“We have so much to talk about.”
Tuesday morning, 16 October 2007
GM: The future arrives, one day at a time.
Emil gets up in the morning. He has breakfast with Paul and his brothers, the latter of whom are going off to school, the former to work. Paul looks like he could use the time off, which Justin remarks, but the older man just shakes his head. He tells Emil that we’ll “talk about various things” once he’s home, which sounds mild enough in front of the younger Jonases, and advises Emil to spend the day working on college research and applications. Justin grouses how Emil’s getting to laze around when they don’t, though Ben says college applications are a lot of work. You have to enter and re-enter all that same information over and over, after all, and Emil’s doing it all at once. Plus write different personal essays for each college. Justin just laughs Emil should reuse the one he wrote to Tulane, if he still has it, and that at least he’s getting to do this all in his pajamas.
Ben protests that’s a bad idea, “because you should tailor your essay to each college,” but Justin chides him that, “Hey, JFK did it. He wrote this really long essay to Harvard about ‘always wanting to be a Harvard man’, and then he sent exactly the same one to Princeton saying he’d ‘always wanted to be a Princeton man.’”
Ben looks surprised by that, but Justin insists it’s true and asks their dad to back him up. Paul says he doesn’t know, but effectively sides with both his kids, saying that you should tailor your applications to each college but there’s no reason not to reuse applicable parts of the same essay. That’s certainly how it works in the real world.
“Though maybe trim the part about ‘always wanting’ to be a Princeton man when you really didn’t.”
“If it was good enough for JFK…” Justin raises.
“Well, JFK cheated on Jackie too,” Ben refutes.
Emil: Emil leaves his brothers to their bickering and heads to his room where he paces for some time thinking about the possibility that Paul won’t accept him. He might get kicked out. His medical bills are sky high. This is gonna be bad. Does he even remember that they were airlifted to Houston? Eventually he calms down and sets at looking at his transcripts and past written essays to see if he’s up to snuff for acceptance as a transfer in California’s public universities, which have an average transfer acceptance rate of 3/10. On the plus side for Emil, those same universities do not heavily factor in withdrawals into their decision, especially in circumstances like Emil’s when the entire semester is dropped.
GM: Emil’s transfer status works against him, but he’s pretty confident his transcript and extracurriculars still look good (if not stellar) as he shoots off various applications or makes note of deadlines for when applications will open up. His financial status is a painful question to consider right now: is he, in fact, going to be getting financial assistance from his remaining parent? He plays it safe and says he’s too poor to pay the application processing fees.
His brothers get back home later in the day. Paul calls and says to order takeout again: he’s working overtime. Justin insists on pizza.
Emil: Justin gets his pizza. It’s only fair after Ben got his choice last time. Emil orders it with green peppers, onions, and sriracha sauce.
After he greets Ben and Justin and asks about their days, he goes back to his computer. The leather chair feels comfortable as ever as he sinks into the years-developed imprint. When the devilish face of the intruder pops into his mind, Emil suppresses his anxiety by checking the phone records again to ensure there hasn’t been any calls to Houston nor New Orleans recently.
GM: There are no calls out to either city, but there’s been one from the latter.
Emil: He must have missed it earlier. He locks his door and calls from his cell phone after deleting the record of his call from the viewable call history.
GM: Lucky is casual when Emil picks up. He asks how the college student is “settlin’ in at L.A.”
Emil: Emil doesn’t speak for a moment, the image his mother painted of what Lucky is willing to do sticking in his mind, but there’s something in his voice that comforts him, reminds Emil that what he experienced was real, that his trauma is valid.
He tells Lucky that he’s very happy to see his family again, tells him he’s applied to some good colleges, but he’s worried about the cost with all the medical bills.
At first, he doesn’t mention the letter, nor does he mention Paul’s brainwashing and the nightmare that followed it, but he is unable to hide the deep concern that those items weigh on his tone.
GM: “Ah shit, thas’ right,” Lucky remarks at Emil’s first concern. “How bad is it, Emil? Ramen for a while bad, or fuck up your life bad?”
Emil: “It’s not good. But on the bright side it’ll help get me a discount on tuition. I mean, we’re not going to see the bill for a while, given the operating speed of billing departments. And Paul—” He doesn’t say Dad, but the word almost slips out. Lucky didn’t seem to think it possible that Paul could think of Emil as his son, let alone that Emil could consider him a father. “He’s a lawyer, so he makes good money. And Mom’s a—… Mom’s not here.” he dejects, and then goes silent.
GM: “Yeah, thas’ true about hospital bills,” Lucky says. “One upshot. Take fuckin’ forever.” He says that he’ll “see what he can do” so far as Emil’s bill.
The homicide detective also specifically asks him about Paul, “how he’s holdin’ up” and some pointedly specific-feeling questions that nevertheless sound phrased as part of normal conversation over the phone.
It sounds like he’s asking whether Paul is normal.
Whether Paul is still Paul.
Emil: “The stress is getting to his head. I’m not sure, we’re gonna talk tonight.” He talks a long while longer, adding fluff around the messages he wants to intimate. He knew when Emil would show up at the airport. Said that Emil called him. He didn’t.
He continues folding in information, describing how Paul’s memory seems to be confused by talking about his heart medication. He tells Lucky a funny story from his childhood about how Paul gets so tired that he starts sleepwalking. Once, when they had a pet dog who was sick, after everybody went to bed, Paul picked up the phone in the right middle of the night and asked for a house call from a veterinary clinic from a good many counties over. Of course, no one responded at like three am but he had left the door open and left our puppy in the line of sight of the entrance before he just went back to bed. In the middle of the night a fucking mountain lion just stalked in but luckily their puppy had gone to explore what a human bathroom is. It didn’t stop there though, it got upstairs and almost walked onto Paul’s bed before Emil scared it off with loud noises and a flashlight. Emil cackles as he explains that Paul didn’t remember a lick of what happened. He has a recording on a home video cassette somewhere if Lucky wants a copy.
GM: “You should spend the night with a frien’. Or a hotel. Whatever. Sounds like shit with your stepdad’s been rough an’ he could use some space,” Lucky says. “Plus your house must be a fuckin’ magnet for mountain lions if one got up to the fuckin’ bedroom. Be a real shit show if one showed up again tonight, wouldn’ it?”
