Wednesday, November 14, 2018

RIP Stan Lee

Stan Lee died on Monday. That is to say, Stan Lee died today. I'm writing this shortly after hearing what had happened, and I hope it's somewhat coherent. (I was going to post this pitch I wrote for a 100 story Spider-Man run later this month, but after reading it over, I noticed that it was extremely crap and I wanted nothing to do with it, especially after today. If you want to see it with some commentary, DM me.) There are many things that could be said about Stan Lee, most of them probably not to his benefit. There are also things to be said by better writers than I (Andrew Rillstone, for example. His Spider-Man work has always been better than mine). The truth of the matter is for all that I am a "Spider-Man Guy," my knowledge of the character has massive gaps. I haven't read the Clone Saga or most of the things by Gerry Conway or even that one story where Peter throws his costume into the trash because he can't take it anymore. Most of my knowledge of the character comes from writers like David Brothers, David Mann, and the aforementioned Andrew Rillstone, all of whom have shaped how I view the character. Hell, of the Spidey comics I have read, Lee's are relatively middling. That's not to say there aren't some greats in there (the one where Peter lifts the rubble is perhaps one of the best Spidey comics ever), but compared to the one where Peter gets shot by Kraven the Hunter and doesn't realize he's just become a magician or the one where Peter reveals his identity to J Jonah Jameson, a lot of the Lee era stories seem to be less... personal. Not as focused in the characters interiority. There are some moments of genuine wonder (the conversation between Betty and Peter under the desk, Aunt May's Speech about Parkers not giving up, Peter coming to terms with never being in a relationship with Betty), but they're fleeting moments for arch characters living a farce. But there is one issue by Lee that I always hold dear to me. Back when either the first or second movie was coming out, the New York Times decided that it would be fun to reprint some of the old Spider-Man comics by Lee and Ditko. Being a kid who loved reading the funny pages of the newspaper, I was curious to see what these comics were like. The one that was, in retrospect, the most important one to how I view Spider-Man was The Amazing Spider-Man #2. The issue had two stories in it, one being a Vulture story that I didn't remember much about. But the other one focused on a relatively minor villain called The Tinkerer. It's an odd story for people who are familiar with Spider-Man's cultural myth. It's not about some their on the run or a billionaire trying to ruin a working class guy's life because he keeps spoiling his plans to become richer and richer. It's an alien invasion story like you'd see in an EC Comic (a company I was not familiar with at the time). Reading it now, it's very much a relic of cold war fiction with the aliens being a metaphor for the Reds (despite being Green) and Spider-Man being a  good old fashion American (despite being dressed in Red and Black). At the time I read it, I didn't think much of it. I didn't think much of anything I read when I was that little. And yet, the story stuck with me all these years. It was revelatory in its implications for the character of Peter Parker. Peter didn't have to be bound to stories of soap operas and "realism." The character could go into the fantastic or the weirdly science fiction. He could be the mentor to an immortal witch or the hero with a thousand faces. He could just be some regular ordinary guy or he could be the most interesting person in the world. He could be black or asian or even female. A Spider-Man story could be about... well, just about anything. It was that single, kind of bad, kind of wonderful Spider-Man comic by Lee and Ditko that started the fire. (Looking at it now, it feels more like a Lee story than a Ditko one. Lee's EC esque work tended to be more action oriented than Ditko's more quiet and philosophical ones.) And great ideas, to riff on someone else's words, are forged. So I'll always be grateful for that, Stan Lee.

"Thank You, True Believers."

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Will Happen/Happening/Happened (Come Along With Me)

Commisioned by Aleph Null

Something I don't get to talk about much in the article,
but I really love the dream sequence and
how it's about trying to find a peaceful
means of concluding this war, rejecting the
us/them dichotomy in favor of a more
empathetic view of the situation.
Adventure Time and I are never going to be on completely good terms. I should stress that I think the show is great, perhaps even one of the most important animated series of the 21stcentury, if not of all time. The art style fits within my aesthetics, as do the themes and ideas it explores (arguably more so than Steven Universe, which is admittedly a better show). And, as I’ve said on Tumblr, it’s the greatest Solarpunk story ever (though I will concede to Always Coming Home being better [though I probably should read the book first]. I will, however, argue against the other critique given to that take, wherein the person claims that I’m only saying Adventure Time is a Solarpunk story because it’s a fantasy series and not because Adventure Time is an ultimately utopian piece about how civilization survives after the apocalypse in all its strangeness and wonder).

It’s just that… Ok. For those of you who have followed me since before my days writing this blog, I did a guest post on Jen Blue’s blog on the web comic Discorded Whooves (an revised version of which will be included in Vol. 4 of My Little Po-Mo should it’s Kickstarter succeed. HINT. HINT). In that post, I briefly bring up that I am not a brony. The way I would describe my relationship with the series was to contrast it with my relationship with Adventure Time. Where My Little Pony was a show I didn’t care to watch, but was fascinated with its fandom to a somewhat anthropological perspective (more on this should the Kickstarter succeed), Adventure Time had a show that I was fascinated by but a fanbase that was just… fine. Nothing revolutionary or anything, nor even anything bad; they just didn’t hold my interest.

That is with one exception. One person whose work influenced how I read (and, at times, still read) the show. A person who is latched onto my view of the show as much as Rebecca Sugar or Pendleton Ward or John DiMaggio. Their name… was illeity. I found their art through one of the Adventure Time deviant art groups (though sadly, it went away with the passing of time). It was for an epilogue, a series of fan comics following up on the events of the episodes, be it through highlighting some part of the subtext or recontextualizing the events in a new light. The comics would also include a quote that would further these goals, be the quote by Francis Thompson, Voltaire, or Grant Morrison (an author who, while I am aware of his more problematic aspects, has had such a profound personal impact on me that not even what happened later could spoil it [I'll go in more depth on this in...April? Maybe March depending on whether I end up doing 13 or 14 for- Well, Spoilers. The main thing is illeity was also a massive fan and wrote some {what I recall being} eloquent words on his Batman]).

But what really drew me in was the art style. Rather than adhere to the style of the show, as many of the artists who do fan art are want to do, the epilogues opted for a more expressionistic style. The art kept the spirit of the characters while going into a direction that allowed the characters to sing. Imagine if David Bowie did covers of Beatles songs from their experimental period, and you’d get a good idea of what it was like seeing this art as a teenager. (Though, in retrospect, Station to Station era Bowie.)

Near the end 2013, I discovered that I had unknowingly created a Tumblr account. Naturally, illeity was one of the first people I followed (along with El Sandifer, Hamish Steele, and Lewis Lovhaug). Through there, I had… well, not as conversational interactions as the Eruditorum Press crowd, more of the relationship I expect is typical between a creator and a fan: I asked them questions and they replied. (Indeed, if you search my username on Tumblr, you’ll find several of those questions just lying around.) And yet, I think up ideas for comics that we’d work on together. This sort of alchemical themed Adventure Time comic about Betty going through various influences of the show and series it influenced before ultimately saving the Ice King. I never actually wrote these down, but I thought if I just worked up the courage to ask them, they’d just say yes without asking for payment because creating art is more important than being able to feed yourself. (The alchemy would probably be more on their end as they wrote an amazing piece on the subject, Xenosaga, Jung, and Adventure Time, which Jenny praised after seeing it reblogged on my Tumblr. She instantly followed the artist, thus being yet another in a long line of examples of me introducing interesting people to one another. She unfollowed them after what happened next.)

And then the summer of ’14 happened.

I didn’t unfollow them at first. I thought it was just a fluke, that despite being clever, they were one of the movement’s useful idiots, that they’d realize how terrible the movement was after all the awful harassment and cruelty and coded racism and denounce them, that they’d not be terrible, that they wouldn’t be like that fucking asshole from my anthropology class who had me sit down and look at various articles and videos about the subject for an entire hour, only to scream “SO MUCH FOR KEEPING AN OPEN MIND” when I decided that I could be doing literally anything else other than watch two hour long videos by Sargon of A-fucking-kkad about ethics in games journalism and how feminism isn’t even necessary anymore. I thought that the time they didn’t use Tumblr would be a time to cleanse from the toxic influence(s) making them think #GamerGate wasn’t an awful group of people.

I was wrong.

It was after this hiatus that I decided to unfollow illeity on Tumblr. I was still fascinated by their take on Adventure Time, and wanted to be able to ignore biting the apple of knowledge. But then I looked back at those old comics. One in particular, an epilogue to the episode Root Beer Guy, and in particular the quote used. It was by Margaret Thatcher. At the time, I thought that it was an ironic quote, to highlight the villainous nature of Princess Bubblegum, with her schemes and surveillance and whatnot. But it gnawed at me. And then I thought about the artist’s defense a few months back of people drawing White Garnet. And the gnaw grew. And then they posted some comic commemorating #GamerGate, and I immediately unfollowed. I was done.

Except, I wasn’t. Three things kept me coming back. The first was Deviantart’s decision to make a maximum amount of pages for favorites. So I would have to move the old files into a folder. Realizing this, I dreaded the day I would reach illeity’s posts. When I did, I looked on their account to see what they had done in the meantime. Apparently, they had written a Comicsgate screed (a movement they’ve been with since the Joker/Batgirl cover thing) done in the style of Tom King and Mitch Gerads’ (brilliant) Mister Miracle that, among other things, slightly whitewashed Kamala Kahn (in that you can tell she’s a person of color, but she looks more capable of passing), condemns Jane Foster Thor for not adding any value, and claims that making Iceman gay is “…like a repurposed thought-bomb. One that replaces whatever it destroys… A screaming guillotine to legacy.” Also, they created a loli-OC called UKIP-chan. Yeah.

The second time came when I went to the Reddit page the remnants of #GamerGate made to discuss Elizabeth Sandifer’s The Blind All-Seeing Eye of Gamergate for no other reason than I was bored. (Maybe someone posted a link to it on twitter, I don’t remember.) While there, I happened to be on the site at the exact right time to see a pro-#GamerGate image drawn by illeity. The art itself was sloppier than I remembered, but the use of colors was still pretty damn good. In many ways, illeity is the case my brain makes against the probability that the right can’t make good art. They’re my Robert Holmes or Nick Land, though not as talented as either. They were my problematic fave. But I’ve moved past them.

And yet… The third time I encountered them was when I finished watching the episode Come Along With Me, the final episode of Adventure Time. The first thought I had was an applause of its quality. The second was to think, “What is illeity going to do to follow this up?” What they did, a few weeks later, was a riff on The Last Question, starting the whole series all over again with a boy and his dog. But that didn’t seem right. That wasn’t what Adventure Time was about. Maybe at the beginning it was about that, but the show changed since then. Even at the beginning, it was leaning towards being about more than a boy and his dog.

