“We’re only monsters if we choose to be, Em.”
GM: Emmett returns to Sami’s suite at the Ritz-Carlton. There are more glowing figures in the lobby and fewer inside their rooms, but the ruined and dilapidated structure otherwise appears much as it did last time.
The others are not there, but Sami’s hourglass is still in place. Sand slowly trickles down from the upper chamber. Presumably the others will be back when it runs out, if he cares to wait.
If something hasn’t happened to them.
Emmett: He tries to judge how much time he has left to wander. He can think of places he could be, in the meantime.
GM: There’s more sand in the upper than lower chamber.
Emmett: Ah, excellent. He can afford to get mentally raped twice over with that kind of surplus, and still have time to brood after.
Instead he pops out the wings and takes flight, searching for a lick.
He starts near Kione’s place and starts flying in wider and wider circumference around it. Smart money is that Astride keeps his bed close.
GM: Miserable, soul-numbing rain weeps over Em’s exposed form. Ominous shapes seem to lurk in the clouds above and it does not feel safe to linger. Em soars through the cheerless gray skies for what feels like hours. It’s easy to search, though, from a birds-eye view when walls and roofs are transparent. He eventually espies the vampire’s slumbering form not in any building, but cocooned deep beneath a destitute-looking patch of earth in the Seventh Ward.
The site nearby looks like a gang hangout.
Emmett: “Huh,” Em says, paying more attention first to the site than to the bizarre accommodations performed by the vampire to have somebody, or more likely several somebodies, bury him every night. Em can’t imagine it being particularly comfortable, either, and it confuses him why any lick that could be as comfortably situated as Sami or Caroline or Celia appeared to be would choose to live under the dirt.
He notes the address, ponders for a moment the last time he saw somebody from around here. Em might never have gotten anything done in a long, long life of misadventures, but he had made a lot of friends.
He just had a way of losing them, too.
GM: As Em recalls, Henri Astride runs a collection racket in the Seventh Ward and the poorer areas of the Quarter, though that’s a generous way of describing them. They don’t have a name. They’re a crude bunch of dog pack-minded thugs who employ equally crude methods to extort money from businesses and individuals too terrified to stand up to them. Their ‘protection’ is not always consistent, but most everyone on the streets is terrified of ‘the Haitian’ and knows he is not to be crossed. He’ll kill you for so much as looking at him funny. Em thinks he might have done time with one of the Haitian’s crew in OPP, though the faces of psychotic brutes like these tend to blur together.
Emmett: He weighs his options for a moment, then focuses on Astride and tries to dip a toe into his dreams.
After a few minutes of frustration that are better left undescribed, it occurs to him to literally dip a toe into the other dead man’s head, at which point he falls right in.
GM: Astride is quite far beneath the earth. Em sinks in. It feels right, like a breath of fresh air after all day cooped up in a non-circulating room.
The same cannot be said for the vampire’s dreams.
Corpses are strewn everywhere in charred, smoking piles. Some are fresh. Some are desiccated. There are mountains of them. The stench makes Em want to gag.
Red is everywhere. Oceans of blood, submerging all. Astride lazily floats through the current with a content and fanged smile upon his face.
He casually reaches out and rips open a passing swimmer’s throat. The man gurgles pathetically as terrified screams echo from all around. The vampire doesn’t so much as open his eyes, but his smile widens.
Kione’s body is among one of the submerged corpse piles, too. It looks the same as all the others. Astride still smiles as he floats past it, but that’s all he does.
The smile finally dies, though, as a face emerges from the red sea: a bald and ebon-skinned man whose eyes gleam like polished ivory. They suck in the light, but reflect none. All is taken by him. All is consumed. He smiles through the flowing blood, displaying two so-sharp fangs. It is a dead smile that does not reach his eyes. His distant manner reminds Emmett of a prince: authoritative, self-assured, regal. He radiates an air of nobility that feels altogether distinct from the Malveauxes or Devillers. Some part of the deceased conman wants to bow and pay obeisance. Emmett can feel the vampire’s fear, even within his dream.
That is, until the ebon man pins a felt patch upon Astride’s chest like a medal. Em feels the vampire’s unbeating heart swell with pride.
Emmett: Same bogeyman that haunts Sami’s dreams, Em notes. Curious. If only he had a name to go along with the face, or a place to find him, it might actually be worth his while.
