It Never Dies: Cobra Kai Season Three

We thought 2019 was a Cruel Summer.

But then 2020 happened.

Infinity Warriors, you know the drill about this. There are no spoilers in this dojo. Or, rather, no spoilers are allowed out of this dojo.

Where do I even begin with Season Three of Cobra Kai? After waiting for long, after everything that happened in the previous season, it was almost too much to bear.

This series has been excellent. Its creators, Robert Mark Kamen and Josh Heald found the chi — or qi point — between nostalgia from the original Karate Kid films, and building a continuous legacy. You get to see how the events of the past 1980s films, at least so far, affect everyone and everything in Reseda, Los Angeles, California. Each character, from Johnny Lawrence to Daniel LaRusso is given character development decades beyond their film appearances, and their current lives make sense. Johnny attempts to find balance and redemption in a wise-ass way, while Daniel also tries to honour his late mentor and father-figure Mr. Miyagi by passing on his Okinawan karate martial arts to the next generation.

The Balance isn’t an easy one. The story lines with the younger generations, even the older characters are by necessity dramatic, almost soap opera-like in scope: especially when you factor into it teenage friendships and romances. Also, martial arts are depicted as almost superhuman feats: with teenagers smashes themselves into glass and wooden surfaces with only bruises and cuts, and continuing to rain blows down with near eternal amounts of fortitude and endurance … with one grievous exception that ended the last season.

I almost used the term Wuxia here, which confuses matters further when you consider that it is a Chinese genre of martial arts heroes, or chivalry where you get to see the interconnection of relationships between characters, spectacular combat, and their place in societies with unjust or incompetent governing bodies and situations that must be addressed.

Cobra Kai is a near-Wuxia story about teenagers and their adult mentors fighting each other, allying with one another, and navigating the clueless and sometimes opportunistic social strata of the Valley. And it also deals with consequences, made all the more challenging when you consider that the series has to navigate being both a drama and a comedy.

For instance, Johnny Lawrence losing his dojo to his malevolent former mentor Kreese, his prize pupil being critically injured by his alienated son, and everyone leaving him despite attempting to turn his life around could have continued in a darker way, but the show doesn’t allow for that: yet it allows Johnny to process, and deal with these matters in a way that fits in his character. He goes out there and tries to repair the damage, tries to step up in the most abrasive and ridiculous manners possible but you never doubt his heart.

And Daniel LaRusso nearly loses his business, and has to — at least temporarily — give up on his dream to pass on Mr. Miyagi’s Art — Miyagi-Do — after Robby, his first pupil since his own daughter, nearly kills Miguel. He goes to Japan, and then eventually Okinawa where he meets his graceful dancer former love Kumiko, and the reformed and seemingly taciturn Chozen. For me, this is … I loved the entire arc of this season, but it is one of my favourite scenes, where you remember that Chozen was the nephew of Sato, who had almost learned what would be called Miyagi-Do by Mr. Miyagi at his side. He has knowledge of techniques that you see in the other seasons Daniel is lacking: mainly anything to do with chi-disabling, or even healing. Seeing Daniel realize this and that circular journey that links back to his business, that Balance, is a beautiful moment. It makes me wonder if he will ever be Mr. Miyagi’s equal in terms of ability.

Chozen’s redemption makes sense as well. He’s come a long way from that aggressive, angry boy that carried his uncle’s grudge and turned on Kumiko when his uncle all but renounced his old ways. It’s good to know Sato didn’t abandon him, and left him the legacy of Miyagi-Do which makes a nice moment and call-back with Daniel.

A lot of this arc is about healing and reconciliation. Johnny tries to do so with his estranged son Robb, but something always comes in the way. But it is with Miguel, who let’s face it, is his son in all but blood and helping him recover from what seems to be a spinal injury from his fight in Season Two, that heals the both of them.

I even like the fact that we see Samantha, Daniel’s daughter, coping with PTSD from the karate fight at the school and her injuries at Tory’s hands. And Tory becomes something of a spectre of the fear of defeat and pain for Samantha, a legacy of Cobra Kai dojo. She even goes as far as crashing a Christmas Party attempting to reconcile Miyagi-Do with Johnny’s new Eagle Fang dojo with former Cobra Kai members : wearing a sweatshirt with a skeleton reminiscent of the Halloween costume Johnny wore when he attacked Daniel as boy, and I believe even Miguel wears this later. This callback is so elegantly done, and how it should be applied in cinematic storytelling in my opinion.

I like how there are three dojos now, even if the Eagle-Fangs are a bit … weird. Hell, I also appreciate the fact that Demetri gets the arrogant popular girl Yasmine to … sign his cast, and they seem to be dating. Demetri is probably the most I can relate to the show because I grew up with motor-skills issues, and had trouble learning martial arts as a result: if only because my brain has more activity processing information over my body. I was, however, more like Hawk in his initial temperament, before he took the wrong messages from Cobrai Kai and then Kreese getting to him.

Hawk’s own redemption makes sense as he sees himself fighting along side the same bullies that used to torment him. I think the turning point is when Demetri torments him with the fact that his former girlfriend loved him before he became a jerk, and then afterwards when he breaks Demetri’s arm. He finally just … can’t take it anymore. He realizes what Kreese’s Cobra Kai ultimately is, and he actually returns back to his friend’s side.

I am curious to see how Eagle Fang, if it lasts, and Miyagi-Do reconcile their Arts together — extreme defense and possible chi-discipline, and offense as defense with extreme survivalist training regimens.

But there are some things that are irreconcilable. And one of these is John Kresse’s Cobra Kai.

I thought there would be few surprises after the last Season. I believed that this season Daniel might have found out that Miyagi-Do and the Korean Tang Soo Do had a common origin: that Kim Sun-Yung, the practitioner of the latter style learned a variant from Okinawa. Or that he made Cobra Kai, and Kreese and Silver stole and perverted it to their own ends. And while this so far proved not to be true, some of that theory of mine panned out in that Chozen explained to Daniel that the people of Okinawa practiced Miyagi-Do in a disabling offensive, and the implication is that Mr. Miyagi did know this history and these techniques but chose not to teach Daniel because he didn’t think he was ready, and he didn’t want to train a child in the arts of war.

I always thought Kim Sun-Yung taught Kreese and Silver Tang Soo Do, or at least the original Cobra Kai techniques. But we find out differently. Cobra Kai has essentially been almost every character’s martial arts origin story: how they encounter it, and it changes them. What we are gradually introduced to, through this season, is the story of Kreese’s Start of Darkness.

And … I never thought I’d feel bad for Kreese. I didn’t even feel bad for him when he was homeless and Johnny found him. But the show creators make a double feint. They make you think, in the 1960s flashback, that this jock being an asshole to a young girl named Betsy is Kreese, but Kreese is really a diner employee whose mother died after a lengthy mental illness. You might also believe he is already dangerous, but Kreese is a boy that is constantly bullied, and tormented: who just wants to belong and even get acknowledgement. You are made to genuinely feel for him, and when he beats the hell out of those bullies, and Betsy comes to his side, you root for him. I never thought I’d root for Kreese beyond seeing a villain doing evil things.

