Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================
Emil III, Chapter III
The Masters' Tools

“The Blood is all, as you will learn.”
Blanche H. Prescot III


Day ? October 2007?

GM: A nurse comes in with Emil’s old clothes, which have been cleaned. He gets dressed. They leave the hospital by the same route that Emil left with Lucky, the last time. They get into an unassuming car. Carter tells Emil to drive and gives him an address.

“We’ll meet my sire there.”

Emil: “Great!” he enthuses.

What a deal that was! He didn’t even tell me about the immortality. What a guy, probably didn’t want it to make the decision of whether to drink harder.

“You’re a real one, Carter. You know that?” he says. The vampire’s undead features don’t seem so cold to Emil now, or perhaps it’s that the whole walking corpse thing works on Carter, like how fedoras only work on old men and PIs.

GM: “I’ve been told,” Carter answers with a faintly amused look.

Emil: “That’s good. That’s good…” he trails off, satisfied at how nice it felt to compliment Carter.

His mind drifts a bit as they drive, but ever so often he interjects with a question.

“So tell me about immortality. How’s it feel in the long run? You go through so many decades, things change so quickly in aggregate. How do you keep your head on straight?”

GM: “That’s a question my elders could answer better than me, honestly. By many of my species’ standards I haven’t been Kindred for that long.”

“My perspective is probably much the same as any mortal’s my age, only I haven’t known the attendant aches and pains of growing old. Or, in fairness, the attendant joys of raising a family and seeing relationships deepen.”

“I’m well past the biological age that I resemble. I’m in my late 20s forever, on some level, but part of me still continues to grow and mature. My sire would have a lot to say about the neurocognitive effects of that.” He adds, “She’s a psychologist.”

“There’s been some fascinating studies conducted on Kindred Embraced at prepubescent ages observing how they mature over time. Most seem to grow up, while retaining a varying number of childlike personality traits, while a few outliers remain eternally children in mind or become as cognitively and emotionally mature as any adult.”

Emil: They do this to kids?

Emil looks down the road, uncertainty building in his gut.

“So you’re not as static as you were saying, if young minds can develop like that.”

GM: “No sapient being is completely static. But we are more static than kine.”

Emil: “And you feel emotions, right? Those as fluid in your species as they are in mine?”

GM: “That varies by individual. Some of us believe when we feel emotions, what we actually feel is the echo of mortal emotions that the remnants of our souls apply to our current experiences. That is, a Kindred who feels angry might indeed be angry at the subject of their ire, but the resonance of the emotion actually comes from some situation that Kindred dealt with in life.”

“I don’t believe that’s true for me, but there are Kindred I know to whom it could conceivably apply. The older we get, the more we lose touch with the human we once were.”

Emil: “And what about your experience as a Kindred differs from that of a theoretical blood-drinking human?”

“My religion places every created entity on a spectrum from fully material to fully celestial, with the dead sitting firmly on the material end, animals sitting somewhat closer to celestial, angels sitting closer to the top end as almost completely celestial, and humans fitting somewhere in the range between beast and angel. I suppose you could call that the range of personhood.”

“Every human, from the most vile to the legendarily upright, exists somewhere on that spectrum. What I’m saying is that humanity is very diverse. So what actually differs between vampires and humans besides the obvious biological differences? Are vampires people?”

GM: “That depends on your definition of personhood. What is a person?” Carter asks.

Emil: He thinks for a bit.

“Choice.”

“And doubt.”

GM: “By that definition, then, Kindred could be considered superior people to humans. As immortal beings, we have the capacity to make vastly more choices than any species with a limited lifespan. Our power, too, can make the consequences of those choices significantly further-reaching.”

“We’re no strangers to doubt, either.”

Emil: “You have the chance to make those choices, but that doesn’t mean you are making them. Can you choose to stop drinking blood?”

GM: “Can you choose to stop eating food?”

Emil: “Yes, I can. I would die, but I can choose to stop consuming.”

GM: “So we can we. We effectively die from stopping, too.”

“As with you, not many of us choose to stop.”

Emil: “How long did it take you to make that choice, not to stop, when you were Embraced?”

GM: “How long did it take you to make that choice, not to stop, when you were born?”

Emil: He laughs.

“I don’t think that’s quite comparable. Humans are born without the capacity for that sort of choice. You were in your twenties when you were Embraced. And my continued existence doesn’t rely directly on drinking another person’s blood.”

GM: “Once you get old enough, it will.”

Emil: “What do you mean?”

GM: “I said you’d live forever as long as you drink from me. Once you’re old enough to die of natural causes, you’ll die if you stop.”

“And of course, starting with the moment you drank from me, my blood is already warding off the infirmities of cellular decay and old age.”

“Feeding you depletes my reserves, too. I’ll need to consume more from other kine to sustain you. Ethically, you’re like a consumer who buys beef products. You don’t directly slaughter the cows, but your purchase habits create the demand for their slaughter to continue.”

Emil: “That’s a bit fucked isn’t it? I mean, I can live alright without the blood,” he says, before he remembers just how great it felt to take that drink.

It’s not like it’s murder or anything. We would know if vampires were killing people, right? He’s gotta eat. I gotta live. I have a higher purpose too. I know things.

“But it’s not like anyone is saved if you stopped providing for me. Like you said, your people want to die about as much as we do. Not like I was a vegan before today, anyways.”

GM: “Of course. But sustaining you, and other individuals like you, requires my species to drink more blood than we normally would. If we stopped making mortals like you immortal altogether, quite a few lives would likely be saved.”

Emil: “Couldn’t you take that blood from animals? Tens of millions of cattle are slaughtered just in the U.S. A lot more blood to be found there than in humans, and those animals are already going to die. That blood basically goes to waste.”

GM: “I could. But animal blood tastes like piss.”

“Although, that’s not entirely fair. More like bland tofu or gruel.”

Emil: “So it’s not exactly gourmet eating, then. But if you drink just enough to cover the people you sustain, you’ll be in a better moral position. Is that not worth something?”

GM: “Would you be willing to give up driving cars to reduce global warming?”

“Climate change’s consequences are less immediate than drinking someone’s blood, but rising temperature levels are going to cause unimaginable misery to unimaginably many people if we don’t change our habits.”

“There’s other things you can do, of course, like giving up toilet paper to reduce destruction of trees, or giving up meat to reduce methane emissions, but surely giving up cars is worth something.”

Emil: Emil nods, a satisfied grin spreading on his face.

“You sure know how to turn arguments back around, Carter.”

“Course,” he continues, taking one hand off the wheel to gesture, “I might argue that it’s socially necessary for me to drive. I mean I have to drive us right now. Then again, in a society of Kindred who drink from humans, you might be looked down upon for drinking from animals. It’s a part of the social contract.”

GM: “Yes. There’s other side effects, too. Subsisting upon inferior-grade blood for too long makes Kindred snappish and irritable. We lose control of ourselves. That can pose a real danger to the lives of others.”

“I find it ethically acceptable to simply feed without killing. It’s not as filling a meal, but I’m not inhuman enough, yet, to consider that worth the trade of someone’s life.”

Emil: He thinks back to those terrible pinpricks of hate that Carter had for eyes while being crushed, while what he wanted was taken away from him. He feels a sudden guilt about crushing him, maybe it’s cause he’s sitting next to him now. Even as he was talking to Carter earlier his thoughts focused on the power he found within himself over Carter’s wellbeing.

“I’m sorry about crushing you under that car, Carter. It pushed you over the edge there, didn’t it? I know how awful it feels to get like that, to lose control of yourself.”

GM: “Yes, it did. It and the gasoline your friend poured over me. I killed the next person I came across, as a result. A man named Jesse who was paralyzed with fear in his car. I don’t know why he didn’t simply drive away. Maybe he thought the shooter was close by and would shoot him if he tried to. I could hear his heartbeat from the floor, broke through the window, and killed him, all before I even realized what I’d done.”

“Getting hurt is a painful but ultimately passing inconvenience to Kindred. It’s the kine who foot the real bill for it.”

Emil: “I should’ve stopped him from dropping that lighter. I hesitated there, I hesitated and it got someone killed,” he declares, gripping the steering wheel hard enough to pale his knuckles.

He shakes his head as he stares down the road, frustrated beyond himself. There’s no way to fix something like that. What’s done is done and Emil finds no comfort in that truth. Another painful truth.

His eyes stare down a thousand yards. They glue their gaze to the road.

GM: “Yes, you were clearly torn between us,” Carter answers. “I can appreciate that you might’ve felt a conflicting sense loyalties, given his sincere if misguided attempt to ‘rescue’ you, but doing things by half measures invites equally half-measured outcomes.”

“As you say, someone died who decisive action might have saved.”

Emil: He nods slowly.

“That’s why the people of Babel were dispersed. They tried to build the tower without complete knowledge of its structure, without all knowledge. How could they possibly know how to reach heaven if they hadn’t even seen outside their city walls? And yet they took a half-measure, they built a tower from a place of ignorance, with unmixed mortar and only an eighth of the bricks. For this ignorant hubris, their half-measure crumbled into dust.”

“No more half measures, Carter.”


Day ? October 2007?

GM: Emil and Carter drive across the town-sized medical complex to another building. They take some elevators up. This one feels more administrative, because the people they pass in the halls are dressed in suits and blouses rather than scrubs and hospital gowns. There aren’t very many of them, though, at the late hour. Carter knocks against a door.

“Ye-” begins a man’s voice. Carter opens it without waiting for him to finish.

The office inside is clinical-looking. Gray carpet, austere white furniture, glass and metal furnishings, mostly clutter-free desk. Framed awards and a few pieces of modern art hang from the walls. There’s a second, slightly lower desk off to the side with more clutter. The person seated behind it is a thin and clean-shaven man with aristocratic features: angular cheekbones, clear forehead, sloped Roman nose, long neck, combed and conditioned blonde hair without so much as a stand out of place. His old-fashioned cologne smells of vetiver, cedar, leather, and bourbon. He’s dressed in a white three-piece seersucker suit, brown Gucci loafers, a yellow pocket square, and matching bowtie that make Emil feel decidedly underdressed. The only thing marring his perfectly coiffed appearance are his hands. Mar it they do. They’re pianist’s hands, long and thin, but they’re so red, cracked, and flaked with white bits of dead skin that Emil almost has to wonder if he’s done this to them on purpose. A lemon-tinged alcoholic smell clings to them like a babe to its mother.

Bla.jpg
As soon as the man sees Carter, he all but leaps from his seat, clasps his cracked hands together, bows low enough to bring his head almost to level with his waist, and recites a string of obsequious, long-winded platitudes.

Carter brushes them impatiently aside after several moments and asks, “Where’s my sire?”

“She is at the observatory, sir,” the man answers.

Emil: Another like me? Emil wonders about the man, pulling at his collar at the bowing. If that’s how this caliber of man treats Carter, how the hell is he meant to treat Carter’s sire?

GM: Carter turns to Emil. “Wait here. Blanche will make all the arrangements to get you moved to Houston.” He walks out of the office.

The man referred to as Blanche gives another low bow, even though Carter isn’t looking at him, and recites another string of platitudes. He closes the door after the vampire is gone.

He returns to his desk and re-seats himself. The transformation from obsequious to imperious is immediate. He steeples his cracked fingers and stares down his nose at Emil as though he were a homeless homeless bum who’d wandered in.

“I do imagine—you are in need of—ass-is-tance… boy,” he declares thinly, his adam’s apple bulging with each syllable.

There’s a chair in front of the desk.

Emil isn’t invited to sit.

Emil: It’s not a race thing, he said. It’ll be fine, he said.

How old must this guy be to dress like that? Maybe that’s what it is; he’s out of touch. Poor guy.

And so he doesn’t sit. Instead Emil’s body stands tall above the desk, the overlong branches that pass as his arms pinned stiffly to his side.

“You imagine correctly, sir.”

I bet he’d likes to be called that, given how regulated he is to groveling.

GM: “Beg-gi-in, then,” Blanche starts, slowly dragging a shoe along the carpet under his desk. “What—are your… needs.”

Emil: “I need a place to stay, preferably with good internet connection. Funds too, so that I don’t starve. I also have belongings that remain in New Orleans, where I’ll be returning to once I’m requested there. So I’d like to either have those belongings shipped over or stored securely. A cell phone would also be appreciated. Sir.”

GM: The man thinly asks for Emil’s bank account information and types into his computer.

Emil: Emil gets a distinct sense that this man is not cued into contemporary information security measures.

GM: “Funds-,” Blanche starts, then clicks his jaw, “moneys-,” another click, “currency will be av-ail-ab-le,” another click, “ac-cess-ib-le,” his left eye twitches, “us-a-ble by you in sev-er-al bus-in-ess days.”

“I shall require your pass-word.”

“Pass-code.”

His eye twitches again.

“Mem-or-ized char-ac-ters to en-a-ble en-trance.” He starts again, “To en-a-ble use.”

Emil: He’s counting out his syllables. Interesting. Keeps rephrasing himself.

GM: “Of your bank-ing.” Click. “Of your fin-anc-ial in-for-mat-ion.” Click. “Of your financial de-tai-ls.”

Emil: Emil’s patient with the man, waiting for him to finish rephrasing it to his satisfaction, nodding as he adds and amends.

GM: “As well as your use-r-na-me,” click, “login,” click, “name, and PIN.”

Emil: He hesitates in giving the man this private information, knowing all too well how much damage it could do to him should they decide to use it against him. But he’s Carter’s man, and he cannot waver in his trust. No half measures.

He recites the necessary information to access the now empty checking account which he opened to store the paychecks from his gig as a teaching assistant.

GM: Blanche smiles thinly, then removes a wallet from his coat pocket and takes out $100. He does not hand the money directly to Emil, but instead sets it down on the desk in front of the younger man.

“That should be suf-ic-ient for your im-med-iate needs.”

“Do your bel-ong-ings in New Or-leans,” click, “do your belongings in the cit-y,” click, “do your belongings in your former res-id-ence con-tain,” click, “former residence hol-d,” click, “threa-ten,” click, “do your belongings in your former residence breach the Masquerade?”

Emil: Emil peels the greenback off the table and folds the disapproving gaze of Benjamin Franklin away into his pocket.

The what? Should I just say yes? No, that could be ill-advised.

“I’m afraid I’m not quite sure what you mean by that, sir. There’s not been enough time yet to bring me up to speed on all the terminology.”

GM: Blanche looks at Emil disdainfully and removes a bottle of cleaner from one of his desk drawers. He sprays it over the spot where Emil picked up the money, wipes it up with a paper towel he tosses into the trash, and then lathers lemon-scented hand sanitizer over his hands from a dispenser on his desk.

Emil: Given the state of the man’s hands, Emil doesn’t take it personally. If anything, he pities him.

GM: Blanche vigorously rubs his cracked and reddened hands together as he haughtily inquires,

“Do any,” click, “do your belongings risk,” click, “do your belongings en-dan-ger the sec-rec-y of the Kin-dred,” click, “the secrecy of our mas-ters,” click, “the secrecy of what mor-tals,” click, “the secrecy of what hu-mans,” click, “the secrecy of what those who are not us may not be per-mit-ted to know,” click, “those who are not li-ke,” click, “those who are not us may be permitted to re-al-ize?”

The man’s lower lip twitches towards a scowl, as if dissatisfied by his phraseology. Still, he does not rephrase himself again.

Emil: “They do not,” he says without a shadow of a doubt, before thinking a moment.

He raps his fingers against his pants in a rhythmic pattern, one tap a finger, then two taps, then three, alternating directions from pinky to thumb. He pays a good deal of attention to the scowling man’s expression.

GM: The scowl grows deeper at the first tap, deeper at the second, and marginally abates at the third.

“Cease your fidg-et-ing, boy,” Blanche orders in a disgusted tone like he’s telling Emil not to pick his nose.

Emil: Threes, then. He likes threes.

He stops tapping. But then he gets an idea.

“My apologies, sir.” Two counts of three syllables.

“That was quite rude of me.” Another two counts.

“You seem to me a man who knows just—” Three counts of three. He should like that.

“Just how exactly things should be done.” Another three of three.

“It is frustrating when we are forced to settle for less.” Three more.

“I promise, I am of the same mind.” Thrice again.

“I simply need to be instructed.” And again.

“To learn how things should be.”

That makes sixty three syllables. Seven groups of three groups of three. Three lucky numbers.

He hopes it comforts him, playing by his rules, for both of their sakes. From what he saw, Carter has neither the time nor the patience. But that’s understandable, he’s a busy man.

GM: Blanche’s face looks soothed. He reaches into his wallet and sets another $100 on the desk in front of Emil.

“Everything is more expensive these days,” he remarks.

Emil: Emil is careful to pinch the bill off the desk with only the tips of his fingers, ensuring he doesn’t touch the wood of the surface. Once it’s off the table, he pulls out the second bill and counts them, mouthing as he folds them down into his palm in Blanche’s view:

“One, two, tsk.”

Then he gets a concerned look on his face, the required third bill to complete the set is unfortunately missing.

GM: Blanche looks at the two bills, frowns, then lays out a third $100.

“One, two, three,” he recites.

Emil: He nods affirmatively as he once again carefully plucks the bill from the desk.

He folds them and counts them aloud, repeating his “One, two, three,” before nodding. “That feels a lot better.”

Three more groups of three.

GM: Blanche asks for Emil’s address and related information, then says he’ll call a moving company in the morning. He asks, with a look of extreme reluctance, for Emil to leave his keys here so the movers can access the building. He also lays out three more $20 bills so Emil can buy a cellphone.

Emil genuinely wonders if the man would have even bothered with any of this earlier. $100 in his pocket is enough to survive on, if less comfortably.

Emil: The truth is that it costs little to actually listen, and it pays dividends to be kind. Literally.

Emil thanks the man, maintaining the same pattern of threes in his wording as he gives all that was requested.

He wonders how he might share his name, given it’s only two syllables long. He would be loath to add Kane, though it would complete the triple.

He settles on pronouncing Emil the way a southern gentleman like Blanche might naturally, fitting in an extra syllable in the middle. “Em-ee-ul.” He offers his phone number if the man would take it.

In a spot of creativity, Emil asks if he’d be interested in a tool to assist in assuring the perfection of his phrasal spacing? It would count for him, and alert him exactly when his sentences should finish. Attaining perfection without distracting his focus from work.

GM: Blanche takes Emil’s number without volunteering his own.

“What sort of tool?” the man asks. There’s doubtfulness to his tone, but undeniable curiosity too.

Emil: “If you have a cellphone, then a simple modification of that would be all that’s necessary. Alternatively, given some tinkering and some materials from Radioshack, it could be as big or as small as you’d like. It would alert you either by a blinking light, a distinctive sound, or perhaps a vibration.” Twenty six lots of three.

GM: Blanche frowns again at Emil’s duosyllabic-littered sentence.

“That does not sound,” click, “that does not appear,” click, “that does not seem able,” click, “that does not seem ca-pa-ble of doing,” click, “that does not seem capable of acc-omp-lish-ing.”

Click.

“That does not seem capable of a-chiev-ing anything I cannot,” click, “anything I am unable,” click, “anything I may not do myself.”

Emil: “That’s the beauty of automation.” He returns with three triplets to balance out the sound.

“Of course you can do it by yourself, but if a tool does it for you, you can spend time furthering perfection.” And three lots of three lots of three to do the idea justice.

GM: “Purity,” Blanche corrects. “Purity is in the blood. Purity determines the worth of the Blood, and the Blood is all, as you will learn.”

Emil can hear the capital letters.

Emil: It does not escape his notice that Blanche did not so much as stutter once in this statement.

He can only hope that the blood purity that matters to this society is not the one shared by his own. Despite that concern in his mind, he realizes that beneath closed lips he is salivating at the description, and he can’t help but wonder how he might earn more of that vital fluid.

“I hope to learn as much as I can.”

GM: “The Blood must be kept free of contamination and impurities.”

He looks at Emil, then squirts out more lemon-scented sanitizer and rubs his cracked hands.

“The mistress’ Blood is unsurpassed in its purity.” He surveys the still-standing man critically. “Someone of your… background is exceptionally fortunate to have received it, even once removed through her childe.”

Emil: “Is that so,” he asks in a triplet, eyeing the specimen of a man, his hopes left deflated at how mundane this man’s bigotry is. “What makes you so sure you know my background? Our eyes have a tendency to delude us into locked thinking. For instance, what if I was simply disguised by a mask? If I was wearing a stranger’s face?”

Another eighteen counts of three. Emil believes he’s seen such a feat, how else could the intruder have worn his face?

GM: Blanche only sniffs.

“If you are sincere in your desire for instruction, boy, you must be mindful,” click, “regardful of your place.” He steeples his fingers. “Your blood is less than mine, mine is less than the master’s, and his is less than the mistress’, whose Blood is impervious to all contaminants.”

Emil: Emil wonders whether he’ll end up talking like that one day, only valuing the part of himself that he depends on someone else to sustain.

He reassures himself that Carter doesn’t actually subscribe to such a value system, if anything he’s just working in the system his sire prefers. Emil can handle that, he thinks. Give them the respect they crave, and perhaps deserve, learn what he can, and then move back to New Orleans with someone who sees more eye to eye with him.

“You obviously are a refined gentleman, and naturally since you’ve seen, heard, and experienced more on her uncontaminated blood, your blood must be purer in turn.”

He nods, affirming his own words. “Then, how would you suggest I make a good impression on the mistress?”

GM: “Speak only when spoken to. Follow her instructions promptly and without complaint. Be useful in the function you have been fortunate enough to receive the Blood for. And remember, always, that your blood is sullied and susceptible to contaminants where hers is not. Her Blood is immaculate. Even the Blood of other Kindred cannot compare to the pristinity of hers.”

Blanche looks at Emil intently.

“Remember, always, that you are less than she is.”

Emil: He looks his fellow slave in the eye and realizes his illness wasn’t with him at birth, but carved into him by that very same mistress. He holds the fear in his mind back on a taut leash, and says, “I will keep that in mind.”

GM: “See that you do.” Blanche looks at Emil in consideration. “Go to the supply closet down the hall. You can mop the floors and wipe down the walls until the master gets back.”

Emil: “As you wish.”

Emil walks away from the slave with a superiority complex and approaches the supply closet, hoping the mistress will have greater use for him than working menial labor.

GM: He finds a mop bucket with partly dirty water, and a variety of cleaners, rags, and other custodial equipment.

Emil: With a sigh, he collects the supplies onto a rolling cart and begins to mop the floor of the hall.

Maybe this is some Karate Kid shit. I’ll be washing floors for a few days not knowing what’s going on and then I’ll see the real lesson when she opens my eyes.

The face reflected from the dirty mop water looks unconvinced.


Day ? October 2007?

GM: Emil mops the floor for a good few minutes. It’s not hard work. Just repetitive.

And beneath him.

Emil: He remembers the words that the cop spat in his face: Forget about any future when you get out, too. Cons are lucky just to wind up janitors.

I guess that makes me lucky.

GM: It isn’t too long before the water in the bucket turns near-black.

Emil: So much for fearing contamination.

He decides that he’s going to have to find a sink somewhere to replace the water, but there wasn’t one in the closet. Emil returns to Blanche to request permission and directions to the nearest sink, leaving the cleaning supplies outside the room.

He knocks on the door.

GM: Blanche answers and crossly tells Emil he hasn’t “the faintest idea” where a janitorial sink is.

“Go look for one. And be sure to wipe down the door with some bleach.”

Emil: Guess that means I have free reign to search.

He thanks him and leaves, giving the door a cursory wipe with a bleach-soaked rag.

He starts his search down the halls of the building for a directory map, the wheels of the bucket whistling a broken tune as they roll over the floor.

GM: Emil finds a map that seems geared towards patients and higher-paid employees. There are no indications as to where any janitorial sink might be.

But Emil does hear approaching footsteps, unusually for the empty-feeling halls. Several pairs.

Emil: Two pairs in fact. He presumes them to belong to Carter and his ‘mother,’ and decides that pushing around a mop and a bucket isn’t the best first impression he could leave on the woman he suspects drilled the word decontamination into Mr. Blanche’s temples.

He briskly pushes the bucket along back towards the closet.

GM: It’s not long after Emil does so that he comes face to face with the footsteps’ sources.

The smell hits Emil before its owner rounds the corner. It’s a putrid, meaty, almost fatty smell, like someone left a flank of lard-slathered steak out to rot for weeks under the hot Texas sun. Its owner looks as ugly as he smells. He’s hideously deformed. His browned, leathery skin is peppered with tiny warts, bulging red boils, and faded scars and scabs of varying length and freshness. He’s the ugliest man Emil has ever laid eyes on. He’s a big man too, maybe a handspan taller than Emil, and corpulently overweight: it’s like a sketch artist piled girth on top of muscle to make him take up as much space as possible. The folds of his many chins are almost indistinct from his bull-like neck. He’s dressed in paramilitary clothes: a black camo jacket, pocket-lined gray combat pants, and black Chuck Taylor boots. Two gold earrings dangle from his strangely pointed ears.

Guy.jpg
He’s followed by a short, thin man who’s at once less ugly and more ugly. His face doesn’t look like it was born deformed, but his filth-matted hair has been haphazardly chopped off in crude, uneven chunks. Emil can make out naked, scabbed-over skin underneath in some parts. His grime-smeared face is littered with red and angry unhealed knife cuts. He wears Coke-bottle eyeglasses with cracked lenses and an enormous, raggedy sweater that practically swallows him whole. It’s torn, stained, rank-smelling, and trailing more loose threads than Emil can count: it’s probably the most wretched-looking garment Emil has ever seen. The man’s baggy sweatpants and beat-up lace-up boots look in little better condition.

Guy.jpg
“Who the fuck are you, juicebag?” the first man barks out in a thick, phlegmy voice.

Emil can see two fangs past his puffy lips.

Emil: He doesn’t look the man—the vampire—in the eyes. The smell alone is enough to make him nearly double over retching, but some combination of fear, indignation, and pity keep him upright in some halfway upkeep of respect.

He might be a military man dressed like that, after all. But what the hell are they doing here?

“I’m Emil, I’m here with Mr. Landry, waiting for a meeting with Ms. Cobbler,” he says matter-of-factly before appending, “sir.”

GM: The vampire stares at Emil with a contemptuous expression, then says, “My boots are dirty.”

A nasty smile spreads across his corpulent, wart-spotted face.

“Clean them.”

The smaller man doesn’t say anything. He just watches with a glum expression.

Emil: He’s smiling because he thinks I can’t do shit about it. Why cleaning, though? Is he confusing me for Blanche?

Emil weighs the best and worst possible outcomes for not doing what this ugly monster asked of him.

If he refuses, there’s a slim chance he might earn some respect. Terrifyingly more likely is the possibility that he’ll sit on him. He can’t imagine the stench. If he doesn’t, he might be asked to do worse for them. He might end up like that scarred mess of a person standing mutely next to him.

From the closet to his left, he retrieves the moist rag he intended to use on the walls, a brush, a stepstool, and some wax. He approaches the bloat of a man, trying not to breathe in too much of his atmosphere.

GM: The man’s ugly smile spreads as Emil kneels to clean his boots. The stench is awful. The man waits for several minutes of dedicated wiping, then says, “You’re doing a really shitty job, renfield.”

He’s still smiling.

Emil: Renfield, huh? So vampires read Dracula. Suppose it makes sense.

“It always looks that way before you apply the wax, sir.” One of the few luxuries the college student allotted for himself while on his meager salary was a biweekly shoe shining. “Scrubbing dirt is only half the deal, it reveals cracks and damages you wouldn’t have seen.”

He refuses to let this man get to him. He smiles himself, and picks up the pace, rubbing small circles of wax onto the shoe before buffing with the brush to bring out the shine.

“The wax repairs the gaps, fills in the cracks.”

GM: The vampire gives a hard and phlegmy laugh that makes his girthy belly shake as Emil finishes buffing the shoe.

“Well fuckin’ well. I was gonna hurt you for telling me I’m wrong. But I guess even a faggot little half-blood like you is good for something.”

“I think I’m gonna do to him what I was gonna do to you. Since you did such a good job.” He doesn’t look at the smaller man next to him. “I could have him lick my boots, for that extra finish, or I could just kick the shit out of him. Maybe give him another haircut.”

The vampire gives another nasty smile.

“What do you think I should do to him?”

The glasses-wearing man gives Emil a silently pleading look.

Emil: He doesn’t look the smaller man in the eye, he’s just the type of pathetic that pulls at Emil’s heartstrings. Reminds him of the weaker parts of him, the parts he has to suppress now.

Monsters like this demand brutality, they confuse it for strength. He’s not sure he can give that to him now.

“The wax I just worked into your boots repels saliva, so licking wouldn’t work it in effectively. He’d just be slobbering over your boots. But if you really want a good shine…”

Emil spares the slave one cursory glance.

“His hair looks greasier than a politician’s wallet, sir. Could be genetic, bred into ’im, but it also happens to the chronically terrified. Might be both in his case.”

“It also just so happens that all that hair oil makes for an exceptional shoe polish. The more hair he’s got, the more polish you can get out. Get him to pull this brush through his hair and buff it into your shoe, and you’ve got yourself a nice second coat of sheen.”

“He does know how to buff a shoe, right? If he doesn’t, that isn’t a problem either. I’ve been told I’m quite good at teaching lessons, sir.” He gives the monster a similarly vile grin.

Maybe that’ll be enough to keep him from tearing this poor shmuck’s hair out at least for a little bit. Give him some skills too.

GM: The vampire looks to the side of Emil.

He scowls for a moment, then smiles again. Smugly.

“Yeah, okay. You’ll come by the warren. To give him lessons.”

He gives Emil an address. “Tomorrow. Midnight.”

“If you’re even one minute late I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

He bares his fangs. “Maybe use you as a donor too.”

“You gonna be on time?”

Emil: “You’re happy either way, I bet. But yessir, I’ll be there.”

He eyes the shrimp next to the giant, checks the look in his eyes. Whether this was worth it, how much shit he’s put himself in.

GM: Agony explodes through Emil’s gut as a doughy fist smashes into it, sending him crashing to the floor. The vampire is hideously strong. It feels like he’s been shot, not punched.

“I’m not happy. I got better things to do than wait to beat up renfields.”

There’s that nasty smile again as the vampire stares down at him.

“That’s extra.”

Emil: His hands instinctively wrap around his stomach, as if to stop any of his guts from spilling out. He might grunt if his breath wasn’t punched out of him.

He can start to feel that same pressure build up in his head that he felt on the cable car, that same pressure that threw a car and crushed the life out of much stronger men than him. But he’s not going to lose control and fuck himself up worse, he fears that his strength might not even be enough to bruise this brute, let alone stop him from ripping his throat out. He slows his breathing, concentrates on it until the pressure releases.

He looks to the other slave, then to the monster.

“Yessir,” he croaks out.

GM: “Good boy,” the vampire drawls. He doesn’t shoulder past Emil so much as foot past him, kicking Emil off to the side with another phlegmy laugh. It hurts less than his fist. It just feels like getting kicked, though he isn’t putting that much swing into it either.

The vampire doesn’t look back. The smaller, glasses-wearing man does. He mouths what looks like a silent ‘thanks,’ then quickly follows after the larger figure.

Emil: It’s not much, and certainly no balm for the harsh pain in his gut, but the appreciation of his sacrifice is enough to inspire a feeling Emil hasn’t had the right to feel in some time:

Righteousness.


Day ? October 2007?

GM: Emil spend a while longer mopping floors. Carter eventually returns by himself. He looks Emil over without comment.

Emil: “Blanche asked me to do a little sprucing up until you came back,” he says, wielding the mop in the bucket like the oar of a ship driven by propeller. It’s unsuitable, extraneous, and yet held diligently on the orders of some drunken captain.

GM: “Good, that’s given you some early experience.” Carter checks his wristwatch. “Come back here tomorrow, an hour after nightfall. Tell Blanche he can put you up in his house until then.”

“Get some rest and eat a nutritious diet. Tomorrow will likely be… exerting.”

Emil: Emil nods, though as he realizes this schedule has the potential of earning himself a beat down from the strongest thing he’s ever encountered, he slows his nods.

“I’m up to the task. Though, there is one potential conflict with that plan, but one that is also potentially fruitful for us. Someone came through this hallway earlier, one of your kind, with his servant. He started questioning me, asking where I was from. I kept everything respectful, I even polished his shoes when he asked. It ingratiated myself to him, so instead of pummeling me like he intended to do, he asked me to decide how he should punish his servant for not having my polishing skills. I was able to talk the man out of punishment entirely, earning the gratitude of his servant. Before they left, the man invited me to a place called the ‘warren’ tomorrow at midnight to teach his servant how to polish shoes correctly. If I’m at all late, he promised to beat me. I’m not sure how important the man is, but if this ‘warren’ is his workspace, it might be useful for us to have a pair of eyes on the inside. Additionally, his servant might make for a good ally in the future. But that’s only if I can make it on time, which might conflict with the schedule set for tomorrow. What would you have me do, Carter?”

GM: “You sound like you’ve practiced saying that for weeks,” the vampire remarks with some faint amusement once he’s done.

Emil: “What some practice for weeks I practice for a half-hour. Mopping is good for focus,” he says, grinning as he’s been called out.

GM: “What did this other Kindred look like?”

Emil: Emil wonders whether Carter would mind he if he was plainly honest about that grotesque monster. Trying to be more diplomatic feels like the time when the Rogersons from down the block in LA showed him baby pictures of what must have been the most deformed baby he’d ever seen. He thought it went well enough, but given that the cops were called on him later during his evening stroll on a report of him casing the neighborhood, he suspects his compliments weren’t enough to convince the parents that he didn’t think their infant was hideous.

“Very… large, a bulky man. His skin has seen better days, but the scarring might be from a war injury, given he was dressed in a camo jacket and combat pants. He didn’t give me his name.”

GM: “Did he smell?”

Emil: “Pungent,” he confirms, the gag-inducing memory of sitting under his gut passing over his intense eyes.

GM: “Fat and bald, slightly pointed ears?”

Emil: “That’s the one.”

GM: “He was probably Codi, then. He hasn’t fought in any war.”

“Well, any kine war.”

Emil: “Kindred wage wars?”

GM: “Do we seem less inclined towards violence than kine?”

Emil: “Not in my experience, but I simply assumed there weren’t enough Kindred in the world to justify calling a conflict between them a war. Though I suppose it’s not just Kindred fighting but also their servants.”

GM: “Humans have always fought our wars for us. Examine just about any large-scale armed conflict in history and you’ll find Kindred involved.”

“As far as Codi, you were right to polish his shoes.”

“Hmm.” Carter looks thoughtful. “I don’t know how much of the warrens you’ll be able to see, but it can’t hurt to have you inside, so long as you’re careful not to offend any Kindred there.”

“Make sure they know you belong to Cobbler and Landry. Make sure any Kindred you see knows that. Any renfield, too.”

Emil: “That’s the first thing I told Codi, Carter.”

GM: “Repeat it when you see him again. He’s stupid and it might take several tries to sink in.”

Emil: “Understood. What should I expect down there? I want to be respectable as much as I am respectful, inasmuch as a renfield could be respected. Any rules I should be aware of?”

GM: “Renfields aren’t respected, so don’t try to be. Don’t ever use your powers on any Kindred, down there or otherwise, unless your life is in immediate danger, and only then so you can escape.”

Emil: “I’ll keep that in mind,” Emil responds. “My mother used to teach me to bring a gift whenever I visited someone’s home. What do you think the Kindred from the warren would appreciate?”

GM: “They won’t expect gifts from you. But the sewer rats tend to value information most of all. And perhaps anything else that makes night-to-night unlife easier down there.”

Emil: “When you say sewer rats, you don’t mean they live in the actual sewer, right?”

GM: “I mean exactly that. Wear something you won’t miss.”

“They make it work, though. They’re supposed to have whole networks of computers down there.”

“My sire and I will postpone the testing. Go visit the warren, then come back here to Blanche whenever you’re done.”

Emil: “Do you still want me to ask Blanche to stay in his house tonight or was that strictly to prep for the testing?” he asks, pushing aside the thought of what sort of testing they’re interested in doing.

GM: “You’re not asking. My sire and I are telling, and you’re letting him know.”

Emil: “You’re right,” Emil says, taking a step back. “I’ll give him the heads up. Is there anything you need done during the day, by chance? Any places I should avoid?”

GM: “There isn’t. You should clear anywhere you want to go past him and do what he says. Trespassing in another Kindred’s territory can get you killed.”

Carter looks at his watch. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Good luck, by the way, with the sewer rats.”

Emil: “Thanks, Carter. Catch you tomorrow,” Emil says smiling.

GM: He finds himself left alone with his mop bucket.

Emil: Finally, he thinks, he can go find that sink.


Day ? October 2007?

Emil: It takes some time and searching, but Emil eventually finds a sink. He replaces the now-blackened water from the bucket and continues on, exploring the halls of the building, mopping and placing down wet floor signs as he goes along. He wonders if his father is still here in Houston. Perhaps he’s still in the building. But where?

GM: Emil seems to be in an administrative rather than medical building. At this hour of the night, it also seems all but empty.

Emil: He weighs whether or not to go looking. What use is there to finding him even, beyond soothing his own anxiety?

He decides against it. His gut aches dully still, and his pockets feel far too loose without his cell phone weighing them down. He might’ve searched the building for an unlocked door, he might’ve went through their computer systems, but tonight he made a pledge to himself, and to Carter. He doesn’t intend on abandoning it to satisfy his baser whims. And so he returns to Blanche, leaving clean walls and glossy floors in his wake.

GM: He feels hungry, too. It’s been a while since he last ate. He also needs to relieve himself.

He finds Blanche still in his office, having spent the time on paperwork, phone calls, and typing into his computer. The older slave looks up at his presence and says it’ll “still be a while” before they’re done. Emil can go re-mop the same floors, just to be extra sure he’s gotten all the “contaminants.”

That feels like it takes eternity. When he’s done and returns to Blanche’s office, the older slave provides a phone number and tells him to call that once he’s checked in at whatever hotel he retires to.

Emil: Emil informs Blanche of Carter’s instructions that he should stay with him in his house, not go to stay in a hotel, ensuring to maintain the triplet rhythm to his sentences so as to let what he suspects is anxiety driving news for the man sink in easier.

Even touching his desk had him throwing a fit. Imagine sleeping on his probably immaculate sheets.

GM: Blanche looks positively faint at that news. He closes his eyes and slowly rubs his temples.

Emil: “It’s not what you had planned, I know that.”

“But, Master Landry felt that this was a great opportunity for you to share some of your experience with a younger servant.” Thirty three syllables, and a compliment from his master should go a long way in calming the poor man, he hopes.

GM: Blanche reaches into his wallet, produces another $100, and sets it down on the desktop.

“That and the pre-vi-ous sum should be more than en-ough,” click, “more than suff-ic-ient for a com-fort-ab-le,” click, “for an ad-eq-uate hotel,” click, “for an adequate lod-gings,” click, “for an adequate bed.”

“You may choose any with-in,” click, “you may choose any among,” click, “you may choose any aside,” click, “you may choose the Texas Med-ic-al Cen-ter,” click, “you may choose the T-M-C for your bed.” Click. “You may choose the TMC to let your tem-por-ary bed.”

Click. “You may choose a ho-tel,” click, “you may choose a site of beds for yours.”

Click. Click. Click.

Emil: So much stress. You have to wonder what’s going on in his head.

He pities the poor bigot.

GM: Blanche squirts some sanitizer onto his cracked, reddened palms and vigorously rubs them together. The scents of lemon and alcohol product suffuse the air.

Emil: He gives the man an H.R. approved smile but lifts his hands to show his palms, saying, “That is very generous of you, Mister Blanche, but I can’t take any more of your money. Were Master Landry here, he would applaud your generosity.” He lets that sink in. The humility, the servility. And thirty and three threes syllables at that.

“He would also restate his instructions for me to stay in your house. We live to serve don’t we?” And three lots of three lots of three rhymes well with a call to duty.

GM: Blanche sighs and pinches his nose.

“Mas-ter,” click, “Lan-dry,” click, “My dom-it-or is Mis-tress,” click, “Mis-tr-ess Cobbler,” click, “the mis-tr-ess. The mas-ter’s,” click, “others’ in-struc-tion-s,” click. “Oth-ers,” click.

Blanche squirts more sanitizer onto his hands and does nothing but rub them for several seconds.

“Stay at a hotel,” click, “stay else-where,” click, “stay away,” click, “do not a-ccom-pan-y,” click, “do not follow,” click, “do not come home with me,” he says with an increasingly exasperated look, perhaps at the instructions or perhaps at this own interruptions to his speech, “and I shall… be ob-li-ged to you.”

Emil: This poor guy might just have a breakdown if I come with him. Fuck. It’s not his boss he’s crossing by not letting me stay, it’s mine. I’d really rather not piss him off. But Blanche might just pass out if I say no.

“If he comes to check on me, what do you think he’ll say if he finds I’m not at your house? Theoretically, you could tell him I was on a stroll, but that’d require me to be in the area. I won’t impose myself upon your house, but I need to at least be close-by, or if you’re willing, in your attic. I’ll even wear protective equipment if you have it.”

GM: Blanche looks at Emil exasperatingly.

“For the love of God, boy, he’s a vam-pire,” click, “sun burns him.”

Emil: He feels a sinking feeling in his gut as the ghost of the terrible screams he heard from under the car pound in his head. He can’t stand to imagine him in that much pain again.

The theological implications of it flow in next.

וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים: אֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל, לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם, וְאֶת-הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה.

(And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night.)

To never see the sun rise again, what a tragedy. Such strength to reject it to help the lesser light rule the dark night.

“What a man,” he beams. “I’ll find a hotel then. I also need to go shopping for some supplies tomorrow, I saw a Target on the drive over, am I allowed to go that far to shop?”

GM: Blanche looks like that’s the sort of place he wouldn’t be caught in a thousand years. “If it’s within the boundaries of Texas Medical Center.”

Emil: “Is there some other shop you like to patron? Or perhaps someone who shops for you?”

GM: “Patronize,” he corrects thinly. “There most certainly is someone to handle such menial errands.”

Emil: “Right. Of course.” Being corrected reminds Emil of his mother. Of the times he was most frustrated with her.

He delicately plucks the hundred dollar bill from the desk and pockets it.

“Might need the cash after all, since I don’t have anyone to do my errands for me yet. Thanks a million,” he adds, showing off his pearly whites in the widest of smiles.

GM: Blanche merely offers him a thin smile.

Emil: Emil accepts the smile as gladly as he did the money, comforted in the knowledge that come another day, Blanche will have to repay the favor, just as the sewer rat’s slave will have to as well.

He may be a slave in the present, but Emil has zero doubt. In time, he’ll get what he’s due.

View
Emil III, Chapter II
The Demon

“You will see the top of the tower.”
Carter Landry


Day ? October 2007?

Emil: Have you ever lived in a memory?

Set yourself to sleep in one of those countless wrinkled canyons that provide their small share of a neurologist’s life purpose. You’ll want to bring a pillow, the fleshy floors are kept quite moist. Don’t worry about bringing a mattress, when you lie down in your cranial crevices, your body feels as soft or firm material as you find most comfortable. They call that memory foam.

Hard to live in there for too long, though, stuck in the dark surface beneath a skull. But there’s nothing to worry about once you go to sleep. Once your eyes are closed, you get sucked right down into the in-between, absorbed and assimilated, though the younger you are, the quicker it goes. It’s warm and dark on the inside, and you sink down slowly, it’s viscous like the syrup your parents poured over your first pancake.

You pass down these branches, long and spindly in their structure. That’s the home of your memory. Course, hard to place where the memory is. There’s just branches. Billions of them. But these are no regular branches, you see. They aren’t stuck hard onto the walls of some great bark-covered trunk. Instead they float, individually turning, growing, swimming. These branches live, speak, believe and if you stay inside long enough, you start to understand what they say. If you stay a little longer, you might figure out the point of all the structure.

The sparks in the branches. The passing of two by two. Sharing, if just for a second, a message between each other. It doesn’t matter really what they whisper, it could be the funniest joke in the world or a moment of shame. None of those things matter to the branches. When two branches meet, share that spark, it’s a recognition, if just for a moment, that they aren’t alone in the great warm darkness. That there’s more than just themselves in the world. And in the way they speak, in their words, there’s a hint that even more living beyond them. That’s what memory is.

Etz.jpg
The Etz Chaim, the Tree of Life, stood next to the Tree of Knowledge in the idyllic garden in Eden. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was plucked and eaten but the fruit of the other tree was not. And the children of men were forever barred from returning to taste its fruit after their parents took their choice of Knowledge over Life. Course, what a waste of creation that would be for one of the garden’s two centerpieces to be unviewed, untouched, uncared for. God isn’t one to waste, and so he hid the other tree’s fruit in every sentient being. Life perpetuates itself, and so too does the other tree’s fruit take the form of smaller trees themselves. God breathes the seeds into the nose of the infants, a tree of life for each thing which speaks, hidden in the one place they wouldn’t look. In their heads, hidden under their skulls. Between their branches hide the memories of their whole life, every sentient being they interacted with, a blockchain testament to the booming echoes of God’s most important creation.

The rabbis say that the bigger saplings grafted from the tree are the scrolls of Torah around the world, and their original words, sitting on the tongues of every faithful member of the religion, and many of the tongues of those who are not so faithful, is the great tree itself, God’s word embodied.

And written on the leaves of the Etz Chaim, are commandments about its human purpose, about memory:

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”

So we learn that memory is made to be held, to be cherished.

“Remember the days of old, Consider the years of ages past; Ask your father, he will inform you, Your elders, they will tell you.”

And from this we learn that our memory only forms a piece of the tree. The life within us stretches out from split branches of older men and women. We are but extensions of the life that came before us, and in that old life lies the bulk of our wisdom.

“Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt: how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.”

Etz.jpg
And from this, we learn that just as we are granted wisdom by looking to our elders’ memories, our connection to the past is not free of responsibility. The baggage of our ancestors: old pains and unfulfilled promises, they are our responsibility to tabulate, to never lose. Our God is a god of contracts. And the contracts of God do not expire like our bodies might.

Amalek struck at God’s chosen children like no other nation. A great betrayal which we can never forget at the brink of our freedom from bondage. So they share a name just as vile as their act. עֲמָלֵק, the people who sup blood.

“Therefore, when the LORD your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!”

And so Emil sits upright, his legs resting under the hospital blanket, and is left to decide: which tribe does this undying man fit in? That of his own, that of sentience, that of being remembered. Or that of a new Amalek, one that’s slipped out from the ranks of those old Amalekites whom his ancestors put to the sword and the divine flame, one whose memory deserves to remain blotted from more than just the internet he hides from.

“Good to see you too, Carter,” he says, swallowing down the pain and hiding the fear he feels in the shivering of his cold, covered legs.

“I gotta say though, I’m getting a distinct sense of déjà vu.”

GM: The dead man offers Emil an equally cold smile.

There’s little that’s familiar to it.

Familiar to his memory.

Familiar to him as human.

“I’m sure you have lots of questions. Please. Ask.”

Emil: And yet he takes it gladly, God makes cold and hot in equal amount. And God is good.

“I told you to come pick me up, wrote that I’d be glad to come with you, quietly. Why didn’t you trust me?”

GM: “Why don’t wolves lay down with lambs?”

“It’s a cruel world. Trust is a luxury.”

Emil: “I wouldn’t go so low as to consider you a lamb, Carter, but style yourself how you wish,” he responds, the rasp of his damaged throat amplified by the adrenal rush of being kidnapped.

GM: That cold smile only spreads.

Emil: “That was clever what you did to Paul, very clean,” he commends the smiling face. “Do they teach you hypnosis in medical school?”

GM: “No.”

Emil: Emil nods with understanding at the terse reply. But curiosity shines through.

“How did you do it, then?”

Then, remembering the words of that once silent man, now eternally so, he amends,

“What are you?”

GM: Carter opens his mouth. Spreads his lips.

Teeth.jpg
Emil sees two long, sharp, so very hungry-looking teeth.

Fangs.

Emil: Ohfuckohfuckohfuck.

The primal response to run pounds through his head.

But he can’t, and he doesn’t want to either. He pushes it down.

“I see. I saw those on you before, but you weren’t like this. You were angrier, crueler. You had hate in your eyes.” He pauses.

“I thought you were an angel, then,” he admits.

“Now… well now you look hungry. Angels don’t need to eat. They lack the נפש that keeps our muscles twitching. Our hearts beating.”

(“nefesh”/“soul”/“lifeblood”)

“They are divorced from the בהמות in that sense, unlike humans. Perhaps unlike you as well.”

(“behemot”/“beasts”)

GM: “Perhaps my species are angels, of a sort,” Carter answers. “Some of us have called ourselves that, albeit of a more fallen bent. A more gnostic bent.”

He closes his mouth. When he speaks again, Emil cannot see his fangs.

“Your species, however, calls mine vampires. We are men and women unable to fully die, damned to remain in a state of material existence forever. To humans, we are immortal, but we are unable to naturally pass on to what comes next—to ascend to a plane of pure spirituality and rejoin the corpus of the divine, as so many belief systems aspire to.”

He looks at Emil squarely. There’s a so-faint tightness to his jaw. A look to his eyes. A terrible, unspoken promise carried by those vanished canines.

A promise that on some level, Emil is simply food.

“And I am always hungry, Emil. The laws of thermodynamics are still just as true for my species as they are for yours. All organisms require fuel, life, to sustain themselves.”

Emil: “Oh.” Emil sounds almost surprised, he’s worried that he might be sweating more. He’s worried that he may end up in a loonie bin or a dumpster if this goes south. He has quite a lot to worry about right now.

“All right. You’re a vampire then,” he nods, trying to convince himself.

This is nuts. I mean the fangs were there but I’m crazy, I have to be seeing shit. But on the off chance he’s telling the truth—I mean is it an off chance though? On the not so off chance that he’s an immortal being straight out of a storybook… I suppose… when in Houston do as the Houstonians do… does that apply when you’re kidnapped?

GM: “Look at me, Emil,” Carter says slowly. “Look at my face. What your ‘friend’ did should have left me disfigured for life.”

“You saw him pour that gasoline. Drop that match.”

“Of course, you also saw yourself throw an SUV at six people—eight, if we’re including my kind—and kill four of them.”

Emil: “I’ve been told I’m schizophrenic. I know I’m not. But that doesn’t make it any clearer what I am. Whether anything I see is really happening, or even if it is, whether I’m the one doing it or whether I’m just overoptimistic and prone to nose-bleeds.”

He looks at Carter’s mouth, wondering where did those fangs hide, how did that hunger disguise itself when they first met.

Then, he asks, “How strong was I?”

His tone is far from gloating, more unsure, hopeful, and insecure, like a child asking their parent to look at their finger painted portrait awaiting comment, or perhaps identity defining judgment.

GM: “You are the one who’s doing it, Emil. And you are very strong.”

The vampire’s cold eyes gleam.

“Haven’t you wondered why?”

“Why you have these powers?”

“Where they are coming from?”

“What their use portends? What consequences that use has?”

Emil: Emil looks back with his own hunger shining apparent on his too-flat teeth, bared fully through his too-wide smile, and in his wide, almost bloodshot eyes.

“Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes,” he answers each of the questions, unconsciously licking his lips.

He has a sly, near-arrogant look in his eye when he asks, "Have you seen the static sea, Carter? "

GM: “Describe it some more. There’s probably a name for what you’re thinking of.”

The vampire makes it sound so ordinary. Almost mundane.

Emil: That almost makes it better.

If this is ordinary, what else is out there that’s really shocking?

“It’s like a great big sea of darkness. It feels like it’s right under the city, under our feet. Everything there has the quality of television static. There’s whispers down there, the static tries to tell you things. Licks at your ears. It just goes down and down, one big endless sink.”

