Autumn woke with a curious feeling o’ content. Not bliss or ecstasy; just the warm sentiment o’ acceptance for her situation, which was the best she’d e’er recalled feeling—her primary goal. Despite her numerous ventures, excitement was an alien emotion, as the bustle o’ said ventures only e’er managed to imbue her with a mild content.
She carefully sat up & slowly slid her laptop o’er to her, not desiring to wake Edgar, & resumed her research & planning from the past few days.
Though she felt as if she were only panning for pebble dust for the last few months, she still felt content. After all, she was still safely ’live with shelter & food, providing her an illusive infinity to build her empire, e’en if it took months just to build the 1st brick. That made up for all o’ the signs telling her for years that said empire would ne’er rise beyond a flag on a rock.
3 hours later, she went out to check the mail. ’Twas early in the month, & Autumn always made sure she paid her bills as early as possible, to avoid the late fees she knew her creditors just itched to slam on her.
By then the weather was an autumn parody o’ a sunny day, with the sun poking out from ’hind the bushes o’ clouds, covering the city with blue shadows. It failed to match summer’s warmth, however; shivering in the breeze, Autumn hurried down to the mailboxes, hoping to pay as li’l time outside as possible.
As she flipped through the letters, Edgar’s name caught her eyes. She examined it mo’ closely & saw that it lacked a return address. Then she pressed her hands gainst it.
Hmm… Doesn’t feel like there’s anthrax in it; though the perpetrator may have learned a mo’ subtle way to send it.
Then ’gain, those were in my name. Is that ’nother example o’ his slowly growing subtlety?
When she returned inside, she noticed Edgar now sitting up.
“Sorry if I woke you.”
“That’s all right.”
“Apparently, you have a letter.” She set it on his lap as she continued into the kitchen. “You’d better turn your head ’way from it as you open it, though, in case it’s mo’ anthrax.”
He did just that. But as he tore the letter’s mouth open, he failed to hear a single guitar strum or drum beat. He felt round inside & felt a sheet o’ paper. He pulled it out.
Dear Edgar Winters,
I’ve seen you round the Rock Lobster by yourself every so oft & noticed you always looked pretty lonely. I myself have been feeling pretty lonely these past months, having just moved to this big city by myself for a new job, & I wanted to know if you weren’t too busy to meet me for a cup o’ coffee next Friday night @ the Rock Lobster, 7:00 PM.
You can call my cell @ 512-816-2254.
“Is it soliciting you for anything?” Autumn asked as she walked back to her spot next to him, her voice muffled by the apple she was chewing.
Edgar jumped when he heard her voice so close, but then simply said, “Uh…”
Then he heard crunching right next to his ear & saw Autumn’s face right next to her shoulder. @ 1st she twisted her brows in confusion, but then replaced this with a smile.
“’Nother? You reel in these bees like honey,” she said with a jab o’ her elbow.
“I’ve ne’er e’en heard o’ this person till now,” he said as he continued to stare @ the note.
Autumn sat criss-crossed & took ’nother bite o’ her apple. “Yes, I s’pose she could be a nutjob—’specially if she just sends utter strangers notes euphemistically asking to bounce your bones.”
She was also confused by the statement regarding Edgar’s sitting by himself, since she always thought Edgar hung out with the owner; however, she could see no benefits & many downsides to mentioning this.
“Still, you ne’er know ’less you try,” continued she.
The ne’er-ceasing editor in Autumn’s mind informed her o’ the hypocrisy o’ this statement. She mentally waved it ’way. It’s not hypocrisy if it’s someone else.
She continued, “I still have some smoke bombs in my jacket in case she tries tying you to a chair & forcing you to watch her play with toys.”
Edgar turned to her. “You… you truly want me to go? You won’t need me for any venture or anything?”
“I don’t have anything planned yet. No, I was just going to sit @ my computer all day in my nightshirt. Don’t waste your time lying ’bout here doing nothing for my sake when you have fuller coin blocks to punch.”
Edgar turned back to the paper, only to lower it to his lap just after.
“I’d just mess it up.”
“You can’t screw it up worse than not showing,” Autumn replied just ’fore sipping from her mug o’ coffee.
“What would I wear?”
“Your robe. If this letter’s accurate, she should know you always wear it; so she should expect it,” Autumn said. “’Sides, the goal is for you to take it off @ the end.” She gently shoved Edgar. “Here, if you want, you can prepare by taking a shower.”
Edgar stood & walked toward the bathroom, blushing.
Autumn, meanwhile, returned to her keyboard, only to cringe @ the same incomprehensible map she’d already gazed @ for hours.
Well, @ the very least 1 o’ us is having some modicum o’ success.
Since the seasons were in the awkward September transition from summer to autumn, the time o’ day @ 7 PM was in the awkward transition ’tween day & night: when the sky was a deep cerulean, the sun was just a sparkle on the edge o’ the horizon, & the trees & far-’way buildings were beginning to blacken.
