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Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

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    Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

    Doug's World: Persons, Places, Peeves

    I hate this place, Doug wrote not long before he killed himself. It seems like I'm drifting. It's like I have no purpose either, Mom. Everywhere I look, people are either having more fun or more misery than me. I'm a nothing. I know you say thing's will get better, but I've had it. I'm sick of waiting while things get worse. I really am…
    Doug Archambeau wondered why they called Tate 'The Magician.' He'd never seen him pull a rabbit out of his hat or saw himself in half. Hell, he hadn't even seen him juggle. The only thing magical or extraordinary about Tate Pendergast seemed to be his ability to transform himself from a clownish distraction to a tremendous asshole at the drop of a hat.
    Decked out in his usual regalia of black boots, a knee-length black woolen coat, a loud striped shirt, dark slacks and his tri-cornered hat, Tate cut an amusing, if not particularly imposing, figure. The attire accurately forecast an equally theatric personality. Tate was known for mixing bizarre food substances (mustard on salad, relish on fries), telling quixotic jokes ("what do you call a wombat operating a steam shovel?") and being a charming nuisance to everyone around him.
    Doug often felt as if he was the only one who didn't find Tate amusing. His rationale was equal parts jealousy, disillusionment and legitimate grievances and he was damned if he would change his mind simply because it was the popular thing to do. No, Tate bugged him…. and probably always would.
    Unfortunately, Doug had no recourse but to tolerate Tate's presence for a few hours each week while they both toiled on the campus newspaper. Actually, this was a bit of a misnomer: Doug worked, meticulously laying out text and photos. Tate wrote an offbeat gossip column. And, while Doug's job was infinitely more important to the continued existence of the paper, Tate received most of the fan mail.
    Come one Sunday in mid-winter of his junior year, Doug found himself in editing hell. The stories for the cover page were scant and poorly constructed and the photos came out blurry. Luckily, he'd taken a few of his own. There was little he could do about the writing, however, save for try to fill in the blanks himself and pray for a miracle. It was too late to call the writer and get him to do what he should have done in the first place.
    Doug's brow furrowed as he looked over the latest batch of corrections.
    "Hey Tiff?" he asked. "What does this mean? I can't understand your writing."
    "Oh, sorry," said Tiffany Gross, the mousy fact-check girl. She usually had very pristine penmanship.
    Before she could clarify things for him, Tate burst into the office and flung his hat across the room like a Frisbee. "Greetings," he proclaimed, just as it winged Doug in the head.
    "Asshole," Doug grunted.
    In a flurry of giggles, Doug's fellow editors launched a half-hearted defense.
    "Look at what you did now," Liza admonished. "Bad Tate!"
    "Bad Tate," Tate echoed. "Sorry 'bout that, Douggie."
    Doug waved him off and got back to work. It was going to be a looong night.

    Emily Griesinger would later recall that she knew Doug…sort of. They were on the same floor of the same residence hall, albeit on opposite ends. Both had single rooms. Doug was in one of her literature classes as well (it was her major; he took it as an elective). From time to time, they would share in a gripe about an unfair test or a particularly dense piece of reading. And, while there was no lingering resentment between them as there was between Doug and Tate, no further pleasantries were exchanged between them.
    Sadly, Doug got further with her than most people. Emily liked to believe that she lived in a world unto herself. She actually lived in a dark, cluttered dorm room that received no visitors, but the reality was catching up to the perception. A short, slightly pudgy girl with rusty auburn hair and glasses, Emily suffered from clumsiness, nervousness and low self esteem. Only her savage wit saved her from outright depression.
    "I don't need to lose weight," she bragged. "I need to gain height." Among her other favorite quips were, "I think God screwed up and switched me at birth. See, I'm supposed to be a dude. Somewhere out there is a girl trapped in a guy's body," "Books are my friends. They aren't mean to me…. well, except for when they fall on my foot" and "ooh…strawberry. The bestest flavor ever, except for all the other flavors I like."
    Whilst Doug tried to maintain his sanity and save the newspaper, Emily sat in her darkened room reading Chaucer by lamplight. She would have preferred to have read by candle light, but the school forbade candles.
    "Safety risk my ass," she grumbled. She had a voluminous and eclectic array of books, ranging from classics (Shakespeare, Twain, Dickens) to curios (the Kama Sutra, an Encyclopedia of Jelly Beans) to modern fare (Bridget Jones's Diary, High Fidelity) and an equally diverse music collection to match. Anyone who took the time to know her would likely revel in how open-minded she was. Unfortunately, 'anyone' never seemed to materialize. To the world beyond her dorm room, Emily was too weird, too smart, too distant and not conventionally feminine enough to warrant much of an audience.
    She learned to take things in stride. When she wasn't doing homework, procrastinating on doing homework or complaining about doing homework to her endless list of anonymous Internet buddies, she found plenty of other ways to keep herself occupied. If she was in a particularly foul mood, she'd hurl things out her window, only to retrieve them later under the cover of night. If she was feeling sad or trampled upon, she'd lay down, put her thumb in her mouth and imagine that she was a child again, a stupid, loveable child.
    Lately, it seemed as if the latter impulse had been winning out more frequently. Emily kept a growing coterie of stuffed animals atop her bed. There was a bear and a lion and a puppy. To this, she recently added a kitty and a dolphin. Emily saw no apparent contradiction in devouring dense prose one minute and lying with her animals the next. She needed SOME way to keep her head, lest it blow clean off her small, squarish shoulders.

    Doug actually did know Kev Tawmalty and Joss Klein. In fact, he knew them well enough to consider them friends, even though they hung out only sporadically. K & J, as they were collectively referred to, were good people to want to know. A pair of devious computer hackers, their ability to break the campus firewall and unleash all manners of electronic havoc afforded them significant recognition, albeit not genuine popularity.
    Kev and Joss were in their third and possibly final year together as roommates. Like most dynamic duos, their friendship seemed comical in light of their differences. Kev was big with curly brown hair, Joss was lanky with dark hair that was long and straight. Kev was disorganized, Joss kept things neat. Kev was a heavy sleeper; Joss was up early even after going to bed late.
    Mere idiosyncrasies, however, weren't the only obstacles to their peaceful coexistence. Kev had cerebral palsy. It wasn't of the paralyzing variety and while he could still walk, there were a number of complications that required getting used to. Joss, who hadn't encountered anything worse than his own asthma, suddenly found himself witnessing involuntary spasms and occasional seizures. Both their parents had initial worries that things would not work out. After two and a half years, it was quite clear that they had been wrong.
    That Sunday found Joss reading a manga when Kev entered. He'd been home for the weekend and came bearing gifts.
    "Head's up," he said, hurling a tinfoil wad at Joss's head. Joss caught it in a one-handed grip and began to unwrap it.
    "Brownies," he said. "Sweet."
    "You're telling me," Kev said, setting down his backpack and sitting on his bed. "I miss anything?"
    "Not even a fire alarm?"
    "What about…"
    "Nothing, Kev," Joss assured him.
    What held them together despite the differences and the difficulties was one glaring commonality. Both Kev and Joss were militant, unrepentant dorks. While their peers got their drink on at Friday night mixers, the nascent hackers watched Cartoon Network and Comedy Central. They preferred geek to Greek, the only "O.C." they watched was the Original Cast of Star Trek, and, as far as they were concerned, the amateurish routines of Will Farrell paled in comparison to the Mecca of unintentional comedy that was C-SPAN.
    Kev yawned. "I'm gonna get some sleep."
    "Gotcha," Joss said, turning down the volume of his computer speakers. He didn't bother turning off any of the lights. Kevin could sleep through a Mid-East firefight.
    While Joss began consuming Mrs. Tawmalty's brownies, an aggrieved message from Doug popped up on his computer screen. Though he empathized with his friend's plight, he nonetheless concluded that Tate's latest exploits merited at least a "LoL!" Another one had fallen under the spell of the magician.

    Allison Lawler knew Doug in a manner of speaking, though she would deny that she did if pressed to elaborate. They had gone to the same high school and went to the same college, but there was virtually no interaction between them. They shared no friends and no classes and lived in dorms halfway across campus. Aside from the vague sense of déjà vu that came when she saw his name in the paper (when she bothered to look at it), he might as well have been from Siberia (or worse: Emily Greisinger).
    Like Kev, whom she at least knew by reputation, Allison had gone home for the weekend. However, whereas Kev rested and visited with family, Allison skirted spending time with her parents to hang out with her friends and boyfriend. Tony had been especially eager to see her: he was as horny as a 1996 presidential candidate and his performance did not disappoint.
    Also like Kev, Allison had a roommate who awaited her return. Kira Soto – half black, half Portuguese, no bullshit – was listening to a Kevin Lyttle song when Allison made her grand return.
    "Ali!" she exclaimed.
    "Porkchop!" Allison replied, defaulting to Kira's nickname.
    They made an interesting pair. Both were tall, slender and fit. Both were athletes (Allison played soccer; Kira basketball) and enthusiastic partiers. Both also had a penchant for general goofiness: they were not above seeing how many variations of "bitch" they could call one another or singing the presumed-forgotten songs featured in the animated Disney features of their youth.
    "So how was it?" Kira asked.
    "Grrrreat!" Allison said, doing her Tony the Tiger impersonation. 'Tiger,' coincidentally enough, was a nickname for her boyfriend, Tony.
    "The whole distance thing working out?"
    "Duh, I'm home like practically week."
    "I know, I know," Kira said. "But I just figured you'd ease up now that you're getting more homework."
    "Homework," Allison said, wrinkling her nose at the very mention of the word. "Eww. Can't you do it for me?"
    "Sure. For about fifteen hundred bucks."
    Both girls laughed, and when they did they looked eerily like twins. Allison was pasty white with blonde hair; Kira was tan with dark curls. Their attitude, however, seemed to be a uniform shade of mischief.

    This was the world of Douglas Archambeau. A communications major who liked snowboarding and photography, he came to Brighton State College mindful of pressure, but hopeful of the opportunities that would be afforded to him. He left in a body bag. The questions Doug's friends and loved ones have been asking ever since range from "why" to "could it have been avoided" to "how much will we get if we sue the school?" None have been answered definitively, yet they continue to chase the unicorn known as closure.

    Excerpt from Brighton's viewbook:
    Brighton State College lies on 350 tree-lined acres in suburban _____. It is in close proximity to shopping centers and major cities….
    Shopping centers, Doug cynically mused, meant pedestrian strip malls that were understocked and overpriced. Major cities meant driving through dense traffic just to get somewhere that was even remotely exciting.
    Brighton State College features fifteen residence halls designed to provide a variety of accommodations. Freshman are guaranteed housing and upperclassmen are presented with a wealth of options within the Brighton community…
    Doug remembered his 'accommodations' freshman year with bitter nostalgia. He was forced to share a small, cramped room with a loudmouth wildman who practically never slept. Sophomore year was better: he was given a bigger room and a roommate he actually got along with…until said roommate transferred and he was stuck with a complete stranger for the Spring semester. By junior year, he'd finally lucked out: a single room on campus. Hallelujah! Unfortunately, the room was all the way at the end of the hall by a staircase and he was entreated to the sounds of falling feet while he attempted fruitless slumber. When asked why he didn't simply move of campus, Doug's answer was stupefying naïve and simple. "I thought there would be something for me," he said. He thought wrong.
    Come to Brighton and build yourself a better future today!
    Doug came to Brighton and he built himself a great big mound of nothing. All that remained in the end was his correspondence; correspondence the likes of which Tate, Kev, Emmy and Ali never knew existed. If they did, things might have turned out differently. But they didn't and such is their guilt to ignore or to bear as they see fit. At least they could lay claim to knowing young Master Archambeau for all the good it did them, which was precisely none at all.
    Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

    Morpheus: I am hope.

    -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4

    Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

    Planting the Seeds of Lament

    "I'm tired a lot," Doug wrote sophomore year. "I stay up late working and I have to be awake for class early the next day. Some people I know will stay up til 3 or 4 in the morning. Some will pull all-nighters. They don't look tired. I don't know how they do it. Maybe coffee? Anyway, it's pissing me off. I shouldn't have to sleep only on weekends."
    Tate proudly counted himself among those who did not sleep. After finishing his gossip column, he dashed off campus for a late meal, often accompanied by light-to-moderate drinking. Upon arriving home, he gorged on late-night TV and pointless phone conversations that lasted for hours. He rarely got to bed before 3 a.m., if he bothered going to bed at all.
    Tate lived in a rented house off-campus. Of his five housemates, two were males and three were female. They got along well enough, which is to say they tolerated each other sans Springeresque theatrics…but it was often only by the thinnest of threads. Tate had developed the endearing/annoying habit of barging into rooms unannounced and leaching food from the refrigerator they all shared. He recompensed his fellow occupants with offers of Snickers and sunflower seeds, but often failed to entice. Moreover, his Kramer-like propensity for late-night construction projects (he could usually be found building shelves or hammering miscellany things) led to constant, inevitable and often feeble cries of "Tate, shut the fuck up!" (Which Tate would answer with "sorry, dude" and would continue to hammer away).
    Alas, Tate was an enigma to the rest of them. He walked the jerk/loveable clown line with the delicate balance of a circus performer tiptoeing across a tightrope. In his kinder moments, he could be found cheering up the gloomy and dispensing random gifts. In his not-so-kind moments, he took to swatting girls on their behinds as they walked past and being more loud and boisterous than a flock of Canadian geese.
    "Maybe he's bipolar," one of the girls had wondered. No one had the guts to ask.
    Whatever his malady or affliction, Tate found the best way to cure it up was by smoking weed. He hit the bong at least twice a week (Tuesday and Friday nights) and sometimes even more. He often tried to turn it into a communal event, but only three of his housemates would get high and one refused to get high around him.
    "You're creepy, dude," he'd been told.
    Tate shrugged. He didn't doubt it. His hat and coat hung on a peg rack, his boots were off, his head was back and his mind was clear. What more could a guy ask for?

    Emily knew what to ask for but was afraid to ask for it. She often likened her life to a Grimmsian fairytale, replete with heroes and villains and improbable magic. The reality was infinitely more complex than that, but whenever one of her more pragmatic e-friends attempted to explain as much, Emily would drown him out with a chorus of "lalala…I can't hear you…"
    The villain in Emily's play/life was a witch named Candida Fontana. She wasn't an actual witch (re: Wiccan), but actually a Catholic (and not a very good one) and a drama queen in the literal sense (she was involved with college theater). Whereas Emily shrank from the public gaze, Canndida loved attention. LOVED it. She was loud, like Tate, but nowhere near as funny. She also tried to personalize everything that was discussed in class, no matter how distant her life was from the matter at hand. Frequently, her comments began with "if that was me…" or "if I wrote this." Worse still, she was shameless.
    Candida also enjoyed playing the victim. Her typical spiel entailed some meaningless dross about "where I come from" or "as a Latina," as if guilt for whatever plight she endured was everyone else's for the taking. Never mind that she had a rich, white father who lived in the suburbs. There was no romance in that.
    Candida hated Emily because Emily was the only one with enough guts to disagree with her. Emily disagreed with her because she didn't care what people thought of her when she did. She didn't care because no one else seemed to care about her. And so, a rivalry was born: Emily would be in the middle of talking and Candida would interrupt. Candida would go off on a nonsensical rant and Emily would attempt to logically (and quite politely counter her), only to receive scornful looks for her trouble. Even though she reasoned that she couldn't very well be the only one to be sick of Candida, no one else was willing to take her side in the debate. Thus, she found herself, as always, alone.
    The charming prince in the story was a musician named Brandon Coburn. He had long hair and good looks and played the guitar. Emily had only one class with him and it was back during freshman year. That was when she first noticed him. She would stare at him from across the room. Since then, Emily saw him across campus quite frequently. He would often stop in the Commons and play his guitar. He was quite good, too. Even if he hadn't been handsome, she probably would have loved him just for that.
    Of course, Emily's crippling shyness precluded her from ever telling him as much. In fact, she rarely even approached him at all (and, when she did, she would cut herself off after muttering "nice song" and walking hurriedly away). Instead, she gazed at him from afar, as she had done freshman year, hoping but knowing better.
    Emily, like Doug, was tired. She'd had a busy day. There was class and class meant Candida. Class also meant Doug, but he was not on Emily's mind nor was she on his. Once again, Candida stole the show. Emily cringed as her seemingly thoughtful comments were buried under the avalanche of simplistic diatribes that escaped the harlot's mouth. By the time she left class, she was burning with rage. Then, on her way back to the dorm, she saw Brandon and her rage turned to sorrow. Her stomach knotted and she had to hurry home to avoid puking.
    When Tate threw his head back, it was to laugh. When Emily did it, it was to cry, only no tears came. Instead, she remained submerged by stuffed animals, mouthing silent prayers for Brandon to come and take her away.

    Kev and Joss were disparate on matters of slumber. Kev slept excessively; Joss slept rarely. Unlike Tate, he was not a late night enthusiast. He merely had the misfortune to be cursed with insomnia. Many a red-eyed night was spent just sitting and waiting for sleep to come.
    By the time Kev finally did awaken, Joss had been up for two hours playing computer games with the volume turned down. Neither one of them had Monday morning classes. Neither one of them would stand for it.
    "Going for the high score?" Kev asked.
    "Yup," Joss said. "I…"
    "What?" Kev asked.
    "Dude," Joss said. "You're leaking."
    "Shit," Kev grumbled as he headed for the bathroom to clean up.
    As a byproduct of his CP, Kev had a weak bladder and often wore diapers. They weren't real diapers, as a baby would wear, but rather thick underwear with extra layers sewn in. Joss had been vaguely freaked out about it when he first found out. But, like everything else about Kev, he had long since adjusted to it. Besides, they were usually just there as a precaution.
    A 'game over' message flashed across Joss's screen and he exited the program. The high score would have to wait. Lately, Kev had been wetting himself more than usual, and, while Joss didn't want to bring it up, he knew it had to be embarrassing. He often wondered how Kev coped. Then he wondered how Kev would cope with insomnia. Probably not well, he thought.
    Kev returned about twenty minutes later wearing fresh clothes and carrying a glass of juice.
    "Beat it?" he asked.
    "Nah," Joss said. "Quit."
    "Why not?"
    "I should probably do some work," Joss told him.
    "Have a lot?"
    "Dude," he snickered. "You're in half the same classes as I am. What do you think?"
    "So I'll do half and you'll do half and we'll switch."
    Joss shrugged. His stomach grumbled. It was nearing lunchtime. He hadn't left his room in 18 hours.
    "Sounds good to me," he said.
    "You worry too much," Kev told him, clapping him on the back.
    Easy for you to say, Joss thought. You can sleep. He quickly felt guilty for thinking it. Nothing was easy for Kev. Nothing. And yet he made it seem as if it was.

    "I hate my life!" Alison groaned as she entered the dorm. Far from being tired, she was wide-awake with outrage. She managed to catch Kira just as the latter was getting ready to go to class. Her books were neatly piled on her desk alongside a plethora of knickknacks and artifacts and she was just in the process of putting on her denim jacket.
    "What's wrong?" Kira asked.
    "This jerkoff gave me a C on a test," she lamented. "A C! Urrg!"
    "Chill out, Ali. It's just a test."
    "But it's a C!" she persisted. "I don't get C's."
    "Everyone gets Cs."
    "I don't see you getting Cs."
    Kira shrugged. "I'm lucky I guess."
    "Don't give me that," Alison chided. "You're smart."
    "Nobody here is dumb," Kira reminded her.
    "I didn't say I was."
    "Maybe you should study a little harder," Kira suggested.
    Alison gawked at her. Blasphemy!, her gaze declared.
    "Whatever," she said. "I'm going to the gym."
    "Later," Kira said, slipping out the door.
    Alison set down her books and began to change. Despite her denials, she knew Kira was right. She hadn't been taking school seriously. Nominally a psychology major, she viewed classes as a necessary evil; the price she paid for sorority parties and playing soccer.
    "You'll snap out of it," her mom had told her. "Once you find a class or a professor you like, you'll see."
    Alison did not snap out of it. She didn't think she ever would nor did she care. In all likelihood, she would end up marrying Tony and he would provide for the both of them. It was an arrangement some of her friends thumbed their noses at, but one she found comforting. Why worry, she reasoned, if you didn't have to?
    Swapping her jeans for a pair of sweat pants, Alison began to move her head to an invisible beat. In a retro moment, she'd played Madonna's "Material Girl" earlier that day and now the song would not leave her alone. A session at the gym would likely take care of that, she thought. If she worked the treadmill hard enough, neither Madonna nor the C nor her parents would pester her any longer.
    "I'm in the dungeon," her away message read. "The one without chains. Come look for me.xx"
    Alison constantly left vaguely cryptic messages of that nature so that her friends would know where to find her. Most of the time, they never bothered to look. Alison began to wonder what kind of friends they were anyway. Everything with them was always later, later, later. What ever happened to the now? Even worse, she found herself mimicking it (as in "sure, Kira, I'll get food with you…but later, mmkay?"). College was turning her into a different person and it wasn't one she was sure she liked.
    "A C!" she exclaimed once more as she skipped out the door. A few heads turned as she walked by. Her sweat pants were tight and she was a very pretty girl.

    Doug saw Alison on her way to the gym, but she did not see him. His problems made her C look like a godsend. He just learned that, due to a clerical error, he was on the verge of not graduating on time. A class he took to fulfill a requirement turned out to count for a different requirement, one that had already been fulfilled.
    "Can't you just give me a waiver?" he asked pleadingly of the rotund, matronly worker at the registrar's office.
    "I'm sorry," she said, her voice gentle even as she delivered heart wrenchingly terrible news. "But if we grant you a waiver, we'll have to grant one to everyone who doesn't want to fulfill the requirement."
    That isn't my problem, he thought.
    "Alright," he said.
    The air was cold and it stung Doug's cheeks as he walked to his car. He was going to fulfill that age-old fantasy of escape: just get in the car and drive. About halfway to the parking lot, however, he realized that he needed gas. Doug reached into his wallet to see if he had a twenty. There was indeed one buried beneath the pile of crumpled ones and fives.
    "Good," he thought, plucking the bill and transferring it to his shirt pocket for easy access. No sooner did he do this, however, than did a stiff breeze pick the bill up and carry it away.
    "Hey!" he yelled, giving chase to the forces of nature.
    Five minutes and half a football field later, Doug finally caught up to his errant currency. By that point, he no longer felt like driving. He no longer felt like doing much of anything.
    "Why don't you just strike me with lightning and get it over with?" he asked, walking back to the dorm.
    God did not answer him. He was too busy fixing the world Doug and his fellow humans had so callously wrecked.
    Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

    Morpheus: I am hope.

