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𝙀𝙑𝙀𝙉𝙏: The Whiteout | November 8th, 2021 | The Mothlight


𝚠𝚑𝚊𝚝 𝚒𝚏 𝚠𝚎
Staff member
Jun 9, 2021
Character: Julia Whitford
Time/Location: Evening | Main Bar
Scene Status: Open
Tagging: @p r i s m (Yaya)
Extra Note: Yaya responses provided by Pris 😊

The bar was gradually getting louder, the volume of conversation still ebbing in waves, higher and lower in some unfathomable synchronicity, both unnoticed and universal. The crowd took a momentary hush, the medley of voices pausing or merely growing softer; they were between outbursts of laughter, between cries of recognition from across the room, between punchlines and climaxes. In this comparative quiet that wasn't quite quiet, Julia watched, mesmerized, as Yaya moved from patron to patron, her skill such that attention could be split between drinks and questions without hesitation. It seemed like a dance: there was rhythm to the glass, the pour, the exchange, the paths crossed with occasional coworkers. Julia forgot her question, she forgot the storm and the deadline and the rapid press of time shoving her forward, but only for a moment.

For a moment, it was as quiet in Julia's mind as snowflakes falling in dark woods.

Her daze burned away as Yaya looped back with a pause and thoughtful study, her tone candid as she continued their conversation. Virgil, she admitted, wasn't around - but maybe Julia needed a drink?

Voices lifted. The punchline came. The laughter. Exclamations and chaos. Exactly as it should be.

"I'm good, thanks," Julia smiled as she declined the drink, the expression so natural, brushing dark eyes with a pleasant narrowing.

"Acting strange?" she echoed, probing for more information. Off the record. It wasn't quotable, but it was context, and that was valuable in itself. "You think it's about Carla?"

It was a delicate question, placed with as much gentleness as she could conjure, but it had to be asked. Who could blame Virgil for bouts of strangeness, really? He was in hell. It would be best for everyone if Carla was found soon - her, more than any of the other missing persons.

"Maybe," Yaya admitted, then paused, her eyes flickering away briefly before returning to Julia's vicinity. She shrugged faintly, as if to half-retract her earlier observation, as if to dispel a strangeness that wanted to stick. "Nothing crazy. Late nights, muttering, getting distracted."

The reporter nodded, her features softly sympathetic.

Yaya opened her mouth, as if to say more, when a pretty, dark-haired girl (she looked familiar, but Julia couldn't quite place her) from further down the bar ordered a drink and flatly announced that Frank (Liddle, she presumed, upon hearing the rest) was causing trouble in the bathroom.

"I gotta handle this," Yaya sighed.

"Yeah, of course," Julia agreed, another sympathetic nod accompanying this most predictable of surprises. Frank's name had graced her publication a handful of times, never for anything particularly virtuous. Mostly under the "arrests" column, mostly petty. It appeared he would be making another appearance there shortly, adding another smear to a throughly sullied reputation. "Go on, I'll wait around."

Yaya rushed from behind the bar, her lean frame immediately vanishing into the crowd. Julia took the opportunity to survey the scene, her thoughts meandering around the question of how to tell this story without her interview. Talk about numbers: people, inches of snow, hours open, bottles consumed. Talk about practices and habits. What was served to eat and drink. Don't get fancy, don't waste words. The mood was upbeat - wasn't it?

The drink wasn't bitter, the laughter not manic.

You believe that, don’t you?


ʙᴜʀʏ ᴍᴇ ᴀᴛ ᴍᴀᴋᴇᴏᴜᴛ ᴄʀᴇᴇᴋ
Jun 1, 2021
Character: Yancey Klump
Time/Location: 420 km above Earth / A lonely booth in The Mothlight
Scene Status: Open
Tagging: Jason (@Nautical kinda), Yaya (@p r i s m kinda)

I may not always love you…

Earth looked small from way up there. A tiny blue blip in a sea of infinite black. Just one of God's many marbles, he thought. One of His least impressive ones at that. Through his spacesuit's visor, Yancey Klump watched the whole wide world spin and, for the first time in his life, he understood just how much it actually mattered. Down there, there were cities and there were people, there were hot dogs and there were hand grenades, there were telephone wires and guitar strings and prosthetic arms and heirloom watches and pencil sharpeners and traffic cones and little birds going 'poo-tee-weet'. There were blimps! Blimps! There was everything; all the ephemeral, transitory, temporary matter that makes up an ephemeral, transitory, temporary existence.

...but long as there are stars above you…

The fuselage had exploded. It began with a gas leak, as these things often do, and cascaded in a myriad of terrible ways from there. Three other astronauts were dead; a Russian, an Australian, and a Chinese man. Two more were sent hurtling into the furthest reaches of space; another American and a guy named Petey. It was Yancey's first spacewalk, an occasion he'd been looking forward to for what felt like his entire life. How many minutes of how many days had he spent day daydreaming about that specific moment? That first step out into infinity, the words of Neil Armstrong ringing in his ears. The explosion had cut his tether and, even if it hadn't, the ship had metamorphosed into a smoldering hunk of space junk. Now, he was just floating, a prisoner of the void, completely alone with all that… well, space. never need to doubt it…

Space. Think about that for a moment, if you wouldn't care to indulge. Look up at the sky and really, really think about it. Think about how vast it is; really try to comprehend the boundlessness of it all and then, when you think you've got it all figured out, think about it some more for good measure. Can't do it, can you? Wrap your head around it all, I mean. That's without even getting into multiverses and string theory and the absolute mind-fuck of spooky action at a distance. There, swimming in the thick of it, Yancey had finally come to terms with the notion that the universe and all of its grand designs weren't meant to be understood; it just was, as anticlimactic and unsatisfying as that cold fact might have been.

But, god, would you just look at that view?

...I'll make you so sure about it…

The Beach Boys played through his suit's helmet; one of Brian Wilson's last swan songs before he disappeared into his own personal void. The O2 meter on his wrist was depleting at an ever quickening pace. His brain felt like a warehouse that had no room to spare, pushing up against his skull and threatening to burst. So this is it then, he thought. This is how I'll die. Death. Think about that for a moment, if you wouldn't care to indulge. Look into your own future and really, really think about it. Think about how vast it is; really try to comprehend the boundlessness of non-existence and then, when you think you've got it all figured out, think about it some more. Yancey had always feared death, dreaded its inevitability, and worried about when it might come calling, but when he finally arrived at its black-wreathed threshold, it came to the door and greeted him like an old friend. There was peace in the knowledge that this was how it all ended. If nothing else, his trip to Heaven would be a few hundred miles shorter than most. Through his visor, Yancey watched that little marble that held everything he'd ever loved spin and spin and then spin some more, detached from him, unaware of his existence, untroubled by his demise. Yancey smiled just as the chorus swelled. He closed his eyes. He gave himself over to the drift.

...God only knows what I'd be without you.

Yancey's eyes snapped open as his elbow slid out from under where it was sitting on the tabletop. He almost face planted as he returned to the waking world. The babel and hurly-burly of the other patrons filled his ears alongside the Baroque styling and inverted chords of "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys playing through the PA system. A fresh glass of Tang sat untouched by his left hand and his saxophone sat across from him in the empty booth, still in its case. Yancey couldn't remember actually walking through the front door of The Mothlight or ordering his drink or even sitting down at his usual table. He scanned the room and people until he eventually saw Jason sitting at another table. That was the last thing Yancey remembered; climbing down from Jason's truck, wrapped again in winter's embrace, and then…

An icy chill ran down his spine and goose pimples arose from beneath his skin. It had been quite a day, hadn't it? Gee willikers, Yancey thought as he jotted down a mental note to get more sleep. Clearly, eight hours like clockwork every single night with no deviation wasn't enough.

At least he was in the warmth of The Mothlight, though. It was a funny thing: Yancey didn't drink, he didn't smoke, he didn't even play darts, but by chance and against whatever logic the world might have had left, the bar became something of a second home. In Yancey's head, it was a magical place where nothing bad could ever happen and he could be himself completely. It was where the few friends he had spent their free time. It was the only place where he felt comfortable getting up on a stage and playing the music of his soul. Within those sacred walls, all the weight of the outside world was as light as a feather and as soft as a pillow.

