- May 24, 2016
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Please don't leave me alone with her
Readers’ note: Kathy is an Infernal. The entity she refers to as Kathleen below is her Dark Power, a trickster whom Kathy believes to be her future, more actualized self.
Our campaign is Stopping by Woods, set in Timber Falls, New Jersey in 1996. Jersey Devil country in the Age of Grunge.
Kathy is in still Darkest Self.
Before the journals begin, Kathy was there when Clay first emerged from the river as a ghoul, though she only just learned the truth, that he's a flesh-eating monster.
It’s Clay on the phone and he’s really upset. “Marco’s boys, they came to my house. They beat up my mom.”
For a moment I can’t even speak. I’m so wrapped up in my own plans that I’m oblivious to how bad his situation really is. Clay…he fought with Marco and then…then Marco and David KILLED Clay. But he came back that morning, by the river. Fucked up.
“I need your help,” he says, snapping me out of my thoughts.
I have no idea what I can do to help Clay, but I want badly to be there for him. “I’ll help,” I say. “When?”
Half an hour later, I’m waiting outside in the freezing-ass cold on the driveway. I shouldn’t be leaving the house because I’m grounded. I shouldn’t be taking dad’s guitar with me, but I have plans. Somewhere inside, I know this is a bad idea, but I’m ignoring that girl. Kathleen demands action.
Clay arrives and I get in the car and give him a hug. He looks tired, haunted. He pulls away, driving aimlessly.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says finally.
He seems so lost and he tells me he took his mother to a friend’s house. But the town is so small… The police came by, but they just wanted to know what happened to Tommy. They didn’t give a shit about Clay’s mom getting beaten up. Damn. “I think they’re on the take,” he concludes.
And so many things grow clearer. Louie mentioned a girl disappearing in town, a cover up. I wonder if she had anything to do with Marco. If the police are in with the mob, they could practically make anyone disappear. Shit.
I prattle off some bullshit about the law and state police and bodies and blah blah blah. I got nothing. My friend needs me and there’s shit-all I can do about it.
Kathleen provides a little reminder about my To Do list. Clay’s problems are on a whole other level, but I have to ask. “We can help each other maybe? I’d like a little payback on Principle Assface.”
Like it’s nothing, Clay says, “Sure.”
I feel kinda awful for adding my trouble to his when I don’t have the first idea how to help him.
But I know someone who might, someone I really want to see anyway. “Zora can help you. She’s a serious witch, Clay. We should talk to her.”
We head to Zora’s place and catch her on the corner walking home. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to see her. My chest feels tight, like I can only take tiny breaths. I can’t stop smiling. I roll down the window and wave.
We roll to a stop and I throw dad’s guitar in the back and squirm after it. Zora gets in the front and I lean into the space between the two front seats to talk.
Clay lays it all out for Zora. I can tell she’s a cautious person. Smart. I feel like such a fraud, but I stay quiet. She can help, but she needs something of theirs, something personal.
“Like a wallet or keys,” I blurt. Zora looks at me.
“Do you have something like that of theirs?” she asks.
I feel like such a dork. “I was just offering examples.” Shut up and let the big kids talk, Kathy. Sheesh.
Hunger is a thing for Zora and me, so we stop at the Smooth Sip for a bite and a drink. Of course, I have some other plans, too.
The place is crawling with people from school. There’s a cop placing an order and I can’t take my eyes off him. His gun, his demeanor, it’s infuriating. But Zora is with me. I take her hand. It is the last pleasant moment we will have together…possibly ever.
We place our order and I ask the guy behind the counter, “Hey, I want to be in the battle of the bands, but I need to practice in front of an audience. Would you mind if I play a bit?”
He says, “Sure. Plenty of space, go right ahead.”
But Zora is curious as we take a seat with Clay. “I thought you said you didn’t know how to play.”
I start with a half-truth, “My dad showed me a few things. It wasn’t the first time.”
But Zora’s eyes are so serious; she really wants to know what’s going on with me. I’m so afraid she’ll think I’m nuts, but part of me knows that’s inevitable. Eventually she will find out what really happened in New York. If I don’t tell her the truth about Kathleen, she’ll never understand why I did what I did or where I spent the six months before I came to Timber Falls.
