¿Don’t you feel a li’l bad ’bout this?, asked Dawn.
No, said Autumn.
The sun was already on its way home in the quickly-chilling October late afternoon, painting e’en more o’ the city orange than it already was with all the maple trees, — a’least those that still had leaves & weren’t left as emaciated black skeletons — flowers, & pumpkins strewn round the streets. All this was slightly blurred gray by the fog.
’Twas 1 o’ the many 3-story wooden houses with intricate metal fences & a garden blooming with flowers or weeds that lined both sides o’ the street. This 1 was mud orange, which ’long with white, olive, & cyan was the color o’ virtually all o’ them. Autumn was surprised it wasn’t the 1 dark gray gothic house they passed.
Probably blames it on whoever owns that house.
Sure are nice houses, Edgar said as he turned his head side to side, taking in everything.
Sure are nice advertisements to be robbed, said Autumn. Autumn pointed to 1 house.
¿Notice the open window & the lack o’ cars in the driveway? She began shaking her head & saying,
Tsk, tsk, tsk.
¿You’re not exploiting the opportunity? ¿Is it too easy for our master thief?, said Dawn.
No, it’s just a distraction from the current plan to which we’re already bound, said Autumn.
I think I remember telling you, but I’ll tell you ’gain just in case: ne’er mix multiple heists; it only multiplies the risk. I’ll just keep this house in mind for later; I doubt they’ll suddenly learn their lesson within the next month.
Autumn led Edgar & Dawn up the deck littered with saturn wasp traps bobbing their heads to the jingle o’ the invisible wind chimes, stopped in front o’ the front door, & rang the door bell, emitting a guttural screech.
There they waited the following 5 minutes. Edgar, in his lack o’ movement, felt a chill creep on him & tightened his robe. Dawn kept wiping the bangs the wind kept blowing all o’er her face. Autumn let hers flutter all they wanted, but did glance down momentarily to watch a noisy black leaf rattle ’long the deck.
Finally, they heard metal turn from ’hind the door & saw the door open a crack, ’hind which was a pasty, slightly wrinkled face staring out @ them as if they were hitmen. His hair was halfway ’tween black & gray & both his hairstyle & jacket came from the early 80s or late 70s — save for maybe the big hoop ear rings bobbing under his lobes, though the bronze & silver rings covering his constantly twitching fingers certainly fit the pattern.
¿You’re Sir Haul Bryderus?, Autumn said as she stared him dully in the eyes.
Haul eased the door mo’ open. In a high-pitched but soft voice that seemed to come from the back o’ his throat he said,
Yes. ¿& you’re the Ghost Toasters?
Autumn adjusted the lightbulb-helmed helmet Dawn got for each o’ them & said,
Yes, Sir. ¿May we come in?
Haul stretched the doorway all the way & backed ’way.
Autumn stepped inside, craning her head in all directions. All the ivy & other greenery crowding the sides hid the mansion’s surface area, & thus the sheer volume inside. She noticed that though the chandelier hanging from the ceiling high-up filled the room with dim light, there were also candles still smoking spread from clothed table to table, spilling spicy scents.
Haul began babbling:
I-I know you probably think I’m just crazy, — everyone else round here does — but I swear I saw them. I swear I saw a — a 1-eyed blue flame look @ me. I swear I saw them blow out my lights. I swear they’re eating my jewelry… Please…
Dawn walked up to him & wrapped an arm round him.
Shhh… Don’t worry your li’l head, ¿’K? We’ll take care o’ everything.
Haul began to blush.
O. I cannot thank you ’nough, M-Madame, uh…
Newhouse, said Dawn.
Thank you so much, Madame Newhouse.
Autumn, who’d been absorbing as much o’ the environs as she could, looked down @ his brown leather suitcases.
¿Those all the things you need?, said Autumn.
My name’s not important right now.
Dawn led him to the front door.
All right, now go out & celebrate or something; you look like you could use some rest, my li’l sugar cube.
OK. Thanks, Haul said with heavy breaths. He continued to stand on the front step, smiling with the sparkle o’ a tear in his eye.
