Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase II, Case File 2.04


Kurt: Mind’s Eye


10.06.1998, Tuesday morning

GM: Sleep smashes into Kurt like a sledgehammer. The pain of that impact, however, doesn’t hit Kurt until 5:00 AM when his alarm screams bloody murder:

BRAYNK! BRAYNK! BRAYNK! BRAYNK!

Kurt: Kurt stirs awake and sluggishly reaches out for his alarm clock to turn the stupid thing off.

GM: As usual, Kurt rouses to find his throat and tongue as dry and sore as if they were scrubbed with 60-grit sandpaper. He has a vague sense of cloying dreams slipping away, like his not–quite–steaming breath in the frigid apartment. Above him, he notes the glossy shadow of a quarter-folded poster he took from a hand–me–down sports magazine.

In the pre-dawn gloom, he cannot see the image of John Stockton and the rest of 1997 Utah Jazz posing with the Western Conference trophy, but he can picture it clearly. In the annex between sleep and waking, he can still hear the alarm-like buzzer being drowned out by the sea of basketball fans as the comparatively short Stockton sent his team for its franchise’s first time to the NBA Finals, avoiding going into overtime on Game 6 with a three–point buzzer beater.

Outside, a phantasmal-thin cloud parts from the full moon, causing several areas of the poster to glimmer with Sharpie. In the darkness, Kurt can easily pretend that they are signatures from Stockton and Malone. In the darkness, he can easily entertain bitter-sweet ’if’s’. If his father hadn’t ever gotten sick, his dad would probably have taken him to one of the conference games.

His dad would have driven him down, just the two of them, to the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. He might have gotten a jersey, a handshake, maybe even a signature or two on a poster that would have come from his monthly subscription. Instead, the creased poster bears the Sharpie-scribbled handwritings from residents of Saint Enoch’s. The first and oldest chicken-scratch is from Wilson:

Proof that a short white dude can make it to the Pros!

The second, tucked into a corner, is from his sister: Keep your day job. Also, pick up milk.

The third, largest, and most recent is written in bubbly, curvy letters that fills up the bottom of the poster: Remember I loved you before you made it big. XOXO 4EVER, Felicity

Imagining the words prompts him to recall the moment when they were written. It had been in the heat of the summer, a far cry from the creeping-cold fall he feels now. With school out on break, his mother was able to drive to and from work on her own, leaving Kurt free to decadently sleep in until at least 11 am, if not all the way to 2 pm if Mr. Clay didn’t assign him a matinee shift for the next day. And that night, he hadn’t, leaving Kurt blissfully free and clear to do as he pleased with the hot summer night.

Initially, he had played a bunch of games with Thomas on the Larsen’s old Sega Genesis, munching on a mega-bucket of popcorn he scored from work. Later, once Ms. Larsen had sent her “Tommy” to bed, Kurt had joined Wilson in a pick-up game of street ball in the Towers’ mosquito–thick parking lot. Kurt dominated the game, sinking shot after shot, even as the other team’s full-grown men had tried to violently foul the too swift, too talented basketball captain. He didn’t need to sink a buzzer-beating three-pointer like Stockton did on Game 6, but he still did just for kicks. That, and the revving attention of his girlfriend who watched the game with a flock of other girls and women from the Towers.

They hadn’t planned it, but he had been expecting it, when she came quietly knocking on his front door later that night. Felicity had barely waited for Arlene’s feet to hit the stairwell before she had crept out of bed, careful not to disturb her sleeping mother and brother, though Kurt had doubts that either of them didn’t know or care.

Still, she had tapped his door softly in their secret knock. Initially, it had been morse code for XOXO, but somewhere in that hot summer, the teens had shortened it to one letter three times, XXX.
Knock, tap tap, knock
Knock, tap tap, knock
Knock, tap tap, knock

He had swallowed hard when he heard the unscheduled, but anticipated sound at his door. He remembers opening the door, and seeing her in the moth-thumping florescent light. Her blond hair had been pinned on one side with a clip in a casual, messy way that probably took twenty times before Felicity was satisfied it conveyed the proper wild but cute image. As always, she wore the small necklace he gifted to her on their year anniversary. But he most recalls her clothes and how much he wanted to get them off her. The tight denim skirt with its skinny belt and horseshoe buckle. The button-down sleeveless floral shirt with its V-neck that was just low enough to tease and just high enough to taunt.

She had all but pushed him back to his room, while his normally dextrous fingers fumbled with what seemed like a thousand buttons. She had laughed. Her summer-tanned skin had been so warm. She smelled like honeysuckle and fresh-cut grass and heat. She had just stood upon his bed like a conquering queen, unashamed as she kissed him, stripped off his own too–easy–to–rip–off–jersey, and shoved him to his knees. She sighed, then moaned as he had kissed the hollow of her back. She had laughed again, huskily, as Kurt cursed at the belt and its too many loops.

But it had been when he finally made it up to her bra strap that she had taken the cap off the Sharpie she had been holding the entire time. Seeing her stretch her short arms up to the ceiling and his beloved poster had given him pause, even in the heat of things. The other graffiti artists had left their marks in Kurt’s absence.

But Felicity had made hers as brazenly as she had stood upon his bed, naked and unashamed. “It’s permanent,” she had said, tossing the marker into a forgotten corner of Kurt’s bedroom as he slipped the last strap of her bra off. She had turned to him then, the window’s moonlight casting silver shadows on the tips of her strawberry blond nipples. “That means forever, Kurt.” Kurt had then–

BRAYNK! BRAYNK! BRAYNK! BRAYNK!

The screaming snooze alarm snaps Kurt back to the 7th of October. Back to his cold, empty bed. Back to the bloody-faced alarm clock as it glares the time: 5:08 AM

Kurt: Kurt groans, pulling himself up after dozing for a few extra, much-needed minutes. He gives the offending alarm a tired, grumpy look as he finally kicks off his warm blanket.

BRAYNK! BRAYNK! BRAYNK! BRAYNK!

His bedroom’s lino floor feels hard and cold on his bare feet. He remains seated for a moment. He yawns. He grabs his glasses from his bedside and puts them on. His blurry surroundings, including his blaring alarm clock, come into focus.

The alarm continues to blare as Kurt sluggishly rubs the sleep from his eyes. He then finishes, staring off blankly. What a horrible dream, the young man thinks wryly, eventually reaching for his alarm. He turns the contraption off and stands up to get ready. It only takes a few minutes.

GM: A fortunate fact, given that he only has a few before he’ll be late to pick up his mother from work.

Kurt: Kurt firstly heads to the bathroom, relieving himself as is his morning ritual. Afterwards, the young man puts on some loose-fitting clothes and well-worn boots. He heads out the door in a hurry, stopping only to momentarily check up on his catatonic father before leaving.

GM: His father stares up at the ceiling, blinking in slow motion with shallow breaths that confirm he is still alive. Not that it’s much of a life.

Kurt: Satisfied, Kurt heads out without any more fuss, intent on now hurrying. Nonetheless, his head whirs, the thought of Felicity bothering him as he struggles to shake his ex-girlfriend from his tired mind.

GM: At the bottom of the stairwell, Kurt barely registers the mail-stuffed row of boxes and plastic-wrapped copies of the Wednesday print of the Witiko Falls Tribune. At this hour, the Towers are atypically empty, or at least quiet. The Crawfords’ Lincoln Town Car waits for him, parked by his sister after she dropped off their mom and subsequently got a ride home with Rick. The air hovers a few degrees above freezing, but the car’s vinyl upholstery slaps his rear like his principal’s paddle. Ahead of him, a murder of crows picks at a pair of open dumpsters. Looking at the time, Kurt realizes he doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for the car to warm up.

It’s another long, cold ride. Kurt follows the yellow-lined road across the town’s dark outskirts. It’s a lonely road, but Kurt passes a pair of big rigs, likely hauling the newest pharmaceutical batches from Nostrum Enterprises’ plant. Flanking his headlights, the rising pine and fir trees are slashed with black and silver from the moonlight and shadow. Kurt spins the radio dial, trying to ward off sleep with an FM sports or music station that isn’t swallowed by static. Like so many other bone-early mornings, he is forced to switch to AM, where he settles upon KALM 1307.

Brook: Brook’s voice comes into crackling focus as the dial turns to his station. “-and it’s such a weird direction for the band. I doubt they’ll ever stop using trumpets, but I kinda hope I’m wrong,” his voice comes out, soft and calm.

“But folks, it’s another morning in Witiko Falls. The weather is 30 degrees, partly cloudy as usual, and we have fog warnings on the highways to the west, so keep that in mind. It’s now 5:42 AM, and we’re nearly done another night. I’m still working out a few kinks, but for my real sleepless listeners out there, I’m going to be taking a call or two to test out the changes to my switchboard system for a new segment. While I wait, here is United Cigar with Good Riddance.”
GM: As the punk song winds its course, Kurt rounds a bend in the road, revealing the pharmaceutical plant’s dozen smokestacks. Under the full moon, the thin, silvery-white towers resemble titan-sized cigarettes puffing carcinogenic clouds into the tar-colored sky.

Kurt: The sight is intimidating. The pharmaceutical plant is a white behemoth in a sea of a black wilderness. Kurt used to gawk in awe, but now he simply frowns at the towering, poison-spewing structures. He continues to listen to the radio.

GM: As Kurt switches his attention back to the station, he hears the radio jockey cue up a caller. “Line two, you’re on the air.”

A young boy, likely prepubescent given his high-pitched voice, introduces himself after a moment of squelching radio static: “Hey, uh, this is Dixon Talbert. I called in last year, gave you the tip about the paperboy who was chased by the Grey Devil on Hemlock Lane last May. So, uh, I got done with my route today, and I just remembered I didn’t do Mrs. Grundel’s math homework. If I don’t bring up my grade to a D for my progress report, my mom won’t let me go to the Kelpies’ Homecoming game.”

DROWN ’EM DEEP!” the boy shouts into the phone, causing the radio volume to painfully spike and screech.

“Dixie, are you okay?” comes a distant, motherly voice from the background.

There’s a muffle on the radio, then a muted shout from the boy. “Yeah, sorry, Mom, I, uh, dropped a book on my toe. Cause, uh, I was, um, studying.” After another static-y scrape, Dixon’s voice returns, once again clear and quiet, or at least at a decent decibel level.

Brook: Every listener is rescued from the boy’s screeching by the radio jockey, an attendant of the school long enough that he turns down the volume as soon as he hears the word ‘Kelpies’, though not enough that people aren’t treated to a jump. Still, the jockey apologizes to the audience for the volume as the boy speaks to his mother, and continues on with the call.

GM: “Yeah, um, okay. Right, so, um, I was hoping to get some, uh, help. Like checking for answers in the back of the book. Yeah, like checking to see if you’re, I mean, I’m right. Yeah.”

“Okay, so here’s the first one. Little Squanto went to a pizza place with two friends. They ordered a large peyote pizza for $10.40 and a sweetgrass salad for $4.45. They also got two sodas for $1.45 each. The tax came to $0.95. How much change should they have received from $25.00? So, uh, like I got $7.75. What’d you get?”

Brook: “Hey Dixon, welcome back to the show. Tell you what, I wasn’t ever the best at math either, but I as told something that really helped me out. Your mom is home, why don’t you go and ask her to borrow 25 dollars, and sit down and work it out with real money? She’ll be so happy you’re taking it serious, she won’t say anything when you leave the table with $6.30 in your pocket.”

GM: “Uh, ok. But why would I put $6.30 in my pocket… oh, oh, I get it! Thanks, dude! You’re way cooler than my brother says. Okay, what about next problem?”

“A water tank, having the shape of a rectangular prism of base 100 square centimeters, is being filled at the rate of 1 liter per minute. Find the rate at which the height of the water in the water tank increases. Express your answer in centimeters per minute.”

Dixon pauses, then asks, “What’s a prism, anyways? Like a prison? Like are they trying to drown somebody or something?”

Brook: There’s a small pause from Brook himself before he makes a thoughtful ‘hum’ into the microphone. “Well, sorry to disappoint you, Dixon, but you only get one freebie from me. Your brain is just another muscle, you know, if someone helps you do push-ups you’ll never grow big arms. What they’re talking about though is basically just a 3D rectangle, like a shape you can fill with something. And I at least hope the next question isn’t going to insinuate drowning.”

The radio picks up the familiar squeak of his chair, the shuffling of paper, and the movement of something steel on wood. “But I’ll give you the same advice I did before. Go and speak with your mom about it, get some help and sit down with someone.”

GM: “So, uh, does that mean you’re not going to help?”

Meanwhile, back in the Crawford’s Town Car, Kurt pulls into the plant’s non-VIP employee parking lot located outside the facility’s heavily surveilled gate and electrified fence. Looking around, Kurt does not see his mother, but finds ample spaces to wait till she finishes clocking out. Unlike the long, cold walk his mother has to endure, Kurt is wrapped in the car interior’s warm blanket of engine-heated air.

Brook: “Sorry, Dixon! Besides, what if your math teacher is listening? We’re going to move on to another track, but I hope you keep listening with your mom while she helps you out.”

The line goes dead to the young man, and the tired young ranger introduces the next song, something to keep people awake just a little while longer.

“This is Black No. 1, by Type 0 Negative. Probably one of our last songs until the morning takes us.”
GM: The goth metal blares from the car’s speakers, rattling with too much bass for the old car as the lyrical dirge riff builds:

She’s in love with herself.
She likes the dark,
On her milk white neck,
The Devil’s mark.
It’s all Hallow’s Eve.
The moon is full.
Will she trick or treat?
I bet she will.


The song conjures images of Morgan in Kurt’s sleepy mind, especially as the second verse rolls around. She’s got a date at midnight…

Those thoughts, however, much like his waking memories of Felicity, are jarringly disturbed. This time, though, it isn’t an alarm clock but his mother knocking on the passenger window to be let into the locked car. “Kurt, baby, the door.”