It’s scary, when he tells Betsy on his way to basic military training to improve his life, that he will come back “a hero” and you know what he will return as the very opposite.

Even when he is sent to Vietnam, he’s still idealistic. He has genuine friends and brothers in the American Army there. We find out, at least at the time, that he and Silver weren’t trained by Kim Sun-Yung, but Kim Sun-Yung trained their commanding officer Captain Turner during the Korean War: who ended up training them. He keeps getting photos and letters from Betsy. He plans to return to her.

And then, everything turns to shit. On a special mission, both Silver and Kreese refuse to detonate a Viet Cong base with Silver inside and they are all captured. The Viet Cong soldiers force their prisoners to fight to the death on a bridge over a pit for their sadistic amusement. Kreese’s superior scolds them and says the reason they are even there, is because Kreese showed mercy and he is thus weak.

Then, Kreese volunteers to fight their former commander in Silver’s place — and you see why Silver owes Kreese his life — only to find out he had a letter where Betsy died in a car crash. This is enough. It sets Kreese over the edge as his former commander tries to kill him, saying “he has nothing left to live for.” And even when American reinforcements come in, Kreese decides — in that one defining character moment — to throw Captain Turner, who was all too willing to kill him, into the pit.

Of cobras.

It makes you wonder, much in the way I wondered what would have happened if Daniel and Johnny knew each other before the events of The Karate Kid — when we find out Johnny was a geeky kid bullied and humiliated by his rich, cold, arrogant stepfather — what would have happened if Mr. Miyagi had met young Kreese, or if the other characters could have seen him then. Or what young Kreese would think if he could see what he has become.

It also makes me wonder what would have happened if Betsy hadn’t died, or Kreese hadn’t gone to Vietnam. I always thought he had simply had a desk job or he exaggerated about his time in the Green Berets. I truly believed Kreese had been a coward, but seeing what happened to him doesn’t take away from his maliciousness or his evil. Even villains are human beings. I like to think that when he saw what Tory’s landlord was attempting to do to her, and he remembered Betsy and her former boyfriend, there was a small part of that young, tormented man left: somewhere in there.

But, I could argue that John died in Vietnam: with Betsy and his innocence. What came back was Kreese. What returned was Cobra Kai.

I do feel sympathy for the man Kreese used to be. He was used by the American military industrial complex and discarded, a weapon left to his own devices. He is the subversion of the macho American soldier-hero: venerated and despised. More than Rambo, as Daniel’s wife derisively calls him, this is a realistic, damaged version of what an action hero — once charming and bad-ass, even still having those qualities — would be like.

Moreover, this depiction of Kreese in the American military shows you that the conflict between forces like Miyagi-Do and Cobra Kai is older than the rivalry between Johnny and Daniel. It is a struggle between the ideals of self-defense, and a powerful and aggressive offensive. However, I also consider that Mr. Miyagi had to leave his first love in Okinawa when his friend and brother turned on him, that he had been interned with his wife and family in America, that his wife and child died in the camps while he was fighting for the country that imprisoned them, and how he did not turn bitter and hateful. He didn’t turn into a monster. He didn’t embrace his demons. We see Mr. Miyagi mourning his wife and child in the first Karate Kid film, but he still maintains his compassion and seeks to help others .. just as we see that, while he saved Daniel through his guidance and training, Daniel saved him too by being his friend and surrogate son.

Perhaps it’s because Mr. Miyagi learned martial arts during peace among his family, from his father, while Kreese learned it in one of America’s most contested wars. But even that isn’t true when you consider that Mr. Miyagi taught his commanding officer Lieutenant Pierce martial arts during WWII according to The Next Karate Kid, and the man did not seem to have turned into the cruel monster that Kreese became.

This whole season is excellent. Because karate, or martial arts, is used as a metaphor here. While in Season Two it had become a tool to talk about violence in American schools as something of a messy mixed metaphor — and the show and the original films eternally focus on the themes of bullying and abuse — Kreese’s Cobra Kai, with its terrorist tactics, and social undermining, with its survival of the strong, might as well be fascist. Miyagi-Do and what becomes Eagle Fang are people and ideologies against each other, but both want to help people who are outcast and lost — the youth and next generation — in the Valley.

You have a community that equates them all together as the same, all dangerous, and do almost nothing to stop them: while also going as far as to give bullies and abusers equal time and care, a tone-off approach to bullying. But it’s only when both the Miyagi-Do and Eagle Fang spectrums unite to defend themselves, and also have a place to face off against the malignancy of Cobra Kai that we realize this series isn’t over yet. The battle has only begun, and it is a process. An event.

It’s timely, what Cobra Kai does with this metaphor of martial arts, and it makes me miss the days when I practiced them. And this conflict, this struggle for Balance, this cycle of success and failure, of battles with one’s inner demons and adversity never ends.

It will never die.

The Child is Star Wars

To all fellow former Infinity Warriors, and that would probably be most of you reading this, don’t read any further unless you have finished watching Season Two of The Mandalorian. Spoiler Alert.

Have you done so?

Good.

I first started watching Star Wars, the Old Trilogy, when I was about twelve. I’ve mentioned how my parents took us to Hollywood Movies, and we rented the VHS tapes. Before that, I grew up with Ewoks and Droids playing on Channel 3 Global Television whenever I went to my grandparents’ place that Saturday afternoon. Around that same time, and in that same area we would visit my uncle’s house and I would play with a giant shelved container shaped like Darth Vader’s helmet. In this container were action figures of Bossk, and IG-88, and a Snowtrooper. There were many toys missing. They looked old and, literally, from another world and another time. And I saw these labels on each alcove: Obi-Wan Kenobi and See-Threepio. It confused me, then. Was Obi-Wan a droid like Threepio?

It’s safe to say that I grew up with a lot of mysteries and a sense of magic in a world that didn’t really make sense, but seemed larger than I could even dream. And this was before I watched A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.

This was before I knew anything.

The Old Trilogy exploded my mind. This space fantasy shaped my brain forever once I saw it: from the crucible of the desert world of Tatooine, to the stark terror and mythology of Dagobah’s Jedi training to the horrifying duel over Bespin, and the redemption and celebration on the forested moon of Endor where my Ewok friends lived in a live-action sense.

And they grew on me: Princess Leia with her assertive power and fierce love and determination, Han Solo overcoming his world-weary cynical nature to save his friends and be a better person, and Luke. Luke Skywalker.

