Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Phase II, Case File 2.01


Hazel: Attila Awakens


GM: Such wildering scenes, such flitting shapes
As feverish dreams display:
What if those fancies still increase
And reason quite decay?

GM: Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of its own
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh.


A slumbering thought, is capable of years,
And curdles a long life into one hour.

GM: Awareness is the enemy of sanity,
For once you hear the screaming, it never stops.

Date [REDACTED]

GM: The prison of her body cannot contain the madness of her mind. It blots out reality, casting her in the blackness of sanity eclipsed. Yet, in the darkness, there is sound. It fills the abyss: a terrible static. Endless, eternal, evermore.

But something else emerges from the static insanity: a signal. Its piercing tone makes her ravaged psyche bleed, but it is all she has–all she has save the dark static of her soul.

Following, clinging to the tone, her psyche hears the signal transform. As it does, the static recedes. Not away from her, but deeper inside her. But it is quieter. The other sound breaks free of its tonal chrysalis. It unfurls its audial wings and alights upon Hazel’s senses. The echo of its resonant wings becomes a mechanical voice:

“You have a collect call from–”

Another flutter of audial wings changes the tone to something more organic, yet still alien:

“–The colors of the future.”

Another echo, and the return of the mechanical voice:

“Will you accept the charges?”

Hazel: “Charges? Color? What charge–” It’s dark. Dark, like her hair is dark. Her hair is dark and black, and it’s good that it is, that she can’t see the hand that’s running over it, that’s running over her face, giggling, but there isn’t supposed to be a hand there, and she knows why, if she could just see if it wasn’t dark, she’d see–

“I accept! I accept! I accept!”

GM: There is a click as the noise-moth dies. It plummets through the abyss, descending in a resonant spiral. Around and around. But its death throes create an audial pathway for Hazel’s psyche to follow in the maelstrom of black madness. It leads her to a keyhole.

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Inside is another abyss, black and lightless. But its darkness is not inviolate. As her mind presses to view inside its recesses, she becomes aware of numbers falling.

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Their light cracks the stygian insanity. Ones and zeros. 1s and 0s. Streaming like green rain. A dichotomy upon which the universe can be expressed and programmed. But then the numbers shatter. Euclidean time-space fractures as the illuminated numbers disintegrate and transmogrify. They bend and break, shift and shuffle, merge and meld. And as the semiotic alchemy proceeds, Hazel senses new patterns. Sacred geometry. It burns like the kiss of the seraphim. Circles. Spheres. Nine and one. Ten. One and zero. One.

AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.
AWAKEN.

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The images flicker like the closing and opening of the inner eye.

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Hazel: Numbers. There’s logic in numbers, the universal language everything is built off of, but it’s not the language she speaks. She’s never spoken the same language as the rest of the universe, never been tuned into the same frequency. The spheres, the letters. Symbols and visual aids she understands. They are her own her own order, her own 1s and 0s.

The flickering stream of numbers disappears. There is only the kaleidoscope-like spinning and rotating of the geometric patterns, whose depths she already seeks to plumb and configure.

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GM: AWAKEN

And with that choice, her inner eye opens with white-fire burning away the blackness! Its gnostic flame illuminates the symbolism of the spheres: a sacred geometry. As the apocalyptic forms and geometric ratios unfold in her mind’s eye, her understanding of the secret universe unfolds, enlarges, alters, and awakens.

She beholds the Tree. The Tree, map of Transcendental Existence, unfolding from the Primordial Unity to the Infinite diversity of Manifested Reality, expressed according to a mathematical progression based upon the square root of three, the Metaphysical Trinity: Dynamism, Stasis, and Entropy. The Fruit of the Tree, its sephira or spheres are nine and one. The crown of Prime, the foot of Matter, and the other sacred seven between them: Life, Spirit, Mind, Force, Space, Time, Fate, and the tenth transcendental fruit that remains untasted, unknown, but not forbidden. This last fruit of Consciousness is the key to Superconsciousness to which all existence seeks to ascend.

But it awaits the one who walks within the Vesica Piscis–which signifies the mediation of two distinct entities; the complementariness of polar opposites, as when two extremes complete and depend upon one another to Exist: the Dialectic Monism. One circle may signify the Masculine, the other the Feminine. The Sleeper and the Awakened. The Sound and the Silence. The One and the Null, that in Grand Unity is the Womb of Quintessence and the Child of Ascension. In those gnostic-lit circles and its supernal mandorla, both Sleeper and Awakened perceive themselves for the first time.

Themselves.

They are the Key. Ascension awaits Them.

Atilla Awakens.

01.16.1977, Sunday night

GM: As the door unlocks, the black abyss is replaced by a white one. Static returns, but it is silent. Outside it is snowing. Voices, male and female, break the white static’s silence.

“Slow down. You’re going too fast.”

“I’m ten under the speed limit.”

“I know. It’s just–”

Time and space fold into a singularity whose violent dissolution creates echoes that tear through their lives, taking, altering, transforming. Gravity lets go first. And they fly. The stoplight changes without warning, turning from its faint, safe green to a lurid black that devours the wintry light. Lydia slams on the brakes as another vehicle tears through the intersection. But the brakes have nothing to grip in the icy blizzard-rimmed roads of Witiko Falls. Their car slips and begins to spin. Around and around, like a reverse Flower of Life whose sudden, violent terminus is inevitably death.

The final impact causes the car to wrap around an old black-iron light-pole that bends, half-ripping from the ground. It crashes into a power-line. The cable snaps, showering the vehicle with its sparks that instantly evaporate the falling snow. One end writhes like a black dragon, spitting electric flame from its frayed mouth. Sound finally catches up like thunder after lightning. Glass breaks, tires screech. Metal groans as it painfully contorts in ways it never should. A family screams. And then there’s the deafening car horn that will not stop. That will not ever be consoled.

Hazel’s mother does not move. The airbag cradles her unconscious face, spatters of blood and glass shards riddling her clothes and long black hair.

Hazel: MOM!

Hazel knows how this plays out. Knows her mother survives. She’s heard the story, in some form or other, a million times. But hearing isn’t seeing. And her mom. Who’s unconscious. Hazel always thought…

Where’s her dad? Her other dad?

She knows there’s nothing she can do. But this is her first chance to see him for herself. Did he have any… last moment with her? How did he die? And who was in that other car?

GM: “Hazel…”

It’s his voice–a voice she’s since repressed. Its familiarity is reminiscent of a childhood blanket rediscovered in an old attic. But the pain in his voice is also all-too naked. He tries to swallow it. Without an airbag, her father’s face struck the glovebox in the impact, shattering his constantly worn sunglasses. As the shards fall away, they reveal a man with sallow–pale skin, short–cropped hair prematurely marked with white around his temples and forelock like stray microcosmic lightning through midnight. His features are a mix of oriental and occidental. But his facial appearance is most strongly defined by what it lacks: eyes. Born with the rare congenital defect known as anophtalmia, Hazel’s father turns to her with his eyeless face. A small rivulet of blood runs down his cheek like a tear he cannot cry. “It’s okay… to be afraid.”

Hazel: He was… blind? Mom never mentioned that. He’s almost surely accustomed to it and has far graver concerns right now, so it seems almost pointless, but… Hazel feels sorry for how he can’t see. No, it’s not pointless. It’s as Mom said. Being only human.

GM: He reaches a hand to his wife. Touching her in a way that is tender but otherworldly, as if his haptics transcend mere touch.

Hazel: It’s such a minor thing, though, against what is to come. Why is it what’s making her cry? Would be making her cry, if she had eyes to weep with? I’m sorry. I…

GM: The crushed passenger door is bent around and through her father. He coughs, and something red and bubbling flecks his lips. “Are you okay… Hazel?” He turns, painfully, and reaches for her.

Hazel: Yes, yes, I’m fine, I know I survive, it’s YOU who’s dying! It’s you you should be worrying about! Damn it all, where’s the police, where’s–where’s Dad–my other da… where!?

GM: His fingers stretch as if to feel her face, her hands.

Hazel: Her mind blinks away imagined tears. Why couldn’t he have gotten here FASTER!?

GM: The horn keeps screaming. Sparks snake and sizzle the air, evaporating the blizzard in gouts of white vapor like the breath of a demon. Above, the baleful stoplight keeps ‘shining’ black, drinking in the pale wintry light. “Hazel… Daddy needs your help… can you… reach me?”

Hazel: I’m here, I’m here, I’m… A long pause. Is he addressing… her?

GM: His fingers plead and struggle to find her.

Hazel: No, it can’t be, he’s addressing the three-year-old who… where even is she?

GM: They realize that she is them, and they are she, at least in part. Hazel is witnessing these events from her three–year–old eyes, experiencing the tortured emotions of her old selves and new.

Hazel: Hazel’s only three, she was always clumsy, but… now is not the time to fall back on her disabilities. She’s comparatively uninjured by the crash, thanks to sitting in the back and in a booster seat. Her tiny, trembling fingers hit the release. She leans forward, her hands seeking out her father’s.

GM: As the click echoes like another key turning in her mind, there is another sound that both she and her father hear.

Hazel: Tears run down her youthful features as her mouth soundlessly moves. It’s still a little while before she utters her first words. No… this isn’t just her, this is me. SAY SOMETHING, you little shit! SAY SOMETHING! she screams.

GM: The black car that almost hit them, that made them mortally swerve and crash, catches on fire. Its front is smashed into a local downtown antique shop–its driver lays impaled on the broken shards of the shattered windshield. As the flames lick up from the hood, the figure starts to scream. Hazel notes that the figure does not bleed–It leaks. Something oily and black rather than red issues from its torn frame. Its black suit, white dress shirt, and tie are torn, revealing something wrong inside its chest cavity. Gears, pistons, cogs, and strange inhuman apparatus. A gust of white wind rips off its black hat, exposing similarly bizarre elements. The man-mockery screams again: but only deafening static comes out of its pipe-throat.

Her father looks up at the unsound. Fear might wash over his eyes if he had any, but his jaw clenches. “Hazel… close your eyes… don’t… watch…”

Hazel: Somehow, she always knew that it wasn’t natural. What happened that night. On another occasion, she might investigate the other driver more closely. No, she will still investigate him. It. But that doesn’t matter, not right now. She looks up at the brave, blind, and doomed man who was her first father through blurred eyes.

SAY SOMETHING! Just… just SAY SOMETHING!

She can feel the words, tries to make them well up in her younger self’s throat. She’s physically capable of speech! She’s…

This is just a mental block, like the anxiety attacks! Say something, you stupid little aspie! SAY SOMETHING!!!!

GM: The unman lifts its body from the burning car, its oil-blood leaking down its torn open chest. Its clothes catch fire, but it stalks uncaring to the Calloways’ car–and its occupants. To Hazel.

“Close your eyes!” her father shouts.

Hazel: Hazel pulls at her younger self’s jaw with a set of metaphysical pliers. She knows what happens to her father, even if she’s no longer sure how it happens. But there’s something she can give him before he dies. Maybe it’ll grant him some measure of happiness, however briefly, before he… NOW!!!!

Her eyes clamp shut. But her mouth forces open.

“Dad…”

GM: Although her physical eyes shut and block out the horror of the approaching thing, her immaterial, awakened eyes remain open. They watch as her father’s fingers click and shift in prolix patterns like a programmer performing a yantra-esque hack into something. His shape begins to transform. The light around him dims like a reserve halo. Then, he is illuminated by a field of tiny lights as if his features are cast in the glow of a giant monitor.

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As the transformation continues, a mask appears over his face, its ancient features resembling a Japanese Noh mask. Her awakened eyes can taste the digital magic, the fruit of the Tree, as her father reaches for those lights. He grunts from the strain, blood beginning to leak from the painted nostril of his Noh mask.

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The unman reaches the car. It rips off Hazel’s door like wet tissue paper.

Hazel: Damn it, I can help, I can help, I can see the Tree too…!

GM: Bound by father–daughter bonds she will later forget, the three–year–old keeps her eyes shut, blocking out the sight of the thing as it goes to reach for her.

That’s when the snapped power-line comes alive and whips around the unman’s ankles, dragging it back away from the car. Her father’s mask and lights flash brightly, his fingers flickering as he grunts and coughs. The frayed, sparking ends of the power-line rear up like a snake. It fangs the unman’s exposed clockwork heart, pouring a million volts of electric venom into Hazel’s would-be attacker. The massive discharge causes the downtown’s electric boxes and electric network to spark and black out. The unman writhes, its gaping mouth-pipe screaming static so loud that it breaks windows.

Hazel: He saved me. He died saving me. He…

GM: The stoplight fries. Its blacklight dies. The writhing stops. The static recedes. The car horn becomes silent. Unconsoled, but silent. In the stark quiet that follows, Hazel can hear the snowflakes fall from the heavens. With her window ripped off, she feels their icy touch and the biting cold wind.

“Hazel…” Her father coughs, badly, painfully, and there is the sound of movement. Maybe something tearing. His fingers brush her face. “My dream… Hazel… can you… do something… for Daddy?” His fingers gently touch her face, as if to read her gestures.

Hazel: Her tiny hands brush back. Yes, yes, anything, while there’s still time…

GM: “We’re going to… play a… game…” There’s a wet, ragged cough, followed by a wheezing sucking sound. “Hide… and… seek… just keep… your eyes… closed…”

Hazel: A game? This isn’t any time for games! He needs help, NOW, before…

GM: “I… have to… go… away…” Another shudder, cough, and visceral sucking sound. “But… you’ll… find me… you were… a…ways… be…t… at… se…k…ng.” His fingers touch her lips, pushing gently at a corner to ‘feel’ her smile. “Jus… list…n… lis…n… for… the col…rs…” Hazel’s awakened, wide-open inner eye watches as the reflective transphysical lights return. They flicker soft and dim like digital fireflies.

Hazel: This word doesn’t take any great effort to coax forth in her younger self. “No!” A new wave of tears runs past her still-closed eyes as she sniffles, “No… Da… no! Don’t go! No! Don’t go!” He can’t go. Please, no.

GM: “Th… c…l…rs… of… th… f…tur…” His hand falls away from her tear-wet face. The lights die. All save one. Its tiny, fragile light leaps like microcosmic lighting, disappearing into the wiring of the nearby payphone.

Her father breathes no more. Little Hazel sees none of it. There’s only the terrible absence. The silence of his voice. The abyss that will forever remain between her and his loving touch.

Hazel: No! It’s not… if he had the power to, WHY did he… could he let… they could’ve made this right! They could’ve fixed this! Somehow! Did he… did he even get to hear her? Or was it all something she imagined up, in hopes of granting some measure of last happiness to a tragically doomed man?

GM: Hazel’s only answer is the silent, white-snow static that falls from the sky.

Hazel: Find me.

Yes, yes, he’s right, she’s always been good at finding things, at picking up patterns, she can find this… these….. colors? She can find them, whatever they are. Wherever they are. She just… has… to… wake up! AGAIN!

GM: As the three-year-old Hazel cries and shivers, the colors of the past and present bleed together in flashing reds and blue. But the white-cold static washes out all shades and sounds.

Brook, Hudson: A Golden Star


10.09.1998, Friday morning

GM: The night’s storm has passed, but the morning gusts stir and stipple the hospital’s half-flooded parking lot. The same chilly-wet wind slaps at Hudson and Brook as the former escorts the latter to Hodges’ truck. Showered and freshly clothed, Brook watches as another gust catches the dark-green tarp tied to the truck-bed, causing it to twist and like the Green Lady.

Hudson: Hudson is neither showered nor freshly clothed. He gets the door for the handcuffed Brook.

Brook: Brook still feels the film over the world, but with the time and the shower he’s been gifted, the cause becomes clear. Filth. He’s coated with more than just the filth that the marshals can see, but he can feel it coating him. The tarp’s rippling form only drives home what he knows. He needs the box under his bed and he needs one last visit to the Green Lady before the fall gets too cold, and she sleeps under ice.

The open door has the teen step into the truck, resting his head back and waiting for the portly marshal to join him.

Hudson: Brook does not have to wait very long at all. Hudson’s clothes are still wet and coated in mud, even if he all-too thankfully accepted Max’s dry coat to replace his ruined one for the drive over. The fat marshal sees Brook inside, then promptly gets out of the cold himself.

GM: Far above, a stray goose, likely divided from its flock in the storm, flies south for refuge from the coming winter. It honks plaintively.

Hudson: He turns on the ignition and pulls out of the hospital’s well-lit parking lot. The police station is ten or fifteen minutes away.

Brook: “So. Mind if I ask you a question?”

Hudson: “We don’t have too much else we can do at the moment, Mr. Barnes.”

Brook: “You’re leaving Witiko Falls for good after this, right?”

