“This cannot be happening.”
Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007
GM: Cécilia isn’t there at the ice cream parlor, though the ice cream still looks (and tastes) good. The creamery has so many flavors. Lavender Honey, Chocwork Orange, King Cake, La Vie En Rosé, Lemon Icebox Pie, Boo Berry Pie, Buttermilk Drop, and more.
Another evening and school day goes by. Cécilia doesn’t call back. There is still no response to his email to Emil. There are emails from a couple of his actors and actresses, though, asking when shooting is going to start. One is from Hillary Cherry. She says she “needs” to drop out. Nothing personal.
Emmett: The answer to that, at least is simple. He has his leading lady. There are still kinks to be worked out, moving pieces to be snatched up. But the email goes out soon enough. They’re starting now.
Hillary’s email he frowns at.
He writes her that he understands—not everybody can support every project—but he’s still glad she took the time to show up. A lot of people with her talent didn’t, after all.
He also asks if she lost her ID. He was visiting a relative in the Saint Louis #1 Cemetery yesterday when he found it just lying on the ground. He’d be happy to buy her a coffee and return it to her.
Unless it’s another Hillary Cherry with your hair and smile, of course.
GM: Hillary emails back that yes, she did. She’d be happy to meet him at PJ’s Coffee. On her, considering he just spared her the hassle (and expense) of getting a new ID.
Hillary gets the Mixed Berry Smoothie when she arrives. She insists again on paying for both their drinks, citing how, “I’m the one saving money.”
“You wouldn’t believe what a pain it is to lose that,” she says as she sits down. “My mom said we’d have to go to the police station, file something called a First Information Report, visit some other office to get it certified… ugh.”
Emmett: “It sucks to lose precious things,” he agrees. “Especially when you’re normally a careful person.” He takes a sip from his own frozen-blended Mocha Velvet Ice, seven glorious grams of saturated gut-sticking fat swimming in sugar and chocolate and coffee.
“Probably didn’t help that you lost it in a cemetery. I know I wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t all but stepped on it.”
GM: “Oh, so that’s where you found it? I was going to ask,” Hillary remarks as she sips the purple-pink smoothie. The menu doesn’t say what berries are in it, but it looks sweet enough, if fat-free.
“That’s weird. The guy made off with my purse, and my ID was inside my wallet. I read you can sell them on the black market for a few bucks, to use in identity theft.”
Emmett: Yeah, Zyers tried.
“Oh, it was stolen? That must have been awful, I’m sorry. It’s a disgrace, how some people treat that place.”
GM: “Yeah, I was in the cemetery, and this… nutjob, just grabbed off with my purse, and Emil’s phone.” Hillary looks about as happy as anyone might expect. “I had to cancel all my credit cards, and lost a bunch of stuff. You didn’t find anything else, did you?”
Emmett: He shakes his head. “No, I’m very sorry. Emil’s your boyfriend, right? The theologian? How’s he holding up?”
Yeah, I’m real sorry I didn’t make Zyers cum for your plastic.
“It’s normal for people to have nightmares after moments like that, even if they’re quick. Make sure you take care of yourself.”
GM: “Oh, ugh,” Hillary says. “He’s been ghosting me. We had a fight, or, well, not really a fight. I guess I got kinda terse with him. Though he kinda deserved it too.”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s because my brother’s in the Marines, but he just didn’t do anything when we got mugged. The guy didn’t have a knife or gun or anything. Maybe he’s embarrassed about it, I don’t know, but I haven’t heard a peep from him since the guy swiped his phone.”
“That’s kinda why I’m dropping out of the movie. Just… not really up for it, with how things are with us.”
Emmett: I mean, he could have thrown a punch, but then the freak would have just started hitting on him. It’s a lose/lose situation.
“That’s real sad to hear, Hillary,” El says solemnly, I’m that way only Southern men seem to be able to completely pull off. “I’m obviously biased when I say this, but I think there’s a lot to be said for getting involved with a project like this when things start going wrong. If people only made art when they felt clean, we’d live in a more boring world.”
