J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 2 ☆ 2014 October 1

I. A Welcome Burden

Fall: the season o’ change, the both sad & happy age o’ brushing ’way the decrepit to prepare for new blooms in the subsequent spring. In that spirit, Edgar spent that early night in late October dusting the corner-crowding cobwebs & defragmenting scattered papers already yellowing with age while Autumn was ’way. ‘Twas something that would’ve been a better time-spender, Edgar thought, if their home wasn’t just an approximately 4-meter-wide living-room/kitchen hybrid & an even smaller bathroom.

Still, he basked in the task as it lasted. Though he couldn’t put a foot on it, there was something ’bout providing time & mind for their apartment that set it apart from just a box in which they spent most o’ their time residing.

Not long after, Edgar heard the front door open ’hind him & turned to see Autumn enter.

“O, hello Autumn. I thought I’d dust while you were gone,” Edgar said still holding a li’l black & pink duster hanging out his long robe sleeve.

“OK…” Autumn said with the kind o’ expression one would give if he’d said he were raking the windows1. “Anyway, I found this Muerteween contest that promises a hefty reward.”

“O, cool. What do we have to do?” Edgar asked.

Autumn lifted the pamphlet up to her face. “Says we must stay @ some s’posedly scary mansion for a few days & that there’s hidden treasure inside. Doesn’t sound too difficult.”

“Uh… what’s the catch?” Edgar asked, wringing his sleeved hands. “It’s not… it’s not haunted, is it?”

“Doubt it,” Autumn said; “& if it is, well, the ghosts had better not bother us while we’re trying to sleep.”

Then Autumn added, eyes returning to the pamphlet, “Also, it says we’re s’posed to wear costumes; but I don’t have anything, so I’ll just say I’m going as a thief.”

Edgar looked her up & down & then scratched the top o’ his skull.

“I don’t know if anyone would find sweat pants or a T-shirt that says ’PHAT LOOT’ scary,” he said.

“One should tell them that someone o’ that description can hold a knife or gun just as well as anyone else,” Autumn said.

“Don’t you still have that 1 witch costume?” Edgar asked.

“What witch costume?”

“You know, when we explored Wasabi Woods for gold for that 1 witch. Remember? She gave us those robes & wands…”

Autumn shook her head. “Doesn’t light a bulb.”

“I think she was the same person who stole from you & we had to follow her, only to be captured ourselves & forced to watch toys fight each other.”

“She never gave us any robes or wands.”

“I could’ve sworn she did,” Edgar said, staring down @ the carpet. “I swear I remember us fighting some dragon for her.”

“I think you just dreamt that,” Autumn said; though in the back o’ her head she, disturbingly ’nough, felt as if she remembered such an event, too, though she knew it had never happened.

“What ’bout that pirate suit you had? Or your circus clothes?” Edgar asked.

Autumn rubbed her chin. “I s’pose I could poke holes through a sheet & say I’m a ghost. It’ll be a capital cost; but hopefully we’ll win ’nough to make up for that.”

So they did just that: she yanked a baby-blue striped sheet Edgar had left in their sleeping spot after finding it while cleaning, put it on, & cut holes in front o’ her eyes & next to her arms.

But as they went to the door, Edgar asked, “Um, what ’bout me?”

Autumn turned to look @ him with imbalanced brows. “What ’bout you?”

“Shouldn’t I have a costume, too?” Edgar asked.

Now ‘twas Autumn’s turn to examine Edgar ’long his height—@ the dark robe covering every part o’ him but his graying, dusty skull. As she looked up @ his face, she could see him staring blankly @ her with his yawning black eyeholes.

“I think you’ll be fine as is,” Autumn replied.

II. The Game

The sky was full o’ fog & smoky clouds on the late night o’ October 30 when Autumn & Edgar left the city sidewalk onto a wide grassy hill toward Heureuse Manor.

Though one might expect that on a night like this the moon’d be full, I panic that real life is not so accommodating—even when said real life is truly fiction—& the moon was merely waning gibbous. ‘Twas still a large, lustrous waning-gibbous moon, splashing blue-gray light down all round them, though; they just didn’t have to soil themselves ’bout werewolves attacking them in the middle o’ nowhere (ghosts, goblins, serial killers, possessed trash cans, & giant piles o’ vomit were still fair share, however).

The wind was heavy ’nough to whip the fringes o’ their clothes & Autumn’s hair. That didn’t make it right, though: just ’cause the wind’s stronger than someone doesn’t mean it should be a bully.

Both could hear its sharp whistling, which was truly just some bloke emitting whoosh noises.

Sorry, but this story is on a tight budget.

’Ventually, they found the mansion, which 1st appeared as a small roof peeking up from the top o’ the hill, only to grow into a massive square structure. Its ol’ stone texture gradually became sharper, till they were so close they could see every pixel.

While Autumn stepped up the stoop to knock on the front door, Edgar stood back & gazed @ the lawn as a rat in a lab. He calculated that ’twas approximately 128 blocks wide2. To his vision, everything appeared menacing: the rusty gates guarding the sides o’ the mansion with sharp spikes atop & aside; the prickly, dark, sick-colored ivy hedges circling the lawn, with blood-blue roses here & there; & the wind chimes clinking gainst each other, each drum like a death toll. Even the out-of-place pink flamingo lawn ornaments looked as if they may rise to life & charge @ Edgar, pecking out his empty eyes.

Edgar was so distracted by these worries that he hadn’t noticed how much time he’d wasted till he was finally snapped back to focus by Autumn walking up to him.

“No answer,” she said.

Edgar looked up @ the side o’ the building. Under the dim yellow light o’ an old-fashioned lantern hanging gainst the wall was carved “6358.”

“But this is the right address,” Edgar said. “Did we arrive too early?”

Autumn extracted her phone & checked.

“No. In fact, we’re ’bout a minute late.”

“Uh oh. You don’t think that disqualified us, do you?” Edgar held his sleeved hand up to his jaw, ruminating over the punishments that could befall them—such as being forced to tell a 5-year-old his picture smells wacky or being forced to throw ’way a whole perfectly-good cake.

“I won’t accept ‘no’ so easily,” Autumn replied.

Her eyes weren’t on Edgar, but on the mansion’s side. She walked to a window that led into a still-lit bathroom to see it open a crack. She lifted the window higher, releasing the odor o’ artificial chemicals to mix with the woodsy scent o’ the wind. After turning her head left & right for signs o’ trouble, she raised her right foot onto the sill & tried hoisting herself.

“Edgar, are you still ’hind me?” she whispered as she cringed @ the pressure o’ holding the pane for so long & o’ her legs’ struggle gainst gravity.

“Yeah,” he said as he scampered to her side.

“Good. Could you give me a li’l push up, please?”

Edgar scratched his head as he looked @ her, trying to see what she meant specifically. Finally he realized the problem & ducked down to hold her with the back o’ his shoulders, cringing under her weight. ’Twas less than a minute, though, ’fore he felt the pressure on his shoulders vanish.

