Hey AT & RH,
Loving the copies we have seen so far. You two have a real knack for filling in the blanks of what happened in those bumpkin towns. Two reasons I’m contacting you today, and frankly, it’s not all peachy. (see what I did there?) The first item, sales from the last book are down. This was to be expected going into this quarter but still thought you two should know. I guess people are done hearing about the incident in Phoenix, with the final finding being inconclusive and all. There is a palpable energy here in the office though; we are really excited about this Deercliff work. Which leads to my second reason for emailing. WTF is up with the delays? That sheriff got her memoir out within months of the events up there, and she is on fucking Ellen. We don’t know how much longer we can cover your expenses without seeing some tangible results from our investment. Need to see the next entry of the work sooner rather than later. If you two are burnt out or something, then just say so, but we need to have something ready to publish in the next few months (even if it’s unfinished) to keep up our contract with you.
Sorry for the pressure, like I said, we really like what you have sent our way. just really really need you guys to wrap up your work in Deercliff and come on home.
Reply From: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: RE: Progress?
AT here. Hear you loud and clear. Asses in gear and all that. Struggling with this part of the story. Lots of confusion and unwillingness from populace to talk about the actual series of events at this part. The kids have been sort of contradicting each other actually. Most interviews are turning into some sort of group therapy session. Also, sheriff is keeping us from interviewing them, the people responsible. Says it won’t do anyone any good. Any strings you could pull?
Promise we aren’t just sitting at the bar drinking away our stipend. Bummer about the other book.
Reply From: Academypublishinghouse@*****.com
Subject: RE: Progress?
We see your receipts dumbass. Go write at a coffee shop or something less distracting.
Reply From: email@example.com
Subject: RE: Progress?
You know, Hemingway said to write drunk… I’ll get to work now.
Following her resurrection, the power was out for exactly seventeen minutes. The Nice family had let out both shouts of terror and of delight as Maggie gasped back into reality. Amanda had used the distraction to quietly slip out of the room and ponder her next move. This whole thing with Trevor and his abused sister was positively too heavy. She wasn’t sure why she had gone with the whole “girlfriend” bit with his parents, perhaps she pitied him, but she saw the cruelty of it now. She also realized it meant her next move was going to have far too powerful of consequences on a bereaved family of middle-class white folks.
The hospital hallway was nightmarish without the power on. The sudden silence of the machines let the gargling of human pain trumpet forth and create a cacophony of misfortune. Nurses hustled to and fro, bursting into rooms and pulling aside sheets to make sure the vegetated weren’t going rotten too quickly without their electricity. Those in the lobby, which was just barely visible from outside Maggie’s room, continued to push away at their angry birds without much care for the commotion hidden away from sight. Following their cue, Amanda pulled out her own phone and began scouring her contacts.
She still had a few people close to her home that could potentially help her out. Well, she had one people who could potentially help her out.
Nadia Taylor had been the closest thing to a friend Amanda had had growing up. The two outcasts of Alberton, the sheriff’s eclectic and sometimes dangerous daughter and the Indian/Black half cat chick, they had stuck together as a means of survival. When Amanda ran away at seventeen, Nadia had been the only contact from her past she had kept. While Amanda was working her way south along with a traveling carnie group (she had run the balloon-pop tent and took heavy delight in giving away the big toys every time.) Nadia was graduating Alberton High. While Amanda was pickpocketing random John’s at the strip joint in Louisiana, Nadia was double majoring in economics and political science at the college in the city. While Amanda was breaking hipster hearts in the Big Apple, Nadia was turning towards the teachings of Marx, Engels, Du Bois, Lenin, Malcolm X, Heather Booth (and numerous others) and joining militant Antifa groups with anarcha-feminist hierarchy. They had sent emails back and forth throughout all of their growth, never really responding to each other but instead writing out long letters declaring their own existence. Amanda had never said, “congratulations” when Nadia got into college, she had just responded with an email about how hard getting the smell of kettle corn out of your hair was. Nadia hadn’t asked if Amanda needed help when she explained that she was on the lamb and going to change her email address and driver’s license, she had just responded with a diatribe about the naivety and privilege of white boy’s at college.
