Friday, January 5, 2024



Al Bruno III
The following document was written by Peter LaRoche and was found during the Boggs International survey of the island of Kuen-Yuin. (11.5462° N, 162.3522° E)

It's the golden rule of Hollywood. The writer always gets the shaft. The producers get all the money; the actors get all the fame, the director gets to put his vision on the screen, and the people behind the scenes get paid and don’t have to give a damn but the writer? The writer pours his guts out onto the page, and if he's lucky, he sees twenty percent of what he wrote make it through the Hollywood grinder. If he's really lucky, he gets paid what he's worth.

That's my story in a nutshell. A month ago, I was in a mansion, sipping margaritas and talking about art to a woman I had been a little bit in love with for years. Now I'm alone, locked in a supply shed, and listening to her scream. I'm writing this with a ballpoint pen on a forty-something-year-old notebook. I'm trying to get it all down while there's still sunlight streaming in through the broken windows.

Someone has to know what happened here, and I guess that’s you.

Let me begin at the beginning.

It was a year after my graduation from Pratt University when I decided to move to Hollywood and make my fortune. I had already sold a pair of spec scripts and a few short stories to some literary magazines. The spec scripts had fallen through, and the literary magazines had mostly been purchased by the contributors, but I was young and stupid. Within a few months of my arrival in Tinsel Town, I was working in retail part time and not making nearly enough to cover my expenses.

I started looking for other ways to use my writing talent to earn cash. You know, ad copy, non-fiction articles for in-flight magazines, movie novelizations, and the occasional bit of erotica for Monarch Magazine’s Lusty Letters To The Editors.

What, did you think those were real?

Word of mouth that I was fast, cheap, and slightly smutty brought me to the attention of Olympus International Cinema.

You may not have heard of Olympus International Cinema, but trust me, if you’ve ever been channel surfing at three in the morning, you’ve at least glimpsed one of their productions.

Heart of Sharkness, Bikini Bar Mitzvah, The Adventures of Cosmo and Quack, Reggie and the Reckless Reptile, Sword Damsels In Space, Beach Blanket Beasts, The Cannibal Cloud of Daytona, The Butcher Brigade, Foxes In Boxes, and of course Tombs of the Blonde Dead. Olympus International Cinema was responsible for all those films and more. Each one featuring a cast of naive starlets and faded celebrities.

The studio was owned by former Monarch Magazine Duchess of the Year Lori Sandovar. If you are of a man of a certain generation the mere mention of her name will send blood rushing to all the right places.

Unbeknownst to most people, the lovely raven-haired Miss Sandovar wasn’t just a performer in several of Olympus International Cinema’s direct-to-video extravaganzas; she was also the owner and producer. She’d inherited the studio from her third husband. It had been a pretty rinky dink operation back then, mostly making training and educational films, but she turned the company into something very different and very profitable.

Lori was responsible for plucking yours truly from literary oblivion and making me Olympus International Cinema's wordsmith of choice. Those were her words, not mine, by the way.

I’ll never forget the day she asked me to work for her; she said she loved my writing. She even had a copy of a literary magazine one of my stories had appeared in. She asked me to autograph it. How could I not fall in love with her a little after that?

She never really paid me what I was worth but there’s something to be said for steady employment. Working for her wasn’t easy; she was as driven and ruthless as she was beautiful and limber. I was, at times, turning out a script every two months, and they weren’t always great, but she always accepted them. She was a lot nicer to me than she was to her other writers. And actors. And directors. And craft services.

Olympus International Cinema’s newest project was a film called Island Fury. The script was written by yours truly, and it was to be a sex comedy that takes a hard left turn into horror in the third act. The plot was like this: during World War II, a handsome American Pilot crash lands on an uncharted island populated by sexy lesbian goat farmers. Lewd logic quickly ensues, and suddenly, the women are all fighting, then gently grinding, over our hero.

Unfortunately, in the throes of their lust, the women have forgotten their pledge to sacrifice some of their livestock to the creature that lives on the island with them. A stop motion monstrosity to be added later called Ezerhodden the Harvest Fiend.