There were hints of a world of a world larger than that. Even right down to the opening credits, which flies through this brave new world with such people in it as Marceline the Vampire Queen or Ice King or the people of the Candy Kingdom or the remains of the world before the Mushroom Wars. It’s always been about the world (as opposed to, say, Steven Universe, which, contrary to popular criticism, is about the titular character’s relationship to the world and how he grows up within it). It’s about how that world is fleeting, but there is beauty in even the most horrifying of places.

In many ways the actual ending of Adventure Time is a better capstone to the series than this fan made epilogue. There, it depicts a montage of the various peoples of the world living their lives, happily or otherwise. It catches up on long lost characters like Banana Man or the (original) King of Ooo as well as implies new stories like the return of the Humans or Simon’s quest for Betty. It then ends with a future generation of heroes pull a sword out of the tree like it was the Sword in the Stone, implying new adventures to follow. And more than that, there’s a sense of optimism for the future. Sure, things might end someday, and they’ll probably end in death. But that’s ok. Time is an illusion that helps things make sense. So we are always living in the present tense. It seems unforgiving when a good thing ends… but you and I will always be back then.

And in many ways, that’s illeity’s breaking point for me. For all that their use of color is wonderful, for all their taste in good comics, for all that they like the optimism of Grant Morrison… when I revisited the comics for this article, there didn’t seem to be much of an inkling of that optimism in it actually appearing in their work or their livelihood. Sure, there’s that one comic where Peppermint Butler’s nemesis accepts his kids (and his own) weirdness and a general alignment with the queerness of Princess Bubblegum, but that’s it. There’s a whiff of pessimism to their work, a view that Princess Bubblegum is incapable of change; that Finn doesn’t really care about other people besides himself and his desire for adventures; that Jake… doesn’t even have much of a character in these beyond joke fodder. That people who want to see themselves in comics they love are just far left SJWs who weren’t reading comics in the first place. That harassing people who just wanted to talk about the silly hobby they love is worth it in the name of changing absolutely nothing about video games.

And at the end of the day, that’s not what Adventure Time is about. For all its flaws, for all its willingness to cycle back into old storylines, Adventure Time is a show about moving on. It’s about growing and shifting towards a better life. And sure, that life may be fleeting. Utopia may crumble into fascism and good people might be taken from us far too soon and the next generation might still have to deal with the bullshit we had to deal with. But there will be new bullshit they’ll have to deal with. And things that are better and things that are just different. Adventure Time isn’t about history repeating again and again, about some boy and his dog, about the necessity of cruelty, or even the specter of the past haunting the future. In the end of the day, Adventure Time can be summed up in one simple sentence: Everything stays, but it still changes.

So no, Adventure Time and I are never going to be on completely good terms. But I can forgive it for my own hang-ups. It’s an amazing show with a finale befitting of the series and all its themes of growth, rebirth, friendship, war, healing, love, madness, magic, hope, and the desire for things to be better than they were, though that doesn’t always go the way you think. Endings rarely do. The series started out as a story of a boy and his dog fighting a creepy old man who stole princesses away. It ended with a finale of peaceful resolutions, utopianism, fighting the devil with the power of wishes and music, and a rejection of the concept of endings. What more could a Grant Morrison fan ask for?

Well, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline kissing, but I got that too!
Thanks to the internet, minorities and outsiders, non-conformists, trans people, everyone's getting a chance to talk and agitate, and the world is learning to listen. I think new viewpoints and useful new ideas will naturally come from the queer margins into the center of culture. But I think, as I said, the Utopian counterculture project might also be a longer process than any of us wanted to believe…
-Grant Morrison

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Ghastlygun Tinies

For the past year, I have been writing reviews and articles for the Magazine PanelXPanel. Here's a one that wasn't accepted.

Done in the style of Edward Gorey's The Ghastlycrumb Tines, The Ghastlygun Tinies is a bitter punch to the gut on the epidemic of shootings in schools. The art perfectly invokes the style of the original Gorey work from its bleak humor to the use of shading. Unlike the original however, each page has a single panel that bleeds two separate letters into the same scene. These scenes show one typical event in school (be it acting in the school play or answering a question) while the other highlights the horror of what's going on. My favorite of these is "D is for DANA who had a hall pass" for the sheer subtlety of it all. That isn't to say the panels of normality don't have an air of foreboding ness. Each one is haunted by the school shooting that is occurring be it posters for "Farewell to Arms" in the background, piles of books being abandoned on the floor, or the sheer emptiness of the room. It goes on and on until the subtext can't help but explode into the text. (I should note, much to the comic's credit, that there's never a panel where we see a child's corpse.) This is the molotov cocktail that answers Where We Live's question of how we move forward with sheer anger and teeth. Highly recommended!

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hiveswap Act I

Commissioned by Aleph Null

Probably impending doom. Or aliens.
…ok, look. this is going to be a short one. im sorry, but i don’t really have much to say about hiveswap thus far. its not that the game isnt interesting or good, it cerXly is both (though i could have done without the whole “haha you think the hint menu is actually going to give you hints to our moon logic? click everything or die, n00b!” thing). i can cerXly see the themes the game is interested in Xploring from the nature of friendship vs people youre close to because youre stuck with them to the role of pacifism within a revolution to having empathy towards all animals (Xcept for pigeons, who will either die horribly or abandon you to your doom). the characters are delightful from the sibling banter between joey and jude to xefros puckishness in even the most dire of circumstances to the implied history of those who dont appear in the game be it the disappeared dad who joey, our Xtremely adorable and likeable protagonist (like wow, joey just wants everyone to be happy [Xcept her brother from the way i played it, but even then, it was more out of sibling banter than outright maliciousness]), clearly has some issues with to the drunk babysitter who is the closest thing the siblings have to a caring adult. the music is amazing feeling like its straight out of earthbound; be it the orchestral soundtrack that sets the mood of the fall on/of earth before Xitioning into the alien chiptune of alternia that captures the sci-fi and dystopic aurra of the world. and the game is a laugh riot (i had some difficulty picking which image to use for this article because they kept being so funny. i almost picked the one with the xenomorph cat and the one that took the piss out of the genre itself, but i ultimately chose the thematically apt one. though i will say that the first half is funnier than the second).

the problem is that… well, it’s act one. its very much setting up things to be Xplored in later acts of the game; be it the aforementioned themes, the mysteries surrounding the characters, or even the revolution that is going to be the main driving force of the plot (as opposed to the story, which will probably be a mix of character arcs and thematic interests). and dont get me wrong, it does these things extremely well. the problem is that its kind of difficult to write a non-“these are the facts about this game” style review when working with an act one. i highly recommend playing the game, especially if you’re into point and click adventures. hell, im not all that into the genre and i still had a lot of fun with it (though again, dick move with the “help” button. either have it or dont), and ill probably play acts ii and iii. but the games not at the point where i can write anything interesting about it… yet.  


Hiveswap is a game developed by What Pumpkin Games, Inc. and can be purchased on Steam and Humble Bundle

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Don’t Be Mean: Contrasting Godhood in Kieron Gillen Comics

This was originally meant to be part of a The Wicked and The Divine zine, but due to several factors outside of my control, the zine fell through. So, here's something I wrote for it. Enjoy.

"I couldn't be everything you needed me to be.
And you saw what happened any time
I tried to be anything else."
As many of the readers of this zine are aware, The Wicked and The Divine (WicDiv) is not the first time Kieron Gillen has explored the implications of Godhood. That honor goes to his run on Journey into Mystery (JiM), which focused on the God Loki as well as the narrative of Gods within the Marvel Universe. This ranged from staging a Ragnarok-esque situation to teaming up with the 20th century Manchester Gods to blow up Stonehenge.

The approaches both WicDiv and JiM take to exploring their gods’ symbolism couldn’t be more different. JiM, for example, portrays Godhood from the point of view of a fictional character. The story revolves around Childe Loki and his attempts at redemption, to find a way out of the cycles of betrayal and evil because they’ve grown repetitive and, even worse, predictable (indeed, the story opens in a one shot drawn by Jamie McKelvie wherein Loki delivers a soliloquy about this very issue). Childe Loki is certainly aware of his lack of agency as part of a story of someone else’s design as at numerous points of the story, Childe Loki addresses the reader directly. But he still tries to better himself, even as it becomes clear we won’t let him. (Loki is, after all, a popular villain.)

There are other examples of creations fighting against their creator’s cruel narratives. There small stories like Noble Sigurd’s rewriting of the Norse Pantheon into a mundane narrative and Childe Loki’s rebellion against his parents by siding with the Manchester Gods (indeed, all of Gillen’s later Young Avengers run pushes this bit even further). But the most telling is that of Leah. Leah was once the handmaiden to the Goddess Hela (note the name) and her mistress enslaved her to Childe Loki. Over the course of their relationship, they became close to one another, developing a bond akin to friendship. And then, Hela killed her before Childe Loki’s eyes. But little did Childe Loki know, Leah was alive in a different form. For she was once a character in a story Childe Loki weaved as part of his scheme to defeat an enemy of Asgard. The ink on the page to describe her was made flesh into reality and found her story lacking. And so she rebels against Childe Loki, until he writes a better story for her. And when her true story ends tragically, she swears revenge upon Loki, as he does to his “writer.” Given this, the tale of JiM seems to tell is that we have control of our Gods, but they will fight against us for a sliver of freedom. And they can hurt us too. After all, didn’t you cry when Childe Loki died at the end?

Conversely, WicDiv approaches its gods from the perspective of pop stars, poets, and other creative types. This is blatantly seen in the influences of the gods ranging including William Blake, Gerard Way, Charlie Chaplin, David Bowie, and Kate Bush, among others. (Indeed, this is most prevalent with 455’s Lucifer Julius who is on the surface akin to Nero, to the point where he is playing an instrument as Rome burns. But at his core, Lucifer Julius is in fact an actor performing as an emperor.) This is done to literalize the perspective an audience has of the creators who gives them the art they desire.

