Jezebel - A Lightning Spangles Christmas Carol

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Description: Recovering from her encounter with Kang, and her failed launching of the International House of Spangles, Jezebel tosses and turns in a fleabag motel at Metro City, her nightmares consuming her. Until, Jezebel is visited by an ghost from her past, Jessie, and is quickly sent on a spiraling journey in past, present, and future, confronting the darkness in her soul as she faces a Christmas Carol of her own making, unaware of the sinister forces behind it. A story in four parts.

Metro City was supposed to be when it all turned around.

It was supposed when it ended. The malaise, the misery, the pain, the failure. The endless stretch of the freshly turned graves, where every mistake that Jezebel made crawled out of the holes they were buried in. Clawing at her, pinning her down, defiling her, messing themselves inside her. Rotting her inside out, bleeding her out as she ran faster and faster away from the crawling, creeping reflections. She didn't have to stay, she didn't have to face them, she didn't have to bury them again. She just had to escape. She just had to escape.

And she closed the gate on herself.

It never really could have happened, could it? When Kang approached her, with a movie opportunity, of course she had to turn it down. Didn't he have workhouses? Didn't he have prisons? No, Jezebel was too good for him. And she tasted him, and she spat him out. And as she recovered, she had her real future ahead of her. Go to the United Nations. And they would love you. They would fund your dream.

Except they wouldn't.

They wouldn't even let her in to warm the casting couch. No, there was no need for what Jezebel was shilling. No need for the International Spangles. No need for Jezebel. And there, the dream dies. There was no Kang to make movies with. No future. No past. Just a turmoil of a graveyard of broken dreams, where it's living dead was dragging her, dragging back into the quivering mass of every mistake and every failure. There was no way out.

There could be a way out.

Screaming nightmares saturate around Jezebel, as she tosses and turns in the motel bed. She was dressed in Lightning Spangles pajamas, sweat pants and a T-Shirt. She was drenched in sweat, as she tossed and turned. She had to escape. She had only one escape. But even that escape was clinging on her chest like an iron weight. She couldn't escape; it was like footsteps crawling through her door. and up to her bed. It was cold. Why was it cold, with the sweat?

Was there a gun in the room?

It never ends; not in this life. The fate of mortals is struggle. Misery, pain, and failure are all part of the course. They come and go, but for some, they far overstay their welcome. The dead can be exhumed, and old tissue can be cut out, surgically extracted to allow for new life. This too is painful. Excrutiating. Perhaps there is no escape.

A shadow moves outside the hotel room, with tricks of the flourescent hallway lights casting silhouettes beneath the door. One stretches far, then unnaturally. The hallway lights buzz, then flicker, then go out. Jezebel will feel a hand against her face. It traces her features affectionately, passionately, but it is somehow cold and hot at the same time For a brief moment, it feels as though the fingers plunge into her skull--painlessly, but not without sensation. It's enough to jar her awake.

With another buzz, the lights return. A woman stands on the cusp of the doorway, now inside the hotel room. She is ghostly and pale, with a mistlike consistency that is far from natural. Though she is half-there, Jezebel can recognize the features. Isn't she one of Jezebel's former costars? What was her name...? ...didn't she die from a heroin overdose years ago, a tragic victim of the lifestyle of the stars?

"Jezebel Faiblesse," she speaks, her voice rattling and pronounced.

Rattling? No, it is not her voice, but her body. A tattered costume is covered in chains, countless dark chains. On each one rests a piece of the industry. A film reel. A briefcase. A video camera. The weight of each looks unbearable. There's so many.

"I have come to you...with a warning."

Wake up.

She shrieking, screaming nightmare begins to strangle Jezebel, before throwing her through the dreamland, into a waking hell. Jezebel jolts awake, gasping for air, for life. The smell, the smell was over her. She felt violated, she was used to violated. But this was real. She screams, She screams awake. And there, she sees at the doorway, she sees her. She remembers her.

And it smells like a freshly dug grave.


The haze tugs around her. The shapes and direction are indistinct. Jezebel felt warm; it was a numbness, but it was warm. It was painless. And she could barely feel the calls, the prods, the snapping hands clinging on to her. It was part of the work. Part of the job. Part of the labor. It didn't even hurt anymore, to go through the grind. Between the pills, and the liquor, it was smooth, and consistent. She just needed her costar, and they could perform the star scene in the movie. Recum of a Dream. She goes into the dressing room, staggering through.

And the room grows more distinct, as she sees her there.

It's the pinprick pupils that makes the entire scene real again. Just like her mothers eyes on the last night she saw her. The bleached hair, the grey skin, the blue lips. Hanging backwards on the stained couch, the mouth open like a fish, gasping lifelessly. Jezebel remembers. Jezebel remembers, and she moves. She smashes through something; a chair? A box? Nothing felt. She just smashed through, to grab her friend. And she screams in chinese, before English. "Naloxone! Oh god, get some Naloxone here! We have an overdose!" Jezebel cradles her, as she runs her fingers through her hair, muttering in a dreamlike panic. "Please wake up, please wake up, oh god, oh god, no, not again. Don't die, please don't die. "

"Please wake up-"



The name is dredged from the depths of the crypt, as the fresh pains of the resident digs into her soul. Another cadaver on the heap, another ghost haunting her. But this ghost was real, before her. Jezebel stares in horror as Jessie reveals herself. The track marks on her arms, the ghastly grey pallor. She begins to heave in terror, as she writhes backwards, pulling the covers up as her back presses against the headboard. She trembles, staring into Jessie. "You... you died... you..."

"Oh god, what is happening?"

"I died," Jessie's voice rings hollow, somehow there and yet not there, like someone speaking through a window. "but I have come to back from beyond the pale...with a warning, Jez. A warning do that you will not wind up like me." The chains rattle as punctuation. "It's lonely here, Jeez, and so cold…" She reaches toward Jezebel, advancing forward with the rigored gait of a walking corpse.

"But I am not alone, Jeez, you will have other visitors tonight…" She points at Jezebel, film reel grinding against the chain.

A Death.

A Warning.

Jezebel continues to shiver as she bundles the blankets around her. The stark, hammering terror, ripping through her soul. She stared at the ghost of her past, as it reached for her, yearned for her. Their scenes- their scenes were close, in a sense. But this was wrong. So lonely. This was death? To be trapped like this? For once in her a long time, any thoughts of suicide were banished in the pure terror. She babbles back, staring at the reels that drag along... "Other... other visitors..." And her eyes widen. Not in terror.

But in inspiration.

"... Just like... Just Like Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol!?"

Color fills Jezebel's cheeks, as she leans away from the baseboard. She was sweating, yes, but she was babbling. "That's it! That's what I need to do to save my career!" She looks at the ghost, cheeks rosy red, as she prattles back. "That's what you wanted to tell me, right Jessie? I can avoid being a drug addict again by staging A Christmas Carol?! I just need to get actors, and actresses, and stage it. Should it be a personal drama? It should be A Very Lightning Spangles Christmas Carol!" She squeals, clapping her hands as she stomps her feet.

"What are the three visitors, Jessie?!"

Jessie looks at Jezebel. She stares at her for a long, silent moment. Her unblinking eyes gazing into Jezebel's core. They remain muted and hollow. Do ghosts feel? If they do, is it in the same way as the living? Perhaps the ghost is staggered by the sheer derangement of Jezebel.

"You will see, Jezebel," Jessie says. "You will see."

And with that, the ghost corrodes. It decays away in an instant, chains rusting to dust and flesh dissolving down to bone and then to nothing at all. It is gone as quickly as it came and the light flickers out with it. For a long, uncomfortable moment, Jezebel is left in the dark to wonder. Once again she is left to stew in her own thoughts.

- - - - -

The onset of the United Nations conflict and the threat of cataclysmic storms had led almost every town in Hokkaido to take preventative measures. Shelters were built on high ground. Ample supplies of food and water, clothing and blankets were gathered and stored in these shelters. Even if there was going to be fire and brimstone raining from the skies, the homeland of the Ainu would be ready.

The Twilight Star Circus, likewise, was prepared for the worst. After the last arson incident, the new Big Top tent was reinforced with a hardy outer sheath, pulling double duty as both defense against the element and improved insulation for the people inside. And now, with the incessant rainstorms, the circus' big tent also proves to be one of the only sources of entertainment in this sleepy suburb just a few miles west of the Sapporo city limits.

The circus normally anchors down for winter -- touring just isn't that profitable when the temperatures drop below freezing. Discount rates mean that the locals can even visit across multiple nights, to take advantage of a rotating schedule of performers and acts -- the Tuesday show might be different from the Wednesday show, and the Thursday show a different setlist entirely. Which means that not every performer will be on stage every night -- it's pretty much the luck of the draw for the audience.

Showtime's in just under an hour, and the audiences are already starting to flood into the tent, eager to take shelter from the rain in a warm and comfortable atmosphere. The sideshow performances are in full swing, ranging from a D-list fortuneteller, a balloon scuptor, a juggler standing about 5'9", and a strongman casually lifting things that ought not be lifted casually. And of course there are vendors selling the requisite overpriced food items like the poorly named "circus peanuts."

Jezebel remembered when she wanted to be in the circus.

She wanted to be an acrobat. Briefly, when she was still living in Montreal, she did a tumbling class. It was lots of fun, and her father took her to it. He would stay, and wait. Mother wouldn't come. She wouldn't come. She couldn't come. She was always busy, like how Jessie was busy. She was always busy, too busy for Jezebel. But that's okay, because he daddy loved her, and took her to tumbling classes, so she could be an acrobat and perform at the circus. Until it hurt too much to love Jezebel. When it hurt too much to love Jezebel, and mommy, and they had to leave Mommy to make the pain stop. Or at least make it less. Jezebel stopped with the tumbling classes after that. But she became a high kicking cowgirl instead. She became a superstar. She eventually became someone who didn't need Daddy, either.

Just like Mommy.

Her steps slosh into the grounds of the circus. The grounds themselves were dry enough, yes. But Jezebel had to drop everything to come to her. To the circus. She had to come to the circus. She was soaking wet in the endless winter storms; the plane almost wouldn't come. But it had to come. It had to come for Lightning Spangles. It had to come for Jessie, it had to come to save Jezebel's life. She was dressed as Lightning Spangles, her rhinestone studded outfit soaking wet. Lightning Spangles didn't use Umbrellas. There was no time. She needed to act fast, on the one woman who loved her so much, that she declared it on public television. The woman who loved her more than her fans, than even Hayley, than even Naerose. And she needed her.

Because it was for the Lightning Spangles Showup Hoedown Christmas Carol.

"Where is Honoka!" She blurts out loud from the crowd, as people instinctively avoid her. Jezebel's mechanical eye was scanning, as she turns to the fortune teller. Pupil to pinprick, she smiles, as she waves. "Honoka!?" She calls out. "HONOKA!?!" She cries out louder, her voice coming over the crowd. It was piercing the atmosphere of the circus, poisoning it. "It's me, Lightning Spangles! I remember you from the King of Fighters match! You believed in me! You believed in Lightning Spangles!" The crowd begins to slow down, turning towards the ashen-faced woman in the soaking wet cowgirl costume. "I need you Honoka! I need you!" She continues to ramble. "Your Lightning Spangles is here! It's time for a Show Up... It's time for a Show Up Hoedown!" She shivers harder, sniffling loudly as she draws back the runny nose.

"I need you..."

The crowd parts, giving the former Lightning Spangles free reign -- at first because she's loud and boisterous, and then because some people begin to recognize her.

Older children recognize the woman.
And some of those begin to laugh.

Younger children recognize the woman's outfit.
And some of these children ask questions. Loudly.
"Why's she look so old, daddy?"
"Why is she dripping wet, mommy?"
The answers are hushed, largely indecipherable -- for in Japan, no adult wants to make a scene.
Though, assuredly, at least one of those whispered answers was 'Lightning Spangles does not use umbrellas.'

Spaced at regular intervals throughout the crowds, burly men in brightly-colored t-shirts tap their earpieces.

The soothsayer tries to treat the question as a setup -- attempting to guide the loud woman to a booth and save the ears of the disquieted crowd, to no avail. She can't even make it through her pitch before the lunatic wanders away, calling blindly into the crowd.

The balloon sculptor ushers the kids out of Jezebel's path -- hoping that his own art won't be eclipsed by the former child star's overbearing personality.

Reika, the juggler who could easily pass for Honoka from behind, turns towards the sound of the voice. Her eyes light up at the name, her heart beating in her chest with the notion that Honoka -- long absent in her sabbatical trip -- could actually be right here!
But no -- it's just a devoted fan, shouting her name into the crowd. A discredited, disgraced opponent from Honoka's past.
The juggler's purple locks sag, as she continues twirling a ribbon for the muted delight of children nearby.

The strongman doesn't have time for Jezebel's nonsense. Dude doesn't even flinch. What an ass.

But there is one man who does have time for Jezebel. A strong, well-built man, wearing a fancy black sportcoat over his Twilight Star t-shirt, with a pair of neatly-pressed khakis.
"Miss Faiblesse," he insists, in a tone loud enough to be heard over the raving. A tone crisp enough to -shut down- the confused, panicked murmurs of those in the sideshow area.
He has a smartphone in his right hand.
He all but -grabs- Jezebel's hand with his left, and presses the smartphone into it.
"It's for you, ma'am."

The contact name reads, simply: H.
That's it. Nothing fancy. No picture. Nothing but one single stark letter in sanserif font.

But the voice on the other end...

Sudo has something else to give Jezebel -- a silk hankerchief for which to dab her runny nose. Damn American slobs, why can't they ever think of these things for themselves?

"Heeeeey... Is it really -you?- Lightning Spangles? I never thought I'd see you a--"
It's Honoka's voice.
And with Jezebel as she is now, it won't matter what she says next.
It will just get interrupted. Talked over. And drowned out.
But that's okay. The audience is used to the histrionics now. Maybe they'll reroute around the rain-soaked actress.

A break. An opportunity presents itself.
"Hey, that's great, I--"
And it's gone.

Another moment.
"Yeah, cool, but--"
Nope. Gone.

"Stop! Stop stop stop, time out!"
A pause for breath.
"Listen. It's really tough to hear you, okay? Let's meet up -- I'm at the Sakaba Inn right across the way. Room 127."

Sudo gestures for the main entrance, expectantly.

Jezebel sneezes.

She was not a cute sick. She was an ugly sick. BUt she had to perform, she had to smile. She was so happy, and sad, and hateful, and scared, and cold. Everything was screaming around her. She was like a lost child at the circus, a lost little girl, groping around for her mommy. She wanted her mommy. She wanted Honoka. She wanted the chance to save herself. The crowd, the faces, the voices, they were blurring around her, flashing around her. She didn't want an audience. She wanted her Honoka. She wanted her. She needed her. She's suddenly... she's suddenly approached by a phone. She stares bleary at it, before bringing it to her ear.

And she hears her voice.

Jezebel's face begins to go flush. Tears begin to well up in her eyes. Honoka's expectations were correct. Jezebel immediately begins to talk. "I did- I didn't think- Honoka! I've come to answer your call! It's important! It's about your future! Our future!" Jezebel, at least, has the instinct to walk away from the crowd, into a corner, by a tent flap. She down into a crouch, sitting on the muddy ground, rocking back and forth as she latches on to the cellphone like a nipple. Her face was leaking, as she grins.

And she of course, interrupts again.

"It is great! It's amazing, and incredible. Jessie told me about it, she came back from the dead! Ghosts, Honoka! Real ghosts! She came to me in the night! She died of a heroin overdose Honoka! She's real still, though, and it's just like Jacob Marley! Don't you understand?!"

And Honoka tells her to stop.

Jezebel stares ahead, holding her breath. Her body was trembling in delight, as Honoka tells her what to do next. She would do anything, because it looked like Honoka was expecting her, just not here! She just had to find her. She just had to... had to meet her, at an inn. A hotel. The smile fades slightly. She had to meet her at a hotel.

And she remembers.

"Oh y-y-yeah!" She says nervously. "Y-yeah, a... a hotel- lets meet up in a hote- in a hotel room." She suddenly felt hot. In the moist soaking, she felt suddenly warm, a heat passing over her entire body. This wasn't the first time she's been here before. This wasn't the first time around Christmas she's had to visit someone in a hotel room, to get her movie made. Not even the first time with a fan. A female fan. She blinks, as Sudo... As Sudo clears the way. She stands up, muddy butt and all, as she stares to the path before her.

She would do anything for this.


- - - - -

Jezebel stands outside the inn door. She was still damp. Why did she refuse to dry herself? Because there was no time to dry herself. She already explained to the front desk, that she was Lightning Spangles, well, no, she was Jezebel, but she was Lightning Spangles for Honoka, who was waiting for her in room. That she was going to have a movie with her, a video made. It was going to be a very important movie. And Honoka was the special woman she wanted to make it with. She was called up, she was announced and called up, like a real celebrity. She didn't get a key, but. She was waiting for her. ANd now, moist and hot, she stands before the door. Face red, she breathes hard. And there, she gives a firm, confident knock on the door.

"I'm... I'm here, Honoka."

The hotel is ten stories tall, nestled against the side of a mountain and secure against everything except maybe earthquakes. In good weather it's only a two minute walk away from the big top -- close enough to be convenient without being so close that every hotel guest raises complaints at the cannon-blasting finale. As hotels go, it's pretty uninteresting aside from its location and certainly hasn't won any architectural design awards.

But it has a foyer, and a sliding door, and a place for people to drip dry before entering the inn and the carpet. There were towels folded on the ledge for this purpose. It had a place for the foreigner to take her shoes off, and plastic slippers for her to swap into.

The courtesies were waived.
And the hotel manager is -pissed-

The door swings open almost the instant Jezebel finishes speaking.
And then a towel gets chucked right into Jezebel's face.
"Why don't you dry off first? You're never gonna shake that cold if you don't take care of yourself."