“Thanks,” Autumn whispered. He looked up to see her inside, head poking out the window. “Now, grab my hands & I’ll pull you in.”

He did so, lifting his own foot up on the still, & scrambling his other foot up with Autumn holding him up to prevent him from falling. The window she kept from falling with her shoulders; thus Edgar had to duck his head to fit through the small hole ’tween the pane & the sill.

“Are you sure this was a good idea,” Edgar whispered, voice strained. “I’m sure they probably heard us thumping & bumping.”

“Then we’d better move,” she said as she strode to the door.

She opened the door a crack & peeked through to see an empty hall dimly-lit by archaic lamps hanging from walls plastered with dusty, tearing, striped indigo wallpaper. She couldn’t see much, other than a few closed doors on either side o’ the hallway by shifting the angle in which she stared through the crack; but ‘twas the best she could expect: she knew they couldn’t stay in this bathroom all night.

“Looks clear,” Autumn whispered. “Let’s move.”

“Already?” Edgar asked, only to see Autumn already sneaking out the door. Feeling that being caught ’lone in this leering bathroom would be worse than being caught with Autumn, Edgar decided to follow.

As Autumn slid down the hallway with her back pressed to the wall, she felt the temperature jump: compared to the chill outdoors, & even in the bathroom, the hallway felt cosily warm—so much that Autumn began to sweat under her jacket & sheet.

The sudden warmth was the 1 thing Edgar didn’t notice. Maybe ‘twas the way he could feel the cheap wallpaper crumpling ’hind his back as he rubbed it that distracted him; perhaps ‘twas the flickering o’ the outdated light fixtures; or maybe ‘twas the sharp tickle he felt in his femur, which upon examination turned out to be the work o’ a green spider hugging it tightly. Edgar shuddered as he shook off the li’l beast, trying to do so as silently as possible.

Autumn was relieved to see that, though the hallway did turn into ’nother going perpendicular from just in front o’ the bathroom door, said hallway was also empty. Looking left, she could see that the hall ended on the other side @ a large room, which also seemed empty.

She wasn’t as perceptive as she thought: though she couldn’t see anyone nearby, halfway down the hall, she heard a baritone voice like clanging pots say, “Ahh, I see we have our first guest. Please, come right in.”

Autumn hesitated for a second while Edgar bit his fingers in panic.

This could be a trap, Autumn thought.

Then ’gain, she did invite people here, so it’d make sense for her to invite us in.

Then ’gain, perhaps the invitation itself was a trap.

& yet, Autumn realized she didn’t have much o’ a choice, anyway. The woman had already spotted her: to flee’d only make her suspect.

’Sides, no risk, no reward: if she’s trying to yank the shoes off our feet, we’d better run her marathon for now, anyway, till we can find safe footing.

She turned to Edgar & waved toward the room ’head.

She led him into the room: a circular chamber with walls covered in magenta curtains & off-kilter portraits, the magenta carpet replaced by linoleum silver & gold checkers. On 1 side rose carpeted chairs that led to a door, & on the other Autumn could see the familiar double doors o’ the entrance.

Autumn glanced @ the woman, examining her in secret. Said woman’s brown hair was wrapped in a bun ’hind her & cut short over her round forehead. Everything but her head & hands were wrapped in a maroon cloak bulging @ the bottom like a dress, with her feet covered by thick black boots. Her face was full o’ contorts & dusty gray.

“We tried knocking, but nobody answered,” Autumn said.

“I know. You entered through the open window in the bathroom, correct? That was part of the test,” the woman said. “This contest requires bold contestants—not the type who would easily be dispatched by my simply not answering the door. It appears you two were the first to pass that test.

“Whilst we wait for the others—if any others qualify—I might as well introduce myself: you may call me Madame Heureuse, the owner of this mansion for the past century.”

I have to admit: the ancient accent does add strength to this fib, Autumn thought.

Madame Heureuse reached her thin hand out. Autumn stared @ it dully & slowly met it.

After a pause, Heureuse asked, “And what, may I ask, is your name, Madame?”

“Autumn.” Then Autumn pointed @ Edgar & added, “He’s Edgar.”

Suddenly, they both heard knocking ’hind them, causing Autumn & Edgar to turn their heads. Edgar looked back @ Heureuse only for her to answer his silent question with a shake o’ her head.

The knocking continued for the next minute, only to be followed by muffled shouting: “Hello, is anyone here?” Next they could hear a couple mo’ footsteps, followed by mo’ knocking.

Heureuse looked up @ the dripping, melted analog clock hanging @ the top o’ the back wall over her shoulder & said, “You two may want to take a seat. We still have ten minutes remaining afore we begin.”

Autumn & Edgar saw ’tween them & the front door a cluster o’ maroon armchairs & a couch arranged in a circle. They sat together on the left end o’ the couch facing the front door, Autumn hanging her left arm over the couch’s arm, sinking into it with her eyelids drooping. Edgar curled up to Autumn while she rested her right arm on his lap. As they waited, Edgar’s eyeholes vacillated ’tween Madame Heureuse & the door.

They could hear muffled voices from ’hind the door that sounded like arguing. Edgar thought he faintly heard a nasally voice say, “Well get on with it already!”

The door clicked, & then creaked as the 2 heavy doors wrenched open to reveal 5 people on the stoop. Autumn & Edgar couldn’t recognize the 3 in the back, but were surprised to find that they could recognize the man in the black top hat with a golden dollar sign on the front & a cloak, & the woman in the red-and-blue baseball cap & spectacles. Lance’s only costume variance was the raccoon mask over his eyes; Dawn, meanwhile, had the most elaborate costume o’ anyone there: a lab jacket long ’nough to be a dress with red splotches there & here, fish nets with li’l spider ornaments attached, & fuzzy orange claws for shoes. Her hair was even dyed gray.

Dawn blinked in surprise when she spotted the 3 in the living room watching them. “O, hey, here’s some people. Uh, sorry ’bout breaking in, but we didn’t think you could hear us through the door. We were knocking for quite a while.”

“A rather sloppy way to entertain your guests, I must say,” Lance said with his eyes closed & his arms crossed.

“That is perfectly fine,” Madame Heureuse said slowly as she spread her arms out. “I intentionally neglected to answer the door. It was a test to see if you were bold enough to enter without being specifically told you could. I must say that I am impressed by your ability to unlock doors like that.”

“O, thanks,” Dawn said, scratching her head nervously. “I’d always lose the keys to a restaurant I used to run, & so I figured out how to unlock doors with paperclips laced with dihydrogen monoxide & boskeopium.” She held up the unraveled purple plastic paperclip she used on the door.

“So you’re saying this rude welcoming was all on purpose, as a form o’ a ruse?” Lance said, his voice rising. Then his eyes narrowed as they locked on Autumn; she replied with the same droopy expression o’ boredom she had already been wearing for the past 10 minutes.

