When The Stars Are Wrong – Part Two

20 min read

She tilted her head. “You have a funny last name.”

“No it’s not funny, it’s Nigerian. It means “child of high status.” He curled his fingers and withdrew his arm slowly so that his hands were clasped together. He always considered himself the cowardly one in his family, but some things were still more important to him than safety.

“Well, my name’s Baudica.” she said, flipping her hair up with an air of either haughtiness or mania.

“No way, like the Celtic warrior queen who fought the Romans?” said Earl, again geeking out on an inopportune moment.

She burst out into an unfriendly and repetitive laughter. It stopped abruptly. “Yes, exactly.” she said.

Jesse whistled. Ilsa just stood near the table, taking in the interview. Reptar chuckled, but composed himself.

“How do you manage to know all this old stuff, Earl?” asked Barry.

“You mean, how do you not?” Earl said.

“Now’s not the time.” Barry muttered to him.

Baudica kept tittering. Jesse walked back up the stairs. “Barry, I’m sorry, I need to take a shit slash get away from my half sister. Ilsa, you’re in charge of miss masterpiece until I get back. Ilsa put her sunglasses back on and dragged her feet nervously to her sisters side.     “I’m sorry Barry, I suppose your surname is not funny. Maybe it is a bit… ironic… in this situation.” she said. “You’re not a child of privelege and yet you have a certain degree it, and, well, I was born to it but can’t use it.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” He smiled and lowered his head, putting his hands in his pocket in a self deprecating gesture. He didn’t like her, and there was no way that she was anywhere near liking him, but that wasn’t the point. He had done a phone conversation with a man from a Christian militia group over the phone in his last job for a left leaning newspaper. He felt confident that he could manage an interview with an eccentric artist.

At least somewhat, he thought as he fixed his collar.

“So, um, how do you want to begin?” he said, careful to not sound too placating.

“I was hoping you could tell me.” She said.

`             “Well, I was thinking we could start with an interview, perhaps in the parlor are, while Earl, my associate here…” Earl gave him a “dude, really?” look- “takes some photos. If you don’t like a question, you can just ask to skip it and I’ll do my best to comply.” He was mentally juggling the questions list he wrote up at the rest stop earlier.

She shook her head. “I didn’t consent to give an interview. But I’ll sit down to talk to you, and you can stow it in a notepad or something.”

“Tell you what, no recorders, no phones, no gimmicks. Just you and me talking one on one.” He said as he checked that his recorder was still in the on position with the tip of a little finger.

“Take out your phones, and put them on the table.” she said humorlessly.

“Thorough. I can see how you and your sister are related.” Barry said, putting his Iphone on the dining room table. Earl followed.

“Far from it.” Said Ilsa.

Soon, the three of them were in the living room, minus Reptar, who had retreated to the kitchen, and Ilsa who Earl and Barry had convinced at length, and two a great deal of paranoid glances from Baudica, that they could handle if anything came up. She went to the west wing of the house, but not before giving him a key. She said it was to the building that housed the art collection once the time came. Her otherwise beautiful sister eyed her as she left, like a hungry reptile. Barry put it gingerly in his pocket.

“Well, fuck me.” Muttered Barry under his breath.

He took a chair and sat near the now roaring fireplace. She sat slouched on an enticingly comfortable leather chair and, having kicked off her shoes, rested her bare feet sideways on a poffered footstool. Long would Barry remember how the light played off her curves and the shadows made by her cloak made her seem anachronistic, like the house and her siblings and the assistant cook.

Speaking of time, his watch was ticking. They had a half hour and then had to get some shots of the artwork.

“You think about time a lot.” she said, one hand brushing back her blond hair and another playing with the end of the broad armrest. “You’ve looked at that fancy stopwatch at least three times since we just sat down. I’ll help you- it’s later than it was.”

She gave a dirty-no, a positively filthy look at Earl, who was taking pictures of the two of them, but mainly her.

“Hold that position.” Earl said cheerfully. “Say, “I hate you Earl!” her lower left lip quivered as the shutter came down.