He sighs and rubs at the bridge of his nose. “If you don’t mind me being honest, too, things actually aren’t where they were with Cécilia and me. I know that’ll change my writing for this script, but it’ll make it more honest, too.”
GM: “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. But, ehhh.” Hillary makes a face. “Maybe you’re more of an artist than me, but I don’t really wanna go in and act with him when we aren’t even talking.”
Emmett: “Well, artsy reasons aside, it would mean a lot to me.” He drums his fingers on the table. “What if I talked to him for you? He hasn’t answered my emails, and he seems like a decent enough guy. I’m sure you didn’t start dating him because he was flexing and blusterin’ all over the place. I think he might just be depressed or something.”
For a niggerjew. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m warming to it.
GM: Hillary thinks. “Well, I’m not really sure if I want to stay together at this point, honestly, but… I won’t stop you if you want to try.”
Emmett: He stares into the depths of his caffeinated confection. “When you make something like this, for somebody like her, for Cécilia, you do what you have to to make it the best it could be. Not because you have to, but because you can’t imagine doing anything else. If I can find Emil, I’ll talk sense into him. Be damn senseless of him not to reach out to somebody he’s lucky to have in the first place, way I see it.”
GM: “Well, I guess it’s like they say. You never know what you have until you lose it.”
Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007
GM: Hillary provides Em with Emil’s address. It’s a crappy little apartment building in Riverbend, the sort of place typical for a college student who’s only moved off-campus within the past few years. Briarwood or something. There is no answer when Em knocks against the door.
Emmett: He tries the handle pretty quickly. He wonders how trusting Emil is.
GM: Emil may or may not be trusting, but he doesn’t seem to be a complete, slack-jawed and drooling idiot.
Emmett: Good to know. Maybe he’ll realize that he’s never going to find a better girlfriend than Hillary, or at least a better-connected one for Em’s purposes.
Still, Jermaine’s taught him some few tricks, and he’s restless.
He takes out the bobby pins and screwdriver he nicked from the tool drawer Phil rarely uses and gets to work quickly and quietly.
After lifting the mat to see if there’s a key.
Some people really are that stupid.
GM: There is no mat within the cheap apartment building, but the equally cheap lock comes open after only a perfunctory effort.
Emil: Emil’s apartment is small but not cramped. It is barely furnished, and most of the furniture is either misplaced or stuck in boxes. It’s a one room affair with a closet-like bathroom and a cot placed directly next to a desk, with the pillow resting directly under a shelf with an antique cuckoo clock resting on top of it. It’s just low enough that you’d have to be awake to not hit your head getting up and if you weren’t awake, the hit would certainly do the job.
The desk is the most cluttered thing in the room, and has the highest concentration of expensive effects. His 4:3 cinder block of a monitor rests on top of multiple college textbooks on subjects that have names like Topology and Computer Vision and sport plain covers. There’s a pair of bins labeled “UNGRADED” and “GRADED,” the former significantly more full. Then there’s a multitude of books written in curly semitic blockscript and annotated with multicolored sticky notes alongside a sizable collection of yellow and brown phone-books from both California and Louisiana.
Emmett: He stares around the room for a moment, goggling. Maybe there’s a reason some people choose to live like this, and some people want more. Need more.
But fuck if he cares to figure it out.
He isn’t tossing the place, but he can at least glance around, see if he can figure out the last time “Em” was home.
GM: The college student notably seems to lack a backpack. There aren’t any keys placed anywhere the “real” Em can see either.
Emil: Except of course those placed inside the hefty mechanical keyboard facing the monitor, which when woken up shows a password entry box and a ‘hint’ button. When clicked, the revealed hint says, All caps. No spaces. Girlfriend’s middle name. My mobile phone’s model. Name of best array searching algorithm by time complexity.
Also on the desk is a scheduling notebook, whose latest entry reads, Library Research: Why did she[Name TBD] have to die?
Emmett: “Christ, don’t make it easy to crack or anything,” Em mutters. He thinks back to the middle name from the ID, and ponders calling Miranda.
