J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 2 ☆ 2015 April 1

XI. Run

Felix didn’t care that they were obviously lost. She didn’t care that she hadn’t drunk or eaten anything for o’er a day & was feeling a li’l dizzy-headed (’sides, she had to constantly remind herself that such thoughts were selfish). She didn’t care that it seemed to be getting dark & spooky so soon, e’en though they didn’t have a flashlight or anything to make it easier to see. All she knew was that not everything was her fault, & that ’twas the happiest day o’ her life.

That was when something odd happened: Dawn, who had been checking every door they’d passed so far, had stopped @ 1 that was gray with tiny bolts all ’long its edges. She was turning its knob & trying to push it in, to no avail.

She stopped & stared @ the door, puzzled. “That’s odd. Why is this door, out o’ all o’ them, locked?” She rubbed her chin. “Well, it’s obvious this room must be important in some way.”

She dug through her pockets & pulled out her stapler. But when she put it in the keyhole & twisted it, she noticed it wasn’t locked, & also staplers shouldn’t be able to fit in keyholes. & yet, when she tried to push the door open, leaning her shoulder on it with all o’ her strength, it wouldn’t budge.

“Must be bolted down or something,” she said.

Felix stepped closer, without daring to touch Dawn, & said, “Uh, I don’t want to be rude, jacket-dressed woman, but—”

“Hey, what do you think you 2 are doing?”

Dawn turned back to the stuffy voice & saw to her shock a suit o’ armor walking toward them. While Felix stood & stared blankly, Dawn backed gainst the wall, gaping @ it as one would @ a tiger or tank, or anything else that was probably going to make you dead soon.

“I said, what are you 2 doing here?” asked the armor. “You 2 are trespassing. That’s not friendly. Get lost or else something unfriendly will happen.”

From ’hind the door, which Dawn’s head was right up gainst, Dawn could barely hear a muffled voice say, “Agent Screamin’ Green, these 2 are not as dangerous as the ponytailed devil & the skeleton wizard, so try to capture them. Perhaps we’ll be able to get some info out o’ them.”

As Dawn heard this, she eyed the armor, which had stopped as the voice in the room began speaking. Now she could see it begin to move its feet.

Before it had a chance, Dawn grabbed Felix’s hand & ran in the other direction. As they went, Dawn could hear—& feel—thumping gainst the floor below her feet. She turned & saw that the suit was on the floor, having probably leapt @ them. However, ’twas already scrambling back to its feet, causing Dawn to put mo’ pump ’hind her own legs’ sprint.

This proved problematic for Felix. She was not good @ running—she was not good @ anything, she reminded herself. The physical exertion o’ their movement made Felix feel breath-broken, & no matter how much she tried to stop herself from panting so loudly, which would only alert the jacket-dressed woman to her wimpiness, she couldn’t stop herself. Worse, her feet kept tripping under her, till she was down on the floor, practically being dragged by the jacket-dressed woman.

Dawn looked downback to see Felix on her knees, panting, her flushed face focused on the carpet. Dawn then looked up & saw the armor gaining.

“You truly should just leave me ’hind,” Felix said with troubled breaths. “I’ll only hold you back & make you lose your valuable life for my valueless 1.”

Dawn paused to think. Then she lifted Felix to her feet & stared directly into her eyes, causing Felix to cringe in expectation for punishment. ’Stead, Dawn pointed an arm ’hind her.

“Felix, go on ’head as fast as you can. I’ll stall this creep.”

“What, but—”

“That is an order. Do it this instant,” Dawn said with a stern stare & her arrow arm aimed out e’en farther.

Though Felix knew this would cause harm to the jacket-dressed woman, she daren’t disobey & make her despise Felix e’en mo’ than she probably already did. So, with a sagging heart, she scampered down the hall. All the while she fantasized ’bout wrapping herself in a bag & throwing herself to the sea e’en mo’ than usual for her usual cowardice.

Meanwhile, Dawn stood ’hind in the middle o’ the hall with her arms & legs stretched out. The armor, nearing, leapt @ Dawn, only for her to charge @ it with her shoulder, knocking them both back, & causing Dawn’s shoulder to shake with agony.

Since she was only knocked on her ass, she should have been able to get up ’fore the armor, which was thrown prone; however, ’fore she could stand, the armor’s hand reached up & grasped her foot.

The armor raised its head to stare @ Dawn—a’least she s’posed that was why. The mask o’ its helmet concealed all emotion; only by its mobility could she tell ‘twas sentient.

It said, “Don’t think you can ’scape so simply: I’m promised a bonus if I capture you, & I’ll be damned if I’m giving that up.”

Dawn reached into the space ’tween her jacket collar & her neck & fiddled round with a Velcro latch inside, only for the armor to mutter, “Shit,” & then do what looked to Dawn to be a belly flop onto the rest o’ Dawn, holding her elbows down with his other hand. Afterward, it lifted its face & upper body off o’ her a li’l while keeping her elbows & lower body held down tightly to the floor.

“Er… Sorry ’bout this, but I can’t have you doing anything that might help you ’scape,” said it, its voice sounding as if ’twere being sucked back into his throat.

Then it said mo’ sturdily, “Boss, what do you want me to do with her? Well, yeah, OK, but I don’t have any rope or anything to tie her with.” It tilted its head upward ’gain & said, “’Scuse me, Madame, but would you by chance have any rope or string or anything I could tie your wrists together with that I could borrow. I swear it’ll be no discomfort @ all.”

Dawn stared @ it for the next few seconds ’fore answering, “Sure, let me reach into my inner pockets.”

“Uh, OK… uh, actually, the boss says, I say… you’re just trying to trick me into releasing your arms so you can hit me something, aren’t you?”

Dawn paused to consider how to answer.

After a long hesitation, she answered, “No.”

“I’m ’fraid you might be lying,” said the armor.

“Check my outside pockets; you won’t find any string in them,” said Dawn.

“But, Sir, how can I do anything if I don’t have any string to tie her up with?” the armor said to the air ’gain. “I know, I’m sorry, Sir, but what am I to do?”

“How are you talking to that guy ’hind the door?” asked Dawn. “Is it some kind o’ supernatural powers, or something? Who is that guy, anyway?”

“Uh, that’s, that’s… that’s sensitive info, Madame,” said the armor.

“I fail to see how the occult could be sensitive info,” said Dawn. “What, are you ’fraid some competing ghosts will steal your ideas?”


“Well, I can assure you that if I e’er talk to ’nother ghost, your secret will be safe with me,” said Dawn.

“I’m ’fraid it’s still impossible for me to say anything.”

Dawn was getting impatient with this roadblock. For 1, her arms were getting tired from being held in this same position for so long, which also caused her back to feel strained, & the rest o’ her body was feeling pain from this guy’s heaviness pressing down on it for so long. Mo’ importantly, she wanted to leave quickly so she could go find Felix, whom she was ’fraid would probably ’ventually rush back to try saving her—& then the whole thing would be for naught.

The problem was, the cream seemed to all be in the armor’s tea. E’en if it couldn’t find any string with which to tie her, ’ventually its boss would probably call for backup.

This made her wonder, why would the supernatural need string to tie someone up? The ghosts before could just make people levitate upside-down @ will.

All I need is for it to loosen its grip round my elbows.

She sighed. “OK, you know what: I lied ’bout not having any string. It’s in my right jacket pocket. Just hurry up with whatever you’re doing—your weight is killing me.”

“Uh, OK.” It took its right hand off her elbows, its left hand still holding them down, & then tried to push its upper body off o’ her upper body so it could reach her pockets, which caused her to cringe from the pain o’ its weight pressing her elbows e’en farther into the ground. It didn’t work without making the rest o’ its body rise, too; the armor seemed to make it impossible for it to bend its knees & use just them to keep her legs down.

So while ‘twas awkwardly trying to dig through her right pocket with the other hand, she bent her knees up & kicked him in the stomach area. It didn’t seem to faze him much mo’ than making him say, “Hey!” but it did seem to faze him ’nough to loosen his hold o’er her so that when she shook rightward with full force, she was able to make it topple off her.

Now free, she quickly leapt to her feet & yanked her hands out from ’hind her back—’long with a cracked wooden baseball bat. Without wait, she slammed the bat as hard as she could down @ the armor’s hand as it tried to reach for her feet ’gain.

What the armor did afterward, Dawn didn’t know: she didn’t spend a single second lingering & ran down the hall. She was meters ’way ’fore she dared look o’ershoulder. Though ‘twas too dark to see far, a’least she knew it wasn’t near, nor could she hear any footsteps, which she’d expect from such heavy armor.

Then ’gain, maybe it has magic to make it move noiselessly.

She then turned her head in loops to see if she could find Felix. She was ’fraid to actually call her name, though, for that would only attract mo’ attention from whatever other occult figures lurked.

’Twas while her eyes were ’hind her, ensuring for the 30th time that the armor wasn’t on her shadow, that she bumped into something from the front, its forward force felling her on her ass ’gain.

She reached back into her back as she swung her face back ’head o’ her.