“I s’pose this was likely the idea o’ the looter you seem to be associating yourself with there on the couch.”

“Ah, you mean Madame Autumn and Sir Edgar. I see that some of you are acquaintances,” Heureuse said. “No, they were the first ones to enter, by breaking in through the window, which I intentionally left open a crack, as I had expected some to do.”

“Hmmph, that figures,” Lance sneered.

“Well, anyway, come in and have a seat, you all,” Madame Heureuse said as she waved her hand toward her.

The 4 in front shuffled in & took their seats. Dawn waved @ Edgar & Autumn & said, “Should’ve known you’d be here, considering how much you 2 love searching for treasure & stuff,” ’fore sitting next to Edgar. While Edgar returned a tepid wave, Autumn gave only brief eye-contact, hoping that sufficed for social rituals.

The person who appeared to be in a cat costume & purple sweater remained on the front stoop, staring @ the threshold o’ the door with anxious puzzlement, as if ‘twere a dangerous force field.

“Uh, Madame?” Madame Heureuse said. “You in the cat costume: you want to enter?”

“I don’t know if I should,” she said. “You said we were s’posed to break in to prove that we were bold, but I was actually going to go home till the woman in the jacket-dress thing unlocked the door. ’Cause o’ this, I think I should be disqualified.”

“Oh, that’s no problem. You may enter, anyway,” Madame Heureuse said.

“O, you don’t have to let me in out o’ pity,” the one in the cat costume said, now looking up @ Madame Heureuse with wide, golden eyes. “I’ve been kicked out o’ houses lots o’ times. In fact, when I lived with my parents, I spent every night since I was 3 on the roof ’cause I reminded them too much o’ their crushed dreams.”

Lance puffed himself up in his armchair, his arms tightly gripping its, & said without turning to look @ the cat-costumed woman, “Would you hurry up so you can close that door? It’s freezing in here.”

“O, sorry,” the cat-costumed woman said as she closed the door ’hind her. As she walked toward the circle o’ chairs, she said, “I annoy people a lot, so don’t be ’fraid to tell me when I do something annoying—or when I’m just annoying by being here.” She stopped & sat on the floor 5 centimeters outside the circle.

“Uh, you know there’s room for 1 mo’ person on this couch here,” Dawn said as she patted the empty space on the rightmost side o’ the couch.

“That’s OK. I wouldn’t want to make you be close to me,” the cat-costumed woman said. “& anyway, I don’t think I truly deserve to sit on a chair or a couch, since I’m really mo’ like an im… imamanent?… An object that a real person o’ importance.”

“Hey, if you want to be an inanimate object, would you mind coming over here & being my foot rest for a doubloon?” Lance said as he stared down @ his feet floating awkwardly over the floor with disgust. “In addition to being too ungracious to give us a proper greeting, it seems our host was too cheap to offer such things as ‘footrests.’ I feel like I’m living in the boonies in this mansion.”

“That’d be a great idea,” the cat-costumed woman said as she crawled over to Lance’s chair & stood there, bent over, on all 4s. Lance laid his feet on her back & shifted in his seat for a few seconds ’fore lying back in his chair with a serene expression.

“Knock it off,” Dawn said with a finger pointed @ Lance. “You can’t just use this kid as a footstool.”

“I’m paying her a whole doubloon for it. You know how much those are worth?” Lance said with the cranky look o’ someone who has been disturbed from his paradise. “I’m sorry if I expect my employees to actually do the work I pay them to do, Comrade Karl Marx.”

Autumn staring forward into space, mind occupied by memories o’ all the comfy times she had not being surrounded by people.

“Shall we start then?” Madame Heureuse said as she walked forward over to the armchair with its back turned to the front door. It stood out ’mong all o’ the seats for some reason. Maybe ‘twas ’cause ’twas covered in cobwebs, or had a green glow round it.

Either way, when the 5 came in, they all avoided it.

She sat in the chair & leaned back into it with her right leg crossed over her left & her hands clasped together & held out over her knees. They all watched—even Autumn, though still with bored stupor—as the chair’s glow grew when she sat in it, as if ‘twere being electrified.

“I must say that I truly enjoy all of your costumes—especially yours, Sir Edgar,” Madame Heureuse said.

Edgar raised a weak finger up—though all anyone else could see was his raised sleeve—& began to say, “Uh, actually, this isn’t a—”

“And your cat costume is amazing,” Madame Heureuse said as she leaned down to face the woman still standing on 4s under Lance’s feet. “It appears so real in every way. How did you make it?”

“It looks nothing like a costume @ all, does it?” the cat-costumed woman said, staring down @ the floor.

“No, it does not,” Madame Heureuse said with a laugh. “The only problem with it is that you appeared to forget the tail.”

“Yeah, I used to have 1 a long time ago, but then when I was in middle school some nice kids helped me cut it off. Everyone was so inconvenienced by me being in this costume all the time, but I always had trouble getting it off.”

“Well, I am sorry to hear that,” Heureuse said with a concerned tilt o’ her head.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I failed so badly,” the cat-costumed woman replied. “I gotta warn you that I fail @ pretty much everything I do.”

“May I ask what your name is, Madame?”

“O, you don’t have to waste your valuable time learning my name; my parents didn’t even waste their time giving me 1. You can call me by the nickname they gave me, though: Worthless Waste o’ Air.”

“Hmm… That is a bit long…” Madame Heureuse said with as much politeness as she could muster, not trying to offend this new acquaintance.

“I know. I’m sorry for inconveniencing people so much.”

“And what, may I ask, is your name and your costume supposed to be, Sir?” Madame Heureuse said as she raised her head up to look @ Lance.

“Hmmph,” Lance said—not in the way one might say it in real life, but the exact sound “hmmph” that one might say in a cartoon. “I can’t believe you don’t recognize me—though I admit my costume is quite deceiving. I am Lance Chamsby, the richest man in Boskeopolis, & I am dressed as Ragnar Denneskjold from the brilliant book Atlas Shrugged—the superhero for the 1%.”

“Well, my silly old self shall admit that she knows nothing of this ‘one percent,’ but it sounds like a very nice club,” Madame Heureuse said, & then she turned to Dawn & asked, “Now, what are your name & costume?”

Dawn said rapidly, “Uh, I’m Dawn Summers & I’m an irate scientist who accidentally spilled an elixir on myself, causing me to slowly turn into a fuzzy monster.”

Madame Heureuse turned to Autumn & Edgar & said, “Now, I already learned that your names are Autumn—a magnificent season, I must say—and Edgar. And you are a ghost and grim reaper, respectively, correct?”

Autumn nodded, followed by Edgar.

“Well then, with that settled, I suppose I should explain what this contest is, just in case some of you do not already know.” Madame Heureuse cleared her throat ’fore continuing. “Hidden within this mansion are treasure chests; anyone may keep whatever he or she finds within the next few days—if he or she can survive that long.”