Lori was very specific about how she wanted this film to be made, and she was painfully specific about the script. I was still re-writing the damn thing on my trusty Smith Corona typewriter when we dropped anchor near the deserted island she’d chosen for filming.

The island she’d chosen was a little flyspeck of a place, too unimportant to be claimed by anyone. It was half jungle and half beach and not much of anything else. She’d scouted it out months earlier, and the night she’d half cajoled, half ordered me to travel with her team to the location, she’d shown me some Polaroids of the place. It was overrun with albino goats and dotted with strange little statues. They were a bit Easter Island, a bit Aztec, and a whole lot of H.R. Geiger.

Do you remember making shrunken apple head dolls in school? Do they still do that? Well, if you do, remember that is just what they looked like. Desiccated little stone faces scowling gleefully.

The privately chartered ship that brought us there was called the Polaris. It was a cargo vessel that was at least seventy years past its prime and boasted a crew of six men who looked like cousins.

Close cousins, if you know what I mean.

Our team consisted of one disgraced director, two cameramen, one lighting guy, one sound guy, five wannabe actresses of varying enhancement, one beefy bonehead straight off the casting couch, one tired, profoundly out-of-place scriptwriter, and lastly, a producer who was also one of the performers.

It took six trips on a pair of inflatable rafts to get everyone and our equipment to the island. The director, Geoff James, came on the last trip, and from the moment he set foot on the beach, he started yelling at the cameramen and rushing the cast to get ready. Wishing to avoid his coked-up wrath, the performers got busy. Our small team meant that they had to take care of their own makeup and costumes.

If you can consider furlined bikinis and an Air Force surplus jumpsuit costumes.

The cameramen worked hard to make use of the natural light and accentuate the strange beauty of the landscape while simultaneously keeping the piles of goat scat out of the shot.

You must be wondering why the Hell I was there. Lori had said she wanted a friend along, saying she wanted someone with half a brain to talk to while waiting for her scenes. I gotta say hearing her call me a friend was simultaneously thrilling and disheartening all at once.

A month ago she had called me other things. I wondered if it had just been the Margaritas talking.

Either way, I was standing there trying not to cringe as the pretty young cast mangled my precious dialogue. The director rarely did second takes, even when soft-core sensation Claudia Tate looked directly at the camera or when thick-headed thespian Bobby Burns mispronounced the word “Women.”

Did I mention the writer always gets the shaft?

As the skinny-dipping scene segued into a bout of mud wrestling, I excused myself to explore the island. You may find it hard to believe but watching people film other people having simulated sex is about as exciting as your average class in technical writing.

The island was strange. I know I said this before, but I don't think I've quite gotten across to you how strange. Pale, pink-eyed goats were everywhere. They watched me pass through their territory with dull-eyed curiosity. There were clouds of bloated black flies buzzing around here and there. The air was filled with this faint, sickly-sweet smell, just strong enough to tickle your gag reflex but not strong enough to be recognizable. I had been wandering for an hour or so when I spied a figure crouching up ahead. It was perfectly still, staring at me. I froze, my breath catching in my throat before I realized that it was another one of those weird statues.

It was about three feet tall, almost child-like in proportion. The head was wrinkled and misshapen. A strange symbol had been carved onto its forehead, a triangle inside a circle with a vertical line through the center. Despite the dry weather, the stone was clammy to the touch.

Yes, I touched the thing, don't ask me why.

"It's a grave marker,” Lori spoke softly from behind me. After a brief startled squeal, I turned to see her in her hiking boots, cutoff shorts, and a t-shirt with the logo for White Brains On Toast. They were her favorite band. She’d even appeared in one of their music videos.

I said, "Shouldn't you be working?"

“Pia wanted to do her big scene early,” she said.

This was Pia Winters’s first movie. A former exotic dancer, she was newly upgraded with massive breast implants that she was eager to show off.

“I didn’t write her a big scene.”

“I know, but Geoff has this weird idea where he wants to see her grinding against a palm tree,” she approached the statue with a kind of awe, “I figured I’d let him get it out of his system so I could explore a little."

