Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase I, Case File 1.03


Hazel: Attila Awakens


Tuesday noon, 10.06.1998

Hazel: An uneventful morning of cataloging passes. Hazel is kind enough to work separate shelves from Jake, understanding all-too well a person’s desire to be left alone… but just near enough that he can see her out of the corner of his eye.

When he asks if he can spend his lunch reading in the library, Hazel is sympathetic. That’s where she preferred to spend her own lunches as a student. She also prefers to spend lunch by herself, but he can stay, she replies, if he reads in the backety-back–or simply takes a few books and reads outside (she won’t require that he check them out).

GM: He thanks her, seemingly surprised by her generosity. He takes a handful of books, all Germanic fairy-tales, she notes, and then, almost as an afterthought, adds the copy of Germelshausen from her desk.

Meanwhile, Hazel regards their progress. At least three hours of hard work… and it’s a drop in the bucket. A big bucket.

Hazel: Hazel frowns. Well, progress is progress, but does she really have to make so much of it? She needs more hands. And by that she means ‘more hands that aren’t hers.’ A thought occurs to her… and one she’ll bring up when the likely imminent opportunity presents itself.

Also, detentions. She’ll have to find someone to punish for something.

GM: As Jake carts off his haul to the nether-regions of the Chimera, Layne arrives a few minutes after the period bell. She carries her clipboard and a sack lunch. She smiles happily upon spotting Hazel.

Hazel: Hazel smiles back. For all the terror she might have inspired in Jacob, the simple truth is, she’d rather just get along with people (when she can’t or doesn’t simply want to be left alone). She thinks for a moment before asking a question that strikes her as cordial. “Hi, Layne. How was the rest of your morning?”

GM: The question, so innocently asked, gives Layne a pause. She frowns. “I, uh…” She looks down at her notes for a moment, reviewing them. “…um, I think it was okay…” After a moment, she recovers and smiles. “How was your day so far?”

Hazel: Hazel feels bad. She’s all-too sympathetic to feeling awkward when poised with ordinary-sounding questions… but it’s all the more sad for Layne’s to arrive from what looks like a simple mental handicap. “It was… eventful at first. But then pretty quiet. Which was good, I prefer things quiet. Sounds like yours?”

GM: “I, uh, I didn’t write it down, so… I don’t know.” She frowns. “Sorry. Can we still eat together?” she asks with some measure of visible apprehension.

Hazel: Hazel is actually equally taken aback by Layne’s own question. It didn’t occur to her that Layne would take an invitation to see her during lunch as an invitation to share lunch. She normally likes eating alone. That’s what she did in high school–or rather, when she was last in high school. She pictures herself and Layne eating at the front desk or one of the work tables together, and it makes her feel awkward. Eating. Together. Filling their mouths with food in the same physical space.

But there are a lot of things that make her feel awkward, she has to admit, and Layne seems just as antsy over the prospect of a shared lunch as she does. And, well… Hazel still feels sorry for her.

“Sure. We can look up how to shop from Amazon at the same time, if you want. Or we can just eat.” Giving her a choice seems like another nice thing to do?

GM: Layne sighs with relief, then timidly asks, “Do you mind if we eat first. I’ll need my hands to make notes for…” She peeks down at the clipboard. “…Amazon.com.”

Hazel: “Okay. Let’s eat first,” Hazel agrees, nevertheless trying to hide the reluctance–and apprehension–in her own voice. She would have preferred to look at Amazon while they ate, because… she honestly has no idea what to talk to Layne about. She didn’t sound into demons and ghosts. Hazel doesn’t want to be boring.

GM: Layne laughs. “Oh good, I’m so hungry I could eat a spinosaurus!”

Hazel: “Oh, did you not have breakfast? I sometimes do that,” Hazel remarks. “If I’m in a rush. So I make more food for lunch.” She unzips her backpack and removes a sack lunch. Most of it consists of acronyms: two BLTs and a PBJ, plus a smoothie in a thermos. It’s actually more food than she can eat in one sitting, but true to her words, she suspected she might oversleep and have to dash out the door without any time to prepare and eat breakfast (she put together her lunch the previous night). She might be absentminded, but she’s prudent enough to plan around that fact. It’s also easy to be casual making extra food when she doesn’t pay for many of her groceries.

GM: The secretary grabs a chair from a nearby reading table and moves it across from Hazel’s. She laughs as she sits down, sets down her clipboard, and opens her lunch, revealing a wrapped sandwich, a juicebox, and an oatmeal cream pie. “Oh, I don’t know, but I was always ravenous at lunch-time. I’m probably hypoglycemic. Or a pig,” she adds, pushing up her nose in porcine imitation, and chuckles.

Hazel: Hazel laughs back. Okay, it is a little funny. And she wants to find it so. She picks up one her own sandwiches and takes a bite of crispy lettuce and juicy tomato. It technically isn’t a BLT. Hazel used ham. She was too lazy to cook bacon.

“So, you said you started working for the school just this year? What’d you do aft…” Hazel nearly says ‘after you graduated’, but she remembers, all too viscerally, that Layne did not graduate. At least when she was around. Maybe Layne got a GED. Or just started working as a secretary.

“…after you got better?” she finishes instead.

GM: Layne starts with her sandwich as well, though she first inspects it. “Let’s see what we have today…” she mutters to herself, “…ah, cheese and tomato, my favorite!” She takes a big bite, holding a finger up in apology as she chews. She then opens her juicebox of Hi-C Ecto Cooler and takes a sip from the straw. After looking at Hazel’s expectant stare, she says, “Did you say something?” She blushes a little. “Sorry, I got so fixated on my lunch…”

Hazel: ‘Have today’. So did her parents make her lunch–is she still living with them? How much do they know? If she… Hazel tries to suppress the flood of questions.

“Oh, yes I did. And I’ll say it. But now I’m saying something else,” she eloquently explains. “Um. Do you have someone to make you lunch? I’m jealous.”

GM: “What?” She checks her clipboard, then pauses at a sticky. “No, I make my own lunch.”

Hazel: “Oh, you just didn’t remember.” Well, that does make perfect sense. And also sounds a little rude of Hazel. She tries to compensate. “That must be nice. It’s a surprise whenever you sit down to eat.”

GM: “It is, isn’t it!” Layne says, beaming. She then takes another bite of her sandwich.

Hazel: “Yes, surprises are nice. Well, small surprises. Like what you’re having for lunch. That’s small enough.”

GM: “Mmhmm,” she says, nodding in agreement.

Hazel: Hazel takes another bite of her own food, lettuce crunching under her teeth. She’s still unsure of what to say. Carrying a conversation is a heavy load. “So, uh. What did you do after you got better and before you started working at Falls High? That would have been for a couple years? Or did you get better more recently?”

GM: Layne picks up her clipboard and begins flipping through the reams of stickies. She takes another sip, and then another bite, and another sip, before eventually putting the clipboard down. Her brow furrows. “I don’t remember. I didn’t write it down, but I don’t know why I wouldn’t have. I’m pretty sure I would have wanted to. Hmm. But, yes, I started this year, which is great! Your uncle got me the job.”

She gobbles up the last of her sandwich and wipes her fingers and face with the napkin. “He’s quite handsome, isn’t he? Or maybe that’s weird for you, since he’s your uncle,” she says thoughtfully.

Hazel: Not kidding about that amnesia. Hazel takes a sip of her strawberry banana smoothie. She doesn’t bother wiping her own face, though, until it’s all finished.

“Um. I don’t know if that’s…” She nods, relieved at Layne’s next statement. “Technically he’s my adoptive second cousin twice removed. But it’s easier just to call him’ uncle’. You know. As an older male relative who isn’t my dad or grandpa.”

GM: “Right,” she replies, taking a nibble from the edge of her oatmeal cream pie. “I didn’t know that.”

Hazel: “Knowledge is power,” Hazel states. She’s at once facetious and serious.

GM: She takes another nibble. “So… do you know if he’s dating anyone?”

Hazel: “Um. I don’t have any power there.” She then adds for Layne’s benefit, even if it’s less funny having to explain the quip, “Which means I don’t know.”

GM: “Ah,” she says, clearly appreciating the clarification if somewhat disappointed by the lack of clarity on the subject matter.

Hazel: “He does seem… a bit old for you? So maybe it doesn’t matter that I don’t know.”

GM: Layne pauses mid-sip. “Hmm, he is, isn’t he? You know, I never really thought about it.”

Hazel: “That may be a productive line of consideration,” Hazel offers helpfully.

GM: “But you know, Hazel, sometimes, I think that’s the hardest part about all…” She vaguely motions to herself. “…this.”

Hazel: Hazel pauses in mid-bite. Layne is starting to sound more together. “Oh, what’s that?”

GM: “I mean, I wake up, and I look down at my hands, or I get out of the shower or the bathroom stall and see myself in the mirror… and I’m suddenly… old. I mean, I know it’s me, but not the me I remember. It’s scary. It takes me a while to remember myself, you know, that the reflection is mine. I j-just don’t remember anything from, well, before it happened–or didn’t, you know?” She flips up a sticky, then passes Hazel a polaroid.

Hazel: Hazel is a bit taken aback by Layne’s sudden rush of clarity, but looks the picture over.

GM: It’s a recent picture of Layne, smiling, standing next to her uncle. They are holding hands–or more properly it looks like Layne has just taken hold of his hand. He is not smiling. Someone has written in sharpie below her picture: “9.01.98. This is me. I am 22.” Beneath her uncle’s picture is simply written: “Leo.” There is a heart shape in the ‘o’.

Hazel: That makes Hazel’s eyebrows raise all the way over her large glasses. I don’t get it, she immediately thinks. Leo’s way too old for Layne, but he’s writing a heart on their picture. I don’t get it. I never have and I never will.

Oh, wait, she thinks upon a closer look. That’s Layne’s handwriting. The world makes some measure of sense again.

GM: “Before I go to sleep, I tape this picture on my bedroom mirror, so that when I wake up, it is the first thing I see, or well, I see it at the same time as I see my reflection.”

Hazel: “So you can be reminded of yourself and how you look at 22?”

GM: “No, well, kinda,” she says frowning. “How do I explain it… it’s more to remind me that I’m me. This me, not the me I remember. The sixteen-year old me.”

Hazel: “I… think I know what you mean there, Layne. You want to anchor yourself in the present. But it’s hard when you don’t remember so much of the past.”

GM: “Yes, exactly! And… and sometimes, I think, sometimes I’m afraid that I will wake up and find myself all of a sudden in a forty-year-old body of me, with no recollection of what has happened.”

Hazel: Hazel pauses. “That’s a horrible fear. And I can see why you’d feel that way, it’s a logical progression of not remembering a couple years.” She pauses again. She should try to say something comforting here, but she can’t think of anything. So maybe just… something to show she understands? She clears her throat.

“I think I know what you mean,” Hazel ventures. “About feeling suddenly older, time slipping by. It really seems to last forever when you’re a kid. Like during my fourth grade summer, I remember thinking, two months is eternity. And it really seemed like it. But this past year has seemed like an eyeblink in comparison. I just thought ‘time flies when you got older’ was an expression, but it’s proven alarmingly true since I left home. And I… I don’t like it.” Though she might like it more if she felt like it was taking her somewhere.

“I don’t have it as bad as you there. But… I think I understand.”

GM: “It’s just that sometimes, my body… it feels like it’s someone else’s… like a nightmare… and I just need to go to sleep, or wake up, and I’ll be back in my body again. The body I know. I have scars on me that I don’t remember. I’m taller than I remember. Not a lot, but a little. I feel heavier in places. It’s…” She looks up, her eyes watering a bit, and the slightest quiver of her chin as she sucks in air.

Hazel: “Really scary, I’m sure,” Hazel supplies. This is a bit outside of her personal realm of experience. Her dad could probably say something comforting. He might not be an intellectual, but he’s gifted in his own way. ‘The sun is shining’ was a comforting statement that wouldn’t have occurred to Hazel. Because of course it’s shining, that’s a given fact.

Hazel hesitates for a moment, unsure of what she’s about to do. The prospect still makes her skin crawl, or at least tingle. But… Layne seemed to like physical contact, if the number of times she’d initiated it was any indication, so Hazel reaches out to squeeze her hand.

GM: Layne looks down, regards Hazel as if they are just being reunited after many years, and smiles. “Hazel, I’m so glad you’re here.” She squeezes back. She looks over their mostly eaten food and their surroundings, and adds with mild amazement mingled with contentment, “We’re eating lunch together in the library. How funny is that?”

Hazel: “Pretty funny,” Hazel grants, managing a smile. “I… usually liked to eat lunch alone.” She hopes her hand isn’t sweaty. This might be a lot of touching, but it seems like it’s helping.

GM: She laughs a little, rubs her thumb gently against Hazel’s knuckles, and then lets go. She regards her nibbled dessert. “Oh, oatmeal cream pie, my favorite!” She picks it up and begins nibbling around the edge, devouring the treat in a fond spiral.

Hazel: There she goes again, Hazel thinks sadly.

What’d they do to her? Her uncle thought that question was piercing. But after listening to Layne’s fears and worries, seeing her swing back and forth between lucid and half-witted like a drunken tightrope walker, Hazel thinks another query may be far more meaningful:

WHY did they do this? Who does it benefit? And how do those people… how do they justify it?

GM: If there are answers in the library, they do not announce themselves at this time. Meanwhile, Layne finishes her lunch, cleans up after herself, and then reviews the clock and her clipboard.

Hazel: No, Hazel concludes, she isn’t very likely to find out from poor Layne Tuttle. She wants to press Layne for more about the gaps in her obviously poor memory, but she remembers how Mom has told her to try to talk about things ‘besides business’ with people. Another term Mom used was ‘small talk.’ She never really saw the point for a while. You talk with someone about what you’re there to talk about. But actively asking Layne more would somehow be… Hazel struggles to verbalize it, but one-sided? Layne seems to get upset whenever the memories, or at least what mental scraps pass for her memories, get dragged up, and that’s when Hazel isn’t actively trying to make Layne remember things. Somehow doing that would seem… well, cruel. And Leo even promised her answers. Does she really need to go digging here?

“There should be a note there that says Amazon.com,” Hazel helpfully supplies.

GM: Layne’s face lights up. “It does! I don’t know what it means though.”

Hazel: “It’s a place where you can buy clothes online, like my leggings. The clothes arrive by your mailbox and you don’t ever have to leave your house. Except to go to the mailbox. Or your front door, if you opt to have them delivered there.”

GM: “Wow, that sounds great!” She looks down at Hazel’s clothes. “I like your leggings.”

Hazel: “Thanks. They’re pretty comfortable. I’m never wearing tights again.” The conversation is easier when it’s literally been rehearsed. “Would you like me to show you how to order clothes of your own?”

GM: “You would, really? That sounds really nice, Hazel. I was just thinking about bribing an AV geek into showing me how it works. I also thought about asking Vice Principal Schoening, but I don’t want to bother him. He’s really dreamy.”

Hazel: “You can save your money, Layne. I’ll show you how for free.” Hazel’s eyes are more sad than impatient as she repeats her earlier words.

