Our tale begins with Autumn & Edgar in the direst endeavor they’d e’er attempted: grocery shopping. On the micro, we witness Autumn holding 2 different brands o’ peanut butter up to her face, calculating price gainst size for each to see which was the better buy. Autumn, as any rational shopper, always compared these for all 500,000 products to discover which combination optimized her rational self-interest. Meanwhile Edgar did his mastery: standing to the side quietly.
“¿You, uh… you need help holding those jars?” asked Edgar.
“No, I can handle it fine,” Autumn said without looking @ him, her attention locked on a pocket notebook in which she was scribbling. “¿You want to compare the prices & sizes for the jelly jars, please?”
Edgar nodded vigorously. “O, yes. Definitely.”
He scampered o’er to the shelf that held them, only for his joints to stiffen when he saw the sheer # o’ brands there were. He gazed ’long all the price tags; but his brain fizzled @ how scattered their positions were. ¿Do these refer to the top item or the bottom 1? This name seems to match this thing way o’er here.
Finally, he found the 1 that was the lowest & picked the jar up, only for said arm to freeze in midair.
Wait… she said she wanted me to compare the prices & the sizes…
He looked back ’mong the jars & saw what seemed to be the biggest near the top o’ the shelf—too far ’bove his reach. However, he could see the price tag, & saw that ’twas a’least a ₧ costlier than the 1 in his hand.
“I found the cheapest & the biggest, I think,” said Edgar. “¿You want me to get both?”
Autumn looked up from her pad. “¿Huh?”
“I, uh, I said I found the cheapest & the biggest, I think. ¿You want me to get both?”
Autumn shook her head. “No, no, no. We need to compare the price & size—that’s content size, not jar size; it should give it in grams somewhere on the jar—& then compare these #s to each other to figure out which nets us the highest ratio ’tween content size & price. See, look:”—Autumn turned her pad round & pointed her pencil @ some strange graph with numerous dots inside—“this is a scatter graph. See, the bottom side represents the content—the independent variable—& the left side represents the price—the dependent variable. The further to the bottom right the dots are, the better their product, though since jars with mo’ content generally cost mo’ & jars with the lowest price tend to have less content, this is harder to find.”
Edgar goggled, as still as an oak. For some reason, no matter how much he stared blankly @ the graph, it wouldn’t make sense in his head.
“It’s no matter,” Autumn said with a wave o’ her hand. “It shouldn’t take much longer for me to finish.”
As she spoke, they heard the rumbling o’ a cart rolling toward them. Both threw their heads to the side when they heard the heavier crash o’ plastic & metal gainst each other. After picking up their heads & returning them to their necks, they looked @ their cart & saw that it had been knocked forward a meter. ’Hind it they saw ’nother cart with Lance Chamsby standing up on the edge o’ the bottom layer, his hands revving the cart handles.
Autumn’s face vacillated ’tween their cart & Lance. Her eyes were the usual thick-capped dead bulbs.
Lance hopped off his cart & stared ’tween the 2 with fists gainst his hips.
“Thought you could hide your heisting from my eyes, ¿did you? ¿Did you?” He said the 2nd sentence with a twist o’ his head & a rise in pitch.
“No,” said Autumn.
“O.” Lance looked down, crestumbled.
Then he looked up ’gain, strode o’er to their cart, & began rummaging through its contents.
When he rose ’gain with a loaf o’ gray bread in his arms, Autumn said, “You might as well put it back, since I can easily replace it, anyway. E’en if I planned on stealing anything, nothing in there is stolen yet, since I haven’t left.”
Lance’s nose pinched itself with itchy thoughts. Finally, he dropped the loaf back into the cart & scrambled down the aisle, almost knocking into ’nother woman just as she was grabbing a can o’ cashews. Autumn was ready to breathe with relief @ his seemingly sudden retreat, but felt spikes in her neurons when she saw him turn round & point @ them.
“Record that my eyes will be on you when you leave, so don’t think ’bout doing anything comedic or tragic.” Autumn noticed the woman he almost knocked into quickly arrowing him an odd eye, & then swiftly shooting it in the opposite direction.
“Whatever you say, Big Brother,” said Autumn.
Lance swung round ’gain. “I have no time for your Orwellian language.” Then he walked ’way—& to Autumn’s bliss, didn’t return.
Every tock o’ the analog clock that occupied this mute void o’ a room caused Edgar’s nerves to twitch. The shady heat beat down on him under his heavy robe while the dim yellow light from Sir Druitt’s li’l desk lamp drilled into his eyeholes.
In the thin light he could faintly see the dark shapes o’ what he hoped were shelves & drawers & potted plants with their backs pressed gainst the wall; but what truly turned his femurs fragile was the obscure figure standing like a skyscraper in a back corner. Edgar thought he could see the figure crossing its arms; but its face was shrouded in shadows.
Sir Druitt sat back in his puffy leather armchair so deep, it seemed as if ’twere in the midst o’ devouring him. If this were true, Druitt’s expression didn’t show any bother in it; ’stead, he directed a half-smiling, half-frowning smirk @ Edgar while his hands clasped each arm o’ his chair, the leather melting under his claws like silly putty.
Druitt uncrossed his legs, then crossed them in the other direction, then uncrossed them ’gain, & then crossed them in the original direction once mo’.
Edgar glanced back @ the constantly clicking clock & saw that it had been a half hour since he entered & sat in this creaking, hard fold-up chair opposite Sir Druitt & was smothered in its sultry silence. His heart hurniaed under the strain o’ his impatient anticipation.
Sir Druitt cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry, Sir Winners, but I’m ’fraid we have no openings as o’ now. Terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”
Edgar felt as if he could melt into his chair right then.
