Autumn woke shaking with a vicious chill and a hard ache in the middle of her throat. All of this paled to the weakness she felt from the recognition of her surroundings, of her life: the scratchy hard bottom of an abandoned storm-drain with a dead view—save the little mild light peeking through the hole near the top of the wall. The stench saturating the area reminded her of what lurked down here: waste, material without a purpose, other than to create inconvenience.
All of this created in her mind a conflict of interests. On one shoulder, she didn’t even want to get up and face the prospects of further failure; on the other, she certainly didn’t want to stay down here and have past failure’s products reek right in her face.
She tried to sit up carefully so as not to stir Edgar, who was lying next to her under the same blanket; but as she did, she could hear him murmur and felt a sleeve of his robe brush against her.
“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Autumn whispered with a gravelly voice.
“It’s okay; you didn’t wake me,” Edgar replied.
This was certainly a lie. She wasn’t sure why he bothered. Quite honestly, she wasn’t sure why he bothered with her in the first place, considering the immense success she’d gained. Could he truly do worse alone?
But she’d learned years ago to stop asking that question, whose answer she knew would always elude her. Instead, she stood and trudged over to the boxy hole that served as the “door” to their sewage home, reaching her arms out to push the tall grass away so that it didn’t block her view of the outside. The sky was still dark blue—the usual early-morning scene of late January. To her amazement, the air outside was somehow even colder than the air inside.
Autumn was overtaken by a violent sneeze and responded by rubbing her stuffy nose, shaking as a cat fresh out the rain and grunting.
“Well, I guess we’d better get to work,” she said as she climbed up the hole. Edgar couldn’t help noticing how much more muffled and raspier Autumn’s voice sounded today.
“Uh… Autumn, you don’t sound very good,” he said.
“You just noticed?” Autumn said dryly.
“No, I mean today you don’t sound… you don’t sound normal, I mean,” Edgar said, starting to feel the shaking from the chill affect his own voice.
“Who cares? Come on,” she said as she waved her hands forward.
She sat bent near the opening so she could reach her arms in and help Edgar out. With that settled, they continued down the street, Autumn shuffling her feet and stuffing her hands deep in her pockets to stifle the cold, visible steam emanating from her heavily-breathing mouth.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Edgar asked. “You don’t look… you don’t look the way you normally do.”
“Well, that can’t be too bad, then,” Autumn said.
“No, I mean worse…”
“I mean you look ill,” Edgar said.
“When don’t I?” Autumn asked.
“Even more so.”
Autumn settled the matter with a wave of her hand, muttering, “Bah.” Edgar decided that furthering the issue would be futile.
“So what are we doing today, Autumn?”
“The same thing we do every day, Edgar: try to get rich.”
“Oh, uh, I meant what specifically in order to do that,” Edgar said as he rubbed his sleeve-covered hands nervously.
“Ah. That’s a good question,” Autumn said. “To be honest, I don’t know. I simply decided ‘twould be better to go out in the main city for inspiration than sit around trying to plan in a barren sewer, distracted by poo gas.”
Autumn sneezed again. Edgar tried to ignore it.
“Do you think we should try to find you something to eat first?” Edgar asked. “I don’t think you’ve eaten for two days now; and my experience with humans tells me that they get kind of less humany and more deadish when they go too long without food.”
“I think we have more important things to worry about than my survival,” Autumn said with a sniff and a cough.
“Autumn, you know it’s really not healthy to go without eating for so long.” Then Edgar turned to the audience—which is quite impressive in a nonvisual medium—and said, “Remember kids, you should always start your morning with a healthy breakfast.”
They continued down the street, passing what appeared to be the same buildings over and over again, as if in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, since the author was too lazy to draw different buildings—which is quite an impressive failure in a nonvisual medium.
“Think of anything yet?” Edgar asked.
“No. Do you think I’m a mental wizard or something?” Autumn snapped.
Edgar’s head slunk down. “Sorry.”
Autumn exhaled deeply, feeling the icy-sharp air stab the back of her throat. “No, I suppose I should apologize. I was hoping to return to ground level—whatever ground level I ever had—at least before the end of the year, but I’m just as mired as I ever was.”
Autumn stared down at her shoes with a haggard expression. Edgar noticed that everything about her looked haggard, especially her slumped stance.
“I don’t know… I’m starting to believe I can’t hack this thieving industry anymore. I was okay when I was in high school, but now… I just can’t do it.”
Edgar clutched Autumn’s arm in his. “Sure you can.”
“Blanket assertions lacking any form of evidence are not valuable,” Autumn said.
“But there’s plenty of evidence you can still succeed, Autumn.”
“Well, uh…” Edgar scratched his head. “It’s not fair that I’m not smart enough to know where.”
“Nobody, no matter how smart, can find facts where there are none,” Autumn said.
Autumn felt a bubbling pain in her stomach, followed by a gurgling sound. She clutched her stomach and gave an annoyed grunt.
“Maybe it’s your empty stomach that’s, uh, weakening your thinking abilities,” Edgar said, almost leaping at this epiphany.
Autumn grunted again. “I don’t feel like eating anymore banana peels from the dumpsters.”
“Wait, what? Is that what you’ve been eating the last few months?” Edgar asked.
“Sometimes I nibbled the leftover fruit from disposed apples or even ate a few newspapers. What do you expect me to do, eat at the Chez…” Autumn pressed her fingers into her forehead as she tried to devise a clever way to finish this comment, but the function returned null. Eventually she just swiped a hand forward and muttered, “Bah.”
“Couldn’t you steal something from a grocery store?” Edgar asked. “I mean, we’ve passed one of them five times already.”
“Maybe; but then I’d have to sell it,” I said.
“Because I’m not going to waste such a good heist. Do you know what still-good food is worth?”
“But what will you eat, then?” Edgar asked.
Autumn sneezed. “I told you: banana peels, apple cores, and newspapers. Products I can’t profit from. Don’t you listen?”
