Status Imperfectus

Annabelle stands on the rooftop of Griffith College. She doesn’t mean to imitate the brooding nature of Batman, however cool it would be to be him, or Kate Kane. She knows that she should leave the brooding to Jasper, even if these nights he doesn’t have as much to brood about. Even now, after everything Nelli and Victor would find it absolutely hilarious that “Baby B” is being all angsty up here like some stereotypical vampire. Hell, even Ramona would heckle her if she were here with one of her Rat Pack.

She wishes Ramona were here, even with her duties to the Valkyries: one of the results of her own decisions as leader or the face of the Anarch Movement such as it is. Annabelle also wishes X were here too. And …

Annabelle replays the song on her phone. She knows she shouldn’t. She knew the risks. But she can’t let herself forget. The Brujah cannot ever let herself forget.

“I hurt myself to-day, to see if I still feel …” 

She laughs, wetly, through her blood tears. The song is both ridiculous, and it hurts. It hurts that this is the music on the Playlist tonight.

“Well, it’s no Linkin Park.” A gruff, almost gravelly voice says right beside her.

Despite all this time, and everything she’s learned, Annabelle feels the blood rise inside of her. Part of it is instinct. The predator, the Beast that is now her constant companion, snarls and wants to brace itself against a potential threat in her personal space. According to her own experiences, and talks with both Nines and Casey, their Clan are even more prone to angry outbursts, to rage, than some of the others: just as they were capable of still feeling great moral outrage and passion. But it is more than fury, it is also fear: fight or flight. And it is more than just being startled, even with her heightened senses and still being caught off guard.

It’s the vampire next to her. The other Brujah in her life. It’s him catching at an emotionally vulnerable moment.

“Carver, fuck!” Annabelle growls, deciding on anger, snatching her cellphone away from him, wiping at her eyes. “Personal space, dude!”

Carver, the smug son of a bitch, holds up his hands in a semi-placating manner, backing away a little bit but still amused with himself. He still wears his leather jacket, black where Annabelle’s is red, and sporting his Mohawk where Annabelle’s head is still shaved only on one side. “Hey, Babydoll, it’s not my fault you forgot your vigilance. You’re an important girl these nights. You can’t afford to laze. I mean.” He looks at a spot in the shadows and stares. “I know you’re there Jasper, but you won’t always be.”

Annabelle can’t help but bite her lip in some amusement at the familiar guttural snarl from the darkness, but she’s still annoyed. “Still none of your business.”

The older Brujah smiles, as though knowing there isn’t nearly as much vehemence there as there once was. A lot’s changed since they first — officially — met. She still doesn’t like him very much, but she doesn’t hate him anymore. They came to something of an understanding. But she never really calls him Dad. Not like with Victor. Not even sarcastically.

“Well, what it’s worth it’s still better than ‘crawling in my skin.’ Damn.” He says, taking a flask of … something out of his jacket pocket. Annabelle doesn’t see a blush of life appear on his features for it to be just alcohol. “Gives me the jeebies. Reminds me too much of a Tzimisce.”

“A … what?” Annabelle asks, quirking one brow.

Carver chuckles and shakes his head, taking a swig from his flask. For a few moments, Annabelle actually thought she saw an uneasy look, a grimace, form on his face. “Never you mind, Babydoll. Not here for you to take more note-taking.”

Annabelle is aware that, even now, she’s still learning new things. She’s had time to acclimate, one way or another, but she is still the youngest of the coterie. She has a lot to learn. And she will be damned, one way or another again, if she lets anyone else make fun of her for it: least of all Carver.

“Then why are you here, Carver?” Annabelle asks, exasperated. “Is Mr. Sisters of Mercy criticizing my taste in music?”

“Easy there now.” For his part, Carver sees her irritated confusion, and somehow manages to smile even more widely, his own growl a light mockery. “Did Nines introduce you to Damsel yet?”

“No …” Annabelle draws it out, squinting at Carver.

“In a certain light, you kind of look like her: except it’s the pop cultural ranting instead of just the political stuff.”

“Well no.” Annabelle gathers herself up. “Nines’ been too busy helping me through the ‘political stuff’ himself.”

“And how he must hate it.” Carver shakes his head, with a rueful grin. “The politics, I mean.”

“Huh.” Annabelle doesn’t have the energy to be annoyed anymore, but there is still a degree of impatience. She notices, as well, that her face is still warm and wet. Right. Vampires cry blood tears. All she did before in attempting to rub them away, was smear her face with its redness. To Carver’s credit, he doesn’t react — not making any snarky remarks, or so much as even smirk — as she takes out some tissues from her pockets — her many pockets — of her jacket, and wipe her face. “Power is everywhere.” Annabelle remembers, from her classes, now so long ago.

“And the personal’s political, isn’t that right, darlin?”

So much for that shred of decency, Annabelle supposes. She’s about to retort, to tell this jerk to go fuck himself despite her curiosity about his presence —

“You know, they can take care of themselves.”

At first, Annabelle didn’t think she heard him properly. Can vampires suffer hearing loss? But then she realizes, he’s spoken so softly, so uncharacteristically gentle, that it almost sounds like distant thunder, more of a rumble than a growl. Annabelle doesn’t know what to say to this, doesn’t know how to deal. “I know.” She says instead, thinking about Mark and Ellenore sabotaging political offices together, organizing protests, even the rally in Griffith Park where everything almost turned to shit … and other moments since then. “I just worry. I …” Annabelle’s words, and thoughts trail off to a place darker than anything a Lasombra can summon, but she feels stupid talking about it, especially to someone like Carver.

“You’re worried about all this.” Annabelle focuses her attention back on the older Brujah, who takes another drink out of his flask. There’s a funny smell to it, kind of like vitae, and anything else that she can’t quite name. “About you.”

“I’m …” Annabelle says, then straightening her shoulders out again. “I’m not afraid for myself. Of dying. I’ve risked my life –”

“Not death.” Carver sighs, and it occurs to Annabelle how much affectation they all still have, that they sigh when they don’t even have to breathe anymore. “I mean what you’re fighting for. Losing that battle. Losing … sight of what it is.”

“I know what I am fighting for.” Annabelle says, with more force in her voice than she knows is necessary. “I was at the Succubus Club. I saw what the Duskborn were doing in the student houses, what they were driven to do. And what the Inquisition is doing. And what Victor, and Nellie, and Jasper went through at Elysium …”

“And what you had the Gangrel do to Rags.”

Annabelle narrows her eyes. She … she knows it hadn’t been perfect. But it had been a choice between letting him go, or being destroyed. It had been a test: a test the Valkyries had set up for her. To see if she was worthy of mentoring, of allying alongside. But how dare he come here, after all this time, and dredge that up. Carver would have killed everyone, or blown them up, or left everyone there to clean up the mess while taking whatever it was he came for. How dare he condescend to insinuate anything when he didn’t even try to do better. When he didn’t even have loved ones …

When he didn’t even have Ghouls …

“I gave him a chance.” Annabelle says. “I try to give everyone a chance. And then …” Her shoulders droop. “I know I don’t have the answers. I know I know nothing and all that Socratic crap. But the Tower has to be stopped. There’s no need to treat people like objects. It’s … it’s wrong. Oppression is wrong. And everyone … everyone deserves a home.”

“We declare our kinship with oppressed Kindred everywhere and offer a home to all Kindred of all generations and clans who will agree to dwell in harmony with us.”

This time, Annabelle looks at Carver. She really looks at Carver. He shrugs. “The Status Perfectus.” He takes another drink. “Jeez. I’d have thought that Nines would’ve shown you it by now, or at least talked to you about it. Or maybe Abrams. Maybe.” He looks back at her. “Really. Here they are, going on and on about how you’re like the reincarnation of MacNeil, and they don’t even tell you about his and Salvador Garcia’s Second Anarch Revolt Declaration of Freaking Independence? Of the Anarch Free State. Heh … I mean, MacNeil was a screw-up, and Garcia probably a fucking traitor, and everything turned into a clusterfuck, but really.” He wipes at his mouth. “I expected better from Nines at least, if this is going to be your freaking heritage.”

“Well, who pissed in your Polyjuice Potion?” Annabelle finds her patience rapidly disappearing, fueled even further by information she never had. Why hadn’t anyone told her about this yet? Why does she keep getting left in the dark? Is she that much of a figurehead to the other Barons? Even … She shakes her head. “You disappear for God knows how long, leave me to my own devices, I do the best I can, and Nines picks up the slack, and you have the audacity — the freaking balls — to start lecturing me like you’re my –”

“Hey.” Carver interjects. “I did try to look for you. I got that favour from Eva, and it seems you got some too. You really should wash that jacket. It reeks.”

“No. Just. Don’t.” Annabelle points at him, right back to the level of fury. “Why are you back here, Carver? Are you just here to get your jollies telling me just how much I don’t even know? After you threw me right into the middle of all of this?”

“No, darlin.” Carver says. “I’m not here to lecture like Abrams, or give you a pep talk like Nines — a Kindred afraid of his own power. And I like the man. But seriously. You are a born activist. A student. You keep wanting to change things, but you don’t really look at everything that came before, at what others tried to do. You have …” He looks down at his flask, at his hands. “You are different. It’s the reason I didn’t leave you to die in that building. I could’ve. I think some days, when it’s really bad for you, you wish I did. Just …”

“What?” Annabelle demands, her blood rising despite herself. ‘What else should I know, Carver?”

“Look at the tools, the … tools of the oppressor, of the colonizer. The master’s tools. That’s what they teach you these days, right? At this college.” Carver has a strange light in his eyes, even as his tone remains the same steady, growling pitch it has always been. “Look at the fears that motivate us. The sun. Fire. Humans knowing what we are, and how that all affects anything we build. The Traditions, like the one that tells us to hide from humans, those existed before the Cam. And the Cam, the Tower, they formed in Europe when the Inquisition — which had been made by other Kindred trying to one-up each other — to supposedly protect all Kindred. To hide us. But look at what happened before that. When the Inquisition, the kine tools of power, got out of control and the Elders threw their childer at them. To save themselves. That’s when the First Anarch Revolt happened.”

