“Welcome ta da big house, casper. Dey say da firs’ night’s always da hardest.”
—Bobbi Jo Boggs
Em feels like he’s floating through in an impossibly dense fog again, but he’s not falling this time. Cruel winds shriek in his ears, buffeting his mote-like body to and fro like another piece of debris in a hurricane. He feels empty inside, horribly empty, like he’s lost something precious and vital, yet somehow that doesn’t bother him as much as it feels like it should. His head feels all but ready to burst open with laughter:
I WIN, EM! I WIN!
The voice is gloating. Exultant.
Oh, that was good! Watching you twy to thay thowwy! There is no sorry! You’re dead to them! You’re dead and I win! I WIIIIIIINNNNN!
Then as abruptly as it began, the laughter dies.
Em could call what he feels a “tugging sensation,” but it’d be like calling the Mississippi “a little dirty.” It feels like his bones are trying to tear free of his body, and growing spiked barbs to saw through his skin and muscles to do it. There’s pain, everywhere, like a splitting migraine and stomach-churning nausea, but everywhere throughout his body instead of the parts it’s supposed to stick to. Em feels like he’s careening through an impossibly dense fog, being dragged along by some impossibly strong magnet. Then just as abruptly, he crashes to a halt.
His surroundings materialize.
He’s floating above the floor in a bare and sturdy-looking room. The floor is dark. The walls are white. He’s surrounded by a circle made from a grainy white substance. Spectral blue flames gutter from candles around the circle. There’s a Dr. Pepper bottle, salt carton, assorted chemical compounds and plastic bottles like from a meth lab, several used condoms and Nazi pins, and two tiny Confederate flags.
Faint bursts of color flit across his vision. His body feels as heavy as if he’d swallowed rocks, yet somehow naked. 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.
But he can still make out the room’s other two occupants.
The first is a slight Latina woman with very long black hair that falls all the way to her waist. Despite the brownness of her Mesoamerican skin, there’s a morbid, deathly pallor to her skin. Her glass-like blue-tinted eyes stare unblinkingly at Em from behind cats-eye-framed glasses. She wears an austere black skirtsuit with matching pumps. One hand idly strokes a faintly visible bump protruding from her belly.
The second woman has hair as red as a bleeding ER wound and wild as an untamed stallion. Her lips are horrifically torn off, leaving a lumpy mass of scar tissue that shows far too much teeth. An eyepatch conceals her left eye. Her skin is white as crack coaine and crisscrossed with bulging addict-like veins. She wears a worn leather jacket with a Confederate flag proudly emblazoned upon the back, loops of clinking chains over black leather pants, and knee-high biker’s boots. A spike-studded black leather bra covers her breasts, but apart from that, she goes shirtless, all the better to show off her many tattoos: fanged skulls, a grim reaper whose robes are made from the Confederate flag, and hooded Klansmen with burning crosses. Several of the Klansmen shove erect members through the skulls’ eye sockets. Streams of fire and looping hangman’s nooses dribble from the skulls’ toothy maws and the tips of the Klansmens’ manhoods, as if the latter have been frozen in the act of ejaculating. Crisscrossing swastikas and eagles ambiguously Nazi or American complete the latticework of obscene designs.
“’Ello dere, casper,” she guffaws, smacking her lipless lips. “Welcome ta Yer-Fucked-Ville, population you.”
The Latina woman surveys Em with an expression that looks like a frown without a frown. “You performed the rite improperly. That isn’t the one you were meant to summon.”
The redhead glares. “Fuck y’all, sis! One ’sprity’s good as da next.”
“Spirito,” the Latina corrects.
Emmett: Life comes at you fast.
Except, you know.
He’s still working on a retort to Gasper when he’s dealing with the spectral, all-encompassing agony, and still reconciling the sensation of a migraine in his balls when he’s taking in his new surroundings, particularly the distinctive decór. So it’s only now that he clears his throat, holds up a finger, fires an imaginary pistol at Eva Brawn over there, and says, “Heil Hitler and shit.”
Just like jail again. Home sweet Führerbunker.
“Er, no offense,” he adds, looking at the Latina. “Um. Which of you lovely ladies is in charge?”
GM: The Latina gestures and agony stabs through Em. It makes the last minutes (?) seem mild. He can’t stop the screams from tearing past his lips as he writhes and spasms and howls and suffers in his own private hell.