Arlene is dressed in an oversized hunting jacket, purloined from her husband’s possessions, chemical-splotched jeans, and broken-in work sneakers that do little to diminish the woman’s short stature. Her weary face is flush from the long, brisk walk from the plant to the outer parking lot, such that her cheeks resemble the hue of the reddish-blonde locks that hang limply from her drawn-up hood. Her employee photo-ID badge clacks against the side window as she leans down to catch her son’s attention with another tap of her wedding band against the glass.

Kurt: Kurt apologizes to his mother and reaches over to unlock the passenger door. It’s a habit. One time while waiting at a stop light, a homeless man opened his passenger door and tried to get into the car. Ever since, Kurt liked to lock his doors while driving. “How was work, Ma?” he asks, giving her a tired smile.

GM: Arlene saddles in beside her son, and turns down the blaring radio before warming her hands against the dashboard vents. Her creased face softens as the warmth takes the chill our of her arthritic knuckles. “Work was work,” she says stoically, then adds a bit more warmly as she regards her beloved boy of nearly 18 years, “Honestly, it was really rough today, baby. Hank, the rotation supervisor, rode us pretty hard, assigning extra tasks, checking everything we did with a literal white-latex glove, and blowing up if there was anything less than sparkling. I had to talk Shirley down from clubbing him with her mop.”

She smiles, but her fatigue robs the expression of any joy. “What about yours?” she asks, rubbing her hands together one last time before sliding off her hood and strapping on her seat-belt. “You get to watch any good movies?”

Kurt: Kurt, looking behind him, giving his mirrors a cursory look-over, reverses out of the parking space once his mother settles into the Lincoln. The car’s heating exacerbates the young man’s tiredness, but it’s necessary due to the early morning frost.

“I had a pretty good day at work yesterday,” Kurt replies, turning out onto the main road. “I ended up watching The Manster with Morgan. Mr. Clay was in a good mood.” He glances at his mother and gives her a cheeky smile. “I managed to get my pants pulled down in front of everyone, too.”

GM: Arlene listens initially with a content smile, clearly not recognizing the movie and perhaps not wanting to either. Kurt’s mother had never quite understood nor accepted her son’s fascination with horror films. The mention of a girl other than Felicity likewise seems to slide past her tired ears, but Kurt’s last admonition rouses Arlene from her half-slumber.

“What?” she asks, her face creasing in an expression that makes her look more like a grandmother rather than mother of two young adults. Meanwhile, KALM 1307 continues its broadcast its early morning programming over the car’s turned-down radio speakers. Presently, the radio jockey is handling an irate, female caller: “Shame on you, young man, for playing the music of the Devil!”

Kurt: Kurt barely registers the radio, failing to hold back a laugh at his mother’s confused reaction. “I was acting like a bit of an ass with Wilson and the guys meeting me just after work,” he admits to his mother, freely. “Morgan thought she’d bring me back down to earth when I tried to kiss her, so she pulled my pants down.”

GM: Kurt’s explanation hardly seems to pacify his mother’s concern and confusion. “Wilson again,” she remarks severely as her face pinches with wrinkles. “And who is this Morgan? She sounds like a bad influence.”

Kurt: “She’s not. I’ve told you about Morgan,” Kurt says, surprised. “She’s a coworker and a really cool chick. Goes to Falls High as well. Loves horror movies.”

GM: Kurt’s words once again further entrench his mother’s creased brow and frown.

Kurt: Kurt pushes on nevertheless, undeterred by his mother’s reaction. “I was actually thinking about asking her out on a date, Ma,” he says, eying her response.

GM: As the radio rhetoric heats up with other callers joining in on the ‘Great Satan Debate’, Arlene sighs like a deflating balloon. “Honestly, honey, why can’t you just… you and Felicity, you two were great for each other. Have you even spoken to her since you broke up? I mean, really tried to patch things up? Felicity misses you, Kurt. I know she does, how couldn’t she?”

She sighs again. “Honestly, I’ve haven’t even listened to Irene’s last two messages. She’s worried about her kids. Just like I am about mine.” She lays a hand on Kurt’s shoulder and gives it a gentle rub. “About my baby. Growing up so fast, so handsome.”

Kurt: It’s Kurt’s turn to deflate a little, sighing much like his mother. “I haven’t spoken to Felicity, but I don’t see how that’ll help. Things got pretty toxic in the end.” He keeps his eyes straight ahead as he talks, surreptitiously to keep an eye on the road.

GM: Arlene gives Kurt’s arm a loving squeeze before removing her hand. “Try, honey, that’s all I ask.” Unable to let it lie, she adds, “For your mother’s sake, at least.”

Kurt: “I’ll think about it.”

Not really.

GM: Kurt isn’t sure if his mother swallows the lie, but at least she doesn’t pressure him anymore. Instead, she leans her small head back, closes her eyes, and yawns. “I’m so tired.”

The car goes quiet save for the rumble of the road beneath the tires and the turned down radio station. The latter still features the far from over ‘Great Satan Debate’. The current caller, which Kurt recognizes is none other than Falls High’s music and band teacher. “One of the founding precepts of metal is the use of the diminished fifth chord, the Pythagorean augmented fourth, or the tritone. In classical composition, this interval was considered dissonant and awkward. Its inability to evenly harmonize with the root and fifth made it somewhat taboo in classical and traditional religious music. It was considered unusable and avoided by all ecclesiastical composers from the middle ages up through the Renaissance. In the early middle ages, this interval was coined ‘Diabolus In Musica’ or ‘The Devil in Music’.”

“In The Craft of Musical Composition by Paul Hindemith, he mathematically explains the proportional scrutiny and reasons for shunning this chord. I won’t restate it, here but it’s a good read for anyone interested in the math behind music theory.”

“So, once musicians started going against the accepted grain and began using this interval and incorporating it into the electric guitar’s repertoire, traditionalists started viewing this type of music as evil. Hence, metal music became Satanic. It didn’t help that groups like Black Sabbath and Deep Purple use references to Alistair Crowley and other historically Satanic subjects along with gypsy and pagan symbolism adding fuel to the traditional religious zealots’ fire; interpreting this music as an evil abomination. Metal musicians rebel against the norm; which traditional organized religion doesn’t like. All this on top of the use of the Devil’s Chord gave religious loudmouths all they needed to condemn metal music as evil and Satanic. Most metal musicians loved this since it helped make their image more appealing to the disenfranchised youth of post-war industrial society.”

“But even with all the intentionally evil imagery and anti-Christian references, without the use of the diminished fifth chord, metal music wouldn’t be what it is today.”

Brook: The radio jockey makes small affirmative ‘yeah’ and ‘uh-huh’ noises along the man’s words at each meaningful stop in the teacher’s early morning lecture. While it the Jockey’s station, it’s likely no surprise the sophomore sounds more like a student than the one running the show.

“Diminished Fifths have been used since… I think the early 1960s, right, sir? I know The Beetles had one or two songs they used them in for instance. Here in the present though, I imagine the drop of Marilyn Manson’s newest album last month has all the teachers and parents preparing for when it’s anti-establishment messages reaches Witiko Falls?”

There is a slight lilt in the jockey’s usually smooth deeper voice as he talks about this new album, but he stays quiet for the teacher’s reply.

GM: “Impressive,” praises the high school teacher. “Stop by the band room sometime, Brook. I’d enjoy talking with you more about the Chord. I’ll see if I can convince Mr. Epstein into giving you extra credit. But, I need to get ready for my morning jog. My marching band buns don’t stay toned by coach surfing. Stay heavy, and stay metal, Witiko Falls.”

Kurt: Kurt, allowing his mother to rest her eyes, quietly listens to the radio as he drives home, a little angrily.

GM: That anger is reflected and all-too amplified by the next salvo of calls to the radio station. Most are short diatribes who unequivocally if briefly make clear their ‘vote for the right side of the Great Satan Debate’. One caller is less… brief.

Unlike most callers which identify first identify themselves or make an obligatory compliment to the radio jockey or the station, this female caller launches straight into her ‘sermon’:“You want to talk science, then let’s talk science. In my Creation Bible biology class, we learned that a frog placed into boiling water will immediately jump out. But if that same frog is put into a bowl of cool water that is slowly heated by a Bunsen burner, the frog eventually boils to death. To death.”

“That’s what’s going on with our kids and the music they listen to these days. Music that pumps out of this radio station. Just look at ‘Rock and Roll’. It means fornication. A street name for sexual immorality and damnation. It has wrecked the lives of our youth through suicide, drug abuse, immorality, perversion, and Satanism. Sadly, we live in a day where many Christians and church leaders are allowing this demonic music into our churches, claiming that the music is holy and sanctified because the lyrics are changed to include some ‘religious’ words. Where is the discernment in the church? Are Christians losing their ability to discern the difference between good and evil? The fact that this demonic music even made it into the church is proof of the moral and spiritual decline affecting the church today. We are being invaded by hard rock, acid rock, punk rock, new wave, and heavy metal music under the guise of religious rock and roll.”

“Consider the scriptures. Remember Paul taught the Ephesians, ‘Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light.’ And in Hebrews, the apostle wrote, ‘But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin’.”

“Satan was created a beautiful musical creature: ‘Every precious stone was thy covering, the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created’, the prophet Ezekial said. Since music was built into his very nature, are we foolish enough to assume that he will not use it to deceive and enslave?”

“We are told by the religious rockers that we must look and sound like the world in order to reach the youth of this generation. They say, many young people will not listen to the gospel or come to church, so we must meet them on some common ground. That common ground is rock and roll. In other words, they are saying that preaching of the Word of God is no longer sufficient for both young and old. If this is true, then we should open bars in order to reach the multitudes of drinkers. We should open porno-shops in order to reach those who engage in smut. Shouldn’t we go to their level so we can bring them to the Lord Jesus Christ? So what if we do evil if the end result is good? What’s a little compromise with God’s standards of holiness and separation if it results in souls being saved?”

“This type of reasoning is one of the doctrines of demons that Christians are accepting. Does it not make sense that the same Bible that has worked successfully to this time, will continue to work for both the young and the old? How many Christians love God’s people enough to say, ‘No more! Throw this satanic filth out of the church and back into hell where it belongs?’ Do you realize that just ten years ago, this evil music would not have even remotely been considered as a suitable method to sing and praise God. That type of music would have been immediately thrown out of the churches. What we are witnessing today is the spiritual and moral degeneration that is affecting Christians to the degree that many no longer have any discernment between good and evil.”

“That previous caller, the so-called teacher tried to share some fancy history lessons, but let’s review some real history. Just observe how Satan brought in his rock music in the 1950’s and slowly degenerated it to its present level of baseness. Watch how Satan slowly turned up his Bunsen burner until his music developed to its present low.”

“In the early to mid 60’s, the message of early rock was seemingly harmless music with lyrics that promoted ‘good times’. It promoted dancing the new dance fads. Idols, the so-called ‘Teen Idols’ were worshiped by teenage girls and being ‘cool’ was in for boys. The stage was being set for rebellion by the ‘greaser’ image. A decade later, the Bunsen got turned up. The message of the British Invasion and Motown and the rest was a stronger rebellion theme that was to be the thread through all future rock music. It promoted free sex, drugs, and rebellion, presenting them as harmless fun. False religions. Folk groups promoted anti-establishment attitudes and appearances. British influence hardened the American music by taking out the swing beat and putting in a more frenzied pace tempo.”

“Then came the acid or hard rock of the late 60’s to early 70’s. Huge rock concerts promoted free sex, open drug and alcohol abuse, and a total do–your–own–thing attitude. Lyrics preached rebellion, no morals, and no responsibilities. Drugs became synonymous with rock music. Stage violence begins, with a sharper focus on false religions. The music developed more repetition and a hypnotic effect. More rhythm, more volume, and more violence became the dominant force of songs. Groups actually destroyed equipment on stage. Early beginning of ‘cross-dressing’ and use of make-up by men.”

“Then came ‘Heavy Metal’ in the early to late 70’s. The message–sex, no morality, and drug abuse. Lyrics openly promoting rebellion, violence, and homosexuality. Satanic messages are hidden or camouflaged by backwards masking. Also, open sex begins to occur on the dance floors of discos. Beat and volume increase, driving rhythms captivate listeners. Beat or pulse of music hypnotizes listeners as they are fed evil lyrics. Performers openly admit sexual perversion and act it out on stage, contributing to the moral decay and debasing of society.”

“And since then? Satan Rock. Violence supreme. Satan is no longer hiding his motives. Lyrics openly denounce Christianity presenting the devil as the answer. Violence, sex, rebellion, and drugs are not only promoted, but are acted out on stage. Lyrics even promote suicide. MTV brings Satan’s messages into homes through rock videos. Music is violent, loud, abrasive. Synthesized music creates a “robot-like” sound, simulating the controlling power of rock music. Rock music has evolved into the single most powerful tool by which Satan communicates his evil messages to our youth."

“To the Christian, God says in His Word: ‘And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them’. The question this verse brings to mind is: What kind of fruit does rock and roll produce? There is definite fruit to rock and roll and all of it is evil. This demonic music has been the major tool and vehicle through which Satan popularized suicide, drug abuse, immorality, perversions, bestiality, blasphemy against God and sacred things, homosexuality, occultism, and Satanism. Now God has said to Christians not to have any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. Rock and roll is an unfruitful work of darkness and Christians have no business trying to imitate those who are on the broad road to destruction. Christians also have no business listening to secular rock as it is all an abomination to God.”

“God also says in His Word: ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world’. ‘As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy’. ‘Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’. Finally, how can satanic Christians be holy as we are commanded when an earring is hung in the ear, sexual clothes are worn, and a rebellious nightclub atmosphere is created by those who claim to worship God?”

“It is time we exorcise the demons! Time to cleanse the temple of the den of thieves and defilers!”

