Tag Archives: Horror Story

The Shining: Redux

One of the creatures that especially caught my attention some five and a half years ago was a Netflix operative named Jerry. I chose to watch him well aware of the dangers he posed: what would he lie about? How would he fool me? As it turned out he made Erica Davenport appear more a threat than she actually was. It took me a little while to catch on, but by then much of the damage had already been done. Far more significantly, however, was the revelation he brought to my attention concerning my good old father; that is that Csaba Polony had, before his death, been obsessed with the idea of killing me. Jerry told me this in the middle of a warm summer day. Not two hours later I went to meet my friend Mark, and I called my dick “that.” Thud. The rest is history. It was exactly what they wanted to happen. They are behavioral scientists, after all. I’d never had my father explained to me before. It still fucks me up to think about him, as they knew it would. Calling my own dick “that”… I think it was supposed to be a joke. Unfortunately, no one laughed.

But I digress. This was a very long time ago, spanning an age during which the bitches and everyone else have worn many different hats, ranging from the violently dangerous to the loving to the pathetic. I stopped looking at Jerry, though maybe I shouldn’t have: according to the rest of them it was his idea to start helping me, completely ignorant of the possibility that I could actually win. But, apparently, I did. Still, Jerry seemed especially interested in my father. I can’t argue with the fact that I share his interest. The specter of that miserable old man will probably haunt me forever.

Shortly after the world ended some eighteen months ago the bitches started communicating with me through the movies I watched, though without the personality of Jerry taking credit for it. These movies were sometimes scary, sometimes insulting, sometimes sweet, and sometimes enlightening. It took me some time to realize that the bitches were manipulating the sound and images to create their own little narratives — that is, their messages weren’t communicated through the subtext of the movies as envisioned by the writer or director, but in the way the bitches altered subtleties of such things as facial expression and tone of voice, and that was more than enough.

A few stand out as particularly important: The Mummy, devoted to the equally disturbing character of my mother; Amelie, about my hapless early romances; Batman Returns, addressing the schism in my personality between Batman, who wanted to do good, and Cat Woman, who wanted to burn the vile world to the ground; and The Matrix, which summarized the theory of the time period we were entering into and what kind of work it would entail. Such a long time ago: now I can’t stand the presence of them. I automatically turn off the movies that seem to bear their marks. I guess I’ve come a long way. I used to think them deserving of respect. Still, I’ll remember what they used to be. Despite the bizarre, annoying, perverse iteration of themselves they’ve become, once upon a time I learned a lot from them. When they talk about my father, for instance, I still can’t help but listen. Mother too. She was just as bad; had none of this ever happened it probably would’ve been she who would drive me to isolation and despair, maybe even suicide. Once this whole episode is over I will probably be proven one of the luckiest people to have ever lived.blob:https://antalpolony.wordpress.com/f6aa8e2b-8b20-4e72-8fd6-9b0b893dfa53REPORT THIS AD

Last night I watched Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a genuinely scary movie about ghosts and a father who becomes homicidal. I started wondering how I might have done what the bitches used to: to tell a story through someone else’s art. What am I to do, after all, with Katy and Csaba Polony? At least one of them got better in the end. Jack Nicholson, who stars in The Shining, looks something like him too.

The movie begins with a series of panoramic shots of the highway leading to the Overlook Hotel, and a solitary car driving it: Jack Torrance’s. The music is grim and forbidding, a rendition of a movement of Berlioz’s “Symphony Fantastique,” which tells the story of a man’s entrance into hell. During their interview his new boss is compelled to tell him that a previous caretaker went mad and killed his family. Jack shrugs it off. As a writer, a little isolation and cabin fever might be just what he’s looking for.

While Jack expresses no trepidation at taking the job, which calls for some six months of snowbound isolation, the same could not be said of his son Danny, whose not-so-imaginary friend Tony tells Danny’s mother Wendy that he doesn’t want to go there. “I just don’t,” he says, just like a little kid would. According to Danny, Tony is a little boy who lives in his mouth. In fact he represents Danny’s supernatural psychic abilities: he can read minds, among other things. My own intuition rarely betrayed me and was often proven more prescient than I knew at the time, though in this way it failed me: I had no idea how dangerous Csaba was shortly to become.