This catches Annabelle’s attention. “The First Anarch Revolt …” She thinks about it. “Victor said something about that. Maybe Nellie too.”

“Yeah.” Carver nods. “It was a big deal. That’s kind of what led to all of this. I guess the Baron of the Valley knows some stuff after all.”

Annabelle doesn’t rise to the bait. Victor has made his mistakes, but she will never doubt his loyalty to her, the friendship of any of the coterie no matter their flaws. None of them are perfect, and Carver is one to throw stones. “What happened to them?” She asks instead, the question suddenly extremely relevant and overshadowing any sense of personal grievances with this man. “What happened to the first Anarchs?”

Carver is quiet for a while. He blinks, once. “When the others formed the Cam, with the surviving Elders, they rebelled. They became pretty much the Sabbat.”

Annabelle feels something crawl down her back at the way Carver speaks that word. She has heard it before. Victor has mentioned it. Even the others seem to know what it is, but they never really talk about it. Finally, he speaks again.

“Remember Nick the Asshole?”

Annabelle tries not to shudder, attempting not to remember the Nosferatu killing her, or the savage beating she laid on him afterwards after Carver had — arguably — saved her. “Yeah.”

“Yeah. Imagine a whole Sect like him. But worse. They wanted revenge on humans for hunting them. They wanted to turn them all into chattle, into things to feed on, hunt … play with … and kill. The Cam, it’s fucked right? I don’t have to tell you that. But mostly, it just wants to leave humans alone so they get left alone. And when they kill, well, it’s pretty brutal but just necessary. That’s the idea anyway. The Sabbat though? They enjoy it. They make games out of it. TThat’s what they would do to the whole world if they could’ve gotten away with it. The Lasombra and the Tzimisce especially.”

“That’s …” Annabelle wonders if she needs the blush of life to return the colour that she feels is leaving her cold skin She recalls the Scourge Rodrigo back at the Maharani, his eyes deeper than the abyss, asking her what she would build with the framework or the tools left from the systems that she would destroy, understanding the impart of those words a little more now. “That’s horrific.”

“And they all started from Kindred that just wanted to be free.” Carver sighs. “But this isn’t History Class. You want to find out more about those assholes, ask Nines or maybe your coterie. Hell, the Valkyries hate them too. You know, they come from Europe right? Another Old World group. They’re not just an Anarch faction. Just something you might want to look into on your own.” Carver shakes his head again, as though disgusted with himself. “I’ll give you another tidbit for free, darlin.” He says. “The Perfectus was made before the Baronies. MacNeil and Garcia, and the others, they had to make them when it became clear as a night of freezing rain in the ninth level of hell that Kindred couldn’t govern themselves without causing great fuck-ups. The point is, as you probably figured out by now, the Baronies were concessions to our baser natures. Little better than Domains — freaking Princedoms — in the Cam. A point of failure. I think that’s why MacNeil up and left. He knew, you know? He knew we used the tools of the masters, that trying not to made things worse. He didn’t want another Sabbat. Another Cam. Probably broke his damn fool idealistic bleeding heart. So when our better natures didn’t work out, I guess he gave up. Left us to our devices.” He takes another swig from the flask, a deeper one. Annabelle almost thinks she sees his skin flush from that drink. “I guess it was better than becoming a dictator, or a monster. Sure better than what happened in Carthage, or Russia. Anarch socialist experiments — especially Brujah ones — they don’t always go well, Babygirl.”

“Well …” Annabelle tried to take all of this in, tries to remember all of these terms to look up later, to pester Victor and the others about. “Why do you tell us how you really feel, Carver.”

Carver pauses for a moment. Then, he laughs. He laughs hard. It is a deep, belly laugh tinged by wheezing. Annabelle wonders, at first, if the older Brujah is choking until she remembers what they are. “Me? I just get stuff done.”

“With who?”

“With a gang or two that I put together.” Carver replies nonchalantly.

This time, Annabelle looks at him. Really looks at him. There is something different about him today. She can’t figure it out. “Don’t you have a coterie?”

Carver looks down at his flask. “I did.”

Annabelle doesn’t know what she’s looking for. She doesn’t have Nellie’s Discipline in Auspex, nor can she develop it on her own as far as she knows. But she has a decent skill at reading people. “What happened to them?”

“They’re gone.”

Annabelle thinks about Mark. She thinks about Ellenore. Her eyes go back to her phone and the Playlist that she had just heard. “What about anyone else?” She knows she’s prying again, but she had been so angry at Carver this whole while that she didn’t know anything about him. And for some reason, right now, this bothers her. “Did you have anyone else in your life?”

“I did.” He says, simply. “She’s gone too.”

“I’m sorry.” Annabelle replies, totally at a loss, awkward, wondering why suddenly she cares.

“Eh.” Carver shrugs his shoulders. “Shit happens.” He turns to her. “The important thing, darlin? Why I’m here now? I might not be lecturing, but just … I know how hard this must be for you. Figuring all of this out. It helps that you have friends. Something more than a crew. They keep you here. They keep you real. I went on about all those Sects and names. But the real enemy’s not even the Beast. It’s us. It’s time. A lot of those fuckers probably started out, even selfish, with some good ideas. But when you live forever, you forget things. Especially when you get caught up in the Jyhad. It’s easy to forget that Humanity after a while. Or take it for granted, until it’s gone.”

“I still remember who I am.” Annabelle says. “Do you?”

Carver grins at her, a big shit-eating grin. “Babygirl, I know exactly what I am. Just … heh. But seriously. When you have to make the hard calls — and you will — just remember who you have. And what you have. Because disappointed idealists, they make the worst kinds of sons of bitches. Don’t let yourself be a monster, Annabelle.” He says, his tone direct, his face flat again. “But don’t let them keep making you their puppet. I didn’t save your life for any of that. Ask the right questions. Keep asking everyone those questions. Keep asking yourself.”

Annabelle nods. “I … I will.” She bites her lower lip. “Thanks.”

“For my childe, anything.” Carver wryly smiles back at her, before putting his flask back into his coat pocket.

She can’t help it. Annabelle rolls her eyes. “Yeah, says the guy that made me and left me to wander the campus feeding without telling me what I was.”

“It’s better than some Gangrel Embraces.” Carver replies, putting both of his hands in his pockets. “And it seems to worked out pretty well for you.”

“I guess.” Something a little more hopeful enters her heart, thinking about it all now. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

“Also,” Carver says, looking at Annabelle a little longer.

“Uh, yeah?” She asks, feeling awkwardness before discomfort.

“Annabelle.” He tells her. “You are a lot more powerful than you think you are. When you’re doing your homework,” he points in a dismissive gesture, but his tone doesn’t change, “remember that.”

She nods again. There is something direct. Imperative. Clear. For a few moments, it’s as though Carver is speaking to her in a different way.

“Well, enough socializing.” Carver says. “I have situations to kill and all.”

“Hey.” Annabelle says, something occurring to her. “That thing you quoted.”

“Yeah?” He says, turning around.

“What was it again?”

“The Third Principle of the Perfectus.” Carver says. “Offering a home to all oppressed Kindred of all kinds in the Free Anarch State.”

“I see.” Annabelle nods. “I was thinking, when I find a copy, and read the whole thing of changing that. To all Kindred. All kine. All … people.”

Carver seems to consider it for a few moments. “Huh. Go figure.” He smiles at her. “I knew all the Unbound needed was some new blood.” He turns around and begins to walk away. “You’re just starting, and you’re already better than MacNeil ever was. As for the rest, just get ready to break some heads.”

Then, Annabelle only blinks once, and Carver is gone. She opens her phone and looks down at the Playlist. It takes her a moment, but she adds a new song. Right below Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” now resides a song from Halestorm. “Love Bites (So Do I).”

It’s a little risque, even cliché considering the circumstances, but Annabelle figures that it’s worth it.

*

Carver speeds away, his Celerity taking him from the rooftop in almost literally the blink of an eye.

It had been close. Annabelle is far from stupid, and perhaps he overplayed his hand. Chimerstry only takes you so far, taking your vitae, masking an appearance you’ve taken pains to disguise independently, before it runs out like some kind of glamour. Fucking A Song of Ice and Fire with Mance Rayder as Rattleshirt comes to mind. He doesn’t suppose that the Nos of the coterie could teach his Disciplines. Or worse, what favour he’d owe if he asked Golden. He doesn’t like his chances there.

Then again, just saving Annabelle’s life had been a risk. He is lucky, in some ways, that some Kindred remember the person he used to be. Eva owned him that major boon, one that has kept Annabelle safe up until this point. He wonders how Isaac hadn’t sensed his presence, or Annabelle’s earlier, but he has his suspicions: that the elder Toreador had already known what Annabelle was, and where she came from. Perhaps he even hoped for this outcome, whatever it may still be. Indeed, from his own sources, he knows that many people from the beginning of the Movement saw something in the young Brujah that they hadn’t seen in a long time.

It is all the more reason for him to keep his distance. For just as he had allies who knew who he was, he had enemies with long memories as well. Especially from the Tower. He never forgot the day that the Prince had made him humiliate himself, bowing and scraping, and worse. How he forced him to smash his head against the floor until his Ghouls took him out and threw him in that dumpster.

He wouldn’t wish that on anyone. He especially doesn’t want this for Annabelle.

He said he was done. That the Experiment hadn’t worked, like so many failures before and after it. There were never supposed to be Barons or Baronies. There especially wasn’t supposed to be a Baron of Los Angles. He didn’t want any of that.

So he went underground. He kept making crews. Just impersonal adhoc operations to make things uncomfortable for the elite. All grassroots. All under the radar. He would not associate with anyone closely again. It … hurt too much.

And he especially wouldn’t sire another. The one he left in New Orleans still rankles, even if he’d gone to the Cam for his own purposes.

But then there was the Office, and that asshole Nick, and then the girl and everything he saw her do with Mark and Ellenore. It reminded him of something. It reminded him of something that he had lost a long time ago.

Perhaps, looking at Annabelle, he saw the person that everyone else saw. The inspiration that he used to be. No, deep down Carver knows that he sees something better. If it survives.