“Which leads us to you, radio person. You are playing demonic music that is an abomination to God. You are harming yourself as well as God’s blood-bought children. The Lord Jesus warns, ‘But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea’. If you truly love the Lord Jesus you will forsake this evil music. If you do not, God’s judgment will surely come into your life. The wicked will burn.”

The caller does not wait for a response, but promptly terminates her live-call.

Brook: The teen radio jockey makes an audible groan as the woman starts on her tirade, letting every listener know his displeasure. But before any reply can be had, the lines goes dead.

“Well for anyone who hasn’t turned that dial already, here’s a bit of a truth bomb on you, because we need one after what was just vomited onto my desk. Rock’s start went further back, its first elements present in blues, because as we all know the devil is in the bayou. But more importantly, and pretty much everyone my age will agree with me, rock is our music because we’re fed up. We’re sick of a bloated and underfunded school system that relies on standardized tests, we’re sick of scared adults pushing their agendas on us to make us their carbon copies, we’re sick of the church telling us what we can and can’t be or do to believe in a hippie in the sky with diamonds, wine, and shitty crackers, ‘cause you know that shiny pope can afford wheat thins, and we’re sick of being told to slow down or appreciate what we have more.”

“We’re absolutely fed up. But I’ll give the parents out there a break, and I’ll let them know what we’re MOST fed up with. The fear of change and abusing your power to try to keep that change away. Shattering your kids’ records because you’re scared or disgusted by your kids’ music doesn’t cement your authority, it screams how terrified you are of becoming obsolete and irrelevant, and that makes you look selfish and scared. That makes a rebel. Having a catharsis and outlet, something that you feel GETS you, that doesn’t make a rebel. Having that taken away or looked down on does. But I’m not gonna rant too much longer, I’m sorry folks. My last words on the matter are simple. It’s never just about the devil. And my gods are older in either case. In their words, let the world be ruled by the wisest and most cunning. And now for a special treat, Witiko Falls, the first time this album has touched our town. I give you The Dope Show.”
The radio jockey doesn’t come back after the album’s flagship track being dropped, the standard varied music usually on the station returning, with automated messages on the weather dotted in between, per-recorded with Brook Barnes’ calm smooth voice.

GM: The latter never reaches the Crawfords’ car, though, as Arlene turns off the radio mid-Manson. Kurt’s mother sighs. “We already have the heat on; we don’t need any more hot air blowing in our face.” The focus of Arlene’s ire isn’t immediately obvious, though, until she adds, “Kids will be kids, but Bible beaters…”

She rubs her temples for moment, then stops and lightly sniffs her hands. “Phew, you’d think I didn’t wear gloves. Chlorine and perc do not make a good perfume.” She places her hands down in her lap and looks out the front window as St. Enoch’s comes into view. “Try-outs are coming up, right? Oh, wait, that’s today, isn’t? Or is that just for varsity, and junior is next Wednesday?”

She laughs lightly. “Or do I have it the other way around? I’m sorry, baby, I know I should know this stuff. We both know the sports smart parent wasn’t me…” She reflexively frowns at the brushed mention of Kurt’s father, but tries to patch it up with a forced smile.

Kurt: “I wouldn’t have you any other way, Ma,” Kurt replies, catching his mother’s forced smile. “It’s honestly too early in the morning to be remembering if I have try-outs this week or next week.” He adds, “I don’t expect you to remember. You have enough on your plate.” A cheeky smile then appears on Kurt’s face. “But you were right the second time. Try-outs for varsity are today; juniors is next week.”

GM: Arlene’s smile softens, such that only a tiny thread of sadness or guilt remains. “Oh, well, break a leg then, honey!” She laughs a bit self-consciously. “Or is that not what people say in sports? Either way, good luck. Not that you need it, captain.”

Kurt: Kurt’s mood has taken a completely positive turn after being called ‘captain’ by his mother. “I probably need it more than a broken leg, though,” he grins.

GM: As the town car pulls into the Towers’ parking lot, Arlene lingers a moment before exiting the car. She turns to Kurt and rubs his upper arm maternally as she says, “Kurt, I’m so proud of you. I don’t say that enough. Varsity basketball captain, AV vice president, active member of the Pare–Para, that other club, all while working long hours, helping out with your family, and somehow keeping your grades up. I’m so so proud of you, baby.”

Kurt: Kurt doesn’t reply to his mother’s lathered-on praise; however, he can’t help smiling a little bit more.

GM: Her hand reaches up to gently cup his jaw. “I love you, Kurt.” True to her earlier words, Kurt can’t help but smell the eye-stinging odor of strong chemicals on his mother’s arthritic hand, but she takes it away quickly enough and saddles out of the car, pulling up her hood to ward off the bitting cold.

Kurt: Kurt lets out a chattering yawn as he exits the vehicle. The cold hair hits his face, causing his glasses to fog up a little. Nonetheless, the young man shrugs off the cold as he simply marches tiredly back to the Crawford apartment. His mind is too preoccupied with thoughts of school and basketball.

GM: His mother is similarly preoccupied, or at least quiet, as they cross the lot, enter the graffitied stairwell and make their five-story ascent. Along the way, they pass a disheveled, drunken man, who is kneeling and staring at a wall while pleading, “No… please, no, no, I don’t want to… don’t make me…”

Arlene threads her arm around Kurt’s and hurries them around the man, clearly trying to avoid making any eye contact–which is all-too easy with the man nearly pressing his forehead against the piss– and paint–stained wall. On the fourth floor, they hear shouting between a man and woman inside an apartment, the coherence of their cursing but not violent anger distorted and muffled by the closed door and walls. All in all, it is a quiet morning in the Towers.

Once inside their meager apartment, Arlene hangs her over-sized coat. “You want me to make you something? I think we have some eggs. Or do you want to try to catch a nap before school?”

Kurt: “I’ll probably end up more tired if I try to sleep now,” Kurt admits, laughing awkwardly as he shuffles into the bite-sized apartment. “I wouldn’t mind some scrambled eggs, but I am sure I can make some myself. You try to catch some sleep, Ma.”

GM: Arlene starts to protest, to say she has to stay up anyways, to make a bottle of formula for Kurt’s father, to clean up the apartment, to take a shower and scrub off the chemicals, but a long-overdue yawn steals over her face and steals the rest of her words away. She sleepily gives her son a hug, then stumbles off to bed. Kurt hears her kick off her shoes, then crawl into bed with her comatose spouse. She’s snoring softly before Kurt has a chance to take out the carton of eggs from a water-filled cooler and discover they’ve gone bad.

Kurt: What rotten luck.

Brook: Skin Deep


10.10.1998, Saturday morning

GM: Tink, tink, tink

Brook’s doze is disturbed by a soft tapping of his cell door. Ferg stands before him, shoe-less but at least wearing pants, as he holds a pair of steaming coffee mugs.

“Morning, sunshine,” the old dispatcher says. “Best get a move on. I just got the call. Your ride is on its way.”

Brook: Brook feels a frustrated anger roil in his chest at the sound. Sleep finally comes and now the world wants him up so soon after. Years of being raised by Mary Madcatcher pay off slightly as the boy wakes and is almost functioning mentally after just moments, then lumbers over to the door. “Please open the door. Let me stretch out before they shove me in cuffs.”

GM: “Just a hair bit longer, Brook,” Ferg says apologetically. He slides the coffee mug through the largest gap in the bars. “Drink up and we’ll see about a stretch soon enough.”

Brook: Brook slowly takes the mug but doesn’t drink, half-muttering his next words. “I’m not made for this. I’m inches from breaking the door down. Knowing a man died in this cell isn’t helping either, Ferg.”

GM: Ferg takes a sip of his own maple bacon brew, but an eyebrow raises at the mention of a man dying in the cell. “You have a bad dream, boy?”

Brook: Brook slowly reaches into his pocket, offering Joe’s letter to Ferg. “Witiko Falls has a knack for leading me to find hidden things. This was in the cell.”

GM: Ferg reflexively takes the offered letter, but his garden-calloused hand wavers as his old eyes recognize the folded paper. Brook spots the flash of troubled emotions upon the old dispatcher’s face.
“Wha-where did you?” He squelches the question, though, and tucks the paper hastily, if carefully, into one of his pockets. He half-turns away as he eventually adds, “Sorry about that.”

Brook: Brook’s eyes narrow for a moment as he looks the older man up and down. There’s something here that he’s missing. “I’m sorry too, Ferg. Looks like I dredged up something painful.” He slowly swirls the coffee in his cup and keeps talking despite his apology. “I can tell you’re guilty about something, but I’m good at keeping secrets on top of finding them. If you want to talk about it, it’s safe with me.”

GM: Ferg chews on the offer for a while before sighing, long and hard. He sits down in the folding chair. “Back before the amusement park closed, I talked with this gypsy or carnie person who told me that secrets are carved in the inside of a person’s skull. The worse they are, the deeper the cuts.”
He sighs again and takes a sip of his steaming coffee. “I’ve made some mistakes, Brook.”

Brook: The young man squats down to keep level with the man who’s been so kind to him, warming his hands with the mug as he listens. “Someone once told me secrets are like rocks. That when you have enough, they start to fall out of your pockets. But your mistakes, Ferg? I think you’re a good man, even if you’ve done bad. I can feel it.”

Brook reaches through the bars, putting the mug down on the ground, the warmth sapped from the cup for now. “I’ve got time to listen. And when I get back, free, I’ll pay for the next Slaughterhouse Five, and we can keep talking.”

GM: “You’re a good kid, Brook. Sweet as honey, just like…” he starts to say, but stops as the corners of his old eyes moisten. He sniffles as he takes another gulp of coffee. “As I was saying, I’ve made some mistakes, and I’m willing to take my lumps for them if need be.”

“But there’s some things that need doing around here. People that need helping. Which brings me to you. I… I shouldn’t have let your sweetheart into the station, not past hours. But then, your other friend, he’d have… he’d likely be in a worser spot.”

“Oh, which reminds me, young mister Littlebeaver, he’s stable.”

Brook: Brook’s brow creases in worry at the man as he looks like he’s about to start crying, giving him another puzzle piece. But his heart aches for the man, even after everything else is said. “Good. I’ll kill him later. But June is… his. She’s not my sweetheart. Either way, she came to me with a secret that maybe saved his life. You did the right thing, bending the rules. Thank you.”

The young man clears his throat after the ‘thank you’ and looks a little uncertain how he should broach the subject. “Did Witiko Falls take something from you, Ferg?”

GM: Ferg stares a while before answering, “We’ve not time for that tale, and little to be gained by telling it, I figure.” He turns to Brook. “But I have to ask, to keep quiet about what you heard last night, or thought you heard. No need drumming up trouble in a town already troubled.”

Brook: Brook nods, sighing. “I keep quiet about a lot of things, Ferg. Don’t worry about it. I’m already keeping Hazel being in the hospital to myself.”

GM: Ferg eyes the teen for a bit, then huffs in resignation. The sigh causes his gray whiskers to flutter and twitch. Meanwhile, he pulls out his key ring and unlocks the door. “How about that stretch and a gulp or two of fresh air? I could use another hand in the garden, and you’ve already proved you have a pair of green thumbs.”

Brook: The young man’s sass completely falls away. He looks like a dog that someone let out of its kennel as he slips out the door and into the station basement, taking an over-exaggerated breath as he throws his arms up and arches his back, feeling things pop in his back and shoulders like bubble wrap. With that out of the way, he goes nearly limp, standing like a wet noodle as he lets himself get used to being free. “I will replant your entire garden two blocks over if it means I can run around outside for a bit.”

GM: “Well, I don’t think Mrs. Gunderson would like that–nor I very much, but the enthusiasm’s appreciated, Brook.” Ferg then leads Brook up the stairs, commenting along the way, “I can make you a flapjack on my hotplate if you’d like. I also have a can of picked beets.” He does motion for Brook to wait up at the station’s booking desk for a moment, though, as he dips into the main office. Brook hears a drawer open and shut, broken by the rustle of paper. Ferg then pops back out. “So what’ll it be, flapjacks or snakeroot?”

Brook: Brook stops at the desk like he’s motioned to, but shakes his head. Breakfast is the last thing on his mind right now, he’s about to smell the trees again. There is one thing on his mind however.
“Actually, Ferg, I’m good. If I could though, can we check on the locker my things were put in? I want to make sure everything is okay, if we can.”

GM: “We’ll get your things as soon as your ride comes. Frankly, it makes it easier for me to convince them that you aren’t going to run, or less likely to run without your things.” The old dispatcher laughs, but not without a glimmer of truth.

Unlocking the front door, Ferg escorts Brook outside. The alpine air hits Brook like a kiss, and he can taste the wetness of the nearby Green Lady upon his tongue. Likely less than an hour since dawn, both men’s breath still fogs in the nearly freezing morning. Golden-orange arcs slip over the mountain peaks, scaring away long, snake-like shadows between the well-cared for houses along the river. It’s a peaceful, pleasant, and prosperous enough part of town. Quiet and calm, and fast asleep on a Saturday morning, save for a passing flock of geese above.

Brook: Brook looks a bit disappointed but nods to the man. Nothing in that box but his necklace has his mind, however. After someone snuck in, its safety weighs on him. Despite that, the moment Ferg leads him outside, the air sends a full-body shudder though the pubescent male. He takes in a breath through his nose big enough to hurt a lesser man until he breathes back out. He’s running out of time to bathe in the Green Lady this season. But the smells and sounds together nearly make the boy’s knees weak as he looks up at the sky and slowly kneels to wipe the dew of the grass off on his hand. The tilled earth of the garden, and the distant smell of woodsmoke from older homes’ stoves bring someone to mind, but Brook focuses back on Ferg.

“Running would ironically make me less free than if I stay and face the music, but a run around the block is almost tempting enough for me to push my luck for. But! Right now we have the garden to take care of. You’re growing snakeroot, you said?”

