J. J. W. Mezun ☆ Season 3 ☆ 2015 October 1

XVI. Deceiver

Lance Chamsby felt like the man who owned all the blues, reds, oranges, utilities, & railroads in Monopoly. Now his only 4 competitors were safely locked down in his prison where they could no longer do him harm & his men were scouring the whole mansion for the rest o’ its treasure; & once they explored the whole area & found all o’ its treasure, he would be able to leave this gruesome place with utter victory.

With nothing urgent in need o’ his attention, Lance turned back to the ponytailed devil’s backpack &, most significantly, her notebook full o’ dirty secrets. As he held it in his hands once mo’, savoring its papery feeling & sight, he thought, ¡Now it is time to crack this witch’s secrets & use them to shut her down once & for all!

He flipped o’er the cover page & saw a date in large lettering @ the top—January 1, 2015—& then below it, paragraphs in curly cursive writing with the lowercase I’s dotted with hearts. His heart skipped as he began to read the 1st paragraph:

Dear Diary,

Today I bought a notebook to write stuff in for this new year, which you probably already know, I guess, since I’m writing in you right now. Sorry if that sounds a li’l weird, though I guess writing to a notebook is kind o’ weird, but then ’gain a lot o’ people do it, anyway.

¿Why is she blathering ’bout this nonsense?

He decided to skip forward a few pages. Curious ’bout how she ’scaped all o’ his traps back in March 1, when he 1st started his crusade:

Dear Diary,

Sorry I couldn’t write before, but I had to help Dawn carry boxes back & forth o’er some conveyor belt in her restaurant. I’m not sure why the guy in charge o’ shipping makes her do that, or why he kept flicking a switch to make it suddenly go backward.

We were delayed a li’l ’cause this weird rich guy in a top hat & cloak kept asking me questions I probably shouldn’t have been answering—I tried not to give ’way any personal info, since I know Autumn doesn’t like that—& skipped out on his meal, which truly stressed Dawn.

¿What kind o’ propagandist lie is this? O, ¿so the looter—¡who so arrogantly talks to herself in the 1st-person, e’en, as if it’d fill her flaccid ego!—had to pay for my meal after I left without paying, e’en though we have ne’er eaten dinner e’er, & ne’er would? ¡That is rich!

There were no other mentions o’ him in the remaining passages, nor for any o’ the others afterward. He flipped forward to September, when he kidnapped her partner to see what affect it had. But, once ’gain, she conveniently suppressed information for those days—Must’ve been too devastated to have lost her source o’ power to sponge off for so long, he thought with a laugh—but did eventually find 1 on September 25:

Dear Diary,

Sorry it took so long to write, but that guy in the cloak & $-sign top hat kidnapped me & locked me up for days. Luckily Autumn was able to rescue me. It was so dark, cold, & lonely in there that I was thrilled to leave & hope ne’er to return ’gain, & am glad to be writing ’gain, since I was so bored in there I had a lot o’ ideas & feelings I wanted to write, but now I can’t remember any o’ them, unfortunately.

Anyway, after so many truly depressing days, the day Autumn saved me may be the best, e’en mo’ than that prom we went to in high school. We spent the rest o’ the day snuggled under her jackets all afternoon, which was much better than sitting in that dungeon listening to terrible sitcoms & news shows that aren’t outright racist, but you can kinda hear a racist tone in the way they tell the stories.

This is some sophisticated propaganda you’ve wound up—not to mention a creepy self-lust, which I’m sure is to make up for her many lacks.

His reading was interrupted by a voice calling in his ear piece, “Uh… ¿Sir Chamsby? ¿Are you there?”

“¿What is it, Agent Big Dip O’ Ruby? ¿Can’t you see I’m bus—?”

He looked up @ Dip O’ Ruby’s monitor & saw what looked to be an empty black void with empty white light shining down o’er a small circle o’ the area.

“¿Where are you? ¿What’s going on?” Lance said as he sat up mo’ stiffly.

Emerging from the black emptiness into the white emptiness were 3 people—or rather, creatures, perhaps: in the back was a man in a black tuxedo who looked like any other well-dressed man, ’cept that he had a bulbous jack-o-lantern on his head, & to his side was a green werewolf in a matching tuxedo. In front was a tall, gangly skeleton covered in a black robe. In his right hand was a scythe that stood e’en taller than he did.

“Sir, ¿d’you see what I’m seeing?” he heard Agent Dip O’ Ruby say with a whimper in his headpiece. “¿What should I do?”

“I’m sure this is that ponytailed devil’s partner’s doing o’ some sort,” Chamsby said quickly. “They’ve seen now that they’ve finally been put in a desperate situation once in their life & so now the skeleton wizard has come out with his true powers. That’s the only explanation.”

The skeleton jabbed its scythe’s stick end into the ground with a heavy thud & spoke with a deep voice, “We can hear everything you say through that li’l communication device you’ve got there, buddy, so watch what you say before you anger the, uh… the ultimate skeleton wizard.”

The wolf & pumpkin-headed lackeys tried to suppress chuckles, covering their mouths with their hands & turning their heads ’way from Agent Dip O’ Ruby’s camera.

Somehow, this made Lance both angrier & mo’ ’fraid. Either way, he gritted his teeth & clenched his fists e’en harder, his skin turning e’en paler.

“We were just curious why you decided to have your li’l knights in shining armor come galloping round our mansion like you own the place,” said the skeleton. “We wanted to know the big man who thought it’d be a good idea to come charging through every level & every room, breaking our peace for their precious treasure. That is what you are after, ¿am I right?”

“I shall have you know, Sir,” Lance said in his microphone, “that this mansion is owned by Madame Heureuse & that we made a contract which stated that I had the right to 3 full days o’ exploration o’ this mansion, with the condition that I could keep any treasure I find. I have seen no rule that I have violated so far, & thus you have right to interfere with my affairs.”

The edges o’ the skeleton’s mouth seemed to crack as if ’twere smiling.

“I think we’ll be the judge o’ what we can & can’t do.”

Lance leaned forward. “I’m warning you. I’ll call the police if I have to.”

“I would love to see your puny police try to stop me from hanging your neck from the rafters as we did with those 2 buffoons who were messing with our time control.”

The wolf & the jack-o-lantern men rubbed their hands & smiled wickedly, as if just ’bout to taste some sweat ham.

Lance’s eyes twisted with fury, his hands now gripping onto the edge o’ the desk as if he were ’fraid he would fall off his chair otherwise.

“¡You can’t do that!” he shouted back. “¡I… I have my rights, you crooked bastard! ¡You slaving scoundrel! ¡I shall not fear immoral death when I have life & ethics on my side!”

The skeleton & his 2 cohorts threw their heads up & began laughing, which only made Lance grip the edges o’ his desk with extra force, his fingers quickly draining o’ blood.

“It looks like your li’l friend here doesn’t share the sentiment, Sir Life & Ethics,” said the skeleton. “It looks like he plum pissed all o’er himself in his armor.” He snapped his left finger & turned to the werewolf. “Anyway, Beo, please take this pathetic thing out o’ its misery before I puke.”

“Sir Chamsby, please help,” Agent Dip O’ Ruby whimpered breathlessly. ‘Twas then that Lance noticed that Agent Ruby had been blubbering the whole time.

Lance saw the werewolf walk up to Agent Dip O’ Ruby with the kind o’ smile you’d only see on serial killers or car salesmen & then saw him reach his hand out under the monitor. Next thing Lance knew he heard choking sounds come out his ear piece.

“Sir, ¿is anything wrong?” asked a few other agents. “¿What’s going on?”

Lance ignored them. His attention was purely focused on Agent Dip O’ Ruby’s monitor & the sound o’ him choking, pleading, “¡Help, Sir, help!” as if speaking in a foreign, ducklike accent, till finally he saw the view o’ the monitor tilt downward a li’l & heard the choking taper off.

The werewolf returned to his spot from before & wiped his now-bloody hand onto the pants o’ his tuxedo, leaving a red smear. Then the skeleton pointed directly @ the monitor.

“Let that be a warning, tiny man. Do not fuck with the… with the skeleton wizard…” Now Lance knew the tall skeleton’s mouth was twisting into a smile. “He demands that you free him & leave immediately; & if you don’t, you’ll wish for death, for what we give you will be a thousand times worse.”

With that the skeleton snapped its finger ’gain & they all turned round & walked off to be engulfed in the darkness once mo’, leaving ’hind nothing but emptiness & their laughter.

