Autumn tried twisting round, harassed by hideous nightmares that felt real, only for her eyes to peel open & see her body locked down. She swung her head side-to-side wildly in search o’ what dangerous circumstance she suddenly found herself in now, only to see Edgar quietly walk near with a steaming mug & a plate holding a sandwich.
“¿Autumn? ¿Are you ’wake?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said breathlessly, trying to rub her aching forehead, but finding that her arms still wouldn’t move for some reason. She felt that groggy sensation one feels when one falls asleep in the afternoon—the type o’ sleep that makes one feel mo’ tired after waking, as well as sweaty, breathless, & dry-mouthed.
“¿Why can’t I move?” she asked.
“Your limbs are broken, ¿remember? I had to put a cast on them so you wouldn’t move them accidentally in your sleep & ruin their rebuilding. I tried calling a doctor, but none would pick up @ this hour.”
She tried to recall what happened last night—or morn; she could see from out the window that ‘twas still night. O wait: it’s always night. Now I remember…
“¿D’you… d’you remember what happened before you fell asleep?” asked Edgar.
“I’m starting to. Let’s see… Yes, we came here, this place is haunted, found some treasures to get a big treasure—¡O! ¡We have all o’ the treasures! We have all o’ the keys. We can get it now.”
She continued, “&… & that idiot Lance kept screwing round with us, &… &, uh… ¿What happened after that? All I remember is some truly bizarre dream.”
“Uh, ¿what?” & then Autumn’s pupils dilated. “¿What, they…? I mean, he… He didn’t…”
“They…” Autumn stared off into space. “No…”
Minutes passed in awkward silence. Edgar stared sadly @ the ground, shivering gainst a cold no coat or robe or blanket could protect him from. Autumn’s vacant eyes still stared straight through everything in front o’ her, mind reeling through the images o’ Lance & Dawn’s death o’er & o’er & o’er ’gain like an ol’ movie player that was broken, but she didn’t dare touch or dispose.
“Well, I brought you some tea & a sandwich if you want any,” Edgar said in a soft voice. When that received no reply, he added, “¿Autumn?”
Autumn turned to Edgar, but with eyes still vacant.
“I said, ‘I brought you some tea & a sandwich if you want any.’”
“O yeah. Thank you.”
Edgar propped Autumn’s head up on a few pillows he had lying round—for this very circumstance, she assumed—& slowly tipped the mug into her lips.
As this happened, Autumn surveyed the area. She saw that they were still outside, near the same area covered in unkempt grass she hazily remembered falling asleep in earlier. Now, however, she felt layers o’ blankets cover her from the still-blowing breeze. Despite this, she still quivered ’neath; the chill still seemed to creep through some obscure corners.
She made sure to keep her eyes from going too far to the right.
“I would’ve moved you inside, but I was ’fraid I might break something—’specially while going through that shattered window still covered in sharp shards,” said Edgar. “But if you become too cold, I could try carrying you in.”
By this time, Edgar had put the mug down, & so Autumn could reply, “That’s all right.”
“¿You feeling all right?”
“Yeah. ¿& you?”
Autumn had noticed dark smudges on the edge o’ Edgar’s eyeholes, which she’d hoped were from tears & not a worse reaction.
“So long as you’re OK, I think I might be all right,” Edgar said quietly. “I gave you…” Edgar cringed. “I gave you some potion Dawn gave me, so you shouldn’t take too long to heal.”
“Well, I shouldn’t take too long, regardless. Not e’en a second will pass,” Autumn said in a shaky voice full o’ giddy. ‘Twas not a happy giddiness.
“I’m guessing you’ll want us to continue our quest after you’ve healed ’nough to move…” Edgar didn’t say it with the flat tone he usually used when describing aspects o’ Autumn’s behavior that he didn’t prefer; but she still frowned solemnly in response.
“I know you probably think I seem sociopathic for this; but keep in mind, there’s no action we can perform that’ll bring either o’ them back. Now, we can benefit shabbily ’cause o’ her death or not benefit @ all, making it a complete waste. Either way it’s mostly a waste, ’course; but if we must take a toxin, we should a’least choose the 1 that tastes somewhat sweater.”
“I understand,” Edgar said with a nod.
So they waited the next few days as Autumn’s bones healed, Edgar bringing her food & drink & dumping waste jars every so oft as Autumn looked ’way awkwardly. While this went, they couldn’t help but notice the steep contrast ’tween the hectic chaos they were constantly thrown through in the past few days & the still silence today. They were no less ’fraid.
“You… you don’t think they think we’re dead already, ¿do you?” Edgar asked Autumn hopefully.