You’re right: I should go do something. You know, I’ve been thinking o’ taking a cruise from Habanero Harbor, but I’ve always been thinking, ‘No, it’s got to be just the right time’. ¿Well why not now? I’m not getting any younger.
Dawn, continuing to hold the door & still smiling @ him said,
Mmm hmm. Whatever your li’l heart desires, Sir.
Then Haul’s eyes suddenly lit up in shock.
O, I just realized I forgot something. He rushed back in & up the stairs. Glancing to her side, Dawn could see Autumn stare forward with flat-browed blankness. Dawn followed him up, calling out,
¿You need any help?
From far ’way, his muffled voice called back,
No. No, it’s got to be here somewhere.
Dawn saw Autumn mouth something, but ’twas too quiet to hear.
Dawn stood with 1 foot on the bottom stair & a hand on the rail.
Here, I’ll come & help you. Then she began dashing up.
Edgar looked @ Autumn, giggling. Autumn only tilted her head upward & shook her head.
¿What’s it look like?
It’s baby blue with a black cloud on the 1st half & a white cloud on the bottom.
¿Where did you last have it?
I… Well, I usually read in here — ’cept sometimes I read out in the back garden if it’s nice out outside, ¿you know?
Uh huh. Maybe we could check out there.
Autumn exhaled & then stormed out the back, swung her head a few times, & then marched up to 1 o’ the white-&-red striped chairs & then back inside, where Dawn & Haul were just hitting the floor. She practically shoved the book forward.
O, thank you, Madame, Haul said as he practically hugged it.
I’ve been looking for this fore’er.
But as Haul started to turn, Autumn said,
Wait, in a loud voice. She went up to him & said,
No mo’ forgetting things, all right. It’s vital that nobody disturbs this house while we’re working. Trust me: this is for your own safety. Now, think hard, is there anything else you need — & make it quick, since this is also a long process. Here. Autumn began riffling through his jacket & jeans.
You have your keys on you, ¿right? ¿Your wallet?
You do. I think you’re good. Go have fun & forget ’bout everything.
Autumn was practically shoving him toward the front door @ this point.
Thank you all so much. You have no idea what this means to me, said Haul.
Autumn nodded. Dawn waved from meters ’hind & said,
Take plenty o’ pictures for me, please.
Haul looked down @ his suitcases.
O, ¿did I bring my camera?
You did, I’m sure, said Autumn;
& if not, they sell cheap cameras on the ship. See you in a few days.
All right, I —
Autumn cut him off by closing the door, & then locking it.
She turned back, tossed her stupid helmet ’cross the floor, & held out a couple 2,000₧ bills.
Staring down @ the ground, Dawn said,
I must confess, I feel dirty ’bout this.
Maybe that’s ’cause what we’re doing is dirty.
Dawn looked @ Autumn.
I thought you told me you had no moral qualms with this.
What I meant was, I have no qualms with doing morally reprehensible acts, said Autumn.
After all, the best people to do dirty work are those who are dirty.
II. Deus Culpa
Sometimes my luck is ridiculous, Autumn said as she looked round Haul’s room, her mind flooding with all o’ the crap strewn ’bout that it had to register.
So much stuff & so li’l attention, she continued.
Half o’ this shit might as well have a big sticker that says, ‘Take this; I won’t notice’. & he’s so gullible & compliant, he’d ne’er suspect us, ne’er do anything to stop us.
¿Too easy, you think?, said Dawn. She was frowning as she lifted a sheep stuffie.
That shouldn’t make us lose our care as well, said Autumn:
there is a limit. We can’t just take everything & expect him not to notice. She turned to Dawn.
I think it’d be better if you just pointed out anything you think looks good & I’ll say if it’s good. Remember, we want something small, inconspicuous; something mass-produced; & something that has monetary value without having too much sentimental value. Electronics & jewelry are the common best; stuffed animals aren’t.
O, sorry, Dawn said as she set the stuffie down.
