“I’m sorry, Jerry. I know it’s rough.”
Wednesday morning, 9 December 2015
Milo: kali > msfcli <the> payload = <the> rhost = <ip> lhost = <ip> E
This is the formula he’s learned. Everybody learns it. Sometimes the order changes, or the variable titles. But at least one thing is always the same.‘E.’ E for enter. E for effect. E for execute, like the Queen of Hearts.
The IP he types in is one of Cox’s client information repositories. Easy enough to find online. ISPs sell people’s information cheaply enough. The payload isn’t anything brilliant. Just your average rootkit. Sit and listen.
It’s the exploit that’s the problem. Cox isn’t run by idiots. Weekly patches are the norm, which means they’re good at finding vulnerabilities and fixing them before somebody like him can take advantage. The frequent updates that make so many clients grumble is what they should be charging extra for.
Any vulnerability he exploits has to be a zero-day. One-of-a-kind. OpenVAS and Nessus run scans for the usual weaknesses. Zilch. So he gets creative and narrows the scan. Maybe there’s a buffer overflow he can—nada.
This was where the real work was. Anybody can aim Kali and pull the trigger on a virus somebody smarter wrote. But coming up with something that’s never been done before? That’s a bitch. That’s the difference between an amateur and an expert, a fry cook and a chef, a script kiddie and…and him. An amateur could have stared at the screen for a century and never found a way in.
Milo finds one in 45 minutes.
There is nothing new under the sun, but he’s never been an outdoor kid.
E for execute.
“Off with your head,” he mutters, the exhaustion of the night finally catching up to him, and hits the button.
GM: Entrance to Cox’s servers does not come swiftly, but it comes as inevitably as the rising sun that bathes Milo’s shuttered apartment beneath its soft glow—or perhaps simply the thump of a severed head hitting the ground. With the PHP shell uploaded, all Milo need do is open the URL where he uploaded the dk.php file. He clicks the Symlink URL. Rows upon rows and columns upon columns of data spread before the hacker’s eyes. As might be expected for a company of Cox’s size, there is more data here than Milo could possibly (hand-)process in a single sitting, or even days… yet, he is all-too aware, he likely does not have days. While it is doubtful that a communications company will be as vigilant in guarding their servers as the FBI or the military (the crown jewels of information theft for any hacker to boast over), they would be exceedingly negligent not to have sysops performing periodic sweeps through their servers.
Milo: Milo rubs his temple. Progress. First things first, though.
He strokes Toto’s head absentmindedly as he dials his boss’s number.
GM: The line picks up after several rings.
“Milo, what’s up?” asks Slim Ray.
By this time, it’s no longer dark outside Milo’s windows. He supposes normal people are waking up now.
Milo: The exhaustion in his voice is real, and he channels it to make his story all the more plausible.
“Hi, Slim. I think I’ve got—” There’s a few well-placed hacking noises. His last neighbor had lung cancer, and Milo had to talk Quách out of expelling her for the noise. “—flu, or something.”
GM: “Oh, that’s too bad. You gonna take one of your sick days?”
Milo: The hesitation, too, is real. Milo actually enjoys his work. “Think I have to.” No coughing, but he keeps his voice ragged. “Sorry. Do you need me today?”
GM: “Rob and Ellen can pick up the slack. You’re going to miss out on the fascinating opportunity to screen a drafted article on corbels being stolen in Central City, though.”
Milo: That’s a joke, right? Most people wouldn’t find that fascinating. I should laugh. But then if it’s not a joke he’ll ask why I laughed. And I’ll say I thought he was joking and he’ll ask why and I’ll say it was because that doesn’t sound fascinating even though I think it does and then he’ll think I don’t like my job.
Ten seconds of silence pass.
GM: Not quite ten seconds pass before Slim Ray seemingly frowns and asks the silence, “You still the-”
Milo: Milo finally laughs, then panics and quickly turns it into a cough. “Okay, then. I guess I’ll stay late when I get back, or… something,” he finishes lamely.
GM: Milo’s boss is cut off by the awkward cough-turned-laugh.
“Don’t sweat it, you sound like you could use the sick day,” he answers, though whether out of genuine understanding or desire not to linger on the awkward gaffe remains uncertain to the social misfit.