“I doubt it; surely they’re not so dumb. I have an idea, but it’s contrived.”
She turned to him. “¿You truly want to know? It’s not good.”
Edgar shuddered. “Well, now that you’ve said that, I have to know.”
“I think they’re waiting for us.”
Edgar found he was both regretful & thankful he’d asked.
2 days in, Autumn regained ’nough strength in her bones to be able to move round herself, saving herself any mo’ humiliating care under Nurse Winters.
However, they still waited half a week mo’ ’fore continuing their quest. Autumn’d need her physical strength to return in full for what they’d probably have to endure.
While they waited, Edgar prepared food to carry with them just in case, their trail mix having been finished long ago.
Autumn, on the other glove, kept digging through her backpack & pockets every so oft, moving objects from 1 to the other. All o’ this was done with a vacant expression from ’nother universe. Edgar wasn’t sure if she was still troubled by Dawn & Lance’s deaths or if she was just truly deep in planning. He didn’t dare ask.
After half a week, Autumn finally said she was ready. Edgar sighed, but nodded. He knew they shouldn’t procrastinate any mo’ than they have to.
’Sides, it’ll be good to finally leave this place…
By the time they reached the large goldenrod door, Autumn was already taking 1 o’ the jewel keys out o’ her pocket. She held it up to 1 o’ the slots—she couldn’t think o’ or see any way to differentiate the slots or the jewel pieces—till ’twas aligned, & then pressed it in. As she withdrew her hand, she saw the lining ’tween the jewel piece & the wall glow orange.
I s’pose it must’ve worked, she thought.
She tried the other 3 while Edgar casually stepped back. She stepped back herself after plugging in the last piece, hands casually digging round in her pockets as she watched the door slide upward with the sound o’ stones scratching stones.
Nothing could be seen past the doorway but utter darkness.
Autumn hesitated before the doorway, examining it up & down while holding a hand o’er her mouth for a few seconds.
“Well, I s’pose we’d better see what’s inside,” said Autumn.
Edgar nodded grimly.
& with that they both, Edgar just ’hind Autumn, entered the darkness.
Autumn clicked on her flashlight, only to find it futile: the darkness was so strong, e’en light couldn’t pierce it. She clicked it back off to save batteries.
She turned her head all round & held her arms out in various places, trying to glean from the room what her eyes couldn’t. Everything felt empty, save the solid ground below her.
¿Is it just an immensely wide hallway?
She soon snatched her answer when she turned back to see if Edgar was still ’hind her & saw that he was not, nor was the doorway. There was nothing but infinite darkness. Just to confirm, she turned in a 2π, only to see pure darkness on all sides.
“¿Edgar?” she called out with her hand funneling her mouth, an edge o’ worry in her voice. “¿Edgar? ¿Are you anywhere nearby?”
Her question was answered by silence.
With no other option, she decided to trudge forward, calling Edgar’s name every now & then just in case.
“¿Autumn?” Edgar called with a quivering voice as his sight darted left & right.
Not long after he had passed the threshold into the darkness, Edgar noticed Autumn dissolve into the darkness in front o’ him.
@ 1st he thought that ‘twas just due to the lack o’ light; but when he rushed forward, he couldn’t find her anywhere; & now that he was calling her name, he wasn’t receiving an answer.
“Autumn, ¿where did you go?” He didn’t call this out, but whispered it hoarsely to himself.
He couldn’t keep his head from turning in every direction in the vain hope that he’d see something—anything but emptiness. He began to fidget & squeeze his hands together as an addict, impatient for his substance fix—for something solid he could touch, something colorful he could see, something loud he could hear.
He turned in 360s in an unintentional mirror o’ what Autumn was doing. But unlike Autumn, he was not doing it to make sure everything round him was darkness; he knew ‘twas from the many times he checked & checked & checked just to see if there was something—¡anything!—close.
Now his body was doing it independent o’ his thoughts—or, mo’ accurately, his mind was causing him to do it, but he was not fully in control o’ his mind anymo’. He held his head in his hands as if ’twere the only way to keep it from imploding.
He knew his brain was short-circuiting. He knew the darkness was seeping in & draining him o’ energy till he was panting, sweating,—¿Am I sweating? ¿Can skeletons sweat? ¿Have I e’er done so before?—& then ’ventually collapsing face-down on the floor with his back turned ’way & his hands covering his head, the only protection he had gainst the darkness, which he knew would soon swarm on him & engulf him.
It took a couple meters o’ walking ’fore Autumn received a hint as to where she was—& she didn’t like the likely answer.