GM: Layne flicks Hazel a naughty, impish grin, looks around, then whispers into Hazel’s ear. “Oh, I don’t use money with the AV geeks. Just a banana.” She pulls back and giggles.

Hazel: Oh. She didn’t mean a monetary bribe, Hazel thinks confusedly. Her mom has told her that she tends to take statements fairly literally.

She manages a smile. “Well. I’d be glad to save you the banana. Bananas do cost money too. So you are bribing them with money, indirectly.”

GM: “You know, Hazel, I never thought of it like that.” She stares at Hazel for a moment, her lips slanted, drooping on one side. She smiles, erasing the defect. “We’re friends.”

Hazel: Once again, Hazel isn’t sure how to respond to that declaration. Is it true? Well, she feels bad for Layne after all she’s seen. Including the more together Layne who sometimes pokes through. That Layne still seems friendly and to appreciate what Hazel does. She isn’t sure if she ‘appreciates’ the ‘other Layne’ back, as they haven’t had time to get to know one another. But Hazel would like to see more of her. Certainly, that’s out of intellectual curiosity and moral objection over what ROSEWATER did to her. On a personal level… well, Hazel never really knew Layne in high school, but she seemed intelligent and friendly enough. They haven’t been able to go over a list of common interests, compare their respective… but maybe she’s overthinking this whole ‘friend’ thing. Hazel isn’t sure if she means the words, but she thinks that she’d like to–or at least to make Layne feel happy–as she replies,

“Thanks, Layne. We are friends.”

GM: Her uncle’s words echo in her mind: Entitas ipsa involvit aptitudinem ad extorquendum certum assensum._ (“Reality involves the power to compel sure assent.”)_

Hazel: That actually is… kind of comforting. I am, knowingly, consenting to this. I think.

GM: Layne looks over her clipboard. “It’s lunchtime, and I’m in the library with you. Will you teach me how to shop on Amazon.com?”

Hazel: Hazel smiles. “Yes. Sure.” She walks over to the desktop computer and logs in.

“First you need to create an account at Amazon, which we can do. You’ll need an email address to register the account with. Which we can also set up if you don’t have.” Hazel thinks for a moment. Actually… “You’ll also need a credit or debit card. Do you have either of those?” Hazel isn’t quite sure of Layne’s living situation, beyond that she does, indeed, make her own lunch. To say that Hazel has doubts over Layne’s ability to manage money is putting things mildly.

GM: What next transpires is a harrowing experience that is sure to gain Hazel sainthood, or at least a thumb’s up and look of pity from an archangel or two.

Nonetheless, Hazel manages to break down the initially simple but eventually agonizingly tedious process into all of its singular components, till Layne has a step-by-step instructional manual on how to not only reach, but shop at, Amazon.com. Indeed, Hazel considers the job so well done that Layne might just be able to pull it off. Maybe.

Hazel: I’ll consider that a win, she sighs, mentally (and socially) exhausted. Hazel would probably offer to look over s+

***9*ome clothes with Layne at this point, but promises to do it ‘later’ instead. She really needs some alone time right now, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

GM: Ironically, just as Hazel thinks about her ‘time’ to herself, the intercom bell rings, announcing that her lunch hour is over, and a class is due to arrive in a few minutes.

Layne beams beatifically with gratitude. “Thank you soooo much, Hazel. You’re the best!”

“Oh,” she says jumping at the bell. “I need to go to…” She regards her clipboard. “…my office.” She stands, keeping her finger placed on her note for the hour.

Hazel: Hazel groans inside. Really, really groans. She doesn’t want to do this after all that effort spent helping Layne.

She forces a smile as she’s thanked. “You’re welcome, Layne.” With the bell ringing, she has no time to execute the long and convoluted approach to the topic that makes her nervous. Ironically, Hazel’s tiredness and used-up patience is actually to her benefit, as her next words are short, sweet, and direct.

“Ah. Would you like to work in the library as a library assistant? We’d be able to see each other more. I could use the help. And Agnes doesn’t seem that nice.” She then finishes, more awkwardly than when she started, “So we’d both benefit. If all present appearances are any indication.”

GM: Layne smiles delightedly. “Oh, I’d love to help! I’d have to ask Vice Principal Schoening, of course.” She clicks her pen and writes a new note. “Ask Leo about working in library with Hazel. She is my friend. Cross out when you have asked him.”

Hazel: Hazel’s return expression displays no small amount of relief. That was almost as bad as being asked on a date. And fairly painless, the way Layne just… said yes. Like a shot, the fear is a worse than the actual sensation.

“That’s… that’s great. I’ll ask him too, when I next see him. I’m sure he’ll say yes.”

GM: “He is pretty amazing, isn’t he?” she says with a sigh.

Hazel: “Yes, he is. Though I suspect I consider him so for different reasons, we are united by our commonality of opinion.”

GM: Layne laughs. “You know, Hazel, sometimes you say the strangest things. I like it.”

Hazel: “I’m… told that with great frequency,” Hazel agrees, but it’s with a smile. Her ASD doesn’t usually win her compliments. “But, thanks.”

GM: After smiling for a while, Layne catches sight of the clock, looks down at her clipboard, and says, “Oh, I need to go to my office. Love you, bye!” Then just like that, Layne Tuttle says goodbye and leaves the library, her finger pressed down on her note.

Hazel: “Bye, Layne. See you soon.” Hazel doesn’t feel comfortable saying she loves her too, so she waves instead. The motion seems a little odd when they’re in the same room.

GM: It’s about the same time that Jake returns. He shelves his minor stack of books, looks at the clock, and asks somewhat guiltily, “Can I use the restroom, Ms. Bauman?”

Hazel: Barely one person is out the door before the next one is in. Hazel could well glower he should’ve used it during lunch, but right now she really doesn’t want to deal with more people. Anything that gets him out of her hair. “Yes, take your time. The books will remain,” she bids him.

GM: “Thanks,” he replies, then shuffles out, hands in his jacket pockets.

Hazel: Hazel looks up at the clock as Jake leaves. Once he does, she sinks down on the floor behind the front desk, clasps her arms around her knees and presses her head against them. An onlooker who saw her in the position might think she’s crying, but she’s not. She isn’t upset. Teaching and dealing with Layne was simply… draining. Hazel just wants some time away from people right now. She wishes the clock’s hands could speed ahead to the end of her day, but she settles for glancing at her watch and permitting herself a single minute of her desired solitude.

GM: Solitude is hers for the moment, but the acrid smell of bleach and coppery dark stains robs her of any measure of restful solace.

Hazel: Oh, god… she thinks. No, she wasn’t thinking. She shuffles a few feet away, but remains behind the desk.

GM: Does the floor squish as she shuffles away? She tries not to think about it.

Hazel: Hazel enjoys the ‘peace’ as best she can, which is admittedly little given the still-fresh memories of the panic attack and knowledge of Jake’s imminent return. Still, time alone is time alone. She picks herself up after a moment and smooths her dress, not rejuvenated, but at least buttressed. When Jake returns, she tells him that he can either catalog books in the far section of the library, or simply read outside the room for five minutes, admittedly brief a window as it is. It’s a mildly peculiar set of instructions, but he’s probably getting accustomed to peculiar from Ms. Bauman by now.

GM: Peculiar indeed, but not a gift horse’s mouth he looks into. He elects to read outside the room.

Hazel: Hazel picks up the library’s phone, dials ‘9’ to get out, and then a full number. “Hi Mom, it’s me,” she smiles. She’s called her mother’s personal cell. She doesn’t like talking to the secretarial staff and it’s a faster way of getting ahold of the often-busy corporate lawyer anyways.

GM: Hazel’s luck holds out twice. First, that her mother is able to pick up, and second, that she is in an area with cell service. The reception, however, is poor. Lydia’s voice sounds like it is coming through a tin-can that is occasionally being rattled. “Hazel! How’s work going?”

Hazel: “That’s… a long story, Mom,” Hazel ponders. “But in summarization, I’ve made several police-related and Biblical-themed threats comparing myself to the seven-headed beast from Revelation, Uncle Leo showed me… oh, never mind, I’ve exhausted my patience showing, well, someone who’s functionally a halfwit but still fairly nice how to order clothes online, and I’ve had three, no, those first several were at home, panic attacks, and the library’s equipment is wonderful.” She pauses and then adds, as if to explain it all, “Taken as a whole, the day has been a positive one thus far.”

GM: “Come again? I’m afraid you’re breaking up, dear.”

Hazel: Hazel repeats her bizarre summary in a somewhat louder voice to cut through any static.

GM: “I see,” her mother’s tin-can voice replies.

Hazel: “I suppose it’ll make sense when explained in depth and accompanied by the full context,” Hazel grants.

GM: “Well, I am proud of you securing employment, again that is. It’s a step to better things. Not something you want to settle for, dear, but a step in the right direction.”

Hazel: “Uh, that’s right, Mom. It is an extra line to add to the resume.” Hazel finds it easiest just to agree with her mother on such matters. Particularly when she isn’t sure what direction she ultimately wants to step towards.

GM: “Yes, so work extra hard today. A good first impression will make it easier to get a good letter of reference when you leave.”

Hazel: “I have been, Mom. I was told the interview was just a formality, but I think I made a very good impression on Uncle Leo.”

GM: The reception warbles a bit like a scratchy vinyl record. “That’s very good to hear.” There’s a sound like… like a helicopter? Voices in the background, too distorted to make out.

Hazel: “Is that a chopper you’re by?” Hazel asks.

GM: “What’s that, dear?”

Hazel: “Is that a chopper you’re by?” she repeats.

GM: “Y-s, we h-ve a b….” The reception is no longer poor–it’s atrocious.

Hazel: Hazel grimaces. “You’re breaking up, Mom.”

GM: “G-t to g… de-r… w-re… d-nn-r?”

Hazel: “Uh, dinner? Yes, we’re on for tonight. Yes, we’re on for tonight,” she repeats, just in case either reply gets lost over the static.

GM: “Gr–t… l-ve… m-ke… pr-d…”

Hazel: “I’m sorry, what are you saying?”

GM: The connection finally gives up its communicative charade.

Hazel: Hazel sighs and sets the phone back down on the receiver. She supposes she’ll just have to call her mom’s office to confirm their plans. Or maybe she’ll just try the cell again. She’d really rather not talk to her mom’s secretary if she can avoid it.

GM: Outside, the noise of many feet, broken by the occasional adolescent hoot, laugh, or shout, approaches.

Hazel: Ugh, is still Hazel’s first thought. But she puts on her game face and turns to confront this first of many necessary evils.

GM: Two dozen or so students fill into the library. By their height and physical development, they are clearly upperclassmen, Hazel intuits. Compared to her tattooed assistant, they appear relatively clean-cut and well-groomed. Their adolescent fashions range from rodeo aficionado to yuppie-chic.

A deep yet poetic voice cuts through the crowd from the rear of the assembled throng. “All right, you lost generation, let’s put a lid on all that sound and fury, particularly since it signifies nothing.”

The students part, revealing their teacher–and Hazel’s twice-former English teacher, Mr. Murphey, otherwise known as “Murff” to staff and students alike. The tall black man has put on some pounds since she last took his sophomore American Literature and senior-year AP British Literature class. However, his thick, well-groomed beard is the same, as are his tortoise-rimmed glasses. He wears an untucked dress-shirt of some denim-esque material, with rolled sleeves over a pair of khaki slacks, argyle socks, and comfortable loafers. A cup of coffee is in his hand, as consistent as the small, thick notebook shoved in his breast-pocket.

Cornelius_Murphey.jpg

“Ms. Bauman,” he says with evident mirth at the oh so official title for one of his former students. “Alas, I have here with me a few poor souls adrift in the heady currents of the present moment, yet forced by their cruel taskmaster to consider the harbors of the future they might yet swim to, if they’re swift, wise, or just plain lucky.”

He takes a sip of his coffee, then explains, “They need to use the computers to look up potential colleges and work on their application essays. Are there any words of wisdom you wish to impart to this lost generation, or should I release the plebians?”

“Heh, I resemble that remark!” jokes a tall kid in the back.

“Actually, I fancy myself a patrician,” says a well-heeled girl closer to the front.

“Sound and fury, ladies and gents,” Murff lightly chides.

Hazel: Hazel smiles with genuine pleasure at her former AP Literature teacher’s presence. She hadn’t thought about whether there was a class she’d prefer to have in the library first, but upon reflection, this one is it. And are these kids really high school students? They look so much younger than she remembers being. Comparing their wardrobes to Murff’s and her own turtleneck dress and similar loafers, she actually doesn’t feel that ill-suited to a teacher’s role. And the students sound… nice. Funny. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.

“That’s what they are here for, Mr. Murphey. I don’t know if my words will be wise enough to find a generation so hopelessly lost–the patricians among it notwithstanding–,” she adds in amused acknowledgment to the girl, “–but I can certainly try my hand.”

She turns to face the body of students. “Hi everyone, welcome to the library. A lot of you probably didn’t listen to the intercom announcements, so my name is Hazel Bauman, or Ms. Bauman as I’m still getting used to, and I will be your new librarian. I’m Undersheriff Bauman’s daughter, I graduated from high school here five years ago, and Mr. Murphey was my favorite teacher while I was a Kelpie.” The line about Murff is a deviation from the speech she prepared in advance.

“I also remember how boring I found listening to teachers talk about themselves, so I will be at the front desk if you have any questions or other matters you need assistance with.” She smiles, briefly waits to see if the students have any questions, and then steps aside to allow them access to the computers.

GM: The class murmurs a collective if jumbled salutation and expression of gratitude. A few of the students, particularly of the male persuasion, flash Hazel smiles and wave hello. Murff just smiles, genuinely pleased if only slightly surprised. “Better be careful with that praise, Ms. Bauman–my wife says my head’s too big already.” He then turns back to his class and waves a hand. “Fly, you fools!”

Hazel: Hazel laughs a bit at that line and declares with a sweep of her own hand, “You may pass!”

GM: As the students comply, he adds, “So it looks like you’ll have to break into groups of two to three for each computer. Remember you need to complete the rubric five times for schools you think are appropriate and five more times for schools you think aren’t. So just for the record, since I know this isn’t Meierhoff’s class, five plus five equals how many total sheets per person?”

“Uh, negative 5?” a kid answers.

“Try again, Parker.”

“Forty-two. The answer’s always forty-two,” another jibes.

Murff gives up with a mock huff and disowning gesture. He strides towards Hazel’s desk. “So much for the theory of evolution. I blame TV.”

Hazel: “I wouldn’t give up on evolution just yet,” Hazel rejoinds. “Natural selection, after all, will still conspire to kill off those organisms with less than advantageous survival traits. ‘The Laws of Nature are just, but terrible. There is no weak mercy in them. Cause and consequence are inseparable and inevitable. The elements have no forbearance. The fire burns, the water drowns, the air consumes, the earth buries.’”

She then finishes the quote with a particularly meaningful, if amused glance towards the students to answer -5 and 42, “‘And perhaps it would be well for our race if the punishment of crimes against the Laws of Man were as inevitable as the punishment of crimes against the Laws of Nature–were Man as unerring in his judgments as Nature.’”

