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[Discussion] 25 great albums you might have missed from 2019. Spotify playlist included.
Spotify playlist is here Google Play playlist courtesy of u/TimeFourChanges is here Apple Music playlist courtesy of u/LegoWaffles is here Last year I listened to over 800 albums and posted a few of my favorites. This year I did the same thing, and I’ve had some people asking me to post again, so here goes. These are not my top 25 albums. These are just 25 albums that I felt were sorely overlooked. Last year some people rightly complained that I included artists which broke the sub’s popularity rules. I’ve done my best to ensure that none of these artists have more than three songs with 500,000+ plays on Spotify, nor 250,000+ listeners on Last.FM. I apologize in advance if something was overlooked. Hopefully we can help get these artists and albums some of the credit they truly deserve! Without further ado, here are 25 great albums you might have missed in 2019: 1. Peter Cat Recording Co. - Bismillah (Released 6/7/19, India) I’ll admit right off the bat that I’m a huge Tool fan, so my choice for best album of the year is definitely biased. But Bismillah by Peter Cat Recording Co., my second favorite album of the year, sounds nothing like Tool. In fact, it’s pretty much as far as you can get from extended prog metal jams. The music defies classification, drawing from a breadth of influences including rock, folk, jazz, and electronica. The vocals are rich and smooth, reminiscent of classic pop stars like Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra. So far, no one I’ve introduced to this album has disliked it. At this point, I’d go so far as to say it will likely appeal to anyone who just plain loves music. Please do yourself a favor and listen to this incredible album! Standout Tracks: Where the Money Flows, Memory Box, Freezing, Heera 2. Mdou Moctar - Ilana, the Creator (Released 3/29/19, Niger) There’s a lot of incredible music coming out of African countries that goes virtually unnoticed in the west. Mdou Moctar is one of those artists, a king of desert rock guitar whose psychedelic jams draw heavily on Tuareg folk music. There is an infectious energy to this album that doesn’t let up from beginning to end, and every time I listen, I find myself wishing it were a few songs longer. Despite the fact that I can’t understand a word of the lyrics, it’s one of those albums that makes me feel like I can hear colors and taste sounds. The next time I get my hands on some LSD, this will be my go-to record. Standout Tracks: Kamane Tarhanin, Tarhatazed, Tumastin 3. Flamingods - Levitation (Released 5/3/19, Bahrain) In a year with new albums from Pond and the Psychedelic Porn Crumpets, not to mention two new albums from King Gizzard, I never expected this album from a little-known Bahraini group to blow the Australian psychedelic scene out of the water. It’s unpretentious and unassuming, playing it safe rather than pushing the limits of studio experimentation, but Levitation needs no gimmicks. The melodies are catchy and memorable, backed by tight instrumentation with lots of guitar noodling. The influence of traditional Middle Eastern music is audible, but usually subtle. Though there is still room for the band to grow in its sound, this album is nearly perfect as it is. Standout Tracks: Astral Plane, Peaches, Mantra 4. Bruno Bavota - RE_CORDIS (Released 1/18/19, Italy) Winter is usually the slow season for new album releases, but the mood of the season perfectly matches the mood of RE_CORDIS. It’s a fairly straightforward album of instrumental compositions enhanced by the lightest accents and effects that demonstrate the delicacy with which Bruno Bavota hones his work. The instrumentation varies from song to song just enough to stay engaging, and while it does encourage wandering thoughts, there are many subtleties to actively listen for. It’s one of those albums that sounds best as you’re just drifting off to sleep, when the silence and darkness of the room allows each note to stand out. Standout Tracks: Passengers, La luce nel cuore, The Man Who Chased the Sea 5. Cykada - Cykada (Released 3/29/19, England, UK) For a debut album, Cykada is pretty impressive, and that’s because the musicians behind it are already well established in the London jazz scene. Which of course means jack shit in the world of pop music, so I hope you’ll forgive me stretching the rules of the sub just a little to show off this “supergroup” ensemble. There are only five songs on Cykada, but with the shortest clocking in at just under six minutes, each one feels like a journey in and of itself. If the opening of the first track doesn’t immediately hook you, then perhaps this isn’t the group for you. But if it does, I think you’ll find yourself hanging onto every note until the end of the nearly 12-minute jam that closes out the album. Standout Tracks: Creation, Ophelia’s Message, Third Eye Thunder 6. Claude Fontaine - Claude Fontaine (Released 4/26/19, California, US) There’s a tropical undercurrent to the songs on Claude Fontaine, which shamelessly dips into Carribean and Latin American influences, but the tone of the album more somber than sunny. The vocals come across as wistful, at times loney, and the lo-fi production adds a degree of separation that feels like listening to a memory of a bygone summer. There’s nothing technically impressive about this album, and in fact the opposite is often true, but something about the raw introspection coupled with atypical Latin grooves feels like slipping into a dream. Standout Tracks: Hot Tears, Love Street, Pretending He Was You 7. Iguana Death Cult - Nude Casino (Released 10/25/19, Netherlands) By the time Iguana Death Cult released their album Nude Casino just before Halloween, I was expecting the year to more or less be over, musically speaking. Then I found myself playing this album on repeat at work, and it quickly shot up into my top 20 on the strength of every song being an absolute jam. The band is so clearly having fun that it’s all but impossible not to join in. The bouncy, dance-like energy reminds me a bit of early Arctic Monkeys. As an added credit, I’d say they’re a strong contender for the best band name/album name combo of the year. Standout Tracks: Nude Casino, Liquify, Nature Calls 8. Saor - Forgotten Paths (Released 2/15/19, Scotland, UK) This album feels cinematic, on the scale of Lord of the Rings or The Avengers. It’s an overwhelming experience, like watching thunderheads roll in over the plains, except instead of thunder and lightning it’s blast beats and metal screams. There are moments of symphonic grandeur, but also passages of graceful simplicity that draw inspiration from folk and chamber music. Even if you aren’t generally a fan of distorted vocals, it’s worth a listen for the instrumentals alone. Standout Tracks: Forgotten Paths, Monadh, Bròn 9. Sandro Perri - Soft Landing (Released9/6/19, Canada) I’m not really sure how to describe or categorize Sandro Perri’s music. Google suggests he’s been classified as “post rock”, “ambient”, and “folk”, but none of those terms really see to fit. His music is experimental if nothing else, exploring the simplest ideas to the fullest extent and crafting entire songs around short musical phrases. Despite the peaceful vibe, Soft Landing isn’t really background music. The pieces of the puzzle all sound familiar on their own, but Sandro Perri assembles them in a way that sounds strange and unique, and might cause you to involuntarily cock your head to the side as you listen. Standout Tracks: Time (You Got Me), Wrong About the Rain, Soft Landing 10. Uluru - Acrophilia (Released 2/8/19, Turkey) One thing that I love about the explosion of psychedelic rock over the past decade is that it’s largely transcended geography. Uluru is another example of the intersection between Middle Eastern and psychedelic music, but unlike Flamingods, Uluru tends more towards the crunchy stoner rock end of the spectrum. This album is also different in that it’s entirely instrumental, but that doesn’t make it feel incomplete. At just seven songs, each between 3-8 minutes, Acrophilia is just the right size to leave an impression without wearing on into endless jam sessions. Standout Tracks: Şark, Constantine, Aeternum 11. Jimmy “Duck” Holmes - Cypress Grove (Released 10/18/19, Mississippi, US) Some music ages like fine wine, but the blues ages like whiskey. Like many underappreciated blues pioneers, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes didn’t start recording studio albums until fairly late in his life. Despite going unnoticed by the music industry, Holmes is a fixture of Mississippi blues history, and deserves every bit as much acclamation as his contemporaries. Cypress Grove doesn’t features surprising new compositions. It’s the work of a true artist interpreting old standards, and though it sticks keenly to tradition, there’s nothing quite as genuine as an old blues master pouring a lifetime of experience into an acoustic guitar. Standout Tracks: Catfish Blues, Goin’ Away Baby, Little Red Rooster 12. Julian Taylor Band - Avalanche (Released 3/29/19, Canada) This album exemplifies the meaning of “groove”. Lyrically it doesn’t offer any hot takes or great philosophical depth, but it will make your foot tap and your head nod whether you like it or not. It’s music for late summer evenings, for grilling out and driving to the beach. But if you like magic mushrooms and hackysack, this album might touch you on a deep emotional level. Standout Tracks: Time, Back Again, Never Let the Lights Go Dim 13. Modern Nature - How to Live (Released 8/23/19, England, UK) How to Live didn’t leave much of an impression when I first heard it back in September, but as I was going back over my top albums at the end of the year, it suddenly connected with me. Maybe it was the funky beats, or the flawless blend of electric and acoustic instruments. Maybe it was just the large quantity of marijuana edibles I’d ingested. But there’s something fascinating and engaging about the delivery of these songs. It’s not just the vocals, which are hardly above a whisper. Even the instrumentals sound stealthy, as if the band recorded at night and didn’t want to wake the neighbors. The songs also stick with you, but not in the sense of a Top 40 earworm. More like a ghost haunting from just over your shoulder. Each time I listen to this album I find something new to like about it. Standout Tracks: Footsteps, Peradam, Nature 14. Fvneral Fvkk - Carnal Confessions (Released 9/27/19, Germany) Everything about this band seems intentionally offensive, from their conjunction of religion and sexuality to their egregious misspelling of the word “fuck”. But when you’re through clutching your pearls, check out the rich vocals and heavy riffs that make this metal band’s debut album stand out. If you’re into heavy rock but don’t care for unclean vocals, this should make you a happy camper. Unless you’re a member of the clergy, then perhaps give this album a pass. Standout Tracks: Chapel of Abuse, A Shadow in the Dormitory, The Hallowed Leech 15. Dommengang - No Keys (Released 5/17/19, California, US) Dommengang aren’t breaking down musical barriers, but I can’t find a single song on this album that I dislike. In the era of music streaming, there’s something to be said for a collection of solid singles that can each stand on their own. But No Keys is more than just a collection of singles. The sum of its parts is a cohesive album that touches on blues rock, psychedelic, and metal without committing to any one style, all following a current of driving rock guitar riffs with plenty of flourishes. Standout Tracks: Wild Wash, Kudzu, Jerusalem Cricket 16. Magic Circle - Departed Souls (Released 3/29/19, Massachusetts, US) Magic Circle is a bit like the Greta Van Fleet of Black Sabbath wannabes. Unlike Greta Van Fleet, however, these guys have serious musical talent and songwriting ability that make Departed Souls more of a respectful tribute than a piss on the legacy of 70s hard rock. There is also a good bit of originality to this album, and while it’s obvious that vocalist could pull off a flawless Ozzy impression if he tried, there’s a modicum of restraint that suggests the incorporation of broader influences. In fact, some of the albums best moments are when the band isn’t directly emulating the classics. Standout Tracks: Departed Souls, Valley of the Lepers, Nightland 17. Obsequiae - The Palms of Sorrowed Kings (Released 11/22/19, Minnesota, US) The Palms of Sorrowed Kings is an album of stark contrasts, catapulting back and forth between brutal, howling metal and languid, acoustic folk. The end result is an emotional journey with moments of triumph, rage, introspection, heartbreak, and tranquility. While the vocals accentuate some of the album’s more powerful moments, they aren’t highlighted above any of the other instruments, instead blending into the cacophony like the voice of a commander shouting orders across a field of battle. Fans of tabletop RPGs might want this album playing in the background of an adventuring session. Standout Tracks: Palästinalied, Morrígan, Lone Isle 18. Black Peaches - Fire in the Hole (Released 5/17/19, England, UK) Black Peaches have a sort of jam band aesthetic, drawing on the musical influences of the southern US to flavor their brand of psychedelic indie rock. Despite the frontman’s tangential involvement with Hot Chip, the band is firmly rooted in drums and guitars, with a sound more comparable to Phish or Widespread Panic than any synthpop outfit. Whether cranking along to frantic percussion or grooving smoothly over funk textures, the songs on Fire in the Hole are wild and dynamic from beginning to end. Standout Tracks: Fire in the Hole, Black Peach Boogie, Pillars of Hercules 19. YĪN YĪN - The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers (Released 10/18/19, Netherlands) As much as I try to be objective when approaching new music, I can’t help but love what I love. The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers checks a lot of boxes for me: psychedelic atmosphere, unique instrumentation, lengthy jams, danceable rhythms, incorporation of world music styles - even the artwork instantly attracted me to this album. While perhaps it’s not a perfect record, it has a lot of relistenability, and no other album released in 2019 sounds quite like it. Standout Tracks: One Inch Punch, The Rabbit That Hunts Tigers, Dis̄ kô Dis̄ kô 20. Red Rum Club - Matador (Released 1/11/19, England, UK) What’s the easiest way to make your generic indie band stand out? Add a trumpet! Seriously, that’s pretty much what makes the album work. Fans of alt pop bands like Neon Trees, Catfish and the Bottlemen, or Young the Giant will recognize the rather formulaic approach to songwriting - powerful vocals, straightforward lyrics, and hopelessly catchy hooks. But regardless of how many sound-alikes you’ve heard, the soaring brassy tones on Matador imbue the songs with an irresistible dancefloor spirit. Standout Tracks: Hung Up, Honey, Calexico 21. Ouzo Bazooka - Transporter (Released 1/11/19, Israel) Ouzo Bazooka isn’t the first group to combine the raw energy of garage rock with the experimental songwriting of psychedelia, but they play it with such skill that any lack of originality should be forgiven. Like many contemporary bands inspired by the music of the 60s and 70s, Ouzo Bazooka isn’t picky about the sources from which they draw influence, and their music benefits from that open-mindedness. At times they appear to be firmly planted in unassuming rock n roll, only to blast off to the cosmos at a moment’s notice, taking you along for the ride. Standout Tracks: Latest News, Space Camel, Killing Me 22. Konradsen - Saints and Sebastian Stories (Released 10/25/19, Norway) Konradsen makes a lot of interesting musical decisions in the songwriting on Saints and Sebastian Stories. These songs aren’t likely to hook you on your first listen, and might even seem off-putting as they meander slowly over layers of studio effects. The album follows the precedent set by experimental indie artists like Bon Iver, combining disparate elements from jazz percussion lingering piano chords to shy-sounding horns. It’s the type of album that takes a couple songs to warm up, but then continues escalating and improving as it unfolds. Standout Tracks: Dice, Baby Hallelujah, Red to Rhyme 23. Black String - Karma (Released 9/27/19, South Korea) Generally speaking, jazz isn’t my favorite genre. That said, Karma doesn’t sound like what most people first think of when they hear the word “jazz”. The improvisational aspect is there, but the songs are structured around traditional Korean music in a way that subverts western expectations. Fortunately for us westerners, the group has provided a sort of jumping off point in their brilliant cover of Radiohead’s Exit Music (For a Film), reworked until only the bare bones are recognisable. Standout Tracks: Sureña, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Exit Music - For a Film 24. the one and only PPL MVR - THE CHOSEN (Released 6/4/19, California, US) There’s this crazy theory going around that the one and only PPL MVR is actually just the members of Brand New dressed in yeti suits. I’m operating under the assumption that the theory is bunk, and that this gimmicky band is just an underappreciated power trio with a flair for the dramatic. While the band’s prevailing sound can best be described as heavy rock music, they certainly don’t feel the need to pigeonhole themselves. From power chords to autotune, nothing is off the table. Standout Tracks: NML, MOVE, THE SHOW THAT NEVER ENDS 25. The Garifuna Collective - Aban (Released 9/15/19, Belize) The Garifuna Collective is ever so slightly outside the normal popularity parameters for listentothis (their third most popular song has 524,000 plays on Spotify), so I beg your leniency for this incredible group of musicians who are widely unknown outside Central America. It’s so outside the spectrum of my normal listening habits that I don’t really know how to classify this kind of music. All I do know is that the rhythms are infectious and the melodies compelling. I’m always somewhat surprised when a group of musicians who speak a different language and live in a place I’ve never visited can reach me through music in a way that transcends culture. The combination of predictable patterns and unfamiliar elements is precisely why I pause to listen. Standout Tracks: Wiya Waist, Ideruni (Help), Magidu (The Market) As in 2018, I’ve also been keeping a spreadsheet to track my top 500 favorite albums throughout the year. If anyone’s interested, you can view it here, as well as a 500 song playlist including one song from each album (link is at the top of the spreadsheet). Keep in mind that most of my top 500 albums don’t meet the popularity rules of this sub, nor is it the focus of this post. Since people asked for it last year, I just figured I’d share it again.