    -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


      Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

      Devil Dabbling and Daring-Do

      "Sometimes, I feel like going on a rampage," Doug wrote to his friend Pat. "You know, just gunning down everyone in sight. Bam! Not really … but you get my point. Things are bad, but thank God: Krista's coming. We're giving it one last shot. Maybe it'll work this time. Hey, you never know unless you try, right? I'll let you know…"
      Tate really was — or, hoped that he would soon become — a magician. His desire to learn magic and master illusions was rooted in equal parts childish curiosity and envy that David Blaine was getting so much attention from chicks. Thus far, Tate had done little to advance his cause: his attempts at juggling resulted in floors stained with egg yolk and one of his housemates flatly denied him use of her pet cat in a disappearing trick. To his credit, Tate was decent with cards. He could throw them, count them, bend them…and cheat at poker without getting caught. Yet it remained a far cry from levitation and hordes of magic groupies.
      When he wasn't making a mess by 'practicing,' Tate honed his skills by frequenting Alistair's. The ideological offspring of a sixties head shop, Alistair's sold a little bit of everything, including bizarre apparel, collector's items, practical jokes, magic accessories and the requisite cleverly-disguised drug paraphernalia. For Tate, it was the candy store of every child's youth.
      Alistair's was run by a loose-knit family of transplanted Oregonians. Bernie, the co-patriarch/uncle/co-owner was an experienced ex-magician who dispensed advice and told grandiose tales of his botched Vegas career. When sufficiently mellowed, he also took to selling off his former wares at remarkably cheap rates.
      "Fact," Tate said, strolling into the store after class one day. "Miss Wyoming once sued because Penthouse claimed she could make guys levitate by blowing them. Case got thrown out of court."
      "So?" asked Christoff, the slightly morose long-haired nephew.
      "So teach me how to levitate."
      "I wouldn't know how. Besides, I'm seeing someone."
      "Not you, ya jerk. Bernie. He'll know. Where is the old dude anyway?"
      Christoff shrugged. "Asleep. I think."
      Tate threw up his arms in annoyance. "Well that's just great. Make me come all the way out here…"
      "I didn't make you come anywhere."
      "That's because you weren't rubbing hard enough," Tate joked.
      Christoff rolled his eyes. "Do you want something, man, or are you just here to fuck with me?"
      "I think it's obvious," Tate replied.
      A slow smile spread across Christoff's face.
      "What?" Tate asked.
      "I probably shouldn't" Christoff said. "I don't know if you can handle it."
      "Come on, dude, don't leave me hanging. What is it?"
      Christoff took a cautious look around the store, leaned over the counter and whispered in Tate's ear. "Frog bile," he said. "Poison frog bile."
      Tate erupted into a fit of laughter. "Get the hell out of here."
      "I'm serious," Christoff told him, unearthing a smile vial of reddish liquid. "This will knock your socks off, man. You'll be levitating in no time. Or at least you think you will."
      Tate stroked his chin in amusement. He'd come to learn a magic trick, but this seemed to be a more than adequate substitute. Out of every cloud comes a sliver lining, he thought, and this cloud's raining gold.
      "How much?" he asked.
      Christoff held up three fingers.
      "Get the hell out of here!" Tate repeated. "For that little thing?"
      "It's potent stuff. More than a few drops could kill you."
      Tate sighed. "Fine. Installments OK?"
      Christoff nodded and Tate plunked down several bills.
      "Yoink!" he said, snatching the vial.
      "I'm warning you," Christoff said. "Go easy on it."
      "Fact," Tate said, shuffling backwards toward the door. "The record for forced starvation was not set by David Blaine, but by some IRA dude on hunger strike. Blaine didn't even come close."
      Vial in hand and a giddy grin upon his face, Tate left Alistair's just as a confused family was coming in to ask for directions. Tate, with his comical appearance and bizarre hat, caught the attention of the family's young daughter.
      "Who are you?" she asked.
      "Don't you know?" Tate answered her. "I'm the Devil."

      "You should stay away from me," Emily cautioned. "I might look all nice and innocent, but I'm really the Devil."
      She wasn't sure if she meant this or not, but she was sure why she said it. Though it seemed to be the at the height of improbability, Emily had acquired a stalker. One of her e-buddies, a shadowy-yet-conspicuously-loserish lad named Lucas had taken a special interest in her. The tone of his instant messages and emails was affectionate and attentive at first, but, as time wore on, he became increasingly bolder and flirtatious. It was not uncommon for him to say, "I dreamed about you last night" or ask "what color underwear are you wearing right now" despite the fact that Emily did not reciprocate any of the interest herself. She did tolerate it, however, in part because she was attention-starved and in part because she found his desperation amusing.
      "You're a devil alright," Lucas typed. "A sexy devil."
      Urg, Emily thought. Why did I show him my picture?
      She had sent Lucas a pic of herself before his stalker-like behavior began, reasoning that there was no harm in it and she wasn't attractive enough to draw any unwanted attention. How wrong she had been! Lucas's obsession with her began not long after she sent the picture and, for all she knew, it might have been the cause of it. Nary a conversation went by without him reminding her of how hot he thought she was. Lucas, for his part, refused to send an image of himself, claiming he lacked a digital camera. And, while he described himself as "a young Brad Pitt," Emily had no trouble envisioning "a young Anthony Michael Hall" (circa The Breakfast Club) instead.
      Characterizing herself as the Devil seemed the perfect ploy. Thanks to her ceaseless reading, she'd been able to take in enough Poe and Plath and Hawthorne and Crowley to recast herself as a manic-depressive cultist. Her musings under this guise would be more than enough to scare away a normal person, but they seemed to have hardly any effect at all on Lucas. He was utterly impervious.
      One day, after her patience was already worn from Candida's theatrics, his asinine affection seemed too much to bear. She told him, in no uncertain terms, to "eat shit" and "fuck off" and "just leave me alone." Rather than indicate that he got the message and feign an apology, Lucas merely laughed it off.
      "If you were my girlfriend and you said that to me, I'd spank you," he informed her.
      This then sparked a most awkward debate as to whether Emily was in fact spankable. He claimed that her small size and occasionally bitchy temperament made her an ideal candidate, whereas she maintained that her maturity, intelligence and self-professed ability to "kick the living crap out of anyone who tried" exempted her. Despite presenting ample evidence for her side of the argument, Lucas remained unconvinced.
      "But you look just like a cute little girl," he teased. "You can probably still fit into kids clothes. Maybe even diapers."
      Even after facing remarks as crude as these, the one thing Emily did not consider doing was blocking him. Cutting things off equaled defeat in her eyes, and she was in it to win. Lucas was a challenge to be certain, but she was still convinced that he was a loser. And, inasmuch as she'd been made to feel the loser by so many others, she vowed that no true loser would ever get the better of her.
      But how do I get him to give up?, she wondered.
      "What do you think, Mr. Bear?" she asked, consulting her seniormost stuffed animal. Placing herself in the bear's perspective, she began to formulate a solution.
      Give him what he wants, she thought. Make him choke on it.
      Emily giggled and smacked her lips at the thought of what she was about to subject him to. It was so mischievous, so decidedly uncouth. Who knows, she thought. Maybe I really am the Devil.

      The only devils or devil-like things Kev and Joss had to worry about were the demons they fought in various incarnations of Doom. They were quite good at zapping the buggers, besides which they both felt God was with them. An Irish-Catholic and a Jew respectively, their faith made them pariahs in the largely atheistic underbelly of computer geeks.
      As a result, the duo often found themselves engaged in all manners of philosophical conversation and debate. They were more than happy to entertain divergent theories and arguments. No question proved too grand in scope or insulting in tone for them to try and tackle.
      "But so much of what religion claimed was true has been disproved by advances in technology?" one comp-sci classmate put forth. "Therefore, how can you claim to know anything about God?"
      "True or false," Kev said. "Man created technology."
      "True, I guess…"
      "It's interesting," Joss said. "You can trace the origins of technology back across history. Abacus led to calculator. Calculator led to computer. Computer leads to…who knows? Cyborgs, maybe. Try tracing the origin of man that far back with any real certainty and you run into problems."
      "So what are you saying?"
      "God created man," Kev said.
      "Either that," said Joss. "Or God created whatever led to man."
      "But you can't prove that!" the friend insisted.
      "And you can't disprove it," Joss pointed out.
      These conversations were usually amusing. Despite having different beliefs, Kev and Joss saw eye to eye on a number of things, and, between the two of them, could win the respect of almost any theorist. About the only person they didn't enjoy debating was Doug. Doug wasn't a theorist; just a moody fuck.
      "What kind of cruel, fucked up God would make me chase a twenty dollar bill for five freakin minutes?" he asked, still brooding over his run of bad luck. He was technically a Christian, though faith took a backseat to misery and ranting during hard times (which, in Doug's case, was most times).
      "I don't know," Joss answered. "I'm not God."
      "But you pray to him anyway."
      "We could be wrong," Kev told him. "But if we aren't…. then why chance it, ya know?"
      "I don't get you," Doug said. "God gave you cerebral palsy. He made you get tired easily. He made sure you'd never be able to play any sports. He made you wear diapers, for fuck's sake. And you thank him for it?"
      "He also gave me a family and friends and all that other stuff….so why not?"
      Red-faced, Doug turned to Joss. Do you believe this shit, his expression asked.
      Joss shrugged. "I feel your pain, dude," he said. "But blaming God isn't going to make bad stuff stop happening to you."
      Doug sighed. "Yeah," he admitted. "But what can I do? Honestly."
      "Honestly?" Kev echoed. "You can hang out here and watch cartoons."
      "Cartoons," Doug echoed. "Thanks, but I'll pass."
      "Suit yourself," said Joss.
      They had a feeling he'd be back. They always come back.

      Alison lay face down on her bed with a textbook open in front of her. A bottle of beer, unopened, lay off to one side on a nightstand. It would be her reward for completing her homework. Whether she realized it or not, she was doing an extra credit assignment: conducting behavioral research on herself.
      So far, it wasn't working. Alison didn't know or care about any Devil. All she knew was that she hated doing homework.
      "This is sooooo boring," she whined.
      Kira turned in her chair. She was listening to John Mayer whilst typing the tail end of a paper.
      "Sorry, hun," she said. "But its got to get done."
      "I know," Alison told her. "And I should probably stop whining, but….ugh, I hate it so much. Maybe I should switch majors?"
      "You want mine?" asked Kira, who was a history major. "Some stuffy tight-ass white professor gets up and lectures me on race and a crazy lady expects me to remember about a zillion dates for every test."
      "No thanks," Alison said. "I'll pass."
      "Not if you keep putting off your work."
      Alison stuck out her tongue. "Are you on AIM?"
      "Is Jon on?"
      Kira chuckled. "When is he not?"
      "Ask him if there are any parties going on?"
      "Just ask, OK?"
      "Fine," Kira said. "I'll ask."
      A couple of minutes later, when Alison had managed to slog her way through an entire two sentences, Kira gave her reply.
      "He says no," she said.
      "Damn," Alison complained. "Tell him to come over here and rescue us."
      "Hello," Kira reminded her. "I've got a paper."
      "You need a break. And so do I."
      "Well," Kira conceded. "Maybe for a little bit…"
      "Yay!" Alison exclaimed.
      "But this is not turning into a stay-up-til 4 a.m. and rack up a few noise violations type thing."
      Alison chuckled. Though the scenario Kira described sounded improbable, it had in fact happened the last time their friend Jon came to visit. And, while she feigned umbrage at the suggestion it would happen again, she privately wished for it.
      "Thanks, Porkchop."
      "For what?" Kira asked.
      "For putting up with me."
      "Putting up with you? I love you, girl."
      "Well if you love me so much, will you do me a favor?"
      "No matter how much bitching I do and no matter how stubborn I am, don't let me flunk out."
      "You've got it," Kira assured her.
      "Thanks. You're the best. And ya know what? I might be able to finish this thing before Jon gets here."
      There was a knock on the door and Alison promptly flung her book to one side and grabbed the beer. She was already convinced that she would not be getting to sleep that night.

      Doug's ex-girlfriend-turned-close confidant was a young woman with the unusual name of Krista Van Challaly (pronounced von SHALL-ae). Doug, who was a Seinfeld addict thought it sounded a lot like 'Vandelay' and teased her about it constantly. Krista, who was not, didn't find it funny. Now, it seemed as if Doug found hardly anything funny anymore. He and Krista had broken up not long before college started, and, while she had dated intermittently, the very few dates he'd been on ended in disaster.
      "Stop being so hard on yourself," Krista told him. "You'll find someone."
      "No I won't," he insisted. "You keep saying that and I never do."
      "That's because you never try," she countered. "You're so convinced that you're undateable that it rubs off on you."
      "So now I'm undateable?"
      And so it went. They had spats and feuds and tiffs just like any regular couple, only they didn't date and only saw each other on occasion. Memories of what they once had plus a continued appreciation for their better qualities (and, on Krista's part, pity) kept them together as friends. It was trying and tumultuous, but they prevailed.
      "Nobody even knows I exist," Doug lamented.
      "That's not true," said Krista. She felt more like the man in this codependency than the woman and that made her immensely uncomfortable.
      "Oh yeah?" Doug retorted. "There's this girl Alison who goes here. I've known her for like 8 years and she won't even say hi to me."
      "So say hi to her."
      "I can't!" he protested.
      "Why not?"
      "I don't know," he said. "I just can't. I don't know why I bother. I'm useless, K. Useless."
      "Don't say that," she prodded. "Look, I'm not doing anything this weekend. And I was thinking maybe I'd come up and visit you, but not if you are going to be like this…"
      "I'm sorry," Doug said. "If you decide to come around, I won't be like this. I'll show you a good time."
      "Okie," Krista said. "Cya then."
      Doug breathed a sigh of relief, but the relief was a double-edged sword. While he was glad that Krista was coming, he wasn't sure what he'd do once she got there. Part of him — a part that seemed to grow stronger by the moment — wanted to use the visit as a springboard toward getting back together with her. She probably wouldn't want any part of it, but he felt she was his only chance. And, while he felt like a devilish bastard for luring her up there under false pretenses, he came to realize that, for the sake of his own sanity, it was something that needed to be done. If he couldn't snag a sympathetic ex-girlfriend, then maybe he really was a loser after all.
      Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

      Morpheus: I am hope.

      -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


        Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

        Don't Ye Know Experimentin'll Get Ye Killed, Boy?

        "Dear K," Doug wrote to Krista. "How many more times can I say it? I'm sorry. See? I said it again. I know what I did was wrong and you have every right to be mad at me. But not forever. I still need you. You saw how things were. I'm drowning here…"
        Tate's housemates were gathered around the TV in the common room when he returned from his errand.
        "Road Rules again?" he scoffed haughtily.
        He received no answer as all five sets of eyes remained glued to buff surfer dudes and bikini-clad vixens.
        "Well I've got something better," he told them. "A LOT better."
        "This isn't one of your stupid tricks again, is it?" asked Marci.
        "Nope," he replied, grinning smugly.
        "Let me guess," Bryan offered. "You scored some more weed. Woop-di-friggin-do!"
        "Not weed," Tate said, unearthing his vial. "Amazonian poison frog bile. Tada!"
        All five of them glared at him with sheer astonishment before bursting into laughter.
        "Frog bile," Nicole mocked. "Oh yeah right!"
        "Dude, is that food coloring?" Matt asked.
        For once, Tate was not smiling. Here, he felt he'd stumbled across something wonderful. Being the generous lad that he was (or that he really wasn't but thought he was), he was perfectly willing to share it…. only to have his advances spurned.
        "Screw you guys," he said, departing to his room in a hurry. "You have no appreciation. Ta!"
        Alone in his room, Tate turned off the lights and turned on the lava lamp. He had a King Crimson CD going on the stereo as he lay back in bed. Slowly, as to avoid spilling even a precious drop, Tate opened the vial. He took a dab with his left pinkie and placed it on his tongue.
        "I'm warning you," Christoff's voice echoed. "Go easy on it."
        Tate took this warning in stride…and then recalled what an incredibly lame pussy he thought Christoff was. He took a second dab and then a third.
        "Here goes," he said, closing his eyes and waiting for the serum to take effect (still quite unaware of what the effect would be). "Good times, man, good times."
        Downstairs, the phone rang and Sophie, the third girl, answered it.
        "Is Tate there?" Christoff's voice inquired.
        "No," Sophie said. "He's…er…busy."
        "It's Chris from Alistair's. Look, if he's getting high, you'd better interrupt him and ask him how much of that shit he took. If it's anything more than a drop or two, get him to the hospital. Come to think of it, I probably never should have sold it to him. He was being such a smart-ass though."
        "That's Tate for you," Sophie replied. "So tell me: is it real frog bile?"
        "Oh yeah. Real and potent."
        "Ok. Bye."
        Sophie hung up and began to ascend the stairs.
        "Oh Tate…" she called. His door lay open by a crack, but she received no answer.

        If there was one upside to being a bookworm, Emily reasoned, it was that she estimated that her brain could retain double the info as the average person's. This came especially in handy for the trick she was about to play on Lucas. After reading but a few articles and stories she found online, she deemed herself good to go.
        Emily's brief experiences taught her that the one way to get to guys, for better or for worse, was through sex. She figured that if she could capably convince Lucas that she was some sort of a freak, he would get grossed out and leave her alone. It would require some not-altogether insignificant mimicry on her part, but she was actually looking forward to it. It would be like acting in a play, she thought. It would be fun.
        Of course, picking which fetish to go with remained a sizeable challenge. Emily thought back to their spanking conversation and considered going with that, but quickly realized that a.) it would require her hurting herself to be convincing and b.) he might actually get off on it and his infatuation with her would only grow. No, it would have to be something a bit more off the beaten path (and a lot more off from beating herself) than that.
        After several hours of long searching that left her feeling confused and dirty (and in want of many a shower), Emily settled on a diaper fetish. It seemed to meet all of her none-too-rigorous qualifications. First, it was suitably weird: not even the Goth guys she went to high school with - -the ones who wore eyeliner and kilt-- had ever taken to wearing diapers (as far as she knew). Secondly, it required little sacrifice on her part (save her dignity). She didn't have to mutilate herself or hump any kind of object. All she had to do was put on an article of clothing that she would probably be wearing in fifty years anyway. Finally, the fetish was intriguing to her in its own right. The piss and shit factor definitely grossed her out, but the idea of wearing diapers — something consigned to the very young and the very old — struck her as curious. It was both sickeningly sweet and decidedly taboo.
        Once her mind was made up, the hardest part yet remained. Lacking a reliable safe deposit box or a genetically enhanced Golden Retriever to make her purchases for her, Emily would actually have to go out and buy the diapers herself. She felt embarrassed enough buying tampons and absolutely dreaded the idea of going into a store to buy diapers. The thought of a dozen eyes on her as she meekly meandered her way up to the checkout sent her into conniptions.
        Fortunately, she had a safeguard against this. She would go in disguise. A scarf, a baggy coat and a pair of sunglasses (even in the colder months!) would suffice. No one would recognize her (not that they did anyway) and she would be rid of Lucas in no time.
        "Well," she said, shaking the paw of her stuffed tiger. "Wish me luck."
        The animal issued no reply, but in her mind's eye, they were all saluting her. There goes Captain Emily the Brave: smiter of foes, reader of pages, writers of prose…and soon to be wearer of diapers as well.


        "I think we're having a problem," Joss said.
        "Just one?" Kev scoffed.
        Actually, there were several problems at the forefront. Joss's insomnia was getting worse, as were Kev's accidents. They were both suffering from technology burnout and were ready to throw their computers out the window. This was just as well, for the campus administration was threatening to shut their file sharing hub down and discipline them if they continued to run it. In short, they were utterly screwed.
        "We're utterly screwed," Kev said after hearing Joss's assessment of the situation.
        "Yeah. Tell me about it."
        "Wait a sec," said Kev. "No we're not!"
        "Did an imaginary lightbulb just go off in your head?"
        "No…seriously…I have it."
        "Have what?"
        "Well…if we had enough money, we would be able to get our own ISP and not have to worry about the school trying to shut down our hub, right?"
        "Yeah," Joss said. "But that would cost a fortune."
        "I think we can do it," Kev pressed.
        "How?" Joss asked. "Enlighten me, oh wise one."
        "By having a party."
        "A party?" Joss mocked. "Hate to burst your bubble, but we're computer nerds. We don't have parties, and when we do, the only people who attend them are people nerdier than us. People who I'm pretty sick of at the moment, to tell you the truth."
        "It won't just be for comp sci folks," Kev said, stretching his arms out to emphasize his point. "It will be campus-wide. Like a benefit-type thing."
        "Save the hub," Joss suggested. "People hate us, but they LOVE that hub."
        "Yeah!" Kev said. "Save the hub! We can take donations…"
        "And sell DVD burns."
        They highfived one another in celebration of this splendid idea. Joss then yawned and Kev looked at his pants.
        "I'd better change," he said sheepishly.
        "And I'd better find a way to sleep before I drop dead," Joss added.
        A save-the-hub party would solve some, but not nearly all of their problems. Each of them knew that other measures would need to be taken. It was just a matter of figuring out what.

        "Sig Pi! Sig Pi! Sig Pi!" Alison chanted. "Come on, Porkchop, sing it with me. Sig Pi, Sig…"
        "Girl, please," Kira said, her hands wedged firmly on her hips. "You are not going out tonight."
        "Why not?" Alison asked.
        "Don't you have work to do?"
        Ever since making the pledge to do better, Alison had done worse. She skipped a morning class on Wednesday because she was tired and handed in a paper late for a lower grade. She wasn't trying to fail intentionally, she insisted, but she knew she wasn't doing much to stop it from happening either.
        "OK," Alison said. "I'll only go to this mixer for a little bit. Then I'll come back and do some work. But you're coming with me."
        Kira, who had a 3.5 GPA, chuckled. "You don't have to tell me twice."
        "Happy now?"
        "Does Sig Pi answer your question?"
        When night fell, the girls went into party mode. Kira slipped on tight jeans and a tanktop and gave her hair some much needed re-frizzing. For Alison, it was a short black skirt, a flat brush, and a healthy dose of lip gloss. It had been their mutual experience that Sig Pi guys could be a bit obnoxious, but, as Alison was a sorority sister, they were granted transactional immunity from any stunts, pranks or potentially embarrassing maneuvers. The night was theirs for dancing, flirting, Saltines and beer pong.
        Kira had a semi-decent to semi-good time, but left after about an hour. When Alison said "for a little bit," she held her at her word. It would be another four hours before her roommate returned, however, at which point she was already in bed and warmly ensconced in her covers.
        When Alison finally did return, she managed to slur a "hey" before collapsing, face down, onto her bed with a dull thud. Curious, Kira flicked on a light to investigate. Alison was not a pretty sight. Her hair was every which way but straight. Her skirt was riding way up. She smelled like a mixture of stale pee and whiskey.
        "Did you wet yourself?" Kira asked.
        "Probably," Alison muttered.
        "Eww, go take a shower."
        Alison yawned. Her eyes flickered and strained against the light.
        "Too tired," she said. "Sleep now. Shower later."
        Kira fanned her hand in front of her nose, flicked the light off and pulled the covers back up. She would have to have a talk with her roommate soon enough, but Alison was right about one thing at least: now was the time for sleep.

        Krista Van Challaly's secret nickname throughout high school was the 'sort-of' girl. She had sort-of brown hair and sort-of a cute though not perfectly heart-shaped face and sort of big (as in noticeable, but not huge) breasts, all of which combined to make her sort-of pretty. And, because she was sort-of pretty and not really pretty, than enabled her to date Doug, who in his high school days was somewhere between sort of a loser and sort of cool (thus making him a member of the safe, acceptable medium).
        But then, with the beginning of college, something unexpected happened. Krista made the leap from sort-of to pretty and Doug took a plunge from sort-of to loser. Neither pretended it happened at first and both were content to view each other on their old terms, but eventually it became too much to bear. Doug's confidence evaporated and Krista began to realize that she was hot enough to date men…men who weren't Doug. This unnerved Doug to no end and it was a grievance he sought to redress, either by impressing the socks off her or by striving for pity (he hadn't decided which one yet).
        When Krista arrived that weekend, Doug took her on a grand tour of the campus. She had been there before, but not in nearly two years.
        "A lot has changed," Doug assured her.
        "I see," Krista said. As far as she could tell, nothing had changed.
        Doug took her here and there and showed her where he had classes and where he hung out and where he liked to take pictures. The last part seemed to intrigue her the most. Ironically, this was the part that Doug wanted to downplay.
        "They're just pictures," he said dismissively. "Nobody ever looks at them."
        "Well maybe they should," Krista encouraged.
        Doug shrugged. The 'maybe they should' had crossed his mind more than once, though it was usually in the form of a 'goddamnit why don't they?'
        Once they (or at least she) had their fill of walking, Doug took her back to the dorm.
        "It's clean," she commented. "I'm impressed."
        "Since when am I a slob?" Doug protested.
        "I don't know," she said. "Usually, neatness and depression don't go hand in hand, unless you are talking about a disorder."
        "I'm not depressed right now," Doug said.
        "That's good. Glad to hear."
        "It's because of you."
        "Well," Krista said. "Thanks, I guess. Although I don't see what me being here has…"
        Without another moment's hesitation, Doug made his move. He wrapped an arm around her, scooped her toward him, leaned in and kissed her. Her attempts to talk were cut off by the rough, hungry probing of his tongue. When she finally was able to break free and shove him away, she slapped him.
        "Ow!" he said, rubbing his stinging face. "What?"
        "Damnit, Doug. What were you thinking?"
        "I was thinking we could…you know…be together. I still want you."
        "Well I don't want you."
        "But you came," he said with childlike fervor. "You came here. To see you."
        "Yes, that's right Doug," she said. "To see you. And to help you. Not to fuck you."
        "We don't even have to fuck."
        "Oh no?"
        "Yeah. We could…well…there's dry humps."
        She slapped him again.
        "Ow!" he said.
        "Goodbye, Doug. I hope you grow up. Until you do, stay the hell away from me."
        "Wait," he said and she hesitated. "Krista, you're the only girl that's mattered. Please…"
        "The sooner you realize that isn't my problem, the better off we will both be."
        And with that, she was off. She was more than sort-of angry and he was more than sort-of hurt. He sort-of contemplated suicide that day and sort-of wrote about it in a journal, but he didn't actually make the plunge (again). That would come another day.
        Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

        Morpheus: I am hope.

