Emperor of the Dark, Chapter 7: Noise


Warning: There is some mildly questionable content this time around (nothing visual). If you’re particularly sensitive, you might want to tread lightly.


Last night, I dreamed of my mother.

I’d like to say that this was a regular occurrence, that my dreams create a reality that life had deprived me of. An artificial reality where the void of her absence was paved over with the thick and impenetrable cement of a grieving son’s most sacred private wishes. A world where I could still follow the lingering scent of her perfume, or the mournful cries of her violin down the hallway, from room to room, and find her waiting.

But that would be a lie.

Or it might not be. Maybe time has rubbed the memory bare and left her face soft and unfocused. Maybe I’ve passed her a thousand times on the winding, aimless paths of my imagination and just didn’t recognize her.


I don’t really believe that, though. Especially not after last night. Last night I dreamed of her as clearly as I had the first night she left. A dream so crisp and thorough that I could smell her.

Which is where the problem lies.

At the risk of sounding incredibly (I mean incredibly) creepy, my mother always smelled good. I’ve never been able to identify her perfume – before she left, I didn’t care, and once she was gone, there was no one left to ask. My brothers hadn’t been any more interested than I had been, and my father hadn’t even known she wore perfume. But I remember it smelled kind of spicy. Cinnamon-y. And then there was that ever present sugary smell that lingered on her skin and worked its way into her clothes. The smell of cookies and cakes and pies.

Eau de Turmoil.

It’s a smell I still associate with stress and anxiety. My mom didn’t bake for pleasure, nope, she mixed, and beat, and whipped the demons into meringues, baked them into chewy cookies, iced them into elaborate decorations and designs, baking obsessively in the summer heat of our prissy kitchen, so that even in the middle of August, people could look forward to Lyla Grunt’s Famous Anxiety Apple Pie.

Even the neighbors and the people at church eventually caught wise to the fact that mom’s baked goods were actually flaky, tender warnings that the dark times cometh. You’d see it in their brittle smiles, and the way they’d gingerly take her beautiful offering with their fingertips and thank her a little too profusely.


But I’m rambling. In my dream, she smelled like dirt. Not dirty, but actual dirt. A thick, earthy stench.

She was here, in Strangetown, but it wasn’t Strangetown. I recognized the layout of the town, despite the fact that all the buildings were gone.


We were standing where Ophelia’s house should have been. Her demented aunt Olive, who hopefully isn’t listening to this, was gone, too, spirited away with her house into whatever holding void contained them for the duration of their dream exile.

It was just me and my mother… another fantasy that had sprawled lush and idyllic across the landscape of my imagination. Just me and my mom – and maybe Buck, if I were feeling especially generous – but the two of us, that was the most blissful configuration. Away from my father and his temper and his expectations… away from Tank.

I think in real life, I would throw myself at her feet and beg her not to leave me again.


In my dream, I just stood there and looked at her.

Smelled the dirty smell of her, and waited.

She smiled at me, but didn’t speak. I didn’t smile back, because I was angry at her. Furious.

Murderous? Maybe just a touch. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before in my waking hours, where I mostly just feel kind of bored with everything.

There was a hole between us. A grave, I think. A huge one, though, like something meant for a mass burial.


She reached out her hand to me and I walked toward her, and neither of us said a word. Watching her hand, obeying its unspoken commands, I climbed down into the hole.


Inside, the grave was warm and… fleshy. It pulsed beneath my feet, it throbbed against the palms of my hands. I pressed my face against it and smelled cinnamon.


My mom sat at the lip of the grave and smiled down at me. She had aged rapidly in the time it had taken me to look up. I don’t know how, but I recognized the wheelchair she was sitting in – her father’s. My grandfather, although he hadn’t liked me. Or Tank. Or Buck. Or my dad. Hell, he hadn’t even liked his own daughter all that much.

Great man, my grandfather.


And then there was me. Standing beside her at the lip of the grave.


I was young again. The same age I was when she left. I looked down at me, and shook my head.

Because it was a dream, I guess, it didn’t seem weird that there was two of me running around.

(When I mentioned it to my dad, however, he accused me of trying to give him nightmares.)


Teenaged Me didn’t seem particularly impressed either as he got behind mom’s wheelchair and began to push.

