Tonight we took the new edition of Dream Askew by Avery Alder out for a spin and discovered a group of queer folk struggling to bring a new world into being on the edges of the old. Our characters are Mischa the Torch, who leads a goddess worshipping cult to bring meaning into our lives; Shadow the Iris, touched by the Psychic Maelstrom and given the power to unearth lost memories and bring absolution; Fancy the Hawker, the genderfluid proprietor of a burlesque coffeehouse called the Sour Madeleine; and Jane Cavendish the Stitcher, whose loves of plants has made the community gardens in our reclaimed green space into a ecological cornucopia and the center of our queer enclave.
We begin our story when Shadow goes to Jane seeking help with easing the pain of Virginia, an aging drag queen in their care. With clinical detachment and little enthusiasm, Jane offers the ingredients for a regimen of tea that should keep Virginia alive. She seems more concerned that Shadow continues to provide succor and shelter to our recently deposed leader, Jacob, after he unsuccessfully tried to impose his will on the enclave and forcibly shut down Mischa’s cult.
We also learn that Jane has broken up with Mischa over the cult when Jane visits Mischa’s shrine during a ritual seeking moonflower seedlings. Jane knows that Mischa is trying to help people, but does not believe that misleading them and giving them false hope will help them deal with the realities of our situation. In a flashback to a few weeks before, we also see Mischa visit Fancy at the Madeleine after Jane had first broken up with her over the cult, seeking solace in the arms of Fancy, who doesn’t turn her away but doesn’t yet bring her in.
Meanwhile, Shadow is concerned that Fancy isn’t who they claim to be, having learned that before their fall, they had been just another office worker, married and straight. But as Fancy tells their tale of their apocalyptic fall and how they rebuilt themselves by abandoning the unity of the binary and letting themselves flow between the poles of male and female, Shadow comes to realize that Fancy may have changed from the past but is being genuine to their current self.
Jennifer, an acolyte, comes to Mischa worried about the group being leaderless and suggesting that Mischa step into the gap. Mischa opens her mind to the psychic maelstrom and senses another mind filled with hatred and a desire to control the enclave. Mischa goes to Shadow to validate her vision, and Shadow sees the face of the one who plans to profit from our enclave. When they get Jacob to sketch the face they saw in their trance, he is recognized as someone who slums it at the Sour Madeleine and had once slept with Jacob. Shadow brings the group together as a temporary ruling council for the enclave to address the threat. We decide to wait him out and confront him when we next comes to our enclave, but some of us are prepared to take extreme measures to bring him down, including manipulating his mind and even killing him if it will save us.
When he shows, Mischa approaches him with a lame pickup line and learns his name is Herman, a man who denigrates our enclave as fairyland, filled with weirdos, but weirdos who could make him a lot of money as entertainers back in the Society Intact. Herman plans to make himself as rich as possible to outlast the apocalypse and the collapse of what remains of society; he is a thug, an embezzler, and a human trafficker who plans to enslave us to assuage his selfish fears. Mischa tries to scare Herman off, but Herman shows his hand with a large contingent of the clientele that night being his men, armed and waiting. Backing away, Mischa lets our more aggressive members make their move, and before Herman has even begun to deploy his enforcers, Shadow has used Jane’s herbs to perform an absolution in reverse that heightens Herman’s guilt and remorse so that he retreats back to society and turns himself in to the police, where Jane’s contacts are ready to take his confession and put him away. The enclave is safe. For now.