Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase II, Case File 2.02


Kurt: Mind’s Eye


10.09.1998, Friday evening

GM: Several hours after his “accident” with his sister, Kurt is alone (and clean) again. With visiting hours ending at 8 PM, Amy (who certainly has not forgiven her brother) succeeds in convincing their mother to go home and rest for the night. Arlene only relents when her kids remind her of their invalid patriarch. Kurt’s mom promises to return in the morning.

Kurt: Kurt bids his family goodbye, mixed with an endless series of apologies for his sister. He is pretty embarrassed.

GM: “Don’t worry about your sister,” his mother tells him before she leaves. “She’s fine.” She kisses him good night (while Amy gives him the finger), and they depart. Kurt can only assume they all use Rick’s vehicle. But in their wake, the hospital seems colder. The nurses dim the post-visitation lights, and a shawl of silence descends over Kurt’s room and the surrounding medical wing.

Kurt: Kurt lays on his side and resumes staring at the curtained section. “Sorry about earlier,” he says, remembering his ‘roommate’. He then closes his eyes and attempts to go to sleep.

GM: As the curtains of consciousness close, Kurt’s tempest-tossed psyche intuitively seeks safer, calmer waters. In his dreams, his mind casts back to how things were. Before.

The minutes, hours, and days peel back like an overripe fruit, exposing both sweetness and the seeds of the present tomorrows.

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10.05.1998, Monday afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08.07.1996, Wednesday evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.05.1998, Monday evening

GM: Back in the projectionist’s booth, now two years later as one of the most senior staff still working at the theater, Kurt looks up to see Mordecai, thankfully clothed and absent any bees, standing in the booth’s threshold. “What did you think of the film?” he asks, mirroring Kurt’s old memories of their first discussion.

Kurt: “I liked it whenever the eye broke the fourth wall,” Kurt answers his employer. “It felt like I was part of the movie, or the roles were switched, and I was being watched instead.” Kurt chuckles good-naturedly. “It was also pretty cool when he got split into two parts. What did you think?”

GM: Like Kurt did two years, Mordecai remains standing in the threshold as he answers. “I enjoyed how Dr. Suzuki was an inversion of the stereotypical introverted, socially awkward and reserved scientist. There was also the subtlety of him refusing to use the serum on his wife, despite her volunteering–and then how she injected herself against his will only to transform into a caged monster he was forced to dispose of. That his second test subject was his own brother who volunteered was another interesting twist. In short, his ethics were twisted and degrading, but not inhuman or entirely absent.”

“Apart from that there’s the often under-appreciated historical impact of the film. I believe it inspired Evil Dead‘s two-headed Ash and subsequent doppleganger scene. Otherwise, it has many great aspects to it, but there were a few things that keep me from considering it one of the truly great films. First, the dialog often fell short of the mark. In particularly, there were missed opportunities for Dr. Suzuki to monologue more deeply about man’s evolution and the motivations and fears driving his work in general.”

“Also, he had also apparently taken Tara from… somewhere very unpleasant that she doesn’t want to ever have to go back to, but they never say what it was. Was it a whorehouse? Was it an orphanage? Was she living on the streets? Who knows? They were deliberately vague on that point, and I don’t know why. It was another missed opportunity, a foreshadowing that fell flat–particularly because they mentioned it multiple times but never made it come to fruition.”

Mordecai’s pink eyes light up with an obsessive glint as he continues, “Now where this movie really shined was with the monster make-up, particular for its time. Dr. Suzuki’s brother Genji turned into a creature that was very similar to what developed in Larry and eventually separated from him. It had both ape and human-esque features, creating an atavistic element that drove straight down the uncanny valley. I also enjoyed Emiko’s look, with her features resembling melting wax plugged with bulging misshapen eyes and teeth. Her caged scenes helped drive home the point that evolution may not produce forms we currently consider beautiful. The future might be frighteningly ugly. And then there was the two-headed manster itself. Did you notice how the second head wasn’t just a still dummy, but had animatronics? And they were put to gruesome display as he went on his killing spree.”

“And did you know that Jayne Hylton, the main actor’s real life wife, played his wife Linda in the film? I can’t help but wonder if he wasn’t having a bit more fun with the way he was verbally and eventually physically abusing her because of it. It’s probably a lot easier to do those sorts of things with someone you’re married to than with someone you just met when they started filming, but that’s just speculation on my part. Regardless, I have to give credit to Jayne for her scream when Linda first sees Larry’s second head. It was like she bottled the sound of terror.”

Mordecai idly pulls the lobe of his left ear before concluding his answer. “But one of my favorite parts is the ending. The original ending. Originally, the climax gives way to a much longer, more thoughtful denouement, but they cut that out in the stateside release.” The albino’s ‘Witiko eyes’ gleam as he regards his favorite employee and adds, “I, however, have a copy of it on VHS if you would like to watch it.”

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes light up. “Yes. That would be great, Mr. Clay.” He adds, “It’s been a hard weekend. I need something like that to cheer me up, definitely.”

GM: Mr. Clay leans up against the door-jamb. “Well, come by my office tomorrow at the beginning of your shift, and I’ll lend you my copy.” He pulls his ear again. “How’s your mom taking the breakup with Felicity?”

Kurt: Kurt’s face turns a little sour, but he keeps Mr. Clay’s gaze. “She’s not happy about it at all, honestly,” he admits to his boss. “I feel like she’s taking her side and I am getting lumped with all the blame. What am I supposed to do, really?”

GM: “Become a monster.” Mordecai’s initially severe expression seems to reluctantly break into a grin, like a film’s crudely edited epilogue. “Either that, or make your mother believe Felicity’s become one. Which in the end, my dear boy, is the same thing. The only other option is to endure your mother’s monstrous maternalism.”

The Scarecrow’s owner then steps forward and gives Kurt an awkward tap on the shoulder. “Become a monster or a victim of one, Kurt.” His pink eyes crease without another awkward smile. He then steps back and pats the threshold of the projectionist’s booth with unfeigned affection. “Before you head out, make sure someone cleans up the girls’ restroom. Morgan told me one of the toilets is clogged with a bloody tampon and jujubes.”

Kurt: Kurt pulls another face. “I see you’re already forcing me to take up your advice and be the monster who delegates someone else to do it,” he replies, smiling cheekily. “Thanks, Mr. Clay!”

GM: Mordecai smiles, his bone-pale face crinkling like tissue paper. “Smart lad, and that’s why you’re my favorite. And why I’m willing to lend that VHS tape.”

He starts to leave, but pauses briefly to add, “As for delegation, you might consider Fred Meyers. He called out sick last Sunday without notice, allegedly due to the flu, but Eliot said he was going to a party. But I’ll leave the final call to you, my budding Manster.” He departs with a final, “Sayonara, Kurt.”

Kurt: Kurt and Mr. Clay say their goodbyes and part ways. The young lad is more than happy to take Mr. Clay’s advice and tell Fred Meyers to clean the girl’s toilets, which Kurt surreptitiously takes a Manster-ous glee in so doing.

GM: Unsurprisingly, Fred takes the assignment hard. Especially given who’s giving it. After all, the nineteen-year-old Falls High graduate has been working at the Scarecrow for eight months longer than Kurt. And though he took over Bertha Phelps’ full time position, he’s never earned Mr. Clay’s favor or the authority the ‘adult’ craves–and which Kurt has seemingly swooped in and stolen.

It also doesn’t help that the soft in the middle, brown-haired teenager is already in the middle of cleaning up a giant mess in the foyer–one allegedly started by Kurt’s best friend, Wilson, when the baseball star thought it’d be fun to start a popcorn war while exiting the cinema. He stares down at his younger co-worker, broom and swivel-sweep in his hands. Buttery popcorn litters the floor around him.

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After a long stare, Fred asks disgruntledly, “Why can’t Morgan do it? It’s the girls’ restroom.”

Outside the lobby, Wilson and some other upperclassmen tap on the glass window: “Kuuuuurt….”

“Come out annnnd plaaaayyyy!”

The adolescent antics do not improve Fred’s sour mood.

Kurt: Kurt ignores Fred for a moment, distracted by his friends’ antics. He turns wave at his classmates and taps on the glass with a dorky smile plastered on his face.

He then turns back around to face his co-worker. “What do you mean, Fred?” he asks, chiding the older ‘boy’ jokingly. “You’re not afraid of entering a girls’ bathroom, are you?”

GM: “Don’t be a dic–”, Fred starts to snap back, then stops as a few patrons file out and around the two cinema employees. Behind them, Wilson and his clique continuing their jeering.

“Kuuuuurt!”

“Come plaaaaay with the lost boys!”

“All work and no plaaay makes Kurt a dull boy…”

Several girls amongst the group laugh as Wilson sticks two twizzlers in his mouth as mock vampire teeth. “Kuuuurt….”

Fred gives the glass-pressed crowd a curdled lip, as if he’s trying to decide whether he’s more upset by their rambunctiousness or the fact he’ll probably be the one stuck windexing their faces off the display glass. He turns back to his ‘junior’ colleague. “Come on, Kurt, don’t be an…” He stops again and looks over at the closing down concession stand. “Make Eliot do it…”

Eliot seems to perk up at his name being mentioned. The skinny sophomore finishes swallowing some popcorn dredged from the machine before calling out, his voice cracking a bit, “My mom’s outside waiting for me.”

Around the same time, Morgan exits the employee break room–which is really just a glorified closet– and finishes slinging on a black leather jacket over a hoodie emblazoned with a faded, peeling print of the monster truck, Grave Digger.

GM: Spotting her, Fred calls out, “Morgan, they need someone to clean the ladies’ room.”

She spares a glance towards Kurt, then flicks her razor-blade necklace idly as she keeps walking. “Not my problem, Flintstone, I’m off the clock.” Her pace, however, slows when she spots Wilson and his gang.

Kurt: Kurt smiles at Fred. “I am off the clock, too,” he adds. “Plus, girl cooties scare me.”

GM: Behind the counter, Eliot giggles and half-snorts a popcorn out of his nose.

Fred shoots him a scathing look. When he turns back to Kurt, his expression is no less welcoming.

“Kuuuuuurt….” comes the repeated adolescent calls and laughter from outside.

Kurt: “Thanks, Fred!” Kurt gleefully says. He then turns tail and exits the cinema alongside Morgan before Fred can get a chance to reply.

GM: If Fred replies, Kurt can’t hear it–even if he can feel the older youth’s eye-daggers boring into his back. In contrast, the senior can clearly hear Eliot’s high-pitched chuckle. “Yeah, thanks, Fred!”

“Shut up, dipshit!” Fred all but hisses at the sophomore.

Morgan meanwhile hooks her arm around Kurt’s and leans in, the curves of her body and perfume almost deafening compared to her words: “Still afraid of girl cooties?”

Morgan doesn’t wait for his answer as she bites his ear and whispers, “Get me past the goon squad, and I’ll owe you one, scarecrow…”

Seeing–but not hearing–Morgan, Wilson’s gang goes bananas. “Kuuuuuurt!” Wilson drops his licorice fangs and leaps atop a trashcan, beating his chest like a manic chimpanzee–shorn of hair and covered in tats.

Kurt: Kurt quirks a brow at Morgan as she makes a show, unperturbed in the least, pulling Morgan a little closer with a casual smile. He leans into her ear and lets some tension build. “You’re trouble.”