…and then Yaya entered the equation.

There she was, manning the bar in Virgil's stead. She always left him tonguetied. Yancey could feel his heart skipping several beats just from peeking around the corner of his booth to look at her. Like most things in his life, Yancey over-thought the width of their non-existent relationship and imagined what it could become under the perfect, correct, right conditions. Of course, she barely knew he existed and Yancey was self-aware enough to know the feelings were almost definitely unrequited, but… well, the fact that they'd ever even met at all was an act of fate, wasn't it? An act of fate brought on by an overwhelming tragedy. An overwhelming tragedy that he was in the middle of ostensibly investigating. He could hear a devil in one ear (his own voice, clear as day) saying, "That has 'bad omen' written all over it, buddy. You should probably curl into fetal position and, y'know, hide at the bottom of a very deep well". In his other ear, he could hear an angel (Charlie, most likely, but with her vowels replaced by fluttering harps) saying, "Go and get 'em, tiger."

And so, again like most things in his life, Yancey found himself frozen in place, biting at his lower lip nervously, eyeballs skittering to and fro, and fingers twiddling in a twiddly way.

The best safety, he recalled from his heart of hearts, lies in fear.

But he still peered around from his booth…

And, god, would you just look at that view?

p r i s m

ᵇʳᵘᵗᵃˡˡʸ ˢᵒᶠᵗ ʷᵒᵐᵃⁿ
Feb 3, 2021
Character: Yaya Bishop
Time/Location: Mothlight - Bar to Restroom to Front Door
Scene Status: Open
Tagging: Frank (@chap), Theo (@sky.), Julia (@Lydia)



"What are you staring at?" she asked with a crooked smile, already knowing half the answer.

Her. He would always be staring at her.

But what she didn't know was that it was the freckles spattered across the bridge of her nose and apples of her cheeks that captured his attention, reminding him of the constellations men named for gods and goddesses of old, that it was the burnished gold in the highlights of her curls in those early morning Grecian rays that hypnotized him. The Mediterranean's ocean breeze tugged at her dress, causing the tilt of her smile that broke his trance, and brought his attention to the grace in which she swiped her hair from her eyes. He couldn't answer, because how could you capture a feeling like this with words?

"Yancey," she laughed, leaning her weight forward on the café table as she reached to grab his hand, "babe? Where do you go?"


It was always fuckin' Frank.

Yaya, quite professionally, kept her composure, but inside she was screaming. Between everything that had to do with Carla missing, financial everything, and the sheer magnitude of busy her life had been since she'd come to Dawn Chorus, she was at the end of her frayed and straining rope.

How much more could she take before it snapped?

"Thanks for letting me know." Without any question, having read the need on the other girl's familiar-but-unplaceable face, she re-filled her glass with another double and then excused herself to Julia before slipping out from behind the bar.

The ocean of patrons tried to swallow her whole but Yaya was a city girl, taller than most, and knew how to use her elbows to break through a crowd. She was on a mission, laser eyed towards the restrooms as she braced herself for Frank at his worst. How much had he had to drink? And who the hell had served him? Oh, man, if he'd helped himself to the back again…

Agitated didn't begin to cover it.

Who knew what Frank thought he saw when all of Yaya's 5'10" figure of endless-limbs and wild curls threw open the bathroom door and scruffed him without so much as a word. It was a routine they'd danced several times in the ridiculously short amount of time that they had known each other, but tonight Yaya didn't have an ounce of patience in her reserves for Frank. She was silent as she marched him through the throngs of people to the door, ignoring every wild excuse he would throw her way as he stumbled along with her.

Peripherally, Yaya knew throwing a man as inebriated as Frank out into a storm like this, with the power gone like it was, was an execution. She knew it, but...

She couldn't stop herself. Yaya couldn't take any more.

Her rope snapped.

Likely more because of Frank's own instability than Yaya's genuine strength, she tossed him bodily through the door of the Mothlight and into the thick, heavy snow on the sidewalk. With a mighty swing of her arm she slammed the door closed with such force that the crack could be heard over the cacophony of music and split conversations.
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ʙᴜʀʏ ᴍᴇ ᴀᴛ ᴍᴀᴋᴇᴏᴜᴛ ᴄʀᴇᴇᴋ
Jun 1, 2021
Character: Frank
Time/Location: Downtown Dawn Chorus
Scene Status: Closed
Tagging: N/A

By the time Yaya grabbed Frank by the scruff and hauled him off like a kitten between its mother's teeth, he was at the peak of a mountain named 'Trippin' Balls'. The whole wide world was a kaleidoscope, a candy colored dreamland where fractals spun off other fractals and faces melted like Dali paintings and every step felt like a thousand years or more. He didn't fight it. He didn't argue or flail or cuss or say an unkind word. Instead, he went calmly and peacefully, taking his untimely exit in stride.

Just kidding.

The first words out of Frank's mouth when he felt the strong arm of the Ya pull him up from the depths of his own delirium was, to quote, "YOU PIGFUCKIN' FASCIST!" and those words a whole cacophony of insults followed ranging from the obscene to the absurd. Like, what the hell is a 'cockalorum', Frank? Where'd you pull that one from? A Google search for rare insults or something? His arms gripped and grabbed at people, places, and things. His feet dragged across The Mothlight's wooden floors so hard that they left two twin scuff marks in their wake. He was foaming from the mouth, screaming for lawyers, guns, and money, and telling the entire bar that he hoped that they'd get fist fucked by the very ghosts he was trying to protect them from.

In other words, it was an ordeal.

A closed door means very little, but a slammed door means quite a lot. Contempt, possibly. Anger, assuredly. Annoyance, definitely. Frank had experienced a veritable carpenter's shop worth of slammed doors in his lifetime, but never one with all the sound and fury that Yaya brought with hers. Out of the bar and into the white, Frank struggled to his feet on the ice ridden sidewalk, dusted off the snow, screamed one more flaccid insult in Yaya's general direction, sighed the longest sigh that's ever been sighed.

Despite his state and despite himself, Frank could still walk on his own two feet. Echoes of the mushrooms still pounded against his brain, reverberating through his skull, shaking his very being. Endless, endless, endless streaks of light beamed across the sky; stars gone shooting, shooting, shooting in all that clear, dark, boundless night. Zephyrs blew by, stroking his hair, caressing his skin. "Not another living soul," Frank thought. Useless as it was, Frank endured. Tough as nails, even if those nails were corroding. Slipping feet on icy sidewalks meant nothing to a man like that.

Strange thoughts on a night like that, with a headful of drugs and a heartful of hopelessness. The shivers found him before the sniffles, but they both came in time. Dawn Chorus, the only place he ever knew, looked beautiful buried beneath the snow. It was an otherworldly beauty, all ragged static and lengthened shadows on silent streets, a whole town beneath Mother Nature's thumb, flickering street lights and tangled telephone wires and every crevice of every brick dyed white, white, immaculate white. "I wonder if there's other worlds like this," Frank thought. "Or if this is the only one." Down Netherland Avenue and up Pebble Street, a temporary apocalypse, and a cold wind blew off Gordon Lake, and long idle chimneys wisped smoke into the night, and Frank's arms crossed over his chest, and his back hunched, and his lips trembled. Far away and further still, beyond where bonfires bloomed in chaff strewn fields and where brooding mountains nestled the Earth in their shadows, Frank's mind waltzed through prickly pears and brambles, bur clover and honey locust, until it found a forgotten memory there among all those old dreams waiting to be realized.

It was the first snow of the winter, some ageless year decades before. He couldn't remember how old they had been, but they were both still in the thickets of youth; learning the way the world works, the whys, the hows, and the howevers. Frank remembered his arm was in a bright blue cast, graffitied with signed names and inside jokes from thumb to forearm. He had a black eye and a bowl cut, but you couldn't see it under his toboggan. Charlie was younger by six years and Frank felt like that meant something more than it really did, as if he needed to protect her, as if he needed to teach her what he already knew, as if he was her flashlight in the darkness. They were in their backyard, a cowfield transformed by frostbite, and they laid there side by side in the snow, arms and legs moving in unison to carve their shapes, their figures, their selves.

