“This city is Sodom. Look back, and you won’t ever leave.”
Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007
GM: Emil’s parents try to bring some levity into the next few hours. After all, it is Sukkot. They’re supposed to be happy. His mom asks if he wants any food besides the cinnamon challah Paul brought from L.A.
Emil asks to get in touch with Rabbi Shemtov. A phone call reveals that Emil is not the only congregant of the Touro synagogue to be having a less than happy Feast of Tabernacles. Elizabeth Rabinowitz, a schoolteacher Emil was only passingly acquainted with, died yesterday. She is survived by her husband and three children, who the rabbi has been counseling in this time of grief.
Emil: Emil sends his condolences to the Rabinowitz family, and the perspective of someone else’s much more severe suffering makes him feel that much worse about hurting his parents. Technically, he thinks, you’re not really supposed to be mourning on Sukkot, and a selfish, or maybe religious, part of his mind decides that maybe Rachman would be better suited fulfilling the mitzvah of happiness by visiting him. Emil pushes that thought out of his mind, and asks whether they’re sitting shiv’a. Touro is a Reform synagogue after all, who knows which mitzvot they’ve “reformed” away.
GM: The woman Emil talks to, Rachman’s daughter Lila, answers the Rabinowitzes “seem like they plan” to observe shiv’a for only three days instead of the traditional seven. The Reformist family saw no issue with simply fitting it into Sukkot.
“I don’t think they’ve started yet, as Elizabeth hasn’t been buried,” Lila continues. “She died very late last night. The family’s taken it really badly.”
Emil: “Do you know whether the family is interested in more people attending the funeral for support?” Emil responds solemnly.
GM: “I think so. Like I said, they’ve taken it really badly. Even when they knew it was coming.”
Elizabeth had cancer. Most everyone at the synagogue knows.
Emil: “May her memory be a blessing. I’m not sure I can leave this hospital bed, but I’ll try my best to increase the headcount. That poor family.” Emil thinks of his parents as he speaks into the receiver.
A mother dies on the same day he lives. Perhaps this is a sign, an opportunity to do one last thing to give back to a community that has guided him through this past year. He just needs to start networking, they need more than his parents.
GM: “I’m sorry, hospital bed? Did something happen?” Lila asks.
Emil: “I was kidnapped and maimed…” He lets that morsel of info hang on the line a little too long before continuing with “I’ve been unconscious for the past few days, but thank God, I’m alive. Can you tell your dad I’m sorry I had to miss Yom Kippur services?”
GM: Emil can picture the black-haired teenager blinking on the other end of the line.
“I’m sorry, what? Who kidnapped you?”
Emil: Emil responds honestly. “I’m not sure. I never saw their face. It was just moments of unconsciousness and then violence and pain. Until I woke up alive. They have me on morphine now. I want to speak with your father about it when he has a spare moment, I need some of his guidance. Obviously though, the Rabinowitzes need him much more.” He speaks with no hint of sarcasm.
GM: “Oh my go—goodness. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Emil. I’ll let my dad know.”
Emil: “Thank you, Lila, I’ll appreciate that. When you have the info about the location and time of the burial and the shiv’a, let me know. I’ll spread the word. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for them.”
GM: Lila replies that she will and exchanges goodbyes.
Emil: Emil then dials the number he was given for Hillary.
GM: The number he “was given” is one he’s had for a fair while now. The phone rings a few times.
“Emil. Hi,” says Hillary. Her voice sounds a little flat.
Emil: “Hey Hill,” he says softly. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you after what happened. Though to be fair, I physically couldn’t.”
GM: “Yeah, guy stole your phone.”
Hillary’s silent a moment, then says,
“I don’t know we’re a good fit for each other.”
Emil: “Oh.” He wonders if she thought to check in on him. “That’s not what I meant Hill. Do you know where I am right now?” His tone is despondent, serious.
GM: “No. You’ve been ghosting me for days.” Hillary sighs. “Look, maybe it’s my brother being in the Marines, but I’m kinda used to more, well… masculine guys than you. No offense.”
Emil: Emil feels insulted, and yet he holds onto hisself a little bit longer to see if he can knock some guilt into her, “I’m in the hospital Hillary, I’ve been unconscious for days. I almost died.”
GM: “Wait, what?”
Emil: “I reported the assault to the police, had dinner, went to the library, and then I was drugged, kidnapped, and mutilated. It’s a miracle I survived. I’m at Tulane Medical Center if you care to visit.” He says it with a calm venom, with any member of the tribe’s stringest weapon. Brewing guilt.
GM: “Oh my god, who kidnapped you? Mutilated how?”
Emil: “Only God knows. They slashed my body with a serrated blade, all over. I think it’d be better to speak in person, don’t you?”
GM: “Oh my god. How badly, are you going to be d-have scars?”
Emil: “More than I can count, though you’re welcome to try if you decide to visit. They almost killed me, Hill. I’m only alive because by God’s grace and a dutiful soul.”
GM: “They? Do you know who did it?”
“No, sorry, you answered that.”
“I’m glad you’re alive, Emil. I’m so sorry that happened to you. That sounds beyond awful. But… I don’t know that I still see us together.”
Emil: “Right. Right. Wouldn’t want to be with someone who gets kidnapped and mutilated. That’s not manly. That’s not Marines.” Emil doesn’t sound mad, just flat. “Someone whose first instinct after seeing a man taking off with the only contents of his dead father’s open grave was to comfort you and make sure you were all right instead of retrieving said contents. No, that isn’t masculine enough. I gotcha, no problem, Hill.” He hopes she feels bad. He does.
GM: “Wait, what? I don’t care you’re not a Marine, and I sure don’t hold it against you being kidnapped, I care you just let that guy beat you up! Beat us up!”
Emil: “It’s fine. Good even. I’m leaving the city anyways, in some weeks. Long distance doesn’t work out well for anyone. I do still want to do the movie, those kids have something special in their hands, and your input helped them add something really special to the story. You gave them something to tell.”
GM: “Oh. Okay. I guess if you’re leaving anyway, that’s that. Can’t blame you wanting to leave after something like that.”
Emil: “I’ll be here long enough to finish the movie. Long enough to find a replacement teaching assistant. Long enough to dot all my ’i’s and cross all my ’t’s. You are going to continue with the movie, yes?”
GM: Hillary sounds unsure. “I don’t know. It was a thing on a whim.”
Emil: Emil sounds doubly resolute. “Don’t discount whims, Hill. It’s such a low commitment thing but its has good value. It’ll give you something new to be proud of and even more importantly, something to talk to your mother about without risk of sliding into political ugliness.”
He thinks for a moment, “The kids making this are good people. You should know, El, the director, was the one who saved me from an early death by finding me.”
GM: “He did? How’d he do that?”
Emil: “He was the one who called for an ambulance when he found me left for dead. Please, help me do the guy a solid.”
GM: Hillary seems to think. “Okay, well, I guess I can. He did find my ID.”
Emil: Emil sounds brighter in his tone. “Thanks, Hill. I think he’ll appreciate you doing this.”
But then he wonders for a moment. “He found it? Did he say where?”
GM: “The cemetery. I guess it fell out when the guy was running off with my purse.”
Emil: Emil’s eyes sharpen but he maintains his generally positive tone. “Poor guy must have been visiting a family member.”
And one pretty close to my father’s vault and pretty soon after us if it wasn’t stolen before he got to it, Emil adds in thought.
“Speaking of which, I need to tell you about something I found out recently, it’s a bit heavy, you up for it?”
GM: “Okay, what is it?”
Emil: “So, there’s this family who go to my synagogue. They probably live pretty close to your mom’s house, since the synagogue is in Touro. So maybe you know them. Do you know the Rabinowitzes?”
GM: “Nope. Maybe they don’t live too nearby?”
Emil: “Guess so. Well, you might have seen them in the area since they’re there during weekends. Or at least, they would be there, since a big Jewish holiday is underway right now. They’re a sizable family, a mother, a father, and three children.”
Emil pauses for a moment.
“They would be together there celebrating but the mother passed away last night from a long-standing cancer.”
GM: “I dunno that three kids is too sizable. But I’m sorry, that must be terrible for them.”
Emil: “Yeah, it’s not going to be easy for them. And it gets harder for them, because according to Jewish law, we are commanded to be happy during this holiday, so they’re only going to have a very short period to grieve with the community’s support. Only a few days, and that’s them bending the rules.”
GM: “That isn’t a place I’d like to be in. They can’t grieve afterwards too?”
Emil: “Well, they can on their own, and for a couple minutes a week in services, but these first few days are really sensitive for the mourners, and they’re the days when the community is supposed to bring its greatest support. Especially so given the short period they have.”
GM: “That does sound like a pretty sad place to be in.” Hillary’s tone is politely sympathetic.
Emil: “It is. And sadly, cause of my injuries, I won’t be able to attend the burial or the mourning period in their house to help them out. I’m stuck in this bed. I wanna make sure those poor kids get the support they need, so I’m encouraging people I know to either come to the burial or give their house a visit to help them mourn. If I give you the date and location, do you think you could go to the burial? Burials tend to be fairly short and plain affairs, but it will stick in the memory of her kids, who will participate in the burying process. Every person’s presence helps make it a bit less lonely.”
GM: “You sure? I don’t really know them at all.”
Emil: “For the kids, do you think they’ll know most of the people there? They just need a steady hand on their shoulders telling them their mother won’t be forgotten, and neither will they.”
He pauses for a moment.
“If you’re worried about them questioning your presence there, don’t worry, they want people there. And if they ask how you know about it, simply tell them I asked you to come on my behalf.”
GM: “I dunno, Emil. They’re not my community and we are splitting. I think you should find someone else.”
Emil: “Hillary, the Jews don’t live in a different New Orleans than you do. We’re one community, split by old choices that got confused some where down the line of generations like they was natural laws. There’s two times in your life to see that. When you’re first breathing, and when you die. Come in knowing nothing, come out forgetting everything. All blood is red. All bones are yellow. Everybody returns to the dust. Those kids’ mom is dead and they’ve barely even lived yet. Do what you think is right, but think about it. I’ll send you the details just in case.”