“Anyways, I gotta go, the others are just coming in. Have fun watching Webflix all day.”
That recommendation, at least, even Milo is discerning enough to note the falsity of. He’s pretty sure the former gray hat hacktivist continues to download torrents out of protest against Webflix’s VPN block, something his boss views as essential to individual digital privacy.
Milo: “Will do. Thanks for understanding.”
He hangs up first, then holds his head in his hands for several minutes.
Wednesday morning, 9 December 2015
Milo: Turning back to situations he understands, he searches first for the I.P. he pulled what seems like an eternity ago.
GM: Plain as day, Milo finds a listed address with the same zip code as his own, and thus in Mid-City. And with that knowledge too, the hacker knows, he has committed a major crime. That knowledge is also worth precisely fuck-all as Milo’s eyes skim the address line.
It’s his address.
The camera is feeding into his apartment building.
It’s true. All of it. His own neighbors are out to get him. His own neighbors work for them, whoever they are. Is it one of them? No. It’s all of them. They’re all in on it. They’re all in on it. The cops. Malveauxes. FBI. NSA. CIA. The entire alphabet soup of federal agencies-
The walls are closing in.
Milo: The room is swimming. The LED light melts against the darkness of his apartment and makes everything seem to simmer. He wants to collapse, to scream, to tear through the halls and drag them into the open—but they’re expecting that. And who? Who? Who?
He needs to act. He can’t sit here. They’re watching him. They’re probably right upstairs. They’ve probably passed him on the stairs. He’s probably avoided making eye contact with them. He wants to throw up.
The food. They rummaged through his food. Did they bug his food? The United States once tried to rig a cat with surveillance equipment to spy on Soviets. Maybe they got to Toto. Or maybe they just got into his food. Little robots. Nanos. Nanos don’t exist. But then, would he know if they did? Inside him, they’re inside him, they—
His shoulders heave as he stares at himself inside the porcelain bowl. Deeper. His fingers need to go deeper.
Deeper. His stomach implodes.
Little chunks of him fill up the toilet. The apartment spins. He tears through Toto’s bowl. Empties it. He opens up his mattress and pulls out the stuffing. He doesn’t remember deciding to take the meds. It’s simply a consequence. One second the world makes no sense. The next, swallow. Ones and zeroes. Everything stands perfectly, blissfully still.
GM: His cat pads into the room and stares at him with that blissful non-concern only a cat can have.
Milo: He’s losing control. Can barely keep himself together. He dislikes taking the pills. Sleep sounds like a good idea right now.
GM: The already exhausted young man crashes into bed. Sleep comes all-too fitfully. No matter how many times he shifts position or moves his pillow, that blessed state squirms out of his grasp like a butter-slick catfish. It seems to silently taunt him, like the people watching the still-active camera in his kitchen might be doing. The people who might be—no, are—his neighbors.
Milo never registers it when he finally passes out. When he wakes up, his clock reads 3:08 in the afternoon. A horrible sleep schedule, at least, is nothing new.
Milo: “Damn…” Scratching at his hair, he bumbles to his computer and checks the mIRC feed.
GM: There’s been chatter from the rest of the group about mostly inane things, including video games, anime, the state of national politics, disgusting porn GIFs, and Hillary Cherry. She has apparently closed down her Facebook page (“Oh, you know shit’s hit the fan then!”), but some online stalking by f0xx reveals she is working as a waitress in the French Quarter. Several jokes have been cracked about visiting Hillary’s restaurant and ordering “dead baby parts” or “your medical records!” from the would-be senator’s daughter.
f0xx[DR]: oh man I see it. She starts crying and runs off…
/insert joke about my order not coming from the kitchen
gonna need a box though
yum yum yum takeout
hey do abortion clinics let you put the vacuumed out fetus in a box?
like would they say no if you brought a takeout box
I mean it’s your baby
Milo: He types on reflex. I mean they just took it out of a box. No problem putting it back into one.
GM: Huh LA’s pretty progressive looking it up, they’re medical waste before 20 weeks
So after that
You can do what you want with it
Your right as a mom
Milo: i mean, what did your mom bring you home in after
Milo’s drained. He doesn’t know what to do. He has to get out of here. He can’t get out of here. They’re waiting for him to leave. He might as well invite the… huh.