¿You want me to handle this while you just explore the place or do something fun?, asked Autumn.
No, I’m fine. I’m sorry.
It’s no problem for me. To be honest, I’m such a control freak that I don’t think I want you trying to help. It’d be mo’ efficient if I just take everything, what with my experience & all; but if you can’t find anything else to do…
I take it you don’t want to do anything fun ’cause you’re super serious, Dawn said as she began to scan Haul’s bookshelf.
This is the fun part for me, said Autumn.
Dawn made a li’l laugh.
I take it you still have moral qualms yourself.
Yeah. I dunno. Dawn was bent down in front o’ the lower shelf, scratching the leather cover o’ a book.
I’m just used to thinking ’bout you taking from, I dunno…
¿Greedy CEOs, sleezy tabloid owners, & corrupt politicians?
Yeah, I guess.
I’m ’fraid that’s not efficient, said Autumn.
There’s a reason predators usually go after nonpredators: much safer. The sad reality is that it’s usually the weakest who are easiest to rob, & thus the choice picks. That’s why, if you read statistics, you’d know that it’s usually the poorest who are the worst @ risk o’ being robbed; the rich have too good security.
¿Was your home e’er robbed?, asked Dawn without looking ’way from the book spine.
I myself have been. You know me: I’m used to the prospect o’ losing everything. I’m doing that now with my savings, thanks to your idea to go on these heists.
I ne’er told you to quit your job, said Dawn.
I’d’ve had to if I wanted to have time to plan these, said Autumn.
¿What’d you think I used my time for before I had a job?
Much worse things.
III. If You Have Ghosts
You know, when I was young I always wanted to live in a giant mansion & play hide ’n seek, Dawn said as they wandered the halls o’ the top floor.
I could just imagine hiding under stacks of ol’ dresses covered in cobwebs in some lost closet…
You’d have better luck convincing Edgar to join you in that, said Autumn.
O, I didn’t mean now. ’Sides, I’d be ’fraid to go gainst you in a game like that. You practically have radar in that mind o’ yours.
Edgar’s voice called up from the stairwell,
¿How you guys doing?
We haven’t been attacked by a ghost yet, Dawn called back.
¿You guys hungry?
I’m not done yet, Autumn called back gruffly.
Come up here & join us, Dawn called out.
He’s got limpid shit all round here.
Edgar joined them & they spent the rest o’ the afternoon exploring room after room, with Dawn & Edgar just tasting in all the scenery o’ all the trinkets dusty & covered in cobwebs, untouched for likely decades while Autumn’s eyes crawled o’er it all like spiders, her gloved hand picking up something & putting it into her pack.
Then, as the sky dimmed to blue, sapping ’way some o’ the light inside, they went down into the dining room to eat a large meal Edgar made for them. Dawn & Autumn were @ opposite ends o’ a table so long, they were meters ’way.
Dawn’s eyes roamed the walls, lined with oil paintings o’ flowers, fields, & nude Greek deities bloodily devouring their kin.
Such a huge dining room for just 1 person, said Dawn.
Doesn’t seem like he has company o’er much, either.
Yeah, what a waste, Autumn said ’tween bites o’ her onion casserole.
If he were smart, he’d have sold this place & the vast majority o’ the junk he ne’er uses & then invest the excess. Think o’ the returns he could get.
I doubt he’s worried ’bout money, said Dawn.
I don’t think I could handle eating in a place like here ’lone — ’specially not in this dim light, said Dawn.
Then the lights went out, leaving them all in total darkness.
I think the miracle chance o’ either dead bulbs or an electric storm answered your request, said Autumn.
Maybe ’twas 1 o’ the ghosts, said Dawn.
Hey, maybe we could tell ghost stories.
¿Remember in Wasabi Woods that 1 I told ’bout the kid born with the disease that constantly fills her lungs with goop & will kill her by the time she’s 15?, said Autumn.
Let’s not tell ghost stories, said Dawn.
Luckily I always come prepared, said Autumn. Dawn heard a zip.
Wait, let’s light candles, said Dawn.