He pulls away, still smiling. “I might be able to distract them if you do me a certain favor.” He’s clearly making a show of things, shamelessly flirting for his own amusement.

GM: Morgan half-stumbles when Kurt pulls away, forcing her to reflexively grab hold of her coworker to avoid falling. The teens outside laugh and jeer. After righting herself, Morgan flicks her hair, and shoots Kurt a look that simmers between hot and boiling. She eyes the manic crowd outside, then returns her gaze to the basketball captain. “You want me to paint your nails again?”

Kurt: “No. What I want is a kiss.”

GM: Morgan eyes Kurt. “That all?”

Kurt: “Why, are you expecting more?” Smirk.

GM: She leans in huskily and fingers the edge of Kurt’s shirt. “Close your eyes, big boy.”

Kurt: Kurt closes his eyes, playing along with the request. He puckers his lips a little too dramatically.

GM: With the roaring hooligans outside, Kurt doesn’t hear anything until he feels a slight touch on his butt–and the sudden tug of his pants pulled down to his knees.

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes snap open in surprise as his pants are pulled down, revealing to Morgan and his onlookers his Dracula-themed underwear.

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Kurt’s face goes scarlet. He quickly pulls his pant back up and looks embarrassed. “You win, Morgan,” he says with the tiniest smile remaining. “Hands down. You win. Or, maybe pants down.”

GM: Given the reaction by the crowd outside and the still-kneeling Morgan, Kurt has little reason to be embarrassed. As she stands, Morgan slips her hand in Kurt’s back pocket. “Maybe we both win,” she says whispering in his ear.

“Count Kuuuuurt!” Wilson shouts with a wide laugh. His entourage follows the chant.

Kurt: Maybe.

“I’ll catch up with you later, Morgan,” Kurt finally says, giving her a pensive look for a couple moments. “I need to catch up with Wilson.”

GM: Behind them, the impressionable underclassman Eliot decides to jump up on the concession stand and pull down his pants, exposing his whitey-tighties and bony knees in all their lanky ‘glory’. “Yeaaahhh!” he yells and shakes his fist.

Just as Mordecai walks out into the lobby. “Mr. Glessman, please pull up your pants,” the albino cinema owner says in a thin voice, “And go home.”

Hazel: Attila Awakens


Date [REDACTED]

GM: Oblivion falls into Hazel like a tempest pouring into a dark, churning sea. But the sea has limbs. Many, many limbs. They’re naked, dirty, and invisible in the dead blackness. But she feels them all around her. Shuffling, clinging, wringing. Fingers, hands, arms, legs, feet. She hears the fetters on those limbs too. The clanging of metal cufflinks and cold chains against stone and flesh. She hears voices. Moaning, screaming, and the kind of naked, soul-wrenching crying that can only be uttered in the dark.

It does not take Hazel long to realize that at least some of those shackled limbs belong to her.

Hazel: Mental institution
Sweeneys
Can’t be allowed to walk free
Make up for this
Dead
Marilyn
Can’t risk killing again

The thoughts roar through her mind like an ocean’s onrushing tide. She flings herself after them, following oblivion’s siren call to the benthic depths of unconsciousness. An icy steel floe crashes against her instead. Consciousness shudders through her with all of its attendant pains and burdens. No. No! She wanted—her cry joins the damned chorus as she instinctively thrashes against her fetters, a wordless splash of protest within the churning entropic sea.

I’m not a killer…

GM: Her thrashing is drowned in the cacophony of limbs and lamentations, but as her physical protestations join the chained chorus, Hazel recognizes several of the voices. They’re too familiar, as are the brushes of limbs against her own flesh.

Initially, in the darkness, it was too easy to attribute the disorientation to the lack of light and unknown surroundings, but now… now, she realizes that blurred sense of where she begins and ends is also due to the uncanny familiarity of the limb’s shapes and movements, the eerie similarity of the voices’ timbre and pitch.

They’re hers. All of them. All save one.

The exception is faint, almost imperceptible in the sea of her voices and thrashings. Perhaps she merely remembers it, and like a key found in the dark, it takes her memory a moment to fumble at the edges, turning it in her protean mind until it correctly aligns with mental tumblers and clicks open the cognitive lock.

Gaire no i dormet.

Hazel: No, not Latin. French? No, not that either. But closer. Linguistically and geographically. Occitan.

Don’t fall asleep.

It’s from Sponsus, a medieval Latin and Occitan liturgical play. It contains the first known inclusion of demons in western drama. She’d long since read Inferno, Paradise Lost, and Faust’s sad tale by the time she was fifteen, but she was curious what “the first work of dramatic literature to feature demons” was. She remembers asking that question of Mrs. Griswold, who didn’t know the answer off-hand, but directed her towards several books that might contain it. She’s not sure if that question got a phone call home or not. If it did, her parents were long since inured to that sort of thing. She eventually found her answer and Sponsus copy after enough hours spent plumbing the Chimera. She remembers sharing the former with her mother over dinner.

“The work of Western dramatic literature to feature demons is Sponsus. It’s an adaptation of the biblical parable of the ten virgins. The demons only feature at the ending, though, when they drag the five foolish virgins to hell. It’s not as if they’re developed characters on the level of Faust’s Mephistopheles.”

“That’s interesting, dear.”

She clings to the memories. Clings to them like a child’s security blanket. She can bury it against her eyes and shut out all the awful things she doesn’t want to see. What did they have for dinner, it was… a weekend, that’s why she wasn’t eating a Prince Pizza home alone, or leaving it in the fridge to go have dinner at Gramps’ house with him and Dad. Mom had put her foot down that further evenings at Harvey’s were in violation of their court-agreed visitation schedule, but she couldn’t do anything about Hazel visiting her grandfather, and oh well if her dad happened to live literally next door. She remembers how smug her voice was when she confronted her mother about it. “You have no legal basis with which to prevent me from visiting relatives besides my father,” she’d proclaimed.

She tries to lose herself in the memories. To drown out the press of grasping, fettered, disembodied (?) limbs beneath thoughts of home and family. She tells herself that her memories are an essential component of the experiences that make her who she is, beyond whatever superficial resemblances this faceless mass of flesh might have to her own. It’s not me, it’s not me, it’s not me, there’s only one of me…

Her own voice—voices—cry and wail in her ears.

This isn’t real. Can’t be real! It’s all in my head, all in my head, all in my head…

‘She’ sobs. Another ‘she’ in the wailing tempest of flesh and steel. Another scene from another medieval drama about hell.

With that, the doleful notes began to rasp
my consciousness; I’ve come into a zone
where pain’s expressed by shriek and moan and gasp
where not the feeblest ray of light is known,
which squalls and bellows like an ocean tempest
when the waves are driven by the cyclone;
this infernal, never-ending blast
drives every soul before it in its sweep,
tormenting them with every turn and twist,
who, confronted by the ruin, weep,
and gnash their teeth, and moan, and curse, and swear,
and blaspheme God, and bawl, and howl, and shriek.


Another scream sounds, as audible as a raindrop in a thunderstorm. She’d wished for oblivion. Not hell.

Don’t fall asleep.

But that wasn’t her voice.

Leo? He gave her the pills…

V.I.T.R.I.O.L.V.M. Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam. Visit the interior of the Earth; by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone.

Her mind races. The “Chamber of Reflection.” A place for the initiate to contemplate death and the dissolution of impurities. The awakening initiate.

Don’t fall asleep.

She’d sought oblivion. But Leo is out there, trying to help her. And she’d wanted his help. She remembers going to him, entrusting him with that letter to give her parents, in case of the worst…

No! I hope it gathers dust in your file cabinet forever. She has to get to her parents! She has to let them know she’s all right—and to do that she has to be all right! All in my head. Yes, this is what’s in her head. An external manifestation of her inner turmoils. This mental hell, this wailing mass of suffering and ignorance. Outrage flares in her. That isn’t what she is! She has to fight!

Part of her sags at the question. But where to even begin? How does one extinguish a roaring bonfire with a mere thimble of water?

No. Don’t start with the big picture. She’s always been a procrastinator, justifying it in the name of putting off the impossible. Dad always advised her: just do the little things, one at a time. The first line on the police report. Make the task smaller.

Tears in the dark. There are no tears as lonely and afraid as those. She remembers crying in her bed at night during the divorce. She remembers her nemesis hiding under another bed at night, the room’s lights as dead as his pulse. She remembers being sent tumbling down that madhouse flight of stairs, blind, helpless, dying, and afraid.

I’m sick of being afraid!

She thrusts a shackled limb into the screaming tempest. She plucks a low-hanging fruit from the great transcendental Tree whose roots extend even into such barren soil. A fruit hanging just above the foot of Matter.

She’s never been religious. She’s not praying to any god for deliverance now. But the scriptural verse is all-too appropriate to her present circumstances.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said,

FIAT LUX!” (LET THERE BE LIGHT!”) Hazel roars.

After all, it’s easier to stay awake with the lights on.

GM: As the echoes of Hazel’s raw, primeval roar crash against the dark, cacophonous sea of susurrating limbs, clanging fetters, and piteous weeping, a solitary light flashes into blinding brilliance.

Above the teeming masses, the light unfolds like a heavenly, blossoming rose. But as the radiance grows, Hazel perceives the ‘petals’ as scores of wings, feathered and full of fathomless eyes that burn and turn as wheels within wheels of fire. As those gazing wings unfurl, a still half-hidden figure takes shape, its skin a cerulean blue that scintillates with the golden microcosm of galaxies. From that body of celestial bodies, a pair of seraphic arms emerges. The first bears a name-engraved, gold-plated bullhorn whose shape flickers between an ox’s hollow tine and an electric megaphone. In the latter form, static hisses:

INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER

The seraph’s second hand holds a burden that also oscillates in form. One moment, Hazel perceives it as a bundle of scrolls sealed with waxen seals. The next, she sees an open Micron laptop displaying unread, encrypted emails. In its former visage, the seal bears a peculiar cross with an inscription that sears Hazel’s psyche:

IN HOC SIGNO VINCES

Drawing the bullhorn to its wing-shrouded lips, the seraph speaks:

“If thou
 were not so behold to thine own conceits, thou wouldst received much enlightenment 
from my mother’s heritage. But lo, thine eye hearkens not, so thou lies in such fettered straits. And yet my dearest mother
 will not regard thy mischief. Behold her condescension, 
that many a one might awaken to the light, though this may chance but seldom 
that they be better esteemed, nor reckoned as mere fable. Therefore in honor of the feast which today shall commence, 
that her grace may be multiplied, a good work will she do: The rope will now be lowered; whoever may hang on to it, shall be freed.”

Its declaration made, the seraph refolds its wings in a reverse blossoming till it becomes a singularity of light. No longer blinding, the point of radiance reveals a rope being lowered from some unknown height nigh to the floor of the previously pitch-black cave. That same light reveals the cave’s manifold inhabitants–or perhaps, manifold inhabitant.

For the only person in the cave with Hazel is Hazel. Hazels. How many exactly Hazel cannot tell. But each is stripped, shackled, and squinting as she perceives the light-born rope.

Escape.

Hazel: At any other time, any other day, the unreal sight of her countless chained tormented selves would make Hazel lose her stomach. Or her mind. But she’s come close enough to losing that already. For good or ill, it has tempered. She was once asleep. She is now Awake.

And it is always better to see than be blind.