Armando will look after her, he keeps telling himself. He might not want power, but that is why he trusts him with her all the more. And, as she goes on, she will come into her own true power: something beyond Generation or age. Perhaps beyond Faith. Carver doesn’t know. He knows that he knows nothing. In the meantime, he will lay the groundwork, do the grunt work, help light the flame that Annabelle will ignite.

His time is long passed now. Perhaps Annabelle will do better. He has hope that she will do better.

“You’ll do fine Annabelle,” he says, his voice no longer gravelly as he whispers to himself. “Break some heads, Babygirl.”

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The Neurodivergent Shadows in Us

There are going to be spoilers for Jordan Peele’s film Us, this movie that’s been out for months now, but sometimes that’s just how it has to be, and it wouldn’t make sense if I attempted to do anything else. Also, I am writing specifically about my personal experiences in relating to both this film and the following subject matter with which I try to engage.

Like Terry from his Gayly Dreadful article Tethered to the Closet, I knew practically from the beginning that Adelaide Wilson wasn’t normal and that, eventually when I learned about them, she was one of the Tethered. However, the difference I want to make clear is that while Terry related to her as someone coming to terms with being gay, I am not on the LGBTQ spectrum at all, I am also not American, and part of my reasoning for thinking she was one of the Tethered is because I am fairly good at guessing twist endings: being a writer, and a geek.

Yet there’s another reason why I can relate to Adelaide, and the Tethered.

Like Adelaide, I grew up as a child in the 1980s. And like the Tethered, who replaces her, who was the original Red and becomes the Adelaide that we know as the protagonist of Us, I grew up with developmental issues. I’ve talked about them before. These days, I would be called non-neurotypical, or neuro-divergent. My brain is wired differently from some perceived baseline in the mainstream population. I learn and I react in other ways in contrast to the current social paradigm. But, growing in the public school system of Canada and North America itself, I was given another label.

I am learning disabled.

Diagnosis is still relatively confusing to this day. Some of my disabilities could be confused with aspects of what some experts call the autistic spectrum, while many of my challenges have — ironically enough — been classified under the umbrella of nonverbal learning disorders.

Of course, I am not saying that the Tethered are the same — seeming to be clones of citizens created by the American government with their own developmental issues either by accident or design — but some of their characteristics can be seen as symbolic as some kinds of neuro-diverse behaviour. Terry, and other writers examining Adelaide focus on how she has a different, or inverted, sense of rhythm compared to others such as when she’s attempting to snap with the music that her husband Gabe is playing on the car radio. I remember her trying to also show her son, Jason, how to do the same thing: and this feeling I couldn’t describe came over me watching her. She looked both happy, and vulnerable, and awkward but genuine in that moment. It is a situation that the actress Lupita Nyong’o portrays well. She has, to some extent, learned how to match the rhythm, or mimic it enough where she is only slightly off. And aside from not being one for small-talk, no one can really tell the difference. Adelaide seems normal on a cursory glance.

She can pass as mundane.

At the beginning of the film, Adelaide is lost as a child in a boardwalk mirror house on the Santa Cruz beach. When she is found again, or seems to come out of the establishment, she seems to be rendered mute. Of course, we realize later that this isn’t the Adelaide that went in there, but rather the Tethered girl Red who has not learned how to vocalize, and her hand-eye coordination is relatively sloppy and haphazard. Her parents believe that something traumatic happened to her when her father lost track of her. They get her to see a therapist, they enroll her in dance courses — in ballet specifically — and she acclimates after a while.

When I was a child, I didn’t vocalize. Not really. I communicated in gestures, and grunts. It is one of the reasons I couldn’t stay in a mainstream daycare or kindergarten. My hand-eye coordination was also terrible: having what is called motor clumsiness. I didn’t really learn how to walk until later in my developmental period. My parents had me see therapists. I even had physiotherapist sessions where I rolled around on a giant ball and developed my reflexes more. My parents also enrolled me in a specialized kindergarten for children with special needs called Adventure Place. In fact, I had gotten so used to being there that when my parents were told I could attend mainstream public schooling, or I had to, I was so confused by the idea of “recess” and time before class that I got lost my first day at Thornhill Public School. And then, another time, I stayed on the school bus and the driver accidentally drove away with me: completely terrifying my parents even though I had, apparently, dozed off and had a nap.

I mean, I guess at anyone of those times I could have — or someone like me — could have found myself in one of those subterranean places filled with rabbits not unlike Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or its original title Alice’s Adventures Underground where I found a Shadow: not unlike those whom are forced to suppress their own feelings and mirror the actions those of their counterparts above ground against their will from the story that Red told Adelaide.

Do you want to know what I remember the most about my time as a child in the 80s, outside of therapy and all encompassing special educational spaces?

I was afraid. All the time.

My main memories of Thornhill Public School, were the dingy, yet antiseptic halls of the school itself with their old copper-coloured rubber glue stoppers, the long grey crooked scissors we used in art classes, and just how dark and old the basement was where the janitors had their office. I remember not wanting to be there, and wanting to be at home. I just wanted to go home.

At the same time, this was the period of the Beetlejuice cartoons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fraggle Rock, and the Dark Crystal comics as well as You Can’t Do That On Television on YTV. Adelaide herself had C.H.U.D., The Goonies, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller in her early life, and while I hadn’t been exposed to 1980s horror and specifically those adventure art movies at that time, they were on my popular cultural periphery and they would have intersected. And I was always both fascinated and terrified by horror in the form of hearing about such movies, and also folktales. I fed off of these elements, and they became part of my intellectual DNA, especially when in my Special Education class with Mr. Phillips I learned how to actually read from Grades 1-3.

They got me through a lot of the fear, but I still remember those halls and that basement: a place not unlike the underground facility where Red — before she was Adelaide — then Adelaide herself having been captured and abandoned by Red — and all the other Tethered clones wandered around aimlessly. It always occurred to me just how easy it would be to get lost in those corridors, and looking at the Tethered, few can be as lost as they.

Even though my perceptions improved, I still had — and still have — spatial difficulties. I get lost all the time, and directions as well as maps don’t always make sense. I also have dyscalculia: a learning disorder that makes arithmetic extremely difficult to do in my head. I can add and subtract, but I am slow at it, and I can’t multiply or divide without extreme challenge, or a calculator.

I also used to fidget a great deal — and I still do. Usually, it is a way to express excitement, anxiety, stress, or all of the above. I’ve learned to control it publicly for the most part, but the mileage can vary depending on the circumstances and my comfort level. Sometimes, when I get into that state, it is a lot like a free-form dancing: and it reminds me of Adelaide’s own dance and ballet classes as she was growing up on the surface.

And then there is communication. Like I said earlier, in the beginning I barely if ever used words to communicate. And, even now, when I’m nervous I will either ramble a great deal to make up for a perceived lack of content on my part, or I will be quiet and utilize few words. Even looking at how Adelaide talks with Kitty Tyler on the beach, or has difficulty talking or expressing her emotions to her own husband reminds me of my own impatience, or discomfort with small talk — which I generally try to compensate by talking about very specific topics of my interest, and not always the other person’s next to me — as well as my challenges expressing myself in a public, or even personal situation.

I know I really felt for Adelaide when she was attempting to communicate with her husband about her feelings: about her lack of comfort being in Santa Cruz, and even her annoyance with him for making fun of her quirks. I’ve had that happen a lot: from children laughing at my slow talking or thinking, and authority figures telling me to stop talking to myself (as if I were embarrassing myself and not them), and even having partners who just didn’t understand why I couldn’t be more like everyone else. That is the social interaction disorder element of some learning disabilities coming into play. It’s frustrating. It is beyond frustrating. When I was in daycare, before Adventure Place, I apparently did not want to talk or interact with my peers. I just wanted to stay in my own world. And I recall feeling a lot of anger and resentment for having to be with others who either made fun of me, or just didn’t understand me at all.

Even later, having gotten more therapy, I would often not cut or make my art the way I wanted to, and I would get frustrated with my tools — with my hands — and my own coordination to the point where I would destroy what I was working on because it didn’t meet my own expectations. My psychotherapist has asked me on occasion whether I sometimes feel toxic inside, or outside: and often I say I feel both for this reason. And I can only imagine Adelaide, especially with her experiences having gotten out of the facility underground, and adapting to the world above, having similar feelings and thoughts.

And I adapted too. I went to Special Education classes, but aside from those I focused on my strengths. Whereas someone like Adelaide delved into dancing and ballet, I attempted to become an artist, and eventually a writer. Overtime, as I went through the ranks of the public school system and university, I weeded out the courses I had difficulty with and focused purely on my strengths. Eventually, in my own mind, while taking advantage of the extra time afforded me because I was a learned disabled student, I came across as normal. I could be like everyone else. I could be “high-functioning.”

I could pass.

But I never really did. And while Terry, in his “Tethered to the Closet” article talks about that deep, dark Shadow secret of his sexuality has he attempted to pass on the sexuality spectrum, I tried to pass on a psychological and developmental one, while knowing — deep down — that there was something in me that set me apart from a lot of my peers: that it was always there, that it will always be there, and I will eventually go back to it.

I did. A lot. I had to ask for extra time. Sometimes I needed further clarification for my tasks. And then, by the time I made to York University, I needed the label and diagnosis to accord me extra time to remain in my Graduate Program just to maintain my full-time status with only half a course load.

Yet that anger, it never goes away. That frustrated, helpless anger. The kind you have in the dark where you can’t talk, or relate. Where you can’t express your emotions. Or the very least, you can’t do any of these things in an acceptable way to the society or space with which you find yourself. People laugh at you. Or bully you. Or worse: sometimes, they just interact with you out of some sense of pity.

So you take those elements of yourself. You face yourself in that mirror much like Red and Adelaide faced each other in that fun house near the beach. You strangle it. You push it down. You chain it to a bunk post, take the T-Shirt, and hope no one realizes that you are an intruder: that you are wrong. But you even when you play along with your parents, as much as possible, even when you find a hobby, find a field to work in and justify your existence — even when you make relationships — that part of you that you thought you could hide, even in plain sight, will always be there. It will always be waiting.