Edgar hesitated ’fore entering the Rock Lobster. He peeked through the glass to see if he could find her; but all he could see was the familiar guy with the guitar in the northwest corner, his usual seat blocked from view.
He took a deep breath & then spilled through the door like a funnel. Inside, he backed up into the nearest wall as if he were a burglar. He scanned the room till his eyeholes reached the table in the southwest corner where he usually sat: there sat a young woman with shoulder-length hair, a weary face, & sunken-in eyes with dark circles ’neath. She was staring down @ her shaking, bony arms.
When Edgar neared the table, she noticed his movement & looked up. When she saw him—a figure wrapped in a dark cloak, with his face blacked out, save for two glowing red balls o’ light—her nerves were not lulled @ all. Is this the man? she thought. They both stood silently, neither looking the other in the eye.
Finally, the woman breached the silence with a dry, somewhat shaky voice: “Are you Edgar Winters?”
“Uh, yeah…” Edgar said with a weak nod. “& you’re, uh, Madame Liberty.”
“Yes,” she said with her own nod. “Yeah, sorry, I’m a li’l nervous. I’ve, uh, I’ve ne’er done this before, and, uh, I remember you looking a li’l different.”
“O, uh, do you want me to take this hood off, then?” Edgar asked as he sat in the seat opposite Rebecca.
Edgar pulled off his hood, revealing his chiseled skull. Rebecca couldn’t help staring wide-eyed @ the gaping black holes that were his eyes or the crooked shape o’ his upper jaw.
I knew this’d happen, Edgar thought as he squeezed his hand so hard it burned: she must not’ve gotten a good look @ me before, & now she’s horrified to see I’m a skeleton.
Rebecca looked down guiltily. They spent the next few minutes staring down @ the table, speechless for fear o’ ruining the already tarnished beginning to what both could sense would be a disaster.
’Ventually she cleared her throat & said, “Er… Edgar—do you mind if I call you by your 1st name?”
Edgar shook his head. “No. No, not @ all. Please.”
“Edgar, it seems there isn’t much to do here for us…”
Edgar’s nerves spiked @ this. Was she already calling the whole thing off? Was I that terrible?
Rebecca continued, “Would you mind, uh, going out for a movie or something?”
Edgar felt a swollen balloon o’ anxiety ease as he heard this. So she still wants to continue this. I guess I still have a few mo’ minutes ’fore I completely screw this up.
“Yeah, that’d be fine,” blurted Edgar. He scratched his head for a second ’fore throwing the offending hand down. It appeared now that e’en Edgar’s own body was unconsciously conspiring gainst him.
She led the way out, Edgar staring down @ the bottom o’ his robe as usual. Though from the outside he appeared inert, on the inside his brain churned like a fruit mixer for ideas ’bout what he should do when he inevitably needed to talk, or look @ something, or do anything that wasn’t stupid.
A few blocks onward, Rebecca stopped in front o’ an alley blocked off from the moonlight. Edgar wasn’t sure why—’specially when night was nearing & the streets were emptying.
“We’re going to take a huge shortcut through this alley here. Is that all right?” Rebecca asked.
“Uh… sure…” Edgar said as he followed her in.
Edgar hugged himself as he delved deeper into the pit, gazing round the darkness for signs o’ threat. The walls sandwiching them loomed ’bove them as giants scrutinizing them, able to crush them @ whim.
Suddenly he heard Rebecca whisper softly, “I’m sorry I have to do this to you,” ’fore feeling a damp cloth latch o’er his face like a squid. As he tried to cry & struggle free, his brain hazed & his energy drained till drifting off into unconsciousness.
Zeus scribbled a jagged white line o’ lightning down to the ground while the gods o’ music & sound effects pounded on hollow drums ’bove the sky, creating loud popping sounds.
Lance Chamsby paced round his bedroom @ the top o’ his tilted tower o’ trauma, admiring the work he paid Zeus to do for him. It made great ambiance while he waited for the next phase o’ his plan to be completed.
I bet you thought you were truly clever ’scaping all o’ my traps, didn’t you, Queen Looter, he thought as he stared into space through his ruby carpet; e’en when I sent you mail filled with anthrax, doctored evidence that you’d killed people & gave it to the government, & e’en sent a barrage o’ negative emails to you in an impressive campaign to demolish your self-esteem & lead you to commit suicide! Why is it that such dangerous criminals get ’way so easily? & why does the government sit round stealing money from hard-working people like me ’stead o’ taking these criminals to justice?
He stopped & swiftly turned toward the window with his finger pointed straight out, his cape swinging with a second’s delay.
But no longer!
He sat on his golden racecar bed & tapped a few random keys on his keyboard—not ’cause he was actually using it, but so he could fool you fools into thinking he was.
I’ve figured out your 1 weakness: your skeleton defender. I bet you think I would be tricked by his meekness act. Ha! I bet you didn’t think I would figure out his voodoo powers.