Lance sat back & stared @ the monitor—@ the emptiness it showed—for the next few minutes in silence before he was shocked out o’ it by ’nother agent asking ’gain, “¿Sir? ¿Are you all right? ¿What’s going on, Sir?”

“Agents, all o’ you,” Lance said into his mike, his hand shaking o’er the red on button. “I want you to be wary o’ anything supernatural or occult you see. Any creature you see that seems this way, kill it. In fact, anything that seems sentient in any way that is not human, kill it. Destroy it.”

“¿Are you saying ghosts are going to attack us, Sir?”

“¡I will have any o’ your sniveling, Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty!” shouted Lance. “¡I will not let some lifeless beasts step all o’er my rights—& I certainly will not let them do so @ the behest o’ those vile thieves down below! Clearly, Madame Heureuse has failed in her duties to make this a safe environment. She has breached her contract. Thus, to ensure my safety, & to ensure I can properly get what I am owed from said contract, I will be temporarily taking o’er this mansion as provisional owner. You all are to patrol this area till we can extinguish these beasts once & for all. Meanwhile, I will call for backup—I will call for hundreds mo’ men @ the least.” Then Lance raised his fist in the air & shouted, “¡This is war!”

He sat back in his chair ’gain & panted. Finally, after a few minutes’ rest, he turned on the microphone 1 last time.

“Agents Red & Purple Mountain’s Majesty, I’ll need you 2 here for our 1st action gainst those beasts, & hopefully the 1 that’ll solve this problem entirely. I’ll need you 2 to go down into that hole, capture the ponytailed devil’s skeleton cohort, & have him executed in any manner possible.”

Yes, I’ll free the conniving bastard… Lance thought as he stared bitterly @ the still-empty screen where Agent Dip O’ Ruby used to be. I’ll free him from this mortal coil once & for all…

XVII. Liberate

Though Autumn & Dawn felt a li’l better when they woke up in terms o’ head, stomach, & throat aches, as well as the desire to throw up, they now found this replaced with the dull stomachache o’ hunger; & any benefit they derived from the water they collected earlier was now gone, their mouths feeling like sandpaper lit on fire once mo’.

’Cause o’ this, neither wanted to get up, feeling that they lacked the energy to do so. ’Stead they both lay with their backs on the ground & their glazed eyes with dark rings under them staring up @ the ceiling.

All ’cept Felix, who was still sitting cross-legged with her back gainst the wall, sitting next to Dawn. She looked down @ Dawn.

“¿You still feeling sick?” asked Felix.

“No,” Dawn said laxly as she turned to look up @ Felix. “But I don’t know how long we’re going to last down here without food or, mo’ importantly, water. ¿Aren’t you starving? ¿How long have you gone since you’ve last eaten?”

“O, I don’t need any food,” Felix said with a wave o’ her hand. “I’ve gone weeks without food plenty o’ time. It’s not important.”

Dawn was much too tired to reassure Felix.

Autumn suddenly shot up & said, “Felix, ¿where’s Edgar?”

Without any change o’ expression, save her head turning to Autumn, Felix said, “O, some o’ those knight guard guys came down here & took him up with them.”

“¿What? ¿Why didn’t you wake me so I could try stopping them?” Autumn asked, her eyes no longer droopy, but in fact, flaring.

“I thought it might be rude to disturb your sleep…” Felix said as she began to shrink her hands back & seemed to be trying to push herself back into the wall.

But rather than yelling, Autumn merely cringed & pinched the bridge o’ her nose while she muttered under her breath, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Dawn wanted to tell Autumn not to be too hard on Felix, but then decided that considering the circumstance Autumn was in now, that might not have been a good idea.

Autumn raised her head & stared blankly @ the opposite wall as if in deep thought. Then she glanced up @ the hole in the ceiling.

Finally she cupped her mouth with her hands & called up, “OK, guys, I have the perfect ’scape plan this time, which those idiots will ne’er be able to stop, but we’d better do it quickly so that they don’t find out before we’ve started & be able to stop us.”

She stared up @ the hole in the ceiling ’gain. Dawn & Felix did, too, though mo’ out o’ curiosity as to what the hell Autumn was doing.

Autumn then stood & walked back & forth under the hole @ different areas, turning her head up & round @ different angles. Then she walked o’er to Dawn & Felix.

“I think the armored guy’s gone,” whispered Autumn. “Must be because he took Edgar. This is our chance to get out o’ here.”

“¿How?” Dawn asked as she scratched her neck.

“The same way we did before.”

Surprisingly, ’twas Felix whose eyes twisted in worry & whispered, “¿Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“Yes. I’m sorry if we’re being rude to our hosts, but I rather like survival, thank you,” Autumn whispered as she stood back up & walked o’er to the hole.

Felix lowered her head in shame. Felix’s original worry was that Autumn & Dawn would get attacked as they did before—& without Edgar, it’d be harder to resuscitate both o’ them in time—but then Felix saw Autumn point out a flaw in her plan that her stupid brain couldn’t e’en have noticed. In fact, she didn’t understand what Autumn was talking ’bout, but imagined it must’ve been smart & she was just too dumb to understand it.

Dawn put her arm round Felix’s shoulder & whispered, “Autumn, that was a li’l harsh… She did save our lives, after all.”

“& I’m trying to save ours & Edgar’s,” Autumn replied without looking back @ them.

“It would probably be better if you left me down here, actually,” Felix said matter-of-factly to her feet. “I’d probably only slow you 2 down.”

Autumn struggled to muffle a deep, petulant sigh. Perhaps in ’nother context I’d have the patience to deal with her neuroses; now time’s too short.

Clearly Dawn’s babying does no good: the cat deflects all compliments like rain off a windshield. ¿& why shouldn’t she? After all, such mindless niceties are so transparent. But we can’t just agree with her, ’cause that just leaves us right @ the beginning o’ the problem.

Then she devised an idea. She turned round, faced Felix, & said, “OK, Felix, you screwed up completely, but there’s good news: there’s a way you can have it all erased.”

“¿What?” Felix said as she raised her head, a look o’ curiosity on her face.

“I said, all o’ your past fuck-ups, all o’ your failures, they can all be expunged, they can all be rectified, if you help us climb up this hole like you did before.”

Felix blinked @ Autumn, not sure if she heard correctly.

“¿You mean… You mean everything I’ve done wrong will be… will be fixed? ¿You mean I’ll be clean ’gain? ¿A new person? A… a good person for once?” Felix had her hands clasped together tightly, the only way she felt she could contain her excitement. Autumn couldn’t help notice that, for once, Felix’s e’er-stoic eyes were beginning to water.

“Yup,” Autumn said with a nod. “You’ll be a real boy—or girl, whatever.” She turned round ’gain & waved toward her. “Anyway, get o’er here.”

Felix immediately jumped onto her feet & dashed o’er to her. Dawn hesitated for a second, taking in what Autumn had done. She was both impressed & creeped-out @ the way she essentially psychologically exploited Felix.

Finally, she rose & helped the other 2: Dawn, who was stronger than Felix, stood bent down @ the bottom with Felix bent down on her shoulders. Autumn, who they all figured would be the best—or rather, least bad—@ defense, if deemed necessary, stood @ the top, the 1st to go up. When she was safely balanced on Felix’s shoulders, Felix & Dawn stood up straight, raising Autumn high ’nough so that her neck & ’bove were ’bove the hole.

When she swung her head all round the room, she saw that, much as she’d guessed, Agent Purples Majesty Whatever was gone. Everyone was gone.

She climbed up & immediately helped Dawn up. Now the only trouble was figuring out how to get Felix up.

“You 2 don’t need to worry ’bout me,” said Felix. “Just go on & do what you need to do & I’ll be fine.”

This was it, Felix thought. All o’ my failures have been fixed. & now with this 1 last good deed I can die knowing I was a good person.

“We may need to wait till I can retrieve my backpack so we can use my rope,” said Autumn.

Dawn dug through her inner pockets. “I still have some yo-yo string we can lower down to her. It might be able to hold her up.”

“Worth a try, I s’pose.”

Dawn unwound the string all the way down the hole & said, “Try climbing up it, Felix.”

As she felt Felix’s weight pull the string down Dawn grabbed the end o’ the string right next to the yo-yo, ’fraid it might rip if she held the yo-yo. Then she turned to Autumn & said, “Could you hold me back just in case. Autumn nodded, stepped ’hind Dawn, & wrapped her arms round Dawn’s stomach for extra weight.

Though the prospect that the weak string might break was always on Dawn’s mind, she was surprised to find that it didn’t, & soon ’nough Felix was crawling up the edge o’ the hole. Good thing she’s light, Dawn thought as she sat back & relaxed.

