Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase I, Case File 1.10

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Brook, Hazel: Paper-Cut Corkscrew


10.08.1998, Thursday morning

GM: The Chimera’s newest thrall walks into the library to find the librarian grappling with Mr. Meierhoff’s senior physics class.

Hazel: It’d be a stretch to say that Hazel dislikes the physical sciences as much as math, but not a large stretch. Still, she is thankful not to actually be studying the material and merely helping the students locate books. Clearly expecting the sophomore, Hazel holds up a hand to forestall several seniors with questions as Brook arrives and slides a volume titled Ray Bradbury: Short Stories across the reference desk.

“Okay, you’re here all day. The story you’re reading is the second one in the table of contents, after The Veldt. It’s twelve pages and shouldn’t take you very long to finish. If you have any questions I am right here.”

Brook: Brook watches her stave off the others for a moment as she slides the book over to him, then takes a look at it. Twelve pages will be peanuts to read, though after his talk with the principal he wonders how surprised he’s going to be on the subject matter. At least that means he can get to work on the paper before long. Then there’ll be time for him to take the rest of the day to talk with ‘the girl who came back’ and maybe do some research on his new friend in the pass.

“I do have one off the bat, yeah. Were you told how long the paper has to be? Or should I just write it ‘till it’s done?”

Hazel: “Rarely for a school assignment, you have no expected page count. You’re to simply write until you feel you have adequately summarized the story’s plot and connected its themes to the incident that occurred in class yesterday. You’ll be turning in the finished report to Principal Gorczak, who is reputed to be a severe grader. Quality will be the byword of the day over quantity.”

Brook: Brook sighs a little and nods, grabs the book off the desk and thanks Hazel, then heads somewhere quiet to sit down and read it. This is probably the deciding factor isn’t it? Do this well or be expelled. Really, he can see this turning into some kind of game between his mother and the principal. One betting against him and the other betting for him. Though that kind of thinking isn’t going to get him very far. Instead he sits and stars to read. 12 pages will take him 10 minutes to go through and digest.

Going through it however, it manages to catch his interest. Going through time itself after you’ve hunted everything in the world? Being bored with the world as you know it, and suddenly going after something too terrifying for you to face. There was a set of rules and Eckels broke them out of fear. Maybe Brook is taking away the wrong lesson, seeing more a lesson of ‘stay grounded, for a step off the path into cowardice could cost more people than just you’. But he can’t help thinking that isn’t what the principal wants him to see.

There are a few points where he can feel the droopiness in his eyes, but he swallows them back, finally finishing the story after thinking on it awhile, then stands up. Hazel is the librarian, maybe she’ll know what he’s supposed to see. Coming up to the desk, he waits for a moment for her to be free before he steps in.

“Ms. Bauman, do you have a sec to help with this? I’m not sure if I read this wrong or… maybe I’m not seeing the lesson I think she was trying to teach here.”

Hazel: Hazel is currently behind the reference desk trying to look busy reading the student handbook. Her education was in liberal arts, and it’s a simple fact that she isn’t qualified to answer many of the senior physics class’ questions on their own subject matter.

“Certainly. You are having difficulty connecting the story’s themes to yesterday’s incident?”

Brook: Brook puts the book down on the desk as she asks, shaking his head. It isn’t that he doesn’t understand the story, it’s more that he isn’t sure how to write the paper the way she wants him to. From what she said in their meeting to reading the story now, it feels a little different.

“No, no, I get it. I did something, and it’s going to have far-reaching consequences. The principal already said as much. The story just didn’t seem like it was simply saying ‘one little change can change everything’s outcome, beyond you.’ More like. There was a path, and it wasn’t pride or carelessness that made him step on the butterfly, it was fear. Do you know where I’m coming from?”

Brook barely knows where he’s coming from. He isn’t an intellectual, he’s a ranger. “Sorry for the silly questions, I just wanna write this essay the right way, so the principal doesn’t… well, expel me.”

Hazel: Hazel gives a thoughtful frown. “Well, to briefly digress from those questions, the principal can’t expel you. That isn’t how the process works. While the exact procedure varies by state and school district, you are entitled to a formal hearing before some or all of the school board, as well as permitted a lawyer or other adult to represent you.”

Hazel pauses and awkwardly finishes, “So perhaps you may derive some solace from that fact.”

Brook: Brook leans a little against the desk as she seemingly tries to comfort him from the fact he may be expelled. “Let’s just say that I think this paper is the start of that whole process. I’m a daytime narcoleptic and night-time insomniac. Not exactly good student material. Plus there’s my job and… it’d just be a better idea to do this essay how the principal wants it, I think. Not actually what I’m reading into.”

Hazel: “I am sorry for your respective conditions and the inconveniences they pose,” Hazel wishes, no less awkwardly. She is thankful, however, as the conversation veers back to more familiar realms–and even more thankful for the year she spent as an English instructor after graduating Gonzaga. ‘Student with English questions’ is a script she can follow. Even if she’s used to following it online.

“Well, to begin with, I would seek to answer the essay in your own words and in your own voice, rather than as you believe Principal Gorczak desires it answered. Any educator worth their figurative salt will be able to tell the difference, and frankly, and I suspect you will write a less effective paper if you do not remain ‘true to yourself.’ On that note, what are some parallels you can draw between the story’s themes of interconnectedness and your own work as a park ranger? Or, asked another way, what are some lessons contained in the story that you believe are applicable to your work as a park ranger?”

Brook: Brook is a bit more comfortable with her being comfortable. There’s an awkward cadence to how she speaks to him that he can’t put his finger on. Of course, having only met her a few times when he was a little bean sprout still firing cap guns, he has no idea of the real reason behind it. For now he chalks it up to her Witiko weirdness. When she asks that question, though, everything about last night immediately floods into his head. Yesterday was a little strange, with him telling her about that name the teacher screamed out, and getting sent to the nurse’s office instead. But now she’s brought something up he can twist into a better question.

Pulling his bag off his back, he looks over his shoulder just a bit to make sure no one sees as he pulls his sketchbook out. Quickly, he flips to the page and slides it over to his new librarian. The Native teen gives her a steady and serious look before he leans more onto the desk. “Do you know where Rockwell’s Fall is?”

Hazel: Hazel closes the sketchbook and slides it back to Brook. “Let’s try to stick to your actual work as a ranger rather than sketches you’ve made on the job. It’s a very good drawing, though. You should enroll in an art class, I’m sure you’d receive straight A’s.” Her contact’s emailed words flash through her head again. You are being observed. Whether the warning is real or false, safer to assume it’s true until she can verify it.

Brook: Brook bristles a little bit as she insinuates he doesn’t take his ranger duties seriously, but he takes a short breath and opens it back up, propping it on the counter in his hand so she can still see it. “Rockwell’s Fall is also known as Bad Medicine. Last night a family of possums and a timber wolf were run over. I cleaned them up as part of my actual work. Last night, this was my T-Rex, and I didn’t step off the path. Or that’s how I see it.”

ROSEWATER isn’t part of the boy’s world beyond making him a little suspicious at times, no one has warned him about anything. There are no words making him wary of people asking questions. Right now he’s trying to make a point, maybe get some information. Or maybe she’s been away from Witiko Falls long enough to forget. “It’s fine if you don’t believe me, we can just keep this to the essay.”

Hazel: “We are keeping this to your essay, Brook, which includes relevant life experiences that will assist you in writing it. I will thank you not to veer off-topic a third time when there are other students who desire my assistance,” Hazel states pointedly. Her tone relaxes as she continues, “Continuing my earlier line of inquiry, what are you some lessons contained within the story that you believe are applicable to your work as a park ranger?”

Brook: Just a little defeated, he closes the sketchbook back up and drops it into his bag, zipping it back up rather roughly. Maybe she really is just another teacher. “Fear. When you’re surrounded in the blackness of a predator’s territory, flinching in the face of it can get you and other people killed.” It’s the point he was trying to make before, but without the sketch of the shadow of Bad Medicine.

“Consequences when you don’t listen, as well. If you don’t know an area, you don’t run in unprepared because of pride. Like the idiot in the story did.”

Hazel: Hazel nods. “All very applicable. Let’s examine the root cause of the story’s occurrences as well. Why did Eckels go on the safari at all?”

Brook: Brook has already outlined why but nods a little at her question. “He was bored. He’d already hunted everything on earth, he wanted a higher thrill.”

Hazel: “He did want a thrill. It was more than he could handle, and he ended up causing a great many problems for his safari guide–and the world at large. Do you ever run into people like that in your line of work?”

Brook: “That’s half the job. Drivers, tourists, hikers, poachers. Ask your father tonight about his trip to Mrs. Gunderson’s last night, she’s always smuggling canines into Witiko,” he says, a little more than used to tracking missing idiots. “Uhhh… I was verbally attacked by a militant vegan on the air last night.”

Hazel: Hazel frowns. “That’s very cruel of her. And illogical. The behavior of mammals within the town is well-documented. But so far as those people who are half your job. What do you usually do with them? Socratic as well as non-Socratic question on my part, by the way. The guide informed Eckels of everything he needed to do in order to have a safe safari–safe insofar as hunting a tyrannosaurus rex could be–and he still screwed up. Could the guide or safari agency have done anything differently?”

Brook: “Yeah. She needs a parrot. As for the job, I lead them back to the town. If they’re poaching, I’ll have my mom or Chet arrest them, or worst case scenario a shootout occurs. The agency though. Besides it not existing in the first place, which is much safer, I think it would have been a better idea to have more extended training for the event. See the dinosaur from a distance. Study it. Fear is a lot of not knowing what will happen, and flinching at that fear messed the future up. Safety has nothing to do with fear. You’re perfectly safe in a tall building but people are still scared of falling. Fear isn’t rational or predictable. It’s just… fear.”

Hazel: “‘Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.’”

Brook: The quote is nice and all, but he’s starting to wonder where she’s going with this, leaning a bit more on the desk. “Ms. Bauman, is there a point to these questions, or are you just trying to put things into perspective? Because I think we’ve veered a little off-track. This all started with the incident with the dart? Instead of drawing names of places, we threw darts and mine bounced off the cork board. Causing chaos and bloodshed, though not through any pride or carelessness. Maybe I should just start this paper, and we can talk a bit more privately later. When you don’t have to worry about the other students. Among other things.”

Hazel: “The answer to your question is yes, Brook, as there is both a point to my questions and I am aiming to put things in perspective. What you just observed was an example of the Socratic method of teaching, whereby an instructor asks students open-ended questions to develop critical thinking skills and encourage them to arrive at their own conclusions, asking further questions when necessary if the students do not appear to be considering the full complexities of a topic. It is also a principle that psychologists can employ, albeit rather differently, who would phrase it as helping patients arrive at their own personal revelations rather than simply telling them how they ought to live their lives.”

Hazel pauses in her quasi-lecture. “If you wish to work on the paper yourself, that is acceptable. The terms of your suspension do not require you to engage my assistance. If you should still desire it, I will remain available to provide it. I apologize, however, if the quotation appeared non-sequitur. It was meant to be humorous.”

Brook: Brook has to take a second. Up until the the end everything is fine, but the word ‘non-sequitur’ throws him. If just for a moment before he connects the dots. Despite that, he wonders if she realizes that’s a little less effective of a psychological method if the person you’re using it on is quite aware of what you’re doing. Like yelling that you’re going to shoot a deer before you actually shoot the dear.

“You don’t have to apologize, Dune was a great book despite me being more a horror fan. Far as the essay goes, I’d appreciate your help. But for now, I’m going to the back of the library where it’s quieter to start on this mess. I’d appreciate it if you came to check up on me once or twice, however. Besides narcolepsy, maybe you’ll be more comfortable talking where no one can hear us.” Brook isn’t being very subtle with his hints, but he feels that she needs them a bit more blunt than most. She’s smart, sure! But something is up.

Hazel: “Yes, it is a very good book. If that is what you wish, I will check in on you as time permits.” Without further ado, Hazel turns to assist an incoming gaggle of students.

She checks in again before the end of the period to see how Brook is doing on his paper. When the bell rings, she informs him that she will be using the bathroom, and to move his things up front so that he can explain where she is, just in case she’s late in returning. She already knows why as her stomach rumbles.

Brook: Pulled out from his stupor of fighting sleep and working hard, Brook goes to the front of the library when Hazel asks him to and takes the chance to sit behind the big dick librarian desk. Just like he’s asked, he tells any students coming in with a clear authoritative voice that Ms. Bauman will be right back and to take their seats. Even when any teachers come in, he’s standing behind the desk.

Hazel: Hazel, meanwhile, locks the door as she enters the faculty restroom, then promptly throws up into the toilet. She lets her stomach heave for a moment as she clutches the rim, then shakily tears off a few strips of toilet paper to wipe her mouth. She stares at the gunky, wet, yellow remains of her breakfast burrito, then shudders. Brook’s picture. The journal. Its last story. All the dots connect into a key that fits inside her head, opening up the memories she’d tried so hard to lock closed.

As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold


Her stomach heaves again, but she’s already thrown up her breakfast. It’s mainly liquid that comes out. She remains huddled against the seat for a few moments with her eyes closed. Finally, she rises and turns on the sink, washes her hands, and gargles some water. She throws the soiled paper towels in the toilet and flushes it, then pops a breath mint.

If only what’s in her head could be so easily purged.

Hazel: Hazel returns to the library, grimacing slightly. Her wristwatch says she’s late.

GM: And Mr. Fleischer is there to make sure she won’t live it down.

Hazel: “Berating another for laxity in their teaching duties is the height of hypocrisy for you, Mr. Fleischer,” Hazel coolly informs her former English teacher. She liked this one a lot less than Murff.

GM: “Oh, look who decided to finally show up,” the mustached, dark-haired man says with his flat white, toothy sneer, brushing aside her own barb.