GM: “Yep,” Ferg says, similarly enjoying the bucolic splendor. He scratches his rump as he leads Brook around and behind the station. “I’ve got some sweet alyssum I’d like your read on too.”
Around back, Brook sees the station’s far from modest floral garden, particularly given its autumnal bloom. Between more chrysanthemums are balloon flowers, snakeroot, sweet alyssum, and the aforementioned chewed up toad lilies. Off to the side, a vegetable patch also sits with a trio of pumpkins not quite ready for Hallows’ Eve. “Damned rabbits,” Ferg says as he regards his ruined toad lilies.

Brook: Brook pauses a moment when he gets to see the full splendor of Ferg’s well-loved garden and looks over each flower with a bigger smile than the last. He might have to ask to pick one or two later. But for now he heads over to the lilies, seeing what he can tell about the rabbits that took their nibbles on them. “Poor things, I see why you wanted help. I’ll ask my mom to bring you over a sample of the pellets,” he offers, leaning in closer to inspect the scene of the horticultural crime.

GM: Bringing his lifelong ranger skills to bare, Brook notices that Ferg definitely has a pair of green thumbs himself. The few unraveled toad lilies are remarkable for surviving so long into the fall, although even the best are wilting severely due to the cold. Nonetheless, as Brook inspects the gnawed remnants of the pale while, lilac, and purple-spotted petals, stems, and soil around them, he confirms that a group of rabbits have been ravenously at work.

Or more exactly, not rabbits, but hares, and by the look of it, a manic drove of them. However, Brook uncovers another truth, one almost literally buried under the hare tracks. Human tracks. Far too small to belong to Ferg, the half-native tracker concludes they more likely belong to female feet. Furthermore, Brook discerns that, unlike the hares, the human trespassing was only incidental to the toad lilies which line the exterior of the autumnal floral garden. Instead, the faint human tracks cross through the toad lily border in multiple locations, each time stopping in the midst of the sweet alyssums.

Like the rest of the garden, the low, flowering bushes are wilting under two nights of frost, but their clusters of white, pink, rose, violet, and lilac blossoms still retain their honey-sweet smell. Given their wilted state yet numerous clusters, Brook nearly misses the last piece of evidence. Someone has purposefully sheared and plucked very specific bushes of sweet alyssum–or at least what he initially mistakes as sweet alyssum until he finds a small clipping that the intruder and thief must have dropped and then overlooked in the darkness.

The petals, particularly in their frost-wilted state, look similar but there is something off to their smell. They’re sweet, yes, but there’s something… else, something… off. Yet, despite Brook’s instinctual gut-check, his brain is unable to identify the nigh-mimicking plant.

“Always hard letting them go each year,” Ferg says of his fading garden.

Brook: Brook gets low to the ground as he begins his survey. Just like that night behind the Swiner almost a year ago, he keeps perfectly silent, gauging his prey. Hares. More meat, bigger teeth, more of a problem. But this is not the biggest concern he has. He gets on all fours as he carefully surveys the tracks through the lilies and into the bushes of alyssums. There’s something up here. The teen tuns and sits in the grass, looking over the bulb. There’s an ironic seed of doubt in his gut as he looks over Ferg. “So what was it you wanted me to look at so far as your sweet alyssums?”

GM: Ferg chuckles. “Oh, maybe just wanting a pat on the back. They came in really good this year. Or, so I thought,” he says a bit more humbly, as he goes over to inspect the wire fence around his pumpkins. “These aren’t ready yet for carving, and if we get any more snowfall, the station might have to settle for a painting contest instead.”

Brook: Brook leans in through the toad lilies, smelling each bush like he’s a drug dog, trying to get the scent of something important. “Something is up,” he calls, stuffing his face in another cluster of flowers, trying to pinpoint another whiff of that ‘off’-ness. “Are ALL of these alyssums? Did you mix these all up?”

GM: “What’s that?” Ferg asks, leaving his small vegetable patch to come back to Brook and the station’s fading flowers. “What do you mean?”

Brook: Brook grunts in effort as he slowly stands back up, opening his hand to show the bud left behind to Ferg. “Don’t let it touch your hand just yet, but do you know what this is?”

GM: The old dispatcher gives the clipping a glance, then looks back up to Brook as if confused.

Brook: “It doesn’t look wrong to you? It smells off… and it was pruned and left on the soil.”

GM: Ferg reaches a hand out then seems to recall Brook’s warning or request. He settles for leaning forward. “Huh, I don’t recall pruning them recently. Probably was the storm that whipped through here two nights ago, snapped more than a few of them off. I thought I got all of them yesterday, but looks like I missed one.”

Brook: Brook sniffs it again and makes a face. “Is there anything I can put this in? It seems to be the last one. And I might just be going nuts. But if I have my gear I can figure out what it is. After this court nonsense.”

GM: Ferg scratches his beard, then shrugs as he fails to see any difference. “Inside, we’ve got evidence bags if you want. I’d otherwise just use it for compost.”

Brook: “Evidence bag sounds nice. Other than that? Your lilies were attacked by hares. Lots of them. Putting the pellets just before your line of lilies should start to teach them, with the death of their kin, that your garden is not to be approached.”

GM: Ferg nods at the repeated advice. “I’ll remember that,” he says, then waves for Brook to follow him back into the station, where he provides the youth an evidence bag.

Hudson: The crunch of gravel from outside the police station heralds the imminent arrival of Brook’s probable ride.

Brook: Brook thanks the dispatcher again and asks him to hang onto it or put it in his boxed up belongings. The sound of the gravel being pushed around, however, makes the young man tense up again as he imagines the trip out to the courthouse, just to be locked up in a new cell. It’s not a pleasant thought at all, and he hopes in the back of his head that the DA or the judge will look at a 15-year-old and not want to take him out of school. He might already be expelled for missing yesterday.

“Well, Ferg… I guess this is it. This is going to be my first time out of Witiko Falls, funny enough,” the boy laughs, but he’s bad at masking the concern behind it.

Hudson: A few moments later, the door swings open to admit Hudson’s wide presence. The marshal looks much the same as last morning, but is dressed in a different light gray suit, darker trench overcoat, striped blue and yellow necktie, and a notable white bandage over one of his ears. Otherwise, however, the bags under his eyes and exhausted (to say nothing of mud-crusted) mien of last night, however, appears to have been banished by a full night’s sleep.

“Good morning, Ferg, Mr. Barnes. I see the latter of you is ready to go,” he remarks as he sees the youth outside of his cell.

Brook: Brook’s eye is, of course, drawn to the injury on Hudson’s head. Either he missed a party while he was in lock-up, or Moe is awake and resorting to using his teeth now that the three marshals have robbed him of his other arm. “Been ready for quite a while, and now ’ear you are.”

The proud, impish grin on the young man’s face can’t be hidden from his seniors, even with a hand over his mouth, his tan face starts to tint red as he holds back a crack-up fit of laughter. “I always tell people not to approach the raccoons, but looks like with every out of towner, it’s just in one ear and out-” the boy can’t finish the joke and breaks into a snicker for just a moment before slapping his face lightly. “Okay! I’m done I’m done. Had to get that out, I’m sorry.”

GM: Ferg nods to the federal agent as he enters, but gives a ‘tsk’ at the teenager’s levity. “All right, son,” he gently chides, “let’s get your things.” As he heads over to the storage locker, the dispatcher looks up at Hudson. “Might I interest you in a cup of coffee, Marshal? I’ve got my pot of maple bacon brewing again.”

Hudson: “Too slow, kid, I got an earful of those quips from my doc and deputies already,” Hudson dryly retorts. He nods in response to the other man’s query. “Yes please, Ferg. That sounds ten orders better than the vending machine instant they have at the hospital.”

Brook: “Oh, so that granddaughter I keep hearing about hasn’t had a crack at you yet,” he retorts back, riffling a hand in his pocket and silently putting the king-sized Butterfingers on the desk as Hudson passes. But the storage locker is calling, and the young man goes to check if all his things are present and accounted for. His necklace especially.

GM: Ferg tosses the keys to Hudson, then leaves the two alone while he presumably goes to get the offered coffee.

Hudson: The fat man catches them with a surprising cat-quickness and goes to check the locker for Brook’s things. “Don’t forget your candy bar, Mr. Barnes. It’s a long drive. Sugar might not make it shorter, but will make it sweeter.”

Brook: Brook makes no motion to grab it and continues with the marshal up to his locker. “It’s yours. I’m not a big sugar person. I’ll likely sleep most the trip anyway,” he assures the older man. “Are you going to call my mother to pick up my pistol? Or take it with you?”

Hudson: “Well now, that’s very kind of you. I’d say I’ll just have to be a big enough sugar person for the both of us, but I think it’s plain that I already am,” the marshal remarks as he pockets the Butterfingers.

“We hopefully won’t need the extra gun where we’re going. What’s your number?” After getting it from Brook, Hudson calls Mary from the station phone and leaves a message that he and Brook are headed out to Sandpoint, so she can come pick up her son’s firearm (and any other things he doesn’t want to carry with him) at her soonest convenience.

Brook: The young man makes no mention of the candy bar, but does give the marshal his phone number as they open the case. It’s the official largest handgun on the market and the boy beams whenever he sees it. “Can I take this necklace with me, at least? I feel naked without it,” he asks, taking it out of the box and dangling it. The anatomically correct heart and the small amber-colored stone are so fondly familiar by now.

GM: “I don’t see why not,” Hudson replies as he finishes his call and sets the phone down.

Brook: Brook waits by the locker for it to be opened, and takes his box out of the locker and onto the desk. The gun is first, he takes it out the box still strapped into the chest holster, putting it down over towards the sheriff so he can see the thing is unloaded and in his hands. Then he takes the necklace out, breathing a sigh of visible relief as he puts it back around his neck, dropping it under his shirt. The rest of the contents are whatever he had in his pockets instead of his vest or his bag on the night of the event. Several loose cartridges, a pack of gum, the ziplock bag with the bill and phone number, and other assorted junk a teen finds their pockets weighted down with. The Moonbrood bill is carefully wrapped up and slipped into a pocket, and the boy stands there a moment, staring at this box for just a few moments, waiting for Ferg to come back with that coffee.

GM: The wait isn’t long as Ferg quickly appears again, carrying a misshapen mug that looks like it was made in a middle school art class. He passes the coffee-filled mug to Hudson, then asks, “Begging your pardon, marshal, but is this really necessary?” He glances meaningfully at Brook. Yet, before Hudson or Brook can respond, all three men hear the crunch of tires outside.

Turning around, Hudson and Brook see a Cadillac Fleetwood limosine stop in front of the police station. Beyond its distinctive length, the car is immediately recognizable due to the wide-set pair of elk antlers fixed to its angular grille, its spotted hardtop made of Appaloosa hide, and its white-wall tires that have been painted to resemble roulette wheels.

A ‘native’ of the local reservation, Brook is passingly familiar with the vehicle–and its owner, Jacob Absalom “Sal” Ghostelk, chief proprietor of the eponymous Ghost Elk Lodge and Beavertail Casino. Hudson, though not a native but a long-time lawman in Idaho, also recognizes the fifteen–year–old vehicle and its owner’s prominent involvement in the American Indian Movement. Two of the Fleetwood’s back doors swing open.

From the rear door facing away from the station, an Amerindian man crosses the road and stops just short of the still-closed La Folle Journée Salon. There, he turns around and looks over the surroundings with a sullen expression.

Astanighkyi.jpg

Even at this distance, Brook clearly identifies the man as Astanighkyi Kills Many Horses. A Kanai rodeo man notorious for riding broncos into the grave, Astanighkyi, or Stan as some know him, has features, much like his boss’ car, that are all–too distinctive. The teen’s mind fills in the details his eyes cannot see. The large scar above Stan’s left brow that looks like someone or something chewed on his face. The slightly crooked nose from too many breaks. The perpetual frown on one side of his lip from an old knife wound. Otherwise, Stan’s clean-shaved face is framed in traditional braids, one of which is adorned with a beaded–and–feathered fetish. His patterned red, white, yellow, and black button-up shirt is half-covered by his rough-worn denim jacket. Similarly, his rodeo boots and jeans are half-concealed by his large, horse leather tooled chinks. Astanighkyi’s presence, though atypical outside the reservation, isn’t entirely unexpected to Brook, as the ranger cadet is aware of Stan’s regular service to Ghostelk as a security ‘assistant’.

As Brook’s gaze meets Astanighkyi’s, the teen is reminded of the tales told about the rodeo tough’s brow. Most say or assume his old scar came at the hand of a victimized horse, while others–including the Henderson brothers–claim he got it trying to capture the Coyote Child of Witiko Falls. Still others argue the scar matches something caused by human, rather than equine or canine, teeth. Indeed, Daniel’s older brother, Elijah, once told Brook and his best friend that Stan received the injury in a massive brawl down at the Burning Bush, courtesy of the Moonbrood after Stan allegedly pushed things too far with one of the establishment’s red-haired dancers.

Brook’s musings though are interrupted as his line of sight is broken by the second figure that exits Ghostelk’s limousine.

Janne_Whitedoe.jpg

That figure is without a doubt the tallest woman any of the men has ever seen. Topping nearly seven feet tall with her eagle–beaded cowboy hat, the elderly woman is further dressed in a puffy–shouldered, concentrically–bedazzled blouse-suit over an arrowhead–pinned neck scarf, denim slacks, and cowhide boots. Her short, blonde hair is nearly invisible beneath her slanted brim-hat, although her wrinkles remain evident despite her makeup with includes huckleberry–hued lipstick, black mascara on thin eyelashes, and painted-on eyebrows. That face squints in the slashing dawn as she strides forward stiffly, a briefcase that seems too small for her swinging in one of her long arms.

