Antman would absolutely have killed him if he expanded in his butt.
Jaclyn Pierrot pushes through the back door, the security alarm chirping twice to alert the residence that the rear entry had been breached. Her golden eyes are bloodshot and barely open, but that doesn’t stop her from making a beeline straight towards the refrigerator, flipping the door open. She scans the shelves, mostly healthy food, courtesy of her friends and trainers, or as she called them in this moment…
Jacky: You monsters!
She pulls a jar of Claussen pickles free, drinking a bit of the brine before replacing it on the shelf. With a sigh, Jacky tugs a carrot free from a tupperware and slams the door back shut. The clown shouts to the back door.
Jacky: Do we have anything else to eat?
From the back courtyard, Tank’s booming voice can be heard.
Tank: I think Freeman keeps some stuff in the basement pantry.
She takes a bite, her eyes turning toward the large wooden door heading downstairs.
Jacky: Basement pantry?
Crunching away at the carrot, Jaclyn Pierrot takes hold of the knob and swings the door open wide.
We humans experience fear in a wide spectrum of emotional responses. Dread, terror, disgust, shock, horror, insignificance, loneliness, failure. We’ve learned much about how we react to fear; we’re all familiar with fight, flight, flee, or freeze. What still remains largely a compelling enigma, however, is what triggers fear.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders only lists five broad types of phobic-level fears, and despite the exhaustive list of named phobias, specific fears are usually not formally diagnosed. This is a testament to how little we know about the causes of fear. When psychologists speak of trauma, the unknown, or genetic markers, they’re only confident enough to assert that these may cause fear.
Each identified fear, then, becomes a possible thought exercise. Do we suffer from trypophobia because it reminds us of disease? If you’re afflicted by ophidiophobia, do you find the fangs, scales, venom, or constriction more unsettling? Is a traumatic event in public or a lifetime of isolation more likely cause one to develop enochlophobia?
The science is speculative enough to allow someone to fill decades worth of journals with their pseudo-psychological musings to seem wise and insightful. Perhaps the man with the rarely-seen face can help us understand one of our most primal fears, one that has become ever more pervasive as technology advances.
What is it exactly about human-adjacent features that repels us so completely? Is it our capacity for a cold lack of emotion we see reflected there? Do their inhuman traits get magnified the more they resemble us? Or, maybe it’s the opposite, and their manufactured perfection diminishes our perception of our own identity. It’s possible that when you can see past the hair, clothing, and accessories, their assembly-line homogeny challenges our sense of individualism.
It’s a concept that deserves further exploration. Come, join us in the Uncanny Valley.
The Underdark, at its most basic intention, is a hotel, and therefore contains several large ballrooms, dining areas, conference areas, and offices.
In one of these, where a massive, oval, walnut table is ringed by high back chairs, Montague Cervantes is pacing around the perimeter of the room with his hands clasped behind his back. On the center of the table, the UGWC World and Cross-Hemisphere Championships are laid lengthwise, glistening in the uneven light from the buzzing fluorescents overhead.
In the chairs, we see the invitees he is hosting, and while their varied expressions are frozen and staring, every pair of eyes seems to follow the Showman no matter where he is in the room. Each guest is identifiable by the calligraphed name card before them.Dressed in a feudal kimono, with raven black, shoulder-length, okappa-style is Okiku. As she sits, the hair seems to lengthen at a speed that can’t be observed; Monty only notices when he looks away from her and back again.
To her left a cloth doll in a white sailor suit sits clutching an even tinier teddy with wide, staring eyes. Robert’s pocked face with slight features seems oblivious, but every few minutes the Doctor-Professor could swear a quiet giggle seems to emanate from his chair.
Beside Robert sits a red-haired, freckle-faced Good Guy in blue overalls and red sneakers. He smiles cutely, but Montague can swear Chucky’s expression looks sinister, somehow hungry when he catches it in the reflection of the surface of the table. Chucky is, of course, set up beside a pretty bride doll with dark makeup, leather jacket, and a beauty mark. There’s no mistaking her smile; she looks like she’d tear the World Champion’s skin off with her teeth given half a chance.
After Tiffany, a tiny doll with a melancholy expression stares down at the tabletop with black eyes. Her dark, auburn tumble of hair and dingy nightgown are tragically oversized, and both would look more fitting on a living, normal sized toddler. Montague remembers feeling an unexplainable compulsion to wash his hands after placing the name “Lilly” before her.
An ancient wooden marionette takes up one end of the oval, smirking out from under his enormous hooked nose and glaring at his companions with saucer-like painted eyes and knitted brow. HIs colonial dress and tied back hair calls to mind the fire-and-brimstone orators of the seventeen hundreds. On either side of his “Letta” nametag, Monty can swear he sees scuff marks appearing on the surface of the table beneath the puppet’s wooden fingers.