Earlier that day, when he was conjuring up this plan, he’d questioned this prospect @ 1st. Objectivists weren’t s’posed to believe in such superstitions.
& yet, there is no other explanation for how my amazing traps haven’t been working; I’m too brilliant to have made a mistake, he thought @ the time. It must be voodoo magic.
Lance continued to laugh @ the prospects o’ his plan while Zeus & the gods released ’nother flurry o’ thunder & then took a sip o’ his goblet o’ cherry cola, when he was interrupted by a knock.
“Who is it?” said he.
“It’s me: the one you hired earlier. I’ve got the skeleton,” answered a dry voice.
“Ah, come in,” Lance said with a snap o’ his finger.
The door opened, & in came a woman with eyes twisted in anxiety. She lugged a black plastic garbage bag up to the middle o’ the room ’fore dropping it onto the floor.
Chamsby jumped down from his bed & opened the bag as if ’twere a Marxmas present. Inside was Edgar’s still-unconscious body.
“Excellent,” Chamsby said as he rubbed his hands together. He had no idea where that bag’s been, after all, & didn’t want its gross bacteria loitering round his nice clean gloves like they always do, the bums.
“Great. So I did the job, right?” asked the woman.
“All right, all right,” Chamsby said as he pulled a wad o’ cash from his pockets. “Now, all you have to do is keep your mouth shut for the remainder o’ your life & you’re set,” he continued as he handed her the money.
She nodded. “Thank you, Sir,” & then turned & left.
With his distraction now gone, Lance returned to Edgar still lying on the ground. Lance leered down @ him.
“Now, to get you to a place where you’ll be safe—safe from ’scaping, that is.”
Outside Zeus released ’nother rumble o’ thunder & lightning.
Autumn couldn’t help remarking the hole next to her where Edgar habitually lay as she woke the next morn.
Hmm… Must’ve gotten to that bonus stage, after all, thought she. Well, that’s good.
She sighed. Time races by.
She mused o’er how the night must’ve gone, being unable to imagine him in such a situation.
Can skeletons e’en have sex? I wonder how that’d operate.
A minute or so later, she shook her head & dragged her laptop before her.
You don’t have time for such distractions. It’s time for you to complete your mission.
Edgar awoke to find himself in a void almost fully engulfed in blackness, save for the li’l light gleaming in from a single window. By the light bleeding out from the window he could barely see dark gray bricks making up the wall ’hind the window; though what was in the other 3 directions, he had no idea.
He sat still, curling his arms together & sniffling from the harsh frigidness he had woken to, having nothing but his robe to cover him. When Edgar finally did creep o’er to the window to look outside, he could see that ’twas not a bright morn @ all, but a dark cerulean dawn, with the far-off trees o’ the nearby forest still black—not unlike how the sky looked when—
& that’s when Edgar recalled the events that had led him to this place. Did she only attack me so she could lock me up here? Why?
Most important: Edgar needed to think o’ a way out o’ here.
He trudged through the room with his hands out, feeling for walls. E’en @ his sluggish gait, it didn’t take long for him to learn that this cell was small, all walls comprised o’ the same scratchy brick texture. This a’least purged his mind o’ fantasies ’bout huge dungeon mazes filled with ne’er-ending random encounters.
Edgar still felt uneasy. E’en if he were safe, how long would he have to stay in here? There was no reason to assume that his abductor wasn’t keeping him here for a long time—if she wasn’t planning on killing him outright. Edgar couldn’t imagine ’scaping by himself: the window was barred down, with the holes ’tween the bars too thin to fit through. There would be no use in throwing all o’ his limbs down there while still being a lonely skull & body inside; & no matter how much he budged, the door he barely found in the darkness wouldn’t open. His only hope was for Autumn to rescue him.
But how would she e’en know I’m here? Did my abductor send her a ransom note? & if not, how long will it take her to find me? How long will it take her to realize I’m missing?
With nothing to do, Edgar stood wallowing in his wretchedness, trying desperately to conjure up a scenario in which Autumn charged in & rescued him. As the minutes, & then half hours, & then hours went by, the sky outside brightened in a pink glow as the sun slowly climbed its way up & the trees outside began to regain their color.
Mo’ importantly, the light grew in Edgar’s dungeon till ’twas finally filled with a dull dark blue tint in which everything could be seen—not well, but could still be seen. This only made him mo’ uneasy, however, as it only highlighted his loneliness.
& then his heart collapsed as he heard knocking. Edgar sat staring intently @ the door; though what he would do if something dangerous came in, he couldn’t e’en contemplate.
His nerves buzzed then as he heard scraping wood & saw a panel he had not noticed yet slide ’way from a hole near the top-middle o’ the door. From ’hind it he could see the eye o’ a pale-skinned man poke through. Edgar could also barely see the bottom edge o’ a top hat o’er the man’s head.
“Ah, good: you’re awake,” said the man.