This is perhaps most telling in the Tragedy of Tara, the most sympathetic of all the Gods. She is perhaps best compared to Kesha, as both had to deal with the fall out of people in power abusing them for their own ends both of which hinging on sexual assault (though Tara’s is only ever verbal [that we know of]). Where they diverge is in how their more personal work is received. Kesha was able to get out from under her abuser’s heel and produced the album Rainbow. It was less pop than her previous work, but was met with acclaim by both critics and listeners. Before being cursed with Godhood, Tara performed poetry readings that were very personal to her. She tried to perform one the night before she committed suicide, and was met with “Do your thing, you selfish bitch” and other pleasant remarks. When on Twitter, she’s met with comments akin to those of that night, some even worse. Because fans treat our Gods like they’re not real, and can be dehumanized. And in response to all that cruelty at the non-human, Tara decides to kill herself. If the Wicked and the Divine has anything to say about creators, it’s that they’re human too.

But at the heart of these tales of Gods is the creation of Art. Where WicDiv looks at the relationship between the creator and the audience and JiM is about the creator and the creation, both ask for empathy between the two sides; an acknowledgement that Gods have emotions and needs. In then end, if Gillen has anything of a thesis statement between these two works, it’s that we should be kind to our Gods, because they’re as much people as you or me or any other fan. And… “You have no idea what people are going through.”
“Don’t be mean. You don’t have to be mean. ‘Cause remember: No matter where you go, there you are.” 
-Buckaroo Banzai

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

All The Little Angels (The Black Rose Arc)

Commissioned by Aleph Null

Trigger Warning: Discussions of Rape.
"Revolutions are usually accompanied by a considerable effusion of blood, but are accounted worth it — this appraisement being made by beneficiaries whose blood had not the mischance to be shed." 
-Ambrose Bierce, 1906
The color black has many an implication. Seen by many as a mere force of evil, as if the dark was inherently evil solely because it frightens people, in truth it is more of an antithesis to white/light. Its synthesis is found when black is contrasted with the shining nature of light. It highlights shades within the light that might have some rather drastic implications, ones unconsidered by merely looking directly into the sun. But as with many a binary, the binary of black collapses upon closer scrutiny. In truth, there are three colors that contrast with the antithesis of light (or, at the very least, three that this article is interested in discussing). Let us start with the obvious…


I ain't scared of your brother
I ain'ts scared of no sheets
I ain't scared of nobody
Black or White, Michael Jackson

There are many a people in this world whose only choice is to revolutionize the world. None more so than the perpetrators of the cyber attacks occurring on May 9th, 2015 (colloquially referred to as the 5/9 attacks). The attacks were a series of hacks on the electronic and technological corporation known as E Corp wherein several pieces of financial debt various people owed the corporation was swiftly deleted in one fell swoop by the hacker organization known as F_Society.

F_Society consisted of siblings Elliot and Darlene Alderson (the leaders of F_Society; Elliot was an employee of the cybersecurity company Allsafe, which did most of its work with E Corp while Darlene created the malware to get into the servers as well has making contacts with various other hacker groups, most notably The Dark Army), Leslie Romero, Shama “Trenton” Biswas, and Sunil “Mobley” Markesh. Their aim for the hack was for it to lead to a workers revolt against the 1% of the 1%: a revolution of the world. In their quest, they bribed, blackmailed, humiliated, and, in one notable instance, dropped a pair of bronze testicles onto the House of Representatives to achieve their ends.

But a hack of such a scale cannot be completed by small group of independent hackers. Something as big and complicated and patently evil as E Corp (indeed, one wonders if the “E” stands for evil, especially since evil is rarely subtle, merely ignorable) needs to be taken down by something larger than four kids in their basement. It needs the aid of a larger organization, one with its tendrils in the pots of many corporations as part of wider, more… nefarious actions than merely the destruction of capitalism. Enter The Dark Army, an Asian based hacker group with (alleged) ties to Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea with moles in various government organizations including the FBI. They are known not only for their scope and efficiency, but also for their willingness to do anything for their cause, be it brainwash potential liabilities into becoming assets, killing former members and allies to gain a lead, or killing themselves to prevent themselves from being interrogated.

Though faced in America by Francis “Cisco” Shaw and Irving, their leader, Whiterose, also does the majority of her work in the United States. Whiterose is an interesting figure. Little is known about her background beyond the awful truth at the heart of her involvement. She is invested in time, to the point where seeing a person more than once is a rarity. Time is money, so they say.

And therein lies the awful truth. The thing that breaks all hearts and forces those who thought themselves heroes of the 5/9 to recognize that they have sold their souls to the devil and found themselves trapped in their grasp. For Whiterose is the Chinese Minister of State Security. Her game isn’t for the nation of China though, but it is tantamount on the survival of capitalism. For her game is that of a simulation of sorts, a world where all worlds exist simultaneously and orderly. Where one can be free to be who they want to be… provided she’s above them all.

And she plays the game of capitalism so well. She’ll sell out anyone who is a liability to her profit… even those who she claims to have loved. She’ll burn the innocent to get a more efficient solution. She is literally the kind of person who gets to celebrate the annexing of the Congo to China a fucking Mar A Lago. And she’ll break a woman, one Angela Moss, an important character in the grand scheme of things with connections (both direct and askew) to the Aldersons, several high-ranking members of E Corp, and the FBI. She will do it for the ultimately petty reason that a competitor whom Whiterose was working with at the time didn’t want her to break. For those who are good at the game of capitalism, they reject solidarity, the willingness to unionize with other people to achieve a common goal.

Such is the implication of the awful truth: the only way to have the reach to destroy capitalism is to be good at the game of capitalism. But those who are good at that game don’t want it to be broken. No, they will use the power of revolution as tool for their own ends: to increase their power and, in the process (and rarely intentionally for powers such as those do not care enough to see everyone else as individuals), hurt those beneath them. Quoth the chorus, “Someone’s got to win in the human race; if it isn’t you, then it has to be me.”

For America is a nation with revolution in its blood. But like the revolutionary flower children of the 60’s or the punks of the 80’s, America grew up and voted for Regan and Bush and Trump and whoever else will let them have the status they so effortlessly love. It knows the tricks and tools of the game. Costume shops sell masks worn by protestors. Buy this anti-capitalist T-Shirt from SharkRobot. Watch this TV Show about the 5/9 that sympathizes with the hackers. Read this comic and buy his mask so you too can know what it feels like to be an anarchist. And if an actual revolution is on the horizon, it’ll make sure to make it a more civil war rather than a slave revolt. And should a slave revolt come soon, they’ll blame it on some foreigners hounding at the walls of the empire in hopes of tearing it down. They’ll say they were justified for shooting a black man in his own home because they mistook it for their own on the grounds that the black man had weed and weed is illegal.

The path of revolution has been prepared for us. It’s just that those who have prepared it don’t want us taking other, less lucrative paths. The ones that end with swords in the backs of those who went down them and the power of those who paved them increased ten fold.

(It’s Not Pink, it’s Lightish) Red Rose

Canadian mounted baby, a police force that works
Red and black, that's their color scheme
Get their man, in the end
The Red and The Black, Blue Öyster Cult

Once upon a time, there was a Princess and her Handmaiden. The Princess, like many a princess of her age, was bored of the life she had wrought. Indeed, for her, life itself was defined by boredom. No matter how many toys or handmaidens or slaves she was given, her boredom persisted. She thought she knew what she wanted. She wanted a responsibility, she wanted power, she wanted… her own kingdom. And after years and years of whining and begging and throwing countless temper tantrums that destroyed countless properties, she got what she wanted.

But that too wasn’t enough to sate her boredom. All ruling a kingdom was was busywork and paperwork and none of the things stories tell you ruling a kingdom is like. One day, a group of soldiers arrived at the kingdom for their training. Alas, all she could do was watch them arrive from afar. For royalty is not allowed within the realms of commoners and soldiers. It is… frowned upon.

But her Handmaiden had an idea. “Why not pretend to be a Commoner, if just for a day?” The Princess thought this to be a wonderful idea and dressed in the clothes of commoners. Alas, the troops have more pressing matters than to play like the Princess imagined soldiers do all the time. And so the day ended early, much to the dismay of the Princess. But the Handmaiden had another idea: “Since you’re in the clothes of a Commoner, why not explore the kingdom?”

The Princess thought this to be a wonderful idea, and they set off to see the land. And O, what a wonderful world it was. The gardens filled with flowers of infinite colors. Butterflies of pure white flying in a waterless sea of blue. Rivers filled with the most delicious of fish, where the indigenous people clean their clothes. She was, for perhaps the first time in her life, happy. Eventually, the Princess and the Handmaiden had to return home, where the land was barren and lifeless. A kingdom requires the land to be such as that, so that the gold and silver and all the other gems can be discovered.

The implications of this did something to the Princess, something that she never before experienced. It made her sad. Mortified by the knowledge of what royalty does to those that make it sad or angry or anything other than bored or happy, the Handmaiden tried to manage the damage, apologizing for even taking the Princess to see the whole of her kingdom. But the Princess was not angry with the Handmaiden. She was angry with herself. More than anyone, she was angry with herself.

She went to her parents, pleading for them to stop expanding the empire, the kingdom, the land. Let what little has survived remain so that it could thrive once more. Her parents only heard more temper tantrums. More begging. More whining. It seemed to them that a kingdom wasn’t enough for her. Nothing would ever be enough. They would concede, however, that the indigenous people ought to be put into a reservation.

But when her parents left to tend to the other kingdoms, the Princess felt something new. Not sadness or boredom or happiness. This was a more primal feeling. It was the rage of a revolutionary. No longer would she be the “Princess.” She would become something else… something that could stop the tyranny and cruelty of this so-called kingdom. She would become a warrior.

The first days of her little war were minor skirmishes. More fear tactics against those who serve the kingdom than real battles. For she merely wanted them gone and thought that would be enough. Sadly, revolutions such as hers are known and planed around by those in power. A Seer in the high courts of the kingdom foretold the collapse of this “rebellion” on the day the Queen would come and visit, though it would come at the cost of her life. No matter, she thought, if that is the way it ends, then so be it.

The Warrior and her handmaiden arrived as they were expected. The path of revolution was prepared for them. And as the blow that would slay the Seer and spell the doom of the “rebellion” was to be made, a Guard leaped in front of her to prevent her death. Neither of them died, but the act was enough to provide a distraction for the Warrior and her servant to make their escape.

The Warrior was marveled by the experience. She realized what was going to happen as it was happening. For the path of revolution is known throughout the royalty. For it to be prevented in such a way is shocking to say the least. Shocking enough for her slave to try to kiss her. In the wake of this, the servant made a confession: she had thoughts above her station. She wanted more out of life than to be a handmaiden, to do more than just stand around and follow orders. She wanted to love and be loved; to see the world and all its wonders with her; to go on adventures with her as if they were never master and slave in the first place, but equals in a strange and wonderful world. She wanted to be… a Knight.