I asked, “What the Hell is up with this place? We could have just shot in the Philippines for a lot less.”

“This is better. Can’t you feel the atmosphere?”

“It smells like someone died here."

“Someone died everywhere,” With a mischievous grin, she patted the statue on the head and started trudging deeper into the jungle.

I followed her, swatting at the sickly, low-hanging branches, “How did you hear about this place?”

“From my late hubby’s gambling buddies.”

“Where did he-" I slipped on a mossy cluster of stones and fell on my face, "Damnit!"

"Peter!" she was at my side, helping me to sit up.

“Damnit." I said again.

“Clumsy," She laughed, brushing off my face.

I hoped the dirt would hide my blushing, “I was watching your backside instead of where I was going.”

“You should have used that line in the script,” she stood back up and started walking again. "Come on, not much further. There's something I want you to see."

Not much further turned out to be an hour of walking, mostly uphill. Occasionally, one or two of those goofy goats would follow and keep pace with us, only to wander off into the jungle after a little while. It was miserably hot, and there wasn't even the slightest trace of a breeze. In case you hadn't already guessed, we writer types usually aren't in the best of shape. Oh sure, there are exceptions, but for every Ernest Hemingway, you have about twenty other vaguely gourd-shaped men like me.

I did my best to keep pace with her and distracted myself from being out of breath by remembering the night she invited me over to her place. The night she cooked me steak while I made strong margaritas.

At first, I'd said no to the whole proposal. I prefer to write adventures, not have them. Besides, I was planning on devoting some more time to my novel in progress, The Black Rider. It was a Western epic in the tradition of Lonesome Dove but with ninjas. I'd been working on it for almost seven years, and it was about halfway done.

After a good meal and lively conversation, we made love on her couch. I know. I know. It sounds ridiculous, but just believe me. I’m going to die, or worse, at sundown. I have no reason to pad out my sexual resume. Needless to say, after that, I was all in on the project.

As we made our way through the jungle, we passed by another dozen or so of those ugly little statues before we reached what was once a military base. It wasn’t much of a military base, mind you, just a rusted old Quonset hut and a handful of rotting olive-colored tents. It looked like the exterior set from M.A.S.H. had gone to Hell.

There was also even a Jeep, its tires flat, its body half-eaten by corrosion, and curious goats. It was parked in front of the dilapidated supply shed that would soon become my prison.

"What is this?” Even though the place was obviously long abandoned, I spoke in hushed tones.

"It was an army base during the Second World War. An entire platoon of men was stationed here. All but one of them died under mysterious circumstances."

“But of course.”

"Come on then." She started walking again, "The best part is up ahead."

I swung my arms in a gesture as sarcastic as it was wide, "Better than all this?"

She laughed, "Shut up and march."

"Yes ma'am!" I saluted. To my surprise, she took my hand as she led me back into the jungle. “Tell me more about these lawn gnomes from Hell.”

She flashed me that grin of hers again, then paused before one of the grotesque effigies, "The people of this island were the last stronghold of the cult of Ezerhodden.”

“Wait wait wait.” I said, “Ezerhodden is a real thing?”

“Yup. They had some very primal religious beliefs."

“Oh, they were Baptists.”

“Dork.” She punched me lightly in the arm and continued, “Every six years, they would hold a ceremony called  ‘Grovulche.’ The entire community would paint their hands with goat blood and hunt each other through the jungle. It is kind of like a game of tag. The six winners of the contest would then be brought back to the village where they would play another game using symbols carved on pieces of petrified bark.”

“Are you pulling my leg?” I asked, “You’ve got to be pulling my leg.”

“Nope. Now five losers of this game were called the Zaartua. They would have their hair and teeth pulled out and then be buried alive beneath one of these.” She tapped the statue, “The winner would be taken to the Mouth of Ezerhodden and, after a ceremony called the Six Wounds Of Love, would be blessed with either wisdom, power, or life.”

I shook my head, “And where did you learn all this?”

“I read it in a book called The Nine Rebel Sermons. It was written by a Catholic missionary who visited the island in 1722. I got that from my late hubby’s gambling buddies too.”