Madame Heureuse sat up from her chair, causing it to spark in the empty spot she left. Her expression hadn’t changed; but everyone else was gazing @ it.

“Now, I fear we only have a few rooms, so you will all have to draw cards to decide who shares a room with whom,” Madame Heureuse said as she pointed an upraised palm toward a table outside the circle with 10 face-down cards arranged in 2 rows o’ 5.

Lance Chamsby crossed his legs with a look o’ discomfort. “You’re expecting us to share rooms? What is this, a prison camp? I absolutely refuse to degrade myself to such low-class treatment!” He pounded his fist gainst the arm o’ his chair, but ’cause ’twas so soft, his fist only released a puff sound.

“The way this game will work is that whosever numbers are the closest will room together,” Madame Heureuse said with her hands folded together in front o’ her. “Now, who wants to start?”

Autumn nudged Edgar. Edgar turned to look @ her. She nodded.

Edgar turned back to Heureuse & raised a tepid hand. “Uh, I guess I’ll go 1st.”

“Excellent. Step right up,” Heureuse said as she backed ’way from the table with her hands pointed toward it, showing it off.

Edgar stepped up to the table & looked @ each card carefully. They all had the same squiggly carnation-colored patterns bordered by thick white lines. He held his hand up in the air, frozen, till he finally picked the middle card in the top row. Edgar stared @ it for a moment, trying to decide if there was something else he was s’posed to do. ’Ventually he just turned round & walked back to his spot on the couch.

As Edgar made his way back, Autumn sat up off the couch & walked over to the card table in the same bored slump she carried herself as throughout this night. However, as she passed Edgar, she made sure to sneak a quick glance @ his card.

11 11 11 she repeated in her head so she could remember it.

When she stopped @ the card table, her expression turned to the twisted look o’ uncertainty as she held her hands a few centimeters ’bove the cards, much as Edgar had done before.

But unlike Edgar, she was doing it for a purpose: she held small plastic illumination plates in each hand that glowed over all o’ the cards, allowing the black ink o’ the other side o’ each card to show through. Autumn quickly glanced over all o’ the #s, comparing them all in her head, till she finally concluded that the card 2nd-to-last on the bottom row was correct.

’Fore Autumn could turn back to the couch, Madame Heureuse said with a wry smile, “That’s thirteen, the closest number to your partner Edgar’s. That must be convenient.”

Autumn only shrugged.

“Now, now, Madame Springer; there’s no need to disparage your own skills,” Heureuse said with a wink.

The others all drew their cards the fair way, & compared them. Lance, finding his farthest ’way from all the others, claimed 1 o’ the rooms for himself.

“I guess we’re roommates, Felix,” Dawn said as she walked up to Worthless Waste o’ Air Felix. “I hope you don’t find my snoring too loud or my subplots too unmemorable.”

“I’m sorry if I’ll get in the way o’ your snoring & subplots & everything,” Felix said. “If you want, I can just sleep outside the door—or even outside the mansion. I’m pretty used to it already.”

“Uh, no, that’s OK.” Dawn said with a nervous laugh. “I’d much prefer you stay inside.”

“You don’t need to bother yourself for me,” Felix said. “Truly, I’m used to it.”

& so the round’bout conversation continued…

Madame Heureuse looked up @ the melting clock & yawned.

“Well, it appears to be getting late,” she said. “I had better show you to your rooms so that you can get some rest. Tomorrow will be a big day.”

She led them up the steps & through the large double doors into a hallway that looked to Autumn & Edgar similar to the other 1, only with blue-green & yellow-green striped wallpaper.

Madame Heureuse stopped them before a row o’ rooms & told them to sort out who gets what ’mong themselves—they were all the same, she told them. As Heureuse continued down the hall past them, each pair—& Chamsby—chose the closest door to them, sorting it all out in less than a minute.

Autumn opened the door & slowly walked into the room as she examined it all over. Her experience as a thief who oft snuck into others’ buildings instilled in her caution whenever she entered an unfamiliar room. This was no different.

The room looked no peculiar, though: it had the same green wallpaper as the hallway, as well as an old mahogany dresser & 2 baroque white beds on either side o’ the room. The white-curtained window was also open, which Autumn could discern just by the feel o’ the cool breeze rushing into the room. Madame Heureuse evidently didn’t concern herself with the prospect that someone dangerous might break into her mansion without her request.

Edgar closed the door ’hind them & they both sat on the edge o’ the rightmost bed with their eyes to the other side o’ the room. Without turning to Edgar, Autumn asked, “D’you think we should try sneaking out later @ night & getting a head start on finding some o’ that treasure?”

Visions raced through Edgar’s mind o’ monsters o’ all different shapes, sizes, colors, & blood types attacking them ’lone out in the large, deep darkness o’ the mansion.

“I think we’d better not waste our energy,” Edgar said. “Madame Heureuse said she planned to give us a ‘big day’ tomorrow. She’ll, uh, probably give us information we’ll need to find the treasure, which’ll probably be o’ better use if we’re well-rested, rather than being tired-out from a nightful o’ fruitless searching.”

Autumn paused to ruminate over Edgar’s argument. She stared forward @ the opposite wall—though, truly, into empty space.

“That is probably best,” Autumn finally said with a nod.

They both stared awkwardly @ the 2nd bed ’cross the room from them—a rare encounter for 2 who were used to sleeping on the floor, or even in the middle o’ storm drains. These habits usually put them in the habit o’ sleeping together; but with this 2nd bed, each wondered if that norm should change.

Finally, Autumn tossed her ghost sheet & shoes off onto the floor, lay down, & slid under the sheets. But when she opened her eyes a minute later, she saw Edgar was still sitting on the edge, shivering.

“Uh, you want to come to bed?” Autumn asked, looking @ him with concern.

Edgar looked down & asked so quietly, Autumn could barely hear him, “Uh… You don’t mind if I—”

“’Course not. We’ve kept this arrangement for years. Why stop now?”

Edgar slid under the covers, brushing gainst the mix o’ hard plastic & soft cotton that was Autumn’s jacket. Despite Autumn’s point ’bout this being a long-held arrangement, Edgar for some reason felt a jitter rise through his nervous system that threatened to make him giggle. In contrast, Autumn sounded so quiet with her arms round him that he’d think she were a golem if he couldn’t feel the warm air o’ her breaths.

It didn’t take long for them both to drift to sleep to the lullaby o’ the curtains fluttering in the wind.

You have to give the bloke credit: he’s got some lungs.

III. Haunted

This is futile.

Autumn sat up, hand pressed to her forehead as she glared @ the surrounding blue darkness. She glanced down @ the soft mass that hid Edgar for a second, & then slid out from under the covers.

I should let him rest.

’Sides, I probably won’t be out long.

When she entered the hallway ’gain, she noticed that the antique lamps were still on, filling the room with stale light that’d be a bother with which to read, but was adequate for wandering the night—which mollified Autumn, having just remembered that she’d neglected to bring her flashlight.