“Da South will rise ’gain!” the redhead whoops.
The Latina’s expression doesn’t change. She doesn’t even look at him as she addresses the redhead.
“One spirito is not,” she abruptly coughs into her hand, “as good as the next for purposes of this,” cough, “lesson. If you cannot reliably perform the incantations, then-”
Further words are lost as she raggedly coughs and coughs into her hand.
The redhead waits, rolls her eyes when the coughing doesn’t subside, then looks back to Em.
“Do somethin’ funny, casper.”
The pain has mostly subsided.
Emmett: He stops screaming for a moment and tries to tap dance.
It is not altogether undelightful.
GM: The redhead stares at Em with unblinking eyes, baring teeth that he can see are filed into sharp, animal-like points. She reminds Em of a shark staring emptily ahead towards its next meal, jaw hanging eternally open.
Then she snickers.
“Yer real pretty. Ah’d fuck ya sideways up da ass if ya was corp-reel.”
“Spooks are da wors’. Cain’t even hurt ’em.”
“Sis, when am Ah gonna learn ta hurt ’em?”
Emmett: He raises his hand and looks pleadingly at the other woman.
Clearly, have to rein in the Nazi sympathies. I bet these two have fun Thanksgivings.
GM: The Latina’s ragged coughing finally subsides.
“After you are able to perform the summoning invocation properly,” she answers the redhead. “All sorcery requires discipline.”
She still doesn’t look at Em.
It doesn’t even feel like she’s trying to avoid to.
More like that she doesn’t even notice. That his pain is simply that inconsequential.
The redhead stamps her feet impatiently. “Fag in a fuckhouse! This takes ferever!”
Emmett: Well, better to ask for forgiveness than permission. Not that he really asks for either.
“Okay, sorry, this is going to come out of left field, but…are you vampires?”
He pokes a toe against the edge of the circle.
GM: His toe stops short as if against an invisible barrier.
The Latina gestures again. Em can’t see. Can’t hear. Can’t feel. Except pain. The screams pour out from his mouth like vomit. He screams until his throat would be raw and bleeding.
When the agony subsides, he’s on the floor again. The redhead guffaws dementedly like she just saw the funniest slapstick on earth.
“Hoo, lookit ‘im go! Do it ’gain, sis! Les’ see if we kin make ‘im flop all da way o’er!”
“He’s like one o’ ‘em, watcha-ma-callems, girl kitties in heat, wit’ da way dey roll ‘round after dey had a good fuckin’?”
“Hey, why is it dey do dat? Roll ‘round after dey been fuckin’?”
Emmett: “It’s… a hormonal… thing,” he wheezes.
“Kitties ain’t trannies, dey ain’t on no hormones.”
“Dough Ah guess ya could give a girl kitty some tranny juice ta make it a boy kittie. Boy, is dat fucked.”
Emmett: He shakes his head. “They’re, like, hopped up and excited after they fuck. Rolling around helps them get it out. Also, please stop with the agony.”
“I can be quiet. Just… please?”
GM: “Oh, dat makes sense, Ah guess. Ah kinda do dat too. Is dat why dey do it?” the redhead asks the Latina.
“Its vernacularism is technically accurate.”
Apparently, he’s an ‘it.’
“Stop usin’ dem faggot-ass fancy words,” huffs the redheadd.
The Latina coughs into her hand. “We are wasting time. We’ll send this one along with the next shipment. It’s as good a tithe as any.”
“Hoo, da ghost pokey!” guffaws the redhead. “Ya done time before, ghostie? Back when ya was a juicebag?”
Emmett: “I had an interesting life,” he allows. “I could tell you about it, if you wanted to hold off on sending me to the, uh, ghost pokey. Ma’am.”
He gives his most winning smile, which under the circumstances is still better than what your average dead man can manage.
GM: The redhead just gives that same heartless guffaw.
“Ain’ no chance o’ dat, casper. But tell ya what, I’ll let ya pick yer cellmates. If Ah like yer story. It kin be a long wait in da ghost pokey.”
GM: You want some juice for a lights show, I’m offering.
Emmett: Offering me what, the once in a lifetime chance to be buried alive in garbage?
Looks like he’s going to have to run this show by himself.