Hudson: “Once the doctors tell us Moe is in good enough shape for the trip back to Boise. But yes, I’ll be gone for good.”

Brook: “How far along have the tourist nightmares gone?”

Hudson: Hudson raises an eyebrow that’s still caked with a smidgen of dried mud. He sighs and rubs at it. He washed his hands and face back in the hospital, but it looks like he didn’t get everything. “‘Tourist nightmares’, Mr. Barnes?”

Brook: “Every visitor up here experiences nightmares,” he states, very matter-of-fact. “Just like why you can’t bring dogs up here. Different question, then. Did Nelson have any police protection when you let him leave that day? Mr. Epstein is a known gun carrier, my home is the most secure place in the Falls, but Nelson was the one of three who was taken.”

Hudson: “Mr. Barnes, it’s very late. Late enough that it’s rolled around to being early, in fact,” the mustachioed marshal says tiredly. “Though I suppose the one upshot to that is the rest I’ve gotten here being equally terrible.”

Brook: Brook side-eyes the lawman, and shakes his head. “If you survive what comes after the nightmares, you’ll be fine.” Easing into his seat, he looks out the window for the sun. His body doesn’t ache as much as the older man’s, not by far. The trip there was easy, the fight short and vicious, but not terrible. “If you ask Mr. Epstein, I even told him it’d be us. And if you talk to him today, thank him for me. His math class was the only reason I was able to find Moe.”

Hudson: “I don’t think there’s any reason for me to burden him with that guilt.” Hudson looks out over the rising sun. It’s still cold and wet outside, but the brightening sky and heated truck constitute a vast improvement over his previous mode of transportation. “Finding you and Moe together was something we’d prepared for, but hoped to God wouldn’t be the case. You either had the worst luck in the world to run into him, or some idea of where he was.”

Brook: Brook wants to say a lot, wants to credit the forest for guiding him once again, and his memories of the forsaken little valley. But he spots the sun too, and the thick form of the young man beside him starts to almost deflate before the lawman’s eyes.

“It wasn’t ‘some’ idea, no. There was a pattern, and I found it using the obvious clues he left behind. The composite sketch of his shit-pentagram, the fires, everything fit neatly together in the golden ratio. The radio tower was inoperable, so I had to…”

Those are the boy’s last words, the sun signals his downfall as he passes out in his seat.

Hudson: “Hmm-hmm. And what about your truck radio? Or the tower’s generator?” Hudson chuckles. “Sounds like I’m out of a job, though. You’d get along with my granddaughter. She can name a hundred reasons she should be wearing the marshal’s badge instead of me.”

GM: Brook’s narcoleptic snores are the marshal’s only reply.

Hudson: “That includes my being too fat,” the marshal continues conversationally. “She thinks the marshals should have a maximum weight, or at least BMI requirement. I switched from smokes to candy bars so her dad wouldn’t inhale any secondhand, when he was a kid. Isn’t that some life.”

“But that’s kids her age. They always know better.” Hudson lets Brook sleep for now—god knows he could use the rest—and looks ahead towards his drive.

GM: Ahead, the mountains are dark with rain and receding shadows. Nestled between those peaks, Witiko Falls remains largely asleep, barely even stirring. Indeed, the only ‘passenger’ Hudson crosses on the roads before reaching Witiko Falls’ police station is a tumbling plastic bag from Shop-Plus.

Brook: Brook’s body and mind fight over rather to sleep or panic each time they both realize that his wrists are bound. Every so often his arms flex as they remember the sense of dread from Moe wrapping his arms in tape, but Brook relaxes as he remember the look of horror on the madman’s face when he ripped off those bonds. It continues all the way to the station, and the only other conscious thought that pulls itself out of his brain is the lament that he can’t look out over the mountains after a thunderstorm.

Hudson: It’s a much too early—or late—hour for anyone to be up and about. Hudson has to admit he likes it, though. It feels natural. In tune with how things should be. Everyone being in bed, rather than a city’s never-ending pattern of frantic activity. That’s small towns. Hell, you could probably leave your car and house unlocked in a place like this. Hudson parks the truck, gets out, and gently shakes Brook awake. “All right, we’re here. You can get your full day’s worth inside.”

Brook: Hudson’s finger barely brushes Brook before his eyes shoot open. He looks the man over like he’s wondering why he’s so tall and white, before the teenager’s memory catches up with him and he grumbles a response. He then slides out of the truck and shakes out his legs as he looks up at the building. He’s quiet for the moment.

GM: Brook awaits to his destination and seeming place of temporary residence for the unforeseen future. 131 Cackleberry Lane. Police Station of Witiko Falls. Although Hudson’s been here before, he is still struck by the building, which altogether looks more like a small-town bed–and–breakfast than a jailhouse.

True, POLICE STATION is brightly emblazoned above its two white-washed doors, but those words and the usual menace or at least power they carry is literally overshadowed by a fragrant mass of flowers grown over the building’s large porch, complete with a sitting chair and whittling stick.

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Hudson: Not that it likely ever sees many real inmates. Probably just drunks sleeping it off.

GM: Both men note the night’s storm has beaten up the late-blooming blossoms rather badly. It’s hard to tell whether Brook or the flowers are more badly bruised.

Hudson: This is small towns, all right, but the floral wreath had made even Hudson pause at the sight at first. Well, he’s seen stranger—and in this town no less. He leads Brook inside.

Brook: Brook feels better than those flowers do, at least, he frowns lightly at their state, but still heads inside with Hudson. “You know, I have one more question, Marshal.”

Hudson: “Shoot, Mr. Barnes,” the marshal deadpans.

Brook: “Was this necessary?”

Hudson: Hudson gives a tired half-smile. “Would you be here if my answer was no?”

Brook: “Maybe. I don’t get why this had to happen, though. You couldn’t find him, and I did. And it ended up saving Nelson’s life.”

Hudson: “Since you’ve asked, that I can explain.” There’s only one chair, so Hudson sits down on the station’s front steps and motions for Brook to take a similar ‘seat’.

Brook: Brook sighs and looks out over the town. “Please do.”

Hudson: “This is happening, in short, because you interfered with my team’s investigation when you weren’t supposed to. We found evidence—planted, deliberately false evidence, as it now turns out—in the farmhouse that Moses’ next target was Mrs. Britter. We assigned her a full guard. When Red Aspen didn’t respond to our communications, and I took two of my people to find why, we discovered bike tracks that indicated you’d driven off into the night, for god only knows what reason. Where you might run into Moses, who was oddly late in showing up for Mrs. Britter, and my little man was starting to tell me might never show. I made the decision to split my team, half staying with Mrs. Britter, half searching for you, knowing that I might be condemning someone to die for want of enough men. That was your first count of obstructing an officer.”

“You’re lucky I was able to track your path to Moses, and had a friend who lent me some motorbikes that marshals aren’t normally issued. When I got to Scratch’s Corral, I saw you and Moses engaged in an altercation. He might have killed you. He might have killed Mr. Judd. He might have done god only knows what, because you deliberately sought him out in order to put away the bad guy and play hero. That was the second count of obstruction. Then, in the middle of a hostage negotiation, you attacked Moses. That was the third count of obstruction. Against all odds, no one died, and the bad guy got put away. But here’s my question for you, Mr. Barnes.” Hudson looks Brook in his eyes and asks slowly and deliberately:

“What if you were wrong?”

“What if you were wrong about where to find Moses, he really went after Mrs. Britter, and someone died because she didn’t have enough men guarding her? What if Moses panicked or got angry or who the hell knows what when you found him, and killed Mr. Judd? What if my team’s trigger fingers were too slow, and he fatally stabbed you or Mr. Judd? Or what if it wasn’t my team’s trigger fingers that were slow, but our ability to connect the case’s dots, or the speed of our bikes, and we are arrived too late to stop Moses from gutting you or Mr. Judd? What if I never listened to my hunch that Moses might not show at the Britter farm, and stayed there with my team? There are a thousand and one other ‘what ifs’ a DA who picked over this case could identify, I’m sure.”

“I’m sure your natural response to that is ‘but I was right and everything worked out’. But things didn’t work out. Not for everyone.” Hudson slowly shakes his egg-shaped head. “Oh, I’m grateful how things turned out, let there be no question of that. If you offered me the chance to go back in time, re-do events, and play those dice again, I’d turn you down. We were incredibly lucky that no one died that night. Incredibly lucky. But Moses still lost his arm. He’s going to go through the rest of his life unable to eat, drink, open a door, even take a dump, without help from a nurse. I’m responsible for that, Mr. Barnes. I made the call to shoot off his arm. But some of that responsibility is yours—for attacking Moses when you did, and forcing the events that led to me making a terrible split decision: shoot a man, or let him stab two boys. And the equally terrible repercussions of that decision, for Moses, are not a responsibility you should have to bear, in even the slightest amount. You are fifteen years old and still a minor.”

“I’m not fifteen. I’m an adult, a marshal, and one close to retirement at that. I knew that something like last night’s outcome, or worse, could happen under my watch when I accepted this assignment. It was my cross to bear if someone died or got hurt because of a decision I made. Because that’s the thing, Mr. Barnes. If you want to get credit for being a hero, you have to be prepared to accept the consequences if you’re just a screw-up. And when the stakes are men’s lives, those consequences are terrible. Terrible enough that we don’t ever want them visited upon a child.”

“You interfered with my team, three times—four if we count not sharing Moses’ location with us, not that anyone ever expected you to discover that—and hijacked some major decisions out of my hands. Those weren’t your calls to make. You weren’t qualified to do our job, as the fact you didn’t think to tell us what you’d found over your truck radio makes all-too apparent. If we let every fifteen-year-old who believed he was in the right interfere with a federal manhunt to the extent that you did, most of those manhunts would end in disasters. Most of the time, fifteen-year-olds are wrong.”

“That’s why, Mr. Barnes, even in being 100% right, you can still be 100% wrong. You’ll find that’s life. The comforting shades of black and white will blur and intermix as you grow older, until they grow so gray, you’ll find that sometimes, right is wrong.”

Brook: Brook listens intently, leaning against the building as he thinks it all over, chewing it with a concerned face.

“I don’t want to be a hero, Marshal. I wanted no one to die. I wouldn’t have left that tower if I wasn’t 90% sure. One, that I couldn’t contact you. Generators can’t be used to run radio equipment during a storm, and the tower was fried. I didn’t even think about my truck. Two; using my maps and the locations of the fires, with the symbol he was so fond of, and the history, geography, and difficulty of access, I was certain he was in Scratch’s Corral. Third; I didn’t have the time to hesitate. Witching hour is 3 AM, I had to get there before I found a corpse and not a teacher or classmate. I… I’ll admit my mind was more occupied on getting there too late than getting there with backup. I brought flare guns to signal my location, but should have set one off before I left. I’m sorry you got bad information from Moses, and I’m sorry what I put you through in running off, but I was too sure someone would die if I didn’t go.”

“As for me grabbing him, I was expecting the three trained officers there to rush forward and grapple him, not open fire. Even one person to grab Nelson, that’s still three people to grapple Moses, when I was able to overpower him before you came. The only reason he grabbed Nelson was because he realized he couldn’t beat me. I don’t blame you for your choice. It turned out. But I accept that responsibility for him losing his arm. He doesn’t have a lick of pity after telling me how he lost the first one, though.”

“As for you saying it’d be my ‘natural response’, it’s not. You haven’t been here long enough to realize what Witiko Falls is. That Mary is my adoptive mother, that my friends are all missing family, that I have a friend in the hospital right now losing her mind over a murdered mother, that the stain in my school library is from a woman shot dead, why police dogs aren’t allowed here, or why my mother doesn’t want any of you into the forest. Everything turning out okay doesn’t happen often, if ever. We see things we can’t unsee, each step towards the hole where the Great Root was taken leads us to learn the things that crawl up from it are wrong. So of course I realize there are ‘what ifs’. What if I’m not fast enough, what if a mountain lion is waiting in the trees, what if today is the day I trip and feel teeth on the back of my neck. I live with my own what ifs, Marshal. This isn’t my first brush with death. That said-”

There’s a small break in his expression as Brook scans the parking lot with a look of sadness, or maybe loss. A father, let alone a grandfather, can tell the boy is choking a lot back.

“It was close. Really close. Before you showed up, Nelson was in a worse place than he was before I showed up. I probably would have killed Moses, or he probably would have killed me. I had… I thought I had a bargaining chip hidden in the corral, but it was gone. I was going to tell my mother that I needed to stop being a ranger for a while. I got so frustrated at all of you treating me like a child, and not taking what I was saying seriously. Despite that I was right, I think I get it. Fucked up that I only learn shit when I almost die. Fucking idiot.”

Brook turns away from the marshal so he can’t see his face, but he can hear the boy’s shoes creak as his toes grip the patio floor.

“Just put me in the cage. I already know that you’re senior enough that the judge and DA will listen to what you want. And at this point I’ve got no right to argue with you.”

Hudson: Hudson gives Brook a moment as he looks away, then finally replies, “Yes and no, Mr. Barnes. I can put you in a cell, although it’ll be a judge’s call whether to keep you in one past the weekend.”

“You’ve had a rough night. It sounds like you’ve had a rough life. It sounds like right now’s particularly rough. The teen years always are. I should know. I’ve put a kid through them before, and I’m putting another one through them now.”

Brook: Brook sniffles, rubbing his face on his shoulder. “You ever heard of the Mooners, marshal?”

Hudson: “Regional biker gang, if I’m not off my mark,” Hudson answers after a moment’s thought. “My team actually saw some bikers watching us off the canyon on our way down. God knows why, but it’s nothing to bring them in for.”

Brook: “Those were them. When I was 12, I was sent into the woods in the winter to find a stick to punish me for giving this very Nelson a black eye. I found one of them in the woods, drugged with his leg broken. Coyote chewing on his hand. Carrying him away from there, being chased by a pack of coyotes, was the day I learned not to have petty fights.”

Hudson: “Sounds pretty ugly. After tonight I’m not about to say that your starting fights is a good idea, but it sounds like he was lucky you were there.”

Brook: “Was more me just saying… I don’t want to be petty with you. So… I’m sorry for causing you issues. You are going to have issues with my mother, so I’m sorry for that, too. I hope you and your granddaughter sort it out and you never have to come back to this place.” Brook takes a deep bracing breath and turns back around, nodding to the door. “Let’s go inside. We both need to sleep.”

Hudson: “I appreciate hearing that, Mr. Barnes. It’s not often that someone I’m arresting apologizes for it.” The fat marshal gives a faint chuckle. “First time ever, in fact. That will likely mean something to a DA if he thinks you’ve already learned your lesson. A lot of people who go through our justice system never do.”

“As for my granddaughter, she’s got her problems, but she’s going through nothing that any other kid her age isn’t. I don’t think you can be a teenager without saying the words ’I’m being treated like a child and not taken seriously’ at some point.” There’s another tired smile on the disheveled man’s features. Finally he rises from his seat.

“Now, let’s.”

Brook: Brook nods and sighs. “Like a genetic curse or something.” But he does let out a small chuckle. He uses his knee and hip to open the door into the station, wobbling a bit before he leans up against the wall. His condition is getting to him again. It takes him a moment to straighten himself out, but he does, with no hands to support himself or touch his face he just leans against the wall as he waits to be processed into the jail.

Hudson: Hudson spares the handcuffed teenager the need to so awkwardly get the door by simply opening it himself. With his hand instead of his hips. “You can let the adults handle some things, Mr. Barnes,” the marshal comments dryly.

Brook: Brook gives another little chuckle as he lets the marshal open the door. “I really don’t like handcuffs.”

GM: As the door opens, Hudson and Brook hear a gruff, yet mellow voice call out to them. “Be right with you boys.” Contrary to expectations, the voice comes not from inside the station, but from around its side. In the still morning quiet, there comes an audible ‘zip’, followed by a stream of liquid hitting the ground. “Ahhhhh,” sighs the voice in unabashed relief. “I salute you, Lady.”

Hudson: Small towns.

GM: The splashing sound goes on long enough to vacillate between awkward to impressive to concerning. But eventually, it stops. Another crisp ‘zip’ cuts the air. A mumbled song follows, as the voice’s owner rounds the corner: “Eenty teenty tirry mirry
, Ram, tam, toosh
, Crawl under the bed
, and catch a wee fat moose…”

Brook: Brook hears it all, leaning in to the marshal to whisper, “I’ll be here in the morning. Promise.” Other than that, he stands there waiting.

Hudson: Hudson merely shakes his head. “Sorry, Mr. Barnes.” Besides, the marshal is the only one with the key to his cuffs.