Soon she saw Dawn emerge from the darkness, visible with perfect lighting, despite the lack o’ lighting anywhere else. When Autumn saw Dawn, her eyes immediately jumped to right under her chest: there was no giant hole left by the spike, nor e’en a single scratch.
“¿Did I somehow enter the Wonderworld?” Autumn asked with a concerned glance @ Dawn.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dawn said with a laugh & a small wave o’ her hand. “If that were true, you’d ne’er get the chance to murder me yet.”
“¿Huh? ¿What the hell are you talking ’bout?”
Watching Dawn’s serene smile now was like feeling cockroaches under her veins.
“Come on, Autumn; I have money inside,” said Dawn. “Come & dig it out.”
“I s’pose you’re looking for an apology for—¿What the…?”
Autumn felt her left hand rise by itself with its fingers bent inward & then her mouth gaped as she saw it move toward Dawn. Her other hand joined it in pushing Dawn o’er on the ground & leaping ’pon her. No matter how much resistance she tried to put on her hands, they wouldn’t obey.
She watched in horror as her left hand grasped Dawn’s serene face & dug its nails deep into her skin till she could feel tiny lines o’ blood dribbling round her fingers.
“Uh… I truly don’t want to do this,” said Autumn, voice tightening with strain.
Ne’ertheless, her hands began to scratch down, dragging skin down with it, till they yanked back, ripping a big chunk o’ flesh back with it. She could feel the blood dribble off the skin in her hand onto her knees like greasy pizza sauce & could see the mess that was round Dawn’s right cheek full o’ gray bone & dark red caves covered with lighter red blood.
Dawn pointed her eyes @ Autumn, her expression still genial despite the giant gash on her face.
“Keep digging. You’ll find the gold ’ventually.”
“¡I don’t want it!” yelled Autumn.
But her hands continued to claw Dawn’s face off, anyway, devouring it greedily, throwing ’way stretches o’ skin like used napkins.
It reached the point where Autumn had to turn her head to look ’way. Then, suddenly, she felt lumps rising in her throat, which ’scaped from her mouth in the form o’ gray vomit erupting onto the empty black floor, making a small puddle for a few seconds ’fore fading from view.
“Please stop… I don’t want to do this,” Autumn said with a creaky voice as her head dipped down, panting.
She took a deep breath & then glanced back @ Dawn to see that she was now just a skeleton, her black eyeholes boring into her mindlessly as a robot preparing to obliterate her, its hidden mechanical mind running the instructions.
With control o’ her hands returned to her, Autumn jumped back off Dawn, staring with wide, weary eyes as Dawn’s skeletal body rose with her to its feet. Its eyeholes ne’er seemed to leave Autumn.
Autumn noticed Dawn’s clothes & hair gradually dissolve into a black robe & hood, though the eyeholes ne’er changed.
“¿Edgar?” she asked weakly.
The skeleton bent its head downward. “She was right. I didn’t want to believe her, but she was right: you don’t care ’bout us.”
“¿What? ¿Who’s ‘she’? ¿Dawn?”
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a burden. Enjoy the rest o’ your life. Goodbye.”
Then the skeleton turned & walked ’way.
The skeleton dissolved into the darkness. Autumn blinked @ the black flood, mind stalling. Finally, she dashed forward as fast as she could, hoping to catch up; but all she found was e’er mo’ darkness.
These must be mind games—they must be… Edgar—that couldn’t have been Edgar—& if ’twas, he wouldn’t, he couldn’t hate me for something that I couldn’t have prevented.
¿Couldn’t have prevented? ¿Were the events that happened truly inevitable?
¡I couldn’t have expected them!
But her thoughts trailed off. ’Twas useless, anyway. She merely kept running, holding hands o’er her ears & shutting her eyes.
Finally, she saw light glow through her lids & opened her eyes to find herself in a gray room. She held her hand o’er her eyes as a visor & gazed round @ the tall windows on each wall, letting in the blue moonlight. Her eyes also soaked in the vague details o’ many black spike-topped columns & tall torches littering the room, which did not serve to comfort her.
She only had a few seconds to absorb the scenery before she was interrupted by a slow, soft, warbling voice singing, “Carry me ’way… I need your strength to g-get me through this. D-dare to remain… o’er 1 last time, then I’ll let the darkness cover me…”
She looked down to the source o’ the noise & saw Edgar huddled face-down on the floor with his hands covering his head.
Edgar raised his head. With a gasp he let out, “¿Autumn?”
He looked round. The darkness—the emptiness—was gone. He looked down & could see the shiny black-and-gray checkered floor under his hands.