A little while later, I'm in Sector Seven, home of fancy restaurants, galleries, theaters, casinos, and the kinds of whorehouses that get called “social clubs”. I’m already in the general area, and I’m hungry after being harassed with forms for an hour and a half. There’s a place I like here. It's colorful, clean, and loud in Sector Seven, with a wide-open circular plaza in the middle. Music always in the air, and all kinds of signs begging you to come look, come see what we've got going on tonight. The funhouse of the single-digit folk. You can come to Sector Seven, but remember - you gotta pay if you wanna play. Being in the Inner Ring, you generally don't see many of my kind in Sector Seven. Most people milling around here are those with heavy purses, and the kind of leaky generosity that for some reason only reaches the hands of politicians and others of their kind rather than hospitals or schools. These kinds of people generally don't like looking at slabs, because we track mud all over the carpet and sometimes accidentally eat their dogs, so we tend not to be welcome in the establishments here. However, the unavoidable fact is that while slabs are definitely ugly and gross, the rich skinnies up here sure as sugar aren't going to be cleaning, fixing, or lifting anything heavy anytime soon, so even here you'll see some of us mixed in with some other poor skinnies that come in from the Outer Ring to do the dirty work. But of course, everyone's gotta eat. So, if us grunts can't come and spill beer all over the nice white tablecloths, we'll just have to take our credits somewhere else, thanks. And that's where Gulder's Grub enters the picture. In an alley off the side of Circle Seven, there's a shadowy little spot for people like me. It's not big, but it's an oasis in the middle of a desert of glitzy places that ask an entire month's rent just to come in. A little corner for the ones that actually do all the work. A couple little shops with everyday necessaries, a dingy bar or two, and some diners, all in the shadow of the great towering monuments to that goddess of Sector Seven: Pleasure. The main (and only) attraction here is Gulder's. It doesn't look like much, just a metal shack with a clapboard menu and a window, but the nosh that Gulder slings is so good that there's always a line, and sometimes you'll even see people in fancy clothes standing in it. You can get a slab-sized sandwich so tasty it'll make you cry, and you can get it without having to take out a third mortgage. I’ve built up a grave appetite, of a magnitude that only Gulder's is mighty enough to slay. I'm standing in line, behind a skinny in oil-stained overalls. It's nearly lunch, so I've got a while to wait before I get to the front. The people here are either too tired or too depressed to pay me any mind, which suits me just fine. It’s one of the reasons I like coming here. It’s a misfit shelter. I even know a few arcanists that are willing to come out of the woodwork for one of Gulder’s sandwiches. Believe me, you’d be willing to risk your skin too, if you knew what this alley smelled like. The heavenly aromas bring out all kinds of hungry crazies. Speaking of which, here's a squirrely-looking slab boy over by some tables that's decided to take his face out of his sandwich and aim it toward my face. I lock eyes with him. Or try to, at least. He can't keep his straight. He's a sizable bit of product, somewhere between six and a half and seven feet, maybe around five hundred fifty pounds. Average enough by our standards. Judging by his lack of clank, jittery eyes, hairless head, and general air of frothy paranoia, I'm guessing he was kind of a shrimpy fella before his procedures. Those are the dangerous ones. These cats are why every Watchman carries a canister of slabkiller gas when they're out on patrol. Take a little guy who, let's be honest here, was never destined for great feats of academic achievement. Now put him in a desperate situation. Traumatize him. Make him grow up poor. Give him a tiny dick, make sure he gets plenty of bullies to deal with, both in school and out. Kill his parents, or make them hate and abuse him. Tell all the girls, or boys in some cases, not to look at him. Fire him from his job. Maybe give him a terminal illness, or fill him up with so much unprocessed rage that fire comes out of his nose every time he sneezes. Box him into a corner, put him in a cage so nasty that the only way out is to get slabbed. It'll work, the cutters at the slab lab say. You're prime material, just what we needed, they say. But he isn't. He's scrawny, malnourished, unintelligent. A sad mess in the shape of a young man. But hey, slabbers need meat. And here it is, direct off the streets. It's not like actual people would ever volunteer for something like this, so we'll make do with the kind of guy that needs the money. So they'll give him some cash, put him on the table, and chop him up anyway, knowing full well that his unimpressive body and sub-average brain won't be able to take it. And he'll come out the other side a twitching, confused, angry kid, with hormones leaking out of his ears and more mental and emotional scars than physical ones, living inside the body of a giant. You haven't taken him out of that cage. You've just made him strong enough to drag other people in with him. I zoom in on him and sure as sunrise, he's got an aggression inhibitor bolted to the side of his head, wire running down to meet up with the back of his neck. It's a big one, too. This kid must have some bad habits. Without it, the hot sludge running in his veins would send him into a psychosexual meltdown of nightmarish proportions. Within fifteen minutes he'd either collapse and start seizing until he swallowed his own tongue, or cave to the voices in his head and start raping people to death until someone shot him. He's still trying to look at me. Hard to maintain an intimidating glare when your eyeballs keep slipping off whatever you're trying to stare down. I think he's jealous of my own eyes. My implants, that is. My old pair are probably fertilizing some grandma's apple tree somewhere. I never got nystagmus like a lot of these kids do. Years after my change I could see as well as I did when I was a teenager. That’s the main freebie biomancy gets you - an unnaturally healthy body, even after enough experimental surgeries to make the most puritanical Brotherhood zealot sweat. My body just mutates around additions and edits, keeping me extremely alive whether I have any say in it or not. Pyromancers get to shoot fire out of their nose, hydromancers get to make the fountains dance, heiromancers get to write laws that reality itself has to obey. My only trick is being too alive to kill, among a couple of other fun things. But hey, if you’re gonna have one trick, not dying is a pretty good one to have, I think. This kid has no clank at all other than his inhibitor, fitting with my observation that his vitae is weak as fuck, despite all his implants and injections. Red, and very low, like a lonely coal. His brain was barely holding itself together after basic slabbing, so there's no way he'd be able to tolerate any kind of optional features. Probably doesn't even have bone reinforcements. He's got maybe five years before he's a twisted-up pile of slime. If he doesn't kill himself or get executed first. I smile and give him a little wave. He scowls at me, still trying to meet my eyes. Defiant. Cute. From here, there's only two options, depending on his personality and how well that inhibitor is working. He'll either burn one of his last synapses to realize that I'm bigger and smarter than him by a pretty significant margin and go back to eating his sandwich like a nice little porkbrain, or decide against all logic that I'm a bit too uppity for his liking and I need to be taught a lesson. I'm about halfway through the line, so I figure I've got enough time to share some of my wisdom before lunch. I keep smiling at him. Yep. That did it. The sandwich, which right now should be the most important thing in this guy's short little life, has been laid down. I am now his entire universe, and I couldn't be happier. He stands up from his table and starts stomping his way over to me. He's doing the thing all these gutter slabs do when they want to look extra scary and impressive*.* Squaring his shoulders, pushing his chest out, holding his chin slightly up, and flexing all his muscles at once, so his veins stand out under his skin like bridge cables. Personally, I always thought this pose made a guy look like an erection throwing a temper tantrum, but hey, what do I know? Maybe that's the point. I know I probably wouldn't try to tussle with a giant, throbbing, foul-tempered penis in work boots and coveralls. Who knows what kind of fluids you'd get on you? Now he's within smelling distance. The delightful melange of grease, sweat, and testosterone wafts over me, and suddenly I'm reconsidering lunch. The rest of the line has done a curious thing, bending away from me to form a comfortable and distant semicircle. People around here know the drill - they're pretty much on autopilot. Once you see two trains crash head-on multiple times a day for a few years, you learn to just step calmly out of the shrapnel zone. He lines up on me, about ten feet away. Close, but not so close that I could grab him. Smart. Not the first time this guy's taken exception to someone's behavior. His vitae is flaring, but it’s still sort of pitiful - just a kind of weak reddish glow, like a spoon accidentally left on a stove. The palooka does his best to get me in his wiggly sights and grunts, “Got a problem, fuck?” His voice is hoarse, like sandpaper rasping over gravel. Probably smokes a lot of scrub to dampen the pain in his joints. Most skinnies he does this to are probably wetting themselves by this point, so, considering he has somehow mistaken me for one, he probably expects me to do the same. Instead, I do what any respectful predator does when he meets one of his own kind, and show him my teeth. All fifty-eight of them. I opt to leave the eloquence at the door, guessing this meat pie probably wouldn't appreciate it anyway. “Yeah. You're really, really ugly. You look like a butt. And you smell like what comes out of a butt. You should take a shower. Smelly.” Okay, not exactly award-winning trash talk. But you try making your insults dashing and stylish using only words with two or less syllables. It's hard! His pink face screws up in an expression of both pain and skull-popping fury, making his hairless head look like a wad of used chewing gum. His inhibitor is shocking him, telling him to cut it out. But he doesn't. He's angry enough to push through the pain. I can understand that. He lets the rage out of his chest with a roar, then puts his head down and charges me, very plainly trying to tackle me to the ground so he can turn my face into mince. I do what a slab almost never does. Dodge. This probably wouldn’t work in most other situations, because I’m huge and not very maneuverable, but so is this guy. I step around him as cool as you please, and he steams past me. He keeps going for a bit, but then catches on to the fact that he hasn't hit anything for a suspiciously long time, so he skids to a stop and whips around. He's way past words at this point. He's getting shocked so bad I can see smoke coming from his implant. It'll blow if I don't tuck him into bed quick. I don’t even need any magic for this. He’s making it way too easy. Chunky charges again, but this time I don't move out of the way. I plant my back foot, then thrust my hand out right as he reaches me, mashing my palm right into his nose. He stops cold in his tracks with a sad little whimper, arms stretching toward me pitifully. Fortunately the kid's got a weird tiny head, so I'm able to get a good grip on it. Thumb on his right ear, fingers wrapped nicely across his jawbone and temple. I lift him up a bit for leverage, then throw his head into the pavement like a bouncy ball. Being connected by a neck, the rest of his body follows suit. His chin makes a fun crack when it hits, and his neck bends at an angle that four out of five physicians probably don't recommend. He stops moving. I bend down and wipe the sweat and spit off on the back of his shirt, then check his breathing. Feel around his neck vertebrae. His vitae is still there, but even dimmer. He's fine. Way sleepier than he was a minute ago, but alive. He'll wake up in half an hour wondering why everything above his shoulders feels like it got run over by a cargo train. And if he's lucky, he'll find he's gained some perspective on pointless violence, especially when aimed at one of the only guys in the city that outweighs him. If I'd been a Watchman, he'd have been sprayed with slabkiller and packed off to Sector Seventeen for recycling so fast he wouldn't even have time to notice how dead he was. I stand up and give the line a coy smile and a wave. A couple nod at me in respect. I saunter slyly back over, and the guy I'd been ahead of lets me back in my spot. Most gutter slabs are like a bottle of fizz in the back of a truck on a bumpy road. Over time, the pressure builds. The drugs, hormones, and supplemental brain tissue needed to integrate and coordinate the extra muscle result in a boiling pot of blind, directionless rage. For most, working hard all day doesn't let enough steam off. The extra starts to collect. With society saying that other ways of release aren't acceptable, while telling them they have to stay in line and put up with all the looks and comments, they reach a point where they pop. Usually all they do is smash up their own apartment, or fight it out with another slab in the same predicament. But sometimes, when they're right on the edge, and another little kid screams at them like they're some kind of monster... they become one, for one horrible moment. And once you're a monster, you can never be anything else, ever again. So, out of a sense of obligation to my dumb, angry brothers, I keep an eye out for the ones that look like they need a hard, thorough bit of percussive recalibration. I throw some goofy words at 'em, they fall for it, then I give 'em a nice whack on the head. They go to sleep for a bit, wake up with a few bruises, feel stupid, and remember what it is they need to be focusing on. Or at the very least they remember my fist in their face, which is enough to take the hot out of anyone's sauce, in my opinion. And then they stay out of trouble. Better for them to get a couple ouchies from a real monster than to cross that line themselves, I think. I’m a mage, but I’m a slab too. It’s hard work being this distinctive and altruistic. After about nine hundred years, I'm at the front of the line. I check the time. Almost noon. Yippee. I'm almost starting to feel it, too. The thought of quietly enjoying my meal at home and then taking a nap after the day I've had is almost enough to bring a tear to my eye. Metaphorically, that is. My tear ducts are cauterized shut. The guy in front of me gets his order. It's a slab-sized sandwich, which I find strange, because it's almost the size of his thigh. But then I remember that skinnies can just slice a slab's sandwich like a cake and feed an entire family of four for a day or so. He's probably got kids at home. Pretty economical, when you think about it. He tucks his monster meal under his arm and goes away, and I step up. I've got to take a knee in order to give my order, on account of how the shack's window only comes up to somewhere around the middle of my chest. I peer into the greasy dollhouse and there's Gulder, the man himself, right in my face. I like Gulder. He serves enough slabs and weirdos every day that my awful mug suddenly appearing in his line of sight doesn't give him a heart attack. Everyone he sees, no matter what shape or sort, is just a receptacle to place a sandwich into, and I can't help but respect him for that. He's kind of a funny-looking fellow. On the short side, but borderline spherical from sampling the fruits of his labor, with no hair and a big black mustache like a push broom. From a distance he looks like two pink circles with a wide black line drawn through the top one. He catches the green glint of my eyes and his caterpillar eyebrows go up. “Hey! This guy! Long time no see, Tiny! How you been? Keepin' outta trouble?” See, the joke here is, Gulder calls me Tiny because I am, actually, a remarkably large person. An appellation that unexpectedly juxtaposes against the reality of the situation, in an example of what is sometimes referred to as “irony”. This is technically humor, but it's difficult to recognize after it's had its skull caved in with a lead pipe, wallet stolen, and left for dead in an alley somewhere. I'm so sorry, Humor. You deserved better. I reply, “Oh, you know. I try to keep outta trouble, but trouble just can't keep outta me. It's 'cause I'm so handsome, y'see. Trouble just can't resist.” He laughs. “Oh for sure. Pretty boy like you probably has more than his share of attention.” His smile melts off. “Hey look, thanks for cleaning up that mess over there. That one comes by pretty often, but he was starting to make me nervous. Times is hard enough without a puffed-up bully harassing my customers. Now he knows you come by here sometimes, maybe he'll cool it. I'm buying your lunch today.” I wave a paw and scoff, because that's what you do in situations like this. “C'mon, it was all the work of twenty seconds. You probably could’ve given him a firm poke with a spatula and he would’ve fallen over, guy was as stable as a castle made out of cookies. It wasn't nothin'.” He shakes his head and holds his hands up insistently. “It wasn't not nothin', champ. You went outta your way when you didn't have to. You spend twenty seconds showing a creep the inside of his own face for me, I spend twenty seconds making you lunch. Fair's fair, I insist.” There's no point trying to shout him down. He's a Sector Seven man with a business that prints its own money, but I can tell he's not from here. Probably grew up in one of those Outer Ring slums where generosity is as rare as rain and being paid a favor is something that simply cannot be tolerated without swift, righteous vengeance. These cats are trained from childhood to treat an act of kindness like a declaration of war. Try to out-nice one of these slum knights and you'll both end up bankrupt. “Alright, pal, I'll let you foot the bill this time. But only because I know you'll beat me up if I don't.” He brandishes his spatula at me very seriously. “You bet your stitched-up ass I will. You want the deluxe with the works and extra mustard, right?” “Yes I do, and you might as well throw in a basket of fried squash too, seeing as how you're paying and all.” “You got it, champ. Be just a minute.” About a minute later, I've got my bag, and I say my goodbye. I'm glad I stopped by. Not just because it's the best sandwich someone else's money can buy, but I also got to box a disaster waiting to happen. Can't have the riff-raff messing around and giving one of my favorite joints extra headache. And the whole possible prevention of senseless death thing, et cetera. Now I gotta get back on the train. Hopefully I can get home before this bag gets cold, but who am I kidding, you could leave Gulder's stuff in a gutter for a week and it'd still be tastier than half the food in the city. I step on the ostentatiously ornate Sector Seven platform, scan my ID, the alarm goes off, people give me dirty looks and clear out of the way, et cetera, et cetera. I don’t even care. I’ve got a greasy brown bag of heaven and they don’t, so there. This sandwich means I win today, citizens. Interestingly, one person doesn’t clear off of the platform. He’s an old, old man, standing on the steel plates a distance from me. He’s a little bent, and holds a simple wooden cane. Very weathered, browned skin, like he’s worked in the sun his entire life. White beard, wild wispy hair like snow being blown off a mountaintop. I can’t get anything from his facial expression, he almost looks half asleep. I didn’t hear the system go off before me, so he’s not an arcanist. Maybe he didn’t hear the buzzer? His vitae is… weird. You ever see diagrams of magnetic field lines? The two fields of concentric loops wrapping out and back from the poles? It looks like that, kind of. Long, lazy loops of gray energy, radiating out in steady pulses from the center of his chest and dissipating once they get a good ten or so feet away. There’s something else there, too. The lines closest to him have this sort of yellow shimmer that fades as they go out. The whole web smells… almost like ozone, or electrically charged metal. Like I said, weird. Gray is a really rare color in vitae, like silver, gold, white, or black. And he can’t be an arcanist, even though that’s what this kind of weird pattern usually suggests. Unless he just didn’t scan his ID? He’s playing with fire, if that’s the case. The train arrives, and I get on. The old man steps on too. He sits down gently on a seat toward the front of the car, and I stand a respectful distance away in the back. He crosses his spindly arms around his cane, leans his head forward, and falls asleep, apparently. Just like that, his long robe/coat thing wrapped about him like a blanket. This isn’t totally unheard of. Most people get off the platform when an arcanist scans in, but a very few just ignore it and get on anyway. Something tells me this dusty tomcat isn’t exactly late for anything, so he must be too old to care. It’s the first time I’ve had any company on the train in months. I’d like to talk to him, but I’ll let him sleep. Far be it from me to wreck up an old-timer’s rest. He’s probably earned it. [this story has over 30 posts now, which you can find through my reddit profile. hundreds and hundreds of pages of ol' Featherlight. and i update pretty much every week, so you can look forward to more ♥] [you can readthis story on Royal Road too, if that's the kind of thing you're into. reviews would be greatly helpful for a new guy on the scene ♥] [if you think this story is good enough to pay for,why not flip me a tip? i'd appreciate it ♥] [and thanks for reading ♥]
