Toggle light/dark
← Intro Day 1 →

Day 0

  1. "See me? See this! Here's a white squaw! An unblanched bitch!" Ms. Daeth danced, "The soldiers walked right by their own lost children! Their lost children hid underneath brown and black and hide. Fattening, fattening. And then they caught me, and brought me east, drew me before a crowd as I cried and whined! They touched me—touched me like an artifact. East, and easter, they dragged me, from plains to forestry, till the skyey void was hidden beneath the canopy! And I whined and pined for savagery! And then I died, and my daughter died. And Amy—"

    She abruptly stopped talking, then whooped, and yelled.

    "I opened my shirt and sliced my breasts. I mutiliated myself in misery! I wailed, I whined, I prayed. And then I died. That's what happens. I'm dead! I'm dead! I'm dead!"

    She washed her face, and as the brown paint drooped from her skin onto her clothes, she squatted underneath the pink sky.

    "I've told you children, of that unreachable realm. The realm in which exists the city-scheme that is Lacrasa. There, he lives. He stands on the bent surface of Lake Lhume, as he has for ages: Standing, standing, standing, like an statue, yet moving minutely. Those uncountable hairs that extend from his body, covering the entire surface of the bent Lake, and crawling out of that city into other worlds—those hairstrings wiggle and move, stimulating his sensitive skin as they commandeer puppets that are his own manifestation. The Jack of all worlds, the master actor—and one of those threads has been tugged by one of us—a traitor among us—and thus his manifestation is coming. A taibo that could not tame his image shall reap it! And thus, we and his own manifestation shall dance, conducted under the hand of whose Earthy spirit is the latter! Mothman! Red-eyed God of the old Plains, buried underneath civilization! Black commander of the riderless stampede coming in from Tule Canyon, whence Mackenzie shot 1000 horses! Isa-Tai's magician; Quanah's struggle; The King of Spirits! Mothman! Mothman! On May 1, the daughter shall mock the father. Amy—"

    She abruptly stopped once more upon saying "Amy". The children stared at her, wide-eyed, and her eyes bulged back at them.

  2. What I shall call Foster City was hardly much of a "town" even in 1941. It was originally an isolated fort erected in the late 1800s in the unfertile plains of the Texas Hill Country. The then frontier of Texas was terrifying to white settlers due to the shadow of Indian raids, and the settlement only started to grow into a town at the turn of the century, when the Indians had been pushed well into the Panhandle. In the early 1900s, it earned a tiny jailhouse, a barbershop, then a small school. While the rest of the United States was plunging into the Industrial Revolution, the Hill Country lived decades behind in an agrarian life as barren as its plains. Foster City was a small farm town in that middle of nowhere. That is where I grew up.

    In the summer, we would wake up at the break of dawn, and as the sun rose, the sky would turn into a brilliant sapphire, untouched by clouds. For us, that sky was a curse, because it meant no rain. It was under this arid sapphire that Hill Country residents would perform backbreaking work, lacking electricity and many of the modern conveniences like electric stoves and washing machines that the rest of the country had. Woman in particular had hard lives: Water had to be carried from distant streams, wood had to be hauled repeatedly for highly consumptive wood stoves, food had to be canned, clothes would have to be painstaikingly washed—scrubbed and "punched" and swished—by hand. The work was back-breaking: In their thirties, Hill Country women would often end up with a stooped back from all the bending and carrying they had to do. Some in Foster City jokingly called it "Mothman back."

    But on some summer days, as the sun set, the Hill Country sky would take on a different color: The sapphire would give in to a reddish-orange: a shade of pink. And this so-called pink "hour" would last indefinitely, sometimes shy of an hour, and sometimes even several hours past sunset in the afterglow.

    In retrospect, most of this story took place while the sky was pink.

  3. Amy and I were childhood friends. The poor Smales happened to be neighbors with the more affluent Aikens (affluent, by Hill Country standards—we were both lucky to have a house that was a step higher than a dog-run), and it was only natural that the son of the former and the daughter of the latter, christened respectively in 1923 as Kevin Smale and Amy Aiken, would become close.

