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  1. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Let Emma know that it's cat time and you'll be heading on over soon.
    You're a little ambivalent about going out without knowing who else is coming; you can get a little agoraphobic in a big group. But you guess it'll be good for you to get out of the house.

    LINDA: Gotta check in on Mrs. S right now so bbl, but yeah sure I'll come
    LINDA: Don't worry about picking me up, I'll take a bus downtown or something and meet you at 6
    LINDA: A ride back would be nice though since it'll be late and most of the buses won't be running
    EMMA: Cool, can do


    Emma gives you the addresses for the restaurant and movie theater and you plan a bus route with the phone's Google Maps app.

    What will you do?

  2. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Better head on over to Mrs. S'. Briefly consider whether you have cat allergies in such a manner as to help the readers know whether or not you have cat allergies
    You have no such allergies and are actually generally fond of cats. Just not these cats.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > If so, go anyways - there is an elderly lady being overwhelmed by the responsibilities of cats!
    You start to open the door to the stairs when your mother calls from the kitchen. "Linda, where are you going?"

    "Just heading up to Mrs. Semeraro's, Mom," you answer. "I'll be right back."

    "You going to take a look at Professor North's email today?"

    "No, sorry," you reply. "I've only checked phone texts since I woke up." The name Professor North sounds vaguely familiar; probably one of the hundreds of friends of friends that your parents are shaking down to try and land you a job. They both have a well-practiced talent for rubbing figurative shoulders. You do your best to keep up, since you would like to pull your own weight, but they cast their net awfully wide.

    "Well, so long as you deal with it sometime today," she calls. "Your father goes to a lot of trouble to find work for you, you know! Try not to ruin it this time." You grimace, exit, shut the door behind you, and mount the steps.

    The upward journey feels a lot longer than it is. It reminds you that you're pretty badly out of shape, as does the welcome mat that reads "Salute!" with a pair of cartoon hands clinking wine glasses underneath. To health, indeed.

    You have your own emergency key to the Semeraros' condo, you've already been invited in, and forcing the weak-kneed Mrs. Semeraro to get up and come open the door for you seems kind of insensitive in its own way, but you still feel obligated to knock and wait to be let in, if only out of habit. You hesitate in front of the entrance for a moment.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 10:42 PM.

  3. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Knock on the door to let Mrs. Semeraro to know you are there (also stating your name) and use the emergency key to open the door.
    "Hi, Mrs. S, it's Linda," you say, knocking as you open.

    There's no immediate response, but that's not surprising; the old lady's been going a little deaf lately. The foyer is fairly dark. You hear a soft mewing to your left as you enter, and turn to see one of the cats sitting on a decorative table and licking itself. The table holds a vase full of unfamiliar and fresh-looking white six-petaled flowers, and the cat is dangerously close to knocking it over.

    You reach out to try and gently nudge the cat off the table before the inevitable happens, and it untucks its head from its fur. You suddenly see that this cat has two faces, set side-by-side around its head at a slight angle from one another, conjoined by a dull and misshapen central eye. It hisses at you through its two mouths simultaneously before leaping off the table and darting away across the carpeted floor, out of sight.

    An ambient music track begins playing on Mrs. Semeraro's stereo nearby.


    What will you do?

  4. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Cautiously search for Mrs. Semeraro. Question yourself if what you've seen was a result of your medication.
    "Linda, tesoro, you came quickly," says Mrs. Semeraro, rolling around a corner in her wheelchair. "You see Luca's little scherzo della natura, yes? Apologies, I should have warned you."

    You weren't that scared, actually. The phenomenon is familiar to you. It's called diprosopus, and it's especially common in cats, which are often called 'Janus cats', named for the two-faced Roman god of doors. "How old is it?" you ask. "It looked like an adult. I thought cats with diprosopus never lived for more than a few days."

    "Luca tell me it's nine months," she answers. "He excite about it. Like little boy. I think it bad luck to take home but when he ever listen to his mamma? Would probably be better off dead."

    "Well if it's lived this long, it's probably adapted to most of the significant health problems," you speculate. "And Luca's a veterinarian, I guess, so if he thinks it's worth saving, it probably is."

    She smiles. "You are clever girl, Linda."

    You're pretty sure none of your current medications would induce hallucinations, you've asked your psychiatrist about side effects several times.

    Quote Originally Posted by Aval View Post
    Split up and look for clues; you'll cover more ground that way.
    "Il mostro need special feeding, different from others," Mrs. Semeraro continues after a beat. "Luca teach me, you need not bother. But I need help to hold it still."

