Chapter no 4

The Cabin at the End of the World

After Sabrina takes the remote and finally changes the channel from the coverage of the devastating northern Pacific earthquake and tsunami to the Cartoon Network, Andrew suggests Wen sit with Eric. He says it’s because Eric needs some Wen-time right now, which is true, but Andrew also wants to be left alone to work at the restraints without her leaning on or otherwise drawing attention to him.

Wen watches Adventure Time while sitting cross-legged on top of Eric’s feet. In this episode Lumpy Space Princess argues with her parents and screams about a spilled can of beans. Adventure Time will later become other cartoons, some Andrew and Eric have seen before and some they haven’t.

During a commercial, Leonard says to them, “You will be given the same choice again. This choice is a gift. Not all gifts are easy to accept. The most important gifts are often the ones we wish with all our hearts to refuse. Tomorrow morning you can make the difficult, selfless choice of sacrifice and save the world. Or you can again choose for the clock to move another minute closer to permanent midnight like it did this afternoon. For the rest of today and tonight, we’ll tend to your needs within reason, and we’ll otherwise leave you be, let you reflect and talk it over with each other.” He repeats this, without pause. The retelling matches word for word, inflection for inflection.

Further shaken by the horrific and uncannily prophesied images broadcast on the news, and their sounds-the immutable roar of the surging ocean, the screams crackling through the speakers, tin-canned and somehow more authentic because their volume and desperation could not be reproduced digitally without modulation-and with the last of the fading afternoon’s sunlight forcing his eyes closed, Eric again worries at the memory of the figure in light he did or didn’t see.

Andrew says, “We don’t need to wait until tomorrow morning and we’re never going to change our minds.”

Leonard retreats into the kitchen. He opens the refrigerator and cabinets. He asks if anyone is hungry. No one answers. He says, “I’m going to grill up the chicken in a little bit. We all need to eat. You have to eat. No one makes good decisions when they are hungry.”

Sabrina asks if anyone has seen a mop and/or floor cleaner. She roots around under the kitchen sink and emerges with a plastic bottle of amber liquid. She soon finds a yellow bucket and a large green sponge in the cellar. She scrubs the bloodstained floor with mixed results.

Adriane stacks the three homemade weapons next to the woodburning stove. She spends more than an hour cleaning them with warm water, a dab of dishwashing detergent, and hand towels. After, she rescues the kitchen table from the edge of the basement stairs and puts it back in its old spot. One of the legs is bent and loose, making the table wobbly. She jams the book Eric was reading-the one about a kid going missing-under the leg for stability. It’s not the right size. She tries again with Andrew’s book of critical essays and it’s a better fit.

Andrew and Eric remain tied to their chairs throughout the afternoon and into early evening. The only constants are the cartoons and the flurry of cabin cleaning and kitchen prep. They do not speak other than to check in with Wen: “Are you hungry? Are you okay? Do you need to go to the bathroom? Do you want to nap? Take a break from watching TV? You just tell us, okay? We love you.” They mostly retreat inside their heads; panic and their varying discomforts from injuries and the physical trial of a constant sitting position within restraints interrupt their inner dialogues, their increasingly hopeless plans and fantasies of escape.

The sun sinks into the forest beyond the front door of the west-facing cabin. The gaudy glow of the television screen is the only source of light until the three others turn on the lamps and light fixtures. The wagon wheel bulbs above their heads are tinted yellow with age. Cobwebs link the bulbs and the spokes of the wooden frame.

The weaker artificial light is trapped inside the cabin. It quickly grows too dark outside to see Redmond from within the glow of the common room. The color and the topography of the blanket cover for his body are not visible and there’s only a vague sense of something there, dumbly occupying space on the deck. It’s as though he isn’t there at all, like a decaying cultural memory of a deep, dark historical past (a something that happened to someone else; those someone elses are always so hapless, aren’t they?), one we actively wish to forget even as we claim to acknowledge the danger of forgetting.

Leonard announces he is going to turn on the grill and cook the chicken. He says it like he’s reading the first steps of the how-to manual for the bizarre evening ahead. He walks over to Wen and gently plucks her from Eric’s feet. She does not resist. Andrew and Eric shout and tell Leonard to leave her alone, to not touch her, responses as automatic as they are feckless. Leonard says she will be fine and she is just going to sit with him on the couch while her dads use the bathroom to wash up for dinner. Then he asks Wen if them going to the bathroom is a good idea, and shouldn’t everyone wash their hands before they eat? She is adrift on Leonard’s lap, positioned like a ventriloquist’s dummy. She squirms and slouches, obviously trying to slide off his lap. He readjusts her. He tells Andrew and Eric that they will not try anything stupid while their legs are untied. He says, “We’ve reached a critical point, the point of no return, and you must cooperate.” It’s less what he says but how he says it. Adriane retrieves the dual-ended weapon, the largest one, the one that cratered Redmond’s chest, and leans it against the couch next to Leonard and Wen.

Sabrina and Adriane untie Andrew’s legs first. Andrew makes a joke about needing more than his feet to go to the bathroom. Sabrina says she will help and, “I’m a nurse and I’ve seen it all.” Standing up from the chair is difficult and his nearly forty-year-old legs are practically numb; a painful rush of pins and needles swarms his lower extremities. Eric has the same experience when he first stands, and he has to move slower as the act of standing fuzzes his head with light and heat. Both men, their hands tied behind their backs, have a turn at shuffling feebly into the bathroom. The door remains open with Adriane standing in the doorway as a guard. They are positioned in front of the toilet and suffer the indignity of Sabrina loosening their shorts and underwear to allow them to urinate.

Leonard keeps a one-sided dialogue going about him and Wen having a nice visit together on the couch. He asks her questions. He pretends she answers him to continue the conversation.

Both men, at certain points during their odyssey to and from the bathroom, consider running and/or bashing themselves into Sabrina and/or kicking Adriane. Both men decide this isn’t the time, not while the others are at their most vigilant. They do not want to believe Leonard would hurt Wen despite his clearly being more than capable of extreme violence. They rationalize an escape attempt will make more sense the next time they are allowed to use the bathroom. Having coordinated this successful, uneventful maiden trip, the three others can’t help but slacken their guard just a little bit the next time, or the time after that.

After they are returned and retied to their chairs, they notice the ropes wound around their hands and wrists have slackened, or perhaps that’s wishful thinking. No, their bodies’ change of position and leverage, their movement, their walking across the cabin and reshaping themselves into the tighter space of the bathroom alongside Sabrina has to have loosened the ropes. They can feel it.

Leonard clumsily washes and preps the boneless chicken breasts before Adriane takes over. She forgoes the deck floodlighting (insisting she doesn’t need it, yelling at Leonard until he shuts the exterior lights off) and works in the near total dark. She says the grill sucks and she can’t be judged by what such an inferior product produces. The smell is simply exquisite, and Sabrina says so with a smile on her face as she prepares a large bowl of garden salad. Leonard sets the kitchen table: four plates, four forks, and four plastic cups. Adriane ducks through the broken sliders with a platter of steaming, grilled meat, warning the room with, “Watch out. Hot stuff,” and she barks at Leonard to shut the screen door behind her before they let in every moth and mosquito in New Hampshire. There is already a gaggle of winged insects swarming the wagon wheel light fixture, their bodies relentlessly pinging against the bulbs. Eric spies two thick, black flies (wondering if they are the same ones he saw earlier) and when they smack into a bulb, Eric is convinced the wagon wheel sways with the impact. Their buzzing is a low hum, like a chant.

Leonard takes Wen’s hand, and with a small, gentle tug, she stands and follows him to the kitchen table. She sits on the far side, next to Leonard and facing her parents. Sabrina made her a cup of chocolate milk with chocolate kisses she melted in the microwave. On Wen’s plate are a small pile of bite-sized pieces of chicken and a minisalad composed of lettuce, two cherry tomatoes, and three cucumber wheels. Wen holds one cucumber slice up and looks at Andrew and Eric. The rind was peeled off, the way she likes it.

Andrew says, “Go ahead. You can eat.”

She eats everything on her plate, grim and determined to complete the task. She will later leave the table with a faint chocolate milk mustache coloring her lip.

The three others are seated at the table. Leonard and Sabrina praise Adriane for how moist the chicken is. Single-word delicious declaratives and I didn’t think I was hungry are passed around the table along with the pepper, BBQ sauce, and raspberry balsamic dressing. Busy knives and forks clink and scrape on the plates.

Andrew seethes, boiling with incredulity and despair. How can the others simply engage in go-through-the-dinner-motions as though nothing is wrong? How do they so easily ignore the horror of what has happened and the expanding horror of what is happening and what will happen?

Adriane mumbles about how a beer would hit the spot and then laughs. No one else laughs with her.

Andrew says, “Hey, go ahead, help yourselves to the twelve-pack in the bottom drawer of the fridge. Make sure to recycle after.”

Adriane says, “Really?” and looks at Sabrina and Leonard for a reaction. “Nah, that’s all right.” She raises her glass of water. “Maybe some other time.” She takes a big sip and wipes her face with both hands.

Eric notices that none of the others said grace or a prayer before the meal. He anticipated and hoped they would. If they said grace he might’ve learned about what god they believe is the source of their visions and is ultimately the motivation behind them being here. Maybe Eric would’ve been able to use that information to better engage them in a conversation about their faith and possibly persuade them into letting his family go. He was so sure that grace was going to happen, Eric thinks he might’ve zoned out and missed it, or the prayer happened and he witnessed it and promptly forgot it because of his concussion. That he hasn’t even spied one of the others performing a quick, furtive sign of the cross, doesn’t make sense to him.

After they finish eating, Leonard asks Wen to help with dinner for her dads. He says it’s a superimportant job. “I don’t think they’ll eat without you.”

Wen wordlessly agrees to help. She stands in front of Eric with a fork in her hand. Leonard carries over a plate of cut-up chicken and a leaf-pile of salad. Sabrina patiently details a set of instructions for all to follow. Wen spears a piece of chicken on a plastic fork and holds it in front of Eric’s face. He opens his mouth only wide enough to let the chicken pass through. It’s lukewarm. He doesn’t linger, doesn’t allow himself the luxury of taste, and chews and swallows quickly. Wen doesn’t talk, doesn’t ask if he wants chicken again next or a cherry tomato. She doesn’t look at his eyes, only his mouth. She doesn’t stop feeding him until Eric says, “That’s enough for me, sweetie. Thank you.” She puts the fork on the plate and then holds up a cup of water.

Andrew wants to tell the others to fuck off, that he doesn’t want anything from them. He imagines accepting the first bite and spitting it into one of their faces. But when his daughter stands in front of him, so intently doing her job, he loses his resolve and eats everything that is offered.

Postdinner there’s cleanup and more cartoons on the television. Sabrina plays game after game of solitaire at the kitchen table. Adriane disinterestedly flips through the book Eric brought and goes out onto the front stoop to smoke cigarettes. She asks if anyone has a jigsaw puzzle. She says that’s what her mom always used to do when they went on vacation.

Leonard asks Wen questions about what she’s watching. If it’s a yes or no question, she answers (“Do you like this show?” Yes “Have you seen this one before?” No). Any question inviting a more detailed response yields a shrug or a thousand-yard stare.

Eric is exhausted and has a difficult time keeping his eyes open. He attempts to get the others talking about the visions (avoiding explicit references to God and the Bible because of his own growing unease), the why of the apocalyptic choice, the why of the whole thing, but none of them bite. Sabrina says, “We’ll talk about it tomorrow after you and your family have slept on it.”

Andrew tries a different tact, periodically asking to be untied, successive requests becoming more elaborate and ridiculous: “How about you untie me so I can fix the kitchen table leg? I notice the playing cards sliding off the edge there, and really, the table shouldn’t be propped up on magical realists. You know, there’s a lumberyard not too far away and I can go pick up some wood, whittle it into a new leg in no time. I guess I’d have to stop somewhere and get some white paint, but that’s not a big deal. I don’t mind. I’d already be out.” Andrew figures if they take him less seriously because of his barrage of increasingly untenable requests, all the better for when he makes the serious attempt at breaking free, and then to the SUV and his gun.