GM: It almost does.

Almost.

“That’s somewhat like describing blood you’re seeing up close as ‘a great big sea of red,’” the dead man answers. “Or the function of a computer script based on the color of the window running it. There’s innumerable things it could potentially be when you’re attempting to quantify it from a perspective as limited as your immediate sensory perceptions.”

“There is so much more than what you simply see.”

Emil: He tries to give more.

Come on, come on.

It’s like a drug.

“The future. It lives there. Waits for the present to catch up to it.”

GM: “A form of prescience? That’s fairly common,” Carter remarks dismissively.

“Common for us,” he amends after a moment.

Perhaps he means other vampires. Perhaps he means Emil too.

But he can’t mean anyone even remotely normal.

“I haven’t personally seen the static you’re describing, but the sensory phenotype varies by individual.”

Emil: Sounds like he studies this sort of thing. That’s wild! Phenotype. Like it’s genetic.

“Which ‘us’ are you referring to, now, Carter?”

GM: “What do you believe, Emil? There’s you, there’s my species, and there’s the sheep who’d commit you to a mental institution for saying these things: who do you think such a pronoun is applicable to?”

Emil: “I’d say you’re missing out on a clear group, Carter. Us. You. Me,” he says, gesturing.

“We’re kindred spirits you and I.”

GM: There’s another cold smile from the fanged, pale figure.

“We are.”

Emil: “We’re so very similar to each other, it’s almost shocking, once you look past skin deep. Or maybe it isn’t.”

GM: “It isn’t.”

“You want to know, Emil. To know everything.”

Emil: “More than everything,” he corrects.

GM: “I am here,” says the dead man, still in his chair. “Ask what you would know.”

Emil: “How long have you been keeping watch on me?”

GM: “Several years.”

Emil: “Several, what an interesting way to phrase that. It stems from a word meaning to exist apart. Fitting. And yet so unspecific.”

GM: Laughter seems to dance in Carter’s eyes.

There’s little humor in it.

Emil: Those eyes… liable to be accused of losing it by someone who can’t see as well. You’re just like me. Imperfect. Real. It curls the edges of his lips upturned.

“For a time, Carter, I had a series of fugues. Do you know what caused them?”

GM: “No, I can’t say so.”

“There could have been any number of potential causes, mundane and otherwise.”

Emil: “I see. Then what of the barn I was brought to? That was you, wasn’t it, who took me from the library?”

GM: “I’ve reviewed your medical records, but I don’t know what you’re referring to there,” the dead man answers.

Emil: “Well that’s interesting. What about the cable car? Or the house? That must have been you? No? Maybe a friend of yours.”

GM: “It was, actually, though a friend who I’d asked to get involved. I owe her some favors now for that.”

Emil: Those jagged lacerations. They were claws. It was the woman.

The image of the stark white woman in a doctor’s coat flashes by his mind.

“She might have had her own reasons for doing it. I think she was the one who first put me in the hospital. You might’ve done her a favor,” he offers.

GM: “No, it’s unlikely she put you in the hospital or even knew you existed before I told her so. She lives in Los Angeles.”

Emil: Or maybe it wasn’t.

“You may want to check in on her. She might be in a lot of pain right now. I threw her at a tree when she tried to choke me out.” Emil feels a rush in saying that. It almost overrides his sympathy, almost.

GM: “That wasn’t her. She’s fine. Getting hurt doesn’t mean all that much to us anyways,” says the dead man with his hale, unscarred face.

Emil: “Well I suppose I understand why you chose to drug me. You never wanted to kill me, you had to get me back. To bring us together again.”

GM: Carter actually looks almost surprised.

“Why would I have wanted to kill you, Emil? How does your death benefit me?”

Emil: “It doesn’t. But a lesser person might’ve not trusted me to live after I was taken away by those men.”

GM: “Yes. I had to get you away from them. They’d have filled your head with lies.”

Emil: “It’s funny. They said nearly the exact same thing about you. Of course, I had time to think apart from both you and them. Time to seek truth.”

GM: “What truth have you found?”

Emil: “Those men hurt me inasmuch as they thought they saved me. You’ve hurt me as well, in your need to retrieve me. They distrusted me when I kept them alive. You’ve distrusted me too, and admitted as much. They lied to me, hid truths about their intentions. Before tonight, you did as well. In these ways, you each struck against me equally. So very similar.”

“And yet, I chose to come to you. Chose to come to the hospital where you would find me. Why do you think I did that? What do you think tipped the scales?”

GM: “You’ve said so yourself, Emil.”

The dead man smiles again.

“You want to know.”

Emil: He smiles back. “There’re always multiple paths to knowledge, Carter. And yes, our shared hunger is a great element of it, but we share more than that. Something much closer than that. Blood.”

GM: “Oh?”

There’s a dangerous glint to the vampire’s eye at that word.

Emil: “I see myself in you. We’re tied together. Like brothers.” He pauses, thinking.

“Who made you this way, Carter?”

GM: “Her name is Sarah Cobbler. She’s a psychologist. You’ve met her twice already, here.”

“She saw herself in me, too. We’re tied together like mother and son.”

Emil: “I don’t know what your life was like… when you were like me. But for a son to find a mother, and a mother to find a son, even through death, I think that’s beautiful.”

The thought warms his heart, but the knowledge of his own separation from that beauty, of how he caused it, wilts his smile into the halfway expression of nostalgia.

GM: “Blood makes all possible.”

Emil: He digests the idea, then nods.

“Why do I have power, Carter? I’m still alive, the blood hasn’t had a chance to touch me. What makes me possible?”

It occurs to Emil that he’s asking a vampire, a thing of legend, to validate his human existence. He realizes he’s stopped treating Carter’s vampirism as a hypothetical.

GM: “The Blood is only one path to power. There are many. ’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,’” the dead man repeats.

“There are many theories about individuals with parapsychological abilities like yourself. Some posit you’re godlings in embryo. Some posit you’re creations of a hidden conspiracy. Some posit you are conduits for angels, demons, and similar extradimensional entities. Some posit you’ve simply mastered skills that anyone can learn with proper training. Some posit you are a new subspecies of humanity. Some posit you are the evolution of humanity, adapted to defend against the predators that stalk the night. Some posit you are throwbacks to a time of legend when all humans had some degree of supernatural power. Some posit you are able to tap into a ‘universal unconscious’ that comprises the collective memories and experiences who have ever lived. Some posit you have inherited a rare genetic trait. Some posit you have received a gift from God.”

Emil: “I’d like to find out, or at least to narrow down the possibilities. Who’s testing these theories out? Does the government know about…” he gestures broadly, “…all of this? Or are there enough of your species walking the earth to look into the matter on their own?”

GM: “There are elements within the U.S. government that are aware of parapsychological and other occult phenomena. If someone piques their interest, they’re usually apt to show up unannounced in unmarked black vans and/or helicopters with automatic weapons. People they kidnap are taken off to CIA or military or nameless federal agency blacksites from which they’re never seen again. Not everyone with an interest in individuals like you is as…”

Carter smiles that same dead smile.

“…gentle as I am.”

Emil: “Most of them don’t think like us. They have a status quo to keep. And the money and research is for weaponization. Wars are profitable. Anything that isn’t gets tossed away. It breeds ignorance.”

I sound like a conspiracy theorist. But is that so bad at this point? I mean seriously. Vampires exist. Why not blacksites too?

GM: “Yes. The first government-sponsored researches, or at least best-known researches, were conducted during the Cold War. Each superpower wanted another tool to steal the other side’s military secrets. Like you say, the search for knowledge can breed ignorance if it’s undertaken for the wrong reasons.”

“I’d be lying if I said my species were any higher-minded. Many of us aren’t. But there are some among us who aspire to be.”

Emil: “Like you,” he presumes.

“What are your reasons, then, for telling me the truth about the world? What ignorance do you wish to root out? What would I be providing?”

GM: “Like my fellows and I,” Carter amends. “But I told you the truth there, Emil. I think there’s a lot you can learn from us, and we from you.”

Emil: He hadn’t told me that yet. What the hell? Maybe I’m misremembering.

“Then you would treat me as a peer?” the injured man in the hospital bed asks the immortal corpse.

GM: That corpse offers an all-too cold grin that shows its fangs.

“Perhaps in time.”

“If my superiors judge you worthy.”

Emil: Is that what this all comes to? A chance at escaping death? To become worthy of that blood? God tells us how to be worthy. I’m not sure their requirements will align.

“For the moment,” he replies. “I am happy as I am. In fact I’m just growing into my strength,” he holds up his static-scarred hand and watches as the skin stretches and creases like a leather glove. “If you help facilitate that growth, and I yours, I am happy to treat you as a kindred spirit should you give me the same courtesy.”

GM: Carter smiles almost indulgently. The fangs withdraw. Slightly.

“I guess the best way to put this, Emil, is you’re a smart child born to poverty whose parents could only give him an old Commodore 64 with spotty, dial-up internet. You’ve taught yourself the basics of coding and managed some impressive feats, which are all the more impressive given your circumstances.”

“But you’ve been stumbling blind. You’ve been disadvantaged, cut off from a larger body of knowledge taught in a systematic manner with the latest technologies by accredited professionals. And now you’re here with us at MIT.”

“That doesn’t make you intellectually less than us. The circumstances of your previous education were beyond your control. We see your potential and you’ve impressed us enough to be admitted to our ‘university.’ Once you’re earned your degree, maybe you’ll be able to teach us too. We certainly hope so.”

Emil: Never underestimate the capacity for an analogy to provide context. It reminds Emil how limited words are on their own at conveying meaning we convey. Semantics were always the last thing they pushed onto students at the end of their study of formal grammars. It felt rushed, and when Emil looked into it further, it was both far too simple and yet astonishingly complex even to express simple meaning. The more you know, the more you know you don’t.

That he framed it in terms of computation brings a smile to Emil’s face.

“What’s the tuition, then? There’s always a cost, isn’t there?”

GM: But that smile dies on the dead man’s.

“Yes. Yes, there is,” he replies knowingly.

He looks at Emil for a moment, then says, “To start with, I’m afraid I can’t let you leave here. At least for a while. You’ve seen behind the curtain. My species has laws concerning that and they’re pretty harsh. My ‘mother’ and I could have been put to death if we’d failed to recapture you after all you’d seen.”

Emil: “To protect your family. I understand that.”

As with the rest of the words he hears this night, he digests them slowly, but they do get digested.

Just when he finds his father, his brothers, he’s cut away from them. It hurts him, but he copes with practicalities.

“The police will be looking for me in Los Angeles. They didn’t believe the story I told them about what happened on the cable car. Of course, they’re right not to, but the cop threatened me about lying. If I’m going to keep a low profile in general, I can’t have the potential of a warrant being put out for my arrest. Do you have a friend who can clear things up with the police over there?”

GM: “More like a friend of a friend. But I might not need to. The police aren’t going to find any body and false reports often don’t get prosecuted.”

Emil: “All right. What of the medical bills? Someone’s going to come looking for payment after this while stay is over. And Paul, what do you plan on doing with him?”

GM: “There’s no need to permanently harm your stepfather. He can stay in Los Angeles.”

“Your family’s well-off. They can cover what the insurance doesn’t.”

Emil: “I see…” he says, losing himself in thought for a moment. “Do you know what happened to my mother?”

GM: “My species has many ways of gathering knowledge that yours lacks, Emil, but I’m not omniscient. I wasn’t aware something had happened to your mother.”

“The night is vast and dark and full of terrors. We all have more questions than answers.”

Emil: He nods. The truth about his mother lies somewhere in that darkness, which is too vast to search from a hospital bed. His acceptance of Carter being a vampire, of anyone being a vampire for that matter, rubs Emil the wrong way. What the hell does that even mean?

“Why do you exist, Carter? No offense intended, but why does any of your kind exist? You said your ‘mother’ made you one. But who made her? And who made them in turn? When God made the heavens and the earth, the last thing he did before resting was form men. I don’t remember the Torah saying ’on the sixth day God made a race of blood-drinking superhumans from the corpses of my last creation— you do drink blood right? You were talking about it in a sort of symbolic way, but with the teeth and all it made sense. Was that a bad assumption?”

GM: Maybe the dead man’s grin is meant to be humorous.

But Emil can’t see it doing anything but sending chills up most peoples’ spines.

“It was the correct assumption. I can demonstrate, if you’d like.”

Emil: “I think I’ll take your word for it.”

He is totally willing to eat me. Or maybe just taste me. Good God what have I gotten into. He doesn’t want to kill me. He doesn’t want me dead. He doesn’t want me dead.

“There are two main written sources I’m aware of in my religion that refer to something similar to yourself. We spoke about one of them in our last phone call. Cain’s murder of Abel. We discussed how he killed his brother with a final bite into the neck from the sharp tooth of an animal’s jawbone. He wasn’t able to get food from the ground and was made to wander the earth potentially for eternity. As a consolation for not being told how poorly people would react to murdering his brother, God set him aside as one to be protected.”

“לָכֵן כָּל-הֹרֵג קַיִן, שִׁבְעָתַיִם, יֻקָּם”

(“Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.”)

“This was an act of fatherly compassion. He then offered a similar blessing to the chosen children of Abraham.”

“וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר;”

(“And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse;”)

“Cain’s descendants were a nation of metal-workers, the Kenites. They introduced smithing technology to the world around them. And most importantly to my religion, they provided shelter and comfort to another fugitive, another killer of his fellow man: Moses. They treated him so well he even married a Kenite woman, Tzipporah, before he went to free my people.”

GM: “Oh, that’s interesting. I’d thought Moses’ wife was a Cushite. It definitely casts the story in… a different light.”

There’s that same spine-chilling grin.

“Yes, now that you mention it. The Cushite was his second wife.”

“There are some among my species who might make the argument that Moses was our slave. That Tzipporah was one of us, and some or all of the accomplishments Moses is credited with were due to his wife. Some members of my species might even make the argument that Tzipporah was the one to write the Ten Commandments for her own purposes.”

Emil: They have slaves?

The last claim actually makes Emil laugh.

“What evidence is there for Moses to have been a servant of anyone but God?”

GM: Carter’s grin looks frozen in place. Emil’s laughter feels very lonely. Very, very lonely.

“Well, let me get to that. You asked where my species comes from.”

“Our name for one another is Kindred. The Kindred who creates another Kindred, through a process known as the Embrace, is that Kindred’s sire.”

“My sire was Embraced in Charleston during the 1960s by her sire, my grandsire. He was Embraced in London long ago and fled to the Carolina colonies to escape the Black Death. His sire, my great-grandsire, was Embraced in the British Isles at some indeterminate point following the Norman Conquest. My three-times-grandsire was Embraced there too, likely during the Wessex hegemony.”

“It’s anyone’s guess what happened to several of my ancestors, but my three-times-grandsire’s destruction in 1700 is corroborated by many eyewitnesses, as are the details of his unlife in London. We’re fortunate that he occupied a… I suppose you could call it a public office, among our kind. It’s made his unlife comparatively easy to research. Many of us can’t trace our bloodlines back that far at all.”

“The historic records start to get sketchier before him. We think his sire, my four-times grandsire, was Embraced in either Gaul or Rome, based on what little we know about her own sire, but it’s at this point that we run out of eyewitnesses. My sire has spoken to Kindred who witnessed my three-times-grandsire’s destruction firsthand. It’s with my four-times grandsire that we have to start relying on secondhand and thirdhand accounts. My kind aren’t known for keeping much in the way of written records.”

“Those accounts become thirdhand and fourthhand with her own sire, my five-times grandsire. We think he could have also been Embraced in Gaul during Roman times, but he could just as easily have hailed another place or been born during another era. Or both. Many of my kind change our names over the years, for various reasons. ‘Carter Landry’ isn’t my birth name. It’s just as possible that my five-times grandsire’s name, which is of Roman etymology, was a pseudonym.”

“His own sire, my six-times-grandsire, was a figure halfway out of myth. She was Embraced somewhere in the Middle East, long enough ago to make her childe seem young. We’ve not been able to conclusively establish her name, all but the crudest approximations of the time and location of her Embrace, or even whether the Kindred she is described as being actually existed. We mainly have oral traditions and folklore to go on.”

“While we know very few verifiable historic details about my six-times grandsire, we do know that she existed thanks to ‘biological’ evidence. We have ways of testing and quantifying the Blood across generations of Kindred. We have, in fact, verified that other Kindred of her generation—the fourth generation—did exist through experiments that withstood the scientific method. So at this point, we’re essentially relying on anthropologists rather than historians to supply what we know for certain about my ancestor.”

Emil: “Your lineage spans history itself,” Emil says, looking at the dead man in awe. “But you said the fourth generation. What do you mean by that?”

GM: “How many generations my six-times-grandsire is removed from the alleged source of our condition. In many ways, though, it’s an arbitrary distinction. I could call you a member of your family’s second generation, if by ‘your family’ I’m referring to you and your parents. If I was including your grandparents, I’d call you a member of your family’s third generation. You could also be the fourth, fifth, 64th, or 308th generation, depending on how many of your ancestors I wanted to reference. The term is ultimately contextual. There are scientifically-minded Kindred who think we should refer to the fourth generation as the second or even first generation, but the idea hasn’t caught on.”

Emil: “I see. So then what was that alleged source? And why do those scientifically-minded Kindred prefer that definition?”

GM: “It’s because the fourth generation is the earliest generation of Kindred we can prove existed. The earlier generations are figures out of myth. There’s a large body of what’s essentially folklore and religious scripture around them, but there is no reliable scientific or historic evidence to substantiate their existences. The clinical trials and theoretical equations that I can perform to prove the fourth generation’s existence simply fall apart when applied to the third generation. In many ways, it’s like trying to perform a long division problem with a value of ‘infinity.’ You’re breaking the mold just by trying to.”

“Accounts of the third generation’s physiology challenge the basic assumptions of what we know about Kindred. In many ways, they’re as radical as claiming that early humans had wings or were actually reptiles. They make for interesting stories, and they can even tell us abstract truths about ourselves, but scientific evidence doesn’t back them up.”

Emil: “So up to and including the fourth generation of Kindred, all the way down through the eleventh, your ancestors are all thoroughly verifiable, but one generation up and everything is different? The fact that the fourth generation exists alone is proof of their sires’ existences. It’s not like God just pops down from heaven and turns random humans into vampires.”

“All things that exist have a causal reason to. Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.”

GM: “Further than the eleventh,” Carter corrects. “The last ‘viable’ generation of Kindred is considered to be the thirteenth.”

“However, I don’t accept that argument. You could just as easily apply it to the third generation, the second, or the first, and say ‘because someone made them, then someone else had to have made their maker.’ You can go back as far as you want, but past a certain threshold, the scientific evidence disappears. Again, I can prove that the fourth generation exists through clinical experiments with a blood sample from any Kindred, and even what are essentially calculus equations. I can’t do that with the third generation.”

“If we had blood samples from the third generation, one could make the argument that our methodology is flawed and we need to reevaluate it based on new evidence. That’s what a scientist does. But that’s also the problem. There’s no evidence to substantiate the third and prior generations’ existence outside of scripture and folklore.”

“Ultimately, science can’t definitively answer where we come from, just as it can’t with humans. At that point, what we believe becomes a question of faith as much as evidence.”

Emil: “Well we can definitely track humanity’s existence more than thirteen generations back. And scientists have documented humanity’s evolutionary branch millions of years back with a good amount of specificity. Of course, humans live much shorter lives, but the point still stands. Science is pretty darn good at finding out features of the past. Hell, we have easy to observe evidence of the universe’s ancient structures from only a few hundred thousand years after the billions years old universe we live in first blipped into existence. We see a picture of it whenever we lose transmission to our televisions.” He holds his hand up, demonstrating the pattern of “the cosmic microwave background.”

“If anything, the reproductive methods of Kindred being a long, linear process is evidence enough to believe that the process didn’t suddenly change one generation before the last verifiably extant generation.”

GM: “Oh, but the process has verifiably changed.”

Emil: “Oh?”

GM: “Every generation is different from the last and manifests a consistent set of traits to a different order of degree. The universality with which they do this would amaze any evolutionary scientist. It’s like if you bred generations of thick-furred animals in an arctic environment and the successive generations all had thinner fur, even when it was evolutionarily disadvantageous. Every Kindred generation is a little bit weaker than the last one, no matter which sires survive to pass on the Blood. It’s as if natural selection simply doesn’t happen. While even the thirteenth generation can perform feats beyond any human’s capabilities, the fourth generation’s powers rival those of ancient heroes out of myth. This difference grows especially pronounced from the seventh to eight generations—it’s a ‘bottleneck’, if you will, as the seventh and earlier generations can develop traits that are absent from the higher generations.”

“Kindred are capable of evolution as a species in some areas, but it’s to a more limited degree than humans are. We are inclined towards stasis. But that’s a separate topic.”

“There is another bottleneck, however, at the fourteenth generation. It’s much larger than the eighth’s. The fourteenth and fifteenth generations are so much weaker than ‘normal’ Kindred and exhibit such different characteristics as to seem an almost different species. Most Kindred are disgusted by them, buy into all sorts of superstitions, and would prefer they didn’t exist. They have posed a number of social problems, so those prejudices aren’t without basis either. But they’ve also raised fascinating theoretical questions and opened new avenues of research concerning the earliest generations.”

Emil: “So then, if you would indulge a little bit of delving into the unsubstantiated, if we walk backwards in time, up the generations, we find an increase in strength and presumably an exponential decay in the population. That would imply that should you extrapolate a little further, you will find a singular concentration of power in one lone Kindred. Who does legend purport that Kindred to be?”

GM: “I think that we’ll leave you with facts rather than legends, for now. The night isn’t getting any younger and we’ll need to make arrangements to return to New Orleans, soon.”

Emil: “What’s in New Orleans that isn’t here? I thought you wanted to keep me under a low profile? People know me in New Orleans. People who would have some very strongly worded questions as to why I’ve come back so soon.”

GM: “I live there, for one. I was only back in Houston temporarily. That alteration with you and the hunters ended up significantly extending my visit.”

Emil: “Oh. All right. I know this might come across as ignorant, but do you sleep in a mausoleum or something? Would I be rooming with you? Cause I do have an apartment back there if it would be cramped.”

GM: “I don’t sleep in a mausoleum, and you won’t room with me. You’ve been a magnet for trouble.”

Carter looks thoughtful at that declaration.

“Hmm.”

“Taking you back immediately might not be for the best.”

“My sire can look after you for a while. Houston will be safer, though she isn’t as nice as I am.”

Emil: “When you say not as nice…” he asks.

GM: “You’ll be her property. Do everything you’re told without backtalk or complaint, or she’ll punish you severely,” Carter says.

There’s no attempt to blunt the harshness of the words.

Emil suddenly feels very, very alone in the too-cold room.

“It’s not a racial thing,” Carter adds. “We have white kine—our word for humans—in this sort of arrangement with black Kindred too.”

Emil: “It doesn’t have to be a racial thing for that to be absolutely fucked up, good God. You hadn’t finished explaining the costs of this. Was that what you left out, Carter? As long as I’m learning under you I’m your property?!” he asks incredulously.

GM: “The Greek slaves who tutored children to Roman senators enjoyed a higher standard of living and greater access to opportunities than many lower-class Roman freedmen. The janissaries were slaves who effectively ran the Ottoman Empire. Being the personal assistant to the president of the United States is a better job than being CEO of a failed, debt-ridden startup. How good a position someone has is always relative to where they have it,” Carter answers calmly.

“We’re all slaves in the end anyway, Emil. I have masters too.”

“But if you’d rather not be a slave, I could kill you.”

Emil hasn’t ever seen a more deathly serious look on someone’s face.

“I’m afraid it’s either you or us. Kine aren’t allowed to know about the Kindred without being enslaved or killed. If I let you go, they’ll find out, and they’ll kill us both for it.”

“All in or all out.”

“But I can promise this. What you’ve heard from me since waking up is only the first lecture in the 101 class with half the slides missing. You’ve barely even begun to plumb the depths of all there is to know about this world. About the truths that really govern the world. Be useful to my sire and me, and you’ll learn more than you ever believed was even possible. Serve us well, and I’ll promise you this:”

Carter stares into Emil’s eyes with a hunger to match his own.

Not for blood.

For so much more than blood.

“You will see the top of the tower.”

The dead man extends a pale hand towards Emil’s, as if to clasp in unholy pact.

Emil: He looks into the eyes of the dead man and realizes the cold truth of his condition. He’s a slave. A slave of a slave of a slave of a slave. Each of them slaves to undying masters so old, those lower down the chain start to doubt they even exist.

He extends his own bony, devil-marked hand and clasps the hand of the corpse. The first patriarch made a similar deal once. Four hundred years of slavery, then comes freedom.

GM: Carter’s too-cold hand clasps Emil’s as inexorably as any devil’s. He raises their conjoined hands to his mouth, and then there’s a flash of something sharp, white, and oh-so hungry. Red wells from between Emil’s fingers, and there’s a terrifying instant where he wonders if the vampire is about to feast upon his life right there, but he doesn’t feel anything. Just the wetness of cold sweat trickling down his back.

Carter raises their bloodstained hands to Emil’s mouth.

“Drink, and know power.”

Emil: I already do.

The throng of Jewish dietary laws fly through his mind. It’s wrong to drink an animal’s blood, and human isn’t quite kosher. Then again, he’s not much of an animal, and he’s not much of a human either. With a thought to pikuach nefesh and a short prayer to God, he brings his mouth to their pact. Coppery like blood, it smells. Fuller though, as if filled with an unnameable potency.

As he readies himself in that moment, he looks the vampire in his eyes, and realizes they are wrong. Oh so very wrong.

Time has long past for Emil to learn whether this creature descends from Amalek or Cain, but if i’ts any consolation, as he laps up the thick crimson, he’ll have plenty time with him to figure that puzzle out.

GM: Emil thought he did.

But his power didn’t course over his tongue like liquid fire, after he gets past the initial, gag-worthy metallic taste. It didn’t shoot through his veins like electricity and light him up to each of his fingertips. It didn’t wipe away the dull pounding in his head, the days of exhaustion and stress and inflammation, like it was all just a bad dream. Emil feels hale, energized, powerful, even giddy. He feels like he could do jumping jacks. Run a marathon. Punch out his first dad in a boxing match.

Their pact complete, the vampire withdraws his hand. It’s like being cut from a mother’s umbilical. Emil knows despair and feels an immediate impulse to lick up every last red droplet still on his hand.

And he knows, in his gut, that he’s done the right thing. That Carter is looking out for him. That the vampire has extended him an extraordinary opportunity, the chance of a lifetime. So what if he’s called slave? As if interns have it any better. At least Carter’s honest. Honest and so much more.

“You’ll be experiencing feelings of euphoria, but you can get out of bed now,” the vampire notes clinically.

“My species’ blood carries a variety of properties beyond the wildest dreams of modern doctors. There’s not many ailments it can’t cure. Aging among them.”

“For as long as you drink of me, you’re immortal. We can take as long as we like to scale the tower.”

Yes, Emil can only suppose.

He’ll have plenty of time indeed.

View
Emil III, Chapter I
The Doppelgänger

“We have so much to talk about.”
Carter Landry


Tuesday morning, 16 October 2007

GM: The future arrives, one day at a time.

Emil gets up in the morning. He has breakfast with Paul and his brothers, the latter of whom are going off to school, the former to work. Paul looks like he could use the time off, which Justin remarks, but the older man just shakes his head. He tells Emil that we’ll “talk about various things” once he’s home, which sounds mild enough in front of the younger Jonases, and advises Emil to spend the day working on college research and applications. Justin grouses how Emil’s getting to laze around when they don’t, though Ben says college applications are a lot of work. You have to enter and re-enter all that same information over and over, after all, and Emil’s doing it all at once. Plus write different personal essays for each college. Justin just laughs Emil should reuse the one he wrote to Tulane, if he still has it, and that at least he’s getting to do this all in his pajamas.

Ben protests that’s a bad idea, “because you should tailor your essay to each college,” but Justin chides him that, “Hey, JFK did it. He wrote this really long essay to Harvard about ‘always wanting to be a Harvard man’, and then he sent exactly the same one to Princeton saying he’d ‘always wanted to be a Princeton man.’”

Ben looks surprised by that, but Justin insists it’s true and asks their dad to back him up. Paul says he doesn’t know, but effectively sides with both his kids, saying that you should tailor your applications to each college but there’s no reason not to reuse applicable parts of the same essay. That’s certainly how it works in the real world.

“Though maybe trim the part about ‘always wanting’ to be a Princeton man when you really didn’t.”

“If it was good enough for JFK…” Justin raises.

“Well, JFK cheated on Jackie too,” Ben refutes.

Emil: Emil leaves his brothers to their bickering and heads to his room where he paces for some time thinking about the possibility that Paul won’t accept him. He might get kicked out. His medical bills are sky high. This is gonna be bad. Does he even remember that they were airlifted to Houston? Eventually he calms down and sets at looking at his transcripts and past written essays to see if he’s up to snuff for acceptance as a transfer in California’s public universities, which have an average transfer acceptance rate of 3/10. On the plus side for Emil, those same universities do not heavily factor in withdrawals into their decision, especially in circumstances like Emil’s when the entire semester is dropped.

GM: Emil’s transfer status works against him, but he’s pretty confident his transcript and extracurriculars still look good (if not stellar) as he shoots off various applications or makes note of deadlines for when applications will open up. His financial status is a painful question to consider right now: is he, in fact, going to be getting financial assistance from his remaining parent? He plays it safe and says he’s too poor to pay the application processing fees.

His brothers get back home later in the day. Paul calls and says to order takeout again: he’s working overtime. Justin insists on pizza.

Emil: Justin gets his pizza. It’s only fair after Ben got his choice last time. Emil orders it with green peppers, onions, and sriracha sauce.

After he greets Ben and Justin and asks about their days, he goes back to his computer. The leather chair feels comfortable as ever as he sinks into the years-developed imprint. When the devilish face of the intruder pops into his mind, Emil suppresses his anxiety by checking the phone records again to ensure there hasn’t been any calls to Houston nor New Orleans recently.

GM: There are no calls out to either city, but there’s been one from the latter.

Lucky’s number.

Emil: He must have missed it earlier. He locks his door and calls from his cell phone after deleting the record of his call from the viewable call history.

GM: Lucky is casual when Emil picks up. He asks how the college student is “settlin’ in at L.A.”

Emil: Emil doesn’t speak for a moment, the image his mother painted of what Lucky is willing to do sticking in his mind, but there’s something in his voice that comforts him, reminds Emil that what he experienced was real, that his trauma is valid.

He tells Lucky that he’s very happy to see his family again, tells him he’s applied to some good colleges, but he’s worried about the cost with all the medical bills.

At first, he doesn’t mention the letter, nor does he mention Paul’s brainwashing and the nightmare that followed it, but he is unable to hide the deep concern that those items weigh on his tone.

GM: “Ah shit, thas’ right,” Lucky remarks at Emil’s first concern. “How bad is it, Emil? Ramen for a while bad, or fuck up your life bad?”

Emil: “It’s not good. But on the bright side it’ll help get me a discount on tuition. I mean, we’re not going to see the bill for a while, given the operating speed of billing departments. And Paul—” He doesn’t say Dad, but the word almost slips out. Lucky didn’t seem to think it possible that Paul could think of Emil as his son, let alone that Emil could consider him a father. “He’s a lawyer, so he makes good money. And Mom’s a—… Mom’s not here.” he dejects, and then goes silent.

GM: “Yeah, thas’ true about hospital bills,” Lucky says. “One upshot. Take fuckin’ forever.” He says that he’ll “see what he can do” so far as Emil’s bill.

The homicide detective also specifically asks him about Paul, “how he’s holdin’ up” and some pointedly specific-feeling questions that nevertheless sound phrased as part of normal conversation over the phone.

It sounds like he’s asking whether Paul is normal.

Whether Paul is still Paul.

Emil: “The stress is getting to his head. I’m not sure, we’re gonna talk tonight.” He talks a long while longer, adding fluff around the messages he wants to intimate. He knew when Emil would show up at the airport. Said that Emil called him. He didn’t.

He continues folding in information, describing how Paul’s memory seems to be confused by talking about his heart medication. He tells Lucky a funny story from his childhood about how Paul gets so tired that he starts sleepwalking. Once, when they had a pet dog who was sick, after everybody went to bed, Paul picked up the phone in the right middle of the night and asked for a house call from a veterinary clinic from a good many counties over. Of course, no one responded at like three am but he had left the door open and left our puppy in the line of sight of the entrance before he just went back to bed. In the middle of the night a fucking mountain lion just stalked in but luckily their puppy had gone to explore what a human bathroom is. It didn’t stop there though, it got upstairs and almost walked onto Paul’s bed before Emil scared it off with loud noises and a flashlight. Emil cackles as he explains that Paul didn’t remember a lick of what happened. He has a recording on a home video cassette somewhere if Lucky wants a copy.

GM: “You should spend the night with a frien’. Or a hotel. Whatever. Sounds like shit with your stepdad’s been rough an’ he could use some space,” Lucky says. “Plus your house must be a fuckin’ magnet for mountain lions if one got up to the fuckin’ bedroom. Be a real shit show if one showed up again tonight, wouldn’ it?”

“And hell yeah I wanna see that, no way do I believe you scared one off with jus’ a flashlight.”

Emil: “Well I’m tryin’ to set myself a date for tonight. Gotta let some of that stress off. If all goes well, I won’t be anywhere near the house by nightfall, if you get what I mean.”

“You bet I scared that kitty off. But I think this one had some vision problems. Soon as the light hit its eyes it jumped right the fuck out the bedroom window screeching. I don’t like messing around with these cats normally, they’re vindictive as hell. I saw a similar cat once slash at a kid, ripped his face near clean off. All they could recover was a nose and some bits of cheeks.”

“I’d send a copy in the mail, but those casettes are super fragile and I don’t trust Fedex not to break the case and cause some of the tape to leak out the side. I’ve got a friend with a copy though, he can come show you it when helps you out with your cable box. You still want me to set that up for you right? Comcast technicians always overcharge.”

GM: Lucky asks who this ‘friend’ is. He keeps his tone casual, but sounds all-too guarded.

Emil: “Really smart guy, always tinkering with this and that electronic doodad. First pick for any project I hop onto, that’s for sure. Tragic story though, his ma had the postpartum depression and she tried to drown him a couple times when he was a baby. It killed parts of his brain. These days, he can’t see anything that isn’t blown up a thousand times its size, and he can’t speak neither. Total mute. I dunno how he does all the hardware work he does without even seein’ the cables, but I’ve never seen him make a mistake. Weird, huh?”

GM: “Yeah, that is pretty funny,” Lucky says. He asks for the man’s name and contact information. It sounds like he wants to vet him.

Emil: “Amir Brown,” Emil responds before supplying the rest of his information. Not much available online under that name, and certainly no social media. What’s he gonna do? Post a picture he can’t see? He’s active on various forums, and is an admin on a DIY electronics forum.

GM: Lucky seems satisfied by that and says he’ll “get back” to Emil. He then ‘jokingly’ warns the college student about mountain lions again before exchanging goodbyes. Emil should call him if he has any more funny stories to share.

Emil: Once the call ends, Emil returns to the log and database of recorded calls. He remembers Dad telling him that he had called before he left for the airport. He scrolls back down through the logs to find that call, if it is there.

GM: He finds no call from himself.

Emil: Of course, it didn’t come from his number, but someone claiming to be his number. He throws a sequence of calls around the expected time into a speech-to-text algorithm and searches for any curious word patterns related to flights.

GM: Emil’s search for flight-related words, curious or otherwise, comes up empty.

Emil: How the hell did they know he would be at the airport if no one actually called them?

Emil locks the door to his room. He scrubs through security cam footage starting the day after the airlift. He waits until he sees Dad coming back home, and slows down if he sees or hears a voice he doesn’t expect.

GM: He sees footage of Justin throwing a party with a bunch of high school kids. He wonders if his parents would have approved, because his younger brother is atypically fastidious in cleaning up afterwards.

Paul arrives home around noon, one day after Emil left Houston. He does so alone. Emil hears no unusual voices.

Emil: They had him waiting here, until I got home. Then he… activated? What sort of MK Ultra shit is this?

He switches gears, shifting to the footage of the day they left to pick him up. He keep his eye on his father, trying to see when he figured they would go to the airport. He suspects that he might have figured that out days before, and does a similar voice to text trick to on the audio from the different bugs in the house to find the first instances of them talking about the flight.

GM: The earliest instance of flight-related words is Paul telling Ben and Justin that Emil is due back in L.A. soon. He asks if they want to accompany him to the airport to pick their brother up, and they say yes.

Emil: How?

He cross-references the timestamp with the log of calls. Are there any from Houston or New Orleans around then, he wonders?

GM: There is a call from Houston. Paul picks up. There’s no apparent words or conversation. Paul just picks up the phone, holds it to his ear, then sets it back.

Emil: What the… fuck?

He doesn’t know and he can be activated at any time. Shit.

With a click, Emil shuts off his monitor and starts texting an old friend, he’s gonna need a place to stay tonight.

Peter Young. A high school friend; thought they’d never lose touch after college, you know the type. He ended up skipping out on the whole higher education thing, just got a little disillusioned with the world after a tragedy of his little sister getting kidnapped. They said they were gonna start a company together. Big one with the high rise silicon valley office. He works as a grocer about twenty minutes from Emil’s home. Emil offers to clean up his mother’s computer, which causes the friend untold amount of headaches due to the creative way she ends up breaking it, or just thinking she’s broken it, in exchange for letting him sleep on the couch for the night.

GM: Peter doesn’t seem sure whether to regard that particular offer as a gift or a curse, but says sure. For old times’ sake. “Like they say in the movies, because I never thought I’d get to say that line,” he ironically adds.

Paul comes home as Emil finishes making sleep arrangements. He has one slice of the remaining pizza and catches up with Emil and his brothers about how their days went. The latter eventually go to bed.

Paul looks tired. Really tired. He still has heavy bags under his eyes and doesn’t seem to have any appetite for more than that one pizza slice.

Emil: Shame too, Emil saved an extra slice to surprise him with. Not that Justin really needed to scarf down a 6th. He pull up a stool across from his father’s, a granite island separating the two. He makes sure he sees his eyes, they aren’t dark like those that stared into his last night, they have a soul in them, a repentant one.

The silence sits with them, waits for someone to speak.

Emil interrupts it.

“It’s hard to sleep, isn’t it?”

GM: Paul sighs.

“I wish we’d never gone back there. I wish you’d just gone to college here.”

“Stayed in college here,” he amends.

He’s silent for a moment, seeming to mentally drop the entire topic.

His eyes are far off as he stares out into the night.

“I’ve had a while to think over your letter.”

Paul doesn’t say anything for a moment. Perhaps he’s thinking of words to say. Words that can possibly deliver an adequate reply, be it one of reconciliation or rejection, to the letter Emil poured out his soul into, and all the years of unsaid things that letter finally said.

Another moment passes. Still he says nothing.

GM: Then he gets out of his chair and pulls Emil into his embrace.

It’s not strong like Emil imagined his birth father’s. The heroic police LT who could punch out the bad guys and effortlessly carry the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.

It’s weary. It’s a little limp normally, but so very tight now. A little awkward too, at times other than now.

It’s like Emil’s own.

Emil: It gets tighter still, when Emil wraps his own arms back around him.

The silence makes room. It steps out of the way.

His jaw is slack, and while he can’t see the tears starting to fall down his cheeks, he whispers through light sobs into Paul’s ear,

“I’m gonna make you proud, Dad.”

The two statue-stiff men stay there for an eternity, sharing their strengths. They can only hope it will be enough to keep their family standing.

“I love you,” Emil says, and the silence steps back, leaving vacancy in its place. A cold question lingers in his mind, asking whether it was worth it.

The empty air gives no answer, it simply fills the gaps between the men, where their awkward forms can’t manage to make contact.

He wonders if his mother is listening, if she’s the air that fills the gaps. He’s going to make her proud too. He has to.


Tuesday evening, 16 October 2007

Emil: Emil tells his father that he’s gonna head out for the night to a stargazing event at Griffiths soon. He’ll have his phone with him if anyone wants to check up on him.

Before he goes, he thinks about the possibility that he’ll get activated again, and tell Houston about his location. Emil hypothesizes that the trigger for the activation is getting a phone call from that number. He can just block the number, but that might tip them off if they expect a call. They might get creative. Devil you know is safer than than devil you don’t. Instead, he sets up a script to jack and redirect the call and respond with a recording of Paul’s voice he strings together from the many gigs of telephone data he has of his dad’s voice.

He sets up a notification on his phone if the number is called. And adds a one button application to turn on the electronics and lights in his house just in case.

He brings his backpack with his laptop, some electrical cables, a fresh lighter, and some tech diagnostic tools and leaves the house.

GM: Paul lets him take the car so long as he brings it back early (really early) tomorrow. Paul has to drive to work and it is L.A.

Griffith Park is a nature reserve and research institute, with a large observatory built at the peak of the mountain. Access is provided by a cable car for nature lovers and tourists to see the surrounds.

Griffith.jpg
Griffith.jpg
It’s an idyll of tranquility in America’s second-biggest city.

Griffith.jpg
Griffith.jpg
Griffith.jpg
Emil: While he waits for Peter, he pulls out his phone and uses a spoofing tool to mimic the number of the head of the Rice University Linguistics Society and calling the number Carter claimed as his own. Away from his family, he isn’t particularly worried about calling him. They were friends after all. Maybe they can sort things out. Maybe he should be worried.

GM: Emil’s cellphone rings as the cable car slowly ascends. Emil looks out and sees black interspersed by glittering cityscape in all directions. He feels like a bird suspended in a cage, so small and vulnerable against the night.

The phone rings.

Ring.

Ring.

There’s a click.

There’s no immediate greeting.

Emil: “Tradition tells us that when Cain murdered his brother, he didn’t give him a quick death. You see, in his ignorance of the act, Cain didn’t know from where the soul departs from its body. He beat Abel’s arms and his legs, and welts rose up his body. The fatal blow came when the sharp rock bit into his neck. That’s why it is written that Abel’s blood cried out to the Lord. The only death known in that time was that of old age, calm and peaceful, so when Abel’s life blood sunk into the earth, the earth rejected it, assuming that nothing so tormented could be dead.”

“In a sense, Cain enacted a greater sin through his ignorance, the suffering he caused was felt in the body of the earth. And yet, his punishment is seemingly weaker than that allotted to the souls of murderers who seek quicker, cleaner methods of murder.”

“Of course, you’ve disagreed with God on many things, so I’d like to ask you. Which is worse: to hurt someone deeply in ignorance or to hurt comparatively lightly with full knowledge?”

GM: “Oh, hello Emil,” sounds Carter’s voice. “I didn’t recognize this number as yours.”

Emil: “It is for the moment. Numbers are slippery things, Carter. They only get meaning in relation to each other, so it’s only natural that they tend to change,” replies Emil.

GM: “True. Numbers are more your field than mine. But it’s fitting you’ve called from this one.”

“There’s one detail about the premise behind your question I’d correct, if you’ll indulge me. In computer science it can take just one faulty line of code to make the entire script go haywire, as I understand.”

Emil: “Being corrected is as much an indulgence for myself, so go right ahead.”

GM: “Well, it’s that Genesis makes no mention of the weapon Cain used to murder Abel. But one of the most curious and influential of medieval English iconographical motifs is the animal’s jawbone Cain uses as his murder weapon. A jawbone appears in Cain’s hands in English Biblical illustrations throughout the Middle Ages and it’s frequently referred to in English vernacular literature. And as a result of the export of illuminated English manuscripts, such as the Leyden Psalter, the Continent also came to accept that Cain used a jawbone. Renaissance works such as the Ghent Altar also depict him with one.”

“All of this, of course, begs the question of where the English got the idea that Cain used a jawbone. It’s not a practical weapon. Our first instinct is usually, like yours, to assume he used a rock. Manmade weapons wouldn’t have existed in a society without murder.”

“The explanation there may lie in linguistics.” A faint smile. “My field.”

“There was a published article a while back that hypothesized the depiction of Cain with a jawbone is due to the association of the Anglo-Saxon word for jawbone, cinbān, with the words Cāin bana, which mean ‘slayer’ or ‘murderer.’ It’s fitting the first murderer should be linked to the act he required us to name, isn’t it?”

“Unfortunately though, that article was published in 1942, when scholarship obviously wasn’t as rigorous. Its linguistic explanation doesn’t hold up, because the words cinbān and Cāin bana aren’t alike in sound. The short ‘a’ of bana wouldn’t have confounded by native speakers with the long ‘a’ of bān. In cin ‘c’ is palatal, like ‘ch’ in modern ‘chin’, but in Cāin ‘c’ is like the modern ‘k.’ Furthermore, the Anglo-Saxon pronunciation of Cāin is disyllabic. Cā-in can’t really be said to suggest the monosyllabic cin. So while those words might look alike to a modern reader, they might not have to a literate Anglo-Saxon.”

Emil: “No matter, how things seem is sometimes just as important as how things truly are. Because the weapon isn’t stated, it is an assumption either way. There is a different argument towards the jawbone, though. It fits naturally in with Samson’s mass slaughtering of the Philistines using the very same weapon. Samson was the last of the Judges, and certainly the most corrupt of them, for taking the Nazirite vow and breaking it. His near total corruption until his death signaled the need for a stricter hold on the Israelites, the need for a king to execute divine law. In a sense, this was just like Cain, who committed such an offensive act that God felt compelled, once again, to enforce the need for humanity to act ‘good,’ by inventing the concept of a fugitive in Cain and therefore establishing the basis of what would become divine law.”

GM: “It’s true the weapon isn’t stated, though as you’ve shown with your own example, we can make theories based on context and available evidence. That’s distinct from an assumption, which can too easily be a misleading piece of evidence. Shapiro, the scholar who published that 1942 article, made a number of assumptions that turned out to be false. But his theory still bears exploring, because the English still depicted Cain with a jawbone. Why did they do that? Well, Shapiro finds his evidence for the association of the words cinbān and Cāin bana in what he calls ‘the vernacular linguistic context of the story.’ His evidence consists of two items, namely, the use of the word cinbān in the earliest literary reference to Cain’s jawbone…”

Hands suddenly burst out from the darkness beyond the cable car. Long-fingered and strangling, choking off Emil’s air supply. The phone hits the metal floor with a clatter, and then there’s no sound but a long, shrill beeeeeep.

Emil: “Ka—ne,” he rasps in a wisp of air as the pressure builds in his throat. Builds in his head. He can’t scream so the kettle-pot of his dome can’t let off any steam. Blood vessels struggle to burst out from under his skin as the monster with his face tries once more to snuff out the once-Kane. He feels himself losing it, the pain is unbearable. This can’t be happening. He threw him off, he can’t control him anymore. Can’t hurt him anymore. He isn’t a part of his sick plan. He isn’t a Kane. But so painfully clearly he was wrong. And all seems lost.

But then.

A bomb goes off in his head as he pushes with his mind to throw the demon off him, to hurl it at the trees below, where the monster belongs, stabbed through with a hundred thorny branches.

GM: The choking pressure encircling Emil’s neck recedes. His assailant doesn’t make so much as a sound, but there’s noises from above the rail car. Bangs and thumps and scrapes against the metal, fast and violent and multitudinous like a writhing nest of snakes.

Then there is only silence.

The grasping hands are gone, vanished into the gloom. Emil’s head feels like it’s going to explode. He collapses hard against the car’s unyielding floor. Something wet and coppery trickles down his lips.

Emil: The sound of blood sloshing in his ears reminds Emil of being underwater, of the cold darkness of the static sea under the Crescent City. He groans as he picks himself and his phone up and looks out from the car window, trying to see what happened to his attacker.

GM: Emil sees nothing but darkness, distantly glittering cityscape, and the steadily larger-growing white observatory as the cable car continues to ascend.

Even if it weren’t night out, even if it weren’t an entire forest down there, his presumed adversary could have simply plummeted past the branches of all those tall trees before smashing to its death below. There’d be no way to tell from up here past the foliage.

Or maybe it didn’t.

Maybe it’s still out there.

Still waiting.

Emil: He nods, pursing his lips.

“For another story, then.”

He spits blood into the darkness.

“Good riddance.”


Tuesday evening, 16 October 2007

Emil: Feed once again from his past, Emil sits on the gondola bench and stares out at the beauty of night. He uses the phone to take a picture of himself, of the bruised imprint of fingers on his throat and the thick blood covering his mouth.

He doesn’t want to be alone anymore, so he calls Lucky. He tells him that the mountain lion attacked him again. The stress gets to him. His voice is marked by the near-asphyxiation. It warbles and is punctuated by ill-timed coughs.

GM: Lucky tells him he should go to an ER to “get that shit treated.” He and his family should also move somewhere else. It’s probably only a matter of time before this happens again, given where they live.

Emil: More hospitals. More bills. More problems.

He tells Lucky that he thinks the animal might be dead. Or at least injured badly. It fell from a very high place onto some very sharp branches. He’s not sure he can convince his family to move. But that’s not completely true. He’s not sure whether he can bear to burden his family any more.

GM: Lucky says that whether he can or not, there’s clearly mountain lions around their house. They’ll probably be back whether Emil stays or moves out.

Emil: Emil tells Lucky that he doesn’t think it’s just any mountain lion. He thinks its the same one from those other times. He’s seen its face. He says that he might be going a bit nuts but its face looks like his own, as much as a cat can look human. Except his eyes. Empty, blind eyes.

GM: Lucky says it doesn’t really matter if it’s the same one. “You guys live in lion territory, kid. Move out.”

Emil: “Understood. Where though? Predators live everywhere, no?”

GM: “Change your scent. They got real good noses, some people just drive ’em nuts.”

Emil: “D’you know a perfumer you can recommend?”

GM: “Use your head, kid. You were a lion, what scents does your family got that drive you nuts?”

Emil: “They got a house in my territory, and they know I’m there. They don’t even try to hide. Their footprints are everywhere. Writing their names on things like they aren’t afraid of me following them. It’s an affront to territory and an invitation for a challenge.”

GM: “Yeah, except you’re not a fuckin’ mountain lion.”

Emil: “I know, Lucky. You asked me to imagine shit from the lion’s perspective. Damn!” he only half-jokingly protests after being misunderstood.

GM: “Said to imagine what scents drive you nuts. You got an overactive fuckin’ imagination.”

Emil: “That isn’t exactly news to us, is it though?” he jokes, trying to reel him back in.

GM: “Har har fuckin’ har.”

Emil: Fuckin’ social cues.

“I can try to get rid of the scents. Not sure how well that’ll go, but I have to nonetheless.”

GM: The police detective gives a tired sigh.

“Look, if your family won’t play ball, gimme another call. We’ll do things my way.”

“But it ain’t gentle. Ain’t pretty. Better if you get ’em to play ball. Do what you gotta do.”

Emil: “For my family I’d do anything.”

GM: There’s a grunt, then the phone clicks off.

Emil: He checks his notifications to see if his dad is still the key pawn in all of this. He hopes Carter thinks he’s dead. The way he just hung up incriminates the amateur linguist beyond a safe level of doubt.

GM: Emil’s phone displays no notifications.

Emil: It gives him some comfort. Not enough, his throat aches. For a good couple months in his early teens, Emil got obscenely into musical theater. Paul encouraged him despite the cost of singing lessons and all the driving to and from lessons. He actually developed a voice he was proud of. With the current croaking sounds coming out of his mouth, he doubts his singing performance will ever be as riveting. Perhaps ribbiting instead.

He hesitates for a moment, not wanting to worry him so soon after their reconciliation, but given he needs to visit the ER, he ends up calling his father. He tells him not to worry, because he’s safe now, but he’s hurt and needs to go to the hospital. Someone was waiting for him in the cable car.