It’ll look chillier.
We need to be able to see well ’nough to e’en find candles ’fore that plan pans out, said Autumn.
A white light popped on, followed by 2 mo’. Autumn handed the other 2 to Edgar, & then Dawn.
Holding the light up to her face, Dawn turned to Edgar & said,
¿You mind if I go look for some candles a jiff? It’ll truly amplify your meal, & it’ll give you & Autumn some ’lone time to talk dirty to each other in the dark.
No problem with me, said Edgar.
Dawn rose & said,
’K. Hopefully I won’t get devoured by the darkness. Then Autumn & Edgar heard the soft sway o’ her jacket as she moved out o’ the room.
The dining room was now filled with silence. Autumn felt a pall o’ heat as she thought o’ the jocular comment Dawn made & realized that, with her round or with Autumn always busy with something, it’d been a while since she was ’lone with Edgar in this manner, & was surprised by how nervous she felt now.
¿You, uh, like the casserole?, said Edgar.
Uh, yeah. Uh huh. Autumn took a bite as if to prove it, e’en though ’twas too dark to see.
Mo’ silence passed ’tween them.
¿How you feel ’bout these new heists?, asked Autumn as she began fiddling her fork into her casserole.
They seem fun, said Edgar.
You seem, uh…
¿Less enthralled than Dawn?
No. Actually, I meant… uh… I can’t think o’ a way to say it without sounding silly & cliché, but mo’ ‘alive’ I guess.
Dawn’s voice called out,
Autumn’s chair scratched as it slid from ’hind her getting up.
Should’ve known she’d’ve gotten herself lost.
But as Autumn led Edgar out o’ the dining room, Dawn skid to a stop in front o’ them.
Guys, you’re not going to believe me when I say this…
Autumn began harshly rubbing her face.
If it’s bad, I will.
I — I saw a ghost. A real 1.
Autumn lowered her hands, aiming a dark glare @ Dawn.
’Course you did.
I know you are: that’s the problem. Autumn took a deep breath.
Hey, I’m not the 1 who does drugs, said Dawn.
My eyes don’t lie: I saw right in front o’ me a glowing blue fireball with 1 eyeball staring down @ a hand o’ cards floating in front o’ it.
While Dawn spoke, Autumn marched toward the front door & twisted the doorknob, only for her presses on the door not to budge.
’Course, she said:
they’ve locked us in.
¿What?, Dawn cried as she walked o’er to her.
Don’t act surprised; ’course the bloodless bastards would do it, said Autumn.
¿What’ll we do?, Dawn said as she clutched to Autumn’s side, joined by Edgar on the other side.
Likely die, said Autumn.
No, ¿how do we avoid that? If you could beat Madame Heureuse, you can beat these ghosts.
Autumn began rubbing her face ’gain.
I had tools with which to work. & Heureuse was kind o’ an idiot. Ironically, her ghosts actually did realize my plan & only failed ’cause Heureuse refused to let them do anything.
Dawn threw her arms out.
We have plenty o’ tools here — you said so yourself. ¿What could this huge clutter not have?
A time bomb, probably, said Autumn.
Light spun into being just ’bove her, evolving into a cyclopean blue fireball with a squeaky cackle. Autumn didn’t have much time to examine it ’fore it dropped a dull-colored plastic device into her hands.
¿What the — ? ¡O, fuck!
Autumn tossed the device & ducked with hands covering her ears just seconds ’fore it exploded. Thankfully, Edgar & Dawn did the same.
They coughed in the dust surrounding them. Dawn was covering her ears now, saying loudly,
Augh, my ears.
The blue flame cackled ’gain.
When Autumn looked up ’gain she noticed a hole in the wall broken by the explosion, from which still felt shards o’ wood. A second after, she grabbed Dawn & Edgar & raced out the hole, dragging them ’hind.
However, her footsteps slowed as if she had an invisible string tied round her, & then she felt herself being yanked back @ increasing speed — all the while accompanied by the flame phantom’s cackles.
