Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Changeling: Session 11

When last we met, our heroes fractured some relationships, braced for the "winter storm of the century", which plunged the city into a powerless frozen standstill, and Alex learnt why it was called the "Christmas Massacre".

In the stampede following Konstantyne’s suicide, Alex takes a few unintentional blows to his face as he moves against the crowd to the stage.  When the crowd clears, he can see a few dozen bodies on the ground, some seriously injured, others not moving at all.  On the stage, there is a group of EMTs around Konstantyne’s body, and there is another group of people to the side hysterically crying.  Moving in the shadows, Alex is able to breach the security perimeter and ascend the stage without attracting attention.  Cautiously, he approaches his daughter.  She’s still crouched down, and she appears to have vomited on herself, she looks just awful.  He reaches out to her and tries to get her away from the bloody scene.  She looks at him with shock and anger.

Just then there’s a voice behind him and an arm around his shoulder, and a greasy man in a white suit and wraparound shades is ushering the both of them back stage.  They are soon joined by a large man who acts as a body guard, and Alex and his daughter are placed inside a limousine.  As they walk, there’s chatter about “What went wrong? What’s the delay?  It’s the goddamned POWER in this city!”  His daughter starts vomiting again, and the smarmy guy in sunglasses stops his tirade to dangle a baggie full of white powder and a syringe in her face, promising her that she’ll get it in the car.  Once Alex and his daughter are shoved into the limo, the baggie is tossed at her, but Alex catches it and keeps it away from her.  The car zooms away.

His daughter glares at him, asking, “Who the fuck are you?” 
“Your father.”

Around 12:30 in the morning, there is a pounding at the apartment door which awaken Gareth from under his pile of blankets.  Grumbling, he answers the door.  It is an incredibly handsome black man and a small seedy guy offering him bags of food, blankets, and a space heater and generator with plenty of fuel.  The handsome man introduces himself as Luthor Grant and says he’s helping out people in the cold with no power.  In the hallway, Gareth can see a small army of others knocking on his neighbours’ doors and offering similar items.  Pissed off that he was woken in the middle of the night (couldn’t they have waited till morning?) Gareth thanks them, takes the items, and goes back to bed.

That same night, Wally and Alexis are hanging out together, having their small Christmas celebration.  Now that gifts have been exchanged, they’re just huddling under blankets.  Alexis comments that it is very cold tonight, and Wally is quite warm, and she thought, well, that maybe it would be nice if he slept over tonight, because he is very warm, and that way they could be warm together and not die?  Wally mostly nods, but agrees.  Alexis goes to get changed, and Wally returns briefly to his apartment to grab the warmest sleeping attire he can find.  He has no idea what’s about to happen, but he’s rolling with it anyway.  When he returns, he finds they’re both attired similarly – mismatched tops and bottoms with long sleeves, hoodies or jumpers, socks, mittens, the works.  There’s some awkwardness over who gets which side of her bed, but soon they lie down to sleep, Alexis scooting over into a cuddle.

“You’re not my fucking father!”  Alex’s daughter screams at him as she chucks a bottle of whiskey at him from the limo’s wet bar.  Alex dodges, and begins fumbling at the console of buttons until he finds one that allows him to speak to the driver, and he asks him to stop the car.  Alex gets out, and the driver immediately starts protesting, as he’s supposed to get “Konstantyne” back to… wherever it is that Konstantyne goes.  Alex ignores him, writing down his phone number and handing it to his daughter and says he’s leaving.  She again accuses him of not being her father. 

“Okay,” he says.  “This isn’t my life.”  His daughter and the limo driver stand dumbstruck as he walks towards the nearest subway.  After a few moments, he hears them get back in the car and drive away.

