Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase I, Case File 1.05

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Brook: Skin Deep


10.07.1998, Wednesday morning

GM: The moon is fat and full, fecund with light.

The woman waits. Mary Madcatcher, chief park ranger, sits in a signal shack nine miles out of town, playing Last Man Out solitaire with a pack of greasy poker cards. Outside the wind rises to a shrill scream. Mary raises her head uneasily, and then looks back down at her game again. It is only the wind, after all…


But the wind doesn’t scratch at doors…

…and whine to be let in.


She gets up, a thick, brick-framed woman in a wool jacket and park ranger uniform, her seamed Blackfoot face lit in soft orange tones by the kerosene lantern which hangs on the wall. The scratching comes again. Someone’s stray, perhaps, lost and wanting to be let in. That’s all it is… but still, she pauses. It would be inhuman to leave it out there in the cold–but still she hesitates. A cold finger of fear is probing just below her heart.

The low-pitched whining rises to a snarl. There is a thud as something incredibly heavy hits the door… draws back… hits again. The door trembles in its frame, and a white snow billows in from the top. The snarling thing strikes the door again with incredible force, splintering
 it from top to bottom. Wet snow and fetid musk spill from the gaping hole.

“Brook Barnes!”

His geometry teacher slaps his yard-stick again on Brook’s table. Hard. Drool leaks from the sophomore’s mouth as he peels it from his classroom desk. Several students snicker. Quietly.

Brook: Dogs? Dogs don’t work here, it’s not the place for their old souls, it twists them and makes them a danger. Listening to the scratches at the door he just remembers the doberman tourists brought five years ago. How it got off its chain. How it charged him. How his mother put a slug in its skull mid-sprint. This, however, is a dream. Not his usual dreams. The proportions of his home are correct, he’s not in first person, he’s seeing this as an observer. Vivid as ever, but with everything feeling too heavy to not be real. The mood suddenly changes, his heart drops as that smell rips through the bending wood of his fortress, phantom limbs reach out to try and shield his mother.

THWACK!

Everything snaps back into focus as he’s brought back to the real world. His hand darts to grab the far end of the table to brace himself as he looks up at his teacher, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at his teacher.

GM: “Brook, if you cannot manage to stay awake, please do us all the courtesy of at least refraining from moaning in your sleep!”

“Yeah, Brooks, geometry is exciting–but not that exciting!” another classmate heckles. Several other students laugh. Less quietly.

Mr. Epstein swings his yard-stick around like an executioner’s axe. “That’s enough out of you, Nelson.” The geometer regards his students with an authoritarian gaze. “Now, unless any of you would like to discuss your next flippant remark with Principal Gorczak, shall we proceed?”

The threat of the Grey Ursuline causes the students to immediately settle. Mr. Epstein nods, then marches back to the front of the class, his yardstick smacking against the chalkboard as he continues his mathematical lecture.

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Brook: Same old same old, and poor Mr. Epstein. But the humiliation still rises up in his cheeks from his fellow students, glad at already being ‘red’ enough as to hide his flush at least a little, quickly scanning around. Moaning and drool? More unusual stuff. Usually he chews his lip too much to drool, and doesn’t make so much as a peep. It’s different this time though, and he doesn’t like it one bit.

He mumbles an apology and fishes around for his pen, starting to copy the notes from where he left off however long ago he dipped out. Not that he won’t just read the textbook later, making a personal note in between lines of numbers. Tell Mother about attack dream. Shit, he hopes she won’t worry too much about the change in template. Sometimes it seems she’s still catching up on the sleep he cost her as a kid.

GM: The geometry class slides by like thumb-tacks on flypaper. When the bell finally rings, the students collectively sigh with gratitude and filter out of the classroom with growing verbal ruckus. Yet, as the last students are filling out, Mr. Epstein calls out, “Brook and Nelson. To my desk.”

The last of the other students exchange glances. A few even share sympathetic smiles with the popular sophomore. When they have departed, and only the two sophomores remain, Mr. Epstein straightens his desk’s pencils and papers to perfect perpendicular angles.

“During my time in the Army,” the teacher begins, “I had a drill sergeant who said that loud mouths are symptoms of under-active bodies. He held that the cure was physical labor. The more, the better. Although I might question his premise and some of his methodologies, I cannot argue with his results. Both of you will report to the faculty parking lot tomorrow at fifteen hundred hours for detention. I would suggest you wear attire suited for work outside.”

Nelson scowls slightly, but then answers his teacher differentially. “Yes, sir.” As he departs, he shoots Brook an unkind look and whispers, “See you later, Red.”


Brook: Brook stands as at attention as he can over at the desk, wondering how loud he was for this lecture to be multipurpose. But he keeps his mouth shut and listens to when he’s supposed to show up for his detention. Nothing unusual. Neither are Nelson’s little parting words, rain on a sheet-metal roof, he doesn’t even bother whispering his response.

“Later, invader.”

Nelson, what a strap-headed asshat. But for the moment, Brook sticks behind to talk to Mr. Epstein. “Sorry about nodding off again, sir. I’ll make sure my test scores show I’m taking you seriously. I’ve just… woods have been getting to me a little lately. Civil duty and all.”

GM: His geometry teacher either does not hear or chooses to ignore the inter-student sniping. When Brook mentions the woods, Epstein stares off into the distance. “Yes… the wilds have their… ways.” He is silent for a while, and then his thousand-mile stare fades. He faces Brook. “But your civic duty also requires you to sharpen your mind upon the whetstone of education–and not to dull those of your peers.”

Brook: Brook just nods and lets the man have his moment, there’s some kind of trauma here he didn’t want to poke at. Nature o’ ’Nam, he muses, wondering if the teacher was actually in any kind of war, or if basic training was that bad. But as much as Mr. Epstein is right about him needing to get an education, he wonders if he knew how pointless it was trying to teach Nelson jack squat. Future cop, ahoy. “Wasn’t my intention to stop the learning, it can just be difficult to not nod off in the day. I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

GM: “Yes, Brook,” Mr. Epstein says, re-straightening his still-straightened papers. “I will see you tomorrow at class, and later in the faculty lot. You are dismissed.” But before Brook goes to leave, Mr. Epstein calls out, “One last thing, Brook. A piece of advice. Something I also learned in the Army, but not from my drill sergeant. Men that resort to narrow-minded racial slurs and bullying usually do so because at their core, they are weak and afraid.”

Brook: Brook turns to leave, about to pick up the pace to get to his next class, but stops when he hears… some actually encouraging words from the man. “Thanks, Mr. Epstein. Means something coming from you. Nelson will sort himself out eventually, I don’t have to do anything. See you tomorrow!”

Hunting isn’t all guns and treks, it’s also traps and ambushes. Nelson sets his own. But he waves and leaves, yawning into the back of his hand and adjusting the bag on his shoulder. Next nap-space!

GM: Between periods, the hallways are a stew of hormones and cliquish pecking orders. Banners proudly announce the homecoming game against the Sandpoint Bulldogs. “Drown ’em deep!” is a recurrent theme.

Brook: Every time he sees those banners, the thought comes up. How ironic it would have been if I joined the football team.

GM: Daniel Littlebeaver and June Pohlman, both friends and fans of Brook and his show, are waiting for him as he exits the math class.

“Did you get detention?” June asks with a light touch of painted nails on Brook’s elbow. A freshman who graduated from Lame Bull Middle School not even four months ago, June Pohlman is a petite, cupid-faced blonde who loves mix-tapes and music–and thus adores Brook’s station, if not Brook himself.

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Too bad his friend Daniel saw her first. A native to the reservation in both senses, Daniel Littlebeaver is a long-time friend of Brook and his mother. Another music junkie, particularly of punk or really anything that doesn’t remind him of tribal music, the mohawk-wearing Kainai is hard to pin down in the Kelpie’s regimented social structure. Despite rejecting most of his ancestral culture, Daniel is an avid gambler and cardsharpe who one days dreams of ditching the reservation and becoming a dealer or pit boss at a ritzy casino in Vegas, Biloxi, or Atlantic City.

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Today, however, he contents himself with making a card disappear and reappear in his hand as he asks: “Forget Stan, Brooks, tell me about that dream. Must have been something juicy with the way you were going at it with the table.”

“Oh put a sock in it, Dan,” June chides him, and then shakes her head and hand quickly. “And don’t even say anything, I swear, it’s like all you boys have bad case of mono-brain.”

“You know what they call mono, right?” Daniel says, putting his arm around June. “The kissing disease.” He leans in to kiss her, but she pushes him away–more playfully than truly upset.

“So what happened?” June asks again.

“Yeah,” Daniel adds. “Give us the down-low on the way to class.”

Brook: Despite how much it can piss Brook off just moving from one place to the other, the moment he steps out into the hall it’s all smiles as his friends say hi and catch him fix his hair. Clip at the top, ponytail fixing the rest behind his head. He listens while he fiddles and watches the two with their public displays of affection, their closeness. Man, fuck Dan Littlecunt and his quick luck, June is awesome. Not that he can deny they’re perfect for each other. The two of them already had that talk and the saw-headed little brave got his big friend’s blessing. It’s ancient history.

“Yeah yeah, save it for behind the Swiner dumpster, you two,” he teases, grabbing both their shoulders and giving an appreciative squeeze as they finished up prodding him, starting towards the next class.

“Dream, though! Not first person like usual. Mom was playing solitaire in the station. Something was scratching at the door, mom’s spooked, scratching and whimpering turned to growling and breaking the door down. Shitty smell, snow, cold. Then I nearly got scalped by the teacher.” Summing up strange dreams is a long-cultivated skill so they can get to the stuff that matters. School therapy demands it.

“And detention, yeah. With the Simpsons reject himself. Nelson. Livin’ La Vida Bitch Loca.” That about sums it all up! With nothing much else to say on the matter, Brook turns and smiles at the two of them. “How about you two? Tales of teen pregnancy? Plans of running away to Reno? Anything juicy?”

GM: June rolls her eyes at Brook’s suggestive line of questioning.

Brook: Brook puts a hand up. “Sarcasm. We both know you’ve got too good a head on your shoulders,” he quips before the drama hits the fan.

GM: Daniel makes a pseudo-subtle line drawn across his neck. June then says, “Did you hear that Dan got a job?”

Daniel jerks back, then looks around to see if anyone is listening. “Babe–,” he says, “–we talked about this–it’s supposed to be a secret, remember?”

“What?” June asks agog. “You weren’t going to tell Brooks?”

Daniel rubs the back of neck, then swipes it up the tips of his spiked hair. “I mean, yeah, of course,” he laughs weakly. “But not like here in the hallway.”

“I don’t see why it’s that big of a deal,” she says, slightly peeved.

“Because… because it’s not a done deal,” he says, looking awkwardly at his friend.

“You said you got the job,” June insists.

“I did, I did,” Daniel says holding up his hands as if suing for peace. “It’s just that… the guy is, well, he’s… skittish.” Seemingly eager to change the subject, Daniel adds, “Hey, did either of you hear about the teacher who got beat up today? I heard they had to call an ambulance.”

“What?! No, who?!” June asks, her attention now clearly diverted.

Brook: This sounds sketchy from the moment Daniel says it’s supposed to be a secret. Brook stops in the hall and turns a full 180 to look down at his friend. He lets them play it out between themselves again before he changes the subject. One of his hands slowly comes up and grabs his friend by the shoulder again, squeezing harder this time as he gives him a ’we’re talking later’ glare. Like a mama bear bearing down on something sneaking near her cubs. If this boy is selling drugs he swears to THE NINTH CIRCLE OF HELL he will chase him into the woods and throw him into the Gray Devil’s den by the belt and hair.

Hands off, he starts walking again, his tone none too pleased. “If it was Mr. Atwood, I’m skipping health.”

GM: “I don’t know who,” Daniel says. “I just heard some seniors talking about it at lunch.”

“Wouldn’t they have, like made an announcement or something?” June asks dubiously.

Daniel looks at Brook and shrugs. The next period bell forces the trio to save their discussion for another time.

Brook: Brook barely gives a care about the conversation; he’s more worried now than gossipy. Dan’s even saved by the bell, right as they get to the next class. “I don’t have detention until tomorrow. So Dan, you better be free after school to talk, cause if you’re not I’m hunting you down anyway.” Another class and another spot to struggle not to pass out.

GM: Daniel tries to struggle out of his stronger, bigger friend’s grip, but he doesn’t refuse the ‘request’ to chat. “Yeah, man, okay, of course.” As the two guys head off to a class together, June, still a freshman, says farewell.

“Seriously, man, not cool bringing up teen pregnancy. She’s already freaking out that second base is going to get her pregnant or give her AIDS.”

Daniel rolls his eyes and sticks out his tongue, then slides into his seat–which their teacher has made sure is several rows in front of his friend’s. As the last of the students, Brook included, take their seats, their World History and Literature teacher takes roll call from behind her desk. Mrs. Jacqueline LeBaron has an age that is difficult for most teens to place. Definitely not young, but definitely not elderly either. Her plain mud-blonde, shoulder-length hair frames an equally plain face and tight eyes. She wears an ankle-length pleated skirt and a paisley blouse beneath a dark coarse-weave jacket.

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After completing roll call, Mrs. LeBaron stands up, walks in front of her desk, clasps her hands and says, “Students, please pull out a piece of paper and writing implement.” Groans of “pop quiz” and murmured curses ripple through the class. Mrs. LeBaron continues, oblivious or impervious to her students’ murmurs.

“We have just completed the Epic of Gilgamesh and our study of ancient Mesopotamia. Before we move on to new lands, times, and the literature they left behind, let’s pause for a moment to reflect upon what we have learned.”

Another wave of subdued grumbling passes through the class.

“Reflection 1: The gods created Enkiddu after the people of Uruk cried out for relief. What was the source of the people’s distress, and how did King Gilgamesh thwart the gods?” Mrs. LeBaron walks to the side of the room and pulls up the extended projector screen, revealing the above question written out in impeccable cursive. Two more “reflections” are listed, which she now reads aloud.

“Reflection 2: Why did Gilgamesh reject Ishtar’s advances, and what was the consequence?”

“Reflection 3: Spurred on by Enkiddu’s death, Gilgamesh undertakes his epic journey. In the end, the Antediluvian Utnapishtim tells Gilgamesh that, ‘Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands.’ What did Utnapishtim mean, and how did Gilgamesh find peace with death?”

“You may begin,” Mrs. LeBaron says, then walks back to her desk and begins prepping the next portion of her class.

Brook: With heavy lids as soon as he sits down and exhales, he can feel his body starting to relax and shudder, asking for sleep. But this is a pop quiz, and surely there’d be a lot to talk about after he can jot down. He just has to make it through the class and maybe pick up a few things on Dildomesh, then they’re one step closer to lunch and a nap in the truck. Sure, there’s repeating history and reading is important, but it’s hard to memorize all those damned names, consistently getting them mixed in his head.

Question one. Fuuuuuuck, this one should be easy. I might have just… skimmed this part, shit.

Question two. Course you remember the parts where there was romantic tension, you dickhead.

Question three. Utnapishtim. Which one was–oh right he was… no. Fuuuuuuck it, I need to re-read this whole book.

It’s a nightmare, one out of three. He knows he has to study harder if he doesn’t want to repeat this grade, but Jesus could they pick something less pretentious and circular to read? Though there are always GEDs. Maybe then he would feel less like hanging himself. Finished as much as he can, he puts his name on the quiz and flips it face down, taking the book back out and flipping it open. If he wasn’t the sharpest tool, he’d just need to work harder, right? Pass out less. Ugh.

GM: Fifteen minutes later, Mrs. LeBaron collects the results of her class’ ‘reflections’. “Thank you, students, I hope that although you have passed in your papers that you will nonetheless continue to ponder the aforementioned questions throughout the day and beyond. After all, no man may step in the same river twice, but you can learn from previously crossers where it is typically safest and most perilous to traverse. Also, those whose marks are deemed ‘insufficient’ will have to repeat the exercise till their reflections are adequately matured.” Upon her last remark, she eyes a few students meaningfully, Brook included.

Brook: Brook meets the teacher’s gaze evenly as they go through the class, knowing he might have to take it over again. That’s fine, though. It’ll give him a chance to reread a few sections of the required reading and to try and wrap his head around this garbage.

