Thursday night, 31 October 1993
GM: Victor Krieger paces back and forth outside the double doors of the maternity ward, biting his lip and tapping his wristwatch. The howling wind and thudding of the rain outside is scarcely quieter than Michelle’s cries. His gait jerks with every wail to escape her lips. At long last, they cease, and for a moment there is silence. The moment lasts too long. Victor stares at the door, closing his eyes. The lights of the maternity ward flicker briefly. October 31st. Why did it have to be Halloween? His lips move, almost of their own accord.
“All right. I agree.”
With that, the lights flicker back on as his daughter takes her first breath in the next room.
Friday evening, 10 December 1999
GM: “So your father’s getting back from his business trip tomorrow, Alice,” sounds her mother’s voice from the kitchen. There’s a chop-chop-chop from a knife converting plant matter into dinner. It’s probably broccoli soufflé or something. Dad has always been the better cook in the family. Mom’s dinners are edible and that’s the highest praise anyone can give them. If only she’d just order pizza.
“How do you think we should surprise him?”
Alice: Alice nervously straightens her dress, and clicks together her mary janes. Her mind races like the little prancing reindeer on her skirt as she tries to think of something they can do to surprise her daddy. Cooking for him is out, Daddy likes Mommy’s cooking about as much as she does. She casts her eyes around, hoping for some inspiration… and spies Daddy’s violin case!
“Let’s play music for him! Daddy was really sad about not getting to play with the band. They are teaching us the recorder in music! I can even play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!” Alice can still see how sad he looked listening over the phone, when he found out he wouldn’t get to play for them with his friends at the neighborhood Christmas party. Maybe if she plays for him, it will help him feel better.
GM: The violin case collects dust from a forlorn corner near the living room TV. Putting it into storage didn’t seem right, with Daddy coming back so soon. Alice can hear the smile in her mother’s voice over the TV’s din and the knife’s chopping as she replies, “Music for Daddy. Good idea, Alice. If he misses his flight, maybe the crowds will at least drop a few dollars in our case?”
Saturday morning, 11 December 1999
GM: The Houston Intercontinental Airport’s din is omnipresent. People talking, phones ringing, luggage carts rolling along the floor, planes taking off with low roars past the giant windows overlooking the airstrips. Alice’s mother holds her daughter’s hand firmly as they make their way through the thick crowds. It’d be easy to get lost here. Alice, at her insistence, is entrusted with that most precious of all objects: Daddy’s violin case. It’s heavy with only one hand, though, and scuffs and bonks against the floor.
“Damn it, 2:30, where is he…”
Alice: Alice does her best to protect her precious cargo. She carries the battered old case with all the solemnity her small, little girl frame can muster. The jolly snowman on the sweater her mother insisted on dressing her in only slightly diminishes the effect. “He will be here, Mommy! Daddy never breaks his promises.”
It’s true, no matter what lengths he has to go through, her father always come through for his family. Careful not to loosen her grip on Mommy’s hand, Alice looks about excitedly, at all the people rushing around. She doesn’t get to come to the airport often and all the weird, exotic people fascinate her.
GM: The duskier-skinned ones even talk in their own language. Alice’s mother appears more interested in person-watching than people watching, however, as she scans the crowd, frowning. Gray eyes dart to and fro from behind her rectangular glasses. “He said right here…”
Her eyes pause in mid-scan. After a moment, a smile lights up her features. “There he is. Go on, start playing!” Alice, however, can hardly see over the press of tall adults.
Alice: Smiling widely, Alice sets down the violin case, and takes her recorder out of her back pocket. She straightens her clothes momentarily, trying to work out her nervousness, then starts shakily playing. A very plastic-sounding sounding rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star begins to drift through the airport lobby. It isn’t a bad effort, for a six-year-old.
GM: Alice’s mother smiles encouragingly and squeezes her hand, but Daddy isn’t anywhere in sight. The airport is so big and loud. There are so many people, all a shifting mass of backpacks and suitcases amidst a ceaseless cacophony of voices. Michelle continues to smile and nod as if to say “he’s getting closer,” but Alice still can’t tell.
Alice: Is he really coming? Alice thinks. She is a bit doubtful, but her mother usually knows best, so she keeps playing. She stands on tiptoes hoping to get a better view, but quickly finds that no amount of stretching is going to let her see over the top of so many grownups.
GM: A man absently walks past the mother and daughter. He wears a long brown coat over a gray suit. His face, early middle-aged. Receding blond hair turning gray. Blue eyes. Clean-shaven. Nose a little long, but all things told, a generic face on a generic man. Unremarkable save for the fact that he’s Alice’s father.
Alice: The recorder abruptly stops as Alice realizes her father has just walked past them without so much as a glance. “D-daddy? Daddy, we are over here!” She frantically waves, trying to get her father’s attention.
GM: Alice’s mother swiftly expresses sentiments. “Vic! Over here!”
The man pauses and turns his head at his family’s voices. For a second, he regards them blankly, but it’s only for a second. Then he smiles, makes his way towards them, and scoops his daughter up in a hug.