Drake has been watching the whole Konstantyne affair on television.  They’ve cut away from the show footage and are now showing interviews with people who were there, people connected to the show.  Lenny Dorkin, the greasy guy in sunglasses and Konstantyne’s manager, is yelling about how it is the city’s fault this happened, because the power cut out, resulting in the stampede – these people are dead because of the city’s piss-poor infrastructure.  Had the show gone on, he says, it would have been revealed to all have been a hoax, of course Konstantyne isn’t really dead.  At that, an image of Alex and his daughter getting into the limo is flashed on screen, as proof.  Lenny says the Konstantyne camp is suing New York City.  Just then, Alex sends a text to everyone saying, “I think I fucked up.”  Drake replies that he saw Alex on TV, and did his daughter come with him?  The reply is “No :(

Alia wakes up and she is freezing.  Following her nightmare about the Handmade Man, she finds that she’s sweated the entire night and is damp and dehydrated.  She gets dressed, knowing she’s still expected to go out and make money.  Whores don’t get a snow day.  She checks on the other girls, and though they’re miserable, everyone seems well enough, with many of them shacking up together in various arrangements.  Tensions are high and everyone is upset.  Out the window, Alia sees a fleet of delivery trucks and men carrying blankets, food, and generators.  Since she’s dressed, Alia runs out to meet them.  One man declares that this is all on behalf of Luthor Grant.  Alia comments, “Well, he’s got my vote!”  The man replies, “Oh no, ma’am, he’s not running for anything, he just thinks it’s time for New Yorkers to come together.”  Alia takes her bundle of emergency provisions and returns to her apartment.  The other girls have started to spill out of the building and are flirting with the delivery guys, hoping to score a John.  The guys are interested, but on business themselves.  Some of them may return later.

Back in her apartment, Alia sees something out of place in her room.  One of the girls across the hall is… not right in the head.  She carries around doll babies, makes clothes for them, and generally infantilizes everything.  That girl isn’t around right now, likely outside, but one of her dolls is in Alia’s bedroom.  It is easily the creepiest of the collection, looking like a large Troll doll, but with articulated limbs, and with one glass eye missing.  It is standing at the foot of Alia’s bed, seeming to stare at her pillow. 

“Damn it, Cherry!  I told you not to leave your shit around!”  Alia yells as she flings it back into the girl’s room.  She proceeds to go out to see what business she can scrounge up.  She manages to score on a block that’s got power.  Inside a pizza parlour, there’s a young man working, even though he hasn’t had any customers yet with the choking snow.  While she watches him work, Alia notices that his left arm never moves and stays close to his torso, she figures it must be injured or fake.  She says nothing.  He says he’ll give her $400 if he can fuck her bareback, and they get down to business.  While they’re screwing against one of the metal counters in the kitchen, his left arm rests on her back.  After a bit, there is a clattering sound as the prosthetic arm slides off and onto the floor.  He freezes, and Alia tries to sooth him so that he’ll keep going.  He starts muttering, “I’m not a fucking cripple.”  She again tries to reassure him, but he grabs a fist full of her hair and shouts “I’m not a fucking cripple!  I’m a Hand Made Man!”  as he slams her head into the counter, leaving a bloody gash in her forehead and likely breaking her nose.

Alia wheels away from him, sacrificing the chunk of hair that was still in his grasp.  Calling on her shadow self, she lashes out at him with her claws, giving him a Chelsea grin and three other deep gashes across his face.  The cuts are deep, almost to the bone, and blood is just pouring down his face as he screams in rage.  Swinging wildly, he manages to clock her in the jaw.  Alia runs.  Outside, she washes her bloody hand off in a snow drift.  She hears him coming for her and she dashes down the street.  Once she’s about a block away, she turns back, just in time to see him pitch face first into a pile of snow.  He doesn’t move.  She keeps running.

On her way back to the projects building she lives in, she passes a young boy and his grandmother outside a high rise apartment building.  The grandma is trying to console the boy over some action figure that he has thrown out into the snow.  “But sweetie, you always wanted that doll!”  The little boy is distraught and yells back, “It’s not him, it’s a Handmade Man!”  He sounds very scared.  Alia can see the doll in the snow, and to her horror watches as its head turns to look at the boy.  Against her better judgment, she stops and asks the boy what a Handmade Man is.  The grandmother starts pulling the boy inside.

“He came last night!”
“Did he come in your dream, honey?”  She asks.
“Yeah.  He was… he’s coming.  For all of us.”  And the boy is inside.
Alia pops the head off the doll and walks home.

Elsewhere in the city, both Drake and Morgan are in areas that are fortunate enough to have power and television service, he in the Waldorf, she in an apartment complex that is just on the right side of the poverty line.  There are three stories of note being played that morning:
The botched spectacle from the night before at Konstantyne’s show.  There have been four reported dead and dozens more are injured.  No one can find Konstantyne.  He had been seen last night after the show, but has since disappeared.

