Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Week in Stories: No One Gets Out Alive - "Another Midnight"

Episode 2: "Another Midnight"

Just an addendum to the start of my recap of the last session. Lisette's player filled up her spooky-stuff clock in the very first scene she was in, so she joined the other two of us in picking a ghostly manifestation. So, joining "The Mirror" and "The Door," we added "The Whisper." Some of what that means is already becoming apparent!

Character and Session Thoughts

First of all, it was truly amazing how much we managed to pack into about two and a half hours of play. Below is one of the longer recaps I've ever written, and it all happened, dramatically and often quickly. In fact, I'm not sure a longer session would have been any better - by the time we'd gone around the table twice for scenes, my dramatic ideas for the evening had been exhausted, and everyone seemed to agree that that was enough.

I think there are two reasons why we got so much done in so little time. First of all is that we only have three players, plus the GM. That means, in general, that every player is in at least every other scene. There's a lot of screen time, and even when there are scenes with NPCs, it's often not long until one of the other two PCs enter. This means we have lots of opportunities to get our stuff on the table, both the things we'd thought about, and those that just come up in the heat of the moment.

The second reason is the explicit social contract we had going into this game - that this was going to be a drama-heavy game, that we were going to commit and go deep into character and play hard. We're all here for the same thing, and have all played together for a long time, and have that level of trust and comfort that when you're playing a difficult scene, the other person is right there with you.

After a first session that had little of the supernatural, the horror elements are starting to manifest, big time. I'm sure it only goes downhill from here. We needed that first session to see what these people were like when they weren't being haunted, now we get to see them starting to be under pressure, which will no doubt continue. Which relationships will crack when danger rears its head? Which ones will be revealed as strong, or become stronger?

Bill had more to do as the GM for this session, as in the first, he'd largely sat back and let us explore the character dynamics. That came through in both the supernatural, and the interactions with NPCs - Michael's incredibly irritating and selfish siblings, and Michael and Jo's kids, one of whom seems to be a sweet but scared young man, and the other where Bill is channelling his inner 16-year-old girl who hates her parents to great effect. There were visible winces and muttered oaths during the evening as Madeline said cutting things about her parents and their relationship.

Finally, on a more personal note, I had had a rough couple of weeks, and I kind of let it all loose at the table when Jo got angry. It was more an icy cold anger, than a hot one, although Bill said I was still loud, which I can believe. Poor Lisette got the most of it, and I certainly had fun, but there was at least one moment where I know Lisette/her player decided to keep a secret rather than accidentally spill it, because Jo getting even angrier was a terrifying prospect. (It is not the first time I've been told I'm terrifying when I'm acting angry. Bwahahaha.)

Also interesting was that while Jo was so angry at Lisette (was already angry going into that scene), when both Lisette and Michael gave her roughly the same explanation of what they had been doing (and lying through their teeth!), she got a lot softer towards Michael than I was expecting, willing to cut him a break when she wasn't for Lisette. Which makes a certain amount of sense - Michael's her husband, and she's been with him for two decades or more, while Lisette wants to be part of the family so desperately Jo feels threatened. Still, it's not a great impulse, to forgive the husband for transgressions while punishing the person he transgressed with more harshly. No solidarity of sisterhood here, which is interesting to explore.

Lisette's player and I talked at length before the session on the dynamic between the two characters, and how it might change - we'll see what happens as the island becomes more dangerous and Jo feels scared and vulnerable!

I usually put the recap first, thoughts second, but the recap is very, very long, so I'm putting it after the cut, for those who are interested. It was such a good session, so intense, with so much going on, that I wanted to get it all down.

To get to the Recap, click below!

The night started with a scream. That is to say, with the sound of Jo and Michael's teenage son, Tyler, screaming. Jo ran to his room, to be told that he'd seen a man with no face outside his window. She looked outside, but there was no way for anyone to have been there, so she assured him it had been a dream. Tyler was dubious. Jo glared at her in-laws, who had gathered outside the room to complain about the disruption, as she left.

