HELLRAISER: A Retrospective in Eight Parts

Back in Austin, my favorite place that didn’t involve drinking or food was I Luv Video. It was a place I could literally spend hours lost inside of, a massive, two-story building stacked floor to ceiling with tapes and DVDs, and not just the run-of-the-mill, eighteen-copies-of-grownups Blockbuster shit, but things you had never heard of, even things you may have never wanted to see. Sometimes—scratch that, most of the time—I would just show up at the place with nothing in mind but a vague idea of preferred genre, and walk out with one, two, or even three flicks. During one such visit, I was with talented musician and barbecue enthusiast Ben Seligson, and we happened upon a copy of Clive Barker’s 1987 classic, Hellraiser.

Like a lot of folks, we were somewhat familiar with the premise (and more familiar with the punctured face of the franchise, Pinhead): a globetrotting libertine happens across a puzzle box that unleashes a band of sadistic interdimensional beings—aka, the Cenobites—who tear him apart and trap him inside the box. Later, his brother and sister-in-law move in to the house where his blood was first spilled, and lots of classy late 80s Vaseline-lens sex happens, followed by lots of late 80s latex gore. Needless to say, we were hooked (har har har), and when we rent to return the disc, decided to rent Hellraiser II. And then…well…things got kind of out of control.

As of this writing, Ben and I have seen all but the most recent iteration of the Hellraiser franchise (which we consider non-canonical, as it features someone other than series regular Doug Bradley in the role of Pinhead). For those of you keeping count at home, that’s eight movies, only three of which were ever released theatrically. Like an interaction with those angels of pain, the cenobites, the Hellraiser series starts weird, and then gets a little weirder—and harder to sit through—as time goes on.

What follows is a retrospective of all eight canonical Hellraiser films. I’ll be working mostly from memory with occasional references to Wikipedia. Happy Halloween lovelies, and let’s get ready to bleed.

1.    Hellraiser (1987)

The Gang’s All Here

I already gave the gist of the plot above, but the original Hellraiser is more of a slow burn than a lot of people realize. It’s mostly atmospherics, with some awesome big hair and shoulder pad dresses thrown in for good measure. Oh, and there’s also a ton of shots of Frank without skin bleeding all over the place, and I think he tries to rape a teenager at one point. Looking back, it’s kind of crazy what you could get away with in 1987. Pinhead and the Cenobites (if this isn’t a metal band already it should be) don’t show up until around the halfway mark, which would become a calling card of the series, even though its marketed exclusively using their image. A typical Hellraiser film works out like this: some idiot does a bunch of dumb shit, vaguely connected to the lament configuration, and then the Cenobites show up in the last half hour of the movie and slaughter everybody. Take notes, kids.

2.    Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988)

This mental hospital looks totally up to code

This is my personal favorite of the series. It’s paced a lot more like a traditional horror film than the first one, and also features mad cenobite action, as well as some awesome Pinhead one-liners (“It is not the hands that call us…but DESIRE.”), and a computer-generated hellscape that spills into a mental hospital, which, it turns out, looks a lot like really bad deviantArt MC Escher ripoff work. It also features a mad scientist turning into king Cenobite and destroys Pinhead and his cronies (we also figure out that Pinhead used to be a real person, and see some Cenobite origin stories for the first time). They definitely had a lot more money to make this one, and it shows, in the best/worst/best again of ways.

3.    Hellraiser: Hell on Earth (1992)

Sigh, Cenobites are so trendy now…

This flick marks the point at which the Hellraiser series descended into full blown batshit territory. It’s the definition of a bloated, aging, early 90s horror franchise, complete with completely unnecessary attempts to be hip and modern. The plot involves an asshole club owner who purchases a giant rotating pillar that somehow has the Cenobites trapped inside, and he (of course) accidentally releases them. Since it’s a third sequel, the producers decided bigger was better, and the Cenobites end up converting a huge swath of New York (trivia buffs: a lot of it was actually filmed in North Carolina) into a Cenobite army, which leads a series highlight, Cenobite who kills people by launching CDs out of his body. BONUS: Motherfucking MOTORHEAD recorded a version of “Hellraiser” for the soundtrack, and the video featured Lemmy playing cards with Pinhead.

 

 

4.    Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996)

Not entirely insane theory: maybe the Borg Cube and the Lament Configuration are one and the same?

