in her life does not like, it seems. Hurt as it does, it’s fine.

“Where would you like these, ma’am?” he asks Nikki as he tries to keep close to his friend, Danny. Cling to him to save him from the awkwardness.

GM: Daniel’s aunt tells him where, and several moments later, Brook and the Littlebeavers sit down to eat. If Daniel notices his younger siblings are quiet, he doesn’t seem to mind as he chats with his aunt and best friend. His grandfather eats in his own chair, apart from his kin, watching the Wheel of Fortune.

“Nadie’s funeral is Saturday morning,” Nikki says, “Are you and your mom going, Brook?”

Brook: Brook wonders if it’s horribly normal for the grandfather to not eat with the family. Him just sitting there is fine for the others, but it somehow feels pointed today. But hearing Aunt Nikki bring up the funeral tomorrow puts a mix of emotions in the boy’s chest. Realizing they’re making Cindy miss her own beloved mother’s funeral. How fucking dare they.

“Cindy is a friend, I don’t want to miss it. Especially if she’s there, I haven’t had the chance to say anything to her about it yet. But with the fires, and the US Marshal here in the Falls, I don’t know.”

GM: As the conversation returns to the Crowshoes, Daniel becomes noticeably agitated, his knee absent-mindedly tapping the table as he stabs a green-bean mercilessly. As his aunt tries to change the subject to ask the older boys about school, Brook catches Koko’s riveted gaze as she stares at Brook’s hands.

Aunt Nikki catches the child’s fixated glare and waves a threatening serving spoon in Koko’s direction. “It’s not polite to stare.”

Brook: Of course Brook notices his friend in distress, reaching over and giving him a gentle squeeze on the arm. They both know there’s more to it. But as she asks about school and little Koko gets caught staring at his hands, he quickly moves them up and inspects them for anything wrong. “What’s up, kiddo? Something wrong with my hands?” he asks, keeping his tone light and a smile on his face.

GM: With a shaky hand of her own, Daniel’s little sister points to Brook’s index and middle finger. “S-same,” she says with a mixture of fear and awe. The others’ heads swing to alternatively face Koko or Brook.

But then Aaron Blackrib speaks. His voice is nearly lost over the static-y voice of Pat Sajack and the spinning gameshow wheel, but Brook and the others all hear him. Whether any understand him is another matter, as the old Kainai says something in the tribe’s native language. Or what Brook assumes is the Blood Tribe’s mother tongue, as the only words he semi-clearly discerns are: “Stsimaki… makoyepuk… kaistosinikyi…” Aaron remains facing the TV, his weathered face lit by the screen’s glow. He then falls back into familiar silence.

GM: As Brook inspects his hands, he notices that his index finger is longer than his ring finger—on both hands. It’s not something he’s ever really considered—except for last week in Health class when Mrs. Atwood had described how differential prenatal exposure to testosterone causes the ratio of ring and index fingers to vary, with longer index to ring finger ratios being indicative of lower IQ and attractiveness and smaller engorged genitals.

Of course, he fell asleep during the class, but he was awoken by Veronica Pleats holding his hand and sniggering. Daniel filled him in after class, much to his chagrin. Back in the Littlebeavers’ cramped dinning room, Daniel laughs when he spots his friend checking out the ratio of his fingers. “So much for riding horses.” He then proudly flashes his own hand, with its prominently larger ring finger. Koko, however, remains far from amused—particularly once Aunt Nikki swats her for ‘starting trouble’ and sends the young girl to her room. She waves a serving spoon at the others as if to ask if anyone else wants to start trouble. The three other young children indicate otherwise as they look down and resume eating in silence.

Brook: Brook looks over his hands and what do you know, it’s true! Though he’s always assumed it was just something off to the wayside for people until Danny filled him in on that one snooze class. It’s been a pretty embarrassing day. What makes it worse, however, is the old man’s words. Brook has willfully chosen in his life not to learn the language, it just adds a tinge of heat to his flushed face. After Koko leaves the table and Danny’s had his laugh, he has to wonder. Why is she worried about things like how smart he is and how big his junk is? But as things settle down, he looks to his friend and gives him a knowing smirk. They’ve had this talk, the day he talked about what they taught in that class. Brook isn’t incredibly bright, but those other things? No one beats Brook at gay chicken.

Now that things are a bit more calm, he turns to Aunt Nikki in hopes of some clarification. Hoping her niece isn’t worried about his performance in bed. “What was that about? Koko seemed pretty freaked out about it, despite what it’s supposed to mean. And… I’ve never heard Mr. Blackrib talk before.”

GM: Aunt Nikki looks peeved by the whole situation, glancing at Brook, her nephews and nieces, and her father. Stealing a wary sideways glance at the latter, she mumbles half under her breath in reply. “Just superstitions.”

Daniel shrugs. “Grandfather talks. It’s usually to himself and some nonsense in old people speech.”

Nikki’s mouth gapes at her nephew’s disrespect. “Danny!”

“What? It’s true,” the mohawk-kid replies.

His aunt’s knuckles tighten around the serving spoon she hasn’t set down. She seems to consider whether or not she should beat some respect into the young man. However, after glancing at Brook, she settles upon discretion. She throws up her hands, glances at the clock, and rises unsteadily. “I have to get back to the casino for my next shift.” She fixes Daniel with a look that brooks no dissent and clearly lets her nephew know that they will finish the ‘conversation’ later. “Make sure you clean this all up—and make sure you save some food for your brother Elijah.” She gives a farewell nod and forced smile to Brook, hobbles over to her father and gives him a kiss and a gentle admonishment not to watch too much TV.