        -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


          Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ


          "Dear Sir," Doug wrote in a letter addressed to a college administration official. "As I explained to my residence hall staffer,________, the damages incurred to my room could not be helped and were not my fault. I do not think that it is right that I am being held financially responsible. _________ agreed with me and told me I would not be charged and the matter would be cleared up. And yet, the charges appeared on my tuition bill anyway. I am now appealing this unjust penalty…."

          Tate, for all intents and purposes, was gone — abducted by highwaymen of the mind to be ransomed off at the market price for wayward imaginers. He realized he was in for one hell of a trip when the walls began to melt. They didn't merely seem out of focus or distorted, as they usually did when Tate was high, but they literally liquefied and began to pour down onto the floor in a thick, multicolored goop. The air around him took on the smell of copper and a thousand dark specks appeared before his eyes. Not long after that, the buzzing began…
          "I think I've gone too far," Tate heard himself say. He actually said nothing (his mouth remained frozen in a slack jawed state of semi-paralysis), but the words echoed in his head nonetheless.
          Within moments, he was gone, removed from the sedate house with its suddenly melting walls, and instead plunged into placid utopia. Tate found himself in an ethereal field of startlingly green grass, sprawled out like a snow angel on a mid-winter day. His new world was like a cartoon version of a nature scene, scrawled by a childish hand. The sun was too bright, the skies were too blue and too clear. The buzzing spoke of unseen vermin (bees? wasps? worse?), but nothing dared attack him.
          "Magic," Tate said, again speaking only inside his head.
          Meanwhile, in the world that Tate had oh-so recently departed, Sophie arrived to find him glassy-eyed and slumped against the wall.
          "Tate?" she asked, nudging him with her flip-flop clad foot.
          He issued no reply.
          "Ha ha," she mocked. "Look, you're not gonna scare me. Just give it up, OK?"
          Back in his own headspace, Tate found himself crawling along the grass toward a lake. The water was clear, having known neither polluter nor fisher nor Five Points Mafiosi. The brightness of the sun's reflection was staggering and Tate wondered how he was still able to see.
          As he drew nearer, the lake began to bubble. He heard, softly at first but gradually louder and louder still, a Depeche Mode song starting up from an invisible but very high quality (Bose, perhaps?) set of speakers.
          "Run," Tate commanded himself, though his body would not comply. "This is the part where the monster comes."
          Tate grasped the grass and cowed away. The bubbling became more violent by the second until at last a great wave erupted, drenching Tate with clean, cold water. Venus then stood before him. She was just like the paintings Tate had seen; so beautiful that he could barely stand to look.
          "Are you really real?" he asked.
          Smiling, she held a finger to her lips. "Dreaming of me," grew ominously louder. Tate found himself reaching to touch the goddess/apparition, fearing she would evaporate before him.
          "Tate?" Sophie asked, a world away.
          "Like liquid plasma," he said, placing his hand upon Venus's ankle. He slowly began to pull himself to his feet. She was ready for him. God knows how long he'd been waiting to do this. He moved toward her face to kiss her…. and that's when her mouth opened and she swallowed him whole, Depeche Mode thumping away all the while.
          Back in the real world, Sophie shrieked. Tate abruptly jerked upward, let out a muted scream and flopped to the floor. A moment later, his housemates gathered around him.
          "Holy shit!" Matt exclaimed. "Is he dead?"
          "Ew….don't say that," Nicole countered.
          Sophie was in a full fledged, teary-eyed panic. "The guy from Alistair's said he sold him this stuff and maybe Tate took some and I don't know and he said if he took more than a drop or two, send him to the hospital and I don't know and he just was in this trance and oh Jesus…shit…fuck…. I don't know!"
          "Let's everyone calm down," Bryan suggested. "If we take him to the hospital and they do a tox screen, he's fucked. And then we're fucked too."
          "Well what would you suggest, Captain Genius?" Marci asked.
          Matt chuckled. "Heh. You said Captain Genius."
          Bryan shrugged. "Call Alistair's. One of those hippie freaks knows about herbs and shit like that."
          "Which one?" Nicole asked.
          "I don't know. The old one! Just call."
          "Tate?" Sophie asked, trying once again to rouse him to consciousness.
          This time, he answered her. His response was in the form of a long, loud fart as he soiled himself, oblivious as ever to any form of embarrassment, but this time considerably less gleeful by the looks of it.

          Even if Emily knew what Tate was going through, she might have considered trading places with him nonetheless. Her scheme to thwart Lucas did not go as well as intended. In fact, like Don Johnson's singing career or the L.A. Clippers by season's end, it was an unmitigated failure.
          Truthfully, Emily did more than OK for herself in the early goings. She pretended to be drunk and confessed to Lucas her hidden fetish, a fetish she plucked from the top of her head (or, as she would contend, the bottom of her ass). Later, she pretended to be quite flustered about it and asked that he forget she told him anything. Predictably, he did not.
          "I knew it," he typed. "I knew there was something about you….."
          Emily soon realized that it would take more than mere words to scare him away and that meant taking actual pics. Donning her disguise, she sojourned to the nearest druggist, which, in this case, was a Walgreens.
          Once inside the store, Emily found her nerve melting faster than Tate's walls. Though convinced that no one would recognize her (how could they possibly?), she was nonetheless skeptical and paranoid, checking over her shoulder so often that she nearly threw out her neck.
          After dallying and pacing about until she thought she would pass out under the baggy coat, Emily finally made her move and entered the baby aisle. Taking one last quick glance…. and then another last quick glance just to be safe…and then a third last quick glance just for the hell of it, she lay her hands on a package of Pampers and prepared a speedy getaway.
          She aborted her getaway after taking all of two steps. It was only at that point that she realized that she was at the two-decade mark and Pampers would never fit her. All those years of cracks about her height had her believing otherwise for a moment, but, examining the size chart on the package, she realized it was hopeless.
          Feeling every bit the dolt, Emily returned the Pampers to the shelf and scampered on over to the adult incontinence section, which happened to be in the first aid aisle. Fortunately, this gave her another pretext for being in the aisle should she be discovered ("I'm a hemophiliac. I need gauze, damnit. Gauze!"). Unfortunately, she was not alone. An elderly couple stood beside the adult diapers, quarreling heatedly over brands of calamine lotion.
          Man: Why don't you try this brand?
          Woman: I don't want that brand. I want the other brand.
          Man: They don't have the other brand at this store.
          Woman: Why not? They have it at the other store.
          Emily, quietly: Oy vey!
          Thankfully, the couple was so wrapped up in its octogenarian love spat that it didn't even notice Emily squeak by and snatch a package of adult briefs from beside them. Now, she thought, I can finally get the hell out of here.
          Emily decided not to get the hell out of there. The consummate perfectionist, she returned to the baby aisle to select a rattle and a pacifier. Why not, she reasoned. If I was playing a mechanic, I'd throw grease on myself and buy a wrench.
          Sweating to death and finally satisfied, Emily took her place in line. There were three people ahead of her and not one of them seemed to notice her. She allowed herself a tiny chuckle and stepped forward as the line reduced to two.
          Grasping the package, it occurred to Emily that she was spending a lot of time and money on what was an elaborate but ultimately stupid prank. After all, who was Lucas that he could drive her to these depths? He wasn't worth the time, she concluded. This was stupid and she would just forget about it. She'd make up something to tell him and if he didn't like it, that would just be too bad.
          "Next," the cashier called and Emily automatically stepped forward. Instead of turning back, she found herself placing her purchases on the counter.
          Oh well, she thought. I can always exchange them. I mean….
          "Hey," said the customer who had been in front of her. Emily looked up and saw Brandon, her guitar-wielding hero gazing at her with curious despair. "What gives with the sunglasses?"
          "Eck-scuse me?" Emily asked, struggling to spit out each syllable.
          "Yeah," Brandon said. "I mean, it's a little cold, isn't it?"
          "Eighteen o five," the cashier told her.
          Emily felt herself feeling weak-kneed. If I swoon, will he catch me?
          "You're Emily, right?" he asked. "I've seen you around campus."
          "Eighteen o five," the cashier repeated, impatiently.
          "I…uh…yeah," Emily said, plunking a bill down upon the counter haphazardly.
          "Ah. Well. Whatcha got there?"
          "This?" Emily asked on the outside. Her inside voice was preoccupied with chanting "ohgodohgodohgod…." "This is for…um…a play. Some friends of mine back home, we've got uh…theater group…yeah."
          "That's cool," Brandon said. "What play?"
          "Something my friend wrote," she said. "I play the baby."
          "I can see that. Well, I'll have to check it out."
          And, with that, he began to walk away.
          "I think you're really good," she called after him.. She wasn't sure if he heard. She wasn't sure if he bought her cover story. She wasn't sure of anything other than that she was sweaty and sick.
          "One ninety five's the change," the cashier droned, letting bill and coin fall into Emily's limp, open palm. "Next."
          Next, Emily thought, is I go home, curl up and die.

          Kev and Joss are away this chapter. They stayed up late the night before planning their Save the Hub Party and are currently sleeping in (yes, Joss took something for his insomnia and yes, Kev did something more about his bedwetting). They regret not being around to answer your questions, but have left you this away message---replete with a dancing bear---in the interim. They hope you enjoy it. To see the dancing bear, click below:
          (Link not active).

          If Emily had lingered around Walgreen's for another fifteen minutes, she might have bumped into Kira and they would have had quite the interesting conversation (assuming, of course, neither one of them dropped dead from the embarrassment). It turned out that Kira too was purchasing a form of adult incontinence protection, albeit not for herself. The package of GoodNites she held in her hand was for her roommate.
          Kira was a history major. History taught her that bad things happened to those who hesitated. England blinked and the Nazis took Poland. Portugal held its breath and Pope Alexander gave most of South America to Spain. She didn't want the same thing happening to her and Ali. In her mind's eye, she saw Alison's grades slipping even further and her focus evaporating entirely. She saw academic probation, followed by eventual expulsion (or withdrawal before hitting that undignified low). She saw a new roommate who was nowhere near as cool or understanding as her current one; someone who would talk endlessly about trivial things and ask, "so, what's it like to be Blackutguese"….as if it was some kind of goddamn fashion statement. She decided right then and there that she wouldn't let that happen.
          The decision to keep Alison in line by putting her back in diapers came to Kira in a very roundabout way. She was contemplating more sane alternatives (i.e.: simply following her around and being a pain in the ass until she got the point), when she was struck by two things. The first was a leaf that blew by her face and wound up half way in her mouth. After she spit it out revoltingly, she was struck something her friend Maryluci once told her when they were 13.
          "My pops is crazy, yo," she'd said.
          "Oh yeah?" Kira had asked. "Crazy how?"
          "When my brother Tony was seven, right, he got into a fight in school and got sent home. Pops said 'hit me.' Tony said 'no way.' Pops said 'hit me.' Tony began to cry. Pops said, 'Until you man enough to fight me, you aren't man enough to pick on nobody else. And don't you forget that.' He made Tony wear diapers the rest of the week. Diapers, yo."
          "Damn. How'd Tony take it?"
          "He didn't get into no more fights."
          Kira wasn't crazy (at least she didn't think she was), but that didn't mean she wasn't going to give something crazy a try. She thought of Maryluci and her brother Tony, a big kid with ripped arms and Crip tats, and smiled. If it could work on him, it could do wonders for Ali.
          Her mind made up, Kira made her way back to the dorms with her purchase…. and was accosted by several more leaves en route. Alison wasn't around when she came in, but she'd left a note.
          At the gym. Wait up for me and we'll get dinner.
          Kira smiled. This was one roommate worth keeping, no matter what it took.

          The same wind that was blowing leaves into Kira's face was doing wonders for Doug's windows. The constant rattling deprived him of concentration, motivation, aspiration and, more importantly, sleep. He'd called someone from building services to come fix it, but received no reply. When that failed, he called his mother and asked about coming home.
          "Don't be silly, dear," Mrs. Archambeau admonished. "I'm sure they'll fix it soon enough."
          "But Mom…"
          "Doug, it's important that you stay on campus and get your work done. That won't happen if you are home."
          The call ended. Doug realized that he'd forgotten to charge his phone.
          After the third night of the insufferable rat-tat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat-tat, Doug finally decided to do something about it. He flung open the window and attempted to dislodge the outer window from the track.
          "Steady," he said, wrapping his hands around the frame.
          "Steady," he repeated, guiding it slowly down.
          "Steady," he said once more, right before the window left his hands and fell to the ground below, shattering into about a million fragments. The window rat-tat-tatted no more. As a reward for solving this problem in a timely and expedient fashion when no one else would, Doug was fined the sum of $45. This brought about a new rat-tat-tat, as his head thumped against the wall again and again and again.
          Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

          Morpheus: I am hope.

          -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


            Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

            Rewind: Moments Missed in Confusion and Regret

            Doug's itinerary for the day:
            - Meet with Dr. Thornack for advising.
            - Meet with campus career services, see about internship.
            - Late lunch.
            - Finish (OK…start) Comm304 paper
            - Photoshop
            - Food
            - Kev & Joss's party (??)
            - Pass out

            This is like the dream where you are naked onstage in front of your classmates and they all point and laugh at you…only I'm supposed to be the one pointing and laughing, damnit…
            "Gwah?" Tate asked. He blinked twice and stared at his housemates, who were gathered in a poorly-formed circle around him. He was not exactly naked. A thick towel was tucked between his legs and fastened around his waist and a thinner towel, stained with drool, hung around his neck like a bib.
            "Tate!" the group shouted, ushering him back to reality with aplomb and assurance.
            "Fuck this," Tate responded. "I'm going back to sleep."
            And so he did.

            Not long after Tate shit his pants, his housemates were plunged into wave after wave of quarreling and bickering. They argued over whether to wait around for the guy from Alistair's or take him to the hospital. They argued over who was going to clean him up. They argued over what they would tell the authorities if it ever came to that. Undoubtedly, Tate would have relished being the center of such a dispute…. if he wasn't too incapacitated to observe it.
            Eventually, a decision was reached and the group sprang (actually, ambled) to action. The guys dragged Tate off to the shower and cleaned him off, cursing and grumbling whilst the girls took turns getting grossed/freaked out. Even as he was stripped, blasted with scalding water and bundled up in a sheet, Tate remained in a nearly comatose state of obliviousness. His vitals were constant, but his inner light had dimmed.
            "This boy is rightly fucked up. There's just no other way to put it."
            So was the judgment reached by Hubie, the resident physician/uncle/barbeque champion at Alistair's.
            "You had to give him an examination to find that out?" Matt asked sarcastically.
            "I'll have to have a word with my nephew about this…" Hubie trailed off.
            "Is he going to be OK or not?" Marci asked.
            "Oh, he'll be fine…eventually. In the meantime, it's best to keep an eye on him. Give him lots of fluids, make sure he doesn't get too hot or too cold…you know the spiel."
            "You're not a very good doctor," Bryan admonished.
            "I didn't have my license revoked for nothing," Hubie bragged, bowing out without offering a single useful piece of advice.

            The group formed a quick huddle and decided that they would take turns tending to Tate for the next day or two. If he was still out of it by then, they would call his parents to come get him and he would have to face the music on his own. Since Matt and Bryan had already cleaned him up, most of the nurturing would fall upon the three girls in the house. Memories of Tate slapping their asses, rousing them from sleep with his construction projects and offering a never-ending supply of distasteful jokes and pranks left them feeling less than zealous about their newfound duties.
            "I am NOT wiping his ass!" Nicole vowed.
            "Me neither," Marci agreed.
            Only Sophie didn't seem entirely averse to taking care of her fallen housemate. She blamed herself, in part, for Tate winding up like he did. If only she had been a little bit quicker, she thought, she might have stopped it from happening.
            "Poor Tate," she said, patting his head. Like everyone else in the house, she occasionally took offense at his crude pranks, gaudy jokes and failed magic tricks. However, at the same time she found his humor and exuberance to be oddly endearing. Tate isn't a bad guy, she reasoned. He can even be sweet at times. He just doesn't know when enough is enough. And now he's finding out the hard way.
            Tate belched, then shivered. Whatever was going on inside his head was probably frightening and unpleasant, like all the bad parts of childhood fairy tales (witches and monsters and what have you) come to wretchedly sudden fruition.
            "There's gotta be something we can do," Sophie pouted. She was pre-med, a biology major with an inclination toward helping others. Being unable to do so made her feel worthless.
            Suddenly, it struck her that perhaps Hubie wasn't worthless after all. He'd said to give Tate lots of fluids. Fluids would make him pee and that would flush the toxin from his system.
            "Duh…how'd I miss that," Sophie admonished. Unfortunately for her, Tate was nowhere close to being in control of his facilities. And, because she did not want him pissing all over the floor (or worse: all over her), she would have to improvise.

            Improvisation took the form of Sophie swiping everyone's spare towels and placing them on Tate like a diaper and a bib respectively. She then attempted to get him to drink from a water bottle. Half the liquid wound up in his mouth, the other half dripped down his chin. Sighing in frustration, she refilled the bottle and tried again. When she was satisfied that Tate had gotten enough liquid, she sat back and waited, catching up on her reading in the interim.
            In the midst of a Lorrie Moore story, Sophie glanced over to see a rapidly expanding wet spot on the front of Tate's diaper. Grabbing him by the hand, she attempted to drag him to the toilet before giving up and simply allowing him to continue to wet himself. She then changed him and proceeded to bottle-feed him water again.
            This process endured for several hours and many wet diapers. Sophie put up with her housemates' skepticism as well as her own doubt, but in the end it was worth it. Tate woke up. He was groggy and confused, but awake just the same. She wasn't expecting him to remember much, but at least counted on a simple "thank you." Instead, she received a "fuck this, I'm going back to sleep" for her efforts. Beholding his slumbering form with teary-eyed frustration, she privately began to hope he would never wake up.

            Emily had only recently stopped crying herself. She didn't fancy herself much of a crier. Disappointment came naturally to her and it usually took something extraordinary to push her to the point of tears. She didn't cry when people were mean to her or when things didn't go her way. She didn't cry simply because she was having a horrible day, week or month. She didn't even cry when her mother told her one of her pet birds had died. But she did cry the night of the party and once she got started, it took her a good while to stop.
            Gazing at the wreckage of her dorm room (she threw things often when angry), Emily tried not to think about how long it would take her to clean it all up. In fact, she tried not to think about anything at all, lest her head burst and the Worst Night Ever come to a fitting close.
            Ironically, the cause of much of Emily's suffering was now her sole salvation. Under the covers, she lay snugly diapered with a pacifier in her mouth and a stuffed animal tucked under each arm. She was too drained to worry about how ridiculous or strange she looked, preferring instead to focus on the worry-free fuzziness that surrounded her. Counting back from 100, Emily's disquieting unrest abated and she drifted toward docile tranquility.

            Needless to say, the great Get Lucas to Go Away scheme had turned into a colossally embarrassing blunder and Emily had pretty much scrapped the idea by the time she got back on campus. In addition to being merely mortified by her encounter at the store, she felt physically ill as well. For ten minutes or so, Emily found herself standing in the bathroom, waiting for the vomit to come so she could puke and get it over with. It never did.
            Providentially blessed bookphile that she was, Emily took pause to remember the words of Robert Frost. "In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life," he wrote. "It goes on."
            "And he dropped out of college and moved to a farm," Emily added. "So nyah!"
            In the scope of things, being caught buying diapers and lying about it didn't seem so bad.

            Later, Emily began the rigorous process of finding an outfit to wear to the Save the Hub Party Afterparty. She wanted something sexy that would show off her assets. Unfortunately, aside from the slightest hint of cleavage and the most meager curves of an otherwise unshapely ass, Emily hadn't any assets to show off. Furthermore, most of her clothes made her look like a dude, a little girl or a Victorian schoolmarm.
            "Urgh, this is hopeless," she complained as she sifted through a closetful of stubborn hangers.
            At long last, she settled on black pants and a red sweater. A pair of boots (necessary to make her seem less pathetically short) was added to the mix and she was good to go.
            Fifteen minutes after arrival, however, Emily was reminded why she didn't like parties. Chattering charlatans ignored her and chugged spirits courageously while she sat in a corner, sipping quietly from a plastic cup. She was there for one reason and one reason only — there was a good chance Brandon would show up. God would reward her diligent suffering with a second chance, and this time she would say the right thing and he would like her and she would write her own ending. Every time doubt crept its way into her mind space, Emily smacked the side of her head and took another drink.
            Her instincts ultimately proved to be correct. Brandon did show up, albeit in the company of friends. Emily decided to bide her time and wait until he was free. She made up her mind that, no matter what, she would not allow the mishap at the store to get the better of her. She would even turn it into a joke, if need be. "Hey, remember me? I'm the chick you saw buying diapers…"
            But before Emily could hope to face her prince, she had to contend with her bitter foe. Candida had made her presence known at the party, demanding that the music playing be switched to something of her preference and inviting every free (and, in some cases, not so free) male around to dance with her. Dressed in tight jeans and a top that showed off her pierced navel, it was too hard an offer for most guys to pass up.
            "Look at her," Kira remarked with distaste. "If I had a boyfriend, I wouldn't let him within 20 feet."
            "If I had a boyfriend, I'd make him kill her," Emily said, only half-joking. "I'd do it myself, but I'd probably screw it up."
            Kira chuckled. "You're not a fan?"
            "Not a fan," Emily echoed. "Not even in the same stadium."
            "Me neither. I hate how she tries to front all that 'respect my heritage' bullshit. Please. I speak more Spanish than she does."
            "She's dumb in class too," Emily said. "Everyone is just afraid to tell her."
            "Well somebody should," Kira said before getting called away.
            Emily thought that was a damn good idea. Unfortunately, when she talked, nobody listened.
            When it became clear that Candida was only dancing for attention and had no legitimate interest in any of them, the crowd of guys began to disperse and the limber drama queen found herself temporarily alone. Emily thought about walking right up to her and telling her off. Just like that. It wouldn't be hard. You know what, Candida? You suck and nobody likes you. Go away. There!
            But if she said that, what kind of person would that make her? Hadn't she always hated when people said, implied, or thought that about her? Yes, but…
            Before she could reach a decision, Candida took it upon herself to throw the opening salvo.
            "Emily Griesber," she said.
            "Griesinger," Emily corrected.
            "Whatchu doin here?"
            "What does it look like?"
            "Didn't bring no date?"
            "Nah," Emily quipped sarcastically. "With all the potential suitors, it became too hard to decide."
            "I didn't even know people like you went to parties," Candida replied. She was throwing jabs, but avoiding going through the jugular. It was smart, Emily thought. It's going to make ME snap first and make ME look like the bitch. "I mean, I thought you hung out in the library and shit. But that's cool though."
            People like you? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Hung out in the library? Emily was ready to burst a vein…and yet kept her mouth shut because she knew it wasn't too far off from the truth. She could handle herself fine in class, but felt out of her element here. Boots be damned: she felt downright tiny.
            Fortunately, Candida's attention span was mercifully short and she left Emily before inflicting any further damage. Unfortunately, she was still in the process of recovering when Brandon dropped by.
            "Emily, right?" he asked again.
            "So?" she asked defensively. "I mean…yes?"
            "How's rehearsal for that play going?"
            "Oh…it's going good. I'm taking a little break now though, but…"
            "You know who else acts in plays? That girl Candida. I was talking to her before and she seemed pretty cool."
            Cool? Emily thought. Brandon thinks Candida is cool?!?!?! It wasn't quite as bad as it would have been if she walked in on them making out, but it placed a close second. All the embarrassment and loathing Emily felt in the store returned. She felt her knees weaken. If she was lucky, she would pass out. Oh Brandon, she thought. How could you?
            "Anyway, I'm having a concert in a few weeks…" he began to explain, but she could barely focus. Was he really just another jerk who happened to look good? No, she thought. She didn't want to believe it. She'd heard him play. He had passion. And conviction. And…
            "…so I'm hoping I can maybe record something…"
            Five minutes had gone by and he was still talking about himself. Urgh, Emily thought. What a goddamn waste.

