[Camera up on the interior of a small, darkened room, about the size of a confessional booth. Three walls are visible to the lens: the first, to the camera’s left, does nothing to detract from the whole “confessional” feel, inasmuch as it appears to be constructed of intricately-carved ecclesiastical paneling in a profound walnut hue. The second wall, directly opposite the camera, consists mostly of a high-definition liquid crystal television at eye level, with a low curtain underneath. The liquid crystal television is currently displaying a screen-saver-y image of colorful saltwater fish, swimming sedately and aimlessly across the display. To the right, there are racks and racks of audiovisual equipment, lots of loose wires and slowly-winking amber lights and the like. The room is unoccupied.]
[This, for a moment. Then, one of the wooden carvings on the ecclesiastical paneling opens a heretofore-invisible eye. It blinks, slithers across the surface of the wood, and finally settles into a new configuration, where it quickly becomes once again indistinguishable from any other carving in the panel, and the confessional is as it was. It remains this way for another half-minute.]
[Then, the curtain beneath the television slides open, and BRAND enters the confessional room, ducking deeply to do so. He is unshaven, there is a small open gash on his left cheek, and he is busily engaged in ripping a length of bandage off a roll with his teeth. He carries a video cassette under one arm. BRAND looks up at the camera.]
BRAND: Hey. Just… gimme a minute, here.
[BRAND winds a few turns of bandage around his right bicep and knits the ends together with a small, pen-like device. Two or three glittering blue sparks, and he’s done. He glances up at the camera again.]
BRAND (holding up the tape): So, yeah, anyway. Got this out of the A.V. storage closet in the storm shelter downstairs. Fielding a request from someone or something out there for a peek at the night that Spartan Fox joined the crew. I don’t actually have a tape of me convincing Spartan to sign on, because that happened in the alley out back, and ever since the Nephilim incident a few years ago we haven’t had security cameras in the back alley. Point is, while me and Spartan were hashing out a mutually-agreeable communication strategy, we left Elroy on point to deal with the vengeful Native American spirit somebody inadvertently summoned up earlier that afternoon. Sorry about how long it took to get this but there was a power outage and plus something bit me and we had to make sure it wasn’t mutagenically infectious like that thing that got Sunny. Good news on that front. So anyway, here’s the tape.
[BRAND artfully flips the tape into his hand and begins fiddling with the audiovisual equipment on the rightmost wall.]
BRAND (staring intently at the equipment): One more second, okay?
[He struggles with a VCR for a moment, which tries three or four times to spit the tape back out without playing it, but eventually Brand out-stubborns it. The tropical fish vanish in a spray of static, and the grainy, back-and-white image of a security camera shot replaces them. BRAND steps aside to let the camera focus on the television.]
[The security camera image rolls a couple times, losing vertical hold, before calming down into a viewable picture.]
BRAND: Okay, here it is. Before it starts, let me just, um, disclaim this with the standard Elroy disclaimer, like with DVD commentary tracks. Nothing Elroy says here should be taken to represent the opinion of Q&D Convenience Marts Inc., or me specifically because Elroy is an ass. Good enough? All righty.
* * *
[The security camera displays ELROY standing at the registers, clad (as always) in his too-small but otherwise regulation-perfect Boy Scouts of America uniform. He rests one hand easily against the cash counter, and gazes up with a sort of easy confidence at a grim and smoky-looking mass currently hovering over the fresh produce island. The grim and smoky-looking mass holds a spectral tomahawk in a posture which is not immediately menacing but which nevertheless suggests that menace of some variety is a distinct possibility in the near future. It rumbles with thunder and with rain.]
ELROY: Oha, Chiefy. Or as they say in your tongue, “How”.
[ELROY wanders out from behind the registers, pushing his way through the security-glass door.]
ELROY: Of course, that’s an Anglicization, right? The real word is “háu“, and it’s not a “generic Native American greeting” like those bastards in Hollywood’ll try and get you to believe. It’s specifically Lakota Sioux. Your people, Chiefy. So, no, I’m not your average dickass Peter Pan-grade Yankee jerkoff making weird presuppositions about your race. I’m schooled in this shit. You want to know how you know I’m schooled in this shit?
[ELROY holds up his sash of merit badges for the spirit to inspect, indicating one in particular.]
ELROY: You see that? Native American Studies. I am a certified Native American Studies expert in the eyes of the Boy Scouts of America, and brother, we fucking know our Indians. Now, before Chad went insane and locked himself in the break room with a crowbar, he told me that you’re swinging in on a mission from the Wakan Tanka to lay us low with some sort of Native American bitchslap from beyond, pay us back for all the sins we’ve committed against Mother Earth and such. So let me just set a few things straight with your yellow undead ass before you get all trigger-happy with the goddamn spiritual hatchet, m’kay?