“What?” Autumn threw her arms out after wiping the snot from her nose. “Oh all right, I’ll get some food when the grocery store passes by again.”
“Don’t you mean when we pass by the grocery store?” Edgar asked.
“Oh, please. It’s quite obvious that the background moves regardless how we move. Watch.”
Autumn stopped; Edgar stopped with her. The background, however, continued to slide past them at the same speed as if they were still walking.
“Wow. That doesn’t even make any sense,” Edgar said with awe.
“Quite impressive for a nonvisual medium,” Autumn said with a nod.
Only a few minutes later—which meant we didn’t need a change of scene, truly—the local grocery store rolled by, so the animators stopped the background in accordance with the plot. This actually was not impressive for a nonvisual medium; in fact, it’s very easy to do if one knows how.
“Okay, now you wait out here and hide at the end of these bushes—”
“But we’re not next to any bushes,” Edgar said.
Autumn emitted an annoyed sigh and then led Edgar over to a row of bushes stretching out from the side of the store.
“Okay, now you wait out here and hide at the end of these bushes while I go inside and get what I nee—”
Autumn was interrupted by a sneeze.
“You should get some cold medicine, too,” Edgar said.
“I don’t have a cold,” Autumn snapped as she rubbed her nose and sniffed. “I just happen to have all of the symptoms of a cold.”
“Isn’t that pretty much just what cold medicine cures, anyway?” Edgar asked.
Autumn waved her hand forward and muttered, “That is a piece of information that I consider much too trifling to waste my mental energy replying to.”
Edgar watched Autumn walk inside and then, with nothing else to do to pass his time, his eyes drifted up to the sign above, which said, “Fred-Mart,” and below that, “Cheap prices, cheap products, cheap labor!”
Once inside, Autumn made her way directly to the first aisle she saw in hopes of getting this over with as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, a few people were in her direct path, so she had to shove them out of the way.
“Hey, you’re not the center of the universe, madam!” one of them yelled.
“Yes I am; I’m the star, you idiot,” Autumn grunted.
“Oh. Okay, then.”
Autumn stopped in the middle of the aisle, hoping it would be the hardest place for the cameras to see. Then she proceeded to pick up, pretend to examine, and put down items in speedy motions—as if she were scrambling for a certain product—while sneaking a food item into her coat every so often in the middle. However, she also sometimes conspicuously pocketed items—only doing so for canned food so that she could easily remember it.
When she’d gotten enough to fill her pockets without rising suspicion, she proceeded to the checkout counter. Though there were automatic checkout stations, she made sure to pick one that was human-operated—well, organism-operated, at least; she knew Cthulhu sometimes worked there to pay off its gambling debts, and she wasn’t prejudice against eldritch horrors.
She began to fill the counter with the canned food while the chatty moron who wouldn’t shut up about his favorite clock hand finished his purchases. As the cashier started pricing and bagging her items, she put her hands in her pants pockets and then wiggled around, feigning a horrified expression.
“Oh, crap,” she said. She wiggled her hands around more before she continued with a deep sigh, “I forgot my wallet again.” She put a hand on her forehead. “I’m sorry to waste your time. You want me to put this all back?”
“H’mnahn’ y’athg sign h’ah ep,” the cashier said.
Autumn wiped pretend sweat from her forehead, only to realize real sweat was there and being grossed out.
“Thank you, Mr. Cthulhu,” she said.
“Nafl’y’hee,” Cthulhu said with a wave of one of its tentacles.
“Thanks,” Autumn said with a wave as she walked back toward the door.
But when she began crossing over the threshold, she bolted, setting off the alarm as she passed through the sensors. Cthulhu heard this and immediately chased after her.
As Autumn ran down the parking lot, she yelled, “Come on, Edgar, hightail it!” Edgar, who was already familiar with this type of ordeal, didn’t waste any time being surprised and immediately jumped to his feet and followed after Autumn.
Seeing that they had already gotten away, Cthulhu stopped in front of the store door and shook a fist at them dwindling in the distance.
“Y’stell’bsna n’gha wgah’n’wg hlirgh!”
Then it looked down grumpily and muttered, “Hai mnaiih stell’bsna y’n’gha…” which roughly translates to, “Now my boss will kill me…”
It took Autumn and Edgar a few revolutions around the background loop before they figured out the right directions to go in and how to understand the badly programmed interface and finally escape the never-ending loop. Hopefully this will be simple for the reader to visualize.
When they finally escaped the background loop, they stopped to catch their breaths, which included hacking and a few sneezes from Autumn.
“Good thing I remembered to get that cold medicine,” Autumn grumbled as she rifled through her pockets.
She took a quick look at the instructions on the back, untwisted the cap, and knocked down two pills as instructed. However, as she felt them hit her stomach, she felt a pain spread out from her stomach to her throat and nasal cavities. Suddenly, her already-stuffed nose was dribbling mucus like a faucet, intermittent with coughing and sneezing attacks.
“Augh. These drugs are a ripoff,” Autumn said with a low, hollow voice as she held her aching throat.
“You didn’t pay anything for them, though,” Edgar said.
“It feels as if they made my cold worse.”
“Well… maybe that’s just some temporary thing while they begin working.”
“Bullshit!” Autumn shouted.
Edgar turned, startled, and saw Autumn glaring at the medicine bottle.
Autumn poked at the bottle menacingly. “This medicine isn’t for curing medicine; it’s for causing it. What kind of jackass would sell that kind of thing and what idiot would want it?”
She paused to read more. “Oh, it’s for lazy idiots who want to skip work or school. That’s great. Thanks a lot, assholes.”
She had the momentary urge to chuck the bottle away, but then her inability to waste anything smothered that urge, and she stuffed the bottle in her pockets instead.
“Ah, that’s what I was looking for,” Autumn said as she sped forward toward two homeless people (whom she assumed were a couple) sitting by the curb with a cardboard box in the nearest one’s hands. Written on the front was a message asking for spare change in felt-tip marker.
She stood before them, staring down into the box while Edgar stood a few feet back, glancing around nervously. She saw to her pleasure that it contained a few hundred points1.