GM: Mrs. LeBaron then smiles and walks up to a wall to wall world map, overlaid with various ancient civilizations. Pharaonic Egypt, Imperial China, Persia, Mali, Mayans, Kievan Rus, and more. For the next half-hour, Mrs. LeBaron goes on a whirlwind overview of the world’s ancient history and the rise and fall of grand nations and civilizations. Perhaps the frenetic speed helps Brook remains awake. Or perhaps it’s her vivid descriptions of entire societies dying and destroying themselves or each other. The breakneck tour concludes with Mrs. LeBeron saying:

“And these are only a fraction of the civilizations whose bones litter the earth. Which is why–,” she adds, picking up and displaying a box of darts, “–the next major phase of our class will have us branch out from the Fertile Crescent, with each student being assigned to independently study a particular ancient nation or civilization. At the end of the semester, each of you will then present what you have learned in a term paper and in front of your peers. Each class session, we will alternate between studying a principal civilization and giving you independent time to research your assigned time and region. But rather than just me making the selections or having a dozen of you bicker over who gets to cover Japanese samurai and ninjas, we will throw darts. That is, each of you will have a chance to take a dart and throw it at the map. Where your dart hits will determine your nation.”

The class grumbles a bit at the mention of so much independent work, but many of them seem enthused or at least intrigued at the selection process. “Can I go first?” a classmate asks.

Brook: Brook: Brook is one of the people whose interest is more than a little piqued when he hears about this next assignment. If he’s learning about something he enjoys, it’s quite a bit different.

GM: “I believe we will go in alphabetical order,” the teacher replies. “And seeing as young Mr. Atwood is not here today, I believe that means… Mr. Barnes will go first.” She hefts a red tailed and blue tailed dart. “Please pick one, Brook, and throw.”

Brook: Hearing he’s the first batter up, Brook steps to the plate and picks out the blue dart, then turns to the board. Put a gun in his hands and he can smack a rabbit from 100 yards. This, though? Jeez, he’s never even held a dart. Good a time as any to learn though! Aiming for the area around Finland, Iceland, and Sweden, he carefully winds back and lets the dart loose.

GM: It doesn’t help that Brook’s only seen his mom shoot darts using a backhand throw. Behind him, several of the students cheer and jeer him on, shouting out various areas to either hit or avoid: “Aztecs ate hearts!” “Not Japan!” “Pyramids!”

But his inexperience, odd grip, and distractions curse his throw. The dart smacks against the map off-angle and hard, causing it to bounce back and fall point-first straight into the writing hand of Leanne Byers on the front row. She screams, immediately standing up and foolishly yanking the dart out, causing blood to spurt over her and another classmates.

Brook: Brook tracks the dart with his eyes, and the red drains from his skin as he sees where it lands and what that girl does with the dart once it gets in there, stirring it up and doing as much damage as possible! Seeing the entire classroom break down, there’s pretty much just one thing going through his head as he goes into autopilot.

Shit.

GM: Chaos erupts. Mrs. LeBaron faints. Students burst from their seats, Leanne slips and tumbles. Gary Busing throws up. Daniel Littlebeaver laughs at the hilarity, flashing his friend a thumb’s up.

Brook: Brook towards first aid kit on the wall, pulls it off, and runs back to Leanne. He puts a hand on her stomach and tells her to lay on her back and breathe evenly while she keeps her arm held up for him. He goes over everything he’s supposed to. “I’m certified C level in first aid, I’m going to help you now!” Just like the law says you have to. Once she calms down enough, he wraps the hand up tight with gauze and kneels there beside her, holding her hand nice, tight, and elevated. No matter how much that’s going to get his hand soaked in her blood when it starts to flow though.

Leanne Byers… Brook hasn’t talked to her much, though that’s true for most everyone but Dan these first few weeks of school. “Sorry about this, we’re just going to let it sweat for a sec. Does it hurt much? I can send for an icepack.”

GM: Despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that Brook is or was the source of the present chaos, the students readily cooperate with the popular disk-jokey. Even Leanne Byers quickly cedes control of her body to the local celebrity. She does wince at Brook’s grip. “Of course it hurts–,” she answers, “–I had a dart through my hand!”

Apart from her histrionic hyperbole, Leanne seems hurt, but stable and comparatively calm–particularly because any embarrassment she feels is overshadowed by the literal and social mess Gary Busing created. While most students jeer and gag at Gary and his vomit or else cheer and gawk at Brook’s first aid heroics, at least one student goes to check on Mrs. LeBaron, poking her tentatively.

Brook: Brook is glad that things have kept rather civil while he does his magic. Mostly he’s just glad his little patient is doing okay despite being pissed with him. “Least you still have feeling,” he teases, giving her a little wink as he watches the classroom chaos unfold. This is… well it’s definitely the most eventful day he’s had in World Literature so far. As people talk, Brook speaks up to get Dan’s attention across the room. “Danny! Find my dart and stick it into Iceland before the teacher gets up.”

GM: For her troubles, that student shouts and flails back as Mrs. LeBaron violently awakes, screaming with clenched hands:

“I’LL KILL YOU, ERVIL, YOU AND EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM!!!!”

All thoughts about Gary instantly evaporate. The class looks in shock at their normally mild-mannered World Lit & History teacher.

The initially frenzying, murderously screaming woman snaps out of it just as suddenly as she snapped into it. She blinks, her eyes refocusing and reorienting her to the present. She slowly stands up, looks over her dumbfounded students, and then rushes out of the room.

“What the hell was that, man?” Daniel asks.

“Who’s Ervil?” several other students query–but to no immediate or definitive answer.

“What now?” another asks.

“Can I take my turn with the darts?” Barry Hobbs asks–to which a number of girls shout, “NO!”

“Someone get the janitor.”

“I’m going to the main office.”

“Brooks, shouldn’t you take Leanne to the nurse’s office?”

“No, stupid, you never move someone who’s injured.”

“No, stupid, that’s only if their neck or back is broken.”

Brook: Too bad Brook’s late about Iceland, when suddenly the teacher screams out a name like nothing she’s ever belted out before. It’s… yeah, it’s something. But despite all the people now talking, he hears a sound plan in there. “Come on, Leanne, let’s get you up and into the nurse’s office. Maybe they’ll let you take the rest of the day off. I’ll even drive you home, if need be.”

GM: “Oh, okay,” Leanne says with a half-hidden smile. Between them, amidst the smell of blood and vomit, they leave the class to its own Lord of the Flies reenactment. Out in the hallway, as the teens walk literally, if awkwardly, holding hands. Leanne turns and asks, “Brooks, what do you think… happened with Mrs. LeBaron? I mean, not the fainting, but well what happened… after.”

Leanne herself is tall, of the height and age for a girl who awkwardly hit puberty and a growth spurt well before most of her male and female peers. Brook himself just caught up to her in bruising six feet, so they make a relatively tall pair, particularly for underclassmen. A farm girl if not quite tomboy, Leanne has, much to the teasing delight of some of her peers, an equine cast to her long face, with wide-set blue-gray eyes and a prominent nose. Her chin-length ‘mane’ of blonde-white hair is beyond unruly. She wears a cotton-knit shirt without a bra, riding jeans, scuffed-up tennis shoes, and a pleated, faded blue polyester vest that she’s seemingly never taken off in the four years he has known her. She wears no makeup or jewelry, save for an antique looking ring fashioned in the shape of a triskelion. To Brook, she smells like deep loam, fishing, cattle, and old campfires. And blood of course.

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Brook: Brook still sees Leanne’s smile and gives her one himself as he helps her up and into the hallway, loosening his grip a little as they walk out. It’s easy to forget how fragile some people might be, growing up how he did. Riddled with marks and scars from creature and caretaker alike. Though she seems curious about what happened with Mrs. LeBaron, too. For someone so soft-spoken to scream out for blood, the teacher sounded like a skinhead screaming ‘Jews’.

“That’s a good question. Sounds like someone really did her wrong. Never heard the name, I don’t think. Maybe a foreigner broke her heart?”

Walking alongside her, he does notice how tall the two of them are. It’s actually a cool feeling, not having to crane his head to look down at a girl for once. He bet it’d help a lot with makin–. Er. He corrects his thought and rolls his eyes internally. Every single girl he talks to for more than five minutes, that picture pops into his head. Though, she does smell… wonderful. It makes him feel guilty, especially with the directions some of his dreams go to twist that into something horrible.

GM: As the pair walk, they pass by Mrs. Sampson’s classroom. The door is ajar, but the classroom is dark with the lights out and the windows covered with black cloth. Inside, the social studies teacher leads a group of freshman in recitation that echoes down the hall:

“Dark Lilith, the Black Rose,
Goddess of Hell, full of darkness and lust,
Blessed art the fruit of your womb,
the demons of the pit, and Satan’s offspring,
And let thy demonic army reign over this dark world and hellfire reign upon us with darkness.
Omen.”

Meanwhile, a group of upperclassmen run through the hall in the opposite direction. “Go Kelpies!” they shout with the manic joy of adolescence.

Brook: Speaking of twisted, Mrs. Sampson’s classroom sounds like the perfect class to never fall asleep in, lest he wake up with his testicles a sacrifice to her fertility demon. Yeesh.

“If you want, I can look into it and tell you what I find. I kind of owe you for… y’know, mucking up your hand. Sorry, by the way, I don’t think I uh–I got caught up in the moment and don’t think I apologized.”

GM: “Yeah, okay.” The girl’s thoughts are seemingly no less complicated, but they remain opaque to Brook–and maybe even to herself. Yet, when Leanne reaches up with her uninjured hand to caress Brook’s raven-black hair, some of her thoughts simmer to the surface, so naked and bare that Brook can almost touch them. “I’ve always wanted to…”

“…you had a spot of blood,” the girl discongruently finishes, her pale features blushing.

Brook: Brook reflexively flinches just a little when she suddenly raises her hand, but as the girl smooths it along his hair he’s a little shocked. Looking down at her face, a thought comes bulldozing into his mind.

Does she like me? Seriously? Well–why?.

Heart throbbing up into his throat, he just stops and stands there flustered for a moment, clearing his throat and trying to speak. Holding hands suddenly becomes a lot more awkward, as well, but he finally gathers the courage to answer her. “Thanks, Leanne. I–thanks. We should get you to the nurse. For your hand. So it doesn’t get infected. We can, uh… we’ll catch up later. I can make it up to you.”

Charging at stags, ambushing feral hogs, gunning down coyotes, and even having put down a bear with his mother. All this, and Leanne manages to sap the boy’s courage a little. Of course he’d talked to girls before, had little girlfriends in middle school. But this feels a lot heavier. She’s nice so far, maybe he could get to know her a bit better. Hopefully without his mother finding out.

GM: Leanne just nods, her own thoughts seemingly too inscrutable or jumbled to articulate.

Brook: Brook still feels a little awkward about the situation, but he doesn’t let it stop him from keeping the pressure on her hand. Making it sweat just a little, he’s hoping that the blood will have stopped by now. Not that he’s scared of a little of it on him. Already they look like they made some sort of blood pact, walking down the hall like this.

GM: On the way, the pair passes by a cluster of AV Club students rolling some electronic equipment down the hallway. The all-male group is mid-bickering. The subject of their contention seems to be the ‘proper’ term for someone sexually attracted to anthropomorphized objects or machines.

“Look, people into animal suits are called ‘furries’, so they should be, like, ‘shinies’ or ‘techies’.”

“That’s stupid, Ted,” another chimes in. “The term’s mechanophile.”

“Technosexual, I think describes it better,” a third adds.

A fourth flips through a book, then says, “Here it says that some robot fetishists go as ‘ASFRians’ for alt.sex.fetish.robots.”

The second kid peaks at the book, while the first asks, “Hey, have any of you seen Kurt?”

The group slips by, leaving Leanne and Brook alone again. “Weirdos,” the former mutters.

Brook: As the group of AV clubbers going down the hall past them, talking about their perverted subject matter, Brook actually smiles a bit. It’s something stupid to pass the time, he guesses, but students here are just kind of… like that. Strange. He likes it. It makes taking guest calls at night fun at least. Hearing Leanne point it out though, gives him a bit of a chuckle. “They must be bored without that Kurt guy of theirs. If it’s the same one I heard about, I got a call about him last night, and he got horribly busted with a fake ID. Not too bright, that one.” Now that he mentions it… was she a fan of his show? What kind of music did she like?

GM: “You talking about Kurt, the senior who works at the movie theater? Wow. That was dumb trying to pass a fake ID at a bar. Everybody knows everybody here. Especially him, or at least his dad,” she adds with a frown.

Brook: Brook nods a bit at Leanne’s words: it’s true. No one would let him into any kind of bar here, despite his looks. “Yeah. What makes it worse, it was apparently the Burning Bush. His poor parents. My mother would tie me up in the woods…”

GM: “The Bush? No shit…” she says, looking off and away. “Makes you wonder if the other rumors were true.”

“So what about you?” she asks rather abruptly, looking back at Brook, or at least his black locks.

Brook: “I dunno. I can’t sleep at night, so I’m a bit too sleepy during the day to really pick up on rumors. What are people saying about Kurt?”

Brook isn’t a drama queen, but he still likes hearing gossip in school. People like to mess with the red kids, and suspensions for beating the hell out of them isn’t an option anymore. He has a responsibility to be a better student than he was in middle school. Not being here meant not meeting girls, as well. Like the one looking up at his hair right now. Little strange.

GM: “No, I wasn’t talking about… I meant… never mind.”

Brook: Brook looks a bit confused down at her, feeling bad, for misunderstanding her. Talking to girls wasn’t usually a problem. “No, I–what did you mean? What about me, what?”

It takes a second, but things click in his head after a quick scan of her face and thought back. If this is the same Kurt, was she talking about dating? That’s…jeez. What about him? He has to not be so fucking obvious with this, not fuck it up!

“Oh, you mean the rumor about his, uh–his girl issues. Sounds a little scummy. Outside of middle school, I haven’t even had one girl yet. Been… busy! Yeah, with the station and the forest.” It doesn’t feel subtle at all, it feels like screaming ’I’m not taken’ into her damn ear.

GM: Leanne smiles a bit, then looks again at Brook’s hair. “It’s always reminded me of black licorice. I like black licorice,” she says, this time staring into Brook’s eyes.

Brook: Brook’s… hair? That’s what has her so attracted to him? One of the few things that Brook’s taken away from Native culture is men with long hair. Much as the thick mop tangles and gets in the way, it seems it’s scored him some points. Even with a hair clip blended in on the top of his head holding it out of his face.

GM: “Can I help you two?” says Nurse Tyson. They are, after all, just outside her office now, their feet long on auto-pilot. Wearing a white medical smock and old-fashioned nurse’s hat, Rita Tyson looks a caricature that’s fifty years past its expiration date. With scrunched-down brown hair, hazel-green eyes with pronounced anisocoria, and glossy lopsided lips, the thirty-some old nurse is neither a vixen nor a hag, at least, so long as one overlooks her hands.

Few do. The Kelpies’ nurse has abnormally large, masculine hands. The disparity in size and shape is not immediately obvious, but once noticed, it’s simply impossible to ignore. It’s also the cause of her student-given sobriquet: Mrs. Man-Hands.

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Tyson begins to repeat her question when she spots the blood and gauze. “Come in, come in,” she says motioning to them. “Now what happened?”

Leanne follows, but glances at Brook. Maybe longingly. Her answer though is to Nurse Tyson. “It was an accident.”

Brook: The moment is ruined by the nurse as she comes out to see them; the young man clears his throat and just nods along with Leanne. “The class had us throwing darts. Mine bounced off the board and hit her hand. It tore an artery that should at least be closed soon.” The rest of the procedure falls clear into the nurse’s job description. Disinfect and re-wrap. “She’s lost a bit of blood, though. I can get her home, if need be.”

GM: Nurse Tyson inspects Brook’s handiwork–which is to say the wound as well as his first aid.

In response to both, she says, “Well, Mr. Barnes, I would say Ms. Byers was lucky to have you around to patch up her wounds–but then, she only needed said patching because you were around. Still, I’m impressed with your first aid skills. You’d make a fair nurse or medic. Ever consider joining the Knights of the Taxiarch?”

Brook: Despite his age, Brook is a park ranger, or at least ranger cadet. Once he graduates, he hopes to assist with car wrecks, police aggressive action, and perform traffic stops if he runs into them. It’s why they have badges, vests, and weapons–and why Brook has put so much work into his first aid skills. “It was my fault, so I fixed it. As for the Knights, I’ll definitely pass. I’ve got other responsibilities.”

