Boskeopolis was bathed in hushed tones o’ cerulean, white stars piercing through black sky, while skyscrapers swam in the soft sound o’ the city sawing logs: the purr o’ car engines as they rumbled down streets, strewn with muffled honking—or e’en a stray siren; barks & howls & catcalls; the light cries o’ far’way trains; & the general chaotic blowing o’ the wind.
Lurking within 1 o’ the thousands o’ tiny rooms within many o’ the hundreds o’ buildings in Boskeopolis like 1 o’ the million unknown spiders crawling ’long the ceiling o’ a dark cave slumbered Autumn, Edgar, & Dawn—the earlier 2 huddled together on the floor under a few loose jackets & the last splayed o’er the couch with a limp arm hanging o’er the edge. One would expect that in such a thick heat wave as there was this night that Autumn & Edgar would least need to share their body heats, but reality was the opposite: like spiced wine, the burning in their chests only addicted them, making them want to voraciously kindle it e’en further.
Li’l did any realize, a red cast would soon swallow this ocean-colored city—probably ’cause their eyes were too closed & their minds too distant to know what palette this level used.
Prowling outside was the dastardly Lance Chamsby, twirling his metaphorical moustache with his literal white-gloved hands.
These looters & looter apologists think they’d hit a year-long lull in my looter-busting, only for me to stab my scissors o’ justice straight into the heart o’ their security blanket.
The matter o’ sneaking in was harder. ’Course, as mayor, there were many ways he could force his way through their door; but none were sufficiently covert for his tastes. After all, he wanted to strike when they were in their deepest comfort; & though his eyes & ears told him that nobody conscious was nearby, he still couldn’t help feeling as if he were being watched.
This was why he waited till the warmest night o’ the year, mid-July, to enact his plan: the chances that his targets would leave their window open to suck in the city’s cooing breath was @ its greatest.
& sure ’nough, as precise as precipitation, as he scaled the etched side o’ the brick wall up to their room on the 3rd floor, he saw the window a crack open. All that was ’tween him & the snug alcove inside was thin netting he easily defeated by the sharp edges o’ his diamond ring.
Once through the threshold, he was walled by the temperature spike inside. E’en if he weren’t so nervous ’bout his plot’s success, his skin’d still drown him in sweat. Speaking o’ which, he was equally bricked by the clean smell o’ sharp air being replaced by the muggy mix o’ sweaty socks & rainy tombstones.
Ugh. ¿Are these idiots so lazy they can’t e’en be bothered to ring their personal cleaning service to freshen the air?
He flicked on his flashlight & searched round the darkness to find a tiny space consumed by piles o’ what Lance could only identify as senseless rubbish. He ignored it for now, focusing ’stead on his mo’ mortal targets.
He soon found his main 1 lying on the spongy carpet with its arms wrapped round its personal slave, as any other treasure.
He stepped forward with his fingers curling & straightening by his side, only to fumble as he felt some hard plastic break his gait’s balance. He waved his hands out & swayed forward & back, a thread ’way from tumbling onto Autumn & Edgar.
He managed to regain balance & stop before the 2.
Then something odd happened: abruptly his vision began to blur into a light purple-gray, gradually expanding & swallowing all vision as billowing smoke—only this smoke provided its own light.
Lance threw a couple swift steps backward. It did no good: the smoke remained round him.
He couldn’t help noticing that the floor felt much less cluttered since the smoke appeared.
He felt round ’hind him as he walked farther back, hoping to find the window in case he needed to make a hasty ’scape. But after what must’ve been a’least 3 meters, he still hadn’t found any wall or window.
This is clearly a devious trap o’ hers, he thought as his eyes swung left & right like Ping-Pong balls. She knew I’d come to destroy her & set up this crafty alarm system in preparation.
Lance strained his eyes & turned in 360s when he noticed the smoke start to dissipate, hoping to spy Autumn before she struck. He stopped open-jawed when he saw not the messy dark room from before, but a warmly-lit, cozy home—a suburban house, from the look o’ the windows outside—with burnt-sienna wallpaper in bold lines. In the middle o’ the reflective wooden floor was a mahogany table covered in checkered & floral table cloths, pastel candles, & silver-lined dishes. Round the table sat the main looter herself & the looter accomplice.
Outside Lance could see the roofs & trees & streets covered in snow. He could hear the faint rattling o’ a heater drumming warm air into the room; he could feel by the contrast o’ its blown air with the still air gainst his skin that without it he’d be freezing.
He heard the door creak ’hind him & swung round to see the skeleton in a chef’s hat walk in with a cake taller than his head, covered in icing o’ various pastel colors mixed together as if he tagged it like a common thug.
“The cake’s ready,” he said in a cheery voice.
“¡So! Thought you would sneak attack me from the back, ¿eh? ¿Is that not part o’ the dark arts o’ communism you keep in your Marxist spell books?”
Edgar stopped, levity instantly wiped ’way by fear. He shook so much that the cake rattled on its plate.
“¿Chamsby? ¿What are you doing in my dream?”
“¿Dream? I don’t recognize that term. Speak good ol’ Boskeopoleon English, man.” He pointed @ the cake. “& that cake: I’m sure you probably pilfered that from some lightly famished 1%er. ¿Now what’s he gonna have to supplement his fish pie midnight snack?”
But Edgar shook his head. “N-no. Uh uh. I made this cake myself… Well, I think I did. ’Twas all a blur, truly.”
“You think you did. Right,” Lance said as he stared Edgar up & down.
“Anyway, I need to serve this to Autumn & Dawn…” said Edgar.
“¿Why? ¿So they can spoil this good cake with their socialistic digestive juices? I don’t think so.”
Lance grasped the edges o’ the plate closest to him & pulled, only to find that the other edge was stuck, as if the skeleton were still holding it for some reason.
