Witiko Falls: Disillusion

Case File Archives


Phase I

Case File 1.01 Sig1.5.jpg
• Tuesday, October 6th, 1998 AM
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) sleep-study inception: Phase 3. Self-exposure to lachrymatory agent and two episodes of unmedicated psychasthenia (F41.0). The first terminates in syncope, the second tapers via tactile-exposure induced oxytocin release and parasympathetic activation via diaphragmatic respiration. Subject’s initial investigations precipitate persecutory delusions related to paranormal phenomenon (see case file: REDACTED). Paternal care unit transports subject to local Sturm und Drang epicenter for imminent indoctrination and compensated servitude.

Case File 1.02 Sig2F.png
• Tuesday, October 6th, 1998 AM
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) postmortem re-socialization with Agent Tuttle (Subject G—F1LZ—77.16.02). Preliminary examination detects (1) affective-neurocognitive pathology consistent with bilateral medial temporal lobotomy and chronic Lazarenus effectus (see Project REDACTED) and (2) hyper-attachment mirroring adult-onset disinhibited attachment disorder (F94.2) with organic etiology. One unmedicated episode of psychasthenia (F41.0) due to exposure to erythrocytes and sodium hypochlorite. Subject evinces operant conditioning techniques with nepotic extortion and verbalized self delusions of eschatological proportions (rule-out F22); preliminary results include confiscation of tetrahydrocannabinol and adolescent socio-behavioral subjugation.

Case File 1.03 Sig5.png
• Tuesday, October 6th, 1998 AM-PM
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) cellular contact with maternal care unit terminates due to low decibel-milliwatts and/or RF interference. Re-socialization with former literary pedagogue. Manifests libriform (see Operation Cryptobranchus; cf. case file: REDACTED) and psychosexual obsessive-delusional symptomatology with poor insight (rule-out F20, F22—23, & F42). Averted vehicular accident results in medicated episode of psychasthenia (F41.0); current dosage of Affreux appears efficacious. Citation of town ordinance R—14—1952 violation; deescalation via affective dissociation with Agent Worwood (see case file: REDACTED).

Case File 1.04 Sig3.jpg
• Tuesday, October 6th, 1998 PM
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) paternal attachment solidified through joint aerobics and digestion. Evidence of telecommunication phenomenon (see Project REDACTED).
• Wednesday, October 7th, 1998 AM
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) investigation of vehicular crash involving Agent Crawford (Subject P—M1AE-92.08.03). Engagement with ROSEWATER results in unmedicated episode of neurocardiogenic pre-syncope. Co-investigates with paternal care unit incident regarding Agent McDermott (Subject G—M1AD—76.02.05) in critical condition (W21.11XA).
Agent Crawford (Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03) somnolence-induced vehicular crash; complications occur (see Operation REDACTED; cf. Project REDACTED; cf. case file: REDACTED) including neurocardiogenic syncope and hypovolemic shock; provisional diagnosis of 825.20 (rule-out 824) and 850.4.

Case File 1.05 Sig4.png
• Wednesday, October 7th, 1998 AM
Agent Barnes (Subject L—M12—87.26.04) diurnal narcolepsy without cataplexy (347.00; cf. Division REDACTED) results in detention (see WFHS Policy 5.8). Hormonal-sociotypical interactions with Agent Pohlman (Subject G—F00—84.13.07) and Agent Littlebeaver (Subject K—M00—82.13.10). Extemporaneous assessment by pedagoguery; results indicate inadequate hippocampal functioning (cf. 347.00). Errant projectile results in puncture wound with foreign body of left hand, sequela (S61.442S) to Agent Byers (Subject K—F01—83.30.10) and neurocardiogenic syncope by Agent LeBaron (rule out F40.23; cf. case file REDACTED). First aid and pre-coital socialization commences. Agent Gorczak (Subject P—FAE—78.20.08; cf. Project REDACTED) levies in-school suspension (see WFHS Policy 5.9).
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) employment IP investigation proves inconclusive (cf. Project REDACTED; Agent REDACTED). Reality testing deteriorates with additional libriform and non-libriform psychotic episode (rule-out F20, F22, F29, & F42; see Operation Cryptobranchus; cf. case file: REDACTED). Satellite-faciliatted contact with maternal figure. PSA disseminates (987.8; see Operation Goldsmith Imago; cf. case file: P—M1AE—92.08.03).
Agent Crawford (Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03) medical examination at MPGH conducted by Agent REDACTED. Results confirm diagnosis of 825.20 and 850.4. Cranial catheter operational. Dosage titration regimen fails (cf. serum REDACTED; cf. Project REDACTED; cf. Operation REDACTED; cf. Division REDACTED). Unspecified psychosis not due to a substance or known physiological conditions (F29); hallucinations, unspecified (R44.3; cf. serum REDACTED; cf. Project REDACTED; cf. Operation REDACTED; cf. Division REDACTED; see case file: REDACTED). Operation Goldsmith Imago commences. Results inconclusive.

Case File 1.06
• Wednesday, October 7th, 1998 AM-PM
Agent Barnes (Subject L—M12—87.26.04) discovers ticket stub (see case file: REDACTED) and experiences episode diurnal narcolepsy without cataplexy (347.00; cf. Division REDACTED) followed by diurnal emission (608.89).
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) meets with REDACTED (cf. case file: C.R; cf Operation REDACTED; cf Project REDACTED); attempts to abort didaction regarding Agent Tuttle (Subject G—F1LZ—77.16.02) and symptomatology related to Lazarenus effectus (see Project REDACTED). Satellite-faciliated contact made with “Lindsay” (no file available). Further co-investigation with paternal care unit and Agent Ostergaard (E—M2AD—80.25.12) regarding Agent McDermott and emeritus Agent Moore (see case file: REDACTED). Manifests psychopathy (rule out F60.2) with Agent Worwood. Residential intrusion detected; surveillance reviewed.
Agent Crawford (Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03) remains out of contact and unresponsive to treatment; preliminary results indicate adverse reaction to regimen (cf. serum REDACTED; cf. Project REDACTED; cf. Operation REDACTED; cf. Division REDACTED). Degenerative signs of unspecified psychosis not due to a substance or known physiological conditions (F29); hallucinations, unspecified (R44.3; cf. serum REDACTED; cf. Project REDACTED; cf. Operation REDACTED; cf. Division REDACTED; see case file: REDACTED). Further testing needed.

Case File 1.07
• Wednesday, October 7th, 1998 PM
Agent Barnes (Subject L—M12—87.26.04) further hormonal—digestional—sociotypical interactions with Agent Pohlman (Subject G—F00—84.13.07) and Agent Littlebeaver (Subject K—M00—82.13.10), including discussion of Agent Crowshoe (Subject S—F1HV—84.23.06). Altercation with Agent Judd (Subject K—M00—82.01.11; cf. F66). Subject reports to NPS Red Aspen (cf. Project REDACTED), interacts with maternal care unit, and receives assignment to Rockwell’s Fall (see case file: REDACTED).
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) administers dosage of lachrymatory aerosol to “Dusty” (cf. case file: PENDING; rule out F60.2). Introduction to “Michael”.

Case File 1.08
• Wednesday, October 7th, 1998 PM
Agent Barnes (Subject L—M12—87.26.04)
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) manifests insecure-resistant attachment (Type C) with maternal care unit; related unmedicated episode of psychasthenia (F41.0).
Agent Crawford (Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03)

Case File 1.09
• Wednesday, October 7th, 1998 PM
Agent Barnes (Subject L—M12—87.26.04)
Agent Bauman (Subject Z—E1RP—81.23.01) manifests acute psychogenic paranoid psychosis (F23; rule out F29) and abnormal uterine and vaginal bleeding, unspecified (F93.9). Psychiatric commitment, voluntary or otherwise, under review.
Agent Crawford (Subject P—M1AE—92.08.03)

Case File 1.10
• Thursday, October 8th, 1998 AM—PM

Case File 1.11
• Thursday, October 8th, 1998 PM

Case File 1.12
• Thursday, October 8th, 1998 PM
• Friday, October 9th, 1998 AM

Case File 1.13
• Friday, October 9th, 1998 AM

Phase II

Case File 2.01
• Friday, October 9th, 1998 AM—PM

Case File 2.02
• Monday, October 5th, 1998 PM
• Friday, October 9th, 1998 PM

Case File 2.03
• Monday, October 5th, 1998 PM
• Friday, October 9th, 1998 PM

Case File 2.04
• Tuesday, October 6th, 1998 AM
• Saturday, October 10th, 1998 AM

Case File 2.05+
• Tuesday, October 6th, 1998 AM
• Saturday, October 10th, 1998 AM
Phase II, Case File 2.05
Poster’s Note: Witiko Falls is currently on hiatus and these logs are unfinished. There’s also a fair amount of stuff in them, so here they are for anyone who wants to read up to the game’s current point.

Kurt: Mind’s Eye

10.06.1998, Tuesday morning

GM: “Sun’s up, blood,” Wilson says as Kurt gets into the Prez. True to his word, dawn breaks over the Bitteroot, causing the cream-colored Towers to glow like fangs rising from the shadowed gums of the surrounding parking lots. A ray of sunlight blindingly glares off the bumpers and side-mirrors of nearby cars. Inside the Prez, Wilson sips from a can of Shop-Plus’ carried energy drink, Caffeine Fiend. The can’s logo of the crazed, red-faced devil reflexively triggers Kurt’s brain to recall the brand’s commercial jingle that is blasted late-night on Omnivision: Mania in a bottle! Who wants to go full throttle?!

As the irritating ear worm continues to burrow in Kurt’s brain, Wilson looks at his best friend and adds, “Seriously, Count, maybe you should, like, crash or something. You’re looking pretty brutal. You wanna like dip with…?” Wilson himself looks notably sleepy, but he seems ready enough to drive, likely only due to the two already chugged Caffeine Fiend cans Kurt sees crumpled in the back.

Kurt: The young man’s posture is crumpled. “No. I got tryouts to worry about today, man,” Kurt says while stifling a yawn, barely able to keep his darkened eyes open. His half-open eyes settle longingly on the energy drink in Wilson’s hand. “What’re you got on today?”

GM: Wilson hands over the coveted energy drink. “Aiight, buzzkill,” he says half-jokingly, then answers Kurt’s question. “I got a thing to do, a little pickup and drop-off, then I’m gonna get fucking blazed. I’ll breeze by the school for lunch time to get some grind-age with you. I’ll probably stick around after that, to keep up my reputation and all. Also, I need to maintain a D minus in English or I’ll get kicked off the baseball team. Speaking of grades, can you do me a solid and write something down for me for to turn in for Fleischer’s reading diary? Just make sure to dumb it down. Wouldn’t do to seem like I’m trying.”

Wilson then shifts the Prez into gears and whips the car out of the parking lot. As he does so, Wilson punches a tape into the deck, causing the Sex Pistols to blare from the custom-installed speakers. As usual, it’s Wilson ‘anthem’ for their morning drive to school: No Fun. Johnny Rotten’s familiar lyrics fill the car:

“Right here we go now
A sociology lecture
With a bit of psychology
A bit of neurology
A bit of fuck-ology
No fun”

“Right no fun
My babe no fun
No fun
My babe no fun
Fun to be alone
Alone and by myself”

Kurt: “Yeah. I can do that for you, man. It’ll likely help me stay awake, too,” Kurt says, taking a gulp from the offered energy-in-a-can. It’s not the first time he’s done Wilson’s English homework, and in truth Kurt has more than once forged a few signatures, permission slips, and doctor’s notes in his time, as well.

It’s easy to want to help a best friend in need. Ever since they first knew each other, Wilson has struggled with reading and writing. Dyslexic. Not that he would ever admit to that.

GM: The energy drink tastes like high-fructose, carbonated kerosine lit on fire. Regardless of its ungodly amount of caffeine, the drink’s burning, chemical taste helps jolt Kurt awake.

Meanwhile, Wilson replies with a hand gesture that shows off his ‘MOST DOPE’ hand tattoos. “You’re the fucking bomb,” he adds, then waves for Kurt to finish the drink when the basketball captain tries passing it back. As the Prez cruises down the solitary drag that connects St. Enoch’s and Witiko Falls, Wilson asks, “So for lunch, you want me to, like, smuggle in some O’Tolley’s, Chinese, pizza, or something from the Swiner?”

Kurt: “Pizza. Always pizza.” Kurt tiredly yanks open his backpack, fiddling through its contents to grab his pencil case, an exercise book, and a textbook to lean on.

GM: “A prince always gets what he wants,” Wilson replies, echoing the local pizzeria’s tagline. “No matter what!”

“Too bad you’re just a count,” he adds with a smirk that becomes a yawn as the Prez approaches the waking town of Witiko Falls. He squints as the dawn turns the Green Lady into a blinding snake of reflected light. “Fucking mornings…”

Wilson flips down his sun visor, revealing a black velcro holding stuffed with a dozen CDs, a spare BIC lighter with an alien face, glow–in–the–dark condoms, and a sheet with sticker tattoos. “So how’re you gonna pitch it to Morgan?” he asks as they pass by the mostly empty Shop–Plus parking lot.

Kurt: “What’s that?” Kurt says with dazed eyes, pulling them away from the exercise book in his hands. He hasn’t given it much thought, he realizes. Things have been rather hectic as of late. What is my plan of attack?

“I could make a dare out of it,” Kurt mumbles, scratching his chin. “I could also make a bet out of it, too.” He sighs and crumples in his seat a little in quick exasperation. “Girls are so tricky!”

GM: “Chicas be hella crazy–,” Wilson agrees, “–and can make a dawg go postal.” The ‘sentiment’ is interrupted as a loud Caffeine Fiend belch ruptures from the Prez’s driver.

Kurt: “Holy shit!” Kurt laughs, looking impressed by Wilson’s stellar burp. “I think that one’s a new record!”

GM: “Soviet nukes got nothing against this grade-A fucking bomb!” Wilson laughs in agreement.

Kurt: “Boris Yeltsin would be jealous.”

GM: “Who?” Wilson asks, rubbing one of his red-rimmed eyes. He then glances over at his best friend. “But don’t sweat it with Morgan, dude. You’re tight. I mean, like, you should have seen it when you dropped trou last night. I’d wager some seriously heady nuggets that her panties could’ve been wrung out like one of Psalms’ mops.” The southpaw pitcher sniggers, then gives another burp, punching his chest to squeeze out a third.

Kurt: Kurt shakes his head, grinning from ear to ear at Wilson’s words.

GM: Ahead, the seniors’ route passes by the eponymously shaped Swiner, then makes a turn onto Nokken Run, where the road becomes comparatively busy with the early morning traffic of ingressing Falls High students.
Wilson scowls as he spots the red tailgate of Flawsen’s truck just visible ahead of a yellow school bus packed with underclassmen.

Kurt: Kurt, having returned his attention to finishing Wilson’s essay, looks up in time to spot his friend’s scowl. He follows Wilson’s gaze.

GM: That gaze shifts, though, as the bus forces the Prez to slow down and subsequently lose sight of Flawsen’s truck.

Kurt: “I can’t stand that guy.”

GM: “Fuckin’ bama…” Wilson agrees.

A second later, though, both seniors look up as they a notice boy at the back of the cheddar-colored school bus pound on the window to gain their attention. The youth’s mop of of hair is so black and messy it looks like a misplaced, spray-painted wig. His wrinkly, over-sized rayon shirt is equally disheveled, making the faded print of flying ducks all but indecipherable. But it’s his switchblade-slit eyes that make Kurt immediately recognize him as Tyler Stanger.


A sixteen-year old sophomore, Tyler is one of the pitied if not belittled Falls High students old enough to drive, but is nevertheless forced to ride the bus due to having no vehicle of his own, or friends or family who will give him a ride. That shame is compounded by the fact that this is the black haired sophomore’s third year having to ride the bus, as Kurt knows Tyler failed last year.

Then again, Kurt knows a lot about Tyler. After all, they used to be best friends. Or at least, that’s how Tyler remembers it. Others, including Kurt, remember that the Stangers were a local family to Witiko Falls who frequently shifted between being almost and outright broke, save for the few years when Kurt’s father hired on Tyler’s as one of his main barley hands.

As a consequence, the Crawfords and Stangers became closely acquainted, if not friends, with the latter sycophantically vouching for the latter to their fellow long-time town residents. And while those locals did end up embracing the out–of–towner family and their burgeoning barley farm, most of the gossip derided the Stangers as mere toadies obsequiously fawning for scraps from the Crawfords’ table.

And the Stanger’s only child, Tyler, was no different, except that most of his begging seemed to be for friendship from the slightly older Kurt Crawford, Jr. At first, Kurt’s parents pushed their son to indulge Tyler. After all, the Stangers lived on the Crawfords’ land and the two boys were less than two years apart in age. “Just think of him like a little brother,” his mom had said.

But like most little brothers, Tyler was often… annoying. Clingy. He constantly wanted to come over, to play with all of Kurt’s toys, to stay for every dinner. He wouldn’t ever leave, not unless he was directly told to do so. And then there were the ‘odd’ behaviors. Some of them didn’t seem that strange at first, like his love of fishing, but those penchants often took strange turns, like how he loved to impale worms on hooks and watch caught fish slowly asphyxiate when taken out of the water.

During the sleepovers that inevitably occurred when Tyler ‘invited’ himself over for the weekends, Kurt would sometimes wake in the dead of night to find Tyler staring at him with his slitted eyes, unblinking and unmoving. It made Kurt feel like he was one of the fish from his family’s duck ponds, slowly suffocating under the unsleeping gaze of the morbid voyeur.

But the worst part had been the smell. Tyler stank. It was like he didn’t bathe, and his clothes were never quite washed, or maybe they were washed, but never properly dried so they smelled of rank, fermenting mildew, sweat, and other less pleasant body odors. Kurt wasn’t too surprised when he learned the other local kids called him “Stank Stanger” and similar nicknames.

And for the Crawford boy, making friends at school was always harder when “Stank” was around. Fortunately, their age difference meant that they never had any classes together, but Tyler was like a fly on a summer baking cow-patty at any other time he and Kurt could be together, from the bus to lunch to recess.

Despite multiple attempts to diplomatically distance himself from ‘Stank’, Kurt’s salvation from Tyler came with his father’s ‘accident’. When the Crawfords were forced to sell their farm, the Stangers were effectively evicted and jobless. As the Crawfords settled into the Towers, the Stangers were itinerant, at least until Tyler’s dad went off the deep end. Literally.

Allegedly so distraught at the loss of his employer and best friend, Tyler’s dad got drunk and drowned himself in the Crawfords’ old duck pond. Most folk assume that Tyler’s mom used the pittance of her husband’s life insurance to buy a trailer home in Maidenhead, but Kurt knows that it actually came from a small settlement with King’s Brewery over their mislabeled alcohol level on the beer cans Tyler’s dad had been drinking.

Either way, Tyler and his mother moved into the riverside trailer park, while Kurt and his family moved into the distant Towers. That distance, socially if not physically, only grew as Kurt graduated middle school and moved on to Falls High while Tyler remained behind at Lame Bull for another year. By the time Tyler became a Kelpie, he found his ‘best friend’ had replaced him with Wilson Perry.

That bitterness and enmity only increased during the subsequent three years as Wilson rose in St. Enoch’s Crips while Tyler joined their trailer trash rivals. As a consequence, the now-caffeinated if still sleep-deprived Kurt of 1998 isn’t surprised when he looks up and sees Tyler slap a hand against the bus’ back window to gain their attention, only to then curl all of his fingers into a fist, save one.

“Fuckin’ Bloods…” Wilson murmurs as he recognizes the boy and bird. He returns the gesture two-fold, steering uneasily with his knees as he shouts up at the bus, “Suck my tower-cock, Stank!”

It’s unclear if Tyler hears the taunt due to the distance and thick glass, but he at least recognizes the double-handed gesture. His response is to stand up on the bus seat, and mimic giving himself a two-fisted hand job till he ‘ejaculates’ by spitting messily over the back window.

Noticing the spectacle, an increasing number of other students on the bus turn around and laugh. Although neither Kurt nor Wilson can hear their words, the latter’s face turns red as Flawsen’s truck. The senior gnashes his teeth, as if trying to chew down a fiery retort lest he choke on it.

Kurt: "Kurt remembers how Tyler, ever the toady and would-be ‘little brother’, had wanted to be a basketball star. He really never got the sport, and wasn’t ever good at it, but he did provide a younger Kurt someone to play one on one with, back when the Crawfords had their own driveway court. He would talk about he and Kurt would become rich athletes and then he’d come back and how he’d buy up all the land in Witiko Falls and then kick out the people who were mean to him and his family, or make them do things. “Make ’em squirm like a worm on a hook.”

It was a facile dream, especially the basketball part. But he did try out for the Kelpies’ team. He didn’t make it. At all. Stank stank at basketball.

There was another time, too, when Kurt went ‘polar bear swimming’ with a bunch of other kids from nearby farms and ended up playing ‘King of the Hill’ with a rock outcropping in the middle of the water. Stank wasn’t as bad in the water—he was a good swimmer, and his smell was better too.

It was an auspicious day when Amy and her older friends let Kurt and her ‘other little brother’ tag along. Stank actually managed to create a surprising win, more so as he was slippery as heck and the older, bigger teens pushed each other off, allowing him to become King of the Hill—only to realize that in the melee, ‘his’ trunks (which he’d borrowed from Kurt and were bigger) had slipped off the last time he was pushed off. The younger boy was left standing totally exposed in front of the older teens and especially the girls. The cold from polar bear swimming didn’t help with his shrinkage. “King of the Molehill” was the taunt that lingered.

But probably his greatest fear, Kurt reflects, is that everything his mother says about him is true.

“I can’t even get angry at Stank. I just feel sorry for the guy,” Kurt remarks, watching the lewd display with slow-blinking eyes. He suddenly has to stifle a yawn.

Brook: Skin Deep

10.10.1998, Saturday morning

GM: The ride to the reservation is quiet, if not peaceful. The limousine’s interior, for all its size, feels tight, given the long, unfamiliar limbs of its occupants. Stan never speaks a word, but instead spends the first half of the trip constantly scanning the streets. Once they hit the reservation, though, his brooding gaze turns solely and unfortunately to Brook. Janne’s mien is far less grim, but she too is mostly silent and preoccupied as she opens her briefcase and begins working on an intricate, half-finished piece of white Hardanger embroidery.

Brook: Brook still dislikes being on the reservation for very obvious reasons, but even more so when he notices Stan’s eyes start to drill holes in his head. It’s unsettling. But he pulls his eyes away, feeling the warm steel against his chest and reaching into his box, pulling his hand cannon from its hand-tooled leather rest. It’s dirty from falling in the mud, if not just a little bit after being washed from the rain. He uses the inside lip of his shirt hem to polish it as they go, slowly emptying the box into his pockets until they arrive.

GM: When the limousine grinds to a halt, dust clouds rise into the otherwise barren-blue sky.
As those clouds thin like a rotting funeral shroud, Brook sees that they have parked in a small, yet severely dust-blown wasteland. While the rest of the surrounding Bitterroot mountains and fir-covered foothills remain verdant, the immediate parcel of land has been shorn of its soil and vegetation and reduced to a parched bedrock of ground-down sediment pox–marked by deep pits and ravaged by sand–blown industrial treadmarks. Without the shelter of trees, the nigh-winter wind bites bitterly.

Brook knows this place. It has many names. Nanawtokani-Sikani. Blanket of the Skull. Omahkspaziko-Kizimi. Doorway to the Sandhills, the Sand Country of the Dead. Where Lost Brother Lives. The Aapoak Fields.

The abandoned ammolite mine and traditional Kanai ‘burial grounds’ are both guarded and shunned by the reserve’s natives. Few willingly approach it during the day. None dare tread it at night.

This October morning, though, the desolate region hosts more than its fabled shades. Five figures surround a tireless, salt–scuffed, and spray–painted truck frame left to hunker and rust away on Nanawtokani-Sikani’s rocky border. As the motley band’s collective gaze, if not lackadaisically threatening firearms, aim in teen’s direction, Brook recognizes four of the figures.


It’s been some time since Brook has seen Jim Mudhead–and the last time, his former teacher from Lame Bull Middle School wasn’t holding a shotgun.

While the thick-spectacled educator crouches on the ground, Makoyi–Koh–Kin “Kenny” Snakewater stands inside the truck bed. The thin, peyote-dealing tribal police officer isn’t dressed in his uniform, but instead wears chalky yellow warpaint and rough denim clothes while gripping the barrel of an antique WWII era rifle fitted with a short bayonet.

Brook: Looking up puts a small pang of recognition and concern in Brook’s bones. The scene is scanned over once, being parked in a desolate lot, one of such importance to their people for its link to death, is grim. Even more so when he spots the men all with guns, and especially Snakewater and his face, his eyes narrowing.

GM: Beside him, Hector Shortface squats on the lip of the truck bed. Dressed in work boots, faded jeans, leather jacket, and a necklace made of lynx claws, the leather-faced, local payday loan provider balances a bit of snuff on a skinning blade, snorts the pulverized tobacco, and then returns to sharpening his blade in long, slow arcs.

To Hector’s left, an unknown figure leans against the truck’s hood, while to his right, the band’s fifth and youngest member sits propped up against a faded fish–n–tackle sign that backs up to the truck’s rear axel. Brook recognizes the youth as Tihkoosue “Sue” Arnoux. Brook hasn’t seen Sue in roughly three years, not since he was sent to Kootenai County Juvenile Detention for stabbing a white bully on Lame Middle School’s playground, after the Kainai native was repeatedly bullied for his traditional name and hair. Sue glances up briefly at Brook, then looks down quickly at the rifle in his lap.

Yet, while Sue continues avoiding eye contact, the other four men all give respectful nods as Stan steps out of the limo. None seem to pay Janne Whitedoe any particular attention. Stan, meanwhile, gestures stoically for Brook to follow him to a cluster of tipis. While several of those tipis are plain or painted in monochromatic red, Brook’s grim guides makes his way to one elaborately decorated with symmetrical pattens in red, yellow, white, and brown. As a gust of alpine wind sweeps over Nanawtokani-Sikani, sand and broken-down gravel stir and crawl while the tipis’ tall lodge poles creak like old bones.


Brook: The box finds the boy’s hands in a pocket, carefully pulling five of the newly minted and exported cartridges for his weapon, sliding them into the chamber as Stan gets up and leaves the limo. Brook follows at his own pace, standing tall and appropriately tightening the chest holster as he looks over the figures once again, catching Sue’s eyes. It feels tense for moment, but to his relief, Stan leads him away to painted tipi. The wind echoes his statements, he feels raw and uncertain.

He doesn’t say a word around his people’s lands or constructs, and he won’t until he hears someone else speak first, waiting to be lead or gestured into the traditional building as he eyes the paint over. Something important is happening.

GM: Somewhere above, Brook hears the piercing cry of an eagle as it glides upon a thermal. Behind him, the firearm-toting band tenses and scans the sky with their weapons. Meanwhile, Kills Many Horses swiftly raises the tipi flap and all but throws Brook inside. The sudden journey from cloudless day to deep shadows renders Brook momentarily blind.

Brook: Brook looks up to find the eagle, as well, surprised when he is nearly tossed into the tipi and all he can make out is dark. He does what he does when he steps out of his truck into the dark, smoothing his fingers along his eyes and squeezing them tight before opening them back into the dark, scanning for shadows. One that he’s hoping will be squat, thick, and familiar.

GM: That hope is dashed like a bug against his Honda xr600’s headlamp. For as his sight adjusts, Brook swiftly discerns that the tipi is full of shadows–but none belonging to his mother.
Notwithstanding, nearly all eight of the shadowy figures are familiar to the reserve-raised youth.

The first of these figures Brook catches in his peripheral vision if not hunter’s hackles, as he senses a large muscular figure standing almost directly behind him. The figure–whom Brook slowly realizes is Makkapitew Dusty-Bull–wears a traditional, if bizarre, head-dress made from a narrow strip of skin with bear ears and bear claws affixed to resemble a pair of horns. His shirt, white save for bloody painted shoulders, reaches to his waist and bears long fringe along its bottom and short sleeves. His bare forearm has another strip of narrow bearskin with a claw attached. Makkapitew’s ensemble further features a traditional beaded belt, breech cloth, moccassins, a belt full of cartridges, and a large knife. The bull-rider turned head of Beavertail Casino security stares past Brook with a face painted crimson red with black streaks running from the corners of his eyes and mouth. Besides Brook, Makkapitew is the only other person standing inside the tipi. The other seven sit cross-legged in a semi-circle that faces Brook and the entrance’s flap.

At the flanks of that semi-circle, four pairs of venerable eyes settle upon the young boy with the wrinkled weight of long thoughts. Shadows surround their creased, septuagenarian and octogenarian faces and frames, but Brook recognizes the partially veiled visages of all four of the tribal elders.

Brook: Brook flinches ever so slightly at the realization that something is almost behind him, the hunter hackles indeed tuned enough that something that large suddenly being perceived sends up warning bells. That is, until he realizes who it is. Sunny’s dad, of all people. His job, his paint, his full regalia, even his reputation are all lost on his son’s classmate simply by virtue of knowing him. Still, even with the fear not quite there, the respect is. That look past him is telltale, even when the man is using his periphery, Brook can tell his role, and the purpose for the intense eyes, silently turning to regard the rest of the leadership of his mother’s people.

GM: To the teenager’s left, Danny’s grandfather, Aaron Blackrib, sits beside the lean, if still handsome, silver-haired Hank Kicking-Woman. On the opposite side, the spiderweb–haired and prune–faced George Whitegrass holds one of the tribe’s consecrated wormpipes with a shaky, arthritic grip, while the nearly ninety–years–old hermit, Merle “Enkoodabaoo” Bad-Marriage, draws a deep breath through his nostrils before giving a lemon-puckered smile–an expression that might either signify relief at passing gas or recognition of his adoptive great-grandson’s scent.

Equally unknown are the two figures to the immediate left and right of the semi-circle’s center.
Although one of these men is distinguished by his well-coiffed silver and black hair and scarred lip, both figures wear coyote skins with their head thrust through a slit in the creature’s middle; decorative weasel-tails, hair-lock suits, blankets across their left arms, rattles in their right hands, and red paint on their noses, mouths, and chins.

The last figure is dressed in the ‘pelt’ of a western man of business and no small means. He wears a clean raquette-collared shirt with a black braided bolo tie, buckled belt, pressed dress slacks, and rattlesnake boots. Yet, beneath that mien of modernity, Jacob Absalom Ghostelk is a man of older, nigh-lost times. With his black hair pulled back into a single braid, the two lightning-white stripes at his temple resemble the markings of a misziazikaii. His new moon eyes regard Brook with the barest hint of a leather-tight smile that all but creaks in the shadow-drenched tipi.


Brook: Aaron Blackrib makes Brook’s heart hurt, and his fingers itch, reminding the boy that he should be in the hospital right now, beating the hell out of and then nursing his best friend back to health. The fingers more because now every time he thinks back to that day, he measures his fingers along on the palm of his hand. Checking their length and regretting the lack of time he’s had to follow up on that train of thought. Hell of a time to be thinking about the size of your manhood.

But his gaze does turn on the others. Hank Kicking-Woman, a reserve hero and villain depending on who and whose husbands one asks, though Brook always maintained that a year or two would give him a prettier face. George Whitegrass, the dream interpreter among other things, but the young adopted Blood always considered that the most interesting.

And of course, his great-grandfather. The man Brook breaks his back for weekly, delivering groceries and supplies, and acting as a patient ear and a home handiman. Out of all the people in Witiko Falls, Brook fears him the most. Not because of what he can do, but what he is. Alone. He’d nod to the man if he weren’t milky eyed.

The two others whose names he can’t place bother him, but the bear in the den of wolves reveals itself as his eyes adjust enough to recognize Mr. Ghostelk. Money is huge on the reserve, and if any man has too much, it’s this man. But he’s powerful, and from looking in the man’s dark eyes with that tight smile, he lets the boy know in an instant who is prey and predator in this tipi.

His presence keeps the boy silent as he slowly approaches the semi-circle, eases himself down a respectable distance and kneels, waiting for them to address him. The only thing comforting him the steel heart against his chest, and the weight of the gun in the same place. Even if was only the familiarity of the feeling, and not the thought of assaulting the Blood Tribe’s leadership.

GM: At Brook’s respectful silence and genuflection, Merle’s smile lengthens like a limb-stretched deer pelt. The others’ reactions are lost to shadows and Brook’s diverted attention as the two figures flanking Ghostelk exchange their rattles and blankets for water drums, which they begin to beat upon in a rhythm that starts fast and hard and then slowly stretches and weakens like a punctured heart.
During the process, the four elders take up a mournful chant that likewise starts strong only to die slowly. In that wake, Ghostelk speaks, first in Kainai, then in English, with only the latter understood by the mixed-blood teenager:

“Brothers of the Iikunuhkahtsi, we are gathered at the foothills of the Sand County to render judgment and mourn the death of Brook Barnes.”

Brook feels the weight of sixteen eyes bear down on his skull like an avalanche.

Brook: Brook’s hackles once again rise, this time at the words of Ghostelk. The well-tuned reptile in his brain forms a split-second plan of escape. One round into Mack’s thigh. Grab Ghostelk. Use him as a human shield, dragging him towards the tree line. It doesn’t matter how Indian these painted porcelain dolls think they are, they are not sons or protectors of the these woods.

But the young man grabs that gnashing raptor sending alarm bells through his spine and banishes it back deep into his stomach as he takes a deep deep breath. This is some round-about bullshit meant to scare him, no doubt. It’s working. But great-grandfather wouldn’t have that smile on his face if this truly was an execution, and he knows it’s not 16, but 14 eyes pressing down on him. Less eyes than you feel on yourself when gathering firewood, but so much heavier.

But the boy is weary, sitting there with an expression like ice and stone, much like his mother, locking eyes with Ghostelk as his left arm aches to jump up onto that familiar finish on his .454’s handle.

GM: Ghostelk meets Brook’s green-eyed gaze with another creak of a rawhide smile. He opens that smile to speak, but is interrupted by Aaron Blackrib. As usual, the old man’s voice is tired, listless, and in broken by old words in the Blood Tribe’s tongue, but Brook has never known the man to string so many words together–and particularly not in such a coherent manner. “Let’s this over with, Xinaaw. Apistotoki knows how much you love to hear the sound of your own voice.”

Several of the old men chuckle at the remark, even as it makes Ghostelk’s smile straighten into a knife-slit. Aaron continues: “Some of us have nizitapimix who will miss us. Also, Wheel of Fortune comes on at 10:30, and I need to run. My old knees can’t take squatting here listening to whatever clever speech you prepared to stroke your own tongue.”

Ghostelk seems prepared to issue a sharp retort, but he is interrupted once more, but this time by George Whitegrass. His voice is raspy and weak, as if his words escape from his lips like smoke. “It’s not good to grow old.”

The remark draws several severe nods from the tipi’s seated occupants who variously echo the refrain. “It’s not good to grow old.”

All-too able to read his losing hand, Ghostelk murmurs the line as well, and then gives a conciliatory motion of his hand to both the old men and then to the comparatively younger man with the silver-streaked hair and scarred lip.

Brook: Brook crooks a brow. Blackrib speaks. It’s the first time he’s ever heard such a complete statement from the man, let alone seen him bulldoze verbally over someone like Ghostelk.

GM: That man in turn parses out his words like dealt cards. “We, the Ikunuhkahtsi, are responsible for the judgment and punishment of misdeeds amongst our band. You have been spared from federal prosecution, but now must face ours. We will hear you speak.” There’s another grunt as Aaron adjusts his legs, causing the man to momentarily glance from and then back to Brook. “And then you will hear us.”

In the background, Hank leans to Aaron and whispers, “Is Wheel of Fortune the one with the pretty white woman turning the letters?”

Brook: A small smile sneaks onto Brook’s lips at the elder’s actions, but he nods lightly. “I’ll make it quick, Mr. Blackrib. I’m sure you’re waiting to hear on Danny’s health as well,” he comments, turning to face Ghostelk again.

“I was arrested for interference. Supervising Marshal Shofield. First, I found the old lunatic before anyone else, by chance. I tracked his scat and I interpreted his signs for the marshal. That he’d kill at night to give his devil a foothold. It turns out I drew him a map, too. I warned the undersheriff and my teacher that a bear often tracks those who walk through its territory. That my teacher and the white boy with us were in danger, as their faces had likely been seen. My portents were ignored.” He pauses and clears his throat.

“That night, as I watched the rain and forest, lightning struck the tower. It knocked me to the ground and I stood in the dark, doing my schoolwork. I noticed it then. Spider’s web, the spiral, the pentagram, the math that every natural being follows. The fires were set by the madman, to show his white devil where his sacrifice was to be. And the sign I found lead me to Scratch’s Corral. A very important place to me. With the radios out… and my ignorance that the lightning strike did not disable my truck radio, I prepared for war. I found a classmate, ready to be sacrificed, just the one I warned might be taken. And I found the madman. My plan… an artifact from… Uktena. I had it hidden there, and it was stolen. He would have taken it in exchange for a life, but flew into a rage when he thought I cheated him. I-” Brook pauses, looking at their faces and steeling himself.

“I bashed his jaw in with my bare fist. I crushed it into his skull like an old melon, and sent him to the ground. But it grew back. Just as I’ve seen coyotes do. We struggled, and I was winning! But he pulled a knife and held it to my classmate’s neck, taking him hostage. This is where the marshal found us. I had brought a flare gun to signal where I was, but he’d followed my bike’s tracks. His negotiations with the madman was failing, they all forgot about me. I used the rain to cover my steps, and grabbed his knife and neck from behind. And then I heard… I thought it was thunder, but as my mouth filled with gore and I felt the pop of his sinew come apart as I pulled on his arm, I realized the marshals shot at us. I almost revealed to them that he was to grow it back! But he did not. It would have been mortal, had I not packed my survival kit and first aid,” he says, looking down. That’s as much as he tells, slowly pulling out the steno pad from his pocket and leaning forward, offering it to Ghostelk, this time not making eye contact. “I had time. I… chronicled it.”

GM: Brook’s story falls well on the ring of ears. Nonetheless, he senses the creased exchange of looks when he mentions trying to trade an ‘artifact from Uktena’. Otherwise, the seven seated men nod approvingly of not only Brook’s tale, but the manner in which it is told. The young man’s art seals that approval, as Ghostelk looks through the offered notepad with well-pleased surprise, then passes it amongst the circle.

“Hands of a kamosi-wa,” he says meaningfully. Others soon repeat the phrase as they look over the pictures in the dim light and ponder Brook’s words. The teenager, meanwhile, reflects upon Ghostelk’s remark. Although dysfluent in Kainai, Brook has been raised among enough reserve natives to know ‘kamosi-wa’ not only means ‘thief’, but a particularly habitual or skilled one, as the term also is the name of the cunning raccoon.

Eventually, George helps Merle hold the papers up to his clouded eyes, then whispers, “A story with pictures, Enkoodabaoo. Good like bear-berry.”

“Hands of a kamosi-wa,” Hank repeats, then adds, “All women love those.”

Merle’s face darkens into a bitter frown. “Not all women.”

The remarks casts a cold shadow across the room.

While the elder occupants remain silent as they communally share the long-time widower’s sorrow, Ghostelk leans forward, once again usurping leadership of the Iikunuhkahtsi. “Your tale is well-spoken, but three wrongs fell from your hands.” Ghostelk’s lips crack again into a bullwhip smile. “Name them.”

Brook: “I was hasty. I went off to rescue someone and ended up putting them in the exact same kind of danger. I didn’t set off a flare gun or double-check all my radios to see if I could attempt to call for backup. And I thought that I knew better in grabbing Moses while they were trying to talk him down. Nelson Judd was alive. I was alive. The deputies were alive. But I put everyone in danger.” He recites it humbly, already coming to terms with how much the marshal and his time behind bars drilled things into him.

GM: Brook’s answer draws a series of disapproving grumbles. “I told you,” Aaron Blackrib murmurs. “He reeks of Xixihkini.”

Brook: Brook gaze turns over to Mr. Blackrib, stone faced before he turns back to Ghostelk. “Can you please translate? Because at this point I’ve had a bad enough week facing the devils that fester in our lands to suffer Mr. Blackrib whispering about the length of my fingers, or what I smell like, because I’m a filthy half-breed not worth teaching the old language.”

“But you want to hear what I really think? I tracked this madman, I caught this madman, and a part of me regrets not letting him die, or just blowing his brains out from behind while they all forgot about me. But I wanted him not to taint the lands with his ritual,” he growls, nails digging into his lap. He looks like he’s ready to burst, teeth grit and pulling at his pants.

“I think I saved a life, and that would make my mother proud. I think the crimes I committed were BULLSHIT, and I think that if I have to spend one more second not at that hospital with my best friend, or in the Green Lady to rinse my soul out, or tracking down the answers to all these questions I keep being piled on with, I will go mad! More than my dreams already are!”

His face is even redder than usual, he’s shaking ever so slightly and panting, the pent-up frustration of days of being held down starting to boil over as his green eyes pierce into Ghostelk’s. “With all due respect. Mr. Ghostelk. I’d appreciate the council and the elders to educate me… on what they think my crimes really are. If a cub is not taught. A cub learns what they see.”

GM: Brook’s rising rage causes a ripple of tension that makes the entire place smell of primal sweat and animal pelts so alive the tipi’s deer-hide might kick, leap, and pull itself to tatters. As the sixteen eyes watch him, he feels like a lone wolf trapped inside a ring of sharp antlers. It’s a situation that begs for blood.

Fortunately, the conclusion of Brook’s adolescent outburst contains just enough conciliatory deference, that coupled with the previously earned goodwill, prevents a stampede. Ghostelk raises both of his hands in a silencing motion. His ringed fingers hypnotically gleam in the solitary spear of sunlight piercing the lodge’s center.

Brook: Brook feels childish and dim again as the man so expertly quells everything. Taking a small breath and quieting himself so that the man can speak, lowering his head in that same deference to let Ghostelk speak.

GM: Minor grumbles issue form the tipi’s shadows, but silence otherwise waits until Ghostelk continues. When he does, his words are for the adolescent bathed in the sun’s rising light.

“For too many moons, you have walked outside the ways of this people. Your people. It is time you join us. Learn of our ways. Learn of the strength that comes from many. You speak of this land, of taints, or souls. This is our sacred purpose. Those that suckle at Ksah-koom-aukie’s Breast have forgotten the Iikunuhkahtsi, but we have not forgotten them. You wish to learn–that is good. We will teach you. You wish to have answers and praise that have been unjustly denied you–that is good. We will give them to you. You wish to no longer be whispered at, to no longer be a filthy half-breed–that is good. We will transform you.”

He regards Brook with another rawhide smile. “It is time for the boy named Brook Barnes to die. And time for the man–and more–to be born.”

Brook: The majesty of the event is lost on the boy. He gives Ghostelk a steady look and quickly pokes between him, Blackrib, and Bad-Marriage. Brook Barnes is who he is, it was the name given to him by the woman who pulled him out of that river, and he’s keeping it to the grave. It will be on his tombstone, not whatever these people give him. They have to realize they can never undo the damage they did, denying him for so long.

Still, he bites his tongue for just a moment, and wonders what his mother thinks about all this as he searches for a chance to speak.

GM: As Ghostelk and the others look to him expectantly, that chance amply presents itself.

Brook: “Is my mother aware of your choice? Or what would transpire today? I haven’t seen her.”

GM: “The Iikunuhkahtsi is not a place for a woman,” Ghostelk answers levelly, even as Aaron murmurs something about “stsimaki”. The casino and lodge owner flicks a glance at the man like a rattlesnake’s tongue before continuing, “But Mary delivered you into our hands. She blessed this meeting and recognizes its right to judge and punish you as deemed necessary.”

“About time… stubborn girl…” Merle mutters toothlessly with a twitch of his nose.

Brook: The sound of the boy’s knuckles cracking is palpable at all the comments about his mother. The things that woman does for them, and they slight her like this. “Then your judgment is to pull me into a fold. I want to know more about it. I’ve already heard many secrets in the Falls, enough that I worry at every shadow. Things that howl and aren’t answered, struggled between snakes and eagles, visions of blood, water, and pills. I’ve seen too much not to need to hear more.”

GM: “Hear then the judgment of the Iikunuhkahtsi. For your misdeeds–of which the boy but not the man misunderstands–as well as for your deeds of honor, sacrifice, and blood, you must seek out each member of this council. Each of your elders will then provide two lessons, one of words and one of deeds. If you learn those lessons well and honorably serve your elders, your mourning as a child will be complete. Until then, you may not speak your name–nor may you serve the Xixihkini, the eagle of the white men.”

Brook: Brook listens and nods. It’s a good test of his abilities, sure, but even better training. Maybe he can finally get a few answers on how things are here. On some of the deeper mysteries, and on some of the ones that have been bothering him. The only issue is this, his name. He feels as through they would know. But he still nods, eyes narrowing as he reaches slowly and takes his wallet out, sliding a dollar bill towards Ghostelk. The eagle burnt out.

“Only speak it? It’d be awkward not to write my name for school.” With joking aside, he takes a deep breath and nods. “I accept your judgment, however. I’ll do what you say. I’ll be honored to learn from you all.”

GM: After witnessing Brook’s deferential submission–as well as ritually burned dollar–Ghostelk’s leathery smile becomes the taut curve of a drawn bow. Indeed, the defaced bill draws more than one look of amazement, even astonished respect, towards the young man–an odd experience for the typically spurned mixed-blood teenager.

Brook: Brook slowly looks to Aaron Blackrib, and then slowly back to his great-grandfather. Best to start with an elder he knows the best. “I’ll start with my great-grandfather. Merle ‘Enkoodabaoo’ Bad-Marriage,” he announces.

Though, after he announces that, he leans in and retrieves the bill, giving Ghostelk a meaningful look. “When a cub isn’t taught, he learns what he sees. And as ‘Madcub’, I’ve seen a lot. Especially recently.”

Hazel: Attila Awakens


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

GM: Hazel’s words test reality as she rises to immediately find a figure standing directly in her path.
The TV-headed figure has not moved, and so as Hazel rises, she is once again a mere breath away from the the figure’s glassy face. Yet, as she stares into the dead-black mirror, she sees her own face staring back her. Her own chiral image standing in her path. The Chamber is quiet as the afterbirth of an echo. The screen-face flickers with the static of an overplayed VHS type.


Hazel: Under other circumstances she might blink in surprise or alarm. Now she merely stares into the identical figure’s bespectacled gray eyes. The figure who stands in her path. “Identify your present intentions.” Is this… the symbolic gold dissolved by vitriol’s green lion?

GM: Gigantic green blown-glass wings unfurl from the figure’s back, creating the quantum whirlwind of a particle collider. The sub-atomic tornado would annihilate most souls on a nano-molecular level, but Hazel’s psyche stands her ground, anchored by her recent reflections.

No sooner does she do so, does the figure collapse into itself, leaving naught but an old Dynatron CTV sitting in the center of the Chamber. Absent the quantum winds, Hazel hears strange, yet familiar sound-waves from across the time-space continuum. The screen is once again dead black, a mirror that reveals a face that is her face and yet is not. The face or faces are in flux, before the reflection resolves itself into the image of a three–year–old Hazel staring at her family’s Dynatron 23" console television.

In her peripheral reflection, Hazel can see family’s living room, the TV-reflected glow of Christmas lights and decorations. She distantly hears her parents, Lydia and Richard, sitting in a sunflower-printed trinity sofa, sipping on eggnog.

Hazel: Her face softens by the smallest measure at their image. She’ll find him too. She hasn’t forgotten. She never forgets.

GM: Her parents’ reflections are small and distorted by the curve of the TV-glass, but Hazel is amazed at how very young and alive her mother looks. Still in her twenties, she glows with her recent graduation from law school and the fresh possibilities before her. Her laugh sounds like Christmas bells, high and bright. Her face is smooth, young, and stunningly unlined by the shadows of bereavement, divorce, and more than two decades. Maybe it’s the crackling glow of a nearby fireplace, but Hazel’s eyes now clearly see what her eyeless first father did: Fire.


Richard receives that laughter like a cool, summer pool opens its body to a diver. His black shades conceal his socket-less face, but his smile shines like quicksilver in the TV-glass.

There are other figures too. In the heavily distorted corners of the fish-globe reflection, Hazel sees her maternal grandparents. Her grandmother is fussing over her grandfather, playfully needling him to try on a hand-knitted holiday sweater of misshapen snowmen. “Those snowmen have a god-damned better chance of enjoying a summer vacation in hell than of you getting me to put on that fudge-blasted, gadzooks ugly sweater. That thing’s a war crime against humanity–” he grouses back, “–and that’s saying something for a swizzle-stick–packing Joe who was at the Tokyo Trials.”

While his wife simply laughs at the irascible man and gives him a gingerly kiss, other guests awkwardly pause in their holiday small talk to see how their half-Japanese host and his wife react. The lovers, though, are too enmeshed with themselves and their intimate conversation about the bright-wide vistas of tomorrow.

The other guests, which include a cosmopolitan batch of friends from law school, marketing, and more bohemian circles, quickly recede into the reflected background, as do the half-dozen rugrats around Hazel’s age that play on the carpet around her with recently unwrapped Christmas presents. None capture the attention of the 1977 Hazel. Even while several of the guests encourage their children to say hello or offer to play with her, the young toddler simply stares vacantly at the screen. After all, the TV was playing her then-favorite channel. Static. Digital snow.

Hazel: The stare might have seemed vacant to them. But the autistic three-year-old found that static an enrapturing sight. Every snowflake is unique, she’d heard—and she was curious whether the same was true for flecks of static. But after a little while even that didn’t matter. She could watch the crackling screen play out its unwavering program for ‘episodes’ on end. She thought she could see patterns in that static, if she stared long and searchingly enough.

GM: Now, as Hazel stares into the temporally super-positioned TV screen, she watches the static snowfall in the double reflection of her own three-year-old self’s eyes. And she now longer thinks she sees patterns. She knows she sees patterns. Her awakened sight steganographically decrypts the static movements and sound, resolving it into a blue screen of death. But that death is a doorway that transforms into a main menu of a home video recording.


At first, the menu options are banal, but the static wavers, distorting the screen and transforming the options.



Hazel: Hazel’s brow furrows at the choices available. It’s not much longer before she selects ‘death at first sight’. That sounds like the start of this narrative.

GM: Both Hazels blink in perfect vacuous synchrony, causing the QED to drop down to their desired chapter. The blue screen bleeds into static.


The time-continuum ripples and resolves into an alpine wilderness. A newly-married Harvey and Lydia hike together with their nearly five-year-old Hazel in tow. The September air has the warm husk of an Indian summer. Dusk falls across the pine-scented landscape, causing a lone, disoriented bat to flutter out of its cave in search of the blood-fat mosquitoes that snack on the young girl and her still-adjusting family. As they crest a ridge, they see an alpine pond. The honey-hued sunset transmutes the water’s surface into a golden mirror of the encircling mountain peaks. A pair of loons alight on the pond, ripping its surface as they languidly swim. On the other side, Hazel can see the reflected image of Gramps’ fishing boat. Her adoptive grandfather dozes, as his fishing pole rests between his toes.