Big smiles, short sentences…
His expression as he nods to the redheaded hick is earnest and resigned, with the confidence of a man who has already lost everything he can imagine.
“Fair enough, ma’am. I aim ta please.”
The next fifteen minutes his mouth moves almost as fast as his brain. If he were alive, he might sweat. If his heart beat, it might hammer. If he drew breath, it might shake between sentences and slow the story’s rocking, jarring flow.
But he is not alive, he does not think he has a heart anymore, and it is not breath that carries his words. Not anymore.
Em, come out the other side of the successive series of train wrecks that constituted his life, might admit he is not be the best hustler this side of the Mississippi. A better one would not be dead. A better grifter would have found a way to divest that Saudi prince of his fortune and left Roberts holding the bag, would have fooled Sami into marrying him with her pilfered millions, would never have let himself forget what Mouton was capable of.
But if Em was the man who could do all that, he might not be the man who could tell this story.
And he knows the story itself is all but air, what Clarice liked to call “stuff and nonsense.” All stories are. The magic is not in the story, but in the telling of it. The song and dance.
He doesn’t know this Nazi cunt from Eve, either, but he knows her type. Stupid and too stupid to know she is, the whole of her identity built on contempt and anxious self-assurance. Her entire life is based on the story she tells herself about the world, and people who build their lives on lies are the easiest people to lie to.
He ought to know.
You can’t tell a good story without lying a little, anyways. So if he hams up that he was always more at home in the bayou than in the big ol’ city, well, who’s to gainsay him? And if, as a young Emmett found himself fighting dagos and niggers and even that one nigger kike (“Betcha never seen of thems, did ya?”), who’s to say he didn’t give as good as he got? A real bastion of white pride, is Emmett.
If you were being really snotty about it, you might say it isn’t a story so much as a chest-thumping comedy routine, a mix of racist jeers and over-the-top playacting that doesn’t comprise a narrative so much as mimic one, but he doubts the redhead’ll mind. He talks like her, and he looks at her and makes big ol’ gestures with his hands like a dancer at Cajun Mardi Gras, and by the time he’s done talking he barely remembers what he’s said except that her eyes have never left him for a moment of it.
When he’s done, he hawks up a phantasmal loogie and spits at the the circle, watching it curdle into smoke upon contact with a wry expression.
GM: The Latina doesn’t stay around. She coughs and tells the redhead to keep herself entertained, since her mind clearly isn’t on “their lessons.”
The redhead doesn’t sit or pull up a chair as Em talks, like a normal person might. She just stands and listens to the “stuff and nonsense” with a too-wide lipless grin that shows off her filed teeth. She laughs and guffaws at the appropriate (as well as inappropriate) moments, and particularly lingers on the parts about people getting hurt. She tells Em to to repeat those several times. The more graphic the suffering and the higher the body count (and the browner and blacker the victims), the harder she laughs.
“Well, casper, dat ain’ bad. Fact, Ah’ll do ya one better dan Ah said. Ah’ll move ’round some neighbors fer ya in da ghost pokey.”
Emmett: “Ah’m obliged, ma’am. Only, feels disrespectful to only call ya that. Ah’ll wanna brag ta my cellmates about what a right pretty face put us together. What name should Ah give ‘em?”
GM: The redhead snickers. “Ya kin tell dem ghost-ballies dat ya got plopped in da pokey by Bobbi Jo Boggs, da real prez o’ da White Lightnin’, an’ childe o’ Cletus Lee Boggs, paw o’ all da Boggs an’ boss o’ Slidell, childe o’ Gros Mama, boss o’ all da clan ferm Del’ware ta El Paso.”
Emmett: “Bobbi Jo Boggs,” Em repeats. “Pleased ta make yer acquaintance. Ah’m Emmett Delacroix, myself.”
The Klan knows magic? What the fuck?
GM: Bobbi Jo bobs her head and starts singing,
“Ghost pokey, ghost pokey
All da ghosties go pokey!
Good ghosties, bad ghosties
All da ghosties go pokey!
Ghost pokey, ghost pokey
Da da da dooooo
Ghost pokey, ghost pokey
We’re comin’ fer yew!”
Emmett: Have to admit, didn’t see this one coming. I mean, I figured I was just going to Hell. But this… this is confusing.
GM: “Tell me more ’bout how purdy Ah am,” Bobbi Jo leers, tossing some blood-red hair over her shoulder in a mock- (or perhaps serious-)seductive gesture.
