Lance Chamsby stood naked on the roof of Castle Roark with his arms outstretched, feeling the icy rain and waxing gibbous moon bathe his gleaming body. He gazed down on his tower, its amber-bricked hundred stories standing with the erectness of a statue, immovable by neither other men nor nature. But this tower didn’t offer him the silly frivolity of mere shelter from hypothermia or bear attacks; when he looked at this tower, he saw the 17-trillion-point1 check he wrote with his own hands; when he gazed down at the furs swaying so uselessly in the purple wind, he saw his own hands writing a check for someone to chop them down and saw them into the thousands of pages he will need to fit all of his thoughts; when he watched the moon lying so lazily in the sky, he imagined his own hands writing the check that would send a rocket there and excavate its white-chocolatey goodness.
Then he began to shiver and stepped back inside to put on his red-caped black cloak, red scarf, and black top hat stamped with a golden dollar sign at the front.
He returned to the laptop sitting on his bed, where he was working on his magnum opus. He read the words on his computer screen for the sixteenth time that day. My words! Words that came only from the infinite faculty of my mind!
Herman Cain was sitting at his desk like a potent mixture of aristocracy and rugged adventurer, leaning back with the aura of self-satisfaction at a domain that was purely his—at the few, but exquisitely tasteful furniture he had left round the place: the portrait of his great grandfather, Louis Cain; at the ancient Ming vase hand-painted with the pure black designs that represented the magnificence of man and all of his prized values, the black a solid indication of his objective, solid power; and his Wii-U plugged into his television set, which was showing the image of Mario, a representative of the moralist man who through the power of his own mind and will was able to commit what would seem to some as inhuman feats, such as saving the princess from the socialistic Koopa king, Bowser. He looked out at this world that was purely his in every sense: a representative of the strength of his mind alone to shape reality not by simply imagining his goals, but doing them.
Herman could feel the rushing exhilaration as he swiftly moved his pen over the sheets of paper in front of him: signing contracts, writing corporate policy plans, and the most adventurous of his arduous tasks, devising budgets. Herman’s mind raced as he devised all of these budgets. He was always moving forward, always racing, always rushing. Movement was the most important, most human and just, man could perform.
Herman glanced at his partner, John Trite, with an expression lacking in any kind of emotion, but only the forward honesty of his mind utterly lacking in contradiction. John stood against the wall to Herman’s right smoking a cigarette bearing a dollar sign on it and glanced back at Herman, also lacking any type of emotion. Their eyes met with an exalted emotionless agreement: they both knew what the other thought about this issue, both possessing the same knowledge of the objective truth that is morality.
Lance sat reading his own writing a dozen more times.
The muse that will inspire the rest of this epic lay here somewhere, he told himself. This isn’t some dumb, childish scribbling meant for cheap laughs by the mindless masses, after all; even the most brilliant minds would require the sufficient time to craft such a promising work of philosophical sophistication.
As Lance crunched on a chocolate chip cookie and held a golden goblet full of cherry cola, he glanced over at his still-running TV, only to stop with his mouth hanging open and his eyes ballooning when he saw the words “Gilded Top Hat of Chamsby.”
“…this priceless family heirloom of the richest family in Boskeopolis, the Chamsbys, found just recently at a Diamonds Forever in Honey Plaza. Tell me, Mr. Harvest, how did you find this?”
A younger man held a microphone before an older man. The older man shrugged.
“Some woman sold it to me—that new Chamsby kid who inherited ol’ Fitz’s property, Lance’s, ex-wife, I guess. Sounded bitter ’bout it. Probably dumped her for some Hollywood dame.” He chuckled and winked. “You know how young rich kids are; can never keep a hold of their jewels.”
Lance tried to break his goblet dramatically, but no matter how hard he squeezed, he just hurt his fingers. So eventually, he just tossed it forward, causing it to emit a soft thud and splash as it smacked the ruby-colored carpet.
“What is this libel?” He shouted as he threw his arms out.
Then he sat back down and drummed his fingers together with flat eyes.
Don’t overexcite yourself, Lance, ol’ boy. It won’t do you any good. Now, there’s obviously only two ways father’s top hat could’ve been pilfered: either that Mr. Harvest lied and stole it himself, or some woman broke in and pocketed it when I wasn’t looking, and then fabricated this story to evade scrutiny.
He sat up straight. There’s no time for deliberation. I must act—fast!—to stop this irredeemable injustice!
He searched for the phone number to the Diamonds Forever on Honey Plaza and called.
“Welcome to Diamonds Forever. What can we do for you?”
“Are you Mr. Harvest?” Lance said with lime saliva.
“I’m guessing you want the Gilded Top Hat of Chamsby, right? Well, let me just save you time and say that I’m not selling it.”
“By community chest, would you happen to know who I am?”
There was a pause filled with muffled dead noise.
“Uh… No. Who?”
“This would be Lance Chamsby.”
“Uh… Oh. And I s’pose you want your top hat back, right?”
“I want to know how you got your greasy fingers on it,” Lance said.
“I can assure you, sir, that we here at Diamonds Forever do not indulge in any theft, if that’s what you’re thinking. See, a young woman came by claiming to be your wife and sold it to us. I can guess by your tone that she lied.”
“No, I just called to make sure it got there safe,” Lance said as he glared at the phone. “Who was this woman?”
“Uh… I don’t know her name, sir. We don’t keep those kinds of records.”
’Course he wouldn’t. Leave it to Boskeopolis to have the laziest businesses in the world, Lance thought.