Twitching visibly, she forced her head back to Barry.

“Yes, well, I guess we don’t get the time back, do we?” said Barry coolly. “Which is why I’d like to start with a question of my own.”

“Go ahead. Shoot.” She said. “I’m all ears.”

“Well first off, I was just wondering, why all the secrecy, why be a hermit if the small amount of work that has leaked out to the art community has been devoured, imitated, critiqued to death, and sought after?”

“Hmm. The secrecy is because I don’t want the trends to influence what I do. I want complete artistic control over my creation. Otherwise it’s not a creation, it’s a product. Secondly, it’s not any choice of mine to live this way, it’s more a safety measure on account of my condition. But both my isolation and my condition, I believe are more of a help than a hindrance to my project.”

“I see.”

“Maybe you do, and maybe you don’t.” she said coyly.

“That leads me to my next question. Where do you get your inspiration from, what is you’re overarching goal for your body of art, your “project”, as you call it? Be sure to take your time with it, I know it’s a little much to think about-”

“No, please. You really don’t. Each portrait takes a little more out of me. You can bargain, you can be frugal and abstain from the excesses of our calling, and if you’re fortunate enough, as I am, you can live in a way that supports you even on  your worse days. But in the end, there is only this: Madness always overwhelms the artist.”

“That’s not necessarily true. Plenty of artists live normal, healthy lives-“

“LET ME FINISH!” she howled.

A lot of time went by. Barry had his right hand in his mouth in order to avoid clocking the obviously mentally unstable woman he was interviewing. Firstly, it wouldn’t be the right thing, and secondly, he had learned a long time ago to put his emotions aside to get along in life. Such was the totality of the situation that Earl stopped taking pictures.

“I’m, uh, going to go take some picture of the west wing.” He said. “That ok with B?”

She dismissed him with a nod. “Just make sure not to go into the last room, in the turret. It’s mine, though it’ll probably be locked anyway.”

He nodded and took the equipment away, complaining a bit to himself as he climbed the steps.

“Ok. I want this to be your interview as much as mine.” Barry said.

“Hmph. Well, as I was saying, and I will, for your sake be brief-“

“Your too kind.” He muttered.

“-I think we are not in agreement on what an artist is. If by artist, you mean someone who is Involved in the visual arts, yes I am sure there are plenty who live normal lives. But an artist is someone who does not see the world as it is. If they did they would cease to be an artist.”

“I’m suspicious of that, as I’ve heard it somewhere before.” Barry said. “But please, continue.” He felt this was at least faint bullshit, actually, but for the sake of the interview, and actually taken aback by her unusual poise and confidence for an outsider artist, he listened raptly.

“My inspiration is the arrangements of the heavenly bodies and their confluence at fortuitous times. With the astrology of the ancients as my guide, my goal is to construct an incarnation and excarnation machine, similar to those found in ancient Egypt.”

“I’m sorry, but what the fuck does that even mean?” he said, more than a little queasy.

“You’ll have to ask another question. And time is ticking.” she said.

He shook his head despite his experience with people with radical notions and artists, and he asked, “What does that work consist of?”

An excited gleam crept into her eye. “Firstly, of numerological transcriptions interpreted from communications made at auspicious times. Secondly, the decoding of those transmissions into geometric symbols used to invoke the presence of astral architects. Thirdly, the assemblage of the transcripts written down from direct contact with those beings for the construction of a master geometric pattern.”

Barry’s expression grew very severe, then he laughed, wiping the cold sweat off his forehead. He felt like he was catching her crazy just from listening to her. “So-um…so you’re putting all of these psychodrama-type experiences together to… what, some sort of do it yourself thaumaturgy? Is that what you’re trying to do here?”

She nodded slowly. If she had an inkling of the irony in his statement it was surely lost on him, for she said, “In actuality, I what I have here is a body of work consisting of thousands of pages of fieldnotes, as well as the transcripts, geometric invocation tiles, mostly for posterity, and the reason I have called you out here tonight; the final design.”