Autumn watched him hesitantly. In the back o’ her mind she repeated to herself, That wasn’t truly he who…
But they all vanished when he reached up & tugged on Autumn’s pants, marvelling @ the real fabric he could feel in his hand.
“I take it you’ve had a blast in your section o’ the void as well,” said Autumn.
“But I can see that both of you left in one piece. Well, one of you did, at least.”
They both turned to the source o’ that noise & saw @ the other end o’ the room a blood-red throne with a cushioned inside & marbled borders. Sitting legs-crossed in that throne was a gray-skinned woman with a brown hair bun & a matching red cloak.
To which Autumn responded, “O. Greetings, Madame Heureuse.”
“Surprised you, ¿did I not?” Madame Heureuse said with a wry smile, fangs protruding from her mouth.
“No,” said Autumn, slipping her backpack off ’hind her in preparation for the fight she knew was inevitable. “I’m quite certain the person ’hind all o’ this being the owner o’ the place would be the most rational guess to make. I mean, ‘twas almost a guarantee that you’d be ’hind all o’ this. ¿Who else would be?”
Madame Heureuse’s smile melted into a frown & she began to grumble under her breath. Back in her day this would’ve been considered a brilliant twist.
“Well then, since you have made it here, allow me to explain my plan,” said Heureuse.
“Uh, OK…” Autumn said with a confused glance @ Edgar. Edgar merely shrugged back.
“The whole contest to find treasure was a ruse to find daring, supple humans to volunteer to enter my mansion. I then tested them further until I could narrow them down to the strongest human. Though it was a fierce competition between you and the kid in the top hat, I see that you have won all the same. Congratulations.”
“So I suspect you goaded Lance into attacking us,” said Autumn, trying to keep the blood from rushing to her face.
Madame Heureuse lifted a hand lightly & chuckled in the same way she did when they 1st met her.
“I must confess guilty. It was truly easy to have one of my occult minions convince him that your skeleton friend was behind some occult war against him.”
“& now he’s dead—as well as Dawn,” Autumn said dryly.
“Oh, no need to fret, Madame Springer: after all, as they say, in the long run we’re all dead. Including you, for instance.”
Madame Heureuse snapped a finger & called out, “Neville, Sir Weston.” On each side o’ her appeared 2 raincoat ghosts with cyclops eyes jutting out the neck—just like the kappa-obake they ran into on their 1st night. The white pupils in their black eyes oscillated left to right in wavy patterns.
Then Heureuse jabbed a finger forward @ Autumn & Edgar & said, “Please show our guests how dinner works around here.”
The ghosts floated toward them.
Autumn sidled as far out to the side as possible & dug everything out o’ her pockets, only to drop them onto the ground.
Edgar turned to Autumn. “¿You have a plan?” he whispered.
Autumn held up a water bottle with a shrug.
“Maybe they’ll melt if we splash them with water.”
& when her ghost neared, she did just that—’cept the water had no effect on the ghost @ all. It didn’t e’en touch the ghost, going through it like water falling on light.
Autumn shrugged ’gain. “’Twas worth a try.”
She felt the gravity under her flip & then felt her legs pull herself upside-down. She didn’t e’en bother struggling this time, knowing from past experience that ‘twas futile. ’Stead, she just hung there as the ghost drifted her o’er to Madame Heureuse. She glanced to her side & saw that the same was happening to Edgar.
Autumn gulped as she watched Heureuse reach her fingers out & pinch them on the side edges o’ Autumn’s neck. Much as before, she could feel her body’s warmth gradually leeching out through Heureuse’s fingers & replaced by a sharp coldness that made the edges o’ her nerves shiver & her skin drain o’ color.
“¿Autumn? ¿Are you all right?” asked Edgar.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Autumn said in a sluggish, incoherent way that did not sound fine @ all.
Her glazed eyes slowly closed & her head tilted back, mouth hanging open automatically. Heureuse released her neck & the ghosts let her drop to the floor.
“¿Autumn?” Edgar’s voice rose in fright.
“Hmm. Not much juice in that one…” Heureuse said as she looked @ her rubbing fingers, disappointed.
Then they heard a screeching racket so loud, both Heureuse & Edgar had to cover their eyes to keep shreds o’ sanity. E’en the ghosts fluttered their airy sheet bodies @ a faster pace like cats whose hairs stand.
Heureuse turned her head all round the room till she spied some object emitting sound so loud, ’twas vibrating gainst the floor.
“I have this,” she said as she got up & stormed o’er to the device.
She gave 1 heavy stomp to the device, a small smile appearing on her face as she heard crunching plastic under her foot. The noise ceased.
Still staring warily @ the dead device, she climbed back into her seat. After a few seconds, she saw no movement from it.
