6th May 2021, 11:26 PM

Ask Ezra for advice

Ask Ezra for advice
You send a text to Cici.


You and Kate resume explaining how the dungeon works to Marlow--the basic structure of how a night plays out, the types of monsters and other obstacles you've encountered so far (like puzzles (which Cici hates) and gauntlet rooms (which you hate)). ...And the anomalies, like the yellow tape and the big boys beyond the sky.

"Wait, so--" He stops you-- "...Aliens?"

"Maybe," you reply.

"If they're outside the sky," he reasons, "then wouldn't they be in outer space...? ...Does it HAVE an outer space?"

Kate shrugs, and faintly smirks. "Is it really outer space if it's in a dream...?"

You also begin to ease him into the fact that all this might be... uh... magic. Just straight up magic.

The dream ring works. It works... exactly as advertised, as long as you understand the context in which it's supposed to be used. It affects your dreams in a tangible, repeatable way, despite being just a ring. You have no explanation for that outside of actual fucking magic. The fact that it works through the power of trading names just further cements that there's no... scientific explanation for it. At least, not in any field you're aware of. Not a high chance of hidden circuits, nanites, or wireless access. It is, as far as you can tell, a magic ring.

You also explain the video game bonus ability situation, which could have a scientific explanation but if it does you're dying to hear it. You personally suspect magic has to be at least slightly involved, because if it really was just subliminal messages baked into the code then the people who scrape code all day for internet videos would have spotted it by now. Something fucking magical is happening there. Magic Mustachio isn't some unknowable mystery, it's a game that's been combed over and studied for decades--nothing in the mechanical parts of the game should be making you jump better in the dream world.

"Speaking of magic," you sigh, "hello, I am Plaire Stevens."

Marlow smiles, fighting back a small chuckle. "Glad to meet ya, I'm Marlow Tuck."

. . .

He fucking did it again

You turn to Kate. "You heard that, right?"

Kate gives you a look as though she did not hear that.

"I'm losing my fucking mind," you mutter. "This is... the second time I've heard Marlow bold a word. Like. To be fair Afu swore he heard it the first time, too, but I still can't explain how--"

"Synesthesia," Marlow says simply.

There's a brief silence as you and Kate slowly turn to stare at him.

"It sounds like..." he trails off. "Synesthesia."

. . .

"Go on," you finally prod.

And he does. "Alright. So, some people can smell shapes. Or hear colors, or... taste... music, I don't know, some wires in the brain get crossed, and parts for one sense light up when they're not supposed to. Maybe four percent of the general pop have it genetically, but--" He leans forward in his seat. "--There's some drugs that can cause it, too. Temporarily. There's been studies done that in some folks, even something like caffeine can trigger synesthesia. ...So it varies from person to person." He gives a subtle shrug. "Maybe those dreams can cause it."

"...And I could just be genetically susceptible to it." That ... makes some amount of sense. The dream, the Brainsate, or both, combined with some genetic happenstance. Brain problems. ...But wait. "If it's a brain condition being triggered by dream stuff, how did Afu hear it, too? I'm not crazy, he definitely cracked a joke about Marlow making words sound important. ...Is Afu doing this shit too?"

"If Afu were doing this shit," Kate remarks, "we'd already know 'cuz he could NOT possibly shut up about it. Guarantee."

"So how else did he hear the bolding?!"

Marlow squints...


Marlow shrugs. "Magic?"

Pfft. "Dammit."

Kate chuckles dryly. "For real, man, I thought you were about to blow our minds. You could have at least said like... I don't know, it's fuckin' contagious or something."

Marlow smiles, and shakes his head. "If we had a bona fide case of contagious synesthesia we could solve all our money problems right now. That'd be the discovery of the century, right after... well, right after everything else we're talking about here I guess."

"The fucked up part," Kate adds, "is I swear to god I think I kinda heard it, too, when he said--"

"--Synesthesia, the first time!" you interject.

--Dude! Yeah though!," Kate agrees, pointing her fork at you. "It just sounded fuckin'... bigger. Not louder, but like..."

"Significant."

"Yeah!"

Marlow just shakes his head. "So we discovered my superpower. I got a real synesthesiacal voice."