He makes sure to walk by the camera as often as he can as he moves things around the apartment. He picks up the pieces of his tantrum—that’s what mom called them, after Mal, and even though the proper term is “persecutory anxiety state” the term stuck—from around his home. Refills Toto’s bowl. Tells him in soothing times he’ll be home soon. Maybe he’ll buy him a toy while he’s out.
GM: The tabby cat appears to have more attention for his bowl than his owner as the latter takes his leave. The low crunch-crack of cat food being snarfed down briefly fills Milo’s ears before he makes his way outside. The March weather is a merely comfortably warm 70 degrees rather than the stiflingly hot greenhouse that it is during the non-winter months, though those will soon be ending. The sun, rarely directly seen by the closeted shut-in, shines bright and clear overhead. The streets beyond Milo’s apartment are fairly empty, with most people being at work or only just getting out from school at this hour. Milo has an uncanny sense of being exposed as he steps beyond the doorway’s beshadowed threshold and warm light spills over his pasty skin.
Milo: An entirely too genuine feeling of queasiness comes over him as he steps outside for the first time in a bit over thirteen hours. Maybe not yet. He ducks back inside, making subtly conspicuous noises as he passes down his hall, and heads up to Mrs. Quack—er, Quách’s—apartment.
GM: Milo finds the door to his landlady’s apartment closed and almost assuredly locked and bolted.
Milo isn’t the most asocial inhabitant of the building, but he might be tied for the position.
Milo: He knocks, half hoping she doesn’t answer, even knowing the urgency of the situation. He feels like a trespasser even when his reasons for bothering her are completely legitimate.
All the more so when he suspects her of plotting against him.
GM: “Rut d’ya run’?” growls a scratchy voice whose accent is a peculiarly abominable combination of East Asian and gumbo-thick Creole.
Milo: “Just to let you know about a break-in. My door got busted down. I don’t have to come in,” he adds, by way of appeasement.
GM: There’s a pause before a muffled reply sounds past the closed door. “Tark ta da poreese.”
Milo: “I might, but I just wanted you to know I’ll be leaving for a bit while I find somebody to fix the door. I’ll take care of the repair costs, but I don’t feel safe there right now. All right?”
GM: “Ya don’ pay ren nex’ mon, I stirr evic ya,” the voice behind the door harshly warns.
Milo: “I’m not moving out. Just leaving for like a day or two at most. I’ll pay you.”
He’s not lying. He likes this place. Backwards and strange as it might be that he does.
GM: There might be a grunt from the door’s other side.
Milo: Satisfied, he heads back outside, bracing himself against the sun. He checks mIRC on his phone as he does. He doesn’t want f0xx to get too many shots in before he can reply.
GM: The glare of even the early March sun is as unfriendly to the paranoid shut-in as ever. F0xx’s own replies are little friendlier.
f0xx[DR]: least mine tried to bring me home
f0xx[DR]: were you like in that scene in matilda, where they just leave you in the car and forget about you
f0xx[DR]: or did CPS have to dig you out of a garbage bin?
Meanwhile, Milo sees several further names active on the users list and possibly scrolling through the chat logs: itsatrap and ChingChongChinaMan.
Identities aren’t quite shared or quite anonymous among the channel’s users. Milo knows from his own “detective work” that itsatrap, beyond obviously enjoying science fiction movies, is a computer science student at Tulane University, his own alma mater.
ChingChong, meanwhile, lives in Houston but maintains an interest in New Orleans’ local affairs. Milo isn’t sure what he does for a living, but he’s not a college student like most of the others. He is also, despite his username, only 1/8th Asian on his great-grandmother’s side.
A new message eventually pings.
itsatrap: ok so a guy who makes kids cry is a douche
f0xx[DR]: such a white knight
itsatrap: but ruining him first won’t make your sister un-cry
itsatrap: I’ve read this kibbe guy’s stuff
itsatrap: we live in an era of assholes
itsatrap: who’s gonna peg them if not us?
Milo: He posts a picture of a knight on a horse.