    Very close. All the way until high school, we would do everything together. She would rush through her chores at the break of dawn, to come down from her affluent abode into the Smales' rickety structure to help me rush through my chores, just so we could have a bit of extra playtime. We'd walk to school together—or, sometimes, skip it altogether (mere attendance in the country was a great achievement), and run off into the barren outskirts to play brilliant make-believe games under the blue sky. We imagined a bustling city in the treeless plains, and fashioned ourselves as successful governors and Presidents, or king and queen. In the winter, brutal northers would hit Hill Country, and after an evening of chores, she and I would drink my mom's hot chocolate over the dining table and draw maps of imaginary cities and creepy countries, from Arkham to Carcosa (the influence of her bookish father). She'd sleep over very often, and I'd occasionally sleep over at the Aikens' as well. We sort of treated our neighboring houses as a single home, freely moving to and fro. We sort of made something out of the middle of nowhere.

    I could write and write about those years: That seemingly infinite, fantastical freedom we found in our small town. But that isn't important. Humans are finite, and we grew up.

  4. In high school, Amy and I all but stopped talking. Maybe it was puberty, or maybe it was politics. She became more rowdy, and I sat back into classic Hill Country conservatism. She whipped up a new circle of friends, and while being at the top of her class, she'd also join the boys at night in vandalizing stores, roughing up people that had affronted them in even the slightest ways, and extorting alcohol in unknown amounts. She would even engage in theft, oftentimes for its own sake, and get into scuffles with the sheriff. For the Bible-thumping, Fundamentalist Hill Country—where even being seen with a bottle of alcohol was blasphemous—these bad morals earned her a bad reputation. At some point, we grew distant enough that we would barely nod to each other while crossing by on the dusty street. I continued going to church.

    My parents passed away in high school from disease. First my mom, then my dad. My aunt and uncle moved in from their dog-run to become my guardians. Amy offered her condolences. But Amy's dad—James Aiken—poured his soul out to me. James Aiken was a childhood friend of my dad. And his death hit James hard: Unlike Amy and I, James Aiken and John Smale maintained their friendship till the latter's death. They were even professional partners (my dad a journalist, James a statesman). During the 30s, as Amy and I drifted apart, James and I became very close. I became a sort of son to him. Of course, I reminded him of my dad.

    He seemed to know more about my dad than I did. I remember, while we were mourning, how he shuffled through his own drawers to find old clippings of my dad's old articles which he admired. He glowingly pointed to an article written in 1930 about oversold investment certificates on an oil field. "Your dad was writing about stuff that was only covered in industry magazines. He's what got my nose on this issue. Who knew, in hindsight, how big of a deal this would be by the end of the decade? Well, people still don't know. That's what I'm trying to get out in Austin."

    It was James Aiken, not Amy Aiken, whom I grew close to in the years leading up to my adulthood. The most important part of this story isn't about who Amy was, but who James was.

  5. In the decades leading up to the 30s, James Aiken was a successful lawyer, to which he owed his affluence and reputation. He stood head and shoulders in status above most of us Hill Country hicks, and he seemed to be a shining example of what countryfolk could become if we read books and attended school. But the Depression, of course, was the great equalizer: At the turn of the decade, he sunk into poverty along with the rest of us, and sufferred all the corresponding disillusionment. He fell into alcoholism, debt, and, given the "high morals" of Hill Country, began to lose much of the town's respect (one may say Amy was just following her father's example).

    In 1933, FDR was elected, and his social programs—along with an energized legislature in Texas—would help us stay afloat. And then in the mid-30s, Mr. Foster (our town's founder, and de-facto mayor) miraculously struck oil in an East Texas field, and charitably used his fortune to aid us as we struggled to reach the end of the decade (my parents, of course, unfortunately didn't manage to make it).

    But before Mr. Foster struck oil, and before FDR was elected, Aiken went to Austin to become a statesman.