“Could you spare some change, Madame?” the one with the box asked as he looked up at her.
“Sorry, but I don’t have any money,” Autumn said; “but I do have some food I’m willing to sell for a steep discount if you’re interested.”
She took out a few bags of chips and cookies. “As you can see, they’re still tightly sealed, so I haven’t tampered with them, and you can check the expiration dates to see that they’re new.”
“How much?” the homeless person closest to her asked.
“How many you want?” Autumn asked. “I have eight on me. I’ll take a hundred points for all of them.”
The homeless person looked at his companion, who nodded. Then he looked back at Autumn and said, “Okay.”
Autumn mumbled a good day before walking on. Edgar, seeing her leave, rushed after her.
They turned the next corner and Autumn sneezed. After rubbing her nose she said, “God, I was afraid that would happen while I was still talking to them. They’d probably balk if they knew I had a cold and could infect them with it. You don’t think they could tell, do you?”
“Autumn, why did you sell that food? Wasn’t the whole point to get you something to eat?”
Autumn waved her hand out. “I told you, Edgar: I’m not wasting the good stuff for that. I know there’s a dumpster around here somewhere.”
There was, and she was soon standing next to it inside an alley. She opened the lid and peeked inside to see a farrago of items. However, her eyes stopped when she saw a damp dark brown banana peel. She lifted it out from a puddle of puddle of strong-smelling liquid under a pile of magazines and test-tube-looking bottles and opened it wide, revealing a small chunk of browning banana still left inside. Then she began licking the inside.
Edgar took a few steps back as his whole body cringed.
“Autumn, isn’t that unhealthy? Couldn’t you get food poisoning, or something?”
“I’ve eaten enough of this crap that my body’s developed an immunity to it,” Autumn said. “Besides, it can’t be much worse than the food thousands of Boskeopoleons eat at McCheesy’s.”
She then began to eat the peel, chewing at it as a long piece of taffy. When that was completed, she nibbled on a few apple cores and mushrooms and ate a loaf of moldy bread and a half-eaten McCheesy’s burger before shutting the lid and moving on.
“So, what do we do now?” Edgar said as he rubbed his stomach area with a grimace. He didn’t have a stomach, which was why he didn’t need to eat, but still felt the tinge of nausea where it would be.
“Let’s stop by the library so I can do some research,” Autumn said.
“Okay,” Edgar said, his voice brightening. “That’ll give us a chance to rest a little. It may do your cold a little good.”
Autumn waved her hand forward, but didn’t say “bah” this time. This was obviously not a bah-worthy moment, but merely a hand-waving-forward moment.
“Bah, I feel fine.” Fooled you fuckers.
However, unbeknownst to Autumn at this moment, the germs from her recent meal were already spreading out through her stomach and multiplying. There was a great diversity among them: cute little cyan blobs with big bulging eyeballs; spider-like, diamond-headed viruses; and puffy pink fur balls, also with bulbous eyes. As they spread out through her body, they swayed and swaggered around in an assortment of dances—the most common being the conga line—going in and out of other cells, causing them to break and the viruses to multiply.
However, their party was soon interrupted when a group of white blood cells blocked their way, standing erect with their arms crossed, their faces covered with opaque black shades. Around their necks were golden chains with the words, “Killa-Ts.”
“And what do you think you’re doing, trespassing on our body, fellas?” the leading white cell asked.
“Chill it, man, it’s the fucking popo!” one of them half-chuckled into the front bacterium’s ear.
“Sorry to ruin your little party, fellas, but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to ask you to leave,” the white cell said.
“We ain’t going anywhere, you fucking fascist pig!” a virus shouted as it shook one of its pincer-like limbs. “We have a right to be here just as much as you do!”
“Oh, really? It looks like we’re just gonna have to flush you little rascals out, then,” the white blood cell said.
They charged forward with batons in their hands, only to be outmatched by the millions of bacteria and viruses in front of them. Soon the battle erupted into an all-out war across Autumn’s cardiovascular system, with numerous casualties on both sides—but many more on the white-cell side.
The fighting gradually began to affect Autumn, starting with a deep pain in the pit of her stomach. She wrapped her hands around it, thinking nothing of it, only for it to evolve into an even deeper pain in her throat, mixed with nausea. Soon sweat-saturated heat flowed over her like lava.
“Autumn, are you all right?” Edgar asked.
“Yeah…” she muttered with a dry voice.
Then she collapsed onto her knees and vomited over the curb for a minute, thick chunks of mushy gray-brown brew spilling out onto the street as if being wrenched out her gullet by an invisible hand.
Eventually, it petered out at the end into dry heaves. She sat there breathing deeply and staring blankly in front of her, burning tears dribbling down the dark sacks of her eyes and saliva settling back into her throat.
Edgar stood a few feet back with a stare of concern for another minute before she stood up and walked on again. Edgar followed, but decided not to say anything.
However, after a few more meters, her legs began to wobble and collapsed under her. She tried to drag herself forward against the sidewalk with her hands for the next few feet before she finally stopped, wrapping her arms around her stomach and cringing.
“Do you want me to get a doctor or something?” Edgar asked, his voice rising in hysterics while his hands rose to his head.
“No,” Autumn grumbled. “We don’t have the money to waste on those ripoff artists.” She groaned.
“Are… are you sure?” Edgar asked.
“Just… just give me a few seconds until I feel a little better.” Autumn’s eyes were open, staring up at Edgar. “The time some measly flu fucks me over is the time you can just throw me out to the land…fills…”
She clutched the side of her face madly, the dark rings under her eyes stretching to comic proportions. This in addition to her profusely dribbling sweat made her appear mad.
“That’s it! We need to explore the landfills for treasure!”
“Autumn, I really think you should see a doctor. I think you might have gotten some poisonous chemicals in you from that food you ate and I think it might be damaging your mind.” Edgar’s voice shook.
Autumn shook her head. “No, I mean it. Rich people throw rich shit away all the time. We could find some good sells.”