GM: Hudson and Brook both recognize the distinctive voice as belonging to Leslie Ferguson, local dispatch.

Hudson: That’s not the only thing distinctive.

GM: Bushy as the station flora he manages, Ferg has gray hair that’s fast becoming a Kris Kringle white. Crooked sunglasses sit between a long, bulbous nose and a creased brow. This morning, Ferg is wearing a gray T-shirt, pair of whitey-tighties, and a clip-on walkie-talkie. The ‘bareness’ of his legs, though, isn’t immediately obvious, as his wooly legs resemble long johns.

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“Any of you boys seen a watering can?” He scratches his rear while looking up at the flowers. “Storm’s made a mess of things, like Old Scratch whipped them for going to church.”

Hudson: “Afraid not, Ferg. We’re here to get Mr. Barnes bedded down for the night—day—and I’m back to the hospital.” He gives the man a second to process that, then proceeds inside with Brook. The marshal knows better than to harangue the locals for their ways, but he’s not going to let them waste his time either.

Brook: “Morning Mr. Fergy. Haven’t seen it no. Wind may have carried it away if it was left out.” Brook greets the man, small town style as he looks to the marshal and follows him.

GM: “Well, that’s a shame,” Ferg replies, although to what or whom isn’t clear. He looks up at the rising sun. “Looks like it’s pants-time.”

Hudson: “A time and place for all things,” Hudson replies as he heads inside.

Brook: Brook shrugs. “He’s a good man, pants or no,” he says, looking to Ferg as he follows in. “Did something happen last night Mr. Ferg? Undersheriff Bauman looked like death.”

Hudson: Brook goes in before Hudson, who initially opened the door for him. However well the teenager might be taking his arrest, arrestees walk first.

Brook: Well as it seems the boy is taking it, his body still groans at him to leave. To head and go through his daily rituals, to get his ass to school, to slide into the river, to take that recording to June and decide rather he wants to suck face or not. There’s too many loose ends, he resolves to simply get into his cell and sleep the pesky daylight away.

GM: Ferg obliges, escorting the marshal and teen inside the police station. He pauses long enough to slip on a pair of uniform trousers before continuing the ‘tour’.

“Here’s the booking room,” the elderly dispatcher says, waving an arm at the station’s main hub and its plaster walls, mustard-painted headboard, and scuffed hardwood floors. Tidy if dated, the area features a long, weathered booking desk; a large metal locker; spare road signs; a display case filled with various department and municipal trophies and awards; a Kelpie pennant; a framed picture of the mayor; a county map; vintage cigarette machines converted to dispense candy; and a gumball bank filled with Barbie-doll heads.

police_station1.jpg

“Up there’s the evidence room,” Ferg continues, pointing up the stairs for Hudson’s benefit. “Still cleaning up after the fire.” He then opens a door next to the vending machines, revealing a well-organized office filled with framed police academy diplomas, certificates, and badges; a shelf lined with legal and forensic binders, books, and pamphlets as well as framed wedding and child graduation photos; pin-stuck maps of Witiko Falls and surrounding environs; a trio of desks featuring blotters, an electric typewriter, writing implements, the mid-week copy of the Tribune, and a microfiche machine. Between a shelf and the back desk, a laminated piece of paper declares in mismatched, asymmetrical child print: FATHER OF THE EPOCH.

police_station2.jpg

“Sheriff’s office,” Ferg comments. “But he’s nice enough to share if you need to finish some paperwork.” Closing the door, he points to a pair of doors. “Bathroom’s on the left. Make sure you pull the lever up, not down. Break-room’s on the right. Has a fridge, and I’ve got a pot of my special maple bacon morning brew all ready. Just make sure you don’t bump the card table–we’ve got a hell of a game of Chinese Checkers going on.”

Leading his ‘guests’ down a second staircase, he adds with a sad smile, “But I guess you boys are here for the main attraction.” He ushers them down to the basement holding cells. Like the rest of the station, the place is a bit antiquated but surprisingly tidy, arguably even cozy. Although the walls and floors are concrete, they have been freshly painted in the same mustard and white as the rest of the station. Fresh, crisp sheets have laid over the bedroll, and the cell has been stocked with folded towels and toiletries. A small, high shelf holds the latter as well as a pair of framed pictures. A minuscule sink, shower, and toilet are nearly hidden by the sliding bars.

police_station3.jpg

Ferg leans against the bars and scratches his buttocks–this time through the fabric of his pants. “Yep.”

Brook: Brook has seen the inside of the station before, making deliveries for his mother, or coming to help move things around as a favor to the officers. Small town things. But the lighting almost looks different when he’s being led around by a set of handcuffs. Even the little cell he’s only ever seen a man sleeping off a few too many highballs during the day.

Hudson: Hudson looks the ‘cell’ and surroundings environs over. He’s slept in worse hotel rooms than that. He thanks Ferg for his assistance, states that he’ll do his best to avoid bumping the table (given his weight), and gets around to the booking process, starting with finding the eponymous book that contains the town’s arrest records. All… five of them?

“Last time I did this, people getting arrested were chanting chanting some variation of ‘hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids you kill today’,” Hudson remarks dryly as he records Brook’s name and reason for arrest (obstructing a public officer). Then comes the mug shot. The station has a camera, but Hudson can’t find a designated location to put the pictures, much less a separate spot where records of minors are supposed to be stored, so Hudson makes do with slipping them inside a folder he labels ‘juvenile arrest records’ and places on the undersheriff’s desk. That’s doubtlessly not the only part of this process that’s going to get slap-dashed through.

Then comes taking clothing and personal property. In a truly stunning surprise, the small town police station lacks uniforms for jail inmates, so Brook stays in his current clothes. Hudson does take anything the teenager might have in his pockets, as well as his firearm, which he empties of its ammunition and checks to be sure the safety is on for. Brook’s effects go in the designated spot for personal inventory, which Hudson is mildly surprised to find. The small town station has fingerprinting equipment too, so Hudson takes prints from Brook. That likewise goes in the folder. He waives the medical screening. Brook was only just examined by Mt. Pelion’s nurses under his watch.

Brook: But then come the motions of getting put on the books, the photos, the processing of his belongings, the fingerprinting, everything. Internally he hopes they’re destroyed if he isn’t convicted, but as everything is completed he stands there against the wall, starting to look like death. Not only is his body rebelling and demanding sleep, but the reality of the situation is starting to weigh on him.

“You like the hand cannon? I picked it out for myself. A year ago at the end of the month.”

Hudson: “It packs some punch. Guess that’s not a surprise with the wildlife you run into here,” Hudson nods. “Hang in there just a bit longer, Mr. Barnes, we’re almost done.”

GM: Ferg watches the whole processing laconically, occasionally pointing to or unlocking something the marshal needs.

Hudson: Hudson writes up an itemized inventory of Brook’s possessions, which he signs and has the arrestee likewise do. It also goes in the folder.

Brook: “457 Casull. The .500 S&W was too lanky for my taste. She can put a bear down in two shots,” he continues to say, signing the inventory.

Hudson: “I’m a Glock man myself. Standard issue to marshals, though we sometimes carry heavier for assignments like Moses.” Hudson pages through the battered ‘jail standards’ manual. It’s been a while since he did this. “All right, you just showered, so I think we can skip that step too.”

Brook: “I get too dirty in the line of work for anything but a revolver. Last thing I want is the pin failing to strike,” he mutters, closing his eyes and waiting for the man to finish.

Hudson: “Adults are also allowed an unmonitored phone call with their attorney at this point. Now your mom already knows you’re here, but if you have someone else you want to phone, feel free.”

GM: Ferg, still barefoot, listens but continues to keep his peace.

Hudson: Hudson gives the arrestee a chance to do that in privacy, if he wants, then checks through the remaining steps in the manual. He gave Brook a full body pat-down as part of claiming his possessions. He’s received his ‘thorough orientation to the facility and its operation’ courtesy of Ferg. Hudson looks around for a pamphlet containing information about the facility’s regulations governing inmate treatment and conduct, listing of programs and services available, methods of seeking information or assistance, procedure for making complaints, emergency procedures, the agency’s zero tolerance policy towards sexual assault and how to report incidences, and any other information necessary to enable the inmate to adapt to the routine of the jail.

Unsurprisingly, the marshal comes up empty-handed. He informs Brook as to this fact and tells him to ask Ferg if he has any salient questions.

GM: Ferg nods in assent.

Hudson: Upon completion of orientation, the inmate is requested to verify that he/she has been made aware of the facility’s rules, programs, and services with his/her signature. Hudson mentally sighs and drafts a statement as to that effect, making note of the ‘exceptions to general policy’, which he has Brook sign. It goes in the ‘juveniles’ folder too.

Oh yes, checking for warrants. Hudson dryly asks Ferg if Brook has any outstanding ones, double-checks the station’s records, and finds little to his surprise that the fifteen-year-old does not.

“To reduce the likelihood of violence and injuries from fellow prisoners, we normally ask about current and former gang affiliations. Somehow I think we can skip this step,” the marshal notes, “but if you feel your personal safety is at risk for that reason, Mr. Barnes, please don’t hesitate to notify Ferg.”

GM: “Not tats,” the dispatch says in his mellow-gruff voice.

Brook: Brook nods the process and looks around through his belongings, looking for the little baggy with the phone number and dollar bill the Mooners have given him, but doesn’t make a move to grab it.

“Oh. Marshal Hudson, I should warn you. Since my mother is no longer very happy with you, there’s some ground rules you should know. If you stay here a few more days, have you and your team put mousetraps by your door in case you sleepwalk. Don’t go near the river or into the woods without a ranger. Skinny Chet is a good choice. Don’t drive along Rockwell’s Fall. Oh, and the best coffee is on the reservation,” he says dryly. There’s nothing he wants to go over, deflecting the growing weight on his shoulders with what little humor he can scrape up. “I’ll be here sleeping, unless you want me to write out an affidavit about what happened last night from my point of view.”

GM: Ferg frowns at the mention of ‘best coffee’ being on the reservation, but otherwise waits for the marshal to finish his business.

Hudson: “I don’t think that’ll be necessary, Mr. Barnes, although you might actually find it useful as a tool for personal reflection,” Hudson replies. The county jail unsurprisingly lacks equipment to take DNA samples, so that step is also skipped. Hudson looks through the moth-eared jail standards manual (he absently wonders whether it’s older or younger than the current inmate) to double-check if there’s anything he’s missed, and goes through those steps if there is.

Finally, he provides Brook with “standard” bedding and hygiene items that amount to those he can think of off the top of his head, though he does also pause to ask the teenager if there’s anything else he needs. Then, at long last, he sees the tired Brook into his cell. He’s since lost the handcuffs, along with his necklace.

“All right, Mr. Barnes, get some sleep. Judges and warrants will come tomorrow.”

Brook: The only major complaint the teen has is, in fact, that necklace. “Marshal. Before you go, do you think we could break procedure just a bit, and let me get that necklace back? It’s kind of incredibly important to me. Even just the pendant without the chain.”

Hudson: Hudson shakes his head. “I’m sorry, Mr. Barnes, but breaking procedure is why we’re here in the first place. You can get it back for the drive out tomorrow.”

Brook: Brook almost neurotically taps his fingers against the bars, looking around the office for where the items are kept as he nods. “Okay. Can you make sure it’s tied around the hand cannon, then? Just so it doesn’t wander off. It’s good medicine for me.”

Hudson: “I think we can manage that.” Hudson brings both items back, ties the necklace where Brook can see him doing so, and returns them to inventory.

Brook: He relaxes slightly and nods. “Thank you. I’m going to force myself to sleep, then. You get some rest too, marshal.”

Hudson: “I’ll do my best there,” the marshal dryly replies. “All right, Ferg, I’m out of your hair. You can contact my team over radio if anything comes up.”

GM: Ferg nods again, and sums up their encounter by saying, “Guess it’s time to crack the case of the missing watering can.”

Hudson: With those parting words, the still muddy-suited marshal (though that mud has since caked over dry from the building’s heat) pauses to thoroughly inspect one last, very important component of the facility’s operations—its converted cigarette-to-candy-dispensing machines.

Once that duty is discharged, Hudson gets into the police truck and drives back to the Ghost Elk Lodge to pick up a fresh change of clothes for himself and his two deputies. He nicely asks the hotel employees for the room keycards at first, explaining why he needs to get into his deputies’ rooms, and that he appreciates the exception they’re making to hotel policy. Any employees who refuse him, however, get a marshal’s badge thrust in their faces coupled with the stone-hard stare of a man who’s been through god knows what, and whose clothes certainly look the part. Hudson may even growl something about “obstructing a federal law enforcement agent in the execution of his duties.”

Whether the marshal gets what he wants through politesse or the fact that Idaho’s $5.15 minimum wage doesn’t come close to the cost of getting in his way, however, Hudson doesn’t linger at the Ghost Elk; he’ll change and shower back at the hospital. A radio dispatch tells his people that he is en route back to Mt. Pelion with fresh clothes, and that Cassidy and Curtis can look forward to a long overdue night’s sleep. He and the comparatively-rested Max will take over guarding Moses.

His uncle, a WWII vet, always said never to ask anything of your men you won’t do yourself, but the 54-year-old still heaves a mental sigh at the thought of staying up for another eight hours. At moments like these, the three years until mandatory retirement don’t seem so bad. He consoles himself with the thought that these next eight hours won’t be anywhere nearly so arduous as the past eight.

Besides, the hospital has vending machines.

Not anywhere near as arduous, the marshal thinks as the Almond Joy bar crunches under his teeth.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye


10.09.1998, Friday morning

GM: Kurt’s room doesn’t even have his name on the door; a simple blue curtain partitions the room, and labored breathing comes from the outline of a shape in the bed on the other side. Kurt awakens, his head slightly propped up against a pair of pillows with yellow stains. A pulley sling holds up his leg cast, and an intravenous tube snakes into his arm while a cranial catheter drips bloody cerebrospinal fluid. The bedside table holds a metal sample bowl full of thick sputum as well as a tray with an egg salad sandwich minus a single bite. The white-painted walls are peeling, and the smell of sweat and rubbing alcohol lingers in the air.

Inside his skull, though, Kurt feels like his brain has been flushed with drain-o.

Kurt: Kurt blinks, slowly. “I’ve been here before,” he says with a croak, eyes taking in the worn, yellow-tinged surroundings. His eyes finally settle on the sandwich with one bite taken out of it.

GM: The curtained off figure stirs but does not reply. However, Kurt’s croaking comment draws the attention of someone outside the hall. Shoes clack on the once-waxed linoleum. The doctor walks into the room. He’s dressed in antiseptic white and carries a menacingly large hypodermic needle. His poise is reminiscent of a wax figure. He looks down upon his patient with withering confidence and silent condescension. His eyes are the same brown as cigarette burns. His thin hair matches the stained hospital pillows. His lips are the pink one imagines raw flesh must be, like his mouth is just a gash cut in his face so he can talk through it. His manicured fingers remind Kurt that he makes surgeon money –and that he frequently holds both life and death in his hands. His demeanor is of one well-acquainted to playing god.

doctor.png

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

Kurt: Kurt’s eyes strain under the light; nonetheless, he goes through the same motions as last time. He then stares coldly at the almost-alien doctor, unperturbed.

GM: The doctor clicks off the flashlight and stows it, only to click on a voice recorder. “Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03. Pupillary response assessed. Miosis consistent with dose response curves. Mental status exam to commence.” The doctor, still recording and holding the needle, poses Kurt several questions. “Please identify yourself, including your given and surname.”

Kurt: “Kurt Joseph Crawford.” His answer is glib and to the point.

GM: “What to your best understanding is the current time and date?”

Kurt: “It’s the 8th of October.”

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

Kurt: Kurt adds, “1998. I wouldn’t have a clue what the time is, but taking a wild guess, I would say it’s after lunch time–-from my half-eaten sandwich.” Kurt continues to stare coldly at the doctor, brain continuing to process this strange deja vu.

GM: The doctor seems unphased by the cold stare of his “subject”; instead, he speaks into the audio recorder. “Deficits remain in subject’s temporal orientation. Ego orientation appears intact. Responses suggest attachment Class B. Final orientation to commence.”

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

Kurt: “I got into a car accident this morning on my way to pick my mother up from work,” Kurt answers deadpan. “I have a broken foot and obviously am at Mount Pelion General Hospital.” He looks pointedly at the doctor as he continues, “I take it my mother has already been notified.”

GM: The doctor replies with all the cold clinical enthusiasm of turning patients over to prevent bedsores: “Mrs. Crawford has been notified of your present situation. You will be approved for visitors pending the successful completion of your exam. Now, please describe in detail everything you recall of the events leading up to, during, and after the car accident.”