“ I hope this doesn’t count as a question but… what is the final design?”

She pursed her lips and laughed a bit to herself. “Be a good boy, Bartholomew, and you just might get a look at it.”

He shuddered at the double entendre, straightening his tie again. He was always something of a ladies man but he liked to think he held himself to certain standards. It wasn’t just that. He had heard of the sort of thing, and had always assumed it was better left to the professionals, eg, those who actually devoted themselves to a mystic tradition, though, as man of the 21st century, he had done some fooling around with this and that in his college days. This felt different.

“May I ask you a question, Barry?” she said, rolling the r’s.

“Well… sure, why not?” he said.

“Are you afraid of something” she asked.

“Me, no, no, never. I’m a professional, and you’re an artist, and were having a conversation.” He said. In truth he was terrified. Not because he felt she was playing with something she didn’t understand, but because she knew damn well what she was doing and it was Not Good. The more she talked the more the pitiful Bart from so many iterations ago, the nervous NYU freshman, jittered in him. He was an intern for an art review site and magazine. He hadn’t signed up for this dammit.

But, as was usual, the Grown Up Barry stepped in. For better or for worse, he thought, he was going to see this interview through. If it killed him, Earl, and got stains on his tweed suit. He checked his stopwatch. 9:30 on the nose.

“Well, thank you for being so candid. If you don’t mind, I will gather my assistant-“

“You mean your ass-isstant.” She hissed giddily.

“-and we’ll take some photos of your collection. Not thoroughly, I assure you, just so the world can get a picture of your oveure.”

She sprung up like a cat, hands behind her back. “This way, please.” She said, slipping her shoes on and leading him to the back entrance. There was a winding path and a small, truncated drum of a beige building with a prominent pyramidal skylight.  It looked like one of those observatories he had seen in a national park once, though it was much bigger and had Egyptian symbols printed on the walls.

They walked briskly under the stars, the moon nowhere in sight and a stiff wind irking the probably replanted oaks.

“Can you guess the building?” she said, talking over the wind, looking over her back with a feline smirk.

“I guess it’s the one that looks like a seventies Egyptology cult gathering.” He said shrugging, his hands in his shirt pockets, faintly angry at himself for not having taken a jacket.

She laughed. “You really don’t know enough.”

“Probably not.” he said.

When they got to a little door of what he still suspected was a glorified art shed, he fished out the plain warehouse style key from his pocket. At the risk of laughing at the artiste, he wondered if all vessels of inter-something communication had stupid fucking warehouse keys attached to them. What utter fun. Maybe that was his dad’s Ivy League rhetoric talking, he thought.

For all this he still had some trepidation at his core. That would be his mom’s upbringing; a devout Christian, she was suspicious of everything in traditional or Archaic African culture or civilization. So he had become something of a culture rebel, though some of his friends in the University had been way more Afrocentric than him.

Well, he thought as he turned the key, at least he was going to see what he came to came here to see. Something about the way the door hissed when it opened brought him back beyond his vibrant but admittedly rustic and (at least, to his family) obscured roots, (older, perhaps, but never really appealing to him) to Egypt and the tombs of kings, the rush that the archaeologists must have felt when opening the stone seals of the air locked tombs. There was a smell, of decaying paper and other, less desirable things, that made him think of worse as he paused at the threshold, naturally at a bit of unease at the pitch darkness inside.

She brushed past him. “Alright, I’ll flip the lights.”

As she did, the terror of being on the threshold of another reality quickly dissipated. In a place was a quaint and intangible wonder as he beheld the workshop of a half mad spell-scribe from the time of the Pharos, not the one who concocted hollow blessings for the common folk but one who had learned the hidden things of numbers and symbols and to listen to the secret urgings of the stars.

Every square inch of the walls was covered in papyrus or something like it. Some were from the size of a badge or a fingertip and had a few quaint and probably meaningless symbols or cypher-letters illegibly scrawled on them, affixed to the wall with a map pin.