    "It seems to have taken off, though," you say. "Why don't you check the north side of the condo, and I'll check the south? Shout if you see him and I'll come help."

    Mrs. Semeraro nods and wheels back around the corner to check the dining room, living room, and kitchen. You turn another corner to check a dim corridor that leads to a maintenance closet, bathroom, and two bedrooms.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Investigate stereo - the timing indicates that some factor of planning went into it.
    The stereo controls are in the maintenance closet. It's running a playlist of Brian Eno ambient tracks, and the fact that it was in the silence between songs when you came in appears to be nothing more than coincidence.

    What will you do?

    [imma draw a quick map of the condo to include in my next update, but keep commands coming]

  5. #30
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    [this map is not precisely to scale since it was drawn in a hurry, but it can be used for general reference]

    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Check the bathroom.
    You head down the hallway at the south end of the condo, navigating around the open bathroom door that badly obstructs movement in the narrow space. You flip on the bathroom lights; the familiar greenish-black marble floors and lower walls, the white-enameled tub and sink and toilet, and the frosted glass shower stall all become suddenly brightly lit, as does a vase on the sink, full of more of those unfamiliar white flowers.

    This reveals the presence of a large house centipede perched on the edge of the bathtub, which immediately twitches and scurries away into the shady crevice between the bathtub and the wall, seeking shelter from the light. You grit your teeth nervously; you are pretty creeped out by long, thin invertebrates in general, but centipedes and millipedes are the worst. At least this one wasn't lying in bloody water, like your imagined tapeworm in the toilet earlier.

    Anyway, it doesn't look like that Janus cat is in here.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Maintenance closet. Creepy animals like creepy places, right?
    You were just in there a second ago, but you decide to check again just to be safe. You yank the chain on the overhanging lightbulb and see an Internet router, a control system for the stereo, and some other electronics of which you're less sure about the functionality, all mounted on a high shelf nearly out of your reach. Lower down, there is a fuse box and some pipes with valves. Lower still is a dust pan, bucket, broom, mop, and other janitorial supplies. Still no sign of the Janus cat, though in your peripheral vision you see a familiar black-and-white tom named Kaonashi dart through the kitchen.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 10:50 PM.

  6. #31
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Check Luca's bedroom.
    Once again you head around the maze of obstructive open doorways in the narrow hallway, weaving around the bathroom door and then around Luca's door before heading inside. His walls are painted light gray and are mostly pretty bare. His bookshelf is full of medical and veterinary textbooks and probably every single goddamn sci-fi or fantasy novel to feature animals as major characters ever (you see David Brin's Uplift series, Redwall, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Wind in the Willows, His Dark Materials, Animal Farm, Watership Down, Charlotte's Web, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Warriors, Silverwing, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Ursula K. Le Guin's Catwings, the list goes on). His desk is covered in notes, and there's a bulletin board over it with a bunch of index cards tacked to it. The phrase "3 DOORS CONJURE, 3 DOORS BANISH" is written on an open notebook page in all-caps letters so big that the phrase fills up the page on its own; a pair of index cards near the top of the bulletin board are thickly underlined and read "What does NK want from humans?" and "significance of masks--need more sources". None of the other cards or notes have writing large enough to make out at a glance.

    His laptop is open and has a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic background. God, what a weirdo.

    You hear a mix of hissing and frightened mewing under the gray-sheeted bed and get down on your hands and knees. There's the Janus cat, stuck way over in a corner with a couple other familiar cats--Pangur and Bán, white long-haired sisters--hissing at it. Telling it to keep its distance, you guess.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 10:51 PM.

  7. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sirrin Nacht View Post
    Is the Janus cat threatening the other cats or are they threatening him?

    If the cats are fighting, try to find an object you can use to separate them and then try to coax the Janus cat over to you.
    The Janus cat is hissing back at Pangur and Bán as much as they hiss at him, but you're pretty sure that it's only in self-defense. The Janus cat is backed into a corner and outnumbered. Doesn't seem like a scenario where he'd be the aggressor.

    Acting quickly, you grab a wide, tall textbook from the shelf and interpose it under the bed, balanced upright with its spine just shy of scraping the box springs. Pangur and Bán fix you with a murderous glare, but you scoot the book gently towards them in a shooing gesture and they scurry out to find a human-free zone. You recall that getting personally involved in a fight between cats often causes increased aggression and diminished trust of cat toward human, which is why cat owners generally use plant-misting spraybottles to keep their distance and make the peacekeeping act more impersonal. You're pretty sure Luca has one or two spraybottles around, but you don't remember where.