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He makes a shooing gesture to her. “It’s okay, Ms. Bauman, I already have things covered.” True to his words, his students are looking through the books quietly.

Hazel: Hazel likewise takes a leaf out of the lazy teacher’s own book. “Have you been reading any Poe lately perchance, Mr. Fleischer?”

GM: Mr. Fleischer looks up with a languid expression as if he had already forgotten Hazel’s presence. “Shhhh, no talking in the library.” Several students laugh. Quietly.

Brook: There’s a cat fight starting. Witiko Falls is nothing but old blood at this point, there aren’t a lot of exceptions. These two seemingly don’t like each other. Brook might as well step in and help Hazel out. Curry some favor.

“Oi oi. Mr. Fleischer, I said when you all came in that she was out. I doubt she was feeling well, but she’s here now. Give her a break!” Making a motion to the kids in the library, he hopes some of them will recognize him and help him out here. “These kids came to get the day over with, not listen to some beef you have with a former student. You really wanna make their day harder by angering the tamer of the Chimera? I doubt any of us could find anything in this mess without her.”

Hazel: Hazel smiles daggers and continues on. Her voice is quiet. She wouldn’t want to distract the class by humiliating their teacher in front of them. Too badly, at least. “Poe just seems to be awfully popular among the language arts faculty these days. I was talking to Murff a few days ago, and ‘Nevermore’ was like this jingle he couldn’t get out of his head. ‘Nevermore. Nevermore.’ Even the raven in the poem couldn’t get it out of his. You’re not having that problem yourself, are you?”

‘Tamer of the Chimera,’ too. She likes that moniker.

Brook: Brook has no fucking idea what they’re talking about with regards to a poet, but he continues on where leaves off. Minorities don’t like bullies, even if they are teachers.

“He’s certainly not having an issue badmouthing our vice principal’s niece and being creepy about it too. What was that you said? ’She’s probably in the back jacking off. She’s a nutcase who used to do that all the time in class, fingering herself like a retarded kid fishing for gold in their nose.‘? I’m sure he’d love to hear all about that. Not to mention the principal, I wonder how she’d react to you saying such lewd things to her students. Great example there, chief.”

GM: Brook’s words give pause to several of the laughing seniors. Meanwhile, ‘Nevermore’ digs under Fleischer’s skin with some unknown venom, but the more senior staff member slings mud right back as he snatches a book from one of his students and scans its barcode. He sneers in a way that makes Hazel feel both violated and belittled as he whispers: “Oh, let me, Ms. Bauman. I wouldn’t want you to over-exert your fingers, or maybe get too worked up and have another anxiety attack and have to hide under the table. Oh, now, don’t get too excited, I can see your face turning all red and your nostrils flaring and hands shaking. Best you sit down.” He then turns to Brook. “And you, young man, have a dirty disgusting mind who clearly misheard me.”

The students roar with laughter. But it is clearly not at anything that Artie or Hazel or Brook said. In fact, they have stopped listening to the teacher’s petty diatribe. Instead, they are laughing amongst themselves, passing notes in the aisles, flashing sketches that Hazel’s peripheral vision suggests are far from appropriate, though their exact content remains unclear. It takes the clearly flustered Artie quite some time to round them up and herd them out of the library, his own nostrils flaring and face flush with anger. As they depart, Hazel spots a note stuffed into one of the books in a nearby aisle. Brook also sees another looseleaf sheet of paper drift down from another nearby shelf.

Brook: Brook is steaming on the inside. He hates bullies. But he still stares into the eyes of that beast as the teacher walks away. There’s nothing left for him to say.

Hazel: Hazel’s teeth clench as she yanks the scanner away. Several minutes later, she stammers, “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to request that you wash your hands before you touch any library equipment, on account of so regularly using them to jizz off to Nixon-presidency tranny-mags,” she hisses.

GM: Hazel’s remark comes ridiculously too late, with no one but Brook to hear her blood-boiling slur hiss off her tongue.

Hazel: Fuming, she makes a mental note to reuse it later. After all, if he didn’t hear it the first time, it’ll still be new. Granted, there won’t be as good an opening if he isn’t actively trying to use the library scanner. No matter. She’ll think up other barbs. She snatches up the first note.

Brook: Brook listens to Hazel’s anger. He wants to reach out and put a hand on her shoulder, but misses her as she goes off to snatch up the note. There’s another he spots on top of that. He strides over to pick it up as well, to help out his new librarian. The one he might have just seriously fucked up for.

GM: Hazel’s note has sketch of a crude stick figure with dark long hair, glasses, and a cape with a caption: Super-Retard is so super she fucks herself!

Brook’s note is a less crudely rendered drawing, but even cruder in subject matter. It’s a quick cartoon sketch of the naked English teacher and librarian having sex on a stack of books.

Hazel: Hazel stares at the illustration, seething. Too childish to be Fleischer’s (if not, that’s a new low even for him). She nearly crumples it up–and has to sharply remind herself to heed reason before emotion. After all, if it’s crumpled, it’ll be harder to examine the ‘evidence.’

Attila doesn’t start fights, but she does finish them. She’ll make this student’s life hell.

Brook: Brook sighs and walks back to Hazel, handing her the second note and nodding over to where it was found. It’s fucking disgusting, but it’s good to have a bit of proof. “I’m really sorry this all happened. Do you want me to hang around the front desk for a while for company? Or is there another group coming through soon?”

Hazel: “Not as sorry as they’ll be,” Hazel quietly seethes. She looks over the drawing. It’s still offensive, but the first one was worse. “It’s still thirty-five minutes until the next class. There are ones coming in every period.” She sounds marginally calmer as she rattles off familiar facts. “I have handwriting samples. I know the class and the period. They’ve made a very foolish mistake.”

Brook: Brook things for a moment, looking up at the clock. “35 minutes until the lunch bell, Ms. Bauman. We got all the time in the world. But–ugh… more than that? I think I’ve put myself over the edge.”

Slowly, it starts to sink in. He just mouthed off to a teacher while on an in-school suspension. “Fuck. If that asshole gets wind I’m on the chopping block, things won’t end well. My mother will be heartbroken.”

Hazel: “He’s not your teacher. I doubt it will come up. I will accept the blame on your behalf if by some chance it does.”

Brook: It’s a small comfort… but it’s a comfort. He’ll take it. “Jeez… then let’s nail this bastard. If I have him as a teacher in the future, I want him to remember my face and fear its wrath.”

Hazel: Hazel’s fist clenches around the notes. “I intend to, one way or another. He is objectively unsuited to hold his position. I was of this belief even before our recent altercation.”

Brook: “He was a scumbag when you went to school here too? What a surprise.” Brook sighs a bit and walks on behind the librarian’s desk, pulling out his bag. “Before any of that though, I need to make sure he has as little ammo on me as possible, and finish that essay. I’m going to write it how they want me to write it too. I’d welcome your help if you want some time to cool down before you start plotting our revenge. Hot-headed hunter is a dead-headed hunter.”

Hazel: “Your idionism is all-too correct, though I know it by ‘revenge is a dish best served cold.’” Hazel looks up at her watch, as if finally comprehending the passage of time. “There is some blessing in Fleischer’s premature time of departure. I’d be glad to provide the assistance you seek.”

Brook: Brook nods. That’s true. But he has a bunch of metaphors in his head from his mother’s advice. Most of it is brutally practical, less poetic than what he’s sure Hazel has. By her instruction he writes a quick draft, outlining what he has in mind for the overall thing. This needs to be directed to what the principal wants, instead of what he thinks. Once Hazel takes over and starts to help him, however? It’s a fucking masterpiece. It goes from a B to an A+ immediately, and stands as an achievement in very little time. Despite her awkwardness, there’s a straightforward nature to how she put answers to his questions that gels with him. It’s perfect, and it’s done.

Hazel: Ironically, Hazel does not provide answers so much as continue to ask open-ended (if very pointed) questions to spur Brook’s own critical thinking and encourage him to relate the subject matter to his own actions and life experiences. By the time she is finished, the teenager may well be surprised by how eloquent and thoughtful a writer he can be.

GM: The beginning of the fourth period bell signals their collective triumph. That, and their lunch break.

Hazel: Hazel looks up at the bell. “All right, good job on the paper. I’ll be closing this place up for lunch.”

Brook: Brook carefully puts the paper into his bag when they finish up. Though… he spots his notebook again. Now that he’s stood up for her, and her for him, he feels a bit guilty. Panic attacks aren’t something he’s had to deal with, but there’ve been other things. He remembers the sleep paralysis from growing up. Screaming for help with after-visions of nightmarescapes around his bed while chained to its posts. Eventually, with help, he overcame it. But he remembers that feeling.

“Ms. Bauman? Look, I’ll just say it straight. I’m sorry for prodding you for answers. First about that guy that my teacher screamed about and then what I saw at Bad Medicine. I could tell you were paranoid about it, but I pushed. So… yeah, sorry. And thanks for helping with this paper. If you need anything from me, you can name it.”

Hazel: “Well, I’m not sure paranoid is the word I might use so much as focused. Talking about Mrs. LeBaron was distracting the class, and sketches of fictional creatures weren’t relevant to the subject matter at hand. But I digress. That’s water under the bridge.”

Hazel manages a smile, perhaps the first one Brook’s seen from the new librarian. “You are welcome, in any case. Providing help to students is what I’m here for.” She pauses. “I hope you are not expelled, and that the paper is of some assistance towards that end.”

Brook: Brook smiles in turn, but there’s still something bothering him. “My mother is the toughest woman in this town, she’s more than a match for the principal. I’ve got confidence. Especially now that I have proof that I can work, despite the falling asleep thing.” It’ll help more than a little he imagines. But the creature, he can’t leave it alone.

“‘By night, they howl like the coyote or screech like the owl. Their cry speaks of bad things. When a true coyote howls, or a true owl screeches, another coyote or owl replies. But when the shilombish mimics the sound of either beast, silence is the only answer.’”

For a moment, he pauses and tightens his fists. “Can I use the library for the rest of the day? Even if I’m insane, I need to know more about it. It’s in my forest, and I–it’s stupid, but I looked it in the eyes. I’m afraid it might take that as a challenge. That it might leave the Pass after me. I’d face 100 t-rexes to keep my mother from having to see one.”

Hazel: Hazel gives a blank look at the continued paranormal talk. “Well, you are here as part of an ISS, and are expected to spend the remainder of the day helping me catalog books. But that shouldn’t be any big deal. You’re free to use the library for whatever you want when it’s open tom…”

I could be dead tomorrow.

The key this morning with the… well, shilombish is one name for them, turning the lock on the book she’d so desperately slammed shut.

As I stare into the void
Of a world that cannot hold.


But it’s not a world bereft of the supernatural. It’s one where the supernatural is all-too real. Where vampires are real.

And just like that, the memories she’d so desperately suppressed and washed away in the shower this morning, then vomited into the toilet bowl, come crashing back in full. Vampires are real. And one wants to kill you. She was going to research it. Delve into the familiar, comforting realm of her books and tomes for the answers she so craved. But that sanctuary has been invaded by hoards of needful students and awful old Mr. Fleischer, leaving her not a moment to herself. Facing this thing without any knowledge is… I’m going to die. Tonight, in my own house. And no one believes me.

The panic attack hits as suddenly as the half-digested burrito she spewed into the toilet. Hazel promptly crashes off her chair onto the carpeted floor, her glasses skiffing away as she shakes uncontrollably.

And they’re watching! THEY’RE watching! THEY’RE SEEING ALL OF THIS!

Brook: Brook’s pushed too far. Is this it? The panic attacks she has? Shit. As Hazel goes tumbling to the floor, he acts quickly, snatching up her glasses so she doesn’t wreck them, then interposes himself between the librarian and her desk so she doesn’t bash against anything but him. What is it? It’s in his training fleeing disaster situations. Breathe!

“Hazel, you can do this. Breathe.” Inhale, he counts out loud to two for her. Exhale, he counts to two. He offers her hand to grab if she needs it and just keeps breathing, not touching her directly. They just need to ride this out. He knows he could go and get a teacher, but first response habits are in the forefront of his mind instead.

Hazel: Hazel clamps her eyes shut, mindlessly rocking back and forth. She’s going to die. She’s going to die. Vampires are real, and she’s going to die. Black tendrils curl across her vision as oblivion sweetly beckons. Oblivion, like she’ll find at…

Damn it, she can’t have this stupid attack now! Not in front of a student. Not when she needs to research this thing, could still have some fighting chance, however slight.

Her eyelids feel like malfunctioning elevator doors as she forces them open–too heavy and constantly trying to shut back to where they’d been. Nevertheless, she jerks a shaking hand towards the direction of her backpack.

“…urse… meds…!”

Brook: Brook gets the message clear enough. He scrambles to her bag and nearly rips it open. Within moments everything in her bag is on the floor as he digs through it, quickly finding the bottle of pills and running over to her, reading the label as he opens it up for her. “I’m going to get it in your mouth, I’m sorry if this hurts!”

Brook grabs her head under the chin with an oversized teen hand, while his other all-but forces the pill into her mouth. He trusts Hazel to swallow it, not being willing to force it down her throat until he can be sure she can’t take it herself. He just as quickly takes his hands off her and returns to his position to keep her from hitting the desk.

Hazel: Hazel instinctively recoils from Brook’s arm and tries to twist her head away from his pill-bearing hand. Putting something in her mouth would be odiously intrusive even from her parents.

Brook: Brook’s hand doesn’t falter too much at Hazel pulling away. He keeps firm but lets her pull away just enough that she isn’t hindering the pill’s delivery. After all, he’s more than a little large for a man, let alone a sophomore.