            And so, her night ruined and her hopes crushed, Emily returned to her dorm once more and tore it to shreds, slinging books around and cursing and groaning and pounding things in frustration. Lucas tried IMing her and she promptly told him to fuck off. It was his fault she was in this mess, she thought. No. It's not. It's mine.
            The package of diapers lay in the bag, unopened. Emily planned to return them, but didn't want to deal with another incident at the store. Plan B was merely to toss them. Looking at them now, however, she began to develop a Plan C: actually wearing one. In her research on infantilism, she learned that many people with the fetish turned to diapers as an emotional safety blanket and a way of seeking comfort during tough times. If ever someone was in need of comfort at any time, it was her right then, right now.
            Eh, she thought. What MORE have I got to lose?
            Within a half hour, she was peacefully asleep.

            There were people everywhere. People filled every corner of the dorm room. People lined the stairs. People were crammed into the lounge like cattle. People hung out in the halls. There was hardly room to breathe. If a fire alarm had gone off, there would have been a trampling death or two for sure.
            "This is just great," Kev shouted to his roommate. Joss seemed to be barricaded behind a wall of random personages. "Not that many will show up, huh?"
            "Think of all the money we're making," Joss retorted, raising his voice to be heard over the noise.
            "So? Think about how much it will cost to fix anything if someone breaks it?"
            "I guess we're even for this morning," Joss retorted.
            "Yeah," said Kev. "I guess so."

            That morning, Kev had woken to the sound of Joss screaming. Actually, it was less a scream than an abrupt shriek of surprise.
            "Nightmare?" Kev asked.
            "It's wet, Kev," Joss said, referring to the diaper around his waist.
            "So?" Kev asked. It was not uncommon for him to wake up in such a state and his own diapers were, in fact, quite soaked.
            "Relax," Kev assured him. "It's probably a fluke."
            "I sure hope so," Joss said. "God, I can't believe you talked me into this."

            Several days prior, Kev had made the switch from thick underwear to real diapers and plastic pants. He was going through a phase, he reasoned, and there was no use being stubborn about it.
            "How are you going to wear THAT to class?" Joss asked, gawking at the thickness of Kev's new diapers.
            "I'm not," Kev explained. "I'm going to wear my regular ones to class and wear these to sleep."
            "Whatever churns your butter."
            "Hey…I'm not Amish. I don't churn butter."
            "It's a figure of speech."
            "I know," Kev said. "But it's a bad one."
            "So?" Joss asked. "What are we doing about this Save the Hub Party?"
            "I talked to the R.A.. She didn't seem to have a problem with it. We just have to be sure not to attract any unwanted attention. If it gets too crowded in here, we can always use the lounge."
            "It's not going to get too crowded," Joss assured him. "We can fit what…maybe 10 people in here, standing room only. There's no booze and nothing to eat. Ergo, there is no real reason for Average College Shlub to stay. People will come, drop money in the donations box, maybe buy a CD, maybe stop to talk for a few minutes, and go. They'll be shuffling in and out. No need to worry about crowds."
            "If you say so."
            "And I do. Then again, that might just be the lack of sleep talking."
            "When are you going to take something for that?"
            "Howabout never? I don't trust modern medicine. Too many side effects, too much risk, not enough assurance that it will work. Ye false gods of pharmacology shan't win me over."
            "Ah…but would you be willing to try something else?" Kev asked.
            "Like what?"

            Joss's various reactions to the idea that he should try wearing diapers to bed are as follows: no, no thanks, are you crazy?, funny…but seriously…, no way, no, I think not, and, finally, yes.
            "This isn't half bad," Joss admitted after he had finally given in.
            "And if you don't get a better night's sleep, your money back."
            "But I didn't pay anything."
            "Precisely, my friend, precisely."

            Neither of them could pinpoint why so many people showed up. They had, after all, not undergone a rigorous campaign of advertising, preferring instead to leak news of the party primarily by word of mouth. Given that those they leaked to were fellow computer nerds, they expected a very small turnout indeed.
            Unfortunately, the diapered duo had turned a blind eye to the powers of gossip. Even computer nerds had friends, and their friends had friends and those friends had friends as well. Nearly everyone on campus was a patron of the file-sharing hub and even those who would not condescend to speak to Kev or Joss 364 days out of the year, found it in their best interests to make an exception for the 365th.
            They came in droves, streaming in from all ends of campus and from off-campus as well. Underclassmen and upperclassmen occupied the same airspace. Honor societies and fraternities and sororities accounted for the presence of nearly every conceivable combination of the Greek alphabet. Even a law professor sympathetic to the file sharing cause decided to stop by.
            Everyone seemed to be delighted…save for Kev and Joss. They spent most of their time worrying that their belongings would be stolen or destroyed, or that the police would come and shut them down. Every new face brought about a pang of anxiety.
            "You know what?" Kev yelled to his roommate. "This isn't so bad. Maybe we can meet some new people…."
            "I said maybe we can meet some new people!"
            "Why would we want to do that?"
            "Couldn't hurt. You know…connections and stuff."
            "Fine," Joss said. "Starting now, I'm going to go around and make introductions."
            But as soon as he made his pledge, news of the Afterparty broke and everyone poured out in droves. Total donations for the night: $633.54 and a coupon for a free coffee at Dunkin Donuts.

            "You know I'm only doing this because I love you," Kira said. "Believe me, I wouldn't even think of it otherwise. And hopefully I'll never do it again."
            Alison nodded, but her eyes were tellingly wide and wet.
            "I'll try not to stay out too late," Kira said, blowing her a kiss as she bowed out the door. "Peace, roomie."
            Alison did not follow her. She couldn't even if she wanted to. Her wrists were bound to the bedframe and a strip of silver tape across her mouth ensured her silence. Under the covers, she was naked from the waist down…save for a flowery GoodNite that would soon be in danger of becoming wet. She would remain like this until Kira returned to free her or until she fell asleep, whichever came first.
            Alison wanted very much to be angry. She wanted to scream into her gag and break free of her bonds, to tear off her pseudo-diaper, track Kira down and give her a beating. She wanted to have that kind of outrage, that kind of unstoppable thirst for vengeance, but none would come to her. She couldn't be mad at Kira because, in the back of her mind, she knew her roommate had done the right thing. She DESERVED to be like this.

            "I think I figured out a way for you to stay focused on your homework," Kira had told her earlier.
            "If you say "concentrate harder," I'm going to be very disappointed," Alison replied. "I mean, I DO try. It just doesn't seem to work for me."
            "I know," Kira said, revealing the bag of GoodNites. "I just thought you could use some encouragement."
            Alison laughed at first, then looked bewildered.
            "How is THAT supposed to encourage me?" she asked. "Are you gonna make me wear one if I fail another test?"
            "No," Kira explained. "You're gonna wear one every night until your homework is done and then you can take it off. It's…"
            "A reward system," Alison interrupted. "Part of operant conditioning. Jesus, have you been reading my psych books or what?"
            "No, actually."
            "I never really liked all that behaviorism stuff," Alison confessed. "Skinner and his mice…ew. Now male psychology, understanding guys and relationships and stuff, maybe that I can see myself doing. But anyway…. I'm not wearing a freakin diaper."
            "It's not a diaper," Kira corrected. "It's a GoodNite. And yes you are. Otherwise, don't talk to me. Don't talk to me when you aren't able to concentrate. Don't talk to me when your grades sink even lower. Don't talk to me when your parents get pissed or when they throw your pretty little ass out of here. Just don't talk to me."
            Alison sighed. As absurd and insulting as the proposition was, she felt compelled to give it a try for her roommate's sake.
            "Only for you do I do this," she said.
            "That's all I ask," Kira answered.

            And from there, a routine developed. When both girls were done with classes and practice for the day, Alison would slip on her GoodNite and sit down with her books. She was under no rush and was free to dictate her own pace. The only stipulation was that she could not remove the undergarment until her assignments were complete.
            "What happens if I have to pee?" she had asked.
            Later on, she found out.
            "You have three choices," Kira told her. "Either I can take you by the hand to the potty like a little girl, you can hold it, or you can wet your GoodNite."
            "Ouch!" Alison replied. "You know, you're quite the dominatrix."
            Kira smiled. "Least I have something to fall back on if this history thing doesn't work out."

            Astoundingly, Kira's system proved to be successful. Alison was so mortified by being made to wear GoodNites that she forced herself to plow through her dense psych texts and turgid discussion questions just so she would be able to take them off later. Her brain hurt, but her GPA would thank her for it. Unfortunately, the system hit a wall with the advent of the Save the Hub Party.
            "I am so totally going!" Alison enthusiastically intoned.
            "No you're note," Kira said.
            "Come on now, I've been pretty good about this."
            "It's not like I don't want you to have fun, but I know you, Ali. If you go, you'll end up staying all night, come home wasted, not want to do any work the next day and will fall behind again."
            "No I won't. Come with me. When you're ready to go, you can drag me out of there."
            "That's if I can even find you," Kira rebutted. "Do me a favor and don't go. You can hit the next party, OK?"
            "I'm going," Alison insisted.
            "No you're not."
            "Yes I am."
            "No you're not."
            "Yes I am."
            A struggle ensued and Alison eventually found herself overpowered by her roommate and rendered helpless. Perhaps as punishment or perhaps because she wanted to check out the party herself without Alison sneaking off and getting into trouble, Kira took it upon herself to tie her to the bed. It was a crazy, stupid thing to do, but a thing she did nonetheless.

            Kira did not stay long at the after party. She saw a few friends and hurried on back. Alison was asleep by the time she returned and Kira gently untied her. Just as she was about to get into bed herself, Alison stirred from slumber.
            "How was it?" she asked.
            "You didn't miss anything," Kira told her.
            "Were you OK here?"
            "I fell asleep, didn't I?"
            "I suppose so. Nite, Ali."
            "Thank you."
            Kira was touched. She had been expecting something along the lines of "I'll get you for this, you bitch" and was rewarded with "thank you" instead. It only went to affirm her belief that Alison was a roommate worth keeping.

            Despite a busy day, Doug made the party. He had a meeting with a professor in which he was told he might need to stay an extra semester. He had another meeting with career services in which he was told no internships were currently available in his field of choice. His Comm paper was torturously long and only half-finished when he gave up on it. His lunch gave him an upset stomach. Doug still made the party.
            "Who are all these people?" he shouted to Kev.
            "Beats me," Kev answered.
            "I said BEATS ME."
            Indeed, Doug found himself overrun by swarms of students he had never seen before…as well as a few he had seen and only wished that he hadn't. For a moment, he thought the sheer volume of people would make him vomit. And then it dawned on him: hey, I'm at a party. Forget all that shit. Have fun. Relax.
            Doug had fun. Doug relaxed. Doug began looking for girls to talk to. Throwing caution to the wind, he found one and approached her. She was cute and blonde. Lindsey something. It didn't really matter. Doug was on his A-game. He told her about his exploits with the campus paper, about the pictures he took, about the places he had been (sometimes substituting places he only wished he'd been). He was sure to punctuate his rambling every so often with a "how about you?" just to keep her interest. He was doing great, working all the angles. Though she didn't look like the type to put out right then and there, he figured he could probably get a date out of it. All lights were green…and then Tate showed up and ruined everything.
            Rumors, some of them barely believable, had been flying about Tate all night. The consensus was that he had taken a designer drug and suffered brain damage. Good, Doug thought, serves him right. Nevertheless, he feigned sympathy when he heard the news. He had to keep up appearances.
            "Tales of my demise have been greatly exaggerated," a clearly non-braindead Tate espoused, releasing a bunch of balloons as he entered the room.
            "Tate!" Lindsay exclaimed, rushing toward him in a hurry. "Oh my God, are you OK?"
            She did not just do that, Doug thought. She did not…. eh, screw her. There are plenty of other people here.
            "And, to celebrate my return to health, howabout we take this party to my place," Tate announced.
            And so the Afterparty was born. Doug's potential companions streamed out of the room until none were left.
            "Damnit," Doug sighed. "I hate that kid."
            "I don't," said Joss. "One of those balloons had $10 in it."
            "I can beat that," Doug bragged. When he reached inside his wallet, however, he found that he was broke.
            Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

            Morpheus: I am hope.

            -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


              Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

              When he wasn't constructing, destructing or obstructing, one of Tate's favorite pastimes was taking online personality tests. No subject — not even 'What Kind of Lamp Are You?'— proved to be too inane for his liking. A recent test, entitled What Kind of Dead Celebrity Are You, informed Tate that he was Andy Kaufman.
              He registered disappointment at first. After all, he much rather would have been Harry Houdini or Frank Zappa. In time, however, he came to see the Kaufman comparison as an apt one. Like the erstwhile Taxi star, he displayed a knack for uplifting the spirits of others and engaging in well-timed bouts of general buffoonery. He also found himself ignoring good judgment and steering his life into dangerous waters. Kaufman wrestled women. Tate found his calling in the hallucinatory arts.
              Following his brush with drooling incapacitation, Tate's housemates exacted a promise from him that he would desist immediately. In a rare earnest moment, Tate gave his solemn word that he wouldn't give them such a scare ever again. He was so serious, in fact, that he actually felt quite shitty when it came time for him to break his word. He felt that he had stumbled onto a treasure trove with the frog bile and neither creepy lake goddesses nor his housemates' half-assed concern would be sufficient enough to dissuade him for good. He would simply have to be more careful in the future.
              For Tate, being careful entailed the following:
              1. Wait until housemates are gone.
              2. Don multiple pairs of underwear (as to protect against temporary loss of facilities).
              3. Lay back in bed (as to prevent hitting head on floor during spasms).
              4. Measure out precisely one drop of frog bile.
              5. Apply to tongue and enjoy.
              Of all the measures, the first on the list proved to be most difficult. Due to conflicting schedules, everyone (himself included) was constantly coming and going. Aside from nights, early mornings and the occasional weekend, there was rarely a time when all five of his housemates were accounted for. After ever-so-subtly asking around, however, Tate found an opening on a Wednesday afternoon. Bryan, Matt, Marci, Nicole and Sophie would all either be at class, catching a late lunch, working out, just plain working or engaging in gratuitous fornication with their better halves. It sounded terribly fun to Tate, but what he had planned would blow it all away.
              2:27 on the day in question found Tate nearly jumping out of his skin with anticipation. He was ready to drive Marci out the door with a cattle prod if she didn't get a move on and kept checking his watch every fifteen seconds or so to remind himself that yes, it wasn't quite 2:30 yet.
              "Aren't you going out?" she asked him as she reached the door.
              "Nah," Tate said. "I think I'm going to work on something."
              "Oh God. No matches, OK?"
              "No matches," Tate promised. She vanished with a wave and Tate promptly unfurled the vial he had been concealing. Who needs matches, he thought, when you have this?
              Tate wasted little time in stripping. He'd picked up a six-pack of Fruit of the Looms earlier in the week (ironically, at the same register in the same store where Emily had her embarrassing encounter with Brandon) and proceeded to put on all six pairs at once. The fit was snug around the loins, but not snug enough to push him into falsetto range. Besides, he didn't plan on wearing them for very long. It was only for the sake of his sheets that he bothered to pad himself at all.
              Everything else came easily. Tate put in another CD (Pink Floyd this time), tucked himself into bed and braced for liftoff. When that solitary reed droplet hit his tongue, he knew he was in for a good time.
              What Tate did not know — and could not have known — was that Nicole's afternoon class had been cancelled. The professor had emailed his students to let them know he was ill, but offered to dispense knowledge electronically if any of them dropped him an email. No one did.
              Free from the burdens of academia, Nicole ventured home for a few hours of relaxation. Lacking a roaring fire and a great volume of literature, Nicole plopped down in front of the TV and opened up a magazine. She was in the midst of reading about one of those silly Simpson sisters lip-synching woes when she was interrupted by a far more suspicious sound. To her unsuspecting ears, it sounded as if someone was holding a Pentecostal ministry on the floor above her. There was shouting and stammering and what seemed an awful lot like tongues in ecstasy.
              Tate wouldn't quite rate the experience as religious, but the trip he was on was comparable to a night of good sex or a few forkfuls of dry-aged prime sirloin. He had thus far been to a carnival, inside the body of Jacques Cousteau, walking backwards on Wall Street and playing chess against Aristotle atop a cloud of cotton candy. He was on the verge of checkmate when Nicole called his fantasy to a screeching and unceremonious halt.
              "Jesus, not again," she said, giving him a rough shake. "Tate!"
              "Hwa?" he asked, regaining his bearings.
              "You were fucking high again, weren't you?"
              "One of these days, you're going to do something stupid and one of us won't be around to save you," she admonished.
              "Probably," he said. "But until that happens, I'll take my chances. What? Did you think I'm in college for the learning?"

              Emily's finger hovered over the mouse button. Like an indecisive general, it advanced and lingered a tentative moment before promptly retreating. She was a mere click away from banishing Lucas from her life forever. Once she clicked 'Block', she was fairly confident she would never look back. The constant mind games would come to an end. The bizarre conversations that lasted til 3 a.m. and made her tired the next day would be no more. The steady stream of salacious comments would at last dry up and fizzle. There would be one less thorn in the briar patch that was her life.
              …if only Emily could bring herself to take that final step. What held her back was less conscience than it was common sense. Wake up, she told herself. You're alone. You're depressed. You spend most of your time sleeping and feeling sorry for yourself. Stuffed animals are your best friends and your crush might have a crush on your archrival. Meanwhile, this guy is actually interested in you and you want to get rid of him? Yeah…you're smart.
              And from this morass of despair came a newfound optimism. Emily had been laboring under the belief that Lucas was a.) a complete loser b.) as much of a jerk in person as he was online and c.) ugly as sin. It dawned on her that she actually knew very little about him. She had never seen a picture and her insights into his life were foggy at best. For all she knew, she could be talking to a distant member of the royal family. Or a six-fingered, chain-smoking pedophile. The Internet ran the full gamut of colorful personalities.
              "Eh," she reasoned. "Maybe he isn't so bad."
              Reconsideration aside, she still took umbrage to his nonstop barrage of harassment. Part of the problem, she thought, was that she continued to play into his hand. There had been so much back and forth bantering and combativeness in the beginning that it was no wonder he failed to take her "fuck offs" with anything other than a grain of salt. Pride precluded her from offering up a polite "please leave me alone," but it would hinder her no longer. No sooner had he led off a conversation with "hey sexy" than did she let him have it with both barrels.
              "You have to be nicer to me," she typed. "This…urg. I'm not doing this anymore. You might think it's cute, but arguing with you takes a lot out of me. We aren't Tracy and Hepburn. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being bitchy to you all the time. That's not really who I am. And correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think you're half as much of an asshole as you pretend to be. If you really are, then I'm going to have to once and for all ask you to fuck off (this time I mean it). But if you're not…. then let's try this again: Hi, my name is Emily."
              Her manifesto did the impossible: it actually got Lucas to shut up. For the next fifteen minutes, he typed nothing and Emily helped herself to a few games of Freecell. In the middle of her third consecutive loss (following two wins), the IM at the bottom of her screen finally began to flash. Lucas's response, which had taken all that time to generate, occupied all of three words.
              "OK," he typed. "I'm sorry."
              "OK," Emily typed. And then, for the first time in months, they went about having a normal conversation.

              "I don't see what the big deal is," Kev said. Like the proverbial dove with an olive branch clasped in its beak, he held out a diaper as a peace offering. Joss let out a semi-audible grunt, shook his head and refused to receive it.
              "OK," Kev said. "Now I'm confused."
              "Just now?" Joss chided. What would have ordinarily been a top-notch zinger was diluted by the lack of humor in his voice. He sounded old and tired, like a man who hadn't slept in 100 years. That, of course, was a nifty bit of hyperbole: Joss actually hadn't slept in three days.
              "Let's see if I'm making sense," Kev persisted. "I wear diapers."
              "And you have no problem with that?"
              "Yet if you were to wear one…. there would be a problem?"
              "You need them. I don't. 'Nuff said."
              "Maybe you need them too."
              Joss raised a quizzical eyebrow.
              "To help you get to sleep," Kev quickly added.
              "Au contrare. I have other ways of dealing with that."
              "Tate Predergast has this potion that will knock a normal person into a coma. Since this is me we are talking about and not a normal person, I figure it will put me under for about ten hours."
              Kev frowned and shook his head. "Look at you," he admonished. "Look at what you've become."
              Joss looked around frantically, first at the palms of his hands, then under each arm and lastly at his shoelaces (still tied). "I give up."
              "You are willing to take your chances with Amazonian frog bile, but you won't even entertain the possibility of wearing a diaper? And for what? Some far-fetched, ill-supported fear that it will induce nocturnal incontinence? Tsk, tsk. For shame."
              "As usual, your grasp of the superficial is astounding," Joss retorted. "But if you were to dig a little deeper, you'd realize there are some very good reasons why I'll refrain from padding my loins."
              "Dude," Kev said. "You just said 'pad my loins.'"
              "That's the lack of sleep talking," Joss said with a yawn.
              "So? Spill it."
              "I don't think so."
              "We've been roommates for how long?"
              "The past three years."
              "Don't you think it's a little facetious to be keeping secrets?"
              "On the whole, yes. In this case, no."
              "Come on, Klein. Don't make me hurt you for it."
              Joss rolled his eyes. "Ah…fine. You repeat this and you die."
              "Duly noted."
              "Growing up, I had a cousin who wet the bed on and off for about two years. My aunt used to make him wear diapers. That was how she dealt with it. When I was about six years old, I slept over there one night. My aunt thought it would be a good idea for me to wear a diaper too so Tovy."
              "No, Tovy. With a V. So Tovy wouldn't feel embarrassed. I wasn't too happy about it, but I was six. What was I to do? Long story short, my girl cousins made fun of me. They left Tovy alone because he had a problem, but I was fair game. It's stuck with me ever since."
              By the time Joss finished his confessional, Kev was practically choking with laughter. "THAT is your big secret?" he asked. "That might be the most pathetic thing I've ever heard."
              "I beg to differ. You heard me try to sing 'More Than a Feeling.'"
              "So they made fun of you. Big deal. You were six!"
              "I know this, and yet…every time I so much as think about wearing a diaper, I hear them laughing."
              "Do you have any idea how many times people have made fun of me?"
              "I would have figured you'd have been out-of-bounds. With your CP and all."
              "You'd think so, but no. To some people, there is no out of bounds. I've been called a lot of names, Joss, a LOT. And a lot of them were for things I can't help. If the worst you can come up with is some half-assed childhood humiliation…"
              "Stop right there," Joss interrupted. "CP or no CP, you're a big guy. I, on the other hand, am a breadstick. I always have been. Put two and two together…."
              "…and you get four. I still think you're being oversensitive."
              "And I think…" He paused to yawn again and came to realize just how seeped in neurosis his objections had become. Here he was at circa the two-decade mark and he was still running from a memory that predated the first Gulf War. It was ludicrous. As oxymoronic as it sounded, simply wearing a diaper in this instance proved to be the more mature, more manly of the two alternatives.
              "Hey," Kev said. "What names did they call you?"
              "You're on thin ice," Joss warned him, snatching the diaper from his hands.