"This's how you make a snow angel," Frank told her. "See, Charlie? It looks like'uh angel."

Their house was made of splinters, peeling paint, creaking floorboards, broken glass. Loose shingles pitter pattered the roof, dislodged by the snow with no hope for the rusty nails that held them in place. A gas heater hummed, the basement flooded whenever it rained, and phantoms stalked the halls at night, watching you while you slept and shaping your dreams into nightmares or terrors or the great, chasming void from which all your worst fears materialize. Beyond the yellow drapes that wreathed the kitchen window, you could see their mother at the table, tears tracing lines down her cheeks; she'd never told either of her children, but she wished she'd left Dawn Chorus when she had the chance. That chance never came. She was born there, and she died there, and she was buried there; six feet beneath the soil, her body riddled with cancer, her eyes taken by glaucoma, her pies in the sky taking flight and flocking further away than any set of arms could reach. Their father, gone and ensuring his sins would be inherited by his son; all those necessary proclivities leaping the generational gap in uncorked bottles, crushed beer cans, and flasks filled with ruin.

"It's pretty!" Charlie said, and she meant it. "Can we make an'other?"

"Let's do somethin' else," Frank told her. "Wanna see somethin' cool?"

He spoke conspiratorially, like it was the biggest secret in the world. They started off through the snow with two telltale grins and a pair of shared winks; she still couldn't wink with just one eye, but it was close enough. The worst of the storm was over, a few stray flakes still falling. A paling light cast through hoary clouds cobwebbed the world, severing familiarity, replacing it with something foreign and vague. They trudged headlong toward the treeline where their yard ended and the forest began, stumbling in the snow and giggling and then stumbling some more. Between the leafless trees, Frank weaved a story from thin air.

"Me and Little Ricky Richards found it 'fore school last week," he said. "We were walkin' the woods, y'know? Lookin' for somethin' to do. So, we was walkin' and Ricky tripped on an ol' tree branch. He went fallin' down a embankment an–"

"Wassa em-bank-ment, Frankie?" Charlie asked.

"It's like a… a little hill," Frankie told her, patiently. "So, Ricky fell down this little hill, and he's layin' there at the bottom of it all thinkin' he's done went and died. I went clamberin' down to check on him and… well, we're almost there. I'll let y'see for yourself."

When they got to the embankment, Frank slid down first and helped Charlie follow after him. They dusted the snow off of their hinds and then Frank smiled, pointing towards a cave opening a few feet away. "There it is," Frank said. "C'mon. This's so cool."

"It's dark in there," Charlie said, biting at her lower lip. "And scary."

"Nothin' in there's gonna get ya," Frank said, pulling a lighter out from his back pocket. "I won't let 'em."

With that tiny bit of assurance, they walked into the cave. Charlie stood close to her brother, one hand gripping his jacket and the other at her face in case she needed to cover her eyes. It was colder there, the water from melted snow dripping down the rock walls in small streams, forming blackened puddles there on the floor. The ceiling was made of soda straws. The cave was only a small corridor, narrowing the further they went inside, but they didn't go far before they reached a dead end. There, carved into the wall at the back of the cave, an ornate red door stood out of place and out of time. A faint music played from behind the wood, distant but familiar. Four letters were carved into the wood: J x M x G x C.

"Whas'that?" Charlie asked.

"I don't know," Frank said.


"I don't know that either," Frank said. "There ain't no doorknob. It's hot to the touch, though."

"I don't wanna touch it."

"You don't hafta."

For a long time, they stood there and listened to the music. It swelled and warbled, a thousand violins and a million harps, anxious trumpets and weeping clarinets; enough to make your eyes well up, enough to make your heart ache. Neither of them asked questions, they didn't even speak. The lighter's flame sparked and spun, dancing deliriously as the percussion joined in. It was an intestate moment, stillborn and barely even there, shared by no one else but them, a secret that wasn't meant to be told. After a while, the melody became anemic, vague, sleepy. It lulled and rocked them both like babes in a cradle until the lighter flickered sparks and all that dark closed in and then they went home.

Strange thoughts on a night like that. Frank staggered between buildings and through alleyways, humming that music from all those years ago beneath breath that materialized in the air, through chattering teeth, with snow in his hair, with aches in his joints, with regret on his mind, with nothing to his name. He wandered between parked cars that wouldn't move until the melt. He wandered by the darkened storefronts, all but abandoned, their faucets left running to keep the pipes from freezing. He wandered, out of space and out of time, sleepwalking through his only life, a vagrant to the world, purposeless, listless, hemstitched by hands that weren't his own.

He wandered and he wandered and he wandered.

p r i s m

ᵇʳᵘᵗᵃˡˡʸ ˢᵒᶠᵗ ʷᵒᵐᵃⁿ
Feb 3, 2021
Character: Gideon
Time/Location: Mothlight
Scene Status: Closed
Tagging: N/A


Gideon Huxley had a bug in his ear.

He may have always had this quiet passenger. Eavesdropping on his most private thoughts, invisible and undetectable.



Or this parasite had hitched a ride sometime after he had arrived in this godforsaken town and had finally burrowed deep enough to hit bone.

It didn't matter how it came to be.

It mattered that Gideon Huxley had woken up that morning aware that he had a bug in his ear.

It mattered that it was today.

In a dimly lit corner of the Mothlight he sat hunched upon a single stool against the furthest wall. No one could sneak up on him here, and from this vantage he could nearly see the entire bar. Most importantly he could see Elizabeth. She was being interrupted by a Clark-Kent-looking motherfucker, and he could perfectly foresee how the rest of the interaction was going to go. Any second now she'd fumble her drink onto his lap and slip away as he flailed in shock and disgust. He nearly chortled into his scotch in anticipation.

The beetle's grating song rasped in his ear, any second now.

Seconds ticked by.

His canary's initial target excused himself.


The stool groaned as he shifted his weight, punctuated by the bulge of the tendon in his clenched jaw. Red flickered at the edges of his vision as he raked his attention away from the bar to catch the flurry of snow falling beyond the swinging door.

Pathetic, the wasp shook its wings.

Gideon jerked his head, hand rising up to slap the air by his right ear as a sour sneer spread over his lips in disdain. Two doubles of McClellan and he still couldn't silence the incessant chirping. His pocket vibrated against his thigh, and with a quick glance at the UNKNOWN writ across his screen, he answered.


When Gideon came to, strange faces surrounded him. Unfamiliar and unwelcomed elbows and hips intruded on his personal space as the crowd shifted to make room for the bartender dragging a venom-spitting maniac from the premises, swarming around him until they were pressed far too close. He pushed himself from his stool with force, knocking several unaware bodies into their neighbors.

Disgruntled voices muttered in his wake as he pushed his way to the door, stopping just long enough to let the young woman pass in front of him on her way back to the bar, nostrils curling as he followed her path with the turn of his head before his head snapped back to the door at the sound of a fly. The tectonic plates of his mind grated and shifted apart, and deep within the darkness underneath a shadow flashed jagged teeth as Gideon thrust himself out into the cold and turned his head toward Ouroboros. rabbit run rabbit run run run…


ʙᴜʀʏ ᴍᴇ ᴀᴛ ᴍᴀᴋᴇᴏᴜᴛ ᴄʀᴇᴇᴋ
Jun 1, 2021
Character: Virgil McCormick
Time/Location: The Mothlight
Scene Status: Closed

This is the song and the song goes like this.