But what’s this? A role model, too. Somebody he wants to impress. And that patch… something in the vague recesses of his mind opens wide. Where did he learn so much about a Haitian revolutionary group that named themselves after bogeymen but operated more like the Gestapo? Em’s not sure, but he knows what he knows. Maybe he even paid attention in history class without meaning to; sometimes he doesn’t notice himself learning things. He considers such invasions of information to be grave failings on his part.
Em, formless and invisible, takes his leave. The corpse-stench of the dream makes his corpus’s nose itch.
Next, he heads to the place his cousin told him about. It shouldn’t be far, if the info’s good.
GM: Em was as impacted by Katrina as any middle- to upper-middle class white boy was likely to be.
Got out of town when the mandatory evac order was issued. Stayed in a hotel for a while. His family’s house in Carrollton suffered minimal flood and wind damage. Life was hectic for a while, and Katrina was the only thing people talked about at the dinner—Dad was furious over Tulane’s President McGregor was firing tenured faculty, killing Newcomb College’s quasi-independency, and chartering that helicopter flight to Houston on the university’s dime. There was a lot to be angry about. All before the actual federal incompetence, the civil rights violations at Camp Greyhound, the disproportionate impact upon low-income communities of color, the…
There was a lot to be angry about in the Delacroix household. Righteous anger against the injustices of the world.
But for the most part, things weren’t too bad for Em. Sure, they had to boil water before drinking it. Fresh meat and produce was at a premium. There were curfews, school closures, and inconveniences aplenty.
But, as Phil and Tanya always told her m, he wasn’t going hungry. He hadn’t lost his home, his famy, or his life. He was still on track to live himself a good life.
“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for, boy,” Dad said.
But it wasn’t that hard to imagine the people who didn’t. Em saw the pictures of the Ninth Ward. The houses flooded up to their attics. The elderly couples who’d died of heat and deprivation inside of those. Phil and Tanya had helped rescue people stranded in their own houses. They brought back stories.
“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for, boy,” Dad said.
Emmett: He did, didn’t he? But it was still exhausting. Still depressing. And more than anything, still frustrating to be told over and over how lucky he was not to be poor or black or dead.
Especially now that he’s dead.
GM: But he might still be lucky.
As Em’s spectral wings propel him through the air, he sees the 9th Ward looks exactly like it did in the photos a decade ago. Houses look like little tiles. The floodwaters reach all the way to their rooftops.
They’re pitch-black waters, roiling and seething under the relentless rain. Trees are dead and barren. Skeletons and rotted corpses lie face-down on the roofs, some clasped in one another’s embrace. The smell of rot and mildew hits his nose even from so high above.
Celia’s provided address looks like it’ll be as wet as any of the others in the Ward.
Emmett: Yuck. But he doesn’t think he can drown. He dives lower, looking for street signs and addresses. When he finds the right one, he plunges in through the roof, holding his breath anyways.
GM: Finding that address takes some time. Em’s sight does not penetrate the water like so much smoke and illusion. Sounds issue from it. Moans. Whines. Feverish babbling. Death rattles.
Emmett: He’s wary, after what happened with Lamarck. He ignores the voices, for now, and tries to illuminate the darkness under the water with the lights of his own illusions—warm, orange flames that shed illumination.
GM: The voices’ feeble cries grow steadily fainter as Em leaves them behind.
Good on you, Em! Let’s look out for #1!
The illusory flames seem to help, a bit. Enough to make out numbers painted over underwater doors. Some of them are no longer even numbers at all, but swastikas, Klan crosses, and other obscene symbols, or just unrecognizable smudges.
The water isn’t still underneath its already roiling surface, either. Bizarrely, it appears vastly more furious underwater. Em spots snapped-off street signs, tree branches, assorted debris, and even cars flying to and fro. It looks like a hurricane raging under there.
After what feels like hours of searching, Em reaches Celia’s provided address. Like its neighbors, the house is flooded all the way up to its roof.
“Ah, loo—ngh! What we have here!” exclaims a harrowed but cheerful-sounding voice from below. “Two fr—ngh! Enfants! Not even reaped! Th—s is a good d—s work, n—ow isn’t it?”
Emmett: Ah, Reapers. Things are so much less scary when you know the proper name for them.
…no, no they aren’t. But still, at least he knew the name.
He extinguishes the phantom-light and ducks his head under the surface, making sure to hold his breath first.
GM: Em sticks his head under the water and feels air. Down becomes up. Up becomes down. He looks up and sees night sky in all directions, but the stars are cold and distant, and disturbingly out of alignment. Rain pours down over his face as a screaming hurricane smashes past.