Daniel’s response is to shove more food onto his plate as his aunt walks out the front door and drives away in her station wagon.

Brook: Brook’s response is more confusion. Just superstitions, and then his grandfather talking to himself in the reservation’s mother tongue. Makes the young man think twice about leaning the language, but he knows he can always go and tell his mother the words. He repeats them in his head a few times as Aunt Nikki gets up and leaves. Of course he thanks her and wishes her a safe drive, before she’s out the door and gone. With everything that’s happened, along with re-inforced doubts about his potency as a man, it’s time to head home. Without her here, it’s too awkward anyway. Brook bites into a few more meatballs before he stands up.

“I’m going to get going, too, Danny. It’s been a long day. We got a long one tomorrow, too. I don’t wanna be tired for the Crowshoe memorial.”

GM: His friend looks up. “What? I thought you were crashing here? I thought we could do some biology or math together, or you know, goof off or shoot cans. The funeral’s not for two more days.”

Brook: Brook shrinks a little at his friend’s insistence, thinking back on what his mother said. It’s going to be a busy weekend. But he’s neglected his friend this season already, with so much work. He has the radio like he was asked, too. Slowly, he sits right back down and pops a another meatball into his mouth.

“I guess I could take my friend’s pleading to heart. Seeing as I might not have time this weekend. Reminds me, I gotta get ahold of Leanne as well, work on that civilization project.”

GM: Daniel beams. “Okay, you go crash. Me and Hairball will clean up and wake you in case you sleep in too late.”

His younger brother scowls. “Don’t call me that,” he mumbles.

“Okay, Juuunior,” Daniel replies teasingly, but he otherwise leaves his brother alone as he hikes a thumb to his best friend. “I trust you don’t need to be tucked in and kissed goodnight? Or should I call Horse-Face?”

Brook: Brook shoots a look to Danny for his insult and points a fork at him. “Do we gotta have another talk about this, Mohawk? Your relationship with June is strained enough.” Of course it’s a tease, he grins a little and clasps a hand on his friend’s shoulder as he eats one last meatball and stands back up. “I’ll go and pass out then. Wake me up whenever. Just remember, gotta be back at the tower by midnight.”

GM: Daniel scarfs down some bean dip. “I’ll make sure Koko and Rebby don’t murder you in your sleep. No promises about Kanti.” The nine-year old girl shoots her brother a look, but doesn’t break her seeming vow of silence in front of Brook. Meanwhile, the boys’ bedroom and sleep await.

Brook: Brook grins a little to Danny and then smiles to the nine-year-old. “Don’t worry about it. I trust her. I’ll see you soon.” Really, it’s Mr. Blackrib he doesn’t trust. Despite being told he only mutters to himself, the children have been listening. But it’s fine.

Tired and fed, the young man makes his preparations. Sidearm is unloaded, bullets in his back pocket. The radio by Danny’s pillow so he can hear it better. Finally, he eases himself into his friend’s bed, back facing the door as he lets himself quickly spiral into the first real sleep he’ll have had today.

GM: The spiral seems like it lasts as long as a toilet flush, but more than three hours go down the drain before Brook is awoken by the sound of Daniel and Harry arguing. Three hours. It’s not nearly enough time, but it more than triples the sleep he’s had in the last twenty-four hours. Perhaps it’s that sleep deprivation or the recent harrowing incidents at the gorge and farmhouse or the fact that he went to sleep with a full stomach in a foreign yet familiar bed, but no nightmares torment the young man today—save those that live in the waking world.

Outside, the waning moon shines pale white fingers through the boys’ curtain. The siblings continue their spat. “Danny, I can’t go to sleep!”

“Probably because you’re bawling too much, Hairball. Maybe if you shut your trap, it’d be quiet enough for you to nod off.”

“But I can’t… not with…”

“If you’re going to act like a sissy, why don’t you go sleep with the girls!?”

“I’m not a sissy!”

Brook: Brook listens for now, an eye slowly peeks open and takes inventory of each of his faculties as they wake up with him. Then he mulls over the conversation. Taking a deep breath in through the nose, the young man turns and sits up on the bed like normal. As if he hasn’t managed to sleep.

But despite the lack of dreams, there’s still that morning grouch in his spine. Things are piling up on his shoulders, and the ‘mornings’ are always times when his temper rises. Something his mother has raised him on a tight leash to beat down and put towards positive tasks.

“Daniel. Your brother obviously thinks I’m a wendigo or some tribal xenophobe shit. Let’s let him sleep in his own bed and head out or something.” Head rush. The young man puts a fist against his chin and cracks his neck both ways before standing up straight. “We can talk in the truck, put tunes on.”

GM: Daniel regards his now-awake friend. “Yeah, whatever, let’s leave the sissy to the room. Make it easier for the ghost buffalo to eat him.” He stands up, grabs his backpack, and throws a dirty towel at his brother.

Brook: Danny has seen Brook when he’s angry more than anyone else has. There was a time he watched his larger friend take an axe to junker car and just scream non-stop for an hour. Through willpower, Brook never lets his friend see what comes after those fits. It’s pathetic. Thanks to tight discipline from his mother, this is as close as the big brute gets to his old ways anymore. Posture like that of a lumbering bear missing its cubs, he leaves the room with his radio, and doesn’t stop until he’s outside.