    The Janus cat is still hissing, though. "Hey, it's okay," you say, trying your best to sound soothing. You set the book down and slowly extend a hand. Thirty or forty seconds pass, but eventually he takes a few tentative steps forward and you stroke his neck. He purrs, and closes his outer eyes; his central eye doesn't seem to have a properly formed eyelid and so remains unmoving and unblinking.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 10:52 PM.

  8. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Call Mrs Semeraro so you help her feed the Janus cat.
    "Mrs. S.," you call, "I found him!"

    There's no answer; she must not have her hearing aid in. She's probably still looking around the north side of the apartment.

    What will you do?

  9. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Gently pick up the Janus Cat and pet it/them? reassuringly; carry it/them to Mrs. S.
    Your sudden concern about the ambiguity of the Janus cat's sex proves unfounded; a heart-shaped metal collar tag dangles out of a clump of fur as you gently raise it into your arms, reading "MIRAGE / Sex: M" with Luca's name, address, phone number, and email.

    You head back out through the narrow hallway and around the open doors, turning right into the kitchen. More of the white flowers are mounted on windowsills in here, but these are potted and growing, not merely cut and in vases. You notice for the first time that the flowers have six extremely prominent stamens in addition to their six petals, and that the stamens curl outward in a somewhat unsettling pattern that vaguely reminds you of the fronds of sea anemones, or the splayed tentacles of cuttlefish. Here in their uncut, vaseless form you also see their natural growth structure; they grow in a tower formation, thick and cactus-like, buds bursting horizontally from the sides of the tall green protuberance. Withered old flowers fade at the base, fully opened new flowers thrive in the middle, and a crown of thin inch-long unopened white buds caps the tip. Looking at them makes you feel uncomfortable, and you avert your eyes.

    Mrs. Semeraro pushes through the pair of white-painted, louvered, Old-West-saloon-style swinging doors at the north side of the kitchen. "Ahh, you find it," she says. She moves forward a few paces and pats the north end of the counter. "Bring it here."

    You comply. Mrs. Semeraro reaches into the cabinet below and takes out a nylon cat restraint bag. "Mirage" seems to figure out what's up at this point and starts to resist. You tighten your grip as he lashes about, and Mrs. Semeraro starts to slip the bag under his hind paws and up the rest of his body. Mirage shrieks, and you see the claws of his right paw spring out; simultaneously you feel a hot sharp pain as his left paw slashes into the underside of your right upper arm, just inside the sleeve of your t-shirt. You feel warm liquid welling up at the site of the injury, feel it wetting the surface of your skin, feel a single heavy drop forming and rolling freely down to your elbow. A moment later his front paws are also tucked into the bag and Mrs. Semeraro has zipped it shut, so that only his head remains free.

    "Tch, so ungrateful," Mrs. Semeraro mutters over Mirage's protests. "Linda, tesoro, are you hurt badly?"

    Mirage's claw was pretty dull, so the cut that he made is ragged and painful. It seems pretty shallow, though, so you don't think it's in need of any urgent medical attention.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; September 11th, 2014 at 09:17 PM.

  10. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Find out what needs to be done next. This place is kinda creepy.
    Ignoring Mrs. Semeraro's question for now, you ask, "What else do you need from me, Mrs. S.?"

    "If you could feed the other cats in the usual way, please," she says, withdrawing another instrument from a cabinet that looks like a feeding tube and some kind of wet food mixture. "Il mostro is the only special case. It only can eat with left face, only breathe through right, Luca tell me. But always tries to eat with both faces anyway, makes it choke."

    Watching Mrs. Semeraro having to force feed Mirage evokes something more within you than just pity and disgust, something like a distant memory you can't quite touch. But the more you try to recall it, the more it slips away, as memories are wont to do.

    You have a lot of questions and potential conversation topics on your mind as you set about work, and even though she is preoccupied with Mirage, Mrs. Semeraro seems like she could be interested in conversation to pass the time. Your anxiety levels are steadily rising, though, and you're not sure whether small talk would help or hurt.

    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Say you have to leave.
    You don't feel able to excuse yourself without giving a reason.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:06 PM.

  11. #36
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Succumb to curiosity; if there is a good excuse, take another good look at Luca's room - his notes are not the notes of a veterinarian, and it seems unlikely that Mrs. S knows anything about it.
    You try to spend some time thinking over possible excuses to look in Luca's room as you work, though it's not easy; feeding Luca's cats is a mentally taxing process. It is also the main reason why you're not too fond of dealing with his cats even though you like cats in general.