    Wielding his past reputation in our district as a respectable lawyer, he won an election to fill an open seat in the Texas state legislature. And once in Congress, he threw himself into the work, whipping up a fire that people felt was much needed. Some may say he was ahead of his time: Ardent New Dealer, anti-segregationist, public power advocate, and very skilled at clashing against proto-McCarthyites. In text, he went even further. Writing for the Federated Press (whose articles were reprinted in newspapers such as the Daily Worker), he went from defending socialist policies to advocating for a sort of collective primitivism, taking inspiration from the Plains Indians that used to rule his own region. Most of these beliefs were highly unpopular in Texas (even opposing segregation was "radical" at the time), and made him into a highly controversial figure. Mostly, newspapers labeled him as a dangerous firebrand, and used him as a target to rail about "Communism" and radicalism. His constituency was no less displeased with his beliefs. He would probably be run out of office once the economy turned around. But this was the Depression, and what was important is that he got the job done: He vigorously pushed for and delivered on getting social programs to his district (and, in part, to Texas as a whole). Hence, he was reelected through the 30s. And colleagues even started to gain a grudging respect for his intellect mixed with his uncompromising politics. He was as notorious of a drunkard in Austin as he was in Foster City, and he would often get into fistfights—in fact, his aides would get used to seeing him enter the office with bruises and cuts. But there was a slight difference: he drunk with political figures that he needed to court, and his fistfights were over political disagreements. And some people saw something more in him: That firebrand reputation might be something that the future would embrace. Perhaps one day he would be able to go to Washington. Maybe he could even be President.

  6. He was certainly ahead of his time, if not for his beliefs (which even I highly disagreed with), then for the fact that he did keep his nose on the oil industry throughout the 30s. The public, nor the press, nor most politicians, had much clue of the manner in which Oil was becoming Big. Using his sleuthy lawyer skills and contacts, he built a sort of legion of tippers throughout the business, kept up on dense industry magazines, and noticed how the fluctuations of oil money were starting to echo into politics.

    One of the men James had befriended was a then obscure Congressman named Lyndon Johnson. It was a natural friendship: After all, they both grew up in the Hill Country, and they were both politicians. And they seemed to be politically aligned: They were both New Dealers, and in fact through Roosevelt's REA, they had cooperated on getting electricity distributed in Hill Country (by 1942, Foster City would finally get its lights). He got to know some members of Johnson's inner circle (including, for instance, a then unknown young man named John Connally).

    And then, Aiken noticed something that most outsiders hadn't at the time.

    In October 1940, an unprecedented amount of money was being funneled, through Lyndon Johnson and his associates' hands, into the Democratic Congressional Committee in Washington. At the time, House Democrats had been historically underfunded, and they certainly needed an influx of money for their campaigns. However, the amount of money that was going in was unbelievable. Cash was being packed into suitcases taking roundabout routes through private planes and cafes to dodge contribution limits (in other words, it was illegal). And he noticed that a huge amount was coming from those very oil independents he had his nose on, and moving up the ladder even higher, he had found a single obscure contracting company—Brown & Root—dictating the effort.

    The new Democratic majority in the House was bittersweet for Aiken. He celebrated, then mourned. We seemed to be approaching a world in which a single company could effectively decide entire elections, not just in Texas but throughout over the United States.

    Then, on April 9, 1941, Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas passed away. Aiken knew what was coming next: Two weeks later, with an endorsement from Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson announced his candidacy for a special election to fill his seat. Then, Governor Lee O'Daniel entered the race as well. Two big oil beneficiaries were about to face off in a Senate election. Aiken knew instantly that oil money would play a unprecedented role in this election, possibly changing Texas and perhaps national politics forever.

    Once this Senate election started, Aiken began working fast, in a sort of panic. What Aiken wanted was a Congressional committee or subcommittee (probably the Rules Committee) to investigate campaign financing. However, Aiken was an Austin statesman. He had some contacts and tippers in Washington, but not influence. Certainly not enough influence to counter an oil lobby. The only way to trigger a serious investigation was by blowing up the issue in the media. And it was even more complicated than that: Even had a committee been formed, it could be stacked (Speaker Sam Rayburn himself was friendly with the oil independents), and hearings could indefinitely be delayed till the issue faded back into obscurity. What needed to happen was for the media to take up the issue and focus on it with an eagle eye.

    The fact that Aiken thought that something like this could be accomplished would seem preposterous. Fighting an oil lobby that also had its hands all over Washington and Texas media was a lost cause to any rationally minded person. However, he seemed to have something up his sleeve. Some kind of big secret.