A local New York small business owner, Luthor Grant, has been making the rounds in poor communities, handing out emergency rations, warm blankets and clothing, and hundreds of generators with space heaters.  In an interview, Luthor himself insists that he isn’t running for anything, although he’s frankly embarrassed at the way the Bloomberg administration has failed the city twice, first in Sandy, now this, and he’s glad there’s going to be a new man in the mayor’s seat come the new year.  In his hotel room, Drake nods with approval – their plan has started without a hitch.

And lastly, there is a story covering the death of a local restaurant owner who was the victim of a bizarre attack…

Now properly rested and awake, Gareth decides to plug in his space heater so that he can get some work done on his new sculptures.  As he approaches the one that most closely resembles him, being based from the plaster cast he and Kali had made, he notices something is wrong.  It is turned so that it is facing his sleeping area.  No, not completely turned, just the head, with the neck of the sculpture appearing stretched, as though it had turned its head itself.  Decidedly not the way Gareth left it at all.  Not daring to take his eyes from hit, he grabs for his camera on his work bench.  The room is silent as he takes a picture of it, and he nearly jumps out of his skin when the floor of the apartment above him creaks.  “What’s wrong with you,” he asks his sculpture as he backs away to investigate the supplies that Luthor had brought in the night.  Plaster dust starts to fall from the sculpture, as a line forms across the mouth.  It creaks open as the sculpture begins speaking, agonizingly slow. 

“I… am… a hand… made… maaaaan…”  Gareth chucks a can at it, caving in the top of the head.  The jaw keeps going, “I am a handmade man,” repeating it again and again.  Gareth replies, “Yeah, I know, I fucking made you,” as he grabs a hammer from his workbench, wrecking the remainder of the sculpture’s head.  A blast of sound, almost like a low tuba note, emanates from the neck for a few seconds before stopping.  “Let that be a lesson to you,” Gareth says, and goes about making breakfast for himself.

Wally awakens next to a very cheerful Alexis.  Cheerful until she realises the time and that she’s got to get to work.  She asks if Wally can come back tonight, and he agrees.  She starts to get ready for work, and so he takes his leave, but not before they kiss goodbye.  Outside his apartment is a beefy looking guy, someone Wally associates as one of Hank’s goons.  The guy makes a big deal over Wally coming out of Alexis’ apartment, making lewd comments.  As Wally goes into his own apartment, the guy tells him that Hank needs to see him immediately.  After getting dressed, Wally goes to Hank’s office, where Hank asks him to go for a walk.  They bundle up and head outside.

Hank asks if there’s anything that Wally needs, to which he replies no.  Hank asks if they can drive up production if he were to get Wally a better facility, better materials, and Wally says he supposes they could.  Hank needs more stuff, because whatever Wally’s been making has been selling through the roof.  People are calling it “Sand” and Hank is making a killing, although the demand is more than he can keep up with.  The long and short of it, Hank is going to set Wally up in a new place, more worthy of a man of his talents.  And he knows about Wally and Alexis, and says that he will make sure that Alexis is taken care of and treated well, because he wants Wally to stay happy.  Wally is ineffectual at protesting any of this. 

Circling back around the front of their building, Wally sees a town car idling at the curb.  Hank informs him that this is his is his car.  The big guy from outside the apartment steps out and opens the door for Wally.  Hank informs him “This is the man.”  Wally is placed in the car, and the big guy drives him to a much nicer part of town, to an apartment building so posh it has a doorman.  Once introductions are made (“Excuse me sir, residents only.”  “Well, I’m the man, apparently.”  “This is Mr. Edward Han, he’s moving in today.”) Wally and the goon are shown inside. 

A very bubbly hotel manager greets him and shows him up to what is apparently his new apartment all the way up on the 23rd floor.  It is plush beyond reason – thick carpeting, big windows overlooking the city, all brand new state-of the art kitchen appliances, the bathroom even has a bidet.  Overwhelmed and confused, Wally vomits.  The woman takes it in stride, as much as she can.  One of the bedrooms she shows him, because this place has multiple bedrooms, has been set up as a chemistry lab, with vent hoods, brand new glassware, the works.  The woman is confused, but Wally tells her that he’s a research scientist, and she buys it.  She hands him the keys and takes her leave.  Wally just stands there.  It is going to be really difficult to get to his job at CVS across town.