You can kind of delineate the different Hellraiser periods like geological layers. This marks the period that the series moved to direct-to-video release and got markedly crappier. It may have coincided with Bob and Harvey Weinstein realizing they had to churn out a new flick every few years to hold onto the rights to the franchise, but it’s uncertain (read: I’m too lazy to research it) when exactly that began. This is probably the most boring of all the Hellraisers. It’s bad, but doesn’t really have any noteworthy insanity to make sitting through the 1.5 hours of shit worth anything. It does win “WTF” meta-points for having scenes set both in a space station and 18th century France, and this also supposedly shows the origins of the Lament Configuration, but like most of the series, it makes next to no sense.

5.    Hellraiser: Inferno (2000)

Snore

Why they didn’t go with the obvious Hellraiser 2000 title and make it about Pinhead and the Cenobites laying waste to an America crippled by Y2K is beyond me. I remember next to nothing about this movie, except that it involved a detective investigating a murder, and that there seemed to be a lot of Memento rip-off artistry happening. I think he realizes that he is the killer and in hell, living out the mystery of discovering it again and again for eternity. I want to say that the producers were sly enough to try and wink as they said “Hell is watching our movie forever”, but I don’t want to give them too much credit.

6.    Hellraiser: Hellseeker (2002)

Well, that’s gross

Wait, maybe this is the one with all the Memento ripoff time fractures. That would make more sense, seeing as Memento came out in 2000, and even on the tight Hellraiser production schedules, ripping off a movie that came out the same year seems hard to do. All I know is one of them involves Pinhead coming in as a dues ex machina at the end, and revealing the mysteries of the plot. And this happens while it’s snowing. Inside. I should mention that by this point, the Cenobites were really only tangentially related to the series, at best (but yes, they still put Pinhead on the cover of every box), and would show up in the last 5 minutes, and in some cases NOT EVEN KILL PEOPLE. What bullshit.

7.    Hellraiser: Deader (2005)

Welp, this is going to get worse before it gets better…

Continuing the long and arduous road through the “boring Hellraiser” period, Deader is about a suicide cult led by the descendent of the guy who created the Lament Configuration (he’s a central character in Bloodline) and who somehow has this plan to take control of the Cenobites by tricking a bunch of cultists into killing themselves? It’s weird, but Pinhead and his goons show up and murder everybody at the end, which can be counted as a return to form for the series. Side note: there’s a joke about a sequel to Dracula: Dead and Loving It in here somewhere.

8.    Hellraiser: Hellword (2005)

I’m back, motherfuckers! And I got kind of fat!

Two Hellraisers in one year! This flick marks a return to form to old-school batshit crazy levels of Hellraiser. Yet another example of old and creaky producers trying to prove how hip they are, Hellworld set the series’ mythos against the backdrop of online gaming and LAN parties. In the world of this movie, all the cool kids are obsessed with this new computer game (…) even though some people who play it mysteriously wind up dead. Lance Henrisken hosts the namesake “Hellworld” party at his giant gothic mansion, and then a bunch of teenagers are systematically killed by him and Pinhead. Great times had by all, and an awesome MST3K worthy “WTF” ending for the whole family!

There you have it folks. A look back on that franchise so many of us love to reference even though we’ve seen none of the movies! This year was not the year I finally got off my ass and made my Pinhead costume, but one day, one day I will reign supreme as the master of the flesh. Remember when you go out and hit the streets tonight, looking for delights of the tongue: “I…AM…PAIN.”

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A Death in Dallas

There are still parts of Dallas that are seedy, and when I find them, I’m overjoyed. Really, they’re strange pockets of that uniquely suburban seediness: blocks and streets that are a little less manicured, a little darker, where the people who don’t have a steady job and 2.5 kids at home go to congregate. It’s not like New York, where all different types of people churn around in the bulk of the city at any given moment and then scuttle home to their respective neighborhoods. The seedy parts of suburbia are populated exclusively by the down and out and the tourists who are coming by to snap a few mental pictures and get their rocks off before they head back to the picket fence.

I don’t know which I am. I grew up here, in University Park, the whitest of the white, with rich parents and a prep school education. I had been living in Brooklyn for all of two months before my mother called and said I needed to be on the next flight back home. My grandmother had been living with cancer for the better part of the year, and once I left she passed firmly into dying of cancer. My trips back to Texas are usually punctuated with old friends and lots of drinking, and this week was no different, but everything seemed necessary rather than celebratory. The conversations with high school buddies over beers were somber and dark, the descents into drunkenness desperate and aggressive. Each day I spent at Nana’s side waiting for the inevitable and not knowing what to say in our last hours together took a physical and mental toll on me. I left that giant house each day feeling like I had been washed out and emptied on the sidewalk, and I filled it with booze, food, and any sort of connection I could find.