“So much for meeting us at the shore,” Harvey chuckles goodnaturedly. “Hopefully he didn’t forget to catch us dinner.”

Lydia wipes a bead of sweat from her face with one of Harvey’s old boy scout handkerchiefs. “Remind me why I agreed to go camping?”

Hazel: “He said he’d caught us dinner,” Hazel agreed. Strongly. The sedentary almost-five-year-old’s expression was little happier. And her brow little drier. “I’m tired.”

GM: “I’m sure he did, sport,” Harvey says to Hazel before looking up and answering Lydia with one of his trademark big-chin ‘aw shucks’ grins. “Because you like doing it under the stars.”

“Harvey!” Lydia exclaims, swatting her husband with her handkerchief.

Hazel: “Camping?” Hazel asks with a frown. “There are no stars. It is day.”

GM: Lydia looks down at her daughter and offers her a sip from her canteen. “Yes, dear, it is day still, but not for too much longer.”

Hazel: “But then we should have gone camping later. For stars.” Hazel raises the canteen to her lips and gulps loudly, then belches.

GM: Lydia spares a glancing glare at her husband. “I told you that you can’t keep talking about… that so openly. She’s not a little girl anymore, Harvey.”

“What, of course she is,” Harvey says with a smile as he begins making his way to the shore. “I’ve seen bear droppings bigger than her.”

Hazel: “Mommy is right! I am a big girl!” Hazel asserts.

GM: Lydia smiles proudly. “Your mother absolutely is right. Why in just two days, you’ll be a pre-schooler!”

Hazel: “Mommy’s always right, and so am I!”

GM: Lydia laughs with a thin smile that spells ‘checkmate’. Harvey concedes with a big-chested chuckle. “Well, then, looks like I’m outnumbered and outgunned. Now, if it’s all right with you always-right ladies, how about I pitch our tents? One for Mommy and me, and one for the big girl and Gramps.”

Hazel: Hazel frowns. Gramps is Gramps, of course, but they’ve never shared the same bed. Granted, it was also rare for Hazel to share her parents’ bed. Unless she was having a nightmare, she usually preferred to sleep by herself.

“I want my own tent.”

GM: Harvey frowns and pauses unpacking the camping supplies he hauled on his back. “I only packed two tents.” He looks to Lydia apologetically and for support.

Lydia crouches down to look her daughter in the eye. “Hazel, I hear that you want your own tent. But since you’re a big girl, I am going to ask you a big girl favor.”

Hazel: Hazel stares at the camping supplies as if counting them. Her face scrunches as she is forced to accept this numeric reality. Then she arrives at a perfect solution.

“Gramps can sleep in your tent. Then I can have one.”

GM: “One tent isn’t big enough for three adults, dear,” her mother says levelly.

Hazel: Hazel stares back at the tents as if computing their size. “I want to sleep in your tent.”

GM: “But Gramps will be scared all by himself,” Harvey says, trying to help.

Lydia gives him a ’you’re not helping’ look.

Hazel: “I’m scared!” Hazel proclaims.

GM: Lydia levels another stare at her husband, one that clearly indicates that being right all the time doesn’t mean she’s happy.

Hazel: “I’m SCARED!” Hazel yells, louder.

GM: Hazel’s scream startles the loons, causing them to take flight and shatter the watery mirror. Gramps stirs as well, nearly but not quite dropping his toe-clutched pole as he rouses. Other birds burst from the scene, startled by Hazel’s piercing cry.

Hazel: “Mommy, Daddy, I’m having a nightmare!” That line always gets her in her parents’ bed, so she says it now. And it is getting dark out.

GM: For all their histrionics, Hazel’s words prove eerily prophetic, as a terrifying figure bursts from the underbrush only a few feet behind the almost-five-year-old and her mother.

Hazel’s young mind floods with fear, distorting her perception of time and space. Daylight instantly dies all around her except for a constricting tunnel of vision that is filled with a towering figure, a nightmarish beast with inhuman fur, massive horns wrapped in bloody skin, and blood-red eyes with too many teeth. Distantly she hears her own mother’s terror-paralyzed scream. The monster rushes towards them, clearly intent on ripping her and her mother apart. Her ears rip as a death-clap of thunder hammers on her skull. A terrible mouth opens in the monster’s chest, red and wet. And the monster screams, its first mouth filling with froth, the second with blood.

Hazel: Her lungs constrict. Her vision funnels. Her sight grows black. In that fleeting instant before consciousness departs her brain like an exorcised poltergeist, the almost-five-year-old has but a single thought:

I’m dead.

GM: Hazel’s consciousness returns to the blue screen of death. The displaced by decades again, the raw fear still clutches her mind. The Dynatron CVT flickers into black, revealing her reflection once again, a face that fluxes, before words appear.


The screen flickers again, returning to the blue menu screen. DEATH AT FIRST SIGHT is no longer an option.

Hazel: The fear barrels out of the screen with teeth and claws no less sharp than the monster’s, and equally determined not to relinquish its prey. But that prey has grown teeth and claws of her own. For an instant, she panics. That drawing those claws will hurt her as badly as the monster’s own. The gag-inducingly powerful taste of the quintessence-floodwaters lingers like a numbing brain-freeze that just won’t go away.

“F-fuck…. t-THA-AT!” Hazel snarls. The claws come out, long and wicked as they answer the monster’s decades-ago challenge. “להשמיד את הפחד!” As the proto-Enochian words tear from her tongue, her will attacks the fear at its source. Adrenaline and cortisol, the two hormones being released into her bloodstream, and responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response. Hers “misfire” and go off in response to inappropriate stimuli all the time. She’s been on medication since she was almost five.

Now she no longer needs that crutch. The struggle against the decades-old fear-spike is as fierce as it is brief. As it was brief. But on this occasion it ends in her triumph. She said she would use her power to ‘fix’ herself. To stop from ever killing again, if it really was her. Fixing her panic attacks is just the opening course.

Hazel’s eyes scan back over the options menu. She selects ‘last words’.

GM: Once more, the screen bleeds into static.


This time, though, the static never resolves. It’s as if the tape has been brought near a high-powered magnet. There’s the barest hint of video and audio, but she can only make out snippets of the latter and nothing of the former. Listening to the static-swallowed sounds, Hazel discerns a voice, or maybe two. Initially, she isn’t sure, but as the sequence plays, she becomes increasingly confident that the voice or voices are speaking in Italian. There’s a haunting familiarity to the voice, or voices, to their own lyrically, but she still fails to identify the owners or much of anything beyond broken phrases. The tap is simply too damaged.

“Inizierò chiarendo… per cui ora… destinato a morire…”

“…bisogno di vedere l’oltraggio… tuoi occhi, né di sentire i sussurri della folla… capire quanto… mi credi…”

“…anche i miei figli… speranza… mi ero lasciato…”

Despite all the incoherent static as well as the foreign tongue, Hazel needs no translation for the pain in the speaker’s voice.

“…torturato, ucciso o peggio a causa delle mie azioni… sapere quanto sia pesante il… di questa… sulle mie spalle…”

Pain… and guilt.

“Pensi… sia possibile per me dimenticare le… urla di dolore?”

Hazel: Hazel’s brow furrows. The voice… it’s familiar. But who? The tape might be damaged, and she might be uncertain how to repair it. If she can even repair the obviously transphysical tape. But she can amplify her own perceptions. She reaches out into the ether, amplifying the fluctuations of the sounds’ pressure waves. “חזק יותר.”

GM: The surviving fragments sharpen and amplify. The next portion is almost complete.

“…sento ancora la vergogna di ciò che ho fatto alle persone che ho imparato ad amare come la mia famiglia…”

Although Hazel is far from fluent in Italian, she can still discern the last two words. mia famigliamy family

“Non volevo la morte!”

More static again, each break sometimes ranging from a few seconds to minutes of chaos.

“Non volevo la morte!”

More static, punctuated by a defiant, “…quelli che sono morti con le mie azioni…”

“…la nostra morte ha avuto uno scopo…”

As the static continues to eat more of the tape, the voice becomes less defiant and more resolved. “…la mia morte sarà una cosa dolce e gentile…”

Perhaps it is her own distant Italian ancestry, or perhaps that her mother and maternal grandmother are both fluent in that Romance language, but Hazel cannot help but feel connected to the speaker, to their pain, their anger, and their resolve. Do their eyes flash lightning as hers did? She thinks so, but she cannot be sure. Nonetheless, the last words ring piercingly clear.

“Ti ringrazio per aver ascoltato le mie ultime parole. Ora sono pronto a morire.”

What follows though needs no translation. What follows should be silenced, not amplified. Screams. Till this point, Hazel has been unsure whether the voices have been singular or plural. But now… now she would stake her very life that the screams come from two people, if not for the terrible fact that no one person could experience such pain. The magically amplified screams tear through the air with such horror and agony that Hazel feels like her very mind and body are being torn and tossed in a flame that never dies. Hazel is fortunate the video feed was ruined. As it ends, the Dynatron flicks back to the blue menu screen. Once again, its menu options are reduced by one.

Hazel: And fortunate too that her mind is as strong as her body is weak. She hisses in reflex at the flash of burning pain. But the look on her face quickly becomes a somber one. It might be hard for the girl with autism to empathize with other people. But she didn’t have any trouble here.

She rubs her head. There’s nothing she can do for… them. She scans the remaining options and selects ‘last rites’.

GM: The Dynatron’s screen once again flickers to the earlier black screen and its disturbing message.


But the flicker is brief, and the blue menu screen reappears, dispassionate and awaiting.




Hazel: “I think, therefor I am,” she retorts. She scans the remaining options and selects ‘last rites’.

Her… first father’s? She doesn’t remember the funeral, but there had to have been one…

GM: At Hazel’s selection, the menu screen once more blurs, achromatic static rippling at the distortion of the time-space fabric.


So many knees. Well, not actually knees, but their obverse. As a three–year–old, Hazel hadn’t known what the body part was called. It would be later, but not too much later that the preciously bright child learned the name for what she was staring at: popliteal fossa.

Hazel: Her parents would learn what it was too after the formerly silent toddler started to talk. On a hot summer day she’d remarked, “Mommy, my popliteal fossa are sweaty!”

GM: Yet, on this early February morning in 1978, just a few weeks past her family’s tragic car accident, the toddler’s popliteal fossa are far from sweaty. Light snow drifts slowly from the wintry gray sky, falling upon the old snow already covering Mountain Shadow Cemetery.

The shroud of snow amplifies the feelings of tranquil sorrow and melancholy that pervade the cemetery. Hoary in places, the snowscape is unspeakably beautiful, providing a scenic view of the nearby snow-covered hills and ice-filmed river. More proximal than those bucolic sights are the rows of simple snow-topped tombstones and smaller, freshly dusted headstones. In the distance, Hazel can see the white-shadows of mausoleums and larger, older sculpted angels and obelisks, dating back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

But mostly she sees the back of knees.

Those knees and their owners stand around an urn, laid in an open plot of snow-covered earth. With Lydia still bedridden due to her slowly recuperating injures, Hazel had been spared the trip to the crematorium and the ceremonial rite of plucking her father’s bone fragments from the ashes with shared chopsticks, starting with feet bones and ending with the skull bones.

Instead, that traditionally familial honor was delegated to a group of Richard’s friends, whom Hazel recalls her mother affectionately referring to as his “network” or “computer cabal”.

Hazel: Some part of Hazel feels like that was a missed opportunity now. Her first dad’s cultural heritage clearly mattered to him, for him to don a Noh mask when he worked his magick, and for him to presumably have requested this funeral in his will, which most Americans would consider bizarre.

But that culture was never a significant part of who Hazel was. She grew up with two white parents, and looked just like them, so everyone treated her like she was white. Indeed, that was how she saw herself too, until she observed in one of her mom’s old photos that her first father had slightly sallow-hued skin. She’d always had a good eye for detail.

That specific detail also made her have a panic attack. “You should have told me that I was 25% East Asian! That wasn’t how I saw myself! Do you want to mention that I’m a boy too, or is there anything else about who I am that I don’t know!?” Hazel had screamed to her mother, shaking as she hyperventilated. Then she’d thrown up. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of who she was. It was simply too significant a change to her self-perceptions, coming too late in her life.

Still, she’d eventually adjusted to it. She even learned Japanese as a language. Everyone thought that was the thing to do back in the ’80s. She had a concurrent interest phase that she spent studying Japanese literature and mythology. But on some level it felt hollow. The man to whom those things were important was long dead. And it felt particularly awkward around Dad—well, her second dad.

She’s not sure that anything would have been meaningfully different, even if Lydia had systematically explained her racial makeup at an early age. But she still feels a deep pang of regret at not being able to take part in the funeral. Or to fully appreciate what it would have meant to her first father.

GM: To her three-year-old self, though, that appreciation was truly limited, although Lydia had severely impressed upon her toddler daughter how important it was for Hazel to accompany her late father’s friends–even if she was unable to get her autistic child to truly understand what friends were.

“Friends are people who are not family, but with whom you enjoy spending time with,” the injured woman had tried to explain. When Hazel had pointed at the TV, Lydia had sighed but shook her head. “Friends are people, not things. They are alive. They talk, eat, sleep…” But Hazel had simply pointed at the TV again. Lydia had closed her eyes, pain and bereavement still heavy upon her face. There was a click in her throat as she sighed once more. “Fine. Dynatron is your friend. These other people were, are, daddy’s friends.”

Hazel: Hazel had still looked fairly noncomprehending, but at least didn’t point at the TV again. “Dynatron,” she’d repeated.

It wasn’t until after the crash that the mute toddler had finally started speaking. It was a bittersweet blessing coming that soon after her father’s passing.

GM: Yet, for all efforts to impress upon Hazel the importance of her attendance and best behavior, Lydia had been worried and reticent to allow Hazel out of her sight. There were several phone calls and finally a personal entreaty by two people even Hazel dimly recognized as ‘familiar’, but not family: a pair of men Lydia referred to as Al and Bubbles. Ultimately though, it had been Harvey that had swayed Lydia’s mind. “I swear to you that I will protect her and make sure she comes back to you, safe and unharmed.”

So Hazel had found herself, escorted by a relative stranger, in the company of only comparatively less strangers. And their knees, or more precisely their popliteal fossae. Inside the Chamber of Reflection, Hazel watches–or perhaps more accurately said, re-watches–as one of those knees bends, bringing into view one of the urn-encircling adults.

The man is tall and thin, with a frame that could be called either lean or gaunt depending on one’s politeness. He is dressed in a cashmere turtleneck, solid-blue bellbottom jeans, and a brand new suede ranch-coat. His medium-length black hair is combed in an awkward part that ripples over his ears, framing his large dark eyes and pallid Arab-American features.

Of all the figures, including the barrel-chested deputy behind her, the then–toddler Hazel recognizes the kneeling man the best: Al-nesr al-Tā’ir, or as Richard and Lydia more commonly called the young Iranian-American computer genius, Al or Altair. Altair’s dark, round eyes are wet with tears as he opens the urn and places three keyboard pieces inside, the first two smaller than the last. Hazel’s older eyes read them as they drop gently beside her father’s burnt bones.


“I don’t like this,” comes an older woman’s voice with a British accent. The eldest of the assembled adults, the woman is likely in her fifties, though her massive bouffant is silver-white. Apart from her ethnically crooked teeth, she is far from homely, or at least has a stately, professional demeanor that is only partially due to her ensemble, which consists of a silk neck-scarf tucked into a pastel plaid, belted trench–coat over and bell-flare slacks. Her black leather gloves clutch an Oddsfellow Bible.

“Of course not, Harry,” says a third figure to the statch-postured English woman. That figure, a man in his forties or hard thirties, shivers as he wears only a thin zigzagged–lined blazer over brightly stripped, wide–collared rayon dress shirt and high–waisted golfing pants. His thin hair, including his long sideburns and mustache, flutter in the cold, snowy breeze.

“It’s a funeral, ain’t nobody supposed to like that,” he says, blowing his hands into his hands as if about to roll a pair of dice.

“That’s isn’t what I mean, Chester,” the Englishwoman says to the man that Hazel’s parents typically called Bubbles. “I mean, I don’t like the risks we’re taking here. We’re too out in the open. Too exposed.”

Hazel: “Daddy’s hiding,” Hazel abruptly remarks at the woman’s words.

GM: Hazel’s words freeze the group far worse than the cold. The big-haired British woman identified as ‘Harry’ starts to cry, “Oh, sweet child,” and reaches for a handkerchief from inside her trenchcoat.

Bubbles also reaches inside his blazer, his shivering fingers rifling in his pocket, before he pulls out a cup of steaming hot coffee. “Ahhhh, much better.”

“We know the risks,” says another man’s voice, strong and full as a trombone. Yet, upon closer inspection, Hazel realizes the voice, despite its deep masculinity, belongs to a muscular, black woman with a giant afro. Her taut muscles are clearly visible under her tight, snow–white ski–jacket and matching ski–suit. Her golden-yellow cowboy boots are reflected in her all–but–gleaming aviator glasses.

“We know the risks, because she ran the numbers,” the butch woman says, placing a calloused hand around the neck of the last figure in the circle. ‘She’ is a he, Hazel thinks, but it is hard to tell due to the young person’s effeminate cheekbones, pale–white skin with rosy checks and ruddy lips, and the massive, full body length boho shag coat that swallows the figure and his accouterments, save for one, a bright orange and yellow Texas Instruments, Speak & Spell, which has been strung and slung around the figure’s shoulder like an electronic purse fit for a child. A slim white hand emerges from the black shag and begins rapidly typing on the Speak & Spell, even as its owners’ eyes continue gazing up at the sun through the falling snow. The Speak & Spell’s robotic voice intones: “deterministic nonperiodic flow evidence seems to favor the sea gulls.”

Bubbles stops mid-sip of his coffee. “Wait, you’re Ying? I though that…” he says, glancing at the athletic black woman in white.

“Because what?” the woman demands brusquely.

“No reason,” Bubbles answers as he tries to hide inside his mug.

Altair rises. “Everyone is upset. But this of all moments isn’t the time to fight.” He wipes his eyes. “Not against one another, at least.” He regards the others in turn. “Sinclair, thank you for coming. And you’re right that we are taking risks–but the risks are worth taking. But that doesn’t mean we need to carelessly increase those risks,” he adds, looking to Bubbles and his coffee mug. “Why didn’t you bring a coat?”

“Been in Vegas and Los Angeles for too long,” the mustachioed man says with a shrug-shiver. “Just haven’t been thinking straight ever since, ever since…” Bubbles trails off as he looks to the amply-dressed toddler that mores resembles a knitted, pom-pom marshmallow.

Altair takes off his coat and gives it to Bubbles. “Here.” Turning back to the almost achromatically dressed pair, Altair continues, “Thanks for coming, Yang, Yin. I would have understood if you hadn’t or couldn’t.”

The black woman, so identified as Yang, nods while the white man identified as Yin continues staring at the swirling ice crystals.

“Speaking of which,” Bubbles pips in, “where’s Proteus?”

“I thought we agreed not to use our handles in person,” Harry says.

Bubbles shrugs again. “I don’t rightly know his real name, do you, Limey?”

“Proteus is reformatting right now,” Altair answers.

Bubbles breaks in again. “Any of you find it weird that he calls himself after an A.I. that traps a woman and tries to rape her into conceiving a cybernetic baby?”

Harvey coughs, not too kindly. “Mind your language.” He juts his chin in Hazel’s direction.

Hazel: The autistic toddler’s stare is largely blank at the new words.

GM: Bubbles looks as if he doesn’t process the then-deputy’s words. “Demon Seed? You never read it?”

“I still don’t understand why we are meeting in person, Altair,” Harry says, “There’s a reason we’ve never all met in 1.0. Things are only going to get worse now that we’re off probation.”

This time it’s Yang who interrupts, and rather hotly. “Oh spare us another lecture on how much older and cleverer you are than the rest of us children, Sinclair. We know you worked at Bletchley. We know you delivered Turing’s mail.”

Hazel: The Hazel of 1998 sits up at that.

GM: The woman known as both Harry and Sinclair gives an equally irked look at Yang, then slides a much colder, calculating look at Harvey.

“He’s an end-user,” Yang says, as if reading her thoughts. “You on the other hand, are an old Cypherpunk pussy that’s been so scared to have any action that you’ve dried up.”

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t look any of the figures in the eye as she abruptly half-states, half-demands, “Where’s Daddy hiding?” He said she’d find him. That she’s always been better at seeking than hiding. Hazel doesn’t yet have the vocabulary for ‘potential investigative leads’. But if they’re Daddy’s friends, maybe they know. There’s no reason he should hide. It’s illogical. Though it’ll take a little while before she uses that word too.

GM: Sinclair’s eyes reflexively shut as if she’s just been slapped. When her eyes fly open, she looks as if she’s about to tear into Yang–but she’s stopped by Hazel’s remark as well as Harvey stepping forward. “Last warning. Mind your language or the girl and I go. Friends of her father or not.”

Altair kneels to look Hazel in the eye. Before taking her out to the cemetery, he had gifted her with a red handheld electronic game called Merlin the Enchanted Wizard. Far from a simple child’s game, this one contained complex genetic algorithms that made its sub-option called Mindbender particularly engaging, or at least maddeningly frustrating to lesser minds.

“Your daddy’s not hiding, Hazel. He’s dead.”

Yin, however, punches in another code that causes the Speak & Spell to provide another answer: “in the colors of the future”.

Hazel: Hazel’s off-kilter gaze meets the dusky-skinned man’s nose rather than eyes. “What are the colors of the future?”

GM: “You and I are going to have words about this back at the BBS, Yang,” Sinclair whispers while the others talk. “But if you stopped hunting viruses, you would know we’re called Cryptogramics.”

“Tomato, tomatoe, you call Yin a Mathemagician, they call her a Chaotician. I call her Yin,” Yang replies in a nonplussed huff.

Meanwhile, Yin–or at least ‘her’ Speak & Spell–replies to Hazel: “taste the noise pink 1/f ubiquitous spontaneous long-range dynamical behavior supersymmetric stochastic dynamics future colors chaos when the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future colors must be sensitive to initial conditions must be topologically mixing must have dense periodic orbits must be colors future must be can be can be cannot be can be–”

Yin starts to twitch and tic, until Yang places a firm, but gentle hand on Yin’s and stops ‘her’ from typing. “Don’t spam, Yin, kid,” she kindly rebukes. “That little kiddie toy has more computing powers than six Cray-1 supercomputers, but it takes time to read the FAQ.”

Hazel: “What are the colors of the future?” Hazel repeats. Her expression is an odd melange of noncomprehending and stubborn. Her gaze this time is addressed to the red electronic game in her hand.

GM: Yin–or the hand–tries to passively obey, but Yang blocks the typing and gives her partner a soothingly paralytic embrace. “Altair,” she says, “time to kill your babies.”

The expression draws a sharp look from the lawman who swiftly draws his gun and closes to Hazel.

Altair raises his hands plaintively. “It’s an expression, officer! Computer slang.”

Harvey slows, but doesn’t holster his gun.

Sinclair and Bubbles step back reflexively.

“It means deleting one’s favorite files so one can make room on one’s hard drive for actual work,” Altair adds, trying to be reassuring.

Harvey doesn’t seem to comprehend the explanation, but he at least appears pacified or convinced that they don’t mean to murder Hazel. For now.

“We should have done this in 2.0,” Sinclair states.

“No,” Altair says, swinging around, but more out of desperation or conviction than any violence. “This is the only way. We need to be here, here in the physical to be reminded what is going on.” He points to the urn. “To feel, to touch the stakes, the costs. Without Richard…” Altair starts, then stops to ball his fists against his eyes.

Sinclair goes to embrace him. Bubbles lays a hand on the taller man’s shoulder. Yang follows suit with a giant hug. Yin takes a side-step and crooks his or her head in the general direction of the group.

Hazel: Hazel stares up at the falling snow. There’s a particular pattern to some of those endlessly spiraling flakes.

GM: Harvey looks away, as if permitting the group a moment of private pain and solace. That moment is brief, but when it ends, the group once more repositions themselves around the urn in a circle. Altair motions for Hazel to take a spot in the circle.

Hazel: The Hazel of 1998 cringes as the nonverbal cue goes over her three-year-old self’s head.

GM: “It’s okay, Altair,” Harry says, gently. “We’re all standing on the edge of the same hypersphere.”
She leans down and opens her Bible. “Et cum produxerit fructus, statim mittit falcem, quoniam adsit messis,” she reads, then translates, “And when the fruit offers itself, he sends the sickle immediately, for the harvest has come.” She then tears out the page, crumples it, and places it reverently in the urn. Still kneeling, she reaches into her trench-coat and produces a bag of colorful candies wrapped in cellophane. She extends them to Hazel.

Hazel: The toddler walks over, perhaps finally within the circle’s boundaries, and reaches out a hand to take them.

GM: “Jelly Babies, luv,” Sinclair says, smiling, though perhaps a little sadly.

Hazel: Her older self is too… resolved to flush with embarrassment right now, but she probably will later when she mulls the memory over. This was her own father’s funeral. She shouldn’t have needed candy to respectfully participate in it. The ‘autism excuse’ feels like all-too thin here.

GM: Yet, time also changes her perspective on what happens next. With Hazel now within the circle and only a hand’s distance away from the kneeling woman, Harvey cannot see what both Hazels see–Sinclair slides a laserdisc from the Bible’s cover and slips it into Hazel’s jacket. “Pretty pictures for your mum to show you,” Sinclair whispers.

Meanwhile, Yang puts something else in the urn, which Hazel doesn’t notice, likely due to her younger self being too distracted by the candies and her older sense too fixated on the laserdiscs. The latter of the Hazels recalls having her mother first vet, then later play the laserdisc for her daughter. The disc had contained a children’s game or set of computer games, complete with nursery rhyme songs, digital videos, and photographs of cats.

Hazel: Her younger self had appreciated those. Her older self appreciates the woman’s kindness.
Her mom, at least, had drilled in how she was supposed to react to people giving her things. Hazel feels a flash of gratitude that her mother was still stubborn enough to repeatedly explain the right words for the otherwise mute child to say.

“Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome, luv. You’d be surprised what wonders are right before you eyes.” She smiles, then turns to the group.

Bubbles, his coffee mug now mysteriously gone, pulls out a Mattel Electronic Football game, shakes his head, and stuffs it back into his jacket pocket, wherein he fishes out an Atari game. “There it is,” the man smiles, snow peppering his sideburns. As Bubbles flips it over, Hazel sees the game’s cover identifying it as Breakout.

Bubbles glances at Yin. “You sure I’m supposed to read this. I mean, it’s not going to make a lick of sense to the kid. I don’t even understand it.”

Hazel: Try me now, Bubbles.

GM: Yin is busy staring at the small eddies of wind-blown snow under a tree. But his or her hand types out, then waits for the robotic voice of the Speak & Spell: “numbers have been run not this one run run run double pendulum swings fun fun fun”.

Bubbles looks to Yang. “That means yes,” she says.

“If you say so,” Bubbles shrugs, then begins to read, squinting in the wintry light:

“The wonderful thing about the Internet is that for the first time, people will have a concrete example to think about, when trying to comprehend metaphysical principles. Cyberspace does not have the dimensions of length, width and height. It has neither a physical location nor a material existence. Yet its reality is obvious.”

“Think of the Tree as analogous to the Internet. Each sefira is a web site and each path is a hypertext link between the sefirot. Each sefira is a state of consciousness or awareness, while the path is the subjective experience of moving between the sefirot. The Tree of Life is as real as any part of cyberspace. The ‘mouse click’ that gets us from one sefira to the next, is our deliberate visualization that it is so. The ‘icons’ that we click on, are the symbols of the sefirot and the paths. The ‘computer screen’ is our own screen of consciousness. Our meditations create the thought forms that act as ‘intelligent agents’ that move through the ‘cyberspace’ of the Tree in the 4 Worlds, the four dimensional-hypersphere.”

Bubbles looks around, shrugs when nothing significant seems to occur, then puts the atari game inside the urn. “Kinda weird, Richard, for you to give a gift to Yin and I to then have us give it back to you, but it’s your funeral, pal.”

“not for us for the one one plus nine is ten ten is one plus none one plus none is one run the numbers run run run run run run run run run run run run–” Yin begins to frenetically bang his or her hands in a glitch-like tic.

Yang stops the manic gesture with her own strong hand. “I know you miss him too, Yin.”

Yin’s distress, however, does not dissipate. It’s only when the black vans appear does the meaning of Yin’s last message become frighteningly clear.

run run run run run run run run run run run run

Hazel: A chill goes up the older Hazel’s spine. Damn it, these people don’t know—the occupants of that van are in league with the unman that killed their friend!

Hazel’s eyes dart between their faces. And her father’s—second father’s, face.

GM: Hazel sees a similar sequence of emotion play on all of their faces. Shock. Recognition. Fear.

Hazel: She prays—figuratively—that they escape. It is all her present self can do.

GM: The line of three black vans slam to a lockstep, equidistant halt along the straight stretch of Last Danse Drive that borders the cemetery. In eerie synchrony, the vans’ side-doors slide open.

Yang pushes Yin protectively behind her, then whips out a pair of butterfly knives from her striped ski-jacket. “Sinclair, Bubbles, take the kid and run!” she yells, her gaze glued to the black vans. “Go–we’ll hold them off!”

Hazel: Hazel’s younger self looks up at the vans when she hears the noise. The perfect synchrony of their opening doors captures her attention.

GM: The toddler is similarly mesmerized as three seemingly identical figures simultaneously exit the three vans, their strides matching as well as their de facto uniform of dark suits, white whites, ties, and black-banded fedoras. Their pale hands are unarmed but menacing as the trio stalks towards the group of mourners.

Hazel: The fixative toddler starts walking up and down in place, in mimicry of their likewise perfect stride.

GM: Seeing the approaching figures, Sinclair freezes like an electrocuted rat. Bubbles curses and stops only long enough to grab Hazel’s arm mid-pace before trying to flee away from the road and the converging figures. “Come on, Harry, you gotta log us out!”

The mustachioed man’s words if not actions stir Sinclair from her paralytic spell, and she goes to follow–but not before Harvey draws his service revolver and places the man in his sights. “Let go of the girl! Now!”

So dragged and distracted, Hazel barely sees Yang flicking and spinning her butterfly knives while Yin punches madly as his Speak & Spell. breaking weather update localized inclement weather.

Hazel: Hazel’s young self abruptly screams. Maybe at the unfamiliar man’s sudden touch. Maybe at Harvey’s gun.

Or maybe how, up close, the three Spooks so closely resemble the monster that killed Daddy.

GM: Hazel’s scream is caught by an inexplicably sudden gust of icy wind that rushes through the cemetery and smashes into the three men in black with the force of a hurricane. Vision is obscured as the icy gale kicks up the cemetery’s covering of snow, creating a blizzard. Hazel dimly hears two of the men in black crash into the vans, one of which tips over from the combined impact and unstable aerodynamics.

Yang charges into the fray, disappearing from sight, while Yin continues to visually study the chaotic sea of snowflakes. The Speak & Spell calls out again in its robotic voice: “computing topologically transitive bounded linear operator calculating density of orbit entering hyper-cyclic point error weak admixture non-constant continuous eigenfunctions of the shift operator”

The next moments happen all-too fast, even when Hazel is reliving or at least reviewing them with the hindsight of the future.

Hazel finds herself thrown to the ground, though she is unsure whether Bubbles willingly releases her or if Harvey pulls her away. She feels her future and present father over her, protectively shielding her with his body. There’s so much shouting. So much yelling. Then there’s the piercing thunder of gunfire, gun-smoke and snow mixing into an ashy fog as the toddler’s world is deafened. She feels something wet and warm hit her face, then watches as Sinclair’s body crashes to the ground, her once kind face gasping in silent agony and pain like one of Gramps’ lake-trout thrown unto shore.

Hazel dimly sees Bubbles’ feet running away, only to be replaced by a sea of military boots and the shouting of men in white camouflage uniforms with baclavas and assault rifles. As sound slowly returns to the world, she hears Harvey and Altair yelling over the Speak & Spell’s own cries of “insufficient power to compute low battery please replace batteries.”

Then the sky turns orange as a massive fireball erupts by the road. Flaming shrapnel, including a scorched windshield wiper and a charred shoe, rains down on the cemetery, chipping tombstones and breaking Richard’s urn. Hazel, however, is saved from the burning precipitation by Harvey’s protective if almost smothering body-shield. The next thing she distinctly remembers is seeing knees.

More properly, the back of Altair’s knees as he kneels and holds up his hands in surrender to the ring of white-uniformed military figures. Then all is black as Harvey puts a hand around Hazel’s eyes. “Don’t look,” he shouts, his words barely audible over the post-explosion ringing. For all her struggles and protests, the deputy’s hand is too strong and too wide. She feels the ground shake with boots and bodies being moved, but all she sees is blackness and all she hears is Harvey repeating, “No, you don’t want to see this. You don’t want to see this.”

After what feels like hours to the toddler, Harvey withdraws his hand, but not hold on his soon to be adoptive daughter. Hazel squints her eyes, like a long-time prisoner emerging from a dark cave. Altair. Yin. Yang. Bubbles. Sinclair. They are gone. Some signs of the former presence remain though. A pair of spent batteries, a smoking crater near the road, and a pool of cooling blood that is so very, very red against the snow. Foot depressions everywhere. The toddler takes it all in reactively, but the Hazel within the Chamber of Reflection actively scans those prints, and based what she sees, Hazel surmises that Altair, and possibly Yin, were hauled away. Alive.

Hazel: Harry was right.

They shouldn’t have come. They seemed like good people. She’d wanted to contact them. To ask about her first father. To know the people he counted among his friends. There was Altair, intent upon honoring her father’s memory despite the dangers. Harry, who was so kind to her. Hazel didn’t have as firm a sense of the others’ characters. But she’d have liked to.

And now they’re all dead. Then they were all dead. After she’d only just met them. She wants to cry how unfair that is.

Almost all of them. But she isn’t optimistic about Altair and maybe Yin’s fates.

Join today. There is safety in Consensus.

After twenty years? Perhaps they’ve joined the “Consensus,” or still languish in ROSEWATER’s bowels, enduring god knows what. Perhaps they’ve been written off and simply executed. Or maybe they somehow escaped. But that feels like a fool’s hope, a child’s happy ending spliced on to an adult’s all-too sad story.

There is a lesson to that story, one that has been indelibly etched upon Hazel’s mind by the blood of her father’s dead friends.

She must be subtle in the use of her powers. She must not allow the government—and perhaps not anyone—to know what she is.

GM: Hazel’s ability to further study the snowscape’s evidence, though, is literally blown away as a helicopter descends. Once again, Harvey uses his body to protect her from the buffeting winds. Meanwhile, Hazel realizes she is surrounded by ring of white-clad military figures, their rifles all the more menacing since they are pointed inward. As the black helicopter lands on the road, two figures step out. Initially, both Hazels, past and present, mistake the black-dressed figures as the same ones who exited the van. Hindsight and future experiences, however, allow Hazel to distinguish them, and furthermore, to know that she has seen them before–or in this timeline, after.

It was or will be a different road, although their faces are once again obscured, this time by the glaring sun upon the snow rather than blinding head-beams. But both Hazels can see their heights, one oh so clearly being not-tall while the other is definitely not-short. Inside the Chamber of Reflection, Hazel’s psyche hears the rewinding of a tape, following by a haunting country song:

Every time the Devil knocks,
I can’t help but let him in the door.

So every time the Devil knocks,
Please forgive and understand…

Hazel: Hazel gives a smile that’s sadder than any frown.

GM: “Thank you, deputy, now bring us the child,” the not-tall man says while his not-short companion adds, “You have the gratitude of ROSEWATER and its consensual constituents, Deputy Bauman–now comply with the directive to deliver Hazel into our custody.”

The nineteen-year-old deputy baulks. “No, she hasn’t done anything.”

His reply causes the ring of rifles to rise and tighten.

Hazel: The three-year-old Hazel numbly stares at the necks of the two Spooks. She’s not sure at what point she stopped screaming.

GM: Hazel watches as their larynxes bob as the not-tall man and not-short man speak.

“We will take things from here.”

“Our agents will resolve the present incident.”

Hazel: All she can think to yell is what will soon become one of her favorite words:


GM: Harvey puts a comforting hand on his eventual daughter. The Spooks continue, undeterred and seemingly unperturbed by the panicking child’s screams.

“That was not a request.”

“The imperative was vocalized without a provision of argumentation or noncompliance.”

Hazel: “NO!” Hazel screams again.

GM: Harvey echoes the girl’s shout with one of his own. “No! I swore to her mother that I would return her safe and sound. So you’re not getting her unless you kill me too.”

“Fine,” says the not-tall man as the not-short man expounds, “That eventuality is within the acceptable parameters of collateral damage protocols.”

The young Harvey swallows as he regards the ring of readied rifles. “What about her?” he says as he holds subtly points at Hazel with his own service revolver while holding onto her firmly with his other hand.

The Spooks tense, causing a ripple of almost static to wash over the circle of soldiers.

“That’s what I thought,” Harvey says, though he isn’t smiling. “You don’t need me, but you need her. God only knows why. Or maybe it’s not God, but the devil. Either way, just because you don’t need me, doesn’t mean I can’t be useful. Sure, you’ve done a bang-up job cleaning up this mess, but it’ll be a lot easier to clean up and convince the town if one of their own backs up your play.”

The not-short man and not-tall man look at one another, then turn back to face Harvey and Hazel. “Go on.” “Proceed with your proposition.”

Harvey swallows again, but it’s only Hazel that hears him whisper to himself, “Damn it all, Lydia, but I love you.” He then speaks up, eying the Spooks: “You probably already know this, but I played quarterback for the Kelpies. Was pretty damned good too. Not just because I was fast or smart or strong, but because I listened to my coaches. I passed on their orders to the team.”

“And the team, they followed those orders, not always because the plays were smart or right, or because they had much love for the coaches, but because I was the one asking them. They believed in me, because I was one of them. They knew that I wasn’t somebody sitting on the sidelines, but that I was on the same field as them, and so they trusted… they trusted me.”

“You tell me the plays, and I’ll make it happen. But you, you have to let me take the girl back to her mother.”

Snow drifts like static across the gray sky as the Spooks consider Harvey’s offer. One of fractal microcosms lands on Hazel’s cheek, where it slowly melts like a tear. The Spooks break the silence.

“All right, but remember what we’ve said.”

“The proposition is accepted. Our arrangement must not be forgotten.”

They pause, then add: “But no one, including the girl, can know. Knowledge of this event and this arrangement must be eradicated from Hazel’s memory and prohibited from disclosure to all other entities.”

“W-what does that mean, how–?” begins Harvey, but is too distracted by the Spooks’ nods to notice the soldier who approaches stealthily and sticks Hazel’s neck with a syringe.

Hazel: There is another half-screamed, “NO-” that’s abruptly strangled in its birth.

GM: The chemicals hit Hazel’s consciousness like drain-o, flushing the toddler’s memory down a drain so deep into her subconscious that no mortal hand or self-reflection could ever retrieve it.

Hazel: Hazel rises from that drain into the surface waters of self-reflection. So, that was why her father—or second father—made his devil’s bargain. For them. Hazel doesn’t know what to say. These people killed her first father. His friends. Would she have done the same? Not that such a dilemma ever bothered Harvey. After all, Richard would have just been in the way. He really does owe all that he is to ROSEWATER, doesn’t he? Not just becoming county undersheriff less than a year later, but getting the woman he-

Hazel squashes that thought before it can complete itself. He’s her dad. He’s done everything for her and her mother out of love. How it must have stung, too, for Lydia to divorce him ten years later. That left her, Hazel, as the sole thing he had to show for his devil’s bargain. And now, Lydia leaving, and her caught up in the Sweeney murders—why, he’ll have nothing at all left. The devil always calls it in the…

No! Fuck that! She won’t let his actions on that long-ago winter day be for nothing. She’s already resolved in her course of action. She won’t go to prison or the madhouse because of the Sweeneys. She won’t destroy their family.

There’s still a looming threat behind all of this. ROSEWATER saw something significant in her. Wanted her. They were willing to let Harvey have her in return for his service. Maybe she’s not that valuable to them, and her life can be barg-

Or maybe they just thought being in Harvey’s custody was good enough for their purposes. Maybe they were willing to be patient. Maybe they were waiting for something. Like her Awakening.

She’ll deal with that in due time. Worry about the coyote trying to eat one’s face over the bear lurking in the background.

I won’t let anything that Dad has done be in vain… or that I have.

Hazel: As the Dynatron’s flickering blue menu screen returns, Hazel considers the sole three remaining options.


She selects ‘timer’. She’ll see this through to the end.

GM: Blue once more bleeds to static, swallowing Hazel’s vision.


When it resolves, Hazel sees a black screen with red digits, reminiscent of an alarm clock, save that the series of digits is counting down:


Hazel: She frowns and scans the screen for anything besides numbers. What is this clock counting down to?

GM: 22,723,196

A distortion ripples through the screen, erasing the countdown. In its place, the Dynatron flashes another message:


The blue menu screen reappears, bearing but two options:


Hazel: “Someone would certainly seem to want to discourage me, wouldn’t they?” Hazel answers, her tone half-smirking, half-grim. “If I am already dead or destined to lose, why tell me these things? That suggests there is some goal to be satisfied in my belief of them. I reject that belief. I will taste the tenth fruit and save my family,” she states simply, before selecting the fittingly last option.Even the sun will die someday.

GM: The QED flashes, then bleaches the screen into variegated lines of static.


The audio feed crackles in first.

“Okay, just a second–no peeking, Hazel!” The eighteen–year–old Hazel hears something clunk, slosh, and crinkle before her boyfriend, adds, “All right, open your eyes.”

As the Hazel of December 11th, 1992 does so, the Dynatron’s screen reveals a large field of winter barley beneath a cold, star-pricked sky. Hazel and Lance sit inside the cab of his early graduation present from his ‘parents’, since his father bought with his deceased mother’s life insurance, a brand new F100 pick-up truck. A warm blanket is thrown over the single cab’s black leather seats, and its frog-lights and headlights are both off, casting its sky-blue hood in shadows. The tall, lanky senior tries to put on a brave smile as he passes a bow–topped, six–pack–sized cooler to Hazel. “Happy nine-months anniversary!”

Hazel: “Oh Lance, I wonder what this could ever be?” Hazel comments wryly as she opens the lid.
She hopes it’s not beer. She isn’t supposed to drink with her meds, and so never really developed a taste for it. Beer is still icky.

GM: Lance gives a weak chuckle and nervously tries to take off his hunting cap, but only manages to undo a single ear flap. “I hope you like it.” As the cooler opens, the cab’s dome-light reveals not beer, but a large bag of water, in which swims a goldfish. Nearly the size of Hazel’s hand, counting its large tail, the goldfish has distinctive metallic–red scales and long–flowing fins. Lance tries again, and this time succeeds in taking off his hat. Scrunching the object in his hand, the blonde-haired senior explains, “You always talk about wanting a pet.”

Hazel: “Oh my goodness, is this a large goldfish,” Hazel remarks, her eyes not deviating from the red-scaled fish’s movements. “And what a distinctive hue to its scales. Where did you find it?”

GM: Lance’s smile remains goofy, but some of his anxiety bleeds off like the exhaust pumping from his truck. “It’s a comet, a breed of goldfish. I got it at the state fair this fall. Well, I got a bunch of them, but I wanted to give you the best. A lot of them have birth defects, but the ones who survive the first bit, they tend to be hardy. Real hardy. Easy to take care of, and then can live for long time. Decades, even. And they can grow larger than a foot, too.”

“They tend to be either that red color or a mix of red and white, but I read that some of them can be different colors too, like brown… and I’m rambling…” he says, laughing again. “Do you like it?”

Hazel: “I have heard of the comet breed. I had thought they were significantly smaller, however,” Hazel remarks, her eyes continuing to follow the fish’s movements. She finally looks up at his question, though, and smiles. “It’s great, Lance. All that it requires now is a name. Are you aware of its sex?”

GM: “Great,” Lance repeats, then smiles like the sun as all his worry melts away like winter frost, “That’s great! I’m so happy. Yeah, they were about the size of my pinky when I first got them. I was originally saving the fish for Christmas, but then I found out about today, and what with it being our nine-month anniversary, and I thought–I thought it was just too perfect.” He reaches slowly for Hazel’s hand. “Just like you.”

Hazel: “Yes, nine is an auspicious number, you were right to gift me the fish when you did,” Hazel replies. “A trinity of trinities. Mathematical perfection coincidental with the average length of a woman’s pregnancy.” She’s actually blushing a little bit herself, though, as she lets him take her hand. She’s frankly not accustomed to hearing that sort of praise from people besides her parents.

“But come,” she continues, “we must mark this equally auspicious occasion with a name for the fish. The goldfish is regarded as an omen of prosperity in Chinese culture. For a young woman, dreams of a goldfish are said to suggest marriage to a wealthy and pleasant man.” She thinks for a moment. “The word ‘prosper’ was specifically used. That makes me think of the Vulcan ‘live long and prosper’ farewell in Star Trek. And you say this breed of fish even has a long lifespan.”

GM: Lance seems over the moon with Hazel’s blush and allowance of physical contact. As Hazel continues to talk, Lance doesn’t withdraw his hand, but he does at least backtrack to answer Hazel’s earlier question. “I don’t know if the fish is male or female. It doesn’t have any of spots or tubercles on its gill-shields, but that doesn’t mean it’s a girl. Like your uncle says, ‘Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence’.”

He rubs his thumb on Hazel’s hand, and blushes himself as he adds, “I read that goldfish don’t become sexually active up to a year in age. So it’s hard to know now.” He scoots closer again until the stick shift halts his progress. “The Swift-Tuttle Comet is coming tonight,” he explains, even though Hazel was the one who originally told him last week.

Hazel: Physical contact from Hazel isn’t so unusual nine months into the relationship. It definitely took a while for things to get to that point, though. Hazel was honestly impressed with how long he was willing to wait.

“Yes, it is,” she remarks. “If we do not yet know the fish’s sex, that removes Sarek as a contender as a name. But perhaps something gender-neutral reflective of the auspicious celestial occurrence would be appropriate.” She thinks. “Swift-Tuttle does not roll off the tongue well, not to mention ‘Tuttle’ is one of our peers’ last names. Hmm, perhaps simply ‘Comet’.”

GM: “Okay, sure,” Lance says, his attention clearly less focused on the fish’s name. “Meierhoff said it’s the single most dangerous object known to humanity. The comet, that is–the comet-comet, not the fish,” he adds with a laugh as a bit of anxiety creeps back into his voice.

Hazel: “Worry not, it is not predicted to pose any meaningful danger for at least two thousand years,” Hazel offers. “I am certain that humanity will have fully taken to the stars by then.”

GM: “That’s good, I guess. As for tonight, it should be close enough to see with binoculars.” He not so subtly glances at the truck bed. “I’ve brought some, and a board like you asked for the crop circle stuff.” Hazel watches Lance’s neck turn the same shade as the fish. “I was thinking… maybe after… we could, um…”

Hazel: She does mentally frown at his dismissal of the fish’s name—there is great significance in names, after all, as her uncle would have vocally agreed. She supposes that Comet is appropriate enough, though, and that they can leave the matter be.

Even Hazel doesn’t miss the cue as his face reddens. But she does miss what he might really be wanting. They had, after all, planned a specific timetable for when that would happen. Lance’s reaction nevertheless causes her cheeks to redden slightly in response. “Yes, certainly… we may kiss, you do not need to feel embarrassed…”

GM: Nine months is almost long enough for Lance to get accustomed to Hazel’s atypical manner of speaking about physical affection. Almost. He starts to say something, but his mumble comes out as a cross between, “You’re hot…” and, “That’s not…” He nonetheless leans in and down to give Hazel a kiss, which he attempts to turn French. Hazel feels the cooler-contained goldfish and water slosh around in her lap.

Hazel: “Be… be careful, the fish…” she responds, but the warning abruptly cuts off when she feels his tongue in her mouth. Oh. That’s… not the first time they’ve done that… it’s still… in the heat of the moment, she reciprocates, even if first base still feels weird to her. She tries not to think about how their saliva is intermingling. She’s actually more comfortable with second, in her own way.

GM: Whether Lance senses as much or simply feels the same, it doesn’t take long before the 4-H president slides into second base hot and heavy. The cab windows fog up in short order while Comet continues to swim obliviously in circles inside its plastic bag.

Hazel: Hazel largely lets her Lance take the lead, though it’s hardly as if he’s more experienced than her. The only thing she’s firm on is no sex—and absolutely no to unprotected sex. They’ve (well, she’s) specifically planned for that to happen on graduation day, as part of the sacred Timetable. She thought that was a great idea. They both know exactly what to expect and when, right?

But she hadn’t expected this. And once the initial, mutual awkwardness is past, Hazel ceases to think about the goldfish, or anything besides her boyfriend. She still feels a little giddy at those words. ‘My boyfriend.’

Bucking noises—and others—sound from the truck’s seats, and the fish swims on.

GM: Amidst the adolescent-awkward, heat-of-the-moment gyrations, the tape player is turned on accidentally, filling the cab with John Denver’s mid-song folk rock anthem:

I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain highHe climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below.
He saw everything as far as you can see.
And they say that he got crazy once, and he tried to touch the sun.
And he lost a friend but kept his memory.

Hazel: “And his name is Mnemosyne!” a flush-faced but definitely no longer embarrassed Hazel sings along at the end. She thinks that’s a clever added-on line. It kind of rhymes. Kind of.

GM: After both the song and teens each reach their climax and subsequent denouement clean-up, Lance asks as he re-buckles his pants in the cramped cab, “What did you say? Did you… rename the fish while we were…?”

Hazel: “Oh. Just… singing along,” a still-breathy Hazel answers. “Comet was the last thing on my mind, you can be assured. Though I can see how you might have thought so.”

GM: “Oh… that’s that’s good. Great,” he replies as his own breath settles.

Hazel: Hazel cups her hands over her mouth as she abruptly starts laughing.

GM: “What?” her boyfriend asks, with a spike of worry or at least self-consciousness. He looks over himself to see if he’s put on his clothes incorrectly or left too big of a mess. Neither event would be the first time.

Hazel: “Did I… rename the fish! I’m sorry, it’s just…” Further words are lost as Hazel doubles over in a second fit of laughter. “It’d just be… right then, shouting out… ‘his name is…!’”

She only laughs and laughs and laughs.

GM: Lance frowns.

Hazel: “Still, I can…” she wipes her eyes, “see how you might’ve…” Hazel takes another look at his puzzled expression and just laughs again.

Her mirth subsides after another moment. She then clarifies upon seeing his frown, “I wasn’t laughing at you. I just found the mental image of me renaming the fish at… that particular moment, to be rather comical.”

GM: Lance’s frown lessens at Hazel’s explanation, but does not fully dissipate. Still uncomfortable with a joke he seems unable to grasp, if not still suspects he is the butt of, he switches subject. “So, I brought the plank. What design are we doing tonight? Something random, one of our old shapes, or something special, what with our… with the comet?”

Hazel: Hazel was about to start giggling again, but her humor finally and fully dies at Lance’s discomfort. She might not be much good with emotions, but wondering if she’s the butt of a particular joke is an emotion she knows intimately well.