They almost made love on that very spot, but were interrupted by a pair of Lovers falling down a hill. It was the guard and seer, who had fled the kingdom after breaking the future. Whilst on the run, they had fallen in love with each other and wanted to be together forever. Seeing them, an idea came to the mind of the warrior: all the people of the kingdom were as much slaves as the Knight, even those who claimed to be free. For the kingdom was an idea, a system by which those within it were trapped. It would be her mission to shape this war into something else, something that could free everyone. She would have to become… a Revolutionary.

The Revolutionary spent many a year fighting and convincing those who aligned themselves with the kingdom to fight against it. One such person was a lowly Blacksmith. The Blacksmith had spent her life building things she would never be allowed to touch. Never be allowed to see, but in her memories. They weren’t art that she wanted to build. Merely commissions she felt no joy in creating. One day, the Revolutionary came to her and asked a simple question with many a meaning hidden within: “What do you want to build?”

And so she joined the Revolutionary in her gigantic war against tyranny. She would build many a weapon to liberate her fellows. As she was building though, she felt the war wouldn’t end unless something drastic was to happen. An idea sprouted in her head. She went to the Revolutionary with the idea in hand: Why not kill the royal family? The revolutionary paused at the thought of that. To kill her parents to stop the war? Would that be enough… would they stop if she did such an act? But then another thought sprouted in her mind: she loved her parents. In spite of everything, she loved her parents. She couldn’t bare to see them die.

And so, the revolutionary locked up the Blacksmith where no one would ever find her, and tried to dissuade the thoughts festering in her mind. But it just. Wouldn’t. Leave. Kill her family, she thought… would that be enough to free the people… but then a realization that had always been there in the subtext, but until then never crossed into the text: She too was royalty. If she were to die, to become a Martyr… then the Royals would want to leave forever. It’s not like they wanted her, she thought, she was always a burden on them, always whining and moaning and never being satisfied. They wouldn’t miss her.

And so the final battle had begun with a simple lie: a faked assassination of the princess by the Knight. Purely spectacle meant to end the conflict. A bloodless end to such a bloody war. Quoth the Spider, “Everybody wants to change the world, but no one… no one wants to die.” In the wake of the final battle, the kingdom fled, the remaining indigenous were able to heal, the land was razed asunder, some of it never to be used again, and those who fought on either side either died or were so broken they couldn’t exist in the world without hurting everyone else. The only ones who survived relatively unscathed were the Lovers, the Knight, and the martyr.

The martyr couldn’t be a Martyr anymore since there was no one to die for. She would have to become something new again… a Nomad, wander the world trying to contain the fallen survivors and try to be happy once more. One day, she came across a Bard. No one else was listening to him but her, but he played so wonderfully. His songs were of wanderers, those who fallen to inspire others to be something new. She fell in love with the music.

They stayed together for a time. Playing music, dancing, and other such things one does with a Bard. But the Bard was growing restless with the Nomad. She wasn’t taking anything he was saying seriously. She was wonderful and amazing, like star in the night sky. But all she did was laugh. Finally, he snapped and told her to treat him like he was a real person, not some toy for her to play with.

She froze at his words. A realization came to her. She was not a Person. Princess, Commoner, Warrior, Revolutionary, Martyr, Nomad, these were all well and good things to be. But none of them were being a Person. They were all just roles she played. Things she did because she wanted other people to be happy. Be they the role she played, those she loved, or even those she inspired. To be real Person required things she could never be, so she thought. They required the ability to change on a basis that she, an immortal ageless being, could never do.

But she could try being a Person. And so she did. She did a good job at it for many a year, though admittedly she never was the best of people (there was the time with the Baby, but that’s perhaps best saved for another time). But she did a good job nonetheless. She was, overall, a good Person. One day, she found out she was pregnant with a child from the Bard. She would die in childbirth, knowingly. She had enough time to confer with the Bard with what to name the child. Eventually, they decided to name you… Steven.

“It’s simple: all we have to do is hang a bell around the cat’s neck!”
-Oh, Mousie! What a great idea!
/But how will we get the bell around the cat’s neck?
“Don’t worry about that! The bell’s already around its neck! The truth is, I just snuck out and did it!”
/Oh, Mousie, you’re wonderful!
“Okay, Mr. Cat, sir. I gave ‘em that phony story! Tonight, they’ll go to sleep without suspecting a thing! You’ll catch and eat ‘em without any problem! So, you’re gonna let me live, like you promised, right?”
“Uh, Mr. Cat? Wait a minute! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!”
[Munch… munch… munch…}
You reap what you sow.

And I Still Can See Blue Roses Through My Tears

I'm so forlorn. Life's just a thorn
My heart is torn. Why was I born?
(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue, Louis Armstrong

America is a nation defined by Blue Rose cases, from the disappearance of the Roanoke Colony in 1590 to the thing that fell onto Littlehaven, NY in 2014. There are others that permeate this nation’s history. There was the Pilgrim fellow who was shot with a laser gun in ’76. A would be terrorist plot involving by a splinter group of P.R.O.J.E.C.T. calling itself M.A.Y.H.E.M. in ’96. Then there was the mystical murder/suicide case from ’87 involving a superhero who (somehow) brought himself back from the dead.

But perhaps the most important of all the Blue Rose cases concerns a small mountain town in Washington calling itself Twin Peaks and a girl by the name of Laura Palmer on February 24, 1989. There is many an angle one could take with the Laura Palmer case. One could look start with those who brought about her end from her murderer, BOB (Beware Of BOB), to Leo Johnson and Jacques Renault, the two men who put her in the position to be murdered. One could look at the various conspiracies surrounding the town of Twin Peaks from prostitution to drug rings to embezzlement. One could even look at the ties to the Nuclear Bomb, The Absolute Destiny Apocalypse, and the subsequent mystical implications of July 16, 1945.

But the truth of the matter is… Laura Palmer is the key to understanding the case of Laura Palmer. All these potential roads listed above inevitably lead to the life of Laura Palmer. To act otherwise is to lie about the nature of the case. To pretend that it’s about something other than Laura Palmer would be akin to spitting on her face. Let us try to do justice to her story then. Let us try to understand her as best we can. For what is the point of us if we cannot…

Laura Palmer considered herself to be the villain of her own story. A jezebel, a drug addict, a manipulator, these were all things she thought herself as. She certainly played the role relatively well, putting her best friend, Donna Hayward, into a position where she would be drugged and rapped, prostituting herself at One Eyed Jack’s, a bar that’s a front to, among other things, extortion, drugs, and sex slavery, and then there was the thing that happened with her father…

Of course, there is more to it than just what I listed. For starters, when the scenario wherein Donna was to be rapped after being drugged, Laura, upon seeing what was going to happen, screamed at the potential rapist to stop what he was about to do to her friend. Furthermore, there are several instances throughout her final days, and indeed her whole life, of her being fiercely protective of those who are closest to her. Be it her unwillingness to let her secret boyfriend, James Hurley, be involved with a drug deal that would go sour, her wiliness to be with Harold Smith, an agoraphobic man whom she trusted with her most personal secrets, and her willingness to save fellow survivor of the events of February 24, Ronette Pulaski. Additionally, sex work isn’t an inherently bad thing to do, merely frowned upon by capitalist society on the frankly childish grounds that such things should remain free. Certainly working for such a patently evil organization is a bit dubious, but then how many corporations aren’t patently evil in some form or another? And then there was the thing that happened with her father…

The truth of the matter is Laura Palmer has a low self esteem to a nigh suicidal degree. She believes that she is going to hell and deserves to go there. She sees herself as the villain because to be otherwise would imply her suffering wasn’t deserved. It wasn’t, I should make clear. There are those out there who believe that she was, in fact, the villain of the story. All her empathy and love and caring are just lies to fuel her apocalyptic agenda. (Not apocalyptic in the “The World is shit and needs to be burnt down” sense, but in the “I AM THE ANTICHRIST AND I BRING FIRE AND BRIMSTONE AND REALLY BAD CARPENTRY” sense.) She is the villain who brings nothing but Garmonbozia to the world. (Going to break character briefly to make this point even clearer: People who come out of watching Twin Peaks with the belief that Laura Palmer is the secret main antagonist are up there with “Clara Oswald should have stayed dead after Face The Raven because The Doctor knows what they are doing and she doesn’t” and “Luke Skywalker was in the wrong for blowing up the Death Star because it would make the money sad” in having wrong opinions on fiction.) This view of her is especially galling considering the thing that happened with her father…

I suppose I should stop dancing around it. But first, BOB. BOB is a point of contention. On the one hand, he is a manifestation of all the evils birthed by the nuclear bomb. An evil that festers in the subconscious of America to such a degree that it warps space and time and roots itself into the mythology of those indigenous to America, before the colonizers came. On the other hand, BOB is a coping mechanism that allows Laura to not admit to the awful thing that happened with her father…

Simply put, Laura’s father raped her since the age of 12. Leland Palmer is a lawyer working for Benjamin Horne, the owner of One Eyed Jack’s. Horne is, shall we say, a less savory figure (such that he thinks the wrong side won the American Civil War), and Leland is no better. Aside from the whole “rapes his daughter on a nearly nightly basis” thing he has going for him, he is a cutthroat lawyer who uses loopholes and shady deals to allow those he works for to make more and more money. He is verbally abusive to his wife and child and is charismatic enough to con people into believing that his love for them makes up for his abusive tendencies. They do not.

But what they do do is make Laura believe in her subconscious that there must be some rational reason for her father to abuse her as he does. Perhaps, she believes, she is the villain bent on ruining and corrupting those around her. Having affairs with people she doesn’t love whilst convincing them that she does. Sleeping with men of her father’s age. Imagining her rapist isn’t her father, but some other person entirely. (BOB being an actual supernatural being does nothing to deter this. Quoth the magician who longs to see, “The one place Gods inarguably exist is in our minds where they are real beyond refute in all their grandeur and monstrosity.”) Lies created to obfuscate and perpetuate true, awful suffering.