GM: “Wait, what?” Hillary says confusedly, but also crossly. “Emil, I don’t care if they’re Muslims or Sikhs or Jews or whatever. I don’t know them. Find someone who does if you really care. I have crap going on in my life too.”
Emil: “I know, I’m sorry, Hill. That was something I was cooking up in my head for a speech this Yom Kippur. I sorta felt it went to waste after I missed it by being passed out. Looks like it needs some work.” He laughs a little bit, not too much. Then again Emil never quite knew when too much was.
“Thanks for talking to me, Hill. See you on set.”
GM: “Well, depends where you use it. Might try the congregation instead of your ex next time.” Hillary’s tone at least sounds more ribbing than cross now.
“See you, Emil. Get better soon.”
Emil: “I’ll try my best. Peace, Hill.”
Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007
GM: Calling the number he got from Cécilia during his audition gets her voicemail.
“Hello, you’ve reached Cécilia Devillers. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Emil: “Hey Cécilia, this is Emil. I’m not sure if you’ve tried to contact me about the movie recently, but my phone was stolen and I’ve been out of commission, unconscious in Tulane Medical Center for almost a week. So sorry if I’ve missed any calls. I spoke to Hillary, though, and we’re both still excited to participate in your film.” Emil finishes the voicemail by giving Cécilia the loaned phone’s number and saying he’d be “happy to talk whenever you’re free.”
GM: Emil gets a call back after several hours of watching TV and chatting with his parents.
“I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been in the hospital for so long, Emil. Can I ask what happened to you?” Cécilia asks after saying hello.
Emil: He can almost hear his mother responding with a sharp but instructive, ‘you can,’ but he isn’t looking to let that intolerance for ambiguous speech continue into another generation. He has other ambiguities to root out anyways. After greeting her in return, Emil responds,
“You may. Someone wanted to end my life and they made an awfully good attempt at it. It’s a miracle of God I’m alive.” He elates on that last note, as if by virtue of experiencing divine miracle, being near-murdered is made into a reasonable cost.
GM: “Oh my god, that’s terrible. Have the police arrested them yet?” Cécilia asks.
Emil: “I’m afraid not. I don’t even know what they look like. They drugged and kidnapped me before they cut into me.” Emil responds, wondering whether this conversation will end up the same as his most recent call.
GM: “That’s horrible. I’m so sorry that’s happened to you, Emil. You must feel so scared right now.”
Emil: “I appreciate that. And it’s difficult. The attack seemed to be from out of nowhere, which gets me worrying it could happen again, anywhere, any time. But my parents came in from out of town, they’ve been helping me feel safer.”
GM: “I’m so glad to hear that. There’s no one who can make you feel safe like family can. I don’t imagine there’s anything I can do that your parents or the police haven’t already, but if there is, don’t hesitate to let me know.”
“Emil? Are you still there?” Cécilia questions after a moment.
Emil: “I’m right here, Cécilia,” Emil responds, realizing he spent a noticeable amount of time thinking about how he’d like to pose a request he has in mind.
“As for my personal well-being,” Emil continues, “I believe I’m covered. However, there is something that’s been on my mind recently I’d like to ask for your help with. It’s a bit of a heavy topic, so if you’d rather we chat about it later in our conversation so as to not spoil any excitement for the movie or any other pleasant subjects on your mind, I’m perfectly all right with that.”
GM: Cécilia just gives a pleasant laugh.
“Oh no, it’s fine. What did you want to talk about, Emil?”
“Hello? Are you still there?” she questions after another moment.
Emil: “I am,” Emil reassures. “The connection in this place is a little weak I think. Anyways, so there’s this family who goes to my synagogue, the one my teacher is the rabbi for, they’re called the Rabinowitzes. Good family, a mother, a father, and three children. Faithful too, they attend synagogue regularly despite living some distance away, just like I do. It’s a Jewish holiday, you know, so if I wasn’t so injured I’d have hoped to see them in services. But that wasn’t meant to be. Sadly, last night, the mother of those three kids lost her battle with cancer.”
GM: “I’m so sorry to hear that, Emil. I can only imagine what a dark time it must be for the family.”
“Hello? Am I getting through?” she asks again.
Emil: “You are, don’t worry. It’s just this whole deal is hard to work through. I have trouble finding my words sometimes when I have something important to say,” Emil responds softly.
GM: “Of course. I’m sure all the drugs they’re giving you at the hospital don’t help, either.”
Emil: “It’s better than the pain the drugs are allowing me to ignore, but it is difficult to lose control like this…” he sighs. “That poor family can’t even grieve properly. Its a high holiday. No grieving allowed. They’re bending the rules though, and grieving for just three days before joining the festivities like they’re commanded. That’s one of the laws of God that always troubled me. We are commanded to be happy above all things during the festival. Of course it must be just, but it feels so distant from His love. Do you ever feel that way about faith?”
GM: “Yes, sometimes,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “It can feel like the demands of faith don’t make reasonable allowances for earthly circumstances, and hold us to impossible standards.”
“But, you know, there was a man I spoke to once when my family was in Rome. He wasn’t a priest. He was just an older Italian man. He was eating outside a café with another old man, and it was pretty soon before Mass. I wouldn’t have commented on that if they also hadn’t mentioned they were going to church soon. Since they’d been eating together, it meant they’d failed to observe the Eucharistic Fast—if you aren’t familiar with what that is, it’s a prohibition that Catholics aren’t supposed to intake anything except water and medicine into our bodies during the hour before communion.”
“Well, it came up. But the old man and his friend just laughed. They said it was a beautiful morning for coffee and treats with old friends. They said God would understand. Not that God was happy they weren’t fasting, but that God understood they were just men. That they weren’t always perfect. They said they were going to confess how they’d broken fast after Mass. They had this very casual, very accepting air about how fallible they were. They felt at peace with themselves. They were happy and didn’t seem to regret anything.”
“So I think it’s important for faiths to have standards, even if those standards sometimes seem impractical or even impossible to uphold. Standards give us things to strive for. But they also remind us to be humble and to accept how we can’t always meet them. No person can. We just have to do the best that we can.”
Emil: “I like the way you put that, Cécilia,” Emil says contemplatively. “The law needs to be made to provide a standard for what amounts to perfect behavior. If you fall short of it, well that’s all right, it just means you’re human. All you have to do is rectify it. Jews have a whole book on it! Leviticus is all about how to be penitent to God. The only problem in Judaism is that ever since the Temple was destroyed that second time, the clear instructions of Leviticus lost relevance as the biblically mandated burnt offerings had to be replaced with the rabbinically defined prayer. And prayer is nicer in some ways, certainly it’s less messy. On the other hand, you can never really know whether your prayer was penitent enough, whether your heart was truly in it. With offerings, if it burns of its own seeming accord, apology accepted. Perhaps not knowing is better in a way? For instance, if Cain hadn’t learned so immediately of the God’s denial of his offerings, would he have been angry enough to slay his brother as he did? What do you think?”
GM: “That’s an interesting point, so far as Cain,” Cécilia considers. “Of course, he was responsible for his own actions. But I think not knowing whether your ‘offering’ is accepted is the whole point. Faith isn’t faith if it has external validation. It’s simply science, believing what’s in front of you.”
Emil: “I agree with you wholeheartedly, like her sister, justice, faith is blind.” Emil has heard similar things from Catholics, but he always thought of them as unconsciously hypocritical, what with needing to put a human face to God, with their reliance on icons, miracle-working saints, and relics to justify their belief.
“I just realized, I’ve been acting like a tool telling you all about my religion when I haven’t even asked about yours. What do you believe in, Cécilia?”
GM: “It’s good for sisters to share significant things,” Cécilia states. It sounds partly like a quip, and partly serious too. “I believe in one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit, and one unbroken and apostolic church. Or maybe more succinctly, I believe in Catholicism.”
Emil: For all that their son of God complained about hypocrites, you’d think the church would’ve been less keen on working it into their doctrines. But well, what was it that famous Jew said before he died? Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
“That’s a historied faith. Almost as historied as mine,” he teases. “You spoke first about sisterhood before you described your religion. Or perhaps, sisterhood is an expression of your faith? Maybe even the most important one.” Emil pauses a moment after stating his conjecture. “Would you tell me about your family, Cécilia? I’d like to hear about them.”
GM: “When it comes to age, actually, I think yours has mine beat by almost twice as long,” Cécilia replies with some faint amusement.
“As for my family, I have a mother and five sisters—men don’t run in our genes. We’re from France and moved to New Orleans after Katrina. We’re mostly involved in nonprofit work, which is what I’d like to make my career in after college.”
“In any case, Emil, I don’t want to keep you forever. You’d said you wanted to ask for my help with something?”
Emil: “I’ll be leaving the city soon,” Emil starts. “It has given me so much during my time here and I want your help to give back to it.”
“The reason I brought up the tragedy of the Rabinowitzes to you, Cécilia, is because I feel God’s presence and influence in these recent events. Why did God give me the gift of waking up alive the same night those poor kids’ mother passed on? He didn’t have to, He could’ve let me die, alone and bloodied. But no. God, in His mercy, decided to give me a chance by sending me a savior to find me and call for help. I believe God has tied me to the Rabinowitzes, and is giving me the opportunity to direct my desire to give back to the city into helping this family heal from the pain of losing a mother and wife.”
Emil thinks for a moment before continuing. “I likely won’t be able to attend her burial or visit their mourning household, given my injuries, but I want to do something that will ensure that those kids feel their mother’s positive influence even in her absence for years to come. I want to raise money to endow an annual scholarship for attending one of the local independent schools in the memory of their mother. That way, once a year, the Rabinowitz family will be able to sit face to face with someone who has an education and new opportunities because of their mother.”
