’Twas the closing dawn o’ Muertoween, November 1 morn. After the sugar-strung night o’ October 31, Boskeopoleans wound down as the sun rose o’er Mustard Mountains, much as parties inevitably must do, much as all the living inevitably must do — & on Muertoween, the same applies to the deceased.
This year it seemed as if the weather itself knew, for that morn was foggy, gray, & still. The fields & towers o’ Goldenrod Acres had sounded empty, & that empty sound followed them inside the Tower o’ Revival, save the sound o’ rustling robes, clicking heels on the cobbled grounds, rattling tortoise shells necklaces on some visitors, & sparse, quiet conversation. ’Mong those were Dawn & Violet.
I must confess that this place veritably fills me with shivers, Violet said as she hugged herself.
Dawn smiled in the tight way that pretended she hadn’t heard her say the same thing the 3 other times they came here.
As they trudged through the aisles, Edgar swung his head left & right @ all the tombstones, their dust illuminated by the thin sunlight streaming in through the windows high ’bove. Throughout he saw people in gray & brown cloaks standing or kneeling by graves with skull-shaped pastries & jewelry, — as well as candles; orange, red, & yellow flowers; & other food — their faces still & flat as masks.
Edgar stopped in front o’ a particular grave round the middle right o’ the room & lowered a pumpkin pie , a paper cup full o’ now-ice-cold coffee, a pile o’ cords, & a cell phone.
Felix, standing ’side Edgar, gazed @ it all & said,
¿You still steal it all like the last few years? — ’cept for the pie, ’course.
Edgar nodded with a sniff.
Well, technically the cords & the phone I just found out in the open. The phone was very surprising: ’twas just sitting on a park bench. I’d think ’twas providence that I found it if that weren’t probably silly.
Felix nodded attentively.
The pie I made with ingredients I all stole from the store o’er the year — you have no idea how much I panicked when I realized I missed an ingredient near the last minute & had to try sneaking 1. Imagine what a mess it’d have been if I were caught.
As for the coffee, Dawn got that, actually…
Knew my plan’d work, said Dawn. Felix looked back & saw Dawn readjust her glasses with mock haughtiness.
¿Want to tell her what I did?
You should, said Edgar.
I snuck into some work office dressed in a work uniform as if I were a regular worker & just straight-up poured coffee in a styrofoam cup & walked right out. Last minute, too — had to be kept hot, you know.
Edgar didn’t think it’d be nice to tell her that after all o’ the delays it wasn’t hot anymo’.
Staring @ the still-glossy cell phone, Dawn laughed & said,
You know, if you do manage to bring her back, she’ll be annoyed that you wasted so much good stuff for such silly superstition.
You 2 forgot your other offerings, Dawn said as she looked ’tween Felix & Edgar.
Felix shrunk into herself.
You don’t actually want me to do that ’gain, ¿do you? Honestly, I was surprised you invited me here ’gain ’cause o’ that.
’Course not, said Dawn.
We can’t let her go without her special medicine. She’ll be rumbling round down there, thirsty for blood.
Felix laughed awkwardly.
If you say so… Then she pulled out from her jacket a knife & set it ’mong the pile, causing Dawn to smile widely & Violet to look ’way while fidgeting with her bangs, her mouth jerking back & forth ’tween a smile & a frown.
This was followed by Edgar dropping a pack o’ bandages into the pile. He giggled, & then rubbed his nose with his sleeve & sniffed.
He had been so distracted that he was jolted when he felt a hand pat his shoulder & turned to see Dawn smiling wryly @ him.
¿You truly going to go through this crazy venture o’ yours?
Wondersome. That’s the Autumn spirit. Let’s do it.
O, you wouldn’t mind me coming, ¿would you?, asked Felix.
It might be kinda dangerous…, said Edgar.
You know I ne’er have trouble with danger, ¿remember?, said Felix.
If you want to…
Erm, ¿were you desiring that I accompanied you 3?, asked Violet.
Dawn smiled @ her.
If you want. Mo’ the merrier. But don’t feel pressured if you’re not comfortable.
Violet frowned & stared down @ the scattered-stone floor.
I truly ought to accompany you. It should be all right; if I could survive Ice Cream Island, this shouldn’t be too dire. I could benefit from the additional exercise, regardless.
Then they stood in silence, during which a thread o’ cold air snaked ’mong them.
Well, ¿we all ready to go?, asked Dawn as she looked ’mong them all, but focused most o’ her attention on Edgar.
All nodded. Then Edgar inhaled deeply & led them toward the stairs.
