“I’m pretty sure none of our decisions panned out the way we wanted. Why we’re here, isn’t it?”
GM: The other two wraiths are waiting when Em gets back, though he can see them through the walls the entire time. Hannah looks a little discomfited. “Just how it had to be,” says Ginger. “It was him or us.”
Emmett: “He got seventy years to do whatever he wanted,” Em adds. “And he chose to spend it doing that. Don’t beat yourself up over it too much, Hannah.”
GM: “I guess so.” She blinks slowly. “Is this the afterlife?”
“Seventy years, and doing… that?”
“Are we just stuck here forever?”
Emmett: “It’s an afterlife, I suppose. Maybe there’s another one. Maybe there isn’t. But if it’s anything like life, probably up to us to make the most of it.”
He regards the caul. “He gave us some info on that. The caul. I guess we wait for Courtney before going in? Or we can try it with the three or two of us.”
GM: “This is… awful, though,” says Hannah.
“I mean, just look around! What’s there to even make the most of?”
“There’s your family,” says Ginger.
“And they’re gonna die! Then what?” exclaims Hannah. “This… forever?”
Hey, he could just kill himself again.
Emmett: “For what it’s worth…” Em shrugs. “I’m here for a good time. Not a long time. I don’t want to stick around as long as Lamarck. But that doesn’t mean rushing into… whatever’s next. Way I see it, if I stuck around it’s because I have unfinished business. That’s my priority. Maybe someday, it’ll be done. ’til then, may as well keep busy with it.”
Or until I find a way to become a vampire. Little column a, little column b.
GM: Jealous, huh?
Emmett: Are you not?
GM: Yeah, well, so far as I know, that’s a pipe dream.
But there’s ways out of here, if you’re sick of the Shadowlands.
Emmett: Oh? Ways to where?
GM: The real world.
And less real worlds.
Emmett: Hmm. I’ll take the former for 500.
GM: Oooh, let’s get Sami to say she needs us.
Oooh, let’s feed Yvette ice cream.
Oooh, let’s get revenge on the people who put us here.
And it never fucking happens.
Emmett: Okay, here’s my thinking. If we just lobotomize this guy, they’ll be all pissy. We need to at least make it look like we’re trying to help him. And to find out what he knows about Astride so we can dangle it over Sami’s pretty fanged head. If we can do those things, inside the caul, I’ll get out the icepick. You game?
GM: Yeah? And what if we can’t find out?
Emmett: We cross that bridge then, don’t we? Depends on if he seems like he’s gonna be useful. A guy who doesn’t want to be a girl might be. If he seems like an asshole, we drop him. Or at least, we fight it out then. Hmmm?
GM: Do I seem like I fucking care about any of that shit?
He gets a lobotomy or you get nothing.
Emmett: Then we have our terms. If we can find out what I need from him inside, we make it look like an accident. If we can’t, you don’t give me shit but I’ll keep him. Seems like a win-win to me. Should be one for you, too. In fact…
Em cracks his shoulders. Audibly. “I’m going in.”
“I know he said multiple spooks makes it go faster, but… maybe I should try it alone. We don’t know what’s in there.”
GM: “I guess,” says Hannah. “It just seems like…”
Em jams his fingers through the rents in Kione’s caul, then stabs them into his ears. Horrors blossom before the enfant’s eyes. Sami’s empty eyes as the men gang-raped her. Jermaine’s equally tranquil gaze as Em slit his throat. Ron, telling him everything he touched turned to shit. His parents giving up. Stines getting out the spoon. Cash Money’s bottle smashing over his head. Bud drawling they done had a deal. Lena literally dumping him on the curb. His summons all of his pain, all of his humiliation, his depression, his awfulness. His reasons to just give up. The phantasmal images race across Kione’s eyes as his mouth parts wide in a soundless scream. Em rips the caul off like wet tissue paper, then gives the other wraith a kick in the balls for good measure.
He collapses to the ground, eyes blank as his mouth slowly works open and shut like a fish’s.
HAAA HAAAA HAAAAAA!
Emmett: Oh, for fuck’s sake.
GM: “What the fuck!” exclaim Hannah and Ginger simultaneously.
Emmett: He tries to talk, but isn’t optimistic. “Shadow!”
