insane

(no subject)

It finally happened. It had to, really.

I was in the bottom two cut from LJ-Idol this week.

I made it to the top 50, from some rather larger number earlier, which ain't bad. My technical ranking would be 48th, if it matters.

The more important thing is that I learned a lot about myself as a writer.

I can write, and I can write well. I'm not perfect, but I'm a whole lot more confident in my abilities than I was before I started.

I never really understood the whole game/competition aspect. There are nuances and foibles and narflings that escape me like a greased penguin at a polar bear picnic. I never really treated it like anything other than a challenge to write something every week, to try and push my own boundaries a little in the process, to edge into places where I was not feeling particularly comfortable or competent.

And I know that I'm not a perfect writer. But dammit, I wrote. Every week. And some of it was even passably good, especially for one-sitting first draft stories. They've all been presented as unedited. I did spellcheck most of them, though a few things got by me from time to time.

(grin.)

I feel bad that I didn't make it farther. The last piece I did was the longest, the most complete, the one that I think had the most flow. It had an internal logic and structure, and used several subtextual devices to help promote the story. Primarily I feel bad that my ego didn't get stroked more.

But I'm also aware that stroking my ego isn't really always the healthiest thing for me. Done too much, it can leave callouses, or at least open sores.

I will write more. Not every week for a while. I need to pay attention to other things.
insane

Mayville

"Too many bats in the belfry, eh?"

The question came from a small man in the scrubs-and-robe garb of an inmate. He looked a little like a garden gnome, or maybe one of the dwarfs from the Disney movies.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Rydell. Crazy fucker." The gnome giggled a bit at that. "Too many walnuts in his fishbowl." He tapped the side of his head.

Rydell. George Rydell, the man who had made headlines about a year ago, after a vicious killing spree where he tore apart a family of four, and ate parts of their brains. His story had been consistent from the beginning, that there was a creature that lived inside his head, and told him to kill this family, that they were evil, and their evil needed to be consumed. Crazy fucker seemed about as apt a description as any.

"Termites in the wheelhouse," the gnome giggled again. "Too many badgers on his rooftop!"

"Come along, Joseph." An orderly took the small man gently by the elbow. "Sorry about that, doctor..."

"Fitzgerald. Howard."

"New here, I take it?"

"Visiting, actually. I'm here to give the court evaluation on George Rydell."

The orderly shuddered. "Oh, man. I don't envy you one bit. Creepy son of a bitch if you ask me."

"Walrus in the cathouse!" The gnome was cackling merrily. The orderly rolled his eyes.

"Let me get Joseph here tucked away, and I'll let Doctor Branson know you're here."

"Thanks."

Out of sight, out of mind, I thought.

"Invisible! Insane!" More merry cackling.

I looked around a bit. The Mayville State Mental Institution had something of a reputation, mostly from the last century. It had been a time when most of the patients were either destitute or forgotten by their families, put away where they would not have to deal with the strangeness and difficulty. One of the doctors had done experiments in treatment that today would be considered barbaric, possibly even torture. When he died from a massive brain hemorrhage, his work had been uncovered, and while he had maintained copious and detailed notes, the horrendous nature of his work had been seen as mad and evil, and much of what he had done was destroyed. His laboratory space was sealed off in a basement of one of the wings that was now unused due to budget cutbacks. These days it seemed quite normal, if a bit shabby. The place was clean, the patients that I could see in the waiting room looked physically healthy, and there was a mild tang of disinfectant in the air.

A large man in a business suit strode up to me, hand extended. Dark hair, slight gray at the temples, and a kind expression on his face.

"You must be Doctor Fitzgerald. I'm Carl Branson, the head of this facility."

I took his hand and shook it. Firm grip, but not crushing. Confident, but not egotistical. It seemed like we might get along.

"Howard, please."

"And call me Carl. Come back to my office and we'll get you settled in."

I had to stride a bit fast to keep up with his 6-foot four inch frame. Put him next to the garden gnome, and they'd make quite a picture. I grinned at the mental image.

Doctor Branson's office was about what you'd expect: dark wood paneling everywhere, old books lining the wall behind his desk on both sides, framing the old mahogany desk in a nearly presidential manner. A few nondescript paintings hung on the walls, along with a few sets of pictures of the old buildings that made up the campus of the institution. A small, low table and chairs made up the other end of the room, a few magazines, mostly medical journals stacked as if they'd been read over time. The only thing that looked really out of place was the flat screen monitor and keyboard on his desk.

"If you will give me a minute to clear my schedule," said Dr. Branson, and I nodded to him.

"Take your time."

I pored over the pictures. They showed a series of events taking place at Mayville, some holiday photos, one of a huge Christmas tree in an ornate visitor's lobby with curving staircases on either side, dated "Christmas 1926" in flowing ink on the border. A few photos of treatment facilities, taken when they were new, and probably at the finish of their construction.

"I'm afraid that as director, my duties are largely administrative anymore. A bit sad, really, but we do have a good staff here."

"From what I've seen, everything seems well-run."

"Thank you, Howard." The big man smiled. "Please, let's have a seat."

He gestured toward the low table, and I sat in one of the plush leather chairs. The smell of aged leather and wood surrounded me as I sank into the chair.

"Oh, this is comfortable.'

"Yes indeed," said Dr. Branson. "I managed to pull them out of Dr. West's wing a few years ago. It would have been a shame to let all of these go to waste, when a little cleaning and touch-up was all they needed."