GM: f0xx[DR]: you know your lesbian gal pal isn’t gonna pity fuck you if you ruin this guy right?
itsatrap: suck horse cock whore
ChingChongChinaMan:ok lets do it
Milo: Milo lets himself feel a a brief but fierce surge of satisfaction as he heads to the bus stop.
He might be going insane. But he’s going to have fun before he does.
Wednesday afternoon, 9 December 2015
GM: The bus ride from Milo’s home to his father’s in Bywater takes slightly under an hour. The paranoid shut-in has ample time on the way over to review directions over Qeeqle Maps and see that bicycling would take only 26 minutes, if he were willing to leave himself so exposed.
Milo: Or if he owned a bicycle. He checks the camera intermittently, wondering how long it’ll take for… them… to take the bait. He does his best to tune out the incessant noise of would-be pedestrians around him.
GM: The bus from Mid-City to Bywater isn’t so packed at 3 as it might be at 4, but it’s full enough that Milo is forced to share a seat with an overweight woman wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. She stares at her phone rather than talk with him. But it would be so easy to make a covert glimpse at what he’s doing.
In the seat across from and behind Milo’s, there’s an old man with owl-like wire-framed glasses. He doesn’t fiddle on a phone, but leans forward on a cane. Staring forward. Perhaps through the front window. Perhaps at Milo. The two make fleeting eye contact twice. His glasses seem so large, so able to take in everything that they see. Milo quickly breaks the contact off. The large woman next to him seems to glance his way as he averts his gaze. There are so many other people on the bus. A mother with a hefty grocery bag and two children. An eavesdropper most people would overlook. Moms with groceries aren’t accessories to conspiracies like the one after Milo. A dark-skinned man in a hoodie. A naturally suspicious target. He could be a red herring, part of a two-operative team. An early-twenty-something white girl in jeans and boots. An unusual character too, in her own way. The neighborhood his father lives, Florida Area, is around 90% black. Maybe she’s getting off early. Maybe she’s not.The paranoid young man can only be certain of one thing:A crowded bus is the perfect environment in which to surreptitiously follow someone. The tail’s cover is abundant. The target is effectively immobilized. Their movements so easy to track.
Milo: Dammit all. He was already headed to Dad’s place. If he got out now, he could be isolated. Better to get out where he planned to, and see what happens next. They can’t do anything to him here.
…right?To calm himself down he checks the camera feed. Has his door been opened?
GM: The first camera in the hallway shows a closed door.
The second one shows a wide panning view of his kitchen floor. He can make out the bottoms of various appliances and furniture. Oven. Fridge. Cabinet.
Something thicker. Draped in cloth. Shoe on the bottom. Not staying still.
Milo: They’re in his apartment. Searching. Snooping. God Forbid, finding.
They are in his apartment.
He wants to scream, to run and hide to Dad in earnest. He wants to close his eyes and pretend none of this is happening. But no. Because they might think that they’ve broken into his sanctum. But the truth is, he has them right where he needs them.
With a few strokes, he brings up the view from his webcam—the one that, attached as it is to the computer, oversees the entire apartment.
He had set it to record before he left.
GM: As Milo struggles to calm his hammering heart, he discerns a male-shaped figure clad in a hoodie and ski mask making his way directly towards the camera.
Towards the computer.
The figure reaches into his pocket and pulls out a crumpled piece of paper. A black-gloved hand looms large against the built-in webcam, like some horrid spider spreading its legs—and stinging abdomen—over the screen, then withdraws.
The figure turns and briskly strides out of the apartment. He turns to close the door behind him.
Milo: His head swims.
He’s wearing a mask? Why the fuck would be wear the mask? Unless…
Unless they knew he was full of shit. Dammit, dammit.
GM: The overweight woman in the adjacent seat looks at him.
Milo: He coughs. “Um. Sorry.” His face is burning.
GM: She grunts and looks back to her phone. The bus’s many eyes and ears seem all the more intrusive, after the legitimate pretext any spies and tails had to look at him, for however briefly.
But all he said was “damn it.” Are they overplaying their hands? Is it not all in his head?
The paranoiac can only hope.