The first chair on the other side of the table is occupied by another puppet with a gaunt pale face and long white hair. He wears a black gothic trench coat and wide-brimmed hat. Deep, hollow eyes contain metal pin pricks that might be confused for pupils. Instead of a left hand, the puppet sports a hook, and where his right hand should be is the blade of a knife, which informs his name; “Blade.” Of all the dolls, the Showman feels safest with this one.
Next to Blade, a wind up doll with curly pigtails and a gingham dress surveys the other dolls in the gathering with a suspicious smile. “Talky TIna” isn’t currently speaking, but Monty remembers earlier she’d informed him that she didn’t like him.
Tina’s neighbor has seen better days. Her brown hair is a tangle, and her traditional latin peasant’s smock over a puffy-sleeved dress is gray with the weathering that indicates she’d been outside for decades. Anytime the Doctor-Professor passes “La Muneca’s” chair, an overwhelming sense of sorrow and loss overtakes him, and he is compelled to stop for a few seconds to catch the breath that has hitched in his chest.
The next guest has a completely different effect on his respiratory organs. “Peggy” is a miniature Doris Day lookalike, complete with blonde bob and glassy blue eyes. Her demure look speaks of innocent curiosity, but whenever Montague looks directly at her face, his mouth fills with the taste of ashes, and he finds himself suddenly unable to draw breath until he looks away.
The final doll is placed with an empty chair between her and Peggy to her right, Okiku to her left. Unlike the rest of the company, she is encased within a wood and glass cabinet. The gable is emblazoned with a brass cross, and the door is secured with a five-digit combination padlock. Around the frame of the door are various symbols charred into the wood; a Star of David, pentacle, medicine wheel, crescent and moon, Celtic knot, pranava, yin and yang, Ahimsa hand, eye of Ra, Mjolnir, torii, khanda, and many, many more.
Within the box, an unassuming ragdoll. Red yarn hair, triangle nose, stitched mouth, and button eyes locked in an expression of surprise. The cloth body is wrapped in a simple slip, and it appears that the narrowness of the cabinet is all that’s holding it in an upright position.
The namecard before this set up reads “Annabelle.”
Montague: I’m aware most of you carry blades, but what about guns?
Silence from the assembly.
Montague: And if you fire it, does it throw you hilariously across the room?
Although he still doesn’t get an answer, he quirks his mouth to the side and tugs at his goatee with some disappointment.
Montague: Alright, let’s change gears. Let’s say we’ve been at a location for more than an hour and nothing interesting is happening. Tell me what you’d do to spice things up?
For the next few minutes, the Showman looks from one doll to another, listening carefully. Occasionally, he interrupts with an approving nod, a surprised widening of the eyes, or even a sly chuckle.
Montague: I mean, those are all very, very good, but… I dunno. I’m still missing… something.
He raises a finger toward the ceiling as his left eyebrow follows.
Montague: Let’s say some old, sandwich-eating, chuckleheaded busybody decided to meddle in Tragedia business, how would you react?
As he’s enjoying the descriptions of violent retribution he’s clearly hearing–despite no audible responses being apparent–he nearly misses the door to the conference room clicking open. He turns to come face to face with Jaclyn Pierrot, noisily munching on a carrot while she’s otherwise frozen in shock at finding him here.
Jacky: What’s up, doc?
Montague: How are you here??
His eyes dart toward her ankle, looking for flashing lights indicating she’s more than two hundred forty miles outside her boundaries. The LEDs remain dark.
Jacky pauses mid-bite and looks around the room slowly as her expression darkens from sudden suspicion to growing hurt.
Jacky: What’s going on here?
Montague: I’m conducting interviews.
She locks her betrayed gaze on him.
It comes out more like an accusation than a question, and Montague hears it.
Montague: Since the MiB job didn’t work out, we still need a way for you to accompany me on our adventures. It struck me a few days ago that I have the Heart of Damballa just sitting on a shelf! It’s so obvious!
Now she looks incredulous, slowly appraising each of the interviewees with an air of superiority.
Jacky: I can’t believe you’d try to choose the best doll to transfer my soul into without my input.
The Doctor-Professor waves this off.
Montague: Jacky, it hardly matters now. You’re out!
Jacky: What do you mean?
He gestures down at her ankle bracelet, still inert and silent.
Montague: You came back to Gnaw Bone and didn’t trigger your P.O.!
Jacky: First dolls, now you’re getting high without me? We’re in Morgan’s basement. Speaking of, what made you decide to do this here?
Now it’s Monty’s turn to look confused.
Montague: Jacky, I just walked downstairs from having breakfast with Pisces. We’re in the Underlook.