"All of this came out of Dr. West's laboratory?"

"His private offices, but yes. Would you like some coffee? Tea?"

I looked around with renewed interest. "No, thanks, I'm fine. I'm surprised that there was anything left, I thought the old guard purged everything to do with him and his research."

He laughed. "Not really, they just took his files, and closed and locked the doors on everything else. Pity about the files, really."

"I'd have thought the Board would have some issue with dragging out those memories."

"They probably would, if they knew about it." He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down in the chair facing me. "Silly sentimentality, really. Besides, this saved thousands of dollars on the budget that is better spent on caring for my patients."

"Can't argue with that." I looked back on the bookshelf. "Did the books come from Dr. West's office, too?"

Doctor Branson stiffened slightly. "Some of them. Some of the more interesting ones, anyway, maybe a third of what you see there. The rest are my own collection. "But," he said, the warm smile returning to his face. "You're not here to peruse my library, Howard."

No, indeed.

"You are correct, Carl." I took the court papers from the folder I had in my briefcase. "The court order for an evaluation of mental competence to stand trial for one George Rydell, late of the Mayville State Mental Institution."

Doctor Branson took the papers, put on a pair of reading glasses, and looked them over. "Fairly standard in these circumstances I suppose, and not entirely unexpected."

"Can you tell me about him?"

He signed the last sheet of the document, handed it back to me, and took off his glasses thoughtfully.

"Fairly quiet, most of the time. We did keep him sedated when he first got here as is standard procedure with violent patients, but he really did not seem to continue with any violent episodes after his initial capture."

"So he's not currently sedated?"

"A low dose of Diazepam. Five milligrams, twice a day."

"And he's asymptomatic?"

"Quiet as a dormouse, really. He primarily just sits on his bed, staring out the window."

"Does he talk?

"Only when spoken to. Really, he seems quite rational, relatively intelligent. He knows where he is, what year it is, and why he's here."

"Have you asked him about his crime?"

"Only to the extent that he admits to it entirely," the Doctor shrugged. "With the direction of his 'inner demon'."

"Inner Demon?"

"It's really better if you get the details from him yourself," said Dr. Branson, standing. "I'll take you to him now."

Quiet and lucid. Things did not bode well for Mister Rydell. I stood up to follow the doctor.

"Oh, one thing Howard. Are you a religious man?"

"Not really," I said.

"Good, good."

---

Dr. Branson led the way down a corridor of rooms that reminded me of a dormitory wing. I supposed these were the low-risk patients, ones who had little required care and small incidence of trouble. The hallway ended in a set of double doors with an electronic card lock on the door, which the doctor opened with a small tag that was attached to a lanyard on his belt.

"This is the secure wing. I do have to ask that you leave your briefcase and any objects that may be used as weapons here at the guard desk."

I pulled a small digital audio recorder out of my briefcase. "I would like to keep my recorder with me."

He looked at it and said "That should be fine. Jacob, if you will?"

Jacob was evidently the guard behind the small window, a severe-looking black man who did not smile. And when I say black, I mean black, the darkest pigment I have ever seen on a human being in my life. His features were sharp looking, and he did not speak a word as he took my briefcase and handed me a clipboard to sign.

"Jacob will make sure that your items are well-cared for."

The doctor strode off down the hallway. I turned to look at Jacob again, his face like a stone statue, staring at me.

We came to another set of double doors, these very obviously heavy steel with wire-laced glass embedded in them. A small video camera was hung on the wall above the doors, and Doctor Branson looked into it with expectation. A heavy buzzing noise and the doors opened with a creak, showing a set of wide stairs leading down. The dank, musty smell of basement wafted up the stairwell, along with something else that I couldn't quite identify, something sharp. He stepped into the stairwell, leading the way down.

"Because of his notoriety, Mister Rydell is a special guest. This is the maximum-security facility. He's the only one that has been here for quite some time. It took our maintenance crew a few days to get his cell ready."

The basement was much more reminiscent of a prison wing. Large, heavy steel doors lined both sides of the hallway, some exposed pipes running along the ceiling marking hot water, cold water, and steam, along with a few other pipes I couldn't identify. All of the windows in the cells were dark, save one.

"Number thirteen. Seemed fitting." The Doctor smiled and took out a massive key that looked a bit like a key from a wind-up toy. "Chubb," he said when he caught me looking. "Virtually impossible to pick, and inaccessible from the inside. Quite advanced for the time."

The door opened, and I saw a man sitting on the lone bed in the cell.

He wasn't at all what I expected. The man I saw sitting on the bed was thin, almost frail, and looked like he would have been at home behind a library desk or antique book store. The cell itself was actually fairly clean; a new coat of paint on the walls covering what had obviously been bare areas where the paint had peeled away. A single light bulb glared overhead, a new fluorescent spiral type having replaced the old incandescent that my mind wanted to place there. A one-piece toilet-and-sink combination stood in the corner, obviously ancient, but with new plumbing attached. There was a small steel table with a single steel chair beside it, but other than that there was nothing. No books, no pictures. A small reinforced glass window hugged the ceiling, letting in a dim filtered light through a patina of dirt and aged plant material.

I cleared my throat. "Mister Rydell? My name is Howard Fitzgerald."

"I know who you are," came a clear, steady voice from the man. Again, not quite what I had expected.

"You know my name?"

"I said I know who you are," Rydell said, eyes still closed. "You are the lawyer from the court. Your name is unimportant."

