Updated: Apr 15
By John M. Withers IV & Eliza Gaston
Editor's Note: Due to the formatting of this piece, it is best viewed on desktop.
Your character is named ________.
Your character needs Stamina and Intensity. Roll three d6 and drop the lowest score; a range of 2-12 for each. Drugs, alcohol, and fanaticism can raise or lower these scores as the story unfolds. Your character receives +1 to Intensity if you just binged more than five movies or a +3 if you completed the entire list. If either Stamina or Intensity drop to 0 turn to option 1 immediately.
Choose the other two friend’s names and decide when each speak: ________ and ________.
1. Pick one of these:
A. You Can Count of Me B. The Midnight Hour C. Home Alone
If you picked A, then turn to option 4.
If you picked B, then turn to option 8.
If you picked C, then turn to option 12.
Long hours left you weary and you felt your steam taper. All that was left was drowsiness. Despite it all, you began to nap without even realizing it. You had a pleasant dream, a familiar re-run, you were at the center of a sitcom family with your three favorite brothers; this is the one with the Laurence brothers guest starring as the new neighbors. You smiled in your sleep.
Your friends, ________ and ________ , droned on about their favorite Culkin with undue jovial angst and ire. You only partially listened because it was the same conversation on a different night.
Instead, you were in your own head, quietly thinking about what it would like to be hang out with a real star. Not just YouTube creators with a long history and decent following. People that had first hand experience on real film sets. You wondered what Sean C. Phillips was like in private. His reviews were fast and furious plus he had experience working on low budget movie sets. What kinds of stories could he tell?
Go to 5.
Cole Sprouse, Macaulay Culkin, Haley Mills, and as strange a variety of films were discussed as you settled in and relaxed. Too relaxed. Too warm. Too comfortable.
Go to 1.
Beyond the trappings was the friendship the three of you shared. You, __________, and __________ had spent years in the basement talking for hours about nothing loosely around shared film fandom. It was a safe space to relax and be yourself. Drinking beer through straws around prop heads was part of the friendship.
Drink beer go to 7 or Abstain go to 30.
________ and ________ droned, cruising the internet for short clips, interviews, and whatever. Meanwhile, you pictured Sean C. Phillips, across the table from Kieran Culkin, and you on the third side. “Pass the rolls,” you said as Kieran and Sean discussed being on set. Kieran had thirty years of experience. Kieran was curious about Sean C. Phillips’ more recent low budget experience, making his own movies, transitioning to YouTube prominence, and directing segments then Amityville Karen. Kieran was curious about being a director and finding projects to scale up. You were too. You wanted to know how to take the YouTube video editing experience and translate that to other projects. You chimed in how you had made graphics for the YouTube channel on Flash Player and were struggling to learn new programs. You loved his expressive range but had no idea how to make him want to make bird noises. It was a pleasant chat with two soft spoken success. You wished it had really happened.
If either your Stamina or Intensity are below four turn to 1; if your Stamina is higher than your Intensity turn to 17; if your Intensity is higher than your Stamina turn to 19.
You were patient by nature, but that did not dissolve your tenacity. “I think,” you inserted into the conversation between your friend’s inane banter, “we need to get back to work.” You steered the conversation as their milk carton heads turned toward you. “We only have two more videos recorded and scheduled. Maybe three. We need to start planning the next video. I know you wanted to do a Bakshi deep dive, was it an anniversary years of one of his movies?”
“Why don’t we do something else with Lords of Chaos?” _________ interjected. Of course he did. He was a Rory Culkin fan. Before you objected that you had covered it already, he continued, “Let’s pair it with Deathgasm, Heavy Trip, and the other metal movies ranging action, comedy, and bio pic.” That was a decent plan.
Intensity of six or less is an automatic agree because that is the easiest path. Intensity seven and higher allows for a difference of opinion. Agree go to 21 or Disagree go to 28.
Help yourself. Each beer –1 Stamina; every five beers +5 Intensity. Drink as much as you would like through the story. If your Stamina is four or below go to option 3; Stamina higher than four go to 22.