Down in his lair, Goom is awoken by the sound of pipes above his head reverberating repeatedly.  He can tell roughly where it is coming from, an area of the tunnels that he does not frequent often.  The pipes reverberate then pause, reverberate then pause, with the pauses between getting shorter and shorter.  Deliberate.  Intentional.  Goom retaliates by striking a pipe himself.  He expects the pipe to reverberate again, on rhythm, but it is silent.  Suddenly there is a series of rapid strikes, and behind it, the rising sound of voices, as though a stadium crowd is approaching his home, chanting various phrases that Goom can’t quite make out.

Goom gets into position with his M16 rifle and a plethora of other ammunition, in an area of his lair that has apparently been set up specifically for this defensive purpose.  Knowing his alternate escape route us clear, he pulls out his walkie-talkie, raising Morgan on their usual frequency.  After she answers, he leaves his channel open so that she can hear everything. The chanting and banging gets louder and louder.  Some voices chanting “He rises he rises he rises he rises,” others saying “A stitch in time saves nine a stitch in time saves nine.”  And over it all is the voice of Goom’s old drill instructor screaming, “PRIIIIIIII-VATE GOOOOOM!” over and over and over. 

Above Goom’s head, a hot water pipe bursts, and the chanters, whatever they are, have reached his door and he can see and hear it rattling.  Suddenly it stops, only one voice remaining.

“Private Goom!  He wants to talk to you!  Present, maggot!  I know you’re in there, Goom!  Smell you.  Hear you.  In our thoughts.  In our minds.  The Handmade man wants YOU!”

On the other end, Morgan is trying to talk to Goom, but he of course cannot hear her. She begins frantically texting, saying what she is hearing on the other end of the radio.  At the mention of the Handmade Man, Gareth is in, and Alex also agrees to come help.  They will all meet up at the street entrance down to Goom’s lair.

Down in the lair, the heavy metal door of Goom’s home is pried open.  Four large bandaged fingers wrap around the door and a voice booms, “IT’S TIME FOR STITCHES.”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Changeling: Session 10

When last we met, our heroes got into a nasty situation at their regular group meeting, and Gareth and Drake started a major falling out.

The morning after the incident at the book store, Morgan meets two detectives, Det. Hernandez and Det. Paolo, at her apartment to discuss what happened.  Detective Hernandez, a woman, leads most of the questioning, while Detective Paolo, a man dressed in a grey suit and trench coat, casually looks around the apartment.  Morgan runs through the events, and gives what little description she can of the man who assaulted them (“Honestly, he looked kind of homeless”).  Hernandez shows her a mug shot of someone who could conceivably be the guy, and tells her that the guy is a known quantity, with a history of mental illness and multiple arrests.  Det. Paolo asks if he can use Morgan’s restroom, and disappears for the next several minutes. 

Hernandez also asks Morgan about the two “heroes”, of which Morgan has no knowledge of, because she honestly wasn’t around for that part.  But as they don’t use last names, Morgan can’t really help.  Hernandez starts to pull out pictures, surveillance shots by the look of them, and asks if Morgan can ID any of them.  One is a photo of Charles Drake III, Drake’s double, and Morgan says he looks familiar, possibly from the news.  The next picture is of Meagan, though not a picture Morgan had seen, and she identifies her.  The next pictures are of a handsome African-American man, Diggles, and an older woman with too much makeup.  Morgan (who has seen the handsome man while out drinking with Drake) admits he looks familiar-ish, and outright denies knowing Diggles or the woman, who she has genuinely never seen.   Then Hernandez offers another picture – this one is of Drake, as he looks currently.  Again, Morgan says he looks familiar, but offers nothing more.

Paolo returns from the bathroom after ten minutes and no notable flushing.  They thank her and leave.  Detective Hernandez seems about to say something, but thinks better of it.