As they were dragged back into the house, she saw Dawn’s face jerk to 1 side & then reach out & grab a vacuum in 1 swift movement. Then she swung round & aimed it @ the flame ghost & pressed her foot onto the pedal, causing the vacuum to growl to life.
Though the air right before the vacuum’s foot wavered, the flame ghoul only cackled mo’, & then began spinning rapidly, sucking in both Dawn & the vacuum forward & making her trip o’er it & stumble onto the floor.
Dawn sat back up & gripped her knee. With a tear in 1 eye she said,
Ow, you dick.
Then the flame ghost stretched itself out with a wide open smile & released a yell so booming it caused the ground to shake & all to cover their ears. Looking down, Autumn could see cracks snake round them. ’Gain, she grabbed Dawn & Edgar & attempted to run, but the cracks completed their circle ’fore her feet could move mo’ than a step, causing the floor within that circle to plummet.
IV. From the Pinnacle to the Pit
¿Dare I ask what thought process produced the inclination that a vacuum might do anything useful to a ghost? ¿Was it the idea that a ghost was probably lighter than air & the idea that vacuums suck in air?
’Twas in a video game.
I shouldn’t have dared.
The 3 were sitting in a dungeon o’ dank browns, with a dark green o’ some mysterious puddle & the dark blacks o’ cracks for flavor, their backs gainst the bumpy cobbled walls. So small was this room that it didn’t take long for Autumn to survey every detail.
¿How long you think they’ll keep us down here?, said Dawn, her voice betraying mo’ fear than before.
I think the better wonder is why they haven’t just killed us, & what this implies ’bout their goals.
Judging by how they acted before, they’re probably planning to… play with us. Dawn pressed her knees mo’ tightly together & became mo’ hunched.
Autumn nodded as she stretched her legs out & leaned back.
¿You have a plan? You don’t seem particularly… down ’bout what’s happening to us.
Not @ all, said Autumn, her gaze wandering to the ceiling.
¿But what good would panicking bring?
Ah, right: I forgot who I’m talking to.
Someone to whom this is just ’nother Tuesday.
Yeah, I guess after Heureux Manor, blue flame ghosts are kinda a step down.
V. Per Aspera ad Inferi
But as time & time, & e’en mo’ time passed, Autumn’s steadiness faltered. She kept shifting in her seat, & then found herself forced to rise to her feet & begin pacing round. Dawn herself played her cellphone to battery death ’fore falling into chatting — mostly throwing out backless ideas o’ what the ghosts might be planning while Autumn returned only perfunctory gestures.
But then Dawn said something with teeth:
Maybe they’re just trying to torture us to death — maybe they think it’s better that we slowly die o’ dehydration than that they just kill us swiftly.
Autumn traded a harrowed eye with Dawn.
That would be the most sinister thing to do, said Autumn.
Dawn began harshly brushing the sides o’ her face. Her face grew wrinkle after wrinkle.
& there’s nothing we can do to stop it, ¿is there?
Can’t think o’ anything.
Well, a’least we’re here togeth — Dawn suddenly paled. Her eyes bulged, & then jumped all o’er their tiny room.
Autumn smiled & waggled a finger.
Better be careful what you say.
Dawn grasped her face with both hands so tightly Autumn thought she would rip her own face off. Then she dipped them to her knees & began… making some noise that sounded like a slight sob & a muffled shout.
But Autumn’s attention was taken from this by an idea. She stepped up to Dawn & put a hand on her shoulder.
She said softly,
I was just kidding. I’m sure those ghosts are too stupid to be hearing us now. They wouldn’t dare come back to us now that they’ve safely got us blocked off.
Dawn looked up @ Autumn with far-off mystery.
Then Autumn jerked ’gain. But then she stilled herself ’gain.
She whipped out her cell & rapidly thumbed round, & then handed it to Dawn, hovering o’er her.
Dawn read the words, “¿Any chemicals?”, & screwed her eyes, & then widened them.
She began patting round her jacket & opened her mouth, but didn’t say anything.
Then she typed for Autumn, “like what”.