Tracy was a girl I had known for some time, but we’d always been in different places. After not seeing each other for years she tried, while drunk, to get me to cheat on my-then girlfriend, unsuccessfully. Later, when I was single, she declined, but then decided to go out with me for fancy cocktails when she was in New York, with a blowjob nightcap. We met up again when I was back in Dallas, hungry for any sort of release that would distract me from the overriding pressures of family and mortality, and had more conversation than I thought would be necessary to get our wants and desires out in the open. For two or three nights in a row we would get a drink, talk vaguely about life and loss, and then go back to her tidy, sterile girl’s room where we’d lay on clean white sheets and go down on each other until it got late. It all seemed fine until her friend Karen met us at the bar one night, and I in my grief-bender confidence decided that I could engage her attentions as well without it blowing up in my face.

Karen and I went for lunch at Jimmy’s Italian Grocery, and after flirting over sloppy and delicious sandwiches, she invited me to a bachelorette party, assuring me that it was the co-ed portion of the evening, and that I was welcome to bounce with the other male attendees before they headed to the strip club. I did in fact attend the shitty comedy club, but while standing around out front, the bride-to-be, Sarah, asked if I was coming to the strip club. It only took a moment for me to think about it, realize I had never been to a male (gay?) strip club, and that this was too weird an evening to pass up.

The club lay on a stretch of that seedy suburbia, located improbably (or predictably) just behind a huge chunk of walled-in 1%-ers. It was one of three clubs built to service women or gay men on that block alone, and I vaguely remembered a scandal in high school when some guy saw our choir teacher in the parking lot of one such establishment with another gentleman. In any event, that night was a weekday, and the club was completely dead. The only other people I saw besides our party were two guys leaving the club as we walked in, who oohed and aahed over Sarah’s tiara and bachelorette sash. Despite the sparse attendance, once we had thrown back a round of shots and sat down outside, there was nary a dancer to be found. Sarah loudly announced that she was disappointed she wasn’t getting a lap dance, and I jokingly said that I would provide one, as the only man in attendance. “OK!” she yelled, thrusting a crumpled dollar in my direction. Well, when the going gets weird, the weird get weirder, I thought, and I mounted her to the cackles and catcalls of the other women in the party. Sarah immediately reached up and ripped open the buttons of my shirt, raking her nails up and down my chest as she mumbled things about this being too tempting, that I was supposed to be gay, that she wanted to fuck me. Things I was not prepared to hear from a woman I had just met several hours ago. The rest of the evening followed suit, and as Sarah and I got drunker we got bolder, switching off giving each other dances, rubbing each other’s crotches over clothing, delighting in the semi-approved infidelity of it all.

“If you weren’t getting married, I’d take you home right now and fuck you until you couldn’t talk,” I slurred into her ear at one point.

“I know you would,” she purred back.

As the evening turned into early morning the spell wound down, the bartenders amused glances turned into bored impatience, and the group dispersed. I drove home, feeling more aroused and simultaneously empty than I had ever been in my life. It was close to 3AM by the time I crawled under the sheets of the guest room. Sometime around 5AM, my dad came into the room, and gently woke me, saying we had to go to Nana’s house. It was time. As my parents got ready downstairs, my mom got a call from the night nurse again. We were too late. She had just passed on. Sick relief and self-loathing washed over me as my mother crumpled at the table. I finally had somebody else to pour my feelings into, someone to support and hold up and be strong for, instead of turning all of my blind, directionless rage inwards. The entire family was gathered at her bed by the time we got there, my grandfather holding her lifeless body in his hands, all six feet and four inches of his 93-year-old frame doubled over as he wept like I’ve never seen a grown man weep before. We sat and talked with him and waited for the minister to come, followed soon after by the medical school she had donated her body to. I was so mentally and physically exhausted that I passed out in a spare bedroom before the people from the school carried her down the stairs. Apparently they weren’t very good at it, and my mother later said she considered coming to wake me up so I could help them. I’m glad she didn’t.

The next few days were a blur. The funeral, the memorial service, the obituary I wrote, all of it blurred into one continuous splotch of dreary and shuffling humanity that made me swell with pride and shrink for fear of what my own passing might be like. Would it pack the Church of the Incarnation to the rafters, as hers did? Would it be full of lifelong friends and even family of friends laughing and telling stories about me well into the early evening? Or would I only be whispered of gravely over beers in a dive bar somewhere, once old acquaintances had long since moved on and caught wind of my passing from the myriad social networks we use as replacements for friendship? Would the sum total of my life’s remembrance be,  “Oh that guy? Yeah, he was a good dude. Pretty crazy, but nice once you got to know him”?