Emmett: Alley-oop. Swapping gravitational axes is much less daunting when you have wings. Em even puts a little spin and flip on it until he sees the hurricane. His wings beat furiously against the howling winds as he flings himself past the watery cyclone’s path, rain soaking through his corpus. That was close.
Careful not to make too much noise, he creeps up on the voice, trying to suss out how many slavers he’s up against.
Otherwise, he won’t know how much to exaggerate their numbers when he tells the story later.
GM: As Em flies towards the upside-down house, his surroundings shift. The night sky turns on its axis. The upside-down house becomes a sideways house. The ill-kept lawn grows into a forest. Blades of dead, shriveled grass shoots towards the night sky like hurled spears. Blackened vegetation explodes everywhere until Em can barely see the stars. He bobs and weaves and shoulders past the shoots in his path to observe out the translucent house.
There’s several ashen-hued figures. There’s a man and a woman, floating in place with tranquil expressions past their cauls.
The other two are Dr. Brown and his rotted friend.
Emmett: Oh, joy. Familiar faces. Brown must be responsible for a wide bout of territory.
GM: “Good corpi here! Barely damaged!” he exclaims, digging a steel collar out from his coat pocket.
“Let’s get you two out of your cauls, why don’t we…”
Emmett: He’ll have to find a way to get the good doctor alone at some point. But for now, he’ll settle for these two.
Their tender operation is suddenly interrupted by a faint, but definite noise. A terrible noise. A noise Em knows scares dead men, because it’s stayed with him, ever since it chased him in the hospital.
Faint, at first. Then louder.
Something wicked this way comes, doctor.
GM: “Hr… tht…” gurgles the drowned woman through bloated lips.
Dr. Brown holds a hand to his ear. It’s hard to make out much past the sound of the rapidly growing vegetation. He frowns as the house tilts 90 degrees again, sending him and the woman running up the walls.
“Ah, fudge. Shades!” he ‘curses.’
“Discretion is the better part of valor, my dear. You fight if you want to. I’m leaving them with enough not to complain over.”
Emmett: Fudge? Goddamn, this man is dead and he doesn’t swear?
GM: He grabs the falling female enfant and dives through the still-rotating house’s wall.
The woman stares for a moment, then dives after him, leaving the male one behind.
In the distance, the still-growing blades of shriveled grass stab through the stars. Fire races along their already blackened husks as smoke fills Em’s nostrils.
Emmett: Well, you win some, you lose some, you don’t get collared by ghostly rapist slavers.
He flaps his way into the house once the coast is clear, examining the man’s face before he tries something he hasn’t before—willing himself into the dreams of the slumbering wraith.
GM: The smell of smoke and burning vegetation draws steadily closer before it and Em’s surroundings dissolve.
He’s in the same shitty house again. The man, a brown-haired and brown-eyed Caucasian in his 30s or 40s, is fucking a shrieking vampire with beautiful features who’s had her arms and legs gorily sawed off. Corpses litter the floor around the bed.
Emmett: He glances at the vampire’s face.
GM: The screaming creature is still perfectly pulchritudinous, a divine goddess; Em can imagine her otherworldly looks being compared to Aphrodite herself. She is in full glamour: hair, makeup, nails, clothing. Every inch of her is painted, sculpted perfection, from the shade of her foundation to the wing of her eyeliner to the fresh-looking coat of polish on her nails. Her polish does not chip. Her mascara does not run. Her lipstick does not smudge. Even after the mtulation she’s suffered, everything remains in its place.
Her hair is dark and often worn loosely curled or piled atop her head in the latest fashion, her bulging dark eyes framed by long lashes, smoked out shadow, and impeccable liquid liner. Her waist is trim, even with her legs gone. Her cheekbones are high, her nose aquiline; all of these features are enhanced by the easy way Em can still picture a smile taking to her fury- and agony-sculpted face.
Even as she is, it is easy for Em to imagine her gathering people around her like moths to a flame. Poise, grace, a gentle curving of her lips when she smiles: Em can picture it all past her screams. Some jealous, petty mortals surely must whisper that she has had work done. But that’s the key to good work, isn’t it? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you cannot tell. And Em cannot tell what, exactly, has happened to make her into this exquisite creature.
She’d be flawless—if it weren’t for the screaming man fucking and mutilating her.
