“If the Prince of Countenances ever visits your bedroom window, remind him to visit me as well. I’ve been waiting.”
Saturday evening, 29 September 2007
GM: Emil’s faith in the city’s goodness remains unproven, and so must remain faith.
But the sacrifice made by his family, like Abraham’s, is apparently accepted. And in them he need not have faith.
Emil isn’t sure how they pull it off. His stepfather only makes references to “lawyer things.” A nurse undoes his leather restraints, and it’s not long afterwards before they’re airlifted to another hospital in Houston.
From the air, the city looks huge. It like five separate cities, or at least skyscraper-dotted downtowns with their own distinct skylines, all sprawling across the same massive urban megalopolis. Everything about the city feels huge. Emil’s new hospital included. There are seemingly dozens of interconnected medical centers and complexes with their own town-sized district to themselves. Cars, people, and other aircraft to drive, walk, and fly among the soaring buildings like pulsing veins flowing out from the same great artery. It feels like the kind of place that could swallow someone up, make them vanish away like needles into a haystack.
It feels like it already has swallowed Emil and his stepfather. His mother doesn’t come with them.
Paul says she’ll “be along” and looks green throughout the trip. When they finally touch down, he clutches his stomach and starts retching uncontrollably.
There’s maybe no better place for someone to get sick. Or none worse. Seemingly hundreds of waiting hands clamp down on Paul at once, like the Hecatoncheires guarding the gates of Tartarus. Leather straps pull mercilessly taut across his wrists and ankles. The last word Emil makes out as his stepfather disappears on a stretcher among the robotic-faced, clinically cold and efficient medical staff, is a croaked, "Luce… "
The last sound is the screams. Then he’s vanished amidst the scrub-attired sea.
Emil: Emil’s eardrums pound as he is wheeled into the hospital stretched on his back, a borrowed phone resting under his torso.
Why did he say Luce? is the question that wraps around his branch bone body like some antediluvian serpent. When the harbingers of the pit stare at him as they carry his stepfather away, a fresh pit bottoms out in his guts, one that descends into darkness and stops its denizens from seeing the light. He shuffles to pull out the phone from under himself and dials his mother’s number.
GM: Seemingly dozens of impersonal, bodiless hands seize the phone from his grasp.
There are droning words about “lying still” and the necessity of restraints.
Emil: He doesn’t let them convince themselves of anything more.
“I’m still, I’m still,” he protests, laying in his natural position, like a plank of driftwood floating stiffly over the sea of hands.
GM: The next hours remind Emil of an assembly line.
It all happens like clockwork. Emil is wheeled towards sliding glass doors alongside half a dozen other prone, staff-surrounded figures on stretchers. Some look hale, others are clad in oxygen masks and look like corpses already. Ambulance sirens scream in his ears as the doors slide open. Emil passes faceless columns of medical staff in scrubs, white coats, hospital gowns, and occasional suits. Some of the gown-clad patients docilely cooperate. Others scream obscenities past tear-streaked relatives as they froth and tug against leather restraints before being sedated. Metallic voices coldly blare from intercoms. Armed security guards eye patients. One punches a head-shaved, vacant-eyed man in the gut and laughs as he hits the floor. The rest of Texas Medical Center carries on, too busy to notice. Emil is impersonally wheeled from hall to hall and floor to floor like one of so many inconsequential pieces in an on-stop convener belt. He’s impersonally changed into another hospital gown, assessed by nurses, deposited into a bed. A dividing curtain separates his half of the room from another patient’s. Moans for "morphine… please… please… " sound past it. A nurse walks by with a hypodermic needle, there’s a strangled sound of alarm, and then the suddenly panicked pleading sounds die.
Time crawls past.
There is no TV. Emil is left to blankly stare at an empty wall. A Hispanic food service worker comes in after a few (or many) hours to deliver Emil a nauseous-tasting pile of colorless slop on a try. He feels hungrier after eating it.
He stares at the wall some more. Some more. And some more. He feels like a prisoner here.
Night falls. Maybe it doesn’t. The cell-like room has no windows. Another food service worker eventually comes in. The food in his tray looks little different from a glob of mud. The man asks Emil if he’s “feeling bored” and offers to give him access to a phone in return for a cash bribe or a blowjob.
“Your choice which,” he smirks.
Emil: Emil holds back his disgust and offers the man cash. They took his phone, bastards. Those unfeeling hands make this hospital anything but hospitable.
GM: The man walks past the partitioning curtain, then walks back with Emil’s (actually, Paul’s) phone and wallet. He takes out all of the remaining money in the latter, pockets it, and drops the phone on Emil’s bed.
Emil: Emil thanks the worker, trying to hold back his recent resurgence of stress-induced eye twitching and waits before he leaves before hurriedly typing in the number for his mother’s cell.
GM: It rings and rings.
“Hello, you’ve reached Lucille Jonas. Please leave your name, number, and the nature of your call, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
Emil: “Mom, this is Emil, please pick up. Please pick up. Paul isn’t ok, please pick up the phone, I need to hear your voice, please pick up,” Emil begs the voicemail, Paul’s cry of Luce ringing endlessly in his ears. He ends the message by asking if anyone hears this to call back at Paul’s number.
He scours his mind for someone he can call on to check on her. Someone who cares. Who knows about the danger she’s in better than even he does. He looks for Lucky’s contact on Paul’s cell.
GM: Emil does not see any contacts labeled ‘Lucky’, though there are several ‘no name’ numbers under Paul’s recent calls list.
Emil tries one of them.
There’s some more rings.
“’Oh, now what the fuck is it this time?” greets a familiar scratchy voice.
Emil: “This is Emil, please listen. It happened again. You were right, I stayed too long and I got hurt, I’m sorry for not listening and I’m an idiot but I need to apologize later. My mom is going to die. She’s going to die for me, Lucky. I saw it just like I did way back then with you and my father in the car. Only I’m not jus’ a kid anymore, I’m a useless adult in a hospital a state away and I can’t do anything to save her,” Emil spills out over the line, panic building in his throat with each word. “Please Lucky, please I need your trust. I need your help. She needs you. Earl needs you.”
GM: The line goes very quiet.
“What’d you see, Emil?”
Emil: “It was dark at first, Lucky. But I heard, I heard myself panicking, raving. I was saying that my mom is going to die soon, die for me soon. She’s going to die for me. And I heard that he was coming back. He was coming back to save me. And then… and then I called out to my father, I was screaming uncontrollably, but I didn’t hear a response. Then they tried to put me under.”
He goes quiet for a moment.
“I saw my mother standing in the doorway with her throat slit all the way open. She said she was with my father.”
He waits another moment.
“They airlifted me to Houston but my mom stayed behind, and when we landed my stepdad passed out screaming for her. I just called her phone and she didn’t pick up. She always picks up.” Emil realizes that isn’t completely true. She stopped answering his phone calls these past few days. But that’s because he was hurting her. She wouldn’t have stopped talking to Paul. Not unless she couldn’t.
His voice is jittery and shivering, he sounds meek, the naturally thick timbre of his voice dropped off halfway through his description, leaving a voice halfway in between boyhood and adulthood. Sharp and terrified, upheld in structure only by scaffolds of responsibility.
GM: The line goes quiet again.
“Emil, this… this is the sorta shit we should talk about face to face.”
“But, okay. Okay. Few things.”
“I’ll check on your mama. I’ll check on her with some friends. She’s gonna be fine.”
“Second thing… there ain’ no gentle way to put this. When you was a kid, Emil, you were a fuckin’ nutcase. Schizophrenia, hearin’ voices, seein’ things, it was all in your head. Or maybe it was somethin’ else. I don’t know what it was. All I know is you leavin’ town seemed like it helped you get better.”
“I don’t know if your mama or daddy ever told you. I’m sorry to break it like this. Ain’t my place. Just… your mama ain’t gonna die, Emil. Whatever you think you saw.”
“And your daddy… he’s dead. Been for decades.”
“Now, I’m still gonna check on your mama. I’m gonna check on her so you can be absolutely sure she’s gonna be all right. But comin’ back to this city… it’s, fuck, it’s messin’ you up. It’s messin’ you up somethin’ fierce. You had a pretty good life for yourself out in L.A. In more ways’n one, seems like.”
“Are you unnerstandin’ me, Emil?”