Once Jezebel is able to see her, Honoka will be smiling and shaking her head like a sitcom mom, hands on her hips. She's noticeably dressed down, wearing a hoodie emblazoned with the Twilight Star Circus colors of white, midnight blue and purple, a long-sleeved shirt with dark striped fabrics, and a pair of sweatpants. Her hair is freshly brushed, streaks of pink forming an attractive frame for her unblemished, un-made-up face. Her feet are wrapped up in those dorky plastic slippers. The same ones Jezebel should have had on.

"Oh sweet lord. The manager's gotta be -pissed- at you. Just take your shoes off and come on in."

Honoka doesn't take a seat, herself, but she does grab a second towel and toss it onto the sofa -- knowing Jezebel's going to plop her muddy butt in the most comfortable spot anyway.
How does she know this?
She's -psychic-

"So tell me about this idea you got. And how it affects our future."

The shadow manipulator puts on the prettiest, most saccharine smile she can muster.

There are a lot of impressions one can expect from Jezebel.

Some describe the first impression being the desperation. Jezebel -needs- something from you, the kind of presence only the pushiest of salespersons could muster. And she wouldn't take no for an answer, even if she just sells you the most useless of scraps. Pathetic was another easy impression; Jezebel just seemed so worn down, so... used up. And at her own fault. Another was a blind, ignorant kind of hope, a kind of self-delusion that rambles to oneself, and denies reality. But something was different with Jezebel's impression; it came the moment when Honoka greeted Jezebel, and let her enter her domicile.

That something was wrong.

Oh, no, you might think. Of course there are things -wrong- whenever you look at Jezebel. Those quivering pupils, that naked body language. The words and breathing that comes so fast. That look in her eyes when she realized, that she had home all this way, making severe cultural mistakes that people will HATE HER FOREVER FOR. The delicate scratches against her wrist with her finger nails, over the worn out scars. That would be nothing. BUt it was the sudden, surging psionic imprint that was boiling from her. Jezebel said she was haunted. ANd now, up close, it was clear. She wasn't haunted in the psychology. She was -haunted-.

Like, -haunted- haunted.

The spiritual malevolence hangs over Jezebel like a smothering cloud. It was indistinct, but it was . Something, or someone had infested Jezebel with their spiritual taint. A possession, a spiritual sliver infested in her? Something malicious was burning from her, a curse, a mockery of humanity. And Jezebel, rubbing herself with the towel, smiling burning on her lips, seemed completely unaware. She does in fact plop her mud butt on the couch, trembling out of the sheer realization how badly she just ruined things for herself. Already, she was pulling off her muddy boots. "Sorry! Sorry! I am- I am so sorry, I am just- it came to me in a dream! After I saw you on the television, loving me, loving everything that Lightnings Spangles believes in, I realized that you forgave me. You forgave me for nearly ruining your career at the Trump Rally! That you not only forgave me for everything, but you wanted to work with me again! And- and you've gotten so incredible." She drops the shoes off by the couch. "You are so incredible, Honoka. You're fighting in world tournaments, you have teams who love and adore you, and- and- and I want you, Honoka. I want you to collaborate, I want to be your partner, I want you to be part of my dream."

"I want you to be part of the International League of Lightning Spangles."

She begins to fondle around her clothing, reaching for something, trying to find something. "Ainu Spangles, Honoka. You can be Ainu Spangles, Honoka! Like, there are Lightning Spangles in all these countries in the world, and they meet together in a United Nations kind of place! And you would represent the AInu people! And I've been trying so hard to learn about the Ainu; they were a lot like America's own Native Americans, except instead of attacking innocent American citizens when they pushed out west, they just wanted to live. And the Japanese wouldn't let them, they oppressed them and drove them from their land and killed their women and men and even their little babies! They were monsters to the poor, innocent Ainu people."

"And that's why I think we can launch this with a Christmas Carol!"

"Like Charles Dickens Christmas Carol, Honoka!" Jezebel clarifies helpfully. She finally pulls out a moist, smeared paper, folded up. "Jessie told me, the ghost I was telling you about. Lightning Spangles gets visited by 3 spirits! Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future! And Ainu Spangles would be a great way to introduce the children to the rich history and culture of the Ainu people! I have this picture, and I think it would be perfect for The Ghost of Christmas Past scene, where Lightning Spangles goes back in time, and visits Ainu Spangles for the first time!" She unfolds it, and shows it to Honoka.

It was stained, and black and white, but looked to be like a traditional ainu house in winter. There are countless fauna around the house, while two instinct figures sit under the building. Jezebel nods her head at the picture. "See, I mean, that almost looks like Santa Claus, and you can see all of Ainu Spangles animal friends! They all come out there, and have a great big Ainu christmas feast! It can be a Banquet of Nature! Like the first Thanksgiving, but a Christmas feast! And Ainu Spangles can be first introduced as the Ghost of Christmas Past! You can be the Ghost of Christmas Past, Honoka! And then Ainu Spangles learns all about America, and the future, and loves it so much, that she goes back into the future through a time portal! Like I have ideas for Chinese Spangles and Pirate Spangles too, they can come with her, but I don't know who should be Chinese Spangles and Pirate Spangles, but... but..." And she wiggles her butt. "But... I've... I've muddied your couch. Oh." She turns even more red, staring ahead blankly. She starts breathing fast again. She adjust at her belt.

"Should... should I take off my pants?"

Left to her own devices, Honoka can be a very patient person.
Just a day ago, she had a nice chat with a fan, in a room upstairs, who happened to threaten her, her friends, and her very way of life. And yet, she came out of it with a mutually beneficial arrangement that's bound to reap dividends in the coming weeks.
And she's sure that, given time, Jezebel Faiblesse will have something to offer her.
Right now, that's like the light at the end of a looooooooong tunnel.

Her left hand slips through her bangs, fingertips swimming through strands of black and pink as they sweep back to her ear. The forelocks of hair disturb her sometimes now -- it's been so long since she's worn them regularly. But that's not all that's disturbing her, as she acclimates to the panicked, fevered sense of desperation wafting outward from Jezebel. Madness -- she's dealt with the woman's manic nature before. She can understand entirely why Jezebel's here -- it was a fear from the moment she made that bold declaration to Duke, a last-ditch effort to show the overbearing crime boss how to -really- screw with a person's head.

And as Jezebel's face is hidden, as Honoka's fingers tease along the side of her scalp, a tingle runs down her spine.
She looks straight at Jezebel.
And -- did she see someone else standing there?

Her nostrils flare. The words grow soft and indistinct. There's not even any particular outrage when Jezebel sits down on the couch, conveniently missing the spot covered by the second towel, setting the muddy boots down next to the couch like they belonged there.
Honoka narrows her eyes, biting at her lip as she lets her hand fall, her hair falling like a curtain to frame her face once more.

Ainu. -Ainu-. The word pierces through the fog, as Honoka's focus turns back to Jezebel's rambling words. The plight of the Ainu -- yes, for the moment, she -gets- it. She understands.

And then, like everything else -- it's lost in the moment. A thoughtful addition to a vapid, meaningless core.

The chill ripples down to Honoka's feet as she listens quietly. A second presence is still... -there-, but... No. It's not the right time, she decides.
The fridge is opened up, and a small bottle of milktea is withdrawn. She nods slowly as she listens to each of the actress' hopeful suggestions, quietly pouring the milktea into two glasses.

The Ainu manipulator is a -pain- to play poker against.

Glasses poured, she begins to walk over to Jezebel and the couch -- seemingly disinterested in the mess. She takes a brief look at the picture, nodding appraisingly.

The mess? "Forget about it." The response is quick, interrupting the ramble in as polite a manner as possible.
"... It'll clean right up. Just make yourself at home," she continues with a car salesman's smile, in the midst of Jezebel's panicked silence.
Taking off pants, though?
Honoka arches an eyebrow.
She responds first with a deliberate pause. And then...
"... sure? If you want?"
It's not something Honoka is opposed to, but at the same time, her half-smile suggests it's not really a -normal- thing to grant an affirmative answer to.

Honoka could get upset about the little things, but as much as she might -otherwise- like to needle Jezebel, the manipulator feels like she would prefer the Quebecois get to the point, and quick.

Honoka extends a glass to Jezebel. "Milktea?" The light tan beverage would probably bring back memories of a Mudslide to the recovering alcoholic. Even the taste would bring back some memories -- but the fact remains that it's really just regular tea, with a few drops of sugar and milk added to give a sweet, creamy flavor.

She thinks on the offer for a moment, drawing in her breath. And closing her eyes.
Kamui, give me strength.
The glass is raised, tilted slightly towards Jezebel.
"You were onto something with drawing attention to the plight of the Ainu people. I like that. It's got heart."

But then she draws the glass back, taking a healthy sip.
"... I'll level with you though, lots of problems with the rest." She holds up her hand -- putting a stop to the expected interruption. "You need a writer. Preferably one for each culture you decide to bring in on this. And a producer, and a director."

She reaches down to the towel, straightening it out, and then plopping down onto the towel as a demonstration of her original intent. Crossing her legs, she glances over to Jezebel with a faint, alluring smile.

"In short, if you want my involvement, you're going to need to act like a professional."

Jezebel begins to remove her pants.

They roll off slowly; sliding the wet jeans down off her legs. She doesn't even stand up. Underneath, Jezebel was wearing the thinnest boxer briefs; shiny and blue. The jeans are on the ground, as she wraps the towel at her side across her lap. Her face was flush. She... she liked the idea? "I would... I would like some milktea..." She says softly. After exposing herself to Honoka now, to her fan, she felt.... she was beginning to feel so small.

What if she hated it?

In fact, she does. She loathes it. Jezebel could sense it, feel it. Honoka was a master manipulator, and Jezebel was a little doll for her to toy with. She sips the milk tea, taking in the sweet creaminess inside her. She was shivering again. When did she stop? And through it, the malevolence was beginning to cloy back at Honoka. She breathes faster, and faster, and Jezebel watches as she crosses her legs. There was... there writing issues? There was directing issues. Jezebel actually thinks about that. AN Ainu writer. Yes, of course. Maybe... maybe she could give creative control to Honoka. She could give him so much to Honoka. Jezebel stares ahead, as she leans back further into the couch, looking so -small-. She finally responds.

"A... A professional what?"

Seated right beside Jezebel, and a full 13 cm shorter, Honoka nonetheless seems -larger-. Because she sits up straight, with poise and confidence, as she sips at a drink crafted for teenagers and office ladies.

"A professional. Someone who treats the job with respect, and is -treated- with respect."

The star juggler doesn't even look down at Jezebel -- if anything, since turning away from the jug of milktea, she's not looked at anything else but Jezebel's face.
But also wariness. Because she still has no idea what that damn infestation is, lurking just beneath the surface of Jezebel's conscious mind. Or perhaps just -behind- her, using the actress' outpouring of emotions as a mask for its presence.
It's remarkable -- but the psion has no idea to address it without completely destabilizing the actress in the process.
And damn if she doesn't want to hear this pitch out.

Confident that she has Jezebel's attention, Honoka continues. "I was listening earlier. You... said I forgave you. And in a way, maybe I did. But really, what fault could you have had in that farce of a show? But let me spell it out for you. You -- and I -- had nothing to do with that child finding his way backstage."

She sips at her milktea, letting that sink in for a moment.

"Wasn't our fault. Not at all."
Deliberate pause.
"Or was it? Think back -- was there ever a time you argued with your crew? That you made a last-minute change that you thought would make your performance -perfect?-"

She sets her drink on a side table, breaking her gaze away from Jezebel to stare longingly at the far wall, making a picture-perfect frame with her thumbs and index fingers. "If only my idiot crew could possess a -fraction- of my genius..."

And then she lets the frame crumple, lets her hands fall into her lap.
And she looks back to Jezebel, the serious look returning.
"That right there? That's -poison- to a performance. Your crew, your co-cast members. You're a brilliant actress, and I never doubt that -you-, and not that freckled copycat that gets foisted on-stage, are the -real- Lightning Spangles. But you piss your crew off. You strike down their ideas, change things on the fly. And they can't do their jobs that way. They can't -- they =couldn't= -- cover your ass forever. You gotta cover your own ass."

Honoka says this without once looking down.

"So yes. You're gonna need help. And it's gonna be -good- help."

She reaches back for her cup, sipping at her milktea.

Jezebel felt numb when she mentioned the boy.

Shadows of the past begin to draw upon the walls. She could smell the open graves. The hot -branding- of her failures, searing on her skin. She wanted to wrap herself into a ball. She wanted a mudslide, she wanted liquor, she wanted painkillers, she wanted defiling and painless, horrible experiences. But she has milktea. The haunting almost retracts, as the sheer -suffering- boils out from Jezebel. She almost looks like she is about to throw up.

ANd she sinks further into the couch.

She doesn't respond. She almost looks dead, as she stares. Dead children. Reckless cast members. Farcal shows. Why was she responsible for all that? What did she feel responsible? She felt nothing BUT responsibility, didn't she? Just like she was responsible for getting drunk at the cast party, and running over the child who stepped out in front of her. Just like she was responsible for not getting her father help, and letting him kill himself with the bottle. Just like how she was responsible for her mother and father not loving each other anymore, and leaving each other. She was responsible, because she had to be. Her face was blank.

"What do they know."

That was almost an impossibly fair voice. She doesn't even look at Honoka. "They are always mocking me, making fun of me." A raw nerve, ripped apart. "Judging me, using me, taunting me. Even before I was Lightning Spangles, they would laugh behind my back. Kang- He forced his tongue down my throat!" Jezebel stands up, brow furrowed. "And he wanted to take -my- ideas, and replace them with his! To make -his- movie, not mine!? Those... those buffoons at the Trump rally just wanted to use me, and let me fall for their incompetence! Them, and the Disney company, and everyone, because it was convenient to replace me... to... replace...."

And Jezebel... collapses in the couch, sobbing.

"I just... I just wish I could make them do what I wanted. You know, if you do whatever they want? They always want you to do things. They always want you, Honoka. You just have to do one more thing. Even when they throw you away, someone else wants to pick up the garbage. One man's trash is another man's treasure!" She mimes a smile. It fails, as she rolls over, curled up. "I just wish- I just wish I could make everything work all together. Your productions always seem so clean, and efficient, and under control! You seem to always be in control, and you never ever lose control. I- I thought about this, sometimes." And she stops crying, wiping away her tears. There was a smile on her lips.

"Remember our first fight together?"

She sits back up, looking back at Honoka, with a few heaves. But she was smiling, smiling real. "I was dressed as the statue of liberty, and you were Godzilla. And I was selling stuff, because, well, who else will? Nobody markets or sells anything through fights. But it didn't matter, in the end, because there was a real heart to it. A real passion, a real something. I wouldn't do the Trump Rally, unless it was with you. I told him that. Because I trust you, Honoka. I trust your... mind. You -get- it. You understand how important it is to have heart in a performance. It doesn't matter what costume you wear, or what character you play, or whatever. What matters is what's inside." She touches her chest, and holds out the empty cup.

"Why did you want to meet me here?"

With most people, Honoka has to lead the conversation. She has to listen for a few moments, and then speak -- and usually exert a little psychic pressure, and people tend to just ... follow along with whatever she has to say. Because Honoka has a unique psychic aura that makes that sort of thing possible -- a gravitational pull that tends to attract people with conducive minds to agree with her.

She was hoping that sitting right beside Jezebel would get the actress to calm down.
And it does not.
Because there is another presence buoying her up. Enhancing, emboldening her own personality.
And thriving.

What are you doing here? -Must- you?
Honoka asks the presence, reaching beyond Jezebel. Speaking -- if not to the void, than to the other -person- in the room.
It kind of helps that Jezebel's consumed with ennui. It helps the psion tell the two souls apart.

But Honoka can't keep that up for long -- her elbows slip down to rest upon her knees, her fingertips raising to bridge her forehead. Not when the ennui turns to rage. What do -they- know?

Mocking. Judging.
"I know exactly how you feel."
And it's not a lie -- not even a white lie.

Kang forced his tongue down her throat?
Irritation builds.
"Scum. A complete lack of respect."

And then Jezebel curls away. Sobbing -- lamenting that Honoka's productions always seem to succeed.
There's a reason for that.
But now is not the time.
Now is the time to listen.

"... Because I respect you, Lightning Spangles. And your fans. And that wasn't you in there, that wasn't who you are. Something's wrong, and if I can fix it, I want to help."

Honoka takes the empty cup, rising to her feet and walking back to the kitchenette. She fills both cups up with milktea as she talks.
"Trust, and respect. That's what's different here. When I started at the circus, as an acrobat, trust was lesson one. Who's going to catch you when you're fifty feet in the air? You have to trust your team."
She pauses.
"And you don't. Because they're callous scum, mm?"

She finishes filling the glass, and walks back over to the couch.

"Why is that? Why do you always seem to end up with scum who don't respect you?"
The filled glass is offered back to Jezebel.
Honoka smiles warmly, eager to help Jezebel work through her problems.
And more than willing to supply the next answer.

Jezebel couldn't stop.

Whether it was the strange force possessing her, or her own psychology, she was... she was pouring in so much of her baggage into Honoka. She was listening. She was listening, and Jezebel couldn't stop talking. And when Honoka tells Jezebel that she respects her?

Jezebel opens her legs a little.

Instincts, a hunger for love, for affection, in any way she could take it. A need, a desire. Honoka might have created these feelings in other; this was the raw presence, undiluted by any influence. She needed love, was the purest feeling from her; it was almost like a baby craving the warm embrace of her mother. As Honoka fills her cup, the piercing question comes. And in the flickering madness, Jezebel gives an answer, as she stares back at the duality of her mistakes. Why was she so... why was everything so Jezebel? And she touches on it. She holds it, and clings to it.

"Can you really trust anyone, Honoka?"

Jezebel sighs. "I've trusted so many people. I... I let myself trust people still, but I know it's not real. I just expose myself, and let them come in, and do what they want. I don't have locks on my doors anymore. If... if I was an acrobat..." She trails off. "I used to take acrobatics classes, when I was a little girl, Honoka. I stopped, because..." Pain. A stab of pain. "... I stopped. I am glad I never became an acrobat."

"I would be dead, Honoka."