Soon the whole family is taking the drive. It is undeniably scenic. The Overlook Hotel itself is quite beautiful. The staff is cleaning the place up. Jack’s boss, Stuart Ullman, takes Wendy and Jack on a tour while the hotel’s head cook, a black man named Dick Halloran, takes Danny aside for ice cream and a talk. He recognized Danny’s psychic ability. He tells him: “My mother and I used to have entire conversations without opening our mouths. We called it ‘shining.’” Dick wants to warn Danny that the hotel has a “shine” to it, though its iterations are no more dangerous than pictures in a book: the game built around me was similarly harmless. No one actually wanted to kill me, they were just saying they did. Except for father, or course. But stay out of room 237, Dick tells Danny. This is the last piece of advice he offers. Then we are moved one month later in time, well into the Torrance family’s stay. The camera follows Danny on his tricycle as he rides through the eerily abandoned building. We see Jack telling Wendy he’s never felt more comfortable, “as if I’ve been here my whole life.” Danny passes room 237, and, perhaps intrigued by Dick’s warning, he tries to go in, but, finding the door locked, he moves on. He looks afraid when he does so.blob:https://antalpolony.wordpress.com/f6aa8e2b-8b20-4e72-8fd6-9b0b893dfa53REPORT THIS AD

I didn’t know Dad wanted to kill me. I had to be told. When he came down with cancer, and I and my family were compelled to care for him, he seemed to be trying to intimidate me. I couldn’t explain it, and was maybe a bit flattered: I suppose you could say I felt noticed, which is more than could be said of the previous twenty-seven years of knowing him. But when Jack assures Danny a little while later that he would never do anything to hurt him the statement sounds less than convincing.

Danny is just a little boy, maybe five or six. What was I like at that age? Certainly more diminutive than Dad. Far so. And that’s probably how I would have felt when he started his campaign: wholly out-matched, unable to protect myself, a helpless child. One can only imagine. His hugely convenient illness surely complicated his idea. Jack, lacking this impediment, sinks angrily into psychosis. In this way he doesn’t measure up. Dad would have done it with a smile on his face.

Danny passes room 237 again a little while later and this time he finds the door open. He walks in and the movie cuts away. A little while later Wendy and Jack find him with bruises on his neck. Wendy instantly blames Jack: “How could you?!” she yells at him. Jack looks perplexed. Wendy flees with Danny in her arms.

Next we see Jack cursing and talking to himself as he walks down a hallway into the hotel’s main ballroom, the Gold Room. He takes a seat at the bar and puts his hands over his eyes: “I’d do anything for just a glass of beer,” he says, and it sounds like he means it. He opens his eyes and smiles: “Hello, Lloyd.” Indeed there is now a bartender, and a fully stocked liquor cabinet, before him. “Hello, Jack,” says Lloyd. “What’ll it be?”

Jack is a recovering alcoholic. He hurt Danny once, grabbed his arm too roughly and dislocated his shoulder. He blames Wendy for never allowing him to live it down, and Lloyd listens sympathetically. “I love the little son of a bitch,” says Jack. Soon his interaction with Lloyd is cut short as Wendy comes running into the Gold Room. She tells him there’s someone else in the hotel with them: “a crazy lady who hurt Danny.” Room 237. Jack is the next to go there in the most effective scene of the movie.

The camera takes Jack’s perspective, slowly. The room is plush and well-lit, like a luxury hotel’s should be. He comes to the bathroom and it takes a moment to discern a figure in the bathtub behind the plastic curtain. We see Jack watching gape-jawed.blob:https://antalpolony.wordpress.com/f6aa8e2b-8b20-4e72-8fd6-9b0b893dfa53REPORT THIS AD

The person in the bathtub pulls back the curtain. It is a good-looking, naked woman. She stands up and steps out of the bathtub. She watches Jack expressionlessly, invitingly. He comes toward her as if unsurprised, takes her into his arms and kisses her. His eyes are closed. When he opens them he sees the woman’s backside reflected in the mirror behind her: it is fat and flabby and scarred with desiccation. He pulls back from her and finds an old woman with gapped teeth and a terrible smile laughing at him. Jack falls away, horrified, and runs.