But then he exclaimed, “Oh, wait! I just remembered… It’s ‘Autumn Spring,’ or something. I remembered that, because I thought ‘twas such a rare name. I mean, what are the chances of someone having both first and last names be season-based?”
“Yeah, what are the odds?” Lance sneered. “Are you sure her name wasn’t ‘Obvious Alias’?”
“No. I’m sure ‘twas ‘Autumn Spring’ or something. If you want, I could give a description.”
“Please do, though I’m guessing it’s going to be a woman covered from head to toe in a black veil.”
“No. She wore casual clothes. Sweat pants and a T-shirt. Uh… she had a red ponytail and she wore glasses. She also had a skeleton in a robe ’hind her.”
“Uh huh. He had big gaping black holes for eyes and everything. Didn’t say anything; awfully quiet.”
“I think that’s all I’ll need for now,” Lance said.
“Well, okay. Always glad to help, Mr. Chamsby, sir.”
“Whatever,” Lance grunted before hanging up and returning his cell to his cloak. I don’t know what kind of idiot he thinks I am, but his obvious lies don’t cloud my truth-seeking ears one bit!
Nevertheless, Lance searched “Autumn Spring skeleton,” just to be sure. His eyes widened when he saw the results. He clicked the first link.
His outstretched eyes slowly vacillated left and right as his mouth silently muttered the page’s words:
“The Story of Madame Springer,” and below that, “Despite the failure of the government to solve the mystery of the theft of Syrup Bank, there is a surprising level of consistency among various theories. After one of the security guards, Nox Wellstone, claimed ‘twas robbed by a woman with a red ponytail and glasses, many people came forward to report knowing a notorious thief from their high school with a similar appearance named ‘Autumn Springer,’ who partnered with a skeleton named ‘Edgar Winters,’ collaborated by yearbooks from 2008-2010.
“But this was apparently not their only heist, for later the CEO of Sterling Mall, known only as ‘the Boss,’ claimed his mall was robbed by two with similar descriptions, and that this was what caused its mysterious destruction.
“’Course, he was treated as crazy, specially with his talk ’bout the ‘Mammonth’ monster; but could this not be a simple coincidence? Could this duo—or even more—be a legitimate band of thieves, so good at stealing, that they never get caught? And what else could they have stolen without anyone knowing?”
Lance sat back, his mouth still hanging open.
’Course that’s the answer! It couldn’t be anything else! And leave it to that looter-loving government just to let her be, violating property rights whenever she wants. I tell you, there just isn’t any justice anymore.
To soothe his sore veins, he returned to his Pages file, planning to finish his Great Boskeopoleon Novel. Then he sat and stared at his mostly-blank screen for minutes. His mind began to slip ’way from his story and back to the mysterious “Madame Springer,” which only riled his blood ’gain. He started to envision a hero bringing that rotter to justice. The more he thought ’bout it, the more excited he felt; suddenly writing a book seemed boring compared with the opportunities this raised.
Well, why shouldn’t I rid this city of the vermin myself? he thought. After all, it’s only by the initiative of honest individuals standing up for themselves that society can prosper. Heroes like Roark or Galt certainly wouldn’t stand by while the Tooheys or Collective 0-0009s of the world work to enslave us.
Giddy with the thought of all of the ways he could dispose of this parasite, he opened a new file in Pages and devised various plans. This time he had no writer’s block at all, and soon scribed a long list of ideas.
Lance raised his goblet. To a long and successful career for justice!
He guzzled the goblet empty in one triumphant gulp, and then laughed as the thunder strummed outside.
Lance crouched ’hind a small fern in front of Autumn’s apartment room door. His mouth twisted into a grin as he peeked out at the motion-detecting explosive attached to her door.
She’ll have to open her door sometime soon—either to enter or leave—and when she tries—Boom! Justice served!
Then his gaze began to wander to the other barren doors and walls, his mouth opening into a yawn. Though he tried to keep as hidden as possible, he couldn’t help shifting round, causing the bushes of the fern to make brushing sounds.
Augh! What’s taking her so long? She can’t truly expect me to just sit here all day, all for her sake!
Then he told himself, These are the sacrificed you have to make for justice, I s’pose. That’s how Boskeopolis works—work us as hounds and then expect us to give all of the benefits to them.
But think of the benefits we’ll get, Chamsby, ol’ boy. This could be a whole new beginning! I could become a crime fighter—a fighter gainst the looters who steal from the rich and powerful victims! A living Danneskjӧld! I can just imagine what everyone will say when they are in need of justice: “Who is Lance Chamsby?”
Lance was so distracted by these thoughts, he hadn’t noticed an old man with a rosy, wrinkled face walking past him toward Autumn’s door. Eventually his eyes caught the old man and his mind scrambled to figure out its meaning. He reached out his right arm and shouted, “Stop!”
“Let’s see… It’s number 201, right?” was the last thing the old man had said ’fore he grabbed the doorknob and was abruptly engulfed in an orange fireball.
Lance ducked his head under the fern, not just to avoid the blast, but also to avoid seeing the catastrophe happen. When he raised his head back up, he saw an enormous hole leading into Autumn’s dingy room and what was once the sweet old man’s thousands of bloody, fleshy bits scattered all over the room. Lance paused, gazing at the mess with uncertain eyes ’fore he finally stood.
But ’fore he could walk, he heard footsteps from the left. He shrunk back down ’hind the fern, fearful that he might be blamed for this incident.
‘Twill take billions to buy my way out of this mess! he thought.
Luckily for him, the woman walked past him without any notice of his existence, focusing her bulging eyes on the human remains littering the room and the gigantic hole in her room.