Autumn typed back, “Anything. ¿What do you have?”
“mostly healing potions”.
“¿Nothing that could do anything to brick walls?”
Dawn shook her head.
Well, potions won’t do us any good, ’cept for maybe hydration, whispered Autumn;
& all I have on me is a gun.
Dawn looked up @ Autumn, harried. Her voice rose in desperation.
I told you…
I didn’t keep it in our house, don’t worry.
¿You don’t think that could whittle down…?
Autumn shook her head.
It’s only use is for something else.
Don’t tell me…
You yourself said that to keep us here to slowly dehydrate to death was the worst —
Dawn shook her head.
No, that’s the worst. No matter how horrible dehydrating to death would be… a’least there’s a way back maybe. There’s no way back from that.
Guns aren’t only useful for suicide.
Dawn looked up @ Autumn with dilated pupils. With a grim frown & dark eyes, Autumn said in deadpan softness,
Like you said, it’s a good thing there’s us together to help each other.
Dawn shook her head & whispered,
Not till we’re absolutely desperate, said Autumn, her voice softening e’en mo’.
She noticed, to her surprise, Dawn tilt her head, sorrow replaced with… ¿an idea?
She typed onto Autumn’s phone & held it out to Autumn.
i do have a feather that i think could revive 1 o us as a ghost.
Autumn looked @ Dawn, brows rising.
It’s a long explanation, whispered Dawn.
¿Who will do it?
I didn’t mean…
¿What other choice do we have?
Dawn, seemingly scrunched onto her seat, said lowly,
I only have 1.
I can try it, said Autumn.
Dawn looked up & held her hands out stiffly, but stopped. Autumn stared @ her, puzzled.
Autumn turned to Edgar, who was leaned toward them, & waved toward herself. Edgar scooted o’er to them.
She turned back to Dawn & said,
¿How sure are you that this’ll work?
I’m not sure @ all. Maybe we shouldn’t do this.
Autumn took a deep breath.
I’m mo’ ’fraid to wait than to try this.
She turned back to Edgar & held the gun out to him, causing him to violently shake.
Autumn’s eyes flicked ’tween Edgar & Dawn.
Someone has to do it, & it can’t be me. I need to be able to come back.
P-perhaps I should do it, since I m-made the mistake o’ making the idea. But Dawn’s face was bloodless as she said this.
Edgar reached out & grabbed the gun with the softness o’ a kid reaching for a teddy bear.
No, I can do it. I… He trailed off.
No need to fight o’er such a wonderful activity; there’s ’nough bullets that you could both take a shot.
Edgar & Dawn were far too soggy to appreciate Autumn’s humor. Edgar took the gun & held it in his lap.
¿W-where do you want me to aim?, said Edgar.
Autumn stepped ’cross the room & turned to face Edgar. She pointed to the left side o’ her chest.
Right in the heart. Then she crossed her arms ’hind her. Her mouth twitched; she tried to keep it flat, but it kept breaking into a smile.
I don’t think I’ll be able to aim well, said Edgar.
There’s ’nough bullets to try multiple times, said Autumn. Autumn glanced round the room.
We’d better hurry, in case the ghosts are listening in.
Edgar stood & held the gun out toward Autumn; but he couldn’t aim it with his shaking hand. Dawn rose & gripped his hand, & together they both managed to keep the gun to only slight vibrations. Dawn closed an eye & moved the gun a few centimeters. Then she looked to Autumn & said,
¿Are you sure?
Edgar & Dawn closed their eyes. Edgar hesitated a second, feeling his finger harden painfully as it resisted its rest on the button. Then he pressed down, causing both o’ them to cry out from the explosive sound. In a panic, thinking, O god, ¿What if I missed?, he clicked the trigger a few mo’ times. This time the gunshots seemed far less loud.
He was surprised by his thought, O, please, let her have just died.
He opened his eyes & saw Autumn splayed prone on the floor, body twisted slightly like a fish. Under her were stains o’ dark red like graffiti.