"My team never caught me. My team was never there. My team would let me fall, again, and again, and again. There was no team to drive me home that night. There was no team to stand by me in the trial. THere was no team to visit me. When things are good for me, everyone is on my team. But when things go wrong..." She trails off, taking a sip of the tea. "I'm so alone, Honoka. I'm not like you, everyone loves you. You have a boyfriend, you have a stable job, you have a team who supports you. Nobody ever lets you down, nobody ever betrays you. You're just perfect, and I'm just...." And she stares down at her naked thighs.

"I'm so broken, Honoka.

"I'm so broken, and there's nobody who can fix me..." Another whine comes from her, as she breaks into the heaving sobs. "And everyone who says they can, just leaves me. Just abandons me. Look at me Honoka! Look at me! I'm a washed up failure; I can't do anything right, I can't hold a stable career, I can't hold a stable job, I can't even hold myself stable. Everyone who tries to help, everyone who reaches out, I can't- I can't even see them. I just try and hold on to them, cling on to them, because I know they will be gone. Everyone will be gone..." And she shuts her eyes, letting the tears flow down. "I can't even respect myself." And she sweeps her hand in the air, a false smile on her face.

"But, at least, I can pretend to be someone who does."

The signs are clear. The psion can sense each and every one of them. Raw lust -- pouring out of her like a steam vent. Envy, shuddering each and every one of her bones, anchoring her to that couch -- anchoring her to spill out her emotions before someone who's only ever seen her in costume. And now -- lain bare to see as the sobbing, broken person she is now. Wrath... showing itself in the severity of Jezebel's unrestrained motions.

And through it all, a formless mass... growing stronger around her. Feeding on the emotion -- and emboldening them.

Honoka curses under her breath. A second predator is in the room, feeding off of the fires of shame she's been stoking ever since their first fight together. Stealing -her- fire.

The glass in her hand vibrates -- and it's only then that she remembers she was carrying one.
Setting it down quietly on the coffee table, she keeps her attention on Jezebel.

Every word matters -- if not a direct condemnation of Honoka's success, then certainly as an expression of Jezebel's selfish desires, her inability to deal with the world.
And the second predator grows ever stronger.

She draws in her breath, one hand raising to her accelerating heart.
The psychic backlash is formidable indeed -- the lust stirs within her. Jezebel -- no, the second predator -- no, -both- of them are growing stronger with each heartbeat. Envy has been abated, but the fires of lust...?!

Honoka's hands clasp so tightly, her fingernails press into the flesh of her palm, draining the color from her skin.
She exhales.

And she takes a seat beside Jezebel on the sofa. She turns, slightly, as she sits -- her knee pressing against the actress's knee, gently coaxing those legs back together. Her right palm speaks a different story, resting upon Jezebel's shoulder -- firmly, reassuringly, but nothing more.

"That's a start."
A premeditated silence, as Honoka's body heat spreads its way into Jezebel's shoulder, her thigh.
"You picked the wrong people to help you. You don't respect -yourself-, so why should anyone else?"

The acrobat is so close -- touching, even -- and yet, her body is still so far away, with Jezebel kept no closer half an arms' length. A calculated distance, to reflect how the talented performer has -cultivated- her audience for as long as she has.

Piss off, predator. This is -Honoka's- meal. And if it takes positive emotions to chase you off, so be it.

"Why don't you sleep here for the night? I'll get some pajamas ordered up so you don't freeze to death."

"Fiesty," comes a voice, sultry, slightly smoky, and vaguely Scottish-accented. "I like that. It might be futile here, but an A for effort all the same."

It whispers in Honoka's ear, somehow incredibly close but simultaneously not there. Can Jez hear it? How can Jez not here it?

"She's quite a fine mess, isn't she?" The voice is in the other ear now. "So full of passion, desire, anger--so many negative emotions that own her just as she lets so many people around her own her. She doesn't even realize what she could do, does she?"

A shadowy silhouette passes briefly in the mirror across the room.

"What are you going to with her?" The voice echoes now, there but not there. "Help her? Use her? You've impressed me now, Miss Honoka. I'm enjoying the show too much to ruin it."

Honoka was joining her on the couch.

Jezebel's heart was racing. She was- she was supposed to be- this was happening. Steadily, Honoka touches her on the thigh. Her eyes were wide. Her chest heaving, breathing hard. Respect... herself. Just like how Honoka respected her. Honoka touches her, touches her so softly. Pushing her legs closed... but why was Jezebel resisting? She didn't want to close up. She wanted to stay open. And yet, it was closed. Honoka was keeping her distance, keeping away, but touching her.

Instinctively, Jezebel begins to lean closer towards her.

"We could... I could... sleep on the couch, right?" She says softly, not breaking her gaze on Honoka. "I mean..." She is leaning closer and closer towards honoka. She might just fall over, fall over on her. Her eyes were locked, she heard nothing, saw nothing. The room was heating up. She was falling over, falling into the dream of Christmas Past.

"Where... would you like me... to sleep, H-honoka?"

The presence has a voice after all. The whisper sends another shiver racing down Honoka's spine.

The psion has three levels of thought.
The first: the broadband transmissions, projected, cultivated and shared with an audience at large.

The second: the clandestine messages, such as the ones she shares now with the shadowy voyeur.
"I've admired her passion for a long time."

And the third, those she keeps to herself.
That Jezebel is toxic -- polluting her circus with such raw, divisive sewage, just like her hero President. Misusing her talent, with callous disregard for who could be hurt.
Such as Honoka.

"It's criminal for such talent to go to waste," are the thoughts she shares with the predator, tilting her head towards ezebel, nodding slowly.

Where she's going with this? Actions speak louder than words -- and in this case, action means stroking the side of her hand along Jezebel's shoulder and upper arm.

The response is unmistakable, and raw. The upsurge of emotion, never clearer, as she peers straight into Jezebel's defenseless soul. The predator called it correctly -- she just lets so many people own her.

And giving in to the throes of passion would make -Honoka- a slave to the -invader-.
And it would sacrifice everything Honoka had planned for her childlike doll.

At the first query, the hand remains set.
At the second, the hand lifts away. And Honoka simply presses her lips together in a tight smile, shaking her head fractionally from side to side.

Her index finger wags slowly from side to side.

The word hangs like a knife suspended on the edge of a tall table.
"That is where you get into trouble. When you ask what someone else wants, you sacrifice power, you cede control."

The acrobat pauses for a moment, glancing pointedly down at the point of her knee, a center of warmth pressed against Jezebel's thigh.
And she moves it away.

Turning back up to meet Jezebel's gaze, she shrugs her shoulders. "Let's play a game. Suppose this is your room now. If I asked you -- where would you like me to sleep?"

Her right knee had been angled towards Jezebel, shin crossed across her left knee. But now, as she shifts to the side, she angles away from Jezebel. Her sinuous fingers lace together in her lap, as she communicates a closed stance, tilting her away from the passion-inflamed actress. The hoodie and sweatpants are far from the most seductive clothing for such a pose -- and yet, every subtle motion draws more and more attention to the lithe, practically fat-free curves that Honoka -does- have.

"There's only one bed. And only one couch. And while I have a boyfriend... he's not in town right now."

The juggler bites her lower lip, her thumbs kneading against one another, as a pink tinge crosses her cheeks.
"So you tell me... as an expert performer, able to read the crowd and give them -exactly- what they... desire..."
Honoka arches an eyebrow, nibbling intently on her lower lip.

"How much respect do you hold for me right now?"

Amusement plays across her eyes. Or perhaps... curiosity?

"Criminal," Morrigan whispers in Honoka's ear, practically breathing down her neck now but still illusory. Even so the feeling is warm--surprisingly pleasant now. "And dangerous, isn't it? She could hurt someone, and not just herself. She's woefully good at that."

The presence eases off again, becoming more distant. A lingering sense of dread, yes, but not that stiffling cloud it was just a moment ago.

"Ooh, impressive," she says with a more pronounced Scottish inflection. "You -are- good at this. I like you a lot, Miss Honoka. Jezebel is interesting in her way, but you have a way all your own."

"I'd say it took me a long time to get to your level," the voice sits opposite Jez now, more like an equal. "But I was a special case. It takes most a long time. I'd say there's only a few who live long enough to get this good." A pause. "That's a compliment, not a threat, dear. Don't worry."

Have a boyfriend.

Not in town right now.

Lets play a game, Lightning Spangles.

Jezebel felt numb again. The good numbness, that she constantly craved, constantly was hungry for. She's played this role before, she's been in these stories before. There was a rule she remembered from one of her fansites, from a group of her fans. That it wasn't considered cheating when it was with a boy, or an anime. Why wouldn't the inverse work for girls like them? It wasn't cheating when it was a girl, an anime, a hoedown dillo.... or a Lightning Spangles. She knows how... how empowering people found Lightning Spangles. What they craved from her.

Except it was wrong.

It was wrong, and vile, and sinful, and disgusting, and she had too much self-respect, didn't she? This wasn't like work, this wasn't like before, she had standards, she had credibility. She was normal, she liked men, she wasn't one of those crossdressing perverts who treated women like men. She wasn't a pervert. She wasn't one.

And yet, here she was.

Here she sees Honoka moving her leg away. Was it the pang of rejection? Or was it just teasing her, toying with her. Jezebel knows that feeling all too well. And she sees Honoka, and she sees... she sees that she wants initative. She wants to be controlled, by Jezebel. She wants Lightning Spangles to sweep in, and take her off her feet, and then lean in to... to... love her. She was unaware of the spirit's influence, but.... but was this a part of her that was pulling at her? She was unaware of all the toying and teasing of the cast of this entire scene; the manipulations to make the little doll do her little work she is cleaned and placed back on the shelf. Don't fall for it. Don't fall for it.


Say it, Jezebel.

"N... Nu...."

"Nobody... nobody has to know... r-r-right?"

Jezebel was locked up, her body flush, covered in perspiration. She doesn't give her answer to Honoka on what she would have Honoka do. But her answer spoke more than any mere words could have. "It's just- it's just a secret. I- It can be our secret. If people- if people heard about it, it would... people would get the wrong idea. It would be- it would be disrespectful if.... if people found out. If your boyfriend. If your fans. I don't- I don't think they would like you as much if... " She trails off, staring down. "Can you..." She sputters, casting her eyes up, as she stands up.

"Can you keep a secret, Honoka?"

The answer comes without hesitation, accompanied by another side-to-side shake of her head, shadowed by loose bangs of pink swaying to and fro.
"No. I'm not good at secrets."
It's just a game, after all.

To the spirit teasing at her ear, the conversation is quite different.
"And you're... what to her? The devil on her shoulder, tempting her into self-destruction?"
Honoka's eyes narrow -- at both Jezebel and at the invisible predator.

Honoka casually unfolds her legs, rising back to her feet. She breaks eye contact with Jezebel only long enough to twirl around, ending with her shoulders squared with Jezebel's, and one hand resting on her hip. The first two fingers of her other raise up, tapping the psion's temple. "Somewhere deep inside you is the little voice of restraint, telling you, 'No, I can't do this. It would be wrong.'" She wrinkles her nose, a slight smile crossing her face. "It's so -quiet-. And yet, that's your conscience."

Her fingertips trail down, dragging a path through those exuberantly pink bangs of hers. "A secret is just a lie by omission, Jezebel. A betrayal of trust. And if I cheated on my boyfriend... the trust we built together with love would be no stronger than a house of cards. One spoiled secret, and boom -- cards all over the room."

That hand flutters to her chest, placing itself over the Twilight Star logo -- over her heart.
"But no. Our trust for one another is a fortress, built of the strongest granite. There's no room for secrets between us now. The masons have lain the stone, the grout has set. It will weather any storm."

Could the juggler be the better actress of the two, as well?

She curls her hand into a light fist, allowing it to fall by her side.
"That little game's over, now. It was a trick question -- and I'm sorry for that. But I got my answer -- by asking me to keep that secret, you showed a lack of respect for my boyfriend, a lack of respect for -me-, and more than that -- a lack of respect for yourself."

She walks over to the table, picking up her half-empty glass of milktea, and taking another sip. Jezebel's glass is still in arms' reach, at the table.

"People look up to Lightning Spangles because she represents everything we want to be. She does what's right -- and she makes no apology for it. All you have to do is walk that path whether people are watching or not."

As defiantly as Honoka stands, that rush of blood is still perfectly obvious on her cheeks -- a side effect she can't efface completely.

From her pocket, she withdraws a slender smartphone. Tapping a button, she brings the phone to her ear.
"Yeah. Get me one pair of pajamas from Costuming. One-eighty or so. Women's."

Slipping the phone back into her pocket, she asks, "So, do you want the couch, or the nice warm bed? I'm not picky. But I won't disrespect my boyfriend... Or you."

"Something like that," the predator says, flightily. "I'm a student of human nature. Inhuman nature as well, I suppose, but people are far more fascinating than monsters. People have nuance. Character. For so many monsters it's just eat or be eaten. There's no depth save in the ways they seek out prey. For them it's always the same. It's oh so droll."

"But here, -here-." Her voice booms briefly with excitement. It's a shocking display of power just through that brief swell of power that comes with the inflection, that sweeps in like a wave crashing upon the rocks. "There's so much potential. So many different ways the story could go. No simple-minded predation or century-long political games. Here fate sits on the precipice and where the story goes from where depends on just one. Little. Push." The voice is breathy, spitting out each word one at a time.

Her presence wanes slightly, withdrawing like the tide. It still lingers, but she's no longer putting on the screws. Honoka can feel that much. Her voice comes from across the room this time, an occupied chair across the living room.

"But which way will she go? Which way was she pushed?"

She grips her hair.

She tries to swallow the bile leaking up her throat. She succeeds, swallowing it down. She was shrinking, shrinking so small, so tiny, so nothing. Secrets. Why did she even think otherwise? Why did she imagine otherwise? What a stupid whore you are, Jezebel. What a stupid, desperate, homewrecking whore. She almost defiled and defaced Honoka, because she had the stupid idea that Honoka -wanted- her.

Because Jezebel wanted her.

Jezebel's thoughts suddenly shift hard, a festering black hole of pure, emotional misery. Pain, shrieking, screaming pain. Why would she betray Honoka's trust like that? Jezebel was almost about to take her, take her with or without her consent. What a hedonistic, vile whore queen you are. Jezebel has to swallow another rush of vomit. And the thought thrusts in, thrusts so far in, and hard. Why do you bother to try?

Why do you even bother living, Jezebel?

The action was smooth and immediate; Honoka might not even notice before it starts. Jezebel was taking her cup into the base of her palm, pressing it against her wrist. The death instinct overtakes her. Was this Morrigan's? Was this Honoka's doing? Was it just the unbroken wilderness of Jezebel's tortured mind trying to correct her shame?

And she starts to squeeze the glass cup into her wrist.

There is a cracking sound, The material splinters, shattering into the sharp edges. And there, she finally strikes. She drives in deeper, rending into her wrist with the broken glass. She is a rising shriek, a scream of finality as she pushes harder, harder, raking and ripping into herself... until there is nothing but the smallest, broken shards on the ground. And she falls silent.

With not even a mark on her wrist.

"Ha ha ha." Jezebel laughs out loud. "You know, Honoka, I used to- I used to think the same thing. I used to think that if I could be Lightning Spangles, all the time, I'd never have to worry about being what I am. I could always wear the mask, and I did. I could always be the mask, and nobody would ever see the real me. A lonely, horny addict, who will do anything for.. anything for attention, like a spoiled princess. If I could, I would be Lightning Spangles. I would be her forever and ever, and find a hole to bury Just Jezebel in."

"But I'm always going to be what I am, aren't I?"

"I'm never going to stop being what I am. Because all I am in the dark is everything I hate. I'm just a disgusting, old, woman, who can pretend. But..." Jezebel sniffles. She sounded so tired now, so weak. "I'm sorry for what I am, Honoka. I'm sorry that you had to see Lightning Spangles what she really is. Just a game of pretend. That's... that's why I want a world of Spangles. Ainu Spangles. Aussie Spangles... because there are people better than me, who deserve to be Lightning Spangles more than me. If the whole world was Lightning Spangles, everyone would be... would be happier. With themselves. With each other." A light builds inside her, as she clasps her hands together.

"If I can make someone else happy, it's almost like I made myself happy."

Honoka bristles slightly at the booming excitement from the unseen predator in the room. It's as if every dramatic statement she makes is accompanied by an orchestral hit, every joke accompanied by a Scottish-accented laugh track. She'd hush the soul parasite, if she were sure that the enraged reaction wouldn't serve as an appetizer for her hunger.

Besides -- the shadow will get her answer, as Jezebel's madness forces a most peculiar reaction. Honoka turns as soon as the black hole yawns wide, as the ennui becomes a wide-spanning maelstrom threatening to pull the entire room into its maw. Pink-tinted locks sweep in a wide circle from the whirling motion, before falling to her chest and shoulders.

The empty glass is pulverized into tiny glass beads, right before her eyes, accompanied by a most pained scream.

And then, that laugh -- the laugh of someone who has leapt right off the precipice of madness and is freefalling towards a crucial turning point.

She's seen people at this state before -- lots of people. Yakuza who have crossed the point of no return, irredeemably and unsalvageably degrading the state of business. Crooked politicians who crossed the wrong gangster -- invoking the ire of financial conglomerates, or hitmen, or law enforcement.

Honoka's eyes tremble as she hears the desperate words. The duality of characters -- the same sort of conflict she goes through every day. And this ... this -actress- is going through the same desperate struggles as those she's slain, without prejudice or mercy, in cold blood.
To -help- them.
To -end- their agony.

Honoka frowns.

She stares back at the woman who made Lightning Spangles into an international phenomenon, freefalling towards oblivion... With her eyes wide open.

And it is Honoka who closes her eyes, drawing in her breath.
She could end it, right now.
No one would know.
And she's doubtless that anyone would even -care-...
Except for the witnesses, just a few minutes prior, who would doubtless remember their surroundings within the Twilight Star Circus.

Honoka's fists clench, as she draws in her breath.

"Then write me a script. Or dictate it, whatever. Tonight."