“No,” seriously this is how the conversation went, “Cole Sprouse doesn’t actually exist” your friend, ________, talked over protests. “Dylan and Cole Sprouse were the same kid on Suite Life of Zack & Cody and stuff but it was all in camera trickery. Fake twins. It’s like the Parent Trap movie with Haley Mills or whatever. Just an entire show. One kid. He got paid only once but played both roles. That’s the joke. That’s what’s funny.”
It would be surprising, but this was how so many conversations went.
You could understand why someone great, like Macaulay, retired young.
You listened patiently as your friends debated the feasibility of Cole Sprouse. “Want a beer?”
You can accept or not. If you accept you can have as many as you would like. You know where the mini fridge is. Help yourself. Each beer –1 Stamina; every five beers +5 Intensity.
If your Stamina is less than four go to 10; if your Stamina is five to ten go to 14; if your Stamina is eleven or higher got to 20. If your Stamina hits 0 go to 1.
“Kieran is better,” ________ always interjected his favorite Culkin, but you know he loved all three.
“You only say that,” you responded, “because he has more of an adult acting. Macaulay never really came back to films, but instead embraces other media.” You shook your head, but the carton you all wore when you hung out fit too loosely. “We make YouTube videos. You can’t always be a snob about new media.” New media sounded like a strange term with omnipresent YouTube.
“The internet is full of lies.” ________ countered.
You can continue grabbing beers as needed with the same penalty and benefit. If your Stamina is four or less then you have a quiet night and the story ends; Stamina five or higher go to 16.
As a trio you sat around in fake milk carton heads like grocery store mascots. ________ had them made. It was all part of a YouTube show, Spoiled Milk, you recorded a few times a week. You probably only needed to wear the heads when cameras were rolling, but all of you were so comfortable in them that they stayed on even when the cameras stopped. Beer through a straw was fine.
“Do you know who I’ve always thought was sus?” Your other friend, ________ , coopted the conversation. “The third Olsen twin. She was the triplet they didn’t use on Full House but now she’s starring in that Disney show WandaVision. Glad she’s finally getting work.”
To change the subject again, you said, “hey let’s throw on a movie.” You rifled through the cheap DVDs from the Dollar Tree. “Do you want to watch Danny Trejo fight zombies, pirates, or giant robots? We have at least one film for each.”
A consensus was reached and Cartel 2045, the budget American release title for Juarez 2045, with sci-fi robots and plenty of action. Sadly it was devoid of secret Culkin cameos.
“The match is so short.” Your friend, ________ complained. “Just a stupid fan phone in a bar. It’s hard to figure out who is even in the ring. Let’s what something real.”
Go to 9.
Your basement was a media library, a couple couches; overall a comfortable place to gather a few friends to watch movies, make YouTube videos, and generally spend time together. Your two constant friends ________ and ________ were here a few nights a week. It was not a recording night, just three friends hanging out discussing child stars conversationally. Everybody was already drinking beers through straws under milk carton shaped head-helmets.
Decide how many beers you would have drank in an hour. Each beer –1 Stamina; every five beers +5 Intensity. Keep reading.
________ was an avid Macaulay Culkin fan because he was basic and vanilla. ________ liked Rory because he responded t recent arthouse films and pretentious. You knew the best Culkin was Kieran.
“Macaulay doesn’t have a kid.” You fact checked ________.You liked that Kieran was sweet enough to be a good dad. More than a talented face.
Have another beer if you like. If your Stamina is four or less go to 2; if your Stamina is five to ten go to 6; if your Stamina is eleven or higher go to 25. If your Stamina hits 0 go to 1.
Your friends gave minimal protest. They enjoyed wrestling. Emboldened you watched thumb wrestling. Macaulay wrestled Jeff Jerret, Brother Love, Sargent Slaughter, an superstars backstage or conventions. You had never seen Macaulay win, but he always having a good time.
