Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase I, Case File 1.09

Spiral.png


Hazel: Attila Awakens


10.08.1998, Thursday morning

Hazel: Hazel rises from her bed, still in a bit of a daze. Vampires. No. She’s not thinking about that right now. She gathers up the bloody sheets, hauls them into the shower, and turns the water on full blast, washing away the now-half legible menstruation-painted spirals. She retrieves the hamper and stuffs the wet sheets in. The hotel staff might find it a little odd that a guest would bother cleaning their bedding, but not so odd as finding it soaked in blood.

A guest. Getting ready for her day. This is a routine she can follow. Not like… no. She’s not thinking about that. She walks to the phone, glances at the room service menu, and orders breakfast. She doesn’t even mind talking to the stranger on the other end. She showers, dresses in her newly-laundered clothes, and pulls a tampon out of the pack that she stole during her last trip to Shop-Plus.

It’s ridiculous they have a sales tax. They aren’t luxury items, she mentally grumbles, but her heart’s not in it. The thought is more distraction than anything else.

The food arrives outside her door. She thanks the person responsible without opening it (what’s the name of the hotel employee who delivers room service?) and says they can simply leave it there for her to retrieve. After staring through the peephole to be sure she’s alone, Hazel opens her door and knocks on her mother’s. “Hey Mom, break our fasts together?”

GM: Lydia motions her in as she puts on a pair of earrings. “I usually get my breakfast at the bar, dear, but I can have it sent it up.”

Hazel: Hazel wears none. She never had her ears pierced. The notion of having needles rammed through her flesh by strangers made her all-but physically ill. “That would be ideal.”

GM: “How did you sleep?” Lydia asks in a perfunctory tone as she stands before a mirror, trying to choose between a red and white scarf stitched with native folk-art and a pastel-dyed silk one. “It’s so funny how the Europeans love the Lodge and all its ‘rustic-chic’.”

Hazel: “Well, sensory processing issues were what they were in an unfamiliar room. But it helped that I was relatively familiar with the building.” She pauses. “Better than at home, and I think I’m ready to upgrade to the couch there.”

GM: “That’s very good to hear,” her mother says absentmindedly.

Hazel: “I like the pastel one.”

GM: “Really?” she says, holding it up. “Me too. They might like the folksy one better, but I just feel tawdry in it.”

Hazel: “Yes. Though you know me, I prefer clothes without designs or logos. There is something to be said for austere elegance.”

GM: “Yes, yes there is,” her mother agrees with a bright pride. She turns around, throws on the pastel scarf, and dials the concierge. “Good morning, Mathias.” “Yes, would you please be a lamb and send up my regular to my room?” “Why thank you, Mathias, and same to you.” She hangs up the phone, grabs her pre-selected heels, and starts to slip them on. “Do you need a ride, Hazel?”

Hazel: “I certainly wouldn’t object. I’m usually a little sweaty if I arrive by biking.” Hazel, meanwhile, for all her desire to have the hotel staff do her laundry, had just several outfits for them. She only wore black tees at home, only left her house a handful of times to exercise and see her parents during the week before she started her job, and saw nothing wrong with simply re-wearing the same clothes on multiple occasions (after all, they’d been worn for less than a full day each). Consequently, so as to avoid wearing the same outfit as yesterday’s, she wears the same one as the day before yesterday’s: black turtleneck dress and matching leggings. As she saw no reason to pack a second pair of shoes, she also wears yesterday’s black flats, and so is dressed entirely in the dark color apart from a navy scarf.

She doesn’t consciously consider it. But it’s fitting that if she should meet a vampire tonight, she should meet him in black.

GM: “You know, dear, the offer still stands: you earn your driver’s license, and I’ll buy the car.”

Hazel: “I’ll think about it, Mom. The prospect of driving makes me nervous, but I’m certain most people my age would kill for such a deal.”

She then changes the topic. “By the way. Dad says hi and that he’s ‘sorry for being a bonehead.’ His words.” Further ones linger unsaid on the edge of her tongue. He also wants to get back together with you. But now isn’t the moment. She needs to find out whether the Keystone-Nostrum deal is actually going to pan out in her mother’s favor and land her that partnership. If Mom really is going to leav…

No. She isn’t thinking about that right now either. She won’t. It’s just… possible that Dad might not be able to get back together with her mother, no matter how Lydia feels towards him. Some divides are too large to cross, and trying to build a bridge could just result in Harvey plummeting down the chasm. For now, Hazel will simply try to gauge how far the distance is before assisting in any bridge-building. If she even should.

She sighs to herself.

More secrets.

GM: Lydia stops, and for the first time this morning, seems fully rooted in the present, rather than half-engaged in future engagements and to-do lists. “Did he?” she asks rhetorically.

Hazel: “His precise words were the following,” Hazel answers, pulled mostly out of her own glum thoughts. “So pumpkin, when you see your mom, tell her I said ‘hi’ and that I’m sorry for being a bonehead.’”

GM: Lydia drums her freshly painted nails on a side table. Her lips purse tightly before she replies: “Well, I will have to have to remind Harvey that salutations and apologies are best made in person, and that you are not his or my carrier pigeon.”

A second later, the door knocks with the delivery of Lydia’s morning regular: a Bloody Mary, complete with lime and celery stick. Lydia thanks the bellboy by name and tips him generously.

Hazel: Hazel decides it’s best to comment no further on that. Directly or indirectly, those were the words Dad requested she convey to his ex-wife. As is typical, Hazel hangs back from the suite’s doorway to avoid contact with the hotel staff. Once the bellboy has left she remarks, “I cannot help but recall your own use of the term last night, notable for the differences which otherwise exist between your modes of speech.”

GM: Lydia doesn’t look as she stirs the celery stick and takes a sip of the vodka cocktail. “Well, we were married for a decade, dear.”

Hazel: Hazel isn’t initially sure what to say to that. “Some things must rub off. Is that all you usually have for breakfast?”

GM: Her mother looks up and smiles sardonically. “I call it the Six-Figure Slim-Fast. After all, it has tomato juice, horseradish, celery, and olives. It’s practically a vegetable smoothie.” She takes another sip. “Taste all those vitamins.”

Hazel: “Don’t I feel piggish ordering the breakfast burrito. That’s certainly a great many essential nutrients.”

GM: “The vodka’s not bad either,” her mother adds ruefully.

Hazel: Hazel isn’t sure how to broach that topic either. Wine is the most she’ll drink with the meds she’s on. They don’t react well to harder alcohols. “Well, you know I’m not much of a drinker. The alcohol doesn’t interfere with work?”

GM: “This little cocktail?” Lydia asks sarcastically with a slight titter. “You might be surprised, Hazel, but it actually helps professionally. It’s a marvelous hair of the dog, but without the awful canine flavor. Plus, I rarely drink more than a few sips.” Taking one last swig and bite of the celery stick as if to accentuate her point, she then walks over to her open briefcase. She tosses in a few files that were on her dining table, along with a pair of VHS tapes. Clicking shut her briefcase, she then looks at the clock. “Well, I believe we should get going, yes?”

Hazel: Hazel honestly isn’t certain if her mother is in denial or if the amount she’s drinking really is harmless. Alcohol was just one of those subjects she never bothered to learn much about. There seemed little point when she has to stay away from anything stronger than wine. “Ah, sure. I’ll just eat during first period. It doesn’t see too many students anyways.”

GM: Lydia checks her watch to double-check the time. “Are you sure?”

Hazel: “Oh, I’d feel piggish eating a whole burrito when you’re just having a sip of that anyways. If some students do show up I can just close the library for a few minutes during second period. I usually don’t eat breakfast until noon or later on weekends in any case.”

GM: “Okay, dear,” Lydia replies. As the two depart, she brushes a loose hair from her daughter’s shoulder. “Your outfit suits you. Professional, but not pretentious.”

Hazel: “Oh, why thanks Mom. I wore it the day before yesterday too, apart from the shoes.”

GM: “I see,” her mother says with an arched eyebrow.

Hazel: “It’s clean. I had it laundered last night.” The caveat still seems necessary. A younger Hazel wore the same unwashed sweatpants for days on end. Or at least did, until her parents started scooping up and laundering her smelly clothes while she was in the shower.

GM: “That is good to hear, Hazel, though I might recommend a good rule of thumb is to never recycle the same outfit in the same work week.”

Hazel: Hazel is about to reply when a lightbulb dings in her head. She nearly forgot. The stress must be getting to her.

“Actually, I can still distinguish it a bit. One moment.” Hazel returns to her room and packs up the breakfast–and lunch–she ordered from room service into a sackcloth that she stows in her backpack. It also looks like she won’t be wearing all black after all as she pulls on the same gray cardigan from yesterday–then retrieves the SVCD from its hiding place behind the ventilation grill, along with her toothbrush from the bathroom (she didn’t want to use an unfamiliar one provided by the hotel) and slips the former item into one of the cardigan’s pockets. She’s not letting it anywhere off her person. She reappears after a moment with her backpack slung over her shoulder.

“Okay, let’s go.”

GM: “A nice accent,” her mother comments. “And a practical one too. Why, just two mornings ago, I could hardly see out my windows due to all the frost.”

Hazel: Practical? Oh, if you had any idea, Mom.

“Brrr. I’ll have to start getting out my winter coats.” Hazel pauses. “Oh, one unrelated matter. Do you think I should tell Dad about the trucker I had to mace? Just so the police can have him in their sights in case he gets any further ideas. On the other hand, do you think Dad’s likely to do something… excessive?”

Hazel is partly soliciting her mother’s opinion. But it’s also a reminder. He cares about me just as much as you do.

GM: “Hmm,” Lydia ponders as they ride the elevator to her valet-readied SUV. “Do you think anyone already reported the incident to the police?”

Hazel: “That’s a good question. Likely better to assume not. And, legally, he does have more basis than I do to press charges. Not that I think he’s likely to.” Hazel smiles. “Or likely to win, with you as my mom.”

GM: “That’s very kind, dear, but do recall that I am a corporate lawyer, not a criminal or civil attorney. Although I do know quite a few of the former and latter. But regardless, what are the chances you think this man might attempt extralegal retaliation?”

Hazel: “I know. The connections and basic legal experience do still count.” Hazel frowns. “That… admittedly seems more likely than legal retaliation. I’m not sure I’d care to place a number on it, but perhaps it would be safer to get rides to and from work for a little while.”

GM: “Or perhaps it would be most prudent to get your license and your own car, dear, particularly with the cold. But I digress,” she says, turning on her import’s heat and lights. “Due to your already shaky legal grounds, I would suggest you call the sheriff’s office and lodge a formal incident report with anyone other than Harvey. That way, they have your concerns on record, and are thus obligated to respond or risk a suit. You also avoid any allegations of nepotism.”

Hazel: Hazel represses a frown. “I can’t argue with your legal logic. I’ll let him know about it ‘off the books’.”

GM: Lydia has to in turn repress her own frown. She clearly wants to limit Hazel’s interaction with Harvey, but there’s only so much she can argue the point.

Hazel: Hazel climbs in the SUV’s side door. “Also, Mom, I would appreciate if you could refer to him as ‘your father’, please. It’s somewhat obfuscating for us to use the same term to refer to different men during conversations.”

GM: Lydia is quiet for a while, but her tone is measured when she eventually replies. “Richard’s death does not negate him being your father. Nor does my divorce negate the fact that Harvey adopted you.”

Hazel: “Richard is my biological father, and that is the term by which I have always referred to him. I refer to Harvey as my father because he had–and continues to have–a profoundly greater role in my life and impact upon my development as a human being.”

GM: Her mother frowns. “That’s a rather myopic and cruel thing to say, Hazel. Richard gave you life. If you wish to speak of development, half of all your genetic material came from Richard.”