I raised an eyebrow, “Ever thought about hunkering down with a Jane Austen novel?"

“Read 'em all. Come on. More to see.”

“Oh, sweet Jesus.”

Another hour of walking brought us to a clearing. The knee-high pale-green grass undulated slowly back and forth. In the center of the clearing was the squat stone rim of a well. It was made from the same material as those ugly statues. Strange hieroglyphics were carved all along the sides; there was the familiar triangle inside a circle with a vertical line through the center, but there were other symbols there, too.

Trembling with either terror or excitement, Lori approached it, “This is it. Just like the book said, The Mouth of Ezerhodden.”

The nauseating odor that permeated the island was stronger here; in fact, I was sure this was the source of it. Imagine the smell of a butcher shop mixed with the stink of an open sewer, then add a dash of the scent of your grandma's house. She drew closer, I followed, and it didn’t take me long to realize that the tall grass was hiding dozens of dead goats. Most were skeletons; some were pretty fresh. “This can’t be real. If it was someone would be here already, there would be archeologists …documentary crews …tourists.”

She paused thoughtfully, “Can you imagine how this would look in camera?”

“Come on Lori, people aren’t going to watch this movie to see spooky old ruins. They want to see boobies and monsters. In that order."

She was at the edge of the well now. She peered down into the depths of the well. “Maybe I want to make a more lasting impression on the world.”

I risked a glimpse down into the murky depths. The air wafting up the stone shaft was hot. There was this thick, sloshing noise down there. Something glistened in the shadows. My heart started to pound, I turned away, and I was violently sick.

When I was done, I begged, “Please, can we go back now?”

“Poor thing,” she got me to my feet and led me back to the boat just as it started to rain. She was quiet and thoughtful the whole way back.

We found the director looking ragged and pissed off. He immediately started to complain about the film’s big star just up and disappearing, but Lori waved him off.

With that bit of unpleasantness out of the way, we called it a day and retired to the Polaris' cramped quarters. Lori turned in early, and the rest of us whiled away the night, swapping stories, smoking cigarettes, snacking on breakfast bars, and drinking cheap wine. Say what you will about B-Movie performers, but they’re a hell of a lot more down to Earth than your average Oscar winner.

And they had some great stories about surviving in Hollywood and working for such schlock icons as Roger Corman and Al Adamson. Soft-core queen and serial line camera gazer Claudia Tate talked about how she’d auditioned for a small but juicy part in a Martin Scorsese film. They’d called her back four times, but she’d ended up losing the part to Linda Fiorentino.
Then our director went into a diatribe about how he had been held back by the Hollywood elites, which we all knew was his way of saying ‘The Jews’. Then, to top it all off, he mentioned that he felt the ending I had written for the film was too cliche, and he planned to use his status as the only director on this godforsaken island to ‘retool’ it.

Writer meet shaft.

Pia Winters shared her life story. A story that began with her time as a 17-year-old groupie for the band RATT. They kicked her out of their entourage for punching out Ted Nugent at an afterparty, so she moved on to being an exotic dancer in Los Angeles. She parlayed that into getting breast implants from a sugar daddy and acting lessons from the Church of Scientology. She let us know with a smirk that she felt no loyalty to either.

Then Bobby Burns started talking about how he couldn’t wait to see Island Fury on the big screen. That led to us all gently explaining to him that Island Fury wasn’t that kind of movie. It was a direct-to-the-back-of-the-video store kind of movie, a regular rotation on Cinemax kind of movie, but he didn’t want to hear it. He said he was doing some of his best work, which I found frankly horrifying.

After that conversation, I boozily decided to turn in. Lori had a little cabin all to herself near the front of the ship. I considered knocking on her door, but thought better of it. Instead, I lay down on my designated bunk and let the sounds of falling rain and lapping ocean lull me to sleep.

The dream that came to me came with a strange stomach-churning feeling of deja vu.

I was standing in the middle of the street in a ruined city. I wandered for a time, utterly alone and lost. In the distance, I could hear a rhythmic thudding; like an army on the march, there was a disjointedness to the cadence, giving a sense of something broken.