“¿Will you, um”—Edgar gulped—“let me know if any openings appear?”
Sir Druitt paused for almost a minute, & then said abruptly, “I’m so sorry, my good man, but I am dreadfully too busy to chat.” He turned to the figure in the corner. “Hamilton, could you show Sir Winners the way out.”
The crossed arms dropped, & the legs below them began to move as if he were a golem come to life.
Edgar slid out his chair & crept backward toward the door.
“N-no, that’s OK. I’ll go.”
He scrambled out the door, carefully closing the door as if ’twould keep the figure from chasing him, & hurried down the stairs & out the front door.
Though it drizzled that evening—as it did in mo’ than half o’ Boskeopolis’s days—’twas a warm drizzle typical o’ late-summer September. Edgar breathed heavily, his bones itching under his thick robe, as he trudged home, his head staring down @ the numerous puddles strewing the streets & sidewalks.
Depression turned to surprise when he entered their apartment & noticed Autumn lying down, curled up in a tight ball. He tiptoed o’er to her & noticed a twice-bitten peanut butter & jelly sandwich, as well as her still-open laptop lying nearby, its monitor providing the only illumination inside.
She must’ve truly worked herself to fall ’sleep.
He bent down next to the laptop, turned it in his direction, & stared @ its screen, its yelling light lasering his eyeholes so used to the hours o’ darkness in which they’d dwelled recently.
Maybe I’ll be able to help her with her work, he thought. I just hope I don’t mess anything up like I usually do.
He uneasily slid his index ’cross the mouse pad, only to see the screen cursor refuse to move. He rubbed a li’l harder, but it still wouldn’t budge.
I don’t get it. I see Autumn work this thing all the time; ¿why won’t it work now?
Edgar’s heart locked up like a faulty hard drive. Don’t tell me I already broke her computer.
Then his heart seized into action ’gain: Maybe she made it so that it only worked for her fingerprints. ¡She would definitely do something like that!
He turned to Autumn hesitantly, fearful that she’d open her eyes any second. The conflict ’tween his desire to get ’way as quickly as possible & his desire to ensure he hadn’t broken anything raged, & ’ventually the latter won: he slowly reached his hand out, gently picked up her hand, & carried it toward the laptop.
Something feels weird ’bout her arm…
As if in answer to this thought, he heard a low, moaning voice say, “¿Edgar… is that you?”
He dropped her arm, & she pulled it back toward her, her whole body tightening itself together e’en mo’. E’en her eyelids squeezed into an e’en mo’ constricted cringe.
“Good… Watch the place, please…” she groaned, barely audibly to Edgar.
Though she was compressed, he noticed her chest heaving, & that part o’ the droning noise he’d been hearing was not just the computer, but Autumn’s breathing. Despite the sweat infesting her face, she appeared to twitch in shiver.
“¿Are you OK?”
“Yes… Just need a li’l rest…”
“¿You need me to get you anything?” asked Edgar.
“Maybe some water if that’s no bother…”
He rose & rushed to the kitchen. He threw open cupboards for a glass as if searching for a ticking time bomb in need o’ defusing, & filled it with tap water—the glass, not the ticking time bomb; the latter he filled with maple syrup.
“Here you go,” he whispered as he held the glass ’bove her.
She didn’t stir. He noticed her breathing was much lighter than before.
“Autumn, ¿d’you mind if I turn the light on for a second? I just want to see something,” he whispered.
When he got no response, he rose & tiptoed o’er to the light switch. Its light engulfed him much worse than the laptop monitor.
However, he had scant time to ruminate o’er this, for what he saw when he turned back to Autumn hogged all attention: the strange color he’d seen on Autumn’s skin he’d thought was caused by the mix o’ the monitor light & the darkness turned out to be real. He rubbed his wrists vigorously in his eyeholes, but they could not change what they clearly saw: her skin was a deep, pinkish purple.
Panic defeated politeness, causing him to tumble next to Autumn & shake her arm.
There was no reply or physical reaction. She remained silent & still.
He flipped her on her back & pressed a hand gainst her heart to feel its beats. They were much slower than normal.
Gasping, Edgar rummaged through his robe pockets for his phone & jabbed 4-0-4.
The doctor held Autumn’s wrist in his fingers & tilted his head & eyebrows back & forth as if tasting wine. Edgar watched from meters ’way, hands tightly clutched together, for a full half hour without hearing a sound but the doctor’s soft “Hmms” every so oft.
“So, uh… ¿is she all right?” Edgar finally asked, taking a step closer & tilting his own head to see better.
The doctor looked up & @ Edgar with a baffled expression, as if just waking from a dream.
“I’m so sorry, my good man, but I am dreadfully too busy to chat.”
Then he stood straight, gathered his supplies, & right—which is slightly similar to having left, but with a mo’ prominent strut.
The 2nd doctor held Autumn’s wrist in her fingers, but without tilting her head, or e’en her eyebrows.
“It’s terminal, I fear.”
“¿Is there… is there nothing you can do to save her?” asked Edgar, his voice sounding as if all the moisture had been sucked from it.
Now the doctor tilted her head.
“Hmm… I didn’t try knocking on her noggin & shouting. It’s a far toss, but it just might succeed.”
She rapidly rapped her fist gainst Autumn’s forehead, leaned her face close, & said as if calling out to someone @ a distance, “’Ello there, Madame. ¿You still ’live there?”
She stepped back & stared down @ Autumn, face as impassive as a cat. Autumn didn’t stir a pixel.
After a painted-out pause, Edgar asked, “¿Did it… did it work?”
The doctor held a hand o’er her mouth—not in thought, but to protect herself from the death viruses Autumn’s body was likely releasing.