To text her now, to call her, would break all sense of normalcy the two had had between them. She was probably demonstrating at Standing Rock anyways, Amanda thought, perhaps hoping it was true. The power kicked back on with a great roar and numerous beeps, and again the gurgles and belches and general sounds of sickness were covered. Wincing in the light, Amanda blinked hard with her hand hovering over the call button when Trevor walked out.
“Hey, uh, holy shit. Um, are you ok? Can I get you anything from the vending machine?”
“No, thanks, Trevor.”
“Ok. Gonna get Maggie a diet coke, maybe see if they have any M&M’s too,” he said, although he stood still. “Hey, um, why did you tell my parents we are dating?”
“Seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
“Yea, ok. But like, you don’t think about me that way, do you?”
“Yea. Yea, ok. Cause I don’t, I don’t see us like that myself. I mean, bad timing aside, like, you are way too cool for someone like me.”
“Nothing. You’re fucking cool. Can I say that? I know I’m just some fucking nerdy ass business major nobody, but I still can give the omnipotent Amanda Sanders a compliment right?”
“Omnipotent? Trevor, you’re being fucking weird.”
“Don’t be sorry, just, have some confidence or something. Nobody ever likes someone who puts himself below other people.”
“Yea, ok, sorry. I mean, ah fuck it, I’m just happy. Maggie is ok! She’s awake, and she’s herself, and everything feels, ok. Plus, I can’t wait to see how you handle the awkward dinner with my family that is bound to be coming.”
“What fucking dinner?”
“Hey, you’re the one who said you were my girlfriend. Going to love seeing what narrative you come up with. Gotta warn you, mom and dad won’t catch on at all, but Maggie, she’s got a nose for bullshit so we better get our story straight alright?”
“I know, it’s all fucked up. But still, this isn’t my fault.”
“I’m staying here, at least for a few days. A good friend of mine lives here, and I promised her I would stop by and say hi on my way home.”
“Oh. Ha, so you’re breaking up with me within the first half hour? That’s a new record, I think.”
“We aren’t together.”
“It was a joke.”
“Well, you were funnier in the car.”
“Why the fuck would you say we are dating if you were just going to bail?”
“Because you brought me into a room with a girl that was just raped. Things seemed a little depressing.”
“Oh, and now I get to tell my mom that her son introduced her to a fake girlfriend?”
“No. Keep your voice down for fucks sake this is a hospital. Also, your dad is watching out the window. Here’s what is going to happen. I’m going to go stay with my friend for a few days. You are going to take your sister home with your family, and deal with whatever trauma that is going to bring with it. If, if, I decide to come to Deercliff, then we can have your family dinner and all that shit, and if need be plan an elaborate breakup scene so that we can go our separate ways. We can make Shakespeare quake in his dead boots at how good our performance is, and your sweet mum will think you are a tragic, but ultimately heroic little boy. For now, I need you to kiss me and let me leave this ugly building. Either I’ll show up or I won’t, and that all depends on whether or not I’m as fucking cool as you think I am.”
“Like I said, your dad is watching, and it would be awfully weird if the young couple didn’t kiss before splitting up for a few days.”
“This is stupid.”
“Just do it.”
Nadia met Amanda at the local coffee joint for the radically hip, Witches Brew. Amanda’s fear of altering the chemistry between the two of them had been highly misplaced. Nadia, who was all leather jacket and tattered jeans and hoop earrings and occult symbol tattoos and purposefully lopsided haircut, engulfed her old friend in a lingering hug and what she called, “extremely positive lunar vibes”. They got to talking over direct trade Panamanian coffee, mostly about non-consequential items while feeling each other out. As the caffeine meandered through their bloodstream they started opening up, and over locally sourced, organic parfait cups they finally began to dump emotional baggage on each other. Nadia had recently dumped a boyfriend to carry out a secret affair with one of her female professors. Amanda had lost her dad and was going home to sign the papers giving her the house. Nadia had thrown bricks through the windows of several pro-Trump houses on her block while drunk. Amanda had gotten a ride from a fellow whose sister was raped. Nadia had spent the past few days organizing and executing a protest outside of Chas German’s law office. Amanda couldn’t decide if she should go to Deercliff or not before going home. Nadia was organizing a group to go to Deercliff and protest the inaction of the local police department to apprehend a suspect or even make somewhat safer the town.