Edgar’s jaw hung upon as he found himself abruptly incapable o’ speech.
Seeing this, the man laughed a sinisterly snicker, which he practiced for a half hour yesterday afternoon. “There is no use keeping up the act, looter apologist. I’m ’fraid I am far too wise to fall for your subtle trickery. Now it is the time that I shall use you to crush my enemies.”
Edgar’s fear evolved into confusion, which only intensified said fear. Though he thought he recognized the voice somewhere, he couldn’t remember who ’twas, to the point that he wondered if ’twas just his panic-stricken mind hallucinating. His terror @ this man’s obvious misunderstanding outweighed his initial terror & compelled him to speak:
“Who… who are you?”
The man’s eye twisted in anger. Edgar could gather that this was not good.
“Don’t play games with me, fraud. You obviously know who I am.”
Edgar carefully shook his head, ’fraid that any erroneous movement would only kindle his fury further.
“I’m s-sorry… I think you have the wrong person,” said Edgar, & then instinctively spilled out mo’ in the hopes o’ delaying this man’s rage: “I’ve ne’er met you in my life. See, I was… I was with this person and, uh, we were going somewhere—I don’t remember where—& then we went through this alley, which she said was a shortcut, & when I went through there I was… I don’t remember exactly how… I just know that I was put to sleep somehow, & then I woke up here. I was just wondering if you knew how I got here or why.”
“You are here so I can use you to finally dispose o’ that vile looter,” said the man.
“I… I don’t know what that means,” Edgar said with a weak voice. What is this strange man talking ’bout? I ne’er stole anything from him…
“Wait, looter?” Edgar said with a sudden rise in his normally quiet voice. “You mean… you mean—”
“That’s right, you looter accomplice: I mean that worm, Autumn Springer, whom you’ve been e’er-so-keen to help attack me,” said the man. “Do you not now recognize who I am?”
Edgar paused to better collect his thoughts. “Uh… no. No, actually, see… Autumn kind o’ steals from a lot o’ people—I mean, she did. She doesn’t do much o’ that very much anymo’, though. So you could be a lot o’ people. I know recently this mob was after her, but I thought we got rid o’ them. Would you happen to be part o’ them?”
“I affiliate with no one but myself. You do not remember the many times you have sabotaged my attacks gainst the vile looter with your voodoo magic? Please, do not be modest; today shall be the last day you will be able to rejoice in your success.”
“Voodoo magic?” asked Edgar, while in the back o’ his head he could hear himself think, This man is crazy. He’s e’en mo’ dangerous than I could e’er imagine. “I don’t… I don’t know any magic.”
“Ah, yes. Sure you don’t. I know how you communist looters like to hide your special powers so well. I also know very well how spiritualist communists are, with all o’ their nature rituals & smoke bongs.”
“Uh…” Edgar was rendered incapable o’ human speech once mo’. Surely he doesn’t think ’cause… But how would he e’en know that?
Maybe Autumn wasn’t exaggerating as much as I thought when she talked ’bout the possibility o’ us being spied on…
“Your persistence is trying my patience,” said the man. “Fine, I will treat you like a drooling baby, as you are acting: does the name Lance Chamsby ring a bell?”
“That’s, uh… that’s your name?” asked Edgar. He was feeling rather dumb right now.
“’Course it’s me!” he thundered. “I am only the richest man in the city? How dry a desert did you live under to not recognize that name—to not recognize me? But surely, you’ll come up with some explanation, I am sure.”
Edgar puzzled o’er who this crazy Lance Chamsby was. He seems to be a businessman, but I don’t think I’ve e’er seen someone like him ’mong the businesspeople in the Rock Lobst—& then it hit him.
“You’re that guy who talked to me in the Rock Lobster, & who Autumn tried to steal from when she received an email talking ’bout some easy-to-invade castle. &… &…” Edgar paused under the weight o’ so much conflicting info. “Didn’t you get eaten by bears?”
“I’ll have you know that the Great Chamsby does not get done in by a mere bear’s digestion tract.
“No matter,” continued Chamsby. “If your precious thief isn’t dead yet, she shall be soon, & you will be the one to drive her to it. So sit still, you wimpy socialist, & don’t try any o’ your tricks to ’scape—for they shan’t work.”
“What are you going to do with me?” asked Edgar.
“You will stay in that prison for a very long time; “& in that time the vile looter will be vulnerable without her magical li’l buddy to back her up. We shall see how bold she is without her crutches!”
“You’re… you’re not going to hurt her are you?” Edgar asked weakly.
Chamsby laughed. “Our discussion is o’er for now. You can go back to doing what you truly excel @: being useless. Tchau for now.” & with that Edgar saw the panel scrape back o’er the hole.
Now there was nothing for Edgar to do but to sit in that same spot he’d been sitting for hours. It didn’t take long for him to go up to the window & spend the rest o’ the day staring out the window, sighing heavy-heartedly as he prayed for Autumn to somehow find a way to rescue him, while keeping out o’ danger herself.