Emmett: Or maybe this is Hell. Maybe this is the special Hell I deserve.
“So purdy,” he oozes. “Classic, like. Like a magnolia tree with strange fruit danglin’ from the branches. Yer hair’s like fire, only Ah bet softer ta touch. Ah like yer ink, too. Most girlies don’t have the good taste to paint ‘erselves. Yer a lot prettier than that other one dat left, and I ain’t only sayin’ that ’cuz you can stand up on two legs.”
And so on, and so on.
GM: Bobbi Jo’s lipless grin spreads at the praise, lighting all the way up to her sole, bloodshot eye.
“Aww, cum on a cousin, yer a sweet-talker. E’ryone always thinks Sugarbelle’s purtier dan me.”
“Ah like it when boys piss demselves o’er me, e’en more when dey shit ’emselves too, Ah only seen dat a few times, but a girl likes ta feel purdy too.”
Emmett: “What, now, whose e’ryone? Blind folk n’ spics?”
GM: Bobbi Jo chortles again.
“Okay, sweet-lips, ya hang tight in dere. We’ll get ya to da pokey soon ’nough.” She turns to leave.
Emmett: He watches her go in silence.
GM: The door to the room closes. Em sits there in the circle.
It feels like it’s going to be a long wait.
It crawls at a snail’s pace. It feels like hours. Maybe days.
Em doesn’t feel sore or tired or hungry or cold. There’s just nothing.
Emmett: He tries meditating for a while.
Somehow, he still doesn’t have the patience to.
So instead he just sulks.
GM: Ghost pokey, huh.
Emmett: Yeah. Not what I’d call it, but I don’t think I get a vote.
GM: Sure would be nice to meet someone who’s not completely fucking nuts.
Emmett: Said the voice inside my head.
GM: Least you’re not talking about cats on ‘tranny juice.’ You can’t make this shit up.
Emmett: Yikes, right?
He ponders the empty space around him.
Okay, look. Since you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, and you seem to know some things I don’t, and because we’re both bored as shit, let’s put our cards on the table. What’s your deal? What do you want? The fortune teller called you a Shadow.
GM: What, you like that more than Gasper?
Emmett: Honestly, kind of a forced pun to begin with. You have a preference? Should I ask your pronouns, too?
GM: I think Gasper’s grown on me. And I want a good afterlife, since you asked. The kind where we can get rich and famous, lay some hurt on the assholes who caused said afterlife to begin early, and maybe pull some horror movie crap on the kinds of snowflakes who ask about pronouns.
Emmett: That… sounds like something I could get behind, actually. We start with Villars, get him to roll on Bud, then get Bud to tell us where the kids are at. And I’ll keep the earlier promise, on condition that we rescue them, too. I mean, I survived Clarice.
He sits in the middle of the circle, legs crossed and fingers pinched.
Rich and famous, we know some people that can help with that. We hit up Sami, get her to pay Lena’s medical bills. We can offer to get revenge on Mouton for her. You know she’s always hated knowing he’s out there.
GM: Lena was in handcuffs, remember? Think she’s got bigger problems than medical bills.
Emmett: Yeah, legal fees, medical—whatever. We get her to throw money at it regardless.
GM: Not our problem.
Emmett: Yeah, but imagine her feeling bad for how she treated us when we get her ass out of prison. That doesn’t bring a smile?
I mean, you don’t have a mouth.
Anyway, you want the high life—I want to know she’s safe. Somewhat. She’s suffered for me. I’m willing to put in the effort for her.
GM: I’m not.
Hitting up Sami though, that sounds fun. We got kinda solid earlier, around Mom and Dad. Maybe with a little work we could slip our dick in her?
Emmett: Ugh, like that scene from Ghostbusters? Probably not, but we could probably surprise her in the shower or something. That’s a classic ghost move, right?
Speaking of…what do you know? About, like, this? I feel like you could be a lot more forthcoming on that side of things.
GM: Maybe. If I felt like it was worth my while.
Emmett: Yeah, so…why isn’t it? Kind of feels like you aren’t interested in us being able to do the things you want to do, if you’re holding out on info that I can use to become more powerful.