GM: His newly-accepted father predictably does exactly the opposite of not worry. He’s full of questions about what happened and says he’ll take the other car to come pick Emil up at the park.

Emil: Emil avoids answering most of the questions over the phone, you never know who is listening. He takes a moment to use the GPS feature of his phone to collect an estimated coordinate location for where his attacker may have fallen. Once the cable car arrives at its destination, Emil waits, staring down the twinkling lights of the skyline.

GM: Emil can record his present GPS coordinates with ease, though without knowing where his assailant may have fallen, it is impossible to accurately place those. His own must substitute.

Paul responds poorly to the evasiveness and repeats that he’s coming over to Griffith Park. He adds that Emil driving a car after he’s been injured is a horrible idea. He says he’s getting in the car now and hangs up.

Emil: In the meantime, he comforts himself by pulling out a bit of scrap paper and doing a little bit of trigonometry to better estimate the location his assailant fell in. He uses the timestamp of when his call to Carter ended as an approximate time when the man was flung out. He then subtracts that time from the time he checked his coordinates to get the time he spent traveling since then. He then searches on the internet to find the cable car’s listed speed, the change in elevation, and the starting and ending coordinates of the journey. Using these numbers, it’s trivial to turn back the clock, so to speak, and get the a much closer approximation to where the thing fell. Of course, the wind pushing on it as it fell would have affected its landing position, but only by so much. He looks up the local wind speed, and using a spot of physics and the knowledge of his elevation at that point, he calculates a radius around the coordinates where the creature could have landed.

GM: The main variable missing from Emil’s trig is whether his adversary fell in a completely straight line. Much like wind strength, it’s possible his adversary traveled in a horizontal as well as vertical direction after being… thrown off the car. Some blood also gets on Emil’s paper. However, the STEM major feels confident he can calculate a radius around the coordinates where the creature landed in the event of a straight drop. It’s a solid starting point for an extended search.

And his classmates said “we’ll never use this in real life.”

Emil: To be fair, his classmates probably aren’t being hunted down by a doppelgänger with a choking kink.

What a weird ass situation. Looking into the dark glass of one of the observatory’s windows, the realization that the car incident at the parking garage wasn’t just a fluke hits him.

“How the fuck did you do that?” he asks the scrawny reflection, who stares back, mockingly mimicking Emil’s frustration. “And what the hell was that shit in the beit midrash? You can throw a car but not an apple?”

Carter promised answers if he had stayed. He wonders if he might have squandered the only chance to find them.

“Bullshit,” he calls out his reflection. “There’s always another way to find the answer.”

He wonders how healthy it is to be speaking to his reflection, much less insulting it. Instead he shuts up and thinks how to improve the answer to his current issue.

The horizontal velocity from the impulse of being thrown isn’t something he can pull directly off the internet, but given another similarly human-weighted sack and some test throws, he can measure the force of the throw and then simply add the consequent velocity to create a second expanded radius around the current one for secondary search. Then again, the idea of testing something he’s not even sure is reliable and seemingly far from possible makes Emil less than sure. For the moment, he estimates that expanded radius by looking up the numbers on how much force it takes to knock over and push a car like he did in the hospital, plugging that force along with his own known weight into the laws of kinematics to get the acceleration of the similarly weighted clone and the expected increase of the search radius as a result of that.

Given that the throw was mostly downwards though, he makes a third, tighter range to represent the limited effect of the horizontal component of the force of throwing.

GM: Emil works on equations until Paul drives up with Ben. Emil’s family members are aghast over his state and full of questions about what happened to him. Ben eventually takes the car Emil drove to Griffith Park to drive back home. Paul drives him to the hospital.

It feels like he’s always going back there.

Emil: “It was the same attacker,” he tells his father once he’s in the car. “They followed me from New Orleans.”

He describes the attack in the cable car and answers questions, framing his survival as plain luck. The guy couldn’t maintain his balance and fell out after the gondola hit a knot in the cable. He’s been spending time keeping the ends of his mind from fraying by calculating the location where the body fell. He has it all on paper. The numbers comfort him, but there’s only so much they can do against the stress of his situation. He tries his best to keep calm, breathing deeply and often.

GM: Emil’s father is at once horrified and incredulous as they drive. He tells Emil to call 911 on his cell. They need to report this to the police.

Emil: Emil is unsure. He tells his father as much. He asks him to focus on the situation, they need to have level heads to deal with this. If they were able to track him down to here, sending the police after them will only leave more of a paper trail alerting the people they work with to his position.

“They crossed multiple state borders to try and choke me personally. They know where I move and what my plans are for the day. They have significant resources to do this. The police in New Orleans haven’t done crap, these police won’t do any better.”

GM: Paul tells Emil to call the police or he can. His mind is clearly made up.

It’s beyond insanity not to report this.

Also, it exposes Emil to legal risks.

Emil: “What hospital are we going to? I’ll call.”

GM: “Glendale Memorial. It’s the closest.”

Emil: Emil makes the call, tells the operator that he was attacked in Griffith Park and is now on his way to Glendale Memorial hospital, his father came to pick him up. His damaged throat makes it painful to speak.

GM: The dispatcher asks Emil questions and says officers will meet him at the hospital.

He ends the call. It’s a dark and unhappy drive.

Paul, initially full of questions, falls silent as he stares out into the night.

Emil: Emil asks his dad what he should tell the police. His attacker might have died from his fall. He knows generally where he would have landed. He has a search radius. He’s wary of the silence but he made the mistake last time of blabbing when he shouldn’t have.

GM: Paul says to tell the truth. Emil didn’t do anything against the law. The sooner cops find the body, the better. Hikers in the park shouldn’t have to stumble across that.

He lapses back into silence as he drives. It’d be easy, in the dark and the silence, after all he’s been through, to just nod off to asleep.

Emil: But sleep isn’t something that’s due to a man like Emil, who begs for knowledge and peels his eyelids and stares into flickering computer monitors expecting to find some meaning in the shadows, in the places he’ll have regretted not checking had he ever given himself a chance to regret for his actions instead of his inactions.

Instead, his mind hovers on the brink, the quiet whispers of demons from cold, dark nightmares dampening his clothes from sweat and the deep, verdant darkness that passes outside his car window as the trees run past him and melt into a static blur when it meets his writhing unconscious mind, like artifacts from poorly compressed video.



Emil: The static plays with his ears, falls into his senses. A static dog plays with a young boy before getting hit by a static car. Or maybe it got bit by a monster. Or maybe it was him, biting with his too-flat teeth. Death seeps into as the memory of how little it matters how

it was caused. The dog’s dead and the boy is lost. Death seeps in with a scythe blade covered in static. It blends in with the background, and reveals the figure to hold naught but a walking cane. Death reminds him of the grandfather he never had, of the archangel with the voice of sawdust and blended nails. Not stealing, just walking, letting his walking stick fall every so often on one thing or another. Not malevolent, “just the way it is,” he imagines him saying. The perspective opens him up, there’s truth in the static dissolving of death, in the ever rippling waves on top of that pointillistic sea of dots and dashes.

GM: Emil takes hold of the cane. Leans on it. It’s a good cane for a long walk. His walk to the place he needs to go. To the people he needs to see.

He takes his first step and screams as his hand falls away. The cane is a scythe after all. He drops it and it slashes through his feet. He topples forwards and no floor rushes to meet him. He keeps falling, falling, falling…

“Just the way it is,” repeats the grandfather he never had, and then they’ve all dissolved into static.

Carter.jpg
The static blurps and warbles. Shapes materialize from the digital snow. Emil, back in the car with his father. They’re pulling into another hospital so much like the last two. He can feel the misery in this place. The pain. The hours crawling by like dying slugs.

“It’s your turn now,” says the nurse as she raises the hypodermic needle.

She injects him with liquid oblivion. Emil goes limp as a doll. Static blossoms across his vision. Then another demon seizes him, her face white as a porcelain mask, and all he knows is digital snow.

It blares and ravages his ears, relentlessly scorching them like the other devil’s hand scorched his flesh. Sound eventually emerges from the pain. A voice.

“…ad to… …et you ba…”

“Why w… I… ant… to… …ill… you… Emil…?

“…not… babble… frent… la…ges…”

“…n… all…”

“…o many… lies…”

“…uck… our… other…”

“…wha… are… you…?”

“…ow… you… do these things…”

“…seek… tr…”

“…y… frien…”

“…indred… …irits…”

“…o much… w… c… each… you…”

“…ather…”

“…mother…”

Then. Cutting through the static. Piercingly clear.

“Emil. You have to understand. Ignorance, not linguistic diversity, was what stopped the tower’s completion.”

“We can lift your ignorance. We can teach you. You can teach us. Together, we can ascend…”

The static-ridden hand takes Emil’s. Closes over the scars left by the devil. It fits like a glove.

Emil: Earl sought an heir. Perhaps he begot two.

He holds the hand of his brother, perhaps his twin. He feels the pull of the void, the tickle of the static. And blood binds them, just as love binds him to his father. He can only hope he can hold his brother’s with one hand and his father with the other without the distance ripping him apart.

He smiles their shared too-wide smile, and responds,

“As high as it goes, friend. As high as it goes.”

The static swirls and wraps around him like thick ropes of nothingness embodied. What this ascension may hold for Emil cuts at him, for how has any of his true power manifested beyond diving beneath the waves, into the crackling abyss that lies below, far under the tower. Maybe descending is the only true way to climb. You can only go so low before you start climbing down from the top.

He opens his eyes and he’s waiting in the car. The trees still rush by, though he can see the gaps between them so perfectly it’s hard to imagine it’s night. Blinking returns the shadows and the static. He receives an odd sort of tinnitus, like a fly whispering in his ear unintelligible secrets.

He has his phone in his hand. He taps in a message, reroutes it through the same Texas number, to the doctor from Houston.

I’ll come quietly if you let me. Don’t close my eyes.

He tells his father that his mind is clearing up. His memory too. He wasn’t thinking straight when he explained the story. His doubt was correct. No assailant could have just appeared mid ride. He was there and then left probably cause he heard someone coming. Remembers the sound of metal scraping. There’s no one in the woods now.

GM: Paul frowns. “What? I thought you said he got on with you.”

Emil: “No, no it’s my memory screwing up. I was comforting myself by thinking he was gone. I think I imagined it. I’m sorry. I know that’s the case. I didn’t see him fall, didn’t hear him scream. It didn’t happen. No one that angry would fall silently.”

GM: A text buzzes on Emil’s phone.

Go to UCLA’s Fowler Museum.

“First impressions are sometimes the most accurate,” Paul says. “You can explain your story to the cops at the hospital. You didn’t do anything wrong here, Emil.”

Emil: “Okay.”

Shit, he thinks.

He shoots over another text: Can’t do that immediately. My throat is sore to say the least. I’ll be at the hospital. There’s police. Pick me up?

GM: There is no immediate reply.

“Who in God’s name are you texting right now?” his father asks.

Emil: “The doctor that I chatted with during the last hospital stay. I got his phone number before I left,” Emil responds completely honestly.

Emil uses a privacy filter over the small phone screen for this exact purpose, blurs any observation from non-direct angles.

GM: “Well, good for you making a friend, I suppose.”

Emil: “Thanks, Dad.”

It feels good to say that. Though he’s worried he might not get many more chances.

“Love you,” he adds, though his damaged throat makes it come out hoarse and brittle.

GM: “Love you too, Emil.”

They reach the ER at Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Glendale.jpg
Glendale.jpg
Glendale.jpg
Glendale.jpg
It’s a miserable wait in a miserable room full of injured, miserable people. A patient tells a nurse she’s experiencing numbness, muscle weakness, tingling, and other symptoms. The intake nurse rolls her eyes and scolds the woman with, “You already came here six months ago! We won’t be able to help you any more than we did then, idiot.”

They wait for what feels like hours, even after the intake nurse sees them. She even classifies Emil as “urgent.”

The cops arrive before a doctor sees Emil. They’re dressed in dark navy rather than light blue shirts, and their badge depicts justice’s scales over an American flag rather than a star and crescent moon. Emil doesn’t recognize the older of the pair, a Caucasian man perhaps around 30, but he does recognize the tall and athletically muscled woman with long blonde hair in a ponytail. She has a cocky walk that makes people overlook her somewhat plain face, which downturns instantly into a scowl upon seeing her ex.

“Hi, idiot.”

Emil: “Nice to see you, Officer Hall.”

He’d call her Steph, but he isn’t in the mood to get kicked in the throat if she decides she doesn’t like that kind of address anymore.

GM: “Nice to see you.”

“In pain.”

“Like you deserve.”

Emil: “Yeah, I get that.”

He turns for a second to look at his dad’s expression before returning his attention to the mother of the daughter neither of them could be arsed to raise for the first few years of her life.

“I mailed you some workbooks for Sadie, did they make it in one piece?”

GM: “Yeah, I threw ’em out and got her better ones.”

“Why don’t you just leave this to me,” the older cop says to her.

“Fuck you. And fuck him,” says Stephanie.

Paul’s expression looks dark. “What’s your badge number, Officer Hall?”

“Fuck you too. I don’t have to tell you that shit.”

Emil: Emil lays a weak arm on his father’s shoulder after he tries to protect him, but then when Steph is rude to his father, he shoots daggers at the woman.

“I don’t appreciate that, Officer Hall. You have nothing to be mad at my father for. He didn’t do anything wrong.”

GM: “He isn’t your dad, idiot,” snorts Stephanie. “You were always whining about missing your real one, remember?”

Emil: “He is my real dad,” he reasserts. “I was being an idiot before. You know very well that I’m capable of that.”

GM: “Yeah, and Pinocchio was a real boy too. The problem with that statement is it’s still an idiot who’s making it. I know ‘very well’ that you’re not capable of being anything besides an idiot.”

“Steph,” the other cop says tiredly.

Paul just sighs and pulls out a business card with his law firm’s logo. “There. Lawyer. Boo. I can start making legal threats over all the ways you’re completely out of line, or maybe someone would just like to do their fucking job?” he snaps.

“Fuck you,” Stephanie repeats. “Your stepson’s an idiot who deserved to get beat up or whatever. And we’re gonna do shit about it. Yeah, whoever did that to him is gonna get away with it. I hope he broke something permanent.”

“You can expect Internal Affairs to hear from us, then,” Paul says tightly. “We don’t need your badge number when we know your name anyway. I’m going to recommend suspension without pay if LAPD doesn’t want to get served a lawsuit. And perhaps consider a separate civil suit against you.”

Stephanie leans in close to Paul’s face.

Fuck, you,” she repeats, enunciating the words slowly and exaggeratedly as if she’s talking to a small child.

Emil: “Officer Hall. Please. Step away from my father. Now,” Emil says as politely as possible given the situation.

GM: “See, still an idiot. Why would I do that when he already blew his load on his biggest threat?”

“Which, by the way, is about as big as your dick. Which means, since you’re an idiot who needs these things explained, ‘microscopically small.’ So fucking what if I’m suspended. I’ll get another security job. Blackwatch is always hiring.”

Emil: He ignores the insults. He’s heard worse from better people. She’s running off of old pain. She feels hurt by him and by extension anyone he cares about, Emil figures. She just needs to run out of steam and think she’s won this one.

He makes a pointed, concerned looks at the other officer and rubs his dad’s shoulder.

“You’re right, that’s all we got, Officer Hall. If you don’t want to help us, no one’s forcing you.”

GM: “Damn right that’s all. Think I’m gonna tell Sadie that Jews are Christ-killers. Shit you can do about that too.”

“This is outrageous,” Paul declares angrily. “Forget getting you suspended. Fired might be more appropriate. You should think twice whether prospective employers will look kindly over that on your record.”

“What kind of faggot says ‘look kindly’?” scoffs Stephanie.

Her partner just sighs to himself and looks on.

Emil: “Dad, stop,” he interjects. “Please.”

GM: “No, Emil. I don’t care what you’ve done to each other in the past. This is simply beyond the pale.”

“What kind of faggot says ‘beyond the pale’?” scoffs Stephanie.

Emil: “תן לה להתמודד עם עצמה,” he tells his dad.

(“Let her tucker herself out.”)

GM: Paul gives Emil a dubious look, but true to Emil’s expectation, Stephanie (after mocking them for “talking in Jewish throat gargling”) eventually runs out of steam and snaps that her partner can handle this. She’s fucking done. She’ll be in the car.

The other cop says Paul doesn’t need to bother with a lawsuit. He’ll report this to IA and their immediate superior. He’s very sorry for the trouble.

“Not the first time she’s ran her mouth like that. She’s been warned a buncha times. Was only a matter of time until she got fired.”

With that out of the way, he takes Emil’s statement on what happened to him.

Emil: Emil tells the police officer a similar story to the one he told his father, with some more reasonable explanations inserted. What he definitely knows is that the attacker tried to choke him out, stopped and then was gone by the time Emil was able to get his bearings. Presumably he fell out of the car in transit. Emil says that he’s not sure when the attacker got on, his memories are a little fuzzy, likely due to the asphyxiation. Emil thinks the attacker was waiting in the cable car before he came but he didn’t notice him before it was too late and he had him by the throat.

GM: “Oh? How’d he fall out when he was doing such a good job choking you out?” the cop asks.

Emil: "I was standing next to the doorway, he was trying to get me at a good angle I couldn’t get out of his grip from. I told you about the metal scraping sounds I heard right about that time. I think that along with any resistance I could muster, the car probably went over some frayed cable and knocked him off balance and into the door, which clearly didn’t close properly.

GM: “Oh, we’d better get some engineers or whatever people to take a look at that door and cable, then,” says the cop. “Wouldn’t want anyone else getting dumped out of the car. Long drop.”

Emil: Why did he say it like that? Is he trying to intimate something to me? What is it with cops and ominously veiled statements?

“Yeah,” he nods. “It’s a long way down.”

Oh. He thinks I’m lying.

GM: It doesn’t help that he is.

“So where’s this body again?”

Emil: “Well, officer, given that he likely fell out of a cable car over Griffith Park, I’d say in one treetop or another, maybe the forest floor if he fell on a weak branch or two.”

GM: “Well, that fucking sucks. Guess we’ll have to go look for it, on top of shutting down those rides up to the park. We’ll start by examining those cars real close to see if your story checks out.”

He leans in close to Emil.

“Lying about felonies like this can get you a felony charge yourself. Could be decades in prison when it’s about a murder. Forget about any future when you get out, too. Cons are lucky just to wind up janitors.”

Emil: “Officer, did you get a look at the marks he left on my neck? Those aren’t hickies, sir.”

“Have you seen my arms, officer? Weak, twig-like things. I haven’t seen the inside of a gym in years. You really think I could stop somebody who wanted to kill me?”

GM: Paul interrupts Emil to tell the officer he’s gotten his statement and can start searching for the body. The cop looks as if he’s going to press for more until Paul flashes the lawyer card again. He says they’ll “be in touch” with Emil soon.

“I shouldn’t have had you talk to police,” Paul sighs when he’s gone.

Emil: “They usually record those encounters, Dad?”

GM: “They don’t need to.”

Hours pass. Emil’s head hurts. His everything hurts. People around him stir listessly or moan in pain. A man lies on the floor when there isn’t a spare gurney. The intake nurse tells him to fill out some forms. He cries he can’t move his arms without pain. The intake nurse tells him to fill out the forms.

It’s finally Emil’s turn. He gets to see a doctor in a private room. The man brusquely looks him over with a vague air of disdain like he’s at fault for being here, bandies around some verbose medical jargon that Emil doesn’t understand, then leaves without so much as a goodbye.

“I always think I’ve seen it all, but you people always find new ways to hurt yourselves,” the nurse says in an irritated tone as she approaches Emil with a hypodermic needle.

“That’s the nice thing about patients who visit ERs when they shouldn’t. The bill is basically an idiot fee.”

Emil: Before she gets any close to him with that needle, he imagines it falling from her hands and smashing into the ground next to her feet.

He remembers the vision. You’re next, she said. She was gonna go for Dad first.

GM: Rabbi Shemtov could testify how powerful Emil’s imagination is. Of all his students, Emil alone could envision the fruits of their kabbalist studies as actual practice rather than theory.

And yet, for all the power of that imagination, its results are the same as in the Touro Synagogue.

Nothing.

The needle stabs into Emil’s just-swabbed skin. The nurse depresses the syringe.

“There. Should we expect you back next month when you’ve managed to get Legos stuck up your ass?”

Emil: His face scrunches up like a smashed lunch bag.

I’ve just been imagining it. Just imagining. Shemtov was right. Clearly. And I’m hallucinating too. Or is it dreaming? Why does this all feel normal? This isn’t normal. Why did I think that I knew what would happen. I’m just dreaming. She didn’t even say the same thing as that nurse in my… dream. But why did that car flip when I wanted it to? How didn’t I die in the cable car?

What the hell is going on?

But all of his thoughts are filtered away, and he just asks the nurse, a confused expression plastered on his face so long it threatens to stick, “What did you just inject me with?”

GM: “Medicine,” the nurse says flatly.

Emil: “Oh, great! Really useful. But informed consent says I have the right to know which medicine,” he exclaims before looking just as flatly back at the nurse.

GM: “Medicine that cures everything but stupid. Bother someone else.”

Paul frowns deeply at the woman, but finally sighs, “Let’s go, Emil.”

Emil: “I have a right to see a record of treatment, right?” he asks his dad.

GM: “Emil, let’s go,” Paul repeats tiredly.

The nurse expectantly holds open the door.

Emil: Remembering the freshness of his renewed relationship with his father, he follows his word and starts walking out the room.

GM: They head back to the main ER room, a seeming refugee camp packed with forlorn people still in pain. Emil doesn’t feel any better than he did before the doctor saw him. He might feel worse. Paul talks with the receptionist about insurance and billing. They go out to their car. They get in.

That’s when ether-smelling rags clamp over their faces.

Paul gives a muffled shout and pushes frantically. After all, it takes a while to knock someone out with that. About 1-5 minutes of straight inhalation. Emil always had strange interests, to know how many minutes it typically takes.

He can barely hear his dad, though. He can barely see, either. He’d thought it was just the lights being off. Liquid oblivion courses through him. Emil goes limp as a doll.

But the vision was only halfway true.

It’s not black and white static that blossoms across his sight.

It’s just black.

Nothing but black.


Day ? October 2007?

GM: Unconsciousness slowly recedes. Pain does not.

Emil groggily looks down. He’s in a hospital gown. In a hospital bed.

It feels familiar.

Too familiar.

But not what.

Where.

One hospital room looks the same as any other. Maybe Emil’s memory is that good, despite all the time, all the stress, all the trauma, all the everything he’s been through.

Or maybe it’s the memory sitting across from him.

It has to be a memory.

It’s Carter.

In the same white coat. On the same plastic chair.

With the same smiling face.

The same hale, unmarred, contently smiling face. Like getting his head soaked in gasoline and set on fire was absolutely nothing at all.

Like the best Emil and Lucky could do to kill him was nothing at all.

But he’s not the same. Emil remembers how he looked, trapped beneath that car. He remembers the hatred burning in those eyes, hot as the fires of the Christian hell. He remembers the chalk-white cast to ‘his friend’s’ features. He smiles as he looks down on Emil, but there is a vaguely predatory cast to his posture. A look to his eyes. A hunger, that on some level does not, cannot, relate to Emil as a friend or equal. But as prey.

Cornered prey.

Carter.jpg
And Emil may well feel like cornered prey. He has the terrible sense that he is alone and beyond all help. That he has always been alone, in this vast and dark and frightening world in which he knows none of the rules, barely any of the players, and that his luck has finally run out. That it is time to meet his fate.

“It’s good to see you again, Emil,” smiles the demon.

“We have so much to talk about.”

View
Emil II, Chapter IX
Letters From the Past

“All knowledge carries burdens.”
Rachman Shemtov


Sunday afternoon, 6 October 2007

GM: Without a TV, the past few days have been mind-numbingly slow and dull. Emil’s slept a lot. It’s not long after his meeting with Em that Lucky drives the college student back to his apartment without any explanation as to why he can leave the presumed safehouse now. The NOPD detective doesn’t impose any dates or deadlines, beyond a warning against “pullin’ any more shit.”

He just says Emil will get the letter once he’s moved back to L.A.

Emil: He searches around the bushes around, hoping to find the phone he tracked so long ago.

GM: He finds dirt and shrubbery.

Emil: Someone is gonna be unhappy to find the only number they can dial is 911. That phone was more cracked than Japanese pottery. More obfuscated than the words of a Louisiana senator. Maybe he can get it back. He opens the door and explores inside. He changes the passwords on his desktop almost immediately. They’re about a month out of date. It still smells like his blood.

He opens up the ‘find my phone’ applet on his desktop, stares at the path, and crosschecks it to Qeeqle Maps to get an image of its location. He does the same for his laptop.

GM: His phone is located in an NOPD station. His laptop comes up from a used electronics store in Houston.

Emil: Emil makes the walk out to the nearest payphone with the roll and a half of Vermont state quarters he had been collecting and a piece of paper with the number of the used electronics store scribbled on it. He calls Lucky and asks him if he could retrieve his phone and if not asks whether it would be trouble to try and retrieve it himself.

GM: Lucky says he “ain’t your maid,” but will call the NOPD station so Emil can pick it up. Emil does so without issue. It’s been languishing in an evidence room.

Det. Moore, who hands it over, is genuinely surprised to find out the phone was Emil’s.

Emil: Emil inquires as to why, and tells him he had a dream where he was wearing an NOPD officer uniform as an older man.

GM: Moore just gives Emil an odd look at his question, but laughs at the account of his dream. Maybe it’s prophetic.

Emil: Lacking great interest in collecting many more looks at the current moment, odd or not, he thanks the detective and leaves back to his apartment, phone in tow. He looks unhappily at his emergency raided state quarter collection but takes solace in that miniature nightmare being over. He sits in his seat, rests his legs on the stack of ungraded papers on his desk, and calls the electronics store inquiring about whether they would be willing to ship the fort knox of a laptop they have on their hands through Fedex.

GM: They say sure, if he pays for it (and the laptop).

Emil: Not about to make a hubbub about it being stolen, so as to avoid any irregularities, he asks the price and haggles it down as best as he can given its used state and the inaccessibility of it. He doesn’t push his luck past a half-decent price, and asks if they have a deal?

GM: The seller observes how noteworthy it is that Emil is specifically calling about this particular laptop. It’s clearly worth something to him. The man relents somewhat, though, over the fact of the laptop’s inaccessibility. He sells it at a price that’s closer to three-quarterly-decent.

Emil: Days pass. He gets the laptop, does some work to host most of the information he collects from it externally, given the rate at which he’s been losing his electronics. Can’t lose that key to Andy’s electronic life over a simple robbery, after all.

After his technological reunion, Emil resumes his search into the mystery of his father. He doubts he’ll be able to see his mother again, much less receive the fulfillment of her oath. He brushes away those dark thoughts with the push to work. He looks into the NOLA court records for Robert White, and chuckles over how long it’s taken for him to load this one website. After that, he gets in contact with the St. Louis cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Lejeune, whom he had planned dinner with but couldn’t on account of getting attacked. He apologizes for skipping out on him with a promise of more free food and booze if he just would sit down and talk to him about what happens in the cemetery when no one’s looking. About grave robbery, about how people use the empty vaults.

GM: Robert White’s online court records disappointingly turn up no results. The website’s disclaimer says posted records may not be accurate or complete. Emil supposes that may be little surprise for the 1972 case, which well precedes the widespread use of online databases. Probably not many court employees jumping to volunteer their afternoons scanning and uploading all those old records.

Mr. Lejune, who’s sour to have been stood up by Emil, takes some coaxing before he agrees in exchange for a flat amount of cash on top of drinks and food. He says grave robbery happens all the time. Tourists grabbing souvenirs. Tour guides and other hucksters grabbing souvenirs to sell to tourists. Gangbangers grabbing morbid trophies. Crazies grabbing mementos for who the fuck knows what reason. He’s even spotted well-dressed men in suits robbing graves. He doesn’t try to stop it, or even report it, unless it’s a famous person’s grave.

“Why fuckin’ bother.”

The groundskeeper doesn’t know who Earl Kane is or remember his specific vault, but says the ones around its location have been robbed countless times since 1992. He’d be surprised if anything was still left. It’s probably one of the most robbed parts of the cemetery. It’s on a lot of tour group routes, fairly close to the cemetery entrance, and just far away enough not to be in view of the public.

Emil: Emil pushes a little further, asking him about those well-dressed men he mentioned earlier. Did he ever overhear conversation or names from those types of people. Did they ever leave anything behind by mistake? Things of an identifying nature.

GM: Mr. Lejune overheard the name ‘University Hospital’ from the men. Maybe they worked there.

Or maybe they didn’t. Hospitals have “plenty bodies already” as the gravedigger well knows.

How many dead people go through a hospital first, after all?

Emil: The name alone sends a shiver down Emil’s spine. He thanks the man for his time and leaves only halfway through finishing his meal. Talk of hospitals stole his appetite.

When he gets back to his apartment he sets out to find as much information on Carter as possible. He starts with the American Medical Center’s doctor finder tool. If he doesn’t find him through that, he looks for his online presence via his AOL address and phone number. He uses this information to try and find relatives of his, his attending physician, and any co-authors on papers he’s published in the past.

GM: Houston has a lot of doctors. Emil finds several Carters who have the name as a given name and surname. But all of their photos look like completely different people. Different features, different ages, different genders. The provided phone number and AOL address both turn up “no results” in Qeeqle’s search field.

It’s as if the man doesn’t exist.

Emil: “You know, I’m starting to think he never really wanted to be my friend,” he says to the reflection in his monitor.

GM: The haunted-looking image offers him a thousand-yard stare.

It looks like it’s seen things even it wouldn’t believe.

Emil: He switches to light theme.

Carter may not exist publicly, but that man definitely exists somewhere. You can’t escape your shadow. He starts scouring graduation photos of Texan medical schools in the past years. He looked young, so he shouldn’t have to look too far in the past to find his face if he studied there.

GM: Emil looks and looks and looks, but doesn’t find Carter’s picture anywhere in recent Texan medical graduation photos. Maybe he’s a transplant from somewhere else.

Emil: Given they had a problem with him, or potentially his father, it’s possible he transferred from a Louisianan medical school. He tries those as well.

GM: Nothing.

Emil: Bastard angels skipping school but getting all the qualifications. He wonders if he’s provided medical advice to anyone else. He wonders if he’s a trained physician at all.

He was curiously into linguistics and the occult. Just in case, he looks into various universities in Texas to find out which one’s libraries have the greatest magnitude of hermetic works. He writes a quick script to perform the search, compiling a list of works to check for off the internet. He also factors into his web scraping algorithm a data point of how if at all active are student organizations focused on occult and linguistic study per university. To do that he collects funding and membership statistics from the clubs. He shoves it all into a clean visualization and a less clean spreadsheet.

GM: The library at Rice University appears to have the largest number of Emil’s chosen titles. He cannot find any campus organizations openly dedicated to the occult, although there is a linguistics-related organization called the Rice Linguistics Society. It has some overlap with the university’s Department of Linguistics, but membership is open to undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty members unaffiliated with the Department.

It’s after Emil is about to turn in for bed after several days of such research that one of his automated reminders pops up. His exam in MATH 6300 (Complex Analysis I) with Prof. Freneau is tomorrow.

Emil: “OhSweetFuck!”

He pulls up a series of old midterms to cram through and downloads a bootleg copy of the textbook and spends a couple hours memorizing the requisite formulas in his textbook. Shouldn’t be too hard to succeed. Complex Analysis indicates that to evaluate a contour integral, simply analyze its residues. Emil has plenty of residues in the contours of his t-shirts from spilled box ramen dinners.

GM: The deadline for his Service Learning hours in Prof. Delacroix’s class is approaching, too. Unlike his other professors, Delacroix both mandates Service Learning and requires students to periodically complete X number of hours by numerous dates throughout the quarter. “You aren’t going to make a difference in your communities by swooping in for five minutes like Angelina Jolie,” the environmental science professor had glowered at a complaining student.

He could just tell Prof. Freneau he actually means to transfer out of Tulane. On the day of the exam. Could he please not count that towards his grade, and sign the add/drop form?

Emil: Course, that would mean missing out on the rest of the semester, a semester he paid for. He’s not sure how many more he can afford, and now that his parents’ support is up in the air, he needs to be careful how he acts.

He shoots off two emails to arrange meetings with both professors to explain some of his situation. He includes an update in his email to Prof. Delacroix about his Service Learning project. He explains that he’s been working towards his initial goal of learning about the moral and environmental importance of supporting small local farmers and local market. He informs his professor that he has done research both off and online about the effects of industrial farming and the ethical discussion, surrounding it and has collected the contact information for a couple of farmers from the Crescent City Farmer’s Market, Randall Pines and Bradley Semer, whom he intends to interview as soon as their schedules align.

GM: Emil goes to Prof. Freneau’s class the next morning and feels like he did okay on the exam. Not great, but okay. Considering the stress he’s been through and the lack of time spent studying, he supposes it’ll be one of the most welcome ’B’s he’s ever gotten.

Both men meet with him within several days, and are willing to grant deadline extensions in return for a signed doctor’s note. They express their condolences for his hospitalization and ask polite questions about related events. They’re not deep, so Emil only has to lie a little.

Prof. Delacroix still tells him off for sending update emails. “How many students you think I got? You think I want to read emails from all of ‘em, saying they’ve done this or that research? Just get me a signed form from your supervisor when you’ve done ’em.”

Dr. Crawford, when Emil calls her, is willing to sign a note that’s valid through the day he was transferred from Tulane to Texas Medical Center. He should see his doctor there for those.

Which leaves all of the days when he was in Lucky’s safehouse and his own apartment unexcused.

Emil: Problem stands that Emil doesn’t think he ever encountered an actual doctor at Texas Medical Center, and he’s pretty darn sure that Bartosz wouldn’t have the authority to sign off on a valid note for a human being.

Luckily, Bartosz isn’t the only doctor in the Touro Synagogue’s congregation. There’s also his wife: Dr. Roz Blascewicz, who runs an independent office. She isn’t part of her husband’s operation and draws the line at actually providing medical treatment to people engaged in criminal acts, but she wouldn’t have married her husband if her morals weren’t a little loose. She’s earned the nickname Dr. “Just This Once” from her tendency to provide extra-special and perhaps extra-legal treatment to non-criminal patients if they promise to pull some strings for her in return.

She gets a call from Emil fairly soon after he decides his ticket out of the hellhole that is being an orphan with student loans is a rock solid, or perhaps solid-ish GPA. He intends to withdraw from Tulane as soon as he can get a note excusing the unexplained time.

GM: The other, several decades younger Dr. Blazcewicz may not be as “open-minded” regarding what patients she treats as her husband is, but a doctor’s note is a fairly small favor as far as they go. She fills out and signs the note in return for a Ben Franklin.

Emil supposes it’s for the best he’s getting out soon. He’s running out of money.

Emil: He wonders whether Paul has a life insurance policy. Maybe his mom did too. He realizes that he desperately needs some therapy after this, but then decides that’s a terrible idea given the cost. But if he could get a discount. Or maybe he can’t, maybe he can just look up tapes of therapy sessions and gain closure by proxy. That sounds dreadful.

Nevertheless, he shakes the right hands and signs all the requisite papers to withdraw from the university after getting those days excused. He waits for the final confirmation meeting but the wheels are put in motion and the dotted lines have been signed.

GM: Emil shakes a lot of hands between his academic advisor, a case manager at CMVSS, the Dean’s office, and the HCSC clinician who evaluates his condition, but eventually the wheels of bureaucracy grind on. Profs. Freneau, Delacroix, and Emil’s other professors all express their condolences for his hospitalization and their initial hopes that he’ll apply for re-admission once he’s recuperated. They’re sad to hear he won’t be doing so, but can’t blame him for wanting to be closer to his family in L.A. Dr. Delacroix says something about families setting down “deep roots” in this city, but that “home is where family is.”

Emil: Those words don’t especially comfort Emil. Where’s home if your family is in heaven? Emil starts packing nonetheless.

In the meantime, without the burden of classes, Emil focuses his attentions on his investigation. He starts with the event that fueled this mess in the first place. He needs to know what happened to him in the library. He spends time researching the surveillance infrastructure the university uses around the library entrance. He doesn’t think the library will have stored the data properly for that moment, given the electrical issues, but perhaps the buildings surrounding it could have caught a glimpse. Using a spot of social engineering, he finds an employee with access to the cameras and attempts to infect their access key to provide him with access to the records for that night.

GM: Tulane’s security cameras aren’t overly difficult to obtain access to. In fact, the university has a fairly extensive network of them. Big Brother watches everyone as they go about their business on campus.

Emil doesn’t see anything. But there are bumps in the night. Heavy sounds, interspersed by fainter, raggedy, almost stifled ones. Whimpers.

And what sounds like… sobbing.

Emil: “Well that’s upsetting,” Emil says to his reflection. He wonders whether he is the one sobbing, or perhaps someone else is, perhaps because of him.

This has happened before, but why? Where did these whimpers lead to? Emil attempts to find a listing of farms around New Orleans and uses Qeeqle Maps to try to match one up visually to the one he found himself in that fateful night.

GM: Yet human memory, as Emil can increasingly attest, is an all-too fallible thing. He recalls one of his professors for a psychology class he took explaining that even people with phenomenal memories can vividly recall events that never happened. Emotionally charged memories are especially fallible, and Emil was terrified beyond almost all rational thought. He looks at farm after farm, jumping in his seat when one seems familiar… but so many do. His mind is hungering to find a pattern, to put a face (or at least place) to what happened to him. And Qeeqle’s satellite imagery looks vastly different from a grounds-eye view.

Computers, the comp sci student may finally conclude, transcend human weaknesses in more ways than one.

Emil: He shudders at the realization that if he really wants better answers, he’ll need to leave his ramen cave and speak to his fellow memory-flawed wretches. He intends to go on an exploratory visit to the library to examine its swipe entrance system to figure out who might have witnesses the attack. Before he does that though, Emil looks into Rice University’s linguistics society, trying to find Carter in their past member rosters and group photos. He also looks into the papers they publish to search for Carter’s name. Finally, he phishes the longest leading officer into letting Emil into his email, so that he can see if there are any hints of Carter’s connection recently.

GM: He visits their website.

Carter’s name is once again absent from the officers list and mailings lists, as well authorship of the “Wise as as an owl” organization’s papers. Emil does not recognize the young doctor’s (if he wasn’t lying about that) face in any group photos of the smiling linguists under the Texas sun.

Phishing his way into the probable liberal arts major’s email account proves trivially easy, but there is no trace of Carter there either. Emil feels as if he is chasing a ghost.

Emil: “Someone’s gotta know you. You can’t just not exist! I crushed you like a bug. You can’t crush ghosts, for fuck’s sake.”

Emil decides to pause his obsession for a moment. He lies on his bed, his head resting just below the ornate cuckoo clock that takes him closer and closer to the grave with each heart attacking morning screech. His mother gave him that as a housewarming gift. She said it was homemade. It hung in his Los Angeles home as long as he could remember before traveling down here with him.

He frowns and returns to the cold computer screen, unable to rest. He pulls up his mother’s email account, signs in, and starts browsing her recent messages. He wonders whether her friend ever reached out like she promised.

GM: If Sharon did so, it wasn’t by email. There are no new messages from her. And no new activity by Emil’s mother.

Emil: He just as quickly turns from his computer, might as well check. He dials Sharon’s number and asks her if she’s heard from his mother any.

GM: Sharon makes small talk before answering no, she hasn’t heard anything. It’s been some days since they last talked. Has his mother been out of contact with him for all that time?

Emil: Emil tells some more lies, thanks her, and then hangs up. He thinks back to Dr. Freneau’s interjections about Bayes theorem during class. That man sure did enjoy interjecting statistics facts into his Analysis lectures. The probability an event really occurred increases the more evidence you’re presented with. No visits in the hospital. The visions of her throat cut. The lack of responsiveness. The lack of emails. Not even responding to her closest friend. It’s hard to argue now that she’s anything but gone from this world. And yet he saw her, or perhaps will see her, but not for some time. Maybe she went the way of Carter, up and became a ghost on the wind.

GM: All because of him. Because of the answers he demanded.

Ghosts haunt the people they leave behind. That’s the difference from just being dead and gone.

And yet, according to Lucky, he may be due another visitation by her.

Emil: He throws on a coat and pulls open a drawer and retrieves a cardboard box, now covered in dust, that contains his dad’s boxing gloves.

He jumps in his car, and drives to the boxing gym he used to visit as a kid. He doesn’t remember what his dad looked like, but he remembers the tenacity, the strength, the skill which he demonstrated in the ring. That art of a performance, that clash of red leather drowned out all else in his memory except for the half lift neon sign that stabbed into his eyes before he entered the building. The sign said ’Reginald’s.’

He wonders if anyone is left from those days. Katrina hit hard on small businesses like this. It might not even exist anymore. But if it does, maybe he can find someone who remembered his dad. Lucky couldn’t have been the only one.

GM: Emil drives and drives. He thinks that’s what the sign said. But none of the signs he drives by say ’Reginald’s.’ Maybe the gym has closed down in the two decades since then. He talks to people around the Mid-City neighborhood, gets blank looks from people his own age, and eventually hears from older folks that the gym was called Richie’s. Reginald was Richie’s brother. Richie’s been dead for a while now. Or just since Katrina.

Richie isn’t dead. Though maybe he wishes he was. He’s in a nursing home and looks like a feeble shell of the man who once might have stepped into the ring. He can’t talk since his stroke, the CNA explains, but he can “write a little.” He mostly spends his days watching TV. He gets few visitors. He’s estranged from his brother Reggie.

The mute old man remembers Earl Kane, he slowly taps, but Katrina flooded his house. What photos he had of the “old days” are gone.

Like he’s soon going to be.

A light psss sound fills the air. The old man looks confused that he’s urinated himself, then starts softly crying. He doesn’t want to die. He’s terrified of dying. The only thing that’s worse than being alive is being dead.

That’s what Earl said. That there’s nothing worse than dying. That there’s nothing worse than being alive. That the worst way to die is in bed. That the worst way to die is alone. That people who die in bed deserve to die alone.

Emil doesn’t know what he’s trying to say anymore. His writing’s a mess.

Emil: Emil takes his unblemished hand and steadies the man’s with it. He tells the man that, “Death isn’t something for the dying to fear. Fear is for the pain of losing those you hold dear. The fear of becoming one step closer to complete loneliness. But when we die, we should rejoice. Everyone that matters is thinking of you. Everyone that truly cared, recollects all the best of you, wears the memory like a winter sweater. And all the pain, all the loneliness, it dissipates into sea foam. As long as someone you touched still stands, you never really have died. And if you’re not ready yet, if you need to see to some things, God will open your eyes to see them through.”

“My parents have died, one of them far too recently. But I know they return to me, to protect me, to hear me cherish their memory. I am the child of a Kane and an Abernathy. My daughter is the child of a Kane and a Hall. Our blood remembers, the next generation will remember me, and they will be remembered by the next. I will remember your name, Richie. I will tell my kids about you too. And they, theirs. You are not alone.”

He prays for him, to quash his fears, or perhaps to quash his own. He prays for himself. He prays for the afraid.

GM: Richie stops writing. But he clasps Emil’s hand in his thin, liver-spotted ones, and there’s a look of gratitude in his wet eyes.

Though Emil supposes he might have been fibbing that his family’s current next generation is necessarily going to remember him.

Emil: He’s not sure how he could really face his daughter, or his daughter’s mother. He might never collect enough guts to do so. But there’s more than one way to make a legacy. To make a family. Emil will figure it out. He has to, before he dies. But he has a lot of time until then, he has a long long time.

He visits Richie as many days as he can manage. It’s draining, witnessing the loneliness which permeates nursing homes. But Emil doesn’t, in his mind, have a choice. You can’t abandon the dying until they’ve truly died.

He asks Richie about the name Abernathy, if he’s ever heard it. He asks a lot of people, along the way. On the streets and the stairs and on the porches. The old, and some of the young who have that same scarred look in their eyes that he sees in his reflection. It’d be nice to know his mother’s family, to know he has any family left.

GM: People all seem to want the same thing before they’ll talk. Money. Emil spends what little he has left to find out the Abernathys lived in Central City, one of the poorest and most dangerous areas of the city, and that he should continue his search there. They lived there for a very long time.

He’s interrupted when he goes back to his apartment. Lucky is waiting. The homicide detective looks absolutely livid as he punches Emil in the balls, hard, and then all but throws him into a car. They drive for a while. Outside city limits. Towards the airport.

The older man doesn’t speak a word for the entire trip.

Emil: He’s just barely able to bring what he can grab. A beat up carry-on suitcase with his father’s gloves, a photo of his mother, his archive drive and a few sets of clothes. A backpack with his laptop and its and his phone’s charger and some non-liquid toiletries. He brings his phone and wallet in his pockets. And—wait.

Is that what he thinks it is?

He waits for the pain in his loins to subside a bit before asking, “Why is there blood on my door? I haven’t done anything stupid. What’s going on?”

Maybe that’s why Lucky’s here. Trouble. Or maybe someone got far too excited with their paschal sacrifice.

GM: Lucky just gives Emil a scornful look.

Emil: “No seriously, Lucky. I have no idea what is going on. Did another person get hurt?”

GM: “Just shut the fuck up, you stupid kid,” Lucky snaps.

They reach Louis Armstrong. Lucky drops Emil off and tells a man who looks like a TSA agent to “get him where he needs to be.” In short order, Emil’s boarded a plane for Los Angeles.

Emil: He apologizes to Lucky before he drives off. He tells him that once he scrounges up the money, he’ll send him the professionals, friends of his, to do the work he promised he’d do.

As the plane spurts along the runway and rises into the sky, Emil can almost see the outline of that beautiful tower from his dreams peeking through the clouds, shadowed and hazy. He smiles, but when he places his hand on the window, it reduces to a wet smudge of dirtied condensation.

He takes out the copy of the Tanakh he showed Emmett at his visit. It opens to the creased page he had indicated. Covered in sharpie and sticky notes, with a quote surrounding a verse:

“Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof.”

(“Justice, justice you shall pursue.”)

He flips to the back of the book. Fresh ink smudged on the page, the signature of his teacher, under a curious sigil. The last time he visited his teacher, the first after he’d seen a bit of the truth.


Thursday evening, 11 October 2007

GM: Founded in 1828, Touro is the city’s oldest synagogue (and the oldest in the country outside the original 13 colonies) and bears a slight resemblance to a red-brick Byzantine temple, with squat buttresses and bubbly domes. Emil uncovered during a moment of research that it’s also a near-exact duplicate of the old Bikur Cholim synagogue in Seattle. While it may be his father’s past that drew the young computer science student back to New Orleans, he may take some comfort, or even pride, from the fact that his connection to this part of the city is wholly his own. The name Earl Kane means nothing to anyone here, beyond what it means through Emil.

Touro_S.jpg
Touro_S.jpg
Touro_S.jpg
Touro_S.jpg
Emil: The old synagogue never fails to stun Emil. There’s something about the vastness of the interior. The walls seem to rise curled out of the ground like great frozen waves, meeting at the top at a singular point, forming a perfect dome. Walking through the rows and rows of seats and hearing his footsteps echo around the great structure reminds Emil of Jonah sitting in the belly of God’s whale. The stained glass portholes that adorn the walls let a kaleidoscope of colored rays spread and diffract over the audience. The brass organ’s pipes blow a cold wind from behind, staring at Emil as he walks towards the bimah, towards the ark. It begs to be looked at, but doesn’t make an unasked for noise. It simply stares until you inevitably drift your gaze behind. Of course, it can’t judge you all too harshly, because who could ignore the draw of the tall ark. The Ten Commandments are writ in short as the crown to a carved wooden structure that houses the Temple’s many Torah scrolls behind its verdure curtains. These beautiful features have been characteristics of Reform synagogues since the movement’s inception.

Rabbi Shemtov never fails to discourage appreciating such structure, but it comes from a good place. He comes from a Conservative background despite working in the Reform Temple. During the Jewish enlightenment in 1800s Germany, the Haskalah, there was a drive for change in Jewish communities. No more did people wish to stay isolated in shtetls, living private lives in their villages bordered by language, religion, and culture. Assimilation was the solution, and what some called modernization. Small house-sized synagogues with no music and very little variety in the day-to-day services were changed to be more in line with the large cathedrals, special decorum and ritual, and organ music of the Jews’ Christian neighbors.

The Conservative movement was a backlash to what they considered an affront on Jewish tradition and perhaps, God forbid, an advancement towards paganism. What might people think of the kaleidescope lights of the stained glass except that those must be God’s eyes shining through. What else could the massive hall of the Temple be but God’s physical dwelling? What might the booming organ music be but the voice of God himself? God of course is completely ephemeral, and any structure implying the contrary is misleading at best and blasphemy at worst.

Nevertheless, it is beautiful and old, so while he can complain about it all he wants, the poor rabbi can’t change a thing.

GM: Rabbi Shemtov might not be able to change a thing about the sanctuary’s interior, but he can, at least, avoid it. Emil finds the rabbi in the beth midrash off to the side. It’s a plainly functional room with not much there besides chairs, tables, and shelves stacked high with books. Emil can well attest as to the size of the small library’s collection of kabbalistic texts. Copies of the Zohar take up an entire row on the largest shelf, perhaps little surprise given the rabbi’s alleged descent from its author.

Shemtov.jpg
Shemtov is a short man in his 60s with receding gray hair and a thick, neck-length beard of the same color. His dark eyes are framed by thick eyebrows that still retai their color. When he’s wearing a tallit and kippah, he looks every inch the proper rabbi. When he’s wearing dark slacks with a tucked-in button-up shirt and just the skullcap like he is now, he feels like he’s out of his element. Emil’s heard a couple (younger) congregants joke he should’ve been an Orthodox rabbi with a beard like the one he has. Emil’s not sure how the rabbi himself would take the joke. He’s laying out Styrofoam cups around a coffee dispenser in anticipation of the weekly Kabbalah class as Emil comes in.

Emil: “Shabbat shalom, Rabbi,” Emil says, smiling in a weak reminisce at his teacher as he grabs a few cups off the stack and aids him. He’s wearing a near carbon copy of the Rabbi’s outfit, something he adopted soon after he joined the congregation. He even shops at the same store.

GM: Rachman’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise as he hears Emil. “Emil. Oh my goodness. People here have been trying to reach you. The hospital said you were in Houston.”

“Shabbat shalom,” he wishes back, clasping a hand over Emil’s shoulder. “You are well?”

Emil: No. No I am most definitely not, he thinks.

He keeps laying out the cups, doesn’t look the rabbi in his eyes as he says, “Of course I am, it’s Simchat Torah. We’re commanded to be happy, aren’t we?”

The one piece of clothing that sticks out from Emil’s copied uniform is a single threadbare glove that covers Emil’s scars.

GM: Rachman doesn’t immediately answer Emil. Instead, he merely says, “The cups are fine. Come, sit down. Tell me about the past few weeks.”

Emil: Emil follows the rabbi’s words and takes a seat at one of the paper-strewn tables across him.

He tries to start a few times, opens his mouth as if he has words to describe the past few weeks, but he just as quickly closes it.

GM: “It sounds like the mitzvah to rejoice is a hard one for you to follow right now,” Rachman patiently fills in.

Emil: He nods slowly, reluctantly.

“It’s a test. I usually know my way through them, or a way around them. But not now. I’m afraid of flunking.”

“How can God test us like this? Calm for some time, smooth sailing over small problems. And then one day the storm hits, and then it’s flat to the deck from then on. Wave after wave. Does he want to see me break?”