GM: “I can definitely see how you might see God in the timing there, Emil,” Cécilia replies. “I’m sure the Rabinowitzes would feel good knowing their mother was continuing to make a difference in people’s lives. The private schools here really open up so many more opportunities to people than the public ones do.”
Emil: Emil’s voice, despite its morphine-aided buoyancy, sounds intently focused. “My sentiment exactly. I was wondering if you would be willing to help me out with the logistics of it. I haven’t set many details, but just generally, I’m sure your family has much more experience in this area and I would really appreciate guidance. Do you think your mother would be interested in hearing about it too?”
GM: “Hmm. My mother has commitments, but she is on McGehee’s board of trustees,” Cécilia considers. “The school’s involved with a fair number of scholarship programs. Maybe we could marry that with your idea. Why don’t you talk with the family and some of the people you’re thinking of raising money with?”
Emil: “That sounds like a plan then. I’ll make sure to contact you when I have more info but I can see this coming together,” Emil responds. “I was also thinking that if this happens, we might fundraise at the film screening, if you’re all right with that and think it would be fruitful.”
GM: “You should ask Elliot about that, as the film’s all his. I’ve mainly just given advice. Attaching fundraisers to events can definitely be a good way to help raise money, though. Expensive events can eat into a fundraiser’s revenue by a lot, but that’s moot if this one is happening anyways.”
Emil: Emil at first assumed that Em’s pseudonym was just a protective measure to stop hopeful actors who weren’t selected from finding and hounding him post-casting, or maybe that it was just some odd artistic statement. But then, why would his girlfriend call him by Elliot? Why is he keeping this from her?
“Sounds like I should give him a call…” Chewing on the idea for a moment longer, Emil wonders why she was surprised Emil was in the hospital in the first place. Wouldn’t he have told her?
“Sort of unrelated, but I was wondering why you hadn’t heard about my hospitalization, Cécilia. Have you not been in contact with Elliot recently?”
GM: “I don’t think many people who aren’t your immediate relatives would know you were hospitalized. Those are the people they usually call,” Cécilia points out.
Emil: So they haven’t. Or maybe Elliot is just excessively humble. Or maybe it’s cagey. Hard to know.
“Right, usually. But that’s the thing, this wasn’t usual.”
Emil is unsure whether it was his intention to tell her or not. Is it not a greater mitzvah to be private in your righteousness than to boast? Then again, maybe telling is better. If Esther hadn’t told the king about her uncle Mordechai’s foiling of an assassination plot against him, he wouldn’t have been lauded as such a hero of Persia.
“God let someone choose to save me that day. The person who called 911 for me after finding me bloodied and dying, that was Elliot. I thought he might have told you about it.”
GM: “We aren’t together anymore,” Cécilia answers. “But I’m glad he was there for you when you needed someone.”
Emil: “Oh, I didn’t know. Sorry about bringing it up. I know break ups can be rough. Are y’all on good terms?” Emil responds, his tongue slower than he would like, more molasseses than fresh syrup. He can’t wait to get the IV out of his arm to stop the slow drip of morphine addling him.
GM: “It’s hurt, like any breakup. But I think we’re both happy for the time we had and happier for where we’re going to be now.”
“Anyways, I have to go. I hope you have a full and speedy recovery, Emil.”
Emil: That’s interesting. He wonders what broke them up. He writes a memo to himself to be cautious about the subject when he speaks to Em.
“Thank you, Cécilia. I’ll be in touch.”
Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007
Emil: Emil has a laptop on his lap. It’s his mom’s. Emil vaguely remembers his own laptop being with him before he was attacked. He trusts his mother to be careful with her laptop, but something of pride or maybe paranoia causes him to wish he had his own back. Using the one currently in his disposal, Emil looks up the number for the Howard Tilton Memorial Library and explains that he lost his laptop and is wondering if they have it in a lost and found.
GM: “No, sorry. Haven’t seen any laptop,” answers the woman he speaks to.
Emil: “That’s a shame. That thing’s encrypted and uses a custom operating system. It’s completely useless to anyone but me. Practically a fancy brick.” He sighs. “Well, if anyone finds it, tell them there’s a fifty dollar reward for returning it. I’ll send someone by later to check again if it’s found.”
GM: “Oh, wait, I think we actually do have a laptop. Ok, come by whenever.”
Emil: “Thank you very much,” he says, ending the call. Emil promptly calls for his stepdad and asks him to pick it up for him, noting that he promised a fifty dollar reward that he will pay back as soon as he gets out of the hospital.
GM: Paul answers that he’s in the middle of “lawyer things” for Emil right now. He sounds a little peeved as he explains that the law is anything but fast and efficient.
Emil: Emil thanks him for doing the work, especially since it is a frustrating effort. He doesn’t bother him further. Instead, he calls his mother and makes the same request. It’s very possible she’s also busy, but it can’t hurt too much to ask.
GM: Busy seems right. Rather notably given who is calling her, Emil’s call goes straight to voicemail.
Emil: He leaves a nice message for his mother, caps it with a “love you,” and a request that she not stress about calling back, he’s all right. He then thinks for a moment and decides to give a ring to a student under his tutelage, Andrew Phillips. He met the guy at the transfer student orientation for Tulane where they exchanged contact info. Phillips was wary about sharing his email out of his supposed well-versed knowledge of the security risks that could incur. Emil responded that his email was already listed in the public student directory. Phillips failed to transfer due to his grades, and pestered Emil to tutor him just as, like a refresher, you know. I obviously know the material, I’m just a… a little rusty.
GM: Rust you can remove. Restore what’s underneath to its original pure shine.
Emil isn’t so sure how much is underneath Andy’s ‘rust.’
“Oh hi, Emil’s, what up?” asks the nasally-voiced 20-year-old after a couple rings.
Emil: “Hey Andy, just wanted to let you know I’m a bit incapacitated right now. I’m in the hospital, so we have to schedule our next session around that. Also, I have a favor to ask you if you’re free right now,” responds in the same safe, businesslike voice he teaches his students with.
GM: Emil hears a noise in the background. It sounds like a video game.
“Oh, uh, you’re in the hospital? What happened there?”
Emil: “I got kidnapped and mutilated. I almost bled out, but things are under control now.” He responds fairly casually, like rote now. “Care to help me out?”
GM: The video game sounds pause.
“Uh, wait, uh, what?”
Emil: “Yeah, I was surprised too.” He says casually. “If I missed any of your calls, I apologize for the inconvenience. I was just a tad unconscious.”
GM: “Uh. It’s okay. I didn’t call you.”
“So… you think it’s gonna, like, happen again?”
Emil: “I hope not.” It’s a thought Emil has so far successfully shut out of his mind, and he tries his best to maintain that. “Anyway, in the process of getting kidnapped, I left my laptop at the Howard Tilton Memorial Library. I have my prepped lessons for you on there, so I need to get it back from the lost and found if I’m going to teach you any time soon. Do you think you could go get it and bring it to me here at Tulane Medical Center?”
GM: “Can’t you just… you know, without? I’m in the middle of Elder Scrolls…” Andy whines.
Emil: “If you do it now I’ll give you fifteen dollars off the next lesson. You can do it, right Andy?” Emil responds, quickly and calmly.
GM: “Well… okay. But there’s, um. Something else I want you to do instead.”
“There’s this… girl who used to go to Delgado…”
Emil: “I’m listening.”
GM: “And now she goes to Loyola. Her name’s Stacy Daniels. She’s really, uh, hot. Go to her Facebook. She’s got tons of pictures. My favorite is the one where she’s, like, holding out her arms and really smiling. It’s my desktop background. Are you on her Facebook yet?”
Emil: Emil has a gross feeling about where this is gonna go, but opens her profile up on his mother’s computer in incognito mode.
GM: “Can… you help me break into her webcam? Please?”
Emil: My God in heaven, it was a gross request.
“You like this girl, right?”
GM: “Yeah!” Andy says excitedly. “I love her hair… I wanna just, sorta… pet it. Y’know?”
Emil: “Yeah, I know what you mean.” Emil knows exactly what he means, but he most definitely does not feel what this man feels towards petting hair. In his head he tries to translate it into something a little less creepy to make sympathizing easier.
“Andy, if you want to feel her hair, watching her on webcam is not gonna do that for you. I can help you out another way though.”
GM: “Well, like what?” Andy sounds dubious.
Emil: “Well, there’s a lot of places you could touch her hair in without it seeming off. We can discuss them one by one. First and foremost, you could go on a date with her. Would you want to?” Emil asks.
There’s a pause.
GM: Actually, not just a pause. An inhaled breath.
“Really? You could… do that? She won’t think I’m creepy? She has a boyfriend…”
Emil: Emil shudders. “Well, that’s out, then. Something to think about, Andy, is that the key to seeming like not a creep is making sure you have the girl’s active, continuous consent to do whatever activity you have planned with her. And remember, the patient tortoise gets to the finish before the hare. If you want to go on a date, you’ll have to wait for their relationship to end. And before you ask, sabotaging their relationship goes against the ethical principles of white hatting. Before we go on, are we agreed on that?”
GM: “Uh, yeah, sure,” Andy answers. “Are you gonna help me break into her webcam?”
Emil: Emil sighs. “Andy, the goal is for you to touch her hair. We have more options than a date to do that. Breaking into her webcam is a breach of privacy, meaning it’s nonconsensual, meaning if you do it you won’t be able to get her trust ever. Furthermore, it is definitely a bigger favor than just picking up my computer for me. Now, have you ever given someone a haircut?”
GM: “I don’t wanna touch a guy’s hair,” Andy whines. “And it’s not like I have a fetish for it, like I have, well, I just think she has really pretty hair.”
“I wanna see her take her clothes off too…”
Emil: Oh Lord.
“One step at a time, Andy. Remember what you’re offering in exchange for this very involved process. Stick with the goal of touching her hair. You won’t have to cut guys’ hair. Just hers.”