“Fucking fuck, Danny. Seriously. What does that old man say that your siblings hate me so fucking much? I break my fucking BACK so everyone can be safe! Is my blood JUST SO FUCKING DIRTY!?” It’s a full-on yell, and the young man smashes his fist into the hood of the car as he makes his way to the driver’s seat, jumping in and staring it to see the time.

He starts the breathing. Inhale, one-two. Exhale, one-two. Think of the trees, the snap of bark, the peel of birch, the crunch of pine cones. All the bullshit exercises he’s been put through. “Sorry. Just… long few days.”

GM: The clock says 10:37 pm. Daniel says nothing—not at first. He’s too caught off-guard by the borderline blow-up. But eventually, he composes himself enough to call out, “Brooks, dude, chill, chill, man! It’s not like that, man.”

However, both teens’ words are undercut by the four prepubescent faces fearfully pressed to the log-cabin’s windows, their dark eyes staring at the aftermath of Brook’s violent, screaming outburst.

Unlike Brook, Daniel has his back turned to his house, and remains ignorant of his siblings’ deer in the headlights voyeurism. “Look, my grandfather is like senile. He was always a little messed up, you know, from the war. But after… after my mom died, he broke for real.”

Daniel shivers a bit, his breath steaming in the chilled nocturnal air. “He just sits there all day long. All fucking day. And then he’s gone, like he disappears. He hardly talks—and when he does, it’s all babble in the tribal language that I give two shits about.” He sighs and sucks in the cold air. “The doctors say he’s got Alzheimers’ dementia or something. Just… just forget about him.”

Brook: It’s an hour and twenty minutes before he’s due at the tower, and just an hour he’s got with his friend. An hour of his siblings worrying for his health with the scary man outside their house. Looking at them, Brook’s eyes are even different. Green stares out from under thick eyebrows, betraying him as a mutt. Patting his passenger seat, he mutters for Danny to get in as he turns the heat on and the headlights off. Affording them a decent place to sit and talk.

“Dude, it’s not just your grandpa. It’s a lot of the res folk. They treat me different.” Bringing his hand up again, he looks over the sizes of his fingers and groans. “Your brats are looking at us through the windows, like I’m going to eat you. Your sis pointed out the finger length thing. Your aunt wouldn’t talk about it. I don’t know, man. Things get to me deeper when I’m on the res. That finger thing? It’s nothing. I know I’m not the brightest, my brain is fucked. But here? It bugged me.”

GM: Daniel jumps in, all-too eager to get out of the cold and away from his family. “Brooks, the whole town and res are bugging. Off-res, you and I are just another pair of timber niggers to people like Nelson. On-res, well, we’re two more mouths milking the cash-cow. And people are greedy and jealous.”

He pauses and looks outside at the cloud-veiled moon. “Look, like, your mom gets a big fat check from the tribe because she’s pure Blood. But my mom married a Blackfoot, because, well, incest only gives you so many dating opportunities if you know what I mean. It’s all bullshit, really. Stuff white people just can’t understand. Anyways, because me and my brothers and sisters aren’t pure Blood Tribe, and because my mom is dead, we get shafted. Hard. I swear the tribal council is like high school for grown-ups, with the popular haves and, well, the rest of us. And by ‘haves’, I mean having the right blood which gets you the right money. If it weren’t for my grandfather’s check, we’d be… well, we’d be even worse off.”

He shakes his head and looks back at his best friend. “So, just try and imagine how people here might feel when a kid who as far as anyone can tell has zero drops of Blood Tribe blood gets a huge cut of the res’ monthly money. That’s why my older brother Lij hates you. It’s because he’s half-Blood and gets squat because our mom married a Blackfoot and then jumped out a window, while you rake in thousands because Mary’s a pure-blood who’s never had kids and gives all her money to an adopted outsider.”

“It’s about money. Not fingers or old men watching TV. Money, Brooks. Money makes people crazy—people who have it and people who want it. You’d know that if you spend more time on the res or at the casino.”

Brook: Brook already knows the money part of the equation, but it doesn’t stop the fact that they treated him just as badly before Mary started giving him that allowance. Though the res might not realize it, it isn’t his money. If he doesn’t behave and work hard, he’s shit out of luck. Mary has cut him off in the past. This truck isn’t even really his either, it belongs to the state as a government vehicle. Not to mention how lean him and his mother live, taking home kills not sent off for census. But Danny is right. This res is like one giant fucking high school, and neither of them are in the right clique. Difference being that Danny has the res folks who aren’t pure bloods, he has his big family (for better or worse), on top of most of what Brook has. Their friends. Then he has his own mother, the only part of Danny’s family missing. Though one that spent the last 10 years beating life lessons into him with branches.

“I know Danny, I know. But it’s—besides you, people don’t want me here in the Res, there’s so many dirty looks from all blood platinums that I feel like there’s meetings to talk about how I shouldn’t ever have been pulled out of that burlap sack my parents tossed me in the river in. The town, I can deal with! It’s water off a roof. But it’s not like that on the res. These are supposed to be ‘my people’, right? They aren’t. I have you, I have our little circle, and I have Mary. I don’t have anyone else who cares I exist. Townies think I’m from the res, and the res looks at me like a townie. Or worse.”