She regards the many-winged and many-eyed seraph’s appearance with wide eyes at first, but quickly steels herself. She knows she’s dreaming. She swallowed those pills, which have set off god only knows what chemical reactions in her brain. Nevertheless, after all she’s seen… if ghosts and vampires are real, why not angels? But real in the waking world or real only in her mind’s eye, occult writings are all but universal in their consensus on one point:

Such entities are never to be entreated with lightly.

And there can be no mistake, she is now entreating with such a being. Fiat Lux.

John Dee was intensely interested in finding a copy of the Biblical Book of Enoch, and many of the angelic conversations concern Dee’s inquiries about an “Adamic” language that he termed " Celestiall Speech," “First Language of God-Christ,” but best known as, “Angelicall.” Dee believed that God used this language to create the world and was thus implicitly underlying all physical structure. Angelicall was further used by the first man, Adam, to talk with God and the angels. Adam had not sampled the fruit of Tree of Knowledge—a pan-cultural myth variously revered as Yggdrasil, the oak of Dodona, old Prussian oaks inhabited by old pagan golds, and many others—and so was blind to the power inherent to his speech. His descendants were not. The Tower of Babel, another pan-cultural myth, represented nothing less than the power of a universal language to cross the barriers between earth and heaven, endowing men with the power of gods. In Renaissance Hermetic Christian belief, in common with all Abrahamic faiths, the Biblical patriarch Enoch (“Idris” in Islamic tradition, and associated with Tehuti, Hermes, and Thoth—translated by the Greeks as Hermes Trismegistus, three times very, very great) was the one known human after the Tower’s fall who also spoke this language.

Commentators have used the term “Enochian” to distinguish John Dee’s “Angelical” from other “angelic” languages, noting the widespread Judeo-Christian tradition that there was a divine language, spoken by the angels, that matched the sacred numbering and ordering used in their creation story. It is a language of light, in whichever of many contexts one understands “light,” traceable to the “Fiat Lux” or “Let there be light” of Genesis. Dee makes multiple plays on “Fiat Lux” on the frontispiece of his better-known works.

By the time Dee and his long-time associate Edward Kelley began their angelic conversations, Dee was convinced that Hebrew (or some proto-Hebrew that could be “corrected” by Kaballistic study) was constructed by Adam after the Fall based on a shadowy memory of true Enochian. Indeed, other Renaissance Kabbalists, both Jewish and Christian, thought the primary language was Hebrew; modern students of the mystical Kabballah, who believe that the “22 sounds and letters of the Hebrew alphabet are the foundation of all things,” ordering the first creation of earth and stars in the heavens, and represented by different occult symbols and gematria, can recognize the outline of this belief system in modern esotericism. Gematria, the system of assigning numerical value to letters in sacred alphabets, especially Hebrew and ancient Greek, is derived from both the ancient Greek words for geometry (measurement of the earth or world) and grammar.

Indeed, to Dee, linguistic gematria assume an implicit connection between number and letter. Kaballists often map the 22 letters of Hebrew to a cube, the “building block,” so to speak, of three-dimensional reality. It is not much of a stretch to hypothesize that, just as Hebrew maps to three dimensions, Enochian maps to four dimensions. While one does not usually think of modern languages mapping implicitly to geometric structures, John Dee did. That, to him, was part of what made a language sacred.

It is no less so to Hazel. The young woman with autism has always been a visual learner.

Dee’s most famous work, the Hieroglyphic Monad or Monas Hieroglyphica, and a related much longer work, the Propeudamata Aphoristica–all stamped with “Fiat Lux”–explicitly combine sacred languages and sacred geometry within an alchemical system purporting to show the structure of physical reality and how it is placed within the larger cosmos; both make use of four dimensional mathematics and show an understanding of gravitational forces 100 years before Newton.

Hazel read those volumes during her senior year in high school and deduced that Dee’s first 17 theorems could be considered his “outer mysteries,” and the final of these, 17, also a transition to his “inner mysteries.” By Theorem 17, Dee makes an ingenious language play upon the word "light"—once again, in Latin lux, then written LVX—that suggests the INRI/LVX transformation central to modern western esotericism, as well as connecting to the geometry of conic sections and specifically, letters formed when a plane intersects two cones in particular ways. To Dee, understanding the concept of light and the transformation of shape stood at the border between the inner and outer mysteries. Curiously, and with prescient accuracy, it also stood between his concepts of three-dimensional and four-dimensional geometry: by Theorem 20, he is outlining the use of a hypercube for those who have eyes to see.

Hazel has those eyes now.

This celestial rope, this lux, is her first step in ascending from Plato’s blind cave to Dee’s innermost mysteries. But she cannot ascend while she is literally shackled to this naked, tormented mass of her crying and blinded selves. They literally do not see the path to escaping their present state. Hazel pities them. She would help them, if she could.

No, she abruptly then decides, she would not. Power demands self-sacrifice. That is another constant in all mystic traditions. Odin sought wisdom by hanging himself upon the Yggdrasil, a sacrifice of himself to himself. These other Hazels… they are her and she is they. If they were nothing to her, she would not still linger in this miserable cave.

“I have brought you light and shown you a path out of this hell! Those of you who would follow me, rise now and break your chains!”

That is what must come next: she must sever her link to those parts of herself that lack the resolve to follow.

Hazel firmly seizes the shining celestial rope with both hands, tugs down, and drapes it over the lengths of chain connecting her foremost-self to her pitiful other-selves. There is a great difference between men like Dee and Crowley and the prophets of the Bible: all of them might entreat with angels, but where Daniel trusted God’s messengers to deliver him from danger, Crowley recognized that the will to power comes from within. And by her will, these shackles will fetter her no longer.

In hoc signo vinces. The cross inspired Constantine, but he still fought and won the battle._

Hazel twists the rope’s length into the Enochian glyph for eight—a number long associated with misfortune, for it is just shy of the numeric perfection represented by nine—the three threes. Eight is perfection unrealized and potential unfulfilled.

Enochian_8.jpg

As the radiant glyph sears itself into her vision, her will flows outwards. It seeps past the tumblers and empty spaces in the shackles’ mechanisms like water, willing them to…

OPEN!”

GM: Matter obeys Hazel’s whim, acquiescing with a sharp, metallic click. Her heavy shackles fall away from her like shed skin, clanging to the stony ground beneath her.

The echo of her release, however, is soon swallowed up by the chorus of cries and violent jostling as the other Hazels surge towards the rope with desperate ferocity. The sea of selves crash down upon the rope, clawing at one another, clinging to each other madly, and in their fury and frantic attempts to escape, Hazel–in all her imploding manifold–loses the rope as it begins to rise and withdraw from the mob-like mass that consumes oneness and devours the boundary of self from non-self, till all become the one that is none.

Hazel: You… cunts! I try to do something for you! Hazel’s simultaneous wrath and terror flash through the gloom—and it answers. Shadows cast by the glowing Hazel-tossed rope twist, bend, and congeal into an umbral specter born from her—from their—worst fears. The light surrounding the rope dims, its promise of salvation revealed as all-too false, all-too feeble against the encroaching dark.

But the darkness is not empty. It’s where the bogeyman lives. He’s there. He’s always been there. But this time he’s come to her.

As the weird shadows congeal into the looming outline of a grotesquely oversized ventriloquist’s doll, Hazel’s voice simultaneously booms like thunder yet drops to an almost intimate pitch, seemingly whispered into the ears of her terror-struck other-selves, as the phantasmal duplicate of her nemesis hisses the same sanity-shattering words that cast her into this abysmal pit:

YOU. KILLED. THEM.”

GM: Terror incarnate seizes Hazels’ psyches, and suffocates them with sheer panic. Some curl into fetal positions, naked and chained, yet numb to the thrashing and trampling of their other selves as they attempt to flee, blindly as before, yet this time violently seized and halted by their chains. The panic creates rippling spirals of chaos and anarchy, fear and horror. Several selves pass out, others slump asphyxiating as if no air can enter their lungs, while others scream unceasingly as if their lungs can do nothing but vomit air.

Hazel: Hazel—the real Hazel, or so she tells herself—doesn’t waste a second. It’s all a trick, all a trick, all a trick… and she knows it, seizing for the golden rope as her wretched other-selves recoil in terror. It’s only fitting that the one Hazel to see past the phantasmal terror, to not be shackled down by her fears and disabilities, should so ascend.

“Don’t you get it? That’s why you’re here,” she whispers. To herself. Herselves.

GM: The rope rises like the sun. As Hazel climbs that dawn, the prisoners and the panic-inducing shadow-play on the cave wall fall away into darkness. As the last of their terror-wrought echoes die, Hazel can almost hear the voices of Glaucon and Socrates discussing another, although all-too eerily similar cave:

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another

Hazel: She stares past those shadows towards the rising light. Every night must pass into dawn.

Brook: Skin Deep


10.09.1998, Friday evening

GM: Marshal Hudson M. Schofeld’s retirement comes early when a hairy, moon-silvered arm reaches through the open window of his pickup as he sits parked at the crossing-point of two dirt roads out in foothills of Wikito Falls. There is a low, snorting grunt, and a wild, terrifying smell, like something you would smell in the lion-house of a zoo. 
His mustached head is snapped around, and he stares into a dark-green eye. He sees the fur, the damp-looking snout. And when the snout wrinkles back, he sees the teeth.

The beast claws at him almost playfully, and one of his cheeks 
rips away in a flap, exposing his teeth on the right side. Blood spout
s everywhere. He can feel it running down over the shoulder of his shirt, sinking in warmly. He screams; he screams out of his mouth and out of his cheek. Over the beast’s working shoulders, he can see the moon, flooding down white light.


As the beast reaches for Hudson’s throat, the marshal reaches for its face, grabs double-handfuls of coarse, wiry fur and pulls, hoping madly that the mask will shift and then pull off–there will be the snap of an elastic, the liq
uid ripping sound of latex, and he will see the killer.


But nothing happens–nothing except a roar of pain and rage from the beast. I
t swipes at him with one clawed hand–yes, he can see it is a hand, however hideously misshapen, a hand that lays his throat wide open. Blood jets over the truck’s windshield and dashboard; it drips onto the king-sized Butterfinger that has been clipped to his golden star and tucked into the pocket.


The beast’s other hand snags in Hudson’s thick mustache and mouth and yanks him half out of the pick-up’s cab. It howls once, in triumph, and then it buries its face and snout in Hudson’s neck. It feeds while both the candy bar and badge falls onto the floor by the truck’s brake and clutch pedals.


Brook bolts awake, hot and sweating, the taste of fresh blood in his mouth. Dimly, he hears the rattling of bars. His bars. His cage.

“I said, do you want the candy bar or not?”

It’s Ferg, standing in front of the cell, waving a king-sized Butterfinger. “It’s yours if you can tell me how to get rid of my murderous rabbits.”

Brook: Brook’s eyes bolt open just as his body does, the boy’s tall burly form on it’s feet before he registers what’s reality and the thin mists of his dream still receding into the edges of his vision. But he finds the sink just fine, spitting what little blood he doesn’t reflexively swallow and running the tap, ricing his mouth out quickly as he rolls his jaw and lets it pop and crack. These dreams are getting out of hand and he feels sorry for the marshal. But this time, the eyes… no, it’s nothing.

His attention goes to the candy bar as Ferg waves it around, looking him up and down.