GM: “But how am I gonna do that? It’d be way easier to spy through her cam!”
“I mean, look through her cam. I don’t wanna hurt her or rip her off or anything.”
Emil: “Andy, you don’t know how to do that, so that is infinitely harder for you.”
GM: “I know, so I want you to do it! Pleeeease?”
Emil: “Andy, what you’re asking for is worth much more than a simple courier mission. Think about it like this, you’re asking for a new word of power in exchange for a side quest. Does that make sense? You want a ‘Roh’ or a ‘Dah’ to go with your ‘Fus,’ you have to slay a dragon for me, clear a dungeon. Metaphorically speaking.”
GM: “There aren’t any dragons in Elder Scrolls! I mean, maybe the early ones, but not the one I’m playing.”
“But okay, I get it, I’m asking for the daedric armor and I don’t have enough gold…”
“Okay, well, what else do you want me to do?”
Emil: “I want you to bring my laptop, but if you want me to do more for you than give you a discount on a class, you’ll have to earn my trust as a white hatter. You want to even touch her hair, you have to show me why I should let you try. But you’re an adult, so you can negotiate. What do you think will convince me?”
GM: “Whaaaat? Look, I just wanna get in her cam! Can’t you just say what you want for it!” Andy whines.
Emil: Emil waits expectantly for Andy to make an offer.
GM: “Oh come on, why won’t you say what you want!” he complains into the silence. “I dunno what you want!”
Emil: “If you can’t figure something out and make a good offer, I promise you my offer will be much more strict. Understand?”
GM: “Okay, fine, how’s money?”
Emil: Emil waits expectantly.
GM: “Okay, FINE, how’s fifty bucks?”
Emil: “I don’t want money, Andy. You already pay me, remember?”
GM: “That doesn’t make sense, if you didn’t want money I wouldn’t be paying you! That doesn’t make any sense!”
Emil: “Right. But I don’t want more. Unless you can scrounge up $25,000, I have other interests. You don’t have that, do you? Offer something else.”
GM: “I don’t know what else! Okay, fine, what do you want to break into her cam? It isn’t hard! I’ve read about lots of people doing it!”
Emil: Emil opens up an audio recording application on his mother’s computer and starts a new recording, he then sets the call to speaker.
“All right. First things first, you need to own the act. Tell me, in plain terms, what you want done and to whom, and start by sitting up straight and stating your name. Full names please.”
GM: “Okay, uh, my name is Andrew Philips. And I wanna hack Stacy Daniels’ webcam. Well, I want you to hack it. Emil Kane.”
Emil: “I said own it, Phillips. Leave me out of it, this is just so we know what you want to achieve, and also say why. Again.”
GM: “Okay, fine, I’m Andrew Philips and I wanna hack Stacy Daniels’ webcam so I can watch her take her clothes off.”
Emil: Emil ends the recording, saves it, and turns off speaker phone.
“All right, I don’t like to communicate things like this over the phone, so you’ll have to come to the hospital. On the way, pick up the laptop. Make sure to bring fifty dollars with you to reward the woman at the lost and found. When you get here, we’ll work out the remaining details of the arrangement and I’ll reimburse you the fifty. Understood?”
GM: “Okay, sure. You’ll make it so I can get into her webcam myself too, right?”
Emil: “Get here and we’ll discuss your options for getting what you want. Goodbye, Andy.”
GM: “Okay, bye then.”
Andy awkwardly waits a bit, then hangs up.
Emil: Emil crops out Andy’s first attempt using audacity, and then uploads the clip to his skydrive.
GM: Hours pass. Andy finally shows up. He’s an overweight and dark-skinned kid with small, rattish eyes that contrast his full, baby-plump cheeks. He wears an oversized black hoodie, non-tying slip-on shoes, and smells like he hasn’t used deodorant.
“Okay, Emil, here’s the laptop,” he says, pulling it out of a backpack. “It was really heavy carrying with mine.”
Emil: Emil takes it in his hands and inspects it to see if it sustained any damage. He tries to turn it on.
GM: It looks undamaged. The machine boots up without issue.
Emil: Emil absentmindedly greets Andy as he pulls up his GIS-based phone tracking software to view its current position and recent history. He wonders if it’s still in the hands of the thief or if it was pawned off to someone potentially more unsavory.
GM: His phone makes a trip from St. Louis Cemetery to the Seventh Ward, the French Quarter, Riverbend, the McGehee School, back to Riverbend, and out throughout the city again before finally terminating at his own apartment building.
Emil: Emil looks suspiciously at the path and screenshots it. He notes a couple things in the metadata of the screenshot, including the odd trip to McGehee, but then smiles knowing that his phone is practically at his doorstep. Then his smile fades, how the hell did that phone get to his doorstep? He tosses the question in his mind like an errant fingertip in a salad spinner and reaches the conclusion that he might have some questions to ask his God-sent hero.
GM: “So… are you gonna help me break into her cam now?” Andy asks.
Emil: “You got thumb drive handy, Andy?” Emil asks, leaving his question unanswered.
Emil: “Can I borrow that?” Emil asks, putting his hand out.
GM: Andy hands it over.
Emil: Emil boots up a virtual machine to insulate his main OS from whatever nastiness Andy put on the drive, turns off all permissions so that no data used by the host OS will be compromised, and then plugs in the drive and views its contents. If there is something malicious on it, no biggie. He can load up a previous snapshot of the VM. Emil inspects the drive to see if anything of value is hosted on it.
GM: There’s porn. Lots of porn. There’s also an almost certainly torrented copy of Revenant the Ravishing: Lineages.
Emil: Emil opens up the application’s folder and examines to see whether the fan-made patch is installed. He’s played the game, and it’s honestly a much better experience with the patch than without. The first half of the game is very well done, but the time constraints on the devs in the latter part shows. He also checks the saves folder. If it is empty, then that means Andy copies the game from the drive onto his main disk before playing.
GM: There are no saves or installed fan mods. The game itself hasn’t been installed either, but there is an ISO image.
Any payload Emil hides within the image is sure to be regularly installed on whatever device Andy is currently using. Then again, the current files may very well be infected.
“Andy, this is sorta off topic, but I’m gonna need to do you a solid and clean up the ISO image you’re using to install Lineages onto your computer. There’s a good chance something fishy was packaged with it. I have my copy handy for you on my laptop, and I’m gonna hardcode the fan patch into the file. Friends don’t let friends play unfinished games.”
GM: “There was? Ugh. You don’t need to include the patch though, I’ve got it on my PC.”
Emil: “Given the way you got the main ISO, I wouldn’t be so sure on the integrity of the patch version you own. It’s really no big trouble to throw that in anyways,” Emil says dismissively. It’s certainly easier to sneak in a file if Andy expects another file’s presence. Not a big trouble if not, just a little more hassle.
GM: “Okay, sure then.”
“Look, are you gonna help me break into her cam or what?” he asks impatiently.
Emil: Emil removes the potentially damaging ISO file and replaces it with his own version. Within the patch files he includes, he slips in a copy of a boot sector virus he has been working on in class. It will burrow into the main drive of any computer the flash drive connects to. Barely detectable and equipped with defensive encryption capabilities, this virus installs a remote access hook into the computer using an altered version of the relatively new LogMeIn software, modified to neither request access from the observed computer nor show up as an active process.
“Take out your laptop,” Emil says, saving the new files onto the flash drive and ejecting it off his laptop.
GM: Andy takes his out.
Emil: To be safe rather than sorry, he also included a keylogger inside the payload. Emil waits for Andy to open his device, and then, very precariously balancing his and his mother’s computers on his legs, gets to work deleting everything but his save file from his Revenant installation, and then inserting the USB and reinstalling the full game alongside the patch and the payload. Andy’s computer is now his, effectively. Of course, he won’t hold it against him unless he does something aggressively awful.
“Privacy matters, Andy. It is not a privilege to take away from someone lightly. Even for criminals, the police have to get warrants to search their apartments or probably cause of the committing of a crime. Those who deserve their privacy should keep it, even if it may seem simple or nice to take it from them. Unless you can show me that the girl you’re oggling is bad enough to not deserve the privilege of her privacy, I’m not going to help you take it. Understood?”
Emil pauses for a moment, but not long enough for him to complain, he can’t stand the tinny sound of Andy’s whining.
“But, there is a lot of lessons to be learnt if you want to get her hair. Are you interested in that? Or do you want to prove to me she deserves to get her cam hacked?”
GM: “What the fuck!” Andy cries.
“She has a boyfriend! She got into Loyola! I… don’t, and didn’t, and I deserve good things too! It’s not hurting her, she won’t even know!”
Emil: “You want a boyfriend too, Andy?” Emil responds, how little Andy’s tantrum moves him showing clearly in his face. “Tell me about her boyfriend. Do you know anything about him?”
GM: “NO! I don’t want a boyfriend!” Andy declares offendedly. “And I’m sick of doing stupid stuff, and talking about stupid stuff, that doesn’t get me in her cam! Are you gonna help or not!”
Emil: “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Stop complaining, listen to me, and do as I say. Then, and only then, will you get to look at her.”
Emil pulls up a file off his personal repo named HORUS.exe and puts it in a folder by itself, then he turns the screen to face Andy.
“This is the binary you would use, it’s right here. You want it, right?” Emil is looking down on him, even from his bed.
GM: “Ye-not if you’re gonna be an, an asshole about it! Make up your mind!” Andy flares. “Help me or, or don’t!”
Emil: Emil presses his thumbs into his temples, slowly rubbing their inflammation away. “I’m not trying to be an asshole, Andy, I just want to do this the right way. She has to deserve it. You should test her, see what she’s like on the inside. But, I’ll get you access first, because it’ll be educational.”
Because I want to own everything about you, because all I need to know is you’re willing to do something awful to justify taking away your privileges, Andy, a small voice in the back of his head whispers.
“How do you want to do this, Andy? You have two options. You can phish her, or you can infect her machine in person using a portable drive. What’s your preference?”
