“We can still think, and talk, and that is a joy they have not taken from us yet. Talking helps.”
GM: Em looks at his ‘cellmates.’
There’s nothing else to do.
Except stew in misery.
Except slowly go mad.
He supposes he got some practice at that on death row.
There’s a scarred-faced woman to his left. Her eyes are closed. Her face is still.
So’s the face to his right.
He might be glad that one is also still.
The face to his rear is ‘awake.’ She still has the long blonde hair, fake lashes, and heavy mascara from when Em last saw her, but she looks paler. Gaunter.
She doesn’t smell like cotton candy this time around.
She doesn’t smell like anything behind two layers of glass.
Emmett: That makes sense. The theaters around here are probably all closed.
GM: ‘Anastasia’ just stares at him with a vacant look only the dead must be able to have.
Emmett: “Hey, you,” Em says with all the bonhomie of a campfire extinguished with piss in the morning. “I’m not sure if you remember me.”
But I remember you. You’re just about all I remember.
GM: She doesn’t blink.
“Doesn’t matter who we were.”
Her voice is so tiny through the glass. Em can barely make it out.
Emmett: “You’re right. All that really matters is right now, right here. But it’s always nice to hear your own name, especially in a place where you think nobody knows it.” He clears his throat. “Hi, Courtney.”
GM: There’s a foggy look to her eyes.
“How do you know who I am.”
Emmett: “I was the last person who had the pleasure of meeting you. I squandered it, though. I’m sorry things happened the way they did.”
GM: Another foggy look.
“The clerk was a girl…”
He sighs, a noise like a chimney exhaling.
“I’m afraid I meant in the Dungeon.” When he says the word, a dozen half-remembered nightmares materialize around him, in the not-space between him and his spherical prison.
He can only guess at what the word wakes in her.
GM: Courtney’s face doesn’t move or say anything for a moment. Just goes as still and dead as only the dead can be.
Then, “I killed myself. To make the nightmares stop.”
“But it didn’t work.”
“Just woke up in another.”
Emmett: Oh. So, technically, not my fault. That’s good.
GM: Think she’d have been there if we hadn’t fucked her?
Emmett: Who are you, the Jiminy Cricket of consenting adults?
“I’m so sorry, Courtney. I had nightmares until the end, too. I didn’t kill myself, though I suppose I got myself killed, all the same. I was on death row, for a while. It was kind of like where we are now, really. Dead Row. "
GM: No, dumbass, I’m you. And consent hasn’t been a big deal to us either, last I remember.
Emmett: I just think it’s funny that my evil side seems all hung up on getting me to feel guilty.
GM: Yeah, we spent all our life loving ourself and not feeling bad about anything.
Emmett: So you hate us.
GM: Ask yourself that.
Cuz your answer’s mine.
Emmett: See, the funny thing is, I don’t. I used to. But not anymore. Not since the end.
GM: Guess that makes us an even worse person then with the shit we want to do to Cécilia.
Emmett: Eh. I think it makes me more balanced. Never said I was a better person. Just that I’m done hating myself. It’s exhausting. It’s boring. And it’s pathetic.
“Death row got to me,” he says out loud. “It gets to everybody, even people who are already cracked. How it seems to go on forever, with no break. No real peace. No nothing. Just time, and yourself, and nothing to keep your heart beating except the patience you lost a hundred years ago.”
He tries to lean forward, and can’t, but even then he presses himself with all his will against the glass, stares in the dead woman’s eyes.
“But I can tell you a secret.”
Because you know what it seems like to me, Gasper?
“We’re here together. And that makes all the difference in the world. You and I have been through the worst things in the living world. We can still think, and talk, and that is a joy they have not taken from us yet. Talking helps. I promise.”
It seems like the part of me that hated myself was the same part of me that hated everybody else.
GM: Yeah, we don’t hate anyone else now, do we? We were just totally blank on names to give Bobbi Jo.
Courtney stares at Em. Her mouth doesn’t move. Her face looks as dead as before. But there is a faint glimmer to her eyes at his words, like a cigarette lighter flickering to life under a midnight downpour.