He pulls out his sidearm and begins loading it back up, skilled hands working fast. Like it’s cathartic for him as he speaks. “I’m trying, Danny. To get at least these peoples’ approval. I nearly di… Bad Medicine. I nearly died the other day. Three feet from my face. Death. It was just watching me, slunk away when I put my gun in it’s face. It could have taken me. Maybe I’m just… still fucked up about it or something. Sorry, man.”

GM: Daniel gives an accusatory glare at their surroundings. “The whitey-tighties aren’t the only racists in town, Brooks. Hell, I’ve never met anymore more racist than a res native—fuck, some of these pure–bloods make Nelson look color–blind. That’s why I’m cutting loose of all this bullshit. That’s why I’m gonna go to Vegas as soon as I graduate and be a dealer and operator, so I can take money from morons so stupid they give it away.”

“So here’s what I say about the res. Fuck. Them. You’re never gonna win their approval. Not when you’re living large on the tribe’s tit—especially when your blood quantum runs as straight as the Green Lady.” He then turns to the gun. “Now what the hell are you talking about death three feet from your face. And why am I just hearing about it now?”

Brook: Brook looks out into the dark and thinks about it again. That forbidden little whisper in the back of his head. What if he leaves too? What places need people like him? It certainly isn’t Vegas, though maybe he can get away with stripping or something. If he worked and got a pair of abs before graduation. Danny is the smart one, Vegas would be his hunting grounds. Thinking about leaving is terrifying and heavenly at the same time. He’s been brought up to be a Ranger. To be the brave soul in the woods of Witiko, black powder against fang. But if he leaves? Fuck what the res thinks.

“You’ll get there, brother,” is all he manages for the moment, spinning his cylinder and slapping it back into place. Fully loaded. Danny is right again, however. Brook never told him about that day in the pass.

“There was a wolf carcass. I was cleaning it up, a van pulls in. I scare the hell out of them with ghost stories to get them to drive more carefully. Little kid says something like ‘I see the ghost. It’s big and black with scary eyes!’ and points to where I was shoveling roadkill. I go back to where I was, rifle pointed in the bush. Danny, it was big. Didn’t look like a bear, but it was… something. I looked right into its eyes, like an idiot, and it just slunk back down the ravine. Took the wolf’s body I tossed down there, too. Talked to my mom. She’s seen it too. Said it howls wrong, that it’s a part of nature but not of life.”

GM: Dan’s brow furrows. “What the fuck does that mean?”

Brook: Brook narrows his eyes into the dark, looking around the horizon as he switches the safety off his gun and cocks the hammer back to make a point, tapping it on his steering wheel out at the dark. “Native myths that don’t add up. The new librarian, she knows. I’m trying to talk to her about it but she’s like… scared. Really scared, of something. She wouldn’t talk about it in the library.”

Gently pushing the hammer back, he slips the safety back on and carefully pushes his sidearm back in its leather case. “Witiko Falls, man. Questions pile up. I’m fine with her living in the pass, I just don’t want her wandering out. She might get hurt, or hurt someone.”

GM: “Her?” Danny asks, dubiously, then adds, a bit more cautiously, “Are you sure it wasn’t just a shadow… or maybe a messed up bear? I’m just saying you didn’t have much sleep, and you’ve been under a lot of stress.”

He looks out the windshield where Brook punched his own hood. “Frankly, I’m glad to see you blow up, dude. You’ve been acting so sickly-sweet Disney happily ever after lately. It’s good to have the ‘real’ you back, man.”

Brook: Brook doesn’t answer at first, he hesitates and decides against taking out his sketchbook to show him. Instead he just nods. “It. Whatever mangy thing it was.” Though hearing his friend glad about his outburst concerns the young man a little. They’re both angry kids, lashing out at the world.

“My mom was getting worried about me, Danny. She was right, too. We’ve done stupid shit because we were mad. I gotta fucking control myself. No more bricks through windows, hacking up junkers. I’ll probably have a badge and a gun soon. Gotta find a girlfriend or something, to help me calm down, I don’t know. Find a balance.”

Girls. That’s another whole basket of razor wire-wrapped dicks to deal with.

“Maybe I do need to blow up more, Danny. All this bullshit. Make sure you don’t tell anyone, okay? About the weird shit we’re talking about. Spooks in the hospital, bears in the pass, etc. Not with people already so stressed over the hospital gas, and the escaped lunatic, and junk. Plus, it’d suck for my mom to find out I’m ‘being a child’. We should talk about normal shit. Like girls, and how Toby was so sour today.”

GM: Daniel nods. “Alright, we’ll keep all this between us. We’ve been though ugly shit before; we’ll get through this stuff too—together.”

“As for blowing up, how about we blow some shit up. I’ve got a bunch of commodity cans. How about we go drive out to the falls or the old quarry swimming hole and blast ’em like zombie brains. Just like we used to. And along the way, we can talk about how to get you laid. Er, I mean, get a girlfriend,” he adds with a lewd grin and elbow to Brook’s side.

Brook: Brook can only nod, reaching over to pat his friend on the shoulder. They have been through ugly shit before, this is no different. At his suggestion of going out to fire some guns, however, he nervously looks back over to the clock. He can’t be late.

“I don’t think I got time for that tonight, Danny. It’s almost midnight. Besides, speaking of girls, you should sleep and take June out tomorrow.” Digging out his wallet, he pulls out some cash and offers it over to his friend. “I probably can’t hang out, so I’m going to have to take a rain check on driving you guys around. I was going to treat you again to make up for the shitty day out yesterday, anyway.”