As long as I can remember, I’ve had an issue with gambling. Lost every penny to my name at the tables, spent more time indebted to the House than I ever spent in one. I don’t know how to explain it. I only ever felt alive in the casino. The flashing, flickering lights, the resounding echoes of dice on red velvet and whiskey downed desperately, like water in the desert. Nothing changed when I died; nothing important anyway. Same games, slightly different stakes. We gamble emotions now. Sensation. We play cards or craps for the worst ones, like exchanging shitty cigarettes. For the other lost souls and I, it’s a familiar dance. We’re all of the same ilk here. Not benevolent enough for heaven. Not wicked enough for hell. Just dead. Just here. Gambling and scrounging and doing whatever we can to feel alive. Sometimes other things pass around. Lotsa us call ’em demons, but I ain’t too sure. I’m pretty sure they’re just the dealers. Just a few folks being a little less screwed by the House. I’ve seen a few around, but they had no business with me. They just wanna find the fellow on their list and bring ’em to the Grand Casino. Won’t take no one else, won’t hear nothing else. The Grand Casino. That’s where you can win big. I’ve heard stories of folks leaving with ‘happiness’, ‘joy’ and ‘pleasure’. Hell, heard one guy even gambled his way back to the world of the living. ‘Course I never met someone who won, or even returned from the Grand Casino, short of them dealers. And them? They keep tight lips. Don’t say much one way or another, whether folks bash the place or praise it. ‘Magine its part of the House rules. Now, I’ve already told ya’ I’m a simple man. I like sleep, like booze and like gambling. Never turned down a chance at any of ’em. So when the dealers came a’calling my name, you know, I didn’t put up no resistance. The lessons I learned in life, I carried with me when I got here. And one of those lessons? The House ain’t perfect. Damn near it, but it ain’t. Sometimes it puts a man behind the table with a heart too soft to help a man hang himself. After a while, you can see it in ’em. Its in their eyes of course, but its really at their lips. Had one fellow, when I was alive, would mouth numbers for me to bet on. Never any big wins, but enough to put a hot meal in me. My dealer now kinda reminds me of that kid. So my dealer. Hes tall, talking twice my height and I’m a good six foot. Kinda transparent and warpy, like your six drinks in looking at the world through a puff of a cig. Sometimes its got features. Like a real pretty lady one minute. Then an upright lion. Swore it looked like my Pa at one point too. I followed where it led, no use in wasting time. At first I didn’t say nothing. Their kind never answer questions anyways. But I ain’t never been good at silence. Makes my skin crawl all jittery like. Think that’s why I liked to hang by the slots. Never quiet there. “So whats waiting for me over at the Rising Sun?” I smile as I ask. Its what me and a few others would call the good casinos, or the bad ones, dependin’ on your feel. The ones that made you feel like God, all powerful and shit with enough money in your lap to hide your excitement as some sexy lass nibbles at your ear. Same places where you’d crash hard, harder than anything else, hard enough that you don’t even feel your broken arm when security chucks you out ’cause your souls in so many pieces you sure it ain’t ever going back together. And then your sittin’ there in your own piss and stench, trying to find the energy to crawl into the road and end this goddamn catastrophe while wondering why. Why couldn’t you just take your winnings and go? Whys it always one more game, but it never is? I had a million dollars that night. A million. Owner of the House came out, congratulated me. He waved the dealer off and smiled. “Double or nothing?” The fucking monster. I was hot, hot off a win, throat burning from a fireball, cheeks flush at the touch of impossibly soft lips. Should have said no. But goddamned if I’m anything but who I am. And who I am is a gambler. “Listen. The only way to win is not to play. Drink nothing he gives you. Eat nothing as well. It will only dull you to reality. He can only take what you willingly give. Give nothing. And do not speak of this exchange,“ the dealer entity’s voice pulls me back. We’re standing in front of a large, ornate door, but its not attached to anything. They’re looking down at me, staring something fierce. “What’s your name?” Don’t know why I ask, but it comes to mind. Feels important. “I am Eleador. I must leave now. I have another to retrieve. Heed my words or do not, but share not what I have given you.” They pull away as they speak, but I grab their arm. Or try to. Feels like a real thick fog, almost water, but not quite. “Thank ya, Eleador. Yousa good fellow.” Thinking back, there wasn’t no reason for me to go through that door; I mean, no reason at all. I knew the Devil was sitting there, just waiting for me. Then there was the dealer’s warning. Eleador, goddamned if my gut don’t drop even now thinking of ’em, told me the game was rigged. I just…had to keep playing. I opened that door to the prettiest palace of sin. Men and women strutting about, some carrying trays of sweets whose very appearance made my mouth water. Others embraced freely on satin furniture as they sipped strange liquids from intricate glasses. Despite the resounding bell that rings when I open the door, none of them notice me. Or if they do, they don’t show it, going about their business completely unfazed. Entranced, I stepped forward. A hand, heavy, falls on my shoulder from behind. A man stands where the door once was. “Welcome. We’ve been waiting for you.” His stern tone, combined with the forceful way he leads me towards a table, makes it clear I have no choice. He’s the only one dressed in such a business-like way; in a room of lace bikinis and well adorned loincloths, his modestly tailored suit is off putting. “Well, ah, sir, guess I should be saying it’s an honor. But where am I? And who’re you?” The man plants me firmly in a plush armchair. “You’re in a casino. My casino. And we’re going to gamble now, aren’t we?” My lack of response seems to upset him. “I have something you want.” I feel it in my gut. I don’t like this man. Reminds me of the fellow that used to spit at me when I slept off Raeborne Avenue. “Sir, I ain’t a wanting man. Don’t need nothing, don’t want nothing.” He slams and open palm onto the table, spreading a mess of cards as he does. “You wanna play. And I do too. I suggest you make yourself comfortable. Take a drink. Grab a snack. Figure out if you’d rather live again or go to heaven. Or maybe something else. Whatever you want. I just want your afterlife. Your loyalty and servitude. Your choice of game.” Eleador said the only way to win is not to play. But someone has to win every now and then. No one would play if not. I can be the one. I have to be the one. “I don’t want nothing. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll play a game of blackjack with you. You win and you get whatever it is you want. I win, you do a friend of mine a favor. Deal?” There ain’t nothing for me in life and heaven never sounded too sweet. But I know a soul needing salvation. The fellow blinks hard a few times, but nods. “A drink to seal it?” “No sir, I, uh, know better than that,” I don’t know how else to phrase it, but that certainly wasn’t the right way. “Fine. I’ll tell you what I want if I win. The name of the fool who ruined my game. So, lets play, you lucky fucker”. Things changed. Where once there were others, now we are alone. A dim lime light flickers above us. The man, he ain’t no man. He’s a beast with hooves and fur and the like. I looked in it’s eyes, at least two of the myriad that pocked his flesh and knew I didn’t have a chance in hell. But I still played. Gambled with something that wasn’t mine. And I lost, and I broke a promise that, for once, I intended to keep. I tell this tale to you as I tell it to others who wander the Wasteland. Maybe you’ll listen ’cause I know for damn sure they don’t. I don’t wish this feeling on nobody, this pain and ache and sadness. I ain’t content with this limbo no more. I worry ‘bout Eleador every moment. Worry ‘bout what the Devil did to ‘em. Don’t make my mistake, lads. I didn’t learn in life and I didn’t learn in death. I only learned when it was too late. Don’t play the odds. Not once, not ever. The House will put its claws in you and never let go. But if you do, if you gamble at the Grand Casino and you find yourself on a winning streak, see if you can set Eleador free. I don’t wanna know what that monster did to them.
Maybe magical, extraplanar, or just unusual. Comment and I'll add yours to the list :)
Imp Imporium - This store is small and boxy, and entirely made of redwood. A tall devil stands behind the counter wearing a suit and tie, and imps are chained to the walls. He offers you the services of one of his imps for a small price- the rights to the imp's memories of what they did when you're done. He requires a much larger material collateral for if you don't return the imp or it dies/is irreparably maimed in your service.
Coagulation Station - A seemingly normal (if ugly) old woman runs this roadside popup store. It is nothing more than a cart with a sign next to it reading "Coagulation Station" painted roughly in red over a lime background. She offers healing supplies, potions, and rations in return for a small vial of your blood. (Feel free to come up with consequences for buying from her, such as her being a hag or using it for a strange ritual, etc.)
Elemental Extras - An air, earth, fire and water elemental stand in the four corners of this (entirely brick) shop. Unfortunately, the "shopkeepers" only speak primordial, so good luck if you don't. They each offer to put special elemental effects on whatever you own, such as a fire effect on your sword, an ice effect on your armor to freeze whatever hits you, or an earth effect on an arrow to have surrounding dirt swallow whoever it hits. Everything here is understandably very expensive.
Vraug aks stor - A very tall, older orc hero enthusiastically tries to sell his weapons in this shop in order to retire. They're hung up on the walls, all showing varying signs of use. Some appear to be magical. Vraug also tries to tell his customers stories about each weapon before they buy (and especially before they ask.) The weapon most prominently displayed is a +4 Great Axe, with obsidian blades, a dragon-scale tip on the end and golden threads running down the handle. There are a few chinks in it, and the tip somehow has a dent in it, but the damage only seems to add to the charm. He charges an extraordinary price for this axe.
Angel Bazaar - Apparently recently the churches haven't been generating enough coin to keep the local deity fiscally afloat, and some angels have taken it upon themselves to raise that extra money. Some are selling more regular items for cheaper prices, such as healing items, some are selling more extravagant magical items, and even others are offering "miracles." They're all set up in a series of stands in a small square that you swear wasn't here before.
Betsie's Black Cauldron- everything is black, especially Betsie. From black oak ethanol to black licorice she has ingredients and potions unique to her gimmick. u/LateLolth96
The Fleeting Flyer's Fast Findings- if the item floats, flies, or is otherwise airborne this shop might have it. Limited time only and has (randomized) a rare three uncommons and six commons but the more you travel the more likely you are to come across it because it's on a one man spell jammer with two carnival cars behind it. u/LateLolth96
The Kyuss Kasino- a worm themed casino where the main attraction is the purple tunnel which is a purple worm in a metal harness designed to prevent it from moving and to keep its mouth open. The wager, and incidentally, the show is if you can make it out the other end alive you [win]. There are scrying orbs that display a live feed of the current "adventurer" in the worm for 5 silver lasting 30 min before the next five silver (no refunds). Quest hook? u/LateLolth96
Djinni Gin Jamboree- a once a month festival celebrating a moon cycle of the dm's choosing. Marids sell their distilled saliva as well as various forms of never-before-seen-by-man fish dishes, and water elementals play live music which more or less sounds like the rhythmic gurgling of a muddy brook. u/LateLolth96
The Crossroads Corridor - An invite only shop, given to adventures who have a number of their own magical items. When the invitation is slid under any closed doorway, said doorway will become the doorway to the shop. Operated by The Masked Man, it is a magical item shop that trades magical items for magical items of similar value. Leaving will exit out the door you originally put the invitation under. u/Hacknslaasher
Bottom's Bottomless Meatpies - It's cheap, delicious (although a bit gamey and hard to chew) and the servings are enormous. The shop is run by an old goblin with an enormous smile, his name is Toothy Bottom, less so because of his bum, and more so because of a secret that he isn't telling any one, the secret that has made his Meatpie-shop the most well visited in the entire area, at least by those not able to afford fine dining in the upper districts.For you see, underneath this humble shopped, staffed every hour of every day with more goblins than you can count on one hand, or two hands if you have taken ABM (Advanced Barbarian Maths), lies a large, cavernous mining operation.You enter it through a set of large trap-doors found in the cold-store basement where you find the literal wheelbarrows of meat that allow every customer to order however much meat they want in (or on) their pies, as long as the Goblins can lift it up to the counter (the largest order so far was, according to the Goblins managing the front of the house, "the weight of a small baby wrapped in a nasty hunting dog." they have made no comment as to how they know that specific measurement).Once you are through the trap-doors, you'll find a rail-system rivaling that of the largest Dwarven mines, with rail-master goblins timing and directing all the in- and out- going traffic, and every cart that comes in is absolutely and utterly loaded with meat, which is then loaded on wheelbarrows and carted up through the trapdoor.If you were to follow the rails as deep as they go, through all of the winding tunnels, across chasms, past various cave-dwelling monsters that try to snack on the meat or goblins or, well, you, then you'll eventually find yourself at the namesake of mr. Toothy Bottom.A large, mass of rock-hard skin, covered in spines and horns and other sharp shapes, it has been split open, and the dark flesh underneath is mined ceaselessly by a small army of Goblins. They aren't violent, in fact, they are quite cowardly, but they are as professional as any Goblin can be, and they are also fighting a continuous fight against the flesh with their pickaxes.For you see, the open wound is constantly trying to close itself, regenerating at a blinding speed that the Goblins have learned to keep up with after opening the wound large enough to allow for their massive excavation progress.This may be the toothy bottom of the pits and chasms.But it is also a small area of the sleeping Tarrasque, regenerating fast enough that it does not notice the harm being done to it, and with a large enough Goblin Workforce to drive the economy of what is, essentially, a small Goblin Kingdom in these tunnels, complete with blacksmiths making new Meat-axes and monster-hide-leathercrafters making workboots and pants for the Goblins working down in that caustic blood.And let's not forget, that the entire lower class of the city has eaten Tarrasque meat at least once, some of them for years.But it's only two silver pieces for as much pie as you want (or can carry), so who cares to ask where it's all coming from? u/Neknoh
Sarah’s sewing shop, “World class Seamstress.” - She means world class! She can repair even magical fabric to like new condition. Everything she makes alterations to gives them a +1 to charisma for 24hrs or until dirtied. Bonus returns after being thoroughly washed and dried (some items are dry clean only)She’s also a dry cleaners. u/rab-byte
The Philosopher’s Time Shop - Sundials, watches, windup clocks, candle clocks, hourglasses the size of mites up to the size of your average goliath, the Philosopher has a range to suit almost any buyer in need of a way to measure time. Be careful, the hours you spend there fly away like seconds! u/ElZoof
Oakshot Saddliery - Gwinnett Oakshot caters to a select clientele, those looking for clothes, armour, weapons and equipment specifically designed to suit those who spend at least part of their days in a different body shape. Minor magic at most, it’s mostly just very well designed to suit your Druid on the go or werebeing out for a night on the town. u/ElZoof
Jasper, Goldhand, Bloodstrangler and Smith - What does “‘til death us do part” mean if your wife is now a lich? Does a lifetime guarantee still stand if the object in question broke before the manufacturers were born? What exactly is an annuity? The firm of JGB&S is on hand to assist with non-devilish contracts of any kind. u/ElZoof