“Let go,” Lance grunted, sweat pouring down his face from the exertion. “I’m confiscating this cake.”
“Please, ¡don’t!” cried Edgar.
“I’m giving this to someone who better deserves this,” said Lance.
“Chamsby, this is… this is unfair property redistribution. This is the confectionery version o’ a bail-out.”
Lance released his edge & gasped. “Why, ¡I ne’er heard such libel!”
With the lack o’ balancing force, Edgar’s pulling caused him to fall backward back into the kitchen & onto the floor, the cake splatting into a mess o’ gibs, its deep red strawberry sauce leaking o’er the checkered linoleum floor like blood.
Lance looked @ both the cake & Edgar with disgust.
“Augh. You’re e’en worse than a Marxist: you’re a plain ol’-fashioned Luddite. Can’t get what you want, so you destroy it, ¿huh?”
Edgar wasn’t listening. He’d already turned round & stared down @ the cake sprayed all o’er the floor, sighing.
Autumn & Dawn both poked their heads in through the door, which caused Lance’s body to convulse in both directions. He finally turned round to face them & said, “I see you’ve learned the same sneaky techniques as this thief here.”
They didn’t seem to acknowledge his existence. ’Stead, their eyes were purely on Edgar.
“¿Is everything all right?” asked Autumn.
“We heard a crash,” added Dawn.
Autumn’s eyes lowered, the mix o’ bright colors splattered all o’er the floor yanking her attention.
“Uh oh. ¿Was there an accident here?” asked Autumn.
“I, um…” said Edgar.
But Lance interrupted him: “He refused to let me right the economic wrong he’d perpetrated; & thus bound to be foiled, he intentionally destroyed it, ensuring that this wrong could ne’er be righted. I can only imagine that your antiproperty teachings are the source o’ this sentiment.”
Autumn looked back @ Edgar. “Wait, ¿you intentionally destroyed it?”
“¿Why?” asked Dawn.
“But I didn’t—”
“¿Did you not hear me?” Lance said as he threw his hands up. “¡’Twas for mindless political disruption, I say! You lefties ne’er sit still to think ’bout things in their abstract complexities, which is why you can ne’er understand…”
Autumn & Dawn continued to talk through Lance as if he were a ghost.
“Don’t fret o’er it,” said Autumn.
“We have no reason to be angry, after all,” Dawn said with a concerned tilt o’ her head. “Just confused.”
“But… but… but I truly wanted you 2 to taste it & feel its sugary essence roll round your bellies like benign tapeworms,” said Edgar.
Lance crossed his arms. “So, ¿is everyone just going to ignore me now? Hmmph. Typical o’ the liberal media.”
Dawn nodded. “We understand you didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Yeah, don’t stress yourself o’er it,” said Autumn. “We can just eat tree bark or battery acid from 1 o’ the maples out front ’stead. No need to worry.”
Lance threw his arms out ’gain. “O, ¡come on! ¿Nobody’s going to comment on my conspicuously forced political reference? It didn’t e’en make any sense. ¿What do you 2 idiots have to do with the media?”
“No…” Edgar said in a low voice as if talking to a criminal mastermind ’bout to implode the world. “Please don’t. Anything but that.”
“Don’t be so panicky,” said Autumn; “I’m sure only half o’ our internal organs will be liquefied.”
“Yeah, we’ll still have the other half,” Dawn said with ’nother nod.
Lance began hopping round in front o’ the 2, waving his arms round. He couldn’t imagine how they could miss the ear-blasting click his feet made gainst the solid tile floor.
“¡Hey! ¡Give me attention! ¡Give me attention!” he shouted.
Suddenly, he felt dry spiderlike fingers clutch his collar & pull him in. He turned his head, ready to unleash the full eruption o’ his reasoning powers, only to see ’twas just the skeleton with a horrified expression in its yawning eyeholes.
“¡You have to tell them what you did! You have to make them believe me.”
“Augh. You’re just like a beggar. 1st you groddy up my cloak with your corpse fingers & then you demand me to do things for you. Pull yourself up by your phalanges, man.”
Edgar looked ’way from Lance & up @ Dawn when she began to whisper to Autumn:
“You know, I think he’s finally getting sick o’ us. Always so demanding.”
“No…” Edgar muttered as he shook his head.
But Autumn nodded. “I concur. We should give him some peace for once.”
Then she & Dawn turned & began to walk ’way.
“¡Wait! ¡Don’t go!” Edgar wailed as he pushed past Lance.
But he saw Autumn & Dawn gradually fade as they left, till their footsteps became mute & they could be seen no mo’.
Lance, finally getting that skeletons hands off him, readjusted & dusted off his collar.
“Hmmph. I don’t see what he’s hollering ’bout. I’d think a reprieve from those leaf-heads would be a blessing.”
“¿Autumn? ¿Dawn? ¿Where did you 2 go?” Edgar called out, still incapable o’ believing what his eyes showed him. “¿Guys?”
Lance still stood in the middle o’ the kitchen, wondering what to do next. That was when something moving caught his eyes: he glanced in its direction to see… what he thought was some subtle movement o’ the walls.
“¿Is it me, or is this room getting smaller?” Lance said ’loud to no one in particular.
Suddenly, Edgar’s head popped in through the door like a John-in-the-Pyramid & called loudly, “¿Autumn? ¿Did you return here?”
“¡Gah!” Lance shouted as he swung round. “¡Stop sneaking up on me!”
“They… they actually left…” mumbled Edgar.
Lance rubbed his chin. “Yes. It’ll be hard to destroy her now, I s’pose.”
Lance looked up as he noticed the lights ease into darkness.
“Hmmph. Not surprised,” his voice said, his lips shrouded. “I’d figure they wouldn’t pay their electricity bills. Well, look where it got them now. ¿Will it now teach them the importance o’ responsibility? I doubt it.”