And besides. If I can’t trust you to tell me, I know somebody else who probably has some answers…
Abèlia’s smiling face ripples through his memory, like a smooth black stone skipped on waters too cold to sink beneath.
GM: Yeah, but she’s not here, is she? In case you missed it, Miss ‘More First Names Than Eyes’ is gonna throw us in the ghost pokey.
Emmett: Oh shit, right! Man, I guess I’m well and truly fucked then, as are you. Except, we both know better, don’t we? Because I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, Gasper, but we’re more than some mope who died with his dick in his hand and a needle in his arm. We’re Emmett fucking Delacroix, and even when things go to shit we come out the other side. Changed, maybe. But we come out.
So maybe we go to Ghost-tanamo Bay. Maybe we’re there for years and years. Whatever. We’ve done prison before. We’ll come out the other side, same as ever, and once we do, we’ll still have choices to make. I bet I can sweet talk my cellmates into being more helpful than you’ve been, for a start. But be sweet to me now, and I’ll still listen to you when it counts. It isn’t fun when we shut each other out. Give a little, get a little.
GM: You give something. You’re right, we are Emmett fucking Delacroix. We should finally be getting what we’re owed. Some recognition for our genius. And we’ve spent our entire afterlife jacking off around assholes like Mom and Dad and Lena who’ve done shit for us.
Me, I’d rather find out how Bud or Villars or Mouton likes not having any legs.
Or hearing Sami say she needs us.
Or feeding Yvette a tub of Ben & Jerry’s.
Emmett: All inarguably reasonable pleasures. But I fail to see why we can’t both be happy. We can bring hell to them and make sure the family lives on thanks to us. Plus. Dad knows magic. That seems helpful. Look, how about we pay Ron a visit when we get out of here? Give him a scare, then a worse one, then tell him if he wants a good night’s sleep he puts our movies on the big screen? That sound fun?
GM: Ron didn’t try to ass-rape us with knives. I want Yvette.
Emmett: Which I’m fine with, except that her mom might find a way to ass-rape us with knives now. Tell me a way to avoid her wrath, I might be inclined to listen. But you’re telling me you don’t want to force our asshole uncle to boost our name to the whole city?
GM: Hey, I’m always up for making assholes boost our name. Why not both? Make Yvette an ‘actress’ in one of his movies. Or just have him fuck her a few times. She goes crying to Maman, Maman goes after him. Win-win.
Emmett: Hmm. You might be onto something there, if we get Cécilia to approach him with the movies, put him under a lot of stress, and when he snaps and does the thing he always does, it’s not our fault and we can sweep in to win points with her by hurting him worse.
GM: Oh, that is good… how do we get her to approach him, and cover our ass?
Emmett: Well, we tell her we’re grateful for her trying to get the movies produced, and recommend she approach him instead of relying on her own connections. She’ll probably try to keep an eye on production, so we get Ron to create a role Yvette’s born to play. Then we just have to plant the seed in Yvette’s head that she wants to be an actress, and Cécilia will do what she always does and make her sister’s dream come true. We just have to push them where we need them without it being obvious that we want them to do what comes naturally. That little brat is exactly the type to use her connections to get a role, anyway. If we had been dealing with her instead of Cécilia back then, and she was our age, things would have gone a lot differently.
GM: HA. Yeah, that little cumstain would love to be an actress. Have her face on the big screen with people fawning all over her. Her ego won’t be able to resist.
We’re going to sleep with Cécilia too, right? It was a crime against, well, us, how she never put out.
Emmett: Again, not sure we can literally fuck her, unless you know something I don’t. But we can definitely see how strong that marriage ends up being. It’ll just take time. And we have lots of time, now.
GM: Only thing better than fucking her would be fucking her and Sami in the same bed.
I mean, why pick between Betty and Veronica? Archie was always a cuck.
Emmett: So now that we have an understanding, what do you know about this that I don’t?
GM: Know about what?
Emmett: Ghost stuff. The wings we used earlier. What the rules are. Give me something I can use.
GM: Tell you what, I’m feeling generous.
I’ll answer one question of your choice. And once we start making progress towards living the kind of afterlife we have an understanding over, we’ll see how much more talkative I feel like being.
Emmett: Okay. What are you, exactly?
GM: I’m you.
Emmett: He waits.
GM: You’re me.
Emmett: But we’re different, too.
GM: Only enough to talk. Dying gives us a telephone, but it doesn’t change who’s on the other end of the line.