“Lance, please, I was not laughing at you. If anyone, I was laughing at myself and my own peculiarities. To still be thinking about naming the fish at my moment of sexual climax would be absurd, even for me. But it has just enough basis in reality to make it an exaggeration rather than fabrication. That made it humorous.”

She then adds, even more seriously, “I don’t laugh at people when they are… leaving themselves open. I consider that to be highly cruel.”

GM: Lance sighs and brushes his knuckles against the tiny stubble on his chin. “Okay, Hazel, it’s all right. I believe you.” He tucks his shirt into his pants, then adds, “Sorry if I got bent out of shape a bit. It’s just that I really en–I mean, no guy wants to hear laughter right after, well, that.”

Hazel: “Well, if you wish to feel masculine, I am still mostly undressed,” Hazel states directly. “There is a rather pulp-like image—pulp-like as in the early ‘pulp fiction’ stories Conan the Barbarian featured in, to clarify—of a muscular man with a nubile girl on his arm. In fact, Conan was usually even less clothed than you presently are, which makes our present disparity in dress all the more pronounced.”

She then smiles and leans up against the much taller boy’s shoulder. “I remember when you flipped that desk with Jason Tutweiler in it. Defending my honor with your Samsonite feats of strength. That made me feel very feminine on a primal, atavistic level.”

GM: Lance chuckles self-defacingly. “As I told you, I’ve just had a lot of practice cow-tipping. Rancher’s son and all.” Despite his words though, Lance seems to instantly relax at Hazel’s re-initiated contact and titillating words–or better said, any lingering thoughts about Hazel’s bout of laugher vanish as other thoughts flare up. One of his hands trace the curve of a breast down to her navel.

“Primal…” he repeats quasi-hypnotically, then leans down to kiss Hazel’s neck. Once, twice, thrice.

Hazel: Hazel feels the flush rising to her cheeks again at Lance’s last word, but it’s not from embarrassment. She feels… satisfied, being able to stoke that kind of natural response from someone, especially a boy, that it seems like she so rarely can.

“This is where I say something indicative of your possessing status, like… ’I’m all yours…’” she breathes as she feels his lips against her neck.

GM: “Do you ever wonder,” he asks absentmindedly as his hands continue to rove, “like what happens after we die? Like do we have souls? Or are we just animals? Primal or not, just animals that live and one day die, and that’s it?” In the moment, it’s hard to tell which is more idle–Lance’s questions or the movements of his hand down below Hazel’s pant-line.

Hazel: His next words, though, somewhat dampen the mood. “In absence of any empirical evidence to the contrary, I can only presume that we cease to exist. We do, however, possess sentience and the capacity to recognize and contemplate our own mortality. We are capable of abstract reasoning and taking actions that serve a purpose beyond simple daily survival. We have purpose to our lives where animals do not.”

GM: “Yeah,” Lance says in slow agreement. “I think that too. Sometimes I still think of stuff like heaven and hell and some kind of afterlife or sorts, or souls living on beyond death. Maybe even reincarnation, but mostly it’s like how I was when I figured out the tooth fairy and Santa Clause were just my dad. I didn’t want to not-believe, but I just couldn’t anymore. Still I pretended for a long time.”

Hazel: “I stopped around when I hit puberty. As you say, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were examples I cited when explaining my newfound non-belief to my parents.”

GM: Lance’s long fingers stroke Hazel contentedly. “Still, it made it easier to deal with a loose tooth that hurt. At least I knew I was getting a quarter at the end of it. I think that’s why people, even those who don’t really believe, still pretend and talk about souls.”

Hazel: Hazel just as contentedly watches them. Her mind is half there, and for the moment, she really is enjoying toeing the balance of ‘primal’ and higher thought. “For the simple promise of heaven? I suppose so, but to my mind it remains an inherently childish attitude. I said close to that exact thing to my father. I don’t think he was very sure what to make of it. ‘Heaven’ is the ultimate present you want Santa Claus to leave under your tree. Amusingly, even he and God are both depicted as white-bearded old men.”

GM: Lance’s fingers frustratingly stop as he pauses to think. Furthermore, his eventual response falls rather flat in terms of cerebral considerations. “I’m thinking of growing a beard.”

Hazel: And she had just been about to start talking about Hermetic alchemy and methods of immortality too. There’s a mental sigh.

“A beard is very primal,” the still mostly-nude Hazel offers.

GM: Lance grunts like a gorilla, then laughs freely in a way that he almost never does. “Soul-less animal or not, I love you, Hazel.” His fingers resume their wandering, this time more purposefully.

Hazel: Hazel’s mind initially blanks out at those words. Maybe her standards are stricter than other people’s. Love, the kind shown between family, is eternal. Or at least should be. You don’t say you love someone unless you’re prepared for those words to be forever.

‘Forever’ is far too soon at eighteen.

She replies by pulling him closer by his shirt’s collar and pressing her lips to his.

GM: Lance accepts her kiss and returns it three-fold. Between each, his words are hot whispers upon her lips. “I am going to die. You are going to die. Even the sun will die someday, but that doesn’t change what I feel for you, here, tonight.”

Hazel: “As long as… man has realized he is mortal… he has dreamed of immortality. There is… nothing beyond… powers of…” There’s a few more words like ‘science’ and ‘technological advancement’, but multi-tasking between such different lines of ‘thought’ is rather much for Hazel.

She elects to pursue the more primal line.

GM: Perhaps it is the strange duality of the carnal and cerebral that instigated the teens’ second pursuit of that primal line, but in the midst of their passion, Hazel is aware of their bodies slipping into acts and patterns she first learned from the same occult books her father later burned. Her climax not only feels like the rush of a shooting star–but it coincides with the comet’s passing rain of fire. Both teens are left breathless, but Hazel feels the exact opposite of spent. Rather, she feels imbued. Empowered. Puissant.

“W-what was that?” Lance eventually asks, too dumbfounded and deliriously happy to even flash a goofy smile. “No, don’t even tell me,” he says waving her off. He rubs his hand across his face. “I’m definitely growing a beard.”

Hazel: It’s been five years. She’s picked up new books. None of them have once been taken to her father’s house, but she’s poured through them twice as deliberately (a fact that she has informed him of), as much out of stubbornness as existing interest.

She’s evidently picked up a few things, too.

She closes her mouth as Lance says he doesn’t want to hear it. Well, in fairness, she’d probably ramble for hours once she got going.

“I approve of such a change in your facial hair-style,” Hazel answers. “And it was from my books. You can learn a great deal from reading.” It almost makes her want to have sex early. Petting is nice, but those books had so much more to say about actual intercourse.

And puissant indeed does the eighteen-year-old feel. She’s long felt she was behind her peers in this… area. But not so right now. There’s still a faint smirk to her lips as she re-fastens her bra.

GM: Lance crooks an eyebrow at Hazel’s attribution to her books, but he doesn’t gainsay it. Instead, his goofy smile returns. “Well, never let me complain about you having your nose in a book again.”

Perhaps the ‘Timetable’ would have been broken that night, had not Lance once again switched the subject. “So, what do you want to do with the circle? I’m feeling way too good and alive to drive home, late hour or not. Plus, I’d love to freak out the Crawfords.”

Hazel: The thought would have been tempting. But without protection, absolutely not. Then again, maybe Lance was prepared for that too, in case she changed her mind…

“Yes, let us do so, it is very warm inside and the cold night air will provide a pleasant contrast,” Hazel answers, pulling on her turtleneck next.

GM: A few moments later, the two seniors are heavily dressed against the near-freezing December night air. Comet or Mnemosyne remains inside the cab, swimming in cooler-contained spirals. Outside, Lance retrieves a large plank of wood that he and his girlfriend has used to create crop-circles.
As usual, he looks to Hazel for direction. He’s still smiling ear to ear as his speaks with a puff of breath-vapor. “Well?”

Hazel: “I am of a mind to attempt a pentagram,” Hazel answers, her breath visibly steaming in the cold night air. She motions towards a spot with a gloved hand. “It is an unusual design, but they may come in many shapes and sizes. And it is… fitting in its own way, I shall simply say, given our earlier activities.”

GM: “I’m ready,” Lance agrees immediately with what initially seems like blind happiness, but which Hazel swiftly realizes is something else. She feels it, energy pooled inside herself, threaded to her lover, anchored to the ground. Alignment. Synergy. Unity.

Hazel: The night is very cold. But she’s feeling all-too hot. Sex—or at least sexual climax—is a potent form of mystical energy, and were it to be channeled through the proper points…

A pentagram isn’t so unusual a shape, in fact. She read a seminal study by a one John Martineau, not too long ago, that revealed that the pentagram acted as one of the principal geometric constraints in the layout and proportion of many crop circles.

Five points corresponding to the four classical Greek elements. And that fifth unifying and transcendent element—spirit, quintessence, at the head and uppermost point. All five contribute to life and are a part of every human—though in that moment Hazel only thinks ‘of her and Lance’.

The number five has always been regarded as mystical and magical, yet essentially ‘human’. Humankind has five fingers or toes on each limb extremity. They commonly note five senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. They perceive five stages or initiations in their lives—birth, adolescence, coitus, parenthood and death. The number 5 is associated with Mars. It signifies severity, conflict and harmony through conflict. In Christianity, five were the wounds of Christ on the cross. There are five pillars of the Muslim faith and five daily times of prayer.

Five were the virtues of the medieval knight—generosity, courtesy, chastity, chivalry and piety as symbolized in the pentagram device of Sir Gawain. The Wiccan Kiss is Fivefold—feet, knees, womb, breasts, lips—Blessed be.

The number 5 is prime. The simplest star—the pentagram—requires five lines to draw and it is unicursal; it is a continuous loop. Hazel lectures aloud as to these facts while she directs Lance where to press down with the plank. Context and precision are both necessary.

Expressing the saying, “Every man and every woman is a star,” one can juxtapose Man on a pentagram with head and four limbs at the points and the genitalia exactly central. This is Man in microcosm, symbolizing humanity’s place in the Macrocosm or universe and the Hermetic / Tantric philosophy of associativity as above, so below. Hazel briefly pauses to rummage a flashlight out of Lance’s truck and a ruler out of her purse. “Precision is necessary,” she repeats. “The geometric proportions of the regular pentagram are those of the Golden Section, you see…”

The Golden Proportion is one beloved of artists since Renaissance times and also to be found in post-Hellenic art and in the geomantic planning of Templar sites, being those proportions of a rectangle considered most pleasing to the eye. Here, the ratio of the lengths of the two sides is equal to the ratio of the longer side to the sum of the two sides. Or, as Hazel goes on, “A/b = b/a+b = a+b/a+2b = a+2b/2a+3b…”

If a square is added to the long side of a golden rectangle, a larger golden rectangle is formed. Continuing this progression forms the basis for a nautilus spiral. The ratio of the distance between two points of a pentagram to its total width is in the golden proportion, as is the ratio of the height above the horizontal bar to that below, as is the ratio of a central part of a line to the outer part.

“Precision is necessary,” Hazel repeats. Ruler in hand, she’ll make sure the dimensions of Lance’s board-crushed crops are accurate down to the exact inch. They must maintain the golden proportion.

Returning again to the five elements, tracing a path around the pentagram, the elements are placed in order of density—spirit (or aether), fire, air, water, earth. Earth and fire are basal, fixed; air and water are free, flowing. The single point upwards signifies the spirit ruling matter (mind ruling limbs), and is a symbol of rightness.

But this pentagram doesn’t have a single point up.It has two up—and one, spirit, downwards, subservient. “This,” Hazel proclaims proudly as she surveys the field of oh-so-carefully crushed barley, “symbolizes the carnal nature of Man. Or in layman’s terms,” she continues with a growing smirk, “we just wrote ‘sex’ over this field.”

“But not without purpose—or I should say, higher as well as base purpose. Another way of seeing the pentagram’s path is as Man’s spiritual journey through evolution. The spark of Life descending from God, the divine source of life to the simplest embryonic form—earth, rising to flow—water and air, on our plane of existence—compare with the intonation of the AUM mantra—then again descending to the fire of purification before again rising as a divine spark to find again his spiritual source.”

“But a journey may traverse many routes, and the journey(wo)man may undertake their journey in an infinitude of different states. The clothes they wear the provisions they pack, the others whom they journey alongside, their simple state of mind…”

“Our journey is the pentagram. Our route is, as we have so inscribed upon the field, sexuality. But we are not merely stating that sex is life.”

Hazel’s booted feet lightly crunch against the frosted-over ground as she strides into the center of the pentagram, being careful not to step on any of the lines. She motions for Lance to follow—and to likewise be careful. “We have made this pentagram, the symbol of Man’s journey from embryo to divinity, occur by means of sexuality,” she continues. “We have written a message upon this barley field that literally says, ’sex elevates us from the basest of life-forms to godhead itself.”

She motions across the barley-field pentagram’s five points with another thickly-gloved hand. In her other arm, she holds onto a blanket and second, much smaller object—in hindsight, completely unsurprising for a teenage boy—that she retrieved from Lance’s truck, midway through the pentagram’s creation (that she had him pause during her absence. Precision was necessary).

“What do we mean by such a statement?” Hazel resumes. “Let us begin by defining divinity. At its most basic, divinity is the capacity to make possible the impossible. According to what is possible, and what you yourself have stated, both of us shall die. The sun shall die. Even the universe shall succumb to inevitable heat-death.”

“But through this pentagram, we state that we have the means to cheat death. That is the impossibility we may render possible. Our affection for one another, and the carnal actions through which we express that affection, are the means by which we may do so. Through our will—or True Will, as Crowley would term it—the laws of the cosmos may be overwritten.”

But it’s more even than that. Hazel can feel something building in her, in the air around her. She considers the facts. Crowley, Parsons, Randolph, and all the other occultists she so reveres have repeatedly spoken of love and sex between magicians as the key to unlocking true theurgy. And here, beneath this comet, on the ninth month of their relationship—three threes—on this flawlessly drawn pentagram. Logic and intuition both dictate: this occasion is infinitely more portentous than any high school graduation.

Without any further ado, Hazel unzips her pants, pulls down her panties, and lies down in the center of the pentagram. The night air is cold against her exposed sex, but its intensity is nothing against that within her voice as she all but commands:

“Take me. Here. Now.”

Her right hand holds the thrust-out condom she retrieved from his truck. Part of Hazel is terrified as she speaks those words. Even just the petting is… they’ve been taking things slow. This wasn’t planned in the Timetable.

But the scientist—or at least mystic—within her tells that crying little to aspie to sit down and shut up. This set of circumstances is simply too perfect. Virginity has a power of their own too. She can only lose that state once. It would seem such a shame to waste it on a less portentous occasion.

GM: Lance, who throughout the process of shaping the pentagram has been slavishly obedient, becomes utterly spellbound as Hazel beckons him. His wintry breath quickens as he undoes his belt, his hands confident and committed where once they were unsure and awkward.

Yet, as he steps into the pentagram’s center to straddle his supine lover, Hazel discerns movement in the stars. A flicker of blackness on the edges of the large pentagram points where stars die and then are reborn. Lance kneels down in the frost-bitten, flattened barley, his eyes riveted to Hazel and thus blind to the stellar phenomenon occurring around them.

Hazel: Hazel missed the rest, or at least that portion of the rest, back then. Part of her froze up. This was too much. Too soon. Petting was fine, but actual sex, that kind of intimacy with someone… put it off, please, they could do this later, maybe somewhere n…

The occultist in her had irritably squashed that second bout of sniveling like a landed fly. That wasn’t why the Hazel of ‘92 didn’t make out what came next in the heavens above. It was just too damn dark.

Her six-year-older self smiles into the Dynatron. Not a problem now. Another flash of brilliant radiance isn’t going to be useful here. Hazel needs something more low-key. She pictures the cat that she was only just petting in her mind’s eye, mutters, “לראות בחושך,” and her pupils abruptly expand to the size and slit shape of a feline’s.

GM: So sharpened, Hazel’s eyes of the future-present discern what her younger-former self does not.
Something occludes the stars along those five points of the horizon–five figures dressed in black robes standing at the points of the massive pentagram, their silent movements of their dark-sleeved arms creating eldritch patterns.

Hazel: Maybe it’s for the best her younger self didn’t see.

GM: So revealed to Hazel’s psyche of the future-present, the occult scholar identifies the hypnotic flash of their pale hands, tracing shapes in the comet-crossed sky. No, not just shapes, but letters.

Hazel: Even the Hazel of ’98 gawks in instinctive and outrage and revulsion. That was a private moment! How… dare they!

And what a fool girl she was. What did she even think she was trying to accomplish with that act of ritual sex? Yes, she powered that pentagram, and she had no idea towards what end! She just blindly experimented, acting solely on instinct!

GM: Yet, like that dark, celestial auspicious night, the analytic or at least occult side of Hazel’s psyche temporary subdues or sidesteps her rage and revulsion, drawn to the mysteries of those letters, their language, and the words they form.

Enochian. The language of angels.

Each figure hypnotically traces a different symbol or letter in the sky, and those letters keep changing, but Hazel’s brilliant mind seizes upon her limited sight and rings her senses till she bleeds comprehension from the scene. There is a pattern. Patterns, actually. And Hazel has always been best at inducing patterns. Structure. Order. Five figures, standing on five points of the pentagram. Five hands tracing the sky. Five symbols spelt out, forming five words.


Hazel finds she needs no starting anchor point or orientation to read the silent star-chanting, for no matter how she reads it, it is the same:


The Sator Square, a notorious palindrome millennia old. Fluent in Latin, Hazel knows the hyper-folded palindrome can be grammatically as well as visually be read up and down, backwards and forwards, and finally boustrophedon, or in alternating directions–and since word order is unconstrained in the ancient dead language, the translation is the same. It is a perfect pattern–and inviolate pattern.

Yet, even if Hazel were not fluent in the dead tongue, she would still recognize the mysterious invocation, as her her occult studies have crossed paths with the Sator or Rotas Square particularly many times.

Tonight, however, it crosses hers. Yet, for all the inviolate structure of the Sator, Hazel’s pentagram-centered congress is twice violated. First, by the black-robed figures, and then by the frantic approach of another man into the field, his shouting immediately evident to both Hazels.

“Hey, what you’re doing!”

“What the hell! Get out of here, or I swear I will shoot!” A second later, a shotgun rips the night air, proving deadly evidence of the man’s sincerity.

Hazel: Hazel barely had a chance—although still just enough of one—to scream as the panic attack hit. Lance at least knew what those were by then. She isn’t sure how the hell else she would’ve gotten away.

GM: The sudden sound and interruption causes one of the robed figures to falter in their Enochian invocation.

While the Hazel of past-present is overcome with mind-asphyxiating panic, the Hazel of future-present watches the similarly panicking but not paralyzed Lance. He shouts first in alarm, then again as he calls Hazel’s name over and over. He hefts his flailing girlfriend and doesn’t pause to pull either of their pants up as he rushes them back to his distant truck.

Hazel of future-present watches as the farmer spots them, then runs straight after them, shotgun in hand. “I see you, McDermott! There’s going to be hell to pay!” Yet, as he runs into the center of the pentagram, he reflexively pivots away from the fleeing teenagers and fires at one of the robed figures which he detects in his peripheral vision.

Hazel: For all the horror her then-self might have been paralyzed in, the Hazel of 1998 looks back on the scene with grim satisfaction. It’s no less than those figures deserved. And however she might felt towards that shotgun-toting farmer at the time, she’s now all-too glad he was there. She was such a fool drawing and empowering that pentagram without actually knowing what she wanted it to do.

GM: The chaotic consequences of that act continue to replay before Hazel. She watches as the shotgun slug tears across the pentagram-flattened barley field like a miniature comet. It makes a bloody crater in one of the robed figures, who crumples and collapses into the winter grain in agony.

The farmer shouts above the cut-down cultist’s screams, “State law limits a man to three loaded shotgun shells, so you gotta ask yourself two questions. First, how closely do I follow the letter of the law, and second, which of you motherfuckers is next in line to water my barley with your blood?”

Three of the robed figures turn expectantly to their last standing member. In response, the figure solemnly declares, “Adversus solem ne loquitor.” Enhanced by her arcana, Hazel’s future-present perceives two things her past-present conscious mind could not. The figure turns not to the enraged, firearm-toting farmer as they speak, but to Hazel–and not the one overcome by a panic attack.

As the figure locks gazes with Hazel, she sees its face–or more properly what lurks beneath the black hood: a rabbit mask. “Adversus solem ne loquitor,” the figure repeats as its subordinates slip into the darkness, dragging their cut-down compatriot with them.

“Adversus solem ne loquitor.”

Those words, and their translation, echo in Hazel’s psyche as Lance frantically carries her body back to his truck and flees. Do not speak against the Sun.

Hazel: Hazel stares back at the garbed cultists with narrowed eyes. If they can perceive and speak to her, then a sympathetic connection exists—and one that may work both ways. She gesticulates and readies a spell should they attempt to further exploit it.

GM: The cultists, like the comet, pass away in a flash of light. In its wake, the Dynatron screen becomes dead blue again before flickering to a sunset image with a superimposed image.


Even the sun will die someday

Hazel: The sun will die, Hazel thinks. The amount of energy required to forestall, much less prevent such an occurrence is simply too great. But as she spoke to Lance, humankind may well have taken to the stars by the time their sun dies. Humans may be mortal creatures, but to those of sufficient cleverness and determination, ways may yet exist to circumvent the laws of nature.

Nevertheless—for now—entropy shall receive its due. She has come perilously close to death herself. It may yet await her outside the Chamber.

“The sun shall die. But in the time allotted to me, I shall fight to live.”

The Dynatron’s options are all but empty. Hazel selects the last remaining one.


GM: The menu screen dissolves back into static, achromatic snowfall.


Fish-globe reflections of the Christmas of 1977 resurface on the glass screen, the blur of faces, familiar and otherwise, alongside her own raptly attentive face–a shared gaze between her three year old past–present self and twenty three year old future–present self. Only the Dynatron’s glass screen and the singularity-condensed span of twenty years separates them. Both selves or self detect something appear in the static snowfall, a pattern of letters above a blinking QED in a top corner of the screen. The letters form a single word:


Dimly, Hazel is aware of reflections of her mother and first father, of her maternal grandparents. But she also is aware of the recursive glass door that awaits her exit from the Chamber.

Hazel: Hazel spares a last, long look for her family—especially her first father—but as she is about to turn away, it is her younger self who catches her gaze. She isn’t sure if ‘she’ can hear ‘her’. She isn’t sure if the autistic toddler understands either—or cares enough to act on what ‘she’ does understand. But some part of ‘her’ does. She has come far in those twenty years—very far, she now thinks—but the Hazel of ’77 and ’98 are still the same Hazel. She spares a sweet, if sadness-tinged smile for the small child as she stoops to make eye (or at least nose) contact and states softly,

“Go spend some time with your daddy. You don’t have a lot left.”

She waits a moment, then turns away from the Dynatron’s screen. Every person, her studies have taught her, is a mixture of the four elements, some stronger and some weaker as according to the makeup of their soul. Air, as but one example, is related to the “mental”. It is therefore possible he who has it in an overriding quantity can go astray, led by fanciful thoughts. What the candidate needs to learn is if he perseveres in walking the inner path, he will learn how to balance the elements, to get rid of the worst aspects of each of them—to smooth his rough ashlar—thus harmonizing his personality, and his life. One again, balance between the material and the spiritual. The Chamber here is not identical to the one employed by the Freemasons, but there are similarities—likely drawn from her own subconscious. Hazel cannot help but think back to saying that every would-be initiate into that craft beholds.


The second sentence clearly alludes to the psychological “process of individuation”. Abyss, from Greek abyssos, literally “bottomless”, in psychology means the “collective unconscious”, the values of a group which man has unconsciously absorbed during his early life. Through the process of individuation he will find his own values, that make him an individual, that is, a unique entity, which can no more be divided—Latin: in-divisus—an integrated personality, master of his life and of his destiny. It is a process of self-realization during which one integrates those contents of the psyche that have the ability to become conscious. It is a search for totality and a balance between them that creates the integrated personality, one not tending one way or the other.

If the candidate learns the lessons taught in the Freemasons’ chamber, he shall see the Light, that is, God. He shall “know” Him, becoming one within the One. The sun, displayed on this tarot card, symbolizes rebirth, or the return of the great light also symbolically announces the candidate’s “resurrection” or rebirth from the womb. The rooster, a common symbol in the Freemasons’ initiation, and its crowing recommends vigilance and perseverance, symbolized by the long vigil through the night for the rebirth of the sun which the rooster holds daily. Vigilance means to watch oneself with patience, to avoid arrogance for good results— if any—so gained; perseverance is the continuation of the journey on the inner path: research and learning are endless, indeed.

Hazel has weathered a long night. She has found—rediscovered—her values. She will obtain ultimate knowledge and taste the great tree’s tenth fruit. She will love and protect her family. She will not allow the Sweeneys’ deaths to impede either of these goals. They have not broken her, but tempered her. She is whole. She is One.

Ascension awaits.

She exits the door.


GM: Stepping through the threshold, Hazel finds herself in a massive field that fills the stretches across the four-fold horizons. Above and around her, the air is humid, saturated with heat and dampness that cause her still naked skin to prickle and bead with sweat. Clouds the color of dark smoke march across the sky like cumulonimbus regiments, their thunder booming like lock-step boots and atmospheric artillery.

Below her, the seemingly infinite field is cold and dry, as fallow as a parched bone. Its expanse has been flattened and raked by some colossal force or supernal machine. Gazing forward, Hazel notices several looming shapes that connect the storm-trod sky and barren earth. Their sheer size causes Hazel to pause before correctly identifying the shapes: gigantic irons. Excruciating hot, dry heat radiates from the metal plates that face Hazel, hiding their the massive, plastic-shod reservoirs of water.


Near one of the monstrously huge machines, Hazel perceives the hazy silhouette of a distant figure, its back turned to her as it walks between two of the upturned irons.

Hazel: Was… she naked this whole time? She honestly didn’t notice. This place is funny like that. Her nudity would normally greatly distress her, but this a dream. Or something like a dream. And there are more important matters weighing upon her mind.

Her bare feet pad against the barren soil as she strides towards the figure. She could invoke a minor protective spell against the simultaneous cold and heat, too. But she doesn’t. She has a snaking sense of who the indistinct figure might be as she draws closer.

GM: Invigorated by her meditative reflections within the Chamber, Hazel endures the tempering elements, even as they become part of her. Soil grinds into her heels, air she sucks into her lungs. Her skin becomes flush with heat and sweat from her exertions, but she presses forward.

As she passes between the first pair of monolithic irons, Hazel’s enlightened eyes notice two details. First is a line of words etched onto the outer rim of the nearest iron’s plate. procul hinc, procul ite profani, it reads, which Hazel, as a learned student of Latin, deciphers as, keep away, you who are profane.

Hazel: She straightens her back and raises her head high. Another part of her again contemplates invoking a ward against those elements. She dismisses it. She’s come this far without help, and she’s stubborn enough to see her journey on through to the end.

GM: Head held high, Hazel’s attention however is brought down when she hears a pitiful cry. Looking to the ground, directly before the colossal iron, she beholds the gruesomely crushed and burnt-black body of a man, his habit and flesh charred into an ironed paste. Horrifically, the man raises his uncrushed head and pleads with his scorched tongue and charred lips: " Th…ir…st…"

Ahead, the distant figure continues to walk towards another far away row of monstrous irons.

Hazel: It is within her power to provide succor to this man and to catch up with the retreating figure. Perhaps not on her own. But with her magic—her True Will, as described by Crowley—all is possible. The moisture in the air is all-too abundant. " מים," she repeats. Commanded by her will, the spread-out hydrogen particles condense into a tangible liquid stream that runs from her outstretched palm to the horrifically crushed man’s lips.

GM: The half–crushed and fully–burned figure sips gratefully. He smiles in gratitude as he opens his uncrushed hand, then dies. Inside the man’s charred hand is an inviolate token of gold. The token bears two letters.C.S.Above, a single titanic bolt of lightning courses from the sky, down into the adjacent giant iron–an iron which seems to come alive and slowly rise and turn.

Hazel: Hazel picks up the token. She couldn’t save him, but she did what she could in the little time that remained. Now she can only move onwards. And faster. Hazel raises her gaze to the sky, throws her arms wide and exclaims,“רוחות באוויר, להרים אותי ביניכם!”A strong breeze abruptly sends her long hair blowing back. Winds lap around her bare knees like eager hounds ready to obey their master’s will—and so they do.

GM: In echo, another bolt of lightning surges toward and awakens a titanic iron. This one too rises and turns, so its soon red-searing metal faces down towards the ground–and most alarmingly above Hazel.

Hazel: Those damn things are going to crush her. And they’ve appeared every time she’s exercised her True Will. Perhaps she needs to be more subtle.

Hazel releases the almost-complete invocation and lets the gathering winds die—but enough of them linger, just soft enough and quiet enough, to help propel her body out of the way as she naturally ducks and rolls to avoid the fast-falling irons.

GM: The god-sized irons plummet down like a pair of pistons whose impact halts precisely at the surface of the field. The half-crushed corpse is flattened and burnt away into ash that is smoothly ironed into the fallow field. Hazel barely survives a similar fate as her last will-enhanced leap hurls herself clear of the two irons.

Those irons, blind to the outcome of their efforts, slowly return to their original upright positions. Once again, they become dormant figures, though their shadows loom large. Ahead, Hazel sees the dark figure has regained the ground she had made in her pursuit. Its back remains once again to her as it passes between another pair of giant irons.

Hazel: No action without consequence. No power without price. She thinks back to Bubbles and the steaming coffee mug pulled out of his pocket. And what happened to him. She’ll need to be more subtle outside of the Chamber. There are no grand invocations this time. Hazel merely stares at the figure, impresses its visage upon her mind—with her right next to it—and starts walking. But she’s still faster than last time.

GM: Her stride twice-quickened by will, Hazel nearly halves the distance between her and her quarry–which she can now tell is wearing a dark robe that trails to the ground, creating small, swirling patterns in the ironed earth.

Her attention, however, is once again diverted from the slowly trodding figure by another inscription etched into the side rim of an iron:date et dabitur vobis, she reads, then translates, give and it shall be given unto you. This time, no human tongue beseeches her. Instead, there is a pitiful roar by a lethally crushed and charred lion. Its once noble mane has been burnt away, and its visage is grim as it opens its mouth and begs. “S…a..lt…”

Hazel: She remembers talking about lions to her dad not too long ago. The king of beasts deserves greater dignity. “I think there’s some around here. Let me look,” Hazel answers, bending over the barren earth. She digs with and dirties her hands, looking for rocks. Sodium is a major component in most types of them. It may be a coincidence when the willworker who could extract that sodium turns back to the lion with a handful of salt in her browned palms and kneels by its side. “Will this suffice?”

GM: The dying lion gratefully licks the rock-salt, then expires in a great shudder that overturns its clawed paw, revealing another, similarly sized and shaped golden token. Its inscription, however, is unique: S.M.

Hazel: She did all that she could there too. She now clutches two coins in the palm of her hand as she steadily makes her way after the less-distant figure. That’s twice the irons haven’t tried to crush her. There is much to be said for the value of subtlety. Her next act of will is similarly low-key.

No flashy motions. No chants in esoteric tongues. She just walks faster, harder, the “trooper” her dad never quite described her as on family hikes. There’s just the figure, there in her mind, and soon there in her sights.

GM: Meanwhile, the massive irons soon fade from sight and Hazel detects minor variations in the soil, ever so slight rises and depressions, like unto earthen wrinkles. As the terrain changes, Hazel all but catches up to her quarry when the figure crosses through a magnificent gate, whose wall is made of impenetrable, velvet shadow.

From the metalline gate, two guards emerge, blocking Hazel’s passage. The first figure, a male, beams at Hazel, notwithstanding the terrible fever which burns his brow. “Congratulor!” he shouts, even as the other figure, a female, shivers with a dreadful chill as she weeps, “Condoleo.”

Hazel: Hazel looks between them. “You would seem of a divided mind.”

GM: Notwithstanding their contrarian salutations, each raises a hand, as if expecting something from the would–be–entrant.

Hazel: Hazel holds up the tokens. “Do you require these to allow my passage?”

GM: They figures stand still as columns, save for the fevered shuddering of the former and the equally suffering shivering of the latter.

Seeing their extended palms, Hazel regards the sole material possessions in her own palms. Materia. A long-time scholar of occult, Hazel recognizes the symbolic nature of the coins as pass-tokens that functions as esoteric as well as exoteric keys. Yet, Hazel is particularly trained in Hermetic lore, and so she also intuits the symbolic nature of each token. Namely, each coin represents the element for which they were exchanged, water and earth.

While the former element contains the alchemical property of wetness and the latter element contains the alchemical property of dryness, both also contain the property of coldness. Together, they form the Celestial Salt, the principle of base, passive matter. Moreover, the two elements demonstrate both the First and Second Laws of Hermetics. All is from One. Polarity.

The two tokens, though divided, create the oneness of the fixed elements of the Celestial Salt, while also symbolizes the alchemical polarity of dryness and wetness. Yet, as Hazel also knows, As Above, So Below, and thus, the Celestial Salt is only half of the Prime Materia, whose polar opposite is the Celestial Niter.

From the oneness of the Niter, the polarity of the volatile elements manifests as air and fire, which both contain the alchemical properties of heat, yet are divided again in their wetness and dryness, respectively. Thus, to transcend from the base matter of the Celestial Salt to the more refined spiritual state of the Celestial Niter, Hazel must return the correct tokens in the correct order–not as they are, but as they can become, thus symbolizing the dyadic monism of the first two great laws of Hermetics.

Hazel: Hazel looks between the figures, approaches the weeping female, and holds up the water token. Some of the dirt on her hands has smudged onto it and distinctively taken the shape of an upwards-pointing triangle with a line bisecting its upper third from the lower two thirds; the alchemical symbol for air. To the feverish male figure, she presents the salt or earth token, with its own dirt-inscribed upwards-pointing but line-less triangle; the alchemical symbol for fire.

GM: “Condoleo,” weeps the woman as her tears and then entire body begin to evaporate. Similarly, the male shouts “Congratulor!” as his fever intensifies into a literal smoldering, then burning inferno. As one, the disincorporating figures flip over the symbolically transmuted tokens in their hands. As Hazel watches, she sees the inscribed initials on both tokens have changed. M.N. reads the evaporating coin, while the melting coin reads J.M.

As one, the figures and the tokens complete their metamorphosis, and thereby reveal the now-open gate. A single coin sits across the threshold, smaller in size of fashioned of purified gold. A chimera is inscribed on its face, above three letters: S.P.N.

Hazel: She stoops to retrieve it.

GM: The coin is far heavier than the others, nearly requiring Hazel to use both hands to heft the mysterious token. As Hazel contemplates the object and its occult significance, her mind conjures a seventeenth \century quote from Maier’s Atalanta Fugiens: “The Stone that is Mercury, is cast upon the Earth, exalted on Mountains, resides in the Air, and is nourished in the Waters.”’

As Hazel grasps the token, the square token stretches into a cube, just like German alchemist’s engraving. The Prima Materia. Hazel is well aware that the prima materia, otherwise known as the materia prima or first matter, is the ubiquitous starting material required for the alchemical magnum opus and the creation of the philosopher’s stone. It is the primitive formless base of all matter similar to chaos, the quintessence, or aether. The singularity from which is drawn the polarity of the Celestial Salt and Celestial Niter. All from One.

Similarly, Hazel perceives the significance of the Chimera. Beyond its intimate connections, the chimera is an alchemical symbol, denoting the union of the three grand alchemical essences–sulphur, salt, and mercury. Hazel’s enlightened psyche also grasps how it relates to union of the Metaphysic Trinity–the supernal resonances of entropy, stasis, and dynamism.

Hazel: There’s no telling how such a symbolic object may come in useful within this dream-realm. Hazel hefts the distinctly heavy coin and strides past the gate after the retreating figure.

GM: The figure continues to retreating–or is it guide?

Hazel: Yes. The latter may be far more accurate.

GM: Either way, Hazel’s determined strides swiftly overtake the robed figure. As Hazel’s reaches out to grasp the figure’s shoulder and force it to face her, the robe falls away. She hears three hard thuds.

Hazel: She frowns, pulls the robe fully away, and casts it aside to see what may lie beneath.

GM: Three irregular, egg-shaped stones, each the size of a baby’s head, sit on the ground. Across the near middle of each of the stones is a closed-fast zipper. All three rocks shift of their own volition as indistinct sounds spring from the zippers. “Mmmhmmmm…”

Hazel: Hazel’s frown is more puzzled than anything else as she unzips one of the stones.

GM: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh, " gasps the stone, from the unzipped ‘mouth’, the inside of which bears a full row of pearly teeth.

Hazel: “Greetings,” Hazel offers.

GM: “Mhmhmmm,” mumble the other two stones, clearly excited or irritated at their peer’s release.
“Salutations,” says the first stone, then adds, “A minor word of advice. Jogging.”

Hazel: It’s not unusual for the young woman with autism to make such mistakes. She unzips the other two.

GM: So liberated, the other two gasp, then stretch their zipper lips.


Hazel: “Greetings to you both as well.”

GM: “What a sight for sore eyes,” exclaims the middle rock.

“You don’t have eyes, you dolt. You can’t see anything!” says another.

“Lies!” replies the middle one. “Scandalous lies. Why, my vision is so keen I can see Plato’s Ideas.”

“Here we go again,” says another in a voice that would clearly roll eyes–if it had any.

Hazel: “You are clearly better joggers than I am to maintain locomotion without legs. Perhaps you are similarly without need for physical eyes.”

GM: “Did you hear that?” asks one of the rocks. “The chymist complimented me!”

“I head just fine,” says another. “Why, me ears are so fine I can hear the rustling of the heavens themselves. Besides, she was complimenting me, not you. I did most of the work, after all.”

“Bah!” shouts the third. “You two would have gone around in circles if I hadn’t counted off for you.”

“Counting? More like blathering.”

Hazel: “It sounds as if the effort was a cooperative one. My compliments are addressed to you all,” Hazel replies levelly. “May I inquire as to your names?”

GM: “Our names aren’t important,” one of the stones says.

“Well maybe yours isn’t,” another replies.

“But hers definitely is,” replies the third. “Whose turn is it to ask?”


“Definitely not, you asked last time.”

“That was the time before.”

“No, it most certainly wasn’t.”

“You both can’t count.”

“Why I’ll have you know I can number Democritus’ atoms!”

Hazel: “I shall inquire as to the identifying aspects of your personal identities that each of you finds most significant,” Hazel offers diplomatically.

GM: “I like this one,” says one of the stones.

“That’s only because she unzipped you first.”

“Which is why I should ask.”

“It’s my turn!” protests another. “Why don’t we leave it up to the chymist to pick?”



Hazel: “I might propose a chance-based deciding mechanism to resolve the question of turns, or to simply rotate orders,” Hazel again offers. It’s a solution she knows all-too well from dealing with her bitterly divorced parents.

GM: “See?” a rock says to its peers.

“You can’t see anything, you blockhead.”

“I told you I can see Plato’s Ideas!”

“Hear we go again.”

“Hear? Why I can hear the rustling of the very heavens.”

Hazel: “Perhaps it may also prove efficacious if I spoke to you in turns,” Hazel suggests.

GM: “I’ll keep count,” replies the third cheerfully.

Hazel: “I believe it would be most satisfactory to the largest number of parties if I were to do so.” Hazel closes her eyes, waves her finger in a random pattern, then addresses the rock she sees herself pointing at. “You remarked as to the significance of my name. I am Hazel Bauman. Please identify yourselves, through your names or other defining traits.”

GM: “Is she pointing at me?” says one.

“No, she’s clearly pointing at me.”

“You’re both hopelessly blind,” chides the third. “At least I’m not deaf. We were asked a question.”

“We’re stones of course,” answers one of the rocks to Hazel. “Oh dear, now she’ll think we’re just ordinary stones.”

“Is it a she? I can’t tell.”

Hazel: “I am female,” Hazel clarifies levelly. This was already a dream, or at least a mental state approximating one. And these are stones rather than people, or at least sentient stones, so it wasn’t as if her nudity was greatly bothering to her. Still, it’s good to hear that it’s clearly lost on her audience.

Enough so, as well, that she’s willing to touch the rock who she means. They aren’t… exactly people, so the touching isn’t quite so bad. “This is whom. I shall address my next query to the next stone on your right or left, which I shall determine through the flipping of a coin.”

GM: “I got picked! Hahaha!” exults the selected stone.

Hazel: “Please expound, as you are clearly not ordinary stones.”

GM: The others grumble a bit, likely at not being chosen, but the touched stone obliges her query.
“Why, isn’t it obvious? We’re Philosophists’ Stones.”

Hazel: “Heads, right. Tails, left.” Hazel flips the heavy coin in her palm, gets heads, and turns to address the right-most stone. “You are distinct, I presume, from philosopher’s stones. What is your purpose?”

GM: All three rocks groan at the mention of ‘philosophers’ stones’.

Philosophists’ stones.”

“Not the other ones. Definitely not.”

Hazel: “As I have stated, I believe you to be distinct from philosophers’ stones.”

GM: “Wonders! Wonders! Wonders!” exclaims a stone. “She is a true believer!”

“Oh zip it, Gustavus,” chides another. “No one is interested in your styangraphy, palenchics, and caprimantic arts.”

“Oh, you’re lucky I don’t have my solar microscope, Eduard, or I’d melt your lips shut!”

“Be civil, commoners,” says the third, then seems to direct its attention back to Hazel. “Forgive my lessers, but at least one of us are made of more noble materials.” The rock bobs a bit as if bowing. “Count Cagliostro, at your service.”

“Count? I thought you were a prince,” snickers the stone identified as Gustavus.

Hazel: “It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lord,” Hazel replies with an inclination of her head. She addresses the right-most stone again. “Please expound on your purpose as philosophists’ stones.”

GM: “Why, good chymist, we are as we always have been, advisors, counselors, and solicitors.”

“Some have called us seer stones, or see-er stones,” chimes in another, “as we help illuminate the secrets of secrets.”

Hazel: She turns all the way to the left-most stone. “That is a most commendable function, as well as highly distinct from the function of philosopher’s stones. What guidance and counsel would you presently offer me?”

GM: “Bah, no one’s ever called us that except for him,” says the rock who self-identified as Count Cagliostro. “Eduard is a charlatan through and through. Best be careful or he’ll soon fleece you of your wife’s Secreta Secretorum.”

“That’s Sir Talbot to you, Prince of Quackery! And I’ll have you know that cross-matching is a sacred act decreed by the angels!”

Hazel: “Perhaps it would be of assistance if I posited specific topics and present dilemmas,” Hazel offers.

GM: The remaining stone, the one referred to as Gustavus coughs, as if to clear his throat. “Insects.”

Hazel: “I wish to consume the full fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This is obviously a considerable undertaking. How would you advise me to begin?”

GM: ‘Sir Talbot’ or Eduard speaks up first. “Why you must consult with the angels of course and apperceive your own Holy Guardian Angel.”

“Always angels with him. Far better to focus on healing your base matter before seeking psychic refinement,” says the Count. “I might be able to assist with both, though, as I am a talented psychic physician.”

The third chimes in, “I find it best to to first answer a question with a question.”

Gustavus continues, “Why?”

“Always ask oneself why before planning a sojourn, as the self-reflection grants oneself the proper perspective, much like riding a hot air balloon can help one not only survey one’s destination, but the proper course. Which is why I invented the hot air balloon, naturally–and the Montgolfier brothers are nothing better but second best, I assure you.”

“However, seeing as you lack a hot air balloon, I might recommend getting a cat,” Gustavus adds.

Hazel: Holy Guardian Angel. That is a term familiar to Hazel from her readings. “There is merit to all three courses of action—or contemplation, in the case of the third. The question, then, is which to pursue first. What is your diagnosis of and prognosis for my present base matter?” she asks the Count.

GM: “It is a delicate question, yet fortunately most of the subject is in full view. It has been some time since I treated the congenitally frigid. I would need to consult my personal copy of The Most Holy Trinosophia, but I would advocate plenty of sleep, perhaps under the supervision of a quasi-maternal figure as a grounding medium. Have you a step-aunt by chance?”

Hazel: “I do not. I do, however, possess an aunt,” Hazel corrects.

GM: “Well, perhaps that will suffice. Regardless, I recommend a dosage of calisthenics. The mind is naught the only thing that atrophies without proper exertion. Would you care for me to write you a prescription?”

“He means forge you one,” interrupts Gustavus.

Hazel: “I would feel at infinitely greater ease knowing that Aunt Winnie was watching over me than Mackenzie Snakewater,” Hazel states. She refrains from stating more. “I presume by ‘exertion’ you mean sleepwalking.”

GM: “Somnambulism has a certain greater gravitas, wouldn’t you agree?” says the Count.

Hazel: “Physical exercise would not seem inadvisable. I am, however, presently in the hospital and potentially in custody as a murder suspect. Might I achieve such exercise without leaving my room?”

GM: “And honestly, Gus,” says the stone to its peer, “I’m surprised by the medium, though not target of your dispersion, what with you are learned practitioner of stynagraphy.”

Gustavus harrumphs, then comments to the group, “I still recommend a cat.”

“Just as I still suggest she seek her Holy Guardian Angel. Are you familiar with the Abramelin procedure?”

Hazel: “We will address the matter of the cat when we are finished with my present line of inquiry,” Hazel states to the stone. “As well as that of the angel. All three subjects are of great value to me. That is why I must complete them one at a time.”

GM: “Our good chymist lacks the time and resources to perform the Abramelin procedure,” Cagliostro says, almost preening as Hazel returns to his ‘line’.

Hazel: “That matter shall be addressed,” Hazel repeats before turning back to the Count. “How may I—or you—secure Aunt Winnie as my nurse?” She then adds, “This is very important to me. She may do much to ease my parents’ distress.”

Her voice starts to grow raw as that subject is addressed. They must be worried absolutely sick…

GM: “Have you any mistresses or large diamonds?” asks the Count, as if such is a naturally reasonable line of inquiry given the topic of discussion.

“As a master of the caprimantic arts,” interrupts Gustavus again, “I might be able to intervene, if you can provide me with a goat.”

Hazel: Hazel’s brow furrows. “Would a symbolic goat, diamonds, or mistresses suffice?”

GM: Eduard likewise chimes in, “I believe Vaclav the Duke of Opava had an invocation that might be of use, something I picked up during my tenure at the Faust House.”

Hazel: Physically, the closest she has in the real world are a pair of diamond earrings, along with some transparent clips to make up for how she never had her ears pierced. The former were a 22nd birthday present. Her mom wanted her to have some jewelry for nice occasions. Hazel remembers asking about that gift. Her mother had never been too concerned over what clothes or accessories she wore in the past, so long as it was clean and hole-less. And she almost never wore earrings. Lydia said that these were things she’d need to think about, now that she was graduated from college, and had even added that she was proud of how far Hazel had come as a dresser since her sweatpants-wearing middle school days.

Hazel had felt a bit embarrassed at that reminder. But she was happier, too, to have her mother’s approval.

Just hold on, Mom… I’ll be back, and I’ll be better, better able to protect us…

“Tell me of this invocation, please,” Hazel requests. Kill a goat to assuage some of her parents’ pain? Easily done.

GM: The Philosophists’ Stones, not privy to Hazel’s thoughts, argue amongst themselves a bit before Eduard answers: “I am the daughter of Fortitude, and ravished every hour, from my youth. For behold, I am Understanding, and Science dwelleth in me; and the heavens oppress me. They covet and desire me with infinite appetite; few or none that are earthly have embraced me, for I am shadowed with the Circle of the Stone, and covered with the morning Clouds. My feet are swifter than the winds, and my hands are sweeter than the morning dew. My garments are from the beginning, and my dwelling place is in my self. The Lion knoweth not where I walk, neither do the beasts of the field understand me. I am deflowered, and yet a virgin; I sanctify, and am not sanctified. Happy is he that embraceth me: for in the night season I am sweet, and in the day full of pleasure. My company is a harmony of many Cymbals, and my lips sweeter than health itself. I am a harlot for such as ravish me, and a virgin with such as know me not: For Lo, I am loved of many, and I am a lover to many; and as many as come unto me as they should do, have entertainment. Purge your streets, O ye sons of men, and wash your houses clean; make yourselves holy, and put on righteousness. Cast out your old strumpets, and burn their clothes; abstain from the company of other women that are defiled, that are sluttish, and not so handsome and beautiful as I, and then will I come and dwell amongst you: and behold, I will bring forth children unto you, and they shall be the sons of Comfort. I will open my garments, and stand naked before you, that your love may be more enflamed toward me. As yet, I walk in the clouds; as yet, I am carried with the winds, and cannot descend unto you for the multitude of your abominations, and the filthy loathsomeness of your dwelling places.”

“Oh my, my apologies, that clearly isn’t the right one,” it says in apology after a moment.

Hazel: “The first portion actually felt somewhat personally applicable,” Hazel offers. “But do go on,” she motions to Eduard.

GM: “Looks like someone’s zipper is a bit rusty, eh?” Gustavus chuckles.

“Blockheads…” the Count groans and bobbles as if rolling non-existent eyes.

“Wait, wait, I’ve got it,” Eduard says, clearly embarrassed. “For God has stamped and sealed all creatde things with this character of Trinity, as a king of hieroglyphical writing, whereby his own nature might be known. For the number 3 and the magic number 4 make up the perfect number 7, the seat of many mysteries. And seeing that the Quaternary rests in the Ternary, it is a number which stands on the horizon of eternity, and doth exhibit everything bound with God in us, thus including God, men, and all created things, with all their mysterious powers. Adding three, you get ten, which marks the return to unity. In this Arcanum is included all knowledge of hidden things which God, by His word, has made known to the men of His good pleasure, so that they might have a true conception of him.”

Hazel: “Such numbers are indeed significant for the reasons so elaborated. I must confess, however, that I do not see the subject’s immediate relevance to my aunt.”

GM: “Ah, well, sometimes the angels send us the answers we need, rather than want,” the stone answers.

“They aren’t angels but microscopic insects, Eduard, which is why insanity increases as the infestation spreads,” Gustavus remarks.

Hazel: “Let us remain on-focus, please. What must I do to assist you in obtaining Aunt Winnie as my nurse?”

GM: “If I might be so presumptuous, my lady, it is we who are assisting you,” the Count says in self-congratulation. “We but live to serve.”

“I recommend a cat–specifically a black one, from Morocco if possible,” chimes Gustavus, then adds, “A devil disguised as a cat might also do, in a pinch. Otherwise, I suggest you employ the ancient art of legerdemain, only slightly less in esteem than the caprimantic arts, and one not requiring so many goats.”

“To wit,” the Count expounds, “Doctor Katterfelto is suggesting you perform a certain dextral ritual whereby a valued possession vanishes from your personage and through obscure, inscrutable means manifests again upon the personage of a nurse other than this aunt.”

“A black kitten or imp would also do,” Gustavus adds with a rocking gesture.

“Charlatans!” exclaims Eduard, then seems to turn to Hazel. “Do not listen to these Princes of Puff and Quackery! Trust in terrestrial astronomy. I and I alone will be your shewstone.”

