Some days felt like rain showers, but most felt like droughts; & though Boskeopolis swarmed with rain, to Autumn ’twas yet ’nother drought. Since her mood was similarly pouring, however, she wandered through the rain with Edgar by her side in search o’ wild turkey feathers.
1 o’ the benefits o’ the rain—in addition to the incisive cold—was that it scared most o’ the dirty clean folk ’way, leaving the city mostly barren but for her, a few passing cars, & colonies o’ black leaves sticking to curb corners—presumably to ’scape the dirty clean people themselves.
So far did this voyage take her that she ’ventually saw Wasabi Woods emerge, blooming in deep greens & rich reds, e’en under the deep blue mist. Despite her skepticism toward the probability o’ finding treasure here compared to in the clogged city, she continued right through. She only moved her eyes to glance @ Edgar, only to see his expression remain the same.
Clearly I have it backward, she thought as she looked ’head ’gain @ the forest barren o’ gold: rather than the world being ugly & brimming with opportunities for improvement, the problem is that the world has already been perfected—all o’ its valuables cultivated clean—& that it’s mere leftovers such as myself who intrude on its beauty without our superfluousness.
She was wrestled out o’ these positive thoughts when she heard her name.
Don’t tell me that ditz trailed me all the way here just to watch me like a toddler.
But when she searched her surroundings, she saw that the voice belonged to a less familiar—but familiar, nonetheless—figure. E’en having not seen her for years, Autumn would recognize that red bird mask anywhere.
“Madame Springer & Sir Winters, how delightful to see you, moussies.”
While Edgar waved with a tepid, “Hello,” Autumn eyes flicked up & ’way ’bout a dozen times per second as she saw Heloise walk up to her.
“I’ve been doing a li’l fall cleaning, & thought you might want this,” Heloise said as she held up a dull brownish-yellow fishing rod.
Autumn glanced @ Edgar, only to see him shrug.
“Thank you, but I don’t fish,” mumbled Autumn.
Heloise patted Autumn’s hand as she pressed it into her hands.
“There’s always time to learn,” said Heloise.
When Autumn didn’t respond, her screwed eyes focused purely on the rod, Heloise added, “You must be drenched. ¿You want to come in & have some tea?”
Autumn paused to consider a polite declination, only to suddenly look @ Heloise with crinkled curiosity & say, “¿Then why did you pick today to clean your house?”
“Some prefer the rain,” said Heloise.
Heloise held her hands out to indicate said preference. ’Twas the 1st time Autumn e’er noticed them—& how strange did they look, those plain earthy hands connected to a body otherwise shrouded in goofy pink slippers, a cultlike white robe, & that beaked mask straight from an adventure film villain.
That was when Autumn realized she’d gone minutes without responding. Jerking back to the present, Autumn mumbled, “Uh, ¿you sure you don’t want this rod? I don’t think I’ll e’er use it, to be honest.”
She turned to Edgar & asked, “¿Would you want it?” only for him to respond with ’nother shrug.
Turning back to Heloise, she continued, “Someone else would probably have better use for it.”
“Thank you for reminding me, moussie,” said Heloise. “I forgot to tell you ’bout what makes that rod special.”
Autumn looked @ Heloise, trying to conceal her skepticism.
“That’s the Golden Rod,” continued Heloise. “It’s said that, using this, one has a 1 in 8,192 chance o’ catching the sparkling Golden Koi, worth billions o’ ₧.”
Autumn smirked—though her sunk-in eyes belied her humor:
“That’s no different from my usual chances for success,” said Autumn.
“Then you ought to try it,” Heloise said cheerfully.
“Hmm…” was all Autumn said.
’Nother hole developed in the roof o’ their conversation, letting in the sounds o’ mo’ dabbling rain.
“Well, thank you, I s’pose,” Autumn said as she slowly led her & Edgar ’way, unsure if ’twas ruder to leave or ruder to stay & keep Heloise waiting.
Autumn heard Heloise’s voice call ’hind her, “Take care.”
Well, I think I’ve wasted ’nough time, Autumn thought as she re-entered Boskeopolis; no need to sharpen a skill already honed to perfection.