It isn’t until the night Laura Palmer died that she accepted the truth. But that’s not how she won that night. (Death, as many ought to know, isn’t the same as losing. One can die a thousand million times and still win in the end. For Laura though, her death would have impact and implications and influence spanning over 25 years. She would change both the world she grew up in and worlds beyond that which she had known. Even in the other place Agents Cooper and Cole refer to as the Black/White Lodge, her ripples coalesce into infinity, warping time and space with her radiance.) Victory came in the form of a different shape of revolution…

As with many a Blue Rose case, those involved experienced dreams. Laura Palmer dreamed of a place outside of what we know. Where people talk in languages that call themselves English, but have the wrong syntax, as if they were speaking backwards but the universe rewound the audio track. There lay a ring, an innocuous little item, seemingly of no importance. Except, in that room stood an agent of the FBI, a man of the law, a man of the rules, a man who lays paths for others to follow. He told Laura to not take the ring.

In the end, Laura found herself trapped in a train car with Ronette Pulaski. Her father, the man she knew as BOB, stands before them. They are screaming for someone, anyone, to save them. Ronette prays to god. BOB, the supernatural entity that is also a metaphor for many a conflicting idea, wants to possess Laura. To continue the cycle of abuse her society allows to exist. To keep the game going on and on and on forever. To possess her. To own her. To control her.

Ronette is pray to god. She is apologizing for all her sins, both the ones she believes she did and the ones that actually matter. She wants to be acknowledged. She wants to be seen. She wants to be cared about. She wants someone to love her. She doesn’t want to die.

Laura is looking in the mirror. A ghost of what her father is looks back.

Ronette prays. She doesn’t pray to god anymore. The almighty father isn’t listening. But she prays nonetheless. Ronette has no conscious idea what is going on beyond the basic facts of the text: they were raped and are about to be murdered. She prays nonetheless. Does she know, in the subconscious of her mind, who the players are? What Laura represents in the mystical implications? Though they are not the key to understanding the events of that night, they still have a part to play. For someone sympathetic to Ronette’s plight was listening to her prayer. Someone who could never make that prayer, but nonetheless understood what it meant to her.

Someone who loved Ronette as much as she loved James Hurley or Harold Smith or Donna Hayward. Someone who wouldn’t… couldn’t let any harm come to those she loved. Someone who is flowing with love like a river. Who, up until that moment, didn’t believe herself of… not deserving, no one deserves anything. Nor redeemable, for that is a thing love can never do. No, capable of receiving love. Capable of giving love to others. Laura Palmer can be loved. Laura Palmer can love. Laura Palmer isn’t the villain of the story she calls her life. She’s the hero.

Ronette escapes with the aid of an angel who aligns herself with Laura, who unties her hands so she may flee from the train car. She heals from the events of that night. What happened next is her own damn business.

A ring presents itself to Laura. How does one whose only choice is to revolutionize the world prevent the revolution from being a tool of those in power or a massive slaughter of those whom the revolution was meant to serve? It’s quite simple really: Laura Palmer put on the ring and burned the rules of revolution to the ground. I suppose anyone could do it really. But then, 25 years later, there are more people out there whose only choice is to revolutionize the world. Or, at the very least, more people who are listened to...
"I think we're at a time where we're feeling a shift. We're understanding... that the people have the power. That it's going to take us to make these changes. I think it's easier for us to hate, it's easier for us not to talk and to communicate. But it's hard for us to love, but it's the best thing when it happens. And if you look throughout history, you look throughout any movement, love had to be at the center of it... It's contagious... it's a good virus. Yeah... I want to infect people with love!" 
-Janelle Monáe, 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Eyes of Her Double: A Faction Paradox Story

"Falling! Yes, I am falling!
And she keeps calling
me back again."
Inevitably, Clara O’Winn found that looking at the ceiling was a terrible way to mute the muffled screams of her double. It wasn’t so much that she couldn’t come up with any inventive ideas from the ceiling to distract her (she had long since perfected this method of avoidance and had already created several intriguing story ideas [as well as a few fan fiction prompts] from the patterns the Styrofoam alone). Nor was it because she wasn’t able to ignore the terrible screams her double made. She was a child of the early 21st century, an era where those who can ignore a terrible situation will and those who can’t die (or get called various obscenities by people obsessed with their status as the most ethical people on the internet). 

Indeed the sounds of the screams reminded Clara of long passionate nights spent under the moonlit fields playing with her girlfriend. These were her favorite nights growing up, as they were away from the stress of the daily grind of both her job and disapproving stepparents. For the most part, they were unbothered by any of the locals, who assumed them to be a bunch of wild animals. Some nights a group of bikers would come to watch, but given Clara was a co-founding member of the gang, they tended to only be there to say hello or participate if Clara allowed it. The games Clara and her girlfriend played ranged from horsey to cops and robbers to pegging.

It wasn’t even the fear of the people in the motel room next door paying enough attention to call the cops that concerned her. Clara had long known this motel to be the go to location for crack, smack, and other such drug dealers to make arrangements with larger entities to practice their trade. Such dealings ranged from “which locations are ok for me to make deals in” to “I need you to be my representative in a drug deal that could end my life if I go” to “PLEASE IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, DON’T KILL MY DAUGHTER” among other mundanities. If the police were to get wind of a kidnapping at that motel, they might find the skeletons hidden in the closets (figuratively and literally), and motel management didn’t need that kind of hassle. They already had to worry about whether or not the drug lords would kill them for knowing too much.

Rather, what distressed Clara was the ways in which her double was not like her, despite being nearly identical. She noticed that her double was roughly an inch taller, had green eyes, blonde hair with pink and purple highlights that was typically pulled into a pony tail but was now unrestrained, and a small, nearly unnoticeable, mole on her left cheek. Her ears, until fairly recently, held little circular earrings that had been passed down, generation to generation, for over a hundred years. The double’s skin was obviously paler than Clara’s, though she did have the soft tan expected of a California resident. Her body didn’t have any scars on it. She was left handed, but didn’t realize it (her hands never worked any harder than a few hours on a keyboard typing papers for her college professor on the implications of time travel on free will). 

In the long run, these differences didn’t really matter, as her fate would still be the same: they would come for her and Clara would get what she deserved.

Clara O’Winn was only 10 years old when she realized she couldn’t die.

It happened on a long car ride. Her mother, Janet, was driving the car while daydreaming about impossible things such as being in a relationship that actually has love in it, not going to prison, or climbing a mountain. Clara’s father, Bob, was oblivious to his wife’s feeling towards him in much the same manner as a dog drinking a cup of coffee is to the roaring fire behind him. Her younger brother, Francis, was at that moment on 8Chan figuring out his sexuality, a move that would lead him to spend years in therapy and inadvertently destroy the career of a prominent presidential nominee. Finally there was Flapjack, the family dog who would die long before anyone else in the car.

As for the car itself, it was not moving. Clara could see that her side of the road was completely jammed while the other side was as free as most things are in a supermarket. Curious about this, as she is wont to be, Clara decided to leave the car. She knew that it was usually unsafe to leave a car on a busy highway, but Clara felt that this was a special circumstance as nearly every other car was beginning to send an emissary to discover the source of the calamity that had befallen them. Besides, Clara knew that she wouldn’t get lost like the last time she abandoned her family, since the road was just a straight line, and her parents were too busy playing at adulthood to notice her leave the car. The only one who did notice was Flapjack, who silently followed her to his death.

At first, Clara felt that this was like one of the adventures she would make up in her grandmother’s garden: mysterious travelers who right wrongs, defeat baddies, and kick some serious ass. She always loved coming up with those stories, but only felt safe telling them to her grandmother while weeding the garden on hot summer’s days. She never dreamed she would ever be one of those characters. Too self involved for those types, she thought, too ordinary, too boring to be a hero. Not even this quest was an adventure of her liking. It was an adventure, sure, but it was just a mundane curiosity that everyone wants in on. A true adventure, Clara believed, would be a solitary experience. She would hold this belief for the remainder of the day.

While walking towards the source of the problem, Clara encountered another young girl, whose name Clara wouldn’t know that day (a fair stance, as Clara knew the power of names). The girl had dull blue eyes, red ravenous hair turned into pigtails, and slightly yellowed teeth. She was roughly 13 years old, but appeared to be much younger. She was barely three inches shorter than Clara, though she held herself much like a wolf cub trying to initiate themselves into a clan they weren’t born into. There was something familiar about this girl, though Clara couldn’t put her finger on it. She claimed her family sent her to solve the problem, but even at her young age Clara knew that was bullshit. Still, the girl seemed nice enough for a kid, so Clara allowed the girl to follow her. The girls talked about the only thing there was to talk about.

“What do you think it is,” asked Clara.

“Deer,” replied the girl.

“Deer? Surely it must be something more interesting than that.”

“Deer are interesting,” argued the companion. Clara was unsure if she hurt her feelings but assumed, as always, that she had. She tried to salvage this relationship with a person whom she would never meet again in her lifetime.

“I mean, ah… surely there must be an explanation that isn’t so… ordinary?”

“Oh yeah, like what?”

“uhh… Aliens?” The girl with blue eyes raised an eyebrow. “I mean, there’s signs everywhere, y’know… Books talking about crop circles and people being abducted and probed and… and… C’mon, you have to wonder, right? What’s out there and all…”

“Not really,” the pigtailed stranger sighed, “there are so many fantastic sights out in the world: tornados that can lift frogs states away; 100 ravens sitting outside, waiting for me to just… open the door so the can scatter; the depths of the ocean that house creatures we have never seen before. I just don’t have time to think about space.” (This would change a month after this young girl’s 24thbirthday, when the Children of Nyarlethotep would use her in a failed ritual to summon their dark and terrible god from a self imposed exile. In that moment, she saw that space was nature’s dark mirror. Cold and uncaring like a parent who is never there. And yet, there’s a beauty to the vastness blocked off by its needlessly cruel nature.)

At the time, the only retort Clara could offer the girl was a snort and a “whatever” before continuing their journey in silence.

As they traversed the museum of cars, people began to head back to their exhibits, accepting this bizarre occurrence to be an unexplainable event. Perhaps some gave up because of the unending forest that surrounded the road like fingers grasping at the palm of a hand, waiting to crush the insect that flew in its way. Or perhaps they realized that the universe is a much bigger and terrifying place, whose answers will consume those who dare to try to discover them and as such it is best to care for those closest to them, rather than walk to the end of this dark forest road. Or maybe they just didn’t care for walking. A few, however, persisted.

Eventually, even Clara and her stranger decided to call it quits. …More specifically, their mothers found them, grabbed them by the ear, and dragged them back to their respective cars. At some point in the future, the roads freed up, but by then the sun had set. One of the drivers could have sworn he heard a crunching noise as he turned off the highway to stay the night at a motel, but thought nothing of it until the last seconds before his death.

