Saturday, October 25, 2014

Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Twenty-Five: KOEHAHA

Al Bruno III

Honey, are you sure you we’re not lost?”

No, everything’s all right. I know exactly where we are.”

Summer had brought lush foliage to the mountain and filled the air with the songs of birds. There was a park near the base and it was always busy with campers and hikers especially so on a weekend like this. At the heart of the park was a Ranger's station containing dozens of pamphlets about everything from the park rules, to trail maps, to information on the long extinct Native American tribes that had named the mountain Koehaha.

Daddy, I’m tired.”

And I’m thirsty.”

The Oglesby family had trekked up the slope of the mountain to have a picnic in a spot just as scenic as the brochures had promised. 

The trip back however was taking far longer than expected, two hours longer than expected

Honey, are you sure this is the way to the campsite?”

Yes Amy,” Fred Oglesby spoke through gritted teeth; fourteen years of marriage had taught him that whenever his wife called him ‘Honey’ she was really calling him ‘Idiot’. “I know exactly where we are.”

That was a lie but he’d be damned if he was going to give her the satisfaction of admitting they were lost. Besides, how far from the park could they be?

Daddy!” his daughter whined, “Bobby won’t keep up.”

His son shouted back, “Shut up snotface!”

Robert and Rachel were twins and they had been bickering since they were old enough to use words and there was no sign of that stopping now. Fred laughed at the old wives' tales about twins having a special bond and dreaded the thought of them becoming teenagers.

Keep up Bobby,” Amy called, “we don’t need you wandering off.”

Jeez Mom, I’m not wandering off, I’m just looking for arrowheads.”

Ewwww I hate snakes!” Rachel said.

I mean Indian arrowheads snotface.”


They came upon a sickly looking stream, no more than three feet at its widest it cut a deep groove into the soil as it snaked down the mountain. Fred made a show of sitting down on a log and shaking an imaginary stone from his shoe, “We’re almost there, refill your canteens and then we’ll get going again.”

Amy bent towards him, “If we’re almost there then why are they refilling their canteens?”

So they’ll stop bitching about being thirsty,” he said. 
Moooooommmm!” Rachel shouted, “Bobby spit water at me.”

I did not!” Bobby shouted back, “And she started it.”

Fred watched Amy head off to play referee then he put his shoe back on and stretched. Where the Hell were they? These trails were supposed to be marked. Had he led them all the way to the other side of the mountain?

Rachel said, “This water tastes funny, like a penny.”

Amy chuckled “And how would you know what a penny tastes like you silly?”

He made me.”

I did not!” Bobby yelled.

Oh this water does taste funny,” Amy said, “do you think it’s safe honey?”

I’m sure it is,” Fred pointed downhill and tried to sound confident, “Let’s go.”

The Oglesby family fell back in to marching formation, with Dad leading the way. They walked in silence for a time and Fred was grateful for that, he didn’t need any fighting or accusing questions. He was doing the best he could for God’s sake.


For a scary moment Fred thought they had wandered across a rattlesnake but then he realized it was just one of Bobby’s repertoire of annoying sounds.



Fred rolled his eyes, now both kids were at it. “All right,” he said, “enough of that or no ice cream when we get back.”




All three of them? Was this some kind of a prank? Fred turned around not sure if he should scold them or laugh along.

He found them transformed. The bodies of his wife and children had become bent and feral, the skin of their faces had begun to twist and curl back exposing bloodied bone and hungrily clicking teeth. Their breaths were labored. Their eyes were rolled back to the whites but they still saw. Fred was sure of that.

Bobby sprung first, his teeth snapping, his voice withered, guttural and speaking nonsense. Fred ran, too terrified for questions or reason. He could hear the three of them at his back, giving chase and chattering their teeth, endlessly chattering.

Panic made Fred clever, he scrambled through the trees and tickets and manged to double back around on his pursuers. He tried to find the trail again but only manged to make his way back to the sickly stream. 

What had Rachel said about the water tasting funny? Fred slowed and stared down, It looked just like ordinary water to him.

He half-remembered something he had read in one of the handful of pamphlets he had picked up from the Ranger’s station. It was something about how the indigenous peoples had wiped each other out with uncharacteristic savagery.

There was some legend to go along with it wasn’t there? Something about their warriors drinking the star-cursed ‘Blood of Koehaha’? Something about cruel spirits that had come from Outside the sky?

The sound of chattering teeth startled him from his thoughts. Fred looked up from the stream to find himself surrounded but familiar bodies with ruined skull-like faces.