GM: “And you were the one who gave Turner so much shit for not having a handle on hers!” yells Hannah. “Gee!”
Ginger turns over Kione and tries to catch his gaze. “Hello? Are you there?”
The caul-less enfant gives no response.
THAT WAS GOOD!
WE SURE FUCKED UP THIS GUY!
Don’t worry, you’re back in the driver’s seat. You can deal with these idiots’ whining.
This is all your fault, by the way. ‘When we get bored, we get juvenile.’
Emmett: He closes his eyes and counts to three.
Well, he tries to. He gets to one and a half before losing patience.
“Look,” he manages, holding out his hands, “I’m not happy about what just happened either. And unlike Turner, I actually do feel bad about it, so if you would do me the kindness of understanding that things like that are going to happen occasionally, and sometimes it’ll be you doing them, we can figure out what to do next.”
He looks down at Kione’s vacant stare. “Sorry, man. I really am.”
He pauses for a moment before saying, “Hannah? I know you’re angry. You have reason to be. I am too. But you said earlier you can siphon the juice we run on?”
GM: “Oh, that’s great you feel bad! What was it you said? That if she couldn’t control her Shadow, we’d kick her out, or something?”
Emmett: “Do you want me to leave?” Em asks levelly.
GM: “I just remember you sounding real authoritative when you weren’t the one whose Shadow was playing loose.”
“Look, it’s done,” says Ginger. “He’s gone, we can either stick together or be even more screwed.”
Emmett: “I guess I owe Turner an apology for judging her for what she did to you, then,” he says. “One I’ll happily supply, if we see her again. Hannah, you can take as long as you need to forgive me. There’s people on the other side of the grave who still haven’t. But right now, right here, I’m trying to pick up the pieces of my fucked-up alter ego’s power trip, so… ” He points to Kione. “Can you take from him, or not?”
GM: Kione gets up.
GM: His mouth moves several times. His eyes widen with terror. Blood spills from his lips as his kidneys rip open. A second smile rips across his throat, then all the way to to the top of his head. His feet lift off the floor. More blood spills. Then he crashes to the floor as his head explodes open, until only gory oatmeal is left.
Then he gets up and does it all over again.
Emmett: “Well,” Em says halfway through the second time, “that’s just upsetting.”
He looks at Hannah. “Looks like he’s, um, acting out his death. Which I guess is a thing ghosts do. I’m not sure what we can do to help him. If we can, even.”
He has the decency to look ashamed.
Mostly, he’s still just pissed.
GM: “Oh my god…” Ginger whispers at the sight, holding a hand over her mouth.
Hannah doesn’t tear her eyes away either, until Em speaks.
“‘Your Shadow keeps causing problems, you become a liability.’ Yeah, that’s what you said. Ginger told me.”
“I don’t know what there is to do about it,” says Ginger.
“I don’t either! Do you know how many more times his Shadow has to pull this shit before he’s a liability!?” grouses Hannah.
Emmett: “Hannah, I’m here now,” Em says calmly. “I’m sorry for what happened, and if I could undo it I would. But that’s not how this works, anymore than you can un-take the pills you took. If you want me to go, say so. I’ll not force my company on you. But if you still think I have more to give you than disappointment, I’m ready to offer it. Now.” He raises his hands placatingly. “Are you ready to hear what I’m thinking?”
He looks at Ginger entreatingly.
GM: “He did say we should wait for you,” Ginger relents. “You were gone for a while. Y…”
The pair are interrupted as Sami reappears, trailed by Courtney.
Emmett: Em smiles at her brightly, only to look guiltily at Kione’s shade. “Uh. Hi. Lot happened.”
GM: Kione’s head splatters open over the floor.
“What the fuck?” asks Courtney.
Emmett: “Like I said, lot happened,” Em says tightly. He relates the events of the last… however long… in a few sentences.
“And so now we have a guest, but thanks to my Shadow, he’s… this.”
GM: Em is interrupted by Sami, who looks at the ouija paper and asks, “So?” like no one is already talking and nothing is happening.
Emmett: Em pinches his nose.
He picks up the pen and starts moving it.
GM: “Looks like ghosts are good for finding out things,” says Sami.
“They say anything before he died?”
Em looks over his shoulder at Courtney. “So, how was your night?”
GM: Sami pulls a phone from her purse. It’s an old-fashioned flip one.
