“Your sister turned out fine! Where did you go wrong?! WHERE DID I FAIL YOU!?”
Emmett: Okay. That wasn’t a dead end, but I still need to find somebody I can talk to. You have any advice, spook?
GM: A miserable rain is already falling as he exits the shop’s equally creaking and blackened door. Cold, heavy drops fall against his skin. They feel like they should chill Emmett to the bone, but his flesh doesn’t seem like it remembers what chill feels like. There is only a non-sensation of strange emptiness.
Blasted, garbage-choked and gutted ruins yawn before him. The shadows are long, thick, and hungry.
An inchoate wail suddenly echoes from one, only to cease just as abruptly as it began. The too-cold yet not-cold rain falls in thick and heavy sheets.
The voice in his head is silent.
Emmett: He walks.
He doesn’t think about where he’s walking. Thinking, like he told Roberts so long ago, has never done him much good. And he’s pretty sure there are no answers he can think his way to.
But he walks anyway. He ducks and weaves and slides around and through walls and he hides in the ruins. He loved hide-and-seek as a kid. He walks, and he can’t help but remember his home.
Not the place he lived. The place he ran away from. The place costs were waiting for him even when he was alive.
He thinks of Mom’s smile. He hasn’t thought of that in a long time.
He hides, and walks, and haunts, and remembers better times.
GM: Better times are long ago and far away. It’s going to be a long walk there.
That’s all right. He has time.
Perhaps nothing but time.
Rain pours down from too-black and too-close foggy skies. Rot and decay is everywhere that he can see. There are broken bricks and stones, rain-sodden piles of trash, uprooted trees, water-rusted, dented, and shells of abandoned cars: the city looks like a bombed-out World War II newsreel, all the way down to its black and white ‘footage,’ that’s still pitifully gurgling past the after-flood of Katrina.
The damp smell of rot and mildew is omnipresent, but the city itself is eerily quiet. Em could probably hear a pin drop if it were to stop raining.
It’s not empty, though. There are people. Many people.
They look like Tantsy and Amelie, the way they shine with a soft glow that’s unmistakable against the gloom. Their bodies are translucent and their faces eerily indistinct, as if through fogged and rain-streaked windows. None of them look at or acknowledge Em. They’re like ghosts.
There’s a sensation like time passing and distance being crossed, but Em can’t say how much of either. Both of those things feel as slippery as the sloughing rain. He doesn’t feel tired or hungry. He doesn’t feel much of anything.
That is, until the shrieking starts.
And the baying howls that follow in its wake.
Emmett: Time to run, again.
How do they keep finding him? The “why” doesn’t matter, but the how is agitating. How the hell do you outrun something like that?
He stays on the streets. He can’t hide.
But he can make them work for it, at least.
Bobbing and weaving a circuitous route through the crowd, he uses the translucent masses as cover for his fleeing. It’s the same strategy you use to escape an overexcited mark when you’re working Bourbon street.
GM: Em isn’t breathing. He doesn’t feel the least bit winded as he runs. No matter how hard his feet hammer against the ground, he doesn’t feel the slightest motion in his chest when he inhales.
There’s motion by his back. He reflexively jerks his head towards it, fearing whatever’s pursuing him has caught up. He sees two unfurling wings. The oddly translucent feathers are black and moldering, but with their first beat the ground already looks more distant.
Beat, beat. Don’t stop flapping. Don’t stop flapping.
He soars up, higher, higher.
GM: He feels motion and sensation-less rain pummeling against his face. More scenes of ruin and decay drift past. The outlines of objects and people-like phantoms seem darker and blurrier, as if he’s viewing them through a speeding car’s water-slick window on a dark night. The too-black sky feels all too close as a faint, storm-like roar echoes in his ears. It ceases as his wings fold in and vanish. Motion stops. Em stands before the front door to his-pre adult home.
The brick house looks as ruined as the Quarter. Grimy windows are broken in, the front yard’s grass is thin and dead, and the flowers along the cracked walkway are black and rotted. The leafless tree is dead and brittle.
Emmett: He stares.
He hasn’t been back in… six years? Seven? So why is it he knows how wrong this is, that he knows exactly what this place is supposed to look like?
He finds himself at the door.
GM: His hand passes through the rotted, paint-nicked door like it isn’t there.
Emmett: Spooky. He grits his teeth, and plunges through the rest of the door. Is anybody home?
Why does he feel so scared?
He steps through the rooms he grew up in. The kitchen, living room. A dead man in the living room. Is that allowed?
He watches for that translucent glow, the gleam of life.