GM: Crestfallen at Brook’s rejection, Daniel seems initially reticent towards accepting the handout. However, he eventually caves to the financial temptation, if not to Brook’s generosity. “Okay, that sounds fair,” he says lamely. He then looks to the clock. “So… you want to work on some homework together or something? Until you have to go then, or what?”

Brook: Brook looks a bit guilty. It’s not a handout, he wants to be there for his friend, ease his burden that his best friend has been so busy this past summer. “This week, or next weekend, you should come hang out at the tower overnight. If you don’t mind the guns, the dark, and heights.” It’s an honest offer, one he’s sure he can convince his mother to agree with. He doesn’t have to keep such a close tone on the microphone. “Right now though? Homework sounds good, Dan. Some normal not ranger kid stuff.”

GM: Danny gives a little nod, his mohawk tipped with moonlight. “This weekend, man, let’s do it. I’ll bring the cans. I can’t wait to see how the refried beans explode. Ker-pow!” He fires a mimed gun with his fingers and laughs. “Zombie brains.”

The truck cab turns dark as a wind-blown cloud swallows the moon. Daniel stares out into the night before speaking again. “Do you think you could do it? I mean… do you think you could shoot someone? Pop ’em and drop ’em. For real.” He turns slightly, his shadowed face regarding his best friend’s.

Brook: It’s a good idea, firing into the tree line is the safest way to fire a gun anyway, the larger boy laughing along with his friend. It’s a quick smooth over into the strange mood brought about by the masking of the moon, and an even stranger question, Brook awkwardly looking to the clock as he speaks.

“Mary… she brought me up on stories, y’know? I still don’t know how I feel about Apistotoki or Naapi. But Bloodclot Boy? If anyone tried to hurt anyone I care about, or pointed a gun at me, I don’t know if I could stop myself from reacting. I hope I never have to, though. My dreams are haunted enough.”

GM: Daniel quietly considers Brook’s answer in the darkness. His own reply comes slowly at first. “Yeah…”

“…haunted by Horse-Face!” He punches his best friend in the shoulder while he tries to neigh loudly but only breaks up in laughter.

Brook: Brook has a moment of regret for his answer, wondering if he’s scared Danny any. Of course this isn’t the case, rolling his eyes when the punch comes and chuckling. “I swear to god, Danny, I will drive you to the pass and leave you there. Be nice to her, I have to work with her on this project you know.”

GM: With the clouds still covering the sky, Brook can moreso feel rather than see his best friend raise up his hands in ‘surrender’. He starts to rattle out another jibe, but he loses it in another fit of adolescent guffaws. “Okay, okay,” he eventually says to himself as much as Brook. “Too bad though you aren’t working together in Mr. McDermott’s class… ‘cause I’m sure she’d win the blue ribbon in 4-H!”

There’s another hysterical fit of laughter inside the cab.

Brook: Brook nearly headbutts the top of his steering wheel hearing him pinch off another horse joke at the expense of Leanne. He doesn’t quite get this one but lets whatever 4-H is be. No doubt it’s some kind of country fair whatever. “Danny, I love you, but if you keep that up I’m going to date Leanna JUST so you have to be nice to her on double dates with June.”

GM: So threatened, Danny immediately shuts up–or tries to. A few last snickers slip past his lips before he replies, “So homework, yeah?” He looks at the cab-clock. It reads 10:54 pm.

Brook: Brook bites his lip looking at the time. He should probably get going, but there’s one last thing he can ask. “I gotta be at the station at midnight. Do you wanna grab a change of clothes and spend the night at the station? Or do you gotta watch your little ones?”

GM: Now it’s Danny that bitting his lip. He looks up at his house, where his younger brother’s face is still silhouetted against the bedroom window. “Aw.. shit, man. I want to, really… but Lijah’s working the graveyard doing… whatever for Ghost Elk. If I dip out… he and my aunt will…” He shakes his head. “Little brats, you know?”

Brook: Brook understands, it’s not like he’s been the best at just hanging out. But tomorrow is Friday, and with how well he did on his paper thanks to Hazel, he’s no doubt he’ll be re-entering class. “Nah, it’s cool that you’re helping out. We’ll see each other lots tomorrow, hopefully I get some leeway with it being friday, and we can go and see Cindy in the hospital.”

GM: Indecision still wars on Daniel’s face. Even in the dark, Brook can tell his friend wants to come over.

Brook: Brook shakes his head, reaching over and putting a hand on his friends shoulder. “Stay home tonight, okay, man? Good rest before we go up against those nurses tomorrow.”

GM: Daniel looks like he’s going to protest, but the reminder about freeing Cindy tomorrow causes him to nod. “You’re right. Gotta think long term. If I dip out tonight, they’d fly off their handle and likely get in the way of our plans this weekend.”

Brook: “They’re not too happy with me, so who’s to say if I take you, they won’t walk to the casino to get you in trouble with your aunt, anyway.” Brook looks a bit dismayed at the thought of the kids hating him, but nods. “We’re not freeing her right away though. Remember, we gotta be smart. We don’t have black helicopters.”