Autumn, however, was back on her feet already, the clash only just commencing. She stared up @ the covered hole ’bove them. What she truly wanted was to see if Lance was up there; & if so, she truly wanted to get up there & wring his neck till he told her where Edgar was.

But then, he would probably know it wasn’t one o’ his minions, since he didn’t answer last time she tried knocking. Indeed, it’d likely only alert him & then his minions that they’d scaped ’gain, & then any stealth advantage they might have had would be gone.

& yet, Autumn needed to find Edgar, anyway. & that was going to require a confrontation with Lance or his minions, anyway.

After a minute or so mo’ o’ internal debate Autumn thought, It’d be worth a try, a’least.

She turned to the others & whispered, “I’ll need you 2 to help me do the same for up there, too.”

“¿What? ¿Why? It’s blocked off,” Dawn whispered.

“Yes, but I just want to see if Lance is still up there, anyway,” Autumn whispered. “Maybe he’ll be stupid ’nough to answer.”

“He’ll probably just sic his guards on us,” whispered Dawn.

“Yes, well, we’ll need to deal with them, anyway, if we’re to find Edgar,” whispered Autumn. It was then that Autumn considered that Dawn & Felix might not e’en be interested in finding Edgar. It’d certainly be the logical sentiment.

But Dawn merely nodded & sat down.

They made the same human pyramid as before, ’cept with Autumn ducking a li’l so she didn’t bonk her head on the ceiling. Then she knocked on the hunk o’ wood blocking the ceiling hole. When that went unanswered, she knocked ’gain.

From the other side she could hear Lance’s muffled voice say, “¿Who is it? I know you’re not 1 o’ my guards.”

“Shit,” Autumn mouthed silently.

With no other recourse, she knocked ’gain without saying a word.

“Agent Red, I need you to return to base immediately,” Lance said in an urgent voice. After a short pause he added, “I don’t know who it is, but someone is knocking on my door.

“You know what I mean. I’m quite sure it’s that monster from before trying to be a wise guy. Thinks I’m dumb ’nough to answer if he just keeps knocking.”

Autumn’s ears perked up @ this. ¿Monster? ¿What is this?

“¿How long till all those new recruits arrive? We need them immediately.”

Autumn’s ears also perked @ this. ¿New recruits? ¿You mean he’s getting e’en more o’ these armored assholes?

Finally, Autumn knocked 1 mo’ time, harder, & yelled, “Lance, ¡open this fucking door!”

After a pause, she heard thumping, & then saw the wooden block slide out o’ the way.

“Ponytailed devil, what are you doing out o’ your—”

But before Lance could finish, Autumn jumped up through the hole & climbed up while Lance, stunned by the sudden action, backed ’way. Then he backed ’way e’en farther & quicker when he saw Autumn move in toward him, till she had him pinned gainst the wall. He tried to reach his hand out to grab the microphone, but ‘twas too far ’way.

Autumn lifted Lance a few dozen centimeters off the ground. Lance watched with horror as Autumn’s eyes glared @ him, not with burning fury, but with icy precision, as if she were preparing to shoot a laser @ him.

“¿Where is Edgar?” asked Autumn.

“My patience has grown thin with you & your evil minion’s tricks,” said Lance, his horror half-abating into indignation.

She tightened her grip round Lance’s neck & repeated, “¿Where is Edgar? ¿Do your minions have him?”

“That is not your business to know—Hey, ¿what are you doing?”

Autumn ignored him & grabbed round his ear, till she found what she guessed was the communication device. She tore it out & put it up to her own ear as she moved o’er to the microphone. After a quick glance to figure out how it worked, she pressed the button & put her mouth up to it.

“Hey, assholes, ¿where’s Edgar?”

“¿Sir Chamsby?” whimpered the voice she recognized as Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty’s. “¿Do you hear that crazy lady on the communication device? ¿Are you sure we should be doing this? ¿What if it just makes them angrier?”

“¿What are you doing with Edgar? ¿Who’s ‘they’?” asked Autumn.

From ’hind her, Lance had stepped o’er next to Autumn & said, “Hey, that’s not yours to touch, you filthy looter. Give it back,” with a point o’ his finger. Autumn ignored him.

“¿Sir Chamsby? ¿What should we do?” She heard some o’ them say.

“’Sir Chamsby’ can’t speak right now,” said Autumn, “But you may continue your happy li’l games ’gain when you tell me what you’ve done with Edgar.”

There was silence afterward. Autumn didn’t get a chance to hear how long the silence lasted; soon after, Lance tackled Autumn, trying to wrench the mike out o’ her hands & then, seeing that fail, made a grab for her damaged nose.

“¡Augh! ¡You cocksucker!” Autumn yelled before she swung an elbow @ Lance, knocking him off o’ her.

But Lance soon returned to his feet & tackled Autumn ’gain, followed by him throttling her by the neck. Autumn responded to this by kneeing him in the stomach & throwing a punch gainst the side o’ his face with the microphone.

When that didn’t quite get him off, she released the microphone & dug her fingers into his eyes till the pain forced him to release her neck & grab his face, sitting up to get some distance. With his guard down ’gain, Autumn kicked him backward by the crotch so that he collapse on his back.

“Autumn, ¿d’you need any… help?”

Autumn turned & saw that Dawn was hanging up the edge o’ the hole by her arms.

“Yes,” Autumn said with heavy breaths. “Toss me a yo-yo.”

“Let me see if I have 1 left,” Dawn said as she dug through her inner pockets.

Autumn turned just in time to see Lance tackle her ’gain, this time trying to use his arms to pin hers down. She could see that his eyes were red & furious, though his mouth remained a grim straight line.

Though her arms were pinned down, she could still move her head & used it to head-butt him off, followed by kneeing him in the crotch.

With all o’ this, Autumn could feel Lance’s hold on her weaken. He could clearly feel it, too, as he soon gave it up, & ’stead used his right hand to punch Autumn in the jaw. With her left hand released ’gain, she responded with ’nother punch o’ her own to the side o’ his head.

With him slightly weakened, she rolled on her side & pushed Lance off o’ her, ignoring the kick he made to her crotch, & then quickly roll-jumped onto Lance’s back. She turned to Dawn & saw that she was staring, bewildered, @ Autumn, holding the yo-yo in up in her hand.

“Toss me the yo-yo,” said Autumn, panting.

Dawn threw the yo-yo & Autumn caught it, but Lance soon shoved Autumn off o’ his back. But before he could get back up, Autumn jumped on his him ’gain & grabbed his hands. While he tried head-butting her & throwing his knees up @ her, she quickly wrapped the yo-yo string round his hands & tied them. She let go & watched him try to pull his hands ’way, to no avail.

Next, she did the same to his legs, separating the string tied round his hands from the rest with her teeth. She found that his legs were e’en easier to do, since he had no other means to try to stop her. With that done, she stepped back & examined him 1 last time to make sure he was truly tied down.

She looked @ the yo-yo still in her hands & said, “This is strong string.”

She moved Lance o’er to the side o’ the room while he shouted, “¡You can’t do this! ¡This is a violation o’ my rights, you filthy looter! ¡I will not be locked up in your vile labor camps!”

She walked o’er to Dawn, who was still gaping @ the bruises on both Autumn & Lance’s faces, & offered a hand.

“Holy shit…” said Dawn.

“Watch him & make sure he doesn’t ’scape,” Autumn said as she pointed to Lance, & then she immediately returned to the microphone & ear piece.

She pressed the button &, brushing her bangs back & exhaling deeply, said, “OK, ¿now where is Edgar?”

“I hear the crazy lady ’gain, Agent Red,” she heard Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty’s voice whisper. “I can also hear Sir Chamsby yelling in the background. I think he’s in trouble.”

“She can hear you, you know,” muttered Agent Red.

“Yes, I can,” said Autumn. “¿Where is Edgar?”

Nobody answered.

“I have your boss tied up. If you want him safe, you shall tell me where Edgar is.”

“¿What?” whimpered Agent Purple.

“We have him in room 304,” said Agent Red.

“¿& why?” asked Autumn.

There was a pause before Agent Red said, “¿Why what?”

“¿Why did you choose the room next to ours—the room where the 2 others were hung—out o’ all others?” asked Autumn. “¿What did you need the rope for?”

There was ’nother pause. Autumn couldn’t see it, but Agent Red’s eyes widened in shock. He could clearly see he had given too much info already.

He hesitated a li’l mo’ before answering, “We were trying to hang him.”