Earlier that morning, around 4:30, Gareth and Kali caught a cab to the closest E.R. They sit for about 90 minutes in one of the partitioned off “rooms”, even though Gareth insists to the triage nurse that Kali is in bad shape, but since she looks fine (thanks to Gareth’s revival) the nurse waves them away.  They chat for a bit, Kali commenting that Gareth looked so different when he came into her apartment, sort of sparkly, and very much like he knows his shadow self to appear.  He waffles, lies, brushes her off, saying that she’d taken a lot of shit, and besides of course he looked haggard, it had been a long night.  She admits that harming herself has been a long time coming, and again stresses that she feels the company Gareth keeps is not good for him.  Finally a doctor comes in, and once noting that Gareth is not family, asks him to leave.  Before he goes, Gareth offers Kali assistance with anything, watching her apartment, feeding cats (she has none), and to please just call him.  She smiles and thanks him, and after shuffling around the waiting room for a while, just in case, he makes his way back to his apartment to wait for Drake.

Drake, after leaving Gareth’s the night before, went to one of his local haunts to drink.  While there, he’s called into the back room by his associate, Luthor (who happens to be the handsome man in one of the pictures Morgan was shown).  Luthor is there with a Guido in an ill fitting suit, a man introduced as Tony.  Tony launches into a thing, about how though NYC just had a mayoral election, people will still be looking for new blood, and Luthor wants to move up in the world, and how can they do that?  He pulls out a copy of tomorrow’s paper, with the headline “MOTHER OF ALL STORMS HEADED FOR NEW YORK” and says that this is going to be bad.  Like, worse than Hurricane Sandy bad, and how can they leverage that to their advantage?  A storm like that will knock out power, make life real terrible in lots of projects, lots of people without homes.  Luthor wants to start sowing seeds of discontent against the mayor among the projects. When Drake suggests a carefully aimed “car wreck” to knock out a main transformer to the lower half of Manhattan, Tony and Luthor are beside themselves.  Drake’s the new campaign manger, they gloat, and Drake takes it all in stride.  Tony promises that he’ll get everything – new bank accounts, whatever – set up since Drake’s “off the books”, if Drake will just manage things.  After congratulating each other at their treachery, Drake leaves out the front.

Sitting in a corner booth is his on-again/off-again girlfriend – currently off - Angie (the older woman in another photo Morgan saw).  She’s rough, chain smoking, and looks scared but relieved to see him.  After learning about how his apartment got shot up, they decide to go to a cheap motel to spend the night.  Drake ends up waking early, and heading back to Gareth’s to collect his things.

Gareth finally gets home around 8:30, and starts cleaning his apartment.  He’s not at it very long when Drake walks in.  Without hesitation, he lays into Drake, telling him he’s got five minutes, five fucking minutes, to get out you asshole.  While packing, Drake explains himself; he’d apparently taken a little bit of piss-taking Kali’d dished out very personally, and thought she should get as good as she gave and then some.  Gareth lambastes him for being such an egotistical twat, and Drake asks if Kali just couldn’t take it.  Gareth says that she tried to kill herself, which Drake just brushes off.  They both go silent, Gareth building to another outburst, while Drake loudly packs.

Just then, Morgan walks in, eager to share what went down with the police.  Sensing the tension but deciding not to comment, Morgan goes into the story of her morning, especially the part about them having pictures of Drake and some other people.  When she describes them, Drake confirms that the two people she didn’t know are associates of his, Luthor and Angie.  Finally, Morgan acknowledges the tension, at which Drake replies that he’s leaving, which opens the dam for Gareth to lay on again.  During his explanation to Morgan, Drake takes his leave, telling him he’ll be in touch in the new year.  Gareth says he’s done with what their powers have done to them, but that he won’t bow out now with whatever insanity (wyrd or meteorological) is heading their way.  Morgan offers him help, and he says he’ll also be in touch, just needs some time.  She accepts this and goes.

On Christmas Eve, a winter superstorm brings New York City to a grinding halt.  Much like when Hurricane Sandy hit the year prior, but worse – the storm brings ice, coastal parts of the city, warehouses, apartments, are washed away by the frigid storm surge.  Property damage is in the billions.  Power loss results in fatalities.  The highs for the foreseeable future will only be a degree or two above freezing.  With the exception of Drake, who has cash to burn and puts himself up in the Waldorf, the rest of the group are among the city’s disadvantaged poor who are without power or heat.  

Goom, who lives subterranean, is not poorly off, and so goes out to help the homeless of the city, making blankets for them.  He notes that there are significantly fewer people on the streets than he’s used to, realising that many of them likely have frozen to death.  Goom also visits Gareth with a bundle of blankets, and when Gareth says that he might not see the group any time soon, Goom tells him to hand them out to whoever needs them.  Gareth says he will, but until then, they’re staying right on his bed where they’ll be very useful indeed.