And then I saw them, a crowd moving down the street, wizened figures in tuxedos, their heads were bald, their faces set in toothless grins. They carried an elaborate, jewel-encrusted litter on their shoulders. It pitched and yawed with their movements.

The figure riding in the litter wore a goat-like mask with long curved horns. A symbol was carved on the forehead, a diamond with a dot in the center. The figure spied me and began to sing sweetly. The words made no sense, but the voice was familiar as the telltale sting of a paper cut.

I snapped awake.

My pillowcase was soaked with sweat; I spent a few panicked moments trying to remember where I was and why I was there. The gentle rumble of my cabin-mate Bobby Burns snoring helped me get my bearings.

I checked my watch. It was almost 3 AM. I tried to relax and go back to sleep, but when I closed my eyes, all I could still see was the dream, vivid and bright. So, I got on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and headed up onto the deck. It had stopped raining, and the sky was cloudless. The full moon looked swollen and was tinged with green. It was bright enough to read by. Leaning on the aft railing, I stared at it for a while and ran the events of the nightmare over and over in my head, examining and interpolating them until they had lost their disturbing qualities.

After a while, I became aware of this thumping, sloshing noise. It was coming from right below me. Visions of The Creature from the Black Lagoon started bubbling to the surface of my mind. I looked down and saw one of the two inflatable rafts the Polaris crew was using to shuttle us back and forth to the island.

But there had been two.

Where was the other one?

Something about it began to worry me. Had it become untethered and floated away? If so, how long would it take for us to shuttle the talent and equipment back and forth with just one boat? I took a stroll from one end of the boat to another in hopes of spotting the thing. No such luck. So I decided to head up to the bridge and let the captain know.

Halfway there, a member of the crew stepped out of the shadows. He had a hunting knife in his hand and he gestured wildly with it as he spoke, “What you do here? Crew only on deck at night! You go down below.”

I choked and blundered over my words, “I think… you see… I…”

"You get down below!” his breath was rank with alcohol, and the something else I couldn't place. Something vaguely unsavory.

“Yeah,” I said, “I get the idea…crew only. Listen, one of your boats is missing…”

"We know." He gave me a gentle poke with the point of his knife to signal the conversation was over. Then he turned and made his way to the bridge, “You go back to sleep. We take care of everything."

I retreated down below, cringing and frightened. I didn’t like the way he talked to me. I didn’t like this island. I didn’t like any of this. I went right to Lori’s cabin and knocked on her door. There was no answer. There was no answer.

Freaking out just a little bit more, I tried the door handle; it wasn’t locked, so I stepped inside. All her clothes and things were still in her suitcase. There were papers strewn about the bed and a thick old book lying on the pillow. I glanced at the title, i Nove Sermoni Ribelli.

I picked it up and flipped through it. Was this the Nine Rebel Sermons? Was this thing really over 250 years old? As I flipped through the pages, wondering at the tiny print and grotesque illustrations, a slip of paper fell out. It was Lori’s handwriting, and it this is what it said;

“The pit was the length and width of a man. From it the avatar of Ezerhodden rose up from the Screaming Nowhere. It was pale and fierce and was a salamander in its extremity. It looked upon the world of man but spoke to the stars. It cast runes upon the stones that blasphemed against death. From within his mouth he feasts on the beloved.”

”What are you doing in here?"

My breath caught, and my hand flew to my chest. It was Lori, ”Having a heart attack thank you very much. Haven't you ever heard of knocking?"

"Peter. You're in my room." She brushed past me. Her sneakers and jeans were caked with mud, one of her fingernails was cracked.

“Oh… Yeah.”

Heedless of my presence, she began to get undressed, slipping the light blouse over her head. She was braless as always, "Was there something wrong?"

"No, it's just that I was -- I am worried about you." It all seemed so stupid now. Was I really going to tell her that I got spooked because I had a bad dream? I decided to go with more Earthly concerns, "I don't trust the crew of this boat. I think they're up to no good."

She kicked off her shoes, "You're being paranoid."

"One of them waved a knife at me!"

Groaning with exasperation, she sat me down on the bed with a good hard shove, "I know what's really bothering you."