Hazel: “I don’t speak of genetics, Mom. I speak of lives as they are actively lived, not developed in utero. Dad had me over last night after my anxiety attacks struck. He made me dinner. He kept strangers who knocked on the door from talking to me. He showed me how to dance. And that is but a small snapshot of the many ways he has provided a home environment where I feel safe and loved. He did–and does–this without regard for my genetic makeup.”

“I’m sure my biological father would have been a great father to me. But he wasn’t there to be one–or at least not there long enough for me to retain any memories of him. I don’t refer to a house I wished to live in and did not as ‘my house’, no more than I am prepared to refer to a man who did not raise me as ‘my father’. Like it or not, Dad has been a parent to me in every possible that way a man could be, save for engaging in coitus with you three trimesters before my birth. I don’t refer to my biological father as ‘your first husband’, so I would appreciate being shown the same courtesy with regards to my own familial relationships. If that is too much to ask, then I am happy to start referring to my biological father as ‘your first husband.’”

Hazel pauses and continues, “But I would sooner prefer–in fact, I would far prefer–that we be courteous to one another and acknowledge the respective significance of the relationships that have had so great an impact on our lives.”

GM: Lydia’s face is clearly strained. “Just this year, the First Lady and all the top neuroscientists gathered together to discuss how the most important brain developments occur in the first three years of life. My first husband was there for those years of your life. He wasn’t just a sperm donor who died conveniently before you learned to speak.”

Hazel: “And Dad was there for the twenty-odd years of my life I do remember. Is still there. He wasn’t just a babysitter who stepped in conveniently after my biological father died. Is it your contention, then, that nature is more important to a child’s development than nurture?”

GM: “Hazel, this isn’t Descartes versus Locke, round two. Neuroscientists readily admit to the salient role of environmental factors–but assert that their greatest prominence is from zero to three.” She sighs. “It’s my fault.”

Hazel: “I’m sorry, your own fault?”

GM: Lydia keeps her eyes on the road as she drives, honking once at a car that is too slow to accelerate once the light turns green. “That your father, your biological father, is dead. To you, I mean. Whether or not I should have remarried is a separate issue, but I remarried too soon. I didn’t keep Richard alive for you. I didn’t want to confuse you.”

Hazel: “Mom, he wasn’t present in my life, while another man was. You are hardly at fault for that.” Hazel pauses. “And you are hardly at fault for remarrying Dad.”

GM: Lydia shakes her head. “But he was there for you, Hazel,” she says, her eyes starting to well. “And now, now you don’t even consider him your father. I betrayed him.”

Hazel: Hazel is quiet for a while. She didn’t… she didn’t want to upset Mom like that. Yet the woman’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimacy of her relationship with Dad is maddening.

“You know, Mom,” she says slowly, “I’ve read a lot of articles online about people with ASD who didn’t turn out as well as I have. I wonder sometimes how easily I could have ended up in a mental institution, or simply a mute invalid with you as my legal guardian at 23, if environmental factors had been any different. Like the time travelers in Bradbury’s story, who knows what one little thing could have inadvertently caused. Just this morning I woke up to find I’d been scrawling the same pattern in my menstrual blood while I slept, over and over. So I really do wonder.”

As if realizing she’s provided too much information, Hazel adds, “I washed the sheets myself.”

GM: Hazel’s confession of repetitively sleep-painting in her own blood finally causes her mom to look at her. It’s a look of more than mild concern. Hazel’s mention of washing her own sheets does little to abate that concern. “Has… that ever happened before?”

Hazel: “No. Not to my recollection, at least, maybe I did it when I was a small child.” As if realizing the impossibility of that statement, Hazel adds, “Paint in my sleep, that is. Not menstruate. But the point is, Mom, I didn’t start talking until we moved to Witiko Falls. If you could do things all over again, and have moved another three or however many years later, would you be prepared to gamble me ending up a mental invalid?”

GM: Lydia has to look away. Maybe because she’s driving, or maybe because she doesn’t want to look that question square in the eyes. “I… I don’t know, Hazel. I mean, of course I want you to be healthy. But if I could go back… I just don’t know. Who’s to say things wouldn’t have been better? We just don’t know. We don’t… can’t know.”

“And your speaking… it might not have had to do anything with us moving here. It could have just been the trajectory of your brain. I mean, look at Einstein. He didn’t speak until he was four–and not because he lost and gained a new parent. You were just like him. Not a word, and then, full sentences.”

Hazel: “Well, you’re right that we can’t know. But as someone whose symptoms are manageable and easily brushed up, I can say that gambling my entire my entire mental well-being isn’t a bet I’d desire to make, no matter how favorable the odds. Even 0.1% ones that I’d spend the rest of my life dumbly painting pictures in my menstrual blood, unable to comprehend anything else…”

Hazel has to stop at that, before an even worse question rears its head. How easily could that still happen to her, after all that’s been occurring?

“All I can say, Mom, is that such–thank heavens–did not happen, and that you remarried a wonderful man who was and is everything I could wish from a father.” Hazel closes her eyes for a moment and then asks, her voice pained, “Can’t you simply acknowledge who he is to me?”

GM: Lydia frowns severely at Hazel’s second mention of menstrual painting. Her response though is more measured. In some ways, it almost reminds Hazel of her own pre-written speeches. “The Montana-Idahoan Panhandle has the highest vehicular accident and auto-related death rate in the entire country. The odds of you personally dying in a car crash are 1 out of 4,433. In Washington state, by contrast, the odds are much lower, only 1 out of approximately 16,000. And yet, here you are risking death because you dislike being sweaty. And here I am, driving you and risking my life and yours for similarly small, immediate gains. And yet, both of our decisions to use this vehicle are rational.”

Her jaw sets. “I could have decided to never drive or ride in a car again after what happened to your father. I could have let fear rule me. What happened to Richard wasn’t a statistical fluke, it was a rare but recurrent statistic. If I could go back, we never would have gone on that trip. Not through here at least. But as terrible, tragic, accidental, and avoidable as his death was, I can’t let statistically rare risks rule my life. Nor should you, Hazel.”

Hazel: Hazel isn’t ever one to refute logic with emotional appeals, and so she does not. Her voice calms as she continues, “The die has been cast and events have played out as they have. I would like you to acknowledge Dad for who he is to me. Just as I am certain you prefer me acknowledging my biological father for who he is.”

GM: Lydia is quiet, her brow furrowed and hands tight on the wheel. Eventually, though, her features soften, and there’s a dry click in the back of her throat. “Yes,” she says. “I am glad we had this talk. And we can talk more about it, later.”

Hazel: “Thank you, Mom,” Hazel states. She thinks for a moment. She should offer some kind of olive branch. “Would you feel better if I referred to him as… my first father rather than my biological father? If that does not sound unusual.”

GM: There’s another tightening of the brow and knuckles, but it doesn’t last long. “I think that would be fine.” She pauses, her eyes flickering to the looming high school. “Hazel… there are things about your father, your first father, that you should know, things that maybe you’ve forgotten or maybe that I should have told you about a long time ago.”

“But those things will have to wait,” she adds, gesturing to the approaching school.

Hazel: “Yes, I suppose they will.” Hazel pauses. That certainly piques her interest, but she’s put off enough other things she’d wanted to know more about. Layne. The tape of the Spooks. “By the way. Uncle Leo informed me that a recent, generous, and seemingly anonymous donation was responsible for the library being able to procure a barcode scanner, new desktop, and related modern equipment. Was that you?”

GM: “What?” her mother asks as she pulls into the faculty parking lot. “No, dear, I wouldn’t donate to the school.” Then, parking the vehicle in the assistant principal’s reserved spot, she turns to Hazel and says, “Now, as for what happened this morning, I suggest you set up an appointment with your psychiatrist. Perhaps it’s a side effect or perhaps you need a prescription change. I’m not qualified professionally to make that diagnosis or prognosis, but I think you need to see someone who is. But I wouldn’t disclose that to anyone else, dear.” She pats Hazel gently on the hand. “But don’t fret about it too much. It’s probably just stress. New job. New future possibilities. Let’s just check, and take things one day at a time.”

Hazel: Hazel suppresses a grimace. She’d shared that tidbit to make a point, but it should come as little surprise that her mother isn’t giving up on it. She can’t talk to a psychiatrist, though. The issues she’s facing are well beyond the ability of any mental health professional to treat. At best, she will merely assuage her mother’s worry. At worst, she could cause a whole host of new problems for herself.

But her consternation fades as her mom waves such things off. “That’s right, Mom. It would also likely help if I tried following my existing medication regimen. It is hardly fair to tell a doctor that the treatment they have prescribed is not working when it is not being followed.” She pauses again, reigning in the questions brimming on the edge of her tongue. “I’ll also hold you to that, so far as my other father.”

GM: “I hope you do,” her mother says obliquely to both remarks.

Hazel: Hazel opens the car door and slings on her backpack. Leo (or Crabb?) probably won’t want to see her mother lingering in the space. As she gets out of the SUV she turns back and states, “Thanks for the lift, Mom. I love you.”

GM: “As I love you, Hazel. Have a good, productive day, and I’ll see you later tonight.”

Hazel: Hazel smiles, nods, shuts the door and sets off. Her mother’s words linger in her head. _There are things about your father, your first father, that you should know._

When was the last time they really talked about him?

09.12.1992, Saturday afternoon

Hazel: “Hey Mom, you got a minute? Or maybe a lot longer?” Hazel asks as she knocks on the open door to her mother’s home office space. It’s been two years since she stopped wearing baggy sweatpants in favor of blue jeans, long-sleeved gray tees, and using shampoo in her hair (a habit she will later give up again). Apart from slightly plumper cheeks and generally more youthful features, she looks much the same at a month from 18 as she does at a month from 24. Same hairstyle, same glasses, same clothes. She’s never cared for change.

GM: Lydia puts down Hazel’s recently received acceptance letter from Gonzaga, her own alma mater. Indeed, Hazel finds her mother with a rarely seen memorabilia box. A number of photos and papers lie on her desk–but today they aren’t related to work. “Yes, of course, dear.”

Hazel: Hazel sits down on the couch. She runs her hand over its edge several times, briefly distracted by the back and forth sensation of felt against her skin. “What was my… biological father like?” This isn’t the first time Hazel has asked about him. But with graduation looming this school year, and her whole life ahead of her, she’s feeling introspective.

GM: Lydia’s never been one to speak much of her first husband, at least not with Hazel. Luckily for the introspective senior though, recent events have put Lydia in a nostalgic, retrospective mood. Her mom smiles, a hint of both fondness and sadness touching her eyes. “Richard was… he was a dreamer.”

Hazel: “It sounds as if we had that in common.” Hazel doesn’t quite manage to smile at the half-joke. She is, after all, in the Lucid Dreamers’ Club.

GM: Lydia smiles again, the sadness and fondness somehow all the more pronounced. “Yes.” She leans back in her chair, closing her eyes. “He had this way with you.” A smirk touches her lips as she regards her daughter. “As a baby, you were a downright colicky beast, Hazel.”

Hazel: Hazel thinks. “That’s… if an infant cries for more than three hours in a row on three or more days a week for at least three weeks.”

GM: “I’d try to feed you, rock you, sing to you, change you, and beat my head into the wall. But Richard, he would just pick you up, go to the rocking chair. And then, without fail, I’d find the two of you, both fast asleep, little matching smiles on your faces. It was adorable. Infuriating at times, but adorable.”

Hazel: “That sounds… nice,” Hazel replies. She isn’t sure what else to say to the memory. The man her mother is describing is largely a stranger to her, but Lydia seems happy talking about him.

GM: “I asked him, all the time, about how he did it. Believe me, once you’re a mother and it’s four AM and you’ve only had two hours of sleep, and you’re dealing with an inconsolable infant, you’ll kill for that kind of magic.” She laughs. “I’m not making the case of motherhood very well.”