And in his last moments Fred finally realized how truly lost they had become.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Attention Citizens!Support the kickstarter for a new edition of the PARANOIA or be charged with treason!

found via BOINGbOING

Serve the Computer! The Computer is your friend!
Imagine a world designed by Kafka, Stalin, Orwell, Huxley, Sartre and the Marx Brothers. 
Paranoia is a roleplaying game set in a darkly humorous future. In Paranoia, a well-meaning but deranged computer desperately protects the citizens of an underground warren from all sorts of real and imagined enemies. You play one of The Computer's elite agents. Your job is to search out and destroy the enemies of The Computer. Your worst fear is that The Computer will discover that you are one of these enemies. 
Paranoia: A light-hearted game of terror, death, bureaucracies, mad scientists, mutants, dangerous weapons, and insane robots, which encourages players to lie, to cheat, and backstab each other at every turn. 
Is that fun? Trust us.

Paranoia Rebooted

The all new, rebooted Paranoia box set has been designed to be played almost immediately from opening the box. It offers fast, manic game play through the use of streamlined mechanics and substantial components including Computer Dice and high quality cards to represent equipment, mutations and much more!
Paranoia now offers a thoroughly modern roleplaying experience, allowing you to get into the game even quicker:
  • Streamlined, simple rules with new card play that allows maximum carnage while allowing you to concentrate on the action (and survival).
  • A 21st Century approach to Alpha Complex - Terrorists have taken their proper place as the greatest threat now but Commies are still lurking in the background, and the Computer's benevolent surveillance capabilities are as all-encompassing as they were envisioned in 1984 (Paranoia's original release!).
  • The principal designer is James Wallis (Baron Munchausen, Once Upon a Time), the most celebrated designer of story-telling games (the Computer says so), assisted by original designers Eric Goldberg and Greg Costikyan, and Violet-level High Programmers-to-be, Grant Howitt and Paul Dean.
  • Minimum effort, maximum fun - with the simplified game system and card decks, you will be able to get into Paranoia within 10-15 minutes.

FLASHBAK presents "Night of the Living VHS: 1980s Horror Video Box Art"


Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Twenty-Four: THE SAME DEEP WATERS AS YOU