    Luca doesn't trust any commercial cat food brands and instead insists on preparing cat food in his own home. He does this in several steps. First, he special-orders ground rabbits wholesale from a local producer (ground whole, bones and eyes and organs and all, with only the skin and hair removed first), which are frozen immediately and arrive frozen at the apartment to minimize bacterial growth at every stage of production and shipping. Then he takes chicken thighs, livers, and hearts that he buys from the organic supermarket and bakes them lightly to kill the surface bacteria. Then he runs the lightly-baked chicken thighs and organs through a meat grinder to get a separate mostly-raw chicken-meat-organ-and-bone paste. Then he mixes the frozen wholerabbitburger with the halfbakedchickenburger in a specific ratio that he figured out based on his own observation of feral cat feeding habits and the African wildcats from which all domestic cats were originally bred, trying to approximate what proportion of bone, organ, and meat is ideal. Then finally he uses a slurry of water and egg yolk to mix in any supplements specific to the individual cat's health conditions--usually vitamins, salmon oil, and taurine.

    Like you said, the guy's a weirdo. But you wouldn't mind it so much if it didn't mean that you have to handle a patty of rabbit guts, brains, genitals, and eyeballs whenever Mrs. S needs help. You wish that Luca hadn't told you; it doesn't actually look that different from ground beef, and if he hadn't said anything you could have gone on thinking that it was just meat and nothing else.

    The minutes tick by as you follow the recipe, like you've done many times before. The chicken bones crack and grate in the fine blades of the grinder, and paste drops in clumps from the bottom of the retainer tube. You hold your breath and try not to think about it as you mix the minced chicken and rabbit together. But when you start adding the supplement slurry an idea crosses your mind.

    "Mrs. S, did Luca say anything about special supplements for the new cat?" you ask, trying to sound casual.

    "I don't think so, tesoro," she replies. "He go over the instructions for handling and made me promise to make sure I did them right. I do not break a promise to mio figlio."

    "I, uh... I think I might have seen notes in his room while I was looking for the cat," you say. "Should I check and make sure, maybe?"

    "I suppose it couldn't hurt, but do please be quick," she says. You nod, wash your hands thoroughly, and head back to Luca's room through the narrow hallway. The notes, bulletin board, books, and bed are all as you left them.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:08 PM.

  12. #37
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Take a closer look at the notes you couldn't see before. Look for signs of otherworldly dangers to humanity or at least some D&D character sheets. It's hard to tell which you'll find in advance.
    The notes on his desk are a jumble of veterinary and non-veterinary items, but there's an obvious unifying theme to the veterinary items. It's all copies of various pieces of new client paperwork that he's marking up with comments. "need a whole separate page for 'Special Needs/Concerns' on the client registration form WITH checkboxes for common ones etc., not just a 2-inch blank lined space at the end", "why are we not asking for contact info for original breeder/shelter companies, we could be following up on breed-specific complications!!!", "add section asking details on household humidity, ventilation, and pests", and so forth.

    You see no rhyme or reason in the rest of it though. You see what look like several big printed lists of cemeteries; one for the local county, several for other counties you don't know, all with names circled in red and dates scrawled next to them. "Evergreen Cemetery", "Al-Firdaus Memorial Gardens", "Sunset Park", "All Saints' Catholic Cemetery", "Robertson Family Burial Ground", "Brown Presbyterian Cemetery", "Christ Lutheran Cemetery", "Oak Forest Cemetery for the Indigent", "Memory Fields Cemetery", "Mount Isaiah Israel Cemetery", "Old Methodist Cemetery", the list goes on until the names lose individual significance and start to blur together in your head. Part of what looks to be a page of sketches pokes out from underneath some papers, with the thin scraggly strips on one side that betray having been torn from a spiral-bound notebook; what's visible on the uncovered part of the sketch is a series of animal faces, a boar and a salamander and an otter and an eagle, all of them eyeless and with sightless white blank spots where the eyes should have been. You see another torn notebook page, this one mostly buried and with only the title and a few words showing--the title is "Grandfather?" and the cut-off words below it read "adre Pallida' é un". You see an obituary clipping for a familiar face: it's that guy who used to host Masterpiece Theater. You recognize him from old VHS tapes you watched with parents sometimes when you were a girl.