The kitchen was quiet now. All Chamsby could hear was the light ticking o’ bones tapping gainst bones from Edgar’s shivering.
“¡Kalecki! ¿Would you turn down that loud rock ’n roll? It’s making my ears feel itchy.”
Edgar didn’t answer him. ’Stead, he muttered, “Autumn… Autumn… Wait… When I am ’lone… The crows could—”
“I wish you were ’lone, so I wouldn’t have to listen to you,” said Lance.
Lance was ’bout to get his wish: the mildly creepy blackness faded into a ghastly gray as smoke smothered him once mo’, causing his eyes to sweat ’neath its blushing pastel edges.
The gloom resumed, but the cozy cold heat was replaced by the familiar loose warm breeze. Lance could see by the silhouettes in the light o’ the flashlight in his hand once mo’ that he was back in the apartment o’ the looter’s personal Friedrich Engels.
He leapt back as he heard mouth-splashing murmurs below him, & aimed his beam down to see that ’twas the skeleton tossing ’bout gainst Autumn’s arms.
“Autumn… Autumn… Please don’t go… Please, somebody…” he murmured with creaks in his throat.
Lance swooped back into 1 o’ the darkest corners o’ the apartment with the speed & silence o’ an owl when he saw the skeleton slowly sit up. He was panting—the skeleton, not Lance, ’course—& turned his head round the room, but without seeming to see anything @ all.
Then the skeleton’s attention arrowed down on Autumn & then up @ Dawn on the couch. Apparently assured he hadn’t woken either, he slid back down into Autumn’s clutch, turned on his side, & lay still. Since Edgar had no eyelids, Lance had to judge whether he was asleep by subtler cues, much to his ire.
Lance slowly stood once mo’, cringing @ e’en the soft sound o’ the feet o’ his cloak & the fat o’ his sleeves drooping.
But rather than moving in ’gain so quickly, he stood & stared @ the skeleton with wide-eyed uncertainty.
¿What did he just do to me? ¿Did he use some o’ his devilish magic to transport me to some secret nice suburban home they stole, hoping to destroy me where the law couldn’t reach them? ’Cause I sure know these bums couldn’t afford that nice o’ a house legitimately.
Well, either way, they failed. Clearly, the skeleton was trying to poison me with his pilfered pastry, which he knew I’d recognize as stolen & knew I’d demand to be returned, being the law-abiding citizen I am.
But unfortunately, these villains plan their li’l plans as socialists plan their economies: without taking individual distinctions into consideration. They failed to realize I would not be tempted into taking a taste o’ their ill-begotten cake, & thus rather than taking the poison, I properly disposed o’ it, thus angering the other harpies ’nough to cut the skeleton out.
& thus, having already failed, he lost the will to use his mendacious magic, automatically returning me to their odorous apartment.
Still, I should take care to stay ’way from that skeleton so he doesn’t try any other magic tricks on me.
He stepped toward Autumn from the other side, moving in the space ’tween her & the couch. Unfortunately, he’d become so used to the clutterless carpet o’ the home from far ’way that he’d forgotten this apartment’s accidental alarm system & felt a foot become snagged on something wiry. He aimed his flashlight down on it to see that ’twas a metal coat hanger.
Hmmph. Wonder what they have that for. Certainly not for hanging clothes, the slobs. No, considering all o’ the sex-fueled parties I’m sure they have, it’s quite obvious, he thought with disgust: playing pirate with pretend hook hands, obviously.
He carefully unhooked his foot & took ’nother step, only for that step to land on ’nother piece o’ thick plastic. This time, however, ’stead o’ moving, & almost certainly causing his balance to slip, he stayed still for a few seconds to steady himself.
This was spoiled by the jolt he felt jog up said leg, becoming sharper & sharper the longer he remained till finally he couldn’t stand it anymo’ & rushed forward, smashing his shin into a li’l coffee table he somehow missed, which caused him to leap sideways, only to topple onto the couch, which unfortunately had someone’s legs on it.
He jumped up, expecting the legs’ owner to wake, but ’stead saw the room fill with the same neon smoke he saw before.
Lance could not grasp the true form o’ Dawn’s dream. Nobody could—not e’en she. Visions spun round Chamsby’s eyes so rapidly that they were but haunting blurs leaving rusted scars ’cross his retinas. Noises punched fists through his ear’s throats, pulling them in 1 direction, only for their rhythms & medleys to suddenly drop or leap, twisted into an utterly different combination. 1 second, he’s watching a black & white doodle o’ a finger move up & down ’side a doodle ear while simplistic MIDI music droned & the rope to a cartoon bomb straight out o’ an old 90s Nickelodeon show burns down, ending with the finger jabbing into the ear with the sound o’ an unidentifiable animal noise just before the bomb explodes into spiky red. Next he sees a freakishly hyper-realistic Autumn in overalls clearly too big for her & a scribbly mustache. She simply stands there staring forward into space with blank eyes for 8 seconds. Then a giant naked boot had squashed that image ’way forever. In its place was a sketchy ink drawing that will look as if it came from the 18th century o’ Edgar in a corn-colored wizard’s hat with a black top hat in the same style just before him. Classical music playing throughout. The image jerks ’tween 2 frames o’ Edgar normally & Edgar swinging his scepter forward. Eventually, a soft crescendo will play as a 3D-generated lamp head have stretched out the hat, bounce a ball on its head as a trained seal.
Before Chamsby had time to decipher these images, he found himself locked out, standing before a lonely arcade machine in a room otherwise surrounded in licorice black, the only light being the dusty li’l screen into madness Chamsby’s tiny eyes had been looking into. ¿But for how long? The teary strain he felt in his sockets & the lazy burn on the tip o’ his head told him it must’ve been hours.