GM: Several students look to one another as if unsure of the librarian’s words, both of their severity and potentially their source. Her former teacher, however, breaks into a coffee-stained grin. “Hazel Bauman, laying down my main man Longfellow! Welcome back, girl,” he says extending a knuckled fist to the new librarian.

Hazel: Hazel smiles as she raps her own knuckles against her former teacher’s. This is… this is nice. Yes, after dealing with Layne she might prefer to be lying in bed at home, either watching a movie or surfing on her laptop… but in fairness, Hazel would prefer to do that a lot of the time. Maybe too much of the time, as her parents often remind her. “I’m glad to have introduced some of your students to him, if you haven’t already.”

GM: Murff takes another swig of his cup and sits down atop the desk. “I had most of these yokels two years ago, but since then, they’ve discovered licensed driving, pubic hair, and looking almost old enough to buy liquor. Longfellow rarely makes the cut.”

“I still might take you up on that offer with my sophomores. But forget them for a moment,” he says waving his hand at the students. “I would have bet all my kids’ Halloween candy that you weren’t ever coming back.”

Hazel: Hazel looks moderately surprised. “Oh? Why was that?”

GM: Murff scratches his beard. “Hmm, well forgive me if my own quotation is a little rusty, but I remember a certain someone’s sophomore midterm essay ended something like… ‘I wish Poe wasn’t dead, and everyone in this school was dead instead…. or better yet, keep them alive so Poe can wall them up alive inside these school walls to rot forever’…”

Hazel: Hazel blushes a bit at that. “That was the essay I titled Fall of the House of WFHS, wasn’t it? It wasn’t even accurate. The sister did come out of the walls, in the end. Well, granted, to still die. So maybe I took some artistic license.” Hazel realizes she’s rambling and concludes, “But that was seven or eight years ago. I’ve grown up. Or at least I hope I have.”

GM: Murff chuckles. “Some of us these days just grow out.”

Hazel: “Movement is still preferable to stasis,” Hazel opines.

GM: “Yeah, the movement of my hand shoving donuts in my mouth instead of dropping buckets. But as exciting as my new pants’ size is, I think we have bigger news. Assuming you’re not here to wall us all up for our many sins, what brought you back?”

Hazel: “On my word of honor, cross my heart and hope to die, I am not here to murder the school through mass entombment,” Hazel answers with a wry smile. “But so far as what brought about my prodigal return, well, I earned my degree. I like what’s familiar, my parents are here, and even housing turned out to be cheaper. So when my dad called about the job opening, well, I figured why not?”

Of course, another way of putting it would be that Hazel was too lazy to go to grad school (despite her mother being able to pay for it), too directionless to know what she’d want to study, unable to develop or maintain any significant interpersonal relationships outside of her immediate family, and growing increasingly depressed over those facts. Moving back to Witiko Falls means she can distract herself and blow off life by investigating the town’s paranormal oddness, only now that she’s no longer living with her parents, she needs to hold down a paying job and being a librarian was the least objectionable one available.

That might be a bit much to answer.

GM: “Well, I’ll happily inform the staff that our murders will occur through other devilish means. Speaking of killin-”

He’s interrupted by a flannel and jean-wearing teenager. “Um, sorry to interrupt, Murff, but we’re having some trouble with our computer.”

Hazel: Hazel glances her former teacher’s way to first see if he wants to handle it. It’s his class and the student’s talking to him. Though upon reflection, she also recalls Murff isn’t much of a computer person. She decides to ‘gamble’ on being polite.

GM: “Your hardware,” he says to Hazel.

Hazel: Did she handle that wrong? People are less understandable than computers. Fortunately for Murff’s class, however, computers are something she understands all-too well.

“Just show me what the problem is,” she says, moving to accompany the student.

GM: The ‘problem’ Hazel quickly diagnoses is that one of the students accidentally stepped on and turned off a power cord’s switch. One flick and a quick reboot later, and the group is back surfing potential colleges.

Hazel: She has to resist an impulse to roll her eyes.

GM: Meanwhile, their English teacher is checking out the scanner. After another student asks him a quick question, he turns back to Hazel. “Frankenstein’s monster is alive and well, I hope?”

Hazel: “Well, he technically still was when the book ended.” Hazel doesn’t get what Murff is referring to, so she settles on literary references and smiling as she indicates the scanner. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it? The library collection already is, for a school of our size. And now we get to bring it out of the dark ages.”

GM: “Sounds like a lot work,” he says looking at the maze of books. “They giving you any help?”

Hazel: She nods at his first statement. “It’ll take a long time. I’ve thankfully had help from a student today, though only today. I might have someone lined up as an assistant librarian. But if you ever give any students detention, well, do please kick them over here. And between us, I won’t be too upset if I have to hand out many detentions myself. The prison-industrial complex at its finest.”

GM: He nods. “Will do, though believe it or not, some of these kids might just help if asked in the right way. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

Hazel: That makes Hazel pause. “Oh. I… hadn’t thought to do that. It’s a good idea.”

GM: He looks around, his eyes taking on a troubled gleam, then all but whispers, “They tell you what happened to Mrs. Griswold?”

Hazel: Her old teacher’s second statement makes Hazel pause for even longer. Her eyes briefly cut about about the various students.

“Yes. That she was taken away and declared legally dead with complete disregard for due process of law,” Hazel states, quietly but bluntly. A more prudent individual might not say such words openly. This doesn’t gain her anything. But that’s what the young woman with ASD thinks of the situation, so that’s what she thinks of the situation, so that’s what she says.

GM: Murff oddly shakes his head twice, as if once to himself and once to her. “Y-yeah.” His eyes shift away from her face. Not so much to anything, just away. His gaze, however, serendipitously falls on the small chapbook. “Germelshausen. Speaking of your uncle, how’d the interview go?” His voice slowly, maybe even forcibly, resumes its normal laid-back tone.

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t know what to make of her new colleague’s reaction. Is he upset? Scared? Surprised? What a surprise all right that she isn’t sure. “Very well, I think,” she replies. “I’d thought it was just a formality at first. But he took it very seriously, and I feel proud that I did well.”

GM: “That’s good,” Murff says, eying his former student with a hint of caution that she likely misses. “Did he throw you any curveballs? I mean, odd questions or whatnot?”

Hazel: “Every conversation with Uncle Leo is a curveball. I don’t think he’d have it any other way. Er, Vice Principal Schoening. I’m still getting used to that. And ‘Ms. Bauman.’”

GM: “Yeah,” he says, chewing on some thought. “Speaking of names, I remember he gave me this long lecture on the symbolic power and mutability of names. At first I thought he was riffing on my nickname and about to tell me that I had to go by Mr. Murpehy or somesuch, but it turned out he was actually talking about my first name and its connection to some Roman centurion who went all born again. He didn’t strike me as a religious type.”

Hazel: “Really? I’d think St. Jerome would be a more fitting saint to bring up for you. Cornelius was just one of those obscure little Ante-Nicene Popes who all got made into saints.” Hazel pauses. “Er, no, never mind. I’m thinking of a different Cornelius there.”

GM: Murff laughs. “He wasn’t very impressed when I told him my mother, mid-labor pains, randomly opened the bible and had my dad read aloud the first name he came across.”

Hazel: Hazel frowns. “Names should be chosen with care. They are what someone will carry for all of their life.”

GM: Murff raises an eyebrow. “Cut from the same cloth I see,” he mutters softly.

Hazel: “Oh. Ah. If they liked how the name sounded, there was certainly nothing wrong,” Hazel offers.

GM: “Relax, as I said, he wasn’t too impressed with the story. But truth be told, he wasn’t too phased by it either. I remember he just said something like ‘pain is a common path to enlightenment’. Coming from a Holocaust survivor, I didn’t argue the point.”

Hazel: “That was likely prudent,” Hazel agrees. “And I’d agree with him. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, as conventional wisdom holds.”

GM: “Maybe,” he replies. “Although… it sure made me think long and hard when it came time to name my first kid.” His face lightens a bit as he sets down his cup and fishes out his wallet from his back pocket. He flips it open and proudly displays a picture of two to three-year-old black boy dressed up in a Kelpie costume. “Last year’s homecoming game. My little man.”

Hazel: “He looks very enthusiastic for the sport,” Hazel compliments. “And cute.”

GM: Murff turns the picture to regard it for a moment. “Yeah…” With a small measure of reluctance, he folds up the wallet and stuffs it in his pocket. “Named him Simon, you know, after the apostle who baptized Cornelius.”

Hazel: “That’s very fitting. It certainly had to have been a life-changing event, just as it was for Cornelius to receive his baptism in that time period.” Hazel feels like she’s missing something here. Again.

GM: “Yes. It was.”

Another student interrupts. “Hey, Murff?”

“Yo.”

“We were wondering, what about universities outside the US?”

“So long as you can get all the information on the sheet, go for it.”

“Uh, ok, thanks.” The students quickly go back to their work.

Hazel: Hazel smiles pleasantly through the interruption and preceding conversation. She isn’t quite sure what else to say about her former teacher’s child. Long-dead historical and religious figures are easier for her to talk about. There does seem to be an overriding theme as to the power of names, though.

GM: Murff checks his leather-band watch. “Fifteen minute warning, folks. Make sure you save your work on your floppies.” He then turns his attention back to his ex-student, now colleague. A mischievous light dances in his eyes and at the corners of his bearded lips. “So, is my class first? You know, the first class to make use of the library today?”

Hazel: “Yes. They have deflowered this newly-reopened library,” Hazel declares.

GM: “Uh,” he says, seemingly taken aback by the wording. But then he recalls the person with whom he’s speaking. The smile returns. “Victory is mine. Lounge A had a bet over who’d be the first class to get back into the Chimera.”

Hazel: “Really? I’d think that would be an odd thing to bet over. Everyone could actively try to get their class in first. But I hope it was a large betting pool.”

GM: He chuckles with a big wide, wolfish grin. “Little did they know, but I have a surefire spell with old Agnes.”

Hazel: “Oh, you decided to make your own betting luck?” Hazel inquires, amused.

GM: “Luck is not chance—
It’s Toil—
Fortune’s expensive smile
Is earned—
The Father of the Mine
Is that old-fashioned Coin
We spurned—”

Hazel: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity,” Hazel quotes back.

GM: Murff frowns in thought. “Hmm, I don’t recall that one. Is it American or British? Poor Richard’s?”

Hazel: “Italian, if we are going strictly by modern geographical boundaries. I believe it was by Seneca. Although whether it is actually by him has been disputed.”

GM: “Ah, outside my usual stomping grounds, so I guess I’ll not kick myself too much. Looks like I can’t escape the Romans. But give me Emily over a whole legion any day of the week.” He thinks for a moment. “You know, she reminds me of you in a lot of ways, or well, you of her.”

Hazel: “How would you say there?” Hazel inquires. “I’ve always preferred novels over poetry.” Well, okay, Emily admittedly was about as social as someone with ASD.

GM: “More in terms of personality than publications.”

Hazel: “Ah. I can see the similarities,” Hazel acknowledges. She looks down at her black sweater dress and matching black leggings. “I do seem to prefer the opposite color as she did.”

GM: “Yeah, I can se–” he says, halting mid-sentence as he spots Jake returning to restock his pile of labels. “Brother Grimm!” he calls out warmly, extending a fist to the lanky, tattooed youth.

“Brother Murff,” Jake replies bumping fists with the older man in an elaborate pattern. Jake then slips a nervous eye at Hazel.

Murff puts his arm around Jake and asks Hazel, “So this is the cretin they send you?”

Hazel: The ritual is lost on Hazel, but perhaps to Jake’s relief (or at least not his increased apprehension), she does not look particularly reproachful. “Yes. He has been of significant assistance. I’ve had no other helpers today.”

GM: Jake says nothing. Murff playfully punches the lad in the shoulder. “Well, Brother Grimm here is a good guy to have on your team. He might smell sometimes like he’s been playing in the weeds, but he knows his way around this place. Better than I do, I’d wager.”

Hazel: Hazel is initially unsure of what to say. “Really? I can certainly tell he enjoys books. He recognized the one on my desk. Which I actually have yet to get around to reading.”

GM: “Yeah, I think Schoening gives a copy to all the new staff. A weird house-warming gift, but well, that’s the vice principal.”

Jake looks like he might say something, but he holds his tongue in front of the Beast.

Murff jerks a thumb at the tattooed youth. “This guy give you any trouble?”

Hazel: “I was riding out a panic attack when he came in on me. I am certain it was… unusual to witness,” Hazel states with her usual delicateness. “But he took it in stride and has been very helpful.”

GM: The bluntness of the admission causes both Jake and Murff to blink. “Uh… that’s good, Hazel, I mean, Ms. Bauman,” her former teacher says.

Hazel: Oh. Did he forget I have those? I thought my parents told all my teachers, Hazel mentally frowns, still overlooking the larger source of Murff’s surprise. “Yes. So we had a somewhat rocky introduction. I didn’t explain it very well. But our working relationship since then has been satisfactory.”

GM: Murff catches Jake’s odd glance and tries to change the subject by asking him, “So did you tell her what got you your little ISS?”

Hazel: “Why no, I hadn’t thought to ask,” Hazel remarks.

GM: “I think you’ll get a kick out of this,” Murff says to Hazel, then motions to Jake to begin. “Go on then, spin us the yarn, Grimm.”

Hazel: Hazel looks towards Jake, now genuinely curious to know what got him suspended and sent to the WFHS library. Or the Beast’s lair, as he may well now think of it.

GM: Jake, or “Brother Grimm”, looks at Hazel with a tempered wariness. “I snuck into Fleischer’s class and hid all my class’ copies of the Memoirs of Hecate County.”

“The book you were all reading in-class,” Murff clarifies.

“The book we were re-reading,” Jake corrects with a rising edge.

Hazel: Hazel can’t suppress a smile upon hearing that. “I hated Fleischer’s class too.”

GM: “When we finished it last week and still didn’t have access to the library, the slob was too lazy to actually teach, so he made us start over from the beginning.”

Hazel: There aren’t many people at Falls High lazier than Hazel. But there aren’t none either. “And what happened when he found the books missing?” She’s genuinely curious. There’s probably 50/50 odds on Fleischer either dismissing class early or spontaneously imploding. She briefly glances towards Murff, mildly curious as to his own opinion on their colleague’s ‘teaching’ methods.

GM: Murff’s antipathy towards his indolent peer is well-known, and it does not seem to have changed in Hazel’s absence. The bearded man laughs and twirls his finger as if to say, ‘go on’.

Jake continues, his own opinion towards the absent English ‘teacher’ all-too evident, even if he does not join the others’ joviality. “He had us look for the books–while he went whining to the nun.”

“Principal,” Murff corrects mildly. The man’s smile returns again, though, as he goads the student. “Tell Ms. Bauman how you got busted.”

Jake runs a hand over his buzzed scalp, and even he can’t suppress a smile. “When I yanked the class’ reading material, I took it all–everyone’s reading ‘material’, Fleischer’s included.”