Hazel: And more than a little stronger than the 110-pound librarian. Once the Affreux passes down her throat and Brook stops touching her, however, her body goes slack. Her face twitches once as if in reflexive memory, but her voice is calm and slow after she takes a measured breath.

“I am all right. It was an anxiety attack. Purely psychosomatic. I am physically unharmed.”

GM: It doesn’t take long for the Nostrum-produced Affreux to kick in. Hazel feels like the fast-acting sedative drug wraps her blood-stream in an old, familiar blanket and whispers ‘shhhhh’. Her heart slows, her breath slows, time slows. With only one pill of Affreux, Hazel’s voice remains unslurred, but her pupils dilate like large black moons–moons that are now all the more obvious for their lack of anisocoria.

Brook: Brook’s shoulders sloop in relief once the librarian starts to clam down. “Yeah, I… that asshole mentioned them, and I have disaster relief training as a ranger,” he says, standing up and offering her a hand to do the same.

GM: Hazel’s slow-breathing nostrils and sensate fingers pick up the smell and texture of bleach–and the lingering hint of scrubbed-out blood.

Hazel: She instinctively crawls several feet to the left. The bleached-blood’s presence pokes at her calm like a child’s finger against a blown bubble, but does not yet burst it.

GM: With the pseudo-crisis abated, Hazel’s motion draws Brook’s attention to the carpet as well.

Brook has heard about the infamous stain. But this is the first time he’s truly inspected it up close and personal. It appears to a large dark-red stain that has been laboriously scrubbed with bleach, creating a fleshy-pink smear on the otherwise tannish stretch of carpet. Perhaps most disturbingly, Brook can almost make out the outline of a torso and an extended arm. Perhaps it is his imagination, but it looks like the arm was trying to spell or scrawl out something… with whatever caused the stain. Any attempt to read or discern the deduced message is thwarted, though, as that section of the carpet is the one that was most thoroughly bleached and scrubbed clean.

No, not cleaned, but exorcised.

Brook: There it is. There she is. The rumors were never backed up by anything but the fact the place was closed, but that stain? It put things into grim perspective. The young man swallows hard for a moment, bristling a moment in anxiety himself before he beats it down and turns back to Hazel. Best not to point it out right now. “Do you need some water? I can carry you somewhere quiet? Anything?”

Hazel: Hazel’s tone is as slow and relaxed as her pupils are large. “The Affreux is performing its job. It is essentially a tranquilizer. I thank you for the offer all the same–as well as for retrieving my medication.” Hazel starts to gather up her various discarded effects into the black designer purse her mom bought her. Besides traditional staples such as tissues and tampons, there are also plastic evidence bags, a fingerprint kit, and other equipment that would be useful for a crime scene investigation. She’s cased two (and debatably more) in equally as many days, after all. Seemed only prudent.

Brook: “Don’t worry about it, I’m just sorry for the mess, and if the grip hurt of course.” Brook is a lot calmer too, now that she isn’t convulsing. But at the same time, Nostrum has always rubbed him the wrong way. Much as it seems to help, he wonders what kinds of side effects it will have, again remembering to before they got his own head under some small semblance of control. Seeing what’s in her bag however makes quite a bit of sense. After all, she is the undersheriff’s daughter. However scared she seems to be of whatever’s looming over her shoulder, at least it tells him he isn’t barking up the wrong tree.

“If you want, I can bring an area rug for you tomorrow. It can’t be easy having this… particular desk.”

Hazel: Hazel placidly gathers up her cellphone, walkman and attached headphones back inside the purse. “That is a thoughtful offer, and a solution I had not considered. I would thank you to do so. The sight can be… distracting. To both students and faculty. Or at least, those who are behind the desk, which I frequently am.”

Brook: Brook nods a little, looking to the stain and tracing it out again in his mind. What was the old librarian trying to say? And why is the outline so perfect? “Besides getting a construction blade to rip it up, that’s the only solution I can see. Blood is difficult to wash off if it’s allowed to sit for long. I’m surprised it wasn’t already cut out.”

Hazel: “Well, you know what they say about public school budgets. Extra bleach and hiding it behind the desk was likely the most they were willing to do.” Next, Hazel casually scoops up her predecessor’s journal along with paperback copies of Brave New World and Germelshausen, the latter her uncle’s ‘welcome to the job’ present. The book stands out less when it’s hidden between two others.

She continues, “Though I hope there will not be a subsequent occasion when you need witness one of my attacks, be aware that I am averse to physical contact with others and it is usually better for me to take my own medication. However, you could not have known as much, and I do not begrudge your unawareness. Having the Affreux administered remains a net positive over not having it administered.”

Brook: Brook’s eyes wander back to the stain and stay there even as she speaks. There’s something off. “Y-Yeah, sorry. Training kicked in again. Most traumatized victims and… and animals don’t swallow. You have to force it down their throat with a thumb.” His words are half-baked and taper off as he thinks, then slowly makes his way to the stain.

On his knees again, he brushes his fingers along the pink, squishing the fibers and smelling his finger. Leaning down even more, he takes a full on lungful through his nose. He breaks into a whisper, slapping at the ground beside her to get her attention. “Ms. Bauman, this isn’t right.” There’s a shudder through his body as he presses down hard on the spot, getting the feeling on his hand. “How many times have they bleached this spot? I know blood–this was recent. Yesterday recent.”

Hazel: “That’s probably just anxiety talking. Believe me that I know. It’s better to cover such things up, Brook,” Hazel replies in that same placid tone. She gathers up a pack of breath mints and a notepad into the purse next. “Thank you for volunteering to bring a rug, it is very thoughtful.”

GM: As Brook considers the medicated librarian, he knows the truth: It is anxiety talking–but hers, not his. She’s trying to stonewall him. Again.

Brook: Brook shakes his head at the woman and turns his attention back to the stain. “There’s still something bleeding here,” he mutters, slowly following a stupid thought. From his knees he slowly lowers himself onto his belly, getting into the same position as the former librarian, extending his arm out where the stain is trying to tell them something.

Like… this–yeah. What was she trying to spell out? What did they bleach out? If this was made yesterday, is it possible they have to re-bleach it every day? It might be disrespectful, but there’s a mystery here. One that maybe resulted in the death of their former librarian. Brook isn’t the smartest, but this is his town and his friends and family. If it means they could be a bit safer? He’ll dig.

Hazel: Another teacher might place a hand on Brook’s shoulder at this point, but it is perhaps little to the sophomore’s surprise that Hazel does not after her recent statement. “Brook,” the librarian states, “Please leave the carpeting be.” Between the medication and their recent experiences together, Hazel’s tone is gentle and attempting not to come off as bossy, but there remains an underlying firmness that is not a mild request.

Brook: Brook was hoping something might come to him, staring up at that hand. But as the teacher speaks to him, he knows it’s not the way he’s going to be getting answers from this rug. Feeling a bit silly, he gets up and brushes himself off. This isn’t right, but he’ll let it go for now. They can set up cameras, find a blacklight. Bleach can’t wipe that away perfectly, right? Do some mystery novel investigation shit. For now though, he feels like it’s time to give the poor woman some damn space. There isn’t long before the next class.

“Sorry. You’re right, I must just be… anxious. I get restless sometimes. Um–yeah! Books. I was supposed to be labeling them, you said? Can I have the labels?”

Hazel: “Yes. As you may or may not be aware,” Hazel explains, “the library is finally leaving the dark ages and abandoning its old slip card and stamp system for digital barcodes. This entails the tedious but necessary process of placing labels on every book in the library.” After pulling the lost of her discarded effects into the bag, Hazel stands up and pulls over a box of labels.

She pauses, frowning to herself. “Actually, you can hold off for now, it is still lunch break. You should go and eat something with your peers. As I should likewise do.” She then frowns again and rubs her head. The meds… make it harder to think straight.

“No, never mind again, you are on an ISS. But take a lunch break. You can start with cataloging next period. If your lunch is home-packed, that is. If you wish to purchase it from the cafeteria, I am required by protocol to escort you there and back. As you are clearly a dangerous criminal and cannot be left unsupervised.” It’s hard to tell when Hazel is being sarcastic, but that might well be one of those times.

Brook: Brook answers by walking to his bag and pulling out a metal lunch pail, jingling it around. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to eat lunch here. Maybe you can point me to a book on Picts so I can get started on the next assignment while I eat?” Really though… he can feel his body start to rebel. It might be a nap lunch.

Hazel: Hazel pulls off the one she’d already found on the reserve cart and slides it over. “As the figurative saying goes, knock yourself out. They are a fascinating civilization. One of the proud few to successfully resist the Romans.”

Brook: Brook grabs the book and flips it around to check the front and back. “Well at least I got one worth reading about. The accident was my trying to select the area around Iceland. Vikings and Danes, sea raiders and warriors. I’ll be back where I was before. Thanks again, Ms. Bauman.”

Hazel: “Ah, that is unfortunate. Some of my paternal ancestors were Germanic, so the Vikings are of some interest to me. Nevertheless, I bid you good reading.”

Brook: With the starting point of his new project under his arm, he retreats back to where he was sat earlier. Cracking it and his lunch kit open, snacking on a baggy of sugary gummies to try keeping awake. Not that it does much.

GM: Retiring to another table with his lunch, Brook regards the librarian’s selection. It is a perantique item of curious craftsmanship. The book’s leather cover has been tooled with repeating patterns, dimples, and protrusions that seem to yearn to be touched and caressed along their supple curves. The interior hand-cut and hand-blocked printing suggests that the book may be a century old, or perhaps more. The title of the slim manuscript appears to have been branded into the soft leather. It reads: I Have Heard the Pallid Colour of Howling in the Labyrinth and Learned that It was Mine

The foreword explains that the contents of this book are taken from the British Museum Harleian MS 3859, sometimes referred to as Nennius’ History of the Britons with appendices, but commonly known to modem scholars as the British Historical Miscellany. The latter title is the most appropriate, for it is nothing more than a hodge-podge collection of documents with no attempt at inventory or categorization, and contains, among other things, Latin orations, part of a sermon by St. Augustine of Hippo, and an obscure Scythian geography. Acquired by the Harleian Library in 1729, it has been dated to the latter half of the tenth century and attributed to the scriptorium at St. David’s.

The foreword explains that what follows is a ‘modern translation’ that remains just a fragment of the original decayed and worm-eaten manuscript. Reading further, Brook learns from the foreword that “the narrator, one Titus Germanicus, was a centurion stationed at Corstopitum (modem Corbridge), along Hadrian’s Wall sometime around 200 AD. His efforts to push the frontier farther north no doubt resulted from Emperor Septimius Severus’ desire to see the Roman border surround the entirety of the British Isles. The Germanic origin suggested by Titus’ surname (and mentioned later in the document) is unusual, as citizenship was not extended to non-Latin freemen until the edict of Caracalla, some years later. The Legate to whom these letters are addressed was Caius Estulitius lncitatus.”

Brook: Brook loves to read. Horror and sci-fi are big draws for him, and he’s suffered through more than his fair share of books with words that don’t belong in HIS modern times. Despite that, nothing he reads with Roman names escapes reminding him of the novels from the Wargames coming out of the UK. While the models are too expensive for his liking, the novels are always incredible, and for a majority of the characters Caius Estulitius Incatatus fits perfectly.

After reading the foreword, however, he feels the weights on his eyes. It’s been a long night and day. He’s accomplished a lot with the help of his new friend, and–and–with his last little bit of consciousness, he closes the book and weakly puts it off to the side, folding both arms on the table to bury his face in and letting everything slip away, if just for awhile.

Hazel: A while passes as Brook slides into that fugue-like state of early sleep that is not sleep–deep enough to feel somewhat rested, light enough to be perplexed that one even went to sleep at all. A steady thumping noise by his head breaks the spell.

Brook: At the very least, it’s not the kind of sleep that allows him to dream. In some ways, it’s a blessing. But hearing the thumps, a vision of something approaching fills his head, each tap the footstep of something dark and–brr. He reacts like someone who just slipped in their dream and shoots straight up. With his hand in the center of his chest, gripping as if something is supposed to be there and staring up at who woke him up.

Hazel: Hazel is holding an ironically-titled copy of Great Expectations and rapping the section of table by his head. Seeing he is awake, the librarian states, “You fell asleep.”

Brook: “Yeah. It’s my thing,” he replies, not even thinking when he says it. “Sorry, that was rude. Narcolepsy. Bane of my existence. Is lunch over?”

Hazel: Hazel isn’t sure what to say to that at first and settles simply for, “I did not find it exceptionally so. But yes, nearly. It doesn’t sound as if this condition is new for you. I’m surprised you have been able to attend regular schooling for as long as you have.”

Brook: Brook slaps his cheeks and shakes it off a bit, taking a deep breath to wake back up. Short as his nap was, it was actually a little refreshing. “I have a job that sticks me in a stone radio tower full of guns all night. I read the books, textbooks, and do the homework after I finish reading off the news. Besides that, it’s willpower I guess.”

Hazel: Realizing she still has the thick book in hand, Hazel sets it down. “I would think night school to be better suited to your needs all the same. Homework and assigned readings are a comparatively minor part of school.”

Brook: Brook shakes his head, stretching out his legs under the desk in his process of waking up. “I’m needed. With the fires, psychotic wildlife, and idiot tourists, the rangers are stretched thin. I take the night shift so my mother and her co-worker can sleep. They trust me to handle emergencies. Plus, I get to be a radio host. If you can’t sleep at night, you should tune in. We get all the emergency alerts before anyone else, we can talk on air, and if you have a type of music you love, I’ll put it on.”

Hazel: “Well, perhaps you’ll luck out and find a way to both possess and eat your cake. But that sounds like a pleasant way to pass the night hours.” Hazel pauses. The thought of talking to lots of strangers over a radio station isn’t the most appealing to her, but Brook’s been nice to her and is sharing something that’s meaningful to him. The socially expected thing to do is reciprocate. “Perhaps I’ll do so this weekend when I can stay up. My musical tastes are diverse and likely to please at least one given segment of the population.”