“The truth is,” I say, ‘I have this…voice…in my head. She talks to me, tells me secrets about people. It sounds crazy, but she’s real. She taught me to play guitar. I think she’s my future self, beaming back messages from the future somehow. Her name’s Kathleen.”
I can see doubt in Zora’s eyes already. It reminds me of my mom, when I told her about Kathleen. “So, she helps you?” Zora asks?
“Mostly, though sometimes listening to her gets me into trouble.” Sometimes? I don’t even believe myself.
Zora has a more questions I can tell, but we pause as Craig comes in with his little sister. He orders something for her and comes to join us, sitting beside Clay. I give Craig a hug and take this opportunity to take the next step in today’s plan. I grab the guitar case by the straps.
“Time to do what I came here for.” I smile at Zora.
She still looks concerned. “I thought we came here to eat and help Clay,” she says.
I take off my coat, revealing my rad denim jacket and “RIOTS NOT DIETS” tee shirt. Picking up up the guitar, I’m all, “Are you kidding? There’s a patriarchy to conquer.” And I give her a wink.
I head up to the little platform that functions as a stage in the coffee house. Seems like it takes forever to get the guitar tuned, but finally it’s ready.
“Hi,” I say to the audience of adults, kids from school, and the cop. “I’m Kathy. That’s my girlfriend Zora back there.” I wave to Zora. She looks stunned. “And that’s Clay and Craig there next to her, the only ones cool enough to sit with a couple of lesbians.”
There, I said it. Before anything else, I wanted to make sure I let Zora know how I feel. It wasn’t part of the plan, but I feel like I got something I wanted out of this. Clay and Craig may as well have written “fag” on their foreheads by sitting with me, but I start to feel like I’ve bungled this already, so I blunder on.
“This is for folks like us, that are hated and feared for being different. And,” I stare straight at the cop, speaking clearly so I know he’ll hear me, “this is for Rodney fucking King!”
Then I play “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” the Elvis Costello song. It kinda sucks at first, but by the first chorus, I’m rocking it. Hard to keep an eye on the audience, but they’re quiet. The cop is fuming. Good. I wonder if he’ll arrest me.
I finish the song. It’s the first song I’ve ever played in front of people because I just learned to play this morning. Unreal.
One person is clapping. Craig. He’s a sweetheart. I’m not ready to do what Kathleen really sent me here for yet. I can’t face the confusion in Zora’s face or the mostly silent, unmoved audience.
So I play another song. Y’know what? Fuck it. I play “Bad Reputation.” Joan Jett, baby. It’s awesome to play and shout at these sheep, drinking their latte’s and glancing nervously at the cop. But I feel like a fraud, because there’s at least one person here (more like three) who’s opinions of me does matter.
Perhaps sensing my cracking resolve, Kathleen begins to chant, then yell in my mind as I finish the song, “Smash it. Smash it! SMASH IT!”
As I complete the final chorus I lift the guitar from my body, grip the neck and bring the delicate hollow frame down hard on the stage. There’s a cracking sound and a clang from the strings. I bet that one hit made it unplayable. But that’s not enough. I bring it down again and again, until nothing remains but steel strings flailing and pieces of broken littering the stage like an impact zone.
I look up to see if the cop is coming for me, to see if the crowd is ready to riot, to see if anyone is rocking out.
Silence. They sip their lattes and look at me with pity in their eyes. Pity. Once again Craig is the only one clapping. Zora looks shocked. Clay is smiling, but he doesn’t get it. The cop? Well he just glares at me and leaves with his donuts and his cardboard carrier full of steaming coffee drinks.
I look down. The neck of the guitar is still in my hand, the strings flopping round from it. The headstock says, “Takamine.” My dad loves this guitar… loved. He’s had it since before I was born. Pretty sure every song he ever wrote was written with this guitar. It’s one of his most cherished possessions, probably more cherished than me. I destroyed it. Irrevocably. Me. And I can still hear the lonely clapping of the one boy who maybe thinks I’m cool. No riots, no slam dancing or rebellion or anything… and then the clapping stops.
I. AM. Mortified.
After everything else Kathleen has done and I went along with her, we come to this. I look like a fucking idiot in front of my friends, the whole town. And the one person I actually need in this world, my dad, will probably never speak to me again, let alone allow me to keep living in his house.
