Episode 31: Warning: Graphic Content
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"My poor papa, dear papa."
Hall can't help but ponder all the hurt when the face of his loving father crosses his thoughts. He comes and goes, completely uninvited, forcing the hockey star to marinate in the past.
After exploring the mission grounds and many of its quiet corners, with the exception of an off-limits area near the back, Hall sits on the steps outside the chapel building. He had been trying to enjoy a little quiet and consider his options but those same old memories and feelings won't leave him alone.
Having a unique blend of self-deprecation and dignity, his dad was everything to him.
A powerfully built man but with gentle soul, who rarely raised his voice in anger, his dad tried to teach him the value of caring, to always give with a happy heart. He was a far cry from the other knucklehead hockey dads during those brutal early morning practices. You know the type.
Tragically, it was one of those over-the-top knuckleheads, a skinny runt, who decided to get into it with Hall's unsuspecting father in the parking lot of a run-down arena, knocking him to the ground before stomping him into oblivion.
The bastard got away with it too thanks to a well-rehearsed script for the court filled with crocodile tears and sob story about a tough-luck upbringing.
Even now, with the world gone to hell and his father's murderer more than likely perished with the millions of others, Hall can't get over this tragedy. He strangely feels some resentment toward his dear old dad as well, an irrational one for sure but one he can't shake. Why did he have to leave him?
Why couldn't he have fought back? Why wasn’t he stronger?
Maybe that's why Hall has been so overprotective and aggressive when it comes to anyone crossing paths with his little kids. And now especially, well, he'll have to do anything.
This place, it seemed safe, but something sinister is bubbling under the surface. What of this strange cardinal? And what about these priests, who aren't really priests at all, following him with such blind reverence? He’s got them under some bizarre spell.
Problem is, where else can he go? Hall is feeling trapped and anxious, but his new friend, the stoner dude Leo, is no help at all. Hall has taken notice that Leo seems to have profoundly transformed these past few days, so much so that even his voice has gotten deeper and hoarse.
And what about this mission to Vancouver to kill that warlord lady and her fanatically obedient henchmen?
Something just isn't adding up. He can't let go of the idea that the longer he stays, the more his children are in some kind of danger.
Meanwhile, an obstinate Leo, having a seemingly permanent "I'll kill you, you bastard" scowl, looks out his window with his arms crossed, still wearing those overalls. For a moment he thinks about his own dad and how he failed the old man, how he was too stoned to even know what day of the week it was near the end, let alone come to his dying pop’s bedside.
Unlike Hall, the dude manages to somehow push all that regret to one side, stashed under a pile of other melancholy memories.
His bag packed, and seething with the holy madness of the plan to kill Lillian, Leo decides to head to the armoury. Gareth and several others are already loading weapons in their preparation for the upcoming war. Little do they know they'll soon be following Leo who will provide another demonstrable call to action.
Who knows if Kate or his kids are still alive. All he wants to think about, what fills his cup, is vengeance, but he's also got something else cooking. He puts on a jean jacket given to him by Seth and heads down the stairs where he meets the slightly milquetoast Sandlak waiting for him at the bottom.
"You're going to Seattle after, aren't you? Come on, Leo, admit it," Sandlak inquires.
The dude pauses, then smiles and puts his hand on the oddball's shoulder.
"I was asking too many questions where that centre is, eh? You got me figured pretty good,” Leo confides. "You're going to keep your mouth shut about this, right?"
Sensing the dude's budding psychosis, Sandlak backs up and shakes his head before letting out a prolonged sigh.
"Ummm, look, just look. All right, I told you it's crazy. It's so dangerous out there. I was almost killed a bunch of times before I ran into Fred and his group. I mean, you can't keep counting on being lucky, Leo, no way!"
Leo fires back, "Don't need luck. This is going to work. Has to. I'm getting her."
The baffled scientist looks around, making sure nobody will hear their conversation. He tells Leo something that pleasantly surprises the dude.
"OK, Leo, you win. I mean. I can show you how to get there, how to get in. The guy in charge of security, Ford, he's a real hardass. I can get you in, OK?"
Looks like the dude has a new travel companion. Bit of a surprise but he'll take it. If this guy is willing to fight his way through all the dead to help him, that's awesome.
Leo and the scientist take a walk around the grounds and soon seat themselves on a shaded patch of grass, leaning against a cool concrete wall.
"This cataclysmic event, you see, I figured it all out. Simple, really. Wasn't that meteor shower. It's all due to dark matter, that unseen, immeasurable force that's holding the universe, everything together," Sandlak explains confidently but expecting to be laughed off.
"I know what dark matter is," Leo counters.
"Sometimes it can bend, shift, when it's not supposed to," Sandlak continues." Just a tiny sprinkle of chaos in a reality of perfect symmetry. That's what turned this world inside out, causing events that shouldn't have taken place, that don't make any sense at first, that..."