GM: Andy actually looks sufficiently taken aback by Emil’s response that he isn’t sure what to say.
“Uh. Phishing. And she does deserve it.”
Emil: “Tell me why, because you think she has everything and you got nothing?”
GM: “I have things! She wouldn’t talk to me during class.”
Emil: “That sucks, and I feel you.” He wonders how creepy Andy was in his approach, or whether he even spoke loud enough for Stacy to hear him in the first place. “But I need more, and proof. Something that could work would be if you showed me she was willing to be unfaithful to her boyfriend. Put a pretty face in her IMs and see how well she behaves.”
GM: Andy’s face angrily re-scrunches. “Are you helping me or not!”
Emil: So damn lazy. Not an ounce of initiative in this guy. He might have to do it himself.
“I am,” he half-sighs, exporting the HORUS.exe exploit to a temporary CD in his optical drive, and then holding it out. “You better remember how much of a solid I’m doing for you, Andy. Daedric armor don’t land in a new character’s hands for nothing. Agreed?”
GM: “Yeah, sure,” Andy nods, eager again.
Emil: Emil holds the CD just out of reach, not particularly convinced by his casual response that Andy knows how big of a favor Emil expects in return. “Just so you know what I will expect when I call it in, doing this favor for you is no small potatoes ask to me. It is highly illegal, a violation of my ethical principles as a white hatter, and I am doing this difficult job for you without any work on your part. You won’t get this service with no strings attached elsewhere, no matter how much money you offer. Trust me, I know the market well. So I expect you to return the favor in kind.”
He holds out the CD after making it clear.
GM: “Fine, whatever,” Andy says as he takes the CD. “Surprise surprise, the Jew wants money. Sorry, ‘favors in kind.’”
Emil: Emil stares daggers into the man-child’s eyes as he explains how it would work, how he the recording would at first land on one of Emil’s cloud servers and then would be streamed to his computer over a secure channel. If he wants to save video, he should request that Emil decrease the bitrate of the video to waste less space. He explains how to do a phishing attack, and how a couple tries might be necessary, but that it should be doable if Andy is persistent. If that fails, he can come back and ask Emil for further help. Emil opens up Audacity again and hits record before stating again the terms. A significant favor in exchange for providing him with help in hacking into the webcam of Stacy Daniels.
“Understood?” he asks, holding out his hand to shake.
GM: “Yeah yeah yeah, I get it, Jews love money! Why don’t I give you a lampshade, those are always popular!”
Emil: Emil imagines what he’s like in voice chat in multiplayer games, given the steaming crap that comes out of his mouth in regular conversation. He just smiles, because if voyeurism wasn’t enough to justify voiding his privacy, antisemitism is just a cherry on top.
“If you don’t have any more questions, I won’t take up any more of your time. Text me when you want your next lesson.”
GM: Andy rolls his eyes, shoulders his backpack, and walks out. Emil’s hand is left unshaken.
Emil: Emil tacks ‘impolite’ onto his mental description of Andy and retracts his hand. He wonders for a moment whether Andy would be the type to follow contracts as agreed upon even if things didn’t go exactly as he wanted. He doesn’t have high hopes. At the same time, he isn’t exactly keen on letting that girl get spied on by the creep without proof of her being someone who actually deserves it. Emil resolves to look into Stacy himself.
He creates a couple spoofed email accounts and sends her an innocuous message hiding a payload of a key-logger. All he intends to do is get to know her a little better, a little bit of email snooping won’t hurt her.
At least that’s what he tells himself as he presses send and tries to ignore how similar his justification is to Andy’s.
This is for her own good.
Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007
GM: It’s while Emil is waiting for Stacy to fall for the bait that he gets another visit from Detectives Moore and Hill.
They haven’t found Em Faustin.
“Looks like there’s nobody by that name, at least in New Orleans,” says Moore.
He’d said Em was dating a girl named Cécilia, though? What’s her last name?
Emil: “Devillers,” Emil responds promptly. He knows he really shouldn’t be helping them out, but then again, he needs Em arrested to get them off his back.
GM: “Okay, we’ll see if she knows anything more,” says Moore.
“This Em character went pretty out of his way not to get identified. Ditched the phone he called 911 on, also looks like,” remarks Hill.
Emil: “Huh,” Emil starts, thinking about his cellphone which he tracked to his apartment. “His girlfriend’s family seems involved the city, and they’re quite well-to-do. Maybe the family asked him to be cautious to stop the tabloids from snooping on their relationship? Or maybe he’s trying to be mysterious as an artist? Or maybe he was just spooked by my injuries? To be honest, I’m unsure of the why.”
GM: “Could be. We’ll see what he knows,” says Moore. “You know anyone else he’s had contact with, besides you and her?”
Emil: “Yeah, Hillary Cherry. We auditioned together. She said that they met again while I was out.”
GM: “Oh, that’s good to know,” says Hill. he asks if they know each other outside of that audition. Moore asks more about the audition. What’s it for, and what’s Em’s role?
Emil: “She was my girlfriend until recently,” Emil responds, a mildly poor taste forming in his mouth. “The audition was for a student film Em was making. Real artsy morality play and star-crossed love horror story. I believe we both got parts, though I haven’t had the time to check.”
GM: “Oh, so you could see him again for this?” asks Hill.
Emil: “Maybe, but if he’s acting as dodgy as you say, it might not be happening.” He shrugs.
GM: “We’ll see. You know when and where the next shoot, audition, whatever, is happening?” asks Moore.
Emil: “No, sorry,” he says, shaking his head. “Being unconscious has put a bit of a damper on staying in the loop with things,” he says, cracking a grin.
GM: “It’ll do that,” smiles Hill.
He and Moore remark that Emil sounds like he’s recovering well, then exchange a few other pleasantries before taking their leave.
About an hour later, Stacy’s fallen for the email bait, perhaps mistakenly assuming that just reading an email without downloading an attachment is enough to keep her safe. The keylogger is in.
Emil: The data passes through a vpn and back to a text file in Emil’s Skydrive. The logger segments the file by timestamps and time periods of low activity. It’s a simple waiting game now, watching her writing emails, waiting for her Facebook account to say she’s online to snip her password and username, and using these passwords to try and log into her email from different servers in different countries. At the very least it should get him access to her Facebook, Emil has found their security record a lot weaker than they suggest. And there’s a good chance she uses the same password for both Facebook and email. If she fell for the keylogger, it doesn’t bode well for her other security prospects.
In the mean time, Emil decides to do a manual scan of his mother’s computer for malicious files and faulty drivers. Always polite to leave a room cleaner than when you walked in. If he spots anything that sparks his curiosity, such as encrypted or password protected sections of the drive, large gaps of “deleted” data, which would show up as fragmentation on her hard disk, or references to his father, or references to his father, Kathleen or Bianca Andrews, or Robert White, he will simply have to investigate it.
GM: With Stacy already on her computer, the waiting game doesn’t take long. The first words recorded by the keylogger are an email addresses to Prof. Delacroix, asking some questions about a paper due for his Environmental Policy and Economics class.
The next is a search for ‘abortion clinics near me.’
‘Abortion clinic ride home’
Emil: “Huh,” Emil says upon seeing the message to Prof. Delacroix, he’s in the same section. He jots down a memo to give the professor an email about missing class.
“Oh,” he emotes in much the same way he did after trying to give a student a congratulatory high five and then remembering that they were blind.
GM: ‘Aetna abortion insurance’
‘Louisiana abortion law’
‘Louisiana ultrasound law’
Emil: Unlike Catholicism, Judaism has a much less negative stance on abortion, with danger to the potential mother being sufficient justification and the start of life at birth not conception being widely agreed upon thoughts especially with more observant Jews because of how it’s discussed in the Talmud.
GM: Emil finds no viruses on his mother’s computer, but after a little tinkering, he’s able to free up quite a few megs of system memory.
Two password-protected folders under My Documents are labeled “Work” and “Finances.” His mother’s email account also requires a password.
Outside of those areas, Emil finds nothing in the rest of the system pertaining to his father. There are no photographs, no “Earl” references, none even to New Orleans. One would think Lucille had been married to Jonas and living in Los Angeles for all her life.
He supposes it was a very long time ago that his parents separated. Computers were for nerds rather than everyone back then.
Emil: Emil sighs, a little disappointed. As he scrolls through his mother’s photos, the thought occurs to him that he doesn’t even know what his father looks like. He knows nothing about the man’s family. Not even whispers. It’s like Earl Kane never existed.
But he did. Emil knows he did. The scar on his neck is the mark he bears because his father exists. Or did.
His mom’s efforts notwithstanding. She wouldn’t even let him shred her old documents, but digging through ones in the trash still turned up a shredded, half-faded Polaroid of his mother from when she was younger. It was captioned ‘Lucy Abernathy,’ and there was another part that said ‘Symoné,’ but it was torn-up enough that he couldn’t make out anything more.
It was all so long ago. He’s grasping at straws, but after how little there is on his mom’s computer, maybe that ‘Symoné’ still lives in New Orleans. She might also be an Abernathy. Emil tries to look her up on the internet through search engines, social media, and digitized telephone directory and newspaper records.
GM: Emil quickly ascertains that Symoné Abernathy has no MySpace or Facebook presence. There aren’t even any Google results. No yellow pages listings, either, for any Abernathys.
Still, if she existed, Emil knows the information is out there somewhere. He plugs away.
Emil finally digs up a 1991 newspaper article about a Symoné Broussard, 15, being arrested for holding up a 7-Eleven together with a DeShawn Abernathy, 17, and shooting the clerk. DeShawn was subsequently shot dead by NOPD officers. Symoné was tried as an adult for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sent to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.
Emil: After a cursory Google search, Emil notes that Symoné definitely finished her sentenced at the latest in 2001, given the 10 year maximum sentence for the charge.
He’s done scouring the depths of the internet. Instead, on a whim he tries a few variations on the simple password his mother uses for her laptop on her email, changing the numbers that come after his name.