But blocking said stairs were 2 guards in brown robes, their faces masked in blackness by their hoods.
Stop. You can’t come up he —
I have a Feather, Edgar said as he lifted a big black feather from his robe pockets.
The 2 guards paused for a second.
If you all insist, said the same guard as before, & then both stepped to the side.
The 1st thing Dawn did December 4, 2038 ’pon waking was dig through a pile o’ junk under a desk that couldn’t be used ’cause ’twas covered with a pile o’ junk & pull out a gift wrapped in cyan paper with a silver ribbon & bow.
She realized Edgar wasn’t in the kitchen right when she awoke & didn’t hear the soft scrape o’ a wooden spoon gainst the walls o’ a steel bowl or the ticking o’ a timer. However, this wasn’t that rare anymo’. For the past few years Edgar had taken to sitting on the front stoop or wandering to parks, especially during fall & winter.
Sure ’nough, ’pon opening the front door to a blisteringly frosty slate-gray sunrise, she saw Edgar buried in multiple layers o’ jackets sitting @ the bottom o’ the apartment complex next to the stairs, on grass the sparkled like crystals. She stepped down to him, slowly so as not to slip on all the melted ice.
Happy birthday, Edgar.
Edgar looked up @ her & thanked her. However, his expression seemed to reflect hers: tentative cheer in response to her own.
Ne’ertheless, he took the present & opened it to find a feather whose brown was so dark ’twas almost black. Edgar gazed @ it & slid his thumb ’long its spine. She could see by the heavy clouds under his mouth that his breathing was becoming mo’ labored, & she couldn’t blame him: e’en from a few centimeters ’way, Dawn could feel the warmth that emanated from the Phoenix Feather.
To be honest, I doubt it’ll work, — you know the rules — but if you still want to try, well… I can’t blame you.
You shouldn’t have…, Edgar said, his face becoming mo’ melancholic. But he added,
Thank you. Then he looked up @ her & asked,
¿How’d you get this?
Dawn straightened herself.
Quite a few people @ the university owed me some favors, & I know how to get a hold o’ some rare goods.
I only kinda feel bad ’bout giving it to you so soon after Muertoween…
That’s no problem, said Edgar.
It’ll just give me mo’ time to prepare, I guess.
Yeah, but also mo’ time to get impatiently hopeful.
But to Dawn’s surprise, he didn’t seem that antsy o’er the proceeding spring & summer. & as summer began to fall into fall, she noticed him develop a far different emotion: fear.
Hmm… Despite knowing better, Edgar always surprises me by being mo’ cynical than I give him credit…
The handrail felt dry as bone & rubbed roughly gainst their hands as they climbed the stone steps.
¿Doesn’t this kinda remind you guys — well, ’cept for Violet, who wasn’t there — o’ that haunted mansion we were in a long time ago?, said Dawn.
God, it feels so recent, too.
¿Weren’t you killed there?, said Felix.
Yeah… Dawn laughed.
Funny how things that seem so sorrowful in the past can turn out fine in the future, e’en quite nostalgic.
They reached the top o’ the stairs to see ’nother room full o’ graves, but twisting in a different pattern. But rather than being rather light & dusty, this room was e’en dimmer & full o’ mist that not only made them shiver e’en mo’, but also assaulted their sinuses, causing them to sneeze & cough. This time there were no windows; the only light that existed came from a few candles scattered ’long the walkway that emitted indescribably pleasant scents.
Despite this, they continued through the thin passage walled by tombstones.
I would not be surprised if this were all solely theatrics, said Violet, though Dawn thought her words were belied by her shaking voice.
The soulful lighting & quiet o’ the room entranced them all into silence as well for the next few meters, only to be broken when a robed figure dropped from the ceiling just in front o’ them, causing all o’ them to stumble backward.
¿You arrogant mortals think you can loophole death? Well, it won’t be easy, said the figure.
Then the figure pulled out a saber whose blade was shaped as a crescent moon, with the same yellow-white hue. The figure held the saber out @ full reach, so far out that its tip was just in front o’ Edgar’s face.
Violet gripped Dawn’s arm tightly & couldn’t keep her eyes from wandering all round the room. Though she thought this may be mo’ theatrics, ’hind that was the thought, I have been rash. I may have just thrown my own life away.
As if to confirm Violet’s fear, the guard said,
Retreat if you wish to keep your own lives.
The group stood back, looking ’mong each other in silence.
But Edgar felt that impatient itch, fed by a year, grow, making him feel physically blocked from heading backward. So much had been dedicated to this goal; ¿could he throw it ’way already?