From what she saw o’ the mansion’s outside earlier that night, she estimated that it had many mo’ floors & many mo’ hallways on each floor. It’d take forever for Edgar & her to track down every treasure; & the mo’ time they took, the mo’ time the competition had to snatch them all ’stead.

She still hadn’t decided yet whether she should skip searching the too-obvious spots, or whether those would be the most likely sites in which the treasures would be hidden. She still hadn’t gauged how crafty Madame Heureuse was.

So occupied was Autumn by these thoughts that it took her a while to notice something peculiar: by this point, she was already in the hallway on the 1st floor that the bathroom she’d entered the mansion through was in; she remembered ’twas through the door @ the end o’ the hall corner, straight ’head from where she was walking. & yet, it seemed to take longer to get there than she remembered. No matter how long Autumn walked, the door still appeared just as distant. @ 1st, she concluded that such an idea was ridiculous; but as the door persisted in its refusal to appear nearer, her concern worsened.

She watched the doors on the sides o’ the hallway to count those still left & those passed. The end o’ the hall was so far, she could not see the last few doors distinctly. Still, as she proceeded to pass doors, she noticed that there was no shortage o’ doors emerging from the blurry distance. Such phenomenon did not seem consistent with the laws o’ physics.

Autumn stopped & turned. The opening ’tween the hall & the living room was right in front o’ her, all o’ the doors she passed seemingly vanishing.

Autumn held her arms akimbo & thought, Huh Must be to keep contestants from cheating.

She turned back round to examine the bathroom door ’gain, only to suddenly slam her back gainst the wall with her arms held out. Something changed since the last time she looked down this hallway. It wasn’t subtle, either: while it took her a while to notice the ever-distant door, she took no time to notice the floating yellow raincoat with a single eye poking out the neck hole & a long tongue stretching out over the front.

She stared @ it with bulging eyeballs herself, unable to even categorize this creature, much less figure out how to react to it. The creature, meanwhile, merely stared @ her, floating in its fixed position.

Soon, Autumn did think o’ a brilliant plan for how to deal with this monster: run from it as fast as she could. She slowly & carefully took a few steps backward as she aimed a cool expression @ it ’fore suddenly twisting & bolting up the stairs o’ the living room & through the 2nd floor hallway up through her room door, which she made sure to slam ’hind her with her body blocking it.

Edgar, woken by the noise, sat up & stared @ Autumn.

“Is something wrong? Where were you?” Edgar said.

’Fore Autumn could respond, childish giggles emerged from ’hind the door, followed by the sight o’ 2 o’ the floating raincoats.

While Edgar attempted to cower under his blankets, Autumn merely vacillated ’tween the 2, blinking rapidly. Though Autumn was a skeptic when it came to the supernatural, she was not so much when it comes to what she saw right in front o’ her face.

’Sides, whether a trick or not, she had an inkling this was not a good sight either way.

Autumn jumped & turned round as if ready to karate chop someone when she heard & felt pounding on the door ’hind her. But she relaxed a li’l when she recognized the voice ’hind it call, “I hope I’m not interrupting anything, but is everything all right in there?”


Autumn cut off when she noticed the ghosts converge on Edgar, who had completely dug himself under his blankets so that he almost looked like a ghost himself.


Dawn entered with a hand over her eyes, asking, “What’s wrong?” only to drop it immediately when she saw the ghosts surrounding Edgar, floating his blankets ’bove his head. When he finally noticed his protection gone, he pulled his hood over his head & buried his face into the bed like an ostrich.

While Autumn so far was calm—‘twas not as if there were anything she could do ’bout flying coat ghosts—that changed when she witnessed the ghosts now levitating Edgar up to their level, which was decimeters ’way from the ceiling, & flipping him upside-down.

“If this is a gag…” Autumn said.

“Maybe I should go get Felix,” Dawn said as she awkwardly turned her body to the door, twisted ’tween the 2 opposite directions. “Should I wake up the others, as well?”

“Don’t bother getting that idiot Lance,” Autumn said.

“What ’bout the other 2? Neville & Weston I think they called themselves.”


“You know, those other 2 guys who are in the same room.”

“I don’t remember any other 2 guys.”

Dawn turned all the way toward the door & said, “Well, I’ll just get Felix then,” ’fore rushing out the room.

She was just going through the door to her own room when she bumped into Felix on accident.

“O, sorry, Felix,” Dawn said as she backed ’way to leave space for Felix to go out the door.

Felix gave Dawn the same wide-eyed stare she always seemed to give her while saying, “I don’t know why you’d apologize when I should be the 1 to apologize for ruining your nice lab coat with my germs.”

Dawn paused to register what she said ’fore saying, “We truly need your help with something, please.”

“If you say so; but I don’t see how you could ever get much use out o’ me, since I have only ever made the world worse since—”

Dawn interrupted her by grabbing her hand & pulling her toward Autumn’s door, saying, “O, you’ll do great.”

But when they entered Autumn’s room ’gain, they saw that Autumn was no longer standing where she was before. While Felix stared @ the ghosts with stoic fascination, Dawn looked all round the room till she finally spotted Autumn hanging upside-down in the air just like Edgar, ire on her face.

Autumn could tell by the feeling o’ the ghosts’ magic suspending her in the air that trying to struggle free would be honeyless, so she just let her arms droop limply, reserving her energy for planning, in case the ghosts tried anything legitimately dangerous.

Meanwhile, the ghosts maintained their mirthful cacophony.

All Felix could say was, “Gee, it seems unfair that these 2 are being attacked by these ghosts when I’m probably the 1 who deserves it the most.”

“That will probably be arranged for both o’ us, soon,” Dawn said, feeling a sweat drop drip down the side o’ her head. “Uh, by chance, are the ghosts actually hurting you any, other than making you both feel head rushes?”

“They’re being pains in the ass,” Autumn answered civilly.

“Here, hold your arms out: Felix & I’ll help you down,” Dawn said, turning to Felix only to see her being held upside-down now, as well.

“I’m sorry…” Felix said. “I told you I always mess up ever—”

“Uh… that’s no problem. That’s not your fault.” Dawn turned back to Autumn, “Well, I guess I’ll help you down.”

Autumn floated there inertly, letting Dawn yank on her arms as much as she wanted. As Autumn predicted, this failed.

She might as well be pulling on rope tied round an anvil.

Dawn stopped & said with heavy breaths, “I don’t think this’ll work.”

“It won’t,” Autumn said. “You’d better not bother; you’d have a better chance ripping my arms off than grounding me.”

Though ‘twas hard to discern, it seemed to everyone as if the ghosts’ laughter had gotten louder.

Lance Chamsby burst through the door, yelling, “Can you proletariats spend 1 night without sounding like a marching band?” He paused to survey the room & saw Edgar, Autumn, Felix, & now Dawn hanging upside-down from the air. “I see you all are having your frat rituals from college. Aren’t you all a li’l too old to be playing games @ 3 in the morning & giggling like school children?”