Although Brook has never seen this giant before, he has heard of her during his time at Lame Bull where other children spoke of the “White Sasquatch Woman” captured, shaved, and forced to wear clothes by Ghostelk. From other, potentially more reliable sources, Brook believes the woman must be the Scandinavian expatriate, Janne Whitedoe, whom the reservation adults tend to call Jane Doe.
The ‘White Sasquatch Woman’ halts just short of crossing the station’s still-open door. She pauses to glance down at Brook then turns her attention firmly to the even shorter federal agent. She smiles stiffly, revealing tobacco-stained and silver-capped teeth. “Good morning,” she speaks in heavily accented, yet fluent English. “I presume you are Deputy Marshal Schofeld?”

Hudson: Hudson considers the woman’s presence. If he had to guess, the reservation is threatening legal action over him arresting one of their own. He’s no expert on tribal law beyond that reservations are still subject to federal law, and the point is moot with the crime taking place on non-tribal land anyway.

Then again, Madcatcher and the Natives might be pursuing a different track. She struck the marshal as resourceful.

Regardless, he’s out of this town for good once the now-awake Moses is fit for transport, and what fuss the Natives throw then isn’t a concern to him. If they want to sue, they’re welcome to take it up with the Marshal’s Office in Boise.

“Supervisory Deputy Marshal if you want to make me feel important,” Hudson replies as he sets down Ferg’s coffee mug and strolls towards the station’s open door to address the nearly fifteen-inch-taller woman.

“I presume you folks are here over Mr. Barnes. You’d also seem to have me at a disadvantage in more than just height, Ms….?”

Brook: Brook stands a bit at awe of the woman every time he spots Whitedoe in Witiko Falls. If this Nordic bean-pole and Leanne are anything to go by, maybe he just has a thing for tall women. As the deputy makes a crack about her height, however, the young ranger lightly taps his arm.

“Rude. Deputy Schofeld, Miss Whitedoe. Miss Whitedoe, Deputy Schofeld,” he introduces, sighing at the coming storm and standing back a bit.

GM:Mrs. Whitedoe,” the towering woman corrects, but not with any evident rancor. “May I come in, Supervisory Deputy Marshal,” she then adds, turning back to Hudson.

Hudson: “Please do, Mrs. Whitedoe,” Hudson indicates. “Ferg here has just made some of his reputedly famous maple bacon brew if you’re feeling thirsty.”

Brook: “Apologies,” he shoots back quietly, tapping his ring finger and letting the adults work it out for once.

GM: “Thank you,” she replies once again in her heavy Scandinavian accent. She ducks her head as she enters, then adds, “but my loyalties belong to Mr. Blackplume. You would do well, Supervisory Deputy Marshal, to swing by the Wigwam before you depart.”

Ferg grunts a bit at the remark, but otherwise holds his peace.

Hudson: “I think my team can make that pit-stop, Mrs. Whitdoe. Perhaps it’ll even decide the question of my own loyalties.”

Brook: Brook looks back out the door at Stan the Stallion Snapper for a moment to see see if he’s just lost, before looking back in between the two adults inside. If his mother sent Jane Doe after the marshal, things are likely to get complicated.

GM: Kills Many Horses keeps his silent, sullen vigil across the street. Inside the station, though, Mrs. Whitedoe walks to the booking desk, sets her briefcase on the counter, and opens it with the iconic double-click of its spring locks. “Well then, Supervisory Deputy Marshal Schofeld, I shall endeavor to complete our business quickly, so as not to delay your trip.”

She reaches into her open briefcase and passes the federal agent a legal brief. “On behalf of the authority invested in me by the Kainai Nation and with the cooperation of your government, I am here to take into custody Brook Barnes.”

Hudson: Hudson accepts it and looks it over.

GM: Looking over the dense legal documentation, which includes numerous citations to Title 18 of United States Code, Sections 1151 and 1501 to 1521; Title 25, Section 1301; and Public Law 102 to 137; Hudson discerns that Brook falls under tribal rather than federal jurisdiction on his main charge of obstruction for three primary reasons.

First, all of Brook’s charges constitute gross misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Second, Brook Barnes can be prosecuted by the Kainai Nation by virtue of his official residence and adoption by a full-blooded member of the tribe.

Third, the primary charges of obstruction occurred, as the documentation thoroughly details, within Scratch’s Corral, a parcel of land that while not within the tribal reservation still falls under the tribe’s inherent sovereign authority due to an obscure legal loophole–the box canyon became an Indian allotment to a Kainai member in 1891 under the Daes Act and their descendants under the later amendments of the Curtis and Burke Acts.

The legal checkmate is sealed with all the necessary signatures, including the reserve’s chieftain, all twelve of the band’s council members, the allotment’s current owner, and faxed copies from Idaho’s district attorney and the Marshal’s office chief in Coeur d’Alene.

The stack of papers pass Hudson’s legal sniff-test–particularly once he locates the guarantee that the tribe will prosecute Brook according to their laws–or else jurisdiction immediately reverts back to the federal government.

Hudson: Hudson shuffles the papers back into a tidy stack and returns them to the cowboy-hatted woman. “Everything here looks in order, Mrs. Whitedoe. In the event you should need me or my people for anything, we’ll be parked at Mt. Pelion for the foreseeable future.”

All things told, his bosses’ call on how to play things is a pleasant enough resolution to this whole affair. Hudson might be paranoid, but he’s glad that the notorious Houdini will now get to remain under full guard. Even if he is missing both his arms.

“You, Mr. Barnes, are ‘free’ to accompany Mrs. Whitedoe.” He offers the youth a smile. “Seems your mother came through for you. You’ll be prosecuted under tribal rather federal law.”

Brook: Brook watches everything as he takes his mug of coffee, sipping and waiting to see what happens between the adults. Both are powerful people and both evidently want him, but he doesn’t expect the outcome to be so calm. Before he can catch up with what’s happened, the marshal is saying his mother came through for him, and Brook is only able to give him a slack-jawed nod with bewilderment in his eyes. It explains why she never came for him. And…

GM: Before Brook or anyone else can reply, though, the station’s radio crackles to life. Hudson’s heart lurches at he recognizes not only Cassidy’s voice, but her frantic urgency.

“Code 3 at 15!” she shouts over the intercom in the station’s main office. “Boss, they’re taking Moe! I repeat, code 3 at 15!”

Hudson: Hudson doesn’t waste a second either, including on farewells as he barrels out of the station with an almost uncanny swiftness towards his parked car.

“10-4. Who is taking him, Cassidy? Over,” the mustachioed marshal levelly asks as the vehicle burns rubber and speeds towards the hospital, blue and red headlights madly flashing.

Inwardly, Hudson isn’t sure how much difference he can make. Mt. Pelion is just enough minutes away. Three of his people were already guarding the prisoner.

But he drives on. It’s all he can do.

GM: More slowly but still urgently, Ferg rushes into the station’s main office, leaving Brook, Janne, and Hudson’s cooling cup of coffee.

Mrs. Whitedoe, meanwhile, returns the packet to her briefcase and closes it with a click of finality. She turns around to face Brook. “Shall we? Your people are waiting.”

The open door beckons.

Brook: The radio’s blaring with the emergency pull the boy’s bones towards the door to go and help, but his muscles freeze him in place, just watching as his brain rubber-bands and smacks him in the back of the head in realization.

They aren’t his people. They’re his mother’s people, doing her a favor. Brook takes one last sip of his coffee and quickly starts putting things from the box on his person, strapping his hand cannon onto his chest and walking around the desk. “What just happened? The council, DA, parcel owner, AND the Marshal’s Office? Was this really… I mean, what in the world would this cost my mother?”

The question at the end sends a pang of guilt through his body, imagining the mass of favors she owes now. At least the council has to appreciate him stomping out a ritual that isn’t theirs.

“Let’s go. I need to see my mother.”

GM: Janne does not answer his questions, but readily escorts him to the limo, where they are joined by the grim-faced Stan. Yet, as Brook steps out into the morning light for the second time today, the sky fears somehow darker as his mind is overshadowed by Moses’ words from two nights ago.

Give the Devil his due.

As the car pulls away from the curb, Brook is left to wonder just how many devils are in Witiko Falls–and just how much they are due.

Brook: Brook remembers that cave coated in what all would hope was the blood of wild animals. He remembers the devil in Bad Medicine and wishes he could warn the deputies not to go there. He remembers the fire and death in the eyes of a biker not truly of this world. Of course the boy wonders about the myriad devils and their dues in Witiko Falls.

But given what’s happened with Moses, he wonders more how many devils he can put into the ground before they come collecting their dues from him.

Hudson: A Golden Star


10.10.1998, Saturday morning

Hudson: Ten minutes after he took off from the police station, Hudson pulls in his car at Mount Pelion General Hospital.

His little man was right.

His deputies report that ominous G-Men in black suits showed up and ‘informed’ the Marshals that they were taking Moses into their custody. As Cassidy relates, she tried calling Hudson immediately, but the room’s landline and cell connections were dead with static–so she ran to another area of the hospital. Curtis claims he likewise tried to stall by asking for identification–but the G-Men reportedly provided it–although Curtis is strangely unable to describe the identification, the G-Men’s agency, their names, or even what they looked like exactly. Despite this cognitive fugue, Curtis remains adamant that he checked for proper identification and received it.

Hudson finds this incredibly suspicious and pursues several next steps.

First, he asks Curtis to submit to a medical examination by Mt. Pelion’s staff. Curtis begrudgingly does so, and the initial results are inconclusive if not substantively asymptomatic. Without pursuing neuroimaging, the attending physician provides a preliminary diagnosis of acute, stress-related hypsomnia and partial dehydration. Second, Hudson calls the Marshal’s Office back in Boise, and informs his boss, Warren Theodore Weaver–_the_ United States Marshal of the Idaho District–that individuals whose identities he is unaware of, as they technically weren’t ‘unidentified’, but claimed to work for an equally unidentified governmental agency, abruptly showed up and took custody of Moses while Hudson was away from the hospital. This wasn’t the FBI, was it? “I remember those bunch of misfits at VASCU were trying to claim jurisdiction for a while,” the mustachioed marshal remarks. Regardless, he is frank that Moses’ abrupt ‘transfer’ should be considered his rather than his subordinates’ fault, and asks his boss how they should play things.

Warren is incensed by this news. It turns out that Chief Deputy Marshal Ebenezer “Old Posse Ben” Stoddard of Coeur d’Alene’s office, who outranks Hudson but is still subordinate to Linus, had not informed their mutual boss about any of this. Warren tells Hudson to hang tight for a bit, only to call back in a few hours after reaming Ben through the ear and making calls to his own boss—the deputy director of the Marshals Service back in Washington D.C., or rather, Crystal City. Warren comes back from the latter call rather tight-lipped and tells Hudson to “let the matter lie”. When pressed, he reports that the men who came for Moses have jurisdiction, and the U.S. Marshals no longer do. Case closed. However, Hudson’s boss is exasperated enough by being run roughshod that he does briefly share his doubts as to “how many lights are on upstairs when an armless serial killer is ‘vital to national security interests’.” Warren nevertheless tries to console Hudson, though, saying “by my book, you still got your man.” The fat marshal agrees with his boss that things turned out as well as they could have. “We ran into some difficulties, and to my mind it’s a miracle that no one died.” He then assures Warren that he will remain silent over what little he knows–something which Warren thanks him for, even if it is clear to both men that he wishes it wasn’t necessary.

His little man finds this whole thing decidedly sour. He remembers that bad feeling he got around Nurse Wagner. He remembers Moses’ last words: you work for them. Moe is clearly not going back to the state psychiatric hospital. What possible importance could this madman be to national security interests? Why right now, rather than doing all those years in the loony bin? And just what government agency barged in claiming jurisdiction like Hudson is rather used to his own agency doing?

But those aren’t questions he can answer—or even ones that he’ll try to answer. He’s got his orders.

And so do his own subordinates. Hudson gathers up his three deputy marshals, which includes Maxwell returned from his break at the Lodge, and announces that the case is closed. He tells them he called the Marshal’s Office back in Boise, and that’s all they told him–in addition to ‘good job catching your man’. Moses is now somebody else’s problem, and the four marshals are now free to leave Witiko Falls. Hudson commends his subordinates for their work and tells them to meet up at the Ghost Elk Lodge in a few hours’ time for the drive back to Boise. He’s got a few remaining orders of business to take care of, not the least of which is eating a full meal at someplace besides the god-awful hospital cafeteria, which he recommends they also do. He’s heard good things about the sandwiches at the Swiner.

All three readily agree. “If I never see another egg salad sandwich again,” Maxwell laments, “It’ll be too soon.”

Hudson’s next order of business is to return to the town’s police station, where he samples Ferg’s maple bacon brew. The elderly dispatcher seems a bit more confused by Hudson’s unexpected return rather than his earlier abrupt departure. Hudson is forthright explains the former: some other government men showed up to claim Moe and they turned out to have jurisdiction. Hudson doesn’t actively press the dispatcher for information, but the long-time lawman is no slouch at drawing out stories–casually remarking, “I was surprised to find other feds in a town this small”–and slowly takes his measure of Ferg’s reactions between sips of coffee. Nonetheless, his compliment of the man’s brew is genuine as he helps himself to a refill. “My heart says I shouldn’t, but my gut is telling it to shut up already.”

As to why he’s back, Hudson remarks that he has a few last orders of business to finish up before he leaves. The first of these is retrieving Brook’s arrest records from the sheriff’s—er, undersheriff’s—desk, which he was unable to give Janne Whitedoe in his previous haste to depart the police station. Depending on how things turn out for young Mr. Barnes, the tribal authorities may or may not choose to destroy them. Hudson has known his share of federal agents who would gladly order local cops to serve as delivery boys, but he opts to simply mail the records from the local post office.

Next, Hudson makes a call out to Burrell, his old friend in the state police, and tells him how “Those motorbikes made all the difference, Joe. We got there just in time. Saved two boys’ lives.” Both long-time lawmen know there are few words that make the job more worth it than ‘you saved a life’.

