“This cannot be happening.”
Day ? September 2007?
GM: Metallic sharpness in his mouth.
Aching pain in his back.
Aching pain in his everywhere.
Wetness. Roughness. Irritation.
A coppery scent. Everywhere.
Emil: Emil tries to open his eyes, overcoming the weight of unconsciousness bearing against their lids. What did he see then? Maybe if he looks now he might remember. Maybe he’s just laid out on the ground? Emil doesn’t have high hopes.
GM: Emil’s vision is blurry, at first. But he sees wood. And straw. Everything is brown and pale yellow.
Emil: Emil grasps fistfuls of the straw below him as pries himself off the floor. As his ligaments stretch, his joints pop, threatening to jump out of their sockets at any moment.
Emil wonders where in God’s humble plan it says that he should wake up in the middle of an accurately scented nativity scene.
GM: It’s not completely accurate.
He’s naked and coated in blood.
Emil: Or perhaps all-too accurate, given the age of that poor girl and the quality of medical care in Roman Galilee.
The thought isn’t enough to distract Emil as he doubles over, the contents of his stomach pushing up and up but unable to escape due to a thick clot of blood coating his mouth. He dry heaves as his eyes flee in different directions from the sight of him forcing his trembling, stained hand down his throat and pulling out the webbed crimson bezoar from his mouth and the sudden torrent of bile and blood that was backed up behind the clot. It falls on the straw, the repulsive yellow and red bile matching the color scheme of the room quite well.
Emil looks at the puddle of bile, shivering and shaking his head. The puddle reflects back onto him, but in between the chunks of blood and last night’s dinner, he sees something else look back. The face of his father stares back at him, but younger, covered in maroon gore and gristle, with his mouth hung open, his tongue writhing in a way stuck between suffocating and laughing. And then something else spills out of Emil’s mouth, something much more primal and awful. And he and his father scream at each other, and Emil falls to his knees and prostrates himself, pressing his face against the soiled straw as the substance slowly absorbs his father’s image. They cry.
“Ah’m sorry, Ai uve you,” is all that Emil can slur.
But his father says nothing in response.
GM: The stench of coppery bile fills Emil’s nostrils. And his mouth. The straw is rough and scratchy against his nude flesh. No one answers his choked cries. Not a farmer. Not his father.
Emil is left to heave, shiver, and weep alone.
Was this how it was last time?
Emil: How many hours does he stay lying there? How many hours before he can get up? He doesn’t want to, he’d rather just wake up from this bad memory. Last time some adults found him, scooped him up and brought him home. Now he’s the adult. Without anyone to drag him out of the filth, he lies there for some time, staring in search of any barn owls roosting on the crooked wooden beams holding up the building.
And yet, when you’re alone, life has a way of motivating you from within:
Emil’s stomach growls. His throat is cracked dry. He stinks up to high heaven.
What does he smell like? Last time it was chicken’s blood. He doesn’t remember seeing the chickens, though maybe they just took them away before he could see them. Maybe he just forgot.
Emil looks around for a trail of blood to follow, maybe he’ll find them this time.
GM: The blood is… everywhere. It’s spattered all over the straw like flecks of red, crusted-over paint.
One clump is stained redder than the others.
Emil: Emil steps over to the clump, and crouches, trying and failing not to think about how all of it got here. He killed something. He killed a lot of things. Emil hiccoughs, his stomach emptied but his body unwilling to accept that there’s nothing left to purge.
He reaches into the clump, gingerly brushing aside the straw.
GM: His fingers brush against something small, crusted-over, and flesh-textured.
Most of a nose. Some cheek. Some lip.
So much red.
Emil: Emil freezes like a statue. The enormity of his actions leaves him stuck there, random selections of his muscles spasming as his instincts yell at him to run. He stares at the obviously human nose, and his head starts to shake.
“No,” Emil says meekly. “Please, God, no. Please, God, no. I’m not a killer. Save me, please.”
Emil keeps searching through the straw, moving it aside, unearthing all that he knows deep in his heart he did.
GM: The bloody straw is too dried to stain Emil’s hands further. Crusty red particles merely flake off over his fingers.
He finds nothing else. Just more red straw.
Emil: Somehow that makes it even worse.
Emil clutches his stomach, understanding that the growl it made was not to tell him to eat, but to assert his place among the behemoth. Maybe they can understand. Emil wraps the nose up in a bundle of straw and picks it up before looking for the rest of the beasts in this barn.