“I’m sorry,” Felix said with a deflated look on her face.

“You should be,” Lance replied.

“It’d be nice if you could tell Madame Heureuse ’bout the ghosts,” Dawn said.

“I’m sure she already knows & is ’hind it as some cheap, manufactured thrill,” Autumn said.

Lance put his hands on his hips & said, “Phh! I don’t know ’bout you leftist mystic freaks, but I’ve outgrown fairy tales alread—what the hell?”

Lance felt the world turn upside-down as he floated up in the air, his head a meter from the ground.

He scrambled his arms & yelled, “What is this goofery? Get me down this instance!”

“It’s not us; it’s the ghosts,” Dawn said.

“I refuse to believe that,” Lance said with an accusatory finger pointed @ Dawn. “Ghosts only exist in fiction.”

“This is fiction,” Autumn said.

“Yeah, but…” Lance blinked in astonishment. “Wait…”

Autumn turned to 1 o’ the ghosts, who was eying her intently, & said with a flick o’ 1 o’ her wrists, “I don’t know if you can hear us from these, Heureuse, but I was just wondering how long we’ll endure this game?” She yawned. “I’m tired.”

The ghost didn’t answer; & Autumn could tell that, unlike the other ghosts, it wasn’t laughing. ’Stead, it continued to stare @ Autumn, its white pupil swimming in figure-8s inside its black eye. Autumn began to feel her temperature gradually decrease till it felt as if her blood were full o’ ice, causing her to compress her body together & shiver.

The others began to notice, shifting their attention to the sight o’ Autumn shivering & her skin, which was paling.

“Autumn, are you all right?” Edgar asked.

“Yes. I was wondering, just out o’ curiosity, if anyone else felt immensely cold all o’ a sudden,” Autumn said.

“Uh, no, but it looks like you do,” Dawn said.

“Poker,” Autumn said. “’Cause I do, & I suspect it’s ’cause o’ this fellow.”

“This is quite an exquisite game you’re playing, Madame Springer,” Lance said; “but I think we’ve had our fill.”

Autumn was too absorbed in having her warmth absorbed to waste her energy on a retort; all ’twas on the desire to keep from freezing to death, which can be rather difficult when one has no direct control over one’s own temperature. All she could do was what she was already doing, as well as breathing heat on her arms.

“When I see Heureuse, I’ll ring her neck,” Autumn muttered through chattering teeth.

The others, save Edgar, were too preoccupied to pay any mo’ attention to Autumn; they had their own ghosts to contend with now, & could all feel their temperatures tumble, too.

“The second I get the chance, I shall report both you & the terrible host o’ this terrible mansion to the proper authorities,” Lance said with lemon eyes.

“So, uh, is this how these guys, uh… dispatch their enemies?” Dawn asked.

She looked over @ Felix for a response & was surprised to see that she was the only 1 not cringing or compressing her body together. In fact, if not for Felix’s hair standing up on end, one would be unable to tell that Felix was feeling cold @ all. She simply aimed the same blank gaze @ the ghost as it did to her.

“Uh, Felix, are you all right?” Dawn asked.

“O, yeah,” Felix said. “You truly shouldn’t worry yourself with my well-being, though, since there are people whose lives are mo’ valuable who are being harmed.”

“Yeah, like mine,” Lance said. “When shall we be done with this?” Lance, whose body was sensitive to every aberrant tickle or itch, could not stand the seemingly never-ending sensation o’ sheer frigidness being forced upon his body.

“Is everything all right? I keep hearing nois…es…”

All turned their heads to the door to see Madame Heureuse standing there, embarrassed.

Heureuse snapped her fingers & said, “That’s enough, you two. Put them down.”

Each ghost’s pupil spun in circles ’fore they both disappeared in puffs o’ green-gray smoke. With the ghosts gone, gravity could finally resume its job & caused the other 5 to fall down on their heads. As they stood, they could feel warmth return to their bodies—’specially as they attempted to rub more o’ it into themselves.

Autumn was particularly attentive to this, since her skin was virtually gray, her eyes blank. While the others—save Edgar—were watching Madame Heureuse, Autumn’s eyes bore into the ether as if she’d recently completed a tanuki-leaf-eating spree, sitting with arms round her raised knees.

“You may want to check on the other 2 to make sure the ghosts aren’t getting them,” Dawn said with chattering teeth.

“They should be safe,” Heureuse said with a raised hand; “kappa-obake can only attack humans who are awake.” Heureuse frowned. “Sorry about that. They sometimes escape from their… chambers. It does not happen much, but it does happen at times.” She tilted her head like a concerned owl. “You kids are all all right, right?”

Dawn & Felix nodded. Edgar continued to focus on Autumn, unsure if he should wrap his robe round her to warm her or if she’d rather he wait till everyone else exited.

Rudewhile, Lance, strode over to Madame Heureuse.

“No, we are not all right!” Lance said with a finger still shaking in chilliness pointed @ Heureuse. “Is this how you treat your guests? I’d have better treatment in North Korea or Sweden.”

“I am deeply sorry for all that I have put you five through,” Madame Heureuse said. “If anyone feels that he or she cannot stay here anymore, I would understand completely.”

Autumn looked up @ Madame Heureuse. She is merely saying that to pick out the weaker competition. It’s a trap. Only a fool would fall for such a simple trick.

“Well, I might just take you up on your offer,” Lance said, & then stormed past Heureuse & down the hall.

Heureuse began to wipe her left eye as she peered down @ the floor. This caused Edgar, Dawn, & Felix to trade guilty glances.

“Gee, I’m sorry you had to waste your useful time saving me,” Felix said. “You truly would’ve been better off letting me be killed by the ghosts…”

“Well, uh, anyway, thanks for the help, Madame Heureuse,” Dawn said with a li’l wave. “Felix & I’ll be off to bed ’gain. Right, Felix?”

“Whatever you say,” Felix said. “You’re much smarter than me.”

“See you tomorrow.” Dawn waved @ Heureuse, grabbed Felix by the shoulder, & escorted her out.

Madame Heureuse looked down @ Autumn still huddled under her jacket & whispered, “Don’t let their actions pressure you into staying if you do not feel safe.” She had trouble keeping from cringing as she looked down @ Autumn’s still-pale skin.

Autumn simply said, “I won’t.”

Heureuse said, “Take care, then,” as she stepped out the door, & then shut it ’hind her.

Autumn stretched her arms out & yawned, only to quickly return her arms to her shivering stance just afterward. Then she stood up & walked over to the bed. “Well, I was thinking o’ sneaking an hour o’ broad searching round the area, but I think we’ll save that for tomorrow. All right with you?”

Edgar didn’t know what to say, so he just nodded. Nodding seemed easy ’nough.

IV. Dehumanized

“If you want, you can borrow my sweater,” Felix said.

A meter or so after she & Dawn left Autumn’s room, Dawn had stuffed her hands into the pockets o’ her lab coat & began to shiver.