Leonard announces, “It’s getting late. We could all use the rest. And we’ll be up with the sun.” He gathers the towels and curtain off the floor. Then the three others drag the mattresses out of the bedrooms. There’s enough space for the queen-size to be sandwiched between two singles from the bunk beds. With the television turned off and Wen already changed into pajamas and having washed up and brushed her teeth, Andrew and Eric are again taken to the bathroom separately. Wen sits with Leonard on the couch next to the sledgehammer weapon.

Adriane repositions Andrew’s and Eric’s chairs to either side of the front door. Their shoulders brush against the wall as their arms are slipped behind the chair backs. Sabrina and Adriane tie the men’s legs to the chair legs and Sabrina apologizes, saying they can’t trust that the two of them will sleep on the mattresses and remain tied. She says they’ll try to make sleeping while sitting up as comfortable as possible.

It’s going to be a cold night in the cabin. The temperature has already dropped into the high fifties. Adriane builds a fire in the woodburning stove but the heat rapidly dissipates through the porous screen slider. Thin blankets are pulled over Andrew’s and Eric’s chests and tucked between their shoulders and the wall, pillows stuffed behind their heads and necks.

Andrew doesn’t say anything and is confident he’ll be able to break free from the ropes after the others are asleep. Eric is spent and the warm, soft pillow enveloping his head is a potent soporific. He’s in a half-awake, halfasleep state before the lights are turned out.

Andrew and Eric are allowed a good-night kiss with Wen. They smile and repeatedly say her name with every known inflection, attempting to let her know they will still protect her and keep her safe despite all evidence to the contrary. They tell her she is brave and doing so well and they love her more than anything in the world. She has seen so much and heard so much and done so much; they do not dare imagine reliving the events of this day through the prism of Wen. She is nonresponsive, an automaton following a basic program of breathing, blinks, and sluggish limb movements. Wen is funneled to the queen-sized mattress without struggle or fuss. She lies down, burrowing into the blankets, taking up as little space as possible, adrift on the sea of foam. Leonard proffers her stuffed-animal pig (Corey, her favorite) and she pulls it into her chest with all the enthusiasm of a student accepting a math test from her teacher.

Sabrina and Adriane crawl onto the smaller bunk mattresses. Leonard stretches out on the couch.

No one moves or adjusts their resting positions for hours, seemingly. Andrew remains awake and quietly struggles to loosen the ropes on his hands and wrists, which have gone numb from being pinned behind his back for so long. It’s cold, still, and quiet in the cabin but for the occasional crackle and hiss from the woodburning stove. The bathroom light is the only light on and the door is shut so there is only a weak yellow glow tracing its outline. Outside, a cloudless night sky and a bright crescent moon lord over the lake. Andrew can now see Redmond’s covered body on the deck just fine. He can’t help but wonder if he stays up all night will he see a wild animal (are there any other kind?) crawl up the deck stairs and investigate what’s underneath the blanket.

Unable to make any progress with the ropes, he whispers, “Eric. Hey, are you awake? Eric? Hey-“

Adriane says, “There are people trying to sleep.”

“Keep trying, and you fuckers aren’t people. I’m going to talk to my husband,” Andrew says in a stern talking voice that might as well be a shout in the nocturnal silence and calm.

Eric says, “I’m awake now.”

Eric and Andrew share a rapid-fire whispered conversation. Eric is murky with sleep and doubt. Andrew is manic and self-aware that his desperation is apparent, as audible as a creaking door in an empty house.

“Are you okay, Eric? Are you feeling any better?”

“Yeah, a little better, I think. My brain doesn’t feel three sizes too small for my skull anymore. Maybe one size.”

“I know you’re not feeling great, and I wanted to make sure you noticed the first earthquake, the one up near Alaska, happened four hours before they turned on the TV.”

“Was it that long?”

“Yes, that’s what they said on the news. Remember? Hawaii had all that lead time to evacuate. Remember the empty resort?”

“Okay, I guess, yeah, that sounds right.”

“It is right. Trust me on that. And did you see how often Leonard checked his watch?”

“Maybe. I can’t really remember. I think so.”

“He checked it like one thousand times. I saw some of the others checking the time, too. Which means the time was important to them. They didn’t start any of it until the time was right. Leonard even said something about the time being right. He did. He definitely did.”

“Yeah, okay, I think I remember that. You know they can hear us even though we’re whispering, right?”

Sabrina says, “Yeah, um, we can hear you and-“

“I know and I don’t care. I’m not talking to any of you. So, they knew about the first earthquake and Hawaii tsunami before they came out to the cabin. Think about it. They didn’t get any visions or prophecies; they knew about the Alaska quake and of the imminent tsunami before they got here.

They had that shit in their pockets with them when they came out here.”

“Sure. Makes sense. Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I know you and I don’t want you to be-to be spooked by them lying about getting visions and predicting the earthquake and the apocalypse.”

Leonard says, “That’s enough, guys. Please-“

Andrew and Eric continue as though no one else is speaking, no one else is there.

“You really think I believe them?”

“No. I don’t know. I just wanted to make sure, with your bad fall and everything, that you could see what they were doing, how they targeted us and how they’re trying to break us down and manipulate us. How they knew about the earthquake before they came to the cabin, and how that second earthquake was just a coincidence, set off by the first one, right? And how all the Goonies bullshit was bullshit. And you saw how they reacted when the second earthquake hit, like they won the fucking lottery and-“

“Oh my God, you do think I might believe them. Are you serious with this?”

There’s a hesitation, an empty space filled with silent words. “No, I don’t think that. I’m sorry, don’t get mad. I’m not trying to make you mad. Please, I’m sorry. I’m just scared, and I wanted to make sure that, you know . . .”

“Yeah, I know. Don’t worry about me. I don’t believe them.”

“I know you don’t. I know you don’t.”

“I don’t.”

Sabrina says, “That’s enough. Please. We all need to sleep.”

“Hey, Eric?”

“Still here.”

“I’m sorry, and I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

There’s another beat of silence that both men want to fill but don’t know how they possibly could. Then Andrew says, “Hey, can you guys untie me? I want to keep the fire in the stove going all night. Don’t worry, I won’t fall asleep on the job. I promise. And I’ll go outside and gather more wood-“

Adriane says, “Shut up or we’ll shut you up. Put, like, gags over your mouth or something.”

Leonard says, “Easy, Adriane. It’s okay. Everyone is good, everyone is fine. We can all go back to sleep now.” Leonard prattles on in a low voice and Sabrina joins in with empty we-won’t-hurt-you avowals.

Eric is stung by Andrew thinking that he might, even in the smallest of ways, believe the others are telling some version of the truth. It stings because Andrew would be more than a little correct in thinking that. Eric’s fear gives way temporarily to shame and anger, and it leaks out as he says, “If any of you attempt to put something over my mouth, I’ll bite your fingers off.” Then he silently prays for God to help them.


In Wen’s bedroom back home there’s a night-light plugged into the wall across from her bed. It has a simple white bulb that isn’t shaped like a cartoon character or a comic book hero or an animal or the moon or anything in particular. She likes it that way; she doesn’t want any funny shapes because funny shapes make scary shadows. In addition to the nightlight, she insists the hallway light stay on as well, and the bathroom light, too, with the door open. Her parents have tried to wean her off sleeping with lights on, explaining her still-growing brain needs the dark for proper rest. Wen once told them she doesn’t want her brain growing too fast for her head, anyway. Sometimes, after she falls asleep, one of her parents shuts off the bathroom light, the hall light, or (gasp!) both. She thinks it must be Daddy Eric because he always complains about her and Daddy Andrew leaving lights on everywhere in the condo, wasting electricity, but she has yet to catch him in the act. Shutting off the bathroom light is a grievous betrayal and it once angered her enough to announce at the breakfast table that she will have a terrible day. When her parents asked why, she dramatically pouted and said, “You know why,” and then couldn’t hide her snarky smirk in the brightness of the kitchen.

Wen is sitting up on the mattress without the memory of waking. She looks around, moving only her eyes at first; she doesn’t move her head until she’s convinced everyone else is asleep. It’s dark, but less dark than it should be with almost no lights on in the cabin. The bathroom light doesn’t count as being on because the door is shut.

She wonders if anything happened while she was asleep. She wonders if it’s possible she slept through an entire day and it’s now the next night instead of the same one.

Wen slips out of her blankets and crawls to the edge of the mattress. If this were another evening under different circumstances, she would jump mattress to mattress, pretending they were rafts in a vast, cold sea, or the mattresses were rocks stubbornly maintaining their lifesaving heft and shape within a bubbling lava flow. Instead, she’s careful to not disturb Sabrina (she sleeps on her back with her arms over her head, dangling off the mattress, her mouth open slightly) and Adriane (she sleeps rolled up into a ball, like she’s hiding because she’s mad at everyone in the room; only the top half of her head sticks out from under her blanket, exposed to the cool night air).

To her left are the screen slider and deck. The blanket covering Redmond ripples in a breeze like it’s considering a transformation into a wing and flying away. She wonders what Redmond looks like now. Is he all broken and mashed up, squished like a stepped-on caterpillar, or does he look the same as he did before but like he is sleeping? She’s never seen a dead body before. She has asked adults what a dead body looks like and the only one who somewhat answered her was Daddy Andrew. He told her a dead body looked like the person but not like them at the same time because there was something missing. She joked, “Like a nose or an ear?” and he laughed. Wen never felt more proud of herself as when she made one of her dads laugh. She asked him to explain what he meant, and Daddy Andrew pretended (she knew he was pretending and she hated when he did this to her) with loud hmms, a finger tapping his lips, chin rubs, and other I-don’treally-want-to-answer-this stalling tactics. She thought he was never going to explain further, but she played it smart. She didn’t press, didn’t whine, didn’t demand. She waited him out. She waited until he shrank down a little under her stare, and he smiled the you-win smile. He said that the dead bodies he saw reminded him of slightly deflated birthday balloons, ones that hung around limply a day or two after the party. She didn’t like the answer and wanted to ask him more, but he said, “Don’t tell Eric we were talking about dead bodies, all right?”

Wen doesn’t think Redmond would look like a balloon. Even though she didn’t see any of it, she knows they hit him repeatedly with the weapons, and she did see all the blood after and she could smell it. She heard him screaming. She heard it all and she can hear it now if she lets herself, those awful, hollow thumps and the final, wet crack that shook the floor and her legs. But what if it sounded worse than it was and he just got hurt badly and was knocked out like Daddy Eric? What if Redmond is alive and he wakes up? What if he’s awake now and waiting for someone to come outside, or he’s waiting for her to make a run for it and he’ll reach out and grab her and pull her underneath the blanket and she’ll be stuck there with him forever?

She whispers, “No,” to make herself look away from the deck and Redmond. She crawls on all fours to the end table pushed up against the wall next to the bathroom. The yellow lamp looks black, like it’s its own shadow. She reaches up and tries to turn it on. Two, three clicks of the spinning switch, and it doesn’t work.

“Hey, Wen.” It’s Leonard. “What’s up?”

He sounds like he’s right behind her, and his shadow is heavier than a lead blanket, the kind they put over her chest for when she had x-rays, and she freezes with her hand on the lamp, willing herself to fade into the darkness of the night room.

Leonard is not right behind her. He sits up on the couch. The springs groan under his weight. He asks, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?” Wen shakes her head.

He says, “It’s okay.”

Nothing is okay. She knows this. Wen shouldn’t say anything to him; she knows this, too, but she can’t help it. She whispers, “I want a light. I always go to sleep with a light on.”

He says, “Come back to bed, and I’ll tell you why we didn’t leave one on for you.”

There’s an echo inside of her, coming from far enough away that the speaker cannot be identified. It might be her voice, it might be one or both of her dads, or a mix, or someone else entirely. This voice repeats what Daddy Andrew said to her earlier. The voice tells her to run, to go onto the deck and never mind about Redmond because he’s not getting up ever again. Run now. Go outside and run and hide. Don’t be afraid of the dark out there. Be afraid of what’s happening inside and what will happen inside.

It says, This is your only chance now now now now.

She can’t, and in her head, she tells the voice she’s sorry.

Wen stands up, moving like a sunrise. She considers sitting with one of her dads but they are both asleep, their heads slumped forward. She walks the short distance back to her mattress and disappears under the blankets, remaining with her head covered. Her pillow is cold against her face.

Leonard says, “We didn’t leave any lights on because it’s better for Eric’s head. He needs sleep and he needs it dark for his head to get better.”