She tried to pull herself back up and managed to make it halfway up before clutching her stomach again and falling back down. Then she seized her forehead and moaned.
“Edgar… I need you to try searching around the landfills for me… I’m afraid my worthless body has betrayed me once more and rendered me immobile. You should be able to find the landfills a few blocks forward and then a few to the right.”
“But… but what about you?” Edgar asked, his voice piercing.
“There’s nothing you can do for me, anyway, Doctor Winters. All I can do is lie here and writhe around in pain until my body finally decides to stop sucking again. Now go!”
“If you say so…” Edgar said with a guilty look.
“Well, hurry! We don’t have all day!”
“Okay…” he began moving. Then he turned back to her and added, “If you start feeling really bad, you should try to find a doctor.”
“Yeah, yeah, go on,” Autumn mumbled, her eyes closed and her body curled up, ready for sleep.
Edgar turned back around and went onward, his nonexistent stomach feeling as if it were mashed around by a blender. He wasn’t good at handling stressful events like this, which Autumn usually did herself. Actually, now that Edgar thought about it, he wasn’t really good at anything, really.
To Edgar’s surprise, he was able to find the landfills—or at least a landfill—after only a few dozen minutes of aimless wandering. This gave Edgar a needed boost after a whole journey of stormy indecision.
He ambled around the fence until he found a trash can and used said trash can to climb over the fence. Luckily, there didn’t seem to be anyone around to cause uncomfortable conflict.
Inside the fences he gazed at the mounds of dirt—caked with millions of different objects—stretching out in all directions for meters, strewn here and there with pelicans pecking at the ground. The sheer amount of material before him overloaded his brain, causing him to panic.
Where should I even begin? he wondered.
He shrugged, bent down where he stood, and then began digging immediately below him, scrambling out forward, tossing tin cans, plastic bags, paper wads, and soda-can rings with strangled birds’ heads caught in them to the side.
Though the sun was smothered by a flat tapestry of fog, and the temperature outside was around eight degrees Celsius, Edgar’s head dripped with sweat from the sheer exertion—so much so that Edgar didn’t even have the energy to wonder how he was sweating without skin.
Hours later the toil became too much for him and he stopped, coming close to plopping face-first in the garbage under him. He inched his way over to the nearest mound and sat on it, breathing deeply.
Still, he couldn’t relax yet. He wasn’t sure how long Autumn wanted him to try searching. He was pretty sure he wasn’t going to find anything even if he spent thirty years looking; and yet, knowing Autumn, she would wonder why he returned so soon without anything. On the other foot, he had to worry about what was going on with Autumn.
Then again, it’s not like I can really do much anyway, Edgar thought.
Edgar sighed. He didn’t think he was going to be able to come to terms with the fact that Autumn wasn’t likely to last much longer. What’ll happen first? Will she get arrested again or just slowly fall apart?
Nor did Edgar know what role he was to play in any of this. ‘Twasn’t as if he suspected she didn’t want his company anymore; he knew her enough to know she wasn’t shy about telling people to get lost. He just didn’t know what kind of company that was supposed to be—other than being there at the awkward side, doing nothing.
Of course, doing nothing was what he was most comfortable doing—harder to cause problems that way—but he had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn’t something he ought to do, else he didn’t understand why life would be wasted on him to do it.
Well… Look, Edgar, she has you here digging for treasure. That’s doing something useful.
A whole lot of good that’ll do…
He stared up the sky and saw nothing but grayness. It didn’t seem to indicate the time at all.
He stood back up and walked over to the fence on the other side, ready to return to Autumn. He was so preoccupied with his worries that he wasn’t paying much attention to his feet and soon felt them trip under him, knocking him to the ground.
He looked behind him to see what tripped him when he saw something sharp and bright shine under his foot. He dug it out and saw that it was a golden top hat with sparkling red ruby band, twice the size of his hand. Despite being covered with dirt he could still see it sheen underneath.
After a minute or so of dumbfounded staring, the implication knocked him in the head like a meteor. He glanced around him to see if anyone was watching and, when he saw that there wasn’t, he snuck the top hat into his robe.
“Well, let’s just hope this isn’t as cursed as that diamond she found before,” he muttered with a sigh.
He scuttled over to the fence, hopped it, and practically flew back to Autumn, feeling as if the sun had melted through the fog and shined down on him.
It didn’t, of course; that would be silly if the weather just magically changed based on one skeleton’s moods. Nevertheless, Edgar could use his imagination.
When he returned, he saw that she was still lying curled-up on the ground with her eyes closed. The slow, erratic movements of her chest and the loud rasping of her breathing did not give Edgar much solace.
He bent down and gently shook her. “Autumn, I have great news,” he whispered.
Autumn only released a long wheeze. He tried again to no avail. As he watched her for the next few minutes, he noticed her pulsating slow until she had completely stopped.
He shook her again.
He put his ear to her chest and heard nothing.
“Autumn?” he repeated, the pitch rising into hysterics.
He put his hand on her wrist and felt no pulse.
“Oh my god!” he whimpered as he rose back to his feet with his hands clutching his head. “What do I do? What do I do?” he said as he turned his head left and right frantically.
He squeezed his hands together until they hurt and took a deep breath. Okay, I need to find a doctor immediately if I’m going to prevent her from dying—if. Just need to stay calm… Please God don’t make me screw this up…
He bent down and struggled to lift her until her upper body was above his shoulder and then slowly hobbled down the street, his head twisting in every direction in search for a hospital. After his heart had been lifted only a few minutes ago, he now felt ‘twas sinking like an anchor. He had no idea where a hospital was in the giant city and knew the chances of him randomly happening upon one before Autumn became unrecoverable—if she hadn’t already—were bleak.
If only Edgar had realized he was in a literature series and knew that Autumn was the irreplaceable star of the story, he would not have stressed himself so, for he would have known—as the reader surely did—that, of course, Autumn would have made it out alive. After all, do you truly believe I would have let her die? Surely that never happened in any other story.