“O, you don’t need to do that. ’Sides, it looks cuter on you,” Dawn said with an awkward smile. “Though you haven’t seemed to be shivering much since the ghosts attacked us. Do you have a lot o’ layers on or something?”

“No, but I’m used to the cold, since I spend nights outside in the cold, anyway.”

“That’s awful,” Dawn said with an even mo’ awkward frown.

“O, I know,” Felix said. “I can’t believe all the good things the Programmers give such a failure like me. Can I admit something?”

“Sure… You can tell me anything,” Dawn said with a frightened half-smile.

Felix looked down @ the floor shamefully & said, “Sometimes I’d be so greedy that I’d steal some newspaper & use it as a blanket or even… I’d even sleep in a nice cozy dumpster. I know it’s probably selfish to use these things that could be o’ great use to other people for my own worthless wants.”

Dawn paused, staring @ Felix as one would stare @ a run-over squirrel.

“Uh, is everything all right with you?”

Felix shook her head. “Nope. I wish I knew how to stop being wrong, but I can—O, I shouldn’t make such ’scuses.”

Then she slapped her hand.

“Uh, if this is a joke, it’s not a funny 1,” Dawn said.

Felix looked up @ her with those calm eyes.

“It looks like it, doesn’t it. I’m so sorry. If you want, you can hit me when I do something bad…”

Dawn shook her head.

“Uh, how ’bout we both come inside & sit down?”

Dawn put her arm round Felix’s shoulder & led her toward the rightward bed.

“You sure you don’t want me to stay outside.”

“Positive,” Dawn said as she sat them both down.

Her arm was still round this stranger’s shoulder. She wasn’t sure if she liked it to remain there or not. If she remained consistent, Dawn doubted she’d balk even if she didn’t like it—which only irked Dawn mo’. Contrariwise, she still wasn’t sure if this was still some sick joke or if this woman truly had such problems.

“So, uh, what convinced you to come to this contest, anyway?” Dawn asked.

“I know, I shouldn’t have come. Now I’ve ruined it for everyone,” Felix said. “You don’t want me to bore you with my stupid reasons.”

“Yes I do.”

“W… Why?”

Dawn paused, trying to rush her brain to think o’ something to say.

Dawn smiled & said, “’Cause your mouth looks better when it’s talking.”

Only to summarily ask herself, What does that even mean?

Felix stared @ her with twitching confusion, as if she were crashing from such an unexpected reaction.

“Well… if you say so…” Felix said. “I… I guess I wanted to finally be able to help someone for once, & so I saw this contest thing mentioned in a flier on the electric pole next to the alley I sleep in & thought ’twas the Programmers telling me how I could do something good for once; but now I know ’twas a bad idea. No matter how much I want to be, I can’t be anything but a bother.”

“O, I’m sure that isn’t true,” Dawn said.

Felix paused in apparent confusion.

“If you say so,” she said.

She isn’t faking it, is she, Dawn thought, shivering ’gain as if an iron cloud swept over her.

She turned to Felix. “D’you have any family? Friends?… Lovers?”

“O, others treat me very nice,” Felix said. “That’s the problem. I get so much good & give nothing good in return. Luckily, most o’ them aren’t round me anymore, so I can’t bother them so much anymore.”

“Would you mind bothering me?” Dawn asked with a sly smile.

“I’m sorry. I can leave if you want…”

“What?” Dawn said in confusion.

Felix shrank in even mo’. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.”

“No. No, ’twas a joke, see.” Dawn laughed nervously. “Don’t worry: I always muff them up.”

“O, you don’t have to try making me feel better. I’m sure I was just too dumb to understand it,” Felix said.

“D’you truly feel that way?” Dawn asked with a frown.

Felix nodded. “I know it.”

Dawn looked down @ Felix’s hand & turned it over in her own, hoping this wasn’t an invasion o’ personal space, either.

“Did you make this costume yourself or did you buy it?” Dawn asked.

“Neither,” Felix said. “I don’t know where it came from.”

“Just found it lying round?” Dawn asked as she looked back up @ her.

“As far as I know, I’ve always had it on.” Felix shook her head. “No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get it off. Still can’t. I can’t even do such simple things.”

Dawn eyed her incredulously. “So… so you just walk round in a cat costume all o’ the time?”

Felix nodded. “Terrible o’ me, right?”

Dawn shrugged. “Hey, it’s a free city. If you want to wear a cat costume everywhere you go, that’s your industry.” Then she added, “You don’t hate how you look, d’you?”

“Nothing ’bout me is good…”

“So, I take that as a yes,” Dawn said. “Is that why you always wear the costume?”

“I can’t take it off. If I could, I would. I’m sorry: I know that’s an awful ’scuse.”

Dawn looked ’head o’ her with crocheted brows.

I still can’t tell if she’s going full Andy Kaufman or not, & I feel terrible for being unsure.

She decided it’d be safer to assume the latter. She patted Felix on the shoulder & said, “You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No need to be.”

“I’m sorry ’bout that, too.”

Dawn blinked @ her.

“Anyway, I s’pose we’d better get some sleep,” Dawn said.

“O, if you want, I can guard you during the night. I don’t really need the sl—”

“That’s OK,” Dawn said.

Dawn reached into the back o’ her jacket, pulled out a baseball bat, & tossed it next to her bed. Then she climbed into bed & covered everything under her head with blanket.

“Are you sure you don’t need an extra bed? I truly don’t need it; I’ve slept on the floor plenty o’ nights.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dawn said, & then instantly regretted it.

Felix paused with her patented golden blank stare. Dawn noticed that Felix seemed to have perpetual rings under her eyes, as if the Programmers specifically designer her to look as wretched as possible just for cheap laughs.

“I’m sorry for being so unruly,” Felix said.

Dawn sighed. “That’s truly not necessary…”

“I’m sorry everything I do is unnecessary. I’ll stop pestering you.”

As Felix walked over to her bed with her eyes glued to the carpet, she thought, Well, there’s yet ’nother person whose life I completely ruined.

Dawn only stared forward in exhausted horror, unsure what she should do. Should I try to get this complete stranger psychological help? This late? The mo’ she thought ’bout it, the goofier the idea sounded.

But what if she does herself in tonight? Dawn shuddered as she forced her mind to suppress memories, felt her skin bubble with goose bumps @ the various gruesome images that rushed through her head: her roommate lying airless on her bed from an intentional overdose; or perhaps hanging from a rope tied to the ceiling, neck bent & eyes vacant; or with a sharp object stabbed straight through her chest—or perhaps just the emptiness o’ her silent disappearance, never to be found by anyone ever ’gain. Bile burned up Dawn’s throat as a volcano ready to erupt. She thought she’d rather die than see someone else die ’gain.

She peeked out from under the blankets to see Felix lying uncovered on her bed, staring vacantly @ the ceiling. She shuttered to think ’bout what thoughts might be ambling inside that quiet brain.