The Same Deep Waters As You
Al Bruno III

The sound of the ocean crashing up on the rocks. If I close my eyes it sounds like applause. The storm has left the beach is deserted, but she said she'd be here.
She promised.
We only got here a few days ago, me, my Mom and Dad and my brother Leon, who's a year and a half older than me. The car ride to Cape Cod had been long and everyone was in a bad mood. Leon especially, he started ragging on me, waving his scholarship in my nose. Like I'd want to go that feakin' jock factory anyway. It went on for hours and hours and just like Dr. Patterson said I didn't answer him back. I just agreed and tried to change the subject but I lost my temper and started to give it back. All it takes to piss Leon off is to mention those three magic letters D-W-I.
Mom of course chose that moment to break us up.
After about half a day in the car we reached the cabin. Ordinarily Dad celebrated his son's victories by trips down to Lake George, so-called fishing trips that were actually excuses for drinking and whoring.
But since his beloved all-star was heading off to college in the fall he rented a cabin near the bay side of the cape and the whole family was going along for the trip. No matter how much I'd tried to weasel out of it, Mom and Dad still made me go. No way they were leaving their sweet little darling daughter alone to get into god-knows what kind of trouble.
He'd rented the cabin sight-unseen. I remember how proud he was about that, sight-unseen, he actually thought he was getting a deal.
Of course when we got there he understood. The place was a wreck, it looked like the kind of place the killer from the Friday the 13th movies would go. And the inside smelled like mildew and cat pee. Mom suggested we go find a hotel room, Dad of course would have none of it-
"This is already paid for! It's a roof over our heads isn't it? It's not so bad, besides after you girls clean it up a little-"
"Us girls?" I dropped my bags on the floor, "I thought we were here on vacation. Or is that just for you and your son?"
Leon rolled his eyes and Dad looked ready to turn purple. Mom tried to get in the middle, "What Rachel meant was that we didn't come all this way just-"
"Oh, I know what she meant all right." Dad looked right over Mom and glared at me. I could feel the I work all day. speech coming on line, "I work all day so you and your Goddamn mother can have nice things and all you give me is grief."
"But Dad-"
"Honey, it wouldn't be so bad if we worked together..." Good old Mom and her spine of jelly.
With that Leon and Dad turned to go, if we were lucky they wouldn't be back until after dinner but of course, Dad being Dad he couldn't leave without a little stinger.
"Besides Rachel, a little work might help you slim down a little."
I don't even remember storming out of that rat hole cabin or if anyone called out after me. All I know is that I ran until I found myself at the beach.
I'd never seen the ocean before, except in movies, TV and books.
It's just so... so huge in real life. You look at it and you realize that you're only seeing one tiny part of it. There were birds everywhere, big ugly seagulls and tiny little nervous-looking birds that divided most of their time between sifting in the mud and running in terror at the slightest motion. Tiny shells cracked underfoot. Slipping off my shoes I waded into the surf. This was the closest I ever got to swimming. To swim you have to own a swimsuit and swimsuits and me don't exactly get along.
My weight has always been a problem for me. I've been dieting since I was eight, well trying to diet anyway. I was heavy for a girl my age, too heavy, and it made me look years older. Leon still cackled over the time that I'd been mistaken for his mother. The water here was calm like a swimming pool. I could see my reflection in the water, for as long as I can remember I've hated my reflection but as I waded I watched it, the way the ripples pulled me apart and put me back together again.
It was like I was hypnotized or something. I didn't even look up once until a splashing sound distracted me. That's when I realized it was twilight, that my reflection was gone and the ocean was a bruised purple color. The color of a grape popsicle. I heard a woman laughing somewhere nearby, probably getting a real laugh at the fat girl on the beach.
I didn't have a key, so when I got back to cabin I had to knock on the door. It flew open and my Mother was screaming in my face, "Where were you? We were worried sick?"
"I was just looking around." I answered with a shrug.
Leon and Dad were sitting at the rickety table, a plate of bones in front of each of them, an empty bucket of chicken lying in the trash near them, "Well you missed dinner."
"Yeah Sis." Leon said, "That's not like you."
"Up yours!" was all I could think to say.
With that Dad was up and on his feet, his breath was sour and there were shreds of chicken in his teeth, "I didn't bring you up here so you could screw around and do whatever you want to do! We are here to vacation as a family!"
"Look I just-"
He poked me in the chest, just hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to leave a mark, "Do you understand me?"
I gritted my teeth and said, "Yes."
It turned out that Dad had bought an entire extra bucket of chicken just for me. I told him I wasn't hungry but after everyone had gone to bed; I ate the entire thing, hating myself with every bite.
The next day we went to an amusement park, as a family. Of course I'm too big to fit onto a lot of the rides so I spent most of the time on the sidelines being miserable. I looked at them and though about what a perfect little family they made, or they would make if I wasn't around.
We got back to the cabin late into the afternoon. Leon asked if he could have the car to go and meet some kids he'd met at the amusement park. Dad threw him the keys. I started to say something about Leon's suspended license but then thought better of it.
Instead, after the Golden Boy had taken off I asked if I could go back to the beach. Dad made me sweat it out for a few minutes but then he let me go. Mom slipped me a few bucks in case I wanted some ice cream. Then Dad said I didn't need any ice cream and the old fight between them started to head into high gear.
I high-tailed it out of there and found my way back to the beach. I walked along the shore, skimming stones and pocketing interesting seashells. I found my way to place where an outcropping of rocks jutted out and up. It made a natural pier. After a few minutes climbing I made my way up and onto it and I sat on the edge and dangled my feet off. The waterline was about five feet below me. For a crazy moment I wondered how deep it was. If I jumped would there be enough to break my fall? If I died here, would my family even care? Or would they be relived?
Would they make jokes as they searched for a Plus-Size coffin?
Her body broke the surface of the water below me, I hadn't seen anyone swimming down there. Her hair was dark, her face belonged on the cover of a beauty magazine. She was wearing nothing but a white blouse that was two sizes too large for her. The wet fabric revealed a body that was like something out of Leon's wet dreams. I wanted to drop a rock on her.
She noticed me, her eyes were blue like the ocean. "I didn't see you up there." She smiled up at me, "I hope I'm not bothering you."
I shrugged, "It's a free country."
"I'm Nannete." She said as she stepped out onto the beach and found her way up onto the rocks.
"Did you lose your swimsuit?"
"I always say," Her smile was playful, "that life's too short to worry if someone's going to see you naked."
"That's easy for you to say." I was surprised at how bitter I sounded.
She knelt beside me, her face even with mine. She looked like one of those china dolls. Her lips parted, I thought she was going to say something but instead she kissed me. Electric shocks ran through me. I felt numb. I felt sick. I felt warm all over.
When the kiss broke I tried to speak but I couldn't. She smiled and dove off the rock-pier. I tried to shout a warning but I was still kinda dazed. I didn't even hear her hit the water.
I got up fast as I could and ran back to the cabin. Leon had a bunch of friends over there with him, they looked at me funny as I ran up the walk. I ran my hands over my lips, fearing that Nannete had left lipstick smeared there. One of the girls, she looked drunk or stoned or both, she waved and gave me a sarcastic, "Hi Rachel, I'm Delores. Your brother told us all about you."
"Really?" I said, "Did he tell you about the man he put in the hospital when he was driving around drunk?"
With that I stormed into the cabin and nothing my Mother or Father had to say to me mattered much. Nannete was all I could think about.

