Edgar joined Autumn @ her makeshift office in the back corner o’ the cafeteria. Her attention till then had been rapt on the spiral notebook just below her, only to now flick up to him.
“Edgar… This’ll probably sound odd coming from me, but I wanted to ask if you, ah, ¿are taking anyone to the prom they’re having?”
If Edgar actually had any eyes, they would’ve widened; so ’stead he sufficed with standing back in shock.
“Uh… No. I, uh… Well, I honestly didn’t think you’d want to go,” he said as he scratched the side o’ his face nervously.
Autumn surveyed the cafeteria, ensuring no eavesdropping was ahand. Assured, she swiveled her notebook toward Edgar & pointed the eraser o’ her pencil down on 1 part.
“Intel tells me they’re giving ’way golden crowns to the victors. We’ll be those victors.”
“¿So your plan is for us to… win prom president?” asked Edgar, doubt flaring from his voice like a lighthouse beacon. Normally he thought Autumn was brilliant, but Edgar couldn’t help finding her “intel” to be flawed for this plan, as the chances o’ this succeeding were approximate to being struck by lottery tickets while finding a pile o’ lightning on the ground.
Autumn recognized this doubt, but nodded, anyway, with a curt, “Yes. That’s 1 bough o’ my plan.”
“&, uh… ¿How d’you hope to win? I mean, we’re not exactly, well…” said Edgar.
“¿Likeable in the slightest? No worries: we’ll win.”
Edgar leaned in & whispered, “You’re, uh, planning to rig the vote, ¿aren’t you?”
Autumn shook her head. “Nope. Too risky. Wouldn’t work.”
Edgar couldn’t help staring @ her with a head tilted in confusion. She has to have some part o’ this plan that she won’t tell me. E’en as competitive as she is, she couldn’t think we’d win normally…
Unperceived to Edgar, an up-&-coming rogue reporter occurred to be listening in on their conversation, searching for sweet & salty scoops. Autumn, in particular, was 1 he oft watched for stories. She was a known agitator o’ theft, so he knew she was suspicious.
’Sides, he had an eye for dirty people, & he could see just by looking @ Autumn that she was dirty—as were most o’ the people round here.
None o’ them can be trusted…
But his ears perked when he heard her Satanic friend whisper ’bout voting fraud & suddenly, he knew exactly what his new beat’d be.
This’ll put us right on the atlas, he thought as he twiddled his fingers together; ¡& soon everyone’ll recognize the world’s greatest investigative journalist, Thursday O’Beefe!
Unnoticed to both o’ them, 1 o’ the unnamed1 members o’ the gang o’ bored jocks also heard Autumn’s plan, having also spent his lunch listening to random students’ conversations.
As they became down with it, stuffing telephone booths & punching back Heros while blasting Bing Crosby, he told them all ’bout it.
He snarled as he twisted his evil mustache. “I hear that ugly pickpocket dame & her D&D reject friend are trying to win prom presidency. We should soitenly spend hours o’ our time focusing on this.”
“¡Wowwie, that’d be the lizard’s pajamas!”
“That’s be mo’ than the lizard’s pajamas, fat-head: that’d be the dinosaur’s pajamas.”
The next afternoon, they strutted through the hallway in their matching black leather vests & gel-saturated black hair. There they caught the douche, Autumnbot, striding down the hall, followed by the other douche, Grampa Virgin.
“Thursday O’Beefe here, soon-to-be world’s greatest investigator showing you the dangerous agitator, Autumn Springer, in the act o’ rigging the vital prom election.”
“You know I can hear you, ¿right?” Autumn said without glancing back @ him.
“Spread out, dork,” said the gang leader as he smacked the imaginary papers from O’Beefe’s hands.
“¿Are you crazy? ¡You can’t do that! ¡It’s physically illegal!” O’Beefe said as he stared @ them with wide eyes & hands o’er his head.
1 o’ the other jocks suddenly started cracking up laughing so hard that he fell on the floor, slapping his knees with tears running down his eyes.
“¡Haw! ¡Haw! ¡He caused someone a minor inconvenience! ¿D’you see that? ¡He caused him a minor inconvenience! O ho ho!”
The leader scratched the back o’ his head awkwardly.
“Err… It wasn’t that funny, man.”
But the lackey continued rolling round the floor with his hands tightly clasping his knees, barking like a hyena. A dark wet spot emerged from the front o’ his robe, his body having given all control to the specter o’ slapstick.
Autumn decided to quicken her pace out o’ this scene, but failed: the jock leader rushed up ’head o’ her & stood before her, leaning gainst the lockers with a toothpaste-commercial smile.