I didn’t yell at him, or call to her, or make any attempt whatsoever to stop him, and I didn’t hold out my arms to catch her.


She landed with a dull, pulpy thump at my feet. She looked up at me with glassy eyes and the ground beneath her began to make little sucking noises.

I was still pissed. Angrier at her than I had ever been before in my life, and I wanted her to know.


Her head burst like a rot-soft pumpkin beneath my foot as my boot sank into the gluey, toothless maw that had become the back of her skull.


There was no blood. Green, brackish water began to pour out of the hole in the back of her head, to fill the hole in the ground.

The smell was… overwhelming.


“We’re all going to die in here,” she said, and I could feel the muscles of her jaw moving beneath my foot. One of her wrinkled old talons began to twitch feebly. She spoke again, the words distorted by the water that flooded her mouth. “We are all going to die.”

Not a threat. Just a friendly reminder.

We’re all going to die.



She paused outside of a tiny pawn shop, feet aching in steady competition with her head, and wondered for the third time in under an hour why they had even bothered to invite her.


Several feet away, Mary-Sue and her latest acquisition – though she tended to prefer the word “friend”, as if though she were capable of such attachments – Dina Goth, stopped to admire something behind the glass pane of another shop. Another expensive boutique, probably. Dina seemed to love them, dragging Mary-Sue from one frothy, overpriced store to the next, both of them giggling like giddy school girls as they collected trinkets and dresses and accessories without so much as glancing at a price tag.


Dina was everything Mary-Sue had never realized she wanted to be… a young, rich widow.

She was maybe a little bit late to the “young” part; but with Daniel gone, and his life insurance sprawling before her like a pot of gold at the end of a cracked and faded rainbow, she had certainly found a novel way to numb the grief. A path that Dina was more than happy to help her navigate.


Seemingly oblivious to the loss of their third wheel, the pair happily disappeared into the building, the door swinging shut behind them, abruptly silencing their excited chatter.


Angela lingered outside of the old pawn shop, staring blindly at the collection of pre-owned odds and ends. She didn’t even have the energy to be offended that they’d forgotten about her. If she could manage it – a good thump on the head, perhaps – she’d have liked to forget herself as well.

What a gift it must be to be able to just walk away from her…


She sighed and dragged her gaze away from the storefront, her mind on the other side of town, longingly fixated on her bed. The sheets and pillowcases had probably already been replaced with fresh, crisp linen by the pretty little maid that Daniel had always favored.

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Bet he’d like us better if he could fuck us, Lilith had whispered more than once in her ear, the two of them watching from a safe distance as Daniel sniffed after Kaylynn, performing the human male equivalent of the leg-hump. Angela would push her away, feeling sick, feeling horrified, feeling like her sister might be right, and it made her feel loathsome, disgusting. Made her feel like she wanted to go crawl into her bed and stare at the wall for a while.

Lilith would just laugh.


But she wouldn’t think of that, wouldn’t think of Lilith, or her father, or Kaylynn. The bed, fresh and clean and undisturbed, was where her attention was directing itself. The thought of ripping back the comforter and hurling her filthy ass into those clean, white, carefully arranged sheets was a constant, obsessive fantasy. To lie down and never get back up. It was all she thought about, all day long, from the moment she dragged herself out of bed until the moment she could shake her mother’s desperate attempts to “fix” her and crawl back into it. It was her only need, displacing hunger and socialization and hygiene, and no amount of sleep could fulfill it. She was an insatiable void.

But even sleeping exhausted her.


Across from the pawn shop was an empty store, windows boarded up, paint chipping and peeling. Real pretty. Angela glanced at her mother and her mother’s friend, saw them spending their blood money (and lots of it), and slipped past the thin glass door without stepping inside.

Nothing she could afford inside, anyhow.


The empty building bore no name. No signs. Weirdly, no graffiti. There was no way of telling if it had been a clothing store, a bakery, a thrift shop, or a tattoo parlor. She liked the anonymity. At one point, it could have been anything. Now it was nothing.


Sounds like somebody else I know.

She walked past the Nothing Store, saw that there was nothing on the other side, and suddenly, her throat was burning, and her eyes were full of tears.

That had been happening a lot lately.

Nothing – really – to worry about it. She just had to wait for it to pass.