I’d say tonight, but I’m trying not to get killed by vampires tonight.

Brook: Brook shakes his head a little bit. It isn’t possible most times to have your cake and eat it too, at least not without help. “You don’t gotta call if you don’t want to. The music though? It’s always good to unwind. Though I like to think it’s mostly to keep people company. It can be scary to be alone some nights.”

Especially when you’ve seen a shadow… something.

“We should catch up though. Our parents work pretty close. And seeing all that investigation equipment in your bag? I could use your help with something.”

Hazel: “Expound, and we will see whether I can provide such.”

Brook: Brook is starting to see that it’s better to be straight with this woman, nodding to her. “There was a wolf carcass on Bad Medicine. That’s why I was there. Inside its stomach, there was what was left of a finger, with a wedding ring attached.” After a bit of a pause, he rubs the back of his head a little bashful. “My mother is overworked. I want to help more and this is my jurisdiction, not the county sheriff’s.”

Hazel: Hazel is thankful to see the subject of inquiry is about something non-paranormal this time. Or at least seemingly so. She’s not ruling it out at Bad Medicine, but an unidentified missing ring is a matter that concerns local police. “Certainly. I should be receiving my private investigator’s license in the mail relatively soon. Tell your mother to contact me at,” Hazel provides a phone number, “if she wishes to have the rangers formally enlist my services.”

Brook: Brook isn’t quite sure either, but it was a wolf. They could have gotten it anywhere in town, and looking at the ring? It wasn’t some drifter. “That’s impressive! You’ve already got access to the Chimera to help with that, too. But I actually want to keep it from my mother. With her overworking herself and her pride, she’ll want to do it herself. So far no one’s taken the power from me, so I want to take this on myself. Your dad’s already sending over the county sheriff’s missing person reports. Soo… you help me? I can help you, too.”

Hazel: Hazel slowly takes in the junior ranger’s words after ‘I want to keep it from my mother.’ “And you have a severed finger in your possession. Brook, you need to report it to your mother, as soon as you get home. Actually, no, you should call her immediately. What you’re talking about is against state and federal law. It’s tampering with evidence. Now,” she adds assuringly, “I am happy to help. We just have to do it legally. It’s a significant criminal offense if we don’t. Believe me, your mother does not want you to get in that kind of trouble.”

Brook: Brook’s face doesn’t change listening to her, but she does have a point. “It’s reported, logged, paperwork was filed out by who found it, and it’s in storage. I might not be an awesome student, but at least I’m not a terrible ranger. But what you’re saying, you mean I can’t even look into whose finger it is?”

Hazel: Hazel breathes a sigh of relief. “All right. That’s very good to hear. You simply had me… concerned when you stated you wanted to keep this from your mother. My involvement does need to go through her, in any case–as you’re still a minor and a volunteer, you don’t have discretionary powers to hire third party investigators. Or even to look into the case yourself.” She pauses again and adds, “That may seem tedious and unnecessary to you, but it is what working in law entails–as either a lawman or a lawyer. As someone whose parents are both, I’m all-too aware.”

Brook: Tedious and unnecessary is right. Volunteer or not, he does as much as he possibly can, he can handle tracking a wolf to a tourist’s carrion. “Well damn. Maybe I’ll have to see if my mother can pass the authority over to me. Until then, the offer is still open. If you need a set of arms, a ride, an animal shot at, I owe you for help with the paper. Especially if you’re still planning to get revenge on that sorry excuse for an English teacher.”

Hazel: “Brook, to clarify, I am willing–and still potentially quite able–to assist in your investigation. You merely have to ask your mother whether it is acceptable to involve me in it.”

Brook: “Well I’m glad. Maybe that’ll help me convince her. She’s very proud. One of the strongest people in Witiko Falls.” Though he’s still a little disappointed he can’t go ahead and investigate it on his own. “It might take a small while, though. There are things going on. The fires, the escaped asylum patient, that gas leak at the hospital. Autumn is here, as well. Bears are going to start getting antsy before hibernation.”

Hazel: “I’m certain there are, and I wish you luck with them. If your mother wants to enlist my services, I will be here.” I hope. “As someone whose own mother is also a strong and proud woman, in any case, I have frequently found it prudent to frame offers of assistance as… something other than such.”

Brook: Brook looks her in the eye for a moment and nods. He’s always wondered who her mother is, he only knows her through her father after all. Stepping to the side, he digs out his sketchbook and a pencil from his bag, turning to a fresh page and jotting something down for her, before offering for her to see.

Can we talk after school? You believe me, I know you do.

Hazel: You are being observed.

Four words from an unknown stranger. They could be wrong, but it costs nothing to heed them–and could cost much if she doesn’t and the stranger is right. What a shoddy cover she has maintained, though, if she truly is being observed. Researching vampires in the library regrettably could not be postponed or done elsewhere. But everything else was avoidable. Konking out as she read Leo’s email. Throwing up in the bathroom. Having a panic attack at the word ‘tomorrow.’ If, indeed, Hazel is being watched, her observers have had a great deal of peculiar behavior to note.

She feels a brief flash of irritation at the persistent student who won’t stop pressing her about the paranormal. For a moment, she genuinely wonders how any observers would expect her to react to this. Playing dumb? Getting upset? _You saw me have a panic attack over this, and _ I’m supposed to be the socially clueless one?

Hazel looks up from the note and states aloud, “If you have questions about investigative work, you can of course call me at the number I’ve provided.”

Brook: Brook has no idea who or what’s stalking her, but even with her strangeness he can see it. ROSEWATER isn’t something he has to deal with watching him, but there’s something similar that he does. No matter where you go in a forest, it’s safe to assume all eyes are on you. You’re an intruder, an interloper, you’re after their children, their food, their territory, and their mates. In Witiko Falls, you’re prey. Mom, Chet, himself, they’re the ones who understand this more than most. Eyes in every knothole, noses on every boot track, claws in every underbrush. He’s been that scared animal back against a wall. Turning the sketchbook back to himself, he starts a new page, taking a moment to write something and tearing it out of the book to hand to her this time. To keep.

It’s okay to be scared. I am too. Remember it’s easier to stay on a path in a pack. There’s his phone number, his radio frequency, and the address of the ranger station. As well as a rushed doodle of said tower, with what can only be a rifle barrel poking out and the black shape of a T-Rex outside. “I should grab those labels and get started, Ms. Bauman. Gotta tame the Chimera, right?”

Hazel: “Thank you for the radio station number. I will be sure to tune in sometime.” Hazel folds over the portion with the message an observer could have read, or at least noticed Brook writing. It looks like that’s her ‘cover’ now, playing knowing but unwilling to stick her nose where it doesn’t belong. Even she couldn’t have possibly missed all of Brook’s attempts to discuss the town’s oddness.

She looks up at the bell.

“Yes, its many heads are quite fearsome. However, you should eat something too.” Brook fell asleep almost as soon as he started reading, leaving little time for food. “Feel free to take your lunch and catalog somewhere in the back. I don’t want the other students to believe that it’s permissible to eat in the library, but what they don’t see won’t hurt them.”

Brook: Brook just gives her an appreciative thumbs up and closes his sketchbook back up, puling everything–including his new book–into the backpack for later. So far the new mysteries are ‘self-bleeding carpet stain’ and ‘new librarian fearing for her life’ today, and they’re only just past lunch. “I’ll go to the front to grab a stack of labels and do just that, then. Thanks for bending the rules for me.”

Hazel: “You’re welcome. One last thing.” Hazel takes the book on Picts and runs the barcode scanner over its new label with a pling, registering it as checked out to Brook. “The purpose of our mighty labors.”

Brook: Brook just gives her a small smile and nods, taking it back and securing it. “It’ll take some getting used to having a system of order in here. Might wanna get sensors by the door. Humans are still animals of habit, right?” With that, he packs his lunch back up and swings by the front, getting a rather large stack of labels to vanish into the back with. There’s another class coming in soon, and he’s sure she wants to prepare for a moment.

Hazel: “Humans are prey to the Chimera. Nevertheless, perhaps it would benefit from a greater set of jaws,” the librarian smirks in farewell.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


10.08.1998, Thursday noon

Hazel: While Brook reads about Severus’ failed conquest, Hazel pulls out her own sack lunch and simultaneously pulls up Lindsay’s thesis on her desktop. Lunch today, meanwhile, is a step up from the usual. Hazel ordered from the hotel’s room service and got a grilled chicken pita, which the menu says has “Gem Lettuce, Heirloom Tomato, Sweet Onions, Feta & Tzatziki Sauce.” A banana smoothie with the eponymous fruit, blueberry, walnut, flax seed, and soy milk serves as a similarly tasty side.

Hazel feels… good. She’s still got a little while to ready Linsday’s thesis, by herself and with a yummy meal. And then there’s the thesis. No, not even the thesis. The author. The knowledge that someone else out there… that someone else has seen some weird things they fear others will consider them insane for. Someone else has shared her experienced. She’s not alone. She isn’t crazy. The first time she thought ‘vampires’, during her stimming… between that and the nightmare, Mom wanting to move away, it was all too much to face. Brook’s question about Bad Medicine tore the lock she’d bolted across her sanity back wide open–but after the contents had time to ferment and stew. And now, seeing that email, reading an actual thesis, a formal academic assertion by someone who’s shared her experiences… Hazel isn’t ready to say “vampires are real” out loud to anyone. She still has no direct empirical evidence to support such a claim. But she is starting to feel a lot less crazy about pondering the question in earnest.

GM: Less crazy, but far from settled–as her research’s still preliminary answers are unsettling.

Hazel: Vampires are real. Allegedly. I’ve already unearthed the most terrible pieces of knowledge I can come across in my research. Something nags at the librarian, though, that she’s tempting fate to think such a thing.

GM: Beginning with Lindsay’s four hundred plus-paged thesis, Beholder of the Eye: A Phenomenological Study of Transcultural Form Constants through the Comparative Use of Phencyclidine, Mescaline, and Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, Hazel discovers that her former neighbor was investigating whether the seemingly transcultural and transtemporal universality of certain thought forms or form constants perceived in altered states induced by various psychedelics are due to shared evolutionary adaptations in neurophysiology or evidence of a shared subconscious. The final thrust of the paper suggests that the former may be what facilitates the latter.

Yet, most germane to Hazel’s current inquiry is Lindsay’s rigorous literature review on specific transcultural-temporal form constants, including the evil eye. This section also contains a rather lengthy footnote detailing the equally curiously similarity of apotropes for the phenomenon. Ultimately, this research confirms and elaborates upon Hazel’s own research, especially in the discussion section where she describes how the human species have evolved to have brains and sensory organized primed to detect primally dangerous stimuli such as snakes and spiders above other more neutral stimuli such as trees or rocks.

She goes further to posit that some of the form constants such as the evil eye might similarly be symptoms or evolutionary adaptions of a species that through generations have become primed to recognize other paranormal threats, but that this priming is subliminal in threshold. Citing psychoanalytic theories and the works of Jung, Lindsay contends that these dangers might be so aversive or psychological terrifying that the the superego blocks what the Id or Shadow perceives, and that psychedelics help break down those subconscious barriers.

She concludes by citing and then twisting Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, saying “Some may consider these ‘foolish consistencies to be no more than the hobgoblins of the little minds’, but the evidences presented herein suggest that these consistencies are neither foolish nor small-minded, but rather symptoms of adaptive evolutionary neurodevelopment pursuant to priming our species to recognize the true hobgoblins that have long preyed upon our species. But in this Age of Reason, the mind-altering properties of psychedelics are one of the few keys that open the mind’s eye to that which our species has collectively agreed to shut and repress, but can never truly forget.”

Hazel: The paper’s conclusion seems like a stretch. But by normative standards. Hazel is already accepting some very odd ideas as given facts—and not only does Lindsay know more about psychedelics than she does, the grad student has clearly put a great deal of research into the 400-page-paper.

So, I should get stoned to help fend off my voyeur? I suppose my parents wouldn’t approve. Despite the crack, Hazel doesn’t have it in herself to laugh. The subject matter is simply too serious. And she’ll have her direct empirical evidence tonight, one way or another.

With a good chunk of Lindsay’s thesis now read, Hazel picks up the phone and calls Uncle Leo. She has some final affairs to set in order before the day is done. With a good many snippets, mostly those not concerning the subject interviews

GM: Hazel hears the phone ring several times before her adoptive uncle picks up the phone. “This is Vice Principal Schoening.”

Hazel: “Hello, Vice Principal. This is Ms. Bauman. I am somewhat late in calling, but would you be available to discuss several matters after school hours?”

GM: There’s a slight rustling of papers, then a pause and an answer. “Of course, Ms. Bauman. Shall I see you in my office at 3:20 pm or do the matters of discussion require a different locale?”

Hazel: “I believe your office shall ably serve, Vice Principal. I will see you then.”

GM: “Till then, Ms. Bauman,” he replies before hanging up.

Hazel: Hazel does likewise.

10.08.1998, Thursday afternoon

Hazel: After dealing with her remaining classes for the day and bidding farewell to Brook, Hazel temporarily locks up the library and walks down the hall to her uncle’s office. He expects her, but she knocks twice on the door all the same. She’d hate to have people barging in to her own office without warning.

GM: “Enter,” her uncle replies.

Hazel: Hazel does so, taking a seat when and if she is prompted. Her eyes slowly take in the room’s features. The physics models hanging from the ceiling. The lump of Nazi gold. The wall of graduating Kelpies. “I presume that you have taken precautions against prying eyes and ears. I have encountered no undue problems since our last meeting on account of what was said within this room.”