GM: It’s a telling lesson in password security that brute-forcing it like that eventually gets him in with ‘emil91.’
Emil: Emil tosses ‘teaching Mom basic computer security’ onto the ever-growing heap that is his to-do list. He interrogates the search bar as he tosses name after name into it to see if he gets any hits. He adds in the new names he just learned, and tacks on Aaron ‘Lucky’ Johnson for good measure.
GM: None of the names get any results. Emil might almost think violating his mother’s privacy has been for nothing before he sees an email titled ‘Houston job offer.’
Emil: He opens it. It’s a funny thought he has, but the longer he stays in this hospital bed, the more sick he’s acting. Not out of malice per se, but idleness. Idle email accounts are the devil’s play things after all.
GM: It’s between his mother and one of her long-time friends from college. She’s received an attractive offer from another etiquette coaching business in Houston. She’s considering the various pros and cons. One of the latter is the city’s proximity to New Orleans.
Emil: He jots down the friend’s email and whatever other contact information he can scrounge from her, he expects a source about his mother’s life from when she was younger would be very useful. He’s unsure how to feel about the offer. His mother already has so much negativity associated with this city, and despite his willingness to betray her trust, the seams in his chest ache at the thought of seeing her hurt again. He deletes the search history, logs out, closes her computer, sets it to the side, and checks up on the keylogger.
GM: The name of his mother’s friend is Sharon Anderson. Lucille has mentioned her before, and fondly, though she doesn’t live in L.A. Most older adults seem to have their share of college friends who’ve taken separate paths in life.
Stacy has googled various terms pertaining to the paper Professor Delacroix’s class, and seemingly several other courses, before signing off from her computer.
The Dixie sun outside has passed well overhead and is starting to set. There’s a perfunctory knock as Emil’s stepfather enters the door, just after he closes his mother’s laptop. He’s carrying a bag with what looks like food.
“Emil. Hope you’ve stayed busy and entertained,” he greets.
Emil: “As much as can be expected, I guess. How’re you and Mom holding up?” He smiles at him as he returns the greeting. “How’d you find time in between your work and making sure I’m protected legally to come in? However you did it,” Emil assures Paul, “I appreciate it.”
GM: “Your mom and I took time off from work,” Emil’s stepfather says as he sits down. “There’s not a whole lot we can do from New Orleans.”
“She’s doing all right. But she’ll be glad when we can get home.”
Emil: “I should be glad once I can leave this bed, home sounds like heaven right about now,” Emil quips.
“But I was wondering, if Mom isn’t working, what’s she been up to. She hasn’t returned my calls.”
GM: “She’s taking care of some things. She’ll be back later.”
Emil: Avoiding the question, are we?
“She’s visiting family,” Emil concludes. “Mom doesn’t like to talk about them, let the past be the past and all. But I’d do it too if I was her. We’re just so close to them, and for so short a time, as well.”
GM: Paul shakes his head. “Your mom doesn’t want to talk about this with you, Emil. Please respect her wishes.”
Emil: Emil nods. “I understand. I just worry about how much stress she’s in. It’s like walking into the past when you just want to make a better future. I just know about myself that I don’t think I could resist revisiting my past if just for a day. Mom’s a strong person, stronger than I am, but if the allure of closure on old problems is too much… I’m worried about her.”
GM: Paul looks annoyed. “Emil, stop prying. That promise you asked your mom to make is causing her a lot of pain.”
Emil: He’s right, Emil is prying. Whether or not his heart wants it, his gut does. There’s a good amount of sincerity in his intention, but it’s becoming all too clear that this place is poisoning him and he needs to make it stop.
“Shit. You’re right, I’m sorry. Seriously. I’ll shut up about it,” he says in contrition. “Being stuck here in this bed is bringing out the worst in me. I hate it.”
GM: Paul rubs his head.
“It’s been a bad Sukkot for a lot of people, it seems like.”
He reaches into the bag.
“There aren’t a lot of Israeli restaurants here to mark the occasion, but this place seemed pretty good…”
Friday evening, 28 September 2007
GM: Dinner is vaguely autumnal and Sukkot-themed, consisting of Acorn Squash (“pistachio tahini, pomegranate, lentils”), Yemenite Flat Bread (“soft-boiled egg, avocado, zhoug”), and leftover cinnamon challah from earlier. It’s decent enough fare, but Paul remarks on how he’s looking forward to getting back to L.A.
Emil’s mother doesn’t join them. His stepfather doesn’t seem to have much conversation in him and doesn’t finish his food.
There’s an awkward moment when a food service worker shows up with some of the saddest-looking brown and white mush Emil has ever seen. It takes four increasingly exasperated tries for Paul to tell the Spanish-speaking woman that the food isn’t needed after she tries to set up a tray by Emil’s bed anyway.
He mutters something vaguely angry about “forgetting small things” and “having enough important things to worry about” after she’s gone. His tone is snappish and perhaps it’s the post-sunset, sickly indoor light that makes the bags under his eyes look deeper and darker. He wishes Emil a somewhat brusque goodnight an says he’ll see him in the morning. When Emil asks if his mother will be joining them, Paul just stares for a moment as if he didn’t hear the question. He finally answers, “We’ll see.”
Emil: Emil wonders whether Paul is deliberately keeping his mother away to protect her. If he is, he isn’t holding it against him, he would do much the same thing if his step-son was causing that much pain. Gotta protect the family, and yet, it doesn’t stop the sting in his chest as he sees Paul walk out of the dimly lit room, with its various machines providing a chorus of atonal beeps and whooshing sounds.
He takes out his computer and dims its blinding light until he can barely make out the text on the screen. He opens a file he snapped off a /mu/ torrent: the_moon.mp3. The alternating acoustic guitars start to play from his computer’s meager speakers and join in the chorus of beeps with chords and chaotic harmony.
He pulls up Stacy’s stream. It’s the evening. The keylogger lays plain her fears, her desperate need to be unshackled of pregnancy. Who knows what it must be like to be in her position? She doesn’t need this, doesn’t need Andy taping her, not now.
I drove up to the city at night
and found the place
where you grew up
and then where you stayed
and then we walked around
and stayed up late
under city lights
and I spent the night
next to you I miraculously woke up
in your parents’ house
I lied in bed with you
Maimonides once said that if a pregnancy is a danger to a woman, then the unborn fetus should be considered a רודף (rodef), someone who pursues with intent to murder. A hunter, you might say. Then again, it can also be translated as an entity which haunts, an unrelenting ghost, inhuman in its tenacity. Her life might not be endangered by the pregnancy, but an unwanted child might haunt her for the rest of her life.
I went back to feel alone there.
I went back to wipe it clean.
I took the lights and
radio towers out of
He thinks of his own, and of how he hasn’t thought about her at all in this city, and he feels a sick shame, he is haunted too.
We went all the way up to the small town where I’m from
with foggy air
and the wind
and the mountain top
and we clung to rocks
and we looked off.
If there is a רודף getting in the way of someone’s life, God commands you to kill them, remove them. For the life of a ghost is anathema.
Tissues litter the table on her desk, and the bags under her eyes are overflown with tears, stained wet on the outside.
He has to do something, he can’t kill the רודף within her, but he can stop the one miles away from seeing her at her most vulnerable.
He turns on a VPN, creates a false company on Facebook, and takes advantage of its advertising system to target ads so specifically only she will see them. It’ll only cost pennies, but they’ll be well spent.
I went back and wished I hadn’t.
I went back and felt regret.
I went to the beach and I stared west.
He sends scaremongering ads proclaiming that “you’re being watched,” describing her demographic as the usually targeted one. After the fear, he offers the simple solution. Sometimes the best defense against digital attacks isn’t anything complex. A simple strip of opaque tape over a webcam will stop any spying through it.
The pounding of the drums and the softly drifting sound of Phil Elverum overtop the waves of raucous dueling guitars makes Emil imagine he is floating over the bed, over hers. But is he a guardian angel or a ghost?
He looks out the window to see the night sky. The second day of Sukkot is over with the rise of the twinkling stars, and he laments still having failed to fulfill the commandment of happiness.
An orange moon stands tall in its dominion over the meager stars, its army dwindled to scattered gas by smog and suffocating city lights.
I went out last night to forget that.
I went out and stared it down
but the moon just stared back at me
and in its light I saw my two feet on the ground.
The song ends abruptly, but it feels oddly right. Until she gets the message, he drops the bitrate of the stream significantly, decreasing the quality enough to make it useless for Andy to try and get any good views.
He closes the computer and his eyes, unadjusted to the darkness, only see the moon. The dim light of the moon.
Saturday morning, 29 September 2007
GM: Sleep does not come easily in the hospital’s unfamiliar bed, and Emil’s dreams are dark and restless. He is glad to awaken.
The first thing he sees on his laptop is a stream of AIM messages from Andy:
TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES BABY
LOVE YOUR TITS
OH YEAH BABY SHOW ME YOUR TITS
TALK TO ME
thanks man you’re the BEST i owe you one!!!!!!! :DDDDD
worked like a CHARM!!!!!
i blew the biggest load… ;D
took pics toooooo :DDDDDDD
soooooo many piiiics ;DDD
god my dicks gonna be so sore
you’re the BEST EMIL!!!!! :DDDD
Emil: Emil’s eye twitches in a way it hasn’t done in years since he went to his childhood therapist, Madison Howards, as a five-year-old. He angrily types into his keyboard a response to Andy before noticing an unopened email in his inbox from the previous night, titled Final Ad Confirmation, Click To Activate.
It’s not much consolation for Emil, but at least he shot the bitrate all the way down to hell, which says more about Andy’s desperation than anything. He almost feels bad for him, but then he throws up in his mouth a little bit, and even that consolation turns distasteful. He swallows it down, and it’s vicious on his raw throat. The seemingly endless stream of morphine has dried his mouth out. It feels like a cracked sidewalk.