Emil: His face screws up so far it breaks the thread. Because he knows that Lucky is wrong. But when people think you’re crazy, saying you aren’t is just more proof in their eyes of the contrary. If he had schizophrenia it wouldn’t have been suppressed unless he was taking heavy medication. And he knows that he wasn’t. He knows Lucky knows, because if he didn’t believe in Emil’s sight, Bianca Andrews wouldn’t be ‘missing’ right now. Maybe he has his reasons for keeping quiet, otherwise he wouldn’t be so cagey about talking over the phone. Emil thinks he believes him, even if he won’t or can’t admit it.
“I understand, and I’m out of the city now. It’s going to get better out here. I’m going to get better. I promise you. If you think it’s safe, try to get her out of the city, to Houston. Both me and her husband are stuck in the hospital here and staying in New Orleans is hurting her as much as it has hurt me if not more. I’m praying, Lucky. For all of us. I have faith in you.”
GM: “A’ight, Emil. You sit tight. Don’ trust any doctors, they’re fulla shit mosta the time.”
“Pray for your mama. Don’ f’get to pray f’ you, too.”
The line clicks.
Emil: Emil puts the phone down for a moment, resting it on the pale blue polka dotted blanket that covers the two peaks of his knees like the frozen shell of stuck still ocean waves. He prays for the too small bed frame in his old room, the one that locks his knees halfway up his chest and makes it hard to breath but weirdly easy to sleep. He prays for the future, for safety, for a new period of calmness and honesty. He prays that he might become better, that he might be more helpful than harmful. All this he shares with God before returning to his focus. He can pray for himself, ask for good fortune, but God works through the acts of his creation. It’s his turn to act, to protect even as he heals. He recalls the phone number of his mother’s longtime friend, the one that had been writing with her about a new job offer in this very city. Hoping to aid Lucky in finding his mother by gaining a sense of her old haunts, he plucks the phone from the static sea waves and taps her number into the plastic buttons.
GM: Emil might not remember the woman’s name, but let it not be said he doesn’t have a head for numbers. He plugs in all six digits and is rewarded with a, “Hello, who is this?” in a middle-aged woman’s voice.
Emil: “This is Lucille’s son, Emil. Is this Sharon speaking?” he responds calmly, the name suddenly coming to him.
GM: “Oh, are you? Why yes, this is. Your mom’s told me all about you, Emil.”
Emil: “Oh really? Mostly good things I’d hope. Of course, with Mom, she can turn a curse to a blessing with how nicely she puts things,” he espouses with the unique warmth he ascribes to his memory of her.
“You two met in college, right? Was that before she met Earl?”
GM: “I’m sorry, Earl? Earl who?” Sharon asks.
Emil: “Earl Kane. Her first husband. My dad,” Emil responds.
So protective over her past she wouldn’t even let her guard down for a bosom friend to let her know about the painful story of her son’s father. Interesting.
GM: “I’m sorry,” Sharon repeats, “first husband? I’m… afraid you’re not making very much sense.”
Emil: He chuckles nervously, the potential thought of his father being a figment of a schizophrenia-addled childhood flitting momentarily through his mind. “I suppose it’s possible he never came up. She has too many painful memories from back then. But this might clear it up. What year did you two go to Loyola Marymount?”
GM: There’s a pause from the other end of the line.
“I’m sorry, Emil, but what is this all about?”
Emil: “I’m trying to get a message to my mother. I’ve been in the hospital for a few days now after an injury and I had to get airlifted to Houston Medical Center for safer treatment. My stepfather came with me during the flight but my mom stayed back to handle some personal business in New Orleans. I need to inform my mother that after we landed, Paul had a sudden severe medical emergency and was taken away without access to his phone. I tried to call her but all I get is her voicemail. There’s limited battery on the phone I have and I think she’d prefer to hear this message from someone who can answer her questions instead of just a recorded voice.”
GM: “Oh my goodness, you’re both in the hospital? What happened?” Sharon asks concernedly.
Emil: “That’s the thing,” Emil responds. “For Paul, I’m not sure. They wheeled him away on a gurney and the last thing I heard was him screaming for my mother. He had given me his phone for the flight, so even if he’s alright he can’t contact anyone, and the staff here are too busy with their own work to check on him for me. For myself, I’m still early in recovery from an attempt on my life last week in New Orleans.”
GM: “I’m sor—what?” comes an incredulous-sounding reply.
Emil: “I wish I was kidding. Someone had, or has, it out for me and my family. I was kidnapped, repeatedly slashed with a knife and then left for dead. I’m sorry if I sound too casual about it but it’s part of my attempt to accept that it happened and move on intact. Something my therapist taught me back in the day. That’s the reason my mom and stepdad were in New Orleans: to support my recovery and aid me in picking up and moving back to Los Angeles. I assumed she might have told you about it.”
GM: There’s silence from the other end of the line.
Emil: “You know, I think these meds the doctors have me on are screwing with my head, I’ve been talking crazy. My apologies, I’m not quite myself right now,” Emil responds to the silence, wondering why he had thought that would be a good thing to share in the first place.
GM: “Oh. Well, that’s certainly a relief to hear,” his mother’s friend answers. There’s still apprehension in her voice, but it’s slowly fading. “Your mother said you were in the hospital, but not anything about your dad, or… the rest of that.”
Emil: “Mom keeps her head a pinch more level than I tend to, but I think this hospital is just really hard to think clearly in. It feels like everyone is stuck inside their own heads, no one’s really present. It’s so easy to get lost in thought without anyone to speak to.”
GM: “Yes, I don’t know anyone who enjoys a trip to the hospital. They always say you should avoid surgery whenever you can. They could probably expand that to avoiding hospitals whenever you can, too.”
Emil: “They definitely could,” Emil agrees. “On a lighter note, you were saying my mom has told you a lot about me, but admittedly, I don’t actually know that much about you and Mom’s friendship beyond that you met in college and have kept in touch since. What’s kept your friendship going over the years?”
GM: “Really that, I suppose, when it comes down to it. Making friends is easy at your age. It gets harder at ours. College is the last place the grown-ups coddle you. Then you have to deal with all the ugliness out there.”
Emil: “Well that doesn’t bode well for my future social life, if this is when it’s easy, I might just not be cut out for a long-term friendship. Being a student, a teacher, a mentor, I can do. That I can thrive in. But I don’t think I’ve really cracked the key to true friendship. From what I can tell, a lot of the ugliness seems to come from people’s professions, is that true for your work?”
GM: “Sure. I work in marketing. There’s plenty of copywriters who’ll screw each other over so they can say the hottest new idea was theirs.”
Emil: “That’s terrible. Though I guess it’s no surprise, there’s snakes on every continent ‘cept Antarctica. I’m trying to work in cybersecurity, and I know it’s far from clean of that ugliness. It’s so overt that we label security engineers based on how much they abuse their skills. You’re either a white hat or a black hat. Upstanding or malicious.”
GM: “Oh, no gray hats?”
Emil: “Some people like to call themselves that, usually online, usually anonymous. Purport to be moral by perhaps other than moral means. In my estimation they’re deluding themselves if they think they can straddle that line forever.”
GM: “I’ll take your word for it. I guess it’s a good thing they come in either good or bad.”
There’s a momentary pause and some muffled noise.
“All right, I have to get to bed soon. Remind me what you were calling over, Emil?”
Emil: “Ah right. Well, I wanted to ask if you would let my mom know that Paul is in an indeterminate condition but became severely sick after we landed. He was yelling her name as he was being rolled away. I tried calling her but it only reached her voicemail and I’m not sure if I’ll catch her before this phone’s battery gives out. Would you please tell her that he’s in Houston Medical Center?”
GM: “I can certainly try. That’s funny for your mom. She’s usually pretty prompt about responding to calls.”
Emil: “Yeah I know, it’s really unusual for her. I’m trying not to read too much into it. Hopefully everything is alright.”
I’m failing to, but trying counts, right? Right?
GM: “Well, I’m sure she has a reason. Good night, Emil.”
Emil: “G’night, Sharon. Thanks again.”
Saturday night, 29 September 2007
Emil: Emil considers how else he might help his mother after ending his phone call with Sharon. His rabbi wasn’t available before he had to leave, but given the hour, he supposes that he’s likely home from counseling the Rabinowitzes. He dials his number.
GM: Emil is interrupted as the door to his room opens. With the hospital’s lights dimmed following post-visitation hours, he has to strain his eyes to make out who the smiling man is.
It’s the food service worker.
“Changed my mind,” he says as he walks up to Emil’s bed.
“I want the blowjob after all.”
He fishes some cash out from his pocket, drops it on Emil’s lap, and smirks.
“We can think of that as you getting paid, boywhore.”
He starts undoing his pants.
Emil: Emil considers the man’s thick Spanish accent and with some effort makes out Christian Pliego on his nametag. Given the man’s profession, he makes the calculation that he is likely an undocumented worker.