All she had to do was hold still and try not think for a while.


She thought, I still have therapy today, and I don’t want to go.

She thought, I haven’t washed my hair in a week and I’m afraid to touch it.

She thought, I’m so fucking tired, and I haven’t even done anything. I could sleep for weeks and years and it wouldn’t be enough.

She thought, I am Nothing, standing outside of the Nothing Store, looking at this vast and bountiful plane of Nothing.

She thought, It never goes away.


Mary-Sue and Dina appeared behind her, having finished their shopping extravaganza for the day.


Mary-Sue’s face registered a kind of mild surprise when she saw Angela, standing there alone in the middle of the empty lot. As if she really had forgotten about her. Clearly uncomfortable, she shifted the weight of her bulging shopping bags from one hand to the other, apparently unable to find a comfortable solution; Angela swallowed hard against the deeply ingrained urge to offer assistance.

Let her precious Dina help her.

“What are you doing out here, Angela?”


Angela felt the burning lump in her throat again as she turned to face her mother, who looked almost comically puzzled by this… thing she’d given birth to.

“Nothing,” Angela said, and smiled ugly for her mother, who would never truly understand, who would always look at her child with cautious disbelief, with pity and frustration, but never with acceptance or empathy. “Nothing at all.”


“So, I was thinking we could stop by the museum after lunch.”


Angela was thinking they could just stop, but she didn’t say anything. Just pushed another tasteless blob of pork into her mouth.


They say that pork is the closest you can get to human flesh, right? Long pig, they call it. The sweetest meat.

Lilith’s voice in her head again, working it’s way through her Greatest Hits. Her sister had always loved to discuss the finer details of cannibalism over dinner.


I read a book once about a family that lived in the woods, torturing and killing people they thought were sinners. Every time one of their own died, they’d butcher the body, roast it over a fire, and eat it. They believed they were ‘absorbing’ the power or energy of the dead person or something.

It was exactly the kind of thing that would have – should have – been promptly shut down in most families, but both of her parents had always seemed oddly intrigued. Certainly their eyes didn’t glaze over the way they did when Angela talked about a project in school, or an upcoming field trip. They didn’t just nod politely and ask perfunctory questions or make reluctant inquiries about chaperoning that they had no intention of fulfilling.


Oh, Angela, you got another A? Wow, that’s  great, anything else?

Baby barbecues, now that was something they could really get excited about.


Mary-Sue smiled at her from across the table. “Angela used to love the museum when she was younger.”


Angela chewed slowly, thinking about an old episode of The X Files in which a partially dissected pig fetus writhed back to life on the steel pan, screaming weakly, its viscera peeking out from the slit in its belly, neat and bloodless.


“I can’t wait to get to high school,” Lilith whispered, squeezing her hand. “Although our shitty little town will probably have us dissecting something lame like frogs.”


“Hopefully they don’t give us anything,” she whispered back, eyes glued to the screen so Lilith wouldn’t think she was a baby, even though it was making her feel sick to watch.


The scene ended and Lilith looked over at her, green eyes narrowed into slits, even though she was smiling and still holding her hand.


“C’mon, I want to show you something.”


She forced the fork past her lips again, stabbed herself in the teeth.


Dina sighed, wistfully. “I wish I could have done the whole family-time at the museum thing when I was a kid. My mom died when I was young, and then my dad moved us out to Strangetown because of his job, and Strangetown is like, all military, so nothing to see there.” She laughed and flipped her hair, her tiny salmon steak going cold on her plate. “Unless you were into boys in uniforms, like my sister was. Then there was plenty to see.”

She kept going. Angela stopped listening.

She did not respond to her mother’s suggestion. It didn’t matter, anyway. They would go to the museum after lunch. It had long been decided.


Mary-Sue said: “There’s a new painting exhibit they just recently revealed. It’s supposedly pretty dark and creepy.”


Dina said: “Not demonic dark, just… weird. Maybe a little spooky.”

Angela chewed, and chewed, and chewed. She chewed patiently, thoroughly, but could not seem to swallow.


Dina seemed like such a nice woman, smiling across the table at Angela. A kind and sincere smile, not awkward and uncertain like the ones her mother kept slopping on her.

She had spinach in her teeth. It was tragic, so tragic.