Why do adults keep telling her that dark makes heads better? She thinks they’re lying and that they lie way more than any kid ever does. Wen flips over and faces Leonard. He has his blanket pulled up to his chin so he’s only a big head. She says, “How do you know?”

“Sabrina told me and she’s a nurse. The light hurts his head so after he sleeps in the dark he’ll feel much better in the morning.”

“He will?”

“Yes, I promise.”

Another lie, but it’s one she wants to believe.

She says, “Then you’ll make us choose again.”

“I won’t make you, but I will ask. I have to.”

“Please don’t.”

“I’m sorry. But I have to.”

“I can’t be friends with you.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. I have no choice.”

“Who is making you?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who is making you do this to us?”

“God.” Leonard says the one-syllable word sheepishly and he has a strange look on his face. Speaking the word aloud brings him both great relief and terror.

There’s a boy at Wen’s school who talked about God all the time and insisted that his god was a he. That boy was annoying and Wen avoided playing with him whenever she could. Daddy Andrew makes it a point to tell her about all kinds of religions and gods from around the world. There are so many it’s confusing, but she enjoys listening to the different stories even if some of them frighten her. She knows that Daddy Eric believes in a god and that he even goes to church by himself sometimes on Sunday mornings. He doesn’t invite Wen or Daddy Andrew to go with him and he doesn’t seem to like to talk about his god or religion so she doesn’t ever ask him. It’s almost like it’s this secret Daddy Eric keeps under his bed instead of the old pictures. Wen isn’t sure what she believes in and sometimes that fills her with anxiety and a desire to simply choose a random religion like someone might choose to become a fan of a sports team because of the mascot or the color of the uniform.

She says, “I don’t believe you. Why do you keep lying to me?”

“It’s the truth.”

“I think you’re wrong.”

“I wish I was. I wish more than anything.”

“Why would God make you do this?”

Leonard sighs and shifts around under his blanket. “I’m not sure. I’m not. That’s the truth, Wen. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about, but I can’t do anything to change it, if that makes sense.”

Wen blinks, and sudden and surprising tears fall from her eyes. She says, “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t think it’s supposed to. We’re not supposed to make sense of it.

We’re just supposed to do.”

“Your god is a killer then.”

“Wen, no. It’s not like-“

“And if we don’t choose, then something else bad is going to happen, like another terrible earthquake?”

“Not another earthquake, but yes, something very bad.”

“And a lot of people will die?”

“People will die.”

“I don’t believe you and I wish you would stop making this all up.”

“I can promise you one thing, Wen.”


“Your parents won’t ever choose to sacrifice you. I know they won’t and I wouldn’t let them do anything to you. I would stop them. I would protect you if I had to. That’s my promise. You shouldn’t be worried about that.”

“Sacrifice means die, right?”

“Yes, but one of your dads will be saving the rest of the world, Wen. Think about how many people out there-“

“I don’t want any of us to die. Ever.” Wen sinks back under the blanket, covering her head. Leonard whispers her name, trying to coax her back out. She can’t help but imagine her dads as saggy balloons stuck in this cabin and never able to float away.

She makes a deal with this killer-god of Leonard’s, a god she doesn’t believe is real but is very much frightened of. She has this image of his god as all the black empty space between stars when you look up at the night sky, and this god of collected blankness is big enough to swallow the moon, the earth, the sun, the Milky Way, and big enough it couldn’t possibly care about anyone or anything. Still, she asks this god if she and her parents can please leave the cabin, can they please go home and be safe, and if it lets them, she promises she won’t ever complain about sleeping in the dark with the lights off ever again.


In the morning the others scurry around the kitchen making placemats out of paper towels and setting glasses and mugs on the table. They are purposeful, determined, and clearly anxious. The surreal, relaxed-familyon-vacation vibe from last night’s dinner is gone. If one of them was to accidentally brush up against the other, there’d be a bright and loud staticelectric spark, which would then set off an explosion.

Sabrina asks them all twice if they want coffee and how much. She obsessively glances out the small window above the sink to the deck, from which wafts a putrid, tangy, many-days-old garbage smell.

Leonard checks his watch, claps his hands together, and says, “Okay,” to himself.

Adriane stacks buttered, browned toast onto a plate and she shoos and mutters at the stubborn gaggle of flies buzzing the food, “Get out. Get the fuck out.”

Wen sits at the kitchen table with the others but doesn’t speak to anyone. She looks down into her lap and her hands are clenched into fists, her thumbs cocooned inside.

Andrew tells her it’s all right to eat. Wen doesn’t eat or drink anything, even when offered chocolate milk. Andrew tells her if she doesn’t feel like eating right now that’s okay, too. Eric adds, “Whatever you want to do,” which, given their current circumstances, is an unintentionally cruel thing to say.

Wen deflates and sags into the kitchen chair so only the top of her head is visible above the table. Andrew and Eric loudly refuse offers of toast and water in solidarity.

Eric’s head doesn’t hurt like it did the day before, though he is far from fully recovered from his concussion. His head is an overstuffed washing machine, wobbling off its track in the spin cycle. The room is too brightly lit when it isn’t bright for anyone else. His throat is dry and he regrets not drinking water when offered. He’s exhausted and struggles to remain awake even as the rest of his body screams and begs to be released from the prison of its sitting position. His arms and legs ache although the restraints have perceptibly slackened over the long night. He’s now able to pull his hands apart so they are no longer touching and he can stretch his lower legs a centimeter or two away from the chair; small but significant progress. He wonders if the ropes around Andrew have loosened as well.

After the hurried breakfast, Sabrina checks Eric’s dressing and wound. She says it doesn’t look great and perhaps could’ve used a few stitches after all, but it isn’t infected. The others carry the blankets and mattresses out of the common room. They move quickly and efficiently, stagehands making short work of a scene change. Leonard drags Andrew, still tied to the chair, away from the front door and into the center of the room. The wooden chair legs scrape and screech across the floor, as percussive as a passing tractor trailer on a highway, leaving gouged parallel lines in the wood.

When Leonard comes for Eric and his chair, Eric says, “No, please, dragging me like that will not be good for my head. I’m feeling better but not that much better. Untie my legs and I’ll walk. I promise I’ll be good.” Eric is an inept liar and always has been.

Leonard towers above, as large and solemn as an Easter Island statue. He says, “Sorry, not yet.” He retucks his white shirt into his jeans, then bends and reaches for the chair’s armrests.

“Hey, let’s pick him up, carry him instead. We can help you. We need him to be thinking clearly, more clearly than he was thinking yesterday, right?” Sabrina jogs over and stands next to Eric and his chair. Adriane comes over, too.

Leonard says, “We don’t have much time,” but he acquiesces after a brief negotiation. The three of them lift Eric and his chair a few inches off the ground. He wobbles and pitches as they readjust, overcorrect, and shuffle-carry him. Eric considers twisting or leaning all his weight to one side so they might drop him for no strategic reason other than he can for the moment control what will happen to him. They set him down with Andrew to his right, the same area of the room in which he was moored yesterday. Having been returned to this spot is more than a little demoralizing, and it’s as though Eric’s dizziness and low-grade nausea is the result of time travel.

Wen is on the couch. Eric didn’t witness her relocation from the kitchen table. Did she walk there on her own or was she carried, too? A blanket is pulled over her legs. Andrew is trying to get her attention and asks if she is cold, if she’s all right, if she wants to sit with him or Eric. She doesn’t answer and stares ahead blankly as though witnessing the horror awaiting their near futures.

The others pace around the room, searching for something they forgot to prepare properly. They circle like carrion birds, squawking and muttering. Each asks the others how they feel and if they’re ready. One of them says, “I can’t believe we have to go through this again,” and another one says, “I know,” and another, “This is so hard,” and another, “I don’t know if I can,” and another, “You can,” and another, “We can and we must,” and another, “This isn’t like a bad dream but I wish it was,” and another, “It’s real, the realest thing I’ve ever done,” and another, “Let’s just get it over with,” and another, “We have to do it right,” and another, “We owe it to them,” and another, “Give them a chance to save us all.”

Their positioning within the room shifts on some unseen, unheard cue. Adriane steps up between Eric and Andrew. Leonard and Sabrina retreat into the background.

Leonard says, “I didn’t do a very good job of, um, presenting the choice, yesterday.” Leonard looks at his watch and then looks everywhere else in the room but at Wen. “You’ll be great, Adriane. I know it.”

Adriane rolls her eyes and says, “Gee, thanks, boss. So, yeah, here we are again.”

Leonard and Sabrina gather the same weaponized wooden staffs they used the day before. They are held with purpose, with the confidence of already having been wielded properly and successfully.

Adriane is empty-handed. Propped against the woodburning stove, her cleaned weapon is a rustic decoration, something from an alternate bygone era, impractical as it is improbable.

Adriane says, “We”-she pauses to look over her shoulder at Sabrina, who nods encouragement-“are here to present you with the same choice you had yesterday.”

Eric says, “Look, we’re powerless here. It’s you three that have a choice, and a chance to do the right thing and let us go. You know letting us go is the right thing to do. You all seem like nice people who honestly don’t want to be doing what you’re doing. And the good news is you do not have to do this, any of this.” Eric feels more in control, feels more like himself, and the nagging echo of the vision of the figure in light he saw yesterday is more easily dismissed as a hallucination, or perhaps a visual symptom of an acute ocular migraine, something that he has suffered in the past.

Adriane twitches and rubs her arms, clearly uncomfortable speaking for the group. “No, we do have to. We don’t have a choice. Not like you. Even if we wanted to let you go, we can’t. It wouldn’t fly, man. We wouldn’t be allowed to.”

Eric focuses on Adriane’s fidgeting, empty hands, and with her weapon across the room, it occurs to him that she is next. He almost says aloud you will be next. If he, Andrew, and Wen again choose not to sacrifice any one of themselves, then the other two will kill Adriane ritualistically with their weapons like they killed Redmond yesterday. Does he have it correct? It feels right but it doesn’t make any sense and at some point they would have to stop killing each other, wouldn’t they?

“So you guys have the same choice to make, and you have to make it now, same as yesterday. Same deal, right? I mean, you saw what happened on the West Coast.” Adriane points at the television, her outstretched arm reflected in the black screen. “How could you not believe us after watching all those people drown? We told you it was coming and when you didn’t make the choice, all those people died and died screaming, how could you see that and not-“

Andrew screams, “For fuck’s sake,” and thrashes around in his chair. “None of that had anything to do with us or you.”

Eric says, “Purely a coincidence.” The lack of conviction in his voice is obvious, so obvious the three others look at him as though they’re seeing him for the first time, as though they’ve made a discovery.

Andrew says, “No, it was not a coincidence. It wasn’t. You knew the Alaskan earthquake had happened already, before you came out to the cabin, and there was the tsunami warning and you planned your little visit here accordingly-“

Sabrina says, “That’s not true.”

“-so tell us what’s going to be on TV this morning? I know it’s almost time for something Leonard wants to see because he keeps checking his watch, just like he did yesterday. You know, I never realized the end of the world would be kept to such a tight, regimented TV Guide schedule. This is enough! This is insane! You’re all insane!”

Adriane shouts, “You need to calm right the fuck down and think for a second!”

Sabrina leans forward and speaks to Eric, as to his shame, he’s now been identified as the one who might believe them. “Even if we knew about the earthquake in the hours before we came here, why and how did we end up even coming here in the first place? I mean, how did the four of us strangers from different parts of the country know to randomly meet in the Middle of Nowhere, New Hampshire? It was because we had visions, were sent here, were told to-“

Andrew shouts over her, “So you’re admitting you knew about the earthquake before you got to the cabin!”

“Yes. I mean, no, no that’s not what I’m saying at all.”

Adriane says, “It doesn’t matter. You have another chance to stop more people from dying by making the choice. You and us and everyone on the fucking planet will run out of chances if you don’t choose to save us.” Her eyes are wide, incredulous. She can’t believe she isn’t being believed. “If you choose to sacrifice one of you, then the world doesn’t end. That’s it. It’s

that simple. I can’t tell you any other way. Fuck-“

Leonard says, “Easy . . .”

Adriane continues on ranting. “No charts and graphs or PowerPoints or, what, a fucking puppet show-” She cuts out and holds pleading hands out toward Eric.

