“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”
GM: Em falls and falls through an endless black void. Howling winds buffet him. Voices are audible through the storm.
“God, you’re such a fucking hot little bitch,” whispers Stines.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Em, but you’re, well, an idiot,” says Villars.
“You’re bad seed,” wheezes Ron. “Everything you touch turns to shit.”
“What is your shirt and pant size?” asks the corrections officer.
“Heart’s desire,” smiles Abélia.
He lands in hell’s pretty little condo. A man who wishes for death laughs and throws up over a redbone cop, and a sea of vomit and broken, blood-smeared glass washes it all away. Poison eyes smile up at him from glass as the noxious wave carries him to the corridor of a prison’s death row wing. It’s a condemned man’s final walk before facing the needle. Vomit and squashed cockroaches, the kind that came in his meals, stain he walls, along with movie posters spelling out in blockbuster lettering:
This way to everything you’ve ever wanted
This way to fill the void that’s always gnawed at your heart
This way to meaning and purpose
This way to things no longer being shit
A figure stands in front of the door. He’s a king of two courts, with a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not need to float, not when he stands over twelve feet tall. Over twenty feet tall. God, he’s tall. He’s wearing a suit, a hoodie, a polo and khakis, a poncho—it doesn’t matter. He’s wearing Em down.
He’s his own best friend.
And he’s in control.
“Mini-me, huh?” smirks Em, staring down at Em.
Emmett: Like a greatest hits montage, only it’s just him smashing like a comet through each successive rock bottom until he lands here, in his freshest hell. Well, he’s here now. Time to see it through to the end.
“Huh,” Em says, and squinting up.
“I mean, I knew I had a big ego.”
He folds his arms. “So. Harrowing. Spooky. You have any demands before you start making me eat shit, or are we getting to it?”
Even here, even small, he’s not going to let the bastard think he’s won.
Even when the bastard is him.
GM: Em smirks down at him.
“I’m only this big ’cause you fed me so much. As in, literally fed me, with every stupid sap you sent Abélia to chow down on.”
“Thanks to you, I’ve grown up big and strong.”
He mockingly folds his own, much bigger arms.
“Two ways this can go, Em.”
“We walk down this corridor together, and that’s that. We claim the prize, and you spend the rest of existence with me.”
“Or, you can try to beat me. Because this prize sure is something special. Win, and you’re done with me forever.”
“Lose, and you go straight to Oblivion, and I get to enjoy it all to myself.”
“Because boy oh boy, Em. Is it great. Is it sure something. Abélia really came through on this one. You have no fucking idea how badly we’ve wanted this. You didn’t even ask for it. That stupid ‘adopt me into your family’ crap you were thinking. But we’ve wanted this for years. In any fair or just universe, there’s no way we should get to have it.”
“But hey, since when has the universe been fair or just?”
Emmett: He acknowledges the point with an incline of his head.
“Beat you how? Duel of wits? Brawl? Harrowing? What sort of contest are we talking about, before I take a step off the last cliff?”
GM: Em just smirks.
Emmett: Em looks up at himself.
“There’s a smart answer here, isn’t there.”
GM: “Since when did we do smart?”
Emmett: Em tosses his hands up. “Look. I’m feeling unusually zen right now. Maybe it’s because we’re separated.”
Oi. Cunt. Midget. Dwarf-in-a-flask.
He awaits a response.
“You want me to challenge, I’m guessing. Because you think you can win, and that’s that for being the backseat driver.”
GM: Em only continues to smirk down at his smaller self.
Emmett: But this is all pussyfooting, a bit of foreplay before the violent round of fucking that’s coming.
Em already made up his mind. And Em knows it.
“You have grown up big, haven’t you? And nasty as a fucking gator. Congratu-fucking-lations, Gaspy. You ate your veggies.”
“But you know what? I still can’t bring myself to be all that scared of you. Because you’re me, right, and I’m you? And you’re the bit of me that got Sami raped, the bit that made sure Clarice went to Hell crying her eyes out, even the bit that drove away the people that loved us because you knew that they saw past you. And because you’re me, you’re a good liar. You had me fooled, most of the while.”
“You made me think I was the weak half. That all the parts of me that hurt were mine alone. You’re too big to cry, aren’t you, Gaspy?”
“Except you aren’t.”
“Every bad thing I’ve ever done I did to run from the pain. But I did them. I was the one who got Sami raped. I was the one who chose to let rip over Mouton’s shite fucking outfit. I was the one who kept digging my own grave, because to be honest, it looked a lot more comfy from the outside.”
“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”
“You empty-headed, smiling cunt. You forget, I know how your mind works too, only I’m reflective enough to appreciate it. You aren’t big because you’re strong.”
“You’re just compensating for something.”
Em isn’t aware of when he started growing. It doesn’t really feel like that, in this not-place. Maybe the other guy’s shrinking. All he knows is he’s suddenly staring into his worse half’s eyes, and they’re not so high up anymore.
“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”
GM: But Em isn’t staring into Em’s eyes. Not anymore.
Now he’s staring down at them.
Em looks like the scrawny misbehaving brat everyone always said he was. He’s fat, too, from a garbage diet of Nutella and Hot Pockets. His greasy skin is pasty and acne-ridden, bereft even of the good looks that were always so good at covering up the emptiness and the ugliness festering in his heart.
For a moment, he doesn’t say anything. Just stares up at Em—at himself—with a look of pure hate. Hate enough to hurt everybody and everything until his own pain is eclipsed in the resulting detonation of grief, agony and sorrow. He wants the whole world to suffer because he does, the entirety of existence to writhe with his tantrum and know that nothing, not a single moment of kindness or love or hope or resurrection will ever undo the crimes committed against him, the defendant: everybody else.
Em knows then, that whatever waits on the other side of that door, it will not make Gasper happy. Maybe for a little while. But he will find a way to sabotage it. He will take a good thing and he will turn it to shit, like he turns everything he touches to shit, exactly like Ron said he did. There is only one place that Gasper can be happy. It is the same place Em tried to reach after he realized Sami didn’t need him and he gave Roberts a call for lunch at Cafe Soulé.
Gasper is the first one to say it, the words seething with spite.
“I’m gonna drag us both to Oblivion.”
The corridor starts to collapse around the pair. Chunks of wall, floor, and ceiling spiral away into a void as black and empty as his worse half’s own heart.
Emmett: “Yeah. Maybe you will, fatty. But I’m bad at standing still, and your sorry ass doesn’t like going anywhere.”
So Em throws the handful of wriggling roaches he palmed while he was getting up into Gasper’s eyes, and then darts past him and to the door.
He’s going to lock the bastard into his own mess.