“What… should we talk about?”
Emmett: If he could light a cigarette in her hope and offer it to her, he might. But instead he can only chuckle warmly, and say, “Food, for a start.”
He loves stuffed oysters, he tells her. His grandmother Lise made them every time his family visited her and hers in the bayou. He remembers so many things about those week or month-long visits. He remembers how the swamp-sun felt on his skin, how his mother told him he ought to wear sunscreen but his pa said “Let ’im be,” the tilting of a boat his father and his uncles piloted as they shared stories, raucous tales you were privileged to hear before you turned twelve—or thirteen, or fourteen, or how ever old you were just now.
All that, he remembers when he eats stuffed oysters. The sun and the stories and the sway of a boat and sailing with people who love you. But of course, nobody could make them like his grandmother made them…not with the same crunch of breadcrumbs, the same Cajun zest, the same freshness of shells fished the very last night.
When he thinks of freedom, he tells her, he thinks of oysters.
“What’s the best thing you ever ate?” he asks her gently, before she can realize he’s finished telling the story.
GM: Em’s father always told him and Lena that his family never had much money, but they never went hungry. The “bayou’s bounty” gave them all they needed to eat.
Oysters were always a common enough treat, stuffed or otherwise, but on Thanksgiving oyster stuffing was on the menu. The vegetables in the stuffing—bell pepper, onions, and celery—were (and still are) called the “holy trinity of Cajun cooking” and can be found as the green staple in roughly any Cajun dish. Then, with some use of the Tobasco (hey, that’s how Cash Money always smells) and spices like paprika and cayenne, the stuffing took on a deep red, very Cajun hue. Lise always went extremely heavy on the spices, and liked to add extra herbs like thyme, oregano, and saffron, then a double helping of garlic and cayenne. Sourdough baguette bits and fresh-caught shucked oysters went in after that, scallions for a little variety, plus a cup of oyster juice for that extra flavor, and of course plenty of salt and butter. Four whisked-in eggs “glued” the whole thing together before it was baked good and long, then finally served once the edges were golden-brown.
Em’s dad always said it wasn’t the oyster stuffing of his childhood. It was better and it was worse. The Delacroixes couldn’t afford as many spices before Big Milo had to take the oil rig job. That was the “one good thing to come out of it,” Phil had sourly remarked. More spices. More flavor.
But fresh-caught oysters and scallions weren’t the ones Em’s grandfather used to catch himself. Oh, Em’s uncles (technically, first cousins once removed) still caught and brought them, but it wasn’t the same as “your old man doin’ it.” Uncle Guy could only bring such big hauls because he was a commercial fisher. On a couple years, the oysters even had to be store-bought. A family couldn’t live wholly off the land anymore, after the Shell explosion and chemical spills of ’73 and ’88.
Environmental activism was never an abstract thing to Philemon Delacroix. It was always intensely, intensely personal.
But the oyster stuffing was still always delicious.
“That sounds… nice,” says the dead woman behind the glass.
“That sounds… really, really nice…”
She doesn’t say anything for a moment. Em can almost smell those oysters, hot and gold from the oven.
“I didn’t really have anything like that.”
“My mom usually went to O’Tolley’s when she’d remember to feed me. Or whatever stuff the food banks had.”
“But there was this one Christmas, or time around Christmas, I don’t know, when we went to a shelter… and the volunteers had all cooked this really nice meal.”
“There were these pieces of ham, pink and really sweet and juicy. I heard some guy complaining how ham is cheaper than turkey, but fuck him. And there was potato, I forget what you call it, with lots of cream and melted cheese, and really warm. There was creamed corn too, green beans, and cranberry sauce. And crusts of bread with these really thick, tough slices that made you feel like you were getting so much to eat, with butter on them. There was pumpkin pie, with whipped cream. Someone said it felt like Thanksgiving.”
“It was all just… so good. Those people in the kitchen had all made it, and we got to stay and eat as much as we wanted.”