Autumn, who had been rather cool before, could not stop the lump that formed in her throat.

Then when everything he said sunk in, she asked, “¿Trying?”

“Yes,” said Agent Red. “If it pleases you to know, he’s still ’live. 1st we tried tasing him, but it seemed to just hurt him, not kill him. So then we tried hanging him. We’ve been standing here waiting for a’least a half hour, just seeing if he would die, but every time we told him to speak, he was able to speak just fine.”

“¿Is that Autumn?” she heard Edgar’s frightened voice say. She felt her whole body relax when she heard him, & breathed in deep as if she had been suffocating before.

“Well, release him immediately,” said Autumn.

“I’m ’fraid we can’t take orders from you,” said Agent Red. “¿May we ask who you are?”

“I’m Autumn Springer & you’d better take orders from me if you care ’bout your boss’s safety.”

’Nother pause. ¿What’s with all o’ these pauses? Autumn thought. ¿Are they incompetent? She looked up distractedly when she noticed monitors stacked together in a boxy formation. They all showed various scenes o’ the mansion. As she looked ’mong them all, she almost jumped when she saw 2 o’ them that showed Edgar. Sure ’nough, he was hanging from the ceiling with a rope tied round his neck.

Autumn couldn’t keep herself from slapping her forehead. ¿There were monitors here I could have looked @ this whole time?

“¿Are you the one in the ponytail?” Agent Red asked.


There was ’nother pause. Autumn decided to breach the pause this time.

“OK now, here is what you 2 shall do,” said Autumn: “you’ll untie Edgar, & I’ll be watching to ensure that you do, & you will tell him where Lance’s li’l base is. You shall let him go alone. Remember, I’ll be able to see if you try following him. ¿Understand?”

“¿& what if we don’t do this?” asked Agent Red.

“Then I’ll use the same string with which I’ve tied him up to wrap your boss his own noose.” She leaned in closer. “& I doubt your boss’ll be as resistant as skeletons.”

Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty found himself unable to stifle a whimper.

’Hind her, Autumn could hear Dawn gasp & say in a sharp whisper, “Autumn… You can’t…”

’Course I can’t, you idiot—but that doesn’t mean we need to let them know…

But ’stead o’ saying this, she turned to Dawn & said in the dullest monotone she could manage, “When Edgar’s safety is @ stake, anything is possible.” She then slowly slid her eyes to Lance & saw his eyes bulge in horror, his constant curses gainst Autumn replaced by muteness.

“¿May I ask Sir Chamsby his view on the situation, or is he incapacitated?” asked Agent Red. “I’m not sure whether he would prefer I continue this work & let him die or not.”

Autumn walked toward Lance, which caused him to struggle gainst his ropes mo’ strongly than he’d e’er done before.

“You can’t seriously be planning to execute me,” Lance said in almost a plea. “Surely e’en someone so vile as yourself would not stoop to murder.”

Dawn stood & gave Autumn a stern look. “I can’t let you do that, Autumn. Certainly not with my yo-yo. There must be ’nother way to save Edgar…”

“We’re not to that part yet, sadly,” Autumn said to Dawn.

Then she bent down next to Lance & held the microphone next to his mouth with the button still pressed down.

“Agent Red, or whoever, wants to know if he should release Edgar & save your life or carry out his work & let you sink to save the superfluous ship. It’s your choice.”

“O, so it’s only extortion, then,” said Lance.

“We’re not playing ‘Cops & Robbers’ anymo’, li’l Lance,” said Autumn. “Either both o’ you die or neither o’ you die. Win-win or lose-lose. The correct option should be quite obvious. Indeed, they haven’t e’en been able to kill Edgar yet, & don’t know how to, so it’s not e’en necessarily lose-lose; it could be lose-win in our favor.”

“I don’t have to choose from just the 2 choices you offered—¡I have free will!”

“No less than Edgar, & no less than I,” Autumn said as she started unravelling the yo-yo.

Lance stared up @ her, both o’ their eyes locking. Dawn, meanwhile, still stood to the side, glancing ’tween them with alarm. Whom she stared @ most, though, was Autumn: the way she stared down @ Chamsby with dead eyes, now holding the string gainst Lance’s neck as if merely measuring a sneaker. Dawn saw from the few times she’d seen her back @ the Rock Lobster that she was kind o’ a stoic, & she knew she was a thief, but now she was starting to wonder if Autumn might be a sociopath.

Then ’gain, it seemed to be the only way to prevent her boyfriend from being killed, & Lance clearly had a way to avoid it by not committing an evil act himself.

’Less he knows something ’bout Autumn that I don’t… ¿Maybe she’s lying? ¿Maybe she’d just kill him e’en if he did as she demanded, & he knows it? But then, ¿why would she hesitate now?

& ’sides, ¿didn’t she just say Edgar’s life probably wasn’t in danger @ all? ¿What was that s’posed to mean, & then, why was she still doing this to him?

Whatever the case, Dawn couldn’t help feeling sick to her stomach as she thought ’bout it all, ¡as well as sweating & an obnoxious itchiness in her neck that wouldn’t go ’way!

She was so distracted by these thoughts that she missed Lance’s eyes gradually morph from challenging to fearful. After a few mo’ hushed moments, he muttered, “Yeah, let the stupid skeleton go.”

“¿Can you say that loud ’nough for Agent Red to hear?” said Autumn.

“Let the stupid skeleton go,” Lance said louder.

“¿Did you hear that, Agent Red?” asked Autumn.


“’K, I’m watching,” Autumn said as she turned to face the monitors.

& indeed, what she saw was 1 o’ the minions—Probably Agent Red, Autumn thought—untie Edgar’s rope, releasing him back to the ground.

The minion looked @ Edgar & said, in Agent Red’s voice, sure ’nough, “You are to go to room 606, which is where Sir Chamsby’s base is & where, I’m sure you know, Autumn Springer is located. She expects you.”

“’K, thank you,” Edgar said quietly with a nod, & then Autumn saw him scurry out o’ view.

“¿You saw us release the skeleton, correct, Madame Springer?” said Agent Red.

“Yes. & you are to stay there. I’ll be watching to make sure that you do. Then when I meet Edgar, I’ll leave Chamsby’s hideout open so you can return & untie him. ¿Understand?”

“Yes,” said Agent Red.

Autumn tossed the microphone aside & the yo-yo into Dawn’s lap. Though Lance tried to hide it, Autumn could clearly see relief on Lance’s face. Dawn, on the other hand, was mo’ occupied with Autumn not e’en trying to hide relief, which mollified her a bit.

But then Autumn stared down @ Lance ’gain with stern eyes. “Now, ¿may I ask why you wanted to kill an innocent man who has ne’er e’en hurt a fly in his life?”

“Innocent, yeah,” said Lance. “Tell that to his big ol’ skeleton buddy & his freak-show cronies who threatened to have me hung after strangling Agent Dip O’ Ruby to death.”

“¿What the hell are you smoking?” said Autumn.

“Don’t play dumb with me, you filthy savage,” said Lance, his voice rising in anger.

“I would think you’d know we were all down in that li’l prison you developed for us. It makes me curious how we would find the opportunity to befriend some large skeleton monster & order him to kill you & your minions. You might recall that we are in a haunted mansion & that we had previously been attacked by ghosts.”

“Yes. I also recall that your skeleton friend is a skeleton,” said Lance; “& I know you 2 have ne’er had any trouble escaping from otherwise inescapable traps many times before. ¿How? Well, it’s quite simple when one gets her help from the occult.”

“You’re bloody bonkers, Chamsby.”

“For god’s sake, your vile partner in crime’s minions told me themselves that they served him. They said ‘the skeleton w…’ They specifically pointed him out specifically.”

Autumn shook her head.

“¿& you believed these occult figures?” asked Autumn. She was no longer staring down @ Lance, but now gazing toward the ceiling with brows tilted in curiosity.

“No less than I would believe a shameless thief such as you.”

Have to admit he’s a point there, thought Autumn.

“Obviously I am not going to let such an obvious hole in my defenses slip by,” Lance continued. “Unlike sloppy idiots like you, I plan my work fully, so that all issues can be resolved.”

Now, this point’s a different matter. Autumn threw her arms out in exasperation. “¡You left the hole to our prison wide open! ¡You answered your door when you knew I’d be ’hind it! ¡Motherfucker, your defenses had such a wide hole you could ride a fucking rocket through it!”

“My men didn’t have time to close your prison ’gain ’cause they were preoccupied with mo’ important tasks…”

Autumn turned ’way from him in disgust, picked up the microphone, & sat down @ Lance’s desk with her face buried in her hands.