“’Fraid not, I’m ’fraid.”
Then she started coughing.
“Sorry.” She cleared her throat & then walked toward the door. Just before going out, she turned back to Edgar.
“Hey, if you need help finding a place to put the body, I know this woman who’s in need o’ a decoration next to her fireplace.”
Edgar didn’t answer. His long face was dead set on Autumn’s corpse, his arms sagging to the floor, brushing carelessly gainst the carpet.
“Sir, ¿did you hear me?” the doctor called out. “¿Sir?”
She shrugged. “Mate must be high on the tanuki leav—”
She was thrashed by ’nother bout o’ coughing. Then she cleared her throat ’gain, apologizing to no one in particular.
Then she left, ne’er to be seen by Edgar ’gain. Later that doctor would die o’ DVS: Death Virus Syndrome.
Edgar wandered the room, throwing his arms in arbitrary directions & patterns. He felt as if he’d lost control o’er most o’ his body, wailing deep in his mind while his body rambled in autopilot. He knew he could ne’er sleep, so distracted by the present & too terror-stricken ’bout the future.
There’s still time yet… I ought to do something… I must do something…
¿But what can I do? I can’t e’en figure out how to use a computer or not wait in some guy’s office for a half hour while he silently molests his armchair; ¿how could I cure Autumn when a trained physician said ’twas impossible?
But I must do something…
He stopped & breathed deeply, his hands squeezing each other tightly, but holding still.
OK, must calm… Panicking will only fuzzy your mind & lead you to do stupid stuff. That’s what Autumn always told me. She would want me to stop & think carefully.
Now, the 1 person I know who could help is Dawn…
Edgar pulled out his phone ’gain, dialed her #, & waited as he listened to the beeps, & then mo’ beeps, & then mo’, till finally, he heard a click, & then a robotic voice:
“WE’RE SORRY, BUT THE PERSON YOU ARE CALLING IS NOT PRESENT IN THIS STORY. PLEASE TRY ’GAIN ’NOTHER MONTH.”
¿Now what? he thought as he let his phone-holding arm slump back to the ground.
The gods pass us a bill full o’ rain, Heloise thought as she leaned back in her chair, sipped her Boskeopolean brunch tea, & listened to the storms reign gainst her windows—a perfect ambiance to the epic LEGO war ’tween the green people & the blue people waging on the table before her.
Suddenly, she heard something heavy thunk gainst her front door.
My, this is a ferocious storm. The camaels will no doubt balk @ the water deficit this will create.
Hmm… If I were less savvy, I would think that sounds suspiciously similar to knocking…
As if in answer, the knocking returned.
Heloise slowly rose to her feet & trudged to the front door with tiny steps, the soles o’ her pink slippers scraping the wooden floor. Half a minute later, she opened the door to see a shivering, soaked, robed skeleton ’hind it.
“O, you lower-middle-class thing. Please, come in.”
“U-uh, th-thank you,” said Edgar.
Heloise moved to let him in. He stopped on the welcome mat to rub his feet, & then stepped inside, his drenched robe sloshing gainst the floor. The crumbs o’ brown leaves fell as he went, every 1 o’ which he watched with guilt.
Heloise grabbed Edgar by the arm & led him to her poofy purple beanbag chair. She was pleased by the stench o’ rain he brought in with him.
“Please, please, make yourself comfortable,” she said as she sat him down.
He curled his body up in a tight ball to protect himself from the cold cutting him from every direction. It only reminded him o’ the way he saw Autumn when she…
Edgar tried to stifle the vision ’way, & was glad that Heloise bringing him the mug o’ tea offered a distraction.
“N-no, thanks,” he said. “I can’t drink—I mean, anything, ’cause o’ being a skeleton & all.”
“I understand,” said Heloise, the beak o’ her red mask rising & falling in a slow nod.
Edgar lowered his drink & then his face. “O, I’m sorry. I’m so rude. You probably want to know why I’d knock so suddenly…”
Heloise dribbled her fingers together. “O, there is no need to apologize, young skeleton. You are not the 1st o’ your kind to appear @ my doorstep.”
Edgar looked up @ her in confusion.
“Tell me: ¿what is bothering you, mousse?”
“Well, you see, a friend o’ mine—”
“The 1 with coal in her eyes & fire in her esophagus,” said Heloise, nodding ’gain.
“Uh, no… Autumn Springer’s her name. See, you once locked us in your basement so we could watch some play o’ yours…”
“Mmm hmm. I recall.”
“& you see… Now she’s almost lifeless & her skin is purple & the doctor’s say its terminal & that there’s nothing they can do & ¡I don’t know what I should do!” Edgar’s voice gradually climbed in pitch till he was suddenly throwing his arms out & wailing.
Heloise stepped closer & patted Edgar gently on the shoulder.
“There there, mousse. I think I know what has afflicted your friend.”
Edgar looked up @ her with hope glowing in his eyeholes.
“Mmm hmm: she has been poisoned—fed the venom o’ toxic seahorses, I’m ’fraid.”
“¿I-is there… is there a way to cure her?”
Heloise turned ’way & dribbled her fingers once mo’ in consideration.
“There is, but it won’t be easy…”
Edgar stared down, feeling like the leaves still left on the floor. “¿What do I have to do?” he asked in a low voice.
“The cure is found only in a pharmacy located deep in Spinach Swamp.”
“Yes. I must warn you that it is filled to the neck with rabid crystal crocodiles, feverish beavers, & the thunder wolves, not to mention the deep eggplant-purple sludge you would have to trudge through, ’neath which legend says lies eyeball & tentacle creatures unclassified by zoologists.”