Doctor Branson stepped back outside. "Is there anything further that you need from me, Howard? I really should get back to work."

I shook my head. "No, I think that we are fine here." I looked warily at the frail man. "We should be okay."

"If you need anything, just wave to the camera," he said, pointing up at the newly-installed camera mounted in the corner of the ceiling. "Jacob will be keeping an eye on you, though by law we are not allowed to record any audio without your permission. If you wave, he will turn it on and you can speak with him."

"Thank you Doctor Branson."

He closed the door with a massive thud. The air pressure in the room changed slightly, enough to be noticeable. I suspected that in the high of summer, this cell would become a sweltering mess, but in the mid-autumn, it was cool and comfortable enough.

"Mister Rydell, do you mind if I sit down?"

Rydell gestured to the chair, and I sat, pulling out my recorder and turning it on. "I am here at the order of the court to provide an evaluation of your mental state, and whether you are mentally competent to stand trial. Do you understand that?"

He nodded.

"Mister Rydell, I need to record our interaction for the record, and you have to answer yes or no."

"Yes, then." He sat, unmoving, eyes still closed.

"And you understand why you are on trial?"

"Because I slaughtered that family and ate their brains," he said matter-of-factly.

"And you understand that it was wrong of you to do that?"

His eyes opened then, clear and watery-blue. He looked at me. "Wrong? Yes, of course I know it was wrong. I know it with every fiber of my being." His hands started to shake. "If I could have stopped it, I would have."

"What kept you from stopping it?"

His hands stopped shaking, and he closed his eyes again. "No. You won't believe me. No one believes me. Leave me to die," he said, "then maybe I can get some sleep."

"Mister Rydell... can I call you George?"

He nodded.

"George, I'm not here to judge whether or not what I think you say is true. What I need to know is whether or not you believe what you are saying. If I think that you are lying to me or trying to deceive me, then I will report back to the court that you are competent to stand trial. Do you understand?

He nodded slowly. "They'll kill me."

"It's very likely, George."

"Doesn't matter anyway. I'm already a dead man."

"If you were dead, I wouldn't be here asking you these questions."

He opened his eyes again, looked at me, then looked down, and nodded.

"So what kept you from stopping?"

He paused for a moment, thinking, and then said one word: "Be'lial".

"And who is Be'lial?"

He stopped to think again, sort of like he was having a silent conversation with himself. "Not as much who, as what. Sort of both, I think."

"Ah, I see. And does Be'lial talk to you?"

Voices in the head are a classic Hollywood bit of misdirection for people claiming insanity pleas. The actual voice-in-the-head phenomenon-- a monosymptomatic auditory hallucination-- is extremely rare, and is almost always caused by physical damage to the brain.

That look of inner conversation again. "Yes, and no. He-- it-- doesn't speak so much in words. It's more images and feelings." He stiffened then, as if he had been shocked. "And pain," he finished weakly.

Selective delusion. Self-punishment. If it were schizophrenia, he would be much more unfocused. A true psychosis is possible.

"George, did Be'lial tell you to hurt those people?"

More of the internal conversation, a few more body spasms. Definitely signs of a severe disorder.

"Not them. What was inside them."

"I don't understand, what was inside them?"

"They had... riders."

"Riders?"

"That's the closest word that I have."

Possession? Is that why Doctor Branson asked me about religion?

"George, are you by chance Catholic?"

"No," he said, and closed his eyes, seeming to relax. "And no, I'm not possessed."

"So is a rider like a passenger in a car?"

He thought again, head moving up and to the right. "More like... a horse."

Locomotive hallucination? Reminder to look into Haitian Voudon rituals.

"Does Be'lial ride you then?"

"Not... the same. He... it... stays in back sometimes. Kinda likes to sleep when he's full."

"When he's full?"

"Yes."

"He eats?"

Head moving up and to the right.

"Not eats. More absorbs."

"So Be'lial absorbed those people's... souls? When you ate their brains?"

Jerk. Spasm.

"Not their souls. Their riders. He hunts them. Eats them." Head thrown back, eyes wide. "He says you would consider them evil."

I admit it took me a couple of seconds to compose myself; if this was an act, it was an extremely good one. Internally consistent, not working off of my leading. And a completely fascinating bit of mythology; if I worked this right, my publishing rights were in the bag.

"George, is Be'lial with us now?"

Spasm. "Yes."

"Can he hear me?"

"Yes."

"Can I talk to him?"

Rydell started to tremble, his eyes wide open, fixed on mine. He started to whisper a hoarse "no", but was cut off by a series of sharp spasms, interspersed with screams of agony. I looked at the camera, and was about to signal for help, when his body went limp on the bed, trembling. Then he spoke.

"He says that you can only talk with him if you invite him in."

A breakthrough! I saw the dollar signs dancing before me.

"Very well then. Be'lial, I invite you in."

Rydell sat up with a sigh, looked at me with a small smile on his face and said "Thank you". A trickle of blood came from his nose, and right before his eyes rolled back into his head, I thought I heard a soft "pop".

What happened next, I don't really remember well. There was a flash of light that seemed to come toward my face, though that may just have been the power surge that took out both the overhead light and the camera mounted on the wall. It also seems to have completely destroyed my audio recorder, so I have no actual record of the conversation that took place.