“Alice! I’m sorry, baby, I must have missed you. These old eyes of mine.”
Alice: Alice giggles happily as her daddy whirls her around before gently setting her back down. “We missed you too, Daddy!” She laughs gaily at her joke, and points to the treasured violin case. “Mommy and I brought your violin! Did you like the music?” She is bursting with the energy and exuberance of youth. As her mother approaches, she quiets down, knowing better than to interrupt when adults are talking.
GM: “I did, sweetie! Very thoughtful!” her father answers, tussling her hair once he’s set her down. After exchanging hugs and similar greetings with his wife, he remarks, “The flight had some delays. I hope you two didn’t think I wasn’t coming home?”
Alice: Alice beams and cheerfully replies, “You always keep your promises, Daddy! I knew you would come.” She feels proud of herself, for believing in her father, and proud of him! I have the best Daddy in the world! Alice thinks as the family prepares to return home.
Friday morning, 17 December 1999
Glass shatters as orange juice spills over the floor. Alice’s father howls in pain and surprise as Moxie sinks her jaws into his calf.
The fluffy dog looks as if she must be blind under that thick coat of white hair. Nevertheless, Moxie appears quite able to see what she’s doing as she snarls and jerks her head. There’s a loud tear from the cloth of Daddy’s pants as the sheep dog pulls him off his chair. His rear hits the floor with a thud.
Alice: Alice panics as she watches the scene unfold. She can’t understand it, Moxie is the sweetest dog ever! She doesn’t even bark at Willy Baker next door, when he throws rocks at her! But from the day Daddy came back, any time she saw him she would start growling, and whining. Frantically, Alice reaches for Moxie’s collar, trying to drag her away from Daddy, and calm her down.
Given that Alice is a six-year-old girl, and Moxie is a fully grown sheep dog, her efforts are probably in vain.
GM: Alice has some success in calming the animal, as Moxie settles into a low growl instead of her earlier frenzy. She still bares her teeth, and Alice can feel the tension in the dog’s muscles as she pulls at the collar.
Daddy scrambles backwards, but there isn’t any fear, surprise, or anger on his face. Only loathing. Cold, distant and alien, as if someone had flipped the night sky upside down on a chill winter night, and none of the stars were in their proper place.
Alice: Where Moxie’s primal fury sent Alice into panicked action, the look she sees her daddy levels at the beloved family pet paralyzes her with a cold dread. Somewhere, in the back of her mind a little voice whispers into the stillness, Something is wrong. Daddy would never make a face like that. Alice’s head begins to ache, the stress of the situation no doubt taking its toll on her fragile young psyche.
GM: Daddy rises to his feet and straightens his rumpled shirt. He looks angry now, like any man abruptly savaged by the family pet would be. Alice’s mother returns from the bathroom and sees her husband’s bleeding leg.
“Vic! Oh my god, what happened?!”
“We’re getting rid of that thing!” he snarls.
Alice: Alice remains frozen, for a moment, then shakes her head, as it trying to clear it. Get rid of Moxie? But we love Moxie! We can’t get rid of her! Far from alleviating her discomfort, her headache seems to grow worse. She tries to protest, to plead that they keep Moxie, that she is a good dog. But her head swims in a painful fugue.
GM: Mommy takes Moxie’s leash and pulls the dog outside. Seeing her apparent discomfort at the scary situation, Daddy scoops Alice up and takes her to her room. He lays her on the Little Mermaid bedspread, assurances her that he will take care of the situation, and leaves her to recover.
A dog’s mournful howls sound, followed by the slam of a car door.
Alice: Alice merely nods and stares out the window. Perhaps later she will be angry. Perhaps later she will despair.
For now, she just wants to trust her daddy.
She just wants things to go back to normal.
Tuesday night, 4 January 2000, PM
GM: Alice isn’t supposed to be up this late. Her parents never said she wasn’t supposed to come here, but she’s pretty sure that would break another rule too.
‘Here’ isn’t the nicest place. The apartments’ paint might’ve been white once, but now it’s gray, aged, and peeling, where it hasn’t been scraped off to reveal rotting, splinter-lined wood beneath. Windows are broken or covered with plastic tarp. Obscene graffiti coats the walls. Profanity-laced music blasts from nearby windows. Breaking glass, the odd shriek, gunshot, or incoherent raving occasionally goes up from the distance.
Alice once overheard her parents talking about the ‘bad’ parts of town. They used names like Gulfport and the Fifth Ward. Daddy said he heard from a friend of a friend that there’s a separate entrance at the police station for sex offenders. Alice isn’t sure what those are. Alice isn’t sure if she’s at Gulfport or the Fifth Ward, either. She has no idea where she is. All she did was climb inside the car trunk and wait for Daddy to go out on one of his increasingly frequent ‘midnight drives.’ She’s lucky the car has those pull-down seats in the back. She pulls the seat down and crawls out of the trunk to stare through the window.