He clicks the confirmation link, unsatisfied. How much is this guy’s favor worth? What was he thinking?
He deletes the angry message was going to send, he isn’t about to have done something awful in vain. Instead he types:
Oh yeah? Maybe you should compliment her instead of telling me then? But like, not publicly, do it anonymously so it isn’t weird between you two. Maybe she’d like the attention? No pictures though, women don’t like ‘em at all and you wouldn’t want to identify yourself.
GM: Philips quickly types back:
uh think she’d find it pretty creepy?
Emil: Now he worries about being creepy, that’s just perfect.
Maybe, but she might find it as hot as you would. Exhibitionism is one of the most popular kinks. It’d be hotter if she liked it, right? Can even give you a model as your profile pic. he writes.
GM: eh dunno man
not like compliments are gonna get me more tits
already got tits ;D
Emil: It was worth a shot. On the bright side, that was likely an awful idea. The ad is finally sent now. Or did I confirm it already and the email server just didn’t note it as read. It’s done that before. Poor Stacy, Emil thinks.
You know they have bars you can go to see nude women. Get dances from them too. Has the plus side of being mostly legal.
Or Barely Legal.
GM: The final ad disappears into the aether to reappear whenever it does on Stacy’s Facebbook feed. Emil passes the morning on his laptop and gets checked on by a nurse. Another food service worker delivers one of the saddest plates of runny, undercooked eggs and slimy grits that he has ever tasted. Eating it leaves him feeling even hungrier than before.
Paul sees Emil again around noon. He’s talked with his stepson’s assigned academic adviser at Tulane, who said that Emil’s professors will almost certainly allow him to withdraw from their classes with a ‘W’ on his transcript (‘withdraw passing’) given his hospitalization. He will be able to explain to future colleges that Tulane’s ‘W’ means he was passing the course, and is distinct from a ‘WF’ (‘withdraw fail’) or ‘UW’ (‘unofficial withdrawal’). The ‘W’ isn’t “anything to crow over,” but at least will not impact his GPA. Once Emil is well enough to leave the hospital, the adviser said Emil will go to the Student Health Center for evaluation by a physician, after which he will likely obtain approval from the SCS Dean’s office. Paul says he and Emil’s mother are going to see if they can obtain an exemption from the physician evaluation, given that Emil is currently in the hospital. In the meantime, they are hiring a moving company to pack up Emil’s things and ship them to Los Angeles. He’ll stay at their house there.
In short, as soon as Emil is physically well enough to leave Tulane Medical Center, his parents want him on a plane with them out of New Orleans.
If Emil has objections, Paul points out the fact that he and his mother are both essentially taking a period of leave from their jobs to be here. The longer they stay in New Orleans, the less of that leave will be paid leave.
Emil: Emil raises a couple objections on top of it. First of all, he’s an independent adult, and while he’s agreed to come back to Los Angeles, his parents also agreed to give him the time and space to pick up the pieces of his life here. He notes that he also has a job and he needs to quit gracefully by finding a replacement for the remainder of the semester. He doesn’t want them to get into any financial trouble, but he’s an adult, he can and will find his own way home and soon, but not immediately. He also says that he wants to do something to give back to the community, something he’s been planning during the hospital stay. He waits for Paul’s reaction before going into any detail on it.
GM: “Emil, your mother and I are spending a lot of money to come out here, to cover your medical bills, to cover tuition at your new school, and to hire an attorney for your friend,” Paul answers frankly. “You have until you’re well enough to leave the hospital to take care of those things, which the doctors say could be at least a week. Your mother and I will help out however we can. But once you can leave, we’re leaving.”
Emil: Emil looks disappointed in Paul’s response but doesn’t give up just yet. He’s gonna get the time he was promised by his folks. He wonders where his mother is, and can only come to the conclusion more firmly that Paul is keeping her away. He can’t blame him, but it is no less increasingly frustrating.
Emil responds to Paul by asking him if he knew Rabbi Shemtov or the Rabinowitz family when he lived here. He explains that he’s been going to the Touro Syngagogue, where Shemtov works, fairly regularly. He tells his stepfather about the hit on the community that is the recent passing of the mother of the Rabinowitz family, and how he feels immense guilt about not being able to attend her burial or the shiv’a to help the mourners. He expresses the great respect he has for the community and for the Rabbi, and that he wants to raise money within the community to start a scholarship fund in the mother’s memory. But he can’t do that without having more time outside the hospital. The rabbi is currently busy tending to the mourner’s needs and he needs to speak to the Rabinowitzes to get their input and blessing to go through with it.
“I’ve done enough to hurt people, Paul. I want to do something good,” he finishes, confident in his wording and his sound logic.
But on the inside, where it counts, he can’t shrug the feeling he’s doing this for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps he’s been making the wrong assumptions this whole time. Maybe Paul isn’t keeping Mom away, maybe the truth is his mother cannot stand the sight of him anymore. She’s been too sick of hurting, too sick of seeing him hurt.
And what is the real kick in the ass is that Emil agrees. He doesn’t want his mother anywhere near him. He’s telling the honest, virtuous truth but his tongue feels coarse, long, and dry, like the desert he’s been lingering in for twenty one years like his ancestors who only claimed to know God did.
Except, he’s not even that. He’s not a real Jew. He was young enough when he converted that all he had to do was take a dip in the Mikveh. And that normally comes with a blessing, but Emil, for fuck’s sake, couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it halfway decent. Paul did it for him. And he’s been surrounding himself in all the religion and language he can ever since, desperate, because he knows deep, buried inside his heart, that had he been in Egypt at the time of Pharaoh, he wouldn’t have crossed the Red Sea with the Israelites. He wouldn’t have even been a slave. Instead, he would have been a West African merchant offering praise to the God-King and bringing him a new leather strap for his royal scourge.
GM: “Emil,” his stepfather says levelly, or with attempted levelness, “You sh…”
Emil doesn’t hear the rest.
Blood spurts down his nose, warm, wet, and coppery. It’s the last thing he perceives as his vision tunnels and the darkness rushes in. His head feels like it’s about to split open as the words pour out. Like they once did, all those years ago:
“Mom’s going to die. Mom’s going to die. She’s going to die soon. Soon. Soon. She’s going to die soon. Die soon. Soon. Soon.”
“For me. For me. She’s going to die for me. Back. He. Coming back. For me. He. Coming, for, save me. Save me. Coming back. Die for me. He. Die, he, me, die, he, me, die, DIE…”
His stepfather’s mouth hangs open.
Emil: Emil pushes, peels, like he always does, like he always craves to. His skull splits open and his brains are splattering out bit by bit, falling and becoming letters, sounds, emotions, sights. He has to know more. He has to know more. What the fuck is happening to Mom?! And then he realizes that he said that aloud.
He screams, and the sudden pressure differential splatters more crimson snot against his shirt.
“Wha- the fuck! PAUL! MOM!” He has his arms out and he’s shaking, his eyes consumed with terror.
“It’s happening again! Where is she?! Where is Mom, Paul!?” He looks at the ceiling, using his coated fingers to push the bloody knowledge back into his nostrils so that he can push it out again.
“Where is Dad?! Dad, it’s happening again! What’s happening anymore?! Can you hear me?! Can you hear me Dad I know you’re listening.” His body pushes, tries to lift off the bed, to stretch at the truth, but his strength isn’t there, and his statue stiff form is tied and pulled down by ropes of catheters and iv tubes. He’s crying, and the blood mingles with the tears and spreads red across the canvas of his face like abstract watercolor paint.
GM: His stepfather lunges for the nurse call button.
“NURSE! He’s, he’s having an attack! HELP!”
Emil: Suddenly he’s very still, and then he moves to grab Paul’s arm and look into his eyes.
“Paul. Don’t. Please. Mom. Mom. Dying. She. Dying. For Me. I’ve seen it. Did you hear me? Did you hear me? Did you hear what came out of me?” he asks, as his words slowly start to come out decreasingly staccato.
GM: Paul keeps his finger pressed against the call button as he shouts into the receiver. There’s replies from the nurse, about how someone will “be right over!”
He lays a firm hand on his stepson’s shoulder. His face looks concerned. More than concerned. He says something else.
Emil doesn’t hear it.
The screams well up in his throat like the answer he gave to his father’s unspeakable question on that long-ago car ride:
“DAD I KNOW YOU’RE THERE DAD I KNOW YOU’RE THERE DAD PLEASE BE ALIVE DAD PLEASE BE ALIVE DAD ANSWER ME DAD ANSWER ME DAAAAAAAAD-!”
The words well up from his aching lungs, but they have teeth and claws and fangs. They hurt coming out. Emil tastes blood as he spews them out like hot vomit. Spews them far. Spews them wide. Spews them beyond the hospital room to a place as mad and irrational as the words themselves.
Emil: “DAD THEY STOLE YOUR LETTER— YOUR MESSAGES THEY STOLE YOUR WORDS! THEY’RE GONNA KILL HER DAD SHE’S GONNA DIE DAD, THE WOMAN DOESN’T HAVE TO DIE DAD, SHE’S GONNA DIE FOR ME DAAAAAD! WHY DOES MOM HAVE TO DIE DAD! SAVE HER DAAAAAD MOM’S GONNA DIIIIIIIIIE!”
His hands are clamped around his own throat as the words crawl out of his throat and sprout crooked wings which tear open the sides of his cheeks. The intracranial pressure pushes blood out of every orifice, his wood stained skin is pocked red as his tears are displaced with something thicker than water, more permanent than pillars of salt. And he can’t close his eyes.
GM: He isn’t that lucky.
There’s more shouts and noises from Paul. He doesn’t make them out. There’s people bursting into the room, too, dressed in medical clothing. They pin him down against the bed, start to re-fasten leather straps. A nurse depresses a sedative into his arm.
His mom’s there, too.
She smiles a sick, too-wide smile. It pulls wide the second, lower smile across her slashed throat.