Who could this be? Which woman could fool and scare my father? Perhaps his own mother, who taught him to be the way he was. Who could turn a beautiful woman into an undead specter? And who, in Dad’s imagination, might have gotten to me before he did?

He returns to the Torrance’s living quarters where Wendy is waiting for him and he’s already recovered his presence of mind. He tells her what he found: “Not a thing. Not a goddamned thing.” “Maybe,” he says, “Danny did it to himself.” Wendy does not appear to believe him, while Danny, in his room, is trying to contact Dick Halloran — someone, anyone, who might be able to save him from the danger that seems to be asserting itself. 

Wendy tearfully suggests they leave the hotel, but Jack becomes furious and blames her for ruining things for him just when they are getting promising. He storms out of their quarters while Wendy begins to cry. She probably doesn’t know what to think, becoming aware of her husband’s deepening madness, unable to account for his bursts of anger. Danny’s friend Tony might wish to tell her, and in his way he does, compelling Danny to write the cryptic word “redrum” on a door with lipstick. Meanwhile Dick has heard Danny’s call and has decided to return to the Overlook to see for himself what might be happening.

Jack drifts around the hotel. We see him sabotage the two-way radio, then return to the Gold Room, where there is now a lavish party taking place, complete with a room full of revelers in masks and tuxedoes. He looks happy to find this. He goes to the bar and orders another drink from Lloyd, who tells him that his money is no good, though he won’t say who’s picking up the tab. Jack strolls out into the crowd and soon collides with a smartly dressed, bald-headed waiter who spills his drinks on Jack’s jacket. Apologizing profusely he takes Jack to the men’s room so he can clean him up. Jack stands there, regarding the waiter strangely. “What’s your name?” Jack asks. “Grady, sir,” answers the waiter. “Grady, you said?”“Yes, that’s right.”blob:https://antalpolony.wordpress.com/f6aa8e2b-8b20-4e72-8fd6-9b0b893dfa53REPORT THIS AD

Jack pushes Grady’s hands away and takes a moment. “Mr. Grady,” he says, “I know who you are. You used to be the caretaker. You chopped your wife and daughters into little bits.” “I’m sorry, sir,” Grady answers, “but you are the caretaker. You have always been the caretaker.”

Jack looks at a loss for words, though he has rolled ably with the punches so far, as if telling Grady that he’s actually a dead man is merely some kind of controversy he’s bringing to the waiter’s attention.

Grady goes on to appear impressed that Jack knew who he was. He has something to tell him: that is that Jack’s son is trying to find outside help: “A nigger,” Grady says. Jack: “A nigger?” “A nigger cook.” (That would be Lorraine). “Well,” Jack breathes, looking aggravated at the thought, “he is a very willful boy.” “That’s right,” says Grady, “even a naughty boy, if I may be so bold sir.””My wife once tried to interfere with my work here,” Grady continues, “and I corrected her. My daughters sought to stop me, and I corrected them too.” Jack Torrance nods in agreement. “Some of us here wonder if you’re up to the task,” Grady concludes. Jack appears to wish to settle their doubts, as if it is important to him that his wife and son know how dangerous he can be. Why else would Dad have done it? He’d sure done it to Eva and Attila before me. And he probably even knew that he wouldn’t have been alone in the task: that many would have tried to stop him. In effect it would have meant the end of America. He probably didn’t know this much, but he did know that when he won — and that is a “when,” not an “if” — he, too, would never have been able to move past it. What would he have done to himself once the deed was done? I can’t help but continue to wonder, then, why he was so intent on doing it.

Soon it is the next morning. Wendy and Danny are in their quarters eating breakfast and watching cartoons. Jack is not there. Wendy tells Danny she’s going to find him. She takes a baseball bat with her.