He’s also likely Catholic, and given the darkness that rests over the room, it wouldn’t be that bad an idea to put the fear of God into him. He tries to remember the different tropes horror films use to scare Catholics.
He drops the phone behind his back.
Emil begins to contort his stiff, too-long limbs, adapting the few pop and lock dance lessons he learned in an elective breakdancing club into a disturbing interpretation of bodily possession.
With one violently jittering arm, he touches his stomach, forehead and shoulders in an inverted sign of the cross and stretches the other out, his palm spread out towards the service worker, twitching and writhing.
He begins to chant what likely sounds to the man as a demonic chant but is actually just an exaggeratedly harsh pronunciation of Hebrew of Psalm 23, with each chanted line capped off with his rattly baritone alternating between “CHRISTIAN PLIEGO” or “SATAN.”
מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד: יְהוָה רֹעִי, לֹא אֶחְסָר._
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא, יַרְבִּיצֵנִי; עַל-מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי.
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב; יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי-צֶדֶק, לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ.
גַּם כִּי-אֵלֵךְ בְּגֵיא צַלְמָוֶת, לֹא-אִירָא רָע— כִּי-אַתָּה עִמָּדִי;
שִׁבְטְךָ וּמִשְׁעַנְתֶּךָ, הֵמָּה יְנַחֲמֻנִי.
תַּעֲרֹךְ לְפָנַי, שֻׁלְחָן— נֶגֶד צֹרְרָי;
דִּשַּׁנְתָּ בַשֶּׁמֶן רֹאשִׁי, כּוֹסִי רְוָיָה.
אַךְ, טוֹב וָחֶסֶד יִרְדְּפוּנִי— כָּל-יְמֵי חַיָּי;
וְשַׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה, לְאֹרֶךְ יָמִים. _
( “A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; He guideth me in straight paths for His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”)
GM: The man stares at Emil with something between alarm, disgust, and incredulity, like he’s just sprouted another head.
He finally grabs the money and briskly walks out, muttering something under his breath in Spanish.
Emil only hears his pants zip up after the door slams shut.
Emil: He waits until the footsteps pitter patter into silence before resting back against his pillow, satisfied at his efforts.
Fuckin’ Catholics. Don’t even know their own Bible.
He gets Paul’s phone out from under himself and finishes dialing the rabbi’s number, he has some actual praying to do.
GM: Emil is interrupted again by indistinct voices from the other side of the door. One sounds alarmed. There’s footsteps, then a knock.
Emil: He sighs, before turning off the phone and sliding it under his back once again.
“Come in!” he says, sounding cheery despite his exhaustion.
GM: There’s two people. One is a tall, corn-fed and bookish-looking young man with dirty blond hair wearing a doctor’s white coat. The other is a severe-looking slightly older woman with short black hair and gold earrings, also wearing a doctor’s white coat.
“We saw that food tech coming out of here,” says the man. “He looked upset.”
“There’s been… problems with him in the past. Was he causing you any?”
Emil: “I’d say so,” Emil responds, pausing as if deep in thought. “He asked me to… fellate him. He called me, and please excuse my language, a ‘boywhore’. He unzipped his pants and didn’t seem to want to take no for an answer. So I read him Psalm 23 to get him to reconsider his intentions. He just ran out and slammed the door.”
GM: The coated man and woman look between each other.
“He will be dealt with,” the severe-looking woman finally replies. She exits the room. The door closes behind her.
Emil: Emil looks to the remaining doctor before he leaves, and informs him that “the tech also took all the money from my wallet.” He points to the empty leather pouch. “Would you be willing to do me a favor, Doctor?”
GM: “I suppose that’s what you get when we pay them $5.85 an hour,” the man sighs disgustedly. “If it’s to get it back, sure.”
Emil: “Well, I’d appreciate that, but it has to do with my stepfather. He accompanied me when I was airlifted over here but got severely ill upon landing. His name is Paul Jonas but he might be listed as Saul. He was taken away on a gurney. I’m worried about him. No one’s given me any update on his status. Would it be at all possible for you to have him moved to this room so I can keep an eye on him?”
GM: “Moving rooms isn’t really possible, sorry. But I can ask about his status,” the man answers. “Depending on that, there might be no reason you couldn’t visit. Moving around is good for patients anyway.”
Emil: “Oh good!” he perks up in response. “I would really appreciate it, Doctor. What’s your name, by the way?”
GM: “Carter,” the man answers. “What’s yours?”
Emil: “Emil,” he responds, offering a hand to shake. “Say, I brought a few laptops with me on the flight over, but my stepdad was supposed to take care of them but he had to be taken away. Do you have any idea where they could be?”
GM: Carter offers a semi-firm shake. “No idea, sorry. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone made off with them. Nurses always advise patients not to bring valuables into hospitals. Patients have to move around and can’t always take things with them. Staff are always overworked. No one really keeps track what happens to someone’s phones or wallets.”
Emil: “Darn, ‘salright. GPS tracking can find it wherever it’s gone.”
GM: “Well, there you go. The things tech can do.”
Emil: “Yeah, when you’re in a room with a computer, you’re never really alone. I know, cause I’m in cybersecurity. Honestly, I’m itching for a screen right about now. Is tech allowed in here? Any safety issues with it?”
GM: “Tech’s pretty much banned in all hospitals, though there’s plenty patients who smuggle it in. I usually recommend they just use the lobby. Being up and about outside their rooms has proven mental and physical health benefits, and usually gets them discharged sooner.”
Emil: “I’d like to soon, I need to recover from all this. When you get info on my stepdad, can I just go myself or do I need someone with me?”
GM: “You can go yourself. Just let a nurse know over the call button.”
“Oh, say, was that Hebrew I heard earlier?”
Emil: “Sure was. The whole of Psalm 23. How’d you get familiar with the language?”
GM: “Scholastic interest, though I’ll admit my Hebrew is worse than my Latin. You had the whole passage memorized?”
Emil: “Have to. I’m studying the Zohar to understand Kabbalah. It’s in such a coded language that if you want to understand its subtler references, it’s almost a requirement to memorize passages. Each letter matters. Did you study theology in your undergrad?”
GM: “No, I’ve just always had an interest in languages. Hebrew is a unique one, as far as they go. I’ve read Kabblists often map its 22 letters into a cube or ‘building block,’ so to speak, of three-dimensional reality. We don’t normally think of languages mapping implicitly to geometric structures like that, but there are some people who think that’s part of what makes a language sacred.”
Emil: “Why, of course. According to Kabbalah, each letter is a representative component of one of God’s traits in this world. God’s omnipresence in a three dimensional world therefore requires that the letters associate with complex polyhedra. Coincidentally, there’s actually a school of scholars who believe that complex geometric structures like those are actually the minuscule building blocks of everything, and that from their collective complexity emerges a sort of universal consciousness. The level of math they use stumps me, but they’re working on developing simulations that pique my interest.”
GM: “It’s a pretty old idea if that much math isn’t for you. John Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica and Propeudamata Aphoristica explicitly combine sacred languages and sacred geometry within an alchemical system that purports to show the structure of physical reality and how it is placed within the larger cosmos. Those building blocks of everything you mention. What really stands out to me is how those texts make use of four-dimensional mathematics and show an understanding of gravitational forces 100 years before Newton does. But it sure makes the math easier.”
Emil: “Oh I’ve been interested in this sort of work for some time now. I’m always taken by the question of methodology. How could Dee have learned all this hidden information before it was experimentally discovered? There’s a lab for that emergence research right near where I lived in Los Angeles, I was gonna apply as an intern before I was accepted to Tulane. Dee didn’t have nearly as much information or computational tools as they do. Some say it’s cause he cheated rationality. That the only way he learned it was from the angels he attested to speak to. If that’s the case, then in a sense his work is justified by science, because its model of the world predicts our observations. If that’s the case, then what else did he get right?”
GM: “That is the question, isn’t it? It’s a tragedy what happened to his library.”
“I think he gets an unfair reputation, at least in the popular mind. Most people see him as an occultist, but math and the occult were seen as the same field during the period he was alive. Speaking with angels was just a way to learn more about the natural sciences.”
Emil: “I think there’s something in math that a lot of people feel but have trouble placing. It’s in a sense completely constructed, some might say baseless. At the same, without its modeling capabilities, the natural sciences would be baseless themselves. How can something be truly baseless if it is the foundation upon which we build our understanding of the universe?”