“My mom hadn’t gotten us any food for a while. She said we’d be able to eat at the shelter, so we shouldn’t waste money. But I still saw her eating. I forget what, just that she was. She was such a fucking bitch.”
“The line at the shelter felt like it took forever. I could smell all the food and see all the people eating when I was waiting. I was so hungry. I started eating as soon as they served me, before sitting down. My mom hit my hand, saying not to do that. Then when we sat down I just ate it all, so fast. I went up for seconds, and for thirds. I just ate and ate until my stomach hurt.”
Emmett: If a smile could make a sound it would still be cooler than the warmth in Em’s. “It sounds delicious—eating something when you’re really hungry is always the best, isn’t it? I know what it’s like not to get along with your parents, too. To not to get what you need from them.”
“But the past is the past.”
“Speaking of stories…”
It’s amazing how long a conversation can breathe, if its well-fed, tended carefully, and the participants in question are confined to the same space with no other distractions.
Em is used to this stasis, this ambivalence to the passage of time. It’s better than death row—there, he could not communicate with his neighbors. Here, he can be just as patient, but have far more fun.
He tells Courtney one story, then another, and them another after that. He doesn’t talk her ear off; he asks her questions in between, gets distracted, meanders and teases before getting back to whatever they were talking about. They trade misadventures, party stories, their favorite movies, their least favorite teachers of aeons past, etcetera, etcetera.
They talk about nothing, really, at all. But the kind of nothing that brings people close.
He isn’t foolish enough to press her for information, yet. That will take time.
And yet, time is all they have.
GM: Em had to eat the food they served him on death row.
That’s another improvement the “ghost pokey” has.
Courtney prefers to listen more than talk at first, and to let him talk her ear off. Em’s stories are happier than hers.
Her life is one sad story after another. Disappeared dad and neurotic mess of a mom who could never hold down a stable job, but could always find a new boyfriend crazier than the last. She tells Em about the one who’d been to Atlantis, killed hundreds of people as a “black ops master assassin” for the military, and knew the secret to turning rocks into gold was to heat them in the oven at 500 degrees for 23 hours and 10 minutes.
After her mom wound up in prison when she was 11, Courtney wound up in the foster care system. To her foster parents, she was a free check from the government that every meal and article of clothing took away dollars from. When one of her foster brothers started sexually abusing her, she ran away when she was 15 and didn’t look back. Stripping paid the bills. It beat streetwalking.
“And I guess being dead beats getting old. You’ll still just die anyway, right?”
Emmett: He can sympathize—with both. “It’s not like you’d expect, is it?” He remarks. “Being dead. I suppose I expected more answers.”
He doesn’t try to steer the conversation to clearer waters. But he stays warm, affable.
“I wasn’t so smart,” he grouses. “I was—I think the proper term is gigolo, but I called it being an escort and you’d probably say I was man-whoring.”
He tells her about Mark. The humiliation of it, and the brutality. The spite he felt, like poison in his blood that promised to be soothed if only Stines would stop—
How he felt nothing at all when the light went out of Stines’ eyes.
“These things are hard,” he tells her. “They make you doubt yourself.”
“Do you think I deserve this, for that? What I did to him?”
GM: “I dunno. Every guy wants to do that to someone,” Courtney says tonelessly. “Dress them up and fuck them. Make the fantasy real.”
“You ever made a girl feel poison in her blood for how you fucked her? Or boy, whatever.”
“It’s all just… a merry-go round. Everyone rides around and around, and they all want off when they’re on the floor, but they love being on the horse.”
“It’s all, I dunno. Everyone wants to fuck the shit out of someone.”
“And I think a lot of us even want to get the shit fucked out of us or just don’t care, until we snap. I mean, you say you’d fucked this Mark guy a buncha times already and coulda just walked out.”
Emmett: He regards her face, even distorted as it is by the layers of glass, space, and enchantment between them.
“You know, Courtney, a lot of people would have just said something sweet or noncommittal. You told the truth. That’s impressive. And a smart answer, too.”