“And hell yeah I wanna see that, no way do I believe you scared one off with jus’ a flashlight.”
Emil: “Well I’m tryin’ to set myself a date for tonight. Gotta let some of that stress off. If all goes well, I won’t be anywhere near the house by nightfall, if you get what I mean.”
“You bet I scared that kitty off. But I think this one had some vision problems. Soon as the light hit its eyes it jumped right the fuck out the bedroom window screeching. I don’t like messing around with these cats normally, they’re vindictive as hell. I saw a similar cat once slash at a kid, ripped his face near clean off. All they could recover was a nose and some bits of cheeks.”
“I’d send a copy in the mail, but those casettes are super fragile and I don’t trust Fedex not to break the case and cause some of the tape to leak out the side. I’ve got a friend with a copy though, he can come show you it when helps you out with your cable box. You still want me to set that up for you right? Comcast technicians always overcharge.”
GM: Lucky asks who this ‘friend’ is. He keeps his tone casual, but sounds all-too guarded.
Emil: “Really smart guy, always tinkering with this and that electronic doodad. First pick for any project I hop onto, that’s for sure. Tragic story though, his ma had the postpartum depression and she tried to drown him a couple times when he was a baby. It killed parts of his brain. These days, he can’t see anything that isn’t blown up a thousand times its size, and he can’t speak neither. Total mute. I dunno how he does all the hardware work he does without even seein’ the cables, but I’ve never seen him make a mistake. Weird, huh?”
GM: “Yeah, that is pretty funny,” Lucky says. He asks for the man’s name and contact information. It sounds like he wants to vet him.
Emil: “Amir Brown,” Emil responds before supplying the rest of his information. Not much available online under that name, and certainly no social media. What’s he gonna do? Post a picture he can’t see? He’s active on various forums, and is an admin on a DIY electronics forum.
GM: Lucky seems satisfied by that and says he’ll “get back” to Emil. He then ‘jokingly’ warns the college student about mountain lions again before exchanging goodbyes. Emil should call him if he has any more funny stories to share.
Emil: Once the call ends, Emil returns to the log and database of recorded calls. He remembers Dad telling him that he had called before he left for the airport. He scrolls back down through the logs to find that call, if it is there.
GM: He finds no call from himself.
Emil: Of course, it didn’t come from his number, but someone claiming to be his number. He throws a sequence of calls around the expected time into a speech-to-text algorithm and searches for any curious word patterns related to flights.
GM: Emil’s search for flight-related words, curious or otherwise, comes up empty.
Emil: How the hell did they know he would be at the airport if no one actually called them?
Emil locks the door to his room. He scrubs through security cam footage starting the day after the airlift. He waits until he sees Dad coming back home, and slows down if he sees or hears a voice he doesn’t expect.
GM: He sees footage of Justin throwing a party with a bunch of high school kids. He wonders if his parents would have approved, because his younger brother is atypically fastidious in cleaning up afterwards.
Paul arrives home around noon, one day after Emil left Houston. He does so alone. Emil hears no unusual voices.
Emil: They had him waiting here, until I got home. Then he… activated? What sort of MK Ultra shit is this?
He switches gears, shifting to the footage of the day they left to pick him up. He keep his eye on his father, trying to see when he figured they would go to the airport. He suspects that he might have figured that out days before, and does a similar voice to text trick to on the audio from the different bugs in the house to find the first instances of them talking about the flight.
GM: The earliest instance of flight-related words is Paul telling Ben and Justin that Emil is due back in L.A. soon. He asks if they want to accompany him to the airport to pick their brother up, and they say yes.
He cross-references the timestamp with the log of calls. Are there any from Houston or New Orleans around then, he wonders?
GM: There is a call from Houston. Paul picks up. There’s no apparent words or conversation. Paul just picks up the phone, holds it to his ear, then sets it back.
Emil: What the… fuck?
He doesn’t know and he can be activated at any time. Shit.
With a click, Emil shuts off his monitor and starts texting an old friend, he’s gonna need a place to stay tonight.
Peter Young. A high school friend; thought they’d never lose touch after college, you know the type. He ended up skipping out on the whole higher education thing, just got a little disillusioned with the world after a tragedy of his little sister getting kidnapped. They said they were gonna start a company together. Big one with the high rise silicon valley office. He works as a grocer about twenty minutes from Emil’s home. Emil offers to clean up his mother’s computer, which causes the friend untold amount of headaches due to the creative way she ends up breaking it, or just thinking she’s broken it, in exchange for letting him sleep on the couch for the night.
GM: Peter doesn’t seem sure whether to regard that particular offer as a gift or a curse, but says sure. For old times’ sake. “Like they say in the movies, because I never thought I’d get to say that line,” he ironically adds.
Paul comes home as Emil finishes making sleep arrangements. He has one slice of the remaining pizza and catches up with Emil and his brothers about how their days went. The latter eventually go to bed.
Paul looks tired. Really tired. He still has heavy bags under his eyes and doesn’t seem to have any appetite for more than that one pizza slice.
Emil: Shame too, Emil saved an extra slice to surprise him with. Not that Justin really needed to scarf down a 6th. He pull up a stool across from his father’s, a granite island separating the two. He makes sure he sees his eyes, they aren’t dark like those that stared into his last night, they have a soul in them, a repentant one.
The silence sits with them, waits for someone to speak.
Emil interrupts it.
“It’s hard to sleep, isn’t it?”
GM: Paul sighs.
“I wish we’d never gone back there. I wish you’d just gone to college here.”
“Stayed in college here,” he amends.
He’s silent for a moment, seeming to mentally drop the entire topic.
His eyes are far off as he stares out into the night.
“I’ve had a while to think over your letter.”
Paul doesn’t say anything for a moment. Perhaps he’s thinking of words to say. Words that can possibly deliver an adequate reply, be it one of reconciliation or rejection, to the letter Emil poured out his soul into, and all the years of unsaid things that letter finally said.
Another moment passes. Still he says nothing.