Hazel: “It’s okay. I don’t think it’s very strong regardless,” Hazel assures. She’ll change her mind later, but at seventeen she’s fairly resolute that she doesn’t want children.

GM: Her mother frowns a bit before replying, “Not all babies are colicky. Most aren’t.” She then winks. “Just the special ones.”

Hazel: “Ah, that’s right. Greater effort expended for greater dividends.”

GM: Lydia waves her hand. “Anyways, so I always asked him but never learned the trick. It was just one of his secrets. Instead, he just always said that your dreams were too big for your little body, and that’s why you were so fussy. I told him that the same statement could be said about him, and he would just smile.”

Hazel: “What do you mean, exactly, by that he was a dreamer? He had unconventional life ambitions?”

GM: “Oh, definitely. But it was more than that.” She reaches into the memorial box and flicks through the papers until she finds a photo, which she passes to Hazel. It’s of her mother, dressed in her graduation gown with her unofficial Juris Doctorate in hand. Beside her is a black-haired man with sallow-pale skin who Hazel only dimly knows as Richard. He, like Lydia, is beaming, but is dressed in casual clothes with sunglasses. He’s holding a two-year-old Hazel in his arms, hoisting her up proudly like his own diploma.

Lydia taps the photo. “Graduation night.” She smiles. “I remember he teased me right before the photo was taken, saying how in two years, you had learned how to see, hear, eat, crawl, and walk, while I had only learned law.”

Hazel: Hazel looks the photo over for a long while. She’s seen a few pictures of him before, but… it was a long time ago. Mom never really talked about Richard around Dad, and after the divorce, things were still so raw for a while. “That’s… very humorous, Mom,” she smiles. “It looks rather as if I am his own diploma there.”

GM: The odd mixture of fondness and sadness steals over Lydia’s face again. “He always said you were his biggest dream.”

Hazel: The smile fades from Hazel’s own. “I learned how to do all those things. But I never did learn how to talk, when he was alive. Did he ever contemplate whether I’d… end up in a mental institution?”

GM: “What?” her mother says, clearly surprised. “No, of course not. He thought the world of you. Always said how you’d change the world.”

Hazel: “Oh.” Hazel pauses, uncertain whether she’s said something inappropriate. That happens less often than it did several years ago, but still more often than at 23. “I’m sorry. It simply seemed a reasonable parental fear.”

GM: Her mother pats her on the back reassuringly. “Richard was anything but reasonable. Or fearful.”

Hazel: Hazel looks back down at the photo of her smiling parents. “You said he had unconventional life ambitions?”

GM: “Very much so. Not that he was like a hippie or anything weird, dear. Just that he saw the world a bit differently than most people. I mean, not saw of course, but well perceived things differently. He had the soul of an artist.”

Hazel: “Was he an artist? No, you said ‘soul.’ That implies he had the temperament of one even if he wasn’t one himself.” He saw the world a bit differently. That description sounds all-too familiar to Hazel. At seventeen, she doesn’t like talking about the subject in front of her mother, but… she wants to know even more.

“Was he…” Hazel starts to ask, then trails off. She glances away from her mother and back towards the photo in her hand. “Was he who I inherited autism from? Since it’s often genetic.” The words come out in a quick rush. At almost-24 and after five years of living away from her parents, Hazel will be more comfortable openly discussing her ASD around them. At almost-18 she still hates using the ‘a word.’ It’s a reminder of all the still-fresh difficulties she’s faced getting to the acceptance letter’s point. She can feel some color rising her cheeks as she stares at the photo she’s not really looking at.

Not even the Hazel of 1998, though, would add, And since it’s clearly not from you.

GM: Lydia brushes back a loose strand of her teenage daughter’s hair. “No, dear, Richard didn’t have autism if that’s what you’re asking. He saw the world as it really was, but he wasn’t satisfied with it. He learned to live in it, but never truly accepted it. He never settled.”

Hazel: Hazel feels somewhat foolish asking now. Actually, considerably foolish, bringing up that uncomfortable question for nothing. She doesn’t look up from the picture yet as she tries to move along the topic. “That sounds. Like you.”

GM: Lydia traces a finger on the photo of her deceased husband. “He said that’s what attracted him to me. He said I ‘looked’ like a fire. Always changing, always hungry, always bright. Able to burn or illuminate. What kind of pick-up line is that? ‘You like like a fire.’ Those were really his first words to me. At first I thought he was going to make a lame comment about being hot. But he didn’t. Richard was many things, but what you expected wasn’t one of them.”

Hazel: Hazel manages a smile as she glances up at her mother. “That’s a very novel way to introduce oneself. I don’t think I’d mind someone saying similar words to me.”

GM: “I evidently didn’t mind it either,” her mom says with a nose-crinkling smile.

Hazel: “The evidence does speak for herself,” Hazel quips with another one. She almost adds, “That’s a play on ‘the evidence speaks for itself,’” but catches herself. Her mom probably got the joke. “So what did he do, exactly, if he wasn’t an artist and was so… well, I suppose the closest single word for it is ‘ambitious’?”

GM: “Oh, well, he dabbled in all sorts of things. But I guess he was primarily a writer.”

Hazel: “What did he write?”

GM: “What didn’t he?” her mother chuckles. “But freelance fiction, dear. Short stories, screenplays, that sort of thing. Why, I think he even did some commercials or a jingle or something of that sort.”

Hazel: “Do you have any of them saved, still?”

GM: “Maybe,” she says. “I actually didn’t read much of it myself. In law school, I had all the reading I could take and more.”

Hazel: Hazel is genuinely surprised by that. They’re what she has left of her former husband, after all. But even at seventeen, Hazel doesn’t feel as if she should criticize her mother on that front. “Well, I wouldn’t mind reading them if you do.”

GM: Tapping Hazel’s college acceptance letter, Lydia remarks, “I have a feeling you’ll be pretty swamped with non-fiction reading soon too, but I’ll look and see what I have.”

Hazel: Hazel suppresses a grimace at the expectant workload. “Well, not for a while yet. I still have the rest of the school year and all summer. But that sounds good.” She pauses for a moment, then asks, “What do you think he’d think of me?”

GM: Lydia smiles and lightly places two hands on Hazel’s shoulders. “Oh, Hazel, I know just what he’d think of you. I know just what he’d say. He’d say, ’you’re a dream come true’.”

Hazel: Hazel’s stride slows as she heads into the high school and turns over the memory. She actually feels a little bad now, threatening to call her other father ‘your first husband’ to Mom. It really did sound as if he’d loved her, and been the sort of man Lydia could love too.

What happened in the crash was tragic. And maybe she shouldn’t so completely deny who Richard is around Mom. But… no, she isn’t doing that anymore. She said she’d refer to him as her ‘first father.’ Harvey—Dad—still remains the man who raised her, and she shouldn’t deny that either. Neither should Mom, who’s agreed to stop doing so. So, everything seems like it’s turned out as well as it could’ve, even if Hazel has a nagging sense things could’ve turned out… better? No, not necessarily better. Just… different.

How different would her life have been if the car crash never claimed her first father’s—if he and Mom raised her back in San Francisco? He seemed like a caring man, and one who honestly had more in common with Lydia than her next husband did. But the thought of never knowing Dad–her second dad, that is–seems just as tragic. Harvey might’ve married someone else. Probably would’ve married someone else, he is very well-liked within the town. Had other kids. Would he have been happier? Would Hazel? And what is that happiness weighed against her first father’s life? And against Mom’s happiness too, who’s clearly–

Hazel abruptly shakes her head, as if to clear it of those endless might–have–beens.

She has work. And what happened is what happened.

Brook: Skin Deep


10.08.1998, Thursday morning

GM: The end of daylight savings will bring about a hard adjustment for the sophomore–assuming he doesn’t first get expelled. But for now, the moon is hanging onto the edges of the western mountains as the eastern sky creeps with indigo rays to swallow the stars. It hovers above freezing, and Brook’s breath fogs the crisp, autumnal air.

His fellow high school students mill about in the parking lot or benches outside the still-locked school doors. Spotting the ranger cadet’s truck, June leaves a pack of freshmen huddled together protectively from both the cold and the upperclassman. Brook spots her wave and smile. He also spots Leanne Byers jump down from a tree in the parking lot and start walking toward him. And then there’s the third set of eyes starting at him. Nelson’s. He’s leaning against the stone exterior of the school, his JV football jacket tight around his muscles, his light hair buzzed short and gleaming in the last moonlight.

Brook: Brook can only smile. At least there’s some sunshine out already, right? Waving back at June, he leans against his truck and waits for her to get to the truck. Meanwhile, he deals with the stares from Nelson. They’ll have to have a talk after school in their detention together. He doesn’t react much to the football meathead, instead smiling to June as she comes up. He’s glad to have her to talk to before class. “June! Glad to see you’re still breathing after all that manual labor. How was painting the deck?”

GM: June skips over to Brook. Initially thinking those smiles were for her, Leanne turns around and climbs up the tree. Nelson wipes his nose with the back of his hand and just continues to stare.

“Oh, the deck? It was okay. But I listened to all your show last night. Or at least till like 1 am,” she says with a small smile. The petite girl is dressed in her older brother’s hand-me down down jacket that makes her look like she’s been swallowed by a blue marshmallow. She lays a hand on Brook’s wrist. “So you gotta level with me. That whole hook-hand escaped lunatic spot. That wasn’t real, right? You were just pulling a War of the Worlds prank. Right?”

Brook: Brook looks over at Leanne as she hops back up the tree. It makes him feel a little bad. He’ll have to go and say hi to her later. June however, cute as a button, says something that really worries the much larger boy.

“June, no. Definitely not a joke. If you see anyone like that, you don’t let him see you, okay? My mother sent that call, and she doesn’t joke. Lots of strange shit the past few days, this crazy guy being the least of it. Right now, I’m more worried that I just made Leanne over there feel bad.”

GM: June frowns as she tries to grapple with everything Brook says. “That least of it?” she repeats, seemingly unsure what tops an escaped, one-armed insane sociopath. The mention of Leanne draws another frown. Her breath fogs as she rubs her un-gloved hands together.

Brook: Brook frowns a little bit as well, sighing and taking a second. Monsters or girls. Jesus, at least he can point a gun in the face of one of those things. “Remember the beginning of the segment? I had to go to Rockwell’s Fall to clean up roadkill. That place is bad news. Don’t ever go down there, okay?”

At his mention of Leanne, though, he gives a steady look down at June. She’s jealous, it’s obvious there’s some crap to sort out. “June, I think we should have a special talk soon, okay? When we have some more time.” Danny is his best friend. June is an adorable girl who he’d really liked before Danny snatched her up. Then there’s Leanne. Fuck.

GM: “Um, sure,” the cupid-face girl says. A few upperclassmen pass by and say hello to the disk jockey.

Brook: Brook waves back to the passing group and sighs, tiredly leaning against the truck. He can feel the sun coming up soon. "There’s also another little… bad thing that’s happening. My mother is meeting the principal tomorrow. I might be getting expelled. "

GM: “What?!” June’s face looks like she just got slapped. “Why?!”

Brook: Brook is a bit calmer. He knows his mother is more solid than the principal. He could get another chance. “I’m a narcoleptic. I fall asleep in class. Also, I have a demanding job. I’m… not exactly a great student.”

GM: June struggles for words. “What… is there anything I can do?” Meanwhile, Daniel’s bus rolls into the parking lot.

Brook: Brook shakes his head and smiles a bit. “My mother is going to talk with them. I’ll get another try. I just have to study harder, is all. Starting with that Pict project.”

