An icosahedron is a type of polyhedron made up of twenty identical equilateral triangular faces, forming thirty edges and twelve vertices along their paths of intersection. The particular icosahedron in my hand was fabricated from a process of plastic injection molding, with green swirling resin patterns in its subsurface and golden numbers indented just into the top layer.
It falls on the floor when the door to the house swings open and hits the leg of the card table. Jas stands up from the table wiping spilled drink off her shirt and throwing swears, and Duck and Rab and Travis just sit there motionless looking at Mr. Kilgore in his sweatpants and plastic sandals fuming in the doorway, and Mr. Kilgore looks at the dice scattered all over the garage floor, and the stack of old paperbacks keeping the table straight, and he takes another drink of his beer, narrows his eyes, and yells, “I thought it was Monday!” at a socially unacceptable volume.
During the event, a piece of paper titled “Jariel Frostborn, Mistress of the High Hand” falls into my lap. Mr. Kilgore is for sure drunk; I’m looking him right in the eye but it’s like he isn’t registering my presence. Like there’s something just behind my brain stem that he’s intensely in love with and can’t look away from, but I just happen to be in his way, so I say, “Mr. Kilgore.”
“You here on a Monday?” he asks.
“No, Mr. Kilgore,” I say.
There’s just a single incandescent blub lighting the garage because it’s raining and the main door is shut, and it’s actually still Sunday which is why we’re all gathered here for Dungeons and Dragons, but I guess Mr. Kilgore has his mind on other things. It’s cramped and the door from the garage into the kitchen can’t even open all the way with our table set up, and with Jas staring her dad down like he’s just used her favorite toy as an ash tray the room feels smaller by the moment.
“Your friends are here,” Mr. Kilgore says.
“Jesus, Dad,” says Jas, because he isn’t wearing a shirt.
Mr. Kilgore goes, “I was just tossing my empties.” And throws a handful of crushed cans into the garbage by our table. They clink around with the others. Mr. Kilgore has already opened another one.
Duck, Travis, and Rab are picking up tiny knights and goblins and a bottle cap we were using as a carriage from the garage floor. Othor Overdale, Yaggis Stonefist, and Sevgon of the Five Hammers — little figures painted sloppily, holding plastic swords. Heroes of a fantastic land. Conquerors of demons, dragons, and planar incursions are now covered in motor oil.
“Well, maybe it isn’t Monday. Jasmine, have you seen where I put my glasses?”
“Dad, please. You need to lie down.”
This is apparently not the correct response, as Mr. Kilgore throws his still-full can across the garage over our heads. It smacks the garage door and makes a boom like a gong, and Mr. Kilgore is quiet, taking measured steps closer to his daughter, fist clenched. Jas starts to apologize, and Mr. Kilgore mumbles what sounds like the word goddamn over and over.
But nothing happens. Mr. Kilgore takes a deep breath and goes back inside. Jas shuts the door and sits back down at the table, handing me the 20-sided die I’d somehow dropped again.
Don’t Blame Me! I Voted for the Unabomber is on the back of Jas’s station wagon, and we’re sitting in the popped trunk facing the garage where we just finished playing Dungeons and Dragons. There’s this awful noise like rutting cats from her speakers, but she swears it’s actually called Fugazi. We come to her dad’s house after school on Fridays and she’s always saying wouldn’t it be so cool if we could, you know, just run away together just the five of us, just like she’s Jariel in real life too. You know, just like take our shit and pack it up and get out of fucking elephant country. Elephant country, she says, just like pack it all up and leave. She says it again for effect, and there’s a dead cigarette butt still in her teeth while she says it, so it sounds like eleshunt country.
Over by the basketball goal, Travis, Duck, and Rab have their shirts off and tied around their waists. They’re slapping around Jas’s dad’s old orange basketball that’s only orange if it’s dark or you hold it real close in your face. Rab takes a quick break opportunity, slants past Duck with the ball, does half a pirouette, pushes off his back foot, and sinks one, followed up with cupped-hand crowd noises and a lap around the wagon. I crack another beer from the garage cooler that Jas’s dad forgot to empty last night.
“To your dad, I guess.” I tilt the can toward Jas, who smiles. She always smiles.
She does this overly flourished bow and says, “My dungeon master,” and clinks cans with me. We both drink them dry before coming up for air. She spits her cigarette butt into the empty can and pats her jacket pockets for another. “Shit.”