She goes to the hall where Jack used to spend his days, writing or not. She approaches his typewriter and finds that each page is filled with the same phrase repeated over and over: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Wendy is horrified: Jack’s illness must have taken hold long ago. Maybe he’s always been this way. And when she hears him approaching from behind she lets out a shriek, chokes up on the baseball bat, and starts backing away. If anyone had seen Dad’s plan they might have acted similarly. She backs away through the hall and Jack follows her. Soon she is ascending the stairs, swinging the bat weakly. “Give me the bat,” Jack says. “Give me the bat. Wendy? Wendy? I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash them right the fuck in.” Wendy is crying, but still swinging the bat. Jack reaches forward and she hits his hand. Then she swings again and connects, knocking Jack down the stairs unconscious. Next she drags him through the hotel to the kitchen and locks him in the pantry just when he’s coming to. Jack comes to the door laughing and telling her to check out the snowcat and radio, both of which he’s ruined. She and Danny are stranded. Escape to civilization is impossible. Mother, as awful as she too turned out to be, might have been my only hope, after all, but she wouldn’t have been able to make him stop either.blob:https://antalpolony.wordpress.com/f6aa8e2b-8b20-4e72-8fd6-9b0b893dfa53REPORT THIS AD

A short while later Grady, exercising more agency than what Dick said the Hotel’s ghosts were capable of, that is that they were no more dangerous than pictures in a book, releases Jack from the pantry. Meanwhile, in their quarters, Danny wakes his mother: he is holding a knife and shouting “Redrum! Redrum! Redrum!” When Wendy hugs him and picks him up she sees in the mirror’s reflection the significance of what Danny is yelling: the word “Murder” written backwards. Then Jack appears outside their quarters, knocking down the locked door with an ax. “Here’s Johnny!” he yells as he comes through. Wendy takes Danny into the bathroom, behind another locked door, and takes the knife Danny is holding. She manages to open the window and push her son out into the cold night, but there isn’t enough room for her to follow. She tells Danny to run, then stands by the door as Jack takes the ax to it. When he puts his hand through to try to unlock it she cuts his hand and he recoils, cursing. Then they hear Mr. Halloran. They are no longer alone. The cook has made the flight to Denver, rented his own snowcat, and made the drive.

We see Dick walking down a corridor, calling out “Hello? Mr. Torrance?” Moments later Jack materializes from behind a column, and kills Dick with a single swing of the ax. No help for Danny there. None of my father’s social opponents would have been able to stop him. If anything they would have made him try harder.

Without her husband before her, Wendy leaves their apartment to find Danny, but is finds herself surrounded in expressions of her husband’s psychosis. There are ghosts everywhere. Dead people, skeletons. She can’t get away from them. The place is more deeply diseased than even Dick Halloran knew.

Soon Jack comes out into the winter night after Danny, who he chases into the hotel’s elaborate hedge maze, bellowing “Danny! I’m coming!” Danny’s footprints are enough to keep Jack after him. In my own reality I never would have gotten away. Danny, however, does, by pausing and stepping back into his footprints and then jumping into a nearby passage. When Jack finds his son’s tracks end he stops momentarily then charges on. Danny waits, then flees the hedge maze back the way he’d come. He finds Wendy and they drive Dick’s snowcat away to safety.

Poorly dressed, Jack continues to yell while he collapses against a wall. Soon he is dead, frozen through and no more. This is the end of the movie, just as it would have been the end of my father. He never would have survived a success he never would have allowed me to escape. It took the bitches’ supernatural intervention. His mere existence is yet another reason I should be dead. Had none of this ever happened I might have become privy to his capabilities some other way. The mind shudders.blob:https://antalpolony.wordpress.com/f6aa8e2b-8b20-4e72-8fd6-9b0b893dfa53REPORT THIS AD