    You see what appear to be several drafts of poems and short stories, only one of which is fully visible. It is untitled and reads:

    Warrior without a war
    Soldier without pay
    The only thing you fight is pain
    To turn this black world gray

    Palliative paladin
    Whose stopgaps soften screams
    You deaden that which cannot die
    And offer up sweet dreams

    O my soldier of the light
    My dim, small star so true
    I made you to stand watch
    Against the darkness watching you

    You're hospice worker to the world
    You know souls can't be saved
    But hands can be held on Hell's roads
    And that with which they're paved

    Alone you are as nothing
    But you need not be alone
    As I raised you, you too will raise
    Bright soldiers of your own

    Someday when gods kneel down and pray
    to children 'fore their beds
    And stars go blowing in the wind
    Like cloth and paper shreds

    Your great-great-great-great-grandchildren
    Will try the darkness' might
    And if they have the strength
    A gray world might be turned to white


    It's stained in several places, the ink slightly deformed and the paper slightly warped in little circles at each stain site. The visible fragments of other drafts, poems, and short stories all seem to dwell on similar themes.

    To read more you'd have to actually physically move things on Luca's desk.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:08 PM.

  13. #38
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    This is getting uncomfortable, explain to Mrs. Semeraro that you have to hang out with your friends and leave.

    (feed the other cats quickly)
    You head back to the kitchen. Mrs. Semeraro appears to have finished feeding Mirage, and is now finishing up your batch of the homemade cat food while he continues to sit in the restraint bag. "I, uh, guess I misread something," you say. "Wasn't anything in his room after all."

    "Oh," says Mrs. Semeraro, ladling food into a bowl and handing it to you. "Alright then."

    "I should be quick," you continue, putting the bowl down at one of the cats' places. "I'm meeting my friends later and I should get ready."

    Mrs. Semeraro nods and continues handing bowls. The cats all herd into the kitchen as they hear the sound of food bowls clinking against the floor; Stella and Edmond Halley arrive first, the only two you hadn't seen yet today. Soon all the bowls are down and your job is done.

    "Well, be seeing you, Mrs. S," you say as you finish washing your hands one last time.

    "Wait, before you go," Mrs. Semeraro says suddenly, "your birthday is come soon, yes?"

    You nod; your birthday is September 7th.

    "May I give you birthday gift before you leaving, tesoro?"

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:13 PM.

  14. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > "Aww shucks" except somehow I don't actually imagine Linda saying that; be super grateful
    You do your best to outwardly show gratitude. "Oh, absolutely--thank you so much," you say, smiling, but you're not happy. You feel uncomfortable being waylaid as your anxiety level continues to rise, and you're having trouble imagining a gift Mrs. Semeraro would give that'd be worth forcing yourself to stay here much longer.

    Mrs. Semeraro rolls back into the dining room and grabs a box wrapped in bright yellow paper off the table. You follow close behind, and she turns and hands it to you. You tear off the paper, open the box, and find a smooth gray chalcedony locket with a mirrored interior. "My father say things about chalcedony and mirrors," she says as you withdraw it. "My father say it help against bad luck and night creatures. He say that mirrors help against deception and loss of self. Probably nonsense, but I thought it will look pretty on you."

    "Thank you," you repeat.

    "Have courage, Linda," she says, turning and pushing herself back into the kitchen. "Happy early birthday. I let you see yourself out, okay?"

    You nod. You head back out, through the couches and chairs and the cat tree in the living room, past the painted portraits and photographs into the foyer, and finally out the door, locking it behind you with your emergency key. The knot in your stomach loosens slightly and your anxiety begins to lessen. You really ought to take your after-breakfast meds.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:13 PM.

  15. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Hold on a second, why did Linda lock the door of Mrs. Semeraro's apartment?

    Anyway, head to the apartment where you live and take your meds.
    [courtesy. the door doesn't lock automatically, if linda hadn't locked it behind her with the emergency key then Mrs. Semeraro would have had to do it.]

    Descending is always so much easier than ascending and the mere act of returning to your parents' condo down the stairs brings you a little more relief. You unlock the door and head straight to the medicine cabinet. You pour yourself a glass of water from the tap and quickly take the antidepressants and the Ritalin together.

    "Linda?" your mom's voice calls. "You going to look at that email now?"

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:14 PM.

  16. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Assuming I still have time to change clothes/get ready to go out: Sure, take a look.
    It's only 3PM and the only clothing change you really need is a t-shirt without the bloodstain on the armpit; you've got time. You head into your room, flip open your laptop, and are greeted immediately by your desktop wallpaper, which is a still frame from Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon. You have a deep fascination with all of the visual arts (in fact, your inability to commit to specializing within a single visual art medium plays a big role in your present career stagnation) but you have a special place in your heart for old experimental film.