Hazel: Hazel has to cup her hands over her mouth to keep from guffawing too loudly in front of the other students.

hazel_laughing.jpg

GM: “But I don’t jack off to tranny-mags from Nixon’s presidency–,” Jake continues, “–so I pawned them off to a guy I know. But that shyza-eating dummkopf started flashing them off in Vosburg’s math class to a bunch of freshmen.”

Hazel: Hazel is still stifling snickers behind her hands. Part of her vaguely says she should project a more composed image around students, but, really. Fleischer had it coming.

GM: “Naturally, she freaked, went crying to the nun, er, principal, and she in turn put the screws on my ex-pal. He squealed and the shit rolled downstream. And here I am.”

Hazel: Hazel finally lowers her hands. “I cannot say that I condone theft, but the punishment’s pain would not appear to outweigh the misdeed’s pleasure.” Her tone is more amused than reproachful, however. She does feel a little odd now that the story is over. She’d been gnawing Jake’s head off only a few hours ago.

GM: The oddness is clearly reciprocated by Jake, if missed or mistaken in source by Murff.

“And the ‘reading materials’?” the latter asks.

“The Memoirs all reappeared,” Jake says vaguely. “Fleischer of course denied ownership of his junk. I’m assuming Principal Gorczak destroyed them, which means Fleischer’s hand is probably going through withdrawals.”

“Mind the lady in the room, Brother Grimm,” Murff says with a wagging finger.

“Right,” the tattooed students with a greasy layer of sarcasm.

Hazel: I really shouldn’t be snickering like this, Hazel thinks as her hands go over her mouth again. Still, she retains enough sense of professionalism not to add, Well serves him right if it withers into a claw and falls off. Who reads mags when you can find it all online?

GM: The older staff checks his watch, then calls out to his class. “Friends, Romans, countryman… time to wrap things up.”

“Yeah, I’d better get back to work,” Jake says excusing himself. He grabs another handful of labels and heads off to his drudgery.

“Catch ya later, Brother Grimm,” Murff calls.

Hazel: Not for the first time, Hazel isn’t quite sure what to say around this given person. But she is sure of what she wants to say to Murff’s class as she calls out, “One final thing, everyone! It is my pleasure to announce that the library is finally leaving the dark ages behind for the digital age, and phasing out stamps for barcode scanners.”

“There is glory, honor, and praise for those valorous souls who wish to assist in labeling the huge backlog of books. By which I mean there is little besides your librarian’s gratitude, and a few indirect benefits. The sooner the cataloging backlog gets finished, the more time I can devote to the library’s other resources and services, such as research assistance, tutoring, upgrading the computers, acquiring new books, and so on–as well as organizing the Junior Deputies’ club I will be mentoring.” ‘Mentoring’ sounds less authoritarian than ‘in charge of.’

“Assistance is welcome from all individuals at all times and hours. Before school, after school, or during an open period, is all–,” Hazel grabs the first word to jump into her head, “–equally contributive to bringing our library into the 20th century.” Genuinely not sure what to finish her impromptu speech with, Hazel simply says, “Thank you!”

In fairness, Hazel knows that her teenage self probably wouldn’t have taken up a request by Mrs. Griswold to help catalog books. But Murff said she should try asking, and what does she have to lose?

GM: Her speech’s reception is, well, another mystery to the young woman with ASD. After all, she’s honestly never been good at reading people, particularly strangers. But she doesn’t notice any egregious eye-rolling, snickering, or vacant stares that she might have feared or expected. Or well, a few of the boys might be staring, but their thoughts don’t seem particularly vacant. Tedious, and maybe even prurient, but not vacant.

As the students eject their floppies, log out, and pack up their things, Murff gives Hazel a shrug. “Not a bad start. I’ll see if I can get the ball rolling.”

Hazel: “You already did. The idea honestly didn’t occur to me,” Hazel says. “But I’ll be most obliged if you can roll it along any further.”

GM: “Don’t mention it. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I was wearing similar shoes. Metaphorically speaking,” he adds for Hazel’s benefit.

Hazel: The reference still makes her give an internal frown of puzzlement. Was it really? She figured he’d been teaching for a while. He’s the one with the kid, after all. Or maybe he’s simply newer to Witiko Falls. The size of his pupils isn’t mismatched. Though that’s still at least seven years to have taught her as a sophomore? In lieu of asking for clarification on the statement, however, Hazel just smiles.

GM: He picks up his coffee mug, winces a bit at the now cold beverage, but downs the rest in one gulp. “But what I mean to say–,” he continues, “–is that if you have any questions or want any advice about how to make the hurdle from ex-student to staff, shoot me an email or hit me up in the lounge.”

Hazel: Hazel is a bit taken aback by that phraseology. Isn’t she perceived as staff already? She was hired by her uncle, she’s now on the list of faculty, so what else is there to it? Ugh. That sounds like more social games with former teachers who still remember her as a student. And in fairness, at almost-24, she looks closer in age to the older high schoolers than fellow faculty. She also can’t picture many of the latter giggling over Jake’s story like she did.

Still, the new librarian’s sourness is tempered by Murff’s helpful tone. “Thank you, Murff. I’ll be gratified to do just that.”

GM: He shoots her a thumbs up. “Can you do me a little favor though? Just, when you next see Fleischer, tell him I said, ‘Nevermore’. He’ll get the message.”

Hazel: Hazel grins with genuine pleasure at her former teacher’s request. She isn’t quite sure what that message is, but she doubts it will be one to Fleischer’s liking. “Evermore.”

GM: The period bell rings. Murff gives Hazel a histrionic bow, then ushers his students out of the library. To the last straggling student, he beckons, “Come on, Rip Van Winkle, the world’s moving on with or without you.”

And true to Murff’s words, the world moves on.

Hazel: Once Murff’s class leaves, Hazel calls her dad (again) when Jake is out of earshot and informs him what time she expects to get off work–rather later than school gets out for students. She adds that she has a few things she wants to do at home, including packing her things for her overnight stay and just enjoying some “alone time” after a day where she’s had to deal with a lot of people. If Harvey would rather not play constant chauffeur (giving her a total of five rides in one day), Hazel assures him that she’s happy to bike back to Red Louse Lane–that is what the bike he got her last Christmas is for, after all. If her dad finds such amenable, she gives him a good time to pick her up–a few minutes after she expects to be home from dinner with her mom. She pointedly does not mention that planned engagement.

GM: Her father remains doggedly concerned about her last phone call and the “mistaken” drug incident. However, he eventually relents once again to wait till they meet in person to discuss the matter–which may, in part, be the reason he so readily agrees to pick her up at the designated time. “I’m off-duty anyways, pumpkin–” he says in closing, “–so I’ll see you in a few hours. I raided Gramps’ freezer-chest and Nana’s pantry; hopefully, you’re okay with smoked trout on homemade pumpernickel with horseradish and dill from the family garden.”

Hazel: “That sounds ten orders better than okay, Daddy,” Hazel smiles. “I’ll see you in a few hours. Love you.”

GM: “Love you too, kiddo.”

Hazel: That much done, Hazel returns to cataloging and puts on her walkman to break up the monotony with some Beatles. The cataloging itself is simple, repetitive work that Layne should be well-suited for. Hazel isn’t sure how to act around her other library assistant after laughing at his story, so she simply focuses on her work.

GM: A few minutes later, as Hazel is jamming out with headphones in the back of the library, she is startled by the sudden appearance of another student in her aisle. The female student has blonde dreadlocks and wears a hemp skirt, burkenstocks with wool socks, and a T-shirt emblazoned with PETA’s logo and the tag line “Eating shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg”. The girl is waving a book and says something that Hazel can’t catch with her music.

Hazel: Hazel turns the walkman off and removes the ear plugs. Damn it, she hates people sneaking up on her like that.

She hates…

Just when she thinks the interruption is no big deal, the panic attack hits her as abruptly as a fat book falling off its shelf. Her heart lurches up her throat, but she shoves it back down with the same irritated forcefulness with which she’d keep that heavy book in its proper place. Damn it, she can’t have these stupid attacks in front of students.

“Can I help you?” she manages after a moment.

Note to self. No more music in the library, she thinks glumly.

GM: As Hazel stows her walkman and calms her breathing, she notices that her library is now crawling with a whole classroom of other students. Meanwhile, the girl in front of her flicks her dreads and huffs, “Yeah, I hope so. I’m looking for the librarian–or someone who can point me to a real gore-shocker. Mr. Shriver told me about a slaughterhouse book that’s so gross it’s sure to make my mom turn vegan, but I can’t recall the name, Meat maybe?”

Hazel: “I am the librarian,” Hazel answers. She doubts this will be the last time she’ll have to clarify that fact. “Are you thinking The Jungle? It’s hard to get much gorier than the early 1900s meatpacking industry.”

GM: “Uh, maybe?” the youth replies.

Attracted by the sound of seemingly helpful answers, another pair of students round the corner. Both have their hands tucked into their tight jeans and stare with the native asymmetrical gaze of anisocoria. Their mannerisms, cowboy duds, and shaggy, brown hair and facial hair make them seem like brothers, but closer inspection suggests otherwise as one has curly hair and brown eyes while the other’s are straight and green respectively. They look to each other, then at Hazel. “Where’s a book on bovine lobotomy?” the curly haired one says. “I’m looking for a book on doing leukotomy with cows,” says the straight-haired one.

Hazel: Egads. No soon is one of the hydra’s heads cut off–or, well, maybe just given a stiff clubbing–than another one regrows.

“Okay, why don’t you take a look at The Jungle, and if that isn’t what you’re after we can look for another title. The author’s name is ‘Sinclair.’ As for you two…”

GM: “Where is it?” the girl asks, not so easily brushed aside.

Hazel: Hazel’s head swivels back to address the other demanding voice. “The author’s name is under ‘S’, so that should be at…”

This is a lot of students. After helping the three as best she can (difficult, as Hazel has not yet fully familiarized herself with the library’s organizational system), she determines that she should probably hang around somewhere visible in the probable event that further students require help. Once the three have their books, she walks back to the front desk, logs onto the computer, and resumes reading the handbooks she’ll be tested on, aiming to also get some work done while she’s out here–if, of course, the hydra does not sprout further heads.

In lieu of The Jungle, the next slaughterhouse book the librarian suggests is Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, And Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry. That one is somewhat more recent.

GM: The Chimera’s librarian never makes it to her desk. She tries to track down The Jungle, but to no avail. Hazel is utterly sure of the author, the book title, and its appropriateness to the girl’s request. She even is confident the library had a copy as of a few years ago. Yet, she remains utterly unsure whether the Chimera still has a copy, of if it is checked out and to whom. And the library’s order seems a terrible parody of the word. Mrs. Griswold’s ‘system’ always seemed a bit helter-skelter, but it appears her organization really suffered before her ‘death’. For example, she finds one section of the library has been organized according to the color of the book cover; another sections seems organized according to phonemes rather than graphemes, resulting in books placed in phonological rather than alphabetical order. And those are just the library sections whose ‘order’ she can intuit with a cursory examination.

“Never mind, I’ll just look around myself,” the vegan-crusader says in exasperation.

Hazel: Hazel all but recoils upon discovering books that are organized by color. This is madness. Dewey would be rolling in his grave.

“Things will be a bit rocky at first. I’ve not been able to spend any more time in the library than you have,” Hazel offers before turning to help the other students.

GM: The non-sibling duo prove more patient, and by said virtue or sheer luck, Hazel is able to find an old medical journal with articles complete with pictures explaining various bovine brain surgeries. It’s exactly what they are looking for–but it is just one book. “What about him?” both ask at the other. They begin to bicker.

But by this time, Hazel has attracted a gathering throng of students clamoring for her assistance.

Hazel: Torches. I need torches, not just swords. Hazel faces down the other striking heads.

GM: The hydra rears and roars in many tongues:

“Where can I find a book about, like, using pigs as organ factories?”

“I heard the Soviets used different genetically modified strains of corn to render gypsies and Jews sterile–can you find me a book about that? Oh, but one that isn’t too long?”

“Crop circles.”

“Do you think my teacher would accept a book about dietary self-mummification?”

“I want a book like the one she has. With pictures.”

“Where’s the section on deformed calfs?”

“I’m looking for a book on double-muscling.”

“I’m looking for that too.”

Hazel: “Uh, let’s see if we have anything on the Stalinist gulags–” “Yes, crop circles should be at–” “Who is your teacher?” “I’ll see if we have any other books on the subject, though pictures is anyone’s guess–”

Thwock. Thwock. Thwock.

GM: Both hydra and chimera bedevil Hazel. The students’ strange requests coupled with the library’s lunatic arrangement makes Hazel’s job all but doomed to fail. Horribly.

However, as she searches for KGB genocide corn, she just happens to flip through a section of books, knocking one down and open from its shelf. The book is small and thin, made of calfskin writing, and bare of cover title of design save an image stamped into its back: a tiny locust turned upside down. Inside, however, are copious notes and sketches further cluttered by marginalia. Inspecting the strange book, Hazel feels an eerie wash of cold run down her spine, mingled with a conviction that this book was somehow left here for her. With a cluster of impatient students milling behind her, Hazel discovers that some of the annotated sketches are maps of the library–and explanations for its bizarre configuration. She also discovers the journal’s author: Ophelia Griswold. The pubescent mob, however, cares little for the potential magnitude of Hazel’s seemingly destined find. Instead, they reiterate their requests, now with growing insistence and irritation.

Hazel: Hazel’s heart skips a beat. This… this could have… with some measure of impatience, though, she first turns her newly-discovered torch towards cauterizing the hydra’s severed heads.

GM: Thankfully, Hazel’s sharp mind rapidly dissects the book’s initial sketches, allowing her to locate book after book. So armed with journal’s maps and marginala as her metaphorical torch-bearing Iolaus, Hazel resumes her assault against the lernaean serpent and its myriad heads. The task still proves herculean, but she, like Zeus’ famed son, triumphs. One by one, the students slink away with their requests more or less sated. Some even mumble words of thanks.

Hazel: Let it not be said that the new librarian’s job is literally thankless. She breathes a sigh of relief now that her first great labor is completed. The students will return–one of the hydra’s heads, after all, is immortal—but defeating the serpent has left her with no small parting gift to assist her future labors.

Her curiosity is insatiable. She has to see what the journal says, if only the first few pages. She needs to remain at the front desk in case there are more students, and she can always read the handbooks she’ll be quizzed on at home. Plus, she is doing her job. She needs to learn how the library is organized, after all. Hazel plops down on the librarian’s swivel chair, which so clearly marks her as lord and master of her demesne, and sifts through what initial pages she can.

GM: Nose in what she uncannily, possessively, knows is her book, Hazel momentarily forgets all about her computer and the manuals she planned on reading. Around her, the students talk amongst themselves quietly at the tables, occasionally snickering at some joke or ribbing a peer to check out a gruesome photograph. But their hushed banter is swiftly tuned out. The librarian never even looks up to identify the class or its teacher, so engrossed is she by her reading. And oh how engrossing the reading is.

Hazel: Besides. They can approach her if they really need something. She’s right there at the front desk.