He turned ’way from the machine & looked round the rest o’ the room, only to see everything else cloaked in darkness. That was when he noticed the cold touch o’ metal in his hand & felt round it with his thumb to realize he had his flashlight once mo’. He flicked it on & swung its beam round to reveal an empty compound whose only interesting feature was a case o’ stairs leading upward in a spiral.
He walked up to it & looked round the corner, only to see that it spiraled e’en mo’, making it impossible to see mo’ than a few meters upward from where he stood.
Well, there’s no other way out o’ here. It’d be better to force the weasely looters to attack me head-on than stay down here as a servile slave.
So he climbed up the plush burgundy stairs, wondering ’bout the contradiction ’tween the barren, Soviet gray walls from below & the stairs straight out o’ a New Yorkian hotel. As he climbed higher, he heard strange xylophone music begin to play, rising & falling in disjointed pitches while equally erratic strings & bass played ’hind it.
Huh. Thought they could torture me before I made it to the top, ¿did they?
He stormed up the stairs as if storming the People’s Palace, ignoring the cacophony from his captors ’bove.
But after ’bout 5 minutes o’ nonstop climbing, he thought, ¿How long are these stairs?
His patience became thinner & thinner the farther he climbed without any end in sight. What began as a march had devolved into a trudge, his arm hooked onto the railing & his body lurched o’er as if he’d collapse if he weren’t holding onto said railing.
Lance stopped & rubbed his forehead frantically, which felt invaded by many tiny wasps, each note o’ the looping xylophone symphony like a sting that cut 1 o’ the few strings still holding up his sanity, the heat o’ his sweat dripping down the sides o’ his face that was burning with itches as if he were being smothered in suffocating sweaters, as if his face were liquefying.
¡Augh! ¿When will this stupid staircase end?
He turned round, half thinking ’bout going back down, when he saw the bottom end o’ the staircase—the part that led back to the empty room with the lonely arcade machine—was just ’hind him, as if he’d been walking in place on a treadmill for the past 10 minutes.
Lance held his hands up to the sides o’ his head like a screeching hear-no-evil monkey.
¡That’s impossible! ¡I watched my feet move up the steps, felt my body move!
’Twas obvious that the skeleton was using his magical powers to break the laws o’ physics ’gain. ’Twas the problem with crazy anarchists like them; they think laws are just put there as suggestions & that they can break them whenever they want, & then whine when they must suffer the consequences o’ their individual actions—such as Lance was sure Edgar would do when he accidentally causes the universe to implode on itself & begs for his precious government to bail the universe out with Lance’s tax dollars.
He turned forward ’gain & saw, to his supplemented shock, that ’stead o’ seeing further stairs—what he saw the last time he looked in this direction—he saw the end o’ the stairs, opening to outside…
A’least, he thought ’twas s’posed to be outside. It certainly didn’t look like any outside he’d e’er seen before. The ground was covered in fuzzy pink tiles with kitten faces on them, pasted ad nauseam all o’er the ground, which snaked round in sharp-edged thin paths, bordered by tall cliffs into a black abyss. So thick was the lime green fog that Lance could only see that which was just in front o’ his face, which included a few buildings with wallpaper comprised o’ black-and-white photographs o’ random people.
As for the xylophone music, it disappeared; ’twas replaced by an e’en eerier 3-second horn loop repeated o’er & o’er ’gain with a volume that could set off powder kegs.
Lance slowly turned round before these visuals caused his eyes to break out in hives. Unfortunately, what he saw in the other direction was no better. Rather than seeing the lonely arcade room, ’stead he found himself face-to-face with a giant polygonal gray face whose haunting sterility couldn’t be described by mere English, with flat eyelids & many legs popping out round its face like the hairs o’ a lion’s mane. Everything ’bout this creature spelled broken biology, cried from a lifeless machine for life it could not have, from a genetically-malfunctioning beast for rest it could not have.
Lance immediately took a few gallops backward, his heart choking on its own blood & his cloak shriveling in urine, only for him to be distracted by a sudden shout by the voice o’ a man who sounds as if he’d hammered his own thumb, “¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
Lance swung round, eyes hunting for the source o’ the scissor-rusted scream. He couldn’t find any life in front o’ him—though the fog choked so much vision, he couldn’t confirm that that meant anything.
He glanced ’hind him @ the geometric visage; but though the many minifeet continued to dance round the head as sunrays, the thing itself stayed stationary.
Lance took a step forward, only to hear the same yell as before: “¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
Once ’gain, Lance looked round; & once ’gain, Lance saw no clue as to the exclamation’s origins.
He took ’nother step, & heard ’nother, “¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
Lance lifted his eyebrows. He took ’nother step. ’Nother “WHAT THE FUCK!” When he took yet ’nother, the same happened.
He swung round & shouted to no one in particular, “What is going on her—¡AHHH!”
Suddenly, a figure covered in a gray raincoat was floating just before him, its face shrouded completely under its rain cap.
“No… stop…” gibbered Lance.
“¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
He took a slow step backward. Then he took ’nother.
“¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
The figure loomed closer.
“¡Don’t come closer!” Lance said with a hand thrust out.
“¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
“I’ll call the proper authorities on you.” Lance tried to speak with venom, only to have his heavy breaths knock the wind out o’ it.
“¡WHAT THE FUCK!”
The figure stopped a meter before Lance & pulled its hat back with its sleeve to reveal Dawn’s cheerful face.
“Watch out, Sir Chamsby.”
Lance felt the empty ground ’neath his next step just before he tumbled o’er, nothing but constant darkness in front o’ him now.
¿What happens now?
What happened was the blackness faded to gray smoke, & when that faded ’way, he was back in Dawn’s apartment once mo’.
This time Lance aimed his flashlight straight down, his rattling eyes watching every pixel o’ the crumb-crawling carpet for objects hatching devious plots to vacation his steps, his feet bending & slithering round them. As he did so, he noticed that everything round the beam looked subtly lighter than before—mo’ a deep blue than an almost-black.