    You spend a moment looking fondly over some of the better tablet drawings that litter your desktop and your various poorly-organized art folders. There are dragons, aliens, angels, and a whole damn lot of Tolkien-esque orcs, trolls, and goblins. You have a thing for traditionally Always Chaotic Evil fantasy races and you like exploring the details of their societies and humanizing them. You're pretty sure that every fourth or fifth drawing of yours on this computer is orc warriors chilling around a campfire telling scary stories about human society, or orc midwives delivering litters of children, or goblin engineers bickering cartoonishly after their newest steampunk contraption has exploded. You would never admit it to anybody but you think Azog the Defiler from Peter Jackson's The Hobbit is kinda hot.

    Before you do anything else, you write down the horror idea that you had earlier. Short stories are not as much your forte as visual arts, but you still keep notes for the sake of getting your ideas out of your head and into a stabler environment. Who knows, maybe it'll turn out to be adaptable to film or comics.

    You break out of your reverie, remember your mom's demand, and check your email. You don't immediately see anything from any Professor North, but you enter 'North' in the search box and a whole slew of things come up. Apparently your parents have been talking at you about him for a while, and it went over your head because of your horrible and almost uncontrollable capacity to selectively ignore them when they talk about things that stress you out, like jobs. There are only two emails from North himself; the rest is stuff your parents forwarded you while they conversed with him and pretty much arranged everything by themselves.

    The first one is dated August 26th and reads:

    Hi Linda -

    I have a number of different jobs connected with my research on ancient idols, amulets, and talismans. The main project is setting up a prototype for a data-base of magical statuary and iconography. It would be most helpful if you are familiar with computers. I can pay you $8.25 an hour. Are you free to start this Friday (the 30th)?

    Sincerely,
    James North
    Dept. of Anthropology


    The second one is dated today and reads:

    Hi Linda -

    Your mother explained to me on the phone that you were sick this morning and unavailable to come in today. This could be a significant setback and I would greatly appreciate it if you could familiarize yourself with the data-base so that you will be up to speed with the other research assistants on Monday. Please follow the link here to generate a password and username for yourself and access the files, and let me know when you have done so.

    James North
    Dept. of Anthropology


    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah. Your stomach knot twists so tight you're afraid you'll vomit up your pills. You instinctively get angry at your mother for not waking you up in time, but then you feel petty and ashamed for shifting the blame even though she's been doing so much to try and help you. You do your best to let the anger go but it has stuck inside you like a tapeworm and doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 27th, 2014 at 11:21 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Take a moment to reflect on what a creepy day it's been.

    > Ask yourself if you really want to get involved with more creepy idol shenanigans.
    You reflect.

    You come to the conclusion that you do not really want to get involved with creepy idol shenanigans.

    What will you do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Based on my qualifications (where I studied, what I studied) try to figure out what kind of job would suit me while I live with my parents.
    You graduated from a small private liberal arts school of middling prestige called Tannerson College in South Dakota in the spring of 2011. You majored in Visual Arts and wrote a BA thesis on experimental film in the early twentieth century. You fantasize about being a director or cinematographer because they seem like glamorous and well-respected professions, but your actual film portfolio consists mainly of silly and amateurish YouTube shorts.

    This is the case with most of your interests, actually. You consume much more media than you produce, and you can't focus on developing any one of your talents because new ideas keep distracting you from old ones, leading to small and unimpressive bodies of work in a wide variety of fields rather than anything of much quality. The one exception is your tablet art, but that's not been of much use to you in a job interview yet, on the rare occasion that you actually have the courage to let a prospective employer see it.

    In theory there are plenty of jobs that would suit you in photography, theater, or fine arts, but your general anhedonia, apathy, and other self-destructive tendencies always bring you back to square one when you actually try to go about finding entry-level positions. You've talked it over a few times with your psychiatrist and she has suggested that if job hunting is so stressful, you should hold off on even trying until you have stably adjusted to the antidepressants. Your parents are having none of that idea, though.

    What will you do?
    Last edited by Varthonai; June 3rd, 2014 at 06:06 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Could Linda attempt to work as a photographer?
    You hit up Google and spend some time looking for small job openings in your area but they all seem to be looking for someone with a lot more experience. You get frustrated and anxious, but when it gets to be too much for you, you resolutely bookmark the pages you've found so far and make a note to come back and try making more progress later. You feel a little good for trying but it's mentally exhausting.

    What will you do?

  20. #45
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Right, yes, Emma. Got carried away with this exhilarating job hunt.
    As the hours tick by, you fall into a dissociated, depersonalized state of awareness. Those aren't the words you were naturally inclined to use to describe it; you picked them up from your psychiatrist. It happens from time to time and it's one of the symptoms that makes your psychiatrist think you've still got more undiagnosed problems to sort out.

