Detroit Heart of Darkness
Urban Explorer, Architect, Reluctant Hunter
Attributes Intelligence: 3 Wits: 3 Resolve: 2 Strength: 2 Dexterity: 4 Stamina: 2 Charisma: 1 Manipulation: 2 Composure: 3
Skills Academics: 1 (Architecture) Computer: 1 Crafts: 1 Investigation: 1 (who’s been here) Medicine: 1 Occult: 1 Science: 1
Athletics: 3 (escaping) Brawl: 1 Firearms: 1 Larceny: 2 (Urban Exploration) Stealth: 3 (Sneaking in) Weaponry: 1 Knives
Empathy: 1 Expression: 1 Streetwise: 1 (New and Forgotten Projects) Subterfuge: 2
Merits Expertise: (Urban Exploration) (1) – related specialties provide +2, not +1, to rolls Eyes for Strange (2) – Int + Composure to observe the “strange”, exceptional success gives +2 Inv. if mundane Trained Observer (1) – 9 again Multi-lingual (Spanish/ French) (1) Architectural Training (3) – construction company manager “Slim Jim” Johannsen & William Dayland; 9-again to Architecture Knowledge, Larceny, and Streetwise Parkour (2) – Flow – ignore 2 points of environmental penalties to move, Cat Leap – add one automatic success to remove damage from falling Resources: (1) City Knowledge: (1) – bonus 1 die to Int. + Streetwise rolls for “interesting tidbits, history, or layout” Fighting Finesse(2) -substitute dexterity for strength when using knives
Initiative Mod: 6
Virtue: Courageous “true bravery is the willingness to carry on despite being afraid”
Gear multi-Tool (+1); personal computer (+2); smart phone (+1-+2); caltrops (+2); poppers – sound caltrops (+2); basic camouflage clothing (+1); crowbar +2); lockpicking kit (mechanical, no roll if time not an issue, +2 otherwise); duct tape; first aid kit (+0 – +1), glow sticks with ties; flash light; biker leathers (2/0); reinforced clothing (1/0); kevlar vest (1/3); invisible ink (lemon juice, salt, paper, brush)
Aspirations & Breaking Points
Long-Term Aspirations give my mother recognition she deserves (Ex: proper mausoleum in the “dignified” section of cemetery); give back to the community in a way that would make Reesie Thompson proud discover what Grand-dad was into; obtain public recognition: newspaper article written about me, become visible full member of the firm master parkour and skateboarding; compose a powerful masterpiece and see people’s reaction at a club or venue (could be anonymously); create lasting change in Detroit through architecture; find out why Grand-dad really chose not to fund my education; recognize that the occult and my love of architecture are compatible sciences
Short-Term Aspirations reveal classism or racism for what it is, and prove it wrong; break and enter into a new place; escape someone who thinks he is stronger, tougher, or outnumbers me; learn a secret about the history of the city; get recognition at the architecture firm, Marusinc Architecture; record a new sound on my recorder with some evocative aspect
Sample Breaking Points Realizes escapism cost someone something very dear & irreplaceable (life, hope, etc.); Realizes that the world is full of real-life, no ignoring demons and monsters; Is reminded of what Grand-dad said in his mad ravings. He’s forgotten for the moment. It’s for the better.; Is powerless to save someone. (Gaining a sense of powerlessness in the face of “the Jungle”); He is betrayed by someone he showed kindness to, because of hatred, greed, or fear (the lure of the Jungle)Beats 40
“Berkeley,” he told me. “Life is struggle.” He squinted as he spoke, as if he looked through his many years of life into mine. “My father told me this when I was young and I did not understand. I doubt you do. But the sooner you accept that the better.” He father had grown up in the shadow of Darwin’s work: species in competition and all that. It didn’t surprise me. That and my great grand-father was a first generation immigrant, which made ‘Grand-dad’ a second-generation descendant who grew up when Detroit set down its iron roots in the early 20th century. In short, he was from another time. A ghost from the past. My world was so very different. But it also meant that I listened to his words like we do to ghosts – with the extra weight, the awe, and a little of the personal fear. His eyes – they seemed to know what I was made of.
Now my mother, whenever she’d pick me up from Grand-dad’s it was a formal affair. She dressed in her Sunday clothes and her face was set like church stone. “Don’t you listen to any of his nonsense. He just thinks you’re destined to have a life of hardship because you’re dark-skinned like your mother. He never liked me, and he never got over his ignorance son. He’s a racist in his bones, and there ain’t no way he’s washing that off by just putting his little great grand-son on his lap. Don’t be his dog. Don’t be anyone’s dog.” It wasn’t until later, much later that I found out he bankrolled every descendant’s private schooling except mine. Just me. I was the only one left off. I mean grandchildren that went to Juv-e, grandchildren that got locked up in a retreat for doing too much coke, one that was pregnant, another that was officially retarded – they all got free schooling in one of those fancy schools with new red bricks and a bronze plaque and the b-line to Harvard. All but me. Because my momma came from the wrong side of 8-mile.