I do the only thing I can. I run away, dashing out the back door into the stinging cold. I have to get home. I have to somehow hide the fact that I don’t have the guitar anymore until my dad goes to work. Then I can think of something. I just want to crawl under my bed and die, really. I think briefly of Clay saying he threw himself into the river, and of the toothsome mermaid there. Tears sting my eyes and freeze in painful streaks down my face.
“Now, Kathy,” Kathleen purrs, “Don’t be like that. You did good, girl. You rocked.”
Such bullshit. “Leave me alone,” I shout and walk faster, as if I can outrun a bitch that lives inside my head.
I’m not great at finding my way around Timber Falls yet to begin with and the thick snow makes it even harder. I know I’m headed in the right direction. Turning a corner, I find myself face-to-face with a door. It’s red. Over the door are the words “Curiouser and Curiouser,” like in Alice in Wonderland.
Weirder, there’s an old dude standing in the doorway now. “You look like someone in need, miss. How can I help you?”
“Got any guitars?” I ask.
“A few. Why not come inside and take a look. I’m sure I have exactly what you need.”
Dude makes me nervous. Kinda creepy, but I’m not afraid of him.
Kathleen says, “You don’t need him. I promised I’d get you a new guitar and I keep my promises, Kathy. Let’s go home.”
I’m in no mood for her shit. With dude just standing there, I pull out a Sharpie and start drawing on the door beside the shop. This is the only way I know how to get real information I can trust. Somehow I know drawing and seeing things in the drawings, this is really me. So I draw a black-outlined punk girl. She’s holding a guitar and smiling. It has a price tag on it, but my mind isn’t quite showing me what’s on the tag. The message is clear, though.
I turn to the old dude. “Okay, show me what you’ve got.”
There is way more magical, weird shit in this world than anyone believes. That’s today’s lesson from grounded, suspended-from-school, no-friend-having, lesbo girl. Way, way more magic.
Turns out this old dude is some kinda magician, named Dr. Quirk, and he has—I shit you not---an exact replica of my dad’s guitar in his shop. It plays like the real thing, looks like the real thing, right down to the dents and scratches of 25 years. I don’t even bother questioning, at this point. I’m desperate. I can’t break my dad’s heart again. Can’t.
“What do you want for it?” I ask Dr. Quirk.
“Oh, just a couple of little things,” he replies in his soothing, paternal voice. “First, I want to talk to her.”
“Is that what you call her, the thing inside you?”
“That’s her name.”
“I’m sure,” he says dismissively. “May I speak with her?”
I am totally not sure how this is going to work, but I’m not really thinking about anything except making it back home with this guitar before my dad wakes up.
“Hey,” I think at Kathy, “someone wants to talk with you.”
She is eager to come forward. In an instant I feel like I’m under water, drowning in slow motion. I can hear her voice and his, muffled. They converse, while I struggle in stasis. This was not what I had in mind. She can do this? Just shut me down and lock me away inside my own body? I’m starting to panic. It’s not just this one violation. It’s thinking about how much I’ve turned my life over to Kathleen and her desire for trouble. Does that mean I don’t believe in equality, in justice? I’m so confused. I’ve lost track of where she stops and I begin.
But then I’m back. Dr. Quirk is smiling to himself and suddenly I can recall the whole conversation, like I was on pause and suddenly fast-forwarded to catch up.
Kathleen is NOT my future self. She’s not the real me, or anything “me” at all. She’s a spirit, a daemon or something. And she inhabited me, started her process of… assimilation (?) a few years ago. I can remember the night we first spoke. I was hurting so bad, but she made me feel strong, better, more conscious than anyone else.
And now all of that confidence is sloughing away; all the fires of rebellion turning to flames of panic in my heart. She can put me on pause. She’s the center of the life I’m trying to make, but now the thought of her, of being alone with her, is terrifying.
“You said there was one more thing.” I blurt. I just want out of there with the guitar.
“Indeed,” says Dr. Quirk. “I need you to deliver this book to your friend Zora.” He hands me what must be Z’s missing tome. It’s heavy and old. I get a towel from him and wrap the book up in it and then in my backpack.
“Come back if you want to learn some more, Kathy,” he says. “I’m sure I can help you with your little daemon problem.”