In the Blue Room on the second floor, woken by the noise, Lisette looked at the bottles of whiskey, her hurt over being denied her spot in the family surfacing. She broke the seal on an 80-year-old bottle of whiskey and poured a small amount into a glass. She looked at it for a minute or two before pouring it down the drain. Michael, coming into the room, told her that she could have wasted less expensive whiskey. He poured himself a glass, not picking up on how Lisette was trying to avoid having a drink.

They talked, Michael bringing up again Lisette's inclusion in the will, and urging her to accept the offer of a monetary buyout rather than letting his siblings drag the whole thing into court. Lisette told him indignantly that she didn't care that much about the money. What she wanted was recognition that she was as much a part of this family as anyone. Not to be the dirty laundry of a past generation anymore. Michael tried to discreetly let her know that offering to buy her out was a kindness, not just a wish to have her go away. He let slip that the company was in trouble, and that no one else knew. Lisette was shocked and refilled his drink while splashing an ounce for herself into the glass she’d poured away moments earlier so they could commiserate together. They tossed the drinks back.

Michael poured them each full glasses and told her that she couldn't tell anyone. Still surprised, Lisette threw back her drink, and then poured herself another. Impulsively, Michael stepped forward and kissed her, and was not rebuffed. Lisette's glass fell from her fingers and shattered on the floor. Still embracing, Michael took a step backwards, his bare foot sliced open by a shard. He swore. Lisette helped him up on the bar, and knelt to take a look.

Meanwhile, Jo had gone back to the room she had been sleeping in with Michael, and finding him gone, stiffened in the hallway as she heard the sound of low laughter from down the hallway, a man and a woman. She followed the noise, hearing the laughter continue, until she came to the Blue Room. She pushed open the door to see Michael and Lisette. Angrily, she asked what they'd been doing, mentioning the laughter. Michael retorted that he'd cut his foot, he certainly hadn't been laughing. Lisette warned Jo to stay away until she could sweep up the glass.

That done, Jo came over to look at Michael's foot, then grabbed her first aid kit and started to dig out glass splinters, none too gently. Both Lisette and Michael tried to assure her that there had been no laughter, that nothing had been going on, but Jo insisted that she'd heard what she'd heard. The wound picked free of glass, Jo grabbed the bottle of expensive whiskey and poured it over Michael's foot, grimly satisfied by the pain it caused. She bandaged his foot, and Michael left.

On the way back to his room, Michael saw the light still on in his son's room, and stopped by to check in on Tyler. Tyler told him much the same story he'd told his mother, and Michael didn't seem to take it any more seriously than Jo, but listened better, and offered to stay in his son's room for the night. (Perhaps as much to avoid Jo as anything else?) Tyler agreed eagerly.

Jo stayed in the room with Lisette. Lisette, remembering the moment of connection they'd had during the evening, tried to extend some companionable conversation, but was shut down hard by Jo, who continued to press on what Lisette and Michael had been doing. Lisette managed to not give away what had actually happened between them, trying to deflect Jo's anger. She diverted the conversation by saying that, actually, Michael had been trying to get her to take a buyout of her interest in the family fortune.

Jo urged her to take the deal, and Lisette retorted, again, that what she wanted was to be part of the family, not hidden away! Jo rolled her eyes. What did Lisette mean by that? What family? The larger Ross-McBride family, with Miss Maudie's death, was pretty much nonexistent. Did Lisette really expect Michael's brother and sister, Matt and Diana, to hang out a welcome banner? Did that seem likely. Lisette admitted that it didn't.

Then, Jo continued, ruthlessly, that left Michael and herself and their children. That was all the family that there was, and Lisette was no part of that, and couldn't be. The rest, the rest was all mythology. Lisette paused, taken aback. Take the money, Jo said coldly and evenly, and left.

Lisette took the bottle and poured herself another drink.

The next morning, Michael left Tyler’s room and went downstairs, only to see his laptop lying on the table, slightly open. He opened it up to see the secret spreadsheet detailing the real financial state of the company on the screen, including his financial misdeeds trying to keep things afloat.