“Like you said, I snapped. I’m not proud of what I did. But in some ways, it was more me lashing out than anything. And I suppose most of my life was spent that way. Never really making my own decisions. Always… reacting.”
“Have you ever felt that way, or are you a wiser soul than me?”
GM: The woman’s face stares back at him. It looks exactly the same as it did when they started talking. Maybe a living person would smile more, make more expressions. They’d certainly be free to move around more. Their body, or even just their arms or hands. Anything except just staring ahead.
That might make it easier to forget they’re dead.
“I was a stripper who killed myself. I don’t think I’ve got a whole lot of wisdom,” Courtney says. “I never felt like I got to decide anything. Ever.”
“Still don’t. I mean, I’m here.”
“But that’s… nice of you to say. All the girls I worked with were honest, where it really counted.”
“I mean, we’d swipe from each other’s purses on slow days, and talk shit behind each other’s backs, and lie about every fucking thing under the sun to get ahead or get a little more, but there could be real honesty there too. Just calling bullshit for what it is and not getting suckered in. If that makes sense.”
Emmett: “I have friends like that.” He pauses. “Well, one friend. But I know what we both knew the world could be full of shit for no good reason, and neither of us would pretend we didn’t know it. Real honesty.”
GM: “That’s neat. They know you’re dead?”
“Yeah, guess that answers that.”
Emmett: “Yeah, sorry. I try not to think about it. But I guess she would. Poor Miranda.”
GM: “Poorer us.”
Emmett: “Yeah, sorry. I try not to think about it. But I guess she would. Poor Miranda.”
“What do you miss most about it? Living.”
GM: “My life mostly sucked, honestly. I guess at least being able to walk where I wanted, though.”
Courtney doesn’t look away or look around, but her eyelids start to droop.
“I’m gonna rack out. That’s the best way to pass time here. You should catch some shuteye too.”
Hey, that’s another thing in common with death row.
Emmett: “Can’t blame you. I hope we’re not done chatting, though. I kind of have the feeling you’re one of my nicer neighbors. What do you mean, rack out?”
GM: “I mean go to sleep. It’s what dead people are best at, right? ‘Sleep when you’re dead?’”
“And yeah, you’ve been a lot more talkative than the others.”
Emmett: “I never shut up when I was alive, either. Hard habit to quit.”
GM: “Well, it’s… nice. Like you said.”
Emmett: “It’s the little things, they say. Even when you’re a little thing yourself. Or maybe especially then. Sleep well, Courtney.”
He wonders if they dream.
But he can find out for himself soon enough.
GM: Sleep comes easily to Em. Maybe because he’s had so much practice. Sleeping was always the best way to pass time on death row.
He’s still wondering if he dreamed or not when he wakes up.
It’s like waking up was when he was alive, and it’s also not. There’s no dryness in his throat, no vaguely light-headed feeling from not having eaten, and no bladder he needs to empty. Physically, he feels exactly the same as he did upon going to sleep.
It still feels refreshing, though, just like it did when he was alive. That sense of becoming nothing for a little while, snug and safe in his own womb. It feels better than when he was alive, in some ways.
He stares out across the rows of ‘prisoners’, all packed into their round little glass cages like eggs along a convener belt. Some are impotently raging, weeping, or sullenly staring. But most are sleeping.
He can see why they choose to sleep.
Courtney’s eyes, just ahead of him, are still closed.
So are the scarred woman’s.
And… the guy he knows.
Emmett: Ah, but the guy he knows is a dilemma for Em. That bridge might be too charred to cross. He needs to mull over his approach for that one.
And besides, Bobbi Jo wasn’t a complete fool. The ones with scars do always have the best stories.
He coughs slightly.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t think we’ve met.”
He smiles, but a sad smile, not too warm. He thinks too much warmth down here might scare her off.
And people with scars tend to scare badly.
GM: The woman’s eyes blink dully at the noise. Her face might be attractive without the scars. It also might still just look angry as she growls,
“Who the fuck are you, pretty boy?”
Emmett: Oh, she’s that sort.