“Compound 1080 is a naturally occurring chemical in plants in Australia. But to vermin in North America, it’s a single dose poison. Get my mother on the horn and order a bad of pellets, put a few of them on the wooden border of your garden. They’re too colorful for birds to mess with them, and the rabbit will drop in 30 seconds. Make sure you clean the bodies up,” he recites, as if he’s said it a million times before. “If you don’t want them dead, head to the bait shop and get a bottle of coyote piss. Few drops will keep the rabbits away.”

He holds his hand out, waiting to see if Ferg is satisfied.

GM: “Well that’s… that sounds like a winner and then some, Brook. Coyote piss and 1080, you said? All the way from Down Under? Damn rabbits are massacring my toad lilies and making a mess of my snakeroot and bellflowers. Storm I can handle. It happens.”

He extends the massive candy bar to the teen. “Go on, you earned it.”

“I like your radio station, by the way,” he says, pulling up a chair. Sunglasses tipped up on his head, he rubs the bridge of his nose.

Brook: Brook nods and thanks the man as he takes the candy bar, placing it next to him as she sits on the bed to talk with the man, smoothing his hands over overcompensated muscles in his legs. “Well thanks, Mr. Ferg, I’m happy you’re a fan. The radio station helps me out a lot, too, I’m glad that other people enjoy it. I’d likely be up there tonight if not for this obstruction business, but well…things happen, I guess.”

GM: Ferg plants his callused hands on his knees, which are thankfully still clothed. “Yep, things do happen.” He frowns, then chuckles like an old beater chugging up a steep road. “It’s pretty funny if you think about. The sheriff had me buy that candy bar to give to the head marshal. Word is he’s got a real sweet tooth. But it just didn’t seem right.”

He raps his knuckles on a bar. “Not just him locking up a boy, but also, if we’re being frank, the marshal could stand to lose a pound or fifty. Giving him a king-sized just seemed cruel, like giving a full bottle to a drunk.”

“I feel bad though, for not doing as Sheriff Bauman asked,” he adds, more to himself than Brook.

Brook: Brook listens, and looks back at the candy bar for a moment. There’s a mix of respect and distaste for the marshal in his gut. On one hand he’s a fat prick who walked onto the scene and angered people as he stomped through their town looking for a man, fell for planted evidence, and shot at him and Nelson instead of risking his own hide. On the other, he was willing to give himself up to save Nelson, was gentle with his arrest, and worked to save Moe despite WHAT he is.

Ultimately, the young man grabs the candy bar and leans forward, offering it back to Ferg. “I’ll trade you back for it. I could use a pencil, a sharpener, and a pad of paper to pass the night tonight. If you listen to the radio show, you know my body doesn’t sleep at night.”

GM: Ferg eyes the tall teen for a moment before waving a hand. “Nah, you keep it. You earned it after all. Besides, I’m too old for that junk, unlike you. Why I bet you could eat a whole gallon of Britter’s ice cream and the cow who made it and not need another loop of your belt.” He stands. “Now as for the paper and stuff, I’m inclined to say yes. You mind telling me what’s it for?”

Brook: “The cow who made it sounds good about now,” he admits, chuckling and putting the bar off to the side. He’ll give it to Hudson later, then. “I draw. A lot. If I had my things, I’d show you my sketches. I did the composite of the clue that lead me to find Moe, even.”

GM: Ferg smiles. “Full of tricks, aren’t you?” He pats his own stomach, which is markedly flat, and stands. “All right, how about I get you your art stuff. I think Harvey might still have some of Hazel’s crayons in his desk. And then, I’ll swing by the Swiner and pick us up some stuff that will give us a heart attack rather than root canal?”

Brook: Brook feels a little pang in the back of his chest. He’s weak to kindness from people in general after such an austere upbringing, but after everything this week Fergs kindness hits a tender place. He digs his nails into the palm of his hand and nods slowly, feeling lucky.

“That sounds great, Ferg. Thank you. Really,” he says, that last word a bit weaker than the boy usually speaks. His teen pride demands a change of subject, something to harden the feeling in his chest. “Speaking of the Bauman family… Undersheriff Bauman was at the hospital before we were, didn’t look like himself. You know if he’s okay?”

GM: Ferg chews on the question for some time, but seems similarly tender to the local boy’s innocent question. He shakes his head. “No, sad to say it, but he’s not okay. Not okay at all.”

Brook: Brook looks worried now. Undersheriff Bauman just the other day stuck his neck out for the young man, and now something is wrong. Sitting up straighter on the bed, he looks Ferg up and down before she speaks. “Can you—I mean, is it okay to tell me? Is it something about Moe?”

GM: Ferg looks confused for a moment. “Moe? Is that like slang for something?”

Brook: “Moses? I don’t remember his last name. It was the murderer I found last night.”

GM: “Murderer?” Ferg’s bushy eyebrows raise. “I heard he was an escapee from a state psychiatric hospital.” He frowns. “But no, he has nothing to do with Sheriff Bauman’s woes, least I don’t think so.”

Brook: There’s a bit of release in his chest as the young man learns he wasn’t just late to an event he isn’t privy too. But that still leaves a question. “So what happened? I’ve never seen Undersheriff Bauman like that before.”

GM: “Listen, Brook,” Ferg says with a slight shake of his bearded head, “You’ve got enough on your plate, and it really isn’t my place to be sharing the sheriff’s private business.”

Brook: “Yeah. Okay, you’re right. Hazel helped me with a paper the other day, and Undersheriff Bauman always vouches for me. I’ll give them their privacy.” Standing and stretching tall, he shakes out his limbs and sighs, trying to stop thinking about how bad a week it’s been. “Thanks for looking out for me though, Ferg.”

GM: Brook notes that Ferg’s face slips into a momentary frown at the mention of the undersheriff’s daughter. But the sadness vanishes as he nods at the teen’s expression of gratitude. “Don’t mention. I’ve been on the other side of these very same bars more times than I can count. Somebody else was kind to me back then, when they didn’t need to, and I’ve never forgotten. That’s the way kindness is. It costs almost nothing to give, but at times, it can be priceless to get.”

He smiles. “Or, something like that, according to my last fortune cookie at the Cat’s Meow.” He stretches. “Let me rummage up some art stuff, and then I’ll rummage up some dinner for us.” He starts to walk off, then halts and asks, “Say, does that 1080 stuff smell? Like does it have an odor?”

Brook: Brook smiles at the man’s words. He tries to be kind to people, this kind of person always reinforces why. He eases himself back on the bed, stretching out his legs and sighing. It’s ironic, he’s had to be thrown in jail to have a restful day.

“Odorless, tasteless, quick acting, soil safe, they even deflect bugs away from your garden while they sit nearby. My mother only uses the best. I’ll ask her to order some special for you, Ferg. The only downside is the 30 seconds the rabbit lives is kind of disturbing.”

GM: The mention of violent rabbit-poisoning causes the old man no pause. “Sounds too good to be true, if I must speak truly. Bet it costs a lot?”

Brook: “Nah. It’s naturally occurring, and the rangers get a government discount for invasive species control. Thank you, though. I’ll draw your portrait if you want, if I can just get a pencil and paper.”

GM: “Huh,” Ferg replies, generally surprised at Brook’s reply about the compound. “That’s… that’s good to hear.” To the teen’s reply of being the subject of a portrait, the old man chuckles and shakes his head. “I do enough looking at my leathery face every morning as I shave. It’s a nice offer, kid, but I’d suggest picking another study.” He crooks a finger. “But without further delay, let me look for some art supplies.”

Brook: Brook eases his back against the prison cell wall, thinking back to his training on the matter of using poisons to hunt. It’s not something he enjoys, and he likes to think his mother agrees, recalling her taking him out with small caliber rifles and handguns, and giving him a rabbit quota. Though now-a-days, any weapon he hefts would cut a rabbit clean in half and make it impossible to find the other half.

But he smiles and shakes his head as Ferg turns him down as a portrait study, sure he’ll make a great one, but not pushing the issue. There’s more to draw, a whole night of using pigment to realize the dreams he’s been going through, sketches to remember faces, to look to the future, and steal souls so they don’t leave him so easily.

“Thanks again, Ferg. I appreciate it.”

GM: Ferg simply nods, then departs. Brook hears the stairs creak, then quiet as the dispatcher climbs the stairs.

Lacking any windows, Brook’s cell provides no clue as to the time of day or night. In trying to get some sense of bearing, though, his eyes alight for the first time on the first of the two picture frames. Its glass has been removed, but the cheap, Shop-Plus frame still holds the photo-copied image of kitten holding onto a branch. Its caption, however, isn’t the expected ‘Hang in there’.

oh_shit.jpg

Brook: Brook sits in his cage, resting the candy bar on the shelf across from him and resting his broad tired back against the wall as his eyes scan through his confinement. It’s small, almost as if the room shrinks when he stretches his legs out, and it closes in even more when he becomes conscious of that fact. The small decorations help somewhat, the cat especially making the teen boy break into a small grin. But still, he sits there alone with himself, thinking back to distant memories. ‘Freedom’ comes back into his mind.

y o u w a n t t o b e f r e e

That night comes back into his mind again. That man, that vision, all that blood, and the frustration of having no idea what that Mooner was saying half the time. The bars on his cell start to annoy him, the boy looking away from them and at the wall, feeling an ache in his hip bones to go outside and take a walk. Not so much possibility of that here. Instead, he stretches tall and shakes everything out again, before crossing his legs and closing his eyes. Distraction is coming, and tomorrow he might even be free.

Just tonight. Just have to get through tonight.

GM: The creak of stairs foreshadows Ferg’s return. “Yep, I think this should hold you over, at least till I come back with dinner.” He begins to pass items one by one through the bars. “Steno pad, mechanical pencil, one of those pink erasers, and some crayons.”

As he passes the last bundle, which consists of a red, lilac, and brown trio of jumbo crayons, he adds, “Supply was a little short. Hazel used to love chewing them more than using them, so much so that I wondered if she pooped rainbows.”

Upstairs, the phone rings, causing Ferg to apologize and rush upstairs.

Brook: Brook almost feels his cage snap like a rubber band back to it’s actual size as Ferg returns to his sight, sitting up and leaning over to grab the supplies that he brought the young man. “That’s cute! Seems she was a quirky kid,” he offers, smiling at the man as he puts the crayons off to the side, returning his legs crossed as he checks the mechanical pencil for how much lead it has.

Before he can say anything else, the older man rushes off to grab real life calling, his eyes sinking down on the page. More memories. Being a little scrapper sitting in a quiet room painted and decorated to sooth children, a fat woman with too much makeup and jewelry asking him to draw, to make sounds instead of talk, to grasp the patterns between notes and strums. After years of that, he attached to them like a babe to the teat, and even now he comes back for more comfort.

He starts where his bones tell him is the beginning, the outhouse. The scene is rather simple, Brook and Nelson squatting behind the jeep. The windows are dark, but there’s a figure. Not obvious, but there. It stares down at them in the boys hard edged style, sloped forehead and wild hair, the composition he aims for is simple as well, two people becoming faintly aware of each other.

His hand continues along smoothing lines to create negative space in broken windows, messy expressions of willed adrenaline, the slight piercing shine of white space where his hand refuses to fill in the eye of a madman, leaving it a lighthouse in the dark, and signaling his sight down at the boys below. The stroke of a line in the boy’s self-portrait sparks recognition.