A sound just outside the cabin woke me up, I went to the cracked window and gazed out. The sun wasn't even up yet. I wondered if Leon had some little bimbette in his room.
The laughter filled the air, surrounding me. I recognized it now, I'd heard it my first night here.
It was Nannete and she was somewhere close.
Was she looking for me? I threw on the clothes I had worn the day before and, after cautiously slipping out of the cabin, I ran outside.
I couldn't see her anywhere, but I heard her voice. She was singing in some foreign language, it sounded like something out of a NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC special. I followed the sound.
Before long I was back at the beach, back at the rock outcropping. It was half-submerged under the water, the tide had come in. Cold water washed over my feet as I walked along the pier. It was like her voice was coming out of the ocean.
At the edge of the outcropping I knelt where she had knelt. The sky was dark and cloudy and I could barely see my hand in front of my face.
Somehow I lost my balance. Before I fell in I heard my father's voice in my head- ...stupid, clumsy, fat...
I don't know if I hit my head or something as I fell but right after I hit the water everything went black.

A soft hand was stroking my face when I woke up.
"Nannete." I said
Her only reply was to give me water from a cup. We were in a cave. Candles ringed the walls.
There were all these strange symbols painted on the walls. My clothes were spread across the floor, slowly drying. Humiliated I reached up, tried to cover myself. "You've nothing to hide." She slipped out of her white blouse, "Neither do I."
My heart started racing again. Any moment I was sure I was going to burst into tears, "Where am I?"
"You're safe." She huddled close, her eyes were shining in the candlight.
"But where-"
Nanette silenced me with a kiss, her lips were cool. "Answers are no comfort." she breathed.
Each of the kisses she spread out across my body felt like a raindrop. Dizziness washed over me, it was like I was on an elevator that wouldn't stop going up.
Then out of nowhere she started running her nails hard across my chest and belly. I wanted to escape. I never wanted to leave. It was like she was taking me, making me hers. Blood welled up from the cuts and scrapes. She started kissing me again, her lips smearing the red. Her murmuring filled the cavern but I couldn't understand what she was saying.
Sobs shook me as she alternated between caressing and tearing at my skin. I don't now how long it went on for but when it stopped I felt anguished. She raised herself up over me, swallowing me with her shadow. "Every transformation begins with one tiny change."
Sitting up, I kissed her hard on the mouth, losing myself in her. I felt lightheaded, like I was going to pass out.
Maybe I did pass out, all I know is that when I came to my senses I was lying flat on my back on the rocky outcropping. It was raining hard and I was soaking wet. My brother was calling my name. Moaning, my skin still tingled where Nanette had touched me.
Looking down over the edge of the rock I could see the tide had gone out. Leon was walking along the surf, looking wet and miserable and calling my name with a pissed off expression. How long had I been gone for?
"Leon?" For a hilarious moment he was utterly bewildered, his square head looking back and forth to try and find me. "Up here!"
When he finally found me he just started screaming up at me, "You are in big trouble! Dad is seriously pissed!"
"I just went for a walk."
"A walk? You've been gone all day!" He waded out into the water to get a better look at me, the water was up to his knees.
I glared down at him, "I lost track of time. So what?"
"You're out of your mind!" The expression on his face was like he was looking at something disgusting, "Delores told me she saw you up here!"
Bile rose up, leaving a sour taste in my mouth, "She saw me, so what?"
"She saw what you were doing! She told me-"
A stone the size of a bowling ball crashed down on Leon, crumpling his skull. He collapsed face down into the water surf, blood clouding the seawater.
I scrambled to my feet to find Nannette standing there.
"You killed him." I said.
She nodded in agreement, "Do you care?"
I know I should have felt something but instead I just sank into her arms. "What am I going to do?"
"That's your choice."
I want to be with you." I said, "I want to be with you forever."
The rain pelted us, the clouds were getting darker. It didn't matter, I felt safe as a baby in her arms, "Then join us."
"What about Leon?"
Nanette released me, and stepped to the edge "The sea takes care of it's own."
"I'm ready then."
"No." she shook her head, "You must sever your ties with this world before you can join mine."
A cold determination flooded me, "I understand."
"Go then, and return here when you have finished." She kissed my forehead and then dove into the sea.
I turned and started walking back to the cabin. After a few minutes I turned back to look for Nanette. Through the storm I saw four hazy gray figures standing by Leon's body. I assumed they were the police but as I watched lifted it up and carried it into the sea.