Morogh's "Pet's" - This pet shelter is run by an older halfling named Morogh. He's kindhearted and only wants the best for his little animal companions he sells. From apes over hawks to wolfs, he just has every animal companion you could think of, but his store also has a back area. Not everyone is welcomed there as he also sells abandoned monster hatchlings, like griffons, owlbears, pseudodragons and even a red dragon wyrmling. Those monsters are all tamed so no danger there, Morogh just wants to know his customers better before trying to sell one of his more 'exotic' assets.The adventurers maybe can persuade him or do a favor for him (possible quest), like acquiring some exotic food for the more demanding beasts and monsters he houses. After this Morogh decides to sell them one of his monsters as a companion. u/Th3Banzaii
Plane Ole' Butcher - A butcher shop that sells meat from an unknown plane of origin. One day a small portal opened up from the ground and strange-smelling exotic meats have been extruding from the portal. A shop was built around the portal which has been active and pumping for 50 years. People come to see the wonder firsthand but they stay for the dirt-cheap meats. The meats are char-grilled and heavily spiced to soften the meat's naturally pungent flavor. u/HeyShipmate
Looters Late Return (aka LooLaRe)- A seedy smelling store run by an androgynous goblin who wears overly fancy clothes. This goblin sells in bulk only, and at discounted prices. The catch is that if you make a purchase, you must sign a contract guaranteeing repeated weekly purchases. Your bulk discount increases the more product you are able to move, but if you are unable to maintain your weekly purchases, the goblin’s secret network of enforcers comes for it’s dues. Or your life. u/pikkl_rikk
Sandman Fisheries - This tightly packed stall smells or marine air and salty nets. It has all the sea can offer to the gourmet with a striking emphasis on huge fish: tuna, spadefish, and the occasional gargantuan squid. The product is impeccably fresh. Always. Sandman (a desert dweller and camel race aficionado) doesn't seem to understand what you're asking about the supply chain and how come his shop ever exists at hundred of miles from the nearest sea! u/Banuken
T'zargo's fine wares - This shop can be mysteriously seen in any plane, but always appears as an identical modern convenience store looking building. Inside is a tabaxi named T'zargo, always advertising his "fine wares at reasonable prices." He sells extremely rare and powerful items for millions of gold, along with random everyday items. Some of these rare items include an axe once wielded by Baphomet, and draws from a deck of many things. His mundane items he always pulls out of a box on his counter, and they include a full rowboat and 30 chairs. u/Kellen1013
The Magic Commoner - A basic magic item shop owned by a young elf wizard named Tavon Ilidan. He sells all sorts of magical things from armor to weapons and rings an such.The thing about his shop even though on the outside it looked like a regular building despite being one solid color; purple, orange, green ect. But when you walk inside it's much larger than its outward appearance.The shop also travels via a magical door. Tavon has a set of different keys he keeps with him representing the different cities of the land/world. He first closes the front door, locks it, then unlocks it with a new city key and when he opens it, it opens to the new city.Tavon's appearance reflects on which city he is in and what color his shop is. If is shop is blue his robes are blue as well. Tavon also has a secret. Even though he looks like a young elf he is actually an ancient gold dragon that simply likes to travel and meet new people without the stigma of being a dragon. He likes to play tricks on people and test them to see if they are worthy of specific items in his shop, (IE a wand of fireballs he made himself.) u/nota_person
Mallard Maladies - A veterinary clinic for ducks. The shop keeper is an old blind man who refuses to heal non duck creatures, but can be tricked into healing non ducks with a high enough deception ability. Despite the name, the clinic services male and female ducks. u/El_Jewbacabra
The Exploding Wand Shop- A shop that is characterized by an explosion that lifts the roof of the building off the walls and expelled black smoke every few hours - followed by the owner shouting from inside "I'M FINE, EVERYTHING'S OKAY!"The owner is a young Eladrin Artificer named Seyf Melorathian who experiments on new wands and other magical wonders. His face is a black charcoal from the soot of the explosions but otherwise would be a light brown. He has a pair of glasses that protects his eyes from being covered in soot. He has blond hair and wears a Smith's apron. He sells common rarity wands, up to rare rarity wonderous items, and has been working on an experimental wand of fireballs. You can only purchase an experimental wand if you do a material gathering quest for him.If you buy one of his wand of fireballs (2000gp and a waiver signed to not sue) there's a 10% chance that when used the wand will cast a second fireball centered on you during the spell.He also offers enchanting services at various speeds depending on the rarity of the requested enchantment. He will also willingly take on apprentices or teach enchantment to anyone. u/xBramStokerx
Fishman’s Man Fry – A Triton, named Vamras Vogalath, with broken Common serves delectable seafood dishes. If asked about the name, he explains that it is food FOR men, not for fishes.Side note- this is shop is not anywhere near any large body of water. Nobody in town is sure exactly where the fish come from. u/Unprincipled
Shwarma Tent - delicious herb infused fried flatbread with cured meats and shredded carrot and cucumber. The tent has small tripod tables and stools of worn wood. Patrons carve their names and other messages into the tabletops. Among the mundane names can be found the names of previous characters and NPCs that the party met, BBEGs they defeated, dated long ago, the current ruler of the land and the name of an old lover with a heart around it, Ash Ketchum, Drizzt, The Doctor, and the original Avengers. Searching carefully can also reveal a cryptic message to the party, seemingly carved years prior, but naming the PCs. u/bluecor
Threads of Fate - three old sisters weave spidersilk and mundane silk into beautiful garments with embroidery that sometimes changes its image. For instance, a nightrobe has the moon and a starry sky embroidered, and the moon changes its phase with the real moon. On another, a dragon slowly chases its own tail, with its wingtips pointing to the time, as a clock. Yet another displays an hourglass which constantly drains, and runs out when the wearer dies. Other images might show great moving battles, gently waving flags that slowly fade and dilapidate as the empire becomes more corrupt, or ruins that become progressively overgrown with vines. The theme of the garments deal with the passage of time and the inevitable end of life. u/bluecor
Salty's - the owner Saltamancia sells salt of differing coarseness and colors, and is an expert on which textures best compliment which purposes, from baking fine rolls to soaking one's feet after a days march. He has certain rare salts from distant lands with rare properties. For abjuring circles, he has a blessed salt that cannot be dispersed by gusts of wind. For healing, he has a fine blue salt that, when mixed with honey and packed into a wound, prevents infection and scarring. Another salt taken with hot peppermint tea can remove an additional level of exhaustion with a rest. True to his name, Saltamancia is old and curmudgeonly u/bluecor
Bestboots - Bestboots sells custom footwear of exceeding quality, made from rare materials. The footwear can be light for nimble moves or heavy for kicking doors. With the right materials (possibly a quest) minor advantages can be built into the footwear. For example, a sole of felted yeti hair can give normal traction on ice, and a sole of gummed soapwood sap can allow the wearer to ignore a casting of grease underfoot. u/bluecor
Hap's Microbrews - Hap claims to have perfected the means of beer portability, in that his brews are bottled and sealed under pressure in containers of lightweight spun cellulose which dont shatter when dropped. Opening his bottled beer releases a small localized burst of cold, chilling the beer just shy of freezing. The locals generally ignore his cart and "ice cold beer" sign, as ales are meant to be drunk at room temperature so that they don't unsettle the stomach. A discouraged Hap sits by his cart of beer bemoaning his own foolishness at sinking his fortune into such a folly. u/bluecor
Indelible - this quiet dusty alcove sells the magical inks, parchment, paper, vellum, papyrus, and delicate quills needed to prepare arcane and divine scrolls. Also sketch artistry, heraldry, and calligraphy supplies. Blank spellbooks, charcoal, pastels, and a few unique items are sold. Glowing chalk leaves marks that remain luminous for several hours. A special lightly waxed paper is waterproof and can be written on underwater with a special pencil. A waterproof scrollcase holds six tightly rolled papers in individual tubes, designed so you can immediately draw out the scroll you desire without searching through a sheaf of papers. The proprietor Abagnale is a gifted forger, and can make needed documents for the right fee, but only those skilled in thieve's cant would be able to recognize this based on a small glyph carved above the lintel. u/bluecor
The Magical Arts - this is a totally mundane shop which sells shaved and marked decks of cards, scarves for pulling from your sleeves, salted nuts cans that shoot a confetti burst when opened, squirting lapel flowers, palm buzzers, chewing gum that turns your teeth black, whoopie cushions, and stink spray. The guy working there isn't the owner, but is happy to teach you how to use his goods. While distracting you with a card trick, he will also attempt to shortchange you or pickpocket something (minus 4 to notice his ledgerdemain). If caught, he will only say "check your pocket" and there you will find the item you thought he pickpocketed. "Its all part of the trick, man," he will say, as he pulls a coin from your ear. u/bluecor
The Bee's Knees - honey from different types of flowers with exceptional flavors. Meads of each type are also sold, as well as bee pollen and honey candies. A honey from frostclover will quickly dispell a hangover. Phasebee royal jelly can allow an additional use of misty step for a character with that feature, but the cost is exorbitant. The affogatto with honeycomb, coffee, and ice cream is delicious, and gives the benefits of a short rest when consumed in the shop over the course of an hour. u/bluecor
Wacky Backy - Mr. C. Marin runs this fine tobacconist. House blends of pipe and cigarette tobacco can have classic Gandolf effects: controllable luminous smoke rings of various colors, and custom flavors and scents. The halfling weed is also sold. A self-lighting pipe is available, as well as a "peace pipe," which is a heavy iron pipe useable as a club (but you can also smoke out of it). Mr. Marin can craft custom peace pipes of nearly any light weapon. u/bluecor
Wild Bill's Skins - Bill buys and sells tanned and untanned hides of all types. All. Types. Bill can craft armor and other leather goods from nearly any type of hide. Custom saddles can be made for any beast. A saddle on display is embossed "ride me hard and put me away wet." It isn't for sale, and it looks like it would fit Bill. He can craft a skin-tight custom leather armor that is concealable under clothing, but the customer must go into the back of the shop for a very long and invasive fitting. Rumor has it that some customers never emerge. u/bluecor
Yellow Dancer - This is a musical instrument store run by a purple-haired elf named Lancer who was a freedom fighter in the past. His sister, Yellow Dancer herself, a famous concert performer who is a recognized star, is sometimes there in his place. Instruments of high quality and beginner pieces are sold. On commission, Lancer can craft an instrument which contains a secret sheath for a hidden weapon or wand. Also sold is "the Axe," a battleaxe/guitar combo, with a magical property of sound amplification that allows it to be heard in the largest venue, and allows for unique distortion effects. At DM Option, the Axe can also be used for ranged sonic attacks, mimicking the effects of Eldritch Blast. u/bluecor
The Titty Twister: an adult entertainment venue, mostly for merchants and caravan guards. A goblin barker in a tophat and coattails out front gives a spirited pitch about the feminine wonders to be found within. Inside is a seedy establishment styled to look like an ancient temple. Billiards and darts games line the walls, and a poker game is playing out at a table near the center. Its a rough crowd, and fights that break out are settled with the loser being dragged away by the bouncers and the winner buying a round for the house. Beautiful dancers take turns on stage and mingle with clients between songs. Private shows are available. During the day the massive door is barred and the place is eerily silent, but from dusk til dawn raucous action is there for the taking. Locals stay well clear and pray for protection if they must pass near this den of sin. u/bluecor
The Campus Martius: This strange storefront is a place for games of strategy, including draughts and card games, as well as sandtable war strategy matches involving miniature army figurines, played out with dice and measuring sticks. Arguments over rules are common, and are arbitrated by a robed and wigged judge on a low dias at one end, who often consults an enormous tome of rules which only he is allowed to read from. 1sp per game, per player, but by convention, the loser pays the fees of his opponents. A sweet green drink called mountain brew is popular here. It enhances focus, adding +1 to concentration saves for an hour, but leaves one tired, -1 to all saves for an hour thereafter. u/bluecor
Millenium Sustainable Armory: run by an elvish druid, Millenium sells "murder free" armor made from silk, giant leaves, sustainably harvested ironwood and similar materials. The armor otherwise has the properties of normal light and medium armors, but contains no leather, bone, or metal. Cost is about double. Heavy armor is not available. The leaves making up the armor do not wilt or turn brown. u/bluecor
The Meat Market: run by a shadowy figure in torn robes, this odd shop gives permanent magical effects in exchange for body parts. The more important the organ or body part, the better the effect. The effect goes to whoever the part comes from, so don’t get greedy! Wonder where the parts are going... u/CephaloPawd
Fernado's Fish Frenzy - in a village where magic and fishing collide, you might run into a man who can be at multiple places at a time, Fernado. He is a mystical fisherman who sets up booths in town squares, where the fish fight to the death in gladiator-style combat. The loser, is placed on his selling slab and the victor becomes larger in size. He has a 'leaderboard' that updates magically after every battle, accounting for all of the places Fernado is at in your world. u/BEZERK0xD
A rickety old shop plastered with the title of some famous adventuring party / adventurer on it. The entire shop is run by a near delusional fan of the party/individual, and sells merchandise about them, as well as weirdly specific information that you aren't sure how they know. (If your party is famous enough, the store might be dedicated to them) u/bladeraptor3
Let me start by saying my approach with this was changing each movie as little as possible, while trying to make the trilogy as a whole more cohesive and connect this trilogy to the previous 2. I see a lot of posts on here that claim they are fixing a movie, when they are really just writing a different one. I will preface this by saying I really liked The Force Awakens, I liked The Last Jedi, and I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. I apologize for the novel, this ended up taking much longer than I thought. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens My changes to The Force Awakens are minimal. TBH, my changes are more about setting things up to pay them off later, and fixing complaints. The first is, I would keep Jakku a desert planet, but I would change it from a Middle East sand desert to an American South West rock desert. It would have a landscape closer to the American western. I would also change StarKiller base from a planet that can destroy 5 planets at once to a re-purposed Super Star destroyer with Death Star tech attached that can destroy a city. I think changing things visually would reduce the A New Hope comparisons. The main threat of the movie is they have to rescue Rey and destroy StarKiller Base before it blows up the Capital City of the Galaxy on Hosnian Prime. Another small change I would make is combining the characters of General Hux and Captain Phasma. Whether it is still Gwendoline Christie or Domhnall Gleeson under the mask doesn't matter, but for the sake of this I will refer to General Phasma as she/her. Combining these characters doesn't negatively effect the story and will give us more time to do other things because we don't need to introduce 2 characters. Speaking of Phasma, another small change is switching the characters of FN-2199, who calls Finn a traitor, and General Phasma. Meaning, Finn fights General Phasma outside of Maz's Castle on Takodana and he gets FN-2199 to lower the shields on Starkiller Base. Speaking of Finn, his character is the one I am changing the most. He is still the comic relief, but I would make him more like Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy or Wrecker in the latest Clone Wars arc. He is a bad ass elite fighter, top of his class, but realized on his first mission outside of the academy, the opening we saw in TFA, that he doesn't want to kill innocent people. To highlight him as an elite fighter I would make some small dialogue changes. When Finn and Poe escape, Finn never asks how to use the gun, Poe asks if he knows how, and Finn starts shooting with deadly accuracy. To show how bad ass Finn is, I would change the Rathtar scene. Mainly by eliminating the Rathtars. The guys from The Raid show up and threaten to capture Han and Chewie, all hope is lost until Rey notices Finn is gone. That's when we see Finn move around and take out the Kanjiklub's guys like some John Wick/Batman hybrid. Another complaint of Finn is they repeat his arc in TLJ, but I disagree. He never once cares about the Resistance in TFA, only Rey. To reinforce this, when he meets the 2 guys in Maz's Castle, he stays with them and leaves with them to their ship when The First Order lands. However, he only turns around and helps when he sees Kylo carrying Rey in his arms into his ship. Another thing I would change regarding Finn, is the scene on Starkiller Base where Han asks Finn his plan. Finn says he was never trained in computers, just in combat. Han lists off various Star Warsy sounding tech things asking if Finn knows how to use them. Finn says no, and that they'll use the force. Han says, "That's not how the force works." He never mentions working in sanitation, because as our elite fighter, he never worked in sanitation. The last thing I would change is the fight between Finn and Kylo on Starkiller base. When we first see Finn, he is wearing his Storm Trooper armor, and wears it throughout the movie, minus the helmet. It doesn't have to be the bright white armor, since 30 years has passed since the OT, the armor can be changed. He says he was on an undercover mission, and that's why he has it, but also says he continues