Luckily for Dawn, though, this was an occult creature she didn’t mind seeing too much: the familiar shaking skeleton in his plum-colored robe.

XII. Innocence

A thought persisted in Felix’s mind: Is this or is this not my fault?

Mo’ significantly, Felix didn’t know what she should now do. ‘Twas an awful long time since she left the jacket-dressed woman; the jacket-dressed woman should’ve caught up with Felix by now. Maybe she was captured by the scary knight monster. Maybe she was captured by the scary knight monster & was expecting Felix to come back & help her.

It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have left her. I should’ve thought mo’ ’bout doing what helps her mo’ than what she says. ’Sides, what if I misheard her? Felix’s breathing became mo’ labored. People always complain that I ne’er understand what they tell me to do right; maybe I did that here. She’s probably far ’way right now, getting eaten by dragons & she’s thinking ’bout what a horrible person I am.

She stared down @ the carpet with her same blank eyes & slumped her shoulders, too tired from her constant disappointment in herself to will herself to tears, or e’en be sad. She always felt that to indulge in sadness would be to insinuate that she had something to be sad ’bout—that she had been wronged—when ‘twas always the other way round: she had always been treated well—much better than her efforts were worth, she thought; she just wished she could do something that was useful ’nough to deserve such good treatment. & now, here was someone who treated her practically like a queen, & she failed her.

I thought she might like me, but I guess I failed that

Her thoughts were interrupted by what sounded like squishing & slurping. She turned her head to both sides & moved farther down the hall till she narrowed it down to 1 door. Without fear,—for why would she have fear when the worst that could happen would be what she would expect, what she would deserve?—she turned the knob & opened the door.

Inside she saw a rose monster. It clearly wasn’t just a regular rose: ‘twas bigger than most roses, it had a gaping hole in the middle o’ its petals with yellow fangs round it, & it had spikey leaf arms poking out from its dirt bed in its orange pot.

She figured she probably should’ve run ’way—that’s what a smart person would’ve done, anyway. A smart person would’ve tiptoed back out the door, slowly closed it ’hind her, & then left in tiptoes that soon sprang into sprinting.

But Felix didn’t consider herself a smart person, & ’stead, moved in closer to the plant, staring @ it with her usual blank gaze. After a cursory look, she saw a chair, which she pulled out & sat on, watching the plant with her head in her upraised hands while her elbows rested on the desk.

“How are you doing, Sir Plant?” asked she. She knew ‘twas male—which was odd, since flowers are usually hermaphrodites.

Felix always liked plants. She liked them ’cause they always had much lower standards than people. She was almost certain that if she ran up to a garden o’ tulips, none o’ them would pull their rooty feet out o’ the ground & walk ’way. She had ne’er experienced a time when she was smelling a sunflower & it spit in her face & told her to go shoot herself.

The rose monster made mo’ squishy sounds & seemed to emit a squeaky growl. After a while, these growls e’en seemed to sound like actual English words—as if ‘twere saying, “Get me water… I’m thirsty…”

Felix blinked @ it. She had oft held the suspicion that she could communicate with plants—a suspicion she kept to herself, ’course, since ‘twas obviously stupid.

Still, e’en if she couldn’t talk to plants, it’d be rude not to when said plant clearly made an effort to do so for her.

“Did you just say you’re thirsty & you wanted some water?” asked she.

“Yesssss,” the rose monster squealed & squished back.

Felix stood up from her chair & said, “Uh, I can get you some water if you want. Would you like that?”


“OK, I’ll be right back.”

Felix rushed out the room & down the hall with renewed excitement, happy to be able to help someone ’gain. This time I won’t let down my new friend, she thought as she rushed through the hallway, checking all o’ the doors, not e’en bothering to be quiet in her work or to e’en shut the doors when she was finished with them.

She began to worry ’bout the long time ‘twas taking for her to find someplace with water, & thought maybe the rose monster would get angry or e’en dehydrate to death if she didn’t hurry, when she remembered something she heard last night when she 1st entered this place: Madame Heureuse said that that 1 woman with the ponytail & her skeleton friend came in through a window in the bathroom.

The bathroom must be on the 1st floor!

Then she remembered that that was where she & the jacket-dressed woman went when they were caught by the spooky knight monsters. She debated whether she should go back down there when ‘twas so dangerous. Wouldn’t the jacket-dressed woman get angry if she went back down there, probably disobeying her command?

But then she thought o’ the rose monster & vexed o’er how it might be furious if it dehydrated to death & ‘twas all her fault.

So she decided to check the 1st floor, with the silent promise that she’d be super careful. She dashed all the way down to the main room & then through the 1st floor hallway. ’Twas near then she also remembered seeing a bathroom-like area when the jacket-dressed woman was looking inside each room.

After a few tries, she soon found the bathroom, only to realize when she reached to turn on the faucet that she had nothing to put any water in. She began to panic ’gain @ what would be ’nother glorious failure o’ hers when she noticed the cabinet ’bove the sink. She opened it & grabbed a random bottle off the shelf.

1st, she rattled it to check if there was anything inside. When she heard that there were a bunch o’ li’l things inside it, she debated whether it would be nice to steal this bottle that was clearly being used for something else.

After a while, she decided, yes: Though I shouldn’t take this bottle, I need to to keep the rose monster ’live, which is mo’ important I think. There’s no other way to fix the problem—a’least I’m too dumb to think o’ a better solution. She squeezed her head & cringed as she thought, Ooo! Why can’t I e’er think like a useful person? Augh! I can’t help being dumb! I can’t control it

Then she remembered what the jacket-dressed woman had said: If you can’t control it, it’s not your fault.

Her eyes brightened & she felt the blood rush through her veins. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault! It’s OK!

With her spirits raised, she dumped the bottle’s contents—a bunch o’ small white medicine pills—in her hand & set them by the side o’ the sink. Then she turned on the faucet & filled the bottle till ‘twas almost full before twisting its cap back on & turning off the faucet.

Then she rushed out the bathroom & up to the 2nd floor, her eyes glued to the small bottle o’ water she held lovingly to her chest, only to suddenly smack into something hard & metally.

“Hey, watch where you’re going,” said a muffled, stuffy voice.

“Oops, sorry, Sssss—”

The thing she bumped into turned round & revealed itself to be the haunted knight.

The knight jumped back, “Ahh! It’s you!”

Felix didn’t jump back, nor did her blank stare change; but her heart did start beating frantically, which she could feel under her bottle. Her fur also started to stand—what usually happens when she’s ’fraid, though she ne’er understood how, her fur merely being a part o’ her costume & all.

But she wasn’t ’fraid for her life, which wasn’t terribly valuable, anyway; what she was terrified o’ was that the 1 thing the jacket-dressed woman wanted her to do was to ’scape from the evil knight monster. That was why the jacket-dressed woman was captured. & now she had already failed that goal, & the jacket-dressed woman’s brave actions would be for nothing.

“Sir, I ran into the cat person ’gain,” said the knight. “What should I do with her?”

Felix raised her hand & said, “Um, ’scuse me, knight Sir… I don’t want to rudely interrupt your talk, but could I ask what you did with the jacket-dressed woman?”

“That’s sensitive information, Madame,” said the knight. Felix noticed the knight, for some reason, look down @ its left hand & cup it with his other hand.

“Anyway, Sir Cham—I mean, the boss has instructed me to capture you ’gain, so… so try to be easy ’bout it, OK. This is not an easy job.” The knight’s voice began to rise into a whine.

“Um, I don’t want to be rude, but I already promised the jacket-dressed woman I wouldn’t be captured by you, & then I promised this nice li’l rose monster I would get it water.”

“Listen, Madame: I don’t have time to play games here.”

“I’m sorry,” said Felix, her voice weakening as she thought ’bout how she was totally mussing this up, how she was being rude to the jacket-dressed woman, the rose monster, & now this knight monster.

“Yeah, I bet you are,” the knight said as he leaned his head closer to Felix. “I bet you’re a real wise guy… girl… whatever.”

“What? No!” said Felix, her pupils for once dilating in fear. She could stand the risk o’ being hideously mauled; but the prospect o’ being rude to someone was too much for her to bear.

“Yeah, that’s what I—”

He stopped. He could hear stomps clambering by ’bove his head. With what he hoped would be lightning movement, but was truly mo’ like rainy movement, he grabbed Felix, turned her round, & then held her wrists ’hind her back while his other hand clamped o’er her mouth. Then he stepped o’er to the nearest door & quietly opened the door, quietly moved them both inside, & quietly closed the door, backing ’way from it just in case 1 o’ them decided to check inside.

He put his face close to Felix’s ear, which felt so cold to her that she couldn’t keep her ear from twitching. “Don’t you dare make a peep, you hear me?” whispered he. “Or else I’ll… I’ll… I’ll say something that will cut you like a chainsaw.”

Felix wanted to nod, but feared he might consider that something like a peep, & so ’stead decided to just stand there & do as much o’ nothing as possible. She wasn’t so sure she wanted to run into whatever was stampeding down the halls like horse ghosts—or maybe e’en ghost horses—so she couldn’t truly blame the knight monster for wanting to avoid them, too.