“But… but I can’t make it through the Spinach Swamp; I don’t have the guts to do it—in fact, I don’t have any guts @ all, or e’en a stomach.” He voice began to crack. “Please, don’t leave it to me. I’ll mess it up & fail Autumn, & she deserves better than that…”
Heloise clutched Edgar tightly, each o’ his arms in each o’ her hands. Her mask was so close he could smell its weird waxy scent.
“You must, Sir Winters. You. Madame Springer would not want to find herself revived by a stranger while you stood blubbering into your sleeves. Either dispose your fear, or recycle it into something useful or Madame Springer shall die & I’ll make you watch home movies o’ the battle @ Cube Canyon.”
“¿But what if I fail?”
“You have it backward, mousse,” Heloise said as she released Edgar. She walked ’way from him to a dresser on the other side & began rummaging through 1 o’ its drawers. “You are already in the failure state. ’Tis the successful state you must work for. Succeed or fail, or fail or fail: all that matters is that only 1 road may lead to success.”
Edgar began to rub his hands nervously. “OK… I’ll try, I guess…”
“That’s the tonic,” she said as she stepped toward him & shoved a sheet o’ ruled paper into his hands.
Edgar stared doubtfully down @ the paper. He saw that ’twas a map in colored pencil, with 1 corner labeled, “Spinach Swamp,” & the familiar area next to it labeled, “Wasabi Woods.”
“Well… I guess I’d better get going on that swamp exploring & all,” he said.
Then he stowed the map in his robe pockets, stood, & went for the door. “Thank you for the advice & the map & the tea & the comfy chair.”
“1 last piece o’ advice,” said Heloise, stopping Edgar as he grabbed the doorknob: “Spinach Swamp is saturated with slimy scammers eager to sabotage your mission, so be wary. You ne’er know when they might appear.”
Edgar nodded. “Thank you for the advice ’gain.”
“No problem @ all,” she said. “All I can give is all I have been given, after all.”
All Edgar could hear was the air’s natural static, the sound o’ millions o’ leaves rustling @ once, a hoot o’ an owl, the scrabbling o’ a squirrel here & there, & the sound o’ his own feet dragging in the dirt, now beginning to fill with drowned leaves.
Though ’twas not as cold as he’d expect from a night like this, & it had stopped raining, he shivered all the same, the dangers o’ deranged mushroom men & explosive robotic homing owls he’d encountered last year still dormant in his mind.
The eyes o’ his head & his flashlight glided back & forth ’tween his map & his surroundings, till finally, he saw that he had passed the last gnarled tree in the shape o’ a Y on the map & began to hear his regular music accompanied by beeping crickets, buzzing insects, sloshing sludge, & oddly, rasping logs.
He raised his flashlight ’gain, revealing a tilted plastic signpost in the soil that said in bold black strokes, “WELCOME TO SPINACH SWAMP,” & then to its side a sign that said, “DO NOT FEED YOUR GAME CARTRIDGES TO THE WILDLIFE, NO MATTER HOW TASTY THEY MAY BE,” with a silhouette o’ what looked like a rectangle o’er an open-mouthed croc covered by a red circle crossed by a red line.
Then he felt his soles suddenly submerged in a thin layer o’ thick liquid, gradually growing till it reached his knees. The difficulty o’ movement also gradually increased, as standard steps turned to sticky stomps.
Well, I found the swamp; now I just need to find where the pharmacy is.
But wherever Edgar turned, all he saw was the same purple—though most looked oil-black under the night—sludge stretching to the horizon. Its emptiness only heightened Edgar’s desolation—a feeling that frightened him far mo’ than the prospect o’ being bitten by crystal crocs.
I’m ne’er going to find that pharmacy… I’m ne’er going to find anything. I’ll just wander through this endless wasteland forever & e’er & e’er…
Edgar couldn’t keep from swinging his flashlight erratically in his mad search for some—any—kind o’ external sentience. He crushed his shaking hands gainst it to distract his mind from the unerring agony o’ the quiet engulfing him. He felt as if the lack o’ light—or any kind o’ environmental substance—suffocated him, making every trudge feel as if he were carrying a 2-ton block on his back.
This is it… There is nothing after this. I should just lie down & let the mud eat me for good. Then maybe I could join Autumn under the dirt ’stead o’ uselessly trying to keep her ’bove.
Edgar shook his head @ such thoughts, as if it’d toss them out his ear holes.
Remember what the woman in the mask said: Autumn wouldn’t like me standing round blubbering. I have to turn my fear into something useful. OK, remember self: the faster you find that pharmacy, the faster we can leave.
It didn’t seem to raise his spirits much, but it did a’least distract him from his cloudy thoughts—& that was a difficult feat to accomplish when the farther he ventured, the farther the emptiness expanded, adding mo’ doubt to his heavy pile.
As he moved onward, thin black branches reached out into the sky, covering the stars & moon & what li’l light they offered.
Edgar jumped when he heard a creak to his side. When he turned to its source, he saw a gargantuan teal toad sitting on a fat, rotting purple toadstool. Its eyes were mo’ glazed than a Creamy Crisp, & out its deflated mountain o’ a mouth snaked a bronze pipe, from which billows o’ various pastel colors ’scaped.
“¿Why are you invading this swamp?” crooned a raspy voice deeper than the Mariana Trench.
Edgar shook like a student @ the principal’s.
“O, I’m sorry to have pestered you, Sir Toad, Sir…”
“Name’s not Sir Toad. He died in a motorcycle accident. Shouldn’t have been texting Mole ’bout his Sir Toad Appreciation Ball.” The toad paused. “To be fair, ’twas a true penis move to put a floating wall just after a jump. Few toads survive level 3.”
