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The cosmic cowboy and his trusty sidekick.
He may not seem like much but Jack Stillborn once drank from the Fountain of Youth. Is he an Avatar of the First and Last Man?
And how the hell did Elbow become such a juiced-up entropomancer? The damn dog never gets hurt and surfs synchronicity so well you’d swear the bones of Dame Fortune are its personal chew toys.
Dust wizard and his trusty companion travelling in a dusty, squeaking truck that gets everywhere it could be running on the death rattle of the first Pilgrim himself.
You don’t remember Johnny Bastard do you? No one does until bang, the memory’s sitting there in your head like has been there all along, smoking a cigarette waiting for happy hour.
In ’76, Johnny Bastard was this punk called John Francis Grisolm. He wasn’t a punk like a prison bitch; he was a punk like in The Ramones. He was from Los Angeles and he hated that place and hated the whole bicentennial, happy-clappy patriotism that was going down, so he hitched hiked east never going north of the I-10.
He caused some ruckus in Las Vegas. Somehow made Vegas Vic wave The Finger at everyone. He left with a guitar he didn’t arrive with.
He broke the guitar across someone’s face in Paslo, Texas and left with a yellow-haired Labrador he didn’t arrive with.
In San Antonio, Johnny met a rocket scientist named Doctor Lyman Baum who said that Johnny’s journey could only be mapped as a “path integral”. Doc Baum was the guy who claimed his brain tumour was possessed by the devil himself. It was big stuff then, I tell you. They said if you put your ear to his skull, you could hear the damn cancer screaming like it was Daffy Duck.
I heard the Doc had the devil-cancer exorcised by chemotherapy in ‘81, ‘82, thereabouts. It went into remission and the Doc dropped out of the Underground when his business was done. Nice guy, too.
Anyway Johnny and Elbow wander into Baton Rouge to lay low for a while. Some those Mafia Klansmen from Paslo came running after him. But left after these disco-dancing, German-speaking black gang bangers called the Jive Meisters gave them the one-two smack down. These Afro-haired guys didn’t like Johnny dragging shit onto their turf, so he left. I think they use a different name now and shoot anyone who mentions their old one. Can’t blame them.
Just before Johnny hit San Francisco there’s that encounter in a town called New Oslo at some point, somewhere. I heard Johnny got the hell out of dodge when he worked out what New Oslo was and what it was doing. So would I. I think someone loosely based Invasion of the Body Snatchers on New Oslo. It’s not actually a movie about 1950’s commie menace zeitgeist. And New Oslo is a lot scarier too.
He had a quiet time in New Orleans. He stayed low and kept his head out of the hoodoo hoe down that was starting fires in that town. Someone started a new houseboat church on Lake Pontchartrain and did these illegal burials on the lake. All the rest of these Hoodoo boys and girls step-up the Space Cadet Soap Opera with all these priest-horses being ridden by their Lowers. I don’t know why they thought burial in the sea is such a bad thing. Don’t they have enough of their own walking corpses?
Along the Gulf Coast Johnny earned some cash with these Elvis impersonators. He strummed a guitar frets and the Elvis guys sing like the King. The street performers and work on donations, but Johnny told me that they do damn well. Up in Tupelo there’s this King of the Elvis cults. A good and smart man I’ve heard. If you ever go to Tupelo, be respectful to the Elvis guys and you can go have an audience with the King. If he’s impressed, he’ll give you his blessing. And then they all have a barbecue and drink beer in your honour.
Mobile, Alabama was the place of a little happiness that put a smile over Johnny’s scowl. He met a pretty dancer girl named Lillian Oxer. The two hit it off when he moved in to their house where she and some dancer friends of hers were renting. Johnny was quiet fellow and could handle himself in a fight.
After two weeks Lillian and Johnny moved into a room together. Johnny went back to see the Elvis guys for a few days. And came back with some money.
He did some gigs too. Some punk versions of Presley hits. The King sent some men to watch and there was talk about recording in Memphis. But it never panned out. Such dreams were not for Johnny’s ambitions.
He stayed around for about four months and then left to go to Florida. He was going to come back to Lillian after seeing the sights with a crew of Elvis men.
He bought a second hand truck and Johnny and Elbow and the Elvis-mobile drove east into Pensacola and down into the Everglades.
This is where everyone says Jack found the Fountain of Youth. Actually Elbow found it by falling in. It was a deep puddle and all these wildly different plants growing their go through a year’s worth of seasons in a month. Jack had to wade in to get Elbow out from under these lotus flowers.
When Johnny came out… well he wasn’t quite Johnny any more. And Elbow wasn’t quite Elbow either. None of the Elvis guys could get baptised though; the pool became a stagnant, sucking mess of quicksand when they entered. Perhaps it was first-come, first-served, maybe it awards only those that enter it committing a selfless act, maybe it’s the Holy Grail and it only appears to those not looking for it. No one knows. Johnny has never gone back for it, but he tells people where Elbow found it.
When he came back from the Everglades, Johnny’s difference became noticeable. Some of the Elvis guys wanted to renounce their false god and stay with him. He sent them back to be with the King saying no god is true or false, they’re just gods.
They kept driving west at Mobile. Lillian was gone when he came back. The girls all thought Johnny was gone for good – so did Lillian. Actually Lillian was not her real name. It was the town she came from. She just had some fake social security cards and a driver’s license made up for her cover story.
Johnny stayed in the room for a little while, thinking about following Lillian north. When she phoned the house one-week later, Johnny and Lillian spoke. She thought Johnny had gone for good. She had enough money to get to Richmond and study Law. She said her name was Tabitha Smiles. Oxer was her mother’s maiden name. Johnny said his name was Jack Grisolm.