Unluckily, she actually found doing nothing surprisingly difficult to do: there were plenty o’ itches she wanted to scratch, weird feelings in her throat she wanted to swallow, & eyes she wanted to blink. Trying not to blink was hats-down the hardest, since it made her eyes feel so hot & painful.

The knight noticed this & thought she might be trying something funny, so he whispered to her, “What the hell d’you think you’re doing?

Felix truly wanted to answer, but knew it would break his previous commandment not to speak, so she simply resumed doing nothing & hoped he would discover the answer himself.

“Hey, knock it off, ya idiot,” whispered he. “Blink your god damn eyes already!”

Felix shut her eyes as hard as she could.

“OK, now open them back up, you idiot,” whispered he.

Felix did so.

“OK, now just keep doing that every so oft, OK.”

Felix tried to understand his complex instructions & began to despair when she failed.

Soon after, the footsteps passed by their door & then became softer as they went off in the distance.

“Good: I think they’re gone,” he whispered as he turned his head to the door. Then he turned back to Felix & whispered, “Stay here.”

He went o’er to the door & opened it a crack—just ’nough to poke his head out & see down each end o’ the hallway. Fortunately for him, he saw no lives nearby.

Felix rubbed her wrists, which felt rather sore after being held so tightly by such hard, metallic hands. Then, as she looked down @ her wrists, she noticed the bottle & remembered her other promise.

“O no! I forgot I still need to feed the rose monster!”

The knight turned his head back & said, “What?”

Felix rushed o’er to the door & said, “’Scuse me, please,” as she centimetered the door open just wide ’nough for her to squeeze through.

“O no you don’t!” he whispered as he grasped for her; but she slipped through ’fore he could grab her.

“Shit,” muttered he.

He took 1 last look round the hallway just to be extra sure no one was round & then slowly walked after her, ’fraid to make too much noise. Unfortunately, Felix was running so fast in her attempt to reach the rose monster as swiftly as possible that the knight found it impossible to keep up—& in fact, he was actually trailing ’hind.

Felix reached the door to the rose monster—which she found easily, thanks to her forgetting to close the door—& ran up to the plant.

“I got you some water, Sir Plant,” she said excitedly, despite her diced breaths.

The rose monster made mo’ squishy sounds, & its leafy hands e’en seemed to rub each other greedily as the rose tilted its head downward, watching her twist the cap off the bottle. She lifted the bottle to pour it into the rose’s mouth, only for it to clutch her hand & pull the bottle o’er its mouth, dumping the sweet liquids into its mouth. It emitted slurping sounds, like water rushing down a sink drain, as it gurgled it down.

When the rose monster saw that the bottle had been emptied, it released Felix’s hand. She rubbed it with her other hand, eyes still on the rose monster.

“Sorry it probably wasn’t ’nough; this was the only bottle I could find,” said Felix.

The rose monster didn’t seem to pay much attention to her. ’Stead, it seemed to focus mo’ on itself. She couldn’t blame it: the fact that ’twas now glowing & twisting in weird ways made it the kind o’ thing one would be expected to pay attention to.

Then she noticed the plant was twisting in a way that made it grow, so that its pot burst open into many small shards, & from ’neath it spread thousands o’ vine-like tentacles. Soon the rose monster had grown so large that its head almost reached the ceiling.

It tilted its plum-petalled head up to the ceiling & released a squeal so sharp & loud that, it sounded as if ‘twere trying to roar. & then it slithered down off the desk & out the door, its tentacles beating up & down gainst the carpet as it moved.

Felix stood by the door & watched as it went down the hall, suddenly feeling proud o’ doing something good for once. She clutched her heart, shaking with joy, hoping this moment would last forever.

Then she saw the knight she ran into just recently clomp to a stop in front o’ the rose monster & yell, “Boss, I have a li’l problem here!” ’fore being picked up by 1 o’ the rose monster’s leafy hands & thrown into its bowl-like head, only to disappear inside. Felix could hear what sounded like snapping & chewing.

As she watched it continue its way down the hall, she thought, Gee, I hope that guy was OK. I mean, I’m sure that rose monster knows what it’s doing; & I probably shouldn’t be trying to tell it what to do. It’d probably get mad @ me.

& then Felix looked down @ her feet & slumped her shoulders ’gain, distraught @ probably losing ’nother friend. For now that the rose monster had evolved so much, it seemed that e’en it had grown into something much too valuable to waste its time with Felix.

XIII. Old Friend

Since he heard the knocking on his door—which he knew by looking @ his monitors was not any o’ his minions, & told his minions to stay ’way for a while—Lance made sure to be utterly silent in the hopes that whoever ’twas knocking—Probably that vile looter. She’s always getting in my way—would ’ventually go ’way.

Meanwhile, he still tried averting his eyes from Agent Screamin’ Green’s monitor, which showed intriguing visuals, wherever he was now.

That idiot’s money-grubbing family better not sue me just ’cause he got his idiotic self killed on the job.

When he felt ’nough time had been spent without any mo’ noise from the other side o’ the door, he crept o’er to it &, after putting his ear to it for 1 last check, unbolted it & opened it a peek to see if his uninvited guests had finally left.

When he looked forward & right, he saw that there was no one there, but was e’er conscious o’ not just the sounds o’ footsteps coming from his left, but also some weird squishing & growling sounds. He turned his head left & saw that 1 woman with the tacky jacket & stupid cap & the skeleton—but, strangely, not Autumn—running toward him, with some towering tentacle monster with a purple-red rose for a head straight out o’ a cheap 50s horror flick lumbering after them.

Lance did the only logical thing he could: he slammed the door & bolted it ’gain. Then he waited & listened, his ear to the door ’gain, only to hear the same noises he heard before. As he heard them drift ’way in the distance, he unbolted & opened his door ’gain to get ’nother look, only to hear a loud whump! from the other side o’ his door, as well as a loud voice say, “Ow! Fuck!”

Lance felt he recognized that voice—though mo’ stuffy than usual. He peeked round the door to see Autumn sitting on the floor, cringing & holding her nose as blood dribbled down the sides o’ her hand.

When Autumn reopened her eyes, she took a deep breath & said, voice still stuffy, “My fortunes improve. Tell you what: smack me in the face with that door ’gain & then immediately leave my presence. It’d be less painful for me.”

“I should’ve guessed you’d be the 1 ’hind this,” said Lance, fingers tightening round the door frame. “Thought you could sic some crazy plant monster on me so you could break in & ruin my whole operation, huh?”

Autumn stood & said, “I don’t have time to deal with your inane bullshit, though I do thank you for breaking my nose,” ’fore running past him.

As he watched her go, Lance muttered to himself, “We can clearly see I won that round…”

He shut the door ’hind him, but didn’t lock it. Then he made his way back to his microphone & said into it, “Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty & Agent Red, you 2 still have the treasure, correct?”

“Yes, Sir,” said them both.

“We decided to go up higher than the 4th floor, since they seemed to be the least-used floors,” said Agent Red. “We found this great, large room on floor 6 that is full o’ clutter, & perfect for hiding in.”

“Perfect. That will be my new hideout. This 1’s location has been compromised. While they haven’t been able to find a way to break in, I still cannot tolerate that ponytailed devil listening in on our communications, nor could we transfer treasure while she’s watching 24/7. Right now they seem to be preoccupied by some mindless pap, so now’s the perfect time to move. Get o’er here immediately so you can escort me there.”

“Uh, should we take the treasure & the hostage with us?” asked Agent Red.

Lance clutched his forehead. “Augh. I forgot you guys captured that idiot. Ne’er mind. Agent Red, you come & escort me. Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty, you stay there & guard.”

“Aye aye, cap’n,” said Purple.

Lance spent the long wait pacing, e’er nervous o’ when something else might march by & make a mess o’ his plans. Though he intentionally left the door unlocked, figuring he would be leaving soon anyway, he went & bolted it, just to be extra sure, & as a way to distract him.

Then he took out his cell & called for mo’ o’ his minions to arrive, to replace Agent Screamin’ Green & to help him carry all o’ his stuff—including his monitors, which would take mo’ than a few hands. He feared he’d have to take multiple trips.

The 1 item he did decide to take himself was the backpack he stole from Autumn. He’d been so busy so far he hadn’t e’en looked in it yet; but, as he stared @ it sitting on his table, he realized he now had plenty o’ seconds to spend, & that now would be a good time to check through it & see what the dirty looter’s secrets were.

He unzipped it & began pulling objects out, 1st finding the bags o’ trail mix & water bottles he already saw before. How can she eat this crap? thought he. He couldn’t e’en bear spending these few days without gourmet meals, which was why he arranged for his butler to drive by & sneak food in through his secret entrance every few hours—what he recognized as hours, a’least, he thought as he glared @ his cellphone clock ’gain.

A lot o’ the other things in her backpack were rather rudimentary: rope, string, & various other vulgar tools. He also found a few wads o’ ₧ in a few different places, which he pocketed. He wasn’t sure what the weird tissue-like things in some box were for, though; he thought they looked odd for tissues, but then he thought maybe that’s the cheap kind poor people use.