Kurt: Kurt relays the same answer as the first time he was asked this question–but only to a degree. This ‘time’ he omits both the screaming he heard and elk with a flayed body on its antlers.

GM: The waxy doctor regards Kurt for while, as if he’s measuring Kurt’s pupillary and respiration rate. Slowly, the doctor holds up his recorder and says, “Subject shows positive response to serum dosage regimen. Recommended treatment: Perform full follow-up assessment, including mental status exam and reality testing, at next appointment. Administer additional serum dosage if symptoms remit. If necessary, implement more invasive procedures if subject proves unresponsive to the aforementioned treatment plan.”

The doctor then turns off his recorder, placing it in his surgeon’s apron, and similarly stows away his large needle. “Your injuries are quite severe. However, your chart will be amended to permit visitation. You are in capable hands.”

Kurt: “I can see that.” A plastic smile appears on Kurt’s face.

GM: There is neither a smile nor any warmth that accompanies the doctor’s words, just an automaton processing of sounds through the mouth-like gash in his face. This time, the doctor leaves.

Kurt: Kurt waits a few seconds after the doctor has left, then he turns to the drawn curtain next door. “What do you reckon?” he asks. “I think that’s the worst doctor in Witiko Falls.” He stares at the drawn curtain with an anxious gaze; waiting raptly for the thing to appear once again.

GM: The shadowy outline of the reclining figure stirs, but only replies with a snore. However, another ‘presence’ does answer him. He hears the color of six hundred and six and the sound of saltiness: Do you like pranks?

Kurt: Kurt pauses, a shiver running up his spine as tries to calm himself. He keeps his composure. “I love pranks. What did you have in mind?” His voice is dry and emotionless.

GM: The answer sizzles in Kurt’s brain like the sound of puce and Sunday:

1N MiNd!

“HaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHa
hAAAhahaHAHAHhAAhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhaHaHaHAhAAAhaha
HAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHA
ahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAhAh
HAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAH
AHhahhahaHaHaHAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhahhah
HAHAhahaHAHAHAHhahaHaHAhAAAhahaHAHAHhhahahahAaAHhahaHaa”

Kurt: Kurt cracks a smile, but his eyes continue to stare at the far wall tinged with splotches of yellow. He turns to his half-eaten lunch and then attempts to finish it. Not as good as Ridley’s steaks, he thinks to himself. Nonetheless, he eats for no other reason than he is hungry and knows even crappy hospital food is still better than the food he usually eats.

GM: Rule No. 1 This time the thought seems to come from his own mind. He thinks.

Kurt: Fuck it, Kurt figures, whether it’s me or not me, what does it matter? It’s still fucking true. He laughs inside his own mind. This time. It’s him. He thinks.

GM: “Kurt… my baby… my son… you’re… awake!”Arlene Crawford rushes into the room. Her sleep-deprived and teary eyes are framed by her creased, worn–out, stress–ridden face. Her reddish-blonde hair has the look of someone who just woke up from sleeping, and not sleeping, on a hospital chair. She’s dressed in jeans, her beat-up tennis shoes, but she’s wearing a faded sweatshirt with Cinderella on it, an old souvenir purchased during one of the Crawford’s vacations to Disney World–back in the halcyon days long passed. She throws her arms around him. “Kurt… it’s me… I’m here…”

Kurt: Kurt sighs out of relief; he missed his mother far too much. He accepts the hug, but looks up at his mother’s worn, tired face with a put-on bewildered expression. “Who are you?” he asks his mother. He then cracks a smile after a few seconds, which quickly turns into a cheesy, big grin. I am the master of pranks.

GM: For the briefest of moments, all color and light drain from his mother’s face. But then, after he cracks his familial sardonic grin, she all but smacks him, then hugs him tightly. “Kurt! Don’t… you…”

Kurt: Kurt guffaws. “Sorry, Ma! I couldn’t help it! You’re just so serious!”

GM: But she can’t finish, she’s simply too happy to have him back–her son.

“About time you woke up, lazy bones,” comes a voice from the hall.

Kurt: Kurt hugs his mother back, because he felt the same way–-he had his mother back. The memory of his mother’s foaming, bleeding form causes Kurt to squeeze her tighter.

Kurt then turns toward the voice.

GM: Kurt’s sister Amy is standing in the doorway, dressed in jeans and a black hoodie with a logo that says Cthulhu Loves Pie. She glares at Kurt like only a red-headed sister can, then bursts into laughter and runs to him, hugging him almost as tightly as their mom.

Arlene strokes Kurt’s hair with her calloused fingers. “We were so worried. The doctors weren’t sure… if… when…” She chokes up.

Amy lays a comforting hand on her mother’s back.

Kurt: “I won’t lie. I feel like crap. But, honestly, it’s just a broken foot and a really sore head.” Kurt adds, “I was pretty lucky. How’s the car?”

GM: With Arlene still recollecting herself, it’s Amy that answers: “Remember what Demogorgon did to your wizard back in the Temple of Ook-Oz? It’s like that, but worse.” She leans in and whispers only half-sarcastically: “Were you drinking?”

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

Amy raises her hands, palms up, as if that’s the most reasonable explanation for all this mess.

Arlene touches her son’s cheek. “Don’t worry about the car, baby. You’re awake, and that’s all that matters.”

Kurt: Kurt chuckles and shakes his head at the half-accusation. “I never drink, Amy,” he replies with a cheeky smile creeping on his face. “I am the good child, remember?”

GM: “Lying bastard is more like it,” she says, sticking out her tongue.

Kurt: Kurt laughs some more.

GM: “That’s enough,” Arlene says, though not without a smile at seeing the good-natured banter between her children.

Kurt: Kurt looks to his mother and gasps in mock-shock. “Fiiiine.” Kurt looks for something to eat; his stomach growls a little. “Have they delivered more food for me?” he asks.

GM: “My growing boy,” Arlene says with simple maternal pride. “I’ll see if they can bring you an early lunch, or otherwise I’ll go to the vending machine.”

Kurt: “Thanks, Ma.”

GM: She hugs and kisses him as if her love alone will make sure he stays awake and recovers.

As she leaves, Amy, sitting on Kurt’s bed with her bony hip half-digging into his, leans in. “So were you? Drinking that is?”

Kurt: Kurt snorts. “What? No way! It was still dark when I got up to go pick up ma from work.” He scrunches his nose a little and admits with a touch of embarrassment, “Don’t tell Ma this, but I fell asleep at the wheel.” He adds, “I don’t want her to worry about me working too much, y’know.”

GM: Amy regards him for a while. “You had us so freaked, Kurt.” She starts to tear up, then wipes her face. “Fuck that.”

Kurt: “You look so weird when you cry.” Kurt smiles innocently like only a pest of a little brother can do.

GM: “Yeah, well you look like shit.” She forces herself to laugh.

Kurt: Kurt laughs at that.

GM: “You really do,” she says.

Kurt: “Do you have a mirror?” he asks, afraid of seeing his own reflection. Afraid of not seeing his own reflection.

GM: “I’m afraid you’d break it. Seriously, you look like Frankenstein had sex with a poodle and the condom broke. An ugly poodle too.”

Kurt: “Jesus!” Kurt says. “Thanks for the sympathy, big sis!”

GM: “Oh, speaking of Jesus,” Amy says, blowing her red hair out of her face. “Mom was out of her mind. I mean, she’s been praying and going full on holy roller mode. It’s been… nuts.”

Kurt: Kurt cringes and groans. “The last thing we need is Jesus in our lives,” he replies to that revelation.

GM: “Yeah, I’m hoping she’ll forget about all those midnight chapel prayers.” She then taps Kurt.

Kurt: Kurt frowns at that, noticing the plural in ‘prayers’. “How long was I out?” he asks.

GM: “Scoot over, bum. You’ve been sleeping for two days now in a, well not comfy bed, but a bed. Those waiting room chairs are like the brain-child of a sadistic chiropractor from hell.”

Kurt: Kurt feels a little numb at that explanation, but nevertheless scoots over as directed by his sister. “That’s longer than I thought,” he replies to Amy. “I told the doctor I thought it was the 8th of October.”

GM: She lays down beside him and sighs. “It’s the 9th. Friday.”

Kurt: “Yay!” Kurt says mockingly. “The weekend! Woo?” He then adds under his breath, “You’re so freaking bony!”

GM: “Beats being ugly and short. And gimp.”

Kurt: “Ha! You’re short, too!”

“Fuck!” Kurt looks at his foot. “This is totally going to mess with basketball.”

GM: Amy closes her eyes. “Yeah, it’s going to fuck with everything. Mom’s in denial. I think she had to be. But this is bad, Kurt. I mean, without the car… and the doctor bills. I tried talking to Mom. I think it might work if Rick and I move back in.”

Kurt: Kurt gets quiet as he listens to Amy.

GM: “Help with rent.”

Kurt: “Yeah.” Kurt pauses. He doesn’t like Rick, and the idea of that guy moving back in, that annoys him. But he feels absolutely powerless. “I can talk to my boss Mordecai. Maybe he’ll help out?” he asks. Speaking of, Kurt thinks to himself, probably should give him a call.

GM: “Maybe,” she says, staring up at the ceiling. “But I thought you said the cinema’s almost belly-up, and has been for years.”

Kurt: “Yeah. It is.” Kurt adds, “But I know he’s got a car that he’s trying to sell.”

GM: She turns on her side, facing him. She rests her chin on his shoulder and puts her arm around him like they used to on the farm’s hammock.

Kurt: “I could organize a payment plan or something with him,” Kurt offers. “And maybe work it off at the cinema.” He hugs Amy back, thankful for the contact after a rough couple days.

GM: “Yeah, or you could start pimping Wilson out to the old lonely ladies of St. Enoch’s?”

Kurt: “They wouldn’t have him. We’ve already tried.” Kurt grins at that.

GM: She smiles, then sniffs him with mock exaggeration. “You smell like my cleaning bucket.”

Kurt: “Is that a good thing?”

GM: “For how you usually smell? Yeah, it’s an improvement.”

Kurt: Kurt guffaws. “Why do I even bother trying to trade barbs?” He then lifts his bum in Amy’s general direction, attempting to fart.

GM: But unfortunately for both of them, multiple days of a saline diet and left-out egg salad sandwich make for terribly wet, loose stool.

“Wha–fuck!?” Amy yells as Kurt soils him and her, given his lack of clothing beneath his back-slit hospital gown.

Kurt: Kurt’s face whitens. “Shit.”

GM: She leaps up and punches him. “You just shit on me!”

Kurt: “Sorry! I didn’t mean to! I thought it was a fart! I swear I didn’t mean that!”

GM: She looks down at her brown-smeared jeans.

Kurt: “Fuck!” Kurt swears. “I am so, so sorry, Amy.”

GM: “Jesus fucking Christ, Kurt!”

Kurt: “I know Amy! It’s fucking horrible!”

GM: “Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” comes their mother’s voice around the bend.

Kurt: Kurt’s face is in his hands and his cheeks are flushed. “God!” he exclaims. “The last thing I need is religion! I need a nurse! And a change of sheets!”

GM: Amy stares down at her jeans, agog and gaging. Arlene enters in on the scene. It is an awkward time for all.

Kurt: But mostly for Kurt.

GM: Mostly.

Hudson: A Golden Star


10.09.1998, Friday afternoon

GM: Six hours after he’s booked Brook, the vending machines of Mount Pelion General are, like Hudson’s wallet, markedly poorer. Still, the caffeine– and sugar–fueled wave allows him to ride out the sleepless hours parked inside Moe’s recovery room.

Shunted from the surgery ward to MPGH’s intensive care unit, Hudson and Maxwell–as well as their unconscious, double amputee captive–have witnessed a murder a minute, with the serial victim being time.

“He looks like the Grim Reaper used him for toilet paper,” Hudson’s red-haired subordinate says, after the latest of rotating nurses cycles in, confirms that Moses is still alive, and defers unctuously that it will be up to the physicians to “determine when and if the patient will be fit for long-distance transportation.”

“Kinda wish he had flushed him, though,” Maxwell adds. “Would save the courts and public taxpayers a whole lot of money. Not to mention our time.”

Hudson: “Maybe, Max. Can’t say I’d particularly like to be him right now,” the mustachioed marshal grunts. “No arms isn’t a fun way to go through life.”

GM: Maxwell grunts. Yet, despite his verbal grousing, the man seems content enough as he flips though a pamphlet from the Fish and Wildlife Services about local angling hot-spots.

Hudson: “The fish here at least seem normal,” Hudson comments blandly.

GM: “No matter how it shakes out, I say we’ve got at least a couple years of ‘disarming’ jokes from the affair.”

He peaks up though at the mention of fish. “Why, you heard something?”

Hudson: “We disarmed him because he wouldn’t comply with instructions when we said ‘hands up’. Only showed us one hand,” the tired-eyed marshal fires back, thought it comes out with as much sizzle as spark. The morbid humor under circumstances like these is endemic to all lawmen. Part of how they cope.

GM: Maxwell chuckles with the same tired, grim humor. “Yep, there’s no need to worry, as the fugitive is unarmed.”

He then taps the pamphlet. “You ever fished for kokanee? Sockeye salmon around here, that have mutated or evolved from being landlocked in alpine lakes. I’ve never fished for salmon in a lake.”

Hudson: Hudson simultaneously chews over that factoid along with a plump lip. “Might get your chance here, if we stay long enough. As for what I’ve heard, it’s more what I haven’t. All the other animals here are mad as Moe when we blew off his arm.”

“Back in the ’50s, my uncle once scared me, talking about lobotomy patients. Walking zombies, he called them. One nick with the scalpel in the right spot on your head, and you go dead inside.” There’s a tired smile. “Parents could do it to bad little boys and girls, he said. I never met a lobotomite in my life until a few days ago, though. She was a cow.”

GM: Maxwell cranes his head. “Come again?”

Hudson: “A cow,” Hudson answers with that same smile. “She had four legs, black and white spots over her body, and an udder you could milk. I like to think her name was Betsy. She was only missing a bell around her neck that went ‘clang’. The Britters lobotomized Betsy and every other cow on their farm, you see. I can only presume to make them less aggressive. Angry enough cow could hurt someone pretty bad if it made up its mind to. That’s what farmers have to do here, just to milk the animals without getting kicked in the face.”

GM: Hudson can see his subordinate’s brain chewing on the tale and struggling like it’s a piece of fatty meat. “That’s really weird, Hudson.”

Hudson: “It is,” Hudson replies. A frown creases his wide-jowled face as he peels off the wrapper off his Snickers bar.

GM: “So I guess we should avoid the local burger joints in town,” Maxwell says in summary.
“Just to be safe.”

Hudson: “Takes ‘mad cow disease’ to a new level, doesn’t it?” The marshal remarks, but his brow doesn’t un-furrow. “It’s a strange town, Max. A very strange town. But as far as I know, your salmon are normal.”

GM: “Maybe we both better stick to the vending machines,” he says, setting down the fishing pamphlet. “Better safe than sorry. Speaking of which, you want anything? I’d like to stretch my legs, call Nancy and check in on the kids.”

Hudson: The look on Hudson’s face is too faint to properly be called a macabre grin. But there’s definitely the shadow of one as the fat marshal produces no less than four additional candy bars from his replacement coat’s pocket.

“To save me the added trips,” he drawls. “But go give the family a call. I could go for some actual food too, if you can scrounge anything edible in this hospital.” He grunts. “My little man tells me these people didn’t splurge on the cafeteria.”

GM: Maxwell gives a half–nod at Hudson self–deprecating admission. “Thanks, Hudson. I was scheduled to coach Ted’s Pop Warner game today at five.” He looks up at the clock. “That’s clearly not going to happen. But I’ll see what I can do about a real meal.” As he heads out, he adds, “But no burgers or steaks.”

Hudson: “If those didn’t kill me, Nora would,” Hudson remarks dryly. “Candy does a good enough job at that already, you ask her.”

GM: Maxwell halts mid-doorway. “You call her yet? Check in on the grandkids?”

Hudson: The fat marshal nods between the first crunch of his Snickers bar. “She sent her love. Glad we saved the boys. Thankful nobody died. Alex was glad we put away the bad guys. Emma says I should’ve lost my arm instead to lose some pounds.”

“Don’t think an arm would do it though. Not enough anyways. A fat chicken’s still a fat chicken, even if you lose a drumstick,” Hudson remarks between another satisfying crunch.

GM: Maxwell shakes his head. “You’re a better man than me. I’m so glad Nancy and I just have boys. I wouldn’t do well raising girls. Especially a teenage girl.”