Finally, with his own hand back, it’s clear he’s messed himself up as well. The feeling of the plasma and protein in blood drying on his skin is familiar, and not that unpleasant either. Still, better to wash it quickly. This hand is rather important to him. “Can I wash my hands? I’m a bit bloody as well.”

GM: “Of course, Mr. Barnes,” the nurse says, as she gathers some additional cleaning supplies for Leanne. The latter winces, but tries to put up a stoic front. As Brook cleans off his hands, the school-wide intercom crackles into life:

“Brook Barnes, please report to the principal’s office immediately.”

Both Leanne and Nurse Tyson flash him a sympathetic look. “Best be going, lad,” the latter says. “Like taking off a band-aid, lallygagging only makes it worse.”

Brook: Brook feels the water suddenly get a little colder as the intercom barks out its intentions for and at him. Fuck. It’s a slight inconvenience, but he isn’t all too scared. He didn’t do anything intentionally wrong. “It’s fine. It could be the job calling. Sorry I couldn’t take you home, Leanne; I’ll talk to you later.” With that, he goes into the hall and makes his way into the office, not daring to dawdle. They’re right about not keeping the sister waiting.

GM: This time, the hallways seem quieter. Emptier. The disquieting feeling only amplifies once Brook enters the north wing. Save for the principal’s isolated sleeping quarters and office, the school’s north wing has been abandoned for more than three decades due to shrinking enrollments. No stranger to being alone, the junior park ranger nevertheless finds no solitude in the dark corridors. This is not the sun- or starlit wilds where life teems and man is a seldom tolerated foreigner. Instead, the neglected halls and desolate classrooms portray desolation: the profound haunting absence of human society where it should thrive.

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And yet, despite its abandonment and desolation, the north wing is far from quiet. Lights sometimes spring into false-life, buzzing or flickering before dying. Magnetic door-locks clunk, causing echoes to haunt the hallways and dark stairways. And then there’s the smell. Sometimes it resembles burning chicken feathers, saltwater, or a clothes’ iron left forgotten face-down. And the smell is almost always accompanied by the taste. Like old pennies in your mouth, or the flavor of licked batteries. No, the north wing is far from quiet. It is disquiet. The journey alone is enough to make most students break into cold sweats and panic attacks.

But for some, what waits at their destination is far worse.

Brook: One’s eyes can only give so much information on where one is. Brook knows where he is, but it’s as if he’s walked out of the bathroom after a shower. Suddenly cold, with every pore of his body on edge, so he drags on clothes. The smell puts him off the most. Pennies, licked batteries. They make him think of blood, like old piss in carpet reminds him of off shellfish. But it’s not a wholly unfamiliar feeling.

Brook breaks into a stride. He’s scared, but he does what he always does. Head down, thousand-yard stare, seeing through the corner of his eyes for movement. Details don’t matter. Ears track everything, and he keeps his nose open for shifts. This is why he doesn’t enjoy the company of their principal. Whatever she believes, using fear against people is never a good idea. It doesn’t make Brook feel subservient. It makes him feel angry. This is the kind of place that makes him wish school wasn’t a gun-free zone, even for him.

Where is that nun’s damn cave?

GM: The ‘cave’ awaits Brook, its door already ajar.

The office of Sister Apollonia Gorczak, like its owner, is severe. Rough-sanded planks support a metal-framed cot covered in rough but precisely laid sackcloth. Beside it, a small bookcase stands in shadow. The plaster-cracked walls are less adorned and moreso impaled by religious iconography. Foremost among these is a large black cross set above a Latin inscription: DOMINE MISERERE SUPER ISTA PECCATRICE. As a freshman, Brook painfully learned its translation: LORD, HAVE MERCY ON THIS SINFUL ONE. However, the sophomore still remains ignorant of the meaning of the human skull bolted to a plaque.

Brook: Brook’s eyes always turn to the skull first when he enters the room. He knows there are special permits to keep human remains, it must have been important to the principal to keep that here. If the scripture on the walls is any indication, maybe she’s a nun because she took an ex-husband’s head or something.

But he would never verbalize it, standing at attention and quietly after he knocks thrice and enters, closing the door behind him. Much as he doesn’t wish the ire of the sister, he wants as many inches of plaster between the empty wing and his back as possible. Back to somewhere you don’t have to watch it.

GM: Principal Gorczak is kneeling upon her habit, its scapular, dress, and veil a dark-grey the color of burnt bones, while her wimple is the shade of lightning. She reads from an open book, her fingers folded into her sleeves, her face obscured from her shroud-like veil. There are no chairs in Principal Gorczak’s office. One either stands or kneels. The nun’s voice, thin and sharp as a cane, cracks the silence.

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“The Gospel of Didymos Judas Thomas, verse 10: ‘I have cast fire upon the world, and behold, I guard it until it burns’. Tell me, Brook Barnes, baptized son of Mary, what does this verse signify?”

Brook: “I… well, it makes me think of someone doing something bad, and covering it up so it can pay off for them. Like–maybe like mobsters protecting storefronts that pay them off? I don’t think I’m very good at religious interpretations, Principal Gorczak, sorry. Not a… church type, yet.”

GM: Principal Gorczak remains kneeling. She closes the Apocrypha with startling speed, a sharp echo ricocheting in the small room. The sound startles a lone moth to rise up from the nun’s sackcloth bed and begin fluttering in the room.

“Are you familiar with the butterfly effect?” the principal asks, her head still bowed and concealed by her dark veil.

Brook: Brook nearly jumps out of his skin when she slams it shut, hand instinctively slapping onto his chest. Where his gun would be, if he wasn’t in school. Moron. Shifting it up, he puts it over his chest, pretending just to be patting his heart calm.

“Is it–um. No, Principal Gorczak. Maybe something about migration? Like monarchs?”

GM: “Incorrect.”

“The scientific principle known as the butterfly effect was coined by the meteorologist Edward Lorenz. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. In other words, Brook, son of Mary, small causes can have large, often unforeseen effects.”

“The principle had long been known, but it was Lorenz that popularized its name after suggesting that the flapping wings of a butterfly in the Amazon can shape a tornado in Texas. Just like a careless throw of a dart can derail an entire class –and perhaps much more.”

“Which begs the question, Brook, son of Mary–,” the nun says, her hands suddenly bursting out of her sleeves to violently catch the moth mid-flight, “–if given the chance to stop the tornado, would it be wise, even righteous, to simply crush the butterfly?”

Brook: Brook listens. Might have even taken notes if he wasn’t standing without his bag, speckled in blood, in the abandoned wing of the school, and currently standing in front of the apparent lizard person who is his principal. Poor moth. Her question though, he ponders for a second, his mind slowly grinding in circles trying to think of an answer, coming up of two minds on it.

“It’s a bit–well. It’s hard to say? I don’t have a super high opinion of righteousness. Sometimes natural things have to happen. Keeping too tight a grip on things could be dangerous. If you don’t let a forest fire rage every so often, dead wood builds up, oxygen becomes more heavy. Eventually you’ll slip up and that fire or tornado could become devastating. If I knew a tornado was coming, I think I’d just evacuate the Texans, who have shelters. Lots of tornadoes there. But at the same time, I kill predators, so that what they eat isn’t over-hunted and the predators don’t starve to death. If we don’t step in, people could get hurt, the ecosystem might collapse. So I guess my answer would be… ‘if it was worth it.’”

GM: Sister Gorczak slowly opens her hands, releasing the un-crushed moth to resume its flight.

“Some incorrectly attribute the name of the butterfly effect to the author Ray Bradbury for reasons I hope will soon become apparent to you. For your disruption of Mrs. LeBaron’s class, you will report to in-school suspension tomorrow and for however many days it takes you to adequately read, ponder, and write a report on Bradbury’s short story, A Sound of Thunder, and its relevance to your careless throw and its seen and unforeseen consequences.”

“Unless you seek mercy, that is,” the nun-principal adds fervently.

Brook: Brook watches the moth fly away, still not so amused that she got the oil of her hands on its wings possibly. As long as it stays in the room and feeds on her old sheets, it’ll be fine–but still. Hearing her go on, he slowly deflates and bites back any audible sigh. Despite him not screwing around when he threw, he’s being punished. Even when he steps in and patches up the girl who could have really made a mess and gotten anemic. Then there’s her push for him to religiously absolve himself with some good old American masochism. No.

“I don’t want to seek mercy, Principal, no. I’ll just accept the punishment.” There’s no arguing with this lady, she wants to see him in her sick… zealot pain. Like he’s sure she is, not showing her face. “For the record, however, Principal Gorczak? I didn’t mess around. I’ve just never thrown a dart. It was a freak accident, and I applied first aid to alleviate it.”

GM: “For the record, Brook, son of Mary–,” the principal replies sharply, “–you have not been accused of ‘messing around’, nor are you being punished for such. Report to the library tomorrow to obtain the short story, so that you may better educate yourself and be less likely to impede that of your peers.”

“You are dismissed,” she adds with a cold finality.

Brook: Brook recoils on the inside. Calling his mother ‘Mary’ instead of Ranger Madcatcher always puts him off. It compounds on his pissy little attitude towards the woman, with the walk, the unfair punishment, and now the sharp little retort. Days like this make that GED look better and better.

Without a word, he turns the knob and closes the door behind him on the way out. Somehow the empty wing still creeps him out, striding quickly through the halls with his mind fastened tightly onto the nun. Sister Sinister. Even offering religious corporal punishment has to be illegal. Maybe Undersheriff Bauman has a handbook or some shit he can crack open to see. It doesn’t matter. Least he doesn’t have to go to school normally tomorrow. For now it’s… where next. Library, right. Hopefully Danny has gotten his ancient civ pinned up, and he’ll have something he can do to keep his mind off things. Maybe if he just does that short story today and tonight, and spends tomorrow doing his civilization? He already knows a bit of Viking lore.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


10.07.1998, Wednesday morning

GM: Despite Tina’s best efforts, Hazel misses the morning announcements and all of homeroom period. Her ‘assistant’, Jake Zimmers, is waiting for her in the Chimera. He lets her know that Mrs. Sperle tried buzzing Hazel a couple times on the intercom during homeroom period. “She wanted to let you know that your first class will arrive during third period, with, uh, Mrs. LeBaron’s World Lit. She also said something about making sure you clock in and out on the computer. She was kinda miffed,” the skinhead adds, rather tentatively as if testing the waters.

Hazel: “She’s right to be. Being late is disrespectful,” Hazel answers. “I am surprised to see you here, however, Jake. Were you suspended again?”

GM: “You could say that,” the ghost-eyed youth says, picking up some labels.

Hazel: “The Constitution theoretically gives us the right to say anything. Whether we choose to say factually accurate things is another matter entirely,” Hazel replies, regarding him expectantly.

GM: Jake pauses and looks like he’s about to say something flippant, but decides otherwise. “You said anyone who wanted to help out in the library could. I’m here, and I want to help.”

Hazel: Hazel actually looks rather taken aback for a moment, but the smile she manages in return is a genuine one. “I did. And I would be glad to accept that help.”

GM: “Cool, you want me to pick up where I left off, or start somewhere else?”

Hazel: Hazel nods. “Where you last let off. This is an open period for you?”

GM: “You could say that,” he replies with a half-smirk. He then takes the stack of labels and heads off before Hazel can reply–or at least not without her calling out or following him.

Hazel: Somehow Hazel isn’t surprised. She does not stop or follow him, however, but approaches the front desk and picks up the phone to call Agnes.

GM: As Hazel moves to her desk, she finds it as she left it last night–save one exception. The smell of bleach is stronger. Fresher. And there are new depressions in the carpet. The same kind, just a little bit to the left of where the old ones were.

Hazel: She instinctively glances towards Mrs. Griswold’s death-stains–if, indeed, they are still left.

GM: It is hard to tell, but new librarian suspects that the ‘remains’ of the old librarian are just as bright as they were yesterday–if not brighter.

Hazel: Hazel frowns deeply. If ROSEWATER learned she was investigating her predecessor’s death and sought to further cover their tracks, she wouldn’t be surprised. But this doesn’t appear to be anything like that.

What interest would someone have in those bleach-stains besides further obfuscating what happened to Mrs. Griswold? Well, sure, there’s ‘find out the truth’ like she herself wants to. But why would such an individual tip their hand with the bleach? This doesn’t fall into neat categories, and Hazel doesn’t like it. Maybe the answer is perfectly mundane, like Psalms trying harder to scrub the stains out. But a detective assumes nothing.

Either way, that’s not a mystery she’s going to unravel with Jake in the afternoon. She suppresses a sigh, resolves to look into things after school, and dials a number into the phone.

GM: Agnes answers, “Good morning, Ms. Bauman. Did Jacob Zimmers relay my messages?”

Hazel: “He did, Mrs. Sperle. Thank you for accommodating my lateness with Mrs. LeBaron.” Mom has always told her to thank people who do things for her. She doesn’t need to judge whether it’s appropriate or not: better to err with thanks than no thanks.

GM: There is a slight pause and a hint of thawing ice in her voice. “You’re welcome. But you should thank Vice Principal Schoening. I was merely following his instructions.”

Hazel: “I see.” Well, that won’t be much fun explaining to Uncle Leo, but she made her own bed. “In any case, you have my apologies if it caused you any personal inconvenience.”

GM: “Apology accepted, Ms. Bauman,” the elderly secretary says with further glacial melting. “Please do remember to clock in and out. I manually adjusted your card for yesterday, but let’s not make that a habit. Is there anything else I can do for you though?”

Hazel: “Let’s not. I don’t believe so right now, but I know who to call.”

GM: “Yes, you do,” she says with a hint of satisfaction.

Hazel: “Have a good day, Mrs. Sperle,” Hazel wishes before hanging up. That was… fairly painless. Mom taught her how to do apologies too, and it’s usually pretty formulaic.

She powers on the desktop computer, clocks in, and checks her faculty email account. She doubts many students or staff have much to send her this early, but she did shoot Murff an email last night asking if there’s a secure place where faculty members can store their things. She’s concerned hers may get stolen just leaving them behind the library desk.

GM: Perhaps to Hazel’s surprise, she has four emails.

Hazel: The woman who prefers dealing with people over computers isn’t complaining.

GM: The first is just the automated Outlook message indicating her account has been activated.

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Hazel: Delete.

GM: The second is… from herself. ‘Sent’ yesterday morning almost immediately after her account activation. There is no subject. The message is brief. Brief, but potentially disturbing.

You are being observed. Trust no one. If you want to know more, go to the Swiner, take the third booth from the door, and tape a newspaper clipped letter ‘Y’ to the underside of the table. DO NOT USE COLOR.
Discretely,
A Concerned Citizen


Hazel: Hazel stares at the screen. She’s being observed. That confirms a fear she already has. Who would send this? Who would know or care? Her parents? Maybe Uncle Leo? She doubts it’s from either of her parents, and somehow it doesn’t feel like Leo either. Not trusting anyone is good advice. She’ll start with the person(s?) responsible for sending her this mystery email, telling her where to meet them.

She stares at the screen. She removes her glasses, observes the black-lettered text fade into a hazy blur. Puts them back on. Observes them swim into focus. Off. On. Off. On. In. Out. In. Out. The email’s text swims, twists, and curls inwards, then outwards, spelling out some real answers…

Is the sender sincere in their desire to help me?

The text blurs and swims.

YES

So it’s not a trap. That doesn’t mean the sender’s interest is benign, but likely that attending the meeting will pose no immediate risk to her safety. She squints again. The text writhes and warps, twisting into garble with meanings as open to interpretation as an inkblot test.

Is there a direct connection between the email’s sender and the force behind Mrs. Griswold’s journal–or which visited me the night before last?

NO

Likely ROSEWATER-related, then. She doesn’t know for sure, but who else but the government has the means and motive to survey her? Further worry creases her thoughts. If they saw her handling that second tape… but that’s being paranoid, isn’t it? Easier to survey her at school than at her dad’s house? She can’t see any signs she’s being watched in the library either. Viewing the disc tucked in her cardigan pocket will have to wait, then–at least until she’s met her mysterious contact. Maybe they will have information on how to evade whoever is surveying her. Of course, why would they part with that knowledge? How does it benefit them to tell her any of this? A mental sigh. Her vision is swimming, eyes pounding.

Will my planned stratagem to evade my nocturnal visitor continue to be effectual–at least for the short-term?