“Well, way I see it, pretty an’ ugly mean different things on this side of the grave. Compared to that cunt without the lips, you’re Miss Louisiana. And me, I’ve got a whole lot of ugly on the inside. But you can call me Emmett, darling. Trade you a name for a name.”
GM: “Turner,” the woman grunts.
She glowers at him.
“Trade you a ‘darling’ for a ‘punch to your nutsack’ once I’m out of here.”
Emmett: His laugh this time is short and sharp and honest.
“I’ll take that deal! It means we both have to get out of here. I admire your confidence. Courtney over there, she doesn’t seem to think we’re going anywhere. But I think my nutsack’s future just became a shade more purple.”
He looks at her frankly. “Look, I can tell you have a good nose for bullshit. I won’t try to butter you up. I spent too much of my life wrapping people around my finger not to recognize when somebody’s too sharp to bend.”
“And yet, I wonder if there’s still something we can do for each other. Until we get out of here, that is.”
GM: The woman grunts again.
“Like what? Pass time with your stories about dropping hellfires on Taliban pieces of shit?”
Emmett: “I was thinking my story about almost sleeping with a senator’s daughter, but if you want to go first, feel free. Stories make the darkness easier to sit in. I would offer to shut up, too, but you might have noticed how much I adore the sound of my own voice.”
“And besides. I’m sure you have interesting stories of your own.”
GM: “Okay. I once shot a terrorist in his nutsack. Blew it right off. He screamed like a little bitch until I shot him in the throat. I felt so fucking happy looking at that fucking corpse that used to be a person I didn’t even care I’d had nothing to eat but two Hooah bars that day.”
“I didn’t drink enough water, so they got me constipated as shit later. And when I was on the john struggling to push out those turds, it was like giving fucking birth, I just thought back to the look on that piece of shit’s face. The look on his face seeing blown-off bits of his dick everywhere, then me stomping what was left to pulp under my boots. I remember the tears running down his face. I was so fucking happy.”
“It made the turds come out smoother.”
Emmett: “Well, I can think of one thing I can help you with.”
He waits for the inevitable crack. If he could, he’d study his fingernails.
GM: If he had fingernails.
“Thinking sounds like a first for you, so guess it makes sense to start small. Being helpful doesn’t like a first though.”
“More like a zero.”
Emmett: “How to tell a story. You’ve got the ingredients all there, but you rushed it. The bot with the turd was clever, as war stories go, but it could be funnier.”
He sighs. “When I killed my cousin, I was looking into his eyes. I told him he had never mattered much to me, which was a lie, but it felt true at the time. He had killed a girl, after raping her, and it was partly my fault. I looked at her body and knew that nothing would ever be alright ever again, but a poison-eyed woman told me I could trade my cousin’s life for hers. At the time, it made sense. It even made sense when I opened his throat. You know how a throat looks when you open it? All pink, kind of like a steak cut? For a week after I couldn’t eat meat. I know, what a pussy—but I was only seventeen. And just before his eyes went empty, the way dead men’s eyes go, he looked surprised. Not much ever surprised him, he was a gangster and colder than Alaska, but me murdering him to save her did. And when he fell, the only thing I could see in his eyes was myself, and I looked cold.”
“That’s how you tell a story. You take your time.”
GM: “I don’t think you were a pussy because you were seventeen, actually.”
“I think you were a pussy because you were you.”
So does that mean we’re prettier than she is? Not sure we could find a pussy on her even with a map.
Maybe this actually is Hell, after all. A Hell where all the girls are bulldykes, in a Ghostbusters trap, or both.
Emmett: “P’shaw, you’d hurt my feelings if I had any. But if you’d rather not talk about the past, that’s fine. I’m more interested in how we’re going to get out of here.”
GM: Turner grunts in seeming agreement.
“Dunno how. There’s shit to do besides sleep and stare at the wall. But there’s got to be something they want from us, to have us locked up here.”
“Can’t be keeping us off the streets. Don’t feel like Eva Brawn would give a shit about us haunting people.”