When the camera went out, Jacob had immediately come down to take over and called Doctor Branson in. They found me unconscious on the floor, figuring that I had fallen and hit my head. Rydell was dead. He had an aneurism in his brain that burst. The pressure was causing him to have severe hallucinations, blinding pain, and delusions galore. At least that will be my finding, as corroborated with Doctor Branson. An autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow.

As I left, I once again ran into Joseph, pointing at me and spouting his nonsense. "Termites in the wheelhouse! Badger in the woodpile!"

The orderly rolled his eyes again, and led him away. I smiled. Joseph was harmless. Nobody would listen to him.

As for Be'lial, well, he likes to sleep after he's fed. And he's starting to get hungry again.
insane

(no subject)

Anakin hated his name.

His parents had thought it was cool back in 1999 when Episode I had come out. His mom had gone to the premiere dressed as a pregnant Princess Leia, and had gone into labor during the closing credits. She had delivered him while still in the costume, and had the freakin' thing mounted in a frame, blood and mucous stains out thewre for the entire world to see. She had even gotten some of the crew to sign a poster that she had hung in the hallway opposite the dress, but not anybody you'd know. Signatures like Andy Secombe and Ben Taylor, and Trisha Biggar. She hadn't even gotten the cool signatures, like Ewen McGregor or Liam Neeson, Or even Jake Lloyd, the kid who had played his namesake.

He had to walk past those damn things every day. And one of the little tidbits he had learned was that some of the brownish staining on the Leia costume was shit, actual shit that his mother had thrust out during his birth. Framed shit, displayed in the entryway of their home.

He hated his life.

Dad had died two years ago, a heart attack while fucking his secretary. Mom sort of took it in stride, and threw herself into her animal rescue thing, becoming weirder and more distant. He did try to talk to her for a while, but she had come to a kind of tunnel vision working with the "animals that had no other voice but for us".

He hated her.

No, he really didn't. More than anything he pitied her, seeing her life kind of tunnel down into a small, restricted box where she didn't have to really deal with anything that could actually talk to her.

He hated school.

The kid-fucks had called him "Annie", and flushed his head more than a few times. He learned early on that his best camouflage was blending into the background, not raising any flags that would cause anyone to recognize him and single him out for some sort of delicious punishment.

His parents were freaks. He knew that, and was embarrassed by them at every opportunity. Yes, they loved Star Wars, but they kinda took the whole Jedi thing way too far. On his tenth birthday they got him a novelty "Home Mitichlorian Test Kit", which they found kind of hilarious, but really kind of pissed him off.

And really, that was the breaking point.

The Home Mitichlorian Test Kit was always intended to be a novelty. It showed up as positive when you sprinkled water on it in the same way that the little patches in your phone show up red if you expose it to water. There was ooohing and aaahing and lauging, and the kind of secret looks that parents give each other when the wine has hit, and it was just too much.

"This isn't fucking funny!"

Mom and Dad both stared at him, their eyes focusing on his, blue as a lake.

"You don't understand!"

And they started laughing. Small giggles at first, then full-on laughter as they looked at each other.

It was the last time that they connected so deeply.

From that point on, he knew he had enemies.

Anakin hated his father. He knew his weakness, and over time, he *pushed*.

The look on his father's face when he died was one of surprise. Apparently it's not uncommon.

He has a harder time dealing with Mom. She has set up a whole lot of defensive walls, cordoned herself off from certain aspects of reality. It's almost like she knows. Her defenses are really pretty strong.

Annakin is patient.
insane

(no subject)

Doctor Deckard spoke into a small headset.

"Miss Paige. Miss Paige, can you hear me?"

The woman in the tank opened her eyes slowly and blinked, then her eyes went wide and she tried to scream, thrashing about.

"Miss Paige! Listen to me! There is no need to panic. There has been an accident, a terrible, terrible accident. You are submerged in a holding tank that is helping to keep your body processes slowed down, at least for now.”

She continued thrashing.

“You're not actually drowning, your brain has simply convinced you to react as if you are. It is conditioned to believe certain rules of physics that your life experience has trained it to perceive as true. Just try to relax and think of something else, and your panic will subside momentarily."

Madelaine stopped thrashing for a second and looked out through the glass, then started pounding.

"I'm afraid that will do you no good miss Paige. That particular tank was designed to hold a gorilla that would go through much more of a panic than you are right now, and is made of two-inch thick polycarbonate. I really hadn't planned on using it on a human, but there was really very little choice."

Madelaine stopped and stared, realizing for the first time that she was naked. Instinctually she tried to cover herself.

"Oh my dear, we are far beyond that stage of our relationship. I've had a rather close study of every aspect of your anatomy for the last nineteen days, or at least as best I could while keeping you in that isolation tank. And I should mention that it is what is keeping you alive... well," the doctor paused, "at least keeping you from decaying quite so quickly.

She looked at him, tried to form words, to speak.

"No my dear, you can't really talk. I do so wish you could, because I would love to know what is going on in that lovely head of yours. How much do you remember? Ah, no, that won't do at all. Let me think."

He brought a lab chair over and sat down in front of the tank, bringing his face closer.

"Let's try this: one blink for yes, two blinks for no. Do you understand?"

She stared at him, and blinked once, slowly.

"Good, good! Oh this is progressing so much better than I had hoped. Now, do you remember anything of the accident?"

Madelaine blinked once, then shook her head and blinked twice.

"Ah, difficulty. I suppose that is to be expected. Very well, do you remember your employment for Bridge?"

One blink. Then two.