Angela continued to chew in obstinate silence. The food ground down to mush. Her mouth was full of it. She couldn’t swallow.


“Dina’s already seen it,” Mary-Sue explained. Her mother’s face was a mask of smug approval.


Dina nodded, pleased to be the undisputed authority on the subject. “It made me feel kind of nervous, like I was looking at something that I shouldn’t be seeing -”


Dina: “- something that wasn’t made for my eyes, if that makes any sense -”

Her teeth gnashed against each other through the smooth, loose gruel, she was grinding it down to a pasty sludge and she couldn’t swallow.


Dina: “- blah blah blah something something something something -”

Her jaw kept moving in automatic, perpetual motion.


Suddenly, inexplicably, she wanted to cry. Throw her fork across the room, sweep her plate off onto the floor, and lay her head down on the table, sobbing until all the poison had drained out and then she could start refilling the reservoir.



Her mother was looking at her, worried that she might make a scene. Always so worried about someone making a scene.


Dina was looking at her, worried, like she could sense the violence, the simmering black tar that was rising ever higher, closer and closer to the capacity line, inside of her.


She looked down at her plate.

“Angela, what are you chewing on?” Her mother spoke with just the slightest edge. Angela recognized the approved-for-all-audiences variation of her “I’m Warning You” voice.

Her tongue lolled in her empty mouth. Sticky and dry against the backs of her teeth.




Her plate was full. Her fork glistened, sucked clean.

Her mouth tasted sweet, cloying.


Long pig, they call it. The sweetest meat.


“Are you alright, honey?”






The museum was closed after lunch.


They went home instead.


The ride home was brief, and quiet.


She’d fiddled with the radio dial for a moment, trying a couple of stations she’d remembered liking as a teenager.

Nothing she felt like listening to.

She pushed another button, switching the signal to AM.

Nothing on Lilith’s station, except that old white noise.

Same as it had always been.


Mary-Sue glanced over at her, a wisp of smoke still clinging to her lips as she dangled her now ever-present cigarette out of the window. “What are you looking for?”


Angela shrugged her shoulders.




Mary-Sue had plugged her phone in, then, and the radio had been taken hostage by her mother’s Playlist that she hadn’t updated since Angela was in high school and filled the car with the wailing laments of the Cranberries.

But you see, it’s not me
It’s not my family
In your head, in your head
They are fighting
With their tanks, and their bombs
And their bombs, and their guns
In your head, in your head


They are crying


When Lilith changed, it was a gradual, gentle shift in personality.


A subtle tipping of the scales.


She’d always teetered at the back-end of normal, anyway, so when she finally toppled off, her descent into maladjustment went almost unnoticed by those with a passing familiarity…


…and largely ignored by those who thought they knew her.

It began innocently enough — even quaintly.


Her grandfather, knowing her fondness for novelties and gadgets, gave her an old radio he’d found while cleaning out the garage.

It was supposed to make her happy.

Well, it made her something.


It was unremarkable. A simple rectangular chunk of metal, of a truly uninspired design. No cassette deck. Antenna. Ran off of two C-cell batteries, and only seemed to play the AM stations. Herb Oldie couldn’t even remember buying it, though he supposed it had to have come from somewhere. A gift maybe. Or an orphan, left behind by the previous occupants. Either way, it was hardly a mystery worth losing sleep over.


All that mattered was that when he popped in fresh batteries, it crackled to life, and when he’d handed it to Lilith, she’d smiled that rare smile, and had been something close to happy.

At first, anyway.


Soon, though, she began to hole up in her room. Huddled up to the old radio, her ear nearly touching the discolored grill as she greedily absorbed whatever the radio was telling her. A notebook filled with scribbles and symbols would appear affixed to her right hand, as if she were taking dictation.

She kept the volume low. Nearly inaudible. But if one listened closely enough, it was possible to hear the faint strains of a woman’s voice.


Talking, sometimes. But mostly singing. Singing that ghostly melancholic, “Gloomy Sunday” shit that Lilith didn’t even like. Songs that didn’t show up in Google, lyrics that were apparently filtered directly into the radio by a nameless phantom’s dreary maw. Untraceable, an enigma.

By all accounts – including, stubbornly, Lilith’s own – these songs did not exist.