“O, I’m awfully sorry, Sir…”
“Call me Prince.”
“I, uh… I don’t have to draw some funny symbol to spell that, ¿do I?”
Prince’s expression didn’t change a molecule till a full second later, when all he did was say with molasses slowness, “No.”
The conversation tapered out from there, with Edgar scratching the back o’ his head nervously & Prince puffing mo’ smoke from his pipe.
“So, uh, ¿what’s that stuff you’re smoking?” asked Edgar. “It smells nice.”
“Tanuki leaves. Steel toads like us need them for philosophy. Cures the brain o’ coffee grinds.”
Edgar gave Prince the kind o’ wounded look o’ hope one might find on a dog seeing its owner hang by the front door1.
“By chance, ¿can it cure humans who are poisoned?”
“O…” Edgar looked down sadly.
Then he looked up ’gain & asked, “Well, ¿would you happen to know where a pharmacy is round here?”
“Pharmacies are everywhere. Works great for helicopter toads who pump tadpoles full o’ proteins.”
“¿W-where? I haven’t been able to find anything but empty mud.”
“Thinking too 2-dimensional. Need mo’ philosophy. Need tanuki leaves. Give you mo’ Z with your X & Y.”
“Gee, I dunno… ¿Aren’t drugs bad for you?”
“Only for humans. Only for real life. Neither human nor real. Build calcium in your fictional bones.”
Edgar scratched his chin. “Well, I have been wanting to build calcium in my fictional bones; & if it helps revive Autumn, I guess it’ll be worth it.”
“Just pull any leaf from nearby trees & eat.”
“This isn’t… this isn’t unsanitary, ¿is it?”
“Swamp’s cleaner than a full moon.”
“¿Are full moons clean?”
“Must be,” said Prince, glancing off to the side. “Otherwise that saying wouldn’t make sense.”
Edgar couldn’t find fault with this logic, so he plucked the 1st leaf his fingers found & hesitantly put it in his mouth. A myriad o’ spicy & sandy flavors scraped his tongue as he chewed the pieces o’ dry leaves, churning them in his mouth. As they evaporated, he could feel their ether float up his skull, embracing his sticky brain like warm blankets.
His eyeholes widened. He could feel his mind pumped with philosophy. Before his eyes paced women whose eyes were shielded by glasses, men whose chins were buried in beards, & Martians with tentacles dripping oil (this happens whenever Martians develop a truly wonderful idea or are sexually aroused). Edgar spun, questioning whether pipes were truly pipes, apples truly apples—which ’course, they weren’t: they were labels for these objects.
Edgar went beyond the drug-addled artistic cesspool called “postmodernism”; he entered the postpostmodernist world. Here, characters didn’t just break the 4th wall, but also the 5th & 6th, as well as the 19th. Characters didn’t just spout out every literary technique used, but discussed how they were discussing every literary technique.
’Twas a world Edgar desperately wanted to leave.
Unluckily, he didn’t know how: the nightmarishly empty dark marsh had been swallowed by an e’en mo’ nightmarish crowded pink void—but 1 just as lonely.
The world became stranger. Though the room was large, ’twas hot & steamy under the penetrating light o’ the ceiling lamps, much brighter than any sun could be. Glasses tinked gainst each other o’er pure white tablecloths by humans in identical pure-black tuxedos. There were 2 ’ceptions he noticed: a pudgy black cat in a bib eating winkles & shrink, & some strange man dressed in a rat’s coat & crowskin with a cross ’hind him.
They all spoke in a variety o’ European languages—though English was certainly not 1 o’ them, since he couldn’t understand a word any o’ them said.
Edgar stood halfway down a lonely—’well, cept for the striped & spotted tabby seemingly in deep contemplation—set o’ stairs, wondering if he dare descend further into this polite inferno, wondering if he dare provoke the cheery folk with his ague & anguish o’ the marrow. ¿What would they make o’ the sight o’ a skeleton such as him?
“Look there @ that bald spot on that living skeleton’s head,” one might jeer with a point o’ one’s finger. “¿What kind o’ living skeleton can’t afford a toupee?”
While Edgar was distracted by these thoughts, women kept passing in & out the hallway.
“—était certainement le plus amusant tortue,” one said just before taking a vertical bite o’ her slice o’ pineapple pizza like a Roman emperor eat grapes.
“Orange toujours a été ma couleur préférée,” her partner added.
“Tu, Madame, es l’humoriste éternelle,” said the other.
They completely ignored Edgar, which he found to be a double-edged nunchuck: on 1 tentacle, if no one noticed him, no one could ridicule his baldness—or the maggots crawling round his eyeholes, too, he s’posed; on the other 7 tentacles, he’d rather be acknowledged as ridiculous than not acknowledged @ all—the former a’least had certainty to it.
Then he remembered what Autumn, who held the opposite view, had always said: “There’s worse than being ignored; there’s being noticed. Makes it harder to rob them.”
Then he remembered what the masked woman had said: twist weaknesses into strengths.
He crept to the crowd o’ dining tables. Not 1 face turned in his direction—& his shyness ensured that e’en in a dream such as this, he could not meet their eyes. He waited for talk to turn to the elusive pharmacy. For some reason, none talked o’ it. Clambering all round him were snippets o’ conversations he couldn’t understand:
“C’era qualcosa che ha detto che forse ho sfidato.”
“Cousin Harriet, hier ist die Boston Evening Transcript.”
“En mi pais el tiempo estará lloviendo.”