GM: “Job likely wondered that very same question,” the rabbi answers. “He’s described as ‘blameless’ and ‘upright.’ Then in one day, he loses everything. His livestock, servants, and ten children all die from invaders and disasters. He prays and is afflicted with sores.”

“Do you think that God wanted to see Job break?”

Emil: “I don’t know what God wanted. Could God want for anything? He is everything.”

“In those verses he always seemed so proud of Job. For his righteousness. For his loyalty. And he did protect him, in a sense. Job was left unscathed in his person. But a family is not something you have, it’s in your blood. Under your skin. It keeps your heart beatin’. They drained him ‘til his bones were dry. Maybe God didn’t want him to break, but anyone less perfect would’ve. That’s what bones do under pressure. They snap.”

GM: “I had a similar conversation to this one with the Rabinowitzes,” Shemtov says. “Their oldest daughter asked the same timeless question you’re asking now. Why is there suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Emil: “I don’t think it’s a difficult question to answer, Rabbi, but the answer is just hard to accept. Look at Job. Samael is the accuser, the adversary. He has no freedom of choice like we do. He is defined by his need to test, to make us suffer in this world. That’s how God made him. And what kind of cruelty would God be dishing to deny him his very purpose? Bad things happen to good people because we’re not God’s only children. A father can’t in good conscience neglect one child for the sake of another, so neither can God.”

GM: Shemtov actually smiles. “You’re probably the first person I’ve ever discussed the Book of Job with, Emil, to express concern for Samael’s welfare in that way. I applaud your sense of compassion.”

“But one detail we often take for granted as readers is Samael’s role in Job’s suffering. When Ha’shem finally speaks to Job, he asks if Job comprehends the expanse of the earth and suggests people should not discuss divine justice since Ha’shem’s power is so vast that humans can’t possibly justify his ways. Job never actually learns why he suffers.”

Emil: Emil nods at first, processing. “Job never saw the angel who made him suffer, never recognized him. But we are told explicitly. Everyone of his descendants knows why he suffered except for him. Because Samael is a hidden element. Divine justice is knowable, but only in retrospect.”

Then his face screws up tight, his brow folding into an accordion. “But what if Job could have seen the hand of the angel, if Samael didn’t just appear in his rear view mirror? What could Job have done then? Had he seen a sliver of the plan?”

GM: “Against Ha’shem’s will, nothing. It was decreed that he suffer thus. Perhaps the knowledge of why he suffered would have granted him peace. Maybe he would have found it in himself to forgive Samael like you have. Maybe he might not have.”

“There’s an interesting interpretation I’ve heard that the Book of Job actually isn’t a theodicy. Its purpose isn’t to answer why bad things happen to good people.”

“Ha’shem never responds to Job’s questions and accusations because Ha’shem’s purpose in coming to Job is not to justify or defend. Rather, Ha’shem’s purpose, like Job’s friends, is to comfort Job. Ha’shem speaks to Job ‘out of the storm wind’ and silences his voice, but only after Job has had an opportunity to pour out his soul and voice his feelings and complaints, serving as an emotional catharsis and release. There is no hint that Job’s questions and complaints constitute heresy or disrespect. It is only after Job has poured out his soul that Ha’shem silences him because there eventually comes a point when such a release is no longer productive. There comes a point when Job must reconcile himself with the heavens, and with life, in order to continue living.”

“So the central question of the Book of Job then is not the philosophic question as to why Ha’shem allows evil but the psychological question of how to comfort Job, and help him to continue living in the face of such terrible suffering. It is only after Job accepts that he cannot continue to question Ha’shem regarding his own suffering that he can try to go on living. It is at that time that Ha’shem restores his fortune and gives him children to replace those he lost. This is not a compensation in order to defend or justify Ha’shem, but simply a reality that, although no lost child can be replaced, new children continue to be born, and Job must continue living even in the face of such terrible suffering as the loss of his children.”

Shemtov takes Emil’s hand. “Even a man as upright as Job is allowed to say how he really feels, Emil. Tell me what troubles you.”

Emil: He is slow to pick his words. Slower to respond.

“What I tell you here can’t leave this table. For any reason. Would you take an oath, Rabbi?”

He looks his teacher in his eyes, letting the man see how far his own have seen, how his irises still reflect the static seas.

GM: Shemtov rises, retrieves a leather-bound Torah from among the bookshelves, and sits back down. He lays his hand upon the book.

“I swear unto Ha’shem, and all I hold sacred within this book, that I shall not speak of what you tell me without your express permission.”

Emil: Emil nods at the completion of the oath. No bond holds men together stronger than their word.

“You’re a good man, Rabbi. Much better than I am,” he starts.

“I’ve seen so many things in these past weeks I feel like I’ve aged years. I’ve asked for it too, that’s what pains me. Everything I’ve requested I’ve been granted. But I didn’t think about the consequences of knowing.” The leather glove which covers his hand squeaks as his fingers clench nervously.

“For everything I’ve been shown, something has been taken in turn.” His eyelid begins twitching again, he struggles to calm it.

“What would you hear first? What was taken? Or what was given?”

GM: “All knowledge carries burdens,” the rabbi answers solemnly. “I would hear what was sought, then what was taken, and finally what was given.”

Emil: Emil tells his story to the rabbi. He doesn’t speak eloquently, nor does he follow the chronology of his experience. Instead he highlights the cycles of seeking, losing, and learning. When it comes down to it, all he really wanted was to find his father. In the process of searching, he worries that he may have lost the only people left willing to take on that role. And what else did he lose? His job, his education, his mother, his girlfriend, his safety. He is responsible for the deaths of far too many. And what did he gain from it? He gained power beyond his ken. Eyes that see God’s creation in formation before they finish scaling down the heavenly branches. The strength he never could muster made real with his mind. A voice that refuses to go unheard. He peeked into the world of those who climbed the ladder. He found his Samael and spoke with him face to face. He flew on the wings of Metatron and saw this city for what it truly was. Climbed the tower almost up to heaven and plunged far beneath.

“Though none of this gives me peace, not even knowing my mother will return someday. Because I don’t know who I’ve dealt with. I can’t tell you whether God was there or whether it was something else. Something foul.”

He removes the glove to reveal his blemished hand.

“What do you make of me, Rabbi? Of what’s marked me?”

GM: Shemtov listens to Emil’s story with somber, quiet patience. He doesn’t interrupt or ask questions at first, but simply lets Emil give voice to his experiences in the same manner that Job shouted his own pain to the heavens.

But as the narrative progresses and grows increasingly fantastical, as Emil tells impossible stories about hurling cars with his mind and gripping demonic hands from television screens, he sees a too-familiar look in the rabbi’s eyes.

Disbelief.

It’s not the incredulity that must have marked Sharon’s face. It’s still patient. Still sympathetic. Even pained for him. He feels as if the man is seeing his words as further evidence of the depth of his pain and loss.

Shemtov finally lays a hand on Emil’s shoulder.

“I think, Emil,” the rabbi says slowly, “that you have suffered terribly. You have been separated from your loved ones at a time when you most needed their comfort. I think your family has suffered from old pains they have buried deep and allowed to fester rather than heal. I think recent pains have exposed you to those old pains at the worst possible moment. And I am sorry I was not there for you during your time of need.”

Emil: Experience shields Emil from the pain of being disbelieved. His stories never make much sense, no matter how much important truth they might carry. The gentle hand of his teacher floods Emil with warmth. “Bless you, Rabbi.”

Maybe the issue isn’t what Emil is saying. It’s that he’s saying it. He smiles, satisfied.

“If it’s all right, do you think I could make a demonstration at the beginning of today’s class?”

GM: “Hmm. Why don’t you make one right here first, where it’s just us?” Shemtov proposes.

Emil: Emil nods. “Fair enough.”

He gets up from his seat and moves to open a window. It fights back as he shakes it out and up from the windowsill, sputtering old dust onto the floor.

He takes a cold apple out of one of the bowls on the refreshment table and presents it to Rachman. He imagines himself tuxedoed on a flamboyantly lit stage.

“This is a perfectly normal apple, wouldn’t you agree?”

GM: “I would,” the rabbi nods.

Emil: “Of course, we are speaking about the physical world. This apple,” he says, tossing it between his hands, “is not really a perfect specimen of an apple. It’s marked in places, discolored in others. And yet, you agreed with me that it’s perfectly normal. Why is that?”

GM: “Perfection is abnormal,” Shemtov answers.

Emil: “Exactly! I’d go so far as to say perfection is impossible. And yet we know exactly what a perfect apple looks like. We see it our heads clear as day when we think of it. It’s precisely what you taught me when I first stumbled into your class. Our minds think one rung higher up the ladder than our eyes when they see. We see many different sorts of apples, each with their own imperfections and peculiarities, and we consider them different. Deep in our guts, however; we know they are all stemming from the same conceptual branch.”

GM: The rabbi smiles faintly. “Deeper even than our guts, Emil. The foundation of kabbalistic thought is that Ein Sof created an initially perfect universe. Deep within our souls, we know this and yearn for its return.”

Emil: He nods keenly. “As a result, this specific apple’s physical traits are almost completely irrelevant. I could have picked up any apple from that bowl and the exact same could be said about it.”

“We can go further though.” Emil places the apple onto the wooden table before the rabbi. “Pay attention to the apple.” He then picks it up and places it on the dusty windowsill. “Is the apple on the windowsill any different than the apple that was in front of you? Does it fundamentally matter where the apple is?”

GM: “Almost all our problems—our fears, doubts, and negative thoughts—come from the realm of time and space,” Shemtov answers thoughtfully. “We worry about what will or won’t happen tomorrow, or we long for things we don’t have—things that are physically distant from us. But in the realm above time and space, Ein Soft’s initial, perfect creation, there is no negativity. Only Light. A return to this state would mean humanity was no longer bound by laws of physicality. Time and distance would be irrelevant. All would again be part of a perfect, unified whole.”

“On a more immediate level, the apple has picked up dust where you’ve moved it. Its relationship to space has physically and metaphysically made it less perfect.”

Emil: Some of the old gleam of Emil’s childhood sneaks into the house of his head through the windows of his eyes, breaking through the cold darkness that formed foggy glaucoma at the entrances.

“That’s right!” He retrieves the apple, dusts it off, and places it back on the table. “In this physical, imperfect world, the apple responds to being placed elsewhere by picking up dust. In a physical world, everything follows physical laws. But on the spiritual level, just a few steps up the chain, a few rungs climbed closer to the Ein Sof, physical imperfection, physical position, is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that the apple exists. It’s physical position can vary and Ha’Shem’s will will not have been contradicted.”

“Of course, while we can learn about and intuit aspects of the higher spiritual worlds through Kabbalah, we can’t manipulate the higher worlds like we can our own physical one. Right?”

“And yet it is said that the Kabbalist Rabbi Yehiel of Paris was able to drive a nail into the ground and subsequently cause an ill-intentioned visitor to sink into the ground just like the nail did. Simmer on that for a bit.”

“I want you to focus on the apple, Rabbi. Don’t let it out of your sight. Can you do that for me?”

GM: “There are stories about Kabbalists performing other physically impossible feats and even traveling through time. Some people might hold this as power, but such unity with creation in its purest, most original form is by definition impossible to achieve without strict adherence to Ha’shem’s will. ‘Power’, then, becomes merely the subordination of the self and the realization of one’s true place in creation. I’ve always found it a comforting thought that any Kabbalist to possess such superhuman abilities must have also possess equally extraordinary virtue.”

“But you’ve asked me to concentrate. I can do that for you, Emil,” Shemtov replies, staring at the dusted-off apple.

Emil: Emil closes his eyes and begins to mutter prayers under his breath, not to draw any extra strength, but because the thought of being proven wrong, of having his memories of miracles invalidated, shocks him to his core.

He imagines plucking the apple from the table and flinging it to the windowsill, a place more befitting it spiritually in Emil’s estimation. He strains against the forces of this physical world to make his vision a reality, a grin spreading across his face.

GM: Yet for all the conviction of Emil’s vision, and all the assurance of his rabbi’s words, there is no change.

The apple remains where it is.

Emil: “H-what?” he exclaims, exasperated.

His joy sloughs off his face like debrided rot. He stands there in shock for a moment, before looking into the eyes of his teacher.

GM: Shemtov looks unsurprised.

“Emil,” he says gently, “Job’s wife would have told you to curse Ha’shem now. This has been a very dark time for you. Instead, you have striven to be closer to his will. I am humbled by your example.”

“But there are faster paths, and surer ones, to do this than Kabbalah. Tzedakah is mentioned 157 times in the Masoretic Text. Kabbalah is not mentioned once.”

“You spoke about establishing an academic scholarship for the Rabinowitzes and other needful children. Would you still do this?”

Emil: Dark clouds form on the horizon of his thoughts, hiding awful images and grim portents.

Murderer.

Sinner.

Defiler.

The terrible grip of the demon who scarred his hand presses so firmly into his skull it threatens to crack and burst with intracranial fluid. His mother’s slit throat bleeds out of his own, the wound in his neck pulsates.

Tears stream down his face as he sits down, thoroughly humbled.

He nods.

GM: “Emil,” Shemtov repeats, laying a hand upon his shoulder, “I have studied Kabbalah for much of my life. I know many better men who have studied Kabbalah for even longer.”

“I have known none who were able to sink men into the ground like nails.”

“Ha’shem does not find them wanting for this. He does not find you wanting for this.”

Emil: “God forgive me.” He wipes the tears away with his shirtsleeves. “I want to help the Rabinowitzes. But I don’t have any money. I have nothing left to give. I was hoping we might collect from the congregation.”

GM: “I think you have a great deal to give. I think the congregation will be very supportive of your idea.”

“Elizabeth was a schoolteacher, if you didn’t know. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her memory.”

Emil: He smiles, weaker now, but he is still able to smile. “Her children deserve to feel her influence, to empower her legacy. This is good.”

“But Rabbi, I’m leaving the city soon, I’ve already withdrawn from my university. A lot of it we can handle by phone call and email, but I’d like to meet with her kids before I go.”

GM: “Of course. I can give you their contact information or contact them for you.”

Emil: “Thank you, Rabbi. It means a lot to me. I feel their pain in my heart.”

GM: “I am more than sure you do,” the rabbi answers gravely. “Have you reported your mother to the police, Emil, as a missing person?”

Emil: “I haven’t. At least not officially. But I have friends in the force. They know.”

GM: “I think we should take no chances where your mother is concerned. Your friends may know and wish to help, but if finding her is not a case they are assigned to, there may be only so much they can do.”

“Would you like to file the report yourself, or to have me do that?”

Emil: “I’ll do it. They know me.”

Emil doesn’t want to let this little bubble of his merge with the wreck that is the rest of his life.

‘Course, he knows he will see his mother again. The markings on his hand assert that truth. Lucky probably would want him to wait until he’s back in Los Angeles, until he’s received the letter.

GM: “What about your stepfather? Has he not tried to contact you in all this time?” Shemtov asks.

Emil: He shakes his head.

“I don’t know how to contact him. I’ve sent him emails, but his cell phone got destroyed. I don’t trust the hospital.”

GM: “What was the hospital’s name, do you remember?”

Emil: “Texas Medical Center. I don’t want to call them, I can’t do that. But if you did, I don’t think it would hurt. Just don’t mention my name.”

GM: “All right. I will leave out your name.”

“In case it does not help, have you considered filing a police report on your stepfather too?”

Emil: “They couldn’t both be gone, could they?”

GM: “I pray they are not. But if you have not been able to reach him, he has not contacted you, and the hospital is unable to help…”

Emil: “I’ll ready all of the details.” He looks grimly down at the shadow of the chair.

With a sigh, he shifts subjects. “What are you planning on teaching us today, Rabbi?”

GM: “Nothing more important than what we have to discuss now,” Shemtov answers seriously. “Emil… have you thought about money? With both of your parents potentially gone, and wanting to move back to Los Angeles… will you have enough to provide for yourself?”

Emil: “My stepdad is a lawyer. My mom’s an etiquette coach. If they’re gone, and I can manage to have them declared deceased, I bet there’s some insurance or some savings they left over.” He looks less than certain but there’s a tightness in his face which insists that it be true. “I thought about investing most of what I get. But I worry my ignorance will screw me there. Do you know if there’s any finance-savvy or connected individuals in the congregation who might be willing to help me out?”

GM: “Yes, I can think of several who we could approach,” Shemtov nods. “But I would take things one at a time, Emil. Except in cases of imminent peril, it can take many years before a missing person is able to be declared dead. If your parents haven’t already granted you access to their bank accounts, which I would be surprised if they did, it might be a very long time before you can inherit anything from them.”

“And we don’t know at this point what has happened to them. Maybe the police will find them. But it is impossible to say how long that might take.”

“You seem like you have been able to support yourself in the city here. You’ve mentioned having a job and an apartment.”

Emil: “Yeah, that’s here. The cost of living in Los Angeles is a lot more severe. Maybe someone from the congregation has some connections to the tech sector in Los Angeles. I’m very capable with software, but it’s all about who you know out there. I might have to move to San Francisco, there could be more opportunity there,” Emil says, shaking his head.

GM: “I cask about any tech sector connections too. But I would also consider, at this point, whether it is truly necessary for you to move. As you say, there may be considerable financial adjustments.”

Emil: He checks behind him, and then leans in towards his teacher. “Those friends of mine in the force won’t stay very friendly unless I get out of the city. And soon. I don’t have a choice here.”

GM: The rabbi frowns deeply. “Why do you believe they want you to leave?”

Emil: “Because they’ve been cleaning up a lot of the messes I’ve gotten into over these past hard weeks. And they’re getting hurt. They have families they need to protect too and they think I’m a magnet for trouble.” He pauses. “I don’t blame them either.”

GM: “There is another thing, Emil. You had mentioned being airlifted by the hospital.”

Emil: “That’s right. At my stepfather’s request.”

GM: “Airlifts are very expensive. Even lifts within the same city can cost $40,000 or more. I’m not sure how much more one to Houston might have cost. And if the lift was not for a medical emergency, your parents’ insurance may be unwilling to pay.”

Emil: “They can’t pin that debt to me, can they?”

GM: “I’m not sure. I don’t know the details of how you were treated or your families’ insurance policies. But in my experience, companies are unconcerned with human welfare and will do all they can to avoid paying out.”

Emil: “Maybe I should just drop off the grid like my parents. Fake my death and move to Cuba or something. Can’t bill a corpse,” he jokes, and then gets stone serious. “Right?”

GM: “Bill your corpse, or avoid paying out?” the rabbi deadpans back.

“I am not an insurance expert. But potentially, both.”

Emil: “You know, I thought the pain was gonna be over once I left. What a foolish thought that was.”

GM: “Hopeful, I think, more than foolish. You have dealt with more than enough pain already. But by dealing with this now, we may spare you greater pain in the future.”

“Hospitals are notoriously slow in sending out bills. That is one potential advantage we have.”

Emil: “Well, in that case I either need to get the cash together or figure out how to nip it in the bud. I know I can put the work in since I need to but I don’t know if there is a client willing to take me on for a project big enough to be worth over forty thousand,” Emil says.

“Maybe if I pray hard enough God will just destroy their billing system,” he continues, sighing.

GM: “I would start by contacting the companies behind your and your parents’ insurance policies to see which one you fell under, and whether they are willing to cover the cost of the airlift. Even if they tell you no, which I would expect, you could attempt to contest their decision before the hospital bill arrives. Does your family have a lawyer you can consult?”

Emil: “I’m not so sure, my stepdad worked for a law firm, but I doubt I could afford their services. But there is someone I could contact. The dean of Tulane Law School. He’s a busy man, but he worked with my stepdad before and I’ve actually been visiting his office fairly often since I transferred to Tulane. He always has another story to share. Maybe he’d be willing to help me out.”

GM: “I would start there, then. Let me know how it turns out. If the dean can’t help you, I will see what I can do. There are some lawyers in the congregation.”

Emil: Emil nods. “I can make it through this.”

GM: “Ha’shem restored Job’s fortunes and blessed him with twice as much as he had before,” the rabbi concurs. “Life holds many pains, but it will always continue and bring new blessings.”

“As for today’s Kabbalah class, we will be spending that examining the sefirot of the world of Beriya, the world of Creation. The word ‘sefira’ derives from ‘sippur’, the Hebrew word for ‘story.’ A perfect story describes an event clearly and succinctly to the listener, such that he can picture the event in all of its details as if he had seen it himself. We will be discussing how, like the apple whose imperfections you demonstrated, all stories fall short of this perfect ideal. But we may still strive for that state, and begin by acknowledging such phenomena as the Rashomon effect…”


Monday night, 15 October 2007, PM

GM: Emil’s plane touches down at Los Angeles International Airport.

Airport.jpg
Airport.jpg
He gets off. Ben and Justin are waiting in the crowds.

So is Paul.

They don’t seem to see him yet.

Emil: He should be dead? Why isn’t he dead!?

A terrible mixture of happiness and fear swirls inside Emil’s gut. He bolts to the nearest bathroom.

He vomits.

There’s too much water around the toilet bowl to be sanitary.

“Fuck,” he mutters as he flushes down the worryingly undigested brick of “Vegan Indian” food. He wonders for a second whether it’s covered in blood or if some tired cook spilled the whole box of curry into it.

He slaps his face with cold water and fruitlessly brushes his teeth with a single finger.

“You. Can. Do this,” he encourages himself, poking his reflection with the very same digit.

He steps out again, his shirt moist and warm in the California heat. He drags his suitcase quietly and keeps his head down as he sneaks around the crowd before bursting out from behind his family and capturing his younger half-brothers with a tight bear hug.

GM: “Emil!” exclaims the shorter, chubbier, and glasses-wearing Ben as he hugs his sibling back. “I, wow, Dad told us all about how…”

“No homo, man,” smirks the year-younger but taller, handsomer, and lighter-skinned Justin. He ducks out after several seconds to clap Emil’s back instead.

Paul, his own arms outstretched, slowly lowers them.

It’s perhaps too expected to even be awkward.

Emil: It all seems normal, back to the way it was. Ben’s warm embrace lifts Emil’s spirits. He’s sure it came from his mom, in Emil’s mind Paul just isn’t capable of that sort of thing.

“I’ve missed y’all.”

He glances up and stares through his stepfather’s thick-lens glasses. He gives him funeral eyes: Warm in a microwaved sort of way. A tucked in lower lip that tells him he feels his pain but he’s glad to be able to share it.

He mouths a one-word question. Mom?

GM: “You only lived in the South for what, two years?” brings up Justin. “Sorry, Cali boy. You don’t get to say y’all.”

Paul either doesn’t seem to notice, or perhaps doesn’t feel inclined to answer after the lukewarm greeting. He looks tired and has a hoarse-sounding voice as he says how he’s “glad to see” Emil. The family pile into their SUV and drive back to their house in the suburbs. Ben and Justin chatter on like everything is fine.

Emil: But everything isn’t fine. Right? Where is Mom? How can they be so happy when they don’t know where mom is? Their happiness is a challenge to Emil, and he pushes down his fears for the ride and just lets himself be enveloped by the youthful glee. Today, he can be a big brother again.

GM: Ben starts to talk about his latest DNA experiments before Justin exaggeratedly groans and cuts him off. He talks about his time spent aboard “Uncle” Coy’s ship this summer and visiting London, though obviously (much to his disappointment) he’s back now for high school. Paul tells someone to use their phone to order take-out. He doesn’t feel like cooking tonight. Ben wants Chinese. Justin wants pizza.

Emil: Emil, having no real preference nor appetite given his recent dependency on watery coffee and ramen packets, establishes himself as the arbiter. He decides on a little bit of a competition; whoever can tell him the most interesting thing they’ve overheard from Mom and Paul about Emil’s trip gets to choose what he orders. The second place winner gets to order sides and appetizers from their choice of establishment.

GM: “Uh, what trip?” asks Justin.

Emil: “What’s a trip, Justin? It’s when you go away to see something meaningful and then you come back home to share it with the ones you love.” He lays a hand on his shoulder and smiles down at him.

“I’m talking about them coming down to New Orleans to visit and me deciding it’s time to come back home.”

Emil then claps him on the back of his head. “Now stop bustin’ my balls about what words I use and try to earn your pizza.”

GM: “Okay, try you actually getting laid,” says Justin. “Still had a girlfriend!”

Ben seems to think. “You going to another college now? One with a really good computer science program? I read New Orleans is the most digitally illiterate major city in the US, with the lowest rates of internet access.”

Emil: Emil rolls his eyes at Justin’s remark. Guess he doesn’t want that pizza.

In response to Ben, he agrees that, “Yeah, it’s practically the dark ages down there. Even an ethernet connection is pretty disappointing speed-wise.”

“But I know y’all have heard about more than that. Has Paul told you when he expects Mom’ll come back?”

Maybe if he acts like things are normal, they will be.

GM: “Few weeks? However long, I guess,” Justin shrugs.

“And what I’d say about you not being a Southern boy? That ’y’all’ sounds so fake.”

“Yeah, I guess a few weeks?” Ben echoes. “She didn’t really know, did she Dad?”

“Few weeks was the estimate,” Paul says.

Emil: How long is he gonna keep this up? What are they gonna think when a couple weeks turns into a couple months?

After digging through a drawer, he pulls out the menu pamphlets for the two restaurants and collects his half-brother’s orders.

He decides that he needs to speak to his stepfather about this, and to warm their interactions, he orders Paul his favorite dish from the restaurant. For himself he gets a box of lo mein.

GM: The car lacks menu pamphlets, but it’s easy enough to call the takeout place and ask for menu items. Justin whines about the item he cited being the more interesting. They drive home.

It feels good to be a big brother again.


Monday night, 15 October 2007, PM

Cheviot.jpg
Cheviot.jpg
Cheviot.jpg
Cheviot.jpg
Cheviot Hills is an affluent residential neighborhood of quietly winding streets, leafy trees, pretty single-family homes, and little else. Architectural styles include single-level ranch homes dating to the 1950s as well as classic stuccoed Spanish and Tudor revivals. It’s sandwiched between Century City (home to Fox Studios) and Culver City (home to Sony Studios), only about 10 minutes away during rush hour, and offers both access to the business and a sort of escape.

Cheviot’s location between film studios and its lack of a central shopping and dining area give it a sense of respite from Los Angeles’s rush. There is nowhere to have a date night, nowhere to go shopping for clothes or electronics, not even an upscale grocery store, unless one includes the small Cheviot Hills Shopping Center (which most teenagers don’t), a Rite Aid, and a few small food outlets. Many residents say that Cheviot reminds them of Leave It to Beaver, because “It’s Los Angeles, but it doesn’t feel like L.A.” If someone wants L.A., it’s only a 30-60 minute drive east to the city’s downtown. The Santa Monica Pier and many beaches can be reached in 15 minutes.

That “not L.A.” feature has served the area well. Dozens of films and television shows have been shot on the neighborhood’s handsome streets, and many of its residents have earned day rates for providing their homes to shows including Modern Family and The Goldbergs. But while residents are used to seeing film crews shut down their streets, the area feels isolated from the show business obsession that often grips the rest of Los Angeles’s west side.

The Griffin Club, a members-only pool and tennis club, offers swimming, exercise classes and banquet halls that are popular for social events. Emil and his brothers had their bar mitzvahs there (though Emil had wanted his at the synagogue).

Cheviot.jpg
Residents gather for summer block parties, and local moms host monthly wine nights in each others’ homes. At its core, Cheviot Hills is a place to come home to rather than a place to be seen. Neighbors meet up for backyard barbecues, trade baseball statistics, and catch up on gossip while jogging with their strollers to the park. The appeal is that if someone didn’t know they were minutes from Hollywood when they stumbled into Cheviot Hills, they might never realize it.

Cheviot.jpg
And that’s precisely what the residents want to hang on to. This is a “good neighborhood.” Emil and Ben have had the police called on them several times, though that never seemed to happen to the lighter-skinned Justin. The neighbors responsible (usually newly moved-in families) apologized profusely afterwards, once they realized the boys lived a few houses down. Then Lucille picked them up and angrily lectured her sons about “looking more presentable” in the car. Cheviot is very welcoming to its residents, but to people who don’t belong, it turns on the flip of a dime. Many residents like to boast they aren’t trust fund kids: they’ve worked hard for what they have.

Emil would know. His mom’s one of them.

Emil: And as he stares out the car window, pressing his hand against the cold glass, he wonders what remains for him here. There’s something to speak in defense of with a place like Cheviot Hills, an eye in the storm of hustle and bustle, of formulated dreams. You can rest here, if you belong, and it’s a nest that Emil never before felt afraid to roost in. If Los Angeles is a city of dreams made manifest, Cheviot Hills is a hamlet of heading to bed. Not in the literal sense, in the sense of the lie that we all tell ourselves. It’s lying in bed without closing your eyes. Or, as it was more often with Emil, sitting at his desktop staring at a monitor filled with words that made less and less sense the longer he stared at them. Once it all spilled over into nonsense, all that’s left to do is to daydream about things that do, things like leaving the city. Things like finding truths, small and large, anywhere but stuck in the house. It’s possibility abound when it’s all in your sleep-deprived mind.

And it’s a comfort too, to be limited to such daydreams. Emil’s imaginations turn his dreams into nightmares, it’s almost a punishment to go to sleep before he’s stepped over the precipice of peeled eyes and exhaustion. Maybe he should have tried, once or twice more than he had. He wonders if maybe he’d have figured out how much danger there was filling in the nonsense gaps in his waking dreams. Maybe all the world needs is for him to just go to damn sleep. To go sleep and not ruin other peoples’ lives.

He wonders if he belongs anymore.

He worries that he doesn’t.

GM: Perhaps in his dreams he still can.

All he needs to do is go to sleep. Back to sleep.

The Jonas family residence is a Mediterranean-style home nestled on a quiet street. The primary breadwinner clearly makes a law partner’s money: not Beverly Hills or Malibu rich, but the rung below that. Close enough to eye it.

House.jpg
Entrants are greeted at the living room with a warm fireplace, chandelier, and French doors with plantation shutters leading to the balcony. The couches have plastic coverings that come off when guests are entertained (which Emil’s mother loves to do).

House.jpg
House.jpg
House.jpg
House.jpg
The realtor described the kitchen as gourmet, but Lucille had it remodeled with “top of the line Sub-Zero & Viking appliances,” a large center island and custom cabinetry. There’s also a 4-car garage, formal dining room, and bedrooms for each of the Jonas boys plus one for guests.

Guests can be entertained in the “resort-style oasis backyard” with palm trees lining a custom-designed pool, lush greenery, and patio space for lounging and dining al fresco. There’s a Buddha statue. It came when they moved in. Paul and Lucille kept it to show they were “open-minded towards all spiritualities” and “not too Jewish.”

House.jpg
House.jpg
The family sits down to eat around the glass table in the kitchen when the Chinese food arrives. It’s a salty, sugary, but filling dinner. Everyone reads their fortunes from the cookies at the end.

“All right!” Justin exclaims.

F_Cookie.jpg
“Okay,” Ben says lamely.

F_Cookie.jpg
Paul gives his fortune a noncommittal look and tosses it.

F_Cookie.jpg
Emil’s reads:

F_Cookie.jpg
Emil: Tell me something I don’t know, cookie.

“Hey, how’d you guys know I’d be coming back today anyways,” Emil asks before cracking the brittle treat between his teeth.

GM: “You called,” Paul says with a nonplussed look.

Everyone goes to bed shortly later. Paul looks like that couldn’t come soon enough and makes no move to talk further with his stepson.

Emil: But he didn’t call.

Emil doesn’t push Paul into speaking, instead deciding to go on the website of their landline telephone service provider. Because it’s bundled with the internet that Emil helped set up and route, he knows the password to get into the account, from which he explores the call history for any curiosities. He maps the phone numbers to the approximate locations the calls were made from.

GM: He does find something curious.

The call history is pretty long. It might take Emil a little bit to get through.

But the last call is several minutes ago.

It’s to a number in Houston.

Emil: He quickly switches to his other desktop, types in a few long key patterns with his spindly fingers to unlock a folder of offsite-hosted recorded audio tapped from the phones in the house. It isn’t exactly what the authorities would consider ‘legal,’ so he has kept the information from the rest of his family to spare them any legal consequences like the good son he is.

GM: The conversation is brief.

Paul’s voice warbles to life on the headphone speakers.

“Emil’s home.”

“Door’s unlocked.”

“He’s on the second floor. Third door to the right.”

The phone clicks off without a response.

Emil: With the press of a button, Emil runs his house surveillance script, which turns on his webcam, which he directs towards the door, and the cameras outside, turns off his monitor, and sends the feeds to a cloud server where they are livestreamed and saved. It additionally disables the red indicator lights on the cameras.

Emil grabs the still-packed backpack, his father’s gloves, a couple of old shirts, and a lighter. He turns on the light in his room, bolts downstairs, and darts out the back screen door towards the cellar.

Once he’s in the cellar he locks the door, bars it with a small barricade, and opens his laptop to watch the live streams and wait.

GM: Emil waits in the basement.

Time passes.

And passes.

And passes.

His legs get sore.

He starts to nod off.

Then a shadow falls over the webcam.

The room’s lights die.

There’s a barely audible creek against the floor.

Then.

Silence.

The webcam stares into darkness.

And Emil waits alone in the basement.

Emil: Terrified, he stares at the darkness like it’s death’s cloak covering his room. The angel of death passes over every house marked with a sign of the sacrifice. But this isn’t any angel. This is a creature abhorred by the light. A behema of behemot.

He swaps around the views, checking from the other cameras. He looks around for a new car parked outside.

GM: Emil sees no car.

But the house’s interior lights have died.

He strains his eyes.

He doesn’t need to.

The door to Paul’s bedroom creaks open.

Emil: Some years ago, Emil was playing around with the idea of making his parents house a “smart house” so he rigged the place up so that he could control all the electrical systems wirelessly. He wanted to show this off to his parents on Halloween, and because he wanted to make it on America’s Funniest Home Videos, he set a camera and audio setup in his parents’ room alongside a nightvision camera. Then, in the dead of night when they were watching a horror film, he flickered all of the electronics: the lights, the TV set, the radio, the phones. Everything, so as to prank them into thinking their house was haunted.

He makes a conscious effort to avoid checking on the records too often so as to avoid seeing unpleasant things, but hasn’t taken down his setup nor his wireless access to the electrical system.

He switches to viewing and listening into his parents’ room, and readies a button that turns every light in the room to the brightest it can be, potentially damaging the bulbs in the process. At the slightest sign of danger for Paul, he will send the go signal. Until then, he watches and listens through the green tinted lens of the nightvision camera.

GM: Paul’s face twitches as he turns in his and his wife’s bed.

A shadow falls over his sleeping form.

Emil: Button. Pressed.

GM: Cacophony erupts in a blossoming of light. The bedside lamps. The overhead lights. The bedside TV. Both of the radio alarm clocks. Everything blares on, loud and bright as can be. Paul jolts from his sleep and cries out.

“What the fucking…!?”

Emil’s stepfather dazedly stares at the talking heads on the late night news for several moments, then grabs the remote and mashes the power button.

He turns and hits the blaring alarm off with more force than may be strictly necessary.

The other one on Lucille’s bedside table keeps blaring.

Paul snarls at it, then yanks out the cord.

Emil: Emil continues switching on every last electrical appliance in the house. Fuck letting any demon get to his brothers on his watch!

GM: The living room TV bursts on. The blender whirs. The microwave beeps and dings. The radios play. The phones ring. The stereo blares. The lights flare up. The garage door opens. All is noise. All is light. All is chaos. Emil’s siblings, jolted from their own sleeps, shout in alarm. Paul swears in Yiddish.

“Ir vet bloud trukn durkh litshiz,
ober genug blut zol zeyn linx
far di bedbagz, lise aun maskitouz tsu esn a gut moltsayt,
mitn g – t ’s viln!”

(“May you be bled dry by leeches,
but enough blood should be left
for the bedbugs, lice, and mosquitoes to have a good meal too,
God willing!”
)

Emil’s relatives all but leap out from their beds and storm through the house, shutting off errant appliances. They shout and swear at each other, then start wondering where Emil is. They check his room and see it’s empty.

Emil: That’s when he notices the ajar window in Paul’s bedroom. It seems this demon is physically present but unseen.

But it can definitely be heard.

He switches views to the nearest camera to the window from the outside and plays back the footage of the window opening. To make the view clearer, he adjusts the luminosity, contrast of the playback, increases the volume and isolates different parts of the audio.

GM: Emil looks.

He sees himself.

Him, in his parents’ bedroom.

Him, with that sick smile stretched too wide, lips silently twitching like he’s trying to giggle.

Him, creeping towards his stepfather, long-gloved fingers excitedly clenching and unclenching.

Him, as the lights blare to life, eyes full of hate, baring his too-flat teeth in a pained hiss.

Him, looping his too-long arms up and through the window, impossibly supporting his entire bodily weight, like a plastic monkey from that Barrel of Monkeys game he’d play as a kid.

Him, soaring into the night’s hungry embrace as Paul swears and stammers.

Him.

All him.

Emil: Except for his eyes, the windows to his soul, which stare back at Emil, black as night, in the paused frame.

That thing has no soul. And that is immensely comforting. It may have his body, but it isn’t him.

I’m not a murderer!

All of this hell stemmed from this simulacrum, this thief of faces, this devil of countenances.

He suddenly wonders whether that is why Lucky threw him out of the city. Maybe it killed again and left the blood on his apartment door. To taunt him.

And if it’s at Carter’s beck and call, then that means Carter has been eyeing him for some time. Carter sent it after him. And why? He was looking into Earl. Now how are they connected? And what did they do to Paul?

GM: Answers do not reveal themselves—to Emil or his stepfather. Who, with his brothers, are now searching the again-silent house for Emil with evident alarm.

There’s more than one creature that’s seen too much and lies patiently waiting in the dark, driving the Jonas family to terror.

Emil: He still has one last thing he needs to do before he lets them rest.

With the blaring alarms, televisions, and radios muted, there’s an uncomfortable silence resting over the well-lit house.

He opens a bookmarked webpage. Its orange text stabs into his eyes. He activates a voice changer on his microphone, it gnarls speech, runs it through a woodchipper and spits it right back out until it’s unidentifiable.

The Telespoof website asks Emil for two numbers: the phone number he’d like to call and the number he wants to pretend to call from.

The silence in the house is broken as the landline shrieks.

Its caller ID reads HOUSTON.

Its phone number the very same logged earlier that night.

GM: Emil’s family continues to look through the house on the cameras. Their faces look all-too worried. Paul says something to his brothers, who ask some iteration of who the hell is calling now. Emil’s stepfather picks up the phone and gives a strained-sounding, “Hello?”

Emil: Static over the line.

Then an awful, broken-sounding,

“𝚈̙̼𝙾̹̮̩𝚄ͩͯ̿ ̖͎̔𝙻̠ͭ̑𝙸̪̌ͯ𝙴͉̘ͩ𝙳ͧ.”

Emil zooms the camera in on his stepfather’s face, so he can look him in the eyes.

GM: “What!?” Paul exclaims bewilderedly.

Emil: And that’s enough to prove that he hadn’t. He doesn’t remember what he did. Whom he called. What he let into his house.

He hangs up.

GM: Emil’s brothers ask who called. Paul says it “had to be a prank,” and repeats the bizarre call. Ben remarks on this happening the same time as everything went haywire. Justin asks where the fuck Emil is. Ben says he’s going to check the basement. Justin asks what the fuck Emil would be doing in the basement. Paul says it can’t hurt to check.

Emil: He shoves his laptop back in the backpack, pushes open the door, and uses his head start to try and arrive at the entrance opposite the one they looked like they were approaching.

Once they make it back inside they find Emil droopy-eyed, munching on a candy bar, and screwing in a replacement bulb for one of the casualties of his defense measures.

He deals with their confusion by telling them he couldn’t sleep. He thought he heard some commotion and wanted to go check. Once he was outside, he decided to go on a walk until he achieved some somnolence. He feigns ignorance about either of the weird occurrences, suggests that maybe there’s a problem with the circuit breaker, and apologizes for the scare he caused by his absence.

GM: They’re relieved to see he’s all right. Paul sighs and says he’ll call someone in the morning to “come take a look.” Emil’s comment again on “how fucking weird that was.” Everyone goes back to bed.

Emil: Having locked the front door before they arrived, Emil heads upstairs first and closes and locks shut Paul’s bedroom window. When Paul steps in, he apologizes to him for his poor behavior at the airport, he was just tired then is all. He gives him a hug and says he’s thankful that he came to pick him up.

GM: Paul returns the embrace lukewarmly. He has deep bags under his eyes and a tightness to his jaw. He looks very tired.

“Go to bed, Emil. It’s been too long a day,” he finally says.

Emil: “G’night,” Emil responds.

He wonders whether this will be a one-time occurrence.


Monday night, 15 October 2007, PM

Emil: Once he’s back in his room, Emil makes several copies and screenshots of the footage and audio recordings and stores it both on and off site under the lock and key of encryption.

He locks the door to his room, pulls down the shades, and before he goes to sleep, keeps his lights on, and sets up a script to bring the light back to life if it ever goes off while he’s asleep. He wears a sleep mask to bed.

GM: He finds a letter in his backpack when he unpacks his things.

A very long letter. It goes on for pages and pages.

Emil: Emil collects all the pages and brings them with him into his bed, where he begins to read, his heart racing much faster than he expected it to. He knows he will see his mother again, but the thought of reading the last words his mom thought he needed to hear before she disappeared puts a lump in his throat.

GM: The letter begins with “Dear Emil,” and is a deeply sentimental piece full of nostalgic recollections about Emil’s childhood and his mother’s hopes for his future. It doesn’t say anything about her present circumstances or the past she promised to explain. It’s also terribly written. Besides being bloated with purple prose, even making allowances given the subject matter (Emil can see any English teacher underlining “TRIM THE FAT” in annoyed red ink), the actual writing itself is downright bizarre. Run-on and fragmented sentences are everywhere. There’s a number of misspelled words too, and even more simply off-kilter word choices. Sections of the letter barely feel written by a native English speaker. Others do. Emil can see his mother cringing at the thought of any of her clients actually mailing something like this.

That’s also probably because, as Emil deduces after his third reading, the real letter is written in Vigenère cipher. Thicker emphasis is placed on the characters actually used in the overly verbose text, whose unusual wording now makes a great deal more sense.

Cryptography was never a significant interest of his mother’s, but in Justin’s words “you nerds just wouldn’t shut up” during the period Ben was into it. By the time that interest phase was over, everyone in the house had listened to Emil explain the particulars of the once-unbreakable cipher at exhaustive length.

His mother’s cipher isn’t even a particularly inventive one. Emil supposes anyone would notice the consistency to the thicker letters after a close enough read-through.

Emil: Even so, the work she put into this warms his heart. He jumps out of bed and off to his desk where he considers scanning the document and simply passing it through a deciphering algorithm, but this is an Old World style ciphered document, and one painstakingly written by hand, no less. It would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to slowly tease out the meaning behind the words.

GM: Emil, it begins,

I don’t know how long I have to write this or when I’ll see you again. I’ll cut to the point.

Ironic words to say in cipher, but his mom isn’t an etiquette coach for nothing.

I’ve provided you and your brothers with a good life. You were never truly grateful for that. I didn’t want you to be. I didn’t want you to have any basis for comparison like I did.

I was born in a place I hate and never wanted to think about again. My mother died of a heroin overdose. My uncle sexually abused me before my father killed him. Half the family I’d known was dead or in prison by the time I was 18. The other half were on drugs, welfare, or both.

I worked hard in school because I knew it was my only way out. But I couldn’t work hard enough to get into a good college. I managed to get a job as a secretary for NOPD and thought I was lucky. That’s where I met your father.

He was a detective who’d been on the force for a long time. He was much older than me. He was the kind of man you looked up to and wanted to impress. It felt like he was impossible to and that you were never good enough.

I never thought I was anything to him, but after an office Christmas party I woke up next to him the following morning. When I asked if I could move in, he said he could use ‘a bedwarmer.’

I was young, impressionable, and knew he made good money. It’s what I was used to.

I was also used to it when he started hitting me.

He made very good money. I soon learned why. He had a circle of cop friends who followed his every word. In an already corrupt department, they were the worst of the worst. They did not merely take bribes or look the other way towards crimes. They perpetrated them and used their positions to get away with it. They sold drugs on the streets and murdered gangs who infringed on their territory. They shot children who were lookouts for rival gangs. They forced girls into prostitution. They shot up businesses and murdered the families of owners who wouldn’t pay them protection money not to. They performed contract killings for the mob. They stole social security checks from old ladies. They raped daughters in front of their parents. They shot people for simply getting on their nerves. They raped and killed and satisfied their base urges without conscience or restraint. They were animals.

Like any animals, they followed a pack. Your father was their alpha. Some of his friends followed him because they wanted to make money or have women. Some of them were psychopaths who just wanted to hurt people. They followed your father because they knew they’d get away with anything, because people were so terrified of him. Some of his friends were just young and impressionable and got sucked into his orbit. He had a way of doing that to people—sucking them in and getting them to forget who they were. They were always the worst ones. Some part of them at least knew better.

Emil: Emil stares in horror at each new word he decodes. Each letter he scratches on the page is a heavy footstep getting closer and closer, threatening to stamp out all that matters.

This is wrong. All wrong. No. Lucky said his father rooted out corruption, not created it.

She’s keeping something from me!

This is to protect me.

It has to be. There’s something deeper.

Maybe she just doesn’t know… he didn’t tell her. That has to be it, right?

GM: Lucky was the worst of them. He had a conscience, but when your father said jump, he’d ask how high. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. Your father once asked him to gun down a toddler in front of her mother, then to take her while her child’s brains were still plastered over them both. He didn’t even pause. When he asked why afterwards, your father said he simply wanted to see if he’d do it. If he was ‘loyal.’

Emil: What have I done?

He knows there’s truth there, truth corroborated by the weathered look inside Lucky’s eyes, his awful guilt.

Fuck.

This is the Sodom she saw. The reason why God tore down Babel. Because when man can do anything he wants, take anything he wants, he makes people suffer.

GM: Your father wasn’t any kinder to me. He would disappear for days at a time and come back drunk or high at all hours of the night to scream at me and beat me. He raped me repeatedly and cheated on me when he was tired of me. He brought other women into our home and had me wait hand and foot on them while they did it in our bed. He beat me for any reason. He made me eat my own vomit when I threw up. He burned his initials into me with a cigarette lighter to mark me as ‘his.’ He called me a dog, a whore, a ‘thing,’ and names so foul I won’t repeat them. He sent me to the hospital repeatedly and said he’d kill me if I told doctors the truth, as well as the doctors that I told. When I asked him once why he didn’t kill me, he said because I hadn’t produced a son yet. Like any animal, his highest urge was to procreate.

Your father wanted a son more than anything. When the ultrasound said our child was a girl, he threw me down a flight of stairs and murdered your sister before she could be born. Her name was Holly.

Emil: Holly. I could’ve had a sister. That… monster.

My dad was a monster. Why, God? Why?

GM: I don’t know why your father was so fixated with having a son with me. I’m sure he left behind plenty of children, boys and girls, from the other women he violated. He never used protection.

Your birth was the only time I think I’d ever seen him happy. He was kind to me for a while, because I’d ‘given him a legacy.’ It was like old times again. I was so proud to have made him happy. So happy to have won his approval.

Then he wrote you off as a disappointment. You cried too much, so he’d hit you to make you quiet. You weren’t any good at sports, so he called you a sissy and a faggot. He didn’t care that you wanted to read. He wasn’t proud of how fast or early you learned. I had to steal books from stores when I went out shopping, because he controlled our money and made me account for every cent. He’d beat me if I couldn’t produce a receipt.

We had no books at home. He didn’t care about reading. I don’t know if he was even functionally literate. He was a high school dropout who never wanted to educate or better himself.

He never read to you. He wouldn’t even stay in the room when I did. His idea of a ‘bedtime story’ was to tell you about how he ‘sent bad guys to jail’ or ‘killed bad guys’ at work.

Emil: How could he forget that pain? That neglect? That’s impossible. He remembers looking up to him. They shared their marked skin.

How?

GM: I was so scared he was going to hurt you like he’d hurt me. But he didn’t, because of your fugues. He believed they were visions. I encouraged him. I still don’t know if that was the right thing to do. He stopped hitting you at home, but he’d take you on his ‘investigations.’ He’d do unspeakable things to people and say it was because you’d led him there.

But your father and his friends couldn’t get away with the things they were doing forever. They’d dealt with Internal Affairs investigations before, in their usual way. He thought that was the end of it. He thought he was invincible. Then the FBI launched an investigation into his activities. They approached me. They offered to place my son and me in the federal witness protection program in return for my help.

I was too terrified of your father to ever betray him myself. But after you went missing for days and turned up in that farmhouse, I was even more terrified for you. I said yes and turned state’s evidence. I helped the FBI bring your father and his friends to justice.

Emil: But it didn’t work, did it? Lucky is still employed. His father died on the job. His funeral was paid for by the force. He worries what that means for his mother.

He worries that that’s why his mother is gone.

GM: They got us out from New Orleans and as the noose tightened around your father. They gave us new names, new identities, and new lives in Los Angeles. This was also when I met Paul. He’d recently graduated from Tulane Law and had worked as a lawyer for the FBI. He showed me tenderness and compassion like I hadn’t believed men were capable of. We decided we wanted to build a new life together.

I never had to testify against your father in court. When federal agents attempted to arrest him, he killed two and hospitalized one in a shootout before they put him down. His last gift to the world.

The FBI reached some kind of deal with the police to cover up the public details. I don’t know what they offered in exchange, but your father would go down as a hero instead of a criminal. Lucky also seemed to luck out. I don’t know how, but that was par for course with him.

Emil: And all of that evil, that vileness, it would get to stay untouched.

Emil shakes his head but is unable to refuse the truth. And yet it still pricks him in the back of his head that Lucky said he tried to fix things. What could he have meant?

GM: I didn’t care. I was just thankful to get away from it all. Paul was everything I could have wanted from a husband and father. He bought you books. He read to you. He bought you computers. He never hit you. He got you the help you needed for your fugues. He never called you a sissy or faggot. He accepted you as you were and he accepted you as his own. With his help, I went to community college. I got good grades. I transferred to a good university. I took etiquette classes so I could fit in with my new community, and found I wanted to teach other people how to do that too. I worked hard and I made something of myself, and I’d never have done it without Paul. Paul was supportive. Paul was gentle. Paul was decent.

And Paul brought us into his faith. You’ve always shamed him for not calling himself Saul, for not being ‘Jewish enough’, but you would never have set foot inside a synagogue if it weren’t for him.

Emil: “Oh my heart… I’m a monster… I thought all my life that I was never like Earl, could never be like him. But I just never knew the awful truth. I inherited his worst trait. I hurt people. It’s my natural state. I might apologize more, but when I get a chance to satisfy my curiosity, I’ve never cared enough about the consequences to stop myself,” he cries. Hot tears flow down his cheeks.

He rocks in the chair, back and forth, sniffling sporadically, forcing himself to swallow the rest of this awful pill.

“I’m judgmental. I’m a bully, and to think I thought myself better than anyone else. To think,” he sobs, “to think I thought myself worthy of God’s gifts.”

GM: The rest of the letter does little to assuage his guilt.

At first I converted because of him. Because there had to be something to the faith if it was practiced by a man who’d been as good to me as he had been. But I was overwhelmed by how supportive our rabbi and community was of my desire to attend college and better myself. This was a faith that held Earl to account for not having books in our house. I don’t even want to imagine what kind of life you might have led with him. You wouldn’t be a programmer or going to college now if he had anything to say about it.

Our life with Paul and your brothers was good. Then you started prying. You couldn’t leave the past alone.

Emil: Emil tries to control his breathing, slow and deep, like the swaying of a boat on old, sleeping oceans. Sobs break through, but the breathing helps.