“Fucking awful day today,” Travis says, shirtless. He has a wife-beater tan line and gel in his hair. “Yeah, Quin?” And he looks at me, and for a second I can’t tell if he’s waiting for a reply or making sure I’m still here. “Quincy.”
“You’re on it,” I say. Then there’s just this weird kind of silence, where you can only hear a basketball dribbling to a stop and rolling into the yard, and the neighbor kid spraying the windows with the hose, and his mom yelling from inside not to, and that buzzing sound you get in your ears when it’s too damn quiet, like that feedback kind of sound, so I have to think of something quick before we all lose our minds. “You know what we should do today? Remember that soda machine by the rink?”
A crow wobbles out of the sky and lands on the peak of the garage. Duck and Rab are snapping each other with their rolled up shirts and shouting uncle but neither of them stops. “The one that’s supposed to have a broken lock,” says Travis. “According to Toilet Seat Tony.” He gets a look from Jas.
“A broken lock, yeah,” I say. “So let’s go check it out. Toast some free ones to elephant country.”
Jas kicks herself up from the trunk and climbs up on top of the wagon, holding her hands up in fists above her head, then sticks out her middle fingers and waves her fists around at the sky. “To fucking elephant country!” A car horn beeps driving past.
We don’t take the wagon because Rab’s mom doesn’t like him getting rides from kids, especially girls she doesn’t know, so we all cut through the field at the back of the neighborhood where the developers keep their equipment when it’s unused, neon metal bugbears squatting amidst the weedgrass. At the other side there’s this massive culvert with drain pipes that go straight under the neighborhood toward the strip mall by the rink, big enough to walk through if you hunch down a bit, and when we get to them we stop and sort of stare like we’ve never seen concrete before.
“So who goes in first?” says Rab.
“Man with the flashlight,” I say, and nod at Duck.
“Shit no, dude. Let Miss, Fuck-the-System go in. Here.” Delegating, calculating, timid. Othor.
So he shoves the flashlight at Jas, and it’s one of those dumb kid’s ones with the bright yellow plastic casing and a handful of massive batteries inside that clack around when you move it, and Jas plays a kick at Duck’s shins and smiles, like always. “You’re a massive dick,” she says, and switches it on.
The light makes a donut shape warping around the curved inner walls of the drain, and Jas heads in just a few steps and puts her hand on the side. Her sneakers make crackles on the broken glass and gravel that’s collected in the bottom of the drain. “You’re sure this thing goes across the highway to the rink?” she says, and I say yeah it does, and that I came this way with my big brother Ned before he went off to school in August. It seems like enough for Jas, but I can’t ever quite tell with her. She just smiles.
At first it’s too dark, but my eyes adjust and I can see this light coming from around Jas’s outline. Like it’s this kind of weird blue-gray light that I didn’t think could come from the sun, and I ask her if she sees anything, and Duck, Rab, and Travis ask her if she sees anything, and our feet crunch in the glass. Jas says no she doesn’t think so—wait, maybe there is something—and I ask her what it is, and she says, quote, “It looks like half of a park bench,” and leaves it at that.
We see it a few minutes later. There’s half a park bench coming up out of concrete siding built onto the inside of the drain, like one of those street-level drain slits covered by a metal grate, and the bench is going vertical half-in, half-out of the floor. This bench, the metal arms with wood seat-slats kind, has all sorts of spiderwebs twisting between the seat parts and the arms, and up to the storm grate, and all over the squared concrete walls in the little alcove there’s graffiti like CRASH THE PARTIES and VOTE NO ONE. Jas has one of those Kodak disposables, and she winds it, and then there’s a flash, and she winds it again to take a picture of the bench, and then we all get a picture together under the storm drain, and then we keep moving.
The sound of rushing cars overhead gets softer, and Jas says she can see a patch of grass up ahead, like maybe a field or something, maybe that field next to the strip mall, and I say that yeah that’s what it probably is. Rab is mildly panicking because he’s probably never crawled through a drainpipe under a major highway, or because he’s claustrophobic, just like Sevgon is in the game. We come out of the pipe right next to the abandoned church behind the rink, separated from the highway by a tree line and some power cables. The sign in front of the church says Jesus shaves.