Hudson: “They’re handfuls. Trick is to not let them know. Every time she calls me fat, I find a way to call myself fatter. She runs out of steam eventually.” There’s another crunch of the candy bar. “She and that Brook kid would get along.”

GM: “Why’s that? She need to spend a night in the slammer?”

Hudson: “It might lend her some perspective,” Hudson remarks blandly.

GM: He chuckles. “I once threatened Bobby I’d haul him to jail if he didn’t clean his room.”

Hudson: There’s an answering chortle back. “You should’ve told me that trick when they were younger.”

GM: “I was lucky he didn’t call my bluff.”

Hudson: “Yeah. Emma would shout that a judge would throw that right out.” Another weary smile. “I’d fire back that I could still hold her without a warrant. For a little while anyway. Maybe trump up a resisting arrest charge for arguing.”

GM: Max just shakes his head again. “Boys are so much easier.” He hikes a thumb, indicating the hallway. “Be back in a bit, Hudson. Radio me if Moe starts any trouble, but if you ask me, he looks pretty h–armless…”

Hudson: “I don’t think I’ll need a hand. He may though.”

GM: Maxwell laughs as he leaves Hudson to his charge.

That charge, unconscious and hooked up to an oxygen mask and various intravenous drips, continues to breathe as thinly as a shallow grave.

Hudson: Hudson tries to get more comfortable in his seat. What was it that girl he overheard on the way in called them—‘brainchildren of a sadistic chiropractor from hell’? Well, at least he’s just sitting on something out of hell.

You, my friend, are lying well inside its gates.

“I’m sorry about your arm,” he remarks aloud.“I’m sure that means precisely diddly-squat to you even if you could hear me. It’d mean squat to me if I’d lost my arms.” The fat marshal rolls his shoulders. “Just how it is.”

“I’ve put away my share of people in my time. Some mean well but are just dumb—or, well, fifteen—like Brook. And some are sick fucks who want to cut up young boys like you. But I’ve put away enough of them not to take a case personally. I’m glad you’ll be behind bars—or at least within a padded room. But you didn’t need to lose your arms.”

“I wouldn’t re-do last night if you gave me the chance. We were damn lucky no one died. I consider your arm an acceptable price for a life. For possibly several lives. It doesn’t change the way things are either. You didn’t have to lose both arms for this,” Hudson motions with the candy bar to his comatose form, “To happen. I’d have preferred that you didn’t. I’m sorry that you did.”

“And that’s how it is,” the marshal finishes between another crunch of the Snickers bar.

GM: Moe’s insensate almost-cadaver offers no reply to Hudson’s existential apology save for another series of slow, feeble gasps that fog up his oxygen mask.

In contrast, the room’s phone replies with an electronic ring that rouses Hudson, but not Moe, from the audio monotony of mastication and medical equipment.

Hudson: He swallows the last of his bite, spares the comatose patient a last glance, and reaches to pick up the phone. “Schofeld.”

GM: “Hudson, oh thank goodness,” comes the voice of his wife, Elenora, from the receiver. “I was just sure they were going to connect me to the wrong room.” There is a pause as marshal hears the aerosol-sound of applied hairspray. “Now, Hudson, you know how I don’t like bothering you at work, but… there’s a situation here at home, and I simply don’t know what to do.”

“As I told you last week, I’m hosting a dinner party for the Rotarian wives. The ladies and I will planning our yearly holiday fundraising event. And just between you and I, Hudson, this might be the year Mrs. Bledsoe doesn’t get her way.”

Hudson: “Nora.” Hudson smiles at hearing his wife’s voice. There’s some relief too. Moses might be little more than a limp piece of meat right now, but it’s been a harrowing night. And it’s a very strange town. The marshal’s little man isn’t screaming ‘fire!’ but he’s been pacing anxiously. There’s something about…

“We all don’t get our way at some point, dear. I suppose this will be the point Mrs. Bledsoe doesn’t. Now what’s the situation?”

GM: “It’s the grandkids, Hudson. Well, one of them really. I’m just at my wits’ end.”

Hudson: His little man spotted that one coming too. He’d hoped for a moment it was otherwise when Nora brought up her fundraising-planning dinner. But his little man isn’t often wrong.

“All right, what’s Emma gotten up to?”

GM: “Emma?” Elenora echoes. “Oh, no, it’s not her. Although now that you mention it, she has been nagging me about enrolling her in a drivers’ education program. Well, you aren’t going to believe this, Hudson, but the program happens after school, and to add insult to injury, they make you pay them. I told her that there must be a mistake, because when we and her father went to school, drivers’ education always happened in school and free of charge. Well, I won’t tell you what she said to that, but it was not very respectful. Can you believe that?”

Hudson: “I can.” Hudson grunts. “They’re saddling kids with more schoolwork these days. More activities. More everything. Guess driver’s ed got the axe.”

GM: “Well, I think that’s just ridiculous. We really ought to get more involved with the school board, Hudson.”

Hudson: “Maybe we should. For now not much we can do except pay for it or teach her ourselves.”

GM: “Well, I’m still going to make a call on Monday,” she replies with another blast of hairspray.

Hudson: “By all means, dear. Schools these days keep pushing kids faster and harder. Don’t give them a chance to just be kids.”

GM: Hudson can almost hear Nora purse her lips in a frown. “Yes, well about kids being kids… it’s Alex.”

Hudson: Hudson frowns. That’s atypical. “Alex? What is it?”

GM: After a moment, his wife whispers into the phone, “Hudson, I found him in his bedroom. He was…”

Hudson: The hairs on the back of his neck raise as the marshal leans forward in his seat. “He was what, Nora?”

Let it just be masturbating.

GM: It sounds as if his wife is cupping the phone transmitter as she whisper-shouts, “He was putting on eyeliner!”

Hudson: “Eyeliner?” Hudson frowns, though his little man un-tenses.

GM: “When I caught him, he totally clamped up. Then, he yelled that I wouldn’t understand and pushed me out of the room. Actually pushed. Since then, he’s been refusing to come out of his room. Frankly, at this point, I don’t know what to do. Part of me wouldn’t mind if he just stayed in his room all night, but then, I’m afraid he’s going to purposefully ruin my dinner by rushing out in a dress.”

Hudson: Hudson’s frown remains in place. “Well, kids these days are into some pretty odd stuff. Adults too. Why, I think it’s popular for some of the punk and, what’s it called, ‘industrial’ bands to put on eyeliner. And a lot more. Can hardly tell which of their members are men and which are women. They take it off after their shows though. Is he into that kind of music?”

GM: “I don’t know, but now that you mention it, he has been listening to his walkman with headphones a lot. I just assumed he was listening to those books on CDs we got from the library. See, I knew you would know what to do. Do you think he’s a deviant?”

Hudson: “I wouldn’t go that far, Nora. Kids just want to fluster grown-ups by doing shocking things. They grow out of it. Even faster if they don’t see it getting to us.”

GM: “So, what, we let him walk around with eyeliner? What will the neighbors say? And what if wants to, I don’t know, start putting on lipstick? No, Hudson, you need to fix them. Straighten him out, man to man.”

Hudson: “It doesn’t sound like Alex wants to walk outside his room if he was that flustered over you catching him,” Hudson observes. He frowns a little more. Maybe it isn’t just over music. “I’ll talk with him when I get home. Until then, I think we’re safe with the neighbors.”

GM: “Emma!” Nora calls at the same time. “Please come here and take the phone to Alex. Your grandfather wants to speak to him.”

“Now, Emma!” she calls again, this time a bit louder.

Hudson: Hudson looks down at Moe upon hearing his wife’s ‘alternative’ idea.“All right, we can do it now,” he considers. “Alex will still be embarrassed around you. Talking to me and his sister could help draw him out of his shell.”

GM: A few seconds later, Hudson hears the cordless phone exchanging hands. “Take the phone to Alex. Your grandfather wants to speak with him.”

“I heard you the first time. I’m not deaf,” comes Emma’s distant retort.

“Well, sometimes it is hard to tell when you don’t answer or respond.”

“Whatever.”

A few footsteps later, Hudson hears his granddaughter speak into the phone. “Grandma says you’re in the hospital. What happened, your belly finally pop?”

Hudson: “Nah, I’m checking in early to let the doctors pop it. Figure if that’s inevitable I might as well do it with a medical team around.”

GM: “While they do the operation, I hope they also shave off that ridiculous mustache. It’s a health hazard–to anyone looking at it.”

Hudson: “That’s why I wear it. Made the bad guy I was chasing clamp up in horror while my deputies cuffed him.”

GM: “Yeah, right,” she says, unimpressed, then adds, “When are you coming home?”

Hudson: “Not sure. He’s in pretty bad shape. Whenever the doctors say he’s well enough for transport back to Boise. Or decide that he’ll never be.” Hudson spares another glance for the armless war vet.

GM: More doesn’t reciprocate the gesture. His bruised eyes seem as comatose as the rest of him.

“I thought you were a big shot with deputies at your beck and call,” Emma continues. “Can’t you get somebody else to babysit a dying man?”

Hudson: Hudson would shake his head if he wasn’t talking over the phone. “Cas and Curtis are taking some well-deserved rest. That leaves me and Max.”

GM: “Four cops to handle a guy the docs don’t even think will make it? No wonder the national debt is so high.”

Hudson: “Yeah, Max thought it’d save the taxpayers a few bucks if we’d just shot him dead. You like, I can smother him with his pillow.”

GM: “I think you’re trying to be funny again.”

Hudson: “Maybe one day I’ll even succeed,” Hudson deadpan-answers. “We’re three cops to handle a dying man the docs don’t even think will make it, anyway. We arrested someone else and need to drive out for the warrant.”

GM: “What’d they do, bump into your fat belly?”

Hudson: “They did, in a manner of speaking. He’s a boy of fifteen, your very age. He ran off to bring in the bad guy on his own and scared everyone half to death.”

GM: “So you arrested a kid my age. Am I supposed to be impressed or scared?” She adds, “Because I’m not.”

Hudson: “I’m glad to hear that. It wasn’t particularly impressive, and I wouldn’t want to scare you.” The smile is audible in his next words. “I suppose he just reminded me of you, in a few ways.”

GM: “Whatever. I’m sure he’s not your number 1 fan, so at least we’ve got that in common. Anyways, as interesting as it is hearing about you babysitting and arresting teenagers, I want a license. And a car.”

Hudson: “License sounds like a good thing. Your grandmother and I have talked about that. It’s too bad schools don’t teach it as a free class anymore, so looks like an after-school elective is the way to do it. Getting a car sounds good too. Won’t be too much longer until you’re able to work and help save up for one.”

GM: “Save up for one? You’re kidding, right? Let’s be real, that would take years. This is why you go to work. Make the big bucks babysitting and locking up teenagers. Working weekends, overnight. Becky Herschell’s parents just bought her a band new Nissan Micra, and her dad does like marketing or stuff. Home every weekend.”

Hudson: “Your grandmother and I could help with the initial down payment,” Hudson remarks, though his tone sounds more contemplative than conceding. “We’ll talk over what you might be able to do in exchange.”

GM: “Heather Pruett’s parents are leasing her a Ford Focus, just two years old, and they’re covering the monthly bill, insurance, and gas. All of it. Heather’s dad does commercial photography. Do you even get paid overtime?”

Hudson: “Lucky Heather Pruett. Un-luckily, your name’s Emma Schofeld.” Hudson smiles a bit. “Marshals do get overtime. Since I’m a sanctimonious old man, I want you to appreciate the work that goes into buying something like a car, and blah blah teach responsibility blah. So I think we can start with you getting a job and helping to make some of the down payment.”

GM: “So in other words, it sucks to be a Schofeld. Tell me something new. Or better yet, how about your spread some of that special Schofeld sunshine to someone else?”

Hudson: Hudson chuckles at that. “Something new? All right. The kid I arrested apologized for the trouble he caused me. Said he didn’t want any bad blood between us. That was a first. You might take something from it.”

GM: “Whatever.” Hudson hears a loud bang on a door. “Open up, it’s the fat police.”

“Go away, Emma!” issues muffled Alex’s voice through the door.

“Open up, dweeb, it’s Grandpa.”

“Grandpa? He’s back?”

“God you’re so stupid. No, he’s on the phone.”

“Oh… well I don’t want to talk… now.”

“Look, Alex, I don’t care if you talk to him or not. All I promised to do was pass you the phone. So open up before I tell them about last Wednesday.”

It doesn’t take long before Hudson hears the door open, and the phone get exchanged yet again before the door is shut and relocked. “Hi,” says the preteen boy in a sullen voice that makes him seem simultaneously younger and older than his twelve winters.

Hudson: Hudson listens to the exchange between the kids with a slight frown. He doesn’t care if Emma mouths him off, but her little brother is another matter. Still, Alex sounds like he’s got other things on his mind. “Hi, Alex. Emma giving you a hard time?” Hudson asks.

GM: “No.”

Hudson: “Mmm.” Hudson chews his lip for a moment, then asks conversationally, “My guess is no to this question too, but you ever see a lobotomy patient?”

GM: “Huh?”

Hudson: “A lobotomy is a medical procedure you can perform on someone,” Hudson explains. “You nick the right spot on somebody’s head with a scalpel, and they turn into a living zombie. Lobotomies were more popular back in the ‘50s. My uncle sometimes got a kick out of telling me my parents would give me one, if I didn’t clean my room or take out the trash. Turn me into a zombie.”

It’s the second time Hudson has told this story today—actually, in the past hour—but if the shoe fits…

“I met my first lobotomy patient yesterday. One of those living zombies. She was a cow. A moo cow. She had an udder you could milk and black and white spots all over her body. I like to think her name was Betsy. Betsy the lobotomized moo-cow.”

“Like I said, she was a zombie. You could walk up to her, clap your hands in her face, scream in her ear, tug her udder, and she wouldn’t so much as blink. You think most cows have vacant looks in their eyes, well, you should have seen Betsy. It was pretty weird.”

GM: “So… you’re saying, you saw a… zombie cow?”

Hudson: Hudson chuckles. “Oh, not just one zombie cow. The Britters—the family I visited—had an entire farm of cows. And each and every one of them was a zombie.”

GM: “Whoa, so like, an army of zombie cows.”

Hudson: “If lightning struck the farmhands would have to herd them all in. Because they would just stand there and get electrocuted.”

GM: “That’s… that’s so cool, Grandpa.”

Hudson: Hudson laughs. “The job has its perks. You see some interesting things.”

GM: “I’d like to see that.”

Hudson: “Tell you what, after I’m home, we can drive back out to Witiko Falls if you’d still like to.” He continues, “But you know, in some ways, the zombie cows actually weren’t the most remarkable thing I saw there. It was the people. Let’s take the Britters, the family who owned the zombie cows.”

GM: “Really?” Alex asks dubiously.

Hudson: “Yep. The Britters were just like you and me. Mr. Britter liked to drink beer and watch TV. His teenage daughter liked to spend too much time on the phone chatting with her friends. An entire army of zombie cows right outside their windows, and it was as ordinary to them as the sun rising might be to you or me. The truth is, Alex, it’s not just that people can get used to just about anything.”

GM: “Maybe,” the boy says, without much confidence.

Hudson: “We’re all a little weird inside. Some of us wear it on the outside. That frightens some people, because it makes them face the fact that they’re a little weird too, somehow. I was pretty alarmed by those zombie cows at first. So were my deputies. We thought they were really, really weird. But the Britters didn’t once bat an eye over them. After a while, I started to feel a little foolish for such a big deal about things. So I gave a shrug, stopped paying attention to the zombie cows, and my team and I nabbed the bad guy we’d been sent after. And now I’m here, talking to you over the phone about zombie cows, and finding them the most ordinary things in the world.”

“Whatever’s on your mind, Alex, I’m gonna guess it’s even less weird than an army of zombie cows.”

GM: “Grandpa… I hate it here.”

Hudson: “Here in Idaho, next to LA?”

GM: “Maybe,” the boys says.

Hudson: “Or because of Grandma and your sister?”

GM: “What? Oh no, they’re… ok.”

Hudson: “It can be a lot of things. There’s a lot of reasons somebody can hate a place.”

GM: “I miss my old fa… friends.”

Hudson: “I think you miss them both, Alex,” Hudson says quietly. “I miss your old family too. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about your dad.”

GM: The phone line is silent, save for Alex’s tight breathing.

Hudson: “It’s okay for you to miss them. Your grandma misses them. Your sister does too, no matter what she might say.”

GM: “I… hate them.” The preteen’s voice breaks, and Hudson can almost feel the heat of fresh tears.

Hudson: “That’s not weird to feel either, Alex. Lot of the time, people we hate are people we’ve loved. When they punch us, it hurts a million times as bad. We swear that we’ll never, ever forgive them, for making us hurt so bad.”