He needs to repent, desperately. He can’t live with this raw guilt.

GM: I made a mistake calling Earl your father. He was a sperm donor. It was Paul who raised you, loved you, sacrificed for you. Every time you refused to call him ‘Dad,’ it was a cut to his face. When you took the name Kane, it was a knife to his heart. He showed you a father’s love and you threw it back in his face.

Earl Kane, yimach shemo, was a monster. When I learned he was dead, I prayed to God in thanks. I spit upon his grave. His soul will not leave Sheol until the Messiah. If I were God, I’d throw it out so it doesn’t soil the other souls.

But God still blessed you with a father. The father you always thought was missing. Family is so much more than blood. But you spurned that blessing.

I don’t know when, or if, I am going to see you and the rest of our family again. I will not say why. You will only use that knowledge to cause them more pain. I only gave my word I would tell you about the man who abused us—who I will no longer call your father.

I didn’t mention this earlier, but it is necessary if I am to keep the shevu’ah. The man who abused us had an adult daughter, your half-sister, who he fathered upon a woman he raped. He murdered them both, and believed he did it with your help. God alone knows why.

Your real father is a good man. But he is a man and has a man’s limits. I don’t know that he is going to forgive you for taking me from him, and from your brothers, after you have gone to such lengths to reject him as your father. I don’t know that he will still want to be your father.

This is what you have wrought. Through your curiosity. Through your desire to re-open old wounds. Through your refusal to leave the past alone. Because you could not trust me. Because you did not care about my pain, or your father’s pain. Because you could not love him as he loved you.

I want you to remember that. I want you remember it in your bones. I want you to LEAVE THE PAST ALONE.

I want you and your brothers to finish college. I want you to have good lives in Los Angeles, or wherever your paths take you. I want you to have the good life I sacrificed so much for.

I love you.

Mom

Emil: Every word is a dagger into his heart, but he’s the one who pushed them in.

An errant voice in the cavern of his skull asks why his mother never told him anything of the truth, why she let him stay so deluded when it caused them so much pain. He pushes that down, it was never her responsibility to bring that pain back to the fore.

She never made him reject Paul, he did that himself.

It was all him.

But it doesn’t have to be him, not in the future. Not anymore.

That spirit of destruction that visited him tonight.

That wears Emil’s skin but lacks a soul.

That hides in the darkness in his cowardice.

That tried to snuff out the life of the only man who ever cared enough to earn the right to be called “Dad.”

That whispered “Daddy’s proud” into his ear as he abused him one last time.

That stole Emil once again to the place of his life’s undoing, to the farmhouse that gave his wife the courage to fight his evil.

That…

…is Earl. A man who, no matter his intentions, blackened his soul so far into oblivion that the angels of Ha’shem couldn’t make his soul out against the night sky when they came to drag him down to Sheol.

His own body was left riddled with bloody tunnels by leaden insects, even before the earthworms got a go at him. That’s why his shadowy presence has to cling to Emil’s weak form. And how?

Before he even knew what it meant to die, when he was jus’ a kid, Earl forced him to murder his own sibling. The first murder reenacted, he forced Emil to make the earth drink the blood of his kin.

Just as Cain slew Abel in ignorance and was marked and cursed to wander forever, so too is Emil’s soul marked, and Emil’s body cursed with eternal wandering in the name of Kane, his family’s abuser. Of course, Emil’s body is still in use, despite his recent brushes with death. How might Earl take up that role he forced onto his son?

Emil looks himself in the black mirror of his computer screen. The tears obfuscate his view, and an awful weed of shame uproots his ego as it consumes him from the inside. In the darkness, he can’t see much but outlines. In the pitch his brain blindly fills in the details: he sees the faces of the sisters he never knew, the father he never had, the mother he might never see again, all melding into and swallowed by the too-wide smile of his golem. And in the center of his forehead, he sees red scars, stitched together but slowly coming apart, leaking yellow pus and dark ichor, spelling out the letters K A N E.


Tuesday night, 16 October 2007, AM

Emil: Emil stands outside in front of the cellar door, flicking his Bic lighter open and closed while his eye twitches so hard it makes it difficult to see. But he does, in the darkness.

There’s a cardboard box sitting on kindling in the cold steel of the metal firepit he dragged out of the basement. It holds a pair of gloves, a wallet, and a torn picture of Emil and the man he never knew. He never questioned why he never remembered what Earl looked like, nor why Earl’s head was cropped out. In thick sharpie, the name of Kane is written over the top.

The fire opens and extinguishes in Emil’s hand, wasting gas while he stands there unsure.

In truth, he never did need Earl like he needed him. All Emil needed was a hero to look up to. All the young boy could wish for was that the superhero in uniform that he clung to by the leg would deem it right one day to lower his head down from beyond the heavens of the border and tell him that he was proud of him.

Earl could never do that. The heat of the intermittent flame licks at his knuckles as it feasts on the butane.

All that is left that connects Emil with Kane sits as to yet unscorched in the cardboard box. The symbol of his past, the mark of his golem. That weed of shame pulls at him, sprouting a thorny need to repent for his sins. For hurting his mother. For hurting his father. His sins were made over years, so he hardly expects to rid himself of it in a night. But he can take a step. Fulfill one of his mother’s ardent wishes.

He remembers what Lucky told him about those creatures which do nothing but lie. The Earl he knew wasn’t just a liar, he was a lie. Luckily, he learned how you deal with such creatures. You burn them.

The lighter’s metal cap covers the instrument of his piecewise redemption. He flicks it open and holds the flame close to his ear. He wonders what whispers it might have to share. Does fire speak like darkness? He remembers being like fire, on top of the world. On top of the tower. But he couldn’t speak, for his words were suffocated by raw hate and violence.

No words are needed to fix this, though. He closes his eyes and tosses the lighter at the box. But he doesn’t hear the crackle of its tongues spreading, differentiating like human tongues did after God visited Babel. The air put it out. He tries to relight it but only hears an empty click.

“Get out of me,” he whispers to the name on the box. “I am not you—,” he says, as he sees the tip of the ‘A’ darken and begin to blur from a teardrop that falls off his chin. And then another. And another. And then he feels teardrops fall on his back, and on his head, and on the grass, and they pitter patter onto the box much faster than one pair of eyes could provide. Emil isn’t alone anymore, there’s a house behind him full of love. He wipes away the tears. The world cries for him. Without flame, without violence, the name of Kane is washed away from the waterlogged box top. Just like Mom wanted:

“Yimach Shemo.”

(“Erase his name.”)

He’s free. Free of the cursed surname he insisted he keep. Free from the soulless golem empowered by it. Now he can be himself. And if Paul is willing, he can finally be a father’s son.

Emil pushes a letter under Paul’s door that night. He writes it from his heart. It holds a piece of him in each word. Not a copy, but the original. And should Paul deny the investment, Emil will be left pockmarked and porous like a raw sponge.

He apologizes to Paul, a hundred ways over. He’s not an especially creative writer, his notebook share of the English lexicon isn’t especially varied. But that doesn’t matter. Anyone can write well if they have enough time and something to say that matters. Fortunately, Emil’s been wondering what he’d say to his real father for sixteen years. He thanks Paul for what he’s become, thanks him for what he gave him and his family. He gave Emil faith, he nurtured his dreams, protected his mother, gave him brothers to love. He is everything Emil needed and that he never appreciated him, that he actively hurt him for what he does, is a shame he’ll have to bear for the rest of his life. He tells Paul that he is ridding himself of his assumed name, and that if he can ever forgive him, he’d like to take on the name Jonas. Until then he’s just Emil now.

I thought I resented you because you could never live up to Earl, but the truth is I resented you because he could never be you. I’m sorry, Dad.

Love, Emil

He tosses the box to the back of the cellar and the door slams behind him, letting those memories stay memories. Leaving the past in the past.

From now on, Emil looks to the future.

View
Emil II, Chapter VIII
The Right Man

“This is a fulfillment of the will of God.”
Emil Kane


Saturday afternoon, 6 October 2007

GM: Visitors to Orleans Parish Prison have to follow an exacting dress code, though more so for women than men. Emil simply can’t wear ripped or torn clothing, or headwear of any kind. He has to pass through a metal detector. No cameras, cellphones, recording equipment, or food or drink are allowed past. Visitors must also present a valid and unexpired photo ID. All inmate phone calls, they are warned, are recorded and may be monitored.

Emmett Delacroix has not made it easy for anyone to find him. Or help him.

Paul, Emil remembers, had no idea how he was going to get Emmett Delacroix an attorney. Emil didn’t find it much easier. ‘Elliot Faustin’ wasn’t a name in any phone directories, or any of the other places they searched. ‘Em’ wasn’t enough to go on either. In the end, it took going to both the police and Cécilia Devillers to finally puzzle out what ’Elliot’s’ real name was and where he was being held.

Emil: Emil’s prison-provided wheelchair rolls next to the steel stool at Emmett’s booth. The opiates the doctors gave him make for a calm if slow head space. They numb the pain, but don’t remove the damage, thus the necessity of cramming the wooden stilts Emil calls his legs on the footrests of the metal frame. He very precariously leverages himself out of the seat with its peeling faux leather armrests and onto the cold steel, unforgiving on the tail of his spine.

He struggles to take the phone off the hook, and once he does he notices a spot of old yet uncomfortably moist gum that was the culprit for adhering it. He tries not to gag as he puts it to his ear and looks across the glass.

“Hello, Em,” he says, with a voice that passes through the receiver like low grade sandpaper.

Emmett: What the fuck?

“Hi. Emil, right?”

He seems more bemused than anything.

“Did something happen? Why are you here?”

Emil: “Because you saved me, Em,” he says without hesitation. “That’s why I’m here.”

“Something happened to you. Do you know why you’re here?”

His voice is like static on a television set.

Emmett: “I don’t,” he answers just as quickly.

He doesn’t mention it could be one of a dozen actual crimes.

“You’re here because I saved you? Really?”

His tone is hard to parse through the line. His mood seems to be that of a broken intercom.

Emil: His chapped lips peel apart to reveal a too-wide smile, with one or two pearly whites chipped on their tips. He points an accusatory finger to the ceiling.

Yes. And thank God.”

It’s a command, not a platitude.

“We can thank God for giving you that opportunity.” He pauses. “Emmett Delacroix.”

Emmett: Oh, fuck me, he’s trying to convert. I’ll take being Jewish over prison. Wait, do I need to get circumcised? Definitely need to get that resolved before I sign anything.

“Thank God,” Em agrees emphatically.

“Well, I have to say, Emil, it’s a right nice sight, a friendly face like yours.”

Emil: His own face looks sunken and pale, bruised and cut, but that’s still a winning smile on the other side of the partition.

“They won’t tell me anything, and frankly, my faith in the justice system has never been lower.”

Technically the truth.

“But when a man of the Lord like yourself comes through at a dark moment like this, it waters my faith in Him.”

Blatantly untruthful, but it only seems polite.

Emil’s smile wilts.

“I’m not a man of the Lord, Emmett. God chose you. The justice system will find truth, even beyond this hiccough. You should know that, that’s what your real name means. Truth.”

Emmett: “Does it, really?”

That would have been funny a little while ago, but now it just seems pathetic.

“I appreciate it, Emil, I do. Appreciate God for sending you, and you for answering His call,” Em continues calmly, as warmly as he’s able to in the coldest place in New Orleans.

“My family’s Catholic, you know, not Jewish. My dad’s sister Clarice, bless her, has a favorite piece of scripture. John something-or-other. ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.’ it went. Rhymes. That helps me remember. Know y’all ain’t much for the Gospels, but I think there’s something to it.”

Not in the fucking least. Clarice did like to say that, though. She said it all the time. Right when she was bringing out the wine—

But he hasn’t thought about that in a long time.

He pauses. “May I ask, Emil, about the last time we met?”

Emil: Emil nods, though the dry slit of a faded smile remains on his face like a fallen branch that’s long lost its leaves.

Emmett: “Then… I’m asking. If it wasn’t clear,” Em says patiently.

“Specifically, if you can pardon my French, what the fuck?”

Emil: Emil’s expression looks severe, and he shakes his head.

“It was confusing, but I know as much as you do. This isn’t the place to discuss it. Not until this whole deal is finished and justice is done. Agreed?”

Emmett: Ugh, just say never.

“Of course. Just concerned for my new friend’s health, is all.”

Emil: He smiles rotely at the nicety of friendship, but then his eyes, sunken from dehydration, dart around the corners of the room before landing back on Em’s.

“Look, don’t say anything you think you’ll regret, but what happened, really? How did you find me?”

Emmett: “I found Hillary’s ID, and your phone,” he says, “and when I returned it to her she said you were ghosting her. I went to your place. Door was open, so I let myself in, and the place seemed empty. I heard, like, this groan, and I looked under the bed, and there you were. I’m sorry I ran. I was scared of what might have happened and I wasn’t thinking straight. My parents didn’t know about the movie, and I thought if it came out because they were picking me up from a police station—” He shrugs, clearly forlorn. “But if they talk to Hillary, they’ll hear how I was only ever looking for you.”

Emil: “I keep my door locked. I care about my privacy,” Emil says, squinting his eyes. “Right before I passed out, Emmett, you wanted to ask me a question and pointed under my bed, where I was. What was it you were asking me?”

Emmett: “Yeah, so I guess that means whoever left you there must not have locked up. I mean, you had to get there somehow, right?”

“I wanted to ask about the nose, actually.”

Emil: At that the color in Emil’s face drains, leaving him a sickly shade of brownish gray. His pupils sharpen to an accusatory point as he asks, “How do you know about the nose?”

Emmett: “I saw it?”

“In the apartment?”

“Where I found you?”

Emil: “I’m sorry. No one told me it was there when I was picked up,” he quickly apologizes.

Emmett: "That’s okay. Do you know… whose… "

He leaves the rest of the question unsaid.

Emil: He shakes his head, his wood stained skin far from rejuvenating. His eyes rest pointed towards the upper recesses of the socket as he thinks.

“Was there any blood on the ground when you came in? You said you heard me from my groans, but you didn’t mention seeing blood at first.”

Emmett: “Um, I don’t remember any. Honestly, I almost missed you being there at all until you made a noise. The place looked normal.”

Emil: Emil’s brow scrunches. “That doesn’t make any sense. No blood on the ground outside either? Footprints? I know you’re a detail-oriented person, or at least I assume, most artists are.”

Emmett: Em holds up a hand. “I can be, but I was rather shaken by the circumstances, as I’m sure a reasonable man like yourself can appreciate. I don’t recall seeing any blood, but I hardly think that’s the oddest thing about the situation. But, ah…”

Em looks around.

“Look, I would love to discuss more about what I saw that night. I really would. But a man has to think about his freedom first. Doesn’t he?”

Emil: A bit presumptuous to think I have anything to offer him, though I do. Maybe it’s an intuition given to people who don’t consistently feel the need to probe into people’s private matters. Or maybe God just has a real good feeling about him.

“Freedom is first. Always. Slavery of the body leads to slavery of the soul, that’s why the Israelites apostatized in Egypt. Under the crack of the whip they forgot the name of God.”

Emmett: Asshole. I bet he’s judging me even though I SAVED him. I should save people less often. But I won’t because I’m actually too softhearted.

Em doesn’t know what to say to the parable, so he just nods and looks interested.

Emil: Emil nods sagely, assuming Em gets the gist of the story. “I suppose the question is how you would like to be saved, then? Would you be interested in my assistance?”

Emmett: “Very much so,” Em beams, “and I’m glad you’re willing to help a man in need, even one who helped you. But the thing about how I’d want to be saved, is, well.” He looks around. “I’d kind of like to focus our energy on getting me out of here.”

So I don’t have to talk to you. Ever. Again.

Emil: Does he think I want to convert him? He’s barely religious, and a Catholic. Guess he missed the intention of the Exodus reference.

“Well since that’s the case, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that I took the liberty of getting one of the best attorneys in the business to defend your case. Free of charge to you, of course.”

He bares his wide smile again, and something fresh seems to burn beneath his eyes as he makes the offer. A mix of admiration and expectancy.

It’s the face of a priest in the temple, his sacrifice laying on the altar, bloodied in wait. It’s a look of hungry faith.

Emmett: “That’s so generous, thank you!”

Finally. I guess a Jew giving you free representation is basically as close to love as they understand.

“I haven’t been able to speak to any lawyer, so that’ll be mighty helpful. What’s his name?”

Emil:Her name, actually. Amber Cox.”

Mildy sexist sentiments, I suppose that counts as conviction. He’ll fit in just right.

Emmett: Ugh, I get it. It’s 2007. Women can do anything. Get off your high horse, foreskin-thief.

“Well, I’m mighty grateful.”

Em goes on to ask about her details, contact information, when she’ll be around to see him, et al.

He also asks if Emil brought a pen and paper with him.

Emil: Emil shares all he knows about the attorney, which isn’t necessarily a lot. Emil fishes a notepad and a ball point out of the pack on the side of the wheelchair.

“You saved my life, least I can do is help save yours. What do you want written down?”

GM: There’s a phone in the parish prison’s common area. There’s a gang of rotating inmates who charge people money, sexual favors, and other trade-worthy commodities if they want to use it.

Em’s not sure how the whole process works. The police have just thrown him into jail without any talk about lawyers.

Emmett: A fact he makes Emil well aware of.

He has several requests, all phrased politely and gratefully so as not to offend the Jew’s fragile sensibilities.

They include public press, a petition to be emailed to St. Martin’s students and staff, a flower to Miranda, and perhaps a note to Cécilia Devillers and her mother Abèlia.

The first is that Emil make contact with the Times-Picayune.

“Justice is about truth, and I think that by sharing the truth with the city we serve the cause of justice. Don’t you agree, Emil? That’s what my name means, after all. Truth.”

The next is a petition, dictated from Em’s own lips if Emil will write for him, to be spread across social media and particularly aimed at Brother Martin’s students and staff (among whom his reputation is impeccable) to invigorate them into speaking up as to his character and demonstrating his value as a pillar of his communities even at 17.

His requests after that are more personal. He would like to send a letter to Cécilia Devillers if he can, and he would like to send a note and maybe a flower to a friend of his, Miranda, who he heard recently took very ill. “She should be at the hospital, actually, if you want to talk to her. She’s another good character witness, so to speak, and she loves computers—you’re into that, right?”

GM: Emil actually knows a girl named Miranda in one of the computer science courses he helps teach. She’s a high schooler in the running start (or whatever it’s called) program.

Emil: Emil agrees to dictate his letters and spread the good word so to speak, though he notes that “with my stepdad working hard on the legal aspects of this situation, he might not be able to secure a contact in the Times.”

And because he might never leave Texas Medical Center. At least he already set up the groundwork with Amber Cox.

Emil also notes that, “Small world. I have a student I teach whose name is Miranda. Smart girl, doing college classes in high school. Shame she’s in the hospital.”

Emmett: “Oh, I don’t think your stepdad should be working on that at all,” Em clarifies. “I think we need to be handling that. You and me, Emil. I’m innocent, and I want to make sure that’s known. So I’d recommend contacting a bunch of outlets. Start with the Times, then some local blogs, then the tabloids if it comes down to it. We link the petition, and numbers they can call to make themselves heard. We throw a net wide and heavy. We make sure it’s known I’m being tried because I did a good deed, that I’m a good kid from a good family and a good school accused of something heinous when I’ve no history of violence. That’s the story here. You lead with that, focus on those points, and on the bloodiness of the whole thing—” Em smiles a crooked smile. “—we’ll get the press we need. And then God’s truth will be known, Emil, will be heard, you mark my words.”

Emil: Emil nods his agreement. “By the by, does your father teach at Tulane? If so, I’m in his class and I’m likely to meet with him quite soon to discuss missed classwork. Do you have anything you’d like me to tell him?”

Emmett: Em actually comes up short.

“Tell him I remember the carp,” he says finally, breathing slowly. “And that I know he’ll see the truth eventually. And that I love him.”

MOTHERFUCKER!

Emil: “You have a good mind for sending important messages, Emmett. It’ll serve you well. I’ll do as much as I can, allowing for my recovery of course.”

This guy really fits the bill. As God wills.

“Shall we get back to the subject of the last time we spoke?” he asks.

Emmett: “Of course,” Em hurriedly agrees to the former. “I don’t want you hurting yourself over me, now.”

Get bent.

“If you want to. I admit I’m a little curious.”

He pauses for the acceptable three-minute gap before asking, “What happened?”

Emil: Three minutes to come up with that? I mean it had some potential for dramatic effect, but it’s sorta retread ground. Fuck am I thinking, he’s the guy. If that’s what he asks, that’s what he asks.

“We were talking about the blood stains, or more correctly the lack of them, when you came in. I remember waking up, Emmett. I was screaming to high heaven and ripped to shreds. I saw my muscles and sinews stretched out in gory display. If someone had carried me in, the floor would have been spattered with blood.”

He waits for a moment before looking down on Emmett, the heavy bags under his eyes making him look like some dark owl.

“If you simply walked in the door and everything seemed normal, how does that jive with my terrified screams?” He leaves the door open to Emmett to answer for the camera. It’s simple. He was asleep, but in the formless void beneath Emil’s eyes, he can see a scrutinizing spirit that doesn’t accuse him, but remembers every moment of terror and mutilation, and knows it never fell asleep.

Emmett: Is he interrogating me? Really?

“I feel like you’re forgetting some of what I said, Emil,” Em explains, still sounding polite but a little offended. “Like I said, it seemed normal enough when I walked in, but then I heard you groan and start screaming. You woke up and I was there, remember? You were unconscious when I walked in, or must have been. As for how whoever brought you there avoided making a mess, I have no clue. I might as well ask you to explain how I got into the apartment or why I was there.”

He lets that sink in for a moment before continuing, " I was really asking, by the way, what happened that you ended up in that situation. If that wasn’t clear."

Asshole.

Emil: He took the out, but he doesn’t get it, or maybe he’s not thinking about it enough. He’ll stew on it, I’m sure, but there is no way that floor was clean unless… unless I don’t know. Did someone do a spring cleaning? I think the doc would’ve told me about some long-lasting anesthetic in my blood if I was simply knocked out until Em came in. How the hell did that happen?

“I was kidnapped, Em, kidnapped and mutilated by someone who had it out for my life. Someone who took another victim and cut their nose off. Excuse me if I say seemingly silly things, I’m just trying to put together the pieces.”

Emmett: “That’s terrible,” Em says.

I have it worse.

“Yeah, I really can’t imagine. I hope they find whoever did it soon, so you don’t need to keep dwelling on such a horrible night.”

Emil: Emil nods with calm contemplation. “Emmett, I like to look at problems like these from a utilitarian standpoint. What can I do to help the most people, to get them what they want or perhaps need. It’s no sin not to follow that philosophy. After all, at its core, Jewish mysticism is more pleasure focused, fulfilling higher and higher order needs. At first physical, fucking, eating, and sleeping. Then wealth, heaping larger and larger collections of physical needs. Then power, becoming a master over someone else’s physical and wealth-related needs. Then knowledge, the use of collected power to understand the physical world. Once you’ve filled up on knowledge of this world, humans feel the pull of knowledge from the world beyond. People who achieve this level of fulfillment, of sustenance, live at the peak of their societies. They are the ones the history books remember, the ones people go to to achieve their needs, their desires, even long after their physical forms have passed on.”

He pauses for a moment, then smiles. “Like I said, I’m more of a utilitarian, just less interested in achieving that myself. But I’ve studied long enough to know a man destined to matter when I see one, and since it seems God has taken a shining to you, I’d like to help you in that regard. To help you surround yourself with people who trust in you, who do as you ask, because you have something unique to offer them. Something intrinsic to you. Do you know what I think that is?”

Emmett: “I really couldn’t say, Emil,” he says truthfully but far more mildly than he wishes he could.

Emil: “When someone takes something from you, you are guided by the spirit of retaliation. You are put in prison without a clear means of getting out and you have an entire marketing plan ready to take the world back to your side as soon as someone comes in to help. You have, in a phrase, a true vision for… justice.”

When he says the word justice, Emmett can’t help but hear the subtext of vengeance in its place.

Emmett: Em says nothing for a time. He just looks back.

“You might be right,” he says after a while.

Emil: Emil nods, pleased by Emmett’s approval. With men like these, hesitation is humility, or perhaps its defense, or somewhere in between.

“But Emmett, your good vision alone isn’t enough to get what you want. You’re a director, born to instruct, a people person. You need people to work with, actors. Just like in this case, your plan wasn’t worth much without having someone like me to execute it. It’s like having a program without a computer.”

Emmett: He nods again. “And I’m very grateful,” he says. “You truly are a blessing, Emil.”

Get to the point. What do you want?

Emil: “Of course.”

Let a man get through his pitch, damn!

“You want to get people on your side, to show them your truth. I want more for you. I want to find those people whose hearts are open to something new, a fresh message, who desperately want something to rely on for guidance. In short, I want people to believe you as much as I do. You would be their hero, the symbol that carries them. I would be their shepherd, a barrier between you and your… congregants. Imagine how much… justice you could get done without even lifting a finger. You give people someone to believe in, you get their loyalty.”

Emmett: Holy shit.

I think he wants to start a cult.

“I think we’re speaking the same language,” Em says slowly.

He is so much cooler than I thought.

Emil: Emil is beaming in Emmett’s approval. He thinks for a moment and then lets out a slow bone-dry laugh.

“We are now, but not for long, Emmett. English isn’t the holiest of languages, and a shepherd must be a holy individual. We need a new way of speaking, a new way of living— at least for the congregates.”

He scribbles down on his notepad a message and lifts it up to the glass. It reads:

Deut 16:20. Read it. Follow the verses when you receive your copy. Blink twice now.

Emmett: Em blinks twice, more to appease the nut than anything else.

“All this comes after I’m free, of course,” he says. “Nobody likes an imprisoned prophet.”

I would look good on a cross, though. Me and Christ always did have a lot in common. I hate moneylenders and like telling people what to value.

I also helped bring a girl back to life. That’s pretty Christian, right?

Emil: “On the contrary, Emmett,” Emil says. “This is a city filled with Catholics. If their guide is suffering for their vision, that’s a sign of spiritual elevation. Of course, meetings can’t be held until you get out, but recruiting, developing literature, and responding to advice letters is completely doable. Does that make sense?”

Emmett: “Sure, but Emil, you have to consider that these things take time, particularly when we’re asking people to invest faith. I don’t think ‘I’m a prophet’ looks good before a jury or a judge. I’m on board with lending my voice to your movement, but I can’t do that effectively behind bars. Trust me; if I thought it would help, I would be all for it. I’ll tell you what, though. If you stand by me through this trial, and you invest your faith in me, in God’s choice, I’ll help you build a congregation, nah, a flock, whether I’m on the inside or the outside, you follow?”

This guy’s a fucking kook, but he might be what I need. If he can just keep it in his pants.

Emil: “Of course Emmett, you’ll be out soon enough. And just so we’re on the same page, you will never utter a word of this to any official, public or private. This isn’t a tool to Houdini you out of conviction, I’ve given you a lawyer for that. This is a fulfillment of the will of God. Privacy is paramount. But of course you’re right. For now, focus on your trial, but when you’re out,” he says, smiling as he clasps his hands together, “we have an obligation to fulfill.”

Emmett: Fucking religion. This is how they got Manson.

“Of course, Emil,” he says, smiling with dark eyes. “Of course.”

View
Emil II, Chapter VII
Handshake With the Devil

“You been through a lotta shit.”
Aaron ‘Lucky’ Johnson


Sunday morning, 30 September 2007

GM: Lucky drives like a madman getting the car away from the parking garage. Wailing sirens draw steadily closer. Traffic seems to favor the escaping vehicle, and after some timely green lights that let Lucky blend in with other cars, it’s not long before they’re in a bad-looking part of town with ruined, graffiti-sprayed buildings and trash piling up on the streets. Lucky and the once-silent man find a crappy-looking car to break into. They swap its license plate and ditch the first stolen one. The cloth seats are torn and stained. Soon they’re on the I-10 and headed out of the city.

No one talks.

Emil: While the others seek a sufficiently shitty car, Emil slinks not far off to take a piss.

GM: The once-silent man grabs Emil’s arm when he tries to get away. Upon hearing he wants to take a piss, the man responds only, “Here.”

Emil: He looks to Lucky, and then back to the silent man. “I’m not going anywhere if you don’t want me to. Even if I wanted to, or had a single benefit of not following your lead, I’m far too weak to try. I’m grateful you came to save me tonight and I’m sorry for freaking out on you. But this is all a lot to handle right now. Is a wall to piss on and a moment to myself to catch my breath too much to ask?”

GM: “Piss where we see you,” says the once-silent man.

Lucky, working a coat hanger through the car’s window, grunts in apparent consent.

Emil: Emil nods in agreement and thanks the men before walking to a wall as far as acceptable but still completely within their view. The shiver he gets as he finishes off nearly knocks him over, his knees were so tightly locked. The foul-smelling puddle, concerningly decorated with cloudy rivulets of red, reflects a sickly looking-face. His features seem more angular, his skin strung taut against his bones in dehydration. He looks as jaundiced as a day’s old corpse, and the heavy bags under his tired eyes don’t help his case. It reminds him of those terrible faces under the car. Of Carter, struggling.

What are you?

Relinquishing his self-consciousness, he follows one of the exercises his old therapist prescribed but he never seemed to follow. He whispers to the reflection, who isn’t quite Emil and isn’t quite Carter.

“אני מדבר מרח רחוק. בדרך לעיר חנוך, עיר בבל. הפתעת אותי הלילה. אולי גם אתה מופתע. אבל מעכשיו עלינו לגלות, ולא להפתיע. ברוח זו עלי לומר לך שנפגשתי עם הנסיך הלילה, אם כי לא באופן אישי. הקמנו יחד את המגדל שלו, הוא שמח לראות אותי. הנוצרי הסתדר לפני שהגענו לשיא. אבל זו מתנה בתחפושת. אני מקווה לעלות את העלייה הסופית לצידך, ידיד. אני מאמין שהנסיך יראה בך כמו שהוא עושה בי. הגן על פול, תתוגמל בעולם הבא. אני מקווה לפגוש את הנסיך בקרוב שוב, אם יש לך משהו שאתה רוצה שהוא ישמע, תגיד לי עכשיו. אני אהיה איתך בקשר.”

(“I speak from afar. On the way to the city of Enoch, the city of Babel. You surprised me tonight. Maybe you’re surprised too. But from now on, we should discover, not surprise. In that spirit, I should tell you I met with the Prince tonight, though not in person. We rose up his tower together, he was happy to see me. The Christian got in the way before we had reached the peak. But that’s a gift in disguise. I hope to make the final ascent alongside you, friend. I believe the Prince will see as much in you as he does in me. Protect Paul, you will be rewarded in the world to come. I hope to meet the Prince again soon, if you have anything you’d like him to hear, tell me now. I’ll be in touch.”)

“אמן.”‎

(“Amen.”)

Emil blows the message accross the surface of the bloodstained urine, blows hard. He can’t stop the current flowing from his throat. Out! Out! The words swirl in and around the air, floating on the water, and its carrier claws into the sides of Emil’s throat, its feathers brushing against his teeth as it bursts out and sups the message, holding it in its beak. It flaps its wings and rises, far and away. To the ear of the other man who wasn’t quite reflected in the puddle.

He readjusts his polka dot hospital gown.

GM: Emil stares into the puddle of red-stained piss. It occurs even to the physically and mentally exhausted young man, who Lucky said had schizophrenia, that this is what he is doing.

Talking to his own piss.

Expecting a response.

He’s answered by a voice. A voice whose source he can’t see anywhere.

“Emil…”

“We… can hel… you… show you… wha… you are…”

“Don’t… you… wonder why… how… you can… do these…”

“Come… back… I can… no… save… with… ou… ou…”

Emil is suddenly interrupted as the once-silent man grabs him by the front of his hospital gown and whips him around.

“Who.”

The word is sharp and direct as a knife to the gut. Emil sees the same look in his eyes as when he executed the pleading men.

Emil: Emil looks down, a mixture of shame and awe confusing his stance.

“My doctor. He says he could save my stepdad.” He waits a moment. “I’m sorry; he’s family. I’m sorry,” he apologizes dejectedly.

GM: The man’s other hand seizes Emil’s chin and jerks it up so their eyes meet.

“What’s your doctor.”

Not who.

What.

Emil: This is real. What Emil saw under that SUV was one hundred percent real. This man’s terrible grip forces it to be true. Mad men aren’t deluded loons, truly mad men shoot their tops off because they figured out something truthful, and most truths are ugly. What has he seen, Emil wonders, that he has become so un-apologetically mad?

He raises a terrifying question. If what he saw was real, what is his new friend? He races through the file cabinet in his head of assorted folk entities to find a match, throwing folders left and right. A thousand and one folders clutter the floor of his mind, but one sticks out.

Why was Carter so intent on discussing the first language with a patient he just met? He brought up Dee, to tell him about Angelical, to ask him about Enoch, about the tower. He looked mostly like man, so is partially made in the image of God. But on the other hand, he has fangs like the beasts of the earth. He encompasses the earth as a whole, an entity pertaining primarily to this world. He’s seen so much and works as a doctor. He watches and protects. Just like the Irin, the Watchers, the guardians of the Earth’s inhabitants. His doctor is,

“An angel. A guardian angel,” he says resolutely under his fingers.

GM: Pain explodes through Emil as the man’s fist smashes into his mouth, hard, knocking him off his feet. His ears dully ring as he tastes blood and a dislocated tooth.

The once-silent man stares down at him.

“Try that again.”

“Try anything that stupid again.”

“You won’t get a third chance.”

Emil: He nods weakly as he groans in pain, made to sit flat on his ass. His head’s next to the piss puddle. It smells awful.

GM: Lucky finishes breaking into the car. They swap its license plate and ditch the first stolen one. The cloth seats are torn and stained. Soon they’re on the I-10 and headed out of the city.

No one talks.

Emil: Not even Emil.

And his thoughts are consumed by ache, pain, he feels like he can barely move. He tongues the loose tooth and immediately regrets it, but his quiet groan goes unheard over the janky rumbling of the engine. He watches as the city he escaped to becomes the city he escaped from. No matter where he goes, his past follows. With it comes two things: knowledge and pain.

He used to think those were different things.

He knows better now.


Sunday morning, 30 September 2007

GM: The drive is underscored with the thick rumble of an asthmatic engine with a vice for smoking a pack a mile. Besides that, before they leave the city limits, everything is quiet. Houston is a shrinking light in the distance.

Emil: Once the horizon swallows it, Emil speaks over the rumbling. “Can I ask you a question, Lucky?”

GM: “Can ask f’ anything you like. Don’ mean you’ll get it,” Lucky answers over the steady thrum of interstate traffic.

Emil: “Is my mom safe, Lucky?”

GM: “Don’t know,” Lucky answers. “We came soon as we heard you were in Houston.”

Emil: “Oh.” He pauses. “How did you know I would be in danger from… them?

GM: Lucky just grunts.

Emil: “Understood. Is there anything I need to know about them if they come after me again?”

GM: “They lie about fuckin’ everythin’.”

“Fire fucks them up. Don’ ever look in their eyes.”

Emil: “How long have you been doing this?”

He adds after a moment, “…dealing with them.”

GM: “Long ’nough,” Lucky answers flatly.

Emil: “There any of ’em in New Orleans? Do they care about coming after me there too?”

GM: “Might. Might not. Not gonna risk it. You’re goin’ back to California.”

Emil: “That’s where we’re going now? I’m not doing so well physically.”

GM: “No. We’re goin’ back to New Orleans. You’ll take a plane.”

Emil: “What about my stepdad?”

GM: “Too late for him. Sorry. Bes’ you can hope is they don’ connect the dots between him an’ you.”

He adds darkly,

“Hope an’ a couple bucks though will buy you a cold drink.”

“I wouldn’t give two shits about a kid that wasn’t mine,” says the once-silent man. “The fuck you care about a man who ain’t your dad?”

Emil: “It’s not that,” he says dejectedly.

Emil closes his eyes, resting against the torn cloth of his headrest. He doesn’t cry. He just mutters empty phrases to himself, failing to affect anything.

“First Earl, now Paul. How can I look her in the eyes and tell her… tell her that… tell her that her husband is gone? That it’s my fault?”

GM: “I’ll talk with her,” says Lucky.

“She still got you. Any other kids she an’ him mighta had. Plenty to live for.”

Emil: “And what if he comes back unharmed? If they got him under their grips and let him come back? Could I even trust him? I’m not sure which would be worse.”

GM: Lucky grunts.

“No.”

Emil: “You’re right. I’m afraid my mom would trust him, though. How couldn’t she? She’s strong, but if she’s told he’s gone and then he shows up one day, I couldn’t blame her. What would I do with him?”

GM: “Don’ put the cart before the horse.”

Emil: “I’m catastrophizing again, I need to stop that. There’re enough catastrophes to deal with already. More on the point, I want to be prepared. You were very careful on the phone. If there’s risk of them being wired in, I can secure my family’s communications. Lay low.”

GM: “Do what you’d do anyway. Jus’ don’ talk about this shit over the phone. Online. Whatever.”

Emil: “Right. OK. How deep does this thing go? I’m going to be looking for a job soon. Any companies I need to avoid? Signs of manipulation and influence?”

GM: “How the fuck would I know out in Cali?”

Emil: “I dunno, it was a stupid question.”

He rolls down the window but it only comes halfway down. The air is hot and sticky, but its fresh, and that’s miles better than inside. He breathes.

“I’m sorry for yelling at you in the restaurant. I should’ve listened. And after all this, I’m not sure I can ever repay you for what you’ve done for me and my family. I can offer more than gratitude though. I’m studying cybersecurity. If you’ve been keeping this business away from digital communication for fear of interception, I can build you private, secure communication channels. Disconnected from the greater internet. If it would help you, that is.”

GM: The ongoing rush-thrum of interstate traffic gets louder. Emil smells omnipresent car exhaust in the humid east Texas air.

It might still be an improvement.

“Oh yeah, how’s that?” Lucky asks.

Emil: “The internet, fundamentally, is just a giant network of computers communicating with each other by passing special messages alongside data files. A lot of private messaging services are secured by scrambling the data in transit and then unscrambling them upon arrival. That provides heaps of security. The current system was developed by and for the use of the US military. That’s good and all, but it leaves two gaping security holes. The computer sending the info and the computer receiving it. The data is unscrambled at both of those points, and because those computers are hooked into the greater internet, they are vulnerable. The key to fixing that is creating your own infrastructure, a private internet, parallel to the public one. Without a connection to the larger internet, the only security flaw would come if the hard drives that hold your messages, which can be encrypted so no one can read them, get physically stolen. Store them securely and you’re good.”

GM: “Huh,” says Lucky thoughtfully. “How’s someone do that, set up their own internet?”

Emil: “Someone would do it the same way the original internet was built. Get as many computers as you want access points, and link them together via the TCP/IP and tunneling protocols. The computers can come pretty cheap if you limit the behavior of them to simple messaging and small file sharing. You get them, place ‘em where you want, I’ll wire ‘em together so to speak. Course, you can’t completely separate from the public internet, we don’t have the money to wire that. But the tunneling should protect against any espionage attempted over it.”

GM: “How would you get into a private internet like that, if you were the one tryin’ to do it?” asks Lucky. “Besides usin’ one of the hooked-in computers.”

Emil: “Depends how complex the communication is. The more complex, the more likely a mistake was made in its construction, and so the more likely malware can seep through the gaps. We can make those gaps tight though, depending on how bad people would want to break in. If the system is tight, simple, and obfuscated using both encryption and cryptographic communication techniques, I wouldn’t bother targeting it directly.”

“Instead, I’d target the weakest link using the network. At that point it’s a matter of social manipulation. Break the person, break the link. Let their guard down, get too comfortable, they can be made to break it themselves. That sort of thing can be defended against of course. Communicate in coded language with constantly shifting codes. Only distribute the code to users of the system who pass authenticity tests. Naturally, that only becomes a problem if the knowledge of the system is leaked, at which point the network system would need to go on a hiatus and be shuffled before coming back online once the leak is… plugged.”

GM: “You know your shit, college boy,” says Lucky. His expression is thoughtful at first before the faintest trace of a grin starts to slip in.

It subsides after another moment though as he looks back out across the endless stream of highway traffic.

“Shit… your mama was right. Mosta us over at NOPD, we’re dinosaurs. Dinosaurs who wouldn’t know college if it punched us in the balls.”

“I fuckin’ barely know how to move a mouse. You got a lot… a lot more ahead of you, I bet. Bright things an’ shit. In some fifty-story office with your name on the door an’ degrees on the walls.”

Emil: “That’d really be something,” he responds without really meaning it.

He nestles his chin between his arms after folding them over the open window.

“You know, Lucky, not all dinosaurs went extinct. Yeah, most fell under the thick smoke, some of them were driven to the end of the earth but were stopped by the waters of the sea, but a couple of ’em figured out how to sprout wings, and when they reached the end of the world, they simply flew across the sea to find the start of a new one.”

GM: “Yeah, evolution an’ shit. Took ’em a pretty long while, though. You got those wings already.”

Emil: “Well, sure. I’ve got most of a four-year degree tucked away in my head, and a childhood staring at a blinking cursor on a screen. Now, if we were actually dinosaurs, or birds for that matter, you’d have a point. But we’re humans. We’ve got planes and shit. You don’t gotta be a pilot to fly cross the ocean, just gotta walk through the right terminal and be on time. This metaphor is getting a little too far extended but what I’m saying is, if you’re in need of a pilot, you have one.”

GM: “Yeah, that’ll be nice,” says Lucky.

It sounds heartfelt enough.

But so does the unspoken ‘not for long.’


Sunday afternoon, 30 September 2007

GM: It’s a long drive back from Houston to the Big Easy. Emil nods off several times between his assorted wounds, physical and mental.

The man in the back seat wakes up. There’s a wild, burning look in his eyes as he babbles, “They hit me. My head. Hit my head. Those fucks. I’m gonna shoot ‘em. Take a gun and just—shoot ’em. Fill their guts, with lead. Or fire. Shoot them with fire. Dragonsbreath. That’s the stuff. Those fucks. I’m gonna shoot ’em-”

“Shut up!” snaps Lucky.

It’s not the first time he winds up saying that.

Once they’re back in New Orleans, they don’t go back to the hospital. They go to a crappy Mid-City apartment with stained, peeling walls and moth-eaten furniture that looks like it was picked off the side of the road. Lucky hooks up Emil to an IV drip, tosses him some fast food they picked up at an O’Tolley’s drive-thru, and tells him to watch some TV on the rabbit-eared, battered-looking set. He’s going to be here for a little while.

Lucky heads off with the babbling man, muttering about “getting your head fuckin’ checked,” and leaves Emil alone with the once-silent one.

He lights up a cigarette, leans back in his chair, and doesn’t talk.

Emil: Emil sits in silence for a while, shifting uncomfortably against the sandpaper quality cloth of the chair.

He looks into the black mirror of the protruding television screen, it warps his features and he finds he can’t quite make out his eyes in the stretched darkness.

It makes him uncomfortable, though not much more uncomfortable than the chair is already making him. So he turns to the only other interesting thing in the room. He tells the once silent-man, “I really am sorry about hitting you like that before. And not just because of where it’s landed me, I’ve been in the hospital for what seems like forever. One more day doesn’t add much. Lucky clearly trusts you, that should’ve been enough for me. From now on, it will be. I promise.”

GM: The man looks at him and grunts.

Then he turns and vomits over the floor. Gooey, half-digested bits of burger and fries spray everywhere.

“Fuckin’ cunt…” the man rasps, staggering towards the bathroom. Emil hears the lid hit the tank, then more retching.

Emil: Emil tears a sizable strip of moth-bitten chair fabric off the armrest and covers his mouth and nose with it. Breathing through it, he can smell and taste the years of built up dirt and mold that permeate the pocked surface. It’s better than vomit, but not by much.

“You need help there, man?” he asks, pushing himself out of the dilapidated wooden cradle and wheeling the IV pole alongside him towards the bathroom.

GM: Emil hears increasingly dry-sounding heaves.

Emil: He limps towards the bathroom doorway, the thump of his better-working leg matching the pace of the heaving. His hand picks up an astounding amount of awfully colored residue from the peeling walls.

GM: There doesn’t seem to be much left in the man’s stomach. He’s hacking up spittle-admixed blood.

Emil: “Oh. Oh god. Lemme get you something to drink,” Emil says, testing the faucet and grabbing a stained cup from the counter.

GM: The man convulses, collapses face-first into the toilet, and stops moving.

Emil: Emil turns around with a slightly off-color cup of water, feeling satisfied that this will help. Then he exclaims, “Ah fuck,” before setting down the cup and then pulling the man’s head out of the water with the chair cloth and turning him as gently as he can manage onto his back on the floor.

GM: The man is incredibly heavy. Emil, already a figurative 98-pound weakling before his injury, has to awkwardly strain, struggle, and heave from the floor before making do with lifting the man’s head onto the toilet rim. His face is streaked with vomit and toilet water.

Emil: Emil forces the man’s mouth open, shoves his hand in, and tries to grab and loose any blockage.

GM: He scoops out some remaining warm, wet bile. The man does not stir.

Emil:SHIT!”

“Lucky, he vomited himself unconscious!” Emil yells. “He’s extremely heavy, too! He’s not responding!”

Oh. Wait.

Lucky already left. He’s yelling at air.

Emil curses and tries to control his breathing. Panic isn’t going to help the situation.

He cuts off the man’s shirt with a rusty pair of scissors and palpates his torso. Maybe there’s something in the man’s stomach that explains his extremely heavy weight.

GM: The already half-torn shirt doesn’t take much effort to cut off. Emil sees blood crusted over the deep stab points from the demonic woman’s claws, but does not feel any especially pronounced weight around the man’s stomach. His arms and legs are also heavy, though as might be expected, they are less so than his center mass.

Emil: After noticing the man’s chest rising and falling under his hands, Emil places his fingers over his neck to feel for circulation.

GM: He feels a pulse.

Emil: Airway. Breathing. Circulation. With the ABC confirmed, Emil tries to measure his responsiveness by grinding his knuckles against the man’s sternum.

GM: The man fails to respond. Emil well knows the standard medical advice to treat that event as an emergency.

Emil: “Fuck.”

He rummages through his pockets to try and find some identification or a phone. He might have to call for help.

GM: The man has a driver’s license that reads John O’Sullivan. There is no phone beyond the apartment’s landline.

Emil: He squints his eyes at the card.

Could you come up with a more fake-sounding name?

Emil limps to the phone and dials Lucky’s number. He taps his foot against the floor impatiently as the rings loop over and over.

GM: He’s rewarded with a voicemail’s automated tone.

Emil: He resets the dial and hesitantly puts in a different number.

He assumes Lucky intended this to be a safehouse of sorts. But if he really wanted security, he wouldn’t have installed a telephone in it. That doesn’t make him any less uneasy in calling in the Vet.

GM: There’s several rings before the ‘vet vet’ picks up.

“Dr. Blazcewicz speaking.”

Emil: “Hey Doc. This is Emil. I have an urgent request for you. I need a house call in the next few minutes.”

Bartosz’ lucrative side business is run using a series of keywords to mask the services he gives from eavesdroppers. He works on new ones every month or so, spending hours crafting what he considers absolutely ridiculous service requests for the supposed animal patient. He finds them invariably knee-slap worthy.

“I need a deep tissue massage for my sea urchin. Please come quick.”

In this case, a massage is a resuscitation, and a sea urchin is a stabbing victim with potential for poisoning.

GM: At least he doesn’t laugh at customers for saying so.

“Oh, I didn’t take you for an urchin kind of guy, Emil,” Dr. Blazcewicz remarks. “Where are you at?”

The vet waits while Emil looks around the shithole apartment and then finally hobbles outside to look for a posted address somewhere, all-too conscious of the ticking clock. Once Emil picks the phone back up, Dr. Blazcewicz says he’ll be right over.

“See you soon, if I’m getting that right,” he says in Hebrew as he hangs up.

John O’Sullivan continues to lie slumped against the bathtub.

Emil: Emil tsk-tsks at the poor man. That he’s still wearing half a nurse’s outfit doesn’t help the picture. There’s an uncomfortable breeze buffeting his backside from the draft underneath the door. He ties his hospital gown tighter before returning to the man’s side to ensure he doesn’t suddenly stop breathing without his notice.

GM: Emil sits down in the bathroom and waits. The man’s breathing remains stable, although his skin feels notably warm to the touch.

Some fifteen minutes later, there’s a knock against the apartment door.

Emil: Emil gets up to answer it and looks through the peephole of the door.

Dr_Bartosz.jpg
GM: Most people who see Dr. Bartosz Blazcewicz describe him as ‘well-preserved.’ He’s an older Polish-American man with a trim figure that’s probably not as buff as it used to be during his tour in Vietnam, but also lacking in paunch. Emil has heard the veterinarian joke (more than once) about how after his hairline started to recede, he opted to ‘euthanize’ it, “quickly and painlessly. Kinder that way. It’s what you do with animals, after all.” He’s dressed in casual clothing rather than the white veterinarian’s coat Emil has actually never seen him wear, but carrying a large supply bag.

“Knock knock,” the vet vet says as Emil’s shadow crosses the peephole.

Emil: Emil’s eye strains behind the peephole, and soon after the sound of a chain jingles across the door and Emil is holding it open, holding his anxiety in his overfirm grip on the handle.

“Come in. Quick.”

His eyes dart around the environment outside, trying to convince himself that there’s no one malicious hiding in the darkness. Once Bartosz is inside, Emil closes the door with a swiftness, and turns to him with an outstretched hand to shake.

GM: Bartosz looks Emil over for a moment, top to bottom, then slowly shakes his hand. The older man’s normally firm grip feels almost deliberately soft.

“So, you’re the sea urchin? Because I’d hate to see the other guy.”

Emil: “Uh, no. I am… a swordfish?” He scratches his head. “I was slashed, not stabbed is what I’m saying. But that’s old news. He’s on the bathroom floor, laying against the tub.”

GM: “Oh, boy.”

Bartosz follows Emil to the bathroom and looks down at John O’Sullivan. He kneels down to feel for a pulse, starts asking Emil questions about the man’s symptoms, and starts getting things out of his bag.

Emil: He folds his arms awkwardly around each other, supporting himself against the doorway.

“He’s really heavy,” he adds as the man is being examined. “Is that um, is that something you’ve seen before.”

GM: Bartosz frowns in though as he inspects the man, but doesn’t immediately answer Emil’s question.

The claw punctures on John’s chest elicit an, “Ooh, nasty. You were right to call me. What animal gave him these?”

Emil: He stares at Bartosz, far past him. His head shakes.

GM: “Okay,” Bartosz simply says. A little while later, the vet vet gives Emil his diagnosis.

Pancreatitis.

It’s is a disease in which the pancreas becomes inflamed. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Severe acute cases of the disease can cause unconsciousness, which usually precedes death.

Bartosz’s prognosis is that Emil should get this man to a hospital. The veterinarian can’t provide him the kind of surgery he might need, or even full diagnosis to tell if it’s necessary.

He also might not need surgery. He might only need to get some bed rest, get his fluid intake from an IV (no eating or drinking) and change his diet to cut out fat, drinking, and smoking.

“Hospitals can perform a procedure known as endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. ERCP. They stick a tiny camera down your throat and stomach to know what part of the pancreas needs surgery. Different surgery might be required if it’s caused by gallstones, bile duct blockage, pseudocysts, or infected tissue.”

Emil: “All right.” He thinks for a moment. “What about the stab wounds, then? I had assumed that was the big issue. He was gifted them only a couple hours ago.”

GM: Bartosz looks at Emil.