“There’s something about old churches,” Jas says. Duck and Rab are trying to rack each other in the nuts, and Travis is getting rocks out of his shoe.
“Yeah, seriously,” I say. “Serene.” Jas looks at me with her eyebrows cocked and laughs, and says, “No, I meant they’re super creepy.” She makes a gun shape with her hands and squints at the stained glass over the entrance. Pow, pow. “Hey, c’mere.”
She grabs my jacket and spins me around the corner into the alley between the church and the skating rink, and the other guys are picking on Rab again for saying that he likes Duck’s sister, but now they’re out of sight behind the wall, and Jas is right here, with both hands. I’ve never made out against a church before.
While we’re all locked together, I see this weird kind of lumpy thing on the other side of the alley, behind a cluster of dumpsters, and it’s maybe moving, but I can’t tell because Jas’s face is taking up half my field of view. But that thing, hunched against itself, covered with what might be a tarp or a windbreaker, or some kind of plastic shroud, is the weirdest shape I’ve ever seen like it’s bent into the wrong dimensions, with joints in the wrong places pointing at angles that a skeleton wouldn’t allow. Jas’s lips taste like light beer. She pulls away, then one more kiss, softer, but then she starts again and I have to take a breath. “There’s a body over there,” I say, and Jas has this look like I don’t know what.
“What, while we’re making out? Fuck you, Quin.”
“I mean it, Jas. There’s a body, look, right goddamn there.”
“Don’t touch me.”
“Shit,” says Travis, who’s suddenly here with Duck and Rab. “Is that a body?”
The whole moment is ludicrous.
“Hey, go sniff it, Duck.”
“Shit,” says Duck.
It’s partially hidden beneath a collapsed cardboard box, the body is, and Rab sort of nudges the box away with his toe so the thing is out there in the daylight in its weird crumpled heap. “Is it a person?” Rab says. “Looks kind of like an aardvark.”
Travis laughs, a Yaggis-type bellow. “An aardvark? Where the hell do you come up with these things, Rab?”
“Because it fucking looks like an aardvark,” says Rab. “I saw one once with my family. My little brother flipped out when its tongue came like two feet out of its face hole.”
Jas comes over near the body too, and I try to decide if her expression means she’s mad at me, or curious, or what. Maybe she doesn’t quite know yet. “Does this thing even have a face hole? Which end is the front?” She squats next to it. I have the sudden urge to swallow and look away from her. When she’s Jariel at least I know what she’s thinking.
“We’re totally taking this thing back with us, right?” says Duck.
It’s getting windy in the alley, and Jas stands up. “Well, yeah, how could we not?”
We put the body on the floor of the garage. Rab and Jas cleared a space for it by pushing the card table we played Dungeons and Dragons on into the corner. The carcass is bundled in this weird, thick canvas wrapping that’s dripping some kind of liquid. It isn’t blood, not exactly. Travis is the first to move closer, and he has on Jas’s dad’s welding gloves, and he sort of peels back the outermost layer of the canvas covering, and Jas gets her camera ready so we can capture the image of whatever this thing is. We still haven’t seen its face hole, as Rab reminds us. It could still be an aardvark.
“Flip it over, Quin. For the face.”
I’m not sure who says that. I’m transfixed. Fur has begun flaking off the carcass and spreading around the circumference of the room in little clumpy patches, and underneath the fur is this bright pinkish-gray skin with splotchy bits that are a slightly darker shade of the same. One of the splotches has three protrusions that look like spindly arms radiating from it, and when I tilt my head it becomes an odd three-legged cow, or possibly a man with a really long nose. The splotch is on what might be the body’s right flank. Without knowing which end is the head it’s hard to say.
“Is that the face?” says someone else.
“No, that’s just another bald patch.”
“What about that thing by the foot? Is that a foot?”
“I think that’s part of the bag it was wrapped in.”
“No way. That’s for sure its foot. Look, it even has toes.”
“Those are chunks of grass.”
“Open it up more, Quin.”
Now fully spread on display, the body stretches out larger than the footprint of the table that used to occupy the same space on the floor. There are six, I don’t know, things coming off the main torso, but none of them looks like a head. Four of them look like probably they’re legs, and I guess maybe one of the remaining two things is a tail, but its weird and bulbous and kind of squishes when you poke it with your foot, like it’s some kind of cyst or something. I don’t know. The last thing coming off the torso is this weird spherical flange, perfectly hairless, and it’s like this terrifying, shimmering orb of flesh, but it’s not cystic like the one on the other end — it’s totally hard and bony, but just like one entire perfect spherical bone coming out of the end. It’s pretty great.