This was when he saw the black box with a thin antennae poking out 1 side & a large red button on the front—what looked mo’ like a movie prop than any authentic device.
Now, ¿what could this be used for? Something heinous, I presume. He smiled as he directed both it & the flashlight on Autumn. Well, we’ll see how she likes it when it’s used on her.
He pressed the button, the vision o’ her exploding into friendly, clean dust billows; her melting into juices; or her leaping up into the air with a pained expression & falling off the screen steering through Lance’s eyes as if there were a delay ’tween his eyes & reality in his favor.
’Twas a long delay. He stood there & stared @ Autumn, waiting with hooked breathing.
Suddenly, he saw Autumn’s mouth begin to move:
“I hope you’re not holding your bladder on that doing anything, ’cause it won’t.”
Lance staggered backward, causing him to topple o’er a barrel covered in a white star pattern.
“I hope you’re not o’ the misapprehension that you invaded this home stealthily,” said Autumn, her eyes still closed. “Note: when one spends much o’ one’s life out in the streets or in flimsily-guarded apartments like this, one learns not to sleep soundly, in case crazy swabbers like you try to kill me, or worse.”
“I’m not surprised that you would hatch such a bitter scheme,” Lance said as he dropped the device & stuffed his hands in his cloak.
“It’s true: not wanting to be murdered in my sleep is awfully rude o’ me,” Autumn said as she opened the eye closest to Lance a crack.
Then her eyes ripped open when she felt a tiny piercing in her arm nearest Lance.
“Unfortunately, that failed, anyway,” said Lance. “Nighty-night, Autumn. This will be the last year you fall.”
Autumn clutched her left arm & felt the end o’ a dart. However, before she could do anything further, she felt the tickle o’ drowsiness infest her throat & eyes, the latter o’ which slid shut. Finally, her head tilted o’er to the side, her whole body as still as a deactivated droid.
Lance laughed as he stepped forward, his hands back in his cloak, searching for his “Ingot o’ Justice.”
But as his foot fell, it hit a hard piece o’ plastic & caused him to slip forward, toppling face 1st in front o’ Autumn.
He raised his face to see he was a mere half a meter ’way from Autumn. He struggled his arm out from under him & held the heavy nugget ’bove Autumn’s face.
“May mammon claim her sacrifice for justice,” Lance murmured softly.
But before he could drop it, he saw the glowing billows rise once mo’. His eyes widened.
That’s it… that’s what the device does.
When the neon fog vanished, Lance found himself still in the apartment room, but this time much brighter than before. He could see through the open windows that the sun was already up in its mid-morning height. The apartment was also noisier & filled with far mo’ people, most o’ whom Lance had ne’er seen before. They were all in business clothing & most o’ them were holding cameras & flashing pictures.
He turned to where they were all staring & saw Edgar smiling under a chef’s hat before a giant golden cake. ’Side him was the woman in the ugly jacket with some strange goggles o’er her face. In front o’ her was a pile o’ vials holding liquids o’ every color in the rainbow.
¿How do I keep ending up in these idiots’ dreams? ¿Why doesn’t that cowardly looter stop hiding ’hind her pathetic friends & challenge me directly?
“How did you e’er make such an amazing confection, Sir Winters,” said somebody, his words tripping o’er his gasps.
“O… I dunno. ’Twas nothing, truly,” Edgar said as he ducked his head & scratched the back o’ his skull.
“¡& you, Madame Summers!” exclaimed someone else, almost pushing the other interviewer ’way. “¿How did you e’er devise such a convoluted exploit to find the “Serum for Everlasting Life,” which the Programmers meant to dummy out?”
She shrugged. “It wasn’t that hard. A year ago I discovered that using a teleport potion just as I was walking in front o’ someone ’bout to talk to me interrupts the talking algorithm, but without ending it, thus causing the world to confuse regular world-traversing pointers with conversation pointers. Boskeopolis is exceptionally sloppily coded; you can find errors evrywere. Anyway, as I experimented with this, I discovered that talking to certain people makes the 6th item in my pocket change—making sure I alert people from a distance, ’course; if you try walking right up to someone & conversing with them, the world will freeze for eternity. Boskeopolis’s code will completely lock up. Anyway, I tested this on various people & found that talking to Arnold Druitt, the manager o’ the motel on Apple Avenue, turns it into the elusive “Serum for Everlasting Life,” or as it’s called in the original Moidi, since ’twas ne’er translated, “Sewòm olaga mau lo ika wapa.”
The crowd began clapping. “That’s amazing,” muttered ’nother someone.
Lance’s eyes wandered ’way from them & round the rest o’ the apartment, hoping to find Autumn. As he looked round the floor, wondering if Autumn was still sleeping there & he simply missed her, he lifted a leg & shrieked when he saw a large rat standing under the shadow o’ the couch’s right arm, its beady eyes staring @ the crowd.
Leave it to these slobs to have rats crawling round their apartment. ¿Are these idiots so lazy they can’t e’en be bothered to ring their personal rat exterminator to exterminate their rats?
Then he saw the rat’s eyes turn to him & swore he saw them tilt downward in anger.
A moment after, it lunged for him like lightning.
“¡Ahhh! ¡Get off me, you dirty Jacobin!” he shouted as he wiggled the leg ’twas biting.
Then it hopped up from there & bit @ his nose.
“¡Stop! Hey, idiots, ¿will you stop this rat from attacking 1 o’ your guests? ¡I ought to sue you for every point you have for this assault!”
But no one replied, nor e’en glanced in his direction.
Lance dug through his cloak, pulled out his ingot, & then slammed it o’er the rat, only for it to leap ’way @ the final second, causing him to smash his nose ’stead.