GM: But they never do–or at least she assumes they never do. She thinks a couple of them offer some parting words of gratitude shortly before the bell. “Thanks, Ms. Bauman…” “Awesome book, again…” “You’re a great librarian…” “Thanks for helping the class…” She likely even mutters a few replies and nods of her head. But theirs, and her, platitudes pale before the perplexing mysteries of Mrs. Griswold’s diary.

The first page itself is a cunning illustration of three images in a single column. A swan, a flame, a lion. And a single enigmatic notation. “Alea iacta est.”

Hazel: Hazel frowns deeply at the phrase. What Rubicon did her predecessor–or has she–crossed?

GM: The second offers little answers to that question–only more of its kind.

There is a charcoal rubbing of what appears to a be a moth or butterfly. Strange numbers and twice-encircled pentagrams surround the charcoal rubbing. But in the center, a minuscule message reads: in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni. Its translation is fortunately written directly beneath it, like a reflection trapped in a white mirror: We enter the circle at night and are consumed by fire.

In contrast the next page is at once far more simple, yet far more psychotic as a single line is endlessly repeated and scrawled over itself again and again till the page is nearly black with writing. It takes Hazel some time to decipher it, but then she cannot help but see it. Again and again, endlessly like a black spiral whose stairs only descend:

Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
Beware Catalyst.
BEWARE CATALYST!

The message is like a written gordian knot, without beginning or end, but endlessly folds in on itself. With great effort, Hazel forces herself to cut that mental knot and break the compulsion to read the message to its terminus. She slams shut the book, her eyes blurry and blood vessels in her brain pounding. As her vision refocuses, it settles upon the tiny stamp on the leather back-cover. Previously, she interpreted it as a locust on its back. Now, now she indelibly sees it as a moth whose wings have been burnt and now falls like Icarus of old.

Hazel: At first, the new librarian is merely discomfited and uncertain of what to make of the vaguely sinister quote. Everything after that is a mad roller-coaster blur down the mantra that endlessly folds in on itself: to beware change. Hazel’s never liked change, and the roller-coaster takes her on a ride with a full stomach. Her hands shake in tune with her head’s pounding as she falteringly sets down the ominous book. ROSEWATER didn’t take her predecessor just because. Like with poor Layne Tuttle, there had to be a reason, had to be someone her disappearance benefited. But what happened to Mrs. Griswold seemed so much more remote than what happened to Layne, a freak accident rather than an actual… Hazel isn’t sure what this is, in front of her. Cover-up? Conspiracy?

The only sure fact she has is this: two people to attend Witiko Falls High School have… if not gone missing, then simply suffered at the same government agency’s hands.

What have I gotten myself into?

GM: The next and last period’s introductory bell buzzes on the intercom. Setting aside the mysterious, if now slightly menacing journal, Hazel turns her attention to another research subject: the omen of the cat’s eye and what it portends for her and her nocturnal voyeur. Hazel tries to keep such private investigations private–which means she goes to subtly check on Jake. Her ‘assistant’ however poses no threat at discovering her dubiously ethical actions, as she finds him snoring softly in the secluded, blacklight alcove, his head propped up on a copy of Aleister Crowley’s Book of Lies.

Hazel: Hazel gives him a flat look. She justifies her own actions (she is on clock right now) as being necessary to ensure for her personal safety. Jake is just lazy. So is Hazel, but who likes seeing their own faults in others? She nevertheless leaves him be as she goes about her own research. Right now he’s a bigger help asleep than awake.

Being a librarian isn’t without its privileges, and at Falls High, Hazel has access to a privileged library indeed. The source of her scholastic inquiries is the cat’s-eye sign left by her ominous visitor. Staying at Dad’s house throws a potentially unforseen road-block against its plans, but she’s still reacting to its actions, and that gnaws at her. Hazel hasn’t gotten into many fights, but that was one thing she took away from the mandatory PE class on self-defense she otherwise snoozed her way through. You don’t win a fight just by not getting hit. She can try to set traps for this thing, but they’ll be shots in the dark. The light of knowledge will give her a clear silhouette–if not face–to line up her shots at.

GM: Ipsa scientia potestas est.

If knowledge is its own power, Hazel’s research makes her puissant. Puissant, but also in need of significant patience–as the relevant research materials swiftly blossom. Sifting, much less studying, the various books, treatises, and tracts will take days. Despite this realization, Hazel gleans some information and impressions from her mammoth literary stack.

First, Hazel’s initial reasoning convinces her that her omen is related to the larger mythos of the Evil Eye.

Hazel: A potential curse of ill fortune? That’s… not comforting in of itself, but the prevalence of the mythos itself is. Nearly as prevalent as the evil eye are protective charms and talismans that can ward against it. That’s something Hazel can start to work with, even if her mother is likely to give her the odd eye for any new jewelry she picks up.

GM: In particular, she finds a 1946 second edition copy of the Afro-American magician Henri Ganache’s Protection against Evil. Although the text offers a variety of speculative and likely spurious ways to defend oneself from the evil, its primary value may be its surprisingly scholarly citations of previously-published works on occultism. The text, and its many references, clearly illustrate the staggering age and trans-cultural consistency of the mythos. Further reading reveals that the dire omen dates back to at least Classical antiquity. It is referenced by Hesiod, Callimachus, Plato, Diodorus Siculus, Theocritus, Plutarch, Heliodorus, Pliny the Elder, and Aulus Gellius. Upon browsing Peter Walcot’s Envy and the Greeks, Hazel finds a list of more than one hundred works by these and other authors mentioning the evil eye–and its particular association with malevolent envy and the dark fates of those caught by its jealous gaze. In Plutarch’s, Moralia Quaestiones Convivales, Hazel reads that “inner recesses of damned souls emit dark rays from their eyes, which in turn poison the mind of the evil ones’ victims.”

Strangely, in ancient Rome, this phenomenon was extremely prevalent, but not always feared, as the ones with evil eyes were allegedly both watchers and rulers. But aside from these stray passages confined to that historical period, the evil eye is universally malevolent and feared.

Hazel: What do… I have that someone could be jealous of? Hazel idly wonders. She’s led a comparatively privileged life next to others, sure, but she’s had her share of problems. No. What do I have that someone else doesn’t?

GM: Scanning the copious texts, an answer emerges to that question–or a hint at least of one. Cutting across religions, from Judaism to Islam, and countries, from India’s drishti to Ethiopia’s bouda to Latin America’s mal de ojo, the most common characteristics or virtues that inspire the evil eye to strike are beauty and vitality.

Hazel: Seriously? They don’t envy me for my mind? the librarian thinks sarcastically.

GM: Her cross-cultural and cross-temporal meta-analysis also leads her to her second conclusion, which proves no less bizarre, and potentially far more uncomfortable.

As Hazel already knows, these far-flung myths are equally riddled with apotropaics that allegedly turn away or repel the evil eye. Although these talismans and folk-lore superstitions seem to initially share no relation to one another, seemingly ranging in material, shape, color, and more, Hazel’s reading once again reveals an awkward commonality to most apotropaics against the evil eye. Sex. The Vestal Virgins of Rome and their legionnaire champions had the phallic charms they called fascinum. To perform the Greek ritual of xematiasma, two members of the opposite sex were required. Rather than Rome’s fascinum, the cultural descendants in the Mediterranean nations used the cornicello or little horn. Those too poor to possess such talismans were forced to rely upon sexually explicit hand gestures, such as the fig sign. In Mexico, the curandero folk healers employ the reproductive symbolic power of the egg. In central Asia, the tear-drop nazar talisman resembles an open-lipped vulva. The myths diverge on whether these sexually explicit images and act either repel or entrance those with the evil eyes, but they all vehemently assert their efficacy.

Hazel: Hazel almost audibly groans. The haunting, and now apparent evil eye is bad enough. Now this on top? Go to bed wearing a phallus amulet at her dad’s house. Yeah, that won’t be awkward at all. Or get laid by tonight. Yeah, that’s happening. I wonder if the rite would accept Rosie Palms and a few xxx websites as a valid partner? she sarcastically thinks.

GM: In more modern sources, namely the Liber V bel Reguli by Crowley, she finds the sex-magic ritual “of the Mark of the Beast: an incantation proper to invoke the Energies of the Æon of Horus,” which are allegedly antithetical to the fell energies of the evil eye.

Hazel: Crowley’s scarlet women were derided as whores, Hazel grumbles.

GM: Despite these two discoveries or conclusions, Hazel remains yet unsure how to properly prepare or perform any of these apotropaics. Further study and more time are required.

But Hazel’s studies are interrupted by Jake’s sudden appearance. A few labels in hand, he walks up to the librarian’s desk buried under dozens of open texts, several of which currently feature graphic pictures and photos of phallic fascinum and cornicello. The youth’s brows raise in surprise, but he holds his tongue enough to only say, “Where do you want the extra labels?” His eyes, however, dance with unspoken thoughts.

Hazel: “Over there,” Hazel points, indicating where they should go. Her tone is as casual as if he’d asked without seeing the open books. She might not know much about dealing with people, but she knows enough that making a big deal around the teenager won’t help things.

GM: The intercom joins their conversation with a trilling announcement that the school day’s end has arrived. Jake sets the labels down. “See you tomorrow then,” he says coolly.

Hazel: “Yes, about that.” She pauses a moment. “I imagine, after this morning, things could seem rather awkward to you. So I wish you to know that you are welcome in the library. Everyone who wants to read is welcome here.”

GM: “I’ll leave you to your… reading, then,” Jake says as his ghost-blue eyes slowly blink with a lizard’s languor. “Sweet dreams, Ms. Bauman.”

Hazel: Hazel turns a page. “Thank you for your help today.”

Hazel: As her reluctant help departs, Hazel goes about her remaining tasks.

She considers the confiscated bags of weed in her backpack, stuffed there out of students’ sight. She didn’t exactly give her word to Jake, who’s been a bit of a snot, but she did secure his cooperation with the implicit promise she wouldn’t rat him out. She also dragged her dad into this with her phone call and gave him quite a scare. Then there is the physical weed itself. Hazel can think of no protocol, no established precedent for what she should do with the drugs in her possession in a situation like this, save for a vague sense that someone other than her would probably have a better idea. She finally sighs and decides she’ll either flush them down the toilet or turn them over to Dad, depending on how things go.

She then sits down to write a letter. Earlier this morning she’d have regarded the prospect with all the warmth she’d show a diseased, flea-ridden dog that just vomited in her lap. But she thinks of her dad–who’s always there for her, always so patient and kind–and the words flow out. She doesn’t enjoy them, but she doesn’t grimace either. When she is finished writing, she places the letter inside a folder so as not to wrinkle the paper, and zips it up in her backpack.

GM: As Hazel zips up her backpack with her letter to her neighborhood nemesis, she immediately unzips the bag. Previously preoccupied by warring thoughts about Beatrice and her father, she hadn’t noticed the discrepancy–but now, it is all too evident.

The five bags of pot are gone. In their place, is a small blue book with faded letters on its spine which read: Märchen von einem, der auszog das Fürchten zu lernen. Even if she weren’t already fluent in German, however, Hazel would need no translator to recognize the small text’s author: Grimm.

Hazel: Well, that could be… better and worse. For both herself and Jake, Hazel frowns. She doesn’t immediately connect the story’s relevance to her present situation, though she remembers reading it. She found the scene where the youth stayed overnight in the haunted castle strangely hilarious and guffawed milk of out her nose, which caused her father to give her a rather odd look.

She frowns, returning her focus to the missing bags. Hmm. Well, with an attention span like she sometimes has, it’s little wonder they’ve been pilfered back. Perhaps Jake means that he’s learned what fear is, or perhaps like the story’s oblivious youth, he has merely learned to shiver without experiencing real fear. Better for him if it’s the first. The Beast will not show magnanimity in victory a second time.

As her last to-do item for the day, Hazel combs over the blood-stained carpet by the front desk with her figurative fine-tooth comb. Doing so is not a pleasant experience after the half-hour she spent rocking and hyperventilating by that same floor, but after facing down the day’s other challenges it doesn’t hold the same fear as it did earlier.

One picks up a few things as the town lawman’s daughter. Hazel once spent a summer pouring over crime scene investigation books (and pestering her father and his deputies with questions) with the obsessive interest that only a child with ASD and nothing else to do with her time could have. She may not have the best short-term memory or aptitude for picking up immediate details, but once her mind seizes hold of something it simply doesn’t let go.

GM: This afternoon, however, it’s not Hazel’s time as a lawman’s daughter that helps her find the clue. Instead, it’s her time spent as a young student with ASD at Eugene Baker Elementary School. There, the much younger Hazel had been given a carpet mat to sit on and ameliorate her sensory processing symptoms. Day after day, she sat on that carpet, her fingers and mind attenuating more to the feeling of its fibers than the voice of her teachers or peers. But now, that intimate familiarity with carpet is paying dividends.

There are depressions in the carpet. They could easily be mistaken for marks left by her chair’s castor wheels, but their shape, size, and pattern are all wrong. They could be footprints, but they are too wide and too short. Instead, Hazel notes the carpet fibers are crushed in roughly two thick oval patterns a little more than an a long arm’s length away from the most heavily bleached and scrubbed carpet area. Years wearing protective gear as her parents tried and failed to teach her how to roller-skate provide the final interpretive clue. Knee-pads. The two depressions are from rather large kneepads–and judging from the texture of crushed fibers, Hazel can tell that the depressions were made relatively recently. Not necessarily today–but certainly far more recently than Mrs. Griswold’s disappearance and alleged death some four weeks ago.

Hazel: Hazel frowns–at both the memories, recalling her parents’ frustrated faces (the other students’ she doesn’t recall too well), and the indentations left on the carpet. Who would be wearing knee-pads inside a library? An athlete who simply didn’t remove them? A student with physical disabilities of some kind? And why would they fall on that precise spot, after whatever happened to poor Mrs. Griswold? That likely rules out the Spooks, though she has a hard time imagining them wearing knee-pads over their suits anyways. Well, another law enforcement officer wearing body armor could’ve had them, but so much later…

Hazel rubs her head. Knowledge ever leads to more questions.

GM: And power always has a price. The debt she owes for today’s discovery is another mystery altogether–and not one she unravels before packing up for the day.

Hazel: “You know you really don’t have to play chauffeur for me all the time, Daddy,” Hazel remarks as she opens the car door and gets into her father’s truck, after stowing her bicycle in the back. She is smiling, though. In all honesty, she didn’t feel like biking home after today’s events. It’s been a long one.

GM: “Have to?” Harvey asks with his trademark big-chin grin as he finishes putting up the tailgate and sliding back into the driver’s seat. “More like I get to. Why I consider it one of the best perks of being your dad.”

Hazel: Hazel’s smile can’t help but widen at that. “Aww, Dad…”

GM: He waits till she’s buckled herself in, then pulls off from the curb. “So let’s hear all about it, kiddo.”

Hazel: “Right, you’re probably wondering what that phone call was about. It’s a bit of a story…”

GM: “Yep–,” he nods, “–but hopefully that’s only a small part of the story.”