He feels all the eyes of the room on him, including Andrew’s and Wen’s. He says, “There is no choice. We will never choose to sacrifice one of ourselves, no matter what. Period. Look, I know this is hard to hear but you three are suffering from some kind of a shared delusion, and delusions are powerful things . . .”

Adriane says, “Oh, Christ, we’re fucked. We’re all fucked,” and throws her hands up.

Wen says from the couch, “Leonard told me it’s God making them do this.” Her speaking for the first time that morning freezes all the adults in place, like they were playing a game of Red Light Green Light.

Andrew asks, “When did he tell you that?”

“In the middle of the night. I woke up and he was awake, too.”

Andrew says, “Well, he’s wrong. They’re doing this. No one and nothing else but them, and I know Leonard likes to act like your friend but if he really was, he’d let us all go.” Andrew glowers at Leonard, who doesn’t rebut.

Wen doesn’t say anything else. She opens and closes her legs under the blanket, flapping them like butterfly wings.

“God wouldn’t do this.” Less confident in the declarative than his words would indicate, Eric says it hurriedly, as one might when uttering a perceived truth about a future event while simultaneously worrying about being a jinx. In the same mental breath, he silently prays to God that they be freed from this ordeal unharmed. If pressed, Eric would identify himself as Catholic; he once said to a coworker that he was a “cautious Catholic.” He goes to church once or twice a month. Sometimes he attends Mass on Sundays, and sometimes, when he is feeling particularly stressed, he’ll go early on a weekday before work. Although he often struggles with the message and the messenger, the rote prayers and songs memorized so long ago as to have their own elaborately decorated memory palaces, the waxy cardboard taste of the host, and even the smell of dust, candles, and incense are a comfort, a balm. No Christmas Catholic-only attending church for the big holidays-is he, and he would stop going to church altogether before becoming one. In the weeks preceding Wen’s adoption, Eric reluctantly agreed (though the avowed agnostic Andrew doesn’t know how reluctantly) with Andrew that they would not have Wen baptized and not force her to adhere to any religion. Wen would be able to choose a religion when she was older and when the choice was hers alone. Eric knew that was the same as saying that Wen would be brought up without any religion at all. It nags at him on occasion, as he feels like he’s keeping an important part of himself from Wen, but he hasn’t once protested the family decision, nor has he secretly proselytized.

A warm breeze flows into the cabin through the screen slider, which wobbles and vibrates in its track, bringing with it the stronger-by-theminute garbage smell that isn’t really garbage. Andrew catches Eric’s eye and nods at him. Is he telling him he did a good job? Does he know something? Are Andrew’s ropes even looser than his and he’s telling him to be ready? The sunlight flashes and Eric turns away, fearful of being exposed to the light again when he might not be ready.

Adriane walks to Sabrina and asks what are they going to do? Sabrina whispers something out of earshot. Adriane drops her head and covers her face with her hands.

Leonard fills himself up with air. He says, “Sacrifices are required and will be made, one way or another, whether we like it or-“

Andrew jolts and spasms like he is stung by a bee. He shouts, “Jesus Christ! Holy shit-” spewing a mess of profanities.

Eric asks, “What? What happened? Are you okay?” Is Andrew acting? Is this part of a plan to get one of them over to his chair so he can do . . . Do what?

Andrew is wild-eyed and breathing deeply, like he’s fighting off the urge to throw up. “Oh, fucking hell, Eric, it was him. Fucking Redmond! It was him! It was him! I knew these guys were nothing but a fringe group of homophobic nutbags here to . . . Oh, shit, Eric. Shit, shit . . .”

Leonard, Sabrina, and Adriane back away from Andrew and share confused, what-now? looks.

“Slow down, slow down. Talk to me.” Eric, momentarily forgetting about the chair and the ropes, tries to stand and walk to Andrew. He fullbody flexes against his restraints and rebounds heavily back into the chair, which sends a dagger of pain through the center of his head. The rope binding his hands is looser than it was minutes ago with the bulk of the wound knot having slid lower down his wrists, almost to the tops of his palms. He’s confident he can squirm his hands free but he isn’t sure how long it would take and how obvious the effort would be to his captors.

Andrew shouts at the others. “Redmond isn’t his name! You assholes using fake names, too? Did God tell you to do that?”

Adriane still has her hands over her face. “What the hell is he talking about?”

Sabrina says, “No, none of us are using fake names. Same for you guys, right?” Adriane and Leonard say, “Yeah,” and “Of course.” She looks distrustful of Andrew, afraid of him and what he’s saying.

“That dead guy out there, the one you killed. His name is Jeff O’Bannon.”

“Jeff O’Bannon?” Eric repeats the man’s name out loud and then says it many more times in his creaky head. It’s a name he knows, or a name he should know and should be able to put a face to or summon a dossier of significance for.

“He’s the guy who attacked me in the bar, Eric! It’s him!”


A hockey bar by name, the Penalty Box was a hard-drinking dive eschewing the ironic, hipster faux charm that might now be associated with the term dive bar. On the corner of Causeway Street, across from North Station and the Boston Garden, the bar was on the first floor of a brick-andcement, two-story rectangular shoebox of no recognizable architectural style beyond industrial. It had one square front window next to a cavelike entrance chiseled out of the brick, above which perched a yellow sign with thick black letters. It was generally patronized by mean drunks, people spending their last dollars or loose change, or amateur-hour assholes fluttering in pre- and post-Bruins and Celtics games. In the late 1990s, the tiny room above the Penalty Box, called the Upstairs Lounge, was a local music hot spot and used to host what were called “pill dance parties” every Friday night. Eighty or so people would jam into the dark and grimy room with a DJ playing Britpop. Pre-Eric, Andrew and a small group of friends attended the dances religiously for an almost five-year run, including after they moved the pill dances from the Upstairs Lounge to a new venue in Allston.

In November of 2005, Andrew and his friend Ritchie decided to go to the Penalty Box (the Upstairs Lounge having been long shuttered up) after ditching a Celtics game early for a glass or two of nostalgia. The bar was half full with the green shirts of other Celtics game attendees who had given up on the home team as they were down by twenty-five points early in the fourth quarter. Andrew had on a twenty-year-old Robert Parish tank top that was too small for him over a white long-sleeve T-shirt. Ritchie had a new Paul Pierce jersey on even though he spent most of the game complaining about the player’s shot selection and perceived lack of foot speed.

In the intervening years, Andrew has curated a carefully pieced together timeline of nonevents prior to his attack: He and Ritchie were in the Penalty Box for less than ten minutes. Andrew made a beeline for the bar upon entering and ordered two Sam Adams drafts. He doesn’t remember seeing Jeff O’Bannon or his two friends sitting at the bar, which was where they were according to the police report and testimony. Andrew carried the two beers over to Ritchie, who was near the entrance and talking to a middleaged woman wearing a Bruins hoodie and jeans. Tall and rail thin, she was loudly drunk, and when she wasn’t wiping greasy hair out of her face, her hummingbird hands were all over Ritchie’s arms, shoulders, and back, and Ritchie couldn’t have been more amused or pleased. Andrew doesn’t remember her name. He gave Ritchie a beer and they clinked their plastic cups. The woman told Ritchie he looked like Ricardo Montalbán when he didn’t look anything like him. She told Ritchie that Andrew was cute but not as cute as he was. She laughed at her own joke but there was a lag between, so he couldn’t be sure why she was laughing. Andrew pretended to be offended at his second-class cuteness status. She asked Ritchie to dance even though there wasn’t any music playing, only the TV audio of Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn calling the blowout game in muted, eulogistic tones. Andrew egged Ritchie on, telling him to go ahead and dance. Ritchie said things like, “I don’t know. My quads are sore from my run this morning. Maybe. I have an inner-ear problem and I get dizzy if I spin around. I’m thinking about it. I’m missing the baby toe on my left foot so I always list to the right. Sounds like fun, but . . .” She interjected with “oh yeahs” and more pleas for a dance and now a beer, as her demands increased with the extended negotiating. Andrew thought she was pleased to simply have this conversation continue. Ritchie wasn’t flustered in the least (like Andrew would’ve been) and started to ask her questions (“So, where are you from? Come here often? Will the Celtics ever be good again?”). Ritchie clearly enjoyed building the suspense of will-he-or-won’the. Then Andrew remembers Ritchie asking, “What was the name of the last guy you danced with in here?” She smiled and waved a hand in the general direction of the opposite side of the room like her previous dance partner was still there and she said, “That fucking guy, his name was

Milton” (Andrew interjected, “Like the city?”). “Yeah. He was no fun.

Wouldn’t let me feel him up.” The three of them shared a big laugh, and then O’Bannon was behind Andrew, over his left shoulder, and he said, “Faggot,” and it wasn’t a wild, out-of-control shout, and it wasn’t slurred or sloppy. It was clear, concise, and dismissive, a one-word statement of argument and justification. Andrew turned to his left, toward the speaker whose face he would not see in person until the two of them were in the same courtroom. As he turned, O’Bannon smashed a beer bottle on his head, the impact and follow-through cutting a gash that needed almost thirty stitches to close. Andrew remembers hearing the smash of glass, but there was no pain, and instead a flash of cold on his head and neck, and then he was looking at the floor, which began getting closer very quickly. He remembers lying facedown with his eyes closed and people shouting. He doesn’t remember getting into the ambulance, but he remembers insisting upon sitting up during the ride. He remembers the inexplicable feeling of shame upon seeing Eric for the first time at the hospital. When Eric said, “Oh my God, what happened to you?” Andrew whispered, “I don’t know . . .” and stopped so he wouldn’t say I don’t know what I did. O’Bannon later pled guilty and told the court he was drunk and not thinking clearly and that Andrew had accidentally spilled a beer on one of his friends (which was patently false), and they then were looking for a fight and his friends egged him on, and he said repeatedly that that wasn’t him, wasn’t who he was.

Andrew thought about the attack before every boxing lesson and workout, before each trip to the shooting range. For the first couple of years postattack, when he couldn’t sleep, he internet-searched his attacker’s name and he’d spend hours digging into the digital lives of other people named Jeff O’Bannon. After exhausting the information on his O’Bannon (and that’s how he thought of the man, as belonging to him like a disease might), Andrew read about an O’Bannon who lived in Los Angeles and worked in the art department for major Hollywood movies, and there was the one who was a middle-school social science teacher in New Mexico and hosted a Looney Tunes viewing party for his students the first Friday of every month. Andrew spent one night poring through the 1940 government census and finding a twenty-five-year-old Jeff O’Bannon who had a wife, three kids, and his mother living in their Mississippi home. Later that night, Eric woke to find Andrew asleep in the desk chair, and he gently led him back to bed.

Andrew has long since quit those internet searches and he doesn’t look over his shoulder in public places as frequently and as urgently as he once did, though the hypervigilance will never go away completely. In unguarded moments, he’ll still pick and worry at why he was attacked. Well, he knows why, the hate-filled why was made painfully clear, but why did O’Bannon choose Andrew? How did O’Bannon know Andrew was gay and by proxy that Ritchie was not? If Ritchie had been standing with his back to the bar, would he have been the one who was attacked? Had O’Bannon simply made a terrible, lucky guess? (O’Bannon maintained in court his faggot wasn’t why he attacked Andrew and it didn’t mean he thought Andrew was gay; it was a word he and his buddies used all the time and it didn’t mean anything to them and the slur didn’t and wasn’t supposed to mean what it actually meant.) Had O’Bannon seen Andrew outside or even inside the Boston Garden and then followed him to the bar, his dumb, ravenous hate fueled by Andrew’s visage, the way he talked, the way he walked or smiled or laughed or shook his head or blinked his eyes? Did O’Bannon first see Andrew when he walked to the bar and ordered the beers? Did he look at Andrew and instantly see whatever it was he saw? Was Andrew like a bright orange flame to O’Bannon, burning only to invite his violence? Did O’Bannon patiently observe and deliberate and plan and have doubts that he overcame with a grunt and a swing of a glass bottle? As galling as Andrew’s being somehow read and then classified by that fucking loser as an other, a thing, was that Andrew, at least for one night, was then marked as a victim.

Andrew says, “It’s him. He buzzed his head. He’s older and more than fifty pounds heavier, and that bloated up his face and everything, so I didn’t see it right away, but Christ it’s him. Redmond is Jeff O’Bannon. You know who I’m talking about, right?”