________ said, “Is this really what we’re doing?” He thought movies were somehow inherently more meaningful than digital expression. Snob.
Go to 9.
Hidden by the milk carton shaped helmet didn’t prevent your friends, ________ and ________ from understanding. You insisted your friends find Macaulay Culkin pranking Chavo Guerrero on WWE’s website. Stupid Hornswoggle back stage skit paired with a then teen star, but they enjoyed it more than wrestling podcasts and endless interviews.
________ and ________ may had other favorite Culkins but everybody appreciated the WWE even when it was stupid.
“You ever wonder why Macaulay didn’ do a wrestling movie?” You mused.
“He’s a stick,” ________ laughed, “not an action star.”
“Surely,” you held, “he could do a Nacho Libre or Ready to Rumble even if he doesn’t have the body for The Wrestler or Peanut Butter Falcon.”
You took control of the keyboard and pulled up a barroom wrestling match with free agent Swoggle finished by interference from your favorite Culkin without asking your friends.
If your Intensity six or above go to 11; five or below go to 13.
You pedaled your bike away from ___________’s basement. The breeze against your faces felt strange. Bike riding was different at night, you missed your milk carton head. You were in no rush to make it to work. Being a waiter was fine. In your non-haste you recited a recent recipe silently. A marinade made with NyQuil. The problem with the recipe you watched online was the hue it gave chicken. You wanted something subtle. Straight NyQuil was not going to work as a baste. It needed spices and soy sauce to hide tint and flavor. DayQuil had a better color, but you needed the sleepiness from the NyQuil.
Go to 34.
“Kieran was the better wrestling fan.” ________ defended his favorite Culkin. “Macaulay just makes the headlines.”
In your friend group those were fighting words. Pushing and shoving was automatic. If your Stamina is eight or less a few good shoves breaks your rhythm and brings the night to a close; Stamina 9 or higher becomes a brief fight with a couple smacks to ________ milk carton head keep reading.
After the first smack to ________’s right side board, ________ tried to break you two apart. You were able to give two smacks and take one before ________ could separate from ________ and you to neutral corners. You simmered under your helmet. Your anger was visible in balled fists.
Old friends sometimes came to quick blows. It ended the night, but not dull friendship. Time, beer, and jokes healed wounds.
In a couldn’t conversation, Kieran was saying how amazing and strange the internet was. He advocated for streaming services, but also their strangeness. Sean C. Phillips agreed streaming services were interesting, but he still liked physical media. He mentioned YouTube pick up videos and reviews. You were proud at how you handled being star-struck even if it was just an indulgent fantasy.
If your Intensity is above eight go to 23; if your Stamina is above eight go to 27; otherwise keep reading. If your Intensity and Stamina are both above eight shotgun a few beers; beer –1 Stamina but every five beers +5 Intensity.
“Just always doing it. Having fun. I’m still doing it.” Kieran recapped his career. Sean C. Phillips shook his head, because he didn’t understand since he had had to work hard. You understood.
The night droned but you were too tired to engage. You said things. You did things. It was just another fun, unproductive, night hanging out. You were supposed to go to work, but you called out and bicycled home instead.
You left your milk carton head in the basement.
Your bedroom was tempting. As you laid on your back, you could not see the custom sheets you ordered, wall posters, or Culkin accoutrements. You knew they were there. You relaxed.
You came out of your daydreams with drool discretely inside of your helmet. “What we need to do,” you interrupted, “is go find star homes.” They had never went for it. “Movie reviews outside of the homes and gates of their principal actors.” You meant Kieran Culkin. You shook your head over protests. “No knocks. No bothering. Not even the whole review. Just the opening tags and a few thoughts. We can do it separately. No need to all travel the same place.”
________ sighed. “How would even find star homes unless we go to Hollyweird?”
You hoped your static face conveyed emotion as you hunkered over your phone. “Everything on the internet.” You tried to find Kieran Culkin’s apartment. You wanted a picture in front of the building, like Mark David Chapman did in the archway of the Dakota.