Emmett: “And talk,” he says gently. “Which is interesting. It implies there’s nothing we could do to work together, and yet, this place already beats death row for conversation.”
“The lipless freak mentioned something about sending us in a shipment. To somebody named… Raul?”
“Hey, I thought of that joke too. Great minds.”
GM: “Yeah, that’s a neat way to fuck with our heads. Show the prisoners it doesn’t even matter if they talk.”
“You want someone to break though, you don’t let them talk. Forget what you hear about waterboarding. Just lock someone in an empty room long enough and that’ll break them.”
Emmett: “Hmm. Well, they clearly have ways of controlling us. Which I assume they wouldn’t bother using if we weren’t worth being controlled.”
“How long were you wandering around, before they did you like the genie from Aladdin?”
“And I know. I’ve been broken before.”
GM: “Could’ve stuck cloths over these things too if they really wanted us to break. Mind, most people here seem to be doing a bang-up job at that already.”
Em can hear it, when they don’t say anything. The constant stream of moans.
He wonders if it ever stops. If it’s the same ghosts doing it.
“’That could be us after long enough.”
“Dunno how long I’ve been here. Dunno how long I was wandering around. Hard to tell how much time’s passed when you don’t eat or piss. This whole place is… funny.”
Turner’s face seems to fog for a moment.
“What year was it when you died?”
Emmett: “State executed me in 2016. I got a gift certificate and everything. And unless I miss my guess, the Caspers in here don’t die from sickness or old age. Unless you got those scars from extra-intrusive chemo.”
“You’re onto something about them not wanting to break us, or at least not wanting us to suffer in particular. Did you get crushed down by the angry dude with trash-compacter claws?”
GM: Turner doesn’t say anything for a moment after Em says ‘2016.’
“Yeah, I did.”
Emmett: “Okay. So we’ve both seen a ghost that they treat like a slave. Kind of a clue to what we might be able to expect.”
GM: “Feels more like they’re doing what’s efficient than torturing us cause they want to break us. Or just for shits and giggles.”
“You said something about a shipment?”
Emmett: “Yeah. They’re planning to use us somehow. Just don’t know what for, yet. And they said that the next stop on this ride is…less comfy. Apparently, these are the nice digs. Far as ‘ghost pokies’ go.”
GM: There’s a louder sob in the corner of Em’s hearing.
“And here I’d loved these ones so fucking much I never wanted to leave.”
Emmett: “You and me both. Where else would I find such sweet company?”
I like her, he decides. Reminds me of Miranda.
“So. Hmmph. A shipment would mean transport. Not that I know much about it, but it seems like that would be the ideal time to pull a Shawshank. When they’re moving us.”
“Not to pry, but do you know what your, ah, ghost powers are?”
GM: “Yeah. They’re ’don’t work past this genie in a lamp routine’ powers. I’ve tried.”
Emmett: “Right, but what are they in general?”
GM: “They’re 13 weeks on Parris Island is what they fucking are.”
Emmett: “…this is embarrassing, but I don’t get that reference.”
GM: Turner just gives him a look as if he’d admitted to inability to maintain an erection during sexual intercourse.
Emmett: “Yeah, yeah. Take that tone.”
GM: “Marine basic training, dipshit. You wouldn’t last a day.”
“Also turns out I can throw objects and shit around, poltergeist style, but that’s less useful.”
Emmett: “Why would I want to? The pay is shit. Okay, that’s good. So if we can figure out a way to spring you, you can start throwing the lamps around. Which besides freeing the folks inside, including yours truly, can also create enough cover for us to escape, at which point I’m happy to make a formal introduction between my nutsack and your 13-weeks on Pussy Island boot.”
GM: “You’d want to so you could be a real man, but guessing that was never too high on your goals list.”
“The benefits are also great, which shows what the fuck you know.”
Emmett: “Oh, do they give you free facial reconstruction surgery?”
GM: “They give free ‘watch pussies like you break down crying for their mommies’ viewings during Crucible.”