GM: Then he gets out of his chair and pulls Emil into his embrace.
It’s not strong like Emil imagined his birth father’s. The heroic police LT who could punch out the bad guys and effortlessly carry the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.
It’s weary. It’s a little limp normally, but so very tight now. A little awkward too, at times other than now.
It’s like Emil’s own.
Emil: It gets tighter still, when Emil wraps his own arms back around him.
The silence makes room. It steps out of the way.
His jaw is slack, and while he can’t see the tears starting to fall down his cheeks, he whispers through light sobs into Paul’s ear,
“I’m gonna make you proud, Dad.”
The two statue-stiff men stay there for an eternity, sharing their strengths. They can only hope it will be enough to keep their family standing.
“I love you,” Emil says, and the silence steps back, leaving vacancy in its place. A cold question lingers in his mind, asking whether it was worth it.
The empty air gives no answer, it simply fills the gaps between the men, where their awkward forms can’t manage to make contact.
He wonders if his mother is listening, if she’s the air that fills the gaps. He’s going to make her proud too. He has to.
Tuesday evening, 16 October 2007
Emil: Emil tells his father that he’s gonna head out for the night to a stargazing event at Griffiths soon. He’ll have his phone with him if anyone wants to check up on him.
Before he goes, he thinks about the possibility that he’ll get activated again, and tell Houston about his location. Emil hypothesizes that the trigger for the activation is getting a phone call from that number. He can just block the number, but that might tip them off if they expect a call. They might get creative. Devil you know is safer than than devil you don’t. Instead, he sets up a script to jack and redirect the call and respond with a recording of Paul’s voice he strings together from the many gigs of telephone data he has of his dad’s voice.
He sets up a notification on his phone if the number is called. And adds a one button application to turn on the electronics and lights in his house just in case.
He brings his backpack with his laptop, some electrical cables, a fresh lighter, and some tech diagnostic tools and leaves the house.
GM: Paul lets him take the car so long as he brings it back early (really early) tomorrow. Paul has to drive to work and it is L.A.
Griffith Park is a nature reserve and research institute, with a large observatory built at the peak of the mountain. Access is provided by a cable car for nature lovers and tourists to see the surrounds.
It’s an idyll of tranquility in America’s second-biggest city.
Emil: While he waits for Peter, he pulls out his phone and uses a spoofing tool to mimic the number of the head of the Rice University Linguistics Society and calling the number Carter claimed as his own. Away from his family, he isn’t particularly worried about calling him. They were friends after all. Maybe they can sort things out. Maybe he should be worried.
GM: Emil’s cellphone rings as the cable car slowly ascends. Emil looks out and sees black interspersed by glittering cityscape in all directions. He feels like a bird suspended in a cage, so small and vulnerable against the night.
The phone rings.
There’s a click.
There’s no immediate greeting.
Emil: “Tradition tells us that when Cain murdered his brother, he didn’t give him a quick death. You see, in his ignorance of the act, Cain didn’t know from where the soul departs from its body. He beat Abel’s arms and his legs, and welts rose up his body. The fatal blow came when the sharp rock bit into his neck. That’s why it is written that Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord. The only death known in that time was that of old age, calm and peaceful, so when Abel’s life blood sunk into the earth, the earth rejected it, assuming that nothing so tormented could be dead.”
“In a sense, Cain enacted a greater sin through his ignorance, the suffering he caused was felt in the body of the earth. And yet, his punishment is seemingly weaker than that allotted to the souls of murderers who seek quicker, cleaner methods of murder.”
“Of course, you’ve disagreed with God on many things, so I’d like to ask you. Which is worse: to hurt someone deeply in ignorance or to hurt comparatively lightly with full knowledge?”
GM: “Oh, hello Emil,” sounds Carter’s voice. “I didn’t recognize this number as yours.”
Emil: “It is for the moment. Numbers are slippery things, Carter. They only get meaning in relation to each other, so it’s only natural that they tend to change,” replies Emil.
GM: “True. Numbers are more your field than mine. But it’s fitting you’ve called from this one.”
“There’s one detail about the premise behind your question I’d correct, if you’ll indulge me. In computer science it can take just one faulty line of code to make the entire script go haywire, as I understand.”
Emil: “Being corrected is as much an indulgence for myself, so go right ahead.”
GM: “Well, it’s that Genesis makes no mention of the weapon Cain used to murder Abel. But one of the most curious and influential of medieval English iconographical motifs is the animal’s jawbone Cain uses as his murder weapon. A jawbone appears in Cain’s hands in English Biblical illustrations throughout the Middle Ages and it’s frequently referred to in English vernacular literature. And as a result of the export of illuminated English manuscripts, such as the Leyden Psalter, the Continent also came to accept that Cain used a jawbone. Renaissance works such as the Ghent Altar also depict him with one.”
“All of this, of course, begs the question of where the English got the idea that Cain used a jawbone. It’s not a practical weapon. Our first instinct is usually, like yours, to assume he used a rock. Manmade weapons wouldn’t have existed in a society without murder.”
“The explanation there may lie in linguistics.” A faint smile. “My field.”
“There was a published article a while back that hypothesized the depiction of Cain with a jawbone is due to the association of the Anglo-Saxon word for jawbone, cinbān, with the words Cāin bana, which mean ‘slayer’ or ‘murderer.’ It’s fitting the first murderer should be linked to the act he required us to name, isn’t it?”
“Unfortunately though, that article was published in 1942, when scholarship obviously wasn’t as rigorous. Its linguistic explanation doesn’t hold up, because the words cinbān and Cāin bana aren’t alike in sound. The short ‘a’ of bana wouldn’t have confounded by native speakers with the long ‘a’ of bān. In cin ‘c’ is palatal, like ‘ch’ in modern ‘chin’, but in Cāin ‘c’ is like the modern ‘k.’ Furthermore, the Anglo-Saxon pronunciation of Cāin is disyllabic. Cā-in can’t really be said to suggest the monosyllabic cin. So while those words might look alike to a modern reader, they might not have to a literate Anglo-Saxon.”