“Those have had extensive time to heal. He shouldn’t be up and active, but he doesn’t need to see a hospital for them. Or even me to stitch him up.”

Emil: “They haven’t had that time, though. Like I said. A couple hours at best. You ever seen something like that, Doctor?”

GM: “Yeah. I’ve seen tons of cuts and stab wounds like these.”

He then repeats,

“That all had extensive time to heal.”

Emil: He looks in his eyes for a moment.

“I saw a man and a woman lift an SUV today. It was crushing them, near flat on the ground. They threw it off with hate in their eyes. Red hate. You ever seen something like that Dr.?”

GM: “When James Stockdale was in the Hanoi Hilton, he slit his wrists so his captors couldn’t torture him into ratting on his friends. I saw some stuff I’ll never forget from guys in my unit. V-Cs, too.”

Bartosz squints at Emil.

“I’m going to chalk up that crazy talk to you looking as if you just checked out of the Hanoi. If you can go to a hospital with a real doctor, you should. If you can’t, I’ll sell you morphine.”

Emil: Emil’s eyes lose focus once more as they stare past the man, past sense. His head nods.

“I… I don’t think I can get him to a hospital. I can barely move his head. And I can’t bring the authorities into this. I don’t know. Could you take him there?” he says, half present.

GM: Bartosz gives Emil a rather flat look.

“I meant you should go to a real hospital. Given the uninterrupted crazy talk, like that, which is still coming out of your mouth. They have this handy dandy number you can call, I think it starts with a 9, where they send a van with several guys to pick you up.”

Emil: Emil snorts at the joke. Something about Bartosz’s demeanor never fails to tickle him.

“But I’m not crazy, I just sound crazy. There’s an important difference. I’ve been in and out of two separate hospitals this past week. One here, one in Houston. Isolation screws with my social cues, which, admittedly, need some work even on a normal day.”

GM: Bartosz gives him another look.

“Do you want to buy some morphine or what?”

Emil: “How much do you have on you? Also, did you happen to bring an IV tube? Maybe some antibiotics? I was just given the one tube but until help comes, I’m thinking it would be a good idea to hook him up to a bag as well.”

GM: They haggle out the particulars. Bartosz has all those things in his bag.

How Emil is going to pay him may be an issue.

Emil: While Emil doesn’t have access to much cash right now, barring any in the once-again silent man’s wallet, he offers Bartosz a deal. In exchange for the services he’s rendered, Emil can build Bartosz a website for his clinic and take advantage of search engine optimization to drive new customers to him. Given less than a quarter of businesses like his have a web presence at all, this will put him far ahead of the game in terms of reach.

GM: The man’s wallet is empty but for some spare change (less than a dollar), the last of his cash evidently having been spent on the O’Tolley’s they picked up.

He’s also stopped breathing.

Emil: “Fuck! He’s not breathing,” Emil exclaims from the bathroom as his stomach drops.

He begins to apply his best approximation of CPR, but finds his strength insufficient to apply enough force. He limps as fast as he’s ever limped over to the telephone. There’s no question about it, no second thoughts. A man’s life is about to be extinguished because of his actions. That can’t happen.

He dials 911.

GM: “Forget that, call 911!” Bartosz snaps as he pries Emil away and kneels down himself to compress the man’s chest. Emil talks to a dispatcher who calmly tells him an ambulance will be over as fast as possible.

Minutes pass.

“This guy’s a goner,” the vet vet finally says. “He’s-”

The pair are interrupted by a pounding against the door. It’s Lucky on the other side.

He barges in, looks around the bathroom, then says, “Get outta here. Both of you.”

Emil: “Yessir.” He doesn’t have to ask twice.

Emil unhooks the bag from the IV pole and says to Bartosz as he scoots his panicked self out the door, “We’ve gotta go. Can I hitch a ride in your car?”

GM: “No, dumbass, you stay here,” Lucky snaps, grabbing Emil’s shoulder and yanking him back in the door.

He looks at Bartosz, then says, “Get him out. Get him the fuck out!”

The bathroom door slams shut.

Emil: Emil sighs.

I really need to work on those social cues.

GM: The vet vet looks after Lucky. “Right. We’ll talk about you owe me later.”

“I’d hitch a ride with that ambulance when it shows, if I were you.”

He picks up his bag and heads out.

Emil: Let no good deed go unpunished.

“Lucky, I didn’t know if you were coming. I called for an ambulance. He stopped breathing. I had to,” he says through the bathroom door.

GM: “Cancel it!” comes a muffled voice through the door.

Emil: I guess it can’t hurt if he’s dead already… fuck!

“Got it.”

He goes back to the phone and redials 911 and asks the operator to cancel the ambulance, that there is no more need for emergency services. He apologizes for the disruption.

GM: The operator is disgruntled and asks Emil some uncomfortable follow-up questions before hanging up. Lucky eventually comes out of the bathroom, the man’s motionless corpse lying where he left it.

“Wasn’ your fault. I shoulda stuck aroun’.”

Emil: “I’m so sorry,” he whispers into the quiet that comes, looking down.

“I tried to get help. The doc said it was pancreatitis that did him in.” He shakes his head.

GM: “Yeah, I can believe that.” Lucky sighs. “Jus’… sit tight. Watch some TV an’ rest up.”

“You been through a lotta shit. Jus’ let your brain rot for a bit.”

Emil: “So have you, Lucky. Are you gonna be all right?” Emil asks with a look balanced between concern and uncertainty, like that of a son who for the first time notices his father’s mortality, his imperfection.

GM: Lucky looks at the bathroom, looks back, then gives a low sigh.

“Today was nothin’ new.”

Emil: “Who was he to you?” He asks, before amending himself, “You don’t have to answer if you don’t want, I just think it sometimes helps to talk about it. Takes away a bit of the loneliness.”

GM: “Let your brain rot a bit,” Lucky repeats.

He closes the bathroom door on the corpse, switches on the TV, and heads out the apartment front door before adding over his back,

“You don’ need to think about this shit. He was nobody.”


Tuesday night, 2 October 2007, PM

GM: The body is gone fairly soon. Lucky comes back the first day with a cart to lug it onto before hauling it out.

More days pass. Emil sleeps a lot. He’s very tired. He watches a lot of TV too. Lucky picks up periodic O’Tolley’s food, but mercifully varies it with stuff picked up from other fast casual restaurants.

His mother doesn’t pick up during any of the times he calls. There’s just voicemail.

Emil: He gives up on the phone quickly. He thinks back to Carter, to speaking to a piss puddle and hearing a response. He tries a few times, but the gumption isn’t there. He doesn’t feel that rush, that hard to place wind that seemed to come from no where. One night, after watching the fifth of rerun of the same 1950s B-movie, an idea sparks.

He walks into the dimly lit bathroom, ignoring the vaguely body-shaped imprint in the soft floor-tile, and fills the tub halfway with cool water.

Emil flicks the lights off and stuffs a towel under the door to light from leaking under it before sitting on the floor in front of the tub.

It’s dark.

The water drips lazily from the faucet at a slow, steady pace, and echoes around the room. He imagines the little ripples of the sound waves washing over the room. His heartbeat slows.

He takes his hand and hovers it over the water. He says a silent prayer and then submerges his hand, imagining reaching through the dark fluid to another place, to rest it on his mother’s shoulder.

“Please speak to me, Mom. Where are you? Are you safe?”

GM: Emil’s hand sinks through those dark waters as he prays. But it’s like reaching into an ocean. Dark. Vast.

And too deep.

His only answer is silence.

Emil: He panics. He goes in deeper. His head’s in the water, it’s freezing. He’s halfway in. He’s freezing. He’s numb. It feels better than accepting it. Everything is cold. Everything is quiet except the rippling of the surface of the dark waters.

He screams into the water but his words are stolen by bubbles which rise to the surface and pop terminally, uselessly. He cries into the water but a few tears can’t salinate a pool so deep.

His words don’t matter. His strength of mind doesn’t matter. Talking to angels doesn’t matter. He can’t fight death, it plagues him. It gets its fingers into everything he cares about. It takes away every single thing he values.

Except for himself. He pulls himself out right on the brink of breathing in the cruel waters. He shivers on the ground next to the tub. The IV pole is tilted against the toilet bowl. The bag slaps him in the face. He paws blindly for a towel to swathe himself in. He cries, frustrated.

He’s out in an hour. Sitting, damp, cold, on the peeling chair in front of the bunny-eared television set. It feels like winter for the evening. On the screen is white noise and snow.

GM: The analog snow falls and falls. That winter seems to envelop Emil’s wet, battered, sickly body, always so feeble and inadequate for his purposes. If he could but transcend his limited flesh…

The analog snow falls and falls.

Across the screen.

Across his eyes.

He falls in.

He sees himself. Older. Dressed in the crescent-badged uniform of an NOPD officer, like his father was.

“M-m? Mo-?” he calls out, his uneven voice warbling with static.

He enters a pit. Blackness surrounds him on all sides. He descends lower and lower, away from Babel. Whispers lick his ears with garbled, static tongues.

“E-mi-…”

“T—n… ac—…”

“Pr—-c-t… F—st-l…”

“Rob—-… O—o-n-r…”

“…rd… -e-t-s…”

A woman’s voice. Strong and resonant, cutting through the static like a ship’s prow through stormy waves.

“The blood runs true, Emil. In your mother. In you.”

“In your daughter.”

“He s—k-”

Garbling static, cutting off the voice. Emil grabs for, flailing, tripping. He falls and floats through the darkness.

Something emerges, racing towards him like a shark’s fin through water. It feels at home in this midnight sea.

Devil_Baby.jpg
Pinkish-red. Chubby like an infant’s, but ears that end in points, with tiny horns jutting from the top of its head. Solid, milk-white eyes bereft of pupils bore deliberately ahead towards Emil.

It smiles a too-adult smile, and then its hand reaches out.

Through the static-garbling TV screen.

Emil: TV static isn’t actually noise. In it hides an eternal image of the original creation, a self-portrait of the beginning of all things. From the cosmic static of the universe, one can see it all, everything from New Orleans to Houston to Los Angeles. All of it, little dots tucked into your television screen. But it’s the past you see, nothing complex ‘bout it. That’s why you can fit the whole thing under a pair of bunny ears. Nah. The real shit is hidden in the future. Whole world’s been gettin’ bigger, scientists been sayin,’ a trillion light years across ain’t gonna cut it, let alone a 12-inch TV set. Too much complexity. Too much information. An infinity of space so tightly filled up it can’t help but spill out into something beyond infinite, beyond comprehension. That’s what’s waitin’ in the future. And Emil wants all of it and more.

His face melts, eyes, nose, mouth all swirling about like a Picasso painting. He crawls on the ground, on his knees first but quickly dropping his hands down too. He feels the blood on his face, warm and sticky, it tastes sharply metallic. He drags his finger across the floor, saving the words, the sounds he heard, in bloody marks on the ground. He looks at the adult in the room for approval, and realizes he’s laughing. Loudly. He just pushes harder. Harder. Louder. Until it isn’t laughter but the sick screams like some demented baboon trapped in a shrinking cage. Explode-your-head screams of a rabid animal. Shrieks like the rabies-inflicted raccoon who murdered his dog in front of him when he was jus’ a kid. His mouth doesn’t look like it’s screaming, it’s still laughing in its movements, slow and steady pantomimed laughter like a video on loop, played backwards and jumping erratically over cracked film. His jaw jutting in and out, open and closed in a jittered shiver.

His hand slaps into a shake with the infant’s and holds tight while he hooks onto the bunny ears and yanks them off the top of the set.

GM: The hand seizes Emil’s with a vice-like grip that squeezes tears from his tears and an undulating scream from his mouth that he barely hears. Sight and sound dissolve into analog snow, all throughout the room now, not just the TV.

The hand pulls Emil towards the screen.

Closer.

Closer.

Closer.

Then. Shapes, garbled with static, smashing into him. Fire roaring along his wrist. Agony as he’s never known. A final transmission before the blackness claims him, livid with rage:

“Y-U -U-KIN’ IDI-T!”


Tuesday night, 2 October 2007, PM

GM: Emil’s hand still burns when he wakes up on the couch.

The room’s phone and TV are gone. Lucky is livid. The police detective calls him “good for shit except gettin’ yourself an’ other people killed. Whas your body count now? Six?”

His hand looks different, too.

The palm is blistered over with grain-sized scars. Some dark. Some light.

In the pattern of television static.

Emil: Emil takes Lucky’s abuse. He doesn’t look him in the eye. His clothes are still soaked. He hedges against caressing his hand and instead rubs his wrist. He raises his hand like a witness about to testify.

“I shook hands with the devil. You saved my life. Again. I don’t think I can ever repay you. I’m sorry.”

GM: “You ain’t been, more like. You been makin’ my life harder at every fuckin’ turn. Puttin’ my neck on the line for your stunts. What are you gonna tell my kids when your next one leaves me the seventh body, huh?”

Emil: “Oh god. How could I be so fucking selfish?! Every. Single. Time. I’m a blister that keeps getting popped. Keeps getting refilled and festers. I need to cleanse this sickness from myself. I need to get my sickness out of this city.”

“My mom is gone. Gone gone. Stepdad too. Gone and out. Their families. Oh fuck. My kid! What the hell am I doing without my kid?”

GM: “You’re gettin’ outta New Orleans,” says Lucky.

“When you’re back in L.A., you’ll get your mama’s letter.”

Emil: He immediately nods and then stops. “What? What letter?”

GM: “‘Zactly what I said. You’ll get it in L.A.”

Emil: “How long have you had it?”

GM: “None too long.”

“I ain’t answerin’ shit more, if you’re ‘bout to ask. You’ll read the thing an’ decide what’s what back home.”

Emil: “Understood.”

GM: Lucky grunts. “Get some rest.”

View
Emil II, Chapter VI
Houston

“If the Prince of Countenances ever visits your bedroom window, remind him to visit me as well. I’ve been waiting.”
Emil Kane


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.

Houst.jpg
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 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.

Texas_MC.jpg
Texas_MC.jpg
Texas_MC.jpg
Texas_MC.jpg
Texas_MC.jpg
Texas_MC.jpg
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 who guard 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… "

His screams vanish with his body 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 cooperate, some gladly, some with docility. Others scream obscenities past tear-streaked or angry-faced 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 sends him crashing to 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… you… fucking… cocksucks…” sound past it. A cool-faced nurse walks by with a hypodermic needle, there’s a strangled exclamation, and then then slurred cussing that trails off into silence.

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.

“Tah-dah.”

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.”

Beep.

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, 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 gonna check on your mama still. I’m gonna check on her so you can be absolutely sure she’s gonna be all right. But comin’ back to this city… fuck, kid, 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 all right 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: The other end of the line is very, very silent.

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 shock, disgust, fear, and incredulity, like he’s just sprouted another head.

The man finally grabs the money and briskly exits the room. Not quite a run, but definitely faster than a walk. He mutters something under his breath in Spanish.

Emil 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’ve 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 replies without elaboration.

She exits the room. The door closes behind her.

Emil: Emil looks to the remaining doctor before he leaves, then informs him, “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 your money 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 of 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 for patients, 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 overlap with 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. Sometimes even literally, in some mythologies. 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 sleeps.

He dreams.

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 brightening into 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: Metatron nods approvingly as the six great wings continue to beat. Down below, there’s another agonized cry, then silence but for the hiss of crackling fire. The whole city might be ashes at this point, but they’re too high for Emil to now tell.

“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.

“!לכי לעזאזל”

(“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 fell—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 much 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.

“Ah, shit.”

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.

Then.

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.

“Shit.”

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 concrete.

He stalks towards another survivor, who’s 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. He lifts his firearm.

There’s another ear-splitting roar.

There’s another wet explosion.

The other man’s pleas die.

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 pull that shit 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 concrete 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 gun’s dissipating smoke, Lucky shakes his head and mutters,

“What a fuckin’ mess.”

View
Emil II, Chapter V
Lucille's Price

“This city is Sodom. Look back, and you won’t ever leave.”
Paul Jonas


Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007

GM: Emil’s parents try to bring some levity into the next few hours. After all, it is Sukkot. They’re supposed to be happy. His mom asks if he wants any food besides the cinnamon challah Paul brought from L.A.

Emil asks to get in touch with Rabbi Shemtov. A phone call reveals that Emil is not the only congregant of the Touro synagogue to be having a less than happy Feast of Tabernacles. Elizabeth Rabinowitz, a schoolteacher Emil was only passingly acquainted with, died yesterday. She is survived by her husband and three children, who the rabbi has been counseling in this time of grief.

Emil: Emil sends his condolences to the Rabinowitz family, and the perspective of someone else’s much more severe suffering makes him feel that much worse about hurting his parents. Technically, he thinks, you’re not really supposed to be mourning on Sukkot, and a selfish, or maybe religious, part of his mind decides that maybe Rachman would be better suited fulfilling the mitzvah of happiness by visiting him. Emil pushes that thought out of his mind, and asks whether they’re sitting shiv’a. Touro is a Reform synagogue after all, who knows which mitzvot they’ve “reformed” away.

GM: The woman Emil talks to, Rachman’s daughter Lila, answers the Rabinowitzes “seem like they plan” to observe shiv’a for only three days instead of the traditional seven. The Reformist family saw no issue with simply fitting it into Sukkot.

“I don’t think they’ve started yet, as Elizabeth hasn’t been buried,” Lila continues. “She died very late last night. The family’s taken it really badly.”

Emil: “Do you know whether the family is interested in more people attending the funeral for support?” Emil responds solemnly.

GM: “I think so. Like I said, they’ve taken it really badly. Even when they knew it was coming.”

Elizabeth had cancer. Most everyone at the synagogue knows.

Emil: “May her memory be a blessing. I’m not sure I can leave this hospital bed, but I’ll try my best to increase the headcount. That poor family.” Emil thinks of his parents as he speaks into the receiver.
A mother dies on the same day he lives. Perhaps this is a sign, an opportunity to do one last thing to give back to a community that has guided him through this past year. He just needs to start networking, they need more than his parents.

GM: “I’m sorry, hospital bed? Did something happen?” Lila asks.

Emil: “I was kidnapped and maimed…” He lets that morsel of info hang on the line a little too long before continuing with “I’ve been unconscious for the past few days, but thank God, I’m alive. Can you tell your dad I’m sorry I had to miss Yom Kippur services?”

GM: Emil can picture the black-haired teenager blinking on the other end of the line.

“I’m sorry, what? Who kidnapped you?”

Emil: Emil responds honestly. “I’m not sure. I never saw their face. It was just moments of unconsciousness and then violence and pain. Until I woke up alive. They have me on morphine now. I want to speak with your father about it when he has a spare moment, I need some of his guidance. Obviously though, the Rabinowitzes need him much more.” He speaks with no hint of sarcasm.

GM: “Oh my go—goodness. I’m so sorry that happened to you, Emil. I’ll let my dad know.”

Emil: “Thank you, Lila, I’ll appreciate that. When you have the info about the location and time of the burial and the shiv’a, let me know. I’ll spread the word. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for them.”

GM: Lila replies that she will and exchanges goodbyes.

Emil: Emil then dials the number he was given for Hillary.

GM: The number he “was given” is one he’s had for a fair while now. The phone rings a few times.

“Emil. Hi,” says Hillary. Her voice sounds a little flat.

Emil: “Hey Hill,” he says softly. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you after what happened. Though to be fair, I physically couldn’t.”

GM: “Yeah, guy stole your phone.”

Hillary’s silent a moment, then says,

“I don’t know we’re a good fit for each other.”

Emil: “Oh.” He wonders if she thought to check in on him. “That’s not what I meant Hill. Do you know where I am right now?” His tone is despondent, serious.

GM: “No. You’ve been ghosting me for days.” Hillary sighs. “Look, maybe it’s my brother being in the Marines, but I’m kinda used to more, well… masculine guys than you. No offense.”

Emil: Emil feels insulted, and yet he holds onto hisself a little bit longer to see if he can knock some guilt into her, “I’m in the hospital Hillary, I’ve been unconscious for days. I almost died.”

GM: “Wait, what?”

Emil: “I reported the assault to the police, had dinner, went to the library, and then I was drugged, kidnapped, and mutilated. It’s a miracle I survived. I’m at Tulane Medical Center if you care to visit.” He says it with a calm venom, with any member of the tribe’s stringest weapon. Brewing guilt.

GM: “Oh my god, who kidnapped you? Mutilated how?”

Emil: “Only God knows. They slashed my body with a serrated blade, all over. I think it’d be better to speak in person, don’t you?”

GM: “Oh my god. How badly, are you going to be d-have scars?”

Emil: “More than I can count, though you’re welcome to try if you decide to visit. They almost killed me, Hill. I’m only alive because by God’s grace and a dutiful soul.”

GM: “They? Do you know who did it?”

“No, sorry, you answered that.”

“I’m glad you’re alive, Emil. I’m so sorry that happened to you. That sounds beyond awful. But… I don’t know that I still see us together.”

Emil: “Right. Right. Wouldn’t want to be with someone who gets kidnapped and mutilated. That’s not manly. That’s not Marines.” Emil doesn’t sound mad, just flat. “Someone whose first instinct after seeing a man taking off with the only contents of his dead father’s open grave was to comfort you and make sure you were all right instead of retrieving said contents. No, that isn’t masculine enough. I gotcha, no problem, Hill.” He hopes she feels bad. He does.

GM: “Wait, what? I don’t care you’re not a Marine, and I sure don’t hold it against you being kidnapped, I care you just let that guy beat you up! Beat us up!”

Emil: “It’s fine. Good even. I’m leaving the city anyways, in some weeks. Long distance doesn’t work out well for anyone. I do still want to do the movie, those kids have something special in their hands, and your input helped them add something really special to the story. You gave them something to tell.”

GM: “Oh. Okay. I guess if you’re leaving anyway, that’s that. Can’t blame you wanting to leave after something like that.”

Emil: “I’ll be here long enough to finish the movie. Long enough to find a replacement teaching assistant. Long enough to dot all my ’i’s and cross all my ’t’s. You are going to continue with the movie, yes?”

GM: Hillary sounds unsure. “I don’t know. It was a thing on a whim.”

Emil: Emil sounds doubly resolute. “Don’t discount whims, Hill. It’s such a low commitment thing but its has good value. It’ll give you something new to be proud of and even more importantly, something to talk to your mother about without risk of sliding into political ugliness.”

He thinks for a moment, “The kids making this are good people. You should know, El, the director, was the one who saved me from an early death by finding me.”

GM: “He did? How’d he do that?”

Emil: “He was the one who called for an ambulance when he found me left for dead. Please, help me do the guy a solid.”

GM: Hillary seems to think. “Okay, well, I guess I can. He did find my ID.”

Emil: Emil sounds brighter in his tone. “Thanks, Hill. I think he’ll appreciate you doing this.”
But then he wonders for a moment. “He found it? Did he say where?”

GM: “The cemetery. I guess it fell out when the guy was running off with my purse.”

Emil: Emil’s eyes sharpen but he maintains his generally positive tone. “Poor guy must have been visiting a family member.”

And one pretty close to my father’s vault and pretty soon after us if it wasn’t stolen before he got to it, Emil adds in thought.

“Speaking of which, I need to tell you about something I found out recently, it’s a bit heavy, you up for it?”

GM: “Okay, what is it?”

Emil: “So, there’s this family who go to my synagogue. They probably live pretty close to your mom’s house, since the synagogue is in Touro. So maybe you know them. Do you know the Rabinowitzes?”

GM: “Nope. Maybe they don’t live too nearby?”

Emil: “Guess so. Well, you might have seen them in the area since they’re there during weekends. Or at least, they would be there, since a big Jewish holiday is underway right now. They’re a sizable family, a mother, a father, and three children.”

Emil pauses for a moment.

“They would be together there celebrating but the mother passed away last night from a long-standing cancer.”

GM: “I dunno that three kids is too sizable. But I’m sorry, that must be terrible for them.”

Emil: “Yeah, it’s not going to be easy for them. And it gets harder for them, because according to Jewish law, we are commanded to be happy during this holiday, so they’re only going to have a very short period to grieve with the community’s support. Only a few days, and that’s them bending the rules.”

GM: “That isn’t a place I’d like to be in. They can’t grieve afterwards too?”

Emil: “Well, they can on their own, and for a couple minutes a week in services, but these first few days are really sensitive for the mourners, and they’re the days when the community is supposed to bring its greatest support. Especially so given the short period they have.”

GM: “That does sound like a pretty sad place to be in.” Hillary’s tone is politely sympathetic.

Emil: “It is. And sadly, cause of my injuries, I won’t be able to attend the burial or the mourning period in their house to help them out. I’m stuck in this bed. I wanna make sure those poor kids get the support they need, so I’m encouraging people I know to either come to the burial or give their house a visit to help them mourn. If I give you the date and location, do you think you could go to the burial? Burials tend to be fairly short and plain affairs, but it will stick in the memory of her kids, who will participate in the burying process. Every person’s presence helps make it a bit less lonely.”

GM: “You sure? I don’t really know them at all.”

Emil: “For the kids, do you think they’ll know most of the people there? They just need a steady hand on their shoulders telling them their mother won’t be forgotten, and neither will they.”

He pauses for a moment.

“If you’re worried about them questioning your presence there, don’t worry, they want people there. And if they ask how you know about it, simply tell them I asked you to come on my behalf.”

GM: “I dunno, Emil. They’re not my community and we are splitting. I think you should find someone else.”

Emil: “Hillary, the Jews don’t live in a different New Orleans than you do. We’re one community, split by old choices that got confused some where down the line of generations like they was natural laws. There’s two times in your life to see that. When you’re first breathing, and when you die. Come in knowing nothing, come out forgetting everything. All blood is red. All bones are yellow. Everybody returns to the dust. Those kids’ mom is dead and they’ve barely even lived yet. Do what you think is right, but think about it. I’ll send you the details just in case.”

GM: “Wait, what?” Hillary says confusedly, but also crossly. “Emil, I don’t care if they’re Muslims or Sikhs or Jews or whatever. I don’t know them. Find someone who does if you really care. I have crap going on in my life too.”

Emil: “I know, I’m sorry, Hill. That was something I was cooking up in my head for a speech this Yom Kippur. I sorta felt it went to waste after I missed it by being passed out. Looks like it needs some work.” He laughs a little bit, not too much. Then again Emil never quite knew when too much was.

“Thanks for talking to me, Hill. See you on set.”

GM: “Well, depends where you use it. Might try the congregation instead of your ex next time.” Hillary’s tone at least sounds more ribbing than cross now.

“See you, Emil. Get better soon.”

Emil: “I’ll try my best. Peace, Hill.”


Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007

GM: Calling the number he got from Cécilia during his audition gets her voicemail.

“Hello, you’ve reached Cécilia Devillers. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”

Beeeep.

Emil: “Hey Cécilia, this is Emil. I’m not sure if you’ve tried to contact me about the movie recently, but my phone was stolen and I’ve been out of commission, unconscious in Tulane Medical Center for almost a week. So sorry if I’ve missed any calls. I spoke to Hillary, though, and we’re both still excited to participate in your film.” Emil finishes the voicemail by giving Cécilia the loaned phone’s number and saying he’d be “happy to talk whenever you’re free.”

GM: Emil gets a call back after several hours of watching TV and chatting with his parents.

“I’m so sorry to hear you’ve been in the hospital for so long, Emil. Can I ask what happened to you?” Cécilia asks after saying hello.

Emil: He can almost hear his mother responding with a sharp but instructive, ‘you can,’ but he isn’t looking to let that intolerance for ambiguous speech continue into another generation. He has other ambiguities to root out anyways. After greeting her in return, Emil responds,

“You may. Someone wanted to end my life and they made an awfully good attempt at it. It’s a miracle of God I’m alive.” He elates on that last note, as if by virtue of experiencing divine miracle, being near-murdered is made into a reasonable cost.

GM: “Oh my god, that’s terrible. Have the police arrested them yet?” Cécilia asks.

Emil: “I’m afraid not. I don’t even know what they look like. They drugged and kidnapped me before they cut into me.” Emil responds, wondering whether this conversation will end up the same as his most recent call.

GM: “That’s horrible. I’m so sorry that’s happened to you, Emil. You must feel so scared right now.”

Emil: “I appreciate that. And it’s difficult. The attack seemed to be from out of nowhere, which gets me worrying it could happen again, anywhere, any time. But my parents came in from out of town, they’ve been helping me feel safer.”

GM: “I’m so glad to hear that. There’s no one who can make you feel safe like family can. I don’t imagine there’s anything I can do that your parents or the police haven’t already, but if there is, don’t hesitate to let me know.”

“Emil? Are you still there?” Cécilia questions after a moment.

Emil: “I’m right here, Cécilia,” Emil responds, realizing he spent a noticeable amount of time thinking about how he’d like to pose a request he has in mind.

“As for my personal well-being,” Emil continues, “I believe I’m covered. However, there is something that’s been on my mind recently I’d like to ask for your help with. It’s a bit of a heavy topic, so if you’d rather we chat about it later in our conversation so as to not spoil any excitement for the movie or any other pleasant subjects on your mind, I’m perfectly all right with that.”

GM: Cécilia just gives a pleasant laugh.

“Oh no, it’s fine. What did you want to talk about, Emil?”

“Hello? Are you still there?” she questions after another moment.

Emil: “I am,” Emil reassures. “The connection in this place is a little weak I think. Anyways, so there’s this family who goes to my synagogue, the one my teacher is the rabbi for, they’re called the Rabinowitzes. Good family, a mother, a father, and three children. Faithful too, they attend synagogue regularly despite living some distance away, just like I do. It’s a Jewish holiday, you know, so if I wasn’t so injured I’d have hoped to see them in services. But that wasn’t meant to be. Sadly, last night, the mother of those three kids lost her battle with cancer.”

GM: “I’m so sorry to hear that, Emil. I can only imagine what a dark time it must be for the family.”

“Hello? Am I getting through?” she asks again.

Emil: “You are, don’t worry. It’s just this whole deal is hard to work through. I have trouble finding my words sometimes when I have something important to say,” Emil responds softly.

GM: “Of course. I’m sure all the drugs they’re giving you at the hospital don’t help, either.”

Emil: “It’s better than the pain the drugs are allowing me to ignore, but it is difficult to lose control like this…” he sighs. “That poor family can’t even grieve properly. Its a high holiday. No grieving allowed. They’re bending the rules though, and grieving for just three days before joining the festivities like they’re commanded. That’s one of the laws of God that always troubled me. We are commanded to be happy above all things during the festival. Of course it must be just, but it feels so distant from His love. Do you ever feel that way about faith?”

GM: “Yes, sometimes,” Cécilia says thoughtfully. “It can feel like the demands of faith don’t make reasonable allowances for earthly circumstances, and hold us to impossible standards.”

“But, you know, there was a man I spoke to once when my family was in Rome. He wasn’t a priest. He was just an older Italian man. He was eating outside a café with another old man, and it was pretty soon before Mass. I wouldn’t have commented on that if they also hadn’t mentioned they were going to church soon. Since they’d been eating together, it meant they’d failed to observe the Eucharistic Fast—if you aren’t familiar with what that is, it’s a prohibition that Catholics aren’t supposed to intake anything except water and medicine into our bodies during the hour before communion.”

“Well, it came up. But the old man and his friend just laughed. They said it was a beautiful morning for coffee and treats with old friends. They said God would understand. Not that God was happy they weren’t fasting, but that God understood they were just men. That they weren’t always perfect. They said they were going to confess how they’d broken fast after Mass. They had this very casual, very accepting air about how fallible they were. They felt at peace with themselves. They were happy and didn’t seem to regret anything.”

“So I think it’s important for faiths to have standards, even if those standards sometimes seem impractical or even impossible to uphold. Standards give us things to strive for. But they also remind us to be humble and to accept how we can’t always meet them. No person can. We just have to do the best that we can.”

Emil: “I like the way you put that, Cécilia,” Emil says contemplatively. “The law needs to be made to provide a standard for what amounts to perfect behavior. If you fall short of it, well that’s all right, it just means you’re human. All you have to do is rectify it. Jews have a whole book on it! Leviticus is all about how to be penitent to God. The only problem in Judaism is that ever since the Temple was destroyed that second time, the clear instructions of Leviticus lost relevance as the biblically mandated burnt offerings had to be replaced with the rabbinically defined prayer. And prayer is nicer in some ways, certainly it’s less messy. On the other hand, you can never really know whether your prayer was penitent enough, whether your heart was truly in it. With offerings, if it burns of its own seeming accord, apology accepted. Perhaps not knowing is better in a way? For instance, if Cain hadn’t learned so immediately of the God’s denial of his offerings, would he have been angry enough to slay his brother as he did? What do you think?”

GM: “That’s an interesting point, so far as Cain,” Cécilia considers. “Of course, he was responsible for his own actions. But I think not knowing whether your ‘offering’ is accepted is the whole point. Faith isn’t faith if it has external validation. It’s simply science, believing what’s in front of you.”

Emil: “I agree with you wholeheartedly, like her sister, justice, faith is blind.” Emil has heard similar things from Catholics, but he always thought of them as unconsciously hypocritical, what with needing to put a human face to God, with their reliance on icons, miracle-working saints, and relics to justify their belief.

“I just realized, I’ve been acting like a tool telling you all about my religion when I haven’t even asked about yours. What do you believe in, Cécilia?”

GM: “It’s good for sisters to share significant things,” Cécilia states. It sounds partly like a quip, and partly serious too. “I believe in one God, one Lord Jesus Christ, one Holy Spirit, and one unbroken and apostolic church. Or maybe more succinctly, I believe in Catholicism.”

Emil: For all that their son of God complained about hypocrites, you’d think the church would’ve been less keen on working it into their doctrines. But well, what was it that famous Jew said before he died? Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

“That’s a historied faith. Almost as historied as mine,” he teases. “You spoke first about sisterhood before you described your religion. Or perhaps, sisterhood is an expression of your faith? Maybe even the most important one.” Emil pauses a moment after stating his conjecture. “Would you tell me about your family, Cécilia? I’d like to hear about them.”

GM: “When it comes to age, actually, I think yours has mine beat by almost twice as long,” Cécilia replies with some faint amusement.

“As for my family, I have a mother and five sisters—men don’t run in our genes. We’re from France and moved to New Orleans after Katrina. We’re mostly involved in nonprofit work, which is what I’d like to make my career in after college.”

“In any case, Emil, I don’t want to keep you forever. You’d said you wanted to ask for my help with something?”

Emil: “I’ll be leaving the city soon,” Emil starts. “It has given me so much during my time here and I want your help to give back to it.”

“The reason I brought up the tragedy of the Rabinowitzes to you, Cécilia, is because I feel God’s presence and influence in these recent events. Why did God give me the gift of waking up alive the same night those poor kids’ mother passed on? He didn’t have to, He could’ve let me die, alone and bloodied. But no. God, in His mercy, decided to give me a chance by sending me a savior to find me and call for help. I believe God has tied me to the Rabinowitzes, and is giving me the opportunity to direct my desire to give back to the city into helping this family heal from the pain of losing a mother and wife.”

Emil thinks for a moment before continuing. “I likely won’t be able to attend her burial or visit their mourning household, given my injuries, but I want to do something that will ensure that those kids feel their mother’s positive influence even in her absence for years to come. I want to raise money to endow an annual scholarship for attending one of the local independent schools in the memory of their mother. That way, once a year, the Rabinowitz family will be able to sit face to face with someone who has an education and new opportunities because of their mother.”

GM: “I can definitely see how you might see God in the timing there, Emil,” Cécilia replies. “I’m sure the Rabinowitzes would feel good knowing their mother was continuing to make a difference in people’s lives. The private schools here really open up so many more opportunities to people than the public ones do.”

Emil: Emil’s voice, despite its morphine-aided buoyancy, sounds intently focused. “My sentiment exactly. I was wondering if you would be willing to help me out with the logistics of it. I haven’t set many details, but just generally, I’m sure your family has much more experience in this area and I would really appreciate guidance. Do you think your mother would be interested in hearing about it too?”

GM: “Hmm. My mother has commitments, but she is on McGehee’s board of trustees,” Cécilia considers. “The school’s involved with a fair number of scholarship programs. Maybe we could marry that with your idea. Why don’t you talk with the family and some of the people you’re thinking of raising money with?”

Emil: “That sounds like a plan then. I’ll make sure to contact you when I have more info but I can see this coming together,” Emil responds. “I was also thinking that if this happens, we might fundraise at the film screening, if you’re all right with that and think it would be fruitful.”

GM: “You should ask Elliot about that, as the film’s all his. I’ve mainly just given advice. Attaching fundraisers to events can definitely be a good way to help raise money, though. Expensive events can eat into a fundraiser’s revenue by a lot, but that’s moot if this one is happening anyways.”

Emil: Emil at first assumed that Em’s pseudonym was just a protective measure to stop hopeful actors who weren’t selected from finding and hounding him post-casting, or maybe that it was just some odd artistic statement. But then, why would his girlfriend call him by Elliot? Why is he keeping this from her?

“Sounds like I should give him a call…” Chewing on the idea for a moment longer, Emil wonders why she was surprised Emil was in the hospital in the first place. Wouldn’t he have told her?

“Sort of unrelated, but I was wondering why you hadn’t heard about my hospitalization, Cécilia. Have you not been in contact with Elliot recently?”

GM: “I don’t think many people who aren’t your immediate relatives would know you were hospitalized. Those are the people they usually call,” Cécilia points out.

Emil: So they haven’t. Or maybe Elliot is just excessively humble. Or maybe it’s cagey. Hard to know.

“Right, usually. But that’s the thing, this wasn’t usual.”

Emil is unsure whether it was his intention to tell her or not. Is it not a greater mitzvah to be private in your righteousness than to boast? Then again, maybe telling is better. If Esther hadn’t told the king about her uncle Mordechai’s foiling of an assassination plot against him, he wouldn’t have been lauded as such a hero of Persia.

“God let someone choose to save me that day. The person who called 911 for me after finding me bloodied and dying, that was Elliot. I thought he might have told you about it.”

GM: “We aren’t together anymore,” Cécilia answers. “But I’m glad he was there for you when you needed someone.”

Emil: “Oh, I didn’t know. Sorry about bringing it up. I know break ups can be rough. Are y’all on good terms?” Emil responds, his tongue slower than he would like, more molasseses than fresh syrup. He can’t wait to get the IV out of his arm to stop the slow drip of morphine addling him.

GM: “It’s hurt, like any breakup. But I think we’re both happy for the time we had and happier for where we’re going to be now.”

“Anyways, I have to go. I hope you have a full and speedy recovery, Emil.”

Emil: That’s interesting. He wonders what broke them up. He writes a memo to himself to be cautious about the subject when he speaks to Em.

“Thank you, Cécilia. I’ll be in touch.”


Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007

Emil: Emil has a laptop on his lap. It’s his mom’s. Emil vaguely remembers his own laptop being with him before he was attacked. He trusts his mother to be careful with her laptop, but something of pride or maybe paranoia causes him to wish he had his own back. Using the one currently in his disposal, Emil looks up the number for the Howard Tilton Memorial Library and explains that he lost his laptop and is wondering if they have it in a lost and found.

GM: “No, sorry. Haven’t seen any laptop,” answers the woman he speaks to.

Emil: “That’s a shame. That thing’s encrypted and uses a custom operating system. It’s completely useless to anyone but me. Practically a fancy brick.” He sighs. “Well, if anyone finds it, tell them there’s a fifty dollar reward for returning it. I’ll send someone by later to check again if it’s found.”

GM: “Oh, wait, I think we actually do have a laptop. Ok, come by whenever.”

Emil: “Thank you very much,” he says, ending the call. Emil promptly calls for his stepdad and asks him to pick it up for him, noting that he promised a fifty dollar reward that he will pay back as soon as he gets out of the hospital.

GM: Paul answers that he’s in the middle of “lawyer things” for Emil right now. He sounds a little peeved as he explains that the law is anything but fast and efficient.

Emil: Emil thanks him for doing the work, especially since it is a frustrating effort. He doesn’t bother him further. Instead, he calls his mother and makes the same request. It’s very possible she’s also busy, but it can’t hurt too much to ask.

GM: Busy seems right. Rather notably given who is calling her, Emil’s call goes straight to voicemail.

Emil: He leaves a nice message for his mother, caps it with a “love you,” and a request that she not stress about calling back, he’s all right. He then thinks for a moment and decides to give a ring to a student under his tutelage, Andrew Phillips. He met the guy at the transfer student orientation for Tulane where they exchanged contact info. Phillips was wary about sharing his email out of his supposed well-versed knowledge of the security risks that could incur. Emil responded that his email was already listed in the public student directory. Phillips failed to transfer due to his grades, and pestered Emil to tutor him just as, like a refresher, you know. I obviously know the material, I’m just a… a little rusty.

GM: Rust you can remove. Restore what’s underneath to its original pure shine.

Emil isn’t so sure how much is underneath Andy’s ‘rust.’

“Oh hi, Emil’s, what up?” asks the nasally-voiced 20-year-old after a couple rings.

Emil: “Hey Andy, just wanted to let you know I’m a bit incapacitated right now. I’m in the hospital, so we have to schedule our next session around that. Also, I have a favor to ask you if you’re free right now,” responds in the same safe, businesslike voice he teaches his students with.

GM: Emil hears a noise in the background. It sounds like a video game.

“Oh, uh, you’re in the hospital? What happened there?”

Emil: “I got kidnapped and mutilated. I almost bled out, but things are under control now.” He responds fairly casually, like rote now. “Care to help me out?”

GM: The video game sounds pause.

“Uh, wait, uh, what?”

Emil: “Yeah, I was surprised too.” He says casually. “If I missed any of your calls, I apologize for the inconvenience. I was just a tad unconscious.”

GM: “Uh. It’s okay. I didn’t call you.”

“So… you think it’s gonna, like, happen again?”

Emil: “I hope not.” It’s a thought Emil has so far successfully shut out of his mind, and he tries his best to maintain that. “Anyway, in the process of getting kidnapped, I left my laptop at the Howard Tilton Memorial Library. I have my prepped lessons for you on there, so I need to get it back from the lost and found if I’m going to teach you any time soon. Do you think you could go get it and bring it to me here at Tulane Medical Center?”

GM: “Can’t you just… you know, without? I’m in the middle of Elder Scrolls…” Andy whines.

Emil: “If you do it now I’ll give you fifteen dollars off the next lesson. You can do it, right Andy?” Emil responds, quickly and calmly.

GM: “Well… okay. But there’s, um. Something else I want you to do instead.”

“There’s this… girl who used to go to Delgado…”

Emil: “I’m listening.”

GM: “And now she goes to Loyola. Her name’s Stacy Daniels. She’s really, uh, hot. Go to her Facemash. She’s got tons of pictures. My favorite is the one where she’s, like, holding out her arms and really smiling. It’s my desktop background. Are you on her Facemash yet?”

Emil: Emil has a gross feeling about where this is gonna go, but opens her profile up on his mother’s computer in incognito mode.

“I am.”

GM: “Can… you help me break into her webcam? Please?”

Emil: My God in heaven, it was a gross request.

“You like this girl, right?”

GM: “Yeah!” Andy says excitedly. “I love her hair… I wanna just, sorta… pet it. Y’know?”

Emil: “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

Emil knows exactly what he means, but he most definitely does not feel what this man feels towards petting hair. In his head he tries to translate it into something a little less creepy to make sympathizing easier.

“Andy, if you want to feel her hair, watching her on webcam is not gonna do that for you. I can help you out another way though.”

GM: “Well, like what?” Andy sounds dubious.

Emil: “Well, there’s a lot of places you could touch her hair in without it seeming off. We can discuss them one by one. First and foremost, you could go on a date with her. Would you want to?” Emil asks.

There’s a pause.

GM: Actually, not just a pause. An inhaled breath.

Really? You could… do that? She won’t think I’m creepy? She has a boyfriend…”

Emil: Emil shudders. “Well, that’s out, then. Something to think about, Andy, is that the key to seeming like not a creep is making sure you have the girl’s active, continuous consent to do whatever activity you have planned with her. And remember, the patient tortoise gets to the finish before the hare. If you want to go on a date, you’ll have to wait for their relationship to end. And before you ask, sabotaging their relationship goes against the ethical principles of white hatting. Before we go on, are we agreed on that?”

GM: “Uh, yeah, sure,” Andy answers. “Are you gonna help me break into her webcam?”

Emil: Emil sighs. “Andy, the goal is for you to touch her hair. We have more options than a date to do that. Breaking into her webcam is a breach of privacy, meaning it’s nonconsensual, meaning if you do it you won’t be able to get her trust ever. Furthermore, it is definitely a bigger favor than just picking up my computer for me. Now, have you ever given someone a haircut?”

GM: “I don’t wanna touch a guy’s hair,” Andy whines. “And it’s not like I have a fetish for it, like I have, well, I just think she has really pretty hair.”

“I wanna see her take her clothes off too…”

Emil: Oh Lord.

“One step at a time, Andy. Remember what you’re offering in exchange for this very involved process. Stick with the goal of touching her hair. You won’t have to cut guys’ hair. Just hers.”

GM: “But how am I gonna do that? It’d be way easier to spy through her cam!”

“I mean, look through her cam. I don’t wanna hurt her or rip her off or anything.”

Emil: “Andy, you don’t know how to do that, so that is infinitely harder for you.”

GM: “I know, so I want you to do it! Pleeeease?”

Emil: “Andy, what you’re asking for is worth much more than a simple courier mission. Think about it like this, you’re asking for a new word of power in exchange for a side quest. Does that make sense? You want a ‘Roh’ or a ‘Dah’ to go with your ‘Fus,’ you have to slay a dragon for me, clear a dungeon. Metaphorically speaking.”

GM: “There aren’t any dragons in Elder Scrolls! I mean, maybe the early ones, but not the one I’m playing.”

“But okay, I get it, I’m asking for the daedric armor and I don’t have enough gold…”

“Okay, well, what else do you want me to do?”

Emil: “I want you to bring my laptop, but if you want me to do more for you than give you a discount on a class, you’ll have to earn my trust as a white hatter. You want to even touch her hair, you have to show me why I should let you try. But you’re an adult, so you can negotiate. What do you think will convince me?”

GM: “Whaaaat? Look, I just wanna get in her cam! Can’t you just say what you want for it!” Andy whines.

Emil: Emil waits expectantly for Andy to make an offer.

GM: “Oh come on, why won’t you say what you want!” he complains into the silence. “I dunno what you want!”

Emil: “If you can’t figure something out and make a good offer, I promise you my offer will be much more strict. Understand?”

GM: “Okay, fine, how’s money?”

Emil: Emil waits expectantly.

GM: “Okay, FINE, how’s fifty bucks?”

Emil: “I don’t want money, Andy. You already pay me, remember?”

GM: “That doesn’t make sense, if you didn’t want money I wouldn’t be paying you! That doesn’t make any sense!”

Emil: “Right. But I don’t want more. Unless you can scrounge up $25,000, I have other interests. You don’t have that, do you? Offer something else.”

GM: “I don’t know what else! Okay, fine, what do you want to break into her cam? It isn’t hard! I’ve read about lots of people doing it!”

Emil: Emil opens up an audio recording application on his mother’s computer and starts a new recording, he then sets the call to speaker.

“All right. First things first, you need to own the act. Tell me, in plain terms, what you want done and to whom, and start by sitting up straight and stating your name. Full names please.”

GM: “Okay, uh, my name is Andrew Philips. And I wanna hack Stacy Daniels’ webcam. Well, I want you to hack it. Emil Kane.”

Emil: “I said own it, Phillips. Leave me out of it, this is just so we know what you want to achieve, and also say why. Again.”

GM: “Okay, fine, I’m Andrew Philips and I wanna hack Stacy Daniels’ webcam so I can watch her take her clothes off.”

Emil: Emil ends the recording, saves it, and turns off speaker phone.

“All right, I don’t like to communicate things like this over the phone, so you’ll have to come to the hospital. On the way, pick up the laptop. Make sure to bring fifty dollars with you to reward the woman at the lost and found. When you get here, we’ll work out the remaining details of the arrangement and I’ll reimburse you the fifty. Understood?”

GM: “Okay, sure. You’ll make it so I can get into her webcam myself too, right?”

Emil: “Get here and we’ll discuss your options for getting what you want. Goodbye, Andy.”

GM: “Okay, bye then.”

Andy awkwardly waits a bit, then hangs up.

Emil: Emil crops out Andy’s first attempt using audacity, and then uploads the clip to his skydrive.

GM: Hours pass. Andy finally shows up. He’s an overweight and dark-skinned kid with small, rattish eyes that contrast his full, baby-plump cheeks. He wears an oversized black hoodie, non-tying slip-on shoes, and smells like he hasn’t used deodorant.

“Okay, Emil, here’s the laptop,” he says, pulling it out of a backpack. “It was really heavy carrying with mine.”

Emil: Emil takes it in his hands and inspects it to see if it sustained any damage. He tries to turn it on.

GM: It looks undamaged. The machine boots up without issue.

Emil: Emil absentmindedly greets Andy as he pulls up his GIS-based phone tracking software to view its current position and recent history. He wonders if it’s still in the hands of the thief or if it was pawned off to someone potentially more unsavory.

GM: His phone makes a trip from St. Louis Cemetery to the Seventh Ward, the French Quarter, Riverbend, the McGehee School, back to Riverbend, and out throughout the city again before finally terminating at his own apartment building.

Emil: Emil looks suspiciously at the path and screenshots it. He notes a couple things in the metadata of the screenshot, including the odd trip to McGehee, but then smiles knowing that his phone is practically at his doorstep. Then his smile fades, how the hell did that phone get to his doorstep? He tosses the question in his mind like an errant fingertip in a salad spinner and reaches the conclusion that he might have some questions to ask his God-sent hero.

GM: “So… are you gonna help me break into her cam now?” Andy asks.

Emil: “You got thumb drive handy, Andy?” Emil asks, leaving his question unanswered.

GM: “Yeah.”

Emil: “Can I borrow that?” Emil asks, putting his hand out.

GM: Andy hands it over.

Emil: Emil boots up a virtual machine to insulate his main OS from whatever nastiness Andy put on the drive, turns off all permissions so that no data used by the host OS will be compromised, and then plugs in the drive and views its contents. If there is something malicious on it, no biggie. He can load up a previous snapshot of the VM. Emil inspects the drive to see if anything of value is hosted on it.

GM: There’s porn. Lots of porn. There’s also an almost certainly torrented copy of Revenant the Ravishing: Lineages.

Emil: Emil opens up the application’s folder and examines to see whether the fan-made patch is installed. He’s played the game, and it’s honestly a much better experience with the patch than without. The first half of the game is very well done, but the time constraints on the devs in the latter part shows. He also checks the saves folder. If it is empty, then that means Andy copies the game from the drive onto his main disk before playing.

GM: There are no saves or installed fan mods. The game itself hasn’t been installed either, but there is an ISO image.

Emil: Beautiful.

Any payload Emil hides within the image is sure to be regularly installed on whatever device Andy is currently using. Then again, the current files may very well be infected.

“Andy, this is sorta off topic, but I’m gonna need to do you a solid and clean up the ISO image you’re using to install Lineages onto your computer. There’s a good chance something fishy was packaged with it. I have my copy handy for you on my laptop, and I’m gonna apply the fan patch to the file. Friends don’t let friends play unfinished games.”

GM: “There was? Ugh. You don’t need to include the patch though, I’ve got it on my PC.”

Emil: “Given the way you got the main ISO, I wouldn’t be so sure on the integrity of the patch version you own. It’s really no big trouble to throw that in anyways,” Emil says dismissively. It’s certainly easier to sneak in a file if Andy expects another file’s presence. Not a big trouble if not, just a little more hassle.

GM: “Okay, sure then.”

“Look, are you gonna help me break into her cam or what?” he asks impatiently.