to wear it for protection. It keeps him from getting hit by a blaster. People throughout the movie tell him that it hinders his mobility and to just take it off. When the fight between Finn and Kylo happens, Kylo hacks off Finn's arm cutting him in the forearm. Finn realizes the armor won't protect him in this fight. While the fight continues, Finn (screaming in pain) sheds off the armor fully abandoning his Storm Trooper ways. People wanted Rey or Kylo to lose and arm in this trilogy, but it doesn't make sense for them to. Luke lost his arm as a warning that he could become more machine like his father if he falls to the darkside. Anakin lost his arm to show he was losing his humanity. Kylo has already fallen to the darkside, there is no meaning to him losing an arm. Rey doesn't fall to the darkside, and if she lost an arm, she would only become more like Luke, a Jedi. So, I would change it up and have a non force user lose their arm to help drive their transformation. The robotic arm could also be used as a weapon in further movies to highlight Finn's badassness. The Force Awakens was also lacking in politics. I would include a scene of Leia talking to the Senate asking for help. They can show the current state of the Galaxy that was set up in the books. The government is divided. Half the government wants a military, half doesn't. She says the First Order is a legitimate threat and they have financial backing, she assumes from Snoke. I would include Admiral Holdo here, maybe she can be against Leia, but we can see there is a clear respect for each other. When StarKiller base attacks, Holdo can be shown to realize she was wrong. Before Leia walks in the room to talk with the Senate we see what looks like a Leia Organa campaign postehologram with a stylized Vader helmet spray painted over Leia's face. For the changes with Rey. When we first see her, she is asleep, and wakes up right after the scene where Kylo slaughters the village. Was it a vision? She woke up quick and seems distraught. When Kylo first sees Rey he says she is the one from his visions. They are connected somehow. I would also eliminate the "Force download". I would change the scene where Rey negotiates the portions with Unkar Plutt and make it seem like she is unknowingly using a Jedi mind trick on him to get more portions. However, we aren't 100% sure that's what happened. There is no hand wave. When she fights with her staff, it looks like she is fighting as if she has a double bladed lightsaber. Rey is using the force, she just doesn't know it. It's not until Han tells her the force is real and Kylo tells her he can feel the force flowing through her does she put everything together. As she puts it together, she hears a distant voice say, "Rey, these are your first steps." We see at the end of the movie Rey and Poe meet. Poe introduces himself. Rey introduces herself. Poe asks her last name, and she says it's just Rey. Behind her we see Leia have a look of concern. One small change I would make is "the map to Luke Skywalker" is referred to as a map "to the first Jedi temple" just as often, because that's what it is. That change is just to lessen confusion. My final change to TFA is R2-D2, who has been nowhere to be seen. When BB-8 projects the map, he has the whole map. He doesn't need R2-D2 to show up out of nowhere for no real reason. However, when Rey meets Luke and extends the saber to him, as the camera pulls back, R2-D2 rolls up. R2 has been with Luke the whole time. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi Now, to make The Last Jedi connect more. First, I like the Canto Bight scene, but I would put it on Count Dooku's homeworld. There could be a big Dooku statue in the middle of Canto Bight. It doesn't have to be acknowledged by anyone, but it can be confirmed to be Dooku in the novelization or somewhere else. I think this would connect it more to the previous movies and add to the "lived in" feel. I respect Rian wanting to show us a new type of location in Star Wars, by showing us the upper crust of society. However, we needed more old stuff in there so it felt like Star Wars. It was a new location and new aliens so it felt too different. If we had Twi'leks as cocktail waitresses and Toydarians as Sabacc dealers, people would have felt that it fit better into the universe. I would also change the big hairy wart covered alien who threatens the kids to a Stormtrooper, to show Finn how far he has come. Also, when Maz sends them there, she is in a projected hologram, like every other long distance conversation we have ever seen in Star Wars, not on some weird screen. Also, her reason for not helping isn't because of trade disputes, it's because she is working on rebuilding her house/business that blew up a week ago. We also learn towards the end of the scene after they are on the ship DJ stole, that he lost his red palm bloom to the guy we see in the casino, and when he tried to steal it back he got thrown into the dungeon. So, DJ was always the guy they were supposed to find. I would also change the Rashomon style story for when Ben destroyed the temple and left. I would not actually show the flashback until we saw the real version, I think this lead to some confusion with a lot of people thinking Luke went into Ben's room to kill him. When Luke is training Rey about the force, she asks him about the voice she heard, and how to communicate with it. He is confused and she describes it. He says that while some fallen Jedi have learned how to reach out and communicate with the living, only the most powerful and balanced Jedi can reach out and hear the dead. Throughout the movie, Rey tries to reach out and hear the dead, but fails every time. When Rey leaves Ahch-To, R2 goes with her and Chewbacca. Also, after Kylo kills Snoke, during the fight between Finn and General Phasma (and ultimately kills her) we see a room open up. It's a sciency looking room full of thousands of tubes of various sizes filled with a mysterious liquid and maybe a solid mass inside if you squint hard enough. Kylo reveals to Rey Snoke's origins and called him weak. He reveals Snoke was a clone of Plaguies that Palpatine made when he realized Vader had a son and it could cause Vader to turn to the light. Palpatine realized he might soon need another apprentice. Snoke thought himself to be the greatest of all of the clones because he was the first one of Palpatine's to be force sensitive. The rest were destroyed. Speaking of Snoke, he never says he bridged their minds and is intrigued by their connection. With the Leia "flying" scene, the only change I would make is removing her actually flying. The bridge explodes, she goes out into space. We then see her floating in space, where her eyes open, and she starts to move. We then see Poe and everyone's reaction, and finally we see Leia's hand against the glass. When Rey and Kylo meet up, Rey says she asked the cave who her parents were, but it didn't show her anyone, just herself. Kylo said he has seen her through visions her whole life, just as he assumes she has seen him. He says he saw her parents, and they were filthy junk traders. Luke has the talk with Yoda, which changes his mind, he wants to help the people on Crait, but they are too far away. Yoda asks if he is giving up. Luke hesitates. Luke gives Yoda a weird look, as he looks him up and down. Speaking of the people on Crait, I would have a line that the speeders the Resistance uses were used to tow equipment around. Instead of Rose crashing into Finn, she launches a tow cable onto Finn's speeder and pulls him out of the path of the cannon. They crash into each other. We have a similar scene to what we got, but maybe they shoot the kiss scene a few more times so it doesn't look so awkward. With the scene where the rain from where Rey is being transported to Kylo, something from Kylo transports to Rey. Before we see the scene with broom boy, there is a scene of Kylo Ren talking to a lower ranked First Order officer. Kylo tells him that Snoke would routinely travel deep into the unknown regions, Kylo wants to find out why. Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker This is the movie I am changing the most. Let me start by saying that Finn isn't revealed to be force sensitive. Why? Because it's never important. The opening scene is a space battle between the large Resistance Fleet and the First Order, which takes place about 2-3 years after TLJ. The Galaxy has responded to Luke's heroic action in the last movie. They are fighting in full force. The First Order is on their heels, and has been for months. The remaining First Order ships reveal their unstable Death Star tech cannons and destroy 90% of the Resistance's fleet. However, some of the First Order ships are blown up from the sheer power of their unstable canons. Our main heroes survive because of plot armor. Maybe we can kill someone like Wedge Antilles here. So we can feel a loss of life and that the battle was important. Also, it's clear Finn and Rose are together, maybe even married. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren finds his way to Exogol, where Snoke has been travelling back and forth to. We see Exogol is a Gothic Industrial planet, filled with many factories, but still dark and creepy like what was in the movie we got. Palpatine reveals himself. Kylo Ren is confused, Palpatine is supposed to be dead. Palpatine says "the dark side is a pathway to many abilities that some consider to be unnatural." He learned from his master the ability to transfer his essence from one body to another. "First I tried to create a natural born vessel through more traditional means, but none were sensitive to the force. Then my master and I tried to manipulate the force to create a force sensitive vessel, but that plan backfired. I then tried to create a clone to transfer my essence into, but none of the clones had a connection to the force. So when my former apprentice Darth Vader killed me, the Sith acolytes that surround you now, performed a Sith ritual and transferred my essence into one of the only available clones. Since this weak body couldn't handle my dark side power it quickly began to deteriorate. My secret apprentice, Snoke, was tasked with continuing my clone project to make me a force sensitive body, but none of them were ever force sensitive, and the Resistance destroyed all of the clones on Snoke's ship." Palpatine then thanks Kylo for completing his mission of taking over the Galaxy with the First Order. Kylo is confused. Palpatine says the First Order was meant to conquer the Galaxy, now it is time for the Final Order to rule it. Hundreds of ships rise from the factories of Exogol. Palpatine tells Kylo to bring him Rey and he will turn her to the dark side for him, so they can carry on his legacy, and they can rule his Galaxy together as Emperor and Empress. Kylo asks why would she do that. Cut to next scene. Kylo Ren, the Supreme Leader, makes a Galaxy wide announcement on the holonet that Palpatine is not dead and the Final Order is now the true government, any person or planet that doesn't see it that way will be destroyed. Now, the First Order out numbers the Resistance. It was 250ish Resistance ships vs 50 First Order Ships. Now it's like 25 Resistance Ships ships vs 40 First Order Ships + whatever the Final Order has. Leia tasks Finn, Poe, and Rey to travel the galaxy and get the help they need. Finn, Poe, Chewie and Rey have to go recruiting. They go from planet to planet, convincing the leadership to fight. We see them talk to the Quarren, the Gungans, Lando, whatever is available on Mandalor, the people of Canto Bight, the Noobians. This is basically a tour of the first 8 movies. The people are scared. They are scared of Palpatine, they are scared of the Final Order, and the Star Destroyers that have appeared in the atmosphere of key planets. They heard what happened to the Resistance. While our new trio are doing this, they are being hunted down by Kylo Ren, and a group of Stormtroopers. We are eliminating the fetch quests and the new characters. This is 9th film of a 9 film saga. It's about saying goodbye, not hello. The action scenes can come from being on the run from the First Order, bounty hunters, space monsters etc. There is even a scene where Rey heals a space monster. There is a passage in one of the Jedi texts that is written in Sith, that Rey believes tells them how to get to Exogol, C-3P0 says he can read it, but his mind is blocking him. They decide to take 3P0 to the only slicer that can crack 3P0's mind, DJ. DJ basically takes Zuri's spot in the story and shows up in the final fight. On one of the planets, the Final Order kidnaps Chewie. Rey, trying to pull the ship back, shoots it with lightning and blows it up. Well, she blows up one of the ships (wink, wink). Kylo kidnaps Rey. This is where the bomb is dropped by Kylo that she is a Palpatine. We see a flashback of her youth, a memory she has blocked out. We see her parents were older, maybe we get someone like Kenneth Brannagh to cameo. This way it's all but confirmed Rey's father was born before Phantom Menace, and he just daughter later in life. We see her parents drop her off with Unkar Plott, and leave in a rush. Kylo reveals they stole a spice smuggling ship and blew themselves up when Snoke was near, convincing Snoke that they, along with their daughter, were dead. We see another flashback and we see the blown up wreckage caused Snoke's ship to crash, causing his injuries. Poe and Finn attempt to go back to the Resistance, but are surrounded by Stormtroopers. Poe reached for his blaster, but Finn stops him. Finn gives a great speech and tells his story. One of the Storm Troopers takes their helmet off and throws it away. They all slowly do. Finn, Poe, and the new members of the Resistance head back to the Resistance base. Rey breaks away from Kylo, goes to Ahch-To and the scene plays out mostly the same, except Luke tells her she has the same task he does. He says Leia knew she was a Palpatine because they could feel it in the force. She decided not to tell her because Leia wanted Rey to make her own choices and not worry about the outside world. Luke says, to become a Jedi she must confront her grandfather, just like he had to confront his father. Luke gives Rey Leia's saber. Rey contacts Finn and Poe and tells them she is going to Exogol. They tell Rey that Leia is sick and is not doing well. Finn and Poe decide follow Rey to Exogol to help her. Kylo intercepts Rey's message. He is going to Exogol. Rey and Kylo meet up outside of Palpatine's base. They have their fight, in which Han's blaster is knocked from Rey's hip. Kylo is injured, Rey heals him. She says she would have joined Ben, but now she has to kill Palpatine. Kylo falls unconscious. As Leia becomes one with the force, Kylo reawakens. He looks over at his father's blaster. We get a flashback to a young Han and pre-teen Ben. Ben is intrigued by his father's blaster. His father gives him some moral about good and evil and how the blaster once belonged to a con-man, who tried to kill him, but then Han acquired the blaster and the Rebellion beat the Empire, partly because of the blaster. The story is basically how the blaster wasn't inherently evil. Cut to present day. Ben Solo stands up. He is talking to himself, and saying it's too late to change. We hear a voice call out to him saying it's not too late. Ben turns around and see the ghost of his grandfather. Anakin tells Ben that it's never too late to change as long as you're willing to do good. They talk for a few seconds. Ben asks why he hasn't appeared to him before, Anakin says he was with him the whole time, but force ghosts only appear to those who accept the light side. We now have the triple threat of Rey, Leia, and Han pushing Ben to the light. With Anakin pushing him over the edge. Ben says he has something he has to do. He runs off towards Rey. The space battle plays out nearly identically, but we also see people rise up on their own planets to destroy the star destroyers that orbit above them. During one scene, the Final Order flag ship is about to blow up the ship with Finn and Rose and some background characters we are familiar with. Then the Final Order flag ship starts to have some problems from the inside. It's Chewie, he was on a different ship and escaped. We get a cool fight scene where Chewie is ripping through Stormtroopers, he gets the bridge and starts the self destruct. Chewie sacrifices himself to save the Resistance. However, they are still outnumbered. Poe, doesn't think the people on the other planets made it and that they will soon be met by even more Star Destroyers. This is where Poe can say that it bought them time, but there are still so many ships. Then Lando can chime in with the "But there are more of us." W see the thousands of Resistance ships that have flown in from all around the galaxy. Then we get the great line where the Final Order officers are talking to each other, "Is that a Navy?" "No, it's just people." R2 gets his big moment because we see him lead Finn around the outside of Final Order ship that he breaks on to. This gives Finn a mini-arc because he goes from not understanding BB-8 to having full conversations with R2. R2 can also take out a few Final Order droids/troopers as well. Ben rushes in to Palpatine's throne room, but is stopped by the Sith Acolytes. From there on, everything is basically the same. Rey passes Ben the saber through the force. Ben kills the Sith Acolytes. Rey kills the Sith Troopers. He shows up to help Rey fight Palpatine. Palpatine talks about their force dyad, sucks their force energy, then yeets Ben down the hole. He then gives his speech to Rey, part of what he says is now that the last of the Skywalker bloodline is dead, nothing can stop the Sith. He is force lightning the fuck out of Rey. The force theme plays and Ben is standing on a boulder that is floating. He steps off the boulder, onto solid ground. This distracts Palpatine and he focuses his energy on Ben. Rey is lying on the ground when she focuses and stares into the stars, this is when she hears the voices of the Jedi past. Rey stands up. Palpatine then hits Ben with a massive bolt of lightning. Palpatine refocuses his lightning on Rey, she blocks it with Leia's saber. As she approaches him she force pulls the Skywalker saber from Ben to her. She gets closer and closer until the sabers press into Palpatine and he is destroyed. Rey passes out and dies. Ben limps over to her. He uses the force to save her. They kiss. He disappears. The space battle is won by the Resistance. Their is a celebration and our heroes are reunited. The galaxy as a whole is celebrating as we go from planet to planet. We jump forward in time a few months, maybe a year. Rey is on Ahch-To training a handful of students of all ages, gender, and species. The Millenium Falcom lands Poe, Finn, and Rose step off with a small child. Maybe it's broom boy, maybe it's not. They all greet each other good morning. Rey walks the child towards her other students. We see Leia and Luke's lightsabers on display. The child introduces himself, and asks Rey's name. She says "Rey". The child says, "Rey what?" Then she looks off in the distance and sees the ghosts Luke, Leia, and Ben. She says "Rey, Rey Skywalker." She turns back to her students. We then see the force ghost of Anakin appear next to his family. We then see Yoda, then Qui-Gon Jinn, and finally Ahsoka. They look out as Rey trains her new students as the twin suns of Ahch-To rise in the distance. One small things I would change for all 3 movies to make this trilogy it's own thing. I would give the "I've got a bad feeling about this." line to all non-basic speaking creatures. For TFA, I would give it to Chewie. For TLJ, I would keep it as BB-8. For TRoS, I would give it to R2-D2.