Alice’s father is talking to a lady under a street lamp. She wears a skimpy leather jacket, lots of makeup, fishnets, and high-heeled black leather boots. Her mascara can’t entirely conceal the dark circles under her eyes, nor can her lipstick paint a smile on a face that seems like it’s done nothing but frown. She doesn’t look like a very nice lady, but Daddy is still talking to her.
Alice: That little voice in Alice’s head has grown steadily louder over the past few weeks. Something is definitely wrong with Daddy. Things around the house have grown increasingly tense between her parents arguing and Daddy leaving for his ‘midnight drives.’ Alice’s headaches have likewise increased in frequency.
Perhaps it is curiosity, and her father’s increasingly bizarre behavior that has driven her to do the unthinkable, and break the rules to follow him tonight. She makes for a most unusual sight in this time and place, in her pajamas and rain boots. She watches her father intently through the window, as if the intensity of if afraid he will disappear into the darkness if she loses sight of him for even a moment. This place is kind of scary.
But not as scary as he’s been.
GM: Alice’s father continues talking. His body language is terse and impersonal. So is the woman’s. He doesn’t smile as he flashes the cash, but the woman gives a nod. Alice’s father says something else she can’t pick up. The woman looks skeptical. Alice’s father shrugs and moves to leave, but the woman follows after him and hurriedly says something. Alice’s father just keeps walking.
Back towards the car.
Where Alice is hiding.
Alice: Alice quickly crawls back into the trunk and pulls up the backseat. She doesn’t make a sound, careful to stay as hidden as possible. But even if she can’t see what happens next, she can listen. What are Daddy and the lady doing?
GM: Alice hears the car door open.
“Come closer,” her father’s voice says coldly.
Alice hears the click-click of a lady’s tall shoes.
“Give me your purse.”
“What you want my purse for?” comes the lady’s worn-sounding voice.
“Oh, oh shi…” she whispers. There’s a note of trembling panic to her voice, just whispered.
“Make up your mind.”
The two adults make their way back to Daddy’s car. Alice’s father reaches into the passenger seat and fumbles with something, but he can’t see what. He motions the lady closer. She looks over his shoulder. Her eyes widen as she starts backing away. Daddy turns to face her and smiles, but it isn’t the least bit warm or friendly. He holds up the cash and then shrugs as if to say, “Your call.”
The lady looks reluctant for a moment, but approaches the car. Daddy removes her purse, places it inside the car, and fumbles with something. He hands the purse back to her. The lady accepts it with a nonplussed expression.
Alice: Alice’s head throbs dully, as her confusion and frustration build. Whatever is going on, she somehow knows it is wrong. Tentatively, she edges a little farther out of her hiding spot, trying to get a better view of what is going on.
GM: The two adults make their way back to a miserable-looking excuse for a house. Shattered windows, graffiti-strewn exterior. Garbage littering a yard of dead brown grass. They make their way around the house, into an adjacent shed. Just as sorry.
Alice: After catching her breath from the furious peddling she had to do to keep up, Alice quietly leans her bicycle against the shed, and looks about for a window to look in through. Her head pounds furiously from the exertions of the chase.
GM: By the time Alice has found a rain-ruined, leaf-strewn plastic chair, hauled it over to the window and climbed up, Daddy and the lady are hugging each other inside the shed. They’re naked, too, except for the purse, which the lady is strangely still wearing.
Alice: Alice stares uncomprehending at the scene. Her thoughts are muddled, and sluggish.
What… is happening? My head… hurts. What are you doing… with that lady, Daddy?
GM: Daddy shudders and convulses. Alice can’t see exactly what happens, with his back to her. All she can hear is the squelch. The squelch-pop, slimy and wet, like a runny pustule being burst. All she can smell is the stench. Overwhelmingly rotten, like bad eggs over a dead mouse that’s been decomposing behind a bookshelf all summer long.
But she can see the four mottled, slime-slick tendrils slowly… unfolding? Rising? Almost with relief, like after a good long stretch. Translucent white gunk drips from hungry rows of fangs that wickedly gleam under the moonlight.
Alice: As the Thing unfolds before her, Alice stands frozen in terror. There is only the beat of her heart, keeping time with the pulsing agony between her ears. Each second seems an eternity.
GM: The lady stares for a moment.
Then she starts screaming.
Alice: Badump… badump… badump…
GM: It all happens too fast to process. The… Thing makes a rumble-slurching sound, like a gass-guzzling tractor being started up while a dozen wailing infants are simultaneously disemboweled. And then the room turns red. It’s as if someone turned on a sprinkler system and filled it with coloring dye. Chunks of viscera and other less identifiable remains hit the walls with hundreds of messy wet splats. The stench is beyond awful. An overwhelming odor of copper admixed with guts and vomit.
The sensation is even worse.
Alice feels something misty spray over her face. A dozen lesser wet splats against her nose, her cheeks, her forehead. Something hard dings against her lip, like hail. She looks down. It’s a tooth. Three teeth. Still attached to the shredded leftovers of the woman’s gums. Stringy, red-pink clumps of muscle, like the leftover meat still attached to shrimp-shells.