GM: “Sometimes, Grandpa… I, I hate myself. But I don’t know why.”

Hudson: “It could be you feel bad for hating your mom and dad, after they’ve loved you so much.” Despite his words, the marshal’s vigilant gaze hasn’t wavered from his comatose patient.

GM: “Does… does that make me a bad person?” Alex’s voice is rough and fragile.

Hudson: “No, Alex. Not ever,” Hudson says softly. “You don’t hate them. Not really.”

GM: “What if I do!” Alex yells, then breaks down and begins to sob.

Hudson: “Oh, you’re angry at them. Maybe angrier than you’ve ever been over something. You loved them, they loved you, and then they hurt you. Sometimes, Alex…” Hudson closes his eyes for a moment, then continues more quietly, if not fervently, “sometimes accidents happen. Terrible, tragic accidents, beyond anything we can possibly predict or control. Accidents that hurt the people we love, no matter how much we might not want to.”

“And just to confuse things even more, we don’t always get to know when it’s an accident. Sometimes we’re left in the dark, horribly wondering, did they mean to hurt us, or was it an accident.”

GM: Around Hudson, the chorus of medical equipment and Moe’s ragged breathing punctuate the marshal’s words.

Hudson: “There’s a name, for… times like that. ‘Long, dark nights of the soul.’ Where we have to look inside ourselves, and decide if we want to love or hate, from only what’s there.”

GM: “Grandpa, I don’t understand. Nobody here understands. Everybody knows, but nobody understands. It’d be so much easier if nobody knew…”

Hudson: “It would be easier. Be easiest of all if they weren’t gone.” Hudson sighs. “I wish I could make things easier for you and your sister. I don’t think I can make them that easy. But I can offer this:”

“Both of your parents, wherever they are, whatever accident might have happened, love the two of you. Very, very much. And knowing how bad you are hurting hurts them just as bad.”

GM: Alex is quiet for a while in the wake of Hudson’s words. He sniffles once, twice, then speaks: “Grandpa… can you promise me something?”

Hudson: “Name it, kiddo.”

GM: Hudson hears the sounds of a sleeve wipe before Alex speaks up. “Grandpa… I know, I know he’s your son, but my dad… if you ever find a lead, promise me you’ll hunt it down.”

Hudson: “I promise, Alex, on my marshal’s star, that I will hunt any leads I find on your father to the ends of the earth,” Hudson answers solemnly.

Moses’ promise might have asked him to break another. But Mary’s didn’t, and neither does this one.

GM: Alex’s reply lacks Hudson’s solemnity of words, but not its sincerity. “Okay.”

Hudson: “Okay,” Hudson echoes. “Can you do me a favor too? It’s for your grandma, and I don’t know if I can manage on my own.”

GM: “Okay,” Alex repeats, at least in regards to his willingness to hear Hudson out as much as agreement for the unnamed favor. There’s another sniffle, but the boy’s voice is steady again.

Hudson: “Your grandma says you shoved her and won’t come out of your room. She’s worried about you.” Hudson’s tone is more soft than blaming as he continues, “She’s worried she might have made you angry. There was also something about walking in on you wearing eyeliner. Or was it listening to satanic music?” Hudson sounds unsure so that Alex can feel like he’s controlling the narrative, but then audibly chuckles. “It all seems equally boring to me after an army of zombie cows, I have to admit. But you mind explaining whatever it was so that we can calm her down?”

GM: “I-I didn’t mean to push her, Grandpa. It just… happened.” It’s a line the long-time lawman has heard a thousand times.

Hudson: “She isn’t hurt, Alex,” Hudson says calmly. “In fact, she’s worried she might have hurt you.”

GM: “I’ll apologize, Grandpa. It won’t happen again.”

Hudson: “That’s good enough for me,” Hudson says at a point where the boy can probably picture him nodding. “You remember what I said earlier, about all of us being weird?”

GM: Moe’s electronically monitored heart-rate counts out the seconds of silence before Alex simply replies, “Yeah.”

Hudson: “And how I thought those zombie cows were so weird at first, but the Britters didn’t so much as blink over them, and made me feel like the silly one for getting so worked up? Whatever got you upset when your grandma walked in, I’m going to bet was a whole lot less weird than an army of zombie cows.”

GM: There’s another cardiac count-down before Alex replies, “She doesn’t understand.”

Hudson: “I’m sure of that. Maybe we can help her if you can help me.”

GM: Another pause. “Can we talk about it when you get home? I promise not to mess up her party.”
The boy’s last comment contain a prick of irritation, but seem all the more sincere to the cop and family man.

Hudson: “All right. That’s good enough for me too.” Hudson pauses. “Oh, there’s also a second favor you can do for me.” He doesn’t let the silence stretch for long before he answers, “Will you tell your sister that I love her? I didn’t get a chance before she passed me along.” He laughs, “And yes, I know she’s going to roll her eyes, pantomime barfing, or just say she doesn’t.”

GM: “Sure, Grandpa. You know… she does love you. Just doesn’t want to say it. Makes, makes her feel bad. Like weak.”

Hudson: “I know she does, Alex. Lot of girls her age are the same way. But it still makes me feel better hearing that from you.”

GM: “Yeah, okay,” says the boy in odd synchrony with Moe’s heartbeat.

Hudson: Hudson’s eyes continue to rest on the comatose patient his team put halfway into the grave. Maybe more than half. Still, Hudson won’t himself get too distracted while he’s the only man on watch. It’s just a matter of principle.

“I love you too, Alex. Do me a third favor and pass the phone back to your grandmother?” That’ll help defuse the awkwardness. Get them back in the same room without having to talk to each other.

GM: Alex’s acquiescence is slower this third time, but it eventually reaches Hudson’s ears–as does the sound of someone outside Moses’ recovery room. In short order, Hudson hears multiple doors opening, one back in Boise, the other in Witiko Falls. From the latter door, a nurse appears, one Hudson hasn’t seen before. Or at least one he thinks he hasn’t seen before, but then a fragmentary memory flashes almost more in his gut than brain.

She had been part of the surgical team. A hitchcock blonde, he–or perhaps his little man–had thought. Hudson had caught a glimpse of the bombshell delivering an injection into one of Moses’ IV lines amidst the prolix actions of the large surgical team. Honestly, if not for the woman’s atomic blonde hair and barbie doll curves, Hudson likely wouldn’t have noticed, much less remembered. Those same features once again draw Hudson’s attention as the Hitchcock-blonde nurse enters the room and inspects the armless patient and the myriad equipment sustaining and monitoring his thread-bare hold on life.

“Hudson?” comes Nora’s voice from the phone’s receiver. “Hudson, are you there?”

Hudson: Hudson’s little man abruptly twists in his stomach.

Dangerous. Not working alone.

“Let Alex go to his room. Gotta call back.” Hudson kills the line. He then sets down the phone and walks up to the nurse, grinning widely as he gets in her way.

“If I had a girl like you at my bedside, I don’t think I’d ever want to get better.”

GM: Hudson’s words are like water thrown on wax. They occur, but they do not in any way affect or alter the nurse’s affect or actions. His attempts to block her from Moses, however, are another matter. She mechanically pivots, almost as if her feet and spine were attached to an invisible cable-track in the ceiling and floor. The motion, though neither notably swift or aggressive, catch Hudson off-guard. By the time he recovers, she is already by Moses’ side, methodically checking the various implements. Throughout the ‘interaction’, the woman’s affect remains unchanged. It’s an odd combination: cold as the stethoscope around her neck, yet flat as the soles of her synthetic work-shoes.

Hudson: Hudson’s little man isn’t just twisting now, he’s full-on tap-dancing. The marshal doesn’t do anything so brash as yank her away—there’s no good reason for him to do that, and until he knows just who and how many people are the real danger here, he can’t have them knowing that he’s suspicious. Still, he’s ready to stop the nurse if she injects anything else into Moe’s veins.

That was the only thing he saw her do in the surgery room. One injection.

“I’m Hudson M. Schofeld, U.S. Marshals,” Hudson continues, letting the grin show in his voice as he jabs a thumb against his starred badge. “You got a name, dollface? You seem like a real heartbreaker.”

GM: In response to Hudson’s query, or at least identified authority, the nurse rotates her head to face him. “C.N.S. Hellen Wagner,” she says in a breathy voice that might be huskily seductive if it weren’t so monotone. Her head then turns back to the room’s patient–a patient which Hudson can see is stirring. One of Moe’s eyelids twitch and his beard shifts as the old war veteran tries to swallow.

Hudson: Hudson’s hackles immediately raise. He might be arm-less, but happening this exact moment…

“Hello, Moses,” he says levelly. His other eye remains on ‘Hellen’.

GM: Perhaps hearing his old nemesis, Moe’s other eyelid struggles to open.

“Subject P—M3EM—27.15.10,” Nurse Wagner states.

“….” comes Moe’s reply, a gasp too weak to form coherent words.

Hudson: “I think Moe rolls off the tongue better,” Hudson opines blandly. He glances down at the leg restraints on Moe’s bed. They haven’t been fitted, due to the compression-fitting tights he’s wearing to prevent blood clots.

Arm restraints, of course, were unnecessary.

GM: The nurse once again ignores, if not seems incapable of registering, Hudson’s humor. She instead begins to start documenting several notes on the man’s medical clipboard. “Waves: alpha, beta. Electromyography: tonic. Nystagmus: absent. Oculomotor cranial nerve response to commence.”
She clicks her pen twice in smooth precision. First to retract the pen-point, and second to engage the small penlight.

Hudson: Hudson listens to the woman’s documentation far more intently than his previous quipping might suggest. He hadn’t been sure if this woman was really a nurse. But she seems to know her way around things. It’s still possible that she isn’t really employed at Mt. Pelion, but this picture is starting to fill in.

The only thing he can’t figure is her looks. Why send a bombshell like Nurse Wagner if she’s just going to shoot down the inevitable male attention she draws?

GM: That focus, however, is compromised or at least tempted as the curvaceous woman leans over the bed and flashes her penlight into Moe’s eyes.

Hudson: Hudson’s happily married. His little man says this broad is bad news, in all kinds of ways. The firmness of her ass is precisely the last thing on the duty-bound marshal’s mind.

GM: The old man’s pupils shrivel as Nurse Wagner methodically pries back each eyelid and moves her penlight slowly across his field of vision. The angles are all wrong, and the reaction is fleeting, but Hudson detects that Moses’ flinching isn’t just a physiological response. There’s also a psychological element, a flash of perhaps fear born of… recognition?

As Nurse Wagner releases the patient’s eyelids, she once more double-clicks her pen and begins to dictate her own transcription: “Pupillary response assessed. Miosis consistent with dose response curves. Condition updated to code 95816.”

Hudson: “Tell me, Hellen, is 95816 good enough for him to be shipped back to Boise?” Hudson asks.
He doesn’t mind if he interrupts her recording. He’s curious what it might take to crack the ice queen’s facade.

GM: There is no thaw in the nurse’s mien as she simultaneously states out loud and writes, “Physicians to be contacted to determine subject’s regimen.” She then clicks her pen, this time but once and stows her implement and Moses’ medical clipboard in their respective containers.

Moses manages a gasp that borders on a cough. His eyes sluggishly rove over the room, searching for something he’s lost or has never found.

Hudson: “Better hope so, Moe. Hellen here’s pretty easy on the eyes, but you stay long enough and she’s bound to break your heart,” Hudson comments.

GM: “…” he says again, and weakly licks a dry tongue over his blood-crusted lips.

Hudson: “Better to cut things off while you’re still in that sweet, head-over-heels stage.”

GM: Nurse Wagner’s blonde-veiled face once again pivots to regard the marshal. She is silent, blinks once, then turns back to Moses, or more specifically one of his IVs. Hudson’s medical training informs him that she is reaching for the line attached to Moses’ IV bag filled with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid commonly used in hospitals for pain management.

Hudson: Hudson calmly catches her hand. “You trying to make things more comfortable for Moe there, Hellen?”

GM: Hellen does not turn as she reaches for the IV’s valve, but describes her action as if she is reading a script: “Increased dosage of Intravenous administration of N–1–2–Phenylethyl–4–piperidinyl–N–phenylpropanamide for analgesia to commence.”

Hudson: “Mmm. This sick fuck tried to cut up two young boys. I don’t think he needs to be in less pain at all,” the marshal lies. “So you can go ahead and skip that dosage, Hellen.”

GM: The nurse pauses. She pivots to regard her restrained hand as well as the force behind that retraining. She states in her breathy monotone, “Your authority is superseded, Supervisory Deputy Marshal Hudson Schofeld.” Her words are neither an apology nor argument, but a clinical assertion of fact. “Please unhand me so I may perform my protocols.”

Hudson: “Go get your boss. If a doctor thinks this bastard should get to laze around like he’s in the Ritz, then I’ll let you go on with those protocols,” Hudson answers, not releasing her hand.

That’ll get her out of his hair long enough for him to question Moses.

GM: “The physicians will be informed,” she says, the breathy tenor of her voice almost taking on an edge of emotion. A rather unpleasant one, too, if Hudson guesses. Then again, he might just be reading his own emotions in the reflection of the nurse’s elastic gaze. Nonetheless, she straightens, and awaits for the marshal to remove his hand.

Hudson: Hudson grunts. If a nurse says pain relief is the best thing for a patient, he isn’t about to gainsay her. But not this nurse. Analegia, after all, means Moe could go under if he’s in too much pain.

“All right, you go and do that,” Hudson answers, releasing the woman’s wrist. Still, this raises a question. As she turns to leave, the marshal mentally apologizes with a, Sorry, Nora, then smacks Nurse Hellen on her ass.

That’ll help cement the narrative he’s thinking with his other little man around this woman, not to mention build a better profile on her. It’s a sad truth that a lot of nurses wouldn’t do anything about this kind of behavior from Hudson. But they’d at least be upset. It’d say a lot about Nurse Wagner if she isn’t.

GM: So released, the nurse exits the room, but stops instantly upon her buttocks being slapped. Hudson cannot see her face to read her expression, but there is a tension in her frame that wars with what can only be called submissiveness. That conflict ends in some inscrutable manner as she states Hudson’s name and badge number aloud as if cataloging him. “Supervisory Deputy Marshal Hudson Schofeld, 407-68.”

She then exits the room, her movements striking the marshal once again as preternaturally precise, as if she is being pulled along an invisible cable-rail from which she will not or cannot deviate. Still, as Hudson watches her vanish down the ICU’s hall, he finally places the ever so slight, yet distinct disturbance in affect.

As both a state trooper and marshal, he’s seen it hundreds of times. Waitresses working road-stop diners and bars, girls accustomed to being smacked on the butt, objectified, and harassed by chauvinistic patrons. Most accepted the ‘attention’, not out of any shred of enjoyment, but an understanding that rejecting would do little but hurt their tips and get in the way of finishing their shifts. But just because they accepted it, didn’t mean they forgot or forgave.

And every once and a while, the war between accepting and not-forgetting would boil over, causing them to strike back. Sometimes, it would be overt, like dumping a pot of hot coffee over a trucker who got a little too handsy. Sometimes, it would be more covert, like handing out flatware with a thin film of dish soap.

He has seen it on other, yet similar occasions. Prostitutes who generally accepted but never forgot their mistreatment by their pimps, who got their revenge by diming their pimps’ location to a bloodthirsty gang or loan shark. The long-time wives of cons and fugitives that had endured, even accepted, years of domestic violence and abuse, who one day simply had enough and either ratted their spouses to the cops of blew them away with a shotgun or hunting rifle.

But this is the first time he’s seen that conflict with a nurse. But he’s confident: Nurse Wagner may have accepted his sexual assault, but she has not and will not forget.

Hudson: It’s no doubt not the first time for a nurse as pretty as Nurse Wagner either. Hudson feels an abrupt pang of guilt at that. It was a sexual assault. He’d wanted to build a better profile on the woman his little man said was a danger. He’d wanted to see if she was human deep down. Turned out that she was. All-too human.

He can’t erase what he did, but he’ll apologize to Nurse Wagner later. For now, he closes the door, picks up his radio, and transmits, “Max, get back to Moe’s room, on the double. Stay outside. If anyone tries to get inside, don’t stop them, but talk to them. Loud enough that I can hear and have a moment’s warning. I’ll explain why later. Over.”

GM: The radio crackles back with Max’s reply. “On my way and understood. You okay? Over.”

Hudson: “Still fat but no worse for it. Over.”

GM: “Understood,” Max replies. “I’ll be there on the double. Radio me if anything changes. Hodges, over and out.”