Then he found it—the most important item in her backpack: a red spiral notebook with hearts & stars all o’er the front.

This must be where she keeps all o’ her devious plans, he thought as he gripped it tightly. Think o’ all the thefts I’d be able to expose with this. Imagine if a court o’ law saw this. E’en those looter-loving socialists wouldn’t be able to acquit her.

Just then he heard a knock on his door & heard Agent Red say in his earpiece, “Sir Chamsby, I’m here. Everything’s fogless so far.”

He said into the microphone, “I’ll be there in a minute,” & then quickly stuffed everything back into Autumn’s backpack & slung it o’er his arms.

Augh. How can she bear to lug this bulky thing round all the time?

He unbolted the door & opened it just ’nough for Red to squeeze in & then shut it & locked it ’hind him ’gain.

“I thought we were leaving, Sir,” said Red.

“I called for some extra assistance to help us carry everything, but I don’t know if I can trust them to find our new place, or not lead anyone else there,” said Lance.

“Uh, I can take you there, Sir, & then come back here to help your other assistants, if you desire.”

Lance paused, still on the steps, with his hand on his chin.

“That would be a good compromise ’tween these problems,” said Lance. “Good idea, Agent Red. You know, you are surprisingly much mo’ confident than the other 2 boneheads, e’en despite your unfortunate choice o’ color name.”

“I’ve ne’er been very creative, Sir.”

“That’s OK. I understand that red can mean many good things, too. A’least you’re not like that 1 joker who came in calling himself ‘Radical Red.’ That is something up with which I will not put.” Lance raised his index to demonstrate this point.

They both exited the room, Lance locking the door from the outside with his key. Agent Red carried 2 suitcases full o’ his most important items while Lance only carried the backpack still on his back.

“Sir, I can carry that backpack for you, if you want,” said Red.

“That’s fine,” Lance said with a wave o’ his hand. After discovering the notebook to the ponytailed looter’s secrets, he was determined ne’er to let it ’scape his grasp, no matter what unbearable conditions he would have to shoulder.

They both continued down the hall, Lance glancing all o’er the place, wary o’ any monster that might try to attack him @ any moment. He ne’er wanted a repeat o’ the fiasco with the ghosts last night.

But when they reached the 2nd floor, Lance suddenly had a bold idea & stopped @ the top o’ the stairs, which caused Agent Red to stop as well.

“Hmm… It’s getting awfully late, don’t you think, Agent Red?” He checked the clock on his phone, & then angrily put it back, just remembering that ’twas still, & would likely be for a long time, 11:59 PM.

“Don’t worry, Sir: you can rest when we reach your new hideout.”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Lance. “I want to check something real quick.”

He walked up to 1 o’ the doors & gently twisted the knob loose. Then he took a silent gulp & opened the door a crack to stare inside. To his excitement, he found his somewhat farfetched proposition to be true: Autumn & her minion were lying, eyes shut, on their bed, & the woman with the ugly hat & tacky jacket was asleep on the other bed.

Well isn’t that just precious. Too bad your cute li’l snuggling won’t protect you now.

“Forgive me for asking, Sir, but why are we checking in on these people?” Agent Red whispered into his ear.

“Agent Red, how strong are you?”

“Why, Sir?”

“’Cause I wanted to know if you could carry those 2 ’long with us, & then if you could come back & get the other.”

XIV. Monster

As she turned her head backward & forward, vacillating ’tween seeing how close the rose monster was & seeing where she was going, Dawn noticed that she & Edgar were gaining distance gainst the rose monster.

Sadly, in all o’ this she didn’t notice 2 o’ the rose monster’s vine appendages rise off the ground & leap forward. Its right vine wrapped itself round 1 o’ Dawn’s ankles while the other, being unable to clutch Edgar’s robe-covered feet, pressed down on the edge o’ his robe. Both felt a force jerking them back, causing them to collapse on the floor with a hefty thud.

They both turned back to see the causes o’ their fall just before it lifted Dawn up by her ankle, hanging upside-down in a way, she felt, was reminiscent o’ her run-in with the ghosts.

Edgar, meanwhile, tried to crawl ’way from the monster’s grip, his hands digging backwards into the carpet like a rabid Chihuahua as a way to propel him backward. He soon found the piece o’ his robe that was caught under the monster’s appendage tear apart, giving Edgar release, only for the monster’s appendage to leap forward ’gain, wrapping itself round Edgar’s neck & pulling him up off the ground till he was now floating level with Dawn.

’Cept that by this time, Dawn had already reached into her back & pulled out her baseball bat. She spent solely a small sum o’ seconds to aim so that she would hit the vine arm, but not her own leg, but before the monster saw & intervened. Then she swung, smacking it directly & emitting a noise that sounded both hard & squishy, as if hitting a bag full o’ laundry1.

The rose monster squealed as it released Dawn, which, unluckily for her, caused her to smack hard gainst the carpet on her back, as well as bouncing the bat out o’ her grasp till it landed a meter or so ’way.

She sat up, ready to run, when 2 o’ the monster’s vine appendages wrapped themselves round her neck & torso & lifted her right back off o’ the ground. ’Cept this time she could feel that the monster was furious: it clung to her much mo’ tightly than before, to the point o’ squeezing. Tiny spines on the appendages punctured her in various places. The squelching & stabbing in her neck in particular caused her eyes to bulge & throat to choke, struggling to keep oxygen entering, her mouth hanging open to release empty coughs.

’Twas then that she noticed she was no longer holding her bat. She looked down to see it sitting down on the floor—what seemed miles ’way. So ’stead, she sufficed with grappling the vine round her neck—which only caused her to impale her palms, too—& kicking her legs in the air. For some reason, neither strategy worked.

Edgar was trying similarly—though he’d been doing so long before Dawn started, ne’er having the superior bat trick to try. He was lucky in that his success @ failing to ’scape from the monster’s grasp temporarily did not cause the monster to be angry @ him, focusing most o’ its attention & anger on Dawn, so Edgar merely felt an uncomfortable tightness round his throat, rather than outright choking.

He still wasn’t sure what to do ’bout actually getting down. The monster was unlikely to hold them up in the air all night for cheap laughs—& e’en if that were the case, Edgar was uncomfortable with spending all night up there.

No, wait, he did know what to do—what he was already doing: panicking.

The rose monster released ’nother 1 o’ its squealish roars as it moved its 2 preys closer to its bulbous, twisted face.

By this time, Autumn had caught up with them, & was now standing ’hind the rose monster, looking all o’er ’tween Edgar & Dawn suspended in the air by its viney grip & @ the dozens o’ squirming, wormlike vine tentacles protruding out its stem body.

She could see by the frantic movement o’ Edgar’s hands & legs like a fly caught in a spider web or the way Dawn seemed to flop round under the monster’s grip as a suffocating fish—her eyes bloated, her mouth hanging open, & her face blue—that she did’nt have much time left to conjure up the requisite brilliant plan.

She dug through her pockets for any tools that might be useful; but the only possibly-proximate were those sleeping pills & her li’l screwdriver. She didn’t e’en have her flashlight anymo’, which caused her to mutter while glaring @ the nearest window.

How long is this night going to go on, anyway?

Her eyes glided ’way from the window back to the problem in-progress when she faintly saw something lying on the ground next to said window. Squinting & holding her hand o’er her eyes like a visor,—which might not have actually improved her eyesight in any way—she could see that ‘twas some sort o’ wooden stick.

Should I go get whatever that is? It might help; but then it would also put me in this bastard’s sight, too.

After a quick deliberation, she decided that there was no other option. Well, there was 1 option: she could run ’way. But Edgar was too valuable a partner to leave ’hind. Also, that other woman might not have been happy ’bout it, she s’posed.

Autumn crept quickly round the side o’ the rose monster, tiptoeing o’er every tendril o’ its vinelike arms wriggling round on the carpet as one would do round garbage in a messy apartment. During the final stretch, when she was in the rose monster’s eyespace & could hear it roar, she dived for the stick, rolling as she grabbed it & jumping back onto her feet just after. Now she was standing 5 meters ’way from the monster, staring straight @ it.

She took 1 fast look @ the stick to see that ‘twas a reddish-brown baseball bat with a colony o’ rootlike thin cracks all o’er its rounded end.

She didn’t waste any mo’ time analyzing why there was a cracked bat lying on the floor. ’Stead, she held it tightly in both hands & stared directly @ the rose monster’s face.

If this thing has sight, that is definitely where it would come from.

“There are only 2 outcomes I can accept,” she said to the rose monster: “you can release the 2 you hold in your… whatever those things are, or I will have to use whatever force necessary to induce you to.”

The rose monster didn’t roar ’gain. ‘Twas, in fact, quieter now than it had e’er been before. It continued to hold Edgar & Dawn up while a few other appendages hung loosely in the air in hook shapes. The petals o’ its flowery head contorted in a way that appeared as if the monster were scrutinizing Autumn.