I started seeing his videos on Facebook. They’d just pop up on my timeline. He looked odd. Long, white hair that was straight and extended down past his stomach. His eyebrows were shaved off, or maybe they were never there to begin with, it was impossible to tell. He wore strange make-up to accent his inhuman features and project an alternative style. His voice was both confident and articulate, but it was the things he said that drew me in. He spoke about the wonders of the universe, how it all worked and how every little thing we saw was nothing more than a complex system of mathematics put together to form what we perceived as reality. Intrigued and desperate for something to believe in greater than myself, I couldn’t help but watch hours upon hours of the man. He was known only as Morgue, and he preached a religion in which he seemed to be the founder of or, at the very least, a strong influencer of the belief. I’ll admit, looking back on Hyperianism, I should’ve seen it. I should’ve known that following something like this would only result in pain, but I was naive and, as I said before, desperate. My faith had been a bit wobbly before I found Morgue. My heart was empty and hopeless. Then, as if by divine intervention, he was there. His video, which was nothing more than a square jawed, androgynous man staring into a camera and speaking, drew me in. I think it was the eloquent intensity he spoke with. The way he explained how the world and all the scenarios that play out around us are just complex systems of math equations ebbing and flowing through space and time, something he’d dubbed Hyperianism. It was genuinely titillating. And even better - at the end of one of his more recent videos, aptly titled “The reason your life is empty,” he spoke of a meet and greet happening exactly one week from the time I’d watched it. An opportunity to speak with Morgue himself, along with his two closest colleagues, regarding Hyperianism and how to become a member of the “church.” Sure, at first I had the thought that they would try to sell me something. I figured it was just a way for them to collect money. But then, as if he was answering my questions as they popped into my mind, he said: “No, we will not try to sell you anything. And no, we are not looking for donations. We are looking for dedicated members of society who want to fulfill their destiny and become Hyperianists. Individuals who want nothing more than to know the truth. To EVOLVE beyond your wildest dreams.” My mind was made up. I had my plane tickets bought only minutes after the video ended and excitement began to bubble inside of me. I was going to get to meet this man. To become a part of something greater than myself. To find something to believe in, finally! Getting the time off work proved to be difficult. My boss refused to grant me a leave of absence, and because I didn’t have the vacation time accumulated he wouldn’t approve it that way either. So, I quit. From what Morgue said in his video: “You won’t need to be confined to human monotony. You won’t need a job after you’ve accepted Hyperianism. You will see the world for its true self. You will find yourself on a different plane, above all the rest.” Over the course of the following week I took my money out of savings. I felt that, although after my religious awakening was complete I wouldn’t need these things, I would need to survive in the meantime. Food, water and shelter were still necessary. Finally, the day arrived. The day I was to travel to Las Vegas in search of a man named Morgue who could show me divinity in its purest form. Looking back, even as I type that, I know it wasn’t my smartest move. Desperation can lead people to do things that don’t always make sense. I boarded the airplane with only a single bag. I figured I wouldn’t need anything more. I would be awakened and, as Morgue said: “Human constructs need not be collected post-divination. Your mind will be open to the complex system of mathematical sines and cosines around you. Material possessions will be deemed pointless, in your mind’s eye.” The flight landed. The sky was dark seeing as my flight arrived shortly after 9pm, but the bright lights from the nearby, infamous Vegas Strip illuminated the atmosphere in surreal intensity. Seeing the line-up of hotels and casinos, the characters travelling up and down the main drag with odd clothes and exotic animals and the people bustling about this late at night, drunkenly stumbling around the wide sidewalk caused me to smile ear to ear with exhilarated giddiness. I approached my hotel, nerves causing my legs to wobble beneath me. I could feel my hands vibrating with a tremor, something I hadn’t been victim to before. This was going to change my life. I could feel it. The meeting wasn’t going to start until midnight because, as Morgue said in his video: “Time is merely a construct meant to keep the human population at bay and without freedom. We will not be confined by imaginary constraints. We will remain nocturnal and break the chains of society’s overwatch on us. We will do as we please with whom we please. We will not be bound.” I checked into my hotel room, having to place a large sum of money down as a deposit since I was paying in cash. The room was nice. Not quite as nice as I expected for how much I paid, but I didn’t think much of it. My mind just replayed Morgue’s words and I felt at ease. I relaxed in my hotel room for a few hours, taking a few of the overly priced shots from the mini bar. By about 11pm, I’d started to feel a bit of a buzz and an overt amount of boredom. I figured I’d kill the hour downstairs in the casino playing some nickel and dime slots. As you probably guessed, I didn’t win much. I just blew through about two-hundred dollars worth of change, and downed another two or three drinks in the short span of an hour, without so much as a second thought. Then, the time came. I received a text from an unknown number giving me simple instructions: “Go to room 1274.” Easy enough. When I got up to the twelfth floor, I saw a baker’s dozen people heading in the same direction as me. They moved slow, zombie-like and had vacant expressions on their faces clouded by a deep seated anxiety deep inside their eyes. Their lack of physical emotion sent chills down my spine. A feeling that was hard to shake off as I joined the herd and headed toward room 1274. My mind was fuzzy on account of the drinks, but that didn’t stop me from wandering through the depths of my mind and playing scenario after horrifying scenario. The image of robed figures splaying me out on a pedestal, spilling my innards over some sort of satanic symbols followed thoughts that perhaps I was walking into some sort of trap. I tried to force the negativity to leave my mind by using some techniques I’d picked up in a few of Morgue’s videos, but they didn’t seem to be working. That should have been the first sign that something about this wasn’t quite what it was hyped up to be. I went forward, swallowing my fear and fighting my legs to continue moving down the hall and into the door to room 1274. When I arrived, following the half dozen or so people who hadn’t changed their minds halfway down the hall, I couldn’t help but notice the room was impossibly dark. Uninviting scents of sweat and incense wafted into my nose as I sat down on a small folding chair. Everyone around me was silent, waiting patiently for any sign that we were in the right place. After an excruciatingly long five minutes of anxious waiting, something started to happen. A sound of deep bass bellowed throughout the room. Black lights lined the ceiling, illuminating a geometric symbol painted on the wall and causing it to glow bright blue. A man, deathly skinny with long hair that also seemed to glow under the neon purple lighting, stepped up in front of the chairs and began speaking. “Good evening.” He said in a familiar, articulate tone. “Tonight you have chosen to be awakened. You have seen that there is something more and you wish to be pushed into a state of divination.” A stage light shined from behind me, causing his pale skin to glow bright white. The familiar man who’s videos I’d obsessively watched over the past few days looked a bit different. He was older. Much older. “I am here to guide you into a state of consciousness that you have only dreamt about. I am here to give you the push required to open your mind.” He made a gentle pushing gesture with his hands. It was theatrical, just like his videos. He smiled a terrible, crooked tooth, squinty-eyed smile. It shouted malice, but my mind argued with my instincts. It told me that I was being irrational; that my fear of the unknown was forcing me to see things that weren’t true. Two people who made themselves known as Morgue’s colleagues began to make their way around to each of the six people that sat scattered throughout the room. One was a lady, tall and thin like Morgue. She was covered from head to toe in tattoos of oddly configured shapes, all symmetrical from what I could see. She had a thick gauged septum ring that connected at each end of the horseshoe style jewelry to thin chains that strung up to her eyebrows and attached to circular rings there. It gave the faint appearance of a veil draped over her face. The other was a large man. Round, as if he didn’t get the memo that food was no longer a necessity. He sported a tall, stiff mohawk. He opened his mouth as he approached me, revealing tarnished silver teeth. His eyes were inhuman, cat-like marbles set deep inside his perspiring head. “Freedom awaits,” he said, handing me a small paper stick. I wasn’t sure what to make of the small object, but it looked and felt similar to a pixie stick. Long and cylindrical with a sand like material that moved around as I kneaded it. Morgue continued in the fashion of a true showman: “We are here to help all who will welcome us. We want each and every one of you to take control of your destiny. To unlock your true potential and transcend this monotonous reality into a true state of nirvana and open-ended bliss. You will be in control of everything around you, changing that which does not please you, and highlighting that which does.” He presented a cylinder identical to the one we all now held in our hands. The two punk-rock sidekicks joined him on stage, standing just outside of the spotlight. The trio reminded me more of a circus sideshow, or some sort of freak show, rather than a group of religious leaders. That familiar anxiety began to grow inside me once again, fizzling deep within my stomach and tying my gut into a thick knot. “Now,” Morgue said, raising his cylinder. “Raise your prophetic dust and ingest it with me. Become one with Hyperianism and leave behind this pathetic and putrid existence.” He turned the cylinder up, into his mouth, tilting his head back. His Adam’s Apple bobbed in his throat as he swallowed, inhumanly large like some sort of clementine stuck halfway down his esophagus. His words sent my mind on a rampage of negative thoughts and terrifying realities. Was I right? Was this some sort of Jim Jones or Dave Koresh scenario that I’d gotten myself caught up in? How would I escape? My breathing became rapid and erratic. A thick layer of sweat began to form all across my body and the room started to close in around me. My heart pounded deep inside my chest as I reached up and tugged at my collar, vainly attempting to cool my body. I looked around and saw only two others doing as he commanded. The rest seemed to make the same connection as I did and simply looked around. Then, all four of our eyes fell on the two followers, as well as Morgue himself. They’d ingested this substance that was likely poison. Any second now, they should begin to show signs. Foaming at the mouth, writhing on the floor, something… But there was nothing. No sign that they had just willingly killed themselves. Morgue also looked fine. If anything, he actually looked ten years younger, as if he’d stepped into the fountain of youth before our eyes. I wasn’t sure what the rest of the crowd was thinking, but this was only partially comforting. It was clear, at least in my mind, that Morgue had simply taken a placebo. The real poison was held by those of us seated in front of him. But still, the two who were brave enough to try it didn’t fall out or start convulsing uncontrollably, which sparked my curiosity. If it wasn’t poison, then what was it? Still, I wasn’t curious enough to find out for myself, regardless of how compelling Morgue’s videos had been. Sure, he’d made a decent argument for his cause online, but undeniable proof would’ve been more convincing. Unfortunately for the other devotees, they saw things differently. They looked to one another before upturning the small cylinders, dumping the contents into their mouths. Each of them shuddered in disgust as the fine powder hit their tongues and began to work its way down their throats. A man two seats to my right looked at me. The pained expression of utter disgust quickly washing away from his face, replaced by a euphoric absence as his eyes glazed over. Now, he looked more like a slave to the substance than a man free of human constraint. My eyes quickly darted to the front of the room. Morgue and his two sidekicks appeared to be eyeing me. Waiting for me to make the same choice as the others around me. He looked at the woman to his left, then turned his head dramatically to the heavy-set man to his right. I noticed his skin appeared to glow brighter under the spot light, nearly blinding me. “There’s always one…” he said, trailing off with a sinister laugh. The woman suddenly appeared to my right. It was impossible and caused me to jump with a start. She had literally just been ten feet in front of me and, in the blink of an eye, appeared by my side. The rotund man was on my left, also as if by some sort of magical teleportation. They extended arms out toward me, sending me into a panicked hysteria. My mind suddenly switched focus. It was now fight or flight, and flight didn’t seem like much of an option seeing as how I was surrounded. Adrenaline surged through my veins, sending gooseflesh rising across my body. My limbs shook uncontrollably. I managed, after a moment of pure terror, to clench a fist and hurl it at the woman. It was against my natural instincts, having been raised to never hit a woman, but she was a threat and I was left with no other choice. My knuckles connected with her nose and I heard a loud crunch as my hand struck her face. I pulled back, but something held my hand in place against her face, resisting as I attempted to pull away. Without thinking, I jerked my hand back. She grabbed her face and let out a yawp, collapsing to the floor and writhing in agony. I looked down at my throbbing hand and noticed thin chains encircling my fist, embedded into the skin in some areas. Small bits of flesh hung on the ends attached to circular rings. I knew this was my only chance. I had to run. I had to go and never look back. I jumped up, over the small folding chairs and bolted towards the door. Morgue stood there, blocking the only exit. He was motionless, his arms crossed over his shirtless torso and his large, penetrating eyes staring at me with contempt. The foreboding sense of pure dread lingered in the air, thick enough to cut. I stared at Morgue as I came to a halt about six feet away from him. I was unsure if I should try to rush him or if I should look for another escape route. My time was running short and I knew it. I knew if I didn’t try to make my escape now, I wouldn’t have another opportunity. I decided to rush him, remembering my brief stint in elementary school football. I sprinted toward him, ready to make the tackle. I came in low and wrapped my arms around his waist but he didn’t budge. I was stopped in my tracks as if he was made of stone, slamming my shoulder into rock hard flesh. I stumbled back, gripping my aching shoulder. Why didn’t he move? Was this really how I was meant to die? I refused to accept it. I couldn’t allow myself to fall victim to this… thing. “You cannot escape us.” He said, slowly stepping toward me. I felt a hand grip my shoulder and whipped my head around to see the familiar large man covered in tattoos. The henchman who’d handed me the prospective poison. Rage billowed deep within his eyes, his mouth was turned up in a horrid scowl. The neon lighting of the room seemed to accent this rage, giving him a demonic, glowing aura. I scanned the room in search of something… anything that I might be able to use to aid my escape, but there was nothing. The five others who had entered with me sat in their seats staring forward as if they didn’t realize the commotion happening around them. “Hey!” I shouted, trying to get their attention as the large man tightened his grip on my shoulder and brought his other hand up to my opposite shoulder. He had a grip on me like a vice, lifting me clear off my feet and dangling me in the air for a moment. I flailed my legs in a vain attempt to free myself from his grip. It was pointless, though. He was the size of a full grown ox, triple my weight, and he had a strong hold on me. I stopped resisting for a moment and thought. The pressure bearing down on my chest and arms was shortening my breaths and clouding my mind. I couldn’t figure out how I would escape and had begun to accept my fate. I’d gotten in too far over my head. Then, it hit me. The woman didn’t seem to be impervious like Morgue. I was able to land a swift punch to her face that she had yet to recover from. I looked over the large man’s shoulder, at the heap of bone and flesh on the floor. She panted, gripping at her face, but she did not stand. I found myself in another dilemma, though. My arms were pinned to my sides, so landing a punch was out of the question. Think… think! I told myself in my mind. The thought came quickly, and I acted just as fast. I reared my leg back, winding up for a powerful kick before whipping it forward, as hard as I could. I felt the top part of my foot land hard in his crotch. Flesh collapsed under the force of my kick, and I saw the man’s expression quickly change. The fury left him, replaced by absolute agony. He quickly released his grip on me and his hands found their way to his family jewels. He let out a groan and exhaled all the air from his lungs as he fell to the ground. I stumbled down, watching Morgue make a slow and methodical approach. He walked by the heap of man on the floor, staring down at him with utter disgust. “Pathetic…” he said through gritted teeth as he reared back and landed a kick. Morgue’s heavy boot connected with the man’s ribs and an inconceivably loud crunch echoed through the room, causing me to wince in repulsion. It became clear to me then that Morgue had no sympathy for his “colleagues.” They were likely just people that he’d converted to his twisted religion. People who saw no other option than to do as they were told. I looked back at the people, still seated and staring up at the wall. Their eyes were fixed on that glowing symbol on the wall behind where Morgue had made his dramatic introduction. Then, something happened. Something I still can’t quite explain. All at once, the people let out an exhausted breath. A glowing, misty cloud escaped each of their mouths and made its way to the front of the room, falling onto the painted symbol on the wall. It appeared to be pulling the mist into the center, as if it were some sort of vacuum. The glow pulsated, growing brighter then dimming, as it absorbed the cloud. Then, as the last of it escaped their mouths, the people collapsed from their seats and laid in heaps on the ground. I stared in horror as their bodies quickly decayed before my eyes, turning into ash before collapsing into small mountains of grey dust that glowed under the club style lighting around me. That… That could’ve been me… I thought, trembling in fear. I turned my head and looked back at Morgue, who took a deep breath in through his nose, closing his eyes and letting a sinister grin stretch across his face from ear to ear. When he let the breath out and looked at me, a warm sensation spread across my front as my bladder emptied its contents from complete and utter fear. His eyes glowed in their sockets. Not like your typical neon glow under a blacklight. No, they were bright red, like laser beams shooting from his eyes. His emaciated frame had suddenly filled out, his muscle nearly tripling in size, veins bulging from his chest and biceps. His trapezius swelled up, eliminating the appearance of a neck. I couldn’t move. My legs simply would not take me to safety and instead, remained planted in place as the warm urine continued to spread across my jeans. Morgue continued to transform before my eyes. His hands became increasingly large, and his black fingernails, which I had previously assumed to be painted, grew into long, sharp talons. Finally, my legs took what my brain told them to do and acted, but not in the way I expected. Rather than bolting for the door, they decided to slowly back away from this monster. Not a terrible move, I must say, but not the smartest. I continued backing up, kicking metal folding chairs out of my way without taking my eyes off of the snarling beast before me. It appeared his terrifying and amazing transformation was complete and he had now locked eyes with me. My heart felt like it was going to jump up my throat and out of my mouth, beating crazily in my chest as the beast approached. I felt myself back into something solid, a cool breeze shot up my back from below. The air conditioner, and the cool wall against my back was the window. Morgue snarled inhumanly deep, squelching gurgles as he continued taking heavy, thumping steps toward me. He stopped for a moment, just over arms length away from me. A split second of silence. A brief thought that maybe, just maybe, I’d make it out alive. Maybe he would just let me leave. That thought exited my mind quickly as he leapt forward, barreling straight at me with his steroid built body. His feet fell one over another, thundering below me and vibrating the carpeted floor beneath my feet. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. Then I felt it. The stinging sensation of his claws digging into my torso. The vibrating pulsation of puncturing talons inserting themselves deep into my skin, making their way below layer after layer of skin until they found muscle and seated themselves into it. The sound of shattering glass behind me as the window I was propped up against gave way, sending myself and Morgue plummeting twelve stories down. We flipped through the air as my insides twisted and butterflies fluttered in my torso. Morgue still had his claws deep inside of my stomach, but I couldn’t feel them. I couldn’t feel anything as the adrenaline pumped hard through my veins. I could hear screams gaining volume below me, barely audible over the roar of wind invading my ears. I closed my eyes and came to grips with the reality that this was my demise. I stopped with a thud, air forcing its way out of my lungs before blacking out. Small bits of consciousness came back to me violently. Flashes of incomprehensible pieces of reality interrupted by darkness. The feeling of drowning, air being replaced by water inside of my lungs, a pulsating pressure on my sternum followed by oxygen forcing its way down my trachea. Flashing red lights and two men lifting my body off the ground. When I finally awoke, my surroundings were foreign. Rhythmic beeping played in the background coupled with the intermittent hissing of oxygen purging itself from over-pressurized lines. I looked around, squinting my eyes as the fluorescent lighting above me shone down. Intravenous fluid lines invaded my right arm. My left was wrapped in a hard cast. Aches in my back and chest caused my breathing to be short and labored. My mouth was impossibly dry, lips sticking together as I opened and tried to speak. “Hello?” I said, forcing the words out in a gritty screech. I was alone. An off-white thermal blanket draped over me as I laid, sprawled out on a hospital bed. One of the many monitors attached to me began beeping faster before someone finally entered. A woman in scrubs bearing a familiar comic book character symbol walked in. “Oh, excellent!” she cheered in a tone that was all too chipper. “You’re awake. Your doctor will be so happy to hear that! How are you feeling?” I could hear genuine concern in her tone, but didn’t know how to answer. “Wha-” I started but was cut off. “What happened?” She asked, assuming what I was thinking. “You fell twelve stories out of your hotel room. Luckily you went right into the pool and one of the brave, albeit drunk, guys downstairs was able to fish you out in time.” I sat there for a moment, the look on my face that of pure confusion. Then, everything came back to me in a horrific flash. I felt my pulse speeding up as the panic began to flow freely through my veins. The monotonous beeping sped up, giving away my secret to the nurse. “Woah, woah,” she said. “It’s okay. Just calm down a moment.” She held her hands in front of her, palms out as if to say “don’t worry.” I could do anything but. Thoughts flowed freely through my mind. Where had Morgue gone? Would he be back? My chest began to sting and throb as my breathing became heavier. I sighed and gasped in pain. The nurse seemed to read me like a book, making sense of my guttural noises. “You’ve got a handful of broken ribs and some pretty serious puncture wounds across your chest. You need to take it easy. I’m going to give you a mild sedative. Just something to calm your nerves.” She held up a needle before inserting it into the IV line sticking out of my arm. As she depressed the plunger, I felt the cold liquid spread through my veins. A few seconds later, the effects of the medicine became noticeable. She placed the syringe into a sharps bin before turning back to me and removing her rubber gloves. “Your doctor will be in shortly.” She smiled, turned and left the room. My mouth still felt like a desert, but I felt myself slowly drifting to sleep once again. A restful daze took its hold on me as my eyelids grew heavier and heavier with each passing moment. Visions of Morgue making his daring and terrible transformation invaded my mind, sending me reeling in horror as the scene played out in my head once again. A disembodied voice that I hadn’t recognized repeated my name over and over again. “Jona-ton?” he asked. “Jona-ton, are you awake? He spoke with a hispanic accent, saying my name with the slightest inflection at the end. My eyes shot open and relief washed over me as I realized I was still in the safety of the hospital room. A man was seated next to my bed. Dark complexion with black hair slicked back and a thick layer of scruff covering his chin. “Buenas dias,” he said, smiling as he looked down at his clipboard. “How are you feeling?” I struggled to speak through my dry mouth and the utter exhaustion I felt. “Crappy,” I said in a raspy whisper. “As expected,” he gave a half-hearted chuckle before continuing. “You fell nearly a hundred and twenty feet. You’re quite lucky to be alive. Can you tell me your name?” “Yeah… ah,” I winced in pain as I attempted to prop myself up a bit. “Jonathon Winslow.” I said, struggling through the words as my squeaky voice grounded away in my throat. “Good, Jona-ton. Now,” he straightened the glasses perched on his nose. “I am going to leave you here with Officer Black. She has a couple questions for you regarding how you fell from that window.” He motioned towards the door where a small, petite woman entered the room. She wore a blue uniform adorned with a patch on her left shoulder that read “Las Vegas Police Department.” Her small nose, narrow eyes and darker complexion told me she was likely of Asian descent. “Hello, mister Winslow.” She said, bringing a lime green clipboard up to her chest and jotting something down. “Can you tell me what happened?” Her eyes jumped from the piece of green plastic she held and met my gaze. I knew she wouldn’t believe my story, but what else could I say? The nervousness was definitely showing on my face. If I didn’t choose my words carefully, I could be committed to some sort of psych ward or mental institution under the Baker Act, and I certainly didn’t belong there. I pondered what could possibly go wrong if I just admitted why I’d gone there in the first place, and simply left out the part where Morgue turned into some sort of demonic monster. It wasn’t so far fetched to think I’d gone there searching for something to believe in and when I showed up, I was met with a group of psychopaths who ultimately tried to kill me before tossing me out the window. I opted for that excuse which Officer Black seemed to have no trouble believing. I guess the stories about Vegas are true - anything goes in this city. She took down a description of all three people, but I knew nothing would be done. There was nothing they could do. They didn’t have a real name, and from the clock on the wall I knew it was at least 9am, meaning they’d had 9 hours to make their escape. She nodded, thanking me for the information, turned and exited. The doctor entered once again and informed me that I would need a few tests. Being conscious would allow them to find brain damage easier, if there was any. Aside from a somewhat minor concussion, several broken ribs, a broken arm, and multiple lacerations and puncture wounds, I was ultimately given a clean bill of health. But what would I do? I was stuck in Vegas with no money, no car and no job waiting for me back home. I left the hospital and found that it was surprisingly easy to secure a payday loan. It struck me as odd at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that a guy being stranded in Vegas with no car or money might be a pretty common scenario. After securing a flight and making my way home, I finally felt safe. I could settle back into reality, knowing that the existence Morgue had preached about was non-existent. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of paranoia, though. The thought that everytime I looked over my shoulder or around a dark corner, Morgue would be there. His hulking figure and large talons ready to finish the job they’d started sent chills down my spine and anxiety gripping my chest. Getting my job back was tough. Not because my boss didn’t want me back, but because I had to put my pride to the wayside and formulate a somewhat embarrassing lie. The look on his face changed in an instant. At first he’d had a contemptuous look, eyebrows parallel and a frown smeared across his jaw, ready for me to get down on my knees and beg. But as soon as I told him that I’d quit because I was in a bad place mentally, and that I needed to get help, his expression shifted. His eyebrows raised in a state of concern, the frown, although still present, no longer conveyed contempt but worry. “Oh, Jonathon. I’m sorry, man…” He’d told me, eyes darting around his head like a madman. “You’re welcome back here as soon as you can. Take a few days to yourself and then we’ll see you back here on… say, Monday?” I smiled, unsure of what to say other than: “Sounds good, thank you. I appreciate your understanding.” I turned and walked out after a quick handshake, the feeling of accomplishment forming a victorious smirk on my face. Things were back to normal. My weekend was insane, but now I could settle back into the norm. A few weeks passed. Things were going as good as they could, but that empty feeling had begun to return. I could feel myself falling back into a slump. Browsing through facebook seemed to be my time waster of choice. Scrolling through and liking photos, laughing internally at memes, watching short videos of people doing dumb stuff that ultimately resulted in them being hurt. Typical internet stuff. Then, I saw it. That androgynous man, no eye brows. Long, white-blonde hair draped over his face in matted, wet strands. He stared into the camera, speaking familiar teachings. Things about how to control the universe - how to make it work in your favor. I wouldn’t be tempted this time, though. I knew his secret. I knew what his endgame was. I tapped my thumb on the profile picture associated with Morgue, taking me to an archive of all his videos. Some familiar, some new. I didn’t watch them, though. I simply clicked the “more options” tab, scrolled to the bottom of the menu and clicked “Block User.”
First published in Not Normal, Illinois: Peculiar Fictions from the Flyover, edited by Michael Martone (Quarry Books, 2009):
roman baker stood in the bright and crackling current of light that zipped around in patterned waves underneath the oval canopy entrance to the casino. He wasn't a gambler. The skittering brilliance didn't draw him in and he was already irritated with the piped-out carol music. A twenty, smoothly folded in his pocket, didn't itch him or burn his ass one bit. He had come to the casino because it was just a few days before Christmas and he didn't know how to celebrate. Maybe the electronic bell strum of slot machines would soothe him, or watching the cards spreading from the dealer's hands in arcs and waves. He took a step to the left, toward the cliffs of glass doors. As he opened his hand to push at the door's brass plate and enter, a white man of medium height and wearing a green leather coat pressed his car keys into Roman's palm. Without waiting for a claim ticket, without even looking at Roman beyond the moment it took to ascertain that he was brown and stood before the doors of an Indian casino, the man walked off and was swallowed into the jingling gloom. Roman waited before the doors, holding the keys. All of the valets were occupied. He held up the keys. A few seconds later, he put down his hand and clutched the keys in his fist. No one had seen this happen. Roman turned away from the doors, opened his hand, and saw that one shining key among the other keys belonged to a Jeep Cherokee. Immediately, he spotted the white Cherokee parked idling just beyond the lights of the canopy. An amused little voice in his head said go for it. He didn't think it out, just walked over to the car, got in, and drove away. You couldn't call this stealing, since the guy gave me the keys, Roman told himself, but we are on a slippery slope. He checked at the lighted gauge of the Cherokee, and saw that the tank was nearly empty. There was a Super stop, handy, just down the road. Roman drove up to the bank of pumps and inserted the Cherokee's hose into the gas tank. Eight dollars worth should do it, he thought, and then he wondered. Do what? In the store, he decided he should be methodical, buy something to eat or drink. Afterwards, he would know what to do. The complicated bar of coffee machines drew him, and he stepped up to the grooved aluminum counter, chose a tall white insulated cup, and placed it under a machine's hose labeled French Vanilla. He held the button until the cup was three quarters full, and let the nozzle keep drizzling sweet foam on top. Then he figured out which plastic travel lid matched his cup and pressed it on, over the froth. So as not to burn his hand, he fitted the cup into a little cardboard sleeve. He paid for everything out of his twenty, and walked outside. It was a warm winter night in the middle of a thaw. Bits of moisture hung glittering in the gas-smelling air. There was a very light dust of sparkling fresh snow sinking into the day's brown slush. "A white Christmas, huh?" said a woman's voice, just to the left. "Yes, it will be enchanting," Roman answered. He was the kind of person people spoke to in situations that could easily stay completely impersonal. His face was round, his nose pleasantly blunt, his eyes wide and friendly. His smile was genuine, he had been told. Yet women never stayed with him. Perhaps he was too comfortable, too nurturing, and reminded them of their mothers. Desperate mothers who wanted their children home before dark or wouldn't let them out of sight. Now, in addition to being motherly, plus the kind of person people spoke to on the streets or while pumping their gas, he was the type into whose comfortable palm strange white men trustingly pressed their car keys. And house keys, too, and other keys. Roman jingled the set before his eyes and then fit the correct car key into the lock. He got into the car and carefully set the cappuccino into the cup holder before he drove to the edge of the parking lot. There, he turned on the dome light and opened the glove compartment. He found the car's registration, folded in a clear plastic sleeve, and the proof of insurance, too, with numbers to call. The owner's name was Torvil J. Morson and his address was 2272 West 195th Street, in the closest suburb. Roman took another drink of the milky, sweet, deadly tasting cappuccino. Then he put the cup back into the holder and drove carefully out of the lot. The casino was prosperous because it was just far enough from the city to be considered a Destination Resort, and yet close enough so only an hour's quickly diminishing farmland, pine woods, and snowy fields stood between the reservation boundaries and the long stretch of little towns that had blended via strip malls and housing developments into the biggest population center in that part of the Midwest. Roman knew approximately how far he was from 195th street, and it took him exactly the 45 minutes he'd imagined to get there, find the house, and pull into the driveway, which he wouldn't have done unless he'd seen already that the windows were dark. The house was a small one story ranch style painted the same drab green as the jacket of the man who gave Roman the car keys. Roman got out of the car, walked up to the front door, used the key. Just like that, he entered. Once in, he shut the door behind him and wiped his feet on a rough little welcome mat. The house had its own friendly smell-- slightly stale smoke, cinnamon buns, wet dried sour wool. A powerful streetlight cast a silvery glow through the front picture window. As his eyes adjusted, Roman stepped onto grayish, wall-to-wall carpet, and padded silently across the living room. His heart slowed. The carpeting soothed him. He went straight across the room to the kitchen, divided off by only a counter, and opened the freezer section of the refrigerator. He'd heard that people often kept their jewelry and cash there in case of a burglary or fire. There was a coffee can in the freezer, but it only held ground coffee. A few other promising Tupperware containers held nothing but old stew, alas. Roman shut the insulated door and rubbed his hands together to strike the chill from his fingers. Then he walked down the hall. He stepped into a bedroom, turned on the light. Posters of pop stars, stuffed animals, pencil drawings and dried flowers were taped to the walls. A teenage girl's room. Nothing. He turned out the light and found the master bedroom, the one closest to the bathroom. He was just about to turn on the light when the sound of breathing, or the sense of it, anyway, in the room, stopped his hand. Then it didn't sound like breathing, but something else, sighing and watery. A fish tank, Roman thought. He listened a bit longer, then switched on the light and saw, on a table next to a window, a small plug-in fountain. The water coursed endlessly over an arrangement of smooth, black stones. Roman thought this must belong to the man's wife. He frowned at himself in the dressing room mirror, and adjusted the lapel of his jacket. The wife, or the teen, or another member of the family might return while he was standing in the lighted bedroom. Yet Roman had no prickles up his back, no darts of fear, no sense of apprehension. In fact, he felt as much at home as if he lived in this house himself. He was even tempted to lie down on the big queen-sized bed neatly made up with a purple quilt and pillows arranged upon pillows. Where had he read about this? Goldilocks! This bed looked comfortable. He thought of the three bears. There was a Mrs. Morson for sure, thought Roman. He pictured a bear meditating by the fountain. A meditator probably wasn't the type who would own gold and diamond jewelry, but he still had to check. There was not a safe on the closet floor, or even a velvety box on the top of the dresser or in the drawer that held underwear. No, there was only underwear, and it was decent, fresh cotton. What am I doing, thought Roman, with my hands in Mrs. Morson's underwear? He shut the drawer firmly and sat on the edge of the bed. I'm not going to find any cash, he decided. Mr. Morson has taken it to the casino. Treading down the hall and back across the soft carpet, he felt cheated. What had happened with the car keys was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Roman had never before done anything that was strictly criminal. But this break-in, where he hadn't had to actually break in, this was