Muttering curses, Lance flipped back onto his hands & feet & crawled after the rat, only to find it running faster than him. He flung his ingot @ the rat, only for it to fall a meter in front o’ him.
However, as the rat reached the wall, it turned & dashed in the other direction. It all happened so fast, it took Lance a second to notice so that by the time he started chasing it, ’twas already meters ’head.
The crowd ran out the front door with gasps as the rat ran through them, followed by Lance, his nugget held up ’bove his head as before. Edgar eyed the rat, bent down, & picked it up.
“Shhh… It’s OK, li’l guy. You’re OK…”
He turned to Dawn & said, “It’s shivering. Do you have any juice to calm it?”
“This rat attacks me, ¿& you try to help it?” Lance said bitterly, interspersed with short gasps. “You socialists insist on helping the worst @ the loss o’ the best, thus ensuring a gradual fall to mediocrity & then destruction.”
“Let me check,” Dawn said as she searched her pockets.
But before she could, the rat busted out o’ Edgar’s hands & hid under the couch.
“Whoa. Poor li’l guy,” said Edgar. He bent his head lower & peered into the dark tunnels under the couch with a look o’ concern. “You don’t need to be ’fraid; we won’t hurt you.”
Edgar opened the fridge & took out a li’l hunk o’ cheese.
“Here you go, li’l guy. No need to worry,” Edgar said as he set the cheese down on the linoleum floor. “I won’t hurt you. Just come & eat.”
They saw no movement from under the couch.
“I’ll get the li’l bastard,” Lance said as he charged for the couch. “Give it food. Please,” he muttered. “¿Haven’t they heard the saying? If you give a mouse cheese, it’ll keep asking for mo’, & their grating squeaks will drive you insane.”
He bent down right next to the couch & peered under it, only to have the rat charge @ him, clawing @ his eye.
“¡Augh! ¡You li’l shit!” he shouted as he stood with his palm dug into the wounded eye. After a few beats o’ nursing his eye, he said with strained cords, “Ooo. I know how I can get you.”
He slid a slab o’ plastic under the couch & then ran all the way to the other side o’ the room with his ears covered & his face turned ’way.
¡A brilliant solution!
There were a few beeps, & then an explosion, filling the room with smoke; but Chamsby quickly realized that this was no ordinary couch-exploding smoke: ’twas the same glowing smoke he’d already seen many times before.
Autumn sat up & rubbed her groggy face while she gazed blankly @ the blurry cerulean apartment with slow breathing.
That was when she noticed something suddenly move next to her, causing her to grasp round the floor for her glasses. When she finally found them, she jumped out from under the covers. As she put the glasses on, she heard a thick thump just below her.
“Brad DeLong…” she heard a familiar voice mutter; & when she looked up @ the figure, she saw Lance Chamsby.
Autumn unleashed a heavy breath. “You have 1 second to get out now.”
Lance snuck a hand into his cloak. “OK, that sounds fai—¡Die, commie!”
He leapt forward with a knife in-hand, only for Autumn to intercept it, grasping & twisting his wrist.
“¡Ow! ¡Stop! ¡I need that hand for important work!”
“Then save it for your own tiny knife,” Autumn said hoarsely as she twisted the knife out o’ his hand.
Then, before he could move ’way, she grasped him by the arm & shoved him toward the window.
“You won’t get ’way with stealing my knife, fiend,” Lance shouted with a fist in the air.
She leaned toward him & whispered, “You climbed in, so you better climb out, or I’ll push you out & hope you land in the bushes… or not.”
She pocketed the knife, grabbed Lance by both his arms, & pushed him out the window, hanging down the edge from her arms. To her surprise, he didn’t seem to struggle much; in fact, he muttered, “All right, I can climb down; I don’t know ’bout you, but I don’t need movement welfare, thanks.”
The second his hands left the window, she shut it & locked it tightly. Then she turned back to the rest o’ the room—light ’nough to see everything’s basic shape, but dim ’nough to be ugly. Both Edgar & Dawn appeared to be sleeping. Then she stared down @ her hand deeply.
Then she sighed. & then she stood, walked o’er to her robe hanging off an arm o’ the couch, & put it on. She opened the door, slipped out, & then closed it ’hind her.
She crept into the 1st alley she found, housing a maple tree. She sat under it, glanced round herself for a moment, & then began jabbing the knife into her palm.
However, she stopped when she heard the sound o’ scraping heels. She paused for a minute or so, only to hear nothing afterward. When she was convinced ’twas nothing but blowing debris, she moved to jab the knife in ’gain, only to hear mo’ noise—this time the scrape o’ whispers.
After a minute or so, Autumn said ’loud, “I’ll make you a deal, Lance; get lost & I won’t stab this into you, ’stead.”
Lance jumped out from ’hind the alley’s left wall & said with a finger aimed @ her, “You’re a whackjob, you know that, ¿right? Don’t think I can’t tell you’re trying some trick—trying to poison me with some poisoned blood you have, ¿perhaps?”
“& you’re stalking someone so you can stab them with a knife; ¿what does that make you? ’Sides, you should be glad I’m doing this to myself ’stead o’ someone else—a lesson you could learn, since I can guess there’s some screwy psychological reason for your… you. After all, ¿don’t you believe in individuals taking responsibility for their own actions? ¿Don’t I have the right to stupidly let myself go flying out o’ my car when I don’t wear a seatbelt, or whatever?”
Lance nodded. “That’s right.”
“Good. Then shut up,” said Autumn. “’Cause I need to hurt someone, & whatever trifling physical pain I may gain from this is nothing compared to the sheer mental exhilaration it creates. You might try it: it might hide the conspicuous hollowness present in your life to cause you to break into people’s houses & try stabbing them.”
Lance put his fists on his sides. “I’ll have you know, I’m doing my job; something with which you may be unfamiliar. I promised I’d eliminate looter scum like you, & I’m keeping my campaign promises.”