“Yes, of course. Yes.” Eric furrows his brow and Andrew can’t tell if Eric remembers O’Bannon and/or recognizes Redmond is the same guy.

“Um, okay, you might be right.”

“Might be?”

“I mean, I don’t see it but-“

“How can you not see it?”

“-but if you say it’s him, then it’s him. I believe you.” Eric won’t meet Andrew’s eyes.

Andrew sighs. “Dammit, I’m telling you it’s him. I would know, Eric.”

“Yes, yes, of course you would.”

Adriane says, “Hey, guys? We don’t have time for this? We need you to make the choice?” Her statements are questions.

“Wait, hold on,” Sabrina says, and her weapon wilts in her hands. “What are you saying Redmond did?”

Andrew says, “Going on thirteen years ago I was in a Boston bar with a friend and your guy-totally unprovoked-snuck up behind me, called me a faggot, and smashed a bottle over my head, knocking me out and cutting me open.” Andrew spies Wen watching him. Her empty expression breaks open as she flinches and blinks hard twice.

Adriane says, “Oh shit . . .”

Sabrina exhales sharply, distending her cheeks.

Adriane says, “Hey, you’re not, you know, making that up, to get us to -?” She stops talking as though the question mark is worth a thousand more words.

He considers telling them to take a good look at his scar that runs from the base of his skull down the back of his neck, but he doesn’t want to risk their closer inspection now that his hands are finally loose enough within the ropes to wriggle free. He spent his waking hours in the dark last night flexing and unflexing his fingers, twisting and bending his wrists. It’s no longer a question of if he can free his hands, but when should he?

Andrew says, “I’m not lying or making any of this up. And Redmond is the guy who attacked me. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. How about one of you go out to the deck and find his wallet, his license, and read his name? It’ll be Jeff O’Bannon.”

Sabrina says, “I’m not calling you a liar, Andrew. I believe you’re not making up the getting assaulted-“

“He does have that nasty-ass scar on the back of his neck,” Adriane says, pointing at Andrew, and backs away from him to stand between the others.

Leonard’s shoulders are slumped. Some unseen great weight is pushing him down. “Andrew, you told Wen your scar was from getting hit with a baseball bat when you were a kid.”

“Huh? Wait. How-?” Andrew sputters and looks at Wen. She doesn’t look back, as immobile and blank faced as a mannequin. He doesn’t know what to say to her other than he’s sorry, he’s sorry for everything in the world.

Leonard says, “Wen told me. So which one of you is telling the truth?”

“Both of us. I’m telling you what happened and what she told you is what I told her.” Andrew says to Wen, “I didn’t want you to know that a terrible, awful person did this to me. I didn’t want you to know there were those kinds of people out there.” Andrew makes sure to dramatically glare at each of the three others before continuing. “Not yet, anyway.” He’d planned on telling her the truth about his scar when she was older, when she could understand. He’d irrationally hoped he could somehow put off indefinitely the future day on which she would recognize cruelty, ignorance, and injustice were the struts and pillars of the social order, as unavoidable and inevitable as the weather.

Leonard says, “I get it and I don’t blame you at all. And listen, I believe you’re not making it up. But isn’t it possible that Redmond only resembles


“No. It’s him. I guarantee it.” Andrew can see that ratty, skinny weasel he watched squirm in the courtroom, grow older and bulk up before his eyes, transforming into the troll-like Redmond. There is no doubt. He will not allow for it.

Andrew closes his hands into fists, clenching some of the rope, hopefully giving the appearance his restraints are still tight and secure should one of them walk behind him.

Adriane says in a lowered voice, like she’s trying it out, “I guess Redmond got his then.”

Sabrina groans and goes chest to chest with Leonard. “Fuck. Fuck! Jesus, Leonard, did you know this, any of this about Redmond?”

“What? No. No, of course not. And I’m not calling Andrew a liar but maybe it’s not-“

“What do you know about him?”

“I know as much as you do. I know him as well as I know you two. And I thought-we really don’t have time for this.” He pauses and Sabrina doesn’t move, doesn’t release him. “I thought like you thought: he was rough around the edges and stuff but was basically a good guy.”

“Seriously? It was pretty obvious he wasn’t. At best he was an obnoxious dick,” Adriane says.

Sabrina says, “You and him were there on the message board before I found it, before Adriane got there-“

“A message board?” Andrew shouts and he means it to sound like an aha accusation or vindication. A fucking online message board. Maybe the others aren’t religious lunatics and maybe they are, but they are certainly regular, nondenominational lunatics with-as Eric had phrased earlier-a shared delusion. Andrew recalls reading about a uniquely twenty-firstcentury mental-health crisis with a growing population of people suffering from clinically paranoid, psychotic delusions deciding to ignore professional help and cut themselves off from friends and family. These people are instead seeking emotional support online where they have found hundreds, even thousands, of like-minded people (many of whom refer to themselves as “targeted individuals” or “TIs”) on social media and yes, on message boards. Online, the delusion sufferer is not told what she is experiencing is a chemical lie or the result of misfiring synapses and she is not accused of being crazy. The online groups reinforce and validate the delusions because the same thing is happening to them. There was a man who recently shot and killed three people on an army base in Louisiana; he had been part of a large online group of TIs who blogged and posted YouTube videos explaining how a shadow government was stalking them and using mind-control weapons in an attempt to destroy their lives.

Andrew wonders if proving to the three intruders that Redmond isn’t who they thought he might be, that he isn’t like them, isn’t one of them- them being some quasi-pious, noble group of would-be humanity savers- would allow doubt to create cracks and fissures spidering through the group delusion? All three of them are clearly unnerved by the bar-attack accusation, and Sabrina and Adriane appear to be openly struggling with what they’ve done and whatever it is they are supposed to do next. Doubt is good, right? Or will it make them more desperate and dangerous, more likely to become violent and lash out in defense of their beliefs? Andrew loosens his fists and lets the rope out of his clenched fingers for a moment, double-checking that he will indeed be able to free his hands.

Sabrina says, “Yes, a message board.” Then to Leonard, “How long were you-?”

Leonard says, “I set it up, like one of my visions told me to, and Redmond was the first to get there but he was there only, like, a few hours before you. We didn’t talk about anything you couldn’t read yourselves

after you joined. And he never said anything outright hateful.”

“Did you and him talk on the phone or anything?”

“No, never.”

Adriane says, “Redmond was the one who first said he had the vision of the name of the lake and the town.”

Leonard asks, “Maybe, okay, I guess so, but what are you saying? What are you implying?”

Eric, who has been conspicuously silent, raises his voice to interrupt, and winces as he does so. “She’s implying that your Redmond picked out this place purposefully.”

Andrew adds, “And he picked it out because Redmond knew we were going to be here. Or most importantly to him, that I was going to be here.”

Leonard says, “That’s impossible. Even if-how could he find that out? It’s not like that. We all had the visions. Sabrina, Adriane, me: we saw this cabin, too. You saw it, didn’t you? You both said you did.”

Sabrina and Adriane nod their heads affirmative and then peel away from Leonard’s orbit and away from each other, spreading into the room.

Leonard says, “We saw the lake, this little red cabin. We saw where this place was.” He pauses and points at the front door. “I saw the dirt road and the front of the cabin; I even saw the grain of the wood on the front door. It was like I’d known it my whole life, and I knew there would be a family here, a very special one. And the family would have to make the choice, would have to make a sacrifice to save us all.” He ping-pongs between looking at Sabrina and Adriane. “Now don’t let it get all turned around. I know, this sucks, all of it, and I’m sick to my stomach over it. But we’ll all get past it because the suffering here is not eternal. It’s a test. We were chosen and we’re being tested. All of us. You, too, Andrew, Eric, and Wen, and if we don’t pass this most difficult and important of all tests, the world is going to end.

“And as far as Redmond goes. Maybe”-he turns and holds a hand out to Andrew-“maybe it’s not him. You said yourself thirteen years have

passed and he’s, what, more than fifty pounds heavier?”

“I know it’s him! I’m not-“

“I know, I know, and maybe it is him. I don’t know if Redmond is his real name or not, and I don’t mean to belittle what happened to you, but does it matter in terms of what we have to do here?”

Sabrina goes red-faced and shouts, “Of course it matters! If I had known he’d done that to Andrew or to anyone, I wouldn’t have-” She stops. Eric says, “You wouldn’t have what?”

“I was going to say that I wouldn’t have come here. But it’s not true because I didn’t choose to come here. This is not my choice. I-I already tried to ignore the visions and messages and I tried to stay home and I tried not to come out here and it didn’t work. The day before I was supposed to fly out I didn’t set my alarm or pack or do anything to get ready. I didn’t even tell work I was going to be out. And then it was the next morning and there I was sitting in a cab halfway to LAX.”

Adriane says, “Same,” and laughs an odd little laugh, high pitched and chittering. “Isn’t this a fucking pickle?”

Eric says, “You don’t want to be here, so let us go. You don’t have to do this anymore. You know you don’t.”

Sabrina lifts her weapon, recalibrating, reconsidering. It rises like a buoy in an ocean swell.

“Sabrina,” Leonard says, “I know you are not who O’Bannon was- regardless if Redmond is the same guy-and Adriane is not O’Bannon, and I am not O’Bannon. We were called to be here as a force of good. I know this to be true. I feel it in my cells. I think you do, too. I said it before, we are not here with hate or judgment in our hearts. We’re here with love for everyone, for all humankind. We’re willing to sacrifice our own lives in the hope that we might save everyone else.”

Eric says, “No,” repeatedly, and then, “Just let us go. Please? Let us go . . .”

Andrew stares hard at Eric and Eric stares back. Can Andrew somehow communicate that the ropes are loose around his wrists with a look?

Leonard says, “I only said it doesn’t matter if Redmond was Andrew’s attacker because what any of us might’ve done in the past will not change this moment or what happens next. The past, all of our pasts, will be wiped away. What matters is we’re here now and why we’re here. What matters is passing this test. We were chosen, all of us, for a reason. That is what matters and I’m not going to question that. We can’t.”

Eric says, “No, you should be questioning it. That’s exactly what you should be doing.”

Andrew says, “Don’t you recognize how wrong this is? Look at us tied up here. Really look at us. Is this right or normal? Is this what young nurses, chefs, and guys right out of college do on the weekends? How about you go have a look at the guy you mashed to a pulp out on the deck, tell me that’s not wrong.” He regrets mentioning their killing Redmond/O’Bannon, as though not speaking of the act prevents them from more killing.

Leonard says, “If you and Eric can find a way to make the right choice, sacrifice one of yourselves, then the world will live and that means Wen will live, too. Don’t you want her to-“

Eric says, “Enough, that’s enough. Stop talking. I can’t, just stop . . .”

The room goes quiet, as though the silence is planned, allotted. Outside the cabin, unseen birds chirp and sing their evolutionary songs as the sun creeps higher in the blue morning sky that keeps watch over the lake and its still, dark, and cold water. Andrew knows he must make a move to escape from the chair soon. But with hands that are stiff and numb, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to untie his legs before the others descend upon him.

Sabrina coughs. “I think we’re running out of time.”

“It’s me running out of fucking time.” Adriane bends forward, and each percussive sob is leaden with grief, a hidden scream. “We have to do

something to get them to choose and choose now.”

Leonard says, “I know. We’re trying-“

“Try more! Try fucking harder! Threaten to hurt one of them, bust a knee, take off a finger, something. Not seriously hurt them, but enough to know this is serious!”

“Adriane!” Sabrina steps between her and Andrew and Eric.

Andrew’s sour and curdling stomach plummets through the floor, to the center of the shrinking earth, as his traitorous head fills with images of them cutting off Eric’s fingers or Wen’s, one by one. He looks at Wen and she remains huddled on the couch, half covered by a blanket. She has shut down. Perhaps she’s in shock.

“It’ll be the only way!” Adriane is full-throat yelling. “We have to get this shit done! They’ll just wait us out until all of us die if we don’t!”

Leonard strides forward, a rolling boulder filling a narrowing cave. “We can’t let you hurt them. You know we can’t. It’s not allowed.”

“Fuckin’ easy for you to say. You’re not next, are you? I don’t want my body stuffed under a blanket and stacked next to that piece of shit out there.

I don’t want to die!”

Sabrina crouches and calmly says, “They’ll believe us. They will.”

“No, they don’t, and they won’t. Not ever.”