“So I heard you’re planning on entering the prom competition,” he sneered.
Autumn nodded. “That’s accurate.”
“Yeah…” said the leader with a nod.
A long pause passed ’tween them.
Autumn coughed. “Well, that was a good meeting we had here. Glad to have had it.”
“I am, too,” the leader sneered.
“Well then, I’ll just walk on round you then,” she said as she began to do just that.
“Yeah, that sounds good. By the way, ¿d’you know what yesterday’s assignment was in Physics? I missed it ’cause I was sick,” he sneered.
“Exercises 5 to 10 in page 85,” Autumn said as she walked on down the hall.
“Ha, ha. Thank you for the help,” he sneered down the hallway with a hand cupping his mouth.
She didn’t respond, heading straight down the hallway like a rocket.
“Ha, ha. Have a good day,” he sneered e’en louder as she began to disappear round the corner o’ the stage.
Edgar sat on the grass just ’side the Morgenacht’s while Autumn dressed in his subterranean home just ’hind him.
“¿Where’d you get these costumes, anyway?” Edgar called out to her.
“Mother had some lying round, luckily.”
“& uh… ¿what’re we going to do ’bout dancing?” asked Edgar.
“Well, I planned on doing so with my feet; but if you know a better method, I’d be most intrigued.”
“I mean… ¿d’you know how to dance?” asked Edgar.
“I understand the concept quite well.”
“What I mean is… ¿what if we stumble round or knock into someone & cause zany ’90s pratfalls?”
“That’ll work wonderful for us.”
“That… ¿that’d be a good thing?” asked Edgar.
Finally, Edgar heard the scrape o’ bricks & looked back to see Autumn beginning to climb outside, only for her to stop & mutter a curse. She dropped back down & then climbed back up with a high heel in 1 hand.
As she walked o’er the grass, she almost tripped on the human traps that were her high heels. This would’ve fed Edgar’s worry if he hadn’t been too busy staring in shock @ the transformation Autumn went through during her time in the bathroom.
It went beyond simply her usual school uniform being replaced by a black dress & her hair hanging down to her shoulders; it also looked as if the designers had reconfigured her width property to be shorter, which, now that he thought ’bout it, horrified him as to the biological consequences it might have. He’d heard stories o’ people being born with bugs in certain properties that cause their graphics to twist in inhuman shapes accidentally.
He knew he’d be upset if someone said such stuff ’bout him—& truly did feel his nerves rattle when he saw her emerge, though it might’ve been due to the odd music & camera movement—so he pushed himself to say, “Autumn… you look amazing,” in practically a gasp.
Autumn frowned. “¿Truly? You’re saying that out o’ politeness, ¿right? ’Cause I need you to be honest for this endeavor to work as well as possible.”
“No, I mean it…”
“Hmm…” Autumn adjusted her glasses so that they were tilted to the side & then pulled on 1 strand o’ hair so that it stuck out.
“¿How ’bout now? ¿Do I look somewhat as a befuddled fool who doesn’t know what she’s doing?”
“No, you look great. Truly.”
“¿& by that do you mean that I succeeded by failing or failed by succeeding?”
“In order for this part o’ the plan to work optimally, I must don the façade o’ an e’er-trying, endearing klutz.”
She stepped up to Edgar & scrutinized him mo’ closely, both for testing & recreational purposes. She knew the former was simply a ’scuse for the latter; but the former was still necessary, so ’twas a valid ’scuse.
She could see him squirm under her gaze & wondered how much better she was @ disguising her own lepidopteran-infested esophagus.
I wonder how he feels ’bout this whole zaniness… He’s going ’long with it, but that doesn’t say much…
“Is, uh… ¿Did I do something wrong?”
Autumn shook her head. “No, you look just right.”
“O, uh, thank you… I think…” mumbled Edgar down to the ground, trying to stifle his blushing.
“O. There’s 1 improvement we could make.”
Autumn began readjusting Edgar’s bowtie & lapels. Then she stood back & scrutinized him tilt-headed as a Picasso scrutinizing his paintings.
“Um, I don’t mean to complain, but I think you made them mo’ crooked.”
“O… OK. Uh… so, you are going to tell me everything I need to do soon, ¿right? ’Cause I’m truly confused, & I really don’t want to mess things up for you.”
Autumn sat next to him with her legs crossed & her clasped hands stretched out businesslike.
“You needn’t worry ’bout that; if I plan this correctly, there’ll be nothing you can do wrong.”
“I could surprise you…”
“I’ve known you for almost 3 years. I’d have to be utterly incompetent for that to happen.”