GM: The 12-year-old screams and flails like a girl as the roaches get over his face. Em takes off. Track pays off, like it always has. Em feels more agile than he ever did while he was alive. His corpus isn’t a fragile thing of meat and bone and ligaments like his old body was, but a mutable thing of ego and desire made solid, and his ego has always been so much more than his body.
Corridor blurs past him as as he runs and runs. The chunks falling away into the void seem to pass in slow motion.
He runs… and runs… and runs…
The door swims tantalizingly ahead.
His own voice laughs behind him.
“It’s not gonna be that easy… you fed me so much, Em…”
The floor splinters away beneath him. He falls through a howling void. It’s full of regrets and mistakes. Hospital corridors, where the doctors all rape you, places he hated for no reason until Doc Brown and his nurse gave him one. Stairs up the strip club, to a private lap dance room with Courtney, the latest in a string of bad decisions. The blood-soaked grass courtyard of Giacona Manse, where it all went wrong with Sami. It all jumbles and spills together like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle.
But it is not empty of inhabitants.
Em’s wriggling roaches fall through the void, mating like roaches do, facing away from each other. They exoskeletons fall away as they die. The egg they laid bursts open in a wash of foul-smelling blood. A presence stalks through the void on all fours, drawing steadily closer like an approaching comet. Em can’t make out exactly what it is. There are claws, he is sure, and horns, and teeth, but he cannot say how many. Everything about it is sharp and cruel. Nightmares enough to make Abélia sing praises swim across its rippling flesh. Hatred pours from it in nigh-tangible waves, even from so far away, and Em knows instinctively that it portends doom… but its burning gaze does not alight upon him.
“You IDIOT! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!” Gasper shouts from nowhere and everywhere, his voice shrill.
Emmett: “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little bug, big man.”
It’s big talk. Em’s terrified. Still, the terror just makes him giddy. It always has.
“Come on, Gaspy. You hate me and I hate you, but this thing’s more dangerous than both of us. Work with me and we can take it down together. If you call out to it and rearrange the furniture around here, we can trap it in this place.”
Bullshit, but believable, especially with the all-too-real note of terror in his own voice.
GM: “You know, Em, I actually believe that,” sounds his nasally 12-year-old self. “I really do. It’s just your bad luck there’s an even better way to get rid of it…”
The ground gives out underneath Em. He lands in Orleans Parish Prison, on the other side of a plexiglas barrier, seated on a too-familiar stainless steel stool with a phone in his hand. Ron stares at him from across the glass. His uncle’s words are as blunt and heavy as a dropped anvil:
“What the fuck happened to my son?”
Emmett: Ron. The face, followed by the words that started the cruelest conversation in his life, might stop Em’s newly lightened heart.
If it hadn’t stopped a while back, anyways.
For a moment, he waits for the old panic. The defensiveness that always led him over one burning bridge and onto another, never figuring out why everything behind him kept catching fire.
But he’s done chasing his own shadow.
“I killed him, uncle Ron. I killed Jermaine. And nothing I can say will ever make that alright. I told myself it was because I needed to save somebody else, or that he deserved it, or that he wouldn’t have live longed anyways. But that’s all bullshit. I killed him because I was scared, and desperate, and I thought it would be easier to get away with than letting the girl die. I cut his throat and lied to him about not liking him much as I did it because I didn’t want him to know what a pathetic cousin I knew I was being. I killed him because I’m a bastard, and it’s a lifetime too late and a coffin too little, but uncle— I’m sorry I took your son from you. It hurt too much to say it then, but no matter what else I am—I love you, and I’m sorry for what I did that night.”
“And one way or another, I won’t rest ’til you know that. I owe you that much.”
GM: Ron is quiet at those words, at first.
Maybe Em isn’t sure what he expected his uncle to say. It’s hard to say what someone should say to those words, that come a lifetime and a coffin too late. The movie response would be to break down in tearful exclamations of forgiveness.
Ron’s tomato-red face loses some of its color. It doesn’t lose its edge so much as go still. It’s hard to say what’s moving in his eyes.
As Em looks into them, his surroundings shift again in his peripheral vision. They’re not in OPP anymore. They’re in a bayou. It’s hot and humid even late at night. There’s insects buzzing and bullfrogs ribbitting, but the most noticeable sound by far are the snapping jaws of the alligators.
Em’s on a rowboat. Gasper sits in front of him, twelve years old and smiling and fat.
“Well, that was touching. I’m sure it felt really cathartic. But the right thing was a little obvious, wasn’t it?”
He glances to his side. There’s two other rowboats. Bud’s in the one on the left. Cash Money’s in the one on the right.
Bud and several faceless goons are holding Lena, tied up and gagged. Cash Money and some equally faceless goons are holding Ron, in the same state. They’ve lifted both of their hostages over the sides of the boat, and the gators are snapping hungrily as they try to get closer to the succulent meals. Ron and Lena thrash and make terrified gagged noises as they’re slowly lowered closer to the water.
Gasper glances between them both. “Decide who you save, I guess.”
“We’re pretty done with Lena, aren’t we? There’s just no living her down. But good old Uncle Ron didn’t give us a Hollywood moment at that confession, either…”
Water splashes as the gators’ jaws snap steadily closer.
Emmett: Em looks, too. They aren’t all faceless. He sees Josh in there. Bobbi Jo, too, though she looks confused by what’s going on.
His expression is moving faster than the rest of him. It has to be like that, sometimes. If he thinks too hard he won’t be able to act.
His face, already pale with death, blanches. His eyes widen, his lips quiver, his hairs would stand up if they could, but he works with what he has. For a moment, Delacroix seems arrested, broken.
For a single cruel moment, he lets Gasper think he’s won.
It’s a good trap, as far as traps go. Whoever he tries to help, Gasper gets to drop the other, and swell in the shadow his choice will cast over him. Taken from a hundred spy flicks and superhero movies, but Em saw them all growing up, and unlike Gasper, he remembers the right answer.
The right answer is the unrealistic one.
The right answer is both of them.
Em’s face is a tableau of doubt that Gasper can’t look away from. That’s helpful because it keeps his adversary from noticing the phantasm he’s spinning until it’s been spun.
It pours from the sky in a trickle, then a tumble. Probably at first if anybody notices it they guess it’s rain, no uncommon sight in the bayou, but then some of it gets in their eyes, and they quickly realize the error.
First a bucket’s worth, then a beach’s. Coming from everywhere and nowhere, dancing in the wind and spilling from the waters. It blinds the henchmen, buffets the bosses and gives the gators some very, very dry throats. Gasper gets a sandcastle up the nostril.
And everybody but Em’s flinching and swearing and fumbling as the hostages fall into the water and the gators dive in confused animal terror, and he dives in after them.