“I think its clear then that a base does exist, it’s just that this substrate is inherently occult, inherently foreign. Math, just being another flavor of language, teases out strands of the substrate which we call theorems or laws of nature.”
“On the other hand, our models are incomplete. Gödel showed us that not everything that is true about a system can be derived from within. I think that’s where we hurt ourselves when we shun the occult. Because if we don’t talk to the angels, we won’t ever know the full truth. I think that’s a real shame.”
GM: “Perhaps it’s because math isn’t a truly universal language, even beyond its inherent limitations. I read an interesting article the other day about challenges faced by Spanish speakers in math classrooms. ‘Table’ has a double meaning in English, but in Spanish, there are separate words for each noun. ‘Tabla’ and ‘mesa.’ Speakers also have to learn new words like ‘quotient’ that don’t come up in everyday conversation, and some English expressions don’t translate well. Students might take a question asking for the difference between two numbers as a cue to describe the numbers’ different characteristics.”
Carter smiles faintly. “Of course, if you ask Dee, there was a superior base out there to just math.”
Emil: “You mean those pure verities of his? Perhaps math isn’t fundamental. It had to be defined by man after all, like any language. It is incomplete in its description and relies on the assumption that the world is ran by linear causality. ‘A’ implies ‘B’. And like you noted, the great ambiguities in its notation form a tall barrier to entry. You’re a doctor, I’m a computer scientist. Our livelihoods rely on math as their foundations. How are we supposed to respond to finding a much farther reaching bedrock to the universe? How do we generalize our practices to those revealed truths?”
GM: “That is the million-dollar question, isn’t it? What do you think?” Carter asks.
Emil: Emil ponders the question for a moment. “You know, I’m not sure how much could really change, and not because a fresh universal understanding wouldn’t change much— it would be by definition revolutionary. But suppose you develop new theories from that knowledge. Suppose, for instance, that you could instantly diagnose the root cause of any disease with only a look. What patient is going to believe your claim unless you also hit them with a needless barrage of the regular tests which might force your hand into giving a diagnosis you know isn’t accurate? What could you say to the medical board when someone questions your methods? That you’ve discovered ‘true verities’ in centuries old alchemy texts? No, you’d have to be careful using it, careful whom you share it with. You could develop it personally, and maybe over time introduce bite size portions of truth into research journals, but it would be on the whole a private work. Isolating in its enlightenment.”
“Same with computing. Anything above someone’s understanding quickly degenerates into magic at the hand of computer wizards.”
GM: “Well, we already do our share of sleight of hand to satisfy patients and medical boards,” Carter chuckles. “Medicine isn’t always straightforward. Like I suppose anything isn’t.”
“I was more curious, though, as to your thoughts on finding a superior base to mathematics.”
Emil: “I think that the existence of a universal basis is a concept so central to human thought whether that be occult, religious, scientific, or otherwise, that it almost certainly exists in some form. I believe it does. I also think that humans have existed long enough that if it was going to be found, it would have been found already. However, since those who find it would likely keep it private, the lack of people claiming to have found the basis does not dissuade me from believing it’s currently discoverable. From my study of Kabbalah, I’m increasingly convinced that books like the Zohar might show the path wise men have historically used to discover that superior basis, that divine language.”
Emil examines Carter for a moment before asking, “Have you heard of the seder hishtalshelut?”
GM: “My Hebrew isn’t any better than it was a few minutes ago,” Carter remarks with a faint smile, “but I understand it means ‘order of evolution’ or ‘order of development.’”
Emil: “For pretty much all things Kabbalah, direct translation isn’t the path to the intended meaning, which is actually a concept very germane to the concept of the seder hishtalshelut. All Kabbalistic texts are written in what’s called the language of branches. In order to speak about concepts beyond this world and into the spiritual worlds above, the names of physical objects are used to describe purely spiritual things. Enlightenment is represented by light, covenants by rainbows, spiritual fulfillment by nourishment from a hearty meal. So why do they use the word branches? Because Kabbalists claim that these metaphors exist because every physical object is merely a reflection of the concepts it embodies in the upper spiritual worlds. All we see in this world are the branches of concepts whose roots lie way above our heads alongside the direct creative will of God. The seder is two things in this context. It is a representation of the creative process, of how a new idea begins simply in concept as it sprouts roots in God’s creative domain and then gains complexity before being planned and then growing branches as it is constructed in physical reality. Once created, the seder can be thought of as a ladder, a set of rungs to climb if you want to reach the higher concept worlds. Many Kabbalists spend their lives trying to climb the ladder of one simple object, because just getting a peek at an unadulterated spiritual concept means getting a glimpse at the literal word of God. I believe that in those roots lies the basis we want to find.”
GM: “It’s funny you should mention ladders in conjunction with reaching higher worlds,” Carter remarks with some amusement. “I think there was a biblical story about that…”
“But that might simply go to illustrate the universality of the idea. Babel is a fairly pan-cultural myth. It arguably has to be, if it’s to fit the definition of a universal truth that’s accessible to all.”
Emil: Emil leans towards the doctor, grinning. “Exactly! And that’s made quite ironic that this universal truth, this shared human experience, is about God stopping humans from reaching the truth. The question to ask then, is how do we square God’s teachings of trying to grow closer to him with his denial of that closeness to these people.”
“Of course, you could always go with the standard answer, that the people of Babel were tainted with hubris and so they were unfit to reach the heavens. But that’s not at all the reason God gives for stopping them in those short eight verses of the Babel story.” Emil pauses, leaving room for Carter to respond. He wonders how much their philosophies line up. A part of him wants Carter to finish his thought, another wants Carter to challenge it.
GM: Carter smiles back. “I think Babel’s people were right to build that tower. It’s a shame they didn’t finish it.”
“Just imagine the marvels they could have achieved if they did.”
Emil: “God seemed to agree with you. After all, ‘He said: they are one people and share the one language, so behold what they’ve started. Now, nothing they seek can be kept hidden from them.”
“And well, there’s another thing people tend to get wrong, Carter. Who says the people didn’t finish it?”
“וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה, לִרְאֹת אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל, אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם.” (“And the Lord descended to view the city and the tower that the children of the Adam had built.”)
“Note the past tense of בָּנוּ after the present tense verb וַיֵּרֶד” (“built” … “descended”). The one people who spoke the one language did build their tower, but God removed the bricks, their unified language, and the mortar, their unified culture, and so the city of Babel was left unfinished and abandoned, but the tower remained."
“Most people think that Babel got its name from the Hebrew word for confusion, but that word is ‘bilbul’, not babel. It has a totally different root. If you want to know what Babel means, ask the ones who lived there. The Babylonians called the city ‘Bab-ilu,’ the ‘Gate of God.’ I think that’s more fitting, don’t you agree?”
GM: “Babble doesn’t lead to truth,” Carter agrees. “The etymology there is pretty interesting. Dee had a lot of names for that one people’s speech: Adamic, Celestiall Speech, First Language of the God-Christ, and his preferred Angelicall. It was the same language used by Adam and Eve to converse with God and the angels, though they were blind to its powers before eating from the tree.”
“But we don’t usually refer to it as Angellical. Enochian is the better-known name.”
“The etymology there is pretty interesting too. Supposedly, the language of Babel didn’t completely die out after God destroyed the tower—or just stopped the people from finishing the rest of the city, depending on your interpretation.”
“But there was one man who continued to speak that primal ur-language. The biblical patriarch Enoch. That’s where the name comes from. He was supposedly the last human to, and knowledge of Enochian died with him. But Enoch lived on in the mythology of other cultures. In Islam, he’s Idris. He’s also been associated with Tehuti, Hermes, and Thoth, all gods of knowledge in their respective cultures. The Greeks translated his name as Hermes Trismegistus, or three times very, very great.”
“If the tower was shattered, its bricks sure scattered far. Look into the occult traditions of any culture and you’ll find the pieces.”
Emil: “You know it’s said, or maybe just written, that when Enoch was taken from this world, he did it halfway of his own accord. Some say he hitched a ride on what would become Jacob’s ladder. In my opinion, I think there’s a reason another Enoch was mentioned prior in the genealogy. The child of the first murderer built a city to his son, also called Enoch. I think its reasonable to assume that that first city, the city of Enoch, was the very same city of Babel, given Babel was described as containing all the children of Adam. If that’s the case, perhaps Enoch is proof the tower was built. He must have climbed it, walked into heaven alive. Kabbalistic tradition dictates the act turned him into an Angel by the name of Metatron. Perhaps that’s why he shows up in so many cultures as a teacher, he’s proof man can come face to face with divinity. That’s Metatron’s role after all, the Prince of Countenances.” He smiles at Carter.