He had been sitting on the floor with his knees raised in the waiting room, his face buried in his robe, when he heard the nurse say, “Mr. Winters, the woman you brought in has awoken.”
Edgar gasped as he stood up and then followed the nurse into Autumn’s room. As he walked up to Autumn’s bed, he saw her sitting up and rubbing her eyes and forehead on each side of her face. Though she still had tired dark rings under her eyes and she still had black cords attached to her arm for some reason, her skin seemed to regain its color and she looked as well as she’d ever looked to Edgar.
“Again?” Autumn said dryly. “Some pokers didn’t secretly turn me into a cyborg again, did they?”
Edgar shook his head. “The doctor said you got acetone poisoning somehow and they had to pump it out of your stomach by connecting one and a half pills of matching color to each little virus guys without the pills reaching the top of your stomach. ‘Twas truly fascinating; he made it to level fifteen before failing.”
“Oh…” Autumn said as looked down dully. Then her eyebrows arched in understanding and she looked at Edgar again. “I really wish you didn’t send me here. You know these cronies are gonna drill us out of everything we own—which is virtually nothing. Escape won’t be as easy as last time…”
“O-oh, not anymore, Autumn,” Edgar said as he dug through his robe, shaking with excitement. He pulled out the golden top hat and held it up to her.
Autumn waved at him as if trying to swat a fly. “Put that away before someone sees it! Quick!” she whispered as she turned her head left and right for any eavesdroppers.
Her heart suddenly started racing and she had to put all of her effort into keeping her legs from shaking. Whatever weakness still resided in her body was quickly thrown out by the urgent needs of her mind like a sluggish typist being shoved aside for the new master to attack the keyboard with the speed of lightning.
When Edgar dutifully returned the top hat to his robe, Autumn asked in a low voice, “Where did you get that?”
“Well, uh… In the landfill, actually…”
“Landfill?” Autumn asked as she scratched her head.
“Remember? You asked me to search around a landfill for treasure.”
“I don’t remember that.”
“’Twas just before you fell asleep… or whatever you did. You didn’t seem to be fully, uh… conscious, I guess.”
Autumn stared down at her blanket again, her mind lost in thought. From the short glimpse she got of the top hat she saw that it was shiny and an exquisite color, though she hadn’t had a chance to actually feel it to better test its authenticity. Would be too dangerous, now—it could wait.
Anyway, she wasn’t an expert in jewelry and wouldn’t know how much it could truly sell for anyhow. This was the problem. She knew she had to research it to at least gain some indication of its true worth and then figure out a way to properly sell it without getting ripped off. She was so close and yet she could see traps everywhere, each threatening to ruin it completely.
But the first obstacle she had to vex about was evading paying whatever exorbitant fee this hospital would certainly charge.
She leaned into Edgar and whispered, “Did you give them my name?”
He whispered back, “No, I, uh, said you were some stranger I found on the street.”
“You learn well,” Autumn said with a smile and a light pat on his back. “Now let’s sneak out.”
“Uh… Are you sure you’re ready to leave yet?” Edgar asked.
“Of course. I feel fine,” Autumn said as she detached the black cords from her arms.
She rose—her eyes wary of her surroundings to ensure nobody was coming—and then she walked up to the window. She untwisted the lock and then lifted the window up, letting the frigid air inside what was previously stiflingly warm. She looked down and saw that the grassy ground was a few floors down.
Nothing she hadn’t handled before.
“You want me to get your clothes for you?” Edgar whispered.
Autumn looked down and saw that she was in a thin white patient’s gown instead of her normal clothes.
“Oh shit!” Autumn said in a hushed shout. She remembered what had happened last time she was in one of these hospitals.
“Yes. Please do.”
Just as she was climbing over the window sill, the nurse returned, only to have his eyes bulge when he saw Autumn.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Hurry up, Edgar!” Autumn shouted as she went over the edge.
Edgar scurried after her and leaped out just in front of the nurse chasing after them. The nurse stopped with his head out the window, looking down at Autumn climbing down a vent pipe, Edgar hanging from the back of her patient’s gown with his arms around her neck.
The nurse rubbed his hand over his forehead, brushing the small mat of hair on the top back. “Madame, are you crazy?”
He didn’t wait for a reply—which was wise, since Autumn wasn’t planning on giving him one—but instead turned back and rushed for help. However, by the time security arrived at her landing spot, she had already landed and was running across the street, away from the hospital.
After a few sharp turns and curves through the city Autumn thought she lost them. Nevertheless, she kept up her speed just in case.
“You want me to get off your back and start running with you?” Edgar asked.
“No…” Autumn said between pants. “That would be too much of a delay. Let’s wait until we get near the library.”
“Why are we going there?”
“Research. Hey, what time is it, by the way?”
“Oh, I don’t even know…”
“How many days has it been since I passed out?”
“None,” Edgar said. “You passed out this afternoon.”
“Shit. You can’t approximate how many hours it has been?”
“It looks like it may be too late for the library,” she said as she looked up at the black sky full of stars.
They stopped at the library regardless and, when she tried to push her way through the front doors, saw that it was indeed closed, the darkened inside hall visible from the glass of the doors.
“Ah, fuck it. Let’s just sell this stupid thing already. I won’t be able to do any good research, anyway,” Autumn said as she turned back to the sidewalk.
“You want to change back into your normal clothes first?” Edgar asked.
“That would be a good idea. It probably wouldn’t help my prospects if I came in looking like a mental patient.”
They stopped along an alley and Autumn changed inside while Edgar kept guard. Finding it impossible to waste anything, Autumn stuffed the patient’s gown in her coat pockets and they continued on their way toward the plaza.
They started their walk silent. Autumn in particular was staring down at the ground, trying her hardest to hide the anxiety over what might screw up her prospects for fear of attracting attention and making it more likely to happen. Being robbed—the ultimate ignominy for a thief—was the foremost fear on her mind, especially during such a dark night—it had already happened before. She hoped that Edgar’s skeletal visage would scare any would-be thief away. But then she glanced over at him staring down at the ground with his hands clasped together like a priest and doubted it.