Most were rectangular and the size of his arm or medium and square. The squares held what looked like elaborate formula. The rectangles held the same, but had inside the fields of numbers and symbols and letters, framing the pictographs like a box (or a containment field) were depictions of funerary jars with the heads of animals.

These in turn were plastered around nine or so long, stylized but nonetheless elegant portraits of the Egyptian pantheon. Beneath each portrait was a rather large and elaborate square canvas made out of elaborate sequences of sigils, numbers, and archaic glyphs. The center of each one was ashen, as if some arcane ritual with incense and candles and fire had been conducted.

Hell, from what he saw, there was no doubt this woman was messing with power. But there was something calling him from the residue of each glyph like the ghost of something once mighty had tread there, even for only a time, and left behind it’s ineffable mark.

“You…” he started. “You’re a genius you know.”

She nodded. “But you don’t like what I’m using it for, like everyone else I show it to.”

“Some would say this is cultural appropriation.” he scolded with his finger, half joking.

“Are you serious-?” she asked.

“Of course not. I mean, some would say it, but if no one’s using it, feel free to borrow.” Inside he felt it was worse and in a different category, but something told him to reserve judgement. His dad talking again. Plus, he was a communicator, not a moralist, and this was probably the best field experience he had ever gotten, or would ever get.     The floor was strewn with thousands of pages of notes and old pens and quills, he saw books on Egyptology and Archaic History and Occultism here and there amongst the ashes of incense on cheap burners.

“This…you know this is the work of a lifetime.” Barry said. “Hell, I don’t know if the best graphophiles would get there in a few lifetimes.”

She leaned her head on his shoulder, but he forgot his heart pounding nervousness at her proximity as he inspected the most magnificent of all the pictures, a depiction of Horus Re. His mask was golden, his right hand outstretched and carrying a crook, and he stood heroically on a throne.

She sure took some liberties, but I can’t help but admire the sincerity, he thought about it for a second, to enraptured to turn away. “Is this- is this like a sun legend for you? Like, meant to be Christ-like?”

She squinted and thought. “No, not expressly. There’s a resurrection in this mythology, as I’m sure you know, but the sun was only held in supreme reverence by the pharaoh Ankhenaten.”

“Guess you left him out.” He said, shuddering instinctively at a portrait of Seth. He was pitch black and seamed to be in a position of honor in this interpretation, more so even then his brother Horus.

“Nonsense.” She said. “Look right behind you!”

He whirled on his feet and looked down. “Sweet love, sweet chariot.” He said, feeling that this whole experience was turning him into his mom more and more. Where was that deceptively good-natured church lady when you needed her… where in fact was Earl?

It turns out Earl was elsewhere in the mansion. After using the facilities rather noisily to the chagrin of a rather drunk Jesse he had convinced Ilsa to unlock the door to both Baudica’s study and her room.

Her room was DIY neo-ancient Egyptian. Not being versed in the art of the ancient world, he talked incessantly in designer terms about the bed with sphinx posts and the color scheme of the sandy downer and how the skeletal mandalas painted on the ceiling gave the room a centered look. It was after he took about 100 shots from every conceivable angle that he turned his considerable bulk to his guest.

“Hey you haven’t said anything at all.” He said in genuine concern.

“Earl honey, if you use the word “centered” one more time I think I’m going to spontaneously disintegrate. It’s not an element of design…it’s… it’s just…ugh.”

“Okay, you’re right I get it, I get it. Jeezy, you are just like Barry. Maybe I could hook you two up…” he offered as they made their way to the study. He took a few shots of the study, stark but quaint, like the room.

“She has such a retro sense of style. I can’t wait to see her collection.”

Ilsa paused, responding to a text and said, “That was Jesse… listen…I don’t think there will be time for that tonight.”

“What is it with this assignment.” He said. “We came here to do a job, and we’re going to do it, dammit.”

“Look, what she’s working on, I… don’t think it’s good for anything. It’s genius and all, but like her it’s skewed.”

“I get what you’re telling me, but I don’t see how it’s possible.” said Earl, taking another snapshot.