A few months before he died, shortly after the bitches’ arrival some time in early September, 2013, Dad gave me a couple of movies he’d picked out for me himself: Missing, and The Motorcycle Diaries. He gave me a humorous, interested look: I knew he wanted to tell me something. Indeed, the movies were full of double-meaning and intention; wisdom, affection, insight. Similar to how the bitches would a few years later, he told me he’d always been quietly watching me, that he wanted me to get laid and wanted to help me do so, that he knew and had developed opinions on friends of mine that came and went during my childhood. I’d always thought him oblivious, living in his office and working on his magazine. Jesus he must have been smart: how could he remember and communicate so effectively? What, had he re-watched all his movies and picked out the two best ones? They didn’t spare a single wasted moment. The bitches used their technology to manipulate the sounds and pictures. Dad did it with his mind. It was the first and only time he told me he loved me, though these movies were in fact part of the opening overture of his murderous plot. Over the last eighteen months I’ve thought of watching these movies a few times, but the concept scares me. I don’t want everyone to see me do it. I’ve re-watched some of the movies the bitches showed me only to find them completely lacking the subtext they had elaborated earlier — I think I’m afraid I’ll find the same thing with my Dad’s movies; that they won’t mean a damn thing any more, that is was all a figment of my imagination. How would I be able to explain such a thing?

What an awful person he was. I only hope that my own children, should I ever have any, won’t, some day, be compelled to write a similar essay about me. I guess I’ll have to trust myself. I know I don’t want to hate myself. I also know I don’t want to be hated, especially not for an action so repulsive. Maybe I’ll always be interested in villainous father figures. I thought that Star Wars’ Darth Vader as Luke Skywalker’s father, for instance, could have been more problematically developed: the fact that the hero was his father’s son could mean he too was capable of evil. I don’t think the same can be said about me. I intend to make Csaba Polony into an antagonist for the ages. Lacking his physical person, I guess that will have to be enough. If it comes down to a choice between him or me, and I suppose it did, I think I’m glad to be alive, and I think a lot of people agree. I might soon find out whether or not eternal life reigning as a God-King in heaven is in fact in store for me. A loving and healthy mother too. I suppose that’s plenty. Sorry, Dad, but you’re not invited.

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The Prophecy

It was the last Sunday before the beginning of the semester. The four of them shared the same floor of their dorm, which is how they knew each other. It was a friendship of convenience, as they all knew their social circles would evolve organically with the passage of time.

Berkeley’s South Campus neighborhood centers around Telegraph Avenue, crowded with students and shoppers on the best of days. On Sundays its density was further intensified by street vendors, who would take over the street entirely, barring it of automobiles. It was a fun place to explore; there were worse ways of passing the time than getting a burger, CD, DVD, or pair of earrings. Esme, for one, had not yet seen the place for herself. It was a long way from suburban Michigan to be sure. She’d looked forward to attending college ever since she’d started applying. She and her parents had considered UC Berkeley a reach school, and yet, here she was. Kimmy, Marissa, and Cecilia would tell the police officers later that Esme’s bizarre behavior began with the old woman, who had made them all pause, but singled out their pretty, blonde friend in particular. But, for the most part, the episode occurred as an absolute mystery.

They’d just had pizza at Blondie’s and were walking South on the sidewalk when Esme heard her name.

“Esme Winthrope?” came the question through the air.

She paused to look around, but saw no one she knew.

“You heard me, girl,” the voice came again.

Taking the cue from Esme, the rest of the group stopped too.

Esme kept looking. She hadn’t liked the sound of what she’d heard: the tone was raspy and imperious, as if it had an edict to impose.

Her eyes settled on the only person looking at her: a white-haired old woman seated at a simple card table with a red tablecloth, a crystal ball, and an un-dealt stack of tarot cards. She wore a plain, wash-faded green T-shirt and a similarly worn pair of jeans. She wasn’t smiling, exactly, but there was mirth in her eyes.

“Do you know her?” asked Kimmy, perhaps recognizing Esme’s discomfort.

“I don’t think so,” she answered. “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“Not at all,” came the response.

“Then how do you know my name?”

“I suppose reality works in mysterious ways. But believe me when I tell you, I only want to help.”

“Whoa,” said Marissa. “Let’s go.”

“Some kind of stalker maybe,” said Kimmy. “Come on, Es, let’s go.”

But Esme wasn’t sure she wanted to. She’d felt fear a few times in her life, when a high school love interest became too handsy, when she and her father had gone to an art opening in downtown Detroit, but this was something else… The woman truly looked at her as if she had a favor to give.