I tried to keep eye contact, but my eyes kept wandering, "Lori, I’m serious. None of this feels right.”

"This is really about what happened back at my place, isn't it?" She strolled over and closed the door to her cabin, shucking her stained jeans on the way back. "You think I only slept with you to get you to help me out."

"Yes. I mean no. I mean-”

"Peter . . . " she caressed my face, ". . . I care about you. More than you realize."

"Can't you see-" she shut me up with a kiss. Her books and notes ended up on the floor, along with the comforter and the sheets.

If I close my eyes, I can still remember how her nails felt on my skin, the way the broken one hurt just a little, and how it made me shiver. When it all ends I’m going to try and keep that moment in my mind, use it to block out everything else. I doubt it will be enough to keep me from screaming.

After it was over, we lay together on the bed, and she spoke in a whisper, "I'll tell you something I haven't told anyone else. This is my last movie.”

Then we were silent. Sleep came soon enough.

The morning found the missing boat back where it belonged. I made a joke to Lori about the captain using it to go fishing. She didn’t laugh.

The day's filming went pretty well. There was plenty of sunlight, and Bobby Burns managed to get through his lines without sounding like a brain-damaged robot.

When he and Lori started working on their ‘love scene’ I had to walk away. I knew I had no right to be possessive or jealous, that this was just acting. But I still had to be somewhere else.

To keep my mind occupied, I tried to piece through my experiences here. If it all had been a movie, what kind of movie would it be? I kept wandering until I found another one of the statues.

For some reason, the face of it was covered with black flies. They buzzed away as I approached. The symbol on the forehead of this one was a circle with an open semicircle at the top and an X at the bottom. There was a dark, gummy-looking ruby-colored substance smeared across it. I stared at it for a long while.

By the time I got back to the others, Lori's scene was over, and Claudia Tate was working on some topless close-ups. Geoff James had decided her soliloquy would play better if she popped her top halfway through. Decisions like this was why he made the big bucks.

When that scene wrapped one of the lighting guys happened to glance out onto the horizon and asked, "Hey! Where the hell is the boat?"

That's right kids, the Polaris had set off without us. I heard a mocking voice in my head, “We take care of everything.”

The sun was beginning to set, and things quickly degenerated into a full-scale panic. We had no shelter, no supplies, no food, no nothing. As the old song said, “…not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe, it's primitive as can be…”

Lori took charge and led us through the jungle to the abandoned military base. At the very least, it was a roof over our heads. After some brief discussions about signal fires and searching for food, the cast of Island Fury settled down in the main Quonset hut for the night. Not one of the twelve of us gave even the slightest thought to posting someone on guard duty.

After all, this is a deserted island, right?

After hours of sleep, I awoke to find myself lying next to the key grip and the best boy. I cautiously got up and walked gingerly around the cast and crew. Sickly moonlight shone in through the windows of the Quonset hut. I searched the slumbering shapes for some sign of Lori but couldn’t see her.

I had to relieve myself, and it seemed like a good idea to do my business at the edge of the camp. I stumbled over jutting roots and prickly brambles until I was at the tree line. Then, I did what came naturally. It wasn't until I was finished that I noticed the toppled statue.

Half concealed by a mound of freshly disturbed Earth, it lay on its back, gaping at the stars. I drew closer, wondering if I should try to set it right. I touched the stone. It was warm and clammy. Not cold like before. I wondered who had done this, a clumsy actor or a belligerent goat. Maybe it had fallen over on its own?

A sudden creeping sensation up the back of my neck alerted me to the fact I wasn't alone. A twig snapped. I turned, "Lori will you please stop sneaking up on --"

The shape before me was human but withered; its leathery-looking skin was a muddy gray, its bald head was marked with old scars, and its toothless mouth gaped. In its left hand, it held a goat horn; one end was bloodied, the other sharpened to a point.

The Zaartua!

Then I was running through the jungle, fumbling blindly through the trees and bushes. Every statue I came across was askew or toppled over. Dead goats were everywhere, their throats slit, their horns removed.