The doctor sighed. "I had been working for Bridge Pharmaceuticals on a very intensive bioengineering project. I was trying to slow down the aging process, to reverse it if possible, through a few different stem-cell agents. About a year ago, I had made a distinct breakthrough and was making some good headway with the animal testing that we had been doing on rats and pigs-- did you know that biologically, rats and pigs have a great deal in common with humans, my dear?

A pause, and a blank stare.

"I suppose should have expected that you would be confused, you poor thing. You would of course know this, but I will help you remembering until your mind can begin to find its bearings.

"We were in a position to try some more advanced testing on primates, when I was first diagnosed. Pancreatic cancer, a rare form, quite difficult to treat.

"Mister Bridge Senior was quite nice and assured me that they would do everything in their power to get me the best treatment possible, but as things progressed, it became quite obvious to me that none of the treatments were working. And they left me so ill that I couldn't really keep on with my research. Much as I demanded, then finally begged and pleaded, they decided after several months to put me on an indefinite medical leave."

Doctor Deckard motioned around him. "I knew this would happen, of course, it is a kind of inevitability. In foresight, I was able to alter the course of several pieces of research equipment here to my own laboratory."

Madelaine stared around the room as best she could from the pinkish interior of the tank.

"The early 1950's were a strange time indeed, and the owner of this particular house had built a rather sophisticated bomb shelter, at least for the time. Reinforced concrete walls, several feet thick. Built to withstand a nuclear bomb. Of course, at the time they didn't know that the real problem with nuclear war had nothing to do with the bomb blasts, but that's all that the world had any knowledge of at the time. They had no context for the future."

The doctor was seized by a coughing fit. Madelaine just stared.

"The company had no idea, of course. The books were altered well enough by a young man in the procurement division with a particular taste for some of the more experimental pharmaceuticals. I suspect that one day he will be caught, but I believe that by that time, I will have as they say, shuffled off this mortal coil. Hopefully I can come up with a solution before then, but it is a kind of race.

"And you my dear, that is where you come in. You were elected to become my caregiver."

She blinked once, slowly.

"Ah, you do remember! Wonderful! You higher brain functions seem to be progressing, I was hoping they would. It's difficult to tell with animals how much they remember.

"I was rather annoyed with you at first. I did not need someone meddling in my affairs, taking me away from my research. My life, sinking away like sand in an hourglass, and you coming twice a day to fluff my pillows and make me swallow those god-awful pills. I really didn't take them, you know. Spit them out when you weren't looking.

"Not that I didn't mind the company, of course. You are... were quite pleasant. Enjoyable, even. Not that you would see anything of substance in an old man such as myself dying of cancer, but I grew rather fond of you. I suppose it might have been a bit of vanity on my part to think that if I were able to cure my own illness that you would see something in me, see past the wrinkled facade, and into my heart."

Two blinks.

"Now my dear, don't be like that. Everything has changed now, and I'm afraid we don't have much time.

"It was your fault, really. You came early and unexpectedly. I was undergoing one of my own treatments, and you did not handle well seeing the whole intravenous setup and syringe that I was about to inject. It was never in the plan for you to see any of this, and I wish to God that it had never happened, but it did. And you quite simply slipped and fell. I reached for you, I tried to grab you, but I am simply too old and too slow.

"You must have hit your head on the way down, because by the time I had reached you, you were completely gone."

Madelaine stared, frozen, her eyes wide.

"You see my dear, you died. And that is the most unfortunate truth of the whole ordeal."

She blinked, then blinked twice, then twice more, faster.

"You remember now, don't you?"

Madelaine shut her eyes tight.

"I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I gave you the injection directly into your carotid artery. I massaged it into your neck as best I could and tried CPR for a while, then I brought you down here. I couldn't lose you..."

The doctor broke into tears then, great, racking sobs of misery.

"It wasn't ready yet. I could only cease the cellular destruction of some types of nervous tissue and maintain some level of regeneration of muscle tissue, but I couldn't stop the degradation and necrosis that comes with death. It's why I have you in the tank now, to keep the tissues from decaying while I find a cure for this last piece of the puzzle."

Two blinks.

"Don't you see? In this tank, I can keep you from decaying, from really, truly, irreversibly dying. As long as I can keep you here, there is a chance! I am so close, and when I am done, I will have conquered death itself!"

Two blinks.

"You don't understand yet, but you will, " he said, and turned away. Madelaine kept blinking twice, over and over.

She couldn't tell if she was crying.

---


The explosion took the doctor by surprise, and blew him against a rack of glassware and vials, shards of glass cutting into his flesh before he hit the floor. There was smoke and fire and lights flashing all around, and a sharp ringing in his ears. He saw shapes moving in the smoke, and tried to stand up to warn them off.

The last think he felt was a bursting white-hot pain in his chest before he died.

"MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!" came a voice from one of the shapes, muffled by the gasmask he was wearing. "Suspect down, I repeat suspect down!"

A jumble of voices, all taking over each other.

"Oh, my god."

"What is it?"

"Sarge, get over here!"

"What the..."

"Get her out of there, NOW!"

Two of the uniformed men unlatched the tank and lifted the naked woman out of the freezing liquid. "Get an ambulance here now!"

---

The two paramedics in back were having difficulty. They had put an oxygen mask on the woman's face, but she didn't seem to be breathing properly. She was still coughing up frothy pinkish fluid.

"Got no pulse!"

"Eyes are open, pupils reactive."

"Step on it Murphy!"

"Going as fast as I can!"