“And that plan of yours sounds great, except for how I’d actually have to get out of this genie lamp first, and how you’d be doing jack and shit. Can you even do anything useful? Or are you, in fact, literal dead weight?”
Emmett: “I make pretty lights.” He chuckles. “But pretty lights can be a good distraction in a chaotic situation. Which I’m sure you’re aware. Ah, but you know, Bobbi Jo has a soft spot for me. I might, with some luck, be able to trick her into smashing your cell. She ain’t exactly Mengele, you know?”
Man, I remember way more about Nazis than I expected.
GM: “Pretty lights. Wow. How many cumloads did you swallow when you were alive to wind up with a faggoty-ass fairy power like that?”
Emmett: “More than I’d like, less than I would have as a woman in the armed forces. Look, if I can’t get you sprung, you don’t need to piss on me if I’m on fire. But if I can get you out of the ball, think you can smash a few rows up?”
GM: “You’d be a woman in the armed forces with dick-sucking lips like those. And how the fuck are you going to get her to do that?”
Emmett: “Still working on that part. Would help if you can get her riled up, though. She doesn’t seem like the sort who thinks real clear under pressure.”
GM: “What pressure? We’re fuckings genies in a lamp.”
Emmett: “Yeah, and she’s a hair-trigger mine.”
GM: “Hope she’s so stupid she lets us out. What a great fucking plan.”
Emmett: “Hey, it’s a work in progress. I’m open to suggestions. What’s yours?”
GM: Turner just glowers.
Emmett: “Right. Entertainment, then. So, if you’re not interested in my stories, I can always sing for you. You know I’ve been working on the railroad? It’s stuck in my head for some reason.”
GM: “Christ in a fucking sundress.”
Emmett: “I wasn’t taking requests, and I don’t know that one anyways. What is it, soldier song?”
He smiles at his own teasing, then ponders. “Don’t underestimate how reckless she is. She was willing to go after a name I gave her in return for some compliments. Which, granted, she probably doesn’t get too often. So she’s easy to manipulate for somebody like me, who’ll say anything to get anywhere. Quite unlike your honest self, but I’m sure you’ve known people like that, anyways.”
“And yet, you’re right. It’s not the kind of plan I would like to pin everything on. I have no idea how long we’ll be around her, and she’s the key to any ticket out of here, so we need to act soon. It would be smarter if we could trick her into freeing you because you could offer her something…how well can you lie?”
GM: “I can swallow shit and dish it out. Dunno why the fuck she’d let me out though. Don’t think anyone who gets out of these things would be too happy at her.”
“And what do you mean, ‘go after a name’?”
Emmett: “…how many people have you killed?”
GM: “No, idiot. Who and how’d you get her to?”
Emmett: “Like I said, compliments. Not sure if she’s done it yet, mind, but she said she’d send down somebody I cared about if I got lonely and I, ah, got creative.”
GM: “What a fucking psychopath.”
Emmett: “I know, right?”
GM: “I’m gonna get more shuteye. Wake me when there’s a way out of here.”
Emmett: “Or I get bored. Whichever comes first.”
GM: “Do that and I’ll beat the shit out of you when I’m out.”
Emmett: “I couldn’t hear you over the sound of you getting sprung without me. Oh wait, I actually could, because that isn’t happening. Sleep well, Turner. I have more patience than I used to, anyway.”
GM: Turner doesn’t let Em go without the admonition he’s not getting out without her, and he’s getting the shit kicked out of him if he wakes her up just because he’s bored. Eventually though, some gets the last word and the other ghost closes her eyes.
Soft weeping and faint shrieks continue to fill the edge of Em’s hearing.
Like on death row, there’s not much to do.
There’s slowly go mad.
Or talk to that guy.
Emmett: He’s put it off long enough, he supposes.
Sometimes when you don’t have anything good to say, you say:
“Hi, Fizzy. Been a while.”
GM: The face behind the glass slowly blinks at the sound. He’s a dark-skinned man not that much older than Em with closely-shaved hair and a thin beard.
“You’re fuckin’ kidding me.”