GM: “Right, right,” Daniel agrees, his mohawk jostling as he nods. “One step at a time. Speaking of which, Epstein’s homework. I’ll go crank it out for both of us, and you can copy it tomorrow morning before the bell. You have enough to catch up on with that Rome stuff and Veronica’s biology notes.”

Brook: Brook waves his hand. “Nah, I gotta…do it myself. Get caught up fast. That new librarian really helped me out of a jam, no way I’m expelled with the paper she helped me write. You watch Veronica though, I know you are, but we don’t know if June’s the jealous type. I’ve got a long night anyway. All I got planned is to take some callers again.”

GM: Daniel jukes like he’s going to playfully punch his friend again. “Heh, a jealous babe can have its perks, dude.” He chuckles, “But really, I think it’s Horse-Face who needs to worry. Veronica only gave me the notes when she heard you needed them.”

He looks back to clock. “Anyways, I should let you get going. I’ll have the math homework ready for you–if you need it or at least want to look over the answers. I mean, you can aim alright… but you suck at trig.” His wide smile can barely be seen in the dashboard’s lights. The clock flickers at it changes to 11:00 pm.

Brook: Brook chuckles a bit, shaking his head and wondering. Veronica now? He’d have to talk to her a little. “Okay. Thanks a lot, man, I do kinda suck at math. But you get inside! Rally up those kiddies to bed, and I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” Unlocking his doors, he turns the radio off and gives his friend one last pat on the shoulder.

GM: Daniel steps out of the truck and bangs a fist against his chest in farewell salute. “Tomorrow, my brother from a different mother, and remember the immortal words of Tupac, our Lord and Savior, ‘Reality is wrong. Dreams are for real’.”

Brook: Brook laughs and shakes his head. “You’re saying that to the wrong person, Danny! Fuck Tupac and his sound sleep! See you tomorrow!” Closing the doors and locking them, he turns back around and starts driving away, getting on the radio back to Red Aspen.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


GM: Monday, October 6th, 1998.

Scarecrow Cinema. The film projector clicks on. Its unique hum and heat fill the small projectionist’s booth as the apparatus fires out into the large theater and fills the massive movie screen like white-burning phosphorus. Built in 1895 as part of the original baroque opera house that preceded the building’s re-opening as the Scarecrow Cinema in the 1970s, the main theater room still retains a glimmer of its lost halcyon nights when the wealthy sanatoria patients flocked to listen and watch the ghostly revenge of Don Giovanni, the salacious dance of seven veils of Salome, and the bloodbaths of Elektra.

Tonight, another kind of ‘classic’ is about to start. Less than a handful of patrons take their seats in the sloped–floor seating under the opulent curve–plaster ceiling with its neoclassical–noveau sea of wheels, stars, and naked Venus rising from her supernal clam.

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Back in the projectionist’s booth, Kurt notes lamentably that less than a third of the audience stayed for the second half of tonight’s double feature. His employer and the proprietor of the Scarecrow, Mordecai Clay, had decided to do a re–run of the 1962 exploitation double–feature of Eyes Without a Face and The Manster, billing both under their American debut names, The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus and The Split as well as their original foreign titles, Les Yeux Sans Visage and Sôtô no Satsujinki.

If any of the township’s residents appreciate the nod to history, it doesn’t seem to show. Then again, it is a Monday late-night showing. Still, as another pair of patrons decide to pass on Breakston’s and Crane’s tokusatsu, Kurt wonders whether Mordecai might shut down the showing—which would mean the senior would get off early. Which would be nice—except for the fact that his family is strapped for cash. Yet, any doubt is erased when Mordecai himself walks into the theater and takes a seat, effectively doubling the seated viewers—but not paying customers. The bald albino gestures to the booth, indicating that ‘the show must go on’.

Kurt: A small smile plays out on Kurt’s tired face as he spots Mordecai. He then proceeds to continue the double-feature, watching the screen, still enraptured by the strange, muted horror of Eyes Without a Face. He looks forward to The Manster.

GM: Like the corpse-dumping inception of the French-Italian horror film, the The Manster’s beginning signals violence to its audience with its opening credits: a rice-paper door splattered with blood.

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As the movie reel rolls out the plot, Kurt watches as an American reporter, Larry Stanford, is sent to interview an eccentric Japanese scientist working on weird ‘cosmic evolutionary’ experiments in his mountain laboratory in Japan. After his experiments grotesquely fail using his own wife and family, the doctor realizes that Larry is the perfect subject for his next experiment, so he drugs and injects him with a serum, and then leads him on a profligate tour with the aid of his Eurasian seductive assistant, Tara. Eventually, the transformation begins as Larry’s shoulder becomes pained–only to sprout a monstrous eye that opens and stares at its host and the audience.

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The next phantasmagoric scene, however, is interrupted for Kurt as the booth’s side-door opens. It’s his fellow senior and cinema colleague, Morgan Thompson. The recent transplant from the West Coast pulls up a chair and plops down beside Kurt. Tonight, the goth-girl’s raspberry-black hair dye is showing the natural blonde’s roots. As usual, she has shirked the cinema’s ‘uniform’ vest and white shirt to reveal bleach–stained ripped jeans and a black heavy metal band T–shirt with a necklace-strung razor–blade. Embellished with black eyeliner and similarly hued lipstick, her pale face and violet eyes regard Kurt.

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She passes him a tub of popcorn. “You should eat something. You’re starting to resemble a Scarecrow yourself.”