He dressed himself in a burgundy suit, gold cufflinks, a velvet tie, but left himself barefoot. He pricked the tip of every finger and used the blood to paint words on the white walls above his bed: Beneath these stars, the mind wanders and wanes. Old words. Ancient words. Words that weren't his own. He powdered his face with his father's ashes, streaks of white from forehead to chin. He pulled his thoughts from fevered dreams, mind alight with cruel new visions, visions like violence and words like death, the echoing dirge against all man and all beast and all things, and the sea raged and the sky stormed and Virgil McCormick lost himself in all of that, all of that beauty, all of that depth. At the head of the stairs, he listened to friends and family and neighbors and their laughter, detaching themselves from all the sleeping horrors of a waking life, burying themselves beneath the lie that everything would be okay in the end, pretending that the order of the soul hadn't been overturned and vandalized and left stripped of any real meaning it had left. He walked down the steps with a helter-skelter sway, shoulders rising and falling before rising and falling again. No one noticed him. No one noticed the way he lurched and sagged across the floor, limbs moving like a marionette. No one noticed how he whisked himself through the crowd, slipping between bodies like they weren't even there. No one noticed the pistol that hung limp in his right hand, waiting and waiting and waiting for its reason to be realized.

He pushed his way through the patrons gathered on their barstools and climbed up to the top, finally catching Yaya's attention through furrowed brows and an expression of bewilderment. She didn't try to stop him because she didn't know what she was really seeing. Shuffled feet and confused stares, muttered expletives and spilled beer. "Under the Cherry Moon" played through the jukebox and, for a moment, Virgil stood there on the bar and swirled and swayed to the music until he turned and stared at all those curious eyes staring back at him.

"You've sinned," he said. "Each and everyone of you good-hearted people; a blackness in your souls."

There were murmurs and whispers and then Virgil held up the gun and there was screaming and shouting instead until finally his voice lifted above all that noise to demand their attention. "Nobody move! Nobody! Shut the fuck up and listen to me!" He pointed the gun out into the crowd, his arm pivoting back and forth. His aim held no bias, passing over one and all, and the look on his face told more than any threat ever could.

"It's been weeks," Virgil said. "Weeks! And where is she? While you drink and dance and ignore the fact that someone among us, someone we've trusted, someone we've known for years has betrayed us all, where is my fucking daughter? With blinded eyes and hollow hearts, you feign ignorance, you bury yourselves in bliss. While you pretend everything is just fine and dandy, where's my daughter? Where's Carla?! Is she alone out there in all that snow, freezing to death? Is she even alive…? Is she rotting at the bottom of a ditch or in one of your basements or in a field, bathed in moonlight? You all should be ashamed of yourselves. Each and everyone of you good-hearted people.."

As he spoke, his eyes scanned the room for his target. He must have looked at every face a hundred times or more, his voice becoming more unhinged when he didn't see Quentin Severin there among them. By the time the realization dawned on Virgil that Severin wasn't there, he spoke through sharpened teeth, poison on his tongue, his grip on the gun tightening until his knuckles went white and his eyes went bloodshot.

"Where is he?" he asked. "Where the fuck is Quentin Severin?!"

Bloodthirsty as in eager, eager as in wanting. Virgil leapt down from the bar and approached the crowd even as they backed away from him, scrambling to make more distance, to give him the room he so desperately craved. The first shot was in the air, puncturing floorboard and plaster with a whip-like crack, punctuated by scattering feet and muffled screams. The entire world gone red. "Where the fuck is Quentin Severin?!" Virgil asked again. "Where the fuck is he?! I know he's here!"

He wasn't there. He hadn't been there in an hour or more, slipping out like a thief in the night and tucking himself away, safe and sound, as though he caught a premonition of things to come. A darkness had descended on Dawn Chorus and it wasn't hard to see. A match was struck, a countdown had begun, there was no driver at the wheel.

Another shot in the air, this one somehow louder, somehow brighter, all blinding light and white noise, the sound of static and war, a hollow tone that rang and rang and rang and rang. Blinding as in overwhelming, overwhelming as in all-consuming, all-consuming as in everything. The world became a trembling thing, gone anxious, scatterbrained, impending doom, racing thoughts, numb and tingling.

"I'm not a violent man," Virgil said. "We're all just trying to look through each other's keyholes, aren't we? Trying to hear each other through our bedroom walls and gain a better appreciation for who we are, what we are, our souls laid bare. We're all friends here! Friends and neighbors! That's why I'm telling you, as your good friend and your good neighbor: I'll fuckin' kill all of you if you don't tell m–

It went like this: First, the sound of a bottle falling from behind the bar. Glasses shattering on the wooden floor, a scrambling panic, a hissed "shit!", and a moment of silence before what came next. It happened so fast, but for anyone watching, it was all in slow motion, a moment stuck in time, eternity given shape. Virgil turned on a heel and the gun turned with him,, his right index finger pushing down on the trigger and that trigger began a chain of events. The firing pin released and flew forward. It struck a tiny explosive charge at the bullet's base. That explosion ignited the gunpowder. The pressure change forced the bullet out of its casing. The bullet left its chamber, traveling down the barrel like a rocket or a spark, cutting the air. Her eyes went wide, her mouth went ajar, and the bullet carved through muscle and flesh with no regard for the half-shouted 'No!' that left her lips.

Yaya's hand clutched over her chest. Thin trickles of blood leaked from between her fingers, down her knuckles, dripping towards the floor. For a moment, she stood there in all that disbelief, lower lip trembling, the first few tears forming at the corners of her eyes, fear giving way to shock giving way to acceptance… and then she fell to the floor.

There was more screaming, more shouting, a whole cacophony of panic and distress and outright terror. People rushed towards the door and poured out into the cold, winter night. Yancey Klump, tucked away in his booth, ran to where Yaya lay on the floor, stroking at her hair and gripping at her bloodstained hand, whispering encouragement through his own limitless, endless, immeasurable horror. The Mothlight, a place of peace and a place of companionship, fell into a frenzy, a fever, a nightmare.

Virgil McCormick had never been a violent man.

Virgil McCormick had never been a vengeful man.

Virgil McCormick had never been a bloodthirsty man.

Virgil McCormick stood, his hands shaking as his mind became wrapped in realization, dread, regret, and all those other tattered emotions reserved for only the worst moments of your life. He dropped the gun and it clattered on the floor. He didn't say a word because there were no words worth saying. He walked towards the front door and then down the street and then out into that black, black night.


ʙᴜʀʏ ᴍᴇ ᴀᴛ ᴍᴀᴋᴇᴏᴜᴛ ᴄʀᴇᴇᴋ
Jun 1, 2021

1. THE SONG BEGINS by Barding

In dreams and on screens you've seen screens like this, and through the nighttime windows that show in two-way-mirror secrecy into the lives and living rooms of others. Dark room, bright rectangle of an image, spilling blue cruelty to touch your heart and change your mind. This room is dark, this screen is bright, but its light is the colour of morning. Then man who speaks is, in every way, the colour of newsprint, of wallpaper, of mixed load laundry, of a sky yet to make up its mind. The screen is a screen. It finds you in the place you left it. Aren't we all just watching, even as we work to make something we all can watch? Witnesses? So — witness.​

[THE MESSAGE] All the world's a storm, and we its teeth,
In blindness whirling, sharp to other, sharp to self,
We build our shelters, blunt our edges, leave
Our faith to shelter in what fictions it infests:
Free market salvation, meritocratic myth,
The paper faces of our forebears, green
As pity, spending worse with every year
This shared dirt ball sings happy birthday to
Itself, unheard, but for the absurd stars,
Who watch a billion strangers climb into strangers' cars.
And yet not every world can be so vast.
The smaller the world, the myth, the hometown,
The skinnier the truth that can raze it all down.
gapStones against glass houses' walls sound almost
Like young love, but truth knocks much the same.
An act of fear, a violent time, a wire
That cleaves and binds alike, this coin stays prized,
On truckstop counters or the new dead's eyes.
Red gold, and older than music, its promise
Has seen far worse things done — but not to her.
gapUnhere and here, asleep, the boundaries blur,
And, permeable, let slip what slips through.
gapHim first — his spurs have purred where silence reigns;
His songs have wooed the West herself until
The bitch laid down, and wifed a while, and changed
Forever. No gold, no glory. His myth
Remains, a bowlegged fairness, whose vengeance
Stands the sling-gun guarantor of this,
The game that plays over our purposelessness.
gapHim next — when faced with motive where none should be,
The eyefilled, secret, everwatching dark,
The waterweight of a voice in the womb dark,
The whipcrack weight of a father's rage dark,
And the dark that dances, laughs, beyond the outer dark,
There is no courage. Yet if there could be,
It would be his: to keep faith in chaos,
And die each night in its quantum absent arms,
And say, This spiral's spokes, though empty, are mine,
When faced with the dark, and its alien designs.
gapBut back… These times belong to future days;
Tonight's warm gun trigger's barely pulled,
But stand the cordite on its breath and oh,
The late late show has not a patch on this.
gapSee it — in each beginning, a kind of bullet,
Single, frangible, hollowfaced, heartseeking,
An exit-wound so seldom makes an exit.
The mind dreams colours fit to drown in,
Yet it takes a hand to paint the walls.
gapA hand is found, two more half-lost, a third
Makes even the odds again, unthundering,
But with the moon's throat in his grasp
Asks, What wine sweeter than madness?
What better quenches a thirsty soul than blood?