“White’s. Go take care of it.”
She frowns, then looks at Em.
Well, at the pen.
“Cops there or on their way?”
GM: “Typical,” Sami mutters.
GM: “Cops might be there,” Sami says into the phone. “Witnesses.”
There’s a pause.
She flips the dumphone closed.
“So scratch my back, I scratch yours, wasn’t it?”
Emmett: The pen rolls to the YES.
GM: “That was an invitation to say how.”
Emmett: The pen rolls.
GM: Sami rolls her eyes.
“Guess dying hasn’t shrunk your ego.”
“‘Sami struck it big like I never managed to, Sami’s a vampire, yet Cash Money’s still breathing, but what the fuck does that matter when I want him in the ground?’”
GM: “If it was practical to do I’d have done it already.”
GM: “Sure is.” Sami looks at the empty air. “How’d that work out for you?”
GM: Sami rolls her eyes again.
“You know, I’ve learned a lot these past few years.”
“I thought I was good at manipulating people when I was breathing. Boy, was that wrong. I was good enough for the entry leagues.”
“But my sire taught me a lot. One of the things I learned from her, really learned, was patience. That’s always been it. Understanding people. Situations. Taking your time. Basically the opposite of what you always did. Christina told me all about what happened with Talal.”
“You don’t know jack from shit about anything here, so all it does is make you look dumb when you try to bait me. I won’t help you. I won’t stop you though. Should be funny to see you blunder into another situation you don’t know jack from shit about.”
Emmett: Em glances over his shoulder. “Hannah, you want money for your mom, or do you want this one nowhere near her?”
Meanwhile he writes, s-o-t-e-l-l-m-e.
“Also,” he mutters. “Sire? That is some… ” he glances self-consciously at Hannah. “Weak-ass shit. Fucking vampires.”
GM: “Yeah, I’ll pass on vampires having anything to do with my mom,” Hannah huffs, crossing her arms. “She doesn’t need money anyway.”
“What an Em way to ask for help,” says Sami. “Let’s hear you say you need me.”
“Or I suppose, see you write.”
Emmett: Ah, that was always the key to her. He rolls his eyes at the others, unaware of the resemblance between them in that moment.
We’ll make her beg for us before its over, Em promises Gasper. Or at least, I will.
GM: His Shadow is silent.
“See, not so hard,” says Sami.
“He’s protected by older vampires he’s useful to. They can deal with ghosts.”
Emmett: He closes his eyes for a moment.
Then he moves the pen.
She knows who he means.
The one they never talked about.
GM: “She’s one of them,” nods Sami.
“She’s not so bad either, when you get to know her.”
GM: “What’s that to you?”
“You’re dead. Hell, she thinks you’re in the ground.”
Emmett: He waits. She’ll tell him or she won’t.
GM: His ex shrugs. “Consider playing twenty questions to be scratching your back, then. Camille Richelieu.”
Emmett: The pen rolls to yes. And then spells out a ‘thanks.’
GM: “You’re welcome, I guess. What are your plans for today?”
GM: “Hmm,” Sami says thoughtfully.
“Give me a little bit, actually.”
“Go enjoy the afterlife. Meet me back here at, let’s say midnight, night after tomorrow night.”
GM: “There are clocks,” says Sami. “Can you just not read them?”
Emmett: The pen rolls towards no.
GM: “Phone clocks? Digital clocks? Mechanical clocks?”
Emmett: The pen twitches in a sort of noncommittal shrug. Then rolls towards no.
GM: “What about an hourglass?”
Emmett: The pen twitches in that same sort of shrug.
GM: Sami pulls her phone back open. “Get me some hourglasses. One that measures actual hours, and one that measures more than one hour.”
She flips it shut again.
They wait a little while, but it’s only a little while. One of the hotel staff knocks on the door with the requested hourglasses. Enough money buys more or less anything, it looks like.
Sami turns one of the hourglasses. It’s cracked and pitted, but Em can see sand fall from the upper bulb to the lower one.
Emmett: The pen rolls to yes.
GM: Sami turns one of the larger ones.
“Great. I’ll be back when this is empty.”
Emmett: Em eyes it, than looks at his compatriots. “Seems like a good time to touch base.”
Behind him, Kione’s head explodes again.
GM: “I don’t think I want to stick around for that,” says Ginger.