“Hey, that’s my desk your messing round with,” Lance said.

“Shut up,” Autumn said civilly as she turned to look @ the monitors. That’s when she noticed something on the desk.

“Hey, this is my backpack,” Autumn said as she slid it o’er to her. “So you’re the dick who stole it. I should have thought, Sir Hypocrite would be a ‘looter’ himself.”

“Don’t pretend as if you didn’t steal everything in there,” said Lance. “I was merely repossessing property that was the rightful property o’ society, not filthy looters such as you.”

“Whatever you say, Karl Marx,” Autumn said as she dug round inside the pack. “Hell yeah,” she said as she pulled out a couple bags o’ trail mix & a couple bottles o’ water.

She turned to Dawn, who was sitting back gainst the wall with her eyes down on the ground ’tween her feet. Autumn couldn’t help notice Dawn’s naturally rather cheerful disposition replaced by a low frown & couldn’t help feeling she played a significant role in that.

O well, somebody has to be an asshole to get things done round here, thought Autumn.

“Hey, Dawn, catch,” she said before tossing a trail mix bag & water bottle o’er to her.

“¿You have some for Felix?” Dawn asked as she opened her bottle.

“Yes,” Autumn said as she walked o’er to the hole. She looked down to see Felix sitting cross-legged as she always seemed to do, staring serenely @ a wall.

“Hey, Felix, catch,” Autumn called down to her.

As Felix looked up, Autumn dropped a trail mix bag & water bottle down on her lap.

Felix looked down @ it with a puzzled expression & then looked up & said, “O, you didn’t have to waste your food on me.”

“You’ve been redeemed, ¿remember? From now on you deserve all o’ the food & drink you hunger for,” said Autumn. “After all, you wouldn’t want to collapse from dehydration & make us carry you, ¿would you?”

Felix shook her head. ¡I’m already messing up ’gain already! “N-no.”

“Then eat & drink & everything will go well.”

& then Autumn stood up & went back to the desk.

She grabbed a handful out o’ her bag, shoved it in her mouth, & then began to wash it down with water when she remembered something else.

She turned to Lance & said, “Hey, ¿what did you do with my coat & other crap, too?”

“I have the right to remain silent,” Lance said as he glanced ’way. “You can’t compel me to say anything.”

“’K, Gandhi; I’ll just have to search for it myself.”

“¡Hey, you can’t do that!” shouted Lance. “¡That’s illegal!”

“So’s theft & attempted murder,” Autumn said as she moved the chair back & looked under the desk. “I think we’re ’bout e’e—¡Hey!”

Lance looked forward to see Autumn searching under his desk, & the realization came to his head.

“¡Hey, you leave that ’lone! ¡I found that with my own hard work!” yelled Lance.

“What a coincidence; I also found it with my own hard work,” Autumn said with a wry smile as she stood back up from under the desk with 2 treasure chests the size o’ toasters in her arms. “¿Is this the treasure you said you found?”

“¿What d’you mean?”

“O, right: We were listening in on you while you were in your basement area & heard that you found some treasure. ¿Did you look inside any o’ them yet?”

“No, & don’t you dare, either,” said Lance. “¿D’you hear me?”

Autumn ignored him & sat down with her legs crossed & the chests lying in her lap. She fiddled with the clasp on 1 o’ them & then lifted its lid, her heart buzzing with excitement o’er what she’d find.

She was expecting it to be full o’ golden coins, with maybe a few other jewels mixed in, but ’stead found 1 large golden polygon—some triangle with rounded edges. She checked the other chest & found the same.

She was actually grateful that the treasure was packed into such convenient pieces, & stuffed them in each o’ her pockets, creating bulges on her sides.

“You’re not truly planning on going round here with those bulbous things in your pockets, ¿are you?” Dawn asked in almost a laugh.

“¿What else am I going to do?” Autumn asked as she continued searching the place. “’Sides, when I find my jacket I might put them in there ’stead.”

“You are not to put them anywhere but back where you found them, in the chests, & then under my desk,” said Lance.

“Li’l lesson ’bout thieves, Lance—¿or should I say ‘looters’?—they don’t listen when you tell them to stop robbing you. They just keep on robbing for some reason.”

She returned to her excavation under Lance’s desks, only to stop in the midst with a look o’ bewilderment. Then to goad Lance into revealing its purpose, she pulled out the object in question—a rather lifelike doppelgänger o’ Autumn—& asked, “¿Dare I e’en ask what purpose you have for this?”

Dawn looked up to see what Autumn was talking ’bout & then immediately looked back down & shook her head, regretting it.

Lance’s face fumed @ this transparent innuendo.

“I’ll have you know that that high-quality android was created for some plan to capture you & bring you to justice; but I don’t need it anymo’. Turns out that bumbling oaf O’Beefe finally made himself useful for once & found me a veritable master o’ disguise…” Then his eyes widened in realization that he’d said too much, & instantly muted himself.

“I do agree that it’s still mo’ authentic than your character design,” Autumn said as she examined it, trying not to show the awkwardness she felt as she examined… well, her.

Then she dug in deeper & found a remote control. ¿Didn’t he say this was an “android”? This must be how it’s operated.

“I may have some use o’ this later, actually,” she said as she stuffed them both into her backpack, causing said pack’s top to balloon.

“I’m sure you’ll take anything that isn’t nailed down,” said Lance.

“If I’m working competently I will,’ replied Autumn.

Though she didn’t find any mo’ treasure, she did soon find her jacket, costume, & the rest o’ her stuff lying on the ground in a corner. She had been so preoccupied that she hadn’t noticed how cold ’twas, but immediately felt a nice, snug warmth when she put her jacket & costume on.

With everything searched, & everything she knew was here found, she returned to her seat & continued her meal while putting the stuff Lance left out back in her backpack. However, she stopped as she was putting Edgar’s journal back into the pack when she noticed it had a bookmark in it. She pulled the bookmark out & briefly glanced @ it to see, as she expected, that ‘twas full o’ some bland quotes ’bout freedom & privacy from a place called “Let’s Liberty.”

Then she turned to Lance. “’K, 1st you try to kill him, ¿& then you read his diary?” Autumn asked with the journal hanging in her hand. “¿Have you no shame?”

“When in war, I will use any means to collect information on my enemy,” Lance said as he looked ’way ’gain, mouth puffing & twisting.

“Well, it’s nice to know we’re @ war,” Autumn said as she put the journal ’way. “Looks as if you may be losing, though.”

“Yes, I am @ war, with those violent monsters who are trying to run me out o’ this place, & by your own actions gainst me today you have clearly showed yourself to be on their side.”

“Whatever your neuroses tell you,” Autumn said as she returned to her trail mix. “Just a curiosity: ¿what intel did you find on us?”

“I bet that’d be useful to you, which is why I won’t tell,” said Lance. In truth, he did find secrets ’bout them; but not secrets he particularly enjoyed knowing.

They spent the rest o’ their wait munching on trail mix & drinking water in silence. Lance made a few indignant comments, such as, “You’ll ne’er get ’way with this, you know,” but stopped when he saw that Autumn & Dawn were ignoring him.

Eventually, Autumn heard the door below them open & close. She immediately jumped to her feet, dashed o’er to the hole, & looked down to see Edgar. They locked eyes for a silent half-minute before she turned to Felix & said, “Felix, could you watch out the door to ensure none o’ Chamsby’s goons plan to ambush us.”

“None o’ them seemed to move since you instructed those other 2 guys not to,” said Dawn, watching the monitors.

“Let’s just be extra sure,” said Autumn.

“I would be honored to be used for good,” Felix said before turning & moving for the door. Autumn frowned as she saw that, as Felix went, Felix had a look o’ pure bliss on her face.

By that time, Dawn was standing next to Autumn & said, “So, shall we jump down now?”

“Wait,” Autumn said as she turned her head back. “I want your help with something.”

“¿Carrying your backpack?” Dawn asked with an incredulous look. Surely it’s not any heavier than the 2 people you’ve lifted before—e’en with the… you in it.

“No, carrying Lance down with us,” said Autumn, though she did get up & put on her backpack, almost forgetting it till Dawn reminded her.

“Ah, so you thought you’d kidnap me,” said Lance. “It seems the looter has evolved all the way to slaveholder so soon.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” said Autumn. “We’re only taking you to the floor below & leaving you there.”

“¿Why?” asked Dawn, looking e’en mo’ befuddled.