“What the hell happened here?” Autumn asked aloud.
As he saw his enemy right in front of his face, he snuck his right hand into his cloak and pulled out his secret weapon saved for emergencies: a golden nugget with which to smash Autumn’s head open with.
“Justice shall be served.”
Suddenly Autumn swung round and aimed a bemused expression at him as he held the nugget ’bove his head.
“Damn it! Why did I say that out loud?” Lance whispered to himself.
“Yeah, why did you?” Autumn asked, and then glanced round the room again. “Did you do… this?”
Lance stood back. “Me? Gasp! I… Gasp! Why I never! Do you take me for a petty murderer?”
Autumn’s eyebrows narrowed. “How should I know? I don’t even know who you are.”
Lance walked backward toward the other end of the hallway. Twisting his black top hat, eyes as icy as the Crystal Caves, he said, “Yes, but you shall. Rest assured, you have not seen the last of me, Madame Springer.” He pointed his index finger at her. “You and the rest of the looters have been feeding off us for too long. I shall see that you are brought to justice.”
“What are you talking ’bout? You should obviously know I didn’t”—but Lance ran off before she could finish.
This plan will be flawless, Lance thought as he held a dingy oil can painted with a yellow-and-black radioactive sign over the edge of Bean Bridge and into Lemon Lake, releasing glowing pink liquid into it—and when he’d emptied it, he threw the whole can in, as well.
While he watched it spread ’cross the cerulean surface, merging into a steady purple, he erected a sign in the nearby dirt, shaped like an arrow and tilted downward so that it was pointing at the lake. It said, “Left tons of gold underwater for safekeeping. Please don’t loot it.”
After twenty minutes of waiting, Chamsby saw the familiar red-haired devil amble nigh. Lance cackled and wrung his Mickey-Mouse-gloved hands together, and then remembered that he was s’posed to hide and rushed into the only nearby hiding spot: a browning briar bush. Ten thousand needles scraped gainst him as he pushed the brambles round, created a hole big ’nough—and yet inconspicuous ’nough—to allow him to spy on the slimy stealer without being sighted.
Autumn stopped to read the sign and stared at the lake of purple water for a second, muttered much too quietly for Lance to hear, and then turned round and walked ’way.
Lance struggled out from the brambles and dusted himself off, not even able to wipe off a tenth of the needles still stuck in him as if he were a pincushion.
He looked out at the street Autumn’s tiny silhouette was walking down, and then back at the river, back and forth, trying to crossword why this flawless plan had failed. He scratched a bit of hair sticking out from under his cartoonish black top hat.
Well, it could be worse, Lance thought. I could be eaten by bears.
And then Lance was eaten by bears.
On the orders of Lance’s will, a portion of his unlimited wealth2 was used to create a clone of him. He even paid extra money to bypass the obvious biological limits cloning imposes so that an exact copy of him was created on the spot, almost as if he didn’t truly die at all.
But Lance wasn’t ’bout to let a little thing like being reborn distract him from the most important task in the world: disposing of the ponytailed looter.
Lance’s next brilliant plan was doing the Charleston in his head as he walked toward the robed skeleton sitting ’lone at the west-most, front-most table in the Rock Lobster.
“You must be Mr. Winters,” Lance said as he sat at the chair opposite Edgar, stretching his clasped-together hands ’cross the table toward Edgar in what he hoped was an act of cordiality.
Edgar, who had been staring down shyly at his book, raised his head in bewilderment as he heard this unfamiliar voice call his name.
“Oh… hello there,” Edgar said, desperately trying not to flub up his speaking. “I… Yes… yes, my name is Mr. Winters. You can call me Edgar.”
“Edgar, eh?” Lance said. “I like that name. That’s a good, strong name. ‘Edgar Winters,’” Lance repeated it with an attempt at a shaken fist of triumph, but what looked more to the other patrons to be an arm spasm.
“Correct me if I am incorrect, but you are familiar with a young Madame Springer, are you not?” Lance asked.
“Autumn? Uh, yeah, I know her…” Edgar said. Then as the sight of this man’s top hat with a golden dollar-sign registered in his mind, he asked, “Why?”
“I was just curious,” Lance said. “I’m writing a biography ’bout her.”
“Oh. Uh, I dunno if Autumn would like that,” Edgar said as he glanced round himself absentmindedly. “She’s a pretty private person.”
“Hmm… truly, now? Her actions don’t seem to show that,” Lance said, patting his gloved fingers up and down gainst the table in restless boredom.
’Fore Edgar could reply, Lance knocked on the table, interrupting Edgar ’fore he even began to speak, and called out, “Serving wench! Take my order already!”
Edgar, mortified, slunk down in his seat and kept silent while the owner/manager/accountant/cashier/server/mascot, Dawn Summers, walked over to their table with a pad in her hand.
“Oh, hello, Edgar,” Dawn said with a wave. Edgar mirrored. “Is this costumed man harassing you?”
“Uh… No, that’s okay…” Edgar said, his voice gliding down to silence.
“Hey, I’m not harassing anyone! I won’t take this libel! This is a free city, and I have the right to ask people personal questions,” Lance said with his head turned to Dawn.
She cleared her throat and asked, “May I take your order, then, Mr. Misogyny?”
“Why, yes, you may,” Lance sneered. “And you must have me mistaken for another patron, because my name is Chamsby, not ‘Misogyny.’ In fact, I have never even heard of any ‘Misogyny’ fellow. You might have heard of my famous family. As the last heir I am the richest man in Boskeopolis, you know.”
Dawn nodded. “Now, you called me so you could buy food and drink, am I correct?”