“Me neither,” mutters Hannah.
Emmett: “I don’t think any of you should have to,” Em agrees. “We’ve tended to my affairs. We should tend to yours next.”
“Especially yours, Hannah.”
GM: “I’d rather split up,” says Hannah.
“I guess we know when to be back by,” says Courtney.
Emmett: “We can split up,” he says. “Hannah, can I talk to you for a minute? Maybe down in the lobby?”
GM: “Here’s fine. What about?”
Kione’s head explodes again.
“Is that ever gonna stop,” Ginger mutters.
Emmett: “We can leave for somewhere more pleasant,” Em agrees. “And honestly, I wanted to invite you to yell at me a bit. You clearly want to.”
GM: “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather go see my mom.”
“I’m ready to start looking for Melody,” agrees Ginger.
“I thought we wanted to stick together,” says Courtney.
“We know when to come back now.” Ginger.
“How are we gonna know?” Courtney. “I mean, we’re not bringing the hourglasses with us.”
“We can pop back every so often.” Ginger. “If it’s almost empty, then we can wait here.”
Emmett: “We can do teams,” Em says. “Courtney and I, you and Hannah. Buddy system is probably a good idea.”
GM: “Yeah. It’s not exactly safe out there,” agrees Courtney.
“All right, see y’all when the hourglass is empty,” says Ginger.
The wraiths exchange final farewells in the now-empty suite.
“So, where to?” asks Courtney.
Emmett: Em smiles bitterly at her. “Honestly, I’m tired of making all the decisions. They never seem to go the way I’d like. What would you like to do, Courtney?”
GM: “Honestly, I’m not in as much of a hurry to see someone as they are,” the former stripper remarks. “For what it’s worth, though, I’m pretty sure none of our decisions panned out the way we wanted.”
“Why we’re here, isn’t it?”
Emmett: “You’re right. I guess I’m just worried she’s looking to get away from us, or at least me, the first chance she gets. Hannah, I mean. And Ginger… Ginger I want to talk to more, figure out what she knows about these things. They both saw my Shadow get the better of me. And, well, that’s the result.” He points bitterly to Kione. “What could have been another member of our little group. Now he’s only able to haunt other ghosts.”
GM: His head explodes again as Em says so.
Emmett: He sighs a useless sigh.
GM: After another moment, it reconstitutes as the mindless ghost gets back up.
“That’s so fucking weird.”
Emmett: “I know. Come on, let’s get out of this room. Maybe down to the lobby.” As they walk, he asks, “What’d Sami get up to? Anything interesting?”
GM: There’s another gory explosion from Kione’s shade.
“She talked to some other vampires. Licks. Whatever,” says Courtney.
“They had… what looked like vampire sex.”
“Talked about a party that was coming up in a few nights.”
Emmett: “You get any names?”
“Also. Vampire sex. What.”
GM: “Yeah. They didn’t actually fuck. Just… bit and snarled and drank each other’s blood.”
Emmett: “Kinky. And gross.”
GM: “They seemed pretty into it, at least.”
“She also looked… I don’t know, young enough to barely even have tits.”
“That wasn’t even the creepiest part.”
Emmett: “The other vamp?”
GM: “Yeah. She had these… just dead eyes. She looked like she could’ve been in fifth or sixth grade.”
“But she also couldn’t. You just knew, looking at her, this wasn’t a little girl.”
Emmett: “Huh.” He surprised himself by not feeling jealous.
A thought occurred.
Hey, Gasper. What do you think of Sami?
“Felt kinda spooked sticking around her,” says Courtney.
“She never looked directly at me, but I wonder how well they can see us.”
Emmett: “Not well, from what it seems like to me, Astride was deaf and dumb. She seems to be, too. Giovannini sure seemed to be able to see us, though.”
GM: “Guess it is what it is.”
They get off the elevator without looking down. They walk through the closed doors. Courtney looks across the ruined and decrepit lobby.
“Well, where to?”
Emmett: He considers the lobby for a moment. Wonders what time it is. He’s so low on energy. So drained.
Does it seem like day, judging by the amount of people around?
GM: The luminous white figures are close to absent from the lobby.
He supposes Sami the vampire wouldn’t have left if it was sunny out.