“¿So you’ll handle everything, then?”
“O, no. I’m not doing anything, either.”
“¿What? Wait, ¿so neither o’ us are doing anything? ¿So you just hope we’ll win… naturally—that they’ll choose to vote for us by their own reasoning?”
“You know, Edgar, sometimes intriguing ideas can come from e’en the most inane contexts. You e’er hear ’bout some board game video game called Mario Party.”
Edgar’s befuddlement only increased. “¿Do you hope there’s a minigame portion o’ the prom?”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” said Autumn. “Anyway, I remember 1 time during class I heard these 2 other students talk ’bout some YouTube videos called ‘Luigi Wins by Doing Nothing,’ or something like that.”
Edgar paused, trying to put everything she said together in some logical configuration.
“¿You plan for us to win… by doing nothing?”
“Well, I won’t give the details, ’cause that would spoil the fun o’ the plan, but I can ’splain that there are worse things than doing nothing: one can actually make things worse for themselves by their own efforts so that it’d have been better had they ne’er put in the effort @ all.”
“¿But that won’t apply to us?” asked Edgar.
“It’s unlikely. We—or rather, I—have 1 major advantage.”
“I actually understand the game we’re playing.”
Edgar was far too involved in Autumn’s puzzle not to desperately search for clues as to what she was talking ’bout.
It’s not what I think it is, ¿is it?
Finally, Edgar asked, “You’re not… you’re not making this whole thing up ’cause you think I wanted to go to the prom & felt sorry for me, ¿are you?”
“Hmm… That’s an interesting theory. But I do truly plan to capture those golden crowns.”
The conversation tapered off @ this point. Though Edgar had many mo’ questions he wanted answered, he knew they wouldn’t be, & so he let them be. ’Sides, there were other concerns mo’ pressing on his mind.
He stared down @ the ground & said, “I have to admit… I’m feeling a bit nervous ’bout all o’ this.”
He had expected her to reply with assurances that he had no reason to be, that the plan would work fine. Looking back, though, he realized he should’ve predicted the response she did give:
Edgar turned to her. “¿You think it’s perfect that I’m… that I’m nervous ’bout an idiotguarded plan?”
“O. I assumed you were talking ’bout something else,” said Autumn.
Autumn stared off into the starry sky as if trying to scrutinize it for treasure, with the sharp eyes that Edgar was used to seeing. She took a deep breath, & then, in a twist Edgar found utterly unfamiliar, she put a hand on Edgar’s. “Nothing to matter ’bout…” was all she said.
Edgar stared down @ both o’ their hands with sand in his throat. He now regretted eating @ the sand bar during lunch, whose consequences were now ruining this perfect moment. He knew he should’ve gone to the butterfly bar, as Autumn had. ¿Why would he e’en eat when he had ne’er needed to eat before?
“¿So you… want me to be nervous for this plan to work?” said Edgar.
“Both o’ us, yes. That won’t be a problem, ¿will it?”
“I don’t think so… ¿but why would you be nervous ’bout a plan that’s s’posed to be moronsafe?”
Autumn paused, staring @ her hand still on his. She was surprised he couldn’t already guess that answer by the timber o’ her arm.
He’s either truly unperceptive or goading me. I doubt the former.
Then she rushed to check her phone.
“It’s getting time,” Autumn said as she stood. “We should go.”
She took his hand & helped him up, & they both walked down the street. As they walked under the white light o’ the waxing-gibbous moon—as well as the dusty yellow light o’ the streetlamps, the blurry white lights o’ passing cars’ headlights, & the e’en dustier yellow light o’ the window o’ some guy who was peeping in tenants windows in the opposite apartment—Autumn couldn’t help noticing Edgar’s glum face aimed down @ the gravel.
Looking back @ her feet, Autumn mumbled, “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want.”
“¿What? O, no…” Edgar jittered. “It’s not that… It’s just something silly…”
“I know it is. That’s all part o’ the plan.”
Now Edgar’s curiosity once mo’ pushed aside his regular shyness.
“I’ve just been feeling… this whole thing seems a li’l… manufactured, I guess,” said Edgar.
“Proms are always that way.”
If this were a big-budget prom story, I’d instruct you to imagine speakers blaring popular prom songs such as “Good Riddance,” “Pumped Up Kicks,” “I Need a Doctor,” “Animal,” or “Raised by Bats.” However, ’cause this story is on a tight budget, I couldn’t afford to get the rights to ask you to imagine these songs, so please ’stead imagine cheap knockoffs that sound suspiciously similar or versions o’ these songs played in “Mario Paint Composer.”