Autumn’s eyes kept bouncing back to the dull-gold fishing pole still gripped in her soaking hand.
¿Was there a rationale ’hind her fantasy other than pure jacks?
After a minute’s reflection, Autumn shook her head & thought, Futile to try understanding a mind that prides itself on incomprehensibility.
If anything, ’twas worse when Autumn did understand Heloise, for that bode Autumn’s fall into the same madness when—if—she reached that age.
Dawn turned ’pon hearing the door click, & then open.
“Hellooo, guys,” said Dawn.
Then, ’pon seeing the brown fishing pole in Autumn’s hand, she added, “¿Gone fishing?”
“That screwjob in the bird mask gave it to me for some reason,” Autumn mumbled as she closed the door.
She walked o’er to Dawn leaning o’er her tea table with a science textbook on 1 side & her laptop showing an ancient video game on the other; then, ’pon reaching her, she held the fishing pole out.
“You like doing stupid shit like reading while building the imaginary skills o’ imaginary characters,” said Autumn; “¿you want this?”
Dawn laughed. “I wouldn’t want to keep you from using it…”
“It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make,” said Autumn.
“So, ¿did she literally just walk up to you while you were wandering the streets & hand you a fishing pole?”
“While I was in the forest. Otherwise, yes.”
“That was nice o’ her.”
“She was fall cleaning.”
“I take it you suspect she just handed it to you as a cheaper way to throw it ’way…” Dawn said with a wry grin.
“No, she offered a Tupperware-tight rationale: given an infinity o’ tries, this will apparently catch a billion-₧ golden fish,” said Autumn. “Since it requires mo’ tries than anyone could e’er attempt, we can assume that this fact is impossible to falsify, & thus must be assumed to be true.”
“Well, don’t throw it ’way,” said Dawn: “maybe we could go fishing.”
“Maybe you could.”
“Well, fine then,” Dawn said with mock offense as she turned back to her twin activities.
“¿Where do you want it?” asked Autumn.
“Put it wherever you want.”
“But you just told me not to throw it ’way.”
“Just set it gainst the wall somewhere.”
Autumn walked to a corner ’way from the front door & set it there.
“Your new junk collection is already growing,” Autumn said in monotone as she walked toward the kitchen.
From inside the kitchen, Autumn said, “You should thank the witch bird. If you want, I can go tell her you want all her garbage.”
“That’s OK. That must’ve been a long walk if you reached all the way to Wasabi Woods.”
“It’s no rarity to me.”
“¿You don’t get tired?” asked Dawn.
“No. It’s when I stay inside that that’s a worry.”
¿Why did I find that worthy to say ’loud? thought Autumn.
But Dawn only replied with, “Yeah, I know what you mean,” which Autumn could only interpret as sarcastic.
To Autumn’s ire, however, she found herself sneaking glimpses @ the rod every so oft—a’least when she wasn’t wandering aimlessly through the city.
Don’t fall for her stupid fantasies, she chided herself.
¿But what are the chances o’ me succeeding through any other means? E’en if I don’t get the Golden Fish o’ the Heavenly Republic, or whatever, I’ll a’least be able to catch some fish & maybe sell them. That’s better than nothing.
I’ll probably need a license for that. Since I doubt I’ll be any better @ fishing than I am @ anything else, I’ll probably just be wasting what li’l money I have—if I e’en have ’nough to start.
No harm in looking it up.
Though it only increased her uncertainty, Autumn had to smile wryly as she learned that there is no need for a fishing license anymo’—as praised by some business shills & criticized by some “preservationist” hippies. Apparently this was mainly the work o’ good ol’ Chamsby in his crusade gainst “business-hampering” regulation, according to said shills.
Wouldn’t be surprised if there’s still some other complexities I haven’t learned ’bout that may get me in trouble. Maybe 1 o’ the owners o’ whatever that website was bought the ocean or something & that’s why they creamed themselves o’er it.
That ne’er stopped you before.
Autumn rested her mouth on her upraised fist, rattling her index knuckle repeatedly while her eyes glanced o’er to that dirty-colored rod still standing gainst the corner.