The juggler's eyes open.
And she inclines her head in a conciliatory expression.
"I'll shop it around tomorrow. We'll get a few edits on it."

She smiles, reassuringly.
"A world without Lightning Spangles isn't one I want to live in."

"I'm impressed," says the Unseen Predator, "you've stayed very calm, all things considered." Her voice grows more distant. Colder. Less excited.

"Which is good. She's no use to anyone dead. Such dread. Such self-loathing. It's miserable."

"To think that some men see tragedy as comedy. They laugh at women like her, because they don't know what else to do. It could be them, in another life. The abyss yawns before them, and they laugh for lack of knowing what else they might do."

The voice fades, becoming more distant. "I leave this to you, for now. Your resolve has impressed me," A pause. "So much so that perhaps I shall give you a boon later. For now, I'll be watching."

They might not even accuse Honoka

What jury would convinct Honoka? It would be so easy to just snap her neck, and stop the pain. Her pain. Their pain. The toxic misery that she spewed and poured all over. Jezebel's existence was a festering disease, a swollen carbuncle on reality. It hung and rot and spread, infecting people in their kindness and their hate, a blister on their selves.

And yet, unwittingly, Jezebel's obnoxious existence only serves to ensure her life.

As Honoka comforts, as Honoka gives the smile, Jezebel almost forgets how -ashamed- she made Honoka, how embarassed she made her. How personally she killed the dream. Well, almost killed the dream. Because it was true. Because a world without Lightning Spangles wouldn't be one Jezebel wanted to live in, either. The world needed her, if only because she's Lightning Spangles. Nobody else could be. And Honoka.... and HOnoka commits. Jezebel sniffles. "Thank you. Thank you Honoka. THe world..."

"The world needs more friends like you."


"Merry Christmas, y'all!" Cries out Lightning Spangles, as she strides out on to the set. The set was a kind of christmas scene; a great feast table in the center, a Christmas tree behind it, filled with the hottest new sponsored toys. All around, there were her animal friends. A Hoedown Dillo, dressed in costume and makeup; an Indian Joe, the new character to replace Injun Joe, and of course Wendy Wombat, smugly twittering on her Samsung smartphone. Lightning Spangles was dressed in her Lightning Spangles best, except with a beautiful christmas theme! Red, white, and -green- christmas lights were flashing on her vest, as she carries mistletoe on her belt, and holly in her hair. She salutes her animal friends, alongside their important guest star.

"And a great big howdy to you, Rowan Atkinson!"

The grey-haired british actor in the fine tan suit stares at the arrival of Lightning Spangles. He turns towards the animal companions, and back to Lightning Spangles. "Howdy." He says flatly. "I am so delighted to be part of this Christmas feast, or I would be, if I wasn't around such insipid, idiotic besuited animals. I would expect less from you Americans, but you've managed to set the bar so low, that this is somehow an improvement." Lightning Spangles laughs out loud. "Ha ha ha! ha ha ha! Not -that- Rowan Atkinson." The actor pauses. And then, his expression changes. He puffs up his cheeks. His bulges out his eyes. And looks around wildly and dully, mouth in innocent awe. Lightning Spangles claps her hands. "That's the right one! And boy howdy, just in time! I'm back from my time traveling, where I got to meet the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ainu Spangles! She taught us a lot about the Ainu people, customs, and cultures, in ways I am not going to repeat using my own words!" Helpfully explains Lightning Spangles. She comes to the table. "And I can see a great big feast! It's gravy! It's mashed potatos! It's stuffing, which is my favorite! But boy howdy!" She gasps.

"Now where is the Christmas Turkey?"

And as if on cue, the turkey appears by breaking through a mock wall bearing the Lighting Spangles Christmas Carol Hoewdown logo. In this case, the turkey is one Hayley Bretherton, dressed up in an overly plush turkey costume. Her arms are stuffed in big, flipper-like wing mits and a full hood and bright yellow beak cover her face.

"Right here!" she beams, putting on her best foot forward. Fortunately, at the very least, it's hard to recognize her in the getup.

And the turkey has arrived.

Jezebel looks at the arrival of her co-star wit ha great big real smile. "What a... a...." Jezebel pauses. Her line. "What a..." What a great, fat turkey. Jezebel tightens her jaw, as she stares up and down Hayley's costume. What a great, fat turkey.


And the director calls out. "God dammit Jezebel, these are your fucking lines! Lets go back to when she comes in." The cast and crew grumbles, as they head back to their places. Jezebel.... Jezebel keeps staring, still in shock. "Ha ha ha, I mean, you were great... you were great Hayley! Um, but we can't- we can't see you." Jezebel pats Hayley on the shoulder, as the director starts barking at people into their places. "You have to look like a Turkey, Hayley."

"Everyone at home has to know it's you."

"R-really?" Hayley asks, pulling the beak back with a stretch of the elastic band holding it on. It takes her a moment of tugging and adjusting to get it off from her mouth and nose and onto her head, where it sits and makes her look like some sort of awful, misshapen turkeycorn. She pulls back the hood of the costume and shakes her hair free.

"I mean, I didn't think you'd -want- to see me. I thought you wanted more turkey than Aussie Spangles for this scene. Sorry."

The stage crew hoists the busted fake wall up, lugging it off-stage to make room for a replacement.

"Is it the style? Was it supposed to be--to be a cooked turkey?"

"No, no, it's-"

Jezebel facepalms. She almost wanted it perfect. But the porportions were -wrong.- Jezebel was trying very hard to concede creative direction, but she had her vision, and everyone HAD to fall into that vision. She keeps up the smile. "It's not the style, it's- it's how you're carrying yourself, Hayley. Now I need you to perform just the way I told you to, Hayley. I need you to show that you are Aussie Spangles, in a turkey costume. And can you make yourself look less... big? You are supposed to be a scrawny turkey! N-now lets...." She looks at the wall, and the crew. "Lets try this again!"

"Lets repose this set!"


"Merry Christmas, y'all!" Cries out Lightning Spangles, as she strides out on to the set. The set was a kind of christmas scene; a great feast table in the center, a Christmas tree behind it, filled with the hottest new sponsored toys. All around, there were her animal friends. A Hoedown Dillo, dressed in costume and makeup; an Indian Joe, the new character to replace Injun Joe, and of course Wendy Wombat, smugly twittering on her Samsung smartphone. Lightning Spangles was dressed in her Lightning Spangles best, except with a beautiful christmas theme! Red, white, and -green- christmas lights were flashing on her vest, as she carries mistletoe on her belt, and holly in her hair. She salutes her animal friends, alongside their important guest star.

"And a great big howdy to you, Rowan Atkinson!"

The grey-haired british actor in the fine tan suit stares at the arrival of Lightning Spangles. He puffs up his cheeks. His bulges out his eyes. And looks around wildly and dully, mouth in innocent awe. Lightning Spangles claps her hands. "That's the right one! And boy howdy, just in time! I'm back from my time traveling, where I got to meet the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ainu Spangles! She taught us a lot about the Ainu people, customs, and cultures, in ways I am not going to repeat using my own words!" Helpfully explains Lightning Spangles. She comes to the table. "And I can see a great big feast! It's gravy! It's mashed potatos! It's stuffing, which is my favorite! But boy howdy!" She gasps.

"Now where is the Christmas Turkey?"

As if on cue, Hayley appears by breaking through a mock wall bearing the Lighting Spangles Christmas Carol Hoedown logo. She's dressed in a turkey themed version of her "Aussie Spangles" costume. This means that Hayley is wearing a brown shirt, khaki shorts, and a khaki vest --except her normal boots are replaced with big, talon-like turkey leg boots. She's wearing a big turkey beat over her face, the elastic strap covered by her typical bush hat.

"I'm right here!" Hayley says, beaming--slightly awkwardly. She spins around as she does so, winking at the camera. When she turns she sticks her butt out just slightly, putting the turkey tail sitting atop her backside in full display. A stray feather floats off of it.

Jezebel looks at the -far- sexier Hayley, and tries not to freeze.

It was just as wrong as last time. SHe was too -big-. A juicy, thick turkey like Hayley didn't need to be so juicy and thick. It had to be skinny, so Jezebel could lead the stuffing and the basting. Hayley -needed- Jezebel to plump her up. She needed Jezebel to make her 'right' and ready for the great big feast. And now, and now she...

"Such a small, skinny turkey-"


"Jezebel, the line is, 'What a great, fat turkey.' Lets try this again people." Jezebel freezes her face in a smile. The cast facepalms and starts grumbling. But Jezebel's attention was on Hayley. On her turkey. "Ha ha ha, you did great, Hayley! You did really good! I'm so sorry!" She puts an arm over her shoulders. "Can you... show off you bottom less, Hayley?"

"That's not the side of you people should see."

"Right," Hayley says, not even taking the beak off this time. She rubs the back of her neck awkwardly. "I'll see if I can't just fluff up the tail feathers so you can see them better from the front. Would that be better?"

Hayley quickly slips away, moving toward the backstage to fix up the costume a little. "I'm sure you'll get the line right next time, Jez," she calls. "And I'll have the costume touched up in no time at all."

'I'm sure you'll get the line right next time, Jez'

Jezebel feels the blood leave her face. Hayley drew a knife, and sliced to her heart. Betrayal. After all she did for her, and how did she respond? I'm sure you'll get he line right next time, Jez. Not even -Jezebel-, her full name. Was she her mentor? Jezebel felt, felt used like how Honoka used her in the hotel room. She did use her, right? Jezebel remembered her hot body as she took off her pants, while she was on the couch....

Used, and used, and used.

Jezebel stumbles backs off camera, off set. "One more time!" She says aloud. "Just one more time! And I'll get it right! I'll definately get it right!"

"I won't disappoint you again!"


"Merry Christmas, y'all!"

Thus cries out Lightning Spangles, as she strides out into the Showup Hoedown House of Spangles. A great feast table in the center, a Christmas tree behind it, filled with the hottest new sponsored toys. All around, there were her animal friends. The Hoedown Dillo, a fiddlin and a frolicking as Dillo do, Injun Joe, solemnly staring ahead with grim repose, and of course Wendy Wombat, smugly twittering on her Apple iPhone. Lightning Spangles was dressed in her Lightning Spangles best, except with a beautiful christmas theme! Red, white, and -green- christmas lights were flashing on her vest, as she carries mistletoe on her belt, and holly in her hair. She salutes her animal friends, alongside their important guest star.

"And a great big howdy to you, Mr. Bean!"

The grey-haired british actor in the fine tan suit stares at the arrival of Lightning Spangles. He puffs up his cheeks. His bulges out his eyes. And looks around wildly and dully, mouth in innocent awe. Lightning Spangles claps her hands.

"Boy howdy, just in time!" She strides through, as all her friends smile at her. WEndy Wombat prepares a platter of Baconators, while Lightning Spangles explains. "I'm back from my time traveling, where I got to meet the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ainu Spangles! She taught us a lot about the Ainu people, customs, and cultures! Did you know they are just like our native america people, just like you Injun Joe!" Injun Joe responds with a silent nod, as he begins to change into a traditional Ainu robe. She comes to the table. "And I can see a great big feast! It's gravy! It's mashed potatos! Baconators! It's stuffing, which is my favorite! But boy howdy!" She gasps.

"Now where is the Christmas Turkey?"

Aussie Spangles, dressed a Christmas turkey, breaks through the mock-up wall bearing the Lightning Spangles Christmas Carol Hoedown logo. She rolls forward in a tumble before springing up like a gymnast, arms spread wide. Her turkey costume--several festive, feathery decorations hanging over her typical Aussie Spangles costume--looks to be size or two too big. The big, feathery tail in the back practically covers the back of her from thighs to neck.

"Right here, Lightning Spangles! I couldn't be late for your special Christmas feast!" She turns and puts one hand on her hip, angling herself toward Jez and away from the prying eyes of the camera.

Hayley gives the camera a winning smile. Her eye twitches minutely.

Lightning Spangles strides by, as the Hoedown Dillo continues to fiddle.

"Goodness gracious, what a fat, great turkey! But we can't have you just yet, unless we prepare you all plump and good!" Lightning Spangles grabs those skinny flaps of skin, and shakes them up and down. "Isn't that right, Injun Joe?"

The Injun Joe nods.

She turns the turkey around, sing-songging "We gotta get you right to the kitchen, Turkey! To make you all stuffed and basted and plumped right up!" Wiggling her own bottom, she points into the doorway. "Don't you want to do what you are meant to do for me, turkey? Don't you want to make your Lightning Spangles happy and plump, with big, lovable hips?"

"Don't you, turkey?"


"Goodness gracious, what a fat, great turkey! But we can't have you just yet! Not when we haven't even talked about the history of the Christmas turkey! Did you kids know that Benjamin Franklin wanted it to be America's national bird instead of the eagle?" Lightning Spangles grabs Aussie Spangles and spins her over toward the table. "Isn't that right, Indian Joe?"

Hayley blinks uncomfortably when Jezebel continues to stare after grabbing the intentionally loose folds her turkey costume and leers at her for an overly long moment. Hayley breaks the moment of silence by picking up with her next line.

"Oi, I never knew that Lighting Spangles," her accent emphasized more heavily, but not outrageously so. "So then how did the turkey wind up a Christmas treat instead? Seems right disrespectful to eat the national bird!"


A long shadow creeps onto the set of Jezebel's mind, pouring in like subtle ink. A compound infection the fever dream that already exists in Jezebel's mind. It threads itself in like a tapeworm, feeding off those feelings of envy and gluttony pervading Jezebel's psyche. The shadow creeps on to Hayley.

"That's right, Lighting Spangles! Fix me up to be part of your Christmas feast!" she says with a saccharine smile.

"I'd do anything for my best friend!"


"CUT!" the director bellows. "That's good so far, but what about the next LINE! You've got a musical number AND the edutainment section coming up, so timing is everything!"

There was no shadow for Lightning Spangles.

For Jezebel, there was only the perfect words and the perfect performance. Every word out of her mouth was seperate from the words in her head. And why would they be the same? Nothing was ever the same anymore. This was going to be just perfect for Jezebel, and just perfect for everyone else. Her stares were piercing into Hayley.

And it was pure joy.

"That's great!" Cries out Jezebel, as the take goes just perfect. The cycle was continuing, as the cycle continues, a perfect cycle as they get every line exactly as it needs to be. And Hayley was looking more and more perfect! Jezebel could just imagine buttering her up, oiling her up and buttering her up and making her, just, just, right. "This time," Jezebel says, eyes bleary, "This time, we'll do it with the musical number!" The walls come back out, as the cast goes back to their places.

"Lets try this again, people!"


"Merry Christmas, y'all!"

Thus cries out Lightning Spangles, as she strides out into the Showup Hoedown House of Spangles. A great feast table in the center, a Christmas tree behind it, filled with the hottest new sponsored toys. All around, there were her animal friends. The Hoedown Dillo, a fiddlin and a frolicking as Dillo do, Injun Joe, solemnly staring ahead with grim repose, and of course Wendy Wombat, smugly twittering on her Apple iPhone. Lightning Spangles was dressed in her Lightning Spangles best, except with a beautiful christmas theme! Red, white, and -green- christmas lights were flashing on her vest, as she carries mistletoe on her belt, and holly in her hair. She salutes her animal friends, alongside their important guest star.

"And a great big howdy to you, Mr. Bean!"

The grey-haired british actor in the fine tan suit stares at the arrival of Lightning Spangles. He puffs up his cheeks. His bulges out his eyes. And looks around wildly and dully, mouth in innocent awe. Lightning Spangles claps her hands.

Junkabel Faiblesse says, "Boy howdy, just in time!" She strides through, as all her friends smile at her. WEndy Wombat prepares a platter of Baconators, while Lightning Spangles explains. "I'm back from my time traveling, where I got to meet the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ainu Spangles! She taught us a lot about the Ainu people, customs, and cultures! Did you know they are just like our native america people, just like you Injun Joe!" Injun Joe responds with a silent nod, as he begins to change into a traditional Ainu robe. She comes to the table. "And I can see a great big feast! It's gravy! It's mashed potatos! Baconators! It's stuffing, which is my favorite! But boy howdy!" She gasps.

"Now where is the Christmas Turkey?"

"That's right, Lighting Spangles! Fix me up to be part of your Christmas feast!" Hayley says with a saccharine smile.

"I'd do anything for my best friend!"

"Then lets go!"

Lightning Spangles takes Hayley by her feathery wings, and begins to spin her around, square dancing their way right into the kitchen. Inside, there is already a hustle and a bustle, as everyone. Little mice scurry around, dressed in little maid outfits as they scurry.

And who else to help but Martha Stewart herself.

The world famous chef was, for tax purposes, helping Lightning Spangles out! Dressed in an adorable lit-up christmas sweater, she was busy whisking a mixing bowl. "Oh! Lightning Spangles! Lets get that pretty little Turkey on here, at the counter, so we can get her ready! And you know what is the best way to prepare a scrawny little turkey, Lightning Spangles?" Lightning Spangles turns towards you, and smiles. "Why, with a song of course!"

And they all begin to sing.

./' "Cook and clean, that's our team," ./'
./' "When you are having Christmas Dinner!" ./'
./' "In America you believe in Christmas," ./'
./' "That's what makes a winner!" ./'

Already, they place Hayley on the table, in joyful unison.

./' "When Christmas Past comes at last, ./'
./' "You have the Christmas Present!' ./'
./' "With toys and boys and just a little coy," ./'
./' "You just know where to send it!" ./'

Lightning Spangles and Martha Stewart begin to pluck Hayley, stripping away the feathers more and more.

./' "Christmas is all about Jesus you know, ./'
./' "ANd Jesus is the heart of America!" ./'
./' "With baby Jesus born you know," ./'
./' "You can bless your familica!" ./'

Martha Stewart begins to pluck rub the melted butter all over Hayley, getting her skin into a healthy shiny glow.

./' "Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!" ./'
./' "Christmas, Christmas, Christmas!" ./'
./' "Today is Christmas, yes you know," ./'
./' "Today is christmas!" ./'

At this time, Martha Stewart begins to rub the sage and spices all over... until there is a gasp. Martha Stewart, Lightning Spangles, and even the Hoedown Dillo has to all look at a nearby countertop. "Mr. Bean, what are you doing?!" And Mr. Bean had a bowl of Mashed Potatoes on his head!