Wednesday afternoon, 9 December 2015
GM: The bus drops Milo off in the Florida Area. The mostly black Bywater neighborhood is middle-class and moderately well-off, but this corner of it looks almost deserted. The few people on the street cast suspicious glances his way. Milo only has to walk a little ways and look across the Industrial Canal shipping channel to see why. The Katrina-devastated Lower Ninth Ward’s ruined, graffiti-vandalized hoes stare emptily back. The section of the neighborhood this close to Bywater hasn’t been fully reclaimed by nature, like some of the further-off areas have been (not that Milo has visited them), but there are still weeds sprouting through cracks and potholes in the trash-littered sidewalks. There’s even a fallen telephone poll that hasn’t been righted. “The people there are animals. Have to be animals to still live there,” he recalls his father once expressing. There are no bridges between the Lower Ninth and Florida Area. The black, middle-class neighborhood just wants to forget about its sorry cousin across the water.
Turning from the scene, Milo walks the remaining few minutes from the bus stop to his father’s house—or more accurately, the house of his cousin Jerry Marron, where the Alzheimer’s-besotted old man is staying. It’s a camelback triple-barreled shotgun house, so called because it’s renovated from three individual shotgun houses: one-story homes with each of their three or four rooms located directly behind one other, giving the buildings a narrow, shotgun-like shape. Formerly a symbol of African-American poverty, gentrification has led to better-off homeowners combining two shotgun houses into a single larger one, giving rise to the term “double barrel.” The “camelback” comes from the second story that’s built onto the rear of the houses, giving them a shape like a camel’s hump. Jerry’s white-painted house is fairly large with three “barrels,” but the long gutters are sagging just a bit, and the yard’s trees look overdue for a trim. The whole house has always felt just a bit too large for Jerry—he did have four kids at one point, but even the youngest of them moved out when Milo was still in middle school.
Milo makes his way up the front steps and rings the bell. The door swings open after several moments to reveal a stout-framed, overweight and middle-aged black woman with short graying hair and a jowl-lined, bulldog-like face. She’s significantly larger in both directions—vertically and horizontally—than the short and thin-framed Milo. She wears pair of loose-fitting jeans, a striped black and white v-neck top, and plain brown clogs. Pamela Ardoin, Jerry’s second wife of seven years, which makes her Milo’s… cousin-in-law, though she’s old enough to look more like an aunt. She was old enough to keep her maiden name after her marriage to Jerry. “Too old a dog to come when they call a new name,” as she’d put it.
As a nurse at Tulane Medical Center, Jerry has happily expressed that there are few better people better-qualified to take care of his uncle than his wife. Milo is all-too aware, however, that one of the two surest ways to arouse Pamela’s considerable ire is to expect her to perform more work taking care of Martin than anyone else. “This is my house, not the fucking hospital,” she’d once snapped at one of Jerry’s children. The second path to her umbrage is drug addicts. Pamela absolutely can’t stand them, though she sometimes feels pity for the younger ones. Her son from a previous marriage has addiction problems.
As a low drizzle begins to fall outside, the large-framed woman grunts, “Milo,” and ushers him in. “Here to see your dad?”
Milo: “Yeah.” He fidgets. What should he say next? This part is always complicated. Why can’t conversations be more like search engines? Just click and go. “How are you, Pam?” He ventures.
GM: * She grunts again as she closes the door behind him. “My son hit me up for donations to his televangelist cult.”First time he’s spoken to me in weeks."
Milo: “Oh.” Wait, does she want him to acknowledge how awful televangelists are or would that be rude, seeing as how her son is clearly affiliated? The use of the word ‘cult’ seems to imply a disdain for the phenomenon, but could she, perhaps, be using the term ironically?
“That sucks,” he says.
GM: “How’s the newspaper job?” Pamela asks as she heads down the home’s entryway, her lack of apparent response to Milo’s condolences likely discomfiting the socially anxious young man all the more.
Milo: The newspaper job? She knows he’s a content analyst, not a reporter, right? The broad term could in this case signify either familiarity with the media or a lack thereof. More likely it simply indicates disinterest in his actual work, despite the question. People ask a lot of questions they don’t really care to have answered. Would it be kind or rude to specify for her?
“It’s… you know, same old, same old. Has my Dad been, um, lucid lately?” The change of subject should redirect the conversation, right?
GM: “He’s there, but not all there. His symptoms are still moderate. Recognizes faces but gets details wrong. It’s only matter of time until that GPS trick won’t cut it.”