¿Isn’t a foolish idea in mind better than a likely just-as-foolish idea still impossible to conceive?
’Twas early morn, & though the air & ground were still humid, the rain was gone; & though the sky was still gray-blue, ’twas far brighter than yesterday, with light pulsing in & out from the light gray ball smothered in layer after layer o’ clouds that Edgar s’posed was the sun.
’Twas actually hours earlier that they left—when the sky was still a gloomy deep blue—but the sky had quickly brightened by the time they reached the pier o’er the Fountainhead, it still being the awkward middle ’tween summer & fall.
Autumn couldn’t help looking round herself—probably expecting someone to suspect her & harass them, or perhaps embarrassed by the whole venture, considering the petulant look in her eyes. Then ’gain, she usually had that look.
There was 1 other young woman—’bout early teens, late preteen—there dressed in the kind o’ raincoat, fishing hat, & plaid pajamas that Dawn would probably love.
She turned to them & smiled widely, showing off her braces.
“Good morn. Nice day for fishing, huh. Like your lunchbox, by the way.”
Both offered shy waves, though Autumn did so while looking ’way & mumbling, “You shouldn’t talk to strange adults, kid.”
“O, sorry. My parents are o’er there if you want to meet them.”
Autumn glanced just ’nough to see the people the girl was pointing @ without attracting attention on herself. This clearly failed, as the 2 reclined on a beach towel—the only 2 on the beach on such a cloudy day—waved with bright smiles o’ their own.
Autumn & Edgar gave them the same tepid wave, & then Autumn turned ’way from them with a disgusted frown & sat on the edge o’ the pier, followed by Edgar right next to her, who looked down & marveled @ the closeness o’ the sloshing gray waves.
“Well, I s’pose I have to start somehow,” Autumn said in almost half a sigh.
She opened the plastic Garfield lunchbox Dawn had prepared, took out what looked like dried shrimp, & fumbled it onto the hook. From there she swung the rod back & then swung it forward into the iron depths.
& then they waited. Both stared intently @ the line slowly moving left & right in the lake like a pendulum running out o’ energy. Autumn’s wrists shook in preparation for the millisecond she noticed any sudden movement.
There was none for the next few minutes, during which Edgar’s attention wandered from the e’er-patterned line up to the slowly drifting clouds. The only sounds round were the creaking o’ the wood under them & the slushing o’ the waves, sometimes spiced with a pelican squawk.
Their attention was diverted by the quick noise o’ sputtering that they soon saw was the young woman, now standing as she cranked her fishing pole’s handle. She swung it back, pulling a rainbow trout with it, the edges o’ its bright pink belly sparkling from the sun’s reflection off many beads o’ the sea.
She turned back to her parents & said, “Look, guys: ¡a rainbow trout! ¡He followed th’route right to my line!”
Both offered congratulations while her mother raised a fist & her father raised a fat thumbs-up.
Autumn turned back to her own hook, clearly not nearly as pleased.
After a few mo’ minutes, she released a heavy exhale & murmured, “We must be doing something wrong.”
“Fishing’s usually known for making you wait a lot, though,” whispered Edgar.
“Didn’t take that li’l shit with the braces long,” Autumn whispered e’en mo’ quietly.
“Maybe we should watch her. She sounds like she knows how to do it.”
Autumn eyed Edgar warily.
“Her parents’ will probably think we’re some creepy pedos if they see us staring @ their kid.”
Edgar couldn’t stop giggling.
“They may already know the type o’ person I am,” whispered Autumn.
“You are a sex maniac,” Edgar whispered with a nod.
Autumn turned her attention back to her rod, her petulant exhalations becoming mo’ frequent.
Edgar scooted right next to her. “¿You getting cold?”
“¿Now who’s the sex maniac?” Autumn muttered as she took 1 hand off the rod & round Edgar’s shoulder.
The kid in the braces continued to collect many mo’ fish o’ a wild variety o’ species, each with a colorful beauty rarely seen & an obnoxiously atrocious pun—& each causing Autumn’s brows to furrow e’en further, to the point that Edgar was surprised Autumn hadn’t tried to swipe 1 just out o’ sheer bitterness. Then ’gain, Edgar couldn’t remember a time Autumn had e’er stolen from children when she was an adult & presumed she probably held moral qualms gainst it.