And everyone -laughs- at such a sight!

They all laughed, even Hayley with her glistening skin and special blend of spices, prepared just for Jezebel.


The cast works through the opening once more. Hayley busts through the wall as a great, fat turkey. Indian Joe nods. Hayley asks about the origin of the holiday turkey in America.

There's an obnoxiously catchy musical number called "That Great, Goofy Bird." An edutainment section follows and enlightens the kids at home about how the tradition got started and even how many turkeys are eaten each year.


The scene is filmed again, but this time without the dish getting knocked off the counter during the dance number.

Filming begins again, this time making it through the edutainment section to go to a flashback about American holiday traditions. How the Puritans banned Christmas celebrations because they distracted from religious discipline, and the origin of the Christmas tree.


They make it through those sections this time, an exasperated cast hanging in there despite all odds. The new director somehow makes it -work-, and Hayley gives it one-hundred and ten percent regardless of how many takes they need. No matter the stares that Jezebel gives her. Those lingering, distant stares that slip in between the dialogue and the dance numbers.


Hayley glistens on the counter, but stops laughing. "Is this going to be enough, Lightning Spangles?" she asks, uncertain. "I wouldn't want you to go hungry just because of a skinny turkey! What do you think, Martha Stewart?"

The Unseen Predator stirs feelings like a cauldron, adding fuel to so many fires. Selfishness, arrogance, envy, even gluttony. That feeling of wanting to be wanted to by everyone. To have them throwing themselves at her. Will Jezebel turn away from it or embrace it?

Jezebel would never turn away from this.

Wrapped in the rich fantasy world of her -true- dream production, she was laughing, and laughing, as she stared down at the glistening Hayley. "Why, I think we have to plump you up, Hayley!" Martha Stewart says, as she draws out the massive, basting syringe. Martha Stewart inserts the needle into Hayley's scrawny thigh, Lightning Spangles continues the brilliant music from her heart, as the Hoedown Dillo continues to fiddle.

"./' Christmas Time, Christmas Time ./'
./' Lightning Spangles is the best ./'
./' Better than rum and lime, ./'
./' Better than the rest ./'

Martha Stewart finishes the first dose, letting the juices dribble out of Hayley. Drawing it into the heaving bucket of brine, she prepares to injects a second dose, letting the tUrkey grow and grow, as Mr. Bean stands by with a great, big tub of stuffing. Lightning Spangles and the mice begin to collect the finished dishes.

./' We love you Lightning Spangles ./'
./' We love you so much ./'
./' We love you to the death, ./'
./' We would rather die than let you down! ./'

Already, the mice and Lightning Spangles are taking the food out to the table in the dining room, adding to the feast. All the guests are taking their seats, with the exception of Martha Stewart and Mr. Bean, who are busy stuffing the turkey.

./' We know you hurt yourself, ./'
./' We know others hurt you ./'
./' They are wrong, they are so wrong ./'
./' We hate how they hurt you! ./'

Lightning Spangles does a hoedown dance, serving Baconators and gravy on every plate, as the mice starts pouring great frothy mugs of milk at each place; the kitchen is no longer in sight. You can hear the sounds of the stuffing in the other room, as the turkey is being prepared more and more, before she is roasted for Lightning Spangle's pleasure.

./' Every man woman and child should be you, Lightning Spangles, ./'
./' Should love you, and be a tool ./'
./' Everyone who doesn't like you ./'
./' Is nothing but a fool! ./'

Lightning Spangles takes her place at the head of the table, as the green beans are piled on her plate. A great space is cleared for the Turkey, as all her friends look at her, banging with their forks and spoons, staring at her in awe.

./' Honoka really wanted you, Lightning Spangles ./'
./' She wanted you more than anything ./'
./' Her boyfriend is poisoning you ./'
./' Kill her boyfriend, and you can have h- ./'

"Stop the music, everyone!"

Thus cries out Martha Stewart, as she steps out of the kitchen. And she has the goofiest grin on her face. "We have a problem in the kitchen." ANd she just shakes her head, throwing her arms to the side. And there is a building color, as Martha Stewart steps aside, to let Mr. Bean staggers out blindly.

"Mr. Bean got the turkey stuck on his head!"

The shadow dances from face to face, flitting about the scene with the same chaotic pace of the embers in the nearby hearth. At one point she rests on Hayley, slowly expanding and becoming less Hayley and more turkey with each moment. In another she is Martha Stewart, bringing about that terrible transformation for Jezebel's amusement. In yet another she's Wendy Wombat, tweeting awful comments about the whole affair.

The Unseen Predator plays each role, however briefly. She dances between perspectives to capture each scene like the director framing the perfect shot. Perhaps even the Unseen Predator can't look away from the depravity, the selfishiness, and the bizarre feverdream creativity of it all. Perhaps it holds the same appeal of an accident, that mesmerizing draw that overcomes the feelings of disgust or horror.

Or perhaps it's seeing someone's deepest desire given form. Flaws corrected by fantasy in all its terrible glory. A soul laid bare before prying eyes.



The actors and stagehands move to their places in a flurry of activity. Bitter and exhausted, they take positions for one final take.

"Okay people, this is the last scene. The heartfelt finale where everyone's gathered together as a big, happy family. Blah blah blah, you know how these things work. Ready...action!"

Hayley and Martha Stewart bring in the pristine, corporate-sponsored Tofurky that glimmers perfectly in the lighting. Hayley, having been saved from a terrible fate by a realization that one should be both healthy and kind to animals, smiles brightly at Lightning Spangles.

And then they all gather together in a moment of inclusive, pluralistic thankfulness for the holiday season before breaking into a heartfelt musical number. Food is passed around with dance-like choreography, all the cast singing happily and sharing the bounty with their friends and family--even Mr. Wesson, the grumpy old neighborhood hobo who really just needed hand to get back on his feet and a dose of Christmas cheer!

Was Jezebel's soul that naked?

Even before Morrigan, every time she dug deeper and deeper, she only found more incredible shame. It was an endless font of madness, of escalating shame. Was this where she was naked? Was it this time? How about this time? All of them were gathered before her. And yet, with her stares, her damnable eyes, her dreamlike words, she was in another world. Her vision was transfixed on the Tofurky, mouth watering and dribbling. It really was that good, wasn't it? It was really that wonderful? That amazing?

To perform the role of a lifetime.


The glistening turkey was right in front of Jezebel. Roasted to a crisp, and plumped. Jezebel already has the carving knife and fork, ready to dig into that tender flesh. And then, suddenly, Martha Stewart seizes her wrists. As the turkey looks up at her, so -eager- for Jezebel to tear her up and dig in, Lightning Spangles looks at the master chef. "What.... what is it Martha." Martha Stewart smiles, and looks to every at the table. And they all give a nod.

"No, Lightning Spangles, it's not -big- enough for you."

The mice begin to crawl inside the turkey. And then, the guests. Martha Stewart follows inside, as Mr. Bean wriggles and writhes within as well. Injun Joe fills inside... leaving Wendy Wombat, with a platter of Baconators, to stuff herself inside. The contents of the table, the food, the treats, were all being sucked inside.

Until the Turkey was finally big enough to satisfy Lightning Spangles.

The turkey was so plumped up now, overflowing with juices and Baconators, the mayo-drenched meat oozing out from below. Lightning Spangles stares up at the turkey towering over her, mouth watering... and hesitating. She turns over to the only one left at the table, the Hoedown Dillo. "Should I... Should I...." She was nervous, uncertain. Not ready... not ready to take in her paradise. It was so much... but was it too much? She pleads to her closest, most important friend.

"Should I eat the Baconators?"

The Hoedown Dillo looks at Jezebel, at Lightning Spangles, for a long moment. It stares at her with its Dillo eyes and their Dillo sockets. It holds its Dillo fiddle and Dillo bow in silent awe of the spectacle.

And then it starts to play. It raises up that Dillo bow and Dillo fiddle and plays its merry Dillo tune, dancing around the table. Dancing atop the table while it plays that maddening tune. It plays faster, and faster. Louder and louder into a crescendo of a Dillo song as it starts toward the end of the table, dancing right before Jez as it breaks the denouement.

The playing stops, the Dillo takes a deep bow, holding the fiddle out and the bow across its chest.

And then it too disappears into the turkey.



The cry echos around her, as she blinks. Jezebel sits at the table, staring ahead. The table is completely empty. Nobody is on the set. No Hayley. No Dillo. Nothing but scraps of food, stained dishes. Her belly felt so empty. The soundstage was absolutely dark. There were only embers in the hearth. Where was.... where was Hayley? The director? Who yelled 'Cut?' Where was the rich, juicy turkey? Where were her friends? Her stomach was groaning, as she stares over the scraps. No.


The fantasy was gone, the dream was gone. She- she wanted them. She wanted them all. And yet, the show was over. THe part was shot. It was- how long ago was it? It had to have just happened. Where was the Hoedown Dillo? Where was Hayley. Jezebel climbs on the table, crawling down it, looking for any signs. ANything. She was so hungry. She was starving. And yet, there was nothing. No feast for Lightning Spangles. She squirms and crawls, reaching the other end... where she sees something. A scrap.

A piece of paper.

Delicately, Jezebel takes the piece of paper. It was folded up, and stained in grease. Curious, as her stomach moaned, she unfolds it, opening it. And there, she sees the words. Quietly, she reads it. And she smiles. She smiles a pure smile, the most pure smile. She pulls herself off the table, falling to the ground. And she rises up. Smile burning on her lips, she walks out into the darkness, the darkness around the set.

It all made sense now.


The walk through the forest comes step by step, as the smell of burnt ash hangs heavily in the air. Nobody should be here. Nobody could be here, in the wake of the pure destruction. But Jezebel's resolve was unstoppable. The moment had finally, when she finally understood. It was hard to make it, hard to pass the cordon, hard to follow the mountain trails. The radiation was supposed to be unbearable, the spiritual corruption unbelievable. But she tried, she persisted. As she reads the paper out loud, as she winds off the trails, past the dancing lights, as the spiritual weight grows.

"After a three year hiatus, Jezebel Failblesse has returned as Lightning Spangles in the Lightning Spangles Showup Hoedown Christmas Carol! With her mediocre but passable video library since her return, the question is on her fans lips: is the newest Lightning Spangles comeback worth your time?"

"Unfortunately, this critic has to say 'no' with a but. By Lightning Spangles standards, the dialogue was insipid and soulless. That's the driving element in this movie, soulless. I am hardly the biggest Lightning Spangles fan, as you know from my previous reviews, but there is a certain love for the absolute madness that her scenes tend to bring. The movie does keep the chaotic nature of Lightning Spangles, with fast edits and a nonsensical plot that barely follows the Charles Dickens classic. But instead of high kicking cowgirls or wild stage productions, the whole thing is fairly... mundane.

Instead of a full stage production dance numbers, you only get a hackneyed message about holiday good will, with a lifeless song and dance numbers. Even the product placement, usually hilarious upfront, was almost insultingly subtle. Rather than being an ambitious failure, which I actually admit to liking with the Lightning Spangles franchise, it was indecisive, self-absorbed affair. Even Lightning Spangles, hardly the acting queen, seemed distracted and out of herself, only going through the motions. As a serious note, I strongly hope that she is not backsliding into her addictions again, and if she is, she should receive the help she needs immediately.

However, not everything about the special was terrible. One of the new 'themes' that Lightning Spangles is pushing with the new franchise is the International Spangles; that is, Lightning Spangles from different cultures and countries. I had the least expectations for this, but was pleasantly surprised at the talent she was able to procure. Honoka Kawamoto, world famous fighter, acrobat, juggler, really anything performance wise, has proven herself an excellent actress in the otherwise confusing Ainu Spangles segment. She carried the role with both solemn dignity for the Ainu people, and yet kept a kind of zest of life that Lightning Spangles was lacking in this special. As I understand, she had more creative control over this segment than the others, and I think if that's the case, we should be seeing more Honoka movies, even as Ainu Spangles. The edutainment segments were also very interesting; I actually learned about the Ainu people! Likewise, Hayley Bretherton, daughter of former fighting star Arthur 'Art' Bretherton, makes her debut as the new 'Aussie Spangles.' I thought she would be a one-dimensional character, but I actually think she plays a better Lightning Spangles than Lightning Spangles. Hayley demonstrates an acting ability well beyond her- well beyond her mentor, and an energy that's impossible to define. I actually laughed when she made jokes, which is more than I can say for anything Jezebel said!

Ultimately, I felt like this was just Jezebel phoning it in, to restart her Lightning Spangles license. A complete and utter disappointment, that defiles the source material of both Charles Dickens and Lightning Spangles. I do think Honoka and Hayley have great potential in being the new Spangles. Dare I say, better Lightning Spangles than Jezebel, who has clearly run out of energy and material. I would say just watch it for their scenes, and skip the rest.

1.5 out of 4 stars."

Jezebel stops in front of the tree before her, the branches hanging heavily. She was far enough from the path. Deftly, she throws the Lightning Spangles My First Lasso rope up into the air, hanging the noose over the withered pine branch. She tugs it softly, before opening the noose. She draws in a happy, optimistic breath of finality. She was ready, finally ready. Ready to embrace her Christmas Future.

Ready to join in the legacy of Aokigahara.

As odd as it may seem, Jezebel is not alone in her seemingly final moments.

Not terribly far from away, there is a blur of purple-tinged static, as though someone had changed the channel on reality for just a moment, which fades quickly. In its wake is a young man in a large purple hospital bed, completely asleep. The bed tilts up, the orb at its top almost looking like a comical caricature of a head on a long neck - the crown doesn't help! - and sways from side to side, as if looking for something with the eyes it doesn't have.

Hovering in dream space, Bedman takes in the view from the sensory orb, drumming his fingers on his hip. "This place is truly a hotbed of overlapping energy signatures," he notes to no one in particular. "Ruined wards, an absurdly powerful ley line, spiritual radiation..." In the real world, the bed leans down, brushing through the grass looking for something. One of its spike-tipped hands returns with what he was looking for: a sticky red substance. "Blood? Paint? Perhaps. Doesn't matter. An attempt to subvert future warding, no doubt. Someone wants this place. Wanted it. High probability they might still." He breathes in deeply in the dream, his body unconsciously mimicking it in reality. "Intensely negative energy, millenia of it, left alone due to a strange sense of holiness, so no doubt it's an outsider of some kind, perhaps a--"


Something registers, just at the edge of his senses, suddenly enough to even shut up Bedman from rambling to himself as his curiosity takes over. The bed swivels from side to side, hunting. /There./ With a small psionic push, the bed teleports again, that purple-limned static appearing once more, this time just in time for Bedman to note the My First Lasso flipping over the branch of the tree. My First And Last Noose, more like. Was it her first? It seems unlikely. Bedman raises an eyebrow, and smirks despite himself. A Darkstalker? Surely not. But there was something at play here; it was more like it was above her, behind her. Riding her, as it were. He just had to keep her alive a little longer.

The eight-foot-tall-and-change bedframe looms, the frail body strapped - nay, nailed - to it making no real movement, but Jez can still hear a voice - Bedman's voice - in her head; it reeks of youth and arrogance. "Lightning Spangles, why I never. The high-kicking all-American cowgirl. The all-singing all-dancing product placement of the world. Here hot off the heels of your Christmas special?" The bed lowers its orb-head as if to look at the noose more closely. "I understand the ratings weren't quite what you were expecting, and the reviewers had nothing but praise for your co-stars rather than you, but this seems like an unusual place for an American icon to give up and go out - surrounded by foreign ghosts who, I must say, are rather chatty about your presence here. Even in the wake of everything that's happened in Aokigahara recently, my, you've got them stirred up."

Someone was watching her.

Oh, someone was always watching her. She just didn't know it. The exploitation of personality. Wringing out the hopes and dreams of a woman, a washed up actress, to her final moments here. Her legacy was a rumble; a suicide was always brought with the eagerness of a new guest in the neighborhood typically. But with the corruption of the spiritual energy here, AND the quality of character of the new guest, the murmur was rising. Couldn't they just let this one pass to the afterlife? Couldn't they just let this one go. It certainly didn't help it as well.

The presence of the Darkstalker was -boiling- from her as well.

Jezebel didn't... didn't question the barrage. The words were coming so fast, so relentless, so... unstopping. Casting her eyes upwards, she stares upwards, over, behind her, on her. Riding... she was used to the riding. But from someone so young? The worst she's heard was at least 11, and online. This was the youngest, and the strangest. A massive bed, a shape. It was unreal. It -wasn't- real. She... she thought it was another ghost from the past. A sick boy, yes, a Lightning Spangles Special Deputy. She had so many of them, the sick boys and girls, dying of cancer of the bones, of the blood, who wanted to meet their hero. To meet their Lightning Spangles. Jezebel loved them the most; they never judged. They never would judge.

Not until now, she thought.

"Please... please don't... don't..." Jezebel stammers. "I don't... I don't feel comfortable doing this... doing this in front of a child." She turns her eyes back to the rope of oblivion that would take her away from the pain. "It's- it's very important. I've failed. I failed so much, and.... and Honoka, and Hayley would do much better without me. They can carry on the legacy of LIghtning Spangles. This... this wasn't the only review like this."

"There are other reviews like this on Rotten Tomatoes."

She pulls the rope gently. "Y- You must be my Tiny Tim. I've been haunted by so many ghosts." She says, as the line between reality and fantasy blurs within as well as without. "I- I let you down, didn't I? You were on your bed, on your hospital bed, with hospital food, and you wanted to see Lightning Spangles more than ever. It was your wish, and... and so they were poor, and your family was poor, and they- and they played the latest Lightning Spangles movie, straight to DVD! And you saw it, you saw the Lightning Spangles Christmas Carol..."

"And you died, cursing Lightning Spangles on your lips."