Yet, she listened to them obsessively. She flooded page after page with her graceless scrawl while listening to it… those hopeless, restless songs.


When she left for college, she took only the radio and her notebook. Told her parents to burn the rest.


And then she was gone.


Angela didn’t share her sister’s obsession with gadgets and technology, but after Lilith disappeared, it stirred something inside of her that came very close to fixation. An urge, maybe, something inside of her that required her to wander through thrift stores and hospice resale shops, peer into pawn shop windows, and trudge through yard sales, looking for… not the radio itself, but the connection that the radio might provide. A clue that could point her in the right direction, down whatever path Lilith had vanished on. As such, Angela had spent a large part of her adult years looking for another radio that would play that strange, untraceable station.


Throughout her search, she’d found radios that played everything but The Station; radios that played nothing at all; radios that read only increasingly frenetic sets of numbers, numbers that made her head hurt the more she listened. Radios that hissed and crackled, radios that overheated and smelled like melting plastic. Radios that if one turned the dial just right, would latch on to strange and sometimes wonderful news reports. Angela had found the high drama of a paranoid old man ranting about the garden gnomes that plagued him particularly amusing, until one day that station had gone to static and Angela had been forced to move on.


All of these failures had been tolerable. Even as hope faded, habit kept her searching, and she didn’t really mind that she was wasting her time and money, until she’d found the old “Boom Box”.


It was a dumb pun they’d found deliriously funny since that was what they’d made it out of, a box – that shouldn’t have played anything (it was a BOX, for Christ’s sake; Daniel had given it to them to play with after he’d squirreled the contents away in his office) but instead played The Bunny Song, the goddamn Bunny Song and wasn’t that some shit. Over and over, a little mocking voice singing that twee, terrible song.

A song she’d made up herself, back in Belladonna Cove, to amuse a child who had also gone to static.


A child who’s voice could be heard warbling out of an old cardboard box with speakers Sharpied onto it, singing a stupid little ditty that Angela had made up for her to the tune of “My Bonnie”.


Her search for a radio with the unknown station had ended, then, as swift and abortive as it had begun, and she was sorry for ever having tried.


The trailer Brandi Broke had spent most of her adult life in had begun to smell funny.

It was, Dustin thought as he let himself in with the key she kept insisting he destroy, the smell of abandonment.

As if though the small two bedroom modular had stood empty and closed up tight for years, despite the fact that Brandi hadn’t left it in several months.


“Hey, ma,” he said, forcing his voice to express some kind of jocularity. “I brought you some groceries. I figured you might be running low.”


Brandi didn’t answer, but then, she didn’t have to. A quick glance in the refrigerator and cabinets revealed that his last drop off had been largely untouched.


Join the club, friendo, he thought, throat burning. He began to pull wilted vegetables, soft brown fruit, and weirdly pungent meat from the refrigerator shelves. He made a mental note to take the garbage out with him when he left.

Brandi would find that fitting, he supposed.

Trash taking out the trash. Like a date.


“Why,” Brandi asked him as she always did when he came to check on her, “can’t you just leave me alone?”

“Because you’re my mother,” he replied patiently, as he always did when she hurt him, “and I worry about you.”


Brandi made a rude, petulant noise that reminded Dustin of his own teenaged laments, grousing impotently about his mother loving him, blissfully unaware that someday she would stop.


Brandi retreated back to the living room, no longer interested in Dustin’s desperate appeals to win her back. As far as she was concerned, he could waste his time and money as he pleased; she owed him nothing after what he had done to their family.

She trudged into the small living room, intending to pile herself onto the couch and try to go back to sleep, but the sound of Dustin puttering around the kitchen was making her volatile. His mere presence incensed her, made her feel angry and tearful and cruel.


She turned back to the kitchen, where Dustin was gathering the few dishes she had used since his last visit and herding them toward the sink. She stood and watched her only surviving child as he tried helplessly to untangle the barbed wire that had wrapped itself tight around her heart, one useless act of servitude after another.

“I don’t like you being here,” she said, unable to help herself. He pretended not to hear, but she could tell by the sag of his shoulders and the way his face had reddened that he’d heard her just fine.

Good. If he wanted to barge in here and help himself to the misery buffet, then she’d make sure he got his money’s worth.