“There’s a legend that goes around that the reason Dee discovered Enochian was because one night, he heard an owl screeching outside his window. When he checked outside, he came face to face with an angel who gave him a gift to provide him clarity. Maybe the tower didn’t need to shatter in order for the truth to spread. Maybe it spread in the screeches of owls, in select humans receiving knowledge at their windowsills, standing face to face with the Prince of Countenances.”
Emil remembers looking at the moon outside his window the night before his old visions came to the surface again. He wonders what Carter would make of them? Would he think him as crazy as the previous doctor? Maybe he could understand them to be true.
“Do you think that these encounters could still happen, Carter? Today I mean. Dee had his millennia after Enoch’s climb, what’s another millennia to the endless?”
GM: Carter looks thoughtful.
“I’ll answer that question with a question. It’s a bit outside computer science, Emil, but what do you make of near-death experiences?”
Emil: “I think they are some of the few times that we all get a chance to connect to the upper worlds. There’s a reason people feel like they are separated from their bodies, they are rising into a more conceptual existence. If you want to talk about it in terms of Kabbalah, they climb the ladder, if but for a little bit before coming back down.”
He gulps down a quantity of sterile air. He opens his mouth a few times to speak but closes it just as quick, before coming to his words. “I’ve experienced them. Personally. Multiple times. Though it wasn’t quite like it’s normally described. I wouldn’t describe the casual situations as peaceful, which might skew my perception from the general population of NDEs, who get them after sickness in a hospital bed. But I experienced them nonetheless.”
GM: “Oh? That is interesting. The majority of people who experience NDEs describe them as peaceful, but there are accounts by individuals who found them frightening and traumatic too.”
Emil: “Oh don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the NDE that was traumatizing. The attack was,” he says, presenting his bandaged limbs. “The NDE itself surpassed the common descriptions. I received visions, I heard the whispering of scripture, and… I think I heard my dad speak to me from beyond the grave.” He pauses and then preempts correction, “and that’s relatively normal from what I gather. But what’s different about my experience is that it wasn’t limited just to my mind. When I was dying, I was in the middle of a field far from the city. And it felt like an instant later I was bleeding out on my apartment floor, screaming my head off, when someone found me. My attacker seemed intent on finishing the job so I don’t think he carried me home. No. The moment I heard someone say the phrase ’Daddy’s proud’ in Hebrew, I was miles away under my bed. Someone up there,” he says assuredly, “wanted me alive. So I live.”
GM: “That’s interesting,” says Carter.
“You think God led someone else to bring you back home?”
Emil: “If you’re asking whether I think God sent a person to simply find me, pick me up, and bring me back, I’d say it’s much more miraculous than that. My attacker was bloodthirsty and he was right about to get what he wanted. I heard that supportive voice, that ’Daddy’s proud,’ right as I was being tackled and cut. There were no cars or roads in the area at least until the horizon. My savior found his way to the middle of no where, fought off a bloodthirsty maniac, and brought me back to my apartment to live another day. God sent me a guardian angel that night. I have faith in that.”
GM: “That does sound miraculous,” Carter says. “Faith and science don’t have to be exclusive things. There are Catholic hospitals, after all. That’s part of why I brought up NDEs.”
“Their existence is generally recognized, but they aren’t well understood. Neurologists have presented strong arguments for placing NDEs into modern neuroscience. Neurosurgeons have made equally compelling arguments for NDEs being outside the current framework. Much of the argument revolves around the theory of consciousness. Is consciousness produced by the brain, as some sort of epiphenomenon? Or is consciousness separate, existing alongside but separate from the physical nervous system? I won’t say the question is beyond the scope of my profession, but when it also starts to fall within liberal arts majors’,” and at this Carter smiles faintly, “I think that it should be approached with humility. For all our knowledge, and skill, there are many things we don’t yet understand. I think we should let Shakespeare have the last word:”
“‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’”
Emil: “That’s a poignant quote, Carter. But we bring up faith, and faith, unlike science, does not demand evidence. It is fundamentally humble because of this. Faith is the father that waits for his wayward son with open arms whereas science is the father who assures himself that given how long he’s been lost his son will never return. Both fathers hurt in their own ways, and both are fortified in other ways. The best path is somewhere in between. I’ve told you about my experience and you probably had a gut feeling in response. I asked you whether you believe Enoch still brings men to face divine truth, and you asked me a question in return, which tells me you do have an answer, but that you want to know more about me than you’ve figured so far. Regardless if you tell me your answer, you believe it. I think that’s very powerful, that different sort of knowing that faith gives.”
“But I remain intrigued, what do you believe? If you want to know more of what I believe, well, for you, I’m an open book. Ask what you want to know. Most people can’t hold a conversation like this as you have. It’s really refreshing after so many days in a hospital bed to be able to dig into such interesting concepts. So I’m honestly curious as to your thoughts on the idea.”
GM: “Oh, why thank you, Emil. It’s very refreshing, and stimulating, to have a conversation like this too.” He smiles. “One pro to working in a hospital. You can have some surprisingly intimate ones. Or maybe not so surprisingly.”
“As far as what I believe, though, you could probably call me an atheist. I think religious faith isn’t inherently good or bad: like anything, it’s what people make of it.”
“It’s the Abrahamic God, and really gods in general, I take issue with. By modern ethical standards, the cruelties they inflict on humans are unconscionable.”
“I have a soft spot for figures like Prometheus and some interpretations of Lucifer, though, who take humanity’s side. They’re always punished for it by the other gods, or God, but they give of themselves for us regardless. That’s the kind of deity I could follow.”
“Gods are our parents, from a certain point of view. Aren’t parents supposed to give of themselves for their children?”
Emil: Atheist. At least tenfold better than a Catholic that’s for sure. Can’t be a hypocrite if you actively believe in the nonexistence of God.
Emil looks with bemused surprise and respect at the doctor.
“So you’re an atheist in that you don’t put your faith in a God, and yet we just spoke about miracles and angels, knowledge beyond this world. You know, the way we’ve described Enoch, Hermes, Metatron, whatever name you’d like to call him by, he’s not unlike a Prometheus or a Lucifer. He sneaks celestial knowledge, bits of the first language, down to humanity every so often. And from it we grow, we come away with pre-Newtonian gravity and descriptions of four dimensional geometry. God didn’t want humans to have Enochian after Babel just as Zeus didn’t want humans to have fire. But perhaps Enoch is the better entity to root for, he hasn’t been caught yet.” Emil looks at Carter with a mischievous grin. “If you want a deity, look to Elisha ben Abuyah. He was a Rabbi who had a vision where he saw Metatron sitting in the presence of God. He came to the conclusion that there were two divine figures in the heavens. His contemporaries considered him a heretic, called him ‘The Other,’ but his words are still recorded if you’re interested.”
Better he believe in some god than in none, it would bring him closer to the truth even if he cannot agree with it in full.
GM: “Oh, you misunderstand me. I think God, or a god, or many gods, could plausibly exist,” Carter clarifies. “You can’t disprove a negative. I simply don’t believe them worthy of our veneration. I’d accept their physical existence, if there were proof, but not their moral or spiritual authority.”
“Your rabbi does sound as if he had some interesting thoughts, though. Where did he leave them?”
Emil: You very much can disprove a negative, unless you’re under intuitionist or strictly constructive logic. That’s proof by contradiction. If he meant otherwise, proving nonexistence is harder than proving existence, but still doable. It just requires checking the entire universe of outcomes.
“Mostly with his student, the praised Rabbi Meir of Mishnaic fame. Despite Abuya’s heresy, his pupil never gave up on him. He said, ‘At the end of time, even if God won’t redeem you, I will.’ I’ve always respected that about Meir. There are certain stories about him in the Talmud, but they aren’t exactly framed nicely. In terms of his own writings, some scholars claim the apocryphal third book of Enoch was organized by him, and I’ve heard rumors from my teacher and others claiming to have heard about a theosophical, occult work penned by him being passed around various private libraries. Then again, those are just rumors on rumors.”
GM: “Oh, now that might be worth keeping an eye out for,” Carter remarks. “I don’t suppose you know a title associated with it?”
Emil: “I know of a few actually,” Emil admits, “though whether any are the correct title I’m unsure. Some might be artifacts of anti-heretical shaming, you see. Nevertheless, I’ve heard it called ‘The Book of the Shattered Garden’ or ‘The Fruit of the Other Tree.’ Those are the names that translate the cleanest into English. There’s also a few variations on a harder to translate name. Some say its true name is the ‘Sefer Gola-Ken-Da’a,’ approximately translating to ‘The Book of Exile from the Nests of the Abominable Birds of Prey.’ Others say that’s a mispronunciation of ‘Gal-Kanf-De’a’ meaning ‘The Fount of Heretical Thought.’”