"That's gonna be a bitch to fit on a business card, though." Kate takes another bite of her food.

"The magic game stuff is funny, though," Marlow comments. "I've heard stories kinda like that before."





...

This time it's Kate who says it. "Go on."

"Well," he begins, "The short version--'cuz there's a lot of versions of it," he says, pausing to take a drink, "is that some time in the 80s the government may or may not have built arcade cabinets that could mess with your mind. Kids were getting amnesia and hallucinating. The ones that could sleep got night terrors. The machines were maintained by men in black suits, who refused to answer any questions about who they worked for. Story always ends the same way--"

"The arcade cabinet just disappears one day, never to be seen agaiiin" you guess with wiggling fingers.

Marlow gets a small chuckle out of it. "Yup."

"There are..." you hesitate, unsure if you're ready to try and explain the intricacies of creepypasta, "...some urban legends floating around the internet with a... a similar premise. Unreleased games that were cancelled because they drove people insane, or... secret, edgy content buried deep in the code of popular games. ...Sometimes it's just stories about a haunted game cartridge bought at a mysterious garage sale. I don't know if that through line of games affecting brains means there's something real at the core, though, or if people just have a tendency to be scared of new technology. I don't even know if I'm using the phrase through line right. I mean, weren't there a bunch of scary movies about killer cars? ...And cell phones? It doesn't make killer cars real, is my point."

"People aren't afraid of new tech," Kate suggests. "People are scared of how other people are gonna use new tech. Like, some of the earliest killer car flicks weren't about haunted cars--it was just macho drivers being assholes and running people off the road. ...Like dudes do sometimes, just cranked up to eleven."

"And when we did start getting films about haunted cars," Marlow adds, "they were still sort of commentary on men and their relationship with cars... how that kind of freedom and sex appeal can possess a man. ...Or something like that, I was never really a car guy."

The three of you end up getting sidetracked discussing the common themes between conspiracy theories, creepypasta and horror films. It eventually circles back around to the real point, though, which is whether or not Mustachio giving you Mustachio powers in the dream is a sign of some greater malfeasance buried in the game itself.

Marlow has roughly the same hangup you do--if it's shadiness in the game proper, that shadiness has to like... physically exist somewhere. People find cut content, junk code and unused assets in games all the time; nobody ever finds dream affecting sigils, flashing commands or hidden mechanics for subconsciously manipulating the player. Even prototypes and beta versions of games are frequently leaked, distributed as ROMs, and subsequently stripped down to their ones and zeroes. There's people online that have made a career out of doing deep dives into old code, there's just... nowhere for this stuff to hide.

By the time you've all finished eating, you haven't even gotten to talking about what you need Marlow's equipment for, or explaining the dream's mechanics more thoroughly, or... much of anything, really. You managed to lay down the broader concepts, though.

"Honestly," you conclude, "I think for the house stuff we might want Ezra in on the conversation, too. He doesn't need to know about the dream fort, but as far as the house being full of weird goes--"

"Ezra might be the man to talk to," Marlow agrees. "He does know a lot of things about ... things."


Kate convinces Marlow to cover the food ("it's your initiation fee"), and you all head back to the Back Room.





Ezra greets you as you re-enter the Back Room. "She had shorter hair," he says, "but it is her in the picture."

Boooom.

Kate stinkeyes your fist pump and you don't even caaare

"Thanks," Marlow says, retrieving the photo.

Ezra smiles, turning back to you. "How is the ring working out, by the way?"

"It is..." be honest but reveal nothing "...exactly what I needed it to be. I actually need to ask you about something else. So, uh... I moved into the Spooky House like a week ago, and--?"

"Ohhh, no," says Ezra, beginning to turn away. "I've learned my lesson well enough about ghost problems. I'll not be involved."

"No ghosts," you state. "It's the house."

Kate adds, "her house is misbehaving."

Ezra stops.

He whirls back around to face you.

His eyebrows flare, as though he has somehow powered up.

"What is it doing?," he asks with a tone that's both hushed AND excited.

"It..." You take a breath. "It's hiding doors. It's making specific rooms hard to notice and remember."