“¿Don’t you have police for doing that?”
“The best way to get things done is to do them oneself,” Lance said as he tilted his chin upward. “I’m sorry I don’t do things like the lazy socialists bums you’re used to—like Herbert Sunday.”
Autumn shook her head. “No. I don’t like the ‘socialist’ governments any better than the ‘capitalist’ 1s.”
“Hmmph. I bet you delude yourself into supporting those fake ‘3rd-wayers,’ or whatever they call themselves.” Lance waggled a finger. “Well, I can tell you they’re e’en worse than the outright socialists. A’least they’re honest.”
Autumn shook her head ’gain. “Nope. Don’t like them, either. There’s only 1 type o’ government I like, personally.”
“Hmmph. ¿& what might that be?”
“A dead 1.”
Lance’s eyes widened. He saw cold eyes glance @ him with the knife now aimed up ’stead o’ down.
He aimed a gloved finger @ her. “You’re… you’re crazy, androgyn.”
“Aw, don’t go all government-loving on me now, Sir antigovernment mayor,” Autumn said as she set the knife down. “After all, if e’en your hero could get wet to serial killers, I don’t see why you have to be so prudish ’bout it.
“’Sides, as I told Edgar, I’m a careful nutjob. I think my dangerous ideas through. See, everyone wants to kill all o’ the killers—including you equally crazy nutjobs in parliament—but there’s 1 problem with that: ¿how does one kill all o’ the killers without becoming a killer oneself?”
Lance crossed his arms. “Hmmph. That’s obvious: put you all in a cage & let you destroy yourselves, while us rational people sit outside safely.”
Autumn’s mouth curled into a smile. Lance didn’t like that smile; it made his blood churn in the other direction, as if retreating.
“That is a good solution,” she said. “You know, there’s a lot o’ criticism gainst the Muslim suicide bombers, or whatever they’re called; but maybe they’re perfectly rational: maybe they know they’re fucked in the head & decided to kill themselves & the other fucked-up killers for the benefit o’ the sane.”
But then she turned her face down & rubbed her nose. “Though… now that I think ’bout it, they use kids & other innocent people for bombings, too. So maybe they’re just regular fucked-up killers like the rest. O well.”
She tilted her head back & stared @ the sky out o’ boredom. Though ’twas brightening into a deep periwinkle, she could still see the waxing-gibbous moon & its millions o’ speckled minions.
“Hmm… it’s rather nice out this early. We should go out for a walk sometime,” she mumbled to herself.
Lance stepped back, eyes still the size o’ saucers, still glued on… whatever he was looking @. He still wasn’t sure. But he knew he was frightened. He could’ve handled her trying to impale him with the knife, trying to bash his own brains with his personal ingot. He knew the risks.
No, what frightened him was that he didn’t understand what she was doing here; & what he couldn’t understand, he couldn’t prepare for. He was expecting any second, she’d jump up &… &… he didn’t know what.
1st she twists my wrist, which is expected; but then she stabs the knife into her own hand, ’stead, & clearly doesn’t want her crooked buddies to see her. ¿All for… exhilaration? Is that just a lie to trick me into false security, ¿or is she truly so antihuman, antireality, that she wants to destroy herself, too?
That’s it. She said it herself: kill all o’ the killers, kill us all. She’s a regular Jesus, regular Buddha. Reality is too harsh, so we must sacrifice ourselves to “save us”… ¡I can’t e’en use words to describe such an inane concept! ¿But isn’t it so fitting for the person who believes destroying others is the only way to build herself?
Autumn finally stood & climbed back up to Dawn’s apartment door. ’Cause she knew Lance would still be following her, she quickly closed & locked the door ’hind her—with both locks & the clip. Then she rushed to the window & checked it 1 last time to ensure ’twas still locked.
“Poker,” she muttered to herself as she walked into the kitchen to make coffee.
She sat on the counter & stared off @ the rest o’ the apartment, the only sound being the gurgling o’ the coffee pot.
She saw movement in the corner o’ her eyes ’gain & exhaled in annoyance, only to see that ’twas only Edgar poking his head out from under the covers.
“¿What time is it?” he said softly as he rubbed his eyeholes.
Autumn shrugged. “The moon’s still out.”
She paused, staring @ the crumb-covered counter for a second. Then she remembered the coffee, pulled out a mug, & began filling it.
“¿You still sleepy?” she asked.
“¿Want to go for a walk?”
Hmm… I was expecting a “¿Why?” or e’en a, “Uh… sure… I guess,” Autumn thought as she took a sip. Then ’gain, he’s known me for years, & I am the kind o’ person who pokes herself with knives. Perhaps in that context, this request isn’t odd in the slightest.
“¿You think Dawn would want us to wake her & join us, or do you think she’d prefer to keep sleeping?” asked Autumn.
“The former,” said Edgar. “She’s like you; sleep’s just an inconvenient necessity, not a, uh, valuable in itself.”
“Well then, wake her.”
Edgar moved o’er next to Dawn & gently shook her. “Dawn… Dawn…”
Dawn muttered incoherently, & then sat up & put on her glasses.
“¿What’s wrong? The mercury & saturn didn’t mix & cause an explosion, ¿did it?”
“No. Nothing’s wrong. We just wanted to know if you wanted to go on a walk with us,” said Edgar.
“¿Huh?” She looked up & saw Autumn sipping coffee on the counter.
“O. O yeah, definitely: I ne’er pass up walks in the dawn moonlight,” Dawn said as she slid onto her feet to get ready—getting ready being putting on shoes.
“You know, I had the strangest dream last night… or tonight.” Dawn glanced up @ the ticking owl clock. “Last night. Fully bizarre. Almost like a video game.”
“Mmm… By chance, ¿was good ol’ Mayor Lance Chamsby there?”