Milo knows that as Pam and Jerry have full-time jobs, they can’t always be at home to look after Martin. Sometimes he wanders. They considered installing locks on the outside of the house, even cruel as it may have seemed to treat him like a prisoner, to stop him from walking into traffic.
Milo, however, configured a GPS tracker on his dad’s watch to send an alert to the three of their phones if the retired fire marshal leaves the house. Pam has said that’s all well and good until he forgets to keep the watch on… or he wanders into traffic before they can get there and stop him. “Being a bleeding heart means watching someone else bleed,” she’s also said.
Milo: She’s right. She also misses the point if she thinks that’s the problem.
“Okay. I guess that makes today important then.”
GM: “Important as any day until his symptoms worsen.”
Pam and Milo walk through the living room into the house’s den, where a couch and several overstuffed chairs face a modern, wall-hung TV broadcasting a football game. The crowd cheers as the fleur-de-lis-helmeted football team score a touchdown. Even the sports-averse Milo knows they’re the Saints.
Pam approaches the graying-haired man staring at the television and remarks, “Martin, your boy’s here.”
Milo: Milo’s breath catches and the room spins for a small second as he fights off a small, sudden attack. He always does when he sees Dad.
“Hi, Dad,” Milo whispers.
GM: Milo’s father Martin is a dark-skinned and gray-haired man in his sixties, a late age to have had his son, and an early age to have Alzheimer’s. The ex-fireman’s frame is taller, stockier and broader-shouldered than Milo’s (granted, that’s not uncommon), but a back injury on the job sent him behind a desk. Since retirement his former muscle has mostly but not completely atrophied to fat. His belly is the largest part of him—like a sack of potatoes tied around his torso, and only slightly less hard. He wears a buttoned, short-sleeved blue shirt that’s presently unbuttoned over a yellow t-shirt, tan pants, brown loafers, and the thick black wristwatch that, as Pam warns, he could forget to wear or easily take off at any time.
“Hey, Milo,” he smiles, getting up to hug his son. “Good to see you around, kid.”
Milo: Milo smiles and even returns the hug without feeling awkward, two things all the more attractive for their rarity.
“Hey, Dad. How are you?”
GM: “I haven’t seen your mother all day. Did she tell you she was going somewhere?” his dad asks, looking more puzzled than anything else as he sits back down.
Pam glances between the two and takes her leave.
Milo: “I don’t know where she is right now, Dad,” Milo says, the technically-true vagary coming easily after a lot of practice in other situation. “I wouldn’t worry though. She can take care of herself.”
Indeed, Mom was always better at taking care of herself than others. He takes the seat next to his father.
“What are you watching?”
GM: Martin frowns a bit at Milo’s initial answer, but laughs at his question. A cheer goes up from the crowd in the TV screen.
“Kid, if you don’t know who wears a fleur-de-lis on a football helmet, or why, there’s never gonna be hope for you. Let’s talk about something you actually care about.”
Milo: Milo flushes slightly, but is happy to oblige. “Sure, Dad. How are you? Pam and Jerry treating you all right?”
GM: “More than. Better than life’s treating them.”
Milo: “How do you mean? Jerry still having trouble at work?”
GM: “No, no,” his dad waves off. “He can come to me when he does. His job’d be hard on anyone. False injury claims, that’s what he has to deal with. There’s been a lot of it this year, and more of it than last year. It’s going up.”
Milo: “False injury? People do that? And why is it a firefighting problem?”
GM: His dad nods. “They do it all the time these days. Fighters on injury leave get to collect full salaries. Injury pay is exempt from state and federal taxes too. So they can bring in more dough when they’re injured. Counts towards pensions too. Lots of reasons for it. Guys on the job are getting older. Salaries aren’t what they used to be. Medical treatment takes longer. Cuts on overtime also don’t want to make people return as bad. And the more guys see each other doing it, the more other guys copy it.”
Milo: “That’s dirty,” Milo says. “Did you have to deal with that a lot?”
GM: Martin nods, his jowls moving along with his head. “But not all the guys on leave are liars. Investigating frauds carries its own problems. And every man on paid leave is one less man in the station.”