“You clearly aren’t listening–perhaps because your ears were cropped off, you fraud!” exclaims the Count. “She has clearly chosen me as her advisor!”

“Wonder! Wonder! Wonder!” Gustavus exclaims. “This one is a true believer and lover of cats. The chymist may entertain you buffoons, but in the end, it will be I that will be chosen, I swear upon my solar microscope!”

Hazel: “I choose all of you. I am in need of good counsel, and I believe that can be found among you equally,” Hazel answers frankly. The words aren’t new. She’s said some variation of them to her parents countless times. Just usually with a ‘two’ instead of ‘three’. “We shall address the topics of cats and angels once this present matter is concluded.”

She turns to the Count. “You are correct, the three of you are the ones assisting me. I would be helpless to effect such desired ends without your aid.” She considers for a moment. “The only possession still upon my person are my glasses. They are valued indeed, however, for the deficits they correct in my sight.”

“A nurse who stole my glasses could get into trouble, especially from my parents. There is little reason for any nurse to perform so petty a theft—with the exception of Mackenzie Snakewater.” Hazel smiles at that. “Very well. She seemingly steals my glasses out of spite, and the matter comes to the attentions of others. She is replaced as my nurse by Aunt Winnie. What must be done to effect this plan?”

GM: Hazel’s long-practiced politesse smooths over the bickering stones–at least for the present moment. Count Cagliostro clears his ‘throat’, then recites, “My dear Philochatus, you are about to penetrate into the sanctuary of the sublime sciences; my hand is about to raise for you the impenetrable veil which hides from the eyes of common men the tabernacle, the sanctuary wherein the Eternal has lodged the secrets of nature, kept for a few that are privileged, the few Elect whom His omnipotence created that they may SEE, and seeing, may soar after Him in the vast expanse of His Glory and deflect upon mankind one of the Rays that shine round about His golden Throne.” The Count adds, “There is an accompanying diagram, but I seem to have misplaced it.”

Hazel: “I am privileged to receive your knowledge all the same,” Hazel replies.

GM: Sir Talbot then chimes in, “Why good chymist, with some of my red tincture, which I obtained alongside the Book of Saint Dustain by virtue of the spirit creature of Northwick Hill, you could very well transmute the glass of your glasses into another more rarefied crystalline matter or shape befitting the proper temptation you wish to conjure.”

He then adds his own recitation, “Nature rejoices in nature, nature rules over nature, and nature is the triumph of nature. A human begets a human, the lion begets the lions, the dogs beget the dogs, grain begets grain. What is begotten against nature is a monster incapable of life. The Adepts teach this: only gold brings forth gold again at the harvest. This is the revealed mystery.”

Hazel: “Our base natures define us all,” Hazel concurs. “Would this transmutation of my glasses’ matter be permanent? My relatives would find it suspicious were they to suddenly be made of gold.”

GM: “Quartz to diamond?” the Count muses, as if almost complimenting Eduard’s recommendation.

“I can draw forth gold from a cat’s viscera,” Gustavus opines.

Hazel: “I do not doubt your capabilities, merely whether it is within my current best interests to employ them to their full extent.”

GM: The Count bobs its ‘head’ again, and in hearty agreement recites another passage, which Hazel recalls being from the Trinosophia: “Two stumbling blocks equally dangerous will constantly present themselves to you. One of them would outrage the sacred rights of every individual. It is Misuse of the power which God will have entrusted to you; the other, which would bring ruin upon you, is Indiscretion. . . Both are born of the same mother, both owe their existence to pride. Human frailty nourishes them; they are blind; their mother leads them. With her aid these two Monsters carry their foul breath even into the hearts of the Lord’s Elect. Woe unto him who misuses the gifts of heaven in order to serve his passions. The Almighty Hand that made the elements subject to him, would break him like a fragile reed. An eternity of torments could hardly expiate his crime. The Infernal Spirits would smile with contempt at the tears of the one whose menacing voice had so often made them tremble in the bosom of their fiery depths.”

“It is not for you, Philochatus, that I sketch this dreadful picture. The friend of humanity will never become its persecutor . . . The precipice, my son, which I fear for you, is Indiscretion, the imperious craving to inspire astonishment and admiration. God leaves to men the task of punishing the imprudent minister who permits the eye of the profane to look into the mysterious sanctuary.”

Eduard mumbles something which seems like agreement.

Gustavus, however, makes a snide comment under his breath about “being too familiar with two stumbling blocks, but ones with different names.”

Hazel: “I shall endeavor to heed this counsel, for I have seen evidence of its truth already. Indiscretion and the misuse of power are any willworker’s downfall.”

GM: “Yes, best to take the guineas and keep moving,” Gustavus chimes in again, this time in ingratiating agreement. “To avoid… stagnation,” he adds. “Yes, stagnation, that’s it.”

Hazel: “Movement is preferable to stasis,” Hazel concurs. “And with my aunt replacing Snakewater as my nurse, I have little doubt that I shall be in a better position to move forward upon my awakening. How might this state of affairs be arranged?”

GM: All three begin to offer myriad recommendations, but the only coherent one Hazel hears is, “French prostitutes are capable of many a tricks.”

Hazel: “There are no French prostitutes available,” Hazel replies levelly. She feels like her mom addressing her five-year-old self.

GM: “A pity,” coughs one, or perhaps two, of the stones. “Perhaps the Count can assist.”

“Why of course, always happy to oblige and aid the most noblest of spirits,” answers Cagliostro with a proud ‘puff’.

“No, the other Count,” says Gustavus.

“I believe Graf or Margrave would be the more accurate title,” says Eduard.

Him?” inquires Cagliostro, clearly peeved as well as a bit… frightened. “Why, you know he will only lead to her ruination. You cannot trust him, you of all should know that.”

Hazel: “I am willing to consider all potential sources of counsel,” Hazel offers. She can’t imagine what her parents are going through. Winnie could help. The philosophists have posited a number of promising ideas, but actually following through on them is proving… arduous.

GM: “Well…” begins the Count, unable to refuse a request for counsel, “did I ever tell you I was a close acquaintance of Giacomo Casanova? He was most marveled when I mystically translated a text in his hand.”

“And by translated, he means forged,” chimes in Eduard.

“You’re just jealous,” bickers back the Count. “You’re the worst profligate amongst us.”

Hazel: “Counsel me as to this other count. Who is he and how might I gain his counsel?” Hazel inquires directly. Perhaps a firmer conversational hand is needed.

GM: “Get on with your story, Cagliostro,” Gustavus urges. “There are cats to consider.”

“Very well, my lady,” the Count says. “So Casanova, he related to that he had a chance to meet this personage. He recalled that this ‘extraordinary man, intended by nature to be the king of impostors and quacks, would say in an easy, assured manner that he was three hundred years old, that he knew the secret of the Universal Medicine, that he possessed a mastery over nature, that he could melt diamonds, professing himself capable of forming, out of ten or twelve small diamonds, one large one of the finest water without any loss of weight. All this, he said, was a mere trifle to him’.” The Count’s zippered lips curl inward as if attempting to swallow his next words, but they come out all the same.

Hazel: As Hazel listens, she looks at the robe lying on the ground, then pulls it on to provide some semblance of modesty. That idea was long in the coming.

GM: “Further more, he told me, ‘Further more, Casanova summed his feelings for him as such, ’Notwithstanding his boastings, his bare-faced lies, and his manifold eccentricities, I cannot say I thought him offensive. In spite of my knowledge of what he was and in spite of my own feelings, I thought him an astonishing man as he was always astonishing me.’”

“It hurts you to praise another, doesn’t it, Oh Prince,” Gustavus teases with a chuckle.

“Oh how I wish my ears have been burned shut rather than cropped,” laments Eduard. “Silence from the angels would be a worthwhile trade to no longer to you two and your ceaseless pantomime of sense and sound.” He adds, “He’s over by the tree, waiting for you.”

“What a crime against the sacred art of the prestige!” Gustavus scoffs.

“Yes, clearly the good chymist wanted me to reveal his location,” grouses the Count.

Hazel: Hazel scans her surroundings for trees.

GM: Off in the distance, Hazel sees a solitary tree–or perhaps a lonely set of conjoined trees. Looking up for the first time since passing through the gate, the robed Hazel sees the sky is longer filled with rigid, uniformly marching clouds, but lighter, more chaotic cloud formations akin to wet watercolor paint or an old VCR mid-buffer. The color of the clouds, though, is still the same threatening smoke gray. The ground too, though aren and deeply raked, rolls. Like a velvet sheet undulating beneath her feet.

And off on the horizon looms a single tree or arboreal duality. At the distance, she cannot tell if there is anyone or anything beneath its bowers, but it looks as if a tree is growing out of the brand of another tree, such that the arbor leans as is blown by a perpetual wind.


Hazel: “Thank you for the direct and concise answer,” she replies, turning back to the stones. It feels like it’s getting to be time to leave. “I still desire your collective counsel. If I were to carry you, would you be willing to accompany me further on my sojourn?”

GM: The three stones quite literally and proverbially fall over themselves in acquiescence.
“We live but to serve our most noble of patron!” exclaims the Count.

“Why, I am your shewstone!” shouts Eduard.

“Of course!” echoes Gustavus, then most quietly adds, “But as for my counsel, might I suggest you leave behind the other two. That way, if you happen upon a cat, you will have a free hand.”

Hazel: “Excellent,” Hazel replies with a smile. Getting straight answers from them has proven difficult, but they have provided some answers. All knowledge is useful. Besides, she has to admit that she kind of likes them too, bickering and all. “And there remains no need to choose. I may take all of you.”

GM: There is a mixture of grumbling and jubilation at Hazel’s decree.

Hazel: Hazel looks down at her present vestments. This robe is big on her. Most clothes are big on her. When she was younger, she was sore about how she would literally always be looking up to her taller parents, but right now it means more cloth to work with. Hazel tears off the ends of the baggy sleeves and overlong hem. The tears are notably quick and clean. She lays down the three strips of cloth and ties them together, but there don’t seem to be any gaps in the fabric either as she places the three stones and heavy coin into the half-open sack she slings over her shoulder. She proceeds onwards to the tree.

GM: The trio of stones grumble and bicker a bit at their close proximity, but their arguments soon turn into bragging contests again, as each seeks to woo or impress Hazel. “…you should have seen the Emperor’s face when I transmuted quicksilver to gold! Poor Rudolph almost fainted!…”

“…imagine their surprise when I transmuted the tail from long to short and back again–and they dared compare my black Morocco to the infinitely poorer specimen that the flea-bitten Whittington traipsed around with…

“…and that is when I escaped from the apothecary’s covenant, a mere lad less than fifteen summers…”

Hazel: She replies with some variation of, “Most impressive feats,” or “Extraordinary indeed,” to each boast, favoring them equally. This is a piece of cake next to dealing with her parents. And like when dealing with her parents, she doesn’t lose sight of her larger goal. Her determined strides carry her towards the distant figure.

GM: The tree, which initially seemed so minuscule against the world-expansive field, soon overtakes and becomes the world, rising out to fill the sky and stretching out roots to encompass the earth.
Yet, for all its majesty, the tree feels more familiar than foreign, and Hazel feels akin to a child returning to a tree she climbed in childhood. The figure standing beneath its bower is similarly familiar. As are his words:

“The epistemological snake simultaneously devours and begets its own ontological tail. Truth is Ouroboros.”

Hazel: “Hello, Uncle Leo,” Hazel smiles. It’s not quite a happy expression. Or a sad one.
Just an older one. It’s been less than a week since they last saw one another. It feels like a lifetime. It feels like she’s lived all the hardships and travails of that lifetime with none if its joys. But she isn’t worse for it. He’d know all about that, she supposes.

“I am gladdened to see a familiar face.”

GM: Whether cowed by the tree or man beneath it, the philosphists’ stones become uncharacteristically quiet.

Leopold regards Hazel with his iron-ocean eyes, then turns to the tree. He places a loving hand on its bark. “I was raised by trees. Thüringer Wald,” he intones in his heavy Germanic accent. “The Thuringian Forest,” he repeats, translating.

Hazel: None, however, was needed. Hazel speaks fluent German.

GM: “It is a beautiful place, much like the wooded mountains surrounding Witiko Falls.”

Hazel: “I am certain. The forests of the Old World are not so expansive as the ones in the New. But there is a sense of history to them that is not present here.”

GM: “Yes, history…” the man says, still staring at the tree–and once again Hazel is struck at how much smaller he seems when his mesmerically intense gaze is not upon her. “As a young boy, I would wander the Rennweg. The elderly grandmothers and old men would warn me, though, to beware and not stray from the path. For they said that in their days, the woods were filled with tatzelwurms. The way they spoke, the way they believed, there was naught a tree in all of the Wald that lacked a tatzelwurm wrapped around its boughs or trunk.”

Leopold then turns to regard Hazel with an intensity and weight equal to the massive irons. “Can you imagine such a thing?”

Hazel: “‘Stay on the path’ is a warning older than any of those grandmothers,” Hazel replies.
“The history within that forest extended beyond its physical boundaries.”

GM: Leo’s magnetic-gray gaze does not waver, but holds fast and strong as he awaits an answer to a question that increasingly seems so painfully far from trivial.

Hazel: “I can imagine, all-too well, what it is to walk into a forest believed to have as many dangers as trees.” There’s another old smile. “I have walked such a forest. And I do not believe I have yet left its boundaries. Perhaps I will not ever. And perhaps neither have you. A man I respect once told me that there is no safety in true science.”

GM: Her answers seem to invoke a sliver of sadness in Leo’s expression. “Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem,” he says like an oath breathed before a headsman’s axe. (“The only safety for the conquered is to hope for no safety.")

Hazel: “I have lost my first battle against my foe,” Hazel answers. There’s that same old smile. “But this war is far from over, and I have not yet been conquered.”

GM: He takes his hand off the tree and steps toward Hazel, his grey eyes unblinking. “The war is not over, but reality has been all but conquered.”

Hazel: “When I see the enemy’s flag planted upon my keep’s turret, I shall contemplate alternatives to existence among the conquered. Until then, it is only logical to persist in fighting, no matter the odds.” Her own gray eyes start to harden too as the smile dies. “And I have fought and sacrificed too much to arrive at this present moment only to give up now. Nor do I believe that you would supply the pills that facilitated my Awakening, nor appear now within the depths of my psyche, only to counsel that all is lost.”

GM: “The war is not over, but reality has been all but conquered,” Leopold says with another step, such that his eyes loom like achromatic moons. “And your answer evinces substantive proof of that reality. I inquire as to whether you can imagine a forest full of tatzelwurms, a wood full of real, living, breathing stollenwurms, springwurms, arassas, praatzelwurms and bergstutzens–_dragons_, and your mind marches lock-step with the consensus, perceiving only danger which must be vanquished.”

“You are numbered among the great, old souls, but you have been raised too much by the shackles of this present generation. You speak of your foe–but after all you have seen, after all you have sacrificed, cannot your psyche perceive the true oppressor?”

Hazel: “Then it is a literal answer to your question you so desire? I find such a change refreshing. I have frequently been told that literal answers to questions are improper ones. Perhaps I have,” Hazel contemplates.

“Within a mere span of days, I have encountered direct empirical evidence—not merely within the depths of my psyche, but the waking world—that vampires and spirits of the dead are all-too real. Yes, I can imagine a forest full of such mythical creatures, all-too readily. Its only difference from my prior experiences is a matter of degree.”

“I am Awake. I have beheld the Tree of Knowledge in all its glory, and I have supped upon its fruits. I know what I am. Or are we to speak of morality rather than epistemology? I do not know all of what I am there—but I know enough to realize my path forward.”

“Or perhaps it is not we who should speak, but I who should listen. I am still but a novice on the path of True Will. There is a great deal I do not yet see nor understand. To maintain an open mind is paramount in science—and if you have counsel on how I may yet defeat or simply realize my oppressors, I shall hear it gladly.”

“Yes,” Hazel then remarks slowly, “I would hear such counsel. You are referring to a far vaster reality than my own, are you not? ROSEWATER’s agents claim that ‘Reality Deviants’ are everywhere and that my government needs me. These are not the statements of a group convinced of its imminent victory. I do not think that reality has been all but conquered at all.”

GM: Hazel watches as Leo’s mind latches on to three of her declarations like a black iron bear-trap. He takes another step towards her, piercing a never-before-breached barrier that has hitherto existed between them. “You posit that you are Erwachen, that you have known dem Baume der Erkenntnis,” (“the Tree of Knowledge”), “and that you know what you are. Non diligere Deum, qui mandata eius participando cum perfidis non custodit.” Hazel’s mind well understands the Papess ultimatum: God does not love those who allow perfidy.

Leo takes another step closer. Time seems to slow, as if distilling in some rarefied, crystal whose shape is an aurelian tesseract. “Then I must demand proof of your positivism. Answer me thrice veridically, and I shall do likewise–this I swear upon the Rosy Cross. If you are _Erwachen, then name me.”

Hazel: “Very well. You have brought me much knowledge and rendered me great aid. I shall answer your queries fully and honestly—this I swear upon my commitment to my own brand of truth. You are Leopold Schoening, also Erwachen, a disciple of the Rosicrucians.”

GM:Unvollständig,” Leo declares with all the solemnity of a dirge bell. Hazel knows the word keenly. It is one the vice principal often uses with his students. A traditional translation renders it as incomplete, although in its present usage, its more literal rendition seems more accurate: a lack of understanding.

Leo presses onward with his proctored prüfung. “Her Name contains five and fifty, and yet has only eight letters; the third is the third part of the fifth, which added to the sixth will produce a number whose root shall exceed the third itself by just the first, and it is the half of the fourth. Now the fifth and the seventh are equal, the last and the fifth are also equal, and make with the second as much as the sixth, which contains just four more than the third tripled. If you are Erwachen, then name Her.”

Hazel has ever been more a scholar of the humanities, occult and otherwise, than the natural sciences and their underlying field of mathematics. Nevertheless, she learned more from the likes of Dorothy Vosburg than self-defense. Consequently, she recognizes the riddle as ultimately a mathematical, or more specifically algebraic, puzzle. However, that knowledge also reveals to her the insolvability of the puzzle without knowing at least one of the initial values.

Fortunately, Hazel’s more specialized education presents a pathway, as she recognizes the riddle’s origin as one of the three foundational manifestos of Rosicrucianism, specifically the Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz anno 1459. Rendered in modern times as The Chymical Wedding the obfuscated, symbolic treatise, which first manifested publicly in the early seventeenth century yet claims to have been first written two centuries earlier, contains a passage wherein the author and several other invitees are posed the same riddle by the Virgo Lucifera. The author, as if realizing the insolvability of the riddle replies:

The answer was intricate enough to me, yet I left not off so, but said, “Noble and virtuous Lady, may I not obtain one only Letter?”

“Yea (said she) that may well be done.”

“What then (replied I again) may the seventh contain?”

“It contains (said she) as many as there are Lords here.” Yet, the riddle posed to her now, diverges ever so slightly from the one she first read–another present left for her by the Sisyphus Manor: a 1885 first edition of Waite’s Real History of the Rosicrucians. Namely, Waite’s translation into English diverged as so:

My name contains six and fifty, and yet hath only eight letters; the third is the third part of the fifth, which added to the sixth will produce a number, whose root shall exceed the third itself by just the first, and it is the half of the fourth. Now the fifth and seventh are equal, the last and first also equal, and make with the second as much as the sixth hath, which contains four more than the third tripled.
In contrast, Waite’s original translation, as well as the book’s first English translation in 1690, all read contains five and fifty.

Hazel’s study demonstrated that this change had nothing to do with the line in Liber Al vel Legis, and everything to do with the solution to the riddle presented by Waite in his 1924 Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross which presents a solution by taking the number of each letter as its ordinal position in the English or German alphabet. Like any cogent mathematical solution, Waite’s reasoning depended on the Virgo Lucifera’s response to the narrator, that the seventh–and thus also the fifth–letter contains . . . as many as there are lords here:

The recollection triggers Hazel’s nigh-eidetic memory to run through Waite’s computational logic:

Call the letters of her name a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h. These sum to 56.

Since “the fifth and seventh are equal, the last and first also equal”
2a + b + c + d + 2e+ f = 56

“the third is the third part of the fifth,” to 3c = e, so
2a + b + 7c + d + f = 56

“the third . . . added to the sixth, will produce a number whose root shall exceed the third itself by just the first”, so,
sqrt(c + f) = c + a
“. . . and it [the root of c+f, or c+a] is half the fourth” so d = 2(c + a), so
4a + b + 9c + f = 56
“the sixth . . . containeth four more than the third tripled” so f = 3c + 4, so
4a + b + 12c + 4 = 56, and
sqrt(4c + 4) = c + a, which latter can be rewritten as
sqrt 4(c + 1) = c + a, or
2 sqrt (c + 1) = c + a

“the last and the first are also equal, and make with the second, as much as the sixth have.”
Slightly ambiguous, could mean a (or h) + b = f, or a + h + b (= 2a+b) = f.
If the former (call this case 1) then a + b = 3c + 4, so 3a + 15c + 8 = 56, so 3a + 15c = 48, a + 5c = 16.
If the latter (call this case 2), 2a + b = 3c + 4, so 2a + 15c + 8 = 56, 2a + 15c = 48.

The reference of numbers to letters strongly suggests that a positive integer solution for all the variables is expected. At this point, c + 1 has to be a perfect square; which could make c 3, 8, 15, &c. However if c is more than 3 and a third, a will be negative.
So c = 3. In case 1, a + 15 = 16, so a = 1. In case 2, 2a + 45 = 48, so a = 1.5, suggesting that the case 1 reading of the constraint was correct.
So h = 1, e = 9, g = 9, f = 3 × 3 + 4 = 13, b = 12, f = 2(1+3) = 8, giving
1, 12, 3, 8, 9, 13, 9. 1

By ordinal position in the English alphabet, ALCHIMIA._Or, as rendered in the modern vernacular, ALCHEMY.

Yet, Hazel is not merely a scholar of paper and vellum, but of also of bash line coding–and the computer programmer detects several errors in Waite’s coding. Like unto Hazel’s own otherworldly sojourn, the narrator of the Chymical Wedding receives printed and engraved messages. These messages are inevitably written in Latin. It is therefore reasonable, Hazel concludes, to assume that the solution to the puzzle will be a Latin construct, rather than one based on the Germanic, much less English, alphabet.

Due to the numeric nature of the clues, Hazel also assumes the solution will consist of Roman numerals that are used concurrently as letters to spell out words. The puzzle specifies eight letters, and it is reasonable to assume that each letter-space should contain a single alphanumeric character. This limits the number of letter positions to eight, and the potential choices of single character Roman numerals–that must also function as letters–from which to choose. Once again, her fluency in the lately far from dead tongue indicates that the single character Roman numerals that function as both numbers and letters are as follows: I which equals 1, V which equals 5, X which equals 10, L which equals 50, C which equals 100, D which equals 500, and M which equals 1000. As all this information funnels through Hazel’s psyche, she blinks–and finds that Leopold has not. He awaits her answer.

Providing the prolix riddle’s answer, however, proves all the more difficult as her mind distractedly re-contemplates the first riddle.

Hazel: And a great deal more besides. The references by the philosophists’ stones to the ‘other count’. So Casanova, he related to that he had a chance to meet this personage. He recalled that this ’extraordinary man, intended by nature to be the king of impostors and quacks…

She’s heard of that figure. He’s famous among theosophical circles as one of the ‘Ascended Masters’. All manner of incredible deeds, tales, and past identities are ascribed to him, from brewing an elixir of immortality to being the Merlin of King Arthur’s court. Including appearing before and guiding occultists for centuries after his reported death. No. That’s simply too incredible. He’s a figure out of stories and fables.But the time periods given by the stones match. So do the names. The will of Francis II Rákóczi mentions his eldest son, Leopold George, who was believed to have died at the age of four. The speculation is that his identity was safeguarded as a protective measure from the persecutions against the Habsburg dynasty.

Some historic accounts say that St. Germain was a Jew.Those could be wrong. The most plausible accounts say he was the natural son of an Italian princess and tax collector. But those accounts could be wrong too. Throughout his adult life he deliberately span a confusing web to conceal his actual name and origins, using different pseudonyms in the different places of Europe that he visited.And whatever else may be true, Hazel can’t imagine Leo lying about surviving the Holocaust. He could be telling the truth, if he was really an Alastian Jew, like some of the accounts say.

She thinks back to the philosophists’ stones. Their references couldn’t have been more explicit. On the other hand, they’ve also proved themselves amply deserving of their names. For all their preening and boasting, little of their counsel has actually been actionable. There are ways she could test that. Ask for counsel on some question or dilemma she has already answered, like how to deal with-

Focus. Leo’s riddle isn’t completely new to her. She’s well-read. She’s come across it before…

02.14.1992, Friday evening

GM: Saint Valentinus’ Feast. The night air is crisp as Lottie’s fried trout, and cold as Gramps’ similarly flavored ice cream.

Although Hazel’s date–her first date–officially began when the Kelpies’ varsity quarterback and Falls High senior hunk, Troy Saunders, arrived at Sisyphus Manor early Thursday evening, the affair actually started when her mother found a key with Troy’s name inside their mailbox two days prior. Hazel had come home that Wednesday to find her divorced parents sitting at the kitchen table–and atypically, they hadn’t seemed upset, with each other or with her.

Instead, both of them practically beamed with pride, even if she had also detected the worry that tirelessly nags parents of children with disabilities. Still, Lydia had all but giggled when she had passed the key to her blossoming seventeen-year-old daughter. Harvey, however, had been the one to explain the key’s significance, namely that it was an old town custom for male admirers to ask out ‘their Valentines’ by slipping their uniquely inscribed key in their female counterpart’s mailbox.

Hazel: Seeing her parents actually sitting together in the Sisyphus kitchen was weird. Beyond weird. And coming then, right around Valentine’s Day. Some childish part of Hazel couldn’t help but joyfully think: Mom and Dad are getting back together!

But that wasn’t it. And what it really was, was even weirder. She hadn’t been sure how to react—at all. Sure, school gossip was that Troy’s big smile hid a wounded heart since his long-time girlfriend and seemingly fated Nymph to his Satyr had moved away, out of town. It was hard to say which was the bigger scandal—someone leaving Troy, or someone leaving the town.

Hazel, for the most part, could have cared less. Sure, he was hunky. But he was also a stupid football jock. You’ve met one jock, you’ve met them all.Valentine’s Days usually consisted of the girl with autism studiously ignoring them—or at least trying to. Someone bullying her, that was always easy to deal with. She could verbally rip them a new one, then tattle to her dad. However odd a child Hazel may have been, few bullies were bold enough to torment her to her face.

But Valentine’s Day wasn’t an enemy she could beat like that. Just watch everyone else being happy with their sweethearts when she had no one. Her parents usually tried to cheer her up, but there was only so much they could do. And their well-intended but too-obvious efforts just made her feel like she was being pitied.

Hazel had always hated Valentine’s Day.

She honestly had no idea how to react. Part of her initially bristled, feeling like she was being pitied—that her parents were trying to ‘do something’ about her autism again. But it was a small part. Seeing them together, looking so happy… then, of course, there was the downright bizarre fact that Troy Saunders was asking her out on a date. She looked between her smiling parents, then dumbly asked:

“Um… why?”

Then she gave an awkward smile too.

GM: “Because you’re a beautiful blossoming young woman!” Lydia had answered as she brushed back a strand of hair from Hazel’s face.

Harvey had then chimed in, “Just because he’s a football player, kiddo, doesn’t mean he isn’t smart enough to know a real catch when he sees one.”

Hazel remembers his comment had prompted Lydia to squeeze Harvey’s hand.

Harvey had blushed. “Because football involves… catching… and things.”

Hazel: A face that Hazel oh-so-consciously realized was starting to turn red… until she saw that squeeze of her parents’ hands. “But…” she fumbled, “we have hardly spoken, and as best I can ascertain, we hold few common interests or personality traits… there are other girls who are physically comely, or comelier—not to say that I am not, of course… but there are others who meet the requisite physical criteria, and whose place in the social hierarchy better approximates his own…”

GM: Lydia had tried to verbally wave away her daughter’s self-dismissals and reiterate Hazel’s many attractive qualities, but Harvey’s answer proved more memorable: “Maybe… maybe Troy is tired of the same bleach-blonde cheerleaders, maybe he’s looking for something, someone different… someone more.”

Hazel: Hazel could offer no refutation to that.

She had still tried to think of ways to prolong the conversation. Her parents had seemed happy, around each other. Anything to keep them talking and in a good mood. She had looked between them again and falteringly asked, “Well… what should I wear? I am uncertain if the occasion constitutes formal, semiformal, or casual, and I am similarly uncertain as to the choice of activity or venue…”

GM: Her parents had laughed in genuine happiness at Hazel’s queries and their atypical uncertainty.

“It’s like dancing,” Harvey had eventually said. “Let him lead with the night’s activities.”

“To a point,” her mother had added with the first hint of sternness, or perhaps resurgent parental worry. But then she had relaxed and said, “But like dancing, everyone always looks at what the girl’s wearing. How about you and I take off tomorrow, and I take you on a pre-Valentine shopping spree.”

Hazel: “Maybe we could all go. A male perspective would be useful too,” Hazel had added hopefully.
Anything to keep this happy moment between her parents going…

GM: There had been some discussion on that point, but Attila the Conquerer ultimately proved victorious. Hazel was allowed to play hooky–"Easier to guard the key," her father had mentioned mysteriously, and then all three of them had drove out to Coer d’Alene to go shopping. Lydia was all but gushing with glory as she used the date as an excuse to buy a plethora of well-heeled dresses for her chronically plain- if not homely-dressed daughter.

Hazel: Hazel’s dressing was better at seventeen than at her sweatpants-wearing fourteen. But there was still a ways to go. She beamed with happiness when the three of them all agreed to go out together. An entire day, of no fighting, just doing something nice together.

It felt like they were a family again.

She had offered at one point, “If you are concerned for my safety or anything untoward occurring, one of you could accompany us as a chaperon. I would not mind.” Her parents might found that sad, sweet, or both.

GM: The weirdness continued when sometime later, Harvey invited Troy to the Bauman family’s traditional Lutheran Feast of Saint Valentinus–but not at Lacewood. When Friday arrived, Hazel’s first date started as a double date at Sisyphus Manor, where she and Troy ate alongside a surprisingly congenial, if not affectionate, Lydia and Harvey.

Hazel: The evening of the dinner date, Hazel had dressed up in a strapless light purple gown picked out by her mom. Her parents might have been expecting her to be inflexible. But so long as it felt comfortable, she didn’t particularly mind what clothes she was in.


She elected not to wear her glasses—or rather, to just stow them away in her purse. Lydia tried to push wearing contacts. Hazel had squirmed. She’d never worn contacts before. That was too big and uncomfortable a change now. She proved similarly inflexible where footwear was concerned—but she refrained, that time, from enumerating at length the many health drawbacks inherent to her mother’s fashion choices.

But by the time of the dinner, the weirdness had dissipated. Her parents were together. Happy. For Valentine’s Day.

On a normal date, Hazel might have been hopelessly awkward and tripping over her own feet. But seeing her mom and dad like this was a dream come true. She all but beamed with happiness. As for Troy, her father had raised a very good point. Maybe he did want something more. And she was a highly intelligent, even attractive, as she bashfully admitted when her mom crooned over how she looked in the mirror, young woman. It wasn’t even that she felt safer and more confident around her parents. This date had to go well, for their date to go well.

She ‘tried’ to talk about less esoteric things like Shakespeare’s instead of John Dee’s writings (even self-congratulating herself for finding that ‘compromise’). And she might have knocked over the salt and pepper shakers without her glasses. But she wasn’t flustered. She glowed with smiles and laughter.

This was how I always wanted Valentine’s Day to be…

GM: Troy had seemed… surprised when Hazel had approached him in school on Thursday and publicly accepted his ‘key’, yet when he arrived later that evening at her home and saw Hazel transformed, his surprise was even greater–and clearly of the desirable kind. It was the first time anyone had ever really looked at her like that.

And as the evening progressed, first with a meal prepared by Lottie and Gramps and then later at a Nostrum-hosted holiday party for the town’s VIPs; including the mayor, superintendent, and hospital director; it had felt like dancing–or more properly, it had felt like how her father described dancing. Hazel was showered in compliments–and not the token praises she had been raised on whenever her mother had dragged her around to work parties.

Moreover, Troy perfectly framed her. He lifted her up, socially, facilitating flowing conversational transitions, supplementing Hazel’s comments on Shakespeare with evidence of the Baconian theory of authorship, courtesy of his senior thesis. He smoothed away her few faux pas, either literally catching something that the glassless-Hazel accidentally bumped or socially sweeping away a gaffe with a humorous anecdote of a literal pigskin fumble. Throughout it all, he never stole her spotlight but instead somehow brightened it.

He did, however, steal her parents’ hearts, as he swapped Kelpie football tales with Harvey and wooed Lydia with stories about his current internship at the credit union and plans to major in business at one of the three colleges that had accepted him. Far more importantly to Hazel, her parents had seemed re-smitten by each other. Perhaps they had only put on a show for Hazel’s date, but they smiled, laughed, and even danced together at the party.

Still, Hazel had been surprised when both of her parents decided to stay behind for the Nostrum after-party–and then promised to both see her later, likely “much later” that night at “home”. Together. “Don’t stay up waiting for us, dear,” Lydia had said, pressing her champagne-flushed cheek against her daughter’s in a parting kiss. Harvey had simply given Troy a good-natured thump on the shoulder, then spared a wink to Hazel before whisking away Lydia in his arms. The crowd had swallowed her parents, and a moment later, Troy had escorted ‘his Valentine’ outside and across the parking lot where his fire-red Mustang Cobra waited.

As these events replay in Hazel’s mind, the Falls High junior is struck by how the night air is as crisp as Lottie’s fried trout, and as cold as Gramps’ similarly flavored ice cream.

Hazel: It was like something out of a fairy tale. Everything that could have went right seemingly went right. Troy having a brain. The compliments on her looks. Him hitting off with her parents. Her parents hitting off with each other. Hazel had simply wanted to prolong their all-too rare moment of civility at first. But was it possible they were…?

She was just swept up enough in the fairy-tale evening to think that maybe, just maybe, it could be. She was a little nervous at first when her mom and dad left her alone. But everything else had gone so well. In hindsight, she would consider, it really was the perfect way to go on her first date: start out in a private setting with the boy and her parents, transition to something with more people, and finally leave them alone. She’d probably have been a wreck otherwise. But it went perfectly, like everything else.

She rubbed her arms in the cold. Her feet were sore too. After how well the dinner with her parents had gone… she’d finally bent and mumbled to her mom that okay, she could try wearing heels just for this outing. Nothing too high, and she’d bring a change of flats. Her feet were sore. But it felt worth it. It all did. And part of her was excited. Shakespeare was a good enough author, sure, but not a true passion of hers. If Troy had kept up with that, maybe they could even progress to talking about Crowley’s and Dee’s writings.

That isn’t the first thing on her mind, though. “I don’t know if you are aware, no, you probably are not, but my parents harbor great enmity for one another. That is to say, they hate one another,” Hazel quietly remarks once they’re outside. “Normally, that is. They’re divorced. But tonight was… this was the happiest I’ve seen them together in…”

She has to reach in her purse for a tissue. Her eyes are getting damp. It takes several fumbling tries without her glasses in the dark.

GM: Troy misses a step in the moonlight. “I didn’t know, Hazel,” he says softly, repositioning his lettered jacket across her otherwise bare shoulders in the cold air. “My folks are still married, but between you and me, sometimes I wish they weren’t.”

Above, the waxing moon shines like an egg.

Hazel: “It is a testament to how well they got on tonight that you did not,” Hazel observes. She frowns upon hearing that he wishes his own parents divorced. That’s nigh-inconceivable to her mind. “You desire them… separated? May I ask as to why?”

GM: While the rest of her surroundings are a blur, Hazel can still see–or at least imagine–the details of Troy’s handsome face lit by the glow of the surrounding parking lot lights. Her mother had described him as a ‘A tall drink of water’. Tonight, the senior’s dark, short hair is neatly parted and combed, and his green Witiko eyes, clean-shaved jaw, and pearlescent teeth reflect the waxing moon.

Hazel: Hazel tenses slightly as he drapes his jacket over her, but there fortunately isn’t any skin contact. That’s more tolerable. “And my thanks for the warmth, the temperature is cold and my attire insufficient to ward against it.”

GM: He opens the passenger door to his sports coupe for Hazel, then says with a slip of his smile, “The dress looks amazing–on you.”

Hazel: “Oh, why thank you,” Hazel replies. She still isn’t entirely used to getting compliments on her appearance, then ‘conversationally’ expounds, “My mom picked it out.”

GM: Troy smiles, then offers a hand to help Hazel step into the car. “Come on, it’s cold out here.”

Hazel: “Yes, that is an even better remedy,” she goes on, stalling for a second of time to brace herself against the physical contact. Her limp hand finally takes his.

On the other hand, she does appreciates the help. She’s not at all used to walking in heels, and the moment she’s seated in Troy’s car, she promptly pulls them off to massage her feet.

GM: While Troy closes her door and walks around to the driver’s side, Hazel’s foot massage is interrupted as her reaching fingers brush up against a slim book stuffed with dog-eared papers. Although nearly blind as the proverbial bat, the bookworm recognizes the book’s familiar size and binding. Raising it up into the parking lot light, she confirms her suspicions by the imprinted circle of the Ouroboros. It’s a copy of Arthur Waite’s translation of the Chemical Wedding–not the typical reading assignment by Coach Ross.

Troy hops into the car, blowing into a hand as he starts the ignition. “It’ll take a little while before the heat wakes up, but at least we’re not in the wind,” he says before turning to Hazel and finding her holding the book and its crammed-in stack of notes.

“Oh, sorry about that,” he apologizes, “It must have slid up from under your seat during the drive over.” He extends a hand to move the book. “She’s got a lot of horsepower, but not much space to stash stuff.”

“The car, that is,” he says with a weak smile.

Hazel: “This is the Chymische Hochzeit Christiani Rosencreutz anno 1459!” Hazel exclaims excitedly, all of her other thoughts immediately forgotten. She can’t believe he’d read a book like that. There’s so much we can talk about! “I am not normally one for ‘romances’,” she goes on, “but it’s my favorite of the three manifestos! There’s even just a wink to Dee slipped in, with his Monas Hieroglyphica! It is really is the perfect symbol, Dee wrote an entire book by the same name explaining the its full meaning and significance. It took me forever to track down a copy, which I can let you borrow if you haven’t read, it’s very good and will enhance your enjoyment of the Chymical Wedding. People say the Monas is esoteric but it’s actually quite easy to read, Dee breaks the contents down into a series of ‘theorems’ rather like chapters that are all quite short, especially the early ones. I even remember the first theorem, it’s that brief: ‘It is by the straight line and the circle that the first and most simple example and representation of all things may be demonstrated, whether such things be either non-existent or merely hidden under Nature’s veils’.”

GM: “Uh, sure…” Troy says, clearly not following a fourth of Hazel’s hypomanic de facto soliloquy.

Hazel: Hazel pauses in mid-stride at that. He kept up with her during the party, and he had The Chymical Wedding in his car, didn’t he?

“Ah, I am sorry, I had presumed this book was something you were reading.”

GM: Troy withdraws his extended hand, a bit thoughtful or perhaps utterly distracted as he puts his car into gear and begins driving out of the parking lot. “No, you’re right. I’m reading it, or better said, I’m trying to solve a riddle in it. If I don’t, I can’t… graduate. I’ve been working on it for, well, awhile. But I’ve only just begun reading the entire book, thinking there might be clues in it.”

He looks over at Hazel, only then remembering to turn on the heat. “So… you’ve read it?” He then laughs at the ridiculousness of his own question, given Hazel’s earlier gush of information.

Hazel: “Yes, when I was thirteen, it has been some years but it has remained my favorite ‘romance’ ever since,” Hazel answers, seemingly without notice of the question’s redundancy. She then frowns. “But why need you—do you have to, that is, solve its riddle? That is a very unusual graduation requirement.”

GM: Troy shrugs. “Growing up often gets weird.” He looks at Hazel again, surprise once again spreading on his face.

Hazel: “Please, I would hear more,” she continues. “If there is a class that assigns the Chymical Wedding as a reading, I have been remiss not to take it.”

GM: “It’s not a class, not really. It’s more of a… club.”

Hazel: “Ah, the Young Rosicrucians Club, no doubt. It had sounded interesting, but I am already in enough extracurriculars for my liking.”

GM: Troy smiles, but doesn’t outright confirm her hypothesis. Meanwhile, moonlight streams through the windshield as the snow-capped Bitterroot races past them in a rushing blur.

Troy’s smile only increases as he looks his date. “You know, Hazel, it’s a good thing you’re not a senior this year, because I know about three dozen would-be Nymphs that would die of envy seeing you in that dress.”

Hazel: Hazel feels a bit of red rising to her cheeks. Seeing her parents getting along so well wasn’t the only weird thing this evening. “That is very flattering.” It’s rather shorter than her previous soliloquy. “And I imagine many seniors consider it predestined that you will be the Satyr.”

“But in any case,” she goes on, returning the conversation to more familiar realms, “I can certainly help you in solving the riddle, that is hardly fair as a graduation requirement.” Hazel was never popular in school. But there were still occasionally times when classmates would be oddly nice to her. It usually preceded being asked for answers. Hazel Bauman might have been weird, but no one ever called her stupid.

GM: Troy’s handsome smile doesn’t fade as he replies, “Since I have a habit of never saying ‘no’ to a beautiful lady, I’ll accept your offer.” He then looks back to the road. “If you can read my chicken scratch, you can look over my notes to see what I’ve got, or think I’ve got, so far.”

Hazel: Hazel fishes through her purse and pulls on her glasses. “Turn on the lights, if you would please, that will make it easier to work.” And make it highly inconvenient to drive, but Hazel doesn’t drive.

GM: Troy reaches up and hits the dome light.

Hazel: Hazel flips through the book. “So, to start, do you have ‘I’ for the number of present lords?”
“Because it’s a Rosicrucian text, they mean ‘lord’ as in ‘God the Lord’—and so there may only be one.”

GM: “How did you know which riddle…” Troy speaks once again in surprise, but he glances over quickly and then tugs at out a worked over sheet of lined paper. “I think this is my current draft. It should have a picture of a floating eyeball with some–,” he begins, but then amends as he seems to remind himself with whom he’s speaking, “Look for the paper with the all–seeing–eye drawn in the right top corner.” Sure enough, Hazel finds the reference picture.

Hazel: “That’s the riddle for which the text is best-known,” Hazel answers absently as she pulls up the seeing-eye note.

GM: Hazel recognizes the copied image, which features a floating eye looking upward over a rocking field marked by a crumbling aqueduct and lean pyramid. It’s a reproduction of a woodcut from Kerver’s sixteenth century, Ori Apollinis niliaci, De sacris notis & sculpturis libri duo.However, the woodcut has been reversed horizontally–although Hazel can still easily read and translate the transversed Latin inscription at the bottom:Quo modo DeumThis is the way of God.


Hazel: She’d wondered—actually, hoped_—that her atheism was the reason Leo hadn’t invited her to join the invitation-only club.
That lack of invitation still bothered her pride._Troy is nicer than I expected, but he is hardly…!
Hazel brushes the petty thought aside to focus on his notes instead.

GM: While Troy drives, Hazel sees that Troy’s notes begin with the re-written riddle and subsequent clue. Below that, the Kelpie quarterback has written eight asterisk-like stars to represent the “eight Letters”, with their corresponding numbered positions listed sequentially below. Below that, Troy has listed parentheses to note letters that are noted as equal to another, that is the first and eighth letter as well as the fifth and seventh.

1= 2 3 4 5= 6 7= 8=
(8) (7) (5) (1)

Below that, Troy has written:3rd is the 3rd part of the 5th. There is some marginalia beside it, not all of which is legible, but Hazel’s own genius fills in the gaps. Indeed, Hazel has to admit that it’s is an incredibly clever device, and all the more surprising that Troy has grasped it, as she too believes that the first occurrence of the term ‘the third’ in the statement is actually referring to a fraction, as in one-third. Thus, if one-third is the ‘third part’ of the value, the value must be one, or “1/3+1/3+1/3” as Troy’s note states. The “fifth” in turn refers to the fifth letter position. So the 5th letter (and thus the 7th) has to be a 1!Exclaims Troy’s note, followed by someone else’s script that reads, The dead still speaks, to which Troy has seeming written LATIN, of course!!! and underlined three times.

Hazel: “Yes, this looks correct thus far. There are a multitude of Latin words whose second-to-last letters end in I, and whose preceding letter are preceded by another I,” Hazel remarks. She smiles upon seeing the note. “’Latin’s a language as dead as can be. It killed the Romans and now it’s killed me.’ My dad liked to quote that when I was learning it.”

GM: Troy laughs. “But you’re right, though,” he remarks. “I came at it mathematically, but theologically it stands to be ‘1’ or ‘I’, as divinity is both trinity and unitary. Unity. And the text, the Wedding, is esoteric but ultimately a Christian-themed treatise.”

Hazel: “Yes. And there is great significance in such ‘divides’. Wars have been fought over them,” Hazel replies seriously.

GM: Troy nods. “So I feel pretty solid about those two.” He taps to the next line.

* * * * I * I *
1= 2 3 4 5= 6 7= 8=
(8) (7) (5) (1)

Hazel: “Which added to the sixth will produce a Number…” Hazel murmurs. “Okay, that can be V. You add ‘I’ after ‘V’ to produce the first numbers in excess of three. It could also be X, but let’s make note of our assumption, proceed off of it, and see if it leads to a valid solution.”

GM: “That’s exactly that I thought too!” Troy exclaims with the enthusiasm of a homecoming touchdown pass. “Especially with the clue about the sixth letter position, the whole ‘make with the second as much as the sixth, which has just four more than the third tripled’. Man, it’s like this stuff has been drilled into my head.”

He shakes his head. “Anyways, the ‘third tripled’ is the Roman numeral I. So the sixth letter position will have ‘four more than the third tripled,’ which would be four plus one, or Roman numeral for five!” He taps the sheet, his finger forceful enough for Hazel’s leg to jostle. She sees the quarterback’s next major line:

* * * * I V I *
1= 2 3 4 5= 6 7= 8=
(8) (7) (5) (1)

Hazel also notes another piece of marginalia: Is math Adamic? Lingua universalis? The last word has been crossed out, replaced by universalus, then crossed out and replaced in turn by universus.

Hazel: “Not precisely,” Hazel answers in reply. “It arguably comes closer than any other language, certainly. But different cultures still teach math in different ways, vocabulary for the mathematical terms necessary to lend context to numbers still varies by language, and syntax of course can also vary by language.” She’s always been more of a humanities than numbers person. “But I digress. As to the next letter…”

GM: Troy blushes a bit at that. “Ah, yes, sorry, I tend to scribble stuff down as I work.” He coughs to clear his throat. “So I worked on the third letter position next. I was more comfortable with the math. Roots and all.”

Hazel: “Oh no, I certainly do not mind, it makes for more entertaining reading whether I agree or disagree,” Hazel offers. “And perhaps our partnership was a fortuitously fated one, for I am a student of the humanities first and foremost. I had actually been about to address the first and last letters, but please, expound.”

GM: Troy smiles once again genuinely if still with a surprise. “Well, I did wonder if it was a botanical or occult reference, perhaps some clue pointing to a real or mythical plant like the Tree of Pansophia the…”

Hazel: Hazel tries not to look too doe-eyed. I can’t believe I wound up with this guy!

“I believe the reference was numeric. But that is an… excellent line of thought.”

GM: “Yeah, but you’re getting this after months of me banging my head against that book and going through two whole notebooks. My last umpteenth drafts were like the second and third day of summer football camp,” he says, then laughs as he realizes his analogy likely isn’t relevant to his date.

“Anyways, so if I remember this next part, the riddle says that the ‘root will exceed the third by just the first.’ So that’s a little tricky, right, until you delineate it. So the root of four, that is, what we have as the result of the fifth and sixth letter positions, is ‘two’. But ‘the third’? I’m assuming that means the third letter position, not the fraction. And ‘the first’? That could be the first letter position too, but that way led to mathematical madness, or at least delineated dead-ends.”

Troy smirks and makes another turn along a dark stretch of roadway. “So, maybe the ‘first’ could mean the first Roman numeral of the fifth and sixth letter position combination, which after all, is the main topic for this part of the riddle. So stay with me, if this were true, then ‘the first’ would mean the Roman numeral ‘I’, right?”

Hazel: Hazel gives a largely blank look at the football reference, but then resumes their mathematical discourse with a frown. “The phraseology is highly ambiguous, yes, and could be taken to mean either the Roman numeral or the literal first number in the solution. I believe it to be…” She frowns in thought. “The numeral for two exceeds the numeral one by just itself. I and II. If we accept two as our solution, then checking our work, two is the root of four. And that would mean the third letter is… one.”

GM: Looking over Troy’s notes, Hazel sees a similar conclusion as she reads: x + 1 = 2, where x – unknown third letter position. Solve, and x = 1. Proof, vale of root = 2, 2 > 1 by 1, so x = 1 = I.

* * I * I V I *
1= 2 3 4 5= 6 7= 8=
(8) (7) (5) (1)

“Exactly!” Troy says again, his eyes replaying the math as much as watching the lonely road. “It fits perfectly.”

Hazel: “Okay, now for the first and the… actually,” she frowns, “we should pull over, we are getting quite engrossed in this. It is a small inconvenience against the risk of an accident.”

GM: Troy hesitates a second before replying, “We’re almost there. How about I shut up and let you read over my remaining math. Make sure I’m not missing something, like some how the white serpent relates to the Monas Hieroglyphica or something.”

Hazel: “Very well, that is an acceptable compromise,” Hazel answers. She stares back down at the notes.

GM: Flipping the note to the second half, she reads:

Half of the fourth. Problem: 4th letter position can’t equal twice the root. 2 x root = 4 or IV. Multiple letters in single position? Feels wrong. Too clunky.

To the side is another piece of marginalia written in another’s handwriting: Algebra transcends numbers. It transmutes letters. After which, Troy has scribbled, Alphabet? Alphanumerical order?

Hazel: “But are you certain you do not wish to pull over? You seem like you would like to continue the conversation, and I am certainly happy to, simply under safe conditions,” Hazel continues.

GM: “It’s okay,” Troy says more confidently. “We’re almost there. Read it over, and then let me know what you think. It’s the end part that I’m stuck on. My Latin is more undead than dead.”

Hazel: “Very well, I shall use the remaining moments to further… ah, alphabetical! Yes, that’s… I am breaking my word, I shall be silent,” Hazel replies as she stares back down towards the notes.

GM: The next part reads, Idea: placement of alphabet characters as a solution? Root is 2, so letter B is 2nd letter in alphabet. Root of 2 = half of solution, solution = 2x, or the fourth letter of the Roman alphabet. What’s the fourth letter in Roman alphabet?

Hazel: Hazel has a multitude of thoughts, but true to her word, she remains silent until the drive’s end.

GM: To the side, Troy has written, What does D stand for? Super Bowl, no go.