Edgar’s silence was for a whole different reason altogether. Autumn could guess that it was due to the same concerns she knew he had hidden in that little skull for months now—and she had a few guesses as to what those concerns concerned. However, she elected to deal with it after their gains were secured.
Or at least that was what she told herself, aware that it was an excuse, but sticking with it all the way, anyway.
A few blocks later, they entered the first jeweler’s shop they saw. Autumn was surprised to find it still open, but could see from its near vacancy that it probably wouldn’t be for long. There was only one other person inside, being closely watched by the sleepy-eyed teller.
However, his attention shifted to Autumn when she walked in through the door and stopped at his desk.
“Do you buy jewelry?” Autumn asked in a tired voice.
The cashier made a humorless laugh. “Marital trouble?”
Maintaining her tired expression, she answered, “Yeah.” She loved it when her marks offered facades for her. Cut down on the planning.
She turned to Edgar. “Show him the top hat.”
Edgar dug through his pockets and pulled it out, holding it up to the eye-searing white light with both hands. When the cashier saw it, his eyes widened.
“Holy—That’s… That looks just like the famous Gilded Top Hat of Chamsby. I can’t believe he would give that to you? Was he—?”
Autumn nodded with a subtle brew of solemn irritation. She had no idea who this Chamsby person was, but figured she’d escape with her loot long before this idiot bothered to look up the facts—if he ever did.
“And you’re selling that?” the cashier asked, his voice rising in incredulity.
Autumn feigned a deep breath and a haggard look. “I hesitated at first, but I have bills to pay and I don’t see why I should hold onto it for that asshole. If he wants it again, he can surely afford to rebuy it.”
“How much do you want for it?” The teller asked.
“How much you willing to pay?”
Autumn kicked herself in her mind—which is pretty hard to do, admittedly. Research would have helped her a lot more than she originally thought.
“How about twenty million2?” The teller asked.
“That’s all?” Autumn immediately shot back. She made a subtle glance over to Edgar and saw that he looked down at his feet shyly, not revealing any change in emotion.
He does learn well, she thought.
“Well, how much do you want?” The teller asked.
Autumn paused for approximately a minute. She didn’t need that much time to consider her next part of the play; she only knew she needed to pause that long to keep the play successful.
“Five hundred million,” she said.
“Five hundred million? That’s crazy!”
“It’s the Gilded Top Hat of Chamsby for god’s sake,” Autumn said.
“Fifty million,” the teller demanded with his arms crossed.
Autumn waited for another minute before faking a tired sigh.
“Whatever. It’ll be nice to screw over that dick, anyway.” She knew she was probably being screwed out of a hundred million or so for her failure to do proper research, but decided not to risk it by declining. After all, she could’ve been screwed over worse.
The cashier wrote her a check and handed it to her. Autumn inspected it before slipping it into her pocket. Edgar looked to her and she nodded.
As he handed the teller the top hat, Autumn said, “I expect this check not to bounce or else the police will have to get involved.”
“This is a respectable business, Madame,” the clerk said with a glare.
And with that they left, Autumn leading them down the street in the direction of their underground home with her hands stuffed in her pockets. She wanted to keep her hand on her new check, paranoid that it may slip out if she released it for so much as one second.
They went without any communication until they stopped at the familiar grass-covered hole, when Edgar looked at Autumn and saw her nod in affirmation.
When they sat down inside, covered completely in darkness, Autumn whispered, “The banks are almost certainly closed already, so we’re just going to have to wait until tomorrow morning. Thankfully it’s a weekday.”
“Yeah…” Edgar said.
Autumn sat in silence for the rest of the night, her mind filled with too many concerns to sleep—the foremost being the prospect of being robbed during her sleep. She could also sense that Edgar was still troubled; but what she would do about that, she had no idea. She felt Edgar’s head rest against her knee only a half hour later, signaling his going to sleep, anyway.
She looked down at Edgar sadly and rubbed his dusty skull a few times, feeling him bob up and down over her knee with his heavy breaths.
Poor guy. Must be tired after that whole ordeal, she thought.
Autumn kept looking up above her shoulder at the opening every so often to check how much time had elapsed until she felt Edgar stir awake. At that point she could see a gleam of blue light seep inside, signaling that it was early morning.
“Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.
“You want to check if the banks are open or wait to be safe from robbers?”
Autumn paused to deliberate.
“’Twould be safer out in the light than down here in the dark. But if you want more rest, ‘twould be better that we wait.”
“I don’t think so.”
“’Kay, then let’s go.”
She led them outside and down the street toward the main plaza again, where the jeweler’s was and where she knew a credit union would be. She kept her hands in her pockets, where they’d been for the last eight hours, still wary of robbers. Luckily, she saw that the sky was rather rosy, indicating that ‘twould likely be a sunny day, despite the frozen temperature.
“So, uh, which one are you going to?” Edgar asked. “Do you even have an account anywhere? I mean, I would suppose, uh, Syrup would be out of the question…”
“No, and I certainly won’t be trying Syrup,” Autumn murmured back. “I know there’s gotta be a… union around here somewhere.”
Edgar nodded in understanding.
They wandered around the plaza for about a half hour—Autumn’s nerves on edge and her eyes watching for robbers at every step—before they finally found a shop with the sign, “St. Hermann Credit Union.” To their surprise, the light was on inside and, when they tried the door, ‘twas unlocked.
Though there was a teller at the desk, there didn’t appear to be any customers yet. He gave Autumn a creepy smile that only made her feel more insecure about her check. She cautiously stepped up to the desk.
Autumn was surprised by how easy ‘twas to open an account, though she ruminated that it was probably so they could take people’s money more quickly. When the teller asked them if they needed anything else about a half hour later, Autumn handed him the check with a heavy heart.
“Wow, you sure struck it rich,” the teller said with a chuckle. “I sure wish I had that much.”