So many of us, I think, from that time saw ourselves in Luke. We followed this young man, this boy, who knew nothing about the world — much like us — as he continued making mistakes, but forever showed his loyalty, always persevering, always wrestling with his emotions to do the right thing. We saw his wonder as he looked at a lightsaber for the first time, the same time that we did. We felt his pain when he saw the charred remains of his aunt and uncle, and that sense of powerlessness in realizing just how brutal the galaxy was. And we were happy when he found his friends, when he started getting better at his Jedi training, and we were worried when Obi-Wan was gone, and wondered just how someone who could barely deflect the blaster bolt of a training remote and then pull a lightsaber to him on Hoth could fight Darth Vader.

I remember just his sense of frustration, and fear. It felt so real to me. But the fear wasn’t just for his life, or the lives of his friends and those he fought for. It was the fear that all he would ever get would be these scraps of a life and a tradition — of great and beautiful arts, powerful cultural tools — that his father had, and that he might not succeed in earning. It was the actual vicarious terror of seeing that there was a chance that Luke might not achieve or realize his full potential, and that he could fail.

Being a perfectionist child with learning disabilities and clear neurodiversity and frustration over my body’s cooperation with my mind, I could feel that so hard, and it made me root for Luke whenever he succeeded, kicked shlebs, and took names.

When Obi-Wan’s spirit told him that he couldn’t — or wouldn’t — help him if went to Cloud City to face Vader before his training, after his failure understanding his vision in the Dark Side Cave, I felt Luke’s frustration. Why wouldn’t Obi-Wan, his mentor and friend, help him against his enemy? And watching Luke lose … so badly, so brutally … I’ve written about it before, how I grew up on eighties and nineties cartoons where the hero always wins their conflicts and the villain runs away to fight another day, or gets put in jail. That didn’t happen. And then the way Luke received that reveal …

Luke didn’t learn from his failure at the Cave on Dagobah. But he learned from his encounter on Cloud City. I knew that Vader was Luke’s father going into this, as it’s been so seeded into the popular consciousness for years, but I didn’t know about Leia. And I didn’t know what was going to happen on the Second Death Star: another subversion of expectations, after so much lead up that ultimately paid off. And then we see Luke at the end: rescuing his father, only to lose him, but not really lose him in a metaphysical sense.

Leia and Han succeeded in their mission on Endor. They became a couple. The Ewoks dominated. The Empire was defeated. Luke had to “pass on what he had learned” and a whole new story began after the ending of an old one. This was in 1983. I watched these in the nineties after being confused about the numbering system.

We did not see another Star Wars film until 1999.

I want you to understand something. Many of us, and I am mostly speaking about myself though I know others felt the same way, wanted to see what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han. We wanted to see Han become a General of the Republic or continue to have adventures. We wanted to see Leia rule the New Republic, and the decisions she would make, and the life she and Han would have together.

And, most of all, I wanted to see Luke become a Jedi Master. I wanted to see him restore the Jedi Order, and what his Jedi would be like. I thought about all the enemies they could face, the challenges, and I just … I wanted to see my friends again.

I just wanted to see my friends again.

And we got that, in a way. We got it through Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy, where Obi-Wan’s spirit tells Luke that he isn’t the last of the old Jedi, but the first of the new. We got more of it in further books of varying quality, comics, and video games. Not all of the continuity made sense, but we got the idea that Leia was the Chief of State of the New Republic, Han became a General, and he and Leia had children together that would carry on the legacy and burden of the Skywalkers. And Luke would become a powerful Jedi Grandmaster, and meet with all the remnants of the old Jedi and new Force-sensitives to build something entirely different: exploring the remnants of the old ways, giving us those hints of what time was like before the Empire and when the Jedi were numerous and whole, and showing us just how our hero evolved.

Luke would go on to fight many different adversaries, make mistakes, but always try to redeem those he could from Darkness. He even gets a love interest, after several disastrous relationships, who initially wants to assassinate him but has a son with her. And there were books that took place long after Luke’s time with Skywalker descendants and successor governments to the Republic and Empire, and a myriad of different ideas. There were cool books like Tales of the Jedi and Tales of the Bounty Hunters that fleshed out so much background stuff.

The thing is, this is all we had — for the most part — for literal years, and it was okay. We got to see our friends continue to struggle, but also grow. Was there a sense that nothing could happen to the Big Three? Of course. And I admit that could get tiresome. But they were … they were my friends growing up in a real world that, like I said, didn’t always make much sense. And I would have loved to see them come back in a Sequel Trilogy.

It wasn’t Disney’s fault that we didn’t get to see the Big Three together on film again. George Lucas was the one who made the decision to focus on the Prequel Trilogy. I’ve written on here before about an alternate reality where Lucas and Lucasfilm had made interquel cartoons while he perfected the technology for the Prequels. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if Lucas had made the Sequel Trilogy instead of the Prequels.

Unfortunately, we learned a lot over the years about George Lucas and, while his ideas and insights were good, a lack of oversight made his narratives unwieldy and his character and actor direction even worse. George Lucas wasn’t perfect, and the Prequels certainly were not even though I will always be grateful to him and his collaborators for creating the Star Wars universe.

So when Disney bought LucasFilm and made the Sequel Trilogy instead, I knew it was too late for Leia, Han, and Luke to be the protagonists. Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill were older then, and it was a better bet to have them as mentor characters to pass on what they had learned to the next generation.

I think the unease began with me when they rendered what was the Expanded Universe — all those books, cartoons, comics, and games — into non-canon status: into Legends. At the same time, I felt like there was an opportunity there: to tell a new story, and utilize the wealth of material there to do so, which seemed to be the plan.

The Force Awakens was like a breath of fresh air: with characters that had proper dialogue, great chemistry and interactions, much more subdued CGI and just that more lived in world that we had grown up with. And J.J. Abrams set up so many possibilities and questions. What happened to this world? Why was Leia leading a Resistance? Why did Han leave on his own with Chewbacca? And just what happened to Luke’s Jedi students, and Luke himself?

I have talked about this so much. The Sequel Trilogy, I felt, was supposed to be the heir to Skywalker: literally. It was the successor part to the Skywalker Saga. It had that heritage. Even without George Lucas, it had enough material and people working on it — the company that made it — to make it official. I recall hearing about Rogue One, and Boba Fett, and Obi-Wan, and Solo, and while I felt like they would be interesting, they were films that weren’t part of the Skywalker Saga that I grew up with. I thought of them as distant cousins, or relations that could add to the context of the others, but they were cadet branches of the main line: the central heritage. Some of these films, like Rogue One and Solo happened, and they were entertaining. The other two did not. At least, not at the time.

I reviewed The Force Awakens. I also reviewed Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi. In retrospect, I saw my own experience paralleling this journey. I saw all the other films with other people: my family and friends. I saw The Last Jedi by myself. I saw Solo by myself.

I saw The Rise of Skywalker by myself.