given to him. It was as though Mr. Morson had invited him to travel to his house and look for valuables. And nothing there! The house was very still now, the street outside utterly deserted, the neighboring houses dim and shut. Roman sat down on the couch, wishing that he had the rest of his cappuccino, but he'd left the cup in the car. There was a tremendous energy to the quiet, it seemed to him, a seething quality. He felt that he should do something bold, or important, with this piece of fate that he'd been handed. As he was thinking of what he might do, someone knocked on the door. Roman's first instinct was not to answer. But the expectant quality of the silence was too much for him. He went to the door and opened it. There stood a woman and a man, both in coats but wearing no scarves or hats. The woman held a wrapped gift. The man carried a crock-pot out of which there issued a faint and delicious, smoky, bean-soup scent. "Oh, thank god!" The woman stepped into the entryway, the man also, both exuding an air of conspiratorial excitement. "Very clever, keeping the lights off," said the man. "But isn't that his car?" "He gave me the keys and I just drove it here," Roman told him. The man gave a scratchy laugh that turned into a cough. "Where should I put this?" He lifted the Crock-Pot slightly. "In the kitchen?" said Roman. "Let's put his presents in there, too," said the woman. "You must work with T.J. Have we met?" "I'm Roman Baker." "You look like an Indian," said the woman. "People tell me that!" said Roman. "Okay, and I'm Willa and that's Buzz with the seven bean soup. It's his specialty. Just the countertop lights! No overhead!" "Right!" Buzz sounded gleeful. "Is Zola back yet? Did she get the cake?" "I think so," said Roman. His skull suddenly felt tight, his eyes scratchy and shifty in their sockets. "I feel bad," he mumbled. "I don't have a gift. Maybe I should go out for sodas or beer." "Oh, T.J. won't notice. T.J. will have a shit fit. I think we should all hide behind the counters and the couch. Will you get the door, Roman?" "Come on in," said Roman, as he opened the door. "Wipe your feet." Two young men and an older woman stood on the steps. One man carried a neatly foil covered bowl. The other held a large, pale, tissue-wrapped gift. "We brought Mom," one of the young men squealed, "she's drunk. She's such a hoot!" "I drank a strawberry wine cooler. I'm loaded," said the elderly lady in a prim and sober voice. "Let me in so I can ditch these two idiots. Does he suspect?" She eyed Roman with a flare of exasperation, her scarlet mouth down-twisted. "Not in the slightest," Roman told her. He helped her out of her coat while the two young men settled their things in the kitchen. "Very clever, all the lights out," the lady muttered, "Zola says he'll pee his pants." "That's pretty much what Willa says, too," Roman told the lady. Steering her toward the couch, he startled himself. A picture formed in his mind. It was himself. Crouched on the carpet. Out of control. Pissing his own pants and howling with surprised mirth. "They're sending me out for more strawberry wine coolers," he said. He patted the woman's hand. "You're an Indian," she said, severely and as if imparting information to him. "A big one," said Roman. The others in the kitchen were whooping with secretive anticipation. Roman touched the keys in his pocket, walked out the door. As he neared the white Cherokee two more people stepped into the driveway, asked him in low and enthralled voices if anybody else was there. "Go on in," Roman told them. "Willa and Buzz are organizing everybody." "Oh God!" said the woman. "I saw his car! I thought he'd got home already. Zola's following us. She'll be here any minute with the cake." Roman jumped into the car, backed down the driveway, and drove the opposite way down the street from the way he guessed Zola would arrive. Back on the turnoff to the highway, he thought, right or left? But it was inevitable. He headed toward the casino. The cappuccino was still warm and on the way there he finished it. He started to feel good. Yes, he had been given the Morson's keys, the keys to their life, and he'd visited that life. Enough. Nothing had happened after all. He hadn't taken anything except this car--for a drive. As he neared the vast casino parking lot he slowed and carefully reconnoitered, watching for extra security or flashing lights in case the Cherokee had been reported stolen. But all was bright and calm. Gamblers were walking to and fro, those who had self-parked. Others were waiting with their claim tickets on the swirl patterned carpet in the lobby underneath the lighted canopy. Roman eased the car into a marked space cautiously, far from the activity, and took his empty cappuccino cup with him before he locked the car's door. That was your little adventure, he told himself. Now what? But he knew what. He walked back to the casino entrance and walked through, into the icy bells and plucking, continual ring that did predictable and pleasurable things to his central nervous system. He breathed faster in excitement. Possibly, the sound depressed left brain action. He felt connected to an irrational and urgent universe of lucky chance. His fingers twitched. First things first. He scanned the seated players looking for the green leather jacket, which was all he remembered about Morson. He decided to make a sweep, starting at the far end of the casino, checking the men's room first. He went up each row and down each row, passed behind each glazed, ghostly player. It took so long that he thought of giving up and simply turning the keys in at the lost and found. But then, there was T.J. Morson, green jacket slung behind him, staring into the lighted tumble of little pirate cove symbols on his machine's curved torso. Roman tapped his shoulder and Morson waved him off, not to be bothered. Roman watched the man shove in three more quarters and hold his breath. Then sit back, dazed, rub his hand over his face. Roman touched his shoulder again. "Happy Birthday." "What?" Morson turned and focused on him. His face was clean-cut and perfectly square, a solid Norwegian jawline, pale eyes, hair already white and thin, a little tousled. He was falling into heaviness around the neck and then below, like Roman, it was pretty close to a lost cause. Roman dangled the keys. "You dropped these, I think?" Morson slapped the pockets of his pants. "For God sakes, thought I had it parked!" Roman gave him the keys and turned to go, but he couldn't, not quite. He took a last look at Mr. Morson and saw that something was very wrong with him. T.J. Morson was sitting there with his mouth open, staring at the car keys. Not moving. "Hey," Roman bent toward him, then waved his hand before the man's eyes, "you okay?" "No," said Mr. Morson. He shut his mouth and then slowly, like a very old man, stood and shrugged on his jacket. He dropped the keys, picked them up. Sat back down and stared once more at the machine. Slowly, from his pants pocket, he drew a bit of change. Held it out questioningly to Roman, who rummaged in his own pocket and exchanged what Mr. Morson offered for a quarter. Morson held it a moment, then played it. Nothing. "You okay?" Roman asked again. But Morson was staring vacantly before him. His mouth was open and his hands were shaking. "Not all right, not all right," he muttered. "Hey," said Roman, "come on. Get up. Let's go sit in the cafe. I'll buy you a coffee." "What I need is a drink." "Yeah, well, maybe." Roman helped steady Mr. Morson. They walked down the aisle of light and sound, along a short hallway, and into a small interior restaurant where the waitress gave them a booth for two and poured their coffee. "Cream. Lots of it. Thanks," Roman told her. She left the pot and a bowl of tiny plastic servings of flavored half-and-half. "Thank you," said T.J. Morson, staring at the brown pottery cup. "And thank you for returning my car keys." His voice was heavy as a pour of concrete. The syllables seemed to harden as they fell from his mouth. "Well," he looked up, scanned the country-themed room, "this is it." "What are you talking about?" asked Roman. Morson put his face in his hands and then slowly pushed his hands up his face and over his hair. "That was it," he said again. "Listen." Roman was beginning to feel alarmed. "It's your birthday. You should be heading home." He thought of all the excited people waiting in the living room of the Morson house, crouched behind the sofa and chairs and kitchen counters, the lights off. "Weren't you supposed to be home a while ago?" Mr. Morson looked at Roman, frowning now, momentarily distracted. "Who are you?" "I'm a friend of Buzz and Willa," Roman told him. "Look, I'm going to let you in on something that's going to cheer you up. You've got to go home now. I'm not supposed to say a thing about it, but they're planning a surprise party in your honor. Zola's got the cake. Even as we speak, they are in your house, waiting for you. They have presents." Telling this to Morson was surprisingly difficult. Roman felt the bleeding sensation of envy when he imagined stepping onto the warm, thick carpet. The blast of noise from friends. The bean soup. Beer. Cake. Mr. Morson said nothing. "You can't just leave them waiting there." Roman heard a note of accusing desperation in his voice. Morson shook his head, now, as though his misery was a fall of water washing over him. His brilliant white hair lifted in the staticky air. Roman felt like reaching over and patting it down, but he kept his hand curled around his coffee cup. "Fuck's sake, I can't go back there," said Morson wearily. "They don't know. Zola has no idea about this . . ." he waved his hand toward the casino through the glass doors of the restaurant. "I play when she's at work, when I'm supposed to be at work, except I don't have a job, see. That's over. She doesn't know I put a second mortgage on our house, a line of credit, then topped it. Cleaned out every one of our accounts." He stared fiercely, disconnectedly, at Roman. "There's nothing," he said. His mouth was suddenly and frighteningly sharklike, an impersonal black hungry v. A bubble of spit formed at either corner. "They'll take the house and then my car. They'll take her car. And Kayla . . . Oh god." Morson dropped his face into the bowl of his hands. Roman thought he might either break down and sob or leap up and rake his fingers down the wallpaper. Which would it be? He was feeling oddly disconnected. Maybe this was the way a shrink felt, listening to the woes of a client from behind a clear shield of therapeutic immunity. With a thick, jerky movement, T.J. Morson struck his hands together. "I don't even smoke," he said as though appealing to Roman, "I don't drink. But this ..." again he waved at the lights and bells outside the door. "I think, I know, I had the vision or whatever, that because it was my birthday I could turn it all around if I had just, say, a couple hundred. And I knew where to get it. So today after Zola went to work and Kayla was at school, I sneaked back to the house and I searched Kayla's room. She has this little passbook savings account with me as her co-signer. But where does she keep the passbook? So I dug through the stuff in her drawers, her closets. Can you imagine this?" Roman's mouth opened. Better than you know, he thought. But Morson went on quickly, "I found her secret things. They were under the bed, in this cigar box she had covered on top with a piece of paper. You wouldn't believe this knowing how sweet Kayla is, what a good girl. The box was labeled with a purple marker fuck with kayla and you die. Here she's a good little student, all As or Bs, never given anybody whatsoever any trouble in her life before. So this tough little message ... I mean . . ." Morson stopped and drank some coffee. "It got to you," said Roman. "Yeah," said Morson. "Anyway, I took the passbook. Withdrew two hundred and eighteen dollars worth of baby-sitting money." Roman nodded, poured another coffee for himself and stirred in three creamers. And yet, he thought. Here is a man for whom people will give a surprise party. Roman tapped the sugar packets, drank the rest of the coffee, put the money down on top of the check. "I have to get out of here," he said to Morson, who stared at him for a moment, then widened his eyes and broke the look off with a cunning little grin. T.J. Morson followed Roman out the door of the cafe. On the way past the banks of moving lights and bells and trilling knockers, he said, "C'mon. I hit, we'll split." Roman kept walking. Morson grabbed the sleeve of his jacket. "Please," he said. Roman started at the sight of him. Morson's eyes were rolled back so the whites showed. His lips were drawn away from his gums in a guilty snarl. Roman felt in his pocket, flipped out a quarter. Morson opened the hand that held the car keys. Roman took the keys and gave the quarter to Morson, who played it. The two men watched the rolling tabs of symbols spin over and over, whirling, clicking into place in a disparate row. "Okay, you satisfied?" said Roman. Morson wiped his hands slowly on his hips and then followed Roman out the doors, across the gleaming, wet parking lot, over to the Cherokee. Roman still had the keys. He opened the doors and got into the driver's side. Passive, concentrating on something invisible just before him, Morson got into the passenger's seat and shut his eyes. But suddenly, as Roman pulled out of the parking space onto the highway, Morson mumbled "thanks anyway," and opened his door to jump out. Roman managed to hook his hand in the collar of Morson's slippery jacket, and as he brought the car to a halt on the shoulder, he yanked the man back toward him with such surprising force that Morson's face smashed into the side of the steering wheel. There was an instant and surprising amount of blood. "Don't worry," said Morson, his nose behind his hands, "I get these things real bad." There was a girl's striped knit stocking cap in his door's side pocket. Morson grabbed it and put it to his face. Then he said, "look, I'll just go clean up." He jumped out the door with the cap on his face, and was gone. Roman pulled ahead about thirty feet into a blind driveway and shut off the engine. He found the lever next to the seat that dropped it backwards a few inches. He rested. A peaceful energy flowed through him. He nearly slept. Fifteen minutes, then half an hour passed. Traffic flowed by, snarled behind him, flowed again. A few people crossed before him at the far edge of an overflow lot. They swiftly entered their cars and drove away. Roman dozed another ten minutes and then he suddenly snapped to. He started the car and drove off. As he pulled back onto the highway a screeching ambulance barreled past. The casino was filled with Senior Citizens and Roman imagined a whole scenario--a big payout, an old man elated, then clutching at his heart. This fantasy gave him the idea, as he drove toward Morson's house, of something he could say to get Morson off the hook. It wasn't that he liked Morson, but his friends were so eager, so well-meaning. It wasn't right to disappoint them. Things were going to be so bad with Morson that there was no way to make them worse. Roman decided he would announce that Morson was dead. He'd use that same scenario--payout, heart attack--and then while the pandemonium of reaction occurred he'd simply disappear. When Morson finally did show up his being broke would not be quite as bad, at least, as being dead. Roman's lie would confuse the issue, muddy the waters, give Zola and the others a pause before they condemned. There seemed no harm in it as far as Roman could see, considering what Zola and Kayla were in for anyway. At least they would have the joy of having their worst fears reversed! Roman arrived at the house and parked in the driveway--still empty in order to fool Morson into thinking that the house was deserted. Yet all the lights were on. The little house was blazing. Roman walked up the steps and then tentatively eased the door open and poked his head around the side. He remembered to set his features in a look of tragic concern. He nearly jumped back out. All of the people he'd met before were standing or sitting at attention in the living room. They returned his look with identical stares. "We know already," said the terse old lady who'd been drinking strawberry wine coolers. "He had his I.D. right on him, phone number. Kyle took Zola to the emergency room. Zola just called two seconds ago." "Come on in," said Buzz. "Take a load off. I'll get you a beer. In fact," he said, "let's eat. It's some kind of custom that we all should eat together at a time like this." Roman sat down on one end of the couch, leaned back into a stiff pillow. He looked down at his knees, then accepted a bowl of bean soup when it appeared in his line of vision. The bowl was warm and pleasant in his hands. "They told Zola that he'd crossed the casino's main intersection, running. What is that, two lanes? Not so far, really." "Four lanes," said Roman. "Oh," said someone, "then." "Zola said he was not quite DOA," said Buss, "but next thing to it. There just wasn't a thing they could do." Now the others had bowls of soup, and bread, and were busily arranging themselves, patting napkins onto their knees, balancing coffee cups, offering butter around the group. "We shouldn't eat the cake." "I agree," said Willa. "We should have his cake at the funeral dinner." "Are you going to go?" She addressed Roman. He looked at her. "It can't be true!" Willa apologized. "I've never been much for denial. I go straight to acceptance. That's just me." "You don't need to think that far ahead," said Buzz. He touched Roman's arm. "In fact, don't think ahead at all." Buzz put down his bowl of soup and sank forward, elbows on his knees. He cupped his hands over his head and leaned over like someone about to be sick. He stayed that way, motionless. Willa put her hand on his back and patted him with slow, regular beats. She looked over at Roman. "Go on, eat your soup," she whispered. "It's okay." Roman placed a spoonful of the soup in his mouth. A moment passed before he realized that the taste was unusually good. Something gave depth to the taste. Roman looked at Buzz, still hunched over. His specialty, he remembered. Maybe Buzz simmered his beans with garlic, or wine, or some kind of herb. Maybe it was the sorrow, or the strangeness. Perhaps Buzz had added a few drops from a vial of Liquid Smoke. Then again a ham bone. Or the fact that these beans were all different types. Roman finished the bowl and put it down. "You want another?" said Willa. "It's good," Roman nodded. She got up to refill the bowl and Roman took over patting Buzz on the back, slow and regular, two or three pats to each of his sighing breaths. He kept feeling the wrench when he'd pulled Morson toward him, in the car, the way Morson had twisted, striking the bridge of his nose. There was the weight of Morson off balance, in his arms, the smell of his hair tonic, aftershave, and the smoke of the casino and the coffee on his breath. Now here he was eating Morson's bean soup with Morson's friends and no doubt in two or three days he would be tasting Morson's cake. Roman shut his eyes. His thoughts flickered. "I'll be right back." He set the beer down, got up, walked down the hall just like an old friend who knew the place. He opened the door to Kayla's room, walked in, shut the door behind him and knelt on the floor beside her bed. Reaching underneath, he groped for and found the box that he could see, once he turned on her little homework lamp, was indeed labeled fuck with kayla and you die. He handled it carefully. You shouldn't have fucked with Kayla. Psychic time bomb for the girl, though, wasn't it? Morson had replaced her little passbook. Roman flipped to the last page, then tore out a deposit slip. Same bank as his. Anyone could make a transfer, he supposed. He put the passbook back, lay the cigar box on the floor and snapped the sides flat. Then he slipped the box back underneath the bed. He walked back to the living room, passed behind an intense discussion of who should go now to the hospital, who was needed, what arrangements. In the kitchen, he paused at the sink for a drink of warmish, chemical-tasting suburb water. He set the keys to the Cherokee on the counter. Then he slipped out the back door.
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