“It’ll give us a head start, as it’ll take him longer to get back up here by himself,” said Autumn. “I promised I would untie him, so I will do so, but I ne’er promised where I would do so.”

Lance didn’t say anything, but merely glared up @ the ceiling. @ this point, he figured ’twas pointless to protest anymo’; the looters clearly wouldn’t listen to reason. ’Sides, his voice was starting to feel funny from all o’ the talking.

So Autumn gently lowered Dawn back down to the middle floor, & then dragged Lance o’er to the hole. Then she lowered his feet down to Dawn & sat on the edge o’ the hole. She looked down @ Lance’s head in her arms & said, “OK, this part might be a li’l bumpy.”

“If you damage my head or neck in any way, so help me—”

He was interrupted by a loud whump below him as Autumn’s feet landed on the floor below. Lance could feel his head wobble, but it did not seem to be damaged. The witch is lucky, thought Lance.

Then Autumn lowered Lance on the floor & they left. ‘Twas standing outside that door, looking round @ the orange & red-orange striped wallpaper that Autumn realized she needed to consider what to do next.

“Now, we could search round the 6th & 5th floor, which we haven’t checked yet, but I’m sure Chamsby’s minions already scoured the area closely, so I suggest we just go up, seeing how far up this place goes.” She said it while facing Edgar, unsure whether or not Dawn or Felix would want to join her.

“So, ¿I guess you’re still staying here till you find everything?” asked Dawn.

“Yes.” Autumn thought it might’ve been polite to ask Dawn if she wanted to help, but then figured it’d also be impudent to act as if she expected Dawn to help them. If she did, she would say so.

“Well, I think I’d better help Felix get out o’ here before she gets in danger ’gain.”

Autumn could already predict Felix’s inevitable response. She waved her hand round & rolled her eyes back as she heard the Felix-bot recite, “O, you don’t have to ruin your plans for my safety. It’s truly not worth it.”

“That’s OK, it’s no trouble @ all,” Dawn said with a weak smile.

“¿Are you sure?” asked Felix.


& with that Autumn & Edgar turned & went on forward down the hall while Dawn & Felix turned in the other direction, to the stairs back down to the fifth floor.

& as Autumn & Edgar walked down their hall—hands held together, which they rationalized as a way to prevent separation ’gain—Autumn begrudgingly admitted that she’d miss that ditz Dawn.

XVIII. Criminal

Lance Chamsby felt it had taken far too long for those idiots to finally make it back to his base. All he could do was lie there inertly, staring boredly @ the plaster walls for minutes. The only solace he found during this long wait was that it gave him time to plan his retribution in fine, delectable detail.

O yes… No mindless ghosts are going to be showing me what’s what, & certainly no stupid li’l witch will do so, either.

His thoughts were interrupted by the door creaking. He looked up & saw a few o’ his minions enter, while many others crowded outside the door.

“Sir, we came here as quickly as we could when we still didn’t hear anything on the microphone,” said Agent Red’s voice. “¿Why are you down here, Sir?”

“Ne’er mind that,” Lance said as he struggled gainst his ropes. “Just untie me & help me back up to my base.”

They proceeded to do just that. Since there were so many minions here, there was no trouble in getting him up; & as they hoisted him up, 1 o’ them had good news:

“If it makes you feel better, Sir, Agents Laser Lemon & Banana Mania found ’nother treasure chest.”

“Excellent.” Lance didn’t tell them ’bout his other 2 treasures being stolen.

When he reached the top, he waited by the hole while his minions carried up the chest next, & then he took it.

& this time the filthy looter won’t e’en lay a finger on it as long as my heart is still beating.

“¿What do you want us to do now, Sir?” Agent Red called up to him. “¿Shall we continue patrolling the whole mansion for treasure & ghosts?”

“Yes, but I want you to do something else, too.”

“¿What, Sir?”

“If you e’er see any o’ those looters—the ponytailed devil or that warlock skeleton o’ hers—you are to full-on attack them. If you find the idiot in the baseball cap or the cat in the stupid headband, lock them up & take them as far from the mansion as you can; as for the skeleton, just kill him in whatever way is most efficient; but if you find the ponytailed devil, I want you merely to capture her & bring her here. She is deserving o’ punishment much deeper than mere death.”

“Uh… ¿Sir? ¿You want us to kill a human, too?” asked Agent Red, his voice sounding as if ‘twas lost.

“If anyone has a problem with this, he may resign & go home,” Lance said without looking back @ them. “That ‘human’ as you call her willingly works for murderous demons—the very foes to life, ethics, & anything that is just. You can go look for Agent Dip O’ Ruby & see how he’s doing if you want a demonstration—or that rose monster who ate Agent Screamin’ Green, which was probably their devilish work, too.”

His minions looked ’mong each other. “Man, I have a mortgage I still need to pay, I can’t lose this job,” a few muttered, as well as similar sentiments.

Finally Agent Red turned his head up to Lance—who still had his back to them—& said, “’K, Sir, we can do that.”

“¿Did you install the lock on this door yet, too?” asked Lance.

“Yes, Sir, we did that as we moved your equipment. Just use the switch under the rightmost monitor to control it.”

“Good. This time no ghosts or looters will be sneaking up on me. You may resume your work now.”

The minions looked ’mong themselves awkwardly 1 mo’ time before filing out the door.

XIX. ’Nother Way to Die

As they continued toward the 7th floor, Autumn could see for herself that Lance wasn’t kidding when he said he was taking o’er this place. While before she noticed maybe 1 wandering armored minion every so oft, now she saw them everywhere, which worried her; she knew Lance wasn’t the type to let grudges abate, & when he eventually climbed back up to his equipment, he’d probably tell them all to go after them.

However, for now they appeared to ignore her. In fact, it seemed as if they were making an effort to pretend Autumn & Edgar didn’t exist as they passed by, quickening their steps as they neared. Perhaps they were all returning to their boss, worried after not hearing him on the microphone yet. After all, they couldn’t have untied him already.

Either way, Autumn was not heartbroken that his minions ignored her; she’d prefer the ability to do the same to them.

Still, Edgar was unnerved by them all—Which isn’t surprising considering they tried to hang him, Autumn thought—& when they were ’way from any visible minion, he whispered, “¿What will we do if they decide to get back @ us?”

Autumn shrugged. “We’d better hope we’ll be able to fight all 10 or so o’ them off.”

Edgar clutched Autumn’s arm tightly. “Autumn, I have to admit I’m getting scared. Chamsby doesn’t seem to be acting the way he usually does. He seems serious now. I think it’s this mansion. Something ’bout it isn’t right.”

“Something ’bout it isn’t right” seemed to Autumn to be the biggest understatement in the world, but Autumn thought she understood his point all the same.

“Lance also saw what I’d do to him if he touched you ’gain. ¿You think he wants to go through that ’gain—or worse?” Autumn said as she rubbed his shoulder.

“Yeah… Sorry, I guess I’m just o’erreacting a li’l,” whispered Edgar.

When Autumn looked back @ the events that had recently transpired ’tween her & Chamsby, she wondered if they all were.

They were soon climbing up to the 7th floor on stairs that seemed to grow mold, moss, & e’en mo’ dust than the others. When they emerged @ the top, they looked round & saw that this floor was different in mo’ ways than simply the yellow-green wallpaper that was tearing a li’l mo’ than in the other halls: the air felt thicker—both in sight & touch—as they gazed @ the half-opaque clouds o’ haze & sensed cold moisture swarm all o’er their bodies. The area reeked o’ some unidentifiably strong odor.

“Madame Heureuse went full-force for this floor,” said Autumn.

“¿Are you sure ‘twas Madame Heureuse who did this?” Edgar said in a low voice as he somehow clung to Autumn e’en mo’ tightly than before.

“¿What, are you saying those minions did this to try to scare us or ’twas ghosts?” asked Autumn.

Edgar paused, having not thought o’ the former option. “Either,” he finally said.

“Hmm… I doubt ghosts would arbitrarily do that to 1 floor & not any o’ the others—’specially a floor so high up, most won’t probably see it. I’m thinking ‘twas Lance’s dirty work.”

This actually calmed Edgar a li’l. E’en with his previous brush with almost-death, he much preferred enemies he could understand to some extent than the kind o’ unimaginable horrors he knew were lurking round this mansion somewhere.

Autumn tried to turn the knob on the 1st door, but found that it wouldn’t budge, as if ‘twere just a fake knob glued to the door. She stepped back & scrutinized it.