That crazy lady called me your Shadow. That’s a good enough name. There’s probably other ones she’d use too. Your other half. Your dark side. Your inner asshole. They’re true enough, I guess.
But I’m you. I’m half of everything you were in life, and without you I’m nothing.
I’m the you who set up Sami to get gangraped. I’m the you who got Westley to make an asshole of himself so we could fuck Cici. I’m the you who cut off Stines’ cock and balls. I’m the you who told Cash Money he was fucking done if he pulled that trigger on us.
Maybe that does make me an asshole. But last I checked, Sami raped us, Cici’s mom is Cruella de Vil, Stines also raped us, and Cash Money is why we wound up in a wheelchair before or maybe after also also raping us.
It’s an asshole world. I’m out for one thing. Me.
Or, since dying, we.
I’ll fuck over anything and everything that stands in our way, and I don’t give a fuck about anything else.
If you can live with that, then you and me will get along just fine.
If not, sucks to be you. There’s a lot more I can do to ruin your afterlife than run my mouth.
Either way, I’m not going anywhere. We’re partners, for the rest of our afterlife.
Emmett: For a while he’s silent, but it doesn’t really matter. Silence means something else when you’re dead. Time passing means less.
Eventually, he speaks out loud, not that there’s anybody here to hear him.
GM: Time crawls.
Then the door opens. Bobbi Jo comes in, along with ‘Sugarbelle’ and a third figure.
He’s a gibbous dark-skinned man with wide lips and flared nostrils dressed in Antebellum garb: black frockcoat with short tails, plain cravat, unembroidered vest, and preacher boots. His bone-white, bushy eyebrows and mutton chops sharply contrast with his bald pate. His right eye is a dirty green, but his left is a more bulbous, iris-less orb with a solid-black, unchanging pupil: in fact, it looks wooden.
He feels like the two women.
His form isn’t glowing. Not like the Lena, the old woman, and Amelie were.
Emmett: Having learned his lesson about speaking, he inclines an imaginary hat to his jailers.
GM: The man stares at Em with a look of simultaneous affront and contempt.
“Ah love dis part! Ghosties go pokey!” Bobbi Jo exclaims.
Emmett: Em manages a smile despite it all.
Can’t let ’em see you sweat.
GM: “Mwen pral jwi detwi souri ou,” scowls the man.
‘Sugarbelle’ offers no response to either of them. She holds up an obsidian mirror in one hand, a fist-sized glass orb in the other, and starts chanting in a language Em doesn’t recognize.
GM: Em immediately feels sick to the stomach he might not even have anymore, like he’s getting a horrible cramp. The circle’s barrier turns a bilious yellow-green. Em sees his own reflection in the obsidian mirror. It stares at him blankly, then starts screaming with terror-wide eyes as jaguar-like claws burst from the dark. The cramping sensation gets worse, like all of his body is getting carpel tunnel at once. Then he sees his face is missing. Or at least part of it. A blurred, phantasmal outline of his features floats towards the still-chanting Sugarbelle’s hand, like someone ran Photoshop’s smudge tool over as a gaseous cloud bearing his image.
“Hoo! Give ’im a makeover, Pew-Pew!” chortles Bobbi Jo. “Give ‘im some dick-suckin’ lips!”
The man shoots Bobbi Jo a look of blackest hate, but advances upon Em—just as the circle shatters. The sickly light dies.
Em struggles in place, but can’t move. The man’s hands, whose fingers suddenly end in claw-like bone protrusions, flense into him. The agony is unspeakable. He’s being disemboweled. Bobbi Jo guffaws uproariously at his screams. It feels like the man punctures and systematically rips apart each of his major organs, but he doesn’t stop there. He breaks Em’s bones, crushes them together, then crunches them down. The man’s flensing hands work his head, his back, his posterior, squeezing his broken body together as tight as can be. Em feels like he’s being compressed into a tennis ball.
Sugarbelle’s chanting reaches a climax as she thrusts the glass orb above her head. There’s a sudden feeling of motion, tornado-fast and tornado-loud, like he’s being sucked up by a giant vacuum cleaner, and then all sound and motion abruptly cease. He can’t feel his hands. He can’t feel his legs. He can’t feel his anything. Just the press of glass, everywhere, from all sides, as if his body were now shaped like a basketball.