[ELROY wanders over to the glass front doors of the Grimes Street Q&D, turning his back for a moment on the vengeful spirit. It is a maneuver of either great confidence or great stupidity. Possibly both.]
ELROY: You wanna know what was on this lot before it was a convenience store? It was a crack-house, Chiefy. That’s right. Right here in the middle of downtown goddamn Des Moines. I mean, maybe it was somebody’s dream home back in 1920, y’know, some soldier fresh back in from the European theatre subsequent to us handing Kaiser Wilhelm his ass on a polished Prussian helmet. But, come modern times, it wasn’t that any more. It was a sick, pus-infested boil on this city’s landscape, a place where weak-willed young women sold their bodies to feed their cocaine addictions. None of us could understand how it persisted here on the edge of the Wet Spot. I mean, you’d think a bunch of drugged-up hos would be easy pickings for all the darksiders and the sunset bugaboos that roam the streets of this twisted city after dark, but as best as we could figure, they were too polluted for even the Enemy Camp to touch. Any of them demons make the mistake of snacking on one of them girls, they get a bad coke rush and about a hundred different blood-borne diseases to boot, and I don’t care if you’re a malefic manifestation of the lower planes, herpes is an ugly, painful bitch. I should know.
[ELROY turns back to the impassive spirit.]
ELROY: So Q&D bought this lot and razed the standing structure after re-homing as many of the girls as possible through the Polk County DHS, so they could start sucking off the teat of the State rather than their crack pipes. Not much of a change, I admit, but hell, I can’t fix everything about this world. I can barely keep the shelves faced. The point is, Q&D tore down a building that existed to do evil, where bad was only ever traded for more bad, and they even fucking recycled it. And I’m not just talking about the wood and concrete and stuff. They actually went in and recycled the crack vials. Do you know how difficult it is to find a place to take used crack vials for recycling? I sure as hell don’t, but one imagines that it might take a while. The Management, bless it, was undeterred. And when they had a clean, empty, purified lot, they went to work, building the best, kindest, most ecologically-friendly convenience store – slash – gas station you can possibly imagine.
[ELROY advances on the produce island.]
ELROY: You want to know what the LEED certification of this building is? So would I. We lost the only LEED inspector ever to visit this place to a can of okra that had gone bad, and I mean, it had gone, really, really bad. But before he was entirely consumed by the vegetable horror, he had a lot of good things to say about this place. From the ground on up. Did you know, for instance, that this building is specifically aligned on its lot to make the most of natural light, to keep down illumination expenses? It’s true. Solar panels on the roof? Check. And these ain’t your pappy’s solar panels, either, big clunky inefficient black boxes with tubes in ’em that just exist to bring the running water up to tepid. These are bleeding-edge solar electric cell arrays. You want to know how many kilowatts we draw from the power company? We draw negative kilowatts, bitch, because that’s how we roll. The meter-readers come out during the day just to see how much money the power company has to pay us. One time I was working the day shift and a big-ass blizzard knocked out all the power to the city for six hours and I, I shit you not, did not know about it until the next morning.
[ELROY wanders over to the small seating area, a row of restaurant-like booths where people can take their hot sandwiches if they’re not in a hurry to get back to their cars.]
ELROY: You see this furniture? This is bamboo, hater. They made the booths out of fucking bamboo. Good for pandas, good for the environment. The padding? Soy-based. Can you fucking believe all the shit they can do with soy? You can make ink out of soy. You can eat soy. You can sit on soy. You can make an artificial cow out of soy and then eat the artificial cow. It’s like, nature’s miracle plant, right down to all the synthetic estrogens it contains to keep our destructive testosterone-based impulses in check. And it’s good for the soil, too, which should make you bison-eating bastards happy.
[ELROY slowly shakes his head.]
ELROY: But you don’t care about any of that. You’re back from the grave, which means that your essence’s been whittled down to some sort of pure fire of vengeance or something, and I expect all your death-addled brain is capable of understanding is that yes, we are a gas station, and yes, we give people gas so that they can put it in their evil gas-burning automobiles and contribute to the greenhouse effect, a theory which I should here stress has not been conclusively proven by reputable scientific authorities. Even though about twenty percent of all the gas we sell is ethanol-based, for whatever fucking good that does anyone, what with driving the price of food up and encouraging people to grow wasteful, inefficient, ecologically-unsound corn.