“Shh, they will. You’ll see. They will.”

Adriane’s words come in clipped bursts between hitching inhales. “The worst part is I knew I was dead as soon as I started seeing all this shit. I knew I was dead already.”

Adriane is still bent over and crying. Sabrina crouches and whispers and cajoles. Leonard checks his watch, and while he utters vague reassurances to them, he has the resigned, desperate, and committed look of a person who knows everything is going poorly and will continue to go poorly no matter what.

Adriane straightens up, pushes Sabrina and Leonard away, and wipes the tears off her cheeks violently. “Okay. I’m okay. I lost it, but I’m good.” She takes two steps toward Eric and Andrew. “Hey, so you know I’m dead meat-“

Leonard says, “Adriane, you can’t-“

She turns on Leonard and snarls at him. “Shut your fucking mouth. It’s my turn. It’s up to me and I’m going to do it my way. All right? Is that all right?” She doesn’t give Leonard or Sabrina a chance to respond. “So what’s it going to be? Another calamity like the earthquakes and tsunamis and hundreds, thousands more people dying, this time by plague. That’ll be fun, yeah? Plus the bonus of the unpleasant sight of little old me getting bashed like a piñata. Or will you stop it all from happening and sacrifice one of yourselves?” She pulls a white mesh mask out of a back pocket. It looks exactly like the one Redmond pulled over his own head. Unhinged and wild-eyed, she shakes and dangles the mask in front of Andrew and Eric. “Come on. What’s it going to be? You want me to put it on first?” She stuffs her right fist inside and holds it like a puppet that’s going to say something obnoxious, scandalous, something only a puppet would be allowed to say. “There you go. You pick. One of you sacrifices yourself or all kinds of other people die.” She makes crashing noises and pantomimes striking the mask-covered fist.

Andrew shakes his head and groans because he thinks he has waited too long to free his hands. So does he wait even longer? Wait them out like Adriane intimated? Are they really going to kill Adriane like they killed O’Bannon? Are they that committed to their obviously Revelations-inspired rituals? He still doesn’t know why they are killing themselves. And at some point they would have to stop killing each other and turn on Eric or Andrew or Wen, wouldn’t they?

Eric says, “Hold on! Wait, wait, wait!” He’s loud enough that Adriane slows her cricket’s bounce from her heels to her toes. She takes the mask off her hand and hides it behind her back, like no one was supposed to see it. He says, “Let’s just keep talking, okay? Adriane, tell us about the

restaurants you worked at. I want to hear about them.”

Sabrina says, “Guys, this is it. You have to choose.”

“There’s time, there’s time. Come on, let’s talk a little while longer, okay?” Eric’s deep, smooth voice has the faintest waver. He is obviously stalling with how he’s trying to engage the others into talking about themselves and their old lives. They aren’t answering him and they close in toward one another, clustering like molecules.

Andrew imagines everyone in the cabin is visualizing the same blowby-blow transgression of violence to come, an act of collective foretelling, or summoning. The room feels like it did in the moments before the others killed O’Bannon. Andrew experiences an animal foreboding and an instinctual compulsion to flee from the inevitability, as well as an unsettling, vertiginous itch to become a willing participant. If the others swing their weapons again, even if only against Adriane, he will raise his hands and fight.

Andrew says, “Wen, you should come be with one of us now, I think.” Wen is on the couch not looking at anyone or anything.

Leonard turns and says to her, “You can stay there, too. You can cover your eyes with your blanket. You’ll be okay.”

Andrew shouts, “Right, it’ll all be fine! After a little bludgeoning, maybe you’ll let her go outside and play with the grasshoppers.”

Adriane says, “Our last chance, fellas. What’ll it-“

Wen erupts into high-pitched screams of the kind she’s only ever unleashed when suffering great, incomprehensible pain. “The grasshoppers! The grasshoppers! The grasshoppers!” She kicks away the blanket and spasms off the couch. She stands and trembles with her arms held out begging for someone to hold her, to take her. After the initial torrent, she is crying so hard no sound comes out; silent open mouth, wet cheeks, beseeching eyes. She remains soundless long enough for Andrew to worry she’s stopped breathing, as he unconsciously holds his own breath. Then, finally a guttural, gasping inrush of air and she resumes screaming.

“They’re in the jar! I left them! In the sun! They’re gonna die! They’re all gonna be dead! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I forgot. Daddy, I forgot! I forgot!” She runs unsteadily to Eric and scrambles into his lap.

Everyone says her name and there’s a group murmur asking her to slow down and tell them what’s wrong. The others form a semicircle around Wen and Eric, but none of them reach out for her, as though she’s not safe to touch.

Wen grabs fistfuls of Eric’s T-shirt and yells into his face. “I left it on the grass and ran inside because I was scared! The jar is still out there! You have to let me go get it! I have to check. Let them out if they’re still alive. Maybe they’re still alive! Let me go get them please, please, please!” Leonard bends and leans forward, trying to get in her sight line. “Wen? Wen, honey? It’s okay. I let them out. I did. After you ran inside, I let them out of the jar. They all hopped away. They’re all happy.”

“Daddy, he’s lying. He’s a liar. They’re still there. There are seven in the jar. I wrote down their names. We have to let them out! I don’t want them to die! I don’t want them to be dead! Please! Let’s go! Now! Please, Daddy!”

Wen dissolves in teary pleases and Daddys, and pounds on Eric’s chest, her fists demanding why isn’t he up and going outside with her already? Eric says, “Okay, okay,” and wiggles and shifts his seated position, struggling to keep her balanced on his lap, and then his arms hesitantly appear from behind the chair, unfurling like great, unused wings. The skin of his hands and wrists is red, excoriated, and raw. He wraps his arms around her quivering form, and he kisses the top of her head and is crying now himself.

The others do a group double take at Eric’s arms releasing from the ropes and releasing so casually. Sabrina and Leonard lay their weapons on the floor and share quizzical looks.

Adriane covers her face and whisper-yells, “We can’t even tie a fucking knot right. Should’ve brought duct tape like Redmond said.”

Sabrina places a hand on Eric’s shoulder, like a friend might in a vulnerable moment. Leonard pokes and taps Eric’s other shoulder and asks him, politely, to let his daughter go. Adriane bounces between the two suggesting Leonard pull his arms apart and Sabrina grab Wen.

Eric shouts at the others to leave them alone, to go away, to give them a minute, a minute more.

With the others frantic and occupied, the time for Andrew’s escape has to be now. He doesn’t hesitate. He calmly shrugs and lifts his right shoulder, a movement as innocuous and ordinary as a breath expanding within his chest. As his shoulder rises, he slides his right hand up. There’s a pull, pinch, and burn on his palm and at the base of his thumb, and then his right hand is free. The rest of the binding sloughs off his left hand and wrist. The thud of rope hitting the floor is louder than he anticipated, but the others don’t react to it. Andrew brings his arms around to his front, careful to not stretch them out wide, confining them to the width of the chair and his torso. He rests his hands and forearms on his thighs momentarily and flexes his swollen, chaffed fingers and knuckles. His hands are unable to fully close into fists. Andrew bends and reaches toward his feet and ankles, making no sudden movements, nothing to catch the corners of eyes, nothing to alert the others to his Houdini act. He is composed and considerate as he goes about the serious business of untying the leg ropes. The knots behind his calves are thick and obvious, and they give away their secrets to his battered fingers. Andrew does not look up and to his left until after the knots are solved.

The others are still struggling with Eric. His arms remain stubbornly locked around Wen. Not even Leonard is going to be able to simply pull his arms apart. Sabrina begs Eric to let go. Adriane has both hands on one of Eric’s wrists and forearms, yanking and trying to peel an arm open. Leonard argues with Adriane, telling her to calm down and to let go of Eric’s arm as he tries to snake his hands between Wen and Eric.

Wen yells, “Go away!” and windmills her arms, striking out at Leonard.

As Andrew gives in to haste and hurry while unwinding the neverending loops of rope from his legs, he visualizes two potential paths to the SUV and the gun in the trunk compartment. The shortest path would be through the front door, but he’d have to wade through the others and take time to unlock the door, but if he could get outside, he’d be unimpeded to the SUV. The path of least resistance out of the cabin would be through the deck slider, but it’s a much longer run down those wooden stairs, around the cabin, and to the driveway. One or more of the others would most certainly be out the front door and to the SUV before he could get there. Maybe if he is stealthy enough, he can sneak out onto the deck without the others seeing. Andrew stands on the creaky, rusty legs of the Tin Man and readies for a dash through the back slider.

Adriane points and yells, “Fuck you,” at Leonard. She shuffles into the center of the room and stands directly in front of Andrew. They share a surprised, head-tilted look. Adriane yells, “Hey!” and lunges at him.

Andrew slide-steps and knocks his chair onto its side, then kicks it into Adriane’s legs. She stumbles and plunges forward, her hands pressing on the inverted chair back to keep from falling to the floor.

Sabrina grabs Andrew’s left arm and he spins to face her with his painful, crumpled-paper fists raised. She unexpectedly grunts, winces, and collapses onto her knees. Eric is behind her, still sitting and with one arm around Wen, and he gives Sabrina another backhanded kidney punch. She crawls away from Eric’s reach, a hand pressed against her lower back.

Eric switches the arm with which he holds Wen and throws left jabs at Leonard’s midsection. Leonard clumsily fends off the blows from Eric’s pistoning arm with open hands. One punch catches him in the groin and he staggers back into one of the bedroom doorways.

Eric shouts, “Andrew, take Wen and go! Take her!”

Leonard recovers and approaches Eric from his left. Adriane has already discarded the chair-in-her-legs obstacle, but instead of going after Andrew she renews her grappling with Eric.

Eric alternates throwing quick punches at Adriane and Leonard while shielding Wen.

Adriane yells, “Hit him, Leonard! Hit him in the head!”

Leonard says, “We don’t want to hurt you,” and attempts to snare Eric’s left arm when it lashes out.

Sabrina is upright now, too, has her weapon, and steps toward Andrew.

Andrew can’t fight off all three at once. Not without his gun. He lunges for the front door, pulls the latch bolt to the right, turns the knob, and flings the door open wide all in one motion. With a rush of warm air and sunlight the door opens too wildly and the momentum of the pendulous swing almost sends him tumbling back into the cabin. He maintains his grip on the doorknob, leans all his weight forward, and stumbles outside, pulling the door shut behind him. His slow and heavy feet cannot catch up with his forward lean and he pitches down the small set of stairs, landing chest and face first on the grass.

His breaths are painful and short, air squeezing out of the pinched end of a balloon. He blinks away the shock and unsteadily restacks himself onto shaky legs. Once upright he starts the forward-moving engine again.

The cabin’s front door opens behind him. Sabrina yells, “Andrew, stop!

Come back!”

Andrew doesn’t stop and he doesn’t look to see if anyone else is with her. The SUV is ten to fifteen yards away. The driver’s-side front and rear tires are flat and the side walls have been slashed. He assumes the other tires have been slashed as well. That car isn’t going anywhere.

His right hand goes into his shorts pocket in search of the familiar lump of his car keys. They’re not there. He remembers that he gave Eric the keys yesterday when the others were breaking into the cabin. If the car doors are locked, he won’t be able to get to the gun and he doesn’t know what he will do, what he can do.

Andrew races onto the gravel driveway, the loose stones part and grind under his feet, spewing clouds of dirt. The stomped-on-gravel crunch is too loud, all encompassing, like a mob is sprinting across the driveway, but he won’t look back, can’t look back. Maybe Sabrina has caught up to him. Maybe she isn’t alone. He’s almost to the passenger-side door that he’ll open because it has to open, not opening is not an option, and then he’ll jump inside the car and lock the doors, which will give him time to crawl into the backseat and to the trunk-

Something sharp and heavy crashes into the outside of his right knee, which buckles and sings with jagged, white-hot agony. Andrew falls and bounces off the car door, absorbing most of the collision with his forearms and hands, before landing on his screaming knee. He flips over into a sitting position with his back against the car and faces Sabrina.

Sabrina stands over him and says, “You can’t leave them. You can’t leave us. We all need you. Come back inside. I’ll help you,” in an oddly detached, unearthly monotone. She lifts her weapon, raising the tapered edge of the curled-over and pointed shovel blade, appearing to reload for another swing despite her promise of help.