Kurt: Kurt, composing himself after jumping a little at Morgan’s intrusion, half-smiles as he casually accepts the proffered popcorn. “Thank you,” he says, looking away from the screen to turn to Morgan with a slightly quirked brow. He takes a small handful of popcorn and then tilts the tub in Morgan’s direction. “We can share.”

He then looks back at the movie screen, giving a coy glance back at his co-worker. “Do you really think I am starting to look like a scarecrow?” he asks, crinkling his nose. He has been skipping breakfast lately.

GM: Morgan shakes her head at Kurt’s offer to share. “I don’t think Eliot or Foster wash their hands after using the bathroom.” She smirks to let Kurt know she’s joking. Probably.

On the screen, the ‘evolving’ protagonist wanders Tokyo late at night. He murders a woman on the street, a Buddhist monk, and a psychiatrist, while slowly changing form, culminating in him growing a second head out of the shoulder on which only the eye had been.

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As Morgan watches the B-movie grade special effects and murder scenes, she comments: “This is way better than the mainstream movie I’m ‘showing’ in the other theater. Urban Legend,” she adds, supplying the new release’s title. “But go figure, that drivel’s drawing at least ten times the crowd.”

She peeks through the booth’s glass. “Which sadly isn’t saying much, but still. And did you really have to slip in your friend again, that Wilson guy? I mean, he doesn’t even watch the movies—he just gets uses the theater as his fuck-pad. It’s gross. It’s bad enough with Mordecai showing porn to the drunks after we leave.”

Kurt: Kurt pauses in his chewing when Morgan mentions the popcorn could be contaminated, looking a little worried. He eats a little more slowly as the pair watch the movie. “Urban Legend is formulaic crap,” he answers, agreeing with Morgan, “but even more damning, it just isn’t scary.” He turns back to The Manster. “This is weird and intense.” Kurt clearly means that as a compliment.

He grins cheekily at the mention of Wilson’s supposed exploits. “What do you mean?” he asks, looking surprised.

GM: She rolls her black-lined eyes. “I mean, he’s a douchebag with tats. Why do you hang out with him?”

Kurt: Kurt’s smile lessens as he takes on a more serious tone. He meets Morgan’s eyes. “Wilson isn’t a douchebag,” he answers, completely sincere as he defends his best friend. “He’s the most reliable person I know.” Kurt adds more gently, “Sorry. You know I’d defend you if anyone tried to say shit about you too, right?”

GM: Morgan gives a noncommittal shrug and returns her attention to the movie.

On screen, the now two-headed serial murderer seeks a cure as he climbs the volcano to Dr. Suzuki’s laboratory—just as Suzuki informs Tara that Larry has become “an entirely new species” and beyond remedy. As the ‘Manster’ confronts the doctor, the latter tricks Larry into approaching him so he can inject his ‘subject’ with an altered enzyme designed to split the protagonist into two different creatures.

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Dr. Suzuki succeeds—but the injection costs him his life as the transformed monster-man murders him and destroys his lab in a fit of feral rage. Morgan watches as the seductress Tara flees the steam-flooding lab up the side of the volcanic summit. Larry pursues her to the lip of the volcano, which is beginning to erupt. There, he splits into two completely separate entities, one looking just like the original Larry, the other a bestially hirsute humanoid male.

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Kurt: Kurt watches with rapt interest, slowly eating away at the tub of popcorn. He begins to feel like a drink due to the salt, though.

GM: This monstrous second being grabs his once-femme fatale and hurls her into the volcano, just as the ‘human’ side of Larry rallies and pushes the monster in after her. Soon thereafter, the protagonist’s formerly spurned wife arrives with a platoon of policemen who swarm through Dr. Suzuki’s lab before carrying away the still–weakened split–man. The tokusatsu then ends with a final shot of the erupting volcano in the distant background.

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As the projector whirls through the last of the tape, Morgan stands. “I better get back to my booth before the boss catches me abandoning my post.”

Kurt: Kurt looks up at Morgan, nodding as he gets to his feet, too. “Yeah.” His answer is unusually short. He then proceeds to focus solely on his job, working the projector.

GM: “Later,” Morgan replies in an equally terse, emotionally truncated manner as she leaves his booth.

Kurt: Kurt ignores Morgan as she leaves the booth, not saying another word. He is tempted to ask her for a drink of Pepsi to sate his parched throat, but instead focuses on tidying up and emptying the projector, deciding to not tempt Morgan’s wrath.

GM: As the one paying customer ambles out, Mordecai remains for a moment as if savoring the cinema or its solitude. Eventually though, he rises and heads to the booth just as Kurt finishes closing up shop—at least for his shift. As the albino man stands in the hallway, Kurt is reminded of his first ‘employment interview’ with Mr. Clay.

GM:August, 1996.

As a horror movie enthusiast and impoverished sophomore, Kurt asks for an employment application at the ticket counter after seeing the re-showing of the 1963 splatter film, Blood Feast. He’s rebuffed, or so he had believes, until the one–year–older usher, Jimmy Newton, tells him that Mr. Clay wants to interview him for a job.

Leading Kurt through the cobweb–strewn halls of the cinema, Jimmy stops just short of an ornate office door half-hid by a seven–foot–tall wicker man with scorched baby dolls trapped in its stomach. At the time, Jimmy’s weird mannerisms mades Kurt suspect he is being played or set up for a prank. Over time, he learns the truth: Jimmy was scared.