The Last Jedi had some fascinating ideas, and interesting moments, but it is a controversial film, and with good reason. But it wasn’t the issue. It all comes down to the magic of Star Wars, of the Force, of the overarching story, and that sense of continuity. Yes, there were weird elements and oddities displayed throughout the cinematic series, but every scene felt like it wasn’t wasted: like they were telling their own stories, and they were just all interesting. Everything was built up to lead to a particular conclusion of some kind. But when the Sequel Trilogy went on, it became pretty clear that the plan was haphazard at best, and sometimes the message or the moral behind the story became more like transparisteel than actual character interaction, development, and storytelling. When you combine that factor with something that felt standalone added onto other material that led to a conclusion that just … didn’t have the momentum, that wasn’t earned, and felt sloppy and gimmicky, and full of special effects instead the back to basics approach of the first film, the magic was thinning. And the ending …

I think the ending of The Rise of Skywalker is emblematic of Luke Skywalker’s treatment. Because it always comes back to Luke. Imagine seeing a character you relate to, who you grow with, and you know he had a whole ton of stories where he excelled, continued and improved on an entire culture nearly wiped out through genocide, and even had a family and friends and loved ones, and then a company renders that all non-canon. It didn’t happen. And then you are left with someone who has lost everything, including his sense of redemption. And hope.

Luke Skywalker was the New Hope of Star Wars. You could argue Leia Organa was another, but Luke was that optimism despite all the odds, and defeats, that you could just … that many of us could just root for. And an interesting story could have been told about how he lost that hope, and we have a bit of it. Unfortunately … after growing up with the powerful Jedi Grandmaster who made other mistakes, but still recalled the lessons of the past, only to see him repeat them in the new canon films, basically knowing his adventures had been erased and replaced with a characterization that would strike down a boy for something he didn’t even do yet after trying to spare and redeem his mass-murderer father … You can see how it just didn’t sit right.

But around this time, after The Last Jedi and Solo, came … something else.

I didn’t know what to think about The Mandalorian, especially given how ambivalent I was to the idea of a Boba Fett film. I was still struggling with hope that the Sequel Trilogy could find its way after The Last Jedi’s sense of finality, and this series provided a distraction for me, and I imagine for many of us.

It felt … low-tech. It was rendered by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni back to Star Wars’ roots in its Spaghetti Western influences: its weekly serials. There was just more sense of time. More pacing. So much more space to tell a story, and develop characters from simple premises and archetypes into something more. They had nods and Easter-eggs to Star Wars lore and fandom: letting us in on the Secret Club feeling that is an open secret. But it world-built, and slowly revealed mysteries and details to us about the Mandalorians and Mandalorian culture. And Din Djarin and Grogu … Grogu, the Child, was the make it, or break it element of The Mandalorian. He was an obvious reference to Yoda and his own mysterious origins, but also to the Jedi and the Force that we didn’t know would even be involved in this series. He was there for merchandising and fan service and the neoteny of his cuteness, and it could have been as blunt as a Tusken gaderffii stick to the face.

But it worked. Grogu was iconic for the magic of Star Wars. And Din himself mostly stayed in his beskar’gam, his armour. He could have just been a Boba Fett knock-off, or a video game character whose identity the audience could just assume as a surrogate in experiencing this world. But slowly, perceptively, over time we see these two characters bond. And it is endearing. Even their associations with other characters is just entertaining and heartwarming to watch. So many characters I thought would be enemies, became associates and friends. There would be a new story every week, but one that built into something bigger.

It was a slow burn. Season One was all about protecting Grogu and figuring out what the nine Corellian hells was going on. Season Two was about returning Grogu to the Jedi, whoever they were after the Empire purged most of them out of existence. We got to see different kinds of Mandalorians, disillusionment with the Republic, the general independent nature of the Outer Rim, and the genuine danger of even the Imperial Remnants. And we got to see Din’s humanity, and Grogu’s love for him. I felt more for Din and Grogu than I ended feeling for most of the characters in the Sequel Trilogy. Din was a warrior raised by a sect of Mandalorians called the Watch after his parents were killed by Separatist super-battle droids. He earned all of his skill, and even when we run into him he is still earning his beskar: his Mandalorian ore for his armour.

And Grogu? Grogu is hope. He is a child, young for being fifty years old by his species’ standards, but also something of a sacred living relic that survived the genocide of the Jedi all the way to the New Republic to be found again. He is the old, and the new. He has seen, and survived, darkness. And Din recognizes that, and yet protects him — rescues him after retrieving him for his first mission in the series because, at the end of the day, it was the right thing to do, and he was willing to risk his people’s location and turn against the Bounty Hunter Guild’s Code to do so.

The evolution of the characters these past two years, the Star Wars details and eye for continuity, and the continuing mysteries kept me going. It kept me interested. I didn’t like The Rise of Skywalker. At all. To give you an idea, I never reviewed it. Not once. It took my European friends calling me on Discord one day to even get me to talk about it, and I hadn’t said anything about it in a few days. I hadn’t wanted to talk about a Star Wars movie in a few days. I just felt … tired. Drained. Just let down. I almost didn’t even finish Season One of The Mandalorian around that same time. I was down to the last episode. I thought to myself: what was the point? The people and characters I loved for years were gone. They were desolate and disappointed by life. They were too close to what I was now. I just … didn’t want to think about it anymore. I didn’t want to deal with Star Wars anymore.

But then I watched that last episode with IG-11 heroically sacrificing himself for the Child he attempted to kill in the first episode of the whole series, the death of Kuiil the Ugnaught as he tried to protect Grogu, even Greef Karga’s redemption after the Child saved his life, and the disillusioned Republic trooper Cara Dune respecting Din enough after their first adventure and rivalry to help him save Grogu from the Imperials … I felt it then. It saved a part of me. It saved a part of me that loved that magic.

It saved a part of me that loved Star Wars.

And now, I come to the real reason I’m writing this, and reminding everyone that we were all once Infinity Warriors against the forces of Spoilers. Because I saw the last episode of Season Two.

I was already enjoying the series. Seeing Bo-Katan and Ahsoka Tano, and finding out more about Grogu already made the series great, especially with tie-ins to other potential stories in Ahsoka’s standalone live action series. That line about finding Grand Admiral Thrawn took me right back to Timothy Zahn. Hell, even the ending of the last episode and making us really look forward to “The Book of Boba Fett,” either another series or the next chapter to The Mandalorian more than I had ever been excited for a movie around him, was inspiring. The way they reintroduced Boba again, and showed us how bad ass he really was made up for a lot. And resurrecting Fennec Shand after her ignominious death in one episode of Season One, along with a whole development for the mercenary Mayfield really made me appreciate the storytelling. They could have left it there. They really could have.

But then …

They did it.

I remember seeing the X-Wing. And I knew.

I saw the black hooded figure with the green lightsaber, and I knew.