    When you're in a depersonalized state, you feel like you're not you. You feel like an invisible neutral observer, watching an intelligent animal that has been dressed in human clothes and trained to mimic your daily routine, all while you coldly take notes on the quality of the creature's disguise and performance. The Linda-creature's behavior is never particularly out of character, so nobody recognizes that anything has changed, but you know the difference because she no longer seems to be under your control.

    Time seems to pass much faster in a depersonalized state. Before you know it, her cell phone alarm is going off, telling her that it's time to head downtown. She is turning it off, then she is waiting at a bus stop, then she is sweating a little nervously in a crowded bus, then she is at the restaurant at the address that Emma gave and timidly asking the maître d if her party has arrived, then Emma has arrived with the rest of the group and surprised Linda from behind with a big friendly hug. Linda turns around and smiles wanly.

    What will she do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Greet Emma in a fun, friendlike way.
    As was explained earlier, you don't feel you have control over Linda's actions when she's in a depersonalized state. Sometimes she goes through with your suggestions and sometimes she doesn't, as she will. Sometimes you're not even sure she can hear you at all; for all you know, her occasional cooperation could be just coincidence.

    That aside, for the moment Linda appears to be complying. She turns around and gives Emma a big hug back.

    "I've had a kinda... unusually shitty day," Linda sighs over Emma's shoulder. Linda normally wears a nervous fake smile, ashamed to show obvious outward signs of complaint, but her face in Emma's presence releases an outburst of veracious feelings--albeit still concealed from the group by Emma's long and bushy nut-brown hair during the hug. Even in a depersonalized state you have access to Linda's memories, and watching this moment reminds you that Emma is the only person left outside the Clement family who Linda still considers a proper friend. "Thanks for inviting me, Em. I'm really glad to be here and get away from it."

    "Hey, no biggie," Emma laughs. "I'm glad you came."

    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Inquire in a fun, friendlike way what the plans are for this evening.
    So far as you can tell, Linda doesn't even attempt to follow this command. She's swept up in the repetitive motions of social interaction as more of Emma's friends show up and Emma tries to gently introduce them to Linda one by one. John, this is Linda. Hi, Linda. Hi, John. Nice to meet you. So when did you meet Emma, Linda? Hi, Mary. Hi, Sati. Hi, Avery... Marcus... Blake... Wendy... Steve... how many more are coming? You're pretty sure that Linda knows some of these people from high school and middle school, but she's been out of contact for a long time and can't even remember most of their names. And thus, neither can you.

    Still, you think Linda's handling it with a reasonable amount of tact, thanks in no small part to Emma. Emma is good at picking up when Linda is getting overwhelmed and subtly diverting the flow of conversation to somebody else. Cheap pizza and beer arrive and are enjoyed by all, and though it looks like pretty sloppy shit to you it appears to have been rendered pleasant by the presence of good company.

    Then a tall, blonde girl in a gray hoodie with sharp features and a disarming smile approaches the table, brusquely apologizes for her lateness, and sits next to Linda. You can tell the exact moment that Linda's moderate happiness turns into near-panic-attack levels of fear, because the warm and genuine emotions vanish and the nervous frozen smile returns.

    This girl is Denise. Unlike the memories of most of Linda's other former classmates, memories of Denise are all too vivid. When she and Linda were in elementary school together, she was just a garden variety playground bully. She bent Linda's left pinky finger back until it broke once, and while the sound and pain of the bone splintering and snapping, the long wait at the emergency room, and the humiliation of pretending that it had just been an accident are undoubtedly unpleasant memories, that incident was about the worst of it. It wasn't until middle school that Denise got more creative; she took photos of Linda in various states of undress at a slumber party, then used the threat of sending the photos to boys Linda was crushing on to coerce Linda's involvement in... other things.

    You have no idea what Emma was thinking, inviting her here tonight. Linda seems to be trying to ignore her, focusing on the food and the conversation, with mixed success. You are weirdly relieved, in a way; this episode of depersonalization has served a purpose. Linda is going through the motions of stress response, but she won't experience it in the excruciatingly personal way that she ordinarily would.

    What will she do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Damn that was harsh. Is Denise still a bitch or has she matured?
    You have no idea. Linda changed schools to get away from her and they've rarely encountered one another since. She doesn't seem to be deliberately bothering Linda, at least not for the moment. Linda just keeps eating and drinking and trying not to look terrified, and the dinner keeps passing in a depersonalized blur.