Emmett: “Call it silly, but my gut says we should try and follow Sami, unless there’s another place you have in mind.”
GM: “I don’t have anything better to do.”
GM: Sami’s already taken off, but Em and Courtney find it easy to catch up. Buildings and material objects part before the two like shadows and smoke. Sami’s rusted, broken-down sports car stops off at Rampart Street. It’s on the border of Treme and one of the poorer areas of the Quarter. Streetwalkers and junkies are out all hours. Buildings are torched-out, blighted hives that might not look significantly brighter in the real world.
The half-skeletal corpses lying strewn between veritable fields of cracked and leaking hypodermic needles, though, are probably unique to the afterlife. Their sunken eyes seem to almost pleadingly follow Em and Courtney.
Or perhaps hatefully.
When Sami parks her car and gets out, an unkempt-looking and dangerous-looking man with a knife tries to mug her for her purse. Sami just looks at him and asks thoughtfully, “You high on anything?”
“Purse, bitch! NOW!”
“Be that way. Get in my car. I’ll show you a real good time.”
The man’s brow furrows, then he gets in. Sami sinks her fangs into his neck and drinks thirstily.
“Make sure someone doesn’t try to steal my ride,” she says once she pulls away.
“Okay,” the paler-looking man says thickly.
Emmett: “Huh,” Em remarks. “Neat trick.”
GM: “What I’d have given to have that,” Courtney mutters.
Sami disappears into one of those blighted hives. The wraiths follow after her. Sami walks past several doors, then opens one that’s slightly ajar. A pretty African-American woman dressed in a flowing white cotton gown is bent over a man in his bed. Low sucking noises are audible. Her form is as glowless and ashen-hued as Sami’s.
“Got a good flavor, doesn’t he?” Em’s ex remarks.
The other vampire startles and pulls away.
“Relax, I’m not judging,” Sami smiles.
“Well, except to say how you’ve got good taste. Asshole definitely deserves it.”
Emmett: Em glances at the face of the victim, wondering if it’ll be familiar across a grave.
GM: Shawn Boyce. A petty, low-level drug dealer with a violent temper and trashy mouth affiliated with one of the local gangs. They were locked up in OPP at the same time, once.
Emmett: “Hey Shawn,” he says aloud. “I remember selling you my piss.”
He glances self-consciously at Courtney. “It’s a prison thing.”
GM: The other vampire starts to say something to Sami.
Then she turns and looks directly at Em.
Emmett: “Well,” he says defensively. “It is. Come on, you can’t judge me. Not to, you know. Pull your fang too hard.
He points to Sami. “I’m her friend. You can tell her Em’s looking down her dress if you want to.” He floats upwards and does so, demonstratively.
If you can make them laugh, you’ve done something for them.
GM: The other vampire does laugh. Loudly.
But Sami is still right there.
She follows the other vampire’s gaze.
“Hi, Em. You know that my friend here can see ghosts? I was actually just stopping by to ask her advice about the ones haunting me.”
Emmett: “Cool,” Em says. “Do you do couples counseling, too?”
GM: Sami turns, removes a salt carton from her purse, and sprinkles a thin white trail along the unit’s door.
Emmett: He pokes it.
GM: His finger starts to dissolve as though dripped in acid.
Courtney stares at it, then tries to walk through the wall, well away from the salt line.
She bumps against the suddenly too-solid solid edifice.
“How many are there, besides him?” Sami asks.
“Just one,” the vampire answers in a Caribbean-sounding accent. “A woman.”
“I guess we should make ourselves at home,” says Sami. “This is Rose-Marie, Em.”
“’Ello,” the other vampire says quietly.
Emmett: He howls in agony, and after a moment, smiles a sickly smile.
“Charmed. Or is it haunted, now? Both appropriate, I’m sure.”
GM: “‘E says ’e’s ‘charmed. Or is it ’aunted, now? Bowt appropriate, I’m sure.’”
“That’s sweet.” Sami turns back to where Rose-Marie was last looking. “So who do you work for that put you up to following me?”
Emmett: He rolls his eyes, teeth still gritted as his spectral flesh regenerates. “Ask her if I’ve ever worked for anybody. I’m following her the same reason she’d follow me as a ghost. Boredom and leverage. Nothing business. All personal.” He adds in a stage whisper, “I have a crush on her.”