“So that’s not an aardvark, probably,” says Rab.
“How many legs does this thing have? Like maybe five? Or are those two things both heads? Look, I didn’t sign onto this little excursion to end up on the news as the first person to ever be actually consumed by xenomorphs in real life.” Travis does his best Alien impression, complete with screaming and exploding chest.
Jas squats right down next to the thing, and plucks a hair off, and twirls it in the light and studies it real close to her face. “I think my dad probably knows what this is. He worked for NASA in the 70s, like, real Cold War spy shit. I think he killed a Soviet bimbo who tried to seduce him in Serbia.”
“Jas,” says Duck, “I don’t think any of that is what NASA does.”
“What the fuck do you know, Duck,” Jas says, real flatly. I think I pretty probably love Jasmine Kilgore.
Rab tells Duck to shove it. “Dude, lay off. Her dad is way under the bottle these days, but he was a real hero back then.”
“This fucking thing is in my dad’s garage, okay? We brought it here, and he’ll know. He’ll know what it is, I know.”
Rab says, “Jas, your dad’s kind of a wash. He canvassed for a party that doesn’t exist.”
Travis is in the corner again, kicking the carcass. “Did we stop talking about how rad this thing is already? No way Mr. Kilgore knows what it is.”
A heavy second passes, and Duck says, “Kind of a wash.”
Rab starts laughing. “Duck, don’t gang up on a guy who can’t defend himself.”
It goes real quiet.
For a second there’s this weird tension to the garage, and then Jas stands up slowly, takes two steps toward Rab, and hits him hard in the gut. Then she goes inside the house, and Rab is curled up on the garage floor next to we-don’t-know-what-the-fuck on its canvas tarp. It’s probably an alien going to kill us, but Rab is kind of an ass.
“Jas, hold on,” I say inside. I can hear Rab sort of snuffling, trying to get back up in the garage with Duck and Travis. “He was trying to get Duck to shut up. Rab doesn’t know.”
She’s sitting on the counter in the kitchen, drinking room-temperature Smoky Mountain Brewery, but she’s clearly not too into it. The can is on its side, leaking slowly into the sink drain. I think probably Jas has been crying. Rab’s such an ass.
“I mean that. He’s an ass. Duck too. I’ll hit them too if you want.” Jas does a kind of smile and leans back against the cabinets, kicking her shoes against the counter. I join her.
“You know,” she says, parting the little curtain over the sink with one finger, “there’s a goddamn alien or something in my garage, and I’m crying about fucking politics. Did I tell you about my dad, Quin?”
“What happened when mom split. Whenever that was. Like four years ago or something?”
“You went missing from school and Mr. Sodersburg drove his wife’s minivan around all the arcades in the city looking for you.”
“I never left the school, though.” She pulls her legs up and sits cross-legged. “I was with Mrs. Renner all day.”
“Mrs. Renner? Shit, Jas.”
“Look, can you not tell the tit squad out there about it? Guidance counselors aren’t exactly social fertilizer. It’s dumb. Just something Rab said reminded me of Mrs. Renner. She said, ‘At least your mom’s not dead, dear.’ What a fucking tool.”
“And your dad?”
“Dad never came to pick me up after school that day. I waited two hours and finally walked home. I counted dead raccoons along the sidewalk.”
“I’d want out too.”
A moment happens that I’m not sure how to deal with. Jas turns toward me, and she’s crying some more, and her hair’s totally frazzled, and her makeup’s running, and she’s kicked her shoes off so there’s only tube socks on her feet and they don’t even match, but for some reason I decide that this is the best time to tell Jas that I love her. “I love you,” I say. “You know?”
“I was just fishing for a hug, you dick,” says Jas. “But I guess I love you too. You’re so weird.”
So we hug. It lasts for a long time, and then Jas asks if we can play Dungeons and Dragons.
“This definitely isn’t Hagra’thil,” Jariel Frostborn says. She holds her crossbow at the ready.
“Yaggis, where the Hells have you landed us?” says Sevgon.