Hazel: “D is the Roman numeral for 500,” she states, immediately breaking that word.

GM: Troy all but punches the steering wheel. “I knew it! Well, I mean, I obviously didn’t know, but I suspected. That it was a number.”

Hazel: “Yes, the larger ones are less known, but they parallel the smaller ones. Just as the sequence of ’I’s turns into V at five—well, technically four—so too is a new numeral introduced at 50.”

GM: He shakes his head. “Five hundred, so that means…”

Hazel: “L is 50, C is 100, M is 1000,” Hazel recites.

GM: Troy trails off and chuckles. “I guess I don’t win many points with you if I admit I learned most of my Roman numerals from watching the Super Bowl.”

Hazel: “I am afraid not,” Hazel says dryly. “My dad inherited all the sports love in the family.”

GM: Troy stalls as another car’s headlights coming the other way flashes their high-beams and honks madly.

Hazel: “Watch where you’re driving!” Hazel abruptly shouts, though it sounds mostly directed at the other driver. She un-tenses after a moment, then says by way of explanation, “Road safety is important to me. I was in a crash when I was little.”

GM: “I’m sorry, Hazel. Is that why–” Troy starts to say, but then is cut off by another oncoming car she vaguely remembers. It too flashes its headlights and honks loudly. The driver’s side window is down, allowing the male driver to be heard screaming and flailing a half-full but swiftly emptying beer can. “DROWN ’EM DEEP!”

Hazel: Hazel yells and clamps her ears against the noise. She didn’t expect that. Doesn’t like that.

GM: Troy swerves slightly at the blinding high-beams, but he maintains control over the road–a road which for the first time, Hazel realizes is nowhere near her home or the town.

Hazel: “This is not the road to my house!” Hazel exclaims in sudden alarm. The near-collision already has her on edge. “What are your intentions?!” she demands.

Instinctive panic at the noise, the swerve, the abrupt and totally unexpected change wells in her breast, but she forces it down through sheer will. This is not the time to lose her head.

GM: “Shit,” Troy curses quietly, but still continues driving–to some unknown, to Hazel at least, destination. “Hazel… I’m sorry, I haven’t been… I haven’t been fully honest with you.” He grits his teeth. “Shit. I didn’t mean… I don’t want to hurt you.”

Hazel: “Stop. The car.” The panic in her voice is gone. The ‘alpha bitch’ who would do her mom proud is all-too present as her gray eyes bore into his like irons.

GM: “I can’t…” Troy starts to say. “I mean, it’s not safe, there’s no shoulder. Look, Hazel, we’re almost at the Cottage.”

Hazel: She doesn’t blink at any of the ‘buts’. “Pull over and explain—NOW, or you could just have the Sheriff’s Department and an army of lawyers on your ass!”

GM: The Kelpie quarterback, though clearly flustered and ashamed, doesn’t fumble his control of the car. Not yet at least. Instead, he cements his eyes to the road and responds in a half-gritted if quasi–calm voice, “You have every right to be mad, Hazel, and you can threaten and scream at me all you like, but I’m not pulling over. There’s no shoulder. Look.”

Hazel: “What is a should—never mind,” the non-driving teenager dismisses, though the iron in her eyes no less hard. “And I do not threaten—I promise. Now tell me. What is going on here, and why are you not taking me home!”

GM: “Hazel, look around.” True to Troy’s words, the thin path is more trail than road, bereft of shoulders, much less asphalt. The path is overgrown, hedged in by thickets of trees and deep winter snow banks.

Hazel: “I trusted you! You… my parents adored you! You even got them to stop fighting!” Her voice breaks towards the end, pain finally leaking in through her anger.

GM: “I’M SORRY! I’M A FUCKING JERK, A FRAUD, AND I’M SORRY!” Troy yells back, his calm finally shattered.

“I didn’t give you my key,” he says, more deflated than angry now. “It was a dare.”

Hazel: “It… what?” Hazel chokes. “Then why did you say…?”

GM: “I’m… I’m sorry, Hazel. I didn’t know… I didn’t know that it would be… I didn’t know you… didn’t know it would be you…”

Hazel: She blinks in confusion. “What… do you mean you didn’t know, I asked y… I said you…”

GM: He sucks in a deep breath, his hands clenched white on the wheel, even as a low-hanging branch scraps the roof. “I was dared to give up my key, and then go with whoever the Left-Handers gave it to.”

Hazel: Hazel grows very silent.

GM: “I didn’t know they would pick you… I didn’t know that you were… I didn’t know until you found me in school, earlier today.”

Hazel: Her next words are hoarse. “That’s all this was. A… a joke.”

GM: “No!” Troy yells, though not nearly as loudly as before. “No, I mean, yes, but not all of this. I meant… I meant everything I said.”

Hazel: “My parents. They… were so happy…” Hazel croaks. “That I was finally going on a date…”

GM: “Bastards…” Troy whispers to the cold wind outside.

Hazel: But that iron edge isn’t overlong in returning. With her glasses back on, she looks a lot more like the Hazel Bauman he’s used to seeing, but still halfway stuck between the school daily reality and tonight’s fantasy in her evening gown. “If you meant everything, why did you not alert me that you were driving to the Fairbairn Cottage? What are your present intentions?”

GM: He sighs. “To complete the dare, we need to carve our initials in one of the old Fairbairn Cottage logs. I was hoping to drive out, carve them, and then take you straight home. That’s it.”

Hazel: “And what possible reason, I ask you, do I have to ever want to do such a thing?” Hazel scoffs.

GM: “None now,” he says bitterly.

Hazel: Her voice doesn’t quaver again so much as drift halfway off. “I… when I saw you reading the Chymical Wedding, I thought… this had to be a dream come true…”

Hazel looks out the window. She can’t find anything else to say. Her first date. Her parents’ happiness. All just a joke. No one would ever ask her on a real date.

She feels like crying.

It all feels tainted. The talk with her parents. That happy day spent shopping. The dinner. All the compliments she got from everyone at the party. All of it, fake.

“When was it?” she abruptly asks, and when she does her voice comes out a sob. “When did I stop being Hazel the weirdo, Hazel the martian, Hazel the retard—I know that’s what they all call me—and start being a human being?”

GM: Troy is quiet for a moment, as if allowing Hazel’s stinging words to soak in his own self-recrimination. The car rolls to stop in clearing before he turns to Hazel, his handsome face cast silver by the lopsided moon.

“When your dad let me in… before you came downstairs, I was looking at your family pictures. There was a picture of you, as a little girl, about eight or so, and you were reading a book in a boat while your grandfather was asleep.”

Hazel: Past her glasses, Hazel’s eyes are starting to water, staining the makeup that her mom had so carefully applied earlier that evening. She remembers trying to sit still amidst repeated flinches, squirms, and half-protests, half-apologies of, “I’m sorry, Mom, it just feels weird,” in response to the ticklish and unfamiliar brush. Her hair’s probably loose, after her earlier flailing, and the painful shoes she wore at the party are since kicked off. The fantasy evening is fast unraveling like Cinderella’s gown at the stroke of midnight.

She feels a flush of shame, suddenly, that she needed her mom to do her makeup. That she squirmed and flinched so many times. Normal girls aren’t like that. None of this was her. She was delusional, thinking she could ever have an evening like this.

GM: He turns and gazes out the window. “I’ll take you home. Fuck them, and fuck me. You deserve better. So much better.”

Hazel: “Why?” she asks, almost bitterly. “The only people who say that are my mom and dad. I’ve still never been asked out on a date. A real date. I still don’t have any friends. If I dropped dead one day no one outside my family would even care.”

No. There’s no ‘almost’ in that bitterness.

GM: Troy inhales sharply though his nose and slides a solitary hand across the steering wheel. “Because you are who you are. You’re brilliant. You make smart look dumb as bricks. And you love your parents. Maybe more importantly, you are who you are. You didn’t become somebody else because you put on a gorgeous dress. The dress just allowed us to see you. We’re the ones who are fucking blind. We’ve grown so used to wearing masks and costumes, that we don’t know what a real person looks like anymore.”

Hazel: The uncorked font of venom and self-loathing is just as abruptly cut short by Troy’s powerful words. Hazel says nothing for a moment as they replay in her head, stammers, then finally mumbles, “Everyone loves their parents. Everyone with… good parents, anyway.”

GM: “Maybe, or maybe good parents are as rare as good dogs in these woods. Maybe that’s why most of us are monsters…”

Hazel: “You’re not a… it’s not that simple. My parents, they… they hate each other. And you at least came clean. You’re not a Mackenzie.” Hazel isn’t sure what she’s getting at. Whether she’s protesting. Agreeing. Trying to make some point. Looking for a point to make.

“You said it was… the Left-Handers who put you up to this?” She sounds more puzzled than anything else. “I thought if anyone would, it would be her clique of friends.”

GM: Troy runs a hand over his face. “Mackenzie’s dating Dean, so I don’t know.”

Hazel: “Well, neither do I, clearly.” Hazel rarely uses hand gestures, but her next words and tone sound as if she is dismissing the matter as unimportant. “What happens if you don’t fulfill the terms of this dare, anyway?”

GM: “You don’t need to worry about that,” Troy says. “You didn’t deserve any of this. Let me drive you home, or if you want, I can take you back to your parents and apologize.”

Hazel: “Perhaps not, but I have asked. Call it scientific curiosity. What happens?”

GM: Outside, faint wisps of snow start to fall from the sky. Most are caught by the canopy of pine boughs, but a few thread through the trees and land on the heat-warmed windshield, where they melt and roll down glass like tears.

“You choke on a dare and you’re out. Means I take shit, lose respect, and maybe some prissy chicks and douchebags make it their life’s mission to throw the ‘king’ off the hill.”

Hazel: Hazel looks out the window and sighs. “Well, it’s starting to snow. We might as well go out and carve our names before it gets too much colder.”

GM: Troy shakes his head slowly. “Hazel… I don’t want… I can’t ask you to… you’ve done enough. I’ve done enough.”

Hazel: Her voice starts to harden again. “I’m NOT happy you took me on a date under false pretenses, don’t get me wrong. As intended jokes go, that was incredibly cruel.”

“But it was far more so, I think, than you initially realized, and by the time you did, there was no readily tenable way to back out. There is something to be said for coming clean rather than drawing things out and breaking my heart later.” She pauses, then sighs again. It’s a soft and almost wistful sound.

“And far more saliently… you made my parents incredibly happy together. At least for a night. I wish I could see them like that all the time.” She reflexively dabs at her eyes, but her fingers cone away dry. “You have no idea how much.”

“I hope it’ll last. It probably won’t, if I’m being realistic. But when it did, it… made me happy too. And so did the date. Even if it was fake. It was… still my first. That’s at least one thing I’ve gotten off my chest, I suppose.”

A glare starts to emerge on her features. “And when your ‘friends’ in the Left-Handers ask how the dare went, I want you to tell them the truth.”

GM: Troy’s face tightens, but he listens, not wanting to interrupt his ‘date’.

Hazel: “I want you to tell them how you saw pictures of me with my grandpa, and realized I was a human being, not just a freak. You thought I looked gorgeous, hit off with my parents, and showed me a wonderful time. Then when you came clean out of guilt, and told me everything, I carved my name onto the cabin anyway. And they won.”

That same iron from earlier is boring past her slate-hued eyes.

“I think that should nicely teach them just how small and petty their little ‘dare’ is. Let them go ahead and laugh then. Maybe with a little luck it’ll even shame them out of pulling a hoax like that on anyone else.” She snorts. “Maybe it’ll even make them better human beings, but that’s probably a Hail Mary.”

GM: Troy regards her with a surprised smile once again stealing over his face. “You know, Hazel, maybe you should try out for the football team. Beyond looking good in a lettered jacket, I have a feeling you’d be the meanest, toughest lineman the Kelpies have ever had.”

Hazel: “I am my mother’s daughter,” Hazel replies with a smile that’s at once grim, fierce, and even, oddly, cheerful. “And I rather suppose my father’s, if the football spirit is any indication.”

GM: “Well then, before tonight’s through–,” Troy says with another pearlescent smile, “–remind me not to kiss you without both your and your parents’ permission.” He then motions off to a desolate stretch of the woods, “Shall we?”

Hazel: “I believe that permission was implicit in my father’s wink. But yes. Let us.” She digs out the change of flats she brought along in her (roomy) purse.

GM: “Well if my math isn’t too rusty, that only leaves two to go,” he replies with a wink of his own. “Speaking of math, may I?” he says, referring to the alchemical ‘romance’ and notes still sitting in her lap.

Hazel: “Ah yes, of course. You may lift them without intruding upon my personal space.”

GM: “Duly noted,” he says, retrieving the items, only to grab a pencil from a cubby beneath the cupholders. “Just going to try something real quick,” he says in explanation. “So if D equals 500…” he muses out loud as he checks the math against the riddle, “Yes…. yeah, it works. Which only leaves the first, second, and eighth…” He sticks the pencil in his mouth, then uses both hands to rifle through his other notes and dog-eared book pages. “H-mre!” he mumbles, finding a note.

Hazel: Hazel looks over the notes, then abruptly says, “Avidivia.”

GM: Taking the pencil out of his mouth, he arches a brow. “Huh?”

Hazel: “Second guess is acclivia. For the solution,” she explains.

GM: “Walk me through that?” he asks gently. He in turn points to a note. “Because, when it says ‘the last and the first are also equal, and make the second as much as the sixth hath’, that can be expressed mathematically as, two times x plus y equals five, where x equals the unknown value of the first and eighth letter positions, and y equals the unknown value of the second position. And their sum equals the sixth letter, which we’ve determined is the Roman numeral for five. Or V.”

He then flips through several other pages that have been heavily crossed out in places and scribbled over. “And that means…” He starts to make another note on his main paper. “…the only combination that allows three Roman numerals, of single characters, to add up to the Roman Numeral V or value of five is zero plus zero plus five. Given that the first and eighth letter positions have to be equal, they must be zero, which makes the second letter position another V. So… if we say a zero is the shape of an O, we get OVIDIVIO… what does that mean? Is that even a word? Ovid was a Roman poet, right? Or writer at least.”

Hazel: “Ovidivio is close,” Hazel agrees. “And from a mathematical standpoint, it is correct. Mostly, at least. But not quite. The Roman numeral system does not contain a zero. And now,” she smiles, “we must turn away from math and towards the humanities.”

“Ovidivio is not a valid Latin word. There are several Latin words it approximates, but only if we are willing to dismiss Latin tense and declension, and savagely maul the rules of grammar in so doing. Furthermore, consider the context of the riddle: it is posed to Christian Rosenkreuz by a female virgin. Odividio is a distinctly masculine name. But as to why we should specifically use ‘a’… this is a Christian text, so let us consider Jesus’ words in the New Testament: ‘I am the alpha and the
omega, the first and the last.’”

“The Greek Alpha and Roman “A,” are the first characters in both respective alphabets. Indeed, the Greek answer to this riddle in the edition I read is actually ‘Alethinia’, which means ‘truth’. It is also an attractive name in its own right, but I digress. The Greek character for ‘omega’ is, rather appropriately enough, the last letter in the Greek alphabet. In Latin, however, the Greek character of ‘omega’ is transcribed as the Roman letter ‘O.’ This clue could suggest the substitution of the Roman equivalent of ‘omega’ with the first alphabet character from either alphabet."

Hazel’s eyes re-skim Troy’s notes. “So, we simply replace ‘o’ with ‘a’. Avidivia. Now, it is true that the Roman letter A does not have a numeric value in Roman numerals. But remember the clue ‘the last and the first are also equal, and make with the second as much as the sixth hath.’ The lack of numerical value of the Roman letter A means that it has no numeric relevance, or therefore, a value of zero. Because of this, the above statement still holds true: the first, second, and eighth letter positions equal the sixth letter position. Or in this case,” Hazel takes up the pencil and starts scrawling onto a blank spot of the paper,

A (0) + A (0) + V (5) = V (5).

“Now,” she continues, “let us check our work…”

“‘My Name contains five and fifty, and yet hath only eight Letters’.
True, 8 total letters, V (5) & D (500) occupy positions, ‘500’ contains ‘50’.
‘The third is the third part of the fifth’
True, the 5 th position is Roman numeral I, or,” Hazel scrawls down, “1/3+1/3+1/3.”

“‘Which added to the sixth will produce a Number.’
True, the 6 th position is V, which combined with I is the Roman numeral IV (4).
‘Whose root shall exceed the third it self by just the first.’
True, 2 is the root of 4, and 2 exceeds the third letter position of I, and the first character in IV by just itself.
‘And it is the half of the fourth.’
True, the 4 th letter position is D, which is fourth in the alphabet, twice that of the root value 2, or B, in alphabet placement.
‘Now the fifth and the seventh are equal.’
True, both the Roman numeral I.
‘The last and the first are also equal.’
True, but the O is replaced by the A, which becomes numerically irrelevant, or zero.
‘And make with the second as much as the sixth hath.’
True,” Hazel scribbles down again, “A (0) + A (0) + V (5) = V (5).”

“‘Which contains just four more than the third tripled.’
True, the 6 th position is V (5), which equals 4+1/3+1/3+1/3.
‘The seventh contains (said she) as many as there are Lords here.’
True, there is just one (I) Lord in Christianity.”

Hazel sets down the pencil and looks up. “‘Avidi’ is a form of the Latin word ‘avidus’, and means desire, greed, or longing. The tense could be either genitive singular (possessive) or most likely the nominative plural. Avidi can be translated as ‘the eager ones.’ Via, in turn, is a Latin word with various meanings and nuances, such as road, street, path, or ‘the way,’ and is presented as either the nominative singular or ablative singular. The Romans occasionally used the word via metaphorically, as in a spiritual path or way. Use of the specific combined term of ‘Avidi Via’ can therefore be roughly translated as, ‘The path of a person (or men and women) of desire.’”

Hazel’s features downturn slightly in a frown. “It is worth noting that I have not encountered ‘avidivia’ as a specific phrase in any Latin texts I have read. Nevertheless, it is also worth noting that the Latin construction of names allowed considerable license, and that the term originated in 1616 CE—that is, when the Chymical Wedding was first published—not in traditionally surveyed classic Latin literature. The name is consistent with the esoteric image of feminine holy wisdom, or Sophia, as being the guiding path of men and women of desire.”

“All things told, ‘avidivia’ certainly does not have the same connotations as ‘alethinia’, while seems altogether more appropriate to a Rosicrucian text. Nevertheless, it meets all the mathematical, linguistic, and thematic requirements demanded in puzzle. And I rather suppose,” she adds more dryly, “that given the frankly esoteric nature of the revelation, the initial reason for willful obfuscation now becomes readily apparent. Even if it perhaps remains twice as ironic in Greek. But Uncle Leo loves his Latin.”

“Acclivia…” she murmurs thoughtfully. “That could be a valid answer to the puzzle, if you were to re-arrange a few of the initial components… in fact, it would be a fascinating thought exercise to try and translate the puzzle into another language.” She then asks thoughtfully, “Do you know any Japanese?”

GM: Troy hastily transcribes Hazel’s explanation, both in its process and outcome, jotting down the Latin and theosophical knowledge that flows so swiftly and puissantly from Hazel’s lips. He follows along with her, confirming each step of their ‘proof’, growing all the more excited as each portion of the riddle is confirmed.

Her final query rocks his mental balance, but he literally shakes off the seemingly tangential rabbit hole with a twist of his neck. “No, just a little bit of French, and evidently not nearly enough Latin. But Avidi Via, what does that mean? I know you said it means ‘the path of the eager ones’, but what do you think that means?”

Hazel: “Let us start by considering these ‘eager ones’. They are eager to either have something, or to do something. So tell me, Young Rosicrucian, what does the order your club emulates ultimately desire?”

GM: Snow continues to cascade fitfully between the night-blackened trees. Troy regards the fragile crystals melting on his car’s blood-red hood. “They could also be eager to become something,” the Kelpie quarterback says.

Hazel: “That may also be the case.” Hazel considers for a moment. "Pupils in the Lectorium Rosicrucianum are said to undergo a practical spiritual path that gives their lives meaning. The starting point for this path is the divine spark within man, the divine nucleus that the Rosicrucians refer to as the “Rose of the heart”."

“Yes… for them to ‘become something’ makes the most sense of all. The Rosicrucians ultimately seek to undergo a transfiguration or metamorphosis of the soul. They desire the awakening of a new spiritual awareness, as originally described by John in the New Testament: ‘I must decrease; the other in me must increase.’ The immortal ‘other’ is not at home in this world of opposites and antithesis, rather it originates out of a higher nature order. That order is the field of true life which exists completely outside the bounds and restraints of the material life we know, and the shadow-like life on the other side, where the dead follow a process of dissolution between incarnations. The higher nature order is beyond this. It is the world of the spirit-soul, the original creation. Whoever experiences this experiences a recognition of God, the Gnosis, within themselves.”

Hazel trails off as she realizes she’s fallen into lecture mode.“The… grossly simplified version is that they are ‘eager’ to attain Gnosis so that they might be closer to God. Let us not forget that their beliefs have Hermetic as well as Christian roots.”

Hazel almost asks then if Troy believes in God. Not being invited into Uncle Leo’s exclusive club stung her pride. In 1998 she’d be more likely to shrug it off. But to the then-17-year-old whose nigh-sole source of esteem was her intelligence and erudition, it stung indeed. She’d hoped it was simply her lack of belief in God that disqualified her, but she’d never been able to confirm that. And so it stung and stung.

But somehow, after tonight, it really doesn’t seem to matter as much.

“Hopefully that answer is clarifying to you,” Hazel continues. “Now come, those initials aren’t going to carve themselves.”

Hazel: The night has been significantly whittled and chopped away like the Scold’s logs by the time Troy’s car pulls away from Sisyphus Manor. Notwithstanding, her parents have not yet returned home. Having been told to expect that leaves the then-junior comfortable enough, and she waves as the Mustang’s headlights recede into the falling snow. Heading inside, Hazel curls up on the living room couch, turns on a lamplight, and reads a book until she hears her mom and dad get home. She could change into pajamas, but opts to simply kick off her shoes and keep on her gown from earlier. Her parents, and mother especially, had seemed really happy at seeing her dressed up.

Perhaps even as happy as she’ll be seeing them come home together.

GM: Yet, as the hours unravel, that hope is stretch thin and threadbare, leaving her heart chilled as her bare shoulders in the drafty house. Still, Hazel’s unrelenting drive if not sheer stubbornness rejects the enticing call of her bed’s warm comforter and sleep’s soft embrace. Occasionally, she hears the things in the attic scratching and scurrying, just as gusts of unbroken wind buffet old gothic windows that slowly rime with frost.

Hazel’s vigil is not fully in vain, though, as she spots an unfamiliar vehicle pull into the manor’s circular driveway. Lydia steps out, alone and seemingly all-too small against the backdrop of darkness. Clutching her cashmere coat to her throat, she braces against the hilltop wind and makes the lonely climb up the remaining lawn. Hazel hears her mother’s shoes stomp hard twice on the groaning porch, then work the lock with her keys to open the front door. A cold gust all but blows Lydia inside, and she has to shove hard to close the door, which she promptly locks.

“Damned hill and house,” she mutters to herself before she turns around and sees Hazel waiting for her, alert and awake. She startles a bit from the unexpected surprise, but then puts on a smile. “Oh, Hazel, I didn’t see you, dear.” She regards the book in her daughter’s lap. “Have you been… waiting all this time?”

Hazel: Hazel sets it down as she takes her mother’s arrival fully in. This… was not what she’d been expecting. She’d admitted to Troy that her parents’ seeming reconciliation probably wouldn’t last forever, but she had expected it to at least last the night. “Well, I didn’t feel tired, and I’d have been reading anyway…” She’s only one sentence in before she realizes she’s rambling. She trails off and then asks quietly, “Where’s Dad?”

They said they’d see her later. At home. Both of them. They’d promised.

GM: Lydia does not immediately answer as she joins Hazel in the sitting room. Still dressed in her snow-flecked cashmere coat, she folds herself on the edge of a plum-colored settee diagonal her daughter. Whether whipped by the winter winds or blushed by wine, Lydia’s flush cheeks stand out against her otherwise pale skin and contrasting black hair that has lost much of its curl. Her lips purse, then she answers softly, “Harvey had to leave the party early, but he will be here in the morning to give you a ride to school. That is, if you want to go.” Lydia glances at her daughter’s ‘night-time reading’ as well as her still–worn dress. Her eyes swim with thoughts, but she contents herself to reel in only one, for now.

“But I believe the real question at hand is how was your date.”

Hazel: “It sounds like that’s a bit of a story. My evening was too.” She looks at her mom for a moment, and is about to remark tomorrow is a Saturday before she belatedly realizes the woman just trudged up a long snowy hill. “Would you like to share in my blankets’ warmth? I am sure you are cold, and they have absorbed much of my body heat.”

True to her word, Hazel has cocooned herself underneath the comforter brought out from her bedroom, as well as the weighted blanket that Dr. Reiter once recommended to help reduce her anxiety. A third and final blanket is draped over her once-bare shoulders like a shawl so that she can still read. Between those warming layers and the fireplace she turned on, Hazel had struggled not to fall asleep.

But she’d stayed up. So that she could see her parents. And it’s not lost that Mom isn’t calling him ‘your father’.

GM: “Perhaps in a bit, dear,” her mother says with a smile that seemed poised on a razor’s edge. “So?”

Hazel: “Well, the tale is somewhat long in the telling, and I do not wish you to remain cold.”

GM: “Most worthwhile stories are,” Lydia relates. “But don’t fret about me. I want to look at you a bit longer. I’ll be over soon enough.” She does unfold her arm and glances into the flames. “I do love a good fire.”

Hazel: Hazel pulls off her remaining blankets so that her mom can fully see her. As with during her date with Troy, her hair and makeup are somewhat mussed, and she’s kicked off her shoes and pulled on her glasses so that she can read. But she’s pleased that she was right about her parents evidently still wanting to see her dressed up.

“Yes, direct vent fireplaces are considerably more safe and efficient than conventional wood-burning ones,” she agrees.

GM: Lydia’s widening smile sidesteps Hazel’s remark, as her maternal eyes only see her daughter still mostly transformed by her evening attire and makeup. “Usually, youth is wasted on the young, but some nights are exceptions.”

However, her eyes narrow slightly as she sees something. Rising and stepping forward, she plucks a small pine twig from Hazel’s tresses. She arches a brow. Her smile doesn’t fade, though it does return to its knifepoint edge.

Hazel: “I am pleased to hear further validation that I am exceptional,” Hazel smiles back.
Recognizing that look, she continues, “There is an explanation for the pine. In any case, things started off very promisingly. I found that he had a copy of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz in his car!” Hazel still can’t entirely keep the exuberance out of her voice. “That’s a classic Rosicrucian text, it seemed like we had so much in common…”

“There’s a famous mathematical and linguistic puzzle in it he needed to solve as a graduation requirement—yes, that does sound very strange—I’ll have to share it with you, it’s a very clever intellectual challenge—but regardless…”

GM: As Hazel begins to relate her story, Lydia sits down at the edge of sofa, her knees turned to and touching Hazel’s as she regards her daughter.

Hazel: Hazel doesn’t mind that contact. She’d pull away from most anyone else, but not from her mom. She goes on to describe the remainder of their evening, up to their arrival in the Fairbairn Cottage, in its entirety. Her sharp memory leaves out few details. Troy’s initial inability to understand her soliloquy about Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica. His repeated compliments on how she looked and the envy she’d inspire in would-be Nymphs. How he’d initially solved two of the puzzle’s letters. Her typical agitation at the drunk driver yelling ‘drown ’em deep!’, and near-panic attack when she realized they weren’t driving home. The next portion of their conversation she initially recites all but word-for-word, but then decides to compress. There’s no need to prolong her mom’s distress describing her own.

GM: As Lydia listens to the tortuous tale, she tries to keep a neutral mask, but occasionally it slips. This is her daughter after all.

Hazel: Instead, she gets to the ‘good part’—what she ultimately decided to do about the would-be pranksters.

GM: Lydia listens attentively, if quietly, save for a few ‘I see’s and ‘go on’s.

Hazel: Troy’s preceding words, too, about why she deserved better. Those she indelibly remembers.

GM: Lydia’s mask once again slips at that telling, and her smile is bittersweet as she brushes a lock of Hazel’s hair between her aged fingers. “Oh Hazel,” she breathes, her eyes rimming but not yet overflowing.

Hazel: “So I suppose the fairy tale had to came rather back down to earth,” Hazel grants. Her voice had started to break a bit at some parts of the story, but the retelling wasn’t so great an emotional rollercoaster as the reality. “But I have to say that I was rather flattered by the ‘meanest, toughest lineman the Kelpies have ever had’ compliment.” She smiles. “My response to that was ‘I am my mother’s daughter’.”

GM: Lydia’s tears fall like the melting snow on Troy’s windshield. She saddles closer to her daughter, not quite embracing her, but holding her hands both fiercely and gently. “Oh, Hazel, dear, you are so special. If people only knew. You’re a miracle! Someday, you will find someone who truly sees you for who you are. And when that day comes, I hope that he’ll help you see how exceptional and special you truly are. So much so that you can’t not believe it.”

Hazel: “Oh, Mom, I didn’t mean to make you cry…” Hazel cuts in.

GM: Lydia sniffles back a tear, but another slips down her other cheek. “I’m okay, Hazel. Remember that crying isn’t always bad.”

Hazel: “Oh, that is right. Tears of joy.” Hazel tries to put on a more confident smile. It might be a little worn, but the feeling is more than there. “And I know I’m exceptional. Some of my words were simply spoken in a typical fit of teenage self-loathing.”

GM: “You’re my billion dollar baby.” She squeezes Hazel’s hands, lovingly.

Hazel: “And, yes… I don’t think Troy and I are going to wind up in a relationship. But… I am pleased to have taught the Left-Handers a lesson, and maybe even made a friend.”

GM: This time it’s her mother that’s quoting the bard. “And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”

Hazel: Hazel smiles at that, but goes on, “And… hearing that Troy wanted his parents divorced, much less considered good parents to be rare, was a bit of an eye-opener, too.” She pauses thoughtfully. “I suppose like anything else one is accustomed to, it’s easy to take for granted. And I do…” Even then, the admission still isn’t completely comfortable to the self-conscious teenager. “I do sometimes wish I had more friends… but if I had to choose between you, Dad, and few friends, or lots of friends and no parents… I know I wouldn’t even consider it a choice. So maybe I’ve actually gotten the better end of the deal.”

Hazel doesn’t initiate a hug. But she does lean her head against her taller mother’s shoulder as she murmurs, “I love you, Mom. So much.”

GM: Lydia leans her own head down upon her daughter’s. “As I love you, Hazel.” She then braves a hug. “I’ve always loved you, ever since the doctors finally let me hold you with all your ten toes and ten fingers. Warts, wrinkles, and all, I’ve always loved you–and I always will, no matter what, where, or when.”

A sound somewhere between a sigh and a laugh escapes her lips. She holds Hazel still, but leans back a little to look down at her daughter. “But you know what else?”

Hazel: Hazel initially stiffens at the hug, like she usually does. But like she usually does, it doesn’t stop her from squeezing her mom back. “What’s that?”

GM: “As far as first dates go, I think yours–for all its warts, wrinkles, and all–went better than most. Why, my first date was with Baxter Biggels. How about that name? All the neighborhood girls teased Baxter, saying he was Jewish because he had black, curly hair. Regardless, Baxter took me to the Kream Kastle Malt Shop. Spelled with two ’k’s, which I never understood, nor did I ever learn why its mascot was a pig. I mean, cream and castle are both spelled with ’c’s, and it certainly wasn’t pigs’ milk in their shakes, or I certainly hope not.”

“Anyways, so there was Baxter and I, sitting at the counter, and he ordered us a giant milkshake with two straws. Now, as a girl that just barely learned how to put on a bra, I thought that was scandalously delicious, especially since Baxter gave a whole two dollar tip with his hard-earned lawnmowing money. But somewhere between sip number two and too many, I got a terrible brain freeze. It took everything I had to keep focusing on smiling, laughing at the right times, and just generally being perfect and pretty, then one of the times, when I leaned down, I missed my straw–and it went right up my nose.”

“Well, Baxter thought that was so funny, he laughed so hard that milkshake came out of his nose and all over our milkshake. Sharing didn’t seem too delicious after that. Good thing, too, or who knows, maybe you would have been Hazel Biggels, hmmm?”

Hazel: That moment of hilarity seems to echo across the decades as Hazel gives an abrupt half-guffaw, half-shriek of amusement.

GM: Her mother smiles.

Hazel: She takes a breath to calm herself, but still laughs out, “Up your… Mom, I can hardly pic… and Baxter Biggels, what kind of a stupid name… Biggels. I mean… it sounds like how a toddler might try to say ‘big’…”

GM: Lydia laughs herself, unfettered and free as a young preteen heading to a malt shop. She then leans in, glancing around the empty house, and whispers conspiratorially, “Well, between you and me, Mr. Baxter had quite the cheeks.” She adds with a wink, “His dimples weren’t too bad, either.”

Hazel: It takes Hazel a moment to connect the mental dots. “Fate dealt him a pitying hand to make up for his name.”

GM: Lydia seems to chuckle in agreement.

Hazel: She doesn’t actually look around the empty house, but she does add in what she would later mentally chide herself for being a pointlessly low voice, “Troy and I did kiss, to end the date. After our earlier talk, I did not feel under any great pressure to perform, which was… helpful. He even let me gather myself for a few moments to physically and mentally prepare for the unfamiliar sensation.”

GM: “And…?” her mother asks with an impish expression. “How was that… sensation?”

Hazel: “It was…” Hazel finds herself blushing a bit. “Unusual. Ah, unfamiliar. But… pleasant. There was some amount of social anxiety, but it struck me as an acquired taste.” She then adds, unaware at what point to stop, “I think I prefer masturbating, as that is what I am used to. But I can see kissing being comparably pleasant in… a distinct manner.”

GM: Lydia’s smile slants momentarily, but she recovers quickly enough. “Yes, dear, both can be very enjoyable. But I am so happy to hear it was a pleasant experience for you. That bodes very well. Just remember Dr. Reiter’s maxim: ‘Private places, private spaces’.”

The rule had been necessary.

Hazel: “Ah. Right. I am sorry, I was caught up.” She continues, “Oh, but speaking of getting caught up in things, I solved Troy’s puzzle too. I think you’d enjoy the intellectual challenge of it, Mom, it combines mathematical, linguistic, and literary components to arrive at its final solution…”


Hazel: It’s been six years since Hazel last looked at that riddle. Her mind re-churns it over like grain through a thresher.

She got it right then. So did her mom, after she filled Lydia in on some of the literary ‘clues’—the corporate lawyer wasn’t much of one for reading Hermetic Christian texts. Re-considering her mother’s words gives her some heart. And I always will, no matter what, where, or when.

Just hang on, Mom… once I’ve fully realized my own Gnosis, I’ll be that much more able to protect us… Her eyes have blinked once, but they haven’t wavered from Leo’s.


GM: At Hazel’s pronouncement, she perceives the tree burst into blinding, eldritch flames that rise higher and higher till they transcend the heavens. Once more, her awakened self senses nine-blossoms of sephirot-fruit, whose golden pomace refines and ripens rather than burns in the celestial-stretching conflagration.

His back turned to the tree as he faces Hazel, Leo’s frame creates a small blot of shade in the otherwise searing light–and from that shadow issues his own answer: “Entitas ipsa involvit aptitudinem ad extorquendum certum assensum.”

Hazel is well aware of the phrase’s translation as well as ontological assertion–one that takes on new meaning in the light of the Tree of Pansophia and its sephira-fruit. Reality involves the power to compel sure assent.

Hazel: It’s not the first time she’s heard that phrase from Uncle Leo. The flames cast flickering shadows against her face as she replies,

“I believe you have a third question still to pose, Comte de St. Germain.”

GM: At Hazel’s words, the Pentecostal Shekhinah of the Tree of Pansophia and its golden sefirah disappears. To Hazel’s eyes, it seems as if a curtain of reality burns down, revealing a new stage of existence. The tree–no longer burning yet still heavy laden with nine branch-veiled blossoms of golden fruit–transcends the ‘set change’, but several new props manifest. Beneath the tree stands a small but inexpressibly curious altar, on which lays a book covered with black velvet, overlaid lightly with gold.

By this stands a small taper in an ivory candlestick, its flame burning continually despite the candle’s delicate dimensions. In its refined flame–which Hazel would perceive to be false save for the briefest of flickers stirred by her own breath–occasionally manifests the image of a figure or few, though their details are lost to her mind due to the presence of other splendors.

Indeed, by the taper stands a sphere or celestial globe, which turns clearly about by itself. Next to this, a small striking-watch, and by that, a little crystal pipe or syphon-fountain, out of which perpetually runs a clear blood-red liquor. And last of all is a skull, or death’s head, in which resides a white serpent whose length is such that though it winds about the rest of it in a circle, its tail still remains in one of the eyeholes until its head again enters the other.

Now dressed in robes reminiscent of Hazel’s, the figure whom she once called Uncle Leo but now named by her as the Comte de St. Germain, stands before the altar, his back to the tree as he faces Hazel and completes his triadic inquiry: “If you are Erwachen, then name thyself.”

Coupled with his first question, this last question brings to memory her last ‘test’ proctored by the man. Namely, she recalls his remark that “Titles and names may be shed and begotten like snakeskin, but they are not lacking in power or significance. It is therefore salient to employ the proper title with the proper occasion as well as audience.”

Yet, still unsure of the true nature of her audience, as well as occasion, Hazel is left to grapple with what names and titles might be deemed properly as truth. Any further insight to be gleaned from his expression is both lost and found in his alembic eyes. Once more, those metamorphic twins do not capture Hazel’s reflections like mere mirrors, but reveal them like scrying pools of possibilities. Those reflections stir and shift as he blinks once, then twice, before solidifying into the immovable images of his seer-stone gaze. He then waits with the intensity of a condemned, blindfolded man listening for the sound of an executioner’s axe–or a savior’s pardon.

Hazel: Hazel thinks back to their last conversation of the significance of names. She remembers Leo (whatever the rest of his name) calling her Hazel Attila Bauman, and correcting him that it would also be proper to include first middle name of Calloway. He cautioned her that her true name was not yet to be revealed, and then made her bleed.

As true names go, the secrecy and thus potency of Hazel’s has been somewhat diluted by the presence of both her middle names—atypically for residents of Witiko Falls—on her birth certificate. Still, ‘Attila’ remained a name she rarely spoke or used. Most identification-requiring forms only require one middle name. Be they tax returns, employment contracts, or college add/drop forms, Hazel has always filled out either ‘C’ or ‘Calloway’.

The time for her true name seems nigh. Her intoned reply is slow and stresses the equal significance of each syllable as she answers,

“I am Hazel Calloway Attila Bauman.”

GM: For all of Hazel’s living recollection, the man she was raised to know as Uncle Leo has always been the very epitome of self-control. But now, at her answer, she senses some crack in that cold forged iron, a spark of red hot anger or rage or fervid madness. Before whatever beast of irrationality or disquieting ennui can claim him, he looks away and almost whispers to the seemingly empty heavens.


And to Hazel’s awakened senses, she thinks she hears the heavens–or at least the cave of her psyche–echo back in a static hiss:


But no, this time, the trumpet-like cry from the seraph’s bullhorn is similar but ever so different–and in that difference, the robed man before her seems to take some shred of hope.


As that echo of an echo crashes down on Hazel, another curtain of reality crumbles, transforming the scene before her. In that transformation, Leopold sheds his white robe like snakeskin, its cloth coiled around him, even as he is revealed to be dressed in another robe, but this one of blackest night. Sable draperies unfurl from the tree, whose branches now loom over and around Hazel and Leo, creating an encircling shroud whose sole source of light is the flickering, immortal taper.

In that dim illumination, Hazel sees shadows appear on the already inky wall of sable. Nine in number, ear bears the semblance of an executioner, armed with an axe. All nine seem to point to Hazel and raise their axes. Leo once again stands impassive before the altar, though his hands now bear a large golden grail.

Hazel: The white-garbed Hazel reflexively tenses at the actions of the axe-bearing figures. Perhaps their function is ceremonial—though even in such ceremonies as she is likely to encounter here, danger may be no less present.

She silently and expectantly observes Leo’s actions with the golden chalice. The seraph, though… could it be her Holy Guardian Angel? The Liber Samekh‘s procedure by which to commune with one is very specific. She’s attempted to perform it before.

This time she might have better luck.

GM: As Hazel ponders that issue while staring into her chrysopeian reflection inside the grail, her peripheral vision barely detects the sudden, violent movement of the shades. As the shadow-play of all nine axes fall, Hazel feels her throat involuntarily tighten, then seek to loosen in a scream. She watches as her own shadow cleaves in two twice, first in half, her riven ‘bodies’ falling to either side of her, and then as her ‘heads’ roll from her bisected neck. The macabre scene continues as copious blood gushes from the beheaded, riven shadows.

Hazel: Hazel’s jaw clenches at the umbral decapitations. But the actual sight of the flowing blood causes her hands to reflexively dart to her neck.

GM: Somewhere inside the black cage of sable, she hears the echo of a familiar voice. Even assaulted by the sudden, graphic shadow-execution, Hazel’s mind discovers the sounds. They too are familiar–and now much clearer when no longer distorted by massive static: “Ora sono pronto a morire. Che i tuoi dei abbiano pietà delle tue anime…”

The words issue and wither from her shadows’ decapitated lips: “Che i tuoi dei abbiano pietà delle tue anime…”

Hazel has little further time to ponder those Italian words as Leopold kneels and uses the grail to meticulously catch the all–too corporeal fonts of blood that erupt from Hazel’s twice-severed shadow-necks. Her peripheral attention, though, is once again stolen as the nine shadowy executioners raise their axes once more–only to decapitate their own shadow-heads in unison. Slits, where the shadow axes passed, appear in the black curtain. As one, the sable draperies fall to the earth in silken ribbons.

Leopold meanwhile dips his finger into the blood-filled grail and then marks all four pieces of Hazel’s riven shadows with hermetical, Rosicrucian sigils. When his incantation is complete, conjured coffins arise from the ground, entombing the eviscerated shadows. Before those two coffins seal, Leopold pours the remaining blood into each container, draining the grail dry to the last drop. His labor finished, Leopold collapses, seemingly as drained as the grail itself.

Hazel: Hazel frowns and goes to one knee by the fallen man. “Do you require recuperative assistance, Uncle Leo?”

GM: As Hazel approaches, she fears her uncle is dead. His skin is so ashen, and no breath stirs from his robed form. The smell of blood–_is it hers? was it hers?_–is overpowering. She feels the involuntary urge to reach up to her neck again, to empirically assert that she is alive.

Yet, before she can confirm either her or her uncle’s vitality, a third curtain of realty crashes down as the last of the draperies slip off their branches and cover Hazel, her uncle, the coffins, and the artifacts like a funeral shroud. When Hazel brushes off the sliced piece of sable, she finds the cloth is but her own robe which has been transformed from white to midnight.

Hazel: A mild curiosity against Leo’s welfare. She pulls off the other sable-pieces to ascertain his state.

GM: That ascertainment proves difficult as he has seemingly disappeared–as has the rest of their surroundings, which have been replaced by a triangular sepulcher forged of chrysopeian gold and precious stones.

A vessel of polished brass dominates the sepulcher’s center, in which stands a green-glass seraph whose features blend and blur between Dynatron and Zadkiel, lord of the hashmallim, protector of the fourth fruit of the sephirot, and archangel of mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. The seraph’s arms bear an electrum-forged sculpture of the Tree of Pansophia, which continually drops fruit into the vessel. As often as the fruit falls, it turns to the green water of vitriol, the Azoth or Quintessence, and runs out into three small golden grails.

This altar in turn is supported by a three beasts fused together–a chimeric lion, goat, and serpent, which in turn stand upon an exceedingly precious base. The Chimera continually shifts between Hazel’s eyes, its constituent beasts including the forms of an ox, an eagle, then swan, and salamander, and so forth.

Hazel: She checks to see if her improvised sling containing the coin and philosophists’ stones is still present.

GM: A four are accounted for–though only the latter three mumble and wobble with their mouths once more zipped shut.

Hazel: “You appear unharmed. I will see to your mute states after a moment,” Hazel replies. Leo has vanished and looked greatly unwell. Hazel is confident that he can handle himself and certain that he knew his ritual would carry a toll. But she would be remiss not to at least check on him.
She approaches the altar’s vitriolic waters and stares into her green-hued reflection.

Her preferred medium would be a black-glass mirror, bathed under the light of a full moon for seven months and kept covered for all other purposes. But pools of water are an equally time-honored (if not older) divinatory medium. And… something tugs her towards the font of quintessence. Physically, like a low-intensity magnet. Her sensory hypersensitivities have sometimes had benefits, but she’s not sure if it’s even that.

Like calls to like. Blood calls to blood.

She’s not sure what prompts the thought—or the sudden impulse to cut herself before she realizes that a bladed edge is unnecessary. A murmured invocation, a minor effort of will, and several droplets of blood seep through her fingertip like the skin is a thin sponge. She almost gasps as what she sees.

It’s the same green as the pool. But after she reflexively jerks her hand, the blood is as red as any human being’s. Perhaps a trick of the light.

But the subtle magnetic pull is still there. Like calls to like.

She frowns, but not for overlong. She thinks back to the cube-headed figure she encountered in Sisyphus, and the immense, drowning font of quintessence that she foolishly sought to drink. It nearly overwhelmed her essence.

But she survived. She paid the price for the power that is now hers.

Some of it is still in me.

The red staining her fingertip seems to all but shine against the polished brass vessel. At just the right angle, tilted against the flowing vitriol, it almost looks green.

Maybe forever.

Hazel flicks her blood—quintessence—into the quintessence into the already brimming three goblets. The red doesn’t sink or dissolve as it lands, but flows across the surface of the azoth like ink and twists into patterns and images. She looks between the three goblets. The left will pull answers from the past. The center will reveal the present. The right will portend the future.

The admixing liquids-but-not-liquids shimmer. They are no longer red or green, or at least not just red and green, but a color—or a thousand colors?—that both transcends and permeates every other on the visual spectrum, the raw unbridled essence of Creation distilled into chromatic form.

She fixates her inner eye upon a single face as her physical eyes stare into the central goblet—and she becomes conscious that is not wearing glasses. A name flashes across her mind.

Phase II, Case File 2.04

Kurt: Mind’s Eye

10.06.1998, Tuesday morning

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt: “I’ll think about it.”

Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt: What rotten luck.

Brook: Skin Deep

10.10.1998, Saturday morning

GM: Tink, tink, tink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hudson: Hudson accepts it and looks it over.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he drives on. It’s all he can do.

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

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

The open door beckons.

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

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

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

“Let’s go. I need to see my mother.”

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

Give the Devil his due.

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

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

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

Hudson: A Golden Star

10.10.1998, Saturday morning

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

His little man was right.

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

Hudson finds this incredibly suspicious and pursues several next steps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazel: Attila Awakens


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

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

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

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

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

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

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

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

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

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

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

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

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

It seems only polite to offer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazel: Wilde or Wells. Hard call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

film majik

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

“F o t o m e c u s…”

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

“F o t o m e c u s…”

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

“F o t o m e c u s…”

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

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


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

“F o t o m e c u s…”


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

“The lapse occurs frequently.”

More chanting, growing louder.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

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

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

The chanting softens.

“F o t o m e c u s…”

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

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

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


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

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

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

Film Majik

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

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

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

The screen fades back to white, with black letters:

Directed by

Produced by

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

GM: The TV figure nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hers for the taking.

Hers for the claiming.

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

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

Dinner salt shaker.

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

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

Elk’s skull with a bullethole.

Sacrament wafer from the Church of the Almighty Shadow.

Generic Shop-Plus bottled water.

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

Digital watch with a countdown in progress.

Ripped out page of a Latin Vulgate Bible.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her train of thought comes to a crashing halt.

Well. She is supposed to contemplate mortality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazel pauses. By letters. Always by letters.

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

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

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

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

The first and best victory is to conquer self.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Phase II, Case File 2.03

Kurt: Mind’s Eye

10.05.1998, Monday evening

GM: “Choke on my fucking tiger-balls, Flawsen!” As the truck full of Falls High football players drives by, Wilson Perry adds a pair of middle fingers to his ‘greeting’. When Kurt finally exits the Scarecrow, Wilson hops down from the trash can and turns to regard his best friend. Middle fingers still extended, Wilson gives a chin-thrust ‘greeting’. “Sup, fart-knocker.”


Apart from his flat-brim baseball cap, Wilson Perry wears several ‘hats’ in the small rural town. Fall’s High star baseball pitcher. Satyr-hunting senior. St. Enoch Crips drug-dealer. And most saliently to the now off-duty cinema worker, Kurt Crawford’s best friend.

Several years have passed since Wilson first welcomed Kurt into Saint Enoch’s Tower. Since then, Wilson has gained a trimmed but still scruffy teenager’s beard and an increasing number of tattoos marking his rising status amongst the Crips. Tonight, the popular if notorious nineteen–year–old’s entourage numbers four, excluding Kurt.

The youngest is Adam Pendergrass. Multi-generation residents of Witiko Falls following the Great Potato Famine of Ireland, the Pendergrass’ spent decades and dozens of lives spelunking the local caverns in search of gold. Yet, it wasn’t until Nostrum came that the Welsh-American family finally struck it rich–ish. When the plant’s chemical waste caused the Pendergrass’ lobotomized cattle to mutate and produce hallucinogenic milk, the pharmaceutical company settled out of court to purchase both the Pendergrass’ ranch and their silence.

With that dubiously fortuitous windfall, the Pendergrass family bought up a bed–and–breakfast, an ice-cream shop, and the local O’Tolley’s. Since then, only the last has proved reliably profitable. The exact details (and dollars) of the Nostrum–Pendergrass settlement remain a persistent topic of local bar gossip, and it similarly is unknown whether the family has since squandered such monies or hid them away like the cave-gold for which they once searched.

Heir to such history, gossip, and small-town fortune, Adam Pendergrass is a fifteen–year–old Falls High sophomore. Like all long-time natives, Adam possesses the distinct anisocoria of the town’s eponymous ‘Witiko eyes’. A less common condition is the life-long, scaly psoriasis that afflicts his arms and legs, which in Lame Bull earned him the pejorative nickname of ‘Lizard Boy’ which has since evolved into the debatable euphemism-sobriquet of ‘Lizzy’.


Apart from said defects, Adam is otherwise a handsome young man with symmetrical, athletic features including short-brown hair, chiseled chin, and muscles toned on Falls High’s basketball court, baseball diamond, and track field. Tonight, the talented jock wears his favorite hoodie: a dark green garment whose front is embroidered with Y Ddraig Goch, the Welsh Red Wyrm, and back has the Kelpies’ mascot. Beneath the hooded sweatshirt, Adam is dressed in baggy jeans, expensive tennis shoes bought from Coer d’Alene, and a chain wallet.

“Sup,” Adam says, mimicking Wilson in a quieter, less confident tone.

The girl between Adam and Wilson instead settles for a vague smile. Kristy Hodges.