Jacky: I just got done having a smoke with Tank and was looking for a snack.
They blink at each other for a few moments, both slowly turning to look up at their surroundings and the mystery unfolding here.
Montague: Well…I think there’s some eggs left. Kosner ate all the bacon.
Montague puffs up his cheeks causing the clown to giggle.
Jacky: Oh Kosner…
Jaclyn Pierrot’s bright smile slowly fades, her eyes looking just past the magician and into the dark hallway behind him. As she blinks, her golden eyes turn soft and begin to glaze over with tears. Her hand quickly wipes the moisture away. Montague looks her over.
Montague: I’m sure we can cook more.
He offers in an attempt to make her laugh. She manages to smile.
Montague: What’s wrong?
Jacky looks behind herself at the dimly lit corridor leading back towards Morgan’s apartment. The magician nods solemnly.
Montague: You’re not coming back to the farm.
She mirrors the slow movement he makes with his head.
Montague: Did you want to talk about it?
Turning away from him, she steps over to the Good Guy doll. Jacky pulls it into her arm, gently running her hand over its face. She pinches its nose then sets him down, moving over towards the next.
Jacky: I…think I’m done with Tempest.
She flicks her thumb over the knife at the end of Blade’s hand.
Jacky: And he’s done with me…we can all see the writing on the wall.
Her eyes drop to the ground. Jaclyn sets Blade down.
Jacky: I was just a Creep in his collection.
Jacky: No…it’s okay. Being away and seeing how far we’ve gone…it made me realize. He was a shadow and I was just standing in his shade. But when he got hurt, the people stopped saying we were a fluke and started seeing us for who we are. If I went back, it would be just like attaching another bracelet, this time ’til death do us part.
Montague: But you love him.
Jacky: I don’t know. Love is a flame that can be eternal, but you still need to feed the fire. And a doll? A doll needs to be held. A doll needs to be loved. A doll needs to be cared for. But a doll on a shelf?
She shakes her head.
Jacky: Is that even a doll at all? Tempest didn’t want to play with his doll anymore because he’s forgotten her.
Jaclyn bites her lip, taking a moment before committing to the words as she says them.
Jacky: He’s outgrown me and I’ve outgrown him.
Montague: And me?
She smiles brightly, her mood instantly shifting to cheerful, despite the tears sliding down her cheeks.
Jacky: You’re stuck with me buddy!
The clown thrusts her hands in his direction, her palms flipped upside down. Montague looks down at them, unsure of what to do, but certain she is attempting some elaborate handshake that they have yet to practice. He instead pats her on her shoulder, before pulling her close for a hug.
Montague: Sounds like a Tragedy.
Her honking laughter pours forth as she wipes at her eyes.
Jacky: At any rate, you can send all these applicants away. You already have the perfect doll for my soul to pilot around.
Montague: I’m not sure you want to get trapped inside of Rett. He can barely walk.
She guffaws at him.
Jacky: Not Rett, dummy. Did you unpack when you got back from Synergy?
Jacky: You should go check, I left you something.
Seeing her mischievous smile, he softens with sudden interest and leads her to the door. He nearly steps to the side for her to fall into step beside him, but remembers what she said about not returning to the farmhouse and hesitates.
Jacky: Go on. Trust me.
He gazes at her for a long moment, then shrugs and heads up the stairs to the right. Jacky watches him go wistfully, then heads up the stairs to the left.
Montague tugs the doorknob on the door to his suite slowly, peering through the crack. With a rush of realization, he yanks it open fully and grins at Bunny, who is sitting atop his gym bag on the bed, waving with one hand and munching a carrot with the other.
Bunny: What’s up, Doc? Figured you’d need someone to watch your back now that the cavemen are after us.
Montague bursts into raucous laughter that leaves him doubled over.
I don’t have a healthy way to express myself.
The scene opens up to the small theater that has slowly gone from simply a stand-room-only to a full blow black box. A larger-than-life castalet sits in one corner of the room, with rows of seats fanning out. Each one is filled with an audience member attentively focused on the makeshift stage. As the camera moves slowly through the captive crowd, the crimson curtain slowly opens.
Standing behind a plain oak table is Montague Cervantes, his coat pulled taut. Each button has been meticulously bound, the cloth crisp, clean. He shifts the tall cap on his head slightly before tipping it upside down onto the table. The corpse doll pops out, its hollow, purple button eyes staring out into the crowd. There is a gasp from somewhere in the audience, though it sounds more like pre-recorded and piped in than live.
