Story by Don Katnik / Illustration by John Waltrip
Stubby insisted on the clown being part of our caper. None of it would have happened without him. Blinko was the only thing that really scared King. Not Chuck’s razor-sharp shiv or my long-barreled cannon, just that white, grease-painted face glowing in the diner’s neon lights, leering out of the dark back seat of the Buick saying, “Get your keister in the goddamned car, Dick.”
We made the snatch at a diner on the edge of Copper City next to the smelter for which our miserable burg got its name. I stomped on the gas pedal, cranking up my window as we sped away through the endless clouds of sulphur that belched out of the smokestacks. It smelled like hell. You’d think a famous writer could afford a better place for joe and eats. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Stubby’s—a.k.a. Blinko’s—frizzy red hair and bulbous schnoz in the receding lights. He turned to the Master of Horror, fluttering his green eyelashes, and said, “Can I get your audio-graph when this is all over? Assuming we don’t zotz you.”
“I’d rather feed you to my dog,” King replied. “He likes clowns. He’s the only one who does, though” he added. “Clowns creep everyone else out.”
“So do you!”
“That’s my job,” King retorted.
“Break it up,” said Chuck from beside me in front. “You sound like a pair of old dames.” “Just asking,” pouted Stubby, his sulky mouth spoiling the big smile painted around it.
I left the main road and drove deeper into the night, cutting quick turns on the route we’d cased the night before. “If you idiots are lost,” King said finally, “downtown’s behind us.”
“Hell,” said Chuck, “you were supposed to blindfold him, Stub—uh, Blinko.”
“Just take his glasses,” I told Stubby, “He’s blind as a bat without them.”
Stubby did. King squinted at him. “That’s low. What would your mother say?”
“She’d tell me to poke your damn eyes out.” Stubby wasn’t kidding—his mother made Ma Barker look like a nun. She’d made the clown outfit.
I sped down a half dozen different streets, hoping to confuse King, but when I turned onto Port Road he said, “What are we doing at the docks?”
Chuck groaned. “I thought you took his glasses!”
“I did,” Stubby protested.
The black, oily water lapping at the tar-covered pilings smelled like a sewer from the smelter’s outflow and Copper City’s waste. “You don’t need no damned peepers to know where we are,” I said. “Let’s just get on with this.”
I parked and we all got out, Stubby dragging King who kept stepping on the clown’s big shoes. I poked King in the back with my cannon. “Watch where you’re goin’, boob.”
“I can’t,” said King. “Stub—uh, Blinko took my glasses.”
We frog-marched him across the empty pier. A decade ago, during the war, it had been a hopping place. Stubby, Chuck, and I had loaded ships with crates of copper-jacketed bullets destined to kill Nazis. Since the war had ended, though, the ships had gone and taken our jobs with them. No one knew what the smelter made now, but it wasn’t bullets. Derelict cranes loomed over us like silent, hulking vultures. We shoved King through a dark doorway into an abandoned warehouse and walked across the empty floor, our footfalls echoing across the concrete, skeletons of rusting steel beams arching overhead.
In the back office, Stubby tied King to a chair. I picked up the telephone, which we’d rewired back to Ma Bell just for this caper, and dialed. “Copper City Clarion,” a tired voice answered. “You’ve got The Buzz.” Bart Bachman’s nickname was self-inflicted for the sole purpose of naming his newspaper column, “Buzz From The Buzz.” He was the only Clarion newshawk who worked nights.
“Actually,” I said, “we’ve got King.”
There was a long pause from The Buzz. “King what?”
“The Master of Horror,” I explained. “And unless we get a hundred large, he’s gonna be the Master of Dead!”
“You mean Richard King, the bird who wrote Utah Boy?” The Buzz asked. King’s latest page-turner was all the rage in Copper City. The place wasn’t exactly lousy with the rich and famous—especially not the rich—so we’d had to settle for snatching a popular writer.
“That was a dumb book,” said Stubby, who hadn’t read it.
“How dumb will it be when a big-shot Hollywood producer turns it into a moving picture?” King retorted.
“About this dumb,” Stubby said and socked him. King’s head rocked from the blow—I could almost see the stars circling around it. “Dreaming big now, Dick?” Stubby asked.
“Somebody gag him,” I said.
“Stubby?” asked Chuck.