Andrew scoops up a fistful of gravel and dirt and he underhand throws it into her face. With her eyes closed and head turned to the side, he scrambles up onto his left knee and punches her in the stomach. An almost comical oof plumes out of Sabrina and she folds in half. He tries to snatch the weapon away but she falls backward, landing on her butt, one hand over her midsection, the other on the weapon, holding it so as to ward off more blows.

Andrew pivots and he flips up the car door handle. He grunts in triumph as it’s not locked and the door clicks open. He slithers inside the SUV, coiling himself into the passenger seat, shutting and locking the door behind him. The pain in his right knee has dulled some but is now focused on the inner side, not where the weapon contacted him. Already swollen to twice its normal size, the knee is wobbly and as loose as a door hinge when he puts weight on it.

Sabrina rocks herself up into a standing position. She’s hunched over, still holding her midsection, and gasping for air. She shambles to the SUV and, in a matter of moments, she will smash windows with that goddamn nightmare stick.

Andrew shimmies between the front bucket seats and worms over the center console into the back, dragging his right leg behind instead of relying on it to propel him. His right foot snags between the console and passenger seat and while pulling it free doesn’t exactly hurt, his stomach flips at how unstable and puttylike his knee is.

Sabrina’s shovel blade clangs off the rear passenger window. The glass doesn’t break but there’s a gouge and crack dowsing a haphazard path to the window frame.

Hand over hand Andrew scrabbles over the middle of the backseat, where there is no headrest. It’s still a tight, awkward squeeze to pull his torso over the seat back so that he can hang into the trunk area. The side panel storage is to his right. He paws at two black plastic knobs, turns them clockwise to six o’clock, and pulls away the plastic hatch.

The window to his left disintegrates, and jagged little glass cubes sting his bare lower legs and a handful ricochet off the rear windshield and roll around in the trunk. Andrew spasms, ducks his head between his shoulders and behind raised arms. With the window gone, Sabrina’s rough and greedy gasps for air suffuse into the car. Andrew mule-kicks his left leg behind him. He yells and his body tenses up for another strike from Sabrina, anticipating the pain to come.

Within the opened side panel is his handgun safe. Less than a year old and not much bigger than an eight-hundred-page hardcover book, it’s a thefuture-is-now, aluminum alloy silver gadget with a sleek, edgeless design. Eric joked that it looked like a panini maker and asked if it could make him a tuna melt. The newest, lightest model he could find at the time of purchase, it’s biometric, opening after the sensor on the top reads the owner’s palm or thumb print.

Andrew extracts the gunbox out of the interior darkness of the side panel, dumps it onto the trunk floor, and waves his palm over the sensor.

The cover opens on its minihydraulic arms. Inside, splayed on the black neoprene lining, are his snub-nosed .38 special, loose bullets, and a small cardboard ammunition box, the top flap tattered and open, which must’ve happened during transport or as the unit was roughly jostled from the storage panel.

Sabrina has the car door open. “Leave whatever it is you’re going after. Get out of the car and come back inside. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Can she see the gunbox or the gun? Probably not from where she is standing and with his body likely blocking her view of the trunk. Andrew snatches the gun with his right hand. It’s compact but solid, fitting purposefully into the folds of palm and fingers, which have lost some of their stiffness from the fight with O’Bannon and a day of disuse. With one hand he presses a thumb piece forward and pushes down on the cylinder until it swings open to the left. He shakily begins loading bullets into the five chambers.

Sabrina jabs him in the left side, the rusty tip of metal digging under his ribs. Andrew yelps, twitches, and tries to curl away from the repurposed spade, but he’s bottled in by the adjacent rear headrest. He knocks the gunbox over, spilling the contents. The bullets scatter and roll to all corners madly eager for movement and to achieve their projectile apotheosis on their own. The jab from Sabrina hurts, but there isn’t much oomph behind it, as maybe she doesn’t have enough leverage given the constraints of the confined enclosing of the SUV interior or she’s hesitant and isn’t sure what to do to get him to come back inside the cabin and hasn’t fully committed to stabbing him with a bizarre, customized weapon as the solution.

Andrew yells as though he’s in more pain than he is and kicks out behind him, connecting only with the back of the front passenger seat. He plucks one last stray, teasing bullet from the trunk floor and fills the fifth and final chamber.

Sabrina says, “You have to come back inside, we don’t have time for this,” and jabs him again with the weapon and with more force, the tip prodding painfully between his ribs.

He closes the cylinder and pushes off the trunk floor with his left arm. With both arms outstretched over his head he sinks back onto his haunches, like a dive into water reversed, pulling his chest over the seat back. He twists and sags against the other rear passenger door. Sabrina is crouched within the opposite doorframe, her hands slid farther up the length of the wooden staff, a Little Leaguer choking up on a bat.

Andrew fires a wild, nominally aimed shot, the report ear-ringing loud. His aim is too high and the bullet chunks into the ceiling above the thicker metal of the SUV’s doorframe.

Andrew and Sabrina look at each other for a beat, sharing in the surprise, lunacy, and possibility of the moment. Sabrina cowers and then looks over her head, as though the missed shot might bring the sky crashing down on top of her.

Andrew points the gun and says, “Drop that thing and back the fuck up.”

She says, “Okay, I’m sorry. Okay . . .” She doesn’t drop the weapon. She shuffles backward, and too quickly, so she’s far enough away that his view of her is obscured by the SUV’s interior and frame.

Andrew shouts at her to stop moving and slides across the backseat, his bare legs scratched by bits of shattered window. His left side stings where he was jabbed twice and his shirt is warmly damp with blood. His swollen knee throbs with a low but constant ache and is already turning an inky, storm cloud purple. The pain is bearable, but he’s unsure if the leg will hold his weight. By the time he’s to the edge of the rear seat, his legs dangling over the gravel driveway, Sabrina is a blur, running away to the left.

He shouts, “Stop! Stop right now!” Using the open door, he pulls himself up so that he stands on his left leg. He lowers his right foot onto the ground and slowly adds weight. His knee holds.

Sabrina is twenty or so paces away, legs pumping, and her bulky weapon swaying side to side. She’s close to being able to duck around a corner of the cabin and out of his sight. He yells at her to stop again, and when she doesn’t, he steps to the right to avoid shooting over the car door or having to crouch to shoot through the smashed window. He takes a deep breath and aims low, for her legs, and as he unconsciously replants his right foot and fires a shot, his knee gives out, bowing outside his profile, insisting upon continuing in the lateral direction. The shot misses, the report echoing over the lake and within their little bowl of forest, and Andrew falls.

Sabrina is gone, disappearing around the side of the cabin. Is she going to run into the woods and hide or is she going all the way out back and to the deck or up through the basement and then back inside to warn and help the others? Will the others come outside now after hearing the gunfire? “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” Andrew thrashes about on the ground as though he is drowning until he muscles onto his feet. He decides he doesn’t have time to wait for the self-opening pneumatic rear gate to open or to crawl back inside the car and root around for more ammunition. He’s already left Eric and Wen alone with the others for too long. Will the others be more inclined to hurt Eric and/or Wen because they heard one if not both gunshots?

He tests a forward step on his gimpy knee. It quivers, as loose as a Slinky, but he remains upright. He takes a second step, and then a third, and he makes a deal with his knee; it will continue to function as long as he walks only in a straight line and doesn’t move brashly to either side.

Back on the front lawn and without the sound of gravel shifting under his feet, the abrupt silence is a new terror. The cabin, even with the benefit of the morning’s wholesome sunlight, appears worn, tired, and bereft. The paint on the door and trim is dulled and sun bleached. The wooden shingles are blemished with dots of mildew and are loose and as asymmetrical as crooked teeth. The cabin is now a haunted house, baptized by yesterday’s violence, and its passive accumulation of similarly vicious and desperate acts is as inevitable as dust gathering on the windowsills.

Even with the windows locked shut and front door closed, shouts, grunts, and the wooden thuds and knocks of physical struggle emanate from inside the cabin. His hybrid run/limp across the grass to the front stairs is as long and lonely as a doomed expedition. He passes Wen’s grasshopper jar; sunlight flares off the glass and aluminum lid (screwed on tightly) as though saying see me, see me. Lying on its side and sunk into the taller grass, the earth is already absorbing it, consuming the evidence of its existence. He oddly hoped Leonard wasn’t lying about setting the grasshoppers free. It’s possible he let them go and resealed the lid, but unlikely. That Andrew finds the jar glinting sunlight and most certainly containing the dead bodies of Wen’s seven named grasshoppers seems a cruelly mocking harbinger.

Andrew clambers up the cement front stairs, loading both feet on one step before moving on to the next. Lifting and bending his right knee is exponentially more painful than when walking straight and on flat ground. Once on the landing, he hears Eric yelling inside the cabin, “Stay away! Leave us alone!” and it sounds like he’s on the left side of the common room.

Andrew leans, pressing his shoulder against the doorframe, allowing his right leg to rest a moment. He wraps his left hand around the doorknob, and before turning it, he quickly attempts to work out what he’ll say or do or see after the door opens. He cannot open the door and start shooting indiscriminately. The rash first shot fired at/near Sabrina inside the SUV unnerved him as he doesn’t remember actively deciding to shoot. It just happened.

Andrew closes his eyes and flattens his body against the door; he’s as close to being inside the cabin as he can be without actually being in it. Adriane yells about not wanting to die. Leonard tells Eric to stop swinging and let’s talk. He says, “Eric, let’s talk,” repeatedly. Leonard’s voice is muffled, an echo across the canyon of the common room.

Andrew holds the gun up near his face so he can swing the arm down and instantly point it into the room. He takes a deep breath, turns the knob, and the door opens, the cabin greedy for his reentrance. Andrew lurches inside and he lowers the gun in front of him. No one seems to notice he’s there.

Eric is to his left, stationed in front of Wen’s bedroom doorway. His left leg is free, but his right leg is snared in twisted, stretched-out rope still attached to a fallen chair on the floor trailing behind him. He swings Adriane’s flower-of-hand-shovel-and-trowel-blades-tipped staff in sweeping, menacing arcs. An inefficient machine, he sweats through his shirt and breathes in gulping hitches. His shoulders sagging and his spine curved, he grimaces before and after each swipe and whoosh of the weapon. Leonard stands in front of the couch and the darkened TV on the wall. He says, “Everyone, let’s calm down. Let’s talk, this isn’t good for anyone,” in that insufferable I’m-just-trying-to-help tone. It’s instantly clear to Andrew that Leonard-despite all the earlier talk about how they were running out of time-is perfectly content to let Eric work himself to total exhaustion. Leonard has his dual-tipped wooden staff, the one O’Bannon brought into the cabin, but he does not brandish it. It’s hidden behind his back like the world’s worst-kept secret.

If Eric is a cornered lion tamer, then Adriane is the lion, stalking, pacing, and darting forward at Eric and then skittering back when he swings what was once her staff. She has a steak knife in each hand, the blades thin but serrated. The knives appear comically small and ineffectual compared to the other weapons.

Andrew strays from the doorway, deeper into the room. Everyone else finally sees him. They stop moving and talking and they gape. Eric sways in place and he blinks like he doesn’t believe what he’s seeing or he’s seeing something that isn’t there. He lowers the bladed end of the weapon to the floor and holds his forehead with his right hand. Andrew can’t tell if this is an expression of relief or anguish.

Andrew points the gun in the general shared direction of Leonard and Adriane. He wants to yell and scream and threaten and hurt; he yearns for both of them to hurt for this.

He says, “Drop the knives,” to Adriane.

She screams with her mouth closed, a terrifying sound, one that makes Andrew fear that he is nowhere near in control despite the gun.

“Drop them now! Or I swear-“

She exaggeratedly opens her hands and the knives clatter against the hardwood floor.

“All right.” Andrew takes a deep breath and alternates pointing the gun at Adriane and Leonard. “Where is Wen?”

Leonard says, “She’s okay-“

“I’m not talking to you! Eric, where is she?”

Eric points behind him, and Wen appears in the bedroom doorway. Her eyes are puffy and red, her cheeks streaked with dirt and tears. Her thumbs have retreated inside the home of her fists. Her fists seek sanctuary next to her mouth.