“Look, guys: ¡a bitter bass! ¡No reason to be bitter ’bout that!” said the chalkboard scratching next to her.
I’d bet e’en Dawn, if subjected to that twat for too long, would want to scrape her irises out.
After almost an hour without a single bite, Autumn changed bait.
“These are probably all the same, so this is probably superfluous,” she said as she worked the new bait onto the hook. “I can just imagine that, knowing my luck, the fish are probably now all swarming round where my hook was before.”
She swung the hook out, farther than ’twas before.
“¿What’s ’su…perfloo…us’ mean?”
Autumn glanced @ the braces kid as if she were a rat that had walked o’er to her.
“You’re looking right @ its definition, kid.”
“¿You want any help?” asked said kid.
Autumn shook her head.
“’K. If you want any help, you can j—¡O! Here’s ’nother.”
“’Course,” Autumn muttered just under her breath.
This time the young woman delayed a bit, exerting so much energy into trying to pull her pole that Edgar feared she might be pulled right into the water.
However, after a few seconds, she finally yanked the hook out—& with it a purple sea turtle bigger than herself. It landed with a heavy whump, its heavy-lidded eyes staring off into space, seemingly unaware o’ its new presence.
“¡A Plum Painted Turtle! ¡’E’s plum plump, ’e is!”
Edgar turned with a start when he heard a splash ’hind him & gasped when he saw Autumn missing. When he looked down into the lake, he saw Autumn’s head poke up out o’ the water, her wet hair splayed o’er her face only darkening her bitter glare.
Edgar bent down & reached his arms out, only for Autumn to shake her head & swim ’way from him, climbing up herself by 1 o’ the pier’s legs. ’Pon returning to dry wood she stood stiffly with her arms out, water dripping all o’er the planks.
“¿Are you OK?” the asked young woman in the braces as she stared concernedly @ Autumn.
“No, but that’s irrelevant,” said Autumn.
“I would’ve helped you, but I can’t swim. ¿You want me to ask my parents for blankets you could use?”
“No. I’m the opposite o’ humans: I derive pleasure from displeasure,” said Autumn.
The young woman blinked @ Autumn with confusion.
As she turned back to her own rod, the young woman said, “O-OK. Well, if you need anything, just ask.”
Autumn returned to her own spot, with Edgar right ’side her, wrapping his arm next to her. Though she made a teeth-gritting attempt to hide it, he could feel her shivering.
“We should probably get you something to warm you up,” Edgar said as he reached into his robe. “You might catch pneumonia.”
“¿Why preclude such a good outcome?”
He pulled out a thick blanket & wrapped it round their backs.
“That was impressive the way you climbed up without help,” said Edgar.
Autumn smirked. “That’s nothing: this morn I shit in a big-people potty all by myself.”
“Neither I nor she could do that.”
“You don’t have to, & you shouldn’t slander her so.”
Edgar looked @ Autumn with confusion for a second ’fore replying, “No, I mean climbing back up.”
“I’d rather not bring down a child to bolster my own insecurities, thank you,” said Autumn. “My insecurities are surely strong ’nough as is.”
They were quiet ’gain, Autumn staring fixedly @ her line ’gain, eyes strained. Edgar could only look round awkwardly & rub Autumn’s arm.
Then, suddenly, Edgar heard the sloshing become heavier & turned to see Autumn yanking back the pole. Edgar stood, wrapped his arms round her, & helped her pull. After a second or so, the hook was flung back into the air, its captive thunking Autumn on the head on its way down.
That captive was a boot—a navy blue boot with tacky white wings attached to its sides.
Autumn glared @ it with such screwed-eyed anger that he could almost see 1 o’ her veins pop.
Then she clutched it in 1 swift swoop & shouted, “¿Are you fucking kidding me, you shitty piece o’ fuck?” while chucking it back into the lake.
Edgar glanced guiltily @ the braces kid to see her hunched o’er, eyes wide & mouth gaping, & then @ her parents, who were glancing ’way awkwardly themselves.