Autumn slowly paced forward, 1 careful step after ’nother, keeping her eyes raw for any movement from the rose monster.

‘Twas halfway through this stroll that the rose monster’s appendages began to snap forward. But Autumn, who saw that they were all converging toward her @ the same spot, rather than swing the bat, merely bounced sideways out o’ their way, & then smashed them all together with 1 downward swing.

The rose monster screamed, & then flew all o’ its arms not holding Edgar & Dawn forward @ Autumn. Once ’gain, Autumn jumped sideways out o’ their way & bashed them all with the bat.

Surely it’s competent ’nough not to fall for that trick every time, right?

Indeed, the rose monster did pause ’fore striking ’gain, seemingly confused by its failure, but soon after made the same attempt it made before, only to be struck by the same consequences as before.

By this point, Autumn was only a meter ’way from the monster & needed to devise a way to attack the particular appendages holding Edgar & Dawn up & then be able to protect them all from being captured ’gain. But how? Would they run round the mansion all night? She was already too tired for what she was doing now; the prospect o’ her constantly running for the next infinity was simply impossible.

The only true solution would be to eliminate the rose monster entirely. She wasn’t quite sure how that would be accomplished.

She looked up @ the vines holding Edgar & Dawn & followed them back to the monster to find the heart she’d need to hit. Now she just had to get close ’nough to hit them both & then get ’way fast ’nough.

Screw it, she thought, & then rammed forward, dodging the rose monster’s next attempt to grasp her, but without bothering to hit these appendages with the bat. Then when she got close ’nough, rather than hit the weak point o’ Edgar’s captor, she rammed into it with her shoulder. The force caused the vine arm to fly back & the pain caused its grip to loosen, both o’ which combined made the monster release Edgar from its clutches.

Autumn wasted no time heading for the arms holding Dawn, delivering a vertical chop gainst each 1 with the bat. But unlike the other 1, these 2 put up a tougher struggle; & now the other appendages were swarming round her. She made a few last swings gainst the 2 arms, causing ’nough damage to make them drop Dawn onto the floor for a 2nd time, before the others were all o’er Autumn, covering her like a sinewy blanket.

This time, Dawn had a much nicer fall, landing on her hands & knees, though her throat was still not pleased. Her mouth struggled to both gasp & cough @ the same time while her fingers ravenously scratched her neck, which was now covered in tiny blood-red dots where the spines poked through.

Edgar, since the time he fell, & who was lucky ’nough not to have such problems, had been standing back from the monster a distance & staring up @ it while Autumn continued her work. But when he saw that the rose monster hardly considered him anymo’, & was now focusing all o’ its energy on Autumn, he was mo’ concerned ’bout watching Autumn.

“Autumn, watch out!” he called out just ’fore she was smothered by the aforementioned sinewy blanket.

By then, Dawn had recuperated ’nough to be able to stand up & turn round to look @ what Edgar’s fuss was ’bout. Her 1st inclination was to hunt round the general area o’ the monster, trying to find her bat, only to see it nowhere. She s’posed Autumn probably still had it with her under all the vines.

Before either could do anything mo’, they saw the monster’s appendages all rise, all wrapped together to form a cocoon shape that, they were sure, held Autumn inside. They saw that the monster was moving it closer to its bowl-shaped mouth.

Edgar turned to Dawn & said with breathless urgency, “What do we do?”

Dawn continued to stare up @ the monster moving Autumn e’er closer to its maw & bit her lip. She stuck her hand in her jacket through her collar, seeing what she had in her inside pockets.

While in her viney cocoon, Autumn found herself surrounded in darkness & sweating profusely from the lack o’ space in her cramped, rubbery cage.

Then abruptly, she felt her container shake & felt herself sliding downward. As her head slipped out the rose monster’s arms, she saw that she was now in its bulb-shaped head, sliding down into the black hole that was its mouth.

She thrust her arms out, clasping onto the ends o’ its rosy head. This, combined with gravity, served to make her fall as far down the rose monster’s enormous face as far as her arms could stretch out, till her head was a hair ’bove the monster’s mouth, its teeth clicking gainst each other in anticipation right in her ear. She could feel the humid air emanating from its gullet, & thought she could hear it gulp, as well as digestive noises ’neath.

She tried pulling her arms up with all o’ her strength to pull herself up, but could not pull herself high ’nough to get out, & merely slid back down.

The rose monster began shaking its head back & forth in an attempt to loosen Autumn’s grip, but she held on, regardless. She did feel her hands beginning to slip off, thanks to sliminess o’ the monster’s lips. She made an effort to tighten her hold, but could still feel it slipping. This was when she felt something hard press into 1 o’ her palms.

The bat.

She lifted her right hand off its petal & flipped the bat round so that she was holding it horizontally, in its middle. Then she pulled her right arm back & held the bat gainst the rose’s mouth, going ’cross it from edge to edge like a 1-bar cage. With something solid now on the other side she tried pushing herself up—as well as the pulling-up she was already doing—by pushing gainst the bar.

Unfortunately, this did not work as well as Autumn hoped, due to the awkward position o’ her right arm, so she released the edge o’ the monster’s head with her left hand and, instantly after, flipped round so that now she was holding herself up with both hands on the bar.

Now she was facing the monster’s mouth, witnessing a close-up view o’ its yellow teeth dripping with saliva, trying to chomp down, only for the bat pushing its inside-out cheeks apart to prevent it from doing so. From this close, she could actually see more o’ the inside o’ its mouth than total darkness, seeing bumpy tunnels spiralling down its throat that looked like human throats, only green ’stead o’ varying values o’ brown.

She watched as a dribble o’ blood dropped from under the bandage on her nose & into the monster’s mouth. She then heard some organs within the monster squirm, saw saliva dribble out from the rose’s mouth hole, & felt the monster increase the force it used in attempting to chomp its teeth.

Then she felt a li’l bump from under her legs, from the other side o’ the rose’s jaw. The rose monster roared—the audio equivalent o’ having a knife jabbed in Autumn’s ear from her position. Then she felt ’nother bump.

Finally, she felt the rose head tilt downward, causing her & the bat to slide down its mouth.

Must be turning its head to see what hit him, thought Autumn. What an idiot.

The rose monster must’ve noticed Autumn’s chance @ ’scape & tried tilting its head back ’gain to make her fall in. But by this point, Autumn was already mostly off the monster’s head, & the tilt backward merely flipper her all the way off.

She was expecting a hard landing, but was surprised to find it much softer. Soon after, she turned & saw Edgar’s face next to hers & saw that she had landed on him, causing her to immediately jump off.

“Sorry ’bout landing on you,” Autumn said as she stared down @ Edgar guiltily.

But then she felt a li’l better as she saw him get back up.

“It’s OK. I meant to catch you.”

Autumn next looked for Dawn & saw her standing back a meter, holding out a slingshot & plucking what appeared to be a rock. Autumn followed the rock & saw it strike the rose monster.

That was when Autumn remembered the rose monster & remembered it still had arms to grab them all with. But when she turned to look @ the monster she saw that all o’ its appendages were tied up in white string.

Dawn, having just picked up her bat & returned it to her jacket, dashed o’er to Autumn & Edgar & said, “Are you OK, Autumn?”

Autumn turned back to her & said, “Yes—thank you, by the way. Did you tie up the monster?”

“Me & Edgar, yeah,” said Dawn. “I found a couple yo-yos in my pockets & used their string. You ne’er know when you’ll need yo-yo string. Thanks for distracting the monster, by the way.”

“So it can’t get us anymo’?” asked Autumn, staring back @ the rose monster, which was roaring, shrieking, & squirming, but doing li’l else so far.

“No,” Dawn said as she grabbed Autumn’s shoulder & turned her toward her. “So let’s vamoose.”

Then she cringed & added, “By the way, what happened to your nose.”

Autumn touched the bandage on her nose, remembering it ’gain after a long time o’ forgetting it, & said with a sigh, “Nothing I want to remember.”

With that settled, Dawn led them down the hall, Edgar looking back every so oft just to make sure the monster wasn’t following them.

“I don’t think tying it up was ’nough,” Autumn said ’tween heavy breaths. “It might ’ventually break through, & then we’ll be back @ triangle 1.”

“So you’re saying we have to kill it, or something?” asked Dawn, scratching her neck.


“Well, how are we going to do that?” asked Dawn.

“That’s what we need to figure out,” said Autumn. “My only guess so far is that fire burns plants.”

“Great, so we’re basing our strategy on the rules o’ Pokémon,” said Dawn.

Autumn decided to ignore Dawn’s comment & ’stead spent her time silently recollecting what they had in this mansion that could be used to defeat the rose monster.

“I was thinking we could find something firelike if we could find the kitchen,” said Autumn.

“Augh. Please don’t remind me o’ food,” Dawn said with her hand on her stomach.

Just then Edgar interjected, “Water.”

“I thought you don’t drink water,” said Dawn, turning her head back to Edgar.

“No, that’s what the monster was muttering when ’twas still in its weak form, remember?” said Edgar.

“Yeah, so you’re saying that’s probably its weakness?” said Autumn.