You interrupt your two friends, “let’s put on that wrestling match with Macaulay. The bar room brawl where he gets involved and over powers Swoggle.” Macaulay is thin and spindly, but you are certain he had trained as a wrestleras part of his podcast: Wrestling with Macaulay Culkin.
Your two friends each had their ideas about what should be watched and discussed roundtable style, as you often do. You were insistent. Macaulay Culkin had thumb wrestled the small handed Jeff Jerret, Brother Love, Sargent Slaughter, and other superstars. Watching him in bunny ears and an actual wrestling match were suddenly important to you even if you did not know why.
If your Intensity six or above go to 11; five or below go to 13.
You thought ________ offered a good option to rehash Lords of Chaos paired with other metal films. “Would we cover some older campy fare like Rock ‘n Roll Nightmare. Maybe some Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons films.”
________ concurred. “It can lead to an entire retrospective. Make a themed unit of videos.” His milk carton wobbled in agreement. “What was the Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop film, vampire band, on the road and succumbing to the dark side of rock music lifestyle, thing?” He was met with blank stares from two milk carton heads. “I saw it on Amazon.” Googling started like a race.
“I think it is Suck from 2009.”
“Right.” _________, “have you seen it?” You didn’t remember. Vampire movies often blurred together. “He was great on Duncanville. I’d forgotten about that episode of Something Wilder with Gene Wilder. Actually, I thought that was Eric Idle and not Gene Wilder.”
It was good to spend a night sketching out a plan, go to 27.
You had to go to work after the recording session where nothing was recorded. Your buddies, ________, and ________ worked during the day an ended with a relaxing. Instead, you started your day gabbing and went to work afterwards. That probably changed your perception of the night, it was great, but you needed to wake up, not wind down.
Intensity six or below go to 15; Intensity seven or higher go to 32.
You noticed wrestling and knew ________ was lauding Macaulay’s wrestling. “Kieran was the better wrestling fan.” You defended your Culkin above his too easy fandom. “Macaulay just makes headlines.”
In your group those were fighting words. You never disrespected someone’s Culkin. If your Stamina is eight or less a few good shoves breaks your rhythm and brings the night to a close; Stamina 9 or higher becomes a brief fight with a couple smacks to ________ milk carton head keep reading.
After the first smack to ________’s right side. You were able to give two more smacks and take one before ________ could separate from ________ and you to neutral corners of the media room. You simmered under your helmet. Your anger was visible across your shoulders and balled fists.
Old friends with so many common interests and time together sometimes came to quick blows. It ended the night, but would not friendship. Time, beer, and jokes would heal most wounds.
The night droned on but you were too tired to engage. They were the same as always and not really memorable. Just another fun, but unproductive, night hanging out with your two closest friends and YouTube co-hosts. You were supposed to go to work, but you called out and went home instead.
You left your milk carton head in the basement with the other two. You bicycled away from work and your apartment. You were growing tired of the monotony. You did not want to Tweet about what sandwich you had for lunch. You needed to say something in a way the world could hear. You needed to make a statement to resonate.
Intensity six or below go to 29; Intensity above six go to 35.
“We need to do something with Kieran,” you began broadly, before finding your own point. “We’ve talked about Scott Pilgrim and Igby Goes Down in the past. Movies coupled with them. We’ve talked about Infinity Baby but I’m surprised we’ve not done a real sci-fi to real life showcase. I think we can do more there.”
_________ shook his milk carton, no. “I’m not sure that’s the take away. We should do straight actors playing gay roles.” He corrected, but it was your turn to shake your head disapprovingly. “Okay,” he tried again, “I guess that is too large of a list.”
“Also presumes too much about Kieran that we can’t know. Sure, he’s married and has a kid. That doesn’t totally equate it. Old fashioned thinking.” You inserted. “Plus it opens the comment section up to too much trolling. There is no way that ends well with that type of headline.” You pumped up your quiet chest. “The better angle is to forget sexuality and talk about typecasting of small statured men. Still too broad but it at least gives the comment section a reason to make endless lists about actors and characters we forgot. That’s the best way to pump the analytics on the vid.” Since you did most of the editing and uploading, you were also in charge of tracking the YouTube stats and rebuking copyright claims. “Or famous teddy bears on film.” You were quietly excited about working Kieran into another video. He was your favorite Culkin but you were not as showy about it.