GM: If it’s not allowed, nothing stops him. He was never one for following the rules, anyway.
The inside of the house is as ruined and color-leeched as its exterior. Rotted walls have gaping holes that reveal gnawed and pitted support beams. They remind Em of bones sticking through rotted, half-decayed flesh. Chairs and tables are broken piles of kindling. Picture frames are smashed in. Moth-eaten curtains are little more than tatters. Unidentifiable black smears stain the carpet. The TV’s screen is smashed in. Em’s parents didn’t subscribe to cable when he was a kid. They said that was so he and Lena would play outside more. The family TV could only be used to watch movies. Now it can’t be used for anything.
The house looks like it’s been abandoned for years.
A distant flush sounds from the toilet upstairs.
Emmett: The dead man starts.
Ghosts don’t use the bathroom. Do they? Maybe that should have been one of his questions for the spooky bitch.
He proceeds to the stairs, listening carefully, holding his breath for no good reason.
GM: He can make out the distant sound of running water following the toilet flush.
Emmett: The banality of the sound startles him out of his reverie as he reaches the top, staring at the bathroom door.
GM: The rotted-in door creeks open after a moment. Tanya Delacroix walks out in her pajamas. Em’s father always said he liked her for her smile, but the Tanya of 2016 is not smiling. She looks old, too, with deep wrinkles around her jowls and bags under her eyes. Maybe it’s from using the bathroom in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s being seven years older. Maybe it’s just from having her glasses off. Her too-gray dark hair looks messy and frizzy from just having rolled out of bed, and not in the sort of way people want to post over Instagram saying, “I woke up like this.”
She glows with the same luminous white light that Amelie and Tantsy did, but also dimmer than they did. Dark and indistinct shadows tug almost hungrily around the edges of where her light dies.
She doesn’t spare Emmett a glance as she shuffles down the gutted hallway’s black-stained carpet towards the master bedroom.
Emmett: “Mom?” he whispers. He reaches out for her as he follows like a scared child in her footsteps, tries to touch her arm like he used to when he needed her.
GM: His hand passes through her like a reflection in water. She doesn’t look at Em as she fumbles open the door.
It’s been along time since he said he needed her. It’s been a long time since he said he needed anyone.
Emmett: He follows her.
“Mom,” he says, and he tries to make her hear him, tries to reach into that same pool of weirdness that lets him fly and breathe fire and everything else.
GM: The half-asleep woman sweeps a bleary glance across the hall.
Emmett: “Gotcha,” he says. “Can you hear me? I know you can.”
GM: His mother slowly looks off to the side. Confusion clouds her face.
Emmett: Em pauses.
He knows, somehow—what he’s about to do will hurt.
But so will not doing it.
“Boo,” he whispers.
GM: Em’s vision swims. Bursts of color flit everywhere like gemstones in a fast-rushing current as something pushes against his body. It feels like he is trying to move while caked underneath mounds of oppressively heavy mud. He feels sick and tired and hurting everywhere like he did when the execution team strapped him to the gurney, but cold too. The air around him is tantalizingly warm and bright and fresh. It feels just out of reach, like a warm house with its door open in the dead of winter.
His mother’s face, staring straight at him, is as pale as a sheet.
Emmett: Cold. An involuntary shiver rolls over him like a like a bad hug, as his knees sag and he stammers:
“C-can you see me?”
GM: Tanya’s knees buckle too. Her hands clutch the wall, which no longer looks as if it’s been rotting and neglected for years, and stammers something incomprehensible. Her eyes are wide and disbelieving.
Emmett: “That’s a yes,” he whispers as he surfers forward, tries to stop her fall. “I’m sorry—”
GM: His hands pass through her like she isn’t even there. She scrambles towards the bedroom.
Emmett: Well, this wasn’t well thought out.
“What happened to Lena?” he asks, desperate. “I think I stayed behind for her, I’m not sure-”
GM: “PHIL!” his mother calls out, yelling now as she pulls the door open. Em’s surroundings are in colored but muted tones, as if he’s peering through a heavy shroud.
Emmett: There’s nothing to do but hold up his hands in what he hopes looks less threatening.
GM: His mother slams the door behind her. Startled and groggy voices sound from behind it. Tanya raves that she saw… she saw…
Another voice, equally familiar, answers her.
The voice is a man’s. The accent is a mix of drawling backwoods Cajun and collegia-bred elocution. It always seemed simultaneously dumber and smarter than Em ever was.
The voice reassures that it was “jus’ a bad dream, honey, all jus’ a bad dream.”