“Great: these dicks probably locked all o’ these doors to keep us out,” muttered Autumn. “I s’pose we could try busting through, ¿but what would be the point? They’ve probably already searched this floor up & down.” As Autumn thought ’bout it, she thought she wouldn’t be surprised if 1 or a few o’ those minions they passed had some treasure on them.

Cheating bastard: just hiring hundreds o’ other people to find his treasure for him, thought Autumn, though she did take solace in the fact that all o’ his hundreds o’ minions weren’t able to prevent her from taking 2 o’ his treasures.

A’least not yet.

When the other doors similarly wouldn’t budge, Autumn said, “Let’s just go up as far as we can go & start from there. Maybe we’ll find some rooms the Renaissance-Faire rejects haven’t scoured yet.”

Edgar didn’t reply. Honestly, he didn’t like the idea o’ going farther & farther up the mansion—farther & farther from the exit—but realized ‘twas a ’ventuality, anyway, if they were to find all o’ the treasure; so he simply followed ’long Autumn quietly as they made their way up to the 8th floor.

As they climbed up the stairs, Autumn & Edgar noticed that they became somehow e’en dirtier farther up. The top few steps looked to be stained with blood & some green-brown liquid—probably vomit, Autumn reckoned.

To match this shift, the 8th floor itself looked e’en worse than the 7th: its black-and-dark-gray striped wallpaper was full o’ cuts & rips, as well as blood stains, some yellow stain, & some sharp objects embedded in one part. In addition to the mist, there were also rats crawling all o’er the carpet & flies swarming round a few areas. As Autumn neared them, she saw that they were all swarming round a clump o’ rotting green ham lying on the floor.

Edgar squeezed tightly to Autumn mo’ than Autumn thought he’d e’er done before. She, however, thought it all to be rather silly. ¿Why would ghosts, who are highly unlikely to eat, have rotting food in their hallway, but not anywhere else?

Then ’gain, as she thought ’bout it, she wasn’t quite certain how Lance’s minions, or e’en Madame Heureuse, would be able to fill these hallways with mist. Though Lance could possibly have been able to pay for some expensive equipment to do so, & had ’nough minions to carry such large equipment up here, she couldn’t comprehend why he would waste so much effort—& vitally, money—for such a silly endeavor.

Then she remembered ‘twas Lance she was describing…

She ignored all o’ the doors for now—which was hard, since they all had wonderful decorations on them, such as one with a pig head mounted on it—& made straight for the stairs up to the next floor.

She ne’er found them. ’Stead, what she found was a great goldenrod door with dark gold, rocky-textured lining round its arc. Autumn could find no doorknob anywhere on it; but she did see 4 holes embedded in its front. Autumn noticed that the holes were the same shape as the 2 treasures she pilfered from Lance. She mined said treasures from her pockets & put them up to the hole; they fit perfectly.

“¿Where’d you get those?” asked Edgar.

“Stole ’em from Lance.”

Autumn returned the treasures to her pockets & stared @ the door, rubbing her chin in thought.

“Hmm… I’m to assume that the real treasure is ’hind this door & that the treasure we thought we were looking for were truly the keys to the door. This means we’ll have to find the other 2 lying round here somewhere.”

“¿But what if we can’t find them?” asked Edgar.

“Then I’m sure Lance will already have them & we’ll have to find a way to take them from him.”

“¿With all o’ those guards protecting him?” asked Edgar, his voice rising in pitch @ the end.

“I was able to steal these with those guards ‘protecting’ him. The advantage they have in quantity is ruined by the disadvantage they have in quality. We will simply have to trick them somehow & search his li’l headquarters while they are temporarily incapacitated.”

Autumn realized this was an o’ersimplification. For 1, ‘twas doubtful that e’en Lance would be dumb ’nough to keep his treasures in the easy-to-find place he thoughtlessly left them before. Still, Autumn knew ‘twas possible & knew she’d done harder heists before.

“Well, anyway, I s’pose we’d better try the doors & see what we can find. We’ll see ’bout trying to bust some o’ the blocked doors down and, if that fails, or if we find nothing, we’ll head back to the 6th floor & formulate a plan to rob Lance.”

Edgar squirmed @ the improbability o’ any o’ this plan succeeding, but said nothing. Anyway, he thought maybe he was being a li’l too anxious ’bout nothing. After all, he’d been in life threatening situations before &… well, managed not to have a heart attack. But something ’bout this whole mansion was different. No matter what his mind thought, the atmosphere o’ this place—the coldness & the emptiness—acted to attack his entire nervous system.

‘Twas then he realized ‘twas the emptiness that truly vexed him. He was used to the noisy cities. Moreo’er, in their other adventures Edgar could a’least assume what would kill him & know beforehand; but here he felt as if any minute some unimaginable creature might attack him in unimaginable ways. ¿Who knows? He could e’en suddenly black out & ne’er wake back up.

His thoughts were interrupted when both heard the creaking o’ metal joins & thumping gainst carpet floor that signaled the return o’ Lance’s minions.

“Shit,” Autumn muttered as she rushed from door to door, throttling knobs to no avail.

She turned back to Edgar & whispered, “Psst, go by the stairs & see how close they are.”

Edgar nodded & scurried ’way while Autumn dug the screwdriver from her pockets & turned to the nearest door.

Hope this makes a good hiding place, since I’ll only have the chance to open 1 o’ these @ the most, she thought.

Edgar rushed back to Autumn’s side.

“¡They’re halfway down the floor below us!” he whispered.

“That should give us ’nough time,” she whispered back, eyes still on the screwdriver she was twisting into the sides o’ the doorknob.

A minute after, the knob fell, leaving a gaping hole where it used to reside. From there she was able to manually pull the latch out & open the door. They wasted no time slipping inside.

Autumn scanned the room & judged it sufficient. Then she immediately plugged the knob back into its hole & screwed it back in.

“¿Is that so they can’t get in?” whispered Edgar.

Autumn nodded.

But Autumn knew there was still a chance they could get in the same way themselves—or that they had a key to it. So she searched round the room till her eyes quickly captured a sofa chair, & then she ran up to it & started pulling it.

“Edgar, ¿could you help me push this o’er to the door?”


When they accomplished that, they waited by the door silently, listening to the footsteps grow much louder outside.

“We can’t find them in any o’ the doors, Sir,” said 1 o’ them.

Finally, they heard their door shake on its hinges & then move forward a bit, smacking into the couch chair. Autumn suddenly grabbed Edgar by his robe & dragged him ’way from the line o’ sight o’ the door, & then slowly toward the back o’ the room, trying to be as quiet as possible. Considering how cluttered with junk she just noticed the room to be, this was harder written than done.

After a few thumps o’ the door, the voice grunted. “The door’s unlocked, but it won’t move.”

Autumn & Edgar hid ’hind a bookcase gainst the eastern wall.

“¿What’ll we do if they bust in here?” Edgar whispered into Autumn’s ear.

“¿You e’er played a game called Robotron 1984?” Autumn whispered back.

“I thought I heard some movement, yes,” said the voice outside.

Shit. Well, I guess it’d be obvious we’re here, regardless, thought Autumn.

Well, if they know we’re here already, then, I might as well see if I can find something useful in all o’ this junk, Autumn thought as she began picking up objects.

The 1st she found was some odd alarm-clock shaped device. ’Pon closer inspection she saw a button with the words “Start detonation” below it.

She put it closer to her face, as if she couldn’t believe what her eyes told her.

¿Why would Madame Heureuse have a time bomb here? ¿What did she plan to use this for?

As she mused on the possibilities, Autumn felt a sudden urge to finish this quest & leave as quickly as possible.

She rummaged through the pile a li’l mo’, but found li’l interesting: blank notebooks, a bottle o’ some pink liquid, a pack o’ matches with the silhouette o’ a bull’s head on it, & a pen. She moved to put them into her pack, wondering why said pack seemed to bulge @ the top, but was interrupted when she heard Edgar whisper to her.

“Autumn, you might want to look @ this…”

So she simply pocketed the last 3 items,—tossing the notebook back into the pile—stood, & walked to Edgar’s side to see a puddle o’ water seeping in from below the door.

“Hey, Springer. ¿You in there? You might as well stop lying for once & admit you’re there, since I know it & the consequences will be the same for you, regardless.”

Autumn recognized the voice as Lance’s.

“Well, whether you’ll acknowledge it or not, I know you’re in there. I know it’s probably dreadfully dirty in there, so I offered to help you clean it.”

Autumn noticed that the puddle o’ water was now a thin layer o’ water spreading all ’cross the floor—1 that was still gradually growing.

“¿How is the water not spreading back out on your side?” asked Autumn.