Hazel: “A small part, and notwithstanding the shock that I gave you, one of the least significant,” Hazel happily answers. “I think I made a very good impression on Uncle Leo. I knew the interview was just a formality, but he really made me feel like I had to earn the position.”

GM: Harvey stares out at the serpentine road and what lies beyond. “That’s, that’s great, Hazel,” he replies with a gentle smile. “How’d things go with the kids, I mean, students?”

Hazel: “They’re a lot younger than I remember being at that age, Daddy.”

GM: Her dad chuckles. “Tell me about it, sport.”

Hazel: Hazel manages a soft laugh. “I’m joking there. Somewhat. I’m just… surprised by how young they all look. I still remember being that age very clearly.”

GM: “Yeah…” Harvey says wistfully. Outside, a pair of young kids race on bikes while a middle-aged woman stops her weeding to wave. Window down, Harvey returns the gesture and cheerily yells, “Hello, Mrs. Anderson.”

“Hello, Sheriff Bauman!” she beams back.

The tires keep rolling.

Hazel: “Undersheriff Bauman,” Hazel corrects once they’re out of earshot. Likely little to her dad’s surprise, she hasn’t greeted the woman.

GM: Harvey approvingly nods at her remark and turns back to his now-adult daughter. “Yeah, Uncle Leo used to say something about it being a time when caterpillars become butterflies. Or something.”

Hazel: “Yes, thought they’re far from quiescent in their cocoons. There are so many of them in the library, sometimes, all wanting help with this or that.”

GM: He laughs at Hazel’s first words, clearly unsure of their meaning–but a lack of understanding often goes hand in hand with conversations with his intelligent, quirky daughter.

“I can imagine,” he replies to her second comment. “And I imagine sometimes there’s a real need for help, and sometimes it’s just someone being bored or lazy. And then you have to calmly explain to Mr. Gunderson, that, no, you won’t shoot his neighbor because the man’s cat keeps climbing over their shared property fence. Oh wait,” he laughs. “We’re talking about your job, not mine.”

Hazel: Hazel gives another soft laugh at her dad’s comparison. “I think there may be a great many similarities between the two. Including adherence to initially convoluted protocols. The system Mrs. Griswold used to organize the library was… madness.”

GM: At the mention of the deceased woman, her dad’s smile slips. He remains quiet.

Hazel: Hazel frowns a bit inside but continues, “She organized some sections by phonetics. Others by color. I didn’t have any time to become familiar with her system before today. I’d have been… completely lost, in all likelihood, and unable to help anyone if I hadn’t come across a rubric where she’d laid out the method to it.”

GM: Harvey nods, then seems about to ask something when a large delivery van suddenly backs out into the road. The undersheriff is forced to slam on his breaks and swerve hard, yet still manages to reflexively thrust out his hand to protect his seat-belted daughter from smashing her head on the dashboard. It all happens so fast, so frighteningly fast, but in that half-second blink of an eye when they nearly smash into the dark blue van, Hazel swears she reads the following message painted in big, bright yellow letters on the van’s side:

BEWARE CATALYST

Hazel: Beware catalyst. Beware catalyst. Beware. Be… ware…

The panic attack hits like the car crash that didn’t happen. Hazel is fortunate to be wearing a seatbelt (even without her father’s reminder, she was never “too cool” to wear one) as she jolts forward, gasping and hyperventilating.

GM: There’s a momentary, terrifying flash as her hyperventilating causes her vision to tunnel. Darkness rushes in and the world narrows and slides out of focus. Her father’s face dimly half-appears before her, his voice shouting as if from underneath a lake:

“Hazel, are you okay? Are you hurt?!”

Hazel: Beware catalyst. Beware catalyst. Beware catalyst.

“P… pan… att…” She tries to speak, but it’s like talking through that same lake. Water rushing up her lungs, oxygen cutting off from her brain.

GM: Harvey’s response seems equally muddled, even rattled. Eventually Hazel makes out her father’s hand touching her neck, but then he’s putting something in her hand. It’s her pills.

Hazel: Her eyes are scrunched and her lungs burning, but she mutely shakes her head. “R-ride… it…”

GM: He leaves the case in her hand, then puts his hand on her shoulder. “Okay. Stay. In. The. Truck.” He then barrels out of the vehicle. Hazel dimly hears yelling. She’s pretty sure it’s mostly from her father.

Hazel: Hazel distantly wonders if he’s getting into a fight with the other driver. She wants to tell him no, there’s all sorts of stupid things that trigger these attacks. She strains to make out what’s happening through her hyperventilating.

GM: Behind her, she spots her father yelling at the blue van’s driver to stop. A man and a woman sit in the front seat, worriedly trying to explain or apologize. Harvey doesn’t seem too keen on listening. Her eyes struggling to focus, Hazel re-reads the yellow lettering on the van’s other side:

BEEHIVE CATERING

Hazel: Oh, for… It takes several tries with her shaking fingers, but Hazel eventually gets the lid off to swallow a pill.

It takes a moment for the alprazolam, or Affreux as Nostrum’s particular brand is called, to kick in. The lake she’s drowning in gently swirls away, like she’s actually just in a full bathtub and someone has pulled the plug. Just like that, one pill and it’s all gone. She almost regrets not taking another one this morning. Almost. It takes her a little while longer to unbuckle her seatbelt and get the car door open with now-sluggish fingers, but eventually she slides out and makes her way up to her dad and the driver he’s yelling at.

“I’m all right, Daddy,” she says slowly. She feels very calm. She lays a hand on her dad’s arm, trying to will him some of that same feeling. “I took a pill and I’m fine now. They probably just didn’t see us coming, backing up a van that large.”

GM: Harvey almost snaps at her. “I told you to wait in the truck.”

Hazel: “I’m fine now,” Hazel repeats tranquilly.

GM: “We’re so sorry, Hazel,” the van’s passenger says, a middle-aged woman with a beehive hair-do, cupcake earrings, and a frumpy lace-colored dress. The driver, a portly fellow with balding yellow hair and a caterer’s frock worn over a white shirt and tie, adds, “We sure are, we jus-”

“Oh no, Heber and Harriet,” the undersheriff says as he turns back and resumes his diatribe. “You don’t get to apologize to her. You’re still talking to me. Now you better god-damned get those brake-lights fixed and learn how to drive, or the only thing you’ll be catering to will be your own parole meetings!”

“Now there’s no need to use that kind of language, Deputy Bauman,” Heber begins saying–only to be barked into silence by Harvey.

“I’ll use whatever kind of language I want when you nearly crash into my truck and daughter inside!” Harvey’s flushed cheeks and neck all-but match his flannel shirt.

“We’re so sorry,” Harriet says, silencing her husband with a curt gesture. “We’ll get it fixed right away and promise to be extra careful. Isn’t that right, Heber?”

“Of course,” the still slightly offended man mumbles.

Hazel: Hazel isn’t sure how to react to the strangers saying her name. She’s heard of these two retirees from Pocatello, but she doesn’t know them. She’d probably feel awkward if she weren’t doped up on meds. As it is, she likely comes off as out of it rather than standoffish.

“I’m fine now, Daddy,” she repeats, hand still in place. “No one was hurt. They’ve promised to get their vehicle fixed. Let’s just go home.”

GM: “No,” Harvey says, swinging his dark-browed gaze at Hazel. “This is how it works, I’m the undersheriff and your dad. Go get back in the truck and wait there until I come back.” He then turns back to the van’s driver with a violently thrust finger. “And you, I want to see your driver’s license, insurance, and registration for this vehicle. Now.”

“Yes, sir, I mean, deputy or undersheriff,” Heber stumbles as Harriet nervously opens the glove-box and starts flipping through papers.

Hazel: You’re off-duty, Dad. Small town with limited law enforcement officials or not, you have no legal basis to order anyone to do anything right now. And unless you’re executing an arrest, you have no basis to order someone inside a motor vehicle either, Hazel silently thinks. Still, she’s not undermining her dad in front of people she doesn’t know. He’s just being protective of her. Even if he is going a little overboard, she’s thankful for that.

“Look Daddy, they’re doing everything you say. Everyone just wants to put this behind them. Why don’t we go back to the truck together.”

GM:They are,” Harvey huffs as he regards his daughter who still isn’t waiting inside the truck as he’s twice asked, no, told her. However, the undersheriff seems like he reads Hazel’s unspoken thoughts. He huffs again and almost literally blows out his steam. The red slowly drains from his face, and his next words to her are far calmer and far quieter. “Fine. I’m technically off-duty anyways. Just go back to the truck, kiddo, and I’ll be right there. I promise.”

Hazel: “Okay. I’ll see you in a bit.” Hazel doesn’t spare a look for the two strangers as she departs. Her dad probably wants to get in a last word without her overhearing.

GM: She does at least hear him telling the Kimballs, “Don’t worry about the paperwork.” The pair, who clutch all the requested materials, seem confused at the sudden turnabout. They exchange a few more words, but Hazel is once again out of earshot. Back inside the cab, she spots her backpack and purse on the seat, casually open and a few items flung out from her father’s hasty search for her pills. Repacking her bag, she hefts Ophelia’s journal. Its soft calfskin and plummeting flame-burned moth stamp elicit a flash-back of the backing up van and the way its yellow lettering clearly, piercingly then spelled the warning found in the journal.

The meds dull the resurgent spike of anxiety from the flash-back, but even her pill-touched mind understands the implications. The journal is hers–but it is not hers to share. Something tied to that journal wants to protect its secrets. Something that is willing, and easily able, to kill for those secrets.

Beware Catalyst

Hazel: Hazel frowns deeply. This thing just threatened her dad with that near-car crash. She’s never put up with many bullies before, thanks to his efforts, and she can’t say she’s inclined to start doing so now. And that’s just out of moral principle, all before how this book had the power to cause a fatal near-accident–or at least is linked something else that does. Something Hazel knows nothing about, beyond that the book’s last owner was declared legally dead under dubious circumstances.

For a moment, Hazel entertains simply chucking the thing away. It’s brought nothing but trouble upon its owners–her included–and it’s threatened her dad. If Hazel were more versed in manipulating people, the fact it offered her a taste of something useful for free–assistance in navigating the Chimera’s mad layout–would only makes her more suspicious. The first hit is always for free.

Is it the same force that threatened her last night? If so, all the more reason to be rid of it. If it’s not, how would it react upon being introduced to that force? Poorly, most likely, and harmfully for anyone else caught in the vicinity–if not for Hazel.

This thing is bad luck. Literally. She should chuck it away. No, she should chuck it into a fire or feed it through a wood chipper, if she wants to be sure. That’s the safe thing to do. The sane thing to do.

But Hazel has always been blessed with too much brains and too little common sense. She turns the book over in her hands, feeling the aged vellum rub against her palms. It’s a funny sensation. Not altogether unpleasant. Rub. Rub.

She thinks back to the images on the first page. The swan. The flame. The lion. Dad’s the lion. Mom’s the swan. That second admission causes her some degree of consternation. I’m the flame. She rubs her hands up and down the book’s cover as if she might kindle a fire, or simply re-kindle childhood memories of hours spent rubbing funny-feeling objects to her mother’s disapproval and her father’s bemused indulgence. Rub. Rub. Rub.

Heat spreads in her hands. Fire roars to life inside her mind, guttering out nearly as quickly as it appears–but leaves three glowing embers that burn her psyche with revelations:

It’s not the thing that haunted her last night. It wants to protect her. It won’t hurt Dad–If she keeps its secrets.

Hazel half-gasps, half-hisses as if she’s run her hands over a hot stove. The book falls into her lap. She stares at it, long and hard. She might not be very good at relating to people, but she knows that this can’t be helping her for free, whatever it is. It has to have something it wants. It has to have a price for its help. She doesn’t know what that price is or who–or what_–she’ll be paying it to. The revelations brought about by her stimming haven’t made her any less suspicious. The fact that it won’t–_otherwise–hurt her dad simply forestalls her immediate impulse to chuck it into an incinerator.

But what’s the alternative? She can accept unknown help for an unknown price–or she can face whatever came for her last night, by herself, with no more plan than spending the night at her dad’s, and wearing a phallus amulet while she diddles herself to porn sites in the laughably pitiful hope that masturbating will provide any degree of protection equivalent to the sex rite she hasn’t been able to research–or have a partner to perform with. What is the alternative?

Well, she could go through with that. Hope she’ll make it through the night, do more research tomorrow. Whatever that other thing does to her, she won’t be accepting its help. She won’t owe it anything. Yes, she should destroy this cursed book. It’s brought nothing but ruin upon its previous owner, and it’s only proven its intentions sinister with her.

It is not her own safety that stays Hazel’s hand, but a more esoteric, yet no less instinctive, reason. She wants to know what’s in it. She wants to know what happened to Mrs. Griswold. She wants to know what gives it its powers. She wants to know what it is.

It’s not a wise desire. But Hazel isn’t wise. She’s only smart. Maybe too smart.

Hazel zips her backpack up, Mrs. Griswold’s journal safely stowed inside.

GM: The rest of the ride back to the Sweeney’s home is comparatively subdued and uneventful. After her dad re-checks that she’s okay and apologizes for both the near-collision and his temper, he drives with his arm out the window, feeling the cool breeze and enjoying the smell of the Douglass fir and Ponderosa pine that swallow so much of the town.

Hazel: Hazel is subdued for the rest of the drive home. Part of it is the meds. But she’s also never really kept secrets from her parents before. She could always tell them everything. If only her dad had believed her this morning. Then again, maybe it’s better he didn’t. Then again, maybe it’s really not, if she could lean on him for help instead of this book. But she still wants to know what’s… Hazel just gives a mental sigh and dismisses the whole debate, thankful to be doped up on a literal tranquilizer.

GM: Beneath the Bitteroots’ shadow and the serpentine path of the eponymous falls and Green River Lady, Witiko Falls has a particularly charm. When Steinbeck allegedly visited the township in the late sixties, he captured its essence in two words:

Haunting beauty.

Hazel: Is the town beautiful? Hazel honestly hasn’t considered. The only other basis for comparison she has is Spokane. She does admit, though, to liking the country more than the city.

GM: Her dad likewise remains wrapped up in his own private thoughts, up until he turns onto Red Louse Lane. “Heh, kiddo, remember we still need to do that letter.”

Hazel: “I actually did it already, Daddy. I can show you later tonight. Along with that explanation for the drug call I still owe you.”

GM: Harvey seems genuinely surprised and pleased by Hazel’s initiative. “That’s… that’s great, pumpkin.”

Hazel: Hazel is silent for a moment. “Dad, you remember the summer of my junior year, when I lied about my independent PE hours?”

GM: “Yes…” he says somewhat suspiciously, as if now suspecting some kind of trick or scheme from his daughter. “Coach Ross still ribs me about it.”

Hazel: Hazel gives a sad smile as she thinks about the far bigger deception she’s now perpetrating. The fact that it’s an omission rather than a deliberate lie does little to make her feel better.

“I wish I hadn’t done that.”

GM: His face immediately softens. He gives her a big squeeze on the shoulder. “It’s okay, kiddo. Sometimes… stuff like that happens.”