Dawn sniffed. Face like a bottle ’bout to explode o’er, she walked o’er to Autumn & lifted her wrist, pressing a thumb o’er it. Everything seemed to move slowly.
Dawn let the wrist fall, so light. She dug through her pocket, & then began to hyperventilate. But then her breaths cooled just before she pulled out a black feather. She set it on Autumn, & then stood & stood back.
The feather began to burn pure black, as if ’twere just a silhouette — a black antilight that spread out o’er the room, only to then constrict onto Autumn’s body, onto her shape. This black shape rose from Autumn’s body like liquid falling toward the sky. It floated there as details o’ a face began to be etched in white. Drops o’ antilight fell from it & splatted on the ground like black paint.
Before anyone could speak, the specter turned & flew through the wall.
Dawn reached a hand out & called out,
Dawn sat down. Edgar stayed standing. He felt frozen.
Then Dawn muttered,
¿What have we done?
Autumn only allowed herself a second to marvel o’er her new form: how all light seemed to be devoured by her form, as if she were a human-shaped black hole, e’en when compared to the darkness o’ her surroundings, & the cool emptiness she felt without the millions o’ itches & random cramps whose whole extent she hadn’t e’en realized till now. After that, she hastened to fly out o’ there & ’way from Edgar & Dawn. Her expectation was fulfilled: her new form could glide through solid stone like nothing.
Still she was wary that the ghosts might’ve been wary o’ what they were doing; & now that she was able, she exploited her new ability to flee their clutches as quickly as possible.
But as she flew round the mansion, her samestill mind shifted to a new bulb: ¿How to use this new form to save them all?
Idiot: you should’ve tried pulling them out before you left. ¿What if the flame ghosts can kill you e’en as a ghost? They’ll be just as fucked as before.
They may be safer in there, ’way from the flame ghosts.
The flame ghosts can get them in there — ¡they put them there in the 1st place!
She turned back & tried to retrace her path back to the dungeon, which she remembered involved passing through the outside, where the bright orange afternoon had been replaced by rainy charcoal, granite clouds, & rare streaks o’ lightning. As she searched for ’nother stone structure, she noticed how much her eyesight seemed to improve, a’least in the darkness: though she could still see that most everything out there was a variety o’ hues almost black, she could still discern ’tween these almost-blacks much better than her human eyes.
After circling the mansion a few times, she remembered passing through the sight o’ thick bushes & went through what could only be called a backyard jungle till she finally found it, surrounded in pale lilac roots & burnt brown ivy leaves, with moss & e’en a few pastel mushrooms growing in the cracks ’tween stones.
That was the downside to being a mere spirit: while her vision had improved, her touch senses had numbed. She wouldn’t have come this close to forgetting had she had to feel the ivy leaves.
Though she’d been racing toward the dungeon, she stopped suddenly before its walls. After a second’s thought, she slowly poked her head in through the wall @ the back o’ the backyard jungle.
From this position she was peering o’er the backs o’ Edgar & Dawn, where she saw them just sitting silently. She glided to the side to see their faces & saw a flat glumness for only a moment before they suddenly jumped back & turned to her with shouts.
Autumn remained floating where she was & stared @ them as their tremors subsided. In their eyes she saw desperate panic soften into curiosity.
¿Autumn? ¿Can you hear us?
¿Can you hear me?, she called back, only to jerk back herself, ’long with the other 2. ’Twas the 1st time she spoke in her new spectral form, & its sound was terribly warped from her organic voice. Rather than seeming to spread out from her, it seemed to cave in on them from all round, like thousands o’ echoes starting all @ once, but trailing off @ different times; & all bass seemed to be sapped from her voice, leaving it shriller than usual. Despite these distortions, all could detect the root o’ Autumn’s particular voice, which only made all 3 shiver mo’.
Edgar & Dawn nodded slowly & unhappily, as if talking to Satan preparing to drive them down to hell with him — or worse, up to the Heavenly Republic to be forced to watch their tedious proceedings.
Autumn tried lowering her voice in the hopes that the other ghosts wouldn’t pick it up.