Emil: “No matter, how things seem is sometimes just as important as how things truly are. Because the weapon isn’t stated, it is an assumption either way. There is a different argument towards the jawbone, though. It fits naturally in with Samson’s mass slaughtering of the Philistines using the very same weapon. Samson was the last of the Judges, and certainly the most corrupt of them, for taking the Nazirite vow and breaking it. His near total corruption until his death signaled the need for a stricter hold on the Israelites, the need for a king to execute divine law. In a sense, this was just like Cain, who committed such an offensive act that God felt compelled, once again, to enforce the need for humanity to act ‘good,’ by inventing the concept of a fugitive in Cain and therefore establishing the basis of what would become divine law.”
GM: “It’s true the weapon isn’t stated, though as you’ve shown with your own example, we can make theories based on context and available evidence. That’s distinct from an assumption, which can too easily be a misleading piece of evidence. Shapiro, the scholar who published that 1942 article, made a number of assumptions that turned out to be false. But his theory still bears exploring, because the English still depicted Cain with a jawbone. Why did they do that? Well, Shapiro finds his evidence for the association of the words cinbān and Cāin bana in what he calls ‘the vernacular linguistic context of the story.’ His evidence consists of two items, namely, the use of the word cinbān in the earliest literary reference to Cain’s jawbone…”
Hands suddenly burst out from the darkness beyond the cable car. Long-fingered and strangling, choking off Emil’s air supply. The phone hits the metal floor with a clatter, and then there’s no sound but a long, shrill beeeeeep.
Emil: “Ka—ne,” he rasps in a wisp of air as the pressure builds in his throat. Builds in his head. He can’t scream so the kettle-pot of his dome can’t let off any steam. Blood vessels struggle to burst out from under his skin as the monster with his face tries once more to snuff out the once-Kane. He feels himself losing it, the pain is unbearable. This can’t be happening. He threw him off, he can’t control him anymore. Can’t hurt him anymore. He isn’t a part of his sick plan. He isn’t a Kane. But so painfully clearly he was wrong. And all seems lost.
A bomb goes off in his head as he pushes with his mind to throw the demon off him, to hurl it at the trees below, where the monster belongs, stabbed through with a hundred thorny branches.
GM: The choking pressure encircling Emil’s neck recedes. His assailant doesn’t make so much as a sound, but there’s noises from above the rail car. Bangs and thumps and scrapes against the metal, fast and violent and multitudinous like a writhing nest of snakes.
Then there is only silence.
The grasping hands are gone, vanished into the gloom. Emil’s head feels like it’s going to explode. He collapses hard against the car’s unyielding floor. Something wet and coppery trickles down his lips.
Emil: The sound of blood sloshing in his ears reminds Emil of being underwater, of the cold darkness of the static sea under the Crescent City. He groans as he picks himself and his phone up and looks out from the car window, trying to see what happened to his attacker.
GM: Emil sees nothing but darkness, distantly glittering cityscape, and the steadily larger-growing white observatory as the cable car continues to ascend.
Even if it weren’t night out, even if it weren’t an entire forest down there, his presumed adversary could have simply plummeted past the branches of all those tall trees before smashing to its death below. There’d be no way to tell from up here past the foliage.
Or maybe it didn’t.
Maybe it’s still out there.
Emil: He nods, pursing his lips.
“For another story, then.”
He spits blood into the darkness.
Tuesday evening, 16 October 2007
Emil: Feed once again from his past, Emil sits on the gondola bench and stares out at the beauty of night. He uses the phone to take a picture of himself, of the bruised imprint of fingers on his throat and the thick blood covering his mouth.
He doesn’t want to be alone anymore, so he calls Lucky. He tells him that the mountain lion attacked him again. The stress gets to him. His voice is marked by the near-asphyxiation. It warbles and is punctuated by ill-timed coughs.
GM: Lucky tells him he should go to an ER to “get that shit treated.” He and his family should also move somewhere else. It’s probably only a matter of time before this happens again, given where they live.
Emil: More hospitals. More bills. More problems.
He tells Lucky that he thinks the animal might be dead. Or at least injured badly. It fell from a very high place onto some very sharp branches. He’s not sure he can convince his family to move. But that’s not completely true. He’s not sure whether he can bear to burden his family any more.
GM: Lucky says that whether he can or not, there’s clearly mountain lions around their house. They’ll probably be back whether Emil stays or moves out.
Emil: Emil tells Lucky that he doesn’t think it’s just any mountain lion. He thinks its the same one from those other times. He’s seen its face. He says that he might be going a bit nuts but its face looks like his own, as much as a cat can look human. Except his eyes. Empty, blind eyes.
GM: Lucky says it doesn’t really matter if it’s the same one. “You guys live in lion territory, kid. Move out.”
Emil: “Understood. Where though? Predators live everywhere, no?”
GM: “Change your scent. They got real good noses, some people just drive ’em nuts.”
Emil: “D’you know a perfumer you can recommend?”
GM: “Use your head, kid. You were a lion, what scents does your family got that drive you nuts?”
Emil: “They got a house in my territory, and they know I’m there. They don’t even try to hide. Their footprints are everywhere. Writing their names on things like they aren’t afraid of me following them. It’s an affront to territory and an invitation for a challenge.”
GM: “Yeah, except you’re not a fuckin’ mountain lion.”
Emil: “I know, Lucky. You asked me to imagine shit from the lion’s perspective. Damn!” he only half-jokingly protests after being misunderstood.
GM: “Said to imagine what scents drive you nuts. You got an overactive fuckin’ imagination.”
Emil: “That isn’t exactly news to us, is it though?” he jokes, trying to reel him back in.
GM: “Har har fuckin’ har.”
Emil: Fuckin’ social cues.
“I can try to get rid of the scents. Not sure how well that’ll go, but I have to nonetheless.”
GM: The police detective gives a tired sigh.
“Look, if your family won’t play ball, gimme another call. We’ll do things my way.”
“But it ain’t gentle. Ain’t pretty. Better if you get ’em to play ball. Do what you gotta do.”
Emil: “For my family I’d do anything.”
GM: There’s a grunt, then the phone clicks off.
Emil: He checks his notifications to see if his dad is still the key pawn in all of this. He hopes Carter thinks he’s dead. The way he just hung up incriminates the amateur linguist beyond a safe level of doubt.