The rest of the evening became a serious planning session that bore no real fruit but it was par for the course. You were in charge but nothing was resolved, yet you felt good about it.
You needed to find a young person wandering the streets alone, but not just anyone. You needed the right kind of face. A young man with an even more youthful face. Timeless, like a vampire, not aging. Angular, Nordic features. Long hair would be a plus, but short hair would work too. Just one victim with the right kind of Culkin face. That would bring fame to you. Then the world would see. You gripped the knife and stalked the night looking for fame.
Stamina carried you through a hard day at work and even when evenings were another grind and not relaxing at all. You could feel sweat going down your brow under the milk carton head. The heads suffered from ventilation but you tried not to notice. They were light or you three had become used to it overtime. You had been wearing them several days a week for years. Somehow even bad nights were still better than not being here waring the heads with friends. A night was a night.
“That’s a flat justification for trying to sneak Rory back into the discussion.” You firmly asserted. “Stop. Just stop.” Neither ________ or ________ liked having their ideas shot down. Easily raised their ire. The other became defensive as an united front. You continued on. “Let’s drop Lords of Chaos completely and just focus on metal movies for a ‘Metal Movie Marathon’ video. That’ll get enough clicks on its own. Pissed off metal heads in the comments telling us how wrong we are. It’ll be good for analytics even without dragging any Varg and Mayhem controversy into the discussion.” You thought it was rational and well reasoned. The tilt of your friends’ carton heads showed they disagreed. You were soft spoken but not a push over. Sometimes they were confused about that. “We need to move on from the too constant ‘Where Are They Now?’ videos. It’s time to move on from child stars most recent movies.” That was apparently the wrong thing to say.
In your friend group those were fighting words, benign and silly fighting words, and an equally silly fight. A shove came so quick you could tell who. They were both squared off against you in the media room basement. If your Stamina is eight or less a few good shoves breaks your rhythm and brings the night to a close; Stamina 9 or higher becomes a brief fight with a couple smacks to ________ milk carton head keep reading.
Stamina let you dodge the comically slow smack. The act of your hands coming up, as if you were ready to throw hands—even if you wouldn't—, was enough to bring the night to a close. It was for the best. The guys would be back in a few days anyway. Not every night could be productive. Sometimes the three of you just needed to hang out, joke around, sip some beer through straws. It was a nice distraction from real life above the basement.
All you want is to be a successful. Validation. Respect from peers. Who doesn’t? But YouTube was not providing it. You wanted fame. Real fame. Culkin level of fame. Large, immediate, nearly overnight fame. You knew you had it in you and wanted the world to know it.
You parked your bicycle in an alley and shoved your hand into your pocket searching for the knife. The knife would bring fame. It would prove you were as good as any of them.
Go to 26.
________ and ________ were heading to bed after hanging around in the basement converted into a DVD library, viewing room, and YouTube studio. You were different. You were supposed to go to work, but you were not completely engaged in being a well dressed waiter at an over inflated late night dinner.
Diligently go to work go to 22; Skip work with a Stamina of four or less go to 18; Skip work with a Stamina greater than four go to 24.
You let the mushroom soften in your mouth a moment before chewing it up. Ordered online. Everything was online, drugs, secret information, and the recipe for fame. Even in innocuous places, you could find out about the importance of the 7th son. The power that son held. You knew that if you impressed Rory, the 7th son, and caught his attention you could share his fame.
You were not sure why Varg had been so outspoken about the Mayhem Lords of Chaos film. Even if it was not completely right, it helped make Varg even more famous because of how Rory portrayed the victim. A movie about Black Metal without any on the sound track. Rory had helped Varg, surely everyone could see it. You could see it. It was in plain sight.