              Alison was excited. Her grades were better, her stress level was down and Tony was coming to visit her on the weekend. Of the three, the last parcel of news gave her the greatest reason to rejoice. Though they talked frequently, it felt like far too long since they had last been together. Most of Alison's friends told her she was naïve to pursue a relationship with someone she couldn't see frequently, but she was intent on proving them wrong.
              "When are you going to get yourself a man?" she half-jokingly teased Kira.
              "When I have more time and less sense than I do now," Kira replied.
              "Come on, Porkchop, don't be so down on the boys."
              "I'm not trying to be down on them," she said. "They are trying to go down on me and that's the problem."
              Alison chuckled. "You're bad."
              "I'm serious. I get offers all the time."
              "What's not to like?"
              "I don't know," Kira answered. "Self-deprecation was never my strong suit. If I had to name a few things, I'd say I'm stubborn. And I intimidate people. And I seem cold sometimes. And…. stop me anytime, Ali."
              "Keep going," Alison said. "You're doing good."
              Kira shook her head. "You're in a weird mood today."
              Alison shrugged. "I'm just trying to help."
              "By making me criticize myself?"
              "By helping you understand who you are so you'll have a better outlook and blah blah blah….I want to help, OK? You helped me and now I feel I owe you."
              "Damn," Kira said. "I was afraid that might happen."
              "Well it did. I'm indebted and I'm not gonna feel good til I do something nice for you. So if there's a guy you want me to put in a good word for, just name him. If there's a shirt that you think would look cute on you, its yours. And if none of that works, Tony and I will just have to take you out and get you drunk."
              "Thanks," Kira said. "You're sweet. But if you want to do me a real favor, just stay out of trouble."
              "I will," Alison said, smiling devilishly. In her mind's eye, Kira already saw her going back on her word.

              Doug breathed a sigh of relief. He'd made it through a whole week without any catastrophe befalling him. In fact, the bad luck generator that hovered above him seemed to reverse itself: his camera fell, but did not break, he found a $20 on the ground and as near as he could tell, Tate's housemates were close to evicting him. The thought of Tate getting tossed out along with his dopey hat brought a smile to Doug's face.
              "I told you, son," his father said in a recent phone call. "Things will pick up. Didn't I tell you?"
              "I guess you're right, Dad," Doug said. Ordinarily, he might have felt like a tremendous ass for having whined so much about his declining fortunes, but he was too luck starved for any such delusions of guilt.
              "Life is peaks and valleys," Mr. Archambeau continued to pontificate. "And you were in a valley, that's all. Now you're headed for another peak. There will be more valleys to come, I'm sure of it. All you can do is make the most of the peaks."
              "Sure, Dad."
              "I have confidence in you, Doug. Don't forget that."
              "I won't."
              This exchange was the last Doug would have with his father. When they spoke again, the elder Archambeau was cursing at his son, who lay defenseless and oblivious in a casket. There were peaks and valleys all right, but what to do about those pesky plateaus?
              Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

              Morpheus: I am hope.

              -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


                Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

                New Arrivals

                "Maybe it's not me," Doug wrote. "Maybe I'm not the problem. It's people. People are the problem. Maybe if I transfer and get a fresh start, things will be OK. Yeah…that's it. I can find a new crowd, get some new professors, maybe even pick an easier major. Aw, who am I kidding. A fresh start is just a fresh chance to fuck up all over again. I think I'm losing it. I don't know how much more of this I can take…

                "Hmm," Tate reflected. "This is quite the flarking conundrum." He had sat down to compile his weekly gossip column and encountered one not-too-unsubstantial obstacle in his path. Lately, it seemed as if a lot of the gossip on campus was centered on him. The frog bile incident and his housemates' ensuing displeasure made for some far-fetched rumors: he was on the verge of being evicted from the house, the frog bile enabled him to predict the future, the DEA was beginning an investigation, and so on. Toothless or not, the rumors spread across campus like cheer come Christmas. For Tate not to address them in his column would be a dereliction of his duty as a gossipmonger.
                "Liiiiiza," he called, stirring the Editor-in-Chief from her proofreading.
                "Whaaaaaat?" she replied, matching his singsong tone to a t.
                "Tell me I can't write about myself," he said. "Tell me it violates some kind of rule or principle or what have you."
                "OK. You can't write about yourself."
                "That didn't sound very convincing."
                She rolled her eyes. "You write a gossip column, Tate. You don't play by the same rules as the rest of us. That's the way it's always been."
                "Yeah, but…. isn't this a clear conflict of interest? Anyone? Douggie?"
                Doug took advantage of Tate's lapse in confidence and let loose a satisfying snicker. "You're screwed," he said.
                "And you find that funny?"
                "I find it funny that you can't do to yourself what you do to others on a weekly basis."
                "That's good. You know what I find funny?"
                "What?" Doug asked.
                "Your face."
                Rather than feed the rumor mill or attempt to gloss it over, Tate opted to put his column on hold. He would start it up again when he was no longer the topic du jure and loose lips tarnished the reputation of some other poor shmuck. In the meantime, he was prepared to take the heat for his decision. If people called him a coward, so be it. Like the magicians he idolized, he preferred to think of himself as an escapist.

                The suspension of the column did little to ease tensions back at the house. While rumors of a pending eviction were overblown, his five cohabitants were clearly distraught. They had taken to giving him the cold shoulder and the silent treatment. Despite Tate's best attempts at an apology, he was more in the doghouse than an errant Rottwieler and he knew it.
                "Fine," he stewed. "Ignore me, will you? Right back at ya!"
                And so Tate took to his room, dodging his housemates at every turn and opting to be their jester no longer. Sooner or later, they would grow to miss his antics and HE would be the one awaiting an apology.
                Unfortunately for Tate, the wait was unbearable. He often measured himself by the smiles he put on the faces of others. Without those smiles, his self-esteem plummeted considerably. He felt like he had lost his purpose and he had only himself to blame.
                For better or for worse, salvation lay in the tiny vial he kept safely tucked away in a drawer. He had not touched the frog bile since Nicole caught him, but the thought of going on another fantastic voyage certainly crossed his mind. At the same time, he found himself enamored of another thought: chuck the thing and hope that its enough to win them back. As appealing as that sounded, Tate had his doubts. Would the gesture even be enough of a cure-all to put this mess behind him? Probably not, and besides: he paid good money for that bile.
                Whilst Tate mulled over his options, he could make out the sound of breathing from outside his door. Someone was milling about and eavesdropping in a poor effort to remain undetected.
                "Enter," Tate commanded. "I'm peeved, but I won't bite. Yet."
                Hesitantly, Sophie approached. Her eyes had a slight gloss about them, as if she had been crying.
                "This is stupid," she said. "I don't want to be mad at you anymore."
                "Then don't be," he told her.
                "I have to be. When Nikki told me she caught you, I wanted to kill you. You lied to us, Tate. You…"
                "Jesus Christ!" he snapped. "What is it with you people? Am I a raging alcoholic? No. Do I have violent mood swings? No. Do I cut myself and threaten to jump out a window? No. Why won't you leave me alone and let me get high every once in awhile?"
                "Because we care about you. At least I do. And it pisses me off that you don't care back. When you were off in lala land, I took care of you. I cleaned you up. I made sure you were OK. I did all of that and I didn't even get a 'thank you'!"
                "Hey," Tate corrected. "I said thanks….I think."
                "And then you went and did it again," she said, storming out of his room.
                Tate sighed. He felt like an illusionist who had just given a bad performance and had been booed off the stage. Fortunately, his bag of tricks was not yet empty.

                Sophie was getting ready for sleep when Tate knocked on her door. That he knocked rather than simply barging in signified a change of momentous proportions and she had to blink twice to ensure she wasn't hallucinating.
                "Tate," she said. "What is it?"
                "Got a trick I want you to see."
                Sophie cringed. She had a long t-shirt on and no pants. If Tate's trick caused a fire or otherwise necessitated an evacuation of the premises, she didn't relish going outside dressed as she was.
                "I don't know…" she said hesitantly.
                "No fire involved," he assured her. "Just watch."
                Tate produced his tri-cornered hat (which he had been concealing behind his back) and promptly pulled a rabbit out of it. It was a small, brown critter with big, floppy ears and a snow-white tail. There was nary a patch of ugly to be found.
                "Ta da," Tate said. "He's yours. As a token of my appreciation."
                Sophie was stunned. "Tate…I…"
                "Hold on," he said. "I got a cage too."
                He went to his room to retrieve all of the rabbit accoutrements. When he returned, she was nestling the bunny in her arms. A great big smile was plastered across her face.
                I've still got it, Tate thought to himself. And how.

                Emily was cozy, content and comfortable. She knew this not because of any particular euphoria she felt, but merely because she was not moving. During the course of a normal day, her life was a series of shudders and twitches. She often paced to and fro and, even when sitting still, could not resist wiggling her toes. All these movements and machinations, she believed, were born of discomfort and unpleasantness. I'm too unhappy to sit still, she reasoned. When at last she was still, she knew things were going her way. Not in a million years, however, would she have imagined that she'd have Lucas to thank for it.
                Not long after calling their truce, Emily began to remember why she started talking with him in the first place. Once he got off the innuendo kick, he was a damn good listener: attentive, supportive and every once and awhile insightful. Best of all, he was at least quasi-literate. Emily could allude to things she'd read (or wanted to read) without having to explain herself afterwards. It made her feel infinitely more normal and a lot less like what Candida had termed "people like you."
                Despite the progress of their communications, Emily knew better than to completely let her guard down and, on one night, her vigilance was vindicated.
                "I want to be with you so bad," Lucas typed without vindication. "I go crazy thinking about you."
                "Crap," Emily thought. "Not this again." She could not for the life of her figure out what her appeal was to him…or to anyone for that matter. It just didn't make any sense.
                "Cut it out," Emily typed. "You don't even know me."
                "I feel like I do."
                "You're deluded."
                "Meet with me. Just once. If you don't like me, I won't bother you again."
                She wanted to say no. More to the point, she wanted to say no without feeling guilty about it. She wanted him to understand and remain a loyal, supportive friend while she continued her inept pursuit of other guys. In other words, she wanted the world from him and had nothing to offer in return. And then when she realized how totally unfair that was, she felt like crying.
                "OK," she typed. "We can have coffee or something. If you're rude, I'm leaving."
                "I'll be good," he assured her. His message was concluded by an ominous wink.

                Upon first notice, two things about Lucas jumped out at her. The first was that he was tall. There was enough weight on his frame to lend some sense of proportion to his size, but Emily figured him for six-one at least. All the proof she needed was in his hands. They looked big enough to move the Earth itself.
                The second thing she noticed about Lucas was his face, which was neither ugly nor handsome but striking just the same. He had a pale complexion and poor skin. His glasses, high forehead and crew-cut length hair lent a considerable degree of fuglyness to his demeanor, but his eyes and lips were model-perfect. He had a square jaw and a rugged chin, but was clean-shaven with baby cheeks. Looking at him made Emily think that God had taken two faces, one good and one bad, and simply smashed them together.
                "You're different," she told him.
                In the irony of all ironies, Lucas turned out to be incredibly shy as well. All of his flirtatiousness seemed to be confined to the opposite end of a keyboard and Emily found herself doing most of the talking to compensate. As they drank tea and ate scones (neither one particularly cared for coffee) at a nearby café, she caught him staring at her every once in awhile, only to quickly turn away each and every time. Combined with the brashness he'd displayed online, it would have made her quite uncomfortable. Combined with the quiet, almost humble way he comported himself, it was quasi-endearing.
                "Want to hang out for awhile?" she asked and felt like biting her tongue afterwards. She rarely went on the offensive and never made the first move, but he was so damn quiet that she felt she had to take a more proactive role. Otherwise, he was likely to keep staring and looking away until his head exploded.
                "OK," he said. The last thing Emily noticed was his voice, which was not quite nasal and not quite deep. It was how someone talks when they know something, Emily thought.

                It took the stuffed animals to break the ice. She had given Lucas the grand tour of her dorm room and he had nary a word to say about it. He nodded courteously while she went through her vast and eclectic assortment of books and music, but she could tell he was a bit put off by it. "Look at me," those artifacts seemed to scream. "For I am an intellectual goddess!" Her stuffed animals, however, seemed to have a different sort of message to offer. "I'm Emmy," they declared. "Wanna play?"
                "That's quite a collection you have there," Lucas praised.
                "Yeah. My mom made me get rid of mine when I was twelve. I mean, not that I needed them or anything. I mean, not that I want them now or anything. I mean….aw shit…"
                "Dude, calm down," she urged. "You're gonna have a heart attack. You're so nervous you're making ME nervous. You were almost better off being an arrogant prick."
                "I'm not though," he insisted. "I'm really not."
                "Could have fooled me."
                "Look," he confessed. "I don't talk to girls much and I was just trying to seem like I was…you know…experienced. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to piss you off."
                "So all that stuff you said about wanting me was just hot air?"
                "I…no. I do want you. I only said all that stuff to impress you."
                "Next time, consider subtlety."
                "Subtlety," he mocked. "Man, that never works."
                "Tell me about it," she said. "Guys don't want subtlety; they want whorish drama queens who pretend to be urban and dance at a moment's notice."
                "Nothing," she said. "It looks like we're both pretty bad off."
                "So do you want to kiss?"
                "I mean, can I count on you not to get carried away?" Emily quickly added. "Because I really can't handle any psycho-stalker behavior right now. I'd have to move in Tibet and live in a cave and it would take forever to pack."
                "OK," he said. He kissed her and it felt GOOD. It was one of those hopelessly long kisses that, when depicted in film, was almost always a prelude to a scene of clothes being tossed in a whirlwind fashion and a fade out to 'The Morning After.' Emily and Lucas managed to keep their clothes on and contented themselves with feint touches. Just being able to connect with another human being made her feel like a person and not one of Candida's "people like you."
                "There's something I want to tell you," he said.
                "So tell me."
                "I'm not sure how."
                "So think on it and tell me next time."
                "You mean it?"
                And then she was still.

                Joss was watching basketball, which inadvertently put his roommate in a foul mood.
                "Athletes," he sneered. "I can't believe how much they get paid."
                "Yeah," Joss remarked, keeping his eye on the score. "It's a real travesty."
                "Millions of dollars a year and for what? What can they do that I can't?"
                "Um, Kev? Do you really want an answer to that?"
                He shook his head. "Nah. I'm just bitter. Probably jealous too. Just once I would like to be able to have the leg strength to run down the court and dunk on someone. I must be great, right?"
                "I wouldn't know," Joss said. "I suck at basketball."
                "But you can run, Klein. You can run."
                "This isn't you," Joss told him. "This is more like me before I got some sleep."
                "Yeah, you're right. You know what it is?"
                "The cancellation of Firefly still?"
                "No, I FINALLY got over that, thank you very much. I miss the group."
                "The group?" Joss asked.
                "CP support group. Every summer, a couple of people in my area with palsy get together and hang out and stuff. We were going to do it over winter break, but it got called off."
                "That sucks. Why don't you try starting one around here?"
                "Because I'm the only kid on this campus with CP. Believe me, I thought about it."
                "Hey!" Kev exclaimed, snapping his fingers and shutting off the TV.
                "Hey, I was watching that," Joss protested.
                "Trust me, this is more important. I thought of starting another kind of group."
                "Oh yeah?"
                "Yup. A diaper-wearers support group. You and I could be presidents."
                Joss chuckled. "Good one."
                "I'm serious."
                "Are you nuts?"
                "Think about it," he said. "Statistical probability leads me to believe that at least a few people on this campus wear diapers or wet the bed. That, my friend, can be a very embarrassing—no, crippling—load to burden. Wouldn't you like to play a role in lightening that burden by letting them know they aren't alone?"
                "Stop," Joss pleaded, his face red from laughter. "Please, you're killing me. You sound like a self-help tape!"
                "That's some high praise. Actually, I think it could be a good way to…ahem…. meet people."
                "You sly fox," Joss said. "Alright, I'll work on setting it up."
                Kev turned the TV back on and Joss frowned. His team went from being up by six to being down by two in the span of a few short minutes.
                "You're right," he grumbled. "Those bums really are overpaid."

                Kira took a look at her watch. Her plan was to head out to a movie and leave Ali some alone time with her boyfriend. Unfortunately, she had half an hour to go before her movie of choice was slated to start and the ubiquitous Tony was set to arrive any moment.
                "Are you sure you don't want to come out with us?" Alison offered.
                "Nah," Kira said. "I want to give the two of you some time. Ya know."
                "Oh, there will be plenty of time for that later."
                "Spare me the details."
                "Have fun at your movie."
                "Have fun with your man."
                "Peace out, Porkchop."
                As Kira left, she let loose an involuntary giggle. Tony the Tiger, with his slicked-back hair and leather jacket, had the same name as Mariluci's brother, the would-be gangsta whose misbehavior indirectly spawned Alison's recent improvement.

                Tony was many things — handsome, sincere, funny — but perceptive was not one of them. Thus, when he told Alison she seemed different, she took it as quite a shock. She had yet to tell him about the GoodNites and her behavior modification sessions and was now morbidly afraid that he'd somehow found out.
                "What do you mean?" she asked.
                "I dunno," he said. "Different. Happier, I guess. Not as uptight."
                "Oh. Well…I don't have to worry about grades as much."
                "That's cool."
                Even though their visits were sporadic, they had a certain cloying familiarity about them. They would start by making out almost immediately, then taking a break and go out to either a movie or a club, then to dinner, then to return and pick up where they left off and carry on from there. The sex was still good, but everything else seemed to be almost methodical. There was too much familiarity and it had become too much of a mere pretext. Alison knew better than to expect chivalry and flowers, but it saddened her just the same.
                "Tony," she said.
                He was in the process of sniffing her hair.
                "New shampoo?" he asked. "That's what's different. Am I right?"
                "New clothes?"
                "OK, I give up."
                "Let's go for a walk," she quickly proposed.
                "What for?" he asked.
                She frowned at him.
                "What?" he asked. "We're only gonna wind up back here anyway."
                "Ugh. I thought it might be nice to do something spontaneous. We can talk, we can…"
                "We talk all the time," he interrupted.
                "Yeah. Right."
                She folded her arms under her chest and sighed. Suddenly, she wished that Tony and Kira had switched places. Her roommate was easier to talk to and easier to understand. Sometimes, she cursed herself for being born straight: for as much as she dated, guys remained a mystery.
                "Fine," he said. "We'll go for a walk."
                Alison shook her head and Tony's face reddened. "But you just said…" he began, making grand gestures with his hands that would do an umpire proud. "You know what? Forget it."
                "I don't want to fight," she said, squeezing his arm. "It's just…when we were first dating, we used to do stuff all the time. Now we do the same stuff."
                "And you don't like it?"
                "I'm tired of it. Aren't you?"
                He shrugged. "What do you want from me? We can't go back in time."
                "Yeah," she mumbled. "Maybe that's the problem."
                She pulled herself closer and clung to him. His mere touch had made her happy on many a day. There had been times when she craved him — not just the sex, but him — the way one craves a good piece of cheese cake. It was the little things that made it for her: touches, smells, glances. When she gossiped with Kira, it was those things she shared, not the size of his cock or how long it took before they both reached climax. She missed those little things now more than ever and, even as she lay in his arms, she felt distant.
                "Are you OK?" he asked. He had one hand down her shirt and the other was tucked under her ass. "You seem kinda cold. You aren't sick, are ya?"
                "No," Alison answered. "Of course not."

                Later, after he left, she would write a long and detailed letter to Tony announcing the dissolution of their relationship. The letter would remain stashed in a drawer. Alison didn't dare mail it, not because she didn't want to, but because her love for those little things far outweighed the contempt she felt for him.

                Doug was having a Pete Townsend moment. He longed to take a guitar and smash it to bits (preferably over Tate's head, but any dull object would do). He wanted a roaring crowd to bear witness to his most vile, destructive urges. And, when it was all over, he wanted someone to slap the cuffs on him and take him away.
                In one week's time, the frail gains he had made were wiped out by a rampaging flood of misfortune. Not even that temporary cancellation of Tate's column could give him any satisfaction.
                That which irked Doug shall be listed thusly:
                - A professor marked down an otherwise stellar paper he had written because he failed to cite source material properly. As a further indignity, he had to explain to said professor that he made an honest mistake and was not a plagiarist.
                - During the course of his weekly picture taking, Doug inadvertently photographed a girl who was bending over to tie her shoelaces. As fate would have it, the girl's boyfriend bore witness to the event and promptly threatened Doug's well being, referring to him as "a fucking pervert" and offering to "shove that camera up your ass."
                - Despite eating a copious amount of salads and grilled chicken sandwiches and drinking very little beer, Doug managed to gain weight. He decided to jog it off…only to trip, fall and hurt his ankle in the process.
                All of this was bad enough, but what really got under Doug's skin was the problem he encountered when he went to schedule an appointment with campus psychological counseling. Improbably, all 25 of the week's appointment time slots were filled. Doug was baffled.
                "This shouldn't be first come, first serve," he grumbled. "It should be based on need."
                He attempted to tear the sign-up sheet from the door in a fit of frustration, but succeeded only in giving himself a paper cut in the process.
                Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

                Morpheus: I am hope.

                -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


                  Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

                  Tate found that he was a lot like the boy who cried wolf. He kidded around so often that he had difficulty being taken seriously. He was so deceptive that no one believed him when he told the truth. So great was his crass charm that any effort to be genuinely sweet or genuinely sour was treated as a joke awaiting a punch line.
                  These difficulties manifested themselves most acutely during his failed attempts at flirting. While at a bar one night, Tate attempted to parlay an interesting tidbit from his genealogy into a pickup line.
                  "My great granduncle was Boss Tom Pendergast," he bragged.
                  The fetching blonde with stretch pants was not impressed. "Who?"
                  "Old school politician," Tate explained. "He put Harry Truman in power."
                  "Oh. Interesting…."
                  "Yeah. Truman was a bankrupt clothes salesman and old Tom was able to make him a Senator. Know what that is?"
                  "Magic. I'm something of a magician myself. I think it runs in the blood. Want to see me do a trick?"
                  "No thanks," she said, offering him a smile that let him know she was amused but in no way interested.
                  Tate shrugged and took a long swig of beer. The glass returned to the coaster with a hollow clank, which nearly drowned out the sound of someone calling his name. He turned around to find Kev hovering nearby, supporting himself by leaning on a table.
                  "I know you," Tate said. "You're one of the guys who runs the hub, right? Man, you're doing us all a favor. May the gods of porn bless you and…"
                  "Can I get a word with you?" Kev asked.
                  "Sure," Tate said. "Step into my office."
                  They took to opposite sides of a table and Kev drew himself as close as his body would allow.
                  "It's kind of personal," he explained.
                  "Whatever it is, I didn't do it. Seriously, what's this about?"
                  "I heard some things and I was just wondering if you could confirm them."
                  Tate arched an eyebrow. "Are you a narc?"
                  "Ya sure? Because if you are, it's entrapment."
                  Kev chuckled. "I'm not a narc."
                  "Oh. Hey, wait a second: did Doug send you?"
                  "Dougie Archambeau. Kid hates my guts."
                  "Doug doesn't even know about this," Kev assured him.
                  "So what's up?"
                  Kev appeared flustered. "Stupid Joss should be here helping me…. oh well, here goes. When you get high, do you wear any kind of protection?"
                  "Like what?" Tate asked. "You're asking if I'm too wasted to remember to put a condom on before I do a chick? Then no. But if you're asking me…"
                  "No, no, no. Not condoms. Protection…like…. you know, when you lose control of certain bodily functions?"
                  Tate cracked his knuckles and gave Kev The Stare. "Who told you?" he asked.
                  "No one. It was just a rumor I heard."
                  "Well you heard it from somewhere!" he said, trying to sound serious but failing miserably.
                  "Look," Kev said. "I'm starting a support group for people who have to wear…for whatever reason. Are you in?"
                  "What do you think?" Tate snapped.
                  "Jeez, take it easy. A simple 'no' will do."
                  He slowly pulled himself to his feet and ambled away, leaving Tate to stew in embarrassment. The revelation that he diapered himself while getting high could only come from one of his housemates, but which one? Perhaps his magic eight ball would tell him. Pending that, he would find some other way to find out.