The man tenses and pumps faster and faster, screaming obscenities at the howling vampire as he blows his load, filling her dead cunt with his seed. He sticks a heavy gun into her mouth and pulls the trigger. Her flawless features explode into messy shards of bone, blood, and gore.
Emmett: Yikes. And I’ve had some bad sex dreams.
Em clears his throat as he wafts into the dream, wearing a suit he could never afford in life. “I’m sorry to interrupt. It seems like you’ve got a lot going on. I can just watch, if you’re into that, but I think I’d feel overdressed.”
GM: The man looks up from the ruined corpse with a haunted expression. Looks towards Em, who the bed now faces.
“It’s not enough,” he slowly mouths as he pulls out his cock. “It’s never enough.”
He gathers up the corpse and cradles it in his arms. A tear leaks down his face as he strokes his hands through the gore-streaked hair.
Emmett: “Not enough for what?” Em produces two cigarettes from his breast pocket, lights one, and offers the other to his new compatriot.
“You’re dead, by the way. Good time to start.”
GM: The man runs through the air where the destroyed vampire’s head used to be, as if stroking her cheek. “Brianna. Brianna, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
But the telltale smell of smoke from the cigarette proves prescient.
It’s a whiff at first, then overpoweringly strong. Burning pain sears through Em as his surroundings dissolve in a haze of smoke and heat. He’s back in the house. The fire he saw start outside, and smelled inside, has finally reached inside.
Tongues of flame lick at his blackening corpus, which is melting before his eyes like hot wax. Smoke billows everywhere. The cauled enfant’s face remains still and oblivious to the raging inferno.
Emmett: “Shit. Shit shit shit.”
Damn his stick arms. Regardless, he tries to haul the cauled enfant out of the burning house and past the ‘water’ barrier, if it’s still even water. He simultaneously mends his corpus, willing the burns’ pain away with some of those happy feels he remembers getting from Jenna.
GM: It’s not a moment too soon as the roaring inferno consumes the house. Em can feel heat blistering against his broads as he desperately flaps and kicks through the sprawling undergrowth. More than blistering. Gasper’s laughter rings in his head as the flames race about him.
He doesn’t even see the water barrier. One moment, there’s just more undergrowth, the next he’s ‘falling’ out of the waters’ surface at a 90 degree angle, and it’s rising up to meet his face as residual flames race along his crisped and blackened corpus. The cauled and motionless enfant ‘falls’ into the water with a splash.
Emmett: “You bastard. You better hope you’re more fun to talk to than it is to see you get gnashed to bits by Abélia.”
Still, after willing his corpus better, (again), he takes care to help the enfant into this fresh hell. He sinks his hands past the newborn wraith’s caul and tries to do… whatever exactly it was he did last time.
GM: It’s similar to last time. Em can hear something through the caul like the pulsating of a heartbeat, but it doesn’t seem to come from the other wraith’s chest. He thinks he can hear voices again, too. A babble too faint and indistinct to make out the words of, but the tone is angrier.
Em hurts, again. There’s grief and rage, horror and exhaustion, enough of it to sink him like a stone into the surreal ‘waters’ he and his charge float through.
He’s suffocating. He can’t breathe. He can’t see. He’s being torn apart. There’s pain, everywhere—
But he can see, and he is being torn apart. It’s an elderly black woman. She’s thin and emaciated, like a walking skeleton, clad in a rotted flower-printed dress. She smells horrible, like a corpse left to rot and bloat in a hot attic for days. She has no eyes. Pinpricks of black fire burn from her empty sockets. Tiny flames run downwards rather than upwards, like a crying girl wearing cheap mascara.
And she’s eating Em, arms wrapped around him like a lover as she sinks her teeth into his corpus with mindless, ravening hunger.
Wow Em, look at you! Always a hit with the ladies!
Emmett: Why can’t things ever be simple? Em can’t fight his way out—he dazzles her instead, sends a thing made of shadow and spite to distract her so he can slip her grasp.
He has come too far. He will strangle infants and sell their shades into slavery before he dies to this thing, one more time a victim.
He whirls away from her, evading instead of engaging , his winds adding great advantage to the endeavor.
A desperate, foolish plan occurs to him, even as his corpus aches where her mindless gluttony takes her.
“Hey, pretty,” he snarls at the ugly spirit. “If you catch me, I’ll let you kiss me.”
Sparks fly from around him, making him impossible to miss.
Then he dances with her.