“See? You’re even making Sev lose his cool, you idiot.”
Othor Overdale rummages through one of the dozen pouches dangling from his robes. “Maybe I can find us a way out. Would a Planar Reversal Ritual get us back to the shrine, or at least point the way?”
For a moment I say nothing. It’s poor form to let real world events influence game ones, but there Jas is, sitting across from me. It’s difficult, you know. Acting like there’s not an unidentifiable creature’s corpse shoved in the corner of the room. Or like Jas’s dad might have been a spy or an assassin or something. “It might,” I say.
“You hear the sound of animals nearby,” and I speak softer to grab their attention. “Like pounding, padded feet against the grassy clay foothills and retreating forest environs.”
“Can I see what they are?” says Jariel. “I’ll climb a nearby tree for vantage.”
I nod. “Roll an Athletics, please.”
“8.” Jas’s face scrunches up as though the number causes her physical pain. I can’t tell if the pain is even related to our game.
“It takes you a bit too long to climb the tree, and you only get a cursory glance at the retreating herd. The animals are like feverish images warping across a twisting and evolving landscape, amoebic quadrupeds that shift their weight from one extremity to the next as if they’ve found an alien means of locomotion not requiring bones…” I trail off at the end of the sentence like people do when they’re being mysterious, but really I’m just distracted by what Jas might do next. There’s a kind of buzz in my head about it.
“Okay,” says Jariel, and mumbles something, like she’s trying to convince herself of something, and Jas keeps looking behind her toward the door to the kitchen where clanking glass noises are coming from, her dad searching hastily through the cabinets. “I think we should let those animals go.”
Sevgon says, “I look at Jariel with wide eyes and ask her what we came all this way for if we’re going to give up the first time we see some weird monsters.”
The look in Jas’s eyes. She says, “No.”
Othor waits a beat, then says, “What?”
“Are you all right, dude?” Rab comes out of character.
Yaggis asks if he should chase one down and use brute strength.
A loud crash comes from inside the house, and Mr. Kilgore starts swearing at the broken glass. Everyone kind of freezes, like when you see animals stop what they’re doing when thunder hits. Like they can’t escape.
So I sit in the weird quiet. Everyone needs to escape something, I think, but sometimes things have a high tensile strength. You can’t break them. Jas’s dad maybe already broke, but here she still is, in this place.
After too long: “Not only is the lodestone destroyed, but we’re now trapped in Hells-know-where without the slightest idea of how to return home. I’m not sure punching things will help us out of this bind, Yaggis,” says Jariel. It’s a fair point. “And,” she says, actually standing up from the table with weird fluctuations in her voice, “besides that, I’m done. It’s been real, buds.” She walks straight toward the alien body, wraps it back in its canvas cover, and drags it out of the garage.
“Jas,” I say.
The four of us guys follow her out into the cul-de-sac, almost running, because the way she said it was pretty ominous, and Travis says that it was pretty ominous too, so I know I’m not imagining things. “Jas, wait,” I say again.
So we’re all out in her driveway watching probably the weirdest thing any of us has ever seen. Jas has the body in the road, totally out of its sack, spread on the pavement, and she’s dumping the rest of her beer on its back, and she has a flask that I guess was hidden in her jacket, and she’s pouring that on it too, and on the way out of the garage she grabbed the jug of 2-cycle fuel mix from under the shelf and she’s dumping that too.
And she has a Zippo.
The weirdest part of it all is that everyone just starts busting up laughing. It’s totally ludicrous. Jas tosses the lighter on the fire, and there’s a little pop when the case cracks and the fire gets to it, and then she walks back over to me and puts her head on my shoulder. We watch the alien burning in the road. People from the other houses are coming out and yelling, and someone says they’re calling 911, and there are maybe six or seven kids throwing leaves on the fire, which is just growing by the second. A weird green pus is coming from the flabby end of the body, making gurgling sounds as it deflates. Jas kisses me on the cheek.
I ask her if her dad actually was a spy, but the only answer I get is the sound of breaking glass from inside her house, and a lonely man yelling at the walls. Jas has the keys to the station wagon in her hand. She’s squeezing them.
Logan Murphy is a recent survivor of the University of Tennessee’s MFA program. He has spent his life in Tennessee, but in the summer is moving to China to teach. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Corvus Magazine and Pithead Chapel.