Meanwhile, Clara and her family decided not to stop driving. Normally Janet could drive the whole way, but the incident with the stopped cars got her in a mood that forced her to take a break. So Bob was driving, slowly showing his fellow drivers that he should not be driving, nearly killing several of them without noticing. Clara and Francis, meanwhile, slept in the back seat.

While Francis’ dreams were of a symbolic and sexual nature, Clara’s were far more straightforward. In some cultures, far in the depths of space, in the halls of power and the streets of the powerless, there are tales of what one sees when they die. Some say that there is a bright light that leads you to where you will be judged, be it by a scale or Santa Claus. Others claim there is nothing but the black void seen when one closes one’s eyes, waiting for REM sleep. Few even claim beings “souls” reincarnate into other beings, to keep the karmic balance and save money on developing new character models.

Few stories, however, tell of the Death Dream. The Death Dream is the kind of dream only seen when one dies in their sleep. It tells of the life that one lived as a mash up: events bleeding into each other, creating new narratives. A mother, who died in childbirth, dancing at her daughter’s wedding; a family of old men, born decade’s apart, sharing war stories and the good old days; and other tales that the living can never know. It was in this state that Clara O’Winn died.

Though it wouldn’t be diagnosed until much later, Clara could very well be Patient 0 of a disease lovingly called “The Truth Plague”. So called, as the first symptom is a loss of access to the parts of the brain that allow secrets to be kept. When Clara began exhibiting these symptoms, her mother dismissed it as merely the childish bravado seen when one has their ear pulled. The Truth Plague is fast acting and the survival rates are so astronomically low that there are better odds of surviving completely naked on the dark side of the moon for an hour. Naturally, Clara O’Winn died from the disease.

And then, she woke up.

She wasn’t anywhere new. She was still in her family car, woken up by her parents bickering about the direction they should be heading. Her brother was drooling on her shoulder, somehow still sleeping through the most foul-mouthed conversation their parents had up to that point. The sun beamed down from outside the car, the windows were down so the cool breeze of the midnight hour could engulf the car in its soothing nature.

Surveying the scene, two thoughts popped up into Clara’s mind. The first was that she should be dead. It wasn’t a thought she fully understood at the time. She wasn’t dead, not even in the dream. (Her dream involved watching a low budget 1960’s British science fiction show with her great aunt Harriet and a pair wereseals. They were eating spider legs shaped like French Fries on a table made of wood. It was draped in the flesh of white nationalists, who were still alive and thus the only people in the room not having a good time.) And yet, she should be dead. She felt perfectly healthy, no longer feeling like she had a fever while freezing to death, no need to shout secrets about how Mr. Pick hates her because she caught him kissing one of the janitors without wearing his wedding band. She was completely free of The Truth Plague.

When they were at a rest stop to get some breakfast, Clara asked her mother to take her pulse. Her mother found said pulse and immediately went back to thinking of more adult matters. This did nothing to assuage Clara’s fears. She tried to make sense of it all, but could only come to one conclusion: she was God. She quickly realized her mistake when it didn’t rain ice cream and instead realized there could only be one conclusion: she was finally the protagonist in the stories she loved to make up.

It was as if the universe had given her superpowers to… do what, exactly? Solve crime? Topple empires? Regardless, she knew she couldn’t tell her family about this, not even her beloved grandmother. They would all tell her that she’s too young to do anything. That she shouldn’t aspire to do anything more than what they did. Be realistic. No, instead Clara decided to bide her time before showing the world just who she is.

The second thought that came to her mind was that Flapjack had gone missing, which was a shame, as Clara always believed he was a good boy.

“You haven’t been on a date in how long?” Jane teased with mock horror. They had been college roommates for roughly a year, yet Clara felt as if they were lifelong friends. Though this would not be the case, they were still thick as thieves. And yet, there were secrets they kept from each other. Jane, for example, recently joined a secret organization that offered to pay her entire college tuition and hire her immediately after college in exchange for a small donation of blood. (Jane was unaware that said donation would be used to rewrite her biodata so that she was always a fiercely loyal member of the organization, and would die in their temporal War games. Corporations tend to leave out little details like that.)

Clara, meanwhile, had many secrets kept from those around her. She never told anyone of her immortal status. Clara didn’t mention that Jane’s hair suddenly turned red or that Jane completely forgot that she was a natural blonde. She never spoke of Jane’s eyes drastically improving overnight, negating the need for glasses or, for that matter, the time Clara saw the lifelong vegan eating a cheeseburger as if it were nothing. She didn’t mention the tattoo on Jane’s left butt cheek of a snake eating its own tail, nor that it suddenly changed midway through the semester to something that looked like a snake skull. But then, Clara would have to be aware of such changes for these things to be secrets.

As for the subject of dating, Clara had long given up on the endeavor. It wasn’t that she shared her roommate’s asexuality. Rather, she felt dating to be a waste of time. Fiction had long taught her that living forever meant other people would die around her. (She never liked death, even before seeing her mother whither away in a prison cell, denied food and medical care until she was nothing more than bone draped in the thinnest fabrics of flesh. Clara wasn’t even sure if she would ever stop aging or if she would become a shriveled husk of 20,000, forever aging until the end of time… perhaps even longer.)

However, on occasion, she felt like having a nice old-fashioned one-night stand that meant absolutely nothing, save for some (hopefully) good sex. Usually, Clara used Tinder to find someone, but she recently finished The Telephone Book, and had grown extremely wary of the fascist implications of telephones and decided to stay away from them until absolutely necessary like later that night, when she needed to give out a phone number. She decided the next sensible move would be to ask Jane if she knew anyone willing to go out on a date and hope that whoever it was could be let down easily. Fortunately, Jane had an old friend coming up that weekend. To add to her luck, Jane needed the room to herself to perform a blood ritual as part of her initiation into the organization (Jane told Clara she was studying for a final, a lie Jane thought was true).

“You’ll like her,” Jane assured, “ she’s got a wicked sense of humor, a quick mind, and a hot body… so I’m told. Hell, she even kinda looks like you.” That last part befuddled Clara, as many of people she had sex with tended to respond with… Then again, they had been the kind of people who expect to have sex with a person like free television, so she tended to ignore their remarks. But it was more likely that Jane was exaggerating their similarities.

Regardless, Jane had set the date for a local restaurant that served overpriced steaks and other fancy food, but made up for it with the large fountain in the center that shines an indoor rainbow throughout the restaurant. Jane had said her friend would be recognizable by her dark red dress. Clara opted not to wear her favorite blue dress, solely to spite her alchemist “friends.” Instead, she wore a dark purple suit with a long black tie.

When Clara arrived at the restaurant, she was somewhat surprised to discover that her dining companion did have a resemblance to her. Not by much, Clara mused to herself, I mean, she has longer hair, she doesn’t have a scar on the back of her hand from when I failed to trick my brother into getting me a drink from the gas station, and there seems to be a tattoo on her shoulder… maybe it’s a birthmark. But perhaps the biggest difference Clara found between them was their eyes. It wasn’t as though they were a different color or shape (they were nearly alike in that sense). Rather, it was the implications of their eyes. Deep down, in the realms of the mind hidden from intention, she understood. But instead of dwelling upon the similarities between the two of them, Clara decided to introduce herself to the woman before her.

“Claire Orlando,” she replied.

“Bit of an odd name,” smiled Clara as she read the menu, “don’t you think?”

“Not really, no. I mean… there are loads of people named Claire.”

“That’s not what I-” but before Clara could finish that thought, the waiter arrived to ask them what they wanted to eat. They both ordered the steak, as it was the only good food served at the restaurant. Clara resumed, “I mean, isn’t it a bit odd that we almost have the same name?”

“Not particularly,” Claire said, hoping it would be enough, “I mean, it’s not like we’ve known each other for our whole lives. We literally just met, and you’re from…”

“New York.”

“Right, and I’ve pretty much lived in California my whole life. The odds of it happening to me twice are astronomical, but they do happen.”

“…Twice?” Clara asked with a twinge of melancholy.

“Uhh… I uhhh- why do you even care anyways?” Claire snapped, hoping she wouldn’t have to talk about a rather embarrassing teenage phase.

Clara sighed. “Honestly, I’m just trying to make small talk. It’s been a while since I’ve had to do this sort of thing.”

“And what sort of thing is that?” Claire asked, silently thanking the god she prayed to (Sadly, but perhaps fittingly, it was Glycon).

“You know, dating. Going to dinner. Talking about things we have in common… Ah geez, I don’t even know.” Clara began rubbing her eyelids with her thumb and index finger.

“Well… what do you usually do on a Saturday night?”

“Oh, you know… Stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?” What Clara did not want to tell Claire was that her Saturday nights were predominately spent working on a series of fan fiction projects. These included one off stories based off minor, non-speaking characters, flash fiction projects about sentient rock ladies, and multiple chapters about BDSM and superheroes. But her magnum opus was a series of “fix-fics” based on Animorphs, which took terrorism, alienation, and other child friendly themes hidden within the subtext and brought them even more to the forefront. She only got up to the 49thbook in the series before realizing that the spark of creativity that had started her on this path had moved on to bigger and better things (though not profitable things). If she was being honest, she was just doing this series to finish it up. By the time she reached the final book, Clara was almost glad that a group of Russian hackers deleted most of the work she had done for no other reason than a hatred for a specific ship. Fortunately, her meager fanbase was decent enough to not expect her to rewrite all 54 books again and she could move on to better things.  Instead, Clara said, “Watch TV, read a book, do some homework. Normal stuff. What about you?”

“Masturbate.” To say Claire did not want to say that word would be an understatement. There was an extremely awkward pause in their conversation, one long enough for their steaks to arrive. Claire finally broke the silence. “Sorry, I panicked, so I tried to make a joke… It didn’t work.”

“Clearly,” Clara remarked, more focused on her steak than this person she would only have to interact with for another hour or so.

“Look,” Claire pleaded after having her first bite of steak, “I know I screwed up, but we still have to talk about something.”

“Like what, your taste in porn?”

“Sure, if that’s what you want to talk about,” Claire replied, grinning to hide her desperation. Clara nearly spurt out her coke.

“No, no. That’s uh… that’s fine… So, what do you do exactly?” At that moment, Claire was enrolled in an internship program with an organization that sent her to various inner cities throughout the country. She worked as a TA under several high school English as a second language teachers. She planned to travel the world and write a novel about her experiences teaching and what she learned from them. She would never get around to writing it.