Alice: Confronted with such horror, Alice’s mind shuts down. In the absence of conscious thought, there is only an unbearable agony, driving through her skull like a spear. The pain builds, and builds, until Alice is sure her head will explode, and then something inside her breaks. The pain is gone, her mind clear as it had never been before. With open eyes she sees the Thing that was pretending to be Daddy, and the ruin it has made of the lady.
There is a flicker in her mind, as a spark of anger alights. Swiftly it grows, becoming a white-hot inferno of rage, glittering behind the child’s eyes. Every fiber of her being screams in furious rejection of the Thing, and suddenly the inferno isn’t just in her head. It is in the shed, filling it with a searing heat as the blood-soaked walls and floor boil, and debris is engulfed in flames. As the fire leaves her head, Alice regains her senses.
I can’t let it get me.
Madly, she rushes to her bicycle, and pedals furiously for home. Once there, she hurriedly enters the house, and quietly hurries toward the bathroom, where she tries to wash as much of the red off of her as she can. Her energy nearly spent, she closes her bedroom door, and gets under the Little Mermaid Covers, clutching her stuffed rabbit close.
GM: Alice buries her face under the covers. But she can’t sleep. How could she sleep? After that? After the Thing? She’s not sure how much time passes until she hears her parents’ voices.
“There you are, honey. You’re home late.”
“Business at the office. At least I’ll be getting overtime pay for it.”
Alice: Alice tries, and fails, to suppress a shudder at the sound of the Thing. In her head, there is a spark, but it dies away before it can become anything substantial.
I can’t let it get me…
Sunday afternoon, 8 January 2000
GM: The straps cut into Alice’s arms and legs like hot knives. She feels a bump and jostle underneath her, though what the patient cart hit, she couldn’t say. The ceiling zooms by overhead, a dull expanse of white-gray interspersed by harsh lights. Wheels screek against the floor, interspersed by orderlies’ footfalls. They don’t usually have to resort to this, they told her parents, but with how she’s acting up, there’s no choice.
She feels her mother’s hand against her bare arm. “We just want you to get better, Alice.”
Alice: She struggles vainly against the bonds, tears streaming down her face. “I’m not lying! It isn’t my fault! Please, believe me!”
She tries to meet her mother’s gaze, and actively avoids looking at the Thing. “Please, I don’t want this… I don’t want to be here!”
She struggles to keep the smoldering embers in her head from escaping. “Mommy… please…”
GM: “I know, Alice,” her mother answers heavily. Her jaw is set, but she can’t stop her eyes from blinking, or her fingers from periodically dabbing at them. “I want you to come home too. You will. When you’re better.”
Alice: Alice sees the determination in her mother’s eyes. She doesn’t believe me. None of them do. But It does. The embers flare, a small portion leaking out of her head to leave a barely noticeable scorch mark on a nearby wall.
“This place isn’t making me better! It makes things worse!” Alice’s face is a pitiful mixture of hope, and despair.
Please, please, please, please! She has to understand!
Alice’s protest is true. Her newfound powers, whatever they are, are triggered by stress and anger. Being locked away, and treated like an idiot, or a dangerous animal by too-friendly men in white was not helping her to stay calm. She only hopes that her mommy can see it.
GM: Her mother looks like she’s been hit. “It will, Alice. I wish you could see how. I-I wish so bad you coul…” She trails off, wiping furiously at her eyes.
Her father leans in close, his face a mirror of pity. “Honey? Will you give Daddy a kiss goodbye?”
Alice: “NOOO! Keep it away! KEEP IT AWAY!” Alice thrashes in her bonds like a panicked animal.
As the Thing leans back up, she realizes what it has done. If Mommy held any doubts before, they are surely gone. The Thing has won.
Softly, Alice weeps, and closes her eyes. For a moment, she is beaten, but she turns to gaze defiantly at the Thing, and somewhere behind her eyes, a barely contained fire rages.
GM: As Alice screams and thrashes, the men in white murmur something concerned-sounding. A figure looms across her field of vision. She feels something prick her arm. Everything starts going blurry.
“We’re sorry, Mrs…”
Choked sobbing. “We love you, Alice…”
GM: “This is how you take a pill.”
It goes in her mouth.
“Now drink some water.”
Water down her throat.
“Okay everyone, it’s time for group therapy today.”
The shuffling of feet, the march of lunatics into the common area, but she isn’t one of them, she isn’t crazy, she isn’t crazy, she isn’t crazy…
Alice: Alice blinks. It is hard to focus. Her medicine makes things dull. Focusing on the fire helps, it makes things clear… but it also makes the fire grow. Her thoughts ramble. It is hard to focus.
GM: “Alice, why don’t you start us off with…”
“Hold her down! I’ll administer some…”
“Now Alice, you know matches aren’t allowed.”
Muttering to another lady in white. The gaolers discussing the prisoners. “I swear, where does she keep getting those…”
Alice: “I didn-” she cuts off, then in a tired huff nods. The embers glow, but she holds them. “Sorry, sir. I know.”