And the society that you grew in? That made you? It does it to control everyone to an extent. It wants you to conform so that you don’t make anyone else comfortable. But it only goes so far. For me, I had all of that “extra help” until I was done with school, or rather school had been done with me.  Then there was no structure, nothing but more antiseptic institutions that arbitrarily help or condemn you like welfare and disability offices and organizations that force you to embrace your disabilities as your identity — the very thing you spend ages attempting to wean yourself away from — while mostly leaving you to wander around like Tethered clones abandoned by their creators when they couldn’t control them, or use them to control others.

The structure is gone. You are just lucky at times to have a place that will still feed and clothe you. And, meanwhile, other people have jobs, families, relationships, and something fulfilling while — often enough — you feel that a lot of them have an emptiness inside of them that mirrors your own, but they are just less honest about it. They have the appearance, the passing, of knowing who they are, and what they are going to be.

And I think at this point, I am talking less about relating to Adelaide and more about relating to the Tethered: to the quiet, angry, sullen, forgotten, grunting, gesticulating horde of people abandoned in the dark, that want more but can’t always find a way to communicate that. And the people above, everyone else who is supposed neurotypical or neuro-conforming? They are part of a society that made you and they are always showing how ideal their lives are in social media, or relying on devices like the Alexa stand-in Ophelia to show how affluent they are. It all sometimes feels like a fun house of distorted reflections, or shadows.

I guess, in this context, I can understand where the fear and the anger, cultivated by Red — by the girl who used to be Adelaide and left to atrophy in her own stunted hatred — would want rise up, while still holding hands together in that Hands Across America gesture from 1986 which is a parody of that superficial sense of belonging that is just, at the end of the day, for appearances. There is nothing sincere about it, nothing warm, or loving. But, in the end it is a gesture of defiance, of anger against the order of things, or the lack of order: of the system’s broken nature.

Just like these words.

So who knows? Maybe a long time ago, I wandered through the dingy, cold hallways of a basement and encountered someone who looked me like having wandered away from falling asleep on a bus, or getting lost not knowing what recess was, and I strangled him and took his place like some changeling in the night. Or perhaps, unlike Red, I actually killed him from the start and — if the conceits of Us are true — then we shared a soul, and that is why I don’t always feel whole. And when you disregard this hypothetical situation as the metaphor it is, there have been many times I’ve had to distance or destroy something in my life to continue to somehow be the person that I want to be.

And sometimes, it doesn’t feel like enough.

Maybe, like the Tethered, I am my own Tethered reflecting the abuses of the unreasonable expectations that I inflicted on myself. And who hasn’t had a time where they have been so angry themselves, hated themselves so much for not performing the way they are expected to, that they don’t want to destroy the system that made these expectations? To burn the whole shallow mess to the ground? Or with a cry of primal, inarticulate rage strangle the part of you that’s angry at yourself, that hates yourself, that you feel is sabotaging both your life, and the relationships of those around like Adelaide, who was Red, finally did to Red who was Adelaide — who she thought she abandoned — in that dark bunk chamber where she thought she left her, her dirty little secret, even her secret in plain sight, for good?

I didn’t even think about it that way, or thought I would write much about this beyond superficial comparisons until I sat down — past five in the morning going six — and realizing just how much this film affected me. Surely there are dark tunnels, and hidden cities in Canada as they are in America. I mean, the North American system probably uses these places, these mentalities, to survive. And I have known people, people I loved or thought I loved, or people who loved me, or I thought loved me — or they thought they loved me — who are so similar to the people that Jordan Peele depict through his version of the doppelgänger as a central monster symbol in Us.

I think it safe to say that, in addition to feeling an affinity to the cognitive difficulties of the Tethered, I have also known, and loved people like Adelaide, and it is amazing how you can be so close to someone because of your shared differences, and so separate from them — and alone — for these exact same characteristics.

I guess I had more to say about Us than I thought beyond the fanfictions, and the film article I wrote a few months back. Certainly, this writing became more personal than even I’d anticipated. At the end of Us, Adelaide reunites with her family after rescuing her son Jason from her double. Jason is her biological son. Learning disabilities and neurodivergence according to some studies are genetic. They are passed down. Jason has always, throughout the film, fidgeted with a broken lighter and loves to hide in a cubbyhole in his grandparents’ cottage. He also prefers to wear a monster mask.

At the end of the film, he seems to realize that his mother is a Tethered, not long after she comes to grips with it herself. She puts her fingers on her lips. Her daughter Zora doesn’t seem to take after her, and her husband still doesn’t understand. Throughout the film, Adelaide is terrified of Jason becoming lost in this world, like she supposedly did, like she actually had been. Jason, for his part, takes his mask and places it back on his face: hiding himself, quiet, yet colourful. Defiant. Adelaide also puts hers back on, but it blends in, it’s unremarkable. She pretends to be mundane again. Jason’s mask, by contrast, still stands out and I think there is something to that. To accept that you are different, and to own it.

Or something to that effect. Personally, I just think that Jason’s monster mask is pretty cool.

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Paper Moon

Jasper fucked up.

He knows he fucked up. The pain in what’s left of his arm, after touching Eva like an idiot — twice — almost obliterating his claw on her personal ward, is nothing compared to the chagrin and the mixture of feelings he’s experiencing at the moment. In a way, he’s almost grateful. After the ritual Eva conducted, she had destroyed her hand too in the Thaumaturgical fire she created. It’s the least he deserves after putting her through this, after putting Chloe …

But that’s only a taste of the pain he’s put both of them through, and he knows it. He’s been set on fire before, he should be used to it by now.

Just like he should be accustomed to his own sense of self-loathing.

The Nosferatu cradles his twisted claw against his ribs, watching Chloe follow Eva out of the house where they staged their “intervention” on the former’s behalf. When Chloe regained her senses, for a few moments he almost hoped she wouldn’t recognize him: that he would be another, more hideous stranger, next to Eva and Fiona in that room. In some ways, her knowing exactly who he was, was far worse. The look of utter betrayal on her face hurt more than any reaction to his repulsiveness.

There are other feelings as well. Anger towards Fiona for making Chloe … his Chloe, his … into a Ghoul, fury at the Inquisition for somehow finding Fiona’s territory and Chloe instead, that awkward self-consciousness of asking Eva to do so much for him, despite everything they …

He resists the urge to snarl to himself. It all comes back to his self-hatred, his selfishness. What did he, of all people, think would happen with that one note he left on the napkin on the Griffith College campus cafe? That they would have a Hallmark moment, some contrived moment of grace, a Touched By an Angel God loves you segment? Chloe never stops. He knew that. Even when he watched her over the years, after that piece of shit took his life in his apartment and left him like this, he never forgot her drive to see her own research to its end. And he never forgot the depth of her feelings for him.

Jasper recalls Chloe’s words to him, not that long ago: that somewhere, deep down, he didn’t want to let her go. That wanted her in this world.

And Jasper hates himself for it. Somehow, it’s even worse than the whispers when he is hungry, of wanting to consume her and sometimes mistaking it for the intense fire he still feels towards her, being in her skin again in some way, and the happiness of being seen. That rebellious joy is treacherous: that she still wants to know him, and what he’s gone through, and that this — this ugly abomination his body’s become — can’t keep her away. In a way, his Clan’s deformities have been something of a blessing to him, more than even the Mask of a Thousand Faces could ever be. The fact is, when most people see his face Jasper knows they see a monster, something to shy away from, and scoff at, and either fear or underestimate him. It is the perfect mask. Very few people bother to look past it. They don’t have to.

But Eva did. It made sense, in an empirical way. The Tremere are warlocks, thaumaturgists that had dedicated themselves to uncovering the mysteries of the world underlying the surface. It made sense that Eva could eventually see right through him. It had just been a system of Prestation between them, that’s what he kept telling himself. A boon for a debt, a debt for a boon. Even when she started him on the path to Thaumaturgy himself, it had simply been a greater boon. But they both love puzzles and secrets. They’ve worked closer together over time. And Jasper knows he loves Eva’s mind, just as he is beginning to suspect that she loves his.

He can’t afford to have attachments, Kindred or kine. They can be used against him. Worse, they can be fleeting, ephemeral, lost in an instant of bad judgment: such as what he displayed back at the cafe. Tonight was the first time he touched Eva, as she burned for Chloe … for him, and he burned in return. It is fitting, it makes sense in the twisted, intuitive way that his Labyrinth also does.

It’s infuriating. If he had just thought it out, he should have reasoned Eva had her own personal wards. He should never have reached for her. If he hadn’t, he could have offered her his blood — his vitae — to heal her hand. Instead, he hurt himself and knows — he fucking knows — she will create another batch of that cream to heal his burns despite all the trouble he’s put her through. She broke Chloe’s compromised blood bond to Fiona, and then made her her Ghoul. And he knows she did it for him. She knows that Chloe is his touchstone to the mortal world, and even that might change soon …

He wanted Chloe away from this. That’s what he keeps telling himself, even now that she made him face the truth. That’s why he left her those years ago, left her arms and her warmth so she wouldn’t see what a monster he had become on the outside, what a demon he was on the inside …

But her words win out. And here they are now. Somehow, he thinks Annabelle will be laughing at him. And as he follows along behind them, thinking about how Fiona could have imprinted Dominate commands into Chloe’s mind or used her as a piece against him in the current political climate, or even killed her, and smelling Eva’s familiar, soothing floral vitae in Chloe’s body — the woman he loves saved and Ghouled by the other woman that he loves — as dangerous as these thoughts are, these signs of weakness and vulnerability are to his current state, he can’t help but think to himself that he doesn’t deserve either of them.

*

Eva grits her fangs together, less against the pain in her charred hand, and more to bite back the hunger that wants to consume the young woman walking alongside her. It would be so easy, but counterproductive given all the work she put into saving her to begin with.

The prospect of breaking Jasper’s heart hurts even more than that.