“King!” I looked at Stubby, who was still wearing the clown outfit. “Hell, gag them both.”
“What do you mean, you’ve ‘got’ King?” The Buzz was saying. “Nobody ‘gets’ him—he’s nutty as a squirrel.”
“I mean we snatched him,” I said.
Stubby shook his head, the frizzy wig whipping around his head like a red hurricane. “And you guys call me dumb.”
“Never mind,” I told The Buzz. “Just get our ransom money or King gets it.”
“I ain’t got that kind of dough,” he said.
“Not you! The paper. Doesn’t King’s family own the Clarion?”
“His wife does, actually.”
“Then get her to pay the ransom,” I said. King shook his head and mumbled through his gag. I turned to him. “Your wife doesn’t think you’re worth a hundred large?” King shrugged and looked sheepish. “Fifty?” He shook his head. “Twenty-five?”
Stubby bounced over. “We could get people to send in donations!”
“That’s idiotic,” said Chuck. “This ain’t no charity.”
“But he’s famous,” Stubby protested.
“People pay for his stories—sure,” The Buzz put in, “but I don’t think anybody’s gonna pay for him.”
“Who asked you?” I asked, but Stubby, Chuck, and I exchanged dismayed looks as our brilliant plan fell in ruins.
“Too bad he already published Utah Boy,” said Chuck. “Everyone’s buying that book. It’s worth a fortune.”
“Too bad we didn’t snatch him six months ago,” said Stubby. “Then we could have taken Utah Boy and we could be selling it and getting all that dough. How much have you made from that dumb book?” Stubby asked King.
The writer mumbled through his gag. I tore it off. “Nothing like a hundred thousand,” King said. “The publisher takes a cut. My editor takes a cut. My agent.” He rolled his eyes. “My wife. Hell, everybody takes a cut. And it takes forever for what’s left to trickle down to me. Sorry, boys—but I’m not exactly sittin’ pretty just now.”
“You’re gonna be sittin’ pretty dead if we don’t get a hundred large from somebody!” Stubby said.
King watched us, blood trickling from his mouth where Stubby had socked him, waiting for our bulbs to light. Finally, Chuck snapped his fingers and pointed his shiv at King. “He’s a writer, right? Let’s make him write a new book…for us! We’ll cut out those boobs in the middle and take all the dough for ourselves.”
“Utah Boy Returns!” said Stubby. “But what are we gonna do—peddle copies on a street corner? And how we gonna publish the thing?”
“We’ll print it in the Clarion,” I said. “That won’t cost us nothin.’”
“Right,” said King, “and you’ll make a whole two bits for every copy of the paper you sell.”
“And it would have to be a short story,” The Buzz added. “It’s not like you could put a whole novel into a single newspaper.”
“Who asked you?” I asked The Buzz again. “What about a Special Edition?” Even I knew that was a lame idea and no one bothered responding to it.
“It would have to be a serial novel,” King said. His eyes were starting to dance a little, getting juiced. He took in our blank looks. “Written in installments,” he explained.
“Yeah,” I said, warming to the idea. “We’ll tell people we’re holding King and he’s writing a story for his ransom. We’ll publish it one piece at a time and if people want to read the next one…” I kicked the bound writer, “…and they better, they have to cough up the cabbage. Otherwise it’ll be curtains on King and on the story.”
Chuck broke out a deck of smokes and we all lit up, nodding and smiling. It was a good plan. I even gave King a butt. “You’ll get the first part tomorrow,” I told The Buzz. King rolled his eyes. “Uh, the day after tomorrow.”
“These goons are holding me at the docks!” King suddenly yelled at the phone. Stubby and Chuck both socked him, one after the other, sending his head wobbling from side to side.
“Don’t bother sending the coppers out here,” I told The Buzz, “we ain’t stayin’.” I hung up.
“Gonna be singin’ for his supper!” Stubby crowed, “like that broad Sahara Clod.”
“Scherezade,” the writer corrected. He paused. “Actually, I have this idea about worms from outer space that burrow into people eyes and—”
“None of your usual creepy shit,” I said. “You’re going to write about us.”
“And I’ve got the perfect beginning,” put in Stubby. “It was a dark and stormy night….”
The writer groaned. “Just zotz me now.”