Among the insanity of the storm, Detective Hernandez manages to visit Morgan again, this time to inquire more about Meagan.  Morgan tells the officer what she knows, which is admittedly not much.

Wally still manages to cook drugs for his landlord Hank, although with the storm the demand is low.  He and his neighbour Alexis have a small Christmas together.  She’s knit him a Christmas sweater, which he loves if only for it being an extra layer against the cold.  Just before the storm hit, he’d bought her a copy of a Woody Allen movie, as she’d taken interest in a local film festival of his some weeks before.

Four days into the mayhem, Kali calls Gareth, saying that she’s really thinking of taking dire action against herself, because the hospital has electricity heat, and really, wouldn’t he do the same in her shoes?  She sounds so much better, and is joking of course, and she promises that she’ll make something for Gareth in her art-therapy group at the hospital. 

Drake spends his time with electricity, heat, and internet access to begin seeking out people to help with Luthor’s campaign.

Alia stays in her apartment, reading Harry Potter, and getting together with the other girls she works with to stay warm.  A woman in her community (though not one of the working girls) approaches her to ask for her assistance in finding her son, Barron, who had gone missing just before the storm.  Alia doesn’t know him, but says she’ll be on the lookout.  One night she has a dream that she’s walking around a place that looks like a faire ground.  There is snow melting on the ground and adverts everywhere advertising “The Hand-Made Man”.  As she wanders, circling a large circus tent, the adverts change.  “The Hand Made Man is Coming!”   “The Hand-Made Man is Coming For You!”  “The Hand-Made Man is Coming For All of You!”  All of the posters have a similar design, which changes with the text – a spotlight with a girl’s silhouette, then the silhouette with a figure looming behind her, and finally the girl is replaced by the abductees’ group, on their backs and screaming with the Hand Made Man, a figure made of burlap with a doll’s head with one eye melted standing over them, staring out at Alia.  She makes her way to the front of the faire and peers into the tent.  It is pitch black, but she can hear the sound of hundreds of voices chanting.  Alia says, “Fuck this,” and walks away.  The dream fades.

On Christmas day, Alex takes his ticket and goes to Times Square for the Konstantyne extravaganza, figuring if nothing else, the teeming masses will be warm.  Power has of course been restored to all of the main touristy parts of the city, and Times Square looks as it always does.  All of the lights in the area are synchronized, and the crowd is chanting Konstantyne’s name.  It is a bombastic show.  A massive screen shows a helicopter shot overhead, and they hear the aircraft zooming in above them.  Konstantyne is in the chopper, holding the camera on himself and the crowd, before affixing it to a helmet and leaping from the helicopter.  He falls easily 500 feet, but never deploys a parachute, landing heavily on the stage with a burst of flames and a roar of guitars.  As the crowd goes nuts, he goes into some spiel about the birth of Christ, there’s stigmata, there’s a big black cross, all in all a very impressive display of heretical douchery.  He does a few tricks, some of which Alex recalls from his early days. 

He finally starts to draw the show to a close, saying that he couldn’t be here without his wife and daughter.  Alex recalls from his research that his wife, according to Wikipedia, is dead, and yet there she stands on stage, or at least a very convincing stand in, smiling robotically.  And then there’s his daughter, right there, just a few hundred feet in front of him, looking for all the world as though she’d rather be anywhere else. 

As the finale crests, a platform rises up from the stage with a shotgun on it.  A chair is brought out.  Konstantyne takes a seat, removing his right boot and setting the butt of the shotgun in it.  He opens his mouth, swallowing the end of the gun, and proceeds to blow his head off. 

The crowd goes fucking nuts, cheering and screaming as a chunky red spray rains down on the stage and Konstantyne’s body slumps forward.  His wife is still up there smiling and waving, never flinching.  His daughter, though, is covering her mouth, likely screaming, and crumpling to her knees.  Alex tries to fight his way up to her as figures rush onto the stage, when the Jumbotron cuts off and the lights go down.  Something is wrong.

Then the screaming starts.  People realising that this is not an illusion.  Panic sets in.  Alex is about 90 feet out from the stage when the stampede begins.