She doesn’t like this. Any of it. Not the Inquisition getting so close. Not the Camarilla attacking her sisters. And especially not what Fiona may or may not have attempted to do with this young girl. That in particular overrides any other feelings she has on this matter. She had been in Clan Tremere for ages, when its Pyramid was still strong. She knows what coerced blood-bonds do to a person, be they kine or Kindred. It is a mixed blessing that her Clan can no longer create blood-bonds, even if they are now especially vulnerable to such acts from other parties.

As long as Eva is in the Anarch Free States, she knows she is essentially free. Without the unity of the Tremere, and even their reduced status in the Camarilla, they cannot come for her: the other Houses. But that can change. The Camarilla still has its resources. It can still succeed in proclaiming praxis: even her Haven in Griffith Park. Clan Tremere, such as it is, could find a way to take her back to the fold.

Maximilian Strauss could find his way back to her.

Jasper … Jasper made that promise to find the vial with her vitae. To finally free her from … that monster. She didn’t go into details, but she knew she didn’t have to. She knows, deep down, he would die for her. And this thought terrifies Eva, more than she will let on: even to Jasper.

Eva has always had to owe someone, or something. The Sect with which she used to belong. Her Clan. Its Elders. Strauss. She never truly knew freedom until that night, those nights, when she made the choices that led her here amongst Anarch territory. She does provides services, of course. Nothing is free: neither her protection, nor her services. Hers, and Jasper’s association began in a similar fashion. Certainly, his work for Baron Abrams and her consultations with the latter, often led them to similar domains of duty and inquiry.

It occurs to her, sometimes, just how young the Nosferatu truly is. He is quiet, and askance. Brittle. Even tonight, when he touched her for the first time, when it finally registered through her pain of the ritual that he did so, she recalls how hesitant it was, how … tentative. It doesn’t escape her that the reason he did so was because she was in pain … and because he was afraid she would feed too much from Chloe. Eva doesn’t like this. She doesn’t like how her wards burned him. As she told him, he was not the one for which those protective wards were created. She had meant to come here and find out what the Inquisition had fed into Chloe’s system, to find a way to neutralize it. It had been some form of chemical compound, but more than that, an alchemical solution that targeted a Regnant’s vitae: the master of a thrall’s blood. It had been drawn to Fiona, and while Eva feels nothing for the Ventrue one way or another, especially with her political games and her Clan’s usual penchant for taking what little freedoms away from their servants or those under their sway, this is a weapon that cannot be ignored. It could be one more arsenal in the extermination of their species.

But she hadn’t intended to break a blood-bond, though she doesn’t regret it. Then again, she hadn’t intended — nor wanted — to become the Domitor to a Ghoul: even if she could temper the Bond to not interfere with the girl’s thoughts and feelings. Chloe … is a complication. Jasper is not as strong as others believe. This entire situation is almost entirely of his making, but she doesn’t have the heart to judge him. He already knows, and admitted, that he made a mistake. She is his touchstone, Eva recognizes that. Chloe has an inquisitive mind, and a fierce thirst to find the truth.

Only recently did she and Jasper talk about the Labyrinth under Griffith Park, with its energies beyond that of even thaumaturgy. She had heard enough lore in her Clan to suspect and even know that there are powers and magic independent of Kindred Disciplines. It is a fascinating and terrifying prospect. She understands why the Nosferatu are so keen on investigating this phenomenon. Jasper has slowly been letting her in, which means much to her, and she knows that Victor Temple’s dealings as Baron with the Nosferatu rub them both the wrong way: for all their sound pragmatism.

But it’s more than that. Jasper is harder on himself than most Kindred. She knows this. He rarely keeps himself around people, even other Kindred beyond … what he has to do, and his own coterie. It is actually miraculous that he even has the others in his coterie. Knowing what she does of their kind, and the Beast, Eva admits to herself that they are actually good for him. For all they themselves cause complications, they have some spontaneous, even ingenious moments.

It’s true what they said to Chloe. Kindred are monsters. They are nothing to aspire towards. But sometimes monsters can do good things, as Jasper said. And Jasper, touch-starved Jasper, angry Jasper, sad Jasper, who can only feed off of “monsters like themselves,” who is smart, and strong, and brave except in matters of the heart … Eva is terrified of letting anyone have influence over her beyond Prestation again. But it’s different with Jasper.  It wasn’t just the fact that he helped save her Tremere sisters and was burned in the process. Sometimes, especially after she brought him those flowers, hoping he would find peace in being a monster, in leaving what he loved behind as much as he could, she thinks about offering him her vitae: to let him feed from her. He has taken it in her substances, to heal his body, but this is different. He would tell her that too, she knows. He would tell her that his feeding is different: that he needs to feed from those that deserve it, that are monsters, that need to be punished …

But they also, his vessels, need to feed. She sees him deal with this torment every night, and she knows that she could offer him her arm, her vein. A part of her wishes she could tell him that it is all right. That he can take what is offered. That they can be monsters together. That they can explore the Labyrinth of the night forever, or as forever as drifting feelings over centuries or possible imminent death by Sect war and manipulation would allow.

And then, this girl. Chloe. She finds them. The Ventrue told her all about them. She could have wiped her mind, but she didn’t. She could have even killed her, but decided not to. They can’t afford to turn on Jasper. They need him in this coming conflict between the Anarchs and the Camarilla, and Fiona knows that. A part of Eva is glad to have Chloe with them, away from Fiona’s blood-bond, a way of potentially taking one more chess piece away from the Ventrue to use against Jasper. And she can’t help but admire Chloe’s curiosity. She feels it in her veins from where she drank from her. It would be so easy. So … easy  …

She could also take him away. A treacherous voice in her mind whispers to her. Take him away from you …. 

Eva squashes that ridiculous thought before it can continue. She doesn’t know what will happen next. She doesn’t know if Chloe will return to Fiona under her own free will to continue to be a Ghoul, or become one of them. Or if she will continue to be with Eva, or become something else. Jasper will not turn her. Jasper sees what he has as a Curse, and Eva sees her fate as no less: even if she does have some solace in it.

All she knows is that, this night, she is not going to leave Chloe anywhere else other than with her: with them … whichever way it turns out in the end.

*

Chloe attempts to take everything in.

It’s a lot. She pieced everything together, but nothing made any sense. And then, right after she went to the police with her information — or the lack of information and sense with regards to Jasper’s death — she met Fiona, and everything changed. She recalls her deal with Fi, to stay by her side, feed from her blood, learn what she could of vampire … of Kindred society from her, and she would tell her all about Jasper. Even meet him.

But then, there was a raid in on her Haven. Black-ops soldiers. They questioned her. And then they knocked her out and pumped … something in her body. After that, there had just been blackness and nightmares. And then this old house, the room, and so much pain until the bliss of two sharp points in her neck and ecstasy, the smell of burning blood and … Fiona in front of her, actually looking both worried and fascinated, the white-haired, flowered woman she would get to know as Eva, and a man in a hoodie whose features were warped and distorted.

Her memory hadn’t been that bad, or that compromised to realize who he was. Who he is.

Maybe he thought, after all this time, she wouldn’t be able to read his facial expressions or his body language. Jasper stood across the room from her, away from her, and when she really thinks about it, everyone else. Fiona had told her a little bit about the nature of his … condition, but telling is one thing, but seeing is a whole other. But it’s still him. Still the same gentle touch, the same concerned face, the eyes of the person who had always been at her side, the one who held her at night, the same individual who wrote that note on the napkin that nearly broke her mind.

Nothing about Jasper’s death made sense, neither the dearth of evidence nor the too brief testimonies of the authorities. It just didn’t add up. But there had been a funeral. She thought, maybe, she had been losing it: that the grief, and the stress of school had finally gotten to her … But that drive kept her going. That napkin was a sign.

And she had been right. Chloe was right.

It all seems clearer now, with Eva’s blood in her veins. It doesn’t make her emotions any more simplistic. She’s angry at Jasper. She’s furious at having left her, at not telling her the truth, of leaving her that message, and letting it eat her up inside. But she feels rage on his behalf: on the vampire — his sire — that stole his life, and their life together, away without his consent. Chloe thinks about how violated he must have felt, and then to have that thing this … Beast fighting in him constantly that he was too afraid of getting close to anyone. Including her.

She’s also happy. She feels immense joy knowing that he’s still … alive? Existent? That he had been watching over her? But still angry that he hadn’t said anything, that he led her into this place without her knowledge. Fi had informed her as much as possible. It’s true. Now that she knows a little more about the soldiers that abducted her, those agents, members of this Second Inquisition she realizes just how much her search would have endangered the vampires … these Kindred if the wrong people in law enforcement or research fields had listened to her questions, or looked at her information and saw how she was putting it all together. Likewise, most authorities might have simply thought her deluded or insane. But Chloe isn’t stupid. She’s tired. The pain inside of her, from the chemicals they pumped her with that kept her unconscious, is gone: purged by Eva and replaced with her blood. There are factions among the vampires, and she could feel that tension in that room with like the earth heaped on the coffin in which Jasper had never been buried.

She does feel betrayed, but also elated. And immortality? Chloe is still thinking about the implications of this discovery. Yes, there is a Beast that comes out in a vampire when they are made, and they do need to feed off blood. But Fiona’s words about affecting change and influence still echo in her head. And she’s seen what Eva is capable of doing. And even Jasper … Fi had told her that, for all of Jasper’s faults with endangering the Masquerade, he was a fairly potent and powerful vampire now. Though … she can understand why he doesn’t want to turn her, if his Clan looks like …

In retrospect, she’s glad she didn’t make a decision tonight, and that she has a little more time. She also feels protected. Whatever else Jasper did or didn’t do, she knows he will be there. And, in a way, looking at Eva now and the way she looks at Jasper, she feels a little better in knowing that Jasper hasn’t been completely alone: with both Eva and his friends, whom Fiona had said were quite some … characters.