GM: Em’s seen movies where people try to swim through sand. There’s one he saw with a guy in an Amish… grain mill? You can drown in sand, but you can’t swim through it, even when you think you can. It’s too thick and too heavy. The guy in the movie tried and failed. Or maybe it was his girl. Bud and Cash Money and the goons all try to, but they can’t, and give muffled yells through mouths full of the stuff as they try to ‘swim’ through.
“It’s an illusion, you idiots! He can’t make sand out of thin air!” yells Gasper.
They either don’t hear, don’t understand, or can’t deny the illusion’s power. Maybe all three. Gasper grabs at Em’s pant leg as he dives off, but the tubby 12-year-old never took track and hits the water with a loud splash as Em dives under.
The gators are all trying to get away from the free-flowing sand. But another shape cuts through the waters, simultaneously black as midnight and red as blood. It’s much closer now than when it burst out of the cockroach egg. Em can’t even begin to count how many claws and teeth there are, or how many ways it has to kill. The sheer force of the thing’s hatred boils the water around it into smoke.
Gasper motions with his hands like a fussy director rearranging a movie set. Ron and Lena seem completely forgotten by the Shadow as he frantically sends wave after wave of subsurface water crashing into the monster, forcing it away.
Emmett: The glow of the victory is tempered by the encroaching doom. Out of the corner of his eye, he tries to make sense of its shape. He decides it’s something like a beetle, if only because it makes him incessantly think Deathwatch,with none of the associated coziness of the particular species.
It gives him the self-control he needs to keep his mouth shut and undo the bindings of his prisoners of conscience with quick and silent fingers under sand-logged waters. It helps that he’s had to get out from the other side of the ropes more than once. That’s the harder trick.
Then he starts to guide them to the nearest shore, taking what advantage of Gasper’s distraction that he can.
GM: The other two are struggling and drowning as Em alights upon them. They have some ways to swim after he gets out. It’s nothing but water and moss and trees for as far as they can see. Mosquitoes alight upon their flesh as the bullfrogs ribbit.
“Shit, kid… it’s all a movie, see?” gets out Ron.
“It’s all movie logic. But that still doesn’t explain… something’s wrong here.”
“Something’s really wrong.”
Emmett: “Wrong how?” Em asks as they bob and strain against the current.
GM: There isn’t much current. It’s a swamp.
Emmett: Oh. It just feels like that, because of his noodle-weak arms. One thing death hasn’t fixed for him. Yet.
GM: “All surgeries leave scars,” says Lena. “Anytime there is a cut through skin, there is a 100 percent chance of a scar. How big it is depends on how careful your surgeon is.”
“Nah, nah, that ain’t it,” says Ron.
“I mean, fuckin’ duh. I think this whole thing is actually-”
Suddenly, there is a current, fast-flowing and furious. There are alligators, too. The fake sand couldn’t last forever. They swim for the trio, jaws wide and snapping. Ron and Lena shout and swim furiously.
The current rises into a full-blown wave, carrying the gators with it. Then it’s a tsunami, swallowing the bayou into a giant wave that goes on forever. Gasper’s laughter sounds as it crashes forward. Ron and Lena both try to shout something.
He doesn’t hear it, not as the wave smashes into him like an avalanche. The gators burst through. Enormous fangs clamp over Em as the jaws close, rip, and tear. The water turns red with his blood as Gasper laughs over his screams. Cash Money’s laughing, too. Bud and Stines and Josh and Bobbi Jo and everyone else he’s ever hated or cheesed off, all laughing, except for Doc Brown, who’s just smiling, because not all of the pain in his body feels like it comes from gator teeth. The rushing waters carry him off a cliff, and he plummets through the void.
He lands with a crash on the carpeted floor, wet and bleeding and broken.
“Ah, just in time!”
His surroundings painfully swim into focus. He’s in Commander’s Palace. There’s lots of people seated at tables, all wearing suits and nice dresses, and looking towards a movie projection screen.
It’s a huge screen. Enormous. Taller than a house. The restaurant goes on for miles. Em can’t see the doors out. There’s a whole army of people in their nice evening clothes, sitting around an infinity of tables.
Gasper’s on a raised stage, standing behind a podium with a microphone. He looks good. He looms Em’s age, now, and devilishly handsome in his black tux and bowtie. A little old-fashioned, but he pulls it off. The Devil always knows how to dress well.
The lights dim as a white spotlight shines on him. Then on Em, in his bloody and tattered rags. People make faces and start murmuring amongst themselves. Gasper flashes the crowd a pearly white smile.
“I know what y’all are thinking.”
“It’s appropriate he should be here for the movie, though.”
He snaps his fingers. “Garcon, want to get our late guest a chair? I can’t imagine anyone wants to share a table with him.”
A smirking waiter appears behind Em with a rickety-looking chair. One of the legs is shorter than the others. The black paint is badly chipped. People start snickering.
Emmett: His body’s racked with pain, so he welcomes the chair, even ka-klunking as it does with the short leg. There’s too much at stake, the parts of him that aren’t writhing in agony cry, but he he has no juice to heal with. It’s a grind from here on out.
But that’s okay. He’s seen Gasper with his pants down.
He’ll manage. He has to.
GM: “Would you care for a drink, sir?” asks the waiter with a thin, preening smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
Emmett: He may as well. Seems like an open bar.
“A Café Brûlot, please,” Em requests, shifting in the uncomfortable chair.
GM: The waiter gives Em a shot of brandy with an orange peel stuck in it. It’s a rather less memorable performance than the last Brûlot Em ‘had.’
Emmett: He holds it up to his eye and squints, sloshing the liquid inside around.
“Cheap service,” he stage whispers. “Get on with your movie, then.”
GM: “Every guest here gets what they deserve, Em,” smiles Gasper.
The crowd variously smiles or titters. He’s got them in the palm of his hand.
Em’s Shadow flashes another pearly smile.
“Now that all y’all are finally here, I won’t bore anyone with a speech. Art speaks for itself. Hit it!”
The restaurant’s lights dim as the screen comes to life.
It starts with a close-up of Em. Really close up. There’s just his eyes, then it slowly pulls away.
He’s dressed in a prison jumpsuit, sitting in a wheelchair behind the glass. In prison. Because where else. He looks like a young man left aged and haggard before his time. He’s holding a phone to his mouth.
The camera follows his eyes. Cécilia’s on the other side of the glass. She looks on the verge of tears, but valiantly keeping it together. The beautiful love interest.
The camera follows Em’s eyes. Down to his legs. Back to up his face. Close up to his mouth.
He opens it. The audience doesn’t hear any words. The camera zooms all the way into Em’s mouth, into a black empty space. The camera fades out into a fishing boat on the bayou. It’s a hot-looking summer day. A young-looking Em is there on the boat, with his father, rods dangling over the sides.