A fifth–floor resident of the Towers, Kurt’s and Wilson’s neighbor is a pudgy senior who stands a half–head taller than the basketball captain. To ward off the cold, she wears a heavy V-neck sweater over what is likely her brother’s or father’s hand–me–down plaid dress-shirt. Her bare goose-pimpled legs, however, shiver slightly under her skirt. Her blonde bangs hang limply over her dilated eyes, while the rest of her hair is tied back in a short ponytail with blue scrunchie that Kurt knows is worn more to reduce gang harassment than denote true allegiance.

Beyond her lackadaisical graffiti art and membership in the Lucid Dreamers Club, Kristy Hodges is ‘best’ known locally as being an easy lay who is happy–or at least dispassionately willing–to exchange sexual favors for pot, angel dust, or LSD. This reputation, as well as her love of donuts and other sweets, has led cruel Towers’ kids and high schoolers to refer to her as Kristy Kreme. It’s honestly hard to tell if the oft-stoned girl cares.

The remaining two teens are less familiar to Kurt, but not unknown. Sunukkuhkau ‘Sunny’ Dusty-Bull and Casie Saunders.


Son of Makkapitew Dusty-Bull, the former rodeo champion and current head of security at the Beavertail Casino, the sixteen–year–old Sunny is a junior at Falls High. Clearly one of the ‘haves’ on the reservation, Sunny wears new western dudes including a black stetson that’s just slightly too big for freshly barbered hair, a dark denim coat with lamb-wool lining, and stonewashed jeans tucked into a pair of red cowboy boots tooled with images of horned serpents, arrowheads, and lightning bolts. A half-smoked cigarette smolders weakly in his mouth as he gives Kurt a nod, even as he pulls his new girlfriend around him in a braggadocio or at least possessive manner.

That girlfriend, Casie Saunders, leans into the embrace and holds Sunny’s hand lightly as she whispers something into his ear, making the Blackfoot teen smirk. A senior at Falls High, Casie Saunders is the adopted daughter of the decently well-off Britters of the Blue Mooncalf dairy farm. With long, bright–blonde hair and buxom curves, Casie (who despises being called Cassie) is more likely to be a Virtue than Nymph at this year’s prom. Tonight, she dresses in a tight jeans, western boots, and a fitted black, belted blouse-jacket embroidered with sunflowers.

Sunny takes a last drag of his cigarette and tosses it to the curb. He turns to Wilson. “All right, I’m in.”

Wilson smiles wide, dropping his middle fingers to ‘shoot’ Sunny a wink as he exclaims, “Sunny-D! I knew you weren’t a bull-shiznit tease.”

Kurt: Kurt greets everyone with a casual, friendly smile, nodding his head in acknowledgement as he stands closest to Wilson. Kurt’s short stature is a strange contrast to Wilson’s more solid, taller frame. Nonetheless, Kurt doesn’t look out of place as he tucks his hands into his jean pockets and listens to the exchange between Sunny and Wilson.

“What’s happening?” he asks, looking up at Wilson for answers with a half-amused smile.

GM: Wilson nudges Adam. “Give my home-skillet the 4–1–1.” The former then waves for the rest of the group, but Sunny specifically, to follow him to his parked ‘97 Subaru Impreza 2.5RS, informally known amongst Wilson’s circle as ‘The Prez’. Although lacking the gold rims long coveted by Wilson, his dark green sports coupé–with its hood vents, hood scoop, and rally-inspired rear spoiler–is one of the flashiest set of wheels owned by a Falls High student, especially one whose single parent household is officially unemployed. Currently, the Prez rests under a dusting of snow half-melted by the Scarecrow’s marquee lights.


As Wilson unlocks his car and fishes for something tucked under the driver’s seat, Adam explains, “Casie’s folks are going out of town next week for some, uh, like cow convention or something. So we’re going to throw a big party at her house.”

Casie smiles at Kurt. “For Homecoming.”

While Kristy leans against the Prez and stares dazedly up at the marquee lights, Wilson gives Sunny a small, stuffed paper bag, then shouts out to Kurt, “It’s gonna be tranny-fucking crank! Whole school, with plenty of heady nuggets, boating, cow rodeo racing, and now all the booze we can drink courtesy of the casino. It’s gonna be slick as frozen shit in a blizzard. It’s gonna make Flawsen’s party look like a fugly Dewey Decimal lecture by Mrs. Griswold!”

“I thought the librarian was dead?” Adam half-asks.

“Whatever, who gives a shit?” Wilson replies with an irritated look as Sunny checks the paper bag’s contents. Still staring up at the lights, Kristy interjects slowly, “I think… it’d be cool to have a class taught by… a ghost…”

Wilson gives another increasingly annoyed look at both Adam and Kristy. “What the fuck is wrong with you two? I slip you the retard dubs?” Wilson looks to his best friend, his tone an odd mix of trying to simultaneously convey and seek assurances. “It’s gonna be off the chain.” Sunny and Casie both glance at Kurt, expectantly.

Kurt: Kurt’s lazy smirk turns into a big smile as he nods at his best friend’s explanation. “I gotta say this could be up there with the great underwear raid of ’96, Wilson,” Kurt answers with a wistful, almost-starry-eyed look of approval. “Fucking awesome.”

GM: Wilson’s face explodes into a smile. “Tranny-mag spanking hot!” He flicks out his cigarette and swings an arm affectionately around Kurt. “I swear I could jerk and suck you off right here and now, Count Kuuuuuuuurrrtttt!” The last part is all but roared in Kurt’s ear.

Kurt: Kurt winces a little at the volume, but that impish grin remains.

GM: Adam gives a shrug that slides into a nod, especially as Sunny and Casey smile and laugh in agreement–especially after Kurt’s remark prompts Kristy to dazedly ask, “Where’s my underwear, anyway?”

Still smirking, Sunny gives the two captains a parting nod and fist bump. “All right players, Casey and I gotta go, but we’ll be in touch.”

“Bye, guys,” Casie says with a warm smile and a light wave.

Kurt: Kurt smiles cheerfully at the pair as they take their leave. He struggles to hold back a small chuckle once they are out of earshot. “I can’t be the only one wondering how Sunny managed to get a girl like Casie,” Kurt says a little cheekily, eyes twinkling.

GM: Adam gives another shrug but watches as Sunny and Casie drive off in his red-striped Bronco. Flashing Kurt a wink, Wilson slides a hand up and down on his other wrist. “Mother-fucker’s hung like a mud-bone bull.”

“Maybe she likes his poetry?” Kristy mumbles, once again staring at the parking lot lights.

Wilson raises an eyebrow at the remaining pair of guys. It’s unclear if pity or impatience makes him fold back a seat for the still-leg shivering girl to get in the Prez. As the large girl squeezes in rather ungracefully, Wilson begins pantomiming various ‘acts’.

His show, to which Kristy seems oblivious, is interrupted as Adam moves to the other side and yells out “Shotgun!”

“You bugg’n, Lizzy,” Wilson shouts back. “Kurt rides shotgun, so get your ass in the back.”

Adam directs a dirty look to the asphalt, but hops into the back beside Kristy. As Wilson himself slip in behind the wheel, he gives his best friend a lewd smile. “Speaking of hung bastards popping cherries, what’s the deal with you and Morgan? You tag that yet?”

“He just broke up with Felicity?” protests Adam from the back, but still leans forward to hear Kurt’s reply.

“Wha…you… Felicity broke up?” Kristy says, her dilated eyes opening. “I thought…. she was sick…”

Wilson snickers into his hand as he turns the ignition and whispers, “Kreme’s straight up dusted…” He then looks back to Kurt, as if awaiting a reply as he peels out of the Scarecrow’s lot. A blue catering van has to swerve violently to avoid Wilson’s laissez-faire attitude towards stop signs. “Well?”

Kurt: “It’s complicated.”

GM: The other three teens remain silent, clearly expecting or wanting more.

Kurt: Kurt sighs and rolls his eyes, buckling under peer pressure. “Felicity and I broke up the other day. She was getting weird and controlling.” Kurt adds, “I am still working up the courage to ask Morgan out on a date. Man, I don’t even know if I should wait a bit, though.” This last bit is more so directed at Wilson as Kurt tacitly looks for advice from the baseball captain.

GM: Adam starts to reply, but is interrupted by Kristy, who begins singing–badly–the lyrics to Hold On Loosely.

“You see it all around you,
Good loving gone bad,
And usually it’s too late when you
Realize what you had…”

Wilson ignores her, blazing through another stop sign.

“Uhh, you missed the stop,” Adam remarks at the flagrant traffic violation.

“Don’t get your panties all wet, Lizzy,” Wilson says as he lights up another cigarette. “I told you, the stop signs with white borders are optional. Suggestions.”

Kristy continues to sing, her eyes shut once again:

“Just hold on loosely but don’t let… go.
If you cling too tightly,
You’re gonna lose control.
Your baby needs someone to believe in,
And a whole lot of space to breathe in.”

Wilson flings his zippo on the dash, cracks the window, and takes a puff before turning back to Kurt. “Dawg to dawg, you should invite Morgue Morgana to Casie’s crib next week. It’s gonna be banging!” Wilson’s eyes shine with excitement, having long since tuned out Kristy’s singing:

“It’s so damn easy,
When your feelings are such,
To overprotect..,
To love… too much…”

Adam breaks in again. “I should invite somebody too, but like, I don’t know.. Abby Merkle? Veronica’s hot but…” The sophomore looks to the two male seniors for advice.

Kristy keeps carrying her tune–badly: “Sentimental fool… don’t let your heart get in her way… yeah, yeah… yeah…” The singing turns to snoring.

Kurt: “I’d go Veronica. Who cares if she’s a headcase?” Kurt offers with a hint of sarcasm, smiling devilishly. “We all need a little crazy our life.”

GM: “Word,” Wilson says as the Prez races past the still-open Shop-Plus. “Like, it’ll drive her sis’ apeshit-fucking nuts. I mean, we get Veronica to come to the party with Lizzy, and her Bernie will be so bugging’, she’s well likely to dip out of Flatness’ party, just to make sure her baby sister doesn’t bring home reptile AIDs or some shit.”

“No offense,” the senior says with a casual glance to Adam in backseat. Taking another drag, he turns back to Kurt and excitedly continues: “Like, if Bernie dips, you know she’ll try dragging her pencil-dick meathead boyfriend. So either Chuck-turd tries to stop her and they have it out and she’s sulking, or she pussy-whips him into dipping out with her and leaving Flawsen one less lieutenant ass-hat. Either way, Flawsen’s vibes are harshed bad.” Wilson blows out another stream of smoke through his window. “Kurt, you’re a fu-uuuucking genius.”

“Yeah, but like how do I get her to say ‘yes’ then, or not bail?” Adam asks in the backseat somewhat irritably. "Like once her sister finds out… right?

Kurt: “Offer to buy her booze,” Kurt offers with a knowing smile.

GM: Adam’s voice crinkles like a furrowed brow. “You mean, buy alcohol for Veronica or for Bernice?”

Wilson starts to reply, but his words are cut short and followed by a stream of curses as a curb-side trashcan startlingly tips over into the road. Yanking the Prez’ steering wheel hard, the senior jolts his passengers as he swerves violently around the tipped over trash and rolling, metal lid, but the reflexive move causes him to drop his still-burning cigarette onto the interior floor mat.

“Mother-fucking-fag-ass!” Wilson shouts as he slams the brakes and begins stomping out the smoldering carpet and cigarette. Both of the back passengers, including the previously asleep Kristy, are slammed hard into the back of front seats, eliciting co-mingled groans and shouts.

Kurt: “Shit!” is all Kurt can help but yell.

GM: The basketball captain’s well-honed reflexes, however, save him from any insult or injury. Those same skills help him to spot the glint of a rifle barrel retracting back inside the slats of a nearby house’s attic window. Lit by a street lamp, the small building’s white-washed shingles have almost glow a mildewed gray. A narrow ramp leads up to a tight double-door reminiscent of a church, and the ecclesiastical resemblance is further solidified by the austere cross that tops the roof.


Meanwhile, Kristy massages her mouth as if checking for loose teeth. “What the fu-?” she groans, as Adam catches Kurt’s backwards glance, but fails to spot the now-retracted rifle barrel.

Wilson, however, continues inspecting the tiny burn-mark on his floor-mat as he colorfully describes how he’s going to catch all the "shit-sucking garbage-bears and string them up as Homecoming piñatas.

Kurt: Kurt, fiddling with the glasses on his head, making sure they’re on his face right, makes a move to open the car door. The young man has his suspicions. “I’ll be a minute!” Kurt says, letting his friends know his intentions. “I need to check something!”

His eyes look from the attic window and then the trashcan that tipped itself onto the road. Nonetheless, Kurt’s eyes also dart around in search of something to act as a shield in case his suspicions are correct. Were his eyes playing tricks on him? Did somebody seriously shoot a trashcan? he asks himself, disbelievingly. He needed proof.

Proof! Kurt thinks, eventually reaching the trashcan. The bespectacled young man pulls the can upright, spotting a dint almost instantly on its side. He curses and frowns as he looks back up to the attic window. “I think some kid tried to shoot a BB-gun at us!” Kurt declares, angrily. Frowning, it’s then that Kurt recalls this house as the infamous Herod Hansen’ house.

GM: Looking up at the cross-topped house, Kurt recalls what he knows about the house, its infamous occupant, and the local scare-dare game he inspired. Glancing back at the still-parked car, Kurt remembers the first time his then-newfound friend, Wilson, told him of Herod Hansen and the Sinner’s Song.

07.20.1996, Saturday afternoon

GM: Kicking a dirt-clod, the beardless, tattoo-less Wilson remarks: “The way it goes, Herod’s parents were hard-core bible thumpers. I mean hard-core. Most people in Witiko Falls are Lutherans. But there are Lutherans, and then there’s crazy Hansen Lutherans. Story goes closer to fundamentalist Catholics than anything else. The Hansens were the family who were the first ones to arrive on Sunday and would sit through both services. Gave all their money to the church. Supposedly the pastor tried giving some of their money back to take better care of themselves–or something worded a bit more, uh, subtle-like or something. But of course, they refused.”

Wilson takes a swig of a two-liter bottle of generic cola and passes it to Kurt, continuing: “There were the other tales, too, sure. Stories about Herod getting beat and everything else you’d think of from horror movies with big, evil religious parents–except that his parents died, and Herod didn’t have anything to do with it. It was actually a carbon monoxide leak or something like that in their house, and Herod was away at church camp of all places. He was fifteen, or something like that, and became a ward of the state after that, but that didn’t really mean anything since some of the older members of the church took it upon themselves to do the good Christian thing, and took care of him, so he wouldn’t go off to a state orphanage.”

Wilson climbs up one of dirt-heaps adjacent to Saint Enoch’s Towers and looks out to orange-blistering sunset. “As you might have guessed, they probably should have let him go.” He kicks another clod, and listens to it fall away into the darkness as Kurt climbs up after him, then adds: “The way it goes, Herod didn’t talk after his parents died. Supposedly, he barely even talked as a kid in the first place–probably got beat for being evil or something. But after they passed away, he never talked: not a word. Almost two years without saying so much as a solitary sentence.”

“So the guy doesn’t talk for about two years, and then the story goes a revivalist comes to town. Tents and cookies and lemonade. And they talk with a southern twang, no matter how close to Canada we are. The preacher comes out shouting fire and brimstone, and most of the people sorta, you know, act polite, not really listening in true Witiko Falls passive-aggressive fashion.”

“But Herod, Herod stands up, hands raised to the sky like he hears and feels something the others don’t. Then, the choir starts singing. After that, well, after that, Herod started talking again, ‘Lord be praised’ or some shit, but not talking. Mumbling, sort of singing. All he would say were words from the song, over and over and over and over again. He’d go to school and do all the things he’d usually did, but he wouldn’t answer any questions or say anything that wasn’t singing that song.”

“At first, his teachers were just happy that he was saying anything, but then, how much of that shit can you listen to before it starts creeping you out. And depending on what version of the song you hear, there are multiple verses, but most say the same sorts of places. ‘Kneel to the rock, please hide them. Kneel to the river, please stop flowing. Kneel to the mount, please uncover. Kneel to the Lord, please forgive me. Kneel to the Devil, he was laughing’.” Wilson extends a hand for another kick-back of off-brand cola, then continues:

“See, freaky Herod, he believed that song. When he heard it, he heard something that other people didn’t. He… he heard a plan, I guess. See kids in shit-holes like here, especially before cable TV, they do all kinds of things to pass the time. If it isn’t trying to score weed or beer from their parents or older siblings, it’s making up some fucking fool game.”

“Like the Glutton,” Wilson adds, jerking a thumb back to the Towers. Taking another swig and squatting down atop the dirt-heap, he resumes his tale:

“Well, this game, the Sinner’s Song, it came straight from the story–at least the story as far as any of the kids knew it. The rules are simple enough. Wait till midnight. Of course. And then you gotta walk out into the woods without a flashlight. All you’re supposed to carry with you is a lighter.”

“As far as the story and the game are concerned, they found Herod’s adoptive mom. She was a town council treasurer. They found her body on the far side of a boulder. She’d been beaten to death, and he’d tried to shove her under the boulder. He supposedly broke her in half trying to do it.”

Pointing off to a rough area of the dark woods surrounding Witiko Falls, he says, “Speaking of which, the game is all about retracing foot-steps, so first you need to go to the boulder, kneel down, and say the line straight from the song, just like Herod would have done: ‘Please hide them’.”

Shifting his pointed hand a bit to the west, Wilson continues: “The river’s next. It’s only a hundred yards away. You wouldn’t know it unless you’re damned near standing near it. Something about the close-grown woods buffering out the sound or some shit.”

“Now as far as young Herod is concerned, they found his adoptive dad in the river. Or, well, over it. He had been gutted and slung from a tree that hung over the edge of the water. They say the blood was still dripping into the water when they found him. For the game, you need to wade out into the water, just a few steps. Dropping to your knees isn’t necessary, as you’d end up getting your pants soaked–and where’s the fun in that. Then you say the next part: ‘Please stop flowing’.”

Wilson checks his pockets, as if looking for something but finds them empty. “It’s at this point, that something must have gone off script. Because when his Sunday School teacher went missing, she was never found. The assumption is that she was buried somewhere out in the woods. But there wasn’t any specific place found in the song. The only reference is a mount–which is none too freaking helpful in these parts. Cops looked for weeks or months, but came up with squat. Her body was never found, even though there was evidence all over the house that there was a struggle, and they found plenty of Herod’s fingerprints there–in places a nice, casual visitor didn’t have any place being.” Wilson makes pantomimes a few lewd gestures, then smirks at Kurt. “Not very church-like, if you know what I’m saying.”

“For that part of the game, you just need to walk out into the woods, just a little farther, away from the river. Away from the boulder. Just far enough that you can’t see any lights of the town. It only takes a couple of minutes, then you drop to your knees, and then you do your best to imagine that poor woman’s grave right in front of you. And you say it, ‘Please uncover’.”

Wilson beats his chest with his fist, eliciting a long, cola burp that echoes into the night. “They finally tracked him down to what was hardly anything more than a sunk foundation of a church, just north of town, deeper in the woods. It probably hasn’t been a church for a hundred years, but everybody knows what it is, and as far as I know, it’s still there to this day.”

Standing up, Wilson begins demonstrating the next steps. “One you get there, you guessed it, drop down to your knees like it’s a good time to start praying.”

Wilson then looks at Kurt. “The stones are still blackened where he poured the gasoline on him before lighting the match. Supposedly he was still singing as he burned.”

“I’m a sinner, please forgive me.”
“I’m a sinner, please forgive me.”
“Please forgive me.”

Wilson grins self-deprecatingly at his horrible singing, but his expression turns ice-water cold as he continues: “At any point up till now, you could quit. Go home and lie and say you did it, and all that. But if you kneel in that church, and you say those words, you have to see it through.”

“If you say, ‘please forgive me’, and there isn’t any noise?–then God has forgiven you. Then, and only then, can you light the lighter you brought with you, and start up a candle or lantern or whatever that should have been left there before you set out at midnight.”

“However, here’s the kick in the teeth–if you hear a noise, that means God isn’t protecting you, and questions your faith, and you cannot light that lighter. In that case, you gotta wait until the sun comes up and then walk home. Don’t fucking leave the outline of the building no matter what you hear. If you light the lighter, the devil himself will be there, and he’ll be laughing at how dumb-fuck-ass you are for playing the game as he drags you to hell.”

Wilson stands up, dusting off the dirt from his already grass-stained jeans. “So that’s Herod Hansen and the Sinner’s Song, least as I heard it. What about you, Kurt? You farm-boys have any weird games like cow-tipping or bull-milking?” He grins. “Or you know, we could talk about something else, like, your sister’s bra size…”

10.05.1998, Monday night

GM: Back in the cold autumn night of the present, Kurt watches as his bearded, tattooed best friend bursts from the Prez, baseball bat in hand. “Kurt! You wigging, bro–get away from that trash can! Garbage bears ain’t no fucking joke!”

From the car’s rearview window, Adam and Kristy peer back at Kurt. The former’s voice can be heard from the open doors. “They got rabies and stuff, Kurt!”

“Other diseases too from eating trash,” adds the latter.

All three seem oblivious to Kurt’s remark about a BB gun. However, Kristy’s comment about ‘eating trash’ helps Kurt come to another realization: the can outside of the old Herod Hansen house was full of trash–including recent food waste.

Kurt: Kurt appears conflicted, second-guessing his desire to investigate after his latest realisation about the full trashcan. The young man decides to speedily run back to the car. “Fuck this!” he yelps, covering. “That’s the Herod Hansen house!”

GM: The mention of Herod Hansen draws a round of shocked gasps inside the car. Wilson, looking up at the house for the first time, affirms Kurt’s declaration with a flash of recognition, followed by trepidation. “Oh snap,” he shouts, swinging his baseball bat around as if covering Kurt’s retreat.
“Let’s dip, bitches!” he adds as both of the seniors jump into the front seats. No sooner does Wilson floor the Prez though, does the sharp ping of cracked glass rattle the rear windshield.

“Someone just shot at us!” Adam cries in alarm.

“It’s like we’re JFK and Camelot is dying in the backseat,” Kristy huffs, then breaks into hypomanic laughter.

Wilson’s reply is a steady stream of shouted curses as his foot slips off the gas, only to slam down again. As the Prez tears down the street, burning rubber, the car’s interior is filled with chaotic shouting amidst its occupants. Blood pumping Kurt’s ears, he is dimly aware of the verbal clamor as he notices that something is stuck to his right tennis shoe. It’s a letter, or the crumpled, sticky remains of one left to marinate next to opened tomato soup cans and banana peels. The thing nearly disintegrates as Kurt pulls it off his shoe’s rubber heel, but the first part of the type-written letter is still legible: Dearly Beloved Sister of the Holy Osiandrian Possession

The next few–and last decipherable– lines suggest the letter was a request for a donation of some kind, though the particulars are lost to tomato soup stains, gravel, tennis shoe-imprint, and fetid rubbish-slime.

A nudge from Wilson snaps Kurt back to the present ‘conversation’ in the car. “You feel me, dawg?!”

“What’s that?” Adam asks.

“I got the pasties,” Kristy mumbles.

“Should we call the cops?” asks the underclassman.

The Prez swerves as Wilson yanks his head around to chew out the younger teen. “Hell no, fart-knocker! We ain’t calling the Piggly-Wigglies. We’ll handle this on our own. I’m gonna get my window fixed, and you can bet your last dime-bag it won’t be on my dime. Fuck Herod Hansen’s cry-baby ghost, I’m gonna get my money’s worth and then some. Right, Kurt?” Wilson asks, red-faced and pissed, but at least no longer tearing down the road at 80 miles an hour.

Kurt: Kurt, pulling away from the slimy note, reaffirms Wilson’s intentions almost by reflex. “Exactly!” he calls, smirking. “I only spotted the end of the BB-gun, but whoever was shooting was doing it from that house’s attic window!”

GM: Wilson flashes Kurt a heady smile as he punches the steering wheel and all but howls, “That’s my blood! Count Kuuuurt!”

Kristy murmurs something incoherent about the color of blood being a rainbow, but it’s largely lost and soon ignored as Adam looks out the window and grumbles, “I don’t know, guys. We didn’t do anything wrong. We should just let the police handle this. The house, it’s way out of Crips’ turf. I don’t want to start any trouble. I mean, like, all you gotta do is call the cops and explain what happened, and we’ll all back you up, and then th-”

Adam’s words are cut off as Wilson violently swerves the car to the curb while slamming the brakes. Wilson just stares straight ahead as he speaks, “The Prez ain’t for pussies, Lizzy. Least not the ones that don’t put out. So you better shut up and giddy up, or get your flaky ass to walking home.”

Kurt: After an awkward, tense moment of silence, Kurt decides to lighten the mood. “Where’s the fun in going straight to the cops, anyway?” Kurt asks, laughing. “We’re gang bangers, right!?”

GM: His nonplussed demeanor doesn’t just lighten the car’s mood–it all but fills it with laughing gas.
“You can bang my gang anytime,” Kristy guffaws. “So long as you bring enough fairy dust to fly off the Towers!”

It’s too much for Wilson. He hysterically breaks down, tears welling at his ears as he laughs. “Girl is straight tripping face!”

Adam smirks, then laughs freely as well, but not before Kurt catches the look of gratitude on the underclassman’s face.

Kurt: Kurt, catching the look, smiles at Adam before turning his attention back to everyone else. “What’re you guys think about that old game the Sinner’s Song? Any of you actually tried it?”

GM: “That old kids’ game?” Adam asks, but not before pulling up his hoodie as if he’s caught a shiver. “It’s always sounded kinda dumb to me. I mean, like, who’s ever stood in the middle of the woods and not heard some kind of noise from the wind or trees or an animal, right?”

“That’s the whole point,” Wilson replies.

“Just ask Steve…” Kristy mumbles as she tries to catch some imaginary figments in front of her face.

“Who?” the boy beside her asks.

“Steven Alderman,” Wilson says, before lighting up a joint he pulls from his baggy pants. “Back in the eighties or whatnot, some dude named Steven Alderman did it and disappeared. A lantern was found at the church, so was his dad’s zippo. But Steven was gone.” Taking a puff before offering it to Kurt, he adds, “I heard his face got like printed on milk cartons and shit.”

“I heard billboards,” Kristy says as she extended weed. “Hey, I caught the pink fish.” She takes a drag, then passes it to Adam.

Wilson’s brow furrows momentarily, then relaxes as he turns back to his best friend. “Some say other kids kept trying it for a while, and some successfully did it. But since you’re all alone, no one can prove shit.” A thought visibly crosses Wilson’s face before he blurts out, “Dude, you should get Morgan to play the game with you!”

Adam laughs as he takes a hit, then passes the joint to Kurt.

“I’m not yanking his chain,” Wilson continues. “Like, you know she likes all kinds of weird, spooky shit, right, and so you tell her and take her out into the woods. Just the two of you. Leave out the part you gotta do it alone. Get her all freaked, then you two get your freak on in the nasty dark. You feel me? Tomorrow night, midnight.”

Kurt: Kurt seems to seriously consider this, rubbing the bottom of his chin. The relaxed smile he usually wears grows bigger and bigger. “I gotta say,” he says, thinking about wooing Morgan, or at least freaking the shit out of her. “That’s a brilliant idea.”

GM: “Most dope!” Wilson agrees, flashing a grin and finger-tats as he takes back the joint. A second latter, the Prez is once again cruising the midnight streets of Witiko Falls. Speakers blare. Headlights sweep sleepy streets, and windows fog from pot-smoke and teenage banter.

GM: Several minutes later, the Prez drops off its first passenger at the Pendergrass’ gabled, riverside bed-and-breakfast. “Aw crap,” Adam says as he spots several bottom-floor lights still on. “My parents waited up. Not good.”

GM: “Just tell ‘em you were up playing the Sinner’s Song, and that god already forgive you, so they can’t rightly be mad at you,” Wilson quips.

Adam gives a weak smile in return. He pulls up his green hoodie against the cold, then gives a parting wave to two upperclassman still awake. Kristy is long gone as she saws logs in the backseat.

Kurt: Kurt returns the gesture, looking a little tired after a long day. Kristy’s snoring doesn’t help.

GM: As Adam trudges to his door, Wilson cracks his window to flick his spent joint into a lumpy, curbside boxwood. The Prez then drives off. The soporific car is two streets away when Wilson eventually breaks the silence–or at least the monotony of Kristy’s shallow snoring. “You ever think about, like… what life would be like if we had grown in a flush house like Lizzy’s? Like, how things might be different… if we didn’t live in the Towers?”

Kurt: “What do you mean?” Kurt asks, listening to his friend. He, of course, has thought about things like that many times.

GM: Wilson hesitates or at least considers the question to his question. He sighs. “I mean…, it’s just that, like… ugh, fuck it, I don’t know. Forget I said anything.” With that, he lapses back into silence, his eyes on the road ahead. The direction of his thoughts, however, are hard to read in the dark.

Kurt: Kurt’s brow furrows a little as he stares ahead, too. He thinks silently for a couple moments. “I sometimes wonder if my ma would be better off finding another guy,” Kurt says, having a little bit of trouble getting the words out of his mouth. “I probably wouldn’t be wondering that if I lived in a house like Adam’s, though.”

GM: “Moms and shit,” says the other ‘fatherless’ teen in existential agreement. He coughs, straightens the flat brim of his baseball cap, and asks, “Your mom still wigging out over Felicity?”

Kurt: “Yeah.” Kurt’s face scrunches up. “I don’t get how she can take Felicity’s side.”

GM: “Moms and shit,” repeats Wilson, this time with a full smirk. “That’s why I don’t tell my mom about my bitches. Even if I had a real special honey, you know. Don’t need to make her worry. Don’t need to hear the noise.”

“Speaking of which, I figure it’s gotta been slamming for you to have your psycho-ex miss so much school lately. Less noise, less dealing with her being extra hella salty as you put the moves on Morgan.”

Kurt: “It is.” Kurt smiles. “It’s damn near awkward passing her apartment door, though.”

GM: “Gotta be brutal with lil’ bro tripping too. Tommy acted like the sun came out of your ass. That, or like he wanted you to be his new daddy. Except for the humping his sister versus mom part,” Wilson wisecracks.

His smile widens after a moment. “Although… if you had been doing the nasty with Mrs. Larsen, that would explain a lot. Felicity and Tommy going whacko, your mom taking their side… it all fits together.” Wilson tries to put on a straight face, but eventually breaks into red-eyed laughter.

Kurt: “Tommy’s a good kid,” Kurt says, shrugging. “I think it’ll be more awkward running into him than Felicity. I haven’t yet. You can’t tell anybody this, but I’ve been tiptoeing passed their apartment door every time I come down the stairs.” A self-deprecating smile appears on Kurt’s face. “I don’t even want to accidentally run into Felicity’s mother.”

GM: “Yeah? Afraid the old lady will want some more of Kurt’s special sauce?” Wilson asks with a lewd snicker. His smirk fades though as he turns to his best friend. “But seriously, dude, I got your back. Thicker than blood, my lips are sealed.” His gaze then faces forward again as the Prez cruises up the sloped road to the Towers’ parking lot.

Kurt: Kurt simply nods his head. He feels pretty tired now, working all day—but the day isn’t entirely done yet.

GM: Indeed, despite that fatigue, Kurt can still read his best friend like a size 40-font book. It’s the way the baseball-deviant chews on his lips, a habit he only does when he’s up at the pitcher’s plate and trying to bluff a batter–or when he’s got a secret and is trying to hold it back, but feels bad about it.

Kurt: “Do you have any girls on the go, Wilson?” Kurt asks, breaking the short silence as the Prez makes its short incline toward the Towers.

GM: Kurt’s question–and more particularly its knowing tone–causes Wilson to half-choke as he simultaneously tries to deny and demand how and what his best friend knows about his ‘girl’.

Kurt: Kurt gives a small, knowing smile, taking small jibes at his friend’s embarrassment. “Don’t you know, man?” Kurt continues, clearly taking the piss out of his friend. “Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone knows.”

GM: “What?!” Wilson shouts, so shocked that he can’t even muster a curse. He all but swerves the Prez into a telephone poll. It takes him a moment to recover, jamming the Prez into park. Kristy groans as she slides around the back seat. Wilson’s eyes, though bloodshot, are wide and frantic. “B-but that’s… fuck! FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!!!”

Kurt: “Shit!” Kurt swears, laughing as he grabs the dashboard. “I’m joking, man!” He continues to laugh, now wide awake from the sudden swerve.

GM: “Wha-,” Wilson starts to reply as understanding trickles slowly into his brain. As it does so, he turns around wails on Kurt with a surprisingly painful gut-brushing punch to the gut and balls. “You tranny-sucking douchebag asshat!!!”

Kurt: Kurt’s laughter dies as the wind is knocked out of his sails; a punch to the balls will do that.

GM: “Ah, shit,” Wilson says as he realizes he’s hurt his friend. His fists relax, but he then gives Kurt another push–this time more playful than violent.

Kurt: “Holy shit!” he struggles to get out, nonetheless grinning wildly. “Must be someone pretty fine to get you this hot under the collar!” He continues to cup his balls defensively, though.

GM: It’s Kurt’s lunatic grin that once again pops Wilson’s anger. He laughs long and hard, tears welling at his eyes. “You’re fucking crazy, dude. That’s why I love you! Jesus in a dress, you had me going, man!”

Kristy stirs from the ruckus, her movements groggy and sluggish as coffee left out in October. “Fo-our and twen…ty… naughty b…oys baked… in a pie,” she mumbles.

Kurt: Kurt’s grin doesn’t leave his face as he turns to Kristy for a moment. He turns back to Wilson. “You know you got to tell me who it is, right?” he then asks his friend in a lower voice, looking expectantly. “It’s not a teacher, right? Not the new librarian? I hear she’s a bitch…”

GM: Also glancing back at Kristy, Wilson flags his hands as if begging Kurt to be quiet. He gestures for them to get out of the car.

Kurt: Kurt, closing his mouth, relents as he nods at his friend. He moves to unfasten his belt and get out of the stationary vehicle.

GM: Wilson does likewise, leaving the car and heating running for Kristy, as he quietly closes the driver’s side door. Meanwhile, the cold, autumnal night gives Kurt another sucker punch to his unsheltered face.

Kurt: Kurt instinctively shivers, clasping his sides as he turns to his friend.

GM: Wilson clearly feels it to as he rubs his hands together, blowing into his fist. Leaning over the car, he starts talking, though his eyes are often evasive. “Look, Kurt… you know you’re my brother from a different mother… I-I should have told you, I should have been straight…”

“No, not,” he says giving Kurt a glare as the obvious joke plays across his eyes. “Shut up, homo. Look, I mean, I should have told you. But like, things have been so whacked. Like you’ve been dealing with Felicity and her family and your mom, all them bugging out. You’ve been working all the time, studying for your SATs and shit, trying to get ready for the season and potential scouts…”

Kurt: “It’s fine, man. We all have problems, but you know you can tell me anything. We’re best friends.”

GM: Wilson grabs the flat brim of his hat, sighs, and tries again. “And fucking me, I’m… aight. I’ve got my bean-slinging stuff going on, and you, you’ve always been straight dope with all that… and I’ve always tried to keep you out of the game.” He looks up at Kurt, his breath steaming like he’s smoking–which he increasingly is these days. “Kurt, you’re going places, man. You’re gonna get out of the Towers, be somebody.”

Kurt: Kurt chews on that, appreciating the compliment—but chewing on the implication that his best friend didn’t think he was going anywhere. “Enough BSing, man,” Kurt says, smiling at Wilson. “What’s the stitch with this girl you’ve met?”

GM: Wilson sighs again and lights up a cigarette. The red dot of fire glows as he takes a drag. “I’ll tell you, I promise. It’s just that, I wanted to apologize for not telling you earlier. I should have. Things have just been bunk. Sometimes, I swear, it’s like I’m living two different lives. There’s school–and I’m not talking about the books and pencil-shit. And then there’s my… business. Providing for my mom and all. Making sure I have, like, a future or something.”

“And we’ve got a plan for Homecoming, a bitching one,” he says with growing excitement. “And business is, well, it’s growing too. Busy, sometimes freak out busy, you know?”He regards Kurt again, as both boys shiver in the cold. “Balls, it’s cold, right? Like I already got a major hard-on with my nipples.”

“Yeah, yeah, fart-knocker, I know I’m stalling,” Wilson adds, likely more to himself than to Kurt. “Okay, so without dragging you into the latest Crips-shit, I’ve been going to the Burning Bush.”He looks around to make sure no one else is eavesdropping in the parking lot. There isn’t, likely due more to the cold than the ungodly hour. Like I’m nineteen, so it’s all legit."

“But I haven’t been going there for the T&A shows, or well, not only for them. Let’s just say that the guy that runs the place and I, we’re trying to rustle up some Dead Presidents.”

“Anyways, so like, I’ve been doing some night-driving is all I’m saying, and one night, a few weeks back, back when you and Felicity hit the shit-fan.” He takes another puff. “And I see this girl on the side of the road, looking to hitch.”

Kurt: Kurt nods, taking in his friend’s words, trying to his best to be serious. “I take it you picked this girl up, right?”

GM: “Yeah…” he says, his thoughts clearly drifting back to that time. “Shiit, like no lie, I only noticed her because she was like major shwing and like not wearing much.”

Wilson laughs. “No, like, dude, she wasn’t like birthday suit or nothing, but I don’t know, it looked like she’d been clubbing or partying. Party must have had retro theme or some shit, you know cause of how she was dressed.”“Anyways, so she’s trying to hitch, old school thumb jerking and all. And I figured, well, like, why the hell not? Maybe I can use the good karma, dharma, or whatever shit. And you know, did I mention she was hot?”

Kurt: Kurt laughs, getting sucked in by Wilson’s story. “Yeah. You’ve mentioned it a few times.”

GM: Wilson chuckles himself, self-deprecatingly. “Yeah, well, she was–is. So I pulled over and offered her a ride.” He smirks. “And the good news is that apparently, I don’t look like a serial killer, and she got in.”

Kurt: “Man. If anything, you look like a serial pervert.” Kurt adds, “But I think girls think most guys do, anyway.”

GM: “Well, if the flip-flop fits…” Wilson agrees, though his smile dips as he continues, “But like she got into the back seat, like the Prez is a freaking taxi. But like, whatever right? I still had a hot sister in my car, and I figure, heh, if things get set to steam-press, she’s already in the backseat if you know what I mean…” He stops to pantomime a vague, though clearly lewd, gesture.

“But she was, um…, well, like, she looked really cold. She must’ve been out thumbing for a while, or walking. It hadn’t snowed yet, but you know how the nights get out there. Turn your joystick into a slim jim real quick.” He motions to the cigarette, meaningfully, then reconsiders taking another drag so soon after. “So, quit fucking interrupting me, home-skillet,” he jibs sarcastically, then continues,

“Anyways, I of course, as like a proper gentleman, I give her my lettered jacket. You know, because chicks like that kinda shit. And so she tells me she lives down on Fenton, so I drive out there. It’s out of the way, but why the hell not. She’s real quiet at first, but like once she opened up… man, it was a LSD sunshine, out of this fucking world. Like I’ve never met a girl like that, well, your sister being a close second. Like she was even into like AC/DC and the Sex Pistols. How slamming is that? "

“It was a long damn drive, but it just flew right by. She had me drop her about a bit from her house. I didn’t want to let her walk, but she said her mom would freak if she saw a guy dropping her off. So I let her off, and I drove back home. I was, like, flying, so it didn’t occur to me like until I was back at the Towers that she hadn’t given me back my jacket… or her number. Brutal, right? Like maybe Mrs. Atwood is right that horny dudes are dumb as shit ’cause all the blood from our brain goes to our dicks.”

Kurt: “Did you at least get a name?” Kurt asks, curiously. Wilson rarely acted this wound up over a woman.

GM: “Cat,” Wilson answers with an expression that almost sounds stoned–which he certainly isn’t from only a shared joint. “You know, just like the pussy. First, I thought she was like psyching me out, but she wasn’t. And before you ask, no it was Katy Diggerts, you dumb-ass. Cat’s not from Falls High. Or, well, like she doesn’t go there now. She did.”

Wilson all but screams as Kristy opens the driver’s door, dazedly stumbling out. “What time… is it?” she asks dazedly.

“Fuck, Kristy!” Wilson yells. “I think I just shit a brick in my pants.”

“Brr-rrrr,” she responds, her teeth chattering as the cold air creates goose-pimples over her bare legs.

Kurt: Kurt gives Kristy a wry expression, figuring this would be the end of Wilson’s story. The bespectacled young man smiles at Kristy’s reaction to the cold air and her question about the time, though. “It’s late,” Kurt answers shortly. “It’s also fuckin’ cold out here. Probably should call it a night, aye Wilson?”

GM: “Yeah,” Wilson says, shooting Kurt a look of gratitude, ’we’ll talk later’, and ‘tell–anyone–and–I–will–murder–your–babies, grandbabies, and great–grandbabies’. It’s a strange look, and one likely only capable of being shared by childhood best friends.

Kurt: Kurt returns the look with an affirmative ‘no worries, man, your secret is safe with me—and not just because you threatened my babies and my grandbabies’ look of his own.

GM: After Wilson grabs his keys and puts the Prez to sleep, the three seniors trudge up to the Towers for their own overdue-beds. As they clamber up the graffiti-overrun staircase, Wilson says goodnight to his best friend, promising to “pick up where we left off tomorrow”. He then helps Kristy to her apartment.

“You don’t have to,” Kristy says, despite the wobble in her knees.

“Of course I do, I’m a douchebag, but a fucking gentleman douchebag,” he answers with a smirk and snicker that echoes in the stairwell.

Kurt: Kurt, of course, wishes both his classmates goodnight. Stifling a yawn, he heads to his own apartment to hopefully hit the hay.

GM: Sadly, as he enters his apartment, he’s reminded that the hay may have to wait. Again.

Kurt: Shit.

GM: Literally, if his nostrils guess right. The source of the fecal stench is not immediately visible when Kurt enters his family’s fifth-floor condo–turned–apartment. Its peculiar floor-plan has the front door, with its series of deadbolts, open directly onto an L-shaped hallway of sorts, whose left side is a cramped excuse of a kitchen. Despite the late hour, the kitchen’s sole window blares electric light from the sodium street lamp built a few inches from the window. Its paints the room in a monochromatic yellow that fades to black.

In that dingy light, Kurt takes in his home’s kitchen. The old, original cabinetry and hardware from the late ’60s remains. The little counter space that exists beside the plastic sink is clean, but cluttered by air-drying pans, cups, and baby bottles. At the other corner sits the stove. On its range, a pot of cold chicken noodle soup waits for Kurt. Above the stove, a microwave precariously perches while propping up a box of generic Shop-Plus cereal brand and an unopened, but assuredly stale bag of ketchup-flavored potato chips.

Between the white stove and yellowish sink cabinets, a gap exists, like a rotten tooth was extracted but never disinfected. It’s been nearly two months sink the fridge broke, leaking thawing freezer water onto the cheap linoleum tiles and rotting the plywood beneath. Arlene had sold off the broken fridge to the local salvage yard, but the Crawfords ended up barely breaking even after the salvage crew charged Arlene a ‘relocation fee’ for hauling the bulky appliance down five flights of stairs. Worse, their landlord has done nothing to fix the pipe issues that caused the fridge to break in the first place. And so the gap and torn-up section of the floor remains–as does the trio of ice-filled coolers sitting against the opposite wall that serve as the Crawford’s makeshift fridge. Home sweet home.


Kurt: Kurt’s face scrunches up as the smell hits him like a ton of bricks. He barely registers the pot of chicken noodle soup on the stove. He makes a beeline and heads for his bedroom.

GM: Kurt’s path and the desperate promise of immediate sleep, however, are blocked by his father. Kurt Crawford, Sr., resembles a horror-house mirror image of his son. Similarly short-statured and possessed of dark, unruly straight hair, the middle-aged man stands unnaturally stiff, his head cocked at an odd angle as if crooning to some phantasmal sound.


Dressed in sleep-rumpled pajamas and coat for warmth, the catatonic man stares, eyes open with an unnervingly long space between blinks. His presence in the hallway is startling, although not unprecedented. The teen recalls the first time his ‘injured’ father got out of bed and walked into a wall. He remembers how his mother was overjoyed and rushed their catatonic father to the doctors, fervently believing that it was but the first sign of the man’s recovery.

Kurt: It wasn’t.

GM: Kurt can never forget how crushed Arlene was when the doctors told the Crawfords that their patriarch was simply sleep-walking and such movements were not uncommon in cases of catatonia and in no way indicative of a change in his ‘condition’. Now, nose to nose with the waxy form that once was his father, Kurt has found the source of the stench: his father’s diaper. Home sweet home.

Kurt: “I can’t catch a fucking break!” Kurt swears, exasperated. He drops the bag slung over his shoulder onto the ground with a noisy thunk. Trudging over to his father, the young man can’t help looking into the senior Kurt’s dead-eyed stare with a mix of annoyance and sadness.

GM: His father’s stare remains all-too vacant–and makes Kurt wonder once again if there is anything left of his father inside his bodily husk, and which fate would be crueler.

Kurt: Kurt doesn’t have to wonder long, however; the smell of his father’s shitty diaper makes the answer all too clear in his opinion. He awkwardly tries to direct and shuffle his father to the cramped space they call a bathroom.

GM: As usual, his father does not resist–but also does nothing to assist. His living ‘corpse’ is akin to a waxy doll that remains in whatever position his son shapes him to be, barring the limits of gross anatomy and gravity. As usual, the bathroom barely provides enough room for both men, and only when Kurt half-stands in the doorway. As usual, his father’s diaper is full of stool made wet and orange-yellow from a steady diet of liquid formula. As usual, Kurt must fight not to spill the soupy excrement, not to cause his father to topple over, and to hold back the contents of his own retching stomach.

Kurt: It’s a thankless, odious task. Bile threatens to come up as Kurt attempts to hold his breath for the most part. He enters and exits the bathroom to catch his breath.

GM: As usual, Kurt finishes the first thankless task, if not odor.

Kurt: Kurt turns the shower off and dries his father’s wet, naked body. His father’s dirty clothes lie crumpled in a corner, covering the used diaper. It is mind-numbing.

GM: His father’s only reaction to the initially freezing water is a slight shift in his breathing and blinking. Time runs away like the fecal-brown water flowing down the shower drain.

Kurt: The only thing Kurt pays attention to is his own breathing, the sound of dripping water, and the sound of the drain’s gargling screech. His mind is a million miles away. His eyes see through his father. Nonetheless, his hands move with a practiced swiftness.

GM: The apartment is otherwise still and silent. A husk of a home.

Kurt: A husk of a father. A husk of a son.

Having received some fresh pajamas for his father to wear, Kurt buttons up his father’s top when life reemerges in his eyes. He smiles weakly as he then directs his father’s newly washed, dressed form back to his parents’ room to rest.

GM: His father’s expression, or lack thereof, remains unchanged. As usual.

As Kurt flicks on the light to his parents’ room, his weary eyes lazily brush over the room. The walls are bare plaster, cracked and chipped in places. When they had first moved in, the room’s walls had been covered in peeling, mildew-stained wallpaper with purple buffalos and candy-colored clowns. Arlene had ripped it down with the intent on replacing it with something less… nightmarish. But the time, and money, had never materialized, leaving the bare walls as they are.

Kurt is brought back to the present by a thin, icy draft creeping from the painter’s tape that surrounds the window-mounted AC-unit. Arlene had planned on taking it out as well, but, once again, time and energy were needed elsewhere and the task had fallen to the wayside. Fortunately, the radiator beneath the window pumps out a silver of heat, warming a couple pairs of socks draped over the painted metal. The vertical blinds are mess, tangled up and broken, likely from his father’s recent somnambulism.

Between the bed that swallows the room and the weathered, item-cluttered dresser, Kurt spots his mother’s snow boots sitting beside a bitterly familiar water jug. In happier days, the jug was used by Kurt’s parents to drop in spare change, with which they would empty when full to buy gifts and toys for their two kids.

After his father’s ‘accident’ and the loss of the family farm, the jar instead became something of an idol, altar, or wishing well for Kurt and Amy. Together, they would pick some dearly desired treat, toy, or activity, scribble its name on a piece of masking tap, and their mother would slowly fill it with the coins she collected while cleaning couches and chairs at the pharmaceutical plant. It took months to fill the jug, and most of the time, it was only pennies and a few dimes. The siblings learned to dream and pray smaller. Then, Arlene got transferred to the lower dregs of the plants, away from the plush sofas. No more pennies. The wishing well ran dry. But the jug still remains. A plastic husk.


Kurt: Kurt gives the room a cursory look, letting his mind wander as he recalls titbits about its contents. As unfortunate as his childhood was, those memories are honestly quite sweet in his mind. The priceless love of his mother and even his big sister. A small, tired smile remains on Kurt’s face as he continues to put his father to bed, and as sad as Kurt sometimes feels about his father’s condition, the young man finds some small solace in looking after his catatonic father. Not a lot. But, Kurt tries putting on a brave face for the sake of his own sanity.

GM: Kurt’s father stares up at the popcorn ceiling, eyes wide open and seemingly uncaring at the world being turned on its side. A piece of dry painters tape flutters by the window, allowing another hiss of night air to enter the bedroom like a tired sigh. On the dresser, Kurt watches as a Mickey Mouse clock, a souvenir from a pre-‘accident’ family vacation to Disney World, ticks back and forth, its battery winding down.


Kurt: It’s at this point Kurt’s stomach rumbles and he remembers the chicken noodle soup sitting on the stove top.

GM: Like the comatose husk of his tucked-in father, the cold soup remains where it was left.

Kurt: Kurt turns on the stove top, letting the soup heat up to temperature. He finishes his bowl in record time. He then returns to the hallway to collect the bag he discarded earlier. He tiredly gets out of his work clothes. He then changes into a loose shirt for bed and a pair of pajama pants.

Kurt’s bedroom, cramped as every room in the makeshift apartment, is a sparsely furnished, slightly messy affair. His bed is loosely made and a few dirty clothes are spread out on the floor. A basketball poster is on the back of his door. By his bed, a stack of books, academic and otherwise, rest in a haphazard pile. A couple crudely drawn pictures of women in scantily clad underwear sit on top.

GM: Clicking off his light, the tired teen crawls under his covers. His forlorn bed is far from warm, and it takes great willpower to reach over and set his digital alarm clock with its bleeding red numbers that accusingly remind him it is 12:37 AM.

Sleep smashes into Kurt like a sledgehammer.

GM: The pain of that impact, however, doesn’t hit Kurt until 5:00 AM when his alarm screams bloody murder:


Brook: Skin Deep

10.09.1998, Friday evening

GM: “Phew, those girls certainly know how to make a sandwich,” Ferg says as he wipes a swath of BBQ sauce from his beard. Crumpling the napkin and wrapper into a ball, the old dispatcher regards the teen on the other side of the jail-bars. “How’d you like your Slaughterhouse Five,” he asks, referring to the meal he brought back from the Swiner, a locally legendary sandwich stuffed with pulled pork shoulder, bacon strips, spareribs, smoked ham, and pork sausage.