She isn’t as graceful as Celia, true, but she makes up for it in her eagerness. He taunts and encourages her at every turn, not tiring himself about by trying to evade her in the long run but instead cutting it close, flapping around her like a too-courageous fly. He sets off firecrackers next to her ears and summons dung-flavored smoke to jibe her on, coaxing her forward.
He lets her chase him, and chase him, and chase him.
He lets her chase him to the monster’s mouth.
GM: The blackfire-eyed crone shrieks hideously as the phantasmal shadows assail her, stagnant floodwater leaking like drool from her rotted mouth. She drops Em with a splash to flail and gnash at the darkness.
When it dissolves like so much smoke and the winged wraith flaps away, she swims after him, still shrieking as black tongues of fire drip from her eyes. The enfant slowly recedes, becoming just another piece of storm-tossed detritus.
She swims. Once her shoe-less and half-rotted feet hit dry land, she runs.
The 9th Ward’s flooded post-apocalypse gives way to the burnt and blackened ruins of the French Quarter, then the bombed-out shells of the CBD’s high-rises. He finally passes the rotted husks of the Garden District’s once-grand old homes, surrounded by those hungrily grasping, claw-like protrusions that are live oaks on the Shroud’s other side.
Em notices something else, too, as he runs. The sky is pitch dark again. Moonless and starless. Cheerless gray has given way to black void. He does not want to look at the sky. He feels like he could fall upwards, forever, if he were to stare overlong into that yawning emptiness.
The woman is implacable. Her bare, rotted, water-soaked feet pound over over discard needles in the 9th Ward with a gruesome crunch. Specks of black blood follow her as she runs. She doesn’t let. She doesn’t shut. She screams the entire time, this warbling moan. Em sees nothing in her eyes but that same black fire.
Maybe she’s hungry. Maybe she’s thirsty. Maybe she’s just angry.
But she looks empty. Staring into that slow-burning black fire makes Em think of those days when he did nothing except lie in bed in his apartment, too depressed to shower or shave or eat.
To depressed to do anything but rot, and wonder if this was all there was.
He knows what it is to feel empty.
Then they’re at the gates of a too-familiar house.
And just like that, ravenous tendrils of living darkness burst from the front doors. The ghastly shade disappears under them like a fly into a spider’s cocoon. Her shrieks die. The tendrils retreat. The doors slam shut.
Em thinks of venus flytraps, and painful emptiness left forever unfilled.
Ha. That never gets old.
Emmett: It might after the tenth time.
He coughs and bows to the house. “Do you hunger yet more, madam? How many might I bring you to show my dedication completely?”
GM: Pseudopods of inky, dripping darkness continue to slowly caress the enveloped, snow-white house. Faint screams issue from within.
Yeah, speaking as someone who also gets stronger whenever you do that, I’d want more than two.
Emmett: Good to know, wise one. Thank you for your advice.
“Then you shall have more, madame. All I can provide…”
Em walks inside, his corpus sallow and colorless. He needs to slumber next to a loved one.
He only knows one who might have him.
“Would your daughter see me?” he asks, pitiful and helpless. He has nowhere else to go.
GM: The rows of skulls lining the ground ripple beneath Em’s feet as he approaches the house. A wave of inky darkness streaks towards him. He’s flung beyond its gate and hits the pavement with a crack. The horrid spiderweb, tentacles, pseudopods, whatever it or they is, squeezes tightly over the house’s front door.
Em may be small and pitiful.
But the house’s owner is vast and pitiless.
Aww. Poor Em! You were thinking of asking for a new family, weren’t you, for our ’heart’s desire?’ If Caroline could get adopted, why not us, right?
But Maman sees through us just like good old Uncle Ron, I bet. Sees how everything we touch turns to shit.
You’ll never be good enough for her. For Cécilia. You’re just… the help.
Emmett: You’re probably right.
He straightens up, brushes cobwebs from arms. When he’s this low on juice, he can’t muster any dreams with color in them. Only manifestations of his own malaise.
Better, then, not to think on it. Not to dwell. Let the Shadow yammer.
He will simply do what he has always been best at, and act.
Emmett: He prowls the hospice where Clarice died. Not many happy memories here, but there are lots of dying people. Maybe there’s one or two ghosts, too.
GM: Em makes it several steps away from the house.
I’ve got a better idea.
Yawning blackness screams around Em as he plummets through the void in endless free-fall.
He lands on the grass in a familiar setting. He’ll always remember this place.