GM: Emil’s phone displays no notifications.
Emil: It gives him some comfort. Not enough, his throat aches. For a good couple months in his early teens, Emil got obscenely into musical theater. Paul encouraged him despite the cost of singing lessons and all the driving to and from lessons. He actually developed a voice he was proud of. With the current croaking sounds coming out of his mouth, he doubts his singing performance will ever be as riveting. Perhaps ribbiting instead.
He hesitates for a moment, not wanting to worry him so soon after their reconciliation, but given he needs to visit the ER, he ends up calling his father. He tells him not to worry, because he’s safe now, but he’s hurt and needs to go to the hospital. Someone was waiting for him in the cable car.
GM: His newly-accepted father predictably does exactly the opposite of not worry. He’s full of questions about what happened and says he’ll take the other car to come pick Emil up at the park.
Emil: Emil avoids answering most of the questions over the phone, you never know who is listening. He takes a moment to use the GPS feature of his phone to collect an estimated coordinate location for where his attacker may have fallen. Once the cable car arrives at its destination, Emil waits, staring down the twinkling lights of the skyline.
GM: Emil can record his present GPS coordinates with ease, though without knowing where his assailant may have fallen, it is impossible to accurately place those. His own must substitute.
Paul responds poorly to the evasiveness and repeats that he’s coming over to Griffith Park. He adds that Emil driving a car after he’s been injured is a horrible idea. He says he’s getting in the car now and hangs up.
Emil: In the meantime, he comforts himself by pulling out a bit of scrap paper and doing a little bit of trigonometry to better estimate the location his assailant fell in. He uses the timestamp of when his call to Carter ended as an approximate time when the man was flung out. He then subtracts that time from the time he checked his coordinates to get the time he spent traveling since then. He then searches on the internet to find the cable car’s listed speed, the change in elevation, and the starting and ending coordinates of the journey. Using these numbers, it’s trivial to turn back the clock, so to speak, and get the a much closer approximation to where the thing fell. Of course, the wind pushing on it as it fell would have affected its landing position, but only by so much. He looks up the local wind speed, and using a spot of physics and the knowledge of his elevation at that point, he calculates a radius around the coordinates where the creature could have landed.
GM: The main variable missing from Emil’s trig is whether his adversary fell in a completely straight line. Much like wind strength, it’s possible his adversary traveled in a horizontal as well as vertical direction after being… thrown off the car. Some blood also gets on Emil’s paper. However, the STEM major feels confident he can calculate a radius around the coordinates where the creature landed in the event of a straight drop. It’s a solid starting point for an extended search.
And his classmates said “we’ll never use this in real life.”
Emil: To be fair, his classmates probably aren’t being hunted down by a doppelgänger with a choking kink.
What a weird ass situation. Looking into the dark glass of one of the observatory’s windows, the realization that the car incident at the parking garage wasn’t just a fluke hits him.
“How the fuck did you do that?” he asks the scrawny reflection, who stares back, mockingly mimicking Emil’s frustration. “And what the hell was that shit in the beit midrash? You can throw a car but not an apple?”
Carter promised answers if he had stayed. He wonders if he might have squandered the only chance to find them.
“Bullshit,” he calls out his reflection. “There’s always another way to find the answer.”
He wonders how healthy it is to be speaking to his reflection, much less insulting it. Instead he shuts up and thinks how to improve the answer to his current issue.
The horizontal velocity from the impulse of being thrown isn’t something he can pull directly off the internet, but given another similarly human-weighted sack and some test throws, he can measure the force of the throw and then simply add the consequent velocity to create a second expanded radius around the current one for secondary search. Then again, the idea of testing something he’s not even sure is reliable and seemingly far from possible makes Emil less than sure. For the moment, he estimates that expanded radius by looking up the numbers on how much force it takes to knock over and push a car like he did in the hospital, plugging that force along with his own known weight into the laws of kinematics to get the acceleration of the similarly weighted clone and the expected increase of the search radius as a result of that.
Given that the throw was mostly downwards though, he makes a third, tighter range to represent the limited effect of the horizontal component of the force of throwing.
GM: Emil works on equations until Paul drives up with Ben. Emil’s family members are aghast over his state and full of questions about what happened to him. Ben eventually takes the car Emil drove to Griffith Park to drive back home. Paul drives him to the hospital.
It feels like he’s always going back there.
Emil: “It was the same attacker,” he tells his father once he’s in the car. “They followed me from New Orleans.”
He describes the attack in the cable car and answers questions, framing his survival as plain luck. The guy couldn’t maintain his balance and fell out after the gondola hit a knot in the cable. He’s been spending time keeping the ends of his mind from fraying by calculating the location where the body fell. He has it all on paper. The numbers comfort him, but there’s only so much they can do against the stress of his situation. He tries his best to keep calm, breathing deeply and often.
GM: Emil’s father is at once horrified and incredulous as they drive. He tells Emil to call 911 on his cell. They need to report this to the police.
Emil: Emil is unsure. He tells his father as much. He asks him to focus on the situation, they need to have level heads to deal with this. If they were able to track him down to here, sending the police after them will only leave more of a paper trail alerting the people they work with to his position.
“They crossed multiple state borders to try and choke me personally. They know where I move and what my plans are for the day. They have significant resources to do this. The police in New Orleans haven’t done crap, these police won’t do any better.”
GM: Paul tells Emil to call the police or he can. His mind is clearly made up.
It’s beyond insanity not to report this.
Also, it exposes Emil to legal risks.
Emil: “What hospital are we going to? I’ll call.”
GM: “Glendale Memorial. It’s the closest.”
Emil: Emil makes the call, tells the operator that he was attacked in Griffith Park and is now on his way to Glendale Memorial hospital, his father came to pick him up. His damaged throat makes it painful to speak.
GM: The dispatcher asks Emil questions and says officers will meet him at the hospital.
He ends the call. It’s a dark and unhappy drive.
Paul, initially full of questions, falls silent as he stares out into the night.
Emil: Emil asks his dad what he should tell the police. His attacker might have died from his fall. He knows generally where he would have landed. He has a search radius. He’s wary of the silence but he made the mistake last time of blabbing when he shouldn’t have.