“There’s an issue with the claim of that interpretation however, because the middle word, ‘Kanf,’ is Aramaic while ‘Gal’ and ’De’a’ are in Hebrew, the language more likely to be used by someone of ben Abuya’s generation in religious writings. There are other translations with similarly anachronistic tendencies such as ‘Sefer Galakh-Noded’ meaning either ‘The Book of the Wandering Christian Priest’ or ‘Giluakh-Noda,’ meaning ‘The Razor From the Land of Nod’. The term ‘Galakh’ for priest only came about in the later development of Christianity and ‘Noda,’ is an Aramaic term. As a result of these anachronisms, I lean towards the first interpretation. The only issue with it is it makes significantly less sense than the ones that are more likely to be incorrect. What did ben Abuya have to do with birds of prey? In the end, no one will know until it’s found.”
GM: “Hmm. Maybe it’s to do with owls as symbols of wisdom, though that feels as if it’s grasping,” Carter muses. “Perhaps the birds are meant to more generally represent messengers from higher spiritual realms. That could be an insight into the compiler’s anti-heretical tendencies.”
“You’re right there’s no substitute for the actual thing, of course. I’ll have to keep an eye out, now that I know the names.”
Emil: “I’d be very excited to hear if you found it. I’m something of a collector myself, though I’m more into digitization. There’s something so special about uploading, it’s almost spiritual. Stripping data of its physical medium and leaving only pure information,” he beams. “You can store hundreds of thousands of novels on a drive the size of a brick. Might I have your contact info? I’d like to stay in touch, Carter.”
GM: “There’s nothing ‘almost’ spiritual in what you’re describing there,” Carter smiles, then glances down at his wristwatch.
“That’s good of you to ask. I’m overdue.”
He supplies Emil with a phone number and AOL address before asking for the other man’s info in turn.
Emil: Emil gives his phone number and AOL address in return, warning, “I’d be careful with these email services, they are ripe targets for bad actors. I’ve recently been working on a distributed system to replace it, actually.”
Before he leaves, Emil asks Carter, “even if you don’t find ‘Gala-Ken-Da’a,’ if the Prince of Countenances ever visits your bedroom window, remind him to visit me as well.” He smiles warmly at his new friend.
“I’ve been waiting.”
GM: Carter smiles again in return.
“They say patience isn’t just learning to wait. It’s learning what’s worth your time.”
The coated man finally rises from his chair.
“Keep waiting, Emil.”
Saturday night, 29 September 2007
GM: Emil checks the time on Paul’s phone and sees the hour is quite late. He and Carter talked for some time. Emil resolves to visit his stepfather and make that long-postponed call to his rabbi on the morrow. He muses over three different possible ways to find his missing laptop (custom application, signature pinging, or RFID tag) and eventually locates its GPS coordinates by means of the second method. The short-range tracking works sort of like a radar.
He nods off quickly afterwards, notwithstanding the time he’s already spent in a hospital.
He ascends a vast tower built from bricks that upon closer inspection resemble computer circuitry with letters printed in a thousand languages, but predominately Hebrew and binary code. The Prince of Countenances carries Emil aloft upon his back. Emil can feel his blood boiling into fire, his hair becoming lightning, and his eyes torches as the six-winged figure soars ever higher. He knows what awaits at the top. He can already understand all of the languages.
A piercing cry from below interrupts his thoughts of ascension. The city of New Orleans surrounds the tower. It’s being consumed under a rain of fire and brimstone. His mother and stepfather writhe in agony as the flames devour their already-cooking flesh.
Metatron-who-was-Enoch only smiles and touches a finger to his lips.
“We’re already bending the rules not turning you into salt for that, Emil,” he says in a rough and working-class voice that doesn’t sound at all like how Emil pictured an archangel’s.
“Meter’s ticking. You heading up or down?”
Emil: Steam evaporates quickly off the flames of his flesh, the salt from the tears falls down to the city.
“There’s nothing left for me down there,” the ember says to the smiling angel. “We’re all licks of flame.”
His voice stutters as he looks towards the sky.
“Up, as high as it goes.”
GM: “Fuck ’em, right?” Metatron agrees as the six great wings continue to beat. Down below, there’s a final agonized cry as Emil’s family burns to ashes in the time it would have taken to save them. The city is nothing but ashes too, but maybe Emil can’t tell because they’re now so high.
“Knew you were the right horse to bet on, kid.”
“Daddy’d sure be proud.”
They ascend, and Emil knows only fire.
Fire in his blood.
Fire in his eyes.
Fire around his throat.
“You son of a cunt.”
“My fucking job!”
Fire in his lungs as the furious man strangles him.
Emil: Again. It’s happening again. He’s being victimized again. And this time, he has no guise of protecting loved ones to hide behind. There is no Hillary to check on, he listened to his family burn and he turned away. Deep in his gut he knows he could have done something, knows he should have done something. What’s the point of ultimate truth if it comes at the cost of the lives of your loved ones. Well maybe the truth will save them from death. But for all that is written in the Torah about God resurrecting the dead, has anyone ever seen it happen? And if God doesn’t do it with his full omniscience, who’s to say his fraction of the truth will be worth jack to saving his family? The only possible answer to that question twists the flames of his innards.
It doesn’t matter if the truth saves his family. It doesn’t matter if it does anything. The truth is revealed for the benefit of the truth. The eyes hunger, and his addiction has reached a peak. He needs to know. And now that he has no allusions about how weak he is to the pull of his addiction—no, how he has become more addiction than Emil, he is not going to be stopped by some half-rate angel unfit to do their job. God deserves nothing but the best of servants. God deserves nothing less than pure, unadulterated flames of hunger for knowledge.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
The burning passion turns to his attacker, knowing from ancient scripture what to do. When Metatron ascended, Azazel, the Prince of Scapegoats, opposed his rise. He shall follow in his holy footsteps.
(“Go to Azazel/Hell!”)
The flames bellow and spittle into the face of the strangler, while Emil, blind and disturbed, lets out something deep and awful from within, pushing with all the force of his mind away from this attacker. He has to reach the top. He has to know. And this man isn’t going to stop him right at the end.
GM: The man doesn’t stop Emil. He doesn’t even come close.
He’s blasted off his feet like nothing more than a rag doll. He crashes into the wall, hits the floor, and doesn’t move. He didn’t even get to scream.
Emil can’t see his face. But the snapped-off name tag reads ‘Christian Pliego.’
Emil’s head pounds with a splitting, almost buzzing pain. He feels something wet trickling down his lip.
Emil: He almost screams, not at the pain or the intensity, but at being torn out of the dream of his lifetime. As he looks at the limp form of Christian, hate seethes within him, but the hate is replaced with grief. Grief for the family he so quickly decided to abandon. Grief for the knowledge he was so close to reaching. He has ridden on the wings of Metatron, he was flame incarnate. There is a seed of hope, because as long as he can dream, he can reach it again. Certainly, Christian won’t get in the way anymore. He hopes he’s alive, he doesn’t need that guilt inside him.
He also knows that he needs to save his mother and stepfather, while they’re still here. For now however, the grief persists.
He presses on the nurse call button.
GM: He’s interrupted as the door to his room suddenly opens. Lucky strides in, along with two other hard-looking men. They’re all dressed in street clothes.
They look between Emil and Christian.
One of them starts taking off Christian’s clothes.
“Why they call me Lucky,” deadpans Lucky.
“What were the odds,” grunts the man stripping Christian.
“Pretty good, I think,” says Lucky, his eyes not leaving Emil.
Emil: He tries to speak, but his bruised throat tears and muffles his voice.
It comes out weak, and as he tries to speak, he shows his neck to Lucky.
He looks surprised to see him, but the scene overwhelms him, and he starts to sob lightly.
GM: The man starts taking off his own clothes after the motionless food service worker has nothing left but his underwear.
“That’s a good enough story,” Lucky says in a comforting tone, laying a hand on Emil’s shoulder.
He holds the younger man’s gaze for a moment, then says, “We need to get the fuck outta here. Can you walk?”
The other man starts pulling on Christian’s clothes. The third man walks up to the nurse call button and presses it. He says something about a “major accident” and needing a couple nurses.
There’s an affirmatory reply from the speaker before he shuts it off.
Emil: “I—I can walk. M—my stepdad is in here too. And someone stole my laptop. I need him. I need that. He was yelling for—-” he suddenly gets very still excepting his arms, which shake. “Where is my mom, Lucky?”