“Working on my teaching degree, you?” Clara, meanwhile, was concluding her training as an actress with a local acting company. The director of the troupe claimed to have plans to groom her into being one of the great actresses of the modern age (as he said of all the girls). She played several minor roles in various plays before making her break two years ago as Lady Macbeth in a well received production of Macbeth. Afterwards, she moved on to other roles including Ophelia, The Stepdaughter in Six Characters in Search of an Author, and the lead in an original play about the shooting of Andy Warhol. Currently, she was working on a script for a satirical one-act play about the fairy queen spending a day outside of her kingdom. The lead would be a 10-year-old girl whose mother was locked away in prison for killing her husband in “self-defense.” The play currently ends with the girl running away to fairyland after trapping the fairy queen in a fallen world.

Rather than respond to her companion, Clara felt the urge to puke her guts as if she was the first kill of a horror movie more interested in cheap thrills and gore than in character drama and gore. Indeed, save Clara and Claire, every one of the patrons was puking their guts out. Unbeknownst to them, the sous chef had long been a member of a cult who worshiped a disgraced Roman snake god. They planned to summon the god onto the mortal plane, but lacked a means to do so. That was, until the chef discovered a mystical ritual in a mediocre fantasy novel that required a massive sacrifice to summon the main baddies’ snake god. They didn’t concern themselves with the obvious flaws in their plan and went with it anyways. All told, 51 people were murdered that night. Fortunately, the police were tipped off, so the cult, who believed their ritual to be a failure, could not try again at a later date.

As for Clara and Claire… discovering someone you just met has a similar name to you, a mild resemblance, and also can’t die is a coincidence too large to ignore. There was a long, awkward silence between the two of them as the police put blankets around them to deal with the shock (they were smart enough to claim they were just about to eat when people started puking). Eventually, when the night got quiet and they were alone under the dancing sky, they exchanged phone numbers. Then Clara made an all too familiar suggestion…

When Juliet returned to her room from a long night of studying, the stench had not gone away. But what drew her gaze was the snake puppet in the back pocket of her roommate’s pants, lying carelessly on the couch. Juliet could have sworn she heard it talking, but brushed it off as her overactive imagination trying to distract her from the naked bodies in the middle of the room.

Sooner than they expected, Clara and Claire found themselves renting an apartment together. In a rather forced tone of voice, the landlord informed them that they could have the $10,000/month apartment for free. And while that did seem odd, options were limited due to their lack of an actual job.

Clara suspected their good fortune had something to do with what happened in California last spring break. (Clara wanted to surprise her girlfriend by showing up unannounced to her family home. Claire never talked about her family during their Skype chats, though Clara did occasionally hear grumblings in the background when Claire claimed to be at home. Deep down, in the part of the mind where childish dreams reside, she hoped that they were homophobic. Not because she wanted more people to think she was an abomination against God. Rather, it would mean that she could save her girlfriend and thus finally give her a story where she was the protagonist. But those dreams never arose to the conscious mind, as the rest of Clara’s brain remarked upon the banality of such dreams.

When Clara arrived at the Californian airport, she collided with Charlotte Orman, a janitor who had spent the past 20 years working at the airport. The job was barely enough to keep her house; otherwise her three daughters would be homeless. [What Charlotte would never know is that the only reason she was able to have a house at all was because a real estate mogul wanted to spite a competitor who wished to use the property to build a high rise for rich people who wanted to act like they were starving artists who didn’t have an offshore bank account they could fall back on. As such, the landlord of the trailer park Charlotte lived in would be bribed double whatever the competitor offered {$1,000 as of last Tuesday}. The reasoning behind this “war” is unclear to most historians, but it would have shockwaves across several states.]

Immediately, Clara was apologetic and offered to buy Charlotte something to drink. Charlotte mumbled in agreement. She was more transfixed by the woman before her. Clara looked exactly like Charlotte imagined she could have looked when she was young and wanted to set the world on fire. She had the scruffy long hair Charlotte thought she could pull off if given the chance and the figure of a non-anorexic actress in her prime. Her arm was covered in tattoos Charlotte was always afraid of getting and she had the eyes of the revolutionary that stared back at Charlotte in the mirror, asking what went wrong.

Sadly, the woman she wanted to be would not be proud of who she became, as while they were sharing drinks, Charlotte slipped a roofie into Clara’s. Nobody cared about the kidnapping, save for some lewd remarks about Charlotte’s sexuality that were unfounded in the facts her coworkers had. It wasn’t that Charlotte wanted to do this; she had no hate or jealousy towards Clara. Charlotte just had three kids to care for, and they always took priority to her dreams. 

When Clara awoke, she found herself tied to a table made of stone. It was wet with a red substance typically found on the other side of her skin. Next to her were rows upon rows of women just like her: bound, gagged, and about to die a horrible death. Clara wasn’t worried though. She knew she couldn’t die, no matter what these people did. But then she looked closer at the women around her. Closer than she ever thought she’d need to. In particular, she looked at the woman at the end of the row… the one who was about to be sacrificed. Clara decided her name was “Cassandra,” which coincidentally it was. She saw something familiar in her, like a childhood friend she never had. Cassandra had frizzy hair that was kept in no particular style. She had hands that worked primarily on a farm, but sometime would be used to write about the wonders of nature. Her nose was broken. But what caught Clara’s eyes were Cassandra’s. At first, Clara thought they looked like none she had ever seen in her life. And then, it dawned on her that she had: they were the only eyes she would have to see in her life, no matter what she did. And with that realization, more came to her, flooding her mind with monstrous implications of what made the tables wet. And as she stared into the eyes of her double, they appeared to turn pale with death.

There were only two women in front of Clara. She couldn’t create names for them [they would have been wrong], as she was far too busy trying to escape her predicament. It dawned on her that there were no chains on the table, but she felt like she was being held to it like a child witnessing her mother being strapped to an electric chair.

They came to her, eventually. Their knives were drenched in the blood of countless other people. They were smiling, apologetic beings who wanted only what they thought was best for Clara. They said that she was the child of the great god Nyarlethotep. They talked about a cosmic War between corporate fascism and freedom. The cultists proclaimed humanity is a mere bug in the face of this uncaring War of gods. They claimed their god was the personification of freedom. They said that if they did it right this time, their god would free them from the chain of immortality. They showed Clara a rotting corpse; still alive and shriveled such that a baby could hold it, pleading for the sweet release of death in a long dead language. They asked Clara, with mouths too much like her own, if they could sacrifice her to their god. And Clara said no. They didn’t care of course, they were going to cut her up anyway, but they still had to ask. It was a key to the ritual. The last thing Clara saw was the blade that murdered countless others pierce her flesh.

And then, Clara woke up. She was in the passenger seat of a rental car driven by Claire, drenched in a sweat that covered her tears.

“W… what happened?” Clara asked, still a bit dazed.

“…You got drunk at the airport, and… I picked you up,” Claire replied, hiding all emotion while silently praying this would work.

“I don’t… remember calling you.”

“You were drunk!”

“I don’t… feel hung over.” Clara pulled out her phone. “Claire?”

No response. 

“It says that it’s Wednesday.”

No response.

“I got into the airport on Sunday.” Clara grabbed Claire by the chin, twisting her face to look at her. And Claire looked into the reflected eyes of her girlfriend and realized that there was only one thing she could do: Claire pulled the car over and everything poured out. She told her love that she was kidnapped by a cult called the Children of Nyarlethotep. She told her that she used to be a member back when she was a stupid teenager who didn’t think things through. Who thought that the answers lay with people who were like her in nearly every way. How they were Claire’s only friends growing up, or they told her as such. How she believed them. How she participated. How she felt that if she ever told Clara, that she would hate her and never want to-

Instead, Clara kissed her girlfriend.

In the end, Clara spent the night at Claire’s house. Her parents were rather nice, if a bit too fond of the 60’s for their own good. Claire felt there really wasn’t much to talk about when it came them. She was wrong, as all people are when they say that about a family member. Clara and Claire swore to never join the Children of Nyarlethotep again, a promise that wouldn’t be kept.) Claire, who was more familiar with the Children of Nyarlethotep, dismissed the claim that the cult was funding their apartment, as cult funds tend to go towards far more sensible things like human sacrifices, fixing their “evil lair,” or buying a coffee maker that actually works. (Claire once noticed their landlord talking to someone shaped like a person. She couldn’t make out what they were talking about, just grunts and growls. They appeared to be in the middle of some kind of interpretive dance that kept them extremely close. Claire didn’t think they saw her but she didn’t say any of this to Clara, as that would require remembering the encounter.)

To pass the time as men who sweat like they’re on Baywatchmoved their stuff into the apartment, the lovers decided to come up with names for people who also held an immortal status. They created three base assumptions as rules for their game. First, the people all had to be women as all the people like them were women (this isn’t remotely true as Clark Oswald can attest). Second, they had to have the initials C.O. (Kara Unna). And third, no stupid names like Charity Oregon.

Of the people they had come up with up to that point, only three existed. The first, Carrie Oswin, was a director of an art museum in upper Connecticut. She had four children, all out of the house, and was content with her life, expecting to die within the next couple of years of natural causes. Then there was Carmen O’Winn, a thief primarily working in Europe. She was inspired by a television show she watched as a kid whose title character was a thief with her own agenda and rules. She stole many artifacts over the years, primarily from the rich and powerful. At the time, she was being contracted by a group of men who had never gone outside their own mother’s basement (let alone talk to a woman their age) who wanted her to search the house of an archivist of old 60’s television to see if he had any tapes the BBC Archives could use. No such tapes were found and she barely made it out of there alive. Finally, there was Cassandra Owsley who currently outside of reality.

They spent the hours making up names, each more fake than the last. They took breaks to argue how the tables in the living room should be positioned, which bathroom got which curtains, etc. In the end, they were able to make the apartment their own. Innocuously, Clara asked Claire for a cup of milk, only to realize they forgot to go shopping. They decided it could wait until the morning and decided to take an early rest.

Clara wouldn’t see Claire again for a long time.

Despair brought her into the Children of Nyarlethotep’s tendrils. It wasn’t that she was unaware of other groups that could help her in her time of need. The cult just got to her first.

The cult didn’t want her depressed. That only gets people so far. They wanted her indoctrinated. They converted people like her countless times over the years. Vulnerable people could be taught the right way of existing: Die for Nyarlethotep. Until that day, they needed more sacrifices and those willing to sacrifice. The cult felt she had the tenacity to be one of them as opposed to a mere sacrifice. But first, they had to break her like a stallion. If not, there was always the glue factory.