Then Autumn stopped, breathing heavily, her skin regaining its normal color. She sat back @ her spot, swung the hook back into the water, & waited silently, her own head hunched o’er, her eyes sagging.
“I reiterate my earlier point that parents keeping their children ’way from me is, in fact, a wise decision,” she whispered.
“Hey, Autumn, sorry that bait I gave you were such duds.”
Autumn jerked up @ Dawn standing ’side her with that Garfield lunchbox.
“I put in a better variety this time,” said Dawn. “Hopefully these will work better.”
Autumn turned back to her laptop.
“I doubt ’twas the tackle.”
“Well, you ne’er know if you don’t try ’gain.”
“¿Since when were you e’er interested in my fishing?” mumbled Autumn.
“Since it got you up & doing stuff.” Dawn patted Autumn’s shoulder.
“Said stuff being shouting @ innocent youth.”
Dawn laughed. “¿Is that true?”
“I s’pose he kept that part out while describing my failures,” said Autumn.
“O, don’t pick on him,” said Dawn. “He’s just concerned.”
“O, I don’t blame him,” Autumn said while nodding. “I’d always be concerned if I affiliated with the folk in which he does.”
“You won’t be saying that when you catch a fish the size o’ this apartment.”
Autumn smiled. “That’s only ’cause it’ll land on me & crush me down to bony ashes.”
Dawn only shook her head, ne’er harboring the fine taste o’ humor that Autumn had.
’Ventually, the sky darkened back into the same deep blue as ’twas early that morn--though this time speckled with stars & the cloud-covered sun replaced by a cloud-covered waxing-gibbous moon.
“If you want, you can… I don’t wish to keep you here fore’er,” said Autumn, her glare still fixed on the line bobbing left & right in its eternal motion.
“O, that’s OK,” said Edgar; & after a short pause, he added, “¿You mind if I go to sleep?”
Edgar slid o’er & lay down with his head on her knee.
Autumn’s eyes didn’t budge from the line.
Autumn’s eyes peeled open, her head filled only with the remnants o’ a nightmare she’d prefer to forget. As she sat up, she noticed her shoulders shivering under a deep cold, & noticed the drips that dropped this cold onto her. No matter how much she sniffled, her nose was constantly blocked from air.
Then she noticed the waves, darker & swifter than she remembered them moving, & then remembered the rest. She couldn’t remember how long she stayed out; looking @ the position o’ the sun near the sea, she guessed ’twas later afternoon, & thus she probably only lasted till early morn.
You are getting weak. Used to be able to last 48 hours easily.
Edgar looked up from his book, waved, & said cheerfully, “Good morn.”
“Looks mo’ like afternoon,” mumbled Autumn, voice scratchy & warped.
“You could’ve woken me & demanded we go home,” Autumn said with a sniff. “By then my sense should’ve ret… well, maybe I would’ve grown 1, finally.”
“O, I’m sorry.”
Autumn shook her head silently. Then she rose & picked up everything they brought.
Surprised nobody swiped any o’ it.
Sad that that’s the yoke o’ the runny egg.
Edgar closed his book & stood himself. Autumn didn’t bother saying anything, but turned silently & led him ’way.
Autumn was far too groggy to sustain any bitterness. Any sudden spike o’ red only fell the second after into medium gray.
If Dawn, Edgar, & Heloise rock their rocks o’er unleashing me on nature & society, ¿why should I care? Self-described worthless people have no valuable time to waste.
Autumn shivered, this time not due to the cold.
I’m letting Dawn’s vile philosophy infect me. Soon I’ll be flaunting my flaws as lovably quirks & expect everyone else to love me for them. Ugh.
Though she wavered o’er it for a few blocks, ’twas her early optimistic estimate o’ her time’s value that convinced her to head back to Wasabi Woods. She expected Edgar to ask her why, prepared to exploit her excess sobriety’s effect on her sub-conscience; but he ne’er did, saving his interest for every building, tree, or Burping Bumbling Dumpsters.