“She forgot to take her medication tonight. Every second your friend stays there, he’s in greater and greater danger.”

He swallowed. “Sooooo give ‘em here and I’ll bring it to her. How bad could it be, she’s in handcuffs. Besides, like I said, I’ve handled neurodivergent people before, their not aliens.”

She smiled sympathetically. “Not her though. She’s different. I don’t like the idea of Barr- of your friend being alone with her. Look, if you don’t want to do it I’ll wake Jesse.”

She knocked on Jesse’s door, but he had passed out on the floor to some Post-Metal and his bottle of Jim Bean lay empty at his feet. His cowboy hat was on his face as he snored loudly.

She closed the door gently. “Neeeever mind.”

“Wait here.” She said, as she went into the bathroom. She put her shirt over her mouth and nose as she rummaged through the medicine cabinet, calmly getting the 8 or so medicines that Baudica needed to avoid becoming a natural disaster every night.

Something was amiss though. Maybe it was just her practiced paranoia, having dealt with her sisters tantrums for thirty years. She searched the lining on the top of the bathroom door and found… nothing. A familiar a familiar panic engulfed her, and she just couldn’t shake it. She knew what had happened. There was only one thing to do.

“Shit on a stick…” she said.

“What in all things craven is that?” Barry asked.

He was gesturing wildly to the almost intolerably ornate and, frankly, sinister symbol engraved onto the floor. It was thirty feet in diameter if it was an inch, geometric shapes filled with numbers overlapping and underlapping, winding, twisting and finally dissolving into a central motif, not much larger than a cup of coffee- that of a scarlet design like a sun erupting with flames. Inside it was a yawning eye.

He squatted down and puzzled over it. He knew next to nothing about numerology before he came into this room, let alone Egyptology (which he avoided for his own reasons) or it’s cousin alienism (which he wouldn’t touch with a barge pole).

However, he had been exposed to a smattering of grimoires in college. It seemed to him to be as much to invoke something as to keep it from destroying the “magician”. (Even now, he still had his doubts, the rational part of his mind keeping the irrational in check once again).

He started as Baudica flipped the switch and light poured onto the symbol and projected from the top of the structure.

“You’re inspired, no doubt, by the Luxor hotel in Vegas as well as Crowley. I’ll give you points for grandiosity, though.” He said.

She rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry to say this but you don’t know what you’re looking at.” Barry met her gaze. “Well. You tell me. What am I looking at? Just looks like another ‘summoning circle’ to me.”

She exhaled sharply. “This part’s a little hard to explain.” Baudica said.

“You did a fine job explaining earlier. Just can’t wrap my head around why someone of your intellect would divest this level of time, craftsmanship and energy to embark on something of this magnitude alone.”

“Because nobody I worked with when I was younger had the seriousness of purpose or the complexity of mind to help me with what I wanted to do.” she said.

“Do you see yourself as that complicated that no one can help you?”

“No. I see those who imitate my craft as who and what they are.” she said.

“So you’re just above it all.” He said.

“No, it’s just… you wouldn’t understand.”

“Iiiii think I see what you’re getting at.” He said.

There was a small stool near a pair of drawings and some charcoal. He sat, legs splayed and his fist on one knee, scratching his chin with his right hand.

“You favor your right hand.” She said, creeping up to his left side.

“No I’m ambidextrous.” He said, smiling and tugging her cape/blanket with his left hand.

“Ha ha, very funny.” She batted his hand away. “Not here. This is a sacred place.”

“I had no intention of-“ he began.

“You’re a cis man and it’s 2019. I don’t live in a cave, you know.” She said.

“No, more like an ivory tower. Explain this drawing to me.” He asked, feeling a little more at ease.

It was of a sphinx/human hybrid, rising from the center point of a building that looked a little like this one, except it was embellished and flanked with like a reflective pool.

“That supposed to be you?” he asked, before she could start.

“Well, in a sense, yes. To be blunt, my spirit is leaving my body and joining the astral plane for a brief sojourn.” She said.

“Do you take any drugs?” he asked.