Milo: “So what do you do, in those situations?”
GM: “That’s what Jerry and I have been trying to figure out. It’s a serious problem that costs lives and money. We don’t get a bigger budget when guys are on leave. We’re just spending the same amount of money on fewer firefighters. We can come down on individual fraud cases, which has its own problems, and guys are still gonna do it.”
Milo: Milo shakes his head. “Maybe I’m naive. I don’t get how somebody can choose to do one of the most dangerous jobs out there, and then just… play sick. I mean, I know that people can be evil—”
“—or even scared…”
Margaret. God, Margaret.
“…but I don’t get that. How a person can just… change.”
He realizes he’s been ranting, or it feel like he has, and he flushes again.
GM: His dad gives a sad smile. “Firefighters are people just like everyone else. Sometimes they just want paid time off from a hard job. And once they get started and see other guys doing it, it’s that much easier to keep doing it.”
After an hour or so of talking about Milo’s job at the Times-Picayune, how he’s getting along with his neighbors (the subject of girls hasn’t been brought up in years), and stories from Martin’s days as an active firefighter, the younger Glass is ready to go. With the recent home invasion on his mind, he only half-hears much of his dad’s words. Martin can at least still seem to do plenty of talking despite his Alzheimer’s.
Jerry returns home from work around the same time. Martin’s nephew, and Milo’s much older cousin, is an African-American man in his 50s with a ready smile and bald, completely hairless pate. It’s an intimidating look on some men, but on Jerry it just makes him seem ‘polished’ (his scalp actually shines a bit under the right light), yet somehow diminished. After greeting his uncle and making brief small talk, he shows Milo out while asking him how his dad was doing. When Milo mentions the firefighters and false injury claims, Jerry’s smile visibly sinks.
“False injury claims aren’t a problem in New Orleans, Milo,” he says. “It happens, don’t get me wrong… I’d be happy to cut down on it. But it’s not a serious problem. It’s not costing us the millions of dollars that it’s costing Los Angeles. They have a more generous injury-leave program than we do. Your father’s… confusing things with a newspaper article we were talking about.”
The older man is silent for a moment. “It’s… rough, not being able to go to him for advice anymore. He was a big help running things, even after he retired…”
Jerry trails off after that. He looks more regretful, and even worried, than frustrated.
Milo: Milo had suspected, but had willed himself to believe otherwise. He sighs. “I’m sorry, Jerry. I know it’s rough. When I’m in a better place, I’ll try to…”
Watch my father die?
See one of the only people I can talk to whither away inside their own mind, while Toto becomes more independent than what used to be Martin Glass?
What? Fucking what will I do, exactly?
All the world is Oz, and he’s everybody except Dorothy.
“…help,” he finishes lamely.
Wednesday evening, 9 December 2015
Milo: Milo’s footsteps sound quiet as he approaches his door. He stills his pulse.
Creak, go the hinges. Thump goes his heart.
Down the rabbit hole goes Milo.
GM: By 6 PM, night has fallen over New Orleans. Lights flicker and pulsate across the surrounding cityscape. Hazy figures cavort like phantoms past darkened windows. A dozen Milos stare blankly past. Glass always looks that way in the dark. Reflective. Like a mirror. But wrong. Reflections only half-there, like empty-eyed ghosts.
No neighbors disturb him on his way inside. No music blares from the nearby apartments.
He opens his door.
The darkness yawns.
Milo: As Zeke might put it, his spidey senses are tingling. Or maybe that’s just the mind-numbing horror. Either way, Milo turns on the lights before anything, his gaze sweeping the room for any change, even the most minor, before stepping inside.
GM: Milo’s hand closes over the lights.
Something closes over his hand.
Milo: They were waiting for me.
He should yell, should scream for help. Should make things difficult. But it’s too late. He feels the panic attack like a spectator, locked inside his own miserable body, his heart doing cartwheels and other gymnastics he never could, and as the thing closes over his hand it also smothers his hope. He failed. He would never get to see his father again. Maybe that is a blessing, to be spared a loved one’s pain. But it doesn’t feel like one now. The world is spinning, falling, breaking apart at the corners and unfolding.
I’m sorry, Malcolm. Milo thinks.
He isn’t falling. The world is just rising without him.