GM: The barn is seemingly bereft of animal life.
Emil: If not animals, Emil searches for tools. He hopes he can find a shovel, maybe some bleach, gasoline, a lighter, or maybe even some clothes. He didn’t eat the clothes too… did he?
GM: He locates a pitted shovel leaning near the door.
Emil: Emil takes the shovel and uses it to start collecting all of the blood encrusted straw into a heap which he then compacts as tightly as he can. He lifts the bulk of the straw, with the nose stuck somewhere in its core and carries it towards the door, holding the shovel pinched between his arm and his torso.
He puts everything down and checks the door. If it’s unlocked, he opens it slightly, and peers outside.
GM: The humid Louisiana night is dark and thick. October fervidly clings to September’s warmth, but a chill is already beginning to seep into Emil’s too-exposed and naked flesh. There are no sounds of people, vehicles, or telltale signs of civilization.
Neither are there sounds of wildlife. There are no ribbets of frogs. No buzzings of cicadas. No avian hoots.
The night is dead.
Emil: Emil steps out into the cold night, hefting the shovel and the pile of straw. If this is a barn, the farmhouse can’t be that far away. At least thats what his EIEIO understanding of the agriculture business tells him. It also means Old Macdonald should be nearby, though Emil might have already dealt with him.
He tries not to think about that.
He observes his surroundings, the cool ground pinching the soles of his feet.
GM: The feeble light flickering from the barn is reflected in a nearby house’s window. Night otherwise drapes across the still and silent landscape like a heavy cloak.
Emil: Perhaps that’s where they lived. Emil hopes that no one is left there to wake up to someone’s absence. Did he kill someone’s parent? Someone’s dad? Emil is left shaking his head as he walks outside of the shine of the reflected light. Yet like a moth to a flame, Emil’s feet bring him closer to the house. He wonders how lonely it must get living out here.
GM: Emil’s only answer in the creeping press of his footsteps against the grass.
Emil: Emil looks around the building, getting a sense of its entrances and exits. He realizes how creepy this must look. He reassures himself that it’s not really casing a house if you don’t intend to rob it.
GM: A plain and functional door stares at Emil’s from the house’s front.
It’s when he approaches the screen door from the home’s tear that he hears a faint, twig-like snapping noise from behind him.
Emil: Emil holds tight to the shovel in his right hand, squeezing it’s wooden handle hard enough to leave him a good many splinters when he lets go. He tries as quietly as he can to hide in a shadow, ready to run if he needs to. He puts his head up to the wooden siding, listening for any motion within the house.
GM: The night is silent.
Emil: Rabbi Shemtov once taught him to always have a mantra handy to repeat. Words are powerful. They can help you stay calm. Emil tries to put the advice into practice:
I hate this I hate this I hate this.
He returns to the door, places his hand on the edge of the screen, and attempts to quietly pull it open.
GM: The screek of the aluminum-framed screen door sounds painfully loud against the still and silent night. No light issues forth from within the house. The scent of stale rot and mildew hangs pungently in the humid Louisiana air.
Emil’s other hand feels light. As he turns his eye upon it, he does not see the shovel.
Emil: Emil quickly steps inside the doorway and ducks behind the frame. He peeks outside where he was standing. He hopes he only dropped it.
But it’s hard to feel hopeful when he’s naked and covered in blood.
GM: The wood feels rough and callous against his blood-caked hands. The night beyond the doorway appears still and empty.
Emil: Fuck I hate this fuck I hate this fuck I hate this.
The mantra scrolls through Emil’s head like a broken record as he places the straw bundle he was holding close to his chest on the floor, out of the wind. He starts to walk into the house, using the dim light of the moon to get a sense of the room.
GM: The unlit house’s gloom is virtually impenetrable on the cloudless night. Emil gropes and ambles like a blind man, rough floorboards creaking beneath his bare feet.
A sudden slam punctuates the low wooden sound.
Emil: Emil tries not to jump at the sound, but he can’t stop his heart’s sudden, awful lurch. He can feel its beat in his throat. He furtively looks down, half-expecting to have stepped over an ‘UNWELCOME’ mat as he entered.
And he knows, suddenly, with horrible certainty. He’s going to die if he stays here.
He turns around and slowly reaches for the straw bundle.
Where the hell is that shovel?!
GM: The straw is gone.
The nose, and the torn-off flap of flesh attached to it, coldly brush against his trembling fingers.