GM: As last time, Leo rises as she enters, then sits in his chair behind the spartan desk. “One observation pupils of the art soon discover is that we are always being observed.”

Hazel: “I am certain that Landsberg’s theory continues to hold true for such pupils. Nevertheless, I am here to speak of more immediate matters.” Hazel briefly pauses, chewing her thoughts. “You have presented me with a physically impossible optical illusion, made me bleed with a touch, and sent an email attachment that caused me to instantaneously enter REM sleep. I will not inquire whether you believe in phenomena that cannot be explained by conventional scientific laws, for the evidence speaks for itself.”

Hazel pauses again. “It is my wish to inform you that my own investigations into such phenomena may cause me to be… absent from work tomorrow.”

GM: The vice principal leans forward a bit, his eyes intense–maybe even impossibly more intense, but without any hint of reproach.

Hazel: Hazel isn’t sure how to broach this topic. There is no procedure or conversational road map for her to follow. In fact, it would probably be in her best interests not to have it at all. But there are interests besides her own to consider.

She’s not sure either if she should build up to this more subtly. Finally she states, “The circumstances of my potential absence will not unduly affect the lives of any persons besides myself. May I have your sworn word that you will keep our conversation’s confidence and speak of it to no others?”

GM: Leo considers the request thoughtfully. Then, with great solemnity, he traces a cross upon his own brow as he says, “I swear upon the Rosy Cross to honor the confidence of this conversation hereto and to speak of it to no others without your express permission.”

Hazel: “Thank you, Vice Principal.” Hazel thinks about possible alternatives to this conversation. She really does. She could bury the letter she’s about to pull out and send her parents another automated email informing them where to dig it up, if she doesn’t cancel the electronic missive by tomorrow noon. But if emergency services find her cooling body and contact her parents first–or if her visitor leaves behind no body–and they have no explanation for any of this, or someone sees her burying the letter, or any of a hundred other things goes wrong…

Too much is out of her hands. And it’s better if she can have an actual person do this, even if it’s a risk to say these things out loud. “I am sorry. Asking you to prepare for a potential absence is factually accurate but still somewhat disingenuous.” Hazel is about to explain, then realizes she can just let the evidence speak for itself. She reaches into her purse and pulls out a sealed manilla envelope.

“This contains a last will and testament.” Hazel pauses again, and struggles—again—to come up with words for how to proceed. “My father is… dear to you, is he not?” she manages after a moment, then immediately disregards it as a foolish question. They are relatives, after all, and Leo was always her dad’s idol. Hazel attempts to re-marshal her verbal faculties and then finally states outright, “I could die tonight. I wish to make provisions to ease my parents’ pain. I cannot tell them any of this, both for their own safety and the fact they would consider me insane if I explained my reasons. You are the only person I trust who I believe will not.”

GM: “Your trust is appreciated, just as your angst is poignant.” He leans back, pensive. “If you wish to entrust me with your last will and testament, I accept. However, I must ask why you consider your life to be in such peril this night.”

Hazel: Hazel relaxes–marginally–as Leo spares her the necessity of articulating those thoughts. His subsequent question, however, gives her pause. It was inevitable he would ask ‘why.’ But actually saying her reasons out loud…

“Because I believe that a malignant force desires my death—or worse. I am preparing to confront it tonight. My death is not a certainty. Merely a possibility.” She then considers the situation, and figures it’s only polite to add, “You will not find it necessary to consider the issue of hiring a new librarian until tomorrow, if I do not arrive to work.” She pauses and then awkwardly continues, “I hope you will not have to.” Another pause. “That is to say, I hope to spare you the necessity of having to do so.”

GM: “Which is to say, you hope to survive,” Leo adds.

Hazel: “Yes. I also hope to spare the high school any further inconvenience.”

GM: “At this juncture, that is not my concern.”

Hazel: As if realizing the oddness of the ‘polite’ statement, Hazel adds, “I likewise consider it a matter of comparative triviality in the immediate term. My personal survival is of greater importance to me.”

GM: “As is your survival to me,” the vice principal says placidly.

Hazel: “I am pleased that we are of like mind.”

GM: He looks down at the golden glob and hefts it. “I do not know if you have ever seen Shelton Atwood’s full collection, but perhaps he brought in some of his exquisite emperor moths.”

Hazel: “I do not believe that I have had the pleasure of seeing his entire collection. I have seen some of its individual specimens, however. ‘Exquisite’ is one of the foremost words I would use to describe them.”

GM: “Yes, I was particularly taken by one display wherein two moths were pinned side by side, both allegedly taken from the same egg-laying. The first was hale and vibrant in its mature splendor. The second though was shriveled, malformed, and pitifully muted in hue in patterning.”

Hazel: “I am certain its poor state made the first specimen’s splendor all the more apparent by comparison.”

GM: “Apparent, but also edifying. When asked about the disparity, Mr. Shelton related that in his haste to obtain the specimen, he helped the second struggling moth escape from its cocoon. Just a solitary tear, but his well-intended action had inadvertently denied the moth the necessary crucible of labor to strengthen its wings and limbs. And without that struggle, its imperial birthright was robbed, and it died soon thereafter, too feeble to live, much less fly.”

Hazel: Hazel nods. “I do not ask you for assistance in escaping my own cocoon, Vice Principal, when you know so little of its particulars. Merely your confidence and promise to tender my last will and… written goodbye to my parents, should the worst come to pass.”

GM: Leopold’s brow furrows inwardly, then he looks down at the metallic object in his hand. “And yet, the refiner of silver and gold must sit and watch till his reflection emerges in his art, lest it burn to ruin.” He places the possession back upon the table. “You have not asked my help, but I still offer it.”

Hazel: Relief breaks through Hazel’s face like dawn emerging after a long and dark night. But it is not simply at Leo’s offered assistance. “Your offer means a great deal, Vice Principal. As does your simple belief. In fact, I am hard-pressed to state which means more to me. I confided my initial suspicions with my father and he considered them… flights of fancy. Not unreasonably. But it is still a comfort to simply be… believed by another.”

GM: A slight pause, then, “To clarify, I cannot say what help I might render knowing, as you said, nothing about your suspicions or perceived peril.”

Hazel: “You have been witness to occurrences others would dismiss as impossible,” Hazel states slowly, half to herself. “Layne Tuttle should be dead. Should have been dead. Was believed to be dead.”

GM: Leo nods. “Should is a pregnant word, inseminated by sensibilities, prejudices, and desires.”

Hazel: Hazel stares at the lump of Nazi gold on her uncle’s desk. She’s told Leo enough, hasn’t she? He’s given his word. If she dies, her parents will receive her written goodbye. That’s all she wanted. She’s already said a great deal. After reading Lindsay’s thesis, she’s seriously considering the possibility that…

But saying it out loud. To another person. It’s insane.

Her mouth opens. Finally she states,“I believe it is possible that vampires are real, and that one either desires my death or holds similarly perfidious intentions towards me.”

She adds, as an almost laughable caveat, “I have only circumstantial evidence to support this assertion. It is possible I am incorrect.”

There it all is. Out loud.

GM: Leo stares at Hazel with the inexorable weight of a grey ocean. He does not laugh nor frown for smile. The tension in the room seems so fragile that not even breath dares disturb it. But then Leo stands. He turns away from her, his hands clasped behind his back. Without the intensity of his face boring into her, his slight outline looks like a photo or stature of the man, a mere simulacrum. “That is a most unexpected thing to hear.”

Hazel: “It was a similarly unexpected thing to contemplate,” Hazel replies after a moment.

GM: His back still to her, he replies, “Tell me then what you have observed and what led you to this hypothesis.”

Hazel: Hazel is silent at first, out of habit, but she’s laid this card on the table. So she plays out the full hand and relates the observations she has made over the past few days. The many disturbances that have taken place in her home, from the unlocked door to the moved objects to the bizarre microphone recording. The rude awakening on her first day of work, which her father attributed to her somnambulism and simple stress. Her research into the evil eye, whose symbolism she connected to the fleeting shape she glimpsed past her bedroom window. Not least of the evidence that substantiates her belief in vampires is her “stimming”, which allows her to simply… know things. It sounds absurd, but no more so than her conclusion does. She states that she has empirically verified the insights granted by this common autistic habit on numerous prior occasions. Nevertheless, she cannot help but dwell on the fact that if she repeated this conversation to either of her parents, they would believe her insane. Anyone would, except someone who’s seen insane and impossible things.

“I will add, once again, this is still a hypothesis,” she concludes. “Insufficient evidence exists for me to consider it a theory–much less to argue its truth to others.”

GM: Her uncle remains silent and still as she lays out her ‘evidence’. When she is finished, he asks neutrally, “And what alternative explanations have you considered–and ruled out?”

Hazel: “I have also considered that I am insane. I have not yet fully ruled it out.”

GM: “It is wise to keep an open mind about such things.”

Hazel: “Objectivity is paramount in science,” Hazel concurs. “It may also simply be an elaborate hoax or prank. Or perhaps I am not clinically insane, but am overreacting to a great many perfectly explainable, mundane phenomena, and am maintaining too open a mind in lending credence to such hypotheses.”

GM: “Quem deus vult perdere, dementat prius. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make insane,” Leo says, making the translation, but not his meaning, clear.

Hazel: “I have never been a woman of great reverence for gods, Vice Principal. Their wrath is certainly one potential explanation for my potential insanity.”

GM: Leo turns back around and sits, his hands placed almost meditatively upon the desk. “I am sworn not to disclose our discussion, which stymies my ability to help I fear. I have an associate, a physician, who is an expert on these matters. I desire to relate the details of your case to her.”

Hazel: Hazel pauses. “Do you mean a mental health professional, Vice Principal, or a paranormalist? If my hypothesis should be disproven tonight, I would believe it a prudent decision for me to see one of the former.”

GM: “She goes by neither of those titles. But her expertise is marked.”

Hazel: “In matters pertaining to… vampires,” Hazel states slowly.

GM: “She does not use that term, but yes, she is arguably one of the leading experts on human conditions commonly associated with that term.” A slight pause. “I could be discrete in my inquiry. Your name would not need be mentioned. Also, I cannot guarantee she can or will help, but I think we all would be benefited if she were contacted.”

Hazel: Hazel thinks. He’s promised discretion… the first and foremost thing she desires. Her name, not even mentioned. It’s still a potential gamble, but it doesn’t take her long to decide. “Then I will trust your judgment and discretion. You have my profound thanks.” The reward is worth the risk. She needs every edge she can get.

GM: Leo nods slowly and sincerely. “Thank you. Now, can you tell me your intended whereabouts this night, at least from sunset to sunrise? In case I need to reach you.”

Hazel: “I am no expert on social rules, Vice Principal, but it seems far more appropriate for me to thank you.”

GM: “But perhaps premature on both our parts.”

Hazel: Hazel emphatically shakes her head. “Even if you and your associate are unable to provide material assistance, merely to voice my hypothesis aloud to another and not assumed insane is a great comfort. But so far as where I may be reached.”

Hazel gives her uncle a full accounting of where she intends to be for the rest of the evening–library, hospital, home. She provides her landline and cellular phone numbers, adding that while reception in Witiko Falls is terrible, it is likely to be better at the hospital.

GM: Leopold takes out a sheet of paper and writes down not only the numbers but the destinations and approximate times of arrival.

Hazel: Hazel adds that this schedule is very much in flux–she is not certain when her research will be finished, when her mother will get off work (if that’s too much later than when she’s finished, her dad will drive her home before she visits the hospital), or how long affairs at the hospital will take. She promises, however, to periodically call Leo and alert him as to the changes in her whereabouts. And unless some freakish circumstance should conspire otherwise, she will almost certainly be found at home later in the night.

GM: “If I am indisposed, leave a message. Specifically, the number pi, broken up by single digit. If you encounter trouble or need to alter those plans, deviate from the numeric sequence. Do you understand?”

Hazel: “Abundantly, Vice Principal.”

GM: “Your safety and well-being mean a great deal to me.”

Hazel: “As does your regard and concern.”

GM: “Keeping in mind Mr. Shelton’s moth, if there is aid I can and should render, I will.”

Hazel: “I hope that through both our actions–and non-actions–I may emerge from chrysalis as the superior specimen.”

GM: Her uncle rises. Regarding the clock with a meaningful expression, he opens the door for Hazel. “Agere sequitur credere; agere sequitur esse. We act according to what we believe ourselves to be–and with sufficient action and belief, we compel reality’s sure assent.”

Hazel: “This meeting has helped affirm several of my beliefs, Vice Principal, and I hope that reality’s assent will soon follow. Before I take my leave of you, however, there are several minor remaining matters.”

GM: Her uncle shuts the door.

Hazel: Hazel holds up the manilla envelope containing her will. “Although this is primarily intended for my parents, among the items detailed within it are a palm pilot I would like to bequeath to Layne Tuttle–and still intend to, should I survive the night. It is my hope that she will find it a more convenient means of notation that the clipboard and sticky notes she currently employs. Will you give it to her in my place if I am unable?”

GM: Leo takes the package gently. “Of course.”

Hazel: “I have had little time to ponder the paradox we discussed this morning. Nevertheless, that discussion has not changed my mind. If I should not be absent from work tomorrow, I am sure–or at least hope–it would be much to Layne’s pleasure to end the week working alongside me as a library aide.”

GM: “Arrangements will be made.”

Hazel: “Excellent. It is also my desire to inform you that I have not forgotten our experiment concerning Martin Swenson. Should I survive the night, it is my hope to observe the subject in the field this weekend.”

GM: “I appreciate being updated on your progress.”

Hazel: “It is my desire to set as many affairs in order as I may.” It’s all-too true. Hazel’s mind is ratcheting over the place like a BB pellet. There are just so many little details she wants to get just right. Dying would be remarkably inconvenient.