Danny’s bus comes up and adds another face to his morning. “Before he comes, Danny and me are Res kids, so we know the family. But you should know that Cindy Crowshoe? Her mother really did die.”

GM: “Yeah,” she says, looking down. “I was listening to your show. I asked my uncle if I could go, but he said we weren’t really invited. To the vigil, that is, the one last night.” She looks up at the approaching mowhawked teen. “Danny went. He called me.”

Brook: Brook nods a little and looks over to Danny. He’s glad one of the three of them went. “We should just be kind to Cindy a bit more from now on.” Danny’s presence is much appreciated once he gets to them. “Danny! Welcome to the pity party. Bad news all around.”

GM: “Yeah, seriously,” he says, looking at their somber faces. “Who died?” He immediately regrets the words. “Sorry, god, sorry, way too soon.” He hangs his head and moves over to the group.

Brook: Brook winces at the joke, shaking his head just a little, but forgiving his friend right quick. “Slip of the tongue. But… yeah. Cindy wasn’t just tripping out. On top of that, there’s a crazy killer on the loose, and tomorrow I might be getting expelled for being a bad student.” There’s another sigh as he smooths his hand through his hair. “Crazy day. Only good news is I got the evening off. So you guys want a trip to the records after detention, I can drive you.”

GM: Now it’s Daniel’s turn to be shocked. “What?!” June breaks into tears. Daniel stands there agog.

Brook: Danny being shocked is no surprise, but June starting to cry? “Jeez. I said might. I’ll get off scott free, you’ll see. My mother has my back, probably the only woman in the town scarier than the principal.”

Brook grabs Danny by the shirt and pulls him in towards June, motioning for his friend to comfort her. It looks like she needs a shoulder. “I gotta stay awake more is all. That and study a bit harder. I doubt it’ll affect the show, even. I’ll check out more books now that the library’s open.”

GM: Daniel hugs June, who quickly wipes her eyes and apologizes for “losing it.”

Brook: Brook smiles a bit and pats them both on the back. Things will be fine. If not? He can sleep while they go to school and hang out afterwards. “It’ll be fine, I promise. I think the principal just didn’t like not not taking her weird culty punishment.”

GM: As other buses and vehicles arrive, the rest of Brook’s clique arrives.

The dizygotic twins, Grady and Griffin Henderson, shuffle in from their bus. The two blond-headed freshmen are June’s neighbors and long-time acquaintances. Although the pair have known Brook and Daniel for less than three years, and have only really hung out for the past month, they have become quite close to Daniel, particularly after the would-be card-dealer started dating June and was forced to spend less time with his increasingly busy best friend.

Hendersons.png

A few inches taller than June, but half a head shorter than Brook, the pair enter the gathering mid-discussion of their latest scheme to catch the Coyote Child. Griffin slurps from a Mountain Dew can while Grady shivers with his hands in his pockets, having forgotten or left his coat. Again. “Alpo,” insists Griffin after forcing a burp. “She deserves the best.”

“Store-brand, dude,” the shivering Grady retorts. “She’s not going to be able to tell the difference between Alpo and Shop-Plus.”

“How do you know–you ever tried them?” Griffin ribs.

Grady rolls his eyes. “Look, we’re need to skimp so we can afford the silver.”

“Let’s ask Brook,” Griffin says, nodding in the direction of the tall sophomore they’re approaching.

“S’up, bitches,” Daniel greets them, forcing a smile as he hugs June tightly. Meanwhile, a cherry-red ‘97 Acura Integra GSR pulls up to Brook’s truck, and out steps the Vanberger siblings. Long-time residents of the area, the Kootenai-German descended Vanbergers have earned a notorious reputation as troublesome hucksters, gold-diggers, and get-rich scam artists. In the 1890s, the Vanbergers infamously sold false maps and shoddy supplies to the Euro-American gold-crazed miners from the south. In the early twentieth century, they bilked rich sanatoria patients by passing off counterfeit ‘tribal remedies and artifacts’. Urban legends say that helped Mr. Yaza con the Japanese developers of Saint Enoch’s Towers, and in the mid-1970s, they helped other Kootenai declare war on the United States and demand tolls from highway passengers by gunpoint until the federal government made monetary and tribal concessions.

More recently, the Vanbergers further “bleached out” (as the Res natives describe those natives who marry and assimilate into white mainstream culture) when Velma Vanberger conned a rich, elderly Canadian oil shale prospector into marrying her and adopting her two out of wed-lock born children: Tootsie and Tobias. Velma’s fortunes (and ill-fame) only increased when her elderly husband died shortly after being admitted to Mount Pelion General Hospital under somewhat mysterious circumstances–and Velma sued MPGH and earned a rather large cash settlement.

Financial beneficiaries as well as social victims of their family’s lack of scruples, the 16 year-old Tootsie and 14-year-old Tobias have struggled to find acceptance on or off the Res, particularly due to their mixed heritage, their new money status, and the fact that both are overweight (which has led to all sorts of cruel nicknames like Tubby, Tootsie Rolls, Tan-Burgers. etc.). Perhaps due to Brook’s own infamous, mixed background, Tootsie has always tried to associate with Mary’s adoptive son, even before he became a local radio celebrity and she a rich gold digger’s daughter.

Tootsie.png

As she steps out of her expensive coupe, the well-heeled Tootsie flashes Brook a smile as she throws on a leather jacket over a sleeveless black dress. The moonlight glints off her curled hair and an expensive jeweled necklace around her soft neck. Her younger brother, Tobias (or Toby as he is known by the few that don’t call him Tubby) follows after his older sister. His long, highlighted hair and upturned collar of his designer wool coat frame his soft, wide baby-face.

Tobias.png

Brook: Brook hasn’t seen the entire gang in one place for awhile, but he’s glad to see them all safe after yesterday’s rough go of things. This is another thing he’ll have to keepsake with hard work in school. Summer brings work for him, but it’s fall now. Things will start to slow down as the winter weather came along. Less fire risks, easier to track animals, the whole shebang. But he’s still thankful to have the twins to keep Danny company, and the Vanberger siblings.

The twins are great energy to have around, and with mixed blood on both their sides, Brook always tries to get along with Tootsie and Toby. Despite their family having a tricky past, he can’t turn his nose up at the results. They’re both just along for the crazy ride, and neither of them has a dad either.

“And with that, the gang’s all here! Glad to see none of you got snatched up by that lunatic on the loose,” he calls, giving everyone a big grin. He’ll start with the twins. “What’s this I hear about you two people going after the Coyote Girl again? You know it’s not good juju to lay eyes on her, right? I don’t want you out in the woods with this crazy person on the loose.”

GM: The morning bell rings, and adolescent herd mentality takes over as the clique and other milling students head for the main entrance. The clique’s conversations, however, shuffle along beside them.

“Juju?” Griffin asks, while his twin comments, “We still have to build the trap, so no worries.”

“Yeah, Brooks,” Daniel says. “What can you tell us about Mr. One-Armed Craziod?”

Tootsie breaks in, “You now she doesn’t really exist. The Coyote Child. It’s just a superstition that people keep passing on to drum up nut job tourists. I had an aunt who used to dress up as her, and then her dad would sell pictures to the out of town gawkers.”

The twins look at each other, confused and crestfallen. June, meanwhile, says hello to Toby. “So how was the cruise? You went to the Bahamas, right?”

Toby frowns, his head down. “Hot. I got sunburned bad on my first day and had to spend most of it indoors. The food was pretty amazing though,” he says perking up, before frowning again as if he realizes he just made himself the butt of an unspoken joke.

Brook: Brook lets himself be swept away by the tide, but he just keeps smiling. Before he can talk, Tootsie breaks in, talking about the Coyote Child again. After last night, there’s no doubt in his mind something like that could be out there.

“Crazoid, that’s a new one. The suspect is an old white man with no left hand, and he’s dangerous. You’re probably hear more about him in the announcements today.” That said… he always has the keys to his truck in his pocket. Truck, glovebox, weapon. He just hopes he’ll never have to use it.

“Far as the Coyote Child goes? Much as I’ve been through the woods, I don’t mess around with that kind of stuff.” Hearing June go and talk to Toby about the cruise though? It’s pretty exciting.

“We should talk more about the cruise, yeah! Sun was probably too much after being in Witiko Falls so long, but how was getting out for awhile? The air taste sweeter?”

GM: Tootsie takes the opening and runs with it. “It was incredible. Sea breeze and saltwater. Drinking from coconuts, swimming with dolphins, amazing buffets, and nightly shows! It was just what we needed!”

Her brother’s frown grows. “No, it was what Mom wanted–so she could creep on some new geezer and suck up his money after he croaks. Didn’t you wonder why it seemed like a parade of senior citizens?”

Tootsie laughs uncomfortably and literally tries to wave away her moody brother’s accusation. “Now that’s not true, Toby, there was just a reunion of WWII veterans or something.” She shoots her brother a look, then asks the rest of the group. “So what did we miss? Well, beside a B-movie horror trope.”

Brook: Jesus that went off quickly. Brook makes a bit of a ‘yeesh’ face to himself. “Uh… a bit, actually. Cindy Crowshoe’s mother passed away and there was a gas leak or something at the hospital?” Looking to the rest of the group, he sees if anyone else has anything before speaking. “Besides that, just… life.”

GM: “I did my first indy plant this Monday,” Griffin adds tentatively–and receives a shove from his brother.

“Oh, and a teacher’s in the hospital.” The last words come from Daniel.

“Yeah, the Aggie teacher, McDermott. I thought you said that was just an upperclassman jerking around a group of underclassmen like usual?” June asks. “Uh, no offense meant, Tootsie,” she adds quickly.

Daniel shakes his head. “Nah, I checked it out. It was in today’s paper. It says he’s in a coma at Mount Pelion. I think it was like a car crash.”

“Is that how the gas leak happened? Like did he crash into the hospital?” Grady asks.

Daniel shakes his head. “No, I think it said it happened out by the cemetery. And it might have been a couple days ago.”

“Shame,” Tootsie says. “I have him for 6th period. He’s a nice guy. A little dorky and way too into animals and farming, but not bad.”

Brook: Brook heard there was a teacher in the hospital. What he didn’t hear was who, just yet. Agriculture isn’t something he’s too interested in, but it was a shame in any case. Maybe they can all do a school thing and send him a card and good vibes.

“Jeez, I hope he’s okay. Coma by the cemetery… did he crash? Or am I going after another elk with big britches this weekend? Or what?” It isn’t like he minds. Hunting elk means he’ll drag the body back into town, and THAT means he can do horn crafts, and his mother will make her amazing jerky.

“Ugh. Speaking of 6th period, I’ll be spending the day in the Chimera. After what happened with poor Leanne Byers, I have in-school suspension. Can’t blame them.” Beyond that, he shoots June and Danny a bit of a ‘hush’ look. He wants to keep the possible expulsion to themselves.

GM: “Leanne?” the sole upperclassman asks. However, the clique doesn’t get a chance to answer as the one-minute bell warns them of home-room’s imminent start.

By the time Brook arrives in Ms. Vosburg’s class for homeroom, sunlight breaks above the mountain, painting the eastern horizon a sleepy red. It reminds Brook of the color one sees when one shuts one’s eyes out in daylight, a rose-flesh shade associated with rest and reverie. Around him, students whisper amongst one another, the susurrus of their voices acting like a lullaby.

Brook: Brook feels himself start to drop already, with the sun poking up over the horizon it’s like a chime that speaks ‘the dark retreats’. Every day is the same, staring at the dawn light. It brings back memories. Bad ones. Struggling, the feeling of burlap, water, and dark. The first light of the day sounds with a soft click from the roof of a truck’s cab. Brook digs his nails into neck as his hand supports his head, forcing him awake and into the real world once again. This is for his mother, he has to do it. Whether it draws blood or not.