                  Emily made it a habit never to tell her mother about the boys she met. She did not do so for fear of disapproval. In fact, the opposite was true. Her mother would beam and gush and subsequently make Emily very uncomfortable. Then, after relations between her and the boy deteriorated for whatever reason, her mother would inevitably ask, "how's so and so? I haven't heard much about him lately?" This would force Emily into the increasingly awkward position of explaining how and why the breakup occurred and she would feel miserable for days afterwards.
                  She vowed not to let this happen with Lucas. Though it was not clear where they stood, it was plenty clear that it was none of her mom's business…or anyone else's business for that matter. She tried to tell herself not to get her hopes up. They had been together ONCE. They had kissed ONCE. Her nipples had yet to make an appearance and there was no guarantee things would go smoothly next time. No, she told herself, there was no reason to get excited at all.
                  And yet, she thought about him often. Her mind wandered from discussions of Samuel Johnson and Henry David Thoreau to subtle contemplations of his face and form. He remained largely complex and enigmatic, like Bronte's Heathcliff or Johnny Depp's take on "normal." Part of it scared her, for she realized one day she would discover that beneath this nice guy beneath a jerk was another jerk. Until that day came, however, she would make the most of it.
                  Arrangements, via Internet, were made thusly:
                  E: Want to hang out again?
                  L: OK.
                  Much to Alison's unknown envy, they went walking. Lucas was deathly quiet again, perhaps even more so than before. Emily was curious, but she couldn't bring herself to pry. She was willing to move at a tortoiselike crawl if that was what it took for this to work.
                  "So," she said, searching for words to break the silence. "Do you think ducks eat gummy bears?"
                  "Wanna find out?" he asked.
                  "No thanks. I don't want them to choke or anything."
                  "You're very considerate," he told her. "And you have glorious palms."
                  "I'm an idiot," he confessed. "I always say such weird things. I should just shut up."
                  "Don't you dare do that. That means I have to talk more!"
                  "So," she echoed. "You think I'm comfortable?"
                  "I dunno."
                  "Well I'm not! I'm used to being the weird one. You've seen my room. I talk to stuffed animals. I actually LIKE books. I'm weird and then you roll up here and make me feel normal."
                  "I'm sorry," he said, kicking a pebble with his too-large shoe.
                  "Stop apologizing," she urged. "Just….just be yourself."
                  "What if this is me?"
                  "But it isn't."
                  "But what if it is?"
                  "But it isn't. Look, whatever your hiding can't be as bad as you not telling me. I mean, I'm willing to wait to find out, but it's not easy."
                  His impassive face suddenly flickered with interest. "So if I love you I'll tell you. Is that it?"
                  "See?" he said. "Once I start talking, I don't know what I'll say. And once I start sharing secrets, who knows what'll come out."
                  "You're just going to have to trust me," she told him.
                  "And you're going to have to trust ME," he replied, "when I say I'll tell you in time."
                  Emily gazed wistfully at a flock of ducks as they circled the pond. The more she waited, the more she wondered. What was a girl to do?

                  Kev and Joss are away recruiting for their group. They know it's a stupid idea and they don't need YOU to tell them. If you wear diapers, want to wear diapers or know someone who does or should, please contact them immediately at dprgroup@bristate.edu.

                  Alison had ceased wearing GoodNites, but had not gotten around to throwing them away. They remained on hand "just in case," largely forgotten by both her and Kira. As far as they were concerned, they had served their purpose and she had learned her lesson.
                  They were nearly resurrected, however, when Alison hurt her ankle on the soccer field. It wasn't as bad as a sprain or a break, but it hurt mightily nonetheless. She had to be helped off the field by her teammates and was all pouts and profanity as she limped back in the dorm room.
                  "Stupid Tony," she grumbled. "What good is he if he isn't around for stuff like this?"
                  Kira was surprisingly indifferent. "You'll live," she asserted.
                  "Yeah. Painfully. I'm gonna pass out now."
                  She climbed into bed and settled in for a nap. Her bladder woke her up a short while later and the pain in her ankle had failed to diminish. Worse still, with Kira gone, she had no assistance whatsoever. She briefly considered the GoodNites. It would be easy, she thought, to put one on and wet herself and go back to sleep. But hadn't taking the easy way out led her to having to wear them in the first place?
                  Groaning, Alison pulled herself to her feet. She thought briefly of Kev — whom she knew only as "that CP kid who runs the hub" — and the difficulties he must face on a daily basis. It made her feel spoiled. She'd been throwing herself at the mercy of Kira and Tony and her sorority sisters and allowed her will to languish in the process.
                  "Come on," she urged, taking a tentative step forward. "Move."
                  The foot edged along the ground and soon its partner followed.
                  "Move your ass!" she barked, spurring herself on. "Move it, you slut. You weakling. You…"
                  Before she knew it, she had made it to the bathroom. Her ankle hurt, but she felt good. She could do anything.

                  The psychologist's name was Lynn Thompson. A regal woman of fifty, she dressed smartly and crossed her legs. She seemed nurturing and attentive as Doug talked, which made the bombshell she dropped when he finished all the more surprising.
                  "Well Doug," she said, spitting the words out in a Shatneresque fashion. "I think you are going to be OK."
                  "OK?" he asked, his eyes wild and darting. "What do you mean OK?"
                  "Everyone goes through rough patches. You just need to take it in stride and…"
                  "Lady," he interrupted. "Don't hand me that! There's something wrong with me. I want you to tell me what it is."
                  "I really think you are overreacting."
                  "Tell me what it is!" he insisted, slamming his hand down on his thigh.
                  "Very well," she said. "You're a narcissist. You have a heightened sense of self, which leads you to believe your problems are more important than they actually are. You're also a defeatist. You would rather suffer and be pitied for your suffering than quietly work towards improvement. And, to be perfectly honest, you strike me as being more than the least bit immature. Does this suffice or shall I go on?"
                  "No," Doug said, lowering his tone. "I think I've heard enough."
                  "Realize, young man, that these are relatively minor character flaws, not deep-seeded psychological problems. They can be conquered and I can help you conquer them."
                  "I'm sure you can," Doug said. "And I want to thank you for being straight with me. I just have one question."
                  "Yes, Doug?"
                  "Ever fuck a patient?"
                  He left her with a disgusted frown on her face. If he was an immature narcissist, he might as well get something out of it.
                  Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

                  Morpheus: I am hope.

                  -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


                    Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

                    In a few short hours, Tate had effectively transformed himself into Colonel Klink. He lined up his housemates and, in a very grandiose and snicker-inducing fashion, went about interrogating them. The carpet wore thin from his constant pacing and his manic hand gestures threatened to topple a lamp or put someone's eye out. Sadly, he was unaware of the absurdity of this display and became quite unnerved when his housemates mistook it for another one of his entertaining forays.
                    "This isn't funny!" he snapped. "I'm talking treason here."
                    All five of them apologized, laboring in earnest to suppress the smiles on their faces.
                    "Let's recap," he said. "I fucked up with that frog bile. I made an ass of myself and you were right to be pissed at me. But all that's over. You saw me flush the stuff —which I paid good money for — down the toilet. Ever since then, it's been back to regular Maryjane. I thought things were good. We're talking again, I haven't destroyed anything lately and the cops haven't been over here in weeks. So needless to say that I'm quite surprised to find out that one of you has been leaking nasty rumors about me."
                    "What kind of rumors are we talking about here?" Bryan asked. What he meant to say was," what kind of rumors could be so outrageous that even YOU would take offense to them…"
                    "Well," Tate explained. "The gist of it is that I wear adult diapers when I toke up because I can't control myself."
                    "Ewwww," said Nicole, holding her nose in disapproval.
                    "Is it true?" Sophie asked.
                    "What freakin difference does it make if it's true?" Tate snapped. "OK, let's say that it is. So what. I always thought what went on in this house stays in this house. Girls, I don't advertise to the world what color panties you wear. Matt, I haven't told anyone that you plagiarized a term paper sophomore year. So what the fuck? Why did one of you decide to stab me in the heart like this?"
                    His damning accusation was met with equally damming silence. The ticking of the clock grew louder in the sonic vacuum and there would be no ringing bell to save any of them.
                    "OK," Tate reasoned. "If the guilty party isn't going to fess up, I'm just gonna have to go on strike. I'm through entertaining all of you. And the next time something breaks — and it will — I won't fix it. I won't hook anyone up with any goodies and there will be no more magic. I'm hanging up my wand."
                    This last remark caused the dam to break and all five of them burst into laughter. Red-faced, Tate took leave.
                    "Wow," Matt said. "He's really pissed."
                    "It'll pass," Marci reasoned. "He can't stay mad."
                    But he did. Whether by depth of his rage or skill of his illusion, Tate played the part of a gloomy gus to horrible perfection. He moped, he pouted, he abstained from Adult Swim and tequila. If Doug was there to witness it, he might have thought "revenge"…if he could stand to believe it at all.
                    As it turned out, "revenge" was not an altogether reckless description of Tate's "laughter strike." By mere virtue of doing nothing, he was able to drive his housemates up a wall. They had become so accustomed to his loudness, his spontaneity and his zeal that the silence in its stead was deafening. It was like watching Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over a Cookoo's Nest. They all just wanted to smother him with a pillow rather than continue to watch him bury his joy the way he did.
                    Finally, in desperation, a clandestine eleventh-hour meeting was called at 11:03 p.m. Tate was not in attendance.
                    "Look," Bryan said. "This is stupid. We all know he's being a bitch about this and taking it way too seriously, but it's not going to stop until someone fesses up."
                    "Well?" Nicole asked. "Who did it?"
                    No one answered.
                    "Great. Even if no one wants to admit to it, someone should still apologize."
                    "Yeah," Bryan said. "…Matt."
                    "Me? I don't think so….Marci."
                    And so it went until no decision was reached and they all ended up making popcorn and watching The Best of Will Ferell in Surround Sound.

                    At 12:25, there was a soft knocking on Tate's door. It didn't used to be necessary to knock. His door used to be open at all times, save for when he was in various states of undress or inebriation and even sometimes then as well. Now, it was seldom open.
                    "Tate?" a voice beckoned. "I have a confession…"
                    "Enter," he commanded. He sounded like a man who didn't have a single frivolous bone in his body.
                    Sophie entered. It was dark and cold and smelled of stale pizza. Tate had a trademark bemused look upon his face, but his eyes were as hard as diamonds.
                    "So it was you," he said.
                    "I'm here, aren't I?" she retorted. Whether she was the culprit or not, she was taking the fall.
                    "You don't seem too happy about it."
                    "I don't think you're really this upset."
                    "You think it's all an act?"
                    "Yes! And that would defeat the purpose of the strike!"
                    "Interesting," he said, stroking his chin. "So is there something you want to say to me?"
                    She sucked in her breath and tried to imagine him in his more playful days. Those days seemed like they would never end, no matter how much she sometimes wanted them to.
                    "I'm sorry I betrayed you," she said.
                    He gestured her closed and lowered his forehead to hers.
                    "I knew it was you, Fredo," he said. "You broke my heart."
                    "Huh? Who's Fredo?"
                    "Christ!" Tate exclaimed, suddenly surging to life. "Godfather Part II. After all the time living in this house, you should recognize it."
                    "Actually, I've never seen it."
                    "Blasphemy! We'll just have to remedy that. I have it on DVD somewhere…."
                    "Does this mean you're back now?"
                    "I thought you said I was never gone to begin with."
                    "Yeah, but assuming you were…."
                    "Maybe. But let's let the others think I'm not. What say you to that?"
                    Sophie nodded and smiled. Illusion, in all its forms, was the greatest temptress of them all.

                    It was Endurance Day and Emily was having a rough time of it. Potent gusts of wind threatened to send her small frame careening into mildew-caked walls. The cold cut at her pale flesh, threatening to color it red. The dank ambiance of the train station was doing just WONDERS for her sinuses. It felt like the roof would collapse before her train would arrive. Only the Prophet made it worthwhile.
                    Emily had gone into the city to hear an author give a reading. At least, this is what she told herself. She really needed a temporary escape to get some perspective on Lucas. She thought walking around the city would clear her head. Instead, all it did was fill it with honking horns and radio commercials. She missed her stuffed animals and her bed more than ever…
                    "Behold the endtimes," the Prophet declared. "Behold. Behold. Samael walks among us…"
                    He was a derelict, probably homeless, definitely ill. He wore a gray coat and a gray beard that matched a nearly gray complexion. His eyes were moist with divine ignorance. Emily got the sense that he was a regular at the train station. Every once in awhile, a parent would have to pull a curious child away. A cop called him Freddie and threatened to "haul your ass out of here." To Emily, however, he was the prophet.
                    "Behold," he said. "There is trouble. Yes, there is trouble…"
                    "Yes," Emily parroted. "There is trouble alright. And it's with my boyfriend. Actually, he's not even really my boyfriend. Not yet anyway. That's the thing though…. God, I'm talking in fragments. Bad Emily! Anyway, he has this big secret that he's afraid to tell me because he thinks I'll freak out…. or maybe he's afraid I WON'T freak out. And I think I know what it is too. See, he has this hero/villain complex where he does jerk-ass things and has to redeem himself. He has to be all big and dramatic like that. And that would make me…. the damsel in distress? The willing accomplice? Daddy's Little Girl? I dunno. It's probably something weird, but nothing too weird for me to adjust to but I can't begin to adjust until he tells me and I'm afraid to guess because if I get it wrong, I might freak HIM out. Yeah…. how do you like that for irony. So what should I do?"
                    "Do what you do what you do," the Prophet told her. "The endtimes, they are near. Samael walks among us. The Lord, He shall reclaim…"
                    "That's all well and good, but…"
                    "Love is death!" he shrieked. "All is death."
                    "You're not being very helpful."
                    "All is death," he repeated. "Bit by bit, into the fire. You must…. you must save the pieces. Bit by bit. And…and…AND when you have enough saved up, you too shall be saved."
                    "Hmm…. and all this time I thought there would be a useful message buried in there. Meh…guess not."
                    "Tell him," he said quite clearly.
                    "Come again?"
                    "Beware the endtimes. Samael walks among us."
                    Did I just imagine that, Emily thought?
                    "Here," she said, offering him money. "Here's five bucks. Go get a meal or something."
                    "For the army of the Lord?" he asked.
                    "For the army of the Lord," she agreed.
                    She lingered a moment longer, hoping for him to expand upon "tell him." He never did. Just as she was leaving, however, she caught a glimpse of recognition in his eye. It was then that Emily decided that that was how she wanted to die: as a crazy person on the street who had the ability to change the life of another with two simple misbegotten words.

                    The following conversation
                    "This is," Kev began.
                    "A total waste of time," Josh interrupted.
                    "Not so bad," Kev concluded.
                    "Not so bad?" Joss said. "Face it, Kev. It flopped. Nobody is interested in a diaper/incontinence support group. And I hate to say it, but it was a bad idea to begin with."
                    "One meeting," he said. "We'll try for one meeting. If no one shows up, so be it."
                    "You posted a flier in Health Services telling people where and when, right?"
                    "Right you are."
                    "Aren't you worried that people will show up just to heckle us?"
                    "Heckle is such a benign word. I prefer mock."
                    "And that doesn't bother you?"
                    Joss shook his head. "Sometimes, I think I'm living with a madman."
                    "Maybe you are. Look, Joss. There's a lot of stuff I can't do in life. So I do what I can. And I don't let people talk me out of it."
                    "Not even me?"
                    He yawned. "If you really wanted to talk me out of it, I'm sure you would have by now."
                    "Yeah. Maybe you're…"
                    The door flew open and Doug entered. His hair was ruffled, his breath was short and his shoes were caked with sand.
                    "Hey…guys," he finally managed.
                    "Where have you been?" Joss asked.
                    "Running," Doug explained.
                    "Running?" Kev repeated. "Gee, Doug, all this time I thought you preferred to sit on your ass."
                    "Fuck…" he paused to take in a big gulp of air. "You."
                    "O…K," Kev answered.
                    "It's like this," Doug said. "I've been really pissed lately, ever since I saw that shrink…"
                    "You saw a shrink?" Kev asked.
                    "Yes, if you can stop interrupting for two fucking seconds! I saw a shrink. She didn't help. In fact, she stunk. She told me I was a morbid, immature narcissist."
                    "But Doug," Joss said. "You ARE a morbid, immature narcissist."
                    "And you're a waste of oxygen, Klein. Anyhow, that really pissed me off. That and everything else. And then when I saw someone left a flier on the windshield of my car, I just lost it. I took off. I ran across the lot, past the power plant, off campus, through a golf course…"
                    "A GOLF COURSE?!" Joss and Kev broke in.
                    "…past the Dunkin Donuts. I had to stop once I got to the highway, but damn it was exhilarating."
                    "Doug," Joss said. "That's like six miles."
                    "Dude…" Kev said, extending his hand.
                    "I think I'm going to do this from now on," Doug told them. "Whenever I get angry, I'll just run. Maybe I can do marathons."
                    "Maybe," said Joss.
                    "And maybe you two lumps of clay can join me."
                    "Maybe not."
                    "Anyway, do you guys have any beer?"
                    "I didn't get this gut from drinking," Kev said, patting his midsection.
                    "Oh yeah….I forgot. You two don't drink. Real lame. Catch you later for an Evil Dead night."
                    He left in a limber jog looking as vital and potent as Biff Loman before he walked into his father's motel room.
                    "That," said Kev, "was amazing."
                    "Do you think he'll actually go through with it?"
                    "He had me convinced."
                    "Me too, actually. But…. it's Doug. The kid has the best day of his life and the worst day of his life in the same week, every week."
                    "I know. But still…"
                    "Still what?"
                    "Make you a prediction," Kev offered.
                    "If Doug is still jogging after our first meeting, the organization will succeed. If not, it will fail."
                    "The statistical outlays would differ."
                    "Stop being such a geek for one second. I'm telling you, Doug's the key to this."
                    Joss shrugged. "Fine. Have it your way. Though I can't believe I'm placing my money — if I had any — on Douggie Archambeau."

                    Kira was tying her shoes when the turquoise began to appear. It came in dots at first and then a wave. It brought with it a fierce shaking to her ears and the taste of salt upon her lips.
                    "I feel…" Kira began. That was as far as she got before she tumbled to the floor. It was there that Alison found her. She let out a shriek that could wake the dead, but apparently not her roommate.
                    The panic that followed was too vivid to be a haze, too rapid to be a clear memory and too painful to be anything but real. The cool haste of the EMTs aboard the rapidly rolling ambulance was nonetheless almost dreamlike. Why, Alison wondered, weren't they upset as she was? The rush into the emergency entrance felt more like a drive for a fourth down conversion than it did like a struggle for life itself.
                    Kira's parents were summoned, the college was notified and friends and relatives alike went scrambling for flowers and cards. They SAID it was an aneurysm. They THOUGHT she would be OK. They were sure of nothing.
                    "It was nice of you to stay with her," Kira's aunt said.
                    Alison couldn't answer. Her face was locked in a frown. It was late at night by the time she finally left the hospital. Before she did, she made a vow. "I am going to help you through this," she said. "I don't care if it's hard or if it seems like I can't. I will find a way to do it. I owe you more than that."

                    Doug continued to run, but he didn't let the highway stop him. On his second time out, he crossed it. He delighted in the chorus of horns and exaltations of "you crazy fucking kid!" borne by angry drivers. He felt a certain thrill in brushing up against death, caressing it, suckling it like a familiar nipple. He knew he was on the brink of something wonderful/horrible, but he couldn't bring himself to care.
                    "I'm either going up or I'm going down," he reasoned. "But I am NOT staying the same."
                    Running was different. It made him breathe/hurt/feel. It put him out of material misery and into the world around him. It was a harsh place, this world, but one not without magic and mystery. At times, he could almost see what Tate saw — high or not — a wonder of the mundane. But then he would look at his shoes: scuffed, battered, dirty and falling apart. His shoes, he thought, would be the end of him.
                    Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

                    Morpheus: I am hope.

                    -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


                      Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

                      Naylor Hall had not long left to stand. The venerable edifice stretched an impressive seven stories into the sky, towering over passerby and casting a stately shadow upon them on days when the sun was shining just right. For more than fifty years, it had served as Brighton's science building. It housed the departments of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Earth Sciences as well as a few of the social sciences. When the remainder of the social sciences outgrew their residence (to say nothing of their welcome) in the English building, Naylor was expanded from its original four stories to pick up the slack. The administration had put a happy face on the expansion, but engineers were skeptical. Construction was delayed for months on end and classes were held in bizarre temporary locations (under trees and in cafeterias), but on August 13th 1976, the new Naylor Hall was unveiled just in time for classes. There it had stood ever since.
                      Alas, Naylor Hall was moribund. The pipes were bad, the ceiling cracked and the dated architecture made it every bit the eyesore. A new, ultramodern Science Complex was set to replace it, but the old boy had plenty of stories to tell before he bowed out. Were it granted lips, the building might divulge a guest lecture on epistemology by Bertrand Russell given during the heart of the Vietnam War while the old intellectual was hopped up on cold medication, a professor of biology found to be smuggling away the corpses of dissected cats for undisclosed purposes and two shaggy-haired dimwits who nearly blew themselves to kingdom come by leaving the gas on in the chem. lab. All these moments and many more would soon be consigned to antiquity.
                      Naylor Hall had nominally been closed since the beginning of the semester. No classes were scheduled there and the building was technically off-limits, but professors and students alike used it to hold meetings. And why not? Demolition would not begin until the year was out. In the meantime, it was just sitting there; ripe for the taking. Unfortunately, the administration disagreed. They issued a cease and desist order, stating safety concerns but fearing looting and clandestine shenanigans.
                      This order was ignored by Nadia Cox, a graduate student who worked for the Meeting Services Division of the Office of Student Activities. It was Nadia's job to assign rooms on campus to groups and individuals who sought them. Lately, she'd been finding herself faced with too many requests and not enough rooms to go around. That, coupled with her boyfriend's refusal to propose to her after more than three and a half years of dating, led her to become stressed and error-prone. She was in the middle of a particularly bad headache when she received Kev and Joss's request for meeting space. Without even realizing she had done it, she assigned them room 226 of Naylor Hall. Later, she would be reprimanded by her superior, but later was too late to change what happened.

                      "How come we got Naylor?" Kev asked. "I thought it was closed."
                      Joss could barely hear him. He found himself mesmerized by the visual effrontery of the room. The floor tiles were soot-gray and looked like they hadn't been cleaned since the Carter administration. The walls were a hideous sea foam green and displayed plaster fillings like veterans showing off war wounds. The only objects in the room were a heavy wooden teacher's desk that was badly warped and about two dozen hard plastic orange chairs that looked like adult-sized versions of those that may be found in an average inner-city preschool. Joss was not yet fully a germophobe, though the room threatened to make him one. It wounded his aesthetic sense with a series of slow, murderous pangs.
                      "I'm not trying to be a downer here," he said to his roommate. "But this….is insane."
                      "Fifteen minutes," Kev replied. He was square jawed and emotionless as he spoke, meaning he was not without doubts himself. "If no one shows in fifteen minutes, we're out of here."
                      "Thank God," Joss answered. He began to make a mental list of all the things he would rather be doing. Sleeping topped it, of course.

                      Emily was habitually early. She simply could not help it. She'd tried to overcome her habit by arriving late, but found that late for her was on time for everyone else. There was no escaping it. She simply consigned herself to winning an award for promptness one day. If no such award existed, she would make one.
                      Of all the things to be early to, Emily dreaded the first meeting of the Incontinence and Diaper Wearers Support Group the most. She did not want to walk into that room and be the first (or, gasp, the only) person with a story to tell. She wanted to casually saunter in, take a seat in the back and gradually warm herself up to participation. Circumstance, however, afforded her no such luxury. As it had been in the way of doing for quite some time now, responsibility fell heavily upon her slight frame.

                      Joss looked at his watch impatiently.
                      "It's almost time," he reminded his roommate.
                      "No way," Kev replied.
                      "Fifteen minutes, remember?"
                      "From the start of the meeting, ya shmuck! We got here early, remember?"
                      Joss rolled his eyes. Sometimes, he wondered what life would be like if he never met Kev. They were so alike in their pursuits…and yet so very different in the way they pursued things. Tawmalty, you're crazy, he thought. He meant it with equal parts sincerity and affection.
                      Joss looked again at his watch. Watch-checking was starting to become a neat little compulsion for him. He was about to gripe about the time again when he heard the soft patter of approaching footsteps. His chance for avoidance and sleep had just gone down the toilet.