Jacky: I read somewhere that when you get agitated it helps to draw a picture. Paint a painting. Put together a collage. It helps to get your thoughts together; let them be seen, let them be heard, get them out. Well, there’s voices in my head but when I try to draw them out, the only thing left on the piece of paper when I step away is a scene of such utter violence that I am compelled to immediately set it aflame. After all, fight fire with fire, or so they say. Phrixus the Fear Factor that inserted yourself into my friend’s foray? Well, you know what they say when they see my name listed next to theirs: same thing you did - fuck, but without a Ph to balance things out. Stick your nose where it doesn’t belong and sometimes you sniff out an opportunity and others?
Pulling its way free from the cap, the bunnies' large floppy feet kicked out some of the aches associated with prestidigitation. Montague places the hat back on his head.
Jacky: Well let’s just say I’m here to break that nose to spite your face.
She poofs her paws together.
Jacky: See Phrixus, once I saw myself as simply a spider, spinning a web. Hoping, waiting, ready to spring my trap - to catch my prey. But it occurred to me after Ever Escalating Engagement, that even though I beat his arch nemesis right there in those spotlights, I was still stuck in his shadow. And thats when I realized something wasn't right. Something I should have seen before, but now I understand: spiders don’t feel stuck. The tricks? The traps? If they were meant to be my way, then why did I still feel the urge to strike out when I was supposed to be the type who waits?
The bunny shakes its head from side-to-side, the ears flopping back and forth.
Jacky: The pictures on the paper? A portrait of poison that I tried to burn away, but the damage was done, and I suddenly knew my fate - I’ll never be the Spider Queen, because scorpions will always be one way. I’m sure I should be sad, but there’s something so relieving about finding out who you are and moreover what you are capable of. Spin a web? Lay in wait? Why bother when you can just punch them in the face?
She turns towards the magician and swings her fists at him. Montague shakes his head, scooping her up by her ears, and spins her around. Her paws land on her plush hips.
Jacky: Whether you know it or not Phrixus, I probably need this. You did me a favor and you’ve allowed me to focus my feelings and even though what happens between us on Monday night will be far from friendly, I’ll at least say my thanks. See, Phrixus, I don’t have a really healthy way of expressing myself, so that’s what I’m gonna do with your face in my own way very special way. Let’s call it our unsafe space.
As the Jacky-Rabbit approaches the camera, Montague picks her up once again by the ears and tucks her into the cusp of his elbow. With his other hand, he flips his top hat off and holds it under her. Jacky panics for a moment before she’s forced, feet first, into the tophat, the visual punctuated when the Doctor-Professor spins the hat and perches it back on his head so he can mug for the camera.
Montague: Speaking of unhealthy expressions, did you see how Donovan conducted himself at Synergy? This is the impression of the highly decorated legend we’ve come to expect, ever since he tossed his toys out of the pram at Incursion the first night Jacky visited UGWC.
He taps his chin, before pulling the belt out, wrapped and buckled from underneath the table. The belt gleams in the lighting, the freshly applied plating reading the words, ‘Montague Cervantes’. The crown jewel of UGWC - the World Heavyweight Championship.
Montague: Of course, every childish tantrum turns out to be a veil for some scheme to get him closer to his security blanket, the World Championship.
From within the band the bunny pops up suddenly, padding her paws at the button eyes as if she is mock crying. Montague raises an eyebrow. He removes his hat, looks inside, then drops it back on top of the startled rabbit.
Montague: Don’t think we didn’t see right through the shenanigans on Monday. Now that Tragedia is on top of the world, you once again have to shift your paradigm, and the writing is on the walls in blood: no one can take us on alone, no one. The list of people willing to try shortens every time we perform.
He picks back up the hat, now with nothing beneath, plopping it onto his head, before pulling the belt onto his shoulder.
Montague: This foolhardy sneak attack was a preview for Outlast, to be sure. You know you need an army to retrieve your favorite toy, but the only one still foolish enough to venture into the toybox where we rule is Deimos.
The magician shrugs.
Montague: So you recruited him. In return for being a body you can throw between yourself and me, you’ve agreed to join his crusade.
Waving his arms in front of him, Montague gestures towards the audience.
Montague: Why don’t you ask Centurion, Lucy, Hide, or Seb what happens when you let your righteous anger bait you into stepping into our world?
The bunny’s head pops out from offstage, giving Montague a ‘fuck you’ look before disappearing back into the wing. Suddenly, at full speed she rushes towards him, her tiny arms windmilling. With a quick tug, he redirects her where she is running towards the camera. With a chuckle, he holds her back though she doesn’t stop running.
Montague: After all, fight fire with fire and as you can see: she too has an unhealthy way of expressing herself.
The rabbit gets free, leaping high off the desk, clearing the stage. Her belly bounces off the camera which lands on the floor facing the audience - a room filled full of faceless forms. The mass of manikins.
Canned audience laughter begins to fill the room before a paw pounds down on the camera and the scene cuts to black.