Autumn’s mind was too burnt to pay much attention to anything, other than the fact that ’twas getting dark already, which in the summer’s end meant ’twas quite late. That & that she’d shed the shivering she felt before—&, in fact, felt so warm as to feel compelled to take off her jacket.
She stopped @ Heloise’s ice-cream-swirl adobe & knocked. As she waited for Heloise to answer, she realized why Edgar probably hadn’t questioned her actions yet: ’Course he’d expect me to be unable to relieve myself o’ bitterness.
The door opened.
“Good evening, moussie. I didn’t expect to see you here ’gain,” Heloise’s voice trilled upward cheerfully.
Without a change in expression,—which was easy, for Autumn was still too groggy for expressions—Autumn said, “I just came by to congratulate you on your clever trick & to express my curiosity as to how you caused this rod to repel fish so well. ¿Did you douse the line with any particular poison? It does, indeed, smell putrid; but that could just be the dirty sea it swam in for hours.”
Heloise tilted her head, the rest o’ her face still masked, so that Autumn couldn’t discern how mocking ’twas.
“Sorry to hear that, Madame. I swear by the Heavenly Republic that I didn’t cause that on purpose… though I s’pose it being ol’ & all, it might’ve collected mold or something.
“I didn’t know you would take my tale as truth. I didn’t mean to upset you. I guess that’s just the downside to enchanting fantasy: it makes it easier to be let down by reality.”
“That already happens without fantasies,” Autumn said with a sniff. “If this ’enchanting fantasy’ happens to be the fable o’ the golden fish, or whatever ’twas, you can be assured that I didn’t believe it. What I also didn’t believe—a’least till now—was the ’Tale o’ the Repel Rod,’ a magical rod enchanted by a witch to scare ’way all fish, e’en sea bass.”
“That’s a clever story, moussie,” said Heloise. “¿Do you oft create your own mythology, too?”
“Yes, but they’re not like that 1. Mine are only myths for me & reality for others.”
Heloise nodded. “I know what you mean, moussie.”
Autumn looked @ Heloise with tilted brows.
It’s technically possible for her to feel that way—just doesn’t seem consistent with her character. But then, ¿who knows who she is?
“You need not indulge my mental illnesses,” said Autumn; “we’re fair: we both know you have your own.”
Heloise chuckled. “You shouldn’t speak o’ your creativity so.”
“I should hope not: that’d be like talking ’bout ghosts.”
“For 1, they’re both as useful.”
Heloise nodded. “That makes sense.”
Autumn twisted her frown.
Dawn should learn from Heloise: the best way to beat me is to pretend one’s too stupid to understand my jeers.
“Well, it’s heartening to hear that you didn’t mean to waste my time for no concrete gain,” said Autumn: “my greatest fear are my deserts.”
“You shouldn’t feel bad,” said Heloise. “Life is ne’er wasted. Mistakes are just accomplishments in other matters.”
“Yes, but these matters aren’t always good. For instance, you could say the same ’bout Chernobyl—e’en if such a comparison would be unfair to Chernobyl.”
“O, I wouldn’t expect the whole village to starve, moussie.”
“Give me time: my work’s still in progress.”
“O well. ’Twas just something you tried out o’ nowhere, not something you practiced for years. You shouldn’t throttle yourself o’er it.”
That was the last thing Dawn said. ’Twas the last thing she needed to say. As if this incantation spawned sleep sand o’er her eyes, immediately afterward Dawn lay down on her couch bed, pulled the covers o’er her, & sluiced to slumber.
The same afflicted Edgar, causing him to curl next to Autumn in their sleeping bag. Though his eyeholes were always open, having no lids, she could tell by his rhythmic breathing that ’twas on automatic.
Having already slept the whole afternoon—as was rather common—she got up to turn the lights off for them, & then sat back next to Edgar, top blanket wrapped tightly o’er her to still the shivering, with her laptop on her lap.
Buried deep within the files buried deep in Google’s multimillion pages o’ pages there must be some treasure hidden somewhere…
¿But where to start? She’d already scoured “treasure,” “hidden valuables,” “lost heirlooms,” & all kinds o’ combinations, as well as mo’ specific searches. She knew there were pages she missed in all, & still many mo’ queries she hadn’t scoured completely—infinite, in fact—but there was a limit to how long she could she could chase such ugly wild purple bass ’fore e’en her low standards o’ dignity broke down.