“Now, ¿where was I?”
Heureuse was now looking @ Edgar, rubbing her chin.
“I’ve ne’er tasted a skeleton’s life force before…” she said as she rubbed her hands together. “Maybe you’ll be a little meatier than the human.”
Edgar squirmed as Heureuse’s fingers reached for him, & shuddered when he felt her pinch his neck. If he were able to blink, he would’ve, but settled for just shutting off his vision ’stead.
Heureuse frowned as she felt only dry shivers pulse through her fingers. No life essences, or anything.
When nothing seemed to happen for a few seconds, Edgar dared to turn on his vision, only to see Heureuse’s bitter frown glare directly into him. She dropped her hand with a sigh.
“You’re no use to me, skeleton. I guess I’ll just have to enslave you as with all my other occult slaves.”
Speaking o’ which, she saw in the corner o’ her eye Neville wobble up & down as if trying to give her a message. She turned her glare to it & said, “That kind of distraction is rather rude, I must say.
“¿Look down?” She stared straight down, shifting her legs ’way so she could see the floor.
“Why, I don’t see anything.”
She looked back up @ Neville, her face e’en frownier; but Neville continued to vibrate, ne’ertheless.
“¿Down and to my left?” She looked there & saw what certainly looked like Autumn’s unmoving body, eyes peacefully shut. She did see the creature’s chest slowly heave up & down, but clearly struggling.
She turned back to Neville. “Yes, she is taking her sweet time to drift off to Dante’s world; but that is no reason to panic. Now, please cease distracting me; I am trying to think of what to do with this skeleton…”
As she finished, she turned back to Edgar, head tilting to the side with a smile o’ mock concern. Edgar’s renewed squirming indicated that he wouldn’t invest in it.
“Now, ¿what job would you like to perform, li’l fellow?”
Edgar’s shivering caused his voice to shake. “I… W-well, I’ve been getting k-kind o’ interested in cooking.”
“Well that’s wonderful. I think I could use a cook, actually.”
Though her smile was so fresh, already she found cause to replace it with a frown. She wasn’t sure if ‘twas just her eyes ogring her senses, but she could’ve sworn she just saw 1 o’ her ghosts—the very 1 she so recently chided for wasting her time before, in fact—once ’gain wiggling round in his adorable li’l way, trying to distract her attention ’way from issues surely he knew were mo’ important.
But when her eyes glided o’er to it, her suspicions were confirmed.
“Neville, you appear to be trying to steal my attention away again. I do hope this is for something much more important than last time.”
Though Neville emitted no sound, Heureuse could hear it warn her o’ the unliving one s’posedly moving ’gain. She looked down o’er her left side ’gain & saw said unliving one in the same place ‘twas before, still unmoving, ’cept for slow breathing.
“Your ethereal eyes are playing tricks on you,” she said as she turned back to Neville. “Look, I’m telling you, I drained her of her energy. ¿Do you think I just imagined her energy being sucked into me? Energy-sapped humans can’t just move around as if they were wedding cake monsters. Don’t be such an idiot.”
But Neville flew round wildly, screaming @ her to look—¡now! Heureuse swung her head back to the “corpse” just in time to see her flopping back into place, eyes shutting tightly.
Heureuse raised an eyebrow. “Huh. That’s interesting… I’ll tell you what, Neville: just to fully satisfy your fears, I will do some… more extensive tests on this obviously dead creature.”
Heureuse rubbed her hands together & chuckled as a Victorian woman having tea. Edgar’s stomach wailed as his mind wandered through numerous visions o’ what Heureuse might have been planning to do as her “test.”
Autumn, however, remained still, though she could hear everything they were saying.
Madame Heureuse loomed o’er the body like a bear ready to pounce for prey, slowly creeping closer till finally, in 1 swift swoop, she dashed forward & began tickling the “corpse.”
Said “corpse” made no reaction. After a few seconds o’ unrelenting tickling, Heureuse began to notice this, & her twiddling fingers started to slow till they finally stopped, her triumphant giggles replaced with a look o’ pure befuddlement. She scratched her head.
“Huh… Maybe she’s just not ticklish.”
Though she felt it much less fun, she lifted an eyelid & then drilled 1 o’ her long claws into the exposed eye, twisting & turning as much as possible. Edgar shut off his vision ’gain, half hoping Autumn truly was dead so she wouldn’t have to endure such a gruesome punishment.
But there was still no reaction—not e’en a twitch. @ this point, Edgar was certain she was dead: She’s a tough bagel—but not that tough… He shivered mo’ than he’d e’er done under Heureuse’s scrutiny, finally realizing the full consequences o’ Autumn’s death. Suddenly he felt as if his whole body was so fragile it’d collapse into pieces any minute now.