Perhappenstance, ¿could you also imagine nameless couples in the midst o’ idle conversations? These conversations don’t need to make sense in the present context. A woman tells her date, “So, that’s why I can’t e’er use a pencil ’gain,” or a male tells his date, “It only itches when I sit down,” & the reader squirms happily with a warm feeling o’ immersion, as if these conversations were surely happening in real life & these nameless people were surely authentic.
Rush the camera to the center stage—¡not that fast, cameraperson, you almost smacked someone in the face!—where we witness a colony o’ couples dancing. They don’t dance as any real human would. Those who didn’t simply slide their limbs round half-assedly as if performing the idle animations for Mortal Kombat characters throttled each other & smashed their faces gainst the floor as if trying to battle demons inside them.
But let’s zoom in ’way from them toward the only characters the writer bothered to develop. Autumn & Edgar stood as atheists @ a bar mitzvah, utterly perplexed by these strange rituals. Edgar stared down @ his shiny shoes while Autumn glanced all round her—a habit when in alien environments.
“I s’pose we should begin dancing,” said Autumn.
“Well, it’s simple: you just move your feet round.”
Autumn started moving her legs up & down as if in an immobile marching band or climbing invisible, ne’er-ending stairs.
“Uh, ¿are you sure that’s the right way to move them?” asked Edgar.
“¿There are wrong ways?” asked Autumn, suddenly stopping in bewilderment. This was not part o’ her plan.
“Well, yeah,” said Edgar, scratching the back o’ his skull nervously. “Otherwise we’ll look silly.”
“¿Isn’t that the point?” Autumn asked as she turned to ’nother couple, who were currently sliding round in figure 8s on their stomachs like penguins, 1 ’bove the other, knocking o’er other couples, not to mention violating the laws o’ physics.
“I think they have different ideas for what looks silly & what doesn’t,” said Edgar.
Autumn rubbed her chin as she gazed round @ the other couples, taking mental notes.
“Yes, it does seem as if most couples are touching each other in some ways. ¿Do you mind if I put my hands on your shoulders?”
“Uh… No. ¿Should I… should I do the same?” asked Edgar.
“No, the general pattern seems to be for the other to hold his hands on each side o’ the primary dancer’s stomach—& since you’re the shorter o’ us, no offense, it seems mo’ logical for you to hold the shorter part.”
“Uh… OK. If you say so…” said Edgar as he put a sweaty hand on her hip. Then he looked up @ Autumn & asked, “¿N-Now what?”
“Let’s just rock back & forth.”
They both pushed forward, causing them to slide into each other as a collapsing bridge. Then, after they returned to their positions, they both leaned back, causing the both to fall backward in a zany scene that will certainly make the trailer.
Edgar sat up & said, “This is much harder than it looks.”
When Autumn sat up, she replied, “Yes, we clearly need to mo’ thoroughly delineate our steps.”
They stood & returned to position yet ’gain. However, this time Autumn said, “OK, we’ll start going toward you—you leaning back, & then keep alternating from there.”
“¿How will I know when we should shift?” asked Edgar.
“I’ll keep count.”
So they went, pushing forward & back as a vertical see-saw, Autumn counting, “1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2…” repeatedly.
Suddenly, Edgar began to giggle. Autumn’s mouth twisted into a smile in response: she hadn’t expected this emotional output from her partner, but realized the beneficial effects ‘twould have on this heist.
Edgar stilled his chuckles ’nough to say, “I’m sorry… This is just a li’l… well, goofy.”
“As I said, that’s the point, ¿isn’t it?”
“¿O’ dancing as a whole or o’ our dancing to your plan?” asked Edgar.
“Hmm… You are mo’ acute than how you act.”
The conversation tapered off into a long silence, their movement slowing & their heads turning ’way from each other. Autumn, in particular, glanced round @ the other couples for environmental clues as to how their rituals should continue. As if in answer o’ a query she held purely in-mind, she saw everyone else rocking each other slowly while kissing their partners, as if the writers were trying to give Autumn, Edgar, & the readers an immensely subtle—not to mention convenient—hint.
¿To what extent would this affect my chances o’ success? she pondered. Probably not much, but then e’en a minor positive is better than nothing. This in addition to my base hormonal preferences lead all variables to point to yes.
But Autumn’s savviness had hit a blind spot in this situation, for if it hadn’t, she would’ve expected the interruption that would arrive @ such perfect timing as if by clockwork—the writer’s perfect clockwork, that is.
“’Scuse me, Madame Springer, ¿but would you mind giving me an interview?” O’Beefe asked as he shoved a microphone right into Autumn’s face.