Dawn’s eyes shot open, this statement being the equivalent o’ a caffeine injection.
“He was,” she said with a gasp. “¿Was he in your dream, too?”
“I would call mine a nightmare, but yes,” Autumn said as she pointed down @ 1 o’ the boxy, antennaed devices still on the floor. “It seems you left your toys round the floor last night, which just so happened to be the night Lance thought would be a perfect opportunity to break in & do some good ol’ people-stabbin’.”
Well, that’s a li’l unfair… she added in her head. I doubt Lance would consider me “people.”
Dawn gasped. “So they do work… That’s wondersome…”
Autumn noticed Edgar’s expression was strained, as if he were thinking deeply.
“I s’pose he infested your dreams as well, Sir Winters,” said Autumn.
Edgar held the side o’ his head. “I think so… I just don’t remember the dream well… I remember ’twas pretty depressing, so maybe that’s a good thing.”
“It’s redundant to call a dream with Lance in it ‘depressing,’” Autumn said before taking ’nother sip o’ her coffee.
“Can I take my Game Boy,” Dawn said as she searched round the couch for it. “I’m almost @ Fuchsia & I want to show you guys ‘Glitch City.’”
“I’m sure that’ll be the seed to a fruitful conversation,” said Autumn.
“& after that maybe we can play pirates with those coat-hangers—wherever I put them.” Dawn twisted her upper-body side-to-side, her eyes gliding ’cross the ambushed carpet.
“I’ll pass on the latter, thank you,” said Autumn. “By the way, just a warning: Lance may try trailing us.”
“Don’t worry, we can just set up that cardboard-box trap held up with a stick with the copy o’ The Virtue o’ Selfishness under it,” said Dawn.
So they went out & walked down the street, Autumn & Edgar’s arms clutched together & Edgar’s head leaning on Autumn’s shoulder.
“Wow, you’re right, the stars are beautiful this night-morn,” Dawn said as she walked with her head firmly tilted upward.
“I didn’t say anything close to that,” said Autumn.
“You’re not the only 1 who can find the true ideas hidden ’hind misleading words,” said Dawn. “No… I’m sure we went on this walk to get exercise.”
Autumn didn’t reply.
“You know, I’ve heard in some cultures there’s a myth ’bout this book given by the stars & if you write in it, you’ll get anything you want, no matter how bizarre it is—well, so long as it’s not trademarked, ’course.”
“If by ’some cultures,’ you mean the cultures that crazy old lady in the bird mask made up in her head, then yes, that would be accurate,” said Autumn.
“I wonder where she comes up with all this—”
“¿WHAT THE FUCK?”
Dawn stopped & stared down @ the foot she’d just planted onto the sidewalk as if it’d just committed murder.
“¿Is something wrong?” Autumn asked with a concerned look.
“¡LOOK AT WHAT YOU DID TO MY CAR!”
Dawn turned & saw a young man shouting @ ’nother, the other leaning back with his hands up defensively.
“OK… OK… It’s all right. No need to talk in all-caps. Let’s not throw ’way all standards o’ polite conduct & proper literary style, now.”
Dawn exhaled in relief.
“¿What?” asked Autumn.
“Nothing,” Dawn said, & then laughed & scratched her head. “Just reminded me o’ something truly strange.”
Suddenly, someone jumped out o’ bed.
“¿Is something wrong, Mezun?”
Mezun panted as he clutched 1 o’ his 2 foreheads with his bulbous crab claw.
“I just had the strangest dream. There was the thief with glasses who had a skeleton partner & this Snidely-Whiplash-like capitalist mayor wanted to destroy them ’cause o’ socialism, or some shit, & they walked through this city called Boskeopolis @ night.”
Mezun’s pet turtle stared @ him with the eye uncovered by a patch.
But before he could speak, ’nother someone jumped out o’ bed.
“¿Is something wrong, Plak?”
“I just had the bizarrest dream… I dreamt there was this… round world with lots o’ water… & these brown fleshy creatures lived all o’er it… They had these things called ‘world wars’ & ‘science’ & 1 o’ them had a dream ’bout this world called ‘Boskeopolis’ with these other brown fleshy creatures & this white nonfleshy creature… I can’t e’en ’splain it, it’s so strange.”
“Well, maybe you should ingest mo’ splurge. That ought to improve your pipes.”
Dawn’s eyes yawned open & she sat up with a hand on her head. Autumn, who was using her laptop on the other side o’ the table, glanced o’er @ Dawn. ’Hind her, Dawn could see Edgar stirring some bowl @ the counter while eye-searing light fell in through the open-window, concealing the fact that the apartment lights weren’t on.
“I just had the strangest dream… You were all there, which is no surprise, ’course; but then I dreamt that that was just a dream by some strange creature called “Dr. Mezun” & then that that was just a dream by some other strange creatures…”
“Huh…” said Autumn.
“& in that dream within a dream I made some dream-entering devices & Lance broke in @ night & broke into all o’ our dreams, & then I woke up & we all went out for a walk…”
“That did happen,” said Autumn. “We came home & then you immediately fell asleep on the couch, ¿remember?”
“O…” said Dawn, her shoulders slumping. “It all seemed so fantastic, though.”
“Dawn, Edgar & I once were kidnapped by some deranged scientist who performed body-mangling experiments on us. Reality is fantastic, truly; that’s what you get when your reality is fiction.”
But li’l did they know, their own experiences weren’t the only part o’ Dawn’s dream that were true: for when one backs up far ’way from Boskeopolis, far ’way from earth, far ’way from the universe, one will find a smooth, black tablet; & staring into that tablet were a cloister o’ scientists & an eccentric figure with tentacles, tusks, & 1 purple crab claw named Dr. Mezun—a world that went by many names, but only 1 you could understand: the Star Light Zone.