— ♦♦♦ —
We fled the docks, stopping only for paper, pencils, and take-out fried chicken before checking into a dive called the Last Stop Motel on the low end of Copper City. We had our first creative dispute as soon as King began writing. We wanted the story to start with us; to tell the readers who we were and what had driven us to this act of criminal desperation. King wanted it to begin with him getting snatched. “You’ve gotta start with action,” he said. “Grab ’em by the short hairs!” I looked over his shoulder and read the opening paragraph.
— ♦♦♦ —
The goons grabbed me as I left the diner, leaping from the dark like a pack of feral idiots fueled by bad intentions. I tried to fight them off but it was my two mitts against their six. Though I drew first blood, they pummeled me into the back of their cheap ride and hustled me into oblivion.
— ♦♦♦ —
“Nobody hit you, you big baby!” said Chuck.
“And this motel isn’t exactly ‘oblivion,’” Stubby said.
I glanced at the paint peeling from the walls and the stains on the ceiling where the roof had leaked. A thick reek of old cigarette smoke mingled with Copper City’s constant Sulphur stench. “Pretty close,” I said.
“Do you want to make some dough or not?” King asked. “Nobody cares how it really happened. They want action!”
“But we sound like a bunch of boobs,” protested Stubby. “And I’m sure as hell not shootin’ blanks!” Chuck and I exchanged glances. “He called us sterile idiots,” Stubby explained.
“Actually,” I said, “we do sound like a gang of thugs.”
King dropped his greasy drumstick. “You snatched me—you’re fucking kidnappers!”
“Only because we lost our jobs,” said Chuck. “We were upstanding citizens before that.”
King rolled his eyes. “Who cares?”
“Rewrite it,” I told him.
King folded his arms. “No.”
I put my cannon to his head and cocked back the hammer. He crumpled the page. “Everybody’s a critic! Let’s just have the people who know nothing about writing dictate everything! Let’s have the people who can barely speak their native tongue—” he glared at Stubby, “—tell the famous writer how to write. Let’s….” He carried on like that for a long while but finally got back to writing. We smoked and tried not to watch him because that just made King work slower.
“Like watching a friggin’ pot of water tryin’ to boil,” said Stubby.
“When have you ever boiled water?” I asked. Stubby was no Betty Crocker.
When King finally finished the chapter we read it, sitting in a circle and passing the pages around the room one at a time. King sat in the middle waiting for our response. We gave him a ring of poker-faces. I read the last page and lit a butt. “Not bad,” I said.
Chuck shrugged. “It’s okay.”
“What crap,” said Stubby.
King leapt up. “Screw you guys! It’s great.”
“It doesn’t matter what any of us think,” I said, “it matters what everyone else does.” I put the pages in an envelope and left Stubby, Chuck, and King at The Last Stop. It had started to rain and the streets glistened with oily, wet darkness. I parked near a phone booth beside the Clarion and called The Buzz. Then, from a garbage-strewn alley across the street, I watched him come out, hiding under his coat and cursing the rain. He made a dash for the phone booth and retrieved the envelope. He paused with it beside a trash can. For a minute I thought he might just toss it in. Part of me, the one that still wanted to be a good person, needed him to—but he tucked the envelope under his coat instead and dashed back into the Clarion. It was out of our hands now. I drove back to The Last Stop.
— ♦♦♦ —
We waited outside the sidewalk newsstand like expectant fathers chain-smoking butts and gulping joe. When our bundle of joy—copies of the Clarion morning edition—finally arrived we pounced on it as if the newsstand might sell out even though no one else was there. We took the paper to a nearby bench and sat around it in a tight group. There was nothing about King on the front page. Or on the second page. Or the third. Finally—squeezed between Dear Abby, the “Help Wanteds” (not many in Copper City), and an ad for hair tonic—we read, “KING’S RANSOM.”
“There it is!” said Stubby.
“No shit,” Chuck replied. “Shut up and let me read.”
— ♦♦♦ —
Famous local author Richard King, who recently penned the popular novel “Utah Boy,” is back at the typewriter again—this time under duress!”
— ♦♦♦ —
“The Buzz writes worse than King,” Stubby said.
“Shut up and let me read,” Chuck repeated.