GM: Paul says to tell the truth. Emil didn’t do anything against the law. The sooner cops find the body, the better. Hikers in the park shouldn’t have to stumble across that.
He lapses back into silence as he drives. It’d be easy, in the dark and the silence, after all he’s been through, to just nod off to asleep.
Emil: But sleep isn’t something that’s due to a man like Emil, who begs for knowledge and peels his eyelids and stares into flickering computer monitors expecting to find some meaning in the shadows, in the places he’ll have regretted not checking had he ever given himself a chance to regret for his actions instead of his inactions.
Instead, his mind hovers on the brink, the quiet whispers of demons from cold, dark nightmares dampening his clothes from sweat and the deep, verdant darkness that passes outside his car window as the trees run past him and melt into a static blur when it meets his writhing unconscious mind, like artifacts from poorly compressed video.
Emil: The static plays with his ears, falls into his senses. A static dog plays with a young boy before getting hit by a static car. Or maybe it got bit by a monster. Or maybe it was him, biting with his too-flat teeth. Death seeps into as the memory of how little it matters how
it was caused. The dog’s dead and the boy is lost. Death seeps in with a scythe blade covered in static. It blends in with the background, and reveals the figure to hold naught but a walking cane. Death reminds him of the grandfather he never had, of the archangel with the voice of sawdust and blended nails. Not stealing, just walking, letting his walking stick fall every so often on one thing or another. Not malevolent, “just the way it is,” he imagines him saying. The perspective opens him up, there’s truth in the static dissolving of death, in the ever rippling waves on top of that pointillistic sea of dots and dashes.
GM: Emil takes hold of the cane. Leans on it. It’s a good cane for a long walk. His walk to the place he needs to go. To the people he needs to see.
He takes his first step and screams as his hand falls away. The cane is a scythe after all. He drops it and it slashes through his feet. He topples forwards and no floor rushes to meet him. He keeps falling, falling, falling…
“Just the way it is,” repeats the grandfather he never had, and then they’ve all dissolved into static.
The static blurps and warbles. Shapes materialize from the digital snow. Emil, back in the car with his father. They’re pulling into another hospital so much like the last two. He can feel the misery in this place. The pain. The hours crawling by like dying slugs.
“It’s your turn now,” says the nurse as she raises the hypodermic needle.
She injects him with liquid oblivion. Emil goes limp as a doll. Static blossoms across his vision. Then another demon seizes him, her face white as a porcelain mask, and all he knows is digital snow.
It blares and ravages his ears, relentlessly scorching them like the other devil’s hand scorched his flesh. Sound eventually emerges from the pain. A voice.
“…ad to… …et you ba…”
“Why w… I… ant… to… …ill… you… Emil…?
“…not… babble… frent… la…ges…”
“…o many… lies…”
“…uck… our… other…”
“…wha… are… you…?”
“…ow… you… do these things…”
“…o much… w… c… each… you…”
Then. Cutting through the static. Piercingly clear.
“Emil. You have to understand. Ignorance, not linguistic diversity, was what stopped the tower’s completion.”
“We can lift your ignorance. We can teach you. You can teach us. Together, we can ascend…”
The static-ridden hand takes Emil’s. Closes over the scars left by the devil. It fits like a glove.
Emil: Earl sought an heir. Perhaps he begot two.
He holds the hand of his brother, perhaps his twin. He feels the pull of the void, the tickle of the static. And blood binds them, just as love binds him to his father. He can only hope he can hold his brother’s with one hand and his father with the other without the distance ripping him apart.
He smiles their shared too-wide smile, and responds,
“As high as it goes, friend. As high as it goes.”
The static swirls and wraps around him like thick ropes of nothingness embodied. What this ascension may hold for Emil cuts at him, for how has any of his true power manifested beyond diving beneath the waves, into the crackling abyss that lies below, far under the tower. Maybe descending is the only true way to climb. You can only go so low before you start climbing down from the top.
He opens his eyes and he’s waiting in the car. The trees still rush by, though he can see the gaps between them so perfectly it’s hard to imagine it’s night. Blinking returns the shadows and the static. He receives an odd sort of tinnitus, like a fly whispering in his ear unintelligible secrets.
He has his phone in his hand. He taps in a message, reroutes it through the same Texas number, to the doctor from Houston.
I’ll come quietly if you let me. Don’t close my eyes.
He tells his father that his mind is clearing up. His memory too. He wasn’t thinking straight when he explained the story. His doubt was correct. No assailant could have just appeared mid ride. He was there and then left probably cause he heard someone coming. Remembers the sound of metal scraping. There’s no one in the woods now.
GM: Paul frowns. “What? I thought you said he got on with you.”
Emil: “No, no it’s my memory screwing up. I was comforting myself by thinking he was gone. I think I imagined it. I’m sorry. I know that’s the case. I didn’t see him fall, didn’t hear him scream. It didn’t happen. No one that angry would fall silently.”
GM: A text buzzes on Emil’s phone.
Go to UCLA’s Fowler Museum.
“First impressions are sometimes the most accurate,” Paul says. “You can explain your story to the cops at the hospital. You didn’t do anything wrong here, Emil.”
Shit, he thinks.
He shoots over another text: Can’t do that immediately. My throat is sore to say the least. I’ll be at the hospital. There’s police. Pick me up?
GM: There is no immediate reply.
“Who in God’s name are you texting right now?” his father asks.
Emil: “The doctor that I chatted with during the last hospital stay. I got his phone number before I left,” Emil responds completely honestly.
Emil uses a privacy filter over the small phone screen for this exact purpose, blurs any observation from non-direct angles.
GM: “Well, good for you making a friend, I suppose.”
Emil: “Thanks, Dad.”
It feels good to say that. Though he’s worried he might not get many more chances.
“Love you,” he adds, though his damaged throat makes it come out hoarse and brittle.
GM: “Love you too, Emil.”
They reach the ER at Glendale Memorial Hospital.