GM: Rose-Marie relates that.
“Does ’e work for de Baron, you dink?”
GM: “No way,” says Sami.
“That’s too him to be a lie.”
Emmett: “She gets it.”
GM: “Still a problem, though. We can’t have him and his friends popping in on me while I’m in the shower.”
Emmett: “Ah, not even just me?”
GM: Rose-Marie relays that too.
“I need to learn how to see ghosts, like you,” Sami says.
“Dat is not a ting to take on lightly,” says the other vampire.
“Yeah, well, neither is Emmett Delacroix getting to be invisible and incorporeal.”
Emmett: “She gives me too much credit.”
He winks at Courtney and mouths, not enough.
GM: The other ghost looks amused.
“‘E says you are giving ’im too much credit, but ’e’s winking at de other ghost.”
Emmett: “We should definitely just do this for our future meetings. You, Rose-Marie, are one hell of a ouija board.”
GM: “Dank you, mesye.”
Emmett: He doffs a hat made of shadow and smoke that curls into nothingness.
GM: “I bet he is,” says Sami. “Right now a good time for you to start?”
“Well, I, I suppose.”
Sami offers a dazzling smile, the kind Em used to pay upwards of half a grand an hour for.
“You’re a gem, Rose. The others don’t even see your shine.”
She adds, “Let me take you back to the Carlton. We can at least do this in comfort and style.”
“Dat does sound nice,” replies Rose-Marie. “But what about de ghosts?”
“Oh, I suppose we can just leave them here,” Sami says idly.
“Oh, come on!” says Courtney.
Emmett: “Or,” Em lifts a finger, “you don’t, and we continue to remain on good terms. Plus, I’ll tell you something about the Giovannini.”
GM: Rose-Marie relays that.
“You think she’s gonna let you out?” asks Courtney.
“Oh. Stupid of me. She can hear.”
Emmett: “I think it’s my problem if I don’t, and the others deserve not to wait for me.”
GM: “Step back to the end of the room,” Sami tells Em.
Emmett: He does so.
GM: “He there?” she asks.
Sami pours another line of salt between Em and Courtney, then smudges the outer line with her foot.
Courtney moves to step over it, then seems to reconsider and walks halfway through the wall.
“I’ll tell the others you’re here.”
Emmett: He just nods, and turns to face the monsters.
“Thank you,” he says. “Are you aware of the prison break?”
GM: “Fill us in,” says Sami.
Emmett: He does so, adding a minimum amount of flare and special (spectral?) effects to aid the storytelling. The highlight is that one of the licks, a bitch named Bobbi Jo, got torn apart by the chaos that ensued after a certain unnamed wraith (here he studies his fingernails judiciously) fooled her into freeing another ghost.
He suspects the other members of the “family” might be miffed about that. It probably fucked up their plans for the ghosts, too.
GM: Sami looks thoughtful.
Very, very thoughtful.
Emmett: “Break the line. I know when I’ve paid my dues.”
GM: “You have any idea just how much your ass must be worth to the Giovannini?”
“No, I’m sure you do.”
“Any idea just what sorts of favors they would owe in return for it.”
Emmett: “Which means it’s an excellent thing for you to hold over my head, as I keep running errands for you and serve your interests. Love.”
“Info doesn’t exactly have an expiration date, does it? No need for you to cash in immediately. You said so yourself. The key to so many things is patience.”
“And besides. You miss me.”
The grin he gives is enough to make a dead woman flush; or maybe that’s just Rose-Marie’s frosty complexion. It doesn’t matter. Em knows she’ll keep him around for the same reason he knew he would not fall to Lamarck. Some people show you who they are and what they need from the get go. Lamarck needed acceptance.
Samantha needs to be needed. Needs to know she can fuck him whenever she wants, so she can feel nice when she doesn’t.
He knows because it’s how he feels. And they’ve always been more alike than she cares to admit.
GM: Sami seems to think over Em’s words.
Or perhaps not think them over. The deceased scam artist is at his best, after all, when his marks are feeling rather than thinking.
Then she breaks the salt barrier with the pointed red tip of her probably-several-hundred-dollar pump.
It probably really is a bad idea, objectively speaking.
But it’s like he said. Mostly like he said.
They always have been more alike than they’d care to admit.
“I guess so. Go enjoy the afterlife.”