“Uh… Felix? You sure you’re not cold without the blanket on?”

“Yes, but I think I probab—”

“Surely you couldn’t have done something that terrible…” Dawn said uneasily.

“I haven’t done anything good, either.”

“I doubt that,” Dawn said. “Just… Why don’t you just put the covers on & drift to sleep, comfortable & thinking pleasant thoughts.”

Dawn knew she’d make a terrible counselor.

“But why would you want me to enjoy anything when I’ve been such a rude roommate so much?”

“Uh… ’cause we’re partners, remember? & that’s how partners treat each other,” Dawn said. “Now just get some rest, OK?”


But while Dawn closed her eyes & quickly surfed on to slumber city, Felix merely turned her head to the side opposite Dawn & stared @ the wall just in front o’ her. The mad scientist woman seemed peculiar to her. Though she felt guilty ’bout it, since she was probably not s’posed to do it, she still couldn’t help wondering why the jacket-dressed woman was so strangely intent on making her be happy. Isn’t that the opposite o’ what she deserved? Wasn’t happiness s’posed to be reserved for the quality people, such as the mad-scientist woman? Why even have happiness if it had to be wasted on the losers like herself?

Must be ’cause she’s a mad scientist. She knows I’m a monster, & must like me ’cause o’ that.

Though she knew that only made the scientist woman wrong, Felix still couldn’t help feeling a… feeling o’ excitement ’bout her.

You shouldn’t be wasting your time on these thoughts, she chided herself. However nice she is, she still wouldn’t want her life to be ruined even mo’ by having to spent even mo’ o’ it round you.

She did say I was her partner, though Nobody has ever said they wanted to befriend me before.

& nobody ever will. She was saying that out o’ pity—pity a spoiled brat like you doesn’t deserve.

& then Felix shuddered herself, in fear that she was passing way too far into the realm o’ selfish waste. She shut her eyes, hoping sleep would stave off this feeling. As she waited for sleep to hit, she devised ways she could punish herself to make up for these scandalous indulgences.

V. Daughters o’ Plunder

Darkness had transformed into dull blue light when Autumn’s eyes opened ’gain. She could see by looking out the still-open window @ the dark trees & periwinkle sky that ‘twas in the awkward period ’tween late night & sunrise—probably round 5 or 6.

Though ‘twas still rather chilly from the outside air blowing in, she didn’t feel anything she wouldn’t normally feel on an early morning such as this. She raised her arm & looked @ it to see that ’twas no longer pale.

’Ventually, she sat up on the edge o’ the bed, yawned, & put on her shoes. She turned back to Edgar & debated the cons o’ hesitating too long when the morn was so fresh versus spoiling such a precious sleep.

Finally, she nudged him, & whispered, “Psst, Edgar.”

Edgar turned on his other side toward Autumn & said in a low voice, “What’s wrong?”

“I thought we could spend the few hours we have ’fore the others wake to get an early start. We’ll just make a quick check o’ each general area 1st, just to snap up any obvious treasures ’fore the others do, & then do mo’ detailed treasure hunting once Heureuse’s told us what she plans to tell us.”

Edgar nodded & sat up, holding his robe tighter round himself to make up for the warmth lost from leaving the covers. Then he stood up followed Autumn out the door.

Thanks to the windows—giant stained-glass windows with rounded tops & yellow-crescent-moon & star patterns painted on them—the hallways were much lighter than last night, hazy off-black replaced by a cobalt tint that revealed as much as it hid. Though, unlike last time, Autumn remembered to take her flashlight, she still appreciated not needing to rely on its meager beam to see. As they say: Batteries saved today are batteries that remain for a future fray.

They searched through each door to the left o’ their room, only to find a lot o’ empty bedrooms, a bedroom-sized closet, & a bathroom.

Then ’gain, they did ’ventually find 1 notable in a room near the hall’s end: a giant plum-colored rose with a mouth in its center, bordered with sharp fangs, as well as 4 brambled arms with sharp-edged yellow-brown leaves @ each end. Green drool dribbled from its lower chin petals as it emitted what sounded like a mix ’tween a growl & a squeak. Though it had no eyes, Autumn & Edgar could discern just by its lurch that ‘twas hungry.

The plant appeared to turn to Autumn & released a squeaky sound that actually sounded somewhat like English—as if it said, “Water… Give me water… So thirsty…”

Autumn gently closed the door, & then they both tiptoed ’way while the rose monster continued its barks, only mo’ loudly.

@ this point, Autumn rummaged through her pockets for a small spiral notebook & opened it to its 1st empty page. Taking out a pencil she scribbled out a simple diagram o’ the hallway, adding notes on each room in the margins.

“This’ll help us later,” she said.

Soon they reached the end o’ the hall & saw a suit o’ armor. Only, ‘twas moving, clambering down the stairs from the 3rd floor. It stopped near the bottom o’ the stairs, just as Autumn paused 2 meters ’way. Autumn couldn’t confirm whether or not the suit was looking @ her due to its concealing helmet; but she could ascertain that she’d seen it moving ’live.

Edgar, meanwhile, cowered ’hind Autumn, wrapping his arms round her waist as if attaching himself to a shield.

The suit said in a low voice, “Uh… Boss, I think someone caught me. What should I do?” He paused for a few seconds ’fore continuing, “Well, what should I do with her?” ’Nother pause. “Uh, OK.”

Then he turned & bolted back up the stairs.

Autumn stared the stairs up & down, scratching her head.

“D’you think maybe we should go back, in case she starts without us?” Edgar asked, the chattering o’ his teeth betraying the true reason he wanted to go.

Autumn checked her phone. “It’s already 9.” She looked @ Edgar. “She didn’t say when we were s’posed to be up, did she?”

“No, I, uh, think she was planning to wake us up or something,” Edgar said.

Autumn returned her phone to her pocket. “We might as well check if she’s up.”

When they entered the main room, they saw that Madame Heureuse wasn’t there; but Dawn & Felix were, chatting ’bout something that held no interest to Autumn. Dawn’s head poked up from ’hind the back o’ the couch to see who was entering.

“O, hey Autumn,” Dawn said. “Not much o’ a sleeper, are you?”

“Have you seen Heureuse?” Autumn asked.

Dawn slid back to her seat. “Nope. We were just waiting for her here.”

“Hmm…” Autumn bit onto her index finger. Well, might as well not wait for nothing. She released her finger from her mouth to say, “If you ever see her, holler for us.”

“Where are you going?” Dawn asked, turning over the arm o’ the couch to look @ Autumn ’gain.

“I have work to do,” Autumn said.

“Hey, you’re planning on getting a head start on searching for treasure ’fore us,” Dawn said.

Autumn decided there was no bread in replying to Dawn any further, so she quickened her pace down the other hallway, Edgar following just ’hind.

Dawn turned to Felix & said, “Well, I guess we’d better get going ’fore she takes everything. She’s the type who could find a hair o’ hay in a needle stack.”

To be continued…