Hudson uses the office’s electric typewriter to finish up his police report on Moe’s capture—he always prefers doing those at the office rather than at home. He also prefers doing them immediately after whatever events occurred, while everything is still fresh in his head. That personal rule is currently as hale and intact as Moses’ arms, the marshal grumbles. It’s been a busy few days.

His report is a bit longer than usual, but sticks to the same deliberately plain and direct language characteristic to such police paperwork. The report starts with Hudson’s arrival at the abandoned farmhouse and walks through the prolix series of events that led to Moses’ capture at Scratch’s Corral, including Hudson’s laid plans and counter-plans that turned out to be unnecessary in light of the farmhouse’s false evidence. Most saliently to the tribal authorities, the report also includes the three specific counts of obstruction for which Hudson arrested Brook: abandoning Red Aspen and forcing the marshal to split his team and conduct an unnecessary search for the missing youth; assaulting Moses on his own and causing the fugitive to use Nelson Judd as a hostage; and assaulting Moses again in the middle of the marshals’ hostage negotiation. A fourth salient count of obstruction was withholding information on Moses’ location, although Hudson had been unaware of that at the time and did not specifically arrest Brook for it. The tribal authorities might choose to prosecute the youth for some or all of those obstruction counts, or for entirely different charges.

Once the report is done, Hudson faxes a copy to the Marshal’s Office in Boise, faxes a second copy to the number provided on Mrs. Whitedoe’s card for the tribal authorities, and keeps the original report for his personal records. A follow-up fax to the Natives adds that his team is leaving Witiko Falls sooner than anticipated and includes the work phone numbers for the three marshals, in the event that Mrs. Whitedoe (or most likely, someone else) should have any questions pertaining to the report’s contents.

Hudson also seeks out the other county deputies, Tina and Chip (and so much the easier if they stop by the station while he’s working), to shake hands, thank for their assistance in apprehending Moses, and wish well. It’s a sometime “hobby” of Hudson’s to dispel the hard-nosed fed stereotype around local cops; beyond being courteous, it might well make some other federal lawman’s job easier down the line.

The marshal also leaves a ‘thank you’ phone message for the local (well, actually federal) cop whose help he relied on the most. Or at least who he imposed on the most. Mary Madcatcher seems the type to dismiss his thanks as yammering, particularly after he arrested her son, but Hudson does it regardless, and even chuckles too about the timing. Mrs. Whitedoe showed up literally the minute after he gave notice about taking Brook away.

The last member of Witiko Falls’ law enforcement community he bids farewell to is Ferg—who he also asks to pass along his simultaneous condolences and prayers to Sheriff—er, Undersheriff Bauman. He’s seen that look the county lawman was wearing back at the hospital. He’s worn it himself a few times. There’s no words he can offer to make things better, but as he remarks, “I’ve seen a lot of darkness in this town, Ferg. But I’ve also seen a lot that’s worth fighting for. And for whatever it might worth to your boss, I think he and his people are up to that task.”

Hudson also seeks out Stan Epstein to thank the math teacher for his prior assistance and willingness to play human bait in a thankfully now-unnecessary ploy, after the ‘evidence’ they discovered that he was Moe’s next target. “That might’ve been as fake as I’m fat, but there’s a lot of folks who would’ve wanted police protection instead.”

As lunch hour rolls around, Hudson meets up with his deputies at the Swiner; everyone was enthusiastic enough at the prospect of some non-hospital food that Hudson proposed a group outing to sample the town’s reportedly best eating establishment. The four marshals promptly brand themselves as outsiders when they ask the Yaeger twins for menus, causing Hudson to chuckle over their collective faux pas. This is a small town. That has a certain charm, too. After asking what’s good to eat, the senior marshal places a meatloaf order, with a request to “go easy on the bacon. I’m fat enough as it is.” He leaves the Slaughterhouse Five to Curtis and Cassidy, or as he wryly terms them, “the younger and healthier among our company.” As delicious as that sandwich sounds, Hudson’s frankly at enough risk for a heart attack as it is. Max probably feels the same way.

After the lead marshal ambles back to his car as stuffed and content as the pig for which the diner is modeled, the four stop by Coffee Wigwam for some steaming joe and light dessert to wash down all that crispy meat. Ferg’s competition is no slouch, but Hudson decides that his ultimate loyalties must remain with the law.

Once that question been resolved, it’s time for everyone to leave. The marshals head back to the Ghost Elk Lodge and pack their remaining things. Their loaned motorbikes, scrubbed clean of the muck from Thursday night’s miserable ride, are stowed in the trunks. Hudson lingers for a moment to admire the hotel’s scenic view. And to think back to all of the things he’s seen.

Raving would-be serial killers ‘vital to national security interests’. Curtis’ bizarre lapse in memory. Strange nurses who sent his little man anxiously tap-dancing. Unknown federal agents in this podunk town who could snatch out his jurisdiction. Even the ‘lesser’ things, like how the Britters have to lobotomize their cows. The anisocoria in so many peoples’ eyes. Sheriff Bauman’s—Undersheriff Bauman’s, the locals are starting to rub off on him—‘father of the year’ award from his kid saying ‘epoch’ instead of ‘year’. His battery-operated electronics draining so fast.

And the dreams he’s had. Strange and familiar and haunting and horrible like nothing else.

Just last night, his mind carried him to a far-off and long-ago vista in a tidy suburban house with a white picket fence and mowed green lawn, circa 1953. He remembers his cheeks being plump from youth rather than age, grinning as he blew out the eight candles on his mom’s specially-made checkerboard cake, hoping there would be another model train set in his birthday presents.

His uncle was there, telling him that inhaling the smoke from “so many candles!” would stain his nostrils permanently black (today he’d probably say “give you lung cancer”), but the WWII vet’s ornery sense of humor wasn’t why his eight-year-old dream-self was suddenly crying. It was the black shapes whose outlines wafted and comingled in a hazy fog of reality and not-reality just past the smoke. No, figures. Staring at him through the house’s windows, like he was a rat in a cage, and the fifty-four-year-old lawman knew they didn’t belong in his memories, and he knew they wanted something, and he knew they were wrong, that they were evil, and that he had to unmask them, had to identify them, because he’s a cop, and—

And then he was choking, not from smoke like his uncle laughed, but from what could only be described as a nightmare, as he bolted straight up from the sweat-slick sheets with his heart hammering.

Dreams, all right. Dreams he thought were his alone. But in fact commonplace enough for young Mr. Barnes to term ‘tourist nightmares’.

Hudson chews the lip under his thick mustache. There’s something odd about this town. He laughs as he mentally hears Cassidy saying, ’That’s a little obvious, boss.’ ‘No, no, Cassidy,’ he hears himself replying. ‘I didn’t say there’s something odd in this town, I said there’s something odd about this town.’

‘Every case is the sum of its parts. Every scene is the sum of its individual details. There are plenty of odd details in this town. But I wonder how long you would have to spend before all those little oddities added up to scenes, and how long before those scenes added up to cases. And how long before all those cases added up to one giant case. The entire town, Cassidy. Could it be a case? Or am I paranoid and reading too much into bizarre but disconnected incidents?’

Well, he’s got enough reservations that he’s not actually saying any of that out loud to her. But his own words to his old friend echo back to him.

It’s a strange town, Joe. The more of it I see, the stranger it feels—like leftover bits of egg-flavored gummy, stuck in the back of your gums. Stuck there, fermenting, a strange and subtle taste that only gets stranger the longer it’s there, and the more you think on it.

Yet for all its oddities, it’s a beautiful town, the marshal cannot deny. The autumn mountain air tastes crisp and clean in his lungs. The crispy bacon-wrapped meatloaf and rich black coffee digest happily in his gut. The snow-capped Bitterroot Mountains and douglas fir-spotted hills are a sight to admire. For all the locals he’s met who were strange and uncooperative, he’s met at least as many who were good and decent, or simply struggling to get by. From what young Mr. Barnes said, it can be a struggle to get by here. But perhaps it’s a worthwhile one.

The car’s engine revs up as Hudson twists the keys and closes the door. Struggles and mysteries the locals have in spades. But he’s done what he came here to do. He has a family that misses him. He’s going home.

A crunch sounds from tires over gravel—and from teeth sinking into Brook’s king-sized Butterfingers.

514 calories heavier than when I left, the marshal wryly concludes.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


Date [REDACTED]

GM: Hazel’s psyche falls into the spiral. Around and around. Retreats into the familiarity. Around and around. Predictable familiarity.

“We’ve been waiting,” the figure’s voice says. Its tired, monotone voice is barely audible above the cycle of laundromat machines.

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

“But we knew you would come. It was predictable.”

Hazel: Hazel blinks several times as her heart hammers in her ears. She furtively scans the laundromat for her dad—and has just enough presence of mind to feel embarrassed once her nerves settle. The rows of orderly, slowly rotating and whirring machines are calming in their own way.

This was the only one of the four chairs not to imperil her. There were no surprises. No obfuscating riddles. No appeals to emotional tendencies best restrained. Just simple, unwavering steadiness. The only logical choice. Her choice was made even before those ‘waters’ flooded her lungs.

“I have observed the alternatives. I choose logic. I choose stability. I choose you,” Hazel hears herself saying in a tranquil-calm voice.

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

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Hazel: “There was no choice before me,” Hazel agrees. “Three illusions and one truth.” She looks towards the cat. “I am prepared to proceed through the door, if there is no further ritual or deed required.”

GM: The cat, however, is nowhere to be seen.

Hazel still receives an answer perhaps as a laundromat machine buzzes in a tired, yet loud voice, signifying one cycle is done–and another is ready to begin. The headless figure rises.

Hazel: Hazel frowns at the feline’s absence but looks towards the nameless figure. “Do you require assistance in re-donning your head?”

It seems only polite to offer.

GM: The headless figures dispassionately points to the nearby dryer that buzzed and now sits still. “The lint trap should be checked.”

Hazel: Mom always told her she missed that step. Hazel doesn’t miss it now.

GM: As Hazel approaches the machine, she can feel the familiar heat and thrum. Sliding out the lint trap, she senses the scent of warm lint. Within the trap, Hazel finds the typical accumulations of textile fibers and other processed materials. However, she also spots of trio of movie tickets. All three are whole and still redeemable, but their showing times are all the same. Hazel’s fingers tingle with the habitual rush of kleptomanic impulse.

Hazel: How they do tingle. But it’s one thing to steal from Shop-Plus, the faceless exploitive corporation, and quite another to steal from an actual person. Or at least most of a person.
Hazel holds up the tickets. “Are these yours?” she inquires of the headless figure.

GM: The figure replies in a monotone, “One is yours.”

Glancing at the tickets, Hazel notes the names of the ‘movies’ belong to literary pieces. The first is Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, set to play in the Edwin Abbot Abbott Theatre, seat number 1884.

Hazel: It seems honesty does pay. She looks at the next two.

GM: The second is The Time Machine, allegedly featuring in the H. G. Wells Cinema, seat number 1895.

Hazel: Now that was a book she enjoyed as a child. She never cared much for ‘romances’.

GM: The third ticket is for The Canterville Ghost at the Oscar Wilde Multiplex, seat 1887.

Hazel: Wilde or Wells. Hard call.

GM: The laundromat persists with its mechanical and chemical cycles, unperturbed and disinterested in Hazel’s dilemma.

Hazel: A movie about space, a movie about time, or a movie about spirits. Her brow furrows as she considers the choices available.

“This one is mine,” Hazel declares, holding up the Time Machine ticket. After all, it was found in the lint. The trash. A book turned into a movie.

GM: Above, the laundromat’s fluorescent lights flicker with a buzz. Glancing up, Hazel notices the back side of the ticket. Like her surroundings, the stub has a familiarity that extends beyond its dinginess. The ticket is for a Scarecrow Cinema showing of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Time Traveler, an 11:11 matinee dated for July 15th, 1985. Her ticket.

Harvey had taken her to movies. It had been a Monday. Harvey had wanted to get out of the house–or perhaps wanted his then-10-year-old daughter to get out of the house. “It’ll be fun,” he had said. “And heh, it’s a science fiction movie, maybe we’ll learn something about science?” Lydia hadn’t attended; summer breaks didn’t apply to the corporate lawyer.

Hazel: “Maybe back in the ‘60s, Daddy, and if we were reading a book. Science fiction authors only tried to be consistent with actual science relatively early in the genre’s history. We’re even less likely to be educated by a non-documentary movie,” the still-literal-minded younger Hazel had explained. She’d added, “But a movie still sounds good.”

GM: “They’ll be popcorn,” the off-duty lawman said with one of his ‘aw shucks’ grins. “And candy.”

Hazel: “It’s too bad Mom can’t come. Maybe we can bring her back some Junior Mints.”

GM: “Yeah, pumpkin, that’s a great idea,” her dad had chimed, grabbing his keys. “They’ve even got that new movie, just came out last week I think. All part of the movie theater’s ‘Summer Time Madness’ special.”

Hazel: Actually, no, it wasn’t all bad. Mom would probably stop her from having any. She’d started to be weirdly fixated with Hazel’s diet that year, and the recently-chubbier ten-year-old didn’t care much for it.

GM: Oblivious to his daughter’s thought, Harvey had scratched his scalp, deep in his own thoughts. “Forward into the Past, I think it’s called. Maybe she’ll like it. She likes the main actor. Could be good.”

Hazel: “Hmm. I don’t think I’ve seen that.”

GM: “Just came out as I said. I’ve heard good things.” He had hugged his preteen daughter then. “But first, you and me hit the classics!”

Hazel: Hazel tried not to stiffen too much at the unexpected hug and made her usual effort return it. After all, he was taking her to a movie. “The classics, Daddy?”

GM:Time Machine!” her father had beamed. Along the ride, he had explained his first viewing of the movie. “Your aunt took me. First time I’d been in a movie theater without an adult. Felt special. The Scarecrow hadn’t been opened too long, and Mr. Clay was running an ‘End of Times’ special with the coming New Year’s.” He had laughed lightly while he drove. “I remember a lot of folks, Gramps, included didn’t like that, what with the Cold War still going on.”