“No, we weren’t busy with anything @ all. Ask ’way.” Autumn leaned her head back ’way from the microphone as if ’twere a beehive.
“OK, uh…” O’Beefe flipped through his pad o’ notes. “Ah.” He looked back up @ her. “¿Do you plan to rig the prom election?”
“That’s a ridiculous question to ask me,” said Autumn. “Regardless o’ the true answer, I would answer no—either deceitfully or truthfully.”
“¿So you admit that you’re lying right now?” O’Beefe said with an eyebrow raised.
“I admit that what I say should have no bearing on what a rational human would conclude, but then I admit there’s 1 flaw in my previous arguments.”
“I’m not speaking to a rational human, ¿am I?”
O’Beefe paused as if trying to configure a complex jigsaw puzzle in his mind, only to discover ‘twas truly a crossword puzzle.
“So… ¿so what is it should we think if the prom turns out in your favor? ¿Should we not consider that suspicious @ all?”
“No mo’ than if anyone else won,” said Autumn. “¿Have I a reputation for rigging prom elections? I believe this was the 1st prom I’ve e’er been to.”
“You are a thief, though, ¿aren’t you?”
“¿Does material theft automatically extend to election theft?”
“& I believe I o’erheard you saying you hoped to win the elected prom presidency.”
“Well, it’s good to see how well you respect people’s privacy,” said Autumn.
O’Beefe tipped his hat. He figured this probably would’ve been cooler if he actually had a hat.
“When the truth hides, I dig deep. That’s how I got to be the world’s greatest investigative journalist.”
“I had no idea you were.”
“Aye, aye. You may have heard ’bout my famous work shutting down WALNUT.”
“¿Wasn’t that that club that wanted to help homeless people get health care, get housing, & vote?”
“That’s what they claimed, but my brilliant exposé wherein I dressed as a pimp & exposed their devious pimp toleration & led this school to clean this school o’ their deviousness.”
“Then I must admit, this does sound like a step up for you.”
“That’s right, it is,” O’Beefe said with a proud nod.
“So then, ¿are we finished with this interview?” asked Autumn, noticing she & Edgar were still in their original dance position throughout the whole conversation.
O’Beefe nodded. “I think I have all o’ the info I’ll need.”
“From the indication o’ your level o’ scrutiny, that sounds accurate.”
Autumn breathed in relief as if her head had been buried underwater during the interview when O’Beefe left.
“You don’t think this might ruin your plan, ¿do you?” asked Edgar.
“’Course not. I told you, we don’t have to do anything to succeed.”
“You’re not… you’re not just making stuff up to make me feel assured, ¿are you?” asked Edgar.
“Look, ¿you know why nothing I could’ve done in that ‘interview’ could’ve had any effect on my success?”
“’Cause, as I told him, nothing I could say would change his predetermined mind. If I said I did plan to rig the vote, he’d take that as truth; if I said I wasn’t planning to—as I truthfully alluded—he’d take that as a lie.”
“So, ¿you don’t think he’ll be able to get in the way o’ you winning ’cause you’re not truly rigging the vote?” asked Edgar.
“It depends on what you mean by ‘getting in the way.’ He will certainly play a role in my victory—it’ll simply be the opposite o’ what he hoped his role would be.”
Edgar didn’t bother asking how. He knew he’d have to wait for the answer.
He did, however, ask, “¿What did you want to ask me ’bout before?”
Ah, yes, the final tease before the final letdown. I can already read the proper sequence as if the script were right in my hand: “O, nothing, Edgar. Just forget ’bout it.”
Fuck that tripe.
Autumn cleared her throat. “O, this is completely up to you—either way will have no effect on my plan—but I was curious if you wanted to kiss.”
Edgar stared down shyly. Science couldn’t explain how his bony skull blushed—though language arts probably could.
“O… Whatever you want.”
“¿Are you sure? As I said, either way won’t matter in terms o’ my plan.”
“Sure…” said Edgar.
“OK, if you say so. Let’s do it, then.”
Edgar’s eyeholes shot up to hers.
Autumn leaned in, pressed her lips to Edgar’s for a second or 2, & then leaned back out.
After a few seconds’ pause, Autumn said, “Well, that’s that.”
The leader o’ the jocks twisted his evil mustache ’gain & laughed maniacally as he wriggled his hands together. How he did the 1st & last action @ the same time must be left to the reader’s imagination.
“¡We’ll show that designated unpopular student whose appearance does not quite fit Hollywood standards!” gargled he. “Let’s see how she reacts when she finds we’ve rigged the election so that she’s won. ¡I bet that’ll surprise her!”