Emmett: He pokes his head through the door.
He’s not trying to be a dick. But, what can he do?
GM: Emmett’s father Philémon possesses the distinct, but hard-to-name features of a redbone. His frame is tall, but neither slim nor stocky. His dark, semi-wavy locks and goatee are modestly trimmed, but have more gray in them than Em remembers. There’s more lines to his face, too. They don’t flatter his looks, especially that one cheek which bears pock-marked scars, suggesting either a history of bad acne or a hunting accident with buckshot. His eyes are tired and haggard like his wife’s.
Em’s parents are wrapped in one another’s arms in the bed. His father rocks his still-distraught mother, assuring her that it was all just a bad dream. All just a very bad dream.
“Go back to sleep, darlin’. It’ll be gone in the mornin’.”
“This… is all…” Tanya mumbles incoherently before turning over in the pair’s bed. Philémon lays an assuring hand on her shoulder.
The room falls silent but for the steady sounds of their breathing. Em’s parents both look so old. So tired.
Phil slowly runs a hand across his face.
“So many…” he murmurs.
“Old and young…”
Emmett: His head swivels, his eyes following his father before the rest of him does, too.
GM: Phil doesn’t once look at him. He grasps the railing as he ambles down the stairs, then shuffles off towards the house’s garage. He does not turn on any lights. Em no longer feels as if he’s trying to walk through mud. Rot and decay mar his washed-out, gray and black surroundings.
He follows, even as his father fades to a dim light. At least he’s lighter now.
Got rid of all the dead weight.
GM: Phil opens the mildew-coated door with a long creek. He fumbles a bit before grabbing a flashlight off a nearby table. He flicks it on, but still does not turn on the lights proper as he rummages through the garage’s assorted clutter. Em can make out tackle boxes, fishing poles, and other assorted hunting and fishing equipment that always baffled the ecology professor’s environmentalist friends why he possessed it. He’d tried to teach Em how to use it, too, a long time ago. How to gut a fish, butcher kills, and survive in the great outdoors. Phones and other electronic “distractions” weren’t allowed on those wilderness excursions.
Emmett: Em hadn’t actually been bad at that. Not really. He just hated that he had to, and he hated getting away from the TV, and Dad had thought he was spoiled, he never said that but he did, you could see it in his eyes, and whenever he talked Em could tell some part of him had given up, and it had killed him.
And now he’s dead.
“Hi, pops,” he whispers.
GM: Emmett’s father ignores him completely. That may or may not be an improvement from life.
Phil continues to fish around through the garage until he produces a plain box. He opens and removes five tall white candles, which he places in equidistant points across the concrete floor.
Next comes a knife and bottle of Jameson, the last alcoholic beverage Em enjoyed with Anastasia what feels like a lifetime ago.
Phil sighs tiredly.
“I hate this part.”
He pulls out his phone and pulls up its social media feed. He taps several times. Emmett sees a variety of headlines:
Rebuilding Streets Without Green Infrastructure Won’t Keep us Dry
The River’s Revenge: Mississippi remains critical to our prosperity, but hostile to attempts to control it
A Scathing New Report Finds That New Orleans Residents Aren’t Being Warned About Possible Lead In Their Water
United States Spends Ten More Times On Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education
Boom times predicted for Baton Rouge industrial corridor—Baton Rouge Business Report
In Endron Climate Fraud Case, Judge Rejects Defense Tactic that Attacked the Prosecutor
Chemical companies at center of ‘Cancer Alley’ will not face state legal action
Near-record ‘dead zone’ expected in Gulf after spring floods in Mississippi watershed
Nathaniel Malveaux: Exclusive Interview on the Makings of a State Hero
Phil’s jaw clenches just a bit more with each headline he reads. His tired eyes get just a bit sharper. Just a bit angrier. After the final headline, he rakes the hunting knife across his finger. He stoops to the ground and paints a literally bloody line between two of the candles. He looks at his phone again, grimaces, and cuts his next figure. He repeats the process until he’s completed a star-like, five-pointed shape.
“What happened to yer damn sword,” he mutters angrily, then takes a long pull from the bottle.
“Jacques! I’m bleedin’ over my garage floor, ignoramuses rape our land an’ oceans without care for anythin’ green that ain’t next quarter’s profits or campaign contributions—an’ I’m fuckin’ pissed to hell over both!”
He takes another angry pull from the bottle, then shakes it over the lit candles in a wide spraying arc.
“Get yer ass here already!”
The tiny flames flare angrily under the alcoholic dousing—then turn blood red. Phil gags and spits out what’s in his mouth.