The fact of the matter is, even in this clear state, even outside of the besotted almost drunken feelings that her bond with Fiona had possessed, Chloe still has a lot to think about. Reality still feels new, not as permanent or as concrete as she believed. Everything has changed. Everything is changing. Chloe majors … majored? She majors in Communications at Griffith College, but as one of her electives she took a film class that dealt with media. Once, she and her class sat down and watched some old films that played with reality. It’d been an old black and white French film by a man named Méliès. It was supposed to have some kind of anti-imperialist or a film that made fun of preconceived concepts of reality. Right now, she feels like one of those Selenites that exploded if someone touched them the wrong way. Chloe recalls, at the end of the film, the spacefarers returning home with one of the Selenites captive. The thought hits too close to home, like a rocket in her eye.

Jasper’s face kind of looks like a cratered moon now. She tries not to giggle at the image. Something about moons seems appropriate. Instead, Chloe focuses on more of the questions she wants to ask. Fi’s burner phone weighs heavily in her pocket, full of more promise. But, right now, Chloe decides to think about how Jasper is still here, how he is here with her, how she feels safe with him and Eva, and how she has so much more to learn.

And, perhaps, they all still do.

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Jordan Peele’s Us: Untethered

“There we are – demented children mincing about in clothes that no one ever wore, speaking as no man ever spoke, swearing love in wigs and rhymed couplets, killing each other with wooden swords, hollow…

Source: Jordan Peele’s Us: Untethered

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12: Alternative Facts: Natural Medicine

“Physician, heal thyself.”
—  Luke 4:23

It’s a caution: of the boogey.

“Beware the Nats.” The old tales say. “They carry the Novax.”

Back cycles ago, no other chill was strongest than a call, or word of Novax. Fore the Disunity, and the Interregnum, and the supposed “Great Reunity,” a people went their own way. They believed the Land — all of it — healthy, holy, sacred. That all that grows from the ground is good. And all that came from making and artifice was sick, unclean … cursed. They espec feared the start of aughts, or a state of oughts: running from them, making themselves Sep from techne, from gleaning, that everything of the Land would save them, that all other things were poison.

They looked to find Dise, and discovered Doom instead.

They made themselves no defense … agon the old horrors. They were not immune. Droves of them, the old tales said, from Mas and Fem to their childer, dropped. They were all over every Land, as well as our own: not just in the South but the North too. And that was the most abominate of all.

Where they sat, ate, drank, shat, coupled, or stilled they brought it with them — the Novax — sickened and killing all people with them. And it spread during the Interregnum, just like they did, into the Repo Fiefdoms and the Demos Brigaders and away from them. When the Disunity happened, they fled. They left — becoming Resists — even during the Unquiet in the most distant parts of our Land: trying to get back to the Land, the old tales say, to the soil, to everything that grows.

That’s one way why, after a while, even though they once proudly — vainly — named themselves Novax, they became called the Nats.

They should have died. All of them. Espec during the Dark Times when medicine was low, for everyone, on both sides of the Wall.

Many found were purged, the ones that didn’t fall on their own. We had our own Reunity, made our medicines and techne for our defense. So many sick, then, and dying, we drove the plague-bares fore they could spread into our Prides, our Spectra, from the Borders into the deepest Badlands. Many went on their own, for new Land: to be isolate. Pure. They never came back. We thought it was over.

We still use the Interface. We glean there are still pockets of their spots in the North, even in our Lands now. Some even try to adopt into our Prides. We deal with them. But the plague-bares, the Great Infests, are mostly old tales now. Old fear fire stories to scare childer.

We were born of theory-head, of Sacred Thot, when they made Mas bleed.

We tell the other Spectra what they need to glean. It was why we were born. Agents of the Heterodox are still in us, and sometimes the Joys and Llangs still listen, even now when they are playing HetSoc. Utter abominate what they will do. We do not need mech-wooms. Our surrogates, our Vessel of Trade, between the loyal Prides do us just fine. We’ve not the numbers to deal with that infection in the Spectra, just enough brethren and sestra left behind to fight the Traitors, to deal with the soul — the purity — disease.

We were the scourge. We burst their pockets among others. Stamped out their spots, and drowned their flesh-fires. Sent a few back to the Heterodoxy and their Dark Age. Sent more to die in the Badlands. Long, the Heterodox claimed we were sick, but they made us sick, made us swallow the sickness they didn’t want, made it internal in us. But this — we would not countenance this. We …

Those calling themselves Novax were purged by our own fire. Our Prides buried their fallen. The Nats were exterminate. We spread only word, and sight: our historia made safe again.

Yet now, brethren and sestra, is the truth. We were born to tell and fight. To purge. We were gleaned that Silence is the Foe of All Spectra. Of the HetSoc and their Heterodoxy. But here, now, we take the tool — the other armament of the Oppressor. We use it to prevent the spread of the Willing Sickness.

Again, the Nats — their infest — lives. It has become adapt. They are still adapts, even in the middle of the Badlands that kill us when we go in too far. Maybe they were left in the ruined Domes, deep in the Badlands. Maybe Domes are caerns. Toom-woom incubae, spreading infests of the plague-bares. Somehow, even now, they grow. They rise in isolate, and move out. Just coming into their Resists enough to catch the dread Novax. They do not fight. They never have. They are have strong Resist. Their bodies keep the horrors in them and fight for them, agon us. They are even dangers when they are dead. Espec dead. In numbers.

And we were made, from blood, to fight all Sickness. Our fore goal.

We are still Mas and Fem, Monog and Nonmonog strong. We try. We must be main the scourge and the flame, the word and the silence. The infests, the Resists, go deeper than we glean. We keep this from the Joys and the Llangs and their toys, the Binary and Trans Gen Traitors: Heterodox agents and infests of Poison Mas that will one day be Sepped permanate. Most of us stay here, near the Badlands — deeper — our lives sacrifice. Many have joined the Nats, the Novax taking the body but not our purity. Our hearts stay with the earth. We must memor our oath agon the dangers, and the tribuls. We must bring it all to bare.

We are the fire that Climbed the Walls of Sickness. We will keep the Prides Liberate, and destruct those that turn on us. We will keep back the Sickness made by the Heterodoxy. We do what we must to guard the Spectra, and keep it all clean.

We are Meides, and we have Hearts of Stone.

(c) Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2019.

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It Came From the Heavens

An old attempt at mythological revisionism, and an alternate history: depending on how you want to view this. It was a gift to my father, and myself. Somehow, I think it appropriate: at least, to my own experience. 

“And every spring,” the old kohen told them, “we celebrate the days of Passover.”

“Isn’t Passover based off of the ancient pagan fertility rituals of spring?”

The old man beamed at the young woman. “I’m glad you asked that. The answer is yes. Spring itself is a renewal of the world’s life cycle. The Elohim created us all: making the times of our lives mirror the seasons of the Earth. We are born in spring, young in summer, in our middle years in autumn, and we pass away in our winter. Many of the ancient pagans saw this truth as well, but they viewed each season and element within it as a god in itself. However, we see it as part of the cycle of all things that the Elohim set in motion.”

“So, kohen, spring isn’t just a time of birth, but rebirth as well?”

“Yes.” The old priest said, reclining back into his pillows. “All life is created and destroyed conversely to allow for life to flourish again.”

“But kohen, we are born, we grow old, and we die … yet we do not come back.”

“That is correct. We live a linear existence. Like you say, we are born, we live, and we die. Yet our world and the generations of us live in a cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We live on through our descendants, our plenitude, and through the dust in which we return we even live through the ecosystems of our world. We now know that in this way we are all eternal.

“When Pharaoh held us — our ancestors — as slaves in Egypt we were stuck in winter: in an endless cycle of toil and suffering that only ended in Death.”

“But kohen, Passover took place in the Desert.”

The priest laughed. “Yes, my child. But the deepest Desert can be as stark as the coldest winter night of all: a place of extremity where life barely survives and that which does is all the sturdier — all the hardier — for it. Yet no thing could live there without the blessing of the Elohim. And we would never have lived at all as we are now without Moses: the King of the Hebrews.

“He was the descendant of Joseph — beloved advisor to Old Pharaoh — descendant of Jacob who took his brother’s birthright, descendant of Isaac who was spared by the Elohim, and descendant of Abram who turned away from the gods of Ur to begin the Elohim’s legacy.

“Though the Patriarchs were great, they had only succeeded in taking Canaan: the Land of Milk and Honey. They made no cities nor did they cultivate the land that was given to us. Eventually, it became fallow and Joseph–who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers — allowed us to live among those that ruled the Egyptians as friends and advisors. Yet the former rulers of the Nile — the Hyksos — were driven away after Joseph’s lifetime and we were made into slaves by the new Egyptian dynasty.

“Moses’ story, you already know. The Pharaoh harboured great fear that a male child of the Hebrew people would overthrow him. Yet while the other baby boys were slaughtered his mother sent him in a basket down the Nile. To this day, the Egyptians believe the Nile to be sacred and that it–and their gods–blessed Moses while others considered him a new incarnation of their hero or their own god. We believe, however, that the Elohim blessed him to begin his work: our work.

“He was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter: raised and schooled amongst the elite of Egypt while we toiled. Yet blood told and he knew us as his own. After he killed a cruel overseer, Moses fled: fled into the Desert of Egypt’s Lower Kingdom. It was there that the Desert became the crucible that changed him and the Elohim spoke to him through the vessel of the burning bush. From that point on, Moses was transformed. He was not a god, of course, but neither was he completely mortal. Instead, he became a white-haired messenger of the Elohim.

“And so he came back to Egypt and fought its sorcerers with his superior magic. He brought plagues upon the Egyptians when they refused to let his people go. The heir of the Pharaoh–the Prince–attempted to kill Moses and only the tribesmen of his first wife’s people saved him: may their descendants be honoured forever.

“Yet when the final plague killed all the first-born of Egypt — young and old and including the wicked Prince — the Pharaoh realized his mistake. He and his own priests believed that Moses was not only the incarnation of their Horus, or a demigod (of which we do not believe), he also proved himself by the divinity surrounding him and his cause to be the rightful heir of Egypt.

“Thus Pharaoh released the Hebrews from bondage and gave Moses the Blue Crown. They executed the most wicked of the slavers, overseers, and those who defied Moses as Pharaoh. Yet the Egyptians were allowed to keep their ways — their own understanding of the Elohim — while they were also allowed to adopt ours as well. Men and women were honoured — as they are today — as vital aspects of the Elohim. Yet this in itself was not good enough for Moses: our King.