The page, like snow, hides the self from itself,
And biting death makes bit-parts of us all.
gapTune in, drop out, bare your hungry eyes and ask:
What light through sundered windows breaks?


The world is full of little things to get your attention. Even looking around you – yes, you, the reader, of which I hope there are a few – you can probably pick out a few things that'd snag your attention if you'd only let them. Maybe it's a momento; a painted shotglass, from a city you visited. A piece of mail you forgot to add to the rest of the pile, in the little platter you bought, specifically for the mail, that seems to go specifically unused for that purpose. A bottlecap. A doo-dad. A piece of curios that would hold significance to you, and only you. There's a story in it. And, sure as it's carved of walnut or etched in glass, only you really know the intimate details of it. Even the poor schmuck who made it might not be able to pick it out from a lineup, but to you might be unlike anything else in the whole, wide world.

Now look bigger. Look around the room at how many, many things could wrangle up your mind if you let your guard down for long enough. Is it a crooked light fixture, that might've never been screwed in properly? Is it a chip, in the window, where something hard and small had left enough of its own mark for you to notice, now? Can you guess the story there? Can you invent one that seems real enough, and true enough, and, yes, even ugly enough to fool yourself? To fool someone else? Can you picture the rock, or the bird's beak, or the hailstone that travelled all across the universe to dent – but not crack – this pane of glass? To arrive, albeit days or weeks or years or generations later, here in your life so that you could contextualize it?

The world is full of little things, just begging for your attention. Some scream. Others whisper. Some sing, and dance (picture a gathering of swallow, taking flight or the swarming of Monarchs in October). They're so bright, and loud that it'd take a blind, deaf-mute to not at least take note. While those others, those whispers and murmurs, those snickers and thrown-voices, always seem to creep up. In an empty building after a long day. In a basement with a flickering light. After you've turned the corner and you swear you heard your name, shaped by tongues you don't know. Those crooked light fixtures, and squeaky stairs, those unshut doors and loose doorknobs. They're always there too.

Maybe you just didn't notice.

For Charlie, it was difficult not to. She was the one who stayed, after hours, standing on a step-ladder that someone had managed to misplace all the way in the equipment shed, doing her best to fix that crooked light. Cheap plaster and the best excuse for a phillips-head she could find got the job done, but left more than a little to be desired when she finally stepped back down onto the old, stained linoleum of the police station to study her work. Everyone had gone; McCann having been the last to leave for the evening. He'd been the one who left the freezer door ajar and a chocolate covered spoon on the counter. Charlie had closed the fridge, opting to leave the spoon overnight. Though she couldn't say why, touching anything that'd been that close to McCann's mouth seemed like a bad way to end a Monday.

Mr. Mcdougall had gone too, sometime during the late afternoon, she guessed. Leaving only a slight impression in the pillow and bedding, and the wrappings of the granola bar. She'd picked that up too, naturally, and had thrown the bedding in a wash with the rest of cell's furnishings. She could still hear the dryer, humming away in the utility room when there was a splash of headlights on the front wall; illuminating the massive, if not a tad worn down, 10-point rack that'd been mounted behind reception sometime before or during the Nixon administration. Folding the ladder and tucking it under her arm, Charlie delayed her walk just long enough to catch a shadow approaching the station's unlocked, front door. She knew, in some small, crooked-light-fixture sort of way, that it was the sheriff. Why he was here, this late, was beyond her. He seemed not to notice her, near the kitchenette, when he hurried along to his office, where the door slammed and it was quiet again.

She glanced at the small cubicle, near the stairwell. Hers, and decorated only minimally with a pink, tinsel boa and a paperweight shaped like a cat. The monitor had timed out, but she knew that it'd only take the nudge of the mouse to bring up the screen she'd very purposefully walked away from. The laundry had been a great distraction. Then the freezer door and a tv dinner perhaps forgotten there also during the Nixon administration. Then the light. That one had been bothering her for a while. The world was full of things to grab your attention. Things that'll take your hand, and lead you someplace where purpose and reason still come first. Where a little elbow grease and some determination will fix a problem; turn a wrong, right. Away from all of those other, hideous things that had been harrying Charlie's attention since she'd watched Morris die.

It was recognition. In his face, and in his eyes, when he'd grabbed her and spat out his final words. Not the delirious ramblings of a man who'd been torn nearly to pieces by wolves. It wasn't dehydration, or fear or exposure that looked Charlie back in the eye a few moments before he was gone. That had snagged her attention. Grabbed ahold of it so fiercely and with such blistering determination that she could still feel the sting of it. Exhaustion would eventually let her sleep, but it wouldn't answer a question. Time, like it did, could even make her forget, provided the universe kept supplying flat tires and peeling paint. Whichever story she told herself -- that they all told themselves -- could eventually replace the ugly, harsh truth of it.


Except there she was, step-ladder still clutched under her arm, staring dumbly at her dark, blank monitor. Wondering. Considering. Weighing her options and circling back again, and again to the stubborn little snags on her mind.

Morris had seen her. He'd gathered what shreds had been left to him, and used them the only way he'd been able. Her talk with the sheriff having gone nowhere, she'd almost as quickly diverted that energy to the next place her mind went: higher up the chain. Who then, she'd thought. The Governor's office? Write a letter that sang to the tune of "We're in over our heads here, and bodies might start piling up. S.O.S"? And then? Wait a week, or two, or a five until it came back around that she'd made such a bold move? Tack the accomplishment on the wall, next to her pink slip and a copy of the handbook she'd actually taken the time to read. She'd only met the governor but once, in passing, and her clearest takeaway from that was how similar the man and the sheriff had looked while they posed for a picture. The same stubble. The same gait. The same basic height and manner of presentation that always made Charlie feel invisible. She'd noticed all of those things, and had tucked them away to be used at some nebulous point down the line.

She suspected that time was now. When a hunch and her own bad habit for noticing things was all she had in her pocket.

And what came after the state? Well, the country, of course. The United States of America and the men and women whose interest and drive supersede things like small towns, their reputation and what all remained of god and country out where both exist in ample supply. She remembered a bulletin that'd been added to the breakroom corkboard some years ago. She remembered, and she noticed, the weblink at the bottom. She'd tucked that away too. For later. For when she needed it.

Though she couldn't say why, she'd expected more from the FBI. Something a touch more elaborate than a simple, navy and white webpage with three fields to be filled out:


She'd stared at the empty fields for the better part of an hour while the sun had been setting behind a heavy sheet of snowclouds.

When she'd finished, it was well after dark. Distraction -- and trepidation -- forced her to her feet where she'd stood, hands clasped over mouth, nearly hyperventilating over what she'd almost done. A click on the submit button, and her version of the story would be whisked away to whomever dealt with things that couldn't be dealt with easily. She waited, counted to ninety, and had paced all the way to the basement before the laundry had appeared like a life raft.