My Dad started screaming at me from the very moment I stepped into the cabin, mother was silent and reproachful. The tingling I had felt on my chest and belly was worsening, it was almost painful. I pretended to listen as I went over to the kitchenette. It didn't worry them in the least to see me reach into one of the cabinets and pull out a steak knife. I wonder if they thought I was going to make myself a sandwich, I wonder even now what they saw when they looked at me.
Of course Dad was hot on my heels, at moments like this he can never resist giving me a hard poke with his finger. I counted his footsteps on the cabin floor. When he was right behind me I stabbed. The knife was dull but my strength was more than enough to make the skin of his neck dimple and split.
His scream was ragged and his mouth was wide enough for me to see the end of the blade poking onto his throat. Somewhere far away, Mom was screaming.
I withdrew the knife from the man at my feet and stabbed down a few more times just to be sure. After all, I had made a promise. Mom didn't try to run when I came for her, she was almost resigned as I slit her throat.


There was enough kerosene left in the cabin's rusty heater to get a good fire started. I watched the cabin burn for a little while, watched the flames licking at the roof to struggle and sputter at the harsh downpour. I felt nothing; I hadn't felt anything at all since I left Nanette's arms.
Then I came back here and waited. I lost myself in the sound of the ocean washing up on the rocks. If you close your eyes it sounds like applause. The storm has left the beach is deserted, but she said she'd be here.
She promised.
The tingling under my skin was painful. I tore at the white blouse I wore and scratched madly at the scabs. They broke easily. The flesh beneath them was gray and slimy.
Standing on the rocky outcropping gave me a full view of the ocean and the darkening clouds. I couldn't see her but I could feel her, she was close and she was waiting.
I looked down, the tide was still out but I understood now that the water has always been deep enough. I stripped out of my clothes and leapt into the ocean to join her.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bishoujo Freddy vs Bishoujo Jason - THE MOVIE!


Anyway here's the film...

I know everyone else is posting this but THE AGE OF ULTRON TRAILER IS HERE! (Squeeeeeeee!)

(Hot sweaty GoFundMe action!) Good news and bad news about the move. Also another request for help...

The move went smoothly. 

That's good. 

But the movers more that doubled their price in the middle of the process. 

That's bad. 

We are all a lot happier here. There is so much natural light! It really can effect your moods. 

That's good. 

Unfortunately we currently don't have the cash to afford a set of curtains right now. 

That's bad. 

My dogs love the new place, they're always lying in sunbeams and watching traffic go by in the windows. The cockatiel loves it too, he is always getting in singing contests with the birds outside, 

That's good. 

But within 2 hours of moving in our cat Rascal escaped and hasn't been seen since.

That's bad. 

My wife is feeling so much better. She still isn't 100% but she's not bedridden. It is nice to see her back into her online classes and crocheting. 

That's good. 

My father in law is off on a trip and needed someone to house sit. Well, dog sit really. That means my wife is going to be away until Sunday. It's so strange, when she isn't around I lose a kind of equilibrium of the heart. Everything feels just a little off. 

That's bad. 

My daughter started at her new school this week and despite her worries to the contrary she's already making friends. 

That's good. 

One morning a group of her friends drove her in to school. As they headed off I realize to myself that in two years my little girl would be getting her driver's license. 

That's sad. 

And lastly- this Sunday is my birthday. 

That's good. 

And on that day I'm turning 47. 

That's old! 

With all that said I do want to ask again for your donations. The little incident with the movers has kind of hit us below the waterline. 

At least now our rent is half of what it was. 

And that's very good.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Uncle Al's Halloween Hoedown Day Twenty-One: IN THE PIT

In The Pit
Al Bruno III

Science had long ago replaced the faith of Professor Mercer Conrad’s childhood. With no prayers to comfort him he could only whisper scraps from his latest thesis to keep madness at bay. “ order to pursue my examination of the convergence of post millennial social degeneration and economic disruption...” he said, “...I will approach the subjects directly and establish a dialogue...”