“It is also my belief that Layne Tuttle harbors… romantic feelings for you. It is my further belief that it would be in her best interests for you to gently dissuade her of them.”

GM: “Your beliefs are most intriguing, but appreciated nonetheless. Perhaps we shall have time later to discuss what led you to that diagnosis and prognosis.”

Hazel: Hazel feels a bit of red rising in her cheeks at the subject. In a way, though, she’s thankful for it. When all is said and done, she has a life she wants to fight for and come back to, with all its attendant struggles and minor embarrassments. “A later time is likely the most prudent one to… discuss the subject in further depth.”

GM: Leo scrutinizes his niece’s blushing like an astronomer observing the photopic evidence of a distant stellar birth or death. After a silent mental calculation, he replies: “Yes, at the present moment, addressing Todestrieb takes precedence–even if its antithesis, Lustprinzip, remains highly relevant.”

Hazel: “As does my own over another’s.” Hazel clears her throat. “I believe that is… everything. The envelope you possess contains written instructions which provide guidance on a number of minor matters pertaining to my will’s dissemination. It remains my hope, however, that it will simply gather dust within an otherwise forgotten filing cabinet or other storage space of yours.”

GM: Leopold traces a cross in front of his niece, then opens the door. “I will see you then, inter spem et metum. Between hope and fear.”

Hazel: “One makes preparations for the worst even as one hopes for the best.” Hazel rises from her seat and makes her way to the door. “Good day, Vice Principal.”

GM: “And a transformative night, Empress,” he says, closing the door. Back out in the office, Agnes’ good eye darts up to Hazel’s face–particularly her brow. The old secretary’s face instantly relaxes. She waves to Hazel, then goes back to her phone call–on the green device.

Hazel: I’m not sure if that’s a good omen, but I’ll take it as one. Hazel strides back to the Chimera–and the long-due answers that await within its belly.

Brook: Skin Deep


10.08.1998, Thursday afternoon

GM: Right after school ends, the faculty parking lot remains full of vehicles as most staff are still inside wrapping up their paperwork, grades, and curriculum plans. Mr. Epstein, however, stands near a military gray-green jeep. He is dressed in hunting camouflage. “Brook,” the tall man says. “So good of you to be punctual.”

Brook: Brook doesn’t mess around today. His essay is handed in pretty and perfect to the office like he was supposed to, and now it’s time to pay the piper in his detention. Coming up into the parking lot, it’s not entirely clear to him what he’s going to be doing, but if what his math teacher is wearing has any bearing on what it is, it might not be so bad.

“It’s detention, I’d just get more of it if I wasn’t on the dot, wouldn’t I?” Brook flashes Mr. Epstein a smile as he walks up and starts to stretch out his legs, ready for whatever the teacher has in store for him.

GM: The widow-peaked Mr. Epstein doesn’t immediately answer, but checks his watch. After a moment, he adds, “We’ll give him five more minutes.”

Brook: Brook nods, but wonders if it’s very prudent to wait on someone that he assumes isn’t going to come because of their little talk.

GM: Nelson, however, doesn’t keep them waiting that long. Brook’s peer shuffles into the parking lot, his letter-jacket thrown over his sports jersey, his hands in his jean pockets, hip jutting out like a pouty lip, a cowboy hat covering his face in shadow. He peaks up at Brook once, real quick like rabbit checking on a coyote.

“Nelson,” Mr. Epstein says. “Good of you to join us.”

Brook: Lo and behold, here he comes! Though the one there actually on time doesn’t react to with anything but finishing his stretch and looking up expectantly at Mr. Epstein. Military or not, he’s ready! This might even be refreshing.

GM: Nelson mumbles something noncommittal and glances around the parking lot.

“All right, boys, climb into the jeep. We’re driving to the shooting range to prep things for the Triggernometry Club.” He climbs into the driver’s seat, turning on the jeep. “Sorry for the tight squeeze, but the backseat is full.”

As Brook and Nelson cram into the tight-fitting front seat, they can’t help but press up against each other–no matter how hard Nelson tries to squirm. The jock takes off his hat, propping it atop his squished knees and tries to mumble another apology.

The math teacher eyes the awkward exchange, but says nothing. “Seatbelts, boys,” Mr. Epstein reminds them, prompting another more awkward series of fumbling grabs, butt-shuffling, and torso twisting.

“Sorry,” Nelson mutters again, his face beet-red and burning.

Brook: Awkward is one word for it. Brook has another. Hilarious. Despite keeping a straight face, everything happening in the context of knowing Nelson’s secret makes it almost comical. Despite that, he doesn’t agitate the issue, and scoots into the best position that he can so that they don’t have to be too close of butt buddies. White men turn red, but Brook is already such, hiding the slight flush on his face. “Stop apologizing, let’s just get it over with,” he mutters to Nelson, flashing him a quick thumbs up with his arm out the window.

GM: Nelson just stares forward, trapped between Mr. Epstein and Brook.

Brook: Poor Nelson. If he weren’t such an ass Brook might feel sorry for him. For now, it’s merely a question of how he’s going to stay awake in a car without his friends barking in his ear, digging fingernails into his palm again to stave off the beast known as sandman. That’s how he got in trouble in the first place.

“Mr. Epstein, are we setting up a project on bullet drop or something?”

GM: Their teacher perks up at the question. “I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, Brook, that you’re acquainted with firearms being you volunteer with the NPS. We do study bullet drop, of course, but today you two will be helping me dismantle an old shed. The club plans on using the old lumber to create targets, blinds, and obstacles.”

“Have you ever considered joining us, Brook?” the math teacher asks as he drives them out past fields of fat grain and pumpkins. “For the Triggernometry Club, that is.”

Brook: “I’m sorry Mr. Epstein, but I can’t say if I can even join a club. Despite the junior status, the rangers are stretched thin. I man the radio tower from dusk till dawn. Handle emergencies. Besides, I’m more a hunter than a target shooter. Sorry.” Besides, the guns Brook fires aren’t practical to fire again and again. It hurts to let loose a round from the guns he takes on a serious hunt.

GM: Mr. Epstein takes the rejection in stride, nodding. “I appreciate your commitment and civic duty, Brook. If you reconsider, let me know.”

Nelson seems to swallow whatever snide remark he would usually make. After all, he’s outnumbered, trapped, and flanked. The rest of the trip passes in awkward silence.

Brook: Brook can almost feel that remark coming, but when it doesn’t come? What silence! It’s incredible to see Nelson of all people so put under the spell of fear around him. Awkward as it is, the silence is fucking golden.

GM: The silence, like the drive, ends when they reach an abandoned farmhouse whose fields lay fallow. The white-washed home is rotting and weathered. A single dead tree sits in front while a small outhouse stand not far away. The edges of the Kaniksu rise in the distance.

“Here we are, boys,” Mr. Epstein says as he steps out of the jeep.

farmhouse.png

Nelson climbs out and cracks his back and shoulders with loud relief. He stares at the main structure. “You want us to take apart an entire house for detention?”

“No, Nelson,” the teacher says. “That would take far too much time and require a level of skill that requires proper training. No, for detention, you will dismantle this smaller structure.” He points to the outhouse.

“The shitter?” Nelson asks perhaps even more incredulously.

“Bridle your tongue, Nelson.”

“But you said we were busting down a shed?”

“Yes, an outhouse is also known as a water closet or shed. Come on then,” the man adds. “The sooner you finish, the sooner you go home.” He then instructs both sophomores to haul out the various demolition equipment: saws, sledges, claw hammers, goggles, gloves, and tarps.

Brook: Brook doesn’t whine; shit is the least he has to deal with in his line of work. Most things with full stomachs void their bowels when they die anyway. Unfortunately, he’s also wearing one of his more prized shirts, having wanted to look nice for school today. He pulls it off and tosses it into the back of the jeep, gloves up and snaps on his goggles, then gets to work. Though of course not without a roll of the eyes at Nelson’s gripping. But finally the work begins. Brook takes to the claw hammer and starts ripping out old nails, knowing they need the boards for targets, and leaves Nelson to do whatever he wants for now.

GM: Once again, Brook proves both a quick and skilled student, and it is not long before Mr. Epstein leaves Brook in charge as the latter goes bird-watching with military-grade binoculars, out by the pines.

Nelson grouses a bit, but once the math teacher is truly far, far out of each shot, the jock speaks up. “I apologized to Dan. Like you told me to.” Thankfully the outhouse has been abandoned for some time, but the stench is still revolting, particularly as the two boys start to sweating with heavy labor. “I… I said I was sorry,” Nelson repeats, unable to look at Brook as he pauses mid-saw.

Brook: Danny. Yeah, he’s going to have some fucking questions when they meet up today. Panting lightly from the work hauling and yanking away the boards, he starts to feel that glow in his gut again. Nelson really is hanging off of his approval now. It’s strange, but in a sick way? Incredible.

“Nelson, I’ve been holding onto those fucking pictures for months. I never planned on using them unless you gave me a reason. Fucking with June in front of Danny to goad a reaction?” Brook finishes his sentence with a sharp look, all while his strong arms rip a board off the frame of the biffy. “Why do you think I kept it a secret? Why I’m GOING to keep it a secret, if you don’t mess with my friends?”

GM: Nelson stands there, saw stuck halfway into a plank, his chest huffing, his sawdust-plastered face flush with exertion and emotion. The JV football player, who shed his yet-to-be-lettered jacket but kept on his jersey, peers over his shoulder at his half-naked peer. In the shed’s dim lights, the young man’s anisocoria-touched pupils are large black pools.

“I… I don’t know. Because you’re…” he says, starting over, but then shakes his head, flicking sweat and sawdust out of his short-razored hair. “I don’t know.”

Brook: “Because being First Nation can suck, Nelson. Because of comments like the one that got you here. Soon as people find out you’re gay? You’ll have to deal with the same thing your entire life. I don’t–”

GM: Yet, as Brook regards his conflicted peer, the sharp-eyed ranger cadet spots two rather disturbing shapes in the reportedly abandoned outhouse. The first sits trampled in some weeds: a loop buckle attached to a strip of torn fabric. Once white, the fabric strip is dirty, fouled with dark stains that almost obscure black stenciled letters painted on its underside. They read: STATE PSYCHIA, before ending abruptly with the tear. The other ‘shape’ is on the lower edge of the wall beside the buckle: an inverted pentagram hand-drawn relatively recently in excrement. Similarly finger-painted letters encircle the sigil: GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE.

Brook: Brook opens his mouth to keep talking before he spots it all. Ripped state psych cloth, black magic symbols done with the right hand. Though the part that most disturbs him? It’s recent. The hunter doesn’t say a word, but slowly leans down and grabs the buckle and fabric. He shoves it into a back pocket despite what it might be stained with and grabs Nelson’s wrist.

“Nelson. Someone is here with us. We’re going back to the jeep. Now. Grab all the tools you can carry,” he hisses, voice quiet and spooked. Grabbing up his hammer and a few other tools, he walks quickly to the jeep, arms and shoulders rigid and flexed. He’s on guard; they need the teacher here.

He gets to the jeep and curses at the empty ignition, shooting looks back at the shed and shifting through the jeep, looking if the old war dog brought some kind of firearm. He shakes his head. He should have stopped at his truck and got his weapon.

GM: Nelson doesn’t argue or drag his feet–at least not till they’re back in the jeep. “What the freak’s happening, Brook? Who’s here?” the jock asks, clearly convinced that something or someone is spooking the generally unflappable ranger cadet. His eyes scan the weed-overgrown field and farmhouse as he hefts a sledgehammer.

Brook’s suspicions, at least about the ‘old war dog’, prove correct, when the teen finds a Vietnam-issue M1911 secured by electric tape underneath the driver’s seat. The single-action, semi-automatic, magazine-fed, recoil-operated pistol is loaded with .45 ACP cartridges. “Shit!” Nelson exclaims as Brook hefts the sidearm.

Brook: Brook scans the structures most of all, peeking up in his search for a weapon until he finally finds one. Safety off, he pulls the slide and checks the chamber. Loaded. Their teacher is ready, and now so is Brook. Letting go of the slide, it snaps back in fluid military action of one of the most well-made and popular man-killers of the century. Bust a bear with a bull barrel, kill a commie with a colt, as they say. Brook slides to the side of the jeep he’s told Nelson to get to and puts a hand on his shoulder.

“In the outhouse. I found a belt buckle and cloth from a psych ward, and a pentagram drawn in shit. It was fresh. Home room announcements. I read them over the radio last night too. The mental case escapee,” he starts, turning the jock to look behind them. “Watch our backs, in case he’s not in the shed. I’m going to fire at it. Teacher comes running to get us out of here. Together. Agreed?”

GM: No longer in the outhouse, Brook’s mind still burns with the crude pentagram. Having scoured books on sacred geometry to interpret and inspire his phantasmagoric artwork, Brook immediately recognizes the invented pentagram as a sigil of black magic or bad medicine, particularly one tied to Satanism. Most occultists deem an upward pointing or regular pentagram as an essentially ‘good’ depiction of spirit presiding over the four elements of matter.

However, those same occultists, Brook knows, believe that a reversed pentagram, with two points projecting upwards, is a symbol of evil and attracts sinister forces because it overturns the proper order of things and demonstrates the triumph of matter over spirit. He especially recalls one book calling it the “Flaming Star, which, when turned upside down, is the hieroglyphic sign of the goat of Black Magic, whose head may be drawn in the star, the two horns at the top, the ears to the right and left, the beard at the bottom. It is the sign of antagonism and fatality. It is the Goat of Lust attacking the heavens with its horns, a sign execrated by initiates.”