“Please,” said the woman, “have a seat.”

“What do you want?” Esme asked.

“For $20 I’ll tell you.”

The girls looked at each other. None of them knew what to say.

“What do I get?” Esme asked.

“I might, possibly, be able to save your life.”

“Oh my God, what are you talking about?”

“For $20 I’ll tell you,” the woman repeated.

Marissa took Esme’s hand, a worried look on her face. “Don’t worry about it, Es. She’s crazy. Let’s go.”

“But how does she know my name?”

The old woman’s smile grew. There were gaps in her teeth.

“It’s a take it or leave it proposition, silly girl. I’m only going to be here once.”

Esme was quite dismayed. There was much callous wisdom in the slate-grey eyes staring at her.

She looked at her new friends: “You guys go on ahead of me. I’ll catch up.”

“Are you sure?” asked Marissa.

“Yes, please, I have to find out what this is. Just go to La Val’s without me. I’ll catch up.”

The three of them exchanged a glance, then Cecilia made a motion with her head and urged them on. Finding Esme apparently decided, they left.

“You’ve made the right choice,” Esme heard. “Twenty dollars please.”

The woman put out her hand.

Esme sat down at the table and went into her purse.

“If you want to save my life what do you need $20 for?”

“The spell only works if it is paid for. Sorry, but I’m not in this for my health either.”

Esme found the money and handed it over.

“I understand you’re starting class soon,” said the woman.

“Yes. I mean, in a couple of days.”

“I know you’re thinking about pre-law.”

“Oh my God.”

“That means maybe an English major.”

“Jesus Christ, do I know you?”

“No one knows me, but I know everyone. I’m something of a supernatural being, and I’m at odds with a group of warlocks who have decided to make your body a playground.”

Little thrills of fear kept traveling up Esme’s spine. If she was a con-artist why had she only asked for $20? None of it made sense.

“You’re going to have a dangerous experience today.”

“I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“My name’s Jacqueline. It doesn’t matter, this is the only time we’ll meet.”

“Okay.”

“They’ve been watching you all day. They’ll be here soon.”

“Okay.”

“Listen carefully, Esme Winthrope. No matter how bad it gets, you have nothing to be afraid of. Even your friends might turn on you, but if you keep your wits about you you’ll be absolutely fine.”

“What…”

“I know, what am I talking about? Don’t worry, you’ll know when it happens.”

“Why me? I mean, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“It’s your friend Marissa. Did you approach some boy a few days ago?”

“Boy?”

Jacqueline nodded, still smiling. She was playing with the $20 bill, rolling it and unrolling it with both her hands.

“Exactly. Boy. Someone Marissa liked.”

“I… I guess so. Donny Harmon. He lives next to our suite.”

“Well, there you go.”

“There I go what?”

“I’m sorry Esme, but that’s as much as I can do for you. Just don’t be afraid. That’s the trick. No matter how scary it gets, it won’t last forever. Don’t do anything rash or crazy, and I think you’ll survive.”

“You think? You’re not positive?”

“That’s right. I think.”

“What, do you want more money? I’ll give you more money if you’ll make it go away, whatever it is.”

Esme held her purse up like an offering, though she wasn’t sure how much more money she had.

“Goodbye Esme, I wish you all the best.”

Jacqueline put the $20 bill in her pocket, smiled again, more sympathetically this time, and then clapped her hands. With that she disappeared, and Esme found herself seated on a fold-out chair without a table in front of it. She looked around, but the apparition was nowhere to be seen.

Esme was breathing hard and fast. A cold sweat had broken out on her forehead. She wiped it with the back of her hand, distractedly. She tried to get her nerves under control. The worst thing about what she’d just heard is she’d believed every word of it.

She thought of how put out Marissa had seemed to find Esme successfully flirting with Donny Harmon. But it was Marissa’s own fault. She’d called the boy “cute.” If you down’t want the cradle robbed why would you announce your feelings for all to hear? Esme had done it almost out of a reflex.

She realized she’d lost track of time. The sun was setting and the street vendors were beginning to pack up. The usurpation of crowd noise around her was expectedly incoherent.