— ♦♦♦ —
This sharp Clarion newshawk has learned that Copper City’s own “Master of Horror” got himself snatched two nights ago and is writing a brand spanking new tale to pay his ransom! And it’s a mighty big one at that—one hundred thousand dollars! And you Copper City denizens get to help pay it. That’s right—the Clarion will publish installments of King’s new tale (not “Utah Boy Returns” or “Son of Utah Boy” but the true story of King’s own snatching). Then it will be up to you, Faithful Readers, to make contributions to keep Mr. King alive long enough to finish the story. Better make it a good one, Dick!
— ♦♦♦ —
We waited three days before checking back with The Buzz. “We’ve collected twenty-six dollars and forty-two cents,” he said.
“What’s this we shit, Buzz?” I asked. “And how much did we really collect?”
“Okay, okay! It was fifty-two bucks. I figured I deserved a little something, too. The coppers were all over me about King being snatched.”
“What did you tell them?”
“Nothing!” he said. “I told ‘em I picked the envelope up from the phone booth and published what was in it. It’s news, right? Fair game and all that.”
“Right,” I said, “but five percent is plenty fair for just keeping your lips zipped.”
“Don’t push your luck, Buzz.”
“Deal.” We worked out another blind drop where I could get the dough without The Buzz being able to finger me. Cutting him in on the take was smart, I thought, but I gave him another reason not to go singing to the law. “You drop the dime on us,” I told The Buzz, “and King will have another victim to write about—this one wearing concrete shoes at the bottom of the harbor.”
— ♦♦♦ —
We spread our take from the first installment out on the bed. Most of it was coins and it wasn’t much of a pile. “Forty-seven bucks barely covers our grub and this dive,” said Chuck. “Let’s bury this boob and blow town.”
He was right—the payout was hardly worth putting up with the writer’s constant complaining. I pulled out my cannon and hauled King up out of his chair. “Okay. I’ll take care of him.”
“Wait,” said Stubby, “I want to do it. King’s been bustin’ mine from day one.” I hesitated—not because Stubby was wrong about that, but because I wasn’t sure I trusted him to do the job right. He picked up two bits from the bed. “Flip ya for it?”
“Now hold on there, fellas!” King said. “That was only the first installment—barely an appetizer. It’ll take a few to get the readers really hungry.”
“Maybe he’s right,” said Chuck. “Let’s do another installment or two.” He glanced around the dismal room with the small pile of money on the bed. “We’ve got nothing to lose.”
“King does,” I said and pushed him back down. “Appetizer, huh? What’s next—friggin’ salad? Let’s get to the meat.”
“And make it raw and bloody,” Stubby suggested.
— ♦♦♦ —
We woke to strange sounds in the night. King’s bed was empty. “He’s escaped!” I said. “King’s gone to the cops!” My whole body clenched at the thought of living in the Big House with 300-pound convicts too long without a woman’s love.
“Nah,” said Chuck, “he’s just in the can. Been in there for an hour.”
“With the door locked,” added Stubby. Strange grunts came from behind it. “What the hell are you doing in there, King?”
A pause—then, “Nothing!”
“Don’t sound like nothing,” said Stubby. “Sounds like you’re whacking your weasel.”
“This isn’t as easy as it sounds,” King replied. We exchanged looks of disgust. “I’m…I’m writing. Trying to.”
Chuck goggled. “On the crapper? Christ, that’s sick.”
“I couldn’t sleep and I had some ideas about the next installment,” King replied through the door.
“Well come out here and write at the desk like a normal human being,” I said.
The door opened and the writer came out, a handful of pages clutched to his chest. He scurried to the desk, sat down, and immediately began scribbling. “Each installment has to be like its own little story,” he muttered. “Some conflict, some resolution—but still leave ‘em hanging, hungry for more.” His voice trailed off as King sank into the work.
“He thinks about food a lot,” I observed.
“Yeah, well, that light’s going to keep me up,” said Stubby so we hung a blanket around the desk to make a little tent like we’d done as kids to camp out in our bedrooms.
— ♦♦♦ —
King was still in there when we woke the next morning. At four in the afternoon we made him come out. I read his new installment aloud, King fidgeting and glowering, stopping me every other sentence because I “wasn’t getting the intonations right.”
“Shut up and let him read the damn thing!” Stubby said.
— ♦♦♦ —
It was obvious from the start that my captors were not rocket scientists. They were running this caper by the seats of their pants—because that’s where their feeble brains resided, no doubt—eluding capture with the blind luck of the dense of mind, righteous in the infantile belief that life had done them wrong.