Heureuse stood back up, but still stared down @ the body just in case.
“See, she must be dead,” she muttered. Then she noticed the body finally shift round, eye fluttering open for a second. “Those must just be her final death spasms. Humans do that all the time. No sapient being could withstand that kind of pain. If she were still alive, she would have yelled, ‘¡Ow!’ or something.”
“See, just like that.”
She turned & saw that Edgar had dropped to the floor. Then she glared up @ Sir Weston.
“I don’t remember telling you you could drop the skeleton.”
She sighed as she listened to its apologies. “Yes, yes. Just pick him up and silence yourself.”
Hope plummeted e’en further as Edgar realized full attention being brought ’pon him.
I’m such an idiot… I should’ve been trying to think o’ some clever plan while they were distracted; but I only got distracted myself.
The problem was that Autumn was usually the one who came up with the clever plans, & e’en she seemed to fail @ that. The problem there was that they didn’t have time to plan; usually she had a better idea for what they would be dealing with, & thus she was able to create all o’ these complex plans that went right o’er Edgar’s head. However, since Autumn couldn’t predict what would be @ the top, she hadn’t been able to truly plan.
¿Or had she? ¿Didn’t she say she’d predicted it’d be Madame Heureuse ’hind all this?
Then ’gain, maybe that was just talk… psychological tactics, I think she called it when she tried to ’splain it to me once.
Edgar sighed. Only minutes since he’d last seen Autumn & already he was missing her. If they didn’t kill him now, Edgar wasn’t sure what he’d do later when her loss truly became enduring.
The sight o’ that lifeless body—so colorless, so inert, so synthetic-looking—didn’t raise his spirits, either.
Almost as if reacting to Edgar’s thoughts, said “lifeless” body rose & began stretching. Edgar couldn’t prevent his eyeholes from widening, as much o’ a give’way as he knew this was.
Now, both ghosts shook round wildly. Sir Weston dropped Edgar yet ’gain. This time, Edgar didn’t waste any mo’ time gaping & carefully stepped back from the others as they argued with each other. Edgar looked @ her & winked, just to let her know what he was doing. She continued to stare off @ the other 3, vacantly.
Something isn’t right ’bout Autumn right now… That doesn’t seem like her @ all…
His thoughts were stopped when he felt someone clutch him from ’hind & pull him back into the dark room, 1 hand wrapped round his chest & the other o’er his mouth. But he didn’t e’en try struggling or shouting, for he recognized the leafy, syrupy smell o’ that hand from anywhere.
“Good to meet your acquaintance ’gain, Sir Winters,” she whispered quietly ’hind him. “I hope you did not truly believe I’d be dispatched so easily, ¿did you?”
As if guessing what Edgar was thinking, she instantly replied, “Don’t bother trying to respond. Just listen. We have only 1 mo’ thing we need to do: leave.”
Edgar nodded, perfectly content with this solution, though surprised by Autumn’s desire to enact it.
As Autumn pulled Edgar farther back into the void, she noticed 2 things: 1, nothing contrived to separate them, & 2, the nightmares didn’t return—Thankfully, they both thought.
’Ventually they exited back into the 8th floor hallway, right outside the large door. Here Autumn finally released Edgar, only to immediately after grab him by his hand.
“Let’s hurry down to the 1st hall as quickly as we can,” she whispered directly into Edgar’s ear hole.
“We’ll chat as we, run. Let’s go,” she said as she charged forward, practically dragging Edgar ’hind her.
As they ran, Autumn said breathlessly, “The decoy me… I stole from Lance… & my sleeping pills… weren’t the only instruments I found useful…”
“I…” Edgar stopped so he could let the millions o’ questions settle in his mind. “¿When did you… use sleeping pills?”
“’Twas risky, but it worked…” she panted as she spoke. “¿Remember what Heureuse said ’bout the ghosts when they 1st attacked us?… They… they couldn’t attack us in our sleep… So I forced myself asleep as she was draining my energy in the hopes o’ stopping her ’fore she did something…” Autumn let out a big gasp. “…irreversible… ‘Twas only a matter o’ using both my phone alarm & strapping a needle into my hand to wake me up quickly… While that inane witch was busy busting my phone, I snuck back into the shadows, utterly undetected.”
“So, ¿what’s this new instrument that’ll be useful?” asked Edgar.
They were now already on floor 5, on the way to floor 4.
“The time bomb. We’re ’bout to confirm by the scientific method @ its barest form just how mortal or immortal Madame Heureuse truly is.”