“I hate this part!”
He clamps both hands over his mouth to stifle as his scream as his right eye spins completely around in his head. The Jameson bottle hits the floor with a dull clink. Booze spills out over the floor.
“You fuckin’ ass! You always d-”
Phil’s invective is cut off again beneath another stifled scream. His hands go from his mouth to his eye, then fall away. The whites have gone blood-red.
“There!” he grits past clenched teeth. “You happy NOW, you p-”
The spilled alcohol suddenly bursts into flame. The air becomes thick, feverish, and fetid like a swollen pustule begging for a lancet. The horripilating, emetic pressure builds—then violently bursts.
From some unseen tear, a man issues into sight like a gory afterbirth–or perhaps stillborn.
The emergent figure wears his pain nakedly like an open sore. The right side of his face is a broken jigsaw of cruel scars, the most severe of which runs over the dark void of his right eye-socket. While his left bears a rheumy-yellow orb, the cheek and jaw below it are haunted by sickly bubbling boils that burn and weep like rancid, spermaceti candles. His balding pate is framed by wispy, ash-hued locks, and his antiquated garb has the air of uncomfortable, anachronistic grandeur despoiled not just by time, but by gaping stomach wounds that look as if they have festered for god only knows how long. A sword hilt protrudes from the man’s belly, warbling as he emerges into the garage’s candle-lit surroundings.
“About goddamn time!” Phil curses.
But the figure does not answer him. He stares mutely ahead—directly at Emmett.
His color-leeched body doesn’t glow like his father’s does.
“Oh shit,” Em whispers. “My dad’s a witch.”
And that sword looks a lot like the one buried in a certain stomach.
He meets the new specter’s gaze. “He’s my father. Please tell him I’m here. Please.”
GM: The scar-ridden, one-eyed figure does not breathe, blink, or move. He simply stares ahead with all the single-minded intensity of a too-lifelike statue.
“Identifiez-vous,” the figure rasps in an accented voice as worn and ugly as his face.
Emmett: “Emmett Delacroix.”
“I met the woman you stabbed earlier. I’d be happy to discuss her.”
GM: No blink. No movement. No facial reaction. Only that same monstrously intense stare.
“Pourquoi es-tu ici? Espanol?”
Emmett: “Tante. I paid her with a story. She called me a sandman.”
GM: If it were possibly for the nameless figure’s countenance to grow any uglier, the name “Tante” seems to make it so. The shadows around its scar-riddled contours seem to deepen even as the sunken eyes burn like slow-simmering coals stoked with new heat.
“Ou pa konprann mwen. Èske ou pale lang sa a?” the shade rasps.
Emmett’s father, meanwhile, frowns as he looks across the air.
Emmett: “Emmett Delacroix. He will know me.” He points to the man he supposes is still his father.
GM: The figure scowls before muttering in thickly accented Spanish,
“El español debe ser suficiente.”
(“Spahnish must be enough.”)
“Identifícate y cómo llegaste a estar aquí.”
(“Ahdentify yourself ahnd ’ow you came to be ’ere.”)
His still-unblinking eyes narrow.
“Explica cómo sabes ese nombre.”
(“Explain ’ow you know zhat name.”)
Emmett: “Gracias. Mi nombre es Emmett Delacroix. Soy su hijo La menciono porque la vi antes de venir aquí. Reconocí la espada. Ella no fue de mucha ayuda. Tal vez un poco loco.”
(“Thank you. My name is Emmett Delacroix. I’m his son. I mention her because I saw her before I came here. I recognized the sword. She wasn’t very helpful. Maybe a little insane.”)
He pauses, watching, then glancing at his father.
“Soy nuevo en ser un espíritu. Necesito orientación, y asistencia. Puedo estar muy agradecido .”
(“I am new to being a spirit. I need guidance, and assistance. I can be very grateful.”)
Though colorless and faded, Em tries to coax sincerity into his words, tries to warm his sentence with hope.
GM: The hideous spirit’s stare seems to pierce Emmett only a hair less sharply than the sword embedded in his still-bleeding gut. The blade-like stare lingers—and after a moment, withdraws. Not sheathed, but perhaps diverted from his throat.
“Jacques!” Emmett’s father calls again. “Damn it all, you didn’t jus’ make me…”
The disfigured shade does not answer him, but only stares at Emmett, unblinking and utterly unmoving. Hope is utterly absent from the sore- and boil-ridden face. There is hatred, written so blackly and indelibly as to be impossible to miss. Grim calculation. But no hope.