What talk he could understand was ’bout the perverted yellow smoke, rubbing itself & licking all ’long the outside o’ the house; the unconscious patient who, for some reason, was lying on their table, his dripping blood their only drink, & his bloody flesh their only food; & the street that kept following round this table’s original patron, seeming to find something to argue ’bout every word he spoke. But none spoke o’ the pharmacy.
“That is not what I mean @ all; that is not it @ all,” spoke the street’s gravely mouth.
The other looked @ him in confusion. He furiously scribbled, “¿What isn’t it @ all?” on a piece o’ paper & dropped it on his guest’s plate. Unfortunately, his tarmacked guest wasn’t paying attention to him, being far too busy trying to squeeze the universe into a ball—an arduous task for someone with as spindly arms as he.
“¡I tell ya, there’s not ’nough room in there!” shouted the man, throwing his arms out.
“I know what I’m doing,” grumbled the street. “I know all the evenings, morns, & afternoons, & they’ll need only 5 coffee spoons o’ space to operate. They won’t miss all o’ that excess space. They won’t miss it @ all.”
With this discussion clearly leading Edgar into a dead end, a pertinent question filled his head: ¿How should I presume?
Edgar’s heart jumped o’er the honeyed moon when the gentleman turned to him & asked, “¿Would you happen to be the waiter? I must say that I am deathly craving some oyster shells & sawdust,” as he rubbed his stomach.
“Be careful ’bout him,” said the street, her attention still rapt by the black ball o’ the universe in her hands. “’E’ll pin ya to the wall, wriggling like a screeching mermaid.”
“Dry bones can harm no one,” the gentleman said as he patted his mouth with a napkin—why, Edgar couldn’t discern, since he hadn’t eaten anything.
The street dropped the universe & stared up @ the gentleman with a penetrating glare.
“That’s not ‘Prufrock,’ ya idiot; that’s ‘The Waste Lands.’ God, did you e’en read Eliot? We go through all o’ this trouble to mix up this nice li’l philosophical dream for the nice skeleton kid & you go an’ ruin it. What a triumph o’ bullshit you’ve built.”
The chair creaked nastily as the gentleman stood, a dark glower in his own eyes & his hands pressing hard gainst the table.
“¡For Christ’s sake, stick it up your ass!” he shouted.
Unfortunately, he was leaning too hard on the table & slipped & pulled the table cloth, o’erturning a coffee cup.
Suddenly, a dilapidated elderly waiter with trembling hands & nothing better to do walked toward them & after clearing his throat, said repeatedly, “If the lady & gentlemen wish to take their tea in the garden…”
Edgar backed ’way slowly but steadily. The 1 place he didn’t like attention was in the midst o’ an argument.
“¿Would you like me to take your coat, Sir?”
“¡Gah!” Edgar shouted as he turned, only to see a footman in a neat sweater vest & with 2 tiny black arrows for a mustache.
“I’m not wearing a coat,” said Edgar.
“¿Would you like me to take it, anyway?”
“Um… if you really want to…”
The footman took his nonexistent coat & then suddenly started laughing submarinely. Edgar’s face drooped in horrified confusion.
The footman made a futile attempt to cover his laughs. “I’m sorry, Sir. It’s just… I remembered this delightfully absurd chap I saw earlier tonight. The bottom o’ his trousers, they were rolled, you see. ¿Isn’t that just absurd?”
“Yes, this certainly is,” Edgar replied hesitantly with a withered expression. He looked up @ the footman. “Look, ¿would—would you happen to know where a pharmacy is? You see, my friend, she’s had a—she’s been poisoned &, & you don’t know how much she means to me, my friend, & how, how rare & strange it is, to find in a life composed so much, so much o’ odds & ends, to find a friend who has these qualities, who has, & gives those qualities ’pon which friendship lives. How much it means that I say this to you… Without these friendships…” & then Edgar sputtered out, already humiliated by how much fluff he’d already sputtered out.
“Why, ’course: you’ll find it under the brown fog o’ a winter dawn.” He pointed his finger out ’hind Edgar. “Just go up that hill & down William Street & you’ll find it.”
“There’s nothing but an empty wall here.”
But when he turned back to the footman, he saw that he’d disappeared. ’Stead, where the footman had stood was a sheet o’ paper. Edgar picked it up & read it. @ the top was the word “NOTES” in all-caps, followed by a paragraph:
Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book on the Grail legend: From Ritual to Romance (Macmillan). Indeed, so deeply am I indebted, Miss Weston’s book will elucidate the difficulties of the poem much better than my notes can do; and I recommend it…”
Past that paragraph, Edgar saw a bunch o’ #s & phrases that made no sense—he recognized a few as Bible stories, & that’s it.
He let the sheet gently fall to the floor & shook his head.
’Ventually, he raised his head & searched for the front door. When he finally found it, he crept toward it, hoping dearly no one would get in his—
“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.”
Edgar jumped for a second, but forced himself still & continued toward the door.
Ignore it. Ignore it all. They weren’t talking to you. It’s something completely irrele—
“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.”
Though he knew he probably shouldn’t, Edgar couldn’t keep his head from turning back to the source o’ the sound, fully cognizant that its consequences would be like being turned to stone.
“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME… ¡to play with this crazy wicked pack o’ cards!” a man in a dishevelled tie exclaimed as he clumsily raised a glass o’ wine he’d clearly drunk too much o’, spilling copious drops on the carpet, while he held up a pack o’ cards, the front o’ which showed some cute li’l monster.
Edgar shook his head once mo’ & pushed his way out the front door & onto the cold sidewalk outside, feeling newspapers & withered leaves that wept gainst his feet. He was startled when he heard heavy clanking ’side him & turned to see a shower curtain banging its noodly arms gainst a window with broken blinds. When that accomplished nothing, it climbed onto the roof & banged onto the chimney.