I look back once at Dr. Quirk, smiling to himself, like he made a funny. I don’t say anything. Just not sure what to do.
So I get my ass home. Dad isn’t set to wake up for another hour. At least I’ll avoid answering questions about why I left the house when I’m grounded.
When I finally see my front porch, Zora is there, shivering in the cold. I’m stunned. So freaking glad to see her, but also afraid.
We look at each other for a few moments…or she looks at me, because I can’t meet her eyes. We both say each other’s name at the same time and then pause.
“Zora, I’m sorry I outed you in front of everyone, in front of the whole town practically. I wasn’t—“
“It’s okay,” she says, “I’m okay with us being girlfriends.”
This massive weight I’ve been carrying lessens. For a moment, I can breath. I step onto the porch, fumbling for my keys.
“I talked with her, Kathy, with Kathleen, though that can’t be her real name.”
I just keep moving, because otherwise I’ll start crying and I don’t want Zora to see me like that. She knows I’m a fraud now. Once the door is open and the warm house beckons, I look up to her.
“Do you want to come in?”
“For a minute, sure.”
I stash my jacket where dad won’t see it and know I’ve been out. Then I take the guitar out of the case and lean it against the coffee table, like I’ve been practicing.
Zora asks, “Where did that come from?”
I fold into one end of the couch and she sits on the other. I want to hold her so bad, but the shame is overwhelming. I can feel Kathleen growing impatient with me, too. I’m failing everyone. Again.
“From this weird old dude with a shop in town. It only cost me my soul.” My voice is weak, but I’d give anything to see Zora smile right now. There’s a ping of pain in my temple.
“Don’t even joke,” she says.
I tell her, “His name is Dr. Quirk. He has this, like, bookstore with antiques and stuff. He said he might be able to help with my problem.”
“I want to help you, Kathy, but I need time to figure this out.”
“So, you know it wasn’t all me, the stuff I did.”
“I know that thing doesn’t belong inside you. I know I care about you, but I can’t risk you.”
What I here is “F.R.A.U.D.” I can see it in her eyes. The doubt. The thought, ‘Is this bitch worth this much trouble?’ I’ve seen it in the eyes of teachers and shrinks. It’s what makes me want to scream and fight and offend. But I don’t want to do any of those things to Zora.
“I’m scared, Zora. I trusted her.”
She says, “Kathleen told me the closer I get to you, the closer she gets to you, Kathy. I can’t let that happen.”
There it is. The Reason. The this-is-why-we-can’t-be-together talk. Such bullshit. I want to scream. I want to call Kathleen out for the lying asshole she is. Now she’s fucking up my life again.
But I don’t. I literally can’t fight her and there is no rage left in me while Zora’s oaken gaze holds.
Yeah, thought I couldn’t get any lower? I slide down to my knees and lay my head near her knee. I may never touch her again, but better that than even one time without her permission.
“I need your help, Zora.” I’m crying now. Can’t help it.
Zora scoots away a little…
!!!!! fucking kill me now !!!!!
…and says, “I have to go, Kathy, but I’ll be in touch.”
Kathleen doesn’t like it when I talk about her. I can barely whisper the words, “Please, don’t leave me alone with her.”
“I have to go,” she repeats, rising to leave. I hear her go as I curl up on the couch.
Though my chest is aching, I can’t stop seeing all the things I should be doing. Didn’t I spend hours last night with the sharpies on my skin? Don’t I owe the principle a piece of my mind? Doesn’t Ms. Wright need to get with us and stand up for herself, her relationship, her gender, and just fucking everything?
A thought cuts through the noise of Kathleen’s little demand-bombs. ‘I forgot to give Zora her book.’
F U C K
And now she’s long gone and dad will be up soon, so I can’t go out for a while.
But Kathleen won’t let go. She’s feeling sassy. “To hell with your dad, Kathy. He’s part of the problem. You have things to do.”
I’m already clutching one of couch pillows, my knuckles white. I try to focus on Zora’s face, what it was like to k—
“She doesn’t want you anyway. You have things to do. You don’t need that bitch, Kathy.”
I can’t let my dad know I’m having conversations with Kathleen again. I can’t. As she starts in again, I press the pillow to my face and scream.