She took her phone out of her purse and called Marissa. After several rings she answered.

“Hey Esme, where are you?”

“I might ask you the same question.”

“We’re at La Val’s. How did it go with the old lady?”

“Oh, you know, about as can be expected.”

There was silence on the other end. Esme was afraid her tension was palpable over the phone, but didn’t know how to hide it.

“I’m on my way,” she said. “Is there something you want to tell me?”

There was another pause on Marissa’s end, then: “Like what?”

“I’ll ask you when I see you. Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right there.”

Esme hung up and put her phone back in her purse. She stood up, heart beating harder than she wanted it to. When she heard her name again, from another unfamiliar voice, she spun around, but saw only a pair of Asian students walking towards her. But there was something strange in their eyes, as if they knew her and expected her to look at them.

They went past her and were swallowed up in the crowd.

Indeed, Esme felt something wasn’t right. Somehow, she was in danger. She wished the old woman would come back and tell her how best to handle her current incorporeal, ill-defined predicament. It was fair to say she felt exposed somehow.

She decided to continue on to La Val’s anyway. Maybe the feeling would disperse on its own. It was only a block away. She tried not to meet anyone’s eyes as she went, but she kept thinking of Jacqueline, and, turning left on Durant Avenue, thought she heard a piggish squealing that almost resembled words. It came from right behind her, loud and primordial. She felt a warm breath on the back of her neck.

Letting out a scream she spun around, but there were only more unfamiliar people behind her, yet, like the Asian students had, they looked like they knew her.

“Are you talking to me?” Esme called out.

The pedestrians simply walked around her, giving no answer.

Stay calm. Stay calm. The old woman had told her not to be afraid. That’s what Esme told herself, but found it harder to accomplish than she would have wished. The thought of Marissa and Donny Harmon came back to her. She had to find her friends. Maybe they could help. At least she wouldn’t be alone. The thought of going back to her dorm room alone was not comforting: she was so far from home, after all.

La Val’s was a bar and arcade in a basement under a Tower Records store. As Esme descended the stairs another person came through the doors looking right at her. Esme let out another shriek: it was a smiling, pink-skinned pig-looking thing, with a fringe of wispy white hair, beady, button eyes, and a big, flat nose. That explained the strange grunts she had heard earlier.

He grinned cruelly as he walked past. Esme closed her eyes and went on down the stairs. Marissa. It had to be Marissa. What would she have to say for herself?

She saw her friends gathered around a pool table near the back of the bar. They all had plastic cups and were sharing a pitcher of beer.

Esme approached.

“I hope you have enough for me,” she said squeakily, with an unconvincing grin on her face.

“Go get a cup from the bar,” said Cecilia. “Since I’m the only one here with a fake ID give me your dough when I go back for seconds.”

Esme’s eyes met Marissa’s, and she was horrified to see that there was indeed something there: an interest, as if she didn’t know whether to be slightly afraid and slightly guilty. Apparently the old woman hadn’t been lying.

Esme took off her blue Cal sweater and dropped it over the back of a chair. She heard the strange pig noises down here too, but was too frightened to get a detailed lay of the land.

She walked self-consciously through the crowd to the bar and eventually got the bartender’s attention. He gave her a plastic cup and she took it back to the pool table, butterflies in her chest.

She poured herself a glass of beer then sat down, crossed her legs, and drank.

Marissa had a pool cue in her hands. The game was between she and Kimmy. Marissa lined up a shot and fired, missing badly.

“Oh man, that was terrible,” said Esme. “My grandma could’ve made that shot.”

Marissa looked at her, with that same mysterious expression. She looked like she was at a loss for words.

Esme grinned toothily, then, over Marissa’s shoulder, saw a heavily-haired thing pass by and disappear into the dark. She put a hand over her mouth to silence a shout, then she took another swallow of beer. Perhaps if she pretended it wasn’t happening it would go away on its own.