---

Jacobson kinda liked working the overnight shift at the city morgue. The whole "graveyard shift" joke was something that he kinda liked, and really, it was just a bunch of dead bodies hanging around in a big refrigerator. For the most part, everything was quiet, and he could lose himself in tunes and play Graveyard Defenders on his phone. Shit man, it was a sweet gig, even if it didn't pay all that well. Once in a while things heated up, like tonight when they brought in that crazy doctor something-or-other, big-ass shotgun hole in his chest. Some weird shit gone down with the S.W.A.T team, crazy dude keeping some naked chick in a tank of water. That shit is decidedly fucked up, and as they say, fucked up shit, take another hit.

He took out his pipe, dropped in a small bud, and drew in a quick hit, heading into the main autopsy room and turning on the huge overhead fan. It was cold as shit in there, and the fan was designed to draw out the stink of dead bodies; it worked pretty well to pull out the smoke from his hitter as well. He exhaled directly up and into the vent, noticing how the swirl of smoke became a smooth, rapid pull as it got caught in the vortex of the industrial blower.

He didn't notice the body bag behind him starting to move.
insane

Scarlet, Part 2

"Thank you for coming, Viktor. I don't know what I would do without you." Babi Cheshka was resting in her bed, her face pale and drawn.

Viktor Lupescu was boiling water for the herbal tea that his grandmother had taught him to make when he was so much younger. He had spent many summers with her in this cottage in the Dark Forest, and she had taught him the ways of the old world as best she could.

"It's nothing, grandmother," he said, stirring some honey the cup with a straw. "Drink this, it will help you sleep."

"You are so good to me, child." She took a sip from the cup. "I feel so weak these days, I think perhaps my time is coming to a close."

"Nonsense, grandmother, you are the strongest woman I know."

She laughed then, a small bark that set off a fit of coughing. "Even the strongest tree in the forest falls when the storm comes."

"Don't talk like that. And drink your tea."

She took a grateful sip and made a face at the slightly bitter taste.

"Are you sure that you can take this time away from your life?"

"Of course grandmother. You are the only family I have anymore, and I wouldn't dream of leaving you alone."

Babi Cheshka sighed. "I do wish that things had gone better with your mother. She was such a willful thing."

Viktor stiffened.

"You have a lot of her in you, you know."

"I don't remember much of her."

"She was so very pretty, your mother. And she was so taken with your father. So handsome he was."

"My father was not a nice man."

"No, he was not," she nodded. "Strong, yes. And driven. That was his way." She touched his arm gently. "You have a lot of him in you, too."

Viktor pulled away from his grandmother. "He was a failure and a drunk. I am nothing like him."

She looked at him for a moment with sunken eyes, drank the last of the tea, and turned away. "Bless you, my child," the Babi said groggily. "I think I must sleep now."

Viktor took the nearly empty cup from her. "Yes grandmother. It is time for you to sleep. You have earned the rest." He poured the last remnants of the cup down the sink and carefully rinsed it out before placing it on the rack to dry.

As she slept, Viktor started poring over the map of the Dark Forest that hung on her wall. He took out his cell phone and looked at the screen:

NO SERVICE

That is one of the first things that will change, he thought, and smiled.

---

Jess saw the car first, its polished shiny blackness being out of place next to the time-worn cottage. A visitor from outside was rare enough, but being at the Babi's cottage was almost unheard of. It gave Jess enough caution to knock at the front door rather than simply entering as she had done as a child.

Viktor was startled at the knock, and opened the door to see Jess standing there. He looked her up and down.

"Can I help you?"

"I'm here to see Babi Cheshka," said Jess. "I am here to look after her."

"That's not necessary. I am here to take care of her."

"It's not your choice," said Jess, and started to push her way inside.

Viktor blocked her from coming inside. "Just who in the hell do you think you are?"

"I am Jess, daughter of Monica, and grand-niece of the Babi. And who in the hell do you think you are?" she said hotly.

"I am Viktor Lepescu. This is my grandmother's house, and you have no right to be here."

"I have every right to be here. I have a long-standing invitation from the Babi."

Viktor was about to argue more when his grandmother spoke up. "Jess? Is that you child? Come here."

Jess's demeanor turned from anger to concern as she dropped her basket by the door and went to the Babi's side.

"Oh, Babi."

Jess looked at Babi's eyes, her pupils dilated to almost total blackness.

"Your pupils are so big, Babi."

"It just makes you look all the more lovely, my dear."

"And your teeth..."

"I know, my dear. It is my time."

"Babi, no..."

"Hush child, it is already done. Viktor has been kind enough to help ease my passage."

"But he... he cannot..."

"He already has, child. I am sorry."

And Babi Cheshka slipped into unconsciousness.

---

Jess and Viktor watched over her while the day turned into night and her breathing became slower and shallower, and finally, just before midnight, she breathed her last, peaceful breath. Viktor was the first to break the silence.

"Well, cousin," said Viktor. "It seems that there is little more for you to do here." He stood up and motioned to the couch. "Because it is so late, you can stay the night."

"There are many details that need to be taken care of, Viktor."

"I will take care of them, cousin."

"You are not prepared for the things that need to be done..."

"Shut the hell up, cousin," Viktor said. "My grandmother is dead. I was her only living family, and I will choose what needs to be done."

Jess just stared at him, dark hatred starting to burn in her eyes.