Jezebel stares at the rope, as the overwhelming psionic and spiritual pressure continues to crush her. She makes a practice jump. "I deserve this, even with- even with foreign, um, foreign ghosts. I mean, ghosts are okay; they can be from any culture or creed. I don't- I don't think."

"And I think the future would think of me better if I wasn't in it."

"Another psychic?" the voice returns, that same voice that spoke to Honoka in the hotel room. Speaking yet silent, all at once. "I suppose I should have expected it in this place, but you," the Unseen Predator's inflection rises, her curiosity piqued. "you're new." she states simply. "And what a strange contraption you have. To think that someone could asleep and alert all at once. How curious."

The presence weaves through Jezebel, planting a single thought in the midst of all the pressure. All the questions and desperation:

"Would it really?"

To Morrigan, a message returns in kind: "Think of it like lucid dreaming, assuming there's still enough humanity in you left to remember such a thing, which I assume there is since you're seeing where this goes rather than just helping her string up the noose. One last yippie-ki-yay and there goes the cowgirl. No, you're something else as well; you're more like that one vampire than anything, an observer, though he mostly does it because he can't decide if he wants to play a role in ongoing events or not. I do so hate indecision. You, on the other hand, have decided to play a game." Morrigan gets a glimpse of Bedman's lip, half-curled in a sneer. "Let's see where this goes, shall we?"

Back in the real world:

Bedman's bedframe raises a hand over top of Jezebel, almost protectively - the spikes are withdrawn anyway - preventing her from simply leaping to her own death, as that voice returns to her head. "Yes, indeed, I've seen a number of those reviews. Which is a thing I can do, since I am alive, merely asleep, but also aware - I could explain it to you but I'm not sure we have that kind of time. However, you're closer than you think. You see, Lightning Spangles, the reviewers failed to mention something that I would have thought was so blindingly obvious, so absolutely /necessary/ to the structure of the three-act play that I'm absolutely flummoxed that not a single one did. As you said, this was Lightning Spangles' Christmas Carol, was it not? And yet something was missing (other than the introduction, of course; I can only assume some kind of hallucinatory standin for poor Jacob Marley was the reason you went on this adventure to begin with)."

He begins ticking things off on his hand as he talks. "One, the ghost of Christmas Past. Miss Kawamoto, the star of the Twilight Star Circus and everything else she touches, as Ainu Spangles. And isn't she a delight to watch? Why shouldn't she be? She's everything *you* used to be, as far as the gullible public is concerned: young, bright, talented. Everything Honoka Kawamoto touches, be it flaming torches, the swinging trapeze, or even a fight, turns to gold."

Finger number two. "Second, the ghost of Christmas Present, that young lady you've convinced to be Aussie Spangles. She's primed and ready for the stage - with you as her mentor, she can finally step out from other her father's shadow. Even dressed as a turkey, she had the enthusiasm that you clearly were trying to recapture. Such joi de vivre! Behold the present - or at least, the present you're still trying to pretend is real.

Bedman raises a third finger, and the frame does as well. "But now we reach the crux of our problem. You know as well as I do that it is the lesson of the third ghost that truly shows Ebenezer Scrooge the error of his ways by scaring him straight. The one your own Carol was lacking, unless you want to count Rowan Atkinson's dead career. I'm guessing some writer deemed it 'too scary' for children to be confronted with one's own death." He snorts. "Well, the audience today," he says, spreading his arms wide, "is fully acquainted with death. Everyone here," he says, somehow meaningfully indicating Morrigan as well, "has seen the boundary between life and death many a time, but who among us can claim to have seen our own future?"

The bedframe crouches now, bringing the hanging form of Bedman level with Jezebel. He's older than she expected at first glance. "I am your Ghost of Christmas Future, Jezebel. I can show you many things. Are you ready to see for yourself a future without Lightning Spa--no. A future without /Jezebel Faiblesse/ in it?"

It was stopping her.

She was... she was stopped from jumping. Jezebel stares into the child, body trembling. She was frightened. She was so incredibly frightened. Before, she was- she was calm. She accepted a singularity, a single path of her own choice. Sleeping, dreaming... what was this? Was this his nightmare? His dream? Jezebel could not comprehend the miasma of madness she was wading chest deep into. She was terrified, staring at this child. She could pretend away so much. She would be pretending away so much, she even pretended her way here.

The problem was, he was -cutting- through her defenses.

Jezebel wanted to run away. She wanted to escape this awful child, with his awful words that was beating her more coldly and cruelly than any man, woman, child, THING could ever do. Honoka wasn't everything she used to be, she wasn't jealous of Honoka. She could muster an outrage, a protest... except it wasn't stopping. The machinegun of words was ripping apart her fortifications, her bulwarks, her walls. The praise, the praise from Bedman actually lifts her heart. A beautiful fantasy that she was pretending is real. Confusion, confusion was tearing apart her mental defenses, as finally, the pressure of the boy builds over her. She felt... she felt violated, and she didn't know why. As the third finger rises, she stares into the bleak reality of her fantasy world eviscerated and left and exposed corpse for the buzzards. This... this wasn't the fantasy she wanted. This wasn't the Christmas Carol she wanted.

And the boy was taking her there.

She felt trapped, ensnared by the pure presence. The clinical precision of Bedman's deconstruction left her without bones, without a skeleton. She felt like she was nothing but a quivering heap of jelly, her backbone ripped free to be presented before her. Mere words, from a not-so-mere child. There wasn't a Christmas Future in Lightning Spangles story. But it was becoming clear that there was going to be one for Jezebel. And the boy, the boy was eye level, giving her the faustian bargain, the offer of offers, the promises of promises. A world without Lightning Spangles?


A world without Jezebel.

There is an expression on Jezebel's slack-jawed, wide-eyed face as the offer is given. Was she ready to see a future without Jezebel Faiblesse in it? "Yes." Jezebel says, with hardly a thought. Jezebel, a woman of easy morals and loose ethics, always willing to say anything to take the fast path, has never felt a smoother, more natural acceptance that what the boy was offering. "I want to see a world without me." Shadows pass over Jezebel, not of Morrigan or of ghosts. But of the darkest desires, the most repressed desires of the actress, suddenly rising to the surface. The filthiest desires that was offered so cleanly and discretely to Jezebel, as she stood beside her oblivion. And the chilling whisper crawls out, the darkest shadow of the most selfish of the self-destroyers, the epitaph of every grave of every suicide.

"I want to see how much it would hurt people when I'm gone."

As the dark, ugly truth of what she really wants to see spills from Jezebel's lips, Jezebel may feel a presence in her mind, lifting her and her soul-riding Unseen Predator ever so gently, and the world goes white. Not the white of a blinding flash or a sunlit day, but the absolute blank canvas of unwritten reality. Aokigahara is replaced in an instant with sheer, silent, frighteningly still emptiness, and the boy - just a boy now, no longer strapped to a mechanical monstrosity, his half-lidded brown eyes now open, at least - floats in front of her, evaluating her.

"In this realm," he says, gesturing to the nothing-realm around him, "any possibility, every possibility, can be made real and put on display. Everything is open to us. And you want to see how much it would hurt them to have you gone, hmm? I admire your honesty; it's these dark, petty sentiments that make us human, after all. The monsters under your bed don't care if you're traumatized after you wake, after all, just that they can scare you in the moment. So, let's see where you want to go first..."

He holds one hand out towards Jezebel, and the scenery rapidly starts shifting. Near them, a table, chairs, a pile of mail. Bland wall paint choices. Someone's apartment? An office of some kind? Signed glossy portraits, all ready to be shipped out to admiring fans: 'Keep on kickin', lil' buckaroo! --Lightning Spangles' -- but it's dwarfed by the portraits of the other Spangles, more numerous than before, also waiting to be added to this month's fan club mailer. "My oh my," Bedman says, "It seems this young lady has been a fan of yours for a relatively long time, hm? She was always rooting for you, even through the addiction and the low-budget kung-fu cheesecake schlock. She probably even had a Lightning Spangles Christmas Carol viewing party!"

Bedman drifts closer to the desk where the Fan Club President of the Official Lightning Spangles Fan Club is typing up a newsletter, peering down at the letters onscreen. "If anyone would be hurt by your absence, it would probably be someone who's depended on your media presence for years, wouldn't it? Let's see what she's up to, shall we?"

Jezebel had her imaginations.

That they would be dramatically sobbing. How could they allow Jezebel to die? How could they have let her down? How could they have failed her? They would weep and gnash their teeth. They would regret everything, they would regret everything they did to hurt her. To hurt Jezebel. They never did anything nice for her, and now that they would see the true effects, the true pain they inflicted on Jezebel? THey would be sorry. They would all be sorry. The writhing thought slithers in Jezebel's heart... as the room shifts into shape. Jezebel's reaction comes in an instant. "I have..." Jezebel trails off, in awe.

"The president of my fanclub is a girl?"

Jezebel steps past the boy, as she peers over the room, the figure, the girl. She was... she was homely. She was a little old, too old for Lightning Spangles. But Lightning Spangles brought the kid out of their heart. You could even see the faintest wrinkles. And yet, Jezebel remembered when she had a room just like this. She looks at the library, the rows and rows of DVDs. She recognized some of those movies as.... not Lightning Spangles movies. But Jezebel movies. A pervert, right? One of the perverts. Her walk through the room, unseen, unreacted by the dazed look of the brunette at the screen, as she finishes her typing. Jezebel looks over her shoulder.

And Jezebel reads it out loud.

"It's with a heavy heart that we go into the new year with the tragic news that Jezebel Faiblesse took her life. Some of you have been expected when, not if, and I have to concede to the trolls that the moment has finally come. Jezebel Faiblesse was Lightning Spangles; not Pepper, not the Animated Series, nothing. She was Lightning Spangles, she held the entire franchise and universe together, despite her addictions, despite her mental illness, despite her failures."

"Up until her last failure."

"As the Lightning Spangles Fan Club, we have been entrusted with a duty to help Jezebel. It's clear now, nothing we did helped. When she put out her Christmas Carol, we hosted our viewing parties. We gave our honest critiques, and our honest praise, as per our duty as her true fans. I did not like the movie. I liked the new Spangles. And I liked seeing Jezebel once again pulling herself out of her self-destructive spiral. I had hope, that she wouldn't hurt herself again. I had hope, that she would finally realize that all she needs to do, for her fans, is just love herself, and not worry about who she is when she takes off the costume and makeup. "Every time she cried for help, we listened. Every time she reached out, we tried to take her hand."

"And I realize now that none of that mattered."

"If she listened to us, she wouldn't have killed herself. She wouldn't have removed herself from our lives. This is not the first suicide in my life, and I am just numb. I am not at risk. I am just angry, as so many of you are angry. I wanted to believe we were her friend. If Jezebel asked us for help, for support, we would have given it. And it's clear that it didn't matter. We didn't matter. I can't do this anymore."

"I hereby turn in my resignation as president of the Official Lightning Spangles Fan Club. It doesn't matter anymore."

At Jezebel's side, the ex-president begins to cough, choking back the nausea and tears. She had a bottle of Value-Rite vodka, only 375 mls. ANd she was drinking from it. Not out of addiction, not out of escape... but out of pain. Out of inflicting pain and misery, as she forces the rest of the contents down her throat. ".... No. No no no, she- no." Jezebel babbles, shuddering, looking to Bedman. "I -made- fans into that when I lived. They looked at me- they looked at me defiling myself, they looked at me being a drugged out, addicted whore, and they forgot about me, or... or became like me! I was a bad example, and they either took it. They- they would draw fanart, pornographic art of me! Absolutely disgusting! They were all, disgusting perverts! They were- they weren't like this."

The ex-president leans over the small wastebasket, hurling into it. "They- they didn't treat me- they didn't treat me like... like this..."Jezebel tries to grab her, tries to hold her, her hands passing through her. "Stop! Stop it! I'm sorry, I didn't mean- I didn't mean to- I cared! I really cared! I just- I just didn't-" Jezebel actually starts to fall into hysterics, taking her desperation. "This isn't real. This isn't real. My fans- My fans hate me! They only think of me as an object, a toy, a doll!" She was screaming, tears running down her face as she looks at the boy. "This- no, this isn't what I wanted!"


Letting Jezebel throw her little tantrum, Bedman stands face-to-face with her. Finally, he shakes his head, shrugs, and sighs, still smirking to himself. He runs a hand through his lavender hair, then indicates the room in general. "I never said I was going to show you only what you wanted to see. What would be the point of that? I said I was going to show you a world without Jezebel Faiblesse. Here we are, the start of our whirlwind tour, and my, hm, this /does/ seem to fit what you want..."

Bedman - being more real in this place - pats the ex-president on the back, holding her hair back idly with one hand, although she doesn't react at all to his presence or his assistance. She follows up her sickness with a little hair of the dog, and Bedman turns to face Jezebel again, her sneering Phantom of Christmas Future. "You've hurt this woman quite deeply, by my estimates. Isn't that what you wanted? Didn't you want to see how much your death hurt people? You've wounded her deeply with your misbegotten views of what your most loyal fans think of you. You wouldn't see anything more than the drugged-out whore in yourself, so you simply assumed that's what they saw too, yes? You shut yourself off from them, taking that last step with the noose to go somewhere they can't follow, and they're left to conclude that you didn't care about /them/ as much as they cared about /you/." He indicates the ex-president again, as her bleary eyes guide her mouse to hover over 'Send.'

"Congratulations. She's tremendously hurt that you're gone, because you wouldn't listen."

Taking a step back, Bedman waves his hand nonchalantly and the scene fades away to blank white again. He idly wonders if this extreme of emotion is the Darkstalker's end goal, or simply her doing. Perhaps once she shows herself, he'll have an answer. "Nevertheless," he says, "the show must go on. And in your fitful stops and starts on life's grand stage, why, you made some powerful allies, didn't you, Jezebel? Why, Lightning Spangles once met the leader of the free world. Surely /he/ has something to think about your death, hm? Let's go see."

This time, the first thing to change is the atmosphere. At Aokigahara, it had been positively chilly, with Japan's winter in full swing. It rapidly becomes apparent that Jezebel and Bedman are outside again, but this time, the weather is downright balmy - sticky, even, with the above-average Florida heat and swampy humidity. Bedman idly fans himself, as the two of them have materialized, rather than in the Oval Office, on a golf course at Mar-a-Lago, where President Trump is engaged in a round of golf with some world leader or another. Something in Trump's pocket vibrates gently.

"He's likely just received the news - probably over Twitter, as he's so fond of doing." Bedman rolls his eyes. "Perhaps he'll deign to honor you with a 'Sad!'. Let's see, shall we?"

"No, please, no-"

Jezebel tries to resist now, tries to break out, tries to -escape-. She- she imagined this different. She doesn't want to go on this adventure anymore. She doesn't want to EXPLORE. Take her back to the ropes, take her back and let her be alone. This was pain, pure pain, and... and she couldn't hide from it. She couldn't turn from it. She felt like she was being eaten eaten alive. As she runs, as she tries to run out the door of the room... she feels a bright light. Averting her eyes, she looks away, as the glare of the intense sunlight pours over her.

And the color drains from her face, as she realizes where she was.

Donald Trump takes a chomp out of a nice Baconator, as his pants quiver. Reaching into his pocket, he brings out a tiny iPhone, perfectly sized for his hands. Narrowing his eyes, he brings it to his eye level. "Jezebel's dead?" Donald Trump's pursed expression quivers, as his pouting intensifies. "Suicide? Awful! She was a good kid; I owed a lot to her. If it wasn't for her at my rally, taking the heat for that dead kid... I gotta figure out if there is like a fund or something. I mean, jesus christ, Jezebel?" He quickly swallows the whole of the Baconator, devouring it noisily so he can use both hands to tweet. Smacking his lips, he finishes his swallow. "Jezebel dead? She was my number one supporter! My heart goes out to the Failblesse family at this tragedy." Donald Trump nods at his handiwork. "Mmmm. You done good Donny. Man, it's a lot when you think about a woman more beautiful than my daughter. I can just think of that hell of a rack and damn fine ass right now... HURK!"

And suddenly, he grabs his chest.

Donald Trump, face turning red, clutches his heart as the secret service swarms to his position. Donald Trump falls over on the grace, eyes bulging out. He was spasming, his iphone tersely locked into his hands... as his flailing stops. The agent grabs his wrist, putting an ear to his chest. "No pulse! Get someone on call- it's a heart attack!"

And Jezebel begins to scream.

"NO! NO! NO! NOT DONALD TRUMP! NOT OUR PRESIDENT!" She was screaming, screaming so loud as shockwaves ripple through the dream. She was flailing, trying, trying to hold him, nurture him, save him. "HE WAS SUPPOSED TO MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! If he dies... if he dies... I've killed America's future. Oh god, this wasn't supposed to happen. THIS WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN! HE- HE was supposed to just tweet his condolences! Him caring was enough! "No, no, I- NO!

And she turns towards Bedman.

"Y-You killed him! You made this happen! You are making all these awful things happen! You are a monster! This isn't my fault! None of this is! I- you did this!" Jezebel desperately fights to comfort herself, trying to build the illusions around her as a ambulance pulls onto the golf course.

"I... I'm not... I'm not like this..."


"She really has no idea," says the voice the precedes the movement. "But humans are like that. So connected, so tightly woven with one another that they never realize until one of them is gone. The beauty and tragedy of mortal living, I suppose."

There's a rustling like that of fabric as black wings unfurl from empty space within the darkened movie theater. The wings snap out to their full length, green hair billowing in the backwind as Morrigan Aensland appears where she was not before. She runs her hands down the seat of her tights, smoothing them out before she seats herself in an empty chair next to Bedman.

"This is cute. I like this, even if it took me a while to find you here," Morrigan sits up and crosses her legs. Her wings fold neatly over the chair behind her, draped there like a jacket.

"You're really quite the director, you know," she looks at Bedman out of the corner of her eyes with subdued interest. "I imagine this is hardly your first film. Popcorn?"

Suddenly Morrigan is holding a large bucket of popcorn. She idly digs out a handful, then offers the bucket in Bedman's direction.

"I'm on the edge of my seat. Where to next?"