He fuzzily recalled years ago Autumn saying something ’bout the “Gambler’s Fallacy”, or whatever ’twas called.
He charged forward as swiftly as his thin ankles would allow, ducking under & lightly holding o’er his head the guard’s saber in 1 motion. As he did so, he saw Dawn dash toward the guard’s other side.
As he scurried ’way, he saw Dawn dashing after him from the other side, followed by Felix with dilated eyes that showed she wasn’t sure what she was doing.
But then Edgar’s attention shifted to Violet, standing back with her hands clutched to her chest & staring @ the guard, who seemed to ignore the rest o’ them.
Well, ¿what ’bout you, Madame? he heard the guard say.
¿You feeling bold, too?
Dawn called back,
¡Don’t worry ’bout us, Violet! ¡Protect yourself!
But Violet took a deep breath, stepped forward, & said,
Permesso, signore, before slowly holding the guard’s sword back & squeezing past the guard.
& after that she scampered after the others as quickly as her heels & lungs would permit.
Edgar didn’t permit himself to slow down till he reached the next set o’ stairs. There he stopped to pant & cough, feeling his nerves rattle, his bones spent.
& still they had many mo’ floors to go…
Phew. We shouldn’t run so much anymo’. I don’t have it in me anymo’, said Dawn through heavy breaths as the climbed to the next floor.
Rather than holding a serpentine maze o’ graves, this next floor simply had them scattered round vaguely in a circle, with the next set o’ stairs straight ’head. You could barely see them, though, since this room was darker than the previous, lit with e’en fewer candles.
There shall be an unexpected twist to this section, I know it, Violet whispered into Dawn’s ear.
Almost immediately after, they saw a blue flame begin to flicker, & then grow, till it seemed to sprout off its candle & into the air like a balloon. Then black holes appeared to grow on the side toward them, till they became the curvy shapes o’ eyes & a mouth. Somewhere round them they heard a high-pitched but guttural cackle. Dawn noticed in the corner o’ her eyes mo’ movement & turned left & right to see mo’ candle-flame ghosts bobbing up & down in the air. They all formed a circle & began to slowly float in a counterclockwise circle.
Dawn felt Edgar & Violet press up gainst her, hanging onto each arm, both rattling with shivers.
Y-you do not believe they can authentically harm us, ¿do you, Professor Summers? whispered Violet.
Dawn laughed nervously.
A high-pitched guttural voice similar to the chuckles they heard before said,
So… You plan to try taking ’way our friend…
Then they heard scraping from below & looked down to see chunks o’ stone crack out from the floor. Then dark worms appeared to crawl out, only for Dawn to soon recognize them as fingers. Following them were hands, & then dark, splayed hair, & then a face till eventually the whole figure was standing there @ a flimsy hunch, eyes half open & glazed, mouth hanging. Though she was vastly darkened by all o’ the dirt, & her T-shirt, sweats, & face were covered in deep red cuts & her glasses were shattered, Dawn could recognize the figure.
Dawn felt Edgar’s hands pull ’way & saw him run up to the figure that looked like Autumn. Violet squeezed her hands together as she stared @ the figure in horror. Felix leaned forward with wide eyes, tail wagging swiftly.
Dawn stiffened. This isn’t how it’s s’posed to go.
But when Edgar wrapped his arms round the figure, it just stood there with no reaction, & the ghastly voices said,
Aha. Such love for such a horrorified creature. ¿How could we stand in the way o’ such pure love? All right, you may proceed.
¿Huh?, said Edgar.
The figure that looked like Autumn crumbled till ’twas just a mound o’ dust splattering gainst Edgar’s chest & spilling on the floor. Then the blue flame ghosts stretched & vanished as if they were blown out.
As they went, the ghoulish voice said,
If you do succeed, feel free to come ’gain next year. ¡I know how to make some killer death bread! ¡It’ll just make your bellies ripple with its powdered sweetness!
But Edgar didn’t notice their disappearance; he was still staring @ the ashes slowly filtering down the slits ’tween his fingers.
The next room was dim, but not nearly as dark. In addition to candles & lanterns feeding a low orange glow, there were windows blocked by blue blinds. & while there were a few graves & squash & marigolds strewn round, the true attraction o’ this room was clearly the figure sitting in the middle o’ the room with its legs crossed & its head down, wrapped in multiple layers o’ black rags that formed a robe, its face covered by a large matching black gaucho hat.
Dawn stopped with her arms out. Glancing ’hind her @ the others, she noticed that Violet didn’t need to be stopped: she was leaning back toward the door.