The power of the 7th son.
You wanted that power.
You fell in step behind a young man with long hair walking alone. You could feel the knife in your hand.
Go to 33.
The advantage to working nights was being able to ride your bike and pedal as hard as possible through the cooler air. That was the advantage to being a late night waiter. Your bike’s pannier bulged between the bike frame. It contained a special soy sauce. You had infused it with NyQuil. It was not quite a one to one ratio. You experimented with how to keep a nice color but retain some of the drowsiness from the NyQuil. You planned it as an add on chicken rub or marinade.
The restaurant was probably strange. It was a glorified dinner and open all night long except it tried to position itself as upscale and swanky establishment. You had a locker behind the kitchen near the trashcan and grease trap. Black shirts were kept pressed in there. Starched white aprons. You left your bike in the back alley but shoved your pannier into your locker. Most waiters kept weed or pills in their locker so nobody would question your NyQuil infused soy sauce.
You needed to wait until the kitchen staff was bored so you could rub down some chicken. Not yet.
The brisk ride decreases both Stamina and Intensity –1. Go to 34.
You would rather have had a Culkin, but a Nordic faced young man would have to do. If not this one, the next, or all the way to seven young men that could pass as Culkin body doubles. You stepped quickly behind this young man, your personal Rory, and grabbed his mouth with one hand and stabbed the knife with the other. The first cut was sloppy but probably painful. You needed the next six to be less shock and more precise. Seven stabs between you and fame.
Seven stabs of seven sons.
Fame was imminent.
Waiters changed as a shift, except for stragglers trying to turn over their last table for the night. The head chef liked to line up the waiters up as they came on shift and inspect them. Taking pride in their appearance. Chef Jiro said it was a common tradition in Japan. Why not. After visual inspection Jiro would go over the reduced menu and specials before leaving for the night. The kitchen was ran by his assistants on the night shift. They were more lax. You always smiled when he left and the staff could relax.
You could always swipe a little sake during shift with a comfortable smile.
Sake is different than beer. Sake –1 Stamina +2 Intensity.
As you worked you covered your tables politely, but always kept an eye on the rest of the seating. This swanky oddity, overtrumped dinner, was the type of place celebrities might haunt. You had spotted a few famous faces, but never approached anyone for a selfie. The waiters were discreet, which was part of why celebrities felt comfortable coming in.
You were sure that at some point Rory Culkin, or one of his equally famous brothers, was going to come in. When that happened, you were ready with a NyQuil chicken rub and a growing plan. It was important to have a few friends among the local Lyft drivers to make the second step of the plan work, after the plate of complimentary NyQuil chicken. You smiled bided your time and waited for the right moment to meet your heroes.
If your Stamina dipped below 4 you struggle to stay awake through the whole shift and may miss a Culkin sighting. If you Stamina stays above 4 your attention is equal part Stamina and Intensity to keep you vigilant.
Some people had all the luck. Born into it. Four Culkins walked away from the stage, the lights, the cameras, and the fame. They had turned their back on an easy chance to become famous. After Kieran and Macaulay, Rory surely had it easier to find the path to stardom. He didn’t need to grind for years as a character on a YouTube movie review show trying to looking interesting in front of the entire world.
You wanted to prove you were as good as the 7th Culkin, your favorite brother.
You parked your bicycle in an alley and shoved your hand into your pocket searching for the knife. The knife would bring fame. It would prove you were as good as any of them.
Beside the knife was pure mushrooms. Enough to take the edge off and let you do what needed to be done. It would help you focus.
Ignore the Shroom go to 26; Eat it go to 31.
John M. Withers IV writes Interactive Fiction like Castles of Imagination, National City Stories, and High School Days. “7th Culkin” is his first collaboration with Eliza Gaston. He is on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Eliza Gaston is an aspiring comic creator from Tempe, AZ. “Spoiled Milk,” her first published comic, appears in National City Stories anthology with Red Wizard Press. She enjoyed seeing what John did with her characters in prose.