Those disturbing thoughts are shaken as Nelson tightly grips his large sledgehammer and nods. “I’m with you, Brook. I play Guard, remember? I’ve got you covered.”

Brook: Crude, but if someone is crazy enough to write something in their own shit, they’re crazy enough to mean what they write. Brook nods over to Nelson and tells him to cover his ears for the shot before taking a deep deep breath to scream at the farmhouse,

“Federal Park Rangers Department, motherfucker!”

Aiming in one of the windows, the young man squeezes the trigger and feels the pin hit before the entire thing kicks, slinging ol’ American lead into the shelter. Pitiful compared to his baby back at school. There it is, though, the shot that starts everything. The wait, the teacher running back, the hunt. Wherever this psycho is, he’s here.

The Sheriff’s Department needs to get here, and NOW.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


10.08.1998, Thursday afternoon

GM: I have to know.

Such are the first words to cross the librarian’s mind as she re-enters her demesne. She’s attended to enough… she won’t call them minor matters, for they are important, with Uncle Leo. But they aren’t her obsession.

I have to know.

Her hands fly across shelves as she pulls down books and pulls up Linday’s thesis. She knows her nocturnal voyeur’s nature. She knows what it has attacked her with. But she has so many further questions. There are so many gaps in her knowledge she must fill.

I have to know.

GM: Ipsa scientia potestas est.

Hazel: She doesn’t have any choice. It’s come for her. It’s invaded her home. It’s attempted to afflict her with a dark curse.

I have to know.

A voice in the back of her head still tells her that Lindsay wouldn’t–didn’t want to know. Not this much. Not as much as she wants to. Needs to.

I have to know.

Hazel’s heart thumps in her chest as her hands fly across pages, as her fingers scroll down the computer screen. The truth is, being persecuted by this thing is an excuse. She doesn’t care that it’s after her–not a primal, heart-deep level. A vampire. The evil eye. Evidence of the supernatural. Answers. Not mere rumors and heresay. Hard, empirical evidence. That everything she’s suspected and chased for all her life could be real. Could it?

I have to know.

This is a scientific discovery. This is what gives her life meaning, in lieu of the graduate studies she never pursued. This is why she came back to Witiko Falls. She can’t turn aside from the course she’s on any more than she could have avoided the car crash that first brought her to the town. She’s strapped in and can only watch as she careens towards her final destination at break-neck speed, tires screeching on asphalt. It’s a hunger, a thirst, deeper than man’s need for simple biological fuel. It’s a need for answers. For purpose. For some explanation to it all.

I. HAVE. TO. KNOW.

GM: The Chimera unfolds itself like a poisoned flower. Hazel breathes in its heady vapors. Deeply. Ipsa scientia potestas est. Her knowledge grows–as does her power. Reading over Lindsay’s thesis, she is struck by the similarities in the ethnological interviews. Beyond the drug-induced perceptions of common form constants, there are reoccurring elements in the background phenomenologies. They are subtle–perhaps so subtle that only one afflicted with the same breed of madness can perceive it. But after all, collective psychosis is a primary theme of the manuscript–and the more Hazel reads, the more she must wonder if it is contagious. Again and again, the interviewees describe the sense of being watched, even stalked. But only at night. They describe minor episodes of either explicit terror and anguish or equally indescribable ecstasy, accompanied by blackouts, and followed by spells of weakness and fatigue.

Hazel: Alarmingly similar to some of her own symptoms. Her parents would explain it all away and believe her insane if she shared any of this. But the more she reads, the more distant a concern sanity becomes.

GM: In the unabridged notes, Lindsay describes how these ‘episodes’ are consistent, almost word for word, with those describing attacks by a transcultural-temporal class of folklore entities. There is an embedded copy of Munch’s painting, The Vampyren:

Vampyren.jpg

While other notes describe similarities or alternative classes of entities potentially related to other form constants, the note continues by citing several books describing ethnological cognates of the vampire. Those references prove to be quite helpful to the researcher. As she peruses those titles from the Chimera’s bounty, Hazel is more forcibly reminded that notions of vampiric entities have existed for millennia. Cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, ancient Greeks, and Romans are glutted with tales of malevolent things which can only be described as the ethnological precursors to or cognates of modern vampires. Shtriga, vrykolakas, strigoi, zeher, vetālas, piśāca, estries, stirges, xortdan, ramanga, asanbosam, adze, and more. Their names are as varied as their cultural progenitors are widespread, but the core folklore remains the same.

tracta.jpg

Reading over several centuries-old dissertations on vampirology, she comes to several preliminary conclusions. The fact that the Chimera even has copies of seventeenth and eighteenth century dissertations on vampirology is in of itself telling. And disturbing. But the attached translations of Philippe Rohr’s 1697 essay “to the dead who chew their shrouds in their graves”, as well as Otto’s 1732 and Ranft’s 1734 dissertations are chilling. Not simply due to their subject matter, but in the manner in which all three writers attempt to provide empirical proof that vampires are not mere illusions wrought by unhinged minds. Hazel can almost hear the urgent, fervent need of these long-dead men as each one seems to proclaim as she herself does, “If only I were mad! If only…”

Then there is the 1732 dissertation by the anonymous “Doctor Weimar” which discusses the theological implications of vampiric non-putrefaction. She reads translated copies of Johann Christoph Harenberg’s 1733 treatise on vampirism and the Marquis d’argent Boyer’s citation of local cases. The latter in particular is chilling due to the verbatim similarities found in Lindsay’s ethnological interviews–and as strange as it is for Hazel to be reading the Marquis’ words, she assumes it would be even stranger for Lindsay to have had access to such an obscure, antique text.

She reads from Voltaire, who though was critical of Dom Augustine Calmet’s 1751 Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants, nonetheless wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary that “these vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries. The persons so sucked waned, grew pale, and fell into consumption; while the sucking corpses grew fat, got rosy, and enjoyed an excellent appetite. It was in Poland, Hungary, Silesia, Moravia, Austria, and Lorraine, that the dead made this good cheer.”

Reviewing these and other documents, Hazel comes to the hypothesis that these things, which the term vampires may be used to crudely describe, seem to belong to a vast class of entities that have long haunted humanity. Her selection of the term ‘class’ is not casual either, as the literature suggests that there are, despite common similarities, enough differences to suggest taxonomic distinctions suggesting related, but distinct orders, families, genera, and species. Furthermore, her research leads her to believe that her own nachzehrer belongs to a particular ‘species’ known in the Romanian tongue as the Nesuferitu, which when translated means the “Insufferable or Repugnant One.” In contrast to the beautiful yet somehow related Necuratu (whose etymology resembles an even older reference to the Nictuku), the Nesuferitu, or its more Anglicized version, the Nosferatu is said to be a being drawn to and repelled by beauty, being that their damned existence is one where that beauty, and its freely given sensual pleasures, are forever denied.

Digging deeper, Hazel finds excerpts of Gerard’s 1885 article as well as Schmidt’s 1866 monograph detailing the Nosferatu’s ability to disguise itself, its inhuman strength, its power to command animals and vermin, its predilection for blood, and its penchant or obsession with beauty and sex. Older, nigh-prehistoric sources attribute similar powers to a group of vampiric terrors known as νοσοφόρος in Old Church Slavonic and its own protolanguage before it.

Frustratingly, reliable sources on efficacious apotropaics and destructive measures remain elusive. Or better said, less than conclusive–which Hazel concludes is less due to sloppy scholarship and more due to the diversity of vampires, nosferatu included, as well as their sheer puissance. She is reminded of what proto-humans must have known about saber-tooth tigers: they are murderously dangerous, love our flesh, and we have few means to escape their predation.

Still, Hazel’s research does uncover certain common threads that all hope is not abandoned. Beyond their unequivocal vulnerability to sun and flame, Nosferatu can be harmed by stakes driven through their heart. The ‘legends’ diverge on whether the stake must be made of iron or wood, particularly hawthorn, or whether any substance will do if driven into their undead hearts. Otherwise, their weaknesses, beyond their endemic repugnancy, are idiosyncratic. Which would leave most researchers mired.

But not Attila. Perhaps it is something she gleaned from her prolific reading or maybe a psychotic, if still prescient echo of her ‘stimming’. Or maybe it is a flash of insight born of her not-so tangental research into Leopold’s use of the terms Todestrieb and Lustprinzip. Perhaps it is a combination of all of the above, but an old headline bursts into her brain, TERROR KILLS LOCAL TUNNEL OF LOVE.

The old memories come like a flood.

11.19.1978, Sunday morning

GM: Hazel is newly four years old, for today is her birthday. As she stumbles out of bed, she hears her recently married mother and ‘daddy’ talking in the kitchen of their new house, the one right next to Gramps and Nana and their wooden house filled with spirit-chickens, goblins, and gnomes.

Hazel: Hazel’s tiny feet hit the floor with a thump. It took a while for her to open up to this former stranger and accept him as her daddy, but it has been a year. She tawdles out of her bedroom, curious what her parents are saying. She hasn’t put on any clothes.

GM: The delicious smell of fried eggs, sausage links, and fresh-squeezed orange juice fills the homely kitchen.

Hazel: She follows her nose.

GM: It leads her to her mother sitting at the table, blowing on a cup of steaming coffee, as she reads a newspaper. “Terror kills local tunnel of love.” Dressed in an autumnal warm French terry-cloth nightgown, the younger, less time-worn and wrinkled Lydia looks up at her husband as he works his magic on the griddle. “Seriously, honey, this sounds like a tabloid headline, not a front page article announcing a girl’s murder and the closing of an amusement park.”

Hazel: Hazel stops where she’s at, stares and listens, her presence unannounced.

GM: Hazel’s stepfather is already dressed in his press-ironed deputy uniform. His back turned to both his new wife and yet undetected then-stepdaughter, Harvey flips an egg before answering, “We don’t know that it’s a homicide. It could have just been an accident tha–”

Lydia interrupts him. “But of all the bad luck, right before her birthday. You know she’s going to be crushed, Harvey. We promised her the teacups. She doesn’t do well with change.”

Harvey turns off the grill and sighs. He sets down the spatula. “Lydia, ‘crushed’ is what the Sweeneys are feeling right now.” He turns to put two comforting, strong hands on his wife’s shoulders. “Hazel will jus–” And that’s when he sees her.

Hazel: Hazel is still just standing there, naked and staring.

GM: Harvey’s face splits into a huge grin as he hunkers down. “Hey little naked rugrat. Happy birthday!” He holds out his hands, as if expecting her to run into his arms for a hug.

Hazel: Hazel instead ambles over to the dining table and climbs up one of the chairs. She reaches down and starts eating eggs off her mother’s plate with her bare hands. She’s hungry.

GM: Lydia gives a conciliatory pat on her husband’s hand. She then turns to her daughter, lightly smacking her hand. “Birthday or not, Hazel, you know the rules.”

Hazel: Using utensils is a chore with her motor control. Bits of egg still slip through her fingers and land over the table and floor.

GM: “You eat from your plate. With utensils.” She takes back her plate, stroking her daughter’s hair.

Hazel: Hazel keeps eating the bits of egg already in her tiny hands.

GM: “Also, dear, we wear clothes.”

“It’s called a birthday suit,” Harvey quips.

Lydia shoots him a look.

“What? You didn’t mind wearing it this morning?”

Lydia’s look crumbles under his ‘aw shucks’ grin and handsome features. Her lips curl into a smile. “Go get her plate, my hunky man.”

Hazel: The innuendo goes over the much younger and hungrily preoccupied Hazel’s head.

GM: Lydia then turns back to her daughter. “Hazel.” She raises a finger to catch Hazel’s eye, her own plate no longer in reach. “Hazel.”

Hazel: “I am hungry!” Hazel declares as the plate vanishes.

GM: “Utensils.”

Hazel: “I am hungry!” she repeats, louder.

GM: Lydia takes the pointing finger and touches Hazel’s toddler-sized fork. “Utensils,” her mother repeats. “Utensils first, then food.”

Hazel: Hazel looks across the table, her mother’s presence seemingly forgotten. She then climbs on top of it after several tries, crawls over to the plate, and starts eating a sausage. Grease dribbles down her chin and over the tablewood.

GM: Lydia sighs but does not give up. Instead, she yanks the plate back, stands, and draws Hazel’s attention to her finger by pointing at the food. “Hazel. If you want the food, you have to use utensils.” She points to the fork.

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t look at her mother. Or the fork. She just reaches after the plate and grabs at another sausage.

GM: She doesn’t even get close. As her mother, now standing, plate in hand, calmly raises it out of reach. “Hazel. Utensils.” She points at the fork.

Harvey, meanwhile, plops down a carefully arranged plate in front of his stepdaughter. Two fried eggs resemble eyes, and sausage links form a smile, with a dab of ketchup like a clown’s nose in the middle. “Here you go, birthday girl!”

“Harvey!” Lydia snaps.

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t look at her mother when the plate withdraws, but continues to stare at the sausage. Her mouth opens as if to repeat the familiar refrain of “I’m hungry!” but as her then-stepfather presents the plate, it just hangs open for a moment. She doesn’t meet his eyes either as she hungrily picks up a sausage link and resumes snarfing it down.

GM: He rustles her hair, laughing at the quasi-feral child’s antics.

“You’re spoiling her,” Lydia says, her jaw set.

The then-nineteen-year-old deputy smiles as her dances behind his bride and hugs her around her waist with his muscular arms. “That’s my job, to spoil the ladies of my life.” He kisses her cheek. Lydia smiles briefly, but then her jaw and brow tighten.

Hazel: Hazel snarfs down more sausage. She pauses briefly to belch.

GM: “Pick your battles,” Harvey says, tapping the newspaper meaningfully. Lydia considers the deteriorating battlefield and the upcoming war, and decides to fold on the former. She regards her half-eaten plate–or the half eaten by her messy-fingered daughter and passes it to Harvey. “Very well.”