“No. Come to think of it, I don’t even drink. I think that’s a cop out and I don’t like anything that dulls the intellect.” she said.

“You’d have made a good nun in the Dark Ages. Only, you know, the kind that’s secretly a witch, tripping on ergot and drawing little pokemon demons in some hoary ass book.” He said, his voice warbling with fake fear.

She laughed so hard, he thought he was going to go deaf.

“It wasn’t THAT funny.” He said. “Now I know for sure you’re on something.”

“Yeah… it really was… no, no… I’d make a better priestess in Ancient Egypt.”

“Had to think… were there priestesses back then? No offence or anything…” he said.

“Oh, I don’t know. There were some female pharos though, and they guided not only affairs of state but affairs of religion. Although…you did have to be born into the position.” She mused. Stepping into the shadows a bit.

“Well, we now know there’s a form of government worse that a dictatorship.” He said, scuffing his coattails and getting up from the stool to gaze upon the central number circle.

“Woo wee.” he said. “Welp, it’s been an interesting discussion.” He said choosing his words as carefully as possible. He looked at the back of his stopwatch. It had the Ethiopian inspired design of a lion wearing a crown, looking at the viewer and clumsily holding a cross. He polished it with a little rag, lost in thought. He sensed a (somewhat) kindred spirit and chose what he thought was a careful appraisal sprinkled with a good natured rebuttal.

He was dead wrong.

“I admire your artwork, your ambition, your intelligence… sometimes it seems like there’s a whole lot o’ “you” going on, but it comes with the territory. And I guess there’s no message, but is there ever a resolution? To some things I guess, but not to most. Certainly aren’t in most folk traditions. A moral, always, but not a happy ending. Maybe that’s what moved you over to at least a Western interpretation of an African ancient religion.”

By now she had turned her back to him and was seething quietly.

“Yeah, I have beliefs of my own. My central ones are not very popular, let alone in my family. I went toward the dark side a bit too strong at NYU… how I had time for that shit, I don’t even know now. Energy of disaffected youth? But anyway… you’re a smart cookie, you know you ain’t no god, or goddess or what not any more than I am. Don’t get me wrong- I’m saying it’s good that you know that. You’re trying to reach out to something higher. To whom or what, to what end… at what cost, that’s what I’d like to know…”

“You forgot to ask one important question.”

“And what might that be?”

“Where are my handcuffs?”

He paused, puzzled. She tossed him a small object. He caught it instinctively. It was a key. “Where are- oh hell no.”

It all came together surprisingly quickly (he had always had a quick mind). He turned to face her too late though. She sprinted forward, screaming incoherently and leapt atop him, her muscles like corded iron as she brandished a mere butter knife like a dagger.

She headbutted him in the waist and knocked him into the middle of the circle. Everything afterward was slow motion. He gazed upward and saw only the hateful prism of gold through the buzz of aftervision. His back felt bad.

“You’re not even out of shape and you went down like a bowling pin.” He heard her say as her voice oscillated in and out of hearing. He puzzled as he heard something with a bestial and repellant monotone chanting over him, deep, bleating and almost inhumanly male but intoning nonetheless some ancient rite.

He was genuinely afraid for a split second as he lifted his head, seeing double, to have Baudica’s frame come into view. She was kneeling on his stomach, which hurt like hell. He tried to move his left leg, which was wet and very numb for some reason.

Never a fighter in his life, nonetheless something about the situation galvanized him more than The instinctive fight or flight. As the knife came down, he took his stopwatch and bashed the knife out of her hands with a deftness that seemed to come down from God knew where.

She yelped and went for his throat. He dug his stubby fingernails into her arm, bit one of her digits, and managed to clock her in the nose once. He had used up his lifeline and just could not get up the strength to break her seemingly inhuman hold.

Then, as his vision began to close up from lack of air, there was a series of thunderous booms from behind them an a shattering as the lock somehow broke off the door and into pieces, which in turn plinked along the floor. He heard a shuffle and a noise that sounded like a bear charging and felt Baudica’s talons leave his throat. He coughed a few times and blacked out.