GM: “Emil, you need to listen to me very carefully,” Lucky says slowly.
“All of us could die here, and we’re gettin’ the fuck out, soon as those nurses show.”
The man by the call button pulls some ski masks out of his jacket and tosses them around.
Everyone puts on one. Lucky fits one over Emil’s head. “Dunno how more time this’ll buy, but doesn’ hurt.”
He disconnects the IV line from Emil’s arm. It stings. He helps the younger man rise.
Emil: His face droops, he looks in shock, but then it’s like his architecture reboots. After being helped out of bed, he grabs Paul’s phone and his father’s wallet and then nods at Lucky, his eyes forced empty. A cold focus drifts on him, leaving but an awful shiver of his face hidden underneath the black mask.
GM: No one talks. Everyone moves to the right and left sides of the room, leaving Emil’s bed empty.
There’s footsteps outside. The door opens. Two nurses walk in.
The door closes behind them. They turn. Lucky throws a fist into the first woman’s throat, then as she gags and clutches her neck, he rams his knee into her groin while his other hand clamps over her mouth. She goes down in a silently screaming heap. The other nurse hits the floor by the other man’s feet a second later.
The three men throw kicks and punches until the struggling women stop moving.
Emil: Emil looks on in a quiet horror, unable to respond. He’s already been claimed by the group, he’s weak and exhausted. He’s in over his head. At this point, he’s just following orders. His tears are sopped up by the ski mask. None of this is good. At the same time, he wonders what Lucky meant by their being in danger of dying. He pushes the thought down as he did with the others.
GM: “Still think we shoulda just grabbed him and walked out,” says the man in Christian’s clothes.
Lucky shakes his head as he starts stripping a nurse and changing into her scrubs. “Easier gettin’ in than gettin’ out. No tellin’ what eyes are gonna be on him.”
Emil: What the fuck?
GM: The third man remains silent as he also changes into a nurse’s scrubs.
“Hey, she’s your size, Lucky,” grins the first man.
Lucky grunts as he fixes the clothes, looks at the dark-skinned woman’s ID badge, and clips it on.
The three men take off the nurses’ and Christian’s underwear, then gruntingly lift them into Emil’s hospital bed.
Lucky and the silent man remove hypodermic needles, inject each of the nurses, and then Christian too. They also tie a belt strap around Christian’s arm. Lucky finally leaves a half-empty bag full of white powder.
“Sucks to be them,” says the non-silent man as he pulls off his ski mask.
Lucky pulls off his and Emil’s. So does the third man. They stuff the clothes and masks into a medical bag. Lucky helps Emil into a pair of ugly hospital slippers.
“Time to go,” says Lucky as the others start filing out of the room.
Emil: Emil looks him in those brown eyes of his. Then he nods and follows his lead.
GM: They make their way down the hospital’s labyrinthine halls, assembly pieces moving along the conveyor belt. They pass what feels like hundreds of people. Doctors. Nurses. Patients. Harsh voices blare over the intercom. No one seems to pay Emil and his three ‘nurses’ a second glance, but their postures remain tense.
They finally approach the front entrance’s sliding glass doors.
“Sucks to be your stepdad,” grunts the talking man.
Emil: “What do you mean? Not just being stuck in a hospital without family?” Emil questions hoarsely.
GM: Lucky just shakes his head as the four file towards the doors.
Emil: Emil almost protests. Why are they in danger here? If they are going to get killed, what about Paul? But when he sees Lucky shaking his head, he bites his tongue. He’s never been wronged by Lucky, even in bad situations he’s had his and his father’s backs. And how has he repaid him? He screamed at him, blamed him, threw him under the bus. Not today. Today, he has faith to bat back the addiction.
He places a hand on Lucky’s shoulder as they walk.
“Whatever happens, I trust you.”
He walks towards the mountains, and doesn’t dare look back.
GM: The doors slide open. No one stops the group as they walk out.
The medical complex is huge. It feels like there’s a hundred different hospitals here. Ambulances, cars, pedestrians, people on stretchers, they’re all everywhere. Emil and his three fellows simply fade into the crowd.
They make their way to a parking garage. There’s a beat-up Lincoln with an Arkansas license plate that the silent man replaces with a Texan plate he pulls out from the trunk.
The talking man seems to slightly un-tense as everyone makes for the car’s doors.
“In and out. Like a fucking Ninth Ward hooker, and even easier.”
Emil: Once they’re all seated in the car, Emil asks the men timidly, “Excuse me, but can someone please tell me what’s going on?”
GM: Lucky twists the key.
The engine doesn’t start.
Emil: Emil gets a terrible feeling, and takes out his stepfather’s phone to hopefully reassure himself. He tries to turn it on.
GM: The silent man grabs it out of his hand as Lucky swears and re-twists the keys again.
Emil: “Not again!” he bemoans in protest, before leaning towards Lucky with his hands on the headrest. “Is the car normally like this? Can I help you out?”
GM: The silent man smashes the phone against the car’s wall several times. The screen dies.
Emil: For fuck’s sake you could’ve just taken the battery out!
GM: “No, it ain’t,” Lucky matters darkly. “That means someone’s fuckin’-”
His eyes, and the other two men’s, cut to the rear view mirror.
Reflected figures draw steadily closer. Armed figures.
Emil: Emil suddenly feels acutely aware of his own mortality. The only difference between now and the library is that there is nothing mysterious about how he dies this way. A bullet tearing through his flesh, searing pain all the way til the end. Dying like they said his father did.
He’s not going so quickly. Not without a fight.
He focuses his attentions on the meatiest, most aggressively Texan car he can see that is near the assailants. He wants them gone. He pushes with all his might and feels the awful pressure pushing out at his eyes, aggressing on his skull.
GM: It happens like a cartoon.
Because it can’t possibly be real.
There’s the car’s rear view mirror. His tiny TV.
The armed figures, advancing menacingly forward as the lights flicker.
The Longhorn-bumper-stickered SUV’s car alarm blaring as its lights stab out.
That momentary pause from the figures.
The explosive crash of metal against against asphalt. Shattering glass. Spinning. Smashing. Scraping. Crunching. Screaming. Pain splitting Emil’s head like it’s his bone, his flesh, moaning beneath the 4,799-pound death he has wrought. The SUV lies tipped over on its side, the wing mirror snapped off, dragged halfway across the garage like a grisly plow. A grislier harvest of impossibly contorted limbs, crushed flesh, and pooling blood lies beneath it. Some lie still. Others weakly flail. The car alarm blares uninterrupted over the cries of the dying.
“Holy fuck…” gapes the talking man.
Emil feels something syrupy and coppery-smelling trickling down his mouth. Down his chin.
Emil: At first he groans, stabbing his fingers at his temples and clawing at his ears to drown out the horrible ringing sound acting as the backing track to this morbid symphony.
He takes a finger to the sharp tasting syrup spilling down his face, and delicately, his hand shaking all the way, shoves in down his throat. He moans a little, somewhere between pain and pleasure, before sharpening his eyes on a man on the floor, wailing, the car sitting on his chest, on its side, threatening to tip over at any moment.
“Oh,” he says, quietly, solemnly.
Shivering like he’s freezing, light headed, he leans—no, flops forward, his hand on Lucky’s headrest.
“Oh—oh. Oh—ah ah. Ah—ah. Mus’ be dat schishc—phren’ya you were talkin’ ‘bout.. Ah tink it’s ackin up.”
“Oh—ah—ha—a-ha-ahHa—ahHA—AhaHahAHAHAHa!” he cough-screams-laughs in Lucky’s ear,
“I THINK THEY FELL!”
GM: “Oh, Jesus fuckin’—keep it together!” Lucky snaps back.
Then. Over the blare of the car alarm, and the faltering cries of the dying. There’s a new sound.
It hurts his ears. It’s insane. It’s agonized. It’s horrible. It sounds like rabid wolves gnawing off their own flesh.
“Aw, shit,” says the talking man.
The toppled SUV starts to audibly groan.
“Stay in the car, Emil,” says Lucky. He doesn’t stay a second longer, but there’s real fear in his eyes as he and the other two men grab some things from the car’s compartments and sprint out.
There’s another crash from the SUV.
Emil: Emil keeps cackling at the mirror-television.
“It’s all a big ol’ dream! We’re in a big ol’ fuckin’ dream! I’ve been dreaming in bed the whole damn time. SCHIZOPHRENIA’S A BITCH INNIT?”
He pushes open the door of the car and slides out, barely able to stand from the blood loss.