Emmett: Em watches, exhausted. Waiting for the boot to drop all over his spiderweb hopes and needs.
GM: “Explica cómo me puedes ser útil,” ‘Jacques’ finally replies.
(“Explain ’ow you may be of use to me.”)
Emmett: Em considers the colder, spookier specter. And dare he say it, uglier. He might be dead, but at least his looks are holding up.
He answers easily, not too fast but not too slow. Look at me, I know what I’m talking about.
“Soy nuevo en este juego. Creo que mi padre podría ser persuadido para que te haga un favor o dos, y quizás incluso deje de decir tu nombre.”
(“I am new to this game. I think my father might be persuaded to do you a favor or two, and maybe he’ll even stop calling your name.”)
GM: Emmett’s father looks about the seemingly empty garage, then throws up his hands in disgust.
“See if I do this again!”
He blows out the candles and storms off and starts cleaning up the bloody pentagram.
Jacques does not look at him.
“Tu padre ya cumple mis órdenes.”
(“Your father already serves mah bidding.”)
Emmett: Oh, great.
“Entonces imagine cuánto más entusiasta estará cuando lo reúna con su hijo fallecido. También estaría increíblemente agradecido, señor. Recuerdo a los que debo.”
(“Then imagine how much more enthusiastic he will be when you reunite him with his deceased son. I would also be incredibly grateful, sir. I remember those I owe.”)
Naturally, since he needs to know how best to avoid them.
Still, he’ll tell all the stories he can remember if he can just get some fucking bearings.
GM: “No necesito su ‘entusiasmo’, y la gratitud vale menos que su corpus. Los mercados de esclavos siempre están ávidos de nuevas mercancías,” the other dead man answers callously.
(“Ah do not require ‘is ’enthusiasm’, and gratitude is worth less zhan your corpus. Ze thrall markets are always ’ungry for new merchandise.”)
As Emmett watches, one of the boils along the elder shade’s face bursts with a sickening hiss-pop. Pus runs down his cheek like sallow tears, but his too-dead stare neither flinches nor looks away.
“Mi paciencia se agota.”
(“My patience grows short.”)
Emmett: “Un esclavo en la mano vale dos en el mercado. Y yo sería el mejor tipo de servidor. Uno agradecido.”
(“A thrall in hand is worth two on the market. And I would be the best kind of servant. A grateful one.”)
Em leans forward, meets the lifeless gaze. Better to go all in than to pussyfoot around. Lay it on thicker than the mood lighting around here.
“No puedo mentirte. Eres sabio con la experiencia. No soy más que un niño. Pero los bebés pueden ser devotos. Y enseñados. Me inspiras, espíritu poderoso.”
(“I cannot lie to you. You are wise with experience. I am but an infant. But infants can be devoted. And taught. You inspire me, mighty spirit.”)
GM: Say the word, and I can have us out. Or, a little boost to smooth-talk Mr. Boil Face? Fuck, this guy’s uglier than that dyke.
Emmett: Pretty sure I don’t have much left to give you.
Em watches the specter’s eyes. He’s done what he can.
GM: Not asking for anything this time. This guy could be serious bad news.
Emmett: Oh? What will you give me to let you help?
GM: There’s a sound like sarcastic laughter in Em’s head.
Emmett: I have a new theory, you know. You aren’t my evil side or my higher self, or any new-age bullshit. You’re just dead weight. And even I get sick of talking to myself.
He crosses his arms, looks spooky Jacques in the eyes, waiting.
GM: You know, Em, you’re right. Why don’t we have you say something more like your usual old self? I bet there’s all sorts of hilarious things you could think to say to this guy…
Emmett: I could. But then I wouldn’t get to do all the other nasty shit you’re into. Give a little to get a little.
GM: Oh, wait.
I’ve got something better.
Let’s take you back, Em.
To your usual old self.
All the way back…
There’s a roar that cracks the achromatic garage like a cannon shot, and then the ground yawns wide beneath Emmett’s feet. Everything shifts sideways, then spirals around as he pitches backwards, spinning head over heels into a formless black void.
Jacques’ shade stares after him as he falls.
GM: Em feels as though he’s floating through a dense fog. Downwards. Something is pulling him, relentlessly. Wind whistles shrilly in his ears and tugs at him as powerful gusts buffet him from every direction. Their force tosses him about like a dust mote in the void.
I love this part, Em! Home sweet home!
Rushes of vertigo and stomach-tightening nausea sweeps through him as he twists about in the dark emptiness. The wind blasts around with him with a thousand screams that drown out all thoughts, except one:
Whether any of them are his.