“Yes, you are correct,” Lance answered with a haughty finger in the air.
“Then perhaps you could tell me what that order is so I could get it to you,” Dawn said with a smile Edgar figured probably wasn’t used for Lance, but rather gainst him.
“Yes, I could,” Lance nodded back.
“That’s wonderful. With so few people who can use this magic called speaking, it’s a wonder anything gets done.” Dawn said. “Now what’s your order?”
“Order, right,” Lance said. “I’ll have the elephant tusks.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but we do not carry that,” Dawn said as she stared impatiently at her pad. “I would recommend you actually look at the menu.”
“No elephant tusks!” Lance yelled with a look of madness—the kind of madness one would have if one’s mother were shot or one lost a game of Scrabble. “What kind of restaurant doesn’t sell elephant tusks?”
“This one, like I just said,” Dawn said with a nod. “But if you like, I could get you food people actually eat.”
“Hmmph. I don’t want food that’s already eaten. What’s the point?” Lance said.
“I’ll tell you what, how ’bout I just get you the most expensive meal on the menu.”
“As long as it’s not costly,” Lance said as he played round with his golden watch that he hadn’t had till just now. He watched it to see what times the hands pointed to, only to remember he couldn’t tell time with analog clocks. So he threw it over his shoulder, clocking ’nother businessperson in the head, who yelled, “Ow!”
Lance stamped his fists onto the table. “And can we bring it down with that infernal ruckus already?” He pointed at Dawn and said, “I want the most expensive dish and I want the noisy guy shot. How ’bout that?”
“I’m sorry, but we don’t do assassinations. But I can get you the meal,” Dawn answered.
“Good, good,” Lance said as he drummed his fingers together, just before strumming them together, and then blowing them together. “And I want extra of the most expensive sauce, and I want it all cooked in the most expensive way.”
“I can do that Senor Sleezeball,” Dawn said with a nod.
Hmmph. No wonder she works at such a roach-bitten restaurant; she can’t even remember names after a few minutes,Lance thought.
Then Dawn turned to Edgar, who had already returned to his book. “And do you need anything, Edgar?”
Edgar nodded. “Just waiting for Autumn.”
Dawn strode ’way and Lance turned back to Edgar.
“Now, where were we?” Lance said as he twirled his index finger in the air absentmindedly, and then stubbed his finger down on the table. “Ah, yes, the Hollywood leftist looters.”
“Well, I know Autumn’s left-handed and she makes her money stealing; but she doesn’t live anywhere near Hollywood.”
“Ah, so you admit that she’s a looter,” Lance said with an accusing jab of his finger.
Edgar nodded. “Uh huh. She’s proud of it, too. Spends hours a day doing it. You’d never believe someone could put so much effort into such a thing.”
“Hmmph. Well, that’s certainly true,” Lance said. “And how much has she earned through all this?”
“Uh… I dunno,” Edgar said. “An awful lot, though.”
“And all through illegitimate methods?”
“Well, it depends on your definition of illegitimate,” Edgar said as he stared thoughtfully at the table. “She actually argued ‘twas more legitimate then, uh… what did she say? Well, it wasn’t something good ’bout businesspeople, that’s for sure.”
“I bet,” Lance said with ’nough ice to freeze water.
Lance pointed at Edgar. “So you admit that Autumn is a thief, then? Then you would tell the jury this if you were asked in court, right?”
“Gosh, I don’t know… I don’t think Autumn would like that.”
“But I would like it. Aren’t my feelings important?”
“I guess so…” Edgar said. “But I’ve known Autumn for a long time. I don’t even know who you are.”
“I’m Lance Chamsby, the richest man in the world!” Lance boomed, standing up with his hands pressing down on the table.
He sat back down and aimed two gun-fingers at Edgar. “I’ll tell you what, how much money do you want—name any number that is below a billion.”
“Oh, I don’t need any money…”
Lance looked at Edgar with so much bewilderment he must have had a monopoly on bewilderment—which makes absolutely no sense.
“You… you don’t need money?” Lance asked. He slammed his fists on the table. “Poppypenis! Everyone needs money! Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘Money is the root of all good’?”
“How much is this Springer woman offering?” Lance asked with a furtive glance.
“Oh, I don’t help her for her money. We’re just friends.”
“Friends… with benefits?” Lance asked, suddenly curious as to the biological possibilities of a human and skeleton, um… boning. He was also unsure whether this idea utterly disgusted him or utterly excited him.
Edgar shook his head. “I told you, I’m not in it for the money.”
“Are you in it for the… for the bed stories?” Lance asked.
“No,” Edgar answered. “In fact, I don’t even think Autumn has a bed to write stories ’bout.”
“I meant are you fucking her?” Lance asked with an impatient wave of his hand.
Edgar blushed as he shook his head. “Oh, no…”
Lance looked at his watch, only to remember he already threw it ’hind him. Luckily he had a back-up that appeared exactly the same, which he pulled out of his cloak to look at. Unluckily, he forgot that he still couldn’t tell time. So he threw this one ’hind his back, hitting yet another businessperson in the head, causing him to say, “I must say: that hurt quite a lot.”
Lance stamped his fists on the table. “This restaurant is full of whining whiners! I’m outta here.”
And with that he got up and pushed on through the front door, down the street toward his castle, only to get eaten by bears ’long the way.
Just then Dawn returned with a large golden plate full of steak with golden-frog sauce, Mustard Mountain mashed potatoes, and a red live lobster with his own miniature guitar. She placed it on the table, only to notice Chamsby’s absence.
“Hey, where’d he go?”