I think the trick is we have to sneak by without waking him, whispered Dawn.
Didn’t anyone e’er tell you it’s rude to talk ’bout someone ’hind their back — especially when they’re back isn’t truly turned.
The figure tilted its hat back, revealing its perpetually smiling skull face.
I see you made a friend o’ 1 o’ the other ghouls round here. Ne’er seen that before.
They all looked round each other for a few seconds before Felix led them in looking @ Edgar. Edgar looked back @ them & then back @ the figure.
N-no, I’m not from here… See, my friend, she… she’s…
O, I don’t need to know ’bout that part. They all have that part, said the figure.
Tell me something different ’bout her. ¿What’s her name?
Um… Autumn Springer.
The figure nodded.
Cool name. Knew a chica named Autumn in Taos. Diabetic shock. Much too young. Now the figure looked downward.
You mind telling me how your friend died. It’s OK if you don’t want to tell me.
Um… Edgar began jerking in different directions. His eyes darted @ everything but the figure.
O, it’s OK if you don’t want to tell me, the figure said with a light laugh.
Though I must say that you needn’t be ’fraid: I’ve seen so many crazy deaths that nothing shocks me anymo’. Anyway, tell me something else ’bout her. ¿What did she mainly do?
Uh… Edgar continued to fidget.
Surely you know something special ’bout this person to go through all this just to revive her, & her specifically…
But that question had entered his mind, as shameful as ’twas: ¿should he truly use this rare feather to revive only his own friend out o’ the billions dead — especially considering the way she went. He could imagine her voice telling him, “¿You wasted that on someone who wanted death when there are so many who didn’t & deserve revival mo’? ¿Truly?”
Edgar shook when he felt Dawn lightly jab him on the arm.
C’mon, Edgar: tell him ’bout her rhymin’ & stealin’ ventures.
The figure drummed its fingers together.
Ah, that sounds enthralling. Please, Edgar: tell your missing friend’s tales so that she may live ’gain.
O-OK… Edgar began wringing his wrists round as he stared down @ the floorstones. ¿But which tale do I tell?
After a few stories, the figure finally stopped asking Edgar for ’nother. ’Stead, it said,
Your friend sounds like she’s a fun person. ¿See what I did there? ¿You know why literary critics use present tense when talking ’bout how an author writes a book? ’Cause they know that authors ne’er die — people who do anything special ne’er die, for the fruits o’ their labors still remain. I still listen to Jorge Luis Borges chat with me every day, & I’ve ne’er e’en met him. ¡What a world! Truly a clever cat, Borges. You’d like him.
Mmm hmm. Thank you. Um… I’ll be able to truly revive Autumn, ¿right?
The figure laughed lightly.
O, I can’t do that myself, friend. You’ll have to continue to the top o’ the tower & talk to Madame Calavera Catrina ’bout that.
Edgar nodded ’gain & said,
Sure thing, Edgar. Don’t be too shy to come round next year, too, e’en if your friend doesn’t happen to get bumped off ’gain during ’nother heist. The figure waggled a finger.
Don’t think I don’t know you’ve got a few mo’ stories buried in that memory o’ yours.
& with that they all shook hands, & Edgar & his friends ascended the stairs to the next floor.
The next room was nothing but a black void. All that was inside was a glowing, bleached version o’ Autumn crouched in front o’ her equally-glowing laptop.
Violet just ’bout jumped when her mind registered what she was looking @, many hairs standing up on her head. She backed halfway into the doorway, gripping the edge o’ the wall tightly & biting her bottom lip till it bled.
A-Autumn, ¿is that the true you?, Edgar said as he took a step closer. Felix also stepped closer, tilting her head.
Without taking her frown off her monitor, the ghost o’ Autumn took a deep breath & then replied,
No. I’m just a temporary ghost.
C’mon. Now’s not the time for jokes. It’s been far too long.
Edgar & Felix ventured nearer to the ghost, step by step, till they was right next to her. The ghost’s eyes slid toward them.
No joke. You know I’m dead, & you know you can’t bring me back, said the ghost o’ Autumn.
Use your brains: ¿what is the purpose o’ each room o’ this tower? ¿& do you truly think they’d revive someone in some random room that isn’t e’en the top, without any fanfare @ all?
You sound a lot like Autumn, said Dawn.
Lot mo’ than the zombie.
Technically, I am, depending on your definition, said Autumn’s ghost.
But I’m only here for a few minutes while this insipid challenge lasts.
¿What’s the challenge?, said Dawn.
The ghost o’ Autumn shrugged.