GM: He endures. And like a prizefighter in the ropes, he’s still standing when the bell rings. But another, much longer round is coming.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


10.08.1998, Thursday morning

Hazel: After Hazel arrives at the library, she unpacks her burrito and takes several hungry bites while looking over her faculty email account for anything new. She logs onto her personal account, attilathehazel@rocketmail.com, a few moments later. She expects something from Lindsay, and possibly Michael.

She also looks over the two emails, drafted but not sent to her parents last night, lying in the trash folder. After a moment of thought, she permanently deletes them. Permanent insofar as such things can be over the internet, anyways.

Breakfast is good. The hotel menu promised, “Applewood Smoked Bacon, Roasted Poblano Chiles, Crispy Hash Browns & Scrambled Eggs tossed with Cheddar & Jack Cheese, Rolled in a Large Flour Tortilla. Served with Pico de Gallo & Blistered Tomato Salsa,” and it delivers, even if the food’s now a little cool. Compared to her mother’s cocktail, Hazel is expecting a much fuller day and eats accordingly. Conscientious to avoid getting grease over the expensive desktop’s keyboard (not purchased by her mother after all, it looks like), she eats from the takeout box with a fork, pausing several times to slurp some water from the drinking fountain. The seasonal fruit cup of blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries provides a pleasantly light and sweet ending to the meal as she scrolls through her inboxes.

At least I can’t get any more odd emails from Lance. Guilt immediately stabs through her mind at the thought. I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that at least one of the advantages was… I should just stop talking. Thinking.

The menu just said ‘seasonal’ to sound more attractive. Blackberries are not in season right now. That’s more late summer.

While she’s in the process of checking her digital correspondences, Hazel also cracks open her personal laptop and checks the dummy Nostrum account to see whether Marvin Swenson received her email. She doesn’t plan to dig around on his computer while she has so much ahead for her day, but she wants at least some progress to report to Uncle Leo.

GM: True to his word, there is an email from Michael. Sent approximately an hour after their parting, the digital missive reiterates his enjoyment of their conversation, however brief and seemingly incidental it was, and inquires whether he “might have the honor of her company once more.” Specifically, he asks if she might join him for a stargazing boat ride on the Green Lady this Friday, as the forecast calls for clear skies. If the date is amenable to her, he offers to pick her up at any address of her choosing at 8 pm. Hazel notes that the email, though digitally signed by Michael, was sent from the account of his late grandmother.

Lindsay also keeps her word by sending her a compressed file of her unabridged thesis. Unzipping the document, Hazel reads its title: Beholder of the Eye: A Phenomenological Study of Transcultural Form Constants through the Comparative Use of Phencyclidine, Mescaline, and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide. Like its title, Lindsay’s thesis is a mouthful, and it will take some time to chew. However, as Hazel swallows the last of her comparatively delicious breakfast, she discovers that Marvin Swenson has not opened his email. For the moment, it seems Troy remains awake, and the Greeks must wait. After all, it is still early in the day.

Moving on to her own work email, Hazel finds three emails. One from Murff, one from Agnes, and one from Uncle Leo.

Hazel: Hazel pauses mid-chew as she looks over the first email. A date. Well, a boat ride down the Green Lady is a convenient locale to get away from any potential observers, and the date isn’t poor ‘cover’ if she’s currently being watched. At the same time, Hazel is leery going somewhere alone with Michael when she yet knows so little of his–and his fellows’–motivations and intentions towards her.

Ugh. I’ll need to stim a bit this afternoon to get some real answers.

For now, Hazel sends back an email replying in the affirmative to the date. She nearly states that she isn’t sure what her afternoon schedule will look like, so she’ll send him a later email with the address he can pick her up–before remembering that she gave him the Sweeneys’ phone number and even explained that yes, she really did live there.

Careless. There isn’t any paper trail connecting me to the house. Should’ve just given him my email.

It’s a minor advantage, and a dedicated investigator could probably find out that’s where she lives anyways. Still, it irks her to have needlessly given up. Nothing to be done for now. She names her Red Louse address as the place Michael can pick her up.

Hazel gratefully skims over Lindsay’s thesis. She’ll read it this afternoon as part of her research–and send a return email containing her own findings, which her former neighbor will hopefully find useful.Patience, Odysseus. Your soldiers did spend all afternoon in that horse.

Hazel opens each of the work emails next, starting with Leo’s.

GM: The vice principal’s email was sent last evening at 8:32 pm. The subject simply reads: John. The email itself is otherwise blank, save for an untitled attachment.

Hazel: Hazel frowns and opens it.

GM: With double click, the attachment opens, and Hazel’s screen goes white like snow. Cold like snow. Soft like snow.

She falls in. And finds herself in a snowy field of pine trees. The air tastes like Christmas morning. A life-long oneiromancer, Hazel recognizes that she is asleep, and that the surrounding wintry forest is a dreamscape.

Hazel: Even if it’s from someone you trust, always check the file attachment before you open it, Hazel can’t help but wryly think. She scans her surroundings. If it is, in fact, from Leo–it’s possible his email account has been hacked–he has some purpose in sending her here.

GM: The snow-boughed trees rise up to block the sky, but light filters through the forest from all angles. The shadows all point towards her, leaving her disoriented.

Hazel: Hazel frowns, but it soon abates. This is a dream-realm, where mind truly reigns over matter. Lucid dreaming is not simply recognition of the fact one is dreaming–it is the power to shape and impose one’s will upon such mindscapes. This is her mind. Hazel concentrates and projects her vision of what that should be outwards, willing the obfuscating trees to shrink in height.

GM: The trees shrink–but so does the lucid dreamer. The landscape, however, changes as the spaces between the trees widen. In the now clearer snow, she spots a trail of bread-crumbs.

Hazel: Hazel glances at them, and then in a flick of amusement, is dressed in the romanticized garb of an early 19th century German peasant girl.

GM: The bread-crumbs are fragments of an androgynous gingerbread man-woman broken up into tiny pieces. She can smell the warm ginger-dough and scent of candy-drops. But her change also brings about another alteration to the terrain:

There is an odor of something red whose shade is so dark it is nearly black. She cannot, or perhaps subconsciously forces herself to not, see the source of the foul stench. The gingerbread-crumbs remain. Though not for long, as a black coyote sheds the shape of a tree shadow and begins to gobble up the trail.

Hazel: Hazel frowns. This is no time to be a peasant. This is her dream-realm, and here, she is queen. She flicks her hand once more. As the flash of scintillating light dissipates, Hazel stands garbed in a voluminous gold and silver dress with an ermine-trimmed mantle. A diamond-studded crown set with a single gleaming ruby rests upon her brow. Catherine the Great died only shortly before the Grimms published their work and seems a fitting choice of form to mimic.

catherine-the-great-coronoation-1.jpg

Hazel draws herself up to her full regal height–so much taller, it seems, within her dreams–and sharply pronounces in an authoritative tone that brooks no defiance or disobedience,

HALT!”

GM: The black coyote, whose eyes are a pale ghostly blue, halts as commanded. It stares up at the dream-queen, then slinks away into the shadow, licking its lips.

Hazel: Hazel haughtily watches the animal depart. She nearly resumes her stride, following the breadcrumbs–but a queen does not walk. Instead, she mounts the snow-white horse that was supposedly a steed to Catherine, and a good deal more. She lightly flecks her crop against its flank and the stallion rides off.

GM: The shrunken queen rides through the shrunken trees. The trail of gingerbread crumbs is fresh and easy to follow. It is midway through her journey that Hazel recognizes that her horse is cantering backwards. But her stallion bleeds forward, struck as it is by a black fletched arrow. There is a black huntsman in the woods. Somewhere. She cannot see him, but he smells of stale popcorn and cotton candy, varnished wood, wet cat, and the rancid stink of fear-sweat.

Fear drives the stallion backward–as its blood drips faster forward. The queen reaches the end of the trail. A small tree sits amongst the giants. Like its larger peers, it is covered in snow. Her mother’s necklaces are strung around it like glinting garland, and her father’s shiny badges hang like Christmas ornaments from the tannenbaum. A single presents sits below the tree, wrapped in the pages of a book, with a golden ribbon that simultaneously shines from one and all angles. There is a small tag attached. It reads: Merry Christmas, from Leo.

Hazel: Hazel sharply glances about her surroundings for the unseen attacker. Catherine the Great would likely seek retaliation or flight, but Hazel remains Hazel, and curiosity remains her foremost drive. A livery-garbed footman with a droopy mustache bows low as he presents the gift to the queen, who perfunctorily unties the ribbon and opens her present.

GM: Around her, the odor of dark red intensifies. The trees. Their bark is slashed. Sap oozes outward. Dark red. In spirals. The footman, meanwhile, presents the open box. The empty box. She falls in. The forest disappears.

Another dreamscape emerges. She is in a doctor’s office or lab. It remains frigid, but it is a clinical cold. There are no more warm gingerbread crumbs, but there is a hot oven. A crematorium that is shut but roars with flames that lick at the glass. X-rays and medical test results are clipped to the walls.

Hazel: Leo’s dreamscape now.

GM: A single metal slab stands in the middle of the room. Upon it, rests a brain. Her uncle is there as well. He, like Hazel, is dressed in a white physician’s coat, his arms and hands covered by elbow-long industrial black rubber gloves. He reaches those gloves into a large metal bowl and pulls out a mass of what looks like gray-colored ground beef. He begins mashing and massaging the matter into patties which he places on a gold platter. “We are here to discuss Layne Tuttle,” the gray-eyed man intones.

Hazel: Hazel spares a glance for her new attire. She preferred her royal regalia, but this is Leo’s dream-realm, and it’s not just polite to abide by its parameters. It’s best to simply go with the flow in dreams.

Besides. The spirals. This is no time to be playing dress-up.

“My compliments on the means you have chosen to ensure our privacy, Vice Principal, " Hazel states as she approaches him. “I will first ask if ‘vice principal’ remains the proper title by which to address you. I presume that our minds have translocated elsewhere from our bodies, which remain in Witiko Falls High School. And there is great significance in names and symbols here, perhaps more so than any other place.”

GM: “We were in Witiko Falls High School, where you and I are now is a mystery other than the one we are here to discuss.”

Hazel: “Very well. I shall address you as I would outside our workplace. Continuing our earlier conversational thread, you had last asked me what observations I have made regarding Layne Tuttle.”

GM: “Yes,” he says, scooping up another glob of fatty gray matter. “Please proceed.”

Hazel: “Her short-term memory is all-but nonexistent. She relies upon written aids to compensate for this mental shortcoming.” Hazel steps up alongside Leo and begins smooshing gray patties onto gold plates with her own rubber-gloved hands. Don’t just abide by the dream’s narrative. Participate in it. Expand on it.

“Her long-term memory has fared better–certain conspicuous gaps aside. She continued to associate positive feelings with me even as we repeated, near-verbatim, conversations we had previously held mere hours ago. She also experiences fleeting episodes wherein she manifests a far greater degree of cognitive aptitude. I am not fully certain what triggers these episodes, though I have observed several pieces of circumstantial evidence that may point towards what does. On two occasions, she became lucid when we discussed her… present condition, which upset her. Her lucidity faded when she was emotionally comforted.”

Hazel pauses, schlopping another macabre patty onto a glinting plate. “Here I will no longer observe, but hypothesize. I suspect that her suicide was not an action she committed of her own free will, but an impulse imposed on her by ROSEWATER–or some other malign force, for reasons I am yet unaware of. During one of her episodes of lucidity, she was shocked by the notion that she would ever perform such an action. Firearms are also a notably atypical suicide method for females. Prescription drug overdosage is far more common.”