Edgar looked up at her in surprise. “Uh, I think he left.”
“Did he just leave?” Dawn asked urgently as she swung her head toward the front windows and looked out them for signs of running.
“I think he was just eaten by bears,” Edgar said.
“Isn’t that always what happens,” Dawn said with a sigh. “Ugh. I’m never going to pay off that bill I got from landing on Park Place with that hotel at this rate.”
“Gee, I’m sorry,” Edgar said. “You want me to help you pay it off?”
“No. You don’t have any money,” Dawn said as she frowned at the floor. “Oh well, I’ll call you when I need that help with the boxes. Thank you, by the way. You’re a true one-up.”
Then she turned and left.
Edgar sighed down at the table top. All of the disasters I witness happen when I’m round. I know it’s ’cause I’m too timid to say, “Hey, don’t eat that person’s limb” or something like that.
And then some person’s limb was eaten by bears.
…I probably shouldn’t interrupt him. ’Sides, it’ll save me greatly if I only buy one fancy costume, was what Autumn was thinking just ’fore entering the parking lot of the Sterling Mall.
It appeared to Autumn to be a great boxy beast, stretching long and tall, its tendrils stretching through the white marks and cars of the parking lot. She pushed her way through the doors and froze ’gain when she saw the sheer number of stores it held. She’d never get used to it.
This is less a mall and more a whole town dedicated to shopping.
She saw the plastic board just ’head, in front of some tacky potted plant, and was gladdened when she saw it held a map. She picked it up, slowly stumbling forward and groaning from its heft, as she tried to follow its directions.
Why would these idiots only have one of these and why would they make it so heavy? Autumn wondered.
She followed an elevator up to the second floor, as the map indicated she should. As she waited, she avoided making eye-contact with the other idiots gaping at her like idiots as if ‘twere her fault the idiots who run this idiot mall made the only map they offered big and bulky like idiots.
When she finally found the clothing store she’d been looking for, she dropped the map near the entrance and stepped inside, making her way directly to the cashier on the other side.
She leaned in toward the cashier with her palms spread out over the desk and said in an urgent tone, “I need the cheapest expensive dress you have, immediately.”
“Precisely what price are you thinking?” the cashier asked with blank blinks.
“Eight hundred points,3” Autumn said.
The cashier gave Autumn the kind of polite smile one would give when a child gives one a crayon drawing of one of the Ninja Turtles. Autumn didn’t like that smile.
“Uh… You may want to try ’nother store for that price,” the cashier said.
Autumn threw her arms out. “Okay, what’s the cheapest price you have for a dress that would work for a formal party?”
“We have a beautiful black dress for only ten thousand points4 over here.” He pointed his finger over at a rack of clothes to his left.
“Ten thousand? What do you think I am, Richie Rich?” Autumn said. “Is that truly the cheapest you have?”
“I’m ’fraid so, Madame. We deal in the highest quality here.”
“I don’t know what quality clothes could comprise to be worth so much,” Autumn said. “I’m only using this for one day. Can’t I rent anything?”
“Yes…” the cashier said hesitantly. “We can offer a one-night rental for forty thousand points.”
Autumn sighed. “I s’pose that’ll work.”
“But you have to make sure you return it in perfect condition. That includes keeping it clean, as these dresses must be dry-cleaned,” the cashier said.
“Uh… Just out of curiosity, what if I do happen to… scuff it up a bit?” Autumn asked, glancing ’way from the cashier.
The cashier slammed his palms onto the desk and leaned toward her, shadows hovering over his dead stern eyes.
“Then we’ll find you and send you to mall prison for the rest of your life!” he boomed as he pointed a finger straight to his right, where there stood a gray cage covered in bars in a shadowy corner.
Then he stood back, readjusted his collar, and coughed.
“Are you sure renting would be wise?” he said with a lighter tone.
“It seems I have no choice,” Autumn said with a shrug. I’ll just have to be extra sneaky so I can scape in a clean manner.
“Great. I can show you the options we have,” the cashier said as he walked out toward the rack he pointed at before.
Autumn followed and waited as the cashier pulled out a black dress with plastic wrapping round it.
“How’s this?” the cashier asked as he held it up to her.
“It looks just like any other dress,” Autumn said. “I’ll take it.”
“You don’t want to look at anything else?”
“I don’t have time. We have to make this snappy.” Autumn snapped her fingers to demonstrate the snappiness in which they must operate.
“Uh… okay? You want to try it on, at least?”
“Do you not understand the snappiness of this situation?” Autumn asked, snapping her fingers once more for further evidence.
They finished up and Autumn jogged out the mall and toward home, going just fast ’nough to make good time while keeping a careful hold of the dress. She hoped the plastic wrapping worked as intended.
Okay, no more dallydillying, Lance Chamsby thought back in his castle room, after cloning himself back to life ’gain. If I am to rid the world of this vile looter once and for all, I must do it myself… which was what I was already trying to do—but this time differently! I shall challenge Madame Springer to climb my castle, and if she survives, I shall challenge her myself!
‘Twas such an obvious, cunning plan that Lance couldn’t understand why it took him over five thousand words to come up with it.
Lance poked his head out his front window, watching for his guest as he felt the cool rain and wind drench his face, while his gloved fingers pattered over the stone window sill. After ’bout a half-hour, he saw a black shape emerge from the nearby woods. The dark shape seemed to shift in place before his door in some way ’fore entering, releasing a screeching creak from hidden speakers caused by door sensors, since the door was much too new to be authentically creaky.