Still watching the strange shower, Edgar walked backward down the street, only to startle @ e’en mo’ banging. This time when he swung round he saw a streetlamp banging its own noodly arms on drums & rapping:
“Regard that woman & see the corner o’ her eye twists like a crooked pin. Remark that cat which fattens itself in the gutter & devours rancid butter…”
Edgar gasped & then rushed for the nearest storm drain. But as he neared, he saw beaked gray faces pop out.
“’S-scuse me, but, ¿could you tell me if my friend’s in there?” asked Edgar, his jaw swelling to maculate giraffe.
With a fugitive resentment in their eyes, the sparrows said together, “¡How you digress!”
Edgar stepped backward in befuddled fear, unsure what to do in this nonsense world, no matter what he did. The ol’ woman was wrong: neither fear nor courage saves him.
As he stepped back, he felt an extra emptiness ’neath him & looked down to see hushed & shrunken seas, its water pale & thin. He could already see that too late to avoid falling in. O, sure, he hung in midair ’bove the ocean as a coyote—he could hang there for hours. But he knew he’d ’ventually have to give into gravity, so he let go.
Edgar had many flaws he’d ne’er had the time—or guts—to rectify, & here was yet ’nother: he couldn’t swim. No matter how much he frantically slapped arms gainst waves, he plunged under faster than an anvil.
There he lingered in the chambers o’ the snarled & yelping seas, burning on the water all day, subjected to the sirens’ defunctive music…
Till human voices woke him & he drowned.
The sky was as black as e’er when Edgar woke; the same waxing-gibbous moon was shining down on him.
Edgar felt most o’ his body submerged under the sticky sludge o’ Spinach Swamps; but what surprised him were the hollow metal objects he was leaning gainst. He turned &, squinting @ them under the moonlight, & saw that they were trash cans, most o’ which were fallen o’er, spilling colonies o’ crumpled paper balls, browning banana peels, yellowing newspapers, & bent pop cans into the soupy sea.
“You had quite a venture for the last few hours, small guy. Should go easy on the tanuki leaves next time; almost o’erdosed on the philosophy.”
Edgar rubbed his pounding head as he searched for the voice’s owner. All he could see was a black shadow in the shape o’ a human—which was mo’ info than he could expect, considering the creatures he’d met so far.
“¿Where am I?” Edgar asked groggily.
“They call this part o’ Spinach Swamps the ‘Waste Lands.’”
“You had quite a time for the last few hours, ¿haven’t you? I don’t know where your mind was, but in reality some alligators with mighty large lips were eyeing you hungrily. Had to shoo them ’way.”
The figure’s arm reached out. Edgar grabbed it & let it pull him out o’ the quickmud.
“Thank you,” Edgar said weakly. “I didn’t want to take the tanuki leaves, but the toad—Prince, I think he said he was—told me I had to to find the pharmacy.”
“Doesn’t look like it’s had a good effect on you: you look ill.”
“It’s all the postpostmodernism.”
“From the allusions I heard you mutter, sounds mo’ like a case o’ prepostmodernism.”
Edgar sighed. “You wouldn’t happen to know where a pharmacy is, ¿would you? My… my friend’s poisoned & I truly need to get this medicine for her before she… before she…”
Edgar knew trying to finish that sentence would be futile. He’d have to unload a lot mo’ than 1 mo’ word; he’d have to smother this poor stranger in a truckload o’ dark feelings.
“S’alright, kid. No need to fret. The pharmacy’s right on down that way.”
Edgar saw the shadowy hand rise & point ’hind him. He had an uneasy feeling he’d see ’nother empty wall if he turned, but ’stead he saw a li’l glowing white box in the distance, surrounded by kilometers o’ purple sludge.
“HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME.”
“¿What?” Edgar exclaimed as he turned back to the stranger, eyeholes wide in horror.
“I said, if your friend’s poisoned, you’ll probably want to hurry & get that medication before she croaks.”
“O… Yeah, you’re probably right,” Edgar said distractedly. “Well, thanks.”
He scampered ’way toward the pharmacy, going as fast as the muggy sludge would let him.
He’d ne’er see the mysterious figure ’gain: said figure would in the burgeoning hours o’ dawn die o’ Death Virus Syndrome.
When Edgar finally reached it, he saw that it looked just like any pharmacy one would find in downtown Boskeopolis. It glowed in the mechanically white 24-7 light, mo’ enduring than the sun & the moon. Gaudy posters full o’ bold fonts—mainly “Cooper Black”—& bright Photoshop distortions o’ food & drugs covered the windows, which made Edgar wonder why said windows were there in the 1st place if their primary purpose was impossible to fulfill. Edgar looked up & saw on the wide, striped roof a sign that said in glossy orange & purple, “Morgenacht’s,” & then below it in slightly smaller text, “Drugs & Stuff.”
Edgar took a deep breath before the sliding plastic doors. Well, this is it… You can do this…
He went in & headed straight for the main counter, ignoring the scintillating shelves full o’ packages o’ every color, displaying the contents they hoped to sell like peacocks displaying their tail feathers.
Edgar was so short, only the top slice o’ his head poked ’bove the desk, forcing him to tilt his head up just to see the clerk.
“Um, ’scuse me, sir…”
“¿YES?” The clerk was chewing gum. Clerks always chew gum @ Morgenacht’s.
“I, uh… I’m sorry it’s so late. It’s just that… my friend was poisoned somehow & I wanted to know if you had some kind o’ medicine I could get to heal her.”
The clerk’s eyes retained the same listless quality they’d had since Edgar had entered. There was something ’bout the way he chewed his gum in the same e’en rotation—up & down, up & down—that would’ve made Edgar’s hairs stand up if he had any2.