It is getting easier. The art therapy helps. It lets her forget. And when she forgets, the embers die, and she can think. She takes the things she saw out of her head, and puts them on the canvas. The men in white look nervous about it, but it makes her feel better to get it out of her head. The doctor seemed very interested in her picture of the Thing and the Lady, before it ate her.
GM: “You see what she’s…”
“…saw her parents having sex?”
“…no, her father and…”
Snicker. “Daddy issues.”
“…not in front of them.”
“…therapy brings it out in lots of them…”
Alice: The embers flare, she glares at the men. Why can’t they let her have this?! This is the only thing that gives her peace. “Fuck off! Let me paint.” One of the other ‘patients’ taught her curse words. She feels better when she uses them. Like letting out little puffs of fire, without hurting anything. She returns to her easel, her outburst over. Today, she paints Moxie, happily sleeping by the fire.
GM: “…a dog this time? Is that your dog back home, Alice?”
Whispers. Looks. The other patients know. Everyone spills their guts during therapy. Daddy took Moxie away. She was a bad dog.
Alice: “F-Father had her taken away. Because she bit him. Just like he had me put here. She wasn’t a bad dog.” Alice does not look up from her easel, but her voice cracks, and a tear rolls down her face. She is getting better at calling the Thing her father. “I didn’t protect Moxie from Father. It is my fault she got taken away.” She stops painting, and sits staring at the canvas, silently crying, but too defiant to turn and let the others see her tears.
GM: Jots and notes on the clipboard. Her state of mind, spilled forth over the pages by scratching pens. Approving nods. Cluck-clucks of agreement from her keepers. The father. Resentment towards the father. Resentment over the family pet.
Time for her medicine.
Water down her throat.
No more matches.
Alice: Alice looks at the graded tests, smiling at A after A, inscribed in crimson. Even in this prison, a child is given an education. It is another outlet. She reads voraciously. Anything to escape her memories. As her mind sharpens, so too does her control. The fire answers her now, most of the time. She learns to play along. To make pretend for the men in white. Anything to avoid more medicine. The pills come less and less. Her swearing however, comes more and more casually. It is not angry, usually. Alice hears the term ‘coping behavior’ at least once.
GM: They wake her up after the other kids have gone to bed. To talk. The doctors. She’s not sure of their names. She hears different ones. Sometimes Spencer and Sarah. Sometimes Carter and Cobber. Sometimes Landry and Louise. Are those their names? They can’t be. They can’t rhyme every time. They say things and she wonders if she’s making it up, finding rhymes where there are none.
They have questions for her. Questions about the fires. Questions about the Thing and the Lady. They don’t use clipboards, just ask questions. The answers spill out of her like vomit. She talks until she’s exhausted, late into the night. It’s so hard to remember what she talk about, she talks so much. She talks until the answers are sounds devoid of meaning, just mindless babble ringing in her ears, and once all of the answers spill out and they talk about “tests” she feels a spike of terror like something caught in her throat and she has to get out, she has to get out, she has to get out, she hates the way they look at her-
Then she wakes up and it’s time for a bland and shitty breakfast where everyone watches her and she has to give back the utensils immediately after use. Then take her meds. Always meds.
Alice: Alice doesn’t want to get out of bed.
She doesn’t want to talk to doctors.
She doesn’t want tests.
She doesn’t even want breakfast.
She begins to wonder if her mother will ever visit, or if she has been totally forgotten.
She wonders if she wants her to, dreading what might happen if she is faced with the Thing again.
Friday morning, 11 June 2004
GM: The hot Texas air feels strange against Alice’s skin. What she might say about that place, at least it was air-conditioned. It looks like the setting for a movie. It sits like a gargoyle at the center of a large, lawned campus, a dismal counterpoint to countless millennia of architectural advancement. Every edge and angle advertises sterile efficiency. Her mother’s minivan is parked by the curb just outside. Outside the place she never wanted to be. That all seems such a blur.
Alice’s mother looks at her daughter. She’s a strong-looking woman. Firm jaw, with an often matching expression. Graying brown hair pulled up in a bun. Half-rectangular glasses that give the impression she’s peering down at people, constantly evaluating and checking them. Narrow eyebrows. At first, her expression is composed.
When she wordlessly pulls Alice into a bone-crushing hug, though, she’s trembling.
Alice: Alice has spent years thinking about this moment. How she will never forgive her mother. Her resolve is broken in an instant at the hug. She weeps hot tears, as she clings desperately to Mom. She will not forget that Mom locked her away… but she will not forget that she came back to save her too. All Alice wants is to start over. To be a happy family, again.
She will not return to being Mom’s little doll, though. A fire lives in Alice now, and she has been forged in its heat, and the mental gauntlet of the institution for four long years. When she pulls away, Alice’s face is a mirror of her mother’s, made miniature. Her cherubic features touched with an iron resolve to grasp the future.
“I’m back, Mom.”
GM: “I know, honey,” her mother whispers, stroking her hair.