And at that sound, Lance rushed to the laptop on his bed and clicked into his camera view, linking the monitor to cameras hidden at various areas of the castle. The monitor was already on the camera disguised as a suit of armor’s helmet in the first room, which he soon swiveled to point at Autumn, who was much too preoccupied with the dark room round her to notice.
Lance could see Autumn had a flashlight in her left hand, which undoubtedly helped her through the woods. But ‘twas not needed in this room: the light of the boiling orange lava lakes scattered through the room otherwise filled with stone flooring provided plenty of light for the whole room. Lance cackled as he watched her scratch her head and stare bewilderedly at the lava, only to lose his grin when he saw her hop ’cross all of the pits, soon making her way up the stone spiral stairs to the second floor.
“Hmmph. So the looter does have some cunning—as well as superhuman heat resistance,” Lance said to himself as he clicked for the next camera, dug deep into a wall and hidden ’hind a fake splotch of blood.
Autumn was already at the top, staring a little more shocked than before at the sharp golden scythes swinging in various patterns, suspended by long cords that must’ve gone on at least ten meters higher.
But to Lance’s surprise, Autumn merely shrugged and proceeded to navigate round the swinging blades as if they were mere branches on trees. She was moving so diligently, she didn’t even stop when a blade she tried to duck under managed to gash her right shoulder; though Lance could barely hear her mutter to herself, “Good thing this dress is sleeveless or I’d be screwed.”
Soon Autumn was already on the other side of the room, and wasted no time climbing up the dozens of meters of spiral stairs. Lance tapped hard on his keyboard, switching to the next room’s camera, and said with a frown, “Okay, there’s no way she can get through the smashing smasher traps.”
Autumn didn’t even look surprised when she saw the next room full of giant metal hammers with four spikes protruding round each hammer’s barrel—though she did wear an exhausted expression.
“This is it!” Lance shouted to himself. “This is where the vile looter fails. I can feel it. Justice shall prevail!”
But by the time he’d looked back at his monitor, Autumn was already passing by the last hammer and was climbing the next set of stairs. Lance smashed his fists on his keyboard, making a loud beep.
“Impossible!” Then Lance thought ’bout it a li’l more, and then continued, “Well, of course it isn’t impossible; but it is surely unlikely.”
Lance switched to the next camera to find Autumn in a small, circular room, gaping up at a giant green dragon standing in front of her with its wings spread out and its head leering down at her, its forked tongue swaying left and right.
“Bullshit,” Autumn said as she shook her head. Then, as she walked toward the stairs, she continued, “That’s the last straw. Lava, swinging blades, and smashing, spike hammers are one thing; but dragons go way past the suspension of disbelief. No, I refuse to accept this thing’s existence. Sorry.”
The dragon stared at her sadly ’fore laying his face on the ground with his eyes closed, drenched in warm tears.
But Lance didn’t have time to pay any mind to this:
“That was the last room ’fore this one!” Lance exclaimed as he held his hands up to his head; and then he began running round the room wildly, crying, “I’m not ready, I’m not ready!”
Finally, as he heard Autumn’s footsteps grow louder, he pulled out his trusty gold nugget and hid next to the door frame. The door opened, and out stepped Autumn, who stopped to scan this new room; but she didn’t have much time to survey the area ’fore Lance heaved the nugget over his head and bonked Autumn on the head, knocking her unconscious.
Autumn’s head felt as if ’twere being jackhammered when her eyes peeled open to the thin yellow beam of light screaming in her face, contrasted gainst the thick shadows surrounding it. It took a while of groggy, blurry wonder ’fore she remembered being knocked out. She could feel tight and itchy substances constrict her ankles and wrists. No matter how much she struggled, Autumn couldn’t release any limbs.
The first thing she did when she fully regained consciousness was look down, her heart halting. However, upon closer examination of her dress, she sighed in relief. I don’t see any damage yet, she thought.
‘Twas only when he strode before her into the light that she noticed the youthful, pale-skinned man in a black cloak and top hat, the latter of which had a golden dollar sign—what looked to her like a mix ’tween Count Chocula and Rich Uncle Pennybags. A tiny fang poked out from his grin. Autumn stared at him with sagging eye bags, as one would stare at buckets of paint spilled all over one’s carpet.
“So you thought you could just bust in and rob me, Lance Chamsby, the richest man in Boskeopolis, you filthy looter? Did you not think justice would eventually catch up to you?” He gave a booming laugh.
“Hey, I was told this was some exquisite party,” Autumn said.
“Isn’t that just a convenient excuse,” Lance said with a finger pointing up in the air like a cheesy Sherlock Holmes. “You think I don’t know ’bout you and your looting?”
Autumn didn’t reply.
“Don’t change the subject, looter,” Lance said, leaning toward Autumn and pointing at her. “The point is that my ruse worked: you saw a perfect chance to steal and so I caught you commie-handed.” Lance raised his hands up in the air as if he were a music conductor. “And now I shall rid the world of you and your violence, thievery, and socialism!”
“Social—” Autumn began with a confused stare.
But then she jolted and turned her head to both sides.
“Did you just hear that growling noise?”
“I won’t fall for your tricks, filthy looter,” Lance said.
He clicked off the light and then turned on the room’s regular switch, filling the room with a much less blaring light. Then he pulled out a sheet and a pen from his pocket and held them up to Autumn.
“You shall sign this document admitting to being responsible for looting the Syrup Bank, robbing my dear old father, and for being a dirty communist.”
“What? But that last one isn’t even true,” Autumn said. “’Sides, you know contracts signed under physical duress are considered moot in court, right?”
“You’d have to admit to invading my castle, which is also a jailable offense.”