Hazel: Hazel leans against his own for a moment. She doesn’t like to hug, but touching shoulders is an acceptable alternative. “I guess it does.” She eventually pulls away and affects a somewhat more cheerful smile. “Thanks for the lift.”

GM: “Any time, sport,” he says as they bound the hill. Their close moment is broken by the full-throttle roar of a motorcycle. A second later, Sadie Platt’s handsome, curly-haired boyfriend rides down the road in the opposite direction. He wears a grin that makes Harvey scowl.

Sadie_BF.jpg

Hazel: Hazel’s expression isn’t as frosty as it was around Beatrice Worwood, but it’s a far cry from dreamy-eyed either. She doesn’t care for people like the Mooners.

GM: It’s an attitude her father clearly shares. However, his mood quickly improves as he pulls up to Hazel’s house and all but sighs with relief when he sees that Mrs. Worwood is not still standing where he last left her. Indeed, there is no sign of the bitter woman currently.

Hazel: A dormant volcano looks harmless until it erupts. No doubt Dad wants that letter sent soon. Hazel briefly laments her inability–no, unwillingness–to bury Beatrice beneath her own figurative ash and magma.

GM: Harvey smiles and nudges his daughter, though, when he looks at her door. “Looks like you’ve got your own admirer.”

It’s Eddie Munson. The elementary-aged kid is standing at her door. Standing and waiting. As usual, for him at least, Eddie is dressed in a hand-me-down Halloween costume and holding a plastic jack-o-lantern so endemic to trick-or-treating.

Eddie.jpg

Hazel: Hazel gives a mental sigh. Eddie is harmless enough, but it’s been a long day. And feels even longer after the drive back. She really doesn’t want to deal with any more people right now. She’ll give him some candy, but there won’t be any TV.

GM: Today’s costume is a paper-bag mask drawn with some kind of ghoulish, monstrous face. Most kids would turn around at the sound of a truck in the driveway. Eddie just continues to stand and stare at the unmoving door.

Hazel: She’s grateful her dad is seeing her to the door, though. He’s better at relating to children than she is. Case in point, what she should even say with Eddie waiting at the door like that. She can’t think of any prescribed etiquette to deal with this situation. “Yeah, but he only loves me for my money. And by that I mean candy and TV.”

GM: “At least he’s a man who knows what he wants,” Harvey quips back. He cuts off the truck, then rolls out with a cowboy-esque grace and swagger. “I thought trick-or-treating doesn’t start till dark?” he shouts out to Eddie as he walks Hazel up to her door.

Hazel: Hazel follows a short distance behind, more than content to let her dad deal with Eddie first.

GM: Eddie turns around, his paper-mask eyes unblinking and gaping with too many wide, bloody teeth. “Trick-or-treat!” he exclaims upon spotting Hazel.

Hazel: “You’ve caught me by surprise, Eddie. But I should have a few treats inside.” She manages a smile as she unlocks the door, covertly motioning for her dad to keep the seven-year-old occupied outside.

GM: “So what are you dressed as today?” Harvey asks, trying to crouch down in a way so that he is both eye-level and blocking the boy’s entry.

“I’m a ghoul!” Eddie says excitedly. “They eat blood. And candy.”

“Oh, I thought ghouls ate brains?” Harvey asks, trying his best to block the young lad’s effort from entering the house.

Hazel: Thankful for the distraction, Hazel heads inside the house. She rummages through one of her kitchen cupboards and pulls out a large bag of assorted candies: Reese’s pieces, M&M packets, Butterfingers, and other such cavity-causing treats. It had “Halloween special” or somesuch written on it, saving consumers the need to even buy different candy bags. Hazel would normally begrudge such a purchase, but she didn’t purchase it. She picks out no less than five pieces, a rather considerable haul for a single house–and a day when it isn’t even Halloween. Hazel drops each one into his bucket with a plastic-sounding thump.

“There you go, Eddie. Don’t eat it all once.”

GM: Eddie beams when she gives him the candy–or at least she assumes he beams. It’s hard to tell with the ghoul-mask. “Thank you!”

Hazel: Hazel joins her dad in blocking entrance to her home. “You’re welcome. Make sure you brush your teeth after you eat it.”

GM: “It’s okay,” Eddie says. “Mr. Munson says I have dental insurance.”

Hazel: “Yes, your daddy has insurance for just about everything. The only thing I think he hasn’t covered is insurance for no insurance.”

GM: Eddie doesn’t seem to follow the conversation. Instead, he looks at his candy haul, then back at Hazel. “TV?”

Hazel: “Sorry, not today Eddie. I had a long day at work.” She looks towards her dad, motioning ‘back me up’ with her head.

GM: “Another day, Ed. Hazel’s tired and wants some peace and quiet.” Harvey points to another house. “Maybe Sadie has some candy.”

Hazel: Oh, foist him off to Sadie. That’s perfect. “That’s right, Eddie. You could get an even bigger haul.”

GM: The masked kid peeks inside Hazel’s house, then down towards Sadie’s house. He hops down from the porch and goes running toward the neighboring one. “Happy Halloween!”

Hazel: “Happy Halloween,” Hazel repeats. She looks towards her dad. “I’m certain he’s counting off the days on his calendar. Not too long until it’s Halloween for everyone else too.”

GM: Harvey pushes off his haunches and stands up. “Poor kid. Or come to think of it, he might be the luckiest kid alive. Does he really come every day?”

Hazel: “He comes by pretty often. Often enough there’s a candy bag in my cupboard just for him.”

GM: “That’s really nice of you.”

Hazel: Well, it’s not like I paid for it. “I guess I feel a little sorry for him.”

GM: Her dad frowns. “Hazel.”

Hazel: “Uh, yes?”

GM: He stumbles a bit as he reaches for the right words. Eventually, he just settles for the following: “I appreciate you being nice to Eddie, as I’m sure the Munsons do too. But I don’t want you to feel like you have to give him candy or anything else that’s… troublesome.”

Hazel: “…yes, Daddy, you’re right. No one should feel obligated to get Eddie candy at their expense.”

GM: “Or anyone’s expense,” he adds, nodding, quite unsure if his point has been made, much less agreed to by his kleptomaniac daughter.

Hazel: “Thanks for handling him there, in any case. I really didn’t feel like dealing with a seven-year-old in the house right now.”

GM: “Ghouls can be a handful,” Harvey replies with a chuckle.

Hazel: “They’ll eat one alive if they’re not placated with candy.”

GM: “And TV,” he adds. Glancing back at Mrs. Worwood’s rancher, he says, “So I’ll pick you up for dinner like we discussed. Same time?”

Hazel: Hazel calculates when she expects to be home from her mom’s. That omission isn’t anything new, or anything she feels bad about. In fact, it’s almost comforting. “Same time, Daddy. I’ll see you in a few. Thanks again for playing chauffeur.”

GM: “My privilege, kiddo.” There’s an awkward pause where most daughters and dads would hug or share a peck on the cheek.

Hazel: A familiar pause, and familiar enough for most awkwardness to be since inured. Hazel simply smiles and gives her father’s hand a squeeze.

GM: The gesture is more than he usually gets, so Harvey beams. All in all, it’s been a pretty remarkably affectionate day for being Hazel Bauman’s dad. Harvey keeps grinning as he calls back and heads to his truck. “Love you, kiddo. See you soon.”

Hazel: “Love you too, Daddy.”

Hazel: After her dad’s left, Hazel takes a shower and changes into her usual baggy black t-shirt, leaving her day clothes discarded on the floor like shed snakeskins. There’d be more if she’d bothered wearing any clothes at home besides her current attire, but wearing more clothes means doing more laundry. She checks her phone (or, well, the Sweeneys’) for messages to see if her mom has made any changes to their dinner plans.

GM: Fortunately or not, Hazel has no messages, from her mom or otherwise. There are few for the Sweeneys, but just the typical robo-calls and telemarketing.

Hazel: Hazel hangs up. Okay, she’s got an hour or two, give or take. She heads upstairs to her bedroom and rummages through her bookshelves and collection of paranormal junk. She’s got to have something here for the evil eye.

Dreamcatchers. Tarot cards. Voodoo dolls. Salt. Candles. Chalk for mystic circles. A rosary. An ouija board. Pagan fetishes. Her mom might dismiss most of it as rubbish, but so far as Hazel is presently concerned–and even if she were only presently concerned–it’s better safe than sorry.

GM: …and she does have something. A gift from her ex-apartment neighbor from college, a Hamsa. Based upon her prior knowledge, today’s research at the library, and a little more digging, she knows that the hamsa or khamsa is an ancient talisman known throughout the Occident. The hanging medallion traces back at least to ancient Mesopotamia, where it was a symbol associated with Ishtar, the goddess of fertility, love, and sex. The Phonecians of ancient Carthage identified it as the vulva of the goddess Tanit. Amongst the Greeks and Romans, it was linked to another pair or related goddesses with equivalent domains, namely Aphrodite and Venus. Early Christians called it the Hand-of-Mary, and claimed it can protect women from the evil eye, increase fertility, and strengthen female sexual properties. Her research also suggests it may be connected to the Mano Pantea, or Hand of the All Goddess, an amulet known to ancient Egyptians as the Two Fingers, which in turn represents the fig sign, or the symbol of the male and female organs conjoined. With the peeking ‘eye’ belonging to Horus.

Hazel: Hazel slips the vulva-themed amulet over her shoulders. It’s not that uncommon a piece of jewelry for feminists to wear. It certainly garners less attention than a Roman phallus.

GM: Large and made of blue stained glass framed by silver, her neighbor’s gift was originally intended to hang in front of a window like a dangling charm. As a consequence, the talisman is a rather large and less than comfortable necklace. But as she notes, it certainly is less awkward that a fascinum or modern-day dildo hanging from her neck.

Hazel: Hazel frowns all the same. Okay, I’ll just bring it along inside my backpack and wear it to bed. Well, and for now.

She then sits down on her bed, amulet still around her neck. Next to an informed rite with an actual partner, this is a shot in the dark, and likely a squirt-gun’s shot at that… but she loses nothing in the attempt. In fact, she’d probably be doing this anyways. So she pulls up a few x-rated sites on her laptop and gets to work.

She actually feels a bit sad when she’s finished. That things with Lance didn’t work out in high school, that college had its own share of boy-related troubles… being alone doesn’t normally bother her (or at least that much), but she has to concede now is evidently a poor time to be single.

GM: Hazel’s ‘experimentation’ proves inconclusive. Her methodology may have been wrong or maybe its effects, or at least any potential paranormal effects, are delayed or too small to be noticed by the naked eye–but hopefully noticed and effective against the evil eye. Or perhaps thousands of years of history and continents’ worth of cultures were deluded by unscientific superstition and an overactive libido and imagination.

Hazel: Or she needs an actual partner. Why should she be surprised if the rite is as lacking without one as the real thing also is? Still, she supposes she’ll find out for sure whether the ‘experiment’ was ineffective or not later tonight. While Hazel would be hesitant to say that she believes any of this mysticism, she is willing to attempt to empirically verify it.

Finished with that line of scientific inquiry for now, Hazel leaves a few surprises in her bedroom in case her nocturnal visitor doesn’t follow her to her dad’s house. Next, she stows Mrs. Griswold’s journal in an unassuming spot on one of her bookshelves. She’s not taking it with her to Mom’s, and in the unlikely but possible event someone breaks into the house, well, there’s no less conspicuous place to find a book than a bookshelf. Finally, she heads downstairs, pulls her discarded clothes off the floor and gets dressed again. She might have worn them for a while, but it’s not like she was doing much physical activity in the library, and she did just take a shower. She does apply a fresh stick of deodorant all the same, then sits down in her living room to watch a movie–_La Regle Du Jeu_, a French WWII film she’s heard good things about–until her mom’s car arrives.

GM: As a surprising change of pace for her mom, the doorbell rings, right on time.

Hazel: Hazel hits the pause button on the remote. Some few minutes in and she’s at the part where the aviator announces how unhappy he is that his girl wasn’t there to see him land his plane. She’d have preferred a somewhat longer window of ‘alone time’ to just curl up on the couch and enjoy a movie by herself, but a knock on the door is a knock on the door. She gets up, pulls on her shoes, and moves to answer it.

GM: It’s not her mom.

It’s a pizza delivery boy from Niccolò’s Pizzeria. His clunker car is idling in the driveway, complete with an advert of the pizza shop’s symbol (a grinning cartoon pizza with a crown) and its phone number stuck atop the top. He wears a similarly marked baseball cap, a red polo, jeans, and tennis shoes. He has long, frazzled blonde hair, freckles, and a paunch that suggests he indulges too often in his employer’s product. He looks up at Hazel with dirty-green eyes and hefts a large pizza box, its white-cardboard printed with the pizzeria’s name, its cartoon logo, and its tagline: A prince always gets what he wants–no matter what!

“U-uh, is this 237 Red Louse Lane?” the delivery boy asks with a slight stammer.

Hazel: Hazel’s face falls. This isn’t the first time it’s been pizza instead. “Yes, it is,” she answers.

GM: “Oh, uh, good. I mean, I have a pizza for you.” He looks down at a note tapped to the box. “A Mrs. Lydia Calloway ordered it for you. Already paid,” he beams, like getting a free pizza is the best thing that could happen to you.

Hazel: Mrs.? Hazel thinks, wondering if the boy just got her mother’s marital status wrong. No, wait, he didn’t. That’s its own can of worms. She picks up the note, ignoring his words.

GM: “Uh, ok,” the guy says as Hazel takes the note. He stands there awkwardly as she mentally reads:

So sorry to do this again and on your first day. I had a major meeting come up. I’ll try to call later. I hope work was great! Love, Mom.

“It’s a nice letter,” the pizza guy says.

Hazel: This really does feel like high school all over again, Hazel thinks. She scowls, though, as the boy comments on the note. Yes, there was no way he could have avoided reading it, but she still bristles inwardly. She doesn’t want strangers poking into her life.

“Thanks,” she gruffly says as she takes the pizza, and then without waiting for a response, closes the door in his face. She doesn’t think to ask whether he’s been tipped.

GM: The delivery boy waits a few awkward moments, then re-rings the doorbell.

Hazel:What?” sounds an irritated voice from the other side of the unopened door.

GM: “Uh, s-sorry, but I need your signature. You know, to, uh, prove I didn’t just eat the pizza.”

Hazel: Oh. Right. The door grudgingly opens. Hazel signs, and then once again without waiting for a response, promptly closes it in the boy’s face.

GM: Another awkward moment of silence. This time, though, he doesn’t re-ring the bell. Instead, he just calls out, “Uh, thanks! I hope you enjoy your Prince Pizza!” There’s another awkward moment where she swears he is standing out there, as if waiting for a reply, but he eventually climbs back into his car and drives off.

Hazel: Hazel sticks the pizza in the fridge. Well, that’ll save her the awkwardness of only eating half a plate of food at both parents’ houses. At least she won’t have to cook dinner tomorrow.

GM: By the time the once-hot pizza is cold, André’s death has been passed off as an accident by Robert, and Hazel is packed for her father’s. Outside, the sky is a darkening blue with heavy shadows. The headlights of Harvey’s truck shine brightly on her living room window. But the door does not knock, nor does the bell ring.