“Everyone knows water is not very effective gainst grass Pokémon,” said Dawn.

“Maybe,” said Edgar. “Though why would someone mutter what their weakness is out loud?”

“You tell me; it’s your idea,” said Autumn.

“I was thinking maybe the rose monster wants water,” said Edgar.

“I thought it actually wanted human flesh, but OK,” said Autumn. “Now we know what we should avoid putting near him; but what ’bout something that’ll actually weaken him?”

“Well, uh, I was thinking maybe if we gave it water, it’d leave us ’lone. It might e’en be grateful that we helped it,” said Edgar.

Autumn & Dawn both looked @ each other.

“It could work,” Dawn said with a shrug.

Autumn took a deep breath, & then said, “I’ll tell you 2 what: how ’bout I burden myself with the heavy thinking & you 2 just focus on walking, ’K?”

Dawn turned back to Edgar &, with a hand blocking her mouth from Autumn, whispered, “Psst, I hate to tell you, but your girlfriend’s kind o’ an asshole.”

Edgar didn’t respond. Autumn, meanwhile, was busy trying to think o’ a way to set the rose monster on fire, or some other way to kill it.

Maybe I could try freezing it: plants are immensely susceptible to cold.

The problem was, she was so tired, she couldn’t e’en think beyond these simple ideas. She tried imagining where the kitchen might be; but whenever she imagined finding it, she couldn’t imagine what she’d use that could create fire. Surely, she didn’t consider picking up a whole oven & carrying it o’er to the rose monster. What she needed were matches or a lighter; but where would she find these?

& then her mind kept blanking out. Due to this tiredness, all 3 were now walking @ a turtle’s pace. The mix o’ drowsiness & hunger also made Autumn & Dawn both feel lightheaded, so that they felt as if they would collapse right there on the carpet @ any second.

Finally, Dawn, seeing that they were entering the 2nd floor, cast the line: she stifled a yawn & said, “You could probably think o’ something better if you had some sleep.” She pulled her phone out o’ her pocket & checked its time. “Look, it’s already almost 12 AM.”

“We can’t go to sleep; the monster might get us,” Autumn said without wasting any precious energy turning to look @ Dawn. “& ‘twas almost 12 AM hours ago.”

“Yeah, I thought so, too,” Dawn said as she scratched her neck & stared down @ her phone disconcertedly.

“I could keep watch if you want,” said Edgar.

“Yeah, we can keep watch,” Dawn said, turning to Autumn.

“No you can’t, ’cause I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could throw you & I can’t just make Edgar stay up all night while I sleep,” said Autumn.

“It’d be better for only a few to get li’l sleep than all,” said Dawn.

“Yeah, well…” Autumn paused to consider what she said & was disturbed to realize she had a point.

“& I think you in particular should get some rest,” Dawn said as she stared @ the bandages on Autumn’s nose & hand. “You don’t look like you’ve been having much o’ a good day.”

“That’s the usual pattern,” said Autumn.

“I bet tomorrow would be much better, right Edgar?” Dawn said as she turned to Edgar. Edgar nodded.

“Fine. Edgar & I will take turns watching. That way we’ll all get some sleep,” Autumn said in almost robotic monotone, the tiredness sapping the energy out o’ her voice. “Well, we 2 will get some sleep. I have no idea what you’re doing, Dawn.”

“I can help Edgar stand watch if he wants,” said Dawn.

They reached Autumn & Edgar’s room & Autumn led them in. She sat on the edge o’ the bed, silently setting the alarm on her phone & forming 1 last debate in her head o’er whether she should do this. When the logic confirmed that she should, she kicked off her shoes & lay down to sleep, wrapping the blanket round her. Though she didn’t notice any particular coldness any time before, now she recognized a comfortable warmth she hadn’t felt since she left bed.

“Wake me in ’bout 4 hours, ’K,” muttered Autumn. “That’ll be ’nough sleep, I think.”

“’K,” Dawn said as she sat on the edge o’ the other bed. “That should be @ ’bout 11:59 PM.”

Autumn chose to ignore Dawn’s comment, already drifting off to sleep.

Edgar, still sitting on the edge o’ Autumn’s bed that Autumn wasn’t currently occupying, looked @ Dawn & said, “You can go to sleep if you want. It would be a waste for both o’ us to stay awake, & you’ll probably need mo’ rest than I will.”

Dawn debated this in her head much like Autumn did, & then came to the same conclusion she gave Autumn before. So she shrugged & lay down in her bed, only to remember she still had her bat in her back. She pulled it out & tossed it somewhere on the floor ’fore collapsing back down.

For a skeleton, he’s a pretty good kid, thought Dawn. Reminds me a lot o’ Felix, actually. & that was when she remembered they still had not found Felix yet; but before she could panic much o’er what might have happened to Felix—Was she the 1 who was screaming, eaten by the rose monster?—she drifted off to sleep.

Edgar sat up gainst the back o’ his & Autumn’s bed, staring blankly @ the door opposite him. Though he forced himself to be upright & alert, he soon found himself gradually drifting down into the bed & his vision gradually blurring into darkness. Finally, he had slipped so far down that he was outright lying in bed & his vision was gone. Soon his consciousness was gone as well.

XV. Asylum

Autumn was startled awake by shrieking beeps ’bove, only for the noise to cease seconds later.

Sounds like my phone alarm. But then, why’s the noise coming from up there?

She gazed sleepily round the room for the 1st few seconds when she finally noticed something peculiar ’bout what she saw: it looked nothing like her & Edgar’s room.

She sat up, wrapping her arms round herself as the realization that she was cold came to her. She looked down & saw that there was no blanket o’er her; she also noticed that there was no bed under her, but a pile o’ sheets that looked just like the blankets they were sleeping under last night. Mo’ importantly, she saw that she didn’t have her orange coat on anymo’—just her usual black T-shirt. Then she checked her pockets; as she predicted, they were now empty.

She saw that she was down in a basement-like area, with walls all gray-blue & seemingly constructed with cement. While most o’ the room looked solid, the ceiling clearly had a large hole in it, which was covered in a half-cocked way with large wood plank.

‘Twas not a particularly sanitary basement, either, as there were puddles o’ some random black liquid on some edges o’ the room, as well as a brown rat drinking 1 o’ them.

Slept in worse.

For a room that looked like a basement, it had a window on 1 o’ the walls. Looking out through it, Autumn could see that ‘twas still dark out, with the same waning-gibbous moon she saw last night hanging up in the air.

What time is it? If my phone’s alarm still works, surely time must be running ’gain, thought Autumn as she made to pull out her phone, only to remember ’twas taken from her, as everything else.

She turned & saw that not only was Dawn still asleep, but so was Edgar. She s’posed this was what caused them to be locked in this place.

OK, what random ghost or monster did this to us? Then ’gain, she figured ’twas better than being eaten by the rose monster, which is what she would’ve expected.

In addition to the sleeping Edgar & Dawn, Autumn saw Felix, sitting legs-crossed gainst the perpendicular wall.

“Good morn, ponytailed lady,” said Felix. “Are you all right? Your nose has a bandage on it.”

“Where are we?” asked Autumn.

“He said we’re all in prison for being socialist looters,” said Felix. “I didn’t e’en know I was till he told me. Truly nice o’ him to do that.”

“Who? Chamsby?”

“The guy with the black top hat & cape,” said Felix. “I don’t know his name. I’m sorry. I’m too useless to e’en remember 1 single name.”

Autumn turned ’way from Felix & back to the window—any ’scuse to avert her attention from the awkward cat. She spent the rest o’ her time debating whether or not she should wake the other 2, but then decided there’d be no gain in wasting any rest they may need.

Well, a’least 1 good thing ’bout this perpetual night we seem to be in is that Madame Heureuse won’t be able to kick us out till it ends, wherever that old witch went off to.

As Autumn looked out @ the buildings visible under the bright moon, she admitted to herself that she felt a slight pang o’ longing to be out o’ this hell hole.

Soon Dawn, & then Edgar, woke up. While Edgar, naturally, reacted with panic—though Autumn figured guilt might have played a significant part in that—Dawn was a lot mo’ nonchalant than expected. She merely said, “I guess this is some ghost’s work, or something.” Then ’gain, Autumn had to admit she knew absolutely nothing ’bout this virtual stranger, so any action should seem just as surprising.

Dawn was mo’ surprised when she turned & saw Felix sitting gainst the wall.

“Felix, you’re OK,” said Dawn in almost a gasp.

Felix turned her face down to her knees, awaiting chastisement for her failure to evade capture. “O, hello, jacket-dressed woman.” She glanced @ Dawn & then looked up with a concerned expression. “You know you have a bunch o’ red splotches all o’er your neck.”

“O, it’s nothing. I was just poked in the neck a few times is all,” Dawn said as she scratched her neck. “We thought you might have been eaten by the rose monster.”

“O, you mean Rosseau? That’s the name I made up for him,” said Felix. Then she looked down in shame ’gain. “It’s probably dumb, though. You can give him a different name, if you want.”