He frowns at the scheduling book.
Novel idea, maybe? But the other entries are all so boring.
He texts Miranda as he considers the missing backpack. Missing keys.
Emil isn’t here, but he didn’t step out for a Glee Meal or something. Backpacks are a pain. You take them when you need them.
He feels suddenly stupid, breaking into the guy’s apartment like a P.I. or a detective from the cop shows he used to watch with Dad, back when he hadn’t been completely soured on TV. Thrillers when Em got to pick National Geographic or An Inconvenient Truth the rest of the time.
Fuck National Geographic, and the only part of Inconvenient Truth he enjoys is the ending, where the whole world burns.
GM: At least some part of Em’s world would seem to be figuratively burning. Very unusually, there is no immediate reply back from Miranda.
Emmett: Other people will always let you down.
He’ll wait for a few minutes before calling it. Maybe some of Emil’s cultists will be able to help him.
GM:A few minutes pass without response.
Emmett: Fuck Miranda. He calls her.
GM: One ring passes, then several, then more. It’s on the last- or second-to-last-sounding one that he gets a young-sounding girl’s quavering, “Hello?”
Emmett: “Hey, Miranda.” He doesn’t want to ask, but it’s the polite thing to do. “Are you ok?”
GM: “I’m not Miranda.”
Emmett: “Oh. That’s fine. Who are you?”
GM: “I’m Jamie.”
Emmett: “Hey Jamie. Are you, like, Miranda’s sister?”
Emmett: “Are you also good with computers?”
GM: “Not really.”
There’s a pause.
“Um, what’s… going on?”
Emmett: “That’s unfortunate. Where’s your sis at?”
GM: Jamie’s voice is hushed. “Miranda’s in the hospital.”
Emmett: “I’m just trying to figure out this crossword. What do you mean she’s in the hospital?”
Can teenage girls have heart attacks?
GM: “She’s really sick. Or hurt. Or…” the girl’s voice remains hushed. “We’re scared she’s gonna die.”
Emmett: “Oh, my God. What’s wrong with her?”
God, of course she gets sick right when I need her. Cow.
GM: “I-I dunno…”
Em can hear crying over the line.
Emmett: “Hey. hey. She’ll be all right. You know how she is. That girl doesn’t give up on anything.”
Like her cholesterol levels.
GM: “I… I dunno what’s going on…”
Emmett: “How old are you?”
Emmett: That’s too young to flirt with.
GM: “I… I gotta go.”
Emmett: “Wait a minute.”
He isn’t sure why he cares. He shouldn’t. She’s just the fat girl who knows computers.
“Tell Miranda…tell her I’m thinking of her. And that I hope she feels better. She’s a good friend.”
He closes his eyes for a moment.
GM: “O… okay, I will.” The child’s voice sounds a little steadier.
“Um, tell her who?”
Emmett: “Em. Tell her Em’s thinking of her.”
GM: “Okay… bye.”
The line dies.
Emmett: He doesn’t know why he’s scared. There are more like her. There are always more.
But you’d miss her, A very, very quiet part of him thinks. Her and her stupid, awkward, cute way of trying to flirt with you.
He glances at the phone.
He’s never known somebody who died before. Not really. Not who was, like, a person. Like, not old.
He doesn’t want to.
And if he has to, he doesn’t want it to be her.
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 …”
Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007
GM: It’s when Emmett turns off the phone and turns to leave that he notices the smell.
He’s met a few of them, at clubs. Self-described ‘blood dolls.’ Pasty-faced goths and social rejects someone like him could find no end of qualities to mock. But it was never their black clothes, their white makeup, their spiked collars, their crucifixes, their torn fishnets (on the girls or guys), that was the first thing about them he noticed, and found such ready fodder to belittle.
It was the smell from their razor-blade necklaces. Those red-crusted bits of sharp metal Lena said were so dangerous because they were crawling with infectious germs, with HIV, with God knows what else from so many sexual partners’ bloodstreams. Em remembers how those things smelled from the girl who angrily waved hers at his face. Coppery. Cloying. Moldering.