Brook: After napping on the jailhouse floor, the warm meal is a more than a welcome change for the teenager. Having his steno-pad back after the time Ferg was gone is just as sweet. As they eat, many napkins meet their end to turn those pages to show the older man the events of last night.

“Needs more pork, other than that, it’s fantastic, Ferg, thank you,” he jokes, a grin on his face as he lets out a deep breath. “Funny that I needed to get thrown in jail to have a good day this week.”

GM: “Glad it was to your liking, Brook,” Ferg says, as he nibbles on a toothpick-impaled pickle. “You more than earned it in my book.”

Brook: Brook mutters that he forgot his pickle and pulls his takeout container back onto his lap, pulling it back off the stick and crunching into it. “There is one thing that’s bothering me though… about last night. Do you know much about the Mooners?”

GM: “Only one thing?” Ferg asks between another munch of his pickle. His goodnatured smile dips, though, when he hears Brook’s question.

Brook: “Just that…they were there that night. I saw them as I was driving away, all sitting there on their bikes in the rain, over Scratch’s Corral.”

GM: Ferg finishes off his pickle slice, chewing slowly before he replies, “Moonchildren. Moonbrood. But never call them Mooners, not to their faces at least. No matter what you call them, they’re a bad crowd. You’d be wise to stay away from them, but I doubt I’m the first to tell you that.”

Toothpick in hand, Ferg waves it like a miniature baton as he continues, “See, everybody in Witiko Falls knows that it’s you kids who are out selling the weed, PCP, and other drugs.” He adds, “Well, hopefully not you, but you know what I mean.”

“Anyways, it’s the kids from the Towers and the trailer park. Has been for years. But really, neither of those places have been around for more than thirty years. That’s lightyears for a young kid like yourself, but it’s living history for old-timers like myself.”

He sticks the toothpick between his molars and continues, “Anyways, for as long as those kids have been there, they’ve been dealing. The specific kids, their names, their faces, their tats, they change all the time. Who’s fighting who, who’s on top, who’s on the rise, yada, yada, yada. But it’s all window dressing. Cosmetic changes. Most folks never stop to ask or think about where the kids get the drugs.”

He looks up. “Well, I guess some folks might blame the plant, just because they’re an easy target. But you kids were dealing a generation before the pill-plant stuck its first shovel in the dirt. See, it’s the Moonbrood. It’s always been the Moonbrood.”

Brook: Brook listens to the man the entire time, and it’s a good tip right from the start. Lots of people call them Mooners, though he doesn’t think he’s actually addressed them in person through his scant, but too many, encounters.

Hearing it all though, he realizes that it makes more sense than not. Scary gang, no one gets near their hideout, travel in huge groups. He wonders if they just make or buy and re-sell the drugs. That vision comes into his mind again, and it looks almost hypocritical now. Is it talking about the drugs the Moonbrood pump into Witiko Falls? The pills the plant pumps into Witiko Falls? He furrows his brow and smooths his hand over his chin.

“I can’t say I’m surprised… it doesn’t explain why they were there that night, though. I’ve run into them. Twice now. Once when I was young, and another a few years ago.”

GM: Ferg uses the toothpick to fish out another piece of pulled pork jammed between his back molars. Re-chewing the morsel, he responds, “Well, that sounds like a story.”

His implicit request, however, is interrupted by another phone call upstairs. Ferg apologizes, then hustles upstairs, though Brook can tell the man’s stride is a bit slower than last time, likely due to the late hour and full belly.

Brook: Brook adjusts his seating to start spinning the tale before they’re again interrupted by the ringing of the phone upstairs. It’s almost getting annoying at this point. The young man capitalizes on his time, however, with the thankfully returned steno pad and the now well-loved mechanical pencil back in his hands. Last he left off, it was Hudson’s grand entrance. Whether due to the light scratching of the lead across paper, the half a pig in between two slices of rye, or the fact that Ferg is in the upstairs office behind a half-closed door, the boy’s well-trained ears fail to eavesdrop this time.

The next scenes are dark enough that the young man wishes he was at home with his charcoals in reach. A careful cross hatch and only the bare essentials of form in people’s silhouettes, where Brook previously occupied just lines of rain, and a crouching form much closer to the crazed antagonist than before. The next panels are a blur of activity and motion, of a young man doing his best and almost being shot in the ensuing struggle. Of a dying form of what passes for a man, and a split second choice to save his life by the offer of a life-saving first aid kit.

Eventually, it’s the last scene. Of Brook sitting dead-eyed in a hospital, the squat form of his mother, and the taller rounder marshal, faceless people in the background. The only dialogue in the entire comic stands center place above all their heads, a thin line tracing it to the heavy jowls of Marshal Schofeld.

“You’re under arrest.”

GM: As Brook inspects his graphic denouement, the junior ranger hears the station’s door-bell chime. “Just a minute,” Ferg hollers from the main office. Brook hears the old dispatcher’s footsteps heading down the hall before the station door is unlocked. The door creaks open as he asks, “Well, hello. What can I do for you, miss…?”

Brook’s heart skips a beat as a familiar feminine voice answers: “June. June Pohlman. May I come in, Mr…?”

“Just Ferg, Ms. Pohlman. Nobody’s called me Mr. Ferguson since never.”

“May I come in, Mr. Ferg? It’s rather cold tonight.”

“Oh may, of course, little lady. And it’s Ferg. Just Ferg. The only Mr. in this station right now is the Mr. Clean under the sink.”

Brook: Brook keeps his nose in his work, his brain a million miles away and just barely recognizing the sound of the door opening. His heart skipping a beat and the cold breeze feeling of realization break him out of the trance immediately, shooting straight backed with his eyes out the bars into the station. June. Fucking. Pohlman. Brook nearly trips over the leg of the bed as he bolts up, shouldering the wall and swearing under his breath as he corrects himself, spinning around to find no mirror in the jail cell.

Their conversation is the only time he has to figure out what to do not to look like an idiot, going from leaning up against the wall to standing there like an idiot, to sitting on the bed. All that he can think about is ‘what the fuck are you supposed to do with your hands!?’. In a slight panic, he eventually settles on sitting at the head of his bed facing out the bars, panting just slightly and his heart going. His brain says ‘why is she here?’ His groin just yells the word ‘conjugal visit’, despite who it is.

GM: Brook hears the front-door close and the sound of small boots on the wooden floor. “Thank you, Mr., I mean, Ferg.”

“Well, Miss June, what can the Sheriff’s Office do for you this late Friday night?”

Down in the cell, the adolescent’s loins flare as June’s answer echoes down the stairs. “Brooks, Brooks Barnes, is he still here?”

“Miss Pohlman, I’m not sure what time visiting hours officially ends around here, but I’d wager it’s past your bedtime. Past mine too, come to think of it. But…” Ferg drawls, “…how about we say I forgot to check the clock, and I won’t check on it for ten more minutes.”

Brook doesn’t hear June’s reply, as it is lost in the sound of her descending footsteps on the stairs. The petite, cupid-faced blonde emerges, practically swimming in her sage green parka with white faux-fur trim. When her light brown eyes meet Brook’s green gaze, June all but runs to the bars. “Brooks! I didn’t believe it…”

Brook: Brook bites his bottom lip as he hears the conversation happening upstairs, his foot tapping in anticipation. Ferg is a great man, he’ll let her down, he just knows it. Or maybe he’s just hoping too hard he will. June’s footsteps down the staircase put an almost panicked fluttering in his chest, and the sitting he’s chosen trying to seem cool fell apart as he bolts up and grabs the bars. “June! What are you doing here?! How did you—I’ve only been—fuck me, June, I can’t believe you’re here either.”

GM: June seems to equally stumble in her reply or simultaneous series of replies, “The show last night–the storm–no answer again and again. Then you didn’t show for school. Your hearing–we thought, Danny and I–” She looks around, as if realizing that it is just the two of them. “Where’s Danny? Did he leave already?”

Brook: Brook towers over the girl, feeling like he could break the bars in between them and just hug her. His mother hasn’t even come around yet. But her words confuse him. “Danny was never with me, June. I was alone all night. And you are my first visitor. Besides Ferg upstairs.”

GM: A look of fresh worry upon old flashes over June’s heart-shaped face. “He should have been here. Hours ago.” She looks down. “Straight after school, Daniel called your mom… she told him what happened. Well, pieces. Enough pieces, maybe. Danny called me right away. He couldn’t get a ride, his aunt and older brother were working. No, that’s not right, his older brother wouldn’t or something.”

“So Danny told me he was going to ride his bike from his house to here. I told him I’d get here as soon as possible. My folks wouldn’t give me a ride, didn’t want me getting involved. So I had to lie to them, I got a ride to a sleepover at Shelley’s house, just down the street. Once they fell asleep, I snuck out and walked the rest of the way. It’s a long way from here to Danny’s house. Miles, right? But he should have already arrived. Hours ago.” June looks up with wet sepia eyes and places her petite hands on the cold bars. “I-I’m scared, Brook.”

Brook: Brook listens intently, slowly growing more and more alarmed. His greatest fear before this business was that he had nowhere to go to avoid the talk about their relationship. Now though? Dammit. It never ends. Reaching through the bars, the young man puts his hands over June’s ears, carefully cupping her head as he takes a sharp breath in, his voice booming as he yells. “Ferg! Ferg, can you come down here!” As he yells, and even after, he doesn’t quite let go, enjoying the feeling of her warm skin and fair hair against his rough hands.

GM: Already shaken by Daniel’s absence, June is startled rather than comforted as Brook’s large, strong hands suddenly wrap around her diminutive face and refuse to let go as the young man shouts. “Brook, let go! You’re hurting me!”

Meanwhile, Brook feels as much as hears the upstairs’ toilet flush. “I’m coming!” shouts the old dispatcher.

Brook: Brook lets go the moment she looks started rather than comforted, even if it means calling for Ferg without his hands over her ears. “Oh shit, June, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking, I just didn’t want to yell in your face.” It’s a mix of shame and anger in his belly, but what shows on his face is only the shame. He backs away from the bars, holding his hands. Junes more delicate than he thought.

GM: “You scared me,” June says, and Brook can see the truth of those words in her eyes.
Ferg, however, interrupts the any further private exchanges between the teens as he hustles down the stairs, buttoning his pants and slightly out of breath. Pausing to regain that breath, he looks between the two youth, but mostly waits for Brook to speak up.

Brook: Brook feels hurt, after all he’s done to show her he has control and she’s scared. His eyes betray a bit of his disappointment as well, but Ferg comes in just at the right time. “Ferg. I was supposed to have another visitor today. Someone from the reservation. He was going to bicycle here, and he hasn’t shown. He should have been here by now. Can we put out a call for Danny Littlebeaver? Or even just let me use my phone call. My mother can round up the rangers!”

GM: Ferg may be old, but the veteran dispatcher swiftly processes the potential emergency and the correct channels. He shakes his head at Brook’s suggestion. “Rangers’ jurisdiction are the national forests and reserves, not the reservation. I’ll call the tribal police and Sheriff Bauman, set up a BOLO, and get whatever patrol cars we have to look for him on our side of the line. I’ll need a description, and if you know what he might be wearing, that will help.”

June pipes in, “I can do that! I know what he was wearing today at school.”

Brook: Brook stays a little quiet hearing the experienced man pretty much take over, nodding at June when she volunteers her description of Danny. Much as he’s more comforted at the idea of his mother the master hunter being the one to track down Danny, and how sorry he feels that Undersheriff Bauman has to be bothered, it’s already set in motion. There’s a tense caged in feeling in the young man’s spine, he wants out to join the search for his friend.

“Thanks, Ferg. I just hope he didn’t run into the kind of luck I do on Shades of Death Trail. Will you be able to let me know if you find him?”

GM: “Course,” Ferg answers, then hooks a finger at June. “Come with me, Miss Pohlman.”
The gray-bearded dispatcher then rushes back up the stairs.

June spares Brook a worried look, then follows after.

Brook: Brook simply motions her to go along. He slowly eases back down onto the bed and smooths his hands together, looking them over. June is scared of him when he moves too fast, that simplifies things. So much for using that tape to yell at her. The young man simply sits there, waiting, hoping things turn out for the better as he struggles with his powerlessness.

GM: The powerlessness extends as Brook is forced to wait in his cell, able to only hear that Ferg is making phone calls, but without the ability to discern the details given the distance and doors between them. The feeling only amplifies when Ferg comes hustling down the stairs and quickly informs Brook, “Hang tight, we’ve got deputies looking for your friend, so I gotta take Miss Pohlman home.” Not waiting for Brook to gainsay the plan, the old dispatcher hobbles up the stairs again, and a few minutes later is locking the front door behind him, without June ever having the chance to say goodbye.

Brook: If there were no hard feelings against Marshal Schofeld before, some of those feelings are starting to mount as the teen sits there with nothing to do and less to ease the growing unease at being locked away in this cage. He barely has a chance to thank Ferg before he’s off, and Brook is sitting there alone in the police station. Worse, he can feel it’s nighttime now, and it’ll be a sleepless one. With noting else to do, and hoping the mechanical pencil doesn’t run out of lead soon, he curls away in the corner of his cage and keeps his hands busy. It’s all he can do in the absence of the sweet release of sleep.

GM: Brook is only two minutes into his artistic resumption before he hears the gut-dropping, hollow ‘click-click’ of the mechanical pencil. The lead is gone, spent on his graphic novella.

Brook: Gone. Brook can’t help but drop the pen on the floor and put his head in his hands, feeling his rough hands against his face and trying to keep his cool. It’s not even midnight, is it? Early in the night with nothing but himself, the worst possible fate for the young man. It’s why he has the radio station, the guitars, the stacks upon stacks of art supplies. But not here. Here, he doesn’t even have a person to talk to, trapped in this little fucking cage without anyone to help him or talk to anyone. The ill feelings mount, and the boy’s shaky hands grab up crayons of all things Ferg left. But what can he fucking do with these!? Brook stands up and slams them back down on the bed, stomping the whole two steps to the barred door and grabbing HARD on it, shaking it violently, testing the lock on the door as he starts to feel like a coyote, caught in a trap and gnawing its leg.

GM: The bars rattle on the cell-door, but do little else. The metalline echo bounces against the cement walls and floor before it quietly dies. Those same windowless walls shut off the boy from the outside world, denying him even a glimpse of the wilds he loves and serves, or even a glance at the moon to gauge the hour. That sense of trapped timelessness only heightens as the tall adolescent scans the cell and the basement beyond for any clock, watch, or similar sign of the time. His frustration only grows as that search proves fruitless. Or at least, his search does not produce the fruit he increasingly craves.

Instead, Brook’s riffling through the cell produces two, unexpected discoveries. The first is a small pitch pipe nearly cemented to the underside of the jail-bed with large, dried-up wads of gum. The second Brook finds when he picks up the cell’s second framed picture: an old polaroid of Witiko Falls–the falls, not the town. Seeing the infamous fount of ‘his’ Green Lady, Brook brushes a finger over the polaroid, only to hear a crinkle of what sounds like paper behind the photograph.
The cell and station beyond otherwise lay silent.

Brook: Brook’s near-manic pouring wields results! The tiny cell nearly drives him insane as he smooths through everything on all fours, trying to claw back any sense of freedom he once had back. The items he comes across are interesting, however. Getting his hand damp from the sink, he reaches under and tries to flick water on the space to wet the gum on the pitch pipe, trying to ease it off the bed without harming it.

GM: The process takes time, but it ultimately proves more gross than truly arduous. By the end, Brook’s fingers smell like stale peppermint, rust, and spit, but his hand nonetheless grasps the tarnished chrome pitch pipe.

Brook: Brook washes his hands right after, not incredibly worried about gum when he lives a life pulling entrails out of animals. With the Pitch tuner in his pocket, he moves onto the polaroid, gently taking it off the wall to look over it and find the source of the paper sound he’s come across. Just hoping it’s something to keep him occupied until someone returns.

GM: Retrieving the second discovery proves far easier, swifter, and cleaner. Popping off the back frame, Brook finds an old letter, yellowed with age and creased with likely years of storage. Delicately unfolding the letter, he squints to read the faded ballpoint-blue ink. The hasty handwriting is further obscured by several old water stains and the severe, yet fragile, creases.

Father Kruppenbach, the letter begins.

I know that what I’ve done is wrong, so wrong. The hope of heaven is beyond me now, so I’m not even sure why I’m writing this to you. I guess it’s partly so that Julie’s folks and mine will know some of what happened. Maybe it’ll count as a form of confession, for when I’m done.

See, my old man always said that a person is supposed to be accountable for their actions. The army backed him up on this one. No matter what happens, if something goes a way people think it shouldn’t, somebody’s got to be able to answer up for what happened. They have to explain it and take the punishment that’s coming for it.

You know, I dread this letter more than I dread killing myself. I know I’ve got to do both, but I think the other will be the easier of the two. I learned about killing in the war, so the punishment I can handle. It’s the confessing I’m nervous about.

When I got back from Vietnam, I was just so relieved to be home. I’d written to Julie and she’d written back, but it all seemed so far away. Just seeing her again… God, it was like being born. She smelled so good and sweet, like sunshine, and she was so pretty in that blue dress with those flowers on it. I still wonder what kind of flowers those were.

At the same time though, Father, I was so scared. You see, something happened to me over there. I know, everybody says that war changes a man, but I felt like–God, I don’t know what I felt like. Like part of me was dead, the part that smiled and laughed and had fun. And part of me was something else, something that liked the war, and killing men, and the smoke and the fires and–

Well, you get the idea. So here I come back, and there’s this big party and my mom is all teary-eyed and laughing, my dad keeps slapping my shoulder like he’s proud of me, and then… there’s Julie. I swear, I could feel her as soon as she entered the room. It was like all the light in the world was right on her, and I couldn’t even move.

It’s not like it started then, either. At first, things were just fine. I thought we’d maybe still have a real life, just like what we planned. I’d just seal up those dead, twisted parts inside, and she’d never even have to know. We went to parties and dances, and hikes along the trails. I know that she loved 
me. She told me so, and with that look in her eyes I knew she wasn’t lying. That’s when I came to see you, a few months back, and we had that talk about marriage. I know you remember, can’t be too many people in town who are dying to get married in January, in the middle of a damned blizzard.

Anyway, I really thought things might work out. But then that other guy kept coming around. She kept denying it to the end, and I almost believed her. But it didn’t make any difference at that point anyway. That’s not why this happened. Turning the letter over, Brook continues reading:

The thing was, we had a fight. I’d never raised my voice to her in my life, and I would have been ready to swear I never would. But there I am, using words my dad would have been ashamed to hear, stuff I never would have dreamed could be said until I joined the army. She looked at me like I was crazy, and maybe I was. She said that I was scaring her, that I wasn’t the same Joe she knew. And you know, she was right. I knew that even before we had the fight in the first place, but I didn’t want to admit it. It’s too hard to admit it.

After that, it was never the same. We made up, but it was like she never trusted me again. Suddenly I can’t get two words out of her, and she can’t relax around me anymore. Always she’s looking at me with those eyes, those beautiful blue haunted suspicious eyes. And I can’t shake it.

Today, I found her on her way home from town. She’d been to the store, and she had a bottle of aftershave in her bag. I just lost it. I started accusing her of going out on me, and worse, and she just stared at me the whole time. When I finally stopped, she told me the engagement was off. Just like that. She turned to leave, and I tried to stop her. At least, I meant to try to stop her. I grabbed for her, grabbed her around the neck… she just dropped like a sack of wet flour.

It took me a minute or so to realize what had just happened. It was the same way in the jungle, too. It’d take a little bit after the fighting stopped to piece together exactly what you’d done while it was going on. It was almost like it wasn’t you, but some demon that you watched from behind a window.

I went over to try to pick her up, but she just hung, limp. That’s when I realized she wasn’t breathing anymore. I went all cold. And then–God help me–I saw what she had in the bag she’d been carrying. That aftershave was packaged with a birthday card. I opened it up, and it was to her father. It was his birthday, and I didn’t even know it. I just went crazy over it, and now I’d­–

So now you know.

All I can say is that I’m awfully sorry, Father. You’ll never know how much. I don’t know that Julie’s parents will believe me, but it’s true. I never meant to hurt her. I love her more than my own life, and I always will.

Maybe it’s best this way. Even the best wall has cracks in it eventually, and there’s no telling what I might have done down the line. No monster can be caged forever.

Tell my mom and dad I love them. Please.


Brook: Still, fuming and skittish, the young man sits on the bed with the letter, trying to escape this cell for just a moment longer, at least until Ferg gets back and gives him something else to give him the sweet release of escapism. But he stops wishing for that after a few more moments, sobering in the face of a man’s last words, and the tale he had to tell before leaving this world.

Brook’s hand traces, but then covers his mouth, trying to deny the pain behind his eyes starting to build up tears. Danny rarely ever came to the tower, his mother never looked through his books while she slept there, but one of the lonely teen boy’s weaknesses is on that bottom shelf. Tales of the pain of true love, of love lost and found, of thick romance classics and coming of age discovery of love novellas.

The stains of water on the letter feel like tears. If the young man reading it can’t hold back a loose tear or two no matter how hard he bites his lip, he wonders how hard Joe must have cried. Even a monster cries. Brook reads it again afterwards, pouring over the details and pushing himself back against the wall sitting on the bed.

The week comes rushing in, as do so so many questions Brook tries so desperately to ignore, a reason he has to admit—in this brief moment—he keeps his life so busy. Why is Witiko Falls so horrible? Why does every corner writhe with secrets? Will he ever be happy here? Does Mary simply keep him as her replacement, instead of a son? What are these nightmares? Why is he still so fucking weak? Why didn’t he just drown that day? Why do those Littlebeaver kids hate him so much? Why is he so lonely, even with so many people knowing him? Why is he always so angry? Why is he so dim that school wants him gone? Why was June so terrified?

It all weighs on his shoulders enough to crush him, sliding down the stone wall and cracking like even the best walls do, choking back ugly sobs and covering his face with the thin prison pillow as he breaks in two, crying alone in the basement of a police station, without a soul around to comfort him. Be around for him. Why does everyone need him, but so few people seem to even want him?

GM: Imprisoned, Brook’s questions, like his muffled sobs, can only echo in the cement-trapped silence and solitude of the boy’s cell. It takes Brook a moment to feel or at least recognize it, the cold touch of fear under all his angst, rage, and loneliness. It’s just an icy caress rather than a full-taloned clutch, but the emotion feels strange and unfamiliar, like accidentally slipping on someone else’s shoes in the dark.

When was the last time he felt afraid? Reflexively, his hand rubs his chest, as if snow had fallen there, and he is trying to brush it off. But nothing is there. And that’s the problem, the teen considers, as he is once again reminded that he has been stripped of his prized possessions and locked up. In that moment, the thin, tear-damp pillow sheet pressed against his face reminds Brook of a more primal memory. A wet sheet wrapped around his face and body. This may be his first night in jail, but the Madcub has been imprisoned before.

_ w h a t w i l l y o u d o_
w h a t e v e r y o u h a v e t o
y o u w a n t t o b e f r e e

Brook: It feels like a hot coal, or maybe more accurately, like a piece of dry ice deep in the young man’s soul. Something small, but like the wolf is more dangerous than the bear, something doesn’t need to be big to hurt you. Brook considers a moment the fear he’s worked through in his career of being Madcub, the horror he’s seen, the sick wet sound of chunks and blood hitting pavement before the dull twitching thud of a charging dog’s corpse hitting the ground, the snap of twigs when he’s sure he’s alone, the gentle tone of a whippoorwill too nearby as he sits unmoving up in a blinder clutching a weapon.

How many times he’s pushed through it, never denied it, but pushed through it. But the vulnerability is exposed, the naked chest he’s not felt in years without the feel of a tight brown cord or a chilled steel heart resting against bare skin. Then comes the river again, that haunting voice reminding him of a threat he screamed into the water, a promise. Anything to be free. There’s a small panic in his chest for a moment as his instinct against being cooped up starts to rise again.

GM: Yet, it isn’t the sound of rushing, drowning waters that fills Brook’s ears. Instead, the keen adolescent hears the sound of the station’s front door opening.

Brook: Brook’s panic is immediately shut out by that glorious sound. He sniffles in a gross glob of snot and spits it into the sink as he jumps up, wiping his face with his arms as he rushes the bars and yells up the stairs, “Ferg! Ferg, is that you!?”

GM: Contrary to the boy’s expectations, the elderly dispatcher’s voice does not drift down to greet him. Instead, he hears a footstep freeze instantly in the doorstep of the station. And then, he hears nothing. Nothing save for the echoes of his own voice crashing in his cell till they die.

Brook: Brook pauses, a shot of instinct whispering in his ear to slowly back away from the bars of his cage out of view of the stairway, and he follows it, standing stock still and listening. It doesn’t feel good having having only what he does for room, ass pressing into the sink as he waits for whoever is here to reveal themselves.

GM: No revelation occurs. Instead, Brook is left to wait inside his cell, time tightening his muscles like wound springs. Does the door close? He cannot be sure. He thinks he would have heard it. He thinks he would have heard something. Much like the troubling absence of his medallion, Brook does not hear anything except for his own heartbeat.

Brook: It’s almost too much, he feels like a trapped raccoon in a trap waiting to be finished off. Slowly stepping forward, he peeks out at the stairwell, trying to catch any hint of movement.

GM: Those hints, however, once again evade capture–or as Brook must increasingly wonder, they may simply not exist. For despite all his focus, Brook fails to hear anything from upstairs. Time ticks on silently, without measure and soon without meaning.

Brook: Soon enough, Brook has had enough, slowly sliding out the pipe from his pocket and wiping it on his shirt, sharply blowing into the forgotten pitch pipe to try and scare whoever lurks in the station.

GM: Brook himself is surprised when the rusted aerophone fails to produce a blast of piercing C sharp. Instead, Brook notes the reed is jammed by something stuck inside the pipe, ruining the intensity and pitch of the note. Yet, the abnormal fluttering note does manage to create an odd ‘echo’ from upstairs. Up two sets of stairs, if Brook is not mistaken. There is a jostle of something accompanied by a creak of a descending foot upon the staircase that connects the station’s first and second stories.

Moreover, the ruined note seems to ‘tune up’ Brook’s already sharp hearing, allowing him to hear someone or something stealthily open, then close, and finally lock the station’s front door. Afterwards, Brook is once again trapped in silence.

Brook: Brook’s ears concern him. Everything is strange about this, if he was free, he would take off after this person and hunt down who had the gal not to answer him! But whoever they were locked the doors back. It doesn’t sit right, but knocking this door down would simply get him in more trouble. He turns his mind to a question he can answer, sitting and starting to carefully take the pitch tuner apart, to see what is stuck in that pipe.

GM: The task is tricky without the proper tools, but Brook manages to finagle the obstruction. Straightening the slip of paper out, the teen sees that it is a fortune slip from the local Chinese restaurant, the Cat’s Meow. The slip reads: Three can keep a secret, if you get rid of two

And below: Lucky Numbers 48, 43, 81, 98 -11, 6, 15, 29, 54

Brook: Brook looks over the fortune and sighs, having hoped for something more obvious, or at least less ominous. Murder cookies at the Cat’s Meow apparently. Sliding it into his pocket, he starts to look over the door, taking deep calming breaths as he tries to find some way to open the door without breaking it.

GM: If the way exists, Brook’s mind is unable to find it.

Brook: Brook sighs and smooths his hands through his hair, pacing the three steps along the cell. Breaking this door isn’t an option right now. He pushes that feeling down as hard as he can with logic, that he IS free, that this is just for tonight, a courtesy for Marshal Schofield. Tomorrow he gets to go out of town, and most likely after that, go home! Right? Right. He paces and waits, listening for the door to open again or his internal clock to tell him it’s time for sleep.

GM: Brook’s sense of time further slips away. Somewhere between picking his cuticles, clucking his tongue to listen to its echo, and counting the cinder blocks in his cell for the fifteenth time, Brook hears the station’s front door open. Once again, he hears no voice announce its arrival.

Brook: Brook feels more and more like ripping the sink off the wall and using it to bash the door down, eventually finding himself shifting leg to leg, muttering the lyrics to the entire NOFX ‘punk in drublic’ album. Then the door opens again, and the boy feels like he’s been slapped with a cold wet facecloth. Instinct kicks in and a finger and thumb from one hand jams into his mouth, the whistle that sounds on could wake the neighbors or deafen a bear. “Hello!? HELLO!?!?”

GM: “Fish and chips, boy,” comes Ferg’s startled voice, “You trying to give me a heart attack? I thought you’d be asleep.” Brook hears the station door close, keys jangle as it locks, and then slow steps descending the stairs.

Brook: There’s a tingle of relief down the young man’s entire back, shuddering and feeling his muscles finally relax. It’s Ferg, finally. “It’s you! Thank god. I don’t know if I could have lasted another half hour.” He waits, standing with his face nearly in between the bars

GM: Ferg’s shoes, slacks, jacket and finally wooly face face emerge into view. That face though, is clearly drained. “We found him, son.”

Brook: Brook’s is conflicted for a split second, before it gets deathly serious. “Alive?”

GM: Ferg takes off his glasses and kneads his brow. Agonizingly slow seconds tick by before he answers, “Yes.”

Brook: Brook can swear he feels the metal bars start to bend as he grips them tighter, even the answer doesn’t satisfy him as his arms strain against the bars. “Ferg. I can handle anything. Please. it’s worse not knowing.”

GM: Ferg hesitates returning his glasses to his face, as if not wanting to look the youth clearly in the eye. However, Brook’s impassioned plea moves the old dispatcher. He sighs, his bread blowing softly, before he answers, “First off, Miss Pohlman, your friend, is safely at home. Her family is none to pleased with her sneaking off, but I think tonight’s events have helped her see the right of being square. Second… second, your friend Daniel Littlebeaver was, is, badly hurt. I just left Mount Pelion. He’s in good hands now. Better hands than yours and mine.”

Brook: Brook’s eyes don’t put the pressure of his stare on Ferg, instead burning a hole into the man’s chest as he listens, nodding slowly. “She might have saved his life, sneaking off. She’ll have to save it again when I beat him senseless for doing something so stupid in the first place,” he mutters, taking a deep breath, trying not to get angry with himself of all people at fault here. “The roads from the res are bad medicine. All of them. Was he attacked? Did he fall? What can you tell me?”

GM: Ferg scratches his chest, as if attempting to itch away Brook’s gaze. “He made it into town. We’re not sure what happened, but it seems like he crashed badly off his bike.” He pauses, looking up at Brook before glancing away again, “He was dressed in black, no reflectors on his bike. Car might not have even seen him, clipping him or scaring him off the road. He just says he crashed.”

Brook: Brook narrows his eyes, looking almost furious, eyes turning away from the man’s chest to the wall beside him. “He doesn’t even have to say it to my face for me to hear that is a lie.” he mutters, nodding. “You said he was in town, but badly hurt? Tell me the truth Ferg, what did your gut tell you happened? I mean, if he’s badly hurt, and his bike is fine? I don’t buy it.”

GM: Ferg takes off his glances again and hangs it on his shirt. “Night has a funny way of making facts fuzzy and guts rumble.” He stands wearily, groaning with a pop in his spine. “Brook, son, it’s been a long day. I’m going upstairs to hit the hay. I don’t sleep much, on account of my prostate being the size of a grapefruit, but I do need some sleep. If anything changes, we’ll get a call, and if not, I’ll call over at first light.” The dispatcher, who very much looks his years, gives a parting wave, then makes his way to and up the stairs. “Holler if you need anything, and please don’t if you don’t.”

Brook: Brook nods quietly, eyes softening considerably when the dispatcher stands up, pained and tired. It reminds him of his mother. “You deserve the rest. But Ferg, one last thing. A few hours ago someone snuck in, walked to the top floor, and left. I heard the lock go, they must have had a key. But they didn’t answer me when I called,” the boy warns, his nervous gut easing slightly with the info passed on.

GM: Ferg’s bushy eyebrows raise as he pauses mid-step, “Come again?”

Brook: “A few hours ago. They tried to be quiet after the door opened. Steps paused in the porch and I heard nothing until I blew this pitch pipe I found. I heard them jump from the top floor. Then they snuck out the front door and locked it. They didn’t answer and tried to sneak. But I heard them. They didn’t answer me when I called from the basement. And I didn’t call again until I blew the pipe. It didn’t feel right.”

GM: “Pipe? Jump? None of this is making sense, son. I’m sure, well really sure I locked the station when I left with your friend, and I definitely had to unlock the door when I got back.” He leans a forearm against against the wall. “No one has a key except me, Sheriff Bauman, and Deputy Lowder. Sheriff’s been at his daughter’s side at the hospital this whole time, and the other deputies were way out by Rockwell’s Fall–which is why I had to leave the station to go look for your friend.”

Ferg glances upstairs. “Couldn’t… this old station, it can play tricks on you. Specially for someone locked up, stewing in a cell. I should know, after all.”For all his projected confidence, Ferg’s voice and glance betray the dispatcher’s ill-ease. Brook can almost see the hook of doubt he’s cast in the man’s tired mind.

“Night has a funny way of making facts fuzzy and guts rumble,” repeats Ferg, perhaps more to himself than to the cell-locked teen.

Brook: Brook kneels and reaches through the bars, tossing the pitch pipe to slide across the floor to the older man’s feet. He’ll want it back later, for now it’s a good example. “I found it in the bed,” he starts, standing again.

“I run the radio station at night because everything that I am doesn’t rest until the sun rises, Ferg. Not only that, but I’m a hunter. I know when I startle something. And I know you’re a good man, so I’ll still offer even if I know you wouldn’t let me out of this cage to watch the door for you while you sleep. But they had a key. I heard the lock. Just check if… I dunno, maybe the sheriff came, or one of the deputies. I’m just telling you what I heard.”

GM: Ferg begrudgingly picks up his glasses. Sliding them on his face, he sighs. “Okay, Brook, I hear you. I’ll check in and recheck the station, and… I appreciate you telling me.”

Brook: “I’m sorry to worry you, Ferg. The offer still stands. Call for me and I’ll kick this door down. You’ve been really good to me, so… don’t be afraid of asking me for some help.”

GM: Ferg’s bushy brows crease at Brook’s mention of kicking the metal cell-door down, but he holds his tongue, and instead simply nods in appreciation of the youth’s seeming goodwill. He waves again, then resumes trudging upstairs.

Brook: Brook sighs, and waves back to the man, letting him trudge back upstairs and sitting on the bed cross legged. At least the young man could spare the older one the suicide note, and the thought that a 15-year-old was sitting in the cell of a man he knows died there. But instead, the boy closes his eyes, feeling at ease with another person in the house and trying to relax. Ears open, waiting for his body to tell him it is daylight.

GM: As hours pass uninterrupted, the cell seems to infinitesimally yet inescapably shrink. With each exhalation, Brook feels one step closer to asphyxiation. His only companions are gray-faced doldrums and stir-crazy delusions, and the pair eye one another and him in an escalating Cold War that occurs solely inside the cage of his mind. Daylight is long in coming.

Hazel: Attila Awakens


GM: Hazel finds herself back in the chamber where she has neither been nor not been. It takes her a moment to register the new, burningly painful cat-scratch on her chest.

Hazel: It only figures rejecting entropy would hurt the most. Eventually, her fast-beating heart stills. She looks down at the cat in her arms.“I think I provoked him.” There’s the faintest smile as she rubs her jaw. “My last words to my parents were warm ones. I hugged them both. I normally don’t. But I feel like you already know that, don’t you?”

“I miss them,” she admits. There’s a tiredness to her eyes. “It feels like a lifetime since I last saw them. I’m sure they’re worried… sick over me. The thought of Mackenzie having even potentially prolonged or increased their distress greatly angers me.” She sighs. “But I cannot allow entropy unchecked reign throughout my mental kingdom. Even the last two scenes we saw… I turned those tendencies upon them.”

GM: The cat regards Hazel with its black-monitor eyes. There’s a click as un-named colors return in new shapes:


Hazel:You’re not sad? Or I shouldn’t be sad?” she inquires, her voice going flat.

GM: The cat closes its eyes as it brushes up against her hand.

Hazel: She scratches its ears, giving it an equally flat look. She’s not sure whether to tell Tibbles to piss off or concede that the cat has a point. She settles for a dry, “Thanks for listening,” scoops it up in her arms, and sits down on the unfinished chair. This one needs fixing. Improving. She feels… like doing, or at least seeing, something generative right now.

GM: Whatever the cat’s view of her thoughts, it seems content with her actions. It purrs with its rhythmic computer-fan whir. Once again, another of the chamber’s picture frames come to life.

As Hazel opens her eyes, she awakens beside a soft bed. A cool spring breeze wafts through large, half-open windows. The morning air causes the linen curtains to stir to life, shifting to reveal a verdant hedge of blooming roses beyond. Within the room, a large comforter drapes over the bed like a cotton caul. Initially white, a floral pattern emerges before Hazel’s gaze. Fecund fruit trees and stamen-flush flowers blossom across the plush fabric, attracting sartorial birds and soporific-buzzing bees. The nectar-hued dawn filters through the room, illuminating piles of freshly printed books whose virgin spines yearn to be opened.

Hazel: Now this is a place she’d like to wake up to.

GM: Another figure does.

It somnambulistically stirs. Young arms stretch as lazily as any cat. The figure sits up, revealing its soft cotton-T-shirt, freshly wrinkled by dreams. The figure turns to face Hazel–or appears to do so. Like the figures in the other pictures, this one lacks a head. Instead, a coat hanger replaces its scapula and neck.


“Good morning, Hazel,” the figure says with a yawn.

Hazel: “Good morning,” she replies. At least this time she knows where to orient her gaze. She pets the cat from her own seat upon the bed. “The phrase would certainly appear more than mere platitude in this case.”

GM: “It’s time to begin.”

Hazel: “Yes, there is much work to be done. Both upon the chair, within the waking world, and within my own psyche. Where and how do you suggest beginning?”

GM: Remaining in bed, the figure leans over and picks up one of the books. “The beginning has begun,” she says. The book opens with the satisfying flicker of pages to the start, where Hazel can see words being printed in fresh ink.

Good morning, Hazel, they begin.

Good morning. The phrase would certainly appear more than mere platitude in this case.

It’s time to begin.

Hazel: She reads up to and past the part where Hazel starts to read. Part of her wonders what would happen if she flipped ahead to the last page. But she’s never been one to do that. All things in their time.

GM: “There are no last pages,” the coat-rack figure says, seemingly reading Hazel’s thoughts. “Not here. Never here.”

Hazel: She considers that. “I suppose there aren’t, now are there?”

GM: Meanwhile, Hazel watches as the printed words continue to appear on the book, yet as she reads, she sees the page spring to life with variously colored inks. From those fertile pools of rainbow inks, seeds begin to sprout. First one, then another, till the entire page is overflowing with vines and upward rising trunks that thicken and sprout untamed branches.

In the riotous growth, those branches begin to yield fruit of various shapes, most of which are just out of sight behind the spreading canopy. Nevertheless, Hazel discerns the shape of several nearby, low-hanging ‘fruits’. The first is an officially sealed envelope that ripens before Hazel’s eyes, bursting open to reveal a freshly-signed PI’s license.

Hazel: “A low-hanging fruit indeed. I knew it was already there in the mail,” Hazel states, though she is smiling. Her mom could use the help, and Hazel has never been one to trust strangers to a task she could do herself.

The thought of sabotaging the Keystone-Nostrum contract gives that smile some pause. It seems so… just, agh now. What she’d give to be able to do PI work for her mom now, the devil to whether she’d—they’d?—be leaving.

GM: “Not leaving, but beginning a journey elsewhere. Starting anew. New domiciles, new jobs, new loves, new partners. The loam is black and rich as coffee in the morning,” the figure says, leaning back and talking as if in a dream. Hazel can hardly see the figure through still-growing forest.

Hazel: “Maybe. That’s… that’s what Mom would say. No opportunities in Witiko Falls. But leaving behind Dad?” She’s quiet after that half-question, half-statement, turning back towards the book.
Well, canopy.

GM: The figure’s dreamy if not dreaming voice filters through that canopy. “It’s time for him to change too. He’s ripe to begin anew.”

Hazel: “That… that might be right. He certainly is clinging to the past. He still wears his wedding ring. And Mom doesn’t intend to stay,” Hazel grants. “But… the thought of him bringing somebody else in, much less a stepparent…” She squirms. “I suppose I am a grown woman and my parents’ choice of partners is no longer something I ought be overly concerned with, but I do not like the thought of a stranger being brought into our family, whose affection is solely for my father—or mother—and forces us into a state of awkward coexistence. It is disharmonious.”

“But I would be remiss not to acknowledge that our family is… disharmonious, as well, in its present state. They would not even call it a family, would they? I wish we could… just go back to the way things were. Before the divorce.”

She sighs. “But… I do have to wonder what manner of future there might be in such a recreation of the past. My mother is correct as to the limited career opportunities available in Witiko Falls. And even if she were to reconcile with my father, she is not happy here. She has never been happy here.”

“I don’t… I don’t know what to do,” she lamely finishes.

GM: Off in the canopy somewhere unseen, a blossom ‘ripens’ into a newborn infant’s cry.

“Could be a half-sister. Brother. Son?” the figure says excitedly.

Hazel: Hazel thinks. It gets her mind off harder questions to answer, at least. “It is either my child or my father’s. My mother is past the age of childbearing. I intend to have myself artificially inseminated if I am unable to find a life partner, though not for some years yet. I do not believe I am presently qualified to rear an infant. So it is most likely my half-sibling.”

She still doesn’t like the idea of a stepparent. But… a brother or sister would be another matter.

GM: Far closer to Hazel, however, is another ‘fruit’. Initially, Hazel mistakes it for an odd cluster of hanging bananas, but it shifts, revealing itself as a swarm of hands. The hands clearly belong to minors, although each one bears a similar tattoo on the inner wrist. The tattoo is a double line of numbers and letters, a single period separating them, fresh ink and blood dripping like nectar from the arms. Most of the nails are painted in bright colors. They reach out to Hazel, as for help or to help.

To their side, another fruit bursts into life. At first, it appears like a white orchid, but it swiftly grows, then blooms into a dangling straitjacket, its buckles dangling as metal stamen.

Hazel: Hazel instinctively stiffens at its presence, her face hardening. “No. I’ll make Mackenzie fucking eat that jacket.”

GM: “Keep an open mind. You never know how it fits till you try it on. You could find it to your liking.”

Hazel: “Keep your mind too open and your brain matter will leak out through your ears,” she answers caustically, but then moderates her tone. “I’ll try a new jacket. Sure. But I will never surrender my personal autonomy. Open the sleeves and lose the straps.”

She looks towards the hands, tentatively reaching out to touch the nearest one.

GM: It looks as if the coat-rack figure shrugs at Hazel’s terse reply. The nearest hand, however, reciprocates Hazel’s gesture. It then hesitates, as if unsure if it wishes true contact.

Hazel: That actually makes her more at ease. They’re alike in that way, then. “Pleased to meet you,” she remarks as she shakes the hand.

GM: The hand accepts Hazel’s grip, tentatively at first, then seems to split apart like a ripened peel of flesh, leaving Hazel holding nothing but the tatters of a teenage girl’s arm-skin. Inside, however, emerges a glistening wet wormish creature. A muddy-black salamander with hellish-orange spots that slithers down and away into the overgrowth.

Hazel: There’s some amount of instinctive disgust. But Hazel tries to clamp down on the sensation. Gross bodily functions are a far more trifling thing to be upset over than loss of personal freedom.
She observes the newborn salamander’s path. It is, after all, a creature symbolic of beginnings.

GM: Yet its size, coupled with the fecundity of the now-forest, causes Hazel to swiftly lose sight of the salamander. Indeed, she runs straight into a nest of flowers whose stamens are keys–including one to Sisyphus Manor. The key conjures a flurry of thoughts that distract Hazel, and by the time she recalls her intended pursuit, she is lost, and unsure whether she can make her way back to the bed, and the coat-rack dreamer and cat who bedded down upon it. Branches and vines grasp after her. So many textures, scents, and sounds. In the distance, a chicken clucks.

Hazel: This is not good. Growth and change is necessary to prevent stagnation, but it must be controlled, regulated.

GM: A pair of vines unfurl, connected by a wooden beam. A swing. A young man rocks upon the arboreal perch, his back turned to Hazel.

Hazel: She holds off on the act of will that could have sent her back to the cat and dreamer. She approaches the young man. “Hello. Are you the boyfriend of Marilyn Sweeney?”

GM: The man, who upon closer inspection must be several years older than Hazel, starts to turn. Before his face is revealed, another straight-jacket flower ‘blooms’ blocking her view. Its strap ‘petals’ reach out for her, its buckle stamen clinking loudly.

Hazel: Hazel instinctively thrusts out a hand. The weight of the buckles grows oh so heavy, forcing down the cloth straps that give it animation.

GM: The jacket responds, all-too eager to move, to change. The metal grows, not just heavy but in dimensions. The magnified buckles tear free form their straps, dropping like ferrous seeds, there they strike and sink deeply into the ground, only to instantly sprout into iron bars that are as thick as they are towering. Through the gaps, Hazel can see the control camisole transform as well, shifting into the semblance of a white doctor’s coat.

The young man exits the swing and disappears into the recesses of the overflowing forest. At the current exponential rate of spreading flora, Hazel too will soon disappear.

Hazel: Roll with the dream. Don’t contradict the narrative. There is a logic at work here she understands.

“Yes! Grow! Grow!” she shouts, throwing her arms wide. Grow and grow the metal bars do—along with the size of their gaps. Hazel ducks her head to slip underneath them, then grabs hold of the bars from outside. She could try to halt the growth of the forest. Or she could beat it at its own game.

She hoists herself over the bar with a grunt, grabs the next ‘rung’, and climbs still further up. All the while, she shouts the same word: “GROW!”

The metal ‘foliage’ ascends higher and higher. Hazel squints down at the rapidly diminishing forest. It’s getting hard to see. Another incantation and act of will hones her perceptions to a knife’s-edge, cutting through the thick canopy like a machete.

There—the coat-rack dreamer. The computer-eyed cat. The bedroom, or at least what started as a bedroom, is barely recognizable beneath the fast-expanding megaflora. There needs to be a check on this growth, and soon. An Antropos to sheer the miles-long thread of life. For now, a Lachesis to provide direction will do.

GROW—that way!” Hazel points. The steel bars prove all-too eager to enlarge, expand, and live at her urging. She clambers down from her perch as the foliage-overrun bed and its two occupants approach. She observes that the lower bars are all but consumed in a thicket of hungrily-spreading branches and vines. She absently wonders how long it will take them to cover the entire metal structure, but dismisses the matter as she jumps down onto the bed with a soft impact, then scoops the cat back up in her arms.

She turns to regard the coat-rack dreamer—or at least her closest approximation of where the figure may be.

“I am often inflexible and given to modes of cognitive rigidity. Your spontaneity, adaptability, and willingness to try new things are qualities that do not come easily to me, and they are ones I would benefit from adopting to a greater degree. But Clotho’s ceaseless spinning must be directed by Lachesis’ guiding hand. You may best serve my personal development as an advisor standing beside my cognitive throne than as the queen who sits upon it.”

She looks to the cat. “I am ready to depart.”

GM: The feline obliges, sinking its fangs deep into one of Hazel’s fingers. Back in the chamber, the cat licks a paw, but eyes Hazel. Those eyes speak, despite the feline’s silence.


All four chairs remain, though only one remains untested.

Hazel: There’s another restrained glare at the sudden pain, even if she knew it was coming.

“At least the parting there was more amicable,” Hazel remarks. She’s come this far; there’s but one road she has yet to explore.

She approaches the mobile chair’s path, waits for it to intersect with hers, and then semi-awkwardly attempts to quickly sit down while there’s still a cat in her arms. It’s fitting, though, that the last chair she occupies is literally coming around full circle.

GM: Around and around.

Once again, she sits. Once again, a picture frame flickers to life, and once again, she finds herself within a new vista. Like the first two, the fourth landscape is familiar to Hazel’s psyche. Home. Or, what was once her home. For the chair transports her to the one of the abandoned walkways leading up to the Sisyphus manor. It’s a path she’s trod many times. Old brick, deeply buried in the lawn, line the pathway otherwise made of well-trod gravel. Above, the sky bears the bruising purple of twilight: the bewitching hour. Below, the path has been further marked by dozens if not hundreds of open books.


The dark-furred cat leaps from Hazel’s arm, but waits for the woman to decide their sojourn’s course.

Hazel: Home.

God she’s missed it. Lacewood has always been close to her heart. But always second-closest. Her apartment and college dorm were temporary residences. Mom’s hotel room barely registers a blip. The Sweeney house has been forever despoiled.

But here.


She knows the path by heart, and follows it by heart alone, towards the distant hilltop manor. It’s even during her favorite time of day. All that’s missing is her family waiting at the house’s door. It may not be perfect. But it’s damn close.

GM: Close, and increasingly closer. And yet, her very first step gives her pause. For in side-stepping the panoply of books that litter the gravel path, Hazel is struck by the sight of the book at her feet. Her book.

She immediately recognizes it. Knows it. Like the scent of her father’s aftershave, the sound of her mother tiredly slipping off her heels after a long day of work, and the taste of Gramps’ smoked trout, she knows this book.


Hazel: Those shoes are so illogical, Mom, she thinks with simultaneous amusement and sadness. But a far more immediate memory—and sight—beckons.

GM: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. She had found the book–or had the book found her?–during her first night at the Sisyphus manor. She had been pacing in her then-utterly unfamiliar bedroom located in the then-foreign house that seemed far too vast for her comparatively tiny family of three. Around and around she paced, unable to sleep, unable to settle herself in the alien environment, unable to process why her mother had demanded they move away from Gramps and Nana and the familiar security of Lacewood. Around and around, she paced, unable to relax, as the old house on the hill creaked and groaned with strange voices. Around and around, she paced, her bare feet treading the old, squeaky floorboards. Around and around, she had paced until she recognized that one of the floorboards had a different voice, a different groan.

Sometimes, the sensory hypersensitivities had its benefits. That night was one of them.
Hazel had inspected the odd floorboard and found it came up easily, its nails and inner side having been filed down. Moving the thinned plank aside, she found the clandestine cache and the book that would cement her interest in the occult and supernatural. Its green-gray binding reminded her of a WWI military uniform. Two red lines, faded from age, marked the top and bottom covers; whereas, dust gathered in the black inset typeface of the book’s title and its compiler: M. R. James. At first, Hazel had assumed the book was a moving-day present from her mother. After all, the erudite lawyer occasionally hid small gifts for her daughter to find or unlock, as if to promote her problem-solving, if not perseverance.

Hazel: That was a quality of her mother’s an older Hazel came to admire. Even her younger self had to admit she liked the satisfaction of unearthing her presents.

GM: Already a bookworm, and with not much else to do, Hazel had cracked open the book. It was a 1904 first edition book, published by Edward Arnold in Britain. Beyond its notable age and foreign publication, Hazel was struck by its ‘author’, Montague Rhodes James. Namely, M. R. James was detailed not as the author or editor of the book’s stories, but as its compiler. This was all the more noteworthy given that the book, true to its title, was a collection of ghost stories. Indeed, the credence given to the book’s tales and their veridical nature were amplified when Hazel learned that James was a respected paleographer and medievalist scholar who served as the Provost of King’s College at Cambridge.