“Hoo!” comes Bobbi Jo’s voice. Em’s vision suddenly plunges downwards. Bobbi Jo’s grinning face is enormous, like it’s splayed over a movie theater screen.
“Ah love dat part! Ghostballies!”
“Sugarbelle, les’ play catch!”
Emmett: The pain is bad, which, coming from a survivor (ha) of rape, torture, rape-torture, a myriad of difference substance abuse habits, getting shot, amputation, a mild case of the clap, oh, and literal lethal injection, probably means it’s pretty fucking awful.
But when he’s done screaming, the worst part is seeing her hideously maimed smile stretch across his spherical prison, and knowing that even if he were to talk, he doubts she would hear him.
GM: But it’s more than that, too. Even with the pain gone, part of himself feels… worse, somehow. Contaminated, like there’s a cancer spreading through his body.
“We,” cough, “have more important,” cough, “matters to attend to,” Sugarbelle answers thinly.
“Aw, cum on a crack whore, yer ne’er any fun,” Bobbi Jo pouts.
“How ’bout you, casper? Ya like yer new digs?” her face leers in his vision.
Seemingly indifferent as to his answer, though, Bobbi Jo sets off after exchanging a few last words with Sugarbelle about placing Em “in the containment room” until “the next shipment.”
Emmett: “It’s… cozy,” he manages.
He imagines his voice echoing.
GM: “Eh? What?”
Em gets an up close view of Bobbi Jo’s ears. She’s rammed several jagged pieces of metal through them in a brutal approximation of earrings.
“Haw haw! Ah bet it is! Cozy as Mawmaw’s cunt after a good lickin’!”
Emmett: Oh, so she can hear him. What comfort.
GM: Em doesn’t get a good view of his surroundings. His vision careens madly to and fro like he’s strapped into a rollercoaster being directed by a schizophrenic: each ‘ride’ ends with an up-close view of Bobbi Jo’s palm before it starts all over again. It looks as if she’s juggling him.
He doesn’t feel sick or dizzy, though. There’s just nothing.
Nothing but nothing.
Eventually, Bobbi Jo turns him around. They’re in a dark and unlit room. Bare, like the last one. Larger than the last one.
But far from empty.
He hears it first: a soft, undulating moan that’s almost like wind through grass. Faint, but coming from a thousand and one places.
A thousand and one faces.
A thousand and one faces, all trapped within their own tennis ball-sized glass orbs. Some are screaming. Some stare at Bobbi Jo with undisguised hatred. Some look sullen. Some look completely apathetic. Some might be weeping, but no tears fall from their eyes.
All of them look miserable.
All look as if they suffer.
They’re stacked high from floor to ceiling in neatly organized rows, like eggs at a packing plant.
“Welcome… to da ghost pokey!” Bobbi Jo announces with a theatric drawl.
“Dis ’ere’s where da ghosties all go, casper. Good ghosties. Bad ghosties. All da ghosties ’ventually go pokey.”
Emmett: “Could be worse, I suppose,” Em says, although he isn’t quite sure how it could be.
GM: “Uh-huh,” Bobbi Jo agrees with a nod, “Ah hear dis place is like da Hilton nex’ to da one in Venice! Ah ‘unno ’bout dat, Ah ain’ e’er been ta spaghetti-land, but it is a mite bit cushier dan da one Raoul runs.” She gives a low snicker. “Yer gonna ship out dere ’ventually, so enjoy yer fancy digs here while dey last.”
Emmett: “When you say eventually, you don’t mean tomorrow, do yeh?”
GM: “Ah ‘unno. Raoul’s funny. Sometimes he wants lots more an’ sometimes he don’t, an’ sometimes Gros Mama wants da ones ‘ere gone an’ sometimes she don’t.”
Emmett: “Ya gonna come visit me wit’ dat pretty smile o’ yers, least?”
GM: “Haw haw! We’ll see, ‘andsome, maybe if Sugarbelle kin teach me ’ow to diddle ghosties like she do. Raht now Ah cain’t e’en hurt ’em. All Ah kin do is watch.” Bobbi Jo’s voice is a disappointed pout. “Watch an’ say shit to ’em, Ah guess.”
“Anyway, casper, Ah said ya’d get ta pick yer cellmates. Take yerself a good long look.” Bobbi Jo holds him up high. “Who ya want fer yer neighbors?”