Autumn decided not to answer him. Luckily, he didn’t seem to expect a response, immediately turning to his computer and tapping on a few keys.
“Do you want this in your savings or checking?” he asked.
“Uh… What? No, uh… I want to withdraw this money,” Autumn said.
The teller laughed nervously. “Uh, we’re sorry, Ms. Springer, but we have a three-thousand-point withdraw limit per day. Would you like to withdraw thirty thousand?”
“What? That’s robbery!” Autumn shouted as she pointed an accusatory finger at the teller.
The teller gave another nervous laugh, sitting back farther. “We understand your concerns, but we can assure you that your money will be perfectly secure. We actually hold this policy to keep your money better secured, in case somebody steals your identity and tries to make off with all your money.”
Yeah, sure you do, she thought, but managed to stifle her anger. She knew ‘twould only make things worse.
After a deep breath, she said, “Well then, I’ll withdraw as much as you’ll allow me.”
“Thirty thousand? Okay,” the teller said as he tapped a few keys. Then he pulled counted a few points and handed them to her. She counted them herself and saw that they were thirty thousand.
“Now, what about the rest? Savings or checking?”
“What’s the difference?”
“Savings accrues more interest but you can automatically send bills to checking.”
“Interest? You’re charging me for keeping my money?” Her voice rose a little again, but she managed to stifle it again.
“Oh, no,” the teller said with another laugh that Autumn began to find annoying. “That’s what you gain.”
“Gain?” Autumn’s eyes widened. Then her eyes narrowed again. “You mean you pay me to keep money here?”
“Uh… I guess you could think of it that way…”
“Why? What’s the catch?”
“Uh… Well… I guess there is the extremely rare risk that we may go bankrupt, in which case you’d lose your money—but that would almost certainly never happen.”
I knew there’d be a catch, Autumn grumbled in her head.
“However, even if that happened, the government would insure up to ten million—and honestly, you can check this yourself, nobody has ever lost money from bank failure since the Great Depression.”
Autumn made a mental note to check as soon as she had the chance.
“Well, I hope you won’t mind if I check on my account every so often,” Autumn said.
“Oh, actually we send notices every month by mail and email.”
“Good. I’ll be watching them,” Autumn said while pointing at him again.
By the time they left, the sun sat much higher up, creating a bright yellow glare that hurt their eyes.
“I must admit I don’t know whether I feel more or less safe,” Autumn mumbled as they walked down the street.
“If it makes you feel better, I’m sure they couldn’t get away with stealing your money without getting in serious trouble,” Edgar said.
“I dunno… You never know with banks. Besides, how do I know that one guy couldn’t just run off with my money? I don’t trust that smile.”
“They must have some kind of safeguard against that,” Edgar said. “Otherwise people’d be doing it all the time and they’d never be able to function.”
“I suppose…” Autumn said. “Anyway, there’s no point in worrying about it now. What’s done is done. I guess things could’ve gone worse.”
“So, uh… What are you going to do now that you’re rich?” Edgar asked with a little giggle. “You want to get something to eat… hopefully not from the trash this time.”
“I’d rather try getting an apartment so I at least have a locked door protecting my money,” Autumn said.
It actually took Autumn a few days before she could get an apartment, thanks to her credit being ruined by the default on her rent at her previous apartment.
Finally, she managed to find a small apartment room in a seedy neighborhood far off on the eastern side of Boskeopolis with the intention of setting up carefully-hidden hiding places for her valuables that night.
After she finally paid the slumlord his deposit, and he finally handed over the keys, she stepped inside to see a boxy white-walled room—yellow under the tacky light—that looked just like her old room. Perfect.
After a quick inspection—what she was looking for, however, Autumn couldn’t quite figure out—she sat down against a wall to rest.
“Is something wrong, Autumn?” Edgar asked as he walked toward her.
“What?” Autumn asked as she looked up at Edgar, surprised. “No, of course not.” She gave a humorless laugh. “I would expect you of anyone to whine at me to take a rest.”
“Well, it’s just that… I dunno… I would assume you’d look a lot happier after becoming rich,” Edgar said.
“If the bank doesn’t rip me off, I suppose,” Autumn said with a sigh. Of course, she had checked every day when she withdrew her thirty thousand points and saw that they still at least claimed to have her money still.
“If you must know, I suppose I expected it to be more… significant than what happened. At the very least I would have expected to be conscious when I won it. I mean, technically you were the one who found that golden top hat, anyway, by stumbling upon it randomly, no less. Truly, if you weren’t stupid enough to just give me it and I weren’t so selfish enough to take it, you could’ve kept it for yourself.”
That was the aspect that formed the most confused mixture in her mind. Normally, she didn’t corn to accepting unearned wealth—only that which she stole by her own hands held value in her eyes.
But then, she knew refusing would be futile—what would Edgar do with it, anyway? He never seemed to want anything. Besides, she could at least use the money to finally try the more expensive ventures she’d wanted to attempt, but always lacked the funds for, and possibly multiply this wealth.
‘Twas a middle ground she could accept.
“’Twas your idea to check the landfill, though.”
She held her forehead in her hand. “Yeah, I don’t even remember that, though, my mind was so fevered.”
“I should point out that I, uh, didn’t really find it by searching,” Edgar said. “I, uh, just happened to trip as I walked back to the fence.”
“That’s even worse. I mean, I’ve done so much for nothing and now I just happen to find fifty million randomly through someone else.” She shrugged. “That just seems stupid, truly.”
“Maybe it’s a gift from karma or something,” Edgar said tepidly. He knew ‘twas a stretch that such an argument would soothe Autumn.
“No karma would ever give me anything.” Autumn replied.
Then she stood. “Anyway, there’s no use whining about it. I suppose I’d better prepare my security areas, since I know that flimsy lock won’t keep anyone out.”
“Need any help?” Edgar asked.
“If you want to,” Autumn said as she looked up at the ceiling.
“Well, since you at least shared in spinning the wheel of our arbitrary jackpot, is there anything you want out of this?” Autumn asked. “Other than foo… shelter, of course. I would think you’d want at least half of it.”