“And hence the true story of the Exodus. Moses remembered his promise to the Elohim and his people. He decided to reclaim the land of Canaan — the Land of Milk and Honey — that we abandoned centuries ago. He took an entire Egyptian host and all those among us that he raised and trained. It was during this long time that he created the Sacred Code of Conduct that we live by — the Twenty Commandments — to make us stronger and more disciplined.

“Yet even the might of all Egypt and Hebrew combined could not withstand the intense heat of the Desert for long. Even when Moses parted the Dead Sea with his power, there was still much distance to travel even by Chariot. Our crude travel flatbread ran out almost as soon as our drinking water. Many soldiers and people died. Weapons cannot be held under the intense heat of the sun. Shields cannot protect burning skin. Riches cannot in themselves slate parched throats.

“It was only when Moses, his brother Aaron and his disciples — when we all of us prayed for deliverance — that the Elohim answered our prayer. Remember, children, he or she that does not recite the Story of Manna has not fulfilled the essential requirement of the Passover ceremony.

“One night, it fell from the heavens. Some say it rained down. Others say that small red birds from paradise itself brought them to us. But whatever the case, our ancestors woke up to find great white flakes coating the ground. Moses ordered us to gather and make from them cakes and breads. And he said that each night as we approached the Land of Milk and Honey, it would rain food, mennu …or as we know it manna. Manna,” the old kohen paused, “was like celestial hoarfrost, snow, or,” his eyes twinkled at the youngest smiling children, “frosting. It is said that it tasted like cookies or wafers of honey; that could be melted and condensed into the sweetest of juices; and that no matter of the form it could also fill a human being’s appetite. Some in the world call manna ambrosia: the nectar of the gods. But we see it as the salvation of our ancestors by the Elohim.

Photo Credit:  The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot

“Afterwards, there were enough stores of manna to revitalize us, the Egyptians, and their vassals. And we took Canaan and we created a new nation and way of life for the entire world. Yet the story of Passover — the true story — is not how the Shadow of Death passed over the sons of Israel by tyrants or the slaying of the Egyptian first-born and Death sparing our own.

“Rather, the story of Passover is the Story of Manna. And to complete our ritual tonight, look at the feast of Manna bread in front of you and all the food and wine that our ancestors began to run out of in the Desert. Look upon the food of our Judean Empire, eat, drink, be merry, and celebrate life.”

And so the kohen and his disciples looked down at their frosted breads and cakes — at their feast — and they began to eat.

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Run, Rabbit

This is a graphic Get Out and Us crossover fanfic containing racism, graphic violence, and revenge. This is set in the sandbox of Jordan Peele. Reader’s discretion is advised.

Philomena King hides in the parlour with a flashlight.

The lights have gone out in their home. Everything has shut down. First, they were watching the news about that dreadful business. Rioting on the streets, looting, murder, rape. Perhaps it is the Race War that the Order had been concerned about in the 1970s. Heavens only knew, Roman Armitage had actually told them to expect this before his … transmutation. Philomena has never really paid attention to the particulars of this conflict, certainly not in the sense that Roman, or his son Dean, or even Logan would have understood: just that it was all the more reason to behold the Coagula, and become the next generation … the winning side.

But then the power went out. And she can’t find her husband anywhere. The police, whose commissioner is a personal friend of her husband’s … even he wasn’t answering their phone calls before the line gave out entirely.

And then, the noises began. They had both heard movement outside. Logan had gone to check, with his old shotgun. She told him to be careful. It has been two years, but even with his young, strong, chocolate body she can still taste her husband on her lips. She still sees him, in the twinkle of his eye, as he reassures her. It is just deer, he tells her, or animals. Heaven forfend that it is the beasts of this strange, millennial “flash mob” assault on their society: the one that the Order had been in the process of saving by preserving the minds and souls of titans of industry and science, of wealth and power, like Logan. This is what marijuana will get you, she thinks to herself, and a culture embracing fornication without the sanctity of marriage, and the order of more enlightened brains.

Perhaps … perhaps these ruffians, these hooligans in the red uniforms — those Antifa hoodlums and the Klan from Charlottesville — are the ones behind all of this: spreading their conflict throughout the whole nation.

Philomena, Mrs. Logan King, also admits to herself that for all of her husband’s power, and that of their friends, she is scared. The poor Armitages were gone, tragically killed in a fire. Poor Missy, and the brilliant Dean, their son Jeremy, and that sweet girl Rose. And Marianne and Roman, after their transmutation had succeeded. All gone. She knows how upset Logan is. Roman had been Logan’s friend for ages, and with the deaths of Dean and Missy, the Order of the Coagula’s greatest achievement had been lost.

She knows how keen Logan had been to secure her a new body, a new young host so that they could continue life together in the new world order. He never says anything, but she knows how devastated he was. He and the other Families, they all hoped to salvage what they could: to continue the transmutations, and give them a way … She has full confidence in her husband. They have been together, married, for decades. They will have more years, more centuries together. Some of the others of the Order still remain in all other places. They will regroup, and gather. They have the resources. And there is still time.

A sudden crackling sound breaks the tense silence. Philomena shrieks, putting the flashlight in front of her, quailing backwards near the sofa.

“Run, rabbit run, rabbit, run, run, run …”

A faded, melodious voice echoes through the room. Philomena gasps, her heart pounding in her chest as she sees a familiar figure, a silhouette, in front of the recorder player.

“… Logan?” She breathes. “Logan …” She gets to her feet. “You scared me half to death.” Relief fills her, followed by a spike of anger. “What is the meaning of …”

He turns around. Philomena opens her mouth, and then leaves her jaw hanging slack … as he walks forward, the object in his hands a golden, swift, moving blur in the glancing afterimage of the falling flashlight. Backing away, her chest filled with icy terror, Mrs. Logan King, Philomena, barely even has time to scream.

*

“Get back here!” Logan King hollers, chasing after the fleeing shape with his shot gun.

He saw him. He knows he saw him. The boy. The one from Lake Pontaco. He’d been told that Chris Washington was going to become the new host for that sarcastic, cynical blowhard Hudson. But then the Armitage residence burned down, killing everyone inside … destroying everything. All those years of good work, and achievement. Gone. He hadn’t told Philomena the extent of it. He hadn’t the heart.

He and the rest of the Order had agents in the police force and forensics, even if by necessity they didn’t know the extent of their masters’ work. Everything in the building had been unrecognizable, except dental records. But Marianne had died in a car crash. And Rose … the girl had been shot in the stomach, seemingly from his old friend’s — Roman’s — shotgun, while Roman himself had inflicted on himself a fatal head injury.

But Logan remembers. Andrew hasn’t been a bother to him in a long time. It had been two years, but the young man he once was had finally accepted his fate. Dark, youthful energy combined with old money and wisdom. He understood, now, what the two of them — what Logan King — can provide them. His guidance will continue to shepherd him, as will those that had also won transmutation and coagulation. But the experts had only found the Armitages, and the hosts of Roman and Marianne. Even the remnants of Hudson.

Yet they found no one else.

Chris hadn’t been in the wreckage. Logan hadn’t forgotten him. He remembers the boy and, in particular, his camera. He may have taken a great deal of photographs that day. He certainly did of him.

And now, here he is. He’s here.

“Get back here, Christopher!” He shouts, firing a shot into the distance, but losing him, him moving so fast into the trees. “You won’t get me! You will pay for what you did to the Order! To us!”

They offered the young photographer a chance of a lifetime. To be a host. To be accepted into the family. Into the Order. And he knows. He knows that Roman didn’t kill his own granddaughter. He knows the Armitages didn’t die from negligence or ill-maintenance of their home, despite what he and the others had the police report. They couldn’t pursue Chris officially. That was too risky. And even if he had photographs, it didn’t mean anything. They had done nothing wrong, nothing he could have documented. Even if he had worn the body of a friend of his, he could easily tell them that Andrew had found new love and that love itself had no boundaries. Didn’t the Order already prove that!? And Chris took that away from them!

He is a plant! He has to be! He sees the other’s uniform! Just like the rioters on the television! It is the Race War! The one that Roman warned them could happen. They hadn’t been foolish. Even Dean Armitage had been extremely concerned with the Elections, wishing for the millionth time that Obama could have had another term. If Logan hadn’t know any better, the forty-fourth President could have easily been one of them.

Someone had been hunting them. For two years, the other families had been growing … quiet. The Greenes. The Wincotts. The Jeffries. The Waldens. Even Tanaka hadn’t been returning his calls for a while, before he realized what had happened. Officially, everyone — even Philomena — believed they had died of old age, heart-attack, stroke, cancer, or just retired to Florida, the Bahamas, or the Cayman Islands.

Those were just cover stories. They had been murdered. All of them. In gruesome ways. Even the transmuted members, especially them. Some of them remained alive, of course, or in hiding, but it didn’t make sense. The Order had always been discreet, aside from that one unfortunate incident in 1963, when Roman and a much younger Dean had attempted to transplant the brain of a dying popular politician into a colored … a Black man, hoping they could get him to work with them, but whose memory lapses made him all but useless. And he had actually been a volunteer … But someone knew who they were, where they were, what they were capable of … and enough about their security to deal with them: to send a message.

That they were coming for them all.

Andrew’s youth feeds him with adrenaline, but Logan’s rage is his own as he thinks of what this boy has cost them all: he and the people he’s been working with. He must have been an agent of theirs. And now, he thinks he can come here and take what’s theirs away! It’s bad enough he destroyed the process that could save his beloved wife, that he had to hide all of this from her so as not to terrify her out of her wits, but now he and his friends have the temerity to come onto his property, and into his home to take what belongs to them!

There is no way that Logan King will let that happen.

He follows him deeper into the wood. He doesn’t know where his security team is, or the staff. Everything has gone mad now that this group has gone public. But their home still has defenses. He told Philomena to wait for him. He knows the rest of the Order, the ones no one could track or kill, and his agents in the police will be here soon. But he will be damned if some black pup, who wasted his potential, will terrify him.

And then … there is a flash.