Hazel: Hazel flicks the remote, disturbed from her solitude. She’s in a fairly dark mood by the time her dad’s car arrives. Unless Mom was going to spend the night at her office, she was going back to her hotel at some point. She still could’ve seen Hazel, but evidently didn’t want to (at least as Hazel sees it). Something about that strikes her as profoundly unfair. That her mom, the person without the social disorder, just chose she didn’t want to see someone. Well, she didn’t want to see anyone either after her long day and all-too brief window of time alone, but she still answered the door. The door, with that stranger. God, she’s had to deal with so many people today. The two earlier who called her ‘Hazel’ like they knew her. The students before them. And awful old Mrs. Worwood, from the moment she stepped out her front door. By the time her dad’s headlights appear, Hazel feels quite thoroughly sick of human contact, and is even contemplating taking tomorrow off.

But her dad not arriving at the door… that’s odd. Hazel pulls on her amulet. Her backpack, with Mrs. Griswold’s diary inside it, also lies nearby. She looks outside the window but can’t make out much past the headlights’ glare. Maybe it’s nothing. But it doesn’t hurt to be cautious. She rummages around the living room for a pair of binoculars and peers through them at the truck outside.

GM: The blaring headlights against the evening sky make it hard to see, but by the time her eyes adjust to the binoculars, Hazel literally has her neighborhood nemesis in her sights. Mrs. Worwood is outside, ‘talking’ with her dad at the end of the driveway. She has an ordinance violation notice in her hand as well as a ruler she is pointing to Hazel’s unkempt lawn.

Hazel: If Mrs. Worwood’s morning scowl could curdle cement, Hazel’s evening glare could reduce a bank vault door to caustic slag.

She was going to apologize. She wrote the goddamn letter. It’s been a long, long day. She’s been dealing with so many people. Too many people. Mom’s last-minute cancellation and the stranger sent to her door has left her in even fouler spirits. She’d really wanted to see her mom, one of the only two people on earth she feels completely at ease with. They could’ve talked about the chopper ride and how one another’s days went–Hazel had more than a few legal topics she wanted to bring up. She tried to juggle the separate commitments to her divorced, non-speaking parents, only for Mom to drop the ball without so much as a phone call–which still hasn’t come. Probably won’t come. The pizza with its perfunctory note and change of plans to dinner with Dad really does feel like high school all over again. Or at least that period of high school before Lydia gave Harvey crap over the visitation schedule and said Hazel needed to eat cold pizza home alone, rather than have a real dinner with the available parent who was happy to have her over. Funny how sore that still makes her feel.

But the dejau vu is made all the worse for its reminder of a fact even Hazel doesn’t want to acknowledge—or perhaps simply can’t: that her life is going nowhere, she’s amounting to nothing, and is distracting herself with paranormal crap like hamsas, cursed books, and Uncle Leo’s ruler trick. The circumstances of Mom’s absence rub a very sore and deep wound that even Hazel doesn’t realize is there.

All those people, those strangers, who she just wants to leave her alone, are salt upon that wound. Hazel just wants to curl up, enjoy some respite, and maybe a dinner with Dad that’ll still cheer her up. But now… at what’s supposed to be the end of her day… that harpy, that HAG, that festering PESTILENCE upon all that is decent and good, that SUBHUMAN, aggravating, obnoxious, hideous, insufferable, intolerable, loathsome, unlovable, murderous, unbelievable, wretched, and simply gigantic CUNT wants to give her shit about ORDINANCES? Ordinances? Not even the shit that happened this morning? Fucking ordinances? It’s the maraschino cherry on top of a tall shit sundae sitting on the plate marked “Hazel’s day.”

The autistic librarian slowly lowers the binoculars from her bespectacled gaze. She just wants to be left alone. To leave others alone. Jake pushed her this morning. He pushed her too hard, and he saw what happened.

Hazel looks between the two arguing figures. Her already pale features are still as death. Finally, she breathes three words:

“It is on.”

She turns around, double-checks all her things, including Mrs. Griswold’s book she retrieved, and hefts her backpack. It wouldn’t do to forget something like the sack lunch she packed for tomorrow, after all. She removes the hamsa and sticks it inside one of the pack’s pockets. She opens the front door and calmly turns around to close and lock it. She’s not coming back. She then strides towards her nemesis, her face as tranquil as if she’s swallowed a whole bottle of her meds.

GM: “Ah, and here comes the lazy, foul-mouthed strumpet!” Beatrice all but caws as she sees Hazel exit and approach. Hunch-backed and wrinkled, she glares at Hazel. Harvey tries to step between the warring neighbors, but he is held back by something in his daughter’s eye. The tranquility. The calm before a storm.

“Now Hazel, I was just explaining to Mrs. Worwood how you wrote an apology le-”

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t slow down, doesn’t speed up. Doesn’t increase or break stride. She is her namesake’s advancing hordes, and Worwood’s words but a gentle breeze against their banners.

Her head slowly turns from her father’s to regard the screeching crone with all the finality of a rotating gun turret. “Hello, Mrs. Worwood.”

GM: “Just like I wa–,” Beatrice starts then stops. Indeed, Hazel’s initially controlled, even polite tone catches both her neighbor and her father off-guard.

Hazel: “I am here to tell you something. Do you have anything else to say before I do?”

GM: Beatrice regards Hazel from behind her wire-frame glasses. She sucks on her dentures, as if chewing on Hazel’s offer before speaking:

“Yes, I am hear to deliver a notice that you are in violation of town ordinance R-14-1952. Your grass is above the proscribed limit.” She turns to Harvey. “And as you may not be aware, Hazel, overgrown lawns are not only an eyesore and blight to our gentle community, but they invite the presence of mosquitoes. Blood-sucking harbingers of disease and death. And your domicile is attracting them through your negligence–threatening our fair community!”

She turns back to Hazel with a crone’s neck-crack. “You may be willing to risk the consequences, but we aren’t! But I’m not surprised at your blatant disregard given the company you keep. You have one week to rectify the situation, or you will be censured.” She utters the last word like a Salem inquisitor condemning a witch to burn at the stake.

Hazel: “I see.” Like a single blade of grass being blown across a vast plain, a small smile slowly spreads across Attila’s features. “Is that the full extent of your grievances against me, Mrs. Worwood?”

GM: “Oh, there are more. So many, many more,” she says with palpable loathing.

Hazel: “Please.” Hazel lightly motions for the old woman to continue.

GM: “You are a lazy, spoiled, foul-mouthed, and coddled brat who hides behind your disabilities and the people who enable you. You should have left Witiko Falls, made something of yourself, and never come back, but you returned out of fear, complacency, and laziness, and that will be your undoing!”

Harvey cannot stand any further abuse heaped on his daughter. “Now that’s going too far, Beatrice! You ca–”

Hazel: Hazel holds up a hand, forestalling him. This is between her and Worwood.

GM: “Oh, and don’t get me started on you, you hypocrite!” Beatrice snaps, her eyes bulging with venom. “I know all about your family loyalties, you sickening disgusting excuse for a man!”

Hazel: Attila nods her acceptance. “Very well, Mrs. Worwood.”

GM: Beatrice swings her haggish face around and up at Hazel, her eyes seething and lips pressed hot and white with disgust and anger.

Harvey seems like he’s about to blow, and bloodily throttle and strangle the withered shrew right here and now if it weren’t for the presence of his eerily calm daughter.

Hazel: Attila gives a second nod. Low and slow, like an executioner’s axe being raised over the head of a condemned man.

“Very well, Mrs. Worwood,” she repeats.

Her spectacled gray eyes meet Beatrice’s wrinkled, hate-filled ones.

“You have my full apologies.”

Before either Harvey or Beatrice can interject, Hazel continues, “For both the foul language I spoke this morning, and for the disturbance I caused that awoke you last night. I suffer from somnambulism, or sleepwalking, which causes me to perform such tasks as mounting picture frames in the middle of the night. I do not offer this as an excuse for my actions, but as context to precipitate the actions I will take to cause you fewer disturbances. I intend to keep fewer heavy objects in my bedroom and to install a lock on the door. While the nature of my somnambulism makes it impossible for me to promise that I will cause no further loud noises–I have no control over my actions when I am asleep–I do offer my promises that I will do everything I can to curtail the effects of those actions, and to investigate further solutions should I interrupt your sleep again.”

“Thank you for informing me how my lawn has violated town ordinances. I will be certain to mow it when I return home from work tomorrow. If you find the new length to still be in violation, please do not hesitate to inform me.”

“I hope this incident may prove a catalyst for us to be better neighbors in the future. Your complaints against me are justified, and my behavior has been inexcusable.”

Attila pauses and then adds, “As you may also know, Mrs. Worwood, I work as the librarian at Witiko Falls High School. We sometimes have occasion for guest speakers to come in. If you should have the time and inclination, I would consider it a privilege to receive you. I believe the students could benefit a great deal from listening to the life experiences of someone who has lived in Witiko Falls for so long and cares so deeply for our community.”

GM: Beatrice and Harvey both gape like salmon fished out of the Kootenai and hurled on dry land.

Hazel: “There is also one final thing, if you please, Mrs. Worwood.”

GM: Her wrinkled mouth opens, but no sound comes out.

Hazel: “I am your neighbor. My father is not. I will not make a mountain out of a molehill–not on this occasion, when I desire peace between us–so I will consider it fair to provide you with this friendly warning instead.”

Hazel’s eyes haven’t once wavered from Beatrice’s.

“Badmouth my dad again while I’m around, and you’ll learn why my middle name is Attila.”

Hazel waits a few moments for Beatrice to reply. If the old woman is still at a loss for words, she looks up to her father and states, “Let’s go, Daddy.”

GM: Beatrice opens her mouth again. This time a sound does escape, but it’s only a feeble wheeze. “H-he’s…”

“Yes, let’s go, Hazel,” Harvey says as he opens the passenger door for his daughter. He then glares at Beatrice, climbs into the driver’s seat and slams the door.

Hazel: “Daddy, can you pull over?” Hazel asks once his truck has left Beatrice well behind.

GM: “Anything you want, Hazel.” Her dad’s still a bit red in the face, but he is no longer mashing the steering wheel. He pulls off into the gravel.

Hazel: Hazel looks down at her hands for a moment, as if thinking. “I was supposed to see Mom today, before you picked me up. But she had to cancel. I was very disappointed.”

GM: Harvey opens his mouth, frowns, then places one of his strong, yet surprisingly gentle hands on Hazel’s shoulder. “I’m so sorry, kiddo. Something… really big must have come up.”

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t reciprocate the touch, but neither does she shy from it. “Maybe. There are a lot of big things in her life, I suppose. But it… it did get me thinking.”

GM: He removes his hand, unsure of what his daughter is saying, and still all-too shocked by her earlier composure.

Hazel: Hazel looks down at her hands again. “I know I’m… a handful with my panic attacks, my… autism,” she briefly pauses, generally preferring not to bring up the ‘a-word’, “and, well, everything else. It’s so easy to take how you’re always there for granted. But I… I really do feel so lucky to have a dad who loves me and is there when I need him. Whether that’s for washing mace out of my eyes, helping me through an attack, giving me lifts to work, taking my random calls about drug use in the middle of the day, washing my dishes and getting my mail and making coffee when I’m in the shower, or…”

Hazel doesn’t do hugs. But she does smile as she reaches out to squeeze one of her father’s hands in both of hers, lifting it to her face. “I love you, Daddy. I want you to know that. And I don’t want you to go anywhere for a good long while.”

The words aren’t off the cuff: Hazel isn’t the best at spontaneously expressing her feelings. She prepared them, and almost everything she said to Beatrice, in advance and wrote several drafts on her laptop. She’d intended to say them to her dad after he’d looked the now-needless letter over. But her voice is no less sincere, even if it sounds a little rehearsed, and actually breaks a bit towards the end.

GM: Her father’s eyes well up, overwhelmed by this rollercoaster ride of emotions, conflict, and affection. “I’m… I’m right here. I’ll always be right here for you. I love you, Hazel.”

Hazel: “I know, Daddy,” she murmurs.

GM: Harvey sniffs back his tears. He doesn’t dare try to take back his hand. “You know, pumpkin, on days when I just feel plain rotten… I have this… song. Would you mind if I played it for you?” The request, despite its seemingly trivial nature, seems somehow anything but to Harvey.

Hazel: Hazel actually sniffs a bit too, removing one of her hands to wipe at her eyes. Moderately inconvenient, past her thick glasses. “Go ahead.”

GM: Using his free hand, Harvey flips down his sun-visor and retrieves a tape cassette he has clipped there. He slides the black unmarked cassette into the tape deck. After a moment, a scratchy country song fills the twilight:

Above the twanging guitar, a warble-voiced singer laments:

“Well I’ve tried, and tried, and tried with all my might,
To do the best I can,
To walk that straight and narrow,
And be a faithful man.
Every time the Devil knocks,
I can’t help but let him in the door.
I know I done you wrong,
And you don’t want me anymore.”


“And what may sound like wild and foolish schemes,
Are just a poor man’s hopes and dreams.
When all is said and done, it seems
That luck ain’t on my side.”


“So I’ve cried and cried, and swallowed pride,
But still it will not stand,
There ain’t no straight and narrow,
When death trumps your hand.
So every time the devil knocks,
Please forgive and understand.
I wager my last dollar,
For the whiskey in his hand.”


“And what may sound like wild and foolish schemes.
Are just a poor man’s hopes and dreams.
When all is said and done, it seems
That luck ain’t on my side.
And if my wild and foolish schemes,
Were just a poor man’s hopes and dreams,
I’ll take my bow, and play my hand,
But the Devil calls it in the end.”


Harvey sighs as he listens to music. He drinks it in and just stares out into the darkness, into memories that are so private they cannot be shared, but merely endured.

Hazel: Perhaps another time–perhaps even tomorrow, when she will not be so exhausted from dealing with so many _people_–Hazel will have enough presence of mind to note the alarmingly specific information Beatrice knew about her, her autism and panic attacks not least among such. Perhaps she will connect the old woman’s words to her father’s all-too rare anger or his private song’s lyrics.

Tomorrow, perhaps. But for what’s left of today, Hazel is done with people–besides the one who’s sitting next to her. And the other person who evidently had more important things to do than keep her commitments, but is still no less important to Hazel even then.

She isn’t sure why she’s softly crying. They say that’s what country music does to you. Or maybe she’s just… she doesn’t know. So she simply lays her head against her dad’s chest and listens to the tape wind on and on.

GM: The night unfolds softly around them. Insects and owls begin to add their voices to the last chorus. Her father’s broad chest breathes slowly, strongly. His warmth holds back the night’s chill. A single tear rolls down his face and falls on hers. He sings the final lines in crude, if heartfelt harmony:

“And if my wild and foolish schemes,
Were just a poor man’s hopes and dreams,
I’ll take my bow, and play my hand,
But the Devil calls it… in the end.”


After a long moment, he breaks the silence. “Let’s go home.”

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