That was, by the way, the last time I saw Grand-dad. I never really knew his name. He was just Grand-dad. I remember my mom saying that side of the family had “all the money in the world” but “don’t expect nothing from them, racist bastards.” She took it all harder than me. She said that Grand-dad’s fortune was amassed by his father who came from Scotland or Wales or something, and built by Great Grand-dad’s factories and railroads. But I never saw any evidence of that around Grand-dad’s estate from what I can remember. I saw black and white photos of those kinds of things, but who doesn’t see that in any musty building that looks like a museum. What I do remember were sculptures of six-limbed creatures with serpentine eyes behind glass, like great poisonous lizards with all-too-human faces. I remember the strange paintings of rooms that didn’t quite fit together at the seams, like Escher’s work. These paintings carried that disturbing feeling you get when you walk into a place that’s not quite right in your dreams – just at the time when your dream turns into a nightmare and you realize your world is melting. The anxiety of sneaking in and wandering the gallery in his home may have gotten to me and played tricks with my mind.
I guess that’s why I love exploring now.
Urban exploring. That’s what the websites call it. I didn’t know that’s what it was when I started doing it. No, it wasn’t when my mother died. That would be clinically convenient wouldn’t it? No, I was always drawn to going into those places that people forget, looking at those buildings that have changed so much and no one really looks at anymore. It’s like finding an undiscovered land. It might be terrible. It might be pristine. It’s usually a mix of both. And it’s just for me. And the few others who explore. I think I’ve had the urge ever since I saw those painting in Grand-dad’s gallery and felt that wonder and connection and anxiety. He may not have given me money, but I took providence of a different kind from him. There was secret knowledge locked away in that gallery. And I learned all I could with every visit. I remember his servants would skitter back and forth looking for me all over the estate. They could never find me. ...That was of course how I got to hear what I really, probably shouldn’t have. On my last couple trips my Grand-dad’s health and mind were failing. I’d hear him raving from the back of the gallery, his face extra-contorted by the thick glass of the display cases, ranting in what seemed like a foreign tongue (probably Welsch or German). I can’t remember what he said. But I know it still bothers me. Seeing him, such a terribly powerful man. Larger than life. So unhinged.
Yeh, I explore for that too. To see the side of the city that no one wants you to see. I don’t know why. I guess it’s all part of the same thing. I know this city. It’s my city. But I want to know it more. Even as it crumbles into the pile of shit and dust it’s known to be.
Becoming an architect felt like the right thing then. It let me see the structure of the city in a new way – its lines, its contours. Architecture, I learned, would also give me a better understanding of how it was constructed. This became useful as my exploration became more involved. It pays to know where fire escapes tend to be built on an abandoned apartment building or where you’d find motion sensors on the roof of a factory you thought was abandoned.
But none of this is what you called me in for. I called you? Maybe, but only because you wouldn’t prescribe me the anti-anxiety drugs I asked for. Yeh, I’m doodling. I’m stressed. Told you: I’ve been having the worst kind of dreams after that really bad incident of bug infestation. What, now you want to hear about the five eyes I saw scribbled with red chalk when I was skating last week? I saw all kinds of shit like that every week, every time I go skating or hop a new wall over a dead end street. You wouldn’t believe the perverted genius in the mind of graffiti artists in this city. It’s beautiful. Sure I’ll tell you about it.
I never feel free and alone like I do when I’m skating. It’s not loneliness. It’s when I leave the world behind. No one looks at me expectantly. I am not the ganger’s next target. I am not the token black intern in the small architectural firm. I’m not my momma’s last hope. I can skate and skate and all I have to hear is the sound of my wheels scuffing the concrete or feel the sensation of weightlessness as I defy gravity and push off the wall or ledge, or once again hear the satisfying crack of my wheels back on the concrete as I land and roll off. And when I fall, I don’t mind that I’m alone. There’s no one there to distract me. You know, I skate better when I don’t go with friends. Arthur “Skeletor” Skelskie talks too much. Munchie, well he’s always muching, or smoking pot. Lexie’s always trying to hook up with someone right there when we’re skating.