A warm gust of wind at Andrew’s back locomotives through the front entrance, across the common room, and rattles the deck’s screen slider. Andrew is reminded that Sabrina is still out there and could be sneaking up behind him at any time. He tosses quick and uneasy looks to the front yard. He will not close the door, even though he probably should. Being reconfined to the cabin’s space is not an option.

Leonard talks in an almost-whisper, the words too fragile, too strained with disappointment and melancholy to also burden with volume. “You’re dooming us all, Andrew. You’re dooming Eric and Wen, too.”

“I’m done with you. I don’t have to listen to another goddamn word you say.” He imagines shooting Leonard in the thigh above the knee and the streamer of blood that would spurt out as he’s cut to the floor. “Andrew?”

“Shut your fucking mouth!” He stretches out his arm toward Leonard. The gun doesn’t feel heavy, but his fingers twined around the grip and his pointer curled through the trigger guard are stiffening again, and there are twinges of threatening muscle cramps in his forearm.

Leonard doesn’t react to the gun being shakily pointed at him. He’s more resigned than calm; the one who believes he sees the end coming.


It’s not Leonard speaking, but Eric. “Andrew? Let’s go now. We can go now. We’ll leave them here and we can go.” His voice is hoarse, raspy. How is he going to be able to walk anywhere if he looks and sounds as bad as that? They could try driving the SUV on the slashed tires, but it wouldn’t be long before the tires disintegrated and the rims got hopelessly stuck in the dirt road. It might not even make it out of the driveway and through the quicksand gravel. They are going to have to walk a big chunk if not all of the trip out of here, which if they were to walk all the way to the main road would take upwards of five or six hours. They could go in the opposite direction, deeper down the road that snakes along the lakeshore, and search out another cabin with people or a phone, but the nearest cabin is still miles


“Yeah, all right. We’re going to tie these two up first. Only fair, right?”

Eric nods slowly and closes his eyes. He still has one hand over his forehead like he’s holding something in, keeping it from escaping.

Adriane asks, “Did you kill Sabrina?” Her hands open, and arms outstretched, frozen in their I-dropped-the-knives-like-you-said position. “She wasn’t gonna hurt you. We heard the shots-“

“No. I didn’t shoot her.” Andrew regrets answering truthfully. Why let them think Sabrina might come to help them? He’s screwing this all up. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t shoot you.”

Another breeze flutters into the cabin like a lost spirit and Andrew can’t help but take another peek over his shoulder to look for Sabrina. It’s only a glance, one that lasts two seconds at the most. When he looks back, Adriane is charging at him from a semicrouched position, teeth bared in a silent snarl and a suddenly not-so-dropped knife raised above her head.


One Sunday afternoon in late winter Wen’s dads asked her to come into their bedroom. They were superserious and had those half-amused, half-sad smiles they wore whenever she would tell them she didn’t like Chinese school. They told her there was something important they wanted to show her and talk about. Wen thought she was in trouble because they found out she was sneaking into their bedroom to look through all her baby pictures. She worried if they were mad enough they might not let her watch TV for an hour after dinner or take away her phone; both were things they had threatened but never enacted. She knew going into their room without asking was why they were mad at her, but it was their fault for keeping the pictures in there. She didn’t think it was fair those pictures were hidden away when they should be kept somewhere else for easier access, maybe even in her room. They were pictures of her after all. That was what she was going to say after telling them she was sorry for sneaking in and they were through being mad. But this meeting with her dads wasn’t about the pictures, not really. This was about Daddy Andrew’s gun and the gun safe hidden in the room (he wouldn’t say where). He held up a chunky black container the size of a shoebox that had some buttons on a front panel, but he didn’t let her look at it for long. They asked her if she’d ever found or seen it. They said she had to promise to tell the truth. She hadn’t seen it before. And that was the truth. Daddy Andrew said he got a new gun safe and he showed it to her. It was silver, smaller than the other one, and it looked like a minispaceship. (In the weeks and months after this family meeting, Wen didn’t say anything to her friends about having a gun at home, but she did tell Gita and Orvin that one of her dads had a special silver safe he kept in a secret place, and Wen and her friends spent a recess making a game out of guessing what he kept hidden in there.) Daddy Andrew turned around, holding the safe so she couldn’t see it, and when he turned back, the top was flipped open like the rear hatch of their car. Inside was a gun. She wasn’t sure what it would look like but she imagined it would be bigger, something she would have to hold with two hands. Daddy Andrew said it wasn’t loaded but it still was a very, very dangerous thing. Daddy Eric kept saying it wasn’t a toy and under no circumstances was she ever to touch the safe or the gun. He kept shaking his head when he talked like this whole thing was a terrible idea. They explained Daddy Andrew had a special license and had taken a lot of classes to learn how to keep and use the gun properly. They never told her why he had it and she didn’t ask. They knew she was coming into their room and going under the bed to get her baby pictures. They weren’t mad and her looking at the pictures was of course okay; they were going to move the pictures and put them in the hutch out in the living room so she could look at them whenever she wanted. Wen was embarrassed they knew about her sneaking in for the photos, but the embarrassment quickly faded. Daddy Andrew took the gun out of the safe and let it sit in his open hand and it looked bigger and smaller, more real and more fake. Daddy Andrew asked her if she wanted to hold it, but before she could answer yes, Daddy Eric said he changed his mind and he didn’t want her touching the gun. Daddy Andrew didn’t argue. As he put it back in the safe and shut the lid, they said so many kids got hurt and sometimes killed playing with guns, usually found guns that belonged to their parents. They said she wasn’t allowed in their bedroom by herself anymore. Daddy Andrew said, “No more snooping around in here.” They said, even though it had a special lock and it wouldn’t open for her or anyone other than Daddy Andrew, she was never to move or touch the gun safe. They said these new rules were the most important rules ever.

Wen reviews those most important rules and stares at Daddy Andrew and his gun. She wonders where he hid the silver safe. She didn’t realize the car had secret places in which to hide things.

Andrew says, “Yeah, all right. We’re going to tie these two up first. Only fair, right?”

Adriane asks, “Did you kill Sabrina?” She stands still and with her arms out like a scarecrow, one mad it can’t scare everyone away. It’s Adriane who scares Wen the most now. Adriane would’ve clubbed her with the shovel-bladed weapon if Eric hadn’t picked up Andrew’s chair and knocked the thing out of her hands. Wen wants to tell Daddy Andrew to not listen to her, that she might find a way to hurt him with her words.

“She wasn’t gonna hurt you. We heard the shots-“

Andrew says, “No. I didn’t shoot her.” He pauses and gimps forward half a step. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t shoot you.”

Wen wants to dissolve back into the bedroom so she doesn’t have to see anything. She doesn’t want to see what Adriane will do when she drops her hands or when her dads tie her to one of the chairs. She doesn’t want to see Daddy Andrew shoot the gun.

Wen tries to see outside the front door and to the lawn, but Andrew and the severe angle obscures her view. She again remembers the poor grasshoppers trapped in the jar and how horrible it must’ve been for them. Did they run out of air and die crawling and knocking into the lid? Did they wind down like little toys on juiceless batteries? Did they, like Daddy Eric said they would, get cooked by the sun, boiling to death inside their own exoskeletons? Maybe they’re still alive but barely and they are suffering. It’s all her fault and she quickly ticks off the grasshoppers’ names in her head, and another crying fit begins to swell.

Andrew looks behind him, as though he hears Wen thinking about the jar left in the grass. As he turns, Wen sees the entire common room splayed before her and the adults animate, one movement begetting the next. She doesn’t understand or even have time to react to all of it, but her brain catalogs everything to be parsed and dwelled upon later:

Andrew swivels at the waist, peering over his left shoulder. Adriane drops to one knee, snatches up a knife with her taloned right hand, and launches at Andrew. Leonard sprints away from the couch, triggered by Adriane’s springing forward. Andrew spins back around to face the room and Adriane is only one or two steps from being on top of him. Her knife arm is raised triumphantly over her head. Leonard thunders across the room shouting Adriane’s name. Andrew fires the gun. There’s a pop, or a crack, sounding to Wen like two cars smashing together; its punchy loudness is as jarring as its brevity and the silence that fills the vacuum after. Wen covers her ears. Adriane is stood up, jerked upright, and lifted and pushed onto her heels like the gun spewed out a magic invisible wall. Her shirt is black and there is no visible, telltale red staining the cloth, but the bullet must’ve hit her somewhere in her now drooping left arm or shoulder. Eric lifts what was once Adriane’s weapon and tries to run toward the others, but his foot is still snared in the rope attached to his chair and he trips. He falls hard and lands on top of the weapon. The wooden handle snaps near the base of the jury-rigged flower of blades with a weak, imposter gunshot crack. Leonard is almost to Adriane, and he stretches out a hand toward her. Adriane reraises the knife, but shakily, and her face is cleared of expression and emotion, rubbed out, erased. Andrew fires again. Underpinning the minidetonation of the gunshot, there’s a soft, wet, sucking sound. Adriane’s throat explodes into a geyser of blood. Leonard is close enough that blood sprays onto his face and the front of his shirt. Her arm drops and so does the knife. Then she falls, too, collapsing to the floor, landing on her back. Blood spurts and pumps from her neck in endless supply. Her gurgles become hisses fading in volume until there’s no sound at all. Eric flips onto his back and tries to kick the tangle of rope from his leg. Andrew’s mouth hangs open, his upper lip quakes, and his eyes are wide O’s. The gun lowers, pointed at the floor or at the dying Adriane. Andrew doesn’t initially react to Leonard’s changing course, charging past Adriane and at him. Andrew raises his gun but he’s too late. Leonard is right on top of him and with both of his hands grabs Andrew’s hand and gun. Andrew’s arms go above his head, pulled up by Leonard. The crown of Andrew’s head is only at Leonard’s chin because of the height difference. Andrew grunts and yells and rams his head into Leonard’s neck and chest, and he lifts his knees, bouncing them into Leonard’s midsection. Leonard doesn’t flinch and doesn’t let go.

Wen floats out of the doorway and into the common room, gravity sucking her into the orbits of the crashing bodies. She stares down at Adriane. Her eyes are half closed, and the skin of her face is a fancy doll’s white, glowing above the gaping red hole of her throat. Her already dark hair is blackened by the expanding pool of blood.

To Wen’s right, Eric frantically kicks his tied-up leg, and the attached chair skitters around like a dog happy to see its owner finally returned home. Wen dodges the chair and crouches next to Eric. She taps his leg just above the knee. He sees her and stops kicking. She says, “I can help.” She tries sliding her fingers under the coils, but because of Eric’s flailing about the rope is wound tight and haphazardly, and she can’t find the original knot.

Eric sits up and his hands join Wen’s. One of his hands is wet with Adriane’s blood and he smears red onto the rope. He doesn’t quite push Wen away, but he takes over tugging hard on the lines and pulling out knots and loops hidden within other loops. The rope begins to melt away, the tangled mass unwinding as though his leg is a spool. Wen leans back and sits perched on top of her feet. She folds her hands in her lap. Her fingers are pink with Adriane’s blood.

Wen marvels at how much bigger Leonard is than Andrew. Despite the size difference, they continue to wrestle to a stalemate over the gun. Leonard lowers his right shoulder and drives it into Andrew’s chest. Andrew twists enough to avoid the brunt of the force, which throws Leonard off-balance, and the two of them crash into the wall next to the doorframe with a cabin-shaking thud. Their arms fall from over their heads like a plummeting castle gate. Their hands swallow up the gun, but as they sweep their arms left and then back right, the black eye of the short, stunted barrel is visible, sunken into the entangled tree roots of their fingers. Leonard twists and slams his weight back into Andrew, pinning him against the wall.

Leonard yells, “Let go! Just let go!”

Wen yells, “You’re hurting him! Stop!” Eric is almost free from the rope and chair.

Andrew’s face is red, and his body shrinks under the assault of Leonard’s insistent size and strength. Andrew’s breaths are coarse and irregular. His feet slide and stab out from behind Leonard, desperate for purchase and a path to freedom, but he isn’t going anywhere. Andrew drops suddenly-perhaps purposefully-to his knees as though his ankles and shins are made of thin cardboard and crumple under his weight. Leonard stumbles, loses balance, and bashes the side of his head against the wall’s wooden panels. He pops back upright and vigorously attempts to shake the gun free, yanking Andrew’s arms up and down, and side to side, and then Wen doesn’t see or hear or feel anything anymore.

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