Months later, when I was back in New York, Tracy popped up on one of my many chat services. “I don’t want to be friends anymore,” she said. It hung in my window, heavy and ominous.

“OK. Why?” I typed back.

She began to tell me all about how terrible I was to her, how I had tricked her into fooling around with me, how once Karen had come into the picture I had stopped calling or getting in touch with her while I was still in Dallas, and how she generally thought I was just an awful person.

“I just don’t want friends like you,” she finished. The last two words bored into my skull, stinging like a glowing match-head jammed under the skin of my eyelid. All the anger that I had turned inward roiled out, and I only wished that I could have been there in person to see her pathetic selfishness crumple. Did she know that the reason I was unavailable was because my grandmother had died and I was consoling a grieving mother, along with her sisters? Did she remember that we had been very upfront with what we were both OK with, and that I had respected those parameters? Did she ever stop to think for a second that maybe people had priorities in their life outside of making her feel like a beautiful and special snowflake princess?

“Whatever John” she typed back.

“Fuck you,” I replied, before closing the laptop lid. I never spoke to her again.

Here Comes A Regular

The two men in white shuffled around the dingy break room, pretending they had more to do than sip terrible coffee out of Styrofoam cups. It was a Wednesday night, just after dark, and things were slow.

“Must be quiet out there tonight,” the short one muttered. He was covered in dark, blotchy tattoos under the sleeves of his scrubs; they coiled over his arms, out from the deep V of his top’s neckline and up his neck. A plastic nametag affixed to his breast pocket announced him as “Cliff”. He withdrew a packet of cigarettes from the pocket and stuck one under his mustache, offering another to his partner George, a much taller, thinner, and blanker canvas. Just as George was reaching to take the proffered smoke, the red, caged bulb buzzed angrily, announcing a load-in. “Spoke too soon,” Cliff muttered around the cigarette, as he wearily rose to his feet.

They rolled up the shutter with practiced boredom and met the EMT. This time of night it was bound to be the usual meat wagon drop-off, and the medic didn’t disappoint. The stiff on the gurney was found in bad part of Sector 12 (though they were all pretty bad, these days), jacked in to some jerry-rigged deck running power from a street lamp. Braindeath: no pulse, no identification, no witnesses. Another for the pile. George signed the paperwork while Cliff did the insurance-required once-over vital signs. The guy was practically grey, and cold to the touch, but still, Cliff did the once over and recorded no pulse, no heartbeat, no reflexive responses of any kind. Done and done, they thanked the EMT and rolled the shutter back down.

“Well, well,” George said, letting out a low whistle. The bulge in the back of the stiff’s pants turned out to be a Semtek .45 automatic. Very big, very powerful, and very illegal. He tossed it into the bin for the blue boys to pick up in the morning. “Homie’s into some hot stuff, huh?”

“That neighborhood you gotta be,” Cliff grunted. The guy was heavy, and it took the two of them to move him onto the prep table.

“Hot download?” George asked.

“Probably,” Cliff muttered, wiping the sweat from his brow with a tattooed forearm. “Either that or the poor bastard just fell out. Guy like this was probably in deep.” He tapped his penlight against a chunk of metal and wiring protruding from the corpse’s left temple. “That’s a pretty serious piece of hardware. Definitely not amateur hour.” George grunted in agreement. A moment of silence passed, and then Cliff looked up with a glint of mischief in his eyes.

“Aah, c’mon…” George complained, half-heartedly.

“400 bucks, easy,” Cliff said, pushing the issue even though he didn’t really have to. “50/50 split. C’mon, I’ll flip you for it.” He dug around for a quarter, and George called it in the air. He lost, just like every other time, and swore, just like every other time.

“At least let me catch that smoke first,” he whined.

“Sure thing, pal,” Cliff laughed. The two men in white headed outside, banging the shutter closed behind them.

Chase…the voice said. It was dark, and the voice echoed. He tried to open his eyes, but only saw flecks of blue penetrate the black. Chase…it said again, and then the soothing, feminine tone twisted and warped into something sinister, metallic, and digital. It ripped through his ears and brain in a shriek that seemed to drill down to the base of his spine, sending hot white flashes of searing pain through his temples, and then just as soon as it began, it was gone. His eyes fluttered open, and all he could see was the blur of fluorescent lights overhead.