She’d even cut it up and feed it to him, like a good little mommy.


Satisfied, she returned to the living room.

Dustin continued to shuffle about the kitchen.

What, precisely, did she have to do to get him to leave? Her irritation grew, made it impossible to sleep, and sleep was what she wanted. Sleep was all she had left.

She’d call the cops to report his constant intrusions, but apparently he was one of them now, so instead she turned her mind to thoughts of contacting a locksmith to change the locks, maybe invest in a pair of big, vicious dogs… but every time she reached for the phone, or her car keys, her energy would ebb, her resolve would waver, and she’d end up lying on the couch again, staring at the blank TV screen and wondering how, exactly, she was supposed to get through the next fifty years of this debilitating sadness.


“All done,” Dustin said, the cheerfulness in his voice so strained she thought he might pull something. “Groceries are put away, I washed your coffee cups, watered your plant -“


That stupid fucking cactus he’d given her, like it was supposed to ease the pain somehow. As if his pitiful offering could make her forget just how much he had taken away from her.

Her first instinct had been to shove it into the trash can, where it clearly belonged. After a moment of consideration, however, she had named it Dusty and left it in the sun to die.

Just like he had left Beau.


“And I’ve got the garbage bag tied off and a fresh one in the can. Looks like we’re good to go.”

He looked at her with that tiny flicker of hope in his eyes – his father’s eyes, Beau’s – and she wanted to scream.


“Then go.”

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And so, finally, he did.


Once he was gone, she settled onto the couch with a sigh and slipped, bit by bit, back into the numbing folds of her grief coma.

If only he wouldn’t come back.

She closed her eyes. Slipped soundless into the ether.

If only she wouldn’t, either.


Angela couldn’t quite recall why she had come downstairs.

She hadn’t even the faintest idea why, exactly, she had come into the kitchen.


She wasn’t hungry or thirsty, which left very little reason for her to be down there, and yet still she’d found herself loitering about, staring hopelessly into the refrigerator.


God, there’s so much fucking yogurt, she thought, shutting the door in disgust. How much intestinal bacteria did any one person even need?

Her father had been a glutton for it, eating as many as six containers a day.

But he was gone now (for the most part) and the yogurt should have followed suit.

Who in the fuck was still buying it?

“Angela? Is that you? Are you awake?”



After their abortive trip to the museum, her mother had more-or-less lost interest in her sudden, inexplicable quest to bond with her daughter. Angela had no complaints or objections, only a tremendous sense of relief that Mary-Sue had returned to the status quot and seemed once more content to leave her alone.

Now she could say “I tried,” and it would be true, and who could blame her for giving up when Angela was just a black hole of misery? Why be sucked in? Nobody would blame her for trying to save herself.

Absolutely nobody.


Quickly, she shuffled across the cold tile floor toward the stairs, intent on making her escape before her mother could corner her and try to talk her into watching TV or some other nonsense that would only further facilitate the overwhelming levels of awkward they currently trudged through in their daily interactions.


She’d only just made it up the first step when she faltered, the hand gripping the railing bone-white as she stood there, frozen.

Waiting. Uncertain, but then it came again, the heavy creaking at the top of the stairs. Stricken, she backtracked, propelling herself away from that particular escape route, listening for another sign, and this, too, came quickly: A kind of high-pitched shrieking squeal, ugly and cruel, like laughter.

they call it long pig

“Angela? Is that you?”

want to show you something


Footsteps on the stairs above her, okay, sure, but her mother’s voice was coming from the living room.

Her stomach curled in on itself as the heavy tread at the top of the stairs began its slow descent toward the kitchen.

What a terrible thing to be trapped.


Darlin’, you don’t know the half of it.


She wasn’t entirely sure how long she had been screaming for, or how many times her mother had slapped her.

Her face hurt plenty, both sides of it, and the back of her throat tasted raw and metallic.


Mary-Sue was rubbing her sore right beating hand with her left one. Her wedding band gleamed like a fat diamond eye wielded to her finger, and she was talking into her shoulder, where her phone was cradled. Something about “she seems okay now”, which was a good one, and “see you tomorrow”, which didn’t sound good at all.