— ♦♦♦ —
“That last sentence is just one big run-on,” complained Chuck. “Haven’t you ever heard of a period?”
“Give me the pencil,” I said. I thought for a moment. “Okay, how about this?”
— ♦♦♦ —
It was obvious from the start that my captors were not professional criminals. They were running this brilliant scheme by the seats of their pants—out of sheer desperation, no doubt—eluding capture with the blind luck of the pure of heart, steadfast in the reassuring knowledge that life had dealt them a crummy hand.
— ♦♦♦ —
“That’s good!” said Stubby.
“I like it,” said Chuck.
King blew a raspberry.
— ♦♦♦ —
Our take for the second installment was over three hundred bucks, less The Buzz’s ten percent. We got mostly bills this time and the bundles of cash made conspicuous bulges in our pockets, leading Stubby to the inevitable, “You got a big wad of dough in your pocket or are ya just glad to see me?” We ordered take-out Chinese. King was still at the tent-covered desk, which he now insisted we call his writing studio. We were not allowed inside the studio or to bother him while he was working. The steady clacking of the Royal typewriter we’d bought him, hoping to speed up the writing process and therefore our ransom payments, was the only sign of life from within. When the food came, I quietly left a plate outside the studio door. If he wanted to eat cold chow yuk, that was his beef.
— ♦♦♦ —
In the third installment King had the captive writer try to leap from the backseat of the Buick as it pulled through a fast-food drive through. An alert burger-flipper saw the attempted escape, called the cops, and the chase was on complete with a posse of irate readers hot on their heels shouting and touting pitchforks like a B-movie village mob. It didn’t really go down that way. King just stared wistfully out the window as we exited the drive through. Back at The Last Stop, Stubby smashed his finger in the Buick’s door, which inspired King to have his pinky blown off by a lucky shot from a copper. Chuck and I thought it was kind of funny. So did our readers, who doubled their donations. “I’m famous!” Stubby crowed.
“Next time I’ll have them clip your head,” King replied, and he did.
— ♦♦♦ —
The night that Stubby died, three days and four large after the pinky incident, he and I drove to the money drop while Chuck kept an eye on King at The Last Stop. We were at the end of a long road that ended in a cluster of abandoned houses—former homes of fellow dock workers who’d fled Copper City after the war boom. We should have gone with them. I scanned the dark buildings, worried that The Buzz had finally turned on us and that the law was hiding in the shadows waiting to put the drop on us. But all I saw were ghosts. We entered the last house and crept through the empty rooms to the kitchen, our flashlights cutting pale cones of light through the murky interior. The counter beside the sink was covered with dust, rat droppings, and a fat envelope. Inside was more dough than I’d ever seen before—too much to fit in our pockets. “We’re rich!” said Stubby. “Even after we split it three ways that’s enough…” His voice trailed off, his imagination struggling to think that big. “…to do just about anything,” he finished.
I watched his shadow, big and stupid, capering on the bare kitchen wall as Stubby bobbed, celebrating his fortune. “Just about,” I agreed.
— ♦♦♦ —
Chuck had bought a battered suitcase and we stuffed the cash into it, almost two hundred large. King’s story had caught on better than we’d ever hoped. We could have taken off with the dough—dumped King back at the diner or in a field outside of town and just driven away, never looking back—but the story wasn’t finished and we needed to know how it would end. Only then could we pick up the pieces of our lives again—assuming we got the chance, that is.
We weren’t watching King anymore. He wasn’t going anywhere. Maybe he needed to know how the story would end, too. Or maybe all he cared about was getting to write in peace and see his words in print—he never seemed to tire of that. We were front page news now, “KING’S RANSOM” splashed in big, bold letters with every new installment.
The Buzz told me that the FBI was in town looking for us so we began changing hotels every night. On our blind drops we kept The Buzz running from one phone booth to another. We’d call him at each one with obscure directions to the next, trying to make it tough for anyone to follow. It had worked so far. It wouldn’t have to for much longer.
— ♦♦♦ —
Chuck died hard in the next installment. The snatchers’ cheap ride blew a rod on the highway headed for a ransom drop. Chuck was hoofing it back to town when a sleepy truck driver, hopped up on lousy joe, drifted onto the shoulder and clipped him. King had the truck drag the body for a quarter of a mile leaving just hamburger and regrets behind.