His partner dropped onto the floor ’gain, clutching his chest as he released giant howls o’ laughter.
“¡Ho ho ho! ¡Rigging elections! ¡That’s hilarious!”
His associates looked the other way, embarrassed.
The leader scowled. “You truly need to take some medication for that.”
The partner released ’nother volcanic eruption o’ laughter, smacking his knees forcefully while tears dribbled down his eyes.
“¡Ho ho ho! ¡Taking medication for problems! ¿Where do the writers come up with this, am I right readers?”
“Anyway,” the leader said with a look o’ deep disgust. It began to regrow into a diabolical smile ’gain as he said, “When she steps up to the stage, we’ll be up on the rafters—where nobody will think to look, since nobody has e’er thought o’ this prank before—& dump powder all o’er her. ¡It’ll make her so messy! ¿Can you think o’ anything mo’ inconvenient than being messy?”
The partner became so overcome with laughter that he self-destructed into a pile o’ bloody limbs, torsos, & skulls, as if laughter had delivered him a Fatality.
“If that’s the last time you’ll interrupt us, fat-head, we can begin,” the leader said with a sour look @ the heap o’ gibbets.
This is it. This time ol’ Thursday isn’t going to be anyone’s li’l stepping stool, but will be the one to lead the fight gainst the true cretins, the wastes, the dark.
O’Beefe’s face revealed none o’ these thoughts. His expression was the same jovial, clean smile he’d always had as he stepped up to the ballot box, glancing all round him to see if the estuary was clear.
’Course none o’ the “committee” is watching, just as how none o’ the school staff watches while ugliness happens every day in the hallways, just as how nobody cares when we all suffer while criminals do so well.
But that’ll all change when we bring down all o’ these lazy tyrants & replace them with someone a li’l mo’ responsible, respectable…
O’Beefe slipped in 2 votes @ the same time. He swung his head round ’hind him 1 mo’ time. No one seemed to notice him @ all.
He continued to eye round himself like a squirrel wary o’ predators as he stepped ’way from the ballot box & to somewhere inconspicuous—but where he could still watch the ballot box.
When he was safely ’way from association to the crime, he smiled, pulled out his pad, & began scribbling notes.
¡’Course those cretins wouldn’t notice me voting twice! They would love to see the dirty cheat their victory ’way from the clean. It’s the only explanation for how such villainy could control so much. Well, we’ll just see when the clean finally becomes wise & decides to take back his victory…
Principal Barter stood up to the podium with the ballot box in-hand & said into the microphone with a chuckle, “OK, after that odd turtle race, let’s get to the voting.”
“¡Aha!” shouted someone from the crowd.
“Uh, ¿’scuse me?” Barter blinked widely round @ the crowd. Finally, he saw Thursday O’Beefe stand up on his chair with a hand raised into the air.
“Principal Barter, I have caught your school ’bout to assist cheating to help known-thief, Autumn Springer, win gainst the true wishes o’ the people. I put in 2 ballots—2—and you were almost going to let those votes slide, as if we lived in Cuba.”
Barter opened the box & stared inside, puzzled.
“O, yes, there are 2 ballots in here already in your name.” Barter flipped the box & dumped them out. He looked back up @ O’Beefe & said, “Thank you for your honesty, O’Beefe.”
He turned back to the rest o’ the audience. “Anyway, line up to cast your votes, & make sure you remember to put your name on it.”
As they lined up, remnants o’ conversations rose from various people in various places.
“¿Can you believe that creep tried to indict that Autumn bitch for cheating?” said 1 student. “I mean, yeah, she’s a thief & an asshole, but that doesn’t mean you cheat prom elections like that. Prom elections are important.”
“Yeah, & who gives a shit who wins prom president, anyway,” said her friend.
“You know, I know I was probably depicted as a soulless asshole earlier in the story, but I suddenly have the urge to help the underdog & vote for her.”
“Me, too,” said her friend. Then her cheerful smile fell into a dour frown. “Maybe then the cruel Programmers will finally give us names & allow us a way to finish our college applications.”
’Hind them stood the gang o’ bored jocks, 1 o’ which covered hair-to-heel with bandages. The leader twisted his evil mustache—what was now becoming an unhealthy habit—& announced as he held up 3 ballots, “With these 3 ballots for dead students we’ll twist the election e’er slightly in the ugly dame’s favor.”
1 o’ his lackeys asked in the voice o’ Barney Rubble, “O, gee, boss, ¿what if that isn’t ’nough to win it fer her? She is pretty unpopular, bein’ a unpopular student & all.”