Anyway, that’s probably TMI, but believe me I didn’t at first like the idea of investigating the disappearance of Melissa’s friend with a stranger – especially one with a tude like hers, like she was Detroit’s gift straight from New Orleans and I was so lucky to have her come along, even if she didn’t have any money, a ride, or any Columbo skills to speak of. But that changed when a centipede the size of a poodle crawled out of a toilet onto my arm. Fuck that! just fuck that! Just thinking about that makes my skin crawl. We found the guy’s apartment infested with insects – and I’m not talking about the usual Detroit infestation with mythologically large roaches. This, this was something even crazier. If you can imagine.
Well we looked, got a card from the apartment with the name “Larry’s Bug Failsafe Gang – The BFG for Bugs.” Apparently they visited a few days before, only something that my new friend found tipped us off that maybe Melissa’s friend didn’t really have a problem before they visited. I think it was that he hadn’t called her for help at that time. And one would imagine that if you were being attacked by the bug kingdom in biblical proportions that you would call for help before you called the BFG. Well, OK, maybe not, that’s not very good reasoning. But you wouldn’t sit on your ass for quite so long. Anyway, we suspected we’d find out more info if we investigated the Larry’s BFG. And if they weren’t involved, maybe we could find out if this was an isolated incident.
Turns out it is. I never went back to the apartment to give it a deeper look. But here’s the thing. I swear to god I heard chittering in the alleyway beside Larry’s BFG when I snuck into the building that night. Uh-yeh, you could say I broke in, but I see you’re getting nervous about your responsibility to the law. I didn’t break anything or take anything. So let’s just say I never really got in if it makes you feel better. Back the chittering. It was like hearing an alley of bugs rolling over one another with their oily outer shells, clickety clacking on the concrete. You could see how I’d get a little anxious!
Berkeley takes a smoke of the cigarette and continues doodling on the pad given to him by his therapist. The pencil drawings are simple line drawings that look to be geometric patterns with numbers – something like a grade-school geometry class math problem
Did I ever tell you the time when I was skating with my old boys and group of the old-school gangstas- white guys – walked right up to us? No? Well, we were in an abandoned factory. It’s been a while, and that was before I went to school for architecture, but I’d have to say it was a steel factory or something like it. Lots of open space, large metal drums and bins. Anyway, apparently one of our group, Bernard – I always liked him because he was smarter than he let on and he had the funniest raps – humane too, well, they knew him somehow. One guy pointed to him, and motioned for him to come closer. There were only three of them, and eight of us. What did we have to fear. Well, four of us kept skating. Me and a couple others took interest and sort of shuffled closer, but not too close. One of the three guys in black leather jackets warned us off with a look.
Well Bernard shrugged, and told Tracy to stop the video because he was coming back and there better be space when he blew our nuts away with his next trick. He came closer, listened to the bald-headed guy, we’ll call him Mr. Clean, and then shrugged it off. Well apparently it was the wrong thing to do. Berkeley takes a drag of the cigarette Because the next thing I knew, Mr. Clean lifted his hand which now held a heavy automatic handgun, and pressed the trigger three times. Bernard’s skull exploded in a red burst a fraction of a second later. The three visitors looked at all of us. Called us -well, called us what all ignorant sons of bitches call someone black when they’re angry and they don’t have a wide vocabulary. It doesn’t matter. Then they walked away. Bernard was on the ground. I didn’t know what to do. There were seven of us. But what were we going to do. But I was closest. ...Thanks for letting me smoke. Bernard liked to smoke. Stupid. He was the fastest runner of all of us. But he liked to smoke on occasion.
Strangest thing. The guy who shot. I could have sworn he had black eyes. Not brown irises. Black. The whole eye. Both. Son of a bitch.
Sometimes you see things – lights on the walls, shadows moving, drywall peeling in mothman patterns. not to mention the graffiti. Faces with tentacles because someone thought it’d be cool to draw it. And sometimes you even see the same things across town. The same tentacle face, or the same mothman pattern in the wall. What? No, I don’t remember where I saw these things. I’m just giving examples. I don’t think I saw that exactly. No, what I’m saying is that the city plays tricks on you. It’s a jungle. the real predators, you don’t see them coming. They hide in plain sight. You see them a thousand times but you they’re camouflaged. And what’s worse, we all know it, so we don’t know who to trust. Anyone could be the panther, or the python. it makes life such a struggle. Affluent blondes hire Indiana Jones types and marvel at the “diversity” but we know better. Life here is a struggle. My Grand-dad got that part right.
But aren’t there flowers here too. Cures to cancer? Is it all poison? The graffiti I love most is some of the kind that flips our fears. Doors painted onto walls that show whole solar systems drawn on the forgotten wall of a rotting gas station. Flowers that spray rainbows. Black angels bleeding and where it drops smiles spring. No one sees that part of Detroit. They can’t imagine it. But it’s here. I see it all the time.