"That's enough, all right," Leo interjects. Sandlak's cockeyed theory is perfect, indeed. Looking up and nodding, the dude's eyes are big and wide as he is awash in ice-cool, comforting logic. It surprisingly makes flawless sense including Leo's pivotal role in this ghastly unraveling.
"I'll tell ya, if it is dark matter, it's just part of a hyper-intelligence, god's hand," Leo adds. "Don't you get it? It's all by design, all right. Then there's people like me, I'm chosen amidst this perfectly orchestrated chaos to straighten it all out. I'm god's sub-particle, a hand to do the reset. I'm the key, neither simply particle nor wave but have certain properties of each!"
Yes, it's all so clear. This little conversation was meant to solidify the dude's already fervent belief he is an epiphany, part of an intelligence so incomprehensible that attempting to explain it to those with limited mindsets would be futile. Self-assured he's not meant to perish, a delighted Leo walks away, rubbing his beard while mumbling something about interconnections.
His friend is stumped, as well as captivated, wondering "what the hell was that?" Does he have a deranged lunatic like chess whiz Bobby Fischer on his hands?
That Boney M song, Brown Girl in the Ring, begins playing in Leo's head but it's all good.
This baleful place, are they trying to keep something out or force something to stay inside? And what of that ill-omened daydream he had at the casino, the one in which he witnessed that woman tied to a gurney with a captor relishing her blood?
Leo is handed a dirty tennis ball by one of the hockey player’s adorable kids. A magnanimous gesture indeed. The dude spends an hour bouncing it off a wall before Gareth tells him to cut it out.
Damn, a little rain would be nice.
Later, after a satisfying supper, Hall goes back to the steps of the chapel, this time to watch his kids play soccer with the quirky cowboy priest. He's joined by Leo who sits back and crosses his legs. The dude’s scowl is still there.
“Leo, man, so….you doing this for real? You’re going to town and going to war? You know, this is nuts, you might not even make it there,” Hall warns, knowing he doesn’t have a hope of convincing the dude to call it off.
Leo pats him on the back and grins.
“This is going to work. She has to die. Not even up for debate. Who knows how many others she’s killed. She’s gotta die.”
Silent Dave told the dude to be careful when it comes to revenge, describing it as a maze. Hall's wife later told Leo it's more like a puzzle with missing pieces. None of that stuff matters.
Lowering his voice, Hall tells Leo the mission is all wrong. He’s thought about it and something isn’t right. There’s no way the hockey star is going to stick around with his family. The minds of most of the wacky priests are bewitched by the word of that cardinal. Any competing narrative could be in mortal danger, Fred suggests. "And I'm not breaking my knees by jumping to conclusions!"
Leo tells Hall to walk with him to a sun-soaked corner so they can continue their little chat in private.
“I’m going down to Seattle after, get my Kate. It’s not crazy. Charlie and Dave are going with me. Michael, Father Mike, I talked with him about it and he’s coming too. But when I get back, this cardinal, he’s has to go. I might have to take him out. He’s not going to be running this place.”
Hall can’t believe what he’s hearing. This is too much. He implores Leo to reconsider, to simply go away and find a new place, but Leo is off the deep end and living in his own Rambo reality. "The only thing that matters, the only thing left, is to kill enemies, real or just potential," Leo adds with grim determination.
This is not good at all for Hall. He knows he has to get the hell out before Leo comes back and starts World War Nine. But he has to find some place, anywhere, that’s safe.
Leo looks up and sighs. "Hey, for a while I felt like I'm missing something, like I'm missing a piece of my soul. Guess it sounds a bit weird. Must be post-traumatic stress or something like that, I guess. Funny thing, I only get weirded out because it doesn't bother me. Now I know I'm part of a bigger....never mind."
The dude puts his arm around the confused Hall’s shoulders as they head back to others and hear the cowboy priest start playing the banjo. One priest, who clearly had too much wine with dinner, starts clapping his hands and dances to Cripple Creek.
Hall is the only one not enjoying this festive time. The next morning Leo’s group is to depart for Lillian’s town and Hall is uneasy, to say the least, being left behind.
What’s more, Doyle and some of the other guests in the last couple of weeks have gone. According to Gareth, they wanted to go out and find their families and, since this isn’t a prison, nobody would stop them. Hall finds it hard to believe the neurotic Doyle would go out there, let alone not even saying goodbye to the hockey star.
Later that night it’s dark and quiet as an abandoned cemetery. As his wife and kids sleep, Hall takes a stroll trying to figure out his next move.
Meantime, inside a brick building in the far end of the compound, off-limits, is the cardinal, skin white as a sheet and eyes a super deep shade of blue. The mountain of a man sits regally on an ornate wooden chair, having an expression as if he’s got everything figured out. He’s got plans, including for Leo that will be revealed when diabolically appropriate.
Father Dale and Gareth sit across of the strange-looking leader as if they’re part of a special inner circle, and they are. Not all the priests here are in on what’s ultimately in store. Some will be allowed into the inner group but others won’t.