She gasped when on a new search, she saw a recent news story ’bout a lost heirloom whose original owner offered millions ₧ o’ for its return. Reading further, saw a photo o’ the hierloom: a blue boot with wings attached to the…
Autumn winced. I’ve seen that before, ¿haven’t I?
Autumn exited the tab & resumed her search while demanding her brain to forget ’bout the… nothing. There was nothing to forget ’cause there was just nothing. Nothing.
Despite this nothing, she kept glancing @ the spot where she knew that fishing pole stood.
Yes, let’s please relive that humiliation, she chided herself.
It’s either that or sitting her burning your eyes out while you try finding still-hidden treasure.
Autumn clutched her head, feeling her nerves nudging her every second, snatching her attention ’way every time she tried to use it to make a last-ditch effort @ research.
¡If I don’t ’scape this smoldering pit soon, I’ll be driven to crushing my fingers gainst the table ’gain! ¡Fuck!
She quickly slipped on shoes, tossed her robe onto her shoulder, & grabbed the rod before sneaking out, cringing @ every slight noise.
The good thing ’bout taking the rod is that, e’en if humiliated to be seen taking it ’gain, it’ll be less humiliating than if Dawn follows me thinking I’m gonna go drown myself ’gain…
’Less she thinks I’m going to use the line as a noose—which would be ridiculous, ’course: it’d be far too flimsy, & unnecessary, considering I have plenty o’ rope.
Outside was still clogged with deep cerulean, as if Seram wrap o’ the same color were wrapped o’er her eyes, cut open only a few places by the thin lines o’ yellow-orange left by the streetlamps & fizzing in static from the rain.
In ways Autumn would rather not consider, her fear o’ humiliation was flipped into a wry humor @ being mo’ sucker than sucker.
“That’s right: I’m still fishing, e’en after I already know it’s impossible,” she told these imaginary critics in her head. “I happen to like fishing without catching fish. Less messy, truly.”
As it played out in her mind, when she reached the dock, she sat on the edge—tightening her robe round her, since the rain made it colder than she expected—& tossed the line in ’gain, watching it swivel as before, expecting to watch it for eternity like a marble statue.
Then, like a cold suddenly developed—&, now that Autumn thought ’bout it, she’d been sniffling quite a lot, feeling abrupt temperature changes, feeling like a spike ball had exploded in her throat & nose, & feeling as if her forehead were being gnawed by fire snakes recently, so maybe she had developed 1—the edge o’ her mouth curled up in a smile & she thought o’ a silly idea.
“I think I got 1,” she whispered as she spun the handle.
She yanked it upward, easily flinging the line back up to the pier. The end plopped weightlessly onto the wet wood, empty.
“¡Awesome! ¡I got a motherfucking mackerel!” Autumn whispered in exclaim as she held up her palms as if she were holding a large, invisible object. “Looks like you’re the 1 that got fucked this time, mackerel.”
Autumn continued to collect many mo’ fish o’ a wild variety o’ species, each with a colorful beauty rarely seen & a profane name & pun. Then she began to accumulate other luxuries: golden lamps in the shape o’ tea kettles, said to harbor living fire beings; bottles with messages to long-lost lovers; kegs bursting with currant juice; the bones o’ Captain Nemo; a statue o’ the Sacred Squirrel gnawing on its Nimbus Nut; the dual blade, tattered to the point o’ being unrecognizable; an anchor formed from emerald; & a bottle full o’ patents for technology that will create the 4th economic revolution.
Autumn leapt onto the beach near the edge o’ the sea, dropped on her knees, & scooped water & sand together to form the shapes o’ these treasures—or a’least shapes approximate ’nough for her imagination. She was always finding imperfections, & yet always finding ways she could improve these imperfections, constant adjustment after adjustment: an edge flattened or rounded mo’, convexes or concaves to create, layers to add or layers to shed.