The dryer had finally stopped and Charlie could see the sheriff's shadow, through the beveled glass, making to exit his office. When he did, he moved quickly; head down, an air of tension wafting after him, back toward reception and the exit.

"Sheriff." She said.

He slowed, exhaled, and half turned over a shoulder to look back at her.


"Jesus Christ, Liddle, it's late. Save it 'til tomor--"

"Sheriff, I ...we can't just ignore what happened. It wasn't wolves or, or, or ...coyotes that did that to Mr. Blevins. Someone hurt him. Bad. Killed him, and ...we can't ju--"

"God damn it, Liddle. I am so tired of hearin' this from you!" He turned, eyes looking both very tired and very stern. "All fuckin' day with it, I got the coroner's office, breathin' down my neck. I got that nosey bitch from the paper, leavin' me voicemails every half hour. Last thing I need is you, gawkin' at me with those fuckin' bug-eyes uh'yours, tellin' me what we can and can't do." His voice had climbed quickly to something like a bellow, and he had lumbered well into Charlie's space. "You see that?" He asked, tapping at the place on his chest where his badge would've been, had he been in uniform. "That means I'm the boss man. The head honcho. If I say a man went and got his'self lost in the woods, then he did. If I say a man got torn up 'n was babblin' like a fuckin' loon; he was!" He paused. Perhaps for effect, or perhaps to let his words sink in before he went on. Charlie, still holding the step-ladder, had nearly shrank into nothingness.

"Now, I don't wanna hear this shit, anymore, from you." Another pause. Charlie swore she could hear her pulse. "If you can't control yourself; if you can't get it together, then we'll get someone else in here who can. Got it?"

She nodded.

"Got it?"

"Yes," she replied through tight lips.


He went, in a stomping of muddy boots and another splash of headlights, leaving Charlie alone again. She sat, long enough for the numbness in her fingers to wear away, staring at where her monitor had come to life again.

She re-read, edited twice, and clicked submit.​


Will Whitford had no idea where he was going.

Slowing his stride, he glanced backward, still seeing only the door from which he emerged. He stopped. Looked ahead. Nothing there either, except three walls joining in a featureless conclusion of hallway.

- or?

He advanced again, acknowledging with a huff that the gray-blue shadows were more mischievous than he had previously realized. They concealed a right-angle turn to the left, further into darkness, something he'd never seen before. Since when were there turns? Since now. He'd also hit a staircase earlier - only a dozen steps, but new nonetheless. A hallway meticulously lined with candles, lit, freshly replaced, very long. He must have wandered farther than they did last time, even though it didn't feel like he'd been walking long.

Last time it was hot. Tonight it was pleasantly cool. Vest and long-sleeves cool. Winter, he supposed, had finally infiltrated this liminal space. Whatever climate control system - if any - was functioning here, he imagined it was as archaic as half his surroundings, perhaps just the residual influence of whatever buildings flanked these forgotten spaces.

Will - well, he had answered the call of these forgotten spaces. There was no way to ignore it; he couldn’t shake his new awareness of the in-between. It followed him from room to room, wherever he went.

What lingers past that wall? Is it just the room next door, or did we forget a few feet here and there?

What’s through this door? Maybe we should’ve been paying more attention to where we put these things.

The strangeness drew him in, spirit and body.

Will had been given a roadmap at birth. His destination was comfortable but inflexible, which had suited him fine. Just peachy. This path was well-defined and well-supplied and well-regarded. Country clubs and varsity football and law school and marriage and firm partnership: open doors as far as the eye could see.

Here, in this labyrinth, in these forgotten spaces, some doors locked, or fled when you turned your back. You couldn’t be sure. There were no maps, no guides, no certainty, and no clear paths.

Will smiled. He'd finally make his own.​


It went like this.

A bleeding spark and a crackling light. Trees bending and swaying. Melting snow and the sound of a million chirping birds. A hole there in the Earth and arms reaching through, reaching up into new realities, new worlds, new places that folded and flustered at his will. A ring on every finger, claw-claw-clawing into the dirt and the weeds to pull himself through. At first, he's a shapeless thing, blue-vinnied through alabaster skin, barely human, just a facsimile of what a human might be. Clothless and vague, unburdened by gender or age or mortal restraints, his toothless maw gaping like a fish on dry land while his eyeless sockets strain to see anything at all.

He lay there on his side in the snow, curled fetal and all a-tremble not from the cold, but from his own sudden existence. The dirt around the hole fills in and then there's no going back, not until his purpose is realized. Slowly, he comes into focus, his flesh sprouting rhinestones there in the darkness as his body convulses and shakes. Teeth grow from their gums. Eyes appear in their sockets. Fingernails, muscles, sinew, blood. Flowers fall from above to engarland him where he lay, bright red and brighter still.

When he finally stands, he stands tall and narrow, a silhouette of a dream given life. There’s a gun in the holster at his hip and diamonds encrusted on his collar, eyes full of moonlight and a mask to hide his face. He stretches and his bones crack so loud they can be heard from miles away. He bends at the waist to reach down, picking up an old stetson hat from where it lay half buried in the snow. He places it on his head like a crown and then starts to walk, boot marks left behind to trace a trail from the place of his birth.

He knows how this ends.​

5. RABBITS by sky.


Earth. Cold, damp soil surrounded a sprawled-out Theo. Her eyes didn't have to open to know that is where she lay. The rich smell filled her nose with each soft inhale. How long have I been here?

Of course the question of where came next. A dull ache at the back of her head played as a reminder of the events at the Mothlight, where she ultimately drank at least half of her own body weight in shots and whatever else was shoved into her direction. After pushing a highly fucked up Frank at that poor bartender - things became .. hazy. Pieces formed as she kept still, too embarrassed to see where she ended up. It came in incomplete doses, images of herself dancing to whatever music played in her head by that point. The girl had treated the place like a damn LA nightclub, twisting and twirling in drunken stupor. Anyone within proximity was potential prey to her loud ramblings, mostly aimless and about the money she inherited from Gran.

"I'm gonna turn that backyard into a real garden. Really really real .. full of toomoto plants. Far as the eye can see,” was unfortunately the last thing she remembered slurring to an elderly couple offering them a over the top, sloppy wink. “I’ll give you the senior discount-“

Tomato plants? Fucking Seriously.

Theo didn't want to think of the fool she made out of herself, that could be saved for later. The courage to push herself up from the ground was still building. In a perfect world, she hoped the entire place ended up hammered beyond belief or at least on a similar to level as Frank was when she left ....
if such a level existed.

Her hands sank deeper almost as if the ground didn't want to let her go. No coat? A gentle breeze pushed through her inky waves. Air that should have been cold. Freezing if anything. Wasn’t, nor did she feel the sensation of snow beneath her. Squeezing her eyes tighter Theo expected this to be nothing but another one of her night terrors. Some children grow out of that phase, some simply don't.

Waking up half strangled inside her bedsheets, coated in sweat, limbs sore from the thrashing had all become routine. Coming and going as they pleased - the monsters who visited her at her most vulnerable. Teenage years introduced her to pills and drinking, seeking out anything that could subside them.

It worked. For awhile.

Hiding behind a false smile had been plethora of secret addictions.

Since moving to Dawn Chorus, Theo learned to face them head-on instead of masking it. Much to her surprise, relocating practically stopped the dreams on its own. Only now when they did come.... they morphed into reality (as it surely did now). Deciding the ungodly amount of alcohol was to blame she perched on her knees, giving her neck a lengthy set of rolls. Before her eyes could open an unexpected gust passed over the top of her lap, causing her to fall onto her backside. Theo’s stomach knotted as her eyes flung open, seeing nothing but the evidence of a dissipating dirt cloud.


She narrowed her lapis hues at the ground seeing the smallest of animal tracks. What the hell? Her head whipped around, searching for the animal responsible.

A dream or not - if she played into it there was no turning back.