"Ah, so our phantom guest shows herself at last." Bedman eyes Morrigan for a beat, then: "A... succubus, I presume? Or some kind of emotion-feeding creature of the night, maybe a witch, maybe a spectre. Either way, I can't say I'm surprised, and kudos to you for finding your way here, might I add. I'll have to keep an eye on you." He gestures at the large screen, on which Jezebel sobs dramatically over the death of America's greatest stable genius. "This woman is such an emotional rollercoaster that she's not just amusement - assuming I'm right about your style of sustenance - she's dinner and a show, hm?"

The Bedman in the theatre gestures at the Bedman on the screen, who is preparing Jezebel's next vision. "I have to admit, I've shown people things before. Usually the payoff is quicker - just show them their worst fears, give them a jump scare, usually fatal - but in the process of finding /you/ I've found Miss Faiblesse to be a creature of extremes. What can I say? My curiosity's gotten the best of me. After all, I don't think she knows /what/ she wants, but I do know where she wants to go next. Our stage is set, and now we just give our player her cue."

Bedman takes a handful of popcorn, inclining his head in thanks, then nods towards the screen.


Meanwhile, back at Mar-a-Lago:

For a second, Bedman almost feels sorry for her. Usually if you show someone what they fear the most, they mostly just die. Jezebel doesn't even have the good sense to have a heart attack; she mostly just wants to torment herself. Then again, as the Ghost of Christmas Future, that's sort of the deal, hmm?

The boy tsk-tsks, wagging a finger. "Now now, Jezebel. I didn't sling that My First Lasso over a tree, nor did I slide it around your neck or push you over the edge. I'm merely here to show you the people you damage on your way out. And I mean --" he scoffs. "Hurting your fan club president's feelings was one thing, but killing the President of the United States? Really? Even I didn't see that coming. Too many Baconators, one dead but still attractive aging child starlet, one awkward erection, one cardiac arrest, and now America's never going to be great again."

He floats over to Jez and puts a hand on her shoulder. "At least you were probably his favorite patsy. Let's go. The EMTs have work to do... and you and I have someone else to visit." The Floridian sunshine begins to give way to the blank whiteness of the dream void, and swiftly is replaced with a much smaller, cooler room. Jezebel and Bedman have appeared next to the mixing board of a very professional recording studio; everything is fly as hell and there's gold and platinum records aplenty on the walls. In the producer's role is none other than Pharrell Williams, who's frowning lightly as he leans in so he can say something to the lithe young singer in the booth.

"Alright Honoka, let's take it from the top. Just another couple takes on the vocals and I'm sure you've got it this time, girl."

Honoka, seated inside the recording booth, looks like death warmed over. The microphone in front of her lights red, affixed securely to a desk with a couple knick-knacks.
She downs the last sip of water from her cup.
"Pharrell, we're starting our ninth straight hour now, you're -way- more confident than I am. Thank you for being so patient with me."

The juggler's voice is starting to crack. Her skin, already pale, takes on an almost sickly pallor under the studio lighting. And yet, she wears a smile, because she's working for the best producer in the world -- and because she's a professional.

The recording booth is silent, by design.
But she can see Pharrell's weary smile, cheering her on.

Honoka closes her eyes, drawing in a sigh as she clenches her fist. Pharrell is nothing short of the perfect gentleman -- polite, friendly. He even fights for women's rights, which makes him an S-Class winner in Honoka's book. But he is not who Honoka's been needing here.

"... Is it okay if I watch a video real quick?"
She parts her eyes just enough to see the nod from the award-winning producer.

Honoka pulls out her smartphone, setting it on her lap. She swipes through her video collection -- and stabs the 'play' button on one in particular.

The familiar song from the musical finale of the Lightning Spangles Christmas Carol plays through the studio. The song is ... completely and wholly different from the yukar she's been attempting to sing.
And yet -- there is her own voice. The first, and last, time she had ever sung for a performance, let alone harmonize.

Tears begin to flow, completely unbidden, as her lips move to the words.
The beautiful lyrics she had sung in perfect harmony with Jezebel.
And Honoka even manages to whisper some of the words, though she was trying not to.

The song ends.
And she pulls a hankerchief out of her pocket, dabbing at her eyes.
She's quiet for just a few moments.

"It's not the same without her. She was the core -- the keystone, you know?"
She laughs, still looking down at her phone.
And then she restarts the video -- and then pauses at one moment where Lightning Star is the focus of attention. Where Jezebel is at her peak -- her happiest.

"She worked with me for six straight hours. After everyone else quit in disgust. She worked with -me-, just so no one else would be bothered by my tone-deaf wailing. And would you believe..."

She draws in her breath. It takes another few moments to compose herself -- another few dabs of that hankerchief.

And then she props up her phone onto the little desk beside the mic, to where she can see Jezebel's beautiful smile.

"She actually got me to sing. Just that once. So I owe her this much... right?"
She picks up the "Lil' Buckaroo" yo-yo from the desk. It was produced in a limited run from a decade back -- at the very height of Lightning Spangles' popularity. They're remarkably rare and hard to find -- and yet Honoka's memento is in perfect, like-new condition, with a star, and two pigtails.

She loops the string around her finger.
One -- two -- three orbits, it goes, before she pulls the plastic yo-yo back to her palm.

One more intake of breath.
And then.

"Once more," she states, "from the top."

She could have given up. Adjourned for another day, or tagged out for a different ghost-singer to take her place.
But that's not how she operates.
Honoka Kawamoto is a professional.

As she sings, the yo-yo clutched tightly in her hand... her song is just about passable.
Pharrell's estimate was probably right. Once more, and it might be good enough for auto-tune to cover the slack.

That was her fear, wasn't it?

Jezebel's desires were overwhelming, consuming. She wanted this, she wanted to see just how -profoundly- she hurt people by taking herself out of their lives. That's how important she was to them. She could feel it now, just how important she was to her biggest fans, to her most important figures. How many lives she destroyed by killing herself. That's what she wanted, wasn't it?

That she wanted what she feared.

There was a consuming hunger where the very things she feared was the very things she desired. To have your desires so mired in self-loathing and terror. Where what you wanted was wrong. You should abstain, because what you desired ended up being the most horrifying things. A core, coiling belief that was festering in her heart, even now. How -disgusting- that you want these things, Jezebel. How sinister you want them.

And that's why they went to Honoka, next.

It was so fresh, wasn't it? Gone was the warmth, the light. And in it's place, was a familiar place. A recording room. Jezebel was still trembling, as she heard the voice. She stares at Honoka, while her heart already knows what it wants. 'How did I hurt you, Honoka' it murmurs. 'How much did you get punished for letting me down.' The slimy, selfish thought writhes and coils. ANd yet, Jezebel, doesn't ignore that feeling. She doesn't embrace it. She simply... lets it exist, as she watches Honoka... humbly struggle. And Jezebel watches over her shoulder.

What was there to be afraid of, on top of a dead president, and a broken dream? To be trying, again and again, to try and... try and capture what was once on a screen. What you once did. "You... you don't need to be afraid of your voice." Jezebel says softly, unheard by Honoka. "You never have to be afraid of your voice. You never have to be afraid of anything you do. And if it... and if it doesn't sound right..." These were her words, the very same words she told Honoka already.

The problem was, the words didn't matter.

Words never really mattered. It was being LIghtning Spangles, being that friend that stands by you. That doesn't judge when your voice turns a little flat; when you pitch shift from a High C all the way to a Sharp E. Jezebel says something to Honoka, her hands resting on her shoulders, unfelt, unreal. But she says something, that wasn't really to Honoka. But was to herself.

"You don't have to be good, to be part of something great, Honoka."

She pauses a moment, as Honoka prepares to try and again. She turns around, and she looks at the boy, tears running down her cheeks. But there was no hysterics, no madness. There was only the layers of self-deception peeled away, exposed. And the building clarity in its place. The stench of the open graves held over. It was the nightmare that took her here. And there was a nightmare she wanted to take her out. Staring at the boy, she speaks softly.

"Show me Hayley."

Jezebel demands, as she steps towards the boy. "I- Honoka needed me. She needed me. But Hayley- Hayley needed me more than anybody else. I know she did. These people in my life, these are people who needed me. And I... didn't...." She trails off, as a strange light glimmers around her.

"Take me to Hayley... please."

In the Dream Theater, Bedman casually gives Morrigan an assessing glance. "You know this place -- well, perhaps not as well as I do, very few people do, but certainly enough to know what's possible in this place. How'd you like a walk-on part in our finale, hmm?"


Bedman nods to Jezebel, his expression serious. Is he smiling? Maybe a little. Hard to say. "Very well. My, you do have a laundry list of people to check in on, don't you? But it seems to me like maybe with the sight of your understudy here, your motivation's changed a little bit here. Time to rewrite the script, sub in a couple new lines, hm? Yes, let's go see how Aussie Spangles is, shall we?" He extends a hand to Jezebel; whether she takes it or not, the scene fades out around them. Maybe Honoka hit the opening notes this time. Pharrell certainly doesn't look disappointed as he fades from view.

The two of them reappear inside another building. This one's a little more run-down, a little louder, but no more populated. "Average Joe's 24-Hour Dojo and Training Gym," a sign over the door proudly proclaims. "If you can dodge a punch, you can dodge a fireball," someone has stenciled underneath it. It's a decent little joint - no special schools of martial arts being taught here, just good old fashioned training equipment for your up-and-comers in Southtown - the Kyokugen has-nots, the Taiyo High world-warriors-in-training. And at this hour of the night, there's not usually much of anyone, maybe a few New Years Resolution-keepers who still don't really want to be seen in public. But of course, Bedman said he'd bring Jezebel to Hayley, and there she is - Aussie Spangles, face to face with her current archenemy: a punching bag.

The rhythmic thump, thump, thump of fist against bag and the creaking, grinding protest of old chain against the ceiling echoes through the near-empty gym. Hayley smashes her fist against the bag again and again. She throws her entire body into each blow, striking the bag with the fury of a woman possessed. By now the white wraps over her fists are speckled with bits almost as red as her eyes. Hayley grinds her teeth, tearing into the bag with each punch.

She strikes it once, twice, and by the third, she missteps. It's overextended, unnatural punch that throughs her off-kilter enough that she goes all in on it.

And so the Aussie falls, crashing facefirst into the bag. She grabs hold of it desperately to keep herself standing, the bag swinging heavily against her weight. For a painful moment, Hayley weakly grabs at the punching bag, digging her nails in to try and get enough purchase to hold on. Finally, she slumps onto her knees in awkward heap.

For what feels like hours, she just sits there, awkwardly clinging to the bag, but it starts. It's weak at first, like a motor trying to turn over but failing to quite get there.

"It's not fair," she stutters under her breath. "First dad, now Jez," Hayley digs her fingers into the canvas of the bag. "Why does everybody leave? What is wrong with me?"

The noise from before increases, turning into great heaving sobs.

She makes her way over, crawling toward a white water bottle on the nearby bench. She sprays it into her mouth, then looks around, watching for someone or something unseen. When she seems satisfied, she digs a second water bottle, hastily stuffed in a side pocket, out of her bag. It looks about half-empty from the shadow of the light through it, and it reeks of cheap liquor as she tears off the top and pours it in.

Hayley flops heavily against the bench, continuing to nurse the bottle. "I should have been there, but I ran away," Hayley says. "I'm such a fucking disappointment. First dad and now this. I should have said something, should have stayed around. Maybe--" Hayley digs her fingers into her hair, clutching it, rocking there and staggering over the words. Her phone buzzes.

why aren't you answering you calls, talk to your mother Hayley please

She thumbs the message away, tabbing over to the movie player. Her finger hovers over a video, inching toward the screen but lingering just short. The thumbnail of Jezebel--of Lightning Spangles-stares back at her.

The phone falls and Hayley starts sobbing again. She curls up, clutching her knees and burying her face in them. It continues for some time.

Jezebel was feeling sick.

She wasn't hurt, she wasn't scared, she wasn't... she was just sick. She felt so sick as the improv was flooding around her. She was wandering off the script. She was listening to just a few notes from Honoka, and.... and here she was. Optimism. What was the optimism?

Maybe Hayley wasn't getting railed by her new co-workers.

And yet, what kind of cold comfort was that now? As Jezebel moves into the sparring, her expression was restrained. Her eyes... well, she couldn't really stop the tears from coming out. But she watches Hayley... and there was a disjunction from what she imagined, what her fantasies were. Because her fantasies were so... disjointed. She stands by the punching bag, waiting an eternity for the recovery.

Because Jezebel felt the exact same way as Hayley.

Jezebel stares numbly at the display. She went down the same path when her father died. The circumstances were different, but the same heart. Hayley would descend from her self-loathing. And that's what Jezebel showed her, introduced her to. Pain, and self-loathing. A shadow, a mirror. She swallows hard. Hayley... Hayley became just like Lightning Spangles.

And now it's time for you part, Jezebel.

".... Wha...." What can I do to stop this terrible fate, spirit. What can I do to stop this terrible future. THis was like you imagined it at the beginning, right? You would see all your mistakes, and you would weep and sob. The spirit would take you back to the tree, and you would realize how wrong you were to try and kill yourself. All was part of the script. "Wha.... wha..."

"What is wrong with -me-?"

Jezebel walks through the interior of the gym, grabbing the side of her face. "What is -wrong- with me? My fan club... my president.... my friend... my student... these are all... these are all people who need me in their lives. Who needed my support. And these people always existed." She shakes her head. "And I never... I never felt it. I just imagined it in my head, but never actually felt it. And I never.... I've never helped them, I've never showed them how I appreciated them. How much I would... I would appreciate them now, if they knew" There were cracks forming somewhere. A dawning light thrusting and invading, lashing out. Clarity, roaring dawn of clarity, rushing over. And Jezebel mutters the words.

"Why am I so... selfish?"

Jezebel lets go of her head, as her body relaxes. "If I... cared... If I wasn't so selfish... then... then I would have talked to them. I would have told my fanclub how I felt. I would have tweeted to Donald Trump how the pussyhatted social justice warriors are angry at my movie. I would have apologized to Honoka, and told her how good she did in our movie, and Hayley... I would have told Hayley. People... always cared about me. They always did, and I never appreciated them for it. I just wanted more, and... oh god, what have I done. And I've never given anything back.""Me... me... me... Why has... why has everything had to be about me?"

And Jezebel feels a scaly hand on her shoulder.

Turning around, her nostrils fill with a strong smell... strong smell of... what was that. She turns her head. The Hoedown Dillo, smiling widely, his beady eyes locked on, looks Jezebel straight in the eye. "Aw, don't think about that, Jezebel. You should always look out for yourself, and you should always take care of yourself!" The Dillo brings the same paw up to lift Jezebel's chin, to shift her attention away from Hayley as she answers her phone. "Those people only hurt themselves because of how -selfish- they were. If they cared about you, they would be here now, to stop you. You need to focus on what's best for you, just like the rest of your animals friends do. You should just calm down, Jezebel." And his other paw rises up, holding a sack straight from Wendy's.

"And enjoy a nice, tasty Baconator."

Bedman floats in a slow circle around Jezebel and the... thing... she summoned forth to counterpoint herself, the Nightmare Dillo. "/Fascinating/," Bedman says. "Your spectral sidekick makes some very rational arguments. Not that it's a sidekick. This is you - you can see that, right?" As he speaks, the scenery slowly fades out behind the three of them, leaving them in a white void. Unconstrained by gravity, the boy occasionally teleports from side to side to get a different perspective on this thing that Jezebel's fears had conjured up.

"So which one's right, hm? The rational Hoedown Dillo, helping you to look out for number one?"

"Of course I'm right--" the thing interjects grumpily, shaking its bag of Baconators for emphasis.

"I wasn't finished, you anthropomorphic gaucho. As I was saying: is the Dillo right, or are you? It almost sounded like you were having some kind of epiphany over there, probably the one you would've had all along if your story was going to come to the obvious conclusion, but is anything obvious about you, Miss Faiblesse? So which one are you? The selfish monster Jezebel Faiblesse with friends waiting in the wings, if she'd just let herself *feel* something before she took that long last step?" Bedman clutches his hands to his chest as he says this, but his smirk implies this is just mock melodrama.

He teleports behind Jez now, his tone conspiratorial. Curiously, he's upside down. "Or are you long-suffering Lightning Spangles, alone in this world, used by anyone and everyone and tossed aside to dry, surrounded by idiots and sycophants - a feeling I understand just as well as you, believe me - and left alone in the woods to die to give them all the push they needed to be what they truly are meant to be - whether that's alone, a corpse, a heartful singer who never really needed you, or simply a younger you waiting to walk the same path?"

Suddenly, he moves again, and the white of the dream void is just as startlingly replaced with the dark of a movie theatre where a show is in progress - or at least, it was until just now. The screen is showing nothing, but the house lights are still down. One can just barely make out a voluptuous shadow resting in a far seat with a seat of popcorn. Jez and the Hoedown Dillo can see even in the gloom that Bedman is standing right in front of them, and boy, it's just the /weirdest/ thing, but there must be lights from somewhere, because it almost looks like red and black eyes are washing over his body as he wears that devilish grin. His round glasses glint.

"And now, my dear Jezebel and her armadillo friend, our tale draws rapidly to a conclusion. You are, after all, an actress, so I simply must ask you to play your part right now. Of course, what else can you do; playing parts is your purpose in life, Lightning Spangles, hm? For yourself or someone else."

"Are you going to save yourself to save yourself?" Now the screen is glowing an ominous crimson.

"Or are you going to save yourself to save them?" Now it seems to be watching everything - Morrigan, the Hoedown Dillo, but *especially* Jez. The black, shadowy eyes that swim across its surface bore into her soul.

"Or are you going to save no one, and nothing, because deep down, you *are* nothing, just another life of potential wasted?"

Bedman gestures to the screen of the Nightmare Theatre, his voice growing louder, more intense, more manic. "Show us, Jezebel. Show us, deep down, what you *really* are!"

Why couldn't it be so easy.