A fish bites and tugs the line. Em gives an excited exclamation. His father’s eyes mirror the emotion. He tells Em to pull, pull, boy, pull-
Em pulls out the carp. It’s a big catch, for a boy his size. Phil whoops. The camera focuses on the carp. It’s wounded and cut from the way it chewed at the bait. The camera zooms closer. It flicks and tries with all of its living will to swim away, to escape, to be free—only to cut itself deeper, and deeper, denied the quiet dignity of death or joyous current of release.
The camera focuses on Em’s face. He’s not smiling. Just watching. Quietly hypnotized.
Phil’s yelling fills the audio. Quiet, then suddenly loud, like he’s been making noise this entire time and Em tuned him out. Phil yanks the rod out of his son’s hands, drops the carp to the boat floor, and stabs his hunting knife into the fish’s brain. Ikejime, Phil once told him the technique is called. It grants a quick, humane death.
Phil’s face is scarlet red as he shouts at his son. Em pulls away, as though afraid his dad will hit him. Phil never does. It’s inaudible what Phil is saying. Just yelling. Pointless noise filling the air, that gets quieter every second, like Em’s tuning it out.
The camera pans away, focusing closer on Em’s face. Closer.
He mouths something, also inaudible. Maybe that he’s sorry. But the words clearly don’t matter, or the audience would hear them.
The camera zooms in closer. Em’s mouth disappears. There’s just his eyes.
There’s nothing in them.
Nothing, and the reflection of a blank-eyed dead fish.
A few audience members look away. Angry murmurs and ugly looks go up from most of them.
Emmett: He looks into his eyes through a camera’s stare. His eyes gazing out of a television the size of the moon, the way he always meant them to be. Eyes made gorgeous with the distance of a lens, buffed by the haunting sociopathy.
It’d be a dream come true if it wasn’t so damn honest.
He waits. Acting prematurely could mean the end of everything. He turns over the words he might need to say to free himself.
But for now, he waits.
Still as the carp with a knife through its brain.
GM: The movie plays on.
Teenage fights with his parents.
Detentions at school.
Doing weed in his bedroom, while homework sits undone.
Cruel remarks to other kids, wrapping the needful and insecure ones around his finger.
More fights with his parents, Phil’s face getting steadily redder, and then no fights at all, as they just stop talking.
Eating dinner in his bedroom, instead of at the table.
His sins catching up. Transferring to Brother Martin’s, his parents’ last (second to last) effort to set straight, just as he planned, just as he’d abuse.
Whispering things to Lee at the dance. Adeline’s exposed tits. Elliot’s first beautiful lies to Cécilia.
More beautiful lies. Talking to Ron. Plotting. Planning.
Sami’s smile. Blacking out. Wiping cum off the seat, with her paper note and its hotmail address.
His seething fury. The gangbang. The cigarette lighter flicking open, in front of her dead and empty eyes.
The knife, slitting Jermaine’s throat.
Josh. Screaming past Cash Money’s cock, as Em smiles. Screaming louder, as Maneater carves him open.
Laughing in the hospital bed to the two cops, Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Ron’s tomato-red face, calling him bad seed, saying everything he touched turned to shit.
The heartbreak on his parents’, then the sad resolve, as they hang up the phone and walk out.
Shaking hands for the first time with Bert Villars, smiling his oily smile.
Laughing as Taylor sputters with anger and throws his shit in the broken toilet.
The savage satisfaction on his face, spite burning his blood, as he saws off Mark Stines’ penis.
Recruiting girls into porn in Los Angeles, promising the world and turning a blind eye to their screams. Ron always said not to ask about the ones who wind up with Death Mask Productions.
Robbing the girl he’d stayed with for three months, disappearing without a goodbye.
The sins back home, playing out like a hand of cards being dealt, one after another after another. There are so many to pick from. Maybe that Affel-something guy trying to kill himself, whatever his name was, and sleeping with his freaky wife.
The hole in his chest, when Sami said “I’m happy now,” and the realization of what he must do. The call to Roberts…
Himself in the hospital bed, croaking out, “Deal,” to Bud. The Dixie mobster’s good ol’ boy smile, dribbling through the receiver.
“Miss any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”
Lena’s furious face as she literally dumps him on the curb.
“I’m not a good person, Lena.”
Some of the final lip he showed after Underwood’s warning, just the last of so many warnings that never mattered, never slowed him down.
“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction.”
Cécilia’s tear-moist eyes as she talks into the phone, the words inaudible. The specific ones don’t matter. The director really gets that right. Lot of showing and not telling in this movie.
Elliot’s smile, and then his shadow.
Emmett strapped down to the execution gurney, the team having dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s.
The prison warden’s question, the last words anyone ever spoke to him alive:
“Do you wish to make a final statement?”
The camera pans in on Em’s face. Up close and personal, like in one of the movie’s earliest shots.
“I deserve to die. But I’m no judge of anything, so don’t take my word for it.”
Just like that, it cuts to black.
The credits roll.
The Many Sins of Emmett Delacroix.
The lights come back on.
Gasper smiles from the stage.
A gaping back pit yawns open. It’s a swirling vortex of absolute nothingness that chills Em to his soul.
A chunk of ceiling caves away, directly over the pit. In its place there’s a bright white light. It’s warm. It’s right. Part of him wants, with all of his being, just to float on up.
“There you have it,” Gasper smiles at the crowd.
“I won’t waste my breath on a speech.”
“You’ve seen his life and times.”
The room is utterly silent. People aren’t staring at Gasper, now. They’re staring at Em.
Their faces are very, very still.
Many of them.
Disgust boils in his others. Anger, too, indignant and righteous, and perhaps hypocritical, but there all the same.
“If you think he belongs in the pit… throw him in!” Gasper exhorts.
The crowd is silent for a moment.
Then, hundreds of legs rise from their seats.
Emmett: Em’s staggering up to the main stage, arms flailing, lungs heaving. He doesn’t look good. He doesn’t even look pitiful, as far as that goes. He looks like a dead man.
But he makes it, somehow.
“Hold up,” he gasps, defiant to his last. “Hold up, dammit.”
He grabs the mic from Gasper. His worse half lets him have it. Why? Maybe because he thinks he’s already won. Granted, Em thinks he probably has, too.
But he’s done it by lying. And just this once, Emmett Delacroix cannot let that stand.
“That was a good movie,” Em says as the mob presses closer. “But what if you saw the director’s cut?”
Restlessness in the crowd. Confused expressions. This is off-script, and this lot aren’t improvisers. All the free will of a bacteria between them.
“Come on!” Em yells at the back of the room, at the cosmic shadows that control the projector. “Come on, if this is going to be it, show them the whole thing!”
For a cold, still moment, nothing happens.
Then the lights dim, and the film starts anew.
GM: Gasper just smirks in his tux and gestures grandly towards the giant screen.