Emmett: It’s useless to argue, so he doesn’t.
I forgot how pretty this place was.
GM: The gang’s all there. Showerz. Cash Money. Jermaine. Dino.
The gang. There for the gangbang. That’s almost funny.
Emmett: And the victim?
GM: Her chin’s in his hand. Her eyes stare blankly past his. He remembers that look. He remembers what he remembered upon seeing that look. “Looking but not listening,” as his dad called it. Completely checked out. Wanting to just turn off her brain and stop processing. Wanting to just hit a fast forward button, acknowledge the lost minutes of her life, and then never think about them again.
“You gonna fuck her now or what?” scoffs Showerz.
Em feels the weight of another gaze on him, too. But it’s not hers, this time. It’s Abélia’s. A knowing smile traces the raven-haired woman’s lips as she runs a hand through Simmone’s hair, who’s seated upon her lap. She holds a hand to her mouth and giggles, her eyes not leaving the scene with Sami and the five men.
Emmett: Here he is again, dressed for a date with his bolo tie and his “I’m a bad, bad man” suit and his ego and his shitty snapping cell phone.
There she is, the girl who made him hurt when he was at his most dangerous.
And there’s the monster he blamed for pushing him here.
He holds Sami’s chin, for a moment. Then he says, “No. I’m not. It’s played out, rape. Bit beneath me at this point, to be straight.”
He turns to the others.
“I don’t think I’m better than any of you. I just think y’all don’t know how ugly we are. I’m not hurting her. The novelty’s all gone.”
GM: “Speak for yourself, I’m one handsome motherfucker,” smirks Showerz.
Emmett: “Why do we let this guy hang out with us? Isn’t he into shitting on people? That seems like something we should make more fun of him for.”
“Or Dino, for being a fucking pussy who got killed shooting a porno.”
“Which, I guess, is more just a Mafia thing. Wasn’t there a guy on The Sopranos named Pussy? Maybe he was just friends with Dino.”
GM: Dino’s snarling face turns black with anger. He cocks his fist, then he collapses in a heap as Cash Money empties a bullet into his brain. Blood, brains, and bone splatter over Em’s feet as his ears ring. The others yell and clamp their ears.
Showerz gapes at the corpse. “What the—fuck, man!?”
“He’s right,” says Jermaine. “We should make fun of you.”
Emmett: “Oh, and the cop,” Em goes on, rolling with it. “Don’t get me started on Detective Disco, over here.”
“You’re ’80s like a used needle full of AIDS, Ricky.”
GM: Jermaine throws a punch, catching Showerz in the throat. The man gags and collapses.
Cash Money hungrily descends on him, ripping off his clothes.
“What the FUCK man!?” he wails.
Emmett: “Which I don’t actually mind. It’s kind of the funniest thing about you, except that you wouldn’t be anything but a life insurance hawk if you hadn’t been your uncle’s favorite nephew to fondle. Which I guess is less funny than it is pathetic. Maybe that’s why you make me want to puke instead of laugh.”
GM: Cash Money punches Showerz in the throat. He flips the man over and bares his ass to Em, even sticking his fingers up the man’s hole to spread it extra wide as he screams.
Jermaine, though, just hands Em a gun.
“You keep it this time.”
“The prick or the bullet, cuz.”
Emmett: “I… have never been great at subtext. Who are you asking me to shoot?”
GM: “Me,” he says.
“We’re all monsters.”
“And you’ve got a better cousin now.”
Emmett: “Oh. I never really processed how I felt about killing you, you know. It wasn’t actually…I mean, it was personal. But it wasn’t about you, J. If we ever meet again. I hope you get that.”
He points the gun at Jermaine.
Then he tosses it over the palatial manse’s wall.
GM: “Figured you’d do that,” says Jermaine.
“Means you can’t stop this.”
He turns and throws a punch into Sami’s mouth, sending bloody teeth flying. He punches her again, and there’s a crunch that leaves his fist red.
He wraps his hands around her throat and squeezes. She chokes and sputters, weakly clawing at his fingers as her face turns blue.
Emmett: “But I can do this.”
He holds up his phone. It’s dialing. A real 2007 phone, there’s no picture saved in the contact. Just a name.
Just RON in capital letters.
“Speed dial,” he explains. “He actually picks up most of the time when I call, you know. Let me ask you, Jermaine. Your dad and I, we were tighter than you two ever were. But I bet you didn’t ever want him to know what you were capable of. You can stop him from hearing. Or you can kill her. But I bet you can’t do both.”
