Sunday, October 11, 2020

Unknown Armies: Hateboxing

Author's Note:  Holy crap, I can't believe I found this. I wrote it in another lifetime, and the computer where I kept it had a fatal hard drive crash [this was WELL before Google Documents existed], and the mailing list it was on went defunct. Praise be to the Internet Archive Project and the Wayback Machine! And let's all enjoy the irony of being able to recover a forgotten story which starts with the phrase "Because sometimes, you just want to forget."

Because sometimes, you just want to forget...

I've lost track of how much money I've spent trying to deal with the shit I've seen. It's been ten years since Poughkeepsie, and I still can't eat spaghetti. Sometimes I wake up screaming, the taste of blood thick in my mouth like tomato sauce.

Did I mention I'm Italian? Shit. I can't even eat Sunday dinner with my mama without having shakes.

Anyway. I see an ad in the paper one day, says Eliminate harmful dreams and memories using only common household tools, $100 for initial session and startup kit. Address is some third-floor walk-up in Queens. I figure, what the hell, worth a look, right? Considering how much I've flushed on goddamn therapy, a hundred is just another sheet of toilet paper at this rate.

So I get over there, find the brownstone's been converted to some kinda artists' commune. The entire place reeks, but its not weed, it's machine oil. They're all industrial types, making statues outta scrap metal with power tools. And this godawful German shit is playing, like they're hammering a goat on an anvil or something.

I manage to make it upstairs without getting tetanus, find apartment 33, bang on the door. This little tweedy guy opens it, and I swear to God he can't be more than twenty-five but he's dressed like my goddamn grandfather, with the suede patches on his jacket and a thick black tie and a pair of birth-control glasses like they had in the fifties. Except, of course, he's listening to the anvil-fuck chorus or whatever.

So he introduces himself as Trent, has me sit, makes me coffee. Now let me tell you, guys like this I expect to be twitchy as chihuahuas, but this bastard was relaxed. Smooth, even, like he had a 38D blonde girlfriend tied up in his bedroom.

So I drink his almond-flavored coffee and we talk for a bit. No, not about my problems, he doesn't give a shit about those. He asks to see my hands, seems pleased to see that I have callouses. He asks me if I've ever worked with machines before, and I say yeah, I tune my car's engine, change the oil, yadda yadda. He smiles this freaky-calm smile and says good, you have what it takes to build a hatebox.

About this time I think maybe, just maybe, I've stumbled into a fetish shop by mistake, and start to get up. No no, he says, I know what you're thinking, and it's not like that. He says, You know that sense of peace and satisfaction you get when you tune your car? and I say Yeah. So he says, Hateboxing is like that, but instead of working on a car, you're building a box to hold your emotions. Doesn't have to be hate, can be pain or fear or whatever, but he thinks hateboxing sounds best.

So I go, Okay, I sorta get you, but I've been working on my car for ten years, and it hasn't helped me sleep any better. He says, The trick is in the training. He points to a milk crate full of greasy parts and says, that's going to be your hatebox, and I'm going to help you build the frame.

There are rules to hateboxing, he says as he's taking off his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. The first rule, he says, is that we can't use any tools that use electricity or hydraulics, it's all gotta be hand power. It's the sweat and effort, he says.

The second rule is that it's gotta be metal and wood. No plastic.

The third rule is that when I'm hateboxing, I can't think of the box. I have to think about the memory I want to get rid of. Because we aren't really trying to build anything, it's just something for our hands to do so that our minds can fall into, get this, a meditative state.

So I say, Wait a goddamn minute. This is meditation? Like clearing the mind, chanting, all that happy horseshit?

He says, Close. Chanting is for mystics, this is for practical people like him and me. This is Transcendental Mechanization. And he gives me that freaky calm smile.

So what the hell, I think, and he and I, we start the hatebox, there on his apartment floor. I dunno how long we work at it, because the time just seems to slip away. When we're done, it's dark outside, and I've got this cubic-foot box that looks like a reject from a high school metal shop. but for the first time in my life I don't feel like there's something breathing rotten anchovies down the back of my neck.

He says, That's your hatebox. Put all your negative emotions in it. Build on it, add stuff to it, expand on it. Then he gives me a strange look and says, Got a garage?

Got a garage? I live in fuckin' Brooklyn.

You'll need one, he says. And then I get this weird idea that maybe this entire building is his hatebox. And then I really fucking want to leave right then.

Whatever, I say. So I ask how much I owe, and he says, A hundred bucks for the materials. And any time I need more, I can come see him.

So, yeah. Anyway, I'm gonna go home, and work on this fucking thing, and maybe when I'm done I'm gonna have a big bowl of spaghetti.


Game Rules
It's mechanomancy, only without the realization that something is being built. If you're a rules freak, I suppose you could say that a hateboxer is building a device that acts as a psychoanalyst and helps to remove failed notches in accordance with the madness rules. But really, the entire point of hateboxing is turning the charging structure of mechanomancy into a tool for eliminating memories.

(For some strange reason, I have an image of Dexter, from the Dexter's Lab cartoon, and his continuous tightening of the same nut-and-bolt assembly, as a kind of hateboxing.)

Trent assumes that most hateboxers will break taboo enough times to keep anything truly scary from being built. But eventually, a hateboxer will find a way to infuse his box with a major charge. The results of a Major-Effect Clockwork, infused with negative emotions, should be as spectacular as they are destructive.


Here are some follow-up notes and ideas, based off the feedback I received:

1) "I keep seeing a man working on his artificial leg. Half way through, he forgets how he lost his leg, tears apart the artificial leg, remembers, and begins to work again."

2) "What happens to the trapped memories? Can those failed notches be slapped around random if, say, the box is lobbed like a grenade? Or what happens if little Jimmy finds Grandma Pandora's little hopechest and, thinking there's pirate treasure inside, opens the lid? Does little Jimmy get a headful of bad memories and failed notches?Could be a good plot hook and trigger event."

3) "I saw the word 'hopechest' and immediately thought of a hatebox usedfor the opposite of its intended purpose.

"Imagine, say, an undercover cop. He's infiltrated a gang of real bastards, and found out he's just not enough of a bastard himself to keep his cover for long. One day when he's feeling superstitious, he remembers Trent, and remembers him saying you can store any emotion in a hatebox. So he builds one to store everything that's good and decent in him.

"It worked like a charm, and now this guy is the ultimate bastard, Hardened all the way, so extreme he manages to neatly fill the requirements for one of the nastier archetypes. And he's right in the PC's backyard, learning just enough about the Occult Underground to become a threat for everyone involved.

"Learning about the hopechest and making him into a good guy again seems like a good idea for a few adventures - it would be the best option for dealing with him, since direct combat would result in a very high body count."

4) [follow-up to #4] 

"Nice thought... when all his good memories return, he realizes how far down he's fallen, and eats his gun in grief.

"You did it."

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