I’m going to try transporting you 2 outside. I want you 2 to flee to safety, no matter how far — a’least ’way from this neighborhood.
¿What ’bout you? ¿You’re not actually going to fight those other ghosts? ¿What point?
Well, that was the job we pretended to give ourselves; but I don’t plan on fulfilling it, anyway. I just need to get my backpack back.
¿What if you can’t pick it up?, asked Dawn.
We’ll see… But the fact that the other ghosts could pick it up, & if my inklings return true on my ability to pull you 2 out o’ here, which we’ll see promptly, will lead me to have much confidence in my ability to do so.
Now, ¿you 2 ready?
As if the sun had broken through the ceiling o’er these 2 wilting flowers, Edgar & Dawn suddenly smiled brightly with uplifted spines. They exchanged smiles for a second before turning back to Autumn & saying,
Autumn stretched her arms out like an orchestral conductor; & though the thickness o’ her arms — the most opaque part — didn’t reach them, the mo’ translucent fringes o’ her arms spread much farther out till it wrapped round them like bubbles. She noticed — for she was far too distracted when she was a victim — that they began to become mo’ transparent. Mo’ worrisome, she began to develop a feeling: a feeling o’ their trembling nerves & pattering hearts on some phantom nerves seemingly unconnected but still communicating with her consciousness.
She pulled her arms upward & watched them rise from the floor, the fluttering & falling o’ their robe & jacket proving that they were still affected by air resistance. But as she slid them toward the wall like refrigerator magnets, she saw them slip through with the weak resistance o’ clear water. Then she followed them.
Before she e’en reached the outside herself, she could finally feel the chill o’ the outside rain through their shivering nerves & Dawn’s popping goosebumps.
She dropped them in the lake o’ ivy leaves & bumpy roots that surrounded them everywhere & let go, releasing the color back into them. There they stood with their arms round themselves, gazing up @ Autumn longingly.
Autumn said down to them,
I would recommend you try climbing out through that way; — she pointed toward the back o’ the backyard jungle —
they’re less likely to notice you ’scaping if you don’t go near the mansion.
Edgar & Dawn sniffed.
Be careful, said Dawn.
Don’t worry: as they say, ghosts don’t die. The question is whether you can get out ’live, said Autumn.
The 2 nodded.
If — when — you make it back, we’ll find a way to bring you back to normal life, said Dawn.
Autumn wanted to laugh, but thought better.
¿Why would she think I’d worry ’bout that?
The mansion’s insides were queasily empty. Autumn’s inability to feel only made it felt mo’ unearthly — e’en if she realized she was the earthless one. ’Twas probably how the most strung-out druggist felt — but with the awareness o’ the perfectly sober; indeed, with a lucidness she’d ne’er felt before, which could only come o’ a freedom from all the sensory pinches that distracted the mind.
I could get used to this if in a safer setting…
But, damn, ¿why does this idiot have to have such a large home? It’ll take eons to find my pack — if those bastards didn’t burn it all to ashes 1st.
She flew through hallway to hallway, & found nothing but black-painted walls, bookshelves, furniture, & other useless trinkets. She considered lighting the many dead candles scattered ’cross all the rooms… ¿But why bother? With her ghostly eyes she could see just fine.
Then, ’bout a half hour in, she realized a reason why: it might’ve helped her remember which rooms she’d already checked, since the mo’ twisted shape o’ the hallways & the mo’ erratic the position o’ the rooms on the higher floors made it harder for her to remember on her own.
After what must’ve been a few hours, she finally found her backpack all the way up in the master bedroom in which Bryderus clearly slept, apparently unmindful o’ the tedium o’ having to descend a’least 3 sets o’ stairs & pass through 2 long hallways every day to reach the front door. She found it not lying ’bout, or e’en charred into dust, but hanging from the chandelier by a noose.
What she also found was an infestation o’ the flame phantoms; & what she found ’hind them, taped down to the corners o’ the room by webs, were Edgar & Dawn.
To be continued…