YES

Hazel breathes a sigh of relief. It looks like she’ll be spending the night at Mom’s, then, if she can. She’ll need an excuse. If that falls through… well, Dad probably won’t say no again. And if it really comes down to it, she can rent a room at the Ghost Elk Lodge. The text finally splinters apart into a kaleidoscope of black blots against white, scattering over Hazel’s vision like sand tossed against her glasses. She blinks rapidly, lifting her them back over her eyes as if to shield her sight. That’s always… tiring. No power without price, as her uncle said. With that grim acknowledgement, she moves to check the remainder of her emails. The screen still makes her head hurt a bit.

GM: Ones and zeros. An infinite universe built by a single dichotomy. Ones and zeros.

She reads the next email.

Sender: Lance McDermott
Time: 8:13 am, Tuesday, October 7th, 1998
Subject: You’re back!?

Hazel: Oh god.

Hazel takes more than a few slow, calming breaths to smother the panic attack before it hits.

GM: Content: _Hazel, I heard the morning announcements about you being back in town and as our new librarian. I couldn’t believe it, but then I saw your name on the faculty email list. How long have you been back? I would love to catch up. Are you free anytime this week? Maybe we can grab a cup at the Wigwam, or catch lunch together. If you need help moving into your new place, I’d love to help. Congrats on the new job!

Yours,
Lance

PS: I teach Agricultural Science. One of my classes is scheduled to come by the library today, so I’ll see you soon! _

Hazel: Hazel stares the screen. Stares.

Aaaaaaaaggghhh!!!

Lance is… a TEACHER at WFHS? A teacher. Her ex-boyfriend, now her co-worker. Sending her emails. Asking about lunch. It’s… she’s at a loss for words. Except that one word she can fall back on for so many occasions. Awkward.

He’s being… friendly to her. Doesn’t he remember how they broke up? The circumstances that led to that? How much she thought he wasn’t applying himself, what a ‘lowly’ field agricultural science was? The raging hard-on of hate his dad held towards her? They split up. That was the end. Hazel didn’t wish anything ill on him, they just recognized they weren’t compatible for one another and went their separate ways. So why is he sending her emails!? It’s… she’s not going to call him weird, because what he’s doing seems only polite, especially now that they’re colleagues, but…

Aaaaaaaagh!

Hazel buries her face in her hands. It’s too strange. They went their separate ways. Oh, and that’s all before… One of my classes is scheduled to come by the library today, so I’ll see you soon! No, she’s not going to see him today. Because the Spooks, directly or indirectly, got somebody to beat the living shit out of him. Hazel slumps forward as if her hands’ cover is insufficient and sprawls her arms and face over the desk.

She doesn’t know how she’s supposed to feel about this. She doesn’t want anything bad to happen to Lance, no more than she’d want something bad to happen to anyone. Buttressed by that realization, she becomes conscious of her position over the desk. She sits up and brushes her disheveled hair back over her shoulders. I have the emotional maturity of a thirteen-year-old, reacting like this to a simple email. But she was never like other thirteen-year-olds. She’s just… she just doesn’t know how she’s supposed to react. For a moment, she no longer feels awkward, but profoundly alone. Like the world is contained inside a house she’s locked out from, and can’t do anything more than catch fragmented peeks through the window. How can people send such emails like nothing has happened?

Another realization abruptly stabs through her consciousness like an ice pick through an eye socket.Are you seriously having a pity party for yourself when Lance got all but beaten to death?

No. She doesn’t want to do that. She just… how is she supposed to respond to this, beyond hoping he doesn’t die? What is the right and proper thing to do? She wants to do that, whatever that is.

Hazel looks over the computer screen again. Oh. The email is dated yesterday. She missed that. Missed seeing Lance too. The added awkwardness is a drop in the barrel at this point. Maybe Mom, Dad, or both can explain all this, she grumbles. How I can… do whatever’s right for Lance in this situation. That’s all I want to do. What’s right. Without self-moping if that’s inappropriate. She sighs and gives the final email a check. Murff’s or someone else’s?

GM: Sender: Layne Tuttle
Time: 3:45 pm, Tuesday, October 7th, 1998
Subject: Thanks!
Content: Thanks!

Hazel: Oh. That… promises to be better. Hazel reads it over. Then she realizes the message is the same as the subject. Well, you’re welcome. Hazel wonders if it would be rude not to reply, then sends back an email with those exact words. Sans the ‘well.’

Next is tracing the people who hacked her email account. Her… reading might have told her they aren’t seeking to do her active and present harm, but she’s not walking into this without doing her homework. What happened to her email wasn’t sorcery. Someone hacked it and had her send herself an email, so as to avoid using an address of their own.

Hazel slowly smiles. I don’t get people. But I do get computers. The immediate, common sense precaution here would be to change one’s email password. Hazel doesn’t do that. She’s stored nothing of value on the account, and if they get in a second time, her odds of tracking them are so much the better.

Of course, tracing a second hacking is her backup plan. Hazel starts by calling the tech support line of the company that provides WFHS’s internet. “Hi, I’d like to get a list of the IP addresses that have accessed my email account. It’s…” Now, these people probably weren’t so green as to actually broadcast their own IP address. Searching that, she assumes, should unsurprisingly turn up a proxy server. But no matter their intent, individuals hiding their identity in such a way always leave some trail of digital breadcrumbs.

The technical part of tracking a user down is easy. Hazel simply needs to analyze the proxy server logs, find the connection request to the target server and look at the source IP address. While this is technically simple, gaining access to the proxy server logs is easier said than done. Ideally, Hazel will bump up against a company that was unwittingly running the proxy server and is eager to eradicate it quickly from its network. In that situation, she’ll probably be redirected to their corporate lawyer, who likely won’t be eager to share information with her that could later be used as evidence that the company was negligent or even complicit in any attack launched through the proxy. Normally, it takes the involvement of law enforcement and a court order to gain access to proxy server logs. Luckily for Hazel, her parents work in law enforcement and corporate law. And if she doesn’t want to involve them, she can always just break into the company’s servers.

A blooded attacker will use multiple proxy servers to hide their true location, so Hazel will probably need to repeat this process multiple times to gain access to the true IP address. Unfortunately for them, she is nothing if not persistent.

GM: Yet, for all Hazel’s digital acumen and sheer doggedness, she finds zero breadcrumbs. Perhaps like Hanzel and Gretel, the crows ate them all up, every last morsel, so thoroughly that Hazel finds no trace. Or, perhaps there are no breadcrumbs because there never were any–which would mean that the email was physically created and sent from her computer yesterday morning–when she was huddled under her desk, just a few feet away.

Hazel: Another phone call confirms that no IP addresses have accessed her email account except the school’s. Hazel can’t stop from shivering a bit at the thought of someone being there in the room, with her, right when she was a panicking mess. So someone with access to the school and its library, able to enter unseen or without arousing suspicion. Leo all along? He did want to meet her after school today, after all. They never decided where. And in all frankness, it doesn’t strike Hazel as a good idea, simply talking about what happened to Layne in the Chimera where anyone could be present without knowledge. She’s already had pot go missing from her backpack, after all.

Yes, Leo seems probable. Hazel can’t say for certain, but it’s the simplest explanation. Well, Occam, if I cut myself on your razor, I’m going to be ticked. If it’s Leo, she’ll have to lecture him on the proper way how to hack an email account. He should have hacked it from a remote computer too. Hazel could have dug up the IP address and gone off on a wild goose chase, assuming the perpetrator wasn’t someone who worked at the high school. She’d have been none the wiser they had physical access to her computer. She can’t think of any direct way to correlate IP addresses to specific sent emails–the closest she could approximate is simple timestamps for the address next to the time marked on the email.

GM: But no, Hazel considers, that can’t be it. Yes, she was having a panic attack and her senses were… preoccupied. But she’s pretty sure, really sure that she would have noticed someone creeping up a few feet away from her and using her computer. Or maybe that’s just what she wants to believe–that her anxiety and panic attacks aren’t that debilitating. That her privacy, her possessions can’t be so easily violated.

Hazel: Hazel sighs and rubs her temple. Well, she could follow up on this. Getting a fingerprint off the keyboard would be tricky, given how many times she’s since touched the keys with her own fingers. She’d also need a set of Leo’s prints to compare to. But why go to such effort to confirm who the sender was? She’ll find out for sure this afternoon, one way or another.

Actually, she frowns, there’s other thing she can do. It seems like it’d be polite to apologize for being late to work, and a prompt one is better than being late twice. She picks up the phone and dials her uncle’s number.

GM: Hazel hears the ‘click’ as the call is rerouted. “Good morning, this is Vice Principal Schoening,” her uncle answers. Hazel can’t recall a time she’s ever spoken to Uncle Leo on the phone before, and the effect is odd, since much of the man’s intensity seems lost in translation.

Hazel: “Hello, Vice Principal Schoening. This is Ms. Bauman,” she answers. Well, he still seems formal enough over the phone, and that’s something she can relate to.

GM: “Ms. Bauman, what can I do for you?”

Hazel: “By all accounts you have already done something, Vice Principal. Mrs. Sperle informed me that you were responsible for accommodating my lateness with Mrs. LeBaron’s class. You have my thanks for doing so, as well as my apologies for its necessity. My tardiness was due to circumstances within my control that I will endeavor not to repeat.”

That apology, too, was mentally drafted by Hazel in advance, bearing in mind the rules from that book on social interaction Mom gave her for an earlier birthday. If you’re wrong about something, admit it quickly and emphatically.

GM: “Your trespass is forgiven,” her uncle answers. “Such incidents often occur–though they are not the state of affairs to which we strive.” Even over the phone, there is a precise, potent force behind the man’s words–but it’s veiled, like a fire whose heat you can feel but whose flames you cannot see.

Hazel: “There is also another matter concerning Ms. Tuttle’s requested transference to work as an assistant librarian. Is your office after school hours an acceptable time and location to discuss such, or do you already hold prior commitments?” Hazel pauses, gauging her uncle’s reaction. She’s still a bit new to subterfuge of this sort, but wanting to discuss such a matter with him should be consistent with what any potential eavesdroppers picked up.

GM: “I have made a commitment to you, Ms. Bauman, and I will not break it lightly. Please meet me in my office at 3:59 pm, and we will discuss Ms. Tuttle’s situation.”

Hazel: “Very good, Vice Principal. I will see you then.”

GM: “Until then–,” he adds, “–Farewell.”

Hazel: “I shall endeavor to so fare.” Hazel hangs up. Her gaze then sweeps across the rows of waiting, un-catalogued books. Well, time to do the job he hired her to do.

Hazel: The next few hours pass uneventfully. Hazel and Jake catalog more books, another figurative drop in the vast, vast bucket. Hazel contemplates how she needs to find a more labor-intensive way of going about this–which doesn’t involve her personal labor. Nevertheless, she thanks her ‘assistant’ for his help when he is done, stating that twice the hands is half the work.

When second period rolls around, Hazel takes an early lunch break and snarfs down the extra food she packed, not having had a chance to eat a real breakfast this morning. She then picks up the phone and calls her mother again. Beyond wanting to catch up, she now has a very pressing reason to want that dinner. The Sweeney house is not a safe place to spend the night, at least in the short term. She could go to her dad’s house again, but she’d rather maintain an unpredictable schedule. Granted, she admits, someone who did their homework on her and knew she spent last night at her dad’s could probably guess she wants to spend tonight at her mom’s, but it’s a better defense than nothing.

GM: Her mother picks up on the first ring. “Hazel! Are you all right, dear?!”

Hazel: “Mom? Yeah, I’m just fine, why do you ask?” That was… fast. She honestly hadn’t been expecting the call to go through.

GM: “Well you weren’t home last night when I stopped by, and then Harvey told me about Lance.” Harvey. Not ‘your father’. Not anymore. Not to Lydia at least.

Hazel: “Oh. Yes. I spent the night at Dad’s house.” Hazel doesn’t stress the name. But she does say it. “I am okay though, Mom. I wasn’t there for any of it. Just the aftermath. We aren’t certain who did it.”

GM: The line goes so quiet that Hazel has to check to make sure they weren’t disconnected. She hears a clink of ice and the sound of drinking in the background. “What do you mean you spent the night at his house?” Her mother’s tone is tight like piano wire.

Hazel: “I mean that I went to his place of residence last night, deliberately fell asleep in one of the bedrooms, and left this morning to go to work. The colloquial term for doing so is ‘spending the night,’” Hazel answers, all but twerking the piano wire.

GM: Hazel can almost hear her mother pinching the bridge of her nose, a gesture she does when she’s too angry for words.

Hazel: Hazel isn’t much of a manipulator. But is her mom… jealous? Would she see having her over tonight as ‘revenge’, or at least some kind of validation? That could be the opening she needs. She can’t sleep in the damn Sweeney house, not with whatever’s after her.

GM: After a groan and what sounds like paper tearing followed by a splash and fizzing in the background, Lydia replies in a cool instructive tone, “Hazel, we have talked about this. Unless you are speaking to someone very young, intellectually impaired, or a non-fluent speaker, you do not provide a definition when someone asks ‘what do you mean by this or that?’–instead they are asking ‘why’? And we have also talked about you staying overnight with Harvey. So why did you do so–and heavens help me, child, do not say ‘to sleep’?”

Hazel: “Actually, Mom, I was not doing so to be instructive, but to be sarcastic,” Hazel explains in a helpful tone. “You also guessed that I was going to say ‘to sleep’, so I suppose it’s less humorous if I say that now.”

GM: There’s another sound of drinking followed by a sharp intake of breath.

Hazel: “I hope that’s… non-alcoholic?” There’s a tinge of concern to Hazel’s words.

GM: “Humor, dear, can be an effective means of deescalation–sarcasm usually has the opposite effect.”

Hazel: “We all have our temptations and vices.”

GM: “Alka-seltzer, Hazel,” her mother responds. “And you’re deflecting, dear.”

Hazel: “I was side-tracked. But I spent the night there because I had a severe panic attack in my bedroom–one of the ones that makes me black out–and I didn’t feel like going to sleep there. I still don’t.”

GM: “Hazel, we’ve talked about that too. Do you remember what Dr. Reiter said about how avoidance only increases the likelihood and severity of future anxiety attacks? The only way to conquer your fears is to face them. It is perfectly normal for very young children to have nightmares and wish to sleep with their parents. But you are a physically, occupationally, and intellectually full-grown woman. You should know better. And he should too.”

Hazel: Damn it. That’s not the direction she’d wanted this conversion to go. She’d rather not paint a potential target on her dad’s house by staying there two nights in a row, but she can’t sleep in the Sweeney house, not with whatever’s after her. It’s all the more ironic that she normally would agree with her mother, too, about the efficacy of exposure therapy. She’s initially not quite sure how to turn this around.

“Exposure therapy works best in incremental doses. I avoided my bedroom when I returned home last night. When I return home this afternoon, I intend to venture inside it, and to work my way up from there.”

GM: Another pause. Another sip. “Okay, Hazel, that may explain why you didn’t stay in your own home, or at least bedroom, but not why you spent the night at Harvey’s.” She adds, “Or it explains it, but not justifies it.”

Hazel: “Under normal circumstances it would have been a dilemma deciding which of you to ask. Or at least a coin toss. I usually resort to flipping a coin or employing some other chance-based deciding mechanism whenever I have to pick between the two of you for anything.”

GM: “Perhaps flipping the coin is just another form of avoidance, Hazel. A hobgoblin of the mind. But go on. I am listening.”

Hazel: “I think instead, Mom, it reflects the fact that you are both equally important to me. I am unable to personally make such a decision, so I absolve myself of the necessity to do so.”

GM: There’s a big gulp of the fizzing alka-seltzer water. “So are you telling me you flipped a coin, Hazel, or are you just leading me to draw that false conclusion?”

Hazel: “Oh no, a coin toss would have been entirely superfluous in that instance. Dad was there when I woke up from the attack, so it was my natural impulse to ask him. I felt guilty about it afterwards all the same. But after you were forced to cancel our dinner plans, it appeared that such guilt was unwarranted.”

GM: There’s a click in Lydia’s throat that all but spells out ‘checkmate.’ “Yes, about that, I’m very sorry, Hazel. Something came up last minute, something very, very important. Something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. But in person.”

Hazel: Hazel’s tone immediately softens. “It happens, Mom. It wasn’t like that was my graduation or anything. I’ll have more first days at other jobs.”

GM: A slight brightening. “Yes, yes, you will, dear. Better ones too, I’m sure. Would you like to have dinner tonight?”

Hazel: Hazel is about to quickly change the topic before her mother kindly spares her the necessity of doing so. “I’d love to, Mom,” she smiles.