"You hold onto the old ways because it's what you know, it's what you were tought. Well, cousin, the world is big outside of this forest, and it doesn't believe in the old ways anymore. I will bring the new world in, and we will all become part of it."

Jess slowly shook her head. "It is not yours to decide, Viktor."

"The hell it's not. Grandmother owned the forest and all of the land surrounding it. What was hers is now mine, and I. Will. Choose."

"You really do not understand, Viktor," Jess said, standing to put her cloak on. "The Babi did not own the Dark Forest. The Dark Forest owned the Babi. And now the Dark Forest owns you."

"Bullshit. Old world bullshit."

"Then try to leave, Lupescu."

Viktor stared at Jess for a minute, then grabbed his keys from the table and stormed outside. Jess followed, and watched as he opened the door of his shiny black car and tried to start it. There was no sound coming from the engine.

"What did you do to my car, you bitch?"

"Nothing, cousin. As I told you, the Dark Forest owns you now, and won't let you leave."

"I should kill you."

"Yes, you probably should. But you won't."

Viktor tried to take a step towards her and tripped, his feet entangled in strands of ivy.

"You see Viktor, the Dark forest has another name, a much older name. It is not just a place, it lives just as we do. Perhaps even more."

Viktor struggled against the ivy that was starting to tighten around him.

"The Babi is... was the servitor of the Dark Forest. The guardian, the protector from the ways of man. And the rite of succession can only be transferred upon her death to the one who takes her life."

Viktor turned pale.

"Yes, cousin. The Babi knew that you were poisioning her. Belladonna and Wolfsbane, I would suspect. She let it happen because she was tired, and wanted it to end. And I was to be the next, before you intervened. It was my duty to tend to her, to help her across that bridge to the next world. And now you have interfered with the succession."

Viktor stopped struggling, eyes wide with fear. Jess's eyes turned black, and her teeth started to elongate. Her voice began to turn to a low growl.

"It would perhaps be a good time for you to run, my cousin."

And Viktor began to scream as he ran.

-----------------------------------

In the LJ-Idol thingy, I was also paired with rattsu. It's a nice pairing.
insane

SQUEE!

OMG OMG OMG OMG.

I just had a facebook chat with DREW FUCKING DAYWALT.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0206782/

http://www.youtube.com/user/DaywaltFearFactory

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stark_Raving_Mad_%28film%29

Yeah, THAT Drew Daywalt.

Holy fucking batshingles.

He was having a down night.

To be fair, I did not squee like a fangirl, but just barely.

This is a guy who in between making movies, makes movies.

Because he likes telling stories that the horror fans among us like.

The complete and utter saturation of awesomeness that this embodies is not something can put into words. Think of being stuck in a dark basement with no electricity for a week, then somebody throws open the cellar doors on a bright, sunny day.

Watch. His. Stuff.
vanity

On writing

Well, I'm still in the running for LJ-Idol. Kind of hard to believe, really: I started on a lark. And it's been touch-and-go a couple of times, trying to write something and get it in before the deadline. We're talking get words down, spell-check (important, you know), maybe make an edit pass, and get it submitted.

It's forcing me to write something every week. This is good for me, as I need to write in order to get better at writing. I need to practice things I haven't tried before, take on themes I haven't done before, and in general, go into uncomfortable places.

I spent a good chunk of 2011 with my brain away from the keyboard. It was a rough year in a lot of ways, though there were some really nice bright spots in there as well. This year so far has been rather full of good things in my pick-a-nik basket, and I'm kind of cautiously optimistic.

As far as LJ-Idol goes, it's still primarily a motivational tool for me. I've been getting feedback from a lot of different people, and it's been overwhelmingly positive. Considering it's something that I do quickly and on a whim, it's been pretty unexpected and happy.

There are a whole lot of people writing. I didn't really realize how many until I saw last week's list. I think I placed somewhere in the middle of the pack, maybe a bit below the centerline, I'd have to go back and check.

I don't know about how the voting happens. I think it changes from week to week whether it's open to the public or just contestants or people with their last names starting with the number '3'. And I'm not pimping for votes: if you feel like voting, read the entries and vote for the ones that you like the best.

If you do happen to vote for me, I won't bitch, but seriously, read around some. There are some really good writers there.

My plan is to continue regular writing as long as I'm in the running. When I finally do get cut, I'll have to find some other source of motivation, but for now it's a kinda fun ride.

Thanks for indulging my vanity. :)
insane

Scarlet, Part 1

Jess saw her first dead body when she was eleven years old.

It was a bloated thing, half hidden behind a rotting fallen tree in the woods behind her grandmother's house. Someone had tried to bury it there, but between the woodland animals and the natural processes of decay, it had surfaced, blue and swollen like a giant mushroom with a face on it.

She hadn't been frightened then, not at first. The the buzzing of the flies was what had caught her attention in the first place, the droning sound of a thousand alien voices talking at once, or perhaps singing.

It was hard to tell where it had once been a man or a woman. The skin had ballooned up and distorted the features of the thing's face like one of the Saturday morning cartoons where the coyote had inhaled a tank of helium, and the thought made her giggle.

She poked the body with a stick, and a thousand more flies buzzed angrily. A sound like a giant, wet fart came from the bloated thing, and a horrible stench wafted forth, hitting Jess full in the face, a smell like her grandpa had before he went away forever, but worse somehow, bigger. And then the body moved, its eyes opening.

Jess froze, her eyes wide. The body started to writhe, the face contorting, seeming to want to talk to her, tell her something important. The lips moved, and she heard her name:

"Jessssssss...."

