There was a tree. I remember it. I swear I’d be able to recognize it. Because it looked so unusual. It stood on my left, in the distance, by Interstate 80. At first, it was just a blur in the shimmering heat haze, but as I drove closer, its skeletal outline became distinct. Skeletal: that’s what struck me at first as being strange.
When we started playing LandsBetwyxt, Jerry was all about killing monsters. But Amy was in Drama Club at Hematite High, where we went to school, in the Upper Peninsula, near Lake Michigan, on the dateline, and for her it was about interacting with people we met in the online game. Me, I wanted a chance to not be Jim.
The outline of Rebecka’s body is light against the scorched wall, arms outstretched as if to embrace someone. The floor is littered with white ashes. Everything else in the room looks like it did before. A kitchen table with a blue tablecloth, a kitchenette stacked with dirty dishes. A wrought iron bed, which I am strapped to. I ended up here because I was Rebecka’s only friend.
Since we were little, Oona’s collected Victorian photographs. A certain subset of people love them, but I got a library book of them once, just before I met her, and I’ve never not been appalled. I don’t know what a book like that was doing lost in our local library. It’s exactly the kind of thing that would normally have been removed by a logical parent.
Dear Future Me: I haven’t been myself lately and neither have you. I don’t even know if I’ll understand that or remember anything of what happened. TBI—traumatic brain injury—is dicey and unpredictable. Did you know you could fall down a flight of stairs, hit a concrete landing head-first, and after spending a week comatose in intensive care with a subdural hematoma, wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed with nothing more than some minor gaps in your memory and a tendency to get headaches in rainy weather?
“What’s with the lawnmower. No one mows this early in spring.” “It’s June,” I reply. “Spring should be long gone.” My twin sister rolls over onto her back, rubbing the afternoon sleep from her eyes with ten long, pale fingers and two long, pale thumbs. I’m lying next to her in our nest of pillows on the living room carpet, holding a book with hands that look just like hers, pale and strange, the extra finger curving into each palm.
Before Edan Westmisley faxed his summons to my agent, my only legitimate (as in you could see my face) claim to semi-demi-fame was the Steppe Syster’s “Love Victim” video where I licked the tattoo of the chest of their lead guitarist, Cody Towers. Yeah, that was me. Not that anyone makes the connection between the big-hair, tits-swaying-in-a-bikini-top, thong-bottomed retro pre-AIDS bimboid slithering up the paint-drizzled riser towards Cody’s semi-desirable, love-handled bare torso, tongue out and lashing against candy-apple lips.
Three potential sacrifices, just as Phoibe’d predicted, blundering through the woods like buffalo in boots. Mormo broke cover first, naked and barefoot, screaming, with the boys following after, whooping and hollering, straight into the gauntlet, too lust-drunk to see where they were going. Pretty little thing, that Mormo, with a truly enviable lung capacity; the best lure they’d had by far in all the time Gorgo’d been attending these odd little shindigs.
There was nothing to look at once they were away from the town, only a long road stretching ahead, bare fields on either side, beneath a lowering gray sky. It was very flat and empty out here on the edge of the fens, and dull winter light leeched all colour from the uninspiring landscape. Occasionally there was a ruined windmill in the distance, a knackered old horse gazing sadly over a fence, a few recumbent cows, a dead man in a ditch—
Here’s everything that happened just before the thud in the basement: Kendra took a snort of blow off the counter and said: “Did you guys know that pet store workers have the highest rate of drug use in the retail industry?” “That’s such a load of horseshit,” Telly said.