His eyes fluttered open and he saw a light shining in his eyes that he was at first jubilant about but realized was someone’s phone light.

“-breathing but probably brain dead or something.” said a female voice.

“He’ll come around soon.” said a very familiar but hoarse voice.


Barry coughed vociferously and sat up, batting away Jesse’s foot.

“Cough-damn fool-cough.” He managed. “Wasn’t you supposed to be watching her ass?” he wheezed.

“How about “thanks dude I opened the door for you’r fatass friend.” He said.

“The fuck up “dude”. Get out of my sight.” Barry said. “NOBODY talks to Earl like that.”

Jessy kicked a piece of the door, and walked out in a drunken swagger.

He gave a stern look to Ilsa, who was standing by Ilsa.

“We warned you she was out of control. Sorry if…”

“Don’t *wheeze* tell me no sorry when your not.  You let this happen. If I did anything, it was just the icing on the cake.”

“Whatever. Have fun with your ArtThing or whatever.” She said as she stormed out angrily, with a handcuffed Baudica in tow.

“Yeah you too, you pathetic *cough* brat.” He looked up at Earl, who smiled but was out of breath. “What you do, anyway? Don’t tell me you threw the camera at her.” He said.

“No, I just… tackled her and she passed out.” He said, sitting down on the stool. “Fuck… that was one crazy lady.”

“No *cough* no doubt about it.” He said staggering onto his feet, finding that someone had at least tied the wound. “Never try to take down a brother with a butter knife.” He winced as he took both the broken watch and the knife.

“Huh… at least you got a souveneir. I just got called a fatass.” He said.

“No… *cough* you saved someone’s life.

Earl shrugged. “It almost worked.”

Barry gave Earl his best don’t-even-try look.

“Well, I brought our phones at least. Want me to take some pics?” he said.

“How can that be on your… sorry. Yeah, be the closest thing we get to getting back at their asses.” Barry said, massaging his bruised throat.

“At least until they throw us off the property.” Said Earl bashfully.

“If it comes to that…” Barry said. “Will you punch that fake ass cowboy Jesse in the jaw for me?”

Earl shook his head. “He’s just being himself.” As he began taking pictures of the wall hangings.

Barry leaned heavily against the doorframe, coughing and kicking away a few pieces of the lock until Earl was done. Barry leaned heavily on the larger man as they took a detour around the main complex- Jesse and Ilsa were standing indignantly in the back doorway. Earl waved sarcastically while Barry flipped them off.

They reached the car and all their photography stuff was piled on to their windshield, thankfully, upon inspection it was all there and still working. Neither was the car damaged (especially thankful, as it was a rental). Earl insisted on packing away the equipment.

Sweated and spent, they both exhaled and nodded once they were in the car and buckled up.

“You’re a smart guy.” said Earl.

“Yeah, well… I don’t know jack about talking to women.” Barry half rasped.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You just need practice.” Earl said sincerely.

“No, man, you’re being polite, I’m gonna end up a young divorced, like Jesse’s punk ass.” Barry said.

“At least you’re not Jesse.” Earl added. “Jesse’s hopeless.”

“Bone of contention.” Barry shot back.

“Would you like a FREE assessment about how you treat gay men?” Earl said as he put the keys into the ignition.

Barry rubbed his eyes and laughed cathartically.

“You know you’re a good man, Earl.” Barry said “Don’t let anyone boss you around. Not even me.”

“Sorry. Forgiveness doesn’t work when you’re wearing tweed.”

“I do not understand you sometimes.”

“Kill you to try?” said Earl as he switched the engine on.

Barry laughed. “Guess not..”

“Time to get the fuck out of here.” Earl said.

“Fuck yeah, boy!” screamed Barry as he poked his head out the window, the tires screeching and Lynyrd Skynard’s “Simple Man” blasting out of the window. They sang the verses together, and the two friends thought all was well.

Up in the turret of the manor, a light turned on.

Read Part One

Read Part Two

Written by Octohat

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