GM: “Wonderful. We can even order room service, if you’d like to avoi-, skip the lounge.”

Hazel: “Yes,” Hazel instinctively answers.

GM: “But you have to sleep back in your own place,” her mom adds quickly. “Maybe not the bed, but another room or a couch at least.”

Hazel: No Mom, I actually do not have to. I’ll spend my own damn money on a hotel room if you or Dad aren’t willing to put me up, because I’m not getting… well, whatever in fuck’s name an evil eye that appears at night in people’s bedrooms does to them.

Hazel does, however, moderate her tone as she replies, “Graduated increments, Mom. I avoided sleeping in the house at all yesterday. Tonight I’ll take an afternoon nap there and spend the night somewhere else. Tomorrow I’ll sleep in one of the house’s other bedrooms.”

“I’ll spend tonight at Dad’s again if I have to. Or pay for my own room at the Lodge, it’ll set me back, but it’s not as if I spend my money on many things. All the same, I hate ‘picking favorites’, and I’d feel even better if we could still have dinner together.” Hazel’s tone is affectionate, but there is a steel spine of ‘my mind is made up, it’s not changing, and you know it won’t’ backing it up.

GM: Another clink, another sip, another click. “I will pay for your room–a separate room here at the hotel tonight. But only for tonight, dear.”

Hazel: “That sounds equitable, Mom. Thank you for the pizza last night, as well. Saves me the necessity to make lunch and/or dinner for a little while.”

GM: “You’re welcome, dear. I hope you find the second gift even more useful.”

Hazel: “The second gift?” It takes her a moment to connect the mental dots. “Oh, that’s right. I hope so too.”

GM: “Is 7 o’clock an all right time to pick you up? From your house?”

Hazel: Hazel thinks for a moment. She’s not sure how long business at the Swiner is going to take. “I’m actually not sure what time I’ll be getting off today. Why don’t I just bike over to the hotel and meet you there?” Hazel doesn’t like the thought of talking to the hotel staff, but sees few ways around it.

GM: “If you’re sure, dear. I’ll let the staff know, in case you arrive before I do. Please be careful on the roads.”

Hazel: “I will, Mom. I got a headlight installed on my bike before I moved back.”

GM: “I’m so relieved to hear.” Another pause. “You know, Hazel, I think you’d fit right in amongst all the cyclists in Europe. Hardly anyone drives cars.”

Hazel: “That does make sense. They are a great deal more environmentally conscientious than we are, and distances simply aren’t as long.”

GM: “Yes, and far more civilized than some communities I know,” her mom adds half-jokingly–but only half. “I love you, dear,” she adds with a smile that is almost visible.

Hazel: Lydia knows better than to argue with Hazel when her mind is well and truly made up. The same is true in vice versa. “I love you too, Mom,” Hazel smiles back.

GM: “Ok, I need to get going here, but I’ll see you tonight,” her mom says in farewell.

Hazel: “You will. See you later.”

Hazel: Hazel looks back up at the clock. Talking with mom didn’t take too long. In between bites of an almond butter sandwich (it doesn’t matter if it’s more expensive than peanut butter when you don’t pay for it), she carefully re-opens her predecessor’s journal. There is further knowledge contained within its pages. Knowledge that she has to know, no matter its cost.

GM: Page eight begins with a line Hazel knows all-too well.

The roads have a will of their own.

Strangely enough, two score or more pages that follow actually resemble journal entries with dates, times, and locations. Pressed for time, Hazel reads over what she can. By the time the second period’s ending bell rings, Hazel knows that Mrs. Griswold had been tracking, or at least logging, the comings and goings of certain trucking companies in and around Witiko Falls. Most of the entries seem rather plain, even containing mundane information like the weather, the activities of neighbors, and what she had recently eaten. However, there are occasional deviations from this normalcy such as complex mathematical equations or computations about certain deliveries or their drivers, many of whom are given what Hazel can only assume are code-names. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the entries have a fair bit of trucker jargon that the non-driving librarian cannot ‘translate’.

Hazel: Hazel eventually infers that Mrs. Griswold’s primary interest in the truckers was what they were delivering. What they were delivering, and why it would interest Mrs. Griswold, are questions that remain unanswered. That, at least, is nothing new to the current librarian as she snaps the book closed.

GM: Too many questions. They surround her. The book in her hands, the bleach-scrubbed blood beneath her feet, the email on her computer, and more. Yet, as Hazel contemplates her seemingly expanding universe of mysteries, she notes that she has received two more emails during her ‘lunch break.’

The first is from Murff. Replying to her email, her twice-former Language Arts teacher lets her know that the teacher lounges have lockers for faculty to hang up coats and lock up their possessions. He guesses that she’s been assigned to Lounge A–and suggests that even if she’s not, she should use it “lest the staff assigned to lounge B corrupt you with their hard science witchcraft.” Plus, he adds, that way they get to hang out and engage in water-cooler gossip.

Hazel: Hazel smiles at the email and shoots off a reply thanking her former teacher for the warning (and his answer).

GM: The second is a recent delivery from Agnes. She informs Hazel that Mrs. LeBaron will not be accompanying her class to the library due to an “incident.” Consequently, Hazel will be in charge of managing the class and helping each student locate an appropriate book to help them begin their term project on an assigned ancient civilization. Once all the students have their book, Hazel is to help answer any questions they have, but otherwise let them begin reading.

Hazel: She groans at the prospect of actually running the class. She’d have preferred to just help the students find books. Oh well. That shouldn’t be too hands on, should it?

Poetic justice if nothing else, I guess, after I was late.

Brook, Hazel: Paper-Cut Corkscrew


10.07.1998, Wednesday noon

Hazel: Hazel steps out from behind her desk as Mrs. LeBaron’s class files into the library. However many students there are, it’s too many. She really doesn’t want to do this without another teacher to help manage things, but at least she had time to mentally prepare what she’s about to say. She forces a smile as she calls out to the class,

“Hi everyone, welcome to the library. A lot of you probably didn’t listen to the intercom announcements yesterday, and those of you who did probably don’t remember, so my name is Ms. Bauman, and I am the new librarian. I’m Undersheriff Bauman’s daughter, I graduated from high school here five years ago, and I still remember how boring I found listening to teachers talk about themselves. So on a more instructional-related note, I will be responsible for helping you locate appropriate books to begin your term projects on ancient civilizations. Once you find a book, please take a seat somewhere and begin reading. I will be available to answer questions and provide any other requested assistance once everyone has found their books. Are there any questions before we begin doing so?”

GM: Mrs. LeBaron’s class of just barely sophomores is a far cry from Murff’s honors class full of seniors looking up college applications. The kids remind Hazel of a sprawling lump of half-cooled wax. They possess the gangly lankiness and awkwardness of just-hatching butterflies who have yet to grow accustomed to their nascent pubescent bodies. They’re all elbows, acne, raging hormones, and hypomania.

Hazel: The hydra’s last head was immortal. Armed with her relatively friendly words for a shield, Hazel readies herself for battle.

GM: A kid passes gas, prompting another to push him, which causes several others to bump, jostle, and yell. Others walk away or jump onto the computers, while a few rock their heads to the beat of half-concealed headphones pumping out Kurt Corbain or J-Lo.

Hazel: “Headphones OUT, hands OFF anything but books, and keep your feet RIGHT HERE,” Hazel sharply calls out, the smile gone in an instant.

GM: For all their bluster and bluff, the sophomores are still just kids. After a few fall in line, the herd mentality takes over. There’s some grumbling, but they stow their equipment, come back, stop pushing, and maybe even smell less obnoxious.

Hazel: The smile just as swiftly returns as Hazel’s tone shifts from sharp to sweet. The Beast is magnanimous in her victories, after all. “No questions, then. Now if you’ll all follow me, the pertinent books are this way…”

It’s the scent of their fear, Hazel contemplates in response to their seemingly improved odor. I love the smell of cowed adolescents in the morning.

GM: The young teens start pulling out slips of paper with their assigned civilization or nation printed on it. Some wait their turn, others hand their slips to the librarian, and others ask where this or that section might be.

Hazel: “One at a time, everyone,” Hazel calls. “Anyone who I’m not currently helping, please take a look at the following shelves. I will check in with each of you as I am able. You can hold onto the slips. I’m not going to have any idea who those belong to when I’m being handed a dozen. Now, let’s start with…”

True to her word, Hazel moves among the teeming throng of adolescents, endeavoring to help each one find a pertinent book–or at least stay on task and looking rather than goofing off. She starts with the simplest requests and those books she can best guess the locations of. A brief mental thanks is spared to her predecessor for laying out the method to her organizational madness.

Brook: Brook can still feel the stick of blood on his right hand, even the sweat from holding hands and the wash and disinfect wasn’t enough. It took time for it to sink into your skin, to cement what you did in your bones. Least that’s how he saw it, of course there was an explanation he didn’t much care for. Walking through the doors into the Chimera breaks that train of thought, and he remembers back to where he asked Daniel to stab into the dart board. Iceland and the north there. Just… Norsemen. That’s what he picked.

When he walks in, everyone seems a lot more docile than how he left them, from Lord of the Flies to 1984. Weird, but welcome. His jeans are still blotched with blood, so he doesn’t look exactly great for the new librarian, but he stands off to the side waiting for the line to thin out so he can have his turn up at the front. He doesn’t exactly feel like going and talking to his teacher just yet either, her screaming and the fainting at blood. Better to give her time.

GM: Daniel slips away from the crowd and hands his friend a slip of paper. “Man, LeBaron was still all kinds of whack when she came back. Glad to see Principal Gorzak didn’t crucify you.” He’s only half-joking. As Brook looks around, he notices that Mrs. LeBaron is nowhere to be seen–perhaps to his relief.

Brook: Brook looks down at the paper and mutters, “Sweet,” under his breath, wondering if Dan is going to pull something as he checks his civilization. Though… hearing their teacher is still fucked up isn’t a good sign. “Whack? Like, still screaming for that guy’s head? And of course she didn’t, it was an accident. One I fixed. Magic hands. But what about LeBaron? I don’t see her anywhere. She waiting for me in the book stacks with a knife or something?”

GM: As Brook flips over the sheet, Daniel adds, “You said Ireland, right? It wasn’t on the list, so I tried to get the closest I could. Or well, what Abby Merkle said was close.” The small strip of paper has a single word: Picts. Daniel shrugs. “As for LeBaron, hell no, she wasn’t screaming bloody murder. Instead, she was just skittish as a whitetail on the second day of hunting season.”

Brook: Danny Littlecunt, I will destroy you. Brook can almost feel the boredom seep into him. Picts were like–some kind of tattoo people? Wait, that might be… okay. Still, he rolls his eyes and shakes his head, shoving the paper in his back pocket. “Iceland, I said. Vikings. You know, Thor, Baldr, and… Loki getting his ass reamed by a horse and giving birth to his dad’s mutant-legged horse.”

LeBaron is left off to the wayside, it seems she really hates this guy she screamed about. Maybe that’s a better use of his time in the library. Check out a few books on Picts and take them to read overnight, and research that name while he’s here.

GM: “Shit, Brooks, I’m sorry,” the mohawk-haired youth says.

Meanwhile, Hazel references the diary’s annotated maps and soon finds the task all too easy. Most students simply hand her their slips and take whatever she gives them, either too lazy, ignorant, or trusting to argue or ask questions. But as the herd thins, Hazel clearly spots a pair of native boys at the back of the line. She hears one bragging about having “magic hands” while the other goes on about a female authority figure freaking out.

Hazel: After decapitating and cauterizing the hydra’s newest crop of heads, Hazel approaches the duo and looks between them. “I see the two of you are having a productive discussion about school assignments. Remind me what books I gave you?”

GM: Daniel looks at Brook, then turns. “Uh, we were waiting.”

Hazel: “Waiting to do something productive. Let’s start now. What civilizations have you been assigned?” Oh, please don’t have one. I can have you catalog books for the rest of the period.

GM: Daniel reaches into his pocket and hands the librarian a slip. It reads: Vril. The mohawk kid shrugs. “Is it like Chinese?”

Brook: Brook jumps at the sudden introduction of… this has to be the new librarian. She looks pretty confident despite what happened to her predecessor. Fishing his own slip out, he looks over at Daniel and sighs a bit at his own mixed up pick. “You want to switch, then? You like punky tattoos and shi… stuff.”

GM: “No way, man, because my partner is Veronica Pleats,” he grins.

Brook: Brook blinks. He didn’t even know there were partners. “Dammit, Daniel.”

GM: “Yeah, you got Horse-Face,” Daniel shoots back, then turns back to Hazel. “So is it Chinese or like Italian?”

Hazel: Hazel, however, swiftly cuts off the sophomores’ chatter. She isn’t sure if the kid is trying to pull one over her with a civilization that had its origins in a science fiction book, but she doesn’t care either. Anything that keeps his hands full and his mouth closed. “Vril. Great. You can start with The Power of the Coming Race, or Morning of the Magicians. They are technically English, as that was the nationality of the author who dreamed them up in the 19th century. You can find the pertinent books over there.” Hazel gives the boy directions and an expectant look for him to be off.

GM: “Does either one have a horse rape a guy? He’s into that,” Daniel says, nodding his head to Brook.

Hazel: Hazel happily seizes upon the convenient pretext and writes out a detention slip for tomorrow after school with a smile. “I’ll see you then.” More hands is lighter work.

GM: “For what?!” the shorter kids complains. “I was being serious.”

Hazel: “So am I. Please retrieve your books and begin reading.”

GM: He shoots her a look and takes the slip. “Yeah, screw that, I’ll get my ass paddled by the principal.”

Hazel: “I am certain she will be happy to impress the religious values of the Ursulines of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus upon another eager postulant,” Hazel replies, unfazed. Her expectant look for the boy to retrieve his books has not diminished.

GM: Daniel skulks off, but not before he picks up Pauwel’s and Jacques Bergier’s book.

Hazel: Hazel finally turns to regard the more quiet Brooks. “And what might your civilization be?”

Brook: Brook actually… doesn’t mind getting Leanne as his partner, zoning out just a little, imagining her coming to the radio station to study. It’d be… something. Maybe he could… nah. He’s jostled out of the thought by the word ‘rape’, suddenly realizing Danny is being a fucking moron again. Leaving his bigger friend’s eyes a bit wide and his mouth bitten shut as the accusation is pointed out.

Danny, your name is well earned. You little CUNT.

Too late to fix Danny’s damned mouth, he took the chance to look over at the teacher. She’s pretty! Older girls always look a lot more comfortable in their own skin. Actually… she’s a little familiar. Years and years ago, he remembers some kind of strawberry social or something with his mom. She looks a tiny bit older, but–

Then she turns to him, and he gets his first full on look, giving her a bit of a focused confused look. “Hazel Bauman? Undersheriff Bauman’s daughter?”

Hazel: “Yes, that is I,” Hazel replies, mildly taken aback. “I mentioned who my father was in my introduction to the class, though not my full name.”

Brook: Brook’s face lights up just a little, standing up a bit straight. He looks 100% different, he wonders if she’d even remember some kid. “I wasn’t here for that, I was walking someone to the nurse. I’m Brook Barnes, Mary Madcatcher’s son. I thought you moved away?”

Hazel: Hazel briefly looks across the library. All of the other students have been helped and are quietly reading. “I did, to attend college in Spokane. I moved back when my father and uncle called with a job offer to work as the new librarian.”

She isn’t sure what to say at this point. Making small talk isn’t as easy as following the ‘authoritarian librarian’ script. “I believe I’ve seen your mother a few times. The head park ranger?”

Brook: Brook is worried a bit about how he’s coming off, the woman seems a little distant to him. He’s still not going to ruin his record of carrying a conversation. “She still is. And I’m the other half of the equation now. I’m in the final stages of becoming a junior park ranger, and I already do the night shift. I took over the radio station as well. I’m glad you’re back, though. I kinda regretted being too young to get to know you way back when.”

Hazel: “My congratulations,” Hazel replies by rote upon hearing of the boy’s accomplishments. That’s the thing you’re supposed to do. She’s not sure what to say to his professed regret and thinks for a moment. “I’m certain your mom is both proud of and thankful for the chance to work alongside her son. I know that I enjoy helping my dad to examine crime scenes. Which I am actually not supposed to do without a business license to work as a private investigator. But it’s very easy to become a private investigator in Idaho. All you need is a simple business license.” That’s… Hazel’s not exactly sure what sort of conversation opening that provides for someone to respond to. But talking, she supposes, is better than not talking.