Ed Campbell, an artist who drew From Hell, who made ugly pudgy faces too round for the high cheek bones and drew lips that made a younger Brook squirm. Who stole the shadows from Mike Mignola before his rise to fame, and botches them with ugly crosshatch that make beautiful patterns in the sky otherwise. The line reminds the young man of Alan Moore, who made Campbell draw what he did, who whispered in the man’s ear and made his pencil slide across a page into ugly forms to tell an ugly story. But the line feels appropriate. Moore, after all, is a madman much like the one in the window here. The story tells of what many already have, London’s most famous serial murderer. But through his missions for the crown, through his work for the Masonic temple, for all his murders and assassinations the cutting of meat brings him closer to the truth of God in his own twisted mind.

Brook wonders if that’s how Moses sees things as he turns the page of the steno pad and starting again. Comic books on the mind, decides each page is now a panel of his story, pencil flying across paper as the vision of the tall young man sitting in the tower, watching the rain, and the cracks of lightning. The viewer is behind him looking at his broad back as he watches the storm. The weapon is by his side, and they can see his hand still holding a pencil on the table. But not in his expression, as his lines slowly start to connect into a complete picture. But his mind doesn’t leave Moore.

Moore worships strangely, but privately, never a man to shove his haphazard and insane beliefs on others. Follower of Aleister Crowley and his idea of True Will, of tarots and that kebal-whatever word that the young man always forgets the name of. No, what stuck with the youth is the writers words on his patron deity, the Roman snake god, Glycon and his beliefs on this deity. That they are fake. A hoax, as the ancient cults detractors claimed. That despite this, in the main character of From Hell‘s own words, ’The one place gods inarguable exist is in our minds, where they are real beyond refute, in all their grandeur and monstrosity’.

Brook smooths his thumb and finger over his eyes and turns the page, the next is simple. Negative space, a slight smudge, jagged lines, and a flash of light is born, the top half of a body with long black hair hitting the ground. But he rushes it, and pauses, staring at the opposite wall as gears turn and creak, and the boy finds himself firmly knee deep in his own brainpan.

GM: The boy’s more primal, animal instincts, however, remain keen–keen enough to register Ferg’s farewell shout-out to “hold the fort down” as Brook is deep into his art.

And keen enough, several minutes later, to hear the station’s front door unlocking to allow not one, but two sets of feet trudge into the booking hall. Keen enough to not only hear but clearly discern the voices and identities of the individuals upstairs.

“I feel bad for the guy,” the first voice says, setting something heavy down on the booking desk. Nursed on Red Aspen’s radio teat, Brook recognizes the male voice as that of Chip Hensler, a young deputy in the Sheriff’s Department that is usually stationed elsewhere in Bonner County.

“You feel bad for the guy!?” snaps a female voice that Book instantly knows belongs to Tina Lowder, Chip’s fellow deputy and niece of the county sheriff. “Jack-in-box Jesus, you say that like he caught the flu or missed his flight!”

Brook can all but see the male police officer raise his hands. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, I just, I don’t know–”

“That’s right, Chip, you don’t know. We don’t know.”

There’s a pause, then Chip breaks in, “Come on, Tina, just look at the evidence. There’s a fetching hand. A severed hand. And let’s not forget the foot. Sitting right on her bed and kitchen table–well, not her table, the Sweeney’s table.”

Tina tries to interrupt, but Chip continues, “And the pictures? Forget them, Tina, because she’s confessed! She’s already confessed she killed them, both of them.”

“But she’s… out of her mind,” Tina protests, increasingly weakly Brook notes.

“Exactly!” Chip agrees. “She’s a raving psycho!”

“All the evidence solidly points to her being a murdering psychopath, Tina,” he continues. “That is what we know. If this was any other town, any other family-”

“But…” Tina gropes for a retort. “Maybe…. maybe she found the bodies, and it maybe her snap. She’s… never, she’s never been all that… stable from what I’ve heard. Twitchy. Panic attacks. Yeah… she must have found the bodies and then gotten spooked, and then Harvey said she fell down the stairs… probably affected her memory, like a concussion or something…”

“Tina,” comes Chip’s voice a bit more softly. “I know you care… about Harvey.”

“He’s my boss,” Tina replies back. Too quickly.

“No,” Chip says firmly. “Your uncle is your boss. Despite what these people think, your uncle, not Harvey, is the sheriff. And our duty–,” he continues, “–is to the law. Think of the Sweeneys. Both of them are missing at best–and missing… pieces. At best. Worst… they’re resting in pieces.”

“That’s not funny, Chip,” Tina says, choking down a tear.

“Yeah,” he replies in a voice that Brook can see plastered with a goofy smile. “But at least I got you to stop crying.”

“I wasn’t crying, Chip!”

“Just you and me, Tina. No one has to know.”

“What the hell does that mean?!” Tina shouts.

Brook: Brook stays stock-still during the exchange, his jaw hanging wide open and as he breathes evenly. It’s a soundless way to breathe, and he takes in every bit of information as he closes his eyes and opens his ears. It’s a lot to take in, a lot of conclusions, and a lot of suspicions confirmed and warped around. It’s not a good day.

But as Tina shouts, his jaw snaps closed, and a deep breath comes through his nose as he puts his two ring fingers up onto his lips. The whistle that leaves his lips could shatter wine glasses.

GM: “I mean, Tina, that I know this is hard for you–” Chip starts to say but grows dead silent as the whistle echoes up from Brook’s cement cell.

“I thought you said the lock-up was empty?!” Chip answers, but Tina is already heading down the stairs, the sharp-eared teen hearing her clear her holster.

“Who’s down there?” she shouts.

Brook: “Brook Barnes! Marshal stuck me in here!” he calls back, leaning back against the wall. “Afternoon, Deputy Lowder!”

GM: “Aw, shit, I forgot,” the pretty, dark-haired woman says, lowering and holstering her gun with an apology.

Brook: “No need to apologize, Deputy. Not the worst I’ve had done today.”

GM: Chip is a step behind her. “Wait, the radio jockey?” He looks over Brook. Although the deputy and junior ranger had bandied words over the air waves, this is the first time they’ve been face to face.

Brook: Brook can’t help but glare at Chip. “Junior ranger. And the ranger who tracked down Moses, and got someone home alive tonight. Thank you.”

GM: Brook’s comment seems to slide off the deputies’ faces which are still slap-shocked by the presence of someone having been in the station with them. They look to each other, then back at Brook. It’s Deputy Lowder that asks the question, though.

“Brook… how, did you happen to hear anything, like anything about what Deputy Hensler and I were discussing… upstairs?” To her credit, she doesn’t flinch or blink, but looks at Brook’s face intently for his answer.

Brook: Brook slowly crosses a leg, nodding to Deputy Lowder. “I heard everything.”

GM: “So not good, Tina!” Chip says, turning half away, not in embarrassment but in concern. “You didn’t tell me there was a kid in the station!”

She turns around, heat rising in her face. “Ferg told me, but I forgot, okay! Everything’s…. just I forgot!”

Brook: “Hey Chip, you listen to my show, right?”

GM: Brook’s words once again remind them in a painfully immediate way that they are not alone.
The male deputy nods and walks down the remaining stairs. “Yeah, any time I pull the grave-night.” He shrugs. “Not much else too,” then adds, “That’s not meant as an offense.”

Brook: “Then you should know I’ve got a good set of ears. It’s Hazel, right? What happened to her? I just saw her. I spent the whole school day with her, from first to last bell.”

GM: Chip pulls up a chair and offers it to Tina. “We need to level with him. He already heard the worst of it.”

“No,” Tina says, shaking her heard. “We have to keep this under wraps. If the town finds out–”

“The town is going to find out, Tina, like it or not. This is happening.” He turns back to the teen in the cell. “Why are you locked up, Brook? Just, you know, out of curiosity,” he adds as if their entire conversation has been entirely normal.

Tina stares up at the cement ceiling for a while, moans bitterly, but sits.

Brook: Brook looks between the two, but his eyes rest on Deputy Lowder for a moment. “Is that okay to talk about, considering who put me in here?” Even as his says this however, he hands Tina the steno pad. His comic of the events, panel by page covering panel. “They’re rushed and shitty, mind. But you can flip through them. I didn’t get to how it ended yet.”

GM: Brow peaked, Chip sweeps back his perfectly combed and coiffed brown hair as he looks over Tina’s shoulder as the woman flips through them. “You’re really good, Brook. Like really good.” The sincere complement comes, perhaps surprisingly, from Chip.

Tina’s brow folds. “You did all this?”

“You could be one heck of a courtroom sketch artist,” Chip says, admiring the speed and emotion of the artwork. “But I, I, how did this,” he says, pointing to the comic, “land you in here?”

Brook: “Obstructing. I forced Marhsal Hudson to make some bad choices. I forgot about my truck radio, it’d work even if the tower was down. He followed my dirtbike tracks. Thankfully I’m heavy enough to leave good tracks. The ending as well, he was talking Moses down. And I took the chance to grab his good arm and the knife. They opened fire and now Moses has no arms.”

GM: Looking over the sketch’s story, Chip comments, “That’s a hanky call.” He clarifies, “About you being put in the tank.”

Brook: “They’re taking me somewhere tomorrow. To a judge to get an arrest warrant,” he expands, resting his head back on the wall. “Or wait… I guess today.”

GM: “Hmm, unlikely to be before Monday, unless they rustle up a judge off a golf course or church pier.”

“He’s a marshal,” Tina says in disagreement. “He’s got the weight.”

“No pun intended, right?” Chip wisecracks.

Tina begrudgingly smiles.

Chip lays a hand on Tina’s shoulder. “So do you want to tell him or let me do it?”

Brook: “I want Deputy Lowder to be the one to tell me,” Brook announces, looking at Tina.

GM: Chip pats Tina’s shoulder again, gently. “I’ll go put the stuff away and lock the door. Wouldn’t do to have another… unintended audience.”

The female deputy nods, gratefully, takes a deep breath, then turns back to the teen in the cell. “Brook, you need to understand that what I’m telling you–I shouldn’t. You shouldn’t have overheard our conversation. We thought it was private, just between law officers.”

Brook: Brook looks past her as Chip leaves, nodding. “We should talk about him, later too. But yeah, I get it. Nothing said here leaves this cell.”

GM: Tina’s clearly thrown off by Brook’s reference to Chip. “Deputy Hensler? What about him?”

Brook: Brook leans forward slightly, head cocked and shoulders up an expression that screams ‘What!?’. “I heard ‘everything’. You know it’s bad when a sophomore cringes at how bad a jealous guy flirts,” he says, motioning her to move on. “Hazel though. That’s more important.”

GM: “What, Chip?” Tina says, her expression a bit of shock and a flash of rising anger. “Deputy Hensler is a good guy, Brook. It’s not even his fault, it’s mine. I was the one who called him and–”
She shakes her head. “Never mind about Deputy Hensler, and it isn’t any-” She pauses. “Maybe the marshal is right. You need to-” She pauses again, takes a deep breath, and sighs. “But as you said, let’s talk about what is more important.”

“What I am about to tell you could get me fired, or suspended at the least. But I am doing it because I care about this town, I care about… its people. And if you go telling people what you overhead, what you shouldn’t have heard, than it will be the town and its people that will suffer far more than me and my badge.”

“Just so we’re clear,” she says, giving Brook a serious look that is fitting of a woman whose uniform includes a gun.

“Okay, Hazel Bauman is at Mount Pelion General Hospital. She is being treated for injuries she sustained while falling down the stairs at the Sweeney’s place. When police responded, they rushed her to the hospital. She’s stable.”“Physically,” Tina adds with an expression akin to someone trying to swallow glass.