I s’pose I’m just shocked that Edgar’s doing so well that he hadn’t needed to text me to blubber ’bout some inconspicuous mistake he made, thought Autumn on the 3rd day o’ Edgar’s absence. It does seem odd that he’d be busy all o’ the time, though.
Then ’gain, what do I know ’bout these tribalistic norms.
She tapped her knees absentmindedly as she stared off into the air in concentration.
No, that’s… that goes beyond the suspension o’ belief. What are the odds?
Much higher considering the enemies I’ve made. Perhaps the mob isn’t completely off my shoulders & have captured him for some ransom.
But if they’re after me, they should contact me ’bout him in some way.
She pulled out her phone & stared @ it.
I s’pose I could call him.
& say what? “Hey, just called to check to make sure you haven’t been kidnapped or killed. Thanks.” He’s an adult; he can take care o’ himself.
Why should he call you, anyway? It’s obvious he’s busy with mo’ interesting territory, just as he probably assumes you’re too busy to deal with your work to be bugged by him. We no longer need each other anymore, so the lack o’ communication is rational.
With that settled, she returned to her work, trying to ignore the festering tinge o’ worry poking holes through her blanket o’ content. As she’d been uncomfortably predicting, her imaginary infinity had been laughably kicked ’way by the prospect o’ death always hanging close ’hind.
It only took 2 days for Edgar to completely break down, sobbing & blubbering on the floor in the dark o’ the night, unable to sleep. He had spent all o’ his time with nothing to do but lie round or stand by the window, with no one but his lonely thoughts.
During the long, dragging hours he couldn’t sleep through—& he tried to sleep through most o’ them—he tried to contemplate a way to ’scape. When his mind hit a road block then, as it always did, he tried to imagine Autumn rushing in to save him.
He kept telling himself, She’ll get here any time to rescue me. She must have noticed I’ve gone missing by now. Right now she must be thinking o’ how to find me.
If she still wants me saved.
Edgar shook his head.
Don’t be silly. She’s much too nice to leave you here forever.
Though maybe she’d be better off if she did.
This is pathetic. Just leave it ’lone & get back to the work in which you’re failing so spectacularly.
We’re partners. I just want to ensure nothing dire has happened to him. After all, remember when he was jumped 2 years ago?
You didn’t help him recover after that, anyway. Look, you can’t be his constant respirator any mo’ than you can expect him to sacrifice his needs for yours.
This quick distraction will ease the long-term distractions, making it mo’ time optimal.
She dialed the # & held it to her face, breath held.
I’ll just say… shit. I’ll just say I lost a paper & ask if he has it in his pocket or something.
This is pathetic exponentially. This is the refusal to e’en acknowledge your mental flaw.
“Sorry, but the # you dialed is unavailable @ the moment. Please leave a message after the tone.”
Autumn’s nerves froze as she heard the alien bleep. Somehow, trying to talk to emptiness felt harder than talking to a live person.
Shit! Think o’ something, you idiot!
“Uh… Edgar… I hope I am not infringing on anything you’re doing, but I lost a document & just wanted to ask if you have it in 1 o’ your pockets, since I can’t find it anywhere—including in 1 o’ your other robes—& I think I remember handing it to you.” Then she blurted, “Uh… Hope you’re succeeding, thanks,” & quickly hung up, as if it’d turn off her failure mo’ quickly.
She breathed heavily. Well, I did the best I could. It’s not as if I have a radar I could track him with. If he’s being killed right now, I’m useless to him; if he’s doing fine, then I’m still useless to him, & there’s no need to worry. Essentially, there’s no use worrying no matter what, so there’s no rational reason to do so.
She returned to her work, hopping website to website, scribbling random words in a notepad—doing anything to spark her mind—all the while feeling as a cancer patient injecting bitter medicine after bitter medicine for months, to no avail.
Autumn frowned as she reached ’nother epiphany:
Edgar’s not the only thing I’ve lost… she thought as her hands fell from her keyboard, limp.
That afternoon, Edgar managed to force himself to sleep through sheer anguish. But it didn’t last long.
Within that sleep the pulses in his brain created images o’ Edgar sitting naked in the middle o’ a small, boxy, gray room—the length o’ his body stretched out in all dimensions—wrapping his arms round himself, shivering in the cold, only for the walls & ceiling o’ the room to cave in closer, till they were tightening round him.
As he felt the pressure squash & suffocate him, all he could see was the window, & through it he could see a tranquil scene o’ trees, a mountain, & a running river. Standing in the middle o’ the scene was Autumn, but much paler skin, closed eyes, & nailed down to a tree through her stomach. Her scraggly mouth hung open & released a laugh track ’long with a man’s voice saying, “Dad, can I get a li’l raise for this month’s allowance—’bout 150,000₧ extra?”