“Sit back down, y’all. It’ll be extra satisfying for us to chuck him in, after this.”
Emmett: Lights. Cameras.
It’s those eyes again, but not. So clean. So young. They stare down at the carp, who stares back but does not see.
Something pools in his eye. The boy (when was the last time he thought of himself that way, as just a boy?) looks away so Philémon does not see it. But this camera captures all, artifice and artistic license be damned.
The camera shows the tear, but cuts before it falls. Maybe it never does. Did. What’s time, in a movie? A matter of where, not when.
The movie keeps on playing. Em doesn’t watch it. It’s like he’s seen it before, only he knows he hasn’t, because he’s crying and he never does that with a movie except for the first time.
Anyways, he didn’t direct this movie or write it, and if he starred in it that was only because he hadn’t made room for anybody else in the spotlight. He only knows it because he was there. For all of it. When you’re dead, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. But you do remember it. Not as a story, nor as regrets. You just remember it as a moment, all one glorious, cascading moment of change. That’s all anybody actually gets with the lifetime racket, Em supposes. Just a single, glorious cosmic moment in which to be.
Only now, his life is over, so movies about it feel a mite silly. He doesn’t really watch the movie, because he remembers the movie.
Em doesn’t need to watch his stammered apology to his dad. His bewildered, unsure excuses. He knows now what Phil did already, and he remembers Phil’s too-wrinkled face growing older in that moment as he replied:
The scenes with Clarice are tiring, and he does not watch those either, barely registers the sounds he makes onscreen. They simply don’t interest him anymore. His own suffering is banal, especially to this audience. It’s the part after that’s a mindfuck.
“Em, did anything happen while you were there?”
A moment, dark eyes wide and innocent, but hollowed out. “No.”
His first lie, and he supposes the most successful one. They never suspected a thing, after…
A quiet whispering in a mirror, each word quieter than the last:
Look how happy you can make people.
And Em wanted to make people happy. He might have forgotten a lot about who he was, but he remembers that part of him, and it lives in him, not in Gasper.
The world is the camera. It spins and takes the viewer with it because this is not good camerawork. This is kismet, like fate or something, because somehow from this angle on the far end of a movie screen he can see it all:
He’s not a good man. He’s not even properly a bad man. He’s a wicked ghost, a conniving wraith.
But he’s not properly evil, either. Just a mean, mean bastard who wished the world hadn’t taught him that to be mean is to be safe, to be cruel is commendable, and that his father perhaps should not have told him—
Ah. This is the core of it. This thing he never forgot but never precisely could recall until he sees it now, on the screen, the scene doubly enthralling because he knows, unlike so much in this place, it is true.
“So anybody? Anybody could be forgiven, if they were really sorry?”
They were outside the church in St. Charles Parish. The one Phil had grown up going to. It was night, but there are lights on inside.
“That’s the idea of the thing,” Phil answers, eyes sunk into the annotated pocket bible he always brought to the church, regardless of occasion. Em had nicked it once, when he was older, but he couldn’t read the handwriting.
“What about the really bad people? The ones who nobody can ever forgive, like Hitler? Or Marshall, I guess.”
This was, after all, 2004.
GM: Phil hadn’t taken long to answer, even if his answer took a while.
“It is really an old question, Emmett, often asked to imply that if Jesus would forgive a person like Hitler, then the God of the Bible is unjust. The truth is, all of us fall short of the glory of God. If we had ‘forever’ to do our own thing, we would never create a world conducive to life, light, love, and liberty. Without the soul-changing power of the Holy Spirit and the unabridged and undeserved grace of God poured upon us, we would find ourselves standing before a throne of judgement one day with absolutely no credentials to present that would be worthy of admission into those great gates of pearl.”
“How many times a day do we sin? We’re not talking about just murder, stealing, and blaspheming. We’re talking about everything—the attitudes of your heart, your motives, the actions and failing to love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, failing to love your neighbor as yourself. Those are moral requirements that we fail constantly. Even say you only commit one sin a day, and only from when you’re 18 to 70—that’s almost 20,000 sins. What judge would let you off with that kind of a rap sheet? And that is the best case scenario.”
“Was Hitler worse than that? Most likely. There’s a spectrum. A few relative lightweights like Charles Manson might be standing under the dictator’s shadow. Many world leaders throughout the ages, people like Caligula, Mao, many kings of England and other European states, some caliphs, some popes, and many, many others will make up the rank and file of those who had it made on earth but came up wanting when the scales were balanced in Heaven.”
“How sad it would be to find that we were ‘not quite as bad as they, but not good enough to avoid joining them.’ Justice? It was meted out at an old rugged cross. That bought the grace that makes it possible for a vile sinner to come to terms with the error of his ways. If Hitler ever had a chance, it would only have been evidenced by his renouncing his wicked ways and standing good before his death. The fact that, rather than face responsibility for his heinous acts, he escaped the judgement of man by taking his own life is evidence that he went from the frying pan directly into the fire.”
“Theoretically, could Hitler have gone to Heaven? Yes. But repentance is a process, not an event. The more time and effort you spend on it, like anything, the better it will turn out. This is why ‘deathbed repentance’ is frowned upon. Sure, anyone can say they believe, say that they repent, say they are changed moments before death, and trust God to know their hearts—but will those words have actually changed them? God can tell. Repentance is for you, as much as those who you wronged.”
“For Hitler to be forgiven, that’d require him to realize the depth and wrongness of his errors, and to shed his pride. That includes national pride, particularly the kind that treats others as ‘lesser than.’ It would be a very different Hitler coming out of this than the Hitler we’re familiar with. This new Hitler would have been incapable of leading Germany into war and ordering the killing of millions. He would be a completely different person. Change like that only takes a sudden about-face in Hollywood. In real life, change that big takes years and years of hard spiritual work.”
“So yes, it can happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hitler went straight to Hell, but he could have gone to Heaven. God’s capacity for forgiveness is infinite. It’s only our capacity for change that falls short.”
Emmett: Em takes a while to answer. His father is hopeful his recent silence is a delayed sign of precocity, and maybe it is, but mostly Em’s trying to make sure he doesn’t need big words to ask this next question.
“But how do you start to be better? How do you go from being, well, whoever it is that’s going to hell, and then turn around? How are people supposed to find their way back, if they’ve already walked so far away?”
GM: “Confession,” answers Phil, more succinctly. “Admitting the problem, any problem, is the first step to fixing it.”
Emmett: He might have confessed then, had he the words for his sin. But he did not have them, so he could not.