He continues to tumble in seemingly endless free-fall. There’s a sensation of moving at great speed, as if he’s been pulled and torn by some irresistibly strong force. The darkness before his eyes surges with hungry energies.
He lands with a soft thump in his bed. The one from his old bedroom, in this house. He’s got his laptop out in front of him. Webflix is all qued up with his favorite shows and movies. His pillow is fluffed just right behind him. His blankets are soft and comfortable.
Emmett: Weird. Probably not the good kind.
He’s in the middle of something flashy and affected and directed by Tarantino. It’s not his fault, he’s sixteen.
He pauses the film as his eyes move around the room. The old memorabilia’s all there. His walls are covered with shit, film posters and old concert tickets and things he used to think other people thought mattered. The room smells faintly of sweat and late nights and cannabis. There’s the window he snuck out of, and the beanbag chair he stole from a friend he secretly despised.
He slides out of bed, slowly. Listening.
GM: “ENGLISH MOTHERFUCKER DO YOU SPEAK IT!”roars the voice from his laptop’s speakers. That part is always great. Even teenagers can have taste. A knock raps against his door. He can already feel his instinctive annoyance rising.
Emmett: But it’s almost nostalgia-inducing. He tries to keep his voice neutral as he calls out, “Yeah?”
GM: The door opens. It’s his dad. His expression is nonplussed.
“What ain’t no country I ever heard of!” shouts the laptop. “They speak English in what!?”
Phil’s expression looks more annoyed. “Please turn that off.”
Emmett: He slaps the keyboard. He thought he’d pause it. “Sorry.”
GM: His dad looks at him. “Please go sort the trash, Emmett. That still ain’t done.”
It’s part of Emmett’s household chores. Children don’t just take out the trash in the Delacroix family. They put on plastic gloves and sort through it too, in case anyone forgot to put everything in the proper trash, recycling, and compost bags.
That’s never Phil. It’s Em.
Emmett: He grits his teeth. Whatever this irritating mind-fuck is, he can feel anger he barely thinks about anymore like it was fresh.
But he knows he hates this script.
“Hey, Dad, can I ask you something? Something real?”
GM: His dad looks at him. “All right, shoot.”
Emmett: “I know I’m not as good as Lena. And that I’m not the person you wanted me to be. I know I ruined everything, and that I can’t make things like they were. But I guess I always wondered. Did you ever miss me? Because I missed you.”
Em closes the computer and walks past his dad.
“I pretended not to, but I kept missing you. Even the times I thought you hated me. And I don’t know how much of it was my fault. Probably most of it, but not all of it. But it doesn’t matter. I miss you, Dad. I wish things were different. And I’m going to keep trying, even if you hate my spectral ass. Because I can’t wait for you to love me anymore.”
Hey, Gasper. Fuck you. I can make it get soapier than a quickie in a bathtub.
GM: Phil looks confused, initially, if not shocked. Perhaps touched. Perhaps sad, or even hurt. Those emotions and more war over his scar-pockmarked face (Em always did get his looks from Mom), a battlefield set by years of teenage surliness, resentment, sarcasm, mockery, self-righteous hypocrisy, impatience, slammed doors, not talking, and so much more on both ends.
Whatever its outcome, Emmett’s words clearly come as a surprise.
“Emmett, it’s jus’… it’s jus’ the trash,” he finally says, laying a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I don’t hate you for forgetting, kid. I don’t… I haven’t ever hated you. But I have… God knows I have, missed how close we once were…”
His face fights to remain composed for a moment, then he pulls Emmett into a fierce hug. He smells of flannel, snuff (his one guilty pleasure) and just a hint old books—a peculiar admixture of scents, yet one long familiar to his son.
He finally pulls away and pats Em’s shoulder.
“It’s a school night, anyway. Go save the planet,” he smiles briefly, “and tomorrow’s… tomorow’ll be another day.”
Emmett: He blinks, not sure what to do with his arms. He finally figures out where they go just as his father pulls away.
“Okay,” he says. His eyes feel hot.
GM: The three separate trash bins downstairs await. Em puts on gloves and sorts through what’s mostly his own waste. The small pieces of plastic go in the trash even if they’re clean. The food-rimmed plastic jars and bottles need to properly rinsed out and dried. The dirtied papers go in the compost. Em ties up the bags, leaves them in the appropriate bins, and gets back up to his room. More Tarantino awaits.
“Now describe what Marsellus Wallace looks like!”