Edgar pushed himself awake, back in his now-seemingly-much-roomier prison, panting & sweating. From outside the door he could hear a familiar male voice buzz from speakers, “I’ll have you know I was very careful driving, dad; ’twas just the parking that was a problem,” followed by canned laughter, & then real, voracious laughter from Chamsby.
Edgar decided he had ’nough sleep for the day, or few days, or week. He was thankful that he woke turned ’way from the window, as he didn’t dare look through it. ’Stead, he merely lay back down on the floor, wrapping his arms round himself to protect him from the chill o’ cold sweat. He did not close his eyes or shed a tear, but stared @ the wall in front o’ him, wide-eyed with blank fear. He could barely acknowledge reality @ all, his thoughts overloaded with memories o’ the dream, replaying o’er & o’er & o’er.
Lance Chamsby didn’t know how to feel. He did, indeed, see incredible results from his master plan; unfortunately, these results were all found in the kidnapped skeleton, who spent every waking moment sobbing on the floor. He was clearly weakened beyond any capability o’ aiding the vile looter.
Chamsby was ’specially glad when he realized Edgar didn’t need to eat or use the bathroom: 1, ’cause ’twas mo’ convenient; but also ’cause Chamsby felt awkward whene’er he went in there, hearing that confounded skeleton’s blubbering all the time. It almost made Chamsby feel bad for him; but then he remembered the evil that that skeleton had wrought, & the guilt vanished just like that.
On the other scale, the vile looter didn’t seem to be affected @ all. He tried sending a robot to attack her when she opened her front door, but its knocks went unanswered. How did she know ’twas a robot? She didn’t e’en take 1 peek out her window. He had Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty stealthily funnel methane into her apartment room while she lay in the middle o’ the room, but she somehow alerted an authority to shoo him ’way.
Does she also have voodoo magic? Is that why she was lying on the floor like that?
It frustrated him so much that he felt he had to kick someone. So he kicked Edgar. But this only made Edgar release ’nother annoying whimper, so Chamsby left as quickly as he could.
Some prisoner he is, grumbled Chamsby. Not e’en fun to kick round.
Autumn spent the next week sitting in 1 spot like a rock in space without a planet to attach to, eyes staring straight through all material into a void.
Augh. Why can’t you be happy with anything. We… I still have ’nough funds to keep me secure for plenty o’ years, e’en if I hardly add anything to it within that time. I have plenty o’ time.
She held her chin in her upraised hands.
Yes, but time is not so plentiful. Am I truly going to kid myself for the rest o’ my life? I haven’t had a successful venture for o’er a year—& that last success wasn’t e’en ’cause o’ me. All I’ve done is almost kill myself on multiple occasions. It’s a gambler’s fallacy by this point.
But what should I do then? This… whatever this nonsense I’ve wasted my life doing is all I’ve e’er done. What else is there?
She gazed round her apartment so barren, it looked as if someone had just moved in, dim from curtains covering every window.
Who cares? Maybe I should just screw round: read something or jerk off to something—anything but sitting round doing nothing.
She winced. O, who am I kidding? I’d just get bored o’ that, too.
She drummed her fingers on the carpet.
I think the trouble with me is I can’t accept reality. Try to logically break down everything & I’m left with an empty core—& the irony is, I’m still left with my insipid superstitions. Must spend every second on work to squeeze as much out o’ it, & still get nothing.
& now I miss Edgar—don’t want to, but do ne’ertheless. I knew I would, but that didn’t stop me from pushing him ’way, & now I’ve gotten the very conclusion that logically follows these actions. That’s probably why he didn’t answer my call: I practically demanded he leave. I’d think, “Well, fuck that asshole then,” if someone did that to me.
I should’ve just picked 1—I wanted him or didn’t—but couldn’t, just as I still can’t pick whether I want to still do this inane “career” o’ mine. I can’t pin down what I want, so I receive exactly what I’ve pinned down: nothing.
She jerked to a stop, eyes widening, hands rubbing knees slowly.
You know, I’m still not sure if he’s not in danger.
But what should I do if he is? He could be anywhere. & what would I do e’en if I knew where he is? Hunt him down like he’s a slave?
She weighed the possibilities in her head. Finally, the panic o’ uncertainty overthrew propriety.
God damn it, who gives a shit. There’s nothing wrong with just checking on him to make sure he’s not dead. He won’t mind. Maybe he’d be a li’l embarassed; but that’d be worth it.
She had to admit a sudden lift in her spirits. Her breath buzzed as she thought, OK, I can accomplish this without disaster. Let’s just consider a good way to do so.
Perhaps I could try calling ’gain. Devise a different ’scuse. It’s possible that he truly is in trouble & ne’er e’en heard the last call.
She rubbed her face vigorously.
God, I hope not. I mean, it’s so unlikely, but what am I s’posed to think when I hear nothing from him?
She called, moving her hand quickly as one tears off a bandage.
“Sorry, but the # you dialed is unavailable @ the moment. Please leave a message after the tone.”