Edgar shook his head. “I don’t need anything.”
“I didn’t ask if you needed anything; I asked if you wanted anything.”
“Uh, no. Thank you, though. You’d make much better use of it than I ever could.”
“Well, yes, for me. But what do you get out of the deal?” ‘Twas a question Autumn had asked before and knew she’d get nothing from it.
Instead, Edgar asked, “Well, I mean… What do you get from it?”
“Success, the ability to gain even more money, many things,” Autumn said.
She also quietly added security and general well-being to that invisible list, two qualities she hadn’t appreciated until recently.
“Well… Can’t I feel successful without the money?” Edgar asked.
“You can feel however you want, but that doesn’t…”
Or maybe it does…Autumn thought. Surely I would not argue that money gained unearned is the same as money earned; it’s the earning that is important. Then, can’t it also be that money gained earned is the same as money earned lost? Even if he doesn’t “own” it physically, isn’t that mental ownership still there, no matter where it lies physically?
Of course, neither of us earned this money, so neither of us is successful.
Then she added, “But since I hold the money, I can make the decisions for how it’s used, and thus further money gained from it, which adds to my mental success, but not yours, since you do not share in the decision-making.”
Edgar squirmed, his head bent as far downward as it could. Defense mode, it seems, Autumn mused.
“It’s… it’s not important, anyway. It’s stupid.”
Autumn turned to Edgar. “No, please tell me. I’m legitimately curious. I… I know so little about what goes on in your mind—though I suppose this is mutual.”
“Well… You like real-life evidence and that stuff, right?”
“Okay, now I’m even more intrigued. Continue.”
“Well… Let me just say that… Watch your money and other stuff closely and see that… you’ll never see me take any of it.”
“I never thought that you wou…ld…”
Now that she thought about it, this was an irregularity. People’s normal function was to try to stifle others’ power—in the form of material wealth—as much as possible to gain more power for one’s self. Edgar’s providing evidence that he would never do this to me, of course, but more importantly that I would never expect him to do so. I suppose he could still do so—and one would expect me to still expect it through complicated layers of subterfuge. But the prospect of him doing so would be about as likely as gravity suddenly not working.
“What importance does this have to success?” Autumn asked.
“No. No, I must know, whether the payoff is stupid or not. Tell me.”
“Well… It’s true that you… that you trust me, right?”
“I suppose…” Autumn looked down at the ground herself as an automatic response to rumination. “Yes. I remember you said that was important to you for some reason years ago. I suppose you did ‘succeed’ in that then.” She looked back up at Edgar. “Why is this useful to success? I would think…” Her eyebrows narrowed. “Unless you plan to use that trust later to strike strongly. But why point this out then?”
“Of course not,” Edgar blurted, holding his hands out as if he needed to physically defend himself against such an insinuation. “That would ruin the whole point of it.”
“Then what is the point of it?” Autumn asked.
“Well… What is the point of money?”
“As I said before, power over others.”
“Well… Doesn’t trust do that?”
“Yes, only if it’s taken advantage of. But that only works if you didn’t tell me your plan.”
Edgar shook his head. “I wouldn’t benefit in any way from that. First, even if I didn’t say anything, this… supposed chance would only work once, right?”
“And you could easily take the money back from me—money I have no use for, as you’ve seen by knowing me so long—and I’d be left with nothing again.”
Autumn nodded. “You might escape where I can’t find you.”
“Where would I hide?”
Autumn’s eyes twisted in thought.
“You did think this whole theory of yours through in detail, haven’t you?”
“I… I learned from the best,” Edgar said, shyly staring down at the ground. “And… you know… I would’ve never learned that if you never trusted me enough to be your partner.”
Autumn’s eyes averted to the side, also reflexively. This theory seemed to be leading to unorthodox conclusions.
“So… so you’re saying trust itself has inherent benefits?”
“But here’s the problem,” Autumn said, eying Edgar again: “Couldn’t I abuse that trust to exploit you for any gains you might create? That’s why distrust is so important, after all: as a balance against other distrustful actions.”
“Why would you ask that if… Remember what you said earlier? You’d be blowing your ‘scheme’ by saying this aloud.”
Autumn’s eyes widened. Well… of course I wouldn’t mind saying this aloud, because I don’t plan to do so… In fact, I’ve been worried that I might accidentally do this.
“And why would you offer me half of the money you know you could’ve kept for yourself easily,” Edgar asked.
“So then…you trust me?” Autumn asked.
“And this creates an equilibrium of trust between us, ensuring that neither of these are broken,” Autumn added.
But her eyes twisted incredulously again. “But how does this help you succeed?”
“Well… let’s look at the golden top hat we found. Could I have found it if you hadn’t said something about the landfill?”
“And I couldn’t have found it if I hadn’t told you about it, because of my weaknesses at the time,” Autumn added with a nod. “Interestingly, I would add that I for some reason trusted you to carry any wealth you found back to me without running off with it.”
“So that’s where the success comes from,” Autumn said with more nods. “Hmm… That is an intriguing idea. I’d considered a vague similarity to the idea ever since I took you up as my partner, but I’d never understood the full logic of the idea until now. Still, it seems to check out.”
She stared back up at the ceiling, suddenly remembering the job they were going to do.
“Anyway, we’ll have to go out and get some materials. Might as well get something to eat while I’m at it.”
“I’m sorry I wasted so much of your time with that nonsense…” Edgar said.
“You’re wrong. This was actually a great use of time. It’s settled many questions I’ve held,” Autumn said as she walked to the door and opened it.
They stepped out the apartment, climbed down to the bottom floor, and walked down the street. By this point the sun was already going down, filling the sky with pink-orange clouds.
Though Autumn was wearing a jacket and Edgar his thicker robe, they both felt chilly in the winter night, leading them to walk close to each other, holding hands, to better heat each other.
Another way mutual actions create gains that could not be gotten individually, I suppose, Autumn mused.