The leader snickered, & then milkywayed & twixed. “Don’t worry: we’ll tell all our pals to vote for her. They’ll all think it’ll be a gas.”
Li’l did either o’ them know, O’Beefe was swimming through the sea o’ people like a shark, ready to pounce on voting fraud. His radar ears could pick up such speech from miles ’way.
He could’ve warned the prom staff, ’course. He should’ve steamed & stepped up to the stage to demand justice.
’Stead, he stood back & smiled as he twiddled his fingers together. Let’s watch these scoundrels fail to protect the election. They think they’re cozy in their cronyism—¡but the second they accept those votes, I’ll stand up & reveal them all for the frauds they are! ¡& I will go down in history for saving the Applewood 2012 prom election!
The students stepped up to the voting booth, in small groups, usually o’ 2, & dropped their ballots in the box. O’Beefe stood back with wobbling knees, heart drag racing as he waited for the gang o’ bored jocks’ leader to release the 3 ballots from his greasy hands, only for his heart to crash into a Luigip sign when he saw the principal say, “Wait.”
“You’re only s’posed to vote once; & I see your partners ’hind you still have their ballots,” Barter said as he adjusted his glasses in what he hoped was a dignified manner.
“These are for some o’ our other friends. Look,” the leader said just before turning back to his partners & chuckling with a long grin.
Barter took the votes & his eyes squinted as he scrutinized.
“OK, these look valid--but we’ll be checking these ballots for duplicates later, so don’t think you can sabotage the vital prom election so easily.” Barter waggled his finger as he said this.
O’Beefe’s heart restarted its engines. ¡There’s still a chance they’ll fail!
& indeed, he next saw Barter drop the ballots into the box. The millisecond they disappeared, he swung his arm upward, smacking someone in the back o’ the head.
“¡Hey, watch it, dick!” shouted that someone.
O’Beefe ignored him. He was too big now to answer to such li’l people.
“’Scuse me, Principal Barter, but I’m ’fraid you have just assisted in voter fraud—a serious academic offense.”
Barter blinked in astonishment. “¿Do you know these votes are fake, Sir O’Beefe?”
“O, don’t listen to the li’l rat. He’s just trying get attention,” snarled the leader.
“I very well do,” O’Beefe announced with a finger raised like a conductor’s stick. “I o’erheard this deviant admit that he was dropping votes for dead people in that box.”
Barter tilted his head, distraught.
“Sir O’Beefe, I ne’er thought such a good student like you would be so prejudiced. ¿Didn’t you attend that assembly we had on antizombie prejudice? I think you should apologize to Keith Carnahan, Jenny Wellstone, & Dragula Bloodskull.”
O’Beefe’s eyes followed Barter’s finger to see him point @ 3 students with ravaged, peeling gray skin, revealing chunks o’ red meat below the holes in their skin. Their cheeks were caved in, their eyes glazed & yellowing. Flies swarmed round them, but they did nothing ’bout them. They didn’t do anything but sit there with their shoulders & heads hunched, arms hanging loosely o’er the arms o’ their chairs.
O’Beefe’s jaw hung open. His heart flew right off the track & into a nearby river.
“We’re waiting, Sir O’Beefe,” Barter said as he crossed his arms & tapped a finger repeatedly.
Now O’Beefe’s head hung low, & he muttered, “Sorry, Carnahan, Wellstone, &… Bloodskull.”
“¿Could you please say that a li’l louder?” said Barter, raising his own voice, which was still amplified by the microphone.
“Sorry, Carnahan, Wellstone, & Bloodskull,” O’Beefe repeated in an announced voice.
“Thank you, Sir O’Beefe. Hopefully we can all learn from this experience & become better people ’cause o’ it.”
But neither would happen for O’Beefe. ’Stead, as he stared down @ his feet, miring o’er his final defeat, he only felt his blood soak in bitter bile.
You criminals may have won this round; but next year’ll be different.
Meanwhile, ’hind him, the sound o’ furiously scribbling pencils ensued as students suddenly had a change o’ mind when it came to whom they wanted to vote.
When the last student dropped her ballot in the box, Barter & the student staff opened it & counted the votes quietly, scratching a marks on sheets invisible to the rest after every slip passed ’mong them.
After a few minutes, they compared sheets & nodded with silent murmurs movements o’ their lips.
Barter stepped back up to the mic & announced, “Well, it seems that the presidents o’ this prom are… ¡Autumn Springer & Edgar Winters!”
The crowd filled with confused muttering.
“¿Huh? ¿How could the designated underdog o’ this story win? It makes no sense.”