“Angela?” Mary-Sue asked hesitantly, as if though Angela might go back into a screaming fit again at the slightest provocation. The phone had disappeared. “Are you alright?”

Angela nodded.


“You seemed like… like you were in a trance. I couldn’t wake you up.”

Angela nodded.


“I’m sorry I hit you.” Angela supposed this was probably true. Mary-Sue had never been the physical one; her attacks had always been more cerebral. She and Daniel had been quite the tag team. Undefeated in the tag team division. The twins hadn’t stood a chance against them. “I just… I just didn’t know what else to do.”

Angela nodded.

So it goes, so it goes.

I heard a song on the radio the other day.

I tried to google the lyrics, but nothing came up.

Maybe I typed something in wrong. The words have already gone all fuzzy in my head and I can’t quite remember the exact tune… but I remember that I liked it.

Anyone else hate it when that happens?


“Where are you going?”

Angela froze with her hand clutching the door handle. Ah, she’d been so close…


“Just out for a walk,” she replied. Is that okay with you?


“At this hour?” Her mother asked, sounding strangely concerned. As if though the thought her of her adult daughter going for a walk was some kind of frightening and unusual event.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have seemed so peculiar if she hadn’t spent all of her time holed up in the house, leaving the relative safety of the family bunker only because her mother and that pushy, overgrown girl scout Dina had hounded her relentlessly into joining them for a “Girls Night Out”.

Perhaps if they had spent any of the time they’d endured together talking to her instead of about her, they would have known (though it was doubtful she would have told them) that she’d been planning this for a while. A day at least.


The great escape. Down and around the block. She just wanted to see Dirk’s house, to see if he was there.


Part of her was terrified that he was, but she wasn’t talking to that part right now.


“It’s only six o’clock,” she answered, trying for reason.

Six o’clock, and the sun was still out, and the Dreamers only lived a couple streets away. Darren and his dead (still? Death didn’t abide in this town, it never had) son and his dead wife, and all she wanted was to look as she walked by. She wouldn’t even wave if he happened to be looking out of a window. She’d just keep walking, and then she’d be gone, and Darren could have his peace if he could find it.

She knew all to well how fragile happiness could be. Like a contact lense he’d lost and was fumbling for, the last thing Darren needed was someone coming along to step on it.


“I realize that, Angela,” Mary-Sue said with strained patience. That infuriating little “I Hear You, I’m Just Not Listening” voice that she had reserved just for her children, her precious little burdens. “But they set a town curfew after you and your sister went off to college. You need to be in before it gets dark, and it starts getting dark around 7.”

they’re coming, angela

Angela shook her head, tried to clear the clatter of voices that filled it.


“I will,” Angela promised, maybe lied, she wasn’t sure yet, and let herself out before the sound of the doorknob rattling in her hand could reveal how hard she was actually shaking.

It’s weird, I guess. Even by Strangetown standards.

There’s all these dead animals up and down both sides of the road.

Snakes, mostly. But sometimes rats. Coyotes. Hell, I saw a fish once.

A fucking fish, man. Out here in the desert.

Probably someone dumped it out there by the side of the road, but that still leaves the whole “why the fuck would you just dump a dead fish by the side of the road” mystery unsolved.

I guess that’s the least of it, though, when you think about all of the other dead shit lining the street.

The weirdest part is that everything is in tact. Not that I get up close and examine the corpses with a magnifying glass or anything, but from what I can see from the window as I drive by – there isn’t any tell-tale flattening or tears or meaty smears on the asphalt.

I mean, like, they don’t appear to have been run over or shot or whatever.

Just dead.


His shift had ended, but since he had no friends and no family willing to claim him, Dustin decided to just wander for a while.

He wished his mom would talk to him, allow him to explain the circumstances surrounding Beau’s death.

His violent fucking murder, you mean?

Yeah, that.


He hadn’t meant for it to happen, but he was pretty sure even Brandi knew that, accepted it somewhere deep down inside. It just didn’t change anything for her.


Beau was still dead.


Brandi had still given birth to a baby with cold blue eyes to match its cold blue skin.


She had still lain there on that thin hospital bed, empty wombed and broken-hearted, sedated into a stupor she would never rise from.

She had been planning on naming him Skip, just as they’d discussed when Skip was still alive, and she hadn’t deviated from that path.