I was looking for that one black glove. And I wanted it to happen. I was downstairs in my basement, screaming at my computer screen. I was yelling at it. Please.

Please.

Please be him.

Please. Be. Him.

He moved like Darth Vader in Rogue One. But where Vader slaughtered Rebel troops, the figure destroyed insanely powerful Dark Trooper droids like they were nothing. He was the pay off of two episodes ago when Grogu was taken by Din to Tython, the supposed homeworld of the sects that led to the Jedi, to summon a Jedi Knight to protect him.

And Grogu reached for the screen, and it was only later I realized he was communicating with the figure telepathically. By the time he came in, to face Din and his companions, and Grogu …

It was him. It was the person we’d read about in books. It was the individual we’d played in games. It was the man we saw fighting alongside his friends in comics. He was young, just as we remembered him, but he had further growth. He was so much stronger. Much more skilled. He’d taken after his father’s fighting style after dueling him. There was CGI on the actor’s face portraying him but the voice was unmistakable.

We got to see Luke. We got to see Luke fight the way we’d always hoped. We got to see him in his process of rebuilding in a cinematic place where he wasn’t crushed by despair, or dissipating after using one momentous Force technique in a process of great metaphor.

We got to see Luke Skywalker again.

And when Din Djarin took off his helmet, against the Watch’s Code, to let Grogu see his face, and touch it when saying goodbye to him … It broke my karking heart. There was joy and sadness in that parting that will hopefully just be a farewell.

A lot of ossik — a lot of shit — has been happening in 2020. This year had been garbage. It is a far harsher crucible than Tatooine or Jakku ever was. These past four years have been pretty bad. It would be so easy to give up. To not care anymore. To just surrender to cynicism and bitterness and disappointment. To just give up hope.

But for one moment, after every Friday morning looking forward to the next episode, at 3 am in my basement I felt a sense of joy and wonder I hadn’t experienced in years. For just forty-seven minutes, I felt like a child again.

Din Djarin was called The Mandalorian, or Mando before we found out his name. And Grogu, when he wasn’t called Baby Yoda, was referred to as The Child. But The Child was not just literal. It was metaphorical. It’s in The Mandalorian that we find out the Star Wars universe has a name for those beings genetically engineered — either cloned or altered — from a previous donor: a strand-cast.

The Mandalorian is a strand-cast of the Star Wars Saga, more continuous than Rogue One and Solo, and almost a whole other species but having more in common with its originator than its supposed biological heir in the Sequel Trilogy. Grogu might be The Child, but I feel that The Mandalorian is The Child of Star Wars.

I know there will be more. It isn’t over yet. Even so, I think about how Din Djarin passed Grogu onto Luke: the Mandalorian fulfilling his almost holy quest, the child relic that is more than foregone story but a living, breathing story of possibilities. And all us — my friends that played our homebrew Star Wars game with Lego those after-school afternoons, the child I was with my old Return of the Jedi writing notebook, and my friend who met us in the park in high school wearing Jedi robes like Luke Skywalker — we got to see our hero again, in all his glory, at least one more time. It was all many of us wanted. And there he was.

So much world-building and meaning in just two seasons of an online serial about a warrior, and his child, and all the people they’ve touched along the way.

Because, in the end, as this continues I feel this truth. That this is the Way.

13: Alternative Facts: Can You See

It’s Fore Hallows at Freed Dome. 
It’s Fore Hallows at Bost. 
It’s Fore Hallows at Blunder. 
It’s Fore Hallows at Sancts Lost.

If you have to ask, 
wear a mask,
better bearer than bare
against the Nats and the Novax,
and the Fall of the Ere. 

It came from Sunder,
it walks in Nomens, 
and travailed the Pasiph League,
the world, the veil, the scien of Predicts,
from here and back it will leave its mark,
it will always bleed.

We member the days
Fore Hallows, it will not die.
It doesn’t long to Hate or Gilder Boom,
no matter how loud they cry. 

Fore Hallows is ours, from Cycle to Pride,
and Badlands far from sun
it comes to gain the oldest harvest 
and the Land, Folk, Fire that we have won.

Fore Hallows, fore State, and Trunk, and Ass,
we wear, in air, our mantles, always, from the time
fore score our face and words come frozen by this rime.

Fore Hallows never cesseeded 
into the glare of blue cover, the white sheets, the plague-bare 
suspended all twili, and grey, 
though its treats were grim, and cold tricks came its faire
come fallen where they lay. 

This is why, past the Dark we don’t member,
we will always ask 
that every Cycle, tween the Poles,
that we parti-pate a Great Unmask. 

Populli, Fore Hallows, ‘tend to be things
but let things not be populli, Abominate upon boght wings. 

A hush wind breath blows not in the bellows 
of louder miens  and means thrown down,
it might be now the time of ere, and auctumn
but ne’er forget the Revolution of the Orange frown.

Fore agon the idea in the making of hollowed leaves a crown,
and member that Fall every populli shows and knows
that the Precedent wears no clothes. 
Recall the Broken Star on a stalk of holly,
cover your breath, but not your eyes from this great old folly.

Fore Hallows now Hindsight,
Fore Hallows the Festive of the Open Track,
Fore Hallows for good or ill, 
let it be the begun again the Doom of Amarak. 

© Matthew Kirshenblatt, 2020

The Horror Doctor

So I actually did it.

I wanted to put a few more things on my Blog before linking it here, but I finally made The Horror Doctor.

I find when you make a Blog, a lot of it is about creating content, but it’s also about organizing and curating it: to make it accessible, or at the very least to know what kind of theme you are going for. In my case, I just had a lot of thoughts about horror and weird stories, and some of these just didn’t completely fit on Mythic Bios.

Or maybe that’s not entirely accurate. You see, I’ve written a lot on Mythic Bios. And I mean … a lot. So much so, that I feel like for something like the Horror Doctor, I needed something more streamlined, more specific, with which to deal with that particular content. It’s not a replacement for this Blog by any means, and it’s not meant to be.

What is interesting is that in creating The Horror Doctor, I’ve gotten to apply a few things I’ve learned over the years writing for Sequart, GeekPr0n, and this Blog. At the moment, The Horror Doctor feels like something between a review and fanzine, but it also inherits a lot from what I’ve attempted to do on Mythic Bios: in showing my creativity and analytics in process. Whereas Mythic Bios has sometimes showed my “behind the scenes” or “backstage” elements of my story writing, I kind of drifted away from it over time.

The Horror Doctor kind of reminds me of my first days making Mythic Bios into an online Blog, where I was just inspired and driven to write an article on here almost every day. It changed, of course, over time given that you need to pace yourself, and not overwork your brain to death. Even now, I’m slowly down a bit, but I have a few thoughts that I can still write down.