He shut the program hurriedly as his sister Diana entered the room. After some cutting banter, Diana threatened to take a more active hand in the company, if Michael was going to let some interloper like Lisette have what was rightfully theirs. Michael was visibly annoyed, saying he’d been the one to run the company because no one else had wanted to step up. They just wanted to get the profits, and do none of the work.

Di sniffed and walked off. Michael closed his computer and went back up the stairs, calling for Jo. His daughter, Madeline, emerged from her room first, and, when asked if she’d been on his computer, gave him a dose of teenage attitude, and stalked off.

When she came out of their room, Michael asked Jo if she’d been monkeying with his laptop, and she asked why she would have done that. She’d been sleeping, since she bandaged up his foot. She asked again what he and Lisette had been doing the night before, and he gave her an answer that was close to Lisette’s, that he’d been urging Lisette to take the buyout.

Jo agreed that that would be for the best, saying that she’d talked to Lisette about Lisette’s desire to be accepted into the family, and that it was insane. There wasn’t a larger family anymore, and she couldn’t try to waltz in and be part of Jo and Michael’s family. There wasn’t a space for her there. 

Then Jo asked Michael if there would be any way they could keep the house. Michael said that it was in pretty poor shape, but didn’t entirely dismiss the idea. He said that the kids would hate coming here in the summers, but Jo said that it wouldn’t be many more summers that the kids would vacation with them anyway. They could look forward to the years after that. Michael replied that it was a lot of house for two people, but the general tone between the two had softened. He said he’d look around the house and see what might be possible. Gratified, Jo replied that she’d talk to her father when they got back into cell reception. She still thought that it was unlikely he’d help, but she’d try.

As the two headed down to the main floor, the camera panned through the door into Lisette’s room, where she was curled up in a ball crying, having overheard Jo’s statement about how Lisette didn’t belong anywhere in their family, and no rebuttal from Michael. She looked around the room, seeing the whiskey bottle from the night before, empty. A bloody thumbprint marked the bottle. She scuttled over and picked it up, seeing some of Michael’s blood from the gash on his foot on her hand, and that the thumbprint perfectly matched her own. She hid the bottle under the bed and went to the bathroom to wash her face.

As Jo came into the main foyer, she saw their daughter, Maddy, walking towards the door with a visible pack of cigarettes in her hand. Jo pursued her, but Maddy flipped her the finger and ran off. Jo sighed and didn’t chase her, walking towards the orchard. As she approached the gardener’s hut, she started to hear laughing again, a man and a woman. She threw open the door of the hut, to find no one inside, although the room smelled of alcohol and sex. She frowned, telling herself not to be paranoid, and shut the door, not noticing the word ‘Skinner’ carved into the wall.

Michael was in the kitchen with Tyler and his brother Matthew when Jo came in seeking coffee. Tyler asked tremulously when they were going to leave. He hated it here. Jo looked disappointed, and Michael said they’d be there for a little while more. But why not explore the house and see what could be seen? They might even find something valuable. Matthew’s eyes lit up at that, and he agreed eagerly. Michael proposed checking out the attic, and Tyler agreed, none too happily.

Jo took her coffee and went to the conservatory, hoping to have a quiet moment. She opened the door, only to see a figure on the other side of the room, a large man turned away from her. She took a single step in and called out, asking who it was. The man turned around, a burlap bag covering his face, with two holes cut out for the eyes. He was covered in blood, holding a small knife in one hand. He started to advance towards her. Jo took a swift step backwards and shut the door, calling out for her husband as she walked backwards down the hallway, keeping her eyes on the door. She could see the figure walking towards her through the glass windows beside the door.

Michael joined her, asking what was going on. Jo told him about the man with the knife and Michael opened the door, finding no one inside. Jo insisted that she had seen what she had seen, while Michael tried to tell her it was probably because of the lack of sleep the night before. Jo agreed reluctantly, but told him about the burlap bag over the face of the figure, to Michael’s annoyance, as it visibly upset their son Tyler, sounding remarkably like what he’d seen through the window the night before. Michael suggested that Jo and Tyler go into the library while he went exploring in the attic with his brother Matthew, and Tyler was more than happy to agree not to go into the even creepier parts of the house.