Emil: Must have been the wind, Emil asserts over his screaming imagination. He pinches the piece between his thumb and his forefinger like a game of ‘got your nose!’ that’s so awful he has to laugh if he doesn’t want to scream.
There’s no hesitation anymore. He sprints for the door like his life depends on it.
GM: The shut door impassively bars Emil’s passage. He tries the handle, sweat intermingling with the blood on his palms. It does not budge.
Sound issues forth from the rot-smelling house’s black depths. Faint, but growing. Growing closer.
Emil: It’s back again. It’s going to make him kill again. This cannot be happening. Emil smears blood against the sides of the door post and marks the door with a maroon star of David. It’s not lamb’s blood, but Emil can only hope that it will do.
He utters the opening words of the Amidah, the culminating prayer in the daily effort for every Jew to reach the ear of God. He follows the ancient ritual’s steps. It’s simple, three steps back three steps forward, then bow and begin.
He steps back, breathing heavily.
אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח
(“Lord open my lips…”)
He takes three lunges forward.
וּ֜פִ֗י יַגִּ֥יד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ
(“…and make my mouth speak Your praises.”)
Emil bows into a run as he prepares to burst through the crisscrossed webbing of the door, hoping the mark of his people protects his passage as it did in Egypt.
He can’t outrun the doubts, though.
Why would God listen to him? He couldn’t even stand up to that man, how could he be worthy of God’s attention. He needs to make a sacrifice, because he knows he is worth so much more if he just pushed hard enough. He screams as he runs, his prayer tearing, grinding into the terrible shrieking of awful birds. His soul is ripping.
GM: But God won’t save him. What God would let this happen? What right has he to demand the Almighty’s protection with a symbol painted in his fellow man’s blood? Where was his protection when he needed it? No, the only thing Emil can count on is himself.
No one during gym class wanted him on their team. That petty thief stole his phone and laughed. Emil still tears the flimsy door off its hinges, his prayer reduced to little more than maddened howling, bestial howling fitting a creature as forsaken as he. Emil crashes through, barreling into the night.
But the sound does not cease. It follows him. It comes after him. Just like last time.
Great, lurching thumps, pounding heavily upon the earth. Pounding after him. Pursuing him. Hunting him.
Just like last time.
Emil: And Emil almost listens, but an arresting force of will demands to be heard. He didn’t kill anyone last time. There was no last time. He woke up covered in another man’s blood but it wasn’t by his hand. He couldn’t have destroyed someone so totally; couldn’t consume them so completely. All that was left before him was a nose. Had he consumed out of hunger the whole man he wouldn’t have stopped at the nose after consuming bone and sinew. And if he did consume him, his stomach couldn’t possibly fit a whole man. If the man died at all, it was by that demon’s hand. He is being shown a shadow of the truth. They are trying to break his will, betray his faith.
This is a twisted dream, one in which his confidence is meant to be stripped away like his shovel and the straw. All that was left was a nose, to cut at him. Even if he is weaker than some, Emil is not a sucker.
Emil runs, Emil runs into the dream and stares at the horizon. He quotes the first book, singing like a cantor:
“וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר!”
(“And God said, let there be light; and there was light!”)
And even if he is caught, even if he is hurt again, he is not a murderer. He will be dragged down into a dream within a dream. But God opens the eyes of the blind, and he whispers to us as we sleep.
" וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאוֹר, כִּי-טוֹב; וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ."
(“And God saw the light, and it was Good; and he separated the darkness from the light.”)
“Hallelujah,” he laughs at the world. “Hallelujah!”
Emil laughs into the darkness as it falls upon him. The light from the barn dies. He laughs. It’s all he can do. All anyone can do.
But the darkness is not empty.
It’s thick. Tangible. Alive. Clamping around his throat like a vice. For a moment, Emil is sinking, falling, and then he’s floating, his head spinning, the ground gone from beneath his feet as the void yawns wide. He throws punches and kicks, fighting with zeal beyond his own.
But the darkness is too strong. Emil’s lungs cry out for air as a kaleidoscope of phosphenes blossom across his vision. Stabbing, rending, ripping fire sets his guts ablaze in agony. A coppery smell far, far fresher than the blood on his hands fills his nostrils. Sound dissolves beneath wet and grisly tears.
But there’s no lights to go out. Only the non-sensation of sensation ceasing as his consciousness spirals away into the abyss.
“אבא גאה …”