“Augh. ¿You guys voted for her as a joke, too? ¿Why don’t we stay on the same square on these things?”
“This is what happens in elections where only 20% o’ the population vote: they always go to radicals who support niche, fringe prom celebrations.”
Edgar’s jaw was agape. He turned to Autumn.
“¿How did you do this?”
Autumn’s expression was stone stoic.
“I didn’t do anything, just as I promised.”
“¿Then why did we win?”
Autumn grabbed Edgar’s hand.
“No time. We have business to attend to.”
They marched together onto the stage & waited as the prom staff set crowns on their heads & bouquets in their arms. Throughout all this, Edgar fidgeted & swung his vision all round the crowd, taking in all o’ the alien faces staring directly @ him.
The human faces scared him e’en mo’.
Autumn only stared forward, her face just as incomprehensible as before. Her mind wasn’t on the crowd, but on the mo’ interesting scene she knew was happening ’bove her—but she dared not glance up @ for fear o’ attracting attention to it & accidentally foiling her enemies’ plot to ensure her success.
The gang o’ bored jocks had snuck through a conveniently-placed warp pipe to the top rafters, & were now on the edge just ’bove Autumn & Edgar, just beginning to tip their barrel o’ powder o’er them.
Nobody saw them. The prank was just so obvious, so cliché, no one’d be stupid ’nough to think o’ it.
When Autumn heard the creaking o’ the barrel’s metal gainst the rafters’ metal, she clutched Edgar’s hand & pulled him toward her, causing the crowd to fill with canned “¡Oooo!”s & boxed “Ahhh…”s.
“I lied,” she whispered: “there is 1 thing we must do.”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t have time: by that time, the powder was already falling all o’er them, covering their generically gorgeous gown & tuxedo with powder.
Time slowed as this happened. Hands in the crowd slowly pulled back & then slowly jutted out while mouths sluggishly opened with cowlike laughter. Your view shifts from various snippets o’ mouths exaggeratedly wide-open.
Not all reacted in this way. The dead students, o’ course, didn’t react @ all, being dead & all.
Meanwhile, near the back, 3 students nodded & “Mmm hmm”ed with impersonal gazes.
“Mmm… That joke was finely crafted, I must say,” said 1.
“Indeed,” ’nother said as she adjusted her glasses. “The timing o’ the powder was reminiscent o’ Tex Avery or Tom & Jerry.”
“¿MGMT Tom & Jerry, Chuck Jones Tom & Jerry, or those weird ones made in East Europe?”
’Ventually, the dust from the powder had subsided & the laughter was replaced with muddled “¿Huh?”s.
Autumn & Edgar had vanished.
Autumn laughed. “¡Those fools!”
They were already clambering down the steps before the back exit o’ the gym toward the sidewalk.
Then Autumn stumbled on her high heels & fell onto the ground.
“¿Are you OK?” Edgar asked as he reached down to her.
But Autumn had already taken off & gathered into her arms her heels & started running ’gain. She didn’t care ’bout such an inconvenience; the victory o’ the perfect heist gainst the whole school filled her with mo’ energy than she could contain.
She only permitted them to stop when they finally reached Edgar’s storm-drain home. She sat back into the shadows with her knees outstretched, her chest pulsing enormously from her heavy breaths & laughter.
Both slowed as she removed her crown & set it on her lap, gazing @ it with her phone’s light trained on it while her other hand brushed stray bangs & powder from the front o’ her face.
Edgar sat next to her, half-blackened by the shadows & half-lit by the moonlight outside. He looked @ her, & then himself, & almost gasped @ the sight o’ so much white dust still clinging to her black dress & his black tux.
“I’m still amazed that went as well as it did,” Edgar said breathlessly.
“Yeah… There was 1 caveat, however.”
“This crown isn’t worth jack shit,” Autumn said disgustedly as she tossed it gainst the concrete.
Edgar pulled his own off & looked @ it with guilt. He could, indeed, see that ’twas cheap plastic that it’d be mo’ convenient to throw ’way than try selling.
“Well, if it makes you feel better… I had fun doing it,” Edgar said with a warbling voice.
“I s’pose…” Autumn said with heavy breaths & a listless frown, her cheer suddenly spent. “Might as well get as much o’ that while it lasts.”
“¿You still worried ’bout money?”
“Yeah…” she said. “After multiple calculations—& I mean multiple, since I can’t stop myself from doing them—I have concluded to a fine degree that we are royally fucked.”
& yet, all Edgar could think ’bout was Autumn’s use o’ the word “we”--& probably not the royal “we.”