But I guess The Horror Doctor was a long time in the making. Essentially, it’s me writing reviews and creative homages to films and other horror and weird properties that I’ve watched for the first time, or had thoughts about in recent times. I’ve said it a million times already, but it’s like being Victor Frankenstein — with hopefully minus the deadbeat creator aspect — in that I am pretending to be a mad scientist without an MD (or a PhD for that matter) dissecting and reassembling different subject matter under my constantly growing auspices.

Why I made it, well … watching Joe Bob Briggs’ The Last Drive-In on Shudder helped, but in a way it’s the end result of spiritual inspiration from Kaarina Wilson. I’ve wrote about her a lot. I don’t know if or when I will stop writing about her, to be honest. We were originally going to make a collaborative blog together on Blogger called twosides. In the end, she wrote more in there than I did. But after she passed away, I realized I was still logged onto there as a co-creator. I read all the stuff she made, which wasn’t much, and I remembered that she wanted us to work together on something. I also recalled how much she believed that I could write about horror: to the point of encouraging me to talk to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival about writing for them.

Neither of these things happened. Originally, I was going to write in our old Blogger account and create The Horror Doctor there. In retrospect, there are probably more than a few subconscious reasons I chose that Blog name, but the fact is Blogger was just too basic — too old — to do anything with.

Of course, WordPress has changed over time as well. I know it’s not the same as I when I started back in 2012, but it is still kept up and updated, and I know how to use it on a basic level. I decided to start fresh, to make my own domain for both my Blogs, and a place for all of my things. So even though I feel like when I watch some horror classics or obscurities for the first time, I am watching it for both myself and Kaarina, the creation is all me: this is what I have been primarily doing with my time during this Pandemic.

I don’t know what else to add. I think The Horror Doctor is a good place to practice my writing ethic. I have already taken to curating but also rewriting and editing works there, taking my time, and considering what I want to do. It’s another step towards … something.

I will be reblogging some of my horror content from this Blog onto The Horror Doctor into both my “Dissections and Speculatives” and “Strains and Mutations” Categories (reviews and fanfiction), so there will be some interlap. In the meantime, I hope that everyone is holding up well. Take care all.

There are a few of you that have followed me for a long time here, some of you who still remain, or just discovered me. If you are into horror and weird stories, graphic  explicit, and twisted things, and you like how my brain works in general — and you like all of these things — please come and read my work at The Horror Doctor. Hopefully, if you are not educated by someone still learning the genre, you will at least be entertained.

Horror Experiment and My Newest Challenge

So this is something of a follow-up from my previous Blog entry “My Curve” that you can find by just scrolling back.

I’ve been thinking about the horror genre lately, particularly with regards to film, but being the person I am I also relate it back to horror writing. Better minds than mine have looked at horror and defined it through scholarship, or creativity. But after particularly focusing on cinematic horror, I see that there are so many different kinds of stories and storytelling, as well as production value, that make up the genre.

Some of it is psychological, or bodily, or just gore. Other parts of it are philosophical, or tacky, or just plain strange. It’s like how the comics medium has schlock and fine art, and all the variants in-between. You can find this in any genre or medium, I’m sure, but perhaps it’s because of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival and its bent on what I think in my mind as “weird movies” that I tend to view cinematic horror along these lenses. I mean, the Toronto After Dark particularly focuses on independent — or indie — films, both short and long-form, but I tend to see horror cinema in that spectrum between ridiculousness and campy-themed features, and sophisticated, and nuanced with some cathartic elements that could easily have their roots in ancient tragedy. Then again, some of the antics that happen in horror film can easily be found in old Dionysian slapstick become comedy as well, and there is a reason I feel why some comedians, like Jordan Peele, can make such great horror social commentaries. I always get the feel of observing, and playing with, glorious pulp with these “weird films.”

I’m not writing anything new here. But I think maybe it’s because of the pandemic and thinking about medicine and doctors, as well as my own critical skills, that an idea occurred to me.

It began when Joe Bob Briggs said that a film had been reviewing for The Last Drive-In would soon be out of circulation on Shudder. This happens a lot, where AMC — the company that owns Shudder — will have the rights to show the films for a while, and then they will be gone. I also know that Shudder in different countries can generally only show those films in the countries where the copyright exists. So as a result some of The Last Drive-In episodes aren’t available anymore. And Shudder isn’t always clear on when they will disappear like a ghost in the rain.

So I went to watch this particular film that would soon be gone from Shudder. And … This was interesting. It was an old film, but seemed older given the terrible production value. It had a lot of great ideas, but the way they were carried out, combined with the said production value, and a “too many cooks” of characters and ideas, it just got weird, and unfocused, and out of control. Sometimes art happens by accident. Sometimes, disasters do as well. I think that’s what horror does. It makes things messy and sometimes there is order in it, and other times it can just become senseless.

So it was after watching this film, complete with commentary, that I started to really think about what worked in it, what could work in it, and what didn’t. And then I did something that I learned to do as a Humanities Graduate student, and a creator myself. I began to think more about how it could work, and how to make it work. Think of it as something of a script-doctor inclination, except I would convert it into a story. Into glorified fanfiction.

And I began to think to myself, there are other films like these out there. I’m not talking about modern ones, or ones that have their own logic. I mean ones that could have their own logic and consistency, old and forgotten films, or smaller ones that could just been tweaked in some way. And, of course — and most importantly — I would not be doing it for money, or profit.

It’s an extensive idea, to do some Horror-Doctoring. And obviously, my tastes are my own, but I would need to make the revisions or “remakes” consistent with what they are, to go back to the theme of the entire film, and the tone, and make it more cohesive, snappier, and just entertaining. Disqualified from this possible experiment would be more well-known or mainstream works, and films that are focused and cogent. I can always write separate fanfiction for those, as I always have.

I am not knocking them, and I appreciate them for what they are — flaws and all — and I would definitely not mess with something like The Room, which isn’t horror, and is so in its own league of weird reality and insanity that it needs to stay there.

But I have a candidate — or specimen — lined up already. And it’s eerie how my ideas are working. I began thinking about it before, and then I was sending these thoughts to a friend whom I got to watch it before adding more notes to myself.

I might post it up. And depending on how well it is received, I might continue with those experiments. I might also not do it. My focus is more mutable these days, but it’d be cool to post a column or section on “Horror-Doctoring” on here, or make something and then create something entirely original from the previous specimen that I can use in other places.

Basically, I am getting inspirational fuel which is a start into returning to the process of creation where I need to be. To engage both my critical and synthetic brains. To continue my experiments with the mess to make something else entirely. I will keep you posted.

My Curve

My tagline should become “it’s been a while.”

I find so many ways of saying the same thing. It’s been a hard couple of months. Sometimes, it feels like it’s been a thousand years, though I have also read some writers stating that this period in our history is an eternal present: an in-held breath that keeps going until, inevitably, there will be a release of some kind.