                      Emily sidled up to the doorway and peered in. The door was already open, held in place by a garbage can that was probably bigger than she. There were only two people in the room and they were bantering away. Emily recognized them. They were the Hub Guys. The Hub Guys wear diapers, she wondered.
                      "Hey," she said, trying to sound disaffected and failing miserably. "Is this the…um…meeting."
                      "Sure," said Kev. "Come on in."
                      "Thank you," Emily voiced, barely escaping a whisper. She took a seat not by the back, but near Joss, who was in the process of diverting his attention between Kev, his watch and the doorway. Without even realizing it, Emily was beginning to fidget. She had telepathically stolen Lucas's series of tics and squirms and was now making them her own. Thanks a lot, dude, she thought.
                      She felt burning anger for him at that moment. It was his fault she was here (although, her conscience reasoned, she would eventually have stumbled down this path on her own). Damn Lucas, she thought. Damn stupid Lucas and his weirdness that made him wonderful.
                      "How many people are coming, do you know?" she asked, kicking herself for putting the words out of order.
                      Joss shrugged. "Beats me."
                      "I tried to get the word out," Kev explained good-naturedly. "But this isn't the easiest thing to advertise, ya know?"
                      Emily nodded. It most certainly was not.

                      "You're doing fine," Alison urged. "We're almost there. Keep going."
                      The subject of her urging was Kira, who was propelling herself forward on crutches. As a result of her brain's unfortunate jack-in-the-box impersonation, she faced having to learn to walk all over again. In time, she would re-learn potty training as well, though for the time being she was diapered under jeans. As a sign of support, Alison wore diapers as well.
                      "This," Kira said. "Is stupid." Her injury had deprived her of neither her tough-mindedness nor her tongue.
                      "No it's not," Alison insisted. "It'll be good for you."
                      "I'll be the only one there."
                      "No you won't. I'll be there too."
                      Kira smiled in spite of her discomfort. Ali had gone to the max for her and she felt indebted, even though she was pretty sure her roommate's orchestrations were done to pay off a debt of her own. Thus, hopelessly intertwined, they competed to complete one another. They became one in the process…as if there was ever much separation before.

                      "That's a nice watch," Emily said to Joss.
                      "Eh," he answered, checking it again. He was now in the unenviable position of wanting to leave but being compelled to stay by manners alone. After all, people HAD shown, even if people in this instance met only Emily.
                      "Awesome job with the hub," she said, wishing she could say something more profound.
                      "Thanks," Kev replied. "Though really, you guys make it happen."
                      "Not me," Emily answered modestly. "The only things I share are obscure songs no one likes. That and E-books. Lotsa e-books."
                      "You're not LitChick, are you?" Joss asked.
                      "Maybe," Emily said. "Did she do something bad?"
                      "Quite the contrary. I owe her a debt of service."
                      Before he could explain, Ali and Kira entered and grabbed some seats by the door. They surveyed the room and its occupants with due curiosity before settling their gaze on Kev's large, unmistakably gangly figure.
                      "Ohmygosh, you're the hub guys!" Alison exclaimed.
                      "That we be," Kev answered. "That we be."
                      "You guys are great," Alison continued. "Well, I don't know about you personally, but the hub sure is. I would have so totally gone to your party….if someone hadn't tied me to the freakin bed first!"
                      "It was for your own good," Kira insisted.
                      Joss snickered. Perhaps this wouldn't be hell after all.
                      "I'm Ali, by the way. And this is Porkchop."
                      "Or Kira," Kira interjected. "Either one's fine."
                      "Kev Tawmalty and Joss Klein," Kev said.
                      "Or Joss Klein and Kev Tawmalty," Joss corrected. "We share the power."
                      "Ooh, you mean neither one of you is the bitch?"
                      "Clearly, that wouldn't be me," Joss said.
                      "Clearly…because I'm taller and I can kick your ass," Kev joked.
                      Alison giggled. Who knew computer nerds had personalities?
                      "I'm sorry," Kira said, turning her attention toward Emily. "I know we've met, but what's your name again?"
                      Emily was momentarily bewildered, stunned into speechlessness. All of the sudden, everyone was looking at her. She was seen. She was being talked to. She was no longer invisible.
                      "Oh. I'm Emily. Don't worry, I wouldn't remember my name either."
                      Joss gave his watch one final inspection, stretched and yawned. "Now that everyone's here, I guess we can begin."
                      "Guess again," called a voice from the doorway. A black tri-cornered hat sailed across the room and landed on a chair on the far side.
                      In stepped Tate. Heads turned, eyebrows arched and Emily went back to being comfortably invisible. Someone silently mouthed Tate's name as he stepped gingerly to the seat where his hat had landed. He sat in a classic slacker pose, legs out, slouched low with the hat pulled practically over his eyes. In him, there was no mundane: only lesser degrees of awe.
                      "OK," he said. "Now we can start.
                      No one knew where to begin. No one wanted to. Joss had assumed Kev would go first, but the big man seemed to finally be choking. Joss didn't blame him. He was only human after all.
                      "Well," he said. "This is the incontinence and diaper-wearers support group. I guess the best way to start would be for each of us to say why we're hear and what we hope to get out of this. Who would like to begin? Anyone? No? Someone other than me?"
                      Tate belched and sat up ever so slightly.
                      "I guess I'm batting leadoff," he said. "So, you want to know why I'm here. Well I think it's pretty obvious. Fodder for my gossip column!"
                      "Tate!" Alison rebuked. They had shared a class — and a kiss — freshman year.
                      "Seriously, I'm here for two reasons," he explained. "The first, as you know, is that I am a stoner. Damn proud of it, too. And in a more perfect world, there would be no drawbacks. Well, this ain't that world. Sometimes, especially when I go for the not-so-mellow-stuff, I lose control. Multiple pairs of undies spare the sheets. So there you have it."
                      No one said anything. No one really knew what to make of it. All Tate had done was confirmed an already-present rumor about some of his personal behavior. It didn't make anyone feel more comfortable about his or her own difficulties and it gave the meeting a voyeuristic sense of futility.
                      "What's the second reason?" Emily asked.
                      "Oh. I'm Peter Pan."
                      Everyone's attention had finally been captured. They straightened their spines, perked up their ears and moved in closer. In her mind, Emily was already replaying JM Barrie's hallowed words. In his, Kev was fondly recalling Robin Williams battling Dustin Hoffman.
                      "Peter Pan was a boy who refused to grow up. That's me too. It took me awhile to figure it out. At first I thought magic was, you know, ageless. I mean, I'd been doing it for so long that I never really thought there was anything childish about it. Then I got here and…wow, what a bunch of serious fucks you all are. It gave me doubts. Serious doubts. And then I realized I don't care. I believe in magic, if no one else does. And if it requires a childish mindset to sustain that belief, then I guess I'm going to go on having a childish mindset. I don't want a nine to five kind of life. I want excitement, adventure and all that other good shit. When I can't find it here, I go looking elsewhere."
                      "You mean you get high," Kira said.
                      "Exactly! And up until recently, I thought that was the only way to go places…. me not having a private jet and a bottomless savings account and all. Then, one of my housemates laid something pretty heavy on me. 'Guess what,' she says. 'You don't have to get high to pretend. You can just pretend.' That didn't make any sense at first, but then I thought about it. And yeah…I can just pretend. I can pretend that this meeting, for example, is like an ultracool secret society even if it's only a bunch of strangers hanging around a dirty old room. Who gives a fuck, right? Just as long as we're getting by. So the more depressing this world gets, the more pretending I'm likely to do. That pretending's keeping me young, ladies n gents. And it might make me younger. I haven't reached the point of wanting to be a baby or even a toddler just yet, but who knows. Anything's possible, right? Anyway, that's why I'm here. But if you ask me later, I'll just say Sophie made me."
                      Following this confession, Tate removed his hat and took a good look around the room for the first time. His stare jumped from Kev to Joss to Emily to the two girls in the corner. He was curious. Were they judging him? Were they devaluing him already? Alas, Tate could see none of that. All he could witness was the same awe he had always strived to elicit.

                      Emily did not expect to go next. She was actually banking on going last. Unfortunately, Tate's moving soliloquy had taken everyone's breath away. She was, as she had been with Lucas, pressed into an unfamiliar role. She was leading.
                      "I'm here because of someone else too," she said, instantly drawing everyone's focus upon her once more. "Kinda-sorta. Does anyone have anything to drink?"
                      Ali nodded and produced a water bottle. Emily thanked her and took a prodigious swig. The moisture freed her voice from its fearful prison and she began to assume the mantle of the narrator. It was a role her readings had prepared her for.
                      "You're gonna think I'm a horrible person when I'm done with this," she said.
                      "Don't say that," Kira told her.
                      "Yeah," Tate echoed. "Don't make us wait til the end to judge you."
                      Emily blushed and continued. "So I've had this creepy e-stalker for awhile now and I was thinking of ways to get rid of him. I figured saying I had a weird fetish would work best and I pulled diaper-wearing — well, actually infantilism — out of my ass. The guy didn't buy my bluff, so I had to er…convince him. Well that turned out disastrously and I ended up embarrassing myself and possibly freaking out this other guy that I like. But a funny thing happened. I found out I'm sort of into it. And he — the stalker-dude, that is — is into it too."
                      "That's not funny," Alison said. "That sucks."
                      "Yeah…well…nah," Emily continued. "After I was convinced I blew it with the guy I wanted, I kinda gave up and agreed to meet the stalker-dude. What'd I have to lose, right?"
                      "You mean besides your limbs?" Kira asked.
                      "He wasn't THAT kind of stalker. He was more like a hopeless, pathetic geek. Like me."
                      "You should stop putting yourself down," Kev suggested.
                      Emily shrugged. "That's how I operate. Anyhoooow, we met and he really wasn't THAT bad. Then we hooked up, which I really can't explain. I guess we both just got sick of being lonely. I know I did."
                      "So are you a couple now?" Alison asked.
                      "Kinda-sorta," Emily explained. "We're both terrified this is going to blow up in our faces, so we're keeping it casual. That and he doesn't live really close. So meh."
                      "Let me get this straight," Tate said. "You're into diapers, which you didn't like, because of a guy you didn't like and now you're into him too?"
                      "Pretty much."
                      "How'd he take it?" Joss asked.
                      "We don't talk about it," Emily said. "Or at least we didn't. He would keep dropping these unbearable hints. 'Emily, there's something I need to tell you' and so-forth, and then he'd clam up. It was really annoying. So, after getting some advice from a homeless guy — don't ask — I confronted him on it. And it turns out all he wants to do is baby me and take care of me and protect me."
                      "Awwwww," Alison crooned.
                      "I'm not sure what to feel or where this is going. I don't even know if I'm cut out for being babied. Well, aside from the fact I'm practically small enough to fit into baby diapers."
                      "So this is a fetish for you," Joss said. "And a…er…recreational interest for Tate?"
                      "I guess you could say that," she said.
                      "Does anyone here actually need diapers?"
                      Kira's hand shot up. "For now," she quickly added.
                      "I'm sorry," Emily said. "I must seem like a total freak to you."
                      "You need to stop apologizing," Kira told her. "You're not Candida."
                      Yeah. Emily thought. I'm not Candida. Wohoo! It brought a smile to her too-small lips.

                      "I guess we'll go next," Kev said, his verbal paralysis finally broken. "This group was my idea, but I couldn't have done it without Joss's help."
                      Joss gave a cursory wave.
                      "A lot of you have probably seen me walking around campus and have wondered 'why does he walk like that?' Well, I'll tell you why. I have cerebral palsy."
                      "Is that a muscle thing?" Tate asked. "Or a nerve thing?"
                      "Yes, it's a muscle thing," he answered. "And a nerve thing. I've had it since birth. Some people have it a lot worse than me. I can walk at least. I just fatigue easily. I have severely limited flexibility. And my bladder control leaves something to be desired. But you know what? I've never really let it get me down."
                      "He's right, you know," Joss added. "The kid has an ego like you wouldn't believe."
                      "Touché, Klein. The reason I formed this group was not so much for me, but for you. I've been in and out of diapers a lot throughout my life. I've had accidents and I've been embarrassed. It's not fun, but you get used to it. I just wanted to let you know that it's not something that should hold me back. You can still succeed in life."
                      "Or, barring that, you can be computer engineers like us," Joss said.
                      "So what's your story?" Alison asked him. "Are you just here for moral support?"
                      "I guess you could say that."
                      "Joss," Kev began.
                      "Don't!" Joss said.
                      "..has insomnia. Diapers have been known to help him sleep."
                      "Sometimes, I hate you, man," Joss said, his face growing red. He wanted to be the outsider, the observer, the consummate square peg and oblong cog. Kev had just dashed those hopes with the stroke of his tongue. He had made him a part of the group. He had made him belong.
                      "Do me a favor, Kev," he said, his voice choked with anxiety.
                      "Sure," Kev answered.
                      "Admit for once that this IS for you."
                      "OK. I like helping people. Therefore, it is for me."
                      "You smug…" he began. "Ah, forget it."
                      Alison, sensing his disquiet, placed a supportive hand upon his shoulder. "There's nothing to be ashamed about."
                      "That's what I've been TRYING to tell him," Kev insisted. "Kid just doesn't listen."
                      "I'm going to suffocate you with a pillow one of these days, Kev," he vainly threatened. "I swear."
                      "Ooh…death threats," Tate said, smacking his lips. Everyone chuckled. Even Joss could not keep his angry face up forever. Glancing at his roommate, he found his aggravation turn to admiration once more. Nature had made him more fragile than anyone, but he'd proven to be all but unflappable.

                      "I guess that leaves us now," Kira said. She spoke with a subtle sadness that suggested she wasn't unhappy per say, but that her days of jubilation were to be fleetingly longed for.
                      "You had the aneurysm," Emily said. "I was sorry to hear."
                      Kira shrugged. "I'm still breathing."
                      "Tell me something," Tate said. "And if this is out of line, go ahead and throw something at me, but what was it like?"
                      "What was what like?"
                      "Almost dying."
                      "Tate," Alison admonished.
                      "No, it's OK," Kira said. "It was like watching yourself on a movie screen. You see things, but you can't do anything. But I also think it's different for everyone. You'll find out some day. Hopefully, some day much later."
                      "Much, much, much later," Tate added.
                      "Anyhow, my motor skills are royally fucked and my b-ball days are probably over. But Ali's been a tremendous help. And, like I said, I'm still breathing."
                      "What kind of product do you use?" Kev asked. "If you don't mind me asking."
                      "I was going to just use pads at first," Kira said. "But then there was some leakage. I'm on the pull-on style now, but they only hold so much. If it gets any worse, I'm going to switch to real diapers."
                      "Word of advice," Kev told her. "Just because they hold more doesn't mean you don't have to change as often. The last thing you want is…well…I'm not going to paint any pictures."
                      "Eww…. please don't," Ali said.
                      "What's your story?" Joss asked, echoing her words from only moments ago. "Are you just here for moral support?"
                      "Yup," she told him. "And in order to support her, I'm wearing too,"
                      She patted her diapered crotch for emphasis. Joss blinked in disbelief.
                      "That," he declared. "Is some support. I mean, I've been close with Kev for quite some time, but I never would have worn just to make him comfortable."
                      "You're a real friend, Klein," Kev told him.
                      "Well…I owe her," Ali said. "Earlier in the semester, I was doing really bad gradeswise. Kira helped me get back on track. She…well…I'm not going to go there."
                      "Why not?" Kira asked. "You're certainly in the right place."
                      "But…urg, OK," Ali said, blushing. "I'm a psych major, right. Anyone ever hear of conditioning?"
                      A quintet of hands shot up.
                      "So in order to condition me into developing better study habits, we had to use a pretty funky stimulus."
                      "What'd you use?" Kev asked.
                      "GoodNites," Ali explained.
                      "Whoa….did that work?"
                      Shooting Kira a cockeyed grin, Ali threw back her hair and laughed. "I'm breathing, aren't I?"
                      "You certainly are," Tate said. "Quite nicely, I'd say. In fact…"

                      In fact. These words hung in the air long after Tate fell silent. His silence was spurred on by a piercing scream that made him turn away from the group and face the window. He turned just in time to have his hat blown off his head as Doug Archambeau went plummeting by.

                      Contrary to Kev and Joss's predictions, Doug had still not gotten off his jogging kick. He had been running a lot lately. He ran to classes and he ran to meals. He ran for leisure across pavement and grass. He ran on campus and off campus alike. He ran until he was convinced his heart would explode.
                      The running did not cease to be cathartic. It drained Doug of his tensions and raised his spirits up high. In fact, the only thing getting him down was the regret that he hadn't stumbled upon running earlier. He could have been a track star, varsity all the way.
                      When Doug ran, he did not think. He imagined. In this way, he became like Tate, though if anyone had pointed out the connection he surely would have denied it. There was purpose to his running, he would contend. He was doing it to become a bigger, better, stronger runner, not merely just to have fun. Marathons were on his horizon.
                      Alas, Douglas Archambeau knew no happy middles. He had removed the blinders of self-pity only to don the blinders of arrogant delusion. His newfound belief in his running prowess negated all else. It did not seem to matter that his schoolwork was declining or that his work for the newspaper was becoming sloppy and erratic or that what few friends he had were beginning to eye him with suspicion. All the energies he had devoted into those pursuits were being redirected into a new one: his embitterment through the jog.
                      Doug had become so emboldened that he even took to calling Krista, not caring that she might not have forgiven him for their last encounter. He called her and asked for a date and though she said "no," he heard it as "yes." Things were going great.
                      The other big change that came over Doug was that he ceased writing. There were no more journals, no more diaries, no more notes or letters of any kind. Writing had been the perfect outlet for his inadequacy, but it seemed ill-suited for his triumph. He would express himself now through medals and prizes and Wheaties box appearances. He was a whole new man.
                      On the day of the group meeting, this new man was out jogging (what else). He had circled the campus and was coming up upon Naylor Hall again when he decided to stop. He told himself he was stopping to take a breather. The real reason he stopped was that his foot was sore and bleeding. Doug had done all his jogging in the same pair of ratty, comatose shoes. In his mind, however, he had already replaced them with a pair of sleek white sneakers. When he looked down during stretches, it was these sneakers that he saw. They made him glow with pride.
                      Doug had ventured into Naylor Hall to find a bathroom and splash cold water on his face when he heard voices. Impossible, he thought. Naylor Hall was closed. He then vaguely recollected having heard something about an incontinence support group meeting. The old Doug would have shrugged and walked away. He would have been too lost in his troubles to worry or care. The new Doug, however, felt a twinge of superiority. The world had not yet recognized his greatness. Perhaps it needed to be proven by besting lesser men. And who could be lesser than a bunch of incontinents?
                      Filled with an almost palpable sense of triumph, Doug ascended the stairs and approached room 226. He stood at the doorway silently, preparing a grand entrance (another Tate-ism he had unknowingly/unwantingly absorbed). No such entrance came, however. Something about the people in the room blew his confidence away.
                      They were laughing. That was what Doug saw and could not stomach. Here were a bunch of people who needed (or worse yet, liked) diapers and they were laughing. They were in high spirits all right, carousing and carrying on. What right did they have to be like this, Doug wondered. What goddamn motherfucking RIGHT?
                      His insides burned with hatred then for each and every one of them. He hated Emily though he hardly knew her, for she was small and therefore weak, but also smart and therefore an object of envy. She also comported herself with a weirdness that had made Doug jealous. While he was busy trying to conform and impress, she seemed to revel in being excluded. It burned him not so much that she did this, but that she did not show him the way (though, in all fairness, he was forced to admit that he never once asked).
                      He hated Kira and Ali too. Alison Lawler had long been an object of distant affection. When Doug was horny, he thought of her as the kind of girl he'd want to fuck without getting to know. When Doug was lonely and downcast, he thought of her as the kind of girl he'd want to get to know without fucking. She was a contradiction: the blonde alpha female merged with the helpless ditz. That neither would condescend to speak to him propelled his fury.
                      He wasn't sure why he hated Kira or if he even hated her, but at that moment he felt he had to hate everyone. Lacking a personal impetus, he simply reached out to his basest motivations and deeply-denied prejudices. She was a mutt who dated white guys and therefore contaminated the gene pool. End of fucking story.
                      Before Doug had hated them, he had pitied them. He'd passed them on his first lap, watching them as they made the slow and arduous trek across campus. Kira was on crutches and moved sluggishly. Ali was right beside her and kept pace. Both were diapered. And, although Kira was the (temporary) incontinent, it was Alison who looked more at home with a bulging diaper beneath her sweat pants. It appealed to her brattish reputation.
                      "Poor girls," Doug thought. "They'll never be able to run a race with crutches and diapers. Poor little things."
                      He gave them a salute s he passed. In his mind's eye, they had waved back. In actuality, they had hardly noticed.
                      Doug hated Kev and Joss too and felt somewhat strange about it. After all, they had been halfway decent friends to him. They supplied him with beverages and movies and companionship and tried to impart sage advice that he was too stubborn/stupid/somber to receive. But, at the same time, Doug knew them to be traitors. They were traitors to the cause of the oppressed and the downtrodden because they dared to be something better. Not only had they failed to lift Doug up, but here they were consorting with others outside their nerdish clique. For shame, Doug thought. For shame.
                      Of course, Doug hated Tate most of all. Oddly, he could hardly remember why. He used to have a thousand reasons — no, a million — but now all he felt when he saw the would-be magician was a numbing sense of familiarity. It was like he was a dog gazing upon a cat he chased once too often. Yeah, his apathy called. So? Fuck him too.
                      The hatred that coursed through Doug's veins gave him pause. It made him look at his shoe and see his bloody foot. It almost made him turn back and go home, but the new Doug wasn't quite licked yet. Instead, he rallied against the newly-resurrected old Doug with all his might and at last pulled him away from the door. Had someone beckoned or even waved, he might have reverted again. But no one did.
                      The new Doug was horrified by what he saw (laughter, laughter!) but was determined not to let it get the better of them. He would show them…by sprinting. And where better to sprint then up high where all the campus could witness his speed and grace. Doggedly, Doug made for the roof.
                      The stairway that led to the roof of Naylor Hall was normally padlocked, accessible only by a building worker's key. Since the hall was nominally closed, however, the padlock had been removed. Doug didn't know this until he pressed on the stairway door. He beamed as it squeaked open under his touch. A short flight of stairs later and he was on the roof.
                      Doug looked around. He was seven stories high. There was no audience and there was no race. His foot was bleeding. He felt nauseous. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew this. And yet he did not know it. The new Doug assured him everything was OK.
                      Look at me, he thought. Look at me all you slowpokes. It's me, Douglass Archambeau. Good old Douggie, who was never much of anything. Well now I'm something. I'm a runner (mom, I'm sorry I never meant to) and a (Krista, tell her I loved) damn good one (ohgodohgodohgod) at that.
                      With this final mental declaration, a shot rang off inside his head. He took off in full gait, envisioning the track ahead of him, the finish line, the gold medal, the cheering fans, the endorsements, the victory pose, the life he never led. It all remained in perfect vision (focussed like the autofocus like the camera did I take pictures this week not that it matters it matters in fact) until he went over the edge.
                      Then, along with Doug's lifeforce, it simply up and disappeared.
                      Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

                      Morpheus: I am hope.

                      -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4


                        Knowing Douglas Archambeau by WingZ

                        Student takes own life in building leap

                        This was the headline that graced the front page of the next edition of the Brighton State Bulletin. Liza Tankos, the editor-in-chief who had many a time turned a deaf ear to Doug's grievances, selected it herself. She did not trust an underling with the task. And, while it pained her to reduce Doug to a mere anonymous pronoun (student) and his demise to a headline (even if it was a front page headline), she knew she was doing right by him. The accompanying images were files photos of the deceased and Naylor Hall (the soon-to-be deceased) that Doug took himself. The layout was clean, tasteful and remarkably error free.
                        "It's ironic," Liza said to Tiffany, the diminutive fact-checker.
                        "Hmm, Chief?"
                        "This may be the best layout we've had all year."
                        As a testament to Doug's contributions in life, the first edition of the paper produced without his usually careful and painstaking design efforts went on to win an award for design.