Emil: Emil removes the potentially damaging ISO file and replaces it with his own version. Within the patch files he includes, he slips in a copy of a boot sector virus he has been working on in class. It will burrow into the main drive of any computer the flash drive connects to. Barely detectable and equipped with defensive encryption capabilities, this virus installs a remote access hook into the computer using an altered version of the relatively new LogMeIn software, modified to neither request access from the observed computer nor show up as an active process.

“Take out your laptop,” Emil says, saving the new files onto the flash drive and ejecting it off his laptop.

GM: Andy takes his out.

Emil: To be safe rather than sorry, he also included a keylogger inside the payload. Emil waits for Andy to open his device, and then, very precariously balancing his and his mother’s computers on his legs, gets to work deleting everything but his save file from his Revenant installation, and then inserting the USB and reinstalling the full game alongside the patch and the payload. Andy’s computer is now his, effectively. Of course, he won’t hold it against him unless he does something aggressively awful.

“Privacy matters, Andy. It is not a privilege to take away from someone lightly. Even for criminals, the police have to get warrants to search their apartments or probably cause of the committing of a crime. Those who deserve their privacy should keep it, even if it may seem simple or nice to take it from them. Unless you can show me that the girl you’re oggling is bad enough to not deserve the privilege of her privacy, I’m not going to help you take it. Understood?”

Emil pauses for a moment, but not long enough for him to complain, he can’t stand the tinny sound of Andy’s whining.

“But, there is a lot of lessons to be learnt if you want to get her hair. Are you interested in that? Or do you want to prove to me she deserves to get her cam hacked?”

GM: “What the fuck!” Andy cries.

“She has a boyfriend! She got into Loyola! I… don’t, and didn’t, and I deserve good things too! It’s not hurting her, she won’t even know!”

Emil: “You want a boyfriend too, Andy?” Emil responds, how little Andy’s tantrum moves him showing clearly in his face. “Tell me about her boyfriend. Do you know anything about him?”

GM: “NO! I don’t want a boyfriend!” Andy declares offendedly. “And I’m sick of doing stupid stuff, and talking about stupid stuff, that doesn’t get me in her cam! Are you gonna help or not!”

Emil: “Play stupid games, win stupid prizes. Stop complaining, listen to me, and do as I say. Then, and only then, will you get to look at her.”

Emil pulls up a file off his personal repo named HORUS.exe and puts it in a folder by itself, then he turns the screen to face Andy.

“This is the binary you would use, it’s right here. You want it, right?” Emil is looking down on him, even from his bed.

GM: “Ye-not if you’re gonna be an, an asshole about it! Make up your mind!” Andy flares. “Help me or, or don’t!”

Emil: Emil presses his thumbs into his temples, slowly rubbing their inflammation away. “I’m not trying to be an asshole, Andy, I just want to do this the right way. She has to deserve it. You should test her, see what she’s like on the inside. But, I’ll get you access first, because it’ll be educational.”

Because I want to own everything about you, because all I need to know is you’re willing to do something awful to justify taking away your privileges, Andy, a small voice in the back of his head whispers.

“How do you want to do this, Andy? You have two options. You can phish her, or you can infect her machine in person using a portable drive. What’s your preference?”

GM: Andy actually looks sufficiently taken aback by Emil’s response that he isn’t sure what to say.

“Uh. Phishing. And she does deserve it.”

Emil: “Tell me why, because you think she has everything and you got nothing?”

GM: “I have things! She wouldn’t talk to me during class.”

Emil: “That sucks, and I feel you.” He wonders how creepy Andy was in his approach, or whether he even spoke loud enough for Stacy to hear him in the first place. “But I need more, and proof. Something that could work would be if you showed me she was willing to be unfaithful to her boyfriend. Put a pretty face in her IMs and see how well she behaves.”

GM: Andy’s face angrily re-scrunches. “Are you helping me or not!”

Emil: So damn lazy. Not an ounce of initiative in this guy. He might have to do it himself.

“I am,” he half-sighs, exporting the HORUS.exe exploit to a temporary CD in his optical drive, and then holding it out. “You better remember how much of a solid I’m doing for you, Andy. Daedric armor don’t land in a new character’s hands for nothing. Agreed?”

GM: “Yeah, sure,” Andy nods, eager again.

Emil: Emil holds the CD just out of reach, not particularly convinced by his casual response that Andy knows how big of a favor Emil expects in return. “Just so you know what I will expect when I call it in, doing this favor for you is no small potatoes ask to me. It is highly illegal, a violation of my ethical principles as a white hatter, and I am doing this difficult job for you without any work on your part. You won’t get this service with no strings attached elsewhere, no matter how much money you offer. Trust me, I know the market well. So I expect you to return the favor in kind.”

He holds out the CD after making it clear.

GM: “Fine, whatever,” Andy says as he takes the CD. “Surprise surprise, the Jew wants money. Sorry, ‘favors in kind.’”

Emil: Emil stares daggers into the man-child’s eyes as he explains how it would work, how he the recording would at first land on one of Emil’s cloud servers and then would be streamed to his computer over a secure channel. If he wants to save video, he should request that Emil decrease the bitrate of the video to waste less space. He explains how to do a phishing attack, and how a couple tries might be necessary, but that it should be doable if Andy is persistent. If that fails, he can come back and ask Emil for further help. Emil opens up Audacity again and hits record before stating again the terms. A significant favor in exchange for providing him with help in hacking into the webcam of Stacy Daniels.

“Understood?” he asks, holding out his hand to shake.

GM: “Yeah yeah yeah, I get it, Jews love money! Why don’t I give you a lampshade, those are always popular!”

Emil: Emil imagines what he’s like in voice chat in multiplayer games, given the steaming crap that comes out of his mouth in regular conversation. He just smiles, because if voyeurism wasn’t enough to justify voiding his privacy, antisemitism is just a cherry on top.

“If you don’t have any more questions, I won’t take up any more of your time. Text me when you want your next lesson.”

GM: Andy rolls his eyes, shoulders his backpack, and walks out. Emil’s hand is left unshaken.

Emil: Emil tacks ‘impolite’ onto his mental description of Andy and retracts his hand. He wonders for a moment whether Andy would be the type to follow contracts as agreed upon even if things didn’t go exactly as he wanted. He doesn’t have high hopes. At the same time, he isn’t exactly keen on letting that girl get spied on by the creep without proof of her being someone who actually deserves it. Emil resolves to look into Stacy himself.

He creates a couple spoofed email accounts and sends her an innocuous message hiding a payload of a key-logger. All he intends to do is get to know her a little better, a little bit of email snooping won’t hurt her.

At least that’s what he tells himself as he presses send and tries to ignore how similar his justification is to Andy’s.

This is for her own good.


Friday afternoon, 28 September 2007

GM: It’s while Emil is waiting for Stacy to fall for the bait that he gets another visit from Detectives Moore and Hill.

They haven’t found Em Faustin.

“Looks like there’s nobody by that name, at least in New Orleans,” says Moore.

He’d said Em was dating a girl named Cécilia, though? What’s her last name?

Emil: “Devillers,” Emil responds promptly. He knows he really shouldn’t be helping them out, but then again, he needs Em arrested to get them off his back.

GM: “Okay, we’ll see if she knows anything more,” says Moore.

“This Em character went pretty out of his way not to get identified. Ditched the phone he called 911 on, also looks like,” remarks Hill.

Emil: “Huh,” Emil starts, thinking about his cellphone which he tracked to his apartment. “His girlfriend’s family seems involved the city, and they’re quite well-to-do. Maybe the family asked him to be cautious to stop the tabloids from snooping on their relationship? Or maybe he’s trying to be mysterious as an artist? Or maybe he was just spooked by my injuries? To be honest, I’m unsure of the why.”

GM: “Could be. We’ll see what he knows,” says Moore. “You know anyone else he’s had contact with, besides you and her?”

Emil: “Yeah, Hillary Cherry. We auditioned together. She said that they met again while I was out.”

GM: “Oh, that’s good to know,” says Hill. he asks if they know each other outside of that audition. Moore asks more about the audition. What’s it for, and what’s Em’s role?

Emil: “She was my girlfriend until recently,” Emil responds, a mildly poor taste forming in his mouth. “The audition was for a student film Em was making. Real artsy morality play and star-crossed love horror story. I believe we both got parts, though I haven’t had the time to check.”

GM: “Oh, so you could see him again for this?” asks Hill.

Emil: “Maybe, but if he’s acting as dodgy as you say, it might not be happening.” He shrugs.

GM: “We’ll see. You know when and where the next shoot, audition, whatever, is happening?” asks Moore.

Emil: “No, sorry,” he says, shaking his head. “Being unconscious has put a bit of a damper on staying in the loop with things,” he says, cracking a grin.

GM: “It’ll do that,” smiles Hill.

He and Moore remark that Emil sounds like he’s recovering well, then exchange a few other pleasantries before taking their leave.

About an hour later, Stacy’s fallen for the email bait, perhaps mistakenly assuming that just reading an email without downloading an attachment is enough to keep her safe. The keylogger is in.

Emil: The data passes through a VPN and back to a text file in Emil’s Skydrive. The logger segments the file by timestamps and time periods of low activity. It’s a simple waiting game now, watching her writing emails, waiting for her Facemash account to say she’s online to snip her password and username, and using these passwords to try and log into her email from different servers in different countries.

At the very least it should get him access to her Facemash. Emil has found the company’s security record a lot weaker than they suggest.


At the very least it should get him access to her Facemash, Emil has found their security record a lot weaker than they suggest. And there’s a good chance she uses the same password for both Facemash and email. If she fell for the keylogger, it doesn’t bode well for her other security prospects.

In the mean time, Emil decides to do a manual scan of his mother’s computer for malicious files and faulty drivers. Always polite to leave a room cleaner than when you walked in. If he spots anything that sparks his curiosity, such as encrypted or password protected sections of the drive, large gaps of “deleted” data, which would show up as fragmentation on her hard disk, or references to his father, or references to his father, Kathleen or Bianca Andrews, or Robert White, he will simply have to investigate it.

GM: With Stacy already on her computer, the waiting game doesn’t take long. The first words recorded by the keylogger are an email addresses to Prof. Delacroix, asking some questions about a paper due for his Environmental Policy and Economics class.

The next is a search for ‘abortion clinics near me.’

‘Abortion anesthesia’

‘Abortion clinic ride home’

Emil: “Huh,” Emil says upon seeing the message to Prof. Delacroix, he’s in the same section. He jots down a memo to give the professor an email about missing class.

“Oh,” he emotes in much the same way he did after trying to give a student a congratulatory high five and then remembering that they were blind.

GM: ‘Aetna abortion insurance’

‘Louisiana abortion law’

‘Louisiana ultrasound’

‘Louisiana ultrasound law’

Emil: Unlike Catholicism, Judaism has a much less negative stance on abortion, with danger to the potential mother being sufficient justification and the start of life at birth not conception being widely agreed upon thoughts especially with more observant Jews because of how it’s discussed in the Talmud.

GM: Emil finds no viruses on his mother’s computer, but after a little tinkering, he’s able to free up quite a few megs of system memory.

Two password-protected folders under My Documents are labeled “Work” and “Finances.” His mother’s email account also requires a password.

Outside of those areas, Emil finds nothing in the rest of the system pertaining to his father. There are no photographs, no “Earl” references, none even to New Orleans. One would think Lucille had been married to Jonas and living in Los Angeles for all her life.

He supposes it was a very long time ago that his parents separated. Computers were for nerds rather than everyone back then.

Emil: Emil sighs, a little disappointed. As he scrolls through his mother’s photos, the thought occurs to him that he doesn’t even know what his father looks like. He knows nothing about the man’s family. Not even whispers. It’s like Earl Kane never existed.

But he did. Emil knows he did. The scar on his neck is the mark he bears because his father exists. Or did.

His mom’s efforts notwithstanding. She wouldn’t even let him shred her old documents, but digging through ones in the trash still turned up a shredded, half-faded Polaroid of his mother from when she was younger. It was captioned ‘Lucy Abernathy,’ and there was another part that said ‘Symoné,’ but it was torn-up enough that he couldn’t make out anything more.

It was all so long ago. He’s grasping at straws, but after how little there is on his mom’s computer, maybe that ‘Symoné’ still lives in New Orleans. She might also be an Abernathy. Emil tries to look her up on the internet through search engines, social media, and digitized telephone directory and newspaper records.

GM: Emil quickly ascertains that Symoné Abernathy has no MySpace or Facemash presence. There aren’t even any Qeeqle results. No yellow pages listings, either, for any Abernathys.

Still, if she existed, Emil knows the information is out there somewhere. He plugs away.

Hours pass.

Emil finally digs up a 1991 newspaper article about a Symoné Broussard, 15, being arrested for holding up a 7-Eleven together with a DeShawn Abernathy, 17, and shooting the clerk. DeShawn was subsequently shot dead by NOPD officers. Symoné was tried as an adult for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sent to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.

Emil: After a cursory Qeeqle search, Emil notes that Symoné definitely finished her sentence in 2001 at the latest, given the 10 year maximum sentence for the charge.

He’s done scouring the depths of the internet. Instead, on a whim he tries a few variations on the simple password his mother uses for her laptop on her email, changing the numbers that come after his name.

GM: It’s a telling lesson in password security that brute-forcing it like that eventually gets him in with ‘emil91.’

Emil: Emil tosses ‘teaching Mom basic computer security’ onto the ever-growing heap that is his to-do list. He interrogates the search bar as he tosses name after name into it to see if he gets any hits. He adds in the new names he just learned, and tacks on Aaron ‘Lucky’ Johnson for good measure.

GM: None of the names get any results. Emil might almost think violating his mother’s privacy has been for nothing before he sees an email titled ‘Houston job offer.’

Emil: He opens it. It’s a funny thought he has, but the longer he stays in this hospital bed, the more sick he’s acting. Not out of malice per se, but idleness. Idle email accounts are the devil’s play things after all.

GM: It’s between his mother and one of her long-time friends from college. She’s received an attractive offer from another etiquette coaching business in Houston. She’s considering the various pros and cons. One of the latter is the city’s proximity to New Orleans.

Emil: He jots down the friend’s email and whatever other contact information he can scrounge from her, he expects a source about his mother’s life from when she was younger would be very useful. He’s unsure how to feel about the offer. His mother already has so much negativity associated with this city, and despite his willingness to betray her trust, the seams in his chest ache at the thought of seeing her hurt again. He deletes the search history, logs out, closes her computer, sets it to the side, and checks up on the keylogger.

GM: The name of his mother’s friend is Sharon Anderson. Lucille has mentioned her before, and fondly, though she doesn’t live in L.A. Most older adults seem to have their share of college friends who’ve taken separate paths in life.

Stacy has qeeqled various terms pertaining to the paper Professor Delacroix’s class, and seemingly several other courses, before signing off from her computer.

The Dixie sun outside has passed well overhead and is starting to set. There’s a perfunctory knock as Emil’s stepfather enters the door, just after he closes his mother’s laptop. He’s carrying a bag with what looks like food.

“Emil. Hope you’ve stayed busy and entertained,” he greets.

Emil: “As much as can be expected, I guess. How’re you and Mom holding up?” He smiles at him as he returns the greeting. “How’d you find time in between your work and making sure I’m protected legally to come in? However you did it,” Emil assures Paul, “I appreciate it.”

GM: “Your mom and I took time off from work,” Emil’s stepfather says as he sits down. “There’s not a whole lot we can do from New Orleans.”

“She’s doing all right. But she’ll be glad when we can get home.”

Emil: “I should be glad once I can leave this bed, home sounds like heaven right about now,” Emil quips.

“But I was wondering, if Mom isn’t working, what’s she been up to. She hasn’t returned my calls.”

GM: “She’s taking care of some things. She’ll be back later.”

Emil: Avoiding the question, are we?

“She’s visiting family,” Emil concludes. “Mom doesn’t like to talk about them, let the past be the past and all. But I’d do it too if I was her. We’re just so close to them, and for so short a time, as well.”

GM: Paul shakes his head. “Your mom doesn’t want to talk about this with you, Emil. Please respect her wishes.”

Emil: Emil nods. “I understand. I just worry about how much stress she’s in. It’s like walking into the past when you just want to make a better future. I just know about myself that I don’t think I could resist revisiting my past if just for a day. Mom’s a strong person, stronger than I am, but if the allure of closure on old problems is too much… I’m worried about her.”

GM: Paul looks annoyed. “Emil, stop prying. That promise you asked your mom to make is causing her a lot of pain.”

Emil: He’s right, Emil is prying. Whether or not his heart wants it, his gut does. There’s a good amount of sincerity in his intention, but it’s becoming all too clear that this place is poisoning him and he needs to make it stop.

“Shit. You’re right, I’m sorry. Seriously. I’ll shut up about it,” he says in contrition. “Being stuck here in this bed is bringing out the worst in me. I hate it.”

GM: Paul rubs his head.

“It’s been a bad Sukkot for a lot of people, it seems like.”

He reaches into the bag.

“There aren’t a lot of Israeli restaurants here to mark the occasion, but this place seemed pretty good…”


Friday evening, 28 September 2007

GM: Dinner is vaguely autumnal and Sukkot-themed, consisting of Acorn Squash (“pistachio tahini, pomegranate, lentils”), Yemenite Flat Bread (“soft-boiled egg, avocado, zhoug”), and leftover cinnamon challah from earlier. It’s decent enough fare, but Paul remarks on how he’s looking forward to getting back to L.A.

Emil’s mother doesn’t join them. His stepfather doesn’t seem to have much conversation in him and doesn’t finish his food.

There’s an awkward moment when a food service worker shows up with some of the saddest-looking brown and white mush Emil has ever seen. It takes four increasingly exasperated tries for Paul to tell the Spanish-speaking woman that the food isn’t needed after she tries to set up a tray by Emil’s bed anyway.

He mutters something vaguely angry about “forgetting small things” and “having enough important things to worry about” after she’s gone. His tone is snappish and perhaps it’s the post-sunset, sickly indoor light that makes the bags under his eyes look deeper and darker. He wishes Emil a somewhat brusque goodnight an says he’ll see him in the morning. When Emil asks if his mother will be joining them, Paul just stares for a moment as if he didn’t hear the question. He finally answers, “We’ll see.”

Emil: Emil wonders whether Paul is deliberately keeping his mother away to protect her. If he is, he isn’t holding it against him, he would do much the same thing if his step-son was causing that much pain. Gotta protect the family, and yet, it doesn’t stop the sting in his chest as he sees Paul walk out of the dimly lit room, with its various machines providing a chorus of atonal beeps and whooshing sounds.

He takes out his computer and dims its blinding light until he can barely make out the text on the screen. He opens a file he snapped off a /mu/ torrent: the_moon.mp3. The alternating acoustic guitars start to play from his computer’s meager speakers and join in the chorus of beeps with chords and chaotic harmony.



He pulls up Stacy’s stream. It’s the evening. The keylogger lays plain her fears, her desperate need to be unshackled of pregnancy. Who knows what it must be like to be in her position? She doesn’t need this, doesn’t need Andy taping her, not now.

I drove up to the city at night
and found the place
where you grew up
and then where you stayed
and then we walked around
and stayed up late
under city lights
and I spent the night
next to you I miraculously woke up
in your parents’ house
I lied in bed with you


Maimonides once said that if a pregnancy is a danger to a woman, then the unborn fetus should be considered a רודף (rodef), someone who pursues with intent to murder. A hunter, you might say. Then again, it can also be translated as an entity which haunts, an unrelenting ghost, inhuman in its tenacity. Her life might not be endangered by the pregnancy, but an unwanted child might haunt her for the rest of her life.

I went back to feel alone there.
I went back to wipe it clean.
I took the lights and
radio towers out of
my dreams.


He thinks of his own, and of how he hasn’t thought about her at all in this city, and he feels a sick shame, he is haunted too.

We went all the way up to the small town where I’m from
with foggy air
and the wind
and the mountain top
and we clung to rocks
and we looked off.


If there is a רודף getting in the way of someone’s life, God commands you to kill them, remove them. For the life of a ghost is anathema.

Tissues litter the table on her desk, and the bags under her eyes are overflown with tears, stained wet on the outside.

He has to do something, he can’t kill the רודף within her, but he can stop the one miles away from seeing her at her most vulnerable.

He turns on a VPN, creates a false company on Facemash, and takes advantage of its advertising system to target ads so specifically only she will see them. It’ll only cost pennies, but they’ll be well spent.

I went back and wished I hadn’t.
I went back and felt regret.
I went to the beach and I stared west.


He sends scaremongering ads proclaiming that “you’re being watched,” describing her demographic as the usually targeted one. After the fear, he offers the simple solution. Sometimes the best defense against digital attacks isn’t anything complex. A simple strip of opaque tape over a webcam will stop any spying through it.

The pounding of the drums and the softly drifting sound of Phil Elverum overtop the waves of raucous dueling guitars makes Emil imagine he is floating over the bed, over hers. But is he a guardian angel or a ghost?

He looks out the window to see the night sky. The second day of Sukkot is over with the rise of the twinkling stars, and he laments still having failed to fulfill the commandment of happiness.

An orange moon stands tall in its dominion over the meager stars, its army dwindled to scattered gas by smog and suffocating city lights.

I went out last night to forget that.
I went out and stared it down
but the moon just stared back at me
and in its light I saw my two feet on the ground.


The song ends abruptly, but it feels oddly right. Until she gets the message, he drops the bitrate of the stream significantly, decreasing the quality enough to make it useless for Andy to try and get any good views.

He closes the computer and his eyes, unadjusted to the darkness, only see the moon. The dim light of the moon.


Saturday morning, 29 September 2007

GM: Sleep does not come easily in the hospital’s unfamiliar bed, and Emil’s dreams are dark and restless. He is glad to awaken.

The first thing he sees on his laptop is a stream of AIM messages from Andy:

HHAHAHAH

TAKE OFF YOUR CLOTHES BABY

YEAHHHH

WOOOOOOOO

LOVE YOUR TITS

OH YEAH BABY SHOW ME YOUR TITS

YYEEEAAAHHH

WOOO

LOOOOKIT THOSE

PERKY

YYYEESSSSS

YYEESSSSSSSSSS

TALK TO ME

YYEEAAHHHHHHH

thanks man you’re the BEST i owe you one!!!!!!! :DDDDD

worked like a CHARM!!!!!

i blew the biggest load… ;D

took pics toooooo :DDDDDDD

soooooo many piiiics ;DDD

god my dicks gonna be so sore

you’re the BEST EMIL!!!!! :DDDD

Emil: Emil’s eye twitches in a way it hasn’t done in years since he went to his childhood therapist, Madison Howards, as a five-year-old. He angrily types into his keyboard a response to Andy before noticing an unopened email in his inbox from the previous night, titled Final Ad Confirmation, Click To Activate.

It’s not much consolation for Emil, but at least he shot the bitrate all the way down to hell, which says more about Andy’s desperation than anything. He almost feels bad for him, but then he throws up in his mouth a little bit, and even that consolation turns distasteful. He swallows it down, and it’s vicious on his raw throat. The seemingly endless stream of morphine has dried his mouth out. It feels like a cracked sidewalk.

He clicks the confirmation link, unsatisfied. How much is this guy’s favor worth? What was he thinking?

He deletes the angry message was going to send, he isn’t about to have done something awful in vain. Instead he types:

Oh yeah? Maybe you should compliment her instead of telling me then? But like, not publicly, do it anonymously so it isn’t weird between you two. Maybe she’d like the attention? No pictures though, women don’t like ‘em at all and you wouldn’t want to identify yourself.

GM: Philips quickly types back:

uh think she’d find it pretty creepy?

Emil: Now he worries about being creepy, that’s just perfect.

Maybe, but she might find it as hot as you would. Exhibitionism is one of the most popular kinks. It’d be hotter if she liked it, right? Can even give you a model as your profile pic. he writes.

GM: eh dunno man

not like compliments are gonna get me more tits

already got tits ;D

Emil: It was worth a shot. On the bright side, that was likely an awful idea. The ad is finally sent now. Or did I confirm it already and the email server just didn’t note it as read. It’s done that before. Poor Stacy, Emil thinks.

You know they have bars you can go to see nude women. Get dances from them too. Has the plus side of being mostly legal.

Or Barely Legal.

GM: The final ad disappears into the aether to reappear whenever it does on Stacy’s Facebbook feed. Emil passes the morning on his laptop and gets checked on by a nurse. Another food service worker delivers one of the saddest plates of runny, undercooked eggs and slimy grits that he has ever tasted. Eating it leaves him feeling even hungrier than before.

Paul sees Emil again around noon. He’s talked with his stepson’s assigned academic adviser at Tulane, who said that Emil’s professors will almost certainly allow him to withdraw from their classes with a ‘W’ on his transcript (‘withdraw passing’) given his hospitalization. He will be able to explain to future colleges that Tulane’s ‘W’ means he was passing the course, and is distinct from a ‘WF’ (‘withdraw fail’) or ‘UW’ (‘unofficial withdrawal’). The ‘W’ isn’t “anything to crow over,” but at least will not impact his GPA. Once Emil is well enough to leave the hospital, the adviser said Emil will go to the Student Health Center for evaluation by a physician, after which he will likely obtain approval from the SCS Dean’s office. Paul says he and Emil’s mother are going to see if they can obtain an exemption from the physician evaluation, given that Emil is currently in the hospital. In the meantime, they are hiring a moving company to pack up Emil’s things and ship them to Los Angeles. He’ll stay at their house there.

In short, as soon as Emil is physically well enough to leave Tulane Medical Center, his parents want him on a plane with them out of New Orleans.

If Emil has objections, Paul points out the fact that he and his mother are both essentially taking a period of leave from their jobs to be here. The longer they stay in New Orleans, the less of that leave will be paid leave.

Emil: Emil raises a couple objections on top of it. First of all, he’s an independent adult, and while he’s agreed to come back to Los Angeles, his parents also agreed to give him the time and space to pick up the pieces of his life here. He notes that he also has a job and he needs to quit gracefully by finding a replacement for the remainder of the semester. He doesn’t want them to get into any financial trouble, but he’s an adult, he can and will find his own way home and soon, but not immediately. He also says that he wants to do something to give back to the community, something he’s been planning during the hospital stay. He waits for Paul’s reaction before going into any detail on it.

GM: “Emil, your mother and I are spending a lot of money to come out here, to cover your medical bills, to cover tuition at your new school, and to hire an attorney for your friend,” Paul answers frankly. “You have until you’re well enough to leave the hospital to take care of those things, which the doctors say could be at least a week. Your mother and I will help out however we can. But once you can leave, we’re leaving.”

Emil: Emil looks disappointed in Paul’s response but doesn’t give up just yet. He’s gonna get the time he was promised by his folks. He wonders where his mother is, and can only come to the conclusion more firmly that Paul is keeping her away. He can’t blame him, but it is no less increasingly frustrating.

Emil responds to Paul by asking him if he knew Rabbi Shemtov or the Rabinowitz family when he lived here. He explains that he’s been going to the Touro Syngagogue, where Shemtov works, fairly regularly. He tells his stepfather about the hit on the community that is the recent passing of the mother of the Rabinowitz family, and how he feels immense guilt about not being able to attend her burial or the shiv’a to help the mourners. He expresses the great respect he has for the community and for the Rabbi, and that he wants to raise money within the community to start a scholarship fund in the mother’s memory. But he can’t do that without having more time outside the hospital. The rabbi is currently busy tending to the mourner’s needs and he needs to speak to the Rabinowitzes to get their input and blessing to go through with it.

“I’ve done enough to hurt people, Paul. I want to do something good,” he finishes, confident in his wording and his sound logic.

But on the inside, where it counts, he can’t shrug the feeling he’s doing this for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps he’s been making the wrong assumptions this whole time. Maybe Paul isn’t keeping Mom away, maybe the truth is his mother cannot stand the sight of him anymore. She’s been too sick of hurting, too sick of seeing him hurt.

And what is the real kick in the ass is that Emil agrees. He doesn’t want his mother anywhere near him. He’s telling the honest, virtuous truth but his tongue feels coarse, long, and dry, like the desert he’s been lingering in for twenty one years like his ancestors who only claimed to know God did.

Except, he’s not even that. He’s not a real Jew. He was young enough when he converted that all he had to do was take a dip in the Mikveh. And that normally comes with a blessing, but Emil, for fuck’s sake, couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it halfway decent. Paul did it for him. And he’s been surrounding himself in all the religion and language he can ever since, desperate, because he knows deep, buried inside his heart, that had he been in Egypt at the time of Pharaoh, he wouldn’t have crossed the Red Sea with the Israelites. He wouldn’t have even been a slave. Instead, he would have been a West African merchant offering praise to the God-King and bringing him a new leather strap for his royal scourge.

GM: “Emil,” his stepfather says levelly, or with attempted levelness, “You sh…”

Emil doesn’t hear the rest.

Blood spurts down his nose, warm, wet, and coppery. It’s the last thing he perceives as his vision tunnels and the darkness rushes in. His head feels like it’s about to split open as the words pour out. Like they once did, all those years ago:

“Mom’s going to die. Mom’s going to die. She’s going to die soon. Soon. Soon. She’s going to die soon. Die soon. Soon. Soon.”

“For me. For me. She’s going to die for me. Back. He. Coming back. For me. He. Coming, for, save me. Save me. Coming back. Die for me. He. Die, he, me, die, he, me, die, DIE…”

His stepfather’s mouth hangs open.

“What!?”

Emil: Emil pushes, peels, like he always does, like he always craves to. His skull splits open and his brains are splattering out bit by bit, falling and becoming letters, sounds, emotions, sights. He has to know more. He has to know more. What the fuck is happening to Mom?! And then he realizes that he said that aloud.

He screams, and the sudden pressure differential splatters more crimson snot against his shirt.

“Wha- the fuck! PAUL! MOM!” He has his arms out and he’s shaking, his eyes consumed with terror.

“It’s happening again! Where is she?! Where is Mom, Paul!?” He looks at the ceiling, using his coated fingers to push the bloody knowledge back into his nostrils so that he can push it out again.

“Where is Dad?! Dad, it’s happening again! What’s happening anymore?! Can you hear me?! Can you hear me Dad I know you’re listening.” His body pushes, tries to lift off the bed, to stretch at the truth, but his strength isn’t there, and his statue stiff form is tied and pulled down by ropes of catheters and iv tubes. He’s crying, and the blood mingles with the tears and spreads red across the canvas of his face like abstract watercolor paint.

GM: His stepfather lunges for the nurse call button.

NURSE! He’s, he’s having an attack! HELP!”

Emil: Suddenly he’s very still, and then he moves to grab Paul’s arm and look into his eyes.

“Paul. Don’t. Please. Mom. Mom. Dying. She. Dying. For Me. I’ve seen it. Did you hear me? Did you hear me? Did you hear what came out of me?” he asks, as his words slowly start to come out decreasingly staccato.

GM: Paul keeps his finger pressed against the call button as he shouts into the receiver. There’s replies from the nurse, about how someone will “be right over!”

He lays a firm hand on his stepson’s shoulder. His face looks concerned. More than concerned. He says something else.

Emil doesn’t hear it.

The screams well up in his throat like the answer he gave to his father’s unspeakable question on that long-ago car ride:

DAD I KNOW YOU’RE THERE DAD I KNOW YOU’RE THERE DAD PLEASE BE ALIVE DAD PLEASE BE ALIVE DAD ANSWER ME DAD ANSWER ME DAAAAAAAAD-!”

The words well up from his aching lungs, but they have teeth and claws and fangs. They hurt coming out. Emil tastes blood as he spews them out like hot vomit. Spews them far. Spews them wide. Spews them beyond the hospital room to a place as mad and irrational as the words themselves.

Emil:DAD THEY STOLE YOUR LETTERYOUR MESSAGES THEY STOLE YOUR WORDS! THEY’RE GONNA KILL HER DAD SHE’S GONNA DIE DAD, THE WOMAN DOESN’T HAVE TO DIE DAD, SHE’S GONNA DIE FOR ME DAAAAAD! WHY DOES MOM HAVE TO DIE DAD! SAVE HER DAAAAAD MOM’S GONNA DIIIIIIIIIE!”

His hands are clamped around his own throat as the words crawl out of his throat and sprout crooked wings which tear open the sides of his cheeks. The intracranial pressure pushes blood out of every orifice, his wood stained skin is pocked red as his tears are displaced with something thicker than water, more permanent than pillars of salt. And he can’t close his eyes.

GM: He isn’t that lucky.

There’s more shouts and noises from Paul. He doesn’t make them out. There’s people bursting into the room, too, dressed in medical clothing. They pin him down against the bed, start to re-fasten leather straps. A nurse depresses a sedative into his arm.

His mom’s there, too.

She smiles a sick, too-wide smile. It pulls wide the second, lower smile across her slashed throat.

“Eeeeemil,” she sings in a gurgling voice that sends red running down her chest, “I’m with your daaaaad…”

Vision fades out as the needle stabs in.

And it all goes black.


Saturday afternoon, 29 September 2007

GM: Vision swims reluctantly back into focus. Pain, with it. Uncertainty, with it.

Dr. Crawford is sitting across from him.

“Hello, Emil. How are you feeling?” she greets.

His wrists are in padded leather cuffs again.

Emil: Tears well up and pour down his face the instant he remembers the awful gash in his mother’s throat from what only seemed like moments before.

He shakes his head and asks incredulously, “Where’s my mom, Doctor?”

GM: “I am not aware,” his doctor answers perfunctorily. “Let’s talk about you, Emil. What is the last thing you remember saying?”

Emil: He struggles to say the words, not because he doesn’t remember them but because of their utter profanity.

“I was yelling for my dad. And my mom, I thought she was going to die. I felt it in my bones. In my blood. Pounding on my skull. Bony claws rapping S.O.S. in Morse on my ear drums and climbing out of my mouth.”

GM: “I see. Why did you think your mother was going to die?” Dr. Crawford asks.

Emil: “I don’t know.”

He does, he just can’t think how to explain it. “You know that awful sinking feeling you get when you fall in a dream? Normally you stop falling and wake up. But it just went deeper and deeper and there was blood and I felt it pounding up against me and I heard my own panicked thoughts, and in my gut I felt it. I can’t explain it. I know.”

And I’ve been right before, he thinks to himself.

GM: “I see,” the doctor repeats. “Tell me more about the feelings you experienced in your bones and your blood.”

Emil: She thinks I’m nuts. What good is a medical doctorate if it just makes you ignore unpleasant facts?

“I was bleeding a lot, Doctor. Like I did when I was a kid, from my nose. I don’t know if its in my records but we tried to get it cauterized, worked for a while. Til now.”

Emil spends some time talking about his medical history very plainly, it helps distract him from shedding tears. He points out how this has happened before, similar damage. Blood, intracranial pressure, throat damage. He is willing to let her examine his throat to show her the scarring.

He doesn’t have the energy to try and understand what he experienced beyond the obscure feeling-phrases he’s tried to convey. He tells her that he used to visit a therapist to help him deal with these episodes, a Madison Howards. He asks if she can check if she’s still in the city. He tries to understand from the doctor what his outburst looked like to everyone surrounding him.

GM: Dr. Crawford questions Emil thoroughly as to his medical history and personal recollection, but seems little swayed by his answers and fixated upon his earlier behavior. She does not even look at his throat and mentions that Emil has already been physically examined by medical staff. She finally takes her leave. Emil remains cuffed to his bed. He makes out two words, though, which she says to the nurse:

Commitment proceedings.

Emil: Dammit. Dammit. Dammit.

He rests back against the pillow, holding back his frustration, and closes his eyes.

GM: His stepfather eventually comes to see him. Paul expresses gratefulness that Emil is “stable and all right,” but also deep concern, and asks about his version of events. He comforts Emil that his mother is just fine.

But she still isn’t there.

Emil: He’s internalized most of the frustration by now, curling it up someplace in his forehead to show up as some awkward wrinkle when he reaches old age. In answering Paul and explaining what he felt, Emil feels that same inability to express what he needs to without sounding unbelievable. He asks Paul if Mom ever told him about how he was as a child, told him about what he did to help his father on investigations, about this happening before.

GM: Paul’s brow just furrows. He says that none of that matters. “This place has been bad for you… and for your mom. Too many memories she just wants to leave behind.”

Emil: “You’re right, it’s been terrible for all of us. I had to have a therapist as a five year old, Paul. Five years old. Because this isn’t the first time I’ve lived these waking nightmares. It was every time my dad needed my help. I’d push and I’d push and this would happen, and I would know something awful was going to happen. And then it would happen, Paul. Like clockwork. That’s why I’m so scared, Paul.”

He tears up again as his throat tightens.

“I don’ wan Mom to geh ‘urt. An’ I ‘ave a terrible feeling she will if I don’ prodegt ‘er. If you don’ bel—eve me, find mah therapist. Ask ’er. Please,” he pleads with his stepfather.

Emil pleads and begs. To make his stepfather listen. To understand the truth.

GM: Paul looks sadder, more torn than Dr. Crawford ever did.

But it’s the same look in his eyes.

That Emil is losing it.

That he’s unhinged.

That he’s crazy.

“Emil, whatever happens, your mother and I will get you the best help we can,” his stepfather says slowly. “We won’t let this impact your future. And we’ll help you get better.”

Emil: Emil’s face falls flat, he’s a tin man built during a metal shortage, feeling everything through foil thin walls, his screams failing to escape the echo chamber that makes him up.

“You want to see if I need to be committed. You probably think it would be wise. Just let me speak to my therapist, she was so good to me in the past, I know I can get better.”

GM: “The last thing we need, Emil, is more of the past,” Paul declares adamantly.

He seems to chew on that as he looks at Emil, then finally says, almost helplessly, "Look. This… all of this, it has to be this place. The things you mom has… "

He shakes his head.

“We’ll help you get out of this, Emil. The commitment your doctor is talking about. But we’ll air-lift you out of New Orleans, today, to another hospital. The job, classes, all of that, you’ll handle over the phone. You’re getting out of this city. Deal?”

Emil: “Thank you for caring so much even when I push back. This city is ruining me. I can’t do everything I need to if I leave, but sometimes not everything that needs to be done can be done. I want to leave with you and Mom, today. I just want to speak to one person, not from the past, not from this city. He’s an outsider that’s been keeping me grounded even as I’ve been getting hurt and confused, but I haven’t spoken to him in too long and it shows. I need one last blessing from him, Paul. In person. From my rabbi, Rachman Shemtov. Say yes and I will follow you wherever you take me.”

Emil looks into Paul’s eyes, and quotes the twelfth chapter of the Torah in Hebrew and English.

“וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.”

“Now the LORD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”

“I trust you Paul, whatever you decide, and I’ll go wherever you take me. But grant me my Rabbi’s blessing, please. I need this.”

GM: “If he’s free before we can get you airlifted out,” Paul replies tersely.

Emil: "You have my sworn word, Paul. I’d shake your hand but well… " he looks at the bonds holding his hands down.

GM: “Yeah.”

His stepfather heaves a sigh and rubs a hand against his forehead. His posture is slack and the bags under his eyes look even darker.

He finally rises from his chair.

“Your mom’s right. This city is Sodom. Look back, and you won’t ever leave.”

Emil: There’s a lesser known part of the story of Sodom and Gommorah. Of Abraham arguing with God that the cities shouldn’t be destroyed. If he could only find fifty good men the cities should be spared. But Abraham, in all of his holiness, lacked hope. He bartered with God, not fifty people but forty. Not forty but thirty. Not thirty but twenty. Not twenty but ten. As long as ten good men could be found in the city, ten righteous men, it would be spared.

Of course, Abraham never did find them, and in Emil’s opinion, he never really looked. And the skies opened up and those who saw what happened turned to salt. This city’s a den of sin, but it isn’t forsaken. Emil knows a few good men live in the city. If there weren’t any, Katrina should have swallowed it up for good.

For this, Emil still has faith.

View
Emil II, Chapter IV
The Shevu'ah

“Why do you think I took you away from New Orleans? So this wouldn’t happen!”
Lucille Jonas


Day? September 2007?

GM: Emil hurts.

Everywhere.

He feels like he’s been torn to pieces. He’s wet, everywhere. He can feel air against rents in his skin, everywhere. The coppery scent of blood is overpowering.

His vision is gone. All he knows is pain.

Emil: He does the only thing he can do.

He screams.

GM: It comes out a guttural moan.

His throat feels like he’s swallowed razor blades.

Support: “Fuck!” yells a voice.

Emil: He moans.

Louder.

His eyes are stretched open, two ivory orbs crowded with bulging veins which chain two brown pupils which struggle in their bonds, moving frantically but unable to escape their prisons.

His moans continue inscrutably but are punctuated with cries of, “ABBA!”

GM: His throat burns.

More.

Like he’s swallowing fire.

But he sees a face.

Elliot’s.

Support: “Shut up!” shouts the man. “Shut up! Fuck!”

He disappears.

Then Emil feels a blanket wrapping around him in a hug that belies the jerking reaction of his words.

Emil: Emil’s flailings make it a nuisance to wrapping him up, but the man is too broken to resist effectively. His limbs thrash weakly against the blanket and the screams seem to last a small eternity, but something about being smothered calms Emil down enough to recognize Emmett.

“E… El? Where am I?” he half-screams, his bloodsoaked brows scrunching up like a wet rag.

Emmett: “You’re home. You’re home, it’s okay, just… if you can take a few deep breaths, try to do that.”

GM: He can’t see well, but Elliot seems to be telling the truth.

He’s back in his dorm room. At the foot of his bed.

Emmett: “Do you have any hot chocolate?” he asks lamely. “Or tea, or something? Just… relax. I’ll make something.”

Emil: “Tea. Yeah, tea.” He nods, convincing himself that’s what he needs. He points to a cardboard box with a quivering that is so torn Em can see the long strands of sinew stretching and contracting as he gestures. There’s a tea kettle resting on top of a box of Lipton.

He catches a glimpse of the innards of his limb and he starts to shudder a little short of violently under the blanket. “A dream within a dream,” he mutters not so quietly.

Emmett: Elliot turns away and watches the kettle as the water heats.

“Is—is there anything else I can do for you?” he asks, doubtlessly aware of the absurdity of the question.

Emil: Emil responds equally absurdly.

“Wake me up. Please wake me up.”

Emmett: “O-okay. I can make some coffee too.”

He eventually sets two mugs before Emil, one with tea, the other with lousy, mostly gray fluid. He’s also prepared the cup of noodles predictably tucked into the student’s cupboard.

He lets Emil eat in silence while he sips occasionally from his own glass of hot water.

Emil: “I guess I’m awake now,” Emil says, staring down at the granular remains at the bottom of his coffee mug.

“Thank you.” He puts the cup down, wincing at the movement.

Emmett: “It’s okay,” he says, far too quickly. Nothing about this is okay.

“So, um. Uh.”

He scratches at the back of his head.

“What… what happened?”

Emil: “I was at the library researching—and then the lights turned off—and then it was chasing me—and then it got me. And then I thought I was going to die. And then it spoke to me in Hebrew. And then…” He stares Em in the eyes, swallowing something thick down.

“I woke up in a memory, and everything was red. And everything was dark. And now I’m here awake again. But I was drugged. I must have been drugged…” he trails off, drinking deeply but getting nothing from the other empty mug.

Emmett: “Oh.”

El takes a sip of his hot water.

Because he has to say something, he says, “My name is Em. Not El.”

“Hold on a second,” he mutters, and then looks under the bed.

He looks away, quickly.

“Okay. Okay. I have…”

GM: It’s the last thing Emil hears.

Blackness overtakes him.


Day? September 2007?

GM: Emil’s vision goes from black to white. White everywhere. Pain everywhere. He hurts all over.

“Good morning. Can you hear me?”

Emil: Emil once asked his rabbi why God gives humans pain. He told him that back in the day if you were the kind to gossip about people behind their backs, God would strike you with leprosy. If you had gotten leprosy, you couldn’t feel a single thing cause all of your nerves would’ve been deadened. You’d get people walking around with their limbs half falling off and feeling fine as flour. Being an awful person was the old world’s anesthetic.

Emil takes little comfort in the knowledge that if he’s in this much pain, God must really love him.

He also remembers that heaven means being surrounded by God’s love.

He looks towards the sound, half expecting an angel to be staring at him?

“Yes I can. Am I dead?” he responds, immensely uncomfortable at the prospect.

GM: The figure by Emil’s bedside is a short, firmly built woman with equally short, bushy hair and a wide set of eyes. She’s dressed in a doctor’s white coat.

Pic.jpg
“No, you are not dead,” the woman answers perfunctorily. “My name is Dr. Crawford. You are in a hospital. Do you remember what your name is?”

It’s then that Emil notices the thickly padded leather restraints around his wrists.

Emil: “Oh,” Emil says, not quite sure as to why he’s restrained given how broken he feels.

“It’s Emil Kane.”

GM: “Do you remember why you are here, Emil?”

Emil: Emil is slow to speak, and when he does it’s in short simple phrases. “I got attacked. I think I was drugged. It was awful. I don’t know how. I woke up in my house. I was really hurt. I’m in a lot of pain right now.”

GM: “We’ve given you as much morphine as we’re allowed, Emil. Please tell me more about what happened to you.”

Emil: This is the most morphine they could give? Emil remembers the squelching sound of his innards being torn and struggles not to turn green. “I was researching when it happened. It went dark and then they chased me. They tackled me and I passed out.” Emil’s voice starts to shake as the gruesome scene of the barn passes into his mind.

“They hurt someone. They stripped me and covered me in the blood. Oh God.” Emil wants to press his fist to his mouth, to hold in the words, but the restraints keep him strapped down. His chest moves slowly, heavily. His breath rattles.

GM: “Tell me more, Emil,” Dr. Crawford patiently requests. “Who was chasing you? Who did they hurt?”

She lays a hand on his wrist, but makes no move to undo the restraints.

Emil: He just shakes his head; not knowing makes everything so much worse. “I don’t know. I don’t know. I didn’t see them. It was so dark. Why am I restrained?”

GM: “I can answer that once you’ve answered my questions, Emil. Tell me about the blood they covered you in.”

Emil: It’s at this point that Emil remembers that he doesn’t actually know if the blood was from a human. Maybe they just left a nose there.

“I don’t know where the blood came from. I hoped it was just an animal. But I’m not very hopeful any more. I know I was bleeding too, but that was later.”

GM: Dr. Crawford continues to question him.

Emil: Emil is mostly willing to answer, and gives similarly short answers, but after a point he stops her and asks,

“Look, I know you need to do your job. You need to know what I remember.” He coughs, looking miserable. “But it’s really hard to think about all this. My head isn’t clear. I’ve been vomiting all my food out. They broke me just about everywhere and I don’t know the who or the why or the when. I need to know what happened to me. If you know, you can’t hold that from me. Please.” He stares at her in earnest.

GM: “We need to know what you know first, Emil. Once we have that, I will answer what questions you have,” the doctor answers him.

Emil: “Who is we?”

GM: “Tulane Medical Center.”

Emil: “Thank you for telling me. I don’t know how much more I can talk about this though. I just feel confused about it all. I can try; though, if I have more context, I can probably be more helpful to you. I want to make your life easier. Least I can do after y’all helping me heal.”

GM: “Right now you will be of the most help answering what you personally recall, Emil.”

Emil: Emil notes that his recollections are hazy, but nevertheless tells what he remembers about the attack. He tells her about the kidnapping, the assault, and blood and the darkness. That the attacker spoke to him in Hebrew, but he might have just been imagining because he was praying for his life and he might have confused his thoughts for sounds. He didn’t want to end up like the last victim, he saw what was left of him; they left it like a warning. He tells her about waking up suddenly in his room, screaming under his bed, about the kind man who helped him out and about passing out before waking up again in this bed.

GM: “All right, Emil. That is everything we need,” Dr. Crawford replies when he’s finished.

Emil: Emil nods at her response, eyeing his restraints, wondering whether he just made a mistake. “All right, can you tell me what you know happened now?”

GM: “You’ve suffered quite a few injuries. Your condition is currently stable.”

Emil: Stable. Normally a nice word, we like stable waters, stables keep order in farms. But stable means unchanging, and with severe injuries, stable sounds like an awful couple of weeks in Emil’s future.

“Oh. How long have I been out? How much longer am I going to be here?”

GM: “You’ve received surgery and been unconscious for the better part of yesterday. You’re looking at at least a week with us.”

Emil: “What did they do to me? How did they hurt me so bad?”

GM: “You suffered numerous lacerations. Jagged cuts like the ones you received mean a harder recovery, as they leave your skin with no clear vision of how to heal itself.”

Emil: “I see.” Whatever it was that attacked him, they wanted to leave their mark.

“Can you hazard a guess as to what the weapon was?” he asks, the cogs in his head turning.

GM: “Anything with a serrated edge. Saws, rusted cleavers, many knives.”

Emil: Since when did shadows carry knives?

Emil nods. “Did it look like they were trying to kill me? I don’t remember escaping them.”

GM: Dr. Crawford raises an eyebrow at the question.

“They were certainly doing a poor job of not killing you if they weren’t trying to. You’re lucky to be alive.”

Emil: Emil wonders why he woke up if they wanted him dead. Why would they bring him back home? Did they? Perhaps it wasn’t the shadow that was whispering to him. Perhaps someone out there wants to protect him. Emil feels a wave of warmth spreading down his spine and out through the great delta of nerves which spread out through his body.

“Luck is such a small force in the world when there are people who want and need things. Someone needs me alive, so I’m alive.”

GM: Dr. Crawford pats his wrist. “I have other patients to see to, Emil. A nurse will come by later to check on you. Get some rest.” She rises from her seat.

Emil: He looks to her with happiness in his eyes. “If you would, one last thing Dr.: why am I restrained?”

GM: “Because I’m not sure how much of your story is true or whether you’ve killed someone,” the short woman answers frankly.

“The police will also be by later with questions.”

Emil: “All right. Thank you.”

Emil isn’t so sure himself. Or at least, he isn’t sure he wasn’t forced to. He’s no killer. God knows that.
His savior apparently knows that too.


Friday morning, 28 September 2007

GM: Time crawls in the hospital. Emil stares at the blank room’s ceiling and waits. And waits.

Eventually he konks out. Then he wakes back up. The lighting looks different. He still hurts everywhere, but he feels hungry and thirsty too.

It’s then that he gets his first visitors.

Both are dark-skinned and bearded. The first wears a suit, the second a button-up shirt. The first is thin of hair, and the second is thick. The first wears his crescent NOPD badge on his hip, the second wears it over his necktie on a cord around neck.

“Morning, Emil. I’m Detective Moore, NOPD,” says the first man as he sits down.

“Detective Hill,” says the second man as he does the same.

“We’d like to ask you some questions about how you wound up here,” says Detective Moore.

Emil: “Good morning Detective Moore; Detective Hill,” Emil says, nodding at each. “I appreciate you coming down, but I’m not so sure it would be a good idea for me to be answering questions right now, I’m still recuperating from the assault.”

GM: “Yeah, I’m sure it wasn’t much fun getting grilled by your doctor,” says Hill. “You look like you’ve been hurt all over the place.”

Emil: “Well if it’s that bad to look at you can guess just how painful it feels. The doctor says they cut me fairly rough. It’s gonna be a while before the wounds heal up, but hey—it’ll leave a nice scar or ten.” Emil laughs, and then groans at the stretching of the stitches holding his skin together.

GM: “Scars build character. Or at least look badass,” smiles Moore.

Emil: The warmth from the men makes Emil smile. “That’s what my dad always used to say to me ever since I got this:” Emil cranes his head away from the men and points to the rough, discolored patch of skin on his neck about the size of a quarter.

GM: “Oh huh, where’d you get that one?” asks Hill.