    What will she do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Linda: Remember how long the whole unconsciousness deal usually lasts so you can once again regain control of your body. In the meantime, keep an eye on Denise.
    You recall that Linda's periods of depersonalization can last for a wide variety of lengths, from a few minutes to hours or even more than an entire day sometimes. Nothing to be done but to wait them out, which you don't particularly mind; in many ways you find them relaxing, since they leave you numb to her hot mess of weird and irrational feelings.

    Linda seems to be complying again, for now. She takes a deep breath and turns to watch Denise at her left, instead of turning a blind eye to the problem as she was a moment ago. After some time passes she surprises you by actually steeling her nerves and asking "So, uh, Denise... how're things?"

    Denise stares at Linda. "Sorry, have we met before?"

    Linda seems surprised, but also kind of relieved. There's a pregnant pause that is awkward and obvious, even to you with your accelerated sense of time.

    "Not really, no," Linda eventually lies. "I just meant generally. Trying to say hi."

    The conversation feels less stilted from that point; not needing to worry about her history with Denise makes it easier for Linda to pretend that it didn't happen, apparently. Emma helps keep things light, and soon the group is paying the bill, then walking down a city street in dim orange lamplight, then in a dark cinema watching the theater of choreographed destruction that the great screen offers up, the sight of giant metal fists breaking Kaiju faces apart. Depersonalization has robbed you and Linda of some of the adrenaline thrill that would normally come from watching a good blockbuster in theaters, but in truth this is as much a disguised blessing as any other experience that can be had in this state; Linda has had panic attacks during intense sequences in films before, and you're in no hurry to feel one of those again.

    At the movie's denouement, you begin to feel the state coming to an end. By the start of the credits, you are Linda again.

    What will you do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melanism View Post
    Continue hanging around with the group until they call it a day and then leave with Emma.
    They call it a night, in fact. It was already close to 10PM when the movie ended and a fair number of the group have early flights to catch tomorrow morning, all heading back to college or graduate school now that it's nearly fall. Some of the remaining people with local jobs start discussing plans to head to a bar or a nightclub, but Emma senses that that could end up being uncomfortable for you.

    "I was actually planning to work overtime tomorrow, and I promised I'd drive Linda home, so we should probably go now," she says. "You guys go ahead if you like, though."

    "Aight," one of them replies. "See you around, Emma. You too, Linda."

    The two of you leave through the theater complex's main entrance and head for a nearby parking garage. Some roads have been blocked off for construction, making it a fairly circuitous route even though it's only a few blocks away. A number of homeless people are sleeping in scattered snug crannies around the building construction sites, a handful in sleeping bags but the vast majority in just their clothes on the bare ground. One of them has made himself a bed of old newspapers. Another of them is sitting on the edge of the sidewalk, legs dangling into the shallow gray pit of the construction site, a pit full of scattered gravel and cinderblocks a meter or so below sidewalk level.

    The last one is hard to look away from since she's almost right in your path. Her hair is just short of waist length; it's not easy to make out in the dim orange lamplight but it looks to be a faded, washed-out auburn with whitening roots. She looks too young to have hair graying this badly already, only mid-thirties or so. She wears a battered black sweater and is running something over the back of her neck with her hands, something almost completely concealed under the mass of hair. She mutters something to herself ceaselessly, over and over, but you can't quite make it out. It sounds like nonsense, alternately like "woe by a whir" or "one lent me an urn" as she keeps carrying on.

    It's not until you and Emma have nearly passed her by that you see the hands on the back of her neck are bloody, that the hair near the back of her neck is matted wet, and that the material of her sweater is matted wet in the same area. Having closed the distance you now can also hear her words clearly. Her voice is dry, but somehow still faintly moist and phlegmy, making you think of the sound you hear in your head when you chew raisins or dried apricots.

    She's saying "won't be a worm won't be a worm won't be a worm won't be a worm won't be a worm won't be a worm won't be a worm won't be a fucking worm won't do it won't be a worm won't be a worm"

    She suddenly turns, like she was able to feel you staring. She hushes up and fixes you with a steely gaze. Her eyes are a penetrating hazel, slightly unfocused but also kind of judgmental, like every painting of a dying religious martyr you've ever seen in your life. Her hands remain occupied, still digging at the back of her neck.

    What will you do?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ducky View Post
    > Keep walking. Stay cool. Nobody panic.
    You're a little rattled, but you keep walking.

    "What makes you so fucking special, huh?" the disheveled woman calls after you, her voice no longer the soft mumble of before. "Why you? You're nobody!"

    There's a distant flash of lightning, and Emma grips your hand to pull you along a little faster. The homeless woman starts to say something else but a clap of thunder drowns her out. "Jeez, what was her problem?" Emma wonders aloud.

    It begins to rain heavily.

    What will you do?

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