“Yes, well, you’d have to admit to having lava lakes, swinging blades, spike hammers, and dra—” Autumn stopped, shaking her head as if she were trying to shake out a gruesome nightmare. “Anyway, they can’t be legal.”
“Sure they are. I have the right to protection, just as anyone else.”
“Yeah, that’s regarding objects like guns or dogs,” Autumn said. “I don’t think the law of protection defends Super Mario Bros. levels.”
“You must not be keeping up with the news lately,” Lance calmly replied with a waggling finger. “Or else you would’ve heard ’bout the recent bill that made ‘pools of lava, scythes (including those that are suspended from the air and swing), giant smashing hammers (including those that have spikes), and dragons’ part of the official definition of guns.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway, since I sure as hell won’t sign that paper.”
“Oh, truly?” Lance said, his head tilted and his eyes questioning. “What if I had to persuade you to do it?”
“And how will you do that? Torture me by reading Atlas Shrugged?” Autumn sneered.
“No, that’d be too much a boon for you,” Lance said, bitter-faced; but then he smiled wryly and continued, “I have other ways of making you uncomfortable.”
Autumn eyed the creeper warily, but became increasingly bemused when she saw him walk over to the fridge and bring back a handful of red cans with pictures of cherries on them.
“Well, what if I made you drink all of this Cherry Hero-Hero-Cola?” Lance asked, sounding much less confident than before. “I bet its mixture of high fructose corn syrup, phosphoric acid, and caramel coloring will fill you with cancers and disintegrate your internal organs.”
“Uh… Oh, no. You, uh, wouldn’t,” Autumn said.
“I would,” Lance said as he opened a can, creating a loud fizzy sound.
He then proceeded to pour the can into her mouth while Autumn pretended to make muffling sounds, protesting, “No, stop!” every so often.
When Lance had finished draining twelve cans into her, she made a quick glance down at her dress, dreading seeing a drop of soda. Luckily, she found none.
I’d better find a way out ’fore this idiot does something that ruins this insipid dress.
She leaned back with a pained look on her face. “Are you done violating just ’bout every human right or shred of decency I might possess yet?”
“Don’t be ridiculous: thieves don’t have rights. But I can release you once you sign this paper,” Lance said as he held out said paper.
“Piss off,” Autumn said. “I’m not signing any bullshit legal statement. You think I got where I am by giving in to such a cowardly little shit as you.”
Lance put his gloved hands on his sides. “You can’t just sit there forever,” Lance said as he paced in front of Autumn, staring bitterly at the ruby-red carpet. “You’ll have to give up eventually. Someday you’ll need to eat, and I’m not letting you out to do so till you sign this paper.”
“I’ve gone at least a week without eating before, and I think I can go that long ’gain,” Autumn said with a defiant glare.
“Someday you’ll need to drink—”
“Well, you already took care of that problem. Thanks.”
And then Autumn paused ’gain and looked round the room.
“Seriously, don’t you hear that growling sound? I think it even got louder.”
But Lance didn’t seem to hear this and continued, “You’ll… you’ll…” Lance turned his head left and right for ideas when he stopped on a door farther back.
He turned back to Autumn and said, “You’ll need to use the restroom!” as he pointed a shaking finger at Autumn.
Autumn paused, staring blankly at him while her legs fidgeted a little.
Ugh… Maybe drinking all of those colas wasn’t so harmless…
Despite trying to hide her discomfort, she could see Lance’s expression of desperation transform into a triumphant smile.
But Autumn closed her eyes in a look of nonchalance. “If these are the best ideas you have, you might as well release me now.”
“Nice try,” Lance said. “Sooner or later you’re going to have to go—and I have weeks to wait. You might as well give up now and save yourself the potentially unhealthy bladder explosions that kill so many Boskeopoleons every year.”
“You’ll have to be patient if you expect this plan to work,” Autumn said.
But in the back of her head, she wondered, Is there a way to trick him into releasing me?
“Oh, truly?” Lance said with a patronizing tilt of the head as he walked somewhere Autumn couldn’t see ’hind her. “Well then you won’t mind if I turn on this faucet. It helps keep it clean.”
Autumn shifted in her chair even more uneasily as she heard the sound of spraying water ’hind her.
“No. Don’t mind at all,” Autumn said, trying desperately to keep her shaking nerves down ’nough to fool the fool.
Clearly this failed, as she next heard Lance say, “You know, you look awfully tense. Maybe this lovely music of dancing waves on the beach will help you relax.” She heard a few clicks and then a steady symphony of water slushing round.
Hmm… The only way I can scape eternal imprisonment—or at least till I roll evens—is if I hold it till Lance eventually falls asleep—which could take hours—and scape while he can’t stop me.
Augh! But I left my tools in my sweats. That’s right, ’cause this stupid dress doesn’t have any pockets. I can’t believe this is actually worth thousands.
She sighed. In other stories, the Programmers omit the urination algorithm for more useful functions—like perhaps actual research; but nope, too classy for us. We have to use the fucking Stephen King libraries, including the cartoonish strawmen villains, the ridiculous monsters from B-movies, and the scatology functions.
Lance stayed seated on his bed, loudly sipping his goblet of Le Triomphe wine with a wry smile aimed at Autumn. When he’d finished, he said, “All you need to do is sign the paper and you can get all the bathroom breaks you want in jail.”
“I’m cool,” Autumn said weakly, sweat dripping down the side of her face.
“Suit yourself,” Lance said before making more loud slurps.
She gazed round the room. If I could find a sharp implement, like a knife, then I could wait till he falls asleep and then hop over to it and cut these ropes… Just like that!