Emil: Thinking on it, Emil doesn’t quite remember much about the hows or the whys, it’s been there as long as he could remember. Nevertheless, just like the rest of the gaps in his memory, Emil has come to fill it in with a canned response. “I always like to tell people that it is genetic. My dad had one to match right in the same spot. Funny how those things turn out.”

GM: “Lots of stuff runs in the family,” says Hill. “My wife and I had our second kid not too long ago. He looks just like me. Maybe he’ll pick up the scar I’ve got on my knee.”

“You hungry, Emil? The hospital food here is pure slop,” says Moore.

Emil: “I could go for some food. Not sure they’d let me out of here for lunch though, not until my skin stops insisting on simulating the splitting of Pangaea.”

GM: Hill holds up a large O’Tolley’s bag. “No need to go out yourself.”

Emil: “Oh y’all came in prepared.” Emil chuckles. “You must not be kidding about the food they serve here. Or maybe you two are just trying to bring some of that southern hospitality to the hospital. Either way, I appreciate it.”

GM: “Never met a patient who hasn’t,” chuckles Moore as he starts pulling out packages with the distinctive yellow ‘O’ logo.

“Just a day of the slop here and you’ll have all-organic vegans looking at O’Tolley’s like it’s mana from heaven,” remarks Hill. Emil’s stomach ravenously grumbles as the detective flips open the box for a Big O and sets it by Emil’s leather-cuffed right hand.

Emil: “Well it certainly looks good from here. Smells good too.” Emil doesn’t necessarily want to ask for anything explicitly from the detectives. You ask for too much from strangers, you can expect to pay them back sooner or later. Gifts too make Emil wary, but it offers at least some plausible deniability, and besides that- Emil is hungry. He eyes the leather cuffs.

“The doctor said I had to be kept down for safe keeping, though I think they just like to have me around.”

GM: “Huh, doesn’t look like there’s much reach on those,” says Moore.

“Not my idea of a fun way to eat anyway,” says Hill. He bends over Emil’s wrists to fiddle with the cuffs, and in short order the restraints come off. Moore sets down a side of fries and a chocolate shake on his bedside table.

Emil: Emil peels his wrists off of the leather rests and the sound of their separation makes him thankful for how numb his arms feel. His hands start to feel the barrage of needles that his body uses to chastise him for waking it up, but the uncomfortable feeling is balanced out when he wraps his fingers around the perspiring cup of overly sweetened slush and sucks on the plastic barbershop tower-looking straw.

It seems even the milkshakes in this city feel the especially oppressive humidity, the constant heat. Now, it was hot in L.A. too, no doubt, but it would still take a good couple minutes of effort to convince milkshake to climb up a straw. Here, the fluid flows freely, desperate to jump into the cave of his mouth. Anything to get out of the sun.

“What unit are y’all working for?” Emil asks, swallowing down a thick dollop of the chocolate treat.
It tastes like concentrated sugar and fat. In his present state, it’s like drinking liquid happiness.

GM: “Homicide,” answers Moore. “Not always easy, but you’re doing good work.”

Hill pops some french fries. “Dessert first, huh?”

Emil: As Emil had suspected. He wonders why they’re being so nice to him; whether they’re just trying to butter him up to get him to admit to something he didn’t do. And he didn’t kill anyone. It’s hard to dispute that if that is what they’re doing, it is working at least a little bit, because Emil has some hope that they’re sympathizing with his case.

“I’m very systematic in my eating. You see, I drink down this shake first to lubricate the throat, start the journey off nice and sweet. I don’t like to hold off until the end like some folks. I like to finish my meal with something heartier, it keeps the taste buds excited for a while after.” He pops a few fries himself after giving them a good dip into the milkshake.

“Anyways, you’re in good company. My dad used to work homicide cases here when I was little. I bet he’d agree with you. Hard but worthwhile.”

GM: “Oh really, who was your dad?” asks Moore between a bite of burger.

Emil: “Lieutenant Earl Kane,” Emil responds, putting down his drink. “Have you heard of him?”

GM: “Don’t think so,” Hill says after a moment of thought, taking a bite from his chicken sandwich. “We’ve not been working at NOPD for too long, though. Tell us about him?”

Emil: Emil rubs the scar on the back of his neck, and admits “To be honest, I don’t personally know much about him. He died when I was young, so most of his reputation I’ve learned by asking questions. The remainder of my knowledge comes from fuzzy childhood memories of him taking me on the job.” Though there’s been a severe decrease in fuzz over the past week. “It’s why I’m here really, in the city. To learn about my dad.”

Emil pauses for a moment to take a sip of milkshake. It sputters up the straw in a way that says his cups almost drained dry. “Where’d y’all work before getting into the NOPD?”

GM: “Sheriff’s department,” says Moore. “NOPD has better perks.”

“Air Force,” says Hill. “I was ready to settle down and start a family.”

Moore slurps his shake. “That’s neat your dad would take you with him. Like bring your kid to work day. You do many ride-alongs?”

Emil: Emil responds fairly casually, “All the time up until like first grade. He liked having me there to help out on investigations, though I’m not sure how much good I actually was. My mother hated it, she’s always had a tendency to worry about me too much, but I guess that’s all mothers. Divorced my dad over it.” He tries to take one last sip from the shake but only gets air from the straw.

GM: “Yeah, moms want what’s best for their kids,” says Hill. “My wife never divorced me, but she kinda hinted at it, if we didn’t settle down.”

Emil: “Well it sounds like you made the right choice, we’ve got to hold onto our loved ones. What made you choose New Orleans? Did you grow up here?” Emil asks Hill.

GM: “Wife did,” the detective answers. “I grew up in Columbus. We ‘shopped around’ a bit, I guess you could say, and thought Orleans was the better city.”

Emil: “And having been out here for some time, what do you think? Are you still satisfied starting a family out here?” Emil queries the man.

GM: Moore raises an eyebrow from behind his shake, but Hill just takes another sandwich bite and answers, “Yeah, it’s got a lot of culture and community.”

Emil: Emil smiles, partially to calm any misconstruction of his intentions and otherwise in relief at the reaffirmation of the good he knows lives in the city.

“I’m glad. Someday I want to settle down here, start a real family. Naturally, you were the right person to ask about it, given how much of the worst there is out here you have to deal with to do your job well.”

GM: “Glad we could be of help,” Moore smiles back, munching down some fries.

“What’s it you want to do for your job, Emil, when you settle down?” Hill asks, reaching for some fries too.

Emil: “I’ve got good memories of working alongside my dad, so I’ve always had a predilection towards investigative work. But I dunno if I could really do what he did exactly.” Emil looks down at his arms. They’re like a pair of tapered pipes, thin and stiff. He wonders if his wrists were just a bit thinner he might’ve been able to slip out of the restraints if he gave it a go.

“Dad left me behind a pair of boxing gloves when he died. They never really fit right. I take well to computers though, and I’m getting a degree in computer science. So I was thinking I could do a career in stopping cyber-crime.” He clasps his hands together and lets them rest on the blanket covering his similarly stiff, though noticeably more well-oiled legs.

GM: “Well, I’ll be. You thinking of joining NOPD, the FBI, some other agency?” asks Moore.

Emil: Emil nods. “If I got to choose, I’d say the NOPD would feel the most like home. But well, with these kinds of things it’s pretty much at the mercy of who is willing to offer the first internship. Though that depends a lot on how I can make myself stand out. I’ve got a bit of an advantage, having studied a couple years in L.A., cause Tulane’s program is pretty new, not even a full major’s course-load of CS classes. So I’ll have had a little broader education than my peers. Of course, the biggest in you can get in any job is if you have connections to vouch for you from the inside.” Emil shrugs jovially before scanning the reactions of the detectives. The internship search never dies, even when you’re suspected of murder.

GM: “Oh, it works a little differently in NOPD,” says Moore.

“Better, actually,” says Hill. “There’s no internship BS. You apply to academy, and when you’re a trainee, you actually get paid.”

“You don’t actually need a college degree,” Moore adds, “though you get a higher salary if you have one. And the guys at the upper ranks pretty much all have one.”

Emil: Emil is a little shocked. “Damn! That’s a lot better than what the CIA recruiter at the job fair was telling me about their process. They said I’d be fighting over an internship with thousands of other applicants, and even if I got in it would be months of a rat race to get an actual job there. To be honest I’m not sure they very much liked recruiting but the dead look in their eyes made me believe them.”

GM: Moore laughs at the description. “Guess NOPD has lower standards. That sounds like a shit deal just for a shot at getting your foot in the door though.”

“Yeah, I thought NOPD was a good deal,” says Hill. “You pretty much just fill out an application, do some interviews that are really just to show you aren’t a total shithead. There’s also a drug and fitness test, but whatever. Once you clear that you’re in the academy and getting paid.”

Emil: “That is a pretty sweet deal,” Emil agrees. “I’ve got a couple more semesters to pull through but if I can hit the gym a little more seriously, I suppose I’ll be applying soon enough.”

Emil continues, asking, “What’s it like to do your job? How’s the work culture?”

GM: “The culture’s great. Everyone looks out for their own,” Moore answers, finishing the last of his burger. “Do things the proper way and brass makes things go your way.”

“It should be pretty easy for you to get in if you hit the gym,” says Hill. “The testing isn’t too hard. Push-ups, sit-ups, timed run.”

He sets down his milkshake. “One of the big disqualifying things though can be criminal history. They look pretty closely at that.”

“Right now you haven’t been charged with or even arrested over anything, Emil,” Moore says. “Your record’s squeaky-clean. Just an arrest though can get your face in mugshot databases and show up on a background check, even if no charges are filed.”

“To be clear, Emil, we don’t want to put you through that,” says Hill. “You’re young and smart. Brass loves ‘legacy’ cops. Loves ones with degrees too.”

“But right now you’re our only witness to what happened,” explains Moore. “We just want to do our jobs and keep your nose clean. Think you can help us out?”

Emil: Emil nods at the pair of detectives. He knows on an intellectual level that they’re not really his friends. They barely even met him and might suspect him of ripping someone’s face off. It’s admittedly hard to be friends with someone like that. Nevertheless, Emil feels comfortable talking to them. Significantly moreso than to the doctor. It’s like talking to uncles he never knew he had. And apparently brothers his father never knew he had either. Maybe family is the wrong metric here? Nevertheless, Emil responds to them,

“I think so. I guess I should start from the beginning. Is that alright?”

GM: Hill nods.

“We’re not in a hurry,” says Moore.

Emil: “All right,” Emil sighs, letting out a good long breath. “I was attacked twice this week. I don’t know whether the events were connected or not but I know it was pretty much the same day—the same couple days. I hope everything is straight in my head, but I know it isn’t all.”

There’s gaps, gaps in the story Emil needs to tell. And yet, those gaps of unconsciousness are easier to explain than the moments of being all too awake, all too cognizant of things that shouldn’t have happened. Of his reality bending, shearing into a nightmarish parody of itself.

“I wasn’t doing anything special, both times I was attacked. It started in the cemetery. I was going there at the request of my girlfriend—or well, I don’t know if she’s my girlfriend anymore. Her name’s Hillary Cherry, and we were leaving from an audition—though maybe that isn’t relevant—”

Emil gives another melancholy sigh, peppered with staccato breaths from the pain in his ribs.

“I realized I hadn’t gone to see my father, to visit his grave since I started my semester here. We went to the graveyard without a tour group. I thought it would be best, you know, to just be there with my dad… and Hillary. Hillary said it was dangerous, and uh, I don’t know why, but I ignored her. Maybe I thought that the St. Louis Cemetery would be a little more secure than the others. They had a schedule for when you could come in, when you couldn’t—though I guess I didn’t count on people breaking in.”

Emil trails off for a moment, before looking at Detective Hill.

“When I got to my dad’s vault. Well, I, uh, there was a guy there. He was looking through it. I don’t know what he was looking for, but, uh—the vault was open—and I guess he was looking inside it, digging around where my father’s body used to be.” Emil caps off the run-on sentence with an involuntary raised inflection. Like somewhere between a question and a held back choke.

“He was digging ‘til he saw me, cause I was yelling at him. I was like ’What the hell are you doing?!’ I was like, ‘Excuse me? What are you doing snooping in my dad’s vault?!’ And he looked at me, and well, he was just hurling slurs at me and my father, like a maniac. He called me a ‘nigger-faggot’ again and again, like an obsession. And I apologize for saying that, but that’s the kind of bile he was spitting. Then he literally spat on my father’s nameplate as I started to film him with my phone for evidence. But then he ran up and pushed me to the ground, he took my phone, and kicked my girlfriend. Took her bag too. And I also think he took something from the vault, maybe a letter. I don’t know what his problem was, whether he had a chip on his shoulder about the police or he was just bigoted against blacks or Jews, or interracial dating, but he seemed to hate me.”

Emil pauses for a moment, thinking, then interjects between his own thoughts, “I cleaned the saliva off my dad’s name, and the police took it when I gave them my report. But I don’t know about the video, they weren’t hopeful about me getting my phone back.”

“The next thing that happened, well, I reported it to the police like I was saying, and they said they’d handle it. And I think they will, I hope so. I was speaking with some of my father’s old coworkers, and one of them was warning me, he was telling me how dangerous it was for me to be in the city. How I should never have come back here. I didn’t really believe him, until today, I guess.” Emil looks at the wounds stitched together on his body, and shivers. “Or well, maybe it’s been more than a day. I’ve been out. I’ve been out. How many days has it been?”

GM: “It’s Friday the 28th,” answers Hill. “9:09 in the morning.”

The two detectives have listened to Emil’s story patiently and without interruption so far.

“Okay, Emil, this is starting to clear up a fair amount of stuff,” says Moore. “One thing first. Who was this coworker of your dad’s?”

Emil: Emil responds promptly, “I think his name was Aaron, but my dad called him Lucky. Lucky Johnson.”

GM: “Oh, we know him,” observes Hill. “Good guy. He was saying it was dangerous for you, though? Why’s that?”

Emil: “To be honest, I don’t really know. He said himself that my dad made a lot of good relationships when he was alive. Dad was a good man. I guess he meant that with all the people my father brought to justice, he might have made some enemies. You know, gangs and the like. I don’t actually know though, he didn’t give a straight answer. The man was fixated on this being a ghost town, which it clearly isn’t. There’s so much life in this city.” He pauses for a moment, sighing in that pained way. “I know he knew my father, and like you said, he’s probably a good guy, but I don’t know, he gave me a small case of the heebie jeebies.”

As Emil peters off the response, he feels gross. Out of all the events of this week, it is with Lucky alone that Emil was given undeserved care for, it is also the one event that he isn’t wishy washy on, at least not in his heart despite the apprehensions of his mind. And yet, to save his own skin he would lie, even so slightly, even if to spare them the unfathomability of the truth, to the institution of his father, the institution of justice. He would distance himself from a man whom his father respected enough to work with in risk-beset work. It leaves him with an unsettled stomach and a pain under his neck’s scar.

GM: The two detectives seem to consider Emil.

“Yeah,” says Moore. “Nice guy, but there’s stories about him.”

“He tell you how he got his nickname?”

Emil: Emil shakes his head in response. “No, sir.”

GM: “He’s got the devil’s luck,” says Hill. “Or unluck, maybe. Been shot more times than any other guy on the force. People just can’t seem to resist emptying a gun into him.”

“Yeah, cops or bad guys,” says Moore.

“Wait, really?”

“Yeah. That IA investigation.”

“Huh. Before my time,” remarks Hill.

“Devil’s luck,” repeats Moore. “Or unluck.”

Emil: Emil wonders what the hell Lucky did to deserve being riddled, and the shame of lying whispers in his ears the words your fault. He has to apologize to Lucky, but maybe he can’t. The thought nags at him.

“That’s awful. And yet, he’s still alive. I’d say that’s the real luck.” Though of course, Emil doesn’t believe in chance, there’s always a reason.

GM: “Yeah, the unluck’s needing that luck,” Hill chuckles.

Emil: Emil laughs and coughs. Laughs and hacks.

GM: “But we got sidetracked, Emil. Can you finish your story?” asks Moore.

Emil: Emil explains the remainder of his story. He tells the detectives about wanting to learn more about his father’s accomplishments and getting attacked suddenly in the library. He tells them about being terrified, about the crushing weight of being tackled and the terror of waking up in a barn, covered in blood, alone except for a fellow victim’s nose. Cracks in his composure show through as he speaks, and at certain points it looks like Emil might be on the verge of vomiting. He tells the detectives about praying to God, about being stuck at night in the middle of no where, about running, about trying to fight off the attacker and failing, about hearing the words “Daddy’s proud” in the Jewish language as he passed out from the mutilation to his body, about waking up under his own bed and getting fed soup. He says the last thing he remembers from the event is seeing the split sinew in his torn muscle, vomiting on his visitor and passing out. Emil looks unwell, and clutches his stomach, fearing he might have a repeat performance.

“I don’t want it to be real, but that’s not an option anymore. I just want to feel safe here.”

GM: The two detectives listen attentively to Emil’s story, interjecting occasionally with questions. They offer all the expected comforts and assurances from a glass of water to a little more time to time to compose himself between questions and particularly harrowing described memories.

“Well, Emil, this is one hell of a story,” says Hill.

“There’s obviously a lot of pieces missing. But you’ve given us some promising directions to go. Do you remember the name of the visitor who fed you soup?” asks Moore.

Emil: Emil nods. “Yeah, his name was Elliot Faustin, he was actually the director of the movie Hillary and I were auditioning for. Or well, maybe that was just a nickname, I think he told me his name was… Em? So maybe Em Faustin. He was dating a girl… Cécilia, I believe.”

GM: “Ok, he’s definitely someone we’ll want to interview. Can you describe what he looks like?” asks Hill.

Emil: Emil describes the amateur filmmaker as he remembered him, the image of his unsure face hovering in his mind.

He continues, “I’m not sure how he got into my apartment. Or well, I can hazard a guess. But without him, I don’t know if I would be alive today. Especially since my phone was stolen so I couldn’t call for help. When you interview him, can you tell him I said thank you?”

GM: “Oh yes, we’ll have a lot to tell him,” says Moore.

“There isn’t a landline in your apartment, is there?” asks Hill. “If you lost your phone, that means whoever called 911 on you, likely this Em character, used theirs.”

Emil: He thinks for a moment. “There isn’t one. In that case, you must have his number then?”

GM: “Yeah, guess we must,” says Moore. He looks at his partner.

“All right, Emil, you’ve been through a lot,” says Hill. “From the looks of things, you aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so we’ll leave you to get some rest. We’ll be back if we have further questions.”

Emil: “I’ll try my best to rest up, detective,” he smiles warmly. Thank you for being kind guests. Would you mind convincing a nurse that I’m ready for visitors? Or at least to let me use the phone? I need to tell my family that I’m alive."

GM: “Hospitals usually notify next of kin when someone winds up in a bed,” says Moore. “But sure. We’ll put in a word with a nurse.”

Emil: “I appreciate that. Thank you,” says Emil.

He feels unsure, though, as the door shuts behind the two detectives. He trusts the police to seek justice, but with so many gaps in his story, they may have to settle for less certain justice. If he gets off because of who his dad was, he may have just condemned an innocent man. The thought makes his throat dry.

And to top it off, he’s all out of milkshake.


Friday morning, 28 September 2007

GM: Emil doesn’t get another milkshake.

He gets a phone call.

He doesn’t get his mom. Just the answering machine.

He does get a visitor though. Two, in fact.

“Emil, baby… oh my, oh my god…”

Lucille Jonas, formerly Kane, is a middle-aged woman with dark skin and naturally kinky hair (rarely seen by anyone) that she keeps pressed meticulously straight through regular chemical treatments, hot combs, and whatever measures it takes so as not to impede her professional image. She keeps her hair professionally short and her eyebrows thin. She’s wearing her favored pearl necklace and earrings with a white blouse and tan pants.

Lucille.jpg
Her expression couldn’t contrast more with her presentable attire. It’s aghast. There’s more worry than shock around her eyes, which are just starting to show tired bags, although there’s some of the former too.

“Oh my god… Emil, baby…”

She doesn’t take off her purse (and isn’t wearing any coat in the still-hot autumnal weather), just spreads her arms as she approaches Emil’s beds. She’s preempted from embracing her son, though, with a man’s,

“Careful, Luce… we don’t know what condition he’s in. You could hurt him.”

Emil’s stepfather Paul is a slim, narrow-shouldered Caucasian man also in his middle years with slightly curly black hair, brown eyes framed by a rectangular pair of glasses, and the faintest trace of stubble around his jaw. He’s dressed in a blue button-up shirt and dark slacks without his usual jacket.

Paul.jpg
“Oh, that’s right… of course we don’t.” Emil’s mother lets her spread arms lapse semi-awkwardly as she stands in front of him.

“How are you feeling, Emil? Your mother and I just about had a collective heart attack when we got the news,” says Paul.

Emil: Emil closes his eyes when his mother approaches to embrace him. His expectations bleed into his memories and his memories into his expectations, and in the darkness hiding under his eyelids, he tries to imagine the warmth coming to him. The comfort of knowing everything is going to be all right that can only come from a mother to her child. It is hard to imagine such snugness now. He was so much smaller when he was young, more than usual even. The doctors said that the delayed growth was just a temporary issue, that he’d get there eventually, to being a strong young man, just later than normal. And he surely grew up, his bones stretched out in all the right directions and a few wrong ones as well, but that didn’t make him strong, it just didn’t make for much legroom on the childhood bed his mom and Paul hadn’t felt the need to replace since they moved to California. He can’t imagine fitting under his mother’s chin anymore, with her arms around the back, he’s too big. And yet he knows that he’s about to, because mothers work miracles for their kids, especially after they’ve been hurt.

But no. He’s wrong. She’s wrong. Of course. Paul knows better.

Thanks, Paul.

He opens his eyes and they feel heavier now. He feels colder, yet he smiles at his mother.

“It’s okay, Mom, I’m going to be all right.”

He looks to Paul, and repeats softly, “I’ll be all right,” before turning back to his mother.

“How did they let you know? I hope they didn’t give you too bad a scare.”

GM: “They called us.” Lucille’s face starts to downturn into a scowl at her son’s question, but stops just shy. “I suppose finding our phone number was the one thing they did right, because the woman who broke the news was terrible. Beyond terrible. Completely insensitive. I’d have given her a few pointers, too, about how she got your name wrong, and could barely answer any questions, if I hadn’t-”

“You can’t teach everyone,” Paul preempts with a faint smile as he moves over some chairs.

Emil’s mother looks as if she could add more, but then simply asks as she takes his hand in seeming substitute for hugging him, “You said you’d be all right, Emil. Now, I’ve told you to be specific in the language you use. Are feeling all right?”

Emil: In other circumstances, Emil might groan at yet another correction, but seeing her so stressed stymies his response. “Well right now I’m feeling sorry you had to hear about this so coldly, Mom.”

He covers her hand with his other, “My body will heal, baruch Ha’Shem. Nevertheless, I’m glad you’re both here with me. I thought for sure I’d be spending Sukkot this year alone.”

GM: His mother clasps his hand tightly. “Yes, Emil, you won’t. I’ve confessed it every year during the Al Chet. How I didn’t do enough to keep you away from this city.”

She just looks at him for a moment. She looks almost ready to cry.

“It’s not your fault, Luce,” Paul interjects quietly. “Emil made his own decision.”

Emil’s mom just shakes her head without taking her eyes off him. “It is my fault. But it don’t worry, Emil. We’ll get you transferred out of Tulane to another school. Someplace in L.A. I don’t care if it makes you graduate late.”

Emil: Emil eyes his stepfather for a moment, appreciating his attempt at comfort but questioning his execution. “Mom, he’s right. Don’t let yourself catch any grief on my behalf.” He looks into his mother’s eyes, and remembers his talk with Lucky.

He sees his sad self in the warped reflection of the tears welling in his mother’s eyes and his face scrunches up as if it would help squeeze close his tear ducts. “You knew what was best for me, but I thought coming here was what Dad would have wanted. I wanted to make him proud. But then I spoke to Lucky, and the assaults. I’m so sorry.” His head swoops from side to side like a pendulum on its last swings.

Overcome by inertia, his cranial pendulum stops, and Emil’s looking down at the polka dot gown covering his form. “But I won’t disrespect you by lying to you, Mom. I can’t leave, not right now.”

GM: Lucille’s eyes flash at Lucky’s name.

“You did what, Emil?”

Emil: All right, so Mom has a grudge against Lucky as well. Poor guy.

“I was reporting the first assault to the police and I remembered his name, so I asked about him and he came to chat with me. He made sure I understood what an awful idea coming back was and that I should listen more to you.”

Emil only hopes that’s enough to convince her he’s harmless.

GM: “Did he give you an NOPD business card, Emil, or otherwise give you a phone number?” his mother asks.

Emil: “Why?” Emil replies. “Do you know him well enough that it would be normal to call him? I mean I know he worked under Dad, but I’d bet he wasn’t the only detective to do so.”

GM: Emil’s mother just looks down at her son. At the pulse oximeter on his finger. The IV stabbing into one of his veins. At the bandages Emil can feel swathed over so much of his aching, battered, hurting body that his doctor said would be “with us for quite some time,” or whatever she called it.

“Nothing about this is normal, Emil,” his stepfather says slowly.

Emil: “Of course not,” Emil corrects himself. “Lucky told me specifically that the only way I’d be speaking to him would be in person,” he responds to his mother. Awful hard to hold off on a loved one for more than a good second, and yet Emil thinks he’s learned at least a scrap more, which must count for something.

GM: The self-correction causes his mother’s eyes to sharpen again.

“Emil, I’ve taught you that it’s rude to ignore questions. Do you have that man’s phone number, or will we need to look it up ourselves?”

Emil: Emil remembers the other reason he left for New Orleans.

“I don’t have it, no. I’m sorry for being rude, people have been asking me a lot of questions recently, it has me off-kilter.” The worst part is how effective it is at making him feel like he spat in her porridge.

GM: “We can file suit against him, can’t we?” asks Lucille.

“Well, I’ll need to hear the full story first,” Paul answers. “But yes, I think we could have the basis for a case.”

“Good. That’ll teach him to stay away from our baby.”

Emil: “Mom, if we are going to bring a suit, let’s put it against the man who assaulted me, not the police. I’m afraid of what might happen.” The fear seeps out of his eyes, crawling out of pink veins which contort and stretch as Emil flicks his gaze between his visitors.

GM: “We’re getting you out of New Orleans,” his mother repeats, but more softly as she takes his hand again.

“That’s right, Emil. You don’t need to be afraid of what happens here anymore,” says Paul, touching the bed by his leg in seeming substitute.

After several moments of silence, he looks at Lucille. “We can also file a complaint with Internal Affairs. That could be faster and more effective.”

“Yes,” Emil’s mother agrees. “We’ll do both.”

Emil: The fear does not subside from Emil’s expression. If anything, it swells at every word from his mother’s mouth. He shakes his head.

“What I’m afraid of isn’t going to be fixed by running away from my home. I cannot afford to poke the bear, do you understand that, Mom?”

GM: “God, the things he filled your head with,” Emil’s mother replies with something oddly in between fury, sorrow, and disgust.

Emil: Emil looks severely frustrated, but he doesn’t lash out. He closes his eyes, purses his lips and just breathes slowly through tight nostrils. His scrunched face shows hints of the deep wrinkles that will mark his reflection in the far far future.

He speaks in a slow monotone, “I don’t think you completely understand why I’m resisting this, Mom. I need you to listen to me so that we can work as a family on this.”

He takes a glimpse at his mother’s expression, but doesn’t give her a chance to respond before continuing.

“I wasn’t the only victim of that monster. Another guy wasn’t so lucky to come out alive. One of the first things the doctor told me when I woke up all bloody and broken was that she didn’t know whether or not I was actually just a victim, and not…” He lets the unsaid word hang in the air for a second.

“Right now, the cops are our friends because they respect my father’s memory. I don’t want to give them a reason to be anything but that to us.”

GM: “What?” Emil’s mother begins.

Paul’s own look of surprise settles into a frown. “Emil, why don’t you tell us… more. The woman we spoke to told us barely anything.”

Emil: Emil goes over the recent events, noting his assault in the cemetery, the attack in the library, and waking up in his apartment with Em. He is delicate with respect to describing the more gruesome details, but he goes through what they need to hear so that they will listen. He speaks with some regret gritting his sentences as he talks about spilling his story to both the doctor and the cops without the presence of a lawyer, and he spends time providing extra context to explain that decision. He notes his appreciation of Em’s heroism, and makes clear his opposition to taking any legal action against him for probably breaking in.

“God put him there to save me.”

GM: It’s the one matter they agree with him on.

His mother and stepfather, in so many words, are horrified by Emil’s even-censored account happened to him. Beyond horrified. His mother looks almost ready to cry. She finally ignores Paul’s advice to hug Emil and exclaims, “Oh, Emil, baby,” as she rocks him back and forth. Getting hugged hurts. A lot.

Lucille’s face goes deathly still at Emil’s mentions about “digging into the past.” Even with her ‘baby’ swaddled in bandages, aching everywhere, and looking like Emil can only guess what, she can’t stop herself from exclaiming, “Look what that! Just look at what that did to you! Why do you think I took you away from New Orleans? So this wouldn’t happen! So worse wouldn’t happen! Oh, my god, I can’t believe I let y-”

Paul lays a hand on her shoulder.

“He’s alive. Let’s just be thankful for that, and get him out of the hot water he’s in now.”

That seems to draw Lucille’s attention.

Paul lectures Emil for talking to police without a lawyer, saying among other things, “Emil, the police are not your friends in a case like this. Departments and units have something they call a ‘clearance rate,’ which is the percentage of crimes to cross their desks that results in charges being filed. It doesn’t matter who they’re filed against, and when a unit’s clearance rate is high, officers get promoted. If the rate is low, they get in trouble. Cops live and die by the numbers like anyone else. These detectives are going to arrest you if they can’t find this Em person, or some other suspect, because it’s their careers on the line.”

He shakes his head. “Probably the only reason they didn’t arrest you is because you’re stuck in the hospital anyway. And maybe because they’d rather bring in another guy first. We’d better hope they arrest ‘Em’, because they’ll be coming back here if they can’t.”

“So what should we do at this point? Get him a lawyer?” asks Emil’s mother, her brow furrowed.

“Yes, absolutely,” nods Paul. “And maybe see if we can parlay the civil suit and IA complaint…”

“There’s condition for this, Emil,” his mother says slowly, looking back towards him. “No more Tulane. You transfer to another college in another city to finish your degree.”

Emil: He groans at the pain, tears welling in his eyes as his mother’s embrace squeezes at his lungs and presses on wounds, both old and new.

As he speaks, he looks more and more crestfallen.

“A condition? On my freedom? Because if what Paul is saying is true, that’s the non-choice you’re giving me right now. I don’t want to see anyone else hurt for my nosiness. Not Em, not Lucky, and definitely not you, but being here feels like home like no where else, Mom. I’m making something of myself here. Me. Alone. I have an apartment that I pay for. I have a job and students I am responsible to teach. I scored a role acting in a local film alongside a girlfriend I’m proud to stand beside. And I’m making my own way through college and I already spent the money on this semester. I don’t want to abandon all of that because one day some lunatic attacked me.”

He looks at his mother, pain brimming his eyes, and then something passes beneath the murky black waters in the center of his irises, and they sharpen like his mother’s.

“But I you probably know more about the danger I’m in than I do, and only you could know the anguish of not being able to save your baby. And because I respect that, and because I love you like only a son can love his mother, I’m willing to let go of all of those precious things. Every last one of them. But you have to agree to three caveats.”

He waits for a moment to see how much his words weigh to her, whether they’re as precious to her as his breath and his beating heart.

GM: “That ‘condition’ is to keep you alive, Emil. Those people can all go to hell. They’re not my son,” his mother starts at first.

Paul gives her a look. His and Lucille’s expressions both soften at Emil’s next words. Paul hands his mother a tissue that she sniffs into.

“If it’s money you’re worried about, Emil, you don’t need to worry,” Paul fills in. “Your mom and I will keep you afloat.”

“Yes, we’ll pay for your remaining courses. You’ll have a more competitive degree anyway from a place with a real computer science program,” his mother adds.

Emil: Emil shakes his head and tries to correct their assumption.

“Right now I’m worried about you hearing me. Because I do care about these people, because leaving here is not something I can do easily. Because you’re good parents in a terrible situation and I’m under a danger I’m apparently blind to. I need you to listen. Because the things I ask for are things that I need from you. Will you hear me out?”

GM: “Of course, Emil. What do you need?” Paul asks.

His mother simply nods her own agreement.

Emil: Emil begins with his first need. “Em is a man chosen by God to be a hero, you agreed with me just a moment ago. I couldn’t live with myself if my obsessive curiosity caused him to get hurt. Our God does not want to turn good, young men into martyrs. Men do not get punished for other men’s sin. That is not the way of the God of Abraham. But you’re right, Paul, the police need to do their jobs and they will arrest him, I practically gave him up myself because I wasn’t thinking.”

Emil masks his face with his hand, a gore-stained raised stitch holding the skin together on its dorsal aspect, making a jagged line across his eyes like some awful censor bar. He rests it in his lap and then requests, “We need to get him a good lawyer, and pay for it ourselves. We can push the blame on someone who truly deserves punishment, like the thief from the cemetery.”

GM: “Emil, we have no evidence the thief from the cemetery actually did this to you,” his mother preempts. “Not beyond hit you and steal your phone.”

Emil: “The thief isn’t my greatest concern right now. If it helps I took a video of him. I’m not a legal expert, I’m not even a legal amateur. I just need to make sure Em has good—no, better than good— representation. Can we do that?” Emil looks to Paul serious yet hopeful.

GM: Paul purses his lips. “Em getting arrested should satisfy the detectives so far as clearance rates. So long as helping his defense doesn’t jeopardize your future, your mother and I will get him a good lawyer.”

“Or at least, offer him one. It’s obviously up to him if he accepts. This may also be moot if he isn’t arrested.”

Emil: Emil first smiles, then nods more solemnly. “I understand. Thank you.”

He then continues with the second request, saying, “I need time here to close up all of my responsibilities, to say my goodbyes. To find a replacement teacher for myself. To do my scene in the movie. To explain to Hillary why I have to leave. To get letters of recommendation from teachers I respect. And I need your help to ensure the transfer won’t stain my transcript forever.”

GM: Lucille’s lips purse at the mention of ‘time’, but after Paul looks at her she gives a curt nod. “I suppose that’s reasonable. And of course we’ll do everything to help the transfer set you up for success. You should apply to someplace good, this time, like Caltech or UCLA.”

“College transfers aren’t the end of the world, either,” Paul adds. “Especially if it’s to a better school. Omar Afumba transferred from Occidental College to Columbia, and he has a shot at winding up the Dem nominee.”

Emil: “He just might, but I’m not so keen on tying my future to the chances of a black man getting elected into the highest office. I mean, just historically it seems like a bit of a long shot. Anyway, politics aren’t really on my mind now,” Emil responds.

“Mom,” he continues, turning to face her. “This last request is my most important one. I probably wouldn’t have come back here if this… need I have, hadn’t been met before. I want it to be. I don’t want to have any reason to come back here and worry you ever again.”

He takes her hand in his and breathes. Their eyes line up and they can see into those pits that seem to go down into nothingness, the ones that hide beneath colored rims. It’s funny how when you look through these windows to the soul, you can never see a thing but darkness. He matches her breath, feels her pulse.

“I need to speak to you about Dad. Candidly. Nothing held back. I’ve realized that everyone around me seems to have grieved and moved on, but for me, his vault never closed.”

Tears well up in his eyes, caught on the levees; they obscure the sight of his mother.

“I want to know why you were so right to be afraid, I need to know so my gut understands this wasn’t just a fluke. So my gut remembers when you picked me up from that farm covered in gristle and gore so many years ago.”

The levees in his eyes burst open, and tears flood the wrinkled avenues of his skin.

“So that it knows this wasn’t the first time.”

Choked cries erupt from his mouth and shake the earthen flesh; the tears pool into that crater in the barren farmland of his neck whose source Emil’s psyche fervently denies; the bullet that he never took.

“So my soul can breathe and grieve. I just need one evening of honesty. That’s it, Mom.”

Emil had hoped this would be something good. A key into that truth he was seeking, into the mystery surrounding his dad’s past. This was the year he was going to take a stand for himself, to do what Dad did, to be his own man. He found Hillary, he found the movie, he found a job and a place and friends and respect and he’s willing to throw that all away for the sake of information he could and should probably find for himself instead of digging up his mother’s past trauma.

But no. He has to know. He has to know as much as he can as fast as he can. He’s an addict of the worst sort, and he’s selling everything he’s got for one fucking hit of an outdated, unfulfilled product from a dealer who pities him so bad she wants to support him through rehab.

He feels it, the slick slime of degeneracy, as the sweat under his unmoved thighs. The glue holding his back to the pillow. It’s gross, vile even, and yet he does it anyway.

GM: Emil’s mother looks at him for a while. Just looks at him.

There’s pain in her eyes, naked and plain. Some for her son. Some because of him. Some of that still for him anyway.

Paul lays a hand back on her shoulder without saying anything.

What can any parent do against an addict like him? He’s his own man now, for good or ill. Perhaps mostly ill. If he stays, he feeds the addiction. If he leaves, he still just wants to feed it.

Shit, kid, Lucky had said, what you doin’ here? There’s nothin’ here for you. Just ghosts. You look like you’ve had a good life for yourself in L.A. That’s all your mama and daddy ever wanted for you.

If ghosts they are, they don’t rest easily. Emil’s screaming in their dead ears for them to rise and haunt the living.

His mother closes her eyes for a moment.

“Once you’ve left this place behind, Emil,” she says quietly.

She meets his gaze again. She looks like a doctor just came out from Emil’s hospital room and said, ‘we have some bad news.’

“Once you are transferred out of Tulane. Once we are back in Los Angeles. Once the last of your things is packed into a cardboard box in the car’s trunk. Once you are gone from New Orleans and have no reason to ever come back here. Once you are home.

Then, I swear unto the Lord, I will talk to you about your father,” his mother finishes as she swears the shevu’ah.

Emil: Emil nods with childlike acceptance at his mother’s willingness, her faith. Looking at her so troubled, so hurt, is not something he can bear, at least not alone. Emil sits further up, peeling himself quickly off of the sweaty sheets. His arachnoid forearms wrap around his mother and pull her into a painful embrace. He doesn’t complain though, as he feels his wounds pressed against fibery clothing, as the line to his IV is pulled taut. He just sobs quietly into his mother’s ear.

“I love you.”

GM: Emil feels his mother’s and stepfather’s arms wrapping around him, returning his embrace with equal pain and tenderness.

“I love you too, baby.”

View
Emil II, Chapter III
The Nose With No Face

“This cannot be happening.”
Emil Kane


Day ? September 2007?

GM: Metallic sharpness in his mouth.

Aching pain in his back.

Aching pain in his everywhere.

Wetness. Roughness. Irritation.

A coppery scent. Everywhere.

Emil: Emil tries to open his eyes, overcoming the weight of unconsciousness bearing against their lids. What did he see then? Maybe if he looks now he might remember. Maybe he’s just laid out on the ground? Emil doesn’t have high hopes.

GM: Emil’s vision is blurry, at first. But he sees wood. And straw. Everything is brown and pale yellow.

Emil: Emil grasps fistfuls of the straw below him as pries himself off the floor. As his ligaments stretch, his joints pop, threatening to jump out of their sockets at any moment.

Emil wonders where in God’s humble plan it says that he should wake up in the middle of an accurately scented nativity scene.

GM: It’s not completely accurate.

He’s naked and coated in blood.

Emil: Or perhaps all-too accurate, given the age of that poor girl and the quality of medical care in Roman Galilee.

The thought isn’t enough to distract Emil as he doubles over, the contents of his stomach pushing up and up but unable to escape due to a thick clot of blood coating his mouth. He dry heaves as his eyes flee in different directions from the sight of him forcing his trembling, stained hand down his throat and pulling out the webbed crimson bezoar from his mouth and the sudden torrent of bile and blood that was backed up behind the clot. It falls on the straw, the repulsive yellow and red bile matching the color scheme of the room quite well.

Emil looks at the puddle of bile, shivering and shaking his head. The puddle reflects back onto him, but in between the chunks of blood and last night’s dinner, he sees something else look back. The face of his father stares back at him, but younger, covered in maroon gore and gristle, with his mouth hung open, his tongue writhing in a way stuck between suffocating and laughing. And then something else spills out of Emil’s mouth, something much more primal and awful. And he and his father scream at each other, and Emil falls to his knees and prostrates himself, pressing his face against the soiled straw as the substance slowly absorbs his father’s image. They cry.

“Ah’m sorry, Ai uve you,” is all that Emil can slur.

But his father says nothing in response.

GM: The stench of coppery bile fills Emil’s nostrils. And his mouth. The straw is rough and scratchy against his nude flesh. No one answers his choked cries. Not a farmer. Not his father.

Emil is left to heave, shiver, and weep alone.

Was this how it was last time?

Emil: How many hours does he stay lying there? How many hours before he can get up? He doesn’t want to, he’d rather just wake up from this bad memory. Last time some adults found him, scooped him up and brought him home. Now he’s the adult. Without anyone to drag him out of the filth, he lies there for some time, staring in search of any barn owls roosting on the crooked wooden beams holding up the building.

And yet, when you’re alone, life has a way of motivating you from within:

Emil’s stomach growls. His throat is cracked dry. He stinks up to high heaven.

What does he smell like? Last time it was chicken’s blood. He doesn’t remember seeing the chickens, though maybe they just took them away before he could see them. Maybe he just forgot.

Emil looks around for a trail of blood to follow, maybe he’ll find them this time.

GM: The blood is… everywhere. It’s spattered all over the straw like flecks of red, crusted-over paint.

One clump is stained redder than the others.

Emil: Emil steps over to the clump, and crouches, trying and failing not to think about how all of it got here. He killed something. He killed a lot of things. Emil hiccoughs, his stomach emptied but his body unwilling to accept that there’s nothing left to purge.

He reaches into the clump, gingerly brushing aside the straw.

GM: His fingers brush against something small, crusted-over, and flesh-textured.

Nose.jpg
Most of a nose. Some cheek. Some lip.

So much red.

Emil: Emil freezes like a statue. The enormity of his actions leaves him stuck there, random selections of his muscles spasming as his instincts yell at him to run. He stares at the obviously human nose, and his head starts to shake.

“No,” Emil says meekly. “Please, God, no. Please, God, no. I’m not a killer. Save me, please.”

Emil keeps searching through the straw, moving it aside, unearthing all that he knows deep in his heart he did.

GM: The bloody straw is too dried to stain Emil’s hands further. Crusty red particles merely flake off over his fingers.

He finds nothing else. Just more red straw.

Emil: Somehow that makes it even worse.

Emil clutches his stomach, understanding that the growl it made was not to tell him to eat, but to assert his place among the behemoth. Maybe they can understand. Emil wraps the nose up in a bundle of straw and picks it up before looking for the rest of the beasts in this barn.

GM: The barn is seemingly bereft of animal life.

Emil: If not animals, Emil searches for tools. He hopes he can find a shovel, maybe some bleach, gasoline, a lighter, or maybe even some clothes. He didn’t eat the clothes too… did he?

GM: He locates a pitted shovel leaning near the door.

Emil: Emil takes the shovel and uses it to start collecting all of the blood encrusted straw into a heap which he then compacts as tightly as he can. He lifts the bulk of the straw, with the nose stuck somewhere in its core and carries it towards the door, holding the shovel pinched between his arm and his torso.

He puts everything down and checks the door. If it’s unlocked, he opens it slightly, and peers outside.

GM: The humid Louisiana night is dark and thick. October fervidly clings to September’s warmth, but a chill is already beginning to seep into Emil’s too-exposed and naked flesh. There are no sounds of people, vehicles, or telltale signs of civilization.

Neither are there sounds of wildlife. There are no ribbets of frogs. No buzzings of cicadas. No avian hoots.

The night is dead.

Still.

Waiting.

Farm.jpg
Emil: Emil steps out into the cold night, hefting the shovel and the pile of straw. If this is a barn, the farmhouse can’t be that far away. At least thats what his EIEIO understanding of the agriculture business tells him. It also means Old Macdonald should be nearby, though Emil might have already dealt with him.

He tries not to think about that.

He observes his surroundings, the cool ground pinching the soles of his feet.

GM: The feeble light flickering from the barn is reflected in a nearby house’s window. Night otherwise drapes across the still and silent landscape like a heavy cloak.

Farm.jpg
Emil: Perhaps that’s where they lived. Emil hopes that no one is left there to wake up to someone’s absence. Did he kill someone’s parent? Someone’s dad? Emil is left shaking his head as he walks outside of the shine of the reflected light. Yet like a moth to a flame, Emil’s feet bring him closer to the house. He wonders how lonely it must get living out here.

GM: Emil’s only answer in the creeping press of his footsteps against the grass.

Emil: Emil looks around the building, getting a sense of its entrances and exits. He realizes how creepy this must look. He reassures himself that it’s not really casing a house if you don’t intend to rob it.

GM: A plain and functional door stares at Emil’s from the house’s front.

It’s when he approaches the screen door from the home’s tear that he hears a faint, twig-like snapping noise from behind him.

Emil: Emil holds tight to the shovel in his right hand, squeezing it’s wooden handle hard enough to leave him a good many splinters when he lets go. He tries as quietly as he can to hide in a shadow, ready to run if he needs to. He puts his head up to the wooden siding, listening for any motion within the house.

GM: The night is silent.

Emil: Rabbi Shemtov once taught him to always have a mantra handy to repeat. Words are powerful. They can help you stay calm. Emil tries to put the advice into practice:

I hate this I hate this I hate this.

He returns to the door, places his hand on the edge of the screen, and attempts to quietly pull it open.

GM: The screek of the aluminum-framed screen door sounds painfully loud against the still and silent night. No light issues forth from within the house. The scent of stale rot and mildew hangs pungently in the humid Louisiana air.

Emil’s other hand feels light. As he turns his eye upon it, he does not see the shovel.

Emil: Emil quickly steps inside the doorway and ducks behind the frame. He peeks outside where he was standing. He hopes he only dropped it.

But it’s hard to feel hopeful when he’s naked and covered in blood.

GM: The wood feels rough and callous against his blood-caked hands. The night beyond the doorway appears still and empty.

Emil: Fuck I hate this fuck I hate this fuck I hate this.

The mantra scrolls through Emil’s head like a broken record as he places the straw bundle he was holding close to his chest on the floor, out of the wind. He starts to walk into the house, using the dim light of the moon to get a sense of the room.

GM: The unlit house’s gloom is virtually impenetrable on the cloudless night. Emil gropes and ambles like a blind man, rough floorboards creaking beneath his bare feet.

Creak.

Creak.

Creeeeak.

A sudden slam punctuates the low wooden sound.

Emil: Emil tries not to jump at the sound, but he can’t stop his heart’s sudden, awful lurch. He can feel its beat in his throat. He furtively looks down, half-expecting to have stepped over an ‘UNWELCOME’ mat as he entered.

And he knows, suddenly, with horrible certainty. He’s going to die if he stays here.

He turns around and slowly reaches for the straw bundle.

Where the hell is that shovel?!

GM: The straw is gone.

The nose, and the torn-off flap of flesh attached to it, coldly brush against his trembling fingers.

Emil: Must have been the wind, Emil asserts over his screaming imagination. He pinches the piece between his thumb and his forefinger like a game of ‘got your nose!’ that’s so awful he has to laugh if he doesn’t want to scream.

There’s no hesitation anymore. He sprints for the door like his life depends on it.

GM: The shut door impassively bars Emil’s passage. He tries the handle, sweat intermingling with the blood on his palms. It does not budge.

Sound issues forth from the rot-smelling house’s black depths. Faint, but growing. Growing closer.

Thump.

Thump.

Thump.

Emil: It’s back again. It’s going to make him kill again. This cannot be happening. Emil smears blood against the sides of the door post and marks the door with a maroon star of David. It’s not lamb’s blood, but Emil can only hope that it will do.

He utters the opening words of the Amidah, the culminating prayer in the daily effort for every Jew to reach the ear of God. He follows the ancient ritual’s steps. It’s simple, three steps back three steps forward, then bow and begin.

He steps back, breathing heavily.

אֲדֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח

(“Lord open my lips…”)

He takes three lunges forward.

וּ֜פִ֗י יַגִּ֥יד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ

(“…and make my mouth speak Your praises.”)

Emil bows into a run as he prepares to burst through the crisscrossed webbing of the door, hoping the mark of his people protects his passage as it did in Egypt.

He can’t outrun the doubts, though.

Why would God listen to him? He couldn’t even stand up to that man, how could he be worthy of God’s attention. He needs to make a sacrifice, because he knows he is worth so much more if he just pushed hard enough. He screams as he runs, his prayer tearing, grinding into the terrible shrieking of awful birds. His soul is ripping.

GM: But God won’t save him. What God would let this happen? What right has he to demand the Almighty’s protection with a symbol painted in his fellow man’s blood? Where was his protection when he needed it? No, the only thing Emil can count on is himself.

No one during gym class wanted him on their team. That petty thief stole his phone and laughed. Emil still tears the flimsy door off its hinges, his prayer reduced to little more than maddened howling, bestial howling fitting a creature as forsaken as he. Emil crashes through, barreling into the night.

But the sound does not cease. It follows him. It comes after him. Just like last time.

Great, lurching thumps, pounding heavily upon the earth. Pounding after him. Pursuing him. Hunting him.

Just like last time.

Emil: And Emil almost listens, but an arresting force of will demands to be heard. He didn’t kill anyone last time. There was no last time. He woke up covered in another man’s blood but it wasn’t by his hand. He couldn’t have destroyed someone so totally; couldn’t consume them so completely. All that was left before him was a nose. Had he consumed out of hunger the whole man he wouldn’t have stopped at the nose after consuming bone and sinew. And if he did consume him, his stomach couldn’t possibly fit a whole man. If the man died at all, it was by that demon’s hand. He is being shown a shadow of the truth. They are trying to break his will, betray his faith.

This is a twisted dream, one in which his confidence is meant to be stripped away like his shovel and the straw. All that was left was a nose, to cut at him. Even if he is weaker than some, Emil is not a sucker.

Emil runs, Emil runs into the dream and stares at the horizon. He quotes the first book, singing like a cantor:

“וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר!”

(“And God said, let there be light; and there was light!”)

And even if he is caught, even if he is hurt again, he is not a murderer. He will be dragged down into a dream within a dream. But God opens the eyes of the blind, and he whispers to us as we sleep.

" וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאוֹר, כִּי-טוֹב; וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים, בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחֹשֶׁךְ."

(“And God saw the light, and it was Good; and he separated the darkness from the light.”)

“Hallelujah,” he laughs at the world. “Hallelujah!”

GM: Hallelujah.

Emil laughs into the darkness as it falls upon him. The light from the barn dies. He laughs. It’s all he can do. All anyone can do.

Hallelujah.

But the darkness is not empty.

It’s thick. Tangible. Alive. Clamping around his throat like a vice. For a moment, Emil is sinking, falling, and then he’s floating, his head spinning, the ground gone from beneath his feet as the void yawns wide. He throws punches and kicks, fighting with zeal beyond his own.

But the darkness is too strong. Emil’s lungs cry out for air as a kaleidoscope of phosphenes blossom across his vision. Stabbing, rending, ripping fire sets his guts ablaze in agony. A coppery smell far, far fresher than the blood on his hands fills his nostrils. Sound dissolves beneath wet and grisly tears.

But there’s no lights to go out. Only the non-sensation of sensation ceasing as his consciousness spirals away into the abyss.

“אבא גאה …”‎

(“Daddy’s proud…”)

View