Dawn laughed nervously. “That’s OK. ’Sides, he’s not a li’l plant anymo’, I’m ’fraid.”

“O, I know,” said Felix. “I fed him water like he asked & then he grew truly big. He was e’en able to ’scape from his pot & walk round free. Did you see him? He doesn’t hate me now, does he?”

“You should expect us to do that ’stead,” said Autumn, turning a glare ’way from her window & @ Felix.

“Autumn, I’m sure ’twas an accident,” said Dawn.

That was when they heard a scraping sound ’bove & looked up to see the wooden board moving; ’cept they could see by the heavy way it moved that ‘twas not a mere board, but a large wooden block o’ some kind—probably some furniture. Edgar, also naturally, clutched onto Autumn’s arm; though all but Felix were anticipating what would come next. Dawn had already pulled out her slingshot while Autumn… well, Autumn realized she didn’t have any weapons anymo’, so she simply curled up her fists & hoped for the best.

“Greetings, filthy proletariats,” Lance said through the newly-opened hole. “I hope you enjoy your new adobe.”

“Um, why did you put us in a hole?” asked Dawn, scratching her neck.

“Where’s my stuff?” asked Autumn. “Why’d you steal my coat? The invisible hand will surely put you in hell for this sin.”

“I’m ’fraid we do not allow inmates to keep their stolen possessions in prison. Otherwise they may use them to try ’scaping.”

“Well, I’m ’fraid you did a grotty job o’ it,” said Dawn as she riffled through the inside o’ her coat.

But when Lance glanced toward her, what he noticed was the slingshot in her hands. He turned to her & said, “Hey, where did you get that slingshot?”

“That’s that leftist mystical voodoo magic, or whatever you call it,” said Dawn. “& if we’re in prison, may I ask when our trial is to be held?”

“Trials are only reserved for upstanding citizens,” said Lance. “Unlike with the looter-loving state, you will not find—”

“Yeah, yeah, we get it,” Autumn said with a wave o’ her hand. “Hey, do you still have that treasure you found before?”

“You mean the treasure I rightfully found?” asked Lance. “Why, yes, I do still have it & you shall ne’er lay a hand on it.”

“’Course,” Autumn said with a curt nod, while thinking, We’ll see ’bout that…

“What ’bout food?” asked Dawn, much mo’ seriously than before. “Or is that only for ‘upstanding citizens’?”

“O, so you looters think that you can commit atrocious actions & then be rewarded with free food, huh? Thought you’d be on ‘ol Uncle Chamsby’s dole, huh? Well, sorry to tell you, but this isn’t communist Canada. I won’t stand for you to treat me as your slave.”

& with that he left. From outside their view they heard him say, “Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty, keep an eye on them so they don’t ’scape. They’re crafty li’l socialists. Agents Razzmatazz, Tickle Me Pink, Laser Lemon, Big Dip O’ Ruby, & Atomic Tangerine: go out & search for mo’ treasure.”

“I s’pose using the bathroom is out o’ the question, too,” Dawn said with her hands stuffed into her pockets bitterly. She turned to Autumn. “So he’s locking us in ’cause he thinks we’re part o’ the communist conspiracy or something? I’m confused.”

“He’s just butt-hurt ’cause I found—well, Edgar found—& sold 1 o’ his daddy’s heirlooms that he accidentally threw ’way or something,” Autumn said as she shook her head. “I’ve ne’er e’en stolen from him…” In the back o’ Autumn’s mind she added, …yet

Dawn riffled through her outside coat pockets, & then said, “Bastard. He stole my water. What kind o’ asshole just takes someone’s water? What, is he ’fraid we might splash water up @ him & make him melt?”

Autumn sat back gainst the wall to the side, outside the hole’s viewpoint, & waved for the others to join her. Edgar nimbly walked o’er to her, glancing up @ the hole to make sure he wouldn’t be attacked or something, & then sat hunched next to Autumn. Dawn joined her on the other side with her arms round her drawn-up knees.

They all noticed Felix sitting in the same spot she was before, staring blankly @ them. Autumn pointed @ her petulantly & waved toward her while mouthing, “You too, dumbshit.” Felix pointed to herself with a puzzled expression, which Autumn responded to with an annoyed nod. Finally, Felix rose & sat next to Dawn.

“Well, we’d better think o’ a way out o’ here. Ideas, anyone?” whispered Autumn.

“Remember, I still have my slingshot,” whispered Dawn. “Nothing else, though.”

“We could perhaps climb on each other’s shoulders as we did before to get up there,” whispered Autumn. “I’m not sure how they’d respond to it, though: probably either by covering the hole before we could get a chance to get up or by simply kicking the top person off.”

“It doesn’t look like we have any better options, though,” whispered Dawn.

“You still have that bat on you?”

“’Fraid not: it’s still in the room we slept in. You think you’d be better with the slingshot? I’m not used to these kind o’ situations…”

Autumn waved her hand. “I can suffice with fists. Now, I’m thinking 1 o’ us 2 should go up 1st, since we’re armed,”

“Since you’ve got the melee weapon, you should go up 1st,” whispered Dawn.

“’K.” Autumn turned to Edgar & whispered, “D’you think you’ll be able to hold me up?”

Edgar nodded.

“& you, Madame Air?” Autumn said as she turned to Felix.

“That’s not her actual name,” Dawn snapped.

“It’s what she claimed,” murmured Autumn. “Well, cat?”

“I’ll try—but I have to warn you: I’m terrible @ e’er—”

“That’s OK, I think us 3 will be able to handle this fine,” whispered Autumn with a wave o’ her hand.

Suddenly, up ’bove they heard a slightly squeaky, but also rather raspy, voice call out, “Hey, uh, guys? Uh, you need to move o’er here so I can see you, please.”

“Bugger. We’d better hurry,” whispered Autumn. She turned to Dawn. “Edgar will have to climb on your shoulders while we’re still back here & then you’ll need to carry him o’er near the hole, where I’ll have to climb up as fast as I can. This likely won’t work; but as you said, it’s all we have.”

Dawn nodded & then they immediately started. Autumn followed closely by them as Dawn carried Edgar under the hole. When they were just under the inside edge o’ the, hole Autumn held Dawn’s arm, signaling her to stop.

Then, without a delay, as Dawn bent down ’gain, Autumn scrambled o’er her & Edgar. In such a hurry, Dawn had already began rising before Autumn was e’en on Edgar’s shoulders.

“Hey, you’re not s’posed to be doing that!” the voice from before said.

But by this point, Autumn was already climbing up o’er the edge o’ the hole. She quickly surveyed the room to see that ‘twas a cluttered mess & that, mo’ importantly, Lance seemed to have fled, leaving just his knight minion to hold his head in alarm.

This must be “Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty,” thought Autumn.

Autumn stood ’way from the hole with her legs arched & her fists held out, staring down the knight.

Mmm: shrimpy street rat vs. a guy in heavy armor. This ought to go well.

Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty stared @ what had been his deepest fear for a long time: the ponytailed devil, whom he could now see was finally revealing the threat he knew she served all this time—as she leaned o’er the hole & helped Dawn up.

Augh, what should I do? thought Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty. I know Sir Chamsby’ll expect me to do something to stop them; but how can I when she’s got that scary grimace? Augh! Why is this job always so stressful!

“Agent Purple, what is with this racket?” Lance’s voice called out from ’bove. “Can’t you see I need concentration when I’m doing my work?”

Agent Purple looked up & debated o’er whether it’d be better to tell Sir Chamsby ’bout their problem now & get yelled @ or try to handle it himself. Since he knew the only way he was handling it right now was by wishing they weren’t doing what they were doing, & since he knew Sir Chamsby was bound to figure out they’ve ’scaped ’ventually, he might as well tell him now.

“Um, Sir, we’ve got a problem down here,” he called up with a hand cupping the mouth area o’ his helmet.

The furniture covering the hole in this room’s ceiling shifted out o’ the way—I should have noticed that, thought Autumn as she looked up @ it—& Lance’s face ducked down in.

He started to say, “What is it?” when he noticed Autumn & Dawn standing on the middle level. He had just ’nough time to notice them when Dawn released the band on her slingshot, shooting a rock right @ Lance’s eye.

He covered his face & moved out o’ the way o’ the hole. Then he said, “Typical o’ you savages to use such vulgar violence. Now, Agent Purple, attack them!”

“Attack them?” Agent Purple stuttered as he watched Autumn & Dawn glare @ him. “How?”

“What do you mean how?” Lance’s muffled voice said through the ceiling. “I dunno. Tackle them, punch them, pull their hair… Anything. Kick them in the crotch. That always works.”

Agent Purple looked back @ Autumn & Dawn, who were still watching him.

“I don’t think that’ll work very well, Sir.”

“Augh, can’t you do anything right?” said Lance. “Agent Red, get in here & help Agent Purple dispatch the 2 looters, please.”

Autumn & Dawn heard the door burst open ’hind them. They turned & saw ’nother person in armor in the threshold.

“Agent Purple, you go after the ponytailed woman; I’ll get the other,” Agent Red said as he pulled out a Taser.