Brook: Hearing the end of her statement, he knows that’s he’s in. When people are difficult to talk to, have them talk about themselves, right? “Well that’s just for if you want people to hire you to do it, right? Not just do it yourself? Sounds like it wouldn’t stop you either way. Do you still do that kind of thing? Witiko Falls is… well, crawling with that kind of mojo.”

Hazel: The mention of the town’s occult phenomena initially raises Hazel’s hackles as she recalls her recent email. You are being observed. Trust no one. ROSEWATER, with its evident interest in the paranormal. Well, if they wanted to get her on anything, she imagines they’d employ greater subtlety than having a random boy just ask her about it… but it’s not as if they need subtlety or pretext to nab her. They didn’t use it with Mrs. Griswold. Or that poor boy at the crash. Spooks just dragged them into black vans. If that happened to her, she can only hope her parents would find out and give the government hell. And…

Her mind is wandering.

You are being observed.

Hazel manages a smile back. “I’m an avowed skeptic. The ‘mojo’ amounts to pseudoscience and stories that grow in the retelling.”

Brook: Red bells ring, causing Brooks to watch like a hawk as Hazel’s mind spins in circles. That’s more than a little bullshit. Maybe the time away from the Falls made her forget. Or maybe she has her head in the dirt like a real local, despite her absence. Like a real local, she takes too long to answer his questions.

“I deal with it for a living, Ms. Bauman. The amount of idiot tourists I’ve tracked through the woods chasing the happenings around here? Says something. Not talking about the wolf in the woods doesn’t mean that wolf doesn’t know where you’re hiding. You gotta be proactive.”

Maybe this isn’t the best place to be talking about this kind of thing, but he has that name on him, and with a cop’s daughter attending to him it’s a good chance. “I’m an insomniac, I don’t sleep at night, so I run the Witiko Falls radio station. I have time. I’ll check out some books on Picts–but! I want ask you if you know a name, first. If that’s okay with you.”

Hazel: Hazel subconsciously tenses at the continued paranormal talk. “Well, wolves are not precisely my specialty. My degree was in English. So if I saw one, I would probably run away. But answering student questions is what I am here for.”

‘I would run away’ might be laying it on a little thick. But that’s okay. If the government’s watching, they know she’s seen a few kooky things. Know, and anticipate she’d want to bury them deep, forget all about them, and keep her head down. That’s the expected behavior pattern of someone who’s seen too much and doesn’t want to see any more.

Brook: Listening, Brook wants to shake his head a little at her words, but he keeps a mostly even face. “Well, the last thing you do is run from a predator. It tells them you’re a target.” Brook has thought about daisypiss Spooks a lot, too. Sometimes he scares himself into taking warning shots into the woods at night, just hoping he’ll hit one of their vans or cameras. Something. Of course he’s scared of them, but it isn’t going to stop him. If they’re so worried about people being weird and having strange interests, they’ll stop things like social studies classes studying ancient chants and ancient civilization topics be from works of fiction.

“Ervil. The teacher saw blood, passed out, and woke up screaming she’d kill him and ‘every last one of them’,” he says, showing her the blood smears and splatters on his clothes.

Hazel: Hazel blinks at that. Well. What the student is saying would certainly fit the profile of an ‘incident’ that resulted in her managing Mrs. LeBaron’s class. And the blood tells its own story. What happened to the woman? Some special case of the parasomnia that afflicts the town’s residents? And the name…

Caution, once again, tugs at Hazel’s instincts. Is the young student a plant sent by the government after all? Or does he simply want answers like she did only yesterday, when she was willing to talk about trampled constitutional rights in front of fellow teachers? If that is the case, he has the full measure of her pity. Just a little over twenty-four hours since she’s started this job, and already there are least three different paranormal entities breathing down her neck. She can’t wish that… she won’t call it fate yet, but situation, upon someone else by encouraging his interests.

“I’m certain it was stress or a simple nightmare talking,” Hazel answers. “Or… potentially mental illness. But please don’t start any rumors. Mrs. LeBaron will likely be catching enough flak for having that sort of outburst in front of students.”

She’s lucky that the ROSEWATER element has put her on a clear mental script, she muses. She’s not sure how she’d normally handle being approached by a stranger making friendly conversation, apart from ‘not very well.’

“You’ve seen something very upsetting,” Hazel continues to Brook.

She pauses, unsure of what to say. How is she supposed to deal with a student who’s seen a teacher lose it and has blood on his clothes? A single, blessedly simple thought absolves her of the dilemma. Pass the buck.

“Are you—or any other students—physically injured or emotionally traumatized by what you’ve seen? If you wish, I will write you a hall pass to see the school nurse or therapist,” Hazel offers.

GM: As Hazel extends the offer, she realizes that the library is quiet. Too quiet. The other students, whether in the aisles or reading at the tables, have paused their activities and have been staring at Hazel and Brooks. It’s not a malicious stare, it might not even be a conscious one, but it reminds Hazel of drivers on a highway all rubbernecking to stare at a grisly car-crash, a mixture of morbid curiosity and fear. Whether she recalls it or not, she has felt the weight of that collective stare before–and it is no less comforting now.

Hazel: Hazel looks out over the class and calls, “If anyone else feels they need to visit the school nurse or therapist, I will likewise be willing to write out a hall pass. If you do not, please return to your reading. You’re still here to get work done for your projects.”

She does feel bad for Brook being overheard making those inquiries. At best, he gained nothing—in either popularity with the class, or answers from the librarian that she could not provide, not here and not now. At worst he could have drawn more dangerous attentions. That does reduce the odds he’s one of ROSEWATER’s agents, though. For all their boldness in simply seizing people they want for their own purposes, from what she’s seen, they otherwise prefer to keep public knowledge of their activities in the dark. They made that clear enough when they seized her camcorder. Having someone simply talk to her about the paranormal in a public setting doesn’t seem like their MO.

GM: The students look to one another, then back at their librarian. A few raise their hands.

“I’d like a pass.”

“Me too.”

“Yeah.”

“I want to see the counselor.”

“Please.”

Hazel: Hazel gives a mental frown. She’s no stranger to a class staring at her–but it’s never been for a good or comfortable reason. Damn it, she isn’t sure which of these students actually could use a visit to the nurse, and which just want to get out of doing any work on their projects.

Actually, you know what? I’m coddling them. All they did was hear their teacher yell something disturbing. Brook is the only one with blood on his clothes. The rest of them can get the fuck over it.

“All right, five students is too many. Anyone who is that upset can visit the nurse after school gets out. Until then, please return to your reading. Try not to pass out from the mental trauma.”

GM: There’s a slight grumble as the five lower their hands, and even some snickering from the rest–but not at the librarian. The class then returns to their reading, but she catches or thinks she catches several glances from behind their open books.

Hazel: Turning back to Brook, however, Hazel does write out a hall pass to the school nurse. “I don’t believe in shaming students for what they decide to wear, but in this case, your present wardrobe does distract from the learning environment,” she remarks, looking over his blood-stained clothing. “Nurse Tyson probably has a clean set of spare clothes for occasions like this, but if not, call your mother. If you aren’t able to get back by the end of the period, stop by later and I will have a book on the Picts for you.” Hazel writes out a note explaining that same thing on the ‘comments’ section of the pass, and sends Brook off to the school nurse.

With the class’ largest distraction so removed, Hazel steps back behind her desk and logs onto the computer. There may be no attendance for her to go by, but she’ll manually track down every head in Mrs. LeBaron’s class if she has to in order to ensure no one is skipping. Besides. Anyone who has skipped will get detention. More hands to help catalog books.

GM: A quick search, an email to Agnes, and a swift reply later, Hazel has a digital roster for Mrs. LeBaron’s class. She discovers that, apart from Brook Barnes, another student is missing: Leanne Byers.

Hazel: My new after-school help. Or another religious postulant for the good sister, I suppose. Mindful of the fact the students have been distracted enough already, Hazel spends the rest of the period quietly reading the handbooks she’ll be quizzed on over her computer. Where she can keep an eye out for any other troublemakers or simply students who have academic questions. She’ll see to Leanne once the period is up.

GM: The rest of the period passes peacefully enough. After Veronica Pleats dares to ask Hazel a question and gets a reply that is not quite helpful, but professionally polite, several other students come to the librarian seeking aid and generally receive it. It cuts down on her ability to wade through the dense manuals, but another hydra is defeated, if not tamed.

Hazel: Once Hercules’ second labor has been twice-performed, Hazel has the students sequentially check out their books and releases them once the inter-period bell dings. She then calls Mrs. Sperle and requests that she please summon a one Leanne Byers to the library over the intercom.

GM: After sending a school-wide page for Leanne, Mrs. Sperle calls back and informs Hazel that the young girl is in the Nurse’s Office awaiting her parents. “Did you have a message for her, Mrs. Bauman, that I co-,” Agnes says, then suddenly cuts off as another phone rings. One very close to Agnes’ desk. Maybe even one on her desk.

Hazel: The white or black phones. Those don’t ring too often, but they have a notoriety at Falls High. Student gossip believes that Agnes uses the white phone to talk to “god” or at least its angels. The black one reportedly connects either to Hell or ROSEWATER (and some question whether the Spooks aren’t actually devils).

GM: “I have to go, Ms. Bauman,” the secretary says and hangs up.

Hazel: Hazel raises an eyebrow. Clearly. Well, what happened with Leanne didn’t sound as if the girl was simply skipping. She’ll look into things again later.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


10.07.1998, Wednesday noon

GM: Kurt’s room doesn’t even have his name on the door; a simple blue curtain partitions the room, and labored breathing comes from the outline of a shape in the bed on the other side. Kurt awakens, his head slightly propped up against a pair of pillows with yellow stains. A pulley sling holds up his leg cast, and an intravenous tube snakes into his arm. The bedside table holds a metal sample bowl full of thick sputum as well as a tray with a tuna salad sandwich minus a single bite. The white-painted walls are peeling, and the smell of sweat and rubbing alcohol lingers in the air. Inside his skull, though, Kurt feels like drain-o is sloshing around in his cranial fluid, spiked with a couple of Xanax thrown in for good measure.

Kurt: What the hell happened? The question reverberates within Kurt’s slosh-filled brain. “Where am I?” he asks aloud to nobody in particular, looking at the shadowy figure behind his curtain. He tries to get up, inspecting the tube alongside his arm. He considers pulling it out.

GM: The curtained-off figure, stirs, but does not reply. However, Kurt’s plaintive inquiry draws the attention of someone outside the hall. The clicking of shoes on once-waxed linoleum.

A doctor walks into the room. He’s dressed in antiseptic white and carries a menacingly large hypodermic needle. His poise is reminiscent of a wax figure. He looks down upon his patient with withering confidence and silent condescension. His eyes are the same brown as cigarette burns. His thin hair matches the stained hospital pillows. His lips are the pink you imagine raw flesh must be, like his mouth is just a gash cut in his face so he can talk through it. His manicured fingers remind one that he makes surgeon money–and that he frequently holds both life and death in his hands. His demeanor is of one well-acquainted to playing god.

doctor.png

Kurt: “Um,” Kurt dawdles, eyes going to straight to the needle, looking up at the strange doctor with a look of bewilderment and the slightest bit of fear. “Hello?”

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

Kurt: Kurt recoils at the sudden light being aimed at his eyes, blinking rapidly and pulling his head away. “Sorry, sir–,” Kurt mumbles, “–but can you tell me where I am?” He still feels dazed and confused. This is all happening a little too quickly; he genuinely wants answers to what happened.

GM: The doctor clicks off the flashlight and stows it, only to click on a voice recorder. “Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03. Pupillary response assessed. Miosis consistent with dose response curves. Mental status exam to commence. Subject lacks sufficient cognitive ability to discern his location.” The doctor, still recording and holding the needle, poses Kurt several questions. “What to your best understanding is the current time and date? Please identify yourself, including your given and surname.”

Kurt: “What?” he asks, bewildered. “Kurt… Joseph… Crawford?” he says rather tentatively.

GM: The doctor exhales and looks away for a second, as if he’s thinking how to boil his thoughts down into something Kurt can understand. “Please identify the current time and date to the best of your ability.”

Kurt: “The seventh?”

GM: “Please be more specific.”

Kurt: “The seventh of October?”

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

Kurt: “1998.” Kurt’s facial expression turns a little sour at the doctor’s bedside manner; nonetheless, he tries his best to keep a lid on his annoyance.

GM: “And your best approximation of the current time?”

Kurt: Kurt recalls the half-eaten sandwich, so make a guess that it’s sometime in the afternoon. “Maybe 3 o’clock in the afternoon?” Kurt then adds rather quickly, “Is it all right if I call my mother?”

GM: The doctor does not answer his ‘subject’, but instead speaks into the audio recorder. “Deficits remain in subject’s temporal orientation. Ego orientation appears intact…. if under-developed. Potential facile or oedipal attachment to maternal figure. Final orientation to commence.”

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

Kurt: “I was in an accident.” His voice is deadpan. Is this guy for real?

GM: “Please be more specific.” A nurse starts to walk in the room, perhaps to check on Kurt or his ‘roommate’, but then sharply turns around and exits when she spots the doctor.

Kurt: Kurt spots the nurse through his peripheral vision. “I was in a car accident,” he answers through gritted teeth. “Do you mind if I call my mother now? I was meant to be picking her up from work, so I want to make sure she’s all right and knows where I am, okay?” Kurt adds quickly, “Actually, what hospital am I at, anyway?”

GM: The doctor does not sigh with exasperation, likely because the gesture would indicate an emotional or human response. Instead, his expression takes on a waxy patience as he waits for Kurt to finish his questions. Then, he answers with all the cold clinical enthusiasm of turning patients over to prevent bedsores:

“Mrs. Crawford has been notified of your present situation. You will be approved for visitors pending the successful completion of your exam. You are currently in Mount Pelion General Hospital. Now, please describe in detail everything you recall of the events leading up to, during, and immediately after the car accident.”

Kurt: Kurt sighs in relief, glad to know that his mother’s been notified. “Thank you, doctor.” He then goes on to describe the situation leading up to his hospital stay insofar as he can remember. Kurt even includes the sound of screaming he heard before passing out, looking a little worried as he recounts that particular detail. He omits the sight of the elk with a human body flayed on its antlers–that was just insane, right?

GM: The waxy doctor regards Kurt for while, as if he’s measuring Kurt’s pupillary and respiration rate. “So upon putting considerable strain upon your multi-fractured foot, you experienced pain sufficient to induce syncope. Congruent to these events, you recall hearing screaming. How certain are you that this scream came from yourself versus someone else, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being absolutely sure and 10 being absolutely unsure?”

Kurt: Kurt looks a little unsure, half-wondering if maybe it was his screams that he heard. “Maybe a five, everything happened pretty fast.” Kurt reflexively looks downward at his foot with a disappointed face. Fuck, he thinks, what about basketball?

GM: The doctor speaks into the recorder. “Commencing trial to test subject’s responsivity to reality testing.” Despite hearing such an ominous pronouncement, Kurt may feel relief at the sight of the doctor stowing his needle.

Kurt: Kurt smiles in relief, glad to finally be rid of seeing that thing.

GM: The doctor, recorder still in hand, takes his now free hand and presses down on Kurt’s foot. His agonizingly tender, broken foot.

Kurt: Kurt tries to hold back the yelp of surprise; his resolve quickly buckles however, losing all composure as he screams in agony, the pain searing from his broken foot. His eyes are scrunched tightly as he barely holds back actual tears.

GM: The doctor waits till Kurt’s volume decreases to a sufficient level, then asks, “Now was the screaming you heard like that, or was it more like–” his hand shifts to another spot, then stabs down, “–this?”

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes widen in surprise; the pain doesn’t stop any time soon. He looks at the doctor with a smoldering contempt for a split second, but his eyes quickly roll back into the back of his head as another scream escapes his mouth, tears running down his freshly blushed cheeks. “What the fuck are you doing?” he wails, barely keeping it together.

GM: The doctor’s expression displays no trace of sadism or concern. Instead, he simply turns to Kurt and repeats his earlier question: “How certain are you now that the post-crash scream came from yourself versus someone else, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being absolutely sure and 10 being absolutely unsure?”

Kurt: “Eight!” he yelps, looking desperately to appease the doctor. “I am more sure it wasn’t me screaming!”