                        Two fates befell Tate after Doug's death and neither could be honestly described as any less horrendous than the other. The first thing that happened was that Tate stopped talking. From the moment his hat blew out the window, words ceased to escape his lips. It was not a willful act of spite or vengeance — as had been the entertainment strike — but an honest-to-God-problem that Tate was unable to overcome.
                        He fashioned a new mouth from an electronic tablet that he signed with a custom pen, but it wasn't quite the same as natural sound. He couldn't do funny accents. No one could grasp his sarcastic or ironic tones. It had gotten so bad that Tate asked Bryan to punch him in the face just to see if he would scream. One bloody nose later and Tate was still every bit the mute.
                        "This is all in your head, Tate," Dr. Lynn Thompson told him. "Your guilt is manifesting itself…physically. You feel guilty because you were talking when Doug passed away. You were talking instead of listening, as you feel you should have been. Eventually, you'll realize that what happened isn't your fault and your powers of speech will be restored."
                        Tate smiled and wrote thusly,
                        "Brilliant. Bravo, doctor. Top notch work, really."
                        "Why thank you," Lynn replied.
                        Annoyed, Tate furrowed his brow and scribbled furiously on the tablet,
                        "I was being sarcastic, fuckwit! I'm not talking because I feel guilty? Please! I KNOW I didn't kill Doug. So how come it's not wearing off, huh? And, as long as we're on the topic of guilt, why aren't you a fucking mute? Word is — and my gossip never lies — Douggie came to see you for help not long before he took the plunge and you didn't do a damn thing for him. Where's your guilt, doctor? This has been a wonderful waste of our time, so unless you have some drugs to prescribe me, I'll be leaving and not coming back. Ta!"
                        He held up the screen just long enough for her to see before vanishing. True to his word, he did not return. He would rather suffer earnestly than heal fraudulently any day.
                        The second bit of misery Tate encountered were visions without the use of drugs. He hadn't smoked anything — be it blunt or joint or bong — since he stopped talking, but his imagination ran rampant just the same. Doug Archambeau haunted his dreams. Like a fiendish tour guide or one of Scrooge's ghostly visitors, he took Tate places he would rather not go.
                        In Tate's dreams, Doug was everywhere. Sometimes, he would be there from the beginning and sometimes Tate would stumble across him. He looked almost exactly the same as he did in life, only he now wore a pair of sparkling white shoes and Tate's tri-cornered hat. His sense of humor had improved too.
                        "What do you want, Doug?" he asked. In these visions, his vocal ailment was nonexistent.
                        "Ready for another trip?" Doug asked.
                        "This feels like Quantum Leap: The Lost Years," Tate quipped.
                        "Hey," Doug said. "I'm doing this to help you."
                        "Why? I sure as hell didn't help you any."
                        "You've got that right," Doug said. "And if it was up to me, I'd just as soon haunt the shit out of you."
                        "So then why don't you, Douggie? Make me crazy and get it over with."
                        "Let's just say there are certain considerations in the afterlife that must be taken into account."
                        "Let's just say I want my damn voice back. And my hat, too."
                        "In time," the phantom-Doug told him. "In time."
                        "So where ARE we going?"
                        "Oh, you're going to like this one."
                        Tate doubted it. He had already been to his college graduation, his unborn son's high school graduation, his wedding, the body of a golden retriever, the Crusades and his life as a toddler. Of all of them, the latter was the easiest to handle. It confirmed in Tate a suspicion that he was perhaps a burgeoning infantalist. There was something appealing about sitting back and having someone else do everything for you.
                        This latest journey took Tate to an empty auditorium. The lights were on, but no one was home. Slowly, he walked toward the stage. He caught his reflection on a mirror that had been left behind as a prop and recoiled. He was a leather-faced man of fifty, with scraggly long hair that might have looked good in brown but looked bad in gray. He wore black on black and looked like an extra at a Johnny Cash festival. The only thing familiar were the boots.
                        Tate was a prisoner to this aged and weathered body as it fetched a ladder and wheeled it onto the stage. It also procured a black velvet sack and began to remove items from it: a length of rope, a stack of note card and a scalpel.
                        "I don't like where this is going," he said inside his head inside his dream.
                        "Just be patient," Doug told him.
                        The elder Tate mounted the ladder and wrapped the rope around the ceiling beam.
                        "I'm going to hang myself," the voice of Tate concluded. "Can't you give me something original?"
                        "Patience, I said," Doug repeated.
                        The rope took the form of a noose, which Tate secured around his neck. He then took one of the note cards and began to read.
                        "Ladies and gentlemen," he said to the crowd of zero. "For my final trick, I am going to cut through rope using only a note card. As you can see, these are perfectly normal note cards."
                        "Then what's the scalpel for?" real Tate asked.
                        "You'll see," Doug said.
                        "However, when combined with a magic chemical, they become razor sharp," old Tate continued.
                        "Magic chemical? Huh? What's he talking about?"
                        The elder Tate transferred the note card to his left hand and grasped the scalpel with his right. Without further adieu, he leapt from the ladder and kicked it aside.
                        "Real smart," real Tate said. "I just hung myself."
                        "Did you?" Doug asked. "Did you really, Mister Illusionist?"
                        Real Tate watched as elder Tate quickly took the scalpel and plunged it into his abdomen.
                        "What's he doing? Is he nuts?!"
                        "It is his last trick," Doug reminded him.
                        "Make him stop!" Tate hollered.
                        The scalpel went in deep and his shirt quickly dampened. Elder Tate expertly jagged it to the side, ripping open his stomach in the process. He then took the note card and dipped it inside the cavity. When it reemerged, it was bubbling and smoking.
                        "That," Doug explained. "Is how full of poison you will become. Or maybe you're like that now and you don't even know it."
                        The note card sliced through the rope with ease and elder Tate fell toward the stage. He landed on his feet with remarkable grace for someone who had just been gutted. He then took a final bow — to unheard clapping and catcalls, no doubt — pitched forward and died on the spot.

                        This final vision sent real Tate back to waking at warp speed. A scream was lodged in his throat just begging to be set free. He clutched at his hair and threw himself to the ground.
                        "I'm SORRY," wailed the voice inside his head. "Whatever it is, whatever it did, I'm sorry. I…it can't be worth this. Let it out, you hear me? Let me OUT."
                        "In fact," said Tate.
                        There was a knocking on his door and Sophie entered.
                        "Tate?" she asked. "I heard a loud crash. Are you OK?"
                        She was expecting a nod and was quite surprised when he offered a verbal reply.
                        "I'm OK," he told her. His voice was hoarse, but there was no mistaking it.
                        "Ohmygod, you're TALKING."
                        "Yes," Tate said. "Yes I am."
                        And he continued to talk thereafter. Some say it was the first, last and only act of real magic Tate had ever accomplished.

                        Though she hardly knew him, Emily saw Doug as a metaphor for herself, which was to say a loser, a loner and a desperately unhappy human being. The moment he leapt off that rooftop, she began to fear for her own safety…and sanity.
                        "But you are nothing like that boy," her mother assured her after she'd made her complaint known.
                        "You don't know that, Mom. People thought he was OK. They weren't expecting it."
                        "Emily," she said gravely. "I know you better than that."
                        But she still wasn't convinced and she through herself at Lucas wholeheartedly. What had once been a relationship of convenience and practical certainty (the certainty being they were unlikely to find anyone else) blossomed into true dependency at last. Help me, her affections begged of him. Love me. Don't leave me. Finally, it got to the point where HE thought SHE was being weird.
                        "You're taking this too seriously," he told her. "You're not ready to flip out."
                        "But I could be," she stressed. "That could be me some day."
                        "No," Lucas said.
                        "What do you mean no?"
                        "I won't let that happen."
                        "But how do you know you're going to be around?"
                        "Trust me," he said. "You'll get sick of me before I get sick of you."
                        She envisioned his twitching, his heavy breathing, his bug-eyed stillness and found she had no choice but to believe him. God had made Lucas a freak of sorts and that was his greatest gift.

                        Emily's apprehension passed and she felt embarrassed for having had it in the first place. She came to terms with the fact that she was nothing like Douglas Archambeau and yes, she actually had self worth. This latter revelation compelled her to see if she and Lucas might actually be able to function as a Regular Couple. It had seemed laughably remote for both of them not so long ago, but a lot had changed since then.
                        The Regular Couple made its debut, fittingly enough, at an on-campus concert that featured Brandon Coburn's guitar work.
                        "Is that the one?" Lucas asked.
                        "Yes," Emily answered. She had already made her crush on Brandon known and felt bad about it. She felt worse that he was still hopelessly, mercilessly attractive.
                        "It's OK," Lucas said. "I'd dig him too. I mean, if I was a girl. I mean, not that I ever think that. I mean…"
                        Emily smiled and squeezed his hand. She couldn't imagine Brandon possibly being that nervous. It was a nervous that she found endearing.
                        Nervous or not, Brandon still had plenty going for him. Coburn morphed into Cobain sitting on that stage clutching his acoustic. His hair had been cut, which had the complimentary effect of showing off more of his impeccably cute face. He had even begun to grow a slight goatee.
                        "This next one's called Skyscraper," he said. He strummed a few rhythmatic chords and began to sing. "Skyyy scraperrrr…."
                        For a short while, Emily found herself lost in a trance. Even though she was among a crowd and with her boyfriend, she felt completely alone with the music. She tried to tell herself she was drawn to the music and not the man behind it. It made her feel less guilty.
                        "Whoo! Yeah, Brandon," a voice called out.
                        Candida. It had to be Candida. Emily exited her trance and found her arch nemesis leaning toward the stage, showing off enough cleavage under her tank top to make Janet Jackson jealous. Emily clutched Lucas's hand tighter and began to boil with rage. Why did she have to be here? Why did she have to mess things up?
                        Despite Candida's vociferous (to say nothing of unnecessary) cheering, the concert was memorable. Even Lucas, an underground techno enthusiast who dubbed himself "the enemy of modern music" was suitably impressed by Brandon's abilities.
                        "He plays good, even if his songs are all candy-ass."
                        Not long afterwards, while Lucas was in the men's room and another act was getting ready to perform, Brandon approached her. It was the moment Emily had been waiting for, even if it was too late.
                        "Hey," he said. "Thanks for coming."
                        She found herself momentarily tongue-tied and feared further embarrassment. What stupid thing would she say next? How long would she stand there gawking like an idiot before…
                        "You were really good up there," she said, sans stutter or hesitation.
                        "Thanks," he said. "I was kinda worried. It was new material.
                        "Well it was great," she complimented. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
                        "Heyyy Greasy," Candida butted in. She had taken to calling Emily 'Greasy' (after Griesinger) after failing to pronounce her last name. Emily hadn't quite the heart to tell her how ridiculous it was.
                        "He was great, wasn't he?" she asked, casually draping a hand on Brandon's shoulder. "I'm surprised to see you here though. Figured y'all'd be off reading or something."
                        "Candida," she said, finally letting her bitterness spill over. "You know NOTHING about me."
                        She'd expected a showdown, but was met with a laugh.
                        "Looks like someone's havin their time of month."
                        Brandon chuckled. His voice said, "I'm sorry, that was mean," but his eyes said otherwise. It had been ten times as hurtful as anything Candida alone had said. She felt like disintegrating into sawdust in the hopes that someone would come by with a broom and neatly sweep her away.
                        "What the fuck's so fucking funny?" Lucas asked, having reemerged just in time to launch his f-laden inquiry. He towered over all seated at the table and his scowl painted an image of vain menace (for they knew not his nerves were Jello inside).
                        "Who are you?" Candida asked.
                        "I'm Emily's…boyfriend."
                        It took him a moment to get the last word out, but when he said it, he said it with conviction.
                        "Look," she said. "Me and Greasy have something we gotta talk out. This don't concern you."
                        "This doesn't concern me either," Brandon said, rising to leave. "Thanks again for coming."
                        You're welcome, Emily mouthed silently. And I forgive you, but only because you're cute and you play so well.
                        Candida and Lucas locked eyes. He had begun his usual series of ticks and spasms, but he did not move from where he stood.
                        At long last she got the message and decided to extract herself from the situation. "Whateva," she said, dismissing them both with a wave of the hand.
                        Just as she was departing, however, Lucas called out to her.
                        "You're ugly," he said. "And a skank."
                        "Excuse YOU?"
                        "Nobody likes you," Emily added. "Everyone tolerates you because they find you amusing. But deep down, they'd all wish you go away."
                        "Y'all are crazy," she said.
                        "You don't have friends, Candida," Emily said. "You just have an audience."
                        "Fuck you!" she snapped.
                        "Hey," Lucas said, taking a step forward. "You don't talk to her like that. Ever."
                        Candida looked around, as if expecting a crowd. However, everyone's attention was focused not on her, but on the stage. It was only then that she realized that she was outnumbered. It made her stomach sink.
                        "You freaks deserve each other," she snarled, taking her leave for good.
                        "Well," Emily said.
                        "Well," Lucas echoed.
                        They had been out in public and survived. Unity was achievable. They could go on dates. They could go to movies. They could introduce each other to parents and friends. They could be normal after all.
                        But both realized that neither wanted to be normal. It wasn't their forte. Lucas didn't feel comfortable and could hardly sit still unless he was hugging/touching/stroking her and while Emily had considerably more self-sufficiency, nothing quite spelled bliss like having him tuck her into bed among her animals with a fresh diaper between her legs. He would call her Little One, which she was in size but not in spirit and she would pretend that his strength matched his stature. They would live a functional fairy tale. And so what if it was a lie? So what if it was deviant and abnormal and raised questions and issues. So what if it sometimes never made sense and sometimes seemed too much. It might have been all these things and more, but the one thing it was not was the great, big Alone that had swallowed Douglass Archambeau.

                        Joss's eyes were two drill bits boring into layers of speculation as he watched his roommate contemplate in silence. There had been a growing divisiveness between them even before Doug killed himself and the rooftop plunge only exacerbated it.
                        "Well?" he asked.
                        "I still don't know about it," Kev answered.
                        The "it" in question was the possibility that they would not room together for their fourth and final year. It had been raised by Joss, but conceived mutually and separately.
                        "Well," Kev said. "On the one hand, it's not like we wouldn't see each other."
                        "Same major, same friends, that's a pretty safe bet," Joss told him.
                        "But then again, I don't want it to be a case of, "oh, there goes that kid who used to be my roommate and my friend."
                        "A tad overdramatic, don't you think?" Joss asked.
                        Kev shrugged. "Maybe. I dunno."
                        Though it was not acknowledged, it was the bet made on Doug's running habit that was driving them apart. Doug had stopped jogging, but the group had survived. Doug had died, but they had lived on. Kev had been wrong and Joss had been right. X was not Y.
                        "You think we pushed him into it?" Joss asked, careful not to mention Doug by name.
                        "Honestly, I don't even want to go there," Kev replied. "Neither should you. Very morbid, Klein."
                        "I can' help it," Joss replied. "But I'm at least willing to acknowledge the possibility that we fucked up. We're a lousy support system."
                        Kev sighed. "Yeah."
                        "There's no shame in admitting it."
                        "Yes there is!" Kev snapped. "I was wrong. I was completely and utterly wrong. I didn't see it coming and I failed miserably in preventing it. Do you have any idea how rare that is? Do you realize that that NEVER happens?"
                        "The odds weren't against it."
                        "I always beat the odds," Kev snapped. He was on a roll now and Joss knew it was best not to interrupt them. "They said I wouldn't walk. I beat that. They said I'd become depressed. I beat that. They said they'd get the hub shut down. I beat that. But why couldn't I beat it when it really counted? Arrrggg!"
                        Joss shook his head. "Would you listen to yourself? We're in college. We can't change the world. Not now and not never. We tell ourselves we can because it keeps us going and it allows us to do some good in the process. Do you realize there are a million Doug Archambeaus out there, a million ticking time bombs waiting to go off? What do you think, Kev? You're going to find a way to stop all of them?"
                        "No," Kev said. "Just the ones I know."
                        They turned their thoughts away from such weighty matters and returned to leisurely gaming. Every once in awhile, one would glance at the other and begin to wonder. What's he thinking? What's he wondering? What is becoming of this friend of mine?
                        In a way, it was like looking in a distorted mirror. Kev saw in Joss himself after a long day: tired, run-down, doubtful but reliably analytical. Joss saw himself fatter, stronger and more determined. As time progressed, they would see less and less of themselves until finally they saw another person completely. At that point, the friendship would be over. It was a statistical probability that it would happen, a matter of "when" and not "if." Joss saw black-marked calendar days on the horizon and privately wished Kev would keep doing what he had been doing.
                        Beat the odds, he prayed even though his mind knew better. Beat those sad and sorry odds.

                        Alison had gone home the day of Doug's funeral but did not attend it. She went home of her own volition on business all her own. Her thoughts were not of Douglas Archambeau — the deceased — but of Alison Lawler — the living.
                        Despite this focus, Doug seemed to be everywhere. His death had created a mini-scandal in the town and her former high school classmates were brimming with questions about him. What was he like? Did he say that he was going to do it? Did he confide? Did he leave anything behind?
                        Alison felt poorly about her inability to answer. Every time she said, "actually, I didn't really know him," she felt a bit of her humanity chip away. The truth was that, aside from faint recognition, she did not know him. She did not care about his problems; she gave not one damn for his plight. Up until the moment he jumped off a roof, she would not have cared if he jumped off a roof. Even afterwards, there was little empathy. There was a numbing shock that came with death itself, but Alison found herself unable to care for Doug Archambeau, the person — only Doug Archambeau the suicide. Based on these findings, she was forced to reach one conclusion.
                        "I'm a horrible person."
                        "Don't be silly," her mother said.
                        "Don't be silly," Kira had echoed via cell phone.
                        But Alison was not being silly. She had only begun to escape her selfishness when she went about repaying Kira and still had much to learn. She had, for example, disregarded her parents' rules establishing curfew while she was home and did so without even a thought. She'd also absent-mindedly called up old friends and began to chat away with nary as much as a "so, what have YOU been up to." The idealized greed of the objectivists was alive and well in her, thought if they had been around to bear witness to it, they would surely trample it.
                        The past offered solace. Alison retreated into class pictures and youth league soccer trophies and spelling bees and citizenship awards. She had once been imperfect. She had once been an 8-year-old with a bump on her chin. She had once worn braces.
                        Alison stroked wooden picture frames with her thumb and tried to conjure a past that would save her from the present. She saw herself at 17 meeting Tony for the first time and wondering how big he was (it would not be long before she found out). She saw herself five years earlier on a field trip. Doug was in that memory: someone had tripped him on the bus and she'd had a good laugh at it. At age seven, she'd cried after hurting her knee in an early soccer outing. At age four, she'd pooped her pants while playing in the backyard.
                        Her mom had cleaned her up and taken care of her just as her coach would take care of her hurt knee and Tony would take care of her sexual curiosity and Kira would take care of her poor study habits. Someone had always taken care of her. And she'd LIKED it.
                        Flash forward: she was learning to function away from home, away from Tony and without Kira having to constantly prod her. She got out of bed at the sound of the alarm without someone shaking her awake. She kept up-to-date notes without professors telling her "…and this will be on the test." As part of her sorority activities, she even undertook (gasp!) community service. And she'd liked all that too.
                        All this led her to reach another conclusion…
                        "I'm not the same person I was," she told Tony as she broke up with him on her parents' front porch. "I'm not the same as when we started dating and you are."
                        He nodded, but did not speak. It was as if he had known all along and had only kept playing the charade for the sex/love/memory. Besides, he knew he was good-looking. He knew he would find others and so would she.
                        "Suit yourself," he said after further explanations had been rendered. He raised her chin with his hand and gave her a parting peck on the cheek. With that, he stepped into his Mustang and sped away. Alison was not angry then nor was she sad. But two days later when she went to eat Frosted Flakes, she nearly burst into tears. After all, Tony had said they were Grrrreat!

                        Before her visit home concluded, Alison stopped by the home of Mr. and Mrs. Archambeau. She did it as a service, a service that was free and pressured and unsolicited in hopes that many more would follow.
                        "My name is Alison," she said, presenting them with a card. "And I'm sorry for your loss. I knew your son…. kind of. I just wish I'd gotten to know him better. You know, gotten to be his friend. I was wondering if you'd tell me about him."
                        "Of course," said Mr. Archambeau. He closed the door behind them and let her do what Kira and others had always done for her: listen.

                        The bedwetting, incontinence and diaper-wearers support group had re-christened itself the Doug Archambeau Society. This was done more for tactical reasons than out of any respect/disrespect for the late would-be track star. It was far easier for someone to say the words "Doug Archambeau Society" than it was "diaper group." Besides, as Doug was dead, he certainly could not object to the misappropriation of his name. In exchange for this, Kev and Joss made him Posthumous Vice President En Memorium.
                        The Society, removed from the secrecy and fuglyness of Naylor Hall, continued to hold meetings. Its members gradually grew more comfortable with one another and the membership slowly began to expand. Contacts were made with similar groups in other areas. Events were planned. There was even talk of a diaper-themed party.
                        As the membership grew, the Society drew in people that had no personal knowledge of the founding members or their circumstances. Every once in awhile, one of these newbies would inquire about the group's namesake. This is the answer they were given:
                        Doug Archambeau was comfortable unhappy. The only thing he hated more than his life was changing it. You see, Doug had a lot of bad luck and many bad things happened to him. Because of this, he thought that everyone was out to get him. He became paranoid, bitter and jealous. He made himself a pain to his friends and enemies alike.
                        During these dark times, Doug did a lot of writing. He wrote letters and notes and kept a journal. Much of what he wrote were his complaints about how the world was screwing him over on any given day. He shared these complaints with anyone who would listen in hopes that they would sympathize or maybe talk him out of it.
                        But Doug also wrote down his hopes. He hoped to be something more than he was. He hoped to reunite with his ex-girlfriend. He hoped to find success and fortune in his field.
                        Alas, Doug neither shared nor acted upon any of these hopes. His ego would not be able to withstand their defeat. Instead, he kept them bottled up, buried beneath his rants and complaints. He kept them buried so deep that eventually they died.
                        By the end, Doug had done such a good job of killing his hopes that he actually began to miss them. But they were gone and he had no way of bringing them back. So he invented new ones. He hoped he would one day be the world's greatest runner.
                        Doug liked this new hope so much he refused to let go of it. Instead of locking it in a box and burying it, he held it so close he smothered it. He believed he was what he wished he could be. He thought he could run, jump and maybe even fly.
                        Nobody knows for sure why Doug jumped off that roof. Maybe he was so drunk on hope that he thought he could beat death. Or maybe he was so full of despair he'd rather die than see another dream dashed. Whatever his reasons were, Doug decided to kill himself. And so he did.
                        Doug died, but he left a lot behind. He left parents without a son, friends without their pal, professors without a student, pictures without a developer and shoes without feet to fill them. In short, questions without answers. He also left a lot of writing, which is how we've come to know him, but we'll really never get to know all of him.
                        So why do we call ourselves the Doug Archambeau Society? Mostly, it's a reminder. We all have something that makes us different from everyone else. Sometimes, we don't feel good about it. There are days when we hate ourselves and days when we hate everyone else. But that's the way it's supposed to be. Life rains on everyone. It strikes with thunder and lightning. Its winds tear our dreams away. That's simply the way it is.
                        It's how we deal with that inevitability that matters. You've chosen to come here, to talk about it, to handle it the best you can. Doug, who didn't have this problem but had many others, chose to jump off a roof. If he didn't, he would probably be here right now. But he made that choice. He took that plunge. Will you?

                        NOTE: Brighton State College has issued a statement saying that it does not assume responsibility for Douglas Archambeau's death. Naylor Hall has been demolished, but Lynn Thompson's practice still stands.
                        Choronzon: I am Anti-Life, the Beast of Judgment. I am the dark at the end of everything. The end of universes, gods, worlds… of everything. Sss. And what will you be then, Dreamlord?

                        Morpheus: I am hope.

                        -Neil Gaiman’s Sandman Vol. 2 Issue 4