’Twas everything, took up everything, so that she hardly noticed shadows cast o’er the sand waning into dull gray, the sky into smoky baby blue, the sun just glittering o’er the top edges o’ the skyscrapers far to the east, the rain having dissipated—¿When? Autumn couldn’t recall.
“¿Did you make these?”
Autumn looked up, eyes wide. There she saw Edgar & Dawn standing before her, staring down @ her in her nightshirt, barely covered in her open robe.
“Those look limpid,” Dawn said as she bent down next to some complex geometrical form o’ sand.
Autumn smiled. “I found them. Found them all buried in the sea. That’s the Crystal Conch o’ Catalonia, worth a million ₧ by itself.” Then she turned to ’nother incomprehensible clump o’ sand & said, “& this here’s the… the Strawberry Ruby o’ the Angel Shortcake, worth 10 million ₧.” She stretched her arms out. “All o’ this combined ought to be worth billions.”
Dawn looked ’mong all o’ the abstract sand sculptures & then back @ Autumn with the kind o’ wincing smile one gives when asked to put up a page o’ a coloring book on the fridge while Edgar gaped in confusion.
“They’re quite beautiful,” said Dawn.
“I ought to take pictures o’ them,” Dawn said as she pulled her phone from her pocket.
“Yes. We’ll need them in case we need to use the internet to sell them,” Autumn said with a serious nod.
Dawn stopped before each sculpture, bent on 1 knee, & clicked a photo.
Meanwhile, Edgar walked closer to Autumn.
“¿You, uh, cold?” he asked.
Autumn shook her head.
“¿Is this the kind o’ stuff you usually do out here?” asked Dawn.
Autumn looked @ Dawn with confusion.
Dawn nodded. “That’s what I thought. Well, that’s good to hear.”
The corner o’ Autumn’s lips rose in a smile ’gain.
“Yes, the devolution into insanity is finally complete. It’s ’bout time, too.”
But Dawn shook her head. “The opposite.”
“It’s only the beginning,” said Autumn.
“The beginning o’ the cure,” Dawn said with a smile.
Autumn still smiled as well. This was, indeed, humorous. She’d begun to learn that everything was humorous.
“Heloise was the sane 1 after all,” said Autumn.
“We all were,” said Dawn. “You don’t think she’s the only one who plays pretend, ¿do you?”
“Look & see the evidence gainst that,” Autumn said as she held her hands out to the sand sculptures, already beginning to sag back to their original flat forms.
“We all do,” said Dawn.
Autumn stopped & scrutinized Dawn mo’ carefully for a few seconds before returning to her febrile smile.
“You’re just fucking with me.”
Dawn shook her head. “Nope, it’s true: pretty much everything we value we just make up in our heads. E’en if you did truly find the ’Strawberry Ruby o’ Angel Shortcake,’ the value we give it is only what we gave it. Otherwise, it’s just a heavy rock. That’s why that tattered shirt you wear,”—Dawn pointed down @ Autumn—“which would be a garbage rag to most, is worth so much to you that you’d prefer it to a pricier shirt. In fact, value itself is for all people just what we make up.”
Autumn rubbed her hand roughly o’er her head, further disarraying her already frayed hair.
“In fact, ’treasure’ & ’thief’ are truly just concepts we made up in our head just as much as we make up characteristics in LEGO characters,” Dawn continued. “Pretty much everything that isn’t hard, materialist, natural science is pretty much written by some authors.”
“¿So? Still have to deal with it.”
“So…” Dawn’s smile widened. “You’re already beginning to ’scape your insanity—the insanity o’ your insistence on not playing pretend. Already you’re learning that your characterization as a wretched, insane thief is merely the part given to you, some part by yourself & some part by others, & finally becoming comfortable with that role.”
This time Dawn was the one to hold her hands out toward the sand sculptures. “I can see all o’ the love & effort put into this insanity—just as much as in your dialogue lines. Every bleak comment on my cheery comments recently have made me think, ’That sounds just like something Autumn would say.’ You’ve truly grown into your role.”
Autumn gaped @ Dawn in confusion—not confusion @ being unable to comprehend Dawn’s nonsense, but confusion @ being able to comprehend Dawn’s nonsense, which was most incomprehensible o’ all.