Uncomfortable with his own change of subject, he veered back to the movie and proceeded to spoil about half of it, relating how Winnie was scared of the morlocks and how he never understood the reference to the three books. He might have spoiled the entire movie, had they not arrived downtown. True to his word, Harvey bought the tickets and let Hazel pick out candy, soda, and popcorn.

Hazel: Hazel didn’t mind the spoilers. She hadn’t seen the movie, but she had read the book, and it didn’t sound like it had changed too much. The plump ten-year-old was all-too happy to pick a box of Junior Mints and gummy multichromatic Dots, on top of the usual popcorn staple.

“Yes, the morlocks were scary. Though the part I found most so is when the main character travels so far ahead in the future that he sees humankind has devolved into, what was it, something like a butterfly? Then something steps on it, while the dying, massively expanded sun hangs in the sky. It was a very bleak image.”

GM: “Butterfly? I must’ve missed that,” Harvey had said, carrying their haul of junk food. Together, they had made their way to the theater, where Mr. Clay himself had been waiting to take the tickets. As people filtered through the line, the albino unnerved his customers by quoting Lovecraft. To the ten-year-old, the albino’s bizarre appearance were likely more disturbing than his words, but the savant child remembered the latter more keenly in the years to come:

“Reason as we may, we cannot destroy a normal perception of the highly limited and fragmentary nature of our visible world of perception and experience as scaled against the outside abyss of unthinkable galaxies and unplumbed dimensions—an abyss wherein our solar system is the merest dot… the time has come when the normal revolt against time, space, and matter must assume a form not overtly incompatible with what is known of reality—when it must be gratified by images forming supplements rather than contradictions of the visible and measurable universe.”

But as a ten-year-old, Hazel had been frightened to let the man touch her, and so Mr. Clay let her pass ahead, her ticket intact. The ticket now in her hand. It was always her ticket. Some things, time does not change. Back in the laundromat, the figure takes the other tickets and throws them in the trash with the other lint and forlorn rubbish, including a theater popcorn bag.

Hazel: Hazel had appreciated a fellow Lovecraft fan and quoted some of the cosmic horror author back. She had grown less loquacious at the prospect of physical contact, though, and drawn back to her dad’s side as she mumbled, “I don’t like touching people…”

GM: In the corner, the TV’s static buzzes and wavers, resolving into the opening credits of the Metrocolor film. A candle burns rapidly as a clock whirls in sync with the spiraling laundry machines.

burning_candle.gif

The wax gathers at the candlestick’s base till it is fully spent, only for the sequence to loop back. Around and around. A few faceless patrons glance up, staring vacantly and entranced by the photic cycle. Docile and pacified as the eloi.

Hazel: They are as undesirable an evolutionary branch as their morlock cousins in their own way. Hazel watches the phenomenon for a moment, then turns to the headless figure. “Do you require your head now?”

GM: Does the figure nod? Hazel cannot tell, but the figure then proceeds to the corner of the room, where the TV itself rests. The figure cinches its tie, slips its suspenders back up, and rolls its sleeves before it reaches up and takes down the old TV. Cables pull and snap, spewing arcs of electricity that eerily remind Hazel’s subconscious of her biological father’s terminal sacrifice.

Hazel: Her first father. Not just biological father. Not after the memory she relived.

GM: As the lights flicker, only to reveal another TV back in the corner blaring empty static, the figure takes its TV, still playing Time Machine, and mechanically goes about inserting the TV cables into its ‘chest’ and securing the television set in place of its head. Adjusting a few dials, its screen blares cold fluorescent light in a hue that defies taxonomy. Behind it, the laundromat’s walls are covered in boredom-driven graffiti. An adjacent window reveals an urban scene of congested, grid-lock streets flickering with rows of brake- and headlights.

TV_figure.jpg

Hazel: The question of the figure’s head, however, appears… answered. She watches the head-screen for any change in the featured program or further action from the figure.

GM: The TV’s face ripples with static, then resolves into a video. The video is… difficult. It opens with a sigils like a sun with rays, first digital then on a physical flag also bearing a another sigil that has elements of a circle, lines, and spirals in red. Clocked figures escort the sigil-bearing banner out of a valley into a burnt sepia sky. It shifts to an ornate rooftop clock, with cheap AV superimposed letters:

fotamecus
film majik

What follows is a disjointed series of clips filmed in 16mm, with various time dilations and lapses. The camera pans down, displaying a bus and moving vehicles. Men and women watch something in a movie theater, dowsed in ochre shadows. A digital clock counts, and low, drone-like chanting begins.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

More clocks, disjointed individuals moving. A park, then children moving behind a metal barred fence. Men and women preparing something at the table, something culinary perhaps. And the chanting continues.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

The sigil flashes again on the screen, black over yellow-film. A young girl’s face. Hazel’s face from a family home video. Then appears the sigil. More chanting.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

Electronic distortions that are more nonsensical noise than music. The figures continue to prepare something, surrounded by domestic artifacts. Flour in jars. Images and sequences repeat or skip forward. The same boy and girl walk behind the fence. She wears a blue dress of a ballerina. He wears a baseball cap. The sunlight overwhelms the equipment, making them a blinding blur. There is a lull in the chanting, replaced or perhaps revealing earlier whispers. Things are being mixed and stirred into a batter. Dough is rolled out, hand-kneaded and formed into circular shapes. Cookies, upon which are drawn the sigil. A straight horizontal line that touches the zenith of circle. Perpendicular lines flow down and away. The circle is bisected by a vertical line, then the form of twice-turned snake. The men and women are outside, eating the substance.

The whispers continue. The sigil in black fills the screen, then shifts to a night scene wherein torches burn, and the chanting begins again, this time more of a pressured hiss:

“FO-TO-ME-CUS!”

A drawn pentagram, figures in dark cowls, drawing something in the dirt with a lighter mineal substance. A spiral. The lower drone merges with the pressured hiss.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

“FO-TO-ME-CUS!”

Hazel struggles to discern whether they are in harmony or slightly out of synch. The montage continues to flash, unstable images of a ritual featuring fires and hands. The chanting continues. Over it, a sole man’s voice with a British accent begins to speak:

“The lapse occurs frequently.”

More chanting, growing louder.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

A pendulum swings. A timepiece. Fire burning in the night. The man’s voice returns, echoing:

“The lapse occurs frequently. Splinters of whole eternities compressed into hollow points. Glistening, impenetrable space.”

The chanting softens.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

The fire continues burning. Hands and figures, dimmed by darkness, cast in shadows.

“Everything we’ve ever done, or will ever do.”

The pressured hiss returns, adding urgency to the ceaseless drone.

“FO-TO-ME-CUS!”

The screen bleeds to white, with the black sigil superimposed, the camera unstable, and then the sigil fades back to the scene with the clock above the bus. Over the chanting and hissing, the man’s voice returns:

“Sips from the cup of memories you thought were round.”

The screen fades to white again, and in banal black font, it once again reads:

Fotamecus
Film Majik

A new white screen appears, mid-drone, with different tired black letters:

Glimpse of a 30 minute film
Under Construction
The date reads, 2002

The electronic distortion transforms into softer, rain-stick sounds, as the white warms to ochre, red, and sepia as the child’s face returns. Hazel’s face, dark-haired and messy, round of cheeks, moving as she babbles. “Remember this feeling,” the faceless narrator says. “These sights and sounds.”

The screen fades back to white, with black letters:

Directed by
Keyman

Produced by
INDIFFERENCE
PRODUCTIONS

And then at the bottom, there is a web address:

www.indifference.demon.co/u/fotomecus

As the soft chanting continues, a final scene of a child walking away, her back to the camera, her first day at school, her reflection wavering against the polished floor. The screen fades to black.
As the television screen grows dark and silent, the familiar sounds and sights of the laundromat return. In the corner, the ‘other’ TV continues to play Time Machine to the patron drones. Glancing to the corner, she sees that time has lapsed far more than she thought, the image of the morlocks suggesting at least an hour, if not 800,801 years.

Morlocks.jpg

Hazel: Hazel’s brow furrows as the bizarre montage begins, and furrows only deeper as it continues. She recognizes some of the names and symbols. But the order and significance of the seemingly random selection of images is lost on her. Time is a fluid, tricky thing to meddle with. It gives authors headaches trying to write for—really write for—and raises an infinitude of paradoxical questions. Hazel frankly doesn’t have the patience for it. Time should be a linear, static thing. A unit of measurement and no more. Further alterations are simply too inconvenient to quantify.

But of the three lint-lined tickets, she chose this one. She looks towards the TV-headed figure. “What is the significance of these images?”

GM: It reaches up and clicks a dial, changing its channel. On the screen is a feed of a black-green cat trapped in static. It turns, as if seeing Hazel and rushes forward till its own monitor-black eyes fill the screen.

still_taste.jpg

Hazel: Concern briefly flickers across her features at the feline’s state. But it was the one who said she had its sympathies. It’s… probably all right.

“We are defined by our pasts,” she answers.

GM: The TV figure nods.

Hazel: “The taste is impossible to fully expunge.”

GM: It nods again, and the whole laundromat echoes as all of the many heads within the machines speak in unison: “We are the same. The cycle repeats.”

Hazel: “It may be concealed beneath other tastes, but it is better to learn to live with the past and to appreciate its distinctive flavor. I enjoy the taste of my own past. I have considered many hypothetical and might-have-been scenarios recently, but they are an ultimately fruitless use of one’s energies. My past has made me the woman I am today. I am proud to be that woman.”

GM: Their voices drone again, even as some gurgle as their heads are washed and scrambled and cleaned. “We are the same. The cycle repeats.”

The TV-headed figure, meanwhile, reaches into its pocket and draws out two one-dollar bills that are as creased as its work-worn, sleepless shirt.

Hazel: Hazel accepts the bills with a perhaps needless “Thank you,” and makes her way over to the vending machines.

GM: The backlit vending machine is nearly empty, exposing rows and rows of metalline spirals. Three options, each costing a bill, remain. Hazel notes that the vending machine has been manufactured by a subsidiary of Metaphysic Trinity Incorporated, one Weaver Industries.

Hazel: The god in the machine. She pauses for a moment to admire the symmetry in one of the corporation’s three subsidiaries offering three options.

GM: Those options comprise a cut-out box cradling a light bulb. The bulb’s wiring, however, has been replaced with living, pumping blood vessels that create an umbilical cord to a fetus that floats within the glass-contained amniotic fluid. LIFEBULB, its box declares.

Hazel: She hopes she doesn’t have to eat it.

GM: Beside it is a table-sized Scrabble box whose tiles are printed with periodic table abbreviations. The box features a ’50s housewife smiling beside a printed caption: Because table manners matter! On its side, the box also boasts, Now with enriched ununquadium!

Hazel: She regards it with faint amusement before turning her gaze upon the third and final option.

GM: The final is a glass Jolt Cola bottle. Rather than dark, carbonated, and highly caffeinated soda, the bottle contains flickering lightning bolts.

Hazel: Hazel feeds the dollar bills in to the machine, selecting the grisly fetus and lightning-filled soda bottle.

GM: The vending machines buzzes, clanks, and rattles as it delivers Hazel’s purchases.

Hazel: She pulls them out from the slot at the bottom and turns to regard the TV-faced figure.

GM: Hazel is started to find the figure just inches from her. Yet, as she turns around, she is not ‘face–to–face’ with the glass screen, but instead to the opened rear of the television set. Although no mechanical virtuoso, Hazel nonetheless notices that the projector bulb is missing. Additionally, where once there was a power cord, there is a now an empty hole, a plastic-rimmed orifice.

Hazel: The figure’s abrupt appearance makes her clench hold of her ‘purchases’ to stop from dropping them. “Your head is missing several essential electronic components,” she observes.

GM: The figure does not refute the observation, but–true to its earlier statement–waits.

Hazel: Hazel inserts the fetus-filled bulb and lightning-filled Cola bottle into the appropriate locations on the TV.

GM: As she finishes installing the Lifebulb and emptying the Jolt Cola, Hazes feels the surge of power rush into the TV-headed figure. Quintessence emanates from it like the corona of Sol, a halo and palpable radiation of cosmic life and energies. Against the supernal brilliance, the laundromat dims like an over-exposed image.

And Hazel can taste it–the sweet and terrible nectar of two of the sefirot. She feels it in the heat and shadows of her skin, the infinitesimal growth of hair and nails, the jack-hammer of her heart, and the tides of sanguine rivers that flow throughout her body. She senses it the acid which burns like a chemical sun at her center, strengthening her vitality, delaying the slow, entropic death which seeks to unravel her pattern. She feels it in the reproductive pulse of her sex, the gravitational weight of her viscera and bones, the electrochemical storm racing through her neurons, and the quickening of her lung’s alveoli, a whole forest of life weathering a microcosmic cycle of hurricanes that maintain the secret art of homeostasis.

Hazel: She’ll be ashamed to say so later, but she flinches from that cascading rush of energies at first. The memory of the last quintessence she inhaled is still all-too fresh.

But that instinctive aversion lasts for only a moment. Those previous floodwaters were as a firehose being blasted down her throat at full pressure. This is a tall jug of ice-cold water on a hot summer day. Hazel raises it to her lips and drinks deep. Deep, and without fear.

The heat pulsing beneath her skin is extraordinary. It’s amazing to think just how much thermal power there is in the human body. It’s so internally warm that draping someone under enough layers of woven fibers can make them sweat like on a blisteringly hot day. It’s amazing to think just how much warmth there is in the world, period. She could call it up in the palm of her hand, make the exothermic process of combustion a plaything for her amusement. Or a weapon against her foes.

I don’t look like a fire, Mom. I could be one.