“Eeeeemil,” she sings in a gurgling voice that sends red running down her chest, “I’m with your daaaaad…”
Vision fades out as the needle stabs in.
And it all goes black.
Saturday afternoon, 29 September 2007
GM: Vision swims reluctantly back into focus. Pain, with it. Uncertainty, with it.
Dr. Crawford is sitting across from him.
“Hello, Emil. How are you feeling?” she greets.
His wrists are in padded leather cuffs again.
Emil: Tears well up and pour down his face the instant he remembers the awful gash in his mother’s throat from what only seemed like moments before.
He shakes his head and asks incredulously, “Where’s my mom, Doctor?”
GM: “I am not aware,” his doctor answers perfunctorily. “Let’s talk about you, Emil. What is the last thing you remember saying?”
Emil: He struggles to say the words, not because he doesn’t remember them but because of their utter profanity.
“I was yelling for my dad. And my mom, I thought she was going to die. I felt it in my bones. In my blood. Pounding on my skull. Bony claws rapping S.O.S. in Morse on my ear drums and climbing out of my mouth.”
GM: “I see. Why did you think your mother was going to die?” Dr. Crawford asks.
Emil: “I don’t know.”
He does, he just can’t think how to explain it. “You know that awful sinking feeling you get when you fall in a dream? Normally you stop falling and wake up. But it just went deeper and deeper and there was blood and I felt it pounding up against me and I heard my own panicked thoughts, and in my gut I felt it. I can’t explain it. I know.”
And I’ve been right before, he thinks to himself.
GM: “I see,” the doctor repeats. “Tell me more about the feelings you experienced in your bones and your blood.”
Emil: She thinks I’m nuts. What good is a medical doctorate if it just makes you ignore unpleasant facts?
“I was bleeding a lot, Doctor. Like I did when I was a kid, from my nose. I don’t know if its in my records but we tried to get it cauterized, worked for a while. Til now.”
Emil spends some time talking about his medical history very plainly, it helps distract him from shedding tears. He points out how this has happened before, similar damage. Blood, intracranial pressure, throat damage. He is willing to let her examine his throat to show her the scarring.
He doesn’t have the energy to try and understand what he experienced beyond the obscure feeling-phrases he’s tried to convey. He tells her that he used to visit a therapist to help him deal with these episodes, a Madison Howards. He asks if she can check if she’s still in the city. He tries to understand from the doctor what his outburst looked like to everyone surrounding him.
GM: Dr. Crawford questions Emil thoroughly as to his medical history and personal recollection, but seems little swayed by his answers and fixated upon his earlier behavior. She does not even look at his throat and mentions that Emil has already been physically examined by medical staff. She finally takes her leave. Emil remains cuffed to his bed. He makes out two words, though, which she says to the nurse:
Emil: Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.
He rests back against the pillow, holding back his frustration, and closes his eyes.
GM: His stepfather eventually comes to see him. Paul expresses gratefulness that Emil is “stable and all right,” but also deep concern, and asks about his version of events. He comforts Emil that his mother is just fine.
But she still isn’t there.
Emil: He’s internalized most of the frustration by now, curling it up someplace in his forehead to show up as some awkward wrinkle when he reaches old age. In answering Paul and explaining what he felt, Emil feels that same inability to express what he needs to without sounding unbelievable. He asks Paul if Mom ever told him about how he was as a child, told him about what he did to help his father on investigations, about this happening before.
GM: Paul’s brow just furrows. He says that none of that matters. “This place has been bad for you… and for your mom. Too many memories she just wants to leave behind.”
Emil: “You’re right, it’s been terrible for all of us. I had to have a therapist as a five year old, Paul. Five years old. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve lived these waking nightmares. It was every time my dad needed my help. I’d push and I’d push and this would happen, and I would know something awful was going to happen. And then it would happen, Paul. Like clockwork. That’s why I’m so scared, Paul.”
He tears up again as his throat tightens.
“I don’ wan Mom to geh ‘urt. An’ I ‘ave a terrible feeling she will if I don’ prodegt ‘er. If you don’ bel—eve me, find mah therapist. Ask ’er. Please,” he pleads with his stepfather.
Emil pleads and begs. To make his stepfather listen. To understand the truth.
GM: Paul looks sadder, more torn than Dr. Crawford ever did.
But it’s the same look in his eyes.
That Emil is losing it.
That he’s unhinged.
That he’s crazy.
“Emil, whatever happens, your mother and I will get you the best help we can,” his stepfather says slowly. “We won’t let this impact your future. And we’ll help you get better.”
Emil: Emil’s face falls flat, he’s a tin man built during a metal shortage, feeling everything through foil thin walls, his screams failing to escape the echo chamber that makes him up.
“You want to see if I need to be committed. You probably think it would be wise. Just let me speak to my therapist, she was so good to me in the past, I know I can get better.”
GM: “The last thing we need, Emil, is more of the past,” Paul declares adamantly.
He seems to chew on that as he looks at Emil, then finally says, almost helplessly, "Look. This… all of this, it has to be this place. The things you mom has… "
He shakes his head.
“We’ll help you get out of this, Emil. The commitment your doctor is talking about. But we’ll air-lift you out of New Orleans, today, to another hospital. The job, classes, all of that, you’ll handle over the phone. You’re getting out of this city. Deal?”
Emil: “Thank you for caring so much even when I push back. This city is ruining me. I can’t do everything I need to if I leave, but sometimes not everything that needs to be done can be done. I want to leave with you and Mom, today. I just want to speak to one person, not from the past, not from this city. He’s an outsider that’s been keeping me grounded even as I’ve been getting hurt and confused, but I haven’t spoken to him in too long and it shows. I need one last blessing from him, Paul. In person. From my rabbi, Rachman Shemtov. Say yes and I will follow you wherever you take me.”
Emil looks into Paul’s eyes, and quotes the twelfth chapter of the Torah in Hebrew and English.
“וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.”
“Now the LORD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”
“I trust you Paul, whatever you decide, and I’ll go wherever you take me. But grant me my Rabbi’s blessing, please. I need this.”
GM: “If he’s free before we can get you airlifted out,” Paul replies tersely.
Emil: "You have my sworn word, Paul. I’d shake your hand but well… " he looks at the bonds holding his hands down.
His stepfather heaves a sigh and rubs a hand against his forehead. His posture is slack and the bags under his eyes look even darker.
He finally rises from his chair.
“Your mom’s right. This city is Sodom. Look back, and you won’t ever leave.”
Emil: There’s a lesser known part of the story of Sodom and Gommorah. Of Abraham arguing with God that the cities shouldn’t be destroyed. If he could only find fifty good men the cities should be spared. But Abraham, in all of his holiness, lacked hope. He bartered with God, not fifty people but forty. Not forty but thirty. Not thirty but twenty. Not twenty but ten. As long as ten good men could be found in the city, ten righteous men, it would be spared.
Of course, Abraham never did find them, and in Emil’s opinion, he never really looked. And the skies opened up and those who saw what happened turned to salt. This city’s a den of sin, but it isn’t forsaken. Emil knows a few good men live in the city. If there weren’t any, Katrina should have swallowed it up for good.
For this, Emil still has faith.
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Next, by Character: Story Eight, Emil VI
All right, another log posted and we are approaching the end of Story 8 for Emil. In the second hospital log of Emil’s Story 8 arc, we see a lot of him grasping for influence and connection to the world outside his hospital bed. He feels constricted by the cramped room and the threat of getting restrained again. He’s worked his way out of the bigger social difficulties of his situation with Emmett’s arrest causing the cops to get off Emil’s back but that leaves him with a lot of time to focus on how much his investigations are stunted by being stuck in a hospital. He also has to wrestle with the guilt he holds for hurting his mom and being shitty to Lucky. So reestablishing his moral capacity and reequipping himself to investigate are the two main goals of his during this log. To solve the first, he comes up with a plan to provide some lasting imprint for the Rabinowitz mother who passed by endowing a scholarship in her memory. He also looks to continue paying back Emmett for saving his life, having spoken well of him to the police, he now tries to keep the guy’s movie together even though it means he’ll have to act alongside a now ex-girlfriend who doesn’t respect him. He also praises his character once again to anyone who will listen. Having dealt with his moral core, he tackles his wish to investigate by getting Andy to fetch his laptop for him. After that, Emil feels a lot more in control.
I really enjoyed flexing Emil’s technological capabilities. I found it fun researching the different capabilities tech had in 2007 and then working in those constraints to come up with useful results like finding his phone, giving Andy the sinful HORUS.exe script and then punishing him for it. I had some OOC concerns about the scene where he and Andy hashed it out over their deal, but those were mainly a factor of treating Debt as less of a narrative thing and more of a gamey thing between humans. I’m not sure how the rules for it could be described such that it is more obviously within the narrative function as opposed to an extra-narrative mechanic. The debt rules are so codified rn it feels like it is meant to be more gamey/crunchy than is intended.
Another thing I enjoyed, which we were discussing a lot in our DMs, was the emergence of Emil the psychic. It is something established heavily in his backstory and made for some very fun scenes to play out. Emil is shaping out to be something of a Cassandra, in that whenever he tries to be honest and tell the full truth of the dangerous information he has, whether from psychic vision or not, he just sounds nuts to everyone. It works really nicely with his character and I hope to see how he can grow to take advantage of his presentation of psychic information once he has a group of people that actually believe in him.
If there is something to critique about the psychic stuff, it would be that from precognition, I think it could benefit from some visuals to go alongside the voices from the future, allows for more fleshing out of his experience of it without necessarily letting on about more information than just having voices because of how subjective and metaphorical you can get with visual imagery.
Something I appreciate again about the psychic powers is that he is essentially being kicked out of the city for it, and that mirrors exactly why he left the city earlier in broad strokes. He was going nuts so his mom divorced dad and got the hell out of the city. At least that’s how Emil sees it.
That’s all I can think of to say at this point, though I’ll elaborate in the ooc chat if I have more.