But not nearly so pungent, so strong, or so fresh, as the sanguine reek filling his nostrils now.
Emmett: Concern for Miranda is swiftly driven from his mind.
Okay, so maybe Emil blew his brains out. That would make sense. Em might kill himself if he was black, Jewish, and a pussy. He thought about killing himself now and his life was quantifiably sexier than Emil’s.
But it’ll be helpful to know.
Something about the smell of blood makes him need to know.
He follows the scent. Like a cartoon character floating after a pie left on the windowsill.
GM: That scent leads him to another, just as implausible childhood place where it hangs thickest.
Under the bed.
Emmett: He bends to look.
He thinks of his own bed, at home.
What does a man like Emil keep under his?
GM: Most of a nose. Part of a lip. Part of some cheeks. Nothing else.
Except the blood smeared over it.
He starts giggling.
What the fuck. What the fuck.
The giggles turn to snickers. Snickers to snorts and guffaws and giggles again, and then he realizes he’s cackling like a fucking madman but it doesn’t matter at all.
“What the fuck?!” he screams at the pale, flaccid-looking piece of face. “What the fuck?!”
It could be a prop, except it obviously fucking can’t be.
Can’t yell. Can’t be too loud.
What’s the plan? Does he need a plan? He sure as fuck isn’t trying to talk to the cops.
He’s in the bathroom when he stops laughing. Did he start crying at some point? Doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
He fixes his hair.
“Fuck,” he says.
Then he lunges for the toilet.
After he’s done heaving, he flushes.
GM: A guttural moan splits the air from behind him.
GM: It doesn’t stop. Just goes on like a wounded dog’s needful whine.
Emmett: He scrambles out of the bathroom, eyes wide. “H-hello?”
GM: It’s coming from under the bed.
Emmett: There is absolutely no good reason to look.
This makes the crick in his neck as he bends to do exactly that exponentially more frustrating.
GM: There’s a man. Coated and dripping in more blood than Em has ever seen, his skin torn open with hideous gashes, muscles and guts and gristle gleaming disgustingly against the light. Naked. Screaming. Writhing and jerking spasmodically like a fish out of water.
Emil: His eyes are stretched open, two ivory orbs crowded with bulging veins which chain two brown pupils which struggle in their bonds, moving frantically but unable to escape their prisons.
His screams begin inscrutably but curiously they are punctuated with what seem to be cries of the name of the Swedish pop group, “ABBA!”
Emmett: “Shut up!” he shouts back. “Shut up! Fuck!”
He scrambles for the blanket on top of the bed, wraps the gore-covered man in a hug that belies the jerking reaction of his words.
Emil: Emil’s flailings make it a nuisance to wrapping him up, but the man is too broken to resist effectively. His limbs thrash weakly against the blanket and the screams seem to last a small eternity, but something about being smothered calms Emil down enough to recognize Emmett.
“E… El? Where am I?” he half-screams, his bloodsoaked brows scrunching up like a wet rag.
Emmett: “You’re home. You’re home, it’s okay, just… if you can take a few deep breaths, try to do that.”
His mind feels curiously blank. He has nothing but contempt for Emil, or so his jaded ethos insists.
And yet you cannot hate what you know you must pity.
“Do you have any hot chocolate?” he asks lamely. “Or tea, or something? Just… relax. I’ll make something.”
Emil: “Tea. Yeah, tea.” He nods, convincing himself that’s what he needs. He points to a cardboard box with a quivering that is so torn Em can see the long strands of sinew stretching and contracting as he gestures. There’s a tea kettle resting on top of a box of Lipton.
He catches a glimpse of the innards of his limb and he starts to shudder a little short of violently under the blanket. “A dream within a dream,” he mutters not so quietly.
Emmett: He happily takes the excuse to turn away, to avoid looking at the ruined mess of bloodied and scarred flesh.
He watches the kettle as the water heats, imagining the bubbles rising, quickening.
“Is—is there anything else I can do for you?” he asks, fully aware of the absurdity of the question.