Emmett: Yeah. Who doesn’t love this part?
GM: “Say ‘What’ again! C’mon, say ‘What’ again! I dare ya, I double dare ya motherfucker, say ‘What’-”
A knock sounds against Em’s door.
Emmett: He makes sure it’s paused this time before he answers. “Come in?”
This can’t be good, right?
GM: It’s his dad again.
“Planet could use a bit more savin’ before we call it a night, Em. Some of the trash was in the wrong bags.” Phil’s voice doesn’t sound angry so much as reminding.
Emmett: He keeps his face guilty despite the frustrating nature of the request. "Do you think you could show me?
GM: “Sure.” Em’s father leads him to the dumpster bins outside. The trash bags have already been pulled out and opened.
Phil fishes out a peanut butter jar. “Now this doesn’t need to go in the trash. Rinse it out with some soap, scrub out the peanut butter, and it can go in the recyclin’.”
He hefts a plastic milk jug from the recycling. “Now this should go in the recyclin’, but it’s still got milk in it. You wash it out too. Fill it up and shake it good, to get all that’s left out.”
He pulls out a slightly damp issue from the recycling. “This is compost. It’s biodegradable and a little wet. Less wet you make the recyclables, the better.”
Emmett: Em nods, and does it all. Slowly and clumsily. But he does it.
GM: Em’s father leaves before he’s finished. It’s a few more minutes, another pair of soiled gloves, and another washing of his hands before he’s back in his room and watching movies again.
“-say ‘What’ one more goddamn time!”
GM: “Now describe to me what Marsellus Wallace looks like!”
“Well he’s… he’s… black-”
There’s another knock against Em’s door. Slightly more forceful than the last.
Emmett: He closes the computer this time. “Did I do something else wrong?” he asks, opening the door. Straight face, still a little touched by the earlier moment.
Like, a little.
GM: “There’s still some more you didn’t do, Emmett. Please go and finish it,” his dad says.
Emmett: “Okay. What do I keep missing?” he asks, keeping his tone light. “I want you to be able to go to bed too.”
GM: “A lot of things. Food containers in the trash that could be washed and recycled. Dirty papers in trash instead of compost. Small bits of plastic in the recycling instead of trash. We’ve been over this stuff. Just give it a longer look and get everything.” His dad doesn’t sound actively pissed off, but his tone isn’t warm like earlier, either.
Emmett: This time, he tries. Make a pile of shit to wash. Sort through the trash and grab the gross ass pieces of plastic and collect them in a chipped plastic jar that also has to be thrown away. Dirty papers go into the compost, a method of conservation that will save the world but stinks like the apocalypse.
He really, really tries.
GM: He does try, and get it right this time, he’s positive. Everything is just where it’s supposed to go. His gloves are wet and his fingers beneath smell stinky in seeming testament to the depths of his efforts. He goes back to his bed and resumes Tarantino.
“…and he’s… he’s… bald-”
“Does he look like a bitch!?”
Emmett: Instead of getting back into bed, this time, he waits by the door and starts a timer on his phone. Waiting.
This is dumb. This is dumb. But if we’re in a simulation, I can take the red pill. Figure out what the rules of the game are, and then I can SHOVE THEM UP YOUR ASS, SPOOKY!
GM: It’s about five minutes after he sets the timer that a familiar noise sounds against his door.
The door’s opening on the second knock.
“Sifted through the plastic, recycled goods cleaned and returned to the blue. All the gross stuff in compost. What did I do wrong?”
He knows what he is, and he doesn’t have to participate in this bullshit theater class exercise and give back nothing.
He hams up the willingness, his determination to improve, his love—just a role to commit to. It’s a performance—but what’s Gasper going to do to him if he acts like the perfect son forever?
Inside, he screams. But also relaxes. It’s been a long time since he could have a bit of fun.
“I know you’re tired, Dad. I just want to get the job done—thanks for helping me so much.”
GM: Phil pauses when he sees Em out of bed. His expression is starting to look angry.
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
“You think I ain’t checkin’ the bags, Em? You think I can’t tell when you’re pissin’ on my leg and tellin’ me it’s rain?”
Emmett: Oh, dixies.
“I’m being pretty serious, Dad. Sorry if I seem too happy. I’m trying my hardest. I wanna see where I messed up. You have work tomorrow, too.”
GM: “Where you ‘messed up’ is where you didn’t do half the darn tootin’ things I said!” his father angrily retorts. “You think people are stupid, Em? That they can’t jus’ tell when you’re butterin’ them up? What a damn fool I’d have been to take you at your word!”