Her eyes quickly slid ’way from the sword hanging on the wall ’cross the room ’bove the table full of thick books to avoid fueling Lance’s suspicions.
Now I just have to hold it long ’nough for this dope to distract himself, then I’ll succeed completely. Perfect.
And so the next half hour was spent with Lance loudly slurping his wine gainst the background music of a gushing faucet and tackling waves while Autumn attempted to stiffen her composure to spoil Lance’s hopes.
She took a deep breath, hoping ‘twould convince Lance she was bored rather than in the most petulant pain she’d ever endured—though not the worst: ‘twas more akin to being poked all over with tiny needles than smacking into a building at lightning speed and plummeting to the concrete from kilometers’ height and crushed by a deus ex piano.
What if I just faked my signature? she mused.
No. Surely even this idiot would’ve done the research on what my true signature is. I’d better not take the risk and have this swabber do anything worse. He won’t be able to stay in here awake forever, anyway.
The Lance stood from his bed and walked toward the bathroom.
“All of this water is making me need to use the restroom myself, actually,” Lance said with a barely-concealed sneer.
Autumn nodded stoically; but what she was hiding was a smile rather than a frown.
However, she did frown when she saw Lance suddenly turn and call, “Jooster!” The sound of footsteps grew from ’hind the door, and then it opened to release a golden-tuxedoed man whose face was covered in gray hair.
“Yes, Mr. Chamsby, sir?”
“Watch this intruder and make sure she doesn’t scape,” Lance said.
“Yes, sir,” Jooster said with a short bow.
After Lance had shut the bathroom door and begun conducting his transaction, Autumn turned to Jooster with hardly-hidden horror.
“Surely you are not so servile that you’ll assist this maniac in kidnapping? ’Cause if you don’t release me, your ass is in trouble, too.”
Jooster gave ’nother bow and said, “I’m ’fraid I am that servile, Madame. Could I get you something?”
Shit! Think! Think! What could I trick this idiot into getting me?
Her heart screamed when she heard the ominous bellow of a toilet flush.
I could get minor relief from turning off that god damn faucet and computer, but Lance could just turn those back off…
Autumn could hear the faucet’s stream become distorted with sudden slosh sounds cutting into it, like a remixed beat. Then it resumed its steady stream and the door creaked open.
Lance exhaled. “Ah… That was incredibly comfortable.”
Then he returned to his laptop and stared at it for a minute or so. Then he turned back to Autumn and said, “You know, the offer still stands. I wouldn’t want to have to wait till night and make poor Jooster lose sleep watching you all night while I sleep.”
Shit! Well, there goes that plan… Autumn thought.
That’s all right. I’ll be able to manipulate Jooster better than this poker.
Autumn shook her head.
Dozens of minutes passed, during which plenty of metaphors for needing to urinate—including that Greek painting, a leaky faucet floating in a white void, and a pink silhouette of a woman checking the watch on her arm—appeared in a thought bubble pointing at her noggin.
How this happened, she’d never discover.
Eventually, Lance began to tap his hands gainst the bed and yawn. Finally, he turned to Autumn again:
“You seem to be rather good at self-control,” he said. “’Twould be a shame if that control were… weakened.” He moved over to Autumn and bent down next to her left leg.
“What do you mean?” Autumn asked as she eyed him warily.
Lance pulled off her left tennis shoe.
“You wouldn’t dare.” Autumn said.
Next, Lance pulled off her left sock. Autumn tried even harder than she’d already been trying to struggle out of her chair, still to no avail, till she felt Lance’s spiderlike fingers begin to tickle her foot. Autumn bit down on her bottom lip and tried to keep her composure; but the tickling kept burning and burning till she finally gave way, her head pulling back with tearful laughter as she shouted, “No! Stop! Stop!”
And much as Autumn feared, her body became so shaken by this devious tickling that she felt the screws holding shut all of her convoluted pipelines—how everyone’s bladder is comprised, ’course—pop off their hinges. She could hear the funneled sound of draining water, which sounded the same to her ears as a prison door slamming for eternity.
“Okay! Fine! Just release me already!” Autumn shouted, causing Lance to stop with a smug smile.
“Well, don’t sit there smiling like a fucking dolt!” Autumn snapped. “You want me to sign it or not?”
But that was rendered moot when she heard a loud crash to her right and turned to see a large brown grizzly bear growling in Lance’s direction. The sight of such a huge scraggly beast shook Autumn’s nerves so much that her bladder emptied itself immediately.
“Ah, fuck!” she shouted. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“What are you looking at—AHH!” Lance began, turning toward Autumn’s line of vision to see the bear slowly padding its way toward him as two other bears joined him from downstairs.
And then Lance was eaten by bears, leaving nothing but leathery-tasting clothes, hard bones, and the fat, which the bears were trying to cut down on so they wouldn’t get hypertension.
Autumn watched in horror, not just because ‘twas unbelievably disgusting, but also because she knew she was next and that there was no way out.
Well, at least this ruined dress isn’t a problem anymore, Autumn thought.
But as she twitched in her chair, watching the bears slowly walk over to her, she noticed them stop abruptly, sniff near her, and with a cringed look, they turned toward the door and fled.
“Hey, what’s that s’posed to mean!” Autumn shouted.
Well, at least I can—Oh crap! Autumn thought as she tried to get out of her chair, only to remember she was still stuck in it. Now how am I s’posed to get out of here?
Li’l did she realize that the “Get Out of Chair Free” card was in her heart all ’long.
How she’d dissect it to get said card without causing painful stings was a different story.