Left to approach and enter Mr. Clay’s room alone, Kurt first notices the buzzing sound. After knocking and entering the room, a lone insect drones past his face, the creature too obscured by the darkness to identify. The office’s interior is no less bizarre than its entrance. Black velvet curtains conceal the office’s four walls, or what Kurt assumes are four walls. The floor is made of cold, crimson and bone–colored marble tiles that have been cut and arranged in repeating zig–zagging lines. The pattern is lit by a single, unshaded lightbulb dangling from the ceiling. A rocking chair that eerily resembles the one from Psycho sits in a curtained corner. The only other furniture is a large desk with various movie prop mementos. Behind it stands a naked man. Or almost–naked man. For upon their first meeting, Mordecai Clay’s naked, hairless, fish-belly pale skin is covered in bees.

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Kurt’s first interview question is equally atypical. “Are you allergic to bee-stings?” Mordecai asks, standing stock still as the honey bees swarm his albino skin.

Kurt: Kurt is scared and confused, of course. He barely registers the strange man’s question on any conscious level, but nevertheless he finds himself answering as if on autopilot. “No. I am not allergic to bee stings.”

GM: Mr. Clay doesn’t nod—likely out of concern that he’ll crush or startle some of the venomous insects. Instead, he just answers, “I am. Deathly so. Should I get stung, the epi-pen in the front drawer likely won’t save me.” He then just stands there for a while, bees crawling over his honey–lathered naked body, with the fifteen–year–old Kurt standing in his door.

“What did you think of the movie?” he eventually asks.

Kurt: “I liked it. It was a bit campy, though,” Kurt answers honestly, spooked enough to avoid lying to this strange man. “It is surprisingly gory for its time.” In turn, Kurt then asks his own question: “Why are you naked and covered in bees, Mr. Clay?”

GM: Mordecai moves slowly as he points to the rocking chair. “Would you like to sit down? Norman’s mother seemed to enjoy it.” He had then adds, without waiting to see Kurt’s reaction, “I believe ‘naked’ and ‘covered’ are antonyms…” he pauses as if unsure of the young man’s name.

Kurt: “Kurt.” Kurt adds, “Kurt Crawford, Mr. Clay.”

GM: “Yes… Kurt Crawford. But to better answer your question, Kurt, let me ask a related follow-up to my earlier one. Why did you and so many others then and now enjoy a splatter film like Blood Feast?”

Kurt: “I like gore and monsters.” Kurt then pauses, thinking over his answer. “I can’t say why other people like it, but those are my reasons.” He shuffles his feet awkwardly. “I do have to say that chair looks remarkably like the one from Psycho, Mr. Clay.” He wonders at the time if Mr. Clay is Witiko Falls’ very own Norman Bates, uncovered except for a swarm of bees before him. “What did you like about Blood Feast?”

GM: Mr. Clay blinks, scattering a trio of bees which had droned irritably close to his pink eyes. “Some call splatter films torture porn, Kurt, but they rarely question why gore is so arousing to our species. We are predators, yes, but I believe there is a more important answer. Something that makes us special. I believe we alone of the species have the capacity to understand and contemplate our mortality while simultaneously rejecting and denying it.”

He had then slowly raises a honey and bee slathered hand. He winces. “A honey bee has one sting in it—but its sting comes at the cost of its life. Yet, I doubt it feels any terror at its own stinger. It’s ‘thoughts’ are alien and unknowable, yet I believe they lack the sophistication of the human mind—the ability to grasp that it will one day die.” He lowers his hand. Slowly.

“Some say films like Blood Feast appeal to the inner serial–killing sociopath inside all or some of us. I disagree. I think we are moths attracted to the flame. We go about our lives constructing societies and cultures all designed to help us ignore, forget, and deny our own mortality. But films like Blood Feast rip back the veil and remind ourselves brutally that we are made of corruptible, fragile flesh and blood that is inevitably doomed to die.”

“They allow us to ‘live’ out our own death drives or thanatosis safely from our cushioned seats. They allow us to face the horror of death, or at least pretend to as they disillusion us of our veneer of invincibility and immortality. And by doing so, they foreshadow the cathartic thrill of our own private apocalypse.” His pink eyes gaze down meaningfully at his body.

“There is ecstasy in facing fear, Kurt. Power and pleasure from peeking inside our own coffins. It’s why we love roller-coasters as well as horror films.” He turns to the still-standing teenager as a dozen bees crawl over his bald scalp. “Does that answer your question, Kurt?”

Kurt: Kurt mulls over Mr. Clay’s words. The man is weird as fuck, of course—but in some weird, messed up way, Kurt appreciates the man’s intensity and remains steadfast. “As far as a movie being a vehicle for our own morbid curiosities, there’s something to be said for who you project yourself onto on the big screen: are you the victim or the monster?” Kurt shuffles his feet awkwardly again.

GM: “In the end, we are always, inevitably the victim, Kurt. The only way to escape that fact is to escape our mortality—and that inevitably requires us to become a monster.”

And then, as if they had been simply talking about Kurt’s prior employment history or occupational aspirations, Mordecai suddenly concludes the ‘interview’.

“You’re hired. Welcome to the Scarecrow Cinema. See Bertha Phelps about all the tedious but necessary paperwork. Once they’re all submitted, she’ll contact you about your hours and training.” He then adds, almost reluctantly, “And pay.”

Previous: Chapter 8

Next: Chapter 10

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