Back in Heureuse’s lair, she was still struggling futilely to drain energy from the robotic Autumn, pinching its synthetic-skinned neck as tightly as she could.
“¡Ghosts and goblins, this makes no sense!” shouted Heureuse, her face shaking so much in rage that her hair was drooping o’er it. “¡She gets back up, but when I try sapping her, nothing comes out! So, ¿what, is she a skeleton, too? ¿Only in disguise?”
The ghosts hadn’t a chance to answer her question, as just then they were both surrounded in a giant ball o’ fire.
Autumn & Edgar were just jumping out the window into the backyard when they heard a roar louder than thunder ’bove them. They quickened their pace as much as they could since then to get as much distance as they could.
They were deep in the hedge maze when they heard an avalanche-like crumbling ’hind them. They turned back just ’nough to look out @ the mansion & see that it had instantly been replaced by a tattered mountain o’ splintered wood & pipes.
& then all that was left was the sound o’ dust hissing in the wind, the night sky saturated with it, burning Autumn’s eyes & tickling both o’ their throats.
& speaking o’ the night sky, as the smoke faded, they noticed something else begin to fade: the deep purple sky was quickly melting into light blue, till they could see the thin top o’ the 1st November sun poke ’bove the still-black silhouettes o’ the buildings round them. They doubted anyone in any o’ those buildings would’ve noticed the sudden collapse o’ this ol’, forgotten mansion.
They panted heavily with hands grasping chests, their breaths almost entirely squandered on their long ’scape. When he had ’nough air in him to talk, Edgar asked, “¿So what now? ¿Do we just leave?”
“Not yet. We still haven’t found the treasure.”
“¿You still think there’s treasure somewhere under there?”
“@ the very least, I know those golden jewels must still be somewhere under there.” She turned to Edgar. “We didn’t go through all o’ that for nothing.”
Remembering Elleström’s law o’ situational irony, she instantly regretted saying that ’loud.
So they crept slowly o’er to the debris, wary o’ the various events that may suddenly crush their victory right @ the end. Autumn could just imagine a piece o’ debris still in the air smacking down on them & smashing them to death—or hell, e’en some giant fruit from some random tree, knowing how contrived their luck was.
They climbed the mountain o’ detritus & began digging through the piles o’ plywood, shards o’ glass, & tiles o’ linoleum.
“Hey, you don’t think… you don’t think anybody was still in that mansion when it collapsed, ¿do you?” asked Edgar. “You know—other than Madame Heureuse & the occult monsters.”
“¿Do plant monsters count?” Autumn asked as she pulled out a piece o’ shredded purple rose leaf.
Edgar cringed. “I hope it wasn’t… I hope it didn’t have feelings.”
After almost a half hour, when the sun had risen ’nough to fill the sky with rosy pink, a glint o’ gold finally caught Autumn’s eyes. She immediately dug through the area with the power o’ an electric mole, till she’d finally uncovered a flattened room flooded with golden coins, white diamonds, red rubies, & patents for devices that would become the bread & jelly o’ 2050 technology.
“Well, as the last survivors, I s’pose it’s all ours,” she said as she stared down @ it.
Edgar looked up @ her face & was surprised to see some glumness. They both always felt the adventure was mo’ worth far mo’ than the money—though the money was certainly a great reward in itself; this adventure was a mixed can, however.
Both were jilted from their reverie by the sound o’ moving debris. They turned & saw a pile rumbling to their side.
Autumn sighed. ¿What now?
A hand pushed a hole through the debris, followed by a head poking out, & then a whole body.
Autumn & Edgar both gaped @ their new guest. Autumn e’en pointed @ her.
“¿The cat? I… I forgot you were e’en round,” Autumn said tall-mouthed. “O my god, ¿are you all right?”
The cat Dawn had dubbed “Felix” blinked @ them stoically.
“O, I’m sorry. I tend to get in people’s way. I’m sorry. I can go if you want.”
“O, no… Not at all…” said Autumn, eyes sinking & hands pinching skin in random places. “In fact, I must say I’m impressed you lived through having a whole mansion collapse on you, though. ¿Are you an occult figure tied to this mansion, too, or did you just hide in the fridge?” Autumn took a step back in case the former returned true & she was not a friendly occult figure.
Felix looked down, stoically as e’er.
“I’m sorry. I probably should’ve died, since my living constantly wastes air & food & stuff. You want me to go—”
“That’s OK…” Autumn said with alarmed waves o’ her hand. “Uh… so, anyway, you won’t want any o’ this treasure, ¿right?”