It’s a miserable wait in a miserable room full of injured, miserable people. A patient tells a nurse she’s experiencing numbness, muscle weakness, tingling, and other symptoms. The intake nurse rolls her eyes and scolds the woman with, “You already came here six months ago! We won’t be able to help you any more than we did then, idiot.”
They wait for what feels like hours, even after the intake nurse sees them. She even classifies Emil as “urgent.”
The cops arrive before a doctor sees Emil. They’re dressed in dark navy rather than light blue shirts, and their badge depicts justice’s scales over an American flag rather than a star and crescent moon. Emil doesn’t recognize the older of the pair, a Caucasian man perhaps around 30, but he does recognize the tall and athletically muscled woman with long blonde hair in a ponytail. She has a cocky walk that makes people overlook her somewhat plain face, which downturns instantly into a scowl upon seeing her ex.
Emil: “Nice to see you, Officer Hall.”
He’d call her Steph, but he isn’t in the mood to get kicked in the throat if she decides she doesn’t like that kind of address anymore.
GM: “Nice to see you.”
“Like you deserve.”
Emil: “Yeah, I get that.”
He turns for a second to look at his dad’s expression before returning his attention to the mother of the daughter neither of them could be arsed to raise for the first few years of her life.
“I mailed you some workbooks for Sadie, did they make it in one piece?”
GM: “Yeah, I threw ’em out and got her better ones.”
“Why don’t you just leave this to me,” the older cop says to her.
“Fuck you. And fuck him,” says Stephanie.
Paul’s expression looks dark. “What’s your badge number, Officer Hall?”
“Fuck you too. I don’t have to tell you that shit.”
Emil: Emil lays a weak arm on his father’s shoulder after he tries to protect him, but then when Steph is rude to his father, he shoots daggers at the woman.
“I don’t appreciate that, Officer Hall. You have nothing to be mad at my father for. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
GM: “He isn’t your dad, idiot,” snorts Stephanie. “You were always whining about missing your real one, remember?”
Emil: “He is my real dad,” he reasserts. “I was being an idiot before. You know very well that I’m capable of that.”
GM: “Yeah, and Pinocchio was a real boy too. The problem with that statement is it’s still an idiot who’s making it. I know ‘very well’ that you’re not capable of being anything besides an idiot.”
“Steph,” the other cop says tiredly.
Paul just sighs and pulls out a business card with his law firm’s logo. “There. Lawyer. Boo. I can start making legal threats over all the ways you’re completely out of line, or maybe someone would just like to do their fucking job?” he snaps.
“Fuck you,” Stephanie repeats. “Your stepson’s an idiot who deserved to get beat up or whatever. And we’re gonna do shit about it. Yeah, whoever did that to him is gonna get away with it. I hope he broke something permanent.”
“You can expect Internal Affairs to hear from us, then,” Paul says tightly. “We don’t need your badge number when we know your name anyway. I’m going to recommend suspension without pay if LAPD doesn’t want to get served a lawsuit. And perhaps consider a separate civil suit against you.”
Stephanie leans in close to Paul’s face.
“Fuck, you,” she repeats, enunciating the words slowly and exaggeratedly as if she’s talking to a small child.
Emil: “Officer Hall. Please. Step away from my father. Now,” Emil says as politely as possible given the situation.
GM: “See, still an idiot. Why would I do that when he already blew his load on his biggest threat?”
“Which, by the way, is about as big as your dick. Which means, since you’re an idiot who needs these things explained, ‘microscopically small.’ So fucking what if I’m suspended. I’ll get another security job. Blackwatch is always hiring.”
Emil: He ignores the insults. He’s heard worse from better people. She’s running off of old pain. She feels hurt by him and by extension anyone he cares about, Emil figures. She just needs to run out of steam and think she’s won this one.
He makes a pointed, concerned looks at the other officer and rubs his dad’s shoulder.
“You’re right, that’s all we got, Officer Hall. If you don’t want to help us, no one’s forcing you.”
GM: “Damn right that’s all. Think I’m gonna tell Sadie that Jews are Christ-killers. Shit you can do about that too.”
“This is outrageous,” Paul declares angrily. “Forget getting you suspended. Fired might be more appropriate. You should think twice whether prospective employers will look kindly over that on your record.”
“What kind of faggot says ‘look kindly’?” scoffs Stephanie.
Her partner just sighs to himself and looks on.
Emil: “Dad, stop,” he interjects. “Please.”
GM: “No, Emil. I don’t care what you’ve done to each other in the past. This is simply beyond the pale.”
“What kind of faggot says ‘beyond the pale’?” scoffs Stephanie.
Emil: “תן לה להתמודד עם עצמה,” he tells his dad.
(“Let her tucker herself out.”)
GM: Paul gives Emil a dubious look, but true to Emil’s expectation, Stephanie (after mocking them for “talking in Jewish throat gargling”) eventually runs out of steam and snaps that her partner can handle this. She’s fucking done. She’ll be in the car.
The other cop says Paul doesn’t need to bother with a lawsuit. He’ll report this to IA and their immediate superior. He’s very sorry for the trouble.
“Not the first time she’s ran her mouth like that. She’s been warned a buncha times. Was only a matter of time until she got fired.”
With that out of the way, he takes Emil’s statement on what happened to him.
Emil: Emil tells the police officer a similar story to the one he told his father, with some more reasonable explanations inserted. What he definitely knows is that the attacker tried to choke him out, stopped and then was gone by the time Emil was able to get his bearings. Presumably he fell out of the car in transit. Emil says that he’s not sure when the attacker got on, his memories are a little fuzzy, likely due to the asphyxiation. Emil thinks the attacker was waiting in the cable car before he came but he didn’t notice him before it was too late and he had him by the throat.
GM: “Oh? How’d he fall out when he was doing such a good job choking you out?” the cop asks.
Emil: "I was standing next to the doorway, he was trying to get me at a good angle I couldn’t get out of his grip from. I told you about the metal scraping sounds I heard right about that time. I think that along with any resistance I could muster, the car probably went over some frayed cable and knocked him off balance and into the door, which clearly didn’t close properly.
GM: “Oh, we’d better get some engineers or whatever people to take a look at that door and cable, then,” says the cop. “Wouldn’t want anyone else getting dumped out of the car. Long drop.”