“Police later searched the house. Given Hazel’s… state, we suspected that maybe she was attacked or spooked by something that caused her to run, trip, and fall down the stairs as she did.” She makes another glass-swallowing wince. “Police found no sign of an intruder, but… but we found body parts. As you heard, a boot with a foot inside of it, and a glove with a hand inside of it.”

\We have reason to believe the hand and foot respectively belonged to Albert and Elouise Sweeney. We have scoured the house, but there’s no sign of them." She then clarifies grimly, “The rest of their bodies.”

She rubs her hand. “We questioned Hazel about it, hoping… well, it doesn’t matter. We questioned her when she came to, and she confessed to killing them. But she was hysterical, is still as far as I know.”

Brook: Brook slowly crosses his legs as he listens to the entire explanation, a frown creasing more and more on his young face as he considers what the woman is talking about. There’s so many questions, he starts to compile them in the back of his head as they rise up, scraping his nails along the scruff of his pubescent face, scanning Deputy Lowder’s before he speaks.

“Hazel is… weird, but not that weird. She got real close yesterday and didn’t reek of blood or chemicals, her hands were fine, and how do you expect a girl that size to have body pieces like that just around the house? You know how hard it is to—Moses has been on the loose, he could have-”

There’s a moment of recognition on his face, and he thinks back to Rockwell’s Fall, to Bad Medicine and a certain denizen.

“Where is she now? Is she under arrest in the hospital, or committed to a ward?”

GM: Tina shakes her head. “We’ll ship the evidence to the county coroner to confirm, but the hand and foot, their decomposition suggest that whatever happened to the Sweeneys, happened weeks ago. As for Ms. Bauman, she’s at the hospital.”

She stops once again to look at the stairs. “You tell him?” Chip asks as he emerges from the staircase.

“Yes,” she replies, wearily.

“All right then,” he nods. “Consider it practice for calling your uncle.”

“My uncle?”

“Come on, Tina, you know you have to call him. You can’t wait for Harvey to do it.”

“He’s the undersheriff,” Tina protests.

“He’s the stepfather of our only suspect, a woman who’s confessed to murdering two people in cold blood.”

Tina opens her mouth as if to protest or counter Chip’s logic, but she comes up empty. She closes her eyes and rises.

Brook: Brook watches them, and shoots Chip another ‘shut up’ look at this goes on. The deputy is really getting on his nerves. “So you don’t know who the parts belong to yet? Have you even questioned Hazel, because I’m hearing she hasn’t left the hospital,” he points out.

“As for Undersheriff Bauman, you should let him make that call. Despite any personal feelings between you, he’s a man worth respect enough for that, don’t you think? Hazel is not… she isn’t a nutcase. Take it from a Madcatcher.”

More visions of that liquid monstrosity sliding down the cliff face, the thought crosses his mind. What if I rubbed my scent off on Hazel?

“Deputy Hensler, can I speak to you privately? Please?”

GM: “He’s right about the foot, Chip. We don’t know for sure that its Elouise’s. Maybe… maybe she killed him, faked her death, Hazel found the body parts, and then… freaked. She’s touched. It wouldn’t have taken much to push her over.”

“What?” the male deputy says, agog. “You can’t be serious, Tina. The hand was wearing Mr. Sweeney’s wedding ring. Hazel confessed. You were in the room. We’ve both listened to the recording. You’re grasping at straws.”

Brook: Brook quickly puts a hand up.

“Stop.”

GM: He then turns to Brook. “And you’re feeding them to her, and now want to talk to me. Privately. What the fetching heck is wrong with this place?”

Brook: “Wedding ring? Have you found the wife’s?”

GM: “No, we’ve been searching all day long, tearing apart the house,” Tina replies. “Why do you ask?”

Chip throws up his hands. “I give up. Is it something in water?”

Brook: Brook ignores Chip as he stands up and walks to the cell bars. “Few days ago, I was sent to clear roadkill out of Rockwell’s Fall. Timber wolf with a gun wound, and its guts all over the road. I found a wedding ring and a chunk of finger in its stomach, it’s still at the tower, and I even filled out the paperwork. If that ring is the ring you’re looking for, there’s no way Hazel would have been the killer. How would she get two bodies into Rockwell’s Fall by herself? That’s a tough job even for me.”

GM: The two deputies regard each other, then turn back to Brook. “Where’s the ring?” Tina and Chip ask nearly in unison.

Brook: “It’s in the freezer at the ranger station. Paperwork is filled for processing in the desk drawer, in the folder marked ‘Bad Medicine—01’.”

GM: Both cops rise and head for the stairs. “Thank you,” Tina says in parting. They all but run up the stairs.

Brook: Brook watches them go. “H-hey, wait, my steno pad!”

GM: For all the boy’s attempt to help, his own cry is answered by the slam of the station’s door. His steno pad sits out of reach. Behind Brook, the kitten poster sums up the strange turn of events.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


Date [REDACTED]

GM: Hazel stares into the west-rising eye of dawn. It winks, and she finds herself inside the chamber. It is the third porridge, neither too vast nor too minuscule, neither too dark nor too bright. It is neither too right nor too wrong. It is a mixture of all these things, yet none of them. A meeting place. A road crossed or cross of roads. It is the chamber.

Four chairs reside in the chamber. They reside. They deign neither to sit nor stand. They are neither on the ceiling nor on the walls. The chamber has neither ceiling nor walls.

There is a portal that is neither a door nor a window, neither many nor one. It is neither closed nor open, allowing neither ingress nor egress. But it is in the chamber. It is a looking glass, of things within and without.

Four pictures are in the chamber. They neither hang upon the wall nor rest upon the floor for there is neither floor nor walls. But within the chamber, they are. Four in number.

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Hazel: Theorem 17. The transition from outer to inner mysteries? Possibly. It is here that Dee wrote the transformation of shape took place, between three-dimensional and four-dimensional geometry, between simple Hebrew and true Enochian.

She approaches the looking-glass. Does she walk further, or does it draw closer—or was it always there? Is there even a difference?

GM: “It makes a difference,” responds the black cat that creeps through the gap in the looking glass. It lazily regards Hazel, its twin-black pupils the hue of sleeping computer monitors.

Hazel: “You are correct. There is power in words and definitions,” she replies to the cat. “Even if the concept is mutable, definition and structure must exist in the language itself.”

GM: The cat rubs itself against Hazel’s leg, yearningly.

Hazel: She smiles and bends down to stroke its fur. She’s always liked cats. It was such a shame she could never have one in Witiko Falls.

GM: The creature begins to purr in satisfaction, though Hazel notes its sound is more akin to a computer booting up.

Hazel: “Would you feel undignified if I spoke to you with traditional cat speech?” she inquires, wanting to be polite. But the familiar boot-up sound draws her gaze to its eyes.

GM: The cat’s black pupils grow wide, filling its eyes. Lights flicker on in colors without names. But the colors make up words whose names she knows.

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Hazel: A frown creases her features. “Within the waking world, yes. Within my mind… no. Am I dreaming?”

GM: The cat continues to purr and curl its lazily spiraling tail around Hazel’s leg. “You are dreaming. You are not dreaming,” it responds. “But you must choose.” It glances to the four chairs.

Hazel: Hazel obliges it and moves to scratch the bottom of its chin and behind its ears. She knows all the spots they like. “I had presumed so. Those statements may not coexist.”

GM: None of the chairs are whole, but one in particular looks dismantled, weathered, and rotting. Another appears inchoate, still peppered with sawdust from incomplete manufacture. Another sits completely still, while the fourth wanders in the chamber. “You may sit for a spell,” replies the cat, purring in loud, computer-esque bliss.

Hazel: “Is this gap in the door a pathway to the waking world? Or further into the dreaming?” she inquires, eying the chairs.

GM: “Depends on the door. But first the chair, then the door.”

Hazel: “Very well. You may sit on my lap if you wish,” she replies, moving to pick up the cat if it doesn’t object. She considers the chairs for a moment. There is a choice here. As in all things.

GM: The cat contentedly or at least lazily obliges. As Hazel’s hands sink into the space-black fur, her fingers touch a previously hidden collar of gold. A name-tag bears a minute inscription. On the facing side, it reads: If you have heard anything concerning the nuptials of the King, consider these words. By us the Bridegroom offers you a choice between four ways, all of which, if you do not sink down in the way, can bring you to his royal court.

Flipping it over, the obverse bears another inscription: Choose now which one you will of the four, and persevere constantly therein, for know whichever you will enter, that is the one destined for you by immutable Fate, nor can you go back in it save at great peril to life. These are the things which we would have you know. But, ho, beware! you know not with how much danger you commit yourself to this way, for if you know yourself to be obnoxious by the smallest fault to the laws of our King, I beseech you, while it is still possible, to return swiftly to your house by the way you came.

Noticing Hazel’s reading, the cat replies, “It was miswritten. You can’t trust anything written on a collar. Least of all a cat’s.”

Hazel: Hazel offers the cat a sad little smile. “I think I’m in a lot of trouble already.” It gives way to a look of resolve. “Perhaps not, but I know the message to be true. No power without price.”

GM: The feline closes its eyes, silent save for the electric vibration of its purr. The chamber, with its pictures and chairs, awaits.

Hazel: “And perhaps I shall invite more trouble upon myself. I realize and accept that price.” Hazel moves to sit upon the stationary, intact, hale, chair. Her choice is only logical. It is the most stable and dependable of all the furniture upon which she may sit. It’s a moment before she realizes that she’s holding her breath as she does.

GM: As Hazel does so, one of the four pictures springs to life. The cat’s purr changes like a movie theater projection queing up, and she feels a black heat from the feline’s belly.

Hazel: She continues to stroke its fur, patiently awaiting whatever is to come.

GM: From her vantage upon the still chair, the picture frame seems to transform in Hazel’s mind into a window, which allows her to see beyond the chamber. Through that window, she sees a laundromat. She doesn’t so much as peer inside, as pour.

Hazel: Welcome to the second half of your story, Alice…

GM: The first thing she senses is the overwhelming familiarity of the place. It’s a sensation she’s experienced every time she’s stepped into a laundromat: a sense of sameness that transcends time and space.

Hazel: It’s definitely a place that feels the same anywhere. But truthfully, she hasn’t been inside a laundromat many times. Living with her parents, they had their own laundry machines. In Spokane she used her grandparents’. Cheaper and fewer strangers to interact with. Back home now, she’s still brought over loads of laundry to do at her parents’.

GM: Nonetheless, she recalls how as a young child, the washing machine broke once while living at Lacewood. Harvey took her to Witiko Falls’ local laundromat. She recalls because it was late at night, and while the rest of the town was asleep, the laundromat was… not. It wasn’t alive, either, but it wasn’t asleep. Fluorescent lights filled the laundromat with a unique gray-ish light that was neither cold nor hot. It just was.

Hazel: The late hour at least meant few strangers. That was one thing she recalled, especially as a young child.

GM: And then there were the rows and rows of identical machines. All perfectly lined up. There was the sound of the place. As her father had quipped, “It’s reliable: you can always count on it to be almost empty, but only ‘almost’.” True to his words, there were a few quiet souls there, listlessly dropping in coins, wordlessly switching loads from a washer to the drying machine. One or two who just seemed there.

Hazel: “I don’t want to go through other peoples’ clothes,” her young self had replied.