The body exploded all over her, greasy, slime-covered bits covering her head to toe. She screamed then, and ran, tripping over tree roots, small whippets of young trees leaving red welts on her skin wherever they touched her.

Her mother was livid, and made Jess strip naked outside the back door before hosing her off, the icy water stinging her flesh and making the red welts on her skin turn to fire. Jess started to cry.

Once she had calmed down enough to tell her mother what she had seen, the men had come with questions, asking her to take them to the place where the body was. They set up yellow tape tied to the trees, had dogs and photographers and funny plastic things they put over their shoes "to keep from contaminating the scene" (the sweaty man had told her).

Her mother was very quiet at dinner that night. She had taken down an old wooden box from the hall closet, a big black iron clasp on its front with one of those keyholes like on the door to Stevie Williams' dad's shed, and had set it at the end of the table where Grampa used to sit, while they ate in silence.

After Jess had cleaned up the table and finished drying the dishes, her mother bade her to come sit at the dining room table. The old wooden box was now open, and some of the contents carefully laid out in some kind of pattern. There was a small silver bell, a fat yellow candle, a knife with a handle that looked like the antler from a youngling deer, some bundles of herbs and a few other things that she didn't recognize but looked like they may have been roots of some kind. It smelled old and musty and not at all unpleasant. She turned to ask her mother what was going on, but when she saw the look on her mother's face, decided against it.

Jess sat in the chair facing the table, and felt a stinging sensation as her mother plucked a hair from her head, using it to wrap some of the herbs into a bundle. Her mother started muttering words and phrases that she didn't understand, but sounded kind of like the weird stuff that Grampa used to say toward the end.

Her mother held one of the small bundles of herbs up to the candle where they caught fire. She blew out the flame and let the embers smolder, a pleasant spicy smell filling the room and making Jess feel kind of dizzy and sleepy. Her mother gently held her hand used the point of the knife to poke her finger, a small drop of blood painlessly welling up like a small dark red jewel on her finger. Jess watched, fascinated: she had felt the knife, had seen it cut her finger, but it didn't hurt at all.

Her mother dropped a few drops of blood into a small yellow bowl, muttering words that almost-but-not-quite made sense, mixing the blood with some of the ash from the bundle of herbs. Jess felt something in the air, heavy and powerful, but couldn't tell what it was because the sleepy, dizzy feeling was getting stronger. And just before she closed her eyes for the last time, she felt more than saw her mother smear something on her forehead, and mutter a single word that sounded like "Sazhita".

The dreams were vivid that night, running through the woods at top speed, smelling the freshly turned earth and moss and the sharp tang of cedar and pine, and feeling the pure joy that came with running, her nails digging in and giving purchase on the forest floor. And then a warm scent, a hungry scent, excitement and blood and something else, the sour tang of something else's fear. And they weren't even words, more like shapes or songs in her head, the smells and the sights blending together in a fury of sensation.

Then there was something in her mouth, warm and sweet and coppery, and a feeling of ecstasy that filled her to where she thought she would explode. And then, contentment, warmth, and sleep.

When she woke in the morning, she had had her first blood.

---

By the time she was fourteen, she was well into her womanhood: tall and lithe with long, flowing red hair. The local boys had noticed, and were doing stupid boy things to try and get her attention. Once she had even needed to bloody Stevie Williams' nose when he tried to grab her; she was faster and stronger than any of them, and more than capable of handling herself one-on-one. Her mother had been teaching her many things, the secrets from the old chest in the closet, the books written in the language that she was starting to understand, older than she had ever imagined.

She had learned the healing herbs first, how to gather moss on the first night of the new moon to stop bleeding, when to gather the fiddleheads to be the most potent, and how to quell the roots of the arrowhead-shaped plant on the edge of the lake to make a potent and bitter tasting tea that let you see in almost total darkness. There were other lessons, too: how to listen for things that weren't there, how to step quietly so that none would hear, how to weave the tendrils of ivy while they still lived on the vine into patterns so that when they were harvested they could be made into baskets that could carry many times their own weight.

And every month, on the night of the new moon, she would dream that same dream of joy, and chase, and blood.

The eve of her fifteenth birthday, she came home to find her mother sitting at the dining table, a letter in hand. The letter was on old yellowed paper, written in a delicate and precise hand, cramped with words in the old tongue; she recognized some of them, a question, or perhaps a plea.

"Jess," said her mother, "I need you to go to Babi Cheshka." Her knuckles were white from the grip she had on the letter. "She has become ill, and needs to be tended."

"Of course, mother, I will do what I can. You have taught me well."

Jess's mother looked into her eyes, tears starting to well up in the corners.

"I hope so, my dear. I truly do." Her mother hugged her then, tightly, small, breathy sobs escaping.

She prepped one of the woven ivy baskets with her mother, going through each package of herbs, tinctures, roots and seeds with great care, her mother quizzing her on each and every one, its dosage, uses, and interactions with others. Eventually, her mother grudgingly agreed that she was ready.

"One more thing before you go, my child," said her mother, and handed her a wrapped package, "This was your grandmothers, and her grandmother before that. Take care of it."

Jess pulled out a beautiful hand-dyed traveling cloak, made of fine wool. While it had faded some over the years, the scarlet color was still solid and beautiful to behold.

"I will wear it with pride," said Jess, and as she turned to leave, she pulled the hood up over her head to protect her from the oncoming storm.