“PLEASE STATE THE CLASS O’ POISON.”
“Um… something ’bout ’venom o’ the toxic seahorse’ or something.”
“‘TOXIC SEAHORSE POISONING’ IS THE CLOSEST MATCH. ¿CONFIRM?”
“Uh, yes…” Edgar nodded vigorously. “I think that’s it.”
“LET US SEE…” the clerk said in a slow monotone. He jerked his upper body to the right & picked up & put down bottles methodically.
He stopped with 1 & jerked his upper body back toward Edgar.
“THIS IS THE 1.”
The clerk’s hand stretched out till ’twas o’er Edgar’s hands & then the clerk’s fingers stretched out, dropping the bottle into Edgar’s hands.
Edgar looked @ the bottle. Its label said, “Frosty Elixir,” & below that, “Shields gainst the poisons o’ all aquatic equines.”
Edgar gasped. “Th-thank you, Sir. You have no idea what this means to me. I’ve been so scared that I would ne’er see Autumn ’gain… I…”
“THAT WILL BE 400₧, PLEASE3.”
“O, I’m sorry.”
Edgar rummaged through his robe pockets & handed the clerk a 500₧ bill & was handed back a 100.
“HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Uh, you too.” Edgar looked up @ the clerk & waved @ him as he stepped back to the door, only to stop & shrink back when he saw the jerky way the clerk twisted his hand left & right.
Edgar would ne’er see that clerk ’gain; it would later die o’ Death Virus Syndrome.
Edgar stood in front o’ Morgenacht’s, staring @ the sludgy sea stretch to the horizon, shivering in the wind. Having spent so long out @ night & having just waken made the stale warmth o’ the night air suddenly become chilly.
Well, Edgar thought with a sigh. Now I just need to hurry all the way back before Autumn…
He stopped the thought there & began trudging his way through the swamp, both mouth & mind silent.
The second Edgar pushed through their apartment door he ran for Autumn, his hands already scooping through his pockets for the medicine. Then he put a hand on 1 o’ her wrists & her chest. He could feel a slow pulse or beat every few seconds.
After struggling with the child safety cap for a minute, Edgar moved to pour the medicine into Autumn’s mouth, only to remember that he’d forgotten to read the instructions 1st.
Damn it, ¿why don’t you plan this kind o’ stuff better? I had almost a whole hour to read this bottle.
He filled the cap full & poured it in Autumn’s mouth twice. Then he sat back & waited, hands gripping knees tightly.
10 minutes passed without a single stir from Autumn.
Edgar started nudging her. “¿Autumn? ¿Are you feeling better?”
Edgar felt Autumn’s pulse. ’Twas e’en slower than before.
Then he checked the bottle’s label. It says 2 caps full for people 16-28. ¿Why isn’t it working?
¿Should I give her a li’l mo’, or would that only make things worse?
He gasped. Maybe I already gave her too much…
He reread the instructions, every word, 3 mo’ times. He still couldn’t find anything he missed.
Maybe it just takes a while to start working. Maybe if I went to sleep now she’d be all better when I woke up & I could make us both plates covered in minty waffles & buttered toast.
He lay down, but the dread flowing through his veins faster than blood cells—as well as the fact that he’d already slept only an hour ago—made it impossible for him to sleep.
He was caught in a conundrum: there seemed to be absolutely nothing he could do to save Autumn, & yet he knew he had to.
Remember, turn your fear into something useful.
¿But what could fear be useful for now?
He got up & checked Autumn’s pulse once mo’. He checked it for a full 5 minutes—though his mind recognized it as hours, which he’d credited to fear—when he finally noticed that Autumn didn’t have a pulse anymo’.
¡O shit! ¿What do I do now?
He checked the bottle once mo’.
Well, it can’t do worse than kill her, ¿can it?
He shakily poured ’nother cap full, causing much o’ it to slop onto his robe. He didn’t care. He quickly dumped it into Autumn’s mouth, scooping any that strayed & pushed them fully down her lips just to make sure she missed nothing.
He checked her pulse once mo’. 10 minutes passed without a single beat.
He vacillated from pouring caps full o’ medicine into her mouth & checking her pulse for a couple minutes a few mo’ times till the bottle emptied.
Edgar checked the time & saw that it’d been an hour & a half since he arrived. There was still no pulse.
Edgar finally dropped Autumn’s arm, staring vacantly @ the charcoal-colored wall ’hind her.
The landlord wouldn’t find Autumn’s corpse till 3 weeks later, when she noticed Autumn’s rent hadn’t come in, despite Autumn always being punctual in paying her rent. She guessed ’twas due to that Death Virus Syndrome that kept spreading this season.
When she couldn’t find any living relatives, the landlord auctioned off all o’ Autumn’s possessions, which wasn’t much, anyway. There was 1 ’ception: the landlord was so enamored by the brilliantly crafted statue o’ the grim reaper that she put it in her own house & stood it next to her fireplace.
It didn’t get much use from her, however. Only a week later, said landlord would die. Doctor’s diagnosis: cardiovascular disease.
- Autumn & Edgar’s trip @ the store was inspired by an ancient folk tale in which 2 people shop @ Fred Meyer & buy TV Dinners & then eat them @ home.
- The way Druitt sits in his chair is a reference to a story my uncle wrote in which he sat in a chair. You should totally read it.
- Mark XII, xvii. I didn’t quote the Bible anywhere in this story; I just thought you might find this line interesting.
- Knowing me, there are probably many Super Mario Bros. references. This is just here to remind you you could be playing those games instead o’ reading this dreck.
- Shantih shantih shantih.