Emil: Emil responds equally absurdly. “Wake me up. Please wake me up.”
Emmett: “O-okay. I can make some coffee too.”
This is a lie. He’s never made coffee before. But he tries. It’s not that different from hot chocolate, right?
He eventually sets two mugs before Emil, one with tea, the other with lousy, mostly gray fluid. He’s also prepared the cup of noodles predictably tucked into the student’s cupboard.
He lets Emil eat in silence while he sips occasionally from his own glass of hot water. The kind his mom used to make for him when he had nightmares.
To burn the fear away.
Emil: “I guess I’m awake now,” Emil says, staring down at the granular remains at the bottom of his coffee mug.
“Thank you.” He puts the cup down, wincing at the movement.
Emmett: “It’s okay,” he says, far too quickly. Nothing about this is okay.
“So, um. Uh.”
He scratches at the back of his head.
“What… what happened?”
Emil: “I was at the library researching—and then the lights turned off—and then it was chasing me—and then it got me. And then I thought I was going to die. And then it spoke to me in Hebrew. And then…” He stares Em in the eyes, swallowing something thick down.
“I woke up in a memory, and everything was red. And everything was dark. And now I’m here awake again. But I was drugged. I must have been drugged…” he trails off, drinking deeply but getting nothing from the other empty mug.
Em takes a sip of his hot water.
Because he has to say something, he says, “My name is Em. Not El.”
He considers calling the police. Clearly, the poor fucker’s mind is gone.
But then he wonders.
“Hold on a second,” he mutters, and checks under the bed again.
GM: It’s there.
Missing the rest of the face it should be attached to.
Emmett: He looks away, quickly.
“Okay. Okay. I have a weird question to ask.”
But instead of asking, he points.
GM: Emil lies slumped over, noodles and water running freely from the spilled cup.
Emil: A heavy stream of red and yellow chunks spew out of Emil and over El—no, Em’s lap as he goes down. Fresh ramen noodles adorn his pants in a broth of bile and internal hemorrhaging. The carpet gets a helping as well.
Emmett: “Oh, come on!”
He just sits there covered in filth for a moment, wondering what to do.
This is bad.
But so is his life already.
He uses Emil’s phone to call 911.
GM: “911, what is your emergency?” asks a woman’s voice.
Emmett: A decent rendition of the slightly older man’s voice replies, “Help! Help, I don’t know what’s going on, I think I’m about to pass out.”
Glancing at the unconscious man, he adds, “I’ve been drugged.”
You and me both, Emil.
Wednesday afternoon, 26 September 2007
GM: Emmett takes off after giving Emil’s address to the 911 dispatcher. He hopes it’ll look like no one else was there. Or at least that Emil came to, made himself some tea and soup, and then collapsed. He supposes it won’t stand up to a real investigation, but he has to let the assumption guide them. After some thought, he decides not to cover up the nose. For all he knows it’ll help the cops figure out what happened. He even gets Emil’s head elevated and shit after he takes off.
It’s a big fucking risk, but it bears some resemblance to the right thing.
Emmett: He tells himself that, anyway. He still wants to shower the shit he saw away.
The worst part, the absolute worst part of the whole disaster of checking up on the decidedly unfortunate Jew, is going back home. Knowing that whatever he’s done here today, whatever fragile good he’s managed to restore to the world, he’s still marching to the same beat he was yesterday.
The same pealing, pitiless rhythm of her laugh.
He showers when he gets home and thinks. Some of what he hopes dearly is noddle soup oozes down him and down the same drain. It’s funny, when you clean yourself too many times, the shower starts to feel dirtier.
When this is all over, he promises himself, he’ll leave. Leave this house of secrets and happy memories he can never get back. Leave the endless, sleepless nights and a door nobody ever knocks on anymore.
One way or another, when this is all over, so is his life here.
That promise waters him like one of Lena’s old plants, lets the knot in his chest unravel and the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding out; he feels cleaner for the first time in days.
When he steps out, though, and dries himself, he prepares himself.
It’s time to get dirty again.
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