Jezebel stares wide-eyed. The narrative unfolds around her, melting away. She... she broke the spell. She broke the nightmare. Why was this happening? What was... why did he say that the Hoedown Dillo was her? She wasn't the Hoedown Dillo. She was Lightning Spangles. The Hoedown Dillo was just her animal friend, that made everything work. Jezebel shakes her head... and the Hoedown Dillo sighs, looking at her with those beady, almost yellow eyes. "Please, Jezebel. You... you know what happens if you don't die?" He motions into oblivion, where the remains of the gym door hang in place, forming in the moment of existence. The doors of the gym swing open, as the sound of a train roars. Track laying down piece by piece, the rails carry on, each carr of the train bringing about the scene.

The first, cardboard frame of the president, tapping away idly on her mouse by string and pully, browsing the latest from the 'Spangles34' subreddit; browsing the latest in the 'fanart' involving her steadily inflating, and devouring a pregnant Mercy from Overwatch with photorealistic mouth designs. A bottle of vodka sits at her desk, with a single can of coke. THe girl is not wearing pants.

And the next car comes by.

It's a small piece of rolling green hills, as a single glowing sunlamp hangs over. The cardboard cutouts of medics, standing over a single live rabbit with an orange toupee. There is a jolting sound, and the rabbit saunters over a downed Ipod, nibbling on it. "Jezebel gives me a retweet? Whatever!" He says, as he hops over to a golf ball, and knocks it over into a nearby hole. "I wonder if that spangles34 reddit Donald Trump Jr. linked me too is still updating."

And the next car comes by.

The cardboard cutout of Honoka, smiling and painted, is in a hotel room. Dancing along the side to the bed, she lays on it. On the other side of the room, a cardboard cutout of Zach sits by a fake stand of a laptop. She is waiting. And she stands up again, and hops, hops, hops along, to the "Zach, you better not be looking at that spangles34 subreddit again!"

And the next car begins to enter, as Jezebel... steps back.

"I.... I...." She stammers, staring at the Dillo. At the Bedman. At the -eyes-. And the howl of the train whistle. The next car comes, revealing a long table, decked with a full cardboard feast. All her animal friends, clad in cardboard, sit standby, as the train hisses to a stop by them. "Get on, Jezebel. And we can get away together. You can't deny what you are... and you can't stop loving yourself. Once you do, they will eat you alive. You can't trust anybody ever again, Jezebel. You need to keep your heart closed, to keep you safe. You have to stay safe. That's why you wanted to jump off the rope. To stop the pain. And the only way to prevent the pain, is to keep nobody in. So come on, Jezebel."

"Eat the Baconator."

The Hoedown Dillo pulls out the dripping, juicy burger, and comes closer to Jezebel. She takes a step back. "This isn't right." She whispers, eyes wide. She stares at the screen, staring at the... camera. "This isn't- this isn't me. I need to get out of this. I need to let people in. They hurt so much without me! And you don't know what's-" The Hoedown Dillo exhales, as he grips Jezebel, his yellow eyes now burning. "Jezebel. He's going to kill us. You can't do this without me. You just- You just need to do the right thing Jezebel." His grip was tightening, as he twists his teeth into a snarl. His voice is harsh, as he lifts up the bag at eye level.




And Jezebel pushes him. "No! You aren't me! I'm not- I'm not going to be selfish anymore! I need to help! I need to-" And the Hoedown Dillo -slugs- Jezebel into the gut. Seizing her by the hair, she drags her to the table. "I told you to -eat the Baconator- Jezebel. You had one job, one -role- you needed to play, so we all can live." Jezebel begins to writhe and scream. With a mighty heave, he -hurls- her on the table, knocking over the cardboard cutout of Injun Joe in the process. Jezebel rolls to turn off, but her HOedown Dillo is already at her, dragging her to the silver platter, forcing her in place. Jezebel screams as she lets out a thundrous mulekick, -smashing- it into the Dillo's face. It flies off, flinging off as the Dillo is knocked over. Jezebel sits up...

And Jezebel looks back at her.

THe head of Jezebel sits on the body of the Dillo, the mask ripped away, leering with yellow eyes. The costume was so obvious now. With resolve, the Dillo Jezebel crawls back over the sobbing, screaming Jezebel, as the cardboard cutouts lean in around her, trapping her exits. Honoka, the president, all smile with black eyes, as they stare over her. Even the small rabbit with the orange wig hops besides her, nibbling her ear tenderly. The yellow-eyed Jezebel straddles Jezebel, pinning her down as she mounts her. And she digs her fingers into Jezebel's mouth, stretching it open, as a fat, juicy Baconator is held in her other hand. And she hisses a whisper into Jezebel's ear.




And she inserts it into her open throat.

Jezebel screams, choking, struggling, as the Baconator goes in deeper, deeper. The yellow-eyed Jezebel looks at her, her face in a half-grimace. "It had to be like this, Jezebel. You had to just lie back and take it. It's for your own good. You have to trust me. I'm your showup, hoedown friend. We all are." And the cutouts draw out there own Baconators, thrusting them at Jezebel, closing in, letting them slither down her throat. The screams grow more and more muffled as the Baconators drive deeper, deeper, filling her, filling her as she writhe helplessly under the Dillo Jezebel. Everything was growing down, the eyes were spiralling around. She feels a warmth over her, as she gives a single, choked scream.

And her heart stops.

In the back row, Morrigan frowns. She drops stray pieces of popcorn into the bucket.

"Maybe I'm a sucker for melodrama," she says coolly, letting the popcorn drop into the bucket. "It seems so...anticlimatic."

The popcorn bucket falls into an empty theater seat.

And then a black spear, jagged with a triangular point, escapes the yellow-eyed Jezebel's mouth by punching through the nape of her neck. It hoists her up weightlessly, attached to a long, cable-like strand of inky black material that floats somewhere between metal, flesh, and shadow. An awful, meaty sound follows from the shadows.

"Oh I hate it when they string me along without a proper climax."

There's the flash of steel as Morrigan is suddenly there in the midst of the crowd of shadows, a great scythe blade whipping around her to cut through the sea of cardboard. It and the spear from before withdraw toward the small of Morrigan's back, morphing and distorting like shadows in candlelight. Soon, she has wings once more. Wings which spread behind her sinisterly when she descends toward Jezebel. Morrigan draws in close, weightless and yet bearing unbearable pressure at the same time.

"It's certainly a lot to swallow -- even for you, I'm sure -- but is that all you have, Jezebel Faiblesse? I thought you were getting somewhere! This was getting interesting! Your passion to help your friends? Your -drive- to do better? That's far more exciting than even that burning, selfish drive to watch the world burn. Trust me, I'm a connoisseur of these things." Morrigan shows her teeth, half defiant smile, half snarl. "But speaking of burning, maybe you don't remember the finale for dear Ebenezer?"

The floor cracks, spider-webs spreading as a searing, orange glow shines through. In a moment, the floor gives out beneath them, letting Jezebel and Morrigan plummet to whatever lies Below.

For a moment, there is nothing.

And then, the spell breaks, as the yellow eyed Jezebel suddenly begins impaled. Jezebel's heart restarts, as the Baconators reverse course, spilling up and out. Gagging and coughing, she instinctively turns to her side, letting the stream pour out of her. Paper collapses around her, the cardboard stands falling to pieces. The only surviver was the little rabbit, shuddering as it curls up by Jezebel's ear.

ANd Jezebel is on her back again.

The pressure, the incredible pressure on her body, her breasts, her chests. There was no weight, but the pressure, it was crushing her. She still couldn't breath; the Baconators were free. But this witch, this demon was on her, looking at her so hungry. What was- what was happening. Fora moment, she could only be speechless.

And the ground opens up.

Plates and knives and forks collapse through the gaping fissure in the ground, as the train falls below. The rabbit screams, falling into the maw of crimson hate, as Jezebel lashes her arms around. She reaches around desperately, wildly as she falls, as she falls faster and faster. The pool of liquid agony boils beneath her, as the glow becomes closer... and closer. She flails, as a single 'plop' comes as the rabbit lands. She reaches, lashing out.

And she feels a rope.

The descent stops -hard-, as her arms nearly tear from her socket. And she screams tears, clinging on to the noose, the My First Lasso, hooked on a nearby branch on a nearby tree, formed of twisted humanity cursed into their state. She clings on it to dear life, as the flames below lick her heels. "I... I don't understand... this was supposed to help me!" She demands, as the shadowy figures of the hellscape circle her. "This was supposed to make me a better person? I- this is supposed to help me! You are all supposed to.. supposed to... help me. Jessie? Where is Jessie? She- she should-"

Jezebel's grip begins to slip, as the shadows flash their eager grins.

Morrigan drops as well, but differently. There is no fear here, no dread of the pool beneath. She falls weightlessly and gracefully, finally coming to stop right in front of Jezebel.

And then Morrigan reclines, sitting in mid-air and crossing her legs as if it's the most natural thing in the world.

"Was it?" Morrigan says, resting her chin on her palm. "Let's consider for a moment."

"I gave you a vision of the past and you twisted it into a fantasy of what you'd -like- that help to be, all the while forgetting that change seldom comes in the way we want it and it's almost never comfortable. What's the saying? It's hard to comfort the afflicted without afflicting the comfortable? Mmm."

Morrigan floats around to the other side, gently Jezebel and the My First Lasso to regain eye-contact after a moment.

"And then when that turned out poorly, you decided to throw it all away and take your own life. You were going to show them all how much they hurt you -- that is, until you saw just how much of a connection you actually had with them. How much your life makes a difference even in the worst times. How much people want you to succeed, and yet--"

"And yet!" Morrigan backs away, spreading her arms wide. "Here we are! You're dangling on the noose once more, and why? Because when faced with that change you need, you try to smother it, to choke it death on those awful burgers. The problem here is that I can't help you! The young man with the bed can't either. At this point, there's only one person who can help you. One person who, despite impossible odds has managed to help so many others. Do you know who that is?"

Jezebel wanted the nightmare to end.

The wanted to die again, and again. Was it all not real? Was it all to torture her? And yet, as the remains of the Baconators tumble off her shirt, she pulls up higher, as Morrigan levels with her, figuratively and physically. "I... I can't change myself. I can't, but you can! Other people can fix me, a-and change me! That's why I have to let them in!" She whimpers aloud, grunting as her hands slip again. The laughter of the onlookers fill her ears. "That's the point! To teach me to let people in! Then- then they can fix me! The fanclub, the president, Honoka, Hayley... if I let them in, that fixes me and makes me a better person! I can't do it! I've tried, and I've failed so many times! I just- I just lock people out, and rot on the inside!" She groans as the rope begins to fray, as she suddenly lurches down. "Please... I can't... I can't hold on much longer. I don't want to let go. I can't let go. I have to hold... I have to hold on... If I just... if I just hold on, I can figure... figure something out..." She swallows hard, as she looks up, and then down.

"And then someone can catch me, and save me."

There is a shimmer in the air - less pronounced than when he does this trick in real life - and Bedman reappears in Morrigan's - well, Jezebel's - vision of Hell. He appraises his surroundings, then nods. "Not bad, dark witch. Garish and lurid, perhaps, a literal pit of Gehenna, but you clearly know your way around a dream. I'm revising my original guess to succubus again after all."

Turning to address Jezebel, he taps his chin thoughtfully. "Quite the predicament you've found yourself in. As your fellow traveler here has said, only you can help yourself. You can't change yourself - Heaven knows you've tried that enough over the years - but, well, are you familiar with symbiotic relationships? No man is an island, after all, not even me; it sounds like you finally managed to grasp that point at last. Humans consider themselves the top of the food chain, each a mighty oak, but the truth is that everyone's symbiotic and entangled - every person a sea anemone, everyone a clownfish."

Suddenly, a small plot of land hovers over the dire lake below, underneath Jezebel. "It appears she--" here, he nods towards Morrigan "--also has a vested interest in you living. You'd have to ask her what her reasoning is. I have a vague idea. But it's thanks to her presence that I found you to begin with, so we should both thank her, I suppose. Unfortunately there's no easy moral victory to be found here; you don't get to wake up in your bed on Christmas morning and buy Tiny Tim a turkey. That's life."

The plot below now has an open grave. Around it, four mourners; their identities are hidden and shaded in black clothing, but they should be obvious. At the head of it, a gravestone:


The question mark is flickering, as if it's unsure of whether or not it should exist.

Bedman alights atop the gravestone and lounges. Weirdly, you cannot see the bottom of the grave; it is almost as if it is a portal to somewhere poorly-lit. It calls to Jezebel. Would she answer?

"I have a great depth of experience," Morrigan replies to Bedman, resting her chin on her knuckles as she folds her arms across her chest. "I will give you 'succubus' but I am much more than a mere category, I promise." She smiles pleasantly, but there's something sinister about it. Predatory.

She floats around, staying out of Bedman's way when he comes in for another round of exposition.

"That's a new metaphor," she comments idly. "Perhaps I'll write that one down for later."

But then she's addressed as having an interest in Jezebel's survival. Morrigan smiles. It's an almost bored smile. "Something like that." She looks at her nails. "Do not get used to it. My services are seldom free," Morrigan says without looking at either. "As a sorceror or a soothsayer, of course." She adds this with a sly smile.

Her wings dissolve, unraveling into a cloud of bats as they disappear from her back and head. She sits down on the back cloud, ever moving, fluttering beneath her. She sits, and she waits.

Jezebel stares down below.

She wanted it to be easy. Wake up, buy Hayley a Christmas Turkey. It could all be a wonderful, a wonderful friendship thing. With Donald Trump, with her fanclub, with Honoka and Hayley. It could undo everything she had done wrong. But surrounded by... the supernatural? The natural? Herself? She stares at the mourners, as the devil and the boy decide her fate. Well, no. They put the gun in Jezebel's hand, so she can pull the trigger. She has to choose.

And it's a choice between the fires of hell, and oblivion.

"Clownfish," Jezebel begins, as she stares into the black pit. "Is a small marine fish which gained worldwide popularity after appearing in the animated movie "Finding Nemo" by Disney! Clownfish can be easily recognized because of the beautifully colored bodies. Clownfish are covered with white stripes that are combined with orange, red, yellow, blue or black basic color of the body. Clownfish are also known as "anemonefish" because they live in community with sea anemones."

She feels the grip leaving her fingertips.

"The Relationship between clownfish and anemone is called symbiosis, which means that both species have benefits from mutual life. Clownfish eat anemone's leftovers and use venomous tentacles to protect itself from various predators. Anemone uses clownfish for the removal of dead tentacles and to increase circulation of water. Clownfish is immune to the venom of anemone because it has thick layer of mucus on the surface of the body, you see. All eggs hatch as males. When the female in the group dies, dominant male undergoes sex change and turns into female. That makes Clownfish... Clownfish hermaphrodites. It's just a Lightning Spangles fun fact, you know?" Jezebel looks at Bedman, and then Morrigan. She sighs. "This is... this is the only way out, isn't it? That's what I thought when I... when I first ruined my show, when the Korean molested me. That this was the only way out." She forces a nervous laugh.

"I guess nothing really has changed, has it?"

And she releases the rope, falling into the open grave.

Into her destiny.

Jezebel instinctively braces for impact at the bottom of the pit. However, true to its appearance, it is much, much deeper than it looks. After what feels like an incredibly long time, she realizes that things are getting lighter, though not much louder, and around her she can smell the green, earthy scents of the forest. Perhaps the nightmare is over after all? Bedman and Morrigan peer down into the grave from above, their faces gradually fading from Jezebel's view.

Suddenly, a jolt. An unbearable pressure around her neck. Jez remembers why she was here to begin with: to complete the circle. Her Ghost of Christmas Future is nowhere to be found, nor anyone else; as her half-crushed windpipe fails to take in breath, perhaps she thinks the boy and his devil friend were just the last hallucinations of an oxygen-starved mind.

Maybe everything will be okay after all.

As her eyesight dims, the thing Jez can really focus on is the sound. The silence of the forest, undisturbed even by wind or birds. The earsplitting thump of her blood rushing through her body as her foolish heart pumps blood around, not understanding its own death. The sound of the branch splintering.

Wait, what?

Almost as suddenly as her return, Jezebel feels a second jolt, a heavy slam onto her back. Suddenly the lasso is just uncomfortably tight, not neck-breakingly deadly; her lungs instinctively draw in as much oxygen as they can, as the tree branch falls onto her leg.

Another sound, too: a young man with a couple friends, stumbling through the underbrush with loud steps, his stifled laughing desecrating the silence of this place. He's filming her for his vlog, because of course he is. "Did anyone else just see this bitch fall out of a tree?? We just found that one freaky-ass body over there and now we find--hey, wait a minute, are you--?"

Logan Paul's question remains unspoken, as he's face to half-dead-face with Lightning Spangles.


Jezebel realizes she was alive, and it was all a dream. All a dream, and a fantasy. Right? It couldn't have been real. It never could have been real. And yet, if it was? She... she would never forget it. She would never forget this nightmare. It was even a miracle she could remember it. As the rope goes taut, her neck doesn't break. As the branch snaps, she feels... she feels barely alive. And the sounds, the sounds of people. Eyes wide, she lays there, staring into the forest floor.

And she felt so cold.

She had learned her lesson. No. She was terrified into a lesson, a lesson she didn't not understand. She hurt so much. She tries to get up, but air was so hard. She was dead. She cheated death. And her attempt was... was it a success, really? A failure? A beautiful failure. As the shapes of the vloggers approach, she sighs. Locking an eye with him, her jaw drops.

It really was a mistake into a miracle.

The dirty, cowboy-clad Jezebel writhes and crawls on the ground, approaching the man on all fours. Her good eyes was bloodshot; her mechanical eye had fallen out. Her features, ashen. Crawling up on his leg, writhing on the floor, she gazes up to him, with chapped, blue lips. "God Bless..." Jezebel croaks, struggling to stand up... and then lying into the frozen earth... "God Bless..." She chokes again so softly. And slowly, she looks up to him, eye quivering. And she sighs, a smile on her lips.

"God bless us, every one."

Log created on 20:21:49 12/30/2017 by Jezebel, and last modified on 20:47:18 01/12/2018.