Hazel: Well, that had settled it in her young mind. Even the most highly-regarded of intellectuals could treat this subject matter as a valid pursuit and scholastic field.

GM: Moreover, Hazel found that in contrast to earlier gothic tales filled with dashing knights and beautiful damsels, James’ collections predominately used rural settings with introverted, yet scholarly protagonists getting caught up in the activities of supernatural forces. Similar, Hazel came to appreciate how James’ work was similarly unique for its details of horror almost never being explicit, but instead relied upon a gentle, bucolic background to emphasize the awfulness of otherworldly intrusions. As a socially maladjusted, yet preciously erudite youth living in a beautiful town otherwise best with strangeness, the young girl not only noted the parallels, but also saw personages resembling herself being featured as protagonists.

Hazel: That sealed it. This was who she was—in more than one sense of the word.

GM: Consequently, it was unsurprising that Hazel read and almost memorized all eight tales in the collection: Canon Alberic’s Scrap-Book, Lost Hearts, The Mezzotint, The Ash-tree, Number 13, Count Magnus, Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, and The Treasure of Abbot Thomas.

Hazel: She remembers showing the book she’d found to her parents. “This is about me! And it’s very good!”

GM: Of course, they had reacted with surprise and initial trepidation. After all, they had insisted that they knew nothing of the floorboard niche, nor the book. Moreover, they had worried that the book of old ghost stories would do nothing but give their emotionally volatile daughter terrible nightmares.

“Pretty dark stuff, kiddo,” her dad has said, offering to buy her a book on ponies or cake-making to replace it.

“It’s not real, darling,” was her mother’s response. “You do know that?”

Hazel: “Ponies are boring, and cakes are for eating, not reading. I find this remarkably fascinating!” the five-year-old had protested to her father.

She wasn’t as sure what to say to her mom’s statement and settled for, “It is educational and entertaining!”

GM: With that seeming concession, her mother relented, as did Harvey, especially when the nightmares failed to materialize, although Hazel’s somnambulism did seem to spike while at Sisyphus Manor.

Hazel: Besides, who knew if she might find other books in the house, late at night?

GM: Indeed, Hazel’s parents would come to rue their acquiescence, as the book proved to be a ‘gateway drug’ that spurred Hazel’s eventual obsession with the occult. Certainly, Gramps’ fairy tales and superstitions didn’t help, nor did the way in which the old house seemed to keep turning up aged copies of occult works from the likes of Éliphas Lévi, Aleister Crowley, and John Dee.

Hazel: Hazel always did try to relate them to her parents, especially as she grew older and better able to verbalize their contents. She told her mother and father all about Hermes Thrice-Greater-One, Kabbalah, Enochian, the Golden Dawn, and the mythical city of Pymander. The girl with autism had found a topic that enraptured her, and could share facts about it for hours upon hours. “Within the body of Adam Qadmon, the Primordial Man, all things are found! See how the 10 Sephiroth chart the path from mortality to supreme godhead!”

GM: Much to their chagrin–and that of nearly anyone else unlucky enough to be in Hazel’s earshot.
Now, though, Hazel’s only company is the black cat, which has stopped to lick its paws again, as Hazel hefts her old copy of Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian. Looking down, she sees the book has been opened to Count Magnus, and to particular passage therein:

He found that the Count was not a favorite. If his tenants came late to their work on the days which they owed to him as Lord of the Manor, they were set on the wooden horse, or flogged and branded in the manor-house yard. One of two of these cases there were of men who had occupied lands which encroached on the lord’s domain, and whose houses had been mysteriously burnt on a winter’s night, with the whole family inside. But what seemed to dwell on the innkeeper’s mind most–for he returned to the subject more than once–was that the Count has been on the Black Pilgrimage, and had brought something or someone back with him.

Hazel: Hazel had brought up some of those passages around her parents too. Terminology such as “flogging and branding” doubtless did little to set their minds at ease.

GM: However, it had been the explicitly detailed descriptions of sex magic by the likes of Randolph, Jennings, Craddock, Crowley, and de Naglowska that proved unpalatable to her parents–or more specifically her father. When Harvey had discovered the explicit content littering his middle school daughter’s ‘bedtime reading’, he took the entire collection of antique books and burned them.
Hazel had returned home from school that day to find her parents shouting at each–a then incredibly rare event, potentially the first time Hazel ever witnessed.

“So what, Harvey, you’re a Nazi now, burning books?!” her mother had shouted as she opened the front door.

Hazel: The then-thirteen-year-old Hazel had one thing to say to her father: “YOUBURNEDBOOKS!?” she had shrieked with outrage, her face flushed red. “Those—were—!” she had found herself at a momentary loss for words, sputtering with incoherent wrath.

“You—BARBARIAN! You—stupid_, uneducated lout! Ever has it been the way of—_savages to destroy those works of civilization they cannot understand! He is not a Nazi, Mother, but a mindless, butchering Vandal in the streets of Rome, destroying that which he might never understand nor create! Those were—ANTIQUES! Irreplaceable! The knowledge they contained is now lost forever, thanks to your—ignorance—and stupidity! YOU DESTROYED KNOWLEDGE!”

At that final declaration, the middle schooler’s fury burned out. Despair was all that remained. She burst into choking spasms of tears and sank to the floor.

GM: To Hazel’s latter lament, her parents’ fury, particularly with each other, was far from extinguished. Lydia tried to comfort Hazel, saying they would replace them.

Harvey wouldn’t hear it, promising to burn every single one again and again “even if it meant his daughter hating him for it!”

“What about your wife hating you?” Lydia had reflexively shouted back.

And in that moment, Hazel’s parents were verbally at one another’s throats again, seemingly blinded to their daughter by their uncharacteristic anger at each other. As their verbal tirades escalated, Lydia eventually accused Harvey of stealing the books so he “could learn some new tricks for Tina–or is it Leo!”

Hazel: That spate had actually made Hazel’s face go still for a moment. She… really wasn’t sure what to think of it. And coming so soon, after the destruction of her beloved books. It didn’t even seem real. She felt her head growing light and a familiar tightness gripping her lungs. Blinking past her tears, she cried, “Y-you co-could have j-just taken them a-w-way! YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO BURN THEM!”
The words flew out of her mouth like hot vomit, but she didn’t feel any less queasy for its absence. All of this, all of it was… was… further coherent thought was lost as the panic attack hit.

GM: Her parents, so possessed by their fury at each other, didn’t even notice. All Harvey heard and saw was Lydia yelling the inflammatory accusation an inch from his face. He lashed out with a push that drove Lydia staggering back into the kitchen table and shattering the top of her wineglass.

The action shocked all three of the Baumans, Harvey included, but Lydia was the first to recover–though not from her fury. It all happened so fast, and Hazel could never know for sure whether her mother was simply trying to spill the remaining wine in Harvey’s face or stab out his eyes.

Before the latter could happen, intentionally or not, Harvey slapped Lydia’s hand with such a terrible force that Hazel heard the snap of her mother’s wrist-bones echo in her dreams for months. Lydia cried out and sunk to her knees. Harvey tried to rush in to apologize, beg forgiveness, and comfort her. But she flailed and screamed at him to leave.

It was at that moment that Harvey seemed to remember his daughter. He tried to stammer something, but instead half-fled, half-stormed out the kitchen door, ripping the screen-door off its hinges like he was being pursued by the very hounds of hell.

Hazel: Like a bad hangover, the panic attack’s mindless fear-spasms eventually ran their course. They always did eventually.

She couldn’t say for how long it was after the terrible scene. If listening to her parents fight didn’t seem real, watching them fight—physically fight—called into question whether anything was real. This couldn’t have been happening. It was an altogether distinct manner of terror from the anxiety attacks—not a sudden punch to the gut, where one expects, but a punch to the throat, the groin, where one doesn’t expect, followed by shards of glass strewn throughout one’s home, turning that which was safe and familiar into a waiting death-trap of sharp angles and cutting edges that even the slightest unintentional action might set off, drawing forth new welts of blood and pain.

She felt her heart hammering in her ears, the surge of adrenaline running through her bloodstream, instincts screaming either fight or flight in a place that should see neither. In a place that should be home.

She didn’t stand up. She wondered if she might stand up into a stabbing web of broken glass. Whether raising her head too high would make someone see it, would disturb something else, make them scream. She crawled instead into the kitchen, her expression half-dumb, instinctively seeking comfort, explanation, sense. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks white as she looked up at her mother, but she’d long since stopped crying. Her voice was hardly above a whisper.


GM: The Sisyphus Manor also seemed large, especially for a small family of three. But that day, as mother and daughter crawled to each other on the floor littered with split wine, blood, and glass shards, it seemed incomprehensibly vast, like the cold, infinite vacuum of space. It was only a few feet, but it felt like traversing light years.

Hazel: “M-Mom,” she stammered helplessly, “wh…”

What? Why? It was both those questions, and none of them. None because this shouldn’t have occurred. Couldn’t have occurred. Hazel’s mother was always the indomitable, high-powered corporate executive who got what she wanted, through force of will and intellect alike.

She wasn’t a woman who screamed and flailed and got slapped around in her own house.

GM: Except, that day, she was. And the shock of it all had seemingly shattered Lydia’s composure as well, and far less cleanly than her wrist. By the time her mother reached her, Lydia had begun to sob. Hazel could feel the heat radiating off her mother’s face. As she placed her good arm around her daughter, Lydia tried to stammer out an answer.

“I-it’s… my f-fault…” She tried to say more, explain better, to provide some comforting response or assurances, but Lydia couldn’t. Not then and there. Where words failed, Hazel had to make due with her mother’s shaky embrace and the sound of hot tears falling into a small puddle of wine.

Hazel: Hazel had even less idea what to say to that. It was… it was an accident, a car crash that happened as suddenly as it did terribly, for reasons no one could ever fully piece together.

She had equally little idea what to think of it. She’d never seen her parents cry.

“I… don’t want you to fight, over… my books…” she said lamely. There had to be a cause for this.

GM: Lydia had went to wipe her eyes and mascara-streaked face, only to wince sharply as she as was painfully reminded of the break in her wrist. “N-no, Hazel… it’s not your fault. Sometimes… sometimes parents fight.” Her tears trickled to a stop. She still hadn’t really looked at her daughter, not yet. But she hadn’t withdrawn her arm, either.

Hazel: Her thirteen-year-old self awkwardly crouched there. Never comfortable with hugs, and all-too on edge under the present circumstances, she managed to put an arm around her mother’s shoulder and limply squeeze back. “Wh… why?”

GM: Lydia had stared down at the floor a long time, as if trying to count all the pieces of shattered glass, as if trying to retrace their movements and history back to the point at which they were a solid, unbroken glass.

Had she succeeded? Or did she give up on the complex quest–or worse yet, trace the trajectories back to a truth she did not like or could not change? Hazel never found out, not then at least. Instead, her mother had stammered, then reiterated more firmly that ‘it’ would never happen again.

“I promise, Hazel,” she had said, looking up at her daughter, her face resolute in a way that Hazel knew well.

Hazel: “I can… wipe your eyes, if you are not adverse,” Hazel offered, equal parts tentative and sincere.

GM: Lydia almost lost it again at Hazel’s simple, yet profoundly sweet offer. She sniffled, and perhaps to hide another bout of tears, had asked Hazel to get several hand towels from the kitchen drawer.

Hazel: “Okay. I will… return shortly.” Hazel awkwardly rose and disengaged her arm, all-too ginger in her avoidance of the eggshells over the floor—glass and otherwise. She returned after a moment with the requested hand towels and a tube of paper ones. “The disposable material might be more efficacious, but we have both…” she half-ventured, half-explained as she knelt back down.

GM: “That’s very thoughtful of you, dear. But let’s start with the cloth ones.” With her daughter’s help, Lydia had fashioned a makeshift sling for her wrist, then rose and retrieved the broom. It was awkward work. In more ways than one.

Hazel: “I can sweep, with your wrist…” Hazel had quickly cut in.

GM: “I’ll manage,” she had replied stoically at first, but then added with a softer tone, “but I would greatly appreciate if you helped with the dust-bin and hand-broom.”

Hazel: Hazel proved all-too eager to do so. A rare change for the thirteen-year-old where housework was concerned. “We can call Winnie. To come over, about your wrist.”

GM: “That’s–” began her mother, with a tone that sounded like disagreement before halting, only to start again, “that’s an excellent idea, Hazel.” Her smile had beamed with pride. Sadness haunted that pride, but Hazel had felt her mother’s approval then like a torch in the dark.

Hazel: Hazel was puzzled by the sudden shift in her mother’s attitude, wondering what subtext she had missed. “Yes, avoiding a trip to the hospital emergency room would seem preferable.”

GM: Whether in tacit agreement or mild avoidance, Lydia had not replied initially, save for roughly mopping up the floor with her feet and a pair of paper towels. “Now, I’m sure you’re hungry after a long day at school. Why don’t you go get yourself a snack. Anything you want, dear. And then, I’ll call your aunt.” A pang of sadness slipped over her smile as she patted the top of Hazel’s head. Sniffling back a tear, she had added, “I think there’s a slice of Lottie’s German chocolate cake still in the fridge.”

Hazel: That was a rare offer. Lydia normally watched the plump 13-year-old’s intake of sweets and junk food like a hawk. She clearly wanted things to get back to normal, but as much as Hazel would normally want cake too, she honestly wasn’t feeling hungry. She mentally weighed the pros and cons of asking about the next matter on her mind, then settled for, “How can we minimize the… deleterious consequences of the reunion when Dad is back?” She then added, “Or how can we best facilitate a reconciliation.”

She managed not to wince at the mildly unexpected head-pat.

GM: Lydia didn’t quite wince as she had when she was reminded of her broken bone, but she had sighed. Sitting down at the table, she patted an adjacent chair. “There will be several steps,” her mother had explained in a didactic tone, as if spelling out a recipe for chicken cordon bleu.

“You will go upstairs to your room. This will allow me to privately call both your aunt… and your father. I do not know who will come here first. Aunt Winnifred will tend to my wrist, and I will privately explain what has happened. She will be discrete and sympathetic. She may come upstairs to give you a hug. You should accept it. She may ask if you are ‘okay’. You can answer however you wish. She will likely not ask you anything else.”

She had paused ever so slightly to ensure Hazel was tracking this ‘recipe’, then continued. “As for your father… your father will come home. I will wait down here. He and I will speak. Nicely. We may cry. But we will be nice to each other. He will apologize, and I will forgive him.” She had looked ever so slightly away, then added, “He and I will come upstairs then. He will apologize. He will likely cry. But that doesn’t mean he is upset with you. Do you understand?”

Hazel: Hazel listened to all of that slowly. She really did want to believe that following her mother’s directions would make everything better. But there was still no apparent cause for why any of this had occurred at all.

“There are… unaccounted variables in this plan,” Hazel replied. “Perhaps my presence during your initial reunion would serve as… disincentive against further hostilities.”

GM: “There will not be further hostilities. Your father and I need to speak privately first. We will speak nicely. I promise.” She had then returned to her ‘recipe’. “Your father will want to hug you. He will want to feel assured that things are okay, and that you forgive him. He will want, as you said, ‘reconciliation’. Do not pressure him about the books. We can talk about that later.”

Hazel: “I can do all of those things,” Hazel said slowly. “But… if I may be frank, the root cause of the hostilities does not appear to be addressed.”

GM: Her mother’s reply was equally tactical, if not tactful. “That is for your father and I to resolve, Hazel. I appreciate you giving us the space and time to do so.”

Hazel: Hazel bit back her natural objections, but then finally said, plaintively if not desperately, “I don’t want there to be another outbreak.”

GM: With that remark, a smile that looked, or at least felt more like a frown, appeared on Lydia’s face. She reached over and gently tucked one of Hazel’s stray strands of hair back behind her ear. “There won’t be. I know you are worried. It is natural to feel anxious. In time, that will pass.”

Hazel: Hazel looked up at her mom with some amount of puzzlement. “But there is basis to the feeling. I don’t…” Her next words quavered as she felt her eyes getting teary. “I don’t want you and Dad to fight…”

GM: “Sh-hhhhh,” her mother had said, wincing as she reached over to embrace her daughter.

The rest of the day unfolded effectively just as Lydia had promised. Hazel’s books, however, were never replaced–and remained an impolite topic of conversation amongst the Baumans.

But now, she is holding Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Her book. And by the look of the path ahead of her, the rest of her lost collection is all here as well.

The Mysteries of Eulis
Heavenly Bridegrooms
Psychic Wedlock
1912 copy of Oriflamme
The Book of Lies
De Nuptis Secretis Deorum Cum Hominibus
Liber Stellae Rubeae
Liber Agape vel C vel Azoth—The Book of the Unveiling of the Sangraal
Liber A’ash vel Capricorni Pneumatici
Le Rite Sacré de L’amour Magique
Le Mystère de la Pendaison

Hazel: Hazel gives a bittersweet smile. She knows by now the books weren’t why they were fighting. But she’d have still given them up if it meant peace.

Not that it stopped her from later accumulating more books. And never ceasing to hold her father accountable for the fact that ‘you could have taken them away without burning them’. He never apologized for those, so she never forgave him. She never brought any book to his house that she wasn’t prepared to lose. She did not let him handle any of the boxes containing books when moving to and from Spokane. And after the divorce, she took no small petty pleasure in informing him that her new collection of books, the one that would forever stay at her mom’s house, was “ten times as explicit.”

She won’t ever forget what he did. But maybe if he just apologized, she could finally forgive.

GM: The cat languidly waits, either oblivious, patient, or uncaring at the delay.

Hazel: Hazel finally looks down at the black-furred cat. “Is there no figure with whom to converse here?”

GM: “Says the girl to the cat with whom she converses,” replies the feline with a swish of its tail. Its eyes, however, give another message.


Hazel: Hazel’s brow furrows. Not over yet, then. And of course it isn’t. She hasn’t even approached the house. She picks up the cat and makes her way up the book-littered road to her real home.

GM: Sisyphus Manor perches atop its hill, awaiting Hazel’s return. Built during the first wave of the White Plague to strike Witiko Falls, the postbellum mansion holds a commanding view of its surroundings–or normally does, for today the valleys and town below are shrouded in the opaque coils of snake fog.

Hazel: Dad, and especially Gramps, always felt the house was too large. “Like wearing a coat three sizes too big.” But Hazel never minded. It was more space for the family to have to have all to themselves—all before the abundance of “secrets” such an old, large house offered a young Hazel to explore.

GM: Old and large it is, particularly when compared to most of its local peers. Fashioned in Gothic Revival, the mansion stands three stories tall, boasts expansive cellars, and is further capped by a finial-topped cupola that functions as a grand belvedere worthy of a castle from a Grimm fairy tale. The exterior was fashioned of stone cleaved from a local quarry and sealed with a rose-tinted plaster. Framed by hooded mouldings and scalloped buttresses, scores of lancet windows peer from the second and third floors, while the first bears a set of matching porches with expertly carved columns, cornices, and stairs. In contrast, its immediately surrounding grounds are austere, featuring little else save wind-chilled grass, a large leafless tree, and the pathways upon which Hazel treads.


Hazel: Hazel never minded the relatively barren yard. She was always an indoor child, happier with her nose in books than her feet on grass.

Looking upon the house again is a bittersweet feeling. The last time she saw it was the summer of 1993. She was 18 years old and had just graduated from high school. Mom didn’t want her to spend the summer lazing about, however, when she could be moving to Spokane and settling into her new life at Gonzaga.

The last sight she had of Sisyphus was from the passenger side of the van Lydia rented to move her things in—she didn’t want Harvey on her property, and Hazel didn’t want him handling her books. She never did after that fight. Her mom had read the half-forlorn look on her face and reminded her that she was now bound for much bigger and better things than Witiko Falls. She’d softened a bit and said how proud she was of Hazel, who was all grown up and heading off to college. Hazel did want to move forward. She did want to earn her degree.

But she wanted Sisyphus too. There were no visits there back from college. Lydia sold the house and was moved into the Ghost Elk Lodge in what seemed barely any time later—so little time, in fact, that Hazel suspected her mom had been making the necessary arrangements all throughout her senior high school year. Lydia was adamant that Hazel’s move to college was going to be a move forward—just like the move from Lacewood was thirteen years before. There would be no Sisyphus Manor for Hazel to come home from college to. 1993’s Thanksgiving was at the Ghost Elk Lodge.

They’d fought. Bitterly. Hazel lost track of the number of times she repeated, “You shouldn’t have sold that house, Mom.” But there was nothing she could do about it. She was moved out and it was her mom’s house. Nothing she could do then, at least.

She has her plans now. Or at least had them. Her face falls a bit. She’d barely gotten those plans off the ground. She’d gotten inside Gina’s computer, but hadn’t yet investigated how the otherwise invisible Simeon Cratter actually paid for the house. She remembers thinking, That’s not a purchase you can make and stay invisible. Either Simeon had a bank account from which the funds were transfered, or he handed Gina a suitcase full of cash like a drug lord that she was obligated to report to the IRS. Hazel thought there were some promising avenues there. All the more so if Gina or Mr. Cratter didn’t play things by the book.

That all seems so remote now. She’ll consider herself lucky if she’s even living with her parents for the foreseeable future. If she should even be allowed to. If she can even justify herself living with them. After all, she did murder the…

She instantly clamps down on that horrid thought. No.

That… that is a sin to face in its own time. Not here. Not now. Along with her nemesis’ level of involvement. There’s nothing she can do about either here. In her mind. Her soul?

All she can do is move forward. Choose her chair. Step through the door. That, at least, feels… right. She scratches the ears of the cat in her arms, then strides forward into the house from her past.

GM: The old porch groans as Hazel ascends its stairs, like the old floorboards in her room, whispering of hidden secrets. Yet, as her hand grasps the old copper doorknob, cast and etched to resemble a blossoming rose with an oblong fruit in its center, her peripheral vision swims with movement. Behind her. Around her. Hidden now by the barren, black-barred tree and the pillared porch. Figures, dark, with faces white and round as the moon. Rabbit faces.

Hazel: Welcome to the next half of your story indeed, Alice.

Hazel calmly surveys the approaching figures. She’s in a good position if she needs to retreat—right by the door, where she can bottle them up if they come after her.

She has no intention of retreating.

“I am Hazel Attila Bauman,” her voice rings out through the twilight, “and this is my home upon which you intrude. State your business.”

Her eyes take in each of the rabbit faces even as her mind begins to work a defensive invocation.

GM: Several more rabbit faces peek up over the crest of hill. With the fog, Hazel cannot be sure, but she increasingly suspects the faces are masks. They are too eerily still. Others look over rooftop with plastic smiles.

Hazel’s reply, however, comes from within the Sisyphus Manor, rather than without. “State yours,” creaks the house with a voice that murmurs though the main door’s key-plate, a baroque, burnished affair of matching patina, metal, and age as the doorknob, whose cast and etched disk bares a circular motif of three rabbits chasing each other in three-fold symmetry.


Hazel: The voice sounds as if it originates from within the keyhole, so it is to the keyhole which Hazel turns to address. Her own voice remains level and betrays no fear. She knows she can’t take all those figures, if it comes down to a fight, but conviction and ingenuity may yet avert the need for one.

“This place is my home. I am here for reasons of sentiment and personal discovery. I believe there to be knowledge within its walls that will assist me in making a profound choice. Failing and irrespective of that, I intend to pay my respects to the house for the past knowledge it has bestowed me, and without which I would not be the woman I am today.”

GM: In reply, the key-plate slides of its own volition. As Hazel watches the plate reveal the dark keyhole, she can feel the press of plastic, rabbit eyes around her, their gaze pressing on her shoulders and spine. Hazel can barely hear the voice from within the keyhole, as if the source of the whisper is incredibly small, quiet, or distant.

“And if you had to choose?”

Hazel: “I would pay my respects, and make my choice with the information I already possess. I have only recently become aware of the full significance to the debt that I owe.”

GM: There is a pause, then the feel more than the sound of spectral tumblers moving. The whisper seems to dim, forcing Hazel to crane closer. “Sentiment… or discovery…” As Hazel leans in, she thinks she detects some feeble flicker or presence of light.

Hazel: The sound of the tumblers is all she needs. She opens her home’s door and briskly strides inside with the cat.

GM: She steps into darkness. It swallows her and her feline companion, snuffing out all sight, save for a single object, illuminated by an unseen source. The object is a sign, or more accurately, a pair of them. Both are nondescript, white as the rabbit masks. Both point away from Hazel at a forty-five degree angle. The top signals to the right, the bottom to the left. A single, yet distinct, word marks each signpost:




Hazel: Her brow furrows for a moment. She takes the right-hand path. The choice is only logical. To have a place or to have none.

GM: As she takes the path identified as leading her to her home, Hazel hears a click, like the pull of a lamp-cord in a closet. As the light turns on, the resemblance is apt, as the room she finds herself in appears to be a giant closet, or closet-esque. Further inspection reveals the chamber to be a giant cube, with no apparent doors of windows.

At the cube’s center is a figure. Hazel recognizes the figure-or at least its body. Well-worn jeans, suited for a rugged hike, and a button-up long-sleeve dress shirt that is incredibly wrinkled from sleeping on the bus she was forced to take from Coer d’Alene to Spokane. The rider had already been asleep, a jacket over its head, and had remained that way the entire trip–or Hazel’s entire trip. For as Hazel left the bus to return to Gonzaga, the figure remained, its sojourn not yet complete. The figure had slept so soundly, so contently, despite the uncomfortable seats, smell of smoke, and oft-raucous passengers, that Hazel had wondered if the dreamer would ever wake or merely ride on forever and ever.

On this sojourn, however, there is no jacket over the figure’s face. As with the others, it has no face. Instead, there is a cube. Its aurelian hue and glint shimmering just as her uncle’s disturbingly ambiguous, if not amorphous desk-weight. The surface of the cubes, both those that frame the walls, ceiling, and floor as well as those of the figure’s ‘head’ begin to shimmer. Their vibrations create sounds inside Hazel’s inner skull:

They are not one.
Just one.
They are not the one.
Just one.
But not one.
But one of them.

Hazel: Hazel regards the cubed figure’s ‘face’. “Greetings. I am uncertain as to the identity of the ‘one’ you are referring to.” But then, she’d been uncertain how someone could possibly have been content on that bus ride too.

GM: You are.
And you are not.

Hazel: “You believe I am divided,” she states. “Between sentiment and discovery?”

GM: You.
You are not one.
You are divided.

Hazel: “Knowledge and my family are the two things I treasure beyond all else,” Hazel states.

GM: The surfaces shimmer, creating pressure that distorts perceptions of space and time, blurring or widening Hazel’s eyes of apperception just enough that she sees the cube-esque chamber not as a cube, but a tesseract.

You do not understand.
One will understand.
But you are not one.

Hazel: “I cannot obtain ultimate knowledge and retain my family,” Hazel states, half in question.

GM: The figure reaches up and takes hold of a corner of its ‘head’. A piece shears off, creating another cube, which floats now in the new center. Blood pours from the wound, shimmering between crimson red and black as fresh ink. The figure’s hand weep with the liquid.


Hazel: “That is its price,” she continues slowly.

GM: They are not one.
Just one.
They are not the one.
Just one.
But not one.
Only one of them.
You are not you.
You are not the one.
You are not one.

The blood-ink continues to gush.

Hazel: “Ultimate knowledge for the ultimate price,” Hazel states, seemingly as much to herself as the cubed figure. “That is a principle with which I am acquainted.”

GM: With alarming speed, it begins to fill the tesseract. Hazel feels it rise, first to her ankles, then knees, then waist.

Hazel: “Speak plainly. Do you desire me to make that choice where your counterparts did not?” she demands. She eyes the rising blood level. Perhaps the time to depart this place grows nigh.

GM: The floodwaters rise to Hazel’s breast, then neck, and Hazel struggles to fathom the voice of the fractal cubes. They, like she will be soon, are drowned out by the inky blood.

The cat crawls atop Hazel’s shoulders, then head. Its monitor-eyes stare at Hazel, flicking with their unnameable colors.


Hazel: But not before she overcomes this trial by her own merits.

“I intend to prove that,” she answers grimly, her arms sloshing through the sanguine floodwaters as she traces a protective glyph. The pattern itself is simple—a straight horizontal line crossed through by a straight horizontal line. It’s Germanic—representing survival and protection. A primal, simple concept appropriate to the nature of its invocation. She’s not sure if the cat on her head needs it, but she repeats the quick tracing and effort of will for its benefit.

GM: Hazel’s will is puissant, but she nevertheless begins to choke as the ‘waters’ flow into her, filling her beyond what she can bear. Perhaps too late, she realizes that the substance is not liquid–not even matter at all but something far more… transcendent. Its immaterial taste is… indescribable. Her psyche reaches out for the ladders of comprehension, and her mind grips hold of words and concepts and quotes, many from the same books that had hid and waited for her inside Sisyphus Manor.

Azoth. The ultimate substance that is not substance. Quintessence. Ain Soph. The emanator of the sefirot and the emanations of the Tree. Her psyche echoes with the writings of Manly Hall in The Secret Teachings of All Ages_:_The universe is surrounded by the sphere of light or stars. Beyond that sphere is Schamayim… who is the Divine Fiery Water, the first outflow of the Word of God, the flaming river pouring from the presence of the eternal mind. Schamayim, the Androgyne, divides.

Schamayim is the Azoth. Its emanations pour itself into the four main rivers of the four elements. This comprises the River of the Living Water, the Azoth, that flows out from the throne of God and Lamb. In this Eden is the first or spiritual Earth, the incomprehensible and intangible dust out of which God formed Adam Kadmon, the spiritual body of man, which must become fully revealed through time.

Hazel: There’s only one thing to do then. She breathes deep.

GM: At the same time, her psyche hears Eliphas Levi’s words from Transcendental Magic:
The Azoth… is, for the soul, is supreme reason and absolute justice; for the mind, it is mathematical and practical truth; for the body it is the quintessence, which is a combination of gold and light. In the superior or spiritual world, it is the First Matter of the Great Work, the source of the enthusiasm and activity of the alchemist. In the intermediate or mental world, it is intelligence and industry. In the inferior or material world, it is physical labor.

Baal Shem Tov internalized the esoteric, transcendent emanations of Kabbalah into immanent, psychology perception and correspondence: Atzmus or the Quintessence. While Ein Sof can only be infinit, Atzmus is beyond the duality of finite and infinite. It is beyond duality. It both transcends all levels and permeates all levels. Paraodoxical acosmic monism.

As Hazel tries to swallow and drink the transcendent infinitude of Azoth, she begins to drown and dissolve. Above her, the cat, which now looks frighteningly large, nothing short of a giant green-black lion, looms over her. Its black monitor-eyes silently speak in a visage that could either be a scream or weeping:


Hazel: Godhead is man’s birthright. “Within the body of Adam Quadmon, the Primordial Man, all things are found.” The human body reflects the heavenly order. Arms, legs, and head: five extremities of the human body, five points on the pentagram, five elements from primal Earth and Fire toward Air and Water and finally Spirit. Man represents his own pathway back to God. One need look no further than the perfect geometric order of the human body as living proof.

Man is both gateway and mirror to the sublime. Da Vinci’s famous diagrams of Man and Woman assume this and offer clues to eventual transcendence. To Ascension. Man is bound in form and function to divinity. Man’s body and soul possess the aspects of All Things, and show how one might rise from humble mortality to ultimate transcendence.

And yet as the sheer weight of that infinitude crashes into her, all that Hazel can suddenly think is how she wants her mom and dad.

The cat is too large. The message in its eyes too distracting. The waters… not-waters… too deep, too paradoxical, for her strained psyche to comprehend in their infinitude. The thoughts preceding them too troubling. All… too… much. She can dimly hear herself screaming past the rushing waters. That this is her house. That she’s going to get it back. That she’s not a killer. That her nemesis, that it’s his fault. That the sin isn’t hers—can’t be hers. “I… I don’t want… infin…! Mom… Dad… I want… please… I’m n… I’ll wipe your eyes!” Yes! She seizes upon that pattern. The logical one by which to stem the flooding waters.


GM: The frantic words echo like a stuck VCR, running forward and then back in an endless loop.

Around and around.

Hazel’s psyche falls into the spiral.

Around and around.

Phase II, Case File 2.02

Kurt: Mind’s Eye

10.09.1998, Friday evening

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

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

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

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

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

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


10.05.1998, Monday afternoon

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

08.07.1996, Wednesday evening

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10.05.1998, Monday evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Come out annnnd plaaaayyyy!”

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

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

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

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


“Come plaaaaay with the lost boys!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt: “No. What I want is a kiss.”

GM: Morgan eyes Kurt. “That all?”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Kurt: Maybe.

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

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

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

Hazel: Attila Awakens


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

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

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

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

I’m not a killer…

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

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

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

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

Gaire no i dormet.

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

Don’t fall asleep.

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

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

“That’s interesting, dear.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t fall asleep.

But that wasn’t her voice.

Leo? He gave her the pills…

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

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

Don’t fall asleep.

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sick of being afraid!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

And it is always better to see than be blind.

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

Such entities are never to be entreated with lightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazel has those eyes now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook: Skin Deep

10.09.1998, Friday evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks again, Ferg. I appreciate it.”

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

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


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

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

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

Just tonight. Just have to get through tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I wasn’t crying, Chip!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s down there?” she shouts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No pun intended, right?” Chip wisecracks.

Tina begrudgingly smiles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes,” she replies, wearily.

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

“My uncle?”

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

“He’s the undersheriff,” Tina protests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brook: Brook quickly puts a hand up.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hazel: Attila Awakens


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, as Hazel soon realizes, his lack of a head attached to his shoulders. For behind him, Hazel sees the figure’s face stuck inside a glass-windowed washing machine. The head tumbles around and around. Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.


“We’ve been waiting,” the figure’s voice says tiredly in a monotone voice barely audible above the cycle of laundromat machines. “But we knew you would come. It was predictable. The only logical choice.”

Hazel: Hazel sits down across from him. She’s not sure whether to look at his head or his body. “Yes. It was logical. The other chairs were either unfinished or inconvenient to sit upon.” Her eyes drift between his headless torso and the spinning washing machine.

GM: The bifurcated figure gives no offense at the uncertainty or vacillation of Hazel’s gaze. “Structure is necessary.” In the corner, a faceless, though not headless figure clicks through the TV. Every station is static.

Hazel: “We are in agreement, as evidenced by my presence. What is now to come?”

GM: The figure looks to the cat on Hazel’s lap–or at least seems like he’s looking at the cat. Eye contact is atypical when one’s eyes are inside a washing machine.

Hazel is far more sure of the cat’s gaze as it peers up at her. Its pupils remain glassy, vacuous fish-globe orbs. The ineffable lights therein shift and flicker into new shapes, transmitting a new missive.

[[File:814095 | class=media-item-align-center | how_do_u.jpg]]

The cat’s voice, however, has its typical feline languidness as it speaks. “You may try all four chairs. Only one can be chosen.”

Hazel: “I believe my choice made, but to gather more data is to make a better-informed choice. I shall ‘try’ sitting upon further chairs.”

GM: “Choice is an illusion,” the laundromat figure replies.

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Hazel: She looks towards the cat.

GM: “We’ve been waiting. We will be waiting. We are predictable,” adds the face inside the washing machine.

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Hazel: “As am I,” Hazel replies blandly.

GM: “We are the same.”

Clunk-clunk, clunk-clunk.

Before Hazel can reply, the cat suddenly bits her arm, drawing blood. Hazel is back within the chamber, no longer sitting. The cat licks its paws, unapologetically.

Hazel: She rubs her arm, stifling an instinctive glare at the cat. No data—knowledge—without price. She picks the feline back up and sits down on the decaying chair. Gingerly. It may not support her weight.

GM: The arcane process unravels, but its destination is far from the same. This time, Hazel finds herself in what initially seems like the backyard of Abby Sormurson.

While a student of Eugene Baker Elementary, Hazel had been tag-teamed by her mother, father, and teacher into doing a group science project. Her assigned partner was Abby Sormurson, best friend of Mackenzie Pinkston. It was fiasco doomed on all levels.

Hazel: It was a fiasco. And Hazel was determined to drag “that bitch’s” friend down with her.

GM: As summer approached, the literal and figurative heat intensified, with animosity and frustration felt by all sides, including her parents, Abby’s parents, both children, and their teacher. The latter threatened summer school if the girls didn’t jointly produce a final project. The assignment was to do some artistic display, such as a mobile or poster, on a prominent scientist.

Abby had wanted to do Thomas Edison. “We’ll draw a lightbulb and be done!”

Hazel: “I work better alone.” Teachers and parents alike heard that phrase countless times.

“Edison was essentially a plagiarist and nowhere near as brilliant as people thought. He got famous from his patents,” Hazel had crossly replied. “Nikola Tesla was the real genius. You’re an idiot if you think they’ll be happy with just a lightbulb. They want a poster. You’re also an idiot for thinking Edison is a praiseworthy scientist, so I suppose your behavior is at least consistent in its mental deficiency.”

GM: “Well, uh, you smell like nasty tuna fish pee!” One of them, after all, had the developmental level of an elementary student. Which of the two girls was more mature, however, was a point of contention, and as the summer approached that contention only grew.

Hazel: Tuna pee? Oh, you have no idea what you’ve just brought on.

Hazel felt the wrath boiling within her. She didn’t want to do a group project. She didn’t want to do it with Abby. They thought they could force her? Make her put up with this simpleton?

“This is a nonproductive use of my time. I have no desire to remain in these surroundings. I belong in them as much as dog feces belongs on a carpet. MRS. SORMURSSSOOOONNNNNN!!!!!!!!” the ten-year-old Hazel abruptly screamed at the top of her lungs, trying to get the mother’s attention.

GM: The attention of the one mother and then the other was surely gotten, and the exchanges between Mrs. Sormurson and then-Mrs. Bauman rivaled their daughters’, leading to the disintegration of a decade-long book club and a rather public spate featuring a well-thrown custard pie during the school’s end-of-the-year bake sale. It’s unlikely the armistice would have been reached by the more level-headed adults had not a psychotic moose killed a tourist hiker and tried to break into Mrs. Gunderson’s house.

Hazel: Hazel wasn’t sure as to the cause of their mothers’ enmity. She didn’t care. Another weapon in her arsenal was another weapon in her arsenal. Summer school gradually began to seem less and less undesirable.

GM: And then far less palatable, to both the children and their parents, when the principal Superintendent Atwood decreed the girls’ summer school would consist of multiple science projects together–unless they turned in a passable project by the last day of school.

Eventually, the adults decided to flip a coin, roll dice, or some similar measure to arbitrarily pick a science figure for the girls’ project. So it was that Abby and Hazel spent the last afternoon before school ended doing a visual display on Rudolf Clausius. A heat wave had slammed into Witiko Falls, which left the Bauman’s AC-less house an oven. Consequently, Hazel’s parents were forced to effectively kidnap, bribe, and blackmail their daughter to go over to Sormurson’s.

Hazel: “I can stay near a fan and read,” was her logical refutation (and protest) to this.

GM: Her parents–keen on dodging heat strokes, much less a prolonged hell of summer school–were less interested in logic. They simply wanted the project to end. By brute force, if need be.

Hazel: Hazel tried. She really did. She wanted to avoid summer school. Told herself that a summer of such science projects was infinitely worse than doing just this one.

But Abby didn’t pull her weight. Hazel swiftly found herself doing the lion’s share of the work—whether out of Abby’s own sloth, or Hazel’s exacting intellectual standards that (as she so relished pointing out) the other girl was incapable of living up to.

“You are as useless as the second ‘shift’ button on a keyboard. I advise that you drop out of high school to become a prostitute, given the vacuity of your mental faculties, poor work ethic, and even poorer choice in current whores as friends. It is an undesirable vocation, but it is no less than you deserve,” the ten-year-old had acidly remarked.

GM: The comment caused Abby to burst into tears, retreating to her mother to tattle on the “fat, smelly bully”. Mrs. Sormurson was swift to confront Hazel.

Hazel: The vindictive girl made no attempt to deny her remarks, but rather showed that she was far from done. Hazel turned to face the crying Abby, and calmly intoned, “You are a bleating dim-witted sheep brought into this world likely by accident—I am certain that sure your conception was the undesired result of a casual liaison upon a sweat-stained yard-sale couch—who will serve no purpose except to steal the oxygen that might fill the lungs of more worthwhile specimens of humanity such as myself. I have a name for such useless masses of barely-cognizant flesh such as you. Oxygen thieves. Summer school is preferable to further time spent in your company. I would sooner fellate a rhinoceros, whose engorged gray member would certainly be a more aesthetically pleasing sight to gaze upon than that tapioca-abortion-in-a-toilet called your face.” The ten-year-old autistic girl didn’t know much about sex, but she did know that bringing it up tended to shock people.

“I detest this science project, almost as much as I detest you personally. You are ill-mannered, ill-bred, overweight, unintelligent, and so many other ‘ills’, ‘overs’, and ‘uns’ that despite my advanced intelligence, I would require the aid of a dictionary to reference your personal shortcomings in their entirety. You are a waste, Abby Sormurson, not of not only of oxygen and humanity, but far more saliently, of my time. Good day. I am departing this foul abode for my parental domicile, by means of bipedal locomotion—your mother may not trouble herself driving me in her motor vehicle. She is welcome for my saving her gas. You are a useless sack of misspent and ill-conceived sperm that had the terrible misfortune to breach your mother’s egg and grow into a human being. If I could have replaced that sperm with gasoline at the moment of your conception, thereby preventing you from ever existing and punishing your mother for merely the possibility of your existence, I would have done so. Your existence actively degrades the worthwhileness of the human race. Furthermore, I consider that your soul must be destroyed.” Cato the Elder ended all of his speeches before the Roman senate with those words, if one were to replace ‘your soul’ with ‘Carthage’. Abby probably didn’t get the reference, but to Hazel it made perfect sense.

In a similarly archaic but perhaps far more obvious gesture of revulsion, Hazel then made the loudest, most vile facsimile of vomiting her vocal cords could produce—gross bodily functions are another way to engender disgust—and hacked a gigantic glob of spit onto the ground at Abby’s feet.

“Also, I did all the work on this project.” She then promptly turned to leave the house.

GM: Or tried to, as the beet-faced Mrs. Sormurson smacked Hazel across the face, then effectively tossed her outside into the fenced back yard like a mangy stray who had soiled an expensive rug.

Hazel: Hazel had shouted back the entire time, “Go ahead, physically manhandle me! That’s battery! My mother’s a lawyer, my father’s the county undersheriff, and we are significantly richer than you! Manhandle me! I dare you!”

GM: “You’re nothing but a spoiled brat!” the woman had yelled as she latched the door, then went on to call Hazel’s parents to demand they pick up their “hellspawn.”

Outside, the air was like a full-blast hair dryer. The grass was burnt-brittle. A small kettle grill sat off to the side, a ways off from some sun-splintering corn-hole boards and fraying beanbags. Otherwise, Hazel’s ‘pen’ was empty save her fellow ‘inmate’.

Kerne, a foreign exchange student who had been hosted by the Sormursons. Older and taller than Hazel, he had been dressed in dark jeans with rolled-up cuffs; black boots; and a long-sleeve, button-down dress-shirt. A field journal rested in his hands. A paper grocery bag lay at his feet.

“I am doing an… experiment,” the youth had said in an odd accent. He then tapped the bag with his boot. The bag jerked, violently. A low hiss and growl issued from inside the stapled grocery bag–a bag that Hazel had slowly realized was doused in lighter fluid. By that time, Kerne had already lit and dropped the match.

“Abby said you like cats.”

Now, Hazel can once again hear the raw, animalistic screaming. She smells the flames, the smoke, the stench of burning hair and flesh. The yard is as it was that blistering day, a field of burnt-brittle grass. The fence, however, feels thinner, as if it aged, weathering before her eyes. Behind that fence, the neighbor’s house slowly takes on the appearance of the pox, as its white aluminum siding begins to turn a rust-eaten red and brown. The yard is empty save for Kerne’s figure. He wears the same clothes, save for one addition. He wears the burning paper grocery bag over his head. The torrent of flames and smoke rise thick in the heat-choked air.


DESTROY THEM,” the burning figure says in a voice that growls, hisses, and screams. “THEY ARE STEALING YOUR OXYGEN. THIEVES.”

The burning figure steps closer. The flames turn a lurid, greasy green that is too viscous and waxy for normal flames. “THEY ARE TRYING TO SUFFOCATE YOU. SUFFOCATE THE TRUTH.”

THEY ARE A WASTE,” the figure says, echoing Hazel’s words as it continues to speak in a voice of burning growls, hisses, and fiery torment. “USELESS. MISSPENT. ILL-CONCEIVED. WE SHOULD REPLACE THEM WITH GASOLINE. I CAN BE YOUR MATCH. THEIR EXISTENCE ACTIVELY DEGRADES THE WORTHWHILENESS OF THE HUMAN RACE.”

It raises its arms, as if to welcome Hazel in an embrace. The burning bag jerks and shudders desperately, frantically as it burns and burns and burns.


Hazel: Hazel couldn’t have fought the older boy. Even if he wasn’t bigger than her, she was always small and weak for her own age. She remembers staring at the flaming sack with simultaneous shock, horror, and loathing—then grabbing the backyard’s garden hose, spraying its life-saving waters over the burning feline, all while yelling about the “savage ways of barbarian foreigners!”

She’d have lost any resultant physical altercation. But so long as water was sprayed over the cat, his experiment was foiled. She screamed and hollered the most filthy insults she could imagine at Abby’s mother, calling her a “vacant-minded broodmare”, “two-penny whore pretending to be a mother, whose neanderthalic parenting style shall produce another whore”, and “couch-fornicating vindication of Salvor Hardin’s dialogue in Foundation! Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, you evolutionary throwback! Your underdeveloped cranium comprehends no language save force, so I have little doubt that your own conception—and your mongrel-blooded spawn’s—was the result of rape, you atavistic subhuman! You deserved to be raped, and I hope you die of an infectious disease!”

She even toyed with spraying Abby’s mom with the hose, but as tempting as that might have been, she confined herself to ‘mere’ insults. She tattled to her parents as soon as they picked her up, explaining everything. Abby did none of the project’s work, Hazel insulted her, Abby’s mom confronted her, Hazel spewed further insults, Abby’s mom physically hit her, and then… well, everything else, but hopefully including more hitting from Abby’s mom after she rose to that bait. Hazel relished photographing her bruised face and urging her cop father and lawyer mother to pursue all manner of civil and criminal avenues of legal attack. Hazel was very confident they could win without even going to court. ‘All’ she did was say nasty things. This might even have been the leverage they needed to strong-arm the superintendent.

Whether her parents sought redress from Mrs. Sormurson, or not, however, Hazel made very plain her next intentions—she would not work on this or any other science project with Abby. If she was forcibly partnered with the other girl, she would not only refuse to do the work, she would make it her personal mission to belittle Abby to the point of tears every single class. Her objective was no longer to avoid more schoolwork. It was to deny and defy Superintendent Atwood’s objective of making her interact with Abby Sormurson in any capacity, and to prove that her will could not be suborned in this matter.

Nearly fourteen years later, Hazel looks up at the shrieking, burning sack and the dark-garbed figure who is its architect. Her instinctive revulsion is still there. But her voice is level as she replies,

“When I was a child, and younger than I was at the time of this incident, I watched an episode of Star Trek where Captain Kirk is split into two different selves. His lower half is id personified: cruel, savage, impatient, and heedless of any concern besides its own immediate gratification. Kirk’s higher self, however, is not bettered by this platonic split. His higher self proves soft-hearted, indecisive, weak-willed, and ultimately ineffectual in its pursuit of its moral aims. Mr. Spock offers—as always—a logical explanation for why the two selves must be rejoined: man’s darker and destructive tendencies, when leashed like a muzzled hound and guided by morality’s attentive hand, may be directed towards more productive ends.”

Hazel pets the non-burning cat in her arms. “My own destructive tendencies, inherited in large part from my mother, have worked to my personal benefit. My asociality and peculiar mannerisms as a child would have made me subject to much bullying if I had lacked the resolve to stand up for myself. My ruthless and self-centered impulses are a valuable part of who I am. I do not doubt that they will be necessary in the times ahead.”

“And yet,” she remarks slowly, “I am certain that my ten-year-old self’s actions caused much… unpleasantness,” she finally settles on, “for my parents, during an already trying and unpleasant summer. Perhaps it would have been better if I had simply swallowed my pride, done the school assignment, and allowed Abby Sormurson to write her name on it. An unfortunate side effect of my neurological condition is that empathy for the feelings and well-being of others does not come easily to me.”

“That is why I must make a conscious and deliberate effort to temper my darker tendencies with conscience and discipline—lest they grow out of control, just as a bonfire meant to warm might blaze into an inferno when left unchecked. As I lack empathy, it is through my intellect that I must turn my darker tendencies, such as they are, towards constructive purpose.”

Her face softens. “Such as the happiness and well-being of my parents. I did not initially realize that ‘making nice’ to Mrs. Worwood would be an effective means of vengeance against her. My concern at the time was for easing the strain upon my father’s job. Tempering myself for his sake… felt like the right thing to do. Certainly, he appeared thankful afterwards.”

Hazel shakes her head. “I do not claim to be a paragon of virtue, or even of filial devotion. I am often ruled by my vindictiveness and desire to avenge perceived slights. But I do not believe this is an aspect of my personality that needs to be further encouraged. Its place is as the muzzled hound, not the leash-bearing hand. And your words are those of a ten-year-old, however erudite her vocabulary.”

She looks down towards the cat in her grown self’s arms and braces herself for another bite. “I am ready to depart.”

GM: Before the cat can respond, the burning figure rushes forward. As it does so, the grass withers to ash. Rust overtakes the neighborhood houses, causing them to implode like the House of Usher. The wooden fence also violently rots away into splinters, further exposing the ruined hell-scape whose very sky starts to burn as the sun becomes blood-red and starts to crash to the earth.

That scene, however, is blotted out by another terrible sight, as the figure grabs Hazel’s head with its hands leans close as if to whisper. It doesn’t. It screams. The sound of the thrashing, burning bag is deafening. The heat so hot, Hazel feels like her eyes are starting to evaporate. The waxen smoke worming its way into her mouth. The growl-wail-scream proclaims, once more twisting Hazel’s own words: “VIOLENCE! BONFIRE BLAZE INTO AN INFERNO!”

Dark images start to appear in the asphyxiating, poisonous smoke. A wooden puppet with fanged teeth waiting under her bed. Faceless Spooks watching as two beasts pull Lydia apart into ribbons of sinew and blood. Mackenzie Snakewater smiling as she locks Hazel into an asylum.


So close, Hazel can taste the smoke on her tongue, in her mouth, a savory apocalypse that crashes through her subconscious like the plummeting, bloody sun. As terrible, ineffable revelations sear the dark corners of her psyche, the figure finally ends the distance between them with a last, burning kiss that seems like a promise, if not curse.


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.


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.


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.


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.



The images flicker like the closing and opening of the inner eye.





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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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!


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.”


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.


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’.


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:


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:


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.


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-em