Fuck. Now what am I s’posed to do. It’s not as if I put a tracker on hi—wait a fucking minute.
She stared @ her phone. She brushed her bangs back, eyes wide.
I set up his phone. I remember when I looked @ the receipt: it comes with a #. You can track that, can’t you?
She rose & dug through her files till she found the folder labeled, “Important Purchases.” She quickly flipped through the various receipts till she found the 2 that matched the phones she got for them both.
It’s a good thing I actually bought these, she thought with an uneasy laugh.
She rushed to her computer & went to her service’s website. After a few minutes o’ forms, she finally reached a page with a map & an input labeled, “Phone ID.” She checked round her phone till she found the “Phone Info” menu & checked the 2 #s gainst it.
When she typed the other # into the input, her brows twisted in confusion to see the dot appear o’er Wasabi Woods.
What’s he doing in the middle o’ the woods? Wait…
She moved her finger ’long an invisible line through the forest, eyes wincing as she strained to recall something.
She zoomed in as much as she could to the dot.
Almost every part o’ her body tightened—her fists, eyes, mouth—as she saw the tall golden castle appear. She clutched her forehead.
“That son o’ a bitch! Why didn’t I e’en consider that asshole?”
She took a second to throw on shoes & a jacket & then stormed out the door, not e’en bothering to lock it ’hind her. She ignored the freezing blue rain, her body warmed ’nough by a red fury.
This is your fault, you know, she told herself. If you’d… if you’d stop doing the equivalent o’ stabbing yourself in the hand, you wouldn’t hospitalize others, too. Fuck! That’s what I truly enjoy doing, actually.
Well, might as well do it in a way that benefits me.
Lance Chamsby sat on his racecar bed sipping ’nother cherry cola & rereading the 5 paragraphs that currently comprised what would soon be his magnum opus for the 50th time when he was suddenly interrupted by a beeping sound. He turned his head round in search for the source till he finally discovered it coming from his cellphone on his nightstand.
He opened it to hear Agent Purple Mountain’s Majesty say, “Sir, I’m ’fraid your castle is being invaded by the ponytailed looter. We tried stopping her, but she charged right past us. We tried to follow her up the stairs, but she knocked us back down. My men are going after her, but I doubt they’ll be able to catch up to her before she reaches your room.”
Lance’s eyes blinked @ his phone.
“Yes, it’ll be fine. Tell your men to stand by my door till I call for them.”
Lance closed his phone & grinned. Ah, so the vile looter has finally grown the spine to challenge me directly, eh? We shall see how this ends.
Lance jumped off his bed & pulled out his favorite weapon: a 13 kg gold nugget. He stood @ the end o’ the room opposite the door, nugget hoisted o’er his head.
Then Lance started to get impatient—not to mention tired from holding that heavy nugget for so long—& sat back down on his bed to watch TV.
But then he heard his door slam open & scrambled back to his previous position. He turned to the door to see Autumn standing there as a statue, with her arm still out to her side. His smile increased when he saw not anger, but long-lidded wariness ’hind her glasses.
“Ha, ha! I see you came for your precious voodoo mage, huh?” said Lance. “Well, you’ll have to force your way through the solid wall o’ rational justice 1st!”
& with that he pulled his nugget back & tossed it with full strength @ Autumn. The nugget thunked as it hit the carpet 2 feet ’way from Autumn’s stationary feet. Autumn’s eyes flicked down to it & then back up to Lance.
During this interval, they heard a muffled voice call out, “Autumn? Is that you?” Autumn glanced in the direction & saw a door with a cardboard sign say in crayon, “Jail For Criminals.”
Then Lance suddenly saw Autumn slowly walk toward him as a golem. He edged backward, shrewd eyes hiding his urgent mind, only to bump into the back wall. ’Fore he could think o’ anything else, Autumn reached him, pining him back gainst the wall with hands on his shoulders.
Autumn’s face was right up to his. He could feel the warm air spout from her nose.
“Where’s the key?” she asked in a low voice.
“You’d like me to say, would—Hey, stop it!”
Autumn yanked on his robe by the collar till it fell off, & then grabbed his hat ’fore turning & walking ’way, leaving Lance to stand by with his arms wrapped round him, shivering in nothing but dollar-sign-patterend boxers.
“I see that in addition to being a thief you’re a sexual deviant,” he said as he headed for his blankets. “It’s as they say: those who commit some crimes can easily commit them all.”
Autumn ignored him & searched all o’er the robe. She found a side pocket & rifled round through it. She exhaled when she felt a bumpy piece o’ thin metal. She pulled her hand out to see a key.
By this time, Lance had ran back to his bed & covered himself with his blanket, still shaking.
“Just wait till my henchmen get here,” said Lance.
Autumn checked the other pocket just to make sure there wasn’t anything else she’d need, & then tossed it back to Lance.
Then she jabbed the key into the lock o’ the “jail” door. She exhaled when she felt it turn.