GM: For the first time, the doctor’s face takes on a human expression. A frown. Slowly, he holds up recorder and says, “Subject’s responsivity to reality testing is neuroatypical. Rule out contusion to prefrontal cortex. Recommended treatment: Administer pre-serum sedative and follow-up injection. Induce regimen of paralysis to facilitate chemical saturation and modified equilibrium, then re-administer mental status exam and reality resting. Continue dosage titration under desired symptomology manifests. If necessary, implement more invasive procedures if subject proves unresponsive to the aforementioned treatment plan.”

The doctor then turns off his recorder, placing it in his surgeon’s apron. He takes out a smaller needle and vial of… something. “Your injuries are quite severe. I am about to administer a sedative that will allow you to better rest and recover. There is no need to move.”

Kurt: “Please don’t,” Kurt says meekly, not really trying to move away, too tired to fight. He looks up with a frightened, confused expression.

GM: “There is no need to resist. You are in capable hands.”

Kurt: “Okay,” Kurt replies, not exactly answering in agreement–more acceptance of his fate.

GM: Seeing Kurt’s submission, the doctor smiles. It is not comforting. The needles plunges into Kurt’s hip, and the plunger depresses. Kurt feels the drug hit his system like a warm wet towel spreading through his veins. His limbs and breathing become heavy and yet somehow light as a feather… and the doctor somehow starts shrinking… fading away… fading… fading to black…

…fading to nothingness… and beyond.

Kurt’s psyche drifts free of his body, and so liberated… he hears… music. As it filters through and in his unmoored subconscious, he hears his father’s voice. “Light…light…light…"

“Let there be light…”

The music shifts and condenses like the infinite face of God descended into a tabernacle of flesh so it can be beheld by the finite. And in that surreal epiphany, Kurt’s mind comprehends the music that is not music is the Doors._ The music that is not music that is the Doors that is not the Doors systematically tears down and blasts away all psychological barriers. Mr. Densmore who is not Mr. Densmore provides the throbbing rhythms and the spiritual impetus to propel Kurt from his body, from the hospital itself, launching him into an inner flight which Mr. Krieger who is not Mr. Krieger sustains with bittersweet harmony; Mr. Manzarek who is not Mr. Manzarek entices Kurt into labyrinthine complexities of abstraction and leaves him, abandoned, until the powerful voice of Mr. Morrison who is not Mr. Morrison guides, tempts, and saves him back to the illusion of the here and now.

Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end


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


Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need… of some… stranger’s hand
In a… desperate land


Lost in a Roman…wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah


There’s danger on the edge of town
Ride the King’s highway, baby
Weird scenes inside the gold mine
Ride the highway west, baby


Ride the wave, ride the wave
To the cave, the ancient cave, baby
The wave is long, seven miles
Ride the wave… he’s old, and his skin is cold


The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall
He went into the room where his sister lived, and… then he
Paid a visit to his brother, and then he
He walked on down the hall, and
And he came to a door… and he looked inside
Father, yes son, I want to kill you
Mother… I want to… fuck you


C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
C’mon baby, take a chance with us
And meet me at the back of the blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
On a blue bus
Doin’ a blue rock
C’mon, yeah


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


It hurts to set you free
But you’ll never follow me
The end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die


Kurt is swept along the prolonged apocalyptic journey through the dark underworld of the post-modem unconscious, till the climax of a solemn prose-poem laying bare the Oedipal savagery of the primal libido.

“This is the end.”

And as music that is not music comes to an end that is not an end, Kurt hears it. Laughter. And a question. Do you like pranks? The question is the color of six and umami. It dissolves into Kurt’s psyche like the sound of chartreuse and Friday. Do y0U 1iK3 prAnK5?

Kurt: Motherfucker, Kurt swears within the recesses of his own dented psyche, swirling, intangible questions rocking his mind. Who doesn’t like a good prank?

GM: “HaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHa
hAAAhahaHAHAHhAAhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhaHaHaHAhAAAhaha
HAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHA
ahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAhAh
HAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAH
AHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhah
HAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhhahahahAaAHhahaHaa”

Kurt: Blissfully unfeeling, unaware. Aware but not aware. Kurt’s mind joins the laughter. Is it his laughter? Is it his screaming?

GM: Is there a difference?

Kurt: No.

GM: A blue bus pulls up. Kurt is driving it. He looks back and sees him looking back at himself from the back of the blue bus. Kurt who is not Kurt who is Kurt says to Kurt who is Kurt who is not Kurt: “Let’s play a prank.”

Kurt: Kurt who is Kurt who is not Kurt replies, “What kind of prank?” A grin spreads across his face as he tilts his head questioningly.

GM: The Kurts answer each other: “The best kind.”

The not-Kurts do not answer. Instead they sing:

This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end
I’ll never look into your eyes… again
Can you picture what will be
So limitless and free
Desperately in need… of some… stranger’s hand
In a… desperate land
Lost in a Roman… wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah


The blue bus is full of Kurts and not-Kurts, together and alone, singing as the blue bus rides the highway. The highway is a white line in the dead of night. The highway is a white web over and above and under the black abyss.

All the children are insane

The highway is a white flat-line on a black monitor.

This is the end

The highway is a flat-line that rides for seven miles. Seven miles–and then swerves. Curves. And spells.

All the children are insane

“HaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAha
hAAAhahaHAHAHhAAhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhaHaHaHAhAAAhahaH
HAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAH
ahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHh
HAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHha
AHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaH
HAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhhahahahahaAHhahaHaHA”

The laughter tears free of Kurt’s formerly comatose body. His once-dead body. He feels the stained crustiness of his pillows. The paddle-burns on his chest. He smells the sweat of fear and antiseptics. He hears his mother crying. He sees her look up, her tear-ravaged face trying to comprehend what she is hearing, what she is seeing. And then, she stops. She stops trying to comprehend and simply accepts. And the tears flow anew–but these are new tears. These are tears of joy. Kurt feels his mother’s arms around him, the hot, stinging wetness of her tears. “My son…” she sobs. “My baby boy…”

He watches as his sister walks back in the room, two paper cups filled with vending machine coffee in her hands. Amy stops in her tracks and drops the cups. She doesn’t even flinch as the steaming coffee spills and stains her jeans and shoes. “No fucking way…” she exclaims in terrible awe and incomprehension. “No no no, no fucking way…”

Kurt: “Ugghhhh….” It’s the only feeble noise Kurt can make in his condition. It’s all he can manage at the moment, trying his best to let his mother and sister know that he is a-ok.

GM: Kurt’s senses ever-so often rock and rattle like a ferris-wheel left out in a dying storm. His mother’s hands, rough from hard scrubbing and harder chemicals, reach out to gently cup her son’s capillary-burst, splotchy face.

“Kurt…” Her voice is still raw from tears. “Kurt… my baby… my son…”

“You’re… alive.”

Her lasts words have a fragile joy, as if afraid that by speaking them, a more brutal reality might break her reverie. She catches his eyes with hers. The latter are glassy and red with tears, framed by a creased, worn-out, face prematurely aged by stress, exhaustion, and loss. Her reddish-blonde hair has the luster of straw being burnt at sunset. She wears jeans, beat-up tennis shoes, and a plain sweater with old stains from spaghetti, grease, or some other substance that can be washed a thousand times, but never fully erased. She wears neither make-up nor jewelry, as the former is a luxury the Crawfords can’t afford to buy, while the latter is one they can’t afford to not sell.

“Kurt… it’s me… I’m here…”

Arlene.png

Kurt: “Ma!” Kurt realizes aloud, holding his mother’s ever-loving gaze. He feels suddenly safe upon her maternal presence and weakly smiles at her touch. Emotions well up to the forefront of Kurt’s mind. Tears form in the corners of his eyes. “Thank God! I wanted to call you, but the doctor wouldn’t let me.” His voice sounds hoarse and his body aches.

GM: Arlene strokes Kurt’s hair with her calloused fingers. “It’s okay, I’m here now… you–”

“You were fucking dead!” Amy interrupts. Kurt’s older sister still stands in the doorway, her dark eyes wide with shock and disbelief, her face blanched, making her red hair seem all the more livid. Tonight, the short, flat-chested, no-hipped young woman wears a pair of wide-flaring jeans, a braided belt, and baggy white T-shirt she probably borrowed from Rick. The resultant low-scooped neckline partially shows off her tattoo of Barad-dûr and the Eye of Sauron. However, it’s her non-inked eyes that seem to bore into Kurt’s with a fiery heat. “What the hell, Mom?!”

Amy.jpg

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

Kurt: Kurt’s gaze turns to Amy. He frowns at her a little; she could at least show a little bit of sympathy for a change.

GM: Amy doesn’t back down. “Am I the only one who hasn’t lost their goddamned mind! Mom, we saw the doctors go full DEFCON, we heard them drilling in his head, hitting him with the paddles again and again and again, and then–” she holds the back of her hand to her face, her eyes starting to grow glassy, “–and then the flat-line, that god-fucking awful sound. It went on forever–like they didn’t even have the decency to face us or shut the damn machine off, just letting that fucking tone go on and on and on.”

Arlene starts crying, shaking her head as if trying to dislodge the memories. She goes to say something, but Amy barrels right over her. “And then, then they told us what we already knew… and then, then they left us… with a body. A fucking cold body!! A goddamned dead body!!!”

“Oh shit,” she says, unable to hold back the tears, sliding against the doorway and down to the floor. “H-how…” she gapes, overcome by it all.

Arlene doesn’t let go of her son. Her living son. “It doesn’t matter,” she says to Amy, to Kurt, to herself. “None of that matters. I don’t care. Kurt’s with us–that’s all that matters.”

Kurt: Kurt’s annoyance at his sister quickly dissipates and a knot forms in his stomach as he sees her break down, looking just as vulnerable as when their father got sick. “I’m sorry,” is all he can choke out, unsure what to say. “I am okay now, I promise.” He isn’t really talking to either his mother or sister, just as a general statement, and despite feeling like utter shit.

Holy shit! he thinks to himself. I almost died!

GM: As Kurt looks down at his sister half-sprawled on the hospital floor, the motion causes a nauseating wave and slight burning, buzzing in his head. He hears a ‘pop’ and then something that sounds like… laughter. But it feels like screaming.

Arlene turns around, her maternal instincts blaring. “Baby, are you okay?”

The absurdity of the question snaps Amy back into spitfire hell-raising mode. “Of course he’s not fucking OKAY!!!”

“Stop it, Amy!” their mother snaps. “Can’t you see you’re upsetting Kurt!”

Kurt: “It’s okay!” he says a little strenuously, albeit still meek in volume, in an attempt to take control of and calm the situation. “I am fine, Ma, I am not upset,” he says in answer to his mother’s earlier question. He then looks at Amy, trying his best to look her in the eyes. “I promise I am fine now, Amy. You don’t need to cry any more. I am alive.”

What is that buzzing?

GM: Kurt’s assurances to his health fall on deaf ears as blood starts leaking from his nose–and his cranial catheter squirts violently over his mother.

Kurt: “Fuck!” Kurt swears, feeling suddenly more woozy, feeling abashed by the zemblanity of the moment. “Can I get a tissue, please?”

GM: His mother searches frantically for something, anything. She yells back to Amy, “Get the doctor!”

Kurt: Kurt groans inwardly, the buzzing in his head getting stronger. He tries his best to look as composed, all right as he can manage in his state–the blood is not helpful. “I promise I am all right, Ma,” Kurt tries to say once again, knowing full-well that his words are falling on deaf ears now.

GM: Amy lets off another stream of curses–though this time they don’t seem necessarily directed at Kurt or their mom, as much as about them. Alerted by present and recent yelling, Mount Pelion’s staff finally respond to the altered status of ‘Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03.’ They rush down the hallway like the Kelpies’ offensive line, save for their age and medical apparel and trailing equipment. For Kurt, the next few moments aren’t so much a blur but a cacophony of images and sounds seemingly stuck into a blender, chugged, and then vomited all over the present.

Sometime as the medical staff barge in, Kurt thinks he hears or sees his mom hurl herself to her knees and begin to violently pray, “Oh Lord, forgive me for doubting!! Please, Lord, don’t take him away!” Which is particularly bizarre since she gave up praying years ago. He thinks he sees Amy assaulting a nurse and a doctor, kicking the former and attempting to strangle the latter with his own stethoscope. Rick appears and half-drags, half-hauls Amy out like a defective crate fresh off the delivery truck.

Orderlies grab Kurt, pin him down with hairy-knuckled fists, then restrain him with thick leather straps. The doctor tries to administer a sedative, but is forced to abort his plan in order to undo Amy’s stethoscope garrote. The orderlies try to forcibly remove Kurt’s mother, and somewhere in the process, the curtain is torn down. It’s a small girl squatting on an obese man’s naked belly. She turns to regard Kurt with a tilted head. Slowly, she opens her eyelids, and swarms of flies pour from her empty sockets.

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes widen and all he can let out is a soul-wrenching scream. The buzzing… the buzzing…

GM: The flies continue to pour out of the child’s eyes, swiftly, horrifically filling the room with a swarm that blacks out the buzzing, fluorescent ceiling lights. Their own buzzing drowns out the screams and yells of the medical staff and his family. But the buzzing… it becomes something else. There is a static, a rhythm, a song.

Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free
Desperately in need, of some, stranger’s hand
In a, desperate land
Can you picture what will be, so limitless and free


And in that moment, Kurt’s mind reaches outward–and hears its own echo from the future that is already his past. Time becomes a clear glass marble that rolls and rolls, but has neither beginning nor end, neither backwards nor forwards. Where once was opacity is… clarity. In his life, there had been prior moments like these. Flashes of insight, waves of deja vu. Glimpses at the glass marble. But not like this. Never like this. The flies vanish like a torn-away curtain.

All the children are insane

Alerted by the present and recent yelling, Mount Pelion’s staff finally respond to the altered status of ‘Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03.’ They rush down the hallway like the Kelpies’ offensive line, save for their age, medical apparel, and trailing equipment. But this time, the next now-past few moments are neither a blur nor a cacophony of images and sounds seemingly stuck into a blender, chugged, and then vomited all over the present.

Now, the glass marble is clear. He knows where the needle will come-did come. He knows that it will not—did not sedate him. He knows where his mother will kneel-did kneel in manic prayer. He knows where and how his sister will trip—did trip the orderly. He knows how his sister will attack—did attack the doctor with his own stethoscope—and how Rick will haul—did haul her away. He knows how the orderlies will grab—did grab him and will strap—did strap him down. He knows where the orderlies will rip—did rip the curtain dividing the room. And with that knowledge comes the ability to not only see through the rolling marble, but to potentially change its path.

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes roll into the back of his head as he tries and fails to remain awake, half-aware that his lips are moving on their own. His hearing is a whirling cacophony of flies, buzzing, and the rhythm of his heart. He can barely hear anything else; it feels like he is listening to things underwater. There are bubbles, echoes of voices, going on around him. He tries to focus his eyes, stop them rolling back into his head, focus on what’s real and isn’t real. He tries to will his mind to stop buzzing and for his hearing to return to normal. What is going on? he half-screams inside his own head.

GM: Distantly he hears his mother and sister scream. The orderlies, doctor, and nurse withdraw back in fear. Even his own recursive mind starts to peel away from itself. The curtains tears free, revealing the youth on the bed. The swarm of defeating black flies pour again–but this time, he sees that behind the curtain was just a mirror, and that it’s his own face bursting with insects. And this time everyone sees them. Arlene, Amy, Rick, and the medical staff all scream, vomit, writhe, and claw at the air and their own faces.

That’s when the lights shatter. From the darkness, lurid green emergency lights kick on with epileptic intensity.

And that’s when the madness really begins.

An atonal hum fills the air. It squeezes into Kurt’s pores, with a pressure akin to a deep-sea diver suddenly breaking the surface of an ocean. Those around him, including his sister and mother, begin to froth at the mouth and convulse. The hum intensifies, in a nauseating syncopation with the violent green emergency lights. The mirror begins to ripple like a mercurial lake ripping with a single stone-throw. The hum intensifies. Blood begins to leak from the nostrils and ears of his family and the nearby medical staff. The mirror begins to ripple like a lake in a rainstorm, until it finally cannot endure the abuse and shatters everywhere. As the glass shards cut and slash the still-convulsing, bleeding occupants of the room, Kurt sees his reflection still staring back at him.

Kurt: Kurt stares back; his eyes are unwavering. This is insane, too insane, he thinks, but why does it feel all too real?

“What is happening?” he asks aloud.