Perhaps she is oblivious to the changes within her daughter. Perhaps she intuits them and does not know where to begin addressing them. But she picks up Alice’s luggage and stows it in the car’s truck. She opens the door. The two get in. They drive off. It’s a long drive, and Alice’s mother doesn’t break the silence even an hour later. Her expression looks reflective.
Alice: Alice takes out her sketchpad and idles doodles. I should probably talk, right? But Mom isn’t saying shit. And… what the would I say? So, instead of talking, she looks at her mom, taking in her features, and idly starts sketching a portrait of her.
GM: “You’ve been drawing much?” her mother finally asks.
Alice: “Yeah!” Alice’s face lights up at the talk of art. She excitedly answers, “It’s fucking awesome! Like, it helps me calm down and stuff, and I am actually pretty good at it!”
She winces when she realizes she cursed in front of her mom. “Uh, sorry, Mom. I will try not to curse. It just… it helps. It lets me vent, in a safe way. That is what,” she briefly stumbles over their names, “Dr. Cobbler and Dr. Carter said. My art helps too.”
She thinks that’s what they said? Some doctors did.
GM: Her mother frowns mildly at the swearing. She seems as if she’s about to say something over it, but then seems to reconsider. Not here. Not now, with her daughter just back.
“So long as you’re trying, Alice. I’m glad it’s helpful. What do you… usually draw?”
Alice: “Stuff around me. Stuff I’ve seen. Uh, I get sort of, like calm when I paint. All the stuff in my head blurs together, and comes out on the paper. I like to put rabbits in my drawings too! When I first started, I drew my stuffed rabbit, because I missed him. I guess… I put him in my art because I wanted someone who would always be there for me.”
Alice is quiet after that, feeling the palpable awkwardness in the car. “But um, yeah. I like drawing and reading. I like Nancy Drew.”
“Um, my picture of you is done.” She sets it up on the dashboard, where her mom can see. It is a remarkable likeness, done in pencil.
GM: Alice’s mother initially looks somewhat surprised, eyes halfway between her daughter and the road. “That’s… that’s very good, Alice. It looks just like me. Do you have many others?”
Alice: Alice nods, and sets her sketchpad down where her mom can look at it. Some of the pictures are of her fellow ‘patients’. There is one of Dr. Hill, too. She didn’t want to draw the other doctors. Moxie is in quite a few. However, for every four or five normal sketches, there is one that is… weird. Not disturbing exactly, but not the sort of thing that one would expect to come from the mind of a 10-year-old girl. Blurry shapes, pills, needles, crying doves in lab coats, shaking their heads at a clipboard which has the word “defective” written in red. And that is just one example. It is like someone took all the jumbled thoughts in her head, and framed them. Each and every one shows remarkable talent, though. Her father is noticeably absent.
GM: Alice’s mother is clearly doing her best to repress a frown at the disturbing drawings. That frown seems to simultaneously battle with surprise at and admiration for her daughter’s talent. With just a touch of awkwardness thrown in, it’s… well, it’s not a look Alice has seen on her mother’s face before, she has to admit that.
“They’re very good, Alice. All… very good. Is this something you want to pursue?”
Alice: Alice nods vigorously. “Yes, I would like that! A whole lot!” Her enthusiasm wanes a bit, and she idly flips to one of the ‘weird’ drawings, then sets her sketchbook aside. She gazes out of the windshield at the horizon, as if she could see the future in it. “This isn’t going to be easy… is it, Mom?” Her tone is worried, but determined.
GM: Her mother follows Alice’s gaze out to the highway. Dozens of cars thump-thump along the seemingly endless gray expanse.
“…no, sweetie,” she says at length.
Saturday evening, 21 April 2007
GM: “…I had a lovely time, Michelle,” states her mother’s date in their home’s entry hall. Alice watches from the stairs where they can’t see her. Her mom sent her to her room.
“I just don’t think we’re right for each other at this point in our lives. Maybe if I were a few years earlier. Or later.”
“Yeah,” says Michelle. “I’m sorry what Alice did to your shirt.”
Alice: It was just a bit of holy water. This dude needs to chill the fuck out, Alice thinks.
GM: The man glances down at the one he’s borrowed. One of Dad’s old things. The man himself isn’t a bad-looking. Around the same age as her mom. Curly graying black hair, glasses, bit of a wide nose. Alice has pointedly tried not to get his name right.
“Well, it happens at that age with them.”
Alice: A teenager now, Alice no longer wears cute little dresses. Her jeans are black and torn, her shirt has Twisted Sister writ large in blood. She scoffs quietly Terry, or whatever-the-fuck his name is just another potential threat. If he was serious about Mom he wouldn’t flip out like this. He just looks bookish, and acts nice. You can’t just trust appearances, Mom. I am doing you a favor.
She does feel a little guilty about spilling the potatoes on his lap. That was an accident. A vague memory of her mom leaning over her, telling her that they ‘just want to help’ flashes through her head. She only partially succeeds in ignoring it.