Another brain-patty wetly smacks onto a plate. “Here I will no longer observe or hypothesize, but simply express my personal sentiments. I feel very sorry for her, Uncle Leo. Whatever ROSEWATER did has cost her much of her mental faculties, as well as caused her significant emotional pain. I would like to help her, if I may. Beyond offering simple… friendship, I have considered taking her to the Falls. Rumor holds they possess miraculous healing properties. I am yet uncertain if my intended actions are the proper recourse, however. Further data is needed.” Hazel looks up from the gray matter between her gloved hands and regards Uncle Leo expectantly.

GM: Her uncle listens attentively to Hazel’s observations, interpretations, and speculations. By the time she is finished, as are their patties, Leo is smiling, clearly pleased. He peels off the long black gloves, revealing an identical, but clean, pair underneath. He releases the former into a waste bin full of other identical gloves. He leaves the golden platter for now on a counter and proceeds to the main table with its brain. “Astute observations that are all the more impressive given your short exposure to the subject.”

Hazel: “The subject matter–and subject–are of great interest to me, Uncle Leo.”

GM: Leo stares intently at the brain on the table. Blood pulses in the spiraling folds of fat and grey matter. “Have you ever considered the problem of consciousness?”

Hazel: Hazel is quiet for a long moment. “I will concede that she appears a great deal happier when she is not in possession of her full mental faculties. It is said that knowledge that can be a burden. So can, evidently, simple intelligence.”

GM: Leo does not move his eyes from the pulsing brain. “I speak of something far more fundamental and transcendent than intelligence. I speak of consciousness, one of the grand mysteries which have perplexed the great scholars and philosophers for generations. As an empiricist, have you ever considered that there is a problem? Not only how the subjective self comes to be, but how it emerges again and again with continuity despite periods of supposed unconsciousness.” He adds, “Namely, sleep.”

Hazel: “Those with the proper knowledge and will may continue to exert their consciousness during periods of supposed unconsciousness.” Hazel does not need to gesture at their surroundings as she likewise discards her own soiled gloves into the waste bin. “I had not considered the problem to any great extent before. Layne, however, is prompting me to do so now.”

“It is almost as if she exists in a state of ‘sleep’ that certain stressful contexts may rouse her from. In much the same manner that violently shaking you, when you slept, would return you to full consciousness, ‘shaking’ Layne with upsetting memories appears to do the same.”

GM: “But rouse her to what, save it be what we describe as ‘herself’ which supposes not simply a measure of intelligence but personhood or consciousness. Newton wrote, ‘to determine by what modes or actions light produceth in our minds the phantasm of colour is not so easy’. This from the same man who wrote, ‘I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people’.”

“Mill elaborated, ‘Now I am far from pretending that it may not be capable of proof, or that it is not an important addition to our knowledge if proved, that certain motions in the particles of bodies are the conditions of the production of heat or light; that certain assignable physical modifications of the nerves may be the conditions not only of our sensations or emotions, but even of our thoughts; that certain mechanical and chemical conditions may, in the order of nature, be sufficient to determine to action the physiological laws of life’. ‘All I insist upon, in common with every thinker who entertains any clear idea of the logic of science, is, that it shall not be supposed that by proving these things one step would be made towards a real explanation of heat, light, or sensation; or that the generic peculiarity of those phenomena can be in the least degree evaded by any such discoveries, however well established. Let it be shown, for instance, that the most complex series of physical causes and effects succeed one another in the eye and in the brain to produce a sensation of colour; rays falling on the eye, refracted, converging, crossing one another, making an inverted image on the retina, and after this a motion—let it be a vibration, or a rush of nervous fluid, or whatever else you are pleased to suppose, along the optic nerve—a propagation of this motion to the brain itself, and as many more different motions as you choose; still, at the end of these motions, there is something which is not motion, there is a feeling or sensation of color’.”

‘“Whatever number of motions we may be able to interpolate, and whether they be real or imaginary, we shall still find, at the end of the series, a motion antecedent and a colour consequent. The mode in which any one of the motions produces the next, may possibly be susceptible to explanation by some general law of motion: but the mode in which the last motion produces the sensation of colour, cannot be explained by any law of motion; it is the law of colour: which is, and must always remain, a peculiar thing. Where our consciousness recognises between two phenomena an inherent distinction; where we are sensible of a difference which is not merely of degree, and feel that no adding one of the phenomena to itself would produce the other; any theory which attempts to bring either under the laws of the other must be false; though a theory which merely treats the one as a cause or condition of the other, may possibly be true’."

Leo points to the brain’s optic nerve. “Do you see?”

Hazel: “In several senses.” Hazel waits expectantly. Uncle Leo seems to be building to some larger point.

GM: “Yes, but vision transcends sensation. Consciousness is about perception,” he replies fervently. “While Mill meandered, Huxley cut to the heart of the matter in one line, namely, ‘How it is that any thing so remarkable as a state of consciousness comes about as the result of irritating nervous tissue, is just as unaccountable as the appearance of the Djinn when Aladdin rubbed his lamp’.”

Hazel: “Here we begin to venture into the realm of the physical sciences–and possibly philosophy, if we are to move from neuroscience to such ephemeral questions as the nature of consciousness and personal identity. For all their present relevance to Layne Tuttle, I am not prepared to answer them when greater thinkers than I have long sought to. I can only observe that, likely as a result of ROSEWATER’s attentions, Layne Tuttle is not who she once was.”

GM: “But it is an intellectual presumption upon which our discussion rests. If physicalism is to be defended, the phenomenological features must themselves be given a physical account. But when we examine their subjective character it seems that such a result is impossible. The reason is that every subjective phenomenon is essentially connected with a single point of view, and it seems inevitable that an objective, physical theory will abandon that point of view. Conscious experience is a fundamental constituent of the universe, a panpsychism or panexperientialism. The rich inner life is not logically reducible to the functional properties of physical processes.”

“But for now, we may squint our eyes and pretend the emperor is clothed.” He rolls away the stainless steel table and its pulsing brain. “Let us ignore the nakedness and discuss the fabric, heft, and cut of the illusory raiment.” He motions to the X-rays and medical test results clipped to the illuminated walls. He points to a particular series of X-rays, each of which is labeled with Layne’s name. “Layne Tuttle shot herself through the temple. The bullet passing through here,” he gestures through a line in the clearly ravaged brain-scan. “The primary neural region damaged was the hippocampus, which is considered the physical substratum of memory. But not all memory.”

Hazel: Hazel considers. “I have not attempted to measure Layne’s semantic memory, but circumstantial evidence would again suggest that it has fared better. She retains enough memory of general facts to hold a debit card and manage her own finances.”

GM: “On the contrary, it is her semantic and episodic memories which remain the most devastated. What you speak of is her procedural memory.”

Hazel: Hazel inclines her head as her terminological error is pointed out. “I clearly should not attempt to speak of subjects I know little of.”

GM: Leo nods his head, clearly more pleased that she is eager to learn than that she has need of it. “Which is fascinating.” He steps closer, the glow of the backlit medical glass reflecting in his eyes. “Due to her injuries, she suffers both anterograde and retrograde amnesia. The latter is restricted to a few months prior to her attempted suicide. With the exception of a few other blank spots which skip across her lifespan like a well-thrown stone upon water, her long-term memories, semantic, episodic, and procedural all remain intact.”

“Once again, we shall for the moment ignore that this intactness, though the norm of human experience, remains utterly unexplained by empirical reductionism. But,” he continues, “Layne’s anterograde amnesia is far more severe. Notably, she has no de facto short-term or long-term memory when it comes to semantic learning. She is instead limited to her sensoria.”

Hazel: “Emails should also not be able to induce immediate REM sleep in their recipients,” Hazel states. “I am well accustomed to discussing the details of the emperor’s raiment over the fact of its existence. I can also personally confirm such observations regarding Layne. I have instructed her–or at least attempted to instruct her–how to purchase clothing over the internet. The process was arduous.”

GM: Leo smiles. “If we enter the realm of ‘should’ then we are no longer discussing positive ontologies, but normative ones. But perhaps now I digress,” he adds. “Yes, if you were to tell her the name of the current president each and every day for the remainder of the year, she would never remember or learn that name. As that entails both the encoding and retrieval of a semantic memory.”

Hazel: “Nor would she seem likely to even remember one’s attempts at instruction. But I would not label it a complete waste of time.”

GM: “Yes, precisely because as you have noticed, she is not incapable of forming memories. To illustrate, consider her use of her clipboard. She can develop, albeit with some difficulty, new procedural memories, particularly those involving subconscious automaticity. For example, consider how you learned to ride a bicycle. The ability to describe the operation of the velocipede is orthogonal to one’s ability to physically operate its apparatus. It is, as it is sometimes called, motor memory.”

Hazel: “She would also appear well-suited to the task of cataloging books, even if the initial instructive process would prove arduous for her teacher.”

GM: “Quite so,” he says in regards to the keen prognosis by his astute pupil. He takes her to another section of the wall, where a video projector clicks on and plays a series of tapes. They show a younger, though still post-teen, Layne in a nondescript room. A person in a white lab coat passes her a paper littered with numbered and lettered dots. She is provided a pen. “Have you every seen this document before?” asks the proctor.

“No, never,” Layne replies quickly.

Hazel: “I had wondered where she was during the years between her suicide and employment at the high school.”

GM: “Observe,” Leo reprimands lightly as the examiner then says, “With the pen provided connect the dots in a sequential alpha-numerical order. Meaning, start here with A, then proceed to 1, then to B, then to 2, then to C, then to 3, and so forth until you reach Z.”

Leo taps the screen and the video halts. “Query: will she be able to complete the task? And why or why not?”

Hazel: “She will be able to. As you have stated, her long-term memories remain intact. She will be able to grasp the connection between B and 2, and so on. Her short-term memory is not sufficiently deteriorated that she will forget she is supposed to be drawing lines while in the midst of doing so.”

GM: “Let us then resume observing and test that hypothesis.” He taps the screen and the video reawakens. Even to the asocial Hazel, it is painful to watch.

Hazel: Hazel looks no less personally frustrated as the tape resumes. She, too, has great difficulty ‘connecting the dots’ between less familiar concepts.

GM: Yes, Layne eventually completes the task, but it is mentally excruciating to watch and no doubt to proctor and perform. She clearly recalls alphabeticity and cardinality, but as she searches over the paper for the shuffled letters and numbers, she keeps forgetting what she is supposed to do. Each time, the proctor repeats the instructions. Each time, she says she understands and begins to complete the task, connecting one or two dots, and then becomes lost as she searches for the next symbol.

The video flickers like an old projector as it reaches the end of its reel. Leo then motions for Hazel to regard the rest of the wall. It is filled with the same sheet of scrambled numbers and letters. Each one has been filled out with the same pen. Each one has a prolix medical label attached to it, with Layne’s name and the date. There are over a hundred trials, a hundred sheets, a hundred days. The first are sloppy, uncertain, and marked with lengthy times. But over time, the geometric pattern which resembles a snake swallowing its own tail, is made with surer, swifter strokes.

Hazel: “‘She can develop, albeit with some difficulty, new procedural memories,’” Hazel recites.

GM: Leo then clicks on a new video. “Her last trial,” he says by way of introduction. Layne sits in an identical nondescript room. The previously shaved spots on Layne’s skull, however, are now thick with hair. A person in a white lab coat, once again with their back to the camera, passes her the paper littered with numbered and lettered dots. She is once again provided a pen. “Have you every seen this document before?” asks the proctor.

“No, never,” Layne replies quickly.

The examiner then says, “With the pen provided connect the dots in a sequential alpha-numerical order. Meaning, start here with A, then proceed to 1, then to B, then to 2, then to C, then to 3, and so forth until you reach Z. Do you understand the instructions?”

Layne nods.

“Proceed,” the proctor instructs.