That installment netted us almost another hundred large.
— ♦♦♦ —
We spent that night on the twentieth floor of a fancy hotel downtown. We had plenty of dough now—no more Last Stop dives. In the morning I came out of my room. King had made coffee in the suite’s kitchen. He saw me and said, “I still can’t believe Stubby got cold feet and bailed out. He seemed too…”
“…too dumb to be scared?” I offered.
“Something like that.”
“We’re better off without him.” I sampled the coffee—King wrote well, but his joe tasted like burnt dirt. Maybe he needed it that way for inspiration. He handed me a stack of pages—the final installment. One way or another, things were coming to an end.
“Chuck must be sleeping in,” King said.
“Maybe he knows how shitty your joe is.”
King grunted. Then, after a long silence; “So what’s it gonna be—the shiv or your cannon?”
There were still four bullets in it. Stubby had taken two. The first one had made a pink mist around his head, reminding me of the red hurricane he’d made when he’d worn the clown wig and shaken it. Most of Stubby’s brains and a lot of his blood had splattered across the kitchen wall of the abandoned house where we’d made the ransom pickup. Stubby’s second bullet had just been for good measure. Or maybe so Chuck and I could split the ransom just two ways instead of three. Or, to be honest, because I’d never really liked the guy and clipping him had felt good. “What do you mean?” I asked King.
“I’m not stupid,” he replied. “Stubby didn’t chicken out and Chuck’s not sleeping in his room.”
“Not unless if you mean with the fishes,” I admitted. “He ate a pillow for breakfast.” I’d liked Chuck just fine, but I’d liked not having to split the ransom at all better.
“That’s a great line,” King said, “but don’t mix your metaphors.”
I wasn’t even sure what that meant. “Chuck was going to take off with the next ransom drop.”
“How’d you figure that out?”
“How did you? You killed him before I did.”
“I’m the writer,” King said. “I know things.”
I nodded down at the final pages. “So what happens to us in the story?”
“We get gunned down by a swarm of coppers.”
King shrugged. “The readers go crazy when a good guy buys it.”
“That’s—” I stopped as the warble of a police siren drifted up from the street below. We crossed to the balcony doors and stepped outside. King pointed at a police car heading towards the hotel. Another one was coming from the opposite direction. “They got us surrounded!” I said. “How the hell’d they find us?”
“Must have been The Buzz,” said King. “I guess the story became more important than the dough. It usually does—if it’s a good story.”
“Yeah, well, he’s gonna regret fingering us.”
We watched as more police cars appeared. The swarm of coppers in King’s final installment wasn’t going to be just make believe. “I don’t really want to die,” he said. “Screw what the readers want!”
“If we want to make it out of here alive,” I said, “we’re gonna need some kind of diversion.”
King nodded and went back inside. He came out a few moments later with the suitcase Chuck had bought. “We gonna bribe the cops?” I asked. King shook his head, opened the case, and upended it. A cloud of greenbacks billowed out, fluttering around us like a flock of greedy birds, then slowly drifting down towards the street. At first the people below did not seem to realize what was falling around them. Then we heard a squawk of surprise. It was followed by another, then by a general roar of excitement. Good things didn’t happen often in Copper City and no one wanted to miss out on this one. A mob formed and the police cars slowed, then stopped, unable to get through the frantic crowd swarming around the hotel, chasing King’s ransom.
“That’ll keep the cops busy,” I said, “but you just threw away all our dough.”
King shrugged. “Easy come easy go. I had no idea writing in installments could be so profitable. King’s Ransom earned a lot more money than Utah Boy ever will—even if it does end up someday as a moving picture.”
I held up the final pages, “And I guess we might get some of that money back with the final chapter. Who knows—maybe more than we already had.”
“Maybe,” King said, “but I got an idea for another story. It’s about a shifty reporter who gets torn to pieces by a bad clown. You think we can resurrect Blinko?”
“His outfit, anyway,” I said. “And you can have worms from outer space burrow into the reporter’s eyes before the clown gets him. But who gets to wear the red nose and floppy shoes?”
King reached into his pocket; came out with two bits. “I’ll flip you for it.”
“A Tango With The Devil” by Jay Seate
Illustration by Bradley K. McDevitt