GM: Mom and Terry (Jim? Phil? Ted?) smile and make small talk about the right age to start dating again, and how to handle kids in these situations. Phil (Ted? Terry? Jim?) adds that he has a daughter of his own. She was also pretty apprehensive about him inviting women over for dinner.
The two settle on the consensus that either adult children (“when they’re grown up and out of the house”) or little kids (“when they’re more open and not going through so much”) are the best age for a single parent to start dipping their toe in the dating scene. Tweenage and teenage years, they conclude, are horrible. Some kids just have too hard a time with their parents dating when that’s such a big concern to them. As those potatoes well illustrate.
Alice: Fire flares behind the silvery grate in Alice’s mind.
No. He isn’t one of them. He is just a normal asshat. I gotta calm down.
She tightens her grip on the railing. Teenage hormones and psychic powers do not mix well, and keeping her inner fire contained has been more of a struggle since puberty hit.
I won’t go back. Never again.
GM: The two talk for some further length, their tones simultaneously humorous and regretful. They end things with a chaste hug. Alice’s mother sees whats-his-name out the door and waves goodbye, then walks up the stairs, and regards her daughter flatly.
“Would you like me to throw water at girls you have over? Or potatoes?”
Alice: “…no. I just… I don’t want you to get hurt by a bad guy.” Alice looks apologetic at the potatoes, but otherwise has a look of certainty. She believes what she did was right.
“You told me I couldn’t date Jenny, because she had her eyebrow pierced, and lives in Central City. How is this different?”
GM: Someone could retort that Jenny was no good and Whatshisname might be a nice guy.
Alice’s mom answers, “How is this different? Because I’m your mother, that’s how. And while you live under my roof, I’m the one who makes decisions about your safety. Not the other way around.”
Alice: Alice seethes with frustration, Why can’t she just understand!? and mutters under her breath, through gritted teeth, “…you can always lock me up again. Wouldn’t that make things easier?”
There it is. The elephant in the room. Often, when they fight, this subject comes up. Perhaps it is the real source of Alice’s tension with her mom. She had never apologized. Not even a hint!
GM: Alice’s mother has never been one to cry. Or yell. So when her daughter brings up that elephant in the room, her face just gets a stony look as her eyes narrow.
Alice: For her part, Alice has never quite forgiven her mom, either. So, Alice does what she always does when she sees that Mom just isn’t going to listen.
“Argh! You always fucking do this! You never fucking listen to what I think! You never take me seriously! I just… shit!”
With a huff of teenage angst at the unfairness of it all, Alice storms up to her room. She pauses at just before entering, and yells over her shoulder down to her mom,
“I don’t care what you say, Mom, I am never going to stop trying to keep you from getting yourself hurt!” and slams the door. All in all, it is a pretty strange sentiment for an angsty teen to rebel over.
Inside her room, Alice furiously paints a portrait of Phil, the Potato King, sitting waist deep in his buttery mashed potato throne. One set of lumps looks suspiciously like a rabbit.
GM: Michelle doesn’t interrupt the teenager’s angry diatribe or stop her from storming upstairs. Or follow her. Seemingly washing her hands of the whole thing, Alice hears the sounds of footsteps downstairs. There’s the sound of the pantry door opening. Mom keeps wine in the pantry.
She probably needs a drink after tonight.
Friday night, 29 August 2014
GM: His good looks are model-gorgeous. He has a boyish face with sandy blond hair, bright green eyes, perfect white teeth, and the sort of smile that could leave anyone who likes men weak in the knees.
Still, it’s not for his looks that Alice is following him upstairs from the dorm party. He only laughed and said he “wasn’t interested in that sort of thing” when she made clear that a nightcap wasn’t happening. No, he had something to show her, he said. Something that would change her life. The boy motions her into his room—a typical messy college dorm—and fishes out a red-filled vial from the heap of scattered clothing.
“This will change your life,” he repeats softly, extending it forward.
Alice: Alice looks at the vial hesitantly. “Yeah? What is it?”
She isn’t too big on drugs. Not from any sort of bullshit moral standpoint, of course. She’s learned the hard way that being shitfaced makes it much harder to control her fire. Still, this guy seems pretty cool. He had complimented her art, and mentioned potentially wanting do have her do some commissions. Her job at the family bookstore and her scholarships gives her enough to get by, but little money to play with. If taking a hit of this… whatever it is helps her improve her cashflow, it might be worth it.
But not before finding out more. She isn’t stupid enough to just drink something a guy at a party gives her. Even if he is really pretty. For a guy. Nervously, she fidgets with her lucky hat. When she realizes what she is doing, she stops. Fucking nervous habits. Just be cool, Alice.
GM: The boy—his name was Josh, he’d mentioned—just laughs. It’s a rich and velvety sound. “Short version, lush? It’ll make you feel better than anything else out there, with no hangover, no crash, no nothing.”
His smile widens.
“Too good to be true? I thought so too, until I tried it.”
Alice: “No shit? This stuff have a name?” Alice looks incredulous. No crash? Is this guy for real? Too good to be true means that it is too good, and is not true.