GM: As Hazel awakens to that inner flame, she opens her eyes to find herself back within the Chamber. The chairs and their portraits remain, but nine other objects are now present as well. Nine, plus the television-headed figure which stands behind the seated Hazel. The nine objects are arrayed in the configuration of the sefirot-fruit of Metaphysical Tree of Life, with Hazel at its grand conjunction.

Hazel: The sensations coursing through her body still leave her almost giddy. Her hands trace her flesh as she silently marvels at the simple, extraordinary efficiency of her own biological functions. The human body is infinitely more complex than any computer, than any theorem of Dee’s. It’s genius, it’s made in the image of godhead. She wants to worship it by stroking herself to climax right then and there—fuck, how long has it been since she last got off? Not since before…

But she forces herself back to the present as she observes the changes to the Chamber. Nine fruits. The three threes. A trinity of mathematical perfection.

Three of them look familiar to now, too. She has sunk her teeth past their skin, savored their just-right texture, and drunk their sweet juices.

And there are so many more… she wonders, if she ate them all, would the mythical tenth at last sprout from some unseen branch…?

Ah, and even these three she has tasted, she could yet savor even more deeply! She’s barely even broken past their skin. It’s staggering to contemplate just how much knowledge hangs from that tree’s boughs. It’s a wonder that the great branches don’t snap beneath the sheer weight of their bounty. It’d be a marvel for the ages if could… know all of that knowledge within one lifetime—and it’s a challenge she relishes. Here, at last, is absolute knowledge of all that ever was, is, and shall be.

Hers for the taking.

Hers for the claiming.

She licks her lips and turns in her seat to face the television-headed figure. “I wish to taste more fruits. What must I do?”

GM: The figure’s response types out letter–by–letter on its screen ‘face’. The other nine objects are also silent. Nine.

Dinner salt shaker.

Tarot trump card, the Sun, XIX of the Major Arcana, with its nubile male and female twins grasping hands beneath an anthropomorphized sun and field of sunflowers.

Greasy box of O’Dribbles, the inner lid of which has been scribbled with silvery ink.

Elk’s skull with a bullethole.

Sacrament wafer from the Church of the Almighty Shadow.

Generic Shop-Plus bottled water.

Police-issue flashlight with a faded Junior Deputies Club sticker wrapped around the handle.

Digital watch with a countdown in progress.

Ripped out page of a Latin Vulgate Bible.

Hazel: Those seven letters are not new. Hazel’s eyes scan back and forth between the rows of objects, but the pattern and meaning to them is not yet apparent. Still, the cat’s earlier words are also fresh in her mind. “I am ready to proceed through the door to the inner mysteries. Or are there further impurities I may yet dissolve within the Chamber?”

GM: The television-headed figure clicks another dial, causing the screen to flicker, then resolve into a distant picture of a stoplight. The angle zooms in, as the light changes to an electronic yellow. A message superimposes over the grainy image as it cycles in a tight loop.

is_this_mind_yours.gif

Hazel: “Yes,” Hazel instinctively answers. “It is possible, if not probable, that external forces and figures have tampered with it. But it is mine by right, and I shall fight to ensure that it remains so.”

GM: The figure neither gainsays nor concurs, but waits for the evidence to assert itself.

Hazel: “I am not finished within the Chamber,” Hazel replies. “I have not reflected on the nature of death and the dissolution of my impurities. I have made choices, certainly. There is enough of the Wyld in me to not believe my fate is wholly predetermined. I have aligned my essence to one of the metaphysical Trinity. I have gazed upon the great Tree and further savored its fruits. But I have not purified my inner self through the contemplation of mortality—not within the Chamber.”

Without further word, and with minimal further action, Hazel sits upon the not-space her mind corresponds to the floor.

“You may assist me in this endeavor by volunteering images or objects of my death and personal failings. But the core of the effort shall be through simple contemplation and reflection.” She sits cross-legged, closes her eyes, and takes a slow inward breath. Meditation features prominently in many mystic traditions. Her own personal use of the practice has been more limited. But not nonexistent.

Meditation was one of the first exercises she and her mom did together in yoga class. All… how many classes did they attend together before Lydia threw her to Mrs. Vosburg? Hazel had pretended to fall asleep during the first group meditation. She was seventeen. She wasn’t so brattish as to refuse to get up when her mom nudged her perhaps harder than was strictly necessary. But she was just brattish enough to still make Lydia do so.

She feels a pang of guilt over that. And realizes it’s as good a place as any to begin.

What were her failings then? In a word, childish stubbornness. Vindictiveness. She resented her parents for catching on to her PE lying. She was angry they were still making her take a class after she’d made up for the independent class she lied about, by walking—then biking—between their houses all summer long. She was angry at them and wanted to lash out. She was irrational, too. They weren’t making her take PE. The jig was up with Coach Ross. She couldn’t well claim to walk home while taking the bus again. They’d just wanted to make sure she graduated. If they could’ve waived the PE requirement any more than her IEP already allowed, she’s sure they would have.

For all the reverence with which she held level-headedness and rationality as personal virtues, she had not acted terribly rational. That’s another hard truth to be face. She might have idolized Mr. Spock as a child, but she can be a very far cry from logical sometimes. She is easily provoked and driven to respond with acerbic words and actions that alienate others. She wonders how things might have gone if she hadn’t been so openly rude to Mackenzie during their last meeting.

Part of her instantly stiffens at that notion. Mackenzie is a… she takes several deep breaths, attempting to quell her instinctive ire. Her old classmate’s behavior isn’t the issue. It’s hers. Mackenzie might have been a bitch, but she wasn’t wanting for company. Would a more tactful approach have secured her a meeting with a doctor who could have admitted visitors? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But logic dictates the odds would have been higher.

What, then, did she ultimately want out of her interaction with Mackenzie? No contemplation at all is necessary to arrive at her answer. To see her parents! What could possibly have come close in importance? She needed to comfort them and assure that she was all right—well, relatively speaking—to assuage their doubtlessly considerable anxiety. She needed to find out her legal status, too. Whether she had been arrested or institutionalized for…

Her train of thought comes to a crashing halt.

Well. She is supposed to contemplate mortality.

She tidies the previous corner of her mental house with one final admission—her actions with Mackenzie were non-conductive to her goals. She did not behave in a logical manner. Now it is time to consider the Sweeneys.

She almost doesn’t want to. Wants to bury that horrible thought out of sight and out of mind, forever—Just like she tried with their bodies? Her face flushes with shame. She takes several further calming breaths. The truth will always come out. Her heart goes out to that couple—for what pittance her sympathies may be worth. They seemed nice. They’d lost a daughter already. It feels especially wrong, to visit further pain upon those already in pain. Of course, they had other children. That does not diminish the pain of their loss, but could at least have meant they weathered it better.

How will her parents weather her loss—a seemingly all-too probable outcome, at either the hands of the criminal justice system or her undead nemesis? If he even wants to kill her at this point. Her life has quite possibly been irrevocably destroyed as it is. He’s one to savor his victims’ pain and fear. What’s the most sadistic way he could destroy her? Expose her as a murderer. Destroy her relationship with her parents. Drag her name through the mud. Torment her with guilt for her crimes. Drag things out as long as possible. Have a full trial. Make her family go through it all, to the unanimous “guilty” verdict at the end.

Maybe she would plead insanity. Lock her away in the mental institutions she’s always so feared. That’s mortality to contemplate if there ever was. Spending the rest of her life in a padded room. In one of the straitjackets the coathanger figure said she might like. She pictures herself, physically. Oh, they’d still feed her, exercise her, of that much she’s sure. Her parents would try to get her put away somewhere nice. But people in those places, the ones there for life, the ones who hate being there—they decay. First inside. Then outside. Their eyes dim. Their faces grow gaunt. Their hair thins. They scream and cry and throw fits at first. They get sedated and locked up. Lose privileges. The nurses take a disliking to them. Their fire runs out. All fire does without a fuel source. They settle down. Or they kill themselves.

Hazel thinks about killing herself. There are merits to the idea under such circumstances. The thought of her seventy-year-old self in a straitjacket, eyes feeble, drooling like an infant and barely aware past the drugs, is too horrible to bear. Better to end her life on her own terms. But the pain it would bring her parents… first a trial, then a conviction, then institutionalization, then suicide. She couldn’t think of a more horrible sequence of events to inflict on them. Maybe she could compromise. Kill herself after they died. That’s how many more decades?

She read an account from another autistic girl about suicide under similar circumstances. The girl had been unable to form any interpersonal relationships outside of her own family. So she told her parents that she would kill herself after they were dead. She didn’t want to go through life alone.

Hazel found her assertion illogical. The girl could have had herself artificially inseminated. She’d told her parents several times she meant to do that herself, just in case she never found a life partner. Her mom and dad will die eventually. But it’s not that she herself didn’t want to be lonely. She struggles for a moment to articulate the thought. Her parents were… are… good to her. She would like to… pass that on. She’s not been very good at articulating her desire to have children. She’d previously wondered aloud if it was simply biological instinct. Life is driven to reproduce. Her parents just said her heart was in a good place and the words would come to her later.

There seemed something… sacred in that. The simple fact of human life propagating further human life. Families stretching across the years and generations. Stability. Continuity. Virtues that have always been cardinal ones to her. Hazel considers where she fits in that great chain. Her. Her mother. So much alike, where it counts. Her mother’s father, and yes, Lydia is a great deal like him, even down to her j—

She pauses in her thought. She’s literally looking backwards. Forwards… she sees that great chain sundering. Herself as the last, broken link. Broken by her nemesis. Broken by her own crimes. No! No. Not if she has anything to say about it. The thought of her death and her parents’ grief does not merely seem a crime against their persons. It seems a crime against nature itself. A crime against existence. Against reality. How dare that dead, lifeless mannequin threaten her family!

But how dare she, imperiling her life and her parents’ lives by—no. She might remember killing the Sweeneys. But she can fathom absolutely no reason why—why she would threaten herself, her parents, with such a senselessly abhorrent act! She doesn’t remember any of the preceding events. How the hell did those parts wind up in her bedroom? How the hell did her nemesis know where to find them? And when did she even get the opportunity to kill them? After all, they corresponded entirely by-

Hazel pauses. By letters. Always by letters.

And the postcards. That would be a very unusual form of self-deception. The corpses swim before her eyes. The blood on her own hands. Yes, yes, she remembers that

Right when she met her nemesis, face to face? His involvement in this entire affair is beyond suspicious. How would he have known she killed them? When would she have had opportunity to kill them, corresponding entirely by post? And who sent those fucking postcards? Hazel feels as if her head is about to split open from the cognitive dissonance. She irritably snaps it shut. She won’t go mad. Not when she doesn’t know the full story. Like whether those letters were even theirs. Whether the handwriting even matches.

Why was her nemesis even interested in her? Because of her looks? There are prettier girls, and even more accessible girls, than her he could have preyed upon in Witiko Falls. How would he have even known she was coming back, if it was him? The police can’t answer those questions. The entire investigation was hobbled before it could even begin.

No. She’s not submitting to the law. Even if she did murder the Sweeneys—not yet. The possibility she might kill again is too significant not to address. She will confide the truth, again, in Leo. Someone to keep an eye on her while she discovers the truth. The full truth. And the truth is, she doesn’t want to go to prison. Not for her own sake. For her parents’. She could never put them through that. If she is a murderer, she will find a way to stop herself from ever again killing. She will not give up. She will not meekly submit to the law, remove herself from society so as to minimize the danger she poses to other lives. She will put an end to that danger herself. She has eaten of the great Tree’s fruits. She has power the likes of which she might have scarce previously imagined. She will not seek to control others with it—but herself. It’s as Leo said. As Plato said.

The first and best victory is to conquer self.

She will not kill again. Never again. And she will not destroy her family’s lives. She will not sunder the great chain. And she will be honest, too. Someone truly concerned with the welfare of one’s fellow men might give themselves up. Turn themselves in. Oh, certainly, there is validity to her argument that the full story must be discovered, the full truth made known. But that isn’t the real reason. The truth is, Hazel admits aloud,

“I would kill to preserve my parents and family.”

She contemplates that, then continues, “I would not merely choose their lives if the alternative was the deaths of two strangers. I would kill many strangers if that was necessary to preserve their lives. I would never kill for its own sake. I am not a murderer. I am not a monster. But I would become one if I deemed it necessary to protect my family.”

“And perhaps,” she finishes quietly, “I already have.”

The silence after the declaration stretches. Then anger flashes across her face. “No.”

“I am not a monster. I am not a saint. I am merely human. Human enough to feel pain over their deaths. Human enough to believe their lives had independent and intrinsic value. Human enough that I would never seek to harm those lives—”

“—save,” she continues grimly through her lidded eyes, “in defense of family’s. And yes, I am human enough to wish to get away with murder—if indeed I am the sole culprit—so that I might better shelter and protect my family’s lives. I will uncover the truth behind the Sweeneys’ murders. If my nemesis is responsible, I will bring him to justice. And if I am solely responsible, I will sabotage the investigation and absolve myself of guilt in the eyes of the law. My parents will put this entire nightmare behind them. I will ensure that another one never occurs. We will continue to be a family, and nothing shall ever break us apart.”

“I will not permit it. For I have tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and as I pursue that knowledge to catapult myself to Ascension—yes, to taste the tenth transcendent fruit!—I shall use its power to destroy all threats to my family, swiftly and without mercy. I shall lay Marilyn’s spirit to rest. I am human enough to have that much compassion.”

Hazel’s eyes remain closed, but a smile spreads across her face. “You have failed, Valentin Vladescu. If you sought to cripple me with guilt, to shatter my will to live and fight, you should have had me murder my parents. I accept that I may have killed the Sweeneys. I am sorry, if I did. I wish that I did not. But that regret no longer holds power over me. It does not deter me from my present course of action.”

Attila stands up. Her open eyes flash like the lighting now at her command as she roars, “I am Hazel Calloway Attila Bauman—I shall pluck the tenth fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and love my family as fiercely as I shall protect them—and woe to any who would stand in my path!”

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