With bottomless mimosas coming to their table, Amanda and Nadia agreed to stick together for a while, sisters in action, and take care of each other. By the end of the first bottle of champagne, Amanda became compliant in the planning of a militant feminist protest in Deercliff, all because she had decided to see how exactly that dinner at Trevor’s would play out.
Todd, Reggie, and Jackson tried not to pry too much as they put the scattered items of Ann Marie’s purse back into their home. Young guys are always like that around female products, either trying to crack wise or simply quicken their own interaction with them as much as possible. What with Big Mac and then Ann Marie running away following the fiasco with kidnapping Todd, the three boy’s had begun the act of cleaning up quietly, perhaps worried that too much noise would scare another person off. It was Todd who finally broke the silence, as he grabbed the box of spilled menstrual products with clear discomfort.
“Listen, I’m sorry for what I did here today you guys,” Todd began.
“It’s not your fault man. Big Mac and Reggie kidnapped you, you shouldn’t have even been here,” Jackson replied, jumping in before Reggie could worsen the situation.
“You guys playing DnD or something in here? Got all kinds of maps and like, haha, wait is that string connecting pictures and shit? Like noir detective work? What are you trying to solve,” Todd asked. He examined the board closer, still holding the Tampax box in his hand, and the brief laughter receded from his face. “Is this about Maggie?”
“Mhm. And Ethan. Cops think he did it, but we don’t.”
“The cops think Ethan did it?”
“That’s what my mom’s dipshit fail son of a boyfriend thinks,” Reggie said, turning a small tube of lip-gloss around in his hands. “You ever saw Annie wear this color?”
“Your mom is dating a cop?”
“Jesus Christ Todd, it’s all over the town, don’t you get out ever?”
“She’s been on some dates with Officer Bishop is all,” Jackson mumbled.
“Woah, that’s news to me.”
“Speaking of news to you, how did you know that Big Mac was cheating on Ann Marie? I can’t shake that man, like, no offense Todd, but who the fuck do you hang out with? Who keyed you in that the most popular kid in school was cheating on his girlfriend with the most popular girl in school?” Reggie asked. Despite his words, his tone wasn’t mean, and Todd assumed this was probably how he talked to everybody.
Before Todd could open his mouth, Jackson jumped in with a quick, “Well, literally every TV show about high school ever could have told you that.”
“I uh, heard about it while I was at work one day actually. People don’t really pay any attention to the guy who brings them coffee at Kate’s…”
“People always pay attention to the guy who is like six foot eight though, don’t they?”
“Not anymore, no. You never paid any attention to me after all. But I heard it from Maggie; she was talking to some of the other girls. In for a hangover breakfast, like everyone on a Sunday morning.”
“Huh. Well shit. That is some kind of fucking shit isn’t it Jackson. This whole thing just keeps getting more and more retarded,” Reggie would have gone on, but after saying his last word he quickly looked at Todd and flinched.
For his part, Todd kept looking at the board the guys had created before saying, “You can still say retard around me Reggie. I’ve got a birth defect, I’m not going out for the Special Olympics anytime soon.”
“You two shouldn’t talk like that anyways,” Jackson said. “So, I guess we are exposed. We are trying to prove that Ethan is innocent and find out who hurt Maggie. You were the first person to find her that morning, right Todd? Maybe you can help us?”
“Kate actually saw her first, but yea, I was there that morning. Waited for the cops to show up, that’s why I was at the station. Seeing her like that, I mean, seeing anyone like that would have been bad, but seeing Maggie like that, it changed me. I’ve been going around for the past few days, just full of anger, misguided anger. I think this would be good. I would love to help you guys if you’d have my help.”