The pit they had thrown him into was eight feet deep and barely a yard across. It had been dug out of the concrete sub-basement of a half-completed house. Serrated ridges were carved into the walls of the pit and the simple act of moving was enough to cut bare flesh to ribbons. A thick iron lattice had been placed over the mouth of the pit and was bolted down. When Mercer shook the bars they didn’t even rattle.

Somewhere a halogen lamp blazed, it cast dark, sharply defined silhouettes along the walls and ceiling of the sub-basement. From his vantage point in the pit Mercer watched the fate of his friends and co-workers unfold like grotesque shadow-plays that ended when the puppets were reduced to scraps.

There were other pits nearby, most were empty but not all. A shape drifted past, the cloaked shaman was about to choose a new victim. 

“Hey!” Mercer shouted, “Please talk to me!”

But there was no answer, none of his captors had spoken a word this night. They had committed each of their atrocities in silence.

Mercer said, “ times of social and economic despair religiosity inevitably takes hold of the general public but in this era of skepticism and spiritual nihilism those impulses have become...”

The clang of a nearby gate being flipped open startled him into silence. Then there were the familiar grunts and cries as another one of sacrifice was dragged away.

What would it be? Flaying or spikes? Or perhaps something far worse. Mercer cursed his foolishness. Where others had seen unsolved mysteries and unreported disappearances he had only seen right-wing fear-mongering and urban myth-cycles.

His teaching assistant Farkas had tried to warn him but Farkas had been the first sacrifice. They had let him keep his tongue and he had shrieked and begged until his voice became the choking gurgles of a half-drowned man.

“...legends that spread over social networks, so-called evidence that is nothing more than here-say and poorly doctored photographs...” Mercer breathed, “...they are the embodiment of middle class fears, the terror that a lost job or economic setback will throw them down amongst...” 

A cry rose up and dwindled. There was a sound that reminded Mercer of celery stalks being torn from the root.

A week ago Mercer had convinced a group of friends and students to join him in Las Vegas for what he had promised would be a ‘working holiday’. They would spend a few days enjoying the sights and the shows, then they would head off to Vantage Acres with digital cameras and notebooks.

The cloaked shaman drifted past again. Mercer called out, “Listen to me! People know where we are!”

That was a lie, both he and his captors knew it, but wasn’t that all part of the ceremony? Weren’t sacrifices supposed to beg?

“...the recent wave of foreclosures have left the city of Las Vegas with one of the highest concentrations of empty houses. Pools have become stagnant breeding grounds for biting insects. Vermin infestations are common as are encroachments from larger animals like bobcats and coyotes but rumors abound that human beings are responsible for the most terrible...”

Mercer heard the sound of someone blubbering, then a struggle and a brief chase. The chase ended with the muffled ringing of metal pipes crashing down on soft flesh.

At first Mercer and his friends had found exactly what they were looking for, downtrodden families living in forgotten homes, foraging for food in the garbage of the financially solvent and stealing what they needed from local stores. As wildlife slowly reclaimed the abandoned neighborhoods some families and clans had begun hunting and trapping.

A crowd of strangers had approached Mercer and his friends shortly after sundown. He had marveled at their piercings and their warpaint and most of all how young they were. Most were little more than teenagers in dirty designer clothes but some of the older ones wore faded military fatigues with the insignias torn away. Farkas and the others had wanted to retreat but Mercer made them stand their ground. He needed to speak to these people, to understand and explicate them. His conversation was rambling and one sided as he had tried to draw them out by talking about class warfare and economic angst.

“... they are called many things such as Urban Headhunters, White Savages and, most often, the Pilgrims. Supposedly they roam the countryside snatching up unwary children and stealing wi-fi. What truth is there behind the terrible legends that have sprung up around them? There are...”

The shaman passed by again, rough fabric trailing across the bars of the pit. Mercer grabbed at the hem of the dark robe and caught it in his bloodied fingertips. He held tight.

There was a soft tear as the cloaked figure stumbled and turned back. The face beneath the cloak was bespectacled and cherubic, it stared indifferently at him.

“Talk to me!” Mercer demanded, even now he was sure that if he could just establish a dialogue he could save himself and his career, “Please. Just say something.”

The cloaked shaman paused thoughtfully, then spoke with a soft, sickly voice, “You're next.”