Emmett: Em thinks.
GM: “Make up yer mind ’fore Ah stick ya in a crapper instead.”
“Ah stuck a couple ghostballies in dere once when dey got lippy. Boy, was dat a hoot. Ah had some renfields take a number two o’er ’em. Haw haw haw! Dey was real sorry after dat!”
Emmett: “Sorry, miss, Ah just got floored by all the options,” Em says, recovering quickly from his surprise in seeing not one, but two familiar faces.
Her, he wants to talk to. But she’s right across from…
He coughs, and says, “Dat girl wit’ da scars looks friendly,” she doesn’t, but he doesn’t want to draw her attention to the other spirit next to her, “If it ain’t too much trouble.”
GM: “Haw haw! Good choice! People wit’ scars got all da fun stories,” Bobbi Jo remarks as she strolls towards a shelf. “Ma maw-maw had dis real big ol’ scar right o’er ‘er cunt, always said it gave ’er itches. She used to tell how she got it to ta ma brothers an’ me at bedtime, after we went down on ‘er, always said dat made da itchin’ go ’way. Dat story was da best!”
Emmett: “Dat’s… sweet,” he manages. “Family time, all dat.”
GM: “Kin is kin,” Bobbi Jo agrees. “Ya want, Ah kin kill any family ya got so dey kin wind up ’ere witcha?”
She offers Emmett a wide, lip-less smile.
Emmett: “Ah’ll have to think about dat one!” he says. “Mighty thoughtful of ya.”
Don’t you start. I can feel you thinking about it.
“Ah hain’t got much family Ah’m in a hurry to see, anymore, but Ah might miss one or two friends. Like Ah said, Ah’ll think about it. Next time ya poke dat purty nose back in here, we’ll talk. Thank yeh kindly, Bobbi Jo.”
GM: Hey, why don’t we tell her that someone else we want gone is family?
Not Villars, Bud, or Mouton. We’ll do them ourselves. But there’s got to be some other asshole whose minus would be a plus.
Emmett: Great minds. We’ll think of somebody.
GM: Does she strike you as anything but batshit crazy? Or having an attention span longer than five-year-old us on a sugar rush? Who the hell knows when or if she’ll be back if we don’t give her a name now.
Emmett: Em thinks.
GM: Fuck, really? Dad always said we had ‘a chip on our shoulder’ and we literally can’t even think of anyone else we want dead?
Emmett: I know, it’s embarrassing. This is why Stalin kept a list.
He thinks some more.
What about Roberts?
GM: Huh. Yeah, she always rained on our parade.
We wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t made that phone call. Wouldn’t have put on a dress for Stines either, if she hadn’t kept pushing.
Emmett: I mean, I don’t particularly want to kill her. But waste not, want not.
“Yeah, Ah actually have a hankerin’ to meet my old girlfriend Christina. Christina Roberts.”
GM: Bobbi Jo huffs.
“Ah ain’t psychic, where’s she live?”
“Ah whatever, she’s in da phone book. Da things Ah’ll do fer a pretty face.”
Emmett: “Ya really are a sweetheart under all dat leather, ain’tcha?”
GM: “Hearts ain’ sweet, dey’re savory. Dey’re good on skewers, lil’ bite-sized bits, wit lotsa boss sauce.”
Emmett: “Well, maybe others are. Ah like yers right where it is. Can Ah ask one, teensy tiny favor, ‘fore you bring Christina over? Maybe don’t tell ‘er ah wanted her company, don’t want her getting the wrong idea and showing up all huffy and angry n’ all.”
GM: Bobbi Jo laughs. “Oooh, Ah bet ya was sayin’ sweet things ta all yer girlfriends while slippin’ yer willie in deir best friends, werentcha?”
“But okay, casper, Ah guess yer secret’s safe ’tween us. ’Till Ah git bored.”
She jauntily sticks his orb on the shelf, amidst the assembly-like press of screaming, glaring, sobbing, numbly staring faces.
“Welcome ta da big house, casper. Dey say da firs’ night’s always da hardest. But dat ain’t really true at da ghost pokie.”
“‘Roun’ here,” she drawls, her one eye laughing with cruelty, “dey’re all da hardest.”
“Welcome ta da rest o’ yer afterlife.”