In my personal life, I’ve been having something of the same process. March 13 was the last time I’d been downtown. I knew about the pandemic and the quarantine on March 11, but a few days later I went back to my parents’ place, and knew I would be going into hermit-mode again.

I had few illusions about that. I knew it would be more than two or three weeks of quarantine. It was hard in the beginning as I had been going out more. For the first week, I didn’t go outside at all: not even for a walk. I had this plan that I would not go outside at all until all of this was over, or even past it. I’ve gone long stretches of time without going out of my house or wherever I was living, and I thought to go back to it. I lasted over a week like that, before it got too much.

After that, was a string of misfortunes. The end of a relationship, and the death of a pet. Even then, I felt like I was accepting that something was changing, that I was at a shift — or we were at a shift — that once it was done we would never be the same again. And just when I felt like I was beginning to be free, to shed that past dead weight, everything else went side-ways, as a friend of mine used to say.

When Kaarina passed away, I was in this twilight place. I’d known beforehand, as I already wrote about I’m sure, but I was going to bed at seven or eight in the morning. I wasn’t sleeping. I was talking on the phone, or online in an almost drunken manner. Sometimes I could focus, and other times I was out in my own world. It was just these glittering pieces in the dark, metaphorically speaking. I felt both detached, and angry, drifting, and sad. I kept a list in my head of things I wanted to do, or say to people, before the pandemic and I fulfilled them slowly over that time as I began to become more stable again.

I talked with my therapist on the phone, something I should continue to do. My friends have been going through their own losses as well. It’s like the darkest, suckiest stuff that was waiting to happen before the pandemic decided since things were already bad they’d might as well all come out to play.

During this time, I wrote some stuff about Kaarina, did some roleplays with my friends that still can online, and not much else. I marathoned Freeform’s Sirens for a while, and then continued watching Motherland: Fort Salem. I know that for a while, I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, especially in the beginning month of all this — suffocation and being terrified of getting sick. Sometimes, I still cycle through that, and there might be some medical issues I will have to deal with that aren’t related to the plague.

I don’t know when it happened exactly. Once the suffocation, the anxiety, the despair, the empty feeling, the frenzied feeling, all wore off it began to level out. To meet a curve if you want to borrow a popular phase now.

One day, I found out Joe Bob Briggs’ and Shudder’s The Last Drive-In was coming back. I’d missed the last season, as that had been another year of turmoil. I did catch one part where one of the Halloween films was being played, and I had created a theory on Twitter that Dr. Loomis had experimented on Michael Myers already altered physiology and psychology, and that was the reason he wanted to kill him so badly. It never get quoted on the show, but I had fun that night. I’d heard of Joe Bob from James Rolfe’s Cinemassacre channel ages before, and I had to check it out. Also, Diana Prince — who plays Darcy the Mailgirl — was someone I’d started interacting with on Twitter and Instagram along with other fans from time to time.

My usual D&D game days are cancelled for the foreseeable future, and I am obviously not breaking quarantine. I decided to experiment and watch an entire run of The Last Drive-In. I liked the format of the first episode in Season One, with the film Tourist Trap with a telekinetic who likes to create wax beings, and I wanted to see what a live marathon would be like while live-Tweeting.

It was hard. I didn’t pace myself, and there were no commercial breaks. I admit that while I had fun that first episode, the five hours locked my body down, and I didn’t feel well. I considered just seeing one part of the episode next time, and looking at the rest when recorded on Shudder. But then, the next week came and after having most of my food, and some commercial breaks, as well as knowing when take some of my own, I did much better. I absolutely loved Maniac with those creepy mannequins, and it was the first time I’d seen Heathers: and I adored it.

This past week, there was Brain Damage and Deep Red as well, the former I surprisingly enjoyed and make a few good one-liners on Twitter. Deep Red was harder to follow, and I tried to make sense of it, and … maybe one day I might. I really liked interacting with the other fans on Twitter, and just the feeling of watching something, some ridiculous, sometimes awesome films with people while listening to Joe Bob’s anecdotes and facts. I don’t agree with everything Joe Bob says, and certainly I know that I loved A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night more than he seemed to in the earlier seasons — though I do have a weakness to towards “art-films” — but I can appreciate what he brings to the show.

I just, for a few moments, not only did I recapture what it was like to watch strange films, horror movies, with friends, but to have it at a fixed point, to come to that time and actually accomplish it. I know the show is on from 9 pm to 2 am on Friday evenings, and I attend them and get through it, and even interact. It’s a combination of observation, entertainment, writing, and socializing with a good meal. And it helps. It helps to feel that sense of accomplishment in doing that, and that sense of positive reinforcement.

And, whenever I watch The Last Drive-In, or any horror films, I feel like I am watching them with Kaarina: for the two of us. We used to go to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival together, and then watch Twilight Zone before bed. And I curated a whole Shudder account for her when she was in a medically-induced coma in hopes of presenting it to her when she woke up from that surgery. I think it even still exists somewhere on Shudder. I also felt like, for a moment, that I was watching horror movies with my friends again after almost two decades.

It must sound strange, to want to watch things for someone who can’t anymore, but I take comfort wherever I can, and I won’t knock this.

It’s been around this point that I began writing again. I was already feeling the need to return back to the work I began about a year ago, before real life came in. I was so busy going out and socializing that a lot of it fell to the way side to gather dust. And then, the pandemic and all these personal losses accrued. I think it also helps that I don’t feel the pressure of not having a job or still living at home, as I know many people are facing similar situations due to the current crisis. Surprisingly, I’m less hard on myself: even though I still need to sleep properly.

I feel like I could spend more time writing and reading and watching films than interacting with people as much now, but I know there are people in my life that check in on me. I’m definitely not the same as I was before March, and I know I won’t be after all of this is over or at least stabilized. I learned a lot about other people during this time. And about myself.

Right now, I am writing fanfiction but I am thinking about going back to a possible collaboration idea, and that Lovecraft work of mine. I know this seemingly limitless time is an illusion. It will end, one way or another. Life likes to change. I am going to just do the best I can, and I feel like I want to do it again.

It’s late now, for a change. I want to write down one or two more things before this night is out. I don’t know how I will deal with things when they open up again outside, but I can’t really think about that right now. All I can do is enjoy what I have now. That is all I can do.

I’m glad that you can all join me on this venture. I might add another entry after this one. It’s been a while since I’ve done something like that. Until then, my friends.

Uthark

This is a missing scene between two different stories. It also be seen as a prequel to my fanfic “A Midsummer Night’s Dance.”

Dani starts. As the adrenaline edges off, her head lolls down, from her seat and the belt holding her in place.

It takes her a moment to remember where she is as she feels the ground moving under her. She’s … in Pelle’s car. Dani remembers now. She’d begun to nod off not long after Mark began talking about a woman with three clitorises, and a news anchor killing his wife, or something. She rubs the place where the bridge of nose curves into her forehead, visualizing her heartbeat slowing down, breathing as she had taught herself to do. It’s all right. She recalls that she still has her pills, if she needs them.