“Uh, what?” said Agent Purple.

Agent Red didn’t waste any mo’ time with Agent Purple, & neither did Autumn or Dawn. Agent Red charged straight @ Dawn while Dawn flung a couple o’ rocks @ his face, only for all o’ them to bounce off.

“Shit, his helmet’s making my weapon useless,” Dawn said as she took a step back.

Autumn stood ready to punch him if he neared; but as she held her arm back, she felt a heavy, titanium force attack her from the back, causing her to collapse onto the floor. Next she felt a heavy weight pin her to the ground.

She heard the familiar squeaky voice o’ Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty say ’hind her, “Sorry, Madame, but I have a house I still have payments to make on,” ’fore he put his hand o’er her mouth & nose, pinching her nose so tightly & covering her mouth so fully that she was blocked off from oxygen—as well as, painfully, causing her nose to bleed, which thereby caused her nose to fill up with blood.

What started out as a struggle to stop the pain o’ having her broken nose hurt ’gain turned into the same struggle, but now to fill her desperate lungs with air.

By this time, Agent Red had already reached Dawn. She tried to sidestep past him to stop Purple, but was suddenly jolted in the side. Fire spread all throughout her nervous system, thrashing round from the inside till she felt a sharp pain in her heart as if it had exploded. Then she collapsed back on the floor, the consciousness knocked out o’ her.

Autumn watched this with panic, seeing that ‘twas 2-on-1 now. Red needn’t join, though: by this time, her bluing, bloated head had no mo’ energy to struggle—’long with her limbs—& her lungs soon gave up, knocking her out.

Agent Red was already rolling Dawn back into the hole, causing it to thump on the ground like a ragdoll. Seeing this, Agent Purple decided to do the same with Autumn.

As he stood back up, he looked down @ the 2 unconscious bodies below & said with a worried voice, “You don’t think we killed them, do you?”

Agent Red merely said, “That’s not my concern,” before heading back to the door.

Since Dawn had climbed up after Autumn, Edgar & Felix stood back in the hole as mere spectators—’cept that their ability to do e’en that was limited by their small window o’ vision into the ’bove room. @ 1st they were excited ’bout what they heard ’bove them, ’specially when Lance was shouting @ the 2, clearly having been 1-upped. However, after they heard a few thumps on the ground, & then some low buzzing noise, they were not so sure.

But then when they heard Dawn groaning, “Augh!” they knew something was going wrong.

“Uh… Autumn? Dawn? Are you 2 all right?” Edgar called up to them.

His question was answered only ’bout a minute afterward when he saw their limp bodies rolled into the hole, plunging down to the ground as anvils, producing a loud thump that caused Edgar to jump.

Edgar & Felix ran up to Autumn & Dawn, respectively. Edgar bent down next to Autumn & saw that her chest wasn’t moving up & down as a normal human’s would. He put an earhole up to it & heard that her heart was beating @ a slowing patter. He then shook Autumn by her arm & whimpered, “Autumn? Are you still ’live?” with his voice becoming higher with fear.

Felix, similarly, bent down next to Dawn & put her ear to Dawn’s chest, only to hear no heartbeat @ all. But ’stead o’ trying to shake her awake, Felix calmly tilted Dawn’s head back.

She turned to Edgar & asked, “Skeleton man, do you know CPR?”

Edgar, who turned to Felix with a look as if he were shaken out o’ something said, “What?”

“I asked, ‘Do you know CPR’?”

Edgar shook his head in distress. “No. I should have, too. I have been practicing some simple health practices, like dealing with broken bones. I can’t believe I messed up so much,” he spewed out.

“O, it’s nothing,” said Felix. “Just gently tilt her head back, push down on her upper chest—the part ’bove the area where it caves in in her middle—30 times, breathe slowly into her mouth for a few seconds, & then keep repeating.”

Felix then began doing so to Dawn. Edgar looked on @ her, his brain frantically scrambling to comprehend what she said. However, soon his brain began to panic mo’ ’bout the precious time he was wasting doing nothing & he followed the directions Felix gave him as best as he could. As he repeated the steps once, & then twice, & then 3 times, his own heart began to beat faster as the prospect o’ Autumn recovering seemed to wane.

But during his 4th try pumping her chest, he saw her eyes slowly blink open. He immediately stopped & said with a whispered gasp, “Autumn?”

Autumn blinked her eyes a few times ’fore lifting her upper body. She clutched her throbbing temple. She sniffed a few times, feeling fresh blood dribble down her freshly-broken nose under its loosened bandage, which Edgar hadn’t noticed yet in the shock o’ everything.

“Autumn, you’re all right!” Edgar exclaimed as he put his arms round her.

Autumn stared forward into space for a while, still not fully cognizant o’ what was going on, when she abruptly put her hand to her mouth, wide-eyed. She gently pushed Edgar out o’ the way, turned her head, & then puked on the cement floor while Edgar watched, his worry returning. When she finished, she turned back to Edgar with just a li’l mo’ sentience in her eyes & held her temple ’gain with 1 hand while the other rubbed the dregs o’ vomit from her lips.

“Augh, fuck,” muttered she. “What happened?”

“Uh, you were put unconscious somehow & then thrown down here,” said Edgar. “I used CPR to get you back to life.”

“I didn’t e’en know you knew CPR,” mumbled Autumn. “Thank you, though.”

“Uh… actually you shouldn’t thank me; you should thank Felix for showing me how to do it,” Edgar said as he pointed to Felix with 1 hand & scratched the back o’ his head nervously with the other.

Autumn turned to Felix with eyes wide in shock. She suspected Edgar might’ve been lying to boost Felix’s self-esteem, only for Autumn to see that she was, indeed, performing CPR on Dawn.

“O… Uh, thank you… Felix,” Autumn said awkwardly.

She was expecting some ’scuse for why what Felix did wasn’t truly good @ all—the fact that Autumn was able to live ’gain being the foremost on Autumn’s mind—but didn’t receive an answer @ all, Felix’s attention fully rapt on Dawn.

“You, uh, need any help with that?” asked Autumn.

“No, thank you,” Felix said as she continued her work, the same blank, stoic expression on her face e’en though this was her 9th repeat through the steps.

So Autumn slowly moved o’er to the wall outside the hole’s sight she sat @ before, lied down next to it with her head turned to look @ Felix & Dawn, & tried not to get too bummed out ’bout her precious rest being squandered. While when she 1st woke up, she felt perfectly fresh & energetic, now her head felt dizzy & throbbed, her stomach & chest feeling as if they’d been slammed by a minivan. She also felt a lump moving round her stomach & throat that made her feel as if she were going to vomit ’gain any minute now.

But what concerned her most was how she felt her breath slow as she watched Felix try resuscitating Dawn. Much as Autumn regretted it, she admitted to herself that she had somehow grown to like the twit, unfortunately.

Edgar sat next to Autumn, looking down @ her face with worry o’er what else might happen to her.

“Uh, do you think you’ll need anything?” asked Edgar.

“Not ’less you have any water on you,” Autumn said with a weak smile.

“Uh, no… Sorry,” Edgar said as he looked down @ the ground guiltily.

’Ventually, Dawn’s eyes blinked open, & she sat up much as Autumn did before. Unlike Autumn, she did not puke; however, she did feel a throbbing in her head & heart & her nerves still felt like liquid.

“What happened?” Dawn asked hazily.

“Some guy threw you back down here & I saw your breathing & heartbeats had stopped so I used CPR to try bringing you back to life,” said Felix.

“O, thank you for saving my life, Felix,” Dawn said as she scratched her neck. Felix couldn’t help noticing the red splotches on her neck seemed larger & darker than she remembered them being before.

Felix gave Dawn a look o’ astonishment.

“I didn’t do anything important. All I did was a couple steps o’er & o’er ’gain. Any idiot could figure it out… Not to say that those who haven’t learned CPR are idiots, though… I mean, they could be; I just don’t know…” She looked down @ the floor guiltily. “I should probably stop blathering idiotically now.”

“No, you can talk all you want.” Dawn put her hand on Felix’s as she gently lowered herself back into laying position. “I can’t thank you ’nough for your help, Felix. You’re a good kid,” she said incoherently as her eyes closed. Finally she turned her head, made 1 mo’ scratch on her neck, & then drifted off to sleep.

Felix put her ear to Dawn’s chest, but found that her heart was beating fine now. She was just sleeping.

Felix spent the next few hours staring down @ Dawn &, then her own feet. Though she was not thinking much ’bout the messages her eyes delivered to her. ’Stead, she repeatedly rolled through her mind what Dawn had said. She had saved the jacket-dressed woman’s life. She had actually done something good, something useful. She was good. It made her heart feel warmer & e’en fuller o’ caffeine than when she helped Jean-Jacques Rosseau become a real giant plant monster. It made her ne’er want this time to end—that she could just sit here & rest her hand on the jacket-dressed woman’s hand for the rest o’ her life.

Her wish was understandable: much later it’d turn out that all would’ve been much better if she had just let Dawn die down there in peace2.

To be continued…