He holds the ringing phone just out of reach, tantalizing.
Em always had a knack for keep-away.
GM: “Nope. But I can do one, then the other.”
He lets go of Sami, then tackles Em for the phone.
Emmett: He keeps it away for as long as he can, ducking and evading the bigger man-boy’s grasps, and doing all he can to keep their eyes on him, the clown, the dancing idiot.
Sami’s smart enough to run when she’s given an opportunity. He knows that from too much experience.
GM: And Em does lead his increasingly swearing and frustrated cousin on a merry chase. Jermaine can’t catch up. Em didn’t put actual effort into many things, but track was one of them.
Sami runs, too. She always did look out for #1.
But Cash Money, with his long beanpole legs, not to mention a groin area that hasn’t been gangraped by four men, easily catches up to the fleeing teenager. The puffy-lipped, content-as-a-cumstain smirk he flashes Em is all-too familiar as he wraps his hands around Sami’s neck and squeezes. Throttles the life out of her as she gags and flails.
“Shit you can do, Em. Face the facts,” Jermaine says as he stops jogging.
“Guess you’ve got a nice head start though. We’ll come for you after we’ve put the bitch out of her misery.”
Emmett: A lead they aren’t expecting him to sacrifice for no fucking reason. When he comes at them from behind, screaming that he’s taking one of them with him, there’s no accounting for it. Nor for the look on his too-wide eyes, the calcified defiance of a dead man. The words coming from his throat cannot be called screams; they are too ferocious, too willing to bear any torment, too spiteful of any humiliation.
Em has died already. He has lost to his Shadow already.
He’s not scared of his own mistakes anymore.
He runs at them, and he needs no gun to look like a monster. He knows he is one.
GM: Em’s a scrawny, thin-wristed little thing. Stines said that about him. That he basically was a girl already, a “helpless fuckable little girl,” just without the pussy and tits.
But his dad once said that bullies (“whether schoolkids or politicians and corporations”) don’t care if you’re bigger than them. Just whether you’ll give them enough fight to feel some hurt.
Cash Money reacts like any bully faced with the prospect of actual hurt does.
He turns and runs.
“Are you fucking kidding me,” snarls Jermaine.
“Guess I’ll beat the shit of you myse-”
He’s cut off as Sami sticks a leg in his path, tripping him.
She gives a manic, raw-throated screams and falls on the larger man with the same animalistic fury she destroyed Dino’s manhood with in the real version.
Emmett: He watches, much the same.
Dino and Showerz dead. Cash Money fled.
Jermaine’s death isn’t much prettier in this world.
He turns and regards the watching mother and her daughter.
“I do learn from my mistakes. I just have to make them a few times.”
GM: “That’s all it takes, sometimes,” says Cécilia, lifting Simmone off her lap. Green eyes regard him thoughtfully.
“We’re only monsters if we choose to be, Em. The right thing isn’t always hard to see. Maybe we’ll talk again.”
“Let’s burn this place,” snarls Sami, her clawed hands coated up to their elbows in blood. She splashes gasoline from a can all over the house’s walls.
Emmett: He burns it with her. This time, though, he lets himself play with the tommy guns.
He does have some regrets, after all.
GM: Rat-a-tat-tat, they go in his head.
The place goes up in flames. Sami doesn’t try to run outside before tossing the match, and somehow, Em doesn’t feel the need to either as they hold hands. The inferno roars around them, but Em’s heart is calm. He feels so light. He’s floating. The flames are warm and bright. There’s a shining white light. He floats towards it…
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A fun log, and hopefully a portentous one given the current state of play.
—I’m curious about said “ebon-colored man” (descriptions a phrenologist uses for 500, Alex) in both Sami and Astride’s dreams. Seems like somebody worth finding. Might make it a downtime goal.
— I remember being somewhat surprised (pleasantly) that he could slip into the enfant hunter’s dreams. Implications of other spooks having dreams are promising.
— I also had fun leading the shade (if that’s what she was) on a goose chase to death. Obviously enough, that plan foreshadows his later gambit with the Reapers.
— Harrowing was a much-savored victory, especially as I got to “replay” one of the more harrowing (ha) moments of Em’s play, and make some amends. Plus, as has been pointed out, tommy guns. Man, are tommy guns cool.
Rat a tat. Tat.
Eat a dick, cuz.