Chase sat bolt upright, the metal table groaning underneath him. His hands went to the implant at his left temple and massaged it, trying to soothe the burn that lingered on his sweat-sick skin. He looked around the room, looked down at himself, and recognized nothing.

“I know who I am,” he rasped through cracked lips, but the sentence stopped there. It wasn’t true, really. He knew his name, but that was all. He hopped off the table and wandered the tiny linoleum box, and found nothing he knew, including the large Semtek pistol lying in the bin at the foot of the table. He picked it up anyway, hefting it in his right hand, feeling the weight. The faint odor of cordite that drifted into his nostrils was the first familiar sensation he had experienced in his new, short little life. Hell of a big gun, he thought, just as the two men in white banged through the door. They stared for a solid three seconds before bolting back out the door they came through. Cliff slipped and fell, banging his head on the door hinge, but he only swore under his breath and continued his retreat, leaving a telltale drip of blood out the open shutters.

Chase walked to the edge of the loading dock and peered out into the night that seemed to immediately swallow every last ounce of light before it spilled out onto the street. He could barely make out the forms of the two retreating technicians as they tore down the block, not daring to look back, past a trash barrel fire tended to by two excessively pierced young men. They looked after the techs with amusement, then something closer to apprehension as Chase walked over.

“Hi,” he said, the greeting thudding flat in the still of the evening. Both kids were thin but corded with sinewy muscle, the kind of build that only comes from lots of fighting and malnutrition. Chase shifted uneasily on his feet, feeling the weight of the gun tucked into the back of his pants. The tough on the left stared at him blankly, with nothing close to an emotion registering on his face.

“What the fuck you want, plug-head?” the one on the right spat, his words dripping with venom.

“D’you know who those guys were?” Chase asked, dipping his head in the direction that the two techs ran.

“They’re the chop-shop boys,” the one on the left snorted. “They carve up the stiffs and fry-jobs.”

“Question is, who the fuck are you?” said the one on the right.

“I don’t know,” Chase answered, truthfully. The kid ignored him.

“That’s a nice jack you got there,” he cooed, eyeing the metal imbedded in Chase’s skull. “How much that set you back?”

“I don’t know,” Chase repeated. The kid grunted impatiently.

“You walked out of that place with no whites on,” he said, nodding towards the building with the open shutter “and it means only one thing.” He pulled a vibrating, surgical knife from his hip pocket, the blade immediately transformed into a whirring blur at the flick of a button. “You’re a fucking dead man!”

Before the teen could take a step towards him, Chase had drawn the gun from his belt and put two bullets square in the middle of the punk’s chest. He froze, staggered back, and fell to the asphalt, a red smoking crater burned into the center of his body. His eyes stared up as his breath came in wordless, shuddering gasps.

“Fuck!” his companion screamed before running off into the night. Chase looked down at the weapon smoldering by his side. He hadn’t even thought about it. The minute the knife came out, his body had moved of its own accord, pulled the steel from his waistband and unloaded two rounds as fluidly as rainwater in the gutter. What struck Chase, however, was that he didn’t care. He looked down at the body that lay crumpled on the street, no more than seventeen years old, scarred with track marks and other wounds, and felt nothing. No sorrow, no fear, not even anger or satisfaction; only a vague sense of confidence that the situation had been dealt with. He jammed the gun back into his belt and walked on.

In another twenty minutes, Chase was standing out in front of a squat, ashy sootbox of a building, with a broken neon sign that spelled out “SAPPHIRE”. All of the windows had been blacked out, and the only signs of life were the sounds—a thin layer of tinny music, punctuated by clinking glassware and raucous laughter—that rolled out from under a crack in the door. The building was the only establishment for miles, resting on a lot overgrown with weeds and covered in the shadows of nearby cooling towers and scrubber stacks. There was a parking lot, populated almost exclusively by rusted out scooters and one ancient pickup that seemed to have been born on the side of the building. Chase looked down at the crumpled matchbook in his palm. This was the place: 269 San Pedro Street. He turned the flap up, found one solitary stick, and used it to light the last cigarette in his jacket pocket before he pushed through the front door.

The red and blue bulbs inside bathed the room in muted pastels, a fuzzy splash of light that drowned details and left a thin edge of menace in its wake. The crowd was almost exclusively male, save for a few streetwalkers that lingered by the front, looking bored. There was a musclebound giant sitting at the corner of the bar nearest the door, nursing a bottle of beer that appeared laughably tiny in his oversized mitt. Next to him was a bald twig with snakes of wire coiling out of his head and running own his back like metallic tendrils. The man behind the bar sported a mug that looked like it had been through a fair share of smashed glasses and other sharp implements. The space where one eye should have been was sewn shut in a deep crevice of ribbon-like scar tissue. His good eye turned up towards the entrance as the door banged shut behind Chase, and the scowl turned upside down.