"We're missing a laundry room," Kate adds.

"But why is it doing that?," he asks, stepping toward you.

"I..." Because a witch.

A witch did it.

...Hm.

No.

That's why it's able to hide doors, that's not why it IS hiding doors. Nothing's stopping it from hiding your bathroom or your kitchen but it doesn't. It hides the laundry room.

"There's something in the laundry room," you mutter. "...Something it doesn't want us to see."

"Bodies," Kate suggests.

"Not necessarily," Ezra replies. "It could be something of great value to the house--something sentimental, a reminder of better days that it has yet to trust you with. ...Or, yes, it could be something horrific that the house is ashamed of. ...Or even something that it's protecting you from. Hmm. My advice is to move."

Fuck

"--But barring that," he continues, "it should be easy to deduce the difference: earn the home's trust. Prove that you are a resident of the house, and not just some ghost chaser eager to view the freak show. Have you finished unpacking yet?"

"...Uh," you wince, "yes...?"

"She only owns like eight things," Kate says.

"Oh, no," replies Ezra, his eyebrows appalled, "are they at least important things? Things you cherish? Things with good experiences attached...?"

You wince harder. You kind of shrug. "...Like a 70/30 split maybe?"

"Dear God," he mutters. "What furniture do you need? Because I--"

"Oh that--" you begin to protest, "you don't need to do that--"

"--I have a number of things presently going unused--"

"--I don't need people to give me furniture--"

"She needs a coffee table," Kate remarks,

Finally,

you blurt out "It feels weird that the answer to my problem is owning things. Are we trying to fucking bribe the house?"

"We're gonna make the house a capitalist," Marlow chuckles.

"The point isn't the things themselves," Ezra states, "the point is that surrounding your space with your things makes it feel like yours. You need to create a healthy environment, one that you feel comfortable in and are comfortable hosting others in. You have to make the house into more than a utilitarian function--it's a communal space to make memories in... and it's difficult to watch television with your friends if you don't own a television."

"I don't even watch television," you reply, "I have the internet."

Ezra throws his hands up. "There are other ways to personalize the home without a focus on acquiring goods. Paint a wall, do arts and crafts, treat the lawn. Start a garden. Rearrange what you have, I don't know."

Kate smirks at the suggestion of a garden. You, uh, suppose you do kind of have one already.

"Live in the house," Ezra says, "and I mean live in it. Make memories in it. Party in it. Fuck in it. If that doesn't work, well... perhaps take the home's word for it and walk away."



You hear something crash in the back.

"Now if you'll excuse me," Ezra flawlessly segues, "I have my own supernatural issues to attend to. Coming, ladies!"

And off he goes, as dramatically as he arrived.



"...So what's the plan?," Marlow finally asks.

A damn good question.

Kate checks the time on her phone. "I've gotta do some shit and get ready for work. I'll be by the Spooky House later tonight, though."

"What kind of gear do I need to bring?," Marlow asks.

"The works," says Kate. "We don't even really know what we're looking for."

Hmm. "The ghost hunting setup isn't going to freak out the house, is it? Maybe we should keep the quantity of equipment down until we can at least outnumber it with... normal house stuff."

"Good point," Marlow replies. "I'll just bring the essentials for now, then. I should be outta here and on the way by 8:30, maybe 9:00. ...I'm gonna have to explain the situation to my wife very carefully."

"Oh, yeah," Kate chuckles, "I guess you staying the night in a house full of hot young women might be a hard sell if she doesn't know how gay we all are."

Marlow nods. "And I'm kind of in the dog house already. ...You guys might want to have a Plan C, uh, just in case."

Kate gives him a stern stare. "I swear to god, Marlow, if you fuck this up by not taking out the trash or something--"

"--There's always Maria," you remark.

. . .

The silence that follows leads you to probe further. "What're peoples' thoughts on Maria...?"

"I..." Marlow hesitates. "I know she runs that grocery store. Knows a lot about machines. ...I don't know much else about her. She's lived here a while now, though."