ELROY (actually using finger-quotes here): Or, “maize”. Yeah, good idea to cultivate that, Mesoamerican dickweeds. Thanks a fucking lot for that contribution to global collapse, guys. The point is, you’re dead, and that makes you stupid. You think the White Man and his White Man Automobile are evil, and to you, this becomes a tomahawking problem. Which means that you’ve got one hell of a fucked-up idea about the nature of humanity.
[He closes back in on the fruit stand.]
ELROY: See, yes, I know, you and I come from different races. But the point I’m trying to make is that we’re both human. Or rather, you were, and I am. Point still stands. While this does have a lot of namby-pamby sunshine-and-rainbows feel-good implications for the tie-dye crowd, what it actually means is that both you and I are, fundamentally, have-sex-and-rape-the-earth-so-my-genes-are-perpetuated jerks. And I know, I know, you guys kill the bison and use every part, but that’s not because you were particularly moral. It’s because you were in constant dire straits, and you had to. If you had the kind of technology we had in Europe, the kind of soul-destroying life-easing machinery that we did, then you would have been all over that like yellow, black, and red on Indian Corn. You know how I know that? Horses. You guys didn’t have horses. All you had was, like, dogs and shit, until the eighteenth century, when your Cheyenne brethren showed you their sweet buffalo-hunting pony rides, and you were all like, I’mo get me some of that. I believe your word for them was “šuŋkawakaŋ“, which, translated, means something along the lines of “really awesome dog”. My point here, is that if the Cheyenne had come to you with a bunch of dune buggies running on two-cycle lawnmower engines, your reaction would have been exactly the same. Exactly. You’d have been all, like, let’s turn some of our “maize” into “fire-water”, fuel these bitches up, and hunt us some bison.
[ELROY folds his arms in front of his chest, causing the cuffs on his comically-short sleeves to ride even further up his spindly, sparsely-haired forearms.]
ELROY: We’re humans. We’re assholes. Get used to it. The more you try and draw distinctions between us, the more you’re going to turn into that goddamn Crying Indian in those “Keep America Beautiful” ads. You watch one of those, you think about it, and then you come back and tell me which one of us is the bigger racist douchebag.
[ELROY raises his chin.]
ELROY: So put that in your chanupa and smoke it.
* * *
[The picture freezes on an image of ELROY’s triumphant face. BRAND steps back into view.]
BRAND: Uh, yeah. The answer would be “you”, Elroy. Elroy is, in fact, the bigger racist douchebag. Since we’re apparently keeping track. Do you believe this guy?
BRAND: Gotta cut him some slack, I guess. He’s a cradle Republican. Which still doesn’t excuse him committing election fraud so he could vote for Bush a year early. I mean, Jesus, if you’re going to commit election fraud, do it for Nader or somebody who needs the help. In this case, though, you can’t really argue with results, because Chief Whatsisface just up and vanishes into a puff of umbrage right after Elroy’s tirade. Anyway, a little later, I brought Spartan inside, and that’s when things started getting fucked up. Let me just fast-forward and see if the videotape even recorded any of it, because there’s one thing in particular that I wanna—
[BRAND is interrupted from his task by a figure appearing from the curtain underneath the viewscreen. This is JORDAN TEAGUE. She wears a fringy leather jacket and looks, as always, a bit like a refugee from a 1980’s music video.]
JORDAN: Brand? You in here?
BRAND (squeezing his eyes shut): Teague, this is the Confessional. It is for Q&D employees only, barring special writ from Management. Not Mall workers.
JORDAN: Yeah. I know. It’s just… Gerta says we need you out front. Jabberwock.
BRAND (sighing glacially): You and your damn fairy-tale monsters.
JORDAN: Hey, it wasn’t me this time.
BRAND: Fine, fine, I believe you. Listen, we need to get a vorpal blade from somewhere.
JORDAN (rummaging around in her dated-looking fanny-pack): Just a second. I don’t have an actual vorpal blade, but I do have a vorpal blade app on my phone.
[JORDAN eventually comes up with her phone, pokes a few times at the touchscreen, and in a scintillating flash, it is surrounded by a meter-long angular corona of silvery light in the shape of a bright sword.]
BRAND: That’s kind of neat.
JORDAN: Yeah, it only works on iOS 5, so I had to upgrade first, but I’m pretty happy with it. Unfortunately, it kind of burns down the battery pretty quick.
[As if on cue, the vorpal blade flickers a bit.]
BRAND: Fine. Move.
[BRAND and JORDAN exit the confessional and let the curtain swing shut behind them. The tropical fish screen-saver pops back up on the display. Then, after a moment of stillness, a second carving in the wooden wall opens an eye and slithers into a new position. It closes its eye again, and all is as it was.]
[The camera cuts out.]