“I’m havin’ a nightmare. Fuck this noise.”
Emmett: “Hold up. Look, I know you never liked me that much, but it wasn’t all bad between us.”
He pauses for a moment, trying to think of a time it wasn’t that bad.
“I heard about Mouse,” he says. “He deserved better.”
GM: “Fuck him. He’s why I’m here with you.”
Emmett: He takes a risk.
“He was your brother, still.”
GM: “Two times he lands me in prison!” Fizzy’s eyes flare. “Two fucking times!”
“Fuck him and fuck you.”
Emmett: “He was an idiot, but he loved you. He talked about you like you were a hero. Like MLK had baptized you in Jesus’s tears. Even when he visited me in the hospital when you had put me there, he talked about you. He might have been a fool, or whatever, he was autistic or something, but he loved you more than God. And I lie a thousand times before breakfast, but you know that’s true.”
GM: Fizzy stares at him.
“And I’d be alive now. Free. Without him.”
“But you know what?”
Fizzy stares ahead like the sheer force of his glare could break the glass.
“I still looked after that fuckhead.”
“Yeah, see, we both woke up here together. On the other side. Dead.”
“But he wasn’t right in the head. He wasn’t right at-fuckin’-all.”
“Reapers got us both. They were gonna sell us at the thrall markets.”
“But him. Mouse, turned out, was a drone.”
“So I watched it. I watched him go to the forges. You ever seen that happen? With your own eyes? Felt the heat? Heard the screams? Seen faces melt like fucking wax? The way they run into and melt over each other, when there’s a full load, and even the screams sound off? Like they’re half of two different people’s?”
“They said there was nothin’ of him left. But there was, before he melted down. He met my eyes.”
“And then, he didn’t have any no more. No more stupid little bro. No more Mouse. Just some oboli. Could still hear them scream.”
“But back before we died. Mouse gave me a call. About that stupid charity thing. What’d he call it? A ‘donation drive’? All for you.”
“Yeah. He told me, how he visited you in the hospital. How he felt soooooo bad. How he went to that Cécilia girl, and bein’ his usual fuckin’ self, pissed off some cops.”
“And bein’ his usual fuckin’ self, ran his mouth and got my homies and me all arrested.”
“And bein’ his usual fuckin’ self, he didn’t last a night before that psycho knifed me too.”
“So you know, the way I see it. That whole shitstorm, that whole stack of dominoes, that whole reason my bro and I are dead, or worse than dead, all goes back to Emmett Fuckin’ Delacroix.”
Fizzy stares at him through the glass.
“You better fuckin’ pray we never get outta these.”
Emmett: He clears his nonexistent throat.
“Well. You’re not, um. Technically wrong. But you know, there’s some more nuance there.”
GM: “Second we do, I’m sendin’ you right to Oblivion.”
The word sends an almost imperceptible chill up Em’s nonexistent neck.
Emmett: “Nothing I can say to fix things between us, is there?”
He feels safe, now, separated from him by the too-solid nothingness between them.
GM: Fizzy just stares at Em through that glass-ensconced nothingness.
Emmett: He waits. The question isn’t rhetorical.
GM: He looks as if he has a very long time to wait. The dead man doesn’t once blink, snort, or look away.
Emmett: “Well, that’s okay. It means I can be more honest. I want to get out of here too. If I can, I’ll get you out, too, because I owe you. And if you want to come after me then, just for shits and gigs, I’ll run, and you’ll chase, and it’ll be like the old days again.”
“But for what it’s worth, I always thought your brother was a fucking idiot, but he was better than either of us, and for that I regret what I did.”
GM: Fizzy looks like he might snort, if he still could.
“Regret and a couple bucks’ll buy you a coffee.”
Emmett: He laughs. “I don’t know that one, thanks.”
GM: The dead man’s glare hardens at his laugh. “It’s a polite way of sayin’ fuck your regrets.”
“And fuck you too.”
Emmett: He closes his eyes. Things’ll get better with time, or they won’t. This… probably won’t.
But sleeping won’t make it worse.