Somehow my wild flight brought me to the clearing with Ezerhodden’s Well. The stench was worse now. The air was filled with a thick sloshing. I risked a glance backward; a pair of Zaartua were shambling after me like they had all the time in the world. The only noise they made was the crackle of their dead joints flexing.

I let them get a little closer and then feinted around them and doubled back into the jungle. I found my way back to the camp, hoping for safety in numbers. What I found made me stop dead in my tracks.

Damn that full moon. How I wish it had been cloudy that night, that the shadows had been dark and long enough to hide the carnage.

The Zaartua had made quick work of the cast and crew of Island Fury. I saw Claudia Tate, her flesh hanging torn and loose as she staggered and swayed with the animal urge to survive. Her tormenter shuffled behind her, content to watch her die slowly.

There was the high-pitched screaming of Bobby Burns. The Zaartua swarmed over where he had fallen. They raised their makeshift blades and brought them down again and again.

Geoff James was backed into the wall of the Quonset Hut, swinging one of the boom mikes wildly, trying to hold off his attackers, but there were too many of them.

Blood. Howls of terror. The Zaartua were relentless in their bloodlust. Soon enough, I was surrounded and screaming for mercy.

"No!" I heard Lori shout.

I turned on my heel to see her standing in the clearing. The captain and his machete-wielding mates flanked her.

"He isn't for you." She said, and with that, mummified shapes brushed past me, looking for fresh prey.

“Lori?" I tried to find words, but my mind and my body were too exhausted.

"Lock him in the supply shed,” She nodded to the Captain, her tone threatening. “Treat him gently."

I didn't resist as I was marched to the supply shed. A brand new padlock had been installed on the door. I heard it click into place once I was alone in the dark. I whispered, “Help.” to no one in particular and then curled into a ball on the floor.

The next morning Lori came to see me. She had a handful of breakfast bars in her hand.

"Hungry?" she asked.

"No." I doubted I'd ever be hungry again.

She knelt beside me; instinctively, I withdrew from her proximity. "Ezerhodden is real, Peter. He made me promises."

"You did all this?"

"He spoke to me in my dreams. He knew my desperation and revealed to me his need.”

"Stop talking like that!" I flashed with anger, “You’re a B-Movie actress, not Anton LeVey."

“Every sixth year Ezerhodden crawls closer to our world. He casts avatars out from the Screaming Nowhere, but someday he will truly walk among us." She closed her eyes and shuddered, “Then the true Harvest will begin as was prophesied.”

"Why are you doing this?"

"I have ovarian cancer." There were tears in her eyes, "I found out three months ago."

“No… that’s not…” Now there were tears in my eyes, but we were both beyond weeping.

She said, “It's too far gone for the doctors to do anything. It’s in my bones and my spine.”

“Oh my God Lori…”

“Ezerhodden has promised me new life.”

I thought of the Zaartua, “You can’t want to be turned into one of those… one of those things!”

“There are other ways and forms,” she kissed my forehead and stood. “All I have to do is submit to the Six Wounds of Love.”

I didn’t want to know the answer to my next question, but I had to ask, “What is that?”

“The Zaartua will scar me five times, each deeper than the last, then… then I will take someone beloved to me to the Well of Ezerhodden and surrender them to the avatar that dwells within.” She closed the door behind her. There was a rustle as the padlock was put back into place.

I went crazy for a little while after that. Trashing the place, looking for something to help me escape. Screaming all the while. I found a hammer and smashed out the windows, but they were too small for me to get through. I thought about using it, or maybe a screwdriver for a weapon, but what good would that do against those things?

Finally, I found this notebook in one of the lower drawers. Some soldier from back in the day had been using it to keep track of inventory, so I decided to put pen to paper one last time and let the world know what happened here.

That brings us full circle.

It’s dusk now. I’ve been listening to the sound of Lori’s screams all day, but now she’s quiet. The ritual of the Six Wounds must be drawing to a close.

My heart is sick to think of her in pain. I want to hate her, but I just can’t. When they finally come for me I am going to try and reason with her one last time. But I’m not holding out much hope for a Hollywood ending.

Like I said before, the writer always gets the shaft.

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