GM: She didn’t have to. No one spoke with her. Everyone kept to themselves. Their own clothes, their own business.

Hazel: Still. The thought was there, in the back of her mind, agitating her like an itch. “Daddy, can’t we just get our machine fixed?”

GM: “We won’t be here long, kiddo,” he had replied, before he too settled into one of the many empty, rows of chairs. The place was still, or very nearly so. There was movement and sound after all. The rhythmic sound of the laundry machines filled the place. The old TV in the corner, its speakers neither loud nor quiet. It was a static-kind of quiet. Predictable. Inescapable.

Hazel: I don’t see why I had to come, she’d mentally grumbled, but she was here and her dad wouldn’t make a separate trip to take her back. So she settled in and did the only thing she logically could: wait.

GM: It was an empty, breathless kind of waiting, but at least it was a particular kind of waiting without any surprises. Yet, she was surprised years later, when her parents had just moved into the Sisyphus House. Her mother took her back to the laundromat. Her mother had ordered all-new appliances for the house, but the out-of-town delivery truck was late by several days. Harvey had suggested they simply go back to Lacewood to do their laundry until the new machines arrived. Lydia, however, was adamant that their move would be a move forward. So she had hauled her daughter and their week’s worth of laundry to the local laundromat.

Hazel: Hazel had been a much more vocal complainer that time. “Moooom, we can use Gramps’ and Nana’s! It is less money! I don’t want to go! It is illogical!”

GM: Her mother had tried to console her that it was a new laundromat. That the old one had gone out of business, and a new one had opened a few streets down. That it would be different. But it wasn’t. It was exactly the same. Same rows, same rattle, same near-emptiness, same waiting, same chemicals, same smells, same gray light. Same static.

Hazel: “Why are we paying more money not to see Gramps and Nana! It is illogical!” the five-year-old had repeated with growing frustration.

GM: The few other patrons were different. But they weren’t really. Not truly. They wore the same expressions, the same fatigue and sisyphean, listless perseverance.

Hazel: “I don’t want to be here! I want to see Gramps and Nana!” she had continued to complain.

GM: The quarters they slowly slid into the machines probably had different mint dates. Probably. But it was the same pattern. Same clink. Same click. Same whir. Same clunk. Again and again. A spiraling cycle that had the paper-thin illusion of change. A pattern of permanence.

Hazel: She was five. She’d started to cry.

GM: It was the third time that cemented the pattern forever in her mind. The third time was during a trip home from college. She and her mother had locked horns again. Another all-too reliable pattern. Hazel had wanted someone to drive her the whole trip. Lydia wanted to promote independence, or at least de-incentivize the girl’s lack of interest in working and saving for a car.

Caught between that immovable object and unstoppable force, Harvey had ‘compromised’ by driving Hazel half-way, then dropping her off at a local bus stop, where she caught the connection that took her the rest of the way to Spokane. Despite leaving hours ahead of schedule, they still had missed her departure time. “The roads have a will of their own, pumpkin,” Harvey had said in casual apology.

But despite that apology, he had refused to drive Hazel the rest of the way–likely from the ear-splitting ream he received after using a payphone to call and inform Lydia. Deflated, Harvey nevertheless waited with Hazel until the next bus came.

Hazel: “Stand up to her, Daddy! You’re divorced, and driving me under these circumstances is not unreasonable!” Hazel had fumed.

GM: It was Hazel’s casual or at least unequivocal way of proclaiming he and her mother were divorced that seemed to be the last knife in his emotional tires. He did wait with her though until the next bus came.

Hazel: “If you don’t want to listen to her ranting, just hang up!” Hazel had continued to press.

GM: “Enough, Hazel,” he had said tiredly as he slumped over to the laundromat to settle in for the hours-long wait. “Some things, you just can’t change.”

Hazel: “Yes, that’s clearly true,” she had replied saltily.

GM: Whether she followed him in because she wanted to continue to argue or because eventually she got cold out in the open bus stop, she found herself inside her third laundromat, this time in Coer d’Alene. And despite the significant passage of time and space, the laundromat was the same. Around and around. Around and around. Around and around.

That sameness strikes her senses now. The predictable familiarity. The mass-produced, cheap chemicals. The rows of used washers and dryers. The occasional, listless slink of quarters and buzz of winding down machines mingling with the slurry of TV static and clunking whirring. The few figures are faceless. For most, that facelessness is figurative, an indifference in their eyes and posture that makes their features too boring or bland to attend to or remember. Yet, for one, the facelessness is all too literal.

He sits in one of the otherwise empty rows of chairs. His clothes are clean, but rumpled from a heavy day of toil and drudgery. His white dress shirt is wrinkled, half-unbuttoned here and there as if comfort was sought and then abandoned. His business tie is similarly loosened, yet still around his neck like a noose made of dark bland fabric printed with a subdued, generic geometric pattern. His slacks and shoes are unremarkable. He doesn’t so much sit as he slumps. He’s waiting. Of course. Indeed, he would be utterly unremarkable in a laundromat, save for his literal headlessness.

Or, as Hazel soon realizes, his lack of a head attached to his shoulders. For behind him, Hazel sees the figure’s face stuck inside a glass-windowed washing machine. The head tumbles around and around. Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

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“We’ve been waiting,” the figure’s voice says tiredly in a monotone voice barely audible above the cycle of laundromat machines. “But we knew you would come. It was predictable. The only logical choice.”

Hazel: Hazel sits down across from him. She’s not sure whether to look at his head or his body. “Yes. It was logical. The other chairs were either unfinished or inconvenient to sit upon.” Her eyes drift between his headless torso and the spinning washing machine.

GM: The bifurcated figure gives no offense at the uncertainty or vacillation of Hazel’s gaze. “Structure is necessary.” In the corner, a faceless, though not headless figure clicks through the TV. Every station is static.

Hazel: “We are in agreement, as evidenced by my presence. What is now to come?”

GM: The figure looks to the cat on Hazel’s lap–or at least seems like he’s looking at the cat. Eye contact is atypical when one’s eyes are inside a washing machine.

Hazel is far more sure of the cat’s gaze as it peers up at her. Its pupils remain glassy, vacuous fish-globe orbs. The ineffable lights therein shift and flicker into new shapes, transmitting a new missive.

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The cat’s voice, however, has its typical feline languidness as it speaks. “You may try all four chairs. Only one can be chosen.”

Hazel: “I believe my choice made, but to gather more data is to make a better-informed choice. I shall ‘try’ sitting upon further chairs.”

GM: “Choice is an illusion,” the laundromat figure replies.

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Hazel: She looks towards the cat.

GM: “We’ve been waiting. We will be waiting. We are predictable,” adds the face inside the washing machine.

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Hazel: “As am I,” Hazel replies blandly.

GM: “We are the same.”

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Before Hazel can reply, the cat suddenly bits her arm, drawing blood. Hazel is back within the chamber, no longer sitting. The cat licks its paws, unapologetically.

Hazel: She rubs her arm, stifling an instinctive glare at the cat. No data—knowledge—without price. She picks the feline back up and sits down on the decaying chair. Gingerly. It may not support her weight.

GM: The arcane process unravels, but its destination is far from the same. This time, Hazel finds herself in what initially seems like the backyard of Abby Sormurson.

While a student of Eugene Baker Elementary, Hazel had been tag-teamed by her mother, father, and teacher into doing a group science project. Her assigned partner was Abby Sormurson, best friend of Mackenzie Pinkston. It was fiasco doomed on all levels.

Hazel: It was a fiasco. And Hazel was determined to drag “that bitch’s” friend down with her.

GM: As summer approached, the literal and figurative heat intensified, with animosity and frustration felt by all sides, including her parents, Abby’s parents, both children, and their teacher. The latter threatened summer school if the girls didn’t jointly produce a final project. The assignment was to do some artistic display, such as a mobile or poster, on a prominent scientist.

Abby had wanted to do Thomas Edison. “We’ll draw a lightbulb and be done!”

Hazel: “I work better alone.” Teachers and parents alike heard that phrase countless times.

“Edison was essentially a plagiarist and nowhere near as brilliant as people thought. He got famous from his patents,” Hazel had crossly replied. “Nikola Tesla was the real genius. You’re an idiot if you think they’ll be happy with just a lightbulb. They want a poster. You’re also an idiot for thinking Edison is a praiseworthy scientist, so I suppose your behavior is at least consistent in its mental deficiency.”

GM: “Well, uh, you smell like nasty tuna fish pee!” One of them, after all, had the developmental level of an elementary student. Which of the two girls was more mature, however, was a point of contention, and as the summer approached that contention only grew.

Hazel: Tuna pee? Oh, you have no idea what you’ve just brought on.

Hazel felt the wrath boiling within her. She didn’t want to do a group project. She didn’t want to do it with Abby. They thought they could force her? Make her put up with this simpleton?

“This is a nonproductive use of my time. I have no desire to remain in these surroundings. I belong in them as much as dog feces belongs on a carpet. MRS. SORMURSSSOOOONNNNNN!!!!!!!!” the ten-year-old Hazel abruptly screamed at the top of her lungs, trying to get the mother’s attention.

GM: The attention of the one mother and then the other was surely gotten, and the exchanges between Mrs. Sormurson and then-Mrs. Bauman rivaled their daughters’, leading to the disintegration of a decade-long book club and a rather public spate featuring a well-thrown custard pie during the school’s end-of-the-year bake sale. It’s unlikely the armistice would have been reached by the more level-headed adults had not a psychotic moose killed a tourist hiker and tried to break into Mrs. Gunderson’s house.

Hazel: Hazel wasn’t sure as to the cause of their mothers’ enmity. She didn’t care. Another weapon in her arsenal was another weapon in her arsenal. Summer school gradually began to seem less and less undesirable.

GM: And then far less palatable, to both the children and their parents, when the principal Superintendent Atwood decreed the girls’ summer school would consist of multiple science projects together–unless they turned in a passable project by the last day of school.

Eventually, the adults decided to flip a coin, roll dice, or some similar measure to arbitrarily pick a science figure for the girls’ project. So it was that Abby and Hazel spent the last afternoon before school ended doing a visual display on Rudolf Clausius. A heat wave had slammed into Witiko Falls, which left the Bauman’s AC-less house an oven. Consequently, Hazel’s parents were forced to effectively kidnap, bribe, and blackmail their daughter to go over to Sormurson’s.

Hazel: “I can stay near a fan and read,” was her logical refutation (and protest) to this.

GM: Her parents–keen on dodging heat strokes, much less a prolonged hell of summer school–were less interested in logic. They simply wanted the project to end. By brute force, if need be.

Hazel: Hazel tried. She really did. She wanted to avoid summer school. Told herself that a summer of such science projects was infinitely worse than doing just this one.

But Abby didn’t pull her weight. Hazel swiftly found herself doing the lion’s share of the work—whether out of Abby’s own sloth, or Hazel’s exacting intellectual standards that (as she so relished pointing out) the other girl was incapable of living up to.

“You are as useless as the second ‘shift’ button on a keyboard. I advise that you drop out of high school to become a prostitute, given the vacuity of your mental faculties, poor work ethic, and even poorer choice in current whores as friends. It is an undesirable vocation, but it is no less than you deserve,” the ten-year-old had acidly remarked.

GM: The comment caused Abby to burst into tears, retreating to her mother to tattle on the “fat, smelly bully”. Mrs. Sormurson was swift to confront Hazel.