The depression did most of the work for them. She already felt like she was falling into the abyss. It was her fault Claire was taken. She thought of how Claire would feel without her and fell deeper into the pit. They had to remove the influence of Claire from her heart. If she had even the slightest inkling of love for anyone other than Nyarlethotep, she would desire freedom. The cult never referred to Claire by name, she didn’t deserve one. Claire was “the deceased” or “it.” They didn’t touch her, not physically. They just talked, as people who offer shoulders often tend to do. At first, they just listened to her about how much she loved Claire, how Claire was the only thing anchoring her to life. Then, the cult twisted the stories, gas lighting her memories into claims of abuse. That Claire never loved her, only wanted someone who could be controlled.

It took time for her to accept the truth her friends were telling her. Years, months, hours, they all bled together in the sanctum of the Children of Nyarlethotep. She thought that it was love. She was foolish to believe such trite. She didn’t realize how often they argued, how easily the scars faded (like the one she got last spring break when the deceased stabbed her in the stomach). It hurt to come to terms with this, but her sisters said that’s how healing is.

Time passed. Eventually the cult had to know if she was truly theirs. She had to perform a sacrifice. They provided her a book, telling of the War, of their god, of all the factions and sides and important characters. And then, something happened. Something the cult wasn’t expecting. They thought of everything, save for one small thing they weren’t even aware could ruin everything. It began when she was reading the final pages of the ritual. She was practicing the various sigils required on a dead homeless man, looking back and forth between her work and the design. Suddenly, a wind from nowhere blew the pages away. It whispered like an old, long dead, imaginary friend.

She looked at the book, frustrated that she’d have to flip through the tome again to find where she was. She’d probably forget where she was in the ritual and have to start over (homeless corpses are a tedious item to find). The page the wind turned the book to seemed familiar to her, especially the symbol. It was almost like the skull of a snake but the fangs were too long. There were other teeth within its mouth, smiling curtly at her. The eyes weren’t shaped like snake eyes; they were almost human. And the snout, which was much too large to be a snake’s, had teeth in it as well. She had seen it before, though she couldn’t remember… It was on a butt, she knew that much… a friend’s butt… And the tattoo wasn’t always a mask; it used to be an Ouroboros! The butt belonged to… Jane, whose best friend was-

She didn’t want to say the name of the deceased.
It hurt when she even thought of the deceased.
She remembered what her sisters reminded her of what the deceased did.
A knife stabbed into the abdomen, deep enough to threaten.
She thought of the knife used by the deceased.
How she was so afraid as it pierced her flesh.
It was a familiar knife, like the one in her hand.
Exactly like the one in her hand…

It didn’t come together all at once. Maybe she knew the truth all along, but denied it to let herself do what they call healing. Maybe there were other moments where she almost came to this realization. Maybe she would have broken free even if the wind hadn’t coincidentally turned the page, as if destiny wanted her to see it. But other lives would have been lost, tortured for a futile purpose that she saw all too clearly. Would Claire love her if she did those things? Would she ever love herself? Yes, she momentarily convinced herself. She read through the section of the tome before her, eager to learn and understand what she was fighting, for they had pushed her towards war. Eventually, she would know what to do with this book. But in that moment, holding the knife, she knew what she had to do to be free. One of the cultists walked into view.

“Are you ready?” asked Charity Oregon.

Clara O’Winn smiled.

Clara sat on the cheap motel bed while Charity continued to futilely scream through the duck tape. Clara was looking at her watch. They had less than a minute to arrive. She was aware from the stolen book that they were known for their punctuality, but arriving at the exact minute seemed a bit excessive. But she would soon realize that excessiveness was baked into their nature as a shape began to form.

The travel machine was edited into reality. It looked like something that would not be conspicuous in a motel room, but still distinct enough for the owner to not have to spend five hours debating which TV he used to go home before smashing his face on the glass. The device was championed by a sound akin to a child squeezing a squirrel to death while playing with the blinds. Eventually, a being stepped out of the toilet and into the motel room.

 The being was not human. Sure, if one were looking at the being through the lens of a photograph or moving picture, the being would appear to be human. But there was something off about the way he looked. He certainly looked like a he, but there was an air of ambiguity to the significance of that detail. He looked less like a person and more like the culmination of generations of film studios and focus groups to create a character archetype (the archetype in question being a stuffy dean with the gentle smile of an authoritarian dictator). But perhaps what made him look the least human was his eyes. They were dilated so much, one could almost see a star field shine through his infinite darkness.

Clara had heard of the parties involved in the War, and called the side that would least likely simply take both her and her captive and do what most people with limited imaginations do with their kidnap victims. Sadly no such side existed, but the side of “order, lordship, and sterility” was far more likely to humor her than the other factions would. (The only fortune she had in this whole mess was that he didn’t simply rewrite her timeline so that she’d give herself to him willingly).

Well he said in the voice of an ornery deposed king while impatiently stroking his beard is this the real deal? Clara said nothing, for she knew his side, like all the sides in the War, thought of her as a “Lesser Species” not worthy of humoring bluster. Instead, she simply pulled out the knife she had in her left pocket, and stabbed her captive a few inches away from her heart. It was surprisingly easy to cut around the organ, but it still took a bit of time. 

There, in front of both of them, was Charity’s beating heart. The sight and feeling of this made the young woman pass out. Clara, who was used to the sight of cruelty in the name of uncaring powers, proceeded to rip out the still beating heart and present it to the orderly “gentleman.” The blood that belonged to Charity still flowed through the body, only slightly spurting out of the hole. It didn’t so much create a new organ as simply pretend the heart wasn’t removed.

Interesting sneered the shape of a man with an air of self-congratulation tell me, what do you want for this… intriguing specimen?

Clara felt no need to lie. “I want your time machine so I can travel the universe.” The man shaped being laughed. One doesn’t typically hear members of his side laugh, but it is always unsettling when they do so. It’s not clear why the laugh is unsettling to an average being as, for all intensive purposes, it sounds like a normal laugh, albeit an evil one seen in science fiction movies with lines like “NOTHING IN THE WORLD CAN STOP ME NOW!” but the cadence of the laugh was… off. 

When the laughter stopped, he calmly, as if he had never laughed at all, said I must say you are an amusing little thing. The hubris of your species is well documented, and indeed fascinating compared to other Lesser Species, but this really “takes the cake,” as your species is fond of saying Clara. Clara froze. You know, it was quite easy to come across your name. We have several agents in your time zone who were eager to tell us information about you and your cult. Once certain pressures were used, of course.

“It’s not my cult,” Clara demanded.

Frankly the only reason we didn’t simply take you earlier was because you were able to contact us. He paused for effect. At first, we assumed you simply got the information from that book you stole pointing directly at the book, hidden poorly inside a nightstand draw too small for it to fit into but then we noticed that it was years out of date.This mildly stunned Clara, but she didn’t show it. I mean, your book only covers, what, the first 100 years of the War. There is no contact information for our side in that edition. So how were you able to call us?

“It was written on the wind,” Clara smirked as if that meant anything to anyone but her. She fled for the exit, but the man shaped being simply slowed down her perception of time and causally walked in front of her before resuming it to a speed faster that 1^-100,000,000 inches per hour.

Cute he smugly retorted I suppose we’ll get the real answers out of you in the- But before he could finish that sentence, a familiar sound to the being filled the room: the wheezing groaning sound of an organ being played at a packed church in the exact instance the roof fell down. It dawned on the being that if this Lesser Being had the contact information for his side, she might also have the information of other sides. Which is why it came at no surprise that a ship that looked like the skeletal remains of a dragon appeared in the room.

The dragon’s mouth opened revealing another bidder for the captive. Unlike her competitor, she looked distinctly human. Though Clara couldn’t make out any physical features beneath her uniform, there was the distinct air of human cruelty upon her. She didn’t appear to be much older than a college dropout, yet she walked like a scholar. The woman was dressed in a typical Goth attire featuring pants darker than the depths of space, a black jacket covered in pins advertising causes the woman no longer believed in, and a mask made out of the skull from a long dead alien race that still had blood smeared on its teeth. She seemed familiar, but Clara couldn’t put her finger on why.

“Step away from the woman, or else” snarled the woman. The woman was unarmed, though her shadow appeared to be holding some sort of explosive device in its hands.

Come now, Cousin Jane smiled the man shaped being surely we can end things civilly.

Cousin Jane thought about this briefly. “Nah, don’t seem to be any other way. Think I’ll blow you up anyways. Always wondered if your kind bleeds gold.”

Well, clearly there is another way… There are two of them! We can split them up evenly- And as if to piss all over his sunny day, a beam of light smashed through the celling landing softly and directly in the center of the room. Out from it, stepped an ethereal being with the shape of an experienced English actor known for playing loudmouthed kings and Viking gods.


“Bullshit you are,” shouted Cousin Jane. “’Sides, I was here first!”

No you weren’t objected the man shaped being. Regardless, I’m sure we can work things out in a neat and orderly fashion.

“Yeah, you’re just all about “order,” aren’t you? Just the order you want, mmm?”

Is there any other?


Perhaps we can discuss this at another time; right now I have a business transaction to deal with.

“Well, too bad, ‘cause so do we.”


W̵̨̕e͘͟͞͡ a͟l̵s͏o̶̸ h̴́͝a̕͢͝v̡e̵̛͡ an̨ ͢a̷̕͡rra̷̛̕n͡ge͞m̸̧͠e̸̛ņ̛t w҉͟ith̴̛̛͢͢ M͏̵̕s͞.̷̧̛̕Ơ͢’͞W̴҉i̵n̸͏n,̸̕A fourth party retorted. They didn’t so much enter the room as rewrite the nature of the universe so they were always in the room. Soon more and more parties showed up for, frankly, a bit of out of date technology that most only wanted because others wanted it. The arguments got so loud, no one noticed Charity Oregon waking up. In the confusion, she found that someone had accidentally cut her binds, placed her heart back into her body, and plastered a bit of skin and bone over it. Wanting simply to go home, Charity fled the scene. Luckily the congregation was so distracted by their petty arguments that she was easily able to escape.

At the very least, they were distracted enough for someone to, say, be able to steal a time machine, learn how to use it, go back in time, convincingly fake a death or two, get married, find a time in the future where people have cured aging, woo a formless being who exists in any point in time she desires, get married again, steal a few phone numbers and contact information, write a few stage plays, and live happily ever after as the universe’s longest working actress. Which, in a bit of coincidence, someone in that room actually did.

…Well, ok, she didn’t actually become the universe’s longest working actress, but that’s only for personal reasons that’ll stay between the three of us.