Hudson: Hudson ends the transmission, leans down over Moe’s bed to look the armless man in the eye and states, “You were scared of that woman. My gut says she’s trouble and not working alone. Blink once for yes, twice for no. Is your life in danger from these people?”

GM: Moses looks up at Hudson with roving, bloodshot eyes. His gasps turn into a shallow, coughing wheeze that Hudson almost pegs as laughter from the armless maniac. “C…can..dy… ma..n…”

Hudson: “That’s me, Moe,” Hudson acknowledges. You don’t get to pick your witnesses, however easier that might make things.

GM: Moe’s blood-cracked lips hack up another feeble cough-chuckle, but it makes him wince painfully. By the look of it, the man really could use some opioids. A lot of them.

Hudson: He’ll get them in short order. Right now, Hudson needs to determine if Nurse Wagner and whoever she’s working for will be an even worse hazard to the patient’s health.

GM: Indeed, Moe nearly passes up from the pain right there and then, but true to Hudson’s prediction, the tough bastard is too stubborn–and perhaps too deserving of the pain to escape into alleviating unconsciousness.

“…” gasps the repeat fugitive. Between those gasps, though, Hudson can tell Moses is trying to speak, but his voice is fragile to the point of being almost undetectable, if not indecipherable. “Cl…os…er”

Hudson: Hudson leans closer. He wouldn’t put it past the madman to bite him, and even tenses against that prospect, but he’s risked worse in the line of duty.

GM: The feared bite doesn’t come, but the lawman still can’t help feeling soiled by the madman’s lips so close to his ear. Weak as Moe’s breath is, it still reeks of death and chemicals. But the ends seem to justify the means as the proximity allows Moses to whisper more clearly and less taxingly. “Candy… man… I never… told you about my arm…”

Hudson: “You lost it in the war, Moe. That was years ago. This is now. Who does that nurse really work for?” Hudson presses in the firm but urgent tones of a lawman questioning a source that’s just about to tap out.

GM: “Lost it… in the war…” He chuckles painfully, causing one of his scabbed lips to brush Hudson’s earlobe. “But… which war… Candyman…”

Hudson: “The Second World War,” Hudson replies levelly. But not without a note of questioning.

GM: Hudson’s answer, and hint of uncertainty, elicit another weak, but wet-tearing bout of laughter. “…we warred for more… than the world, Candyman… I lied… I lost my arm… American soil… 19..46… we… called it down…”

Hudson: “You called what down, Moses?”

GM: “Someone… had to bell… the cat… pay… the price… give… the Devil his due…” Another light laughter, then wince.

Hudson: The poor bastard’s making little sense. Hudson doubts he can get him to answer a direct question about Nurse Wagner at this point, though.

“You sacrificed someone else?” he asks.

GM: “No…”

Hudson: “Or you lost your arm to call it down, give the Devil his due?”

GM: Hudson feels Moses’ lips brush him again as the man shakes his head. “No… someone had to get it… pick… it up… can’t leave… the box just… laying in… a hole…” He chuckles, then wheezes, “Some… kid.. might find it…”

Hudson: “You lost your arm retrieving the box,” Hudson fills in.

GM: “Yes… no… not a box, no, no, no, not a box…”

Hudson: “What did you lose your arm retrieving, Moe?”

GM: “They make you read Hesiod? In my days… they made us kids… read all the classics… in Greek… kids… these days…”

Hudson: “Marshals these days have college degrees. I’ve done my reading,” Hudson answers. “And yeah, kids. I ended up arresting Mr. Barnes, the boy you fought with. Now stay with me, Moses. We don’t have a lot of time. What do you want to tell me?”

GM: “Erga… kai Hemerai…” He laughs again. “Funny the things… you remember…”

Outside the door, there’s a knock. “It’s me, Hudson,” comes Maxwell’s voice.

Moe stirs at the knock, and Hudson instantly knows it wasn’t another marshal he was expecting.

Hudson: Time’s up.

“Rest, Moe. I’ll take care of things.” He pulls his head away and calls, “Come in.”

GM: “C-and-y-man!” Moe all but hisses desperately.

Maxwell steps in, holding a pair of brown bags. He drops both and goes to his gun when he sees the armless man violently whispering, but then chuckles. “Forgot he wasn’t armed.”

“You… as…ked…” Moe wheezes, trying to desperately to speak up. “N…urse…”

“How long has he been up?” Maxwell asks, stooping to pick up the brown-paper bags. “He tell you where he buried that girl’s body, back in ’82?”

Hudson: Hudson holds up a hand in forestallment and leans in close to Moses again. “What do you want to tell me, Moe? Fast.”

GM: Moe’s chest heaves, the oxygen mask still askew on his chin. “N-nurse… you asked… who she works… for…”

Maxwell quietly stands, bags in hand, but otherwise waits quietly.

Hudson: “Yes, I did,” Hudson confirms for the faltering man.

GM: “We won… the war… but lost… she works… for… them… they… won… she works for… them… I… work… worked… for… them… and… so…”

Hudson: “They want you back? Is that it?”

GM: Hudson feels Moe’s dry tongue as the latter tries to wet his lips. “She works for… them…” He laughs, then tries to suck in a deep breath, but it only becomes another a wet-tearing wheeze. He gulps it down, though, and continues, “And so… does… he…”

Hudson: “Your doctor, Moses?” Hudson asks. He barely notices the sensation of the madman’s tongue against his ear.

GM: “The… redhead…”

Maxwell squints. “What’d he say?”

“Don’t… blame…” Moe adds with another wheeze. “…him…” Another sucking gasp. “After… all…” Moe closes his eyes, but continues weakly. “…so do… you… CANDYMAN!!!!” His eyes flare open and the armless man lunges forward the breath of an inch to sink his teeth into Hudson’s ear.

Maxwell rushes over, his gun drawn, but then hesitates. “You want me to shoot him!?”

Hudson: “Mother of—GOD!” Hudson bellows, blood-flecks flying from the side of his head as he jerks out of the madman’s reach. Natural instinct growls at him to punch back, but he makes do with a glare and equally low growl as he applies pressure to the wound.

“No. Stand down, Max. The nurse is going to give him something soon.” He manages a grim smile past the bleeding. “No place better to get bitten by a crazed psychopath than a hospital, right? Hell. I even saw that coming.” The fat marshal grunts. “For all the good it did me.” His ear feels oddly light…

GM: The armless madman gulps down the tip of Hudson’s left earlobe and licks his lips. He tries to laugh, blood splattered across himself, but then his eyes bulge as he begins to choke.

“You okay?!” Maxwell starts to ask his superior, then stops as Moe begins to asphyxiate. “Give it up, old man, there’s no way we’re falling for that. Again.”

Hudson: “Oh, good grief!” the mustachioed marshal snarls. He’s not sure which sight he’s referring to as he pushes forward, blood still leaking down the side of his head and all over his clothes, as he presses his hands to Moe’s chest and applies CPR. “He’s not faking, Max, get the nurse!”

GM: Maxwell rushes to obey, once again dropping the paper bags. “NURSE! DOCTOR!” the marshal yells at splitting ear volume.

Hudson: “Choke on my own ear, why don’t you! Go ahead! Chow down, see how that works out!” Hudson all but spits as he frantically works, again, to save the crazed would-be murderer’s life.

GM: Like the last time, the next minutes are a blur of blood, sweat, and near-misses. In that window, a variety of medical staff file into the room, relieving Hudson. “Acute aspiration, gastric contents,” one staff yells to the rest. “Prepare for oropharyngeal suctioning, and adjunctive endotracheal intubation and nasogastric tube.” Other terms are bandied, including bronchoscopy and positive-pressure ventilation. In the end, the combination of those varied procedures, equipment, and the medical staff who utilize them–which Hudson notes does not include Nurse Wagner–save the life of Moses Ezekiel MacDonald.

Hudson: Hudson is not at all surprised there. When they remove his earlobe from Moses, he points to it and asks with a sardonic drawl, “Someone here mind stapling that thing back onto me?”

GM: They also save Hudson’s ear, after suctioning out the torn lobe-fragment from Moe’s bronchial tubes. They re-attach the lobe in another set of thankfully less hasty and less risky procedures.

Hudson: “My thanks,” the marshal grunts once they’re done. That’s gonna leave a scar. Won’t Emma have a field day with the quips.

GM: By the time the dust settles–or at least most of the blood dries–six o’clock arrives, signaling the end of Hudson’s shift as a guard and the start of his stay as a patient at Mount Pelion General. As Hudson is set up in a bed within the same room as the once again unconscious Moses, Cassidy and Curtis arrive.

Hudson: In the immediate aftermath of his earlobe’s reattachment, Hudson no doubt aggravates his nurse when he refuses to change into a hospital dressing gown. The moment he does that, they’ll start seeing him as a patient rather than a marshal. Hell, even his deputies subconsciously might. And that won’t do. As Moses just proved, he’s dangerous even without his arms. Dangerous to people who lean in close enough, anyway.

As his long-overdue rest approaches, Hudson doesn’t even change out of his bloodied clothes into pajamas, but into another button-up white shirt and pair of gray slacks with suspenders. The two concessions he makes towards sleep are loosening his necktie and leaving his jacket draped over the bed’s railing. The implication is clear: he expects to be back on duty soon, and is ready to resume it even earlier if need be.

Hudson also calls his wife back from the room’s phone. He apologizes for their last call’s abrupt end and explains that a work emergency came up when the fugitive they’d brought in regained consciousness. He then tells Nora that he and Alex had a good talk. The poor kid’s still hurting over his parents, and especially his dad. He wants to talk about the eyeliner once his grandfather is back home, and in the meantime he’s promised not to interfere with Nora’s dinner party. So for now, Hudson recommends to his wife, giving him some space and acting like nothing’s unusual will be best.

It also looks like the marshal is going to be home sooner, now that Moses has woken up. How soon will still be up to the doctors. “He was pretty lively,” Hudson remarks. “Sure gave me an earful. I gave him one too, and he grinned the whole time, though eventually he started to choke up.” He’s just loud enough for Max to hear those bits.

Hudson ends the call with an “I love you, dear,” then sags on the edge of his bed and permits himself a moment to just feel dog-tired. He’s been awake for close to 36 straight hours, during which he’s cased crime scenes, gone on a wild motorbike ride in miserable weather, stood off against a satanic would-be serial murderer, blown off that would-be murderer’s last arm, raced him back to the hospital, arrested and booked a young kid in front of his mom, realized he sexually assaulted a woman, had his earlobe torn off, had it reattached, and done it all off a diet of adrenaline and candy bars, with the exception of the bland-tasting cafeteria food he’s shoveling into his mouth at this late hour. He’s not an old man yet, not in his fifties (“that’s still middle-aged, now,” he’d once remarked), but he damn well isn’t a young man anymore. His bed’s pillow beckons as sweetly and softly as a melted chocolate bar topped with powdered sugar. But giving in to this temptation will actually be good for his health.

The marshal still spares a smile as he sees his deputies come in to relieve him.

“You sure you two aren’t ear-ly?”

GM: Several minutes later, Hudson is the one hearing a joke. “Knock, knock,” says the white-haired and white-coated doctor who entered the room and identified himself as Dr. Humphrey.

Dr_Humphrey.png

Hudson: The marshal grunts and sits up in his bed. He’d almost fallen asleep. “Who’s there?”

GM: The dark-eyed doctor, whose medical accouterments include a head mirror and stethoscope, replies with a smile, “HIPAA!”

Hudson: Hudson replies in kind with one of his own. It’s somewhat less enthusiastic. “Doc, I’m as glad as the next man that my medical information is private, but I’ll sure be a lot gladder after I’ve had my forty winks.”

“All right though,” the marshal says with another tired-eyed smile at his physician’s enthusiasm. That’s rare enough in this hospital that he isn’t about to shoot it down. “HIPAA who?”

GM: Dr. Humphrey raises an index finger and smiles goodhumoredly as he answers, “I can’t tell you!”

Hudson: There’s a faint chuckle. “I suppose you can’t, at that. Joke’s on me.”

GM: He then slowly points his extended finger to Hudson. “Might I have a word in private, Deputy Marshal Schofeld?” His smile does not falter as he glances at Cassidy and Curtis. The unconscious Moses is overlooked.

Hudson: There’s an internal groan at the doctor’s request, but it’s not like he hasn’t gone out of his way to communicate he’s still duty-ready. “All right. Cassidy, Curtis, hold down the fort,” Hudson answers as he hauls himself out of bed and pulls on his jacket. He lets the doctor lead the way.

GM: “Oh, no, no, Deputy Marshal,” Dr. Humphrey says as his patient rises. “I was thinking you and I might stay. The more you rest, the speedier your recovery.” His next remark is to Cassidy and Curtis as much as Hudson. “It will only take a moment.”

Hudson: “Far be it from me to complain over staying on my ass,” Hudson remarks as he sits back down. “If you two don’t mind waiting outside?” he directs towards his deputies.

GM: “We’ll be right outside, boss,” says Cassidy, as she exits the room alongside Curtis, who gives a salute-like nod at the implicit order.

As the door shuts, Dr. Humphrey turns back to Hudson. “Well, they seem like nice folk.”

Hudson: “They’re good people. I do and have trusted them with my life,” the mustachioed marshal nods.

GM: “Good people,” Dr. Humphrey repeats, his smile fading. “Too bad we can’t all be good all the time.”

Hudson: Hudson heaves a sigh. “I think I know what this is.”

GM: He pauses, then speaks again. “Yes. I promised this would be short, so if I might be frank, let me just say that Nurse Wagner spoke to me, and I have to say I am very disappointed.”

Hudson: “She’s telling the truth,” Hudson says as if to preempt any discussion on that topic. “I don’t have anything to say that isn’t an excuse, Doc. I doubt that she wants to see me right now, but if you know her and think that it would help, I’d like to apologize to her for my behavior.”

GM: Dr. Humphrey frowns at the confession. “Well, I think the less you speak with Nurse Wagner from here on, the better. She was very upset by your untoward actions, and no doubt she felt very conflicted approaching me, being as you are a man of the law. God knows the good-looking woman is given enough grief by her patients.”

Hudson: Hudson’s tired smile has long since faded to simple tiredeness by now. He’s seen his share of guilty people breaking down and finally confessing. It’s not as often that he’s been the one in the same role.

“That took some courage on her part to tell the boss.”

GM: “Yes,” Dr. Humphrey agrees. “She is a very courageous woman, whose ample beauty and bravery are only matched by her generous spirit.”

Hudson: “I thought she was a pretty cold fish when we first met. I wanted to see if she was ‘really human’ deep down. Well, it turns out that she was. All-too human.” The fat marshal seems to deflate further. “I have a wife and granddaughter. In my line of work, I’ve seen my share of women who’ve been treated badly by men. I thought I was better than that. I wasn’t. And I’m sorry that I hurt her.”

Hudson isn’t so sure that he buys ‘generous spirit’, but he holds his tongue.

GM: “Well, apologies are like bandages, they don’t undo the damage or substitute for stitches. But given that she is not pressing the issue, and in light of your frank confession as well as recent… injury, Deputy Marshal Schofeld, I believe the hospital is willing to consider this matter resolved.”

He raises a finger. “However. However, I must warn you. Regardless of your intentions or apologies, what we need here is an understanding. We have already had to almost throw out a locally respected lawman today from Mt. Pelion.”

He lowers his hand. “From now on, any mistreatment of our staff or interruption of their duties will be grounds for immediate dismissal–or in your specific case, reassignment.” He sticks a hand into his pocket and leans forward. “Do we have an understanding, Deputy Marshal?”

Hudson: Hudson doesn’t blink at either of the doctor’s initial statements. “We do, Doc. You won’t have any further incidents of harassment from me.”

GM: “Splendid!” Dr. Humphrey beams as he rises and extends a lollipop to Hudson. He goes to depart, but then pauses right before opening the door. “One last thing, Deputy Marshal.”

Hudson: The fat marshal, to the surprise of no one who knows him, plucks the lollipop out of the physician’s hand. “That’s the point, Doc, where I usually tell the bad guy that I still have my eye on them.”

GM: Dr. Humphery winks with a chuckle, and taps his head mirror. “Well, as an otorhinolaryngologist, I always have an eye on my patients, good and bad. But, no, I have another question for you. Why did the blonde nurse carry a red pen?”

Hudson: “You got me on that punchline, Doc.”

GM: Dr. Humphrey raises his finger again and smiles widely. “In case she needs to draw blood!”

Hudson: There’s another low chuckle from the now-lollipop-sucking marshal.

“You might have heard this one as an ear doctor. A woman once went to her family physician with her crying baby. He determined right away that the baby had an earache. He wrote a prescription for ear drops. In the directions he wrote, ‘Put two drops in right ear every four hours’ and he abbreviated ‘right’ as an R with a circle around it.”