Instead, Emmett lives. That’s the rest of the movie. He doesn’t understand, thinking back on it later, what editing magic trick the director must have employed to make it so. But the movie tell the story of his life, all of it, the absolute essence of it, and it doesn’t seem boring or unnecessary or middle. It is not sparing, either. It still contains Em at his utter worst, and the truth is there’s simply no getting around the naked fact that Emmett Delacroix was a villainously awful person. His life was spent in the throes of great bouts of escalating mischief that often evolved into cruelty. He had brief moments of kindness and mild moments of self-awareness. But for the most part, he was a cruel, rapacious bastard, and then he died.
But there’s the thing.
The movie doesn’t end there. Em is dead, the first man to be killed for his crimes in more than ten years. That he did not commit the crimes in question owed more to the way of clerical error than to actual injustice.
But the dream of Em, the story of him, his role, his star, the part of his soul that would have become his celebrity had he ever passed through that celestial gate of makin’ it in Hollywood—had lived on, and mutated in the zeitgeist. His story was more, now, than that of a wicked man meeting wicked ends.
He was a ghost with a cause, a revenant on a quest for righteous vengeance, for justice, for redemption—and that means only one thing in this place that’s nine-tenths silver screen.
Em turns to Gasper, and the little shit’s not fat again but he’s shorter, and Em looks straight through him over the crowd.
“I’m too interesting to die.”
He holds out the mic, so naturally that Gasper’s hand actually starts to respond to it and reach out—
Only for Em to drop the mic to the floor, the thump of it going everywhere in the perfect acoustics of that room.
GM: Too good to die is probably a lost cause to sell the crowd on, after those back-to-back movies.
But too interesting to die is something altogether else, if the applause he’s receiving is any indication.
Hundreds of hands clap and clap and clap at the conclusion of the director’s cut. Cheers, whistles, and exclamations of “bravo!” go up from the crowd’s newly-adoring eyes.
Gasper scowls like when Phil told him to stop watching TV and take out the damn trash.
“Fine. Guess we’ll do this the other way.”
“Boys, KILL ’EM!”
Gunfire explodes through the crowd as Gasper’s goon squad opens fire. They’re all there. Cash Money. Bert Villars. Bud and Sue. Mark Stines. Doc Brown. Judge Underwood. Dino. Bobbi Jo. Sugarbelle. Yvette. They’re carrying old-fashioned tommy guns. Rat-a-tat-tat, they go. Dozens of people scream and die, gorily mowed down by the hail of lead. The survivors scream and stampede every which direction.
“Don’t worry, Em, I’m on your side! We can take ’em-aaaaAAAGH!” screams Mouse as bullets riddle his chest. Blood sprays the air. He goes down twitching, then stops moving.
“Don’t worry, Em, I got your back!” whoops Zyers, then flees for the exits.
“Good luck,” says Hannah, and dives for cover. Taylor looks undecided for a moment, then follows suit. “Yeah, good luck,” echoes Ren. Jermaine dives without a word.
Turner, Westley, and Fizzy also abandon Em to his fate. The goons shoot at him too. Gunfire explodes the area around his feet as he falls off the stage. A few upturned tables offer some modicum of cover.
Courtney, though, shoots back with her own tommy gun. Dino goes down in a spray of lead. Ginger takes out Villars. Sami blows off Cash Money’s crotch and seems to take no small pleasure from it. Miranda kills Mark again, ranting conspiracy theories about the Malveauxes. Cécilia says, “I’m afraid I don’t really know how to use these things,” and tosses Em her own tommy gun. “I’ll try to talk some sense into Yvette.”
Em’s family members are notably absent from the picture.
The floor explodes. Hell crawls out. The monster. Em sees it up close now. It’s huge, four-legged, and black as sin where it isn’t on fire. Ravenously crackling, hateful red flames wreathe its flesh like an unholy mantle. It almost looks like it’s bleeding into the air. Its claws and quills and talons are enormous and wickedly sharp, and there are so many of them. Its maw goes on for eternity. It has more teeth than Em’s criminal record has items. It has no eyes. Just more instruments of death.
“TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT, YOU IDIOTS! TAKE IT THE FUCK OUT!!!!” Gasper screams, his voice shrill with panic.
They try. They rain down a hail of lead over the monster, but the bullets don’t so much as slow it. Bud, Underwood, and Bobbi Jo all go down faster than a preacher’s daughter. They look like they’ve been fed through a wood chipper when the monster is done with them, but it doesn’t slow. Just races for Gasper.
But the restaurant-turned-theater is so large, and there are still so many tables and corpses and bystanders between Shadow and monster. Gasper allows himself a smirk as the tommy guns scream lead, then pulls out a rocket launcher.
Emmett: During which point Em contents himself with getting to the ethereally lit exit. It’s been a fun day, but a long one, and it’s past time he quit the scene.
He does feel a pang for Mouse, though. Ah, well. At least this version of him had died nobly, in defense of somebody who cared about him sometimes.
GM: Cécilia looks horrified as Em runs away and leaves his friends to trade gunfire with Gasper’s goons. “Em! How ca-”
The rocket launcher explodes.
Em hits the ground in a heap, the blast ringing in his ears as shrapnel lances his legs. His abandoned allies are caught dead center. Their screams abruptly cut off as gory pieces of them rain down over the ground around Em.
Gasper’s goons, no linger pinned down by enemy fire, turn their tommy guns at the fleeing Delacroix. Lead belches after him as Gasper grins.
His Shadow looks taller than before.
Emmett: One last miscalculation, and it’s cost him all the allies he’s accumulated. Is that it? The sorry state of his corpus tells him it might be. He’s out of strength, out of tricks, and when he reaches for the determination that’s carried him through this mad vision quest his fingers strike bottom.
Oh, he had a good run, Emmett Delacroix. But this is where it ends.
It is a bastard, though. Even he has to admit Gasper looks handsome.
Celia: He is handsome.
And so is the girl that steps out of the shadows behind him, the girl with a wild mane of dark hair that curls around her face and has a smile that will break a thousand hearts. But right now she’s young, innocent, with wide eyes that look in adoration upon the Shadow who wears her cousin’s face.
“Hey baby,” 19-year-old Celia Flores says to Gasper as she slides up beside him. “Did we get him where we want him?”
GM: A sports car smashes through the movie screen. It’s black and sleek and sexy. It’s open-roof and got a badass entrance. The Poison-Eyed Lady is the driver.
“Oh, missed one,” smirks Gasper, then punches Celia in the throat. Cash Money smashes the butt of his tommy gun between her shoulder blades. She goes down in a heap as Em kicks her in the vagina for good measure. Bud and Sue tie her up, then throw her into the convertible’s back seat.
“Was gonna do that to Sami and Cécilia, but I guess one cunt’s as good as another,” Gasper sneers, then leaps into the car and takes the wheel.
“In this movie, Em, the bad guy wins,” he smirks, then hits the accelerator and plows through the movie screen again, leaving another car-sized hole.