    I knew this, because I was one of the people he was talking to about this whole affair. It was odd, because I was technically still in high school. Amy and I were graduating on May 1. But my late father and had some notable contacts in the business that would likely cooperate. I, as John Smale's son, could possibly round some of them up to help break the story. Aiken and I thus frequently exchanged mail while he was in Austin, and when he came to visit, we would discuss the matter. And he kept hinting, hinting, that he had a big secret. A secret that would blow up everything.

    While the new month was approaching, while Amy and I were preparing to graduate on May 1, and while the special Senatorial election was starting to kick into gear, Mr. Aiken was working. He was talking to a lot of people, not just me. He was being careful: Keeping his contacts separate, making himself the liasion of information, being careful to prevent leaks to the opposition, making sure this crucial secret wouldn't get out to the wrong people and ruin his chances in some way. As Lyndon was facing off against Pappy, Aiken was working on blowing them both out of the water.

    But on the first of May, the day of his own daughter's graduation, everything would go wrong.

  7. "Mothman! That bundle of black hair falling from Lacrasa, whom you shall recognize by his red eyes. That old Indian God: Whose hunger for buffalo hide, crow feathers, hummingbird feathers, sandhill crane wings and eyes, and human skin was insatiable. And, children, if you do encounter him, do not talk to him. If he talks to you, stay silent. If he offers you something, do not accept it. He may talk to you in your mother's voice, your father's voice, your friend's voice, or your voice. That old pagan evil shall be contained the less we interfere. Tomorrow, daughter shall shame father. No! No! No! I've seen those awful visions that the Indians had: The end of our world, where matter runs obscure from its default direction, slanted slopes bend, acute angles thin into tangents, and monsoons take into dryland. The end: Where waterfalls cease to fall. Where old rivers give way to their beds, and old streams become uncrossable rivers; Mesas crumble, and in the new black, empty landscape that used to be ours walks alone his Earthy figure. There are great games being played. Invisible, incomprehensible, great games being manned by the commander—the ultimate puppeteer, moving his own hairs while he stands on Lake Lhume. No! Please! I don't want this!"

    Ms. Daeth had gone insane in the past few weeks. But it was a timed insanity. Most of the time, she was that bright conversationalist we had all known for years. But lately, thrice a week, when the sun began to set, she would alight the steps of her house dressed in strange costumes and give such horrific performances. Kids, in mischeivous spite of their parents orders, would gather in front under the pink sky in hopes of catching a show. The kids were the messengers.

  8. Including Amy and I, we were a graduating class of 10. That was it. It was a small town, and most children didn't make it through high school. 10 was, in fact, an impressive number by Foster City standards. It was so impressive that it was considered a "big event." The whole town gathered to watch our tiny class graduate.

    The sky was pink, but we were not worried. This was an opportunity for the town to put down their hoes and water buckets. Even Ms. Daeth wrapped up her insane trio of the week and was acting normal. We saw Mr. Aiken arrive just in time from Austin, looking quite drunk and cut-up as he often did, though it seemed he was that much more entertaining. And the ceremony began: Principal Mondaugen's speech was boring and long-winded, but as our class of 10 walked, the air felt bright. It felt good to have the whole town—the people I grew up with—cheering for me as I received my flimsy diploma.

    After we walked, a few others gave speeches. One by Mr. Foster, and then the last one was given by none other than Amy. I was worried about the town's sour opinion of her, but her speech reminded everyone why she was the top of our class. She finished it off with a line too vulgar for our sensibilities: "Make like a hot potato and get your ass out of here," and still earned the laughter and applause of her conservative audience (The dark humor here had to do with the curse of Hill Country: that most of us were probably doomed to spend the rest of our lives here, impoverished). She gave a brief list of thanks that included her parents and a few of her teachers, and some of her current close friends. Part of me was hoping my name would also come up, but it did not.

    After the ceremony, people naturally began to talk. Although I did not speak to Amy that evening, I bumped into her father. Or rather, he bumped into me. Yes, I thought, he was drunk again.

    Despite not being much of a countryman, he had a sort of rugged individualist look: Donning a Stetson like a true Texan, he also wore those typical fresh cuts on his face, and also a bushy beard behind which his lips would scarcely appear to move.

    "Well, Kevin. Congratulations."


    I shook—or wobbled—his gloved hand.