Once more the feeling of something brushed against her back, this time her eyes caught the back end of something light in color and fast. Theo tilted her head to one side, wide eyed and curious. In an odd way, she wanted to laugh feeling like a lost Alice in her tales of following the white rabbit. After all, this was only a dream ... just like Alice had been in the entire time. Her head arched upwards, finally taking in the scenery. The enjoyable feeling melted the more she gazed on, meeting a thick layer of surrounding forest.

Such as Alice had done, Theo’s gaze landed on a single white rabbit. However, not in a waistcoat or holding a ticking pocket watch to a whimsical ear. Glasses didn’t sit upon it’s nose as the one did in her childhood memories did, She had watched that damn movie at least a hundred times, enough to where her mother had to hide it. Keeping a steady hand on the ground she rubbed a single eye to wash away what wasn’t really there.

When her eyes opened, the rabbit stayed unmoving. Very much there and very much watching her. Sitting on the edge of the perfectly circular patch of lush grass she sat in. Theo focused on a rapidly twitching nose. The thought to make a sudden move - to startle the creature entered her mind quickly. However, a compulsion held her back.

This isn’t a dream.

It has to be.

This is a dream.

This isn’t a dream….

Her chest tightened driving herself to look away. Eyes black as polished marbles didn’t budge from the woman, continuing to gaze unblinkingly onward. She parted her lips to speak but was interrupted by a third breeze rushing past her leg. She knew a scream escaped, a echo which carried far longer than normal. Hearing her own voice carry for miles until bouncing back made her shudder - was it mocking me?

Are you frightened?

A voice not belonging to her asked abruptly. Distortion and multiple tones rang in her ears as Theo shuffled in the direction on the rabbit. Expecting to see a human standing her smile faded. All around her sat dozens of them. All looking upon her with the same unnerving dark gaze. Anywhere, everywhere she turned … sat another and another. Emerging in small groups from the dense tree lines.

Yes. She admitted.

Theo nodded, bringing a hand to cusp her mouth knowing she was entirely awake.


6. ...THE THINGS YOU DON'T by Praxis

Thirteen hours later, Charlie wasn't feeling any better about her decision.

For every one thing you notice, let's say there's just shy of ten billion that you don't. This is a rough estimate, based on nothing, and only used to illustrate the purposes of a point.

Imagine that. Ten billion things, whizzing through the world around you, while you're futzing with that shoelace. While you're rearranging the living room. While you're still, still, still on hold with the furniture company that charged you, but never delivered. While you were hunkered over, swearing at yourself, god, his creation and everything therein, trying to fix that flat tire, ten billion things escaped you. And who could blame you? It's stressful, even on the best days, being alive. Experiencing. Fixing those crooked light fixtures and convincing yourself there isn't some sort of murderous psychopath on the loose. Let ye is who is among us, who is without the sin of distraction, cast the first email to your would-be betters

...or something.

Still, those ten billion things you missed went on to cross the paths of ten, twenty, hell, a hundred billion other things. You're a clever reader, so you can imagine just how messy that could get, and quick! So, while Charlene Rae Liddle -- deputy, daughter, sister, and amateur whistleblower -- cast that email -- heavy and copious with all of that bloodshed, denial and probable coverup -- there were more than a few things that slipped by her.

And who could blame her?

Firstly, she hadn't realized how bad the weather had turned. That early morning chill, that'd threatened to bring in something worse, had gone and done just that. Swirling and blustering in a slick, drab blanket that gave the prowler more than a few false starts. She'd made it home, but failed still to find any real rest. She'd sat in the glow of the television, through dawn, until hunger forced her up to eat in front of the family room window.

She noticed the creaky floorboard leading to the kitchen.

She didn't, the burgundy SUV parked a block up.

She thought of Yancey, probably at home, worrying himself into a stomach ache over getting to the station in this weather. Of Mr. McDougall, and all of his -- rather, his wife's -- cats. Of the hidden driveway, East of town, that she sometimes included in her patrols when time allowed for it. She thought of her father, and the new weatherproofing on the downstairs windows. Of the receipt she'd slipped into a drawer, and how he'd have insisted she collate it with the rest of her important documents. She thought of her message that she'd sent. Of the words she'd chosen, the weight they carried and the damage they could do. She wondered what he'd have said.

She noticed the first stuttering of her lights, just after 10am.

She didn't, the flick of a lighter, and only sign of life, that sparked up, briefly, from inside the burgundy SUV.

Closer to noon, Charlie realized the prowler wasn't going to start. Shortly after that, her power had gone, and it was a neighbour -- bundled in a coat and boots -- that told her of Virgil's open doors and working lights. She noticed he seemed to be in a hurry. That the storm, instead of passing, seemed to be settling in. That every other house on the street sat dark.

She didn't, the figure, slumped in the driver's seat, watching her.

Dean Taber, who'd worked at the plant with she and Frank's father, who'd lived up the street for longer than her lifetime, had given her a ride into town. In his retirement -- and mounting boredom -- he'd attached a plow to the front of his old Chevy. One of many hobbies, fascinations and duties he and so many like him had adopted to distract themselves. He'd opted for a Van Morrison tape in lieu of any deep conversation. Something that sat just fine with Charlie.

She noticed the snowdrift, and how it'd buried every West-facing driveway they passed. She noticed the black ribbons, tied around a row of birch trees down Netherland Ave. Memorials for Morris. Who'd tied them, and when, Charlie could only guess. She noticed they were mismatched; t-shirt scraps, leftover wrapping paper and the like.

She didn't the burgundy SUV, following, but not too closely.

Taking her all the way to the Mothlight would've made Dean double back over his route. Something Charlie wouldn't hear of. Insisting that he drop her a block up, she didn't think the short walk, down Pebble St. would do any real harm. She wondered who else had braved the weather to be in the warmth. She wondered -- hoped not, really -- that Frank hadn't caught wind of the offer and was still sleeping one off in that shabby motel he stayed in. She'd offered, countless times, to put him up in his old, childhood room. Just until he "got back on his feet". Whenever that might be. She noticed the light, and music, and sound and voices from the Mothlight well before she could truly see it through the wind and the snowdrift.

She didn't, the figure, stalking behind her, moving through the snow with a reckless, shoddy abandon until it was close enough to grab her.

It was hands, first. One at her neck, and another, easily gripping her bicep to wrench her up, and off the ground. Feet kicking, free arm thrashing, she yelped a sharp, horrified sound a moment before she was being choked. The panic that had set in flared into outright terror, and she was kicking; fast and hard, back toward her assailant, thrashing in an attempt to unbalance a figure that, admittedly, seemed far bigger than anyone that'd ever put hands on her. She twisted, wrenching her hips left and, for a moment, seemed to succeed in breaking the figure's footing. It stumbled back, skidded in the mud and snow and loose asphalt before gripping, again, more firmly to thrust her to the ground.

Instinct forced her free arm out. She felt something snap, and cried out at the sharp, blinding pain that shot through her wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Beyond that, things were getting dark.

What remained of her effort surged in a last-ditch effort to scramble free.

A hand -- the one around her throat -- lifted her, briefly, to slam her, head first, into the snow and asphalt.

Her last clear memory was of her frames breaking.

Of the wind and snow snarling.

Of everything going dim.​


Grace met eyes with unsteady eyes.

These eyes were wide, unfocused above slack-moving mouths spewing noises that weren't quite words. Cries. The eyes moved fast - one pair of eyes became another, one after the other. A whole stream of eyes, a stampede of eyes, fixed on the wild faces of creatures very much like herself.

"Solojos," she exhaled. The word sounded foreign, distant. Had she said it, or heard it? Her tongue felt numb, strange in her mouth. Her throat, too, could only be confirmed as present when she touched it, and swallowed, and felt the gesture in faraway fingers.

In her other hand, a drink, nearly empty. How many had she had? Last count it was three, or four perhaps, and that was before, but how long before? The table in front of her bore an array of discarded glasses and bottles, none of them familiar.

"Run!" someone shouted at her, too close and too loud, and she flinched, and blinked, and she understood.

"When do you feel like you're being watched, Grace?"