Felix leaned right into the ghost & slowly picked up her hand, feeling it round in her own.
Yeah, they made me solid, too, for some reason, said Autumn’s ghost.
Edgar wrapped his arms round Autumn’s ghost.
Please don’t go…
Technically I’m already gone, said Autumn’s ghost.
Wait. ¿You still have Autumn’s memories & knowledge & stuff?
Yes, though it’s amazing how much o’ what seemed like knowledge was truly feelings, which I don’t still have. Now the memories & knowledge feel so insignificant.
¿You can’t feel anything? ¿How’s that?, said Dawn.
The ghost o’ Autumn shrugged.
Obviously one can’t have feelings ’bout not having feelings. I s’pose it’s a shame I can’t feel Edgar’s hug. On the other side, the lack o’… I don’t know how to ’splain it… ¿exhaustion? ¿just general discomfort? It’s immensely tolerable. “Clear” I think is the best word for it. It’s like the difference ’tween a fresh, clean lake that’s still & one that’s full o’ rough rocks & twigs & so many dirty details that you can’t e’en pay attention to them all. That said, since I can’t feel fear, knowing that I’ll disappear ’gain in a few minutes isn’t too bad, either. Truly, nothing’s too bad.
Dawn stared down @ her hand pulling on the other sleeve o’ her jacket. With a cracking voice, she said,
Uh, before you go… ¿could you tell us, uh, why?
Autumn’s ghost took ’nother deep breath.
The rough rocks & twigs & other dirty details mentioned before. I don’t know what goes on in your body, but this 1’s far mo’ tolerable than the 1 I had before. The mind’s so much clearer. It’s actually somewhat a shame that I can’t keep this 1 in reality, since I feel this mind could truly be useful without all the cloudiness.
We could probably do something like that if you aren’t…, Dawn began.
Doubt it, said Autumn’s ghost.
It’s too late, anyway, & you know that. I believe Madame Calavera, or whatever her name is, is in the next room, so I guess you’ll still try. But I doubt it’ll work.
Speaking o’ which, I have to go.
Dawn looked up @ Autumn’s ghost with alarm.
I told you it’s temporary, Autumn’s ghost said as she began fading out.
I can see that you still ardently deny reality as always. A’least when I do it I take it to its logi… Her voice became quieter & quieter till it faded to complete silence.
E’en after the ghost had fully disappear, & he could no longer feel her, Edgar kept his arms round air, his eyeholes gazing @ said air, his whole body stiffly still.
The next floor was the final floor. ’Twas not locked in a dark room, but out on the roof, surrounded not only by orange roses & dark grass, but also by storm clouds.
In the center was 1 tombstone larger than all the others they’d seen, whose inscriptions seemed to glow yellow under the waxing-gibbous moon. Said inscription merely said, “La Calavera Catrina”.
Edgar stepped toward it & placed the Phoenix Feather in front o’ it.
’Hind him snapped a whip crack o’ lightning, & round them flashed neon white.
Then a skeleton in a long, flowing white robe & a wide bowl hat covered in flowers & feathers. With her arms still outspread, she aimed the black holes that were her eyes directly @ him & said in an unoiled voice,
You come to cheat death for someone, I presume.
Um… Yes, please, Madame.
Very well. ¿Who is it you wish to revive?
A trickle o’ saliva dribbled down Edgar’s throat.
Um, Autumn Springer, please.
A long pause passed with Calavera Catrina only floating there with her arms still held out, her expression unchanging.
Finally, Calavera Catrina said,
You realize the manner in which Madame Springer had departed, ¿don’t you?
Edgar lowered his head.
¿& you know the rules regarding revival?
Those who die by ol’ age or suicide may ne’er be revived.
Edgar shrunk back into himself.
I’m sorry, but your wish can’t be granted. Have a good night.
Calavera Catrina waved her arms & then faded from sight.
Edgar remained where he stood, shivering with his head held down. The others remained standing in the background. Dawn stood with her hands in her jacket pockets, head down, too; Felix stared curiously @ where Calavera Catrina had been & @ Edgar; Violet darted her eyes everywhere but @ Edgar.
I’m sorry for wasting all o’ your time, Edgar mumbled lowly as they walked out into the parking lot outside Goldenrod Acres.
Dawn patted Edgar on the shoulder.
¿In the world’s funnest haunted house? Nonsense. ’Sides, you know what Autumn’d probably have said: we’re already wasting our time no matter what we do.
Edgar exhaled deeply.
Edgar felt his eyes sting by the heavy white light o’ the setting sun, but otherwise didn’t pay any attention to it.