It hits Logan. A spike right in his brain. He blinks. He shoots in the direction of the flash, the camera flash. There is another bright, poignant moment of light. He feels something trickle down his nose. No. He knows what this is. He tries to shoot again, but he … can’t aim. His arms are not steady. They are shaking. Just like they did before his rebirth. No. Now he knows what this is. He knows what the other is trying to do …

Another flash.

Logan drops the gun. The round goes off. He screams, the shot deafening him. There is a red shape. A blur. It hits him. He falls down, rolling through the leaves and the grass. His favourite strawhat … he feels it caught off his head in the wind. There are footsteps. And then … nothing.

He sways to his feet. Something is clamoring in him, but he … he ignores it. He looks around, splaying his fingers through the grass … But he can’t find it.

His gun is gone.

His heart beats fast. His anger is slowly eroding into what has been lying underneath it, in its own sunken place. Terror.

He hears footsteps. Not just one set. But a few.

“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run …”

That music. Logan furrows his pounding forehead. He remembers this song. It’s loud. It’s coming from his house. Through loudspeakers. He looks around, lost in the dark, trying to find a way out of this.

“Bang, bang, bang, bang goes the farmer’s gun …” 

He recalls Dean’s griping about deer. He even told Philomena that the noises outside their home were just animals on their land.

“Run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run …”

Logan King begins to run.

The music, that song. He and Roman used to listen to it, back in the Dirty Thirties. He played it for his grandchildren. But it feels different now. It has another connotation. He thinks he hears something … shriek. Something holler. An animalistic cry, followed by another inhuman sound. What is going on? Logan doesn’t understand. He is afraid. And his fear is matched and multiplied by …

Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun ….”

A bright light burns through his retinas. Logan clutches his head. He hears something shout. There is a clang of metal. A scraping. A … sniping sound coming closer. Red blurs coming in and out of the forest. It’s harder to move his legs. It’s like he is fighting against molasses. Lactic acid burning through his lungs. His breath wheezes, rattling through his lungs — youthful lungs won with his wonderful, strong, lithe dark body — a sound he never thought he would hear again after his rebirth and combination with the young man that had so graciously been volunteered to extend his life.

He trips.

He rolls down the hill. The calls are coming closer. Logan tries to get up. He’s hit his head or the flash has burned through his brain. His body … it’s fighting him.

“We-we will die …” Logan rasps out, coughing, talking to himself, talking to him. “P-please. Andrew we need …”

Then, Logan sees someone standing over them … over him. He is dressed in a red jumpsuit. And out of the bushes, and trees, several more figures come out. Something hard smashes him in the face. And he sees no more lights. Only darkness.

*

“He’ll get by without his rabbit pie …”

Logan King wakes up. He’s in his parlour. He can hear his own record player playing … playing that song … that infernal song.

He is sitting in his easy chair, but he feels the cold bite of circular metal around his wrists and ankles. He looks down. It’s still dark, even with the dim illumination nearby. Someone has lit the fireplace. He sees that he has been handcuffed.

And … there are several figures around him.

Clang.

Something jars in his head, fighting to get out. He sees one of the figures. They are holding something.

Clang.

He winces. It can make it out. It’s a can. A plain metal can. And the other, they have a fork.

Clang.

The dull metallic sound is arrhythmic to the song from the record player. It is making Logan’s head hurt. He sees another form, kneeling in front of another shape prone on the floor.

“Who …” Logan starts. “Who are you … people. Where … where is my wife? Where is …” He groans, wriggling around. “W-where is Mena …”

There is no answer. The figure with the can continues to tap it with the fork. Logan smells something odd, almost a memory … except there is no antiseptic with it. No conversation from a video lens and a hospital bed, or an operating table.

“W-what is going on!” Logan roars, wincing at the pain, but trying to turn his fear back into anger. “What are …”

And then, the power comes back on. Or perhaps, it is turned back on. Logan looks at each of the figures. His eyes widen. No. This … this isn’t possible, he thinks to himself. He read the reports. He saw them. There is no way …

“Missy?” He says to the red garbed figure, with her tin can and fork. “Jeremy … Rose …” He looks at the others. “Marianne … Roman? Roman, is that you? No … you were dead. I … I saw the photographs. I … I was there!”

The Armitage Family, the Order of the Coagula, stand before Logan. They are dressed in red jump suits. He blinks, and sees that they are … paler. There are more shadows under their eyes. Somehow, they even seem more gaunt. Even Marianne and Roman, for their new dark skin, are more sallow. And he can … he can see … Their scars? There is nothing expert, or smooth about them. They have not been made by a professional surgeon, never mind a butcher. And why … why does Rose have a bandage wrapped around her stomach. And … Jeremy? The young man’s face … it is all bloated and distorted. Like it had been broken and badly reset. It’s disgusting. Marianne is moving awkwardly, like she had with her old body, but she looked hurt. He can see more scars on her body. And Roman … half of his face … The injuries are all crude imitations of what he saw in the photographs.

And all of them are carrying golden scissors.

“My god …” Logan feels his gorge rising. “What … what is happening? Is this … did you purge us? But … why? This wasn’t part of the plan? You organized this entire uprising? But … our plan … we were going go to gradually take over … to continue in the new generation. Roman … what are you … W-where …” He shakes his head at the screaming inside of it. ‘Where is Mena! What did you …”

And then, he sees the other figure get up. It’s Dean. His neck is scarred and at an awkward angle. There is no intelligence in his eyes, only a vacant malice. Yet his hands are the same. Steady, clever, patient. He sees the blade. And finally, he sees him lift an object towards them. His wife, Missy, makes a guttural sound which he returns. Logan can see a wound on her face. He understands these injuries and scars are all self-inflicted. But that thought is drowned out by what Dean is carrying. He walks across the room, towards another figure. Chris … he is with them. He’s holding his camera. A malicious smile is on his face, his white teeth a barring contrast with his dark skin, and cotton … cotton stuffed in his ears.

But Logan sees the object. He can’t turn away. It’s a head with half of its skull removed expertly. Its brain is exposed. Philomena’s face stares out at all of them, blankly, in frozen terror.

“M-Mena!” Something inside of Logan shatters forever. “Mena!”

He goes slack. It’s like he’s dying all over again. He sees Dean awkwardly pat Chris on the shoulder, who comes closer to him … with the camera. But he keeps moving as the others watch him, as Missy keeps clanging her fork against the tin. Over and over and over again.

“Run rabbit. Run rabbit, run, run, run …” 

“Stop …” Logan wheezes, tears flooding in his eyes. “St-stop it …”

But through all of it, he sees Dean approach another figure. He sees him. He tall, and dark. Slender. His hair is thick. There is a scar around his forehead. It looks eerily familiar. He takes the head … his dear wife’s head. He looks at Logan. Then back at the head. Logan sees the man has a beard. And then … he remembers. He knows why this man is so familiar.

The impossibility of all of this floods Logan with numbness as he sees the other take Philomena’s head … and throw it into the fireplace.

“No …” Logan sobs. “No …”

Then, the man with his face … the face he chose, comes towards him. He sees a pair of golden scissors with blood and hair and gore on their tips. As for the other figures … The flashing lights begin again, accompanied by the clanging, ripping something out from deep inside of him.

And Logan King begins to scream.

*

“So ev’ry Friday that ever comes along
I get up early and sing this little song …” 

U-Lee watches it happen.

He watches as Sate continues flashing his camera into … into his original’s body’s eyes. He hears the clang of Misses’ fork on her tin, driving them on, marking their new time against the old. Atlanta, with her deep frown, and William, with his hulking, restless body stand by along with John. Thorn, for her part, gravitates towards Sate as Deacon goes back to throw the woman’s body into the fire.

U-Lee comes closer. He sees the man, wearing his face, writhing in agony. Blood is pouring out of his nose and eyes. Sate grins as his camera, without a memory card, or image keeps bathing his victim in unforgiving light. Blank, waxy paper keeps falling to the ground from the old, vintage, 1980s camera. Their captive is howling, begging for mercy, convulsing with each flash of light, receiving no reply other than Misses banging on her tin next to his ear: her eyes intent and cold.

Then, the light in the man’s eyes seem to die. His face shifts. U-Lee watches it happen. He is glad he turned the power back on, after getting everyone through the security of this place, and dealing with the guards and defenses. He scratches at his beard. There is something he wants to see. Something he can’t name yet.

The other’s face changes. He sees the man … his expression looking more … familiar …

U-Lee holds up a hand and both Sate, and Misses stop. There is only silence, aside from a quiet weeping. U-Lee kneels down at the young man’s side. His face is twitching, hard and fast. Blood is pouring out of his nostrils into his mouth. But there is something else looking at him, at U-Lee. It looks closer to a mirror now. A distorted mirror.

A small, tentative smile forms on Dre’s broken face from the chair: an expression U-Lee barely recognizes as … relief. He speaks. His voice a whisper reminiscent of their Messiah.

“T-thank you …”

Then, his eyes roll back into his head, replaced by the terror of the other … thing inside of him. U-Lee takes his scissors, golden and perfect: baptized already in an original’s blood. He notices the man looking at his gloved hand as he raises them up … plunging them down into his skull.

Over and again …

U-Lee feels the splattered warmth on his face by the time he is done. There is still enough of his original’s face left to see his staring eyes. He looks down on him, as he reaches out his hand, not his gloved one … he bare one. And shuts them.

Thorn comes over to him, with Sate having one arm around her. They bump into each other. Their arms flail a little, but find purchase against one another. John and W take the body off of the chair, bringing it to Deacon. They place it on the floor as they had the other. They are going to leave soon. U-Lee feels the call, the plan, the impulse setting in, for all to be united. For no one to be left alone. No one to be left behind in the maze … lost …

They were Tethered to these creatures that hurt each other for gain. Now, they are only Tethered to each other. As U-Lee and the others wait for Deacon to be finished, to discard the bad parts into the fire, he hums along, along against the tune of the record player, discordant, uncaring.

“Don’t give the farmer his fun, fun, fun
He’ll get by without his rabbit pie
So run rabbit, run rabbit, run, run, run.”

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