He thrusts a pointing finger at the window. “You can sort the neighbors’ trash too. And so help me, if it ain’t done right this time, you can sort their garbage all MONTH!”
A ‘blam’ goes off from Em’s laptop.
“I said—does he look like a bitch!?”
“And keep that darn thing off!” Phil growls at the closed Sunbook.
Emmett: But Em sees the con. The feint. The bluff. The immediate, dumb anger, the “darn tootin’s” and sheer bluster of it. A distraction.
Because Em’s pretty sure he’s on to something. Nobody bluffs when they’re really in control. He’s learned that the hard way, mostly from the bluffer’s perspective.
“Dad, I love you. I’m all kinds of fucked up because you and Mom are the weirdest people I know, and I’m not very good at loving you, but I love you.”
He sits down on the bed, swatting the laptop shut and letting himself relax, keeping his eyes on his dad’s, bringing an air of calm and sobriety that whistles his father’s overhead storm-cloud and makes the entire room smell like thunder.
“I’m buttering you up. And I’m doing it without saying a single bullshit thing, too, ain’t I? Because I really did my best on the trash, and I’m not lying when I say that if you want me to save the world, I need your help.”
The accent even came out a little like it used to, the familiar mannerisms and old tics emerging.
GM: Emmett’s father stares at him. For a moment, the hurt and anger on his face even flickers.
But his son has always been able to lie to him. Better than anyone. No matter how ridiculous, how far-fetched, how patently absurd the lie was in its scope, Philémon Delacroix just could not help but believe. Want to believe—that his boy was telling the truth, harmlessly exaggerating, or just “didn’t mean it.” They were always so close, when he was young, spending lazy summers fishing the bayou’s equally lazy waters, swapping tall tales. Emmett exploited that trust for all it was worth.
After all, he got his start somewhere.
And he got his finish, too. When Ron said whatever fateful words he said in ICU.
“You lie to me! You always, always, LIE to me!” the older Delacroix shouts. If the hurt is naked on his face, the rage is its discarded clothes.
“I TRUSTED you, Emmett! Your sister turned out fine! Where did you go wrong?! WHERE DID I FAIL YOU!?”
“He looks like a bitch!” shouts the laptop. Is that even how the line goes?
“I said—turn that OFF!” his father roars back, slamming down the Sunbook’s lid.
“Phil, what’s going on?” calls Tanya’s voice.
“It’s jus’ Em tryin’ to pull another one over on us, darlin’,” Phil calls back, his eyes not leaving his son. “But we know better now.” His rage seems to have abruptly drained away into an icy calm, one that feels quite alien on the always riled-up activist’s face.
“But you’ll do the garbage, Em.”
“You’ll do it right.”
“You’ll do it HERE!”
With that final, shrieked word, Philémon tears open the green compost bag, hefts it up, and dumps the contents all over his son’s bed. Coffee grinds, banana peels, eggshells, used paper towels: it all comes sloughing out in a great big stinking mess over Em and the Sunbook. The stench of rotting food is awful as it soaks through his clothes. There’s things that shouldn’t belong in there, too. Milk cartons, bleach-stained paper towels (those are trash), granola bar wrappers, assorted papers: it really does look like he missed a lot.
“And the RECYCLABLES, too!”
Phil rips open the clear plastic bag and dumps it over Em’s head. The crushed beer cans feel like bricks as they ding his face, mercilessly hard. Something sharp cuts him. He’s soaked in something foul-smelling; expired milk? Another item that’s not where it should be. The trash piles up, higher and higher. Em can barely see. He feels like he’s bleeding. This can’t be sanitary, to have all this crap over him when he’s bl-
“And the TRASH!”
Em can’t see the garbage that comes out of the torn-out black bag. He just hears it. Feels it. Feels it crushing him against his fouled mattress; it’s impossibly heavy. It can’t be this heavy. He gives a muffled shout and tries to dig his way out, and then there’s piercing agony as something sharp and metallic slices open his hands to the bone. He’s really bleeding. The stream of garbage doesn’t let up. It crashes down on his back like bowling balls. There are horrible crunches, like when Jermaine was kicking Sami, kicking her after she’d already been seriously fucked up. And the smell. God, the smell. It smells like shit’s been fermenting in there. Em’s head feels funny. A horrible buzzing fills his ears. Flies, come to feast. As he bleeds and bruises and blacks out, the insects already hungrily devouring his flesh, a cynical voice sneers that there couldn’t be a more fitting way for Emmett Delacroix to go:
Just another piece of trash.