“Chase McGillan!” the bartender boomed, in a voice loud enough to drown out the music. “As I live and breathe!”

The twig and the giant turned on their stools and also broke out in wide grins, lifting their glasses in salute. Chase managed a weak smile and took a seat on the other side of the giant, figuring he might be able to coax a few details out of this crowd of strangers that obviously knew him.

“How’s it going partner?” the giant asked with sincere warmth as he extended a hand. Chase tried not to grimace in the crushing grip.

“We thought you were a fry-job for sure,” the twig piped up, in a voice that sounded half-electronic, glitchy. His face was a patchy mess of wires and implants, something that resembled a circuit board more than anything human. His eyes pulsed faintly with dull blue light as he carefully navigated a straw past all the hardware and into his mouth. “But since you’re here, in one piece,” he continued with a flourish, “that must mean you’ve dropped in to buy a round for the peons.”

A small roar went up from the tiny crowd, and Chase nodded and smiled whilst secretly panicking. He patted down his pockets and was relieved to find a small leather wallet, and even more relieved to find it stuffed with cash. He signaled to the bartender: “One for the house,” and the crowd went wild.

The three of them at the corner were served first, a fresh round of beers and a mysterious concoction that resembled dirty dishwater and smoked in a glass. The giant raised his glass in two fingers and nodded appreciatively in Chase’s direction. “To Matahari,”

The cry went up from all the men clustered at the bar: “To Matahari!” before they thunked the glasses on the scarred wood and downed the smoky contents. Chase immediately reached for his beer, hoping to extinguish the urge to vomit. The bartender slapped him on the back, roughly, and then went to attend to the drunks at the other end.

The night wore on steadily, and Chase found it harder and harder to focus on the blurry shapes moving about in the low light. Somebody fed a wad of bills into the jukebox and they spent the next fifteen minutes yelling over old punk songs from the 1980s until the giant got pissed and smashed the juke with a pool cue. An altercation followed, and soon three warm, broken bodies were cooling outside on the pavement. It was 3:00AM by the time the giant lumbered back in and flopped onto his stool. The bartender tossed him a clean rag without comment, and the night continued as though nothing had happened.

Chase tried to remember. He wondered who these people were, and what they did. Most of all, he wondered how he fit into the entire sordid scene that had left three kids out in the gutter with broken bones for the crime of using the jukebox. There was nothing there when he plumbed the depths, only black gaping holes where his past should have been. He was completely blank, and as dawn approached, the twig and the giant’s intoxication levels soared as well, and their questions about this mysterious job and whoever this “Matahari” person was became more and more pointed and confrontational. They kept up a veneer of friendliness, but they got sloppy: Chase could see the looks they exchanged when they thought his back was turned. He didn’t feel afraid or alarmed, only annoyed. He didn’t know these people: not anymore. Most of all, he was tired, and wanted to go home, but he didn’t know where it would be, or if it even existed.

Light had already begun to leak underneath the crack in the door when Chase finally excused himself. He staggered to his feet and zig-zagged out to the parking lot, completely unsurprised to hear footsteps following. He patted his pockets down for cigarettes, and only found a crumpled, empty packet. The giant’s massive forearm appeared at the side of his face, and he took the proffered tobacco and lit it, watching the smoke rise up in the dull morning light and dissipate as it bled into the clouds. He heard the slide of the pistol being racked, and didn’t flinch as the twig’s spidery hands fumbled in his pocket and withdrew the wallet, still fat with cash.

“Sorry,” the glitchy computer-voice said.

“I don’t even know who you are anymore,” Chase responded, smirking with the knowledge that they would always think they knew what he had meant, but they’d always be wrong. A flock of pigeons lit off of the roof of the bar as the shot cracked through the air.

The medics arrived a few minutes later, and the twig and the giant had left. The bartender had been closing up and was getting ready to take the last of the trash bags outside when he saw what he thought was a discarded jacket, lying in the dust. They went to turn the body over, looked into Chase’s cold and waxen face, and went white. One of them looked at the other, his mouth agape, and then turned to the bartender.

“Do you know this guy?” he asked.

“His name’s Chase,” the bartender said. “He’s a regular.”