GM: “Hmm. What they really call it is… life.” Josh grins.
Alice: Alice gives the guy a deadpan look. “That… is some corny stuff right there, dude. I mean, you make it work, but damn. Okay, tell you what. You take a hit, and then I will.”
In the back of her mind, something whispers, Life. Where have you heard that? It sounds familiar. Alice mentally shrugs off the thought. Plenty of time to think about it later.
GM: Josh shrugs casually, still grinning, uncorks the vial and takes a sip. He closes his eyes. He visibly shudders at the taste and licks his lips, getting every little last drop. He waits and smiles, clearly basking in the aftereffects.
After a minute, he opens his eyes, that wide smile still in place. “Z, Y, X, W, V, U, T. I can say the rest of the alphabet or wait another couple minutes if you want.”
Alice: Alice laughs. It is a cheerful, playful sound full of vitality and good humor. “Nah man. Sorry for bugging out, but a girl’s gotta be careful. Shit, with looks like yours, I bet you have to watch for shit being slipped in your drinks too.” She takes the bottle, and has a tentative sip.
GM: “Oh, that usually doesn’t ever bother me,” the boy smiles as he passes Alice the vial, again with that same hint of amusement. He mimes raising a glass with a ‘bottoms up’ motion. A heady fragrance washes over Alice as she lifts the vial to her lips.
It changes her life.
The red liquid trickles down her throat like honey, setting her insides afire with… life. It’s rich. It’s liquid gold. She can feel the taste linger on her tongue and shoot through her veins like lightning. It hurts so good, leaves her tongue shuddering, lapping for more…
Alice: The red stuff hits her system like a Semi doing 180. It courses through her veins, making her feel alive, and powerful. It feels so damn good!
As her senses heighten, she remembers. Remembers the passage in the Bestirae Mysterium she read a year ago, while pouring over the occult books in the back room of the family shop. ‘Fear ye they who sup on the cursed blood of the damned. Fear ye the blood-thrall.’
Fuck. This is not good. But it feels so good.
A vampire. A fucking blood-sucker. And she’s just gorged herself on its tainted blood. She waits, in sweet agony, for whatever insane transformation into a mindless slave to come over her… but nothing happens. She feel amazing, but when she looks at the blood-sucker, he is the same. If anything she likes him less, for tricking her like this.
“Woah… that is… intense, Josh.”
GM: Alice isn’t sure she’s seen Josh do anything with his lips but smile. He’s still smiling. But there’s an air of knowing to it now as he nods his head slowly, in recognition of Alice’s understanding. “There’s more where it came from, too.”
“A lot more.”
Alice: I’m sure.
Outwardly, Alice grins. “You… mentioned commission work? For my art?”
GM: Josh nods, laying a hand on her shoulder in emphasis. “Something like that, Alice. Something like that.”
Tuesday evening, 12 May 2015
GM: Short graying hair. Lined face. Black and white suit. Sensible, modest jewelry. The woman looks corporate. Not the sort of type to shop in a secondhand, alternative religion-themed bookstore. Nevertheless, she smiles pleasantly, if distantly, as she hands the cash over the register and accepts her books in a bag from Alice.
“Have a pleasant evening, miss.”
Alice: “Thank you for visiting! We hope to see you again soon!” Alice puts on her best, customer-pleasing smile for the woman.
GM: The middle-aged woman leans forward, resting her hand on Alice’s. “I will be certain to recommend this store to my associates.”
Her grin is just a little too wide. With just a few too many teeth.
Alice: Fucking wonderful. Another one. Alice has always known they were out there, somewhere. But every since her first dose of the red stuff, she’s been so much more aware of them.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am!” A bestial voice growls out its warnings in the back of her mind from its cozy place by the fire. “You be safe out there, ma’am! The streets aren’t always safe, even this early in the evening. We would hate to lose a valued customer.”
Alice offers a parting wave to the woman with too many teeth. Note to self. Find… wards around the neighborhood.
The books have mentioned that. Magical cards. She didn’t believe them until now.
She didn’t believe in a lot of things until now.
GM: Alice cannot help but note the woman’s hand was as warm as her own during the brief contact.
She smiles thinly at Alice’s advice and strides out the door without further word, the shop’s bell chiming in her wake. As she leaves, the shadow she throws upon the wall is not that of a woman at all, but a creature with horns and wings.
Alice: “Mom? I am going on break for minute!” Alice calls to the back room. She heads upstairs, to the attic-turned-art-studio, and hastily sketches and notes everything about the woman she can. The name and number on her card, what book she was looking for, everything she can remember about her time in the shop. She finishes by drawing a small candle in one corner, with practiced ease, then carefully folds the paper and puts it into her pocket.
Later, it will go into the nondescript manilla envelope hidden in the secret compartment beneath the tiles in her apartment bathroom, where it can join its siblings. Page after page of sketches, and notes, bearing the candle. Alice cannot do anything about these things right now… but someday the candles will be lit. And when they do, she hopes, they will make New Orleans a brighter place.