"Yeah," Kate agrees, "she's got that bold personality and a cool mad scientist thing goin' on, but it's like a big smokeshow. I have zero clue what Maria's like outside of work--she might live in the grocery store...? I see her around town a lot, but it's always going somewhere, and by herself. I don't think she has like... friends. Everybody knows Maria but nobody knows Maria. ...Except her dad, probably."

"Smokescreen," Marlow points out.

"What?"

He fights back a grin. "You said smokeshow. I think you mean she's putting up a smokescreen..."

"I... yeah, that," concludes Kate.

"She might just be an introvert," you point out. You remember what she said about her space gardens--The instructions are all online, I just make some adjustments. You're terminally online and you'd never even heard of the kind of wild tech shit she's doing, which means it's not front page stuff--she has to be at least somewhat deep in some niche corner of the internet. "Like, retail face is a real thing. She's bombastic and takes no shit in the store, but she might not make friends or open up easily. Has... has anyone tried to befriend her?"

"Oh, I definitely tried," says Kate.

Marlow grins. "I don't think you were trying to befriend her, per se--"

"It just feels like we're moving out of our comfort zone," Kate interjects, "and fast. I know Bebe enough to know Cici's alright. I've known Marlow for a while now, I know he's legit. I trust you because... fuck, I've basically been in your brain. I know what your deal looks like in person. Maria, though...? I'm not like, totally opposed, I'm just... y'know. She's not a cop and she's not a Mondol but past that we don't know what Team Maria's agenda really is."

"Wait, we got agendas now?," Marlow asks with a smile. "I don't know any of y'all besides... well," he motions to Kate. He continues. "Cici was made by the state and Plaire is..."

He slowly turns to you.

You shrug. "I'm here by accident and fueled by spite."

"I'll be honest, I find the first part real hard to believe," he says. "Plenty of folks have lived in that house, but you're the first to figure out any of this and it's... it's a lot to be figurin' out. Don't get me wrong, I don't blame you if you have to keep some secrets, but I don't know if I can buy--"

You shake your head. "If you can't believe it's an accident, then believe in the spite. I've been put through a lot of shit and I'm not moving. I don't care if the house is turning into a monster, I don't care if it's a portal to the nightmare zone and I don't care if I have to fight vampires to keep the house, I paid for the fucking house and I'm not moving back to Addersfield. I don't have ulterior motives. I don't need ulterior motives. I'm pissed. I'm that pissed. ...And Cici's dream form is literally a good egg, I think it's safe to say you can trust her, too."

Marlow nods.

He still appears to suspect you have some mysterious backstory or plot twist to drop on him, but he doesn't press any further so fuck it~


Kate's phone makes a text noise; she checks it, makes a face and gives a small sigh. "Well, I'll see you losers tonight--I got places to be."

You plan to walk her out, but also you need to hammer out one more small thing real fast--you turn to Marlow. "Can I get your cell phone number, just in case...?"

He shakes his head. "I never carry a phone with me. Makes me too easy to track down."

"Yeah, dumbass," Kate laughs, "that's what they're for. WE'RE trying to track you down, and the government already knows where you're at. It's a small town. You're fucking married!"

Marlow starts to laugh a bit as well. "Fine, I'll think about it. You guys should really consider taking it to radio, though. Work out some codes, get everyone a callsign--"

This time it's you who interjects. "--Like we're fucking truckdrivers?!"

"Uh, yes," Kate says, "my handle is Dr. Muff and I only accept radio messages when--wait, no--I'm changing it to Caged Heat, and--" Kate's phone boops again. "FUCK IKNOWokayNOWI'm really leaving. I'll swing by after work," she says, already on her way toward the door, "try not to blow up the house or get any divorces--"

"Kate." Before she can escape,


you hug her.


Kind of.

Like a

like a side hug thing.


Kate sighs, and smiles. She gives you a small pat. "I'll be alright," she says. "I just need to cut down on the bullshit I'm dealing with outside the nightmare zone, big time. My puppet ass will saddle up and ride again, I promise."

You smile a little back.

Kate heads out.




Your phone boops.




You check your phone.