Hazel: The vindictive girl made no attempt to deny her remarks, but rather showed that she was far from done. Hazel turned to face the crying Abby, and calmly intoned, “You are a bleating dim-witted sheep brought into this world likely by accident—I am certain that sure your conception was the undesired result of a casual liaison upon a sweat-stained yard-sale couch—who will serve no purpose except to steal the oxygen that might fill the lungs of more worthwhile specimens of humanity such as myself. I have a name for such useless masses of barely-cognizant flesh such as you. Oxygen thieves. Summer school is preferable to further time spent in your company. I would sooner fellate a rhinoceros, whose engorged gray member would certainly be a more aesthetically pleasing sight to gaze upon than that tapioca-abortion-in-a-toilet called your face.” The ten-year-old autistic girl didn’t know much about sex, but she did know that bringing it up tended to shock people.

“I detest this science project, almost as much as I detest you personally. You are ill-mannered, ill-bred, overweight, unintelligent, and so many other ‘ills’, ‘overs’, and ‘uns’ that despite my advanced intelligence, I would require the aid of a dictionary to reference your personal shortcomings in their entirety. You are a waste, Abby Sormurson, not of not only of oxygen and humanity, but far more saliently, of my time. Good day. I am departing this foul abode for my parental domicile, by means of bipedal locomotion—your mother may not trouble herself driving me in her motor vehicle. She is welcome for my saving her gas. You are a useless sack of misspent and ill-conceived sperm that had the terrible misfortune to breach your mother’s egg and grow into a human being. If I could have replaced that sperm with gasoline at the moment of your conception, thereby preventing you from ever existing and punishing your mother for merely the possibility of your existence, I would have done so. Your existence actively degrades the worthwhileness of the human race. Furthermore, I consider that your soul must be destroyed.” Cato the Elder ended all of his speeches before the Roman senate with those words, if one were to replace ‘your soul’ with ‘Carthage’. Abby probably didn’t get the reference, but to Hazel it made perfect sense.

In a similarly archaic but perhaps far more obvious gesture of revulsion, Hazel then made the loudest, most vile facsimile of vomiting her vocal cords could produce—gross bodily functions are another way to engender disgust—and hacked a gigantic glob of spit onto the ground at Abby’s feet.

“Also, I did all the work on this project.” She then promptly turned to leave the house.

GM: Or tried to, as the beet-faced Mrs. Sormurson smacked Hazel across the face, then effectively tossed her outside into the fenced back yard like a mangy stray who had soiled an expensive rug.

Hazel: Hazel had shouted back the entire time, “Go ahead, physically manhandle me! That’s battery! My mother’s a lawyer, my father’s the county undersheriff, and we are significantly richer than you! Manhandle me! I dare you!”

GM: “You’re nothing but a spoiled brat!” the woman had yelled as she latched the door, then went on to call Hazel’s parents to demand they pick up their “hellspawn.”

Outside, the air was like a full-blast hair dryer. The grass was burnt-brittle. A small kettle grill sat off to the side, a ways off from some sun-splintering corn-hole boards and fraying beanbags. Otherwise, Hazel’s ‘pen’ was empty save her fellow ‘inmate’.

Kerne, a foreign exchange student who had been hosted by the Sormursons. Older and taller than Hazel, he had been dressed in dark jeans with rolled-up cuffs; black boots; and a long-sleeve, button-down dress-shirt. A field journal rested in his hands. A paper grocery bag lay at his feet.

“I am doing an… experiment,” the youth had said in an odd accent. He then tapped the bag with his boot. The bag jerked, violently. A low hiss and growl issued from inside the stapled grocery bag–a bag that Hazel had slowly realized was doused in lighter fluid. By that time, Kerne had already lit and dropped the match.

“Abby said you like cats.”

Now, Hazel can once again hear the raw, animalistic screaming. She smells the flames, the smoke, the stench of burning hair and flesh. The yard is as it was that blistering day, a field of burnt-brittle grass. The fence, however, feels thinner, as if it aged, weathering before her eyes. Behind that fence, the neighbor’s house slowly takes on the appearance of the pox, as its white aluminum siding begins to turn a rust-eaten red and brown. The yard is empty save for Kerne’s figure. He wears the same clothes, save for one addition. He wears the burning paper grocery bag over his head. The torrent of flames and smoke rise thick in the heat-choked air.

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DESTROY THEM,” the burning figure says in a voice that growls, hisses, and screams. “THEY ARE STEALING YOUR OXYGEN. THIEVES.”

The burning figure steps closer. The flames turn a lurid, greasy green that is too viscous and waxy for normal flames. “THEY ARE TRYING TO SUFFOCATE YOU. SUFFOCATE THE TRUTH.”

THEY ARE A WASTE,” the figure says, echoing Hazel’s words as it continues to speak in a voice of burning growls, hisses, and fiery torment. “USELESS. MISSPENT. ILL-CONCEIVED. WE SHOULD REPLACE THEM WITH GASOLINE. I CAN BE YOUR MATCH. THEIR EXISTENCE ACTIVELY DEGRADES THE WORTHWHILENESS OF THE HUMAN RACE.”

It raises its arms, as if to welcome Hazel in an embrace. The burning bag jerks and shudders desperately, frantically as it burns and burns and burns.

THEIR SOULS MUST BE DESTROYED.”

Hazel: Hazel couldn’t have fought the older boy. Even if he wasn’t bigger than her, she was always small and weak for her own age. She remembers staring at the flaming sack with simultaneous shock, horror, and loathing—then grabbing the backyard’s garden hose, spraying its life-saving waters over the burning feline, all while yelling about the “savage ways of barbarian foreigners!”

She’d have lost any resultant physical altercation. But so long as water was sprayed over the cat, his experiment was foiled. She screamed and hollered the most filthy insults she could imagine at Abby’s mother, calling her a “vacant-minded broodmare”, “two-penny whore pretending to be a mother, whose neanderthalic parenting style shall produce another whore”, and “couch-fornicating vindication of Salvor Hardin’s dialogue in Foundation! Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, you evolutionary throwback! Your underdeveloped cranium comprehends no language save force, so I have little doubt that your own conception—and your mongrel-blooded spawn’s—was the result of rape, you atavistic subhuman! You deserved to be raped, and I hope you die of an infectious disease!”

She even toyed with spraying Abby’s mom with the hose, but as tempting as that might have been, she confined herself to ‘mere’ insults. She tattled to her parents as soon as they picked her up, explaining everything. Abby did none of the project’s work, Hazel insulted her, Abby’s mom confronted her, Hazel spewed further insults, Abby’s mom physically hit her, and then… well, everything else, but hopefully including more hitting from Abby’s mom after she rose to that bait. Hazel relished photographing her bruised face and urging her cop father and lawyer mother to pursue all manner of civil and criminal avenues of legal attack. Hazel was very confident they could win without even going to court. ‘All’ she did was say nasty things. This might even have been the leverage they needed to strong-arm the superintendent.

Whether her parents sought redress from Mrs. Sormurson, or not, however, Hazel made very plain her next intentions—she would not work on this or any other science project with Abby. If she was forcibly partnered with the other girl, she would not only refuse to do the work, she would make it her personal mission to belittle Abby to the point of tears every single class. Her objective was no longer to avoid more schoolwork. It was to deny and defy Superintendent Atwood’s objective of making her interact with Abby Sormurson in any capacity, and to prove that her will could not be suborned in this matter.

Nearly fourteen years later, Hazel looks up at the shrieking, burning sack and the dark-garbed figure who is its architect. Her instinctive revulsion is still there. But her voice is level as she replies,

“When I was a child, and younger than I was at the time of this incident, I watched an episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk is split into two different selves. His lower half is id personified: cruel, savage, impatient, and heedless of any concern besides its own immediate gratification. Kirk’s higher self, however, is not bettered by this platonic split. His higher self proves soft-hearted, indecisive, weak-willed, and ultimately ineffectual in its pursuit of its moral aims. Mr. Spock offers—as always—a logical explanation for why the two selves must be rejoined: man’s darker and destructive tendencies, when leashed like a muzzled hound and guided by morality’s attentive hand, may be directed towards more productive ends.”

Hazel pets the non-burning cat in her arms. “My own destructive tendencies, inherited in large part from my mother, have worked to my personal benefit. My asociality and peculiar mannerisms as a child would have made me subject to much bullying if I had lacked the resolve to stand up for myself. My ruthless and self-centered impulses are a valuable part of who I am. I do not doubt that they will be necessary in the times ahead.”

“And yet,” she remarks slowly, “I am certain that my ten-year-old self’s actions caused much… unpleasantness,” she finally settles on, “for my parents, during an already trying and unpleasant summer. Perhaps it would have been better if I had simply swallowed my pride, done the school assignment, and allowed Abby Sormurson to write her name on it. An unfortunate side effect of my neurological condition is that empathy for the feelings and well-being of others does not come easily to me.”

“That is why I must make a conscious and deliberate effort to temper my darker tendencies with conscience and discipline—lest they grow out of control, just as a bonfire meant to warm might blaze into an inferno when left unchecked. As I lack empathy, it is through my intellect that I must turn my darker tendencies, such as they are, towards constructive purpose.”

Her face softens. “Such as the happiness and well-being of my parents. I did not initially realize that ‘making nice’ to Mrs. Worwood would be an effective means of vengeance against her. My concern at the time was for easing the strain upon my father’s job. Tempering myself for his sake… felt like the right thing to do. Certainly, he appeared thankful afterwards.”

Hazel shakes her head. “I do not claim to be a paragon of virtue, or even of filial devotion. I am often ruled by my vindictiveness and desire to avenge perceived slights. But I do not believe this is an aspect of my personality that needs to be further encouraged. Its place is as the muzzled hound, not the leash-bearing hand. And your words are those of a ten-year-old, however erudite her vocabulary.”

She looks down towards the cat in her grown self’s arms and braces herself for another bite. “I am ready to depart.”

GM: Before the cat can respond, the burning figure rushes forward. As it does so, the grass withers to ash. Rust overtakes the neighborhood houses, causing them to implode like the House of Usher. The wooden fence also violently rots away into splinters, further exposing the ruined hell-scape whose very sky starts to burn as the sun becomes blood-red and starts to crash to the earth.

That scene, however, is blotted out by another terrible sight, as the figure grabs Hazel’s head with its hands leans close as if to whisper. It doesn’t. It screams. The sound of the thrashing, burning bag is deafening. The heat so hot, Hazel feels like her eyes are starting to evaporate. The waxen smoke worming its way into her mouth. The growl-wail-scream proclaims, once more twisting Hazel’s own words: “VIOLENCE! BONFIRE BLAZE INTO AN INFERNO!”

Dark images start to appear in the asphyxiating, poisonous smoke. A wooden puppet with fanged teeth waiting under her bed. Faceless Spooks watching as two beasts pull Lydia apart into ribbons of sinew and blood. Mackenzie Snakewater smiling as she locks Hazel into an asylum.

VENGEANCE! RULED BY VINDICTIVENESS. DESIRE TO AVENGE!”

So close, Hazel can taste the smoke on her tongue, in her mouth, a savory apocalypse that crashes through her subconscious like the plummeting, bloody sun. As terrible, ineffable revelations sear the dark corners of her psyche, the figure finally ends the distance between them with a last, burning kiss that seems like a promise, if not curse.

YOU ALWAYS CHOOSE ME… IN THE END

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