She started crying and asked if Johnny still wanted her. He said he did, but she has a plan for her life and his life is going differently. He would try and make it up to visit, but she shouldn’t put her life on hold for him. He gave her his blessing. I think Johnny wanted to cry too.
She’s happily married to her business partner but the name says Smiles and Quick Attorneys at Law. She has two kids too, John and Frank.
It was Johnny Bastard that put the phone down. But it was Jack Stillborn that left the house for good.
Johnny never speaks of Lillian but he does visit her. I think he feels real sorry about losing her. He probably felt worse at the time. He was so bad and angry he went back west and slapped the Jive Meisters around but ended up shaking hands with them. Then he went and royally fucking up the Cadutos in Paslo. Fucked them up real bad when he found out what they were doing. One man and his dog did that. The Caduto Family’s still working to get their big magic off the ground in Paslo. Jack said it was big, nasty magic. They’ve been brewing it up for years like it was some sort of sipping whiskey.
I always wonder if Jack is ever going back to Paslo? Does he ever return to put those guys in plaster casts? I like to think so.
He has a soft spot for dancing girls though. He has a bad habit for good memories. All of us do. It’s nice to think that there’s a part of him that’s still human.
To close off this story I found John Francis Grisolm in Los Angeles. He’s a partner in specialist record store and a small recording label. He never left Los Angeles. He loves it too much. I love it too and I’ll never leave it either. I’m the other partner.
We have these fantastic parties when Jack and Elbow pop in to visit.
Jack Stillborn, the Duke that just exists...
Obsession: Seeing all that’s magic in the U.S.A.
Rage: Glory-seeking fascists. A fall out from his punk days, Jack gets really pissed off when people do nasty things purely because the end justifies the means.
Fear: Jack gets scared when the fascists start getting all weepy-eyes and mystical. Jack gets scared because blameless people get caught in the meat-grinder.
Noble: Nice folk, the sort of people that don’t make judgement on their fellows.
BODY 69 (Tall, dark-eyed stranger)
Fight to Win: 47%
SPEED 67 (Moves like a Diamondback)
Grind the Guitar: 21%
Viper-quick is Jack’s initiative skill. If it’s successful he can opt to use the roll result for his first attack.
MIND 53 (Good with the smarts)
School of Life: 51%
Creep like a Possum: 41%
Snake-eyes is Jack’s Notice equivalent, but it allows Jack to see behind his head.
SOUL 71 (Big and hard enough for the World)
The Stare Down: 43%
Wandering all the Roads: 65%
The Stare Down is Jack’s intimidation skill. It appears he knows all your dirty secrets and those of all those closest you. It forces a Self stress check at rank-7.
Wandering all the Roads allows Jack to use any first channel of any archetype unless he obviously violates taboo, like the Flying Woman (he’s male) or the Fool (Mind score is too high). Some channels he tries to avoid like the Dark Stalker. This skill is a result of Jack wading into the Fountain of Youth to rescue Elbow.
Sanity Gauge Fail/Hard
Jack has matured. He has shoulder length dark brown hair and a neat beard and moustache. He usually wears a coat of some kind and if the glare’s too bright, a pair of black rimmed 80’s aviator ray-bans. Jack wears dark colours, but not all of them are black. He either wears a wide-brimmed hat or ties a colourful scarf around his head.
He has a backpack with a sleeping bag, blanket, clothes, toiletries, a first aid kit, and a bag of Elbow’s kibble.
Jack also has his dirty, dented, grey old pick up called Chariot. He tops up the fuel, water and oil and wheels occasionally. Sometimes he tinkers under the hood. But it just squeaks and chugs along.
Obsession: Jack is the man. Jack is what Elbow obsesses about. And food, but only when he’s hungry.
Rage: When people get out of hand.
Fear: Being left alone. Not immediately, but after a day or so, Elbow starts whining.
Noble: Playing. Elbow loves to play. He’ll play with anyone that’s friendly enough.
Dog Athletics: 30
Bite You!: 30
Bite You! This skill doe H2H+3 damage, but on a good cherry, he locks on and continues to roll damage without needing to roll to attack again.
Settle Down, Boy: 15
Settle Down, Boy is Elbow’s education equivalent and his Hide skill.
Happy ol’ Soul: 50
Innocently Surfing Chaos: 100%
Sing with the Song: 25%
Happy ol’ Soul is Elbow’s charm skill. Some say it makes him a little bit human.
Innocently Surfing Chaos is a weird one. Anything negative that happens to Elbow is flip-flopped to the worse possible result. A flip-flop cannot be flip-flopped so the dice are as they roll. Anything that Elbow does is a three-dice Dice Crash. Elbow rolls three dice and assembles the best result from two of them. This skill was a result of him falling into the Fountain of Youth.
Sing with the Song is how Elbow barks when Jack sings and strums. Elbow keeps the rhythm.
Sanity Gauge Fail/Hard
Elbow is a big, friendly, yellow-haired Labrador. He has a thick leather collar with a nametag. If it’s hot, Jack takes off the collar and ties a colourful scarf around his neck.
Playing Jack and Elbow…
Jack is never the deus ex machina to save the characters at the final climax. Jack is there to do his own thing and protect NPCs in danger. The characters needn’t worry about loved ones. Jack can administer healing if a character is badly damaged, though.
Jack Stillborn is a good, solid person in the supernatural world. But he is also a hard person. He doesn’t give handouts. He has a distrust of adepts and avatars but still feels a silent awe at magic in the world. If there’s anything that gets Jack’s curiosity, it’s Unnatural Phenomenon – magic that just happens randomly.