7th May 2021, 12:03 AM
Morgenstern
If this one reads weird it's because I wrote half of it like a month ago
7th May 2021, 12:25 AM
Totakeke
Nah man you're doing just fine! Keep up the great work (or don't! breaks are good too and we support that <3 )
7th May 2021, 12:27 AM
Okay, so, our next video topic... we can pull an Ashens and become a pair of disembodied arms... and do some *arts and crafts!* To make our home real homey. Video-game-themed crafting projects do well with The Algorithm and as long as we're having fun with it, there will be entertainment value there. (Also, because we are likely a raw beginner, there will also be entertainment value in the "Nailed It!" level of result we are likely to come up with.)

As for what to do now, chat with Cici? We need to do some emotional care and decompressing. One thing we might want to consider is actually building in some time to our schedules when we do the dream to wake up with enough time, if possible, to discuss and process things BEFORE having to go rush right back into the material world.
7th May 2021, 12:41 AM
psychoshen
Nice, +1, you posted this as I was thinking and typing =)
7th May 2021, 12:48 AM
Example of a craft to do: Paint some rocks for the garden! Then we can put pretty rocks around our illegal weed garden. If Captemon is like Pokemon, then it likely has a simple, eye-catching logo that can be easily painted on round things.
7th May 2021, 1:30 AM
Snervalton
+1 to videos about game-themed crafting projects. Plaire really does need to make some money, she's almost out of cash and food.
7th May 2021, 4:14 AM
Yeah, I feel like doing videos on crafting is a way to do something lighthearted but also profitable. Probably less profitable than sticking with her usual style of video, but psychologically beneficial and also useful. (And branching out into different kinds of content *can* lead to good things for content creators, like when Simply Nailogical's channel took off after she largely stopped doing nail art tutorials lol.) I think as long as Plaire is having fun, that'll come across in the video, especially if she makes it clear that she's still gonna do her usual kind of video too, just trying out other stuff alongside it.
7th May 2021, 6:47 AM
Another Guest
Agree about the decompressing, and we can add one extra thing there: exercise. Not the gym, no money for that, but something simple as a long walk through the town would give some exercise to Plaire, she needs it - by the way, I'm sure some gym equipment could be improvised through a visit to the junkyard, having a small gym space inside the house would make it more housey?

And that also dives neatly to a second video, about keeping a healthy lifestyle being a gamer - which can be a good chat starter with Maria, after all, she's the avatar of good health habits of the town : p
7th May 2021, 12:36 AM
Xylas_Incarnum
["Now if you'll excuse me," Ezra flawlessly segues, "I have my own supernatural issues to attend to. Coming, ladies!"]
..... wait a fucking moment are Tesla, Edison, and Faraday in the back room or some shit?

Or was there just a collection of porcelen dolls back there that I'm blanking on due to how long it's been? I honestly can't remember.
7th May 2021, 12:44 AM
I mean, it could be other, unrelated ghosts! Or maybe he summoned some succubi, or is building lady robots?
7th May 2021, 4:53 AM
foxoftheasterisk
They did mention a closet full of haunted dolls, yeah.
7th May 2021, 12:40 AM
psychoshen
Plaire already has the proper attitude, she's not giving up the house that easily. We need a list of things we can do on the cheap that shows the house we're here to stay and for the right reasons. I'd say tending the crops in the backyard and tidying up couldn't hurt. Check the classifieds for furniture freebies. If we're going to have guests all the time, maybe some proper beds / mattresses. Have arts and crafts day with our friends and hang them up somewhere. Maybe even a conspiracy board with notes, pins and strings?
7th May 2021, 12:50 AM
I love the idea of a conspiracy board. We can combine a conspiracy board and a mood board to make it ~ a e s t h e t i c ~
7th May 2021, 1:38 AM
Snervalton
Head over to the library next to visit Cici. Return the book on haunted houses since we're done with it now. Look for books on mutations, wolves, mutant wolves and vampires. Check sources on a library computer if necessary to confirm reliability of information.
7th May 2021, 2:08 AM
Guest
YAY HUG! :D :D :D <3
7th May 2021, 6:31 AM
Another Guest
Last time we visited the junkyard, we were focused on "stuff to survive a dungeon with", maybe the place has "stuff to make a house more homely" that's easily available? A chair or a nice art work would be cool.