She opened the door & saw Edgar standing right in front o’ the other side, a gray void as the backdrop. They stared each other in the eyes for a second ’fore dropping them.
“Thank you for saving me,” Edgar said quietly.
Then they heard heavy footsteps. Autumn turned to see tuxedoed figures in drama masks crowd round the door.
Lance, who had already put his robe back on, jumped & pointed @ them.
“Ha! Now try & ’scape justice!”
Edgar looked @ Autumn. Autumn kept her calm eyes on the guards while 1 hand grabbed Edgar’s arm & the other dropped into her coat pocket & pulled out a white ball.
’Fore anyone could guess what it was, Autumn threw it to the ground, filling the room with white smoke.
“Get them!” Lance struggled to say through his coughs.
“I think I found her, Sir!” said Agent Granny Smith Apple.
“Excellent! The looter couldn’t e’en—”
“O… no, wait. That’s just a statue.”
“Drat that looter! I’ll sue her for the emphysema I’m bound to catch from this!”
The smoke cleared 3 minutes later. By then, Autumn & Edgar were nowhere in sight.
“Well, it could be worse, Sir,” Agent Razzmatazz said to Lance’s steaming face. “You could—”
“Don’t say it,” said Lance.
They were eaten by bears, anyway.
“So I take it your date didn’t go so well,” Autumn said as they trudged through the muddy ground o’ Wasabi Woods—what felt mo’ like a jungle under the dark & rainy sky.
“I guess not,” Edgar said weakly. “Sorry for all o’ the problems it caused.”
“It’s not your fault,” said Autumn. “I practically pressed you into going.”
“Only ’cause you thought I wanted to go.”
Autumn’s forehead creased as she stared down @ the leaf-strewn ground.
You ought to say something.
Still don’t know.
“How did you find me, anyway?” asked he.
“Huh?” Autumn’s head jerked up. “O. I searched your phone on some map website. Lance clearly didn’t think ’bout this, as he stupidly left it in his castle.” Then she added in a mutter, “& I’m too stupid to pick it up ’fore leaving, now that I think ’bout it.”
“What you did do was mo’ than ’nough,” said Edgar.
“I didn’t think to start looking for you till after a few weeks, though,” said Autumn.
Edgar nodded. She glanced o’er to him, focusing on his eyeholes.
He’s saddened by the implications o’ that statement. Perhaps I should ’splain.
It’d feel mo’ just to leave him with the natural implications. Why should he care ’bout my ’scuses?
That’s the same method o’ thinking I elected to rectify, remember?
But ’fore she could finish, her thoughts were interrupted by Edgar:
“D’you… D’you think I don’t like you?”
Autumn felt her blood thicken. Though she tried to stop them, her eyes widened.
That woman in the jacket’s been filling his head with dangerous thoughts—saying that so brazenly.
Then ’gain, maybe that was my doing…
She still wasn’t sure whether this was a negative or positive development.
“Well, if it makes you feel better, I thought you were glad to be rid o’ me, too,” said Edgar. “I mean, I don’t do much, after all.”
Autumn disagreed, but nodded, anyway.
Edgar laughed weakly. “& anyway, it may be safer if I didn’t try dating ’gain, anyway.”
Autumn nodded ’gain.
What a simple way to handle communication: just yeses & nos, ons & offs, trues & falses. Computers have no idea the enlightenment they’ve achieved.
“You, uh… you know I wouldn’t… throw you off if I did… you know, right?” said Edgar.
I don’t; that’s the trouble.
Ne’ertheless, she nodded ’gain.
“We are still business partners, I s’pose,” said Autumn.
“But since the joke I call a ’business’ is probably close to closing, I wouldn’t put much stock in that—’scuse the dreadful pun; ’twas accidental.”
“You seem to be doing well…”
“I disagree,” said Autumn. “Still, there’s other things I guess.”
What, I’m not sure.
This time Edgar nodded.
“You, uh… you need a partner for those other things?”
“If you want…” said Autumn. “I have to warn you: it’s quite a commitment. You ne’er know what those things might turn out to be.”
“That’s OK: you ne’er know, no matter what,” said Edgar.
Edgar turned to her.
“Are you still in your nightshirt?” asked he.
“Yes. Sorry, I was in a hurry to rescue you, so I didn’t have time to put on my armor.”
“Are you cold?” asked he.
“Yes. You look like you are, too, so I’ll say it’s the weather.”
“Well, I was wondering if you wanted to…”
This is it, Autumn thought. Actions. Not words.
She pulled Edgar right up to her & wrapped her arms round him.
“Warm ourselves?” she asked, followed by a sniff from her stuffed nose.
“Uh huh,” Edgar said weakly.
“’Course,” she said as she tightened her grip. “I’ll always be up for that.”
They continued the rest o’ their long trek in silence, Autumn’s face resting gainst the soft cotton o’ Edgar’s shoulder, content—the best she’d e’er felt, her primary goal accomplished.