Layne effortlessly traces the pattern, her hands and eyes moving as if in an automatic fashion.

“8.29 seconds,” the proctor says for the benefit of the recording. “Layne, was this task easy or hard?”

“Um, really easy.”

“But you believe you have never before seen this sheet or done this task?”

“Yeah, I’ve never seen this before.” She seems to think, a frown emerging on her face. The frown starts to relax as she adds, “I guess… I guess I must just be really good at this stuff.”

Hazel: Hazel waits until the recording is finished, then looks back to Leo. “I find it unlikely that ROSEWATER would have willingly released such a tape to you. I will conjecture that Layne was released from their custody to a mental institution, but I still find it curious you would come to possess such a tape given your lack of familial relationship to the patient. I will have further questions when we are no longer discussing the state of her mental faculties.”

GM: “Yes, the present discussion is delimited to her condition–not the epistemology whereby I or you came to understand it.” He turns back to the video, rewinding it with a swipe, back to when Layne frowns. “Speculate: what is her conscious experience at this moment?”

Hazel: “She appears frustrated. She has no memory of completing such a sheet before, and no reason to believe she is ‘skilled’ at a new task she would otherwise find difficult.”

GM: “Precisely!” Leo says, clearly appreciative that Hazel is connecting the dots so quickly. “And here we return to the emperor’s clothes,” he says and swipes the wall, causing the room to rotate so they face the first set of brain-scans. “Layne’s prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain deemed responsible for executive functioning–such as the ability to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine good and bad, better and best, same and different, future consequences of current activities, working toward a defined goal, prediction of outcomes, expectation based on actions, and social control–is intact. Consequently, she is able to reason that she should not be able to complete this novel, complex task in such a short time-frame.”

Hazel: The term is one well-familiar to Hazel. She has heard from many psychologists that she has issues with her own executive functioning.

GM: “This triggers an aversive emotional state. Which leads us to our next article of clothing: the amygdala.” Leo points to two almond shaped portions of the brain. “The amygdala, coupled with these areas and pathways–,” he says pointing at several nearby neural regions and connections, “–constitute the limbic system which has as one of its primary functions being the formation and regulation of emotional processes.”

Hazel: “Or more simply, it is the part of the brain concerned with fear.”

GM: “Yes, the amygdala’s functional connection to fear is well-known, but the limbic system is connected to other emotional states as well. Which leads us to the intriguing phenomenon that is Layne’s emotional memory.” He points to a region directly below the frontal cortex. “The olfactory bulb, for instance, is involved in subconscious emotional memories triggered by scent. These connections remain undamaged in Layne’s brain.”

Hazel: “Layne recalls that she is friends with me, even if she does not recall our prior conversations together,” Hazel nods. “Some would make the argument that is the most essential portion of the brain to remain intact.”

GM: Leo holds that contention for a moment, but does not directly respond to it. Instead, he presses on, “Her prefrontal cortex can process that she has a positive affective reaction to your image, sound, and smell, but she cannot semantically or episodically recall why she should have that valence. So, she reasons, you two must be friends.”

Hazel: “Some would. I would not,” Hazel states. “But I digress from the subject at hand.”

GM: “Perhaps not,” Leo says thoughtfully. “Why do you suggest you would not; whereas, she clearly does?”

Hazel: “Layne is condemned to live an existence of unconstrained emotion, unguided by reason. I would not be content to harbor positive feelings towards someone if I did not know why I felt as I did. It is one of the reasons I so pity her.”

GM: “Ah, but recall that her prefrontal cortex is unharmed! She is not adrift in a sea of unfettered emotions, but must contend and grapple with merciless rationality.”

Hazel: “Layne is capable of making rational decisions. She does not remember why she makes the decisions that she does.”

GM: “Although her mind recalls that she should be able to recall the why, that she once possessed that faculty, and her current deficits are thus a source of great pain.”

Hazel: “It is a terrible fate, Uncle Leo. And now that we have discussed the nature of Layne’s present state in some depth, this would seem a natural conversational point to begin discussing the circumstances that led to it—and, possibly from there, how her state might be rectified.”

GM: “There is one more point to consider. Her choice.”

Hazel: “To work as an assistant librarian? I am aware of no other significant ones she has been faced with,” the literal-minded dreamer asks.

GM: Leo looks down somewhat disapprovingly at his pupil’s lack of insight. “Consciousness. Each day the dreamer awakens nearly anew, a pseudo-tabula rasa on which to write. Yet, she does not embrace change, but seeks stasis and continuity. Consciousness may be affected, altered, but it has inertia. A resting state to which it seeks to return and will push back to re-attain.”

Leopold walks over to the golden platter with the brain-patties. “Ponder that paradox. Becomes its pupil, then its master, and you will gain great power.” He opens the crematorium, and shoves in the tray, closing the hellish furnace. “But as always, there is a price.”

Hazel: “I have volunteered to pay it. My mind has not changed.”

GM: Leo stares into the fire. His tone is grave, but puissant: “Entitas ipsa involvit aptitudinem ad extorquendum certum assensum.”He then opens the furnace and sadly regards the charred brain-mater. He scraps the burnt meat off the inexplicably untouched tray into a trash can. And then with an equal somberness, he picks up the pulsing brain and places it alone in the center of the golden tray. He then presses into the living brain’s pre-frontal cortex, hard. As he forcibly draws the shape of the cross, blood vessels burst and a terrible pain stabs through Hazel’s head.

The librarian wakes up, her forehead throbbing from the impact of her unconscious skull smacking the computer screen.

The first period bell rings.

Hazel: Hazel groans and rubs her head. Answers have come–but as always, they bring still further questions.

Hazel: Well, it’s another day on the job. Hazel clocks in and opens up the next two emails from Agnes and Murff to see if they are anything work-related.

GM: Although any other email would be mundane compared to Leo’s, Agnes’ is particularly quotidian. Sent this morning, it details her itinerary for the day. It’s packed.

Hazel: Fuck.

GM: Nothing exceptional, but she has every period full, save her lunch hour.

Hazel: It looks like I’ll have to finish up that research after school. Or between other things.

GM: Looking over the list, she may have time to squeeze in some personal work, as the classes of seniors and juniors who will be accompanied by their teachers. Consequently, Hazel will not be expected to singly manage or direct, only assist as needed.

Hazel: Okay, that’s better. I’m not a teacher. Let them manage their own classes.

GM: She will, however, have an assistant for the day. One Brook Barnes. Agnes spells out the details of the sophomore’s in-school suspension and his responsibilities.

Hazel: Hazel looks it over. She doesn’t have Layne on board as an assistant yet, so that’s very well. And it’s a fairly lenient punishment he’s getting, at least in her estimation, being required to read a Bradbury short story. She moves on to the email from Murff.

GM: Murff’s email is far sweeter and shorter. Haven’t seen you around or in the lounge. How’s it going?

Hazel: Ah, yes. Social obligations. She can fit those in tomorrow. Today she’s got too much on her plate. Still, Murff’s taught her for two semesters and compared her to Emily when last they spoke, so her return email shouldn’t be any surprise.

Getting in the groove. Have a class every period today and need lunch for time to myself. Hope to run into you in the lounge tomorrow. Haven’t forgotten about Fleischer! Fingers crossed his class is one of mine today.

GM: No sooner does she send it, does she receive another email from Agnes.

Hazel: It is duly opened. This really is so much better than talking over the phone, she thinks appreciatively.

GM: It’s a forwarded email from the county sheriff department, a PSA that is in turn a forwarded message from the U.S. Marshals office in Boise.

_This is an emergency alert. A man has escaped from the State Psychiatric Hospital. He is considered armed and extremely dangerous. The man is Caucasian, appears to be in his late sixties to seventies, white-haired, and green-eyed, and is missing his left hand. If you see a man matching this description, do not engage_. Call 911 immediately.The sheriff’s email adds that the fugitive has not been spotted in Witiko Falls, but that the message is being forwarded as a courtesy to the community and U.S. marshals.

Hazel: She makes a mental note to ask her dad for the full story during lunch. Meanwhile, she pulls up the handbooks and gets in some more reading until the students arrive.

GM: She barely opens the digital document before the first class shuffles in. The hydra is large, noisy, and many-headed.

Hazel: She readies her sword and torch.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


10.08.1998, Thursday morning

GM: Kurt awakens hours later as sunlight slides through the broken-in door. As his non-bespectacled eyes open, Kurt sees Agent Ridley sitting beside him, vigilant but clearly haggard from a lack of sleep. “Morning, sunshine. You dream of any mama-sans for me?”

Kurt: Kurt reflexively feels his neck as he wakes up to Ridley, massaging the bruised area gently. “I only dreamed of crazy mamas.” He gives the older man a lopsided, lazy smirk. A little bit of humor is the only way to move on from last night; he’ll make sure to avoid Chippy, or Hickory, or whatever, from now on. “How was your sleep?” he asks. He sits up and grabs his glasses, putting the spectacles on his head to get a better look at Ridley’s face.

GM: “Another corollary to Rule No. 3 is ‘sleep when you can, but when you can’t–don’t.”

Kurt: “Sorry,” Kurt says quietly. He looks guilty.

GM: He smirks away the question. “How you feeling?”

Kurt: “I am okay,” Kurt answers, meeting Ridley’s eyes once again. “I can’t say I am happy about what happened last night, maybe I messed up–really, no idea–but I am willing to let it go and let bygones be bygones.”

GM: “Rule No. 2.”

As Kurt feels the tender bruises around his neck and head, he notices the latter has been re-bandaged.

Kurt: “Thanks for changing my bandages.”

GM: “Today, we’re going to take it easy. Frankly, ace, you look like a blue-head bag of smashed asshole.” Something in his Texan drawl makes the latter sound not so bad.

Kurt: “Imagine how I feel,” Kurt smiles.

GM: “No thanks,” Ridley says, rising, cracking his back and shoulders. “I’m going to go grab us some chow.”

Kurt: “Thanks,” Kurt replies, resting as he lay on his back and stares at the ceiling for a moment. He wonders if he can see faces in the lines of the ceiling, looking back at him, questioningly. How did I find myself in this mess?

GM: As Kurt stares up at the rounded aluminum ceiling, he realizes something: There are no faces staring back at him. Not even his.

Kurt: Where’s my reflection? Kurt stares upward, stunned silent for a few more seconds. A cold, weird shiver runs up his spine.

GM: He clearly sees the reflection of everything else. The bed, the chairs, the table. But not himself.

Kurt: What the fuck!? Kurt’s breathing becomes shallow as he continues to search frantically for his own reflection. He remains quiet, but own psyche is a maelstrom of worry and fear. He quickly sits up, searching for a mirror, needing to clarify that it’s just the RV’s ceiling playing tricks with his eyes.

GM: The reflective aluminum shell of the RV is everywhere–but his reflection, and only his reflection, is nowhere to be seen. As Kurt riffles through the nearby items and compartments for another mirror, Ridley returns, heaping mess-cans in his hands. The older man can’t quite keep a hint of suspicion out of his voice as he asks, “Looking for a toothbrush, ace?”

Kurt: “I need a mirror,” Kurt says, looking genuinely scared and worried. “Something’s wrong. I can’t see my reflection!”

GM: “Er…” Ridley stammers. “Come again?”

Kurt: “You heard me!” Kurt calls back. He turns to Ridley with a frown. “I can’t see my reflection! I need a mirror!” he mutters under his breath as he returns back to his search.

GM: Ridley stares at Kurt, then at the reflective walls of the RV. “Ace, your reflection’s right there. If you want to shave, I can get you a mirror after we eat.”

Kurt: Kurt looks where Ridley is indicating.

GM: “Chippy made eggs and bacon.”

Kurt: His eyes narrow.