Felix shook her head without e’en looking down @ it. “Golly, no. The last thing I would e’er deserve is riches. No, you definitely deserve it mo’.”
“Awesome,” Autumn said with a thumbs up.
But then she made the mistake o’ glancing @ Edgar & she saw that look. It was actually a stoic look, blank—but Autumn could see through that look & see the disappointment lurking ’hind.
Autumn sighed. “She lived with us & thus deserves some o’ it, doesn’t she… & she’s so pathetic she could probably use something nice for once…”
“O, you don’t need to—”
“Just wait there. We’ll be done soon,” Autumn said with a raised hand, as if it’d freeze Felix.
She & Edgar pulled out her spare satchels & quickly filled them with as much riches as they could reach. Autumn e’en spent a half hour mo’ digging round the debris just to ensure they found it all.
When they finished, they hung the bags all round their shoulders—’cept 1, which Autumn pushed into Felix’s hands.
“This is yours,” she said, looking directly into Felix as if talking to a child.
Felix looked down @ it, her mouth melting into a frown.
“I really don’t deserve this…”
“Listen,” said Autumn. Felix looked up into her eyes. “We agree that I am smarter than you, ¿right?”
“’Course,” Felix said with a nod. “Everyone’s smarter than me.”
“I dunno. I’ve met some thick people…” muttered Autumn, & then said ’loud, “Well, I say you deserve that & you must take that money & you must treat yourself. ¿You hear? No mo’ guilt, no mo’ self-hate, no mo’ ‘proper’ punishment. ¿Do you live anywhere?”
“I don’t really deserve a hom—”
“You do now,” said Autumn. “You are to go buy yourself a nice house, fill it with nice food & other comforts & enjoy it, ¿’K?”
Felix looked down—not ’cause she wanted to look @ the money ’gain, but just to avoid staring into Autumn’s penetrating eyes.
“I guess if you say so…”
“Awesome.” Autumn gave Felix a friendly pat on the shoulder.
& then Autumn & Edgar walked ’way, Edgar turning to wave & tell Felix goodbye as they went. ’Ventually, they disappeared down the street.
Felix looked round her as if she were just dropped into an alien world.
“Treat myself…” she muttered to herself. “I don’t think that would be right… But she did demand it, ¿didn’t she?”
I s’pose I could just treat myself for this 1 day & then spend the rest o’ my life trying to make it up… That’d be right, I think.
Felix sighed. If I were smart, I could probably figure all this stuff out…
If I were smart, I’d e’en know how to treat myself. The only thing I’d enjoy is making things right, & that’s impossible today—probably e’er, truly…
Then she remembered 1 thing she liked: the 1 friend she might’ve had—well, maybe other than the ponytailed woman & skeleton, who already left: the mad-scientist woman.
She wandered round the backyard in search till she finally found her stuck on the gate next to the Monopoly vampire. She stared into Dawn’s face & noticed something… odd ’bout it. Her skin looked a lot paler, her eyes mo’ bulgy, & her mouth hanging open. Also, she was covered in li’l white bugs, for some reason.
¿But who was Felix to judge what the cool mad-scientist woman did in her time? There was probably a very good reason to have white bugs crawling on her, & Felix was just too dumb to understand why.
“I hope I’m not bugging you,” said Felix.
She felt the weird stinging feeling in her chest she oft felt, though she knew she had no right to feel. Though she knew she deserved a resounding, “¡Yes! ¡You are!” she dreaded it, all the same.
But she received no response @ all. ’Stead, all she heard was silence.
She poked Dawn on the shoulders lightly, cringing @ the guilt o’ probably pestering her so much.
“¿Are you all right, jacket lady?”
Still no answer.
“Here, I’ll help you off. Just… Just tell me to stop if you don’t want me to…”
Felix lightly grabbed Dawn by the shoulders & pulled, tightening her grip as it began to loosen. After a few yanks, she was able to get Dawn off, only for her corpse to collapse onto Felix.
“Sorry ’bout that,” Felix said as she lifted Dawn off her. “Uh…” She noticed Dawn lying flat on the ground, not moving. “¿Is everything all right?”
The face stared blankly into the heavens.
Felix looked round herself nervously. There was no one else round to help.
¿What can I do?
You’ll have to help her yourself. This is your chance to not be useless for once.
“It’s OK, jacket lady… I’ll be here to help you. I’ll be a good partner, just as you’d expect me to be.”
She passed the day just like that: looking down on Dawn’s corpse lying in her lap, her brushing the hair from Dawn’s skull or softly stroking Dawn’s arm, waiting for her to wake up.
& she muttered the same soothing words: “I’ll be there for you… I’ll be a good partner…”