On the other side, Em sees a highway in an American Southwest desert, perfectly flat, that stretches on for miles into the setting sun. The perfect ending locale for any movie.
And at the end of the highway.
At first, it looks like Château Devillers. Then it’s the glowing briefcase from Pulp Fiction, the macguffin that drove the whole movie. Then it’s the prison corridor a 20-foot Gasper tried to block Em from.
But he knows what it is, whatever it looks like.
Gasper’s car roars down the highway and into the setting sun, towards his happy ending.
Celia: She goes from almost-ally to damsel-in-distress in the blink of an eye. Gauzy white dress, ropes around her torso and legs, hands bound behind her back, a cloth gag in her mouth. Muffled screams rise up from the back seat as the car speeds away.
It’s a stereotype and a cliche, but a cute and effective one for all that: they’d had a discussion once about Detective Em coming to save her from the bad guys.
Now’s his chance.
Emmett: His chance. Isn’t that a chuckle? How many chances has he had, so far? He’s spent so long in this fever dream the real world is starting to swim away from him, and let’s face it, Em, you’ve always had a a pretty touch-and-go relationship to reality—that place the grown-ups live, where dreams never come true and the good guys and bad guys never quite figure out which they are.
In this child’s world, he’s supposed to be one or the other. When he fails to embody the archetype, the world convolutes itself around him, making the stage what it needs to be for his path to resemble choreography. Celia? The blossoming adult he had to die to become wants to howl. She’s his cousin, and a mess and a half herself, and also he’s pretty sure she’s lying to him still about something. He’s seen the real her, too, in glimpses and glances—she’s as bloody-minded as him, and more cunning by half. What a terrible damsel she would make in the real world.
Even in the real world, she’d look damn good playing it. In this twisted funhouse of mirrors? She’s brighter than the sun.
Which gives him an idea.
Where’s he get the motorcycle from? Who knows, this movie isn’t big on continuity. It’s all explosions and somersaulting cars. Em has to slide under a collapsing truck, the leather on his back kissing the sparks from his Harley’s back wheel. He lets out a whoop and does a stuntman jump over a combusting petrol tank. His whole corpus aches like Satan’s bad back, but the stunts aren’t about him; they’re the magnetic forces of story marching to climax, or anti-climax. It’s almost like the rhythm of sex, but inverted. A decoupling, an unraveling of one being—into two.
“CELIA!” he bellows. “CICI!” He swerves on the bike, almost kissing asphalt but righting just at the right moment to avoid a sputter of tommy gun fire. “CELIA, I need to ask you something, and I need you to answer! Do—you—trust me!?”
A cliché wrapped in a trope and smothered in romanticism.
In a dream, the question becomes a binding, a ritual. The flourish of a magic trick.
One that only works if she says the right thing back.
The blindfold slips from her mouth, the dramatic forces in play too vast for something as fragile as cloth to obstruct.
Does she trust him, this one last shred of his psyche that looks like love? This one tortured part of him that might live in somebody else?
Does she trust him?
GM: Gunfire sprays past Em. The rest of Gasper’s goons are on motorcycles too, riding two to a bike. One drives, the other belches lead death from their tommy gun.
They miss, of course. It’s a movie. They’ll miss no matter how many rounds they fire. At best, maybe they’ll graze his shoulder or leg.
Celia: The damsel wrapped in rope in the back seat of the car twists to see the (leather-clad?) motorcycle-riding stuntman cousin/friend. Whatever he is right now, he’s always been her cousin and her friend, and he’s coming to save her.
Does she trust him?
He’s the one she’d called when she was in trouble. When she needed help with her dad. When she found out that monsters were real. His was the number she punched into her phone to save her from the bad guys. And now here he is, riding in on the back of a Harley like he has every right to be.
She works the gag free—they never tie those things tight enough in movies like these—and screams back,
Emmett: The camera pans in to capture her face. In a theater that resides in dimensions incomprehensible, the non-Euclidean gaze of every entity is on the red of her lips, the flush in her cheek, the glimmer of truth in her eye. For a moment, precious and timeless, the entire cosmos could fit behind her eye and nobody would notice the Big Bang.
Magic tricks, Ron had told him once, require misdirection. Maybe on some level, real magic does, too. Movies certainly do.
Gunfire sprays over Em’s leather-clad corpus. His luck, already strained well past the suspension of disbelief, snaps entirely. Two of Gasper’s goons cackle maniacally as they pull alongside him on either flank, death-belching machines that bear little resemblance to actual firearms ablaze. Lead turns Em into swiss cheese under his chin.
He looks confused. He also looks… different.
His cheeks are chubbier, for one thing. The blood that bubbles in the back of his throat is Nutella-colored. His eyes are smaller than they were a moment ago, as if contact lenses have shriveled and fallen away to render them greedy and hollow and mean.
The Em on the bike looks confused, and so do the goons on the bike, wondering how it is they’ve shot up their boss. For his part, Gasper finally earns his name. His lungs have been wiped away by lead.
The camera tilts along with everybody’s necks as they look again at the man behind the wheel.
If he had a mustache, now would be the time he tears it from his lip. As is, though, Em and Gasper look alike enough a change in lighting is enough to distinguish one from the other.
“Oldest trick in the book,” the Confidence Man quips as he helps Celia into the passenger seat. “It’s a switcheroo.”
The logic is lazy at best, the device just a few strings shy of a deus ex machina. But Em sells it. He has to, and not just because it’s his ass on the line but because it’s basic acting, and this role’s old hat to him.
It’s all about confidence, really.
GM: It is all about confidence.
The old switcharoo, when the mark’s distracted.
Em knows it well.
That’s why Celia’s throat is slashed, her eyes staring blankly up into the sunset as blood gushes over her gauzy white dress. Just another disposable woman in grand cinematic tradition.
Just another switcharoo.
He looks up from his dead cousin, and a solid face of dessert rock meets the car’s headlights.
“Ha… ha…” wheezes Gasper as he crashes off his bike.
The car smashes into the rock at triple-digits-miles-per-hour. In equally grand cinematic tradition, the vehicle explodes in an enormous red-yellow-white fiery conflagration that lights up the highway like an atomic bomb.
Em rolls to a literally dead stop on the highway, charred and smoking and burning, his blackened flesh baked to a crisp as smoke billows around him. The door to Château Devillers, the briefcase, the prison corridor is only feet away at the highway’s end.
“I… win…” wheezes Gasper past the holes in his chest. He doesn’t look much better as he crawls along the asphalt by his palms and knees. He’s burned too, from the explosion, and bleeding from dozens of gunshot wounds.
He hauls himself tortuously towards the prize.
“You… lose… Em…”
He spares enough effort to kick his other half’s corpus, despite the stab of pain that shoots up through his own bullet-riddled leg. He wheezes another laugh, blood frothing from his charred lips.