GM: “I think to apologize.” He sniffs the mess plate. “Or maybe poison us,” he says, grinning.

Kurt: Kurt doesn’t laugh. He stands there staring at the reflective walls of the RV, searching frantically for his own reflection in all this madness. Searching for himself. Where am I?

“Who am I?” he whispers to himself.

GM: “Come on,” Ridley urges. “Let’s get you some fresh air. Also, Rule No. 1.”

Kurt: Kurt tries to push the thought aside and act normal. Nonetheless, he gets the impression this isn’t over. He tears his eyes away from the reflective surfaces and focuses on what’s real and what’s in front of him: he looks at Ridley. And he forces a smile. “Okay,” he says, nodding his head, hobbling over. “Rule number one, time to eat!” he replies like a good soldier.

GM: “That’a boy,” Ridley says, passing Kurt a plate of fire-cooked scrambled eggs and bacon. The former then helps the latter hobble out to a lawn chair. Ridley tosses Kurt a blanket and steaming cup of coffee to ward off the late morning chill. He plops another paper bib in his shirt collar and begins scarfing down the food.

Kurt: Kurt picks at his food slowly; he doesn’t quaff it down nearly as fast as the much larger man. He looks tentatively around for anybody else who might join them: the ‘Wizard’, Chippy, or the woman with the beehive hairdo. “What is everybody else doing?” he asks Ridley, curiously.

GM: “Out and about. We need to see who goes looking for the rabbit when he pops down a hole.” His smirk deepens his crows’ feet. “But if you’re feeling bored, don’t you fret: I had all night to drum up ways to train a gimp-legged recruit.”

Kurt: Kurt pauses in the middle of a bite. He then swallows and mirrors the same lazy smirk. “What did you have in mind?”

GM: “Well, for starters, I’m going to have you memorize the cut and color of Chippy’s panties. Each and every one of them. Well, besides the one she’s wearing.” He thinks a moment. “Unless she’s going commando.” His grin could crack granite. But despite that impish smile, Kurt senses that his mentor isn’t kidding.

And after breakfast, he discovers that his premonition is all too accurate.

GM: Back in the woods, Kurt is sitting down in a lawn-chair, his eyes shut fast, and a notepad and pencil in his lap. “All right, ace,” comes Ridley’s nearby drawl. “This trick comes from a Limey I knew, though he used knickknacks rather than lacy knickers. When I say ‘go’, you open your eyes. You’ll have 10 seconds to try and memorize the location, cut, and color of all Chippy’s under-things. After my 10-count, you’ll look down and write whatever you can remember about those details on the pad. Then, you’ll close your eyes again, and I’ll grade it. Under no circumstances are you to peek, as that brings us to Ridley’s Rule No. 5: Shoot straight, but it you have to cheat, never do it on your own dime. Understand?”

Kurt: “Yes. I can cheat other people, but don’t cheat myself.” Kurt then adds with a nervous laugh, “This won’t end with Chippy murdering both of us in our sleeps, will it?”

GM: “Probably,” Ridley chuckles. “But remember Rule No. 2? Let’s just say that I really need to poke the Beast. Also, her panties were the only thing I could find that had the sufficient number, overall similar shape, and diversity of color and cut.”

Kurt: “Of course,” Kurt answers. “When you say it like that, this is just a totally innocent exercise.”

GM: “Yeah… but consider it an incentive on mastering this task quickly. Take too long, and she’s likely to come back and kill us.”

Kurt: Kurt nods, taking those words more seriously than anything else.

GM: “Any last questions?”

Kurt: “When do we begin?” Kurt asks with a peachy grin.

GM: There is a breath, then, “Go!” Kurt’s eyes open to find the low hanging branches, ground, and brush covered in dozens of differently hued and patterned panties. Ridley immediately starts to count down. “10. 9. 8. 7…”

Kurt: Kurt studies each and every undergarment with the speed and precision only a hormone-filled adolescent could possess–a skill honed by years of peeking on girls with his best friend Wilson–and a skill refined as an AV Club member with a knack for immortalizing times and moments within scandalous photographs and frame-by-frame videos. Kurt’s brow is furrowed, concentrating as hard as can be.

GM: Kurt’s mental camera rapidly clicks again and again as he sees the different panties strung throughout the woods. The sheer number and diversity of the garments is enough to tax the stoutest of minds–and for a hormone-addled male adolescent, their imagery is even more distracting.

“…6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. All right, peeping tom, put down those peepers and pick up the pencil.”

Kurt: Kurt does as directed with no inclination to cheat; he instead focuses on bringing the images he just saw to his mind’s eye. He hovers the pencil over the notepad as he prepares to scribble down as many details as possible, including diagrams if need be–and being a moderately capable illustrator for his age, the drawings are detailed. It’s almost like he’s done this sort of thing before.

GM: When Kurt is done (this time), Ridley picks up the annotated sketch. He looks back and forth between the paper, the woods, and Kurt. “That’s…” he says, looking back and forth again. He has to stop and count to finally notice the errors, so small and subtle they are.

Kurt: Kurt grins knowingly, a cheeky gleam in his eyes. “I have to say I did a lot better than I expected,” he tries to lie, not giving away his secret. “Seeing this is the first time I have ever done something like this.”

GM: “Well I’ll be a damned commie chimp’s uncle,” Ridley eventually exclaims. “Most recruits take a whole month to get that good. Plus, you’ve a fair hand. I draw like flying monkey shit.” He seems to pause, as if unsure how to continue a training exercise he thought would take up hours instead of ten seconds. Passing the notepad back, he regards the colorfully accented woods. “Damn, son, we’re going to need a lot more panties.”

After further reflection, he says, “Okay, but you still fudged up a little, so let’s try it again. Pencil and pad down, eyes closed, ace.” He tears off the prior page, forcing Kurt’s next drawing to be from physical, if not mental, scratch. As before, he gives the go to begin, counts off ten, and waits for Kurt’s rendering.

Kurt: Kurt repeats the same process, only this time his memory is sharper, his rendition is more crisp. He tries to do Ridley proud. Going beyond the task set out before him, he decides to show off a little: he draws in the leaves, the branches, the bushes, the shrubbery. He even pencils in a bird picking its beak at one of Chippy’s frilly pieces. Kurt is rather quick in his drawing, though; he doesn’t want to take too long in case Chippy gets back. “Done!” he finally says, setting his pencil down and offering the complete sketch (along with written details) for Ridley to inspect.

GM: Ridley takes the sheet, initially confused by all the details until his eyes widen in sheer speechless shock.

Kurt: “Okay,” Kurt says, noticing Ridley’s expression as he continues, “I may have lied about this being the first time I’ve ever done something like this.”

GM: “Hell, son, did you pe–” Ridley begins to say, but then realizes that even peaking, the detail and accuracy aren’t just preternatural, they’re photographic.

Kurt: “To be fair,” Kurt begins in a humble tone, “I was able to look twice.”

GM: “Shit,” Ridley says, still amazed. “I think you should be teaching me.”

Kurt: Kurt laughs, enjoying the compliment. “It’s why I am not totally against acting as your rabbit,” he explains, smiling brightly from his seat.

GM: Ridley shakes his head again like he’s trying to dislodge his amazement, but just can’t. “I wish I had the hellavu brain you do, ace.” He walks off and starts collecting the underwear, still shaking his head and muttering amazement.

Kurt: Kurt gets up from his lawn chair, feeling a little sore still, but nonetheless hobbling after Ridley. He then attempts to helps his newly made mentor collect underwear. “I figure I better help,” Kurt says. “That way we get it done as fast as possible before Chippy gets back.”

GM: “No, no, Kurt, you sit down and rest that leg. She’s not due back for hours. I thought…” He shakes his head again.

Kurt: “Nonsense!” Kurt replies. “You’ve helped me out a lot; the least I can do is help you out!”

GM: Ridley waves him off. “Remember, Rule No. 3. Rest. The sooner your leg heals, the sooner the rabbit can run.”

Kurt: Kurt glares at Ridley a little in protest, but decides to not make too much of a thing of it, and instead decides to do as he’s told. He returns to his lawn chair and watches the clouds. He sees if he can make out any strange shapes or patterns. “Do you know where I can find a mirror out of curiosity, Ridley?” he finally asks, staring upward.

GM: Kurt’s eyes drink in the sky. Above him, autumn winds rip through the clouds. Their whiteness slashes the sky. But as Kurt stares longer, the tattered clouds seem to take on a repeating pattern. Three short splotches, three long stripes, and three short splotches again. Well versed in AV matters, Kurt recognizes the similarity to morse code and the meaning of that pattern:

SOS

SAVE OUR SOULS

Ridley, now far removed as he does clean-up, shouts back, “What?” Meanwhile, the skies continue to plead:

SAVE OUR SOULS
SAVE OUR SOULS
SAVE OUR SOULS

Kurt: Kurt frowns at the sky, then turns his vision down toward Ridley. “The sky is telling me things,” he says in a vague tone. “I don’t like it. Do you know where a mirror is, Ridley?”

GM: “A mirror? What, for that little bit of dirt on your chinny–chin–chin?” Not for the last time, Ridley mutters something about it taking longer to set up and take down the panties than for Kurt to memorize their cut, color, and location.

Kurt: “No. I need to see my reflection.” He adds, “It’s important, Ridley.”

GM: “Let me just get all this down,” he says. “And then I’ll find you something.”

Kurt: “Thanks, Ridley.” Kurt smiles at that answer, putting his focus back down at the pad and pencil still within his grasp–and then he starts scribbling another picture for Ridley. It’s a self-portrait. But there are little details that make it more than a simple self-portrait, hidden within the artistry. Within the reflection of Kurt’s right eye is Ridley; within the reflection of his left eye is Chippy; donned around his neck is a balloon-printed tie reminiscent of the ‘Wizard’. In the sheen of his hair, the image of a woman with a beehive hairdo can be made out in silhouette. The picture is framed in clouds and Morse code: SOS.

GM: As Ridley hefts his panty-filled duffel bag to Kurt, he calls out. “Okay, ace, let’s get you back to base and find a mirror for you.”

“What’s that?” he calls, still a little to far away to make out Kurt’s sketch.

Kurt: Kurt looks down at his sketch, then offers the drawing to Ridley. “It’s something I drew to pass the time while I waited,” he says. “And seeing Chippy made us breakfast, I wanted to make something for everybody else in return. It’s a ‘thank you’ for saving my ass.”

GM: Ridley looks down at the picture, clearly impressed and even perhaps touched. He hardly registers the ‘thank you’ with a grunt, then says, “I hope my daughter marries someone like you, ace.”

Kurt: “I am way too young to be talking about marriage!” Kurt replies, grinning cheekily.

GM: “Keep it up though, and I might just let you date her,” he says, grinning. “You like Asian girls?”

Kurt: “I like any girl.”

GM: “I’m sure there’s a rule about that, but I forget the number.”

Kurt: “Maybe it’s an amendment to ‘feeding the beast?’”

GM: Ridley roars with laughter, smacking Kurt unintentionally right out of his chair. “Aw shit, ace,” he says as he helps his recruit up.

Kurt: “Ouch! Don’t worry! I’m fine!”

GM: Together, they make their way across the field, Ridley still laughing. “So tell me about this ex-girlfriend of yours and how she’s so not as good as my daughter.”

Kurt: Kurt sighs, putting his hands behind the back of head. Nonetheless, a grin is plastered on his face. “Felicity. Don’t get me started…”

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

Kurt: Kurt stares at his absent reflection. He frowns as he continues to search and search without any answers. This isn’t good. Something’s wrong with me. I’m fucked, Fucked, FUCKED. He looks to Ridley. “I can’t see anything.”

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

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

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

Kurt: “No. I don’t.”

GM: “You’re not shitting me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments

Parasomniac Calder_R

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