    "You know, it's been a pleasure watching you make it this far."

    "Heh. Didn't think I'd make it."

    "You still have a long way to go."

    "A lot of work to do..."

    "Quite. The world is vast."

    "You want me to conquer the world?"

    "I want you to do what's right."

    I smiled wryly, and he patted me on the shoulder. This was a fairly stupid conversation by his standards. Yes, he was drunk.

    "Take care of my daughter," he said, and lumbered away.

    I saw him talk to Mr. Foster. James looked very surprised that Mr. Foster was engaging with him, although they had talked here and there when James came to visit. They had indeed feuded for a while (the former was unChristian and the latter was an oilman) but I suppose over the past few years they had started to gain a mutual respect for one another.

    As I shook more hands, I looked over to Ms. Daeth. She looked somewhat nervous. Perhaps those snippets of her sermons had gotten to me, but I did not enjoy watching Mr. Aiken lumber and stumble around. He looked too defenseless. His wife certainly looked embarassed.

    The Aikens retreated to their house soon after the ceremony. Amy had to be dragged away by her mom from a circle of peers and boys.

    For the rest of us, the post-graduation bustle would continue in town for a while. As the sun slowly submerged behind the horizon; and everyone invited each other over for dinner; and the new graduates scaled the city once more that they hoped to but would probably not be able to leave, a la the curse of Hill Country; Foster City wasn't as quiet as it would be on a typical day. I felt accomplished in a way that I hadn't for a while. It had been a hard decade. Maybe what I, and many others, felt most was relief. We had made it this far, somehow. With a bit of luck and hard work, we made it this far. The economy was finally turning around, and perhaps so were our lives. We were celebrating.

    And over the next hour or so, if there had been any noises coming from the Aiken house, we did not notice it, because the ruckus of the evening would have drowned it out. If there had been screams coming from the Aiken house, we were hardly conscious of it, because teenagers and kids themselves were yelling and yelping into the pink sky. If something was happening in the Aiken house that evening, we were not aware of it.

    But when a posse of fledgling women, worried that their beloved friend Amy was missing out on all the fun, knocked on that door, they would find the aftermath.

    As they later testified, no one answered when they knocked, but Foster City was an open door community. Rickety Foster City doors rarely had locks, and what locks did exist were rarely used. And thus they casually let themselves into the Aiken household as they were used to doing—in a similar manner as I had been used to doing during my childhood. What followed was a cacophany of yelling, as the girls bolted in all directions screaming for help.

    "God! Amy! Amy's...! Mr. Aiken!", they were yelling.

    Something turned in my stomach. I felt immense dread.

    I sprinted towards the house. And I will admit, in spite of myself, as I ran towards the Aiken house, I was thinking of Amy, not James. Some of Mr. Aiken's own complaints over the past few years started flashing through my head.

    "What happened to you two? You used to get along together so well."

    "You know, Kevin, seeing you two together, I used to think, wow they may be even closer than John and I were. You two were always together. It's very surreal to me that you aren't talking much anymore."

    I used to just brush these awkward comments aside. But as I ran toward the house where half my childhood was spent, I swallowed it all at once.

    I reached the house before anyone else, and entered its nostalgic interior to witness the scene.

    It was on the sofa.

    I identified Amy sitting on the far end of the sofa, bruised, cut, dress bloodied, and crying.


    And next to her, something else was sitting. It was a corpse.


    And from her whimpers, I took it to be none other than the corpse of James Aiken.

    But it was so mangled, so beaten in, so toyed with, that it left nothing of his image. Nearly all the skin was removed, leaving a fleshy, boney mess. The hands and feet were sawed off and missing, and much of the corpse's innards—brains, intestines, teeth, tongue—were visible, spilling out onto its lap in a disgusting mound.

    I looked away from the sofa, only to see on the floor James's scalp, and the cleanly removed skin of his face, with his sliced off genitals stuffed between his lips.

    And finally, beside it, a sign that read:





    In the midst of my disgust and grief over the death and possible torture of my second father, had I felt any relief thinking that I hadn't lost Amy? If so, it would have been ruined had I known that there would be only days remaining until Amy Aiken herself would be said to disappear. And that even as the countdown began, it was already too late.

← Intro Day 1 →