If he had a mind to, and sometimes he did, Dustin would find his way downtown to Gothier Green Lawns

where the dead live

and visit the members of his family that didn’t hate him (so he hoped).


There, at the back of the cemetery, he would kneel before that unhappy little row, where there was room for at least one more if Brandi would allow it, where peace was just two Skips and an empty coffin away.


He still had his service pistol holstered on his belt. Just thinking about it filled his mouth with a dark, metallic taste that he’d come to crave the way some people craved things like chocolate or alcohol, and his fingers began to itch for the weight of it.

Would that make her happy?

Maybe, and maybe “maybe” would have been good enough under any other circumstances, but the problem was this: There was only room for one more.


Brandi wasn’t coming back and he knew that. He brought her groceries, he checked on her, he stayed trapped in the hellmouth of Pleasantview to be close to her, and he loved her as mindlessly and devotedly as he had the first time she’d held him in her arms at the hospital, but he wasn’t stupid.

His mother was going to leave him, and he wasn’t going to stop her if that was what she wanted. He loved her too much to watch her limp through the rest of her natural life, unable or maybe just unwilling to heal from the various blows she’d been dealt.

He had taken enough away from her without robbing her of this.


That spot at the end of the row belonged to her.


So instead he walked the empty streets of Pleasantview, looking for stragglers who might need a gentle reminder of the definition of “curfew”. He rarely found any, most people were all too happy to barricade themselves inside, pulling the curtains back an inch or two to peer at him from behind the glass.

It wasn’t what he’d become a cop for, but the reason he’d taken that particular oath had long since ceased to matter.

He had failed Beau. It was unforgivable. It hurt almost as much as his mother’s rejection, her deep, unsalvable hatred.

He deserved this purgatory.


He continued to wander the slowly darkening town.


Angela didn’t wear a watch, or own a smartphone, anymore. Nobody called her, she had no one to text, no emails to check, no social media to update.

As such, she had no idea what time it was.


But it was getting dark out. Her mother had said something about being in before dark, but she didn’t want to go home yet.

She continued to wander the empty, silent town, dark enough now that the street lamps had begun to flicker to life above her.


At first he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him.

The red hair, the baggy clothing, the slumped shoulders and shuffling walk — all things he recognized from high school, watching her storm from her locker to class and back to her locker. God knows he should have been an expert on the subject; she was the only thing he bothered to study during those four long years at Pleasantview High.

But there was something off about her, too, something he couldn’t quite pin-point.


Not that it mattered a lick to him as he raised his hand and waved to her, all thoughts of town curfews and can’t-be’s immediately forgotten in his excitement to finally see a friendly face.

“Hey! You’re back!” He called, jogging to catch up with her. “Hey, wait up!”


“Dustin?” She stopped walking, and looked up from the sidewalk. Squinted at him, disbelieving. As if though she’d forgotten about him completely.

Brandi would be so envious.


Dustin laughed, awkwardly, suddenly feeling shy and goofy, like he always did around her. “You always did know how to make a guy feel special, Lilith.”


The mild, curious confusion drained from Angela’s face, leaving behind a milky, shocked residue. “What did you just call me?”


3 thoughts on “Emperor of the Dark, Chapter 7: Noise

    1. lmao, I basically just sigh piteously at them all, too. They’re all just miserable and have no idea how to fix their own sorry lives. At least Angela is finally doing something other than skulking around the house terrorizing herself. She’s in for a few big surprises now that she’s reunited with Dustin, and “Oh, Dustin” pretty much sums up his entire sad ass arc.

      PS. Thank you for commenting. ❤

  1. While I am still confused over this story, I absolutely love the dark surreal quality if your pictures and your writing. I think your prose is really well done with well chosen words, man poor Brandi and Dustin! I almost never read or play Pleasantview, but you’ve made it dark and interesting. But I’m especially interested about strangetown, particularly nervous and Bella and Jenny and Ophelia and what’s going on at the hospital and with curfew. Very unique take on these characters, and that last line, great chapter ending. I also love the line when nervous says someone’s playing the piano in one of the previous chapters. This is just so creepy and the story is unfolding and connecting well but I hope you continue so I’m not left here confused about the big plot! 🙂 I want to know! I’m still attached to sims 2 after 8 years.

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