“Well, our team just shrunk by two members, so I’d say we’d love a hand, or claw or whatever it is you have,” Reggie mumbled. Jackson looked appalled at his friend but Todd just burst out laughing and put his long arms around their shoulders. Reggie, who was still a bit on edge and not sure if Todd wanted to hurt him or not, flinched at this action, dropping Ann Marie’s recently repacked purse and spilling again it contents.
Todd was added to a group message with Jackson and Reggie. The first group chat he had ever been a part of that didn’t involve work or his family. The whole day seemed to have become a weird sort of blur, and all the moments prior to teaming up with Jackson and Reggie were the blurriest. He could no longer remember if he had actually seen Delia, and that he had lost his bike seemed trivial. The bruises on his face didn’t look as bad as he had assumed they would. For the first time, Todd felt something akin to the feelings of friendship, no, more than that, necessity. A group of people, popular people, needed him, and that was energizing.
Jackson and Reggie had shared with him everything that they had uncovered so far. Todd had been fairly surprised to find them talking about something he knew a fair amount about. As the guy’s got into talking about the BHIN, the receptors in Todd’s brain began firing off cues that he should remember something. Somewhere in between Jackson’s seriousness and Reggie’s sarcasm Todd broke in by talking about the work of one Fat Wulf, an up and coming internet rapper who used a lot of occult imagery in his lyrics and album covers. A recent song had been titled just that, “BHIN” and in it, Wulf talked a lot about ritual sacrifice. They guys had been excited to learn about this, and Todd had agreed to jump on the message boards to see if anyone in the Fat Wulf community could shine some more light on the BHIN.
For his part, Todd did not share the fact that he had Maggie’s phone. It was too early in this blossoming relationship, and he still didn’t fully trust the guys. He could only imagine the conclusions they would come to if he showed them Maggie’s phone.
When he got home, he quickly explained away his bike crash and bruises and ran to his basement room where he hopped on his computer and began chatting with people about BHIN. Most people wanted to discuss it as a song and the progression Fat Wulf was making from low-quality to something of a backpack trap rapper which was a novel concept, but Todd got a few bites that told him where to look if he was interested in the BHIN. The only thing that kept coming up was a reference to a book, the “Manus Mortis Habet Cum Firmitate”, but when Todd googled it all he found were rough translations and a piece on how it came up in the trials against the Knights Templar. Todd sent a rough synopsis of what he found to the guys and hit the hay with a sense of purpose.
Todd’s alarm woke him up at 4:00 AM, right on time as always. He struggled for a minute, accidentally grabbing Maggie’s phone, which he kept charged as well as his own. Tapping the stop button, he moaned loudly and cast aside the blankets and sheet. Groggily rolling his lankly limbs out of bed, he wandered to the toilet, pissed, and headed upstairs to make a quick cup of coffee. The Keurig machine leaked a little, but it was his only source of morning Joe and his mom refused to replace it on the grounds that he was going to be going to college soon and could just take it with him. coffee in hand, he waddled back into the depths of his basement dungeon and checked the two phones he now had charging by his bed.
Both had numerous messages.
On his own, Todd read things like,
Maggie is awake! She is coming home! Ann Marie texted me that. Won’t respond to other texts.
Seriously? Thank fucking Christ man. How is she?
Annie or Maggie?
Either or, fucknuts.
Dude, just go jerk off and talk to me when you have less pent-up rage in your balls.
Uh, pee is stored in the balls dumbass.
And still other things like,
Bishop is over tonight. Caught him saying something was wrong with the SAFE kit. Couldn’t hear more/didn’t want to. He’s making my mom watch Robocop with him.
And then there came this part of the thread,
I think Big Mac is dead. Car crash. I’ll text you guys if I hear more.
Maggie’s phone only had one message in the inbox, and Todd again recognized his cousin’s phone number.
We need to meet, tonight, Pilgrim Falls, alone. I need some serious help. I know you have the phone Todd, please, come.