“The pump stretches all ’cross the hole under the door.”

“¿Do pumps like that truly exist?” asked Autumn.

“They do when I order them to be made.”

Edgar clutched Autumn’s arm. “¿What do we do now?” he whispered frantically.

Autumn replied coolly, “Nothing. The window’s open, so the water will only e’er reach a certain height. The worst that will happen is that we’ll receive an extended bath.”

Edgar looked all round the room. This window eluded him.

But when he looked back @ Autumn, she delivered him a meaningful stare & put an index to her lips.

“Nice try, looter o’ truth, but my henchmen have been through all o’ these rooms, & I know for a fact that none o’ the rooms on this side o’ the hall have windows—they’re not e’en gainst the outside wall o’ the mansion, you simp.

The water was already up to Autumn’s knees & halfway up Edgar’s upper body now.

“You can pick 1, looter: open the door & accept the justice you deserve, or wait inside & drown.”

Autumn searched round the pile o’ junk for something that might be useful. As she did, she wondered, ¿Could I use the time bomb to break open my own window?

But then, ¿what use would that be? As he said, this room isn’t gainst the outside wall o’ the mansion. It would only flood the adjacent room, which would only delay the inevitable…

’Less I could open the door in the other room & release the water out the hallway. I’d only have to hope no minions are waiting on that side, too.

’Course, there was 1 complication still on her mind: ¿How powerful is this time bomb? ¿Would it only blow a hole in the wall, or would it also blow the whole room up, e’en the whole mansion, as well as blowing the faces off our heads?

By this point, the water was already up to Autumn’s stomach. When she noticed this, she swung her head round frantically & called out, “¿Edgar? Edgar, ¿where are you?”


She followed his voice to see him climbing up on the arm o’ a sofa chair like a shipwreck survivor.

She held her arms out as she trudged o’er to him.

“Here, let me put you somewhere much safer.”

She lifted him, trudged back to the bookcase, & heaved him up to it, her hands giving him a boost as he scrambled up.

Well, that’ll give us a li’l mo’ time. Not much, though…

She began to shiver as she felt the chilly water seep into her shoes & under her pants, which felt like anchors under so much saturation. She noticed Edgar seemed to feel the same way by the way he wrapped his arms round himself & shuddered.

Well, it’s either risk the time bomb, drown, or release ourselves into Lance’s hand. In her mind, the last actually seemed worse, since she had no idea what he planned to do with them before he had them killed.

She took the time bomb out & scrutinized it. It only had 2 buttons: 1 for starting & 1 for stopping. She briefly wondered why they would make it so easy to stop it.

She stared @ it in thought as she felt the water rise to her chest, & then finally thought, Well… here goes nothing… & pressed the start button. The bomb’s blank face was replaced by blinking red lines that formed the shape o’ “10:00,” which slowly count down, second-by-second.

“¡Shit!” she gasped as she turned the bomb o’er & under, looking for any other controls.

¡10 minutes isn’t ’nough time! ¡We’ll drown by then!

She stared back @ the interface, wondering if she should just set the bomb next to the wall & stand back, just in case it did go off early—she was already feeling uncomfortable holding the bomb so close to herself. However, the #s seemed to go down in a consistent manner.

Finally, she stuffed the bomb back into her pocket & turned to Edgar, thinking, ’K: new plan.

“Edgar,” she whispered as quietly as she could up to him: “I am going to open the door & release the water. As the water rushes out, hide as best as you can. Try to prevent them from capturing you as much as possible.”

“¿But what ’bout you?” asked Edgar.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to ’scape them. Don’t worry: I have a plan.”

So she returned to the door & began heaving the sofa chair ’way from the door, only to find it much harder to do without Edgar to help as she’d imagined it’d be. By the time she moved it a foot from the door, the water was already to her chin, & she had to hold her breath, tilt her head upward to prevent water from seeping into her lungs, & close her eyes to prevent it from seeping into them as well.

As she felt her lungs constrict from hunger, she thought, Must remain calm. Panicking has no utility, & thus should not be performed. Just steadily continue your work & you should finish before drowning.

After half a minute o’ moving the chair, she walked round it & tried opening the door, throwing it wide when in 1 swift movement. Suddenly, she felt a force propel her forward out the door in 1 giant splash.

Feeling as if minutes had been condensed into 1 second, she soon found herself lying face-1st on the ground, panting & dripping on a drenched carpet.

Before she could do anything else, she felt heavy armored arms clutch her own arms, pull them ’hind her, & wrap metal rings round them—handcuffs, she surmised. She felt the same sensation on her ankles & looked down to see her guess confirmed.

“Search inside that room for the skeleton,” Lance said as he pointed inside it.

Autumn’s heart sank as she saw them charge in and, just a moment later, charge back out with Edgar locked up just as Autumn was.

“Sorry…” Edgar murmured as he stared down @ the ground.

“It’s all right…” Autumn muttered back with a similar expression.

“Lead them to the court room we set up,” Lance demanded as he pointed down the hall. The minions holding Autumn & Edgar nodded & they all marched forward.

XX. The Infection

Felix noticed something funny ’bout the mad-scientist woman—something ’bout the way she just couldn’t stop scratching her neck, which was now covered in deep red splotches bigger than coins, or the way drool kept dribbling down her lower lip, which she had to keep wiping off with her sleeve, or the way her eyes looked half-gone, as if she were drunk. Maybe ‘twas the way her arms seemed to shake as if they couldn’t decide quite what they wanted to do, & so tried to do multiple things @ the same time.

Felix definitely thought there might be something wrong with the mad-scientist woman, but didn’t dare say anything. After all, ¿what if she were wrong? She had gone so long doing good; she didn’t want to squander that by bringing up something only her stupid mind would worry ’bout. ’Sides, ‘twas not like the mad-scientist woman couldn’t have noticed these symptoms herself; she surely knew ’bout them & was probably already doing something ’bout them. Bringing them up would only embarrass her

So Felix said nothing. She simply stared down @ her twiddling fingers anxiously as she continued to hear the mad-scientist woman scratching her neck, make strange saliva noises, & breathe heavily.

When they finally reached the front door in the main room, Dawn was practically dragging herself ’bout, her upper body lurching & her eyes gaping, as if she were staring @ something from ’nother dimension. Ne’ertheless, she grabbed the doorknob to turn it, impatient for the breath o’ fresh air & coolness she would find outside as opposed to the cramped hotness she suddenly felt.

But when she tried turning the knob, it wouldn’t turn. It remained solidly still as if ‘twere a mere prop. She tried a few mo’ times & then thought, Well, maybe that’s just how the weird lock works. But when she looked for the lock she couldn’t find anything.

Fine, then, I’ll just unlock it with my trusty paperclip.

She missed a few times trying to jab the small end o’ the paperclip in, hitting it gainst the knob, before she finally fit it in the hole. She turned it round, back & forth, but didn’t feel any change @ all. Then suddenly, she felt a force pulling the paperclip in & soon felt it slip out her sweaty fingers, disappearing into the lock hole.

She gasped as she throttled the door knob futilely. “¿What? ¡No! ¡That can’t happen! ¡That’s stupid!”

Then she felt gravity become too much o’ a burden & dropped to the floor, rubbing her heavily sweating face & moaning, “¿What is going on here?”

Felix still didn’t say anything.

Dawn was now falling down on her hands, panting heavily, & sweating rivers. The room seemed to spin. Her eyes felt blind e’en though they were seeing, her mind felt empty e’en though she was thinking vaguely, & her body couldn’t decide whether she was freezing cold or burning hot.

Finally Felix spoke up: “Um, ¿d’you want me to get you some water?”

For some reason, Dawn felt a cord snap in her brain that made her want to lunge @ Felix & strangle her, but she made an effort to wave ’way that thought. ’Stead, she stared up @ Felix sternly & said interlaced with heavy breaths, “No, I need you to run ’way as fast & far ’way as you can, immediately.”

“¿Are you sure—?”


Felix turned & padded ’way as Dawn said, staring down @ her fidgeting hands in shame. She knew it wouldn’t be long till she screwed something up, & here ’twas. She knew it’d have been better had she been left in that hole, for a’least then she would die a good person. Now she had already spoiled her goodness into badness & would likely ne’er have that goodness e’er ’gain.

When Felix left through the doors, Dawn collapsed on the floor & began to lose consciousness. Good, it’ll give them all a head start, she thought. As she lay unconscious, the only movement her body made—’cept for her heartbeats, breaths, & pulse—was her hand scrabbling round on the carpet, scratching.

To be continued…