“The woman returned to the doctor after several days and complained that the baby still had an earache, and his little behind was getting really greasy with all those drops of oil.”

“The doctor looked at the bottle of ear drops and realized what had gone wrong. The pharmacist had typed the following instructions on the label:”

“‘Put two drops in R ear every four hours’.”

GM: Dr. Humphrey erupts in a knee-slapping guffaw. “That’s a keeper, Deputy Marshal!”

He’s still laughing as he opens the door and turns to the waiting deputies. “He’s all yours. I told him to go easy on the Q-tips for a while, but I think it went in one ear and out the other.”

Hazel: Attila Awakens


10.09.1998, Friday evening

GM: The TV buzzes with flickering snow-like static. Secured to the upper corner of her private hospital room, the TV stares down at Hazel with its incoherent blur and mechanical hiss. Other medical apparatus beep and chirp like a broken electronic symphony. The walls and floor are an antiseptic white, broken only by the golden sunlight that filters through a curtained window.

Hazel: Attila awakens.

Patterns. Patterns everywhere. In the thread of the sheets, the wiring of the lights, even the static blaring down from the television set.

Patterns. Patterns everywhere.

The underlying laws and logic to the cosmos, laid bare at least. Hazel cannot articulate them–not so soon, not when she’s never been the best at putting thoughts into words–but she knows them. They wind through reality like the threads of a grand tapestry. Threads that she might gather up in her fingers, spin, snip, re-weave into new designs and patterns. Her tapestry. Her reality. Reality is soft clay, malleable in her hands, and she has just learned how to sculpt. She’s had the blindfold removed. For the first time in her life, the universe makes sense. Perfect and complete sense.

Attila has Awakened.

She feels the scream–of elation, triumph, anticipation, and a maelstrom of so many other emotions, welling in her chest like a hurricane about to make landfall. It’s all she can do to keep her mouth closed. She clenches her fists and smacks her bedding, rocking back and forth, giddy with… no. ‘Giddy’ is far too limiting a phrase. This is exaltation, soul-deep and unlimited, infinite, all-encompassing. She is Awake! It all makes sense!_

She calms after a moment, the grin disappearing from her features. A long-honed investigator’s eye apprises her surroundings. So. Her own private room. Mom likely paying for things, as expected. She’s not handcuffed to the bed. Nothing’s been proven. Nothing…

Oh god. Dread sinks her stomach like a cannonball chucked into a bathtub.I killed them. The Sweeneys. I’m a murderer. No. No. No. That’s impossible, they never did anything to me, they…

The severed limbs flash across her newly-aware mind. The limbs. In her house. Hazel clenches her blankets and begins rubbing her hands against them, back and forth, back and forth. Concentrating on the sensation. They’re relatively soft, for a hospital bed’s. Nice to know she’s… the thought disappears as her mind plumbs for answers. There might not be much time, and there’s so much at stake. She needs to act, and fast.

GM: Her manic, fractured psyche reaches out for the spiral staircase, but she finds the handrails are gone. Only static remains. The TV buzzes, then abruptly changes its own channel. An image appears on the screen which rests on the squat side-table shoved in the other corner. Was it ever hovering above her in the other corner? Is space an illusion? A mutable phenomenon full of caprice and bereft of moorings–like her mind?

Another table sits beside the TV’s stand–although now Hazel cannot help but question what ‘beside’ means. Does it mean anything at all? Did it ever mean anything at all? Does anything anymore? But no, there is a glass table, a circle–in which she sees other circles, creating the vesicle piscis repeat again and again, around and around, to create the Flower of Life, just like how her family’s car swerved and spun, around and around, again and again. Now the circles are an illusion. Or are they? Is the table an illusion? She doesn’t know. Her eyes close, perhaps reflexively to shut out the madness.

But the madness is within. The static. She smells wine. Red. Red like the blood of Elouise Sweeney as it spurted on her husband’s face. It’s Barbaresco. She opens her eyes to see the lipstick imprint on the all but drained glass. The TV warbles into ‘focus’.

TV.png

A face emerges on it. Its eyes vacant save for an insatiable thirst and frenzied terror. The feminine thing howls and shrieks with an inhuman intensity that causes the video feed to crackle and distort. Points. Lines. Angles. That’s all it is. That’s all everything is.

But Hazel’s psyche sees the lines, points, and angles of the creature’s mouth. Teeth. Fangs. The shot pans out, revealing the seemingly possessed monster in a kevlar and chain-reinforced straightjacket shackled to a barren room. White-walled room. The mad woman-thing thrashes, but in vain. Two Spooks emerge in the far corners of the shot. Their plastic features are obscured by their identical black hats, black glasses, and suits.

By virtue of some off–screen cue, the pair retracts a room divider, revealing the other side of the room–and most prominently a sunrise–capturing window. As the solar illumination fills the room, the fettered woman begins to smolder. Her skin blackens like burnt paper in a bonfire. As the paranormal immolation hideously consumes the frenzying monster, the audio feed of her screams is muted and another feed comes on playing the national anthem. A male voice-over joins it:

REALITY DEVIANTS ARE EVERYWHERE! YOUR GOVERNMENT NEEDS YOU! JOIN THE CONSENSUS!”

Hazel: Hazel can’t say she’s sorry to see the vampire go up in flames. Far from the tragically misunderstood antiheroes of certain novels, all of her research–and the one she’s actually seen with her own eyes–indicate they are nothing but monstrous parasites upon humanity.

But she’s not sure she trusts the men–the Spooks–who delivered the thing to its destruction (‘death’ seems inaccurate) either. She’s seen their methods up close and personal too. She’ll hold off on any joining until she’s done a lot more research. Like what happened to her predecessor.

GM: The TV shot zooms in as the government agents walk in eerie symmetry towards the now-empty straitjacket and chains. As the anthem ends, the male voiceover continues:

“WE CAN SET YOU FREE! JOIN TODAY! THERE IS SAFETY IN CONSENSUS!”

Even deranged as Hazel is, she picks up the not so subtle undertones of what might happen to those who don’t ‘join the consensus’.

Hazel: A lot more research.

GM: The video is swallowed by static. One eye-blink later, the TV stares down at her again from the top of the other corner. There is no TV on a squat table. There never was. Distance is lie. So is sanity. A nurse walks into the illusion that her mind once recognized as a ‘room’.

Hazel: All she can do is sit up and regard the points, lines, and angles that seemingly compose the woman. “Hello. How long a duration have I been insensate for?”

GM: The woman checks her ticking watch. Unlike her scrubs which bear Mount Pelion’s seal of Eris’ golden apple of Discord, her leather watch-band has the tooled shape of Proteus, the ever-changing one. “It’s Friday, October 10th, 1998… at 6:06 pm.” The nurse looks up and offers a smile that doesn’t yet reach her eyes.

The evening light casts sharp shadows across her face, but her features are still clear enough for Hazel to identify the nurse. It’s Mackenzie Snakewater, formerly Mackenzie Pinkston–her old queen bee social tormentor in middle school. “Hello, Hazel,” her old schoolmate says with a half-swallowed smirk. She looks over Hazel’s chart and then inspects the sling over Hazel’s arm and the splint on her thigh.

Mackenzie.png

Hazel: Well, look who now wipes people’s asses for a living.

“Hello, Mackenzie. Please see to it that my parents are informed I am conscious and in such a state as to receive visitors.” Attila’s ire is never far, but for now she is prepared to be civil.

GM: “That will be up to the doctors to decide,” the dark-haired nurse says.

Hazel: “Such is not within your power. I see. Please inform my assigned doctor that I am conscious and in such a state as to discuss whether I am able to receive visitors.”

GM: “Speaking of doctors’ orders,” Mackenzie adds, pulling out a pill bottle with Hazel’s name printed on it, “You’re to take these. For the pain.” She lays out the nine pills in a shape that eerily resembles the nine fruit of the Tree of Knowledge.

Nurse Pinkston then leaves.

Hazel: “Nurse Pinkston!” Hazel’s voice sharply rings through the hospital room.

GM: Already out the door, Mackenzie’s head pops back in. “Yes, Hazel?”

Hazel: “What are you going to do when you have left my room, Nurse Pink–Snakewater.” Hazel’s tone is not one of someone asking a question. It is a reminder, sharp and pointed as a hospital scalpel.

GM: “Follow my orders,” she says with a winsome smile. “As you should yours,” she says with a motioning gesture to the pills. “Best take a big drink first.”

Hazel: Attila smiles back. “Repeat them for me, Nurse Snakewater, so I am certain they will be followed.”

GM: Likely to Hazel’s infuriation, Mackenzie laughs. Her voice is still pearly. “You know, Hazel, people change all the time. They really do. You should give it a try sometime. Maybe start by being less of a bitch. But if you want to cause a scene, I’ll just call some orderlies to sedate you.” She flashes Hazel another class-winning smile, then closes the door. It locks.

Hazel: Hazel’s clear voice smugly sounds through the door. “Sedatives can take mere hours to wear off, Mackenzie. Evidence of infidelity with men twice one’s age, however, can permanently destroy a marriage.”

GM: Her words refer Hazel’s pre-employment snooping on her old rivals. Mackenzie’s skeletons were perhaps the most surprising. Not only does Hazel know that Mackenzie married Hiram Snakewater, a half-blooded Kainai from the reservation–which was unexpected given Mackenzie’s racist predictions in grade school–but Hazel also followed Mackenzie on several late afternoon trysts to another man’s house. Each time, she arrived gussied up, and each time she left fatigued and disheveled, but clearly very, very satisfied. That the old queen bee would be so treacherous does not shock Hazel. Instead, it’s the identity of the ‘other man’ that still perplexes the bedridden librarian. Mackenzie Snakewater, her old classmate, is having an affair with her uncle, Leopold Schoening.

But despite that knowledge and her threat, the door remains locked. Perhaps Leo’s Lustprinzip is just that good.

Hazel: So be it. Attila does not threaten–only promise. Mr. Snakewater will be receiving some very interesting photos.

GM: Locked inside with prescribed pills she knows nothing about, the hospital room takes on the menacing overtures of an asylum. One where she as the patient has no power. Yet, as Leo often reminds her, scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power. And as she inspects the nine pills and their bottle, she gains power.

Hazel: Besides which, the door could well be within her power to deal with. It wouldn’t be the first lock she’s picked. Some store merchandise, after all, is locked inside those pesky cases.

GM: Beside the large glass of water, Hazel finds the pill bottle placed right where the tenth sephirot or fruit should be. The pill bottle’s overall appearance resembles that of all prescription bottles, save for the print that describes the medicine itself. Rather than a list of its name, dosage, and route, there is a passage from Milton’s Paradise Lost:

In vain, though by their powerful Art they bind
Volatile Hermes, and call up unbound
In various shapes old Proteus from the Sea,
Drain’d through a Limbec to his native form.


Hazel knows that Milton’s passage signifies the association of Proteus with the Hermetic art of alchemy, and of those alchemists who sought the philosopher’s stone. More specifically, she recalls writings of the German mystical alchemist Heinrich Khunrath, who said that the shape–changing sea–god was, because of his relationship to the sea, both a symbol of the unconscious as well as the perfection of the Art. Alluding to the scintilla, the spark from ‘the light of nature’ which may signify the awakening as well as the symbol of the anima mundi, which may signify the tenth fruit which unifies them all, Khunrath in Gnostic vein stated of the Protean element Mercury: our Catholick Mercury, by virtue of his universal fiery spark of the light of nature, is beyond doubt Proteus, the sea god of the ancient pagan sages, who hath the key to the sea and… power over all things.

In more modern times, the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung defined the mythological figure of Proteus as the personification of the sleeping unconsciousness, who is vast and pulled by tides both deep and strong, but is mutable nonetheless. Surrounding the pill bottle, which Hazel notes is now empty, are the nine pills. Each one has a single letter on it. For one who had not seen what her inner mind had seen, it would be almost impossible to know where to begin the ‘reading’. But the reference to the Hermitic arts of alchemy provide the clue: one must begin with the basest of matter. Matter. As Above, so Below. Her mind summons up the tree and the base fruit of Matter, then follows the connections, reading each engraved pill-letter. V.I.T.R.I.O.L.V.M.

Even now, the message would be undecipherable to most, but Hazel has the key of knowledge, its edges honed through years of occult study. And so, she recognizes the meaning of the nine letters: Visita Interiora Terrae Rectificando Invenies Occultum Lapidem Veram Medicinam. And its translation into her tongue: Visit the interior of the Earth; by rectification thou shalt find the hidden stone. Moreover, she recalls the acronym has another hidden meaning, its letters signifying a green lion. Just like the one in Mrs. Griswold’s diary. Just as the green lion of vitriol dissolves all metals save the noble gold, the expression amongst Freemasony, Rosicrucianism, and Heremetism is a motto commonly found in the physically symbolic “Chamber of Reflection,” wherein the awakening initiate contemplates and reflects on the nature of death or dissolution of impurities in order to achieve internal, spiritual purification.

Hazel: Interesting. Hazel sets the pills down–and as she does, she notices slashes on the bottle’s bottom. Two of them, in the form of the cross. Holding the orange plastic up to the light, the cross looks rose-colored.

So. Another present from Leo.

That alleviates some of her concern. There’s someone out there trying to help her. It even fits with how Mackenzie is her nurse: the former queen bee’s connection to Leo likely made it all the easier for him to discretely get the pills in.

But how does he know about the tree and its nine fruits? How does he know she can now taste them? Is he… like she now is? Awake?

Those aren’t questions she can answer now, but she’ll trust him–if you can’t trust family, who can you trust–and take the pills. The sole remaining question she can answer is whether she should do that now or later. It’s possible she’s been involuntarily committed, for Mackenzie to actually lock her in. If that’s the case, the 24 hours she can be detained without a preliminary court hearing aren’t up yet. But there is a sure way to find out whether she’s being detained. She sets down the pills and waits for a moment, looking about the room.

She could try to escape. She could pick the lock, maybe exit through the window. If she’s not been taken into emergency custody, it’s her legal right to refuse medical treatment and leave the hospital at any time, even if it’s against her doctor’s advice. But even if she isn’t being detained, it’ll look suspicious as hell right now. The police–her dad among them–are most likely puzzling over the collection of dismembered body parts they found in her house.

The ones she was responsible for.

That she now remembers.

She’s a murderer.

She brushes away the dampness in her eyes. Why? Dear god, why?! What did the Sweeneys ever do to her? How could she–why did she–but she did. There is blood on her hands. She doesn’t even know how it got there. I… I didn’t want to. I didn’t mean to. Please, I… I didn’t! she pleads, as if beset by the dead couple’s accusing faces.

But she said it herself, to her dad in the car. Intentions count for little. Actions are what matter. She was always a determinist. A utilitarianist. She buries her face in her hands, stifling a sob. I… I have to make up for this! I have to atone! Right my wrong, balance the figurative scales of justice–

But they’re dead. She can’t bring them back. What can possibly atone for this, for the blood of two lives on her hands? Blood that she didn’t even remember shedding?

Marilyn. There’s Marilyn, their daughter. Their ghost. I… I must help her pass on. That’s what they would have wanted. I’m the only one who knows Marilyn’s story, I’m the only one who can do it! I can’t go to prison, I can’t–

Her face flushes with shame. She’s not facing reality. Is that what Albert and Elouise would even want? Their killer to walk free and assist their daughter’s soul in finding rest? She doesn’t know. She’s never been much good at reading people. They’d probably want Marilyn to know peace, but at her hands? Their murderer’s? Hazel scrambles for answers. What if they left behind shades of their own? She could seek them out, submit herself to whatever grim justice the restless dead might impose…

It’s poetic, certainly. Grand and noble. Let her victims decide her fate, after she helps their daughter pass on. But it ignores a very real and very pressing issue: she doesn’t know why she did it. She hardly remembers doing it. And until she does–_if_ she ever does–she is a danger to others. What’s to stop her from cutting up some other poor innocent couple and squatting in their house? And sending postcards. Postcards. Good god, the lengths to which she went to deceive herself…

The hard and brutal truth is, she can’t be allowed to walk free. She can’t risk killing again. Not so she can ease her own poor conscience. Maybe institutionalization really is the best fate for her, if one is to consider the greatest good for the greatest possible number.

A mental institution. It’s what she’s always feared, since she first started researching what her ASD meant. Since she found out about all the other people with autism who had it so much worse than she did. She thought she’d escaped their fate. But maybe not.

It’s too much to bear.

She downs the pills, tosses back a tall drink of water, and blissfully falls into oblivion.

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