Only this round.
The goons are all dead. Em can’t say for sure, but he feels safe presuming, given that all that’s left of them is shredded bits of bone, gore, and viscera on their smashed-apart and blood-spattered motorbikes. The monster paces patiently down the highway, blood dripping from its uncountable claws, fangs, and horns. The only illumination comes from the moon, stars, and the sports car’s burning wreck, casting the monster’s already nightmarish visage in an even more hellish glow.
Gasper stares down the road at it, then gives a soul-deep, half-gurgled cry of boundless frustration—and terror.
He won the battle.
He lost the war.
“Em…” he wheezes, “let’s make… a deal…”
The monster paces closer.
“I can… help you… see… won’t fight you any… more…”
The monster paces closer.
“Won’t… try to… seize control… I can… do a lot… for you…”
The monster paces closer.
“Partners… like we said… invisible friend in… your head…”
The monster paces closer.
“Just… call… it… off…”
Emmett: Em stares. Up close, the beetle is even more terrible to look upon. Even more merciless and inescapable and vast. God forgot to name this thing, when all the other beasts were labeled, the tidier monsters defined.
Forgot, or maybe did not dare to.
How long has he dreamed about this moment, or one like it? His enemy begging for his mercy, for forgiveness. How often has he considered the perfect quip, the last parting sting?
But now, in this dream that is more than real, Em has no final rejoinder. Maybe that’s the cruelest reply of all. Nothing.
He’s as silent as God, but at least Gasper knows he’s watching.
And he does watch.
GM: Up close, the thing doesn’t look like a beetle at all. It doesn’t look like any kind of animal. Just incarnate hate, hunger, and destruction.
“It’s not… on your side…” wheezes Gasper, still crying to crawl away. The monster draws closer.
“You’ll be… next…”
“The two of us ca…”
The thing pounces. Gasper’s feet are the first to disappear inside its mouth. There’s a grisly crunch and spray of blood. Gasper screams and writhes over the pavement, and the great jaws come down again with another crunch and wet tearing. Gasper’s screams grow higher, then higher still as the monster’s jaws descend again, as it gnaws off his legs bite by bite. There is no clean and quick devouring of either limb all at once.
The monster rips open Gasper’s chest next and tears out his entrails, bite by bite. Blood gets everywhere. Gasper writhes and flails his arms, until the monster’s teeth crunch down over his fingers. Then his palms, then his wrists, until it’s gnawed off his arms and left him a gore-spattered torso with four stumps and a head whose mouth gapes open in ceaseless scream.
The nose and ears come next, then chunks of his cheeks. After that come the chunks of flesh nearest to the stumps. The monster takes its time. It eats Gasper whole, piece by piece, bone by bone, organ by organ, until all that’s left is a head, a neck, and a heart. The stench is unspeakable. Red paints the highway asphalt. Em may wonder if it will ever come out. Gasper, either out of taunts and offers, never stops screaming.
Em’s reminded of the carp on the hook. Twisting, writhing, denied the peace and dignity of a swift death, suffering for his younger self’s idle amusement.
When the end finally comes, the monster’s jaws open wide to swallow what’s left of Gasper down its gullet. It doesn’t pause to chew. Em’s Shadow disappears into the literal belly of the beast, still clinging to life. Em can only imagine his darker twin will die a tortuously slow death being immersed in the monster’s stomach acids, if he doesn’t simply bleed out first. Either way, he will die in darkness and pain, and utterly alone. There’s a last, barely audible scream from the monster’s stomach, more like the whining of a dog than a proper scream. It goes on for several minutes.
Finally, silence reigns over the highway.
The fire from the burning car wreck has guttered out. Darkness reigns.
Up ahead, the prison corridor and the door at the end patiently await.
Emmett: It’s everything Gasper deserved and then some.
Em feels nothing.
Nothing at all.
It’s an almost anticlimactic end to his Shadow. But it’s like he’d said:
“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”
Em gets to his feet. It’s a little ridiculous to watch, like seeing a drunk man stumble into his pants, but then again, there’s nobody left to watch. Everybody’s dead.
The door’s right there, only it’s not a door, it’s a briefcase, no, it’s an electric chair—whatever it is, this place won’t wait for him forever. It won’t do to idle.
Still, he looks back at the thing that’s apparently given up all interest in him as he approaches the door.
“What are you?” he croaks out, hand on the knob.
GM: The door opens.
All Em sees at first is pitch darkness.
But, swimming through that darkness, like a half-remembered nightmare.
“How badly do you want…" the woman’s voice warbles, "…to live, boy? How much will you… hurt for it?”
“Anything," wafts Em’s voice from the gloom. "I’ll do anything to undo this. Please.”
Suddenly, Em is on the ground. The monster is on top of him, and the Poison-Eyed Lady is holding him down, anthrax dripping from those awful eyes. The monster rips open Em’s chest with its claws, splitting him from throat to groin. The pain is indescribable.
The Poison-Eyed Lady grabs hold of the split flesh with both hands and pulls it wide open, splaying Em’s insides to the night sky like a rat in a high school dissection lab. Impossibly, the monster dives inside.
Em wildly looks up into the sky. The moon looks like the pure white light that awaited him at the end of his harrowings. He remembers the sense of calmness and peace as he ascended into that light, as his Shadow was silent, as all his dark and spiteful and hateful thoughts and memories were finally still. All was quiet. All was warm. All was right. He knew peace such as he never had before.
Then, with a feeling of ineffable sadness, the light dies.
The moon and stars are gone. Agony surges through Em’s arteries as a fire roars within him. It’s a thirst, terrible and burning. It’s more thirsty than he’s ever felt, it’s an almost stabbing pain, like the monster is coiled inside his chest and madly clawing to get out, and it does get out, some small part of it, as he feels two fangs surge from his mouth as he screams, and screams, and screams—
He’s on a hard floor again, and he sees only red, tastes only red, smells only red, as the bliss hits him. It’s drinking the finest champagne from a movie premier, it’s making love to Cécilia and Sami together in the same bed, it’s the rush of snorted cocaine, the drag of his first cigarette, and that’s only some sense, some tiny, infinitesimal sense, of what it feels like to drink the liquid ecstasy coursing down his throat.
Emmett: After the night he’s had, the unbroken adventure of his execution?
He guzzles like a babe at the tit, and doesn’t stop until it’s dragged away.
Then, and only then, does he look for poison eyes.
GM: They’re right above him.
Smiling their anthrax smile.
“Ah, Mr. Delacroix!” exclaims Antoine Savoy’s voice. “Welcome back. And welcome to your Requiem.”
The other vampire sounds like he’s grinning.
“We have a lot to talk about.”