Harvey takes the plate and eats the rest of it, as both of Hazel’s parents sit down to join her. “I’m glad the clown tastes yummy,” Harvey says to his soon-to-be-adopted stepdaughter. He slides her a sippy cup filled with orange juice. Lydia regards the newspaper and its photo for a long moment.

Hazel: Hazel is still sitting on the table. As the cup is passed she lifts it to her mouth and takes a gulp, a single orange stream running down her bare chest.

GM: “Oh for heaven’s sake,” Lydia says, wiping Hazel’s mouth. “You’d think you spent the last four years in a kennel.”

Harvey laughs. “I’ve always wanted to have a puppy.”

Lydia rolls her eyes, but can’t quite repress a smile. “Both of you are hopeless.”

Hazel: “What is a birthday suit?” Hazel abruptly asks, seizing upon an earlier conversational thread.

GM: Harvey chuckles.

“It’s an expression, dear,” Lydia answers. “It means being naked. Like you are now,” she adds with the tiniest hint of exasperation.

Hazel: Her question answered, Hazel looks back down at her plate and picks up a piece of egg.

GM: “Now, Hazel,” her mom continues, “after breakfast, you are going to have a bath. Daddy got called into work this morning.”

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t look up from her plate. “Why?”

GM: Harvey looks at Lydia, unsure what he’s supposed to say. Lydia takes a deep breath, then replies, “There was an accident at the amusement park. Daddy has to go because somebody was hurt. He has to make sure it doesn’t happen again. His job is to protect people. Make them safe.”

“But, dear–,” she says trying to keep Hazel’s gaze, “–because of the accident, the amusement park is closed today. Maybe for a long time.”

Hazel: Keeping the four-year-old’s gaze proves a difficult task. Hazel doesn’t yet understand the importance of maintaining eye contact. She does, however, finally stop eating at her mother’s news.

GM: “Do you understand, dear? We can’t go to the amusement park today.”

Hazel: “You said we were going,” Hazel states as her gaze wanders to somewhere along her mother’s placemat.

GM: Harvey takes Lydia’s hand. “We’re sorry, sport. Really.”

Hazel: “You said we were going,” Hazel repeats.

GM: Lydia inwardly sighs, then answers, “Yes, we said we were going. But because of the accident, the park is closed. No one can go, including us.”

Hazel: “You said we were going!” It’s the same words, but Hazel’s voice is louder this time. She addresses her mother’s OJ glass.

GM: “I’m sorry, dear. Sometimes big things happen, and we have to change plans.”

“But we’ll still do lots of fun things today!” Harvey adds.

“That’s right,” Lydia says. “We’ll still do your cake and presents just like we planned.”

Hazel: The change. They said–they said–Hazel abruptly starts crying as she balls her fists. “Y-you s-said we we-re g-GOING!”

GM: Harvey is at a loss of words, confusion clearly painted on his clean-shaven face. Lydia’s expression might flash her new husband a ‘told you so’ look if it weren’t bracing for the escalating temper tantrum.

Hazel: The still-sobbing four-year-old tilts her head back and emits a high, ear-splitting scream as if to condemn it all. “EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!”

GM: Her mother stands. “That’s enough! Hazel! Stop it!”

Harvey looks between his wife and then-stepdaughter, back and forth, before getting up and putting his arms around Hazel. “It’s okay, we’ll go.”

“What?!” Lydia asks, clearly shocked.

Hazel: It takes a moment for everything to process and her stepfather’s words to make sense to Hazel, but the scream finally tapers off. She’s still sniffling as she looks back down at her own plate.

GM: Her pats her, still hugging her. “We’ll go. How’s that sound?” he asks the seemingly pacified toddler.

Hazel: “You said we’d go,” Hazel repeats in odd but apparent confirmation, as if the original plans haven’t been disrupted after all.

GM: “That’s right,” he says, his mismatched pupils holding hers. “We did, and so we will.”

Hazel: “We’ll go,” Hazel states.

GM: “Harvey!” Lydia gasps in anger and confusion.

“We’ll go,” Harvey repeats, then stands to walk over to his older wife.

Hazel: “You said we’d go,” Hazel repeats again, as if that’s the end of the matter.

GM: “Yep, and so we’ll go,” her stepdad says, turning back around. “But you better eat all your breakfast, so you’ll be real strong to turn that teacup.”

Hazel: Hazel looks back down at her plate. And then, if Lydia’s day wasn’t already confounding enough, she picks up her fork and makes a few stabs at the remaining bits of egg.

GM: Then, in a much quieter voice, Harvey turns back to his wife and says, “It’s okay, this badge doesn’t just say ‘to protect’, it also says ‘to serve’, and right now, I’m going to use it to serve my family by getting you all into the park.”

Lydia shakes her head but keeps her voice down as she replies, “But the park is closed and-”

“Yes, but all she likes doing is the tea-cups, remember? I’ll get Mr. Atwood to fire it up, and then you two can leave.”

“But-”

“Without all the crowds, she’ll love it!”

Hazel: The talk of ‘crowds’ goes over the preoccupied Hazel’s head, though Harvey’s words will prove all-too correct. She raises the fork to her mouth and takes a bite of ketchup-lathered egg.

GM: “Look, we get her a bag of cotton candy, and we let her ride the tea cups till she pukes. Everybody wins. And then–,” he says putting his arms around Lydia and pulling her in tightly, “–she’ll be so tuckered out, she’ll take a long nap, and maybe I can check out your birthday suit again, hmm?”

Lydia mock-swats him, but then gives him a big kiss. “My hunk.”

“I love you, Lydia,” he says reciprocating with a kiss of his own.

“I love you too.”

Hazel: After finishing the last of her egg and sausage, Hazel takes a long drain of her OJ and burps.

GM: In front of Hazel, the local morning edition sits, its front page dominated by a picture of the entrance to the amusement park’s underground haunted house ride: the Scaredy Cat Club. The attraction’s aboveground entrance is shaped like a black mouth of a fanged, evil-eyed black cat. The photo’s headline reads, TERROR KILLS LOCAL TUNNEL OF LOVE.

10.08.1998, Thursday afternoon

GM: Back in the present-day Chimera, the vivid recollection of that headline and the photo are like burning flares in an adult Hazel’s mind. Of course, as a four-year-old she didn’t read the headline or its body, but now, in the library with its microfiche archive of old local newspapers, it’s all too easy to locate. She knows the date, after all.

Hazel: She knows the date. She knows the day. She knows the park. All she doesn’t know is what happened there. But as the puzzle pieces click in her memory, that fact is about to change. Terror. Killing. In the love tunnel. It’s completely consistent with her research.

GM: Reading over the microfiched article, Hazel learns that the cause of the old amusement park’s closure can be traced to the death of none other than Marilyn Sweeney. Glad she followed her hunch, Hazel fishes the photo she took from the Sweeney House.

Hazel: Whose parents’ home she is now living in. It can’t be a coincidence. Can it?

GM: With the photo outside of its cracked frame, Hazel sees the handwritten date: November 18, 1978. Returning to the article and several other related sources, Hazel discovers that the Scaredy Cat Club was a prominent feature of the amusement park, a horror- or haunted-themed spook ride built underground that ran the length of much of the park. It featured phantasmagoric animatronics, photo-projections, and live actors to scare the passengers along its track. Its two-person booths and darkness, however, made the ride a favorite of teens and young adults as it allowed couples to discretely engage in all manner of ‘acts’, earning it the nickname of the Tunnel of Love.

Despite these ‘features’, the Scaredy Cat Club and its staff were implicated in a number of ‘accidents’ over the years. All of the victims were young, but not prepubescent. All of them were described as ‘attractive’, ‘handsome’, or ‘pretty’, and all of them were alone. No couples were ever harmed or harassed. Marilyn Sweeney was no exception. According to the news article, she had ridden the ride alone, but was found dead, her cart smeared in blood. Despite the body’s loss of blood, the coroner’s report indicates that she likely died from fear. Hazel can tell that the park tried to cover up the ‘accident’, or at least restrict information from leaking to the public. But it did. And the bad publicity caused the park to shut down and eventually go out of business.

Particularly when evidence started linking the murder to one of the Club’s staff, an old carnie who it became known was wanted in several states for charges of child molestation and sexual batter. Yet, the former freak show circus act, one Hugo Franconi, better known as Doctor Croc for his skin condition of ichthyosis, was never tried.

Hazel: Skin condition, is that right?

GM: Instead, the man with the reptilian-like skin condition was allegedly shot by his fellow carnies after news of Marilyn’s death and the park’s employment of sex offenders forced the amusement park to close forever.

But Hazel’s discoveries do not end there. Jumping between microfiche and online databases, Hazel discovers that Hugo Franconi belonged to a long line of famous circus and carnival performers from the Old World, including Laurent, Aldophe, and Antonio Franconi. In particular, Hazel finds that Hugo was the direct descendant of the eighteenth-century performer, Henri Franconi, a semi-famous French playwright of pantomimes, phantasmagoric dramas, and ribald vaudeville as well as esteemed circus equestrian and mime nicknamed Minette.

Hugo, however, could not follow in his family’s equestrian tradition reportedly due to his skin condition which unnerved the animals, so he instead became a traveling freak show’s strong man, alligator man, and physician. The latter questionably authentic medical degree earned him the sobriquet he was best known for amongst patrons of the Scaredy Cat Club. In comparatively less scholarly sections of the inter web, Hazel finds accounts that Doc Croc, despite his verified death, has been allegedly spotted amongst trespassers of the long-abandoned park. However, local paranormal researchers are in disagreement whether the ‘Doctor’ is a ghostly apparition or something else. Far more substantiated are the deaths of those trespassers.

doc_croc.jpg

Hazel: That’s him.

GM: More recent records indicate that the restricted amusement park has been the sight of at least six deaths in the past decade. Quoted authorities believe that a bear or family of bears may have moved into the subterranean cave. Other more speculative sources suggest that the bears are descended from Cuddles, a tamed circus bear who famously let the Atwoods’ children ride on its back.

Hazel, however, discovers Cuddles had a different name amongst the old-time carnies: Cărunt. Which Hazel learns means “Hoary One” due to his gray-grizzled back and ancient age. She also learns that the name is Romanian. Disturbingly, Hazel finds a similarly named and described bear mentioned in Henri Franconi’s circus. Some two hundred years ago.

Hazel: Him. His minion, at any rate. Hazel isn’t sure if bears can be vampires. There certainly aren’t any mythological accounts of such. But those descriptions cannot be coincidences.

GM: While tradition might cause carnies to reuse the same name for different animals, Hazel’s research uncovers another act that pops up over the centuries alongside the bear and the Franconis, a German-Romanian puppeteer and ventriloquist by the name of Valentin Vladescu. Precious little information exists on this last name, and Hazel is already milking blood from stones. But the few drops she wrangles indicate that Vladescu reputedly belonged to a roving band of troubadours and court performers whose patrons included the Slavic voivodes as well as Germanic princes and barons.

Fortuitously for Hazel, the Chimera just happens to have the diaries of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Germanic princesses and Romanian voivodes. The agonizingly few entries and laboriously translated excerpts indicate that Valentin Vladescu was a preternatural animal trainer, marionette maker, and puppeteer. One excerpt describes how he trained rats to battle small blood-filled dolls he manipulated by strings, much to the horror and excitement of his audience. Another describes how his dolls would put on ribald, scandalously salacious performances that were officially forbidden by various ecclesiastical or secular rulers.

One of these authors–the young Germanic baroness Henriette Mendel, Baroness von Wallersee, morganatic wife of Ludwig Wilhelm, Duke in Bavaria–describes how she took great delight in allowing Valentin to watch behind a wooden screen as she cuckolded her husband with another one of his troupe’s compatriots. She relates how she eventually called to him to join them, but how Valentin seemed transfixed in the most “unmannish” of ways. A much latter entry describes that upon the troupe’s return to the Bavarian castle, Valentin’s companion was not with him. When the baroness inquired as to the companion’s fate, she recorded that: “he replied that the ‘deochi’ claimed him. When pressed as to the meaning of the foreign sentiment, he related that it is the same as your native ‘Böser Blick’–the Evil Gaze. So dark was his gaze then that I, a Baroness of Great Bavaria, was forced to turn away in terror and make the sign of the cross. I fear that the rumors of his study at Scholomance and his descent from Vlad the Impaler may be all too true.”

Beyond that excerpt, there is an aged daguerreotype tucked into the old journal. It features a rakishly handsome man dressed in formal attire with a menacing child-like puppet upon his knee. Upon its back, there is a ink-calligraphed notion: V.V. 1849. Wichtelhausen

VV_old.jpg

With the fragile daguerreotype of “V.V.” in hand, Hazel then turns to another, far more recent photograph of the abandoned remains of the fear-house ride. Dated approximately a year ago, the photograph features the desolate, fallow grounds around the leering cat-faced entrance. Its slitted eyes and gaping black mouth seem to hiss: Enter, if you dare.

Between those centuries-spanning images, she places the one from her own bedroom, the same room that used to belong to Marilyn Sweeney. Yet, as she looks past the beautiful, smiling and balloon-carrying girl of thirteen years, the glass-cut slash over her throat points to the background. Under the magnification of the reading glass, Hazel sees the image of the Scaredy Cat’s entrance, black and yawning. Yet, she also sees a figure inside the steepled ticket stripe, staring at Marilyn. The three photos and their myriad eyes all stare at Hazel.

Enter, if you dare.

Hazel: Enter, if I dare.

Hazel closes the last journal with a soft thump, then gets up and begins returning the many books she has withdrawn from their shelves. Her foe’s name and nature are known to her. There is much to be done.

That’s funny, Nosferatu.

I was going to tell you the same thing.

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