Lisette went exploring in the East Wing, where Miss Maudie had lived her last few years, more than a little hoping to uncover some treasure of her own - any leftover medication Miss Maudie might have left behind. Jo’s words about not wanting Lisette to be part of her family rang in her ears. She found the wreckage of a miserable life. There was a notebook with careful writing (initially) of dosages and times, with writing that grew even as the amounts of medication did.

She also found the motherlode of leftover drugs. Stuffing a bunch into the front pocket of her hoodie, she hurriedly gulped a few, relaxing into the chair as the hurt got harder to find.

Michael and Matthew went up to the attic, Matthew eager to find any hidden treasures that they could sell. While looking through the boxes, Michael came across a trunk with a lockbox at the bottom. On the top was an old gun, which Michael showed Matthew.

Popping the lockbox open, he found a surprising amount of old money. He closed it hastily, distracting his brother’s attention with a picture of Miss Maudie and two men (presumably Miss Maudie’s husband and perhaps also her lover?) in the 1920s. Matthew expressed his opinion that he didn’t need to see that much of his grandmother’s legs.

Just then, Michael noticed a space where the wall came out in an unexpected way, realizing it was the upper entrance to the secret passage he’d been trying to find. Matthew dared Michael to go down in the dark, and after a few gibes about being chicken, Michael agreed, clutching the box close. He told Matthew that he remembered when he used to shove Michael down the basement stairs and shut to door, leaving him in the dark, and that he didn’t really trust him not to do it again. But he went anyway.

The secret passage was a narrow spiral staircase going all the way down to the basement. Michael felt his way along gingerly, but before he got a half-level down, he could hear Matthew cackling as he slammed the door in the attic. Michael called out to tell his brother to go fuck himself. He continued carefully downwards, until he hit a slick spot and fell down the stairs a long way. He picked himself up off the floor in the basement, bumped and bruised, and realizing that the cut on his foot had reopened and his shoe was filling with blood.

Michael could see a dim blue light in the basement that had terrified him as a child. He limped his way across the room, still clutching the lockbox, to find his laptop sitting on the floor, slightly open and emitting a slight blue glow. Opening it, he found the incriminating spreadsheet on the screen, and hastily closed the file and deleted it. He dragged himself towards the stairs and tripped over a small rusted knife that was remarkably similar to the one Jo had seen the man with no face holding.

Meanwhile, a chemically-mellowed Lisette wandered outside, only to find Madeline smoking. Lisette told Maddy that Jo would probably be mad that she was smoking, but Maddy said she didn’t care, she hated that bitch. Always alert to the possibility of tension in Michael and Jo’s marriage, Lisette asked if Madeline’s parents were happy. Madeline ranted for a bit, ending with the statement that Jo was awful, and as for the two of them together? It wasn’t like Dad was giving it to her. Lisette winced, and asked for a cigarette.

A short time later, Jo came outside to find Lisettte and Madeline smoking together. Her lips thinned as Maddy took off, and Lisettte protested that it wasn’t like they were her cigarettes. Jo said that as an adult, Lisette should know better than to encourage a teenager smoking, no matter whose cigarettes they were.

Lisette, not entirely able to string together coherent sentences, tried to ask Jo more about her marriage, saying that she just wanted to hear that Michael and Jo were happy and it sounded like they weren’t. Jo witheringly told her that she was not discussing her marriage or her husband with Lisette. Ever.

Lisette rambled about only wanting to be part of the family, and how much her life had been ruined by being sent away. She motioned to a tree, saying that her initials were cut into it in a heart. Jo, icily, said that she was sure that they were there with Michael’s initials and it was a touching story, but there was no family, and no place for Lisette in her and Michael’s lives. Lisette rambled that maybe she should just take the money and go, and Jo encouraged her to do so.

As the session ended, the camera panned to the tree, where we could see that the word ‘Skinner’ had been carved over top of the initials, partially obliterating them.

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