Kimmy took a shot and sunk it. She was a good looking girl, tall and full-figured, out-going and confident. Esme became envious of her fearlessness. She didn’t want to face Marissa with all the questions she had. Was it possible she was going crazy? She hadn’t felt that way last night, talking to Donny Harmon, though she’d sensed the jealousy in Marissa. Esme didn’t even like the boy that much. Why had she felt the need to inspire such feeling in her new friend?

Cecilia sat down next to her.

“Are you okay?” she asked as Kimmy circled the pool table and the Ramones came on on the jukebox.

“What do you mean?” Esme asked.

“I don’t know, you look kind of pale.”

“Really?”

“That old woman sure was creepy.”

“Yeah?” Esme asked, raising her voice so everyone could hear her. “What’s Marissa got to say about that?”

“Who? Me?” Marissa said, pointing at herself.

“What are you talking about?” said Kimmy.

“I don’t know, ask her. The old woman said it was her fault.”

Great, Esme thought, I’m making a fool of myself. But at least Marissa was listening.

Cecilia missed her shot then approached Kimmy and Esme. She poured herself another glass of beer.

“What are we drinking?” asked Esme.

“Trumer Pils. Only the best.”

“Thank you, so much. I wish I had a fake ID.”

“There’s a part at Alpha Omega tonight. I’m sure somebody there would be happy to make something like that happen for you.”

“Yeah?” Esme went on, voice still raised. “Someone like Donny Harmon?”

There was an unsatisfying crack from Marissa’s botched shot.

“Shit!” Marissa shouted, then walked quickly to the opposite end of the pool table where she found the chalk and began grinding it into her cue.

The pig noises sure were getting loud, and Esme covered her eyes so as not to see another one walk right past Marissa, grinning loudly. Could her friends not see them? What on Earth was happening to her?

Cecilia sank the 8 ball then came over and poured herself the last of the beer. Marissa sat down alone at another table. Kimmy kept looking between she and Esme. Esme, for her part, knew she looked every bit as terrified as she felt. It was like someone was playing a joke on her and she was falling for it. But what could she do? The animal people were everywhere, laughing at her.

She finished the beer in her plastic cup, then she fished around in her purse and brought out a $5 bill, which she handed to Cecilia.

“Here,” she said. “For round two.”

“Thanks,” said Cecilia, who then headed for the bar.

Now sitting alone, Esme forced herself to look out at everyone else. The animal people were everywhere, grinning or openly laughing. There were regular people too, but they seemed completely unaware that anything was amiss. The more Esme looked at the demons the more they looked back at her. They started coming towards her, and formed a semi-circle around the pool table, with cruelty in their eyes and mugs of beer in their claws.

Esme began to hyperventilate as Cece came back. Only Marissa, perhaps, seemed uncomfortable, but when Esme met her eyes Marissa quickly turned away and knocked back another draught of beer.

“Jeez, Es, are you okay?” asked Kimmy, but, when Esme turned towards her, she too began to change: her eyes yellowed, her skin darkened, and hair began to grow on her arms and shoulders. Her mouth morphed into a snout, with two wet nostrils at the end of it, and her hands became paws with leathery pads and big, protruding claws. She placed one of these paws on Esme’s knee and the lips on her snout pulled back into a snarl of equal parts mirth and menace.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” said Kimmy in a growling, guttural voice. “This is almost the end of it.”

Cece, now pig-shaped, imposing, loomed over her.

Esme began to cry. She pushed Kimmy’s hand away.

Then Marissa appeared before her. She still looked human. She took Esme’s empty cup out of her hand. The expression on her face was one of shame and apology.

“I’m so sorry, Esme,” she said. “I think you should get out of here. I think you drank too much.”

“How could you do this to me?” Esme shouted.

Marissa looked a little longer, then turned and began racking the pool balls for the next game.

Esme let out a full-throated scream as Cece and Kimmy closed in on her.

She shot out of her chair and kept her head low and pushed as violently as she could through the furry or pink-skinned bodies around her.

She ran out of La Val’s into the early evening night. She forgot to look both ways as she ran across Durant Avenue, completely missing the 18-wheeler barreling down the street. There was a loud honk and an unsuccessful squealing of brakes. Esme never knew what hit her. In this way, bloody and final, the issue was decided.

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