Her eyes wandered around the small, drab-colored office. There was nothing personal here, nothing to indicate that it belonged to anyone. A scuffed-surface desk tucked itself against the wall, bearing only a stray pen and an empty clipboard. A clock on the wall, in stark black-and-white, stated 2:37.

The doctor peered at her expectantly.

"Here?" Grace asked, brows lifted, a smile endeavored. She felt safe right now, ashamed of the fuss. "Basically all the time. That's the point, right?"

The doctor said nothing, her thin lips tightening in disapproval. She made a note on the clipboard balanced in her lap (identical to the one on the desk - they must be hospital issued and not anything this woman purchased herself).

"No, I mean-" Grace sighed and leaned back on the hard, impersonal couch. "I was kidding. I mean, I feel watched here - but it's, you know, you guys."

"This isn't a joke Grace. You've been here for three weeks. Just because you feel better right now doesn't mean everything's fine. Are you willing to take this seriously?"

Being here, in this place, precluded one from any attempt at humor, or normalcy.

Grace looked past the woman to the austere bookshelves lining the back wall. Uniform leather-bound reference editions occupied half, the others were empty. The existing books appeared unopened. A metaphor for the unknown and ignored within the mind, she concluded, but she didn't dare mention it. It would become a note, something of significance - a wry observation now inextricably attached to her identity as Grace Letts, patient. She had arrived desperate for help, but as the days ticked by (2:39 now, so slowly), her moods began to oscillate between frustration and doubt and fear, varying hour by hour, moment by moment.

"Yes, I am," Grace said.

The thing about fear, about being very afraid, is that once the danger passes, it becomes flimsy, almost absurd in memory. Without the immediate sensation, it's hard to explain, especially when the subject of fear is outlandish. Being watched by some incorporeal entity, or some owl, or a whole flock of owls, or some strange old man. She was painfully aware of the absurdity.

"Mostly when I'm alone," she continued. "When it's quiet and I start to notice the little things I miss when I'm busy, or with other people. It's not really like it goes away and comes back - it's always there. I just don't always notice."

"Do you feel like you're being watched here? Beyond our clinical observation? Are you afraid?"

Grace was quiet. She looked down at her folded hands, bare of jewelry or adornment, save the identification bracelet on her left wrist. Her legs looked scrawny in their too-large sweatpants, her posture pulled in on itself. She knew the answer, but she didn't want to say it. To say it would be to open that door again, to let the fear back in and give it power by virtue of simple acknowledgment.

And yet:


The sharp pop of a gunshot split the chaos. Suddenly she was whole, the disparate parts of her body harmonizing once more, allowing her to join the crowd fleeing the Mothlight. Shoulders and backs and hair and hats (no eyes, not now, they were turned away) loomed in front of her, and she was swept outside with the current on stumbling feet.

The cold air was sobering. Grace stood awkwardly on the sidewalk, looking back at the bar, attempting to understand. Her hands were empty. Her bag was presumably still inside, but there was no hope of returning at the moment. Had she drunkenly dreamed that strange hallway, that room, that message?

Doubt emerged easily, but she couldn't hold on to it.

She knew she hadn't.

And now someone had been shot, only a couple days after Blevins's murder. Rumors crawled spider-like across the crowd, picking past her without acknowledgment. A dark sedan stopped on the street only a few feet in front of where she stood, icy snow crackling beneath the tires, it's shining side smeared with the same. She hadn't noticed the snow had stopped. To her surprise, the main thoroughfare of Netherland Avenue had been preliminarily plowed, though this was the only functioning car in sight. There was a feeling of finality in the air, the end of the evening.

The dark-tinted backseat window of the sedan slid downward, revealing a face she knew, but had never met. A familiar one, not unlike the one that shaped her childhood - the songs and stories, the food, the hugs and other comforts. She could see her mother in those eyes, the sharp cheeks. Not smiling, but neither was it unkind.

Ephraim Ryan. Her uncle.

"Hello Grace," he said.

She took a step toward the car, her distorted reflection looming on the dark surface of the vehicle.

"It's time we had a little chat, isn't it?" he asked.​

8. AND THE CHORUS SWELLS by p r i s m

I wish I could tell you this message has a happy ending.

Maybe it does? Who's to say there isn't someone out there happy with the way these events went down? Someone surely is, because someone started this.

Someone wanted this.​

At first he was a shadow. Shapeless and black. Darkness personified as he slinked through the streets. A flicker in the peripheral, a double-take, a question of sanity. Gideon was, and wasn't. A singular focus drove him forward, a deep path carved into the snow in his wake as he glared forward. Fixated on a point in the distance. A name twisted his tongue and pulled his lips as if they were attached to string, dark eyes burning as grunted in time with the effort of his steps.

Quen-tin Sever-in, Quen-tin Sever-in, Quen-tin Sever-in…

A pendulum. A metronome. The tick-tick-ticking of a timebomb.

At first he was a shadow.

Then he was a beast.

By the time Quentin heard the thundering footfalls, it was too late.

The rhythmic echo reverberating off the walls was starting to slow. The irregular taps timed the decreasing minutes Quentin Severin had left alive.

In the corner Gideon crouched, illuminated by the shaky light of a single lantern, staring at his hands painted red, with dark brown lines starting to flake in his palms. Ragged, raspy inhales, like metal scraping against rock, came from the center of the room. He listened instead to his own breathing, his own heartbeat. Slow. Steady. Perfectly content.

He smiled.


There wasn't any life to beg for. No possibility of survival beyond what it's tormentor allowed. The lump of twisted sinew and broken bone in the center of the room knew its only mercy was Death. And oh, how desperately it wept for her.

Gideon pulled a moth-eaten curtain aside and stared out to the white wonderland beyond. Moonlight reflected off the mounds of snow, nearly blinding those who had acclimated to the bare excuse of illumination from the oil lamp hanging from the rafters. Behind him, the tumor coughed a fountain of spittle and blood, ragged breaths shuddering and shaking its gnarled edges until it stilled in woeful agony. Gideon inhaled deeply, absorbing the sharp aroma of metal and blood, the salt of sweat, and the putrid stench the loss of bowel control the pile that was once Quentin Severin once held.

He stepped back from the window and turned, the floor of the remote cabin creaking under his boot, lowering just a little further than the rest of the platform as he came to stand over the slab of thick oak wood his masterpiece laid upon. Gideon paid no mind to the details of the room in which he stood. His focus was entirely upon the knot of muscle and bone before him.

Flesh stretched tight where the body had been bent too far in the wrong direction, causing the ball joints of the hips and shoulders to strain against the thin flesh of the body like baseballs trying to escape from a balloon. Wrists and ankles crossed elegantly in the hollow divet in the center of the trunk, right below the end of the sternum. The fingers were laced, palms out, or at least they were designed to appear as such. Gideon's canvas had come to him already disfigured, but he did his best with what he had been given. What mattered was appearances, and he believed he had hidden the imperfections well for how out of practice he had become.

It was time to finish what he had started.

Just off of State Route 480, well within sight but tucked away just far enough to make it a struggle to get to, what was once Quentin Severin hung for all to see.

His arms and legs had been twisted and bent inward to create an outward shell of a five-point star. Shoulders and hips protruding just far enough from their previous sockets to separate their outline from the trunk of his carcass. His head, twisted three-hundred-sixty degrees and fastened to the tree by a noose of intestine, tongue and tendon, stared blindly into the horizon. His eyes would be nowhere to be found. Between his blue lips the shriveled, mottled head of his cock peeked. His testicles lodged in the bulge of his throat. Just beneath the base of his sternum his palms and soles of his feet cradled his heart as if it were the most precious thing. Beneath the cross of his ankles his stomach was sliced open in a crooked smile, spilling his innards out onto the snowy landscape. Any close inspection would reveal the disembowelment had occurred here, and the final moments of Quentin's life had been spent swaying blindly above the highway.

Miles away, in a small glass of saline, on a small bedside table, tucked into the corner of a small, moth-ridden hotel room. Quentin's eyes watched as Gideon Huxley, freshly showered, shaved, and scrubbed, slept soundly.​

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