GM: Kurt’s own seemingly living reflection is horrible to look at, even in the bleak emergency lights. Without glasses, Kurt’s ‘other’ face is blurry like everything else, but he can still see the seeping head bandages, a leaking cranial catheter, terrible splotches of yellow, purple skin, and dark blood vessels snaking through his neck and face. His hospital gown has been cut half-way down his chest, revealing the bruises and burns of repeated paddle shocks. Unlike his bound self, his ‘reflection’ hobbles unrestrained save for his identical leg cast.

The living mirror looks at Kurt with the deepest recesses of loathing. “What is happening?” the self that is not self mimics, but it does so with a mocking, whinny tone. The figure picks up a broken shard of glass, inspecting its reflection and the razor-sharp edge. His next words are spit with hot venom. “That’s your problem–always whining about what’s happening–instead of making things happen. Just like mom, always the victim, always taking it lying down. Too afraid to stand up and dish it back.” As if to illustrate his point, the Kurt who is not Kurt stomps on Arlene’s still-convulsing body with his one good foot. Hard.

“Quit crying, bitch!”

Down the hall, alarms sound, calling for the wing’s evacuation.

“Code Goldsmith Imago. All personnel are to immediately evacuate,” the intercom blares.

“Code Goldsmith Imago. All personnel are to immediately evacuate…”

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes widen at the sudden attack on his mother, putting aside his fear for a moment as he spits back in rage. “Fuck off!” he yells almost unintelligibly. “Don’t you fucking dare hurt my mother!” His body quakes in rage, fear, pain, and confusion.

What is happening? he continues to think, Have I gone insane? Why does everything seem so real? Kurt tugs at his restraints, trying to free himself.

GM: His not-self turns, anger painted in the harsh green light. “Or what?! What are you fucking going to do, you sniveling COWARD?!” The Kurt which is not Kurt takes the blade-like glass shard and starts hobbling towards the strap-restrained Kurt. The not-Kurt winces with pain, but his face is otherwise a mask of black hatred and rage.

Kurt: Kurt’s movements become more frantic as the thing masquerading as him turns a murderous gaze his way. “What do you want from me?” he growls in fear and self-loathing. His head thumps, his veins pump with adrenaline–and in the midst of Kurt’s desperate attempt to free himself he manages to pull his right arm free from the strap binding his wrist down.

GM: Kurt doesn’t so much as pull his arm free of the hospital bed as much as his adrenaline-spiked bicep rips the metal bar from the bed. Already hobbling over a field of convulsing bodies, Kurt’s not-self trips, seemingly shocked by the preternatural strength from such a mundane, small, and injured body. The not-self screams in pain, but snarls through the worst of it, and starts to pull himself up, using the bottom ‘head-board’. The glass shard emerges, still gripped, but now half-embedded in the not-self’s hand. Blood leaks down the cruel edge.

Kurt: A cold, animalistic impulse suddenly drives Kurt through this ordeal; the dread causes Kurt to lunge violently forward, throwing the broken railing at his doppelgänger’s bloody face. Kurt’s own features are wrecked with a painful, desperate look; his eyes are as wide as can be, his vision blurred without his glasses.

GM: Kurt’s enraged strength causes the next buckle to slip free of its leather strap, painfully bruising and twisting his left wrist and causing a fresh spurt of cranial fluid to drip from his skull-protruding catheter. But his arms are free then as he swings the metal railing at his off-guard, half-climbing not-self.

Kurt: A pained expression appears on Kurt’s face, and as the sharp, needling feeling from his wounded head darkens his vision for a moment, he misses his blurry mark. He buckles a little, wincing.

GM: Not-Kurt slips, then scrambles up with naked pain and exhaustion. “You sniveling piece of shit!”

Like Kurt, the murderous reflection seems to have equally violent thoughts–and no less fatigued, sight-obscured aim. Not-Kurt all but falls on Kurt, their arms grappling, slipping as the mirror-shard tears a hole in the hospital bed. “Just die, you coward, just fucking die!!!” the not-Kurt screams, spittle flying from his mouth and bleeding gums. The bed rocks and wheels, even as the green emergency lights war with the strobe-esque alarm and speaker looping the same message:

“Code Goldsmith Imago. All personnel are to immediately evacuate. Code Goldsmith Imago…”

Below, the others still shake and froth. But their bodies can only take so much. The convulsions slow.

Kurt: Kurt’s own face mirrors his doppelgänger’s, bloody phlegm and drool dripping from his tightly clenched teeth. The youth swings madly at Not-Kurt, flailing with his eyes closed in fear and dread.

This isn’t real, he repeats in his mind over and over. This isn’t real.

GM: Kurt and his doppelgänger grapple and flail at each other, half-blind and more than half-dead, their chemical-stained sweat and catheter-leaking cerebrospinal fluid making them and the bed slick and sickly glistening in the green light. Not-Kurt rears up, the mirror shard gripped in both hands as he tries to drive it down in Kurt’s chest.

DIEEEEEEE!!!”

Instinctively, Kurt raises his hands up, causing the metal bar still strapped to his arm to swing up. Metal and glass collide, the latter shattering. Deep slivers impede into the doppelgänger’s hands, while the rest fall down like lacerating, blood-speckled rain over Kurt. Fortunately, the broken bed-frame saves him from any true injury–or any new ones at least. Meanwhile, Not-Kurt screams and crashes off the bed.

With one leg still strapped to the bed, Kurt can’t see the doppelgänger in the strobe-shadows beneath or beside his bed, nor hear him anymore over the blaring alarms. Particularly because his attention is snatched away by the realization that he is being watched. Closely.

On the other side of the bed, just out of reach, a tall man stands. He is dressed in a charcoal-gray suit, starch-white shirt, black tie, and needle-toed cowboy boots. A large cattle prod rests in his muscled hand. He regards Kurt. His salt and pepper hair is buzz-cut, and unconcealed by the uniform-esque hats that the Spooks wear. His dark eyes are creased by crow’s feet that crinkle as he smiles with a mouth full of teeth made for chewing steaks.

“Helluva hook-shot, son,” the man says–or at least that is what it sounds like to Kurt. His accent, just like the man’s favorite kind of steak, is tough, thick, and Texan.

Kurt: Kurt looks at the man with bleary, unfocused eyes. “Can you please help me?” he asks, fear written all over his face. “He’s trying to kill me. I don’t know what’s going on.” He makes a move to unstrap his ankles from the bed’s rails, shaking with pulsing anxiety as he tries to get away from the creature hiding beneath the hospital bed.

I need my glasses, he thinks, trying to look for them in all the ruckus, grimacing at the sight of his family in such a sorry state. Do I really want them? “What’s happening?” he asks again, tears welling up in his eyes.

GM: “No time to explain, ace. Calvary’s coming, so we gotta pull a tactical retrograde.” The man tosses an object, causing Kurt to flinch as something black hits his chest. His glasses. “Six eyes are better than two,” the Texan suit says as he unbuckles Kurt’s legs from the restraint and sling. Unnervingly, nothing crawls, screams, or rises from the other side of the bed. Yet.

Kurt: Kurt looks up at the man with a slightly relieved expression; he is more than glad to get his glasses back as he puts them back on his head (despite being slightly crooked due to his earlier car accident). He then looks at his family, specifically his mother, with renewed concern.

“What about my family?” he asks, a frown forming on his face. He witnessed something truly, absolutely insane. Maybe he’s going crazy. How can I tell anybody what I’ve seen? he thinks. I am going fucking crazy.

Nonetheless, Kurt keeps glancing at the edges of his hospital bed with a paranoid, frightened face. The thing was too real. Was it really him? No, he thinks. Whatever that thing was, it wasn’t me. I am going fucking nuts.

GM: The tall, suited man glances back at the no longer-conscious, convulsing bodies. “Ace, if you care about ’em, you need to get as much space as possible between you and them.” And then, without further preamble or any hint of permission asked or granted, he slings Kurt over his shoulders in a military carry, and crosses the room and strewn bodies, his family’s included.

Along the way, he snatches Kurt’s metal food tray, flicking off the crusty tuna sandwich. Stopping just before the door, the man uses the reflective tray as a mirror to check the hallways. Seeing nothing, he tosses the tray back onto the bed, and calls back to his shoulder-riding companion, “Watch my six.”

Outside, the hallways are empty, cast in the eerie green emergency lights, pulsing strobe, and mind-drilling alarm. Kurt’s last glimpse into the nightmare-room is of Amy’s red hair flowing out like the blood that seeps from her nose and ears, and his mother’s hand dangling limply, yet still seemingly reaching for him.

Kurt: I am a coward, Kurt thinks meekly, staring at his family’s convulsing forms as he is carried out into the hospital’s hallway. I am so sorry, guys, he silently cries.

GM: Whether the man can read Kurt’s tortured thoughts or he just senses the presage of tears from the teen’s chest-sucking breaths, the tall man says, “No tears, ace. No trail.” He then adds, “Distract your mind, think of your favorite food being yanked away and left to rot in the sun. Disgust, anger, they can be shields against pain and sorrow. There’ll be time to cry later.”

Kurt: Kurt sniffles and weakly replies, “Thank you for saving me.” He feels utterly impotent and weak. His body aches and his head still feels woozy. “Who are you, anyway?” he asks, feebly.

GM: “Ridley,” the man replies as his long stride carries them down the empty hallway. When they reach a dead end with a large service elevator, the man self-identified as Ridley goes to press the down button, but halts when he hears the elevator chime, preparatory to opening. He sets Kurt down, but doesn’t let go, with a rock hard grip around the teen’s less than rock hard bicep.

The service elevator opens, revealing four hospital security guards armed with heavily modified sidearms equipped with tranquilizer rounds. Those weapons immediately train on Ridley and Kurt, but the former is ready for them before they can pull their triggers. He flashes a badge. “Stand down, boys, Special Agent Bob Burrow, liaison with Division 12. I apprehended the subject.”

Kurt: Kurt looks at the hospital security with wide-eyed surprise. He looks like a deer in headlights. Nonetheless, the boy doesn’t say a word as ‘Ridley’ flashes a badge and claims to be a special agent with a different name.

GM: Without waiting for the guards to reply, Ridley or Burrow or whatever his name is drags Kurt into the middle of the elevator amidst the obviously confused and uncertain guards.

“Come on, guys,” Kurt’s ‘liberator’ says in his Texan drawl. “It’s almost lunch time, and I ran ten miles this morning.” After another intense glance amongst themselves and at Kurt and the self-identified FBI agent, one presses the button for the roof. Already full, the evaluator is now overly cramped. Despite the inevitable jostling and bumping, Kurt feels a firm squeeze of his biceps.

“You never did tell me your favorite food, ace,” the Texan says, looking at no one in particular.

Kurt: “Chinese.” Kurt sounds like he’s trying to be positive, but with everything that’s happened, it’s rather difficult.

GM: “What about the rest of you boys?” the tall man says with a hearty grin. The situationally incongruent question further disorients the already off-kilter guards, causing them to exchange glances or look up at ‘Agent Burrow’s’ face–but not down at his free hand. Kurt, however, by virtue of his shorter stature and some other ineffable instinct spots the cattle prod slip from the man’s sleeve into his hand. “Mine’s chicken-fried steak. Jesus help me, but I love the smell of big burning beef.”

The guards never even see it coming. The first guard gets the fully-charged cattle prod in his crotch, causing himself to piss and further electrify. But by the time the first guard drops, Ridley has released Kurt and driven his elbow into another guard’s face, breaking his nose, blinding the man with his own blood and pain. The others attempt to use their weapons, but they lack the necessary space and time. Ridley drives his knee into another man’s crotch, then steps down and shatters the man’s foot with his boot even as he head-slams the fourth man, knocking him into the steel walls. A few more blows land in lightning-quick brutality. All four guards slide down the walls like string-cut marionettes.

Kurt: “Holy shit,” Kurt whispers to himself in surprise, likely loud enough for Ridley to hear. “What is happening?”What the fuckity-fuck is happening!?

GM: Ridley, his cattle prod once again hidden, adjusts his necktie and wipes his stained elbow on a guard’s hat. “Yeah, Chinese’s pretty good too, even if it’s commie-chow.” Ridley then presses the stop button, then de-selects the roof and instead chooses the basement. “Goin’ down,” he says, smiling.

Kurt: Kurt looks at Ridley in disbelief. “What is happening?” he repeats the question, more desperately. “Am I going crazy or is this all real?”

GM: “Who says it can’t be both,” Ridley says.

Kurt: Kurt looks down at the ground, at his poorly cast foot. “Why did that thing call me a coward?” he asks aloud, trying to rationalize things aloud. He sounds a little manic and straining to keep a hold of his emotions. He then adds, “How I could leave my ma and sister behind like that?” He looks up at Ridley with a guilty expression.

GM: Ridley looks like he’s about to say something, but Kurt’s second question and the pain behind it, catches the thus far unflappable man. His nostrils flare and his pressed lips turn white. As the elevator descends, he takes out a peppermint and places it between his molars. He cracks it, hard. The elevator chimes. “Here’s our stop. Rock bottom.” But he doesn’t exit. He spares a glance towards the men and the adolescent. “You know how to use a gun?”

Kurt: “N-n-no! Why?” he asks, regretting the question as soon as it leaves his lips.

GM: “Because none of these boys are using their dart guns right now.”

Kurt: Kurt tentatively looks at one of the unconscious men. He then slowly bends over and picks up one of their guns, looking at the contraption utterly unsure how to use it. “I don’t want to kill anyone.” Why? he asks himself. You were prepared to kill yourself.

GM: Ridley gives Kurt a nod, a grin, and an approving cluck of his tongue. “Just point and click, ace. There’s nothing in there but sleepy juice.”

Kurt: Kurt sighs in relief. “Okay. I guess that’s okay, then.”

GM: After helping Kurt limp out, Ridley punches the lobby floor and sends the knocked out guards on a joyride.

Kurt: Kurt limps with a clink from his cast on each second step. “Where are we going?” he asks, trying to keep his mind on getting out. Why am I trusting this guy? he thinks, but in reality, he doesn’t have much of a choice–this is the only person so far that hasn’t been attempting to outright murder him–and besides, if he meant Kurt harm, wouldn’t he have already made that obvious by now?

GM: “Gitty up,” Ridley says as he once again unceremoniously, if carefully, hoists Kurt upon his shoulders. “Now watch and protect my six, ace.”

Unlike the floor they left, the service basement of Mount Pelion General Hospital is quiet and lit by the steady, buzzing fluorescence of panel lights.

“Now quiet does it,” Ridley says in a whisper as he creeps down the hallways. They duck between shadows and sneak past a hospital worker unclogging a laundry shoot.

Kurt: Kurt tries his best to remain quiet; nonetheless, his earlier crying left him with a blocked nose, and a little foolishly, he periodically sniffles in an attempt to clear his sinuses.

GM: Ridley tries to silence his charge by shoulder-butting Kurt in the chest. However, the temptation and physiological reflex grows too strong when they pass through a massive cloud of steam vapor. One of the cleaners stops and looks up, mid-folding a mass-produced blue- and pink-striped baby blanket.

“You hear that?” an Amerindian woman says.

“What?” her colleague asks without looking up.

“It sounded like… might be the compressor acting up again,” the first answers.

“File a report, finish your shift,” the second recommends like a monotone mantra.

Ridley pauses.

“Still, I’m going to check it out. If it leaks, all the coats will get moldy.”

“Suit yourself,” the second figure sighs, not stopping her folding.

“Shouldn’t have done that,” Ridley whispers between clenched teeth. It’s not clear if he’s referring to the approaching laundry woman or the sniffling kid on his shoulders. Ridley drops Kurt down behind an industrial laundry bin and makes a gesture of pinching his nose and shushing his lips. He then creeps off with a surprising agility for such a tall man. With some modicum of sanity around him, fragile though it may seem, Kurt is left with the physical withdrawal of so much adrenaline. His body feels heavy, his lids like iron blankets that want to slip down his eyes and fasten shut. Those eyes spring open when he hears a soft but sharp crack, like someone stepping on a dry stick. But then it’s quiet again, and his eyelids grow even heavier. As few moments later, he half-consciously sees and feels Ridley pick him up and whisper, “Take a nap, ace. Bed-check Charlie is off-duty, and your taxpayer dollars are hard at work.”

Kurt then feels something soft envelope him, and a long dark tunnel sinks away on all sides. Total darkness soon follows, like the thick velvet curtains closing on the third act.

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