“When you fight, my son, and kill this lady and her men, you must make sure to also take of one other little bit of business,” the cardinal orders in a deep, rich baritone voice.
The priests eagerly nod.
“Father Seth, you must kill him. Make it appear as though he was lost in combat. You must kill him for me.”
Father Dale is confused, naturally. He considers the cowboy priest not only a friend but a shining light of the mission, someone who brings a little happiness in this drab monastery.
“Father, your eminence, yes, of course. But, but why. Why must Father Seth die?” He knows better than to ask for an explanation but the cardinal is willing to give it.
“He’s been asking too many questions. He’s been difficult for me to hold onto. He won’t understand. He’s a threat to everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve thus far. I can see it,” the cardinal responds. “Besides, he has been having affairs with that hockey player’s wife. That alone should condemn him.”
The two priests bow their heads and nod again, having handed all control over to the cardinal long ago.
“There is one other thing of the utmost importance. So important, you must be willing to give your lives as well as the lives of all the others if required. There is another, like me, at that courthouse. He’s been calling out for me through the darkness. You must bring him here to safety, to me.”
The priests continue to nod as their workload gets heavier. Another like the cardinal?
“Soon my sons, you will share my blood too. You will be like me, powerful and forever!”
The meeting is then rudely interrupted when two other priests barge in from the hallway, one holding a prisoner by the arm. The defiant captive is the woman with the binoculars, part of the group that has been watching this place from the brush. She and a couple of others stumbled upon a group of priests out on patrol but the others managed to get away.
The cardinal is furious at the intrusion but more so on being spied. No matter, he's sure he'll catch the rest of them seen enough.
“We found them up on the hill. Her friends ran away but we caught this one, for you my father,” one of the men says proudly. Her hands bound from behind, the woman remains defiant and throws a few profanities at her captors. That’s right, don’t give the buggers the satisfaction!
“Your group, your friends, tell me where they are, now! Your death will be painless if you tell me now child!” the irascible cardinal demands, standing in front of the doomed prisoner and reaching behind to pull her long, greasy hair.
“I’m not telling you anything. Kill me now!” she shouts at the frustrated leader before and expletive-laden rant.
Fine! The priests, as well as the cardinal, escort the woman to another part of the building, into a dimly lit room that oozes evil. A lot of bad things happened in here. The woman starts showing a hint of fear as she’s forced onto the floor and her ankles bound together. She’s then placed on a large stainless steel table and chained down nice and tight. This is it for her.
A chair is pulled up beside the woman and the cardinal takes his VIP seat. Yes, this is really happening. The woman is gagged by this point and her chest is heaving. The priests know what’s coming next and quickly look away as the cardinal’s mouth opens, extending like a snake, before chomping down onto her neck. His entire face, in fact, becomes grotesquely elongated. The blackened mouth stinks like a rotting tooth.
She fades out quickly as dark red sprays, but most of it is being consumed by the blue-eyed monster. He’s relishing her blood, which gives him strength and clarity. Her blood is the giver of life. But why does he have to slurp so loudly like rude pig?
What the priests and the monstrous cardinal don’t realize is that the curtain at the window is still drawn and a flabbergasted Hall is taking in this real-life horror show. The jaw-dropping scene has him frozen, but only for a moment. The hockey player quietly darts his way back to his room and awakens his family. They’ve got to go….now! My god, right now! No need to explain and scare the kids any more than he has to, eh?
He can grab a few things and one of the cars near the gate and just go. But what of Leo? He has to know. Problem is, there’s no way he can get to the dude without drawing attention to himself. But he’s got to try. No?
Wait a minute, Leo’s jean jacket, it’s on a coat hook in the foyer of his dormitory. Just have to scribble a note and leave it in his pocket. That’s right, at least he can warn his friend. Fortunately, nobody sees Hall plant the warning. In less than half-hour he takes one of the vehicles, opens the gate and is gone. By the time the guard in the tower realizes what’s happening Hall is adios. Fortunately, they don’t bother going after the fool.
“Your daddy will keep you safe,” he tells his confused and terrified kids as they head down the highway. "It's all going to be good now, you'll see. I won't ever leave you!"
It’s kind of hazy and difficult to make out the pavement but Hall manages to speed away, passing a handful of rotting plague monsters standing on the side of the road. Poor buggers.
One of the walking atrocities the headlights illuminate, by the way, is our old friend Georgie Boy. Remember him from Big Gregg’s group? Of course you do.
After he got the boot, George managed to hook up with another group and they were on their way to the safe camp in Vernon before encountering a hive of smelly ghouls. While the rest of his new group tried to fight them off, George put his damn skates on and made a run for it. He almost got away but ran into several undead little boys and girls that took chomps out of his legs.
He eventually escaped, however, he knew he was doomed. He turned, of course. Talk about karma. Too bad, so sad!
Stories by Sandor Gyarmati
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