He holds the side of the beat up car as he limps forwards, face covered in crimson.
He imagines a disgusting rat wriggling under the car, the wretch that attacked him. And he screams out at it, “YOU’RE NOT EVEN REAL!”
He remembers the gnarly crash scenes he visited with his father. An image flashes through his mind: A man screaming, unable to move, impaled on the twisted metal spikes of the undercarriage of his car. Emil remembers thinking he looked like a bloody pearl someone stuck with pins back into a crinkled, long-dead oyster. His hands clench into fists as he imagines crushing the metal at a 100 miles a minute, twisting the metal pipes through the rat, mounting it back in the screaming metal oyster.
GM: The lifting car crashes back down. Screams go up. From the car alarm. From the dying men. From the things that don’t sound even close to men.
They look like men, though, now that Emil’s outside. Or at least close enough.
The car still isn’t crushing them. Impossibly, their arms continue to strain. Continue to push. Continue to agonizingly postpone those 4,799 lbs of crushing death that even Emil can’t simply toss away.
They look like hell.
Their faces, all but blanched of color, look like fleshy skulls. Their eyes, seeming pinpricks of pure hate stabbed onto those dead faces, burn like hot coals. Impossibly long, sharp fangs jut from their gnashing, screaming mouths.
They look like hell.
They look like they’ve come from hell.
One of them looks like Carter.
Lucky and the talking man look at Emil for a second. Then they start pouring a jug of gasoline around Carter’s head.
The silent man doesn’t look back. He just pulls out a cigarette lighter.
Emil: “Oh. Oh my God,” Emil says as he sees what he’s done. What his friend has become under the pressure. The incongruence of having just traded AOL addresses with Carter and then seeing his face on the monster that exists only in his head causes him to scream. He knows he’s his friend, but he also sees a monster. And he promised Lucky he would trust him.
“FUCK. CARTER!” one side of Emil yells, but the other side keeps him from moving his hand against the silent man. Doesn’t dare move a muscle. He has faith in Lucky. He’s been seeing things.
Lucky knows best… Lucky knows best… Lucky knows best…
He imagines himself a statue as he stands in the spot, agonizing himself, awaiting the screams of his poor friend turned demon. But he knows it can’t be him. Can’t be Carter. Because this can’t be happening. Because he’s crazy just like Lucky told him. He’s seeing things and when this is over he’ll wake up and they’ll tell him all about how it really went.
GM: The man drops the lighter. Carter’s screams are beyond horrific as he goes up in flames.
Emil: The world spins around him, the screams nearly rending his eardrums to shreds. The great pulse in his head ululates uncontrollably, as he cries like a maniac into the hot air. The suffering is too much for him to bear. He splays his hands out and starts run-limping to the scene of the burning, his vision clouded by pain and upset tears. The pressure in his head gets to be overwhelming, and he can’t help but let it out. Everywhere.
THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING!
GM: But it does happen.
To Lucky and the talking man, who are blasted off their feet.
To the SUV, which lurches discordantly upwards—just enough for the demons to finally push it off themselves with a crash that echoes through the garage like a gunshot.
To the silent man, who maintains his footing, but stumbles just enough to lose his guard. Thin, ugly red welts blossom across his face.
He raises his fists, bobbing and weaving like a boxer. His knock-out punch topples the demonic woman over like a bowling pin. Then he’s on top of her, smashing her head into the asphalt again and again—but too slow, too exposed to dodge the bone-white claws that elongate like spider legs and punch into his chest with eight wet stabs.
Carter, wreathed in flame like some infernal apparition, roars and howls as he barrels away.
Lucky, his impact fortuitously cushioned from hitting one of the fallen men, ambles to his feet and pulls a strange-looking firearm.
The talking man lies in a motionless heap, blood pooling from his scalp. The car alarm of the Toyota he smashed into adds its blaring wail to the SUV’s.
All is chaos. All is bloodshed. All is suffering.
And it is happening.
Emil: His throat burning from screaming and suffocation, Emil shuts up and jerks his head, imagining a chain yanking the she-devil off of the gored man and into the burning patch of asphalt by the battered SUV.
GM: The flipped-over, alarm-blaring SUV torturously lurches backwards under the power of Emil’s mind, metal screaming against asphalt. The demonic woman, who’s already wriggled away from the silent man’s pin and reappeared behind him, merely stumbles in place. His haymaker punch goes wide as she blurs away. There’s a thunk-hiss from Lucky’s flare gun, and a hideous shriek fills the air as Emil’s surroundings explode into hellish red light and invading smoke.
Agonized, frothy-sounding moans go up from several of the fallen men crushed beneath Emil’s initial onslaught.
The silent man stalks over to one of them.
Emil: Emil pushes through the thick, smoke-laden atmosphere, his heart pumping in his ears, and tries to find Lucky. He refuses to let the man get hurt for his stupidity.
“LUCKY!” he screams.
GM: “Keep it down, kid,” the NOPD detective rasps as he emerges from the smoke. He looks around the scene of devastation.
An explosive, ear-shattering roar goes off, along with almost soft wet splatter.
The silent man holds a smoking gun over the wounded man’s now all-but exploded head. Skull shards, mushed brains, and so much blood litter the scene.
He stalks towards another survivor, feebly crawling away on his hands and knees.
The silent man grabs him by the neck and holds him down. Emil can’t make out the other man’s face as he wetly rasps, “Pl… ease… I.. have a… fam… ly…”
Emil: Emil slurs a quick “Gettafucaawayfrom’im!” at the silent man, nearly doubling over from the smell of freshly mulched brain matter. His head still pounding from the force of his previous attacks, he tries to wrest the gun away from the man’s hands with his mind.
GM: The silent man stumbles forward a step, but doesn’t relax his grip, or even look back.
There’s another ear-rending roar.
The other man’s pleas cease.
Emil: Tinnitus overwhelming his senses, he drops to his knees as he turns back to Lucky and pleads with him,
“Make him stop—dear God make him stop!”
GM: “We gotta go, Emil,” Lucky says quietly. “Now.”
The silent man turns around.
He’s nondescript, apart from the blood and cuts over his face. Brown hair. Brown eyes. Average height and build. Not young but not old.
“Get a car,” he says to Lucky. His voice sounds Midwestern.
He looks at Emil.
“The next time you try that on me will be your last.”
He turns away without waiting for a response, opens their former car’s door, and starts stuffing things from the compartments into the medical bag.
Lucky doesn’t pause either. He retrieves some tools and starts breaking into one of the nearby parked cars.
Emil: Emil follows Lucky, a tad too injured to be of significant use and feeling a bit out of sorts to say the least.
“Who the hell is that?” he asks.
GM: “Someone who risked his ass to save yours,” grunts the NOPD detective as he gets the door open. He gets down on his knees and starts hot-wiring the ignition.
Emil: “Understood, sir.” Having ashamedly postponed the bulk of his electrical engineering coursework to the following semester, he finds himself unable to do much but attempt various standing poses to see which feels the least awkward. He decides on looking concernedly at the reflective car window and tapping his foot as he examines his blood-soaked visage.
GM: “Wipe your face,” Lucky grunts as he works.
The sound of liquid sloshing over the group’s original car is barely audible over the two blaring alarms. There’s a low whoosh as the once-silent man tosses a lighter and the car goes up in flames.
He then checks the other two bodies, and seemingly satisfied with their state, slings the motionless once-talking man over his shoulder and hustles back to Lucky’s and Emil’s revving-up car. The college student, motionless man, and stuffed medical bag go in the back, though not before the once-silent man swaps the car’s license plate for another Texas one. He and Lucky sit in the front. Lucky takes the wheel.
Emil: Emil doesn’t talk for a while. He just stares at the bloodied head of the limp body sitting next to him, and sighs.
This won’t end, will it? It’s going to be like this forever. Blood-soaked evenings. Brain matter in the carpets. Friends turning into demons. I need a drink.
GM: Tires squeal against asphalt as Lucky hits the accelerator. Emil stares out the window at what can only be termed a battlefield.
The SUV that sent four men and perhaps two demons to their deaths lies smashed, broken, and flipped over outside its parking space like an overturned plow. Four men’s corpses lie motionless amidst splattered blood and brain matter, shards of bone and crunched glass, and still-burning patches of gasoline whose size and heat is dwarfed by the now-immolated Lincoln. Car alarms ceaselessly wail, joined by another growing scream that sounds all-too like police sirens. As the group’s stolen car clears the last of the flare’s dissipating smoke, Lucky shakes his head and mutters,
“What a fuckin’ mess.”