It’d been so strange. She had been dreaming. It was like the painting she had at her apartment back home, or something like it. But she was in it. It was night, and she’d been in a white dress or … was she wearing flowers? Dani can’t quite remember now. She’d been … dancing? There had been flames, and people naked in the sky, and a beast. There was a beast, and they circled around each other, and it looked at her with dark glittering eyes. It was going to eat her, like the Wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. That’s what she was thinking then, but she wasn’t dressed in crimson as naked people flew in the air towards chanting people dressed in white robes. But those eyes held her in place even as they danced and danced, and she sang with the white-garbed people, and the pain didn’t exist anymore, and she belonged …

But she couldn’t stop moving, and the eyes consumed her. Something kept clicking, and clacking in her brain. The sounds and eyes devoured her, so much until she …

It says a lot about her, and her mental state between numbness and panic, that she welcomes this nightmare more than … the others. She shakes her groggy head as they continue to drive down the highway to Hälsingland, and Pelle’s commune. Christian is sitting beside her, half-asleep himself, distant as usual. Josh is quiet next to him, near the right car door. Thankfully Mark has stopped talking, even though Dani has to admit that the drone of his voice with its ridiculous stories and chatter about milkmaids and pussy almost distracted her from the crushing grief inside her chest. It probably put her to sleep. Somehow, though he is also quiet, she can see Pelle through the sun visor, looking at her sympathetically. Out of all of Christian’s friends, he has been the nicest, the most sociable at least. There is a warmth to him, in his eyes. She still hurts, but not because of him, and she feels like he knows a lot more about what is going on than she does …

Perhaps he’s always known …

A strange sense of comfort fills her at that thought as she considers where they are headed, into this strange place, leagues away from her home, her own sense of home an eternity away across a continent in an exhaust-filled house that no longer exists where it is so hard to breathe … to breathe …

A house filled with smoke, and loss. A structure on fire, and a sense of relief … 

Then she looks back to the right side of the passenger area, past Christian, to Josh and his book.

The Secret Nazi Language of the Uthark.

Dani needs to take her mind off of everything. She’s about to ask Josh about the book, with its old, faded cover. But then a sense of déjà vu fills her. Josh carries the book around for his studies into European midsummer traditions, but mostly to annoy Pelle. And she knows, somehow, that it does annoy Pelle. They must have talked about it at some point. Dani’s brow furrows. Yes. Pelle told them that his commune studies the runic alphabet. Pelle’s commune, the … they use the Germanic characters, and something else. It’s no wonder that Josh’s book annoys Pelle. The Nazi Party, and their Theosophic roots appropriated a lot of Nordic and supposedly “Aryan” culture to build their brutal worldview, to claim they were returning to something “natural” through unnatural order, and the dominance of the patriarchal over …

It’s strange. Somehow, Dani recalls someone … was it Christian? No. Something she read, perhaps? She’d only had an introductory course to Jung. Maybe Pelle, again, told her what the Uthark meant. She almost remembers …

She knows that Pelle is good-natured. He takes a ribbing from his friends, and perhaps it’s not her place to do this, but something really annoys her about that book, and Josh. Josh, for all of his genuine studiousness, doesn’t seem to actually respect the content or the people of the culture he claims to be fascinated with. His intensity is not what bothers Dani. In fact, he is at least the most cordial of the group towards her, or at least apathetic to her being there at all. But his lack of respect, especially towards Pelle. She imagines if Pelle and his commune are Jewish or Roma.

She is about to say something, turning to Josh, but Josh and Christian are gone. There is a boy near the window. He’s tall, but slouched over with greasy dark hair. His skin his sallow, and his nose is covered by a bandage. It looks like it’s been broken. Dani blinks, and Josh in his place again. She looks down, and the book is gone, replaced with a pile of papers. The writing is runic or children’s pictures. Dani feels dizzy as she blinks again, and the boy is there, staring out the window. Dani doesn’t know what to do, or say. They are on a journey. It’s important. It’s important to get to where they need to go, and she needs to know what’s going on.

“Excuse me?” She croaks, realizing how dry her throat is. “Excuse me?”

The boy doesn’t respond to her. He continues to look out the passenger window at the declining road.

“Pardon me.” Dani tries again, getting more spittle into the back of her throat.

The boy turns towards her. There is some confusion in his eyes.

“Hello?” He asks.

“What are you reading?” Dani finds herself asking instead.

The boy looks down at where Dani is staring. In his hand, where Josh had been holding The Secret Nazi Language of the Uthark is a manuscript titled Cocoon Man. “I … don’t know.” He says after a while. “Is this yours?”

Dani’s head aches. She rubs the bridge of her nose again. “I don’t … think so.”

“I …” Dani can see the boy becoming pale, the air around them darkening. When it did become evening? “I can’t breathe …”

Dani’s eyes widen in concern, and sympathy. “I can’t either.”

The boy’s face seems to swell in the growing shadows. “Where is she … Mom told me to take her with me. We can’t leave her alone.”

“Terri?” Dani leans forward, reaching a hand, as the interior of the car becomes even murkier.

“I can’t ,.. breathe. I … how can anyone breathe in here …”

And then, the car is filled with smoke. And fumes. The car exhaust pipe’s been reversed. Dani can’t breathe. She’s choking. She is suffocating on the toxins in the air, inside of her, and the group is back. Christian, Josh, Mark, and Pelle. They are dying, with her. She’s coughing, pounding on her door, on her window. There is a sound that is trying to fight its way out of her lungs, out of her vocal chords.

“I can’t … breathe …”

Somehow, even through the fumes and her wracking coughing, Dani can see the others have changed. It isn’t Christian’s friends. Her mother and father are sitting next to her. And Terri, Terri is staring grotesquely, covered in her own bile, into the the sun visor as she drives them right into the abyss, into hell.

“I can’t … breathe …”

Dani abruptly turns, and sees the boy, scrabbling at his own window, crying.

And then, the boy’s window is open. It is night, and they can breathe again as the smog is released outside, sucked out into the air amid clacking, shouting, laughing, and chanting. The boy’s shoulders heave, as Dani tries to catch her own breath until the hissing of the exhaust becomes buzzing, and the smoke going out are insects hovering all around her, trying to get into her lungs, into her skin, into her mind …

The boy turns around, the wind whipping against them. His head is hung out the window, but he is looking back at her. She sees his dark eyes glittering into her own. She doesn’t think.

“Spirits!” Dani exhales.“Back to the dead!”

The boy’s swelling face, or a girl’s, or a bear’s stretches out into an ‘o’ of surprise, as a telephone pole rushes past them, and clips off his head. Dani screams, as the car flips over, upside down, into the air, and falls up into the night …

Until they wake up in another place.