Emil: Why did he say it like that? Is he trying to intimate something to me? What is it with cops and ominously veiled statements?
“Yeah,” he nods. “It’s a long way down.”
Oh. He thinks I’m lying.
GM: It doesn’t help that he is.
“So where’s this body again?”
Emil: “Well, officer, given that he likely fell out of a cable car over Griffith Park, I’d say in one treetop or another, maybe the forest floor if he fell on a weak branch or two.”
GM: “Well, that fucking sucks. Guess we’ll have to go look for it, on top of shutting down those rides up to the park. We’ll start by examining those cars real close to see if your story checks out.”
He leans in close to Emil.
“Lying about felonies like this can get you a felony charge yourself. Could be decades in prison when it’s about a murder. Forget about any future when you get out, too. Cons are lucky just to wind up janitors.”
Emil: “Officer, did you get a look at the marks he left on my neck? Those aren’t hickies, sir.”
“Have you seen my arms, officer? Weak, twig-like things. I haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years. You really think I could stop somebody who wanted to kill me?”
GM: Paul interrupts Emil to tell the officer he’s gotten his statement and can start searching for the body. The cop looks as if he’s going to press for more until Paul flashes the lawyer card again. He says they’ll “be in touch” with Emil soon.
“I shouldn’t have had you talk to police,” Paul sighs when he’s gone.
Emil: “They usually record those encounters, Dad?”
GM: “They don’t need to.”
Hours pass. Emil’s head hurts. His everything hurts. People around him stir listessly or moan in pain. A man lies on the floor when there isn’t a spare gurney. The intake nurse tells him to fill out some forms. He cries he can’t move his arms without pain. The intake nurse tells him to fill out the forms.
It’s finally Emil’s turn. He gets to see a doctor in a private room. The man brusquely looks him over with a vague air of disdain like he’s at fault for being here, bandies around some verbose medical jargon that Emil doesn’t understand, then leaves without so much as a goodbye.
“I always think I’ve seen it all, but you people always find new ways to hurt yourselves,” the nurse says in an irritated tone as she approaches Emil with a hypodermic needle.
“That’s the nice thing about patients who visit ERs when they shouldn’t. The bill is basically an idiot fee.”
Emil: Before she gets any close to him with that needle, he imagines it falling from her hands and smashing into the ground next to her feet.
He remembers the vision. You’re next, she said. She was gonna go for Dad first.
GM: Rabbi Shemtov could testify how powerful Emil’s imagination is. Of all his students, Emil alone could envision the fruits of their kabbalist studies as actual practice rather than theory.
And yet, for all the power of that imagination, its results are the same as in the Touro Synagogue.
The needle stabs into Emil’s just-swabbed skin. The nurse depresses the syringe.
“There. Should we expect you back next month when you’ve managed to get Legos stuck up your ass?”
Emil: His face scrunches up like a smashed lunch bag.
I’ve just been imagining it. Just imagining. Shemtov was right. Clearly. And I’m hallucinating too. Or is it dreaming? Why does this all feel normal? This isn’t normal. Why did I think that I knew what would happen. I’m just dreaming. She didn’t even say the same thing as that nurse in my… dream. But why did that car flip when I wanted it to? How didn’t I die in the cable car?
What the hell is going on?
But all of his thoughts are filtered away, and he just asks the nurse, a confused expression plastered on his face so long it threatens to stick, “What did you just inject me with?”
GM: “Medicine,” the nurse says flatly.
Emil: “Oh, great! Really useful. But informed consent says I have the right to know which medicine,” he exclaims before looking just as flatly back at the nurse.
GM: “Medicine that cures everything but stupid. Bother someone else.”
Paul frowns deeply at the woman, but finally sighs, “Let’s go, Emil.”
Emil: “I have a right to see a record of treatment, right?” he asks his dad.
GM: “Emil, let’s go,” Paul repeats tiredly.
The nurse expectantly holds open the door.
Emil: Remembering the freshness of his renewed relationship with his father, he follows his word and starts walking out the room.
GM: They head back to the main ER room, a seeming refugee camp packed with forlorn people still in pain. Emil doesn’t feel any better than he did before the doctor saw him. He might feel worse. Paul talks with the receptionist about insurance and billing. They go out to their car. They get in.
That’s when ether-smelling rags clamp over their faces.
Paul gives a muffled shout and pushes frantically. After all, it takes a while to knock someone out with that. About 1-5 minutes of straight inhalation. Emil always had strange interests, to know how many minutes it typically takes.
He can barely hear his dad, though. He can barely see, either. He’d thought it was just the lights being off. Liquid oblivion courses through him. Emil goes limp as a doll.
But the vision was only halfway true.
It’s not black and white static that blossoms across his sight.
It’s just black.
Nothing but black.
Day ? October 2007?
GM: Unconsciousness slowly recedes. Pain does not.
Emil groggily looks down. He’s in a hospital gown. In a hospital bed.
It feels familiar.
But not what.
One hospital room looks the same as any other. Maybe Emil’s memory is that good, despite all the time, all the stress, all the trauma, all the everything he’s been through.
Or maybe it’s the memory sitting across from him.
It has to be a memory.
In the same white coat. On the same plastic chair.
With the same smiling face.
The same hale, unmarred, contently smiling face. Like getting his head soaked in gasoline and set on fire was absolutely nothing at all.
Like the best Emil and Lucky could do to kill him was nothing at all.
But he’s not the same. Emil remembers how he looked, trapped beneath that car. He remembers the hatred burning in those eyes, hot as the fires of the Christian hell. He remembers the chalk-white cast to ‘his friend’s’ features. He smiles as he looks down on Emil, but there is a vaguely predatory cast to his posture. A look to his eyes. A hunger, that on some level does not, cannot, relate to Emil as a friend or equal. But as prey.
And Emil may well feel like cornered prey. He has the terrible sense that he is alone and beyond all help. That he has always been alone, in this vast and dark and frightening world in which he knows none